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Islamo-fascist Terrorism now in France; what must be done to stop its spread

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The murder in Toulouse and Montauban France this month of 7 innocent people including three school children was committed by a Wahhabi-Salafi-Jihadi-Takfiri cult member Mohamed Merah.

Even though known to authorities to be an extremist and being ‘watched’ and even though the Americans also knew of him and put him on a no-fly to US list, he could not be arrested authorities say because French Prime Minister Francois Fillon argues, “Belonging to a Salafist organisation is not an offence in and of itself…We cannot mix up religious fundamentalism with terrorism, even if we know there are elements that unite them.”

Perhaps Monsieur Fillon would do well to (take a leaf out of his mother’s book and) study history. Who was behind most of the terrorist attacks in the West since 1990? The media made it look like ‘nutters’ like the underpants bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab  and ‘freaks’ like Richard Reid the Shoe bomber were ad hoc potential criminals who just so happened to have a background that included coming from an Islamic background. However if one looks carefully at the global Jihadi attacks for the past 20 years and Mohammed Merah’s path into the cult behind his motivation for the attacks one will see that the same cult was behind many others radicalization that lead to terrorist attacks in the West. Then Prime Minister Fillon will know what France is up against and understand that their new foe is no less organized committed and lethal than the Nazi’s were and that their Republic is in great danger unless they deal with the extremist conveyor belt of this cult at its source and help strengthen traditional Islam which is in as much mortal danger as the French State. If Fillon does not ‘join the dots’ Toulouse will only be the beginning.

Mohamed was born in France from Algerian parents and grew up with his three brothers and two sisters in a troubled high-rise estate called  ‘Les Izards’, home to a large North African population, in Toulouse, South West France. He was first arrested at 16 for stealing and again at aged 18 and 20. Even though he had a reputation for extremist tendencies on his own housing estate in Toulouse and his brother Abdelkader Merah, had links to jihadists in Libya, Mohamed’s path to radical Islam began when he was 18 in Toulouse in 2007 while serving a prison sentence for robbery.

He was like so many troubled Muslim youths approached by Salafist groups like Forsane Alizza (FA- The Knights of Pride) and encouraged to progress his study their cult which was their brand of militant Salafi ‘Islam’ from their radical mosques or private ‘prayer groups’ and if suitable for mission training Al Qaeda operatives then arranged for the acolyte go to Pakistan for deeper indoctrination into the cult and specialist weapons and bomb training when he got out.

Forsane Alizza aka ‘Sharia4France’ is ostensibly an anti-Islamophobia group but authorities say it is a terrorist organization that used the mantra of anti-Islamophobia to mask its deeper purpose of radicalizing disenchanted youth from Islamic backgrounds. They followed the rhetoric of fellow terrorists like Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki to recruit disillusioned youth from Islamic communities in the West away from the traditional Islamic faith of their parents who immigrated to the West and instead adopt their cult. Their cult made everything from their plight to the perceived injustice of Muslims around the world easily understood in a populist way and in the vernacular.  The converts were shown a way out of their sin and into heaven by taking the express lane of radical militancy to attack all enemies of the Wahhabi-Salafi Jihadi’s (the only true Muslims) whether they be Crusader-Zionists in AF-PAK, Shia Muslims, Sufi Muslims or Moderate Sunni Muslims (all apostates in the cults eyes to be excommunicated (Takfiri) and worthy of death) or non-Sharia democracies in the West. The ultimate goal of the cult is establishing a kind of ‘Third Reich’ Salafist caliphate stretching from Chechnya to the Philippines that will restore pride and power to “Muslims” (the ones that are left after the bad Muslims have been enlightened as to the true ‘path’ or eliminated); hence their name Forsane Alizza -The Knights of Pride.

Forsane Alizza has links to other radical Islamist groups in Europe, such as al-Muhajiroun / ‘Islam4UK’ in Britain and ‘Shariah4Belgium’, ‘Muslims Against Crusades’ as well as ‘Revolution Muslim’ in the United States. Al-Muhajiroun means “the Emigrants”. The name comes from their ‘target market’, the children of traditional Islamic parents who immigrated to the West. These Islamo-Fascist cult’s modus operandi is not unlike the Hitler Youth movement of the Nazi’s, brainwashing the youth with magazines, and sending them to specialized indoctrination schools and camps with their ‘brothers’ and SS style (Mujahedeen) elite training, how to be ‘good Muslims’ just like the Nazi’s did in the 1930’s by teaching the ‘jugend’ how to be ‘good Germans’. The devotees would then have no qualms about the war ahead and what had to be done to the ‘untermench’ (Jews, Crusaders and Takfiri or moderate/traditional Muslims). The allies upon liberating Eastern Europe could not believe how civilized people could commit the atrocities that the Einsatzgruppen did especially against women and children. These Hitler Youth graduates were formed into heartless death squads responsible for the murders of over 1,000,000 people, mainly Jews including women and children in occupied Eastern Europe between 1939 and 1944.

