Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • The new terrorists and the roots they share with gangs and drug lords

    The recent attacks in Paris and Copenhagen are the latest incarnations of a new type of terrorism. Decentralized and homegrown, it is hard to understand. In many cases, these young perpetrators have been drawn to extremist ideologies without personal histories of religious commitment, militancy, or even social activism. How do they — in a relatively short period of time — get to the point where they are willing to commit such violent acts? The context in which these perpetrators live and develop contributes to these outsized acts of violence in at least two significant ways. The first has to do with the nature of excluded communities. Cut off by many boundaries, these communities become like islands disconnected from the society around them. These boundaries are socio-economic and cultural and are often made deeper by racism and discrimination. The second has to do with young persons’ search for identity and status. Such a search in an excluded community is vulnerable to the influence of people who use violence to demonstrate their importance. If that violence is connected with a sense of payback and revenge against those forces that exclude, then the situation is even more volatile.

  • DHS intelligence assessment highlights threat posed by sovereign citizen groups

    U.S. security officials have long considered sovereign citizen groups as a growing threat to domestic security. In a 2014 surveyof state and local law enforcement agencies, leaders of these agencies listed members of sovereign citizen groups as the top domestic terror threat, ahead of foreign Islamist or domestic militia groups. The U.S. government has primarily focused its counterterrorism efforts on the threats posed by foreign extremist groups, including Islamic State and al-Qaeda, but the problem posed by domestic would-be terrorists has not been overlooked. A new DHS intelligence assessment, released earlier this month, focuses on the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen extremists.

  • Countering Boko Haram: can a regional approach help Nigeria?

    Boko Haram has killed more than 10,000 people and forced more than a million others to flee. It has captured 30,000 square kilometers of Nigerian territory, has reported links to al-Qaeda, and has been dubbed “Africa’s ISIS.” Nigeria and its neighbors have now proposed a regional taskforce to tackle the brutal Boko Haram insurgency, which has waged war in the northeast of the country since 2009. But will it work? The taskforce would consist of 8,700 military, police, and civilian personnel. It would conduct coordinated military and intelligence operations to prevent Boko Haram’s expansion and to stabilize areas previously under its control. It would also protect civilians, help displaced people to return home and enable some humanitarian assistance. There are, however, deeper issues regarding the conditions that have enabled Boko Haram to flourish, which are beyond the mandate and capacity of any regional intervention force. These include political marginalization and socio-economic underdevelopment in the predominantly Muslim regions of Nigeria’s north, religious radicalization, and wider governance challenges, such as corruption, in the Nigerian polity.

  • Kouachi intelligence failure: The struggle to balance security, privacy, budgetary concerns

    About seven months before the attacks on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, French domestic intelligence agency monitored Saïd Kouachi for at least two years, and his younger brother Chérif Kouachi for at least a year. The surveillance of both brothers had led nowhere, and was later considered a non-priority for intelligence officials. The Kouachi brothers did not appear to be an imminent threat, and it would have taken twenty-five agents to monitor the two brothers around the clock. Experts say that the failures and missteps by French law enforcement in the Kouachi case should be a lesson to other Western governments which may have relaxed surveillance practices targeted at would-be terrorists in order to comply with budget cuts or out of genuine concern for civil liberties.

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  • Pakistan grappling with the problem of hate-breeding, violence-legitimizing madrassas

    Before many young radical Muslims take up arms with jihadist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda, they receive their first lessons on radical Islam from madrassas, Islamic schools that serve as an alternative to government or expensive private schools. The 9/11 Commission said these Pakistani schools were “incubators for violent extremism.” Pakistan has anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 madrasas, many of which have existed since the country’s founding nearly seven decades ago. In the wake of the killing by the Taiban of more than 150 people, most of them high-school students, at an army-run school in December 2014, the attitudes of many Pakistanis toward the madrassas are changing. The government has begun to monitor the funding of these religious schools more tightly, but critics say this is the wrong approach. The problem is not school funding, says one critic. “The actual problem is what’s taught in the madrassa, because that curriculum breeds hatred, violence and legitimizes violence against non-Muslims.”

  • ISIS expands its activities in North Africa

    ISIS has been steadily expanding its presence and activities in North Africa. In Libya, the disintegration of the state and the unending war among the different armed militias, have offered ISIS ideal conditions to establish itself as a growing military force. In Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria, various Islamist groups with grievances against the central governments have declared loyalty to ISIS, which they see as a vehicle to advance their agenda.

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  • White House summit on extremism focuses on lone wolves

    Today the White House will host community leaders and local law enforcement officials for the second day of a summit on “countering violent extremism,” the purpose of which is to highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent extremists from radicalizing and recruiting individuals or groups in the United States and abroad to commit acts of violence. The administration’s counter extremism efforts reflect an understanding that lone wolf terror acts will continue to be a threat for law enforcement as much as acts by organized groups such as al-Qaeda.

