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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: Eran Benedek, Neil Simon, Michael Knights, Alex Almeida, Mette Mayli Albaek, Puk Damasgard, Mahmoud Shiekh Ibrahim, Troels Kingo, Jens Vithner, Nakissa Jahanbani
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: One painful lesson from the history of terrorism is just how dangerous one single capable international attack planner can be. Little has been written in English about Basil Hassan, a radicalized Danish engineering graduate of Lebanese descent who became one of the most dangerous international attack operatives within the Islamic State. In this issue’s first feature article, Mette Mayli Albæk, Puk Damsgård, Mahmoud Shiekh Ibrahim, Troels Kingo and Jens Vithner build on a two-year investigative report for the Danish public broadcaster DR to provide a detail-rich profile. The authors write: “As the key figure in a drone procurement network that stretched from Europe through Turkey to Syria, [Hassan] was instrumental in furthering the Islamic State’s drone-warfare capabilities. As ‘the Controller’ behind the 2017 Sydney airline plot, he pulled the strings from Syria in directing one of the most ambitious and innovative terrorist plots ever seen.” There are claims Hassan was killed in the second half of 2017, but the authors note that Danish counterterrorism officials are still not certain that he is dead. In our second feature article, Michael Knights and Alex Almeida find that “the Islamic State has recovered from its territorial defeats since 2017 to mount a strong and sustained resurgence as an insurgent force inside Iraq.” Their analysis of attack metrics from the past 18 months paints “a picture of an Islamic State insurgency that has regained its balance, spread out across many more areas, and reclaimed significant tactical proficiency.” The authors write that “now operating at the same levels it achieved in 2012, a number of factors suggest that the Islamic State could further ramp up its rural insurgency in 2020 and 2021. An input of experienced cadres from Syria, a downturn in Iraqi and coalition effectiveness, and now the disruption of a combined COVID and economic crisis will likely all feed into an escalating campaign of attrition against the Iraqi state, military, and tribes.” May 2020 marks the third anniversary of the suicide bombing attack at the Manchester Arena in the United Kingdom. Two brothers from Manchester of Libyan descent, Salman and Hashem Abedi, were responsible for the attack. Following the conviction of Hashem Abedi in a trial that concluded two months ago in the United Kingdom, Eran Benedek and Neil Simon outline what is now known about the genesis of the attack, the brothers’ web of connections in a British-Libyan jihadi nexus, and their links to Islamic State extremists. Finally, Nakissa Jahanbani provides a high-level analysis of attack trends from 2008 to 2019 of Iranian proxies in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa using several open-source datasets.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Jihad, Proxy War, Aviation
  • Political Geography: Africa, Iraq, United Kingdom, South Asia, Middle East, Libya
  • 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: J. Kenneth Wickiser, Kevin J. O'Donovan, Michael Washington, Stephen Hummel, F. John Burpo, Raffaello Pantucci, Nuno Tiago Pinto, Tomasz Rolbiecki, Pieter Van Ostaeyen, Charlie Winter
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has renewed concerns over bioterror threats, with Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently warning that a bioterror attack involving a pathogen with a high death rate “is kind of the nightmare scenario” facing the planet. In this month’s feature article, J. Kenneth Wickiser, Kevin J. O’Donovan, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Washington, Major Stephen Hummel, and Colonel F. John Burpo assess the potential future threat posed by the malevolent use of synthetic biology. They write that synthetic biology “is a rapidly developing and diffusing technology. The wide availability of the protocols, procedures, and techniques necessary to produce and modify living organisms combined with an exponential increase in the availability of genetic data is leading to a revolution in science affecting the threat landscape that can be rivaled only by the development of the atomic bomb.” The authors, who all serve at, or are affiliated with, the Department of Chemistry and Life Science at the United States Military Academy, note that synthetic biology has “placed the ability to recreate some of the deadliest infectious diseases known well within the grasp of the state-sponsored terrorist and the talented non-state actor” and that “the techniques used to propagate bacteria and viruses and to cut and paste genetic sequences from one organism to another are approaching the level of skill required to use a cookbook or a home computer.” They argue that “an effective response to the threats posed by those using synthetic biology for nefarious purpose will require vigilance on the part of military planners, the development of effective medical countermeasures by the research community, and the development of diagnostic and characterization technologies capable of discriminating between natural and engineered pathogens.” In our interview, Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union’s longtime Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, speaks to Raffaello Pantucci. Nuno Pinto presents a detailed case study of an alleged Portuguese Islamic State network with strong connections to the United Kingdom that sheds significant light on the foreign fighter recruitment pipeline between Europe and Syria in the last decade. Tomasz Rolbiecki, Pieter Van Ostaeyen, and Charlie Winter examine the threat posed by the Islamic State across Africa based on a study of its attack claims. They write: “As the second half of 2020 unfolds, it is critical that military and counterterrorism policymakers recognize what is at stake in Africa. The Islamic State is not just fighting a low-grade insurgency on the continent; in at least two countries, it has been able to seize and hold territory and subsequently engage in pseudo-state activities.”
  • Topic: Terrorism, European Union, Counter-terrorism, Weapons , Islamic State, Biological Weapons , Foreign Fighters
  • Political Geography: Africa, Europe, Middle East, Syria, Portugal
  • Author: Daniel Milton, Muhammad Al-'Ubaydi, Michael Brian Jenkins, Mohammed Hafez
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: In the September issue, it is revealed for the first time that the Islamic State’s new leader, publicly identified by the U.S. government as Amir Muhammad Sa’id ‘Abd-al-Rahman al-Mawla, was detained by U.S. forces in Iraq in 2008 and interrogated. The Combating Terrorism Center has made available on its website three of his declassified interrogation reports, and these are analyzed in a feature article by Daniel Milton and Muhammad al-`Ubaydi, who caution that claims made by al-Mawla while in custody are very difficult to verify. Based on their assessment of the three documents and their research, they conclude that “key assumptions about al-Mawla, notably his Turkmen ethnicity and early involvement in the insurgency in Iraq, may not be accurate. Moreover, statements made by al-Mawla, while doubtless trying to minimize his own commitment to ISI [the Islamic State of Iraq], suggest that his commitment may have been borne less of zeal than of serendipity. If true, this would suggest that something certainly changed in al-Mawla, as his later reputation suggests someone who ruthlessly pursued his ideology, even to carrying out genocide against its enemies. The TIRs [tactical interrogation reports] also show that al-Mawla, who, according to the timeline that he himself provided, appears to have quickly risen in the organization’s ranks in part because of his religious training, knew much about ISI and was willing to divulge many of these details during his interrogation, potentially implicating and resulting in the death of at least one high-ranking ISI figure.” The Combating Terrorism Center convened a panel of leading scholars and analysts to further discuss the three documents. Cole Bunzel, Haroro Ingram, Gina Ligon, and Craig Whiteside provided their takeaways, including on whether the revelations may hurt al-Mawla’s standing within the group. In the other cover article, Brian Michael Jenkins considers the future role of the U.S. armed forces in counterterrorism, in a sweeping examination of the changing strategic, budgetary and threat environment. He writes: “Dividing the military into near-peer warfare and counterterrorism camps makes little sense. Future wars will require U.S. commanders to orchestrate capabilities to counter an array of conventional and unconventional modes of conflict, including terrorism.” Finally, as the global civil war between the Islamic State and al-Qa`ida intensifies, Mohammed Hafez outlines how a recent ‘documentary’ released by the Islamic State’s Yemeni branch has made clearer than ever before the areas of disagreement between the groups.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Armed Forces, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Populism, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Global Focus, United States of America
  • 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: Seth G. Jones, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, Jason Warner, Ryan O'Farrell, Heni Nsaibia, Ryan Cummings
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: In this month’s feature article, Seth Jones examines the evolving threat posed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. “The Taliban is in many ways a different organization from the one that governed Afghanistan in the 1990s. Yet most of their leaders are nevertheless committed to an extreme interpretation of Islam that is not shared by many Afghans, an autocratic political system that eschews democracy, and the persistence of relations with terrorist groups like al-Qa`ida. These realities cast serious doubt about the possibility of a lasting peace agreement with the Afghan government in the near future,” he writes, adding that “without a peace deal, the further withdrawal of U.S. forces—as highlighted in the November 17, 2020, announcement to cut U.S. forces from 4,500 to 2,500 troops—will likely shift the balance of power in favor of the Taliban. With continuing support from Pakistan, Russia, Iran, and terrorist groups like al-Qa`ida, it is the view of the author that the Taliban would eventually overthrow the Afghan government in Kabul.” In a feature commentary, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon outlines the urgent action needed on biosecurity in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. He writes: “For years, the United States and many other countries have neglected biosecurity because policymakers have underestimated both the potential impact and likelihood of biological threats. COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on the planet and could be followed by outbreaks of even more dangerous viral diseases. Meanwhile, advances in synthetic biology are transforming the potential threat posed by engineered pathogens, creating growing concern over biological attacks and bioterror. Given the scale of the threat, biosecurity needs to be a top priority moving forward. Not only do efforts need to be stepped up to try to prevent the next pandemic (natural or engineered), but resilience needs to be built by developing early warning systems, the capacity to track outbreaks, and medical countermeasures, including ‘next generation’ vaccines.” He stresses that “winning public acceptance for public health measures will be imperative to tackling biological emergencies in the future.” Jason Warner, Ryan O’Farrell, Héni Nsaibia, and Ryan Cummings assess the evolution of the Islamic State threat across Africa. They write that “the annus horribilis Islamic State Central suffered in 2019, during which the group lost the last stretch of its ‘territorial caliphate’ in Iraq and Syria and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed, does not appear to have had a discernible impact on the overall operational trajectory of the Islamic State threat in Africa” underscoring “that while connections were built up between Islamic State Central and its African affiliates—with the former providing, at times, some degree of strategic direction, coordination, and material assistance—the latter have historically evolved under their own steam and acted with a significant degree of autonomy.”
  • Topic: Terrorism, Biosecurity, Taliban, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Africa, Middle East
  • 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: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, 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: Ong Keng Yong, Noorita Mohd Noor, Iftekharul Bashar, Muhammad Saiful Alam Shah Bin Sudiman, Nodirbek Soliev, Remy Mahzam, Amalina Abdul Nasir
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The January issue provides an overview of terrorist and violent extremist threats in key countries and conflict zones in the Asia-Pacific throughout 2019. Regional specific threats and responses covering Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, China and the Middle East are assessed. In addition, themes such as the online narratives propagated by global threat groups and counter-ideological dimensions of terrorism and violent extremism are analysed. Globally, despite suffering severe territorial, leadership and organisational losses in 2019, Islamist terror groups Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda (AQ) continued to pose the most potent terrorist threat. Early in the year, IS’ territorial reign was ended by American-backed coalition forces, following which its networks became scattered and, in a bid to overcome its physical decimation, more decentralised across the globe. The death of IS’ “Caliph”, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, in October 2019, raised further questions about the group’s continued resiliency. Yet, IS has proved persistent and adaptive. The group’s violent ideology continues to bind its myriad followers across regions. In the aftermath of its territorial and leadership losses, IS’ terror attacks and online offensives have been sustained. The global security landscape was further complicated by the emergence of Right Wing Extremist groups as violent actors on the world stage in 2019. Mass political protests around the world further underscored growing dissatisfaction with the present status quo, amid perceptions that some states are unable to articulate masses’ aspirations and meet their demands. The threat of Islamist terrorism will persist into 2020, especially with escalating geo-political tensions in the Middle East. Overcoming the physical and ideological threat by global militant groups, including far-right extremist groups, will remain very much a work in progress in the year ahead.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Protests, Violence
  • Political Geography: China, South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Francis N. Okpaleke, Al-Chukwuma Okoli
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: AUSTRAL: Brazilian Journal of Strategy International Relations
  • Institution: Postgraduate Program in International Strategic Studies, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul
  • Abstract: This paper assesses the role of drones in furthering or undermining US grand strategy. This is against the backdrop of the thinking that contemporary use of drones in the context of post 9/11 era undermine the successive US administration’s strategic objectives as evidenced by the rise of anti-Americanism in Muslim world, proliferation of drones by US near peer competitors, civilian death toll and weakening support for the US in targeted countries. This implies that while drones has played a historical and significant role for the US in power projection and asserting its unilateralism and military hegemony when dealing with rogue states and terrorist groups post 9/11, the political and strategic utility of drone strikes for US grand strategy is not apparent. Thus, this paper posits that though armed drones has played a quintessential role as a key instrument of statecraft for facilitating US offensive strategy in targeted states, the aftermath of drone strikes and its controversial aspects engender inimical outcomes that serve to undermine US strategic objectives. Based on qualitative analysis of secondary data, the paper questions the wisdom and benefits of using and shifting greater reliance towards armed drones, as a pathway for furthering US grand strategy.
