Archive for October, 2011

A new journal article for Studies in Conflict and Terrorism with Peter and Ryan looking at the community of “middle managers” in al Qaeda. It got a write-up on Bloomberg that appears to have been picked up in a couple of places. Took a while to emerge, but explores some ideas and a community that we thought was a bit under-explored in the counter-terrorism research.

Here is the abstract:

This article claims that the ongoing debate about the structure and dynamics of Al Qaeda has failed to appreciate the importance of an organizational layer that is situated between the top leadership and the grass-roots. Rather than being “leaderless,” it is the group’s middle management that holds Al Qaeda together. In Clausewitzian terms, Al Qaeda’s middle managers represent a center of gravity—a “hub of … power and movement”—that facilitates the grass-roots’ integration into the organization and provides the top leadership with the global reach it needs in order to carry out its terrorist campaign, especially in Europe and North America. They are, in other words, the connective tissue that makes Al Qaeda work. The article substantiates this hypothesis by providing a number of case studies of Al Qaeda middle managers, which illustrate the critical role they have played in integrating the grass-roots with the top leadership. The policy implications are both obvious and important. If neither the top leadership nor the grass-roots alone can provide Al Qaeda with strategic momentum, it will be essential to identify and neutralize the middle managers, and—in doing so—“cause the network to collapse on itself.”

Unfortunately, as it is a Routledge journal, it is behind a firewall and can be found here for those with access. However, I might be able to help point you in the direction of a copy if you get in touch.

Advertisements

A new post for the Lowy’s Interpreter blog, this time a set of pictures and text from Kyrgyzstan’s election campaign that we got to see during our recent trip to the region and in particular during a stop-over in Osh. A lot more on the topic of China in the region forthcoming (the principle purpose of the trip), in the meantime, enjoy. Thanks to the lovely Sue Anne Tay for pictures, and to Alexandros for helping with the text.

A Rally in Kyrgyzstan

By Raffaello Pantucci – 26 October 2011 2:14PM

Text by Raffaello Pantucci, a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. Photos by Sue Anne Tay, whose work appears on Shanghai Street Stories.

Kyrgyzstan is in the midst of what appears to be a lively democratic election campaign. Rushing to meetings around Bishkek and then driving to Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second city, big political posters adorned bridges, tollbooths and places in between. So it was with little surprise that we came across a large-scale rally at the stadium adjacent to our hotel in Osh.

A somewhat lackluster affair on a cold damp afternoon, the rally was in support of Bakir Uulu, a candidate we later discovered was something of a soft-Islamist (something that should have been obvious from the crescent that adorned his campaign logo), eager for the US to move its military presence out of Kyrgyzstan. Azerbaijani dancers pranced around as an apparently famous Kyrgyz MC crooned nationalist songs from behind his shiny suit. Eventually, some of the many policemen standing around chomping on sunflower seeds got interested in our presence and our already tepid interest in the event receded.

But as we were leaving, we walked right into the candidate who was walking from his nearby office (below) to the rally to give the keynote speech. Ever the politician, he pressed the flesh and stood around for some pictures before telling us that we must come back and listen. He pointed to one of his young acolytes to ensure we got good seats.

Unfortunately, this young staffer did not feel it was his role to also translate, so as we sat in the cold listening to the candidate talk we were obliged to simply pick out the odd word that was apparently universal (America, Afghanistan, Europe, Taliban, Hizb ut Tahrir, Uzbek, China etc). The one line our guide did choose to translate was that the candidate thought ‘they had learned a lot from America and Europe.’ Far more active was an excitable drunk sitting behind us who seemed determined to record the entire event on his Motorola phone and get our phone numbers.

Kyrgyzstan is a young country and this was reflected in the crowd, though a number of older Kyrgyz were among those sitting interested and engaged in what the candidate was saying. One group was drafted into participating in a parade that marched around the stadium waving blue flags as part of a cortège that included a unit on horses and three white trucks with campaign posters taped to their sides. At the back of the stadium, a rather hapless group of men alternated between trying to put up large banners of the candidate and smoking cigarettes. They finished their task as the candidate ended his speech.

We made our way back to our hotel with a better understanding of Kyrgyzstan’s dysfunctional politics than anything gleaned from academic analysis.

Have been travelling where this is unaccessible for some reason, so there is going to be a bit of a blast now as I catch up with posting a bunch of things that were recently published in other places. First up, a longer article for Homeland Security Today magazine from their October edition, teeing up the current state of terrorism and other problems in the UK in the run up to next year’s Olympics in London. A longer piece next year focusing on that is in the works.

