Archive for the ‘Terrorism Monitor’ Category

A new piece for Jamestown analysing the recent video release in Chinese by the TIP. Not entirely sure what to make of this. It has since also been pointed out to me that it looks like the video was actually made back in April, which further raises questions about why it was released now. Any thoughts or reactions would be greatly appreciated.

Turkistan Islamic Party Video Attempts to Explain Uyghur Militancy to Chinese

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 25

June 23, 2011 04:15 PM Age: 5 hrs

Almost completely overshadowed by the death of Osama bin Laden, jihadi publishing house Sawt al-Islam released a bilingual video from the Turkistan Islamic Party in mid-May. [1] The video recounted various historic grievances held by western China’s Muslim Uyghur people against Chinese communist rule while promising new efforts to achieve the independence of “East Turkistan” (China’s western province of Xinjiang). While the substance of the video is not that novel, the fact that it has been released with a narration in Mandarin Chinese would seem to mark a new twist for TIP, a group that has thus far largely restricted itself to publishing magazines in Arabic with occasional videos in Uyghur.

The video is delivered bilingually, with a speaker identified as Faruq Turisoon speaking Mandarin in the flat tones typical of some Chinese minorities. The language he uses is fluent and rapid, demonstrating a level of linguistic capability that would suggest he has at least lived in Chinese speaking communities for some time. The Uyghur version is dubbed over the Mandarin, while the Mandarin version has subtitles in simplified Chinese characters similar to those commonly used in Chinese television and cinema.

During the course of the video we see Turisoon standing before a group of eight heavily armed men brandishing machine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers, with two men on horseback flying the black flag of jihad and the traditional blue flag of East Turkistan. The video is interspersed with footage from Abu Yahya al-Libi’s October 2009 video called “East Turkistan: the Forgotten Wound,” that was released in the wake of the rioting in Xinjiang in July 2009 (ansar1.info, October 7, 2009).  The new video also contains footage of unknown men in Middle Eastern garb talking about the situation in China on television and what appears to be footage from a release by al-Qaeda in Iraq in response to the 2009 riots.

The video is in the format of a “Letter to the Chinese People,” laying out Uyghur claims for independence and freedom for East Turkistan from the Chinese state (the region was independent of China for brief periods in the 1900s). In his speech, Turisoon repeatedly invokes China’s experience with Japan to make the Chinese people understand Uyghur perceptions of their treatment at the hands of the Chinese.

Turisoon cites the Cultural Revolution (the 1966-1976 period when Mao unleashed a purge of capitalist elements that ripped China apart) and Tiananmen Square (the June 1989 incident when the People’s Liberation Army cleared Beijing of protesting students) as incidents of when the Chinese government “wantonly killed” its own people. Added to this list he includes the rioting in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi in July 2009 that left around 200 people dead (of both Han Chinese and Uyghur ethnicity) and an uncertain number of Uyghurs incarcerated or executed subsequently.

Within the context of Uyghur complaints, his statements are quite traditional, and in the video he highlights well-known Uyghur grievances with Chinese government family planning policies, the large-scale immigration of Han Chinese to Xinjiang and the supposed emigration of Uyghur women from Xinjiang to other provinces. [2] He also discusses the exploitation of Xinjiang’s natural resources by the Chinese government and singles out the work of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a group founded subsequent to the Communist Party’s take-over of Xinjiang using demobilized Chinese soldiers to establish a foothold in the province. The XPCC still controls much of the province’s economy.

The exact reason for releasing the video now is unclear. In the weeks prior to its publication, a report in the Pakistani press claimed that Abdul Shakoor al-Turkistani, the supposed chief of the TIP, was elevated to the role of “chief of [al-Qaeda] operations in Pakistan,” so it is possible that this video was a reflection of a new push by the group to assert itself (The News [Islamabad], May 21). However, given the relatively low interest that al-Qaeda or any other groups have shown thus far in the plight of the Uyghurs and the close security connection between China and Pakistan that has likely stymied Uyghur groups’ efforts to carry out any attacks, it would be surprising if the release of this single video made much of an impact. During a visit last year to Beijing, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed the death of Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, the former leader of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM – an alleged predecessor of the TIP), and declared that they had “broken the back”  of the ETIM (Dawn, May 7, 2010; see also Terrorism Monitor, March 11, 2010).

It should be noted that at around the same time as the alleged meetings were taking place in which Abdul Shakoor al-Turkistani was elevated to his new role, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) undertook a counterterrorism operation along the Kyrgyz-Tajik-Chinese border northwest of Kashgar in Xinjiang. The exercise took the format of forces hunting down a training camp on the Chinese side of the border and rescuing a bus full of hijacked citizens. Commenting subsequently, Vice Minister of Public Security Meng Honwei declared that there were “signs [that] the ‘East Turkistan’ terrorists are flowing back….the drill was designed against the backdrop that they are very likely to penetrate into China from Central Asia” (China Daily, May 9).

The video received no coverage in the Chinese media (or anywhere else for that matter), likely a reflection of a Chinese official desire to keep the information out of public circulation, but also due in part to the fact that the Turkistan groups have largely failed to conduct any successful attacks and remain low-level players in the world of global jihadism. Aside from some (disputable) claims of responsibility for small-scale and low-tech efforts to attack buses or airplanes in China, the group has not particularly demonstrated a capacity to carry out terrorist attacks within China or beyond.

Nevertheless, documents released by Wikileaks concerning suspected Uyghur militants detained in Guantanamo show that there is a contingent that has in the past moved from China to training camps in Central Asia in response to the oppression they believed they faced. [3] When one couples this with the ongoing tensions between Uyghurs and Han Chinese that are clearly visible in parts of Xinjiang, it is easy to visualize the sort of potential for threat that exists. Whether this video in Mandarin is a direct threat that presages action is unclear, but it certainly shows the groups eagerness to continue to prove its existence.

Notes:

1. majahden.com/vb/showthread.php.
2. The phenomenon was described by Abu Yahya al-Libi in his October 6, 2010 video, “East Turkistan: The Forgotten Wound” (al-Fajr Media Center). Abu Yahya denounced “the forced displacement and transport of Muslim girls to the major inner cities of China. These girls are cut off from their families for many years, perhaps forever, under the guise of vocational training so that they are able to work in factories and elsewhere (so these atheists claim). Indeed, hundreds of thousands of these girls were displaced to drown in the sea of corruption, godlessness, longing for their homeland, and organized capture and dishonorable employment. This has left many Muslim women with no choice other than to kill themselves in order to escape the cursed law.”
3. See the Guantanamo records of Uyghur prisoners at www.wikileaks.ch/gitmo/country/CH.html

A new piece for Jamestown about the latest Europol annual terrorism report, focusing on the elements linked to North Africa and specifically Libya. There are a whole raft of issues in here that I really only touch on. The tensions this is causing within Schengen are fascinating to me. I wonder if retrospectively Libya is going to prove to be a major turning point for European foreign policy – the shift to coalitions of the willing outside, while internally a receding of free movement.

