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.

Advertisements

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

On Terrorism

Not every crime is terrorism, but terrorism is always a crime.

What is terrorism? That is the question, isn’t it? There is no single definition of terrorism. At its root is terror. Merriam-Webster defines terror as “a state of deep fear.” But terrorism isn’t merely the act of terrorizing. Terrorism, as an act, has a purpose. The same Merriam-Webster calls terrorism “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” Many governing bodies and organizations have slightly different definitions of terrorism. However, it is usually some form of violence or threat of violence for gain, usually political, or to promote an ideology. The FBI defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” Whereas the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000 uses this definition: “acts of persons acting on behalf of, or in connection with, any organisation which carries out activities directed. towards the overthrowing or influencing, by force or violence, of Her Majesty’s  government in the United Kingdom or any other government de jure or de facto.” The UN, being comprised of 193 nations, each with their own ideas of terrorism, does not have a definition. Alex P. Schmid, as part of his Revised Academic Consensus Definition of Terrorism, writes that terrorists use violence or the threat of violence, usually against civilians for predominantly political reasons.

This is not a debate over the definition of terrorism, but rather a suggestion that motive matters, especially in terrorism. In the past few years, the word “terrorism” has been thrown around more and more, in all manner of crimes. In some cases, it has even been used to express unfair treatment. Madonna once called a leak of her music “a form of terrorism.” (She terrorized by her music being leaked?) Using the word to describe any form of grievance or crime cheapens the word. There are those of a particular lean that feel the label is only being applied to followers of a certain religion, and should be applied more liberally to crimes committed by others. Let’s look at some of the high profile incidents that some people have wanted labeled as terrorism:

-The Colorado theater shooting. This mass shooting was perpetrated by James Holmes, who was eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity. Holmes committed an act of violence on a civilian population, but did not use it as an act of political coercion nor to promote an ideology. His full motive remains unclear, but what is known, from his own words, is that he wanted to kill people. In one interview, according to the LA Times, Holmes said he killed to increase his self-worth and make him feel better. There was no political or ideological motive.

-The Charleston church shooting. Dylann Roof committed this mass shooting in a historic Black church. He was convicted of murder and civil rights violations (hate crimes), and sentenced to death. Like Holmes, Roof committed an act of violence against civilians. It can be argued that he did so due to his white supremacist beliefs, as spelled out in his manifesto. But was he using the act to promote those beliefs, or to coerce a government or general population? The judge called the act a hate crime and a case of domestic terrorism; Roof himself admitted he wanted to start a race war. This could lead some question the use of “terrorism,” but there is evidence to apply both terms.

-The Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting. Robert Dear began a mass shooting that ended after a five hour standoff with police. He said he did it for the babies, and that they would thank him. He was found to be delusional and incompetent to stand trial. Dear acted out on his religious beliefs that abortion is a sin, and sought to punish the sinners more than to promote his ideology. Still, he was trying to stop the practice of abortions through violence, making this crime is similar to other past domestic terror attacks targeting abortion clinics.

Terrorism can also be psychological. The threat of violence for gain can be just as effective. Is the current rash of bomb threats to Jewish community centers a form of terrorism? Possibly. The threat of violence on a civilian population certainly can fall into the category of terrorism. While civilians are not the policy makers, they can influence those who do make the policies in order to stop the violence of threats. Threatening civilians as a way to coerce, or to further an ideology, is not unheard of. The Islamic State uses violence and the threat of violence against civilian populations as part of their campaign to establish their caliphate. The violence and threats are to keep the people in line, as well as promoting their ideology. The bomb threats against the Jewish centers do not appear to fall into the category of terrorism for one major reason: the callers have so far not demanded anything from the victims of the threats. The general implication of the threats is that Jews will be slaughtered. Anti-Semitism rather than terrorism. But in threatening violence against the Jewish Centers, the caller(s) are creating fear and chaos. Is that the political motive behind this possible campaign of fear?

Those are but a few examples. For brevity, many others that can be discussed have been left off.