  • Topic: Defense Policy, Military Strategy, Counter-terrorism, Drones
  • Political Geography: Africa, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • 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: Hassan Hassan, Paul Cruickshank, Stephen Hummel, F. John Burpo, James Bonner, Ross Dayton
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: In Syria, the Islamic State has now been reduced to a few vanishing pockets in Deir ez-Zor’s Middle Euphrates River Valley as a result of two separate military offensives on opposite sides of the river by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and forces loyal to the Assad regime. But while Deir ez-Zor has now been essentially liberated from the Islamic State, securing and stabilizing the region will likely prove much harder. In our cover article, Hassan Hassan writes the “long period it took the overstretched SDF to liberate the east side of the Euphrates afforded the Islamic State time to create sleeper cells.” He argues the fact that the west side is again under Assad regime control will likely provide opportunities to both the Islamic State and the al-Qa`ida offshoot Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to tap into local Sunni anger to rebuild their operations. Hassan warns there will be even more opportunities for jihadis to rebound if the Assad regime exploits what will likely be a vacuum left by soon-to-depart U.S. forces to take control of the areas liberated by the SDF. All this, he warns, creates a very real risk that the border region between Syria and Iraq could emerge as a long-term threat to global security, just like the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Our interview is with Shaun Greenough, the Case Strategy and Mentor Supervisor at The Unity Initiative (TUI), a specialist intervention consultancy based in the United Kingdom that focuses on rehabilitating individuals convicted of terrorist offenses and tackling absolutist mindsets in the wider community. Greenough previously served in a variety of counterterrorism roles including managing aspects of the U.K. police investigation into the 2006 transatlantic airline plot. Major Stephen Hummel, Colonel F. John Burpo, and Brigadier General James Bonner, the Commanding General of the U.S. Army’s 20th CBRNE Command, warn there is a high risk that profit-minded suppliers within vast, transnational IED networks may in the future expand into WMD proliferation. They write “the convergence of these two seemingly separate networks does not mean that an IED facilitation network will suddenly market WMD, rather that non-state actors could employ these networks to gather the knowledge, people, materials, finances, and infrastructure required for WMD development and employment.” Ross Dayton assesses the threat posed by the ELN terrorist group, which in January 2019 carried out an apparent suicide bombing on the national police academy in Bogotá, Colombia, that killed over 20 police cadets. “The ELN now operates in 12 Venezuelan states with virtual impunity under the Maduro government,” he writes, allowing “ELN fighters to escape the jurisdiction of Colombian security forces and exploit opportunities for illicit financing and recruitment.”
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Syrian War, Police, Jihad, IED
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Colombia, South America, Syria, Global Focus
  • 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: Aaron Edwards, Paul Cruickshank, Stephen Hummel, Douglas McNair, F. John Burpo, James Bonner, Audrey Alexander, Bennett Clifford, Caleb Weiss
  • Publication Date: 04-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: The murder earlier this month of journalist Lyra McKee in Northern Ireland on the night before Good Friday illustrates the fragility of peace in a region in which terrorist violence has persisted. In our cover article, Aaron Edwards writes that this was “the latest in a series of incidents that have raised the specter of a surge in terrorist violence in Northern Ireland.” In examining the evolution of the threat from militant groupings on both sides of the sectarian divide, he notes there has been a “blurring of the concepts of terrorism and criminality that challenges orthodox perspectives on the security landscape in Northern Ireland.” Our interview is with Edmund Fitton-Brown, the Coordinator of the ISIL (Daesh)/Al-Qaida/Taliban Monitoring Team at the United Nations. This issue features the concluding article of a two-article series focused on IED and WMD network convergence. The first article, published in our February 2019 issue, warned there was a high risk that profit-minded suppliers within vast, transnational IED networks may expand in the future into WMD proliferation. In the second article, Major Stephen Hummel, Lieutenant Colonel Douglas McNair, Colonel F. John Burpo, and Brigadier General James Bonner examine in greater detail the ways this could happen. Audrey Alexander and Bennett Clifford examine the threat posed by Islamic State-affiliated hackers and hacking groups. Through “analysis of several U.S. prosecutions of Islamic State-affiliated hackers and their networks, proficiencies, and activities,” they argue that “very few of these actors demonstrate advanced hacking or cyberterrorism capabilities.” Caleb Weiss examines the evolution of the threat posed by the Islamic State in Somalia, noting the group, “which is believed to only number in the low hundreds of fighters, appears to have significantly expanded its operations across Somalia, albeit from a relatively low base.” He argues the resulting reignition of tensions with the much larger al-Qa`ida affiliate al-Shabaab means “it is far from clear whether the Islamic State in Somalia will be able to sustain its operational expansion.”
  • Topic: Science and Technology, Terrorism, United Nations, Taliban, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Al Shabaab, Doxxing
  • Political Geography: Africa, Europe, Middle East, Ireland, Somalia
  • Author: Amarnath Amarasingam, Brian Michael Jenkins, Paul Cruickshank, Mitchell D. Silber, Haroro J. Ingram, Craig Whiteside, Charlie Winter
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: The Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka took the terrorism studies community by surprise because there had been no known history of jihadi violence inside the country and very little to indicate that local groups had the wherewithal to carry out such a large-scale coordinated operation. There is much that remains unclear about the links between the Sri Lankan cell and the Islamic State, but nearly 18 years after 9/11, the suicide bombings were a reminder that clandestine terrorist groups can, at any moment, strike in unexpected places and ways. In our cover article, Amarnath Amarasingam, whose research has focused on both Sri Lanka and global terrorism, outlines what is known about the network that carried out the Easter attacks and situates the attacks in the broader context of evolving intercommunal tensions in the country. Brian Michael Jenkins examines the options for dealing with the significant numbers of Islamic State foreign fighters currently detained in Syria, warning that “endless delay” risks creating a serious threat to international security. Our interview is with Vidhya Ramalingam, the co-founder of Moonshot CVE, a company using technology to disrupt and counter violent extremism globally. Mitchell Silber examines how the terrorist threat against Jews in the West has evolved by examining attacks between 2012 and the present day. He notes that “what may be the most striking findings from this case study analysis are that first, Europe has become the focal point of the jihadi terror threat to Jews in the West and second, the United States has become a new, emerging focal point of the extreme right-wing terror threat to Jews in the West.” Last month, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared for the first time on camera since the Islamic State heralded its ‘caliphate’ in Mosul’s al-Nuri mosque five years ago. Haroro Ingram, Craig Whiteside, and Charlie Winter explain how the video underlined the group’s strategic transformation with the Islamic State’s leader now portraying himself as “the guerrilla ‘caliph’ of a global insurgency.”
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Judaism, Foreign Fighters
  • Political Geography: Europe, South Asia, Middle East, Sri Lanka, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Matt Bryden, Premdeep Bahra, Paul Cruickshank, Graham Macklin, Joana Cook, Gina Vale, Robin Simcox
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: In our cover article, Matt Bryden and Premdeep Bahra trace the evolution of the jihadi terrorist threat in East Africa over the last three decades. They argue that al-Shabaab’s January 2019 attack on the Dusit D2 luxury hotel compound in Nairobi, Kenya, “brought together three strands of al-Shabaab’s organizational DNA: its Somali provenance, its ideological affiliation with al-Qa`ida, and its growing cohort of trained, experienced East African fighters. The successful combination of these traits in a single operation suggests that al-Shabaab’s longstanding ambition to transcend its Somali origins and become a truly regional organization is becoming a reality, representing a new and dangerous phase in the group’s evolution and the threat that it poses to the region.” Our interview is with Catherine De Bolle, the Executive Director of Europol, who previously served as Commissioner General of the Belgian Federal Police between 2012 and 2018. Graham Macklin outlines what is now known about the Christchurch terrorist attacks. He writes: “In the space of 36 minutes on March 15, 2019, it is alleged that Brenton Tarrant, an Australian far-right extremist, fatally shot 51 people in two mosques in Christchurch in the deadliest terrorist attack in New Zealand’s history. What was unique about Tarrant’s attack—at least insofar as extreme-right terrorism is concerned—is that he livestreamed his atrocity on Facebook and in doing so, highlighted the Achilles heel of such platforms when faced with the viral dissemination of extremely violent content.” Joana Cook and Gina Vale provide an updated assessment of the numbers of foreign men, women, and minors who traveled to or were born in the Islamic State, examine the proportion that have returned ‘home,’ and outline the continuing challenges foreign women and minors affiliated with the Islamic State pose to the international community. Robin Simcox assesses the terrorist threat from “frustrated travelers” in Europe by examining the 25 plots (eight of which resulted in attacks) by such individuals since January 2014.
  • Topic: Science and Technology, Terrorism, History, Counter-terrorism, Women, Internet, Islamic State, Youth, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Africa, Europe, Middle East, New Zealand, East Africa
  • 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: Daniel Byman, Paul Cruickshank, Brian Dodwell, Amira Jadoon, Andrew Mines, Julie Chernov Hwang, Aaron Y. Zelin, Katherine Bauer
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: This September 11th, a new generation is taking up the mantle in the fight against terrorism. “Later this year, a U.S. service member is likely to be deployed to Afghanistan who was not yet born on September 11, 2001,” Daniel Byman notes in our feature article on the jihadi terror threat facing the United States 18 years later. He assesses “although the operational freedom of jihadi groups is constricted by U.S. and allied counterterrorism efforts, the jihadi cause as a whole has far more local and regional influence than it did in the years before 9/11, it is better able to inspire individuals in the West to act on its behalf, and groups have proven resilient despite the fierce U.S.-led onslaught.” Our interview is with Joseph Maguire, the United States’ Acting Director of National Intelligence. He says that “since the catastrophic attacks on 9/11, we have significantly diminished the ability of jihadists to strike the U.S. by removing hundreds of leaders and operatives, disrupting dozens of networks and plots, and degrading safe havens. But some jihadist groups still have that intent, not only to target the homeland but also our interests overseas. They are continually adapting to setbacks by modifying their tactics, seeking out alternative safe havens, and using new and emerging technologies to communicate, recruit, and conduct attacks. This makes for an increasingly diverse and unpredictable threat.” As the terror threat evolves, Acting Director Maguire stresses the importance of addressing the still-significant security challenges posed by the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, and beyond given the group still poses a “tremendous threat” and has “all the recipes” for a resurgence. Amira Jadoon and Andrew Mines examine Islamic State Khorasan’s leadership losses between 2015 and 2018 by leadership tier, year, and geography. Their findings highlight “the group’s tenacious presence in Nangarhar (Afghanistan) and Baluchistan (Pakistan), despite declines in overall number of attacks. An important factor contributing to ISK’s resiliency appears to be rooted in its steady recruitment of experienced Pakistani militants that sustain its leadership ranks.” Two years after the Marawi siege in the Philippines, Julie Chernov Hwang outlines the motivations for joining the Maute Group based on her interviews with 25 former members of the jihadi group and a related faction. Aaron Zelin and Katherine Bauer outline the significant progress Tunisia has made over the past two years in developing domestic counter-terrorism finance capabilities.
