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Terrorism

International Law and the underlying Extra-legal Factors that influence Terrorism

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The world shivers at the mention of terrorism. As a matter of fact, modern terrorism has proven to pose the most serious threat to global peace and human rights. Despite the possibilities of other elements influencing the actions made by the terrorists, media reports continued to label the attackers as fanatic Islamic terrorists and Muslim guerrillas.

As if being Muslim equates to being a terrorist, the former became synonymous with the latter. Due to the bias created by the media, there is a disregard of the extra-legal elements other than religion that affect terrorism. The understanding of terrorism is therefore amorphous and vague, creating a lacuna within the international law and instruments that are created to fight it.

In this essay, I discuss the relationship of international law with the understanding of terrorism as an international crime. The focus is not only Islam but also all religions. I aim to probe that religion is only one of the elements that influence terrorism. However, the affiliation of religion with terror is not surprising. There have been various attacks that were planned and carried out in the name of religion, but what is usually overlooked is that religion itself is not always behind the attacks, and other extra-legal factors influence the attackers and their reasons. This bias is reflected by the media, which plays a huge role in establishing what terrorism is and who is seen as a terrorist.

International community has taken several initiatives to enact multilateral instruments to eliminate terrorism with the aim of protecting basic human rights and eliminating any threat to such priority. International law targeted terrorism in two ways: the first was through enacting multilateral treaties which are open to all States to sign; and the second is the result of onerous efforts by the General Assembly to execute a series of legal recommendations to help States fight terrorism. Today, there are approximately 12 Conventions and Protocols that legislate on terrorism. For the purposes of this essay, three Conventions will be examined: the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997),which is said to fill the  lacunae  regarding  the  investigation,  prosecution  and  extradition  of  terrorists;the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism   (1999), which was claimed to be created in the hope of crippling the whole structure of terrorism;and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005), which arguably targets nuclear weapons and their production to prevent abuse by terrorists.

International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997)

As a result of the improvement in technology and transport, bomb attacks are easier to plan, while explosives are conveniently accessible. This, and the increasing number of suicide bombers, has negatively affected the arduous war against terrorism, as the world struggles to control and monitor terrorists. In 2001, one of the men responsible for the Al-Khobar Towers attack on an American base in Saudi Arabia was indicted. The attack reportedly injured five hundred people, while nineteen perished. The alleged terrorist and his partners used a farm as the main area for building the bomb truck that was used in the attack. Extradition was sought by the USA, but Saudi Arabia rejected the extradition claim on the basis that the attack occurred on Saudi soil and that the terrorists were nationals.

This specific case gives rise to several extra-legal factors, such as the religious element, because the terrorists were reportedly linked to Hezbollah Al Hijaz– a Saudi Shiite opposition group that allegedly carried out several terrorist attacks and the political element, because the targeted group was foreign American military personnel and not non-army civilians, according to the findings of United States of America vs. Ahmed Mughassil(2001) case in US.

The UN, with the aim of enacting legislation that governs bomb attacks, adopted the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997).The Convention incorporates several essential elements targeting terrorism, for example, prohibiting any individual from acquiring and detonating explosives (Articles 1 and 2);providing that any individual charged with this crime must be prosecuted [Article 7(2)];and administering the extradition of the alleged terrorists (Article 9). However, the most swelling Article in the Convention must be Article 5, which recognizes the existence of extra-legal factors, stating that acts of terrorism are not “justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature (Article 5).” Therefore, it is clear that the Convention does recognize extra-legal factors, but has yet to accept their influence on terrorism; thus, failing to address it. In other words, the Convention pushes States to ignore those extra-legal elements; it takes a ‘punish but not prevent’ approach. This means that the Convention punishes acts of terrorism but fails to identify the root causes, and therefore is inadequate in preventing any future attacks.

In the case of the bombing of the Al-Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, for example, it could be argued that the motivations for the attack were merely political for two reasons: the attack was carried out by individuals associated to Hezbollah–the radical opposition group, and the chosen targets were military personnel. It is true that motivations do not act as justification, but addressing the root motives helps further develop understanding of terrorism as a whole in order to prevent future atrocities. Theoretically, if the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997) required States to investigate and control the cause, the reasons behind various types of terrorism could be uprooted. In other words, if the Convention provided for an investigation of the reasons behind the attack, both the terrorist individual and the group he or she is affiliated with would undergo scrutiny and repercussions to prevent future violations of human rights.

Furthermore, linking the extra-legal factors could help in identifying future possible targets. For example, religiously-motivated terrorists usually attack other religions, terrorists motivated by politics attack parliaments and military power, while personal vendettas and psychological issues might contribute to school shootings. Terrorist bomb attacks are planned on objectives that must be achieved: to kill as many people as possible to send a political message or to destroy symbolic objects and property. These comprehensive understanding of terrorism activities may lead States to prevent terrorist attacks far before they are taken place. Therefore, measures by the international community must be taken to incorporate binding Conventions and Articles that target the root cause of terrorist bombings.

