Archive for February, 2011

After a fair delay, a chapter I co-wrote with Bastian has finally been published by the University of Toronto Press in their new book European Security Since the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Our chapter specifically looks at “Understanding the Islamist Terrorist Threat to Europe,” and builds on work the two of us were doing at time looking at European security more broadly. I am going to try to obtain a pdf to place here, but in the meantime, here is where you can find more information on the book, and below is a flavour of the whole book from Amazon:

There have been dramatic changes to the landscape of European security in the twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The essays in European Security Since the Fall of the Berlin Wall collectively take stock of how approaches to security in Europe have changed, both in practice and in theory, since the end of the Cold War. Organized into three sections, this collection begins with an exploration of the broad changes in Europe’s security environment relating to issues such as terrorism and the rising importance of energy security. The second section describes the adaptations of Europe’s institutional framework, including the transformation of NATO and the evolution of European armed forces, while the closing essays examine regional security issues with the Middle East, the Balkans, and Russia. Covering a broad spectrum of theoretical approaches and written in a clear, engaging style, European Security Since the Fall of the Berlin Wall will illuminate European security debates for years to come.

A new post over at Whose World Order?, this time looking at what I feel is a rather overheated speculation about the implications of the current revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East for China. I might be writing more on this subject later in the week, and would appreciate any other’s thoughts and views.

Shanghai View: Jasmine Tea Revolutions?

Date: 25th February 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: China,
Tags: EgyptJasmine RevolutionLibyaTunisiaChina

A lot has been made of the implications for China of the current wave of revolutionary zeal in North Africa and the Middle East. From Shanghai, however, much of this seems overplayed; I have found few colleagues or friends who genuinely believe that this means much of anything for China. There are sporadic protests one hears about – the Shanghai one was very small – and in Beijing I understood that it was hard to tell how many actual protesters showed up in Wangfujing.

Having said all this, it seems clear that central government here is concerned about things. The press has waited until events have clearly reached a critical mass before coverage of a revolution becomes substantial (a sign that editors are waiting to see which way the political winds are blowing before they express a view). Net searches about things related to China and the revolutions remain sensitive (as in they don’t work), and some searches including outgoing US Ambassador Jon Huntsman’s name were sporadically blocked after a video surfaced of him at the protests in Beijing.

The US Embassy has claimed the Ambassador was on his way to a museum and had stopped to have a look around, but the story the video tells is an interesting one. In it, a Chinese member of the crowd shouts at the Ambassador asking him: “You want to see China in chaos, don’t you?” Huntsman, quite prominently wearing a jacket with a US flag emblazoned on it, denies this but quickly leaves as people start shouting at him: “Yes, China has many problems! Reform, livelihoods, morality, faith – our problems are many! But we don’t want to be another Iraq! We don’t want to be another Tunisia! Nor another Egypt! If the nation should descend into chaos, will the US and these reformers put food on the table for our 1.3 billion people? Don’t f****** mess with it!”

This seems quite telling, as it highlights one of the many reasons why it is unlikely that we are going to see a revolution on a similar scale in China. People are too invested in the system and too fearful of what might come instead to rip it all down. Certainly in Shanghai, friends have all talked about the revolutions with heavy unspoken comparisons with China, but no one is planning mass protests in People’s Square. A non-Chinese friend astutely pointed out that unlike the centrally focused autocracies of the Middle East and North Africa, there is no central figure to focus anger on – no Gadaffi or Mubarak to focus attention and anger.

There is an order amongst chaos in China. Things generally work, and while there is an endless volume of angst about corruption in which the poorer members of society suffer disproportionately, heads do roll, giving some sense that accountability does exist (most recently it seems as though the minister for trains has fallen victim). Things aren’t perfect, but people have a sense that through hard work they might be able to elevate themselves, giving them a capacity to aspire to reform the system rather than want to overturn it.

 

My latest for HSToday, though a bit belatedly posted. A quick overview of the debate about a shift in counter-terrorism policy in the UK.

By Raffaello Pantucci

02/25/2011 (12:00am)
Nine months on the job, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government finally announced its long awaited review of its counterterrorism policy. He used a keynote speech at the annual Munich Security Conference to advance the ideas that underpin the government’s renewed direction for combating international terrorism.

 

Cameron said the problem Britain faces “cannot be ignored or contained,” but rather must be confronted “with confidence” by way of addressing “the issues of identity that sustain it by standing for a much broader and generous vision of citizenship in our countries.”

The Prime Minister’s bold language masked a long-standing internal debate in the UK about how to confront the threat of international terrorism within the kingdom.

Cameron’s address was the culmination of a series of policy announcements on counterterrorism that started with a discussion in Parliament on January 20 that focused on the prickly issue of detention without charge.

Under the old system, police could detain a person for up to 28 days without charging him of anything while authorities attempted to assemble a case against the person.

Every seven days the individual would be brought before a judge who would adjudicate on their continued detention, but the principle was that in increasingly complex cases, police would need more time to dig through the reams of documents and data that police were turning up in the process of their terrorism investigations.

Not only was this process controversial, but both ruling parties had complained loudly about it.

Announcing its cessation of the policy and a return to previous legislation that gave police only 14 days, Minister for Immigration, Damien Green, said “since July 2007, no one has been held for longer than 14 days, despite many terrorists arrested since then … I can announce that the Government will not be seeking to extend the order allowing the maximum 28-day limit.”

A week later, Home Secretary Theresa May, delivered a more comprehensive announcement to the House on the government’s counterterrorism policy.

May highlighted that, in addition to the change in pre-charge detention, the government also was changing the policies on control orders to focus on surveillance rather than house arrest. It also was going to give the new policy a two-year shelf life; restricting use of stop and search powers to instances when there is an immediate threat; and to stop councils from using surveillance techniques without first clearing them with a magistrate.

