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  • Author: James M Dorsey, Raffaello Pantucci, Bilveer Singh, Noor Huda Ismail
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The high-profile assassination of General Qassim Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force (QF), on January 3 in Baghdad marked the lowest point in US-Iran relations in recent times. It triggered a new spell of geopolitical tensions in the Middle East with far-reaching consequences for South and Southeast Asia. Soleimani’s killing has also coincided with the potential rejuvenation of the Islamic State (IS), and ongoing anti-government protests in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. Soleimani’s killing was bound to have reverberations beyond the Middle East. Muslim-majority states in South and Southeast Asia, where both Saudi Arabia and Iran have engaged in sectarian proxy wars by funding and influencing the Sunni and Shia segments of the population. While states in both regions have condemned Soleimani’s killing, they have stayed largely neutral to avoid getting sucked into rising geopolitical tensions. Against this backdrop, the March issue of the Counter Terrorists Trends and Analyses (CTTA) features three articles that explore different dimensions of Soleimani’s death and their geopolitical implications. In the first article, James M. Dorsey argues that as US-Iran tensions have eased in recent months, Iranian hardliners, emboldened by a sweeping mandate earned in recent domestic elections, remain committed to a well-honed strategy of escalating asymmetric warfare. According to the author, this raises the prospects for a full-scale war, with the United States also still pursuing a maximum pressure campaign on Iran that has to date, yet to produce tangible results. In the second article, Raffaello Pantucci reasons that despite a general consensus that the US-Iran rupture will ease pressure on transnational jihadist groups in the Middle East theatre, it remains unclear how Soleimani’s killing will shape their future behaviour. On the one hand, Iran-backed Shia militias are likely to step up their operations, which will exacerbate sectarian fault-lines in the region and feed into IS’ self-portrayal as the saviours of Sunnis. Conversely, pragmatism continues to define interactions between Tehran and Sunni jihadist groups such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, who appear happy to cooperate to ensure broader strategic goals. Next, Bilveer Singh examines the implications of Soleimani’s assassination for South and Southeast Asia. regions where both Iran and Saudi Arabia enjoy ideological influence among the Muslim-majority states. Sunni Malaysia and Indonesia have reservations about Tehran, but domestic political pressures are likely to endear Iran to them more than the US. The impact in South Asia could be more varied, mostly affecting Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran through its Shia militant proxies can undermine US interests in Afghanistan. The QF has also recruited significant Shia militias in Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively for operations in Syria. Moreover, Pakistan has to walk a tight rope given Iran has an inside track to its significant Shia population. Besides cross and intra-regional assessments of Soleimani’s assassination within the broader US-Iran fissures, the threat landscapes in Indonesia and West Africa, both long-time hotbeds for terrorist activity in their respective regions, are also examined in this issue. Firstly, Noor Huda Ismail takes a closer look at pro-IS terrorist networks in Indonesia, a country that is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. By examining the background, tactics and modus operandi of local terrorist groups, both online and offline, and comparing their legacy with those of previous militant Islamist movements, the author believes important learning lessons can be drawn to help mitigate future security threats. Finally, Atta Barkindo analyses the jihadist threat in the Sahel region, where a landscape conducive to terrorist activities provides the fertile ground for IS and Al-Qaeda to grow by linking up with local militant networks. The tactical sophistication exhibited in terrorist attacks by Sahelian jihadist groups, particularly in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, testifies to a growing footprint of global jihadism. Sahel provides an arterial life-line through the region, by facilitating the movement of goods and people between the Mediterranean and West Africa, which has been enormously beneficial to terrorist groups involved in organised criminal enterprises. Moreover, desertification and environmental degradation have also created a conducive environment for criminal activities and terrorism.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Bilateral Relations, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Protests
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Lebanon, Southeast Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff, Natasha Quek, Md. Didarul Islam, Naman Rawat
