Posts Tagged ‘jihad’

A piece for the Observer newspaper this weekend, this time looking at the way the attack in Manchester fits into the broader threat picture in the UK. It was a busy period with the media around the attack with longer interviews captured online with the BBC’s Daily Politics (video), National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and Radio 24 (radio), as well as with Financial TimesTimes, Wall Street Journal, New York TimesLa Repubblica, Atlantic, AFP, Washington Post, and News Deeply.

Fighters who can’t travel to Syria pose growing threat

As Isis loses territory in Syria, the risks posed by would-be UK fighters must not be ignored
A police patrol in Hull for BBC Radio 1’s big weekend.
 A police patrol in Hull for BBC Radio 1’s big weekend. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

British security officials have long warned it was only a matter of time before there was another terrorist atrocity.

In late August 2014, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) raised the terror threat level to “severe” – meaning that, according to its independent assessment, the expectation was that a terrorist attack was highly likely. Responding to an increasingly menacing threat picture in Europe linked to the conflict in Syria and Iraq, that level stayed at severe until the attacks in Manchester, which caused JTAC to redo its calculations and raise it to critical – meaning an attack is imminent.

Once the level was raised to severe, there was a fairly constant pattern of terrorist plotting. In November 2015, as the world reeled from the attacks in Paris, David Cameron said seven plots had been disrupted in the UK over the previous year. At the beginning of March this year, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Mark Rowley said in the past four years authorities had disrupted 13 plots. In the wake of the Manchester attacks, a further five have been added to this roster.

While the details of many of these plots have not been made public, most appear to have been lone individuals or small cells planning knife attacks. It is not clear how many have involved the sort of ambitious planning that went into Paris and Brussels or even Manchester. But groups – al-Qaida, Isis or some other affiliate – continue to want to wreak misery.

The reason for the recent increase in activity is hard to pin down. In part, it may be a case of Isis being on the back foot and seeking to push out attacks in every direction: something that correlates with it losing territory and its foreign fighter contingent scattering to the wind, creating a wave of potential problems around the world. And this comes as al-Qaida has started to rear its head once again, menacing the world through new messages by Hamza bin Laden.

But there are other dynamics at play as well. One of the more under-investigated phenomena is what is happening to those aspirant foreign fighters who are unable to travel. Inspired enough to want to join a group like Isis, they find it increasingly difficult to do so – due to proactive security measures in the UK or more simply a much harder environment in Syria to get into. But being unable to travel does not remove the radical impulse. Actually it may enhance it further, with the frustration making the individual feel the link to the group more strongly.

Consequently, when the group shouts for people to launch attacks at home, rather than come to the battlefield, they may see this as a call to arms. The phenomenon of the blocked traveller maturing into a terrorist threat at home is not new, but as things become tougher it is only likely to increase the pool of potential radicals at home.

Finally, there is the exceptionally low threshold for what constitutes a terrorist attack. No longer do you have to launch a complicated plot: if you can, then all the better. But a public stabbing or running people down with a car will also suffice. Targets are open and indiscriminate, with anyone living in a non-Isis state considered fair game. This makes it very easy for anyone to pick up a weapon and become a warrior – meaning that not all of those who do are necessarily as doctrinally pure as a group might want. All of this shows how easy it is to become a terrorist these days.

It was unlikely that the terror threat level would be kept at critical for long, and it has now been reduced to severe. Exhaustion might have set in at the security agencies had it continued much longer. But the tempo of the threat picture in the UK has noticeably sharpened of late: from last year, which was punctuated by the disruption of major plots but dominated by a steady stream of smaller-scale arrests for travelling to, fundraising for, or support of terrorist groups, to this year, which has seen two attacks and at least five or six plots derailed.

It is clear that the terrorist menace is not shrinking away and is likely to linger around for some time longer, in particular if the war in Syria and Iraq continues to drag on, providing a consistently fertile ground for training camps and extremist ideologies.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute and the author of We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists

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Another catch up post, this time a piece for The Times in the wake of the horrible attack in Nice. Not sure the article totally corresponds with the piece, but the fundamental point about France facing a very acute problem definitely holds unfortunately.

France must learn from its intelligence failures

France_Times_July 2016

From the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January last year, the attack on Paris last November and Thursday’s outrage in Nice, it is clear that France is the western focus for Islamist terrorists.

The reasons lie in a unique combination of practical and historical factors. Back in the 1990s, the nascent terrorist threat to Europe came from north Africa, where France had been the big colonial power and a focus for hatred.

Algerian groups launched a series of attacks in France, and put in place networks that were nurtured on the jihadist battlefields of the Balkans war. These networks developed links with London, through preachers and terrorists who would enter the UK, and even with north America in the shape of, for example, Ahmed Ressam, who was arrested trying to cross the border from Canada into the US to bomb Los Angeles airport on New Year’s Eve 1999.

However, during the 2000s the focus shifted, with the UK bearing the brunt of attacks directed by al-Qaeda against the West, with the US often proving too difficult for terrorist networks to penetrate.

