Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • U.S. says its counterterrorism strategy in Somalia is working, but critics disagree

    President Barack Obama has referred to his strategy against al-Shabaab militants in Somalia as a model of success for his administration’s low-investment, light-footprint approach to counterterrorism. Under his administration’s policies, U.S. drones have killed several of the group’s leaders, and African Union (AU) troops, backed by the U.S. military, have forced al-Shabaab fighters to flee large swaths of territory. Critics of this approach now say that last week’s massacre of 148 people at Garissa University College in Kenya by al-Shabaab militants, demonstrates the limits of Obama’s approach to counterterrorism.

  • Kenya appears to be drifting toward a violent break-up

    As Kenya is trying to cope with the grief following last Thursday’s al-Shabaab massacre of 148 Christian students at Garissa University in north-east Kenya, analysts and scholars are focused on the implications of the attack for the future of Kenya. These analysts say that the intensifying terror campaign by the Islamist al-Shabaab may gradually, but inexorably, deepens the religious divisions in Kenya, a country which was once seen as an island of stability and progress in a volatile region. Since independence in 1963, successive Kenyan governments have purposefully neglected the Muslim north-east, a region mired in debilitating poverty and lack of opportunity. As is the case with Boko Haram in north-east Nigeria, al-Shabaab, too, is exploiting regional grievances and the sense of alienation to establish itself as the champion of the marginalized Muslim communities in the north-east. Since 2011, the central government has begun to allocate more funds to development projects in the north-east, but the steady departure of thousands of Christians, many of them professionals – teachers, medical personnel, engineers, agronomists – from the dangerous north-east for safer places in central and south Kenya, has undermined these efforts.

  • Two Queens, N.Y. women arrested for plotting propane tank bomb attacks in New York

    Roommates Noelle Velentzas, 28, and Asia Siddiqui, 31, were arrested Thursday morning and charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction in the United States, according to federal prosecutors. FBI officials say both women, who live in Queens, New York, were radicalized by Islamic State (ISIS) propaganda. A complaint unsealed on Thursday says the women had been communicating with people affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. “The investigation has revealed that Velentzas espouses violent jihadist beliefs and has repeatedly expressed an interest in terrorist attacks committed within the United States,” the complaint stated.

  • Thwarting Islamist terrorism in U.S. requires counterterrorism measures abroad

    When the FBI arrested two Chicago-area cousins last week on terrorism related charges, it was the 64th post-9/11 case of Islamic terrorists plotting to strike on U.S. soil, according to a new report from the Heritage Foundation.Like many post-9/11 terror attacks planned against Americans at home, the Chicago plot was thwarted by law enforcement deploying aggressive counterterrorism measures. Analysts, however, warn that the number of attempts will continue to increase unless similar measures are deployed abroad.

  • Upheaval: Nigerian opposition wins presidential election

    Former General Muhammadu Buhari, the leader of the Nigerian opposition, has won a decisive victory over the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan in the Nigerian general election. The result of the election, held over the weekend, may signal a dramatic shift in Nigeria’s political history: If Jonathan allows for a smooth and peaceful transition of power, it will mark the first time in Nigeria’s 55-year history of a civilian government handing power to an opposition party to form another civilian government. For most of its history, Nigeria has been ruled by military governments. Jonathan has conceded defeat, but it is not clear whether elements in Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would be willing to relinquish power after holding it since 1999. Based on Nigeria’s checkered political history, it is possible that the PDP may fight the results in the courts, on the streets – or even from the barracks. The Nigerian election result would likely have a ripple effect across the continent, from South Africa, where the seemingly unassailable African National Congress (ANC) has held power since 1994, to countries such as Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, which do no more than pay lip service to the concept of pluralist democracy and opposition politics. The election results follow several unexpected political upheavals in Africa which may suggest incumbents today can no longer afford to ignore the will of the people and cling to power indefinitely.

  • Buhari wins -- but the new president of Nigeria faces an enormous challenge

    Nigerians have chosen General Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler, over incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, to be their president. Buhari will face daunting challenges, as the general political and economic situation in Nigeria is problematic. Nigeria is home to a corrupt government. The economy is in crisis: Nigeria has an unhealthy dependence on its oil exports, which represent more than 80 percent of its national income. The World Health Organization recommends that governments spend 15 percent of their budget on health, but Nigeria spends only 6 percent of its budget. The situation in northern Nigeria is critical, and Nigeria’s neighbors have been more active than the Nigerian government in fighting Boko Haram. The way the government has addressed violence in the north has been abysmal. Muslim clerics identified lack of good governance as the primary reason Boko Haram succeeded in recruiting members. With these conditions Boko Haram filled a vacuum. The militants will now be much harder to remove but ultimately, the next government can take steps to start tackling the problems that allowed them to gain a foothold.

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  • Water scarcity a contributing cause of wars, terrorism in Middle East, North Africa

    The UN defines a region as water stressed if the amount of renewable fresh water available per person per year is below 1,700 cubic meters. A region is experiencing water scarcity if the figure is below 1,000 cubic meters, and below 500 amounts to “absolute water scarcity.” Water scarcity driven by overuse, poor land management, and climate change, is one of the causes of wars and terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa. If governments fail to respond, shortages of major resources, including food and energy, will cause greater insecurity and conflict.