Seeking Balance In Britain

Just when it seemed the jihadist threat had faded, British authorities are facing challenges from both old and new sources.

By: Raffaello Pantucci

10/21/2011 (12:00am)

On July 11, Britain’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) reduced its threat level from “severe” to “substantial.”

“This means that a terrorist attack is a strong possibility and might well occur without further warning,” Home Secretary Theresa May cautioned while announcing the decision. “The change in the threat level to ‘substantial’ does not mean the overall threat has gone away—there remains a real and serious threat against the United Kingdom, and I would ask the public to remain vigilant.”

But it was not an organized terrorist act that would rock Britain this summer. On Aug. 4, in the Tottenham neighborhood of north London, police shot Mark Duggan, 29, an alleged gangster and drug dealer, when they attempted to arrest him. Police said he was resisting arrest, fired first and was killed in the exchange. The next evening crowds from the African and Caribbean communities in North London gathered to protest what they saw as a racially motivated shooting and general police persecution of local youth. However, some violent elements chose to hijack the peaceful protest and it rapidly raced out of control.

It was a stunning turn of events for a country that thought it had its threats under control and could even relax—even as it geared up security for the July 2012 Olympic Games.

Driven by crowds of marauding youths in London, then in Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool, the riots quickly escalated into mass-scale looting and burglary with police seemingly helpless to stop them. With costs in London alone estimated to be about £200 million ($330 million) and thousands arrested for their involvement, the rioting cast a shadow on the country as it prepared for the games.

The Olympics have long been identified as a potential terrorist target. As Jonathan Evans, director general of MI5, put it to the parliamentary committee tasked with oversight of the security services, “The eyes of the world will be on London during the Olympics…[and] those eyes will include some malign ones that will see an opportunity to gain notoriety and to inflict damage.” But the riots showed that it was not only terrorist threats that were a potential spoiler.

At press time, it remained unclear what exactly sparked the riots. Unsurprisingly, politicians tended to cast blame as it suited their political constituencies. Prime Minister David Cameron deployed a stern conservative response highlighting how “broken families” were to blame and that there was a “moral collapse” going on in the country. This reflected a line taken by Home Secretary Theresa May in the immediate wake of the riots when she referred to the rioting as “looting and thuggery” and promised a firm police response.

Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband, on the other hand, hinted that poverty likely played a role and that the excessive greed shown by bankers during the financial crisis fed the public rage that erupted so violently in early August. This echoed Labour’s London mayoral candidate (and former mayor) Ken Livingstone’s repeated claims on television as the riots took place that the austerity package passed by the government and the lack of job creation underlaid the troubles.

But while there was a lack of clarity about what caused the riots, it was clear that British police failed to maintain order in the capital city for considerable periods of time. As rioting spread beyond London to Birmingham, Manchester and other major cities, people started doubting the government’s capacity to maintain public order.

Regaining control

After the initial evening’s chaos in London, police took a heavy hand. The Metropolitan Police force flooded the streets with an additional 10,000 officers. Auxiliary officers were called in to support full-time staff and were asked to pull 12-hour, all-night shifts. Once the streets were reclaimed, the next move was to release thousands of still photos from closed circuit television cameras in city centers, asking the public to identify individual rioters.

Nevertheless, questions were asked about why things got so out of hand in the first place. One suggested reason was that the police had been distracted by the recent loss of a number of senior leaders in a tabloid newspaper phone hacking  and bribery scandal.

Acting police head Tim Goodwin reassured the public that police had the situation under control, but politicians concluded that not enough was being done and asked Bill Bratton, former head of both the New York and Los Angeles police departments, to come and provide his advice.

Meanwhile, former London Police Chief and current mayoral candidate Brian Paddick argued that Bratton’s hard-line approach was unlikely to work in the United Kingdom and may contravene the European Court of Human Rights. Instead, Paddick advocated a more holistic approach to policing in the UK. Underpinning all of this was a need “to give everyone enough of a stake in society that they feel they want to work within its norms and values … and a belief that the police can and will protect them,” said Paddick in an interview on CNN.

But overall, the general sense in London was that this spasm of violence was largely beyond comprehension. As reports came in of schoolteachers and affluent residents among those convicted for involvement in the rioting, the economic rationales became further confused. Londoners interviewed byHomeland Security Today varied in apportioning blame, with most calling it criminal youth taking advantage of a chaotic situation, while others pointed out how much more dramatic events were on television than in real life. What was clear, however, was there had been a dramatic loss of control by Britain’s police services—something they compensated for during the August Notting Hill carnival in central London. The annual festival has been a target for troublemakers in the past, but this time police arrived in heavy numbers in a show of strength—deploying as many officers as they did in the wake of the rioting and forcing the event to close an hour early.

