Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • Exercise simulates home-grown terrorists, nuclear incident

    In a geopolitical environment with proliferating threats, a Defense Department whole-of-government exercise held 5-8 May provided a realistic way for federal, state, and local experts to interact in simulated situations involving mock home-grown terrorists and a nuclear incident. This year’s Nuclear Weapon Accident Incident Exercise, or NUWAIX 2015, took place on Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor located on the Kitsap Peninsula in the state of Washington. The goal of the exercise was to coordinate the efforts of federal, state, and local agencies in mitigating the consequences of an incident involving a U.S. nuclear weapon in DoD custody at a military base in the continental United States.

  • After capture of Palmyra, ISIS holds sway over half of Syria

    Islamic State is now holding sway over half of Syria’s landmass – although that half of Syria contains only a small fraction of the country’s population – following the Islamists’ capture of Palmyra, a city of 50,000 also known as Tadmur, on Wednesday. Even more important than controlling a largely empty desert, the seizure of the Arak and al-Hail gas fields near Palmyra brings ISIS into control of much of Syria’s electricity supply. Analysts say that the rapid collapse of regime forces in Palmyra, where these forces were expected to make a stand, is another indication that the regime, in the face of advances by anti-regime forces, is cutting its losses in order to retrench in the country’s northwest.

  • Winners announced in innovation prize competition

    The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate yesterday announced the winners of S&T’s first innovation prize competition: The Vreeland Institute of Copake, New York, and Certa Cito of Rochester, New York. The competition, “Indoor Tracking of the Next Generation First Responders.” focused on the challenge of keeping track of first responders when they are inside buildings, tunnels and other structures.

  • Endgame in Syria: Assad forces in retreat as rebels increase pressure

    The attention to developments in Iraq caused many to miss the more important developments to the north, where the Assad regime, for the first time since the Syrian rebellion began four years ago, appears to be weakening in the face of the growing effectiveness of the rebel forces and the accelerating disintegration of what remains of the Syrian military. Military analysts say that the regime may soon be forced to abandon Damascus and concentrate its dwindling forces in the northwest coastal region of Syria which is controlled by Alawites, but the Alawite region may not be a safer haven for Assad, though. Since March, the rebels have defeated the Syrian military in a series of important battles, and have been pressing their westward advance. There is a growing sense in the region that the situation in Syria is changing, and that these changes do not favor President Assad.

  • Jihadi recruits are attracted to radicalism, not brainwashed or manipulated: Researchers

    The notion that jihadists are brainwashed or manipulated individuals has been the foundational tenet for many de-radicalization programs in the United States. Scholarly research on terrorism, however, shows that most jihadists are aware of their actions. They tend to join terrorist organizations because they believe they are defending what they see as a just cause. Furthermore, homegrown Western jihadists tend to be self-recruiters who actively seek out violent action before they become fully radicalized into violent ideologies.Researchers and psychologists, therefore, recommend a moreholistic approach to de-radicalization, and approach which takes terrorists and radicals as individuals who first acknowledge the presence of a radical ideology, are attracted to its message, and make themselves available as potential recruits.

  • U.S. chemical plants vulnerable to terrorist attacks, putting millions of Americans at risk

    The chemical sector is a vital part of the U.S. economy, representing almost 2 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and is the nation’s greatest exporter. The prominence and importance of the chemical industry as well as the proximity of its facilities to densely populated areas make it a particularly vulnerable target for terrorist attacks, hence the DHS interest and safety rules. The slow implementation of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) as part of homeland security and anti-terrorism measures is leaving chemical plants vulnerable and putting at risk the safety of American citizens, according to research.

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  • Terrorists’ personality traits indistinguishable from traits of the general population: Experts

    Social scientists and psychologists have not found a personality trait that visibly marks a potential for violent extremism, making it difficult to identify members of a group who may take up arms in support of a common cause. “As of now, there is no specific terrorist profile,” said one expert, who studies violent radicalization. “They come in all shapes and sizes.”Another experts writes that“There are no psychological characteristics or psychopathology that separate terrorists from the general population.”