Europol Identifies Security Threat to Europe from North Africa’s “Arab Spring”

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 19
May 12, 2011 05:19 PM Age: 4 hrs

Libyan migrants wait in line at the port in Benghazi, Libya.

Without food, employment or security, thousands of sub-Saharan Africans are taking to the sea in overcrowded and unseaworthy boats in desperate attempts to escape the violence in Libya. They are joining some 25,000 Tunisians who have already fled to the Italian islands of Lampedusa and Linosa in hopes of gaining a foothold in Europe. Many boats have been lost in the Mediterranean crossing, at the cost of hundreds of lives (AP, May 9; EU Observer, May 3).

Last year, Mu’ammar Qaddafi struck a €50 billion deal with the European Union to regulate its borders as a “transit country” for refugees and economic migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite this payoff, Qaddafi has not hesitated to use it against Europe, threatening to “turn Europe black” if various demands are not satisfied (Der Spiegel, February 24). The French minister of foreign affairs, Laurent Wauquiez, has warned: “Libya is the funnel of Africa. Flows of illegal immigrants from countries such as Liberia, Somalia and Eritrea pass through Libya… We must defend our frontiers on a European level. What we’re talking about isn’t a few tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who could arrive in Europe; it’s a potential 200,000 to 300,000 this year” (Radio France Internationale, March 2).

Taking a quite traditional view on events in North Africa, the recently published annual Europol (European Law Enforcement Agency) report on terrorist and counter-terrorist activity in Europe concludes early on that “in the short term, the absence of terrorist organizations amongst the mass Arab protests across the region has left al-Qaeda struggling for a response.” For Europol, however, there is a danger in the longer term that if the expectations of those on the streets are not met, “it could result in more powerful terrorist organizations impacting the European Union.” [1] Paired with the current tensions between Italy and France over boatloads of North African migrants who arrived in Europe via Italy and then headed immediately for their linguistic homeland in France only to be stopped by police at the French border – something infringing the free movement of even those possessing only temporary papers within the Schengen zone in Europe – the threat posed by a potential overspill of the Arab Spring into Europe becomes evident. The report mentions this potential threat early on, highlighting that “the current and future flow of immigrants originating from North Africa could have an influence on the EU’s security situation” by offering an easy way for terrorists to slip onto the continent.

Events in North Africa are not, however, the only focus of the overall report and the main conclusions are, as usual, that separatist and left-wing terrorists are the most active in Europe. In total the report covers 249 attacks, with 160 considered separatist, 45 left-wing, three Islamist and one “single-issue.” Forty of the attacks were for “unspecified reasons” – all of these coming from the UK, which does not specify the ideological driver of British-based terrorist attacks.

The numbers in the annual Europol report are notoriously unreliable given the different ways in which member states classify terrorism and the growing variety of criminal legislation under which terrorists suspects are charged. Nonetheless, the report opens its key judgments with a statement that “the threat of attacks by Islamist terrorists in the EU remains high and diverse,” a blunt declaration that shows the priority European police forces continue to place on Islamist terrorism. [2]

In fact, based on the numbers in the report, it is far more likely that European citizens are going to come into contact with separatist terrorists – 349 suspects are reported to have been arrested in the past year. In the UK in particular, this has become increasingly obvious as Irish dissident groups become ever more deadly – in April, a car bomb in Omagh, Northern Ireland killed Roman Catholic policeman Ronan Kerr, an act believed to have been carried out by the Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH – Volunteers/Soldiers of Ireland), a splinter group of the Real IRA (Telegraph [London], April 3; BBC, April 3). ONH operatives are reported to have been under surveillance recently by the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) while scouting potential targets believed to be related to the 2010 London Olympics (Belfast Telegraph, April 21).  Dissident Republican factions have returned to violence to protest the recruitment of growing numbers of Roman Catholics to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the replacement for the formerly Protestant-dominated Royal Ulster Constabulary.

A few days after Kerr’s murder, a 500 lb truck bomb was found in Londonderry, and in the week before the royal wedding, the Real IRA paraded in a show of force through a cemetery in Londonderry.  They concluded by delivering a speech in which they threatened police officers “regardless of their religion, cultural background or motivation,” as well as announcing that “the Queen of England is wanted for war crimes in Ireland and is not wanted on Irish soil” (BBC, April 25).

But even within the resurgent Irish militancy in the UK there are hints of the threat from North Africa. Those with a keen sense of history will recall that Colonel Qaddafi gave Irish dissidents large quantities of Semtex explosives and it was being investigated whether some of this might have been used to kill Constable Kerr. Defecting Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa is believed to have played a major role in supplying Republican terrorists with Semtex. Conservative MP Robert Halfon said:  “If this is true then we must take every step to indict Mr. Koussa in the international war crimes courts or in the British courts for allegedly supplying the IRA with weapons which appear to have killed a policeman on Saturday” (Telegraph, April 3, 2011).

The EUROPOL report also touches upon the bigger strategic question that has been bothering experts about what the Arab Spring means for al-Qaeda’s global narrative. As the report puts it, developments in Tunisia and Egypt show that “peaceful demonstrations by ordinary people may be more effective than terrorist attacks” in effecting political change. However, the resulting “democratic space” could provide room for groups to “expand their activities,” using the “instability of state security forces” as an opportunity to launch attacks. The report notes the “clear contradiction to what al-Qaeda has insisted is the only means of defeating entrenched regimes is likely to result in a notable setback for terrorist organizations in terms of support and recruitment.” [3] So a short-term gain for terrorist groups may be overshadowed by a long-term loss.

This conclusion, however, is based on data prior to the descent of chaos on Libya.  It is unclear to what degree that state might become a new jihadist battlefield that spills back into Europe like Algeria or Bosnia did in the 1990s, or like Iraq and Afghanistan more recently. The overriding nationalist flavor of the fighters in Libya and the continuing presence of the rich target of Qaddafi and his clique is likely to keep fighters busy for the immediate future, but in the longer term it is unclear what the implications of this might be for European security. The report highlights “ongoing concern” about “the number of predominantly young EU nationals travelling to conflict areas that include Afghan/Pakistani border, Somalia and Yemen with the intent to take part in armed combat,” it remains to be seen if Libya will soon need to also be added to this list.

Notes:

1. “TE-SAT 2011 – EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report,” Europol, April 19, 2011:www.europol.europa.eu/publications/EU_Terrorism_Situation_and_Trend_Report_TE-SAT/TE-SAT2011.pdf.
2. Europol Report, p.6.
3. Europol Report, p.7.

