Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • Chemical weaponsStrong evidence that Syrian government used chemicals in attacks on three cities

    Evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government helicopters dropped barrel bombs filled with cylinders of chlorine gas on three towns in Northern Syria in mid-April 2014, Human Rights Watch said earlier this week. These attacks used an industrial chemical as a weapon, an act banned by the international treaty prohibiting chemical weapons that Syria joined in October 2013. The Syrian government is the only party to the conflict with helicopters and other aircraft.

  • Saudi connectionPressures grow to release docs which would clarify Saudi involvement in 9/11 attacks

    About fourteen years after the 9/11 attacks, there remains a disagreement among former and current U.S. intelligence officials on whether Saudi Arabia or individuals connected to the Saudi Royal family helped finance the attacks or had knowledge of the attacks before  it occurred. Lawmakers and relatives of those killed in the attacks now want twenty-eight pages of investigation by congressional intelligence committees into the 9/11 attacks declassified, on the grounds that those pages may clear up confusion about Saudi involvement. President George W. Bush ordered the twenty-eight pages classified when the rest of the report was released in December 2002.

  • BangladeshBangladesh bracing for violent protests, strikes following Islamist leader's execution

    Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, 62, an assistant secretary general of the Bangladeshi Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, was hanged Saturday for crimes committed during the 1971 bloody war between Bengali nationalists and the Pakistani army. A special war crimes tribunal found him guilty of heading a Muslim militia group which was responsible for a massacre of at least 120 unarmed farmers during the conflict. The hanging Kamaruzzman is likely to galvanize the Islamists to intensify their campaign of civil and economic disruption and destabilization. The Islamists have also joined non-Islamist opposition parties, chief among them the major opposition party, the BNP, in an effort to topple the government.

  • African securityAl-Shabaab is implementing a "plan as we go" strategy

    In the past two years, al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab has lost territory, ports, checkpoints, and key leaders to the African Unionforce in Somalia, which is supported by the United States. They have no armored personnel carriers like Nigerian-based Boko Haram, poppy fields like the Taliban, or oil fields like the Islamic State, still the Somali-based group has been able to launch deadly attacks in and out of Somalia.Counterterrorism experts say that al-Shabaab is implementing a “plan as we go” strategy, which relies on decentralized teams of gunmen who, on their own, determine who and where to attack.

  • Syria & chemical weaponsChlorine attacks continue in Syria with no prospect of Assad being brought to account

    By Brett Edwards and Mattia Cacciatori

    For more than a year, there have been numerous reports of chemical weapons attacks in Syria. This includes reported incidents which occurred in late March, as thousands of Syrians fled the city of Idlib in the face of a government-rebel stand-off. According to witnesses, chemical weapons were used. UN resolutions condemning the use of chemical weapons, however, do not imply immediate action to stop such use. The use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria thus goes on — and there is so far little evidence that the world’s major powers have the wherewithal to bring those responsible to justice. Continued geopolitical wrangling over Syria leaves those documenting the continuation of war crimes there almost completely powerless to stop what is happening. For now, the best we can hope for is that relevant organizations are allowed to continue to gather evidence for future trials —– and that pressure is put on all states to prosecute suspected perpetrators. This is to ensure that those who are committing such atrocities know that they will eventually be held to account.

  • African securityRwanda: how to deal with a million genocide suspects

    By Hollie N. Brehm

    Twenty-one years ago — on 7 April 1994 — the genocide that would kill up to one million people in Rwanda began. Another million individuals would be implicated as perpetrators, leaving Rwandans and many others to ask: how does a country begin to bring so many suspects to justice? In 2002, the Rwandan government created the gacaca — or “grass” in the country’s official language of Kinyarwanda — court system to tackle this enormous problem. Based on a traditional form of community dispute resolution, the gacaca courts functioned for ten years — until 2012. In total, an estimated one million people were tried within the gacaca courts. By Western legal standards, the gacaca courts had serious limitations. That said, the system’s ability to prosecute a massive number of suspected perpetrators in a devastated post-genocide environment is an accomplishment in itself. In fact, other countries could perhaps learn from the goal of integrating punitive responses (like prison sentences) with more restorative ones (like community service).

  • RadicalizationCanada delays national counter-terrorism program, so provinces launch own initiatives

    Canada’s national anti-terrorism program, which aims to identify signs of radicalization in young people and then connect them with social services, has been long-delayed, leading some communities to institute programs of their own with outside assistance.

  • African securityU.S. says its counterterrorism strategy in Somalia is working, but critics disagree

    President Barack Obama has referred to his strategy against al-Shabaab militants in Somalia as a model of success for his administration’s low-investment, light-footprint approach to counterterrorism. Under his administration’s policies, U.S. drones have killed several of the group’s leaders, and African Union (AU) troops, backed by the U.S. military, have forced al-Shabaab fighters to flee large swaths of territory. Critics of this approach now say that last week’s massacre of 148 people at Garissa University College in Kenya by al-Shabaab militants, demonstrates the limits of Obama’s approach to counterterrorism.

