Posts Tagged ‘denmark’

After a period of silence, a couple of new pieces, the first for the CTC Sentinel, West Point’s excellent counter-terrorism journal. This one looks at the pernicious influence of al Muhajiroun, Anjem Choudhary and Omar Bakri Mohammed’s group across Europe. It is a subject a lot more could be written about, and the volume of information is simply massive, but at the same time there is only limited space here. The topic will become more relevant again when Anjem and Mizanur’s trial comes about, and maybe around then something else could be done on the topic.

Beyond this, had a few media conversations in the past weeks. Will save the ones around the incident at the weekend on the Thalys train for the next post, but I spoke to the South China Morning Post about the bombing in Bangkok and some Chinese terror arrests, the Telegraph about the death of the last of the Portsmouth cluster of British jihadi’s in Syria/Iraq, the Daily Mail about the plan to use soldiers in cases of emergency on UK streets, the Times about the death of Muhsin al Fadhli in Syria, and the New York Times for a large piece they did about ISIS recruitment in the UK.

Al-Muhajiroun’s European Recruiting Pipeline

August 21, 2015
Author(s): Raffaello Pantucci

On August 5, 2015 Anjem Choudary and Mizanur Rahman appeared in court to be charged and detained without bail. Initially arrested September 24, 2014, the men had been free on bail as investigators dug into their histories.[1] When the decision to formally arrest and charge was made, the Crown Prosecution Service charged the men with inviting ”support for a proscribed terrorist organization, namely ISIL, also known as ISIS or the Islamic State, contrary to section 12 Terrorism Act 2000.”[2] The specific charges seemed to crystallize a reality that was increasingly observable across Europe that the various groups associated with the al-Muhajiroun (ALM) constellation of organizations were at the heart of current European recruitment networks sending radicals to fight in Syria and Iraq.

A long-standing feature of Europe’s extremist landscape, the al-Muhajiroun family of organizations is one that has been linked to a variety of terrorist organizations. One survey of plots linked to the group in the UK concluded that of 51 incidents and plots emanating from the UK from the late 1990s until 2013, 23 were linked to the group.[3] Britain’s first known suicide bomber in Syria, Abdul Waheed Majid, had been a feature at group events since the 1990s.[4] A similar French organization Forsane Alizza was disbanded after Mohammed Merah’s murderous rampage in 2012, while one of their associates Oumar Diaby ended up heading a French brigade in Syria.[5] The group’s tentacles and links reach across the continent and are increasingly showing up at the sharper end of the terrorist threat that Europe is facing.

Al-Muhajiroun’s European History

Al-Muhajiroun (the emigrants) was born in Europe in February 1996 when Omar Bakri Mohammed Fostok (hereon Omar Bakri) was ejected from the organization Hizb ut Tahrir (HuT) in the UK. A long-term HuT activist, Omar Bakri arrived in the United Kingdom in 1984 having fled Saudi Arabia where his activities as an Islamist activist clashed with the state. In the UK he sought political asylum and soon rose to public prominence through his willingness to make provocative statements at any opportunity to any available media outlet.[6] The birth of ALM in 1996 was likely the product of this style of leadership and media management clashing with the traditionally low-key and secretive HuT. The founding of ALM unleashed Omar Bakri, with the group ramping up its provocative actions and organizing an International Islamic Conference on September 8, 1996 to which Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam, and many other jihadi leaders were purportedly invited. The event was cancelled at the last minute, though the publicity it generated in terms of media coverage and a documentary about Omar Bakri entitled “Tottenham Ayatollah” likely served the organization’s initial intent to attract attention.[7]

Present in the background of the documentary is Anjem Choudary, at the time a lawyer who was working as Omar Bakri’s assistant. Over time, his role evolved and in the wake of the London bombings of 2005, when Omar Bakri chose to flee the country,[8] Choudary took over as UK leader for the group. A few months prior to Omar Bakri’s departure, the group announced its dissolution in an attempt to get ahead of security services, with a series of sub-groups emerging largely reflecting the same ideology as ALM with Choudary effectively at the helm. In the wake of the attacks, British authorities focused on the group, adding the sub-groups to the proscribed terror list at various points and seeking greater powers to restrict their ability to operate. The group, however, has continued to operate with the leadership remaining fairly constant. This became most prominently visible in around 2009 when the group adopted the name Islam4Uk, which was proscribed a year or so later.

This style of nomenclature was soon seen replicated across Europe with Shariah4Belgium, Shariah4Holland, Shariah4Denmark, Shariah4Italy, Shariah4Finland, and even briefly Shariah4Poland. In France a group called Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride) emerged as the local clone of the group (sometimes using Shariah4France) and in Germany Millatu Ibrahim (the religious community of Ibrahim, a name drawing on the title of a book by Muhammad al Maqdisi) took on the mantle. Millatu Ibrahim is a name that has since appeared in Norway, Holland, and Denmark as well). In Scandinavia, Profetens Ummah (the Umma of the Prophet) represents the ideology in Norway and Kadet til Islam (Call to Islam) is the lead group in Denmark.