Today, France is once again at the centre of the threat. It has always been regarded by Islamists as one of the old imperial powers at the heart of the western alliance against them. But what’s changed is that the terror threat comes increasingly from the Arab Levant, a part of the world encompassing the eastern Mediterranean and north Africa that France has stronger links with than any other European power.

Previously, the heart of global jihadism was in south Asia, a region that Britain had a greater connection to. Nowadays, both France and Britain have jihadists going to fight in Syria and Iraq.

France does, however, have noticeably more.

There are practical issues that have exposed France to a greater threat. Its open borders with fellow EU nations, through the Schengen free movement area, give it the benefits of free trade, but make it harder to secure against terrorism.

With an almost uncontrolled flow of people and weapons, French authorities are dealing with a threat that is much more heavily armed than anything in the UK. In an echo of the British experience after the 7/7 attacks, French MPs recently lambasted the performance of their intelligence agencies and the institutional rivalries that prevent them from collaborating effectively.

Since the intelligence failures of 7/7, Britain has invested huge sums in personnel and technology. France needs to learn the same lesson to ensure that its squabbling agencies focus on the job in hand. We should be careful not to blame the attacks in France on the country’s large Muslim population. It’s clear that Muslims in France feel alienated, but so do Muslims in many other countries in Europe that are much less tolerant of religious and ethnic minorities. Before some French politicians seek to blame the attacks on their fellow citizens, they should realise that fomenting civil strife is what these atrocities are designed to do.

France may be in the crosshairs of Islamist terrorism, but once it develops a response, the scourge will seek new countries in which to carry out attacks.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute

More belated catch up posting. It has been a very busy few weeks between travel and the horrible events in Brussels. The below piece is one that Foreign Policy commissioned to look specifically at ISIS use of tactics, pointing out that while the Brussels and Paris attacks are part of a specific campaign and cell, the problem of Lone Actor terrorism as a threat from the group persists.

The Age of the Lone Wolf is Far From Over

Even as the Islamic State evolves into a more sophisticated network, it will still cultivate unhinged, solo actors to further its fanatical ends.

By Raffaello Pantucci | March 30, 2016

Policemen work into a marked out perimeter in Colline street in Verviers, eastern Belgium, on January 15, 2015, after two men were reportedly killed during an anti-terrorist operation. Belgian police launched a "jihadist-related" anti-terrorism operation in the eastern town of Verviers on January 15. According to the Belgian prosecutor's office, the group which police targeted was about to commit a terror attack. AFP PHOTO / BELGA PHOTO / BRUNO FAHY ** BELGIUM OUT ** (Photo credit should read BRUNO FAHY/AFP/Getty Images)

AFP Photo / Bruno Fahy/Getty Images

Terrorist groups thrive on attention. Keen to bring the world screeching to a horrified halt, they launch brutal attacks against civilian targets with whatever tools they have at their disposal. Until last November’s attack in Paris, it seemed the biggest menace the Islamic State posed to the West was the threat of so-called lone-actor terrorists, striking without any clear direction from the group’s leaders. Using a relatively simple form of messaging to strike wherever they could, the group bombarded its followers through social media with calls to launch random attacks against the societies in which they lived. That nihilistic messaging continues. But now, in the wake of Brussels and Paris, the Islamic State has also demonstrated an alarming capacity to launch large-scale, coordinated plots far from its territory. The threat the Islamic State poses is multifaceted and multidirectional.

In the eight days since the Brussels attack left 35 dead, counterterrorism and national security experts have decried the end of the Islamic State-inspired lone-wolf attack. The fanatical band, they say, has crossed a new threshold, evolving into something more complex: an organized terror network capable of coordinated, multifaceted operations. And though this is true, the experts must take care not to dismiss what has long constituted the Islamic State’s essential fiber. Because regardless of its evolution, the Islamic State will remain committed to lone actor plots.

Radicalizing minds from afar has, after all, always been core to its identity. Calling attackers — the young, the socially, politically, and economically disenfranchised, the disturbed — to action shows that the Islamic State’s ideology has global reach, inspiring adherents who were unconnected to the group but desperate to launch terrorist plots in its name. Cultivating lone actors also gives the Islamic State the perfect means to distract the West, which finds itself devoting resources to identifying these isolated plotters. It is also a way to ensure that Washington, London, and Paris remain off balance, uncertain about how aggressive a response to mount against the group’s base in the Levant. Forgetting the centrality of lone wolfism to the Islamic State’s very foundations would be a dangerous mistake.

Of course, the Islamic State is not the first violent Islamist terrorist group to call for lone-actor attacks. Lone actors committed to jihadist terror, including Andrew Ibrahim and Roshonara Choudhry, first emerged in the 2000s. In 2010, Inspire, the magazine published by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, offered aspiring terrorists a specific outline for carrying out such attacks. Asserting a direct connection between any plots and the magazine, however, remained difficult, because there was never any clear link between a specific actor and Inspire. In fact, the most prominent cases came before the publication’s emergence. Rather than instigating the tactic, the group appeared to be riding a wave.

