Posts Tagged ‘AQAP’

I have a chapter featured in this latest book Al Qaeda After Bin Laden published by the Al Mesbar Studies & Research Centre. My chapter focuses on the evolution of the Internet as a tool for al Qaeda and affiliated groups in the west, looking in turn at the cases of the Islamic Gateway and http://www.azzam.com (two portals run out of the UK established in the mid-1990s), then the networks around Younis Tsouli and the Blackburn Resistance, before focusing on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al Shabaab’s use of the Internet. It ends looking at AQAP’s push towards Lone Wolf terrorism.

Thus far the book has only been published in Arabic, and I have pasted below the summary they published in English. I have not gotten a copy in Arabic, but believe it is available online if you contact them. If instead you would like a copy of the English text, drop me a note and I can see about getting a version to you. There is discussion of maybe publishing an English version, but it has not come together yet as far as I know.

63 Al-Qaeda after Bin Laden

The sixty-third Monthly book aims to highlight and focus on al-Qaeda after bin Laden, and whether it will endure and remain in the arena, or disappear from sight by the disappearance of its founder, due to his death.

This issue is gaining more importance in the light of major events and developments that do not only include disorders in the Arab region since a year and more, but also the withdrawal of American troops out of Iraq, and the expected withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan.

In this rare Arabic version, we offer multiple views of prominent researchers and experts.

In the preface written by Manuel Almeida, lecturer at the London School of Economics and Political Science, it was shown that it is not easy to answer if whether Al-Qaeda will remain on the scene and endure after the death of bin Laden as it requires exploring hidden facts and details concerning Bin Laden and his inspiration to Al-Qaeda organization which he intended to form in Afghanistan.

Almeida illustrates that the role of bin Laden in recent years have been important in terms of strategy, funding, recruitment and polarization, as he was the great symbol of the jihadist movement, and therefore it is important to tackle the consequences of his death as well as implications of his disappearance from the scene.

Understanding the implications of the death of bin Laden and its reflections on Al-Qaeda as well as the continuous transformation process taking place in the organization, was discussed by a professor of Middle East Studies at the University (Science Po) in Paris, Jean-Pierre Filho.

He discussed the meaning of forced change in Al-Qaeda leadership, by tackling areas of agreement between bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s new Prince Ayman al-Zawahiri. Jean-Pierre addressed aspects that differentiated bin Laden as well as his uniqueness, and how his absence will affect the future of the Organization, leading to make Al-Zawahiri’s task very rugged, and complex.

Alia Brahimi, a researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Oxford, shows the process of change that began before the death of bin Laden, explaining that it will influence the strategy and overall objectives of the organization.

She addresses traditional goals of the organization in order to understand whether AlQaeda succeed or failed on it. Also, she tackles change in al-Qaeda, specifically democratic power within the organization, and whether it is an indicator of power or a crisis plaguing the organization.

The professor at the International Centre for the Study of radicalization (ICSR) at the Kings College University in London, Raffaello Pantucci, addressed Al Qaeda’s strategy with more depth in the evolving nature of jihadist movement.

Raffaello tackles the jihadist movement that found the internet an online tool that enabled it to play a role in the network of global jihad.

The Yemeni journalist, Nasser Al-Rubaiee, addressed the threat posed by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as it related to the global concerns about the situation of chronic instability in Yemen.

Furthermore he discusses the implications of Awlaki death and explains that al-Qaeda is not the only beneficiary of the chronic instability in Yemen, it is also tribesmen and sympathizers with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the Yemeni government and the political opposition.

All these actors in the Yemeni political arena perceived the existence of Al-Qaeda to achieve their own agenda.

Although there are a number of armed groups in Punjab province, the Pakistani group, “Lashkar-e-Taiba”, is one of the groups most powerful and dangerous of all.

Rashmi Singh, lecture at the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV) at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, explains the reasons why this group is different from other armed groups in Pakistan.

She analyzed links that combine this group and al-Qaeda, and provides an overview of its emergence and its involvement in the context of Pakistan’s war against India.

There is no doubt that the Somali Youth movement has close links with al Qaeda. The associate professor in international relations, and the President of International Relations Program at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Stig Jarle Hansen, shows that tackling this relationship is not easy, especially when looking at Somali movement’s ideology and al Qaeda, as well as the daily aspects of interaction between them.

The long war on terror, which United States has engaged in, along with its allies against al-Qaeda by its organized central and local branches, sparks a long list of ethical, legal and strategic aspects.

Jorge Lasmar, an international lawyer and professor of international relations at the University of (PUC), in Menas (Brazil), outlined a set of practices included human rights and democratic values that took place in the war against terrorism.

The director of Middle East Center at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Fawaz Gerges, explores the possibilities behind the outbreak of Arab revolutions, in terms of its ability to put an end to terrorism, specifically the mania which the United States possesses regarding the threat posed by al Qaeda.

Gerges also deals in depth with Arab spring events and their ties with Al-Qaeda, and how it led to marginalize Al-Qaeda and other Jihadist leaders.

Omar Al-Bashir Al-Turabi read the book entitled, “The rise and fall of Al-Qaeda”, by Fawaz Gerges, which was released after the death of bin Laden. Gerges finds out that when decision makers in the United States end the war against terrorism, thoughts will expand to more available alternatives.

Furthermore he calls for concerted efforts to reveal the forgery novel of terrorism and to put an end to the acquisition of Al-Qaeda in the imagination of Americans.

This book presented different visions and was praised by intellectuals who demanded it to be among the list read by world leaders and presidents.

This book came up as a result of the supervision, coordination and communication carried out by Manuel Almeida for a period of seven months, supported by the follow-up of our colleague, Omar Al-Bashir Al-Turabi. We thank and appreciate them for their efforts.

A post for the long-ignored Free Rad!cals at ICSR. This one looking at the stories around Abu Musab al-Suri’s possible release and the implications of it. Brynjar was kind enough to give me some time to talk about it and I would recommend everyone read his book on the subject if they find the time.

Whither al Suri?