All of these groups adopted a narrative and approach clearly modeled on ALM, and in many cases this was allegedly the product of direct contact and training by Choudary. For example, in March 2013, he visited Helsinki, Finland where he spoke alongside Awat Hamasalih, a British national of Kurdish origin from Birmingham, at an event organized by Shariah4Finland to celebrate the tenth anniversary of local Iraqi radical leader Mullah Krekar’s incarceration.[9] Choudary reciprocated this generous hosting, inviting Hamasalih to speak when he was back in the UK.[10]

This example of travel is representative of Choudary’s contacts with affiliate groups, and there are reports that he and other key ALM members travelled around Europe to support their events.[11] Similarly, there are reports that key individuals from regional affiliates have come to London. And there are multiple reports of Choudary (and Omar Bakri) preaching to supporters in Europe over PalTalk using web cameras and interactive online messaging.[12] Both Choudary and Mizanur Rahman  have also communicated extensively with supporters over Twitter.[13]

In terms of how Choudary sees his role with these groups, some clarity is provided in his supportive comments towards his Norwegian clone Profetens Ummah:

I have regular contact with Hussain and Ibraheem (two group leaders). There are no administrative links between us, but I am a mentor and adviser for them. There are many people who claim they represent Islam, but I see the Prophet’s Umma as one of the few voices in Europe that speak the truth about Islam without compromise.[14]

Choudary helped Profetens publish videos and develop a style to preach and call people to their radical brand of Islam.[15]

In other contexts people reached out to Choudary having heard about him in the press. Anas el-Abboubi was a young man born in Morocco who moved to Italy when he was young. An up-and-coming rapper, he was featured on MTV Italia as one to watch under his rap nom-de-music MC Khalif. This lifestyle, however, seemed unappealing to him and instead he was drawn to violent Islamist ideas and began an online conversation with Choudary over social media in which he asked for his advice about how he could advance radical ideas in Italy. El-Abboubi also participated in PalTalk sessions led by the group’s creator Omar Bakri and he bought plane tickets to visit the Shariah4Belgium group who he had also connected with online.

Soon after this, el-Abboubi established Shariah4Italy, a short-lived organization that seemed to flourish and shrink with its founder.[16] By October 2013 he fled Italy to join the Islamic State along a route that took him through Albania. The degree of influence that Choudary had over his decision-making process is unclear from the public domain, but it is clear that he and ALM had some influence over the young man, something exemplified by his establishing of Shariah4Italy despite a background in Italy that was largely detached from extremist ideologies and groups.

The Current Picture

There increasingly appears to be a consensus across European security agencies that Choudary’s group plays a role in networks that provide new recruits to fight in Syria and Iraq. In both the 2013 and 2014 TE-SAT Terrorism Situation and Trends report issued by Europol, the agency depicted  “al-Muhajiroun and its latest incarnation the Sharia4 movement” as being a driver for people to go and fight in Syria and Iraq.[17] Watching a pan-European trend, Europol observed:

some salafist individuals and groups in the EU, such as the Sharia4 movement, seem to have heeded the advice of prominent jihadist ideologues to stop their controversial public appearances in Europe….instead, they have been encouraged to participate in what these ideologues describe as a ‘jihad’ against un-Islamic rule in Muslim countries.[18]

There is further evidence of Omar Bakri playing an active role in helping people go fight in Syria. This is evident in the case of Shariah4Belgium,[19] a clone established in 2010 after Fouad Belkacem, a Moroccan-Belgian who had served some time in prison for theft and fraud, came to the UK to learn about how “to start something in Belgium.” Drawn to the bright light of Choudary’s celebrity, Belkacem listened as the established Briton “went through the history of ALM, how we set it up.”[20] The Belgian took the lessons to heart and returned to establish a similarly confrontational organization back home. Choudary and others were occasional visitors and both Choudary and ALM “godfather” Omar Bakri would provide online classes for the group in Belgium.[21]

In 2011, one of Shariah4Belgium’s core members left Belgium to seek out their mentor Omar Bakri in Lebanon. Now formally excluded from the United Kingdom by the Home Secretary, Omar Bakri continued to draw journalists and radicals from across the world. Nabil Kasmi was one of these young men, arriving in Lebanon as the conflict in Syria was catching fire. He returned to Belgium a few months later, but then in March 2012 headed off to the Levant again, this time going through Lebanon to Syria.[22]

At around the same time, another group associated with Shariah4Belgium were intercepted traveling to Yemen on suspicion of trying to join a terrorist group. Nabil Kasmi’s success, however, highlighted the options offered by the conflict in Syria.[23] In August he returned to Europe, only to leave again on August 20, this time followed days later by a cluster of some five members from the group who all ended up fighting with the Islamic State in Syria.[24] Over time, more and more of the group went to Syria, drawing on their Belgian and other European contacts from the broad ALM family of organizations. The exact numbers are unclear, but it is believed that at least 50 Belgian fighters in Syria and Iraq have roots in Shariah4Belgium.[25]

One of the few who failed to travel to Syria or Iraq was Fouad Belkacem, who was instead jailed in February 2015 for 12 years for recruiting and radicalizing people to go fight in Syria and Iraq.[26] On trial with another 47 people (the majority of which failed to appear in court as they were believed to be fighting or dead in the Levant), Belkacem’s trial seemed to be the capstone in the story of ALM’s European links to the battlefield in Syria and Iraq.

European Plotting?

