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Radical Islam Passing through Greece

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Greece is an E.U., NATO and Eurozone country that has traditionally strong links with the Islamic world due to the geographical proximity with the Middle East and North Africa and the Ottoman rule that lasted four centuries, along with numerous historical encounters with Islam since the Middle Ages.

Currently the country faces a debt crisis that, apart from its obvious disastrous financial consequences both in a domestic and in a global scale, also raises security concerns related to terrorist networks of Islamist origin.
Recent upheavals in Maghreb and the Middle East pertain to Greek and European security as well.
Presently, the country hosts a Muslim minority that is a remnant of the Ottoman Empire, but also an expanding Islamic population from the Arab countries and Pakistan that enter Greece in significant number as illegal immigrants. Corporations in the country, such as banking institutions, tourist companies and real estate firms are in control of Islamic funds, whereas countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Libya can be considered significant trade partners of Greece.
The wider picture
In Athens, Greece, the Iranian Saderat bank is hosted, which is a U.S black-listed institution due to alleged links with Hezbollah. Iran covers 25 percent of Greece’s oil needs per annum and segments of its natural gas needs. There are indications that Hezbollah groups are operating in a logistical-support basis in Athens by gathering funds through tobacco contraband over the past years, as a 2007 report by American collective security research outlined.
In a broad sense, Greece, due to a mixture of its geographical placement, history and business links, is considered a gateway for the Islamic element in close proximity to the European Union and the Balkans, and over the past 10 years it has become one of the main transit territories for Islamic-originating illegal immigration to Europe.
Until now Greece does not seem to have a particular issue of Islamic fundamentalism. Nevertheless, as aptly described in a 2009 U.S. State Department report on terrorism, “Greece is increasingly an E.U. entry point for illegal immigrants coming from the Middle East and South Asia, and there was concern that it could be used as a transit route for terrorists travelling to Europe and the United States. The number of illegal immigrants entering Greece, especially through the Aegean Sea, increased dramatically in 2008 and 2009, with more than 100,000 illegal immigrants, nearly half of whom originated from North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, arrested each year.”
Presently in Greece, there seems to be activity within radical Islamic elements as well as gradual projection of Islamic political entities through the use of Greek nationals.
A revelation by the infamous WikiLeaks telegrams showed that the ex-U.S. ambassador in Athens, Daniel Speckhard, has noted the danger of the nexus between Greek domestic terrorist groups and Islamic groups, including those from Iran, as he was informed by the then-Greek minister of public Order, Michalis Chrysohoidis. The leaked telegram was presented by the Greek weekly paper To Vima along with further analysis that points out that the fears expressed are of valid nature.
In 2007 a rocket launch attack with an RPG against the American Embassy in Athens was carried out by the Greek group Revolutionary Struggle, which stated in its proclamation note support for Hezbollah in Lebanon. In 2009 the Greek weekly To Proto Thema reported that Greek leftist terrorists seem to have been trained in Lebanon in paramilitary camps operated by Islamists.
In a special report by the French daily Le Figaro, on December 21, 2010, the case of the route of Islamic terrorists from Lebanon to Europe was noted with significant details. The Lebanese Army Cornell Mahmoud Issa noted to the French journalists that since November 2010, some 20 extremists managed to escape from a camp where they were kept in Lebanon and found their way to the European Union. He stated that already the authorities had been notified on an international level, although he admitted that this is a difficult task. The French security authorities believe that this is the case of a new jihad mission heading towards European metropolises.
In classified documents that were in possession of radical groups in Lebanon, it was noted that three men managed to leave the camp through Syria and Turkey and up to Greece and Bulgaria with the assistance of illegal immigrant transport networks managed by Turks. They managed to acquire fake IDs and were finally caught by a common operation of the Bulgarian and Greek authorities. That case was closely monitored by British and French intelligence due to the fact that these two countries were the ultimate destination of the Lebanese group. Mahmoud Issa stated that more cases are to be found that evade the authorities so far.
Incidents of interest
 
