Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • Morocco says it experienced no acts of terrorism in 2014

    The Moroccan government says that although the Maghreb region as a whole, including Mali, experienced more than 280 terrorist operations in 2014, Morocco is the only country where no single terrorist operation took place. The government says this was the result of Morocco’s anti-terrorism strategy.

  • The virtual significance of Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance to ISIS

    The Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram’s recent pledge of allegiance to ISIS has generated a wave of speculation about its significance. There are, however, good reasons not to read too much into the Boko Haram pledge. It is probable that it will have little or no real practical significance, beyond the initial public relations bump. Boko Haram’s pledge obviously has an important symbolic meaning, but there is a noncommittal flavor to it. It says what it says, but that’s not necessarily binding for either party. In a world with constant flows of messaging, including the posting of online fatwas (legal rulings) and jihadi propaganda videos, let’s not forget the ephemeral nature of such messages. Yesterday’s postings are forgotten and substituted by today’s postings. Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance to ISIS can therefore for practical reasons remain what it is: virtual.

  • Anti-Semitic French entertainer found guilty of condoning terrorism

    Two separate French courts, on Wednesday and Thursday, found anti-Semitic entertainer Dieudonné M’bala M’bala guilty in two separate cases. In one case he was convicted of supporting terrorism by posting a sympathetic message on his Facebook page about Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who killed four people in January at a kosher supermarket. In the second case he was found guilty of inciting racial hatred by saying that it was too bad that a French Jewish journalist, who wrote critically about him, was not killed in the Nazi gas chambers. M’bala M’bala has been convicted and fined dozens of times in the past for anti-Semitic statements or slander, but Wednesday’s court decision was the first one to threaten him with jail time. In the first case, the entertainer was convicted under a new law, passed in November, which aims to rein in speech and expressions supporting terrorism. French law enforcement and prosecutors have enforced the law aggressively, and since the January attacks more than 100 were brought up of charges of expressing support for terrorism.

  • Tunisia’s security nightmare long predates the Arab Spring

    Until now, Tunisia seemed to have escaped the worst of the violence that has beset the countries of the Arab Spring. Instead, this small nation, whose revolution for democracy and dignity sparked a wave of protest across the Arab world four years ago, looked like the only success story left. But the shocking attack at the Bardo museum in Tunis which left at least twenty dead, including seventeen foreign tourists, marks a profound setback to this rare democratic transition — and it may herald a new wave of violence and political crisis. Tunisia’s new government, which won elections in October 2014 by promising security, will now be under pressure to launch a tough crackdown. The challenge of Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi will be to provide the Tunisians with the security they deserve without resorting to the authoritarianism that is so rapidly re-emerging across the countries of the Arab Spring.

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  • More lone-wolf attacks committed by extremists/supremacists than Jihadists

    Internal documents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) reveal that more Lone Wolf attacks are committed by white supremacists and individuals with extreme right-wing ideologies than by Islamic extremists. Citing academic research, the agency attributes 17 percent of lone-wolf attacks worldwide to white supremacists causes. Islamic extremists account for 15 percent of such attacks, while left-wing radicalism and “black power” groups followed with 13 percent. Anti-abortion activism accounts for 8 percent and nationalism/separatism causes make up 7 percent, while 40 percent of lone wolf attacks showed no clear ideological motivation.

  • South Africa refuses to give up cache of weapon-grade uranium

    In the 1980s, White minority-ruled South Africa built six nuclear bombs. In 1990s the F. W. de Klerk government began planning the transformation of the country into a democracy. As part of the transition, the country’s nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons-making infrastructure, were dismantled under IAEA supervision. TheWhite-minority regime and, since 1994, the democratically elected South African government, have both held to, and refused to give up, the 485 pounds of weapon-grade nuclear fuel – some of it extracted from the dismantled weapons and some of it already produced but not yet put in warheads. Despite pressure by successive U.S. administrations, South Africa says it is determined to keep its weapon-grade nuclear fuel.

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  • Privacy concerns potentially an obstacle to 1 June Patriot Act reauthorization

    With the USA Patriot Act set to expire on 1 June, lawmakers are debating whether the bill, which allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect bulk metadata of U.S. phone records, should be extended. The act was last renewed in 2011, before former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed details of the U.S. intelligence agency’s surveillance activities. The debate around the reauthorization of the Patriot Act focuses on Section 215 of the law, used by the NSA to mass collect phone records in an effort to locate terrorists who might be calling supporters in the United States.