Contentious issues like the further proscription of groups like Hizb ut Tahrir, the use of phone intercepts in court and further defining what can be constituted as terrorism or promotion of terrorism, were, in the end, not concluded. Further analysis of these issues apparently is required.

While he was in Munich, Cameron announced that “under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives … we’ve failed to provide a vision of a society.”

The policy that had allowed non-violent extremists to flourish and to receive public funds had failed and, “instead of ignoring this extremist ideology,” the government now must “confront it, in all its forms,” Cameron stated.

Calling for the rebirth of a British identity, the Prime Minister said, “instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity that is open to everyone.”

Cameron’s speech awakened a heated debate in the British commentariat, where, on one hand, individuals like Douglas Murray, a prominent rightwing commentator and director of the Center for Social Cohesion, spoke of “Europe’s mainstream party leaders” finally “realizing what others have long noticed: Multiculturalism has been the more pernicious and divisive policy pursued by Western governments since World War II.”

On the other hand, Dr. Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, a professor at the University of Sussex and a skeptic of the government’s counterterrorism policy, decried the speech.

“By blaming ‘state multiculturalism’, Cameron is … missing the point,” Ahmed said. The real issue, he continued, is deepening inequalities, something that will “deepen under coalition cuts” and “an interventionist foreign policy that has been heavily disfigured under the influence of short-sighted (and self-interested) US geostrategy.”

In a radio interview following the speech, the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain said, “again, it just seems the Muslim community is very much in the spotlight, being treated as part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution.”

The opposing views provide a snapshot of the tense debate that’s taking place in the UK regarding its shift in counterterrorism policy. In the midst of the Prime Minister’s announcement, Lord Carlile of Berriew Q.C., the outgoing head of Parliament’s Independent Review of certain Terrorism Legislation, issued his final report on control orders. The report concluded that the cumulative effect of Britain’s counterterrorism legislative architecture is “to make the UK a safe haven for some individuals whose determination is to damage the UK and its citizens.”

While the government dismissed this as emotive language, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats who had vigorously campaigned against a wide range of counter-terrorism policies, was obliged to defend himself against accusations of having completely reversed his position on a number of counterterrorism issues.

The cumulative effect of the counterterrorism review is going to be hard to measure in any practical way. Already some entities that were previously receiving funding for counterterrorism under the banner of preventing violent extremism, have announced that their funding will be cut.

Meanwhile, other issues are being sidestepped. For example, the ongoing inability of Britain to deport individuals wanted on terrorism charges to the US is not addressed in the review.

In the weeks prior to the recent varied announcements about changes to UK counterterrorism policies, a British judge announced it would be permissible for Abid Naseer – a Pakistani accused of having been involved with the network that allegedly supported Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-American who pled guilty to trying to carry out a suicide bombing on New York’s subway – to be deported to the US to face charges.

But there is no evidence that this has actually happened, or is going to happen anytime soon.

So, while Cameron has finally laid out his markers on how he plans to counter terrorism in the UK going forward, and while there is a clear rhetorical shift, it still is unclear that there’s been much practical change.

A new article for Foreign Policy magazine’s AfPak channel, exploring the decline of the Kashmiri connection in British jihad. In my forthcoming manuscript this will be gone into in greater detail, but in a number of plots in the UK key individuals trained with Kashmiri groups but were in the end decided not to join the cause as they saw it as pointless and too Pakistani-government manipulated. A detail I didn’t include in the article is that the UK exported its first suicide bomber to Kashmir in December 2000 – a young Brummie blew himself up at an Indian check point near Srinagar. In any case, thoughts or comments greatly appreciated as ever.

The Dwindling Kashmir-Britain Militant Pipeline

By RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI, FEBRUARY 17, 2011| Thursday, February 17, 10:51AM

Largely unremarked beyond in South Asia, last weekend marked the twenty-seventh anniversary of the death of Maqbool Butt. One of the first prominent leaders of the Kashmiri liberation struggle, Butt’s execution almost three decades ago was expedited as a result of events on the other side of the globe in Birmingham, England when a group of Kashmiris kidnapped and executed an Indian diplomat. A set of connected events that while anomalous at the time presaged what used to be the one of the main motors of jihad in the U.K.

Claiming to be members of the Kashmir Liberation Army, the kidnappers snatched Ravindra Mhatre, then the deputy Indian High Commissioner in Birmingham, as he stepped off the bus on his way home with a birthday cake for his daughter. Bundling him into the back of a car, they took him to the Alum Rock part of the city where they held him for a day while demanding through thepress £1 million in cash and the liberation of Maqbool Butt. Quickly losing patience, the men waited about a day before taking Mhatre into the countryside outside the city and executing him outside a farm. The Indian government’s response was swift and within less than a week they had expedited the hanging of Maqbool Butt, who had been sitting on Indian death row for almost eight years for the murder of a bank manager during a robbery.

The executions were a shock and the first public example for Britons of the depth of feeling and connection between the Kashmiri population in the U.K. and their relations on the other side of the globe. Political parties and religious leaders would use the U.K. as a base for fundraising and rallies, families would travel back and forth and send children and brides to join other family members, and militant factions would seek money and recruits to support the cause of Kashmiri liberation back in South Asia. Years later, this would provide the next generation of young men with both a network of contacts to go and join militant groups in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but also normalize the notion of going abroad to fight for a cause.