  • Most 2014 Muslim-American terrorism cases involved Americans going to Syria: Report

    A new report issued last week by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security shows that terrorist plots involving Muslim-Americans accounted for only a small fraction of the threats to public safety in the United States. The 2014 report shows that growth in terrorism cases involving Muslim-Americans can be attributed to individuals seeking to join terrorist groups in Syria. Of the twenty-five Muslim-Americans associated with terrorism in 2014, six plotted or engaged in violence in the United States. This number equals the lowest total since 2008. “We have not seen mass radicalization of Muslims in the United States,” the report’s author says. “That’s worth taking note of.”

  • Bioweapons do not offer the same deterrence value nukes offer: Experts

    Biological and nuclear weapons are both considered weapons of mass destruction, but only nuclear weapons currently serve as a deterrence. Some security experts have proposed the idea of nations adopting non-contagious biological weapons as a new form of deterrence. Critics note that the consequences of starting a global biological arms race are troubling enough, but the concept of replacing nuclear weapons with biological weapons as a form of deterrence is flawed for three main reasons: uncertainty of effects, availability of defenses, and the need for secrecy and surprise.

  • Arab states to form joint military force to combat Jihadists, Iran’s influence in region

    The leaders of the Arab League announced yesterday (Sunday) that they were forming a joint military force to fight fundamentalist Sunni Jihadist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. It was also clear that the joint force would tackle pro-Iranian Shi’a groups which are helping Iran to expand its regional influence. Arab allies of the United States see the proposed nuclear accord with Iran as a betrayal of U.S. commitment to their security. Egyptian security officials have said the proposed force announced on Sunday would be made of up to 40,000 elite troops based in either Cairo or Riyadh. It would be backed by fighter jets, warships, and light armor.

  • Calls for rethinking cockpit door security policy

    Following the 9/11 attacks, the European Air Safety Agency(EASA) and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration(FAA), in an effort to make hijackings more difficult, told commercial airlines to adopt systems which would prevent the takeover of passenger planes.News that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz of the Germanwings flight 4U95251 deliberately locked the flight captain out of the cockpit as part of what is now considered a murder-suicide case, has raised concerns over whether the post-9/11 cockpit door safety policy is too secure, posing a more serious threat to civil aviation than terrorism.

  • Germanwings flight 4U9525: a victim of the deadlock between safety and security demands

    People often confuse “security” and “safety,” but conceptually, these terms are different from each other. Security offers protection from intentional attacks, while safety is to prevent from natural accidents. While some security incidents can be accidental, or made to look accidental, some element of usually malicious intent is involved. The trade-off in both security and safety risks in this context is hard because the probability of accidents can be modelled while human intention cannot. One could try to estimate the probability of someone having bad intentions, especially pilots, but in the end it’s not possible to square one with the other — it is to compare apples with oranges. The Germanwings flight 4U9525, in which the pilot was locked out of the cockpit, shows that we need to reassess the risks and arguments around safety and security in the context of aviation, and find ways of bringing together hardware, software, and the flight crew themselves — perhaps through health monitoring devices — in order to ensure that both these demands work together, and do not become a threat in themselves.

  • U.K. debates whether Britons helping ISIS as medics are terrorists

    Counterterrorism officials are debating how to categorize nine British students who had been studying medicine in Sudan, and recently travelled to Syria to work as medics for the Islamic State (ISIS). Are they terrorists? Have they even committed an offense? How officials treat this latest group of Westerners joining ISIS should they return to the United Kingdom may encourage or discourage others who are contemplating joining the fight in Syria and northern Iraq.

  • Saudi Arabia launches attacks against Houthi insurgents in Yemen

    Dozens of Saudi Air Force jets, accompanied by fighter jets of several Gulf States, yesterday (Wednesday) launched a series of attacks against Shia’ Houthi insurgents in Yemen in an effort to beat back to progress of the Houthi forces across Yemen. The Saudis’ ultimate goal is to defeat the pro-Iranian Houthis, but the immediate Saudi worry is the growing presence of the Houthis – who hail from north Yemen – in and around the port city of Aden in south Yemen. The Saudi air strikes, carried out after consultations with the United States, are the first step in a broad military campaign which will include ground forces and will see the participation of other Arab states. Iran, through its regional agents – the Shi’a government in Baghdad; the Alawite Assad regime in Damascus; and the Shi’a Hezbollah militia in Lebanon – already calls the shots in three Arab countries. It appears that the Arab Sunni states have decided the draw the line in Yemen in order to deny Iran yet another regional gain and check the growth of Iran’s regional sway.

  • Training camps in Mauritania train foreign recruits for ISIS, al-Qaeda

    Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) could be working together at al-Qaeda-run training camps in the Sahara Desert in Mauritania, where at least eighty recruits from the United States, Canada, and Europe are being indoctrinated into radical jihad and training for attacks that could reach as far as the West. Mauritania’s roughly three million people are concentrated on the coast, around the capital of Nouakchott, while the rest of the vast country is a sparsely inhabited arid desert. This is where the al-Qaeda training camps are based.