Archive for the ‘BBC’ Category

Another piece of holiday writing, this time looking at China’s new counter-terrorism legislation and some of the preventative aspects that still may need to be worked on. It was published by the BBC both in Chinese and English and I have posted both below. Another topic that there will undoubtedly be more work on in the next year.

Will China’s new law tackle terror?

  • 2 January 2016
  • From the section China
paracops in Urumqi
China’s paramilitary police on recent operations in the Xinjiang autonomous region

China’s long-discussed counter-terrorism legislation, passed this week, frames the way the country will counter terrorist threats at home and abroad. But it is capable of getting to the root of the problem?

China faces a dual problem from terrorism; abroad, the picture is very similar to that faced by most Western countries, with Chinese nationals and interests increasingly threatened by groups affiliated with the so-called Islamic State group or al-Qaeda; at home, China has a problem with individuals angry at the state, who sometimes resort to violence against citizens and the state apparatus to express their anger.

Some domestic terrorism appears to be motivated by personal gripes, while some stems from a more general sense of disenfranchisement and alienation.

The latter can be found particularly in the westernmost region of China’s Xinjiang province, where the minority Uighur population resent the perceived encroachment by Beijing into their culture and identity.

There has also been some evidence that some Chinese nationals have gone abroad to fight alongside IS or al-Qaeda affiliates on the battlefield in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, while others have turned up in training camps in South-east Asia.

Underlying Anger

The new legislation attempts to deal with these dual problems but it does not appear to offer a clear framework for how to prevent people from being drawn to terrorist networks and ideologies in the first place. It does offer a formal framework for countering terrorism abroad, through sending Chinese security forces abroad to deal with the threat.

That is in itself a significant shift – offering Beijing an option to deploy forces abroad, in contrast to China’s longstanding principle of non-interference in foreign policy.

But then Chinese security forces are already increasingly going out into the world – be it as peacekeepers with more forward leaning mandates or to set up forward operating bases in places like Djibouti – and the new legislation merely strengthens this broader push.

chinacops tianshan
Chinese state media have publicised images of counter-terror troops searching Xinjiang

Where China’s problem becomes really complicated is in incidents such as the bombing in Bangkok, Thailand, earlier this year, when a cell linked to a Turkish-Uighur network left an explosive device outside a shrine popular with Chinese tourists. Twenty were killed, the majority ethnic Chinese.

The exact reason for the attack remains unclear, although it appeared to be part of a larger wave of anger against China and Thailand for the forced deportation of a large number of Uighurs who had fled China for South-east Asia.

In many ways, the attack was an extension of China’s domestic terrorist problem. The Uighur anger that initially mostly prompted attacks against the state in Xinjiang slowly spread around China (including prominent incidents in Beijing and Kunming) and now could be found abroad.

The problem is that, while it is clear the new legislation tries to deal with the mechanics of these issues – by establishing frameworks through which people can be detained and pursued abroad – it is not clear that it deals with the underlying anger behind the terror.

Lessons from the UK

Much has been done in the UK to address the problem of radicalisation, which is often as much a personal as political process. The state-sponsored Prevent programme aims to catch people before they are radicalised. Its focus is on developing strong ties to minority communities and trying to connect with individuals that feel alienated from the state.

Controversially, various bits of state apparatus from healthcare to education have been drafted into the effort, but the overall thrust of the government agenda has been to find ways to steer people away from violence before they start down the path towards it.

This is the key element missing from China’s new approach. While there is some discussion in China of involving other parts of the state beyond security officials, there is seemingly no discussion about how to tackle the underlying causes of radicalisation.

CameronXi
Xi Jinping visited David Cameron earlier this year

There is some evidence that the Chinese state is at least thinking about the issue. Leader Xi Jinping has discussed non-security approaches to countering terrorism, and Security Minister Meng Jianzhu has talked about expanding the country’s de-radicalisation efforts, but that thinking does not appear to be reflected in the legislation.

Instead, the legislation appears instead to be very focused on the practical side of countering terrorism – the use of blunt force to simply stop networks and the spread of ideas; some tools potentially so blunt that they may in fact cause collateral damage.