The Islamic State changed this dynamic. On Sept. 22, 2014, Abu Mohammed al Adnani, identified by the United States as the head of the Islamic State’s external operations, issued a fatwa calling on the group’s followers in the West to “kill a disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French — or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war… [to] kill him in any manner or way however it may be.” This chilling call became something of a marker in the group’s history. Around the world, the Islamic State’s followers read and absorbed it. In some cases, they decided to act.

Adnani’s call certainly appears to have spurred on a network of cells in Britain that had already been discussing potential terror plots in the West without any clear direction from the group’s leaders. Nadir Syed, a British extremist who was prevented from traveling to Syria, shared the fatwa with his fellow plotters as they discussed the idea of decapitating a soldier. Tarik Hassane, a medical student, and Suhaib Majeed, a physics student, shared it over the secure communications app Telegram as they talked about a plot to shoot a random security officer on the streets of London. Authorities disrupted both plots soon after the fatwa’s release.

Only days after Adnani issued his fatwa, Numan Haider walked into his local police station in Melbourne, Australia, and attacked police with a knife; he was gunned down and killed. Although authorities never publicly established a direct relationship between the fatwa and Haider’s attack, his wider circle — including prominent Islamic State fighters Neil Prakash and Sevdet Becim, who are on trial for planning to attack Australian soldiers during a national day parade — had clear ties to the group.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Islamic State’s calls for lone-actor attacks is how deeply they have resonated. There are the dedicated warriors, who see such attacks as their chief ambition — the San Bernadino killers may be an example of this. In other cases, lone wolf attacks have become the default option for those who are unable to join the group in Syria or Iraq. Authorities had, in fact, taken away Haider’s passport not long before his attack, in response to concerns that he was planning to head to the Levant. This is not unique: Canada has blocked several aspiring fighters from heading to the Middle East, who then chose instead to launch attacks at home. Their actual links to the Islamic State remain unclear, but both took out their rage on the communities around them.

The Islamic State has, of course, also exploited the mentally unwell, preying on their vulnerabilities to turn them into lone-wolf actors. In late 2014, Sydney came to a terrified standstill when Man Haroun Monis, a disturbed Shia convert with a record of run-ins with authorities, held up a coffee bar in the middle of the city. He claimed to be carrying out an attack on behalf of the Islamic State. But he was so underprepared that he brought the wrong flag with him and asked authorities to bring him the flag of the Islamic State. Police eventually stormed the café once he began executing the hostages. The Islamic State later praised Monis in its publications, though no evidence emerged of any clear direction or instigation from the group. Other disturbed individuals like Yassine Salhi, who decapitated his boss and then tried to drive a truck into a chemical factory in France, or Muhaydin Mire, who tried to kill a random Underground passenger in London on Dec. 5 of last year, seem to have been disturbed individuals who simply latched onto the ideology or concept of launching a solo attack.

For the Islamic State, the overarching strategy is to both draw mentally unstable people while continuing to cultivate balanced individuals capable of pulling off more audacious attacks. For a group that is trying to make as much noise as possible, any vector through which this can be delivered is positive. It will further inspire others, leading to new plots that will keep security agencies and politicians busy and distracted.

Even more worrisome than these lone-actor plots are attempts by the Islamic State to actually tap into and direct this negative energy. For the most part, lone actors tend to be fairly low impact — a lone individual armed with little more than a basic bomb or knife can’t kill too many, after all. But the Islamic State wants to capitalize on the fact that, thanks to its social media prowess, it has planted the seeds of chaos.

The most prominent example of this is the Birmingham-born hacker Junaid Hussain, whose discussions with aspirant fighters in the West included instructions on how to launch lone-actor plots. Again, it is not entirely clear the degree to which he succeeded. There is some evidence that Hussain, from his base in Syria, was in contact with both the Garland, Texas, shooters and with the terror cell on trial in Britain for allegedly planning an attack on a local military base. But the specificity of his instructions had security services sufficiently worried that they decided to eliminate him through a drone strike. It is not clear if others have taken up Hussain’s mantle, but there is little evidence that the Islamic State has stopped encouraging lone-actor terrorist plotting.

Lone-actor terrorism is not new. Traditionally, it has been the domain of far-right activists and patriot movements the world over. A recent EU consortium research project led by the Royal United Service Institute (RUSI), a British think tank, found that right-wing lone-actor terrorists are actually almost as active in Europe as their Islamist counterparts. Of the 120 cases over the past 15 years analyzed by RUSI, about an equal third were Islamist and far-right in origin. In other words, European security agencies were disrupting as many lone-actor Islamists as they were far-right terrorists, a detail often missed in coverage of Islamist terrorist plots.