And in the years immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the pipeline this created was at the heart of British terrorism problems. Operation Crevice in 2004 (the fertilizer bomb plotters), Operation Rhyme the same year (the cell led by long-term Lashkar-e-Taiba warrior and author Dhiren Barot), the July 7, 2005 attack on London’s public transport system and Operation Overt (the 2006 attempt to bring down seven planes as they were in transit across the Atlantic) all owed something to this pipeline, with key individuals in all cases being initially drawn to the cause of jihad through the Kashmiri cause. The proximity of Kashmiri groups to their ideological brethren in al-Qaeda and interchange between them meant al-Qaeda was able to tap this network for a string of plots targeting the U.K.

But since this apex in the mid-2000s, the problem has now shrunk a bit. While security officials are clearly still alert to the potential problems engendered by the enduring Pakistani connection in the U.K., the threat has now evolved in a number of different directions.

One recent example of how this threat has evolved is the case currently on trial at Woolwich Crown Court in which Rajib Karim, a confessed member of Jamaat ul Mujahedeen Bangladesh, a Bangladeshi jihadist group attempting to establish a shariah state in that nation, is accused of plotting with Anwar al Awlaki, the American-Yemeni preacher linked to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen to carry out attacks in the U.K. or U.S. It does not appear as though any of the strands in the plot lead back to Pakistan, and seems instead to have been an externally directed effort from Yemen linked up with Bangladeshi extremists in the U.K. This is merely the latest such plot from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in a string that includes Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Christmas day 2009 and the parcel bombs from late last year — both of which also had London links.

Then over Christmas, police disrupted a cell of mostly Bangladeshi-Britons they accuse of plotting to carry out a series of attacks in the U.K., while in Stockholm an Iraqi-Swede radicalized in Luton blew himself up in a suicide attack attempting to target a shopping mall. And late last year, Roshonara Choudhry, a young woman who had attempted to kill British parliamentarian Steven Timms for his support of the Iraq war, became the latest in a growing list of lone wolf attackers who seemingly using only the internet radicalized and attempted to carry out an attack in the U.K.

In none of these plots has there been evidence of a Kashmiri connection. This does not mean that the Pakistan-U.K. connection has now been completely severed, however. In April 2009, British police disrupted what they think was a major plot emanating from Pakistan’s tribal regions as part of a wave of attacks in New York, the U.K. and Oslo (admittedly all in varying degrees of preparation), and according to the confession of David Headley, a key plotter in the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks, in August 2009 he connected with a cell of Pakistanis from Kolti in Derby who were in contact with Ilyas Kashmiri, the former Lashkar warrior now thought to be close to al-Qaeda. And in the fall of 2010, European officials searched for a group of plotters supposedly coming from Pakistan’s tribal regions allegedly seeking to attack targets in the U.K., France, and Germany.

But none of these resulted in a plot emanating from Kashmiri-British network, and for almost three years now it has been tough to see a plot that draws as from this nexus in the same way as the plots of several years ago. Problematically for British counterterrorists, this has not apparently reduced the overall threat — just sent it scattering in a variety of different directions.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR).

A new piece for Jamestown looking at a case currently ongoing in the UK against a Bangladeshi chap who may or may not have been in contact with Anwar al-Awlaki. An interesting case, and I have a feeling the fact he confessed to the JMB charges will probably play against him.

Al-Awlaki Recruits Bangladeshi Militants for Strike on the United States

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 7
February 17, 2011 04:43 PM Age: 3 hrs

Rajib Karim, Bangladeshi national resident in the UK who pled guilty to charges of assisting Jamaat ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

Rajib Karim, a 31-year-old Bangladeshi national resident in the United Kingdom, pled guilty on January 31 to charges of assisting Bangladeshi terrorist group Jamaat ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). Confessing to helping produce and distribute videos on behalf of the JMB, sending money for terrorist purposes and offering himself for terror training abroad, Karim’s admission was made public at the beginning of a trial against him at Woolwich Crown Court in suburban London (Press Association [London], January 31; BdNews24.com [Dhaka], February 2).

Founded in 1998, the JMB is the largest extremist group in Bangladesh. The movement has expressed its opposition to democracy, socialism, secularism, cultural events, public entertainment and women’s rights through hundreds of bombings within Bangladesh. Though banned in 2005, the movement is believed to still maintain ties with various Islamist groups in the country.

On trial for further charges of preparing acts of terrorism in the UK, it has been suggested in the press that Karim was identified by the Home Secretary as a suspected agent for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) (Press Association, November 3, 2010). [1]

According to information released at the opening of his trial, Karim first came to the UK in 2006 with his wife to seek a hospital for their child who was sick with what they thought was cancer (Guardian, February 2). The child got better and by September of the next year Karim had secured a position in a British Airways trainee scheme in Newcastle. According to the prosecution, he established himself as a sleeper agent in the UK, making “a very conscious and successful effort to adopt this low profile.” He kept his beard short, did not become involved in local Muslim groups, did not express radical views, played football locally, went to the gym and was described by people who knew him as “mild-mannered, well-educated and respectful” (Newcastle Evening Chronicle, February 2).

Much of the prosecution’s information on Karim appears to come from electronic communications between himself and his brother Tehzeeb that the police were able to find on Karim’s hard-drive. According to the prosecutor’s opening statement, Tehzeeb was also a long-term radical for JMB who travelled in 2009 with two others from Bangladesh to Yemen to seek out Anwar al-Awlaki (Press Association, February 1). Once connected with Awlaki, Tehzeeb told the Yemeni-American preacher of his brother. Awlaki recognized the benefits of having such a contact in place and in January 2010, the preacher is said to have emailed Karim, saying “my advice to you is to remain in your current position….I pray that Allah may grant us a breakthrough through you [to find] limitations and cracks in airport security systems.” The preacher apparently found the brothers of such importance that he sent them a personal voice message to counter claims of his death that had circulated in December 2009 (Press Association, February 2).