What is not yet completely clear is the degree to which these networks are ones that are producing terrorist plots back in Europe. There are growing numbers of plots being disrupted in Europe with links to the battlefield in Syria and Iraq, though it remains uncertain whether these are being directed by the Islamic State or other groups from their safe haven in Syria and Iraq. Some plots, like that in Verviers, Belgium and at least one of those in the UK, are reported by authorities to show clear evidence of connections to the battlefield, but the nature of these links remains somewhat opaque.[27]

Looking to the ALM-associated networks across Europe, it remains unclear the degree to which they have thus far been credibly associated with attack planning. Reports around the January raid in Verviers, suggested some possible linkages (especially given the timing near Fouad Belkacem’s trial), but they have yet to be confirmed publicly.[28]

What has been seen, however, is the emergence of lone actor-style terrorism on the periphery of the group’s networks. A case in point is that of Brusthom Ziamani in the UK. Ziamani was a troubled teenager who sought out Anjem Choudary and his friends as a surrogate family. Having tried to ingratiate himself with the group and even considering travel to Syria, Ziamani instead decided to emulate his heroes Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale and their murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in 2013. Taking a knife, axe, and Islamist flag, Ziamani was planning on butchering a member of the security forces before police intercepted him.[29] He was convicted of attempted murder and plotting to commit a terrorist act, and sentenced to 27 years incarceration.[30] There is no clear evidence that Ziamani told Choudary what he was going to do, but Ziamani’s case has been championed by ALM-associated Twitter accounts in the UK.[31]

In contrast, on the battlefield, individuals associated with ALM- related organizations appear in a number of both prominent and less high-profile roles. Reflecting their preference for noisy self-promotion and in-your-face dawa (proselytization), many are active on social media. One particularly prominent figure in this regard was Rahin Aziz, who fled to Syria after being sought in conjunction with an assault on a football fan in the UK. In Syria he quickly aligned himself with the Islamic State, and started to actively post across social media platforms. Among images to emerge were ones of him posing with weapons with Denis Cuspert, a prominent member of the German al-Mujahiroun linked group Millatu Ibrahim.[32]

For Aziz, the connection to ALM was instrumental in helping him build his networks in Syria and Iraq, as well as highlighting how interconnected the community across Europe was. In a conversation over Twitter he reported:

when I came to sham the amount of brothers from other countries who recognized me and agreed n even said were by us….what we did with demos etc aided the jihad, global awareness etc which motivated many to go fight jihad.[33]

Prior to going to the Levant, he reported going to:

Belgium many times, delivered lectures and me met from Europe there….many 3-4 times….France twice….Holland where we took part in a conference about khilafah…I knew the brothers from Germany….Their ameer abu usama al Ghareeb contacted me when he came out of prison….he asked me to do some videos for them….met Denmark guys in Belgium even in UK they came to visit us.[34]

It was a network fostered in Europe maturing and re-networking on the battlefield in the Levant.

Others seem to have taken to the battlefield to undertake activities largely similar to those they were carrying out previously in the United Kingdom. For example, Siddartha Dhar, a Hindu convert also known as Abu Rumaysah, was arrested alongside Anjem Choudary in September 2014. However, unlike his teacher, he took his passport and jumped on a bus to Paris with his pregnant wife and family, the first leg in a journey that ended with him living under the Islamic State a month later. In typical ALM style, Dhar decided to alert authorities to his presence through the posting of a photo of himself holding an AK-47 in one hand and his newborn baby in the other. Since then, Dhar has periodically re-emerged on Twitter and other social media, and in May 2015 became prominent once again when a book was published under his kunya (jihadi name) about life under the Islamic State.[35]

These are only a few of the men and women to have gone to join the Islamic State from the ALM networks. Exact numbers are difficult to know, but certainly from the UK alone, more than a dozen prominent individuals from these networks have gone over, while others have attempted to go. What remains worrying is that there continues to be a community of activists associated with these groups who are seeking to go fight in Syria and Iraq, and also that the pool of support in Europe remains fairly constant.

One illustration of this is that in the wake of the reports of Rahin Aziz’s death in a U.S. strike, a sweet shop in East London issued candies celebrating his martyrdom and a vigil was held for him that appeared to show a few dozen people praying in his honor.[36] A few days later, three men were arrested in the Luton area.[37] One was released while the other two (an uncle and nephew) were charged with plotting to carry out a terrorist attack in the UK intended to attack and kill military personnel.[38] Some reports suggested the plot was an attempted beheading of a U.S. serviceperson in revenge for Aziz’s death.[39] Details are unclear, though the men were allegedly also attempting to go to the Islamic State, and the case is working its way through the courts and is likely to come to trial in 2016.[40]

Conclusion

The arrest and charging of Anjem Choudary and his principal acolyte Mizanur Rahman is a significant moment in ALM’s history. The group has developed from its early days when London was a center of jihadist thinking with ALM at its core, drawing in radicals from across Europe and around the world. Since the prominence ALM achieved in the late 2000s, it has now become a net exporter organization around Europe, still drawing people to London, but then also watching as they return home to establish affiliate networks and communities. This European generation of ALM supporters is increasingly proving to be at the heart of Europe’s radical Islamist community connected with Islamic State and the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Given the volumes of plots that have emerged from these networks in the past in the United Kingdom in particular, it seems likely that similar problems are likely to emerge from the European ALM networks.

Raffaello Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the author of We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists (UK: Hurst/US: Oxford University Press). You can follow him at @raffpantucci.

[1] In March 2014, Choudary and other ALM activists had been identified in a set of protests in London clearly inspired by the Islamic State. Dipesh Gadher, “Preacher Anjem Choudary investigated over ‘road show’ linked to jihadists,” Sunday Times, March 9, 2014 .

[2] Statement by Metropolitan Police, August 5, 2015 .

[3] Dominic Kennedy, “Radical al-Muhajiroun group is behind most UK terror plots,” Times, March 21, 2015.

[4] Morten Storm, Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, Agent Storm: A Spy Inside al-Qaeda, (London: Penguin, March 2015), p. 334.

[5] Olivier Tocser, “Les Secrets d’un Emir,” Le Nouvel Observateur, March 20, 2014.

[6] Memorably on November 12, 1991 he told The Mail on Sunday: “‘John Major [then Prime Minister] is a legitimate target. If anyone gets the opportunity to assassinate him, I don’t think they should save it. It is our Islamic duty and we will celebrate his death.”