In this new reality, the Islamic State will continue to encourage lone-actor plots while investing in large-scale, spectacular operations. From being a one-track group focused on building a state in the sands of the Levant, it is now an active global terrorist group aggressively pushing forward on two clear threat tracks. It is a group that cannot be ignored or disregarded, both as a traditional terrorist organization, but also one that is able to instigate and inspire random assassins advancing its cause around the world. Fomenting the sort of fanaticism that underlies its very existence is, in the end, the only way it will continue to thrive.

It has been a busy week after the sad events in Brussels. A lot of links and posting to catch up on, but am on the road so not so easy to do. For the time being, here is my preliminary thoughts on the attack for the Financial Times. More to come soon.

Brussels Attacks Show That Terrorists Can Strike at Will

The surveillance problems can no longer be described as Belgian alone, writes Raffaello Pantucci

Brussels cops post attack

It is still unclear exactly what Brussels has faced just prior to Easter. The random nature of the date and targeting suggests a plot that may have been brought forward, while the scale of the attack suggests it must have been in the pipeline for some time. The Isis network, also linked to November’s Paris attacks, has claimed responsibility. The bigger issue, however, is not who is to blame for this atrocity but rather how much Europe will warp to address an acute terrorist threat, with cells apparently able to launch large-scale atrocities on an increasingly regular basis.

The first questions raised will focus on Belgium’s response to the problem on their home ground. Authorities may have scored a victory by capturing Salah Abdeslam, one of the Isis-aligned plotters linked to the Paris attacks, but they missed a network planning an atrocity with heavy weapons and explosives. This suggests gaps in the understanding and surveillance of the terrorist threat. Given that Brussels sits at the political heart of Europe, this points to a problem that can no longer be described as Belgian alone.

While for some the terrorist atrocities in Paris was a wake-up call, for security forces it had been expected for a while. Terrorist groups, from al-Qaeda to Isis, have long sought to launch a terrorist attack in the style of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and a string of plots have been disrupted or launched from a francophone network emanating from Brussels. The Paris attack was the realisation of these fears from a depressingly predictable place.

The networks of radicalised individuals with links to Isis have grown as the group continues to hold sway on the battlefield and send back peopleand plots to their original bases in western Europe. Given the tempo of attacks and the ease with which the networks appear able to acquire weapons and move freely around the continent, Europeans will ask themselves how much longer they will face this threat. Is this the start of a regular diet of such atrocities or the breaking of a wave? Given that terrorist groups have been able to launch three big, ambitious plots in Europe in the past year and half, the sense will be that we are in the thick of this threat with no end in sight.

The choice of targets is predictable. Terrorist groups have long fetishised aviation as a target, both as a way of visibly lashing out against the globalised political establishment but also for the high impact. Mass transport systems by their very nature have to be open to the public, which makes them tempting targets as they offer an easy opportunity to strike at the heart of a society. Questions will be asked about ramping up security levels but this will bring costs and further inconvenience to the daily lives of citizens. Think of the ramifications of a plot in 2006 where a cell planned to use liquid bombs on a series of transatlantic flights. Liquids are still banned on aircraft today.

The Brussels attacks will also play badly against the backdrop of Europe’s migration crisis. It will not be entirely surprising if elements close to the recent attacks found ways of slipping into the country alongside refugees from the Middle East. An already tense situation in Europe will grow more fraught, and this will have inevitable political ramifications too.

This is the biggest problem with which security planners will have to contend. It is often said that the best response to a terrorist threat is to keep calm and carry on. This is sage advice but in the face of a network that appears able to strike with impunity, and a political environment growing more toxic by the day, it will be ever harder for security forces and politicians to ensure that Europe maintains its values in the face of the terrorist threat from within.

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

A new piece as part of a Room for Debate conversation on the New York Times opinion pages. This one looking at the phenomenon of radicalisation in the west and how to counter it. Honoured to be in the company of friends and distinguished academics on the topic. The surge in attention around Brits in Syria and Iraq has led to a spike in media requests and conversations, including the New York Times, Economist, Voice of America, Los Angeles Times, AFP, and Press Association among others. I also spoke to Voice of America about the Shanghai Cooperation Organization counter-terror ‘Peace Mission’ exercise last week as well as USA Today about the China’s attempt to use the new Silk Road Economic Belt to ameliorate the situation in Xinjiang.

There Are Ways to Address Radicalism Early

British nationals (and many from other Western countries) have been a feature of jihadist battlefields for almost two decades. Some are drawn for idealistic reasons – going to fight for a cause, defend a people, or for some religious vision. Others go for more prosaic reasons, fleeing trouble at home, or seeking redemption for a criminal past. And yet others are simply young people at a juncture in their lives where the idea of going to run around a training camp and shooting guns seems quite appealing.

Countering this complicated mix of motivations is difficult. Part of it is developing programs that give people alternatives in their lives. These are not dissimilar to programs to help dissuade people from being drawn to gang culture. Part of it is also countering the spread of ideas in communities. While the Internet and social media play a role in drawing people to think about Syria and Iraq and find ways of getting there, it is often through real-world interactions that they will meet individuals who help provide the push, contacts or motivations to actually go to fight. Communities need to reject such people, but in addition, alternative pillars within society need to be developed to provide voice to credible alternative narratives.

