Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • TerrorismU.S. tracking 150 people who travelled to Syria – some of them “to fight” in ISIS ranks

    U.S. law enforcement agencies are tracking about 150 people who traveled from the United States to Syria in recent months, “a significant number of them to fight,” FBI director James Comey told reporters at a briefing in Boston on Tuesday. The number of Americans who traveled to the Middle East to join the Islamic State (ISIS) is higher than figures mentioned earlier by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement of Americans who actually joined ISIS ranks. Last month, Comey said the FBI was aware of “a dozen or so” Americans fighting in Syria “on the side of the terrorists” – and he repeated that number on Tuesday, adding that the total number of travelers under surveillance is ten times that.

  • TerrorismRAND study assesses threat posed by Americans joining jihadist fronts abroad

    Although it is difficult to pin down the exact numbers of Western fighters slipping off to join the jihadist fronts in Syria and Iraq – the number is estimated to be around 100 — U.S. counterterrorism officials believe that those fighters pose a clear and present danger to American security. Some of these fighters will be killed in the fighting, some will choose to remain in the Middle East, but some will return, more radicalized than before and determined to continue their violent campaigns back in the United States.

  • Middle EastJerusalem attacks are no isolated incident: the third intifada is here

    By Asaf Siniver

    The attack on a Jerusalem synagogue in which four Jewish worshippers were killed and eight were injured has sparked new fears that fighting between Israel and Palestinian could flare up once more. The attack, by two Palestinians carrying meat cleavers and a gun, has the potential to kick off fresh religious confrontation and a third intifada. In the first intifada of 1987, the Palestinians rose up against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza for the first time. The 2000 intifada followed a failed peace process. But this intifada is not being fought over territory or negotiating positions. It is a religious conflict that is bubbling up as a result of contrasting claims to sovereignty over the Holy City of Jerusalem. This intractable conflict has long been defined by issues such as the future of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the fate of Palestinian refugees. Now the added burden of more religious tensions is certain to condemn the people of the Holy Land to many more years of bloodshed.

  • ISISISIS has sufficient quantities of arms to carry on fighting for two years: UN

    A new report prepared for the United Nations Security Council warns that Islamic State (ISIS) has in its possession sufficient reserves of small arms, ammunition, and vehicles to wage its war for Syria and Iraq for up to two years. The size and diversity the Islamist organization’s arsenal allow the group durable mobility, range, and a limited defense against low-flying aircraft. The report notes that even if the U.S.-led air campaign continues to destroy the group’s vehicles and heavier weapon systems, such a campaign “cannot mitigate the effect of the significant volume of light weapons” Isis possesses.

  • TerrorismNumber of deaths caused by terrorism in 2013 increased 61% over 2012

    There were almost 10,000 terrorist attacks recorded in 2013 (representing a 44 percent increase over 2012), resulting in nearly 18,000 deaths (representing a 61 percent increase from the previous year). Twenty-four countries experienced more than 50 deaths in 2013, and increase of 60 percent from 15 in 2012. Terrorism in 2013 was dominated by four organizations: ISIS, Boko Haram, al Qaeda, and the Taliban — collectively responsible for 66 percent of all fatalities from terrorism. More than 80 percent of the deaths from terrorist incidents in 2013 were recorded in just five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria. Iraq continues to be the country most impacted by terrorism, with the number of fatalities in the country rising 164 percent to 6,362. At least thirteen countries face a greater risk of significant terrorist activity in the coming years: Angola, Bangladesh, Burundi, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Iran, Israel, Mali, Mexico, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Uganda.

  • TerrorismTerror financiers operate freely in Qatar: U.S.

    Qatar’s massive financial support of the most extreme Jihadist movements in the Middle East and North Africa is not exactly a secret. The most recent piece of evidence pointing to Qatar’s deep involvement with Jihadist movements in the region is the revelation that two of al-Qaeda’s most senior financiers are living with impunity and operating without restrictions in Qatar, despite being on a worldwide terrorism blacklist. The revelations, made by American official in charge of sanctions, further expose the reality behind Qatar’s insistence that it does not support terrorist groups, including Jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

  • TurkeyTurkey has its own good reasons for not intervening in Kobane

    By Tristan Dunning

    As the Kurdish town of Kobane, just inside Syria on the Syria-Turkey border, continues to defy Islamic State (IS) forces, many pundits have condemned Turkey’s unwillingness to help the People’s Protection Units (YPG) keep the forces of “evil” at bay. The Turkish government, however, has valid reasons not to become embroiled in the defense of Kobane against IS. The defenders of Kobane are members of the YPG, which is the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) – a Kurdish group linked to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). The PKK is a movement that waged a decades-long guerrilla war, at a cost of more than 40,000 lives, in pursuit of independent state at the expense of Turkish territorial integrity. The PKK, and the PYD by association, are still listed as a proscribed terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the West, including Australia and the United States. It thus suits Turkey that IS and the YPG/PKK are slugging it out: not only are two of its primary enemies otherwise occupied, but they are weakening each other. The PYD has been accused of collaborating with the Assad regime, and Turkey has no intention of allowing another PKK haven to be set up along its borders. The PYD-YPG resistance is testimony to their courage, but the Western public’s fleeting emotional investment in Kobane isn’t going to flick a magic switch in the Turkish majority’s collective consciousness after decades of separatist conflict.