China is not alone in this – the UK approach faced accusations that it risks alienating young Muslims – but in the UK at least public debate and discussion about the problem is a key component of shaping public policy and the programme of work is one that is constantly evolving to respond to the threat and public reaction to it.

If China wants to be able to properly and effectively tackle its terrorism problems at home and abroad, it needs to start to think in this way too. It needs to find a way to not only disrupt terror networks but to understand why people are drawn to terror in the first place and how it can address the issue.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute

分析:中国新《反恐怖主义法》能起效吗?

潘睿凡
英国皇家联合军种国防研究所国际安全项目总监
2015年 12月 31日

151227111842_cn_beijing_sanlitun_swat_02_624x351_afp_nocredit
一如外国的反恐法,中国的《反恐法》能否应对中国面对的问题实在是疑问?它能在干扰活跃的恐怖主义网络之外,还防止未来的问题出现吗?

本周,中国全国人大通过《反恐怖主义法》,为中国面对来自海内外的恐怖主义威胁定下应对之术。但是一如外国的反恐法,这些做法能否应对中国面对的问题实在是疑问?它能在干扰活跃的恐怖主义网络之外,还防止未来的问题出现吗?

中国在恐怖主义问题上面对两个难题。在海外,与大部分西方国家所面临的一样,中国人与中国的利益越来越受到“伊斯兰国”组织或基地组织等支派组织的威胁。作为日益强大的国际超级力量,中国越发明白,作为主要外来投资者,中国国民和公司将会遭遇麻烦。

在国内,中国面对越来越大的问题,是个人对于国家的愤怒。因此常常一个人发动炸弹袭击或一大帮人刀伤其他个人与国家机构。一些可能是个人出于对国家的怨愤,其他似乎出于一般的恼怒或感到被国家疏离。

后一种原因尤其出现在新疆维吾尔人口中。他们中的一些怨恨北京侵蚀维族文化和身份。此外,还有证据显示,一些中国人到海外协助“伊斯兰国”组织或基地组织在叙利 亚和伊拉克战斗,另一些则出现在东南亚的训练营。

最尖锐的问题

151230145901_china_police_624x351_afp

中国最新的这部反恐法试图解决这些问题,但是似乎没有提供明确的框架,表明如何应付最尖锐的问题:如何防止人们被恐怖主义网络及思想吸引。

立法确实应付了应对海外恐怖主义的问题,但是却是通过允许中国保安部队到海外处理恐怖主义者的威胁。这个转变颇为重要,它让北京可以摆出有可能向海外派出安保部队的姿态,而不单单似乎长期以来中国所行使以不干预为原则的外交政策。

中国安保部队已经越来越多在全世界执行任务,无论是参与和平部队,或者在世界各地参与安保合作和训练。新的反恐法不过是加强这些,并提供特定方式在中国的海外利益受影响时,让部队出外应对。

但让问题变得复杂的,是诸如8月份的曼谷四面神爆炸案。虽然原因不明,但这似乎与中国和泰国遣返维吾尔人的事件有关。某种程度上,这一所为是中国本土恐怖主义问题在海外的延伸。维吾尔人的愤怒从袭击新疆目标,慢慢扩散到中国各地,现在更远至海外。

现在的问题是,这一新立法试图解决这些问题,但并不清楚它究竟是否能处理背后推动这些行为的愤怒。

英国经验

150109031040_police_security_uk_624x351_getty_nocredit
在英国,当局试图与社区建立联系,设法劝阻人们被恐怖主义网络吸引,尝试与个人联系,了解他们为何感到疏离,并介绍 以其他方法消解愤怒,而非诉诸暴力。

极端化是很一个复杂的过程,因人而异。但是根源是个人的身份认同。人们感到被疏离或对国家愤怒,会从外来的思想中寻找认同和联系,进而认为自己与国家作战。原因 很可能是个人问题,也可能是政治问题。

在英国,当局试图与社区建立联系,设法劝阻人们被恐怖主义网络吸引,尝试与个人联系,了解他们为何感到疏离,并介绍 以其他方法消解愤怒,而非诉诸暴力。

中国的新立法似乎缺乏这些元素,也没有讨论如何应对极端化问题,或人们被恐怖主义网络吸引的背后原因。新立法似乎非常集中于对付恐怖主义的实际操作,粗暴封杀网络和和思想的散播。但这些方法很可能适得其反。