An unchanging assessment

Security services felt on much surer ground when looking at the terrorist threat from Islamist extremists. For all the disorder of the riots, the government’s basic assessment of the jihadist terrorist threat did not change. On July 12, the Home Office issued CONTEST, its third Counterterrorism Strategy.

CONTEST highlighted that “international counterterrorism work since 9/11 has made considerable progress in reducing the threats we face. Al Qaeda is now significantly weaker than it has been for ten years.”

But at the same time, the threat has fragmented in a variety of different directions. Heightened threats emanate from al Qaeda affiliates globally and from Northern Irish dissident groups, as documented both by CONTEST and Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which oversees Britain’s intelligence community.

CONTEST was the culmination of a series of reviews of British counterterrorism strategy. In the weeks prior to its publication, the government published its review of the key “prevent” aspect of the strategy—the part that attempts to stop individuals from choosing a path of terrorism. It concluded that the strategy needed to be redefined.

This came in the wake of the coroner’s inquest into the July 7, 2005, bombings, which absolved the security services of blame for not preventing them, but also showed that more could have been done.

No surprise

The lowering of the general threat assessment by CONTEST and the Home Office was not surprising. Counterterrorism experts and watchers had long noted that the foreign threat in the United Kingdom seemed to have gone down.

Security agencies remained on high alert, as highlighted in February 2011 when MI5 Director Evans stated “the amount of surveillance that we undertook with police colleagues [in the past year] was the highest at any point that we have ever had to put out to the streets,” but this translated to fewer plots coming to fruition and a general sense that the threat was in hand.

At the same time, however, the government remained concerned that “we continue to identify far more people engaged in terrorist activity in this country than we can successfully prosecute and convict,” Evans said. He added the alarming fact that, “we know that some of those [terrorist] prisoners are still committed extremists who are likely to return to their terrorist activities.”

For example, in a plot currently working its way through the courts, a member of a network planning a series of attacks in London is believed to have been radicalized in prison. Afghan security services, meanwhile, were shocked to discover that a man responsible for an April suicide bombing of the defense ministry in Kabul was radicalized in a British prison. In the next few years a number of other individuals implicated in serious terrorist plots will be released onto the streets.

What changed in the minds of the security services, though, was the provenance of the terrorist threat to the UK. According to CONTEST, “over the last year the threat to the UK and to UK interests from terrorists in Yemen and Somalia has significantly increased. People from this country [the UK] are also traveling to these areas to fight. Some are returning here to plan and conduct operations.”

An ISC report quoted MI5 as assessing “that any short-term attacks against Western targets in retaliation for the death of [O]sama bin Laden are more likely to be carried out by AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen] than al-Qaeda core.”

Additionally, there has been a noticeable increase in Northern-Irish-related terrorism. According to CONTEST, in 2009 there were 22 attacks. In 2010 there were 40, and this year so far there have been 16, with “many more successfully disrupted.” This comes alongside a spike in rioting in the region, most recently in Portadown, County Armagh, that resulted in a series of arrests and numerous police and civilian injuries.

But this story of threat diversification is not new. Nor is a general sense in the United Kingdom that the country still faces danger from terrorism, albeit from many sources. As James Brandon, director of research at UK counter-radicalization think tank Quilliam, told Homeland Security Today in an interview: “The threat has clearly now evolved. It is no longer the traditional threat that emanated from people of Pakistani origin going to train in South Asia. This is no longer going on to the same scale. But there are new challenges.”

Among them, Al Shabaab in Somalia has attracted Western recruits, Brandon said, while instability continues to mount in Yemen, which has a long-established link with jihadists in the UK. Beyond those countries, terrorists potentially could exploit the widespread instability across the Middle East.

But, he added, “at present something seems to be missing from the equation to translate this into visible terrorism and violence.”

Islamic radicalization is not taking place on the scale it was, he said. Hard-core salafism and deobandism remain a significant force, but by Brandon’s analysis, many of the key groups that fed Al Qaeda in the past no longer have the reach in the community they once did.

“The reason for this is two-fold. First, there is no current-affairs catalyst pushing people from non-violence into violence. Previously, there were issues like Iraq, Afghanistan or the Danish cartoons that would push them over the edge. The catalyst to push them to go the final yard is simply not there today.

“Secondly, pro-jihadist voices are a lot subtler than they used to be. They may still be around, but they do not reach the same audience and have to play their cards more carefully,” he said.

