Posts Tagged ‘Somalia’

A new article in this month’s HSToday magazine, which you can buy on the newstands if you are in the US, or can see here free online. If I get the whole text later, I will post it here, but it is easily accessible through the link, so do try. It provides an overview of what happened last year in terrorism in Europe and looks forwards to what the next year holds. Thanks to Guido, Peter, Brynjar, John, Lorenzo and others for informing my research for it.

UPDATE, I see they have now placed the text all directly onto the website as well. It is thus cut and pasted below:

Europe’s Hard Choices

It’s a question of money versus safety as European authorities try to cope with new conditions

By: Raffaello Pantucci

01/24/2011 (12:00am)

 

The threat is fragmenting and budgets are shrinking.

These are the key messages to emerge from discussions with counterterrorism experts across Europe as they review the year’s threat and look forward to assess what the future holds in Islamist terrorism terms. It’s a combination that highlights the significance of MI5 Director General Jonathan Evans’ warning in 2007: “Every decision to investigate someone entails a decision not to investigate someone else.”

Up until the parcel bomb plot emanating from Yemen was discovered at Britain’s East Midlands Airport in late October, it seemed as though the choices made were all the correct ones. And even there, the discovery of the plot was in part due to the attentive efforts of British spooks monitoring the airwaves and overhearing messages passing between Al Qaeda in Pakistan and their Yemeni affiliate Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The plot itself surfaced at a moment when Europe was in a heightened state of alert following a spike in media attention about a wave of Mumbai-style attacks on European cities. The alleged plot seemed to be focused around a group of cells with links to Pakistan’s badlands that were all apparently being tasked with operations that emulated the successful Mumbai attack in November 2008 undertaken by Al Qaeda synonym Lashkar E Taiba.

The possibility of Al Qaeda networks undertaking a Mumbaistyle attack was something that had worried terrorism analysts for some time. In an interview with Homeland Security Today, Brynjar Lia of the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, a Norwegian military-linked think tank, highlighted an article published on an extremist website, “Pulpit of Monotheism and Jihad,” in Arabic by influential Al Qaeda theorist Abu Saad al Ameli titled “The Gains of The Battle Of Mumbai” (http://www.tawhed.ws). Written in the months after the Mumbai attacks, the article pointed out the success of the operation and suggested that they should be emulated in the future. For Lia, this alleged plot and the parcel bomb plot were all “quite rational when we consider the growth of these groups. This is an incremental shift in their modus operandi. They are trying to find ways around the security measures.”

Lia was also quick to point out that, while this threat clearly alarmed security officials across the continent, it remained unclear how advanced it really was. While he did not deny that the threat was likely real, it is not certain that a Mumbai-style plot was what was actually being planned in this case.

One former British Security source interviewed by Homeland Security Today who requested anonymity, pointed out that it was likely the information was put into the public domain since security services may have been concerned they did not have complete coverage of the plot. As is the case with plots that are disrupted before they can reach conclusion, it is never certain what exactly the plotters were up to, a situation emphasized here, where an unknown number of the supposed plotters were killed during unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strikes in Pakistan.

The German angle

Much of the information available about the possible Mumbai-style plot appears to have come from confessions supplied by Ahmed Sidiqui, an Afghan-German national who was captured by American forces in Kabul in July 2010. Sidiqui is alleged to have supplied a wealth of information about his fellow plotters in Pakistan, including the fact that he had met Mohammed Ilyas Kashmiri, Younis Al Mauretani and Mohammed Al Quso, senior Al Qaeda figures who apparently mentioned to him that they had units already deployed in Europe preparing for a Mumbai-style attack. Further information was also received from an anonymous German extremist who was reportedly providing authorities with information in an attempt to barter his safe return home.

This information, alongside intercepts collected by British monitoring services and doubtless other sources, was behind a spike in UAV strikes in September 2010 apparently in an effort to disrupt the plot. However, aside from the confessions supplied by Sidiqui and intercepts, the only tangible proof that cells were armed and ready to strike European cities came when French police busted a set of cells in Avignon and Marseille with links to networks sending fighters to Afghanistan. Those arrested had an AK-47 and a pump action shotgun in their possession. All sources for this article suggested that others may still be out there, and security forces in France, Germany and the United Kingdom made numerous public displays of strength through the deployment of heavily armed police in public places.

While the weapons were found in France, the biggest component of the plot, according to Guido Steinberg of the German think-tank Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, was actually in Germany. Steinberg, a former counterterrorism official in the German chancellor’s office, has been watching the threat in Germany with growing alarm. From being a small feature of the jihadist scene linking Europe to the badlands in Pakistan, Germany has now become one of the major loci of European terrorism. According to Steinberg, “There is now a Turkish and Germanspeaking infrastructure in place,” something that was absent “before 2006,” making it easier for young Germans to go and fight.

But as the dates suggest, this is not an entirely new phenomenon, and German fighters have been a feature of the jihadist threat spectrum for a few years. However, what surprised Steinberg was the dedication of the young fighters.

“I used to think that they would not want to go somewhere where they were likely to be killed,” he toldHomeland Security Today, something that would have become ever clearer as stories emerged of German citizens dying on the battlefield. Most prominently, in May 2010, a few days after his death on the battlefield, as reported on extremist websites, the diary of Eric Brenninger was published online. A long and rambling tract, the memoirs provided the clearest publicly available insight yet into the minds of the community of young Germans serving alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Starting by describing his life as a dissolute young man in Germany, Brenninger’s memoirs tracked his embrace of Islam in 2007 and his decision four months later to go and join the fighters in Afghanistan.

