Timeless Grievances: The Root of Religious Terrorism by Taylor V. Smith I. Introduction Within the past decade, the modern understanding of “terrorism” has been rapidly redefined to include not only acts by political revolutionaries, but more commonly acts by religious extremists. Prior to 1995, communist and socialist revolutionary groups accounted for the majority of terrorist organizations. Within the last decade, however, the prevalence of religious extremism has increased dramatically. By 1996, a majority of terrorist organizations were comprised of pious militants. Of course, acts of terror were certainly executed by religious terrorist organizations long before 1995. Nevertheless, modern observers in the 1990s often considered these attacks outside the norm. Terrorist attacks, in the minds of these observers, were most commonly performed by communist or anarchist groups, or perhaps by narco-terrorist organizations. Within the past decade, however, this understanding of terrorism has been amended. Today, the concept of “terrorism” is, for all practical purposes, essentially equated with the idea of militant religious extremism. Particularly since the September 11[SUP]th[/SUP] attacks in New York, the conceptual personification of terrorism has shifted from a swastika-bearing anarchist tossing a Molotov cocktail amid a crowd of parade-farers, to a turban-bearing Muslim with dynamite strapped to his or her chest. Inaccurate though this characterization of terrorism may be, the concept is undeniably prolific, for worse or for worse. Despite this conceptual development of “terrorism,” this question remains: have the roots of terrorism similarly changed, or have timeless grievances simply found a new means of manifestation? In this paper, this author will consider two religious terrorist organizations – namely, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the Philippines and the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) in India – in light of the question posed above. First, this author will reflect on the origins, objectives, methods, and motivations driving both terrorist organizations. Second, this author will analyze both terrorist groups comparatively, considering the similarities of both organizations. Finally, this author will comment on the counterterrorism strategies currently employed by the Filipino and Indian governments, respectively. Despite relative alterations in the modern definition of terrorism, it seems clear to this author that the roots of terrorism have not changed, but rather stem from age-old grievances common to all terrorist organizations – religious organizations, included. II. Abu Sayyaf Group A) Origins The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) was formed in the 1980s by Islamic law scholar Ustadz Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani. Born in 1961 to a Filipino fisherman, Janjalani received his early childhood education from a Catholic school. After his conversion to Islam, members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) – an Islamic separatist organization in the Philippines – sponsored his venture to Saudi Arabia, where he studied Islamic law and Libyan military operations. While in school, Janjalani came to embrace the strict Wahhabi understanding of Islam, which encouraged jihad. By the time he was 27 years old, Janalani had graduated from school and was training to fight in the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. During his brief stint in Afghanistan, Janjalani made two significant contacts: Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and Osama bin Laden. These contacts would greatly influence the direction and success of Janjalani’s organization. After meeting Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Janjalani changed the name of his organization from the Mujahideen Commando Freedom Fights to the Abu Sayyaf Group – in Arabic, “father of the sword” – apparently in honor of Sayyaf. When Janjalani returned to the Philippines in the early 1990s, he was zealous to create an independent Islamic state in the Mindanao region of the southern Philippines. Although this objective had historically been a chief aim of the Moro National Liberation Front, Janjalani found that the MNLF had signed a peace agreement with the Filipino government in exchange for a small amount of regional autonomy. Unwilling to accept this compromise, Janjalani’s Abu Sayyaf Group broke from the MNLF in 1991 and began operating independently. After receiving financial support from Mohammed Jamal Khalifa – incidentally, a brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden – Janjalani began amassing his forces for his looming struggle against the Philippines. B) Objectives and Methods As noted previously, the ASG’s stated objective is to create an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines. More specifically, the ASG aims to overthrow the largely-Catholic Filipino government and replace it with an Islamic government based in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. In addition to the Philippines