It is no surprise then that when today’s Wahhabi Salafi Takfiri Jihadi’s strike whether its Bali, Beslan or Toulouse, they do so without mercy and show no remorse afterward if they survive. Indeed they often laugh and smile chanting “Allahu Akbar” like the Bali mass murderer Amrozi bin Nurhasyim did when sentenced by an Indonesian Court rejecting his defence that his actions in 2002 planting bombs that indiscriminately killed 202 tourists because he was seeking to ‘strike at America and its allies, especially Israel’ were justified under Islam.

Similarly, the Chechen war of nationalism against Russia turned into an Islamist cause and with it came the Islamo-Fascist propaganda that could justify any form of atrocity on ideological grounds. From the mid 1990’s Saudi charities like Al-Haramain , Benevolence International Foundation (BIF was started by OBL’s brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa who also funded 9/11’s precursor the Bojinka Plot), and Wahhabi extremist commanders like Ibn al-Khattab poured millions of dollars and thousands of human resources into establishing several military training and religious indoctrination camps in Chechnya. After the US launched its war in Afghanistan even more Mujahedeen troops and preachers poured into Chechnya subsidizing and thereby taking over traditional Chechen Sufi mosques and Islamic schools spreading Wahhabi-Salafi extremism. This culminated in the 2002 Moscow theatre siege and then the even more devastating and heartless 2004 Beslan massacre in which Wahhabi-Salafi-Takfiri-Jihadi’s took hostage and murdered 335 innocent Russian school children. The message sent by the terrorist cult is that there are no moral boundaries for them.

Groups like AF and Al- Muhajiroun have apart from their proselytizing role for the Wahhabi-Salafi-Takfiri-Jihadi cult have also been involved in many public confrontational incidents including wild demonstrations against the West.

In the UK al Muhajiroun has many modern incarnations/name changes to stay out of the slow moving UK Terrorist Legislation definitions of proscribed Terrorist Organization (such as al-Ghurabaa (AG), the Saviour/Saved Sect (SS), Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’aah, Call to Submission, Islamic Path, London School of Shiria, Muslims Against Crusades, Supporters of Sharia and Islam4UK and has been closely linked with Hizb ut-Tahrir).  Al Muhajiroun has been associated with the radicalization of Muslim communities away from their traditional moderate beliefs to the Wahhabi-Salafi-Takfiri-Jihadi cult.

 

Abu Hamza (al-Masri)  

Prominent figures include ex-Imam of the radical Finsbury Park Mosque, Abu Hamza al-Masri who discipled the shoe bomber Richard Reid and Anjem Choudary al-Masri’s successor.

Anjem Choudary 

It was Finsbury Parks 2ic Choudary who in 2006 arranged a notorious demonstration in London against the Danish cartoons stating “Behead those who insult Islam…Europe take some lessons from 9/11…you will pay demolition is on its way.”

According to surveys carried out by respected Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC), a significant number of UK nationals convicted of Al-Qaeda related terrorist offences had links to FA’s British ‘sister group’, al Muhajiroun (Islam4UK) as a ‘gateway’ into terrorism, providing ideological indoctrination at the beginning of the Salafist extremist “path” and later access to Al-Qaeda recruiters in their Wahhabi funded Mosques who would then prepare them for terrorist ‘finishing schools’ in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, North West Pakistan and ‘blooding’ in FATA with Afghanistan insurgents.

In France it can be about the French laws banning women from wearing a full veil (niqab) in public places and posted a number of well-produced videos of its protests in French cities. Forsane Alizza promoted on its website the Wahhabi- Salfai-Takfiri-Jihadi group Al Qaeda’s English-language magazine ‘Inspire’ which has a section dedicated to helping terrorist sympathizers in the West carry out attacks on Western targets.

AF has since been banned by French Interior Ministry for inciting racial hatred in January 2012.

 

FA’s Mohammed Achamlane, aka Abu Hamza

FA’s leader Achamlane then simply changed its name to ’Force de Défense Musulmane sur Internet’, which says its only mission is to have so called “Islamophobic” material removed from French websites.

The main thing to note about the Islamic Clerics that propagate the Wahhabi-Salafi-Takfiri-Jihadi cult’s beliefs is that they legitimize notions of murder as acts of divine Islamic ordinance and so are direct causal links to the acts of terrorism that follow.

Mohamed Merah’s ‘path’ in the cult was not unlike his fellow countryman, Zacarias Moussaoui (involved in 9/11). He too was from parents who had a traditional Islamic faith from their homeland (Morocco for the Moussaoui family). Unlike Merah, Zacarias Moussaoui had intellect having a master’s degree in International Business from South Bank University in London, having enrolled in 1993 and graduated in 1995. However that intellect did not stop Moussaoui from being proselytised by al Muhajiroun who radicalized him as thoroughly as Forsane Alizza messed with Mohamed Merah’s mind.

Mohamed Merah went to Afghanistan and Pakistan several times between 2008 and 2011 to further his ‘studies’, as they all do. On his first trip in 2008, Mohamed went to Pakistan to be further radicalized before being sent to al Qaeda insurgency operations group in Afghanistan under the leadership, Hamza el Alami, a French Moroccan.

In fact in 2008 he was captured fighting against the US and coalition forces with Al Qaeda insurgents and imprisoned in Kandahar but escaped in a mass breakout in 2008.

In 2011 he may have met with Umar Patek, an Indonesian Salafist terrorist involved in the Bali bombings just before he was caught in Abbottabad Pakistan (the same town OBL was killed later that same year by US Navy Seals). If so then what happened in Toulouse may well have had direct Al Qaeda support and sanction in addition to local sign off from the Wahhabi-Salafi-Takfiri-Jihadi’s in France.

Upon his return it was obvious that he had been brainwashed AF-PAK, he tried to indoctrinate Muslim youngsters in his neighbourhood by showing them video footage of men being decapitated (perhaps it was the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002 by the self-confessed fellow Wahhabi Salafai Takfiri Jihadi, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the 9/11 mastermind).

Mohamed Merah went about his killing in Toulouse school playground without remorse and in fact filmed all three attacks as he was doing them (just like his hero Khalid Sheikh Mohammed did when he gruesomely videotaped beheading Daniel Pearle).

Mohamed Merah despite the fact that both he and his brother were on the police ‘radar’ for involvement with Jihadist causes was not put under surveillance and so was able to amass a huge stock pile of weapons and began to plot his ‘glorious heroic martyrdom’ by murdering school children.

In 2008, the Frenchdomestic intelligence service, the DCRI (Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence) was formed as a merger between the Central Directorate of General Intelligence (RG) and the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DST). The Toulouse massacres just goes to show that merely creating a bureaucracy without addressing the legal definitions of who a terrorist is, will not stop these atrocities in the future.

French authorities (including Bernard Squarcini chief of domestic intelligence service, the DCRI (Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence) faced justifiable criticism as to why the convicted Jihadist had not been more closely watched and allowed to amass such a large arsenal of weapons. Perhaps it was Mohamed’s close association with a so-called ‘anti-Islamophobia’ group that used the media that caused ‘political correctness’ to turn their gaze away in fear that they may unleash controversy in an election year.

Anti-terrorism chief Francois Molinssaid Mohamed Merah had trained with Al Qaeda terrorists in the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan, and had been planning to kill two soldiers and a policeman. Merah, described himself as an “Islamic warrior” who wanted to take revenge for what was happening to Muslims in the world.

His first murder was on March 11 in Toulouse where he killed an off duty soldier Sgt Imad Ibn Ziaten outside a gym.

Then on March 15 in nearby Montauban he killed two off duty but uniformed soldiers, Corporal Abel Chennouf, 24 and Private Mohamed Legouad, 26 and seriously injured a third 28-year-old Corporal Loic Liber who is still in a coma. In the attacks on the two soldiers in Montauban after shouting out “Allah Akbar”, he acted calmly, stopping to change the magazine of his pistol. Witnesses described how he had turned over one of the wounded men who was trying to crawl away, and fired three more shots into him.

Then on March 18 he dined out with his brother Abdelkader (who as well known to police because in 2007 he was arrested for supporting Salafi jihadists travelling to Iraq to push out Christians and Shia’s and establish their own Islamic Republic based on their cult. But there was insufficient evidence to charge him). One wonders what topics were discussed on the eve of the horrors that were to befall the children at the local Jewish school the next day.

The next day March 19 this self-professed ‘Islamic warrior’ decided to “bring France to its knees” as he later told police during the siege at his flat and so he set off for a Jewish school in Toulouse.

Reminiscent of what his Wahhabi-Salafi-Takfiri-Jihadi ‘brothers’ did in Beslan with such monstrous lack of feeling for children, he set upon a killing spree at the school. Mohammed Merah casually killed Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, who tried in vain to shield his sons from Mohamed. Their father dead, Mohamed took his time and murdered at close range Mr Sandler’s two young sons, 4 year old Gabriel and 5 year-old Arieh. He actually had only wounded Arieh with his first shot so walked after him as the five year old was desperately crawling away and then came up to him and shot him.

Then he turned his attention to a beautiful little eight year old girl Miriam whom he chased into the courtyard, caught her by her hair and raised a gun to shoot her. The gun jammed at this point and Merah changed weapons from what the police identified as a 9-mm pistol to a .45 calibre gun, and having time to think about what he was doing to this poor little girl nevertheless shot 8 year old Miriam in her temple at point-blank range.

Mohammed Merah was shot dead by Police after a two day siege in his flat on March 22, 2012.

During the siege he wanted “to die as a mujahedeen with a weapon in his hands and he would therefore go to paradise. Whereas if it was policemen who were killed, for them it would be too bad…. he had expressed no regrets other than “not having claimed more victims” and was proud of having “brought France to its knees.”

The French authorities need to see this tragedy in context of how the Wahhabi-Salafi-Takfiri-Jihadi’s operate at source and upon execution and change their laws to interdict terrorist instigators before these tragic mass murders take place.

Ref 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17487320 

http://www.icsr.info/news/icsr-insight-toulouse-gunmans-link-to-uk-extremists 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17481537 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17428860 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17456541 

http://edition.cnn.com/2012/03/21/world/europe/france-solo-terror/index.html 

http://www.icsr.info/news/icsr-insight-toulouse-gunmans-link-to-uk-extremists 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17484121 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2118052/Toulouse-shooting-Mohammad-Merah-dead-jumping-flat-window-guns-blazing.html#ixzz1q3avHCni 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2118052/Toulouse-shooting-Mohammad-Merah-dead-jumping-flat-window-guns-blazing.html 

http://www.meforum.org/744/how-chechnya-became-a-breeding-ground-for-terror 

http://www.thecuttingedgenews.com/index.php?article=11576&pageid=16&pagename=Opinion 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2565585.stm 

http://www.ict.org.il/Articles/tabid/66/Articlsid/636/Default.aspx 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/world/04/russian_s/html/1.stm 

http://www.socialcohesion.co.uk/uploads/1278089320islamist_terrorism_preview.pdf 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9164827/Brother-of-Toulouse-gunman-Mohamed-Merah-dined-with-him-before-Jewish-school-shooting.html 

 

Alexander Athos is a writer and businessman.He was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (European History) Personal background Alexander was christened Orthodox brought up Catholic and now Evangelical Christian with an acceptance of the best in Christian tradition and a respect for genuine people of faith from other cultures. Political inclinations: Christian intellectual who has an eclectic predisposition to understanding global and national political and social trends and seeking to influence them for good by thoughtful and persuasive discourse.

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Terrorism

Islamic State threat moves online, expands across Africa

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Two decades after the 11 September terrorist attacks in New York, terror networks Al-Qaida and Islamic State – also known as Da’esh – continue to pose a grave threat to peace and security, adapting to new technologies and moving into some of the world’s most fragile regions, the top UN counter-terrorism official told the Security Council on Thursday. 

UN counter-terrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on the threats posed by terrorist groups, saying that Da’esh continues to exploit the disruption, grievances and development setbacks caused by the pandemic to regroup, recruit new followers and intensify its activities – both online and on the ground.    

Ever-evolving threat 

“Today, we face transnational terrorist threats like Da’esh and Al-Qaida that are enduring and able to adapt to new technologies, but also expanding to include individuals and groups that commit terrorist attacks connected to xenophobia, racism and other forms of intolerance”, said Mr. Voronkov. 

The UN counter-terrorism architecture, largely set up in the wake of the 9/11 attack, helps Member States implement effective frameworks to prevent, address, investigate and prosecute acts of terrorism.  

It is also ramping up efforts to help countries adapt to the rapidly changing nature of the threat, which has become more digital and de-centralized in recent years.  

Noting that the world is currently witnessing a rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan “which could have far-reaching implications” around the globe, he cited Da’esh’s expanded presence in that country and pointed out that several members of the Taliban have been designated as terrorists by the Security Council.   

We will need to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used as launching pad for global terrorism“, stressed the UN official. 

He briefed the Council on the eve of the fourth commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism, observed annually on 21 August. 

Islamic State in Africa 

While Da’esh remains focused on reconstituting its capabilities in Iraq and Syria, Mr. Vornkov said the most alarming development in recent months is the group’s relentless spread across the African continent.

The so-called “Islamic State in the Greater Sahara” has killed several hundred civilians since the start of 2021 in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, while the group’s “West Africa Province” will likely gain from the weakening of Boko Haram, with additional spillover of terrorists and foreign fighters from Libya. 

