New wave of terror, or just hate crime?

In 2004, David C. Rapoport wrote The Four Waves of Modern Terrorism, a report of terror trends since the birth of modern terrorism in the 1880s. The four waves, according to Rapoport, are:  Anarchist (1878–1919), Anti-Colonial (1920s–early 1960s), New Left (mid 1960s–1990s), and Religious wave (1979–?). Based on the estimated dates of each trend, a new trend is set to emerge soon. The question is what will that trend be?

Looking at some crimes in recent years that people have been calling terrorism, one could think that hate crimes as terrorism might be one such trend. Hate crimes might fit into the loosest of terrorism definitions. The FBI defines hate crimes as “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” If that crime is used as a way to advance an (political) ideology, might it be considered terrorism?

Here are some recent examples that some have been describing as terrorism:

Charleston church shooting. Dylann Roof shot nine parishioners of the historically all-black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church. After the attack, it was discovered that Roof ran a white supremacist website called The Last Rhodesian.

Orlando nightclub shooting. Oman Mateen killed 49 at Pulse, a gay nightclub. In a call to police during the shooting, he claimed allegiance to Islamic State, and that the attack was in response to the killing of IS commander Abu Wahib. Prior to committing the attack, Mateen had been vocal about his disgust of homosexuality.

Virginia GOP baseball practice shooting. Shot Congressman Steve Scalise (a Republican), wounding him and four others during a practice for a baseball game. James T. Hodgkinson filled his Facebook page with lots of anti-Trump, and pro-Bernie Sanders posts.

London mosque van attack. Darren Osborne ran a van into Muslims leaving Finsbury Park mosque after a Ramadan service. He is quoted as saying he wanted to kill Muslims. The 47-year-old has been described as both a friendly fellow, and as someone who had anger issues, possibly due to drink.

None of these attacks were perpetrated by the same kind of person. They were not all Christian, nor Muslim. What they did have in common was a hatred for a group of people. The Orlando case stands out a little because it has overlapping ideologies. During the call to police, Mateen claimed he was doing the attack for Islamic State, but he had previous voiced a hatred for, and then attacked, gays.

Is this a new wave of hate-crime-as-terror?

Likely not.

The more probable explanation is that the rise in hateful political rhetoric in recent years has emboldened those who previously hid their hatred. The election of Donald Trump, the popularity of Front National, and the seemingly successful campaign of anti-immigration Brexiters has somewhat normalized open hate. The attacks mentioned above certainly appear to fulfill the criteria of hate crimes. Fitting the description(s) of terrorism is another story, however. Other than Mateen, none of these men claimed to be part of an organization. And it’s questionable that their actions were being used for purposes of political persuasion. Alex Schmid, in his Revised Academic Consensus Definition of Terrorism, lays out several points to define terrorism. Each alone could be applied to a variety of crimes, but taken together give a concise definition to the crime. Two points stand out. One, “the direct victims are not the ultimate target but serve as message generators.”  The second point is that “Acts of terrorism rarely stand alone but form part of a campaign of violence.” The attacks mentioned above (with the exception of Mateen) targeted specific people, and they were stand alone attacks.

Hate crimes may be on the rise, but they shouldn’t be misconstrued as terror attacks. A form of right wing terror could very well be the next wave of terrorism, but it is too soon to determine.

Thinking about women’s roles in terrorism

“To underestimate or neglect women jihadists would be a huge mistake for security services…– and one they may pay for in the near future.” – Abu Haniyah

I recently read two article about the roles of women in extremism (specifically, Islamic State), and how we need to change how we view them.

In Article A, the authors list four ways extremists manipulate gender norms. The first way is in the way recruiters customize their message for women. They promise a better life for the women, free from oppression. The second is that Islamic State (IS) uses sexual violence for bonding or intimidation among the fighters. Third, IS and other terror groups exploit the lack of women in security roles (i.e. police) when they execute operations. This is true, to a point. But more often are reports of women being used in places where their presence will not attract attention (such as markets), and knowing they cannot be searched. Finally, IS has developed a narrative about its attacks that highlights the targeting of women and girls. This is a bit skewed. The authors open the article specifically mentioning the targeting of girls at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. The problem with this message is that in the claim of responsibility, IS does not mention girls or children, but Crusaders. There have been instances in the past of messages from IS threatening revenge for the killing of Muslims, including women and children.

Women play MANY roles in & around IS. And women’s roles have evolved under IS. There are brides, recruiters, planners, fighters, and victim/slaves (as with the Yazidi women). The brides of jihadis often get passed around after their husbands are martyred. Fighters, in IS, is a newer development.