  • Topic: Intelligence, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Khorasan Group
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Tunisia
  • Author: Seth G. Jones, Paul Cruickshank, Brian Dodwell, Daniel Milton, Julia Lodoen, Ryan O'Farrell, Seth Loertscher, Damien Spleeters, Michael Shkolnik, Alexander Corbeil
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: In our cover article, Seth Jones examines the Russian military campaign in Syria. He writes: “Russia has done what many thought was impossible in Syria. It has helped Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reconquer most of the country’s major cities and nearly two-thirds of its population. Moscow adopted a military approach that combined well-directed fires and ground maneuver to overwhelm a divided enemy. But it also used extraordinary violence against civilians and provided diplomatic cover when Syrian forces used chemical weapons. Moving forward, Russia faces considerable challenges ahead. Syria is a fractured country with an unpopular regime and massive economic problems; terrorist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qa`ida persist; and Israel and Iran remain locked in a proxy war in Syria.” Our interview is with Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan. He discusses DHS’ recently published new Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence and how DHS is intensifying efforts to counter the threat of far-right terror. Daniel Milton, Julia Lodoen, Ryan O’Farrell, and Seth Loertscher examine a recently declassified collection of 27 personnel records for Islamic State fighters, both local and foreign. The forms were acquired by the Department of Defence in Syria in 2016 and are now available to view on the Combating Terrorism Center’s website. According to Milton and his co-authors, the forms “demonstrate how extensive the breadth of information collected was in some cases … [and] show that the Islamic State acquired information useful for understanding the radicalization process, encouraging accountability among its fighters, managing the talent in the organization, and vetting members for potential security concerns.” Damien Spleeters outlines how his organization Conflict Armament Research helped prosecutors secure a guilty plea in the prosecution of Haisem Zahab, an Australian extremist with contacts into the Islamic State and whose research in Australia into rockets “indicates [according to the prosecution] significant commonality” with the Islamic State’s weapon production program in Iraq and Syria. Michael Shkolnik and Alexander Corbeil examine how Hezbollah “virtual entrepreneurs” have in recent years used social media to recruit Israeli Arabs and West Bank-based Palestinians to attack Israelis.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Homeland Security, Syrian War, Hezbollah
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Israel, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Ali Soufan, Brian Dodwell, Paul Cruickshank, Kristina Hummel, Michael Horton, Christopher Wright
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: This past summer, the United Nations Monitoring Team charged with tracking the global terrorist threat assessed that “the immediate global threat posed by Al-Qaida remains unclear, with [Ayman] al-Zawahiri reported to be in poor health and doubts as to how the group will manage the succession.” In our feature article, Ali Soufan profiles the veteran Egyptian jihadi operative Abu Muhammad al-Masri and outlines why he appears to be next in line to lead al-Qa`ida. Soufan writes: “Abu Muhammad has long played a critical role in al-Qa`ida, both as an operational commander and as a member of the governing shura council. Yet despite his importance to the organization, Abu Muhammad remains a shadowy figure. Little is known about his early life or his current activities. Unlike most al-Qa`ida Central figures, he is based not in northern Pakistan but in Iran, where he was previously imprisoned and now resides under a murky arrangement by which he is apparently allowed a great deal of freedom while still being barred from leaving the country.” Our interview is with General (Ret) Joseph Votel who retired as the Commander of U.S. Central Command earlier this year after leading a 79-member coalition that successfully liberated Iraq and Syria from the Islamic State caliphate. He is now the Class of 1987 Senior Fellow at the Combating Terrorism Center. Michael Horton examines how Somaliland combats al-Shabaab. He writes that “the government has, with limited means, denied al-Shabaab the operational space it requires through the implementation of a virtuous circle that builds on local buy-in and uses HUMINT as a force multiplier.” He notes, however, that the terrorist group is increasingly active along Somaliland’s border with Puntland “where this virtuous circle is under increasing strain.” There has been significant concern about the potential national security threat posed by the significant numbers of Islamist extremists convicted of terrorism-related crimes in Western countries who are due to complete their sentences in the coming years. Using nearly 30 years of data, Christopher Wright finds that “while not zero, the recidivism rate of those involved in jihadi terror plots targeting the United States is much lower than that of common criminals.”
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Jihad, Al Shabaab
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Nur Aziemah Azman, V. Arianti, Amalina Abdul Nasir, Sylvia Windya Laksmi, Kenneth Yeo
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The Islamic State’s (IS) territorial losses and military defeat in Iraq and Syria have not weakened the militant landscape in Southeast Asia. Rather, the regional threat landscape has become more resilient and competitive, with pro-IS militant groups exhibiting better operational capabilities, knowledge of explosive-making and networking linkages. Moreover, pro-IS groups in the region have found traction by exploiting local issues to spread the terror group’s extremist ideology. Several major challenges have emerged from the recent setback to IS in the Middle East. First is the issue of returning foreign fighters (FTFs) and how to deal with them. Such returnees pose a plethora of legal, political and security challenges to Southeast countries, particularly Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. A second challenge is IS’ efforts to declare new wilayat (provinces) in different parts of the world. While IS has officially declared the East Asia wilayat based in the Philippines, the declaration of new wilayat cannot be ruled out as witnessed in South Asia and Africa. Further, terrorist groups such as IS constantly require increasing financial resources to expand and sustain their operations. In Southeast Asia, IS-linked groups have set up Islamic charities to raise funds and conceal their activities. Against this backdrop, the September issue of the Counter Terrorists Trends and Analyses (CTTA) features four articles looking at different aspects and dimensions of Southeast Asia’s threat landscape in the post-territorial caliphate environment. The first article by V. Arianti and Nur Aziemah Azman argues that the IS fighters in Indonesia may continue to empower their affiliated groups in the country. According to the authors, this is evident by the apparent attempts by Indonesian IS fighters in Syria to create a wilayah (province) in Indonesia by strengthening two Indonesian militant groups, the Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT, Mujahidin of Eastern Indonesia) and Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD, Congregation of Supporters of IS). IS acknowledged Indonesia as part of its East Asia Wilayah (encompassing primarily the Philippines and Indonesia) in July 2018. In the second article, Sylvia Windya Laksmi examines the nexus between charities and terrorism financing, through the case-study of the IS-affiliated Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) in Indonesia. Given recent reports of convictions around the world of non-profit organisations that misuse their revenues to finance the activities of terrorists, the article details three themes that emerge from JAD’s activities in Indonesia: (i) sham charities set up by the group as a conduit to generate funds to ensure its sustainability; (ii) funds raised for charitable causes funneled into terrorist activities and (iii) social media used to not only recruit members but also raise funds. Given IS’ focus on global expansion in the post-caliphate era, the multi-pronged threat posed by its affiliate networks in Indonesia and surrounding region, of which terrorism financing is a component, will need to be addressed by policymakers and security agencies going forward. The next article by Amalina Abdul Nasir upholds that despite numerous setbacks in Syria, IS is quite determined to stay alive in Malaysia. The pro-IS Malaysian militant groups are exploiting local issues to advance the terror group’s extremist ideology. In this new phase, according to the author, Malaysian IS supporters have acquired better bomb-making capabilities and fostered deeper operational linkages with foreign militants. Moreover, Malaysia is also dealing with the issue of returning fighters. The Malaysian policymakers need to ensure an effective rehabilitation policy in dealing with returning militants and to continue to carefully manage the ethnic and religious climate in Malaysia so as to minimise exploitation of related local issues by pro-IS groups. Finally, Kenneth Yeo discusses the prospects for a consolidation of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) in the Southern Philippines following IS‘ territorial losses this year. According to the author, IS’ weakened presence in the Iraq-Syria theatre has positioned the Philippines as an attractive destination for FTFs in Southeast Asia given its status as an alternate conflict theatre within jihadist discourse. The article argues there could be a consolidation of rebel forces in hotspots such as Mindanao, with IS affiliated groups seeking to complement local fighters with FTFs and youth militants to launch attacks and gain territory. With the added impetus of a leadership transition within IS’ networks in the Philippines, comprehensive counter-terrorism measures are needed to address these developments, which also have regional implications.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Indonesia, Malaysia, Middle East, Philippines, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Abdul Basit, Iftekharul Bashar, Amresh Lavan Gunasingham, Jade Hutchinson
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: Current narratives on terrorism and violent extremism by governments, policymakers and law enforcement agencies are largely Islam-centric with an overt focus on the military defeat of terrorist groups. This issue firstly looks into the assumed link between a reduction or elimination of territorial control by terrorist groups and their so-called ‘defeat’. Using the Islamic State (IS) as a study, this issue explicates further on a group’s cross-border/global networks, linkages and ideological spread to assert that the victory-defeat framework against IS is flawed, as its threat has transformed into a network of smaller cells and geographically dispersed cells. Secondly, this issue looks at the rising threat of far-right extremism and terrorism; a phenomenon which has been under-explored, given the Islam-centric nature of terrorism in recent decades. For instance, it has been reported that 71 percent of fatalities linked to terrorism between 2008 and 2017 in the United States were committed by far-right extremists and white supremacists. This issue specifically examines the recent Christchurch terrorist attack in New Zealand by a far-right extremist and possible implications for the Asia Pacific region. In the first article, Abdul Basit discusses the narrative of defeat against IS after US forces eliminated its last physical stronghold in Syria. It is argued that while IS territory shrank considerably, the group is still active with its ideological appeal attracting smaller networks and cells globally. The author states that IS has managed to remain relevant and active despite losing its physical sanctuaries due to three reasons: (i) revising the ideological narrative; (ii) organisational restructuring; and (iii) forming new networks. This is likely to have far-reaching implications on the global threat landscape that will witness a rise in low-end urban terrorism, more competition from rival groups and reactionary violence from right-wing extremists. Next, Amresh Gunasingham studies the recent attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday that heightened post-war ethnic tensions and brought forth civil war traumas amidst an ongoing political crisis. The article examines the possibility of a communication gap among security agencies that prevented early detection of one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the country’s history. It further details the motivations for the attack as: (i) the Wahhabi factor; (ii) anti-Muslim violence furthering radicalization; and (iii) the possible links to IS. Possible implications and responses to the attack include a rise in anti-Muslim sentiments and violence with tightened security measures imposed by the state. In order to ensure long-term stability, the state needs measures to promote ethnic and religious harmony with strong counter-terrorism legislation. Iftekharul Bashar details the threat landscape in Western Myanmar, focusing on (i) Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an ethno-nationalist group and (ii) IS and Al-Qaeda (AQ), both Islamist terrorist groups. The article argues that the threat brought on by ethnic violence and Islamist terrorism is facilitated by grievances of the local Rohingya Muslims and motivations for revenge and active presence of IS and AQ networks in the South and Southeast Asia region. The exploitation of the local refugee crisis by IS and AQ coupled with ARSA’s resilience requires comprehensive responses that centre on communal harmony in addition to hard-power measures. Lastly, Jade Hutchinson discusses the far-right terrorist threat, specifically in light of the Christchurch shooting at two mosques in New Zealand in March 2019 where 51 people were killed. The article focuses on the attack, the attacker, his links to other far-right extremist groups and the key role the Internet and social media played in facilitating the attack. This incident in New Zealand signals the possibility of further copycat attacks in Australia and other countries, further recruitment towards far-right extremism online and the need to devise policies to effectively counter far-right extremism in the online space.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Refugees, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: South Asia, Middle East, Sri Lanka, Syria, New Zealand, Myanmar, 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: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, 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: Amalina Abdul Nasir, Mustapha Kulungu, Shafi Mostofa
