Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • Turkish jets bomb Kurdish positions

    The tensions and acrimony between Turkey and the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS have risen to new heights in the last two days. No other country in the region bears as much responsibility as Turkey does for the rise and continuous success of ISIS, and on Monday, Turkey went a step farther in its effort to protect ISIS: Its air force conducted heavy bombing raids against targets of the Kurdish group PKK, one of the more capable Kurdish forces fighting to hold off ISIS and its advances. We should not assume that Turkey’s leaders, pious Muslims though they are, actually espouse or support the extremist version of Islam for which ISIS stands. Rather, Turkey sees ISIS as a tool which, if properly protected, and provided it does not get out of hand, can be used to harass, weaken, or even defeat Turkey’s main adversaries in the region. Turkey’s refusal to contribute to the weakening of ISIS is now running the risk of creating a humanitarian crisis of historical proportions: ISIS forces are closing in on the Kurdish town of Kobani, just inside Syria across from the Turkish border. ISIS has publicly announced that it will kill the 200,000-300,000 Kurdish citizens in the besieged city unless they converted to ISIS version of Islam.

  • Minnesota law enforcement helps Somali community fight radicalization, terror recruiting

    For years, Minnesota’s Somali community has been battling the recruitment of young men and women into militant groups like al-Shabaab and the Islamic State (ISIS). Several community and religious leaders have helped form youth groups and held public discussions about the radicalization of Somalis in America. Law enforcement agencies are also playing their part. Andy Luger, U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, is working with members of the local Somali community to better understand its concerns and how to help the community fight extremism.

  • ISIS and al-Qaeda use social media, Web platforms differently to achieve different ends

    The Internet has contributed to the popularity of both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) among would-be jihadists, but the two terror groups use social media and Web platforms differently. Al-Qaeda has been spreading its message via the Internet for nearly two decades, while ISIS is a relative newcomer. Both groups use social media to recruit fighters, but ISIS has successfully developed content that Internet users are likely to share and repost. Such content in the form of violent videos and graphic imagery target young, disillusioned Westerners who are prime for radicalization.

  • More research needed to address synthetic biology security concerns

    Synthetic biology involves the design of new biological components, devices, or systems that do not exist in nature, or the redesign of existing natural biological systems. Synthetic biology aims to make biological systems work more efficiently or to design biological tools for specific applications — such as developing more effective antibiotics. A new paper examines security risks and policy questions related to the growing field of synthetic biology. While the author does not think the field is ripe for exploitation by terrorists, it does highlight significant gaps in our understanding of the nuts and bolts of lab work in synthetic biology that can contribute to security risks.

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  • Why Western boots should stay out of Iraq and Syria

    The main reason why we should ignore the growing calls in the United States, Canada and Australia for Western “boots on ground” — meaning ground troops — to fight and destroy the Islamic State (IS) is this: In Iraq and Syria right now there is no alternative group that could fill the void created by a defeated IS. So even if we could topple IS, who would govern the liberated lands? One of the key lessons we learnt from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars is that military forays cannot succeed without a political solution. Attempting to create such a political solution only after the fact is not something that the world has proven adept at. In the case of IS, there is currently no clear and viable political endgame. So as hard as it might be to accept for some, if defeating IS is the goal, the best solution is likely to be isolate the militants and work to weaken them from within in Iraq – this is what the United States did so successfully in 2006 with the same Sunni groups — while adopting a realpolitik approach to the return of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

  • Four arrested in London in plot to behead people on city streets

    Officers from the Metropolitan Police counterterrorism unit early yesterday arrested four young men in London over a suspected terrorist plot to grab people on the streets of London and behead them. One of the four arrested was said to have links to Syria and Islamic State (ISIS). Security analysts have said that ISIS would likely seek to retaliate against the United Kingdom in response to British fighter planes joining the U.S. and Arab states in bombing raids on ISIS targets in Iraq.

  • Anti-terrorism plan must tackle “allies” who also fuel radicalism

    The coalition of nations stitched together by the United States in response to the developing threat of Islamic State is overlooking the sources of radicalism in the region. This plan not only has nothing to say about these sponsors of terrorism but even empowers fundamentalist groups by forging alliances with them. The U.S.-led alliance includes Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Both countries have been playing counter-productive roles by supporting regional and global Salafi Jihadi movements for a long time. They persist in provoking sectarian strife throughout the region. The emergence of Islamic State cannot be understood without studying its Salafist roots in Saudi Arabia and the financial and media support that has flowed from Qatar. Fighting IS while remaining blind to the sources of radicalism in the region will ultimately be unsuccessful. The only long-term solution is to tackle the source of the problem. This plan must include clear and realistic agendas to reform the education systems of countries in the region, evaluate these U.S. allies’ democratic status, and pressure them to improve their records.