  • UN to investigate 1961 plane crash that killed UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjold

    On the night of 17 September 1961, a Transair Sweden DC-6B named Albertina was making its way to a copper mining region in southern Congo (the region is now part of northern Zambia). The plane was carrying UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjold, who was on his way to a meeting with Moise Tshombe, the leader of the break-away Katanga province. Hammarskjold never made it. His plane crashed in a densely forested area eight miles from the airport at Ndola, in what was then the British protectorate of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). The cause of the crash has never been determined. The United Nations has now reopened the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Hammarskjold, and appointed a panel of three independent experts to conduct the investigation.

  • French experts rule out foul play in 2004 death of Yasser Arafat

    A French prosecutor yesterday announced that French medical and forensic experts have ruled out poisoning as the cause of the 2004 death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The prosecutor of the western Paris suburb of Nanterre said the experts, following a thorough examination, found there was no foul play in Arafat’s death. The findings by the French experts are identical to findings by a different French team and to the findings of Russian experts. A Swiss team, however, initially said that their test results of personal affects left behind by Arafat led them to conclude that radioactive poisoning was “more consistent” as an explanation of Arafat’s death.

  • ISIS employed crude chemical weapons against Kurdish peshmerga

    Kurdish sources in Iraq have said they have evidence that Islamic State (ISIS) used chlorine gas as a chemical weapon against Kurdish peshmerga fighters. The Kurdistan Region Security Council said the chlorine gas was spread by a suicide truck bomb attack on 23 January in northern Iraq. Iraqi officials and Kurds fighting in Syria have made several similar allegations since last fall about ISIS using chlorine chemical weapons against them. In the previous Islamist insurgency in Iraq – in Anbar province, in 2006-2007 – there was evidence of chemical use by the insurgents. The insurgents in 2006-2007 were members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which later transformed itself into ISIS.

  • With thousands of Westerners joining ISIS, visa waiver program puts U.S. at risk: Lawmakers

    Security concerns are threatening the 1986 visa waiver program (VWP), which allows millions of people with (mostly) Western passports to travel to the United States for ninety days without a visa. Lawmakers argue that the program, which applies to citizens of thirty-eight countries, has created a security weakness that terrorist groups, specifically the Islamic State (ISIS), could exploit. Thousands of European citizens have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. Security officials fear that many of them could return back to Europe, then board a U.S.-bound flight with the intent of launching an attack on American soil.

  • Escape of deadly bacteria at Louisiana bio-research facility raises concerns

    Weeks after federal and state officials launched an investigation into how the burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria which causes life-threatening disease Melioidosis, escaped a laboratory at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Louisiana, another investigation is now looking into how a veterinary clinic worker might have been exposed to the bacteria.Tulane was conducting vaccine research on the bacteria in a laboratory that requires a biosafety level 3 rating — - the second highest security level.

  • NBAF-focused research already underway at K-State U, ahead of level-4 biolab opening

    Although the remaining funding for the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility, or NBAF, was recently finalized, work on the federal livestock research facility has continued to move forward in recent years — including Kansas State University conducting research which will help jump-start future operations at NBAF. NBAF will be DHS’s premier foreign animal disease research lab. It will research high-consequence livestock diseases that threaten animal and human health. The $1.25 billion lab will be on the northeast edge of K-State Manhattan, Kansas campus. NBAF is anticipated to begin operations in 2022 or 2023. Construction of the facility’s central utility plant is more than 90 percent complete.

  • Weighing the pros, cons of blocking ISIS’s access to social media

    The Islamic State has successfully used social media to spread its ideology, share videos of beheadings, and recruit new followers. U.S. counterterrorism agencies have launched their own social media campaigns to diminish ISIS’s effects on would be jihadists, but some officials have considered whether it would be simpler to cut off ISIS from social media networks altogether. Doing so would no doubt limit ISIS’s reach on Western recruits, but could it create a challenge for officials looking to monitor the group’s activities?

  • U.S. security officials share a sober view of terrorism challenge

    U.S. counterterrorism analysts have painted a pessimistic picture of the years to come, saying the threats from terrorism will continue to challenge the United States. This attitude contrasts with the feelings most Americans had after the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 and the dawn of the Arab Spring, which was initially seen as a first step in a path toward democracy in the Middle East. For U.S. security officials, those optimistic views have evaporated – even as some note that counterterrorism work thrives on pessimism and involves planning for worst-case scenarios.