Archive for the ‘Guardian’ Category

A new piece in the wake of the revelation of Anjem Choudary’s conviction for the Guardian looking at the question of the importance of leadership in terrorist networks and what his detention means. The article is a bit less declarative as the title, but there we go. Also spoke to BBC Today about Choudary’s arrest and they have used the clip on their podcast which can be downloaded here and bits of it got subsequently picked up here. Separately, also spoke to NPR about his arrest and what it means for the UK.

Am also using this opportunity to catch up on some media comments, spoke to the Financial Times about lone actor terrorism, to Politico about the UK-China relationship and Hinkley Point, to Politico about Europol’s future, to TodayFM about terrorism in France, to Huffington Post about how the current wave of terrorism compares to history in Europe, to the BBC, France 24 and The Local about the spate of terrorist attacks in Germany,

Anjem Choudary was a leader. His conviction will damage terror networks

Figureheads give direction to what would otherwise be just a cluster of angry people. Imprisonment will keep his hateful ideology in check
Choudary

The conviction of Anjem Choudary marks a significant moment in the history of British jihadism, but it is unclear what kind of an impact it will have. Terrorist groups and networks do suffer when they lose charismatic leaders. Their removal is unlikely to completely destroy a group, but it does change the dynamic.

Terrorist networks are, at their core, groups of people gathering around an ideology. Individuals are drawn in for various (often deeply personal) reasons, but to function as an effective unit that works to advance an ideology requires organisation and leadership. Otherwise, it is just a cluster of angry people with no particular direction.

It is here that leadership figures are key. They provide direction and can help motivate others, as well as offering some practical experience and, crucially, contacts. An individual who has risen to the top of a terrorist network after a long period of time will develop an understanding of what works. The relationships they will have developed over time are hard to replicate.

Choudary is a prime example. Involved in the formation of the UK-based jihadist group al-Muhajiroun in the mid-1990s, Choudary had pedigree and trust among the community of individuals drawn to the group as well as the wider extremist community. This included those who joined the group pre- and post-9/11. He understood the mechanics of how to organise protests and attract media attention, providing the kinds of soundbites news organisations wanted to use. And he was a charming and charismatic fellow who would make people laugh while he told them about the brutal punishments that would be meted out in the perfect Islamic state he was seeking to achieve. All of this made him a very persuasive figure to the lost or curious young men and women who were drawn to him after seeing or hearing him in the press. In his absence there is no doubt that the network will suffer to some degree, even if Choudary’s own reputation is enhanced to some degree by the perception that he is martyr to the cause, possibly adding to his street cred among followers when he is released.

Other terrorist groups and networks have suffered as a result of the loss of such figures. The Shining Path in Peru largely shrank back into drug smuggling networks after its leader Abimael Guzman was arrested in 1992. Al-Qaida has never quite been the same since Osama bin Laden was killed and the less charismatic Ayman al-Zawahiri took over. After Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed, al-Qaida in Iraq faced a period of decline. In all of these cases, the groups did find ways of picking up or evolving subsequently, but the removal of leadership figures had a noticeable impact.

‘Al-Qaida has never quite been the same since Osama bin Laden was killed and the less charismatic Ayman al-Zawahiri (r) took over.’

The importance of these charismatic leaders is both inspirational and practical. Choudary was famous for being the face of al-Muhajiroun and knew the lines. But he was also an organiser – which is important in ideological networks that aim to get people excited about ideas. They need not only to deliver the ideology persuasively, but also to help others organise themselves to hold protests, send out messages and establish websites. Choudary was very aware of this role and used the ease of contact and travel around Europe as a way of further internationalising his cause. Describing his relationship with a pair of radicals in Norway who helped establish the local equivalent of al Muhajiroun, Profetens Ummah, Choudary said: “There are no administrative links between us, but I am a mentor and adviser for them.”

The jailing of Choudary for a few years will not end the story of British jihadism. Partially because there are others like him, but also because the narrative he was espousing has entered the mainstream to the extent that his role as a megaphone for radicalisation is less important. But his imprisonment will have an impact on his immediate group and some of the contacts he had developed over time. For some time at least, he will be silenced and unable to spread his hateful ideology so publicly. Unless he is managed carefully, it is possible he might end up causing some damage in prison by radicalising fellow inmates, but the mere fact of his removal from the public conversation for an extended period will certainly do no damage to the cause of countering terrorism in the UK. Meanwhile, some of the people who were drawn into Choudary’s orbit and subsequently groomed or recruited by jihadist networks will, thanks to his absence, have a new hurdle to cross.