A great deal of pressure is often put on communities within this context – the expectation is that they will somehow police themselves and this will resolve the problem. But at the same time, the reality is that sometimes people within communities simply do not know what they are dealing with. Families find themselves dealing with children or siblings who are becoming drawn to ideas, but it is difficult to know whether they are being drawn to dangerous ideas or simply going through a phase.

A partial answer to this problem can be found in a program initially developed in Germany, now being introduced in Britain, where a special hotline is established within communities and provides people with a place to ask questions without having to resort to the authorities. Creating spaces in which people can ask about what they should do if a relation is starting to flirt with radical ideas, without actually having to report it to the police, offers a moment at which an intervention could be made. This is something that will be more appealing to people within communities who are fearful of destroying someone’s life by reporting something innocuous to the police.

Ultimately, the phenomenon of young Britons (or Westerners more generally) being drawn to Syria and Iraq is not one that is going to be resolved overnight. There will ultimately be no longterm solution to this problem until the respective civil conflicts in Syria and Iraq are drawn to some definitive conclusion. This will involve creative diplomacy and bolstering of regional allies, as well as a recrafting of the current status quo across the broader Middle East. But until this happens, the battlefields will continue to be a draw to a certain community of young Westerners seeking adventure, meaning and ideals.

A new book review for Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, looking at quite a fun book I read a little while ago about a piece of history with all links to today. Also quite timely given the recent troubles in Kashmir to highlight how long this problem has been hanging over things. In an interesting and in some ways related case (for reasons that I will go into in a separate piece), I have been doing a bit of press around the recently concluded large terror trial at Woolwich Crown Court against a group of British Muslims who connected with al Qaeda were planning an incident in the UK. I was quoted in the Associated Press, Press AssociationCNN, Channel 4, and on BBC Newsnight (which is only available for the next six days to those in the UK). Longer piece on that case coming soon.

The Meadow: Kashmir 1995 – Where the Terror Began
By Raffaello Pantucci
Thursday, February 21, 2013 – 4:16 PM

Conflict in Kashmir has been back in the news recently. In January, a series of attacks and counter-attacks by Indian and Pakistani soldiers were reportedly sparked by a grandmother who crossed the Line of Control to be near her children and their families, resulting in the deaths of soldiers on both sides. What is striking about recent events and seems to be a particular throw back to earlier times, is the apparent brutality with which two Indian soldiers involved were killed. One was reportedly beheaded, whilst another ‘mutilated.’ This particular detail seems to belong to an earlier time highlighted in Adrian Levy’s and Cathy Scott-Clark’s book about the kidnapping of a group of western tourists in July 1995 in Kashmir, when the full insurgency was underway between Pakistan and India over the disputed province.

The portrait that Levy and Scott-Clark paint of the 1990s insurgency in Kashmir is a brutal one: locals living in fear as groups and alliances shift around them. No one is certain who is on whose side, as idealistic Kashmiri freedom fighters are manipulated by Pakistani ISI agents and their families are punished by Indian authorities. Local warlords change sides regularly, turning on each other with ready brutality at the right price. Police and intelligence agents on the same side end up working against each other, each with a different goal in mind. And caught up in the middle of this is a group of foreign hikers, drawn by the beauty of the countryside and kept in the dark about potential danger by inept local authorities eager for the much-needed tourist revenue.

The Meadow is written in the style of a thriller, with an investigative journalist’s eye for detail. It uncovers new information, offering definitive conclusions about what happened to the unfortunate foreigners entangled in the kidnapping. It has attracted less attention than previous books the authors have written about the region – their earlier book Deception, about the Pakistani nuclear program, has been widely praised – but nonetheless comes to some dramatic conclusions about what happened to the group of tourists.

At the heart of this narrative are six western (American, British, German and Norwegian) nationals. Snatched by a group of Kashmiri warriors supported by Pakistan, the intention was for the men to be traded for a group of supporters of the Kashmiri jihad, including Maulana Masood Azhar, an increasingly important preacher who had managed to get himself caught by Indian authorities some weeks before. This was in the days prior to Azhar’s later fame as the founder and head of Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Led by a Kashmiri called Sikander who fought in Afghanistan during the 1980s, the team was a mix of raw recruits and experienced fighters. Sikander had participated in an operation involving foreigners before, abducting two British citizens, Kim Housego and David Mackie, in June 1994 in an operation that ended in failure. Under intense international pressure, Sikander’s cell had given the hostages up to Kashmiri journalists. The second time around they hoped to avoid this pressure by creating a shell group, al Faran, which people would be unable to link so easily to the group’s well-known organizers, the Pakistani-supported, Kashmiri-oriented Harakat ul Ansar (HuA). According to the book, the new group name was chosen ‘randomly…. by someone in Islamabad that had vague Islamic connotations, being a mountain in Saudi Arabia’ (p.95).