Why does motive matter? Labeling an act of violence as terrorism during an attack, or shortly thereafter, serves no purpose.  In the long term, it can help in how authorities respond to the act. From a criminal justice point of view, the policing approach to terrorism is different than that of conventional crime, especially in deterrence and prevention methods. Many criminal acts are perpetrated by individuals, whereas terrorism – even “lone wolf” terrorism – is often the act of a network. An act of terrorism could lead to additional acts of violence; knowing motive can help authorities in their prevention. The political motivation of terrorism changes the nature of the threat. According to Erin Miller, writing about motive for the START Consortium, “conventional violence is merely a matter of course; terrorism is a matter of national security.” That stresses the importance of terrorism vs. conventional crime. Terrorism is a criminal act, but not a senseless act. It is politically motivated, but the response should not be.

The Spanish Threat

In March 2004, ten explosions ripped through the Madrid train system. The blasts killed 192 people, and are widely attributed to an al Qaeda-affiliated organization. The previously unknown group calling itself Abu Nayif al Afghani claimed responsibility for the attacks. Those attacks happened at the time the current government had cooperated with the US on the invasion of Iraq, causing many people to vote in the opposing party, who called for the removal of Spanish troops. The bombings in Madrid achieved what terror is meant to do: cause fear, and change policy.

Since 11-M, as the Spanish refer to the Madrid bombings, there have been no reported incidents of terrorism in Spain. Abu Nayaf al Afghani has all but disappeared. In recent years, eyes have turned to France and Belgium, both countries having been victim to numerous attacks, large and small. But given the number of cells detected and militants captured in Spain, it is only a matter of time before Spain falls victim again, and with it more of Europe.

Since 2011, there have been nearly 200 people arrested on terror-related charges. That is approximately three times as many as were arrested between 1996 and 2012. In late 2015, Spanish terrorism experts released a report revealing the statistics about who made up Spain’s terror threat. Nine out of ten arrested were affiliated in some way with a known terror organization. Of those arrested, over half were born outside of Spain. This year alone, Spain has arrested almost 30 on terror-related charges. A pair of Moroccans were arrested in July were charged with financing a terror organization.

At least 75% of the terror suspects have been residents of the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in northern Morocco, but cells have been interrupted all over southern Spain. The would-be terrorists captured by Spanish authorities are sometimes found to be plotting attacks inside Spain itself, or are involved in recruiting and support efforts. In August 2012, three al Qaeda-connected men were caught plotting to attack Gibraltar. Curiously, two of the men were Chechen, claiming to be in Spain seeking asylum. One Chechen, Eldar Magomedov (AKA Ahmad Avar), was said to have been former Spetsnaz before leaving to join terror training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mohammed Ankari Adamov is also said to have trained in Afghanistan, and is rumored to have been involved in 2011’s Domodedovo Airport bombing.

This is not to say Spanish terrorists are happy to plot inside Spain. Their efforts have reached into neighboring France. One individual was arrested in Malaga in April 2015 on charges of supplying Paris supermarket gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, with arms. While the 27 year-old was a French citizen from Sainte Catherine, the fact that he was in Malaga should be no coincidence. Other potential jihadis have been caught in Malaga, some caught coming from or going to Syria. Months later, Ayoub El Khazzani, a Moroccan-born Spanish resident from Algeciras, was tackled on a Paris-bound train, disrupting an attack.

Yet, Spanish jihadis are not exactly streaming out of the country to join the cause. As of December of 2015, there were an estimated 150 Spanish fighters in Syria and Iraq. A more recent report stated than fewer foreign fighters are joining Islamic State. Does this mean there are fewer individuals willing to join the cause? The answer is likely ‘no.’ Given the recent attacks in Europe – specifically France and Belgium – it makes more sense to assume the fighters are staying put to plan attacks at home. Since Islamic State’s rise to power, more terrorists have switched support from al Qaeda, including affiliate al Nusra, to supporting the cause of IS. Years ago, support for a group calling itself Nadim al Magrebi briefly appeared on the radar. This is notable because of the group’s call to liberate Ceuta and Melilla from Spain. (It is interesting to recall that Ayman Zawahiri once called for the reconquering of al Andalus.) There had been concerns about Islamist infiltration into the Spanish military based in the enclaves. In 2013, there was a document issued by the Spanish Ministry of Defense reporting the detection of radicalism among the ranks.

