Assessment of Current Efforts to Fight the Islamic State

Ido Levy has a BA in government specializing in global affairs and counter-terrorism from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Herzliya, Israel.  He is currently pursuing a Master in Public Policy at Georgetown University.  He has researched Middle Eastern Affairs at the Institute for National Security Studies and radicalization at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, where he has publications on the subject. He is an editor at Georgetown Public Policy Review and has written op-eds for Jerusalem Post, The Forward, and Times of Israel. He can be found on Twitter @IdoLevy5.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of Current Efforts to Fight the Islamic State

Date Originally Written:  September 15, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  October 22, 2018.

Summary:  International and regional forces have all but deprived the Islamic State (IS) of its territory, yet its apocalyptic ideology allows it to continue fighting despite these losses. IS’s goal to prepare the world for the end times does not require territory and will serve as a justification for its surviving members to maintain insurgencies in the Middle East and elsewhere. 

Text:  As of mid-2018, IS has lost most of the territory it had conquered four years ago. At its height, IS controlled a territory about the size of the United Kingdom made up of areas of Iraq and Syria, including Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul[1]. As of April 2018, IS maintains small enclaves in southern and eastern Syria[2]. IS continues to carry out sporadic attacks, using borderlands, mountains, and deserts as havens. Syrian, Iraqi, and Russian military forces, Kurdish militias, Shi’a militias, and forces of a U.S.-led international coalition are now continuing the fight to defeat IS permanently. 

In many of its former territories, IS has transitioned to an insurgent campaign. Over the past year, IS has conducted many attacks in northern Iraq, as well as Baghdad and Mosul[3]. The Iraqi military, together with predominantly Shi’a militias collectively called the Popular Mobilization Units, has responded by launching several operations in northern Iraq and training elite forces to guard the border with Syria[4]. Iraqi forces have made incursions into Syria to strike IS targets[5].

A mostly Kurdish militia called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is leading the fight against IS’s enclaves in eastern Syria. U.S. and French special operations are supporting SDF efforts while Russian forces carry out their own attacks against IS. Another terrorist organization, an al-Qaeda offshoot called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, is also fighting IS in Syria. At the same time, IS’s former capital, Raqqa, has seen an upsurge in attacks by IS[6].

In sum, although IS has begun employing insurgent tactics in its former territories, anti-IS forces have almost defeated the “territorial caliphate[7].” One authority on IS, Graeme Wood, has claimed that IS “requires territory to remain legitimate[8].” Indeed, as William McCants has noted, many did join IS to fulfill the reestablishment of the caliphate, the Islamic empire governed by sharia, or Islamic law[9]. Through this lens, it is only a matter of time until IS loses all of its territory and disintegrates. 

Despite the collapse of the territorial caliphate, the aspirational caliphate is still alive and well. In their expert accounts of IS, both McCants and Wood note IS has differentiated and perpetuated itself within the jihadist movement through its intense awareness of an imminent apocalypse. Al-Qaeda, another organization seeking the restoration of the caliphate, scoffed at apocalyptic notions, maintaining that the gradual buildup of an Islamic army and embedding of jihadist agents around the globe toward slowly reestablishing the caliphate was the paramount endeavor. The founders of IS, convinced of the nearness of Judgement Day, contended that there was no time for gradualism, that rectitude demanded swift and bold action in the present (this also serves as justification for IS’s particularly brutal tactics). For IS, the caliphate became the bridge between the present and the end times, a place where “true” Muslims could live righteous lives free of corrupt un-Islamic influences in the present. At the same time, these soldiers of Islam could work to expand the empire, inspiring greater numbers of true Muslims and petrifying nonbelievers. This forceful division of the world between the righteous and the evil could prepare the world for Allah’s judgement.

IS’s vision suggests it does not need territory to remain viable. Ori Goldberg, a scholar who researches Islamist ideologies, notes that the pursuit of an Islamic empire “in its own right” is “particularly difficult” with regard to IS. He claims that IS rather seeks the “hollowing out” of the world, or to cause people to be so terrified that they abandon their “convictions” and live in fear[10]. In essence, while sowing fear among the nonbelievers is one half of IS’s creed, the other is to cement the believers’ righteousness. This two-pronged endeavor does not necessitate holding territory, though territory can help advance it. 

In practice, this view entails that IS can continue to function ideologically and materially in the absence of territory. Those IS members who believe in the group’s apocalyptic creed will fight to the last. Those who emphasize the group’s territoriality may second-guess their participation, though might also believe they can retake their lost territories. Of course, there are many other reasons people joined IS – attraction to violence, grievances against a home country, excitement, money. However, the apocalyptic core survives with or without territory and will serve as motivation to carry on insurgencies in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. 

Overall, the ground war against IS is advancing steadily toward completion while IS insurgencies are gaining momentum in former IS territories. These insurgencies will hinder efforts to rebuild Iraq and Syria while straining their security forces and budgets. IS’s apocalyptic vision will serve as the basis for insurgent morale. 


Endnotes:

[1] Johnston, I. (2014, September 3). The rise of Isis: Terror group now controls an area the size of Britain, expert claims. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/the-rise-of-isis-terror-group-now-controls-an-area-the-size-of-britain-expert-claims-9710198.html

[2] McGurk, B. (2018, May 10). Remarks at Herzliya Conference. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.state.gov/s/seci/2018/282016.htm#Map

[3] Sly, L., &, Salim, M. (2018, July 17). ISIS is making a comeback in Iraq just months after Baghdad declared victory. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/isis-is-making-a-comeback-in-iraq-less-than-a-year-after-baghdad-declared-victory/2018/07/17/9aac54a6-892c-11e8-9d59-dccc2c0cabcf_story.html

[4] Schmitt, E. (2018, May 30). Battle to stamp out ISIS in Syria gains new momentum, but threats remain. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/30/world/middleeast/isis-syria-battle-kurds-united-states.html

[5] Reuters (2018, June 23). Iraq says it bombed a meeting of Islamic State leaders in Syria. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/23/world/middleeast/iraq-syria-isis.html

[6] Sengupta, K. (2018, July 3). Amid a fractured political and military landscape, Isis are quietly regrouping in Syria. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-syria-regrouping-islamic-state-assad-a8429446.html

[7] See McGurk.

[8] Wood, G. (2015, March). What ISIS Really Wants. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-wants/384980/

[9] McCants, W. (2015). The ISIS apocalypse: The history, strategy, and doomsday vision of the Islamic State. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

[10] Goldberg, O. (2017). Faith and politics in Iran, Israel, and the Islamic State: Theologies of the real. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Assessment Papers Ido Levy Islamic State Variants Violent Extremism

Assessment of Al-Qaeda’s Enduring Threat Seven Years After Osama bin Laden’s Death

Tucker Berry is a rising graduate student at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University.  He has conducted and briefed research on counterterrorism methods to the U.S. and three partner nations.  He has also spent time learning about the Arabic speaking Islamic world from within, in locations such as Oman, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of Al-Qaeda’s Enduring Threat Seven Years After Osama Bin Laden’s Death 

Date Originally Written:  April 26, 2018. 

Date Originally Published:  June 25, 2018. 

Summary:  A comparative analysis of al-Qaeda messaging from the Osama bin Laden-era to today demonstrates continuity. Such messaging indicates that al-Qaeda continues in the well-worn path of bin Ladenism, even with the seventh anniversary of his death, still adamantly focusing on the United States as enemy number one.

Text:  In 1996, bin Laden faxed an Arabic message from Afghanistan to newspapers titled in part, “Expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula[1].” Included in this message was a call for all Muslims to defend the Ummah, or the global Islamic community, from the United States. Bin Laden commanded, “Clearly after Belief there is no more important duty than pushing the American enemy out of the Holy land[2]…” Then, in 1998, bin Laden co-authored a fatwa, or Islamic legal ruling. This message demonstrates al-Qaeda’s anti-United States point of view, thereby framing the killing of Americans under bin Laden’s leadership as a legitimate strategic goal. 

Killing the Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can carry it out in any country where it proves possible, in order to liberate Al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy sanctuary [Mecca] from their grip[3]…

A comparative analysis of messaging from the bin Laden era to that of the current al-Qaeda leadership demonstrates continuity. Just days after the death of bin Laden, al-Qaeda issued a formal response, which contained a steadfast reference to planning, plotting, and spilling the blood of Americans. Further fostering the analytical judgment that al-Qaeda maintains the strategic goal of striking any target deemed “American” is language pertaining to both temporality and endurance. If one listens to al-Qaeda, recognizing that in the past they told the world what they meant and meant what they said, this language demonstrates that al-Qaeda has absolutely no intention of replacing their black banner of terror with the white flag of surrender. Aiding analysis is a translated segment[4] of al-Qaeda’s 2011 Arabic response[5], released after the death of bin Laden.

[The death of bin Laden] will remain…a curse that haunts the Americans and their collaborators and pursues them outside and inside their country…their joy will turn to sorrow and their tears will mix with blood, and we will [realize] Sheikh Osama’s oath: America, and those who live in America, will not enjoy security until our people in Palestine do. The soldiers of Islam, together or as individuals, will continue to plot tirelessly and without desperation…until they are struck with a calamity that will make the hair of children turn white.

Reacting to bin Laden’s death, al-Qaeda wanted to demonstrate its perseverance. The tone and language of the response indicated that the death of bin Laden would not impede al-Qaeda. Furthermore, other sections highlight bin Laden’s “martyrdom.” Such language may inspire members to engage in martyrdom operations, paying a posthumous homage to their former leader. Though the death of bin Laden eliminated an unquestionably charismatic leader, the organization has demonstrated a patient commitment to continue harming the so-called far enemy, the United States. Bin Laden’s strong message still resonates loudly with his followers and the new leadership. 

Seven years after the death of bin Laden, the challenging question is now whether the new messengers can carry the same influence. Such a messenger is one of bin Laden’s sons, Hamza. Introduced as “the lion of jihad[6],” Hamza is following in the steps of his father, calling al-Qaeda adherents to attack the United States. In a message from Hamza, he orders, “Know that inflicting punishment on Jews and Crusaders where you are present is more vexing and severe for the enemy[7].” Hamza is calling for attacks wherever a fighter is. Such a call maintains, if not escalates, the threat to the United States in the form of inspired and low-intensity terrorist attacks. Therefore, even with the seventh anniversary of bin Laden’s death, Hamza continues in the well-worn path of his father. Hamza and al-Qaeda continue to perpetuate the legacy of bin Ladenism as first established in the 1996 and 1998 messaging, adamantly focusing on the United States as enemy number one.


Endnotes:

[1] Declaration of Jihad against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holiest Sites, Arabic – Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ctc.usma.edu/harmony-program/declaration-of-jihad-against-the-americans-occupying-the-land-of-the-two-holiest-sites-original-language-2/

[2] Declaration of Jihad against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holiest Sites, English – Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ctc.usma.edu/app/uploads/2013/10/Declaration-of-Jihad-against-the-Americans-Occupying-the-Land-of-the-Two-Holiest-Sites-Translation.pdf

[3] Usamah Bin-Muhammad Bin-Ladin, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu-Yasir Rifa’i Ahmad Taha, Shaykh Mir Hamzah, & Fazlur Rahman. (1998, February 23). Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders World Islamic Front Statement. Retrieved from https://fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/980223-fatwa.htm

[4] Al Qaeda statement confirming bin Laden’s death, English. (2011, May 6). Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-binladen-qaeda-confirmation-text/text-al-qaeda-statement-confirming-bin-ladens-death-idUSTRE74563U20110506

[5] Al Qaeda statement confirming bin Laden’s death, Arabic. (2011, May 6). Retrieved from http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2011/images/05/06/aq_binladenmessage.pdf

[6] Riedel, B. (2016, July 29). The son speaks: Al-Qaida’s new face. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/markaz/2015/08/19/the-son-speaks-al-qaidas-new-face/

[7] Joscelyn, T. (2017, May 15). Hamza bin Laden offers ‘advice for martyrdom seekers in the West’. Retrieved from https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/05/hamza-bin-laden-offers-advice-for-martyrdom-seekers-in-the-west.php

Al-Qaeda Assessment Papers Tucker Berry Violent Extremism

Assessment of the How the Media Overstates the Threat Posed by the Erroneously Called ‘Lone-Wolves’

Cristina Ariza holds a master’s degree from the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, where she focused on radicalisation and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE.)  She is a freelance analyst, currently researching on Spanish jihadist networks and the role of families in CVE.  She can be found on Twitter @CrisAriza_C.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of the How the Media Overstates the Threat Posed by the Erroneously Called ‘Lone-Wolves’

Date Originally Written:  January 23, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  April 16, 2018.

Summary:  Media outlets, commentators, and prosecutors continue to use the ‘lone wolf’ typology to refer to any kind of individual attacker, which overlooks how the majority of these perpetrators have radicalised in contact with other like-minded individuals. As a result, the threat arising from supposedly ‘undetectable terrorists’ has been markedly overstated, to the point of sowing unnecessary fear.

Text:  A quick Google search of the term ‘lone wolf terrorism’ throws about 459,000 results, which is a striking number given how misleading this concept actually is. Initially, the concept of ‘lone wolf’ was supposed to represent the threat coming from individuals who radicalised in isolation and went on to commit an attack alone. Since they were not receiving instructions from a terrorist command nor they were in contact with other extremists, lone wolves were undetectable threats that could strike at any given time. However, as shown by the media frenzy that arises every time there is an attack, this category has lost all meaning. Now, every attack committed by one individual is automatically labelled as a ‘lone wolf’ attack, regardless of whether said individual actually fits the criteria. Thus, the discourse shifts onto a meaningless debate that contributes nothing to explaining how individuals are actually driven to commit attacks.

The first stumbling block we come across when examining ‘lone wolves’ is conceptual. There seems to be a certain consensus in the literature that in order to be designated as such, ‘lone wolves’ need to be detached operationally and institutionally from larger networks. In his study on Islamist lone attackers, Raffaello Pantucci differentiated between loners, lone wolves, lone wolf packs, and lone attackers. However, only the ‘loners’ had radicalised in total isolation and proceeded to attack alone. The rest of the categories included individuals who did not formally belong to a hierarchical command but had some online or offline contact with extremists, and individuals who committed an attack in small groups[1]. Strictly speaking, only the ‘loners’ could fit the criteria of self-radicalised ‘lone wolves,’ which is why compiling all these categories under the same typology ends up being problematic. For starters, this compiling overlooks the significant differences that exist between self-radicalisation and group radicalisation. As Bart Schuurman et al correctly point out, ‘peer pressure, leader-follower interactions, group polarization and other social-psychological processes by definition rule out including even the smallest „packs‟ under the heading of lone-actor terrorism[2].’

While, in spite of disagreements, literature discussions on ‘lone wolf’ terrorism tend to be very nuanced, this meticulousness appears to be absent in other contexts. In media and public usage, every attack that is committed by an individual perpetrator is at first designated as a ‘lone wolf’ attack, which risks overestimating the threat coming from self-radicalised and independently operating individuals. In 2016, the Nice and Berlin attackers were first wrongly identified as ‘lone-wolves’, even though it later emerged that both perpetrators had radicalised in contact with like-minded individuals. Jason Burke, in his piece entitled ‘The Myth of the Lone-Wolf Terrorist’ compellingly argues that ‘this lazy term [lone wolf] obscures the real nature of the threat against us[3].’

Furthermore, there seems to be a correlation between the modus operandi of an attack and the decision to designate an individual (or even individuals) as ‘lone-wolves.’ A perfect example of this correlation is a Daily Mail headline that claimed: ‘ISIS has abandoned large-scale terror atrocities to focus on ‘lone wolf’ attacks like Nice and Berlin, government report says[4].’ The government report quoted in this article, whose authenticity could not be independently verified, referred more generally to ‘lone actors’ and ‘small groups’, which in sensational media jargon translates as ‘lone wolves.’ Despite the fact that neither the Berlin nor the Nice attacker could actually be categorised as lone-wolves, the article audaciously equated low-cost attacks with lone-wolves, as if tactics had any bearing on radicalisation. While the Daily Mail is not particularly known for its credibility, a journalist from the much more reliable British newspaper ‘The Telegraph’ also suggested that the Westminster 2017 attack and the murder of Lee Rigsby were examples of how lone-wolf attacks did not require sophisticated weapons[5].’ Whereas one could forgive a premature—and ultimately mistaken— analysis on whether Khalid Masood was a lone wolf, both perpetrators in the Lee Rigsby case were linked to Al Muhajiroun, one of the United Kingdom’s largest jihadist recruitment networks. Therefore, the apparent correlation between low-cost weapons and lone wolves—or even ‘pack of wolves’— is not immediately clear. While it stands to reason that individuals who formally belong to terrorist organisations and have planned to commit large-scale attacks might resort to more sophisticated weapons —the Paris and Brussels attackers chose to use suicide vests and bombs—, the decision to strike with a low-cost weapon does not say much about how one individual might become radicalised. Granted, true lone wolves would likely resort to low-cost weapons, but so did the London Bridge attackers or the Magnaville perpetrator. Referring to low-cost attacks as ‘lone wolf attacks’ only contributes to adding another layer of confusion to an already problematic concept.