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The landscape of Islamist terrorism is diverse, multifaceted and fractious, simultaneously characterised by inter and intra-group rivalries and various forms of cooperation at the operational, tactical and strategic levels. It cuts across geographical, gender and ideological lines/boundaries. More importantly, it evolves at a very rapid pace resulting in fluid security and conflict environments in different geographical locales. For instance, there are local groups like Nigerian Boko Haram that are trying to globalise their jihadist agenda through affiliations with the Islamic State (IS). However, this cooperation is not entirely collegial and is marked by friction and a trust deficit on both ends. In contrast, Al-Qaeda’s (AQ) South Asian affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), despite its regional character is localising its recruitment and operational strategies to avoid visibility from media and security agencies. AQIS is abstaining from violence while Boko Haram is engaging in violence to gain public attention. At the same time, the evolution of the terrorist landscape in Indonesia and Malaysia from Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and AQ-dominated to IS-led and inspired, has affected the recruitment and participation of women. The growing involvement of female militants in diverse roles gives rise to further security threats. In this issue, the first article by Mustapha Kulungu examines the genesis of Boko Haram in Nigeria as a local movement representing grievances of Muslims to its transformation as an operationally strong terrorist group. The author writes that the growing links over the last few years between IS and Boko Haram have added to the lethality and brutality of the latter, which has relied on narratives of Muslim victimhood in Nigeria to expand its footprint outside the country. The article analyses Boko Haram’s organisational structure, operational strategies, sources of funding and ideological ambitions. While it is argued that Boko Haram’s growing capabilities will undermine the US’ interests in Africa, enhancing US-Nigerian security cooperation may act as a counter Boko Haram’s threat. The second article by Shafi Mostofa discusses AQIS’ online and offline propaganda operations in Bangladesh and the various political and ideological narratives the group has used to grow further. Along with issuing several online videos and pamphlets, AQIS publishes two Bengali language magazines: Al-Balagh and Azan. In these publications, AQIS has frequently invoked four themes to justify its activities in Bangladesh. These four themes are: Indian hegemonic ambitions in South Asia, Muslim persecution, religious credentials of the head of a Muslim state and Islamic values. The author argues that AQIS is targeting affluent Bangladeshi youth for recruitment. AQIS’ continued online propaganda is likely to have negative security implications. As such, the author recommends adoption of long-term kinetic and non-kinetic counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategies to neutralise AQIS. The last article by Amalina Abdul Nasir observes how women’s roles in terrorism have evolved in Indonesia and Malaysia from JI to an IS-dominated threat landscape. Overall, the roles of women have become more diverse due to IS’ physical inroads in the region, particularly in light of online recruitment through the open and close media platforms. The author discusses the evolution of women’s roles from wives and mothers to suicide bombers and combatants as recently witnessed in Indonesia and Malaysia. This development will need to be addressed by counter-terrorism agencies so as to mitigate its impact on the security threat landscape. It also requires an examination of the current perception of women in terrorist groups, and developing policies that factor in the gender-inclusive nature of the terrorist landscape in parts of Southeast Asia.
  • Topic: Security, Gender Issues, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Women, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Boko Haram
  • Political Geography: Bangladesh, Africa, South Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Middle East, North Africa, Nigeria, Southeast Asia
  • 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: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, 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: Charles Lister, Raffaello Pantucci, Michael Horton, Kendall Bianchi, Miles Hidalgo
  • Publication Date: 02-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point is proud to mark its 15th year anniversary this month. In this issue’s feature article, Charles Lister tells the inside story of how al-Qa`ida lost control of its Syrian affiliate, drawing on the public statements of several key protagonists as well as interviews with Islamist sources in Syria. In the summer of 2016, al-Qa`ida’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, announced it was uncoupling from al-Qa`ida and rebranding itself. Al-Qa`ida’s deputy leader at the time, Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, released a message endorsing the move, which even included a previously unheard audio clip of Ayman al-Zawahiri stressing that organizational links should be sacrificed if necessary for unity, creating the impression that al-Qa`ida’s paramount leader had also sanctioned the decision. What appeared to be a carefully choreographed set of announcements made many analysts conclude the split was nothing more than a PR exercise, designed to advance the local aims of al-Qa`ida in Syria by improving al-Nusra’s standing among Syrian rebel groups and insulating it from international pressure. But this interpretation was challenged by a bombshell message released by al-Zawahiri on November 28, 2017. Al-Qa`ida’s leader publicly revealed that not only had he not endorsed the split, but he regarded it as a “a violation of the covenant.” “Al-Zawahiri’s interjection was a watershed moment,” Lister writes, “making clear to the wider global jihadi movement that a real split had taken place between al-Qa`ida and its Syrian affiliate.” One function of the split has been the beginnings of a tense modus vivendi between hardcore al-Qa`ida loyalists in Syria and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (the latest rebrand of al-Nusra). The result, Lister argues, is “a complex counterterrorism threat, in which a locally focused jihadi outfit with a sizable 12,000 fighters continues to control territory, govern people, and maintain sources of local finance, while accepting—even grudgingly—a deeply dangerous, small, tight-knit clique of al-Qa`ida terrorists committed to attacking the West. That image looks eerily similar to the Taliban-al-Qa`ida relationship in Afghanistan in 2000-2001, the consequences of which are well known to all.” Our interview this month is with Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the Senior National Coordinator for Counterterrorism Policing in the United Kingdom. Michael Horton examines the challenges faced by the UAE in its counterinsurgency campaign against al-Qa`ida in Yemen. Kendall Bianchi looks at how Hezbollah has used the mothers of fighters killed in Syria to promote martyrdom. Miles Hidalgo, one of the CTC’s Downing Scholars, provides a first-hand account of the cooperation between Europol and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Children, Counter-terrorism, Women, Al Qaeda, Conflict, Hezbollah
  • Political Geography: United Kingdom, Europe, Middle East, Lebanon, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Nicholas Tallant, Jesse Morton, Mitchell D. Silber, Scott Atran, Hoshang Waziri, Angel Gomez, Hammad Sheikh, Lucia Lopez-Rodriguez, Charles Rogan, Richard Davis, Amira Jadoon, Nakissa Jahanbani, Charmaine Willis, Nafees Hamid
  • Publication Date: 04-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: Between 2006 and 2012, two men working on opposite sides of the struggle between global jihadis and the United States faced off in New York City. Jesse Morton was the founder of Revolution Muslim, a group that proselytized—online and on New York City streets—on behalf of al-Qa`ida. Mitchell Silber led efforts to track the terrorist threat facing the city as the director of intelligence analysis for the NYPD. After serving a prison sentence for terrorist activity, Morton now works to counter violent extremism. In our feature article, they tell the inside story of the rise of Revolution Muslim and how the NYPD, by using undercover officers and other methods, put the most dangerous homegrown jihadi support group to emerge on U.S. soil since 9/11 out of business. As the Islamic State morphs into a ‘virtual caliphate,’ their case study provides lessons for current and future counterterrorism investigations. Five years ago this month, terror came to Boston, and Boston stood strong. Nicholas Tallant interviews William Weinreb and Harold Shaw on the lessons learned. Weinreb stepped down as Acting United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts in January 2018. He was the lead prosecutor of the 2015 investigation and trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Shaw has served as the Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Boston Division since 2015. Between July and October 2017, a team of researchers conducted field interviews with young Sunni Arab men coming out from under Islamic State rule in the Mosul area. The resulting study by Scott Atran, Hoshang Waziri, Ángel Gómez, Hammad Sheikh, Lucía López-Rodríguez, Charles Rogan, and Richard Davis found that “the Islamic State may have lost its ‘caliphate,’ but not necessarily the allegiance of supporters of both a Sunni Arab homeland and governance by sharia law.” Amira Jadoon, Nakissa Jahanbani, and Charmaine Willis examine the evolving rivalry between the Islamic State and other jihadi groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Nafees Hamid profiles Junaid Hussain, a hacker from the United Kingdom, who until his death in August 2015 was the Islamic State’s most prolific English-language social media propagandist and terror ‘cybercoach.’
  • Topic: Terrorism, Law Enforcement, Counter-terrorism, Radicalization, Islamic State, Police, NYPD
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • 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: Bryant Neal Viñas, Mitchell D. Silber, Brian Dodwell, Paul Cruickshank, Michael Knights, Audrey Alexander, Rebecca Turkington, Derek Henry Flood
  • Publication Date: 09-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: Seventeen years after 9/11, the threat posed by jihadi terrorist groups is in a state of flux. The demise of the Islamic State’s territorial ‘caliphate’ has demoralized some of its supporters and eroded some of the group’s ability to direct attacks in the West. But the Islamic State still has a large sympathizer base, a significant presence in Syria and Iraq, and dangerous nodes in other parts of the world. Meanwhile, al-Qa`ida and its network of affiliates and allies have grown in strength in some regions and could pivot back to international terror. Worryingly, both groups in the years to come may be able to draw on an ‘officer class’ of surviving foreign fighters who forged personal bonds in Syria and Iraq. In our cover article, Bryant Neal Viñas, the first American to be recruited into al-Qa`ida after 9/11, writes about his experiences for the first time in the hope that his case study sheds light on the foreign fighter issue. Viñas was convicted for his actions and recently completed his prison sentence. His article is co-authored by Mitchell Silber, who supervised analysis and investigation of his case at the NYPD Intelligence Division. During his time in the Afghan-Pakistan border region between 2007 and 2008, Viñas came into contact with a variety of jihadi groups, was trained by al-Qa`ida, and spent time with several of the group’s most senior figures. After his arrest, Viñas immediately started cooperating with U.S. authorities and contributed significantly to the near destruction of al-Qa`ida in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Our interview this month is with Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Drawing on extensive field reporting, Michael Knights documents how Houthi forces in Yemen metamorphosed in just five years from guerrilla war fighters into a powerful military entity capable of deploying medium-range ballistic missiles. His article provides a case study of how an ambitious militant group can capture and use a state’s arsenals and benefit from Iran’s support. Audrey Alexander and Rebecca Turkington find mounting evidence that women engaged in terrorism-related activity receive more lenient treatment by the criminal justice system than their male counterparts. Derek Flood reports on how the Islamic State’s cave and tunnel complexes in the Hamrin Mountains are helping it sustain insurgent attacks in northern Iraq.