[7] The documentary is available online, and was recounted in a chapter in Jon Ronson, Them (London: Picador, 2001). Ronson was also the director of the documentary.

[8] “Cleric Bakri ‘will return’ to UK,” BBC News, August 9, 2005.

[9] Mullah Krekar, the founder of the Ansar al Islam movement that was involved in fighting in Iraq, is an infamous radical preacher with whom Choudary has developed a link. Laura Helminen, “Radical Muslim Preacher Spoke in Helsinki,” Helsingin Sanomat, March 13, March 28, 2013.

[10]. In January 2015, authorities in Finland sought to eject Hamasalih. According to coverage around this time, Hamasalih, in contrast to most Kurds, was not seeking nationhood with his activity, but instead “his goal [was] jihad, an Islamic caliphate, and sharia, the law of Islam”  as the local newspaper said. Anu Nousiainen: “Finland Expelled Radical Extremist From Turku to UK – ‘Serious Threat to Public Security,’” Helsingin Sanomat, January 15, 2015.

[11] See Ben Taub, “Journey to Jihad,” New Yorker, June 1, 2015.

[12] Shortly prior to their arrest, Rahman and Choudary (alongside others), made a PalTalk video in which they answered questions from an American audience. Similar videos have been made for European audiences.

[13] There has been no comprehensive mapping of ALM’s online links and contacts, but almost all of the prominent members (in Syria and Iraq or back in Europe) have accounts and numerous others who aspire to be involved in these groups’ proselytization create accounts that are very similar. The best sense of outreach and effectiveness of this online contact is suggested in the fact that Choudary has 32.9K followers on Twitter, while Rahman has 29K. Of course, number of followers does not equate to contact and influence, but both are very active online and respond to people’s questions and contacts.

[14] Andreas Bakke Foss, “British Extremist Calls Himself a Mentor for Norwegian Islamists,” Aftenposten, March 3, 2013.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Lorenzo Vidino, Home-Grown Jihadism in Italy: Birth, Development and Radicalization Dynamics, (Milan: Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale, 2015), pp. 63-67.

[17] European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2014, (The Hague: Europol, 2014), p. 21.

[18] Ibid, p.23.

[19] Paul Cruickshank, “A View from the CT Foxhole: Interview with Alain Grignard,”  CTC Sentinel,  8:8 (August, 2015).

[20] Taub.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] J. La. Avec Belga, “Sharia4Belgium qualifie de groupe terroriste, 12 ans de prison pour Fouad Belkacem,” La Libre, February 11, 2015.

[27] Paul Cruickshank, Steve Almasy, and Deborah Feyerick, “Source: Belgium terror cell has links to ISIS, some members still at large,” CNN, January 17, 2015.

[28] “Aantal radicalen in Wallonie wordt onderschat,” Het Laatste Nieuws, January 16, 2015.

[29] Tom Whitehead, “Brusthom Ziamani: the former Jehovah’s Witness who was radicalised within weeks,” Telegraph, February 19, 2015; Prosecution Opening Note, Regina vs. Brusthom Ziamani, Central Criminal Court, February 9. 2015.

[30] Regina vs Brusthom Ziamani, Sentencing Remarks of HHJ Pontius, Central Criminal Court, March 20, 2015.

[31] Tweet from @muslimprisoners, January 5, 2015 3:06pm

[32] Also known as Deso Dogg or Abu Talha al-Almani, Cuspert was a prominent German former rap star turned jihadi and activist for German ALM equivalent Millatu Ibrahim. He was one of several Miltatu Ibrahim figures to travel Syria. The Austrian founder of the group Mohammed Mahmoud was one of Cuspert’s close contacts. Mahhmoud left home aged 17 in 2002 to train in an Ansar al-Islam camp in Iraq. After his return to Europe he played a major role in the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), a source for non-Arabic language translations of jihadi material. In 2007 he was arrested by authorities, leading to a four year jail sentence. On his release he moved to Berlin and founded Millatu Ibrahim, which rapidly became the center of Germany’s Salafi scene. In 2012 he fled to Egypt before becoming a senior figure in the insurgency in Syria. He  is now considered one of the most senior figures in the German and European foreign fighter contingent, helping produce the Islamic State propaganda magazine Dabiq and al-Hayat media center releases. He is believed to continue to draw on his ALM-linked European contacts to recruit. See “In Search of ‘True’ Islam: Salafists Abandon Germany for Egypt,” Der Spiegel, August 13, 2002; Souad Mekhennet, “Austrian Returns, Unrepentant, to Online Jihad,” New York Times, November 15, 2011; Petra Ramsauer, “Mohamed Mahmoud: A Holy Warrior’s Book,” Profil, August 17, 2015.

[33] Author archive: Twitter conversation between Secunder Kermani and Rahin Aziz.

[34] Author archive: Twitter conversation between Secunder Kermani and Rahin Aziz.

[35] “New Brit propaganda guide by Brit sells ‘Costa’ caliphate,” Channel 4, May 19, 2015.

[36] Tweet with pictures by @TawheedNetwrk July 8, 2015 4:41pm

[37] “Three in terror-related arrests in Luton and Letchworth,” BBC News, July 14, 2015.

[38] “Man charged with US military terrorist plot,” Sky News, July 21, 2015.

[39] Mike Sullivan, “Foiled: British terror attacks in days,” Sun, July 14, 2015.

[40] “Man charged with US military terrorist plot,” Sky News, July 21, 2015.

Advertisements

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

A 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 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 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 slightly longer post for Free Rad!cals looking at the Shabaab’s new television channel and trying to explore its gradual evolution towards international violence. I have a longer piece on the topic of Shabaab and foreign fighters coming up soon for Jane’s.