As he put it, “I knew my duty. I wanted to join the jihad. … We followed the events which were unfolding in the regions of jihad and watched films of mujahedin battling the crusaders. Hate of the kuffar [unbeliever] grew in me.” It is hard to provide a precise figure on the number of angry young men in Germany, but according to official figures, there are some 30 returned fighters who are on a list of some 200 “dangerous persons” at liberty in Germany. There is a second list of some 1,000-plus individuals who are on the radars of the security services, but according to Steinberg, “They don’t know who is really dangerous.” Some of these people, like Brenninger, are clearly little more than cannon fodder, but their motivation and capacity for free movement in the West means they pose a potential threat.

But, according to Lorenzo Vidino, a visiting fellow at the Rand Corporation and a US-based Italian terrorism analyst and most recently author of The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West, while it is the growth in the threat from Germany that has been one of the most interesting features of recent times, 2010 was most clearly marked out by a noticeable up-tick in the threat in France.

The French connection

In September, in providing an explanation for a beefing up of security measures at tourist sites, French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux declared, “This is a real threat, and this threat today is at an undoubtedly high level which calls for reinforced vigilance.”

It was subsequently revealed that his services had received a series of quite specific warnings from their Algerian counterparts about the threat from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Then, in October, he took to the airwaves once again to talk about a “new message, from the Saudi services, indicating to us that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was certainly active, or expecting to be active, in Europe, especially France.” Statements from heads of French intelligence services repeated much the same message as these worrying calls, while AQIM kidnapped groups of French nationals in North Africa.

The threat in France, according to Vidino, is three-pronged. “They are worried about the threat out of Yemen, AQIM and Pakistan. The rhetoric and operational threat from AQIM is something that has been constant, but the others are relatively new.” One reason for this up-tick in particularly French targeting was suggested in a message to emerge on the forums in October in which Osama Bin Laden threatened France, warning, “If you deemed it right to ban women from wearing the hijab, then should it not be our right to expel your invading men by striking their necks?”

But while this seemed to be in direct support of AQIM attempts in North Africa, in late 2010 it seemed as though on the French mainland it was networks of returnees from the Afghan-Pakistan battlefields that were of greatest concern to the French authorities.

Following an unspecified intelligence tip-off, French authorities alerted their Italian counterparts of the arrival in September of Ryad Hannouni, a young man of Franco-Algerian origin who was involved in a network sending fighters to South Asia. His arrest in Naples led a month later to a further series of arrests in France that appeared in part to be linked to the Mumbai-style attack threat menacing Europe.

Then, in early November, a group of four men and one woman was arrested in Paris as part of a “conspiracy to prepare a terror attack.” At least one of them was prepared “to die in their fanatical attack,” and one had recently been to Afghanistan: Two of the men were intercepted at the Paris airport returning on a flight from Egypt.

There are apparently 25 individuals of grave concern to French authorities who have trained in Afghanistan and may be on their way home.

Britain’s reprieve

For the United Kingdom, on the other hand, it would seem as though the threat has entered a relatively calm period—at least on the surface. The new British coalition entered into government with great expectations of shifts in counterterrorism policy, but has instead opted to change very little. Most notably, the controversial “control order” regime remains in place – by which individuals are kept under strict conditions of house arrest when they are of great concern to the security services, but cannot be convicted of any crime – and the government has not yet made any great changes to the much maligned “Prevent” strategy. Late in the year, the government announced an overhaul of Prevent, but as with the control order regime, it was unclear that the government had managed to clarify its position, clearly now seeing the issue in the same light as the previous government, which had been unable to find a solution.

British spooks continue to be concerned by the same array of threats as before, but things have now slightly shifted. In September 2010, MI5 head Evans declared, “The percentage of the priority plots and leads we see in the UK linked to Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where Al Qaeda senior leadership is still based, has dropped from around 75 percent two or three years ago to around 50 percent now. This does not mean that the overall threat has reduced, but that it has diversified. The reduction in cases linked to the tribal areas of Pakistan is partly attributable to the pressure exerted on the Al Qaeda leadership there.”

Information published by the Associated Press suggested that Government Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of the US National Security Agency, estimated there were some 20 Britishborn militants in the North Waziristan district, with phone calls being traced between the region and the Midlands, home to many of Britain’s South Asian minorities. According to Pakistani intelligence, the British end of the previously mentioned Mumbai-style attack apparently centered around a pair of British-Pakistani brothers, either from east London or the Midlands.

But as Evans’ speech suggested, the growing threat for the United Kingdom is seen from the other fields of jihad: specifically, Somalia and Yemen. Neither of these threats are new, but, according to Evans, “There are a significant number of UK residents training in Al Shabaab camps to fight in the insurgency there,” and his service has also “seen a surge in Yemen related casework.”

There is a long history of young Britons going to both locations – and in the past, this has resulted in terror plots both at home and abroad. In late 1998, a group of young British Muslims linked to Abu Hamza Al Masri, an Egyptian militant now in British prison, was arrested in Yemen as part of an alleged bomb plot and a series of kidnappings that resulted in the deaths of foreign tourists. In May 2005, shortly before the London bombings, a group of young men who were part of the network of extremists that attempted the July 21, 2005, copycat bombings of London’s public transport system, traveled to Somalia as part of an unlikely pilgrimage to a war zone. Furthermore, two of the subsequent 21/7 bombers were of Somali origin, while the support network was made up of a number of individuals from Britain’s Somali community.