  • Topic: Gender Issues, Terrorism, War, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Borders, 9/11, Houthis, Foreign Fighters
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Yemen, Global Focus
  • Author: Hassan Hassan, Paul Cruickshank, Cole Bunzel, Jami Forbes
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: With the collapse of the Islamic State’s territorial caliphate, the global jihadi movement is in a state of flux. But rather than being about to enter a period of mergers or takeovers, the global jihadi movement for the foreseeable future is likely to be led by two distinct and rival groups. While the relative fortunes of the Islamic State and al-Qa`ida have oscillated in recent years, developments in the jihadi environment in Syria have hardened longstanding differences between them in doctrine and approach. Neither group is on the brink of fracturing nor likely to accept the legitimacy of the other in the coming years. And this will sustain the divide.
  • Topic: Terrorism, United Nations, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Syrian War, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Sahel
  • 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: Michael Knights, Brian Dodwell, Harun Maruf, Dan Joseph, Amira Jadoon, Sara Mahmood, Bennett Clifford, Seamus Hughes
  • Publication Date: 12-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: After its pivot to insurgency, is the Islamic State losing power or preserving strength in Iraq? This is the research question posed by Michael Knights in this month’s cover article. Attack metrics, he writes, “paint a picture of an insurgent movement that has been ripped down to its roots,” but also one that is vigorously working to reboot by focusing “on a smaller set of geographies and a ‘quality over quantity’ approach to operations.” Knights warns that “the Iraqi government is arguably not adapting fast enough to the demands of counterinsurgency, suggesting the need for intensified and accelerated support from the U.S.-led coalition in order to prevent the Islamic State from mounting another successful recovery.” Our interview is with Mark Mitchell, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict, who was among the first U.S. soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan after 9/11. Mitchell previously served as a Director for Counterterrorism on the National Security Council where he was intimately involved in significant hostage cases and recovery efforts in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia. He was also instrumental in establishing the framework for the landmark Presidential Policy Review of Hostage Policy. Dan Joseph and Harun Maruf, the authors of the recently published book Inside Al-Shabaab: The Secret History of Al-Qaeda’s Most Powerful Ally, explain why the group remains a significant threat inside Somalia. Amira Jadoon and Sara Mahmood examine recent plans circulated by the Pakistani Taliban under its new leader Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud to try to reverse the group’s decline. Bennett Clifford and Seamus Hughes document the case of Aws Mohammed Younis al-Jayab, a returned foreign fighter to the United States who pleaded guilty in October 2018 to material support to a terrorist organization. His case sheds new light on cross-border foreign fighter recruitment networks in the United States and Europe, and the potential threat they pose.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Taliban, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Conflict, Al Shabaab, Foreign Fighters
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Iraq, Middle East, North Africa, Somalia, United States of America
  • Author: Ryamizard Ryacudu, V. Arianti, Alberto Ballesteros
  • Publication Date: 11-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The November issue features three articles highlighting the need for flexible and adaptive counter-terrorism frameworks. In the digital age, rigid and bureaucratic models of counter-terrorism slow the pace of Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) interventions while giving an edge to violent extremist groups. As such, contemporary counter-terrorism policies should focus on gendered-specific roles, qualitative changes in terrorist-landscapes of different conflict theatres and evolving tactics by violent-extremist groups. In the lead article, Ryamizard Ryacudu underscores the need for intelligence sharing, coordination and joint counter-terrorism frameworks in Southeast Asia to overcome the ever-changing threat of terrorism. The author notes that Southeast Asian threat landscape has evolved in two waves: Al-Qaeda-centric and Islamic State-centric phases. The current landscape which comprises of the third generation of Islamist militants is decentralised and necessitates collaborative efforts by security agencies to prevent violence. As such, adopting the Our Eyes Initiative (OEI) in October 2018 will facilitate strategic information exchange among ASEAN Member States on terrorism, radicalism and violent-extremism as a template to create more regional platforms. As terrorists operate, train and grow with networks transcending geographical boundaries networked efforts by the nation-states at the regional level are critical to defeat terrorism. V. Arianti examines the participation of children and their parents, in a wave of terrorist attacks in Surabaya in May 2018. The author notes that due to the institutionalised indoctrination of children by groups affiliated with the Islamic State (IS), participation of children could become a trend in Indonesia’s militant landscape. As many as 101 children from Indonesia have been trained by IS as ‘cubs of caliphate’ in Iraq in 2017. The author has examined the schooling of children in five Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD) operated madrassas (also known as Pesantren) in South Java, South Sumatra and Central Sulawesi. These schools promote and inculcate a pro-IS ideology while providing employment to pro-IS individuals as teachers and administrators. The current anti-terror laws and other legal frameworks in Indonesia do not address the indoctrination of extremism towards children. Notwithstanding the significantly low number of pro-IS madrassas in Indonesia, the author highlights the need for joint government and civil society intervention to curb the pro-IS indoctrination. Lastly, Alberto Ballesteros explores structural and ideological differences between Euskadi Ta Askatasuna’s (ETA) nationalist-separatist terrorism and IS-inspired Islamist militancy in Spain. The author argues that the counter-terrorism strategy which defeated ETA is outdated in the present struggle against Islamist extremism. The author notes that Islamist militant groups’ focus on Spain is due to the country’s history of being ruled by Muslims (then known as Al-Andalus), Western/un-Islamic values and participation in international military campaigns against Al-Qaeda and IS. There is a need for holistic counter-terrorism approaches to deal with the challenges of Islamist extremism in Spain. Spanish authorities have relied extensively on intelligence gathering, sharing and coordination, border security and other law-enforcement related measures. However, more focus on social integration and trust-building between the mainstream and marginalised communities is necessary.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Indonesia, Middle East, Spain, North Africa, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Muhammad Haniff Hassan, Patrick Blannin, Zohreh Vakilpour, Behnam Rastegari
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The October issue observes different dynamics of responses to terrorism, in terms of observing case studies, deconstructing methods and improving mechanisms to deal with the evolving threat. The articles focus on key aspects of counter-terrorism – through transnational cooperation and specifically interoperability, countering violent extremism – through counter-ideology and rehabilitation. Overall, while there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to fight terrorism, there is a need to holistically incorporate diverse approaches that both counter terrorism and counter violent extremism in order to witness tangible and measurable gains. In the lead article, Rohan Gunaratna discusses the circumstances surrounding the death of Bahrun Naim, the effects on the threat landscape in Indonesia and lessons for effective counter-terrorism. Bahrun Naim’s links to the Islamic State (IS) and ability to radicalise and recruit supporters in Southeast Asia until his death, while operating from Syria, highlights the success of social media propaganda and outreach. The article also focuses on his recruitment tactics and network base that enabled him to plan multiple terrorist attacks, highlighting the need for long-term collaboration, cooperation and information sharing between security agencies within and beyond the Southeast Asian region. Next, Patrick Blannin discusses cooperation within the Indo-Pacific region as a key aspect of counter-terrorism efforts. The author puts forward the concept of interoperability, in which two or more states act in a coordinated manner to address a common problem. This will facilitate the translation of policy-making rhetoric into operational responses to security threats. It is argued that improved interoperability will enhance regional counter-terrorism cooperation at the strategic and tactical levels. Muhammad Haniff Hassan delves into the counter-ideology domain and attempts to refute IS’ claims on jihad as a personal obligation where the consent of parents is not necessary. The author analyses the IS’ argument and counters it with the historical story of Uwais Al-Qarni, who did not participate in jihad or migrate to Medina because he was taking care of his sick mother. The author contends that use of historical Islamic examples can assist in countering IS’ extremist arguments that are intended to reduce barriers to engaging in violence. This story can then also be useful in countering the extremist thoughts of groups such as Al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). Lastly, Zohreh Vakilpour and Behnam Rastegari focus on the need for a rehabilitation programme in Iran for terrorists, specifically with the rise of the Islamist extremist threat since 2017. The authors state that while Iran has a rehabilitation programme for non-terrorist offenders, it remains limited in terms of legislation on its methods, scope and implementation. This requires improving the existing rehabilitation programme while using the relatively successful rehabilitation programmes for terrorists in countries such as Singapore and Sri Lanka as models for Iran.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Violent Extremism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iran, South Asia, Middle East, Sri Lanka, North Africa, Syria, Singapore, Southeast Asia, Indo-Pacific
  • Author: C. Nna-Emeka Okereke, Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff, Abdul Basit
  • Publication Date: 03-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The continuing terrorist attacks in the West and different parts of Asia and Africa underscore the resilience, adaptability and regenerative nature of the prevailing global terrorist threat. With these attacks, the contours of the post-IS threat environment are now becoming increasing clear. It entails four major issues: a decentralised threat landscape, the challenge of returning foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria, the emergence of new IS hotspots in the Philippines, Afghanistan and parts of Africa, and cyber radicalisation. This requires continued vigilance, collaborative responses and sharing of best practices between security institutions and intelligentsia. In the context of continuing terrorist threat, the massacre of over 500 civilians in Eastern Ghouta in Syria by the Bashar Al-Assad regime is concerning for several reasons. The brutal use of violence will continue to fuel jihadist recruitment, strengthen the extremist narrative and create space for IS-linked and other militant groups to survive. Whether it is Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan, the absence of conflict stabilisation has undermined counter-terrorism efforts in these war-torn territories. The imagery of civilian killings in Ghouta plays right into the hands of groups like Al-Qaeda and IS as these groups continue to be the by-products of anarchy and lawlessness in active conflict zones. Against this backdrop, the first article by Abdul Basit explores the urban footprint of pro-IS jihadists in South Asia. The author observes that the dissemination of IS ideology of Jihadi-Takfiri-Salafism has galvanised a new generation of South Asia jihadists, which is narrowly sectarian, brutally violent and tech savvy. This pro-IS generation of jihadists uses various social media platforms for propaganda dissemination, recruitment and operational planning. In recent months, they have moved from open-end to encrypted social media applications. This development coupled with their segregated cell-formations makes their detection challenging. In conclusion, the author suggests that in addition to robust social media monitoring capabilities and operational preparedness, various South Asia governments would also require robust counter-ideological responses to overcome and neutralise IS appeal in this generation of South Asia jihadists. Highlighting the threat from social media, Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff examines the trajectory of online radicalisation of a young Filipino girl, whose quest to atone herself from a ‘sinful’ past life exposed her to IS-recruiters online. The recruiters encouraged her to undertake the so-called ‘hijra’, after which she emerged as the head of IS’ female wing in Marawi (Mindanao, Phillipines). Syed highlights the need for a proactive approach by the governments and mainstream Islamic scholars to impart correct interpretations of key Islamic concepts such as jihad, caliphate, hijra and takfir to Muslim youth. It is argued that these efforts will circumvent the exploitation of these concepts by violent-extremist groups. Departing from the discussion on Islamist terrorist groups, this issue carries an article by C. Nna-Emeka Okereke focusing on the dynamics of the current indigenous Anglophone (English-speaking population) crisis in Cameroon and the escalating violence between the community in the northwest and southwest and the government. The Anglophone community is resentful towards what is perceived to be their marginalisation and the erosion of their unique identity as a result of various government actions relating to issues such as the creation of a centralised state from a two-state federation, and status of the English language. A segment of the Anglophone community has resorted to violence to address its grievances, conducting arson attacks and bombings targeting schools, government and security personnel. The instability has resulted in the displacement of thousands of refugees into Nigeria and poses security challenges to the country as it goes into the Presidential elections, and to the entire Lake Chad Basin.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, South Asia, Middle East, East Asia, Philippines, North Africa, Syria, Asia-Pacific