在英国,这也是人们经常讨论的问题,是英国在国内阻止恐怖袭击努力的核心考量。不过,英国已经采取措施去防止其发生。另外,公众辩论与讨论也是英国公共政策成形前的重要一环。

如果中国希望适当而有效地应对海内外的恐怖主义问题,就应该也开始思考这些方法。不单封杀恐怖主义网络,还要明白人们被恐怖主义网络吸引的原因。

Still catching up after a busy week. This a short piece for the BBC on how vulnerable Europe is to attacks like that we saw last Friday. The point here is not to say it is impossible, but to try to keep things in perspective.

How vulnerable is Europe to Paris-style attacks?
By Raffaello Pantucci
Royal United Services Institute (Rusi)
18 November 2015
From the section Europe

French authorities_BBC

AP The French authorities have stepped up security following the deadly attacks in Paris
Paris attacks

The cancellation of the football match in Hannover on Tuesday night was the latest expression of a terrorist fear that currently wracks Europe.

Coming after a long month in which major attacks were seen in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, Beirut, Baghdad, Ankara and Paris, the febrile environment has generated an understandable level of concern among people in major cities across Europe.

Yet, the reality is that people face a greater daily danger from using their cars than they do from falling foul of terrorist plots in a European capital.

While the current environment is of heightened concern given attempts by Islamic State (IS) and its affiliates to massacre innocents, the reality is that plots on the scale of Paris are a rarity.
In response, European security agencies will step up their already highly vigilant posture and move to disrupt networks at increasingly earlier stages.

Outside the norm

Terrorism in European capitals is not unheard of.
London bomb_BBC Nov

AFP Four suicide bombers struck in central London on 7 July 2005, killing 52 people

Since the attacks of 11 September 2001 in Washington and New York, there have been large-scale atrocities in Madrid, London, Moscow, Oslo and now Paris.

Yet, these events are outside the usual norm.

In contrast, cities in Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East face such attacks on a more regular basis.

Plots in the West are often disrupted – especially large-scale ones involving big networks of individuals.

While the 7 July 2005 bombers succeeded in killing 52 people in London, at least four or five other large-scale plots with links to al-Qaeda which aimed to strike the UK between 2004 and 2006 were disrupted by authorities.

‘Lone actors’
More recently, concerns had focused around the phenomenon of “lone actor” terrorism – acts undertaken by individuals who did not demonstrate any clear direction from a terrorist group or network.
Breivik_BBC_Nov

AP Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in two attacks in Norway, was a “lone actor”
Sometimes the individuals proved to be part of a known radical community, but in other cases they were unknowns who had driven themselves towards terrorist activity.

And yet, while numerous such cases were disrupted, only three people were able to murder fellow citizens – Pavlo Lapshyn stabbed Mohammed Saleem to death in Birmingham, while Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo murdered Lee Rigby in Woolwich.

In most other cases, the individuals were only able to injure themselves in their attempted attacks.
Difficult to disrupt

IS had noticed this phenomenon and one of the major concerns of the past few months has been the ability of individuals in the group to inspire and instigate people in the West to launch such isolated attacks.

France had faced a number of these, including a spate of attempted murders around Christmas last year.

Paris post_BBC_Nov
AFP The French government has called the Paris attacks an act of war by a “terrorist army”

From the authorities’ perspectives, plots are inherently harder to disrupt, given the individuals’ lack of connections and links to known networks, meaning intelligence tripwires were harder to identify.
Yet at the same time, these plots also tend to be less menacing in their ability to cause mass murder.
Anders Behring Breivik was an exception to this, but he remains unique in his attacks in Norway in 2011 that left 77 people dead.
In most cases, the individuals are only able to attempt to murder one or two in their immediate periphery.

Shifting focus
Clearly, recent events in continental Europe show that the current threat picture there is more heightened than this, but plots on the scale of the slaughter in Paris remain a rarity.

