Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • Boko Haram expands attacks as Chad’s military joins fighting

    Early Sunday, Boko Haram Islamist militants have attacked Maiduguri, the biggest city in north-east Nigeria, from four fronts overnight. The militants, employing artillery and rocket fire, bombarded the city throughout Sunday. Yesterday’s assault was the third attack Maiduguri in the past seven days. The pitched battles of the past seven days saw the first participation of Nigeria’s neighbors in the fighting against Boko Haram. Several fighter jets from neighboring Chad bombed the Islamist forces out of the city of Gamboru on Nigeria’s north-east border with Cameroon, a town the insurgents had held since last August. Last Thursday a Chadian army ground force liberated Malumfatori by evicting the Islamists from the border town, which was under their sway for months.

  • U.S. plan to train “moderate” Syrian rebels raises troubling questions

    The U.S. reluctance to become decisively committed to the complex quagmire in Syria is understandable. However, its plan to insert a U.S.-trained-and-equipped “moderate rebel” force into the mix is deeply concerning — on several levels. While U.S. efforts to support rebel groups to date have been less than successful, there is so much that could go wrong with this course of action, and so little that could go right. There are no easy solutions to an issue as complex as Syria. The uncoordinated, short-term actions of some of the regional states have simply exacerbated what was already a hideously difficult operating environment. If there hasn’t been a military solution to the problem that has worked in the nearly four years of the conflict, then the introduction of another 15,000 armed rebels over several years, with an indistinct aim, is unlikely to do much more than further muddy the treacherous waters.

  • France faces up to problem of Islamist radicalization in prisons

    Since this month’s Paris attacks, counterterrorism officials have focused their attention on French prisons where, they believe, a significant number of the country’s extremists adopted their radical Islamist ideology. About 7.5 percent of the French population is Muslim, but Muslims make up more than half the inmates in French prisons. Extremists often find it easier to spread violent ideology in prison than outside of prison. Most prisoners spend up to nine hours a day together working and later in the prison yard, with minimal supervision. Prison guards, who say they find it difficult to spot extremists, are each typically responsible for 100 prisoners.

  • Ex-wife of ISIS leader transferred cash for ISIS in Lebanon

    An investigation has revealed that for months Saja al-Dulaimi, the Iraqi ex-wife of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State, had been siphoning cash through Lebanon to the militants under a fake name. Dulaimin and al-Baghdadi were married for about six years, and people in the know say that the union may have been typical of some traditional marriages – weddings aimed at solidifying political ties or relationships between different families.

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  • Does Obama face the prospect of boots on the ground in Yemen?

    For the past three years the Obama administration has been deeply reluctant to engage in Yemen, Iraq, or Syria with significant deployment of ground troops. The preferred option has been termed “remote control” with greater reliance on armed drones, privatized military, special forces, and other means. The turmoil in Yemen exposes one core problem with this approach: The drone operations in Yemen, which were run both by the CIA and U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, were highly dependent on intelligence on AQAP obtained by Yemeni government security and intelligence branches. Furthermore, they had the approval of the government in Sana’a so the Obama administration could claim legitimacy for its actions. With the ousting of the Hadi government, both elements are now in question — the intelligence will probably dry up and if some kind of reasonably stable government replaces Hadi then a new regime could claim infringement of sovereignty. If that regime is Houthi-dominated, as seems likely, then while the Iranian-supported Shi’a Houthi have little liking for AQAP, they are equally opposed to U.S. policy. When the air strikes against Islamic State started last August, Western leaders said that that was as far as it would go. This is clearly not the case and not only is mission creep already happening in Iraq and Syria, it now looks highly likely in Yemen as well.

  • No technologies currently available to track, disable small drones

    Monday’s drone incident on the White House lawn exposed a security gap that Secret Service and counterterrorism officials have been studying for years, but for which they have yet to develop a solution. Four days before the incident, lawmakers examining White House security protocols in response to a series of intrusions, were warned by a panel of experts that the Secret Service’s inability to identify and disable drones remained a top vulnerability, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.Security experts say proposals for a higher fence around the White House, together with increased surveillance and environmental sensors, are not enough to easily to identify and disable a drone before it lands.

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  • Belgium confronting home-grown jihadist threat

    Belgium is Europe’s biggest per capita contributor of fighters to Syria and law enforcement officials fear that at least seventy of 350 Belgian fighters have returned home equipped with skills they learned on the battle field. The Belgian government had brought the concern to national attention in an October document warning about the “danger of violent jihadism that threatens to spread in our society.” Belgian officials have not found a link between the Paris attacks earlier this month and planned attacks in Belgium in the following days – attacks thwarted by swift police preemptive action — but common elements include: a clustering of radicals in a small area, the connection between petty criminality and jihadist violence, and the role of prison as an incubator for extremism.