Meanwhile, the expansion of Da’esh in Central Africa – and especially in northern Mozambique – could have far-reaching implications for peace and security in the region. 

A global response is urgently needed to support the efforts of African countries and regional organizations to counter terrorism and address its interplay with conflict, organized crime, governance and development gaps”, said Mr. Voronkov.  

Repatriating women and children 

Alongside Da’esh’s expansion in Africa and its rapid shift online, Mr. Voronkov also cited the continued detention of thousands of individuals with alleged links to terrorist groups as another factor exacerbating the threat. 

Deteriorating conditions in detention facilities and displacement camps in northeast Syria, in particular, are serving as a rallying cry for terrorist activities.  They have already fuelled instances of terrorist radicalization, fund-raising, arms smuggling, training and incitement to terror. 

Against that backdrop, he echoed calls from officials across the UN for Member States to voluntarily repatriate all concerned individuals, with a particular focus on children.  

In September, the Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will jointly launch a global framework to support countries requesting assistance with protection, voluntary repatriation, prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals with suspected links to designated terrorist groups returning from Iraq and Syria. 

The framework has already been deployed in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. 

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Taliban and Al Qaeda: Putting a fox in charge of the chicken coop?

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Abu Omar Khorasani was taken from Kabul’s Pul-i-Charkhi prison and unceremoniously shot.

The first and only person to have been executed since the Taliban gained full control of Afghanistan, Mr. Khorasani was the head of the Islamic State in South Asia until he was arrested by government forces last year.

The precise circumstances of his execution are not known. His killing was, however, at least in part designed to send a message to the international community, and particularly Afghanistan’s neighbours, including China and Iran, as well as Russia, Central Asia’s security overlord.

The message was that the Taliban were cracking down on foreign jihadists and militants in Afghanistan.

Mr. Khorasani was an easy symbol. The Taliban and the Islamic State, whose ranks of foreigners are primarily populated by Pakistanis and a sprinkling of Central Asians, Uighurs, Russians, Turks, Iranians, Indonesians, Indians, and Frenchmen, have long been adversarial. The Islamic State recently accused the Taliban of being more nationalist than pious in their negotiations with the United States.

The Taliban message is a partial truth at best. What is true for the Islamic State is not true for Al–Qaeda and others such as the Uighur Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

The Taliban appear to believe that they can get away with the differentiation because they perceived the United States as more focused in the withdrawal negotiations on ensuring that the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and other militants will not be allowed to use Afghanistan as a base for international operations rather than on getting them expelled from the country.

The perceived US focus may have been rooted in a concern that if Taliban’s hands were forced, they would let militants slip out of the country and not hand them over to authorities. That would make it difficult to control their movements or ensure that they are either entered into deradicalization programs or, if warranted, brought to justice.

“It’s a Catch-22. The Taliban ensuring that Al Qaeda sticks to rule risks putting a fox in charge of the chicken coop. How much better that is than having foxes run wild remains to be seen,” said a retired counter-terrorism official.

Officials of the Trump administration that negotiated the agreement suggest that the continued presence of Al-Qaeda and other militants in Afghanistan would violate the accord with the Taliban.

Former Vice President Mike Pence as well as Trump era State Department counterterrorism coordinator Nathan Sales argued that the deal “required the Taliban…to refuse terrorists safe harbour.

Russia and China, while publicly more measured in their statements, are likely to share western concerns. Russia held military drills earlier this month with Tajik and Uzbek troops in Tajikistan, 20 kilometres from the border with Afghanistan.

Al-Qaeda may have been boosted in recent weeks by multiple prison breaks in which the Taliban freed operatives of Al-Qaeda and other militant groups. It remains unclear however to what degree the breaks will help the group strengthen its presence in Afghanistan.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned this week that al Qaeda and the Islamic State could quickly rebuild their networks in Afghanistan.

The United Nations recently reported that Al-Qaeda “is present in at least 15 Afghan provinces”, and that its affiliate in the Indian subcontinent, “operates under Taliban protection from Kandahar, Helmand and Nimruz provinces.” 

“Without information on who exactly escaped, it is difficult to determine whether historically significant figures remain within AQ’s AfPak network, or if it is mainly composed of newer figures these days, whether local or regional foreign fighters,” cautioned political violence scholar Aaron Y. Zelin. Mr. Zelin was referring to Al-Qaeda’s Afghanistan-Pakistan network.

Also unclear is whether Al-Qaeda operatives in Iran will be allowed to relocate to Afghanistan.

The prison breaks further go to concerns about relying on the Taliban to police jihadists and other militants with aspirations beyond Afghanistan’s borders. Of particular concern is the fact that the balance of power has yet to be determined between Taliban leaders who in recent days have been eager to put a more moderate, accommodating foot forward with security guarantees for their opponents, minorities and women and the group’s far-flung less polished rank and file.