While IS is clearly a terrorist organisation that has shifted its attention from state building in its core in the sands of the Levant to causing mass murder globally, the degree to which the group is able to get such large-scale plots through European security nets remains unclear.
ISIS_BBC_Nov

Manbar.me Islamic State has warned European countries that they will be unable to stop further attacks
In the wake of the atrocities in Paris, it will become even harder for the group as authorities move to disrupt plots earlier rather than let something like this reoccur.
At the same time, the current threat picture is complicated – with hundreds of Europeans and others fighting alongside IS having absorbed the groups ideology.
It is unclear how many more plotters will need to be stopped and for how long Europe will face this menace.
Raffaello Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies at Rusi in London. His research focuses on counter-terrorism and he is the author of We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists. Follow him @raffpantucci

It has been a while since I posted and apologies to avid followers. Been inundated with work of late and things are slipping by. I have tried to continue to be productive and am now going to post a series of pieces that have come out in the past month, some of which have been in the pipeline for a while. First up is a piece for BBC 中文 looking at Uighurs and the Bangkok bombings. This was maybe also going to come out in English so I am not going to post the text here, but will eventually if nothing emerges. For the time being, it will be an opportunity to practice using google translate.

國際縱橫:維吾爾人與曼谷爆炸案

BBC Zhongwen image

image from: BBC Zhongwen

泰國當局在調查八月發生的四面佛爆炸案方面進展緩慢,但越來越多跡象顯示這起兇殘的攻擊於可能與新疆有關。

最近逮捕的其中一人擁有中國護照,當中顯示的出生地是新疆。當然,這個關聯是否屬實仍未清楚,但看來中國公民是這起攻擊的目標越來越有可能,而背後的原因在某程度上可能與中國的新疆政策有關。

這不是中國公民第一次在國際恐怖組織的行動中成為受害人。過去曾發生例如在喀麥隆,與尼日利亞極端組織博科聖地有關的團伙曾綁架中國工人;在巴基斯坦,中國遊客曾被綁架和殺害;在摩加迪沙的中國使館受到炸彈襲擊;中國工人在北非阿拉伯之春的暴亂中受影響;還有數年前在肯尼亞內羅畢的西門購物中心(Westgate Mall)襲擊中受傷的中國公民。

維族人在敘利亞

今時今日在世界每個角落都可以找到中國公民的足跡,無論他們是遊客或外勞或政府官員,反映了中國在全球留下越來越多的腳印。相對而言,恐怖組織也加強了他們的活動,在更多地方肆虐。因此,在這類襲擊中受到連累的中國公民數目增加是不難想像的。

在土耳其的維吾爾人示威聲援新疆維族人2015年7月
Image copyright AP

Image caption 今年7月在土耳其的維吾爾人示威聲援在新疆死亡的維族人

可是,至今為止仍未有很多證據顯示中國公民是攻擊目標,針對維吾爾族異議者的證據也不多。但這並非說維吾爾人與全球聖戰者全無關係。在塔利班管治時期的阿富汗有不少證據顯示不滿中國的一些維族人逃到阿富汗集結。在美國領頭攻打阿富汗時,很多這些人輾轉流離到巴基斯坦,相信他們在那裏更靠近基地組織,並與藏身巴基斯坦部落地區的中亞聖戰者組織建立更密切的聯繫。

此外,有跡象顯示維族人正更積極參與全球聖戰運動。有關維族人在敘利亞參戰和死亡的報道不斷出現。最近在敘利亞吉斯爾舒古爾城鎮周圍的戰鬥,就有報道說兩名維族人充當自殺炸彈手;另有報道說約20名維族人與努斯拉陣線一同作戰,努斯拉陣線被視為是基地組織在敘利亞的分支。

去年九月,印尼當局逮捕了四名維吾爾人,懷疑他們嘗試與極端主義頭目桑托索聯繫,以進入他在東帝汶建立的其中一個聖戰者訓練營。在2010年7月,一個與基地組織有聯繫並由維吾爾人領導的團伙在挪威奧斯陸被攻擊。在2008年6月,阿聯酋當局逮捕兩名維族人,他們後來因策劃攻擊迪拜龍城購物中心被定罪。