The kidnappers were initially planning on snatching foreign workers at infrastructure projects, but as they got sidetracked in other operations time pushed on and they decided instead to go after a group of foreign tourists. By the time they were able to get moving on the plot it was June 1995 and it was only by July 1995 that they made it into the eponymous ‘Meadow’ above and around Pahalgam in the Anantnag district of Kashmir. Here, they wandered around the various campsites, capturing two British (Paul Wells and Keith Mangan) and two American (John Childs and Don Hutchings) trekkers they found, sending the women they were travelling with back down the mountain with a note demanding the release of Masood Azhar and other leaders. When one of the Americans, John Childs, managed to escape, the group panicked and snatched another two foreigners they found, this time a Norwegian (Hans Christian Ostrø) and a German (Dirk Hastert). Sikander’s father recalls his son telling him ‘human cargo’ was not ‘like transporting bullets of rice’ requiring all sorts of attention and care (p.93).

At this point, the story becomes murkier. Intrepid journalists, Levy and Scott-Clark rounded up as many different contacts as they could, but patching together what happened to the hostages while they were in captivity is something that is always going to be shrouded in mystery and reserved primarily to the hostages and their captors, none of whom are able to talk now. Using interviews with locals, family members, subsequent intelligence reports, and gathering the pieces of information that the hostages managed to leave secreted with locals as they were transported around the region, the authors piece a compelling narrative together. They uncover how particularly vivacious and infuriating a captive Hans Christian Ostrø was, apparently trying repeatedly to escape whilst charming locals with his enthusiasm. Eventually, a brutal faction within the cell tires of him and leaves his beheaded body to be found with the words ‘al Faran’ engraved on his chest.

The others were never found; their family members remain uncertain of their end to this day. For the women who had been trekking with the men before they were snatched, the nightmare was made all the worse by the seemingly limited and incompetent assistance they report receiving from Indian authorities. Having come down the mountain to disbelieving and slow-moving authorities, they then find themselves sidelined as geopolitics overtake the incident.

It is here that Levy and Scott-Clark are able to bring the most new information to light, digging into the grim world of the Kashmiri insurgency to offer a novel conclusion of what happened to the hapless trekkers. After Childs escaped, he lobbied for U.S. Special Forces to go back and rescue the others. But he was ignored, as Indian authorities refused to let foreign boots on the ground or accept much international assistance, eager to keep foreign eyes from the awkward domestic insurgency. And so, the captives were left in an isolated area where, as the authors paint it, India had full control. Even though authorities were in contact with the group, and according to the negotiators had managed to obtain a fixed amount of $250,000 to secure the foreigners release, no exchange actually took place. As the book portrays it, elements within India preferred a grim conclusion to highlight Pakistani perfidy. So once the demand had been made through a private communication between a local officer and the group – who allegedly told the officer ‘the movement [those who had sent him to carry out the kidnapping] can go to hell’ (p.325) – someone promptly leaked it, rendering it void as the move had not been approved al Faran’s superiors.

Instead, the men are sold to a local warlord fighting for the Indians, who then has them executed and disposed of. Indian authorities (or elements within the Indian power structures) are implied to have had full knowledge of everything that was going on, and to have actively pushed events in this direction, a searing indictment that has attracted ire within India.

The Meadow connects this incident to the larger events of September 11, highlighting the proximity of elements linked to al-Qaeda and the subsequent group that Masood Azhar founded when he was eventually released in exchange for a planeload of Indians held hostage while en route to Nepal. That group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, has been responsible for a number of major atrocities, including the first use of suicide bombers in Kashmir: on Christmas Day 2000, Asif Sadiq, a 24 year old Birmingham student blew himself up at a checkpoint in Srinagar. A year later, as the world was still rocking from the September 11 attacks, a JeM team joined by fighters from Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) launched an attack on India’s parliament that almost brought the sub-continent to nuclear conflict.

Levy and Scott-Clark push this web of shadowy links even further, pointing out a connection between Masood Azhar and Rashid Rauf, the British al Qaeda leader who would go on to act as the overseer of the July 7 and July 21 plots against London, before helping mastermind the aborted August 2006 plot to bring down some eight airplanes on transatlantic routes. In their book, Rauf is a bit part, with Azhar meeting Rauf’s father on a trip to Birmingham and being introduced to young Rashid as ‘his rootless teenage son…whom he said was in need of a mentor’ (p.296). But the connection nonetheless cements Azhar’s importance in helping provide links for a man who went on to be one of al Qaeda’s most dynamic foreign leaders.

A hefty book at almost 500 pages, the text sometimes gets lost in its own detail and in the numerous, long and detailed interviews the authors conducted. But drawing on a wealth of primary interviews, it tells a compelling narrative about a specific incident, while also painting a picture of a brutal conflict that, as we saw recently, has all the kindling in place to light up again.