The trend in terrorist attacks is leaning toward those inspired, rather than ordered directly by, Islamic State. A May 2016 message released by the group called on supporters to attack Europe and the U.S., encouraging lone wolf attacks. Other messages have encouraged Paris-style attacks in Germany and elsewhere. There is no reason to believe that Spanish IS supporters won’t eventually heed the call.

In the last 18 months, France, Belgium, and now Germany have been hit with several terror attacks, from large coordinated events (such as in Paris) to individual attacks, like the most recent in Germany. Since withdrawing from Iraq after the Madrid attacks, Spain has made little waves in the Muslim world. By contrast, France, Belgium, and Germany have actively fought both at home and in the Middle East against Islamic extremism. One attack in France came after that government began airstrikes in Syria, another after they announced they were moving their aircraft carrier to rejoin the fight. Spain, while not committing to airstrikes, vowed to support other countries in their fight against Islamic State.

For now, Spain has been lucky. Many of those arrested have been suspected of supporting terrorists rather than plotting their own attacks. We can hope that the number of arrests by Spanish authorities mean they are getting more proficient at identifying and apprehending the threat. However, we must not kid ourselves into believing that is the only case. That another major attack has not happened in Spain since 2004 does not mean there will not be another. Somebody may just be waiting to take advantage of Spain’s inaction and unpreparedness to attack.

The Roles Women Play: al Qaeda and Islamic State

“It’s not my role to set off bombs — that’s ridiculous. I have a weapon. It’s to write. It’s to speak out. That’s my jihad. You can do many things with words. Writing is also a bomb.”

 It has been over a month since the husband and wife team of Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik committed an act of terrorism is San Bernardino, California. In the aftermath, as a way to determine a motive, investigators initially focused on a garbled message on Facebook left by Malik. The message purported to claim an allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. This led many in the media – and armchair analysts online – to confirm that the attack was at least inspired by IS. But digging deeper into the lives of Farook and Malik revealed a more al Qaeda-style ideology. The fact that Malik was involved in the shootings suggests more al Qaeda than Islamic State. Why? Because of the roles women play in each organization.

In 2008, al Qaeda’s then second-in-command Ayman Zawahiri issued a statement saying women are not to be suicide bombers, but should stay at home raising a family. Just a year later, Zawahiri’s own wife went online encouraging more women to be more active in jihad.

But the role of women as active participants in al Qaeda’s jihad goes back further. Long having been linked to terrorist through a marriage to a Jamaah Islamiyah leader Abdul Rahim Ayub, Australian Rabia (Robin) Hutchinson played an active role in supporting terrorism. While there is no proof, it is rumored that she engaged in some violent activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of her activities involved teaching and training. After marrying her fourth husband in 2000, Osama bin laden confidant Abu al Walid al Masri, Hutchinson ran a hospital for mujahideen.

Women associated with al Qaeda have done more than teach and work in hospitals. Many have been involved in operational support and have even conducted operations themselves. Malika el Aroud, also known as Oum Obeyda online, was a Belgian of Moroccan decent who was thought to be a recruiter. She began her online propaganda in 2001, after her husband was killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan. A marriage to a second husband led her to Switzerland, where she and her husband were charged in 2007 with running pro-al Qaeda websites. After serving a six month sentence, she returned to Belgium. Again, she was detained, this time for allegedly plotting with other women to free a convicted terrorist, and for conducting surveillance for a forthcoming attack.

Another Belgian, Murielle Degauque, is said to be the first Western woman suicide bomber for al Qaeda. It was after marrying her second husband that she went down the path of jihad. Her husband, Issam Goris, was known to Belgian authorities as an Islamist. After their marriage, he was recruited into Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s Iraq network. Degauque followed. Six months later, 6 November 2005, Degauque strapped on a suicide belt and detonated herself near a US Army patrol in Buquba.

That same November, Sajida al Rishawi’s suicide belt failed to detonate when her and her husband attempted to bomb the Amman Radisson Hotel. Her husband was successful, but al Rishawi was able to escape. She was eventually caught, becoming the first woman of al Qaeda arrested. She has since been executed by Jordan.

Fast forward to 2014. Tashfeen Malik marries Syed Farook, entering into a marriage that included copies of Inspire magazine (official magazine of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) and sermons by Anwar al Awlaki. After having attended conservative madrassas in Pakistan, as well as having exposure to more radicalization through her husband, Malik would have been easily influenced. She may have pledged an allegiance to al Baghdadi in a Facebook message, but Tashfeen Malik was more al Qaeda than Islamic State.

