Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • Boko Haram announces it is now allied with Islamic State

    Nigeria’s Islamist group Boko Haram has declared its allegiance to Islamic State. The leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau, announced the move in in a Saturday online Arabic audio message with English subtitles. Earlier on Saturday, five bomb explosions killed at least fifty people in the northeastern Nigerian cities of Maiduguri, Baga, and Borno. Boko Haram used five teenagers – four girls and one boy – to carry out the suicide attacks. The Nigerian military proved no match for Boko Haram, but since early February, when Chadian and Cameroonian forces joined the fight, Boko Haram has been losing ground. Security analysts noted that Boko haram fighters are massing at a headquarters in the northeastern town of Gwoza, in what appears as a preparation for a showdown with the multinational forces.

  • Lack of evidence-based terrorism research hobbles counterterrorism strategies

    The Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland estimates that groups connected with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State committed almost 200 attacks per year between 2007 and 2010. That number has increased to about 600 attacks in 2013. As terrorism becomes more prevalent, the study of terrorism has also increased, which, in theory, should lead to more effective antiterrorism policies, and thus to less terrorism. The opposite is happening, however, and this could be partly due to the sort of studies which are being conducted. The problem: few of these studies are rooted in empirical analysis, and there is an “almost complete absence of evaluation research” concerning anti-terrorism strategies, in the words of a review of such studies.

  • Philadelphia terror charges highlight mall kiosks security issues

    The arrest last week of Abror Habibov on terrorism finance charges has brought new scrutiny to the oversight and security of mall kiosk businesses. Habibov ran a series of largely unlicensed mall kiosks along the East Coast, where his employees sold kitchen wares and repaired cell phones. He was arrested after being caught organizing support with two other individuals for ISIS operations in Syria. Security analysts say that the qualities which make these small businesses attractive to their owners — low overhead, short-term leases, and low site maintenance — may also serve as an ideal cover for employing members of terrorist groups.

  • Terrorists shift focus of attacks from air transportation to rail systems

    Terrorists have shifted their focus in recent years away from attacking airlines to attacking subway and rail systems, according to an analysis of terrorist attacks over a 30-year period from 1982 to 2011. The author of the new study notes that in a previous analysis, for the period 1968 to 10 September 2001, he concluded that air travel within the United States entailed a greater risk of a terrorist attack than “virtually any other activity.” Statistically significant evidence, however, points to a growing focus of terrorist attacks against ground mass transit.

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  • Climate change and the origins of the Syrian war

    A new study says a record drought that ravaged Syria in 2006-10 was likely stoked by ongoing man-made climate change, and that the drought may have helped propel the 2011 Syrian uprising. Researchers say the drought, the worst ever recorded in the region, destroyed agriculture in the breadbasket region of northern Syria, driving dispossessed farmers to cities, where poverty, government mismanagement, and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011. A growing body of research suggests that extreme weather, including high temperatures and droughts, increases the chances of violence, from individual attacks to full-scale wars. Researchers project that man-made global warming will heighten future conflicts, or that it is already doing so. The new study, combining climate, social, and economic data, is perhaps the first to look closely and quantitatively at these questions in relation to a current war.

  • FBI’s biometric data center key to identifying Jihadi John

    The FBI is unlikely to release details of how, working with allies in the United Kingdom, it managed to accomplish the task of identifying “Jihadi John” with only video footage of the suspect’s hidden face and a voice with a British accent. Identifying Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born, British-educated man in his mid-20s, was likely done at the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division(CJIS), which houses the bureau’s Biometric Center of Excellence(BCE). At BCE, the FBI uses the $1.2 billion dollar Next Generation Identification(NGI) software to scan photos, aliases, physical traits, fingerprints, and voiceprints. The software is interoperable with the Pentagon’s Automated Biometric Identification System(ABIS) and DHS’s Automated Biometric Identification System(IDENT).