Denmark and Scandinavia

This network aside, the closest a Somali network has gotten to striking in Europe was the attempted murder of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard on Jan. 1, 2010, by Mohammed Gelle, a young Somali-Dane who was previously linked to Shabaab networks in Kenya. Gelle’s frenzied assault on Westergaard’s house with an ax was in revenge for the cartoonist’s contributions to the infamous Danish cartoons that have made Denmark one of the many European targets for Islamists.

Westergaard survived the attempt, and in its wake Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mahmud Raage said, “We appreciate the incident in which a Muslim Somali boy attacked the devil who abused our prophet.” However, in what appeared to be an admission of Gelle’s links, he went on to say, “There could be some people who might say that boy was related to Shabaab.”

According to sources in Denmark, it seems as though security services had attempted to recruit Gelle in the wake of his arrest and release in Kenya as part of an alleged network targeting US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s visit to that country. Having helped him get home, it seems the security services lost control of the young man and were simply too overloaded to maintain full surveillance. In late 2009, Danes were shocked to discover that another Somali-Dane, likely an acquaintance of Gelle, was behind a suicide bombing in Mogadishu.

Nevertheless, according to Norwegian expert Brynjar Lia, the problem is seen “as something far away and complicated” and in a place “where there has always been war.” Most cases linked to Shabaab in Scandinavia are related to fundraising, meaning they remain “far away and irrelevant” in the public mind. Similarly, until the parcel bomb attempt emanating from Yemen, the threat had seemingly stayed away from Britain’s shores. In March, British police arrested Bangladeshi-Briton Rajib Karim for plotting in the United Kingdom, fundraising and providing information to networks abroad – allegedly AQAP. The case is currently rumbling through the courts and in initial statements police claimed he was planning suicide bombings in the United Kingdom.

Still aiming for America

Karim was arrested before he could do much, and even the device found in a printer cartridge at East Midlands Airport was most likely aiming for the United States. In a terse announcement released Nov. 10, 2010, Scotland Yard said, “Forensic examination has indicated that if the device had activated it would have been at 10:30 British Standard Time on Friday, 29 October 2010. If the device had not been removed from the aircraft the activation could have occurred over the eastern seaboard of the US.”

The threat, it seems, remains primarily targeted to the United States, confirming a report, the Europol EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2010 (www.europol.europa.eu/publications/EU_Terrorism_ Situation_and_Trend_Report_TE-SAT/TESAT2010.pdf), published by Europol earlier in the year, that said, in surveying the Islamist threat in Europe, “The [European Union] can be used as a platform for launching attacks on the United States.”

Published in April 2010, the same report also highlighted that, while “Islamist terrorism is still perceived as the biggest threat to most member states,” it is in fact other terrorist groups that are more active in conducting operations. In 2009, Europol tracked only one effective Islamist-inspired attack in Europe (a lone bomber attempting an attack on an army barracks in Milan, Italy), while there were 237 “separatist” attacks, 40 by left-wing groups and an additional 124 in Northern Ireland. This last number is the one that is of increasing concern to British security services, which have watched in the past few years as violence in the province has quietly grown into a “low level drumbeat of attacks with beatings, petrol bombs, shootings of Catholic police officers and more.”

According to John Bew of the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College, the groups are “trying something every day” and have a desire to strike in London, “absolutely no question.” The fact they have not is likely a reflection of the deep penetration by the security services, though the increasing violence is something that has taken everyone by surprise. As MI5 Director Jonathan Evans put it, “We have seen a persistent rise in terrorist activity and ambition in Northern Ireland over the last three years.”

Analysis

This is unlikely a harbinger of violence on the scale seen previously, but the increasing attention these networks will command is going to distract already stretched resources to the limit.

In July, John Yates, the head of British counterterrorism police, announced that the levels of cuts the police were facing was going to “raise the terror risk,” though he was quickly condemned by government officials, who told him to avoid shroud-waving and raising public alarm.

In fact, individuals interviewed by Homeland Security Today in both Germany and the United Kingdom have told of stories of counterterror units being oversupplied and officers with nothing to do being reassigned to other tasks. But it is almost impossible to know what this actually means: Is there a lack of intelligence or genuinely no threat? Vidino, the Italian counterterrorism expert at the Rand Corp., recounts the situation in Italy where forces have noticed stagnation in the domestic threat, and parallel budgetary pressures to focus on the threat of organized crime.

The biggest danger, in fact, probably lies in the known unknowns in the shape of lone wolves. For Peter Clarke, the former head of Counter-Terrorism Command in the United Kingdom, the most interesting case in 2010 was the attempted assassination by Roshonara Choudhry of UK Member of Parliament (MP) Stephen Timms. Using the Internet to identify Timms as an MP who had “strongly supported” the invasion of Iraq and radicalized by videos she found on YouTube of Abdullah Azzam and Anwar Al Awlaki, Choudhry stopped attending her university course, bought some knives, cleared her debts and made an appointment to see Timms. Arriving at Timms’ constituency surgery (an allocated period of time when MPs make themselves available to people living in their areas) on the afternoon of May 14, Choudhry patiently waited her turn before stabbing him repeatedly when he came to greet her. Claiming that she hoped to become martyred in the course of her operation, Choudhry did little to resist detention and openly confessed her actions to police.

