Archive for August, 2010

A new post over at Free Rad!cals, which has gone very quiet of late, this time highlighting a recent book I got called Islamist Terrorism: The British Connections. Thanks to Houriya et al for getting me a copy!

Filed under: Terrorism, UK

The chaps over at the Center for Social Cohesion were kind enough to share with me a copy of their recent comprehensive text Islamist Terrorism: The British Connections. It got quite a bit of media attention at the time of publication, as it was basically the only substantial text to be published in time for the five year anniversary of the 2005 bombings on the London underground (this is not to forget the special edition of International Affairs that also came out at around the same time featuring a number of heavy hitters in the world of terrorism studies).

The report meticulously goes through all of the “Islamist related offences” committed in the UK between 1999-2009, though it looks as far back as 1993 for plots which have British links: some early fighters in Bosnia drawn from Azzam publications tapes, and Ramzi Youssef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center plot, who was no doubt radicalized by his time in Oxford and Swansea.

In an attempt to bring some statistical analysis to bear on the information, they have culled background and biographical data to create pie charts and tables. Problematically, the dataset itself is not actually that big (they have included “120 Islamism-inspired terrorist convictions and attacks in the UK”), meaning that the figures are a little less than conclusive and rapidly impacted by subsequent prosecutions.

Nevertheless, one detail that does seem clear is that South Asian’s, and specifically Pakistani’s, are the largest single group to be drawn towards terrorism in the UK. This may seem unsurprising given the fact that they are the largest single community of Muslims in the UK, but the detailed figures are actually quite interesting. Even if one includes all of the individuals classified as of uncertain South Asian origin into the Pakistani total, the figure that is reached is 36.21%. This compares to 46.69% of Muslims drawing their identity from Pakistan in the general population (according to the 2001 census figures). Meaning that Pakistani’s are, proportionally speaking, substantially under-represented in the terrorist roster in the UK as drawn up by CSC.

But frankly, the most useful thing about the report is the fact that they have collected in one place a great deal of the information about the many individuals who have been convicted for Islamist terrorism related offences in the UK. For those who follow these things (and for those only interested in the topic in passing), this will become a very useful reference tool.

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Back on the topic of terrorism in the West, my latest for the CTC Sentinel of West Point, exploring the network of plots from apparently send out by Al Qaeda in late 2008 – the Pathway group in Northern England from April 2009, the Najibullah Zazi cell in New York (who I have already covered a bit here), and the recently disrupted cell in Oslo. The Oslo one is the least clear – though admittedly the Brits were unable to convict anyone for Pathway – fortunately, others from Norway have a good detailed article in this edition of the Sentinel about it in addition to mine. There is also a good article about the emergence of Al Muhajiroun in the US from Paul Cruickshank.

Am trying something new here trying to link a pdf, as CTC have not put it up on their website yet. Do please drop me a note through the contact sheet if you have any problems or want a copy. If it works you should find it here: CTCSentinel-Vol3Iss8-1

UPDATE: And just to make sure every base is covered, here is the link on their website: http://www.ctc.usma.edu/sentinel/CTCSentinel-Vol3Iss8.pdf

This is going to be the last in this series on the Expo for the Lowy Institute’s Interpreter blog, this time looking at the Palestinian pavilion. I have enjoyed doing this, and may write something larger somewhere on this subject. In the meantime, I owe eagle-eyed David for helping point out some of the detail in this post. One small detail that was lost, however, the picture of Arafat that is included was opposite, not behind, the one of Abbas and Arafat as you walk in.

Around the Shanghai Expo: Palestinian Pavilion

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. His previous posts, by pavilion: Britain, Iran, Afghanistan, DPRK, Pakistan, Australia.

I failed to ask where the money for the site came from, but it seemed clear from the life-size pictures of Yassir Arafat and Abu Abbas at the entrance that the organisation of the pavilion was carried out by Fatah-leaning elements. Directly behind these portraits, an even bigger shrine to Arafat:

At the back there is a section venerating ‘Jerusalem City of Peace’, which is, I suppose, a nod to the ‘Better City, Better Life’ theme of the Expo. They have a small screening room showing a film about Jerusalem, and a number of screens in front showing off Palestinian theater and dance.

My girlfriend was rather shocked to catch a bit of a biblical performance in which a mother appeared to be throwing her baby around (I wasn’t able to ascertain which tale this was and would welcome any suggestions).

There were not that many Chinese in the Palestinian Pavilion when we went, and those that were there dutifully passed through en route to see the man with the visa stamp. This was probably not a bad thing, as the version of events being portrayed was a touch one-sided. For example, what is missing from this description of Palestine’s location?

The first line reads: ‘Palestine located in the heart of the Holy Land surrounded by Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.’

Another post for Free Rad!cals, this time looking at Anwar al Awlaki. Admittedly, not amongst the most in-depth pieces around about the man, but it is striking to consider the size and diversity of the community over which his ideas appear to have sway. This would certainly be worth a more in-depth study.

Anwar Al Awlaki’s Global Reach

Filed under: Radicalisation, Terrorism

Yemeni-American preacher Anwar al Awlaki has becoming something of an international boogeyman, with traces and connections to him being found amongst an ever expanding array of terrorist plots around the world. According to the U.S., he has gone beyond being a nuisance preacher to being actively involved in terrorist plotting – his connections to underpants bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab have earned him a place on the U.S. Predator hit-list.

But in many ways, more interesting than his apparently growing role as a preacher moving up the ladder to training individuals, is his ability to reach out through cyberspace to an ever-expanding and diverse community of people. Two recent cases highlight this in particular:

Paul “Bilal” Rockwood and his wife Nadia in Alaska, and on the other side of the world in Singapore, Muhammad Fadil Abdul Hamid.