  • Author: Georg Heil, Brian Dodwell, Don Rassler, Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, Robin Simcox, Shashi Jayakumar, Andrew McGregor
  • Publication Date: 02-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: In an extensive interview, General John W. Nicholson, commander of Resolute Support and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, stresses the importance of preventing the country from again becoming a platform for international terrorism, noting counterterrorism operations have almost halved the fighting strength of the Islamic State’s local affiliate. He also outlines the ongoing effort to empower Afghan efforts against the Taliban, saying: “They’re at a bit of a stalemate. The government holds about two-thirds of the population. The enemy holds a solid 8 to 10 percent. … We think [if] we get to about 80 percent or more, we start to reach a tipping point where the insurgency becomes more irrelevant.” Our cover story by Georg Heil focuses on the deadly truck attack this past December in Berlin by Anis Amri, a Tunisian extremist suspected of links to Islamic State operatives in Libya. Investigations have made clear the danger posed by the radical network he belonged to in northwestern Germany led by an Iraqi preacher named Abu Walaa. It is believed to have recruited dozens to travel to join the Islamic State, communicated extensively with Islamic State operatives in Syria and Iraq, and encouraged attacks on German soil. Heil argues the high level of interconnectedness between these radicals in Germany and the Islamic State has potentially grave implications for European security. Aymenn al-Tamimi looks at the implications of the recent realignment of rebel and jihadi groups in Syria, which created two potentially conflicting power centers revolving around an enlarged Ahrar al-Sham and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, a new al-Qa`ida-aligned umbrella grouping. Robin Simcox finds Islamic State plots by pre-teens and teens are increasing in the West, with plotters in contact with the group in a majority of such cases. Shashi Jayakumar examines the growing Islamic State threat to Southeast Asia, arguing the group may pose as big a threat in the future in the East as in the West. Andrew McGregor warns growing clashes between Fulani Muslim herders and settled Christian communities in Nigeria could be exploited by terrorist groups and potentially destabilize the entire Sahel-West Africa region.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Youth, Syrian War, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Europe, South Asia, Middle East, Germany, Syria, Southeast Asia, Sahel
  • Author: Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, Seamus Hughes, Andrew Zammit, Ahmet S. Yayla, Matthew Dupee, Daniel H. Heinke
  • Publication Date: 03-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: In our feature article, Seamus Hughes and Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens focus on the threat to the United States from the Islamic State’s “virtual entrepreneurs” who have been using social media and encryption applications to recruit and correspond with sympathizers in the West, encouraging and directing them to engage in terrorist activity. They find that since 2014, contact with a virtual entrepreneur has been a feature of eight terrorist plots in the United States, involving 13 individuals. In our other cover article, Ahmet Yayla, the former police counterterrorism chief in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa near the Syrian border, outlines how investigations into the New Year’s Eve Reina nightclub attack in Istanbul have made clear the “immense scale of the Islamic State threat to Turkey.” While the attack, remotely steered by Islamic State operatives in Raqqa, was the work of a single gunman, a 50-strong network in Istanbul with access to at least half a million dollars provided logistical support. With the Islamic State declaring all-out war on Turkey, Turkish counterterrorism capacity severely weakened by recent purges, as many as 2,000 Islamic State fighters already on Turkish soil, and the possibility that Islamic State fighters will flood into Turkey as the caliphate crumbles, Yayla warns of severe implications for international security. Daniel Heinke, the director of the state bureau of investigation (LKA) in Bremen, outlines the key findings of an official German study of almost 800 German foreign fighters—the largest such study by a Western government—and the takeaways for smarter counterterrorism. He notes that while the number of Germans traveling to join the Islamic State has slowed to a trickle, there has been a surge in violent Islamist extremism inside the country, creating concern that returning foreign fighters will add “lethal capabilities to an already highly adrenalized Islamist community.” Andrew Zammit outlines how the jihadi threat in Australia has transformed since the Islamic State called for attacks in Western countries. While there has been an increase in attacks and plots in Australia, they have also become less sophisticated and ambitious. Finally, Matthew DuPée examines the growing financial windfall the Afghan Taliban and other jihadi groups are extracting from illegal mining in Afghanistan, which is now providing the Taliban with as much as $300 million in revenue per year.
  • Topic: Science and Technology, Terrorism, Taliban, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Mining, Jihad, Foreign Fighters
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Turkey, Middle East, Germany, Australia, Syria, North America, United States of America
  • 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
  • Author: Paul Cruickshank, Frank Straub, Jennifer Zeunik, Ben Gorban, Franc Milburn, Michele Groppi, John Horgan, Mia Bloom, Chelsea Daymon, Wojciech Kaczkowski, Hicham Tiflati
  • Publication Date: 05-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: In the early hours of June 12, 2016, an Islamic State-inspired gunman carried out the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, shooting dead 49 people in an Orlando nightclub. The attacker was finally killed after a three-hour hostage standoff, leading to questions raised in the media over the police response. One year later, Frank Straub, Jennifer Zeunik, and Ben Gorban look at the lessons learned from the police response to the Orlando and San Bernardino terrorist attacks based on critical incident reviews they conducted for the Police Foundation. In our cover article, they outline how regular police units who were first to respond to the attacks were faced with chaos and “unimaginable devastation … with victims begging for help, people dying, and others who were already deceased” as well as adversaries armed with powerful weapons with explosives or making threats to use them against hostages. The authors argue that with the Islamic State calling for attacks in all 50 U.S. states, police forces across the country need to adapt their training and equipment to prepare for IED, suicide bombing, and hostage situations. Their review found that while Orlando police followed current best practices designed to avoid the deaths of hostages and unreasonable danger to police, new protocols may be necessary for terrorist hostage attacks. In our interview this month, James Gagliano, a former counterterrorist operator for the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, argues that with Islamic State-inspired hostage-takers seeking to kill as many as possible before being killed themselves, the new guidance in these cases should be for law enforcement to more quickly or immediately implement rescue plans to save as many hostages as possible. John Horgan, Mia Bloom, Chelsea Daymon, Wojciech Kaczkowski, and Hicham Tiflati examine the Islamic State’s older fighters. As the group finds it increasingly difficult to replace its fighters, preliminary evidence documented by the Georgia State University researchers suggests an emerging and increasingly aggressive role for older adults, especially as suicide bombers. Michele Groppi warns the terrorist threat to Italy may come to resemble that in France because of growing societal tensions. Franc Milburn provides an overview of Iranian Kurdish insurgent groups, who he argues may emerge as significant players in the region.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Insurgency, Counter-terrorism, Kurds
  • Political Geography: Europe, Iran, Middle East, Italy, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Hassan Hassan, Brian Dodwell, Don Rassler, Fernando Reinares, Carola Garcia-Calvo, Alvaro Vicente, Michael Horton, Chris Zambelis
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: Two recent developments suggest the Islamic State’s caliphate pretensions are being consigned to history. The first is the group’s destruction of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, where three years ago Abu Bakr al Baghdadi declared his caliphate to the world. The second is the fact that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab militia, has now entered the city limits of Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital in Syria. In our cover article, Hassan Hassan outlines the challenges ahead in liberating and holding Raqqa. While removing the Islamic State from the city could take anywhere from weeks to months, he argues the harder task will be for the force, whose backbone is made up of Kurdish fighters, to prevent the Islamic State from exploiting ethnic tensions to destabilize the city after it is liberated. But he argues there is a window of opportunity for the SDF to bring sustainable security to Raqqa and surrounding areas because of the willingness of local tribes to work with liberating forces and warming relations between the SDF and Syrian Sunni rebel groups, who increasingly view the U.S.-backed force as a check on the Assad regime’s ability to regain control of northeastern Syria. While the Islamic State is shrinking, Lieutenant General Michael K. Nagata, director of the Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning at the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, in a wide-ranging interview on evolving terror threats, draws attention to the group’s organizational resilience in the face of withering pressure from the coalition fighting it. The Islamic State’s attack on Tehran on June 7 was a case in point. At a time of rising sectarian tension across the Middle East, Chris Zambelis argues the Islamic State carried out the attack in part to bolster its recruitment and fundraising efforts—and one-up al Qa`ida—as it pivots from territory control to global terrorism. Michael Horton examines the enduring threat posed by the Islamic State’s local affiliate in the Sinai, arguing counterproductive tactics by the Egyptian government risk provoking a broader insurgency. In a study based on comprehensive data on those arrested in Spain for terrorism crimes maintained by the Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid that has wide implications for the understanding of radicalization processes across Western countries, Fernando Reinares, Carola García-Calvo, and Álvaro Vicente find that jihadi radicalization in Spain has been driven by two key factors of “differential association,” namely contact with radicalizing agents and pre-existing social ties with other radicalized individuals.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Insurgency, Counter-terrorism, Radicalization, Islamic State, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Spain, Egypt, Raqqa
  • Author: Aaron Brantly, Charlie Winter, Devorah Margolin, Michael Knights, Kristina Hummel, Raffaello Pantucci
  • Publication Date: 08-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: After a respite from mass-casualty terrorism for more than a decade, the United Kingdom this past spring suffered three such attacks in the space of just 73 days, making clear it faces an unprecedented security challenge from jihadi terrorism. In our cover article, Raffaello Pantucci outlines what investigations have revealed so far about the March attack on Westminster Bridge, the bombing at a pop concert in Manchester in May, and the June attack on London Bridge and Borough Market. The early indications are that the Westminster attacker, Khalid Masood, had no contact with the Islamic State and the Manchester and London Bridge attackers were, at most, loosely connected to the group. The current threat environment, Pantucci writes, continues to be mostly made up of individuals and smaller scattered cells planning lower-tech attacks with very short planning and operational cycles—sometimes remotely guided by the Islamic State—rather than cells trained and dispatched by the Islamic State to launch large-scale, Paris-type attacks, but this could change as more British Islamic State recruits return home. Our interview this month is with Edward You, a Supervisory Special Agent in the Biological Countermeasures Unit in the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate. While the full liberation of Mosul last month effectively ended the Islamic State’s caliphate pretensions, Michael Knights warns the Islamic State and other jihadis are already bouncing back in several parts of Iraq and more strongly and quickly in areas where the security forces are either not strong enough or not politically flexible enough to activate the population as a source of resistance. As the Islamic State transitions from administering territory to a renewed campaign of terrorism and insurgency, Charlie Winter and Devorah Margolin examine the Islamic State’s apparent lifting of its moratorium on using women as suicide bombers. In a commentary, Aaron Brantly argues that creating back-doors in encryption, or banning it, would create significant societal costs without stopping terrorists from accessing the technology.
