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  • Author: Paul Cruickshank, Michael Knights, Haroro J. Ingram, Craig Whiteside, Charlie Winter, Seth Loertscher, Ariane Tabatabai, Gina Vale
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: The January 3, 2020, U.S. drone strike that killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and Kata’ib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis at Baghdad International Airport will likely have consequences that reverberate across the region and beyond for years. In our first feature article, Michael Knights focuses on the potential consequences for Iraq. He writes that the removal of Soleimani and al-Muhandis, “in combination with resistance from protestors, religious leaders, and the international community, could slow or stall the consolidation of [Tehran-backed] militia power in Iraq.” Ariane Tabatabai assesses that although Soleimani “was perhaps unparalleled in his ability to advance Iranian national interests as viewed by the regime,” the Quds Force is “unlikely to change its modus operandi significantly and that the new Quds Force commander, Esmail Qaani, is likely to ensure a smooth transition.” In our second feature article, Haroro Ingram, Craig Whiteside, and Charlie Winter—the authors of the soon-to-be-published book The ISIS Reader: Milestone Texts of the Islamic State Movement—“present three frames through which to understand the [Islamic State] movement’s ability to navigate through spectacular highs and crippling lows.” Our interview is with Rob Saale, who between 2017 and 2019 was the director of the U.S. Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, an interagency group housed at the FBI. Gina Vale examines a collection of 24 internal Islamic State documents obtained by U.S. military forces operating in Iraq and Syria and declassified through the Combating Terrorism Cen-ter’s Harmony Program. She writes that the documents indicate “the Islamic State sought to translate citizens’ compliance with pious ideals into long-term acceptance of the group’s ideological legitimacy and governing authority.” The full collection of documents, including English translation, is now available on the CTC’s website.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Qassem Soleimani, Militias
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Matthew Levitt, Jason Warner, Amarnath Amarasingam, Annie Fixler, Bennett Clifford, Caleb Weiss
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: Following the January 3, 2020, U.S. drone strike that killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force chief General Qassem Soleimani, there is significant concern that Iran may seek to retaliate against U.S. interests in the Middle East, and possibly even in the U.S. homeland. In our feature article, Matthew Levitt forecasts that “Iran and the foreign legion of Shi`a proxies at its disposal are likely to employ new types of operational tradecraft, including deploying cells comprised of operatives from various proxy groups and potentially even doing something authorities worry about but have never seen to date, namely encouraging Shi`a homegrown violent extremist terrorist attacks.” Annie Fixler assesses Iran will likely not order a major intensification of cyber operations against the United States to avenge Soleimani per se, because “claiming credit [to make clear any attack is in retaliation] also removes plausible deniability, which is one of the benefits of cyberattacks in the first place.” Instead, she argues, the state-sponsored cyber threat from Iran will continue along its current elevated trajectory, driven to a significant degree by the Iranian regime’s desire to hit back because of U.S. sanctions. Our feature interview is with Brigadier General Dagvin Anderson, Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa. In our second interview, conducted by Amarnath Amarasingam, an official at Europol’s EU Internet Referral Unit outlines how in November 2019, the unit coordinated with messaging platforms, including Telegram, to carry out a major takedown of Islamic State channels online. At a time of continued concern over the security risk posed by the thousands of Islamic State fighters detained in northern Syria, Bennett Clifford and Caleb Weiss assess the global threat posed by jihadi attacks on prisons and jihadi riots inside prisons. They document how from West Africa to Southeast Asia, targeting prisons systems in this way has continued to be a priority for the Islamic State and other jihadi groups. “In planning these types of attacks,” they write, “jihadis are interested in restoring their force size, releasing incarcerated jihadi leaders or specialists, and/or creating a propaganda win.”
