Posts Tagged ‘jihad’

A new op-ed for the Chinese paper 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post) that I write an occasional column for. This one looks a bit at events in Syria and the growing jihadi presence and what it means. Doesn’t really focus on the Chinese lack of involvement there, but the idea is to try to explain something and its potential dangers to a Chinese audience. The published Chinese is above, with the English I submitted below.

叙利亚不仅仅是叙利亚
潘睿凡   发表于2012-08-10 04:12

叙利亚前总理里亚德·希贾卜出走转投反对派,让阿萨德政权又一次雪上加霜。

潘睿凡 英国伦敦国际激进主义化研究中心副研究员

叙利亚前总理里亚德·希贾卜出走转投反对派,让阿萨德政权又一次雪上加霜。由于国际社会对于这一危机依然采取了僵持态度,激进势力积聚力量,代理人暗战日益恶化。如果只是简单地让叙利亚战争顺势爆发,这将会带来诸多难以想象的负面影响。正如之前人们在“阿拉伯之春”运动中多次观察到的那样,乐观估计总是被现实击得粉碎。如果叙利亚因为派系之争而分崩离析,这会对中东乃至整个世界带来长期消极影响。

如今的事实是,我们正在看着叙利亚慢慢地变成一团纠缠不清的乱麻,被阿拉维少数派统治的逊尼多数派产生了强烈憎恨情绪,来自世界各地的激进组织极端分子人数在增加,逊尼派海湾国家和伊朗什叶派之间的代理人战争愈演愈烈。如果不对此加以控制影响,这样复杂的内战将会酿成全球恶果。

理解当今叙利亚混乱局势和其潜在危险的关键在于回溯到第二次海湾战争、伊朗战争和伊斯兰逊尼派与什叶派之间的长期纷争。逊尼派与什叶派是伊斯兰教派中主要的两支:从世界范围来看,逊尼派人数占多数,为全球穆斯林人口75%,什叶派占10%到20%。什叶派相信先知穆罕默德指派了自己的堂弟阿里为伊斯兰领袖。逊尼派则认为真正应该追随的是在先知逝世后获得领袖地位的穆罕默德岳父艾布·伯克尔。两派对于领袖的分裂看法自此成为全世界穆斯林信徒间最重要的派别之争。

伊拉克战争使得伊拉克变成了公开的什叶派国家,一个由什叶派占据主导的国家。萨达姆政权的倒台,意味着将国家领导权交给与伊朗关系亲密的什叶派。什叶派在伊拉克掌权也意味着什叶派(或者对于什叶派友好的领袖,比如阿萨德的阿拉维教派)如今掌控着中东的伊朗、伊拉克、叙利亚和黎巴嫩。

在“阿拉伯之春”中,这一动态在海湾国家愈发显现。在北非和埃及,权力从非宗教专制政权过渡到伊斯兰教徒手中;在海湾国家,什叶派愤怒地揭竿而起,对抗掌权的逊尼派。在沙特阿拉伯东部,什叶派开始抗议;在由逊尼派王室控制人数占国内多数的什叶派的巴林,反抗浪潮一波未平一波又起。也门也同样面临着各种危机,但目前看来,还未正面受到占据约40%人口的什叶派的公开起义威胁。

对逊尼派领导人来说,前景堪称相当险恶。约旦国王阿卜杜拉二世在提出“什叶派新月带”威胁的时候详尽地表达了他的担忧。我们在叙利亚战场上越来越多地看到,海湾地区(主要是沙特和卡塔尔)的资金和特种部队训练支持着逊尼派反对者与阿萨德政权斗争。伊朗也并没有闲着。除了利用它的代理人和全球情报服务来攻击以色列之外,伊朗也在继续为阿萨德政权提供支持。

除了这些之外,我们还能看到来自世界各地的激进组织分子越来越多地出现在叙利亚。过去这周,一位年轻的德国医学院学生在阿勒颇被杀,一对外国记者也在叙利亚被挟持为人质,据说挟持者分别来自车臣、巴基斯坦、沙特和英格兰。值得我们注意的是,在美国入侵伊拉克期间,大量曾经帮助战士进入伊拉克的激进组织经叙利亚而来。部分组织由此将注意力放回了本土,也有消息说伊拉克的“基地组织”正在重返叙利亚。与此同时,伊拉克“基地组织”也在发起一系列具有高度组织性的攻击,证明他们有能力继续在伊拉克造成更多伤亡和毁灭。这些激进组织是逊尼派,尽管外部支持者会尽其可能不直接为他们提供资金援助,但在这样复杂的内战中,要将他们与逊尼派自由叙利亚军分开,还是有相当难度。在这两派中间还有那些普通的叙利亚人,他们发现自己被卷入了一场日益残酷的内战之中,战争已经几乎延续了一年半,看不到任何停止的迹象。

这一切都已经发生,而世界却还在一旁争执着是否要制裁叙利亚。西方国家暗示他们将寻找某种途径来支援这个国家中可靠的代理人,这是一条危险道路,历史上不乏不良后果。如今是需要一个负责的领袖站出来解决问题的时候。

(李鸣燕 译)录入编辑:张珺

 

Syria is about much more than Syria

The defection of Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab to the rebel side is the latest in a growing number of losses that the Assad regime has suffered in the past few months. As the international community remains deadlocked in what to do about the ongoing crisis, radical forces gather strength and a proxy war being played out by others continues to get worse. Simply letting the war in Syria play itself naturally out is something with repercussions that will be hard to judge. As has been shown repeatedly before in the Arab Spring, optimistic expectations are often shattered by reality. Letting Syria tear itself apart in a sectarian struggle is something that will have longer-term repercussions across the Middle East and the world.