It seems as though Karim was in contact with extremist commanders long before this. According to the prosecution’s case, anonymous “terror chiefs abroad” wanted him to remain in his British Airways job as far back as November 2007 and to become a “managing director” for them. In an email exchange with his brother at around this time, the two discussed whether a small team could also “be the beginning of another July Seven;” a supposed reference to the July 7, 2005 terrorist attacks on London’s underground system (Press Association, February 2). It is unclear at the moment who these terror chiefs were, though it has been suggested Karim was in contact with Awlaki for more than two years.

By early 2011, Karim had become of greater concern to British police. His emails to his brother indicated that he was becoming restless and wanted to go abroad to fight. He had apparently spoken to his wife about this prospect, reporting to his brother that he “told her if she wants to, she can make hijrah [migration] with me and if the new baby dies or she dies while delivering, it is qadr Allah [predestined] and they will be counted as martyrs” (Press Association, February 2). He was also exchanging emails with Anwar al-Awlaki that indicated he had made contact with “two brothers [i.e. Muslims], one who works in baggage handling at Heathrow and another who works in airport security. Both are good practicing brothers and sympathize.” Awlaki was doubtless pleased to hear this, though he indicated, “our highest priority is the U.S. Anything there, even on a smaller scale compared to what we may do in the UK, would be our choice” (Daily Mail, February 2). It seems likely that the “brothers” referred to were those picked up by police in Slough a month after Karim’s arrest, though none were charged (The Times, March 4, 2010; Telegraph, March 10, 2010).

This message and others turned up after Metropolitan Police, with the assistance of Britain’s intelligence agencies, were able to crack the rather complex encryption system that Karim used to store his messages and information on his computers (Daily Star [Dhaka], February 15). Much of this now appears to be the foundation of the case against Karim beyond the charges he has already admitted to as a member of JMB. JMB has some history in the UK; acting on a British intelligence tip, Bangladeshi forces raided a charity-run school in March 2009 and found a large cache of weapons and extremist material. One of the key individuals involved in the charity was a figure who is believed to be a long-term British intelligence target. In another case, two British-Bangladeshi brothers allegedly linked to the banned British extremist group al-Muhajiroun were accused of giving the JMB money. [2] In neither case was there evidence the UK was targeted and it seems as though prosecutors in this current case are more eager to incarcerate Karim for his connections with Anwar al-Awlaki and AQAP than for his involvement with JMB abroad.

Notes:

1. Theresa May speech at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), November 3, 2010,www.rusi.org/news/,/ref:N4CD17AFA05486/.
2. “The Threat from Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh,” International Crisis Group, Asia Report no.187, March 1, 2010,  www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-asia/bangladesh/187_the_threat_from_jamaat_ul_mujahideen_bangladesh.ashx.

 

 

A new post for Whose World Order? over at ECFR, this time looking at a rather irritating event I had had happen to me of late. I am sure most others living in China have experienced this at some point, but this does not detract from the irritation.

Shanghai View: What’s Real?

Date: 17th February 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: China,
Tags: BeijingChinaCounterfeiting

Bouncing credit cards are always a humiliation. Being shown up in front of a room full of friends and other random people as someone whose credit is of dubious value never looks good. But imagine this happen to you when you attempt to pick up a tab using currency that you got out of a cash point.

The money had come from an Agricultural Bank cash point at Beijing airport – it was late and I was in a hurry so I didn’t bother to look at it, but just jammed it in my pocket and ran for a taxi. When was the last time you bothered to check the validity of cash you got from a cash point?

It was a few days later when picking up the tab for drinks at a bar that I realised the problem. A bashful waitress came back asking for another form of currency to my dud 100 RMB bill, leading to a tableful of friends ridicule my attempt to palm off fakes. Upon closer inspection I realised that it was indeed not real – the paper was too slick and when you folded the paper the ink rubbed off. Unfortunately for me, it was another couple of days before I realised that I had gotten two in the same batch when I tried to pass another one off to a taxi driver taking me back to the initial scene of the crime at the airport. This was an even more awkward situation as I had no other money on me, leading to a row and a race into the airport to a cashpoint – NOT the one I used before I should add. I shall go curse that one next time I am in Beijing.

This entire incident might have a slightly comical air to it, but I remain 200RMB down out of the experience (about 22 Euro), and baffled by the how the money got there in the first place. Almost every shop, and certainly every bank, in China that I have come across uses money counters which both count the amount of bills and verify their authenticity. That some managed to get inside a cash point suggests an inside job of some sort – and I should add this is not the first time this has happened. A friend of mine in Shanghai had a similar experience with an ICBC cashpoint.

Fake stuff in China is pretty commonplace. Aside from markets everywhere selling knock-off DVDs, clothes, electronic equipment, furniture, and pretty much anything else you can imagine, you periodically get bombarded with emails highlighting fake foods of one sort or another. A Chinese teacher at one point told me not to buy cups and other bits of pottery from guys who sold them on the street as apparently the clay they were using was toxic in some way. In addition, stories of mass contamination like the fake milk scandal of a few years ago are surprisingly common – though more often than not they are at a more local level and thus do not attract the same sort of notoriety. It is often very hard to verify any of this – even the fake objects you buy are not always that far off the real thing, some are made by the same manufacturer but simply without the famous label.

But fake money from a cashpoint seems a new low and does make you think that something has fundamentally gone wrong with the system. While me getting a few dud bills does not mark the end of the PRC, within these sorts of fissures you do get a sense of some of the problems which China has and which occasionally burst forth.

A brief postscript to this story: I am still stuck with the bills, but the delay checking in at the airport while fighting with the cabbie meant that by the time I got there the flight was full so I was bumped up to first class. Some sort of karma I suppose.