A more recent trial case in the United Kingdom showed how prosecution has also adopted this terminology. According to The Guardian, Munir Mohammed had ‘resolved upon a lone wolf attack[6].’ Yet he had enlisted the help of his girlfriend to buy the ingredients for a chemical attack. Both had met online and frequently shared extremist content with each other. If this was not reason enough to determine that Munir Mohammed did not radicalise in total isolation, as a so-called ‘lone-wolf’ is supposed to do, the article also showed that Munir Mohammed was in contact with an Islamic State commander and that he was waiting for instructions to attack. The evidence clearly shows that the dynamics of radicalization that led Munir Mohammed to try to commit an attack were diametrically different to the mechanisms of self-radicalisation. Unfortunately, the persistent use of the ‘lone wolf typology’ prevents us from noticing these nuances and communicating them to the general public.

The inaccurate understanding of the lone wolf concept is consistently being applied to terrorism cases that fail to meet the necessary criteria, which only contributes to creating preventable fear amongst the population. It is precisely in a climate of exaggerated fear where terrorists thrive, which is why the ‘lone wolf’ categorisation is no longer adequate to analyse and understand the current terrorist threat.


Endnotes:

[1] Pantucci, R. (2011, March). A Typology of Lone Wolves: Preliminary Analysis of Lone Islamist Terrorists. ICSR. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from http://icsr.info/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/1302002992ICSRPaper_ATypologyofLoneWolves_Pantucci.pdf

[2] Schuurman, B., Lindekilde, L., Malthaner, S., O’Connor, F., Gill, P., & Bouhana, N. (2017). End of the Lone Wolf: The Typology that Should Not Have Been. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1057610X.2017.1419554

[3] Burke, J. (2017, March 30). The Myth of the Lone Wolf Terrorist. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/western-europe/2016-07-26/myth-lone-wolf-terrorism

[4] Boyle, D. (2017, January 5). ISIS has abandoned large-scale terror atrocities to focus on ‘lone wolf’ attacks like Nice and Berlin, government report says. Daily Mail. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4091844/ISIS-abandoned-large-scale-terror-atrocities-focus-lone-wolf-attacks-like-Nice-Berlin-government-report-says.html#ixzz5518Phdcs 

[5] Coughlin, C (2017, March 22). London attack was simply a question of time: This was the lone wolf Britain has long been fearing. The Telegraph. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/22/simply-question-time-lone-wolf-attack-britain-has-long-fearing/

[6] Grierson, J. (2018, January 8). UK couple found guilty of plotting Christmas terror attack. The Guardian. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jan/08/uk-couple-found-guilty-of-plotting-christmas-terror-attack

Assessment Papers Cristina Ariza Violent Extremism

Assessment of the Role of Authoritarianism in Fomenting Extremism in the Arab World

Hari Prasad is an independent researcher on Middle East/South Asian Politics and Security. He holds a MA in International Affairs from George Washington University.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of any official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


Title:  Assessment of the Role of Authoritarianism in Fomenting Extremism in the Arab World

Date Originally Written:  December 29, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  March 19, 2018.

Summary:  Many Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) works have focused on the role of individual and enabling factors in the rise of extremism, yet it is important to not overlook larger structural factors.  In particular, authoritarianism in the Arab world has proven to help foment conditions that can help encourage the rise of extremism, or discredit counter extremism efforts.

Text:  In recent years with the rise of extremist groups like the Islamic State, the concept of CVE has gained traction in policy and academic circles.  A lot of emphasis has been put on the individual and community level with ideas such as examining the effects of discrimination, mental illness, and extremist ideology on influencing individuals to join violent extremist organizations.  However, it is also important to have an understanding of how larger structural issues, such as regime type, might allow for an environment that fosters extremism.  Using examples from throughout the Arab World, this assessment paper will show how authoritarianism contributes to extremism by encouraging divisions in society, undermining religious messaging, normalizing extremist rhetoric, denying outlets for political expression, and even facilitating the rise of extremist groups.

First and foremost, many Arab regimes fail to counteract sectarianism in the region. Instead of resolving ethnic, sectarian, or other tensions, the regimes exploit them.  As Syrian opposition intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh has observed, sectarianism played an important role in consolidating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime’s power[1].  Encouraging divisions in society causes the various sects to suspect one another, and ‘otherise’ them.  This ‘otherising’ continues sectarian tension and demonization, something that becomes operationalized to deadly effect during times of upheaval.  Authoritarian regimes also try to position themselves, especially to minority groups, as the sole protectors from radical groups.  This protector role provides some blackmailing towards minorities to support the regime or else, while also playing into the narratives of extremist groups that majority groups like Arabs and Sunnis are discriminated against by the regime[2].

Especially in combatting religious extremism, authoritarian Arab regimes can easily undermine religious messaging.  Often Arab regimes attempt to hold influence or control their respective official religious establishments to monitor the content as well as prevent criticism of the regime itself[3].  Although this has been used to also try to counteract extremist messaging, the fact that many religious establishments rarely stray from the regime narrative undermines counter-extremist messaging.  As official religious establishments primarily propagate a pro-regime narrative, they will be accurately perceived as simply another mouthpiece for the authoritarian regime.  Rather than serving as an important pulpit for counteracting extremist messages, the delegitimization of these religious institutions instead inadvertently encourage followers to seek out alternative narratives.

Along with this regime undermining of religious messaging, religion also is a valuable tool for regimes to turn to in times of crisis.  Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein enacted his ‘faith campaign’ while dealing with the harsh sanctions regime.  This campaign led to the rise of new Islamic institutions and organizations, including institutions that the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, attended[4].  In Egypt, despite overthrowing the democratically elected Islamist Mohammad Morsi, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has also turned to Islam to help prop up his rule[5].  Regime manipulation of religion only further delegitimizes traditional religious leaders, while also normalizing religious language in denigrating their opponents.  Indeed, one of Egypt’s former Muftis went as far as to engage in similar takfirist (to declare a Muslim an apostate) justifications against Sisi’s opponents that the Islamic State and other extremist groups have engaged in[6].  Although it can be debated whether these initiatives are carried out to co-opt leaders or out of the personal faith of the leaders, these initiatives instead help normalize extremist rhetoric rather than counteracting it.

Many authoritarian regimes in the Arab World also limit political freedoms and outlets for political expression and change.  Indeed, scholars like Mohammad Hafez have demonstrated the role that repression and political exclusion has played in the rise of Islamic extremist movements around the world[7], especially in the Arab World.  Rather than serving as islands of stability, authoritarian regimes remain fragile and encourage resentment.  As there are few outlets to express one’s political opinions, and many ‘opposition’ parties are co-opted by the regimes, this encourages the rise of groups that lay outside of the realm of formal politics.

Finally, authoritarian regimes can directly facilitate the rise of extremist groups.  It is no secret that since the 9/11 attacks, many Westerners have preferred the ‘secular’ dictators instead of an ‘Islamist.’  These secular dictators have used the specter of Islamism to justify crackdowns and repression against all opposition.  While playing into the other factors that encourage victims to seek alternative ways of confronting the state, this has also proven useful for states that lack international legitimacy.  It is well-known that to support its narrative that it was simply fighting terrorists, the Assad regime released extremists and other unsavory characters from its prisons during the initial uprising in Syria[8].  As the initial protests turned to an uprising, these former prisoners formed organizations that helped paint the groups opposing Assad as extremist.  Groups like the Islamic State even temporarily received support from the Assad regime in its fight against the Free Syrian Army and other Syrian opposition groups.  Of course these are temporary alliances, but it demonstrates how authoritarian regimes will tactically allow extremist groups to form for the sake of their own survival.

Without reforming or changing these authoritarian structures in the Arab World, CVE efforts will only have a limited effect.  Of course, the demise of authoritarianism will not necessarily lead to an extremist free region.  After all, it is the newly democratic Tunisia that has become a large contributor for fighters for the Islamic State.  Nor will authoritarian reform lead to the erasure of extremist ideologies.  Yet, changing these authoritarian structures will provide a political opening that will allow better combatting of extremist ideology, while also providing a less repressive life for those that live in the region.  Authoritarian reform should not be mistaken as purely a humanitarian effort.  It is no secret that Western support for authoritarian regimes has been a common grievance for many extremist groups in the Middle East.  Mohammad Hafez in his keynote remarks to the RESOLVE Network in 2016 noted that the choice between repressive states or extremists, or rather “between barrel bombs and beheadings” is a false one, and one that the regimes themselves try to create[9].  Extremism in the region will never be fully addressed until policymakers understand the structural factors within authoritarian regimes that drive this behavior.


Endnotes:

[1] Saleh, Y. A. (2017). The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.

[2] Shabi, R. (2014, April 10). Battling Perceptions: Minorities in the Arab World. Retrieved December 29, 2017, from http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/04/battling-perceptions-minorities–20144965348535478.html

[3] Brown, N. (2017, May 11). Official Islam in the Arab World: The Contest for Religious Authority. Retrieved December 29, 2017, from http://carnegieendowment.org/2017/05/11/official-islam-in-arab-world-contest-for-religious-authority-pub-69929

[4] McCants, W. (2015, September 1). The Believer: How Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Became Leader of the Islamic State. Retrieved December 29, 2017, from http://csweb.brookings.edu/content/research/essays/2015/thebeliever.html

[5] Springborg, R. (2014, May 24). Sisi’s Secret Islamism. Retrieved December 29, 2017, from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/2014-05-26/sisis-secret-islamism

[6] Elmasry, M. (2015, June 27). Ali Gumah: Sisi’s Most Loyal Islamic Scholar. Retrieved December 29, 2017, from http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/ali-gumah-sisi-s-most-loyal-islamic-scholar-1205811558

[7] Hafez, M. M. (2005). Why Muslims Rebel: Repression and Resistance in the Islamic World. Boulder: Lynne Rienner .

[8] Gutman, R. (2016, December 01). Assad Henchman: Here’s How We Built ISIS. Retrieved December 29, 2017, from https://www.thedailybeast.com/assad-henchman-heres-how-we-built-isis

[9] 2016 RESOLVE Forum Flashback: Keynote Speaker Dr. Mohammed Hafez. (2017, September 15). Retrieved December 29, 2017, from http://www.resolvenet.org/news/2016-resolve-forum-flashback-keynote-speaker-dr-mohammed-hafez

Assessment Papers Government Hari Prasad Violent Extremism

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?  Options for the U.S. Presence in Syria

Dr. Christopher Bolan has served in Jordan, Tunisia, and Egypt and worked as a Middle East foreign policy advisor to Vice Presidents Gore and Cheney.  He presently teaches and researches national security issues at the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College.  He can be found on Twitter @DrChrisBolan.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.  


National Security Situation:  U.S. Force Posture in Syria following the strategic defeat of the Islamic State (IS).

Date Originally Written:  February 23, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  February 26, 2018.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author writes from the perspective of a seasoned regional analyst focusing on the Middle East.

Background:  The U.S. military battle against IS is nearing completion in both Iraq and Syria.  An intensified U.S. air campaign in support of local ground forces has effectively (and literally) destroyed the physical infrastructure of the so-called IS “caliphate” that at its peak occupied a territorial expanse roughly equivalent to that of Great Britain, extended its brutal authority over 11 million people, and gave it access to annual economic resources estimated at $1 billion[1].  In Iraq, a combination of U.S.-equipped and trained Iraqi security forces fighting alongside a variety of Shi’ia militia groups (some backed by Iran) allowed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to declare victory over IS in early December 2017.  In Syria, Kurdish and Syrian Arab forces enabled by U.S. special operations forces and an aggressive coalition bombing campaign liberated the IS caliphate’s self-proclaimed capital at Raqqa last fall and IS is now largely restricted to the Idlib province.

Significance:  The combined coalition military advances in both Iraq and Syria represent the strategic defeat of IS as a terrorist organization capable of holding territory in the Middle East.  These visible defeats strike at the heart of IS’s claim to leadership of the global jihadist movement.  The destruction of the ‘caliphate’ leaves IS a much diminished and impoverished organization.  Nonetheless, these significant battlefield victories do not entirely eliminate the IS threat as it remains capable of inspiring (if not planning) attacks that threaten regional instability and target Western interests.  In Iraq, a continued U.S. military presence codified through traditional security assistance programs in coordination with the central Iraqi government in Baghdad is virtually a foregone conclusion.  However, Syria presents a different strategic calculus for U.S. policymakers as they weigh options at a time when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appears to be consolidating his control with the active support of his allies in Moscow and Tehran.

Option #1:  Establish a long-term U.S. military presence in Syria.  U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced in mid-January 2018 that the U.S. “will maintain a military presence in Syria” for an indefinite period of time[2].  In doing so, Tillerson committed the U.S. to achieving an expansive set of strategic objectives that include: ensuring the defeat of IS and al-Qa’ida; diminishing the influence of Iran; facilitating the return of Syrian refugees; advancing a United Nations (UN)-led political resolution to the crisis; and guaranteeing that Syria is free of weapons of mass destruction.

Risk:  The continued presence of the U.S. military in Syria is opposed to one extent or another by virtually every other important actor in Syria including the internationally recognized government of President Bashar al-Assad, Russia, Iran, and even North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally Turkey.  The proximate defeat of IS and the failure of the U.S. Congress to explicitly authorize U.S. military operations in Syria seriously erodes the international and domestic legal basis for this presence.  More importantly, the actual risk of direct military conflict between the U.S. and any one of these outside actors or their local proxies is real and growing.  In early February 2018, the U.S. conducted defensive strikes killing hundreds of Syrian troops and dozens of Russian contractors.  Meanwhile, the U.S. announcement that it was creating a Kurdish security border force in northern Syria prompted the ongoing Turkish incursion into Afrin that is now threatening a direct military confrontation between a NATO ally and both the Syrian Army and U.S-backed Kurdish militias.  Lastly, Turkish President Recep Erdogan has directly threatened the U.S. with a punitive ‘Ottoman slap’ if the U.S. doesn’t end its support for Kurdish elements or abandon its positions further east in Manbij[3].

Gain:  Russian and Iranian military support to Assad have given him the decisive advantage in the civil war restoring his control over the majority of Syria’s population and key economic centers.  Given this existing reality, an indefinite U.S. military presence in eastern Syria may well be the only concrete leverage that the U.S. has to influence the behavior of the other actors in this crisis.  To accomplish the wide-ranging goals of U.S. strategy as articulated by Tillerson, however, this presence will likely need to maintained or even expanded for the foreseeable future.

Option #2:  Withdraw U.S. military forces from Syria.  The U.S. could use the recent battlefield victories against IS as a justification to declare ‘mission accomplished’ and begin a phased and conditions-based withdrawal of forces from Syria.

Risk:  As Tillerson himself argued, a U.S. withdrawal from Syria could create a security vacuum which IS and other Islamist terrorist groups would exploit to regain a foothold in eastern Syria.  Moreover, with the UN Geneva peace process moribund, the absence of a physical U.S. presence on the ground will leave policymakers with precious little direct leverage to influence the ultimate political or military outcomes in Syria.  This approach also feeds the perception of declining U.S. regional influence and could bolster the reputation of Russia and Iran as reliable partners.

Gain:  U.S. policymakers could use a phased withdrawal as diplomatic leverage to press for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Syria to include Russia, Iran, and their paramilitary proxies (e.g., Hizbollah, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps).  The scale and timing of the U.S. withdrawal could be explicitly tied to the departure of these other foreign forces, as well as to progress in defeating the remnants of IS.  This would accomplish the two most critical U.S. strategic objectives outlined by Tillerson:  the defeat of IS; and reducing the influence of Iran.  Additionally, such a phased withdrawal would relieve the U.S. of the substantial costs of reconstruction in Syria which is estimated to easily exceed $250 billion[4].  Finally, the prospect of an imminent U.S. military withdrawal would increase pressure on Kurdish elements to come to a workable compromise with both Damascus and Ankara and thereby bolster prospects for a durable political outcome in Syria that enhances regional stability.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] John Feffer, “The Fall of the House of ISIS,” Foreign Policy in Focus, October 25, 2017.  Available at: http://fpif.org/fall-house-isis/.

[2] Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, “Remarks on the Way Forward for the United States Regarding Syria,” Hoover Institute at Stanford University, January 17, 2018.

[3] Bethan McKernan, “Turkish President Erdogan offers US ‘Ottoman Slap’ ahead of Rex Tillerson’s visit to Turkey,” The Independent, February 15, 2018.

[4] UN estimate quoted by Somini Sengupta, “Help Assad or Leave Cities in Ruins?  The Politics of Rebuilding Syria,” The New York Times, December 3, 2017.

Dr. Christopher Bolan Islamic State Variants Option Papers Syria U.S. Army War College Violent Extremism

Assessment of Violent Extremism: The Push of Identity Crisis and the Pull of Ideologies

Linn Pitts holds a B.S. in Marketing/Organization Management and a M.S. in Criminal Justice from the University of South Carolina.  He also has studied Public Policy on a graduate level and holds an Ed.S. in Educational Leadership from Liberty University.  Linn spent a decade in law enforcement prior to transitioning into teaching on a university level.  He presently teaches as an Assistant Professor in the Social Science Department at Shorter University.  He can be found on Twitter @Professor_Pitts and is writing a dissertation on gatekeepers in Countering Violent Extremism programs in the United States.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


Title:  Assessment of Violent Extremism: The Push of Identity Crisis and the Pull of Ideologies

Date Originally Written:  November, 7, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  February 26, 2018.

Summary:  Successful recruitment of individuals into violent extremist organizations involves a recruiter leveraging the lack of social capital and identity capital to convince the radical-to-be that the organization will meet their needs.  Unless potential recruits have an established identity, resilience to deal with the overtures of recruiters, or have trusted individuals in their life that they can turn for help, the individual will be at risk for recruitment into violent extremist organizations.