  • Topic: Gender Issues, Science and Technology, Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Insurgency, Counter-terrorism, Women, Islamic State, Encryption
  • Political Geography: Iraq, United Kingdom, Europe, Middle East, Global Focus
  • Author: Ali Soufan, Paul Cruickshank, Don Rassler, Colleen McCue, Joseph T. Massengill, Dorothy Milbrandt, John Gaughan, Meghan Cumpston, Nicholas Blanford, Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
  • Publication Date: 09-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: Sixteen years after 9/11, al-Qa`ida has a new figurehead (if not a new face) in the form of Hamza bin Ladin. On September 14, the group released an audio statement from Usama bin Ladin’s son calling for jihadis to double down on jihad in Syria and against what he depicted as an American-Russian-Shi`a conspiracy against Islam. It is not clear where Hamza, who is now in his late 20s, is currently based. So protective has al-Qa`ida been that the group has not circulated images of him since he was a child. In our cover article, Ali Soufan tells Hamza’s life story based on a wide range of sources, including recently declassified documents from Abbottabad. He argues that Hamza bin Ladin has not only emerged as al-Qa`ida’s leader in waiting, but is also the figure best placed to reunify the global jihadi movement as the Islamic State’s fortunes wane. Soufan points out Hamza’s hardening rhetoric toward Shi`a may represent an effort to attract deflated Islamic State fighters back into the al-Qa`ida fold. In our interview, Brian Fishman, Facebook’s Counterterrorism Policy Manager, provides a detailed description of how Facebook is using artificial intelligence and a dedicated team of counterterrorism specialists to remove terrorism content from its platform. Given the emergence of a new generation of leadership within al-Qa`ida, it is critical to understand the evolving threat from the group in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Don Rassler outlines how arrest metrics in the mega-city of Karachi point to an uptick in activity by the resilient group. Colleen McCue, Colonel Joseph Massengill, Commander Dorothy Milbrandt, Lieutenant Colonel John Gaughan, and Major Meghan Cumpston outline how the Islamic State is “weaponizing children.” Nicholas Blanford reports from Lebanon on offensives this past summer by the Lebanese Armed Forces and Hezbollah against Sunni militants in the country. Aymenn al-Tamimi draws on newly obtained documents to examine the Islamic State’s posture toward Kurds.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Armed Forces, Counter-terrorism, Radicalization, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Youth, Hezbollah, Kurds
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, South Asia, Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Paul Cruickshank, Derek Henry Flood, John Mueller, Rajan Basra, Peter R. Neumann, Andrew Zammit, Columb Strack
  • Publication Date: 10-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: In our October cover article, Rajan Basra and Peter Neumman explore the strong nexus between crime and jihadism in Europe. With a significant proportion of European foreign fighters having criminal backgrounds, they outline how the Islamic State is going out of its way to depict crime as helpful to its cause and to recruit criminals for terrorist enterprises. Our interview this month is with Lisa Monaco, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor during his second term. In July, police in Sydney, Australia, discovered alleged plots by two brothers to detonate a bomb on a passenger jet and release poison gas on a target such as public transportation. Andrew Zammit outlines why it set off alarm bells in counterterrorism agencies worldwide. An Islamic State cybercoach in Syria allegedly arranged for a partially constructed bomb with military-grade explosives to be air-mailed to the plotters from Turkey and provided sufficient instructions for them to build a fully functioning device. This ‘IKEA-style’ approach to terrorism could be a game-changer because untrained Western extremists have hitherto found it difficult to make high explosives. The Islamic State cybercoach also transmitted know-how on making a poison gas dispersal device to the Australian cell. Columb Strack looks at the evolution of the Islamic State’s chemical weapons efforts in Syria and Iraq and the possibility that the group could export chemical terror to the West. John Mueller examines the degree to which the cybercoaching of terrorists should be cause for concern, arguing that in many cases cybercoaches have little control over their amateurish charges. Finally, Derek Flood, recently back from the frontlines, outlines how the capture of Hawija, the Islamic State’s last remaining urban stronghold in northern Iraq, exposed faultlines between Baghdad and Erbil, which set the stage for the dramatic events unfolding in the Kirkuk area.
  • Topic: Crime, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Homeland Security, Jihad, Chemical Weapons
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, Global Focus
  • Author: Jason Warner, Caleb Weiss, Andrew McGregor, Daisy Muibu, Benjamin P. Nickels, Paul Cruickshank, Mohammed Hafez, Colin P. Clarke, Phillip Smyth
  • Publication Date: 11-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: The Islamic State’s caliphate project has ended in abject failure, with the group now holding a small vanishing portion of the territory it once controlled in Syria and Iraq. In our cover article, Mohammed Hafez argues the Islamic State is just the latest example of a “fratricidal” jihadi group predestining its own defeat by its absolutism, over-ambition, domineering behavior, and brutality. He argues that the Islamic State’s puritanical ideology blinded it to learning lessons from the GIA’s defeat in Algeria in the 1990s and al-Qa`ida in Iraq’s near defeat in the 2000s. In all three cases, these jihadi groups “managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” because of their innate inability to show restraint and pragmatism. Our interview is with Angela Misra, the co-founder of The Unity Initiative (TUI), a British Muslim community group widely viewed as one of the most effective in countering violent extremism. Misra describes her increasingly high-stakes efforts to transform the mindset of women convicted of terrorist offenses and recent female returnees from the Islamic State. With the Islamic State recently moving toward embracing combat roles for women, she warns there could be a surge in female terrorism in Western countries. Colin Clarke and Phillip Smyth document how the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is working to transform Shi`a foreign fighter networks into transnational proxy forces capable of fighting both asymmetric and conventional wars. Andrew McGregor outlines the security challenges in Libya’s southern Fezzan region, warning it could emerge as a major new base for jihadi operations with serious implications for European security. Jason Warner and Caleb Weiss look at why the Islamic State has, so far, failed to pose a significant challenge to al-Shabaab. In the wake of a double-truck bombing last month in Mogadishu that killed over 350, Daisy Muibu and Benjamin Nickels examine the local expertise factor in al-Shabaab’s increasingly deadly IED campaign.
  • Topic: Science and Technology, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Jihad, Al Shabaab, Foreign Fighters, IED
  • Political Geography: Africa, Europe, Iran, Middle East, Libya, Somalia
  • Author: Hassan Hassan, Bryan Price, Goktug Sonmez, Johannes Saal, Ryan Cummings
  • Publication Date: 12-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: CTC Sentinel
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: We’re proud to be publishing the 10th anniversary issue of CTC Sentinel. In the inaugural December 2007 issue, then Director of the Combating Terrorism Center Joseph Felter introduced the new publication with a favorite phrase of the late General Wayne A. Downing, “Who thinks wins.” Felter is now the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia and is the subject of our interview this month. “We wanted CTC Sentinel to be a resource to the academic, scholarly, and policy community … so we designed CTC Sentinel to include both high-quality scholarship from leading scholars as well as articles grounded in practitioner insights,” he recalls. “[It] has truly met and exceeded our hopes for it.” A great deal of credit for this is due to founding editor Erich Marquardt, the journal’s editorial board over the years—now led by Colonel Suzanne Nielsen, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Price, and Brian Dodwell—as well as Brigadier General Cindy Jebb, the Dean of West Point, who has been a longtime champion of the publication. There are still very significant challenges to think through. Hassan Hassan warns in this month’s cover article that the Islamic State is now attempting a resurgence in the border region between Iraq and Syria, having conserved forces for the same kind of attritional insurgency that led to its regeneration after its near-defeat in the late 2000s. This year has seen four international terror attacks involving ethnic Uzbeks, including a truck attack on New York City’s West Side Highway in October. Goktug Sonmez outlines how radicalization among Central Asians is becoming a growing international security concern. Johannes Saal examines what is known about what appears to be a new Islamic State external operations hub in Libya and the spokes connecting it to radical networks in Europe. Ryan Cummings outlines the evolving relationship between Boko Haram and al-Qa`ida and argues there are indications al-Qa`ida is trying to bring the group back into its fold.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Insurgency, Violent Extremism, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Borders, Jihad, Boko Haram
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Central Asia, Middle East, Libya, Syria, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Paul Hedges, Jasminder Singh, Muh Taufiqurrohman
  • Publication Date: 10-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: October 2017 has been a fateful month for the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group. In Syria, its de facto ‘capital’ Raqqa has fallen to an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters backed by the US-led coalition. Earlier in Hawija, the last remaining IS stronghold in northern Iraq, about 1,000 IS fighters surrendered to Iraqi forces rather than fighting for ‘martyrdom’. Over in Southeast Asia, the Philippines authorities announced the liberation of Marawi after a five-month battle and the killing of IS top leaders, Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute. The string of losses suffered by IS since 2016 nullifies and invalidates the IS slogan of ‘remaining and expanding’ and constitutes a huge symbolic blow to its standing as leader of the global ‘jihadist’ movement. It is likely that the fall of Raqqa was expected by the top leadership of IS and that plans have been made well in advance for al-Baghdadi and his senior commanders to go into hiding, and for the ‘jihadi’ struggle to persist in some form in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. This is already evident from IS’ decentralisation of its ‘jihad’ and ‘virtualisation’ of its so-called caliphate (from a territory-based entity). The ‘decentralisation of jihad’ through its various wilayats and online presence (including videos and publications), is similar to Al-Qaeda’s post-9/11 franchising strategy. IS has been urging its affiliates in different parts of the world to continue the so-called ‘caliphate’ project by granting them more autonomy and freedom to mount operations. Against this backdrop, Southeast Asia has to contend with the threat of IS and other terrorist groups engaging in recruitment and proselytisation, and planning attacks through the online domain. This context necessitates close monitoring of hotspots in Southeast Asia, including Marawi in the Philippines, Rakhine in Myanmar and the southern provinces in Thailand. In the Philippines, security forces have successfully managed to contain, isolate and eliminate the IS threat in Marawi. Although the battle is almost over with the deaths of IS Philippines leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, the threat of terrorism in the region is far from over. Rohan Gunaratna discusses the situation in Marawi, the activities of the militants, the government’s response and future trends. Despite the elimination of top leaders and fighters in Marawi, IS will prevail in Southern Philippines and pose a security threat to Southeast Asian countries as the leadership outside Mindanao remains intact. In addition, other militant groups are joining IS’ East Asia Division, indicating efforts to expand from the Philippines to Northeast and Southeast Asia. While IS has failed to hold territory, it has been successful in cyberspace, with regular online publications of battle news, ‘religious’ articles, showing exploits of IS fighters and propaganda videos. In this connection, Jasminder Singh and Muhammad Haziq Bin Jani discuss the unprecedented appearance of a Singaporean national in an IS-propaganda video last month and its possible implications. In the midst of IS decline in the Levant, the video attempts to rally the ‘jihadists’, boost their morale, and gives the false impression that IS will prevail. The video underlines the need for continued high-level vigilance against extremist teachings and ‘jihadist’ propaganda and radicalisation in the real world and the murky cyber world. Muh Taufiqurrohman et al. examine the issue of jihadist radicalisation and activities in Indonesia’s prisons at Nusa Kambangan. They observe that lax security measures, understaffed prison facilities, low budgetary provisions and overworked prison guards have enabled high-profile jihadists such as Aman Abdurrahman, Iwan Darmawan, Abdullah Sonata and Abu Hanifah to recruit, preach, communicate, plan and execute attacks without hindrance. They recommend placing terrorist inmates in special prisons or solitary confinement, employing full-time religious counsellors, recruiting more qualified prison guards and increasing the prisons’ operational budget. On the issue of radicalisation, a better conceptual understanding of the subject is required. Paul Hedges explores and clarifies key issues associated with the term radicalisation. He argues that radicalisation is largely linked to socialisation and that there is no commonly accepted personality profile nor a linear pathway to radicalisation; basically, the landscape and trajectory of terrorism in terms of recruitment and evolution are both changing and fluid. In order to counter the booming youth ‘jihadist’ cultural milieu, he argues that it is necessary to have credible moderate role models and voices messages that are packaged to appeal to the youth. He added that any response to address the issue of trajectories into violence needs to be measured, targeted, evidence-based, and empathetic to the communities involved.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Philippines, Syria, Southeast Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Muhammad Haniff Hassan, Mahfuh Bin Haji Halimi, Nur Azlin Mohamed Yasin