 

I have a longer article in the latest Jane’s Intelligence Review exploring the phenomenon of young men (and even if reports are to be believed one woman) going to join the Shabaab in Somalia. The focus of the article is on the phenomenon more recently, using court docs from cases in the US, UK, Sweden and Denmark and trying to explore the shift from people being drawn from ethnic duty at their homeland being invaded by Ethiopia to jihadist rhetoric espoused by al Shabaab which seems to be drawing a more diverse community. At the end it looks at some of the plots that seem to have emerged from the Shabaab networks in the west (something I have touched upon before). I have written a growing amount on this topic which I find fascinating, as we appear to be watching live the evolution of a group from regional to global jihadists. The question is how much it is pushing itself in this direction, or how much is it happening because the networks are going violent by themselves and dragging the group with them.

Unfortunately, the article is behind a firewall (the link is below for those who have access). I have asked for a copy to distribute here, and will hopefully be able to post it once it has been cleared by them.

Youth movement – Somalia’s foreign fighters

Key Points
  • Somali jihadist group the Shabab is continuing its efforts to recruit foreign fighters who can be moulded into ideologically committed units for its war against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and African Union peacekeepers in Mogadishu.
  • Radical networks in Western countries have channelled recruits and money to the group since January 2009, when the Ethiopian military withdrew from Somalia and some moderate Islamists were given prominent positions in the TFG.
  • While the Shabab used recruits from other East African countries to carry out the Kampala bombings in July 2010, there is currently little evidence to suggest it is sponsoring attacks on the West, although its support networks in Europe and Australia have been implicated in domestic terrorism.

The latest video from militant Islamist group the Shabab showcases recruits from all over the world. Raffaello Pantucci discusses why the Somali organisation has such wide appeal and what implications this jihadist cross-fertilisation may have for Western governments.