Text:  Social Capital involves the problem and the potential solution to violent extremism due to the social identity that is sought by individuals at risk of recruitment for extremist groups.  Robert Putnam[1] identified that social capital aids society via collective action and empowerment.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, Lester, Maheswari, and McLain[2] noted that negative influences within family connections can create negative social capital.  In particular, groups that may exhibit extremist tendencies may seem like viable avenues for individuals struggling with identity.  James Côté[3] has further established that a branch of social capital is that of identity capital.  Identity capital is the manifestation of discovering one’s own distinctiveness and plotting their life course.   Therefore, individuals will seek purpose in their life and may turn to extremist movements if they perceive an injustice[4].  Berbrier[5] had previously found that white supremacists will take on a victim identity to exacerbate the sense of injustice of their group’s persona in order to become more attractive to individuals struggling with this aspect in their life.

Ilardi found that recruitment of potential jihadist may not be a top-down recruitment process but it may be more of an individual attraction once introduced to the material such as the messages of radical clerics or videos depicting violence in the defense of religion.  Moreover, Futrell and Simi[6] identified similar activities among white supremacist as occurring at free spaces such as home-based Bible studies, small local bars not frequented by outsiders, or private concerts.  One can easily understand that charismatic leaders may be knowledgeable of these places via organizational ties as noted by Wood[7].  Extremist groups recruit at-risk but willing volunteers, who are seeking purpose in their life.  Though Wood primarily looked at the recruiting methods of the Islamic State, researchers[8] found similar recruiting efforts of white supremacy terror groups.

The key to successful violent extremism recruitment is at-risk individuals and their vulnerabilities such as the following factors discussed by Mitchell[9] while citing Bartlett and Miller, “four often overlooked elements that can move some people toward violent extremism: an emotional impulse to correct an injustice; the thrill of doing something ‘cool’; peer pressure; and attaining a certain status in a hierarchy.”  Three of these, (thrill/cool factor, peer pressure, and status seeking,) directly relate to identity capital as defined by Côté, especially in his discussion of adolescents struggling with the transition to adulthood and identity formation.

Though no apparent correlation to the work of Côté, the emotional impulse concerning an injustice is a view parlayed by Nawaz[10] as he recounted the story of his own radicalization and described the moment of empowerment.  Nawaz’ radicalization occurred while he accompanied his brother and a group of friends when they were accosted by several white nationalists.  He noted his brother mentioned to the white nationalist’s leader that he was carrying a bomb in his backpack [see author’s note].  The incident quickly ended, the white nationalists fled, and Nawaz’s feelings of legitimate identity associated with Islamist ideology.  In this case, it is easy to see Nawaz’s lack of understanding of the radical Islamist ideology, but his nascent view of the identity traits found an appealing association and it related to Côté from the aspect of an altered life-course.  Nawaz and his immigrant family had relocated Essex, England did not feel readily accepted in his transplanted home.  It is not uncommon to find cultural identity struggles faced by second-generation immigrants[11].  In comparison, it may not be limited to strictly struggles faced only by immigrants.  According to Al Raffie[12], “[s]tudies on radicalization find identity to stand at the fore of the radicalization process.  Success partially lies in the radical’s ability to provide the radical-to-be with a distinctive identity[p. 67].”  This identity may be based on an extremist religious ideology or a distinctive worldview such as white nationalism, but the radical-to-be does not fully comprehend the lifestyle they are pursuing and may become indoctrinated because they are seeking the identity.  Consider the life-course of Frank Meeink[13], as he struggled with identity growing up as the product of a broken home, eventually moving in with his father in his preteen years.  Meeink noted that he was constantly harassed/assaulted on the way to school by African-American youth in his South Philadelphia neighborhood.  The turning point for Meeink was a summer with his cousin in a rural area of Pennsylvania that introduced him to white supremacy.  Meeink noted that it made sense to him through the lens of a child that despised African-Americans in his home neighborhood.  It should be further noted this fits Ilardi’s view and that of Lester et al. as identity struggles led to an ideology fit via causal interactions.  Therefore, factors in Nawaz’s radicalization was the result of mistreatment due to his immigrant status akin to Meeink being of a different race in his South Philadelphia neighborhood.  Meeink’s and Nawaz’s story of deradicalization also share similar themes.

In examining societal structures, Cole, Alison, Cole, and Alison[14] cited Munchie’s 1999 work as they discussed that poorly applied preventions may further embolden anti-social identities which was discussed by Mitchell.  The significance of this discussion is that individuals struggling with aspects of self-concept will experiment with different identities and will seek reactions when they sample these new identities such as forms of different dress and customs.  Ultimately, this search leads to a cognitive opening as identified by Carpenter, Levitt, and Jacobson[15] that an extremist recruiter can exploit.  It is further supported by Horgan[16] that individuals joining radical groups do not understand the ideology, but become entrenched in the ideology when isolated from their typical peers.  Therefore, Mitchell’s findings in British Columbia Schools concerning moments where youth were on the fringe of radicalization became teachable moments.  It’s worth noting Mitchell’s respondents felt training concerning bullying and safe school communities offered them the ability to diffuse situations though they had not had formal training on radicalization.

Author’s note:  Some news sources have discredited this personal account by Nawaz, though it is symbolic of his apparent beliefs.


Endnotes: 

[1] Putnam, R. D. [1995]. Bowling alone: America’s declining social capital. Journal of democracy6[1], 65-78.

[2] Lester, M., Maheshwari, S. K., & McLain, P. M. [2013]. Family Firms and Negative Social Capital: A Property Rights Theory Approach. Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management15[1], 11.

[3] Côté, J. E. [2005]. Identity capital, social capital and the wider benefits of learning: generating resources facilitative of social cohesion. London review of education3[3], 221-237.

[4] Ilardi, G. J. [2013]. Interviews with Canadian radicals. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism36[9], 713-738.

[5] Berbrier, M. (2000). The victim ideology of white supremacists and white separatists in the United States. Sociological Focus, 33(2), 175-191.

[6] Futrell, R., & Simi, P. (2004). Free spaces, collective identity, and the persistence of US white power activism. Social Problems, 51(1), 16-42.

[7] Wood, G. (2016). The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State. Random House.

[8] Simi, P., Windisch, S., & Sporer, K. (2016). Recruitment and Radicalization among US Far Right Terrorists Recruitment and Radicalization among US Far-Right Terrorists.

[9] Mitchell, M. R. [2016]. Radicalization in British Columbia Secondary Schools: The Principals’ Perspective. Journal for Deradicalization, [6], 132-179.

[10] Nawaz, M. [2012]. Radical: My journey from Islamist extremism to a democratic awakening. Random House.

[11] Zhou, M. [2003]. Growing Up American: The challenge confronting immigrant children and children of immigrants. Annual Review of Sociology. 23. 63-95. 10.1146/annurev.soc.23.1.63.

[12] Al Raffie, D. [2013]. Social identity theory for investigating Islamic extremism in the diaspora. Journal of Strategic Security6[4], 67.

[13] Meeink, F. and Roy, J.M. [2010]. An Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story. Hawthorne Books.

[14] Cole, J., Alison, E., Cole, B., & Alison, L. [2010]. Guidance for identifying people vulnerable to recruitment into violent extremism. Liverpool, UK: University of Liverpool, School of Psychology

[15] Carpenter, J. S., Levitt, M., & Jacobson, M. [2009]. Confronting the ideology of radical extremism. J. Nat’l Sec. L. & Pol’y3, 301.

[16] Horgan, J. [2008]. From profiles to pathways and roots to routes: Perspectives from psychology on radicalization into terrorism. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science618[1], 80-94.

Assessment Papers Linn Pitts Psychological Factors Violent Extremism

Assessing Al Suri’s Individual Terrorism Jihadist Against Lone Wolves

Cory Newton served as a Machinegunner in the United States Marine Corps from 1996-2000 and earned a B.S. in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics form Eastern Oregon University in 2012.  Cory authored Constitutional Capitalism and Common Defense in 2014 and can be found on Twitter @corynewton78 or on the web at www.corynewton.com.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessing Al Suri’s Individual Terrorism Jihadist Against Lone Wolves

Date Originally Written:  December 11, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  February 19, 2018.

Summary:  Terrorism is a tactic and often results in dead or wounded civilians.  Both individual terrorism jihadists and lone wolves use this tactic.  Despite this tactic producing similar results by whomever uses it, there is a distinct difference between individual terrorism jihadists and lone wolves.  Until governments understand and accept this difference, data related to attacks that use terrorism tactics will be skewed.

Text:  The Global Islamic Resistance Call was published by Abu Mus’ab al-Suri in January 2005[1].  The military theory of the Resistance Call is based on applying two forms of jihad.  The first form is individual terrorism jihad and secret operational activity of small units totally separated from each other.  The second form is participation in jihad at the open fronts wherever the necessary preconditions exist.  The individual terrorism jihadist differs from an open front jihadist in that the individual jihadist is unable to make it to the open front.  The individual terrorism jihadist also differs from the small cell jihadist in that their actions are truly independent.  Individual terrorism jihad was specifically designed to maximize feelings of helplessness of the targeted population by unleashing the innovation, initiative, and creativity inherent in a decentralized structure.

Individual terrorism jihad enables anyone, anywhere, at any time to wage jihad using terrorism without formally being affiliated with a terrorist organization.  All the individual terrorism jihadist must do is be properly motivated to take action in the name of jihad, identify a weakness or vulnerability, and apply force to exploit it.  Although the attacker does not have any direct ties to a terrorist organization, the attacker has rationally chosen to wage jihad using terrorism in a manner which they expect the attack to produce more benefits than costs.

There is a clear distinction between participation in what Al-Suri identified as individual terrorism jihad and lone wolf violent extremists who use terrorist tactics in the name of their cause.

Suppose a person who is inspired by, but not directly affiliated with, any one of the 917 hate groups in the United States identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)[2] carries out a lone wolf terrorist attack.  Despite the violent extremists’ non affiliation with an SPLC-identified hate group, the attack will likely be investigated as an act of terror.

On the other hand, suppose a marginalized person is seduced by an outside of the mainstream Islamist organization.  The person lacks affiliation to a terrorist organization but possess “a resolute, personal decision to perform the individual duty of jihad[1]” which motivates them to conduct an active shooting, knife attack, or vehicular ramming assault in which they verbalize their intentions with an Allahu Akbar war cry.  Despite the attacker’s non affiliation with a terrorist organization, the attack will likely be investigated as an act of terror.

One difference between the two acts of terror described above is that the former is carried out by a lone wolf using terrorism to wage war on a local scale, while the latter is performed by an individual terrorism jihadist locally waging war on a global scale.  The lone wolf who carries out a terrorist attack does not belong to a decentralized military theory of global Islamist resistance, as the individual terrorism jihadist does.  Individual terrorism jihad is similar to an independent franchise.  A lone wolf attack is independent, but usually does not occur within the context of a global resistance movement.

The individual terrorism jihadist and the lone wolf are two different threats.  As terroristic violence that specifically originates from the concept of individual terrorism jihad differs from terroristic violence that originates from the lone wolf, consideration should be given to classifying each differently in order to measure the frequency and severity of individual terrorism jihadist attacks.  If the frequency and severity of terrorist attacks by lone wolves is measured separately, terrorism data will be more accurate.  Both types of terrorist attacks will often have identical consequences.  The carnage wrought by an individual terrorism jihadist may very well be indistinguishable from the carnage wrought by a lone wolf white nationalist or lone wolf ecological extremist.  One is the result of global jihad attacking locally.  The other is a localized attack seeking national media attention.

As individual terrorism jihad and lone wolf attacks continue to increase, it is important properly identify and properly categorize each.  Theodore Kaczynski is the best example of a lone wolf who waged war using terrorism.  The threat posed by a person in that category is significantly different from an individual jihadist locally attacking a variety of soft targets using rifles, blades, explosives, or vehicles in the context of a global resistance movement.

Both individual terrorism jihad attacks and lone wolf attacks will continue to increase and evolve.  In order to combat these attacks in the future it is best if government officials understand whether the terrorist actions are part of global resistance movement or based on a personal or localized motivation.  In the case of individual terrorism jihad, these attacks will continue until the cost far exceeds the benefits.  The U.S. is very effective at determining the amount of force necessary to destroy enemy personnel and equipment.  Unfortunately, the U.S. still has a long way to go in determining the fine line between the amount of force necessary to destroy the enemies’ will to fight, and the amount of force that will galvanize the enemies’ will to resist.


Endnotes:

[1] Lia, Brynjar (2008) Columbia University Press, Architect of Global Jihad, The Global Islamic Resistance Call (Key Excerpts), Military Theory of The Global Islamic Resistance Call, Page 371

[2] Southern Poverty Law Center Hate Map. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2017, from https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map

Assessment Papers Cory Newton Information and Intelligence Violent Extremism

The Impact of Extremists in Civil War: Syria’s Shabbiha

Estelle J. Townshend-Denton is a post-graduate student at the University of Waikato in New Zealand.  She is currently working on a Phd on religion and foreign policy.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  The Impact of Extremists in Civil War: Syria’s Shabbiha

Date Originally Written:  December 9, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  February 12, 2018.

Summary:  Violent extremists frequently emerge when state authority breaks down within civil wars.  Escalatory dynamics are particularly hard to avoid when extremist groups emerge that are embedded in the existing social framework of their identity group.  In Syria the Shabbiha has grown from a trans-border criminal network to sectarian militias fighting for the regime.  The Shabbiha are a significant impediment to the resolution of the Syrian civil war.

Text:  Extremist groups in Syria such as the Shabbiha often emerge from existing social phenomenon.  For instance, prior to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, the Shabbiha were Allawite smugglers and racketeers that primarily operated out of the Allawite heartland in coastal Latakia.  Given the poverty of the Allawite community opportunities were scarce, and Allawite young men saw a way to purchase highly sought after, but banned, Western items in Lebanon, and smuggle them back across the border into Syria.  This smuggling was largely overlooked by Bashar al-Assad’s regime in return for Shabihha loyalty to the Assads[1].

In order to understand the Shabbiha, their place in Syrian society, and their role within the civil war, it is necessary to look into the history of the Allawite sect to which they belong.  The Allawites are a Shia sect whose religion incorporates aspects of Islam, Christianity, Paganism and Zoroastrianism.  The Allawites have been persecuted and marginalised throughout their history.  A Syrian analyst concluded that this persecution has become built into the Allawite identity.  As a result Allawites are highly security conscious[2].

The embattled Assad regime is primarily, but not exclusively, Allawite.  The collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War 1 provided an opportunity for the Allawites to climb out of their position at the bottom most rung of Syrian society to control the state and it’s military.  The Ottoman territory had been divided up between the French and the British.  The French received the mandate for the territory that was to become the state of Syria.  The ruling elite in Syria had been Sunni and they were resistant to French rule.  In order to subdue the Sunni resistors, the French employed a strategy of divide and rule.  Thus the French created a military that consisted of minorities, including the Allawites[3].  Soon, joining the military emerged as the key means for Allawites to climb up the social and economic ladder, and over time they came to dominate the officer class.  Eventually the military emerged as what Horowitz identifies as a “significant symbol of ethnic domination[4].”  Later, Druze and Allawite military leaders staged a coup which ultimately led to the Allawite dominated Assad regime.

Syria was relatively stable under the Assads until the “Arab Spring” of 2011, when the protests sweeping the region spread to Syria.  The regimes of Tunisia and Egypt had already toppled, and most of the world predicted that the Syrian regime would be next.  However, unlike the Tunisian officer class which contributed to the toppling of the Tunisian Government, the Syrian military leadership was heavily invested in the Assad regime.  Furthermore the Assad regime took a lesson from the Egyptian experience and dealt decisively with the protests.  As such, the Assads used the military against the protesters, working to turn the peaceful protests into an armed rebellion.  The regime then developed a narrative that denied the unrest was part of the “Arab Spring” but alternatively asserted it was spawned by external actors and led by Islamist extremists.

Soon the Assad regime faced another problem.  Whilst the Syrian army’s officer class was mostly Allawite, the rank and file was predominantly Sunni.  Sunni were more reluctant to fire on what was emerging as a largely Sunni protest movement.  The regime had Allawite crack units, but they needed to expand the loyal Allawite base of their military capacity through encouraging Allawite civilian participation in the fighting.  One of the ways the Assad regime did this was through the Shabbiha, whose networks were developed and expanded into civilian militias who fought for the Assad regime[5].  Since then, the links between the Assads and the Shabbiha have become increasingly apparent.  The European Union imposed sanctions in 2011 on two of Bashar al Assad’s cousins, Fawwar and Munzir, for their involvement in the “repression against the civilian population as members of the Shabbiha[6].”  According to a relation of the President’s cousin Rami Makhlouf, the expansion of the Shabbiha from a regime linked Allawite criminal network into an extremist paramilitary force loyal to the regime, doing the regime’s dirty work within the civil war, was planned by Makhlouf and the President’s brother Maher al Assad[1].  The presence or absence of gangs of violent fanatics such as the  Shabbiha is described by Ethnic Conflict and International Relations theorist Barry Posen as “a key determinant of the ability of groups to avoid war as central political authority erodes[7].”  Thus the Shabbiha were a significant escalatory dynamic within the Syrian civil war.