 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999)

The Abu Sayyaf group – a terrorist group based in the Philippines, suffered from a major loss in numbers of armed militants affiliated to it as a result of financial difficulties. In fact, there were reportedly only two hundred armed militants connected to Abu Sayyaf. In the hope of fiscal growth, the group carried out several kidnapping operations, according to Australian National Security.

Abu Sayyaf is not the only terrorist group that sought financial aid through crime: Al Qaeda receives funds from drug trafficking and kidnapping as reported in CNN on May 04, 2011, while other groups use extortion to build their empires. However, at times, financial aid is willingly given to these terrorist groups. After the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the USA received confidential information relating to a sheikh in Yemen, who planned financing Al Qaeda. The informant claimed that up to USD20 million had been raised, which was to be transferred in cargo under the name of a honey trading business in order to avoid raising suspicion, according to Michael Freeman and MoyaraRuehsen in their article entitled “Terrorism Financing Methods: An Overview” at Perspectives on Terrorism in 2013 (Vol. 7, No. 4). Therefore, the fight against terrorism should not be merely directed towards violent acts but must also target the financing and sponsoring of terrorism, which can be made through: bank transfers, fundraising through fake charitiesor donations by wealthy individuals.

Measures have been taken by the UN to combat the financial support of terrorism. For example, the Security Council adopted sanctions that froze all funds of the Taliban– a radical terrorist organization through Security Council Resolution No. 1333 of 2000.However, an important institutive action was the enactment of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999). The Convention shares similar Articles to those found in theInternational Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings Convention (1997).Therefore, development on the targets of international law was limited. However, one distinct characteristic of the Convention is that it aims to destroy the core of terrorism –if finances are suspended, then executing terrorist operations will prove difficult due to the lack of sufficient funds.

Nevertheless, the Convention fails to target the reasons behind why individuals fund terrorism. There may be some psychological factors relating to the reasons why an individual might finance terrorism, for example, frustration with certain lifestyles or just the support of extremist ideologies might trigger an individual to support terrorist acts. Moreover, support of those ideologies and philosophies might be inherited or learned through biological factors, culture and socialization.

Economically, financing terrorism is not only beneficial to the terrorist group sponsored but also to the provider of the funds. For example, if Iraq is the leading State in the production of oil, then using terrorism cripples its production rate. Consequently, it helps advance the oil business other competitor States. This is because foreign investors and international firms consider the quality of peace as being more attractive.

On the other hand, the political reasons are very similar to factors that aim to ruin a State’s economy. However, politics are also influenced by various factors, such as culture, the spread of different ideologies and interest groups, and religion. Financing terrorism could be a way with which autocratic political leaders express disdain towards another State. Despite all of these extra-legal factors that influence the financing of terrorism, the Convention fails to address these issues.

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005)

The past two decades have witnessed a significant increase in terrorist destructiveness. The profound fear of nuclear weapons is understandable because the consequences are not only deadly but cause catastrophe on a global scale. If the Hiroshima and Nagasaki tragedies in 1945 are any indication, then another nuclear explosion will result in massive international damage. These grave violations of rights and disrespect for human life were enough to instill fear within most States; in other words, the lesson was learned.

Nuclear weapons became attractive to all types of organizations: both States and terrorist groups. For example, the Pelindaba attack in South Africa in 2007 caused public and legal uproar over the protection needed relating to nuclear materials. The attack reportedly involved two groups of men, who gained access to a control room in a corporation that stored hundreds of kilograms of highly enriched uranium. Despite the fact that the motives for the breach on the corporation’s estate are unknown yet, it was obvious that nuclear weapons have gained the attention of criminals and terrorists, and, hence, better laws and protective measures are needed.

The main international convention regulating nuclear weapons is the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005). Similar to the International Convention  for  the  Suppression  of  Terrorist  Bombings  (1997)  and  the  International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999), this Convention rejects any justification for terrorism (Article 6). However, its main failure is its lack of jurisdiction over States [Article 4(4)]. In other words, it only applies to terrorist groups, individuals and organizations. This lack of application to States is illogical for two reasons: the first nuclear wars were started by States during the Second World War and not terrorist groups,and States that sponsor terrorism do not fall within the jurisdiction of the Convention (2005), and, thus, cannot be held accountable. Moreover, any terrorist group seeking a nuclear weapon requires a state source to enable it to obtain certain materials needed to build the weapon. Thus, since a connection with a state is crucial for terrorists to acquire nuclear weapons, the Convention should have jurisdiction over states and be able to hold them accountable.

In addition, nuclear-weapon States are States that have rights to develop nuclear weapons under the Treaty of Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (1968). These are: China, Russia, the USA, the United Kingdom (UK) and France. The Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (1968) governs the production of nuclear energy and its peaceful use and includes three pillars: criminalizing the transferring of nuclear weapons (Articles 1 and 2); binding States to peacefully use and develop nuclear energy (Article 5); and supporting nuclear disarmament (Article 6). Nevertheless, the five nuclear-weapon States have adopted different policies towards using their nuclear weapons, but have maintained that nuclear weapons will be used if deemed necessary. Nevertheless, all five States use the idea of ‘self-defence’ or ‘deterrence’ to justify owning nuclear weapons with the aim of persuading potential enemies that the risk of using nuclear weapons against those five States is higher than the gains.But what about the right of those potential adversaries to self-defence and deterring measures?