A new post for Jamestown, this time looking at the German jihad again. The Arid Uka shooting at Frankfurt airport highlights the potential danger that exists out there. Thanks again to Guido for providing me with insights on this topic.

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 14
April 7, 2011 03:42 PM Age: 10 hrs

Arid Uka, the 21-year-old Kosovar responsible for the killings at Frankfurt airport.

The shooting deaths in early March of two American servicemen at Frankfurt airport as they awaited a plane taking them to Afghanistan was an event that seemed to hearken back to the 1970s, when left-wing groups like the Red Army Faction (RAF) targeted American soldiers stationed in Germany. More in tune with the times, however, Arid Uka, the 21-year-old Kosovar responsible for the killings, appears to have been an individual living on the fringes of Germany’s growing Salafist scene (Der Spiegel, March 3). While abnormal in its success, Uka’s shooting was part of a jihadist scene in Germany that has been growing apace for some time.

Just over a week after Uka’s action in Frankfurt, a court in Berlin convicted Filiz Gelowicz of “supporting foreign terrorist groups” (AFP, March 9). Filiz is the wife of one of the German jihad’s more notorious members, Fritz Gelowicz, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison as part of Germany’s largest terrorism trial since the days of the RAF (Der Spiegel, March 4, 2010). Gelowicz was incarcerated for his role in a plot directed by the largely Uzbek Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) to carry out a bombing on a U.S. military target in Germany. His wife Filiz confessed to sending money to German terrorist networks in Waziristan, and was accused of being a key online supporter of German jihadists fighting in Waziristan (AP, November 5, 2010; Der Spiegel, February 22, 2010).

The group is part of a larger community of German jihadists who have developed a close relationship with the IJU and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and who were eventually allowed to establish their own organization called the Deutsche Taliban Mujahideen (DTM). According to German terrorism specialist Guido Steinberg (formerly of the German Chancellery and now at the German Insititute for International and Security Affairs), the DTM is largely a propaganda vehicle founded by the IJU in 2009 in response to the growing number of German jihadists who had been arriving in Waziristan seeking to fight alongside the group. This view was seemingly confirmed by the published memoirs of late DTM member Eric Breininger (a.k.a. Abdul Ghafar al-Alamani), a German convert to Islam who had been fighting alongside the IJU when his leader came and asked him if he wanted to join a group of Germans who had recently completed their training and were going to join the Taliban as a sub-group called the DTM. [1] Breininger was killed on April 30, 2010, in a firefight in Waziristan with Pakistani soldiers (Der Spiegel, May 3, 2010; see Terrorism Focus, January 28, 2009). He was not the first from the group to have fallen in the region; a number of German jihadists had already been killed in battle and Turkish-German Cüneyt Ciftci (a resident of Bavaria) became Germany’s first known Islamist suicide bomber when he carried out an attack against U.S. forces in Afghanistan in March 2008 (Der Spiegel, March 27, 2008).

But while this group seems to have largely managed to find its connections to jihadists in Waziristan by themselves, others have instead been directed through other networks tied to al-Qaeda. An example of this may be found in the experience of Bekkay Harrach (a.k.a. Abu Talha al-Alamani), a Moroccan-German whose death was announced by fellow extremists on Islamist forums in January (BBC, January 20, 2011). Harrach was a longtime extremist who had supposedly pursued jihad in the West Bank, Iraq and finally Waziristan. He was directed to the training camps in Waziristan by long-time German Lashkar-e-Taiba and al-Qaeda supporter Aleem Nasir. Harrach was featured in videos released under the banner of As-Sahab, Al Qaeda’s media wing, as well as ones linked to the IJU. His death, however, appears to have occurred fighting alongside the IMU (for more on Harrach, see Terrorism Monitor, October 1, 2009).

Others who ended up with the group were drawn to Waziristan only after first connecting with American Islamist Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Mounir and Yassin Chouka, Morocccan-born brothers who grew up in Bonn, were initially drawn to Yemen for jihad and claim to have met with al-Awlaki and an individual claiming to be a former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden.

According to their account, after spending some time there with the cleric and his network, the brothers were told the region was very dangerous for foreigners and were instead directed to Waziristan, where they were warmly welcomed. Jihadist groups in Waziristan were at that time actively seeking to recruit entire families. Enthused by this, the brothers set off, arriving in 2008 in Waziristan to join the IMU – a group they claimed not to have heard of before. [2]

Other German jihadis drawn to Yemen have instead chosen to stay there rather than go to Waziristan. In March a court in Yemen convicted Yemeni-German Hans Harmel of being involved in forming an armed group to conduct terrorist acts (Yemen Post, March 5). The details of his case are unclear, but there are other reports of some German nationals showing up at Yemeni schools and training camps. The growing German Salafist scene is likely feeding both the Yemen and Waziristan networks. According to Steinberg, there are some 4000-5000 Salafists in Germany at the moment and “this is particularly worrying because all the German individuals who went to join al-Qaeda, IMU and IJU in Pakistan first attended Salafist mosques.” [3]

It is in many ways the threat as expressed by gunman Arid Uka that is of greatest concern to German authorities. While it is unclear whether he was linked to existing networks – according to neighbors he knew another recently repatriated German in his building who had been caught fighting in Waziristan and his Facebook page showed evidence of contact with German Salafists – his attack does not appear to have been directed by others and he appears currently to be a “lone wolf” extremist (AP, March 3). There have already been other cases of “lone-wolf” extremists lurking on the periphery of the German radical scene, including Cameroonian convert Kevin S., who had met one of Fritz Gelowicz’s co-conspirators and threatened to carry out an attack through an amateurish YouTube video when he was arrested, and Turkish-German Adnan V. who was convicted in February of trying to build a bomb, telling others about it online and posting extremist videos online (Deutsche Presse Agentur, February 8). While officials suggest there are about 220 citizens who have trained or are training in jihadist camps, only ten of the 120 who have returned to Germany are in jail. Faced with both al-Qaeda/IMU trained militants and self-radicalized German nationals operating outside the normal networks, German authorities remain uncertain as to the exact extent of a clearly growing threat.

Notes:

1. Translation summary can be found at: www.jihadica.com/guest-post-the-story-of-eric-breininger/.
2. An English summary of their account can be found at: ojihad.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/german-jihadi-brothers-met-anwar-al-awlaki/.
3. Raffaello Pantucci: “Terror in Germany: An interview with Guido Steinberg,”
www.icsr.info/blog/Terror-in-Germany-An-interview-with-Guido-Steinberg.

 

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 piece for Jamestown’s Terrorism Monitor, exploring once again the supposedly Shabaab linked plot in Australia. I might do more work on this plot as it seems like it could be an interesting case study. Should you note any new tips or stories emerge from it, please drop me a note.

Operation Neath: Is Somalia’s al-Shabaab Movement Active in Australia?