What worries Clarke about this attack is both its random nature and the fact that it marks the first time a non-military individual has been targeted in such a fashion by Islamists in the United Kingdom. There have been hints of these sorts of attacks in previous investigations, but this is the first time a lone jihadist attempted to carry out an action. Given the tendency for copycats to follow, this may mark a new threshold in the threat in the United Kingdom, a nation that has already repeatedly faced the threat of lone wolf terrorists. None, however, was as coherent as Choudhry, who, while clearly warped, did not seem as mentally deranged as some of the others.

And where the United Kingdom leads, the rest of Europe and North America has tended to follow. The United States has already faced the menace of American citizens stirred on by Anwar Al Awlaki into carrying out action in the homeland, and the past two years have been marred by a series of terrorist plots with links emanating from Al Qaeda groups passing through Europe targeting the United States. With the budget cuts faced in Europe also likely to be reflected in the United States, it remains to be seen when the threat level will finally lower. HST

 

A new article for the Guardian exploring an issue I have had knocking around my head for a while, the issue of the use of informants in U.S. terror cases. It is a complex question, as it is hard to know what the alternative is sometimes. Being on the Guardian’s website, this has awakened a storm of comments on their page, some of which are rational but many are pretty off-the-wall. Once I have gotten over my current large writing hump I will try to return to this subject in some sort of a more academically useful way. Any pointers for longer pieces on this topic would be warmly welcomed.

Counter-productive counter-terror

Is entrapping low-level wannabe jihadists with elaborate FBI sting operations the best way of handling domestic radicals?

Raffaello Pantucci

guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 30 November 2010 18.30 GMT

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the Christmas tree bomber, Portland Oregon Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who has been dubbed ‘the Christmas tree bomber’, after his arrest in an FBI sting operation for attempting to carry out a terrorist attack in Portland Oregon. Photograph: AP Photo

The latest attempt by an American Muslim to wreak havoc in America is a depressing indictment of two things: of the fact that there continue to be young Americans eager to kill their fellow citizens in the name of extremist ideas, and of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s eagerness to launch counter-intelligence operations to trap such people.Attorney General Holder may be correct that “there is no entrapment here, and no entrapment claim will be found to be successful,” but what is unclear is the degree to which efforts to catch people may well be exacerbating the problem.

In the UK, counter-terrorism experts mutter sniffily about how such an approach would never stand up in a British court of law. And in some recent cases, one has to wonder. Farooque Ahmed, a Pakistani-American, appears to have been the only active plotter in a network of FBI informants who claimed to be al-Qaida. Ahmed thought he was plotting with them to launch a series of bombings on underground stations in Washington, DC, when, in fact, he was the only person whose intent was genuine among a unit of paid informants.

Now, there is the case of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a 19-year-old Somali-American who drove and attempted to detonate a car bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. Having attempted to make repeated contact with what he believed were extremists in Pakistan, Mahmud was finally contacted by a FBI agent who led him to believe that he was a fellow extremist. The two met in July 2010, and Osman appears to have decided this person was acceptably radical and to share violent ideas with him.

What follows is a scenario that is increasingly familiar in the US: the agents worked with the young man essentially to help him assemble a plot that would demonstrate his intent to carry out an attack in the US. Throughout court documents published after arrest, it is clear that agents made sure the individual knew what he was getting himself into, and what the likely consequences would be (innocent people would die). And at no point does the individual decide that, actually, this is something he would rather not do.

Instead, he continues down the path until, at a certain point, police decide that they have enough evidence and he is arrested. This has happened previously with Hosam Maher Husein Smadi and James Cromitie and his cell. In those cases, individuals are currently serving long jail terms, and given the weight of evidence that doubtless includes a lot of incriminating recordings, it is likely that Farooque and Mahmud are going to be following them.

But is this really a strategy that is improving the situation in the United States? Domestic radicalisation in the US is of increasing concern to American security planners, and rightly so, but such arrests have a questionable security benefit.

First of all, it is worth taking a step back to look at whether these individuals would have necessarily attempted to carry out their actions if it was not for the support of the network of agents who tasked with monitoring them. If these individuals continued as lone radicals who were unable to find individuals of equal determination to pursue a violent path, would they necessarily have attempted to carry out an attack?

As has been shown by Marc Sageman and others, domestic Islamist terrorists tend to be more effective (that is, dangerous) if they have others to bounce their ideas off. When we add to this the fact that, often, it is the security agents in the situation who have provided (or are offering to provide) the weapons or explosives, then this phenomenon is surely further accelerated.

Second, it seems of questionable utility to be continually incarcerating the sorts of individuals caught in these FBI stings. In the case of Mahmud, at least two undercover agents and numerous others’ time was used in catching him; while in Farooque’s case, at least three agents were directly involved. In either instance, might it not have been a more productive use of agents’ time simply to scare the individual off his chosen path with a menacing warning, rather than bothering with this long and expensive investigation? In neither case did they seem to have anything beyond peripheral contact with actual extremists. Had they been warned off, they might have ceased their efforts.