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The Islamic State’s (IS) territorial defeat reflects a shift in the epicentre of violence from Iraq and Syria to the peripheries (countries with an active presence of IS cells or other insurgent and terrorist threats). In the study of terrorism and insurgency, age-old threats can persist while new threats are always emerging, either due to policy shifts that give rise to new opportunities for insurgents to exploit, or due to changes in the political climate of societies. As such, the May issue deals with three key thematic challenges in a post-IS threat landscape. First, it looks at returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs), who after IS’ territorial defeat have either traveled to or attempted to return to their home countries. According to the United Nations (UN) more than 40,000 FTFs from 110 countries had traveled to Iraq and Syria to join IS. The return of segments of the FTFs indicates escalation of threats in their home countries as they come armed with operational skills and could possibly regroup, establish local cells and engage in violence. In this case, a high number of FTFs travelled to Iraq and Syria from Tunisia despite the country’s peaceful transition towards a participatory democracy, in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab uprisings. Second, in order to deal with the shifting threat landscape, it is necessary to develop new and strengthen existing de-radicalisation programmes. De-radicalisation is a smaller part of broader counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation efforts that focus on terrorists or returning FTFs in custody. Effective de-radicalisation programmes will provide detainees with opportunities to reintegrate back into the society by rejecting violence and promoting peaceful coexistence. This issue critically evaluates de-radicalisation as a concept and specific programmes in Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, while extoling the need for holistic approaches for effective outcomes. Lastly, beyond the Islamist extremist threat emanating from IS and other affiliated or local groups, other non-Islamist threats continue to persist. This includes far-right extremists gaining traction and engaging in violence in parts of United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. In addition, ethno-separatist groups (Baloch Liberation Army in Pakistan) and communist groups (The New People’s Army in Philippines and the Naxalites in India) also have a strong support structure and operational presence. According to the Global Terrorism Index, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) or Naxalites killed 205 people in 190 different incidents across 2018. This issue specifically delves into the Naxalite insurgency in India, which has evolved from a mass-mobilisation movement to a militant insurgency over the last few decades. The article advocates for institutional reforms to address various grievances to reduce the agency to violence. In the first article, Natasha Quek and Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff explore the causal factors behind Tunisia contributing one of the highest numbers of FTFs in theatres of conflict in the Middle East and beyond. The authors contend that the proliferation of Tunisian FTFs and surge in jihadist-linked violence domestically in recent years, poses a threat to long term stability, and could also fuel conflict in the wider region. Tunisia’s strong history of secularism provides an advantage, as the government can rely on a robust civil society rather than adopt a purely security-based approach. However, additional policy responses are needed to curtail jihadist activities and safeguard the country’s democratic achievements. Md. Didarul Islam then assesses various definitional aspects and theoretical models of de-radicalisation programmes. The author further provides observations on the gains, limitations and local context of de-radicalisation programmes, gleaned from four country case studies, which suggest that effective de-radicalisation of individuals necessitates a holistic approach focused on three key areas: (i) re-education or ideological interventions; (ii) vocational training or financial support; (iii) and a viable reintegration environment. Isolated approaches towards de-radicalisation that discount these variables are likely to only bring short-term success and a higher likelihood of recidivism. Lastly, Naman Rawat then examines different factors and underlying causes which have sustained the Naxalite insurgency in India for over fifty years. The author argues that since the 1960s, the lack of legitimate political institutions as well as corrupt practices of the government and bureaucracy have contributed to the Naxalites’ socio-political alienation in India. Additionally, the ineffective implementation of land reform laws, which prohibit acquisition of the tribal lands by non-Adivasis, has pushed the more extreme sections of tribal and peasant people to revolt against the government. Though the insurgency has been weakened in recent years, it is far from over.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Radicalization, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict, Radical Right
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Iraq, South Asia, Indonesia, Middle East, India, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, North Africa, Syria, Tunisia
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Mahfuh Bin Haji Halimi, Muhammad Saiful Alam Shah Bin Sudiman, Nur Aziemah Azman, Mohammed Sinan Siyech
