Posts Tagged ‘lone wolves’

A rather quick response piece to events in Boston with a colleague at RUSI in response to the inevitable surge in inquiries after the sad incident. Undoubtedly more about this as it emerges, though I am wary of ascribing responsibility at this point. My own sense is that it is likely a lone individual, something I say based on the sort of device, the random target and the lack of any subsequent ideological messaging, but until more information emerges it is dangerous to speculate too much.

Boston Marathon: ‘Keep Calm and Carry on Running’

RUSI Analysis, 16 Apr 2013By Raffaello Pantucci, Senior Research Fellow; Jennifer Cole, Senior Research Fellow, Resilience & Emergency Management

The authorities in the United States are rightly cautious in ascribing blame to yesterday’s incident in Boston. The explosions – killing three and injuring over 140 – highlight the importance of securing public events without being governed by fear.

Boston Marathon

With no claims of responsibility and no ideological leads that authorities are visibly pursuing, it is almost impossible to know why yesterday’s attack in Boston took place.

The early facts are clear: the target was the Boston Marathon; the use of two devices, and their location, suggests the intention was to kill as many people as possible; and the devices appear to have been homemade, possibly with black powder. None of these details conclusively point to a particular individual or a group.

Sporting events in the United States have been targeted before. Most prominently during the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, Eric Rudolph targeted the games with a homemade explosive, killing two and injuring more than a hundred. Looking further afield, of course, the Munich Olympics of 1972 stand out as a major incident conducted by international terrorists taking advantage of the spotlight that the games brought. Since the turn of the twenty-first century, attacks on public places with the aim of causing mass casualties – such as those in Madrid, London, Mumbai and Norway – have become the favoured modus operandi of terrorists around the world, regardless of the ideologies to which they subscribe.

The choice of two explosive devices, timed to detonate within seconds of one another, and the use of shrapnel inside them suggest the perpetrator(s) wanted to harm as many people as possible. Eyewitnesses record that the second explosion happened as they were running from the first. In addition, choosing the finishing line of the Boston Marathon as a target ensures that media coverage of the attack will reach the eyes of the world within seconds: television cameras and press photographers were already on site, while a plethora of social media was available with which both the media and the public could broadcast the incident far and wide.

Fortunately for many of the runners and spectators caught up in the attack, there was a large emergency-response team on hand. A marathon – or any other large public event – by necessity has high numbers of volunteer and professional paramedics on standby, as well as large numbers of crowd stewards and police to help keep the situation as calm as possible. Command-and-control centres – ready to deal with any incident that arises – will already have been established to manage the marathon and will be able to respond to the incident quickly.

Just as fortunately, perhaps, the improvised explosive devices seem to have produced a relatively limited explosion and to have caused few fatalities.

Who Perpetrated These Attacks?

The key questions that remain are who was responsible for this incident and what they hoped to achieve. Given there was no specific intelligence regarding an attack, it will take time for the US authorities to determine the identity of the culprit(s).

There are numerous terrorist groups who could have conducted an attack, including domestic groups. For example, the forthcoming twentieth anniversary of the climax of the Waco siege, centred on a cult based in Texas, could prompt such an attack by a sympathetic domestic group; while those on the far political right and Patriot movements in America should not be immediately or instinctively discounted as potential perpetrators. It may even be a lone individual.

But the truth is that at this stage we do not know, and it is not useful to speculate over who was responsible and whether or not the choice of a marathon run on Patriots’ Day as the target is significant. The incident highlights how rapidly and easily it is possible to grip the world’s attention with a single act of violence. Whether the perpetrator is a lone wolf, right wing, jihadist or other, this terror plot has once again caught the world’s attention.

Implications

However tragic the event, from a resilience perspective it is important to guard against allowing the psychological damage to outweigh the physical and material. Whoever the perpetrators and whatever their specific aim, their real victory is counted not in the number of people killed or injured in Boston, but in the impact the attacks may have on, to quote the UK National Security Strategy, the ability of those targeted ‘to go about their daily lives freely and with confidence’. The more this freedom is undermined, the greater the success of the act of terrorism.

Questions have already been raised about the security of the forthcoming London Marathon, taking place within days of its Boston counterpart, on 21 April. In his 2007 review of security in crowded public places, Lord West (then Under-Secretary of State for Security and Counter-Terrorism at the Home Office) made clear that while the threat to such events has increased in recent years, lockdown is neither practical nor prudent.

Nonetheless, it is worth reviewing security arrangements in advance of the London Marathon this weekend. Such security arrangements are made up of two workstreams: to ‘protect’ and ‘prepare’, both of which the government sees as a high priority and which have also been practised extensively in recent months – an feature of the Olympic legacy. During the 2012 Olympics, London hosted a marathon for which security arrangements were ramped up considerably from those in place for previous London Marathons. As one of the few events not completely contained within the Olympic Park or dedicated venues, the vulnerabilities will have been scrutinised extensively and plans will have been made for the mitigation of an attack. The planning for this and the Olympic Torch relay route is still fresh in the minds of all those involved, as are the skills and techniques used in implementing the plans – from protecting transportation routes without imposing airport-style security measures, to using CCTV camera software to pick up suspicious behaviour in crowds.

Such preparation has to be done in advance; additional personnel cannot be sourced and trained in days. They need to be ready to go – and they will be. It is likely that some of the security infrastructure put in place for Baroness Thatcher’s funeral tomorrow will now remain in place over the weekend, including the numbers of personnel on high-readiness to deploy, for example, and the incident control rooms fully staffed and ready to respond immediately.

Similarly, there will be an increased security focus on any intelligence that may suggest a threat to the marathon and on anything that might be known by then about the perpetrators of the Boston attacks or their networks. Luckily, ramping command-and-control networks and intelligence-sharing back up to Olympic-period levels will still be based on personal memory and experience; new technology paid for out of Olympic budgets is still state-of-the-art. Such solid preparation brings with it as high a level of protection as possible. Everything that can be done will be done to ensure the safety and security of the London Marathon, and especially so in the aftermath of the tragic events in Boston.

As one participant in the Boston Marathon was heard to say, we need to ‘keep calm and carry on running.’

Another book review, this time for Terrorism and Political Violence about a short book on Lone Wolf terrorism written by Ramón Spaaij. Unfortunately, it is again behind a firewall so I cannot just post it here, but I will ask. In the meantime, feel free to drop me a line if you have any queries, and I would recommend having a look at the Taylor and Francis page for the review, as a chunk of it is caught in a screenshot there.

Ramón Spaaij. Understanding Lone Wolf Terrorism: Global Patterns, Motivations and Prevention

 

More on an old theme that continues to be unresolved, Lone Wolf terrorism, this time for Jane’s. I have a few more academic pieces on the pipeline on this topic and am possibly exploring some larger projects on the theme. Apologies as this one is behind a paywall. Am asking whether I can repost it here, but in the meantime let me know if you really want to read it. UPDATE (10/26/2012): Thanks to Jane’s IHS for agreeing to let me re-post the text here!