government, the ASG also heavily targets Christians, accusing them of destroying Islamic society in Mindanao. So intensive have attacks on Christians by the ASG been, some observers believe that the organization is attempting to spark a religious war in the region. In a recent incident, three missionaries held hostage by the ASG were shot when the Philippine government attempted to rescue them on 7 June 2007. Two of the hostages – American Martin Burnham and Filipina Ediborah Yap – died of their injuries. The third hostage, Gracia Burnham, hid under her husband’s body and managed to survive the attack with only a gunshot wound to her leg. Brutal though these attacks were, they were certainly less gruesome that the beheading of American Guillermo Sobero less than a year earlier. Initially, Janjalani hoped to avoid targeting civilians. In order to acquire more funding, however, the group began to take civilian hostages, hoping to exchange them for ransom money. By 1995, Janalani’s policy on civilians once again took a grizzly turn when ASG policy shifted its policy of keeping hostages alive to beheading them. Clearly, the ASG will go to any lengths to fortify its position through the use of terror. Ransom payments, obtained through the kidnapping and abduction of foreigners, remains the ASG’s primary method for raising money. The Libyan government, alone, paid over $20 million in ransom money to the ASG in 2000. According to one former ASG leader, in addition to the fund raising benefits of kidnappings, abductions by the ASG are also “aimed to gain more international media mileage and financial contributions from sympathizers in the Arab world.” Aside from ransom the kidnapping and beheading of civilians, other common ASG tactics include bombings, assassinations, arson, and extortion. So extensive have ASG attacks been that other Islamic groups in Mindanao have harshly the ASG for defiling Islamic through criminal action. Apart from ASG fund raising tactics, the group also receives occasional support from other Islamic extremist groups – most notably, al-Qaeda, the Moro National Liberation Front, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. C) Motivations and Grievances Having considered the Abu Sayyaf Group’s origins, goals, and tactics, it is now important to consider the true motivations behind their ideology. The U.S. Department of State reports that the ASG has primarily used terror for profit, which might suggest that ASG leadership is motivated by greed. Another author suggests that the ASG kills out of a sense of duty to Islam, much the same way Christians evangelize out of a sense of duty to Christ. A closer look, however, reveals a much more accurate picture. Incidentally, the true grievance fueling the militancy of the ASG and other Mindanao groups is much less immediate than greed or duty. The true motivation of Islamic extremism in the southern Philippines dates back hundreds of year, to the Spanish crusades against Muslims. When the Spanish empire colonized the Philippines in 1566, it did so after having spent centuries resisting Muslim invasion of the Spanish homeland. Accordingly, when the Spanish found their age-old foe (i.e., Muslims) residing in the southern islands of their colony, they were all too eager to begin a Spanish-Muslim war in Mindanao. After the Spanish retreated from Mindanao, anti-Muslim sentiment common to Catholic Spaniards was passed on to Catholic Filipinos. In the early 1900s, the U.S. brought stability to the Philippines when it allowed Mindanao to be governed independently by Muslims. When the Philippines declared its independence in 1946, however, Mindanao was annexed by the Filipino government. Throughout the 20[SUP]th[/SUP] Century, the Philippine government sponsored Christian migration into Muslim regions in an effort to stabilize separatist tensions. In light of these events, it is easy to identify the underlying grievance fueling Islamic separatist tensions: Mindanao Muslims feel that their territory was stolen from them by Catholic Filipinos, leading them to demand a return to autonomous rule. For centuries, Moro Muslims governed the Island of Mindanao until suddenly, in 1945, the Philippine government simply subjected Mindanao to its governance. Worse, the Philippines began sending Christians into the area in an attempt to de-Islamicize the Muslims. Thus, it is not difficult to understand the separatist and anti-Christian motivations of the Abu Sayyaf Group. III. National Liberation Front of Tripura A) Origins Outlandish though it may sound, the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) dates back to the 1940s when Baptist missionaries from New Zealand founded the Baptist Church of Tripura in northern India. Try as it may, the zealous church found itself unable to attract more than a few thousand members, even after 40 years of evangelistic efforts. In an attempt to encourage membership, the Baptist Church of Tripura decided to employ a dubious, albeit effective tactic: it decided to use racial and ethnic division in the region to make church membership a form of solidarity and cultural self-determination. Through the use of these tactics the church successfully ignited one of the worst ethic riots in history. The Tripura Police estimate that over 1,300 people were killed as a result of the ethnic riot. In the wake of this devastating event, the National Liberation Front of Tripura was formed in 1989. According to some observers, the NLFT is essentially “a violent muscle arm of the church and its missionaries.” The NLFT is heavily sponsored by the Baptist Church of Tripura, and believes itself to be advancing Christianity through subjugating tribal communities to compulsory conversion. The NLFT’s first chairman was Dhanajoy Reanf, who was a former vice-president in the Tripura National Volunteers – a separatist insurgency in northern India. Following Reanf’s forcible expulsion from the NLFT in 1993, leadership was briefly assumed by Nayanbasi Jamatiya, after which Biswamohan Debbarma took the helm. A second split occurred in 2000, when one of two disputing factions within the group left to form the Borok National Council of Tripura. A third split occurred only a year later, when Jamatiya decided to leave the NLFT to create his own organizations. In June 2003, a fourth slip rent the NLFT when Debbarma was expelled from the group and replaced by General Secretary Manti Koloi. This series of splits, usually caused by the personal ambitions of NLFT leadership, has doubtless hampered the group’s effectiveness. Nevertheless, these events have not neutralized the NLFT’s operations. Unlike the ASG, the NLFT is slightly less centralized, making it more resilient to leadership changes. In 1997, India passed the Unlawful Activities Act of 1967, which classified the NLFT a terrorist organization and outlawed membership. B) Objectives and Methods According to the Constitution of the National Liberation Front of Tripura, the sevenfold aims and objectives of the NLFT include the following: 1) to overthrow the imperialist, capitalist, and neo-colonialist government of Hindustan (India) and replace it with an autonomous Tripuran state; 2) to liberate the Borokland Tripuran people; 3) to free the Borok people from the socio-political and economic exploitation, oppression, and suppression imposed by India; 4) to network with other armed revolutionary organizations; 5) to publish literature informing people of the benefits of the NLFT; 6) to encourage trade; and finally, 7) to create humanitarian funds for the impoverished. Considering the philanthropic nature of the final three objectives, it is hard to believe that this organization is responsible for 900 killings, 1,430 kidnappings, and for forcing over 59,000 people from their homes. The NLFT’s primary source of funding and support comes from the Baptist Church of Tripura’s network of churches throughout northern India. Their constellation of violent tactics includes kidnapping, extortion, murder, rape, bombings, and forcible conversion. NLFT members often target Hindu or Buddhist establishments, forcing them to cease operation. The NLFT’s violent methods, coupled with its support from the church, leads one observer to dub this organization “the Christian equivalent of the Taliban.” In addition to the abominable violent tactics already mentioned, the so-called Christian NLFT has also begun to raise additional financial support by playing to men’s baser appetites. In 2005, investigators learned that the NLFT was forcing tribal women, at gunpoint, to participate in pornographic films. Producers of the films have confirmed that the women in the videos were, indeed, forced to participate: “When we process their raw stock [videos], we can see boys standing around with automatic rifles and revolvers pulling in girls but we are supposed to cut all that out and just concentrate on the sex,” reported the owner of the production company. Clearly, this organization will stop at nothing to raise monetary support. Aside from NLFT fundraising efforts, the organization also receives support from an eclectic variety of sources. Oddly enough, this Christian extremist organization receives a great deal of its training, advice, and logistical support from a variety of Islamic militant groups. The NLFT also receives protection from Islamic Bangladesh, which allows the NLFT to host training camps within its borders without fear of interference. The NLFT is also supported by the Inter Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) – Pakistan’s foreign intelligence service. The ISI has help NLFT members to obtain Pakistani visas, allowing the rebels to attend training seminars and traffic arms from Pakistan. Moreover, the NLFT has established effective networks with the governments of Bhutan and Myanmar. Finally, the group enjoys close ties with other militant separatist groups, including Christian, Islamic, and communist organizations. This broad network of support has greatly enhanced the group’s growth and effectiveness. C) Motivations and Grievances The underlying grievances fueling the NLFT are more explicitly articulated than the grievances of the Abu Sayyaf Group, yet their motivations