「沒得到基地組織、IS支援」

雖然基地組織和IS「伊斯蘭國」組織的領袖以及他們的刊物紛紛展示支持維族人的姿態,說這些人所處的困境反映出西方不關心穆斯林的痛苦。但事實上聖戰組織支持維族人的實質證據很少,間或有言辭上的聲援,但在資源上幫助的證據很少。

維吾爾人是否已在國際聖戰網絡中起到重要作用,目前尚未清楚。反而有跡象顯示他們看來處於絕望的境況,不斷出現有關他們逃離中國的報道。 由於中亞國家加強了邊境控制和與地區政府的聯繫,他們前往該地區越來越困難。例如去年底有十名維族人在吉爾吉斯坦邊境死亡。此路不通後,維族人看來轉而南下到東南亞。很多時候他們被捕時辯稱說自己是土耳其人,最終目的地是土耳其。在越南邊境也出現過涉及維族人的暴力衝突,還有幾個報道說一些維族人在東南亞國家被捕或遣返。

中國遊客在泰國曼谷大皇宮附近2015年8月
Image copyright AP

Image caption 泰國曼谷是受中國遊客歡迎的地點

總的說,現在的兩個現象是維吾爾人繼續逃出中國,以及在他們前往的目的地附近出現更多的暴力。在某程度上來說,突顯出新疆和中國其他地區出現的有關維族人的攻擊。不過,這類攻擊最近看來有所減少,但這類報道通常不透明,很難獨立引證到底發生什麼事。

事實上,很多維吾爾人對當局感到不滿或憤怒,他們試圖離開中國,但這方面越來越困難,令他們更鋌而走險。

從中國的角度來說,他們擔心的是針對海外中國公民暴力的增加與新疆內部的不滿有關。在土耳其曾有亞裔遊客和中國使館被襲擊,以及曼谷爆炸案中的遊客。北京當局正調查是否有曾在敘利亞或伊拉克進行恐怖襲擊的人在中國內組成團伙。中國一直以來擔心海外國民受到威脅,以及國內發生的事情與外國有關聯。

這些所謂的聯繫一直相當模糊不清,直至現在看來越來越明顯,一個可能的結論是:中國本土的聖戰者終於與發展出某些國際聯繫,但至今為止很難令他們落網。

(編譯:葉珊 / 責編:晧宇)

Another piece that was published in Chinese this week, this time for BBC 中文 about the incident in Urumqi this past week as Xi Jinping was finishing up his tour of the province. I have re-published the Chinese at the top and the English version below. I did a few interviews around this including for South China Morning Post and the Associated Press. I also spoke to Global Post, Radio France Info and Asharq al Awsat about foreign fighters and Syria.
評論:新疆襲擊與中國對策

更新時間 2014年5月1日, 格林尼治標準時間17:26

潘圖奇

潘圖奇認為,烏魯木齊火車站的爆炸案,顯示新疆局勢惡化。

4月30日發生在新疆的襲擊,正值中國國家主席習近平結束在自治區的訪問。在那裏,習近平說新疆是中國「反恐與保持社會穩定的前線。」過去一年,新疆的暴力事件不斷增加,這次發生在烏魯木齊火車站的襲擊,再次凸顯了新疆的問題在升級。

雖然官方尚未公布此次襲擊的所有細節,但報道指出,兩名襲擊者在出站口接人處持刀砍殺群眾,同時引爆爆炸裝置。這其中,一名襲擊者被認定為來自阿克蘇的維族人色地爾丁-沙吾提。今年,在阿克蘇就已經發生過了幾起事件。

報道稱,這起事件已經造成三人死亡,其中兩名為襲擊者,第三人為普通路人。在新疆,這樣攜帶爆炸物品和使用道具的襲擊風格,已經不是第一次發生了。不過之前,類似的襲擊通常針對國家機關,也不都發生在首府烏魯木齊。但周三的襲擊發生在習近平結束新疆行之時,使得其影響力加大,也反映出這一已經被他多次提到的話題,仍然是中國一重大議題。

核心問題尚未解決

Xi Jinping in Xinjiang

事件發生在習近平巡視新疆的最後一天。

無論是針對新疆國家機關的襲擊,還是在北京和昆明的事件,或是報道說維吾爾人不斷試圖逃離中國至中亞或者東南亞,這些都說明,過去一年,中國的邊疆問題正在持續升級。

儘管在過去的襲擊中,襲擊者也會為了達到目的而甘願死亡,但中國媒體所描述的襲擊者在身上捆綁炸彈進行襲擊,還是一個新的現象。不過這也反映出,維族人認為,他們無法通過之前的襲擊措施傳遞自己的信息。