From the observations of counterterrorism experts and UK government reports, it seems the overall terrorist threat is ongoing, but it’s hard to say whether it is on the wane or on the increase.

Instead, they point to the fact that the UK has not faced a successful attack since July 2005, though there have been a number of very near misses. Most expect that this is likely to remain the general trend for the foreseeable future, with a particular spike in attention around the upcoming Olympic Games.

Lone wolves and the right wing

An unpredictable element in the mix is the potential threat posed by lone-wolf or lone-actor terrorists. CONTEST specifically singles them out as a “significant” threat, and the potential menace seemed to crystallize in the form of Anders Behring Breivik’s attack on Oslo, Norway. In a methodically planned attack in late July, Breivik pulled the trigger on a plan he had been cogitating for nine years. In the ensuing chaos 69 people were shot to death at a summer camp and another eight killed in a bombing outside government offices during a lone-wolf terrorist attack that has made European security officials reconsider their planning for such threats. As one official put it to Homeland Security Today, the previous focus was on “monitoring groups,” and Breivik showed that such single-minded attention sometimes missed very dangerous elements.

The Breivik attack alarmed British security officials because his claims and history seemed to have strong links to Britain’s right-wing community. Born in the UK to a Norwegian diplomat, he signed his manifesto with the English-sounding name Andrew Berwick. He was reported to have attended rallies organized by the English Defense League (EDL) that formed in response to the perceived threat from Islam in the UK. While the EDL denied he was a member, and Breivik criticizes the group as naïve in his manifesto, the incident awakened people’s concerns about the right wing in the UK. As Matthew Feldman, a lecturer at the University of Northampton and a regular prosecution witness in right-wing terror cases, put it in an interview with Homeland Security Today, this nexus of lone-wolf terrorism and the right wing was particularly concerning.

“I think there is an important connection between individually undertaken acts of terrorism and links to the wider culture of intolerance on the far-right,” said Feldman. He added that understanding how lone wolves draw upon a “wider culture of intolerance” will be key to ensuring such acts do not take place elsewhere in Europe.

Analysis

The overall message from the most recent raft of reports is that the menace of international terrorism to the United Kingdom is decreasing. There has not been attack planning on the scale seen previously.

At the same time a constant patter of smaller-scale terrorist threats continues to plague the UK. Irish dissidents continue to battle on, and right-wing extremists may be emboldened by the actions of Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo.

And while the August chaos shook Britons, it remains unclear whether it was anything more than a temporary eruption. The hard-line response and the speed with which political leaders on all sides used the situation to bolster their own causes did not shed any further light on what drove the chaos. While the loss of control alarmed British security officials as they prepare London for next year’s Olympics, the fact they are getting to learn the lessons a year out should mean they are better prepared for domestic threats while maintaining vigilance to foreign dangers.

_____________________________________________

The Internet Threat

The jihadist threat from the Internet continues to remain complex, acting as both a radicalizing agent but also providing terrorists with operational support beyond simply instructions on how to make bombs.

In a speech to a London think tank, Home Secretary May highlighted how groups were using tools like Google Earth, Google Street View, cloud computing and peer-to-peer networks to plot terrorist attacks. She particularly highlighted AQAP’s use of online parcel tracking to time where the devices the group planted on DHL transport planes last October were intended to explode.

At the same time, however, CONTEST specifies, “we continue to see no evidence of systematic cyberterrorism.” It points to a specific instance of an attack called the “here you have” virus that was claimed by the Tariq Bin Ziyad Brigades for Electronic Jihad as an example of a terrorist assault launched online, but the relatively low impact of the virus showed the immaturity of the threat. (Tariq Bin Ziyad was a Muslim Berber general who led the conquest of Spain in the year 711.)

The biggest menace to online counterterrorism capacity identified by CONTEST was the loss of individual operatives and experts to the private sector. Commenting to the ISC, Ian Lobhain, head of Britain’s Government Communications Head Quarters—Britain’s equivalent of the US National Security Agency—pointed out his biggest problem was losing staff because he was simply not able to compete with the private sector’s salaries.

_____________________________________________

Preventing terrorism

While recent reports on the terrorist threat to the UK do address right-wing terrorism—albeit to a lesser degree than some experts like Feldman would advise—the focus remains on Islamist radicalization. The reports highlight a number of current problems in Britain’s counterterrorism strategy, with much of the focus on its “prevent” component. The key element of discussion is the fact that “prevent’s” current broad scope has both diluted it and confused things by supporting non-violent extremists in the hope that they might be able to rein in the violent fringe.