The Power  of One – Western Lone Wolf Terrorism

10/4/2012

The sentencing of Mohammed and Shasta Khan – a recently married couple convicted in July of plotting an attack on the local Jewish community in Oldham in the north of the UK – marked the end of a case which offered a new perspective on the problem of so-called lone wolf terrorism.

The trial uncovered little evidence that the pair had been directed to carry out their attack by anyone, and what direction they had appeared to have come from Inspire – an English-language jihadist magazine produced by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) with precisely the aim of encouraging and facilitating the kind of ‘individual jihad’ against the West being planned by the Khans.

The case was merely the latest of a number in Europe and the United States in recent years in which prosecutors have cited the role played by Inspire in facilitating plots by home-grown, grassroots jihadists, and individual jihad waged by lone wolves or hybrid ‘lone wolf packs’ such as the Khans currently represents a significant potential threat.

The Khans

The case against the Khans came together in a somewhat haphazard fashion. Police were initially called to their residence in the Waterhead area of Oldham late on 22 July 2011 in response to an alleged assault by Mohammed Khan against his father-in-law. While questioning the family, one of Shasta Khan’s brothers reportedly told police he suspected Mohammed was “a home-grown terrorist”. When questioned, Shasta confirmed the allegation and accused her husband of planning an attack against the local Jewish community.

The North West Counter Terrorism Unit launched an investigation into the allegations, but as they dug into the couple’s lives they uncovered a far more complicated picture. The pair apparently met sometime in mid-2010 through the Muslim dating website singlemuslim.com. After corresponding a few times online they met at a Bradford food court on 19 July 2010, and a month later they were married. Although they met through a website that seeks to connect people for whom Islam is important, it is not entirely clear how pious the couple were prior to meeting. A photograph of the pair enjoying a boat trip during their honeymoon in Turkey shows Mohammed clean-shaven and Shasta wearing a short-sleeved top with her hair down, and it was revealed in court that Mohammed had previously been incarcerated for violent crime. On the other hand, in her account to police Shasta claimed to have started to read the Quran, pray five times a day, and wear a hijab six months before meeting Mohammed.

Irrespective, once married the process of radicalisation seems to have been relatively rapid. Mohammed told Shasta to reject western dress and the pair started to download and watch radical material together. Among their possessions were recordings of Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, AQAP ideologue Anwar al-Awlaqi, and radical Australian-Lebanese preacher Feiz Mohammed. The largest number of recordings in the couple’s collection was by Abdullah el-Faisal, the Jamaican preacher who has admitted that Germaine Lindsay, one of the 7 July 2005 London bomb plotters, was a student of his. Faisal was previously jailed in the UK and currently lives in Jamaica from where he broadcasts regularly. The couple also possessed at least two issues of Inspire magazine, as well as a profile of Mustafa Setmariam Nasar alias Abu Musab al-Suri, a Syrian jihadist ideologue noted for advocating “the jihad of individual terrorism” in which self-forming cells would carry out independent attacks without the need for any central command and control structure.

The Prestwich plot

Central to the prosecution’s case was the presence of Inspire magazine – particularly issues one and six which featured suggestions on how to construct explosive devices using easily sourced materials. Many of these materials, including Christmas lights that could be fashioned into a detonator, were found among the Khans’ possessions. There was further evidence on a laptop that someone had watched YouTube video clips that showed how to make potassium chlorate using bleach and salt substitute products with a high potassium chloride content. When police searched the couple’s premises they found a bowl and a metal pot in the garden with high levels of liquid chloride, sodium, potassium, and chlorate. When mixed with sugars, chlorates can be very explosive. According to forensic investigation, the chlorate in the vessels had been made three weeks prior to discovery.

The pair had further access to explosive ingredients through Shasta Khan’s work as a hairdresser. Inspire issue six includes detailed information about how to manufacture explosives from acetone peroxide, and in her initial confession to police Shasta claimed her husband had repeatedly asked her to source peroxide through her work. At the time of arrest, the pair were found to have at least five bottles of peroxide in their possession, as well as various items of safety wear that would be useful in concentrating the peroxide and mixing chemicals.

As a target, the pair appear to have chosen the Jewish community in the nearby town of Prestwich. In her initial confession – which she later retracted – Shasta Khan claimed her husband had a “massive problem” with Jews and would regularly make anti-Semitic comments. She claimed he had made her drive to the Jewish part of Prestwich to sit and watch Jews going in and out of the synagogue. This was confirmed by evidence discovered on a GPS device found in their possession, which showed that the pair had made a number of trips around Prestwich’s Jewish community and had specifically marked out the current and previous locations of the Jewish Agency, and the central location of the Jewish community.

UK lone wolves

The Khans are merely the latest in a growing list of UK nationals who have chosen to plot home-grown terrorist attacks with no outside direction. In May 2008, Nicky Reilly, an Asperger’s sufferer who had become radicalised after converting to Islam, attempted to blow himself up in a restaurant in Exeter with a device he had fashioned using recipes from the internet, but which failed to detonate properly. While police found Reilly had loose links to radical elements in his local community, it was ultimately concluded that he acted alone, albeit with some guidance from unknown individuals he appeared to have met online through YouTube discussion chains.

A month prior to Reilly’s attempt, police in Bristol were alerted by the local community to another young Muslim convert, Andrew Ibrahim, who had appeared at his local mosque talking about jihad and with very nasty burns on his hands. When police searched his home they found peroxide-based explosive Hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMTD) which he had made using online recipes, along with videos of him testing it, a suicide vest he had fashioned himself, and evidence on his mobile phone of him conducting reconnaissance at a local shopping mall.

Although Reilly and Ibrahim failed in their attempts, in May 2010 Roshonara Choudhry succeeded in carrying out an act of individual jihad when she stabbed MP Stephen Timms during his regular constituency meeting, narrowly failing to kill him. Choudhry subsequently explained she had targeted Timms for his support of the Iraq war, and claimed her inspiration came from having watched many hours of YouTube videos of Awlaqi and Abdullah Azzam. Again, there was no evidence Choudhry had been directed by anyone in conducting her attack, and Choudhry told police she had kept her plans secret “because nobody would understand, and… because I knew that if anybody else knew they would get in trouble because then they would be implicated in whatever I do”.

Choudhry’s act was widely celebrated within the online radical community, and a week after her conviction, Bilal Zaheer Ahmad, 23, was arrested in Wolverhampton for posting lists of MPs to be targeted on a website – revolutionmuslim.com – that Choudhry had frequented. Praising her actions, Ahmad not only offered a list of potential targets, but also provided a link to a supermarket website which sold the kind of knife Choudhry had used in her attack. Ahmad was later jailed for 12 years for soliciting murder, intent to stir up religious hatred, and collecting information likely to be of use to a terrorist.

Inspire

Choudhry’s attack was also celebrated by the editors of Inspire as an example of the kind of individual jihad – referred to as “open source jihad” – that AQAP had founded the magazine to encourage. An article dedicated to her in Inspire issue four, released online in January 2011, praised Choudhry as an example of “borderless loyalty” to Al-Qaeda’s cause, and stated: “The ummah [global Muslim community], and specifically its mujahedeen, are waiting to see more people of her calibre. No it is not the highly technical skills that we are referring to… it is the willpower to kill the disbelievers.”