中國新疆問題的核心,是維吾爾群體感到異化與權利被剝奪。如果你去新疆走一遭,你會聽到當地人說自己沒有從國家受惠,並抱怨不斷湧入新疆的漢族人才是新疆財富的受益者云云。他們抱怨國家摧毀他們的文化,並且將喀什的舊城當作這一指責的例證。

目前,中國政府的反應是「雙軌制」的:大量的經濟投資和強硬的安全打壓。在習近平訪問期間,他到訪了喀什和水果工廠,這一「雙軌制」的信息,也在他的訪問期間不斷重現。

中國該怎麼做?

Xinjiang

中國當局加強了在新疆的戒備。

自從習近平上任以來,他已經反覆多次地講過中國的恐怖主義問題,並且新設了一個國家安全委員會,一個看似將恐怖主義當作工作一部分的中央安全機構。在中國邊界外,習近平也曾提出了「新絲綢之路」這一想法。這是一個從新疆至中亞的經貿走廊,也是一個部分關於改善新疆經濟狀況的想法。

目前的這一策略也與過去的努力相似,且這樣的策略比2010年的更加明確。當時的策略是在2009年那起導致200多人死亡的烏魯木齊襲擊後實行的。在那次襲擊後,北京對新疆自治區的領導層作了大批的更換,並且明確了將經濟發展作為焦點。

然而,儘管政府方面對此十分關注,他們的努力似乎並未得到回報。相反,新疆的暴力事件持續上升,不斷地發展,也開始蔓延到新疆以外的地區。

目前,人們對新疆的預測並不樂觀。事故的嚴重程度和發展正在變得更加糟糕,並且任何經濟策略不會立竿見影。與此同時,公眾對新疆問題的憤怒與關切,以及由新疆而起的恐怖主義行動正變得更甚。

對中國政府而言,究竟該如何處理這些問題,答案是十分複雜的。一方面,他們要不斷地找到讓維族人感到自己是當代中國的「持份者」;另一方面,北京方面還要找到應對愈發明顯和不斷隨機發生的恐怖襲擊的方法。

本文章不代表BBC的立場和觀點, 網友如要發表評論,請使用下表:

聯絡薦言

The attack in Xinjiang comes as President Xi Jinping completes a visit to the province in which he spoke of it being ‘the front line in anti-terrorism and maintaining social stability.’ Coming after a year in which violence in the province has been increasing, the incident at Urumqi train station highlights once again how the problems in the province are escalating.

While not all the details around the incident are available at the moment, official reports indicate that a pair of attackers armed with knives detonated explosives outside the exit of Urumqi South train station. One of the attackers was identified as an ethnic Uighur called Sedierding Shawuti from Aksu, a part of the province that has seen a number of incidents take place this year. Three people have been reported killed, two assailants and a third bystander. The style of attack, involving explosives and individuals using knives is something that has been seen before in the province, though usually it seems to be more targeted at symbols of state authority and it does not take place in Urumqi. The fact that the attack comes as Xi Jinping is concluding his trip to the province only increases the impact and highlights how the very problems he had come to speak about continue to be a major issue.

In Xinjiang over the past year problems have been escalating. Be this in terms of attacks against state authority in Xinjiang, incidents linked to the province in Beijing and Kunming or increasing reports of ethnic Uighurs (a Turkic minority mostly resident in Xinjiang) trying to flee the country into Central Asia or Southeast Asia.  The escalation now of an attack involving individuals who according to local reports were using bombs strapped to their persons is new, though in previous attacks it has certainly seemed as though individuals were expecting to die in pursuit of their act. This determination atop the previous incidents demonstrates a level of dedication by the individuals involved that is clearly founded in a sense of their message not getting through.

