Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • Drug cartels, terrorists may cooperate in smuggling materials for a nuclear device into U.S.

    Detonating a nuclear device or dirty bomb in the United States has long been goal of terrorists groups including al-Qaeda. Doing so, however, would require access to nuclear materials and a way to smuggle them into the country. Experts note the nexus between drug organizations, crime groups, and violent extremists and the trafficking of radiological and nuclear materials. A new report points out that al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Colombia’s FARC are the three organizations with the motivation and capability to obtain a radiological or nuclear device.

  • Yemen chaos makes the country a haven for an al-Qaeda affiliate

    Over the past year, while ISIS gained control of vast territories in Syria and Iraq, U.S. drone strikes and military raids in Yemen drove al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) into hiding. The current chaos in Yemen’s multi-sided war, however, has allowed AQAP militants to recreate a haven which counterterrorism experts say could help it launch terrorist attacks. U.S. officials acknowledge the changes on the ground, but say U.S. strategy has not changed. “Our efforts have to change their character but remain steady in their intensity,” said Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.

  • In South Africa, bomber of apartheid era nuclear power plant is a hero, not a terrorist

    In December 1982, Rodney Wilkinson planted four bombs that caused $519 million in damages at the Koeberg nuclear power plant north of Cape Town, South Africa. The attack, which many believe to be the most ambitious and successful terror attack against a nuclear facility, remains a symbol of African National Congress (ANC) war against South Africa’s then-apartheid government. The 1982 Koeberg assault, however, and a 2007 raidby two yet-to-be-identified armed groups on South Africa’s Pelindaba nuclear research site, are at the root of U.S. concerns about the safety of South Africa’s roughly 485 pounds stockpile of highly enriched uranium.

  • Hope for the kidnapped girls in Nigeria dimming even as Boko Haram loses steam

    On the night of 14-15 April 2014, the northern Nigerian militant group Boko Haram raided the small town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria. Over 200 schoolgirls were abducted and spirited away to unknown locations. A year later, despite a world-wide outcry, the 219 girls are still missing. Will a stronger anti-Boko Haram coalition and a new president be able to rescue the Chibok girls? It grows more unlikely each day that passes without their rescue. The girls who haven’t yet been sold into the sex or domestic servant trade may be dead, or stashed away deep in the recesses of Boko Haram-controlled territory. Nigeria needs to acknowledge that kidnapped individuals, much like those captured by ISIS in the Middle East, are unlikely to be seen alive again. Rather than dwelling on the security failures of the Jonathan regime, however, the schoolgirls could become a renewed source of inspiration for anti-corruption and anti-Boko Haram efforts in the region. A rallying cry for a new path forward can be created by resurrecting the memories of one of Boko Haram’s most unforgettable attacks.

  • Strong evidence that Syrian government used chemicals in attacks on three cities

    Evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government helicopters dropped barrel bombs filled with cylinders of chlorine gas on three towns in Northern Syria in mid-April 2014, Human Rights Watch said earlier this week. These attacks used an industrial chemical as a weapon, an act banned by the international treaty prohibiting chemical weapons that Syria joined in October 2013. The Syrian government is the only party to the conflict with helicopters and other aircraft.

  • Pressures grow to release docs which would clarify Saudi involvement in 9/11 attacks

    About fourteen years after the 9/11 attacks, there remains a disagreement among former and current U.S. intelligence officials on whether Saudi Arabia or individuals connected to the Saudi Royal family helped finance the attacks or had knowledge of the attacks before  it occurred. Lawmakers and relatives of those killed in the attacks now want twenty-eight pages of investigation by congressional intelligence committees into the 9/11 attacks declassified, on the grounds that those pages may clear up confusion about Saudi involvement. President George W. Bush ordered the twenty-eight pages classified when the rest of the report was released in December 2002.

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  • Bangladesh bracing for violent protests, strikes following Islamist leader's execution

    Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, 62, an assistant secretary general of the Bangladeshi Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, was hanged Saturday for crimes committed during the 1971 bloody war between Bengali nationalists and the Pakistani army. A special war crimes tribunal found him guilty of heading a Muslim militia group which was responsible for a massacre of at least 120 unarmed farmers during the conflict. The hanging Kamaruzzman is likely to galvanize the Islamists to intensify their campaign of civil and economic disruption and destabilization. The Islamists have also joined non-Islamist opposition parties, chief among them the major opposition party, the BNP, in an effort to topple the government.

  • Al-Shabaab is implementing a "plan as we go" strategy

    In the past two years, al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab has lost territory, ports, checkpoints, and key leaders to the African Unionforce in Somalia, which is supported by the United States. They have no armored personnel carriers like Nigerian-based Boko Haram, poppy fields like the Taliban, or oil fields like the Islamic State, still the Somali-based group has been able to launch deadly attacks in and out of Somalia.Counterterrorism experts say that al-Shabaab is implementing a “plan as we go” strategy, which relies on decentralized teams of gunmen who, on their own, determine who and where to attack.

  • Chlorine attacks continue in Syria with no prospect of Assad being brought to account

    For more than a year, there have been numerous reports of chemical weapons attacks in Syria. This includes reported incidents which occurred in late March, as thousands of Syrians fled the city of Idlib in the face of a government-rebel stand-off. According to witnesses, chemical weapons were used. UN resolutions condemning the use of chemical weapons, however, do not imply immediate action to stop such use. The use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria thus goes on — and there is so far little evidence that the world’s major powers have the wherewithal to bring those responsible to justice. Continued geopolitical wrangling over Syria leaves those documenting the continuation of war crimes there almost completely powerless to stop what is happening. For now, the best we can hope for is that relevant organizations are allowed to continue to gather evidence for future trials —– and that pressure is put on all states to prosecute suspected perpetrators. This is to ensure that those who are committing such atrocities know that they will eventually be held to account.

  • Rwanda: how to deal with a million genocide suspects

    Twenty-one years ago — on 7 April 1994 — the genocide that would kill up to one million people in Rwanda began. Another million individuals would be implicated as perpetrators, leaving Rwandans and many others to ask: how does a country begin to bring so many suspects to justice? In 2002, the Rwandan government created the gacaca — or “grass” in the country’s official language of Kinyarwanda — court system to tackle this enormous problem. Based on a traditional form of community dispute resolution, the gacaca courts functioned for ten years — until 2012. In total, an estimated one million people were tried within the gacaca courts. By Western legal standards, the gacaca courts had serious limitations. That said, the system’s ability to prosecute a massive number of suspected perpetrators in a devastated post-genocide environment is an accomplishment in itself. In fact, other countries could perhaps learn from the goal of integrating punitive responses (like prison sentences) with more restorative ones (like community service).

  • Canada delays national counter-terrorism program, so provinces launch own initiatives

    Canada’s national anti-terrorism program, which aims to identify signs of radicalization in young people and then connect them with social services, has been long-delayed, leading some communities to institute programs of their own with outside assistance.

  • 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.