This concept of open source jihad is something that Inspire has repeatedly advanced since its first issue. Drawing heavily on the work of Abu Musab al-Suri, it has argued that organised groups are not necessary and that individuals should simply take up the mantle of jihad and carry out attacks wherever they can. Such grassroots jihadists would operate according to the principle of commander’s intent, acting in accordance with strategic principles publicised by Al-Qaeda but without any actual contact with the group, which might expose them to security services.

However, while Inspire has become something of a feature among the possessions of recently arrested aspirant jihadists in Europe and the US in recent years, there is little evidence that the magazine’s call for individual jihad was what inspired them to act. Instead, other factors appear to have served as the motivation, with Inspire serving rather as a trusted and accessible bomb-making manual.

For example, in December 2010 police arrested a group of UK citizens – who later pleaded guilty to planning to bomb the London Stock Exchange – after hearing them discussing an infamous Inspire article entitled Make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom. They had only recently downloaded the magazine and appeared to be figuring out how to source the materials it listed.

The same article was found in the possession of Naser Jason Abdo, a US soldier who went AWOL during the 4 July weekend in 2011, and who was arrested later that month after police found weapons and explosive materials in his hotel room. Abdo later confessed to planning to bomb a Chinese restaurant near the Fort Hood military base, Texas, and shooting survivors as they ran from the blast. In his court testimony, Abdo claimed he had been inspired by an earlier act of individual jihad allegedly carried out by Nidal Hassan Malik, a US Army major who is suspected of killing 13 people in a small-arms attack at Fort Hood in 2009, an act Abdo said he had hoped to “outdo”.

The company of wolves

Malik himself has become something of a celebrity in the roster of lone wolf jihadists as one of the most successful examples of the trend. However, despite the surface appearance of the case – in which Malik, driven to distraction by his pending posting to Afghanistan, decided to carry out an act of terrorism instead – the reality was more complex, and it was subsequently revealed that he had previously come to the attention of US intelligence after entering into email correspondence with Awlaqi.

As in the Malik case, there are a number of apparent lone wolf attacks where subsequent investigations reveal a level of networking inconsistent with the principles of open source jihad espoused by AQAP in Inspire. Indeed, the very Inspire article that celebrated Choudhry’s “borderless loyalty” to Al-Qaeda’s cause also highlighted the case of Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, a young Iraqi who blew himself up in Stockholm in December 2010 in an unsuccessful attempt to attack a local shopping mall. Although the article represented him as a lone wolf like Choudhry, Iraqi officials have claimed that he was connected with insurgent groups in the country – although it is unclear with which particular group – and prior to the attack he allegedly telephoned several numbers in the country. In addition, a friend Abdaly had made while living in the UK – Naserine Menni – was convicted at Glasgow High Court in August 2012 of helping fund the attack as well as supporting Abdaly in building his device and sharing radical material with him.

Indeed, a distinctive feature of many lone wolf cases is that they do not in fact act entirely in isolation. This was also evident in the case of Mohammed Merah, who carried out a series of shootings in Toulouse, France, in March. Although repeatedly identified in the press as a lone wolf, Merah had familial connections to militant networks supporting the insurgency in Iraq as well as links to radicals in Algeria. According to US investigators, he also attended training camps in Pakistan. Indeed, in the aftermath of his attacks the North Waziristan-based Kazakh militant Islamist group Jund alKhilafah (JaK) claimed that Merah was affiliated with the group. US investigators later concluded that it was likely Merah had spent some time with the group in North Waziristan – although perhaps as little as an hour. While he may have chosen his targets and carried out his attacks alone, Merah was clearly on the periphery of a known network of extremists.

Even where no connection to militant networks exists, some connection can often be drawn to local radical communities or groups. The individuals who carry out lone wolf attacks tend not to be core members of these communities, but instead exist on their peripheries. For example, among the belongings of Mohammed and Shasta Khan was a black hooded top printed with the words “Al-Ghuraba” – the name of a proscribed UK Islamist extremist group which is descended from another proscribed group, Al-Muhajiroun – and their computer was found to have repeatedly been used to visit sites by UK radical preacher and Al-Muhajiroun alumni Anjem Choudhary. Similarly, Nicky Reilly was in contact with elements in the Plymouth radical scene, and Andrew Ibrahim repeatedly tried to make contact with radicals in the UK, who rebuffed him.

This trend is also evident beyond the community of jihadist lone wolves, with similar patterns of behaviour evident among right-wing extremists. Notably, Anders Behring Breivik, convicted in August 2012 of the July 2011 Utøya mass shooting and Oslo bombing, had previously been on the periphery of radical far-right and anti-Islamist communities, and also attended rallies in the UK. His unsupported claim that he was operating as part of a clandestine organisation, and his decision to email his 1,500 page manifesto to some 5,000 individuals he had identified as potential sympathisers, also suggests that despite acting alone Breivik sought to reach out to this particular community.

Tracking the threat

The apparent desire of many lone wolves to seek out the company of like-minded individuals offers security officials an avenue into countering the phenomenon. While the lone wolf is unlikely to be known to the security services, those they come into contact with may well be, and in some cases may be being monitored. Although the large number of people existing on the periphery of known radical circles would mean identifying the potential lone wolves among them would remain a significant challenge for the security services, in seeking out the company of others the lone wolf increases the risk of being exposed by those around him – as occurred in the cases of Reilly and Ibrahim – emphasising the importance of effective community policing.

However, not all lone wolves can be relied on to seek out company in this way. For example, in the cases of Choudhry and Abdo there is no evidence of contact with extremist communities – although further investigation may eventually uncover some connections. Nevertheless, even such true lone wolves remain vulnerable to exposure from within the community, with their very isolation presenting them with additional challenges and risks in preparing their operation. For example, the police search that uncovered Abdo’s plot was triggered by a tip-off from a local gun shop concerned by a recent purchase Abdo had made.

This was also evident in the case of Khalid M. Aldawsari, a Saudi student in the US who was arrested in Texas in February 2011 as he tried to build a bomb using chemicals purchased on the internet. Prior to his arrest Aldawsari had demonstrated no outward signs of radicalisation and he seems to have been operating alone and with no outside direction or contacts. In a diary recovered after his arrest, Aldawsari had written: “After mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for jihad.” However, Aldawsari’s reliance on personally acquiring the materials he needed from regular commercial channels meant he raised the suspicions of his suppliers, and both a shipping company and a chemicals firm notified the FBI of their concerns, precipitating the investigation that uncovered his plot.

In an interesting parallel, Anders Behring Breivik had also triggered a similar warning to the Norwegian authorities following his attempt to purchase chemicals online from a Polish company. Although the alert was disregarded at the time, it again shows that the need for lone wolves to interact with others during the planning and preparation phase of their operation provides an opportunity for their plot to be uncovered, and provides another example of the value of effective education of chemical suppliers and other purveyors of products and logistics which may be of use in terrorist operations.