The key problem at the heart of China’s issues in Xinjiang is a sense of alienation and disenfranchisement amongst the Uighur community. Go around the province and you will find individuals who do not feel they benefit from the Chinese state and complain about in-flows to the province of ethnically Han Chinese who are perceived as being the primary beneficiaries of the province’s wealth. People complain about the state destroying their culture and point to the destruction of the old city of Kashgar as evidence.

The Chinese government’s response so far has been a dual track: heavy economic investment and a hardline security crackdown. Messages that resonated throughout President Xi’s visit, with him pictured talking to police officers in Kashgar and visiting fruit factories. Since President Xi came into power he has spoken repeatedly about terrorism as an issue, and also introduced a new National Security Council – a central security organ that seems to have terrorism as one of the issues it will focus on. Beyond China’s borders, he has spoken of the New Silk Road Economic belt, an economic and trade corridor that flows from the province into Central Asia and is in part about trying to improve the economic situation in the province.

The current strategic approach echoes previous efforts in the province, but was brought into clearer focus in the wake of a strategy that was introduced in 2010 in the wake of rioting in July 2009 in Urumqi that led to more than 200 deaths. There was a substantial change-over in leadership in the province, and a renewed economic focus in particular. But while the government is clearly very focused on the issue, it is not totally clear that what it has been doing has been paying off. Rather, violence in the province has continued, developed further and started to spread around the country.

The prognosis for Xinjiang at the moment is not positive. The level and tenor of incidents is getting worse and any economic strategy will not bear fruit for some time. Furthermore, public anger and concern around the problems in Xinjiang and terrorism emanating from the province is getting worse. The answer for the Chinese government is a complicated one that is founded in continuing to try to find ways to make Uighurs feel like they have a stake in modern China. At the same time, Beijing has to find ways of addressing the growing tenor and increasing random nature of terrorism attacks in China.

 

A very brief piece for the BBC as part of a group of pieces they commissioned about radicalisation and what to do about it in the wake of last week’s incident in Woolwich. It was longer, but got shrunk, and I owe colleagues at RUSI a debt for helping keep it focused.

Viewpoints: How should radicalisation be tackled?

Radicalisation is defined in the government’s Prevent strategy as “the process by which a person comes to support terrorism and forms of extremism leading to terrorism”.

It is a social process but also a deeply personal experience. The pathway by which one person is radicalised can have a completely different effect on someone else. This makes it very difficult to devise a one-size-fits-all answer to the problem. Instead, a menu of tools is necessary to address different causes.

Countering influences online and offline is harder than it might sound. Simply shutting down websites and arresting individuals do not necessarily eliminate the problem.

On the contrary, such moves can drive people underground, making them potentially more appealing and attractive, or they will simply adapt to be on the right side of any ban.

This is not just a law enforcement issue. As a society we need to counter the all-encompassing narrative that states that the West is at war with Islam. This is a message that should be repeatedly rejected at every level: politician, community worker, citizen.

Coupled with this, our societies should engage in practices that highlight how open and free we are, and hold power to account when mistakes are made.

The sad truth, however, is that certain decisions that are made will be interpreted by extremists as something that supports their worldview. Very little will be ultimately possible to persuade them otherwise.

The answer is to recognise and acknowledge where we make mistakes and realise that society will always have its discontents.

More on current events in North Africa, this time for the BBC. I owe Virginia a note of thanks for reviewing it – grazie! I was also quoted briefly in this Financial Times article on the British government’s response. (UPDATE: have briefly tweaked it to reflect a commenter’s correct catch)

Islamists in Africa emerge as threat to West

By Raffaello Pantucci

Senior Research Fellow, Royal United Services Institute

An Islamist rebel is pictured on April 24, 2012 near Timbuktu in northern Mali
Militant Islamists are operating across the vast Sahara Desert

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said that Islamist extremists in North Africa pose a “large and existential threat” – a comment he made following the siege of a gas facility in Algeria, where dozens of people, nearly all of them foreigners, were killed.

“It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months,” Mr Cameron said.

“What we face is an extremist, Islamist, al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group. Just as we had to deal with that in Pakistan and in Afghanistan so the world needs to come together to deal with this threat in north Africa.”

The group responsible for the incident in In Amenas in Algeria appears to have been led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a local jihadist-criminal who had been a commander of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

He left or was asked to leave AQIM late last year. Branching out, he founded an independent faction called the Signed-in-Blood Battalion that seems to have operated out of territory controlled by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao) in northern Mali.