In what has been seen as a direct repudiation of this approach, CONTEST stated, “the focus of prevent to date has been on violent extremism and terrorism. It has not explicitly considered non-violent extremism. However a significant percentage of people who engage in terrorism have previously been associated with extremist groups. Some terrorist organizations—of all kinds—also share and make use of ideas which are popularized by extremists.”

The new approach will be widened to “address radicalization to all forms of terrorism,” according to the report, while also narrowed in focus to ensure the government does “not securitize its integration work.”

It seems unclear how things have been going so far, with next to no clear monitoring of the effectiveness of more than 1,800 projects conducted under the auspices of “prevent.” Additionally, there are concerns about the Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), a cross-departmental unit set up in 2007 to improve the government’s capacity to broadcast “hearts and minds” messages in its counterterrorism operations. As CONTEST lays out, “RICU’s counter-narrative work has not been as successful as we want. RICU must do more to identify credible partners and to develop powerful and specific narratives across a range of communications channels, especially the Internet.”

An op-ed in the International Herald Tribune today, looking at China and Russia across Central Asia. Am currently in the middle of a fascinating trip through the region, about which more later. My co-author and I are going to be producing a lot more on this topic in the near future, so watch this space. This particular article has already generated one angry response.

October 17, 2011

BY RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI AND ALEXANDROS PETERSEN

BEIJING — Traffic around Tiananmen Square was even worse than usual last week as President Vladimir Putin rolled through town to cement the supposedly flowering Chinese-Russian relationship. A series of high-level deals were signed between Chinese and Russian state-owned enterprises and China announced a substantial infusion into the new Russian Direct Investment Fund.

While cordial, an unspoken undertone to the meetings was Russian concern about growing Chinese influence in the former Soviet Union and particularly Central Asia.

Just before his visit to Beijing, Putin had announced a desire to form a new Eurasian Union that would tie a number of former Soviet states back into the Russian orbit. Hands immediately starting wringing in Brussels. At this time of E.U. weakness, the Eurasian Union was seen to be aimed at counterbalancing Western institutions.

These concerns are largely ill-founded. While the new organization is clearly an effort by Russia to reassert authority over its old dominions, it is in fact aimed East rather than West. Russia is far more concerned by growing Chinese influence in its backyard than anything the West is throwing its way.

The core of Russia’s concerns is the slow but steady progress of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, originally set up in the post-Cold War period to define borders between its five members — China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan ( later joined by Uzbekistan).

But in the last 10 years the S.C.O. has evolved into the most interesting, and perhaps consequential, example of Chinese diplomacy. As a Chinese scholar put it to us the other day in Beijing, the organization went from being focused on regional security to honing in on regional development — a trajectory that accords tidily both with China’s and the Central Asians’ interests.

While nominally an equal partner to all members, Russia has felt like a junior partner in the S.C.O. Once one of the two poles in the world, Russia is now considered among the ranks of new rising powers — not a bad group to be in, but clearly a step down from its previous position in global affairs.

Moscow has sought to counter this by retaining links and authority among former Soviet republics. Those in Europe have now been absorbed into the European Union, but the Eurasian states have remained within the Kremlin’s sphere of influence, bound by a latticework of organizations like the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Eurasian Economic Community.

The S.C.O. was initially ignored by Russia when it was set up a decade ago, but it has steadily developed into an increasingly important actor that has become a vehicle for China’s push to develop Central Asia.

China has focused on trying to turn the S.C.O. from a security-focused organization into an economic bloc, a policy predicated on the knock-on effect that a stable and prosperous Central Asia would have on China’s underdeveloped Xinjiang Province.

Using its deep pockets to pour money into the poor and isolated Central Asian states, China has secured energy contracts, worked on hydroelectric plants and helped develop infrastructure from roads to telephone systems.

But China has gone beyond hard-nosed economics, developing a holistic strategy that attempts to bring Chinese soft power to bear on the region. China has established Confucius Institutes to teach Chinese in all the Central Asian states but Turkmenistan, and has also helped develop an S.C.O. University that brings together some 50-plus universities across China and Eurasia.

As part of a push to develop the S.C.O. as a cultural entity, as well as one focused on security and economics, these are admittedly baby steps, but there is some evidence of success. Growing numbers of Central Asian students can be found at Chinese Universities and reports from Confucius Institutes in the region point to the children of affluent families trying to learn Mandarin.

This is perhaps the greatest threat to Russia’s powerful legacy in the region. Moscow has no money to spend, so it has been happy to allow China’s investment in Central Asia, as long as Russia retains cultural predominance. That is starting to slip. Putin’s efforts at a Eurasian Union thus appear to be a rearguard action to stem the tide of increasing Chinese omnipotence in Russia’s backyard.

