Tagged: Terrorism

Terrorism and The Lone Wolf

In a recent article on Foreign Affairs, Barak Mendelsohn, identifies four reasons why lone-wolf attacks have increasingly become a common strategy used by extremists.

1) It is cheap and relatively easy. It requires no planning on the extremist group’s part or even contact with, or knowledge of, the perpetrators.

2) Lone wolves frustrate preventive measures since they cannot be identified ahead of time, given they have no direct connection to extremist organizations, and in this way, shelters the group’s foreign networks from possible exposure.

3) Lone-wolf attacks are damaging to both a nation’s psychology and its leadership, raising fear and inciting alarmism among civilians while making governments appear helpless and even incompetent.

4) The worldwide proliferation of lone-wolf terrorism boosts extremist groups’ image, demonstrating their reach and appeal to both enemies and sympathizers.

The whole article can be found on Foreign Affairs, ISIS’s Lone Wolf Strategy, August 25, 2016.


The Best Antidote to Religion-inspired Terrorism

On 31 Sunday 2016, in many European cities muslims joined christians in celebrating public masses.

This video is about the mass held in Santa Maria in Transtevere, Rome. Imams and priests sent a common message: “United for peace. No to armed jihad.”

More and more systematic inter-faith dialogue should be promoted. The moderate representatives of every religion should speak up against whoever tries to hijack their believes in order to justify murders and instigate violence.


Why do foreign fighters join ISIS?

I am always a bit skeptical about articles that claim to have THE explanation to why people travel to Syria and Iraq (or elsewhere) to join and fight for the Islamic State. However, I found this article particularly interesting.

Here is the conclusion reached by the authors Efraim Benmelech and Esteban F. Klor:

“We find that poor economic conditions do not drive participation in ISIS. In contrast, the number of ISIS foreign fighters is positively correlated with a country’s GDP per capita and Human Development Index (HDI). In fact, many foreign fighters originate from countries with high levels of economic development, low income inequality, and highly developed political institutions. Other factors that explain the number of ISIS foreign fighters are the size of a country’s Muslim population and its ethnic homogeneity. Although we cannot directly determine why people join ISIS, our results suggest that the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS is driven not by economic or political conditions but rather by ideology and the difficulty of assimilation into homogeneous Western countries.

The entire article can be read here

My Book is Finally Out

Check my new book out New Beginning in US-Muslim Relations: President Obama and the Arab Awakening at Palgrave Macmillan official website.

Short description:

This book carries out a comparative study of the US response to popular uprisings in the Middle East as an evaluation of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy commitments. In 2009, Obama publicly pledged “a new beginning in US-Muslim relations,” causing eager expectation of a clear shift in US foreign policy after the election of the 44th president of the United States. However, the achievement of such a shift was made particularly difficult by the existence of multiple, and sometimes conflicting, US interests in the region which influenced the Obama administration’s response to the popular uprisings in five Muslim-majority countries: Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and Syria. After providing a detailed analysis of the traditional features of both US foreign policy rhetoric and practice, this book turns its focus to the Obama administration’s response to the 2011 Arab Awakening to determine whether Obama’s foreign policy has indeed brought about a new beginning in US-Muslim relations.

Enjoy your reading!

Jihadists’ expansion is more a product of instability than its primary driver

The expansion of Islamic extremism is more a product of existing tensions among regional and international actors rather than the main driver of the current instability in the Middle East. This is the sobering conclusion reached by the International Crisis Group.

This is a particular interesting excerpt:

“But if roots are complex, the catalyst is clear enough. The descent of most of the 2011 Arab revolutions into chaos has opened enormous opportunity for extremists. Movements have gathered force as crises have festered and evolved, as money, weapons and fighters flow in, as violence escalates. Mounting enmity between states means regional powers worry less about extremists than about traditional rivals, leverage the fight against IS against other enemies or quietly indulge jihadists as proxies. Especially in the Middle East, jihadists’ expansion is more a product of instability than its primary driver; is due more to radicalisation during crises than beforehand; and owes more to fighting between their enemies than to their own strengths. Rarely can such a movement gather force or seize territory outside a war zone or collapsed state. Geopolitics hinders a coherent response. The starting point should be to dial back the Saudi-Iranian rivalry that drives Sunni and Shia extremism, deepens crises across the region and is among the gravest threats to international peace and security today. Easing other tensions — between Turkey and Kurdish militants, for example, Turkey and Russia, conservative Arab regimes and the Muslim Brotherhood, Pakistan and India, even Russia and the West — is also essential. In Libya, Syria and Yemen, tackling jihadists requires forging new orders attractive enough to deplete their ranks and unite other forces. Of course, none of this is easy. But redoubling efforts to narrow other fault lines would be wiser than papering them over in an illusion of consensus against ‘violent extremism’.”

The rest of the report can be read here

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Bin Laden’s Bookshelf

On 1st May 2011, US Navy SEALs stormed Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing the Al Qaeda’s leader in the process.

As a result of the Abbottabad raid, the United States recovered large quantities of digital and hard material containing information on Al Qaeda’s organization, plots, and operatives. Since then, the US Intelligence Community has been analyzing such material. The first cache of declassified documents was released on 20th May 2015. The second cache, around 113 files, has been released a few days ago. These last documents are mostly dated between 2009 and 2011. Overall, they seem to describe an Al Qaeda leadership still committed to global jihad but increasingly under pressure from multiple fronts.