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 3
January 20, 2011 02:58 PM Age: 6 hrs
Lebanese-Australian Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, accused in the 2009 bomb plot against Holsworthy Army base outside of Sydney.

“Islam is the true religion. Thank you very much.” So declared Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, a 34-year-old Lebanese Australian former kick-boxer after he was convicted of participating in a plot to attack the Holsworthy Army base just outside Sydney (The Age [Melbourne], December 23, 2010; Australian Associated Press, December 23, 2010). The statement stood in contrast to Fattal’s earlier comments following his arrest when he shouted at the court, “Your army kills innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq. You call us terrorists – that’s not true” (Daily Telegraph, August 5, 2009).

Fattal’s statement came at the conclusion of a lengthy trial that began after the August 2009 arrests and raids of 19 properties that concluded Operation Neath, one of Australia’s most substantial terrorism investigations to date (see Terrorism Monitor, September 10, 2009).  Convicted alongside Fattal were Saney Edow Aweys, 27, and Nayef el-Sayed, 26, Somali and Lebanese naturalized Australians, respectively. Cleared of charges related to the plot were Yacqub Khayre, 23, and Abdirahman Ahmed, 26, both Somali-Australians.

Prosecutors alleged that the men were in the process of planning a fidayin or suicide-style attack on the Australian army base, in which they would use automatic weapons to wreak havoc until they were brought down. In a recorded conversation between Saney Aweys and a cleric in Somalia, Aweys outlined the plotters’ intention of attacking a barracks; “There are about six guys…20 minutes will be enough for us to take out five, six, ten…I don’t know. Until they will use up their weapons” (The Age, December 23, 2010).

Much of the media attention around the plot focused on the cell’s apparent connection to al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. Three of the men charged were of Somali descent and it was alleged that the group had sought to obtain a fatwa from clerics in Somalia to justify their actions. Furthermore, the case uncovered a network that was apparently responsible for funneling fighters and funding to the Somali extremist group.

At the center of the plot was Saney Aweys, a Somali refugee who retained a strong connection to his native land and the conflict it currently endures. In an attempt to deflect attention from his client Fattal, lawyer Patrick Tehan pointed an accusing finger at Aweys, declaring his “tentacles seem to be all over the place…he seems to be up to all sorts of activities” (The Age, December 24, 2010). Using seven different mobile phones registered under a variety of names, Aweys was the one who provided contacts with al-Shabaab networks in Somalia.  It was apparently a phone call between Fattal and Aweys which first alerted Australian authorities to the danger posed by the cell (Australian, August 4, 2009). Fattal had expressed to an undercover officer his desire to achieve martyrdom fighting abroad in Somalia, which he described as the “true jihad.” Fattal, however, was unable to travel due to visa problems (Australian, September 23, 2010).

Early on in the case, Aweys was accused of facilitating the travel to Somalia of other Australian Somali’s, including the missing Walid Osman Mohamed (believed to be in Somalia) and fellow defendant Yacqub Khayre, as well as sending money to the group. However, a decision not to prosecute was made on the grounds that the amounts were small and that al-Shabaab was not proscribed in Australia at the time (Australian, August 6, 2009). It is also possible that he was in contact with missing Australian-Somali suspect Hussein Hashi Farah, a man described in the press as the “mastermind” of the plot, who was last seen when he escaped from Kenyan custody after being picked up as he attempted to cross the Ugandan-Kenyan border (AAP, March 23, 2010; AAP, June 28, 2010).

Aweys was the key figure in seeking a fatwa from shaykhs abroad to condone their intended actions in Australia. As well as being in direct contact with Shaykh Hayakallah in Somalia, he also dispatched Yacqub Khayre, a young Somali-Australian and former drug addict he had taken under his wing, to Somalia to obtain the fatwa and (allegedly) to train with al-Shabaab. Khayre was something of an unreliable recruit, regularly fleeing from the camp and was described in an intercept between Somalia and Aweys as “a risk to you, us and the whole thing” (Australian, September 16, 2010).  Khayre’s defense successfully argued that the fatwa Khayre sought when he went to Somalia in April 2009 was merely to condone the conduct of fraud in obtaining money to support al-Shabaab (The Age, December 24, 2010).

These connections aside, it does not seem as though al-Shabaab was directly responsible for tasking the men to carry out jihad in Australia. Shortly after the initial arrests, al-Shabaab spokesman Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage (a.k.a. Shaykh Ali Dheere) issued a statement dismissing reports that the detainees were in any way members of al-Shabaab, claiming the men were arrested solely because they were Muslims (Dayniile, August 6). While it seems clear that Australian police have disrupted a network providing support for al-Shabaab from their nation, it is not clear that this plot was indeed the beginning of a shift in the group’s profile. This is somewhat tangential, however, from the perspective of Western security services, as what the case does highlight is that networks providing support for terrorist groups abroad can pose a potential threat at home. Described repeatedly as the key figure in the plot, the narrative painted by the prosecution was that Fattal had decided to turn his attention to Australia after having been thwarted in his attempts to conduct jihad abroad. He then used his connections to a network sending fighters and money to Somalia to turn those dreams into action, highlighting the very real risk that fundraising networks can pose for their host nations. The men are to be officially sentenced later this month and are likely to receive heavy terms.

 

My latest for the Jamestown Foundation’s Global Terrorism Monitor, this time exploring the odd case of Roshonara Choudhry, which friends in the UK tell me is a really rather concerning sign about the levels of radicalization in the UK. It remains to be seen what actually ends up happening in the broader frame, but it is certainly an extraordinary story about how far one can push oneself when persuaded by dangerous ideas. It will be interesting to see what happens with this girl as time goes on. Should anyone see any interesting stories emerge, please let me know. More on the topic of Lone Wolves more generally soon. Thanks also to Peter for taking time to talk to me.

Trial of Would-be Assassin Illustrates al-Awlaki’s Influence on the British Jihad

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 44
December 2, 2010 01:45 PM Age: 7 hrs

By: Raffaello Pantucci

Roshonara Choudhry 

The conclusion in early November of the trial against 21-year-old Roshonara Choudhry, convicted of attempting to murder British member of Parliament Stephen Timms, marked the end of a case that dealt with the importation of the concept of the “lone jihadi” as espoused by American-Yemeni jihad ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki.  According to Peter Clarke, the former head of London’s Counter Terrorism Command, Choudhry’s actions highlighted the fact that “we are nowhere near getting the counter-narrative [to jihad] through,” and were described by British police as the first instance in which an al-Qaeda inspired Briton attempted an assassination on British soil (Guardian, November 3). [1]

The strange case of Roshonara Choudhry first came to the public’s attention on May 14, 2010, when she walked into MP Stephen Timms’ constituency office for an appointment she had made. Specifying that she had to see the MP rather than an assistant, when she arrived for her appointment Choudhry seemed “anxious” to the security guard working in the office (Telegraph, November 2).