Of course, it can be argued that the harsh reaction to these individuals could be a purposeful effort by American services to send a strong deterrence message. But operations like these have been going on for years, and we continue to see new domestic radicals pop up.

It is also true that the US authorities are understandably concerned about the increase in unpredictable, “sole agent” attackers at home: Hassan Malik Nidal and Abdulhakim Mujahid are merely two of a number of Americans to have been drawn to Anwar al-Awlaki’s message of personalised jihad. Alongside aspirant attackers Faisal Shazhad or Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab, who had some connections but acted alone, these men all appear to have operated in a vacuum, which the FBI had missed prior to their murderous attacks. That precedent is rightly alarming.

Still, questions must be raised about the value and utility of capturing such low-level aspirants as Farooque or Mahmud, who are both likely to receive long terms of incarceration at great expense to the taxpayer. Another way to address the threat might be to actively dissuade such individuals from getting involved in terrorist activity. This approach has not always met with success in the past: the British services made themselves known to Abu Qatada, Abu Hamza and other radicals in London, but this contact did not dissuade them from radicalising aplenty and supporting jihad internationally. But this still might be a more productive avenue in dealing with low-level aspirants (as opposed to hardened militant preachers), as an effective alternative to elaborate sting operations.

After all, both Farooque and Mahmud were gullible enough to believe that individuals they first met online were hardcore al-Qaida supporters – these are strictly amateurs. A dramatic intervention coupled with local monitoring could result in just as much security benefit, at a considerably lower cost. This strategy would have the bonus effect of helping to thin out the increasing number of Muslim “martyrs” sitting in American jails. Their growing presence suggests that lengthy incarceration has little, if any deterrent effect on America’s homegrown jihadis.

 

A new journal article lands at last in African Security, written in conjunction with Lorenzo and Evan, looking at al Shabaab and their internationalization. The article offers something of an overview of the phenomenon with particular focus on the various nations where fighters have come from in the West. This is a topic I have written a bit about before, and about which I have more things coming. Unfortunately, it is behind a firewall, but if you drop me a note through the contact page I can probably help out. In the meantime, here is the abstract:

Bringing Global Jihad to the Horn of Africa: al Shabaab, Western Fighters, and the Sacralization of the Somali Conflict

Sacralization of conflict is the process through which religion, or, in most cases, a militant interpretation of it, evolves from being an irrelevant or secondary factor at the onset of a conflict to shaping the views, actions, and aims of one or more of the conflict’s key actors. The article outlines how this phenomenon has taken place in Somalia over the past twenty years by looking at two related phenomena: (1) the rise to prominence of al Shabaab, a group that, unlike its predecessors, follows a global jihadist ideology, and (2) the arrival of foreign fighters, particularly from Western countries, attracted more by global jihadist ideology than ethnic ties or nationalist sentiments.

Keywords: al Shabaab; Somalia; sacralization; radicalization; foreign fighters; al Qaeda; diaspora

A new post for HSToday, a bit delayed as I have been traveling somewhere even more remote than usual. My computer has also come crashing down which has set me up with some serious problems. More on this plot to come.

Europe on High Alert

by Raffaello Pantucci

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Recent string of incidents have elevated level of concern across the European continent

Across Europe there has been a noticeable up-tick in threat tempo. From a series of intelligence-led operations across the continent, to high level statements by the French Interior Minister and US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano – those paid to protect us are very concerned about something.

It is unclear at which point this specific set of alarm bells went off, but they have been ringing for some time. In the United Kingdom, in the wake of a series of arrests back in July in Oslo it was revealed that a British jihadist who had disappeared off radars for a few years had re-emerged in the form of a series of passport photographs found in the possession of the alleged leader of a cell of plotters that was planning an unspecified campaign at the orders of possibly dead Al Qaeda leader Saleh al Somali. The pictures showed the British-Algerian Ibrahim Adam in a variety of different haircuts and had apparently been obtained by the cell leader, Uighur-Norwegian Mikael Davud, from a contact in Turkey in September 2009. The discovery caused a spike in concern for British counter-terrorists, leading them to suspect that Adam, whose brother Anthony Garcia (the family all changed their names to integrate better) was incarcerated as part of the Al Qaeda directed plot to explode a large fertilizer bomb at a British mall, may be on his way back to Europe to conduct operations.

Nothing materialized, until, concurrent with the first day of the Pope’s visit to the United Kingdom on September 16th; police raided a series of properties in London arresting a group of six men working for a city garbage disposal company. One of the men was described as being “of North African appearance” and the BBC has since revealed that at least five of them were “thought to be Algerian.” The men were questioned by police but ultimately released as it was revealed that the intelligence that had led to the arrest had been only picked up recently and was not part of a long-term operation. Unconfirmed reports suggested that the intelligence had been garnered by the police from someone who had overheard the men talking in a staff canteen.

However, the police reaction to the threat showed the elevated concern around the current threat level. The day before the arrests, the head of the Security Service (MI5) had warned that “the main effort for the Security Service remains international terrorism, particularly from Al Qaeda, its affiliates and those inspired by its ideology.” He highlighted the particular growth in the threat from Somalia, stating “there are a significant number of UK residents training in Al Shabaab camps” and highlighting that the threat from the tribal areas of Pakistan now only accounted for about 50% of the “priority plots and leads” coming into the Service.

