• Germany failing to use language and dialect recognition tech to ID asylum-seekers, extremists: Critics

    Critics in Germany say that the country’s immigration agency has failed to use a language recognition software which would have helped immigration agents identify the country of origin of asylum-seekers who have no other ID documents. German authorities could have also identified Islamist and far-right terror suspects earlier if available language recognition software was used, these critics say.

  • French units in Iraq hunt down, kill French jihadists to prevent them from returning to France

    France is giving Iraqi forces fighting ISIS specific information about French jihadists in ISIS ranks so the Iraqi military could target and kill them. Small units of French special forces operating in Iraq are looking for these French nationals, and the French have enlisted the help of Iraqi units in this effort. The goal is to make sure that these French nationals do not come back to France to pose a terror threat there.

  • Six reasons why stopping terrorism is so challenging

    Based on my work in the field, six issues stand out to me as major challenges for developing effective policy on countering terrorism: 1) For most places and times, terrorism is an incredibly rare event; 2) While terrorism is rare, mass casualty attacks are even rarer; 3) A growing number of terrorist attacks are being foiled as plots; 4) Terrorist organizations are extremely diverse which makes generalizations even more difficult; 5) Attributing responsibility for a terrorist attack is often ambiguous or impossible; 6) while researchers are making great progress in developing a framework for the scientific study of terrorism, the study of counter terrorism is still in its infancy. In sum, the terrorist threat in the United States is episodic, sporadic and inconsistent. Too often policies react to fear rather than real threat estimates. For example, there is no empirical evidence to support President Trump’s recent decision to ban citizens of six majority-Muslim countries from travel to the U.S. in the name of preventing terrorist infiltration. Successful policy requires collecting the best information possible, honestly accessing it and avoiding over reaction.

  • The rising homegrown terror threat on the right

    Dealing effectively with far-right violence requires that we treat its manifestations as domestic terrorism. I consider domestic terrorism a more significant threat than the foreign-masterminded variety in part because it is more common in terms of the number of attacks on U.S. soil. The number of violent attacks on U.S. soil inspired by far-right ideology has spiked since the beginning of this century, rising from a yearly average of 70 attacks in the 1990s to a yearly average of more than 300 since 2001. I would argue that this trend reflects a deeper social change in American society. The iceberg model of political extremism, initially developed by Israeli political scientist Ehud Shprinzak, can illuminate these dynamics. Murders and other violent attacks perpetrated by U.S. far-right extremists compose the visible tip of an iceberg. The rest of this iceberg is under water and out of sight. It includes hundreds of attacks every year that damage property and intimidate communities. The significant growth in far-right violence in recent years is happening at the base of the iceberg. Changes in societal norms are usually reflected in behavioral changes. It is thus more than reasonable to suspect that extremist individuals engage in such activities because they sense that their views are enjoying growing social legitimacy and acceptance, which is emboldening them to act on their bigotry.

  • FBI warned MI5 that Salman Abedi was planning terror attack in U.K.

    The FBI informed MI5, the British intelligence agency, that Salman Abedi was planning an attack on U.K. soil — three months before he blew himself up a concert hall in Manchester. The FBI told MI5 that Abedi was part of a North African Islamic State cell based in the north west of England, and which was plotting attacks in the United Kingdom. Abedi was placed on a U.S. terrorist watch list in 2016 after U.S. intelligence, while monitoring Islamist groups operating in Libya, noticed his communications with one of the groups.

  • Are we really seeing the rise of a ‘new jihad’?

    Europe is witnessing a worrying surge in acts of violence perpetrated not by “aliens” or foreigners, but by its own citizens — but this is not new. Various Islamist movements over the years have learnt from previous groups’ failures to protect themselves and have survived by aborting centralized hierarchical structures and opting to work in “cells” with little or no direct contact to a central organization. If this is indeed the principal strategy behind the various violent, extremism-motivated actions taking place in Europe, then the continents’ security services should know not to look for centralized command structures which simply won’t exist. As new terrains and individuals emerge to incubate and cause havoc, the concepts they use and the actions they take will keep evolving – as they have done for decades now.

  • Manchester bomber had close connections with Manchester criminal gang

    The Manchester police say that the Manchester Arena suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, had close connections with criminal gangs in the city, as well as an association with a terrorist recruiter. Abedi, 22, was associated with a gang which has for years been waging war with a rival fang in south Manchester. People who knew Abedi say that he was deeply upset when one of his close friends became involved in a violent gangland feud, and some friends said that this trauma may have added to his feeling of disillusionment and anger.

