Posts Tagged ‘online’

A very brief piece for the BBC as part of a group of pieces they commissioned about radicalisation and what to do about it in the wake of last week’s incident in Woolwich. It was longer, but got shrunk, and I owe colleagues at RUSI a debt for helping keep it focused.

Viewpoints: How should radicalisation be tackled?

Radicalisation is defined in the government’s Prevent strategy as “the process by which a person comes to support terrorism and forms of extremism leading to terrorism”.

It is a social process but also a deeply personal experience. The pathway by which one person is radicalised can have a completely different effect on someone else. This makes it very difficult to devise a one-size-fits-all answer to the problem. Instead, a menu of tools is necessary to address different causes.

Countering influences online and offline is harder than it might sound. Simply shutting down websites and arresting individuals do not necessarily eliminate the problem.

On the contrary, such moves can drive people underground, making them potentially more appealing and attractive, or they will simply adapt to be on the right side of any ban.

This is not just a law enforcement issue. As a society we need to counter the all-encompassing narrative that states that the West is at war with Islam. This is a message that should be repeatedly rejected at every level: politician, community worker, citizen.

Coupled with this, our societies should engage in practices that highlight how open and free we are, and hold power to account when mistakes are made.

The sad truth, however, is that certain decisions that are made will be interpreted by extremists as something that supports their worldview. Very little will be ultimately possible to persuade them otherwise.

The answer is to recognise and acknowledge where we make mistakes and realise that society will always have its discontents.

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.

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.

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.

Have been travelling where this is unaccessible for some reason, so there is going to be a bit of a blast now as I catch up with posting a bunch of things that were recently published in other places. First up, a longer article for Homeland Security Today magazine from their October edition, teeing up the current state of terrorism and other problems in the UK in the run up to next year’s Olympics in London. A longer piece next year focusing on that is in the works.

Seeking Balance In Britain

Just when it seemed the jihadist threat had faded, British authorities are facing challenges from both old and new sources.

By: Raffaello Pantucci

10/21/2011 (12:00am)

On July 11, Britain’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) reduced its threat level from “severe” to “substantial.”

“This means that a terrorist attack is a strong possibility and might well occur without further warning,” Home Secretary Theresa May cautioned while announcing the decision. “The change in the threat level to ‘substantial’ does not mean the overall threat has gone away—there remains a real and serious threat against the United Kingdom, and I would ask the public to remain vigilant.”

But it was not an organized terrorist act that would rock Britain this summer. On Aug. 4, in the Tottenham neighborhood of north London, police shot Mark Duggan, 29, an alleged gangster and drug dealer, when they attempted to arrest him. Police said he was resisting arrest, fired first and was killed in the exchange. The next evening crowds from the African and Caribbean communities in North London gathered to protest what they saw as a racially motivated shooting and general police persecution of local youth. However, some violent elements chose to hijack the peaceful protest and it rapidly raced out of control.

It was a stunning turn of events for a country that thought it had its threats under control and could even relax—even as it geared up security for the July 2012 Olympic Games.

Driven by crowds of marauding youths in London, then in Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool, the riots quickly escalated into mass-scale looting and burglary with police seemingly helpless to stop them. With costs in London alone estimated to be about £200 million ($330 million) and thousands arrested for their involvement, the rioting cast a shadow on the country as it prepared for the games.

The Olympics have long been identified as a potential terrorist target. As Jonathan Evans, director general of MI5, put it to the parliamentary committee tasked with oversight of the security services, “The eyes of the world will be on London during the Olympics…[and] those eyes will include some malign ones that will see an opportunity to gain notoriety and to inflict damage.” But the riots showed that it was not only terrorist threats that were a potential spoiler.

At press time, it remained unclear what exactly sparked the riots. Unsurprisingly, politicians tended to cast blame as it suited their political constituencies. Prime Minister David Cameron deployed a stern conservative response highlighting how “broken families” were to blame and that there was a “moral collapse” going on in the country. This reflected a line taken by Home Secretary Theresa May in the immediate wake of the riots when she referred to the rioting as “looting and thuggery” and promised a firm police response.

Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband, on the other hand, hinted that poverty likely played a role and that the excessive greed shown by bankers during the financial crisis fed the public rage that erupted so violently in early August. This echoed Labour’s London mayoral candidate (and former mayor) Ken Livingstone’s repeated claims on television as the riots took place that the austerity package passed by the government and the lack of job creation underlaid the troubles.

But while there was a lack of clarity about what caused the riots, it was clear that British police failed to maintain order in the capital city for considerable periods of time. As rioting spread beyond London to Birmingham, Manchester and other major cities, people started doubting the government’s capacity to maintain public order.

Regaining control

After the initial evening’s chaos in London, police took a heavy hand. The Metropolitan Police force flooded the streets with an additional 10,000 officers. Auxiliary officers were called in to support full-time staff and were asked to pull 12-hour, all-night shifts. Once the streets were reclaimed, the next move was to release thousands of still photos from closed circuit television cameras in city centers, asking the public to identify individual rioters.

Nevertheless, questions were asked about why things got so out of hand in the first place. One suggested reason was that the police had been distracted by the recent loss of a number of senior leaders in a tabloid newspaper phone hacking  and bribery scandal.

Acting police head Tim Goodwin reassured the public that police had the situation under control, but politicians concluded that not enough was being done and asked Bill Bratton, former head of both the New York and Los Angeles police departments, to come and provide his advice.

Meanwhile, former London Police Chief and current mayoral candidate Brian Paddick argued that Bratton’s hard-line approach was unlikely to work in the United Kingdom and may contravene the European Court of Human Rights. Instead, Paddick advocated a more holistic approach to policing in the UK. Underpinning all of this was a need “to give everyone enough of a stake in society that they feel they want to work within its norms and values … and a belief that the police can and will protect them,” said Paddick in an interview on CNN.

But overall, the general sense in London was that this spasm of violence was largely beyond comprehension. As reports came in of schoolteachers and affluent residents among those convicted for involvement in the rioting, the economic rationales became further confused. Londoners interviewed byHomeland Security Today varied in apportioning blame, with most calling it criminal youth taking advantage of a chaotic situation, while others pointed out how much more dramatic events were on television than in real life. What was clear, however, was there had been a dramatic loss of control by Britain’s police services—something they compensated for during the August Notting Hill carnival in central London. The annual festival has been a target for troublemakers in the past, but this time police arrived in heavy numbers in a show of strength—deploying as many officers as they did in the wake of the rioting and forcing the event to close an hour early.

An unchanging assessment

Security services felt on much surer ground when looking at the terrorist threat from Islamist extremists. For all the disorder of the riots, the government’s basic assessment of the jihadist terrorist threat did not change. On July 12, the Home Office issued CONTEST, its third Counterterrorism Strategy.

CONTEST highlighted that “international counterterrorism work since 9/11 has made considerable progress in reducing the threats we face. Al Qaeda is now significantly weaker than it has been for ten years.”

But at the same time, the threat has fragmented in a variety of different directions. Heightened threats emanate from al Qaeda affiliates globally and from Northern Irish dissident groups, as documented both by CONTEST and Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which oversees Britain’s intelligence community.

CONTEST was the culmination of a series of reviews of British counterterrorism strategy. In the weeks prior to its publication, the government published its review of the key “prevent” aspect of the strategy—the part that attempts to stop individuals from choosing a path of terrorism. It concluded that the strategy needed to be redefined.

This came in the wake of the coroner’s inquest into the July 7, 2005, bombings, which absolved the security services of blame for not preventing them, but also showed that more could have been done.

No surprise

The lowering of the general threat assessment by CONTEST and the Home Office was not surprising. Counterterrorism experts and watchers had long noted that the foreign threat in the United Kingdom seemed to have gone down.

Security agencies remained on high alert, as highlighted in February 2011 when MI5 Director Evans stated “the amount of surveillance that we undertook with police colleagues [in the past year] was the highest at any point that we have ever had to put out to the streets,” but this translated to fewer plots coming to fruition and a general sense that the threat was in hand.