However, some cases seem almost impossible to detect, and illustrate the challenges lone wolves can potentially pose even the most vigilant of security services. Choudhry’s attempted murder of MP Stephen Timms is instructive in this regard. Seemingly in complete isolation, she radicalised, obtained her weapon, and selected her target. That the weapon she chose was a knife available at any number of shops meant security services would have had no way of detecting her through this purchase.

According to her own account, the only observably radical thing she did prior to her attack was to watch extremist videos online – an act so common as to have no intelligence significance when taken in isolation. Other potential signifiers that have been cited are that shortly before her attack she dropped out of a university course she had almost successfully completed, and that she had taken steps to pay off all her debts. Again, however, such actions were too commonplace to raise suspicion in themselves.

Furthermore, even if analysing all these factors together might conceivably have raised a flag, the level of surveillance of ordinary citizens required to achieve such a feat would almost certainly be rejected by Western electorates. As such, the problem of lone wolf terrorism, much like the broader problem of terrorism, is something that will require management rather than eradication for the immediate future.

©2012 IHS, all rights reserved. Reproduced with permission from IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Security Monitor.

A slightly delayed piece for CNN on a topic I have covered repeatedly, the subject of Lone Wolves and specifically the case of Mohammed Merah in France. It has also been a quiet period of late as I am travelling in a rather far-flung place, but more on that later.

In France, a new type of Lone Wolf Threat

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

Analysis from Raffaello Pantucci, Special to CNN

Mohammed Merah’s death has done little to clarify what motivated him to carry out his terrorist act.

The assassination of a series of North African French soldiers, followed by the cold-blooded shooting of Jewish children as they went to school, all show evidence of a mind twisted by hate that was motivated by Islamist ideas:  The soldiers had the audacity to be members of an army fighting against Islam while the children had the misfortune of being born into the wrong religious family.

But what is most disquieting about this is that it is unclear that anyone told him to carry out his specific act. While it now seems clear that he was living within a radical milieu and had tried to go and fight jihad abroad, he seems to have chosen to carry out his act by himself.  This is the action of a terrorist operating by himself, a lone wolf; one who has so firmly imbued his ideology that he no longer feels the need to receive orders to act upon, but is able to self-activate. Screaming about being linked to al Qaeda as he battled police, Merah clearly thought of himself as a mujahedeen for their cause.

What we do know of Merah so far is that he was in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region twice. Which group he sought out specifically is unclear.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed to have trained numerous Frenchmen, while Jund-al-Khalifah, a primarily Kazakh terror group, made a somewhat dubious claim of responsibility. He had possibly also fought in Iraq – at least one family member was involved in running a network sending fighters to the country. Back in France, he appears to have visited other radicals in prison and existed on the fringes of French radical group Forsane Alizza. But it is not clear that any of these organizations actively directed him into action.

This is not the first time that we have seen individuals of this sort on the European jihadist scene. Back in the early morning of January 1, 2010, Mohamed Geele came crashing through the front door of cartoonist Kurt Westergaard’s house in Aarhus, Denmark.  He had shaved and perfumed himself in the manner of a fighter expecting to die in the course of his action and used Google Earth to find the cartoonist’s home. Westergaard was able to hide before Geele got to him, and Danish police swiftly arrived and apprehended him after a brief shootout.

He was later identified as being a key member of a Scandinavian support network that was helping send money and fighters to Somali Islamist group Al-Shabaab (“the youth”) and was spotted alongside another Somali-Dane who blew himself up in Mogadishu.  A few months before carrying out his attack, Geele had been repatriated after he was apprehended by Kenyan police on suspicion of being part of a plot to attack visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

But while Geele was clearly connected to the group, there is no particular evidence that it told him to act. When subsequently asked about the attack, Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mahmud Raage said, “We appreciate the incident in which a Muslim Somali boy attacked the devil who abused our prophet” before going on to seemingly admit they knew of Geele, saying, “there could be some people who might say that boy was related to Shabaab.”  From information released during his trial, it seemed as though Geele was a radicalized young man who, once back in Denmark, fell back into his old ideologies and decided that it was his duty to punish the cartoonist.

While the whole story about Merah has not yet been told, there is a pattern like Geele’s that is possible to identify: Young men enraptured by the lure of jihad become involved in international terrorism, and then find themselves adrift and decide to act by themselves, following the outlines of what they considered to be a correct targeting package.  Like Geele, Merah seems to have been known within a community of radicals and was a known entity to local intelligence agencies.  Unlike Geele (who in court claimed it would be easy for him to get a gun), Merah seems to have been able to accumulate quite an arsenal.  And also unlike his Danish predecessor, he was able to carry out grim killings before he was caught. He was also planning on broadcasting his act posthumously, having created a video that he had sent to news organizations – though it is unclear whether Merah or someone else sent it.

Merah is also clearly quite distinct from some others who have been called lone wolf Islamist terrorists recently.  He is different from British student Roshonara Choudhry, who tried to stab an member of Parliament for his support of the Iraq War.  He is also different from Arid Uka, the 21-year-old Kosovar living in Germany who shot two American servicemen as they waited at Frankfurt Airport in revenge for what he believed American soldiers were doing in Afghanistan.  In both of those cases, the individuals involved were not particularly connected to any radical group (except through the Internet), but chose to carry out their acts of political violence by themselves, aiming at targets they thought would be justified.

Merah is clearly a more dangerous proposition; not only since he was more successful, but also because to some degree he seems to have been able to operate using effective operational security.  Clearly, French intelligence will have some explaining to do about how someone it was attentive to was able to accumulate such an arsenal, and also about how he was able to stay on the loose.  Whether this is the product of a more trained or a more dedicated mind is unclear, but what it does show is that intelligence services need to be more attentive to people who they may have considered peripheral figures on terrorist networks.  Previously, they would have been able to focus on the core, and leave the more fragmentary elements of the network on a looser leash.  But with the growing instance of individuals like Merah and Geele, and their increasing lethality, it will have to be reconsidered which individuals are of concern.

The question becomes how such individuals can be effectively focused on and how intelligence services can distinguish them from the large community of individuals that exist on the periphery of known terrorist networks but who never move into action.  While much has been made of the French tendency toward human rather than electronic intelligence as a potential reason why Merah was able to seemingly accumulate his armory and was able to stay below the radar for so long, it is unclear that greater electronic information would have necessarily uncovered him.

Within the United States, where electronic intelligence is the foundation of counter-terrorism work, individuals have managed to proceed quite far staying beneath the eyes of electronic watchers. Whatever the case, the key lesson is that it is increasingly becoming the norm that individuals less central to terrorist networks are going to move to the heart of terrorist operations. Figuring out how to distinguish them from the noise surrounding them is going to be a challenge for the next few years.

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

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

63 Al-Qaeda after Bin Laden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is going up a bit late, since have been a bit distracted with other obligations. It also ended up being published after Intelwire and Red State articles on the topic, though I had written it before reading them both (honest!). A long post for Free Rad!cals, something I am trying to return to with some regularity. This is exploring the subject of Lone Wolves that I have long been going on about, and in fact was quoted in a CNN story on the topic and a Christian Science Monitor one. It has been a while since I posted for a variety of reasons, but in the meantime, I was quoted a fair bit in this story linked to the London Somalia conference in the Danish newspaper Information and separately (and unrelated) on Chinese influence in Central Asia in an article that was written for Eurasianet and reprinted in the Atlantic.