This is where the extra-legal factors are triggered – mainly political factors. The fact that only certain States are legally able to possess nuclear weapons alienates other States; specifically, if there is an already-existing conflict. These political implications give rise to intra-State rivalry, further motivating States to use terrorism as a method. Instead of granting attention to the political factors that could result in a nuclear war, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005) states that offences found in this Convention are not to be “regarded…[a]s an offence inspired by political motives (Article 15)”. In other words, the Convention fails to address the political factors that increase the chances of a nuclear war because it disregards the possibility of a State helping a terrorist group, and ignores political inequality relating to owning nuclear weapons.

Conclusion

It is true that religion does have an influence on terrorism, but it is not greater than the influence of other extra-legal factors. Notwithstanding the fact that the media is the key factor behind labeling religion with terrorism, scholars have also extensively related religion to terrorism. This failure to accurately address terrorism resulted in an international lacuna – a gap that led to an increase in the number of terrorist groups.

The war on terrorism requires the adoption of both social and legal measures. Failure to act will only lead to an increase in powerful terrorist groups. The current fight against terrorism is unrealistic. In fact, measures taken rely on compliance with international law. However, compliance with law is the last concern of terrorist groups.

With regard to the legal situation, the first and foremost important change needed is an international consensus on the meaning of terrorism; the UN has yet to agree on a functional definition.

Furthermore, in order to socially combat terrorism, stereotypes of Muslims must be eradicated. This is because the alienation of Muslims in Western societies might act as a sociological factor that may motivate an individual to seek revenge through executing terrorist acts. Moreover, bias and discrimination would result in Muslims employing a defence mechanism to protect themselves. This defence mechanism might develop into hostility towards civilians, the government and political authorities. Therefore, the religious focus must shift to include several extra-legal elements in order to consider all possible motivations relating to terrorism.

Economic issues must also be targeted and resolved to lessen the attractiveness of incentives promised by terrorist groups to potential recruits. Furthermore, more research is required relating to the effects of psychological factors associated with terrorism. Social issues are very important in combating terrorism because they have a major influence over human behavior.

No matter how successful legal Conventions and Resolutions against terrorism are, they will not eradicate terrorist acts. International Conventions are useful in establishing that no crime will go unpunished, but terrorists disdain the nature of law. Therefore, respect for it is non- existent. As a result, the international community must collaborate on both legal measures and methods to analyze extra-legal factors in order to stop the formation or expansion of terrorist groups.

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Terrorism

Joshua Boyle Charged With Assault: Was He Re-Enacting the Traumas of Taliban Captivity?

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Joshua Boyle, a 34-year-old Canadian man rescued last October with his American wife and three children after five years in Taliban captivity, has been arrested by Canadian authorities and charged with 15 criminal offenses, including sexual and physical assault, unlawful confinement, uttering death threats, and misleading police. All these charges relate to alleged behavior since his return from captivity Oct. 14.

A court order in Canada has prohibited publication of information that would identify any of the alleged victims. But it appears likely that Boyle’s alleged behavior is a result of the deep traumas he and his family endured during their hostage taking, some of which is now being re-enacted.

Boyle’s wife, Caitlan Coleman, said in a statement that “ultimately it is the strain and trauma he was forced to endure for so many years and the effects that had on his mental state that is most culpable for this.”

Their family clearly has been through hell. Boyle and Coleman, who was seven months pregnant at the time, were backpacking in Afghanistan’s Wardak province when they were abducted by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network. They were only freed after a shootout between the Pakistani security forces and their captors.

Upon their arrival back in Canada, Boyle spoke to journalists, reading from a statement, and blurting out that their infant daughter had been murdered and his wife raped “as retaliation for my repeated refusal to accept an offer that the criminal miscreants of the Haqqani network had made to me.”

According to Boyle, Coleman’s rape was not undertaken “as a lone action, but by one guard… assisted by the captain of the guard and supervised by the commandant.” Later, Coleman clarified that she was given a massive dose of estrogen against her will, which forced her to abort.

AS HOSTAGES, BOYLE AND COLEMAN were at times kept in cramped quarters as small as a bathtub, were drugged, forced into the trunk of a car to be transported from place to place, and abused. The son that Coleman was carrying when they were abducted was born in captivity. And then they made the decision after the loss of their unborn daughter to conceive and bear more children who were raised with them.

After the family’s release, those three surviving children showed dire signs of trauma, re-experiencing it in nightmares and flashbacks, as Boyle told Michelle Shephard of the Canadian newspaper the Toronto Star in October. He said that their 4-year-old son, Najaeshi Jonah, did not like to close his eyes because it reminded him of waking up at night to see masked men with Kalashnikovs picking him up after his parents already had been taken away while he was sleeping. Ever since, according to Boyle, their son tried to avoid closing his eyes, even to play the childhood game of peek-a-boo, in order to avoid re-experiencing the horror.