Awlaki is the common thread between the two. According to court documents, Rockwood was a long-term follower, having converted in “late 2001 or early 2002” while he was living in Virginia. He rapidly became a “strict adherent to the violent Jihad-promoting ideology of cleric Anwar al-Awlaki….This included a personal conviction that it was his (Rockwood’s) religious responsibility to exact revenge by death on anyone who desecrated Islam.” While his timings appear to correlate with when Awlaki was also in Virginia it is unclear from information in the public domain whether they actually met.

Having been radicalized, over the next eight years Rockwood, who when he was arrested was a 35 year-old weatherman in the charmingly named King Salmon, Alaska, identified a list of possible targets through “visiting websites on the internet that professed to identify individuals, including American servicemen, who were alleged by the websites to have committed crimes of violence against Muslim civilians.” He further researched how to execute them “including discussing the use of mail bombs and the possibility of killing targets by gunshot to the head.” He narrowed his list down to 15 possible targets and planned on sharing this list, through his knowing wife, with a third person whom he believed shared his beliefs. From here it got to the Feds, certainly suggesting that this third party was not all that he or she seemed.

On the other hand, it seems highly unlikely that Muhammad Fadil Abdul Hamid ever had opportunity to meet the preacher. A 20-year old national serviceman in Singapore, he self-radicalized online and attempted to make contact with Awlaki through the net claiming to want to fight alongside him in Yemen. He was also in contact with a suspected Al Qaeda recruiter who urged him to go fight in Afghanistan and he produced at least one “self-made video glorifying martyrdom and justifying suicide bombing.” According to information released after his detainment under the Internal Security Act, his main influences appear to have been Anwar al-Awlaki and Australian-Lebanese former boxer Feiz Muhammed.

At around the same time as they detained Hamid, Singaporean police also place

Muhammad Anwar Jailani, 44, and Muhammad Thahir Shaik Dawood, 27 on two-year “restriction orders.” Jailani was apparently distributing Awlaki material, while Dawood went so far as to try to join the preacher in Yemen, though he was unable to connect with him and was instead rather disillusioned by what he did find there.

While not delving into the detail of the plots (which are not quite on the scale of 9/11), the running theme is Anwar al-Awlaki and his ability to provide some sort of indirect ideological guidance to people through the internet. While he may have had some contact with Rockwood early on, it still took Rockwood about five years before he started his research, and another three years before he moved into action. For the Singaporean’s, no contact appears to have taken place, but (like many others) the men appear to have sought out Awlaki as a guide to carrying out contemporary jihad. It would seem in many ways as though Awlaki, rather than Osama or even Abu Musab al Suri, is actually proving to be the globalized voice of jihad. His cry for personalized jihad in English appears to resonate amongst the global community of disenfranchised individuals across racial, national, and generational lines (I have not seen any evidence of gender yet, but women in jihad remains a marginal feature).

What is not clear if this is anything particularly new, or whether he is simply the latest in a long line of radical clerics whose charisma is able to draw people to him and it his ability to use the internet that has given him a global reach. Whatever the case, it is clear that his online presence is also what will guarantee him longevity beyond if the Predator’s do ever catch him.

My latest in the series I have been doing for the Lowy Institute’s Interpreter blog, this time in their home Australian pavilion. At least another of these coming, and I remain open to commissions if anyone has a particular pavilion they would like to see more of. Use the contact page to get in touch.

Around the Shanghai Expo: Australia Pavilion

By Raffaello Pantucci – 4 August 2010 11:42AM

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. His previous posts, by pavilion: Britain, Iran, Afghanistan, DPRK, Pakistan.

And so onto the Australian Pavilion, which I was told the Chinese were not impressed by, as its dull brown color made it look old. (Photo below courtesy of the Australian Expo site; others by the author.)

I only heard this after I had visited, but on the day I went, it had a substantial queue, and the Chinese I met inside seemed excited.

One couple of girls I talked to had come from Chongqing to see the Expo and, once they got over the fact I spoke some bad mandarin, said they wanted to see Australia specifically because they had heard lots about it and friends lived there. At the same time, they confided, they preferred the Taiwan pavilion because they gave them stuff (a Taiwan bag comes with a fan, instant noodles and a tea cup).

Nevertheless, the Australian pavilion was attracting the same sorts of numbers as the British one – on the day I went, the Australians had had about 36,000 visitors and overall more than 2 million; a day or so before, I received an email from the British pavilion telling me they had crossed the 2 million threshold.

Inside, there is a series of rooms introducing Aboriginal history, wall paintings highlighting the comparative differences between Australia and China (China’s population density is a lot greater, while more Australians proportionally live near the sea. Not sure I see the value in the comparison). There is then a large diorama showing the nation’s history, which concludes in a picture of former PM Rudd (I went before he had been ousted) with some plastic journalist figures brandishing microphones and cameras in front of him.

The centerpiece, however, is a 10-minute movie about three children, a dark (I assume Aboriginal) child, a Caucasian child and an Asiatic child. They talk about how great Australia is, etc. Shown in a theatre on a large circular screen which rotates and occasionally lowers to reveal some sort of physical object relevant to whatever the children is talking about, the film was not a huge success. People were leaving moments after it had started, much to the dismay of the eager young mandarin-speaking hosts.

As one of the chaps at the entrance told me (confirming an experience I have mentioned elsewhere) the overriding Chinese visitor priority is to get the Expo passport visa stamp.

A wannabe Australian.