Towards the end of last year a story emerged that suggested that infamous al Qaida ideologue Mustafa Setmariam Nasr, aka Abu Musab al- Suri, had been released from the Syrian jail in which it was believed he had been languishing. Picked up in Quetta in October 2005, al-Suri was a longtime jihadist who during his career had served as a trainer in Afghanistan, married a Spanish woman, and worked as a propagandist from Londonistan. He is most well-known, however, as an author and ideologue and particularly for his massive tome, Global Islamic Resistance Call, a text that laid out his idea for al-Qaeda’s structure as “nizam, la tanzim” (system, not organization). Most recently, his writing had gotten increased traction as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) had very publicly taken up his ideas as part of their push in Inspire magazine to try to stir up Lone Wolf terrorism.

While the unconfirmed announcement of his release has not gotten much traction, the story was interesting given the importance al-Suri’s work is often given by researchers (and the fact that he was amongst the individuals whom Zawahiri asked for in exchange for kidnapped American Warren Weistein). Intrigued by the story, I reached out to Dr. Brynjar Lia of FFI in Norway, the world’s foremost expert of al-Suri, having written the excellent biography “Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of Al Qaeda Strategist Abu Musab al Suri,” to see what he thought of the story and its potential consequences:

I think it is quite likely that al-Suri was transferred to Syria and has been held there, judging by the various reports pointing in that direction over the past few years. However, I am not sure whether Syrian authorities would have much to gain by releasing him. He is no friend of the Syrian regime to say the least, and he consistently denounced the Syrian regime both politically and religiously, labeling them “a Nusayri [another word for the Alawi, Bashar al Assad’s ethnic community] occupation”. The only thing I could think of is that the regime is trying to send a signal to the West, and the U.S. in particular, that if they push the Assad regime too hard, they will lose a partner in “the war on terrorism”, to use an outdated term. Al-Zawahiri mentioned al-Suri as one of several jihadis he wanted to see released in return for a U.S. citizen, reportedly held hostage by al-Qaida in Pakistan. However, in the current climate it is hard to imagine U.S.-Syrian cooperation on swapping al-Suri for the U.S. hostage.

“The impact of al-Suri’s release, if true, will not necessarily be dramatic, although it depends on the circumstances of his release. I don’t really see him in any operational role in the jihadi organisations in the region such as al-Qaida in Iraq, Ansar al-Islam, Fatah al-Islam or others. As for the Syrian opposition in exile, they will probably view him as a liability and they seem to believe that he might have been released as part of the Syrian regime’s orchestrated efforts to portray the opposition as an al-Qaida supported insurgency. Furthermore, al-Suri has few friends among the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, whom he singled out for very harsh criticism in his early writings. He did not have a large crowd of dedicated disciples, but was mostly a theoretician and a writer and was admired for his writings and his seniority as a jihadist.

For my own two cents, it would be strange for the Syrians to take such an action for a man who was so clearly their enemy and unlikely to ever do them any favors – but then again, as the Shia Iranian experience with allowing Sunni al Qaida to stay in their territory has shown, the geopolitics of the war on terrorism are complex. But I also wonder whether it would necessarily be the case that his release would be some sort of a boon to the notion of Lone Wolf jihad as espoused by AQAP. Clearly Inspiremagazine saw al-Suri as their ideological godfather and repeatedly held up his image and writing as key in their thinking, but I wonder if al-Suri would equally embrace the notions as they have advanced it.

To start with, it is unclear to me on the basis of his work that al Suri would be that impressed by the religious and ideological knowledge displayed by the army of young people who are taking up arms in response to AQAP’s call. In the early 1990s as he was first advancing his ideas in Peshawar, al Suri spoke of being unimpressed by the lack of “necessary doctrinal, programmatic, ideological and political guidance” amongst his fellow Arab-Afghans. Furthermore, in his magum opus, the Global Islamic Resistance Call, where he praises “the school of individual jihad and small cells” and a group of lone individuals who took up the cause of jihad, he highlights how while these attacks may be a military, security and agitation success, their political and educational impact is relatively low. It is hard to imagine that he would see greater ideological fervor or wider political success amongst the young people claiming his heritage.

Beyond this, it is unclear that he would necessarily approve of the sort of random targeting that is suggested by Inspire magazine’s ideas of taking down apartment blocs full of people by renting out one on a lower floor and letting the gas run freely or the idea to use a combine harvester to literally mow through crowds. While al-Suri’s writing does recognise the validity of targeting civilians, he does say that this needs to be done in a discriminating fashion. This is reflected in information to have emerged from Abbotabad where it is claimed that bin-Laden was “taken aback” by the Inspire proposal to use a harvester “he complains that this tactical proposal promotes indiscriminate slaughter. He says he rejects this and it is not something that reflects what al-Qaeda does.”

It is unclear whether al-Suri will be able to react in any sort of a public way to the children of the jihad who have claimed his legacy, not least because we have no idea at the moment of whether he has even been released (or if he has what limitations he may be under). But should he have been released and be able to become an active jihadi ideologue once again, it will undoubtedly prove a coup for al-Qaeda’s battered ideology and forces (as Jarret Brachmann has pointed out). What is less clear, however, is what kind of an impact it would have on the AQAP driven push towards indiscriminate, undirected Lone Wolf terrorism. It is uncertain to what degree the group is responsible for the growth in such events, and it is even less certain whether al-Suri would necessarily appreciate the interpretation of his work that they have been advancing.

Lone Wolf terrorism will no doubt continue to emerge whether al-Suri has been released or not. Al Suri’s potential addition to this mix will be to breathe new life into a group whose ideology and leadership has taken a sound beating, offering a leader whose ideas at the time were not paid much attention to, but since his arrest have increasingly become the vogue amongst terrorist tacticians.

A new piece for CNN, this time looking in a bit more detail at the group Boko Haram to try to understand what lessons can be learned from nearby al Qaeda affiliates and fellow travellers to see about its trajectory as an global terrorist threat. My sense is that it is unlikely to start actively launching attacks abroad, but I suppose never say never. I cannot pretend to be an expert on Nigeria, but a detail that stood out for me was that it turns out that only about 10% of Britain’s Nigerian population is Muslim (14,000 in the 2001 census) – which somewhat reduces the potential danger to the UK at least. A project I would be very interested in seeing would be a closer examination of what exactly Nigeria’s diaspora population looks like by tribe and religion. Any pointers anyone has come across would be very interesting.

What might Boko Haram do?

From Raffaello Pantucci, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Raffaello Pantucci is an associate fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming “We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Mujahedeen” (Hurst/Columbia University Press).

After an explosive festive season that spilled into the New Year and growing stories of increased connections to other regional networks, Nigerian group Boko Haram is likely to be one of the main focuses of attention for counter terrorism experts in this coming year.

While definitively predicting whether it is going to metastasize into a global threat, or remain a regional one, is something dependent on many variable factors, some lessons from other regional violent Islamist networks can be drawn to understand better the general direction Boko Haram is going in.

Three groups are particularly useful to look at: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, al Shabaab in Somalia and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). All three are groups that have a clear globalist violent Islamist rhetoric and varying degrees of connectivity with al Qaeda core in Pakistan.

While Boko Haram seems to increasingly sound like a global jihadist group, it has thus far only established connections with regional al Qaedaist networks – specifically, members have admitted to training in Somalia and American military officials have pointed to links with AQIM.

Of these three groups, the one that has repeatedly posed a direct threat to American homeland security is AQAP, the Yemeni based al Qaeda affiliate that hosted Anwar al-Awlaki, the infamous Yemeni-American preacher.  Established by individuals who had served directly with Osama bin Laden and had been involved with al Qaeda since its early days (and some who have been in Guantanamo) it has been an important part of al Qaeda’s global strategy.

Documents found in bin Laden’s layer point to the organization asking him directly about management issues and there is evidence of direct communication between the groups about operational planning.  The group has inherited al Qaeda core’s obsession with the United States, something demonstrated in intercepted emails between Awlaki and a contact in the UK that show Awlaki telling him to prioritize the United States, rather than the United Kingdom, as a target.

And this obsession has been given operational support by a steady flow of young Western recruits, drawn in part by the groups English-language media campaign.  These recruits both provide the network with operational assets they can use to strike the West, but also help feed its anti-Western rhetoric, spurred on as they are by a deep rejection of the society that they came from.  All of which helps explain why the group is seen as a major threat to the United States and why the group continues to try to launch attacks, all the while also trying to consolidate its position in Yemen.

The group has also been shown to have strong links with al Shabaab in Somalia, another regional network with links to al Qaeda core, but that has so far not demonstrated the same eagerness to launch attacks directly against the American homeland or in Europe. Similar to AQAP, al Shabaab has some leaders who have been quite close to al Qaeda core and it has hosted a number of senior al Qaeda members.

But the majority of its leadership has emerged from the long-standing inter-tribal conflicts that have dominated Somalia’s recent history. It has also been something of a draw for young Westerners seeking the thrill of fighting on a jihadist battlefield, and some of these young people have tried to launch attacks back home – though not at the direction of Shabaab.

But while it may have launched attacks in Somalia against Western targets, and seemed to be involved in plots to attack Western targets regionally (including recent stories of using western recruits for plotting in neighboring Kenya), there is currently little evidence that the group has directed attacks targeting North America or Europe.

Instead, it seems as though the group has chosen to avoid such direct provocations, most likely to not distract from their regional interests and bring too much attention to them from the American security machine.  The focus is on consolidating power in Somalia, in many ways something that is merely an extension of the civil war that has been raging in the nation for decades.  It clearly has the potential to launch direct attacks in the form of support networks sending money and fighters in Europe and North America, but has chosen not to deploy them.

And finally, there is al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), another group with direct historical ties to al Qaeda core as an evolution of a group that was born from the community of Algerians who had served in Afghanistan against the Soviets.  Individuals linked to previous iterations of the group have been involved in attacks in France and individuals linked to the group continue to be found in Europe.

But it has been a long time since it launched an attack, or was linked to an attack, in Europe. Instead, there has been a steady patter of attacks against north African security forces and repeated kidnappings for ransom of Westerners traveling around the region – making the group seem more of a regional criminal-terrorist network that international terrorist organization.

The group may receive some sort of a boost in the wake of the Arab Spring in terms of equipment and there are stories that al Qaeda core is focusing on the region as a new field of operations as pressure in Pakistan continues, but none of this has yet translated into much evidence of a large out-of-area terror campaign.

So where would Boko Haram fit into this spectrum?

It lacks much evidence of direct contacts with al Qaeda core, meaning that it is unlikely to have directly inherited al Qaeda’s obsession with attacking America.  Instead, it seems to have developed out of the long-standing tribal and north-south tensions in Nigeria.  It has been cloaking itself in an anti-western rhetoric – its name translates as “western education is forbidden” – and made contact with other regional Islamist groups that shout loudly about global jihad, but its focus remains the sharia-ization of Nigeria.

Of course, all of these factors can change, and the attack last August on the U.N. office in Abuja showed a level of technical capacity and an interest in targeting foreigners.  But this does not necessarily mean the internationalization of the group’s fight.  The attack could be interpreted as a way of drawing attention to the group and its struggle – something key for an organization using violence to advance a political cause.  The world press has become sadly used to massacres in Africa, so in order to draw attention, groups have to choose westernized targets.

In this light, it therefore seems that Boko Haram is most like al Shabaab, though at a much earlier stage.  Like Shabaab, it grew out of local tribal conflicts and tensions adopting Islamist garb, and it has so far avoided direct confrontations with the west. Unlike the Somali group, it lacks direct connections to al Qaeda core.

While it is clearly angry at the west, it does not yet seem to have made the specific strategic decision to expend its efforts in launching attacks in Europe or North America.  It is possible that like Shabaab, in time Boko Haram might expand its operations regionally and again against foreign targets – but this should be seen within a regional context rather than a globalist jihadist framework.  Finally, unlike all of the other groups, it also lacks a notable international support network sending money and fighters, but as security agencies have already worried, the large Nigerian diaspora internationally might change this.

For Western security planners it is a hard game to judge. While it would be surprising for the group to launch attacks against the west, if it continues to grow and is able to tap into the globalist jihadist narrative it will draw more attention to itself and its international networks will develop.  This will expand the pool of people being radicalized and will provide al Qaeda or affiliate networks with new potential networks they can capitalize upon to advance their globalist cause.