Najaeshi Jonah, according to Boyle, was also “terrified to leave the house [in Canada], even just to go on the porch… It’s as though he thinks if he ever exits this magical wonderland it will all end…”

Speaking for himself, Boyle also admitted in an interview he no longer trusted anyone after being held hostage for so long.

Speaking of his 2-year-old middle child, Dhakwoen Noah, Boyle told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Susan Ormiston that his son was experiencing traumatic flashbacks and is “nearly as distressed as he was in prison, it seems everything reminds him of the horrors of prison; cameras are equated to hostage videos, pens are equated to syringes used to drug his parents with ketamine by the guards, slamming doors is associated with cell searches or worse, it seems his healing process has barely begun—so we pray that God will hasten it.”

Even the Boyles’ months-old infant girl returned from captivity traumatized Boyle wrote in an email to the CBC: “Ma’idah Grace seems scared most of the time, but also to have discovered there are more decent people in the world than she knew; her world until last week consisted of two good brothers and two good parents and about 15 guards [who were sources of] increasing fear to her.”

THAT IT’S NOT ONLY the children who were traumatized, but also Boyle himself—who tried to appear strong and the leader of the family upon their release—now seems all too clear.

In a strange psychological twist, trauma survivors who don’t get the support and help they need to overcome the psychic pain they have endured often repeat their traumas in both symbolic and literal ways. It may be the brain trying to redo the story and get it right, or at a minimum understand, and come to grips with the past psychic pain endured.

Many wondered about the Boyle and Coleman decision to bear more children in captivity, but any psychologist knowing how the case unfolded could see that both spouses were deeply distraught over the forced abortion of their unborn daughter and Coleman’s rape. It is common after a forced or traumatic abortion to get pregnant repeatedly to try to heal that painful scar—a pattern to which the Boyle-Coleman marriage was no exception, even in captivity.

Boyle first appeared in court on New Year’s Day in Ottawa, and again on Wednesday. He will remain in custody at least until Monday. Among the charges issued against him is causing an unidentified person to ingest “a noxious thing, namely Trazodone,” an antidepressant drug.

In this case it seems that traumatic re-enactment is clearly occurring. Joshua Boyle, under deep distress, has now allegedly forced someone to take a serious medication against their will, and has allegedly sexually assaulted someone. He is even accused of keeping someone in unlawful confinement—perhaps repeating what was done to them in his own mixed-up way.

It’s not a small thing for any man, to be responsible for putting his wife in harm’s way and then being unable to save her from rape and a forced abortion. That he was clearly still deeply distressed by both, and that these traumas were first and foremost in his mind, was evident in his statement upon their release when he lashed out at his kidnappers, calling for the Afghan government to track down those members of the Haqqani network who raped his wife, and ordered “the murder of my infant daughter.”

UPON THEIR RELEASE in Pakistan and return to Canada, all of the Coleman/Boyle family were showing signs of distress and may or may not have been receiving—or accepted—the support they needed. Boyle may have rejected psychological assistance, or simply opted for prayers and medications that might ease the pain. But prayers and medications don’t quickly and completely erase traumatic memories that tend to intrude unbidden into one’s consciousness causing rage, terror, withdrawal and alienation—symptoms that trauma survivors need help in learning to manage.

Boyle perhaps too quickly stepped forward and took it upon himself to be the family spokesman talking to the press with whom he unceremoniously announced the family traumas. Meanwhile Caitlan Coleman remained veiled, in the shadows and silent—while her father, Jim Coleman, made angry statements to American media blaming Boyle. “Taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place, to me and the kind of person I am, is unconscionable.”

Coleman’s father was not the only one who questioned Coleman’s reasons for being in Afghanistan in the first place. Security and law enforcement also had their lingering questions about whether Boyle had tried to make contact with terrorists in the first place and why Boyle and his wife were in Afghanistan.

Boyle, who is a convert to Islam, was married for a time to Zaynab Khadr, one of the elder sisters of Omar Khadr, the Pakistani-Canadian who as a 15-year-old was arrested and charged with killing an American soldier in Afghanistan. Boyle, among others, was outraged that Khadr spent ten years in Guantanamo despite claiming his confession to the killing had been coerced.

The patriarch of the Khadr family was killed in 2003, along with al Qaeda and Taliban members, in a shootout with Pakistani security forces near the Afghanistan border. Omar Khadr, who was repatriated to Canada in 2012, subsequently won a settlement of 10.5 million Canadian dollars ($8.4 million) and a government apology from the Canadian government for breaching his constitutional rights.

Security experts wondered if Boyle’s zeal for Islam and his anger over the West’s action toward individuals like Omar Khadr were part of his reason for going to Afghanistan. Was he looking for contacts that ultimately disappointed him by taking him and his family hostage and demanding he join them?