When is a Lone Wolf a Lone Wolf?

View more articles by Raff Pantucci

Filed under: Anwar al-Awlaki, Homegrown extremism

The arrest last Friday of Amine el Khalifi as he strode towards the US Capitol Building with what he thought was a functioning MAC-10 submachine gun and explosive suicide vest marks the latest in a growing list of individuals who have been incarcerated in the United States in cases involving intelligence agents. As with many previous cases, this one has already been called a “lone wolf” by officialdom in the US. But does this definition really hold water in a case like Khalifi’s?

The problem with using this definition in Khalifi’s case is that central to the plot seems to be at least one law enforcement agent and a confidential informant. Individuals who hinted to him that they were connected with al Qaeda and ultimately provided him with what he thought were the tools to conduct a Fedayeen-style terrorist attack on the Capitol Building. All of which suggests that in Khalifi’s mind he was not actually a “lone wolf,” but rather an individual who was part of a terrorist cell.

This distinction is important since it raises a subsidiary question of whether Khalifi would have actually done something if he hadn’t had the community of agents around him to both provide him with what he thought was a cell, as well as the weapons to carry out his terrorist attack. Khalifi was clearly a disjointed fellow – a former landlord is quoted as saying he was suspicious of Khalifi and found him to be a very troublesome tenant suspecting he may have been building bombs – but how dangerous was he and did he have the wherewithal to launch a terrorist plot by himself?

At this point, we shall never know. Given Khalifi was captured as he marched up to his intended target armed with a machine gun and suicide vest, it is hard to envisage any jury finding him innocent or to disagree with this conclusion. And it is perfectly possible that Khalifi is indeed a deranged individual who may have been prone to going down a path of violence. But the dilemma is the degree to which the cell of agents empowered him, and whether they could have used the information to dissuade him instead of helping him in this direction.

His case is very similar to that of Jose Pimental, a New Yorker arrested earlier this year by NYPD as he was supposedly building a bomb with what emerged to be a police agent. In that case, Pimental was also described as something of an oddball who would broadcast his radical views loudly online, was part of the community of individuals involved in the Revolution Muslim website and decided to get involved in a plot once he came across what he thought was a fellow radical. Pimental was seemingly obsessed with Anwar al Awlaki, and had apparently tried to reach out to him, but to no avail. Oddly enough, in that case the FBI declined to become involved leaving the case in the NYPD’s jurisdiction hinting that Pimental was not that dangerous (an odd conclusion given the similarities to the Khalifi case). Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly backed their forces, however, declaring Pimental a “ total lone wolf.”

This approach to capturing violent Islamist cells is not a particularly new one for American forces. While I may have missed some cases, scanning old reports and lists on the topic of disrupted terrorist plots in the US, it seems to me as though the first plot involving unaffiliated individuals who were caught using a confidential informant involved Shahawar Matin Siraj and James Elshafay who were planning to bomb a subway station in New York City in August 2004. In that case, a police agent, who allegedly offered his services to trawl through New York’s Muslim community to identify Muslims who were bringing a bad name to his religion, was key in securing the convictions.

However, it seems as though Siraj had voiced his ideas to others prior to the agent and had another co-conspirator James Elshafay, a mentally troubled individual who volunteered to plant a bomb. In other words, Siraj was moving in a dangerous direction with others even prior to meeting the agent. While it is true that the agent might have acted like a final trigger into moving him into action, he was not operating in a total vacuum with the agents acting as his only contacts to other extremists prepared to do something.

When we look at a case like Khalifi’s, there are a number of key differences. In his case, Khalifi’s entire connection to the al Qaeda cell he thought he was part of was fictitious. Unlike Siraj whom it seems was both voicing his opinions, but also in contact with others willing to carry out violence, Khalifi seems to have been willing to voice his radical ideas but was not in contact with any others eager to follow the path he eventually took, until he encountered the federal agents.

But the purpose here is not to condemn the use of confidential informants or undercover agents – but instead to focus on whether we can really call such individuals lone wolves and what effect this approach is having on reducing this problem.

The answer to the first question is clearly negative: these individuals cannot really be called “lone wolves” since they were really not acting alone. They were part of what they thought was a cell. That this turned out to be mostly federal agents is important as it complicates whether we can confidently say that they would have chosen this path independently and acted as “lone wolf” terrorists. The answer is we cannot – we shall never know whether they would have chosen this path without the group around them. Certainly we can look at the individual’s readiness to move into action with some level of concern, but we cannot confidently say they would have done this absent the contacts with agents.

It is easy to understand why enforcement agencies favor this sort of an approach. Lone Wolf terrorists are very hard to spot and identify before they move into action – this approach draws out individuals who seem to be moving in this direction and merely gives them the tools to hang themselves by their own petards. In this way it is pre-emptive. For example, someone like Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the 19-year-old Portland, Oregon Somali who tried to blow up a vehicle bomb at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in late 2010. According to court documents, Osman was trying to make contact with radicals in Pakistan to try to join them to fight jihad. Having identified him, federal agents moved in and in the end Osman decided to try to carry out an attack within America.

In a case like Osman’s it is easy to see the logic behind a pre-emptive approach. Osman was clearly interested in making contact and joining radicals abroad. Conviction on the basis of this sort of contact is no doubt hard to prove; so sending agents in to understand the individual better makes some sense. That this then led to him wanting to carry out a plot within the US is one outcome this can lead to – whether Osman suggested it or the agents did is something that will no doubt come out in trial. Pimental had tried to reach out to other radicals (including Anwar al Awlaki allegedly), but it is not clear whether this is also the case with Khalifi.

The other logic behind such operations is the notion of deterrence. If you catch and convict some individuals like this, it serves as an example to the other potential ones out there. Siraj received a 30-year sentence for his crime, and Osman, Pimental and Khalifi are looking at similar sentences. And unlike Europe, where long sentences can be reduced with good behavior, etc, in the United States, long terms means a long time in a prison where prosecutors openly admit same sex rape is common.

But the deterrence case somewhat falls down when we consider how long the United States has been pursuing such individuals and how they continue to appear. If we take the Siraj case as a first example – we can see how since 2006 (on the basis of when he was incarcerated versus arrested) examples have been publicly made of what is going to happen to you if you wander down this path and how there are agents out there seeking to catch you. And yet we have continued to see cases occur with this latest pair merely the most recent in a long list. Of course it is possible that there would have been many more, and that in fact the relatively small number we see is a reflection that in fact this deterrent effect is working, but this is another statistic that will be impossible to ever prove.

There is no clean answer to this discussion. One solution I have advocated is that police and intelligence agencies should identify such people and then instead of moving in with a team to catch them doing something bad, send in a team to dissuade them from doing anything. Make it obvious to them that they are wandering down a dangerous path and they should get off it. This might scare some sense into them and lead them to choosing another path. It might also have the opposite effect in some cases, but I am certain if an intervention is handled properly, it could save a lot of time and effort from courts, prisons and intelligence agencies.