Rhetoric from the Shabbiha accessed via the internet is sectarian, brutal, and very loyal to Bashar al Assad with mottos like “Bashar, don’t to be sad: you have men who drink blood[8].”  With a corresponding brutality and sectarianism emerging amongst Sunni Islamist fanatics within the rebellion, the violence and rhetoric of extremists on both sides escalated the civil war.  This brutality and sectarianism worked to strengthen the regime’s legitimacy as protectors of Syria’s minority religious groups against repression from the Sunni majority.  The regime’s reliance on extremist sectarian militias such as the Shabbiha to support the security forces was not only responding to sectarian tension within the unrest but also heightening it[9].

Posen identified that extremists on both sides escalate retaliatory violence and drive up insecurity.  He stated that fanatics “produce disproportionate political results among the opposing group – magnifying initial fears by confirming them….the rapid emergence of organized bands of particularly violent individuals is a sure sign of trouble[7].”  The initial fears resulting from the historical persecution of Allawites under Sunni elites, coupled with fears of revenge on the sect as a whole for the violence of both the Shabbiha and the regime within the civil war, has mobilised the sect in defense of the Assad regime.  What began as a grass-roots protest movement for the removal of the autocratic regime has escalated into a sectarian driven civil war intensified by the violent acts of both the Shabbiha and the Sunni Islamist extremists, to the advantage of the Assads.


Endnotes:

[1] Amor, Salwa and Sherlock, Ruth. How Bashar al-Assad created the feared shabiha militia: an insider speaks. The Telegraph. [Online] March 23, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10716289/How-Bashar-al-Assad-created-the-feared-shabiha-militia-an-insider-speaks.html

[2] Worren, Torstein Schiotz. Fear and Resistance: The Construction of Allawite Identity in Syria. Oslo : University of Oslo, 2007.

[3] Whitman, Elizabeth. The Awakening of the Syrian Army: General Husni al-Za’am’s Coup and Rein, 1949: Origins of the Syrain Army’s Enduring Roel in Syrian Politics. Columbia University. [Online] April 4, 2011.

[4] Horowitz, D.L. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. London : University of California Press, 1985.

[5] Salih, Y. The Syrian Shabbiha and their State. Heinrich Boll Stiftung. [Online] December 21, 2012. http://www.lb.boell.org/web/52-801.html

[6] Flamand, H.M. Syria: Brutally Violent Militaia Member tell it like it is. Global Post. [Online] June 15, 2012. http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/syria/120614/syria-shabbiha-thug-assad-mafia-guns-smuggling-violence-houla

[7] The Security Dilemma and Ethnic Conflict. Posen, Barry R. 1993, Survival, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 27-47.

[8] Sherlock, H. A. The Shabiha: Inside Assad’s Death Squads. The Telegraph. [Online] June 2, 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9307411/The-Shabiha-Inside-Assads-death-squads.html

[9] Abdulhamid, A. The Shredded Tapestry. Syrian Revolution Digest. [Online] November 9, 2012. https://ammar.world/2012/09/11/the-shredded-tapestry-the-state-of-syria-today/

Assessment Papers Estelle J. Townshend-Denton Illicit Trafficking Activities Syria Violent Extremism

An Assessment of Violent Extremist Use of Social Media Technologies

Scot A. Terban is a security professional with over 13 years experience specializing in areas such as Ethical Hacking/Pen Testing, Social Engineering Information, Security Auditing, ISO27001, Threat Intelligence Analysis, Steganography Application and Detection.  He tweets at @krypt3ia and his website is https://krypt3ia.wordpress.com.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  An Assessment of Violent Extremist Use of Social Media Technologies

Date Originally Written:  November 9, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  February 5, 2018.

Summary:  The leveraging of social media technologies by violent extremists like Al-Qaeda (AQ) and Daesh have created a road map for others to do the same.  Without a combined effort by social media companies and intelligence and law enforcement organizations, violent extremists and others will continue to operate nearly unchecked on social media platforms and inspire others to acts of violence.

Text:  Following the 9/11 attacks the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and AQ, the violent extremist organization who launched these attacks, lost ground.  With the loss of ground came an increase in online activity.  In the time before the worldwide embrace of social media, jihadi’s like Irhabi007 (Younis Tsouli) led AQ hacking operations by breaking into vulnerable web pages and defacing them with AQ propaganda as well as establishing dead drop sites for materials others could use.  This method was pioneered by Irhabi007, who was later hunted down by other hackers and finally arrested in 2005[1].  Five years after Tsouli’s arrest, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) established Inspire Magazine as a way to communicate with its existing followers and “inspire” new ones[2].  Unfortunately for AQAP, creating and distributing an online magazine became a challenge.

Today, social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, VKontakte, and YouTube are now the primary modus for jihadi extremists to spread the call to jihad as well as sow fear into those they target.  Social media is perfect for connecting people because of the popularity of the platforms and the ease of use, creation of accounts, and ability to send messages that could have a large audience.  In the case of Daesh, they use Twitter and YouTube as their primary means of messaging not only for fear but also command and control as well as recruitment.  Daesh sees the benefits of using social media, and their use has paved the way for others.  Even after Twitter and YouTube began to catch on and act against the Daesh accounts, it is still easy still for Daesh to create new accounts and keep the messages flowing with a new user name followed by a digit.

AQ’s loss of terrain combined with the expansion of social media set the conditions for movement toward inciting the “far war” over the local struggle as AQ saw it before Osama bin Laden was killed.  In fact, the call to the West had been made in Inspire magazine on many occasions.  Inspire even created a section of their magazine on “Open Source Jihad” which was later adopted by Dabiq[3] (Daesh’s magazine), but the problem was actually motivating the Western faithful into action.  This paradigm was finally worked out in social media where recruiters and mouthpieces could, in real-time, talk to these potential recruits and work with them to act.

Online messaging by violent extremist organizations has now reached a point of asymmetry where very little energy or money invested on the jihadi’s part can produce large returns on investments like the incident in Garland Texas[4].  To AQ, Daesh, and others, it is now clear that social media could be the bedrock of the fight against the West and anywhere else if others can be incited to act.  This incited activity takes the form of what has been called as “Lone Wolf Jihad” which has caused several incidents like the Garland shootings to current day events like the attack in New York City on the bike path by Sayfullo Saipov, a green card holder in the U.S. from Uzbekistan[5].

With the activating of certain individuals to the cause using the propaganda and manuals put out by the jihadi’s on social media, it is clear that the medium works and that even with all the attempts by companies like Facebook and Twitter to root accounts out and delete them, the messaging still gets to those who may act upon it.  The memetic virus of violent extremism has a carrier and that is social media.  Now, with the advent of social media’s leveraging by Russia in the campaign against the U.S. electoral system, we are seeing a paradigm shift into larger and more dangerous memetic and asymmetric warfare.

Additionally, with the advent of encryption technologies to the social media platforms the net effect has been to create channels of radicalization, recruitment, and activation over live chats and messages that cannot be indicted by authorities easily.  This use for encryption and live chats and messages makes the notion of social media as a means of asymmetric warfare even more prescient.  The jihadis now have not only a means to reach out to would be followers, but also a constant contact at a distance, where before they would have to radicalize potential recruits a physical location.

Expanding this out further, the methodologies that the jihadi’s have created and used online are now studied by other like-minded groups and can be emulated.  This means that whatever the bent, a group of like-minded individuals seeking extremist ends can simply sign up and replicate the jihadi model to the same ends of activating individuals to action.  We have already started to see this with the Russian hybrid warfare at a nominal level by activating people in the U.S. such as neo nazi’s and empowering them to act.

Social media is a boon and a bane depending on it’s use and it’s moderation by the companies that create the platforms and manage them.  However, with the First Amendment protecting freedom of speech in the U.S., it is hard for companies to delineate what is free speech and what is exhortation to violence.  This is the crux of the issue for companies and governments in the fight against violent extremism on platforms such as YouTube or Twitter.  Social media utilization boils down to terms of service and policing, and until now the companies have not been willing to monitor and take action.  Post Russian meddling in the U.S. election though, social media company attitudes seems to be changing.

Ultimately, the use of social media for extremist ideas and action will always be a problem.  This is not going away, and policing is key.  The challenge lies in working out the details and legal interpretations concerning the balance of what constitutes freedom of speech and what constitutes illegal activity.  The real task will be to see if algorithms and technical means will be helpful in sorting between the two.  The battle however, will never end.  It is my assessment that the remediation will have to be a melding of human intelligence activities and technical means together to monitor and interdict those users and feeds that are seeking to incite violence within the medium.


Endnotes:

[1] Katz, R., & Kern, M. (2006, March 26). Terrorist 007, Exposed. Retrieved November 17, 2017, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/25/AR2006032500020.html

[2] Zelin, A. Y. (2017, August 14). Inspire Magazine. Retrieved November 17, 2017, from http://jihadology.net/category/inspire-magazine/

[3] Zelin, A. Y. (2016, July 31). Dabiq Magazine. Retrieved November 17, 2017, from http://jihadology.net/category/dabiq-magazine/

[4] Chandler, A. (2015, May 04). A Terror Attack in Texas. Retrieved November 17, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2015/05/a-terror-attack-in-texas/392288/

[5] Kilgannon, C., & Goldstein, J. (2017, October 31). Sayfullo Saipov, the Suspect in the New York Terror Attack, and His Past. Retrieved November 17, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/31/nyregion/sayfullo-saipov-manhattan-truck-attack.html

 

Al-Qaeda Assessment Papers Cyberspace Islamic State Variants Scot A. Terban Violent Extremism

An Historic Assessment of the Role and Participation of Women as Active Agents in Violent Extremist Organizations

Brandee Leon is a freelance analyst of counter-terrorism and international relations, focusing on terror in Europe.  She frequently covers women in terrorism.  She has been published in Business Insider, The Strategy Bridge, and The Eastern Project. She can be found on Twitter at @misscherryjones.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  An Historic Assessment of the Role and Participation of Women as Active Agents in Violent Extremist Organizations

Date Originally Written:  December 4, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  January 22, 2018.

Summary:  Despite their continual portrayal as being exploited by violent extremist organizations, women have actually been active agents for decades. From purveyors of propaganda and operational support, to participating in combat and suicide missions, women have been involved in the anarchist campaigns of the turn of the century, the anti-colonial fights in the mid-century, and the current wave of religious-based terrorism.

Text:  “Women as victim” is a common narrative, told for ages. Its current form is manifested in stories of “jihad brides,” those women and girls supposedly lured to Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State. That narrative fails to capture the reality of the role of women in the Islamic State, or any other terrorist or violent extremist group. The real story is that women have been playing an active role in these groups for over a century.

In the late 1800s, an anarchist group founded in Russia, Narodnaya Volya, planned assassinations of state officials and other political persons. One of the group’s leaders was a woman named Vera Figner. Figner helped organize the underground, as well as help plan attacks. Several other women were involved in the group’s activities. A member named Anna Yakimova helped construct bombs, and Figner’s own home was used as a workshop[1]. Several other women played active roles in Narodnaya Volya’s plots. Narodnaya Volya’s influence lived on, most notably in the Paris terror campaign in the 1880s[2]. That campaign included the participation of many women.

Throughout the Twentieth Century, women would play prominent roles in violent extremist groups all over the world. During the Algerian War, women featured prominently, planting bombs for the National Liberation Front (FLN) during the Battle of Algiers. Djamila Bouhired[3] planted a bomb in a café which killed 11 people in 1957. Hassiba Ben Bouali was killed alongside other FLN militants during a French bombing raid. Perhaps the most well-known female militant in Algeria was Zohra Drif. Drif was very active in the anti-colonial independence movement, gathering support, running the underground, and planting bombs.

Germany’s Red Army Faction (RAF), also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group, was co-founded in 1970 by a woman named Ulrike Meinhof. During the group’s first two years, Meinhof participated in numerous robberies and bombings. Although Meinhof was captured in 1972, she was not the only woman active in RAF’s twenty-plus yearlong campaign. Verena Becker was imprisoned in 1977 for criminal involvement, but later released. She was also convicted in 2012 for a murder committed during her time with RAF.

Women’s roles in violent extremist groups took a new direction when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) began using women as suicide bombers in their bid for independence. In Sri Lanka, women were second-class citizens, but LTTE women were viewed as equals, having roles in military leadership, and even having their own divisions. Women were trained and participated in all areas of combat, and like their male counterparts, were given the title of martyr[4].

In the late 1990s, Germany saw another terror campaign in which a woman played a role. Between 1998 and 2011, the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a neo-Nazi group, was responsible for ten murders, three bombings, and 15 bank robberies. Though the German prosecutors say the group only comprised of three members – Uwe Mundlos, Uwe Böhnhardt, and a woman, Beate Zschäpe – others say they have ties to neo-Nazi groups all over Germany. Zschäpe, the only surviving member of NSU, has admitted to arson, but is accused of aiding in the robberies and murders. Before turning herself in, she set fire to an apartment in order to destroy evidence[5].

The insurgency in Chechnya during the First and Second wars produced some of the most well-known women as active agents. Women from the North Caucasus were responsible for over 30 suicide bombings in Russia between 2000 and 2010. Women were also participants in the Dubrovka Theater and Beslan School sieges[6]. Their actions have not been limited to Chechnya; a Dagestani woman is thought to have blown herself up in Istanbul in 2015.

Since al-Qaeda’s inception, women have played an active role. Many women in al-Qaeda have conducted surveillance, run propaganda accounts in order to recruit, and some have even conducted operations themselves. On November 6, 2005, a Belgian woman named Murielle Degauque strapped on a suicide belt and detonated herself near a U.S. Army patrol in Baquba, Iraq. Sajida al Rishawi attempted to detonate a suicide belt in Amman, Jordan. Sajida was the first woman of al-Qaeda arrested. And in December 2015, Tashfeen Malik, along with her husband, committed an act of terror in San Bernardino, California. Malik was inspired by both al-Qaeda and Islamic State[7].

As the Islamic State faces military defeat in Iraq and Syria, the roles the women are playing as supporters are evolving. Previously, women had participated in online propaganda campaigns, and in policing other women as part of the Al-Khansaa and Umm Al-Rayan brigades[8]. But in September 2016, a group of French women guided by the Islamic State were intercepted before they could carry out a bombing plot in Paris[9]. There have even been reports of Islamic State women as suicide bombers, but as of this writing, nothing has been confirmed.

Throughout the decades, women have played an active role in violent extremist organizations. Their roles have varied from organization to organization, and the ideology spans the spectrum. One thing is certain, women as violent extremists does not seem to be a phenomenon that will disappear any time soon.


Endnotes:

[1] John Simkin, “Vera Figner,” http://spartacus-educational.com/RUSfigner.htm, (accessed November 2017)

[2] John Merriman, The Dynamite Club (Boston New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009)

[3] Ali Adeeb Alnaemi (translator), “Djamila Bouhired: A Profile From the Archives,” http://www.jadaliyya.com/Details/27072/Djamila-Bouhired-A-Profile-From-the-Archives

[4] Mia Bloom, Bombshell (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011)

[5] Antonia von der Behrens, “The NSU Case in Germany,” https://www.nsu-watch.info/2017/03/the-nsu-case-in-germany/, (accessed November 2017)

[6] Brandee Leon, “The Curious Case of Russia: History and Russia’s Female Suicide Bombers,” https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2014/4/16/the-curious-phenomenon-of-russia-history-russias-female-suicide-bombers, (accessed November 2017)

[7] Brandee Leon, “The Roles Women Play: al Qaeda and Islamic State,” https://misscherryjones.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/the-roles-women-play-al-qaeda-and-islamic-state/, (accessed November 2017)

[8] Brandee Leon, “Women and the Islamic State,” https://wordpress.com/posts/misscherryjones.wordpress.com, (accessed December 2017)

[9] Souad Mekhennet and Joby Warrick, “The jihadist plan to use women to launch the next incarnation of ISIS,” https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/the-jihadist-plan-to-use-women-to-launch-the-next-incarnation-of-isis/2017/11/26/e81435b4-ca29-11e7-8321-481fd63f174d_story.html, (accessed November 2017)

Assessment Papers Brandee Leon Violent Extremism Women

Assessment of the Factors Leading to the Recruitment of Violent Extremists

Jason Baker is an Officer in the United States Air Force, with a recent deployment supporting the fight against the Islamic State.  Jason is also an M.A. candidate at American University’sSchool of International Service.  He can be found on Twitter @JasonBakerJB.  All opinions in this article are those of the author and do not represent the official positions of the United States Department of Defense or United States Air Force.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of the Factors Leading to the Recruitment of Violent Extremists

Date Originally Written:  December 3, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  January 15, 2018.

Summary:  Governments traditionally focus counterterrorism efforts on intelligence, kinetic capabilities, and enhanced domestic security policies.  Neglected still, and likely why terror attacks persist, is governments understanding the forces that motivate people to join violent extremist organizations in the first place.  Unfortunately, a marriage between counterterrorism efforts and the study of socioeconomic equality, may still be far off.

Text:  Terror attacks around the world continue to occur with a regularity that has made them a seemingly normal part of life.  As such, the response to, and prevention of, such attacks is a topic regularly covered by journalists, news anchors, and security experts.  These analyses usually focus on the need for intelligence to identify terrorists, the use of kinetic capabilities to target terrorists, and enhanced domestic security policies to prevent and protect against attacks.  While the majority of the U.S. counterterrorism strategy focuses on these three areas, terror attacks persist.  An area of study that continues to be neglected is that which seeks a better understanding of where recruits for violent extremist organizations come from and why they join, so that policy to prevent people from being radicalized in the first place can be made.  The biggest drivers of extremist propaganda and recruitment are not a religious message, but income inequality, social resentment, and unstable governments or refugee situations.