Boyle’s associations with the family led some U.S. intelligence officials to speculate that his visit to Afghanistan may have been part of a larger effort to link up with Taliban-affiliated militants. “I can’t say that [he was ever al Qaeda],” one former intelligence official told The Independent in the U.K. “He was never a fighter on the battlefield. But my belief is that he clearly was interested in getting into it.”

These questions still remain unanswered, but certainly would cause Boyle distress.

Within a week of their release in October 2017, Boyle, who tried to present himself as the strong protector, reportedly was rushed to the hospital with an unspecified ailment. Boyle’s family made a statement at the time that both their son and his wife were “deeply traumatized and Josh is not of clear thought as he speaks at times.”

This week Caitlan Coleman defended Boyle, without offering specifics, in her statement to the Toronto Star where she blamed the trauma they had been through. “Obviously, he is responsible for his own actions,” Coleman wrote, “but it is with compassion and forgiveness that I say I hope help and healing can be found for him. As to the rest of us, myself and the children, we are healthy and holding up as well as we can.” Boyle’s defense lawyer, Eric Granger, wrote in an e-mail to the Star, “Mr. Boyle is a young man who we all know has been through a lot. He has never been in trouble with the law.”

Indeed, and now that we see evidence that the deep traumas of their five-year-ordeal are being replayed, it is time for Caitlan, Joshua, and their children to get the psychological, spiritual, medical, and community support they need. Only then can they rage and grieve and finally come to terms with the losses harsh captivity has left imprinted on their bodies, minds, and souls.

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Terrorism

Wanted Dead or Alive: The Frustrating, Failing Hunt for ISIS Leader Baghdadi

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Authors: Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. & Ardian Shajkovci, Ph.D. 

Last month Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi declared the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq. Yet a pressing question remains—where is Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the terrorist group that took over a third of Iraq’s territory in 2014 to establish the so-called caliphate, which terrorized millions in the region, horrified people all over the world, and inspired gruesome attacks in Europe and the United States?

Despite a $25 million U.S. State Department bounty on his head, al Baghdadi has managed to evade capture and death repeatedly. This, even with the fury of the U.S., Russian, Syrian, and Iraqi militaries focused on killing him.

While we were in Baghdad as researchers from the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) last month interviewing cadres from the so-called Islamic State who, unlike their leader, were caught and brought to justice, an Iraqi prison interrogator asked, “With all of your country’s military might why is it that the U.S. can’t find al Baghdadi?”

It’s a good question.

Intelligence is best informed from on-the-ground sources, which, in the case of ISIS, the Americans lack. Western intelligence services have found it nearly impossible to insert spies into the terrorist organization. Jordanian sources claimed to us to have done so, and in Jordan’s case there is also a corroborating news story of an agent who had infiltrated and served as a commander in ISIS being airlifted out before the coalition’s final assault on the ISIS capital Raqqa.

Several Kosovar government officials also have told ICSVE researchers about their attempts to infiltrate the organization, but admit they failed. One of them was discovered and killed. And while the Israeli Mossad and Russia may have succeeded (that is certainly what they would like us to believe), it’s not clear that the intelligence received from any of these actors is, or was, coming out of the organization in real time.

Clearly no government or intelligence service has enough information to kill al Baghdadi.

During interviews with 66 ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners to date, ICSVE researchers have learned that all cadres are highly controlled. Mobile phones are often taken from them. Those allowed to keep them often have their messages checked. Surveillance of communications is extremely tight. The fate of anyone accused of betraying ISIS is likely to be beheading. In our interviews we often heard of Russians, especially, decapitated after having been accused as spies—claims often made only out of suspicion and with little to no evidence backing them up.

The ISIS Emni (also written Amn or Amni, the intelligence arm of ISIS) was constantly on the alert for enemies within its own ranks, overseeing any external communications and carefully vetting those who joined. Recruits who appeared in Syria and Iraq without personal references spent time under Emni investigation, and often were sent directly to the front lines. The thinking was that if they took up arms, fought valiantly on behalf of the group and managed to survive, they were allowed in. If they died, “martyrdom” was their fate, and if they were true believers, they went to Paradise. Otherwise, to Hell.

Keep in mind as well, that ISIS is not just an agglomeration of fanatical volunteers, as it is sometimes portrayed. Its core structure was formed by a group of highly trained Iraqi former military and intelligence officers from Saddam Hussein’s government who were angry when they were dismissed and sent home following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Ultimately they allied with the short-lived but utterly savage group of jihadists that formed around the Jordanian firebrand Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who had won grudging recognition from Osama bin Laden as the leader of what became known as al Qaeda in Iraq.

The search for Zarqawi from 2003 until the Americans killed him in 2006 gives a glimpse of what’s going on now in the hunt for al Baghdadi.

Nada Bakos was one of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s “targeting officers” on Zarqawi’s trail. Now no longer with the CIA, she explained in a recent interview with the History Channel for a series about the ultimate demise of Adolf Hitler, “a targeting officer is a person who is analyzing information for the purposes of making it actionable—whether it’s working with the military or something the Agency itself could do.”