But to return to the question I started this whole post off with: when is a lone wolf a lone wolf? He can be considered a “lone wolf” terrorist when he tries to carry out a terrorist act by himself or herself, without any support or command and control from known or unknown networks. To call individuals like Jose Pimental or Amine el Khalifi “Lone Wolves” is a misinterpretation of the term that is only going to complicate the struggle in identifying such individuals that really are “Lone Wolves.” The real “lone wolves” are people like Khalid Aldawsari, the Saudi student in Texas whose romantic and poetic blog masked a desire to build a bomb to attack America. He quietly worked away on his plot until he tried to purchase chemicals from an attentive seller. They reported him to authorities and he was subsequently arrested and is now awaiting trial. People like Jose Pimental or Amine el Khalifi may indeed have been potential “lone wolves” in the future, but the reality is we shall never know whether they were actually going to go down this path or not.

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

Whither al Suri?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new article for 东房早报 (the Oriental Morning Post) the Chinese newspaper I sometimes contribute to about what China faces with regards the Middle East and the fall-out from the so-called Arab Spring of last year. I have also been doing a few media appearances, including being quoted in an article for Voice of America about recent troubles in Xinjiang and Chinese cultural influence in Kyrgyzstan for Eurasianet. Also, my recent piece for HSToday about Lone Wolves has been reproduced in a few places, including this digested version of it for a specialist site.

The article can be found here, and below is the English I submitted and under that is the text in Chinese for those able to read it and compare the differences.

China and the Arab Spring

This has been the year of great drama in the Arab world. Old certainties were pushed aside as Hosni Mubarak was reduced from Pharaoh to an old man being wheeled into a courtroom on a bed and the defiant Muammar Gadaffi was stripped and shot while hiding in a sewer. A new world order is being shaped, but what remains unclear is what exactly China’s role in this order will be.

At a conference in May this year, a Chinese friend angrily berated the government for being so slow to respond to events in Libya. While he was impressed by the rapidity with which they had been able to evacuate the 35,000 or so Chinese workers in the country, he was distinctly unimpressed by how long it had taken the government to reach out and make contact with the rebels.

And even once China did make contact with rebels, stories were also to emerge that China was maintaining contact with the old Gadhafi regime. In one widely reported case that was subsequently admitted by the government, documents obtained by the press showed that Chinese arms manufacturers were holding discussions with the Gadhafi regime as late as July 16, 2011 to provide supplies for the Colonel’s forces. This taking place a month after Beijing had hosted NTC leader Mahmoud Jibril to discuss China’s interests in Libya.

On the one hand, being friendly with both sides is something that is a strategically safe bet. By keeping everyone happy, you are able to theoretically focus on your interests and not become involved in local rivalries. But on the other hand, this can leave you in a situation where you are seen to be supporting an unpopular regime. Something highlighted when a friend from Beirut reported in response to a question about how China was perceived by the “Arab street” during this time, that China was not seen in a very positive light. Protesters taking up against regimes like Mubarak’s or Gadhafi’s were noticing that the regime had received weapons and equipment from China. They also did not appreciate the sense that it was a result of Chinese foot-dragging that the United Nations did not become involved sooner.

All of which illustrates quite tidily the problem that China faces when looking at how to react to the Arab Spring. The long-standing non-interference principle dictates that China cannot take an active role in getting involved in other nation’s internal problems. But this is a stand that will protect it from becoming entangled in situations like Iraq, but at the same time, it means that when an unhappy populace rises up against its leadership, it is equally likely that China will find itself backing the wrong side in the local public mind.

The problem for China with the non-interference principle is that sometimes in not choosing, China has made a decision or can be interpreted as making a choice. So when China chooses to avoid supporting sanctions through an abstention, it is in fact tacitly agreeing with the sanctions and therefore supporting the side that would want the sanctions. But it is doing this in a grudging fashion that suggests that in fact it disagrees with the idea of imposing the sanctions. Currently this is most visible in Iran and Syria where the Chinese government’s ongoing refusal to support strengthened sanctions against either country is something that is blocking the west from advancing sanctions themselves. The problem for China is that while at the moment this can seem a safe bet given the fact that it is not only China that is blocking sanctions, in the longer run it could leave China in an awkward situation should the regime be replaced.

Let us look for example at Syria, the off-shoot of the Arab Spring that is most likely to dominate news cycles in the next year. After a refusal to support UN resolutions condemning Bashar al-Assad’s regime, China ended the year by supporting a Russian proposal that in equal measure apportioned blame for the current trouble on the rebels and government. Earlier shifts only came after the Arab League had moved to condemn the regime in Damascus – theoretically reflecting a broader regional condemnation and therefore a regional consensus that China could agree with and therefore be seen as part of the mainstream.

This is a careful approach that is designed to give the appearance of not supporting oppression while at the same time not advocating regime change. Instead, the desire is to project a vision of China that is supportive of whomever is in charge, irrespective of their political leanings. The logic is that once the dust settles, China can sweep in with its deep pockets and focus on its interests and avoid having to choose sides. And certainly for some in Libya this is the case: as Abdul Rahman Busin, a spokesman for the NTC put it, “we all need to remember that China is a superpower. We all rely on products that come from China. We would have hoped they would have been on our side….but if it is the interests of the Libyan people to deal with China, then we will deal with China. It is very expensive and time consuming trying to settle old scores.”

But what does this say of China as a global power? Part of the reason why European forces engaged in Libya was a recognition that they had until then been supporting an oppressive regime and that it was a stain on Europe’s character. Once Gadhafi started to talk about going from house to house wiping out dissidents, it became clear that Europe was on the wrong side and leaders moved swiftly to get UN authorization to protect Misrata and Benghazi. While the decision to impose a no-fly zone was one that was contentious within Europe – Germany chose to abstain from the resolution – the end result was that the no-fly zone was voted for and imposed. This led to subsequent events and Gadhafi’s toppling.

China’s decision to sit, with Germany and others, in the abstention box, was ultimately neither here nor there. By refusing to take a position, China ultimately did take a position since it did nothing to try to stop the no-fly zone from being imposed. As a result, China ended up supporting what took place in Libya without accruing any of the international credibility that accompanied the vote. Instead, China was seen as being uncertain whether it really was a good idea to save the floundering rebellion and unaware of the consequences of its decision-making in the UNSC.

The question that China needs to confront in this coming year is what kind of an international player it is going to be. In this past year, it has shown that it is an international player – operations off Somalia show a capacity to conduct operations within an international framework (something already shown in the many peacekeeping operations China participates in), voting on sanctions against Libya shows it can choose sides when it wants to, the 10th year anniversary of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) show that it can create a regional security framework, and its work in Sudan helped ensure that the partion of the country was a largely peaceful event. The world knows that China has deep pockets and impressive capabilities to develop infrastructure, but the question is what sort of a leadership role is China going to take in the new world order.