are no less far-reaching. In their constitution, the National Liberation Front of Tripura traces its history as far back as 3000 B.C., when Tibeto-Burman Mongoloids from Central Asia migrated into Tripura. Since the establishment of the Tripuran State, it has been ruled by as many as one hundred and forty-eight monarchs, each ethnically Borok by culture and decent. Hence, in the minds of Tripurans, “Twipra [sic.] was a Princely, Independent and Peaceful state Which had a self-rule, reliancy [sic.] and possessed a glorious history prior to its occupation forcefully by the subjugation policy of imperialist Hindustan (India) on October 15, 1949.” Much like members of the Abu Sayyaf Group, the National Liberation Front of Tripura views India as an illegitimate governing authority, attempting to subjugate the Tripuran people and destroy their unique language, customs, and culture. IV. Comparative Analysis The Abu Sayyaf Group – an Islamic terrorist organization driven by separatist ideology – refuses to negotiate peace with the Philippine government. Moreover, the ASG consistently targets Christians, accusing them of attempting to destroy Islam. To these ends, the ASG is prepared to go to any length to oppose the government of the Philippines, as well as its largely-Catholic leadership. An uninformed observer might consider the claims of the ASG as extravagant and irrational. As it happens, a careful reading of history demonstrates that these objectives may not be so irrational after all. When Catholic Spain invaded the Philippines, it immediately began warring with Moro Muslims. Protestant America intervened in the situation and proceeded to interject itself into Mindanao affairs. When the Catholic Philippines declared its independence in 1945, it decided to annex the historically-autonomous Mindanao region and began sponsoring Christian migration in the region. The Moros likely felt abused and alienated by these Christian governments. The war currently waged by the ASG is, therefore, not irrational, but historical. Obviously, the terrorist tactics that the ASG uses to argue its position are immoral and must be countered. Yet, any counterterrorism strategy executed in the region needs to clearly understand these grievances. The grievances of the National Liberation Front of Tripura – a Christian terrorist organization with separatist leanings – are strikingly similar to those of the ASG. In fact, the historical accounts of these two groups are virtually parallel. For nearly 5,000 years, the Borok people had governed the Tripuran State in northern India. The Tripuran State was still autonomous when New Zealand missionaries brought Christianity to the region in 1940. Nine year later, India declared independence and decided to annex the State of Tripura. Not surprisingly, the Christian Tripuran people have resisted Hindu Indian government ever since. Like members of the ASG, NLFT fighter feel that they are historically entitled to an autonomous state. Again, the tactics used by the NLFT are dubious and immoral. Nevertheless, counterterrorism strategy implemented in the region must reflect consideration of these grievances. V. Counterterrorism Strategy A) In the Philippines The Philippine government’s counterterrorism campaign against the Abu Sayyaf Group fails to understand the foundation of the ASG’s motivations. The Filipino military’s counterterrorism strategy is, in a nutshell, an all-out military offensive. The Filipino military hopes that this constant pressure will eventually crush the organization. This strategy has seen limited successes: whereas in 2000, the group boasted nearly 4,000 members, today these numbers have dwindled to as little 200 fighters. Nevertheless, the military faces numerous difficulties preventing it from fully executing this plan, including difficult jungle terrain, Jolo and Baslin support to the ASG, inadequate military equipment, poor-quality military forces, fear for the safety of ASG hostages, and the danger of killing or displacing civilians. Furthermore, the military is unable focus on the ASG with its full strength as it has to deal with other Islamic extremist groups in the region, such as the Moro Islamic Liberation front which boasts a following of over 100,000 members. B) In India India, on the other hand, as been much more strategic in its approach to countering the National Liberation Front of Tripura. The Tripuran State Police clearly understand the motivations of the NLFT, as demonstrated by their report on the region: they attribute separatist terrorism to “strong feelings of social and economic deprivation & insecurity combined with communal feelings of ambition for political power. . . .” Rather than execute an all-out military offensive, the Tripuran State Government commits to . . . treating the problem of insurgency as a complex problem & not only as a law and order or security matter. The approach for solution has been to address the problems of insurgency and extremism in a holistic manner. The State Government has been considering and would be ready to consider any political demand within