The article doesn’t give much as far as changing the way of thinking. The most important point in the article is tucked in at the end, almost as an afterthought, as a passage briefly mention of the role of women in countering extremism. In my opinion, this is important, not just in a professional capacity. Wives and mothers can play a role in dissuading their sons (and daughters) from joining IS. This is something that should be discussed more in countering extremism, along with how the roles of women in terror groups evolve. This leads me into the second article I read.

Article B is more articulate. It tells of women of IS being “trivialized” or “marginalized” by the media & public. (They’re victims or brainwashed). Societies have a hard time coming to terms with women being violent, and ACTUALLY believing in the IS cause. Because of these societal views, women who join IS or other terror groups usually get lighter sentences. The public just has a hard time believing women are joining these terror groups because they actually believe in the cause. This is true of many terror groups. One point I would like to counter is the statement in the article about al Qaeda relegating its female members to raising the next generation of jihadists. Al Qaeda has used women in support and operational roles, something I’ve written about before here.

Unfortunately, the authors mention, is that cultural attitudes in Muslim societies can make it difficult to conduct investigations. In more conservative societies, a man talking alone with women is not allowed. In some extreme cases, this is being exploited, as women can operate without the scrutiny that some Muslim men involved in terror face. The women are just harder to watch.

As the roles of women in these groups evolve, those in the business of counterterrorism and countering violent extremism need to shed the preconceived notions of women-as-victim. Women are increasingly playing active roles in the organizations, and doing so voluntarily. The terror groups will certainly use this to their advantage, whether we accept it or not. But the sooner we do, the sooner we can address these issues.

Who benefits from the label of ‘terrorism’?

Last week, an armed man entered a Manila casino, and began shooting. In the end, at least 36 people were dead, as was the gunman. After the attack, Islamic State claimed the attack (twice!), and even President Trump called the incident an act of terrorism. The police, on the other hand, said it was not terrorism, but an attempted robbery gone horribly wrong. The gunman was said to be a gambling addict.

Why would both a terrorist organization and a politician both label an attack terrorism, when is wasn’t? As I was asked recently, who benefits from labeling something ‘terrorism’?

First, terrorists themselves benefit. Coverage of a successful attack spreads their message, and spreads fear. Coverage of terror attacks is one of the best forms of propaganda. 24 hour news coverage is free, and has a worldwide reach. The news organizations display the terrorists’ messages, pictures of the dead and wounded, and spread fear of more to come. The very act of terrorism is to instill fear through violence or threat of violence for a certain, often political, gain. The more terror attacks there are (real or perceived), the more people will fear the terrorists, and sometimes even giving in to the demands.

Second, the politicians who are looking to curb freedoms benefit. In the Philippines, President Duterte declared martial law after militants stormed Malawi City. Duterte, no stranger to extrajudicial power plays, could have used the Manila incident to justify the need for even more crackdowns in the country. This is something that has been going on in Erdogan’s Turkey for years. In that country, incidents are routinely blamed on the Kurds, and then used as an excuse to limit rights and even jail people. President Trump benefits by drumming up support from his base for his travel ban. In the aftermath of this weekend’s London terror attacks, Prime Minister May suggested regulating the internet to “deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online.” In short, politicians use the fear of more attacks to push their agendas and gain power.

Third, the news organizations benefit by way of ratings. “If it bleeds, it leads” is a common refrain. Despite the horror of a terror attack, people sit glued to the screen for hours, watching experts and hosts try to make sense of the tragedy. The longer the news channels can keep talking about an incident, the longer people will keep watching.

And finally, a certain class of individuals benefit by being able to push their personal agendas. Over the weekend, a woman asked how the London or Manchester attacks were considered terrorism, but the Sandy Hook shooting was not. She was implying it was due to race/religion, and using that point to attack others. Seemingly lacking the understanding that terrorism is a specific thing, she (and others) have used terror attacks not to have a legitimate conversation about the perpetrators of terrorism, but to attack people for imagined discrimination.

Even if a crime is not actually terrorism, there are people who benefit from labeling it as such. And it often comes down to fear or power, no matter who is doing the labeling.

 

Unanswered Questions About St. Petersburg.

On Monday 3 April, a bomb went off in the St. Petersburg, Russia, metro, killing 14. At first, there was some confusion about the identity of the perpetrator, having originally been blamed on a man from Kazakhstan. After he turned himself in and was cleared, the real attacker was identified as 22 year-old Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, an Uzbek from Kyrgyzstan. Initially, no claims of responsibility came. Then, on 18 April, a claim of responsibility showed up on al Qaeda’s North African channel, Agence Nouakchaott d’Information (ANI). In the statement, it was said that Dzhalilov was a member of a previously-unknown AQ group called Iman Shamil Battalion. The statement also said that Dzhalilov was acting on instructions from Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri, to coincide with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to St. Petersburg, and threatened more action:

“To the Russian government, which apparently has not taken a lesson from its defeat in Afghanistan, we say: This operation is only the beginning, and what is to come will make you forget it, Allah permitting.”