  • Is it fair to blame the West for trouble in the Middle East?

    For at least a decade, attempts to understand why some young Muslims living in Western countries turn to violence in the name of religion have raised questions about Western foreign policy in the Middle East. Many blame the United States’ foreign policy. The Islamic State uses anger and grievance against Western intervention as a powerful recruiting tool. There is some truth to the argument that anger at foreign policy and the West’s engagement with the Arab world is at the heart of Muslim anger, as well as a driver of radicalization among Muslim youth, but the current state of affairs in the Middle East is not simply an outcome of Western intervention and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Western foreign policy in the region has no doubt influenced the current situation, but the conditions for the spread of militant Islamism have come from attempts to deal with the crisis within: a crisis that is as much political in nature as it is religious.

  • Assad retains secret caches of chemical weapons: Israeli intelligence

    Despite committing to dismantle and give up its chemical weapons – Syria was in possession of the world’s largest chemical weapons stock — President Bashar al-Assad’s regime still maintains a “residual” chemical weapons capacity, consisting of a few tons of the proscribed materials. Israel’s intelligence community has concluded that the Assad regime has decided to keep this reduced, but still formidable, chemical weapons capability, and has successfully concealed it from the inspectors of the UN chemical weapons watchdog who, a few weeks ago, have declared the chemical disarmament of Syria to be officially complete. Israeli defense officials believe that these sarin gas weapons would likely be deployed if the Assad regime faced an imminent threat to its survival. The Syrian regime is continuing to use chemical weapons which were not covered by the U.S.-Russian chemical weapons disarmament agreement, especially chlorine gas.

  • Cost of U.S. war on ISIS reaches $780 million

    The cost of the war against the Islamic State (ISIS) Islamist group has totaled at least $780 million, according to a new estimate, as U.S. warplanes and drones continued to strike Isis positions in Iraq and Syria on Monday and Tuesday. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Friday that the U.S. military is spending up to $10 million a day and will likely request more money from Congress to fund the war. The attacks on ISIS began 8 August, and before they were expanded to include targets in Syria, the Pentagon estimated the daily war costs at $7.5 million.

  • Obama: U.S. intelligence underestimated ISIS strength, overestimated Iraqi military's resilience

    President Barack Obama on Sunday said that the U.S. intelligence community had underestimated Islamic State (ISIS) strength and level of activity inside Syria, which has become “ground zero” for jihadist terrorists worldwide, while overestimating the ability of the Iraqi army to fight such militant groups. Obama’s admission that ISIS succeeded in setting up its bases in Syria and Iraq without being noticed by U.S. intelligence may embolden Republican hawks such Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) who have been complaining for months that the administration was being too passive in its approach to the Syrian civil war.

  • ISIS, al-Nusra reconcile as Syria air strikes continue

    Under continuing strikes by U.S. and coalition air forces, ISIS moved toward a new alliance with Syria’s largest al-Qaeda-affiliated group. Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been at odds with ISIS for more than a year now, was also subjected to U.S. air strikes which killed scores of the group’s members. Many al-Nusra units in northern Syria now appear to have reconciled with ISIS, following months of bitter clashes between the two groups.

  • New DOJ pilot program aims to deter Americans from joining terrorist groups

    Boston, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis will host the Justice Department’s (DOJ) pilot program aimed at deterring Americans from joining terrorists groups, particularly those fighting in Syria and Iraq under the Islamic State (IS) and Somalia under al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab. The program will rely on prevention and intervention initiatives.

  • U.S. strategy for fighting ISIS includes outreach to Muslims-American communities

    The White House is planning a summit in October to consider domestic extremism – a summit which will include Muslim faith-based organizations, mental health providers, social services groups, and youth-support organizations. The leaders of U.S. security services agree that Muslim-American communities should be seen as the “front lines” against the efforts of terror groups to recruit impressionable youth.

  • Tension between humanitarian ideals, fear of terrorism in European asylum decisions

    New research has found that European states that experienced a terrorist attack on their own soil since 1980 were less likely to grant asylum to refugees. The study also found, however, that on the whole, concerns over terrorism in Europe have not eroded underpinnings of the Geneva Convention’s principles regarding asylum admission.