The concern about the Taliban’s ability and willingness to control militant activity on Afghan soil is magnified by worry regarding the continued existence of warlords with the power to organise violence, provide jobs and public services, and forge or strengthen ties with militants.

Warlords will play an active role in the future of Afghanistan. They will remain businessmen and political leaders, connected to global economic processes and networks. They will develop the military power that they need to control territory and wage war. They will, finally, continue to fight for more autonomy and, in some cases, might even manage to partially form their old regional polities once again,” said Romain Malejacq, author of a book on Afghan warlords.

“Afghanistan’s availability as a sanctuary for terrorists is, to say the least, related to its status as a warlord-ridden wasteland,” said journalist and author Graeme Wood.

The Taliban’s refusal to expel militants not only complicates the group’s efforts to garner legitimacy in the international community and particularly its neighbours, even if Al-Qaeda has been significantly weakened since 9/11 and is less focussed on attacking the United States and more on the Muslim world.

It also strengthens those who fear that Afghanistan will again emerge as a launching pad for trans-national political violence. “We are going to go back to a pre-9/11 state—a breeding ground for terrorism,” warned Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican member of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee. “They (the Taliban) will not restrict terrorist groups, just ask them to operate low-key,” added Douglas London, a former head of CIA counterterrorism operations for South and Southwest Asia.

The Taliban proved already 20 years ago that they valued loyalty when they rejected US and Saudi pressure to hand over Osama bin Laden no matter the cost. The Taliban have since come to appreciate Al Qaeda’s fighting skills and contributions to the Afghan militants’ cause.

Taliban fighters this week, in a violation of their pledge to inclusiveness, demonstrated their ideological anti-Shiite affinity with Al-Qaeda by blowing up a statue of Abdul Ali Mazari, a Shiite Hazara militia leader killed by the Taliban when they first took power in 1996.

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Drones in the Hands of Terrorists: What Happens Then?

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Ardian is a counter-terrorism researcher, lecturer and security analyst, with a field research experience in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Western Europe, the Balkans, Kenya, Somalia and Central Asia. Ardian is the co-founder and director of the American Counterterrorism Targeting and Resilience Institute (ACTRI), a U.S.-based research institute focused on studying translation left-wing, right-wing, and militant jihadi forms of political violence. He holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration.

Interviewed by Tatyana Kanunnikova.

What will be the role of drones in future terrorist attacks?

If we look at some of the most recent examples in Europe—for instance, the Gatwick Airport incident where drone sightings were reported—these led to a lot of confusion among airport officials as well as policymakers and law enforcement. In this specific case, we are talking about dozens of flights canceled, millions in costs for the airport as a result of the shutdown. We are also talking about the anti-drone technology that needs to be implemented by the airport, which translates into substantial financial costs. If we look at other places, such as active conflict areas, we’ll see that Houthi rebels used drones to target and assassinate Yemeni leaders and they were also striking key national infrastructure in places like Saudi Arabia. Even here, in the United States, sightings and illegal actions of drones flying over cities and close to government facilities in some cases speak to the fact that drone operations may be a thing in the future.

Here, in the United States, there are examples of individuals who have attempted or actively pursued ways to utilize remotely piloted aircraft or drone technology in general to cause harm to U.S. interests. For example, in 2012, a group of Virginia-based individuals, with direct or indirect affiliation with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based terrorist organization, sought to acquire this sort of technology for the terrorist group. In 2011, we had a U.S. national, who actually was a student at one of the reputable universities here in the United States and who plotted to pilot explosive-laden, remotely controlled planes and attack U.S. government facilities and military installations. If we look at the issue from this particular standpoint, there is potential for malicious use of drones in not only active conflict zones but also here in the West, which should not be overlooked.

In 2017, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that drones constituted an imminent terrorist threat to U.S. cities. Is this threat still considered imminent?

That is a good question and that has been part of the discourse here in the United States as well. The concern is that they come with a very low acquisition cost, which presents an opportunity to pursue that kind of technology to many groups, state and non-state actors, including private individuals. One can easily procure parts to build it. It does not require sophistication in terms of running the aircraft as well.

These are all areas of concern for officials and law enforcement, especially here in the West. While I would caution against labelling drone usage for malicious or harmful purposes as the most pressing threat in the West, one should still not discount the fact that local law enforcement and other entities may not be best positioned to counter the drone threat. They are not necessarily best equipped and staffed to adequately address such a threat. I would say it is one thing to confront or operate against drone threats in active conflict zones, where the military has the resources and the capability to address that kind of threat. Domestically, in the West in general, that could be an issue given that we arguably lack the sort of sophistication needed to detect, monitor, and counter drone threat at the local level, in our cities.

Are modern terror groups capable of modifying consumer drones to conduct improvised attacks?

Terrorist groups, especially those of the modern day, have been very capable of doing that. I have witnessed first-hand such cases during our research in Syria and Iraq. I’ve seen a number of modified consumer drones used by ISIS to target the Peshmerga in the North of Iraq, Iraqi security forces in Mosul and other places. From a structural standpoint, [ISIS] were known for their Phantom DJI models. They often utilized Styrofoam, a light, easily accessible, cheap material to build drones, as well as to modify and turn other drones into actual weapons. In many cases, we saw that they were able to mount certain amounts of IEDs or other explosive devices.

There was, of course, the ability to pursue that kind of technology given a low acquisition cost. One thing that we also see is the mimicry in the use of drone technology. For example, the drone technology that has been used by ISIS is being mimicked by ISIS affiliates in other parts of the world as well because, again, of the low acquisition costs and the ease with which it can be built.

What tactics and techniques do drone-using terrorist groups use?

From my personal research experience as well as experience in places like Syria and Iraq, the drone technology was primarily used to gain intelligence, for surveillance purposes. Drone usage has also proven powerful for propaganda purposes, namely imagery that was captured through drones and exploited for propaganda purposes. Of course, one must not overlook the military-strategic component, such as the ability to mount explosive devices and drop them onto enemies. It also serves to demonstrate “aerial power,” which comes, again, with a huge propaganda value that VE and terrorist groups have been able to put to use as well.

Another thing that we see, which is very interesting, is that the drone usage, especially as far as ISIS is concerned, has given them this opportunity to claim the alleged power and control not only on the ground but also in the airspace. This gives the illusion as though—especially as it [ISIS] started losing its controlled area in 2016-2017 and onwards—the drone operations afforded the group with this sort of aerial superiority, the operational capacity to penetrate into the airspace and attack enemy forces. This did give them [ISIS], from a propaganda perspective, a huge boost as well. And we have seen, for example, that ISIS would launch their drones laden with explosives into enemy lines, accompanied by other drones equipped to record such attacks, which was then shared via Telegram or other social media platforms utilized by ISIS for their propaganda purposes. As for the success of their drone-led attacks, it is really debatable; firstly, because they [ISIS] are only going to advertise their successes. We actually do not know much—at least publicly—about their downfalls or any limitations. Some of the images, if we look at some past attacks, in 2017, for example, when ISIS dropped several IEDs via drones onto the Syrian army base storing significant stashes of weapons in a stadium, showed significant damages to the Syrian military. But we do not know with certainty about their successes, the level of their success, as we often see what they choose to share on their media.

What we do know is that it is important for us to differentiate between terrorist groups or non-state actors that have utilized drones in a limited capacity and those that have active drone programs. If we look at organizations like Hezbollah (Kataib Hezbollah), Hamas, ISIS or even Houthis, they do have a record of successfully running drone programs, weaponized drone programs. In fact, these programs are sponsored by a state. For example, we know that Iran has played a significant role in sponsoring Hamas and Hezbollah’s use of drones, and so on. Again, when trying to differentiate where the drone threat might come from, it is important to understand the difference between the usage of drones by certain groups or entities in limited capacity versus those who have been running or supporting drone programs.

Are drones more likely to be used as means of transportation or as autonomous weapons?

In many cases, aside from the primary surveillance function, they have been utilized by terrorist groups as a means of transporting explosive and other materials from point A to point B. But as for the use of autonomous weapons, to my knowledge to date, to be able to drive this sort of autonomous drone weapons, they lack such a capability given that such drone technology needs to be accompanied with artificial intelligence. Most of these [drones] are programmed to, say, carry out attacks, drop a bomb, and so on. There has to be artificial intelligence incorporated with these autonomous weapons for them to be effective in other ways. But I have not seen this sort of technology, especially with ISIS. Perhaps, this could be the case with other groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

What targets would terrorists prioritize when conducting drone attacks?

As for the targets, what we have seen in places like Iraq and Syria, much of the drone strikes targeted, of course, the military, those perceived as enemy. As I mentioned earlier, in 2017, there was a highly publicized attack where ISIS dropped a significant number of explosives onto the Syrian army positions and weapons supply points. Attacks were also carried out against the Iraqi security forces during operations in Mosul. Surveillance function is an important component because it affords this sort of “pre-attack” planning ability to ISIS and other terrorist groups to better organize and coordinate their attacks. They would normally send out drones to collect information and then follow up with an attack, as is often the case. What we have seen is not only the use of drones for attack purposes but also the demonstration of power by sending many drones at the same time to create an illusion or perception that ISIS is capable of attacking with multiple drones and penetrating the enemy’s aerial space.