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And a second post-Brexit article, this time for the Guardian, covering some of the same points but this time focused singularly on the far right and the implications for them for the Brexit vote. This has some depressing portents in the future for it, and lets hope that politicians and others can find ways to move us forwards.

Ignored by the authorities, emboldened by Brexit, Europe’s far right is surging

Rightwing extremists are a grave danger in themselves, let alone when you factor in their influence on mainstream politics, and on terrorism
Poles against migrants protest

The result of Britain’s referendum on EU membership has strengthened far-right activism across Europe. In the UK there have been reports of public racist abuse, while far-right-leaning parties across the continent have taken advantage of the situation to call for their own referendums. There is a danger that an already polarised political environment will become even more broken with some individuals choosing a path to violence in response.

Extreme rightwing terrorism has been a growing problem in Europe for some time. A recent study by a consortium led by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) highlighted that when looking at the phenomenon of “lone actor” terrorism in particular (terrorist acts conducted by individuals without any clear direction from an outside group), the extreme right wing was responsible for as many as Islamist extremists. And not all were random one-off killers – Anders Breivik was able to butcher 77 people in a murderous rampage in Norway. What was particularly worrying was the fact that these individuals sat at the far end of a spectrum of extremists that included elements closer to the mainstream.

In the runup to conducting his act of terrorism, Breivik claimed to have attended protests organised by the English Defence League (EDL), a group he admired for its stand against what he perceived as invading Muslim hordes in Europe. Founded in the UK in response to a perceived refusal by authorities to clamp down on the noisy extremist group al-Muhajiroun, the EDL became a grab bag of far-right, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant protesters who would take to the streets. It spawned imitators in continental Europe.

The emergence of the EDL, however, came at a moment when more established European nationalist groups such as Front National in France, the British National party (BNP) or the Austrian Freedom party, all became prominent in the public conversation. Far-right nationalist xenophobic sentiment has always been a part of the European conversation, but the strengthening of these groups highlighted how much the ideas they represented had started to slip into the political mainstream, largely off the back of anger with the usual parties of power. But while the far right tried to move itself into the mainstream, its violent edge remained, and as the European debate on immigration and Muslims has become more pronounced, there has been a growth in incidents of extreme rightwing violence.

The response from security forces has been mixed. While we have seen an apparent increase in extreme rightwing violence, there has been less attention paid to it by authorities. In the RUSI-led research, a particularly striking finding was that in about 40% of cases of far-right extremists, they were uncovered by chance – the individual managed to blow himself up or was discovered while authorities conducted another investigation. By contrast, around 80% of violent Islamist lone actors were discovered in intelligence-led operations – in other words, the authorities were looking for them.

But it is easy to understand why the extreme right wing gets overlooked. Most examples are fairly shambolic lonesome individuals whose efforts to launch terrorist plots seem amateurish at best. But they are still attempting to kill fellow citizens to advance a political ideology. And in the case of lone actors, they are at least as lethal as their violent Islamist counterparts – in our dataset of 120 cases, even when one removed Breivik as an outlier, the extreme right wing was as lethal as violent Islamists.

The concern from this phenomenon must now be twofold. On the one hand, the increasing mainstreaming of a xenophobic anti-immigrant narrative will feed the very “clash of civilisations” narrative that groups such as al-Qaida and Isis seek to foster – suggesting that there is a conflict between Islam and the west which they are at the heart of. It will only strengthen this sense and draw people towards them.

But there is also the danger of frustrated expectations. The reality is that notwithstanding a rise in anti-immigrant feeling in Europe, the migrants will still come. Attracted by the opportunity and prosperity they see in Europe (which is often a huge improvement on the environment they came from), they will come to seek low-paying jobs – jobs that western economies will still need to fill and are not taken by locals, which offer better prospects than where they came from. This economic dynamic means that people will not necessarily notice a dramatic change in their material environment. Foreigners will continue to come and will continue to be a presence around them – providing a community to blame when individual economic situations do not change or feel like they are getting worse.