A Threat Coming to Your TV Screen

In September last year, the Director General of the Security Service (MI5) made a speech in which he highlighted,

In Somalia, for example, there are a significant number of UK residents training in al-Shabaab camps to fight in the insurgency there. al-Shabaab, an Islamist militia in Somalia, is closely aligned with al-Qaeda and Somalia shows many of the characteristics that made Afghanistan so dangerous as a seedbed for terrorism in the period before the fall of the Taliban. There is no effective government, there is a strong extremist presence and there are training camps attracting would be jihadists from across the world.

This speech was the latest proof of high-level concern about the Islamist al-Shabaab (the youth) militia in Somalia, which has evolved quite rapidly from regional insurgency to aspirant regional al-Qaeda affiliate. The most recent evidence of its evolution was the revelation last week that the group both had a new logo and was launching its own television channel. As the official press release put it,

The “al-Kataib News Channel” came to teach.. to tell.. and to incite.. in honor of the martyrs who covered battlefields with their blood in various fronts; east and west, south and north. This came in defense of the victories of the Mujahideen who broke the pride of the infidel West, scattered its papers and made their senior commanders lose their minds. This in support of the Muwahideen’s patience and persistence in the land of pride.

This news comes in the wake of a continuing escalation in activity from the group. I have written in the past about the group in a number of different formats, each highlighting different aspects of the group’s morph from regional insurgent to global actor. It has gone from being one amongst many in the civil war in Somalia, to being an actor able to launch attacks first in semi-autonomous Puntland, to being able and willing to launch attacks in neighboring Uganda, to maybe even being connected to international attacks. There has been an almost constant digest of stories of al-Qaeda leaders hiding out amongst the group in East Africa, rhetorical video exchanges between al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, and evidence of other al-Qaeda affiliates moving to set up shop in Somalia. On the ground, stories point to the group’s increasing extremism and imposition of Shariah law, now a television channel, and all the while it seems able to draw a wide community of foreigners to its ranks.

International Threat? Members of al-Shabaab in Training

The trajectory it seems to be headed is an attack on the international stage. As Evans put it, the group ‘shows many of the characteristics that made Afghanistan so dangerous as a seedbed for terrorism,’ and consequently it understandable that it is high on the list of threats that keeps him up at night. But at the same time, the question that should be asked is whether we are wishing ourselves towards a conclusion that in fact is not in the interests of the group?

Yes, it does seem as though the Shabaab’s trajectory is invariably taking it towards attacking the West, and at least one of its leaders has openly threatened America. As Omar Hammami, aka Abu Mansour,put it to the New York Times, “it’s quite obvious that I believe America is a target.”

But why would the group attack the West? On the one hand it would give it a greater profile and prestige, all which would invariably bring it a greater degree of support and contacts, but at the same time such an attack would bring the additional nuisance of foreign interference and attention. It already has a great deal, but compared to AQAP or AQ core in Waziristan it remains a secondary issue for western counter-terrorists. So much so that aspiring Western fighters wanting to go to jihad consider Somalia an easier place to go than the other jihadi battlefields. As far as Western security services are concerned, the greatest concern is from radicalised networks affiliated with the group that chose to move into action in their home states, rather than going to Somalia to fight. Examples of this would be in Denmark in the case of young Somali-Dane who tried to kill Kurt Westegaard, one of the cartoonists responsible for the infamous Mohammed cartoons, and the cell in Australia who were trying to get to Somalia, but failed and instead decided to try to do something at home. In addition, there is the mixed group in Demark who were apparently targeting Jyllands-Posten, and at least one of whom had tried to link up with Somali networks in the past.

But in all three cases, it is unclear to what degree al-Shabaab central command was involved. This does not mean that they are absolved of activity outside Somalia – certainly the Kampala attack seems to have had a high degree of Shabaab involvement – but it remains uncertain that the group wants to start attacks in the west. The risk it would seem is from radicalized networks who decide to do things at home of their own volition (like the Australian or Danish networks), or might be coopted by groups like Al Qaeda to carry out attacks in the west (maybe the mixed network of attackers in Denmark).

This nonetheless means the group is a threat, but it is different from the threat posed by groups whose leadership appears to have made a conscious decision to attack the west. At the moment its attacks outside Somali borders have focused on nations involved in the AMISOM force, rather than any “kaffir” state. The danger is that we wish ourselves into facing a threat from the group by focusing too much attention on it. While it seems clear that radicalized networks are a threat, it is not clear that the group itself is eager to launch attacks against the west. This is not to say that it might not happen (I am wary of making any concrete assumptions, aware of how these groups mutate and how easy it is for affiliate networks to be coopted by others), but it is unclear that we are there yet in terms of core command targeting cities in America or Europe.

The Director General of MI5 seems very aware of this, and chose his words carefully about the group. “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,” is how he put it. But maybe this should be more delicately put saying “connected” rather than “inspired.” The point is not that the group is not dangerous or a threat, but that it is not quite at the stage of being an AQAP or AQ core threat. To think strategically it would seem as though we need to find a better way by which to assess which affiliates are direct and indirect threats and what are the signs they are moving in an increasingly dangerous direction. All of which might help identify what moves might be made to send them down a different path.

 

A new article in this month’s HSToday magazine, which you can buy on the newstands if you are in the US, or can see here free online. If I get the whole text later, I will post it here, but it is easily accessible through the link, so do try. It provides an overview of what happened last year in terrorism in Europe and looks forwards to what the next year holds. Thanks to Guido, Peter, Brynjar, John, Lorenzo and others for informing my research for it.