At the same time, however, the government remained concerned that “we continue to identify far more people engaged in terrorist activity in this country than we can successfully prosecute and convict,” Evans said. He added the alarming fact that, “we know that some of those [terrorist] prisoners are still committed extremists who are likely to return to their terrorist activities.”

For example, in a plot currently working its way through the courts, a member of a network planning a series of attacks in London is believed to have been radicalized in prison. Afghan security services, meanwhile, were shocked to discover that a man responsible for an April suicide bombing of the defense ministry in Kabul was radicalized in a British prison. In the next few years a number of other individuals implicated in serious terrorist plots will be released onto the streets.

What changed in the minds of the security services, though, was the provenance of the terrorist threat to the UK. According to CONTEST, “over the last year the threat to the UK and to UK interests from terrorists in Yemen and Somalia has significantly increased. People from this country [the UK] are also traveling to these areas to fight. Some are returning here to plan and conduct operations.”

An ISC report quoted MI5 as assessing “that any short-term attacks against Western targets in retaliation for the death of [O]sama bin Laden are more likely to be carried out by AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen] than al-Qaeda core.”

Additionally, there has been a noticeable increase in Northern-Irish-related terrorism. According to CONTEST, in 2009 there were 22 attacks. In 2010 there were 40, and this year so far there have been 16, with “many more successfully disrupted.” This comes alongside a spike in rioting in the region, most recently in Portadown, County Armagh, that resulted in a series of arrests and numerous police and civilian injuries.

But this story of threat diversification is not new. Nor is a general sense in the United Kingdom that the country still faces danger from terrorism, albeit from many sources. As James Brandon, director of research at UK counter-radicalization think tank Quilliam, told Homeland Security Today in an interview: “The threat has clearly now evolved. It is no longer the traditional threat that emanated from people of Pakistani origin going to train in South Asia. This is no longer going on to the same scale. But there are new challenges.”

Among them, Al Shabaab in Somalia has attracted Western recruits, Brandon said, while instability continues to mount in Yemen, which has a long-established link with jihadists in the UK. Beyond those countries, terrorists potentially could exploit the widespread instability across the Middle East.

But, he added, “at present something seems to be missing from the equation to translate this into visible terrorism and violence.”

Islamic radicalization is not taking place on the scale it was, he said. Hard-core salafism and deobandism remain a significant force, but by Brandon’s analysis, many of the key groups that fed Al Qaeda in the past no longer have the reach in the community they once did.

“The reason for this is two-fold. First, there is no current-affairs catalyst pushing people from non-violence into violence. Previously, there were issues like Iraq, Afghanistan or the Danish cartoons that would push them over the edge. The catalyst to push them to go the final yard is simply not there today.

“Secondly, pro-jihadist voices are a lot subtler than they used to be. They may still be around, but they do not reach the same audience and have to play their cards more carefully,” he said.

From the observations of counterterrorism experts and UK government reports, it seems the overall terrorist threat is ongoing, but it’s hard to say whether it is on the wane or on the increase.

Instead, they point to the fact that the UK has not faced a successful attack since July 2005, though there have been a number of very near misses. Most expect that this is likely to remain the general trend for the foreseeable future, with a particular spike in attention around the upcoming Olympic Games.

Lone wolves and the right wing

An unpredictable element in the mix is the potential threat posed by lone-wolf or lone-actor terrorists. CONTEST specifically singles them out as a “significant” threat, and the potential menace seemed to crystallize in the form of Anders Behring Breivik’s attack on Oslo, Norway. In a methodically planned attack in late July, Breivik pulled the trigger on a plan he had been cogitating for nine years. In the ensuing chaos 69 people were shot to death at a summer camp and another eight killed in a bombing outside government offices during a lone-wolf terrorist attack that has made European security officials reconsider their planning for such threats. As one official put it to Homeland Security Today, the previous focus was on “monitoring groups,” and Breivik showed that such single-minded attention sometimes missed very dangerous elements.