And if the group is able to establish a safe territory where it can impose its will and shariah, it is possible that it could turn into a haven for jihadists being hounded by drone strikes and western intelligence elsewhere.  This all poses a threat, but too much direct foreign attention to the group will both increase the groups credibility and also bring them into direct confrontation with western forces – something that might in itself accelerate a shift towards globalist violence.

So far, however, the only Nigerian to be prominently involved in terrorist plotting against the west was Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the British educated Nigerian student who was dispatched by AQAP with a bomb sewn into his underwear.  And there has been no evidence that he was connected with Boko Haram.  Instead, the group has focused on causing chaos and massacring people in Nigeria, something that is terrible but must clearly be focused on in a regional way rather than as part of a global anti-terrorist struggle.

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

Seeking Balance In Britain

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

By: Raffaello Pantucci

10/21/2011 (12:00am)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regaining control

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

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

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

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

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

An unchanging assessment

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

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

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

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

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

No surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lone wolves and the right wing

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

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

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

Analysis

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

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

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

_____________________________________________

The Internet Threat

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

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

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

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

_____________________________________________

Preventing terrorism

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

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

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

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

A longer paper on the current state of the Islamist terrorist threat to Europe ten years on from 9/11 for Chatham House. It was written and presented prior to news of Awlaki’s death, so that is not included, but I do not think it alters a huge amount the thrust of the piece, except to shift the threat a bit from AQAP. I have a feeling his death will have an impact on western radicalisation, as I do think individual religious leaders like himself are important in getting young European’s excited. Will explore that in another longer piece I have forthcoming, but in the meantime here is the paper:

http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/public/Research/International%20Security/010811wr_terrorism.pdf

And a link to the event: http://www.chathamhouse.org/events/view/176017#node-176017 – it was part of the European Security and Defence Forum series that Chatham House run, and thanks to Benoit and Claire for the invitation to attend and the efforts with the paper!

A new piece for Foreign Policy, this time in reaction to Ilyas Kashmiri’s possible death. The ideas have been percolating around for a while and the possible death of Kashmiri inspired me to put pen to paper. I am not entirely sure I have given them enough space here – understanding better the importance of these leaders within the context of these groups is something that needs a bit more clinical examination in my mind and is something that I will try to explore in a longer text once I have some time. In the meantime, if anyone comes across any good texts or articles on the topic, please forward them on!

Al Qaeda’s Toughest Task

Slain jihadi leaders like Ilyas Kashmiri and Osama bin Laden aren’t so easily replaced.

BY RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI | JUNE 6, 2011

The reported death last week of Ilyas Kashmiri, the notorious jihadi leader — if true — is merely the latest in a long line of decapitations of al Qaeda and affiliated groups. Osama bin Laden fell a few weeks before him, and men described as “senior” or “important” leaders, like Baitullah and Abdullah Mehsud, Hamza Rabia, Mohammed Atef, Saeed al-Masri, and others, have fallen before them.

But does cutting the head off the snake really matter? Can’t they just be replaced by the next militant waiting in the wings?

Not so easily. Although the consensus among experts is often that the deaths of such tactically and ideologically important leaders do not destroy groups, their loss does have an effect. Kashmiri’s death will not herald the end of violence in Pakistan or the threat to the West, but it will reduce al Qaeda’s capacity to strike. Long-standing warrior leaders are important figures in the ideological clash against groups believing themselves in a millenarian struggle. Bringing the big men down will help accelerate their groups’ demise.

Leaders like Kashmiri, who lost a finger and an eye in the Afghan war against the Soviets, are able to provide inspiration through their biographies. His time as a fighter in Afghanistan and Kashmir gave him connections across groups and networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and gave him a reputation as a fierce warrior leader. He built this personal narrative and connections into a formidable network operating under the name 313 Brigade, in reference to the 313 companions who fought alongside the Prophet Mohammed at the Battle of Badr, and was named by Masri as the leader of al Qaeda in Kashmir. He was also clearly effective in providing direction to terrorist cells, as shown by his suspected involvement in the May 22 attack on Karachi’s naval base (his latest attack on the Pakistani state), strikes in India coordinated from his base in Pakistan, and his ambitious plan to attack newspaper offices in Copenhagen.

A similar portrait can be painted of bin Laden. His life story embodied the jihadi ideal of an Islamist warrior giving up everything to fight against the unbelievers. His strong connections to the community of wealthy Gulf Arabs with deep pockets and pro-jihadi sympathies strengthened his inspirational role and made him a prize asset for al Qaeda. Many other longtime leaders and warriors fighting in Afghanistan or Pakistan — their histories and connections stretching back to before the current conflict — claim the same mythical status.

But Kashmiri and bin Laden will be hard to replace. Their historical roles as front-line warriors not only earned them credibility with other local militants, but also brought them into contact with the community of regional and global warriors, giving them tentacles around the world. Bin Laden’s network is well-known while Kashmiri’s is currently on display in Chicago, where a key trial witness named David Coleman Headley is highlighting connections between Kashmiri — seemingly his key al Qaeda contact — and cells in the United States, Britain, India, and Sweden.

New leaders tend to either be less strategically seasoned or prove unable to replicate the formula the old leader had. Al Qaeda in Iraq was never the same after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed, and Yemen’s Aden-Abyan Islamic Army never really survived the death of its leader Abu al-Hassan, instead becoming subsumed by regional al Qaeda-linked cells. In both cases, the deaths of leaders with contacts and celebrity deprived the groups of their appeal. This means fewer recruits, less funding, and less capacity to launch audacious plots. Spectacular attacks like May 22’s brazen assault on Karachi’s naval base, which some have linked to Kashmiri, require great nerve and audacity to pull off, driven by an inspirational figure who can convince fighters to die for the cause.

Technical skills also matter. Bomb-makers often prove to be an essential ingredient in making an effective terrorist organization. In Yemen, it may be Anwar al-Awlaki who provides the English-language narrative that is drawing young Western fighters to his side, but it is Ibrahim al-Asiri who is building the innovative bombs with which al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula continues to penetrate airport security. Both play key roles and, if removed, would damage their organization.