Following the attack, 8 people from Central Asia were detained in connection to the investigation. Several weeks later, 12 people were detained in Kaliningrad, suspected as being part of a terror cell there. The Kaliningrad cell was said to be led by an Uzbek wanted on extremism charges, and are supporters of Islamic State.

Terrorism in Central Asia is next to nonexistent. Economic conditions in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan have many seeking to find work elsewhere. They often end up in Russia, where they are treated as lower-class citizens. The alienation they experience can, in part, lead to their being vulnerable to extremist via recruiters, as I wrote here. In recent years, more of their numbers have shown up in terror attacks outside of the region. In June of last year, the attack on Turkey’s Ataturk Airport included Central Asians. The New Year’s Eve attack at an Istanbul nightclub was perpetrated by an Uzbek. This year’s truck attack in Sweden was also carried out by an Uzbek. These attacks, however, were directed or inspired by Islamic State.

Despite the claim of responsibility by AQ, many questions remain. First, why was the claim of responsibility was released on a side channel and not on AQ’s main channel? New York Times writers Rukmini Callamachi and Ivan Nechepurenko spoke of this in an article on 25 April. They raised the question of why this showed up on ANI, AQ’s North Africa channel, but not on their main channel, where they speak of European operations. The statement was first released in Arabic, then later in Russian.

Second, the suspect did not show any of the signs typical of recent terrorists. Dzhalilov was, by most accounts, not an overly religious person, he did or didn’t pray (depending on the report), and save for a couple of “liked” Islamic groups, his social media showed no clues. He, likewise, did not have a criminal record, and did not do drugs. It had been reported that he had quit his job and “disappeared,” rumored to have gone to Turkey and Syria. How did this young man end up following orders from Zawahiri to blow himself up in St. Petersburg? One of the suspects arrested after the attack said in a court appearance that he was acting on someone else’s orders, and that he didn’t know he was part of a terror attack. Whose orders was he following, and what was he told? Dzhalilov told people he had an uncle in Turkey, but was that the real reason he went there? Was there someone who can confirm that he was in Turkey, and who, if anyone, did he talk to there?

Third, the Imam Shamil Group was an unknown group prior to this attack. Who are they? The group is named after a Caucasus imam who led the fight against the Russians in the nineteenth century. Shamil’s name is used frequently in the Caucasus, and it is not out of the question that this group was formed specifically for this attack. It is not an uncommon practice; the most well-known example may be the Madrid bombings in 2004. Mark Youngman, who follows extremism in Russia, gave a lengthy response as to why this group and the claim should be viewed with some skepticism.

One possibility is that al Qaeda is looking to become relevant again. With the rise of Islamic State, al Qaeda has been pushed out of the spotlight, and has lost members to IS. They could be seeking to expand their network outside the Middle East and the Caucasus, with the Imarat Kavkaz (IK) insurgency in the North Caucasus having been largely contained. There have been attacks, but nothing on a large scale. Ramzan Kadyrov’s security forces have been particularly effective at neutralizing the threat. Recruiting Central Asians already in Russia’s cities is one way of expanding their network inside Russia. Although there are factors in place to recruit Central Asia migrants as terrorists, it has not been a common occurrence. Despite the numbers of migrant workers in Russia, there have been very few instances of terror attacks involving them in the country. Most Central Asians involved in terrorism seem to be mostly aligned with Islamic State in the Middle East.

Another (conspiratorial) possibility is the involvement of the Russian government. They have used terror before as a pretext to launch operations, most notably the apartment bombings leading up to the Second Chechen War. And there was once a known Russian-AQ connection. In the 1990’s, the FSB had Zawahiri detained for six months. Besides the apartment bombings, Russia has also aided terrorists in the past for their own gains. Security services allowed known insurgents through checkpoints near Beslan, knowing an operation was possible in the area[1]. The inclusion of the Russian message on ANI by itself means nothing; the attack was in Russia. Maybe an insider had a contact with ANI and not AQ’s main channel. The question here is why would the Russian government need to set up Central Asians as terrorists? Would it be merely to show they can be tough on migrants (who are already treated poorly in Russia)? One result of the apartment bombings was a great increase in the approval rating of the president which, at the time of Yeltsin/Putin, was abysmal. That is not currently the case; Putin enjoys an 80% approval rating.

It has been months since the metro attack in St. Petersburg, and so many questions remain unanswered. Given that this happened in Russia, getting those answers anytime soon is unlikely. The only clues may come from Russia’s future response toward those from Central Asia.

1. David Satter, The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2016) p. 104