Raffaello Pantucci is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. Alexandros Petersen is an adviser at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

As I mentioned previously, I was recently in Bucharest for a session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. As part of this, they have published my comments online. They can now be found here. As you will see, the presentation touches upon the terrorist threat to Europe and the western alliance more broadly – it draws on a lot of points that I go into detail about here, but I also expand a bit on some of the future threats that Europe may face.

A new piece for Jamestown on a subject I have been trying to get published for a while. Will keep this short as am in hurry, but more soon.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Expanding Western Connections

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 37
October 14, 2011 05:20 PM Age: 18 hrs
Faisal Shahzad
As the United States breathed a sigh of relief that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 had passed without any major incident, the U.S. Justice Department announced that three men had pled guilty to charges of trying to smuggle a member of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) into the United States. As one of the suspects, Irfan ul-Haq, put it, it was “not their concern” what the smuggled individual might “want to do in the United States – hard labor, sweep floor, wash dishes in a hotel, or blow up. That will be up to them.” [1] The men were apparently part of a network of people smugglers that was willing to help Pakistani TTP members enter the United States, highlighting once again the menace posed by the group to the United States, as perceived by the American security community.

The histories of the three men at the heart of this case are unclear. They were arrested on March 10 in Quito, Ecuador, as part of an operation by American forces (NTN24 [Bogata], September 20, 2011). In court documents released later, prosecutors laid out a case showing that from January 2011, undercover agents dispatched by a law enforcement agency approached two of the men in Quito, Irfan ul-Haq and Qasim Ali, to inquire about smuggling a fictitious person from Pakistan into the United States. The initial approach was to ul-Haq, who directed them to talk to Ali in order to obtain fraudulent documentation. The two men then met and spoke with the undercover agents a number of times to work out the details and a month later ul-Haq seems to have brought a third man, Zahid Yousaf, into the conspiracy. [2] It was at about this time that one of the undercover agents told the suspects he was a member of the TTP and that the individual who was intended to be smuggled was also a member – information that elicited the callous response highlighted before. [3] While it is unclear whether the suspects were actually supportive of TTP aims, their capacity to smuggle individuals out of Pakistan and into the United States using fraudulent documentation would have provided the TTP with a useful network were they able to connect with it. At one point the suspects provided the undercover agents with a sample fake British passport and ul-Haq boasted of having contacts in Pakistani immigration that could provide exit stamps for people who were wanted by security services.

This in turn highlights the general growing concern about the increasing internationalization of the TTP. On July 29 the UN Security Council agreed to add the TTP to the list of proscribed groups. [4] In an electronic interview with Terrorism Monitor, Richard Barrett, coordinator of the UN’s al-Qaeda-Taliban Monitoring Group, said the move was “an important symbolic consequence” that showed “the international community as a whole condemns [the TTP] without reservation. This universal condemnation acts as an encouragement to all those who are opposed to TTP and have suffered from its violence.” [5] The move follows earlier decisions to proscribe the TTP by Pakistan, the UK, the United States and most recently, Canada. [6] The threat to the West was brought into focus when Waliur Rehman, the head of TTP in South Waziristan, announced: “Soon you will see attacks against America and NATO countries, and our first priorities in Europe will be France and Britain” (al-Arabiya, June 28).

This is not the first time the group has threatened the West and it has attempted in the past to carry through on these threats. Back in January 2008, the group was connected to a plot to attack Barcelona, Spain and other possible EU targets by deploying a network of twelve men, ten Pakistanis and two Indians.  According to prosecutors and an informant within the cell, some of the men had undergone training with TTP in Waziristan. The informant reported that the then-TTP leader Baitullah Mahsud had specifically identified him as a potential suicide bomber. The link to the TTP was confirmed in August 2008 when TTP spokesman Maulvi Omar released a video in which he stated, “the [foiled attack] in Barcelona was conducted by twelve of our men. They were under pledge to Baitullah Mahsud and the TTP has already claimed responsibility because [of] Spain’s military presence in Afghanistan.” [7]

While this plot was disrupted, responsibility for Faizul Shahzad’s failed car bombing in Times Square in May 2010 was claimed by TTP soon afterwards in a video that featured footage of Shahzad at a TTP camp. According to the indictment that was handed down against him, Shahzad admitted to having trained alongside the group in Waziristan in December 2009. Having returned to the United States, Shahzad received some $5,000 in February 2010 to help him carry out an attack there. He then went about purchasing a gun and locating the necessary equipment to build a car bomb. [8]