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: As the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group evolves into the next phase of its life cycle, it is operationalising its so-called wilayats (governorates) in different parts of the world. In June, with the loss of ground in Iraq and Syria, IS has made significant territorial gains in the Philippines along with carrying out a high profile terrorist attack in Indonesia. The operational strength and sophistication exhibited in these latest developments in Southeast Asia is concerning for three particular reasons. First, IS will stay alive and relevant through its wilayats notwithstanding its defeat in the Middle East. This could result in higher levels of violence and radicalisation in the regions where IS might turn its attention. The ability of the so-called Caliphate to operate in the online and offline spheres has already provided the group a virtual sanctuary to survive and stay relevant despite real world defeats. Second, with the seige of Marawi in the Philippines by IS, the city and surrounding areas may emerge as a new hub for IS supporters, sympathizers and lone-wolf fighters. In its latest issue of Rumiyah, the terror group has encouraged its supporters to relocate to Marawi if they cannot migrate to Iraq or Syria. This might galvanise a new wave of pro-IS fighters in Southeast Asia. IS has already prepared them for the setbacks in the Levant and provided them with sufficient religious grounds to press on with their ‘struggle’ through its propaganda machinery. The porous and heavily forested terrain and cluster of small islands with almost no control of the government in southern Philippines suits IS designs to fortify and consolidate its footprint in the region. It will require concerted efforts under the auspices of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to counter IS gains in the region. Even though Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have done remarkably well to check the security challenge posed by IS, more needs to be done in places like the Philippines and Thailand with coordinated operational efforts and timely intelligence sharing. Third, IS online followers, supporters and sympathisers are now moving from open social media platforms to encrypted ones such as Telegram, Whatsapp and WeChat. This adds a new layer of complexity to keep track of vulnerable segments of youth susceptible to radicalism and disrupt any terrorist plots that may be planned and executed through communication in encrypted social medial platforms. Various Social Media Companies (SMCs), law enforcement agencies, academia and civil society organisations (SCOs) will have to team up and redouble their efforts to discuss how to deal with the challenge of cyber radicalism. Further procrastination in operationalising stronger social media strategies to counter violent radicalism will hamper efforts to curtail the spread of extremist propaganda and avert terrorist attacks. Equally important is the realm of counter-ideology and promotion of religious moderation. A strong rebuttal of Sunni extremist groups’ exploitation of Quranic verses and other religious texts to further their narrow agendas serves to de-legitimise their efforts. Once the ideological appeal of these groups is neutralised, it will be easier to counter them operationally. Terrorist groups can survive loss of sanctuary and decapitation of the top leaders, but ideological de-legitimization deprives them of the moral support they enjoy among the vulnerable social segments. These are some of the issues which the current issue of CTTA discusses at length highlighting: a) Marawi: A Game Changer in Terrorism in Asia by Rohan Gunaratna, b) The Evolution of Online Extremism in Malaysia by Nur Azlin Mohamed Yasin, c) A Rebuttal of Al-Qaeda and IS’ Theological Justification of Suicide Bombing by Muhammad Haniff Hassan and d) Abrogation and the Verse of the Sword: Addressing Sunni Extremists’ Misappropriation of Concept and Verse by Mahfuh Halimi
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Indonesia, Middle East, Philippines, Syria, Singapore, Thailand, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Bilveer Singh, Mohammed Sinan Siyech, Patrick Blannin, Farhan Zahid
  • Publication Date: 05-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The Islamic State (IS) terrorist group that emerged victorious in Iraq in 2014 has lost its eminence. Presently, it is on the defensive, struggling to retain its strongholds in Iraq and Syria. This contrasts with the situation in 2014 when the group was on the rise. It was expanding territorially, producing shockingly brutal videos with cinematic flare, and proclaiming its revival of the so-called ‘caliphate’ and implementation of Sharia to beguile local and foreign Muslims and fellow jihadists. In recent months, IS has suffered several setbacks, including loss of territory, which is the focal point of its jihadist strategy. The group is also facing diminishing numbers of foreign fighters, depleting finances and high casualties of its commanders and foot-soldiers. Given the above, will IS remain relevant to the global jihadist landscape in future? The answer resides in the international community’s ability to end the conflict in Iraq and Syria and ensure post-conflict political stabilisation. Failure on these two fronts will give IS enough space to recuperate and revive. IS will seek sanctuary among pockets of politically-disgruntled Sunnis, regroup and resort to guerrilla warfare as a military strategy to fight the powerful adversaries. This is not the first time IS – earlier known as the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) – is facing such a challenging situation. In 2006, when ISI leader Abu Musaab Al-Zarqawi was killed, it suffered huge setbacks. The group went underground and re-emerged in 2010 by defeating the Sahwa Movement, the Sunni tribal uprisings against the group. ISI exploited the Arab uprisings in 2011, and expanded into Syria to eventually become the IS in June 2014. On the international front, IS’ declining influence and appeal and the vacuum created by its retreat have rendered the leadership of global jihad as a contested domain, once again, opening up the possibility of Al Qaeda’s (AQ) return to the top of the jihadi pyramid and merger between the two old jihadi allies. Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi recently stated that ‘discussions and dialogue’ have been taking place between Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi’s representatives and AQ chief Ayman Al Zawahiri. Any rapprochement between the two rivals is likely to further complicate the jihadi landscape in Iraq, Syria and beyond. Against this backdrop, the latest issue of CTTA provides a snapshot of jihadist activities in Pakistan, India, the Philippines and Indonesia and the resulting security threat. Strategically, there is a weak correlation between defeating IS-central and its outlying wilayats and enclaves in Africa, Pakistan, the Philippines and elsewhere. Unless each pro-IS entity is defeated physically in its respective area of operations, the fight against the Middle Eastern Salafi jihadist group will remain incomplete. Specifically, if the conditions and root causes that gave birth to IS and its militant affiliates from countries stretching across Nigeria to the Philippines are not addressed, the international community might have to prolong its battle against them or fight new extremist groups in the future. This is why ideological de-legitimisation through robust counter-narratives, conflict stabilisation in Iraq, and finding a viable political solution to the Syrian civil war are central to defeating the jihadist by-products of these conflict-hit areas. In this issue, Rohan Gunaratna discusses the recent high-profile terrorist attacks in Manila and highlights the threat posed by IS East Asia Division in the Philippines. He argues that the recent attacks, unifications of various militant groups under the IS umbrella and the clashes between Filipino security forces and IS-affiliates in Bohol point to IS’s growing influence in the Philippines, and a stark reminder that the group is trying to expand northwards. The article contends that the IS threat is likely to increase in the future, and warns that the creation of an IS nucleus in the Philippines presents not only a domestic but a regional and international threat that needs to be addressed swiftly. In the next article, Bilveer Singh discusses the revival of Al Qaeda’s affiliate, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), in Southeast Asia. The author argues that JI’s present low profile and non-militant approach may change as more hard-line JI leaders and members are released from detention in the coming months and years, and as more well-trained and ideologically-hardened fighters from Iraq and Syria return to Indonesia. Farhan Zahid details the rise of IS in Pakistan since the group’s formation in 2014, and the extent of its activities in all four provinces of the country. IS has managed to increase its clout by forming tactical alliances with like-minded local militant groups. He argues that IS is likely to assert its dominance through local affiliates in urban centers of Pakistan, specifically the Punjab province. Patrick Blannin examines IS multiple sources of funding and some counter-mechanisms deployed by the global anti-IS coalition. The paper analyses how IS exploits the volatile political and security situation across the Middle East and North Africa to generate funding, and exposes the dichotomy between the terrorist group’s religious rhetoric and its criminal enterprises. Lastly, Mohammed Sinan Siyech’s article examines IS footprint in India in the wake of the group’s suspected involvement in the recent bombing of a passenger train in Madhya Pradesh (MP) state. Although IS recruitment and presence in India is not as strong in numbers in comparison to other countries, it remains concerning given various vulnerabilities and fault-lines that exist in the country. Given the current volatile environment triggered by the rise of right-wing Hindu extremism or the Hindutva movement, another terrorist attack could contribute to communal tensions, leading to spate of violence.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, South Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Syria, Southeast Asia, Global Focus
  • Author: Muhammad Haniff Hassan, Nodirbek Soliev, Mohammed Sinan Siyech, Mohd Mizan bin Mohammad Aslam
  • Publication Date: 04-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The Islamic State (IS) terrorist group faces setbacks on several fronts as it continues to come under heavy pressure from the US-led coalition forces, the Russians and Syrians. On the military front in Iraq, it is slowly losing western Mosul while in Syria, its de facto capital Raqqa is being surrounded for the inevitable showdown. On the propaganda front, it is experiencing a decline in the output and quality of its media products, such as videos and publications. It fares no better on the religious front where it remains marginalised within the Islamic world and faces continuous denunciations from mainstream religious leaders for its exploitation and misrepresentation of Islam. It has failed to gain legitimacy and has in fact been branded as un-Islamic, deviant, even heretical. As IS loses its lustre and appeal with the loss of territories and impending collapse of its so-called caliphate, counter-ideology efforts should be intensified to further delegitimise IS’ theology of violence and debunk its misinterpretations of religious texts. IS’ hard-core ideology encompassing violent jihad, suicide bombing, takfirism (excommunication) and hijrah (migration), among others, have to be exposed as unquestionably flawed, transgressing Islamic legal principles and juristic process and methodology. This issue of CTTA features a critical examination of one of the principal tenets of IS’ jihadist ideology – takfirism – by Dr Muhammad Haniff Hassan. His article contrasts IS takfiri doctrine with mainstream Sunni position on the subject, exposing IS’ deceptions and deviations from true Islamic teachings. Despite the evident errors and distortions, IS ideology has gained some traction among the disillusioned and alienated. This issue is examined by Mohd Mizan bin Mohammad Aslam who focuses on the impact of IS ideology on some university students in Malaysia. He explores what causes students to join or sympathise with an extremist group such as IS, and how the government should respond to this phenomenon. Social media platforms and chat applications as well as religious discussion groups are among tools used by IS to cajole and lure students to IS activities. The author proposes the formation of a critical partnership between the government, security officials and parents to curb the radicalisation of students. Mohamed Sinan Siyech in his article analyses the relatively syncretic nature of Salafism in India and stresses the need to distinguish such Salafist groups from those that preach extremism and violence. Established Salafist organisations and non-Salafist groups are facing challenges from the spread of intolerant strands imported from the Middle East and coming through the Internet. He calls for greater attention to be paid to self-radicalised social media-savvy youngsters who are divorced from their community, draw inspiration from IS ideologues online, and take orders from IS operators in Syria and elsewhere. From India the focus shifts to Turkey where in the last one year, it has become the central target of IS’ overseas terrorist campaign; Turkey suffered the largest number of IS attacks outside Iraq and Syria. Nodirbek Soliev argues that Turkey‘s capability to fight terrorism is crucial to contain the growing threat domestically and globally. Major and regional stakeholders should closely work with Ankara to boost the effectiveness of its counterterrorism efforts. In the long term, there is a need for sustained measures by Turkey to disrupt cross-border movement of foreign fighters and to dismantle IS supply and support networks in the country.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Europe, Central Asia, Middle East, East Asia, North Africa, Asia-Pacific, Global Focus