  • Sandia Labs anthrax detector wins national technology transfer award

    Bacillus anthracis, the anthrax bacteria, is found in soils worldwide and can cause serious, often fatal, illness in humans and animals. It can survive in harsh conditions for decades. Humans can be exposed through skin contact, inhalation of spores or eating contaminated meat. Currently, samples for testing must be propagated in a laboratory that uses specialized tools requiring a consistent power supply, something often unavailable in the developing world. Sandia National Laboratories won the Federal Laboratory Consortium’s (FLC) 2015 Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer for a credit-card-size device that can detect bacteria that cause anthrax.

  • Blocking cash transfers to Somalia may help, rather than hinder, terrorism: Experts

    In an effort to curb the flow of cash to terror networks in Somalia, U.S. treasury officials have pressured banks to cut off money transfers to the country. The move follows growing concerns among U.S. law-enforcement agencies about Somali émigrés with extremist Islamic views supporting Somali-based terror group al-Shabaab. Officials of several humanitarian groups worry that the move may backfire, as some Somalis who can no longer rely on cash transfers from the United States may soon join al-Shabaab or other criminal groups to make ends meet.

  • U.K. stepping up effort to prevent radicalization of vulnerable Muslim youths

    The British government has stepped up its efforts to prevent more vulnerable Muslim youths from adopting jihadist views and joining terrorist groups, specifically the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda. The government’s Prevent initiative, which aims to “stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism,” funds community campaigns that mentor young people at risk of jihadist recruitment. Now it also encourages local officials and community leaders to identify and report evidence of radicalization in at risk neighborhoods throughout the United Kingdom.

  • Lone-wolf domestic terrorism on the rise

    As the White House prepares to host a major summit this week examining the threat of violent extremism, a new study of domestic terrorism released last week finds that the vast majority of this violence is coming from “lone wolves” or “leaderless resistance” groups composed of no more than two people. The report examines more than sixty domestic terror incidents. Almost three-quarters of the incidents were carried out, or planned, by a lone wolf, a single person acting without accomplices. Ninety percent of the incidents were the work of no more than two persons.

  • The politics of (not) counting: why war on terror’s civilian toll matters

    Since 2007, a growing body of literature has emerged from inside the U.S. military that stresses the importance of tracking civilian casualties on strategic rather than moral grounds. A key component of the counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) developed under General David Petraeus’s auspices was that the United States needed to move away from enemy-centric operations and embrace a more population-centric approach. By focusing on winning the hearts and minds of ordinary people, it was argued that the insurgency’s support structure could be removed without having to confront them head-on. The overall aim is not to gain control of territory as you would in a conventional war, but to win the local population’s support by convincing them that you can protect and provide. Within this framework, civilians’ deaths become a strategic consideration rather than a purely legal one. Avoiding civilian casualties was not simply a matter of adhering to international law, but an essential part of winning the war. Lieutenant-General James L. Terry, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, recently admitted, however, that he had no idea how many civilians have died as a result of coalition airstrikes in the region. As well as being questionable on moral grounds, the refusal to count civilian casualties could be seen as a strategic mistake on the military’s own terms — fanning the flames of resentment in a region already in the midst of a violent war.

  • Boko Haram militants launch first attack against targets in Chad

    Boko Haram is continuing to expand its campaign of terror beyond Nigeria: Overnight, Boko haram militants have attacked a Chadian village, killing several people in the first attack by the Nigerian Islamist group against a target in Chad. Boko Haram militants, in control of a vast swath of territory in north-east Nigeria, have already launched a number of cross-border attacks in recent weeks against two other neighbors of Nigeria – Cameroon and Niger. The group’s declared goal is to carve out an Islamist emirate around the Lake Chad area which borders Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger.

  • Alarm in Israel: Hezbollah, Assad army fight to take areas near Israel border from rebels

    In a move viewed with growing alarm in Israel, Syrian and Hezbollah forces, under the command of senior Iranian officers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, have launched a sweeping campaign to take over areas on the Syrian side of the Israel-Syria border on the Golan Heights. These areas have been under the control of moderate anti-Assad rebels since the spring of 2014. Iran, eager to increase the military pressure on Israel, has decided to gain control of areas to the east of Israel’s northern Galilee, now under the control of moderate Syrian rebels. Hezbollah’s control of south and south-east Lebanon already allows Iran presence immediately to the west and north Israel’s northern Galilee region.

  • Illinois mother of four to stay in jail until she goes on trial for supporting terrorism

    A federal judge has refusedto release 34-year old mother of four, Mediha Medy Salkicevic, a Bosnian native residing in Schiller Park, Illinois, accused of conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists and providing material support to terrorists including the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in Iraq. Salkicevic is member of a 6-person ring scheduled to go on trial in St. Louis on charges of providing material support to terrorist organization.