  • African securityKenya appears to be drifting toward a violent break-up

    As Kenya is trying to cope with the grief following last Thursday’s al-Shabaab massacre of 148 Christian students at Garissa University in north-east Kenya, analysts and scholars are focused on the implications of the attack for the future of Kenya. These analysts say that the intensifying terror campaign by the Islamist al-Shabaab may gradually, but inexorably, deepens the religious divisions in Kenya, a country which was once seen as an island of stability and progress in a volatile region. Since independence in 1963, successive Kenyan governments have purposefully neglected the Muslim north-east, a region mired in debilitating poverty and lack of opportunity. As is the case with Boko Haram in north-east Nigeria, al-Shabaab, too, is exploiting regional grievances and the sense of alienation to establish itself as the champion of the marginalized Muslim communities in the north-east. Since 2011, the central government has begun to allocate more funds to development projects in the north-east, but the steady departure of thousands of Christians, many of them professionals – teachers, medical personnel, engineers, agronomists – from the dangerous north-east for safer places in central and south Kenya, has undermined these efforts.

  • TerrorismTwo Queens, N.Y. women arrested for plotting propane tank bomb attacks in New York

    Roommates Noelle Velentzas, 28, and Asia Siddiqui, 31, were arrested Thursday morning and charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction in the United States, according to federal prosecutors. FBI officials say both women, who live in Queens, New York, were radicalized by Islamic State (ISIS) propaganda. A complaint unsealed on Thursday says the women had been communicating with people affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. “The investigation has revealed that Velentzas espouses violent jihadist beliefs and has repeatedly expressed an interest in terrorist attacks committed within the United States,” the complaint stated.

  • TerrorismThwarting Islamist terrorism in U.S. requires counterterrorism measures abroad

    When the FBI arrested two Chicago-area cousins last week on terrorism related charges, it was the 64th post-9/11 case of Islamic terrorists plotting to strike on U.S. soil, according to a new report from the Heritage Foundation.Like many post-9/11 terror attacks planned against Americans at home, the Chicago plot was thwarted by law enforcement deploying aggressive counterterrorism measures. Analysts, however, warn that the number of attempts will continue to increase unless similar measures are deployed abroad.

  • African securityUpheaval: Nigerian opposition wins presidential election

    Former General Muhammadu Buhari, the leader of the Nigerian opposition, has won a decisive victory over the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan in the Nigerian general election. The result of the election, held over the weekend, may signal a dramatic shift in Nigeria’s political history: If Jonathan allows for a smooth and peaceful transition of power, it will mark the first time in Nigeria’s 55-year history of a civilian government handing power to an opposition party to form another civilian government. For most of its history, Nigeria has been ruled by military governments. Jonathan has conceded defeat, but it is not clear whether elements in Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would be willing to relinquish power after holding it since 1999. Based on Nigeria’s checkered political history, it is possible that the PDP may fight the results in the courts, on the streets – or even from the barracks. The Nigerian election result would likely have a ripple effect across the continent, from South Africa, where the seemingly unassailable African National Congress (ANC) has held power since 1994, to countries such as Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, which do no more than pay lip service to the concept of pluralist democracy and opposition politics. The election results follow several unexpected political upheavals in Africa which may suggest incumbents today can no longer afford to ignore the will of the people and cling to power indefinitely.

  • African securityBuhari wins -- but the new president of Nigeria faces an enormous challenge

    By Catherine Gegout

    Nigerians have chosen General Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler, over incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, to be their president. Buhari will face daunting challenges, as the general political and economic situation in Nigeria is problematic. Nigeria is home to a corrupt government. The economy is in crisis: Nigeria has an unhealthy dependence on its oil exports, which represent more than 80 percent of its national income. The World Health Organization recommends that governments spend 15 percent of their budget on health, but Nigeria spends only 6 percent of its budget. The situation in northern Nigeria is critical, and Nigeria’s neighbors have been more active than the Nigerian government in fighting Boko Haram. The way the government has addressed violence in the north has been abysmal. Muslim clerics identified lack of good governance as the primary reason Boko Haram succeeded in recruiting members. With these conditions Boko Haram filled a vacuum. The militants will now be much harder to remove but ultimately, the next government can take steps to start tackling the problems that allowed them to gain a foothold.

  • Water & conflictWater scarcity a contributing cause of wars, terrorism in Middle East, North Africa

    The UN defines a region as water stressed if the amount of renewable fresh water available per person per year is below 1,700 cubic meters. A region is experiencing water scarcity if the figure is below 1,000 cubic meters, and below 500 amounts to “absolute water scarcity.” Water scarcity driven by overuse, poor land management, and climate change, is one of the causes of wars and terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa. If governments fail to respond, shortages of major resources, including food and energy, will cause greater insecurity and conflict.

  • TerrorismMost 2014 Muslim-American terrorism cases involved Americans going to Syria: Report

    A new report issued last week by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security shows that terrorist plots involving Muslim-Americans accounted for only a small fraction of the threats to public safety in the United States. The 2014 report shows that growth in terrorism cases involving Muslim-Americans can be attributed to individuals seeking to join terrorist groups in Syria. Of the twenty-five Muslim-Americans associated with terrorism in 2014, six plotted or engaged in violence in the United States. This number equals the lowest total since 2008. “We have not seen mass radicalization of Muslims in the United States,” the report’s author says. “That’s worth taking note of.”