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  • Author: Heni Nsaibia, Caleb Weiss, Seth Loertscher, Nick Kramer, Robin Simcox, Hannah Stuart, Amarnath Amarasingam, Marc-Andre Argentino
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Institution: The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
  • Abstract: Earlier this month, the United Nations monitoring team that tracks the global jihadi threat warned the Security Council that “ISIL franchises in West Africa and the Sahel continued to enjoy operational success in early 2020, as have those of Al-Qaida, heightening international concern about stability in the region.” Concern over the threat has grown despite the fact that a year ago clashes erupted between the Islamic State and al-Qa`ida franchises in the region, turning what had been an often amicable and sometimes cooperative relationship into fighting between them in Mali and Burkina Faso. In our feature article, Héni Nsaibia and Caleb Weiss assess that a number of factors ended the “Sahelian anomaly” of amicable relations between the regional Islamic State and al-Qa`ida groupings, “including the hardening of ideological divisions, pressure from Islamic State Central for its regional satellite to take on a more confrontational approach toward its rival, and tensions created by the growing ambition of the Islamic State affiliate in the Sahel.” They note that “while some argue that fighting between jihadi groups is positive for the counterterrorism landscape, it is also possible that the two groups are in effect engaging in a process called ‘outbidding,’ wherein a group aims to show ‘greater resolve to fight the enemy than rival groups.’” Our interview is with Chris Costa, who during the first year of the Trump administration served as the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Counterterrorism. Building on a study of terrorist recidivism in Belgium by Thomas Renard published in the April issue of CTC Sentinel, Robin Simcox and Hannah Stuart examine the problem set created by jihadi prisoners in Europe from two different angles. Firstly, they examine the nature of the threat by analyzing a dozen alleged jihadi terror plots and attacks that occurred inside and outside prisons in Western Europe since 2014 in which at least one of the attackers/plotters had been convicted in Europe of a previous terrorism offense. Secondly, they look at the scale of the threat by calculating the rates of various forms of recidivism from a comprehensive database relating to U.K. jihadi terror activity. Amarnath Amarasingam and Marc-André Argentino assess the emerging security threat posed by the QAnon conspiracy. They write: “A survey of cases of individuals who have allegedly or apparently been radicalized to criminal acts with a nexus to violence by QAnon, including one case that saw a guilty plea on a terrorism charge, makes clear that QAnon represents a public security threat with the potential in the future to become a more impactful domestic terror threat. This is true especially given that conspiracy theories have a track record of propelling terrorist violence elsewhere in the West as well as QAnon’s more recent influence on mainstream political discourse.”
  • Topic: Terrorism, Prisons/Penal Systems, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Conflict, QAnon
  • Political Geography: Africa, Europe, Sahel, United States of America
  • 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