  • Topic: Counter-terrorism, Jihad, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC), Foreign Fighters
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Paul Cruickshank, Don Rassler, Audrey Alexander, Chelsea Daymon, Meili Criezis, Christopher Hockey, Michael Jones, Mark Dubowitz, Saeed Ghasseminejad, Nikita Malik
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: COVID-19 is arguably the biggest crisis the planet has faced since the Second World War and will likely have significant impacts on international security in ways which can and cannot be anticipated. For this special issue on COVID-19 and counterterrorism, we convened five of the best and brightest thinkers in our field for a virtual roundtable on the challenges ahead. In the words of Magnus Ranstorp, “COVID-19 and extremism are the perfect storm.” According to another of the panelists, Lieutenant General (Ret) Michael Nagata, “the time has come to acknowledge the stark fact that despite enormous expenditures of blood/treasure to ‘kill, capture, arrest’ our way to strategic counterterrorism success, there are more terrorists globally today than on 9/11, and COVID-19 will probably lead to the creation of more.” Audrey Kurth Cronin put it this way: “COVID-19 is a boost to non-status quo actors of every type. Reactions to the pandemic—or more specifically, reactions to governments’ inability to respond to it effectively—are setting off many types of political violence, including riots, hate crimes, intercommunal tensions, and the rise of criminal governance. Terrorism is just one element of the growing political instability as people find themselves suffering economically, unable to recreate their pre-COVID lives.” The roundtable identified bioterrorism as a particular concern moving forward, with Juan Zarate noting that “the severity and extreme disruption of a novel coronavirus will likely spur the imagination of the most creative and dangerous groups and individuals to reconsider bioterrorist attacks.” Ali Soufan warned that “although the barriers to entry for terrorists to get their hands on bio weapons remain high, they are gradually being lowered due to technological advances and the democratization of science.” The special issue also features five articles. Audrey Alexander examines the security threat COVID-19 poses to the northern Syria detention camps holding Islamic State members, drawing on a wide range of source materials, including recent interviews she conducted with General Mazloum Abdi, the top commander of the SDF, and former U.S. CENTCOM Commander Joseph Votel. Chelsea Daymon and Meili Criezis untangle the pandemic narratives spun by Islamic State supporters online. Christopher Hockey and Michael Jones assess al-Shabaab’s response to the spread of COVID-19 in Somalia. Mark Dubowitz and Saeed Ghasseminejad document how the Iranian regime has spread disinformation relating to the pandemic. Finally, Nikita Malik discusses the overlaps between pandemic preparedness and countering terrorism from a U.K. perspective.
  • Topic: Communications, Governance, Counter-terrorism, Media, Islamic State, Crisis Management, Al Shabaab, Pandemic, COVID-19, Disinformation
  • Political Geography: Africa, United Kingdom, Iran, Middle East, Syria, Global Focus
  • Author: Michael Knights, Stephen Hummel, Paul Cruickshank, Don Rassler, Tim Lister, Pete Erickson, Seth Loertscher, David C. Lane, Paul Erickson
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: In this month’s feature article, Michael Knights assesses the future of Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Iran’s other proxies in Iraq. He notes that in the wake of the death of KH’s founder and leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a U.S. airstrike on January 3, 2020, “KH is still the engine room of anti-U.S. attacks in Iraq but it is less politically agile and operates in a more hostile counterterrorism environment where deniability and secrecy have become more important again.” He assesses that the “the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force is also leaning on a more diversified model in Iraq, drawing on non-KH factions like Saraya al-Jihad and Saraya al-Ashura, and engaging more directly with Iraq’s minorities, including Sunni communities and the Shi`a Kurdish Faylis and Turkmen. History may be repeating itself as Iran develops new smaller and more secure Iraqi cells that are reminiscent of the formation of Kata’ib Hezbollah itself.” Our interview is with Drew Endy, Associate Chair, Bioengineering, Stanford University, who has served on the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity. He argues the United States urgently needs a bio strategy to take advantage of rapid advances in biotechnology, protect against the growing danger posed by its potential malevolent use, and prevent the United States from permanently falling behind as a biopower. “First, we need to demonstrate operational mastery of cells by learning to build them. Second and third, we need to build and secure the bio net. And we have to do this now, within the decade, so that we can translate these advances as infrastructure undergirding a uniquely American bio economy that projects power while advancing life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. If we do this, then we have a chance of taking infectious disease off the table. If we don’t develop and implement a coherent bio strategy, it’s game over, not to be dramatic.” In early August 2020, fighters loyal to the Islamic State captured the town and port of Mocimboa da Praia in Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado. They have yet to be dislodged from the town. Tim Lister examines a jihadi insurgency in Mozambique that has grown in sophistication and reach. This month marks 20 years since al-Qa`ida’s attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 American sailors. Lieutenant Colonel Pete Erickson, Seth Loertscher, First Lieutenant David C. Lane, and Captain Paul Erickson assess the search for justice.