One sifts through “mountains and mountains” of information, said Bakos. “Everybody leaves a trace. … Everybody leaves some kind of footprint and some kind of pattern that you can find. Every human being is driven to seek out certain things: food, water, shelter, connection with other people. There are very basic instincts that drive a person to exist. And those leave a pattern.”

One also looks for weaknesses, and characteristics that set the prey apart: “Vulnerabilities of people on the run would include if they had a medical issue—understanding what that medical issue is and what they needed to treat that—family members, close friends, if they were interested in a particular area of the world, what they’d considered home,” said Bakos. “You’re trying to paint a picture of where someone might end up going—and what their strategy was and what their intent was.”

Zarqawi was “an evil maniac,” Bakos said. Indeed, more than a dozen years ago, he was drawing world attention to himself by beheading hostages, setting a gruesome precedent embraced enthusiastically by his ideological heirs. As he was pursued, “It was really all about trying to figure out where within the network would he feel safest,” said Bakos. “Where does he want to communicate from? How does he want to live and exist in day-to-day life? We knew he had family members who are around him once in a while. Trying to envision what it was that drove him to exist in the way he wanted to. What did he want his life to look like?”

Eventually the Special Operations task force pursuing Zarqawi learned that an imam and learned Islamic scholar he considered his spiritual advisor would be meeting him at a house outside the Iraqi city of Baquba in June 2006. Drones followed the imam’s car, and when the cleric entered the building, an American F16 flattened it with two 500-pound bombs.

But, Bakos notes something else we might want to remember as we look at the hunt for Baghdadi. Zarqawi’s organization “was literally a network of nodes and power centers,” and not very hierarchical, according to Bakos. Which meant that even after his death and even after what appeared to be a near-complete defeat in Iraq, the group was able to scatter, regroup, and reorganize in Syria, eventually re-emerging as the so-called Islamic State under the leadership, whether real or titular, of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

WE NOTICED THAT in our interviews very few of the former ISIS cadres we’ve spoken with, even those serving in the high ranks of ISIS, report having seen al Baghdadi in person. Since his infamous 2014 video recording from a mosque in Mosul where he declared the establishment of the ISIS “caliphate,” al Baghdadi has lived a reclusive life, only occasionally posting statements online. Despite being the leader of one of the most virulent terrorist organizations to date, the intelligence officers surrounding him have kept his location and movements a closely guarded secret.

That ISIS learned from its predecessor and sister terrorist organizations how to protect its leader should not be a surprise. Those from the intelligence world of Saddam Hussein knew what to do to avoid repetition of the attempted and actual executions of Chechen terrorist leaders Basayev and al Khattab by the Russians, and Abu Musab al Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden by the United States, respectively. From the first moments of the formation of the ISIS caliphate the ISIS intelligence operatives took steps to minimize the possibility that al Baghdadi would meet the same fate and the organization would be prematurely decapitated.

So, finding al Baghdadi is not as simple as relying on the technical prowess of the American military, as our Iraqi interrogator believed. The highly precise and round-the-clock satellite surveillance that the United States employs and the sophisticated drones that can zoom in to search the ground in the greatest detail do very little to inform when the likes of al Baghdadi can scurry through the labyrinth of tunnels in Mosul and elsewhere that were built by ISIS. And when those tunnels are no longer available to him, al Baghdadi has the additional advantage of transforming his appearance, perhaps even disguising himself as an Arab woman hiding under a niqab to evade surveillance, as other ISIS cadres have attempted to do. While the U.S. troops and the U.S. supported Kurdish forces scour telephone intercepts, al Baghdadi almost certainly learned, as Osama bin Laden did, that he could only communicate with relative safety via couriers.

FOLLOWING THE 2003 U.S.-LED invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein was found hiding in a hole in the ground. This was not the result of the $25 million bounty that also was put on his head. It took the Americans many months to catch Saddam after mounting a massive hunt for him. The capture was finally accomplished by pulling in his former bodyguards who, under interrogation, gave bits and pieces that finally led to the discovery of Saddam’s whereabouts. At the time of his capture, Saddam may also have lacked the kind of devoted network that al Baghdadi can still rely on, with as many as 20,000 ISIS cadres that have melted back into society, according to Iraqi officials. It’s also apparent that the ISIS Emni knows how to spirit its members across international borders.

Like the proverbial cat with nine lives, al Baghdadi has been reported killed, yet resurfaced multiple times‍.

Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, chief of the U.S.-led coalition battling ISIS in Iraq and Syria told a conference call with journalists at the end of August, as he was about to rotate out of his assignment, that he thought al Baghdadi was still at large, but the question of where was left vague, to say the least.

“I don’t have a clue. He could be anywhere in the world for all I know,” said Townsend.

“Here’s what I think. I think he’s somewhere in Iraq and Syria. I think he’s probably somewhere in the Middle Euphrates River Valley.”

This is an area, often referred to by the acronym MERV, that runs about 250 kilometers from around Deir ez-Zour in Syria to Rawah in Iraq. “That’s where they believe their last sanctuary is,” said Townsend. “So I think he’s probably somewhere down there.”