The evening before the men supposedly behind the threat to the Pope were released, British intelligence passed on information to their Dutch counterparts about an individual on a flight from Liverpool transiting through Amsterdam on his way to Entebbe, Uganda. The man, described by a Dutch spokesman as “a British man of Somali origin,” was pulled off a KLM plane which was about to depart on suspicion of “possible involvement in a terrorist organization.” He was also released a few days later cleared of any charges and it is unclear where he has since gone. This was the second time in less than a month that individuals going through Schipol airport had been picked up as a result of terrorist concerns. At the end of August two Yemeni men were pulled off a flight landing in the airport from Chicago after a tip-off from U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This also did not result in any charges being made.

In France in the meantime, the Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux joined the head of the domestic intelligence agency, Bernard Squarcini, in highlighting the level of threat the country faced. On September 16th, visiting the Eiffel Tower after the latest in a number of bomb scares on the site had further stepped up the security presence, Mr. Hortefeux said, “these last days and hours, a number of events have reminded us that we find ourselves in a period which calls for an elevated level of attention in the particular face of terrorist threats.” This echoed earlier statements the week before by Mr. Squarcini who said that the “all the red lights were flashing” and a story that surfaced in the French press which revealed that, “a female suicide bomber was plotting to commit a terrorist act in a busy part of Paris.” The information was allegedly passed on from Algerian intelligence and resulted in mobile anti-terror units being mobilized across the city searching for the woman. This comes in the wake of a series of kidnappings in Niger of French citizens by the group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the North African Al Qaeda affiliate.

French authorities have apparently attempted to reach out to the group in North Africa to get their citizens back, but little more is known about the alleged female bomber. The threat echoes an alert from earlier in the year published by British newspaper the Daily Telegraph which suggested that security services were concerned that a team of female suicide bombers were being dispatched by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) targeting the United States. In that case too, nothing ultimately emerged but it set the tone for a year which has been plagued with repeated alerts.

But amidst this sea of unrealized threats, on the eve of the anniversary of September 11, Danish police leapt into action when a bomb went off in a hotel toilet in central Copenhagen. The responsible individual was rapidly caught in a nearby park, but refused to provide his identity leaving Danish police with a puzzle to establish who the one-legged multi-lingual individual was. He was eventually identified as a Chechen former boxer who for unspecified reasons was apparently trying to send a bomb to the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (infamous for publishing the Muhammad cartoons in 2006). Picked up with a gun, a very rudimentary explosive and a number of false identities, the initial fear was that Lors Dukayev, who maintained his anonymity for some time while under arrest and was only identified after someone saw his picture in the press, was possibly more than he initially seemed. Currently, however, he appears to have been a “Lone Wolf” with no connections.

And then on the morning of September 21st, Italian police intercepted a container-load of explosives at the port of Goia Tauro. Hidden amongst powdered milk were 7 tons of military grade RDX explosive, a massive amount which resulted in the Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini calling his American counterpart Hilary Clinton to discuss the matter directly. Believed to be en route from Iran to Syria, the cargo had in transit when Italian forces acted on intelligence believed to have been passed on by Israel.

The year has already seen a number of plots dispatched by Al Qaeda affiliates or fellow travelers reach fairly advanced stages (Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and Faisal Shahzad to name but two), showing the capacity exists for such attack planning. Whether this new wave of concern from Europe’s services is going to translate into a similar attack remains to be seen, but it seems as though intelligence services across the continent are operating at full tilt.

Raffaello Pantucci is Homeland Security Today’s London correspondent.

 

New piece for Jamestown covering the proscription of the Shabaab in the UK and Canada. I am working on a much larger piece about this topic, but it is likely to be a while before that lands. Any tips in the meantime of course appreciated.

http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=36175

Al-Shabaab Proscribed in Canada and the United Kingdom

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 11

By: Raffaello Pantucci

In the first week of March, the British and Canadian governments both added the Somali al-Shabaab group to their respective list of proscribed terror groups. [1] The decisions mean that it will now be illegal to fundraise or support al-Shabaab in both nations, while Canadian Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews specified, “The Government is taking this step to help protect Canadian families from the activities of this organization. The Government received reports from the Somali community that al-Shabaab has attempted to radicalize and recruit young Canadians. The listing of al-Shabaab will help the Government of Canada to better support the Somali community of Canada.” [2]

The respective decisions follow previous proscriptions in Australia, Norway, Sweden and the United States. They reflect a growing trepidation amongst Western governments regarding the growing threat from the Somali group – in particular their ability to attract young men with local passports to their cause and the movement’s growing regional assertiveness. Furthermore, reports indicate that the group appears to be increasingly attracting fighters from the Somali diaspora and other sources in the West (Independent on Sunday, September 13, 2009; see Terrorism Monitor, January 14).

For Canada and the United Kingdom in particular, the decision to proscribe follows a series of stories indicating that steady streams of young men are going abroad to fight in East Africa. In autumn 2009, a group of six young Somalis disappeared from their local community in Toronto, with reports suggesting they had ended up fighting in Somalia (National Post, December 12, 2009). A report from earlier in the year in the U.K. indicated that most recently “almost a dozen” British Muslims had left the U.K. to join the Shabaab in Somalia, including some students from the prestigious London School of Economics and King’s College London (Sunday Times, January 24).