Raffaello Pantucci is a Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the author of the forthcoming ‘We Love Death As You Love Life; Britain’s Suburban Mujahedeen’ (Hurst/Columbia University Press).

Am catching up a bit on late posting as have been rather busy of late, so a few coming in late. Here is a piece for the 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post) about Syria. Takes a somewhat negative view which may be finally slipping into the past (and I had previously elaborated in a letter to the Financial Times and for CNN), but at the same time, it is hard to see rapid action taking place any time soon. As usual, I have posted the Chinese above, and the English I initially submitted below.

叙利亚僵局的代价

潘睿凡   英国伦敦国际激进主义化   研究中心副研究员
这是一出我们曾多次经历过的故事,而最终结局总是大家各收恶果。简单地等待其自我结束也许要很多年,而且只会令恢复期拖得更长。

叙利亚境内的冲突进入第20个月,情形完全没有任何缓和迹象。暴力愈演愈烈,已经蔓延至邻国。激进分子的武器装备不断更新,手段更加极端,双方的暴行都在继续升级。在这一国内冲突不断恶化的情况下,国际社会表面上袖手旁观,暗地里则各自支持自己的代理人,结果导致了一盘僵局,今后的几年中,整个世界将被这一问题所困。

让我们先来看看情形是如何在恶化。起初,这是一场较低层次的民间冲突,阿萨德政府试图用相对有限的武力来确保其统治地位。而如今,这已经演化成了一场双方都不断采用暴力手段的冲突。据西方媒体报道,作为惩罚反对派控制地区轰炸战略的一部分,政府军无视可能带来的平民伤亡,在城市里使用了集束炸弹,但政府军否认了这一指控。反对派中的极端分子则以牙还牙地公布了一系列录像,展示他们如何冷酷屠杀和折磨捕获的政府军俘虏,而自杀性炸弹更是成了常见手段。随着时间推移,双方都对此类手段更加习以为常,也更加适应了这种残酷环境,这进一步拉长了冲突,使得双方更为胶着。

但对于世界而言,比内部矛盾升级更为可怕的是越来越明显的区域性“溢出效应”。据称,为了报复土耳其对于反对派的支持,叙利亚政府开始扶持土耳其的库尔德工人党(PKK)。今年7月,叙利亚空军击落了一架土耳其飞机。更为清晰的证据是本月早些时候发生的叙土边境炮击事件。作为反对派进入叙利亚的一个重要补给站,土耳其也从不同方面加以回击:除了继续作为叙利亚反对派军队获取武器的通道之外,他们还截获了用以支持政府军的装备,这使叙利亚政府军和提供方俄罗斯都非常恼火。

从叙利亚自身来看,代理人之争亦在延续。伊朗力量、他们的黎巴嫩和伊拉克代理人都支持阿萨德政权。而他们的对手则是支持反对派的波斯湾阿拉伯人的财力,最近爆出的新闻称,大量旨在供给反对军的武器最终落到了圣战派手中,而圣战派的目的并不仅仅只是要让整个国家摆脱阿萨德,还要创建一个由伊斯兰教义统治的哈里发。这种意识形态推动了基地组织这类团体,正如过去阿拉伯人在经济上支援逊尼极端分子,用以对抗什叶派支持的伊朗-叙利亚联盟。

因此我们有了所有制造毒药的成分:一场带有宗教色彩(永无止境的逊尼派与什叶派之争)的宗派冲突(我们不要忘记本质上,叙利亚冲突是阿拉维少数派和被他们多年来统治的逊尼阿拉伯多数派之间的冲突),而这正在变成其他力量与其代理人之间的游戏战争。

这是我们并不陌生的悲剧:上世纪90年代,在前南斯拉夫分崩离析之时,一场由许多相同演员参与的类似游戏曾经上演。其结局是在欧洲中部创建了一个圣战派战场,滋生了许多恐怖主义细胞和一个被遗弃的国家:塞尔维亚,至今孤零零地处于欧洲大陆。

但是过快的干涉也会带来负面反弹。在英国和法国的煽动下,北约比较迅速地出兵利比亚,支持卡扎菲的反对力量。尽管最终结果是卡扎菲的下台和新政府的创建,但显然极端分子在这个国家里建立了自己的影响和力量,而转变并不像很多人期待的那样干净利落。但是希望也并非不存在,因为反对极端力量的公众之声已经开始呈现,这意味着利比亚的很多人正在抗拒极端分子。

叙利亚的问题在于,僵局拖得越长,这些极端主义团体的力量越大,不同派系之间的仇恨越深。因为暴行和杀戮越来越多,将来这个国家重新恢复的时候,要调和矛盾变得越来越困难。这导致叙利亚被“巴尔干化”,各种不同团体控制不同地区,从而在未来几十年内滋生各种问题。