So what of women’s roles in Islamic State?

In a manifesto released early 2015 by supporters of Islamic State, it was written that the main role of women shall be in the home. It is only in certain circumstances that women would be allowed outside the home. The first is the study of religion. Female doctors and teachers may be allowed out if they follow Sharia. And finally, via fatwa and only if there not enough men, may a woman engage in jihad.

Another role women play in IS is that of propagandists. As in the manifesto, women from IS flood social media with messages of the paradise that awaits new recruits in the caliphate. Their message, mostly directed toward young women and girls, is one of freedom, freedom from the perceived constraints placed on them by the Western world. The women on Facebook and Twitter proudly pose, fully veiled, with shopping or eating fast food, saying their lives are normal. They brag about the free apartments and televisions they are given by IS, all in exchange for supporting and marrying the fighters. Women, they say, are needed to support the men fighting the infidels, and to raise the next generation of fighters. Their job as wives and mothers, they say, is important to the Caliphate. And if they are lucky, their husbands and sons will become martyrs.

It is not just propaganda, either. Some women in Islamic State are part of what has been called ‘morality police.’ Based in Raqqa and Mosul, al Khansaa Brigades are in charge of making sure women are complying with Islamic State’s form of Sharia. They make sure the women are dressed appropriately and are accompanied by men. They arrest non-compliant women and issue lashings – or worse –  as punishment. Members of al Khansaa Brigades are the few women in IS that are allowed to drive and carry weapons.

Despite the propaganda, the reality is that most women in Islamic State are captives. Whether they join as al Khansaa Brigade members or travel to Syria to become brides, they can never leave. Some, once widowed, are married off to others, sometimes becoming slaves. Once the reality of living under IS sets in, some women try to leave. Those women are beaten and sometimes killed, such as the case of Samra Kesinovic.  Samra was a 17 year old Bosniak from Austria who left her family because she thought she could be free to practice her religion and “serve Allah.” She tried to escape Raqqa after saying she was sickened by the IS brutality, only to be beaten to death by supporters.

A few have managed to escape, but continue to live in fear that IS members will find them. The brutality of the Islam State is widely reported yet girls still make their way to Syria.

In the case of what roles women play in terror groups, female members of al Qaeda have the upper hand, so to speak, over Islamic State. Women in al Qaeda have a sort of operational equality that isn’t afforded to those in IS, up to and including conducting attacks. The have a part to play, something women in IS do not. The lucky ones get to be wives and mothers, for the alternatives are much worse.

 

I previously wrote about women and Islamic State here.

 

 

The Migrant Crisis and the Paris Attacks.

The Syrian refugee-as-terrorist narrative remains uncertain, but the question remains: who is checking the migrants?

In the days following the most recent terror attacks in Paris, details began to emerge regarding the identity of the attackers. Recovered from one of the attackers was a Syrian passport that had been processed through border check points in Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Austria then France. Fingerprints from the remains matched those of someone using the passport in Leros, Greece. The true identity of the man remains a mystery. But that passport, along with Islamic States’ claim of responsibility, seemed to confirm what many people had been thinking during the migrant crisis, that terrorists might be sneaking in with the migrants. Reports have since come out saying the passport was a fake. Some have taken this to mean it was a plant to demonize the migrants, highlighting the xenophobic rhetoric of Europe’sand America’s – right.

There is a legitimate argument to make in voicing concern that not all migrants and refugees are what they appear. Syrians escaping civil war aren’t the only ones pouring into Europe. Migrants from all over the Middle East, South East Asia, and Africa are making their way to Europe in search of everything from peace to better job and family opportunities. But as early as March of this year, there have been concerns that there are more than migrants among their ranks.

Before the focus shifted to the Balkan route, thousands were making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy. Since IS have been establishing themselves in Libya, there have been reports that they would begin using it as a jumping-off point to reach Italy. In May of this year, Libyan security adviser Abdul Basit Haroun made the claim that IS would exploit the migrant crisis by posing as refugees. Supposed IS documents have said that the terror organization intends to send people into Europe under the guise of refugees or migrants. Some European officials have also expressed concern about IS militants slipping through the gaping security holes. It should be noted the recent arrest of the two extremists in Hungary is unrelated to the migrant crisis, though still concerning.