  • Publication Date: 01-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The January issue focuses on an overview of the terrorist and violent extremist threats in key countries and conflict zones in the Asia-Pacific throughout 2018. The articles discuss the regional terrorism threat and responses in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, China and the Middle East. Thematically, the articles also analyse online extremism and the counter-ideology dimensions of terrorism and violent extremism in 2019. The lead article argues that global terrorist and extremist threat is likely to persist in 2019 as the Islamic State (IS) is going through a phase of readaptation and decentralisation. The group has established clandestine and underground structures to survive in Iraq and Syria. Its ideology is still intact and continues to be propagated in the cyber space. In the provinces, groups, networks and cells which have pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi are radicalising Muslims and conducting attacks. Harnessing both the physical and virtual space, IS continues to present an enduring threat worldwide. Although the apex of IS leadership and many of the directing figures are on the run and might be eliminated in 2019, the penultimate leadership enabling the fight and supporting the infrastructure will continue to operate in the shadows as they become agile and more cunning. The IS and Al-Qaeda (AQ)-centric threats are likely to remain given the lack of an effective global counter terrorism plan and strategy, the continuation of superpower and geopolitical rivalry, and the failure to resolve the underlying causes of extremism and terrorism.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Syria, Southeast Asia
  • Author: John Millock
  • Publication Date: 01-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Harvard Journal of Middle Eastern Politics and Policy
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: ISIL recruited children through a variety of means, including abducting children from orphanages and hospitals, or offering to pay parents hundreds of dollars a month in exchange for each child’s attendance at military training. Additionally, child soldiers were often taken from particular ethnic groups or religious communities, such as Yazidis and Christians, as a means to terrorize these groups. Since the territorial collapse of ISIL began in 2017, many of these child soldiers have defected; some fled ISIL territory and are living anonymously in Europe while others returned to their home countries. Debates about how national legal systems should handle these former child soldiers have arisen in all of these jurisdictions. In Iraq, which has dealt with a particularly large number of former ISIL child soldiers, there have been concerns about the national justice system’s capacity to adequately address the prosecution and rehabilitation of ISIL’s former child soldiers.
  • Topic: United Nations, Law, Children, Violent Extremism, Islamic State, Transitional Justice, Conflict, Criminal Justice
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Houssem Ben Lazreg, Phil Gursky
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Fletcher Security Review
  • Institution: The Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Abstract: Islamic State (IS) has demonstrated unprecedented capabilities in attracting foreign fighters, particularly from Western countries. Between 2011 and 2015, Western foreign fighters coming from North America, Europe, and Australia traveled to Iraq and Syria in order to join IS and the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra. As IS has been significantly weakened, authorities in many western countries are increasingly worried that returning fighters will come back to their home countries radicalized, battle hardened, and eager to commit terrorist attacks. This concern is clearly manifested in Phil Gursky’s book cover which features a striking image of a Belgian returnee from Syria, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who has been named by security officials as one of the architects of the attacks in Paris in 2015. ​ In Western Foreign Fighters: The Threat to Homeland and International Security, Phil Gursky, a former analyst at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, elaborates on the phenomenon of ‘Western Foreign Fighters.’ This book aims at addressing two fundamental issues: “why people leave their homeland to join terrorist groups?” and “do they pose a threat upon their prospective return?”[1] To answer those questions, Gurski relies not only on a detailed analysis of the excerpts and statements by the fighters recently engaged in violent extremism at home and overseas, but also on accounts that delineate historical parallels and differences with previous conflicts sharing similar dynamics. ​ Gurski divides his analysis into eight substantive chapters, an appendix, a glossary and a suggested reading list, using accessible, non-academic prose. He conducts the majority of his historical analysis in chapter three. His discussion of western volunteers—mainly Canadians and Americans—and their involvement in previous conflicts such as the Spanish Civil War and the Boers Wars provides informative and engaging insights, mostly for a general readership.[2] It also sets the stage for shedding light on why Westerners join terrorist groups like IS, and what threat they pose to homeland/international security. Obviously, these issues will be of most interest to intelligence officers, policy makers, scholars, and practitioners...