Here lies one of the more dangerous sides of this new European political environment. A polarised society which does not appear to materially change – frustrating those who feel like they have expressed their political will only to find it unanswered. The result, unless handled properly by the mainstream political community, is a potential for violence that has already reared its head brutally on the European continent, and unless carefully checked will do so again.

A short response to last Friday’s incident in Leytonstone for the Guardian where an apparently mentally troubled man attacked some people on the tube. Unclear case, though his expression of ideology suggests a possible terrorist connection in there somewhere. A depressing event that will highlight the persistent problem of both loud ideologies and lone actor terrorists. Anyway, the piece looks at the strange effect of people choosing to video such events instinctively these days. Beyond this, spoke to Financial Times and AFP about the event, though AFP slightly misunderstood what I had said – my suspicion around the police making the link to terrorism so quickly was that they knew him before, not that it was linked to Syria as written.

Flight or film? How cameraphones made the bystander key to spreading terror message

Leytonstone attack footage demonstrates the way witnesses are a tool in the terrorists’ arsenal – but also how it can backfire

Sunday 6 December 2015
Last modified on Monday 7 December 2015 00.50

In the 1970s, an American special forces officer turned academic called Brian Michael Jenkins declared that ‘terrorism is theatre.’ The logic was that politically minded terrorist organisations were keener to disseminate their message than cause deaths. The deaths were part of the way to attract attention, with the priority being visibility to advance their message. High-profile hijackings or public murders were the norm, with the 9/11 attacks the apex of this approach.

Previously the medium to disseminate this message was the television news. Now, with video cameras ubiquitous in our phones, we are all mediums through which terrorists can transmit and broadcast.

The brutal murder of Lee Rigby in May 2013 was a turning point in terrorist messaging. Using basic weaponry, the two murderers butchered the off-duty solider before stating their creed to anyone who was standing around to listen. Having prepared no clear video or other statement of intent, the two men were entirely reliant on the wider public around them to help spread their message through short video clips recorded on telephones. And yet this medium worked to the point that, in some ways, that particularly brutal but low-casualty attack had more impact than larger terrorist plots that followed.

Woolwich was not the first low-tech terror attack in the UK. In 2010, a young woman from east London entered the office of her local MP, Stephen Timms, armed with a knife from Tesco and attempted to kill him for his vote years earlier in support of the Iraq war. And in the days prior to the murder of Rigby, a Ukrainian far-right terrorist murdered Mohammed Saleem in Birmingham.

Yet neither of these two incidents had the same sort of resonance as the murder of Rigby as there was no audience to capture them on their cameraphones. The internet was not immediately flooded with images, meaning that everyone could immediately latch onto the attack and shout about its awfulness or tweak and rebroadcast them advancing their own narrative.

On Saturday night in Leytonstone, just as in Woolwich, the attacker’s stated intent and actions were captured on camera. The subsequent broadcasting of the message around the world meant that the attack and its message resonated almost immediately. It remains to be seen whether extremist groups will capitalise on the footage in the same way that al-Shabaab did in the wake of the Woolwich incident and make it the centrepiece of an hour-long film lauding the act and calling for others to emulate it. But doubtless some of the images that were captured of the attacker on Saturday night will find their way into terrorist publications and media.

This phenomenon is in some ways the reflection of the increasingly diffuse terrorist threat that is faced. Previously, you had to go to specific locations or people to find radical material. Now it is widely available and accessible, meaning all sorts of people can latch on and express the ideology without having any contact with a terror group. But now things have gone a step further, where we are all broadcasters for the group, capturing and advancing their message through our personal recording devices that offer unvarnished views of incidents as they happen.

The one positive side to this diffuse and random form of messaging is that the attacker no longer completely controls their message. He or she can shout about Syria, but cannot stop the stalwart Londoner shouting back ‘You ain’t no Muslim bruv’ – a catchphrase that is likely to resonate as widely as the failed attack.

  • Raffaello Pantucci is director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute and the author of We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists

First of all: Happy holidays to anyone who is reading this!

A brief hiatus over the holiday period after a slowdown towards the end of the year for a variety of reasons, but will be hopefully back to more regular output next year. In the wake of Sydney (and subsequent events in France) had a spate of conversations with journalists about the phenomenon of lone actor terrorism, including for the Financial Times, Telegraph, Huffington Post, Newsweek and New York Times. The Guardian in the meantime solicited the below piece. I am sure (and know) there will be more on this topic in the new year, in particular as am in the midst of projects on this very topic in a variety of different directions.