  • DHS deportations undermine efforts to get immigrants to provide leads on radical suspects

    DHS counterterrorism teams rely on cooperation from immigrant communities to obtain leads on radical individuals and pending terrorism plots, but many of these communities are becoming more wary of federal law enforcement as the number of deportations increase. “It’s ironic that you’ve got them coming in and trying to get information from our communities even as they’re detaining and deporting us at an alarming rate,” says one immigration activist. “That trust is just not going to be there. You can’t have it both ways.”

  • Does Iran deal advance or undermine global nonproliferation efforts? Experts disagree

    The White House already points to the potential Iran deal as one of the highlights of Obama’s legacy, as it fulfills both the Obama doctrine of advancing U.S. interests through engagement with America’s adversaries and the vision of a world gradually retreating from furthering nuclear weapons ambitions. Nuclear nonproliferation experts, however, question whether an Iranian nuclear deal, as laid out in the framework agreement reached last month, advances or sets back the nonproliferation agenda and Obama’s vision of ridding the world of nuclear threat.

  • Garland, Texas exhibit, terrorist attack highlight tensions between free speech and public safety

    The Muhammad Art Exhibit in Garland, Texas, and the foiled attack on it by two Phoenix followers of ISIS, highlight the tensions between protecting Americans’ freedom of speech and preserving public safety. Some legal scholars argue that the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), the anti-Muslim hate group which organized the event, crossed the line from “defamation” to “fighting words” or “incitement,” so local officials could have prevented the event from taking place in order to protect public safety. Other scholars argue that the AFDI message, vile and repugnant though it is, is protected under the First Amendment and that the group should have been allowed to go ahead with its event.

  • Nuclear forensics science helps thwart terrorist use of nuclear materials

    A nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists is the stuff of nightmares, especially for U.S. agencies charged with preventing a devastating attack. When security or law enforcement agents confiscate nuclear or radiological weapons or their ingredients being smuggled domestically or internationally, they must quickly trace them back to their source. This is where the science of nuclear forensics comes in. With funding from DHS, Oregon State University has launched a new graduate emphasis in nuclear forensics in OSU’s Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics.

  • U.S. Muslim communities develop their own counter-radicalization programs

    Almost fourteen years after the 9/11 attacks, young vulnerable Muslim youths are still subject to surveillance by law enforcement agents who have been given a mandate to identify radicalism within America’s Muslim communities. Muslim community leaders across the country are looking to provide an outlet for vulnerable youths to express their radical views, in the hopes that the community will take care of itself. “Heavy-handed tactics don’t work,” says one community leader. “The fact is that for many people, there needs to be a third option between locking them up in jail and just doing nothing if they might be a danger to themselves or others.”

  • Using shotcrete to make tunnels withstand terrorist attacks

    Conflagrations and terrorist attacks are a threat for tunnels and bridges, so engineers are searching for ways to make tunnels and bridges as robust as possible. Construction materials, such as special types of high-performance concrete, which can partly absorb the impact of explosions, already exist, but due to their manufacturing principle, they cannot be made in any other shape than the slab, which cannot be used for cladding surfaces with complex geometries. A new type of shotcrete — which used to be considered impossible to manufacture — was created by scientists to render the structures more robust. Despite its high steel and synthetic-fiber contents, it can be sprayed on easily.

  • 4,300 people in more than fifteen countries killed in 504 suicide bombings in 2014

    A new report on global trends in suicide terrorism shows that during 2014 more than 4,300 people in more than fifteen countries were killed in 504 suicide bombings. Out of the fifteen countries, Afghanistan and Iraq led the world last year in suicide attacks with an increase in Iraq. The report highlights key data on world hot spots for attacks and also shows that, with the exception of Nigeria, the majority of suicide bombers were males. The researchers also found that car bombs were the most prevalent weapons, and the targets were overwhelmingly security forces.

  • Friends recall indications of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s growing radicalization

    In the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, FBI agents interviewed two friends of Tamerlan Tsarnaev who, with his brother Dzhokhar, planted bombs at the marathon on 15 April. A paralegal on the defense team read aloud portions of notes from the interviews at the sentencing phase of Dzhokhar’s trial on Tuesday. Both friends — Viskhan Vakhabov, who was born in Chechnya and who lived in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan before moving to Chelsea in 2004, and Russian-born Magomed Dolakov – said they noticed Tamerlan’s growing radicalization.