the democratic framework of the Constitution of India in the overall interest of the State as a whole. Of course, this author does not completely support the idea of bargaining with terrorist groups. Nevertheless, the “holistic” approach taken by India seems laudable, as it encourages the development of thoughtful counterterrorism policy. Overall, it appears to this author that the Philippines could take a page from India with regards to counterterrorism strategy. VI. Conclusion Within the past decade, the definition of “terrorism” has changed considerably. Yet, the grievances that underlie terrorist sentiment date back far beyond the past decade. The motivations of the ASG can be traced back to the Crusades; the impetuous of the NLFT date back even further, to the settlement of the Borok people 3000 B.C. Both organizations are operating, not only for immediate goals such as greed or political ambition, but on the basis of historic humiliation and alienation. Effective counterterrorism policy should take their example into account. Unlike the Philippine’s strategy of a solely-military offensive, nations should consider solutions similar to the holistic approach proposed by the State Government of Tripura. Granted, military tactics might temporarily suppress a particular extremist group, and this is certainly a worthy cause. Nevertheless, until the more timeless grievances fueling terrorist sentiment are addresses, there will be no shortage of terrorist organizations to seek redress. Bibliography Adam, Jeroen, Bruno De Cordier, Kristof Titeca, Koen Vlassenroot. “In the Name of the Father? Christian Militantism in Tripura, Northern Uganda, and Ambon.” Studies in Conflict Terrorism 30, is. 11 (2007): 963-983. Atkins, Stephen E. 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Daly, The Dynamic Terrorist Threat: An Assessment of Group Motivations and Capabilities in a Changing World (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2004), 77. Also available at http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/2005/MR1782.pdf.  John K. Coole, Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America, and International Terrorism (Sterling, VA: Pluto Press, 2000), 239.  BBC News, “Who Are the Abu Sayyaf?”  Ted Olsen, “Two Hostages Die in Attempted Missionary Rescue in Mindanao” (Christianity Today, 1 December 2007), http://www.christianitytoday.com/8832.  Atkins, 157.  Edward F. Mickolus and Susan L. Simmons, Terrorism, 1992-1995: a Chronology of Events and a Selectively Annotated Bibliography (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997), 764.  Leonard Weinberg and Ami Pedahzur, Political Parties and Terrorist Groups (New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, 2003).  PBS, “Profile: Abu Sayyaf,” online NewsHour (January 2000), http://www.pbs.org/newshour/terrorism/international/abu_sayyaf.html.  Coole, 240.  U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2005,” research report (2005), 185-186, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/65462.pdf.  Walter Laquer, No End to War: Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc., 2003), 204.  Larry Niksch, “Abu Sayyaf: Target of Philippine-U.S. Anti-Terrorism Cooperation,” report for Congress, (Congressional Research Service, 25 January 2002), http://www.fas.org/irp/crs/RL31265.pdf.  U.S. Department of State, 185-186.  Charles Selengut, Sacred Fury: Understanding Religious Violence (New York: AltaMira Press, 2003), 152-153.  Steven Rogers, “Beyond the Abu Sayyaf,” (Foreign Affairs, Jan./Feb. 2004), http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20040101facomment83103/steven-rogers/beyond-the-abu-sayyaf.html.  Christianagression.com, “Assault on India: National Liberation Front of Tripura,” talking points, http://www.christianaggression.org/features_nlft.php.  Tripura Police, “Militancy in Tripura,” talking points, http://tripurapolice.nic.in/amilitancy.htm.  Christianagression.com, “Assault on India.”  South Asia Terrorism Portal, “National Liberation Front of Tripura,” talking points, http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/tripura/terrorist_outfits/nlft.htm.  South Asian Terrorism Portal, “Constitution of the National Liberation Front of Tripura,” constitution, http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/tripura/documents/papers/nlft_const.htm.  Barry A. Feinstein and Justus Reid Weiner, “Israel’s Security Barrier: an International Comparative Analysis and Legal Evaluation” (The George Washington International Law Review 37, no. 2, 2005).  Subir Bhaumik, “Church Backing Tripura Rebels” (BBC News, 18 April 2000).  South Asian Terrorism Portal, “National Liberation Front of Tripura.”  Priya Verma, Amina Hafiz, Carol Anne Douglas, Rachel Pleatman, and Jennifer Chapin Harris, “India: Rebels Force Women to Take Part in Porn Films” (Off Out Backs: a Women’s Newsjournal 30, is. 9/10, Sep./Oct. 2005): 5.  Christianagression.com, “Assault on India.”  South Asian Terrorism Portal, “Constitution of the National Liberation Front of Tripura.”  Larry Niksch.  PBS.  Larry Niksch.  Tripura Police.  Ibid.