Income inequality is a growing problem throughout the world.  So much so that in 2015 the World Economic Forum ranked rising income inequality as the world’s top priority[1].  The economically disenfranchised develop strong feelings that can often turn into anger and resentment about their situation, which can drive a need for revenge when they feel they have no power to change the status quo.  Such an income equality situation creates favorable conditions for violent extremist organizations to win new recruits and operate[2].

Similar to feeling economically disenfranchised, many extremist recruits come from the ranks of the socially ostracized.  To be certain, this is not to say those who just “don’t fit in” (although that can contribute) to society, but those that are marginalized by their government or large parts of their society.  This socially ostracized population could be migrants in a new land who are not afforded the chance to assimilate into society (as seen in Europe) or religious or ethnic minorities in states with hard-line governments (Sunni majorities being governed by Shia hardliners and vice versa).  Sometimes ostracism even metastasizes into something as awful as the situation in Myanmar where many Rohingya feel as though they are left with almost no option other than to attack the government.

The greatest of all these factors that leads to terror recruitment are failed states and refugee situations.  In violent, lawless places like Syria the group that can offer a better way of life whatsoever is often the one that is joined.  Violent extremist organizations such as the Islamic State offer services and security in exchange for committing to their cause.  A similar situation is seen in Yemen.  These failed states create refugee and internally displaced persons (IDP) situations that can become breeding grounds for violent extremist recruiting.  Violent extremist organizations have their choice of recruiting tactics when dealing with refugee camps and IDPs.  Some violent extremist organizations offer food and cash in exchange for joining, and some offer a message of hope and promise of revenge to those angry about their situation.  The situation then feeds itself.  While anything from failed states to climate change can cause refugee and IDP situations, violent extremism is clearly becoming a more important factor in driving people from their homes.  In Iraq, the pre-2003 Christian population of 1.5 million is estimated to have dwindled to 400,000, while over half a million of Syria’s 1.8 million Christians have been displaced[3].  Elsewhere, there are in excess of 2.5 million displaced in Yemen[4] and over 600,000 in Myanmar[5].   The humanitarian reasons for solving the displaced persons crisis the world faces are evident, but it is also a dire security issue.

All of these are problems the world needs to address individually, for their own specific reasons, but also because they create fertile grounds for violent extremist organization recruitment.  There is not often a lot of cross over between those who care deeply about countering violent extremism, and those who care about socioeconomic equality.  Connecting the two together however, can bring more urgency to the issue of fighting violent extremist organization recruiting with more problem solvers at the table.  Policy and decision makers who focus on the drivers of violent extremism organization recruitment may be able to go further than intelligence, kinetic capabilities, and policies that enhance domestic security have thus far.


Endnotes:

[1] The Outlook on the Global Agenda 2015. World Economic Forum. Retrieved December 03, 2017, from http://reports.webforum.org/outlook-global-agenda-2015/

[2] Seaver, B. M., Hyman, G. F., Toft, M. D., & McCarthy, D. (2015, September 1). The National Interest. This Is Why Global Income Inequality Is a Real National-Security Threat. Retrieved December 03, 2017, from http://nationalinterest.org/feature/why-global-income-inequality-real-national-security-threat-13747

[3] Koser, K. (2016, July 29). IDPs, Refugees, and Violent Extremism: From Victims to Vectors of Change. The Brookings Institute. Retrieved December 03, 2017, from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2015/02/20/idps-refugees-and-violent-extremism-from-victims-to-vectors-of-change/

[4] Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) – Norwegian Refugee Council. (2015, December 31—updated May 2016). Yemen IDP Figures Analysis. Retrieved December 03, 2017, from http://www.internal-displacement.org/middle-east-and-north-africa/yemen/figures-analysis

[5] Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) – Norwegian Refugee Council. (2017, September 28). How many internally displaced Rohingya are trapped inside Myanmar? Retrieved December 03, 2017, from http://www.internal-displacement.org/library/expert-opinion/2017/how-many-internally-displaced-rohingya-are-trapped-inside-myanmar

Assessment Papers Economic Factors Jason Baker Violent Extremism

An Australian Perspective on Identity, Social Media, and Ideology as Drivers for Violent Extremism

Kate McNair has a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology from Macquarie University and is currently pursuing her a Master’s Degree in Security Studies and Terrorism at Charles Sturt University.  You can follow her on Twitter @kate_amc .  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of any official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


Title:  An Australian Perspective on Identity, Social Media, and Ideology as Drivers for Violent Extremism

Date Originally Written:  December 2, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  January 8, 2018.

Summary:  Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) is a leading initiative by many western sovereigns to reduce home-grown terrorism and extremism.  Social media, ideology, and identity are just some of the issues that fuel violent extremism for various individuals and groups and are thus areas that CVE must be prepared to address.

Text:  On March 7, 2015, two brothers aged 16 and 17 were arrested after they were suspected of leaving Australia through Sydney Airport to fight for the Islamic State[1].  The young boys fouled their parents and forged school letters.  Then they presented themselves to Australian Immigration and Border Protection shortly after purchasing tickets to an unknown middle eastern country with a small amount of funds and claimed to be on their way to visit family for three months.  Later, they were arrested for admitting to intending to become foreign fighters for the Islamic State.  October 2, 2015, Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar, 15 years old, approached Parramatta police station in Sydney’s West, and shot civilian police accountant Curtis Cheng in the back[2].  Later it was discovered that Jabar was inspired and influenced by two older men aged 18 and 22, who manipulated him into becoming a lone wolf attacker, and supplied him the gun he used to kill the civilian worker.

In November 2016 Parliament passed the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2016 and stated that “Keeping Australians safe is the first priority of the Turnbull Government, which committed to ensuring Australian law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the tools they need to fight terrorism[3].”  More recently, the Terrorism (Police Powers) Act of 2002 was extensively amended to become the Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Police Powers and Parole) Act of 2017 which allows police to have more powers during investigations and puts stronger restrictions and requirements on parolees when integrating back into society.  Although these governing documents aim at honing in on law enforcement and the investigation side of terrorism efforts, in 2014 the Tony Abbot Government implemented a nation-wide initiative called Living Safe Together[4].  Living Safe Together opposed a law enforcement-centric approach and instead focused on community-based initiatives to address the growing appeal of violent extremist ideologies in young people.

Levi West, a well-known academic in the field of terrorism in Australia highlighted that, in the cases of the aforementioned individuals, they have lived there entire lives in a world where the war of terror has existed.  These young men were part of a Muslim minority and have grown up witnessing a war that has been painted by some as the West vs Islam.  These young men were influenced by many voices between school, work, social events, and at home[5].  This leads to the question on whether these young individuals are driven to violent extremism by the ideology or are they trying to find their identity and their purpose in this world.

For young adults in Australia, social media is a strong driver for violent extremism.  Young adults are vulnerable and uncertain about various things in their life.  When people feel uncertain about who they are, the accuracy of their perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes, they seek out people who are similar to them in order to make comparisons that largely confirm the veracity and appropriateness of their own attitudes.  Social media is being weaponised by violent extremist organizations such as the Islamic State.  Social media, and other communicative Peer-to-Peer sharing platforms, are ideal to facilitate virtual learning and virtual interactions between young adults and violent extremists.  While young adults who interact within these online forums may be less likely to engage in a lone wolf attack, these forums can reinforce prior beliefs and slowly manipulate people over time.

Is it violent extremist ideology that is inspiring young individuals to become violent extremists and participate in terrorism and political violence?  Decentralized command and control within violent extremist organizations, also referred to as leaderless resistance, is a technique to inspire young individuals to take it upon themselves, with no leadership, to commit attacks against western governments and communities[6].  In the case of the Islamic State and its use of this strategy, its ideology is already known to be extreme and violent, therefore its interpretation and influence of leaderless resistance is nothing less.  Decentralization has been implemented internationally as the Islamic State continues to provide information, through sites such as Insider, on how to acquire the materiel needed to conduct attacks.  Not only does the Islamic State provide training and skill information, they encourage others to spread the their ideology through the conduct of lone wolf attacks and glorify these acts as a divine right.  Together with the vulnerability of young individuals, the strategy of decentralized command and control with the extreme ideology, has been successful thus far.  Based upon this success, CVE’s effectiveness is likely tied to it being equally focused on combating identity as a driver for violent extremism, in addition to an extreme ideology, and the strategies and initiative that can prevent individuals to becoming violent extremists.

The leading strategies in CVE have been social media, social cohesion, and identity focused.  Policy leaders and academics have identified that young individuals are struggling with the social constraints of labels and identity, therefore need to take a community-based approach when countering violent extremism.  The 2015 CVE Regional Summit reveled various recommendations and findings that relate to the use of social media and the effects it has on young, vulnerable individuals and the realities that Australia must face as a country, and as a society.  With the growing threat of homegrown violent extremism and the returning of foreign fighters from fighting with the Islamic State, without programs that address individual identity and social cohesion, violent extremism will continue to be a problem.  The Australian Federal Police (AFP) have designated Community Liaison Team members whose role is to develop partnerships with community leaders to tackle the threat of violent extremism and enhance community relations, with the AFP also adopting strategies to improve dialogue with Muslim communities. The AFP’s efforts, combined with the participation of young local leaders, is paramount to the success of these strategies and initiatives to counter the violent extremism narrative.


Endnotes:

[1] Nick Ralston, ‘Parramatta shooting: Curtis Cheng was on his way home when shot dead’ October 3rd 2015 http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/parramatta-shooting-curtis-cheng-was-on-his-way-home-when-shot-dead-20151003-gk0ibk.html Accessed December 1, 2017.

[2] Lanai Scarr, ‘Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said two teenage brothers arrested while trying to leave Australia to fight with ISIS were ‘saved’’ March 8th 2015 http://www.news.com.au/national/immigration-minister-peter-dutton-said-two-teenage-brothers-arrested-while-trying-to-leave-australia-to-fight-with-isis-were-saved/news-story/90b542528076cbdd02ed34aa8a78d33a Accessed December 1, 2017.

[3] Australian Government media release, Parliament passes Counter Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill No 1 2016. https://www.attorneygeneral.gov.au/Mediareleases/Pages/2016/FourthQuarter/Parliament-passes-Counter-Terrorism-Legislation-Amendment-Bill-No1-2016.aspx Accessed December 1, 2017.

[4] Australian Government, Living Safer Together Building community resilience to violent extremism. https://www.livingsafetogether.gov.au/pages/home.aspx Accessed December 1, 2017.

[5] John W. Little, Episode 77 Australian Approaches to Counterterrorism Podcast, Covert Contact. October 2, 2017.

[6] West, L. 2016. ‘#jihad: Understanding social media as a weapon’, Security Challenges 12 (2): pp. 9-26.

Assessment Papers Australia Cyberspace Islamic State Variants Kate McNair Social Media Violent Extremism

Playing “Good Jihadi-Bad Jihadi”

Ian Wilkie is an American lawyer and terrorism expert living outside of New York City.  Wilkie has lived in Europe, Asia, and Africa and speaks multiple foreign languages.  He is a veteran of the U.S. Army (Infantry), completed French Foreign Legion commando training, and graduated from Vassar College and Tulane Law School.  Wilkie lived in South Asia post-9/11 where he conducted research and has been a consultant and advisor to two U.S. government agencies.  He has also worked for two of the three largest law firms in the world and has served as general counsel to hedge funds.  Wilkie possesses a deep knowledge of terrorist strategy and is currently working on a book called “Checkmate: Jihad’s Endgame.”  Follow Wilkie on Twitter @Wilkmaster.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of any official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


Title:  Playing “Good Jihadi-Bad Jihadi”

Date Originally Written:  December 5, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  January 1, 2018.

Summary:  U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter[1] and Ronald Reagan[2] aligned the U.S. with jihadists in Afghanistan against Russia and later gave weapons to Salafi-jihadis allied with Osama Bin Laden[3].  Less than 20 years later, Al Qaeda brought down the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon.  Presently the U.S. is bogged down in Syria and continues to make the foreign policy mistake of playing “Good Jihadi-Bad Jihadi.”

Text:  The United States has been fitfully fighting Muslim-majority countries since shortly after the founding of the nation.  President Thomas Jefferson saw enough of a piracy and kidnap threat to mobilize the Navy and newly formed Marine Corps and deploy them to Africa[4].  Centuries later, the use of violence against civilians is a hallmark of Islamist extremists.  Informed by Islamist interpretations of ample examples in scripture (Qu’ran[5] and Hadith[6]), religious “holy warriors” find it easy to commit atrocities and justify them on perceived religious grounds.  Some clerics support this violence, and some have even gone so far as to condone the use of nuclear[7] and biological[8] weapons against “infidels” based their interpretation of sacred texts.  The violence of these Islamist actors, whether on 9/11 or in Europe, Africa, or the various countries of the Middle East today, is not in doubt.  The history of violence associated with the Islamist jihad (“struggle”) to convert the world to Islam is rife with examples of massacres and forced conversions[9].  Put bluntly, the blood lust of these violent Islamists is not even an open question, yet the U.S. still works with some of the extremists, while trying to kill others.

Afghanistan in the decade from 1979-1989 saw the U.S. advance a strategy of opposing Russia without fighting Russia directly.  The U.S., primarily the Congress and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), believed that Russia could be bloodied and beaten if the “right” people were given the right weapons, clandestinely.  To this end, close ties were forged between the CIA and jihadists and Salafi-jihadis who believed in pedophilia, polygamy, and the liberal application of violence against civilians, including religious minorities.  America knew what Osama bin Laden and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar stood for, yet we still worked with them according to “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” theory of geopolitics[10].  On September 11, 2001, America and the world learned the true dangers of allying with Islamist religious zealots: they may kill U.S. enemies, but they will never be U.S. allies.  Islamist religious zealots answer to their God and no one else, regardless of which faith they profess.

The cold, realpolitik calculus that the CIA made in Afghanistan to work with jihadists and Salafi-Jihadis may have hastened the break-up of the Soviet Union, but it also hastened the end of America’s moral leadership in the eyes of the world.  When these “good” jihadis the U.S. once armed and trained utilized tactics from World War 2[11] against American buildings, the American response was telling: the Saudi allies and sponsors of violent jihad were permitted to leave the U.S., no questions asked[12].  The softball investigation of official Saudi ties to Al Qaeda and 9/11 reflected yet another Machiavellian choice by Washington; the oil money and strategic advantage of remaining allied to the bandit Kingdom[13] outweighed any practical considerations of justice for the victims.  The Saudi departures and lackluster investigation were a clear case of vested interests and money overwhelming U.S. morality and yet, almost two decades later, the survivors and the almost 3,000 dead still demand justice.

America’s reaction to 9/11 consisted of removing the Afghan Taliban from power, but not eliminating their base of support in Pakistan, their illicit drug networks, or their financial backing across the Sunni Muslim world.  The American response largely ignored the fundamentalist horrors of the Afghan Taliban’s behavior towards women, children, and minorities and focused only on which “externally focused” terrorists they were giving refuge to.  Rather like its 180° shift on Osama Bin Laden, the U.S. went from bombing the Afghan Taliban to inviting them to peace talks, in effect treating them like normal people and not the barbarians that they are.  In 2017, the U.S. is still open to sitting across the table from “men” who rape little boys[14] as a matter of honor and shoot schoolgirls in the face[15] as a point of pride, which is moral capitulation of the very worst kind.

Shifting to Syria, we encounter the most egregious examples of playing “Good Jihadi-Bad Jihadi” that the U.S. has ever engaged in.  The fact that the CIA was willing to advance the fiction that foreign fighters from Sunni theocracies were anything but jihadis shows you how gullible and uninformed they believe Americans are[16].  From an ethical point of view, there is no such thing as a “moderate” Sunni foreign insurgent in Syria and there never will be.  Syria is another example of the U.S. trying to advance a larger goal (oppose Shia Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) by making a moral compromise and allying with malign forces.  In Syria, the U.S. has sent entire warehouses full of weapons to some of the most suspect killers on the planet[17].  For example, U.S. antitank missiles have been used by “friendly, moderate rebels” to attack medevac missions and even journalists[18].  Jihadis that the U.S. knows, and possibly trained[19], have used chemical weapons dozens of times in that conflict[20].  That the insurrection in Syria failed is largely due to the fact that Islamist jihadis don’t fight in lanes; they fight everyone and especially each other.  The U.S. continues to arm “bad” jihadis, as there is no such thing as a “good” jihadi, and the results speak for themselves.


Endnotes:

[1] Brzezinski, Zbigniew (Interview). “How Jimmy Carter and I Started the Mujahideen” https://www.counterpunch.org/1998/01/15/how-jimmy-carter-and-i-started-the-mujahideen/ (Accessed 22 Nov 2107).