There is a nightmare scenario that small drones can be used to deliver chemical or biological agents in an attack. Or disperse deadly viruses over a public gathering place. Is it real?

In Iraq or Syria, where ISIS or other operating terrorist groups are involved, it is a matter of being able to gain access to chemical or biological weapons. It is not a far-fetched notion. And there are some examples of such incidents taking place. There were some efforts on the part of ISIS to deliver chemical, biological and other weapons of mass destruction via drones.

Are drone strikes effective against terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS? If yes, why?

As regards counterterrorism, if we ask government officials, they would argue that they are effective. The way to measure such effectiveness would be to look at how certain terrorist leaders—or those associated with terrorist actions at some level—have been targeted. Most recently, Qasim al-Raymi from al Qaeda in Yemen was killed via drones, so that was one measure of success. During the Obama administration, in Yemen alone, we had upwards of 1200 drone attacks targeting different militants. During President Trump, we delivered hundreds of attacks, specifically targeting militants in Yemen, Somalia and other places. In Pakistan alone, the drone targeting campaign lasted over 10 years. We also have the recent example where the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani was targeted and killed via a drone strike.

But again, if we look at terrorist organizations as unified and cohesive organizations, then we could say that killing their leaders specifically should reduce terrorist attacks as well. But we also know that terrorist organizations are not cohesive or unified in many ways. In that regard, the effects of killing a terrorist leader become perplexing or complex. For example, when a terrorist leader is killed, in theory, it should lead to a situation where a terrorist group’s leadership and control is undermined. On the other hand, depending on who comes next in the line of succession, the successor may be more prone to violence.

It is a really complicated question. In retaliation, groups may also increase terrorist attacks against civilians. And we have also seen this in terrorist groups with centralized leadership. One must also consider drone attacks leading to civilian casualties and significant grievances. I conducted research with my colleagues in Somalia last year. And during the course of interviews, drone attacks were largely criticized and raised as the source of grievance by some, even leading to recruitment and joining Al Shabaab in some cases. Although those attacks were aimed at Al Shabaab leaders or affiliates, or ISIS operatives, grievances were raised that they did lead to civilian casualties as well.

What are the risks associated with drone operations? Are there ways to mitigate those risks? How do we prevent them?

Some drones can fly at a very high altitude, while some fly only at low altitudes, which can be problematic under either scenario. From an anti-drone technology standpoint, that becomes a problematic proposition and requires a better understanding of how drone technology may be applied in the future. But again, as I mentioned earlier in the example of drone sightings at the Gatwick airport, when it led to significant confusion and material damage, the same thing applies here [in the West] in local contexts because of the inability to fully grasp and understand this emerging technology, but we’re also talking about the need to counter that technology if deployed in cities or in other places where it could pose significant difficulties and strains, especially on local governments and law enforcement.

Last year, for the first time in history, drones autonomously attacked humans. According to the UN report, these drones were supplied by Turkey to the Libyan forces. Can machines be allowed to make their own decisions to kill or should autonomous drone attacks be banned?

I have not done much research on the topic, and I do not know if these autonomous attacks led to human casualties. If this is the case, that would change the course of how we understand autonomously driven objects, specifically as it relates to drones. As stated earlier, autonomous weapons, coupled with this sort of artificial intelligence, do make sense in some way, provided that humans exercise some level of control. We have to understand the decision-making process that goes into creating this sort of autonomous technology [drones].

We know from our research that we could feed a certain image to a drone, which would enable that particular drone to carry out an attack based on the image fed. Having said that, a slight change, modification, misreading of that image (or its pixels) by the drone could lead to significant errors in terms of targeting capabilities. The lack of human control may always pose a level of risk. Humans need to play a role in a drone’s “decision-making” process. If we look at other fields that utilize these autonomous technologies, like self-driving, autonomous vehicles (AV), one can find errors there as well. From such a perspective, that could be problematic as well. Also, the question is not only how they [autonomous drones] are used but also where and how many of them are used. If we are talking about an autonomous drone being utilized in certain operations, say in a conflict zone like Syria and against ISIS, it may lead to different outcomes as compared to, say, using them in non-conflict areas, in cities and where large segments of civilian population are present. The room for error is especially there in the case of the latter, when operating in spaces where civilians are present. Again, we do not know much [publicly] about this emerging technology, including their decision-making process, their objectives, how they operate in different geographic areas, etc. These are all questions we need to better understand and address.

From our partner RIAC

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