Nowhere will this test become clearer in this coming year than in Iran and Syria – two countries long at odds with the western world and ruled by regimes of dubious legitimacy. This year it seems possible that we will finally reach a climax on both. For Iran, the signals that it is nearing capability to build nuclear devices are becoming ever clearer, while for Syria it seems likely that the Assad regime will eventually succumb to pressure and either crack-down more heavily and violently in a way that the international community cannot deny or simply collapse. And these late echoes of this past year’s Arab Spring will have a direct impact on China’s interests, something that China would do well to try to get ahead of rather than subsequently follow.

Up until now, China has been able to sit back and watch world events happen while it hedges by making friends with both sides. This is something that has been made possible by the willingness of western powers to step in and take leadership roles to make situations develop in positive directions. But in the coming year, austerity and domestic elections will become the priority concerns, meaning that China might find that its previous cover is blown. 2012 marks a new leadership direction in Beijing – let us hope that this leadership includes a more proactive stance in international affairs. The world is crying out for greater Chinese leadership; let the next generation of leaders be those to take China onto the world stage.

2012年中国面临的中东挑战

过去的一年是阿拉伯世界经历大变局的一年:穆巴拉克从“法老”变成了躺在床上被推进法庭的老头;从来不可一世的卡扎菲躲进了下水道,并在毙命前被羞辱……过去的一套法则被颠覆,新的世界秩序正被重塑,但中国在这一秩序中究竟将扮演怎样的角色还远不清楚。

比如,尽管中国政府从利比亚撤离35000多人的速度和能力令世人印象深刻,不过,中国政府向利比亚反对派伸出橄榄枝的步伐却没那么快。

一方面,“两头不得罪”在战略上是安全的。从理论上讲,让所有人都高兴,可以让人能够专注于自身利益,而不必卷入地区冲突之中。但另一方面,这种做法可能置人于一种不利的境地。

以上这些都非常清楚地展现了中国在思考如何应对“阿拉伯之春”的问题时所面临的困扰。长期秉持的“不干涉原则”限定了中国不可能积极地介入其他国家的内部问题。

“不干涉原则”给中国带来的问题还在于,“不选择”有时候也表明中国已经做出了决定,或可能被认为是做出了选择。所以,当中国选择通过弃权来避免支持对某国进行制裁时,表示它心照不宣地对制裁采取了赞成的立场,由此事实上也就支持了想要推行制裁的一方。而以不情愿的方式采取行动,则暗示其不赞成采取制裁。眼下,这一点最显著地体现在伊朗和叙利亚事件上,中国政府拒绝支持对任何一国实施进一步的制裁,这阻碍了西方推进制裁的脚步。

让我们以叙利亚为例。在新的一年里,这一场“阿拉伯之春”的独幕戏最有可能占据新闻头条。中国拒绝支持谴责大马士革阿萨德政权的相关决议,并在2011年年底前对俄罗斯的提议——将叙利亚出现乱局的责任分摊到反对派和政府身上,各打五十大板——表达了支持。这是一种谨慎的处理方式,表明中国一方面不支持压迫人民的做法,与此同时,也不主张政权更替。当然,对于利比亚的某些人而言,这的确如此,如同利比亚全国过渡委员会发言人Abdul-Rahman Busin所言:“我们都需要记住,中国是一个超级大国。我们都依赖来自中国的产品。我们希望他们能够站在我们一边……但如果与中国打交道符合利比亚人民的利益,我们将和中国打交道。力图解决过去的矛盾既耗费资本,又浪费时间。”

过去的一年,中国已经展现了国际大国的形象:索马里海域的巡航行动显示了中国具有在国际框架下执行(军事)任务的能力(这在中国参与的多项维和行动中同样得以展示);在利比亚制裁决议上投赞成票表明必要时中国能够“选边站”;上合组织成立十周年展示了中国具有创建地区安全框架的能力;在苏丹开展的外交工作确保了该国的分而治之得以和平进行……全世界都知道了中国拥有巨大的财富和惊人的基建能力,但问题是新世界秩序之下,中国将扮演怎样的领导角色。

新的一年里,没有什么比伊朗和叙利亚事件更能明晰地考验中国在国际角色扮演上的选择。这一年里,两起事件似乎都可能达到顶点。就伊朗而言,越发逼近制造核武器能力的信号已然清晰;而在叙利亚,阿萨德政权可能将最终迫于压力,或发起更大程度和更为暴力的镇压行动,或轰然倒台。刚刚过去的2011年“阿拉伯之春”的回响对中国外交将产生直接的影响,中国会竭力提前采取行动,而不是在事后再跟着形势走。

直至目前,通过与两边交朋友,中国得以能够“袖手旁观”且静观世界风云变幻。但这种局面得以可能的前提是西方强国愿意介入和发挥领导作用以推动局势向积极方向发展的情况之下。

在新的一年里,经济拮据和国内选举将成为各主要强国的首要关切,这意味着,中国可能发现这些之前的掩护已经不复存在。

2012年对于中国而言,将开启新的篇章,全世界迫切需要中国发挥更大的领导作用,期待中国在国际事务中采取更加积极的立场。

(张娟 译)

“全世界都知道了中国拥有巨大的财富和惊人的基建能力,但问题是新世界秩序之下,中国将扮演怎样的领导角色。

2012年对于中国而言,将开启新的篇章,全世界迫切需要中国发挥更大的领导作用,期待中国在国际事务中采取更加积极的立场。”

A new outlet, CNN’s Security Clearance blog, on an old topic: Lone Wolves and how exactly to define them using a couple of cases from earlier in the month. Not exactly a very seasonal topic, but terrorism seems to never stop.

Lone attacker or lone wolf?

By Raffaello Pantucci, Special to CNN

EDITOR’S NOTE: Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), and the author of a recent report “A Typology of Lone Wolves: Preliminary Analysis of Lone Islamist Terrorists“.

Recently the world saw two horrendous attacks on the streets of Europe. In Italy, Gianluca Casseri opened fire with a large handgun amid crowded tourist markets in central Florence. Two days later, Nordine Amrani opened fire with machine guns and grenades in central Liege, Belgium as citizens enjoyed a Christmas market.

Coming in the wake of Anders Behring Breivik’s massacre in Oslo earlier this year and numerous arrests in the US of individuals alleged to be planning solo terrorist attacks, this seems to be the year of the Lone Attacker.

But are these individuals terrorists or are they twisted individuals who are taking their vengeance on society for their own demented reasons?

The answer is a bit of both. Clearly, it takes a damaged mind to decide to kill at random. But such actions also instil terror in the civilian population affected. However, these acts on their own do not create a terrorist – that is normally defined as the use of violence against civilians to advance a political cause. An individual who is driven by personal demons to carry out an act of mass murder is different to someone who carries out such an act under the guise of a political ideology.

And so we can distinguish between Gianluca Casseri and Nordine Amrani. Casseri was a long-standing right-wing Italian who went out and targeted Senegalese vendors as they peddled their wares in central Florence, while Amrani was a petty criminal who seems to have snapped after a summons to the local police station. Their actions may have been similar – killing people at random and then taking their own lives – but the motivations at this early stage in the investigations seem to have been different. One seems to have been inspired by a xenophobic ideology, the other by personal demons.