China’s current approach to the Syrian crisis is to take shade under its famous rubric of ‘non-interference.’ In a particularly angry statement after the latest western instigated round of discussions to bring UN condemnation against the Assad regime, Long Zhou, a counselor in the Foreign Ministry, stated ‘we are opposed to intervention in domestic affairs, imposition of regime change and support for military interference.’ Furthermore, ‘the countries with such acts and remarks should rethink what role they have played and who indeed has been the obstacle in resolving the Syrian crisis.’

Such strong words may illustrate Chinese anger at being repeatedly blamed for holding up any action on Syria, but they do not particularly offer a path forwards to try to resolve the current crisis. Nor do they take account of the reality already being played out on the ground. The reality is that we are slowly watching Syria become an ever more tangled mess of sectarian fighting between a Sunni majority who always resented being ruled by the minority Alawite community, the growing presence of jihadist extremists from around the world, and a growing proxy war between the Sunni Gulf states and Shia Iran. Just the sort of complicated civil war that ends up having global repercussions if it is allowed to fester indefinitely.

The key to understanding the current Syrian chaos and its potential danger going forwards goes right back to the second Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq and the long-standing Sunni-Shia divide in Islam. Sunni and Shia are the two main branches of Islam: Sunni are the global majority (around 75% of the global Muslim population – including China’s Muslim minorities), while Shia are a minority (around 10-20%) who differentiate themselves from Sunni’s believing that on his death the prophet Mohammed designated his cousin Ali as the leader of Islam. Sunni’s in contrast believe Abu Bakr, Mohammed’s father-in-law, was the correct follower who took the reins of power as the head of Islam after the prophet’s death. This early split in leadership has been the foundation of most major divisions in the Muslim world since.

Whilst the invasion of Iraq was positive in that it deposed one of the world’s cruelest dictators, it had the additional effect of turning Iraq into an openly Shia nation. A Shia majority country, it was always clear that the introduction of democracy to Iraq would turn the country’s leadership over to a Shia leadership with a close affinity to Iran. And the introduction of a Shia regime in Iraq meant that Shia leaders (or Shia friendly leaders like the Alawite Assad’s) now ruled a swathe of the Middle East from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

And as the Arab Spring gathered pace this dynamic was further exacerbated in the Gulf countries. While in North Africa and Egypt, power was passed from secular authoritarian regimes to political Islamists, in the Gulf countries, mostly angry and oppressed Shia minorities or in some cases, majorities, started to rise up against the deeply Sunni kings that ruled the kingdoms. In eastern Saudi Arabia, Shia protests started to take place, and in Bahrain, where a Shia majority is ruled by a Sunni king, repeated protests have taken place led mostly by Shia’s. Yemen has faced all manner of chaos, but thus far it seems to have been saved much of an open uprising by its 40% or more Shia minority.

For Sunni leaders, this is a menacing prospect. Jordanian King Abdulla II enunciated these concerns when he spoke of the danger of a ‘Shiite crescent’ across the Middle East. And there has been pushback, something we are increasingly seeing on the ground in Syria where stories of Gulf (primarily Saudi and Qatari) funding and Special Forces training supporting the mostly Sunni rebels fighting the Assad regime. Iran has not been idle. In addition to using its proxies and intelligence services globally to attack Israeli targets (and apparently plotting to kill the Saudi Ambassador to Washington), it has continued to provide support for the Assad regime. The two sides are supporting different factions in the civil war.

Beyond these networks, we have also seen growing numbers of jihadists from around the world showing up in Syria. This past week a young German medical student was killed fighting in Aleppo, while a pair of foreign journalists who were held captive in Syria reported being held by a group of fanatics that included Chechens, Pakistanis, Saudis and Britons. It is worth remembering that many of the jihadist networks that were helping fighters get into Iraq during the peak of the American invasion flowed through Syria. Some of these networks have now started to turn their eyes back home, and there are stories of al Qaeda in Iraq forces re-directing into Syria. At the same time al Qaeda in Iraq is proving itself increasingly able to sow death and destruction in Iraq itself – launching a series of highly coordinated attacks in the past weeks. These jihadist networks are Sunni, and while it is likely that outside supporters are doing their best to not provide funding directly to them, it may be hard to separate such groups out from the Sunni Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the chaos of a civil war. Caught in the middle of the misery are average Syrians who now find themselves in the midst of an increasingly brutal civil war that has stretched on for almost a year and a half with no prospects of conclusion in sight.