But Townsend noted that fighting in MERV would not be like the siege of a city or a neighborhood. “You can’t really just contain the whole Euphrates River valley and starve them out. It’s too big. It’s too complex,” he said. And there is the added complication that rival forces—the Russians and the Syrian army of Bashar Assad with its allied Iran-backed militias—have converged on the area at the same time as the U.S.-led coalition and its allies, which have approached from the opposite side of the river. Obviously, time that might be spent hunting for al Baghdadi is spent avoiding clashes between the forces converging to kill or capture him.

“We’re looking for him every day,” said Townsend. “When we find him, I think we’ll just try to kill him first. It’s probably not worth all the trouble to try and capture him.”

That was more than four months ago, and the fighting, and the hunting, continues—along with the deconfliction issues. “We’re piling up a lot of airplanes in a very small piece of sky,” a senior U.S. Air Force officer in the operation told The New York Times at the end of December. Two senior figures, Abu Faysal and his deputy Abu Qudamah al Iraqi, were taken out by an airstrike on Dec. 1.

According to Daily Beast contributor Wladimir van Wilgenburg, who has followed the Syrian combat closely on the ground, “There are some remaining pockets of ISIS militants along the east bank of the Euphrates River [in Syria] and in the desert along the border with Iraq. Earlier this week 70 ISIS fighters and their families reportedly handed themselves over to the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces. So it’s possible Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is either in those pockets or in the desert. Most likely in the desert.”

Several Iraqi security officials that we spoke to last month said they strongly believe al Baghdadi is still around. Kurdish intelligence chief Lahur Talabany figured “99 percent he is alive.” Talabany cited the history of ISIS and its roots as al Qaeda in Iraq, which dispersed like bees when the hive was destroyed, then came back together in a swarm.

The man is wanted “dead or alive” but nobody seems to be sure which he is just now, which probably is just they way he’d like it.

“ABU BAKR AL BAGHDADI” is a kunya, a pseudonym similar to names many ISIS members give themselves indicating where they come from. In his case it means the father of Bakr, from Baghdad. In fact he was born in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in 1971, and his real name is Awwad Ibrahim Ali al Badri al Samarrai.

As head of the so-called Islamic State, Baghdadi sought to legitimize his claim as “caliph” with claims that his family ancestry traces back to the Prophet Muhammad, and because he had post-graduate training in Islamic studies.

But in operational terms a more important figure may have been Abu Muhammad al Adnani, often described as al Baghdadi’s right-hand man and the voice of the organization. He was the powerful head of the ISIS Emni who served as the “emir” of the Syrian territories and director of overseas operations, including horrific attacks in Europe. Unlike Baghdadi, Adnani was known for his battlefield strategy, prolific propaganda, and international plotting. He was killed by a coalition airstrike in 2016.

In the Zarqawi days, al Baghdadi was reported to have fallen out with Zarqawi, condemning his brutal bombings of Shiites. Yet when al Baghdadi came to head ISIS—and broke with al Qaeda’s core leadership—his terror organization became the most brutal seen to date, continuing the indiscriminate slaughter of Shia Muslims. And what is known of al Baghdadi’s personal heartlessness is no different than that of Zarqawi.

American hostage Kayla Mueller was held for a time with a half-dozen Yazidi girls as sex slaves for al Baghdadi in the home of Abu Sayyaf, a Tunisian working as the ISIS oil and gas emir. Hostages held with Mueller, reported that she frequently was called for by al Baghdadi who raped her mercilessly. She was killed in 2014.

Al Baghdadi harbored a deep hatred for the U.S. after his capture by the Americans in 2004 and the 10 months he spent in Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib. Some credit his time in the U.S.-run prison as connecting him to other jihadis, although his ties to Zarqawi mean he was already well connected, and others wonder what effect the abuses in Abu Ghraib had on shaping his own subsequent actions.

In 2013, al Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced that AQI and Jabhat al-Nusra terror groups were merging under the name “Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham” and later as the Islamic State. In 2014 he declared the ISIS Caliphate from Mosul and himself the Caliph—his only video performance to date. His latest public missive in September 2017, following an 11-month silence, was an audio recording urging his forces to resist the American supported Iraqi incursion into Mosul and to mount attacks worldwide. American forces judged it as authentic and current.

Iraqi Sunnis in Baghdad told us that he still sends messages to his followers, although they are likely relying on rumors. American intelligence sources have told CNN that they have failed to intercept any ISIS communications confirming his death and that given his stature in the organization, the U.S. expects to see significant chatter discussing his demise should he be killed.

In December 2017 an Iraqi Ministry of Intelligence officials told us, “Iraqis may turn up the heat on trying to catch him in the next three months, as it will be good propaganda for the Prime Minister to do so while facing his bid for reelection.” That said, another MOI officer shrugged off questions about the hunt for al Baghdadi, asking in return, “Does it matter anymore? ISIS is defeated.”

It does.

In Iraq, officials estimate from 6,000 to 20,000 ISIS cadres have melted back into the landscape, which means the group may still harbor the capabilities and manpower to carry out guerrilla warfare with smaller scale suicide attacks and bombings, particularly if there is a leader to order it. But at this point, even without their leaders, ISIS and al Qaeda have spawned a social movement of small actors who attack on their own.

Likewise, for all that ISIS has lost—the territory that it once claimed as the caliphate, the oil fields from which it derived the wealth and revenues to enable it to finance weapons supplies and salaries for its fighters, its ability to enslave and sell captured women, its clandestine theft and sale of antiquities and other valuables, and its ability to impose taxes on those who lived under it—the ISIS dream still remains.

Even ISIS defectors and prisoners, while expressing their disillusionment with the group and its tactics, often show evidence of remaining loyalty to the ISIS dream they were sold. The Islamic State’s offer to young men and women the world over who are frustrated with injustices, political inequalities, and lack of opportunities still remains. The ISIS promise to join in building a new form of governance that they falsely claim will uphold Islamic ideals, be inclusive and offer justice and opportunities to all Muslims is a heady one. This utopian dream of the true Islamic Caliphate peddled throughout the world by ISIS has not been destroyed.

The fact that al Baghdadi is at large may make it seem to those true believes even more possible to resurrect the defeated empire.

As Gen. Townsend put it last August, “In 2014, the world watched in horror as ISIS seized more than 100,000 square kilometers of Syria and Iraq and brought more than 7 million people under its barbaric control. ISIS was something the world had rarely seen before. ISIS is the most evil entity I have encountered in my lifetime.”

Not only must we break the ISIS brand totally, discrediting entirely the dream they have sold as possible to achieve through violence and brutality, we must also do all we can to continue the hunt for the 25 Million Dollar Man, so that, one way or another, those who supported him and those he victimized can see he has been made to pay for all the crimes against humanity carried out under his leadership.

—with additional reporting by Christopher Dickey

Reference for this Article: Speckhard, Anne & Shajkovci, Ardian (1-6-2018) Wanted Dead or Alive: The Frustrating, Failing Hunt for ISIS Leader Baghdadi, Daily Beast 

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Terrorism

Is MEK/Jundullah The ISIS Of Tomorrow?

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One would think that the United States would have learned by now, that it is never a good idea to arm terrorist groups in different parts of the world, due to the inevitable “blowback” which eventually ensues after these violent groups determine that the USA is no longer in support of them, or when the USA wants to deny that they have any relationship with them.

We have seen this paradigm unfold countless times before, over the past few decades, with groups like Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, La Fenice, Avanguardia Nazionale, Ordine Nuovo, the Contras, Cuban Exiles, Colombian Paramilitary Organizations, Los Pepes, Kosovo Liberation Army, Jundullah, Mujahedin-e Khalq (“MEK”), and countless others designed to engage in United States sponsored terrorist activities against sovereign governments and nations that the US doesn’t like for whatever reason.

In the wake of the abject failure of the US using ISIS to destabilize, disrupt and disorient various governments throughout the Middle East, such as Syria, Iraq, Lybia, Yemen and others, followed quickly by various ISIS-attributed terrorist attacks against the US and Europe by ISIS, President Donald Trump was swept into office in large part because the American and European people discovered this via the veritable “sieve” known as social media and the internet.

But rather than change US foreign policy to ban or cease using violent thugs to carry out US policy overseas, instead it appears that the US Government through the CIA have now adopted a smaller more surgically precise approach by supporting, through its proxy nations Israel and Saudi Arabia, smaller groups such as MEK and Jundullah, who operate primarily in tiny regions of the world, such as in and around Iran, without much of a global presence.

But like cancer, these groups have a tendency to grow uncontrollably, and then later turn on the US and Europe, when and if the latter starts to pull funding or divorce themselves from the court of public opinion through plausible denial.

This is exactly how ISIS grew into a formidable fighting force, and eventually turned on its creators, much like the Frankenstein monster in the Mary Shelley novels.

All of this must be an abject nightmare for the US FBI, DHS, ICE and DEA pull their proverbial hair out, because they must often clean up/explain the horrific domestic messes of terrorist blowback occurring on US soil when these groups inevitably turn on their paymasters, just like they are the chief law enforcement/preventative bodies that deal with the drug war, also in large part caused by the CIA’s open and clandestine support of massive drug producing/trafficking regimes in Afghanistan, Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico.

The news lately has revealed that the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia are openly funding, supporting, arming, training and providing logistical support to Jundullah and MEK in order to take down the current sovereign government of Iran.

Even though the USA, Saudi Arabia and Israel may not like the current government there, what right do they have to engage in this type of state sponsored terrorist behavior?

There is a reason why various governments throughout the world have stood the test of time, and exist in their present states.

Perhaps their people wanted it, or perhaps there was need for that specific type of ideology or mode of governance, but unless and until those governments actively target or harm Americans, the US has absolutely no business getting involved with those groups, and indeed, has invariably and inevitably lived to regret it countless times, in nearly 100% of all cases.

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