Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • ISIS threat in Iraq exposes Obama’s failed policy in Syria: Administration insiders

    President Barack Obama has been coming under growing criticism over his policy – or, as some critics would argue, lack of policy — toward the Jihadist threat in Iraq and Syria. The criticism is increasingly coming from members of his own administration. They argue that the failure to help the moderate elements among the Syrian rebels not only helped Assad stay in power, but also allowed the Jihadists to cement their power over a large swath of Syria and then move south to control a third of Iraq. The president has recently asked for $500 million to help train moderate Syrian rebels, but even those who supported such a move two years ago say it may be too late.

  • Most of 2013 terrorist attacks took place in only a few countries

    The majority of terrorist attacks occurring in 2013 remained isolated in just a few countries, according to the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), which is generated by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). In 2013, 11,952 terrorist attacks resulted in 22,178 fatalities (including perpetrator deaths) and 37,529 injuries across 91 countries. More than half of all attacks (54 percent), fatalities (61 percent), and injuries (69 percent) occurred in just three countries: Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

  • Going the distance: does Islamic State have staying power?

    The rise of Islamic State (IS) across parts of the Middle East has galvanized the international community in a way not seen since September 11. But before a military response is considered, Western nations need to ask whether IS has staying power. Establishing a functional state will depend upon the militants’ ability to transition the skills gained in fighting wars to those required for governance. In particular, success will be necessary in three areas: establishing public security, delivering basic goods and services, and creating a perception of legitimacy. History tells us these criteria — not democratic niceties, secularism, or a moderate hand — will make or break IS. Snippets of information suggest that IS is likely to last, especially as its power is buttressed by considerable support from Iraq’s disenfranchised Sunni Arabs. The best option to weaken IS is to weaken its ability to monopolize the provision of basic needs to the people. This option will impact those who are passive bystanders swept up in the turmoil rather than the militants, but considering the extreme nature of the threat IS poses, as well as IS’s breaches of the most basic and universally held codes of morality, it may well be that in this case, the ends could justify the means.

  • Social networks aim to curb terror posts

    Social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram have all become a staple of everyday Western lifestyles – and these avenues have also become more interesting for terrorists to exploit to advance their goals. These companies admit, however, that curbing free speech and screening violent and hateful content does involve walking a fine line.

  • James Foley’s killers linked to British kidnapping network

    Right before American journalist James Foley was taken hostage in Syria in November of 2012, British security officials arrested and charged three British citizens who were allegedly members of a an Islamic terrorist kidnapping ring involved in the disappearance of two other Western journalists. Now, some are beginning to see a connection between his death and the organization operating in the United Kingdom.

  • Egypt, UAE strike Islamists’ targets in Libya

    Last week and again on Saturday, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) joined forces to conduct a series of airstrikes against Islamist militias in Libya. In recent months UAE special forces, operating out of Egyptian bases, destroyed an Islamist camp in eastern Libya without detection. The United States was not informed of the airstrikes, and U.S. permission was not sought. The move by Egypt and the UAE is but one more indication that after two years of introspection and confusion, the moderate forces in the Arab world have begun to assert themselves in an effort to gain a measure of control over post-Arab Spring developments in the region. The airstrikes by Egypt and UAE against Libya’s Islamist militias are thus an intensification of the regional campaign, led by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, to confront and defeat the Qatar- and Turkey-supported Islamist forces in the region.

  • ISIS cleverly exploits social media for recruiting, communicating, and instilling fear

    Islamist militants have adopted social media as their primary medium for communicating with the public. Terrorism experts and social media analysts agree that in recent weeks IS has demonstrated a mastery of social media that far exceeds that of al-Qaeda. That use of social media is partly due to the participation of young Western-educated recruits who join IS.

  • Islamists seize Tripoli’s airport, announce new government

    Libya moved closer to disintegration on Saturday after Islamist-led militias captured the airport in the capital, Tripoli, and announced the creation of a government. In what the Islamists called Operation Dawn, a coalition of different Islamist and Misrata militias captured the airport in a bloody firefight against pro-government militias. Saturday’s battle came after a five-week siege the Islamist coalition had imposed on the capital. Yesterday, Sunday, Islamist fighters set many of airport buildings ablaze. Regional experts say that developments over the weekend threaten to move Libya across the line from troubled post-Arab spring country to outright failed state.