  • What science can reveal about the psychological profiles of terrorists

    What went though the mind of the suicide bomber Salman Abedi just before he blew himself up in Manchester this week, killing twenty-two people? We often dismiss terrorists as non-humans, monsters, at first. But when we learn that they were seemingly normal individuals with families and jobs, it’s hard not to wonder about how their minds really work. The search for a terrorist “personality” or “mindset” dominated psychological research in the 1970s and 1980s and remains a significant area for research today. The idea behind such research is obvious – it’s to identify stable, predictive traits or “markers” of terrorist personalities. If we could do that, we may be able to predict who will become a terrorist – and perhaps prevent it. This type of research should be viewed with extreme caution because it involves many variables over which there is no consensus among experts – but we could agree that the more we find out about terrorists’ quest for significance, the better we can understand the identity and social issues that are fundamental to radicalization. So there’s every reason to be optimistic that psychology can be a powerful tool in the fight against terrorism.

  • U.K. security services missed several opportunities to stop Manchester suicide bomber

    British security services appear to have missed several opportunities to stop Salman Abedi before he carried out the Manchester Arena attack earlier this week. Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber, was repeatedly flagged to the authorities by friends, community leaders, and family members over his extremist views – and was independently noticed by the security services for his association with a known ISIS recruiter — but was not stopped by officers. The British security services have expressed a growing irritation and alarm with the stream of revelations in U.S. newspapers about various aspects of the investigation.

  • Manchester attack: we are in an ‘arms race’ against ever adapting terror networks

    The Manchester attack illustrates how Western society is locked in an arms race with an ever adapting group of terrorists who keep changing their tactics and targets. Winning the battle depends on a number of complex factors and the acceptance that on the morning of 23 June Britain woke up to a new reality. We need to do more to consider the role of intelligence. Often the first person to know or suspect something about someone moving towards, or involved in, acts of terrorism will be those closest to them: their friends, family and community insiders. Their willingness to come forward and share knowledge, suspicions and concerns with authorities is critical because they offer a first line of defense. We are currently finding out more about the barriers and challenges people face in sharing information or cooperating with authorities, as well as what motivates them to surmount these challenges. This would tell us why those with concerns can fail to engage fully with government reporting campaigns. At the moment this is a critical blind spot in current counter-terrorism thinking and strategy.

  • Chronology of terror in Europe

    The Monday evening deadly terrorist attack in Manchester is the latest in a string of terrorist attacks in major European cities. There is a long history of terrorist activity in Europe. Throughout the twentieth century, nationalist and separatist movements (for example, the Basque ETA or the Irish IRA) committed acts of terrorism to advance the cause of independence or autonomy for their people. The early twentieth century saw a surge in terrorism committed by anarchists, while in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s leftist groups (for example, the Baader-Meinhof group in Germany; the Red Brigades in Italy) were prominent. The 1970s also saw the emergence of Palestinian terrorism in Europe (for example, at the 1972 Munich Olympics). In the last fifteen years or so, most of the terrorist acts in Europe were carried out by Islamist groups and the local followers of such groups.

  • Why banning laptops from airplane cabins doesn’t make sense

    Recent reports suggest that terrorists can now create bombs so thin that they cannot be detected by the current X-ray screening that our carry-on bags undergo. In an effort to protect against such threats, the U.S is considering banning laptops and other large electronic devices in the passenger cabins of airplanes flying between Europe and the United States. This would extend a ban already in place on flights from eight Middle Eastern countries. It is tempting to think that any level of cost and inconvenience is sensible if it reduces the risk of an attack even a little. But risks, inherent in flying and even driving, can never be avoided entirely. So when weighing policies that are designed to make us safer, it is important to consider both their costs and potential effectiveness. Unfortunately, whether the benefits justify the costs is too often not the yardstick used by officials determining whether to pursue these types of policies. Instead, it is more likely that political considerations motivate the adoption of restrictive policies, which in the end actually do little to protect citizens’ security.

  • Former Treasury official: Qatar’s terror ties make it a questionable U.S. ally

    The ongoing terror ties of Qatar, most recently evidenced by its hosting of Hamas’s release of the terror organization’s new political document, make it a problematic ally for the United States. Hamas is not the only terror group that Qatar has aided. Qatar has overseen the rebranding of the Nusra Front and the Taliban, and has provided luxurious homes for leaders of the Taliban who were released from Guantanamo Bay.

  • April 2017 terrorism: The numbers

    The House Homeland Security Committee has released its April 2017 Terror Threat Snapshot, which details terrorism events and trends in April 2017. The snapshot is a monthly committee assessment of the threat America, the West, and the world face from ISIS and other Islamist terrorists. The document is produced by the Majority Staff of the committee. It is based on information culled from open source materials, including media reports, publicly available government statements, and nongovernmental assessments.

  • Reforms in German army after neo-Nazi terror plot discovered

    Ursula von der Leyen, German defense minister said that her department would improve “political education” in the army following disturbing revelations about a far-right terrorist plot. The defense minister’s plans were announced after it became clear that the German authorities had underestimated the scale of far-right extremism problem in the army ranks. The defense ministry said that it was investigating the presence of a neo-Nazi terrorist cell in an army base. Members of the cell were plotting to assassinate senior government figures – and conduct the operations in a way which would direct the blame for the assassination to Muslim asylum seekers.