[2] Kaplan, Fred. “Reagan’s Osama Connection” http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/war_stories/2004/06/reagans_osama_connection.html (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[3] Harnden, Toby. “Taliban still have Reagan’s Stingers” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/1357632/Taliban-still-have-Reagans-Stingers.html (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[4] Hitchens, Christopher. “Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates” https://www.city-journal.org/html/jefferson-versus-muslim-pirates-13013.html (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[5] Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. “Islam Is a Religion of Violence” http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/11/09/islam-is-a-religion-of-violence-ayaan-hirsi-ali-debate-islamic-state/ (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[6] Anonymous. “1.B Violence in Hadith Books” https://islamreligionofwar.wordpress.com/1b-violence-in-hadith-books/ (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[7] Tobey, William & Zolotarev, Pavel. “The Nuclear Terrorism Threat” https://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/files/nuclearterrorismthreatthailand2014.pdf (p.10, Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[8] Gunaratna, Rohan & Pita, René. “Revisiting Al-Qa`ida’s Anthrax Program” https://ctc.usma.edu/posts/revisiting-al-qaida’s-anthrax-program (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[9] Konrad, Mike. “The Greatest Murder Machine in History” http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2014/05/the_greatest_murder_machine_in_history.html (Accessed 5 December 2017).

[10] Coll, Steve (2004). Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. Penguin, pp. 125-128.

[11] Editor, Military History Now. “One Way Ticket – Japan’s Kamikazes Weren’t the Only Suicide Pilots of WW2” http://militaryhistorynow.com/2014/03/17/one-way-ticket-japans-kamikazes-werent-the-only-suicide-pilots-of-ww2/ (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[12] Sperry, Paul. “Inside the Saudi 9/11 coverup” https://nypost.com/2013/12/15/inside-the-saudi-911-coverup/ (Accessed 24 Nov 2017).

[13] Zakaria, Fareed. “Saudi Arabia: The devil we know” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/saudi-arabia-the-devil-we-know/2016/04/21/2109ecf6-07fd-11e6-b283-e79d81c63c1b_story.html (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[14] Agence France-Presse. “Male rape and paedophilia: How Taliban uses ‘honey trap’ boys to kill Afghan police” http://www.firstpost.com/world/male-rape-and-paedophilia-how-taliban-uses-honey-trap-boys-to-kill-afghan-police-2837546.html (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[15] Johnston, Ian. “Malala Yousafzai: Being shot by Taliban made me stronger” https://www.nbcnews.com/news/other/malala-yousafzai-being-shot-taliban-made-me-stronger-f6C10612024 (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[16] Mazzetti, Mark, Goldman, Adam & Schmidt, Michael S. “Behind the Sudden Death of a $1 Billion Secret C.I.A. War in Syria” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/world/middleeast/cia-syria-rebel-arm-train-trump.html (Accessed 4 Dec 2017).

[17] Sanger, David E. “Rebel Arms Flow Is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/15/world/middleeast/jihadists-receiving-most-arms-sent-to-syrian-rebels.html (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[18] Russia Today. “US anti-tank TOW missile used in attack on RT journalists in Syria” https://www.rt.com/news/323810-us-missile-journalists-attack-syria/ (Accessed 5 Dec 2017).

[19] Adl-Tabatabai, Sean. “State Dept: US-Backed Forces Executed Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria” http://yournewswire.com/state-dept-us-forces-chemical-weapons-syria/ (Accessed 22 Nov 2017).

[20] “State Dep. Admits Opposition in Syria Has Chemical Weapons”
https://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/State-Dep.-Admits-Opposition-in-Syria-Has-Chemical-Weapons-20171020-0006.html (Accessed 24 Nov 2017).

Allies & Partners Assessment Papers Ian Wilkie Islamic State Variants Taliban (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) United States Violent Extremism

Assessment of the Trump Administration’s Communications with the “Muslim World”

Jason Criss Howk conducted defense, intelligence, diplomatic, and education missions for the U.S. Government focusing on Afghanistan and Muslim cultures for 23 years.  He now teaches, writes, and speaks nationally to decrease anti-religious bigotry.  He shares a variety of information on Twitter @jason_c_howk and at dispatchesFromPinehurst.com. His award-winning book is The Qur’an: A Chronological Modern English Interpretation.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of the Trump Administration’s Communications with the “Muslim World”

Date Originally Written:  December 10, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  December 18, 2017.

Summary:  Fear of Muslims is irrational. Prohibiting a discussion of Islam’s relationship to modern terrorist groups is too. The continuing success of terror recruiting reveals their ideology is a center of gravity, but you cannot shoot an ideology. You have to expose its flaws and turn people against it. One must use the correct terminology when you speak or it empowers terrorists. This is where the Trump Administration has taken 3-steps forward but 1-step back.

Text:  Fear of Muslims is irrational.  Prohibiting a discussion of Islam’s relationship to modern terrorism is too.  President George W. Bush took America into a War on Terrorism[1], President Barack Obama shifted to countering violent extremism[2].  Both stated correctly that America was not at war with Islam.  While acknowledging the importance of countering a terrorist’s ideology[3], neither slowed the spread of violent radical Islamist or khawarij ideologies used to recruit.  Not talking about Islam and its relationship to terrorism has likely contributed to increasing bigotry against Muslims and damaged America’s ability to decrease recruiting.

The number of nations plagued by terrorists has increased, despite America’s excellence at hunting terrorists.  The continuing success of recruiting hints that their ideology is the likely center of gravity.  You cannot shoot or “drone”[4] an ideology.  You have to understand it, expose its flaws, argue about it, and turn people against it thus ensuring the world understands that violent radical Islamism (separate from the religion of Islam) is a failed political ideology causing death and destruction is critical.

Incorrect terminology further empowers mankind’s enemy.  Here the Trump Administration has improved since the campaign yet occasionally stumbles.   President Trump should listen to his advisors that have operated in the “Muslim World,” listen to solid Muslim allies, and only use precise language that helps Muslims to separate violent radicals from society.  President Trump loses ground when he echoes false experts or bigots that push him to use “alpha-male” language that sounds tough, but makes it more difficult for Muslims to stanch the bloodshed.

Not all terrorists are Muslim and not all Muslims are terrorists; only ignorant people believe otherwise.  So, put the straw-man argument aside that says explaining the role of Islam in modern terrorist propaganda will cause anti-Muslim hatred.  The majority of the deadliest terrorists think they are the most pious Muslims in the world.  Their first murder victims were likely Muslims that they deemed “not Muslim enough for them;” (an old khawarij concept).  Most terrorism victims since 2001 were Muslim. It’s illogical not talk about Islam in relation to modern terrorism.

I have spent almost three years leading talks about the religion of Islam, the political ideology of Islamism, and the khawarij or “violent radical Islamist” ideology used by terrorists.  A few things were made clear to me–often angrily.  First, the American people never felt Bush or Obama understood the enemy.  Second, they felt that neither was able to explain a logical strategy for victory.  Finally, audiences felt the Presidents failed them by not talking about how Islam, Islamism, and terrorist ideologies are connected and disconnected.  Americans felt the Presidents believed their citizens were too stupid to have a discussion about Islam.

Instead of civilly talking about Islam and how terrorists can use some parts of the Qur’an to attract fighters to their cause, previous presidents presented straw-man arguments about why they should or would not discuss Islam.  At my discussions, it takes 45 minutes for people who have never studied Islam to grasp this entire concept.  After Bush and Obama, a third president cannot underestimate the intelligence and curiosity of the American people.

If the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia can talk about extreme interpretations of Islam[5] and its relationship to many terrorist groups, and the King of Jordan can succinctly label our enemy as Khawarij[6] using terminology from Islam’s history, the American President can have a straightforward conversation about the topic.

America’s terminology should not drive a wedge between the U.S. and our Muslim allies.  Our language should help Muslims drive a wedge between the khawarij butchers and possible recruits and supporters of this deadly cause.

America can’t use words that help our enemy by complementing murderers or lumping them in with hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims.

Violent radical Islamists want to be called mujahedeen, jihadis, and Muslims.  The word jihad in the Qur’an means to struggle or strive nobly with all your person and wealth in the way of God.  A parallel in Catholicism is the system of sainthood.  Only the most selfless Catholics following God’s path to help others are sainted.  Similarly, in a religious sense, only the best among Muslims should be called mujahedeen (jihadis) which means someone who has performed true jihad.  The word is only used about 14 times in the Qur’an and should be returned to its religious context and taken away from butchers and human rights abusers.  You can’t make jihad into a negative term in a religious sense; so, don’t use it at all.

Instead, insult and brand these violent radical Islamists.  Use the term butcher, murderer, terrorist, khawarij, violent Islamist, loser, Islamist ideologue, distorter or corruptor of Islam, people ignorant of the Qur’an, disgraces, or betrayers of God.

Don’t call violent radical Islamists Muslims or use any negative modifiers in front of the word Islam or Muslim.  These corruptors have left Islam and should be a disgrace to their families.  “Islam” and “Muslims” are both positive words in the Islamic world.  Attaching “Radical” to it is often viewed to mean the entire religion or all Muslims are radical and therefore evil.

Every generation of violent radical Islamist butchers seems to form faster, become more radicalized, kill more gruesomely, and think they are more pious.  The world must stop this trend.

President Trump (obviously not an Islamic scholar) has asked his team and America’s allies to talk clearly about extreme interpretations of the Qur’an and the ideology used by our enemies.  His Riyadh speech[7] was pointed, and by mostly using correct terminology, supported a change[8] that is already underway[9] in the Muslim world.  Start this same discussion in America and ensure that violent radical Islamists and the people who sponsor and provide top-cover for the modern-day Khawarij are exposed and shut down.  Help decrease bigotry towards Muslims.

The world should applaud organizations like this Kuwaiti business[10] that honestly confronted those who purposely misinterpret the Qur’an to justify murder.  All governments should be this brave and clear.

Education won’t end terrorism, but it will impact the long-term fight against Islamist inspired terrorists.  No problem ever improved by refusing to fully examine it and honestly talk about it.


Endnotes:

[1] U.S. Government (2003, February) National Strategy for Combatting Terrorism, retrieved December 11, 2017,  https://www.cia.gov/news-information/cia-the-war-on-terrorism/Counter_Terrorism_Strategy.pdf

[2] U.S. Government (2011, June) National Strategy for Counterterrorism, retrieved December 11, 2017, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/counterterrorism_strategy.pdf

[3] U.S. Government (2006, September) National Strategy for Combatting Terrorism, retrieved December 11, 2017, https://fas.org/irp/threat/nsct2006.pdf

[4] Friedersdorf, Conor (2016, December 23) Obama’s Weak Defense of His Record on Drone Killings, retrieved December 11, 2017 https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/12/president-obamas-weak-defense-of-his-record-on-drone-strikes/511454/

[5] Chulov, Martin (2017, October 24) I will return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam, says crown prince, retrieved December 11, 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/24/i-will-return-saudi-arabia-moderate-islam-crown-prince

[6] Jordan Times (2015, June 11) Nothing treats Islam with more contempt than Khawarij actions — King, retrieved December 11, 2017 http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/nothing-treats-islam-more-contempt-khawarij-actions-—-king

[7] U.S. Government (2017, May) President Trump’s Speech in Riyadh Saudi Arabia, retrieved December 11, 2017 https://dispatchesfrompinehurst.com/2017/05/22/howks-notes-of-president-trumps-speech-in-saudi-arabia/

[8] Bergen, Peter (2017 September 27) Saudi women driving a sign bigger change is coming, retrieved December 11, 2017 http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/27/opinions/symbolism-of-saudi-women-driving/index.html

[9] IRNA, (2017 October 29) Iranian woman appointed first ever no. 2 at Oil Ministry, retrieved December 11, 2017 http://www.irna.ir/en/News/82712122

[10] Zain Mobile (2017 May 26) Anti-Terrorism Video for Ramadan 2017, retrieved December 11, 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U49nOBFv508

Assessment Papers Jason Criss Howk Trump (U.S. President) United States Violent Extremism

Assessment of the Lone Wolf Terrorist Concept

Linda Schlegel holds a BA in Liberal Arts from the University College Maastricht (NL) and an MA in Terrorism, Security and Society from King’s College London (UK).  Her main topics of interest are radicalization, the role of identity in extremism, and societal resilience.  She can be found on Twitter at @LiSchlegel.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of the Lone Wolf Terrorist Concept

Date Originally Written:  November 12, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  December 11, 2017.

Summary:  The label “lone wolf” is attached easily to an individual attacker by politicians and the media, but must be used with care.  These actors do not perceive themselves as acting alone, but as part of a group.  This group is increasingly found in the virtual realm, begging the question of whether traditional notions of membership in terrorist groups is still a valid indication of whether an attack was perpetrated by a lone wolf or not.

Text:  In recent years, the phenomenon of so-called lone wolf terrorism has increased with more and more attacks perpetrated by single actors.  Lone wolf attacks occur in the context of multiple ideological frameworks and are not confined to a single group or system of belief.  The Islamist attack in Nice, France, in 2016 was just as much the work of a lone actor as the atrocities perpetrated by right-wing extremist Anders Breivik in Norway in 2011.  While governments and the media are quick to attach the label lone wolf to a single perpetrator, one needs to ask what this concept actually entails.  Individuals do not exist in a vacuum and one should not make the mistake of equating the reference to lone action to objective isolation or disengagement from society at large.  It needs to be discussed what the label actually says about the perpetrator, how the perpetrator views himself, and whether there can be lone wolves in the age of global connectivity through social media.

Politically, the concept lone wolf is used to reassure the public and communicate that the danger is no longer immanent.  Academically as well as practically, the concept entails more than this reassurance[1].  Following ideas put forward by Ramon Spaaje in 2010, a lone wolf terrorist can be defined as a person who “operates individually, does not belong to an organized terrorist group or network and whose modi operandi are conceived and directed by the individual without any direct outside command or hierarchy[2].”  Therefore, there are two conditions which need to be fulfilled in order to classify someone as a lone wolf.  Firstly, the individual perpetrating an attack cannot have formal membership in a terrorist organization or be part of a network of terrorists.  This does not mean that the lone actor needs to be completely innovative in his ideology or actions.  In fact, radicalization is often driven by organizations disseminating propaganda and terrorists learn from each other even if they belong to very different ideological backgrounds.  Breivik, for instance, took inspiration from Al-Qaeda for his attacks[3].  But lone wolves cannot be recognized members of organizations and take action on behalf of this group.  Secondly, the individual must have planned, prepared and executed the attack without operational support from others and without direct orders to do so.  While seemingly straightforward, these criteria are increasingly difficult to apply in today’s circumstances.

Sociologist Max Weber postulated in his writings that in order to understand a social phenomenon, it is not enough to judge it from the outside, one must put oneself in the shoes of the social actor.  Do lone wolves view themselves as lone wolves?  Most of the time, the answer is no.  Terrorists are rarely motivated by nihilism, they are motivated by altruism[4] and take action on behalf of a group.  Islamist terrorists often claim to act in defense of the ummah, the global community of Muslims, and right-wing extremists on behalf of the white race, the nation or, as Breivik, on a self-composed category such as “Nordic Europeans.”  Lone wolves do not view themselves as lone wolves; precisely the contrary holds true.  Lone wolves often perceive themselves as part of a heroic avant-garde seeking to protect a larger group of people.  It is important to understand that lone wolf is a label attached to an individual by external forces not the actor himself.  One could argue that this by itself does not render the above-mentioned criteria invalid, as objectively the individual was acting alone, regardless of whether he or she believes to belong to an organization or take action on behalf of a group or not.  Membership in groups and “acting alone,” however, are concepts increasingly difficult to apply in a world where terrorist organizations increasingly organize virtually through social media.

What does it mean to “belong to an organized terrorist group or network[5]” when groups of all ideological backgrounds are increasingly organizing in the virtual sphere[6]?  Online, thousands of people access, view, read, comment on and engage with extremist content disseminated by terrorist groups.  Individuals can feel strongly about the virtual community and construct their individual identity in relation to the collective online movement[7].  A network can now refer to a virtual social network spanning the globe with various degrees of real-life and virtual involvement with the organization.  In the age of clicktivism, the notion of membership in a terrorist organization is increasingly less straightforward.  Is it feasible to consider somebody to be a lone wolf if this person was an active member of an online network run by an organized group even if he or she perpetrated the attack alone?  Facilitating lone actor attacks has become part of deliberate strategies of extremist organizations[8] and attacks sometimes represent hybrids between lone actor and “normal” terrorist action.  For example, during the recent attacks in Germany, the attacker was continuously in contact with members of the so-called Islamic State through instant messaging applications[9], including receiving encouragement and practical hints.  Can a case like this still be considered lone wolf terrorism?

Terrorism is constantly evolving and the concept of lone wolf terrorism is not as unambiguous as it might have seemed previously.  Social media has changed the way membership in violent organizations can be conceptualized and calls into question how alone lone wolves really are in the age of instant virtual communication. The lone wolf concept needs to be reevaluated and adapted to changed circumstances.  Should these actors be regarded as peripheral members of terrorist organizations?  How can we conceptualize those that followed general calls for action, but executed attacks individually?  Can we understand some individuals as “remote-controlled” by official members of terrorist organizations?  Currently, there are more questions than answers on the content and validity of the lone wolf concept, but we should be alert and aware that the external conditions have changed, and old responses may not be appropriate anymore to present-day lone actor terrorism.