The Sydney siege fits the new, confusing global norm: the ‘lone actor’ attack

How do we know if ‘lone actors’ are unstable individuals, or acting under direction from a group? Counter-terrorist planning will increasingly grapple with this question

theguardian.com, Wednesday 17 December 2014 03.31 GMT

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man haron monis

‘Isolated individuals who launch attacks using rudimentary weapons are difficult for security forces to detect.’ Man Haron Monis in 2011. Photograph: AAP

Lone actor-style terrorism is becoming the new normal. Groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State (Isis) have been pushing it most recently, but it has been a feature of terrorist narratives and strategic thinking for some time.

Isolated individuals who launch attacks using rudimentary weapons are difficult for security forces to detect using their traditional methods. The same factors that make it hard to intercept such individuals make it equally hard to know for sure that what is being looked at is a genuine terrorist attack, or a deranged person who adopts the garb of a terrorist to publicly exorcise personal demons.

Monday’s attack in Sydney by Man Haron Monis was an archetypal case of how confusing this picture can get. A clearly troubled individual tried to draw some of Isis’s brand and spotlight to himself, and ended up leaving the world wondering the degree to which he can be considered associated or connected to the group in any way.

Lone actor (the preference by governments is to not use the term “lone wolf” as it is seen as glorifying) terrorism is not new. Right wing extremists have long liked the idea, drawing back to Cold War thinkers who were keen to prepare America for the possibility of an invading force that would require loyal survivors to take to the hills to wage an undercover insurgency against invaders.

Initially developed under the concept of “leaderless resistance” in the 1960s by a US Army Cold Warrior called Ulius Louis Amoss, the ideas were further advanced by a Ku Klux Klan member called Louis Beam in the 1980s. For Beam, the concept of single man (or small cell) fighting units was a perfect way around the need to fight a strong and pervasive state – because there were fewer opportunities for security forces to intercede.

Moving into our current age of sacred terror, the concept of networks of extremists with few connections launching a global insurgency was advanced by an al-Qaeda ideologue named Abu Musab al Suri. He spoke of a group structured like a “system, not organisation” – whereby different cells had their roles, but did not speak to each other in any direct way, each knowing their job and role without the need for compromising contact.

Largely ignored by the broader al-Qaedaist community, his ideas were picked up with great verve by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) who used their Inspire magazine to push the idea of a self-starting jihad whereby individuals simply launch attacks using weapons easily to hand against any target they could find.

In one issue they advocated people simply taking a jeep with knives welded to the front of it and driving it into a crowd of people. Track forwards to today and Isis leader Muhammad al Adnani gave a speech in which he called for people to “kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war … in any manner or way however it may be”.

As al Adnani put it, cause murder and mayhem wherever you are, without asking “for anyone’s advice” or “anyone’s verdict. Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military”.

While groups have long pushed in this direction, it is not clear how successful they have been in actually driving people in this direction. There has been a noticeable increase in lone actor style terrorist attacks whereby people launch attacks seemingly without any clear direction or command and control from a specific group. It is not clear that this is something that a group, like Isis or al-Qaeda, could really claim credit for.

In a British context, the first real lone actor terrorist plot took place in the form of Andrew Ibrahim, a troubled young man from Bristol who was reported to authorities by the local community when he showed up to his local mosque with quite serious burns on his hands. A self-proclaimed Muslim convert, Ibrahim had led a troubled youth dabbling in drugs, the rave scene and steroids.

At the time of his arrest Ibrahim seemed to be primarily making his money on welfare and selling the Big Issue. Somewhere along the way he decided to adopt the garb of extreme Islam.

Ibrahim spent some time trying to connect with extremists around the UK, while he would show off videos of Osama bin Laden to his friends. When police moved to arrest him they were shocked to find viable homemade explosives in his fridge, a homemade suicide vest behind his door and a well thought-out plan of the Princesshay shopping mall, which he apparently intended to target in a suicide terrorist attack.

With no connections or direction from known extremists, Ibrahim was the first in a number of cases in the UK where individuals launched seemingly random attacks in which they would refer to the language and rhetoric of violent Islamism without having any connection to it.