In late November 2010, Somali militant Islamist group Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen released its latest video from the battlefields of Somalia. Like previous films, this one featured foreign fighters (known as the ‘muhajirin’ or emigrants) from various countries, who called on fellow Muslims to join the ‘jihad’ in Somalia. In the process, they highlighted how the failed state has become a leading destination for radicalised young men from around the world.
The Shabab’s keenness to recruit foreigners can be at least partly attributed to its desire to raise ideologically committed units that are loyal solely to the group’s leaders and immune to the clan rivalries that have divided Somalis for the past two decades. The Shabab is also in a far better position to process foreign volunteers than its counterparts in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Its control of virtually all southern Somalia is now uncontested and its activities behind the front lines are rarely disrupted by air strikes, allowing it to set up training facilities.
One such camp was seen in the video, which showed masked fighters training with individual and crew-served weapons. The video then introduced a multilingual cast of foreign fighters serving on the front lines in Mogadishu. The video also implied that recruits would be well-fed and generally looked after. Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, the Shabab’s official spokesman, said: “Almighty Allah has blessed us out of his bounty with a handful of noble muhajirin… we pledge to Allah to protect them with our blood, and to carry them upon our shoulders, and protect them from that which we protect ourselves and our families.”
While the Shabab appears to be recruiting foreigners primarily for street fighting in Mogadishu, the radical networks that are channelling volunteers and material support to the group are also becoming involved in terrorist conspiracies in their home countries.
Invasion
When it first emerged, the Shabab was a small hardline Islamist militia in Mogadishu with links to Al-Qaeda operatives wanted in connection with terrorist attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. It subsequently became part of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) that rapidly took control of much of southern Somalia in 2006. While often described as the UIC’s military wing, it represented the most extreme part of what was an alliance of courts and their affiliated militias.
In December 2006, the Ethiopian military invaded to topple the UIC and install a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu. However, after their initial victories the Ethiopians became bogged down, and as resistance grew the Shabab re-emerged as an independent organisation that became Somalia’s most potent insurgent group, using suicide bombing tactics, sometimes with devastating results. In its increasingly slick propaganda, the group claimed that the United States had encouraged Christian-dominated Ethiopia to invade Somalia in what was yet another example of “crusader” aggression against Muslims.
Meanwhile, young ethnic Somali men living in Western countries began leaving for their ancestral homeland. A small number of them subsequently appeared in Shabab propaganda.
In March 2008, the group released a video featuring Abu Ayub al-Muhajir, a young English-speaking Somali whom the video said carried out a suicide bombing at an Ethiopian checkpoint on 10 October 2007. The UK media subsequently identified him as a UK national who had studied business at Oxford Brookes University.
The US-Somali Shirwa Ahmed has been identified by the US authorities as one of several Shabab suicide bombers who attacked targets in northern Somalia in October 2008.
Abdulrahman Ahmed Haji, a Danish-Somali who moved to Somalia in 2008 with his wife and children, was held responsible by TFG officials for a suicide bombing at a graduation ceremony for medical students at Mogadishu’s Shamo Hotel on 3 December 2009, an attack that the Shabab disowned after it provoked widespread outrage.
When journalists began investigating why Western Somalis were travelling to fight in Somalia, it became apparent that there was widespread opposition to the Ethiopian invasion in the diaspora communities. In a paper titled Al Shabab: the internationalisation of militant Islam in Somalia and the implications for radicalisation processes in Europe , published in February 2010 for the Danish Ministry of Justice, Danish researchers Michael Taarnby and Lars Hallundbaek stated: “The intense dislike and suspicion of the Ethiopians materialised in a high level of community support to the armed struggle intended to liberate the country from foreign invaders.”
This suggested that the support for the insurgency was largely an expression of the Somali nationalism that had been fostered by former president Muhammad Siad Barre (1969 to 1991), who wanted to establish a ‘greater Somalia’ at the expense of neighbouring countries. The result was the 1978 to 1979 Ogaden war in which Ethiopia inflicted a heavy defeat on Somalia.
Indeed, two Somalis put on trial in the UK in 2008 on charges of raising tens of thousands of pounds for the Shabab emphasised their nationalist motives for supporting the war against the Ethiopian invaders. However, at the same time they were accused of using the Al-Qimmah website, a predominantly Somali language jihadist forum that supports the Shabab, as well as Al-Qaeda and other affiliated groups. It was also stated during the trial that they had accumulated a vast volume of radical material from the internet, which they said they wanted to take to the resistance fighters in Somalia.
The key defendant, who faced two juries after the first failed to reach a verdict, was identified in the Swedish press as being known to the Swedish authorities as a member of a radical network they had encountered years earlier in a separate case. In court, it was revealed that when he was first arrested by British police in 2008 he apparently said: “Is it the British or Swedish police who want me? In Sweden we were active with the Islamic Courts.”
The juries did not find either of the defendants guilty.
It appears the Shabab’s radical Islamist message was resonating with young diaspora Somalis. For example, in his video released in March 2008 the English-speaking Abu Ayub said: “Know that I am doing this martyrdom operation only for the sake of Allah and his religion [not] for nationalism, tribe, and money or fame.”
He was not the only one to be motivated by ideology. According to court documents released by the US Department of Justice, US-Somali suicide-bomber Shirwa Ahmed left Minneapolis as part of a group of radicalised young men in December 2007 to train with the Shabab. These documents also stated they were the first in a wave of young US citizens in Minneapolis who were drawn to Somalia, spurred on by older former fighters who assured them they would find “true brotherhood” and that “to fight jihad will be fun”. The FBI believes that at least 20 young men have been persuaded by this rhetoric, a number of whom are still thought to be in Somalia, according to statements made when indictments against a Shabab support network in Minnesota’s sizeable Somali community were unsealed in August 2010.
Swedish networks
More details about the Shabab’s radical diaspora support networks emerged in the form of documents released in December 2010 after a Swedish court convicted Mohamoud Jama and Bille Ilias Mohamed of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks in Somalia. In their mid-20s, the two Swedish-Somalis admitted travelling to Somalia, but stated that they did not support terrorist activity.
Prior to 2010, the two men were subject to a long-term investigation by the Swedish Security Service (Säkerhetspolisen: SAPO) into a network of extremists that had developed in and around Rinkeby, a part of Stockholm nicknamed ‘Little Mogadishu’ by locals. The radical cleric Sheikh Fuad Mohamed Qalaf (alias Shangole) was based at the Rinkeby mosque before returning to Somalia in 2004. He has since emerged as a senior leader in the Shabab.
According to court documents published after Jama and Mohamed’s convictions, the main contact between the Shabab and Sweden was a Somali-Swede named Ismail Ahmed Yassin who was born in Somalia in 1979. He migrated to Sweden in 1994 and became a Swedish citizen in 2007. Well-integrated into Sweden’s Somali community, he worked as a youth leader around the Rinkeby mosque and nearby Creative House community centre. While working there, others in the community noticed that he started to adopt more radical views, leading to his eventual dismissal. According to court documents, Yassin continued to organise events and raise awareness of the situation in Somalia, including a conference on Islam in July 2008 that was attended by more than 90 young men.