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  • U.S. imposes sanctions on three Nigerian Hezbollah operatives

    Nigeria is home to a small Shiite Lebanese population, many members of which emigrated for work in the mid-1900s.Roughly five million Shiites living in Nigeria support the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), an organization initially funded by Iran in the early 1980s to establish an Iranian-style revolution in Nigeria.Last Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on three Nigerians of Lebanese descent, accusing them of being part of Hezbollah’s Foreign Relations Department (FRD) in the Nigerian capital Abuja.Hezbollah is operating in at least forty-five countries, eleven of which are in Africa.

  • France asks social media companies to help in fighting radicalization, terrorism

    The French government has asked leading social media and tech firms, Google, Facebook, and Twitter to work directly with French law enforcement during investigations and to immediately remove terrorist propaganda when authorities alert them to it.The Islamic State (ISIS), along with other Islamist militant groups, are using social media to disseminate their violent messages, recruit new followers and fighters, and share videos of executed hostages. Roughly 20,000 foreign fighters, including 3,400 from Western nations, have joined ISIS and other extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

  • Muhammadu Buhari, challenger for Nigeria's presidency, vows to defeat Boko Haram

    Muhammadu Buhari, the leading challenger for the Nigerian presidency, has committed himself to defeating Boko Haram Islamist insurgents in northern Nigeria by providing the military and security forces with better equipment, more training, and more accurate intelligence. Buhari, a former military leader – and, for about twenty months in 1982-83, the country’s leader – asserted that if the government of President Goodluck Jonathan had deployed the same resources to fighting Boko Haram as it had to secure its own political survival, the Nigerian army would have by now rescued the more than 270 schoolgirls abducted by the extremist movement in Chibok last April. In recent weeks the Islamist insurgents have been pushed back in several places, but Buhari pointedly questioned claims by the Nigerian army chief that the war was almost over.

  • Three New Yorkers charged for attempting to join ISIS in Syria

    Three New Yorkers were arrested yesterday on terrorism charges after they attempted to join Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Syria, federal authorities said. Two of the men are Uzbek citizens, and one is a Kazakh. The three men also had domestic terror plans, which included plots to kill FBI agents, plant a bomb at Coney Island, and kill President Obama — “if ordered by ISIS.” Documents filed in court provide a detailed account of the logistics involved in recruitment into ISIS, showing the young men grappling with how to evade law enforcement, sneak across borders, and communicate from afar with members of the Islamic State.

  • U.K. military last fall evaluated possible Ebola use by terrorists

    In October 2014, during the peak of the Ebola epidemic which terrorized citizens in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, security and terrorism analysts considered the probability of the Islamic State (ISIS) or other terror groups weaponizing Ebola and unleashing the virus in New York, Paris, London, or another major city. Many bioweapon researchers played down Martinez’s claim, saying terrorists looking to use Ebola as a weapon would encounter problems. Still, last fall, a U.K. military research unit was tasked with evaluating whether terrorist organizations could use Ebola to attack Western targets.

  • Judgment against Palestinian Authority for supporting terrorism unlikely to be collected

    On Monday, a jury in Manhattan found the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) liable for their role in knowingly supporting six terror attacks in Israel between 2002 and 2004, in which Americans were killed and injured. The case was brought under the Antiterrorism Act of 1991, which allows American citizens who are victims of international terrorism to sue in U.S. courts and collect triple the amount of damages awarded by the courts. The judgment on Monday granted $655.5 million to the plaintiffs. Legal analysts, however, question whether victims and families of victims will actually get any money from the ruling.

  • U.S. Muslim communities step-up efforts to fight radicalization of Muslim youths

    Before President Barack Obama last week hosted the White House’s three day summit on countering violent extremism, American Muslim leaders had already begun discussing how to stop young Muslims from being radicalized and recruited by Islamist extremists, specifically the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda-backed al-Shabaab. The federal government and local law enforcement, have in many cases, offered to help Muslim communities fight extremism, but some Muslim leaders resist cooperating with the government, fearing that they would be contributing to religious profiling and anti-Muslim bigotry. Muslim communities themselves offer prevention programs and counseling for vulnerable youths who may have been contacted by recruiters.

  • 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.