Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • BiometricsFBI’s biometric data center key to identifying Jihadi John

    The FBI is unlikely to release details of how, working with allies in the United Kingdom, it managed to accomplish the task of identifying “Jihadi John” with only video footage of the suspect’s hidden face and a voice with a British accent. Identifying Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born, British-educated man in his mid-20s, was likely done at the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division(CJIS), which houses the bureau’s Biometric Center of Excellence(BCE). At BCE, the FBI uses the $1.2 billion dollar Next Generation Identification(NGI) software to scan photos, aliases, physical traits, fingerprints, and voiceprints. The software is interoperable with the Pentagon’s Automated Biometric Identification System(ABIS) and DHS’s Automated Biometric Identification System(IDENT).

  • African securityU.S. imposes sanctions on three Nigerian Hezbollah operatives

    Nigeria is home to a small Shiite Lebanese population, many members of which emigrated for work in the mid-1900s.Roughly five million Shiites living in Nigeria support the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), an organization initially funded by Iran in the early 1980s to establish an Iranian-style revolution in Nigeria.Last Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on three Nigerians of Lebanese descent, accusing them of being part of Hezbollah’s Foreign Relations Department (FRD) in the Nigerian capital Abuja.Hezbollah is operating in at least forty-five countries, eleven of which are in Africa.

  • Social mediaFrance asks social media companies to help in fighting radicalization, terrorism

    The French government has asked leading social media and tech firms, Google, Facebook, and Twitter to work directly with French law enforcement during investigations and to immediately remove terrorist propaganda when authorities alert them to it.The Islamic State (ISIS), along with other Islamist militant groups, are using social media to disseminate their violent messages, recruit new followers and fighters, and share videos of executed hostages. Roughly 20,000 foreign fighters, including 3,400 from Western nations, have joined ISIS and other extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

  • African securityMuhammadu Buhari, challenger for Nigeria's presidency, vows to defeat Boko Haram

    Muhammadu Buhari, the leading challenger for the Nigerian presidency, has committed himself to defeating Boko Haram Islamist insurgents in northern Nigeria by providing the military and security forces with better equipment, more training, and more accurate intelligence. Buhari, a former military leader – and, for about twenty months in 1982-83, the country’s leader – asserted that if the government of President Goodluck Jonathan had deployed the same resources to fighting Boko Haram as it had to secure its own political survival, the Nigerian army would have by now rescued the more than 270 schoolgirls abducted by the extremist movement in Chibok last April. In recent weeks the Islamist insurgents have been pushed back in several places, but Buhari pointedly questioned claims by the Nigerian army chief that the war was almost over.

  • ISISThree New Yorkers charged for attempting to join ISIS in Syria

    Three New Yorkers were arrested yesterday on terrorism charges after they attempted to join Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Syria, federal authorities said. Two of the men are Uzbek citizens, and one is a Kazakh. The three men also had domestic terror plans, which included plots to kill FBI agents, plant a bomb at Coney Island, and kill President Obama — “if ordered by ISIS.” Documents filed in court provide a detailed account of the logistics involved in recruitment into ISIS, showing the young men grappling with how to evade law enforcement, sneak across borders, and communicate from afar with members of the Islamic State.

  • BioweaponsU.K. military last fall evaluated possible Ebola use by terrorists

    In October 2014, during the peak of the Ebola epidemic which terrorized citizens in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, security and terrorism analysts considered the probability of the Islamic State (ISIS) or other terror groups weaponizing Ebola and unleashing the virus in New York, Paris, London, or another major city. Many bioweapon researchers played down Martinez’s claim, saying terrorists looking to use Ebola as a weapon would encounter problems. Still, last fall, a U.K. military research unit was tasked with evaluating whether terrorist organizations could use Ebola to attack Western targets.

  • TerrorismJudgment against Palestinian Authority for supporting terrorism unlikely to be collected

    On Monday, a jury in Manhattan found the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) liable for their role in knowingly supporting six terror attacks in Israel between 2002 and 2004, in which Americans were killed and injured. The case was brought under the Antiterrorism Act of 1991, which allows American citizens who are victims of international terrorism to sue in U.S. courts and collect triple the amount of damages awarded by the courts. The judgment on Monday granted $655.5 million to the plaintiffs. Legal analysts, however, question whether victims and families of victims will actually get any money from the ruling.

  • RadicalizationU.S. Muslim communities step-up efforts to fight radicalization of Muslim youths

    Before President Barack Obama last week hosted the White House’s three day summit on countering violent extremism, American Muslim leaders had already begun discussing how to stop young Muslims from being radicalized and recruited by Islamist extremists, specifically the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda-backed al-Shabaab. The federal government and local law enforcement, have in many cases, offered to help Muslim communities fight extremism, but some Muslim leaders resist cooperating with the government, fearing that they would be contributing to religious profiling and anti-Muslim bigotry. Muslim communities themselves offer prevention programs and counseling for vulnerable youths who may have been contacted by recruiters.