After a short wait, Mr. Timms came out of his office to greet the young woman, who approached him as though to shake his hand. All dressed in black and wearing traditional Muslim garb, Timms “was a little puzzled because a Muslim woman dressed in that way wouldn’t normally be willing to shake a man’s hand, still less take the initiative to do so” (Telegraph, November 2). In fact, as described by Choudhry, the outstretched hand was a ruse: “I walked towards him with my left hand out as if I wanted to shake his hand. Then I pulled the knife out of my bag and I hit him in the stomach with it. I put it in the top part of his stomach like when you punch someone” (Telegraph, November 2).

The security guard and one of Timms’ assistants quickly restrained the young girl, and police and ambulance services were summoned. In an interview conducted hours after her arrest, Choudhry was open in describing her desire to die in the course of her action: “I wanted to be a martyr,” since “that’s the best way to die… It’s an Islamic teaching.” [2] Prior to her attack, Choudhry decided to clear all of her debts, something typical of aspirant Islamist martyrs (Guardian, November 2). When asked why she targeted Timms in her attack, Choudhry responded, “I thought that it’s not right that he voted for the declaration of war in Iraq,” adding that the ideas for this path of vengeance came from “listening to lectures by Anwar al-Awlaki” she found on the internet.

Choudhry appears to have been something of a model student, working up from humble beginnings in East London as one of five children of a Bangladeshi tailor. At the time of her attack, the family was largely living off of benefits and monies the children were able to raise through work. Her background did not prevent Choudhry from earning a place at the prestigious King’s College, London, where she studied English and Communications. In her spare time, she volunteered at an Islamic school and was seen as a prize student on course to achieve a first-class degree (the highest level in the British university system) (Guardian, November 2).

Sometime during her third and final year, Choudhry underwent a transformation and decided to drop out of her course: “Because King’s College is involved in things where they work against Muslims….they gave an award to [Israeli politician] Shimon Peres and they also have a department for tackling radicalization….So I just didn’t wanna go there anymore…cos it would be against my religion.” By her own account, the path that led her to attacking Timms was set in motion prior to her decision to drop out. She discovered Anwar al-Awlaki’s speeches sometime in November 2009, claiming that she found them through her “own research.” From his lectures she got the idea that “as Muslims we’re all brothers and sisters and we should all look out for each other and we shouldn’t sit back and do nothing while others suffer.” She was particularly taken by al-Awlaki’s speeches as “he explains things really comprehensively and in an interesting way so I thought I could learn a lot from him and I was also surprised at how little I knew about my religion so that motivated me to learn more.”

According to Choudhry, it was a video featuring the late Shaykh Abdullah Azzam (1941-1989) and his instruction that it is “obligatory on everyone [i.e. every Muslim] to defend [Muslim] land” that pushed her into the decision to act sometime in April 2010. At this point she decided to seek revenge on a member of the British parliament who had supported the invasion of Iraq using public information websites and a radical website called RevolutionMuslim.com that provided a list of MPs who had voted in favor of the Iraq invasion. Timms was specifically chosen because according to websites she had found, “he very strongly agreed with the invasion of Iraq.” Another factor was Choudhry’s own experience of meeting the MP as part of a school trip sometime in 2006 or 2007.

What is striking about the choice of Timms is that during this first meeting with the MP, Choudhry recalled a fellow student questioning Timms over his support of the war and of feeling that “she [the student] should be quiet and that she’s embarrassing herself.” Four years later, Choudhry had been radicalized to the point that she was willing to murder the same MP.

In the wake of Choudhry’s arrest, there was a spike of attention in the British media about the radicalizing impact of websites. In a speech in Washington, DC, Security Minister Lady Pauline Neville-Jones raised the issue of YouTube hosting videos by radical preachers and other US websites that hosted material she described as “inciting cold blooded murder” (Guardian, November 3). On November 17, British police arrested 23-year-old Bilal Zaheer Ahmand from Dunstall, Wolverhampton for soliciting murder and possessing information likely to be useful to terrorists. The young man was allegedly linked to RevolutionMuslim.com, which published the list of MPs who had voted for the Iraq war and a post which praised Choudhry as a “heroine” (BBC, November 17; Telegraph, November 17). Whether Ahmand will be successfully convicted is still in question. A trial in July against Mohammed Gul, a 22-year-old London student who was allegedly uploading radical videos to a website and who was in contact with extremists abroad, concluded with a hung jury and will go to retrial next year (Romford Recorder, July 27, 2010; Daily Mail, February 24, 2009). For Choudhry, however, the future is clear; on November 3 she was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 15 years. She is currently being held as a “Category A” prisoner, meaning she is subject to intrusive strip-search regimes every time someone visits, something she finds demeaning and against her faith and which has, as a result, kept her in isolation since her incarceration (Guardian, November 2).

Notes:

1. Peter Clarke, interview with author, November 2010.
2. Unless otherwise indicated, Choudhry’s quotes are taken from her police interview, published by the Guardian, November 3, 2010:http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/nov/03/roshonara-choudhry-police-interview.

More for the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor, this time exploring the odd case in Lithuania of Egle Kusiate, the alleged aspirant suicide bomber who wanted to go to Chechnya. This has received very little coverage outside the Baltics, and it is hard to know exactly what is going on. It will be interesting to see how it all develops – if anyone sees any interesting stories on this proceeding, please forward them on.

Strange Case of Suspect Lithuanian Suicide Bomber Complicated by Alleged Role of Security Services

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 35

September 16, 2010 04:33 PM Age: 2 days

By: Raffaello Pantucci

Buried in this year’s Europol report on terrorism trends was a reference to “a 20 year-old Lithuanian woman” who was “arrested before she traveled to Russia to commit a suicide attack there. She had converted to Islam and was self-radicalized via the internet” (for the report, see Terrorism Monitor, June 4). [1] This rather conclusive narrative provided to Europol by Lithuania’s security forces was seemingly contradicted in early August when the suspect, Egle Kusaite, was released from custody by a court of appeals pending a trial whose date has not yet been set (Baltic News Service, August 6).

The strange case of Egle Kusaite first came to public attention in late April/early May 2010 when security forces were obliged to reveal information about her in open court after nearly six months in custody (AP, May 4). Having admitted that she was in custody, prosecutor Justas Laucius told the court that “Egle Kusaite performed illegal actions, and was likely ordered by someone to go to Russia and blow herself up at a military object” (AP, May 4). Laucius later defined the target as “a strategic site,” namely “a military barracks holding Russian troops who had fought in Chechnya” (Kauno Diena (Kaunas), July 20).