Furthermore, plots have emerged from the Somali diaspora community in both nations; at least two of the attempted bombers and a substantial number of the support network involved in the July 21, 2005 plot to attack London’s public transport system were of Somali extraction. In Canada, two Somalis were among the 18 suspects arrested for planning a series of bombings and assassinations in Toronto and Ottawa (National Post [Toronto], June 5, 2006; September 21, 2009; see also Terrorism Focus, June 6, 2006). [3] However, in neither case was the al-Shabaab group implicated in any way, nor was Somalia a feature on the broad canvas offered by each plot. Rather, individuals from the diaspora were drawn into plots fostered by local networks to prepare for large-scale domestic attacks.

More recently, however, there has been a greater law-enforcement focus on Shabaab. Aside from the Toronto cells, the RCMP and FBI ramped up their efforts after an informant told overseas U.S. embassy staff that a group of Somalis had crossed the border from Canada with the intention of launching an attack on President Obama’s inauguration ceremony. The information proved to be a hoax, but it highlighted the reality of security concerns (CanWest News Service, February 4). [4] In the U.K., on the other hand, the government attempted to shut down what it believed was an al-Shabaab fundraising and support network last year, though the case against the two Somali-Britons did not stand up in court (Press Association, July 28, 2009).

Beyond this, there is a clear sense of growing trepidation surrounding Somalia’s al-Shabaab; its decision to formalize the connection to the Ras Kamboni group, the declaration of allegiance to al-Qaeda and its connection to al-Qaeda operative Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan (killed by a U.S. Special Forces raid in September 2009 while helping train Shabaab fighters), all point to a strengthening network (for Ras Kamboni, see Shabelle Media Network, February 1; Garowe Online, February 2; Terrorism Monitor, February 10). Its influence can increasingly be seen abroad; examples include an alleged plot to target Secretary of State Hilary Clinton when she was visiting neighboring Kenya in August 2009, the recruitment of Somali youths in Minneapolis, the attempted assassination of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard and an alleged plot to attack a military base in Melbourne (see Terrorism Monitor, January 14; Terrorism Monitor, September 10, 2009).

Reaction from Somalia to the terrorist designations was swift; al-Shabaab spokesman Ahmad Dayib Mursal held a press conference in Mogadishu to announce the group was “saddened” by the British decision (Holy Koran Radio [Mogadishu], March 2). Senior al-Shabaab spokesman Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage (a.k.a. Shaykh Ali Dheere) condemned the Canadian and British designations, claiming some Western nations were trying to find ways of looting the properties of Somali Muslims living in their countries (Radio Simba [Mogadishu], March 8). More favorable reaction came from the deputy prime minister of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, Professor Abdirahman Haji Adan Ibi, who welcomed the British decision (Shabelle Media Network, March 4).

As of yet, no major plots appear to have been hatched in the West drawing specifically on this network and direction from Somalia. However, given previous experiences of threats emerging from radicals with Western passports associated with groups fighting abroad, as well as the rather abrupt shift from the near enemy to the far enemy by the previously regionally-focused al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Shabaab is clearly a threat that needs to be watched with some care. The respective proscriptions give British and Canadian authorities further legislative tools to deal with this threat.

Notes:

1. For the complete British order effective from March 4, 2010, please see:www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2010/uksi_20100611_en_1; and the Canadian announcement, effective March 5:www.publicsafety.gc.ca/media/nr/2010/nr20100307-eng.aspx

2. “The Government of Canada lists Al-Shabaab as a terrorist organization,” Ministry of Public Safety Press Release, March 7, 2010, www.publicsafety.gc.ca/media/nr/2010/nr20100307-eng.aspx

3. Of the “Toronto 18,” seven suspects have pled guilty or been convicted, seven have had their charges stayed and three remain to be tried.

4. The alleged plot was first described in Martha Joynt Kumar, “The 2008-2009 presidential transitions through the voices of its participants,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 39(4), December 1, 2009

More about the Western-Somali connection for Jamestown, this time exploring the Denmark-Somalia connection in some detail. I have touched upon this briefly before, and more generally on Shabaab’s internationalization for ASPI and a couple for Jamestown (the Melbourne group, Operation Neath; and the Minneapolis group). Separately, am working on something with some friends trying to understand the phenomenon globally, so would welcome any other thoughts or stories people come across on this topic. (oh and to those who don’t know it, Esther’s blog is an excellent resource for translated material).

http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=35909

East African Terrorism Comes to Scandinavia

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 2
January 14, 2010 02:09 PM Age: 3 hrs
Category: Terrorism Monitor, Global Terrorism Analysis, Home Page, Terrorism, Africa, Europe
The Somali man who attacked Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard is carried to court on a stretcher.

In a scene right out of the cinema, a young Somali man armed with an axe and a knife came crashing through the door of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard’s Aarhus house late on January 1. Hitting a panic button specially installed in the house, Mr Westergaard was barely able to scramble with his five-year old granddaughter to his safe room while security services raced to the scene. Hearing police arrive, the young man turned to confront them, bellowing “I’ll be back” in broken Danish before being shot in the arm and leg by police.