Belmokhtar’s faction claims that the assault in Algeria was conducted to avenge the French decision to attack northern Mali.

But, with his organisation reportedly having agents within the compound, it seems likely that this was a longer-term plot that was brought forward in response to the French assault.

It was in fact Belmokhtar’s close companion, Omar Ould Hamaha, a leader in Mujao, who declared in response to the French intervention in Mali that France “has opened the gates of hell [and] has fallen into a trap much more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia”.

That Belmokhtar’s faction would want to attack a Western target is not entirely surprising.

He has a long form of kidnapping foreigners and AQIM – to which he belonged until last year – has a long and bloody history.

Originally born as the Armed Islamist Group (GIA) in the wake of the Algerian military annulling elections that the Islamic Salvation Front was poised to win Algeria in the early 1990s, the group evolved first into the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), before adopting the al-Qaeda mantle in 2007 to become AQIM.

Militant Islamists Mukhtar Abu Mansur  and Omar Hammami (R) in Mogadishu, Somalia,  on 11 May 2011
American-Syrian Omar Hammami (R) joined al-Shabab in Somalia in 2011

The GIA, in particular, has been linked to attacks in the mid-1990s on the Paris metro system, the GSPC to plots in Europe and North America prior to the attacks in New York on 11 September 2001, and the groups across North Africa have historically felt particular enmity towards former regional colonial power France.

What is worrying about events in Africa, however, is that violent groups espousing similarly extreme rhetoric can be found in a number of countries.

In Mali alone, alongside AQIM, Mujao and the Signed-in-Blood Battalion is Ansar Dine, another splinter from AQIM that has held large parts of the north since last year and has been imposing its version of Islamic law.

In Nigeria, Islamist group Boko Haram has conducted a destabilising and bloody campaign of terrorism in a fight that is rooted in longstanding local social and economic tensions.

Reports emerged last week that a leader from the group may have found his way to northern Mali, while American military commanders have long spoken about the connection between AQIM and Boko Haram.

Further demonstrating the potential links to Nigeria, back in July last year, a pair of men were accused in an Abuja court of being connected to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate.

And across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen is Somalia, a country that has been home to al-Shabab, a jihadist group that last year aligned itself officially with al-Qaeda.

There have been reports of Boko Haram fighters training alongside al-Shabab fighters and the Somali group is known to have deep connections with AQAP.

Particularly worrying for Western security planners, many of these groups have attracted an unknown number of foreign fighters.
In al-Shabab, some, like Omar Hammami, the American-Syrian who rose up in the Somali group’s ranks before recently falling out of favour, have become minor celebrities in their own right.

AQIM’s networks are known to stretch into France, Spain, Italy and even the UK.

Mujao’s Omar Ould Hamaha claims to have spent some 40 days towards the end of 2000 in France on a Schengen visa, whilst there have been numerous reports of Westerners being spotted or arrested trying to join the jihadists in northern Mali.

And now in In Amenas it appears a Canadian citizen may have been one of the attackers.

Seen from Western Europe, a dangerous picture emerges, potentially leading back home through fundraising networks and recruits.

But the risk is to overstate the threat and focus on the whole rather than the individual parts.

While links can often be drawn between these groups – and they can maybe be described as “fellow travellers” ideologically – it is not the case that they operate in unison or have similar goals.

Rescue workers carry the coffin of one of the hostages killed during a hostage crisis in a gas plant at the hospital in In Amenas, 21 January 2013.
Western interests in Africa will be reassessed as potential targets

Often local issues will trump international ones, even if they claim to be operating under the banner of an international organisation such as al-Qaeda.

And looking back historically, it has been a long time since AQIM-linked cells have been able to conduct or plot a major terrorist incident in Europe.

While a number of plots over the past few years have been connected to al-Shabab, so far there is little evidence that they have actually directed people to attack the West.

The bigger threat is to Western interests in Africa – sites such as In Amenas that will now be reassessed as potential targets for groups seeking international attention, or revenge for French-led efforts in Mali or Western efforts to counter groups elsewhere.