Arrested on October 29, 2009 as she tried to board a plane with a new passport, a one-way ticket and $500 she had obtained from radicals for the trip, Kusaite was picked up as part of an intelligence-led operation and has been in Vilnius’ Lukiskes Prison ever since (Baltic News Service, June 11; Baltic Times, July 28). According to the Russian press, Kusaite had been on Lithuanian security’s radar for some time as a result of “anti-Russian messages” she had been posting online (RussiaToday, May 4). Kusaite had repeatedly applied for visas to enter Russia, and was in online contact with extremists in Azerbaijan, the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan as well as a cell in Russia (Baltic News Service, May 4). She had also downloaded manuals about making explosives, which were found in her possession alongside maps of the Moscow underground system as she attempted to board the plane to Russia.

In 2007, the then 18 year-old Kusaite had been reported missing by her family. According to a former teacher, she had developed a close relationship with a man from the North Caucasus, whom she later married in Germany (AP, May 4; Kavkazcenter.com, May 4). Her husband apparently returned to Chechnya and was killed in the fighting, allegedly providing Kusaite with personal motivation to become involved in the conflict (Baltic News Service, August 5). Kusaite’s mother, Virginija Kusiene, claimed she had been obsessed with Chechens, conversing with individuals online before running away to Germany where she had lived in a Chechen couple’s flat “in a room without windows and furniture except for a dirty mattress where she would spend entire days” (Baltic Report, August 6). According to the suspect’s mother, Kusaite lived in her home town of Klaipeda in a flat rented by the Lithuanian State Security Department after her return from Germany and associated with Muslim fundamentalists who were, in reality, agents of the security service (Baltic Times, July 28).

Having been detained by security forces, Kusaite confessed in June “that her goal was to go to Russia and then Chechnya, were she would have performed a suicide bombing in a public area.” It was also revealed that a Chechen brother and sister detained in Russia had admitted to providing her with guidance, offering training and sending her the $500 required for the trip to Russia (Baltic News Service, June 11). The mother of the two Russians admitted the three were in touch, but suggested that Kusaite and her daughter talked only of “girly things” during their internet conversation (Baltic News Service, July 19). On the other hand Kusaite’s family denied her confession altogether, declaring that it had been forced – something she herself now claims (Baltic News Service, August 5).

This is not the only inconsistency with the case, which has stirred up a fierce internal debate in Lithuania about its counterterrorism policy. When the case was first announced, Russian forces denied all knowledge of it, though it had been simultaneously reported that individuals in Russia had been detained and that the arrest was a joint Lithuanian-Russian operation (Interfax, May 5; AP, May 4). Lithuanian forces also claimed to have connived with the Russian Embassy to have Kusaite’s visa application rejected in an attempt to prevent her from going to Russia, suggesting some level of prior contact with Russian authorities (Baltic News Service, June 10).

Lithuanian human rights activists including European Parliament MP Darius Kuolys have even suggested State Security Department operatives tried to convince Kusaite to undertake a suicide bombing in Egypt (Baltic Times, July 28). The activists also claimed that Kusaite had been in the security services thrall for around two years, apparently working as some sort of agent for them. This was confirmed by Lithuanian press sources contacted by Terrorism Monitor who suggested that the case has been complicated by the fact that she had worked in some capacity for the security services. Her family claimed that she had undergone physical and psychological abuse while in custody and that Russian agents had been involved in beating her while in Lithuanian custody, a charge the suspect later repeated in court (Baltic News Service, June 22; Baltic Times, July 28). On the way to her July 20 court appearance, Kusaite shouted to journalists, “I was beaten by three Russians!” (15min.lt [Lithuania], July 26). An investigation into the charges determined the Russians had acted only as observers during the interrogation.

The Kusaite case comes in the wake of a separate case in which it is claimed a Lithuanian agent had attempted to gain information on a Chechen family suspected of radical activity through their foster daughter, whom he had gotten pregnant and then forced to plant listening devices (Baltic News Service, May 12).

Amidst claims that the prosecutor in Kusaite’s case had intimidated the defendant, the court gave way to public and political pressure and dismissed the lead prosecutor (Baltic News Service, July 22). Just over two weeks later the decision was made to allow Ms. Kusaite to leave prison pending her trial, though her documents were seized and she is obliged to report regularly to a police station (Baltic News Service, August 6). It is currently unclear when her trial will be held, though a decision is expected imminently. However, given her alleged involvement with the security services and the fact that she was effectively held in secret detention for approximately six months, a conviction is far from a foregone conclusion. In the meantime, the case highlights the ongoing anxiety that exists among European security services regarding the potential for the North Caucasus to act as a drawing force for aspiring young jihadis.

Note:

1. TE-SAT 2010: EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, April 28, 2010, available at:www.europol.europa.eu/publications/EU_Terrorism_Situation_and_Trend_Report_TE-SAT/TESAT2010.pdf, p.15.

A new piece for Jamestown looking at an odd plot in Dubai. One point which I should clarify is that ETIM, or Uighur extremists, have in the past also been linked to possible events in Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan – so in a way this is not the first time they may have attempted something outside China. The whole thing, however, is very murky, and any pointers for new information on it would be appreciated of course.

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 29
July 22, 2010 04:42 PM Age: 1 hrs
Category: Terrorism Monitor, Global Terrorism Analysis, Home Page, Terrorism, China and the Asia-Pacific, Middle East
Site of the attempted attacks, Dragon Mart mall in Dubai

On June 29, a court in Dubai found two ethnic Uyghurs guilty of plotting to attack a massive shopping mall made up of 400 shops selling Chinese-made goods (The National [Abu Dhabi], June 30). This attempted attack was not only the first terrorist plot to be disrupted in Dubai, but also the first time that a cell tied to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) has taken aim at a Chinese target outside China and Central Asia. In what appears to have been intended as a largely symbolic attack, the Uyghurs’ target was not the mall itself, but a statue outside the mall of a dragon wrapped around a large globe.

According to court documents, key plotter Mayma Ytiming Shalmo, 35, was first recruited by ETIM in Mecca in 2006. [1] While in Saudi Arabia, possibly on Hajj, Shalmo met the deputy leader of ETIM, with whom he discussed the “premise of jihad in China.” Having agreed that he was interested in doing something about the Uyghurs’ plight, Shalmo traveled with the deputy leader to Pakistan’s Waziristan region and was trained in weapons and how to manufacture explosives from easily available materials. He was then introduced to ETIM’s electronics expert, who taught him how to make detonators. Shalmo claims to have spent a year at the mujahideen camps.

After his year of training, Shalmo was given orders from the head of ETIM, relayed through the deputy, to target the Dragon Mart mall in Dubai. He flew from Islamabad to Dubai on July 28, 2007 and spent autumn in Dubai, twice visiting the mall on what were presumed to be scouting missions. He then left the country and went back to Saudi Arabia before re-entering the UAE on December 22, 2007 by bus. At this point, his co-conspirator, Wimiyar Ging Kimili, 31, also an ethnic Uyghur, entered the picture, giving Shalmo a place to live upon his return to Dubai. At some point during this period, the men entered into discussions about China and jihad, and Kimili agreed to help Shalmo in his operation.