A few months later, in October 2008, Yassin travelled via Kenya to join the Islamist fighters in Somalia. According to intercepts and court documents released by Swedish authorities, having moved to Somalia, he established himself as the main conduit for Swedes seeking to join the Shabab. Describing himself as ‘amir al-muhajirin’ (leader of the foreign fighters) in intercepted conversations, Yassin exhorted others to swear allegiance to the group and raise money, and provided updates on the group’s activities on the front line.
Using the pro-Shabab Al-Qimmah internet forum and telephone calls through a network of friendly interlocutors, Yassin maintained regular communication with individuals in Sweden who sent money and fighters to the group, according to Swedish court documents.
Among those to travel along this pipeline was Shoaib Ali Sheikh Mohamed, a Somali born in 1981 who moved to Sweden in 1992 and became a Swedish citizen in 1998. In October 2008, Sheikh Mohamed returned to Somalia via Kenya to join the Shabab. In an intercepted August 2010 telephone conversation released in court documents, Yassin and an associate in Sweden discussed the ‘martyrdom’ of Sheikh Mohamed in a clash with Ugandan forces in July 2009.
In December 2008, two months after Yassin and Sheikh Mohamed moved to Somalia, they were followed by Ali Yasin Ahmed, a slightly younger Swedish-Somali, about whom less is known. Intercepted telephone conversations used in the trial against Jama and Mohamed indicate that he witnessed an attack led by Sheikh Qalaf and that he was familiar with the Danish-Somali alleged suicide-bomber Abdulrahman Ahmed Haji. In January 2010, the Swedish press cited officials as saying that around 20 Swedes had joined the Shabab.
Withdrawal symptoms
In January 2009, the Ethiopian military withdrew from Somalia, leaving the TFG under the protection of the Ugandan-led African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeeping force. This facilitated an agreement that led to some of the more moderate UIC Islamists joining the TFG. Their leader, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, became the TFG’s president. With the foreign invaders gone and the new president promising to introduce Islamic law, there was widespread hope that the Shabab’s appeal would be significantly undermined.
The group was forced to shift the focus of its rhetoric towards AMISOM, claiming that its Ugandan and Burundian soldiers were continuing to perform the same role as the Ethiopians. The Shabab also denounced its erstwhile UIC colleagues who had joined the TFG as apostates who had sold out their religion.
There are signs of a general decline in diaspora support for the insurgency in the wake of the Ethiopian withdrawal. For example, the Swedish authorities recorded a conversation on 10 August 2010 in which Jama complained to a fellow Somali-Swede that “the diaspora helped us before, when the Ethiopians came, so that we could drive them away… because they hated Ethiopia so much… when they left, then came the Ugandans… but they hate the Ethiopians more than the Ugandans… they have never heard of the Ugandans… and now we get no help because they do not know what the war is about.”
While diaspora Somali support may have declined after the withdrawal, more radicalised individuals remained committed to the cause. Both Jama and Bille Ilias Mohamed, for example, travelled to Somalia after the Ethiopian withdrawal. Mohamed led the way, attempting to enter through Kenya in February 2009 and Uganda in March 2009 and finally succeeding on his third attempt in late April 2009. Jama appears to have had less difficulty, managing to get to Somalia with his wife and one-year-old daughter on their first attempt on 11 March 2009. Conversations intercepted between the men and their own confessions show a high degree of focus on religion and violent jihad and both admitted supporting the Shabab.
They were not the only Western Somalis to travel to Somalia that year. In November 2010, BBC radio broadcast an interview with a British-Somali woman who claimed that her brother, a biology graduate, announced in late 2009 that he and a friend were going to travel to Egypt to study religion. Leaving with few possessions or explanations as to where he had got the money for such travel, the young man telephoned his family sporadically over the next year saying first that he was in Egypt and then in Somalia. In mid-September 2010, the family received word through his travelling companion that he had been killed “by a flying missile”. The family has heard nothing more about his fate.
In addition, networks that allegedly raised funds for the Shabab continued to operate in the US after the Ethiopian withdrawal. Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, both naturalised Somali women, were arrested in August 2010 as part of the Minnesota investigation into Shabab support networks. They await trial on charges of knowingly providing material support to a designated terrorist group and making a false statement when questioned by federal agents.
According to court documents, the two women maintained contact with key leaders in Somalia with whom they regularly held teleconferences to raise money for the group. The published indictments quote Ali telling an unindicted person in Columbus, Ohio, in an intercepted telephone conversation on 12 January 2009, to “always collect under the name of the poor” when gathering funds “for the mujahideen in Somalia”. The same indictments state that a month later, during a 10 February 2009 teleconference fundraiser, Ali told listeners to “forget about the other charities” and instead to focus on “the jihad”.
Ali is alleged to have raised enough funds to send at least USD2,750 to Somalia in February 2009, her most successful month, according to the figures listed in her indictment. Such a figure could indicate there was not a notable decline in the amount of money Ali was allegedly able to raise in the wake of the Ethiopian departure. However, the intercepted telephone call to Columbus suggests it was not always clear to the donors who the recipients of the money would be.
Both Ali and Hassan have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Another Shabab fundraising network allegedly remained active until it was disrupted by arrests in July 2009, according to court documents. Their indictment states that Abdi Mahdi Hussein of Richfield, Minnesota, and Mohamud Abdi Yusuf of St Louis, Missouri were involved in sending money to the Shabab, mainly in 2008. The indictment also states that a payment of USD1,000 was sent to the Shabab in March 2009, after the Ethiopian withdrawal. The men are currently awaiting trial on charges relating to providing material assistance to the Shabab. Both have yet to register a plea.
Diversification
There are also signs that the war in Somalia continues to be seen as a legitimate jihad by non-Somali radicals as well as diaspora Somalis. In June 2010, police in New York arrested Mohamed Alessa, a Jordanian-Palestinian, and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, a Dominican convert, as they prepared to board flights to Egypt, allegedly with the intention of travelling to Somalia to join the Shabab. According to their indictment, the two men had previously attempted to get through Jordan into Iraq to join jihadists there in 2007. Both await trial on charges of conspiring to kill, kidnap or injure persons outside the US and have yet to register a plea.
A month later, in July 2010, federal agents intercepted convert Zachary Chesser, a US citizen, as he attempted to board a flight from New York to Uganda. In a statement published as part of his indictment, Chesser said this was his second attempt to join the Shabab, the first being in November 2009, and that he had previously produced “things” for the group (most likely online material). He pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges in October 2010.
Less than a month later in August 2010, agents similarly intercepted Shaker Masri, a young Jordanian resident of Chicago who claimed to know Chesser and was also allegedly on his way to join the Shabab. He awaits trial on charges of supporting the Shabab and Al-Qaeda and has not yet registered a plea.
Examples of non-Somalis joining the Shabab have been seen elsewhere, with the UK authorities in particular saying the group is attracting people of various ethnicities. Having been shown classified reporting on the subject, the UK Conservative Party MP Patrick Mercer was quoted in September 2009 as saying: “There is now a mixture of British people, from numerous backgrounds, who are heading out there [to Somalia] and that is causing great concern.”