This is the first time that Islamists seeking revenge for the infamous “Muhammad cartoons” have been able to take revenge in the West. Previous bombing plots were broken up in Denmark in September 2006 and September 2007, with convictions resulting in both cases, and prosecutors claiming that the cartoons were definitely the motivation for the plotters in the second of the two cases (AP, August 11, 2008). In July 2008, two Tunisian men were picked up by Danish police in Aarhus as part of an alleged plot targeting Westergaard, though charges did not stick. In the end, one man was deported and the other released (AP, January 2). Late last year, the FBI arrested David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana on charges (amongst others) that they were planning a terror attack on the “facilities and employees of Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten.” [1] Jyllands-Posten was the newspaper that first published the cartoons while Kurt Westergaard is the most prominent of a group of 12 cartoonists who accepted the editor’s challenge to depict images they associated with the Prophet Muhammad. In hiding until last year, Mr Westergaard announced that he was emerging from seclusion as he was “too old to be afraid” and he wanted to play his part in defending “democratic values” (BBC, April 5, 2009).
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Another busy day – though in reality these have been percolating over the holiday period. This one instead for Comment is Free at the Guardian which is consequently already attracting some charming comments which appear to show evidence of having willfully ignored the article at hand and chosen instead to use the opportunity to vent off. Anyway, this is not the first time I have cited al Suri’s work – though it as ever remains hard to know how much people are actually using it as a guide. Any thoughts or pointers on this very welcome.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/04/terrorism-al-qaida-detroit-attack

Extremism’s lone warriors

From Detroit to Denmark, terrorist strikes are increasingly the preserve of lone attackers inspired by jihadist groups
Raffaello Pantucci

guardian.co.uk, Monday 4 January 2010 20.00 GMT

The year has begun with a jihadist splash. Aside from massacres in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, just before New Year, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to bring down an airliner over Detroit. Now a young Somali resident of Copenhagen appears to have attempted to take vengeance on Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist behind 2006’s infamous Muhammad cartoons. While information on the two attacks is far from complete, the signs increasingly point to lone attackers with links to regional jihadist groups.

This is not entirely surprising – terrorist groups have long targeted aircraft, and extremist Islamists have repeatedly demonstrated that they are determined to seek revenge for perceived slights by artists to their religion. Salman Rushdie, Theo van Gogh and Sherry Jones, author of the Jewel of Medina, have all been targeted, and this is merely the latest plot against those associated with the Danish cartoons. In late 2009 FBI agents arrested plotters planning to mount an assault on the headquarters of Jyllands Posten, the newspaper that first ran the cartoons.

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My latest for FreeRadicals about Shabaab its European recruits. The links at the end don’t work, but you can find the articles referred to elsewhere on this blog. Am planning more on this topic in the near future, so watch this space…

http://icsr.info/blog/Somalias-foreign-legions

Somalia’s foreign legions

Filed under: Radicalisation, Somalia, al-Shabaab

Another week passes and more stories of young Westerners showing up on Somalia’s battlefields. Two distinct tales jump out this time – first, the recent bombing in Mogadishu was the work of a Danish-Somali suicide bomber; and second, an 18 year old Italian-Somali handed himself over to government forces claiming that he was sent over to fight by his father.

The first case appears to be what can increasingly be described to be the traditional model of recruitment for al-Shabaab. Drawn by a combination of religious zeal and nationalism, 25 year old Abdulrahman Ahmed Haji moved back to Somalia from his adopted home just outside Copenhagen with his pregnant wife, about 18 months ago. Friends described him as a gregarious young man who used to party and play football, but that recently he had started to withdraw into himself. A local leader in Copenhagen claimed that the young man had increasingly turned to religion.
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American Jihad

Posted: December 4, 2009 in Terrorism Monitor
Tags: , , , ,

My latest for Jamestown, this time looking at the new revelations around the group in Minneapolis (and interestingly a parallel group that appears to be popping up in Canada). Am still trying to track down some of the court documents, so if anyone comes across any more, I would be hugely appreciative.

http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=35797

American Jihad: New Details Emerge About al-Shabaab Recruitment in North America

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 37
December 3, 2009
Mahmoud Said Omar, an arrested member of a group of Minneapolis natives that allegedly sent recruits to fight with al-Shabaab in Somalia.

On November 23, federal prosecutors in the United States unsealed indictments against members of a group of Minneapolis natives accused of being at the heart of a cell sending men and boys to fight with al-Shabaab, a radical Islamist movement in Somalia with close ties to al-Qaeda. [1] The unsealing of the documents came in the wake of the arrest of one of the members of the group, Mahamud Said Omar in the Netherlands, and the possible discovery of a similar cell operating out of Toronto (AP, November 10; National Post [Toronto], November 21).
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A short policy paper for an Australian think tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute which explores the Western al-Shabaab networks – in other words tries to understand the actual meaning of all these increasing links people see between the Somali group and others abroad. My own sense is that the immediate external threat is unclear and we run the risk of overblowing it, but I understand that this might evolve over time. One group I have written about before that might merit a mention are omitted for sub judice concerns. Any thoughts or contradictions would be most appreciated – in particular any hints about other networks that might emerge over time.

Understanding the al-Shabaab networks

by Raffaello Pantucci

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The Australian Government on 21 August 2009 officially listed the al-Shabaab group as a terrorist organisation. This paper examines the danger posed by the Somali-based group, and concludes that we are likely to see an increase in Westernised Muslims appearing on the battlefield in Somalia. Eventually we will see some of these men come home. It would not be surprising if there was an increase in localised targeting by these people of Western interests.

http://www.aspi.org.au/publications/publication_details.aspx?ContentID=226&pubtype=-1