When prying into their motivations, often the appearance was of an individual who was angry at the world and was looking for some way to express this anger. The bright light of violent Islamism sometimes offers the best way to express this rage.

While we still do not know the full picture with Man Haron Monis, it increasingly seems as though we are dealing with a similar individual who is troubled and angry at society for his own personal reasons, and who saw the bright light of Isis’s brand as the best way to get his message out there.

The problem is that while he may have had no connection to the group, his choice of using its rhetoric and approach to express himself meant that his plot captured the world’s attention. A man, angry at society, quickly escalated into a potential terrorist incident, with potential links to Isis.

This both bolsters the group and the individual. Separating these incidents out and establishing how to properly respond to them is going to be at the heart of counter-terrorist planning for the near future.

A new piece over at the Guardian, looking at the perennial question of al Shabaab and its western recruits. I realize the conclusion might be seen as a bit exaggerated, but it does seem to me that we are potentially running the risk of going in this direction and at the end of the day it is often what we don’t expect that happens. The question is how long will this sense hang over us. As usual thoughts and comments warmly welcomed.

Al-Shabaab: the American Connection

There’s ample evidence of radicalised US citizens wooed to fight in Somalia. We need to ensure they don’t bring the jihad home.

A fighter from al-Shabaab, Mogadishu

A fighter from al-Shabaab runs for cover from a burnt-out African Union tank during fighting in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, 2 July 2010. Photograph: Feisal Omar/Reuters

The news of another American suicide bomber shows, once again, the deadly allure of jihadism among a small number of young US citizens, but it also casts a light on the potential danger that allowing the conflict in Somalia to continue unabated poses. Now that we are at the third possible American suicide bomber in Somalia, it is time to take stronger measures to solve this problem – before it comes back to haunt us in the west.

In a cynical way, the news is a tidy resolution for security services. The fact that these young men have died abroad means they will no longer be able to pose a threat at home. But this fails to take into account the larger threat that these deaths represent, both in terms of the embedding of jihadist ideas in North America, but also the growing menace internationally of the al-Shabaab group.

The story of the American jihad is not new. At this point, we have seen jihadist plots in the US with links to all of the major jihadist battlefields abroad, and in many cases, they have involved US citizens. And within the US, there have been a number of plots uncovered involving Americans who have radicalised and chosen to participate in plots that may have concluded in terrorist attacks. The conviction of Tahawwur Rana for his role in a plot targeting Denmark was merely the latest manifestation.

Somalia and al-Shabaab (whose name literally means “the youth”) is a subset of this issue, but one that has been growing in importance as it becomes clear that the group has been able to draw to itself both young ethnic Somalis and an ever increasing number of radicalised young men and women from other ethnicities. Young Shabaab leader Omar Hammami, for example, is a Daphne, Alabama native of Syrian descent who left the comfort of the US to serve as a leader in the Somali group using the nom de guerre “Abu Mansur al-Amiriki”. And he is not alone, with some of his compatriots agreeing to act as suicide bombers in that war-torn country.

But in parallel to this trend of young Americans leaving to fight jihad, al-Shabaab has gradually escalated the tenor of its violence. From a group that was a wing of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which emerged from the rampant warlordism gripping Somalia, Shabaab has steadily risen to become a formidable fighting force that has absorbed other groups and taken and held increasing chunks of territory. It has also demonstrated a capacity to launch coordinated attacks beyond its territory of control. In October 2008, it sent six suicide bomber teams deep into usually peaceful northern Somalia; one of those bombers was Shirwa Ahmed, a 26-year-old Somali American from Minneapolis. Then, in July of last year, as people enjoyed the football World Cup final, a pair of suicide bombers sent by Shabaab blew themselves up in Kampala, Uganda, killing some 74 people.

In between, there were numerous other bombings, attacks and firefights inside Somalia, alongside a growing trend for terrorist plots or attacks in the west – all with links to Shabaab. A group in Australia, frustrated in its ambition to go fight in Somalia, was disrupted while apparently plotting to attack an army base in Melbourne. A young Somali Dane, who was picked up and repatriated to Denmark by Kenyan forces as part of an alleged network planning an attack against Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, tried to kill cartoonist Kurt Westegaard for his role in the Mohammed cartoons. And a group of young Britons, who had attended outward-bound camps in the UK alongside attempted London suicide bombers in the UK, went to Somalia seeking connections with a-Shabaab.