UPDATE, I see they have now placed the text all directly onto the website as well. It is thus cut and pasted below:

Europe’s Hard Choices

It’s a question of money versus safety as European authorities try to cope with new conditions

By: Raffaello Pantucci

01/24/2011 (12:00am)

 

The threat is fragmenting and budgets are shrinking.

These are the key messages to emerge from discussions with counterterrorism experts across Europe as they review the year’s threat and look forward to assess what the future holds in Islamist terrorism terms. It’s a combination that highlights the significance of MI5 Director General Jonathan Evans’ warning in 2007: “Every decision to investigate someone entails a decision not to investigate someone else.”

Up until the parcel bomb plot emanating from Yemen was discovered at Britain’s East Midlands Airport in late October, it seemed as though the choices made were all the correct ones. And even there, the discovery of the plot was in part due to the attentive efforts of British spooks monitoring the airwaves and overhearing messages passing between Al Qaeda in Pakistan and their Yemeni affiliate Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The plot itself surfaced at a moment when Europe was in a heightened state of alert following a spike in media attention about a wave of Mumbai-style attacks on European cities. The alleged plot seemed to be focused around a group of cells with links to Pakistan’s badlands that were all apparently being tasked with operations that emulated the successful Mumbai attack in November 2008 undertaken by Al Qaeda synonym Lashkar E Taiba.

The possibility of Al Qaeda networks undertaking a Mumbaistyle attack was something that had worried terrorism analysts for some time. In an interview with Homeland Security Today, Brynjar Lia of the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, a Norwegian military-linked think tank, highlighted an article published on an extremist website, “Pulpit of Monotheism and Jihad,” in Arabic by influential Al Qaeda theorist Abu Saad al Ameli titled “The Gains of The Battle Of Mumbai” (http://www.tawhed.ws). Written in the months after the Mumbai attacks, the article pointed out the success of the operation and suggested that they should be emulated in the future. For Lia, this alleged plot and the parcel bomb plot were all “quite rational when we consider the growth of these groups. This is an incremental shift in their modus operandi. They are trying to find ways around the security measures.”

Lia was also quick to point out that, while this threat clearly alarmed security officials across the continent, it remained unclear how advanced it really was. While he did not deny that the threat was likely real, it is not certain that a Mumbai-style plot was what was actually being planned in this case.

One former British Security source interviewed by Homeland Security Today who requested anonymity, pointed out that it was likely the information was put into the public domain since security services may have been concerned they did not have complete coverage of the plot. As is the case with plots that are disrupted before they can reach conclusion, it is never certain what exactly the plotters were up to, a situation emphasized here, where an unknown number of the supposed plotters were killed during unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strikes in Pakistan.

The German angle

Much of the information available about the possible Mumbai-style plot appears to have come from confessions supplied by Ahmed Sidiqui, an Afghan-German national who was captured by American forces in Kabul in July 2010. Sidiqui is alleged to have supplied a wealth of information about his fellow plotters in Pakistan, including the fact that he had met Mohammed Ilyas Kashmiri, Younis Al Mauretani and Mohammed Al Quso, senior Al Qaeda figures who apparently mentioned to him that they had units already deployed in Europe preparing for a Mumbai-style attack. Further information was also received from an anonymous German extremist who was reportedly providing authorities with information in an attempt to barter his safe return home.

This information, alongside intercepts collected by British monitoring services and doubtless other sources, was behind a spike in UAV strikes in September 2010 apparently in an effort to disrupt the plot. However, aside from the confessions supplied by Sidiqui and intercepts, the only tangible proof that cells were armed and ready to strike European cities came when French police busted a set of cells in Avignon and Marseille with links to networks sending fighters to Afghanistan. Those arrested had an AK-47 and a pump action shotgun in their possession. All sources for this article suggested that others may still be out there, and security forces in France, Germany and the United Kingdom made numerous public displays of strength through the deployment of heavily armed police in public places.

While the weapons were found in France, the biggest component of the plot, according to Guido Steinberg of the German think-tank Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, was actually in Germany. Steinberg, a former counterterrorism official in the German chancellor’s office, has been watching the threat in Germany with growing alarm. From being a small feature of the jihadist scene linking Europe to the badlands in Pakistan, Germany has now become one of the major loci of European terrorism. According to Steinberg, “There is now a Turkish and Germanspeaking infrastructure in place,” something that was absent “before 2006,” making it easier for young Germans to go and fight.

But as the dates suggest, this is not an entirely new phenomenon, and German fighters have been a feature of the jihadist threat spectrum for a few years. However, what surprised Steinberg was the dedication of the young fighters.

“I used to think that they would not want to go somewhere where they were likely to be killed,” he toldHomeland Security Today, something that would have become ever clearer as stories emerged of German citizens dying on the battlefield. Most prominently, in May 2010, a few days after his death on the battlefield, as reported on extremist websites, the diary of Eric Brenninger was published online. A long and rambling tract, the memoirs provided the clearest publicly available insight yet into the minds of the community of young Germans serving alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Starting by describing his life as a dissolute young man in Germany, Brenninger’s memoirs tracked his embrace of Islam in 2007 and his decision four months later to go and join the fighters in Afghanistan.

As he put it, “I knew my duty. I wanted to join the jihad. … We followed the events which were unfolding in the regions of jihad and watched films of mujahedin battling the crusaders. Hate of the kuffar [unbeliever] grew in me.” It is hard to provide a precise figure on the number of angry young men in Germany, but according to official figures, there are some 30 returned fighters who are on a list of some 200 “dangerous persons” at liberty in Germany. There is a second list of some 1,000-plus individuals who are on the radars of the security services, but according to Steinberg, “They don’t know who is really dangerous.” Some of these people, like Brenninger, are clearly little more than cannon fodder, but their motivation and capacity for free movement in the West means they pose a potential threat.