Endnotes:

[1] For an overview see Ellis, C., Pantucci, R., de Roy van Zuijdewijn, J., Bakker, E., Gomis, B., Palombi, S. and Smith, M. (2016). Lone-Actor Terrorism: Final Report. Royal United Service Institute: London
https://rusi.org/sites/default/files/201604_clat_final_report.pdf

[2] Appleton, C. (2014). Lone wolf terrorism in Norway. The International Journal of Human Rights. Vol. 18 (2), pp.127-142
See also Spaaij, R. (2010). The Enigma of Lone Wolf Terrorism: An Assessment. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. Vol. 33 (9), pp. 854-870

[3] Borchgrevink, A. (2012). A Norwegian Tragedy: Anders Behring Breivik and the Massacre on Utoya. Cambridge: Polity Press

[4] Atran, S. (2010). Talking to the enemy: Violent Extremism, sacred values, and what it means to be human. Penguin Books: London

[5] Appleton, C. (2014). Lone wolf terrorism in Norway. The International Journal of Human Rights. Vol. 18 (2), pp.127-142

[6] Garcia, F. (9/3/16). White nationalist movement growing much faster than ISIS on Twitter, study finds. The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/white-nationalist-movement-twitter-faster-growth-isis-islamic-state-study-a7223671.html

[7] Berntzen, L.E. and Sandberg, S. (2014). The Collective Nature of Lone Wolf Terrorism: Anders Behring Breivik and the Anti-Islamic Social Movement. Terrorism and Political Violence. Vol 26 (5)., pp.759-779

[8] Burke, J. (6/15/16). Islamist terror has evolved toward lone actors- and it’s brutally effective. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/15/islam-jihad-terrorism-orlando-shooting-paris-attack

[9] Joscelyn, T. (2016). Terror Plots in Germany, France Were ‘remote-Controlled’ by Islamic State Operatives. FDD’s Long War Journal. Retrieved from: http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/09/terror-plots-in-germany-france-were-remote-controlled-by-islamic-state-operatives.php

Assessment Papers Linda Schlegel Violent Extremism

Call for Papers: Violent Extremism

notafraid

Background:

Divergent Options is a non-politically aligned national security website that, in 1,000 words or less, provides unbiased, dispassionate, candid articles that assess a national security situation, present multiple options to address the situation, and articulate the risk and gain of each option.  Please note that while we assess a national security situation and may provide options, we never recommend a specific option.

Call for Papers:

Divergent Options is calling for papers assessing situations or discussing options related to Violent Extremism.

Please limit your article to 1,000 words and write using our Options Paper or Assessment Paper templates which are designed for ease of use by both writers and readers alike.

Please send your article to submissions@divergentoptions.org by December 9th, 2017.

If you are not interested in writing on this topic we still welcome individual articles on virtually any national security situation an author is passionate about.  Please do not let our call for papers cause you to hesitate to send us your idea.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Contextual Note as of November 11, 2017:  The interest we’ve received thus far in our Call for Papers on Violent Extremism has focused on violent extremism inspired by Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, & their adherents.  While this type of violent extremism dominates the headlines & think-tank analyses today, we encourage potential writers to explore all types of violent extremism & not just that which is inspired by Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, & their adherents.

Thoughts from our Twitter Followers to Inspire Potential Writers:

Assess or provide options to address the driving factors of violent extremism such as lack of economic opportunities or humanitarian crisis.

Who decides when the war against Violent Extremist Organizations is over?

Has Violent Extremist Organization “enlistment” changed – i.e., not the technology, but the motivation?

Why are individuals are drawn to the causes of violent extremism?

Assess or provide options to address social media’s impact on growing violent extremist movements.

For programs that seek to counter violent extremism i.e. “CVE,” assess or provide options to gain reproducible and generalizable outcomes in CVE program evaluation.

Assess the role and participation of women, not as passive victims, but as active agents, in violent extremist organizations.

What role do religious communities play in prevention, fighting against, and deradicalization of the extremist?

Why does early reporting related to violent extremist incidents tend to be inaccurate?

Internet Radicalisation and “Lone Wolf” theories: Is it really a “Lone Wolf” if supported/harboured by community?

Are violent extremists driven more by ideology or by identity?

Terrorism is a tactic.  Counter terrorism is therefore a tactical activity.  Why is not more effort aimed at that which causes the tactic to be utilized i.e. ideology or identity?

What options are available to combat the ideology that motivates people to become violent extremists?

Assess the success of countering violent extremism i.e. CVE programs throughout history.

What options are available to counter radicalisation in prisons?

Funding- beyond the need for “operational capital.” How do violent extremists in western countries support themselves?  What do they remit?

Assess the parallels between different types of violent extremism.

What is the correct/best terminology to talk about violent extremism?  What terms resonate in populations that are at risk for violent extremism yet won’t drive these populations away from U.S. efforts?  What terms can drive a wedge between potential recruits and their violent extremism recruiters?  What terms make it clear to the American people what violent extremism is without overwhelming them with details or dismissing completely the role religion / ideology play in this modern era of terrorism recruiting and radicalization?  What terms can be used to enable people of significantly different religious / ideological backgrounds to talk about violent extremism without talking past each other?

Call For Papers Violent Extremism

Assessment of Libya-Trained Terrorists’ External Attack Capability

S. M. Carlson served as a terrorism expert with the U.S. government for more than twelve years, including with the Central Intelligence Agency and in Libya.  She can be found on Twitter @smcarls1.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of Libya-Trained Terrorists’ External Attack Capability

Date Originally Written:  June 23, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  July 3, 2017.

Summary:  Libyan terrorism is not new, nor are attacks conducted outside the country by terrorists that trained in Libya. The external attack capability is evolving, however. The most recent attacks in the United Kingdom highlight the changing threat posed by Libyan terrorists, trained fighters, and their capability and intent to reach into Europe. That threat extends beyond a single group.

Text:  Libya-trained terrorists have conducted multiple deadly attacks in North Africa in recent years, but the May 2017 attack against a Manchester concert by a Briton of Libyan descent, who reportedly fought and possibly trained in Libya, was among the first major attacks with direct ties to Libya outside the region, since the 2011 intervention and death of Muammar al-Ghadafi.

Although a myriad of terrorist groups, extreme militias, and umbrella organizations operate in Libya due to the permissive environment there, the most well-known remains the Islamic State. Its fighters are capable of carrying out external attacks outside the region. The capability probably resides more with the trained fighters, rather than a single group, and likely does not require a top down structure.

Since 2011, other major external attacks specifically targeting Westerners include those in In Amenas, Algeria; Sousse, Tunisia; and Tunis, Tunisia. Terrorists reportedly staged or trained in Libya prior to all three attacks[1].

In January 2013, terrorists linked to al-Qa’ida conducted a multi-day siege, held hostages, and killed dozens in an attack against a gas plant in In Amenas, Algeria, close to the border with Libya[2]. In June 2015, gunmen opened fire on tourists at a beach resort in Sousse, Tunisia, killing and injuring dozens, which the Islamic State claimed[3]. In March 2015, gunmen opened fire at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, Tunisia, killing and injuring dozens, mostly tourists, which the Islamic State claimed[4].

The Islamic State, however, had gained a foothold in Libya prior to the attacks in Tunisia, announcing its presence there in late 2014. It quickly expanded and thrived in the lawlessness of Libya. Fighters flocked to the group. It created a stronghold in the city of Sirte.

The United Nations (UN)-backed Libyan government in late 2016 requested U.S. assistance in its fight against the group and it agreed, conducting hundreds of airstrikes against Islamic State targets in the city. The terrorists fled the city and set up training camps nearby, where the group’s external plotters were reportedly planning operations against Europe. Two U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bombers then dropped more than 100 munitions on those camps, killing more than 80 Islamic State members in January[5].

The UN-backed government declared defeat over the Islamic State in Libya, but while the group had lost its stronghold, the remaining fighters dispersed. In the intervening months, Islamic State fighters began efforts to regroup and many warned the Islamic State in Libya was attempting to consolidate once again.

It is no longer attempting. The Islamic State branch in Libya is active once more, proving yet again that airstrikes alone cannot defeat terrorism. Strikes may be a useful tool, but they are not a long-term solution. The strikes did not entirely disrupt the group or experienced fighters that already left the country.

In May 2017, the remaining Islamic State in Libya fighters made their continued presence known and then the branch’s reach became apparent later that month on a global scale.

The Islamic State’s branch in Libya claimed an attack in Southern Libya in early May that killed two[6][7]. Islamic State fighters also executed a man and clashed with a militia in the Bani Walid area in late May[8]. These were some of the first attacks claimed by the group’s Libya branch since the airstrikes in December.

The Islamic State then claimed attacks in the United Kingdom in late May and early June 2017, both of which had Libya connections. Salman Abedi and Rachid Redouane were of Libyan descent and fought in Libya. Redouane, who helped kill and injure dozens in London in early June, reportedly fought with a militia in Tripoli that later sent jihadist fighters to Syria[9]. Abedi, who killed and injured dozens at a concert in Manchester in May, reportedly met in Libya with Islamic State members also tied to the November 2015 Paris attack[10].

Abedi also reportedly fought in Ajdabiya in 2014, was injured, and taken to Turkey for treatment using a false passport[11]. Italian investigators in April believed that an unspecified number of Islamic State fighters from Libya had entered Europe, in a similar manner to Abedi, as wounded Libyan fighters seeking medical treatment[12].

Therefore, even if the Islamic State were truly defeated in Libya today, the fatal ripple effect of its experienced fighters will likely be felt for years to come. In addition, the Islamic State reportedly has 500 fighters remaining, and possibly training, in Libya, but there are an estimated 3,000 more jihadists in the country[13].

The Islamic State is not the only terrorism problem in Libya. Only in the last three years have fighters in the country begun using the title of “Islamic State.” There were many terrorists groups in Libya before that, and many will likely come after it. The fighters flow between them.

The fighters frequently change groups and alliances based on a variety of factors at play in Libya. The groups themselves also change names, often to conceal extremist affiliation, ideology, or intent. That makes terrorist groups and fighting networks difficult to untangle.

From al-Qa’ida to Ansar al-Sharia (the group responsible for the 2012 Benghazi attacks) to the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council (an umbrella group) to the Benghazi Defense Brigades (a rebranding), extremist groups in Libya adapt to the ever-changing environment there[14].

Defeating the Islamic State in Libya does not solve the country’s terrorism problem, as its experienced fighters retain the intent and capability of carrying out terrorist attacks.


Endnotes:

[1] Brahimi, A. (2017, May 25). Why Libya is still a global terror threat. Retrieved June 23, 2017 from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/25/libya-global-terror-threat-manchester-attack-gaddafi

[2] (2013, January 21). Algeria hostage crisis: What we know. Retrieved June 23, 2017 from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-21087732

[3] Smith-Spark, L.; Paton Walsh, N.; & Black, P. (2015, June 27). Tourists flee Tunisia after resort attack. Retrieved June 23, 2017 from http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/27/africa/tunisia-terror-attack/index.html

[4] Botelho, G. & Mullen, J. (2015, March 19). ISIS apparently claims responsibility for Tunisia museum attack; 9 arrested. Retrieved June 23, 2017 from http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/19/africa/tunisia-museum-attack/index.html

[5] Dickstein, C. & Copp, T. (2017, 19 January). US bombers flew from Missouri and killed 80 Islamic State fighters in Libya. Retrieved June 23, 2017 from https://www.stripes.com/news/us-bombers-flew-from-missouri-and-killed-80-islamic-state-fighters-in-libya-1.449647#.WU2F5caZNsM

[6] Assad, A. (2017, May 7). IS militants attack Third Force fighters, kill two. Retrieved June 23, 2017 from https://www.libyaobserver.ly/inbrief/militants-attack-third-force-fighters-kill-two

[7] (2017, May 8). Libya: ISIS makes comeback by claiming attack south of Sirte. Retrieved June 23, 2017 from http://menastream.com/libya-isis-comeback-south-sirte/

[8] Assad, A. (2017, May 31). IS terrorists execute young man in Libya’s Bani Walid. Retrieved June 23, 2017 from https://www.libyaobserver.ly/news/terrorists-execute-young-man-libyas-bani-walid

[9] Farmer, B.; Nathan, A.; & Yorke, H. (2017, June 6). London attacker Rashid Redouane refused UK asylum in 2009. Retrieved June 23, 2017 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/06/london-attacker-rachid-redouane-refused-uk-asylum-2009/

[10] Callimachi, R. & Schmitt, E. (2017, June 3). Manchester Bomber Met With ISIS Unit in Libya, Officials Say. Retrieved June 23, 2017 from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/03/world/middleeast/manchester-bombing-salman-abedi-islamic-state-libya.html

[11] Greenhill, S.; Malone, A.; Brown, L.; & Sears, N. (2017, May 25). How the Manchester bomber was ‘injured on the front lines in Libya while fighting with jihadis in his gap year’. Retrieved June 23, 2017 from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4543372/Manchester-bomber-injured-Libya-fighting-jihadis.html

[12] Tondo, L.; Messina, P.; & Wintour, P. (2017, April 28) Italy fears ISIS fighters slip into Europe posing as injured Libyans. Retrieved June 23, 2017 from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/28/islamic-state-fighters-infiltrate-europe-posing-injured-libyan-soldiers

[13] (2017, May 27). How Islamic State clings on in Libya. Retrieved June 23, 2017 from http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21722630-jihadists-have-retreated-desert-where-they-are-potent-threat-how

[14] Thurston, A. (2017 May 7). Who Counts as al-Qaeda: Lessons from Libya. Retrieved June 23, 2017 from https://www.lawfareblog.com/who-counts-al-qaeda-lessons-libya

Assessment Papers Libya S. M. Carlson Violent Extremism

Authorization for the Use of Military Force Options

Silence Dogood has a background in defense issues and experience working in Congress.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


National Security Situation:  Current operations in the Global War On Terror are carried out under the authority granted by 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).  Given changes in the global security environment, there is currently debate over updating the AUMF.

Date Originally Written:  May 26, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  June 22, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author is writing from the perspective of a senior policy advisor to member of Congress sitting on either the House or Senate Armed Services Committees.

Background:  Shortly following the September 11th terrorist attacks, Congress passed Public Law 107-40, the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force[1].  The 2001 AUMF states, “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States…”  The 2001 AUMF is currently used as the legal authority for counterterrorism operations in multiple countries, against multiple organizations, including the Islamic State.

Significance:  Clearly defining ends, ways, means, and costs are central to the military planning process.  This analysis should extend and be central to the policy planning process as well.  Relying on the 2001 AUMF for the campaign against the Islamic State raises questions about whether statutory authority does, or should, to extend to this campaign.  Revisiting force authorization statutes will help mitigate the risk of perpetual war, simplify legal authorities, and strengthen congressional oversight[2].  Terrorism is a tactic, and thus cannot be defeated.  Those who engage in terrorism can be targeted and the environmental factors leading to terrorism can be addressed.  Less than 25% of the current members of Congress held office when the 2001 AUMF passed[3].  Revisiting the 2001 AUMF allows current policy makers the opportunity to reexamine the scope and extent of current counterterrorism operations.

Option #1:  Amend the 2001 AUMF to restrict Presidential authorities to use force.

Risk:  Efforts to restrict potential overreach of Presidential authorities may also restrict the flexibility of military responses to the emerging threats and capabilities of future terrorist organizations.  Restriction would relegate presidential authorities to those granted by Article II of the Constitution and international self-defense laws, such as Article 51 of the UN Charter.  This may initially restrict operational flexibility, as mentioned before.  However, this could also lead to an expansion of Article II powers as counterterrorism operations continue under the premise of Article II authorities.

Gain:  Option #1 provides Congress with a check on the President’s authority to use military force in an extended and expanded Global War on Terror.  This option also incentivizes non-kinetic counterterrorism efforts.  These efforts include targeting terrorism financing, economic development, information operations, and judicial counterterrorism strategies.  Restricted authorities could limit the geographical areas of operations.  They could also restrict targeting authorities to a list of named enemy organizations[4].

Option #2:  Amend 2001 AUMF to update or expand Presidential authorities to use force.

Risk:  Updating the 2001 AUMF to expand Presidential authorities to use force may lead to excessive use of military force.  It could also lead to further legitimizing endless war.

Gain:  An updated and expanded AUMF could clearly define uses of technologies not widely available in 2001, such as armed unmanned aerial vehicles and cyberwarfare. Option #2 could also enable the targeting of terrorist groups unaffiliated with Al Qaeda that pose a threat to the United States.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), Pub. L. No. 107-40, 115 Stat. 224 (2001)

[2]  Wittes, B. (2014, November 11). A Response to Steve Vladeck on the AUMF Principles. Retrieved from https://lawfareblog.com/response-steve-vladeck-aumf-principles

[3]  Brandon, H. (2017, May 05). An ISIS AUMF: Where We Are Now, Where to Go Next, and Why It’s So Important to Get It Right. Retrieved from https://www.justsecurity.org/40549/isis-aumf-now-next-important/

[4]  Popplin, C. (2015, June 09). National Security Network Proposes Plan to Repeal AUMF. Retrieved from https://lawfareblog.com/national-security-network-proposes-plan-repeal-aumf

Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) Option Papers Silence Dogood United States Violent Extremism

Islamic State Options: Pivot towards Australia

Phillip Etches is a fourth-year undergraduate student in the Australian National University’s International Security and Middle-Eastern Studies program where he focuses on networked non-state threats.  He can be found on Twitter @CN_Hack.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  Possible shift in Islamic State’s (IS) operational focus towards Southeast Asia and the threat to Australian citizens.

Date Originally Written:  February 22, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 20, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This options paper is written from the perspective of an individual with command seniority within IS, or influence over the strategic-level policymaking of that organisation.