  • Topic: Science and Technology, Insurgency, Counter-terrorism, Hezbollah, Justice, Jihad, Proxy War, USS Cole
  • Political Geography: Africa, Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Mozambique
  • Author: Tore Hamming, Paul Cruickshank, Graham Macklin, Bryce Loidolt, Jami Forbes
  • Publication Date: 01-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: In our cover article, Tore Hamming revisits the ideological origins of the Islamic State. He argues that “despite its history as a local al-Qa`ida affliate in Iraq, the Islamic State developed from an ideological and cultural trend born in late-1980s Afghanistan that was always in tension with the core idea and identity of al-Qa`ida,” setting the stage for the current bitter divide between the two groups and creating a significant obstacle to any reunification of the global jihadi movement. Our interview this month is with Rebecca Weiner, the Assistant Commissioner for Intelligence Analysis at NYPD, and Meghann Teubner, NYPD’s Director of Counterterrorism Intelligence Analysis. Despite the demise of the Islamic State’s territorial caliphate, they have not seen much of a fall-off in jihadi terrorist plotting against New York City. While they assess Islamist terrorism remains the primary threat to the city, their focus on far-right terrorism is more intense than ever before. With concern about violent right-wing extremism rising on both sides of the Atlantic, Graham Macklin examines the evolving far-right terror threat picture in the United Kingdom, focusing in particular on the terrorist group National Action. In 2007, coalition forces captured Qais al-Khazali, the head of Asa`ib Ahl al-Haqq (AAH), an Iran-backed Shi`a militia group accused of killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Al-Khazali was released in 2010, continues to lead AAH, and has become a significant political player in Iraq. Bryce Loidolt outlines how the recently declassified interrogation reports from al-Khazali’s time in custody reveal significant rifts between Shi`a militant power centers in Iraq and argues that such “rifts are likely to persist and will complicate Iran’s ability to project its influence in the future.” In 2018, al-Qa`ida’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released more messages than in the previous year and ratcheted up his threat rhetoric against the United States. Jami Forbes warns al-Qa`ida’s increased media outreach may signal both a revitalization and that it is readying to pivot back to attacking its far enemies.
  • Topic: Intelligence, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Media, Islamic State, Ideology, Shia, Jihad, Radical Right, NYPD
  • Political Geography: United Kingdom, Iran, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Matthew Levitt, Kristina Hummel, Petter Nesser, Lachlan Wilson, Jason Pack, Geoff D. Porter
  • Publication Date: 03-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: In our cover article, Matthew Levitt examines Hezbollah’s procurement channels, documenting how the group has been leveraging an international network of companies and brokers, including Hezbollah operatives and criminal facilitators, to procure weapons, dual-use items, and other equipment for the group and sometimes Iran. Levitt details how in the context of the war in Syria, “some of Hezbollah’s most significant procurement agents—such as Muhammad Qasir—have teamed up with Iran’s Quds Force to develop integrated and efficient weapons procurement and logistics pipelines through Syria and into Lebanon that can be leveraged to greatly expand Hezbollah’s international weapons procurement capabilities.” Levitt reveals Qasir appeared in footage of meetings last month between Syria’s President Assad and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, underscoring the importance Damascus and Tehran attach to Qasir’s efforts. Our interview is with Vayl S. Oxford, the director of the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). The Islamic State threat to Europe has grown less acute since the Islamic State lost much of its territory in Syria and Iraq, but a significant threat remains. Petter Nesser identifies three factors that explain why the most recent wave of terrorism in Europe rose so high: the participation of European countries in the anti-Islamic State coalition, the strong reach of jihadi-terror networks into Europe, and the efforts of “terrorist entrepreneurs.” He warns anger among European Islamist extremists caused by the military intervention against the Islamic State, networks created in the jihadi battlegrounds of Syria and Iraq, and veteran European foreign fighters intent on orchestrating terror back home could combine to inflict new waves of terrorism in Europe. Lachlan Wilson and Jason Pack outline how the Islamic State in Libya has rebounded since its loss of Sirte in 2016 by fighting a twin-track war of attrition involving attacks on state institutions along the coast and a guerrilla insurgency in Libya’s interior deserts. Geoff Porter outlines how counterterrorism efforts in Algeria and low support for jihadism among Algerians has significantly weakened the Algerian chapter of al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Lastly, we’re very pleased to announce that Don Rassler, the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Combating Terrorism Center, has joined the CTC Sentinel editorial board.