All of this is already happening. And while it does, the world is sitting by arguing about condemnation of a regime that has proven itself willing to kill its own people. The west has now started to hint that it might try to find ways of providing support for approved proxies in the country, a dangerous path that has led to problems in the past, but equally, sitting on the side letting things play themselves out is only going to let the current scenario get worse and become more bitter. The world is watching as the Middle Eastern cauldron stirs itself up, and it is only a matter of time before it spills over the side. The time has come for some responsible leadership to step forwards and find a way through the current impasse. Simply letting things play themselves out may take a long time and in period tensions will be stoked that will take decades to play themselves out with uncertain outcomes for everyone.

A new book review for International Affairs, this time of Dr Fawaz Gerges The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda for Oxford University Press. Another short book that reads like a long essay, and has some interesting detail in it. Unfortunately, the review itself is behind a firewall, so you’ll have to reach out to me directly if you want a copy. Should they decide to post it openly like previous ones, I will be sure to add it here. For those with a password, you will be able to find the review here.

The rise and fall of Al-Qaeda. By Fawaz A. Gerges. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2011. 214pp. Index. £15.99. ISBN 978 0 19979 065 4.

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

What might Boko Haram do?

From Raffaello Pantucci, Special to CNN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where would Boko Haram fit into this spectrum?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After a bit of a delay a new piece over at Free Rad!cals, this time looking at the comparisons between Bosnia and Libya. An underexplored topic and not one I am being intentionally alarmist about, but more I wonder whether there is much attention being paid to this. Should anyone come across any interesting stories or anecdotes, do please pass on.

Wars Next Door

View all Raff Pantucci Blogs

Filed under: AfricaRadicalisation

Lord Ashdown may have a good point when he accuses the west of suffering from “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” allowing Bosnia to “slide back towards the status of a failed state” while attention is so focused on Libya, but I wonder if there is not another comparison that can be made between the two: that of jihadi battlefields within easy reach of Europe.

It remains unclear how many jihadists linked to al-Qaeda are fighting alongside the rebels in Libya. NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridisspoke of “flickers” of Al Qaeda and Hezbollah being present in the country and rebel commanders have been quoted saying how some of the men they initially recruited to go and fight in Iraq have returned to fight Gadaffi’s forces. There have also been reports of former Guantanamo detainees showing up in leadership roles, and one report claimed that the jihadist units that were making it to the front were amongst the most effective fighters. On the more alarmist end of the scale, leader of nearby Chad has claimed that al-Qaeda linked elements have plundered the Colonel’s weapons supplies and run away with surface-to-air missiles.

Amidst this all, there have been stories of British Libyans deciding to return home to fight to overthrow the leader. According to James Brandon and Noman Benotman’s authoritative account, “some” former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) have returned to fight against Gadaffi, with at least one being killed and another captured. In the meantime, “Sam’s” story in the Telegraph seems to highlight that the fighting bug is catching amongst the younger generation. Othershave told of how they are returning to take on roles as doctors of aid workers.

All of which is very understandable. Rather than watch their nation implode on their television screens, these expatriate Libyans are going back home to do something. And they are doing this all with the support of NATO bombing campaign from the air and western intelligence agents on the ground directing fire.

But what happens when the NATO campaign eventually stops and what if Gadaffi does not fall. What if the nation descends, like Bosnia did, into a protracted and grim civil war into which jihadist elements were able to move in and offer a live fire training ground for aspirant warriors from around the world? Last time this happened in Bosnia, an unknown number of young Europeans went to fight. As the story of Sayyad al Falastini shows, the battlefield was a coach ride away for young men in London, and Libya is not really that much farther away (not sure if it is a coach ride, but it is certainly easier than getting to Somalia or Waziristan).

This may all be an exaggerated concern. One friend pointed out that of greater concern was the fact that jails in a number of north African countries had emptied, turning god knows who on the street. While intelligence headquarters had all been pillaged, destroying a wealth of knowledge on Islamists from across the region. But as the situation in Libya continues to drift into something less than a conclusive solution with Colonel Gadaffi continuing to hold on, some consideration should be given for it as a potential risk as a jihadi battlefield next door. Given the fact that until recently the West was quite firmly on the wrong side of history in Libya, and we are still uncertain as to what the plan is to support the rebels while allied bombers are accidentally killing some of them, this is by no means necessarily a revolution which will completely go the West’s way. Looking back at footage or coverage of Islamists rallying troops to go to Bosnia, it is easy to see that even in the wake of action by the West they remained angry and the end result was a group of cells some of which ended up targeting the their home nations. Extremists in the UK are already talking about how this is just another western war in a Muslim land.

There are many good reasons for the fighting in Libya to be brought to some positive resolution quickly, not allowing a war with a potentially jihadist flavor to fester on Europe’s doorstep is clearly amongst them. Unfortunately, at the moment the end strategy seems uncertain leading to a potentially dangerous period of intractable conflict that could turn into a Bosnia-style jihadist battlefield. Lets hope some resolution can be effectively brought and enforced before such a situation arises.