  • Middle EastU.S. new Syria strategy to seek removal of Assad in parallel with defeat of ISIS

    President Barack Obama’s national security team has been reviewing U.S. policy in Syria after concluding that any meaningful progress in the campaign against ISIS, let alone the defeat of the Islamist organization, may not be achievable without being accompanied by a plan to remove President Bashar al Assad from power. The United States began its air attacks on ISIS in early August as part of an “Iraq first” strategy, the thrust of which has been to emphasize the degradation of ISIS military capabilities in Iraq first, while regarding any operations against ISIS in Syria merely as an effort to influence and shape conditions in Iraq. The administration was hoping that this approach would give the United States time and space to vet, train, and equip an effective moderate Syrian rebel fighting force to take ISIS on. Administration sources now admit that the initial strategy of trying to confront ISIS first in Iraq and then take it on in Syria, without at the same time also focusing on the removal of the Assad clan from power, was a miscalculation which has backfired. The fundamental problem the United States and its Western allies face is that they appear to be willing to use their military might to defend Iran’s allies — the Shi’a regime in Iraq and the Alawite regime in Syria – at the expense of the Sunni majority in Syria and the substantial Sunni minority in Iraq. That perception prompted thousands of Sunni volunteers from around the world to rush to join ISIS ranks, and has led major regional Sunni countries such as Turkey tacitly to support ISIS campaign (the Qatari government, and wealthy individuals in the Gulf States, have been supporting ISIS not so tacitly). Sunnis in the region also note the U.S. apparent acquiescence to three more developments which have enhanced Iran’s sway and influence in the region: the de facto creation of a Shi’a state-within-state in Lebanon under Hezbollah, the takeover last month of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, by the pro-Iranian Zaydi Shiites from the Houthi clan, and the apparent willingness of the United States to allow Iran to retain a residual nuclear weapons-related capability. The cumulative effect of these developments and perceptions has been to cause the regional Arab anti-ISIS coalition to begin to fray, and calls for formulating a realistic strategy to remove Assad from power to grow louder.

  • TerrorismVets, victims’ family members suing European banks for supporting terrorism

    About 200 U.S. veterans and family members of soldiers killed in Iraq filed a lawsuit on Monday in the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York, claiming five European banks were partly responsible for a series of shootings and roadside bombings in Iraq. The lawsuit brought under the 1992 U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, which permits victims to bring private suits against alleged financiers of militant and terrorist operations.

  • African securityStudy ties conflict risk in sub-Saharan Africa to climate change, socioeconomics, geography

    A massive new study indicates there is a statistical link between hotter temperatures generated by climate change and the risk of armed conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa. A research team assessed more than 78,000 armed conflicts between 1980 and 2012 in the Sahel region of Africa — a semi-arid belt just south of the Saharan Desert that spans about 3,000 miles and more than a dozen countries from the Atlantic to the Indian oceans. The team was looking for links between armed conflicts and temperature and rainfall anomalies, as well as assessing other causes of violence in the Sahel.

  • AgroterrorismProtecting the U.S. food supply from agroterrorism

    “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do,” said Tommy Thompson during his 2004 farewell speech when he left his post as U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services. Documents found in a 2002 U.S. military raid on an al-Qaeda warehouse showed that terrorists sought to contaminate the U.S. food supplies. The documents included detailed instructions for attacking U.S. agricultural assets. Researchers at the University of California-Davis’ Western Institute for Food Safety and Security(WIFSS) are studying vulnerabilities of the U.S. agricultural system to the threats of agroterrorism.

  • EbolaUse of Ebola virus as bioterror weapon highly unlikely: Experts

    Francisco Martinez, Spain’s state secretary for security, claimed that ISIS fighters are planning to carry out “lone wolf” attacks using biological weapons. He cites conversations uncovered from secret chat rooms used by would-be militants. Bioterrorism experts say the use of Ebola for bioterrorism is highly unlikely. “Assuming a terrorist organization manages to capture a suitable Ebola host, extract the virus, weaponize the virus, transport the virus to a populated city and deliver the virus, it is entirely likely that the sub-optimal climatic conditions of a Western city will kill it off relatively quickly,” says one expert.

  • BioterrorismRicin vaccine shows promise in pilot study

    Ricin is a highly lethal toxin derived from the seeds of the castor oil plant. A dose of purified ricin powder the size of a few grains of table salt can kill an adult. Due to its toxicity and the ubiquity of source material, it’s considered a leading bioterrorism threat. A recent study at the Tulane National Primate Research Center showed for the first time that an experimental vaccine could completely protect nonhuman primates exposed to deadly ricin toxin, a potential bioterrorism agent.

  • TerrorismISIS chief al-Baghdadi either “critically wounded” or killed in Saturday air strike: Iraqi sources

    Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), was “critically wounded” early Saturday when a U.S. air strike hit two ISIS targets in the town of al-Qaim in western Iraq. The attacks early Saturday morning included an air attack on a 10-car convoy on the outskirts of the border town of al-Qaim, and a combined air attack and ground assault on a house in al-Qaim where ISIS leaders were meeting at the time. Three senior ISIS figures were confirmed killed: Abdur Rahman al-Athaee, also known as Abu Sajar, a senior aide to ISIS leader who was particularly close to al-Baghdadi; Adnan Latif al-Suweidi, the overall leader of Anbar province; and Bashar al-Muhandi, ISIS’s leader in the Euphrates valley.

  • Law enforcement technologyFBI: Lawmakers should mandate surveillance “backdoors” in apps, operating systems

    FBI director James Comey said that the agency was pushing lawmakers to mandate surveillance functions in apps, operating systems, and networks, arguing that privacy and encryption prevent or disrupt some of the agency’s investigations. According to Comey, new privacy features implemented by Google and Apple in the wake of the Snowden revelations, automatically encrypt user communication and data, making it difficult for law enforcement to gather evidence and connect links among suspected criminals and terrorists.