Here is the link to the declassified files.

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A Counter-Messaging Campaign Against The Islamic State

Three broad goals of a counter-messaging campaign against the Islamic State:

1) undermine the group’s appeal

2) reduce the group’s ability to exploit social media and other online communications platforms

3) diminish the Islamic State’s capacity to engage with and recruit supporters.

Undermine the Islamic State’s core narrative. The Islamic State’s propaganda fuses religious, political, and personal narratives to attract supporters, foreign fighters and “migrants.” Its narrative fundamentally hinges on the group’s ability to project an image of strength and momentum: If it cannot do so, the group’s use of excessive brutality may become an albatross around its neck, as was the case for its predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq. Indeed, the Islamic State’s slogan — baqiya wa tatamaddad, or remaining and expanding — is illustrative of the group’s “winner’s message.” The Islamic State has often exaggerated its gains and downplayed its losses to bolster perceptions of its strength.

A second aspect of the Islamic State’s core narrative is the assertion that it has established a religiously and politically legitimate caliphate. As Charlie Winter noted here at War on the Rocks, the Islamic State has devoted considerable resources to portraying its caliphate as an Islamic utopia, where food is abundant, public services top-notch, and Islamic law (sharia) implemented as it was during the Prophet Muhammad’s time.

A third noteworthy aspect of the Islamic State’s core narrative is the perception, widely shared by young jihadists, that the Islamic State is a “cool” organization, and that fighting abroad is an opportunity for adventure. To perpetuate this view, the Islamic State has produced slick propaganda videos depicting scenes of violence that mirror video games like Call of Duty (a term that Islamic State militants on social media have at times appropriated). Such images of adventure and accomplishment are often incongruent with reality.

Undercutting the Islamic State’s core narratives is perhaps the most critical element of a counter-messaging campaign. Exposing the group’s embellishments and outright fabrications can do a great deal of damage to the Islamic State’s overall appeal.

Put the Islamic State on the defensive. Another aspect of a comprehensive campaign is placing the group on the defensive rhetorically. For instance, calling the Islamic State out on social media when it exaggerates military successes might not persuade its supporters to abandon the organization, but may force the group into a defensive posture. The Islamic State may find itself dedicating valuable time and resources to fending off negative perceptions — time and resources the group would prefer to devote to its recruitment and mobilization initiatives.

Break up Islamic State relationships. A counter-messaging campaign can focus on accentuating disagreements and schisms within the social networks that the Islamic State uses to communicate with and recruit at-risk individuals. In the Islamic State’s online recruitment architecture, social media operatives constantly interact with recruits to foster a sense of what analyst J.M. Berger describes as “remote intimacy.”

Peel away Islamic State supporters. This objective is to facilitate deradicalization from the Islamic State’s ideology, or at least disengagement from the group. As John Horgan has noted, deradicalization implies the abandonment of an extremist outlook, while disengagement “might indicate some continued adherence to these values and attitudes, and engaging in some other socially relevant ‘support’ behavior but no longer engaging in actual terrorist operations.” While individuals known to deradicalize or disengage on the basis of messaging alone are relatively rare (there are more known cases of disillusioned foreign fighters or migrants), hope can be found in cases like the Finnish teenager known as Abdullah who once served as a powerful online English-language propagandist for the group.

Provide alternative pathways. Individuals who become radicalized often struggle to find meaningful ideas and identities, or believe that violent extremist groups offer the only way to address their political or personal anger. The Islamic State’s worldview may fill the void that such individuals feel in their lives. Practitioners may try to intervene to highlight alternative pathways — such as political activism — for dealing with such individuals’ anger and dissatisfaction, or offer different outlets and opportunities that at-risk individuals see as meaningful. While a messaging campaign is capable of highlighting such alternative pathways, it is difficult to make them robust solely through communicating them. The promotion of alternative pathways is probably better achieved through a broader Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) campaign that is not limited to counter-messaging.

Prevent mobilization to action/violence. In lieu of trying to deradicalize the Islamic State’s supporters, CVE practitioners may focus instead on deterring or preventing radicalized individuals from mobilizing to violence. Many people harbor extremist sentiments but never act on them.

Bulwark against future radicalization. An effective counter-messaging campaign may develop counter-narratives that appeal to neither a Violent Extremist Organization (VEO)’s current supporters nor at-risk populations, but instead serve as a bulwark against future radicalization and recruitment. These counter-narratives aim to ensure that people disinterested in the Islamic State’s dark worldview remain disinterested, thus denuding the group of its appeal to future generations.

From Goals to Policies

1) Campaign to undermine the Islamic State’s narrative of military strength.

2) Exposing the Islamic State’s inability to provide public services.

3) Challenging the Islamic State’s religious narrative.

4) Publicizing defections.

5) One-on-one intervention with at-risk individuals.

6) Online discussion fora.

7) Taking down jihadist social media accounts and websites.

This article is an adaptation from “Fixing How We Fight the Islamic State’s Narrative” (Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Nathaniel Barr, War on the Rocks).

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