But, according to Lorenzo Vidino, a visiting fellow at the Rand Corporation and a US-based Italian terrorism analyst and most recently author of The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West, while it is the growth in the threat from Germany that has been one of the most interesting features of recent times, 2010 was most clearly marked out by a noticeable up-tick in the threat in France.

The French connection

In September, in providing an explanation for a beefing up of security measures at tourist sites, French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux declared, “This is a real threat, and this threat today is at an undoubtedly high level which calls for reinforced vigilance.”

It was subsequently revealed that his services had received a series of quite specific warnings from their Algerian counterparts about the threat from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Then, in October, he took to the airwaves once again to talk about a “new message, from the Saudi services, indicating to us that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was certainly active, or expecting to be active, in Europe, especially France.” Statements from heads of French intelligence services repeated much the same message as these worrying calls, while AQIM kidnapped groups of French nationals in North Africa.

The threat in France, according to Vidino, is three-pronged. “They are worried about the threat out of Yemen, AQIM and Pakistan. The rhetoric and operational threat from AQIM is something that has been constant, but the others are relatively new.” One reason for this up-tick in particularly French targeting was suggested in a message to emerge on the forums in October in which Osama Bin Laden threatened France, warning, “If you deemed it right to ban women from wearing the hijab, then should it not be our right to expel your invading men by striking their necks?”

But while this seemed to be in direct support of AQIM attempts in North Africa, in late 2010 it seemed as though on the French mainland it was networks of returnees from the Afghan-Pakistan battlefields that were of greatest concern to the French authorities.

Following an unspecified intelligence tip-off, French authorities alerted their Italian counterparts of the arrival in September of Ryad Hannouni, a young man of Franco-Algerian origin who was involved in a network sending fighters to South Asia. His arrest in Naples led a month later to a further series of arrests in France that appeared in part to be linked to the Mumbai-style attack threat menacing Europe.

Then, in early November, a group of four men and one woman was arrested in Paris as part of a “conspiracy to prepare a terror attack.” At least one of them was prepared “to die in their fanatical attack,” and one had recently been to Afghanistan: Two of the men were intercepted at the Paris airport returning on a flight from Egypt.

There are apparently 25 individuals of grave concern to French authorities who have trained in Afghanistan and may be on their way home.

Britain’s reprieve

For the United Kingdom, on the other hand, it would seem as though the threat has entered a relatively calm period—at least on the surface. The new British coalition entered into government with great expectations of shifts in counterterrorism policy, but has instead opted to change very little. Most notably, the controversial “control order” regime remains in place – by which individuals are kept under strict conditions of house arrest when they are of great concern to the security services, but cannot be convicted of any crime – and the government has not yet made any great changes to the much maligned “Prevent” strategy. Late in the year, the government announced an overhaul of Prevent, but as with the control order regime, it was unclear that the government had managed to clarify its position, clearly now seeing the issue in the same light as the previous government, which had been unable to find a solution.

British spooks continue to be concerned by the same array of threats as before, but things have now slightly shifted. In September 2010, MI5 head Evans declared, “The percentage of the priority plots and leads we see in the UK linked to Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where Al Qaeda senior leadership is still based, has dropped from around 75 percent two or three years ago to around 50 percent now. This does not mean that the overall threat has reduced, but that it has diversified. The reduction in cases linked to the tribal areas of Pakistan is partly attributable to the pressure exerted on the Al Qaeda leadership there.”

Information published by the Associated Press suggested that Government Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of the US National Security Agency, estimated there were some 20 Britishborn militants in the North Waziristan district, with phone calls being traced between the region and the Midlands, home to many of Britain’s South Asian minorities. According to Pakistani intelligence, the British end of the previously mentioned Mumbai-style attack apparently centered around a pair of British-Pakistani brothers, either from east London or the Midlands.

But as Evans’ speech suggested, the growing threat for the United Kingdom is seen from the other fields of jihad: specifically, Somalia and Yemen. Neither of these threats are new, but, according to Evans, “There are a significant number of UK residents training in Al Shabaab camps to fight in the insurgency there,” and his service has also “seen a surge in Yemen related casework.”

There is a long history of young Britons going to both locations – and in the past, this has resulted in terror plots both at home and abroad. In late 1998, a group of young British Muslims linked to Abu Hamza Al Masri, an Egyptian militant now in British prison, was arrested in Yemen as part of an alleged bomb plot and a series of kidnappings that resulted in the deaths of foreign tourists. In May 2005, shortly before the London bombings, a group of young men who were part of the network of extremists that attempted the July 21, 2005, copycat bombings of London’s public transport system, traveled to Somalia as part of an unlikely pilgrimage to a war zone. Furthermore, two of the subsequent 21/7 bombers were of Somali origin, while the support network was made up of a number of individuals from Britain’s Somali community.

Denmark and Scandinavia

This network aside, the closest a Somali network has gotten to striking in Europe was the attempted murder of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard on Jan. 1, 2010, by Mohammed Gelle, a young Somali-Dane who was previously linked to Shabaab networks in Kenya. Gelle’s frenzied assault on Westergaard’s house with an ax was in revenge for the cartoonist’s contributions to the infamous Danish cartoons that have made Denmark one of the many European targets for Islamists.

Westergaard survived the attempt, and in its wake Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mahmud Raage said, “We appreciate the incident in which a Muslim Somali boy attacked the devil who abused our prophet.” However, in what appeared to be an admission of Gelle’s links, he went on to say, “There could be some people who might say that boy was related to Shabaab.”