From a practical perspective, Kimili’s assistance appears to have been essential. Shalmo apparently spoke neither Arabic nor English, and thus would have been completely reliant on Kimili to go with him to purchase the necessary materials from pharmacies and paint supply shops. When police captured the men, they had in their possession alcohol, potassium permanganate, aluminum, chloride acid, nitric acid, hydrochloric acid, sulfur, acetone and other “tools to be used in the preparation of explosives.”

It is unclear exactly when or why the local police started watching the men. According to one report, they were first alerted by the local Chinese Embassy, which was monitoring the men due to their ethnicity. The same report, however, also highlights that in court documents released in January, the men were first noticed after they made a 50,000 Dirham ($13,600) wire transfer to China, which was then forwarded to Saudi Arabia (The National, June 30). The implication is that this was funding for the attack, though the purpose of these transfers remains unclear, as is who first noticed the money movement. In court documents released at the end of the trial, Kimili describes Shalmo receipt of $10,000 via a hawala network from Turkey to fund the plot.

The same court documents released at the conclusion of the trial highlight the fact that local security services were first alerted to the men in early June 2008 after receiving information that Shalmo was a known ETIM member who was planning an operation in the UAE. They appear to have wasted little time in obtaining a court order to search his property, and on June 28, 2008 they raided his house in al-Ain, discovering the chemicals and other equipment. During his interrogation, Shalmo admitted Kimili’s role in the plot and his help in obtaining the bomb making materials. On July 16, 2008, police arrested Kimili.

Kimili claimed during the trial that, fearing for his family, he had a change of heart about the attack and told Shalmo of his concerns. At this point, he claimed that Shalmo “told him he wanted the chemicals only to use them for black magic” (The National, July 9).

Casting a shadow over the case was the allegation that the men’s initial confessions had been coerced “through fear,” though the court ultimately dismissed this claim, saying fear alone does not constitute coercion.  Furthermore, the trial was delayed while the courts sought out relevant interpreters – in the end translations had to be made first from Arabic into Mandarin and then into Uyghur (and vice versa). Translators were apparently provided by the Chinese Embassy, which also sent representatives to attend the duration of the trial (The National, June 30).

The men were ultimately given sentences of ten years each, with the court noting the attack was ultimately aimed at the UAE, as the mall is government owned. The death penalty, the usual tariff for terrorism charges in Dubai, was dismissed by the court since the plot was still in its “preliminary stages” (The National, June 30). However, upon release both men are to be deported, presumably to China, where they will likely face further punishment as admitted members of ETIM.

Note

1. Unless otherwise indicated, the information is based on court documents released by the courts at the conclusion of the trial. The ETIM leader and deputy leader went unnamed in those documents.

A rather long title for my latest piece for the Jamestown Foundation, this time based on a (relatively) recent Europol Annual report. The report highlights a number of interesting trends that are often overlooked, which would probably merit a lot closer attention than they actually get. Maybe once I clear some of my current backlog I can focus on this – in the meantime, I would welcome any pointers for interesting things to read about other forms of terrorism in Europe.

Europol Report Suggests Separatism Rather than Islamism Constitutes Biggest Terrorist Threat to Europe

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 22

June 4, 2010 07:29 PM Age: 2 days

By: Raffaello Pantucci

Europol, a European Union law enforcement agency dedicated to improving the effectiveness and cooperation of member states’ security agencies, released its annual report on terrorism in Europe on April 28. [1] The report provides an overview of the current situation regarding terrorism in Europe and shows that while incidents of terrorism across the Union appear to be diminishing, “the threat emanating from terrorist groups remains real and serious.” [2]
While the actual numbers seem to indicate that separatist and other forms of terrorism pose a larger threat in Europe, “Islamist terrorism is still perceived as the biggest threat to most Member States.”  In fact, Europol only tracked one effective Islamist terrorist attack in Europe during 2009 – Mohammed Game’s unsuccessful attempt to carry out a suicide bombing on a Milan military barracks – in contrast to 237 attacks defined as separatist, 40 attacks by left-wing groups and an additional 124 attacks in Northern Ireland (for Mohammed Game’s attack see Terrorism Monitor, November 19, 2009). There were also a smattering of right-wing attacks, single issue attacks and attacks with no definable political orientation. [3] Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s unsuccessful attempt to bring down an airliner over Detroit is repeatedly identified in the report as evidence of the threat from Islamist networks in Europe and in particular of “how the E.U. can be used as a platform for launching attacks on the United States.”

Overall, the number of attacks is down by 33% from 2008. This trend is also reflected in the number of arrests, which are down 22% from 2008 (with 587 arrested in 13 member states in 2009), and down 30% from 2007. The majority of arrests were of individuals involved in separatist groups, while the number of individuals arrested in relation to Islamist groups was down from 187 in 2007 to 110. It is worth noting that these figures do not include the UK, which according to the Home Office arrested 201 people from January to September 2009. This resulted in charges against 33% of those arrested, though it is not clear what their political orientations were. [4] In the Europol report, France (37), Italy (20), and Spain (40) marked the highest number of arrests related to Islamist terrorism.

But while the threat from Islamist terrorists is seen as important, it seems clear that on a daily basis it is separatist and other forms of terrorism which pose the most regular threat to European security. The Basque separatist group ETA laid claim to the most deadly attacks in 2009, killing four police officers in two separate attacks (part of some 14 separate attacks the group carried out in Spain), while two British soldiers were killed in Northern Ireland during the course of a year which saw some 124 separate attacks in the province by Loyalist or Republican factions.

Nevertheless, Europol’s assessment of the threat from separatist groups is sanguine in contrast to the growing threat that is seen from left-wing and anarchist groups. Some 40 such attacks were reported in 2009, an increase of 43% from the previous year (and part of a year-on-year trend) and included the death this year of a police officer in Greece. While many attacks by such groups are characterized as spontaneous, Europol highlights a “growing willingness” by such groups “to confront right-wing activists and police,” noting that “the ability to translate violent ambitions into action seems to have grown stronger.” Another growing menace is seen in the increased criminal activities by animal rights extremists which are “expanding throughout Europe,” while the threat from right-wing extremists remains a running theme with some evidence of attempted attacks and training in Europe. However, far-right groups appear to find it hard to maintain coherence, with the greatest threat from this ideology seen in “individuals motivated by extreme right-wing views, acting alone” rather than existing networks or groups. Nevertheless, Europol concludes that activities by all of these groups “are developing a transnational character” and “are now becoming more serious.”