But neither of these individuals has the caliber or longevity of Kashmiri or bin Laden. Asiri’s technical skills, like those of numerous other master bomb-makers before him, are replicable: They can be written down, taught, and ultimately learned by others. Awlaki’s stirring rhetoric and message would be missed, but he has not yet managed to enter the pantheon of leaders of global jihadism and is still learning the ropes as a jihadi preacher.

When dealing with a terrorist organization like al Qaeda or Brigade 313, it is unlikely that what comes next is going to be any different from what came before. For this reason, it doesn’t much matter whether key jihadi leaders are eliminated, because their successors will likely follow the same radical path. Al Qaeda in Iraq may have been damaged by the death of its butcher-in-chief Zarqawi, and there is little evidence that the group has deradicalized in his absence.

But when dealing with a tribal insurgency like the Taliban, the radicalization that results from decapitating strikes can backfire. Those who follow are likely to be more radical than their predecessors and carry additional grudges that will impede them from putting down arms. The tribal codes that dictate life in Pakistan’s lawless provinces and Afghanistan often demand a response that may supersede reason.

Drone strikes and SEAL teams directed by strong intelligence are waging an effective war in bringing down key leaders in al Qaeda. With the deaths of bin Laden and Kashmiri — two irreplaceable giants of the global jihad — we can at least start to see the end of the core group hiding in Pakistan.

A new post for the Telegraph, intended to be a response to the July 7 Coroner’s Inquest. It also tees up some ideas that will be gone into detail in my forthcoming book.

Everything’s Changed Since July 7, 2005

By Raffaello Pantucci 5:55PM BST 11 May 2011

The conclusion that the Security Services could have done more to investigate the leader of the July 7, 2005 bombings on London’s transport system is not a surprising one. Some key mistakes seem to have been made that allowed Mohammed Siddique Khan and his friends to continue to operate along a well-trodden pipeline feeding zealous young Brits to training camps in Pakistan. The excuse that this was merely one cell of many that was operating using this pipeline is worrying but to some degree a reasonable excuse. The danger is that this result is the main lesson being learned from this process. A danger since while the path they took is one that has been now for the most part disrupted and compromised, the threat in the UK has scattered in a variety of different directions meaning we have failed to effectively address the ideological roots of the problem.

None of this is to say that the link to training camps in South Asia does not still exist but at the same time, more recently the threat from violent Islamism in the UK has had return addresses in places like Iraq, Yemen, Somalia or the Internet. This is similar to the way that Osama’s death confirmed that Al Qaeda, a force that has been quite heavily reduced from its previous level, is no longer the main global expression of violent Islamism, but rather the array of regional groups that flocked to his banner are now the main threat.

This trend is not that new. It was last September that the Director General of MI5 said that the volume of the threat that his service was watching from Pakistan had decreased to be about 50% of their workload. From being solely concerned with training camps and networks in Pakistan, they are now worrying about schools in Yemen which cover for training camps or are recruiting grounds for Anwar al-Awlaki’s Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In Somalia, “there are a significant number of UK residents training in Al Shabaab camps to fight in the insurgency there.” And it seems as though Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, the Luton educated man who blew himself up in Stockholm at around Christmas time last year, spent some time with fighters in Iraq. Less geographically, the Internet has become a global purveyor of extreme ideas that has allowed a number of individuals, sometimes of questionable mental health but for the most part simply socially awkward, carry out disruptive activities that have come very close to causing mass death.

None of which are threats that will be effectively countered by following policies that focus on the old networks that incubated the July 7 team and their copycat team two weeks later. Some lessons learned are transferable, but having been through a process of self-flagellation and learned the lessons of 7/7 years ago, the security services have hopefully penetrated the necessary networks and hardened against this particular threat. And yet the ideological expressions remain. While the visible head of the violent Islamist movement ideology has been eradicated, the ideas that flow from it continue to cause flare-ups. Until we have dried the kindling that feeds these flames we are set to continue to have to address expressions of the problem that may be as effective as 7/7.

A longer article in the latest HSToday, that predates the current chaos regarding a certain person who was killed in Pakistan. Looks at why terrorists remain fixated with aviation. The whole article can be found below, but those who want to read it in the magazine can find it here or at your local newsagents (if you are in the US).

Airport Security: Aiming At Aviation

Why terrorists continue to focus on planes as their number one target.

By: Raffaello Pantucci

05/04/11
A suicide bomber in the reception hall at Moscow’s Domodevo International, a shooter randomly targeting US servicemen as they wait for a bus outside Frankfurt International airport, parcel bombs placed upon international freight carriers heading for the United States intercepted in Dubai and the UK’s East Midlands Airport—aviation and airports have never seemed to be a higher priority target for terrorist groups.
This is not in itself a new phenomenon, but given estimated costs and disruption for each plot veering into millions of dollars and the guaranteed media attention that they bring, it seems equally clear that this is a problem that is only likely to get larger over time.

A short history of explosive flight

Terrorists have long sought out airlines as priority targets. Sept. 11, 2001, stands out as a major recent watershed, but this was merely a tactical fusion of two separate strands in terrorist targeting that had gone on before.

For groups seeking quite specific tactical aims, the idea of kidnapping aircraft laden with passengers provided a group of hostages that could be bartered for money or fellow comrades sitting in jails, all the while advancing their political cause before a global audience. Throughout the 1960s-1990s, terrorist groups of many different stripes would target aircraft, from the Japanese Red Army who in 1970 hijacked an internal Japanese flight that they redirected to North Korea, to Kashmiri extremists who in December 1999 hijacked a Kathmandu, Nepal, to Delhi flight and ended up securing the release of three fellow comrades sitting in Indian jails. The international nature of air travel meant that groups were guaranteed global media attention that would often translate into successful media operations whether or not the specific tactical aims were achieved.