For police, a lone shooter who simply snaps is almost impossible to predict or prevent, but an individual who is inspired by a twisted ideology may leave traces that can be detected. Usually, he or she will have made contact at some point with other extremists; or if acting alone may display suspicious behavior the local community would likely pick up on. Obtaining weapons is not always easy (guns frequently require permits or interaction with the unreliable criminal underworld) and bomb-making chemicals tend to be on watch-lists – as Saudi student Khalid Aldawsari discovered when he tried to purchase some in Texas.

From a citizen’s perspective, the distinction is equally important – a lone killer going on the rampage in a city center is one thing, but a methodical murderer driven by a clear if contorted ideology or prejudice can expose social tensions. Norwegians united in the wake of Breivik’s massacre, but in Florence, Senegalese vendors refused to believe police claims that Casseri had shot himself until one of them was brought to see the body. Believing Italian society to be predominantly racist and against them, their instinct was to suspect a cover-up was taking place – exactly the sort of social frictions Casseri was likely seeking to instigate.

The trend towards such lone killers or terrorists appears to be on the increase. Terrorist ideologies of all descriptions recognize the strategic utility of single-actor plots – they reduce the potential for detection and potentially multiply the impact. As we have seen this past week, a single attacker is able to sow considerable terror and hold. Another concern is the growing ease with which individuals can assemble increasingly complex bombs and then plan attacks. Anders Behring Breivik is an example of this perfect storm coming together, and in the wake of his attack police forces and security services globally have revisited the potential threat from such lone wolf terrorists.

Radical and militant ideas continue to hold sway among a small minority; and deranged individuals are an age-old part of society.

Understanding the distinction between the two is important – both to help prevent attacks by individuals and to try to minimize the damage they can do to our societies.

A short post for HSToday about Lone Wolves, this time offering some thoughts on the countering them aspect. Some more considered and substantial thoughts on this in the pipeline.

What Can Be Done About Lone Wolves?

By: Raffaello Pantucci

12/20/2011 ( 9:47am)

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently vocalized a threat that has preoccupied security planners. She said “the thing that’s most noticeable to me is the growth of the lone wolf.”

The threat from lone wolf terrorists isn’t new, but ever since Anders Behring Breivik’s successful massacre in Oslo in July, security planners’ concerns have been kicked up a gear as they realized just how grim an effective Lone Wolf attacker could be. And effectively countering them remains an elusive art.

Preventing lone wolves is something that is inherently difficult. An individual who sits at home passively consuming literature they find online and then decides to construct a bomb or some other lethal device using commonly available material is very hard to detect or prevent. The usual trip-wires that are in place to catch individuals who are in communication with networks of radicals abroad are not triggered. And if these individuals are careful enough, it is perfectly possible for them to stay under the radar until they decide to carry out their act.

Take for example Roshonara Choudhry, who, according to her own account, radicalized on a diet of Anwar Al Awlaki videos and tried to kill a Member of Parliament who’d voted for the Iraq War.

Similarly, Arid Uka radicalized online and traveled to Frankfurt airport where he shot dead two US servicemen deploying to Afghanistan.

Within the US, we’ve seen the reputed radicalization of Nidal Hassan and Abdulhakim Mujahid. Hassan was a disgruntled US Army officer who killed 13 in a shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas. Abdulhakim Mujahid was a former convict who opened fire on a recruiting station in Little Rock, Arkansas, killing one soldier and critically wounding another. Evidence indicates both men had some level of connection to Al Qaeda networks abroad. It’s unclear whether they were commanded by the terrorist group to carry out their alleged attacks.

The problem from a counterterrorist’s perspective is how do you detect and prevent radicalized individuals from engaging in jihad? If they’ve maintained good operational security, then the first time they will appear on radars will be when they carry out their plot – and that’s something that’s clearly too late for counterterrorists.

Consequently, there’s been a surge of efforts by different forces globally to engage this specific threat. In the United Kingdom, the approach has been to push community actors, social workers, teachers, hospital staff and others to be alert to the potential for disaffected individuals and to set up a program called the Channel Project under which at-risk individuals can be identified and dissuaded early from taking the path they seem to be headed toward.

Several hundred young people who were identified by their community have gone through the process. While this approach clearly also will snare individuals who might get involved in complex networks, the idea is to cast a net that is wide enough to identify individuals who might be operating beyond these networks.

In contrast, in France, a different approach is taken. There, individuals are arrested and prosecuted on the basis of being involved in terrorist plotting. No distinction is made as to whether they are acting alone or not – the focus is on the fact that they have broken the law, an approach that is reliant on radicalized persons showing up on law enforcement radar before they carry out a terrorist attack.

France moves to detain individuals on the basis of suspicion or loose contacts with extremists, and so far, this procedure seems to be working.

For the United States, the approach has been to identify individuals, usually through their online activity, and then send in teams of covert agents to establish what it is the individual might be planning. When an individual proves to be a radical who seems to be working on a terrorist attack, the federal undercover agents will usually assist the individual in order to establish a documented record of a person’s actions that can be used in court.

A perfect example of is the recent case of Jose Pimentel, a 27-year-old New Yorker who was arrested for building pipe bombs that he allegedly planned to use to avenge the death of his hero, Anwar al Awlaki.

A quintessential computer-jihadist, Pimentel operated a website where he posted radical material and spent considerable time gathering jihadist-related materials from the Internet. Alerted to him, police put him under surveillance two years ago. Eventually, police sent in an undercover agent to ascertain just how serious Pimentel was and to help authorities catch him on video building a bomb.

Currently awaiting trial, Pimentel appears to be a case of lone jihadi radicalization that has become all too familiar in the US.

But while this approach has proven very effective in catching would-be terrorists, it is not at all clear whether it is something that actually is eliminating – or accelerating – the problem of lone wolf terrorism. For example, a question that cannot be answered is whether Pimentel would have continued down his path in trying to carry out a terrorist attack without the instigation of the undercover police officer. By all accounts, Pimentel was an isolated individual who alarmed other radicals with his rants and rarely left his mother’s house where he lived and was an occasional drug user.

None of this, though, points to a hardened radical who would have been capable of mounting an attack like Anders Behring Breivik. However, once Pimentel had what he believed was a fellow plotter to conspire with, he moved into action. And this raises the awkward question of whether some lone wolves are actually being created by the very counterterrorist operations that are supposed to prevent them from becoming true lone wolf terrorists.

The approach of identifying possible lone wolves and then persuading them that they are part of a plot might be having the effect of turning armchair observers into active radicals. Who is to say they would have progressed to the point of actually carrying out an attack if they had not had the support of the network of undercover law enforcement operatives around them?

The problem of lone wolves is that it does not yet have a perfect solution. And as the problem evolves, many more strategies to try to counter them will be necessary. But the root of the problem continues to be the Al Qaeda ideology that many lone wolves claim to be followers of, and that continues to find resonance among young western Muslims.

Until this ideology fades, we will continue to see the emergence of more lone jihadists.

Raffaello Pantucci is London Correspondent for Homeland Security Today and an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR). He is author of the recent report, A Typology of Lone Wolves: Preliminary Analysis of Lone Islamist Terrorists.