  • Topic: Terrorism, International Security, Violent Extremism, Islamic State, Homeland Security, Book Review
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Middle East, Syria, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Lisa Davis
  • Publication Date: 03-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal of International Affairs
  • Institution: School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
  • Abstract: Moments of catastrophe that destroy communities often provide opportunities to rebuild them to be more resilient to preexisting harms. The challenge lies in spotting and seizing those opportunities. With the re-takeover of Mosul and other cities formerly controlled by the Islamic State, the rapidly growing demand for shelter in Iraq continues unabated. Yet the dearth of supportive services in many affected communities continues. One obstacle is an Iraqi policy that effectively forbids local organizations from providing shelter. The potential solution lies in international allies partnering with local organizations in a new way: by supporting their policy initiatives. In Iraq, local activists know that changing the anti-shelter policy in a time of massive humanitarian crisis would broaden the safety net for women fleeing all forms of violence while also helping to dismantle long-term structural violence. This is the paradox of crisis. One local organization, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), is stepping up to meet the needs of survivors of gender-based violence by providing much-needed shelter, albeit clandestinely. Together with international partners, OWFI is challenging Iraq’s anti-shelter policy and creating the conditions for structural change.
  • Topic: Gender Issues, Islamic State, Local, Shelters
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Lars Erslev Anderson
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Connections
  • Institution: Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes
  • Abstract: This article investigates the developments of al-Qaida and The Islamic State in the context of the war on terror. The Iraq war 2003–2010, including the US Counterinsurgency strategy implemented in Iraq in 2007 onwards, together with the political developments in Iraq after the US withdrawal of combat troops at the end of 2011 is seen as the breeding ground for Islamic State in Iraq and thus for establishment of the Nusra Front (al-Qaida) in Syria. The chapter argues that without political developments based on reliable states in the Arab Middle East there is no solution in sight for ending the conflicts and wars in the region.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, War on Terror
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Andrea Sjøberg Aasgaard
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Connections
  • Institution: Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes
  • Abstract: Why do young Muslim women from the whole world join the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, despite the fact that the group is notorious for conducting terrible sexual violations against women? Through comparing how al-Qaeda (AQ) and IS are positioning women in their ideological literature, this article sheds light on IS’ appeal to women. This is interesting, as AQ in a historical perspective only attracted a handful of European women to physically join the group. The comparison highlights that AQ and IS position women in different ways: as housewives, migrants, warriors and sex slaves. Both groups’ ideologies agree that a woman’s primarily role is to be a housewife and mother, and exclude in principle women from the battlefield. However, only IS is emphasizing that Muslim women have a right and duty to migrate to its territory. Through using ideological arguments in its literature, IS convinces its supporters that it is a religious duty to enslave women the group defines as idolaters. For this reason, IS’ brutality against non-Muslim women will not discourage its female supporters from joining the group.
  • Topic: Gender Issues, Migration, Sex Trafficking, Islamic State, Sexual Violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Mona Kanal Sheikh
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Connections
  • Institution: Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes
  • Abstract: The Islamic State (IS) movement has opened a new chapter in the Afpak region, changing the landscape of militant movements in the area. This article looks at the patterns of rivalry and collaboration between the Islamic State on one side and Al-Qaeda and Taliban-related movements on the other. It also surveys the way Al-Qaeda has developed during the past years where most of the international attention has been devoted to the formation of IS in Iraq/Syria, and shows that Al-Qaeda is still active, though it has become more locally oriented. Finally, the article looks at the prospects for the further expansion of IS especially in Pakistan where, on one side, a range of sectarian anti-Shia movements that resonate with parts of the IS agenda while, on the other side, there is no ideological tradition for embracing the kind of caliphate-jihadism that the IS advocates.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Violent Extremism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Graeme Wood, Eli Stiefel
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Fletcher Security Review
  • Institution: The Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Abstract: Graeme Wood is a correspondent for The Atlantic. He was the 2015 - 2016 Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and is a lecturer in political science at Yale University. He was formerly a contributing editor to The New Republic and books editor of Pacific Standard. He was a reporter at The Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh in 1999, then lived and wrote in the Middle East from 2002 to 2006. He has received fellowships from the Social Sciences Research Council (2002-2003), the South Asian Journalists Association (2009), the East-West Center (2009-2010), and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide (2013-2014). He has appeared many times on television and radio (CNN, ABC, BBC, MSNBC, et al.), was the screenwriter of a Sundance Official Selection (2010, short film), and led a Nazi-hunting expedition to Paraguay for a History Channel special in 2009.
  • Topic: Security, Non State Actors, Islamic State, Journalism
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria, United States of America