  • Women more active in extremist Islamist groups than previously thought

    About 10 percent of ISIS recruits from Europe, and about 20 percent of recruits from France, are women. Though they tend to play a supportive role in the Islamic extremism narrative, women can be just as radical. “What’s very striking is that she’s not an exception; she’s an example of a trend,” one expert says of Hayat Boumeddiene, the 26-year old partner of Paris gunman Amedy Coulibaly. “There tends to be an assumption with women that they’re doing it under influence, they’re being forced or tricked. But I think there’s a more complicated story here, feelings of alienation.”

  • NYPD’s radicalization report criticized

    In a Sunday morning interview on 970 AM The Answer, New York Police Department(NYPD) deputy commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller criticized a 7-year old report on Islamic radicalization in New York City. The report, “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat,” published by the NYPD Intelligence Division under former police commissioner Ray Kelly, came under fire after a series of articlesdetailed some of the division’s counterterrorism operations, including the monitoring of prominent Muslims and Muslim communities in New York City. Those articles contributed to the closure of the unit, which conducted the NYPD’s surveillance operations on New York’s Muslim communities.

  • Why the fight against Islamic State is not the success we’re told it is

    Ministers from twenty-one countries gathered in London on January 22 to discuss the fight against Islamic State (IS). They had their photo opportunity and issued their statements. US secretary of state, John Kerry, told them that almost 6,000 jihadists had been killed, and almost 700 square kilometers of Iraqi territory retaken. But at the end of the day, all of this had precious little to do with the issue of how to confront IS’s political, military, and social expansion. There are alternatives that could really challenge the IS: an Iraqi Kurdistan with real international recognition and support, an Iraqi government answering to all communities, a Syrian opposition supported in a political vision that overcomes not only the jihadists but the Assad regime. But the London summit proved these things are still out of reach — or at least too much for the allies to openly contemplate.

  • Genetic safety switches curb bioterror risk

    The potential threat of bioterrorism using man-made biological organisms could be curbed, thanks to a new method. Synthetic biologists — who can design and modify the DNA of living organisms to give them novel, useful functions — have devised a way of containing their products to help ensure that they work only as intended.

  • Yemen upheaval hobbles U.S. counterterrorism efforts there

    Following the abrupt resignation of Yemen’s president, prime minister, and cabinet after Iran-backed Shi’a Houthi rebels took over the presidential palace, the United States has halted some counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda militants operating inside the country. The move has dealt a blow to what President Barack Obama recently called a successful counterterrorism partnership between Yemen’s president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the United States. “The [Yemeni government’s] agencies we worked with . . . are really under the thumb of the Houthis. Our ability to work with them is not there,” said a senior U.S. official closely involved in monitoring the situation.

  • Islamic radicalization takes place in prison, but the numbers are small: Experts

    In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris nearly three weeks ago, terrorism experts say that in addition to monitoring mosques known for extremist views, there is a need to investigate the role of prisons in the recruitment and radicalization process.”Prisons have been called universities of crime for a long time,” says one expert, so the “idea is simply being applied to terrorism so prisons might become universities of radicalization, and in some cases that has proven to be true.” The same expert notes, however, that while the connection between prison and Islamic radicalization is undeniable, “millions of prisoners have gone through Western penal systems and only about fifty went on to commit terror crimes.” He adds: “We shouldn’t think that prisons are manufacturing terrorists like automobile parts — if so, they’re doing a lousy job.”

  • U.S. officials: 6,000 ISIS fighters and “more than half” of the group’s leadership killed

    The U.S.-led airstrikes campaign has “taken more than half” of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) leadership, U.S. ambassador to Iraq Stuart Jones said. Jones said the airstrikes were having a “devastating” effect on ISIS. “We estimate that the airstrikes have now killed more than 6,000 ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq,” Jones said. He added that the airstrikes have “destroyed more than a thousand of ISIS vehicles inside Iraq.”

  • Radicalized Muslims from Central Asia flock to Syria to join ISIS

    The Islamic State (IS) is attracting Central Asians to Syria and fostering new links among radicals within the region. Unless the five Central Asian governments develop a credible, coordinated counter-action plan, including improved security measures but also social, political and economic reforms, growing radicalism will eventually pose a serious threat to their stability.