The Shabab seems to be encouraging this diversification. Eight of the nine masked foreign fighters who featured in the recruitment video released in November 2010 were identified as coming from Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan, Sudan, Sweden, Tanzania and the UK. The ninth spoke English with a North American accent. While some may be ethnic Somalis, the use of English and Swahili subtitles throughout the video suggests it was intended to appeal primarily to Anglophone and East African audiences. This may be an attempt to recruit foreigners with even less attachment to the clan system than their Somali diaspora counterparts.
The emphasis on Swahili could also reflect the Shabab’s desire to further carry out regional attacks such as the 11 July 2010 bombings in the Ugandan capital Kampala. In the wake of the Shabab’s first major operation outside Somalia, Ugandan military intelligence held a press conference in which three Ugandans and a Rwandan confessed to organising and carrying out the attack.
The danger of returnees
The Kampala bombings seemed to be a direct extension of the fighting in Mogadishu, with the Shabab trying to justify them as retaliation against the deployment of Ugandan troops. Nevertheless, counter-terrorism officials fear the Shabab’s Western recruits could carry out similar attacks in their countries of origin. Noting there are a “significant number of UK residents training in Shabab camps”, Jonathan Evans, the director general of the UK’s Security Service (MI5), said in a September 2010 speech to security professionals in London: “I am concerned that it is only a matter of time before we see terrorism on our streets inspired by those who are today fighting alongside the Shabab.”
While the Shabab does not currently appear to be sponsoring terrorist conspiracies against the West, there is already evidence that the radical networks that have formed to channel recruits and material support to the group are becoming involved in domestic terrorism.
In one of the more prominent cases, on 1 January 2010, Mohammed Muhideen Geele, a Danish-Somali in his mid-20s, broke through the front door of cartoonist Kurt Westergaard’s Aarhus home in Denmark armed with an axe. When he appeared in court in January, Geele was charged with terrorism and attempting to murder Westergaard, who had drawn a controversial cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, and a policeman who responded to the incident. He denied the charges, saying he only intended to frighten Westergaard. On 4 February he was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Geele had previously been picked up in Kenya by counter-terrorism authorities conducting a sweep against Shabab networks ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in August 2009. According to a report in the Swedish press, Geele was also seen in Sweden alongside the Danish-Somali Abdulrahman Ahmed Haji.
In the wake of the attack, Shabab spokesman Rage told the AFP: “I tell you that this incident is not something that could be related only to the Shabab or other Islamic organisations. It is a general obligation for all Muslims to defend their religion and the Prophet.”
Rage issued a much stronger denial when confronted with claims that the Shabab had sponsored a mixed Somali-Lebanese group arrested and detained in August 2009 in Australia in connection with a plot to attack the Holsworthy Army Barracks outside Sydney. The case emerged from an investigation by Australian security services into a network allegedly channelling funds and fighters to the Shabab. According to detailed Australian press reports based on police briefings, the security services became aware of the network after Wissam Fattal, a Lebanese former kick-boxer, attracted attention in his local mosque with his radical proclamations.
Fattal and four other men were tried on charges relating to the Holsworthy Barracks plot in 2010. During the trial, it was revealed that mosque-goers overheard Fattal trying to arrange travel to Somalia through Saney Aweys, a Somali refugee living in Australia. Fattal later described the conflict in Somalia as a “true jihad” to a police informant who had infiltrated the group. However, while Aweys was able to organise travel for others, Fattal could not get the visas he needed. The prosecution claimed that this rejection prompted him to begin planning an attack in Australia.
Among those Aweys sent to Somalia was Yacqub Khayre, a young former drug addict he had taken under his wing. According to the prosecution, Aweys tasked Khayre with obtaining a fatwa from a scholar in Somalia to justify the attack that Fattal was planning in Australia. However, Khayre proved an unreliable recruit, apparently running away from his training camp at least twice, leading Aweys’ contacts to tell him that the young man was “a risk to you, us and the whole thing”, according to recordings played in court.
Aweys also tried to obtain such rulings from clerics with whom he was in telephone contact, including Sheikh Hayakallah in Somalia, to whom he outlined the firearms attack they were planning on the army base. The jury found Fattal, his Lebanese lieutenant Nayef el Sayed and Aweys guilty of conspiracy to commit a terrorist act in December 2010. Khayre and another man of Somali descent were acquitted.
In a more recent case, Munir Awad, a Lebanese-born Swede, was arrested and charged along with two others by Danish police on 29 December 2010 for his role in an alleged plot to attack the Copenhagen offices of Jyllands-Posten , the Danish newspaper that published Westergaard’s cartoon.
Awad was first detained in Somalia in 2007 along with his 17-year-old pregnant wife Safia Benaouda, the daughter of the leader of Sweden’s Muslim Council. The two were part of a group of foreigners picked up by Kenyan troops as they fled the fighting in Somalia. In explaining why the couple had found themselves in the middle of such violence with Safia pregnant, she told The New York Times : “We wanted [to do] something more authentic.”
Awad and his wife appeared in Pakistan in September 2009, when they were stopped at a checkpoint as they travelled to South Waziristan. Again, the Swedish authorities intervened to bring them home.
Awad pleaded not guilty to charges relating to the Copenhagen plot in December 2010 and is now awaiting trial in Denmark.
Awad’s arrest came just days after Dutch security forces moved to disrupt what they believed was a network of Somalis in Rotterdam who were plotting a terrorist attack in the Netherlands. While all but one of the men were released and handed over to immigration authorities, the arrests highlighted the concerns of the Dutch authorities about radicalisation in the country’s estimated 20,000-strong Somali community.
According to one community leader in the Netherlands quoted in Dubai-based newspaper The National , a new radical element comprising young men who “use religion purely for political purposes” has “recently” entered the community. There were also instances in 2009 of the Somali community reporting their concerns about radicalisation among its youth to the authorities in an attempt to prevent them from travelling to Somalia to fight.
Conclusion
There do not appear to be any reliable estimates of the numbers of foreign fighters in Somalia, with some figures in the hundreds and others in the thousands. It is also unclear whether the flow of recruits has increased or decreased since the Ethiopian withdrawal. What is clear is that some continue to travel to Somalia and the Shabab is keen to recruit more, presumably to fill out the ranks of its core units, but possibly also to ensure that radical networks in the West continue to raise funds on its behalf.
There is currently little evidence that the Shabab is following the example of the Al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan’s tribal areas who are directing their Western recruits to return home to carry out attacks. However, the Shabab’s supporters have already been implicated in a number of conspiracies in Western countries, suggesting that the conflict in Somalia is helping to forge and radicalise networks that are committed to a so-called ‘global jihad’ against anyone or anything they perceive to be anti-Islam.
This means that the Shabab has the necessary human resources should it decide to cement its reputation as a transnational jihadist organisation by carrying out attacks against the US and its allies. The bombings it carried out in northern Somalia in October 2008 and in Kampala in July 2010, beyond its normal areas of operation, showed the results could be devastating.