The issue isn’t that a passport of dubious legitimacy was found next to a terrorist in Paris. Criminals – terrorists – use forged documents all the time. Nor is it out of the ordinary for a foreigner to be carrying his passport. Terrorist do ordinary things to blend in to their surroundings, to not tip anyone off that they are about to cause mass casualties. Remember, the September 11 hijackers shaved their beards, wore Western clothes, and partied so they would appear normal, and not as radical, devote Muslims.

No, the issue here is that a fake passport was checked through several checkpoints from Greece through Austria. The sheer number of people flooding into Europe via the Balkan route is overwhelming countries. So many people are arriving that they cannot be processed thoroughly. Officials at processing centers and checkpoints know they are dealing with fake documents and people pretending to be Syrian – Syrians get special status – but, lacking resources, seemingly have no choice but to let them pass. The countries on the routes to Germany and other destinations don’t want to deal with the migrants so they pass them through.

Lacking the resources or will to properly process the migrants and refugees, anyone can get through, including IS militants and other would-be terrorists. Letting the migrants flow through Europe unchecked opens the door for exploitation. IS has said many time that they want to strike Western targets. There are already terror cells and IS sympathizers all over Europe. Raids in Spain, Italy, France and Belgium are increasingly regular events. There is much talk that foreign fighters in Syria returning to Europe could mount attacks.

The bigger threat remains home-grown terrorists; five of the eight Paris attackers were French. The majority of recent terror attacks in Europe have come from individuals who were radicalized in their home countries. This does not mean, however, that the threat of militants coming in or returning via the migrant routes should be ignored. Blocking and turning back migrants is not the answer. More needs to be done in processing the migrants at entry points. Destination countries, like Germany, that are willing to offer millions of euros in aid for migrants should be able to offer aid for checkpoints and processing centers.

There is no perfect solution; there is no 100% guarantee all migrants entering Europe will be properly screened, as there is no guarantee all would-be criminals will be caught upon entry. Putting into place serious measures of screening is a start, and anything is better than the current system. To continue to allow the free flow of migrants into Europe is an open invitation for trouble.

Boko Haram’s Girl Bombs

Islamic State’s gruesome acts fill the headlines, but in Nigeria and nearby states, Boko Haram is engaging in acts just as disturbing.

Boko Haram has been active in their quest to bring an Islamic state to Nigeria since 2009, although the group has been around since 2002.

It wasn’t until June 2014 that they began to employ a new tactic: suicide bombers. These suicide bombers are seen as unique in that many of the bombers are girls, some as young as 10. What makes this even more disturbing – if possible – is that it coincides with Boko Haram’s campaign of mass kidnapping, most notably the Chibok schoolgirls. (Note – it has not been confirmed if any of the Chibok girls have been used as bombers.)

Female suicide bombers aren’t new. They’ve most infamously been employed by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers). Perhaps the most well-known female suicide bombers are Russia’s Black Widows. Disturbingly, child bombers aren’t new, either. The Taliban has been known to use children – both boys and girls – as bombers on occasion. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, children were picked individually and groomed for the task. What is worrisome about the Boko Haram bombers is the frequency of use and the ages of the girls involved. More importantly, how they are being made into bombers?

There are several possible scenarios in regards to the women and girls being bombers. The first is that the woman willingly take on the task, as like the Black Widows. They choose to blow themselves up out of duty or shame. Nigeria is still very much a patriarchal society, where women are seen as inferior or property. Many of the women and girls stolen by Boko Haram are raped, bringing shame upon her and her family. A second scenario involves coercion. These women are told to carry out an attack out of threats to them or their families, although the idea that they are being brainwashed with Boko Haram’s ideology is is possible. Brainwashing could also play a role in the final scenario: the youngest girls sent out wearing explosives and blown up remotely. This is the most disturbing of the scenarios as these girls would have little to no idea what is happening to them. A girl that young could be told anything to get her to walk into a crowd.