This global attention and disruption was also at the heart of targeting aircraft with bombs to bring them down mid-flight. On June 22, 1985, Sikh extremists placed suitcases full of explosives on Air India flights originating from Canada. One exploded over the Atlantic Ocean near Ireland while the other went off on the ground at Tokyo’s Narita airport, both bombs killing a total of 331 people. The campaign was part of a radical Sikh campaign to seek separation for an Indian state. Three years later, a bomb placed in a suitcase on Pan Am flight 103 from London Heathrow to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York brought down that aircraft over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 on board and a further 11 on the ground. The bombing was part of a Libyan sponsored campaign that also included the bombing in September 1989 of a flight from Brazzaville, Congo, to Paris, killing 170, and the hijacking in 1986 of another Pan Am flight on the ground in Karachi, Pakistan. All these attacks were part of the shadow war between Colonel Muammar Gadaffi’s Libya and the United States.

The Sept. 11 attacks, however, brought these two deadly strands together in a manner that had not yet been seen—turning a hijacked craft into a flying bomb.

Echoes of the plot could be found earlier. In December 1994, a cell of Algerian Islamists linked to the Armed Islamic Group (known by its French acronym GIA) hijacked a flight from Algiers to Paris and, according to a French intelligence asset, intended to crash it full of fuel into the Eiffel Tower. The plotters were taken out on the ground in Marseilles by French special forces, and as a result their final intentions will never be known.

Weeks after the raid in Marseilles, police in Manila, Philippines, reported to an apartment fire and caught Pakistani national Abdul Hakim Murad in an apartment full of terrorist material. Murad later confessed to being part of a conspiracy masterminded by Ramzi Youssef to bring down about a dozen flights en route from Asia to the United States with undetectable bombs left on board the flights. The plotters had already tested out one of their devices on a Manila to Tokyo flight, killing a Japanese businessman. Youssef, who a year earlier had masterminded the 1993 attempt to topple the World Trade Center towers, was the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and continued to plot with his uncle until he was captured in Islamabad, Pakistan, in February 1995. Upon capture he was found to have US flight plans in his possession.

These dots were never connected until after September 2001. Some security planners were reported by the 9/11 Commission to have considered scenarios along the lines of 9/11 prior to the event, but no one had considered the implications of what might be required to respond.

Post-Sept. 11, however, there has been a noticeable drop off in attempts to hijack aircraft. While passengers with personal agendas or mental disorders threaten sporadic aircraft, there has not been an organized hijacking since September 2001, something that is a testament to the effectiveness of the 9/11 plotters. Having seen what can happen, it is now unlikely that a flight full of passengers will sit docilely by while they are flown to certain death.

None of this has, however, reduced the attraction of airlines and aircraft as a target for Al Qaeda. Subsequent to his arrest in March 2003, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed revealed plans to attack Heathrow airport in London either using a hijacked craft or a mortar. Three months after his successful 9/11 strike, he had dispatched Richard Reid and Saajid Badat—two British Muslims who had been directed to Al Qaeda camps in the years prior to 2001 through the network around the Finsbury Park mosque in London—with bombs in their shoes to bring down transatlantic flights. Badat backed out at the last minute with a message to his handler saying “you will have to tell Van Damme that he could be on his own,” while Reid attempted to board a flight in Paris. Showing up looking unwashed and with no baggage, he was initially turned back by security but was able on the second day to board a Paris to Miami flight.

Russian terrorism takes flight

Even in the wake of the more stringent checks placed on aircraft and passengers caused by 9/11, Al Qaeda remained fixated on airlines, a consistency also visible among terror networks in Russia that targeted aircraft both before and after 2001.

In March 2001, a team of three Chechens armed with knives and what they claimed was a bomb hijacked a flight from Istanbul to Moscow, redirecting it to Medina in Saudi Arabia where they released some of the passengers and demanded refueling, supposedly to go on to Afghanistan. Fearing a bloody resolution if the terrorists blew the plane up as they threatened, Saudi authorities decided to storm the craft, resulting in the death of a hijacker, a passenger and one of the crew. The two captured terrorists were quickly identified as Aslanbek Arsayev, a prominent Chechen who had served previously as minister for state security in Chechnya, and his brother Supian Arsayev. Both men were eventually extradited to Russia and their current whereabouts are unknown.

Subsequent to the September 2001 attacks, Russian Military Air Forces Commander in Chief General Anatoly Kornukov was quoted as saying that “it would be impossible for terrorists to hijack several aircraft simultaneously in Russia.” Showing a certitude born from previous experience when he ordered the shooting down of a South Korean passenger plane that had accidentally violated Russian airspace, Kornukov told a Russian reporter, “if I knew for a fact that there were hostages aboard the hijacked plane and the terrorists were heading straight towards the Kremlin I would report so to the defense minister and suggest he destroy the aircraft. That would be the lesser evil. And then let others judge my actions as they will.”

As it turned out, it was not hijacking on which the Chechens focused. Three years later, Chechen fighters bribed their way onto a pair of planes leaving Moscow’s Domodevo airport on internal routes. Waiting patiently until they knew both flights would be in the air, the bombers detonated their explosives at 11 p.m. on Aug. 24, 2004, bringing both craft down and killing a total of 89 people.

Posthumously identified as Satsita Dzhebirkhanova and Amanta Nagayeva, the “black widows” were identified as Chechens who had suffered family losses as a result of the war and who had been dispatched by Chechen leader Shamil Basayev as part of a campaign called “Operation Boomerang.” According to Cerwyn Moore, an expert on Russian Islamist terrorism at the University of Birmingham, UK, the entire operation was “designed to demonstrate the weakness of Russian security measures … breaching security Domodevo not only caused embarrassment for the Putin administration, it also posed a security dilemma for the Russian authorities.” And as we saw in January, it is one that they have not yet managed to resolve.

For Russians, terrorism from Chechnya and the Northern Caucasus has become something of a routine affair. Aside from the targeting of airplanes, there have been takeovers by terrorists of hospitals, schools and theaters as well as periodic bombings of everything from the Moscow subway to outdoor concerts and the grim apartment bombings of September 1999 that claimed 293 dead. The decision, however, to target the international airport’s arrivals lounge in January 2011 was, according to Moore, specifically “to send a message to both the Russian authorities but also to the outside world … that the Russian authorities’ most secure transport hubs could be attacked.” The subsequent international media coverage guaranteed that this message reached a wider audience, though it is unclear that it will have any tangible impact on the group’s aims.