While it is unclear whether Shahzad had any contact with TTP networks in the United States, the existence of these networks now seems to have been confirmed. Aside from the group arrested in Quito, FBI agents in Miami moved in May to disrupt a network based around a pair of imams in Florida who were allegedly running a fundraising network to send money to the TTP. According to prosecutors, the group sent at least $50,000 to Pakistan and discussed the terrorist attacks it was going to support with their contacts there (Miami Herald, May 14). This came after an August 2010 operation codenamed “Samosa” in Ottawa, Canada that was mounted by Royal Canadian Mounted Police forces to disrupt a network that was sending funds to the TTP and accumulating bomb making material locally (National Post, July 5).

Successful attacks have yet to emerge from these TTP support networks, but it seems likely that more plots will follow in the future. Given the ongoing trickle of foreigners drawn to Pakistan and the TTP’s ongoing campaign at home against the Pakistani state and its American backers, it is likely that this connection will continue to be a focus of concern for Western intelligence agencies.

Notes:

1. USA vs. Irfan ul Haq, Factual Proffer in Support of Guilty Plea, filed September 12, 2011.http://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/1683.pdf.

2. USA vs. Irfan ul Haq, Qasim Ali, Zahid Yousaf, Indictment filed March 3, 2011.http://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/1678.pdf.

3. USA vs. Irfan ul Haq, Factual Proffer in Support of Guilty Plea, filed September 12, 2011.http://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/1683.pdf.

4. http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1267/NSQE13211E.shtml.

5. Author’s email interview with Richard Barrett.

6. Public Safety Canada – Currently Listed Entitities, http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/prg/ns/le/cle-eng.aspx#TTP.

7. http://www.nefafoundation.org/multimedia-intvu.html

8. USA vs. Faisal Shahzad, indictment, http://www.cbsnews.com/htdocs/pdf/Shahzad_Faisal_Indictment.pdf .

A new piece on recent plotting in the UK for HSToday, a few editorial choices I might not have made, but the overall point was to cover a couple of recent plots in the UK. Once the book finally lands, a lot more on this topic. In the meantime, in Bucharest recently for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, a local news outlet wrote a piece on a presentation I gave for those who can read Romanian (or any of the romance languages).

Britain’s Jihadist Networks

10/11/2011 (11:34am)

Western jihadism may have suffered a serious blow with the deaths of Anwar Al Awlaki and Samir Khan, but the war in the United Kingdom to counter terrorist networks continues. In the week prior to Awlaki’s reported death in Yemen, an operation against a group of seven Birmingham natives resulted in serious charges leveled against them as part of an alleged Pakistani-connected plot to carry out a terrorist operation in the UK.

In addition, charges were brought against a pair of German converts to jihad who had attempted to enter the UK to connect with radicals there who were intercepted at the border with copies of articles from Awlaki and Khan’s Inspire magazine.

The separate arrests were made following intelligence-led operations that disclosed not only the degree in which British security services are in close contact with their counterparts around the world, but their vigilance in identifying potential terrorist networks at home. In both cases, links abroad showed how the UK remains a hub of radical activity in Europe.

The arrests in Birmingham appear to have come after a long-term operation by a local counterterrorism unit and MI5 to pinpoint a cell of individuals they believe were providing support for terrorist networks in Pakistan and planning a “bombing campaign.”

The arrested men are between 20 and 32 years old, and their names indicate they are Pakistani natives. In the immediate aftermath of the arrests, the police said only that the men were part of a “large operation” that was “Al Qaeda inspired” and was the most “significant” counter-terrorism operation so far this year.

Since then, charges have been filed that reveal a network with links to Pakistan that involved a “suicide bombing campaign/event.” According to court documents, since last December 25, two of the men, Irfan Nasser (30) and Irfan Khalid (26), plotted to commit “acts of terrorism within the UK or assisting another to commit such acts.”

The men allegedly travelled to Pakistan for training that “include[ed] bomb making, weapons and poison making” and professed their “intention to be[come] a suicide bomber,” according to West Midlands Police. They also allegedly made martyrdom films, planned a bombing campaign, sought to purchase chemicals and build explosives detonators, recruited others and provided advise to other wannabe jihadists on how to travel to Pakistan.

Another man, 26-year-old Ashik Ali, also is suspected of having been involved in the conspiracy and having expressed his “intention to be[come] a suicide bomber.” He does not, however, appear to have made the trip to Pakistan. His older brother, Bahader (28), was charged with fundraising and not reporting the plot to authorities. Twenty-five year-old Rahin Ahmed was charged with supporting others to go to Pakistan to train and raise funds. Mujahid Hussain (20) was charged with fundraising and failing to inform police of the alleged terrorist plot . Hussain was not initially arrested, but turned himself into police a week after the initial arrests.