Background:  The overall goal must be the demonstration that IS remains a viable enterprise, whether as a landholding caliphate or a check on the Western threat to the Ummah.  Prior to Western intervention, a “balanced” strategy involved fighting for territory within “near enemy” spaces such as Iraq and Syria while also operating in as many “far enemy” spaces as possible.  Doing so allowed IS to show that it could establish a new caliphate while simultaneously using kinetic and information operations directed at Western Europe, Southeast Asia, and North America to demonstrate to believing people that IS was capable of projecting beyond its immediate territory.

Significance:  IS is at an inflection point where it must alter the balance of its strategy towards a new far enemy, and show that it retains the initiative by beginning to target Australian citizens and interests more aggressively.  Doing so will show that IS can still function despite territorial losses, that it retains the initiative, and inspire hope in those whose confidence has been shaken by IS setbacks in Iraq and Syria.  This pivot to Australia is vital if IS is to retain its control over its perception and reality.

Option #1:  Continue attempting to inspire remote or unaffiliated persons to conduct attacks by way of broadly targeted messaging or manipulation of social/familial ties between IS personnel and individuals in the country.

Risk:  The principal risk of the present course is a lack of impact and credibility.  The persons who have thus far answered IS’s call have been portrayed as alone, insufficiently lethal, or of compromised standards and morals[1].  This portrayal has allowed the Australian government and media to characterize operations in Australia as the products of mental illness or juvenile delinquency, lessening the kinetic and psychological effects of our operations.  Additionally, operational risk comes from institutions and legislation involved in Australia’s internal security, forcing willing persons to mount small, unsophisticated attacks only.  As such, broad messaging will therefore continue inspiring small attacks, but will not generate the psychological effect we desire.

Gain:  The main gain of Option #1 is the higher likelihood of successful – if small – attacks which will show that IS can operate without restrictions on time or location.  A secondary gain is the increased certainty which comes from following a proven course.  While the current approach does little to change the overall strategic situation, it will avoid provoking a change in behaviour on the part of the Australian internal security establishment, lowering the risk of creating unforeseen future operational challenges.

Option #2:  Targeting Australians in Southeast Asia via IS personnel displacing from Iraq and Syria or via cooperation with pre-existing networks in the region.

Risk:  The biggest risk to IS from this approach will be the immediate response, as the relevant network elements will be endangered by any post-operational security crackdown in the countries where they mount attacks.  In addition to likely immediate costs, Option #2 will alter the challenges faced by IS in future, particularly given that Southeast Asia is within Australia’s near abroad.  Should the Australian government be sufficiently provoked, it will use any available multilateral and unilateral means – as it has before – to prevent future operations.  Any networks known to be sympathetic to IS will also come under stronger Australian scrutiny.  As such, the principal benefit of operation against Australians outside the attention of the Australian government will likely be lost after the first satisfactory attack.

Gain:  The most obvious gain of Option #2 is that it responds to the challenges of Option #1.  Targeting Australians in Southeast Asia will address the risks of the current approach by enabling the use of competent pre-existing networks beyond the auspices of Australia-based security organizations.  Additionally, operating against Australians in Southeast Asia will enable IS to harness the fears held by many Australians about the Jihad in Southeast Asia and rekindle the anxiety they felt after the 2002 Bali Bombings.  This impact will be enhanced if notables such as Abu Bakar Bashir are able to lend their support to the attacks as they did with the original Bali Bombings.

Other Comments:  It may appear that the geographical remove between Syria and Southeast Asia, unlike that between Syria and Europe, is too great to feasibly conduct operations at a distance.  However, it should be noted that operations can and have been directed at such distances by IS, and tactics, techniques, and procedures can be devised to ensure smooth operation in the absence of direct control by Caliph Ibrahim.  Furthermore, IS has a number of brothers from Indonesia and Malaysia[2].  Their experience both at home and fighting in Syria will make them capable operatives, and with some preparation they should be able to carry out the requisite planning, targeting, and execution of operations against Australians.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Buggy, K. (2016). Under the Radar: How Might Australia Enhance Its Policies to Prevent ‘Lone Wolf’ and ‘Fixated Person’ Violent Attacks? Canberra, Australia:Australian Defence College’s Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies

[2]  Dodwell, B., Milton, D., & Rassler, D. (2016). The Caliphate’s Global Workforce: An Inside Look At The Islamic State’s Foreign Fighter Paper Trail. West Point, NY:USMA

Australia Islamic State Variants Option Papers Phillip Etches Violent Extremism

Blurred lines: Options for Security & Immigration in Europe

Katja Theodorakis is a PhD scholar at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University, where she is focusing on Jihadi ideology, radicalization and foreign fighters.  She publishes and regularly presents at seminars and conferences on the topics of national security/terrorism, jihadism and Middle East politics.  Katja holds a First-Class Honours degree in International Development from the Australian National University and has previously lived in the Middle East, where she was engaged in educational projects and NGO work in Syria.  She can be found on twitter @KatjaTheo.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.  


National Security Situation:  Islamic State (IS) inspired terror attacks have highlighted weaknesses in the European Union’s (EU) collective response to such security challenges.  Note:  This article does not conflate increased security concerns with the arrival of refugees.  Rather, border security and immigration control is linked here specifically to undetected criminal activity, unauthorized overstays, and the easy proliferation of existing terrorist networks.

Date Originally Written:  February 7, 2017

Date Originally Published:  February 23, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author is an academic terrorism researcher, objectively assessing contemporary security challenges and the threats emanating from militant jihadism.  As an Australian citizen and resident, the author’s research is supported by an Australian Government Scholarship, but this article is not written from a particular political or national security perspective.  Having lived and studied in a number of European countries as well as the U.S., the author seeks to analyze security issues, which are often highly politicized, from a wider, comparative point of view.

Background:  The security situation in Europe is at a crossroads after a string of IS-inspired terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016.  The events witnessed in Paris, Brussels, Nice, and Berlin, as well as various smaller-scale attacks and foiled plots, have highlighted systemic weaknesses in the EU’s security architecture.  While the backgrounds and radicalization journeys of the individual attackers vary – including ‘homegrown’ jihadists as well as recent migrant arrivals – the common denominator is that they were able to take advantage of existing vulnerabilities in the EU’s approach to security, border control and immigration.

Security cooperation within the EU is reflected in the ‘Schengen’ zone, which allows for free travel as its member states surrendered some of their national powers to the supranational ‘Frontex’ border agency.  Likewise, under the Dublin Regulation, the European Asylum Support Office is supposed to coordinate the registration and processing of asylum seekers within the zone in a fair manner, and relevant security information is to be shared under the Schengen Information System (ISI).  Yet, the arrival of more than one million refugees and migrants in 2015 alone has plunged this already strained system into severe crisis[1].

The dangerous confluence of security failures, both at the national and the supranational level, became especially evident in the case of Anis Amri, the perpetrator of the Berlin Christmas market attack.  The rejected asylum-seeker and self-proclaimed jihadist from Tunisia escaped deportation after being found guilty of criminal activity in several European countries, avoided surveillance by security agencies, and managed to cross numerous European borders undetected.  Such security gaps, visible also in some of the other attacks, have cast doubt on Europe’s collective ability to protect itself from these emerging security threats through a coordinated response.

Significance:  Due to such attacks, the very survival of the Schengen project is now in question as national border controls have been partly reinstated across the zone.  This temporary return to nationalized border protection raises the question of what the options are for European leaders and policy makers to enhance security and border control across the continent?

This issue is particularly pressing in light of the continued disintegration of Syria and the security challenges for the wider Middle East.  Refugee streams will likely continue on top of ongoing migration flows from other areas of instability, such as Africa and Afghanistan.  The inevitable loss of territory for IS could lead to a shift of focus and increase its underground activity, making further terrorist attacks in Europe more likely.

Option #1:  EU countries return to national sovereignty over matters of border control, surveillance and immigration.

Individual member states can opt for more national self-determination and less cooperation with the EU on security issues.  This renationalization of migration and border protection policies could include a number of different scenarios; these range from  1) the permanent re-introduction of internal borders within the entire Schengen area, as temporarily implemented by six member states at present; 2)  a tighter, more controllable core Schengen area excluding countries such as Greece that have external borders;  to  3) even a complete Brexit-style departure from the EU, as for example proposed by France’s far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

Risk:  Full national control of internal borders could pose a financial risk, impede free trade, and slow tourism across Europe, with an estimated annual cost of 5 – 18 billion Euros for Schengen member states[2].  It could also prove inefficient in terms of preventing terrorist attacks committed by ‘homegrown’ jihadis.  Moreover, uncoordinated security measures and migration control by individual states run the risk of creating political divisions and could inhibit more efficient information and intelligence sharing networks across Europe.  Given the increasing nexus between jihadi activity and existing crime networks in Europe, a lack of cooperation could therefore prove detrimental[3].

Gain:  A renationalization of border controls could provide more efficient security as it can avoid the lack of coordination and consistency inherent in EU-wide measures and allows for tighter surveillance.  The permanent closure of open internal borders would directly restrict the secondary movement of refugees, irregular migrants, and returning foreign fighters (at least those known to security agencies) within the zone.  This could have a positive effect on the overall security situation as asylum-seekers without documentation would remain in their country of arrival, thereby preventing those engaging in illegal activities to ‘fall through the cracks’ and evade deportation.

Option #2:  An EU-wide overhaul and harmonization of existing border management and immigration schemes.

This option would be part of a streamlined new agenda, a ‘21st Century European Security Pact’, as proposed by EU leaders at recent summits in Bratislava (2016) and Malta (2017).  Based on more unification and burden-sharing, this envisioned security agenda is to include increased military and security cooperation in the form of a European Border and Coast Guard, as well as increased Defense spending and a new ‘entry-exit’ system for non-EU arrivals to the Schengen zone where personal details are registered in a database[4][5].

Risk:  Harmonization depends on the willingness of member states to cooperate and make concessions, which could prove difficult to achieve.  If the project remains largely visionary and common institutions backing new mechanism are not sufficiently overhauled, not much would change and the challenges to Europe’s security could still not be countered efficiently.  This would further undermine the credibility of the EU as a political project.

Gain:  If successfully implemented, measures such as greater intelligence cooperation and a strengthened EU border force could be very beneficial to improving the continent’s security situation in the long run.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendations:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Pinja Lehton & Pali Alto [2017], “ Smart and secure borders through automated border control systems in the EU? The views of political stakeholders in the Member States”, European Security, January 2017, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09662839.2016.1276057

[2]  Peter, Laurence [2017] “ Berlin truck attack: Can the EU stop another Amri?”, BBC News, 6 January 2017. Retrieved January 22, 2017: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38517768

[3]  Basra, R., Neumann, P. R., & Brunner, C. (2016). Criminal Pasts, Terrorist Futures: European Jihadists and the New Crime-Terror Nexus. Retrieved February 16, 2017, from http://icsr.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/ICSR-Report-Criminal-Pasts-Terrorist-Futures-European-Jihadists-and-the-New-Crime-Terror-Nexus.pdf

[4]  Federal Foreign Office, Germany [2016] “The Future of Security in Europe” – Keynote by Markus Ederer, Secretary of State, at the Workshop “Lessons from the Ukraine Conflict: Fix the European Security Order, or Overhaul it?” DGAP and Center for the US and Europe at Brookings. Retrieved 5 February 2017: https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/EN/Infoservice/Presse/Reden/2016/160920StS_E_Future_Security_Europe.html

[5]  Hammond, Andrew [2017],  “ Europe’s Leaders Are Finally Getting Serious About Security and Immigration – Will It Be Too Late?”, The Telegraph, 2 February 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2017: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/02/02/europes-leaders-finally-getting-serious-security-immigration/

 

European Union Katja Theodorakis Migrants Refugees Violent Extremism

Red Team Options for Syria: The Fall of Raqqa, Syria from an Islamic State Perspective

Vincent Dueñas is a Master of International Public Policy candidate and Strategic Studies concentrator at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a U.S. Army Major.  The views reflected are his own and do not represent the opinion of the United States Government or any of its agencies.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


isw-map-20161208

Source: Institute for the Study of War

National Security Situation:  Fall of Raqqa, Syria.

Date Originally Written:  December 9, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  December 15, 2016.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The article is a red team exercise, written from the point of view of a senior planner in the Islamic State who is tasked with recommending strategy options, assuming that Mosul, Iraq will fall and that Raqqa will be next.

Background:  The ultimate goal is and remains the establishment of a powerful caliphate that can govern and impose Shari’a.  This will be done by reinforcing the legitimacy and authenticity of the Caliphate.  The likely fall of Mosul in Iraq necessitates a reexamination of the core tenets of our current campaign plan in order to ensure the Caliphate’s continued existence in Syria.  We are experiencing significant losses in personnel and manpower in Mosul, Raqqa, and al-Bab, as the enemy fighters push aggressively into our territory [1] (See Map Above).  To date we are estimated to have lost over 15% of our land holdings since 2015[2].  We initially did three things well to establish the Caliphate: 1. Tapped into Sunni Muslim grievances, 2. Established functioning local governance that benefited true faith Sunni Muslims and 3. Launched spectacular terror campaigns against Western targets, using sophisticated media campaigns.

Significance:  We are now at a critical point on the battlefield where we must decide on how best to consolidate and reorganize in order to prevent total annihilation and be able to continue waging jihad and protect the Caliphate.

Option #1:  Maintain a primarily conventional warfare strategy with a widespread harsh punishment strategy against civilians in our controlled territories.

Risk:  The primary risk in Option #1 stems from maintaining a conventional warfare strategy that would lead to a siege of Raqqa and a potentially catastrophic military defeat of our forces.  This would discredit our claim to the Caliphate and potentially risk the life of our leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

A secondary risk stemming from the continued use of widespread harsh punishment against the civilian population in our territories is the potential for local populations to turn against the Caliphate and provide information and support to the invading enemy.

A tertiary risk is encouraging the continued support of the great powers, Russia and the U.S., because of their perceived progress.  Currently the great powers are only committed to air power and very few ground forces because their populations only tacitly support military action.

Maintaining our current conventional and punishment strategy almost ensures a direct confrontation against all of our forces, which could potentially overwhelm us.

Gain:  The greatest gain to undertaking Option #1 is that if we were to begin defeating the enemy forces, backed by the great powers, we would fulfill the legitimacy that we initially claimed when we overwhelmed eastern Syria and western Iraq.  Success in conventional warfare would increase the belief in al-Baghdadi’s Caliphate worldwide and a continued widespread harsh punishment strategy would fulfill the implementation of Shari’a without concession.

Option #2:  Transition to an insurgency warfare strategy with a targeted punishment strategy against civilians in our controlled territories.

Risk:  The primary risk in Option #2 stems from the transition to an insurgency, which jeopardizes the legitimacy of al-Baghdadi’s Caliphate by disappearing into the shadows when the stated goal was to spread Shari’a actively.  Our current gains in international messaging and reach could be greatly diminished if it is believed that the Islamic State had been defeated and dissolved.

Gain:  The most obvious gain in Option #2 would be the continued existence of the Islamic State.  Al-Baghdadi and the Caliphate would be preserved and could reorganize to continue the jihad.  The first prerequisite for a successful insurgency is the ability to identify totally with the cause and the population attracted to it[3].  The Islamic State and the Caliphate identify completely with the cause of Shari’a and the entire majority of the population that seeks Sunni Muslim rule, thus stands most poised to overtake groups like al-Qaida and convert all Muslims sects to our path.

The likely fall of Raqqa would still occur, but would not wipe out the majority of our forces as we blend into the populations of cities like Palmyra and the border regions between Abu Kamal, Syria and Al Qu’im, Iraq.  These areas can remain under our firm grip as a weak Syrian government would be unable to extend governance effectively.

Shifting to an insurgency strategy would mean expanded guerrilla tactics against Syrian government forces and rebel forces in order to ensure a disruption of any sense of control, with the possibility of exhausting great power support.  Even more beneficial would be the increased ability for the Islamic State to act subversively to pit Russia against the U.S. through guerrilla attacks masquerading as either Assad forces or anti-Assad forces. An insurgency would sow continued instability throughout the country and prevent any direct confrontational military engagements.

The transition to a targeted punishment strategy would begin to spare Sunni Muslims thus removing a strong distaste that has emerged over our tactics.  Among other Muslims and non-believers, a more judicious use of punishment would encourage compliance and submission to Shari’a and more easily allow us to collect resources through taxes.

An insurgency would also allow us to successfully exploit the historic grievances of our targeted areas.  These Sunni Muslims have witnessed the indiscriminate killing of Sunnis at the hands of Hezbollah and the Assad government who are Shia.  The Islamic State offers the retribution that they seek and through a more judicial hand we can attract broader support.

Other Comments:  An important capability that has not been discussed, but which we have perfected, is our unique capacity to operate on the internet.  Our continued existence can be supported and expanded by using more sophisticated internet-protocol masking software that will allow us to continue publishing propaganda and maintain social media presence to actively recruit foreign fighters and encourage lone wolf attacks.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Gutowski, Alexandra. (2016, December 8). ISIS Sanctuary: December 8, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/isis-sanctuary-map-december-8-2016.

[2]  Islamic State and the crisis in Iraq and Syria. (2016, November 2). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-27838034.

[3]  Galula, David. (1964). Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice. New York: Praeger.

 

Islamic State Variants Option Papers Red Team Syria Vincent Dueñas Violent Extremism