Al Qaeda’s innovative wing

In August 2006, British and Pakistani forces moved in to arrest a network of plotters that they had under surveillance as part of a large-scale plot, directed by Al Qaeda’s upper echelons, to bring down as many as eight aircraft on transatlantic routes.

Coordinated using a network of British extremists, six of whom had recorded martyrdom videos, the plotters were planning on using devices ingeniously devised to pass airport security. Using highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide hidden in soft drink bottles as the main charge, hollowed out batteries filled with explosive to provide the detonator and a disposable camera light bulb as the trigger, the bombs would have been likely to pass airport security and killed thousands. According to former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the attack “would have rivaled 9/11 in terms of the number of deaths and in terms of the impact on the international economy,” a statement that highlights quite precisely the double-impact that terrorist groups try to achieve through attacking airplanes.

Since this point, however, the Al Qaeda core has seemingly backed away from aviation, preferring more traditional targets like bombs in city centers. The Najibullah Zazi plot in New York, the April 2009 plot in Northern England and the July 2010 plot in Oslo, Norway, all seemed to target buildings in city centers. And the rumors swirling around the global intelligence community in late 2010 were that Al Qaeda was hoping to stage a Mumbai-style attack on an unspecified European city.

Instead, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni affiliate connected to Yemeni-American preacher Anwar Al Awlaki, has eagerly taken up the mantle of targeting aviation. Echoing their ideological leader Osama bin Laden in their English-language Inspire magazine, they declared, “if our messages can reach you by words, then they wouldn’t have traveled by planes.”

The group was behind the attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to bring down a flight en route from Amsterdam to Detroit in December 2009, and then just under a year later for the double-parcel bomb on airfreight craft en route to the United States.

Both attempts were directed and claimed by the group, with Anwar Al Awlaki seen as the ideological and operational leader and Ibrahim Al Asiri, a Saudi bomb maker, as the designer of the devices. Al Asiri had previously designed the bomb that his brother Abdullah had hidden in his rectal cavity and tried to use to kill Saudi security chief Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef. Showing his ongoing capacity to design devices able to get past airport-style security, in December 2009 he constructed the device that Abdulmutallab carried in his underwear, first on a plane from Ghana to Amsterdam and then on to Detroit. It is also believed that he designed the devices secreted in printers that were intercepted in October 2010.

This final operation was celebrated by the group in a special November 2010 edition of Inspire in which they provided images and details of what they dubbed “Operation Hemorrhage.” Alongside claiming responsibility for the two parcel bombs hidden in printers that had been intercepted at the Dubai airport and the UK’s East Midlands airport following a tip passed on by Saudi intelligence, the group also claimed responsibility for the downing of a United Parcel Service plane that crashed in early September 2010 near the Dubai airport. The plane went down for unspecified reasons, and the group claimed responsibility, declaring that “we have succeeded in bringing down the UPS plane but because the enemy’s media did not attribute the operation to us we have remained silent so we may repeat the operation.”

Non-government academic experts, who requested anonymity, told Homeland Security Today that, more likely than not, the group was simply claiming responsibility for something it had not done. But one former British official verified the impressive technical quality of the devices that were found in Dubai and the UK. While international air cargo has long been known as a security weakness in the international supply chain, these devices were able to penetrate security and then were only identifiable to British security officials who were looking for them after they were specifically told where to look by their Emirati counterparts who had located the other device. The bombs showed a new level of technical proficiency.

How the group had achieved this seems to be a combination of human and technical intelligence, something boasted by the “Head of Foreign Operations” in Inspire magazine. In preparing for the attack he claimed that, “we have researched the various security systems employed by airports. We looked into X-ray scanners, full body scanners, sniffing dogs and other aspects of security. The resulting bomb was a device that we were confident that, with the will of Allah, it would pass through the most stringent and up-to-date security equipment.” Later in the magazine the authors highlight in detail how they sealed the device in plastic and then cleaned the bag afterwards so that the device would be undetectable.

While much of the magazine remains anonymous (or penned under what look like pseudonyms), according to Thomas Hegghammer, a prominent scholar of Al Qaeda, this article “is almost certainly written by Awlaki.” Citing a number of references typical of Awlaki’s writing and the “long-held suspicions of intelligence analysts,” Hegghammer believed that this article signaled Awlaki’s “coming out.” Significantly, it also highlighted Awlaki’s personal obsession with targeting aviation—something born out by the parcel bomb attempts and the Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempt, both of which he is believed to have played a key role in directing.

Analysis

In a seminal 1974 article written for the RAND Corporation, “International Terrorism: A New Kind of Warfare,” (http://www.rand.org/pubs/papers/2008/P5261.pdf) renowned terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins discussed the threat of terrorism and the then-increasingly common form of international air travel.

“Jet air travel furnishes unprecedented mobility and with it the ability to strike anywhere in the world. Recent developments in news broadcasting—radio, television, communication satellites—are also a boon to publicity-seeking terrorists,” he wrote.

It is a nexus that current terrorist groups have been targeting with regularity, recognizing the publicity and chaos that disrupting air travel can cause for relatively low cost. While likely overestimating the cost of their disruptions (they claim it will “cost America and other Western countries billions of dollars in new security measures”), AQAP proudly boasted that “Operation Hemorrhage” cost the group merely $4,200—a more credible figure that highlights how cheap terrorism can be.

What is equally likely is that the groups will learn from their mistakes in targeting international travel, but also that they are likely to learn from the lessons of the two more successful attacks carried out in early 2011—the Moscow Domodevo bombing and the shooting at Frankfurt Airport.

Unlike AQAP’s efforts, these two attacks were effective in killing people and likely required a lot less planning. It is in fact likely that there will be an increase in attacks like that at Frankfurt airport—random acts of violence pursued by loners who believe they are part of an international movement—but whether they take place at airports will not be something that security planners can factor in any more than they can factor in similar attacks in other places. Heightened states of security already exist at most international hubs, and doubtless in the wake of the Frankfurt and Moscow incidents the security perimeter will be pushed out further in much the same way that a July 2007 attempt to drive a car bomb through the departures hall of Glasgow International Airport resulted in increased security at regional British airports.