The Breivik attack alarmed British security officials because his claims and history seemed to have strong links to Britain’s right-wing community. Born in the UK to a Norwegian diplomat, he signed his manifesto with the English-sounding name Andrew Berwick. He was reported to have attended rallies organized by the English Defense League (EDL) that formed in response to the perceived threat from Islam in the UK. While the EDL denied he was a member, and Breivik criticizes the group as naïve in his manifesto, the incident awakened people’s concerns about the right wing in the UK. As Matthew Feldman, a lecturer at the University of Northampton and a regular prosecution witness in right-wing terror cases, put it in an interview with Homeland Security Today, this nexus of lone-wolf terrorism and the right wing was particularly concerning.

“I think there is an important connection between individually undertaken acts of terrorism and links to the wider culture of intolerance on the far-right,” said Feldman. He added that understanding how lone wolves draw upon a “wider culture of intolerance” will be key to ensuring such acts do not take place elsewhere in Europe.

Analysis

The overall message from the most recent raft of reports is that the menace of international terrorism to the United Kingdom is decreasing. There has not been attack planning on the scale seen previously.

At the same time a constant patter of smaller-scale terrorist threats continues to plague the UK. Irish dissidents continue to battle on, and right-wing extremists may be emboldened by the actions of Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo.

And while the August chaos shook Britons, it remains unclear whether it was anything more than a temporary eruption. The hard-line response and the speed with which political leaders on all sides used the situation to bolster their own causes did not shed any further light on what drove the chaos. While the loss of control alarmed British security officials as they prepare London for next year’s Olympics, the fact they are getting to learn the lessons a year out should mean they are better prepared for domestic threats while maintaining vigilance to foreign dangers.

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The Internet Threat

The jihadist threat from the Internet continues to remain complex, acting as both a radicalizing agent but also providing terrorists with operational support beyond simply instructions on how to make bombs.

In a speech to a London think tank, Home Secretary May highlighted how groups were using tools like Google Earth, Google Street View, cloud computing and peer-to-peer networks to plot terrorist attacks. She particularly highlighted AQAP’s use of online parcel tracking to time where the devices the group planted on DHL transport planes last October were intended to explode.

At the same time, however, CONTEST specifies, “we continue to see no evidence of systematic cyberterrorism.” It points to a specific instance of an attack called the “here you have” virus that was claimed by the Tariq Bin Ziyad Brigades for Electronic Jihad as an example of a terrorist assault launched online, but the relatively low impact of the virus showed the immaturity of the threat. (Tariq Bin Ziyad was a Muslim Berber general who led the conquest of Spain in the year 711.)

The biggest menace to online counterterrorism capacity identified by CONTEST was the loss of individual operatives and experts to the private sector. Commenting to the ISC, Ian Lobhain, head of Britain’s Government Communications Head Quarters—Britain’s equivalent of the US National Security Agency—pointed out his biggest problem was losing staff because he was simply not able to compete with the private sector’s salaries.

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Preventing terrorism

While recent reports on the terrorist threat to the UK do address right-wing terrorism—albeit to a lesser degree than some experts like Feldman would advise—the focus remains on Islamist radicalization. The reports highlight a number of current problems in Britain’s counterterrorism strategy, with much of the focus on its “prevent” component. The key element of discussion is the fact that “prevent’s” current broad scope has both diluted it and confused things by supporting non-violent extremists in the hope that they might be able to rein in the violent fringe.

In what has been seen as a direct repudiation of this approach, CONTEST stated, “the focus of prevent to date has been on violent extremism and terrorism. It has not explicitly considered non-violent extremism. However a significant percentage of people who engage in terrorism have previously been associated with extremist groups. Some terrorist organizations—of all kinds—also share and make use of ideas which are popularized by extremists.”

The new approach will be widened to “address radicalization to all forms of terrorism,” according to the report, while also narrowed in focus to ensure the government does “not securitize its integration work.”