  • Topic: Defense Policy, Non State Actors, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Networks, Hezbollah, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Libya, Algeria, Lebanon
  • Author: Michael Knights, Raffaello Pantucci, Adrian Shtuni, Kujtim Bytyqi, Sam Mullins, Ross Dayton
  • Publication Date: 04-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: In our feature article, Michael Knights draws on six research visits to Iraq in 2018 and 2019 to document the expanding footprint region-by-region of pro-Iranian militias in Iraq that were previously labeled “Special Groups” by the United States and in some cases designated as terrorist organizations. Knights assesses “that the Special Groups (not including 18,000-22,000 Badr troops) currently have 63,000 registered personnel … 15 times the size of the Special Groups in 2010, when there were probably as few as 4,000 Special Group operatives in Iraq (again not including Badr personnel in 2010).” He notes a key driver for their growth in manpower and popularity in Iraq was their role in fighting the Islamic State and liberating Sunni population centers under Islamic State control. He writes that “a pantheon of smaller, newer pro-Iran militias is arguably closer to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps than larger and older pro-Iranian militias such as Badr and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq” and identifies Kata’ib Hezbollah led by U.S.-designated terrorist Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis as the greatest threat to U.S. interests. With pro-Tehran militias expanding their presence across Iraq and U.S. influence in Iraq reduced since its 2011 troop withdrawal, he argues the United States “needs to be parsimonious and pragmatic if it wishes to push back effectively.” Our interview is with Suzanne Raine, who was the head of the United Kingdom’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) between 2015 and 2017. She outlines to Raffaello Pantucci the lessons learned from her work in counterterrorism and the threat landscape as she sees it. Two articles in this issue focus on the Western Balkans. Adrian Shtuni provides a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the security threats posed by foreign fighters and homegrown jihadis from the region. Kujtim Bytyqi, the Acting Director of the Department for Analysis and Security Policies at the Kosovo Security Council Secretariat, and Sam Mullins outline Kosovo’s experience dealing with returning foreign fighters. Finally, Ross Dayton documents how the Maduro regime in Venezuela has increased its reliance on paramilitary groups, including the Colombian left-wing guerrilla group ELN, which was responsible for the suicide car bomb attack on the National Police Academy in Bogotá, Colombia, in January 2019.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Jihad, Army, Militias, Foreign Fighters, Paramilitary
  • Political Geography: Iraq, United Kingdom, Europe, Iran, Middle East, Kosovo, Syria, Venezuela
  • Author: Florian Flade, Paul Cruickshank, Matt Levitt, Geoff D. Porter, Jason Warner, Charlotte Hulme
  • Publication Date: 08-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: Concern is rising over the threat of chemical and biological terror. Last month, the British newspaper The Sunday Times reported that staff at soccer stadiums in the United Kingdom were being advised on how to respond to attacks using poison gas and hazardous substances following concerns that Islamic State-inspired extremists may seek to carry out such attacks on crowded venues. There are signs the group is seeking to export expertise built up in Syria and Iraq. Last summer, an alleged terrorist cell based in Sydney that was in communication with a senior Islamic State controller allegedly plotted to build a poison gas dispersion device to potentially attack crowded places in Australia. As Florian Flade reports in our feature article, this past June, German authorities allegedly thwarted a ricin attack by a Tunisian extremist being advised on how to make the biological agent by an Islamic State-linked operative overseas. Before he was arrested, he was allegedly able to produce a significant quantity of ricin. A threshold had allegedly been crossed. Never before has a jihadi terrorist in the West successfully made the toxin. Our interview this month is with Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, who previously led U.K. and NATO efforts to counter CBRN threats. He warns the huge disruption caused by the “Novichok” attack in Salisbury earlier this year may inspire jihadi terrorists to launch bio-chem attacks. He argues the better informed and prepared the public and emergency responders are, the less likely such attacks will lead to large-scale panic. In late June, European security agencies thwarted a plot allegedly orchestrated by an Iranian diplomat to bomb an Iranian opposition conference near Paris attended by Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, and 4,000 others. Matthew Levitt outlines how Iranian agents have used diplomatic cover to plot terrorist attacks in Europe over the past several decades. Geoff Porter looks at the terrorist threats facing Mauritania. Jason Warner and Charlotte Hulme provide best estimates for the numerical strength of the nine Islamic State groupings active in Africa. This month, we mourn the loss of Ambassador Michael Sheehan, who worked tirelessly throughout his professional life to protect the United States from terrorism. As the former Distinguished Chair and current Senior Fellow of the Combating Terrorism Center, he inspired a new generation of military leaders and researchers and was a strong champion of this publication. He will be greatly missed.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Africa, United Kingdom, Iran, Middle East, Mauritania
  • Author: Ali Soufan, Paul Cruickshank, Nuno Tiago Pinto, Damon Mehl, Michael Munoz
  • Publication Date: 11-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: In our cover article, Ali Soufan profiles Major General Qassem Soleimani, the long-serving head of Iran’s Quds Force who the U.S. government has accused, among other things, of support for terrorism and involvement in a 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Soufan outlines how Soleimani has masterminded Tehran’s efforts to project its power across the Middle East using a unique strategy of blending militant and state power, built in part on the model of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Soufan argues that with nationalist sentiment on the rise in Iran in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement and the ongoing regional tussle with Saudi Arabia, Soleimani’s popularity would make him the natural front-runner if Iran chooses to adopt a military presidency. Our interview is with Patrick Skinner who during the decade after 9/11 worked in counterterrorism for the CIA in Afghanistan and Iraq. Last year, he began working as a police officer in his hometown of Savannah, Georgia, in an effort to make a difference closer to home. Skinner reflects on how lessons learned from his time as a CIA case officer and as a local police officer could apply to counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategy and tactics overseas. Drawing on thousands of pages of judicial documents and investigative files, Nuno Pinto outlines the alleged key role played by two Portugal-based extremists in a transnational Islamic State network whose alleged attack plans were thwarted by arrests in Strasbourg and Marseille in November 2016. The case raises concerns that European countries in which security services are less geared up to confront terrorist activity are being used as logistical hubs by jihadi terrorists. In the wake of the Islamic State’s deadly attack on Western tourists in Tajikistan in July 2018, Damon Mehl examines the threat the group poses to the country. With the Islamic State having lost almost all of its territory in Syria and Iraq, Michael Munoz looks at how the group’s propaganda efforts may evolve in the future.
  • Topic: Intelligence, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Propaganda, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iraq, Europe, Iran, Middle East, Tajikistan, France, Portugal
  • Author: Sean Yom, Katrina Sammour, Michael Knights, Alexander Mello, Aaron Y. Zelin, Paul Cruickshank, Assaf Moghadam
  • Publication Date: 04-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: In our April cover article, Michael Knights and Alexander Mello examine the Islamic State’s ongoing defense of Mosul. Despite the group’s use of innovative and lethal tactics such as pairing car bombs and drones, it has been outfought by coalition-backed Iraqi forces, which liberated eastern Mosul in January. With Islamic State fighters now engaged in a final fight on the western side of the Tigris, the authors describe how the group continues to prioritize mobile defensive tactics to seize the initiative and mount counterattacks. Our interview is with Bernard Kleinman, an American defense attorney who has been on the defense teams of several high-profile individuals in terrorism cases, including Ramzi Yousef, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Anas al-Libi, and alleged USS Cole mastermind Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Mirroring the global rift between al-Qa`ida and the Islamic State, Kleinman reveals that almost all the prominent alleged al-Qa`ida figures in U.S. custody he has had conversations with since 2014 are disturbed by the actions of the Islamic State, which they view as corrupting Islam and illegitimately targeting Shi`a for death. Kleinman reveals his client Ramzi Yousef, who is being held in the “Supermax” facility in Florence, Colorado, recently finished writing a 250-page treatise theologically repudiating the Islamic State. Kleinman also weighs in on the Guantanamo Bay military tribunal process and the relationship between Iran and al-Qa`ida, which his clients have described as being driven by a “my enemy’s enemy is my ally” logic. That is also the conclusion of Assaf Moghadam who draws on recently declassified Abbottabad letters and court documents to argue the relationship between Iran and al-Qa`ida, while historically not without tensions, is best understood as a tactical cooperation that is based on cost-benefit calculations. He argues that despite the intervention of Iran and its proxies in the Syrian civil war, these calculations are unlikely to change anytime soon. Fifteen years ago this month, al-Qa`ida detonated a truck bomb outside the el-Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia, killing 19, including 16 German and French tourists. Aaron Zelin sheds new light on al-Qa`ida’s first successful international attack after 9/11, drawing on court documents and detention files. Finally, with concern growing over the Islamic State threat to Jordan, Sean Yom and Katrina Sammour assess the social and political dimensions behind youth radicalization in the kingdom.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Radicalization, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Youth
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Jordan