But for terrorists the optimal target will continue to be aircraft in transit. The problem from a terrorist’s perspective is that a bomb at an airport is very similar to a bomb in any other public place, except the security is tighter (the exception would seem to be Russian airports where, at least in the case of the double-plane downing, individuals at the airport have been corrupted with small, on-the-spot bribes). Consequently, it can seem easier to simply deposit a device on a public transport system where security will be far less. Furthermore, it lacks the drama of an attack on an international flight.

As Brian Michael Jenkins put it in 1974, “terrorism is theater” and an airplane full of people traveling between two developed economies remains the only sure way to guarantee a large media splash, dramatic economic damage and intense attention for your cause. Given AQAP’s continuing fixation with aviation, security in the air will continue to be a major headache in the years to come.

_________________________________________________

Evil by e-mail

Further evidence of Anwar Al Awlaki’s obsession with aviation and the United States was seen in e-mails that emerged in the trial of a Bangladeshi man employed as a British Airways information technology worker who was incarcerated in February for plotting with Awlaki.

In an e-mail to the Bangladeshi in early 2010, Awlaki wrote that he “was excited by hearing your profession” and that “I pray Allah may grant us a breakthrough through you. As a starter, can you please answer these questions in as much elaboration as possible: can you please specify your role in the airline industry, how much access do you have to airports, what information do you have on the limitations and cracks in present airport security systems.”

In responding to the preacher, Karim stated he knew “two brothers, one who works in baggage handling at Heathrow and another who works in airport security. Both are good practicing brothers and sympathise towards the cause of the mujahideen.” Two men were picked up by police in Slough in the wake of Rajib Karim’s arrest, though neither was charged with anything. One was subsequently fired from his job at Heathrow.

A later note from Awlaki highlighted the preacher’s overriding desire to attack the United States using planes. “Our highest priority is to attack the US. Anything, even on a smaller scale compared to what we may do in the UK, would be our choice. So the question is: with the people you have is it possible to get a package or a person with a package on board a flight heading to the US?”

Two weeks after this e-mail was received in February 2010, Karim was arrested at his desk at a British Airways office in Newcastle. Awlaki went on to plan “Operation Hemorrhage” and clearly found other ways to gather information about airport security. Showing how this might have taken place, in late 2010 British intelligence officials released a story to the media that highlighted their belief that terrorist networks were “periodically testing” security at some of Britain’s regional airports. Images were released to the Guardian newspaper that appeared to show improvised explosive devices as seen through airport X-ray machines.

A new piece for Prospect, looking this time at al Shabaab and its foreign recruitment. A rich topic that I keep coming back to, though one thing I realized I missed after publishing it was any mention of Shabaab’s TV channel. As ever, any tips or thoughts are warmly appreciated.

Jihadi MCs

RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI — 12TH APRIL 2011

The Islamist group al Shabaab is attempting to make jihad trendy. But is it having any success?

“I obsesses not depress for martyrdom success” raps hip-hop enthusiast and keen Islamist, Omar Hammami, in his recent comeback song. This track wasn’t intended to top any charts, but instead to prove that the elusive Omar was still alive. That the Alabama-born twentysomething, who is believed to be a senior figure in the Islamist group al Shabaab, chose to do this through the medium of rap is typical of the Somali terrorist group that has brought the notion of socially networked revolution to a whole new level.

Jihad is a young man’s game. Old codgers like Osama (54) or Ayman al-Zawahiri (59) may be able to provide some ideological and operational support for cells, but for the most part it is young men who are on the frontlines. As a result, Islamist networks trying to recruit fresh blood are increasingly using new media, social networks and other non-traditional means to spread their message. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group behind the “underpants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and last October’s parcel bomb scare, even produces a flashy magazine called Inspire—full of funky imagery and slang, it looks more like a fanzine than a terror manual. Closer to home, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) releases bilingual videos with colloquial German subtitles to appeal directly to its core audience in Germany.

But it is Somali group al Shabaab (“The Youth”) that is at the forefront of this new media approach. Omar Hammami’s recent hip-hop release is merely the latest from the jihadi MC. In his earlier work “First Stop Addis” he rapped about his earnest desire to become a martyr, over shots of him and his “brothers” training and fighting in Somalia. Released through extremist websites, but also widely available on YouTube, the MTV-inspired videos and songs seek to show kids how cool it is to be a mujahedin. Other videos released by the group show young warriors from around the world speaking happily into the camera as they boast, sometimes in perfect English, of how much fun it is to be fighting against the “kuffar” (unbeliever) government in Somalia.

Videos and songs are all very well, but as any good PR manager will tell you, a multipronged approach is what’s really needed. Recognising this, al Shabaab encourages its young warriors to phone home in order to inspire others and raise money. Using dial-in conference calls, the warriors in the field tell those back home of the fun they’re having, and urge those who cannot come to send money instead. They shoot guns in the background while on the phone, “to see they are working ok” and to show off. And online, members have ongoing conversations with the friends they left behind, sending them Facebook messages along the lines of, “’Sup dawg. Bring yourself over here” to “M-town.” Meanwhile websites like al Qimmah provide a forum for the fighters in the field and the fundraisers at home to interact, keeping the flame of jihad in Somalia alive.

This holistic media outreach program seems to be reaping dividends for the group, who continue to attract a steady trickle of young warriors from across Europe and North America. Most recently, in Canada, police pulled 25-year old Mohamed Hersi off a plane he was about to take to Cairo on his way to join the group. A bored Toronto security guard, it seems he was only the most recent of a number of young Canadians who have joined the group. Similar cases can be found in the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark and Australia, among others.

The danger for western countries is that while al Shabaab is currently using its trendy web strategy to draw fighters to Somalia, a time may come when they attempt to punish the west directly for supporting Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government. They have already turned their attention to neighbouring Uganda, which contributes soldiers to a peacekeeping mission in Somalia. If the recruitment drive succeeds, al Shabaab will have at their disposal a network of western passport-holding men, all of whom are at home in our hyperlinked society and know how to use technology to aid terrorism.

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

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.