According to the pre-9/11 French intelligence report, American interests in Greece and Cyprus were considered by Osama bin Laden’s network as targets. Citing a DGSE document, To Vima reported that members of al Qaeda, mostly located in Beirut, in cooperation with Taliban officials and other armed groups, were planning to hijack airplanes between March and September 2000, yet it was never carried out due to various logistical and operational disagreements.
European intelligence agencies have also reported that about 20 Arab fundamentalists have been arrested in Britain, Italy, Portugal, France and the Netherlands for having in their possession forged Greek passports, according to a 2007 revelation by the Greek daily Ta Nea and for the period 2001-2006.
In another notable case, in September 2005 Moroccan Anwar Mazrar— one of the leading Al Qaeda operational terrorists in Europe—was arrested on the Greek-Turkey border while attempting to travel to Greece on the Istanbul-Thessalonica bus service. Mazrar had been accused of being a leading member of terrorist groups in Morocco and also of having ties with al Qaeda. It was revealed that Mazrar was planning to stay in Greece for a while as an illegal immigrant and then move on to Italy and plan two bombing attacks.
Mazrar regularly travelled from Milan, Italy, to Algeria, Syria and Turkey. Greek authorities suspected that he was interested in setting up a base of support in Greece and use the country as a safe haven between Italy and the Middle East. In 2005, immediately after the capture of Mazrar, there was a boost in surveillance by the Greek authorities of suspected Islamist radicals in the country. Cooperation between Greece, the United States, France, Italy and the United Kingdom intensified in that sector.
Towards the end of 2010, various press reports claimed that radical Islamic action was increasing in the center of Athens, and the issue became widely publicized after it was brought to Parliament via the LAOS political party, which demanded state explanations on the issue and proper notification of security forces. According to statements by several Greek politicians, the country hosts amongst its illegal immigrant population radical cells and quite possibly “al Qaeda sleeping cells.”
In another case in 2005, the so-called “Pakistani abduction case,” 28 Pakistani immigrants were allegedly kidnapped by Greek intelligence agents in Athens. That case was connected to the cooperation between Greek and U.K. authorities following the July 2005 bombings in London, but was also the first notable case of accusation of the Greek state by Islamic organizations that Greece is actively turning against the Islamic element and taking harsh measures in the “war against terror.” The Greek weekly newspaper Proto Thema disclosed the names of 15 alleged Greek agents and an MI6 spy chief allegedly involved with kidnapping and torturing the Pakistanis eight days after the London bombings of July 7, 2005. There was widespread support by leftist groups that demanded through a series of legal actions and demonstrations the punishment of the Greek and U.K. security members involved.
According to all data up to now, the Pakistani immigrants were somehow connected, probably via mobile phone SMS texting and conversations, with the terrorist group responsible for the July 2005 bombings in London. Although six years have passed, Greek and U.K. authorities have not revealed the extent of the involvement of these immigrants.
In early 2011, the Greek media revealed information mainly derived from WikiLeaks that U.S. diplomats in Athens had since 2006 information that there is a nexus between illegal immigrant trafficking networks from Pakistan and terrorists groups in that country that profit from that illicit market. American diplomats at that period in Athens met with their Pakistani counterparts and then provided to Greek authorities several names of traffickers suspected with links to terrorists.
According to the State Department, the Greek authorities didn’t take any action, and one Pakistani diplomat who served in Athens at that period, in a conversation with an American officer, commented that he suspects “Greek security officials may be involved in covering the traffickers.”
In July 2009 Abu Sanjat, am Iraqi citizen wanted by Interpol due to his involvement with terrorist attacks in Baghdad, was arrested in Greece. His arrest was a joint Greek-American-Iraqi operation. According to media reports, he was one of the main ringleaders of al Qaeda in Iraq who wanted to expand the network into Europe. He came to Greece as an illegal immigrant by crossing the borders with Turkey and joined a team of another 20 immigrants. When he was arrested he had forged papers identifying him as a Palestinian refugee claiming political asylum.
In 2006 another case of interest took place in the Athens international network. According to reportage by the Greek daily paper Kathimerini, an imam and Pakistani citizen wanted for terrorist attacks and homicide was arrested as he was flying from the United Kingdom, where he lived in a provincial town. The police investigation revealed that his purpose of visiting Athens was to enact a series of religious seminars for the expanding community of Pakistani immigrants in the city. Although there was an international arrest warrant against him by authorities of Pakistan, he was able to pass through the airport controls in London before taking his flight to Athens. That particular incident alarmed the Greek authorities who surprisingly were able to map an emerging social network of Pakistani radical Islamists in Greece before they were able to commit illegal activities or terrorist actions.
Overall
Greece’s geographical placement, in addition to the wider culminations in the Mediterranean that have unfolded over the past year, has sounded alarm bells over the peril of the country being used as a regional logistics hub for international Islamic terrorists and a breeding ground of radicals amongst the communities of illegal immigrants from Islamic countries.
A Greek intelligence service report that was leaked in April 2011 in the Greek daily paper Ethnos points to a definite nexus between international organized crime, illegal immigration trafficking, and the communities of Islamists in the country who in their turn finance and form NGOs in order to attain influence in the local society. The danger of infiltration of terrorists in all of the above is also highlighted.
The main known countermeasures that have been taken by the Greek authorities include increased exchange of intelligence with partner countries, technological upgrade of surveillance equipment, and infiltration of suspected radical and terrorist cells.

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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Terrorism

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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Terrorism

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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The World Economic Forum plans to convene the world’s foremost leaders for the Annual Meeting 2022 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. Taking...

Americas7 hours ago

Of Friends And Countries

“The bird, a nest; the spider, a web; man, friendship,” William Blake reminded us in 1790.  Much earlier, Confucius warned...

Americas9 hours ago

20 years after 9/11: American decline in the Islamic world and China- Russian emergence

The main headlines and axes The first axis: American strategy in the Islamic world, to draw a new political and...

Human Rights11 hours ago

COVID crises highlight strengths of democratic systems

The UN Secretary-General, on Wednesday, urged the world to “learn from the lessons of the past 18 months, to strengthen democratic resilience in the face of future...

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