目前我们还不清楚叙利亚冲突将会行至多远。任何一天都有可能发生某种巨大变化,比如阿萨德被击毙,或者政府军决定采用化学武器。但是此刻,暴力正在残酷上演,而其他国家只是在利用代理人推进自己的利益,从而导致情况进一步恶化,叙利亚人认为自己已经被国际社会抛弃。这是一出我们曾多次经历过的故事,而最终结局总是大家各收恶果。简单地等待其自我结束也许要很多年,而且只会令恢复期拖得更长。(李鸣燕 译)

Syria’s Worsening Conflict

As we enter the 20th month of fighting in Syria, it is clear the situation is only deteriorating. Violence is increasingly spilling across borders, radical groups in the country are becoming better armed and more extreme, while atrocities by both sides continue unabated. And while this internal chaos continues to worsen, the international community stands by, with everyone supporting their respective proxies under the table. The result is a stalemate that is going to incubate problems that will haunt the world for years to come.

First, let us look at how the situation is deteriorating. From a low level civil conflict in which an overbearing government was trying to hold onto power using relatively limited force, we have now degenerated into a conflict in which increasingly brutal acts are being carried out by both sides. The government has taken to using cluster bomb munitions in cities as part of a heavy airborne bombing campaign that punishes rebel held areas, regardless of the possible civilian presence. From the rebel’s perspective, extremist factions within the confusing coalition that makes up the opposition have taken to releasing videos in which they coldly execute captured government prisoners, others in which they show prisoners who have been tortured and suicide bombers are no longer a rarity. And as the fighting drags on, both sides become better at carrying out such acts and surviving in such a brutal environment, further prolonging and rendering more gruesome the conflict.

But more menacing to the world than this internal escalation is the increasing evidence of regional overspill taking place. There are stories of the Syrian government supporting PKK rebels in Turkey in revenge for Turkey’s support of rebels inside Syria. It has been reported, with apparent documentary support, that Syrian forces may have executed a captured Turkish pilot whose plane was brought down by their air defense system. More clear than either of these stories was the shooting earlier this month of a missile from Syria into Turkey, killing five Turks. Turkey, a key staging post for rebels going into Syria, has struck back in different ways. Aside from continuing to allow its territory to be a conduit for rebels and the weapons, they have also acted to intercept supplies being shipped in to support the government, something that has angered both the Syrian government and their Russian suppliers.

Within Syria itself, these proxy dynamics continue, with Iranian forces and their Lebanese and Iraqi proxies mobilizing in support of the Assad regime. Facing off against them are rebel groups supported by Gulf Arab money, with recent reports highlighting that a high proportion of the weapons being provided to the rebels were ending up in the hands of jihadist factions whose vision is less focused on simply freeing the country from Assad than the creation of a shariah governed caliphate. Exactly the sort of ideology that drives groups like al Qaeda, as the old dynamic of Gulf money supporting Sunni extremists plays against the Shiite supported Iranian-Syrian coalition.

And so we have all the ingredients necessary for a toxic swamp. A sectarian conflict (let us not forget that at heart Syria is a struggle between an Alawite minority and the Sunni Arab majority they have brutally ruled over for decades), with the religious overtones of the never-ending Sunni-Shia struggle, that has increasingly become a staging ground for other powers to play out their proxy games.
This is a sad mess we have seen before: back in the 1990s, as Yugoslavia fell apart, a very similar dynamic played itself out with many of the same actors. The result was the creation of a jihadist battlefield in the middle of Europe that produced a number of terrorist cells and the creation of a pariah state – Serbia – that sits alone in the middle of the continent to this day. Eventually the outside world did step into that conflict, but by that time it was far too late and the scars will still take years to heal.

But rapid intervention can also have negative repercussions. At Britain and France’s instigation, NATO deployed relatively rapidly in Libya to support the rebellion against Colonel Gadhaffi. And while the end result was his deposition and the creation of a free government, it is clear that extremist factions have established themselves in the country and the transition will not be as clean as many hoped. There is some light at the end of this tunnel, however, as a public outcry against the groups has already started to build, suggesting that the picture remains a complex one with many in the country rejecting the extremist’s message. While it is too early to say, it is possible that the more rapid resolution of events in Libya left the nation less brutalized and prone to extremism.

The problem with Syria is that the longer the stalemate drags on, the more powerful these extremist groups become and the deeper becomes the hatred between the various factions. As more and more atrocities are committed and people killed, the harder it becomes to reconcile later when the country is being brought back together. This leads to a balkanization within the country with different areas ruled by different groups, a state of affairs that incubates problems for decades to come.

It is not clear how far along in the Syrian conflict we are at this point or how much longer it has to run. Any day a sudden shift could take place if Bashar al Assad was killed or the government chose to deploy chemical weapons. But at the moment it grinds brutally on with others advancing their interests by proxy and further worsening a situation while the people of Syria feel abandoned by the international community. This is a story we have seen played out many times before, and the end result is always further problems for everyone else down the road. Simply waiting for it to burn out can take years and will only make the recovery period longer. We have already let things run too long to avoid any subsequent negative repercussions, let us not continue to make this mistake for too much longer.