It seems unclear how things have been going so far, with next to no clear monitoring of the effectiveness of more than 1,800 projects conducted under the auspices of “prevent.” Additionally, there are concerns about the Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), a cross-departmental unit set up in 2007 to improve the government’s capacity to broadcast “hearts and minds” messages in its counterterrorism operations. As CONTEST lays out, “RICU’s counter-narrative work has not been as successful as we want. RICU must do more to identify credible partners and to develop powerful and specific narratives across a range of communications channels, especially the Internet.”

A new piece for Prospect, looking this time at al Shabaab and its foreign recruitment. A rich topic that I keep coming back to, though one thing I realized I missed after publishing it was any mention of Shabaab’s TV channel. As ever, any tips or thoughts are warmly appreciated.

Jihadi MCs

RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI — 12TH APRIL 2011

The Islamist group al Shabaab is attempting to make jihad trendy. But is it having any success?

“I obsesses not depress for martyrdom success” raps hip-hop enthusiast and keen Islamist, Omar Hammami, in his recent comeback song. This track wasn’t intended to top any charts, but instead to prove that the elusive Omar was still alive. That the Alabama-born twentysomething, who is believed to be a senior figure in the Islamist group al Shabaab, chose to do this through the medium of rap is typical of the Somali terrorist group that has brought the notion of socially networked revolution to a whole new level.

Jihad is a young man’s game. Old codgers like Osama (54) or Ayman al-Zawahiri (59) may be able to provide some ideological and operational support for cells, but for the most part it is young men who are on the frontlines. As a result, Islamist networks trying to recruit fresh blood are increasingly using new media, social networks and other non-traditional means to spread their message. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group behind the “underpants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and last October’s parcel bomb scare, even produces a flashy magazine called Inspire—full of funky imagery and slang, it looks more like a fanzine than a terror manual. Closer to home, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) releases bilingual videos with colloquial German subtitles to appeal directly to its core audience in Germany.

But it is Somali group al Shabaab (“The Youth”) that is at the forefront of this new media approach. Omar Hammami’s recent hip-hop release is merely the latest from the jihadi MC. In his earlier work “First Stop Addis” he rapped about his earnest desire to become a martyr, over shots of him and his “brothers” training and fighting in Somalia. Released through extremist websites, but also widely available on YouTube, the MTV-inspired videos and songs seek to show kids how cool it is to be a mujahedin. Other videos released by the group show young warriors from around the world speaking happily into the camera as they boast, sometimes in perfect English, of how much fun it is to be fighting against the “kuffar” (unbeliever) government in Somalia.

Videos and songs are all very well, but as any good PR manager will tell you, a multipronged approach is what’s really needed. Recognising this, al Shabaab encourages its young warriors to phone home in order to inspire others and raise money. Using dial-in conference calls, the warriors in the field tell those back home of the fun they’re having, and urge those who cannot come to send money instead. They shoot guns in the background while on the phone, “to see they are working ok” and to show off. And online, members have ongoing conversations with the friends they left behind, sending them Facebook messages along the lines of, “’Sup dawg. Bring yourself over here” to “M-town.” Meanwhile websites like al Qimmah provide a forum for the fighters in the field and the fundraisers at home to interact, keeping the flame of jihad in Somalia alive.

This holistic media outreach program seems to be reaping dividends for the group, who continue to attract a steady trickle of young warriors from across Europe and North America. Most recently, in Canada, police pulled 25-year old Mohamed Hersi off a plane he was about to take to Cairo on his way to join the group. A bored Toronto security guard, it seems he was only the most recent of a number of young Canadians who have joined the group. Similar cases can be found in the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark and Australia, among others.

The danger for western countries is that while al Shabaab is currently using its trendy web strategy to draw fighters to Somalia, a time may come when they attempt to punish the west directly for supporting Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government. They have already turned their attention to neighbouring Uganda, which contributes soldiers to a peacekeeping mission in Somalia. If the recruitment drive succeeds, al Shabaab will have at their disposal a network of western passport-holding men, all of whom are at home in our hyperlinked society and know how to use technology to aid terrorism.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR)