Posts Tagged ‘online extremism’

I had a feature piece in today’s Observer newspaper in the wake of the Foley murder this week. This time focusing on the online reactions amongst the jihadi twittersphere to the murder and putting it in a wider context. For some reason, the piece appeared in the Observer app and newspaper, but not online yet. However, the editors have generously allowed me to repost it here. I did a number of interviews around this as well, but many have not yet appeared online. One for the Sunday Mail has shown up and another for a Columbian magazine called Semana. More undoubtedly on this general topic to come.

Extremists preach to the converted and bid to provoke a global reaction

Observer screenshot_August 2014

“What a beautiful message to America!” said Qaqa Britani, a Mancunian jihadist fighting in Syria  in response to the videoed murder of James Foley last week. Agreeing with him, another British fighter using the twitter handle @muhajirbritanni proclaimed “Allahu akbar, the best IS video so far, a message to america, Masha Allah Allahu akbar”. While incomprehensible to most people, the justifications offered by these fighters provide a view into their thinking, one that while at odds with public opinion has a warped logic that sustains them as they fight alongside Isis.

It is not the first time that Qaqa Britani has found notoriety for posting pictures of beheadings. Earlier this month he posted a picture of someone holding up a decapitated Assad regime fighter with the declaration “another nusayri head. We strike terror into their hearts by Allah’s permission!” In a nod to the fact that he was doing this for an audience, he then offered an apology for the bad lighting, stating “sorry my camera doesn’t have a flash”.

A couple of weeks later, another British fighter, identified as former rap MC Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, posted a picture of himself in Raqqa holding up a severed head with the statement “chillin’ with my other homie, or what’s left of him”.

By highlighting that these deaths have been done in the name of their god, the men are pointing to the strength and purity of their cause. For them, the murder of James Foley was an act that taunted the world and showed their power and the relative weakness of the American government, which was unable to prevent it.

Others took a different reaction to the murder, falling back instead into spurious comparisons. One pro-Isis twitter account @abulooz22 said: “2035 Palestians killed….barely a reaction 1 American killed…..World on IS.”

A British fighter using the name Abu Abdullah Britani, who is linked to the Rayat al Tawheed cluster of Brits fighting in Syria who have been responsible for a number of gruesome videos that have attracted public attention, took a similar approach, stating: “A brother severed one body part and the world went nuts. A drone severes a body into a hundred pieces but no one says nothing. #cheapBlood.”

These kinds of comparisons are typical of extremist narratives. Seeing the world through a narrow lens of confrontation between the west and Sunni Islam, all they are interested in is supporting evidence they selectively find around them.

Most grim of the reactions found to the video of Foley’s murder was that of British extremists who revelled in pride at the fact that it appeared to be one of their number in the video. “Beheaded by a British brother! What an honour!’ declared Qaqa Britani, while Abul Muthanna, believed to be the account of one of a group from Cardiff, reacted to a question about the video saying “lol the bruddas went on a mad one here, that british brother allahumma barik alayh what a lion!”

For those fighting in Syria, the narratives they broadcast through social media are aimed at people who already agree with them, as well as provoking a reaction from the world at large. Their aim is to justify, and the more extreme the justification, the more likely it is to generate a reaction. In this way, their narrative becomes debated and increasingly brought into the public conversation. Suddenly their extreme ideas are being pulled into the mainstream.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of International Security Studies, Royal United Services Institute

A new post for Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, exploring western jihobbyists use of the Internet and their connections with radical groups. I have a longer book chapter on a similar topic forthcoming – exploring the history of use of the Internet. A topic ripe for further contemplation I think – any tips for interesting articles warmly appreciated.

The jihad will be YouTubed

By Raffaello Pantucci | Thursday, December 15, 2011 | 11:23AM

Two weeks ago, 24-year-old Pakistani-American Jubair Ahmad admitted that he had been making videos for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) from his Woodbridge, Virginia home under the direction of LeT leader Hafiz Saeed’s son Talha. Around the same time, governments on both sides of the Atlantic published findings into the link between online activity and terrorism. In the United Kingdom, the Home Office published a paper that concluded “the internet does not appear to play a significant role in AQIR [al Qaeda influenced radicalization],” while in the United States, at a hearing on the Hill, RAND terrorism guru Brian Michael Jenkins concluded that jihadist websites “may create virtual armies, but these armies remain virtual.” But while the link between turning individuals from passive consumers into active terrorists may be weak, cases like that of Jubair Ahmad show the important role this virtual army can play in magnifying the message of al-Qaeda and affiliated groups.

Jubair Ahmed is not the first Western individual who has helped establish websites or created video content in support of radical groups. One of the earliest was U.K.-based www.azzam.com, established in 1996, which provided a point from which groups in Afghanistan and Chechnya could broadcast their message while also telling potential recruits how to contact the groups. In addition,www.azzam.com  (using the moniker Azzam Publications) helped produce a series of videos and cassette tapes about the fighting in Bosnia and Chechnya that venerated fighters in the field.

By the mid-2000s, the Internet had become a more viable vehicle through which videos could not only be sold, but also streamed and downloaded. Recognizing the value of getting footage from the field out as quickly as possible, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was at the forefront of a new practice, turning videos into slick packages that could be uploaded onto radical forums. But what was most interesting was the revelation in late 2005 that British police in London had found a young Moroccan who turned out to be the infamous online jihadist known as Irhabi007 (terrorist007). Using this online handle, Younis Tsouli had set himself up as a key webmaster and designer for AQI, and was notorious for being able to find the webspace needed to publish the grim video American contractor Nicholas Berg’s beheading.

The novel aspect in Tsouli’s case was the fact that AQI leaders noticed his online abilities and started to use him as a key outlet for their material. There have been numerous other Western webmasters for important al-Qaeda linked websites – for example, in Belgium, Malika el-Aroud ran MinbarSoS, a website that provided a forum to recruit French-speaking Muslims to fight in Afghanistan. From the sunny Costa Blanca in Spain, Faical Errai helped run ansaraljihad.net, and provided assistance for radicals seeking to get to Afghanistan and Chechnya. But Tsouli appears to have been one of the first Western residents to have been actively solicited by groups in the field for his technical abilities.

And since Tsouli, we have seen al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) use the skills of a young Pakistani-American radical blogger, Samir Khan, to help them produce Inspire magazine – a publication that has repeatedly shown up in the hands of recently arrested terrorist plotters. Khan and his American-Yemeni mentor Anwar al-Awlaki are now both dead, but in a reflection of the importance that AQAP placed upon al-Awlaki’s capacity to reach a Western audience through new media, communications found during the U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani compound allegedly include an offer from AQAP leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi to put al-Awlaki in charge of the regional group. Bin Laden declined the request, possibly highlighting the different level of importance he placed upon new media capabilities in comparison to his regional affiliate leader.

A particularly surprising aspect of the Jubair Ahmad case is the volume of micromanagement that Talha Saeed put into creating the video. He tells Ahmad what images to include (not ones from the group’s infamous Mumbai attack), where to insert images of his father, the LeT leader, and what music to have over the video. Saeed is obliged to get someone in America to do the technical work for him – quite a long distance from which to direct the production of a short YouTube video using easily available technology – which likely reflects a greater facility with such technology had by people brought up in the West.

Just how easy it is to create these videos was seen recently in a case in the United Kingdom in which a law student, Mohammad Gul, was convicted of producing YouTube videos that glorified terrorist violence. While clearly the technology to make such videos is something that is universal, it does seem as though it is aspirant jihadists in the West who find it easiest to use. There was no evidence that Gul was being directed by foreign terrorist organizations to produce his material, and his case shows the continued existence of young Westerners producing radical material on their own. It may indeed be the case that the virtual armies have yet to fully emerge as active warriors on the battlefield, but in the meantime they are doing a great deal to keep the jihadist flame alive on the Web, either by themselves or at the direction of organized parties.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center 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). His writing can be found at:http://www.raffaellopantucci.com.

A new piece for Jamestown looking at a case currently ongoing in the UK against a Bangladeshi chap who may or may not have been in contact with Anwar al-Awlaki. An interesting case, and I have a feeling the fact he confessed to the JMB charges will probably play against him.

Al-Awlaki Recruits Bangladeshi Militants for Strike on the United States

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 7
February 17, 2011 04:43 PM Age: 3 hrs

Rajib Karim, Bangladeshi national resident in the UK who pled guilty to charges of assisting Jamaat ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

Rajib Karim, a 31-year-old Bangladeshi national resident in the United Kingdom, pled guilty on January 31 to charges of assisting Bangladeshi terrorist group Jamaat ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). Confessing to helping produce and distribute videos on behalf of the JMB, sending money for terrorist purposes and offering himself for terror training abroad, Karim’s admission was made public at the beginning of a trial against him at Woolwich Crown Court in suburban London (Press Association [London], January 31; BdNews24.com [Dhaka], February 2).

Founded in 1998, the JMB is the largest extremist group in Bangladesh. The movement has expressed its opposition to democracy, socialism, secularism, cultural events, public entertainment and women’s rights through hundreds of bombings within Bangladesh. Though banned in 2005, the movement is believed to still maintain ties with various Islamist groups in the country.

On trial for further charges of preparing acts of terrorism in the UK, it has been suggested in the press that Karim was identified by the Home Secretary as a suspected agent for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) (Press Association, November 3, 2010). [1]

According to information released at the opening of his trial, Karim first came to the UK in 2006 with his wife to seek a hospital for their child who was sick with what they thought was cancer (Guardian, February 2). The child got better and by September of the next year Karim had secured a position in a British Airways trainee scheme in Newcastle. According to the prosecution, he established himself as a sleeper agent in the UK, making “a very conscious and successful effort to adopt this low profile.” He kept his beard short, did not become involved in local Muslim groups, did not express radical views, played football locally, went to the gym and was described by people who knew him as “mild-mannered, well-educated and respectful” (Newcastle Evening Chronicle, February 2).

Much of the prosecution’s information on Karim appears to come from electronic communications between himself and his brother Tehzeeb that the police were able to find on Karim’s hard-drive. According to the prosecutor’s opening statement, Tehzeeb was also a long-term radical for JMB who travelled in 2009 with two others from Bangladesh to Yemen to seek out Anwar al-Awlaki (Press Association, February 1). Once connected with Awlaki, Tehzeeb told the Yemeni-American preacher of his brother. Awlaki recognized the benefits of having such a contact in place and in January 2010, the preacher is said to have emailed Karim, saying “my advice to you is to remain in your current position….I pray that Allah may grant us a breakthrough through you [to find] limitations and cracks in airport security systems.” The preacher apparently found the brothers of such importance that he sent them a personal voice message to counter claims of his death that had circulated in December 2009 (Press Association, February 2).

It seems as though Karim was in contact with extremist commanders long before this. According to the prosecution’s case, anonymous “terror chiefs abroad” wanted him to remain in his British Airways job as far back as November 2007 and to become a “managing director” for them. In an email exchange with his brother at around this time, the two discussed whether a small team could also “be the beginning of another July Seven;” a supposed reference to the July 7, 2005 terrorist attacks on London’s underground system (Press Association, February 2). It is unclear at the moment who these terror chiefs were, though it has been suggested Karim was in contact with Awlaki for more than two years.

By early 2011, Karim had become of greater concern to British police. His emails to his brother indicated that he was becoming restless and wanted to go abroad to fight. He had apparently spoken to his wife about this prospect, reporting to his brother that he “told her if she wants to, she can make hijrah [migration] with me and if the new baby dies or she dies while delivering, it is qadr Allah [predestined] and they will be counted as martyrs” (Press Association, February 2). He was also exchanging emails with Anwar al-Awlaki that indicated he had made contact with “two brothers [i.e. Muslims], one who works in baggage handling at Heathrow and another who works in airport security. Both are good practicing brothers and sympathize.” Awlaki was doubtless pleased to hear this, though he indicated, “our highest priority is the U.S. Anything there, even on a smaller scale compared to what we may do in the UK, would be our choice” (Daily Mail, February 2). It seems likely that the “brothers” referred to were those picked up by police in Slough a month after Karim’s arrest, though none were charged (The Times, March 4, 2010; Telegraph, March 10, 2010).