According to sources in Denmark, it seems as though security services had attempted to recruit Gelle in the wake of his arrest and release in Kenya as part of an alleged network targeting US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s visit to that country. Having helped him get home, it seems the security services lost control of the young man and were simply too overloaded to maintain full surveillance. In late 2009, Danes were shocked to discover that another Somali-Dane, likely an acquaintance of Gelle, was behind a suicide bombing in Mogadishu.

Nevertheless, according to Norwegian expert Brynjar Lia, the problem is seen “as something far away and complicated” and in a place “where there has always been war.” Most cases linked to Shabaab in Scandinavia are related to fundraising, meaning they remain “far away and irrelevant” in the public mind. Similarly, until the parcel bomb attempt emanating from Yemen, the threat had seemingly stayed away from Britain’s shores. In March, British police arrested Bangladeshi-Briton Rajib Karim for plotting in the United Kingdom, fundraising and providing information to networks abroad – allegedly AQAP. The case is currently rumbling through the courts and in initial statements police claimed he was planning suicide bombings in the United Kingdom.

Still aiming for America

Karim was arrested before he could do much, and even the device found in a printer cartridge at East Midlands Airport was most likely aiming for the United States. In a terse announcement released Nov. 10, 2010, Scotland Yard said, “Forensic examination has indicated that if the device had activated it would have been at 10:30 British Standard Time on Friday, 29 October 2010. If the device had not been removed from the aircraft the activation could have occurred over the eastern seaboard of the US.”

The threat, it seems, remains primarily targeted to the United States, confirming a report, the Europol EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2010 (www.europol.europa.eu/publications/EU_Terrorism_ Situation_and_Trend_Report_TE-SAT/TESAT2010.pdf), published by Europol earlier in the year, that said, in surveying the Islamist threat in Europe, “The [European Union] can be used as a platform for launching attacks on the United States.”

Published in April 2010, the same report also highlighted that, while “Islamist terrorism is still perceived as the biggest threat to most member states,” it is in fact other terrorist groups that are more active in conducting operations. In 2009, Europol tracked only one effective Islamist-inspired attack in Europe (a lone bomber attempting an attack on an army barracks in Milan, Italy), while there were 237 “separatist” attacks, 40 by left-wing groups and an additional 124 in Northern Ireland. This last number is the one that is of increasing concern to British security services, which have watched in the past few years as violence in the province has quietly grown into a “low level drumbeat of attacks with beatings, petrol bombs, shootings of Catholic police officers and more.”

According to John Bew of the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College, the groups are “trying something every day” and have a desire to strike in London, “absolutely no question.” The fact they have not is likely a reflection of the deep penetration by the security services, though the increasing violence is something that has taken everyone by surprise. As MI5 Director Jonathan Evans put it, “We have seen a persistent rise in terrorist activity and ambition in Northern Ireland over the last three years.”

Analysis

This is unlikely a harbinger of violence on the scale seen previously, but the increasing attention these networks will command is going to distract already stretched resources to the limit.

In July, John Yates, the head of British counterterrorism police, announced that the levels of cuts the police were facing was going to “raise the terror risk,” though he was quickly condemned by government officials, who told him to avoid shroud-waving and raising public alarm.

In fact, individuals interviewed by Homeland Security Today in both Germany and the United Kingdom have told of stories of counterterror units being oversupplied and officers with nothing to do being reassigned to other tasks. But it is almost impossible to know what this actually means: Is there a lack of intelligence or genuinely no threat? Vidino, the Italian counterterrorism expert at the Rand Corp., recounts the situation in Italy where forces have noticed stagnation in the domestic threat, and parallel budgetary pressures to focus on the threat of organized crime.

The biggest danger, in fact, probably lies in the known unknowns in the shape of lone wolves. For Peter Clarke, the former head of Counter-Terrorism Command in the United Kingdom, the most interesting case in 2010 was the attempted assassination by Roshonara Choudhry of UK Member of Parliament (MP) Stephen Timms. Using the Internet to identify Timms as an MP who had “strongly supported” the invasion of Iraq and radicalized by videos she found on YouTube of Abdullah Azzam and Anwar Al Awlaki, Choudhry stopped attending her university course, bought some knives, cleared her debts and made an appointment to see Timms. Arriving at Timms’ constituency surgery (an allocated period of time when MPs make themselves available to people living in their areas) on the afternoon of May 14, Choudhry patiently waited her turn before stabbing him repeatedly when he came to greet her. Claiming that she hoped to become martyred in the course of her operation, Choudhry did little to resist detention and openly confessed her actions to police.

What worries Clarke about this attack is both its random nature and the fact that it marks the first time a non-military individual has been targeted in such a fashion by Islamists in the United Kingdom. There have been hints of these sorts of attacks in previous investigations, but this is the first time a lone jihadist attempted to carry out an action. Given the tendency for copycats to follow, this may mark a new threshold in the threat in the United Kingdom, a nation that has already repeatedly faced the threat of lone wolf terrorists. None, however, was as coherent as Choudhry, who, while clearly warped, did not seem as mentally deranged as some of the others.

And where the United Kingdom leads, the rest of Europe and North America has tended to follow. The United States has already faced the menace of American citizens stirred on by Anwar Al Awlaki into carrying out action in the homeland, and the past two years have been marred by a series of terrorist plots with links emanating from Al Qaeda groups passing through Europe targeting the United States. With the budget cuts faced in Europe also likely to be reflected in the United States, it remains to be seen when the threat level will finally lower. HST