It is unclear whether al-Shabaab directed any of these attacks or groups, but the connections are worrying. As the head of Britain’s MI5 said last September, “I am concerned that it is only a matter of time before we see terrorism on our streets inspired by those who are today fighting alongside al-Shabaab.”

Yet, the prevailing western tendency has been to observe the problem, rather than engage with it. While direct intervention in Somalia is clearly a bad idea, a more focused effort is needed. Broad sweeps of the Muslim community, exemplified in New York Representative Peter King’s recent congressional hearings on radicalisation, are not helpful: they put people’s backs up while failing to address a problem that only affects a minority within a minority. Instead, efforts should be focused on demythologising jihad. Former fighters who have returned and changed their minds can foster a counter-narrative, while jihadist websites in the west need to be taken down and the webmasters identified. Fundraising and support networks should be pursued, and the community needs to be persuaded that turning a blind eye to this activity is only going to attract negative unwanted attention. Some of these measures are likely already being deployed, but clearly, they are not proving totally effective.

The pattern that can be observed in the Somali jihad is one that replicates almost precisely the pattern that culminated in the 7 July 2005 bombings in London. Let us learn from those mistakes and ensure that it does not culminate with a similar atrocity in the US or elsewhere.

A new article for the Guardian exploring an issue I have had knocking around my head for a while, the issue of the use of informants in U.S. terror cases. It is a complex question, as it is hard to know what the alternative is sometimes. Being on the Guardian’s website, this has awakened a storm of comments on their page, some of which are rational but many are pretty off-the-wall. Once I have gotten over my current large writing hump I will try to return to this subject in some sort of a more academically useful way. Any pointers for longer pieces on this topic would be warmly welcomed.

Counter-productive counter-terror

Is entrapping low-level wannabe jihadists with elaborate FBI sting operations the best way of handling domestic radicals?

Raffaello Pantucci

guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 30 November 2010 18.30 GMT

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the Christmas tree bomber, Portland Oregon Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who has been dubbed ‘the Christmas tree bomber’, after his arrest in an FBI sting operation for attempting to carry out a terrorist attack in Portland Oregon. Photograph: AP Photo

The latest attempt by an American Muslim to wreak havoc in America is a depressing indictment of two things: of the fact that there continue to be young Americans eager to kill their fellow citizens in the name of extremist ideas, and of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s eagerness to launch counter-intelligence operations to trap such people.Attorney General Holder may be correct that “there is no entrapment here, and no entrapment claim will be found to be successful,” but what is unclear is the degree to which efforts to catch people may well be exacerbating the problem.

In the UK, counter-terrorism experts mutter sniffily about how such an approach would never stand up in a British court of law. And in some recent cases, one has to wonder. Farooque Ahmed, a Pakistani-American, appears to have been the only active plotter in a network of FBI informants who claimed to be al-Qaida. Ahmed thought he was plotting with them to launch a series of bombings on underground stations in Washington, DC, when, in fact, he was the only person whose intent was genuine among a unit of paid informants.

Now, there is the case of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a 19-year-old Somali-American who drove and attempted to detonate a car bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. Having attempted to make repeated contact with what he believed were extremists in Pakistan, Mahmud was finally contacted by a FBI agent who led him to believe that he was a fellow extremist. The two met in July 2010, and Osman appears to have decided this person was acceptably radical and to share violent ideas with him.

What follows is a scenario that is increasingly familiar in the US: the agents worked with the young man essentially to help him assemble a plot that would demonstrate his intent to carry out an attack in the US. Throughout court documents published after arrest, it is clear that agents made sure the individual knew what he was getting himself into, and what the likely consequences would be (innocent people would die). And at no point does the individual decide that, actually, this is something he would rather not do.

Instead, he continues down the path until, at a certain point, police decide that they have enough evidence and he is arrested. This has happened previously with Hosam Maher Husein Smadi and James Cromitie and his cell. In those cases, individuals are currently serving long jail terms, and given the weight of evidence that doubtless includes a lot of incriminating recordings, it is likely that Farooque and Mahmud are going to be following them.

But is this really a strategy that is improving the situation in the United States? Domestic radicalisation in the US is of increasing concern to American security planners, and rightly so, but such arrests have a questionable security benefit.

