Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • Russia distancing itself from a weakening Assad

    Middle East analysts and reliable sources within several governments and intelligence services in the region say that there are growing signs of a major shift in Russia’s position toward the regime of Bashar al-Assad, reflecting the conclusion among close advisers to President Vladimir Putin that the Assad regime, which has suffered a series of painful defeats since January, cannot be saved, and that continued Russian support for it would undermine other objectives Russia is pursuing in the region. These sources told the London-based Arabic-language newspaperAsharq Al-Awsat that the Russia policy change could be described as a “dramatic U-turn,” with Moscow no longer hiding the fact that it is contemplating a “future without Assad” for Syria. Russia has withdrawn more than 100 military advisers, technical support professionals, and diplomats from Syria, and has cut down the number of employees at its embassy in Damascus, leaving only essential staff. Since late February, Russia no longer ships military supplies to the Syrian military, and Russian military technical personnel has been pulled out of Syria, making it impossible for Russia to abide by the maintenance contracts with Syria for the Sukhoi aircraft, the mainstay of the Syria air force. There have been increasing signs that the Assad regime is disintegrating, with Assad family members and relatives, and businessmen and high-ranking members of the Alawite community, fleeing Damascus.

  • U.S. removes Cuba from list of terrorism-supporting states

    The United States on Friday officially removed Cuba from the list of terrorism-supporting states. The move is the latest step toward the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba. Removing Cuba from the list – which now has only three countries left on it: Iran, Syria, and Sudan – removes a major legal obstacles, because U.S. law imposes serious restrictions on political and economic relations with countries on the list. Still, the removal of Cuba from the terrorism-supporting countries list would have a limited impact, because many of the limitations on normal economic relations with Cuba are the result of Cuba-specific embargo legislation by Congress outside the scope of the terrorism-related measures. These pieces of legislation will have to be removed by Congressional action. The administration’s decision to remove Cuba from the list comes while the negotiations between the two countries are encountering difficulties. Officials have so far failed to reach an agreement on re-establishing diplomatic relations and opening embassies.

  • U.S. to expand cooperation with Nigeria’s military in fight against Boko Haram

    Nigeria’s new president Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as the country’s new president on Friday, and the Obama administration accompanied its congratulations to the new president with indications that the United States was prepared to expand military cooperation in the fight against Boko Haram. The growing concerns about Boko Haram notwithstanding, the United States reduced its military cooperation with Nigeria during the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan, who was defeated by Buhari in the March election. The Nigerian military under Jonathan was thoroughly corrupt, and proved itself incompetent in fighting Boko Haram. The United States was also growing increasingly frustrated with rampant human rights abuses by the Nigerian military. With Buhari, a former general with a reputation as a strict disciplinarian and an anti-corruption crusader, now in power, the United States is set to resume its military ties with Nigeria.

  • U.S. to increase annual military aid package to Israel from $3 billion to nearly $4 billion

    The U.S. defense aid to Israel will increase after 2017 from the current $3 billion a year to between $3.5 and $4 billion a year, according to both American and Israeli sources. The substantial increase in the military aid package to Israel is the direct result of the negotiations with Iran — and the fact that Sunni states in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, will themselves see a major quantitative and qualitative increases in U.S. military aid to them, thus risking the erosion of the Israeli military’s “qualitative edge.” Only last year, the administration, in an effort to accommodate congressionally mandated cuts in the defense budget, informed Israel that the only changes to the package would be adjustment for inflation.

  • Western countries, businesses facing increased terrorism threat: Aon

    Risk levels are rising in Western economies due to the increased terror threat presented by Islamic extremists, according to the Aon Terrorism and Political Violence Map. The map, launched earlier this week, provides insight for business aiming to reduce risk exposures. Top risks for business include increased terrorism threats across developed economies, and a progressively uncertain and dangerous geopolitical environment, where the risk of armed conflict is growing amid changing and unstable regional balances of power.

  • Giant surveillance blimp to protect Capitol building

    Lawmakers want to make the Capitol building more secure after existing security measured failed to detect or stop Douglas Hughes who, on 15 April, flew his gyrocopter into the Capitol manicured lawn. Some of these lawmakers want to deploy the Tethered Aerostat Radar System, or TARS – a giant blimp carrying 2,000-pounds radars that can spot an aircraft at a distance of 200 miles. Several TARS are already deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border, and along a 340-mile stretch of the Atlantic coast stretching from North Carolina to Boston. The blimp loiters at about 10,000 feet – but in order not to mar the Washington, D.C. skyline, lawmakers suggest acquiring a blimp which can hover at a higher altitude.

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  • Explicitly Shi’a name for Iraqi military operation in Anbar province “unhelpful”: U.S.

    The United States said it was disappointed with the decision by Iraqi militias to use an explicitly Shi’a name for a military operation in Anbar province, Iraq’s Sunni heartland. The Pentagon said it could only exacerbate sectarian tensions in the country. A coalition group of Iran-trained Iraqi Shi’a militias said it had decided to use the name “Operation Labaik ya Hussein,” which translates as “We are at your service, Hussein,” for a military campaign to drive Islamic State out of Ramadi – and, later, out of Anbar province. The name refers to one of the most revered imams in Shi’a Islam.

  • Exposure to media coverage of terrorist acts, disasters may cause long-term negative health effects

    The city of Boston endured one of the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in April of 2013, when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. While emergency workers responded to the chaos and law enforcement agencies began a manhunt for the perpetrators, Americans fixed their attention to television screens, Internet news sites and forums, and Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. In doing so, some of those people may have been raising their acute stress levels which, in some cases, have been linked with long-term negative health effects. For some individuals, intense exposure to the Boston Marathon bombing through media coverage could be associated with more stress symptoms than those who had direct exposure to the attack.

  • U.S. tries to calm Iraq’s anger over Ash Carter’s “will to fight” comment

    Vice-President Joe Biden yesterday (Monday) called the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, to reassure him of continuing U.S. support, a day after bunt comments by U.S. defense secretary Ashton Carter. Carter told CNN on Saturday Iraqi forces had shown “no will to fight” ISIS and had fled in Ramadi despite outnumbering the Islamist militants by a wide margin. Abadi’s spokesman subsequently said that Carter had been given “incorrect information,” adding: “We should not judge the whole army based on one incident.” The debate over the fall of Ramadi highlights the deep disagreements among the United States, Iraq, and Iran over how to fight ISIS most effectively.

  • 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.