Despite the announcement in March by then-president Goodluck Jonathan that Boko Haram was getting weaker, they continue to launch attacks. Just this year, Boko Haram has conducted nearly 20 suicide attacks in Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon, with the majority involving women or young girls. The Pentagon is planning to send 300 US troops to Cameroon to help stop Boko Haram. Some are saying Boko Haram’s use of these suicide bombers is a sign of weakness or desperation at a loss of able fighters, or that they are employing this tactic because the Nigerian army is succeeding in their fight. While Boko Haram may not have made much gains in recent months, they have not lost their hold on northeast Nigeria. Using suicide bombers – especially women and girls – is just a change in tactics. In short, Boko Haram has found a new, horrific way to extend their terror campaign. By using young women and girls, soft targets become more easily accessible. Women and girls are not out of place in markets, where many of these attacks have taken place. Typically, fighters – even suicide bombers – are male. Women and girls don’t attract the same sort of attention as a strange male would. Also, using women and girls in traditionally Islamic societies allows for the concealment of explosives under their clothes, and allows them to enter an area without being searched, as is forbidden in Islam.

By using suicide bombers, Boko Haram splits focus between traditional fighting with the Nigerian army and hitting soft target attacks. Additionally, by using the women and girls, they have expanded their fighting force. Despite claims to the contrary, Boko Haram appears to have gained an advantage with their shift in tactic. With claims that Boko Haram has kidnapped well over 40,000, it appears that that advantage will last for the foreseeable future.

Propaganda of the Deed, or Russia in Syria

Propaganda of the deed has its origins in the anarchist/revolutionary movements of the 1800s. The actors then tried to spread their message through actions, feeling that would have a bigger impact than traditional propaganda. Those early anarchists and revolutionaries used violence to attract more attention and gain a bigger audience than any speeches or pamphlets had done.

Today, propaganda of the deed is used regularly to describe the terrorist playbook. Spectacular attacks, such as September 11 by al Qaeda and the destruction of Palmyra by Islamic State (IS), capture the attention of the world. The names become recognizable, and put the messages on a world stage.

But propaganda of the deed isn’t just for terrorists. We are witnessing it right now in the geopolitical power play between Russia and the West. Several weeks ago, Russia began moving military equipment into Syria, a move welcomed by President Bashar al Assad. Russia and Syria watchers took notice, awaiting the reaction from the Western nations – especially the US. As early as 2012, the US government began backing the Syrian rebels*, whose intent was to overthrow the Assad regime. By 2014, Islamic State had established a foothold in Syria. Later that same year, the US began conducting airstrikes against IS. Despite White House reports to the contrary, the strikes have not been overly effective in stopping IS.

Enter Russia.

Russia, a major ally of Syria, moved in with the promise to help Assad defeat IS. Almost immediately, Russian planes began bombing not only IS targets, but Syrian rebel positions as well. To those who know Russia, their true intent is no secret.

In Russia, image is everything. The intensity of their bombing campaign is designed to show the world how effective Russia is compared to the West (read: US) in defeating an enemy in the Middle East. In recent years, the gains made by the US in the region seem to have been lost. Russia, looking to improve their image tarnished by their annexation of Crimea, wasted no time stepping in. During his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Vladimir Putin all but called out the US for acting superior to the world, and for creating the power vacuum that now exists in the Middle East. He also announced a strategy to stabilize the region, in this case providing military and technical assistance to Assad.

Putin’s speech was a message to the world that Russia is still a superpower. Russia’s actions in Syria deliver a bigger message that the West is ineffective when dealing with terrorists and unrest in the Middle East. Russia is asserting its (perceived) dominance while increasing its presence in the Middle East, traditionally dominated by the US. Putin is also showing the world that he is a real leader, that President Barack Obama and other Western leaders are weak. In the wake of US failures to train and aid the Syrian opposition, Putin is stepping in with guns blazing.

The image of a strong, manly Russia has long been feed to the masses, from the New Soviet Man to Vladimir Putin’s shirtless photo ops. Putin openly challenging the West in Syria is more effective propaganda than any UNSC speech. Any attempt to show Russia as a great power, all the while showing up the US, is a great victory for Putin. The outcome of Russia’s actions in Syria remains to be seen. In the meantime, those actions are speaking volumes

 

*On 9 October, the Pentagon announced it was ending its program of training Syrian rebels, focusing instead on supplying weapons.