  • U.S., European policies on paying ransom for kidnapped citizens not in sync

    The beheading of American journalist James Foley by a militant from the Islamic State has focused renewed attention on the U.S. policy of not negotiating with or paying ransom to terrorists – and on the differences between U.S. policy and the policies followed by many European countries.

  • Islam’s silent majority: moderate voices drowned out by extremists

    Stretching from North Africa to east Asia, many Muslims are engaged in a life-and-death tussle with extremists who are bent on extinguishing the diversity of opinions within the Muslim community. The reality, however, is that there exists more than one Islamic faith. Islam is an umbrella term, which covers multiple differences within the religion. Diversity of opinion is not a recent feature of Islam; evidence of broad shades of opinion can be traced back to its origins. But today the global Salafist movement, funded greatly by the Saudi regime and other sources, publicly occupies most of the Muslim world and parts of Muslim communities in the West. Islam should not be considered from the perspective of fundamentalism as, in the end, this will strengthen the extremists’ position. Rather, it should be understood by opening a dialogue, supporting, and co-operating with the moderates who offer a different understanding of Islam.

  • Dempsey: Attacking targets in Syria essential to stopping ISIS

    The United States and other like-minded countries must attack ISIS bases and formations in Syria if they want to defeat the organization in Iraq, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Thursday. Military analysts agree: “You can hit ISIS on one side of a border that essentially no longer exists, and it will scurry across, as it may have already,” said one analyst. General Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who spoke at a Pentagon news conference, gave no indication that President Obama was about to approve airstrikes in Syria.

  • Kurdish group on U.S. terrorist list now ally in fight against ISIS

    Factions long held to be “terrorists” by the United States government are now being seen as allies as they fight against an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) advance into the traditionally Kurdish areas of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have waged guerilla warfare in Turkey for several decades, and have been seen as terrorists by much of the world community — until recently. The PKK is now being seen as a valuable ally in the fight against ISIS.

  • Social media grappling with problems posed by terrorists-supporting contents

    Terrorist organizations have adopted social media as a tool for spreading propaganda and recruiting new members. Social media allow terrorist groups to interact with an audience and spread their message to a broader base. Legal scholars warn that as social media networks become the modern space for public discourse, they must be careful about publishing certain content because they could come under legal scrutiny for materially supporting terrorist organizations.

  • James Foley murder: inside the mind of Britain’s jihadists

    As the murder of James Foley appears to have shown, foreign fighters are involved at the heart of the violence abroad — and understanding how they got there and what they might do on their return is an important task to which all carefully researched findings can contribute. There is a long history of people heading off to fight in foreign countries, and recent research has shown that, on balance, foreign fighters are more likely to be involved in high-risk conflicts. An important aspect of successfully recruiting foreign fighters is the creation of a wider communal identity and the sense of a threat to it — so Serbs versus Bosnians becomes Christians versus Muslims, and Assad versus protesters becomes false Muslims (or Alawites, or Shi’as) versus true (in this case, Sunni) Muslims. This process of highlighting the threat to the community and generating a sense of fear is especially effective in people who have a stronger identity to that community than they do to their state identity. So people who might be marginalized within their home countries might be more likely to leave those countries as the ties of state identity are weaker than the sense of duty to their transnational community.

  • Credibility of informer at the center of California terrorism trial

    The trial of Sohiel Omar Kabir, 36, and Ralph Kenneth Deleon, 25, both accused of planning to travel to Afghanistan to join al-Qaeda, continued this week as prosecutors hope to convict the men on five counts of conspiracy. Kabir is accused of persuading Deleon, Miguel Alejandro Santana, and Arifeen David Gojali to go to Afghanistan to join al Qaeda. Much of the evidence against the defendants comes from an informant named Mohammad Hammad, who was used by the government as an informant in other cases. Civil rights advocates question Hammad’s credibility, saying he is more of an agent-provocateur than an informant.