This message and others turned up after Metropolitan Police, with the assistance of Britain’s intelligence agencies, were able to crack the rather complex encryption system that Karim used to store his messages and information on his computers (Daily Star [Dhaka], February 15). Much of this now appears to be the foundation of the case against Karim beyond the charges he has already admitted to as a member of JMB. JMB has some history in the UK; acting on a British intelligence tip, Bangladeshi forces raided a charity-run school in March 2009 and found a large cache of weapons and extremist material. One of the key individuals involved in the charity was a figure who is believed to be a long-term British intelligence target. In another case, two British-Bangladeshi brothers allegedly linked to the banned British extremist group al-Muhajiroun were accused of giving the JMB money. [2] In neither case was there evidence the UK was targeted and it seems as though prosecutors in this current case are more eager to incarcerate Karim for his connections with Anwar al-Awlaki and AQAP than for his involvement with JMB abroad.

Notes:

1. Theresa May speech at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), November 3, 2010,www.rusi.org/news/,/ref:N4CD17AFA05486/.
2. “The Threat from Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh,” International Crisis Group, Asia Report no.187, March 1, 2010,  www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-asia/bangladesh/187_the_threat_from_jamaat_ul_mujahideen_bangladesh.ashx.

 

My latest for FreeRad!cals, looking at a largely unexplored case up north against a group calling themselves the Blackburn Resistance. Most of the chaps have already been released, and there is a bigger unexplored story here in how they were all picked up in the first place. Am working on something larger about this. Any pointers or thoughts welcome as ever!

The Blackburn Resistance

Filed under: Radicalisation, Terrorism, UK

Up North at Manchester Crown Court, brothers Abbas and Ilyas Iqbal have been found guilty this weekof charges relating to their the dissemination of material useful to terrorists and preparation of acts of terrorism. A third man, a white Muslim convert, was cleared of charges against him.

The men became dubbed the “Blackburn Resistance” after a video was uncovered on a mobile SIM card in Abbas Iqbal’s luggage as he tried to board a plane at Manchester airport. The clip showed the men running around a park in Blackburn in camouflage and seemingly imitating command training with As Sahab-type music in the background. At the beginning of the video the words the “Blackburn Resistance” featured prominently, and a voice intoned “They are fighting against oppression, they are The Blackburn Resistance.”

Alongside this footage and a wide array of other photos of the men brandishing or trying weapons out, a variety of knives, BB guns, an air rifle and pistol, crossbows and live ammunition were found with the men. Two documents entitled “attack planning” and “urban combat” were also found bearing the brothers fingerprints.

But while some of the pictures of the group are quite dramatic looking, the reality is that it is very hard to imagine this group as a cell of hardened terrorists. Cognizant of this, the prosecution was very careful to not paint the men in too heavy a light, recognizing that “some aspects of the material may at first blush seem almost comical in [their] amateurishness.” Nonetheless, they saw the group as “intoxicated by the evil of terrorism,” and actively preparing to disseminate recruiting material abroad.

The men ultimately received relatively light sentences, Abbas Iqbal, 24, was sentenced to two years in prison for the dissemination of terrorist publications, while his younger brother Ilyas, 23, was incarcerated for 18 months for possessing a document likely to be useful to a terrorist. Given he has spent almost that amount of time already on remand, Ilyas was released, while his older brother will still serve another three to four months. Their co-defendant was cleared on all charges having spent 387 days in custody. A fourth man picked up with them at the airport is still on trial in a separate case.

But it is hard to judge exactly how much of a victory this really is for counter-terrorists. This is not a cell of global travelers with contacts to Al Qaeda core, but rather a group of young men who through the internet and home computers were able to create an imitation set of videos and pictures of themselves dressing up as terrorists. That they may have later gone on to do something is of course perfectly possible, but as the prosecutor pointed out: “at the stage when they were stopped by police, they had not got very far.”

It is easy to see how this could play badly in the court of public opinion, where what even the prosecution described as “larking around in a park in Blackburn,” was painted as potential terrorist training. The fact they seem not to have been receiving much coverage in the press is a good thing, and probably the product of the fact that very few editors would have taken the group very seriously.

A final point I would add about these chaps, however, is how lucky they are to have been caught doing these acts in the UK – had they been nabbed for similar things in the U.S., they would probably be looking at very long stints inside.