First of all, it is worth taking a step back to look at whether these individuals would have necessarily attempted to carry out their actions if it was not for the support of the network of agents who tasked with monitoring them. If these individuals continued as lone radicals who were unable to find individuals of equal determination to pursue a violent path, would they necessarily have attempted to carry out an attack?

As has been shown by Marc Sageman and others, domestic Islamist terrorists tend to be more effective (that is, dangerous) if they have others to bounce their ideas off. When we add to this the fact that, often, it is the security agents in the situation who have provided (or are offering to provide) the weapons or explosives, then this phenomenon is surely further accelerated.

Second, it seems of questionable utility to be continually incarcerating the sorts of individuals caught in these FBI stings. In the case of Mahmud, at least two undercover agents and numerous others’ time was used in catching him; while in Farooque’s case, at least three agents were directly involved. In either instance, might it not have been a more productive use of agents’ time simply to scare the individual off his chosen path with a menacing warning, rather than bothering with this long and expensive investigation? In neither case did they seem to have anything beyond peripheral contact with actual extremists. Had they been warned off, they might have ceased their efforts.

Of course, it can be argued that the harsh reaction to these individuals could be a purposeful effort by American services to send a strong deterrence message. But operations like these have been going on for years, and we continue to see new domestic radicals pop up.

It is also true that the US authorities are understandably concerned about the increase in unpredictable, “sole agent” attackers at home: Hassan Malik Nidal and Abdulhakim Mujahid are merely two of a number of Americans to have been drawn to Anwar al-Awlaki’s message of personalised jihad. Alongside aspirant attackers Faisal Shazhad or Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab, who had some connections but acted alone, these men all appear to have operated in a vacuum, which the FBI had missed prior to their murderous attacks. That precedent is rightly alarming.

Still, questions must be raised about the value and utility of capturing such low-level aspirants as Farooque or Mahmud, who are both likely to receive long terms of incarceration at great expense to the taxpayer. Another way to address the threat might be to actively dissuade such individuals from getting involved in terrorist activity. This approach has not always met with success in the past: the British services made themselves known to Abu Qatada, Abu Hamza and other radicals in London, but this contact did not dissuade them from radicalising aplenty and supporting jihad internationally. But this still might be a more productive avenue in dealing with low-level aspirants (as opposed to hardened militant preachers), as an effective alternative to elaborate sting operations.

After all, both Farooque and Mahmud were gullible enough to believe that individuals they first met online were hardcore al-Qaida supporters – these are strictly amateurs. A dramatic intervention coupled with local monitoring could result in just as much security benefit, at a considerably lower cost. This strategy would have the bonus effect of helping to thin out the increasing number of Muslim “martyrs” sitting in American jails. Their growing presence suggests that lengthy incarceration has little, if any deterrent effect on America’s homegrown jihadis.

 

Another busy day – though in reality these have been percolating over the holiday period. This one instead for Comment is Free at the Guardian which is consequently already attracting some charming comments which appear to show evidence of having willfully ignored the article at hand and chosen instead to use the opportunity to vent off. Anyway, this is not the first time I have cited al Suri’s work – though it as ever remains hard to know how much people are actually using it as a guide. Any thoughts or pointers on this very welcome.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/04/terrorism-al-qaida-detroit-attack

Extremism’s lone warriors

From Detroit to Denmark, terrorist strikes are increasingly the preserve of lone attackers inspired by jihadist groups
Raffaello Pantucci

guardian.co.uk, Monday 4 January 2010 20.00 GMT

The year has begun with a jihadist splash. Aside from massacres in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, just before New Year, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to bring down an airliner over Detroit. Now a young Somali resident of Copenhagen appears to have attempted to take vengeance on Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist behind 2006’s infamous Muhammad cartoons. While information on the two attacks is far from complete, the signs increasingly point to lone attackers with links to regional jihadist groups.

This is not entirely surprising – terrorist groups have long targeted aircraft, and extremist Islamists have repeatedly demonstrated that they are determined to seek revenge for perceived slights by artists to their religion. Salman Rushdie, Theo van Gogh and Sherry Jones, author of the Jewel of Medina, have all been targeted, and this is merely the latest plot against those associated with the Danish cartoons. In late 2009 FBI agents arrested plotters planning to mount an assault on the headquarters of Jyllands Posten, the newspaper that first ran the cartoons.

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