The drivers for this ongoing din of menace are not particularly touched upon in the report, though some thoughts are offered as to why Islamist terrorism continues to pose such a large threat, while in practice seeming less threatening than separatist terrorism. The internet is referred to as an important driver in the growing trend towards Islamist terrorist activities “perpetrated by self-radicalized and often self-instructed individuals,” but the existence of terrorist safe-havens outside the E.U. as locations for training are perceived as posing a continuing threat.

Islamist terrorism clearly remains Europe’s primary counterterrorism preoccupation, but as the continent watches its economy falter, security assessors have started to worry about what the resulting impact might be in terms of political extremism. Europol’s annual accounting of trends across Europe shows that a possible spike in left, right, anarchist and single issue terrorism might be a possible result, something which is likely to only further distract already stretched security services.

Notes:

1. For the official press release: www.europol.europa.eu/index.asp. The full report can be found at:www.europol.europa.eu/publications/EU_Terrorism_Situation_and_Trend_Report_TE-SAT/TESAT2010.pdf.
2. Earlier Europol Reports were discussed in Terrorism Monitor, May 1, 2008 and May 8, 2009.
3. Due to differences in counting and measuring, the United Kingdom is not included within the Europol numbers. Consequently, they statistics are frequently listed separately in the report.
4. “Operation of police powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 and subsequent legislation: Arrests, outcomes and stops & searches,” Home Office Statistical Update, February 25, 2010,rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs10/hosb0410.pdf .

My latest for the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor, this time looking in some detail at the disrupted plot in the U.S. from late last year around the Afghan Najibullah Zazi. The particular focus here is on the ever-elusive Rashid Rauf who in recently published U.S. court documents was identified as a key Al Qaeda contact. While it seems as though he might now be dead, though no-one seems absolutely sure, he continues to pop up, a sort of ghost in the machine.

Rashid Rauf and the New York City Subway Bombing Plot

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 18

May 7, 2010 11:31 AM

By: Raffaello Pantucci

As security agencies pursue ethnic Pakistani suspects in the attempted Times Square bombing, another New York City bomb plot with connections to Pakistan and the U.K. is working its way through U.S. courts. The case involves an aborted attempt by natives of Pakistan and Afghanistan to mount suicide attacks on the New York subway system in September 2009 to mark the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

In November 2009, British newspapers broke the story that counterterrorism officers had been responsible for the intelligence that had alerted the FBI to the cell around Afghan immigrant Najibullah Zazi, the plot’s main conspirator. New Scotland Yard officers watching an email account connected to an investigation codenamed “Operation Pathway” noticed some new traffic in September that apparently provided instructions for a New York bomb plot and passed the lead onto their American counterparts (Telegraph, November 9, 2009). The tip provided American agents with a crucial break in the Zazi plot, and led to a series of arrests, followed by admissions of guilt from both Zazi and co-conspirator Zarein Ahmedzay related to an attempt to carry out a bombing campaign in New York City (alongside a third suspect, Adis Medunjanin) on September 14, 15 or 16, 2009. [1]

That the link came from the United Kingdom has in retrospect proved to be somewhat appropriate, given the centrality in the plot of Rashid Rauf, the mysterious British-born ethnic-Pakistani who has been repeatedly referred to as a key operative in a series of plots targeting the West. According to prosecutors, the suspects met with Rashid Rauf and al-Qaeda operative Saleh al-Somali in Pakistan in August, 2008. The suspects allegedly told Rauf and al-Somali that they wished to fight in Afghanistan, but as holders of U.S. resident’s documents, the al-Qaeda operatives suggested it would be more valuable if they were to return to America to carry out mass casualty attacks in New York City (Daily Times [Lahore], April 24; Indo-Asian News Service, April 24). Saleh al-Somali is believed to have been killed in a December, 2009 missile attack by a CIA-operated drone   (Dawn [Karachi], December 13, 2009). Rashid Rauf was similarly said to have been killed in a November, 2008 drone attack, but his death has never been confirmed and remains a subject of dispute (Guardian, November 25, 2008, September 8, 2009; Asia Times Online, August 11, 2009; Telegraph, September 10, 2009).

Rauf first came to notice in the wake of the August 2006 Transatlantic Airline plot in which a group of British nationals plotted to bring down eight or more airliners on transatlantic routes. After the plot was disrupted by British security services, Rauf was identified as one of the main planners. [2] Since then, Rauf has been connected to the July 7 and 21, 2005 plots against London’s public transport system. More recently, he was the alleged contact for a 2008 plot in which British security services believe a group of individuals were sent from Pakistan to carry out a terrorist plot in the U.K. (Telegraph, September 8, 2009). [3]

In September 2008, Pakistani forces intercepted Bryant Neal Vinas, an American-Hispanic convert to Islam who had trained at al-Qaeda camps and fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. Vinas revealed he had been in contact with Rauf and may have ultimately been the source for information which led to his possible death by a Predator strike. It would also appear as though information from Vinas may have set events in motion that led to the discovery of the New York City subway plot. In December 2008, Belgian police arrested a group of individuals around Malika al-Aroud, the former wife of one of the men who killed Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud in 2001 (Radio Télévision Belge Francophone, December 11, 2008). Vinas admitted having met some of these individuals at al-Qaeda training camps. An informer amongst this group warned investigators that Rauf had dispatched a number of cells throughout the West. This led in the first instance to Operation Pathway, and later to the New York City plot (Sunday Times, April 12, 2009).

According to information released after Ahmedzay’s admission of guilt, Ahmedzay, Zazi, Medunjanin and a fourth conspirator (arrested in Pakistan in April, but as of yet unnamed) went to Pakistan in August 2008 (AFP, April 12). After being advised to carry out attacks in New York, the men underwent further training in Waziristan and discussed possible targets with al-Qaeda leaders. By July, 2009 they had returned to the United States and procured the necessary elements from beauty supply stores to build hydrogen peroxide-based bombs, similar to those used in the July 7, 2005 London bombings. By early September of the same year they were ready to carry out suicide operations. However, upon arriving in New York for the final stages, Zazi was alerted by a New York-based Afghan immigrant imam (Ahamad Wais Afzali) that he was under police surveillance (AFP, April 15). Realizing the FBI was alert to his activities Zazi quickly left the city to return to Denver. Soon afterwards, the FBI swooped in and the cell was rapidly rolled up. The revelations linked to Ahmedzay’s confession show how close they had come to carrying out a major terrorist attack. [4]

Notes:

1. Department of Justice Press Release, April 23, 2010, www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/April/10-ag-473.html

2. For the ringleaders, seecms.met.police.uk/news/convictions/three_men_found_guilty_of_airline_bomb_plot; and for the support group: cms.met.police.uk/met/news/convictions/airline_bomb_plotter_jailed_for_life

3. See also Lord Carlile’s report: security.homeoffice.gov.uk/news-publications/publication-search/legislation/terrorism-act-2000/operation-pathway-report

4. Department of Justice Press Release, April 23, 2010, www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/April/10-ag-473.html.