  • RadicalizationThe new terrorists and the roots they share with gangs and drug lords

    By Mark Edberg and Hina Shaikh

    The recent attacks in Paris and Copenhagen are the latest incarnations of a new type of terrorism. Decentralized and homegrown, it is hard to understand. In many cases, these young perpetrators have been drawn to extremist ideologies without personal histories of religious commitment, militancy, or even social activism. How do they — in a relatively short period of time — get to the point where they are willing to commit such violent acts? The context in which these perpetrators live and develop contributes to these outsized acts of violence in at least two significant ways. The first has to do with the nature of excluded communities. Cut off by many boundaries, these communities become like islands disconnected from the society around them. These boundaries are socio-economic and cultural and are often made deeper by racism and discrimination. The second has to do with young persons’ search for identity and status. Such a search in an excluded community is vulnerable to the influence of people who use violence to demonstrate their importance. If that violence is connected with a sense of payback and revenge against those forces that exclude, then the situation is even more volatile.

  • Domestic terrorismDHS intelligence assessment highlights threat posed by sovereign citizen groups

    U.S. security officials have long considered sovereign citizen groups as a growing threat to domestic security. In a 2014 surveyof state and local law enforcement agencies, leaders of these agencies listed members of sovereign citizen groups as the top domestic terror threat, ahead of foreign Islamist or domestic militia groups. The U.S. government has primarily focused its counterterrorism efforts on the threats posed by foreign extremist groups, including Islamic State and al-Qaeda, but the problem posed by domestic would-be terrorists has not been overlooked. A new DHS intelligence assessment, released earlier this month, focuses on the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen extremists.

  • African securityCountering Boko Haram: can a regional approach help Nigeria?

    By David Mickler

    Boko Haram has killed more than 10,000 people and forced more than a million others to flee. It has captured 30,000 square kilometers of Nigerian territory, has reported links to al-Qaeda, and has been dubbed “Africa’s ISIS.” Nigeria and its neighbors have now proposed a regional taskforce to tackle the brutal Boko Haram insurgency, which has waged war in the northeast of the country since 2009. But will it work? The taskforce would consist of 8,700 military, police, and civilian personnel. It would conduct coordinated military and intelligence operations to prevent Boko Haram’s expansion and to stabilize areas previously under its control. It would also protect civilians, help displaced people to return home and enable some humanitarian assistance. There are, however, deeper issues regarding the conditions that have enabled Boko Haram to flourish, which are beyond the mandate and capacity of any regional intervention force. These include political marginalization and socio-economic underdevelopment in the predominantly Muslim regions of Nigeria’s north, religious radicalization, and wider governance challenges, such as corruption, in the Nigerian polity.

  • SurveillanceKouachi intelligence failure: The struggle to balance security, privacy, budgetary concerns

    About seven months before the attacks on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, French domestic intelligence agency monitored Saïd Kouachi for at least two years, and his younger brother Chérif Kouachi for at least a year. The surveillance of both brothers had led nowhere, and was later considered a non-priority for intelligence officials. The Kouachi brothers did not appear to be an imminent threat, and it would have taken twenty-five agents to monitor the two brothers around the clock. Experts say that the failures and missteps by French law enforcement in the Kouachi case should be a lesson to other Western governments which may have relaxed surveillance practices targeted at would-be terrorists in order to comply with budget cuts or out of genuine concern for civil liberties.

  • RadicalizationPakistan grappling with the problem of hate-breeding, violence-legitimizing madrassas

    Before many young radical Muslims take up arms with jihadist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda, they receive their first lessons on radical Islam from madrassas, Islamic schools that serve as an alternative to government or expensive private schools. The 9/11 Commission said these Pakistani schools were “incubators for violent extremism.” Pakistan has anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 madrasas, many of which have existed since the country’s founding nearly seven decades ago. In the wake of the killing by the Taiban of more than 150 people, most of them high-school students, at an army-run school in December 2014, the attitudes of many Pakistanis toward the madrassas are changing. The government has begun to monitor the funding of these religious schools more tightly, but critics say this is the wrong approach. The problem is not school funding, says one critic. “The actual problem is what’s taught in the madrassa, because that curriculum breeds hatred, violence and legitimizes violence against non-Muslims.”

  • ISISISIS expands its activities in North Africa

    ISIS has been steadily expanding its presence and activities in North Africa. In Libya, the disintegration of the state and the unending war among the different armed militias, have offered ISIS ideal conditions to establish itself as a growing military force. In Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria, various Islamist groups with grievances against the central governments have declared loyalty to ISIS, which they see as a vehicle to advance their agenda.

  • Lone wolvesWhite House summit on extremism focuses on lone wolves

    Today the White House will host community leaders and local law enforcement officials for the second day of a summit on “countering violent extremism,” the purpose of which is to highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent extremists from radicalizing and recruiting individuals or groups in the United States and abroad to commit acts of violence. The administration’s counter extremism efforts reflect an understanding that lone wolf terror acts will continue to be a threat for law enforcement as much as acts by organized groups such as al-Qaeda.