Another older man, Mohammed Rizwan (32), was charged with failing to report the alleged plot to police,  as was an unnamed 22-year-old woman.

While the charges against the group are serious, unarmed officers conducted the initial raids, suggesting the police knew that the men did not possess weapons or explosives. Authorities have acknowledged that the group was under law enforcement surveillance in the run-up to the arrests.

Given previous problems that police have had in charging terrorism suspects, it’s unlikely they would have moved to arrest all the suspected terrorists unless they were certain they had evidence that would stand up in court. It’s unclear how, exactly, the links to Pakistan were identified, but reportedly they were overheard during conversations monitored by British security forces, who were able to ascertain the mens’ intentions. However, because intercepted communications cannot be used in court, it’s likely police uncovered incriminating evidence during the raids on the mens’ various properties.

Among the community in which the men lived, they reputedly were known as radicals, though no one suspected they were violent. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, a neighbor reported that Ashik Ali was “incredibly intense and devoutly religious.”

While it’s unclear whether the men have links to Islamists previously arrested on charges of plotting attacks, numerous counter-terrorism operations have been conducted in the areas of Birmingham where the men are from.

One of the first properties searched by police was registered to a man involved with a network that sent supplies to Taliban forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The leader of the network, Parviz Khan, is a former football player who’d hatched a plot to kidnap and behead a British Muslim serviceman. While Khan was able to lure others into his alleged conspiracy, one, Mohammed Irfan, is alleged to have only been involved in helping manage the supply network Khan is suspected of operating.

The discovery in the same area of Birmingham of another network that allegedly was established to get people to South Asia for training and fundraising has raised concerns about Muslim radicalization in the area.

As authorities focused on the other cases involving apparent links to jihadist networks in Pakistan, a separate case was unfolding in another London court room. There, charges were leveled against a pair of alleged German jihadist converts who’d been caught trying to enter Britain at the border in Dover. According to authorities, they allegedly intended to connect with radicals already in England. The two men, Christian Emde (28) and Robert Baum (23), were intercepted during an intelligence-led operation as they attempted to enter the UK through the port at Dover.

When border security agents searched their luggage, they found a computer and a hard drive full of material that’s become indicative of radicalized Muslims, including articles from Inspire, the slick magazine published by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The articles were, “Destroying Buildings” and, “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”

Authorities also found the essay, “44 Ways to Support Jihad,” by Anwar Al Awlaki, who was AQAP’s external terrorism operations chief until he was killed in a CIA-directed drone strike in Yemen on a convey he was travelling in late last month.

The two men initially claimed they were trying to get from Brussels to Egypt, but were dissuaded by the cost of flights.

In an interview with Der Spiegel, Baum’s mother said her son had made a gradual shift towards radicalization. As a child, he reportedly sought to join the Army to serve in Afghanistan but ended up in a desk job. He apparently converted in January 2009 and ended up in a number of dead-end jobs. In October 2010, he announced his intention to go to Egypt with other Muslims to learn Arabic. It was a suspicious change in behavior that panicked his mother, who alerted authorities.

Although law enforcement paid him a visit, it didn’t appear to discourage him – he continued to operate in Salafist circles and allegedly went to hear the sermon of a radical preacher. He also continued on his trip to Egypt, returning to Germany in February 2011.

Baum’s travel partner was a man known to be active among local jihadist circles and was under surveillance by German intelligence services. At one point, police approached the imam at a mosque in Solingen, Germany where the two regularly attended, warning him that the two men might be extremists. The imam asked the men to stop attending the mosque.

What Baum and Emde were planning in the UK is unclear, but according to a German journalist, the two men were in contact with British extremists via Facebook and websites like Salafimedia.net. The disclosure indicated British extremists appeal to a broader community of radicals in Europe and that the UK is a haven for hardcore, domestic radicals.

While the activities of the two Germans seems relatively low on the ladder of terrorist activity, prior to their arrests evidence allegedly indicated that they had a resolute interest in becoming involved with radicals. And when combined with the case in Birmingham, it could be construed that there’s a community of extremists living in the West Midlands who have connections to radical groups in Pakistan.

If true, it would mean the UK has been unable to eliminate its domestic terrorist threat. While the quality and quantity of the threat certainly has subsided, evidence strongly suggests it hasn’t yet gone away.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) at King’s College, London. He is Homeland Security Today’s London correspondent.