An interview with Anne Speckhard
“This is an account, spanning over a decade, of what happens when you do just that. Traveling through the West Bank and Gaza, into the U.S. Department of Defense prisons in Camp Bucca and Camp Victory, down the alleyways of the Casablanca slums, inside Chechnya, in the radicalized neighborhoods of Belgium, the UK, France and the Netherlands and sitting with the hostages of Beslan and Nord Ost, Dr. Speckhard gives us an account of what puts vulnerable individuals on the terrorist trajectory and what might also take them back off it.
One of the only experts to have such a breadth of experience – having interviewed over four hundred terrorists, their friends, family members and hostages – having visited, and even stayed overnight at times in the intimate spaces of terrorists’ homes, interviewing them in their stark prison cells and meeting them in the streets of their shanty towns, Dr. Speckhard gives us a rare glimpse of terrorists within their own contexts”
What is your definition of Terrorism and what is the critical difference from National Liberation Movements?
There is no one definition of terrorism that has gained universal acceptance” in fact in a recent handbook of terrorism put out by Alex Schmid identifies hundreds of definitions! My own definition relies in good part on that of the U.S. FBI and State Department – I would define it as – terrorism consists of politically motivated attacks upon civilian targets by non state actors in order to instill terror and influence a wider witnessing audience. National liberation movements or so called freedom fighters who primarily and intentionally attack civilians for the purpose of influencing the political process and influencing the wider witnessing audience are terrorists by this definition and they can be distinguished from actual freedom fighters or guerrilla insurgents who fight the military and do not intentionally attack civilian targets.
What do you think are the main causes of radicalization and to what degree do you think they are really connected to religion?
I just attended a day long conference at the Hague convening some of the top experts in Europe to discuss this issue and it was difficult to come to a consensus. First of all we have to decide what is radicalization. If it is simply becoming “radical” in the sense of believing that society needs to change and trying to change the status quo it may be a good thing. If it is radicalization to violent extremism and fanaticism it is obviously not a good thing. Group dynamics, ideology, social support and individual vulnerabilities interact and all play a part in the mix for radicalizing to extremist violence. In Europe those who radicalize into extremist and terrorist movement often feel disenfranchised, marginalized have frustrated aspirations, happen upon and make strong bonds of friendship even marriage into groups that espouse violent answers, come to believe an extremist ideology, may begin to take on the traumas of others in other parts of the world and identify with them believing they are fighting for their cause. Religion is not necessary but is a strong force to identify “them” and us, to give justification for certain acts, to give courage to fight and die, to bind groups together, etc. but many ideologies can provide the same functions.
Based on your research, what are the most common events, strong enough to transform a normal citizen to a suicide bomber?
Usually a group is involved and a recruiter to encourage a person to take this role and to equip him to carry it out and to help him to reach his target. A degree of social support that exists also is very important for the person to believe it is the right thing to do. On the individual level, there must be some vulnerability to being attracted to a group that uses suicide bombing.
A group must find vulnerable individuals who can be activated into believing it and carrying it out – those who are in deep psychic pain are the most likely recruits. Violent events and trauma greatly contribute to a willingness to give one’s life for the cause. In my experience a highly traumatized and bereaved individual is a great target to recruit as a suicide bomber because he or she is in enough “psychic pain” to want to exit life and may believe that in dying he or she will be reunited with those who have died before. If the group’s ideology is “martyrdom” then there are many rewards for participating most importantly believing that one will gain instant entrance to paradise along with other rewards. If her group also glorifies dying that way and will make a hero of her or him it becomes even more powerful. The fact that a group and its ideology is important in the mix can be demonstrated by looking at many areas of the world where there is a lot of trauma but no terrorism and no suicide bombers. It takes a group to organize it and an ideology to believe its a good thing. Without either of these many vulnerable individuals will never go and become suicide bombers.
What are the main differences between male and female suicide bombers?
In the main they are much the same. Female bombers can cross security perimeters more easily because they can hide explosives on their bodies more easily and protest invasive body searches and they are usually expected to be innocent. Females are rarely leaders, although most suicide bombers – male or female are not leaders. The Chechens used females from the beginning – half and half with the men. There are fewer female suicide bombers in conservative Islamic middle eastern countries because the groups were afraid to use them as there were issues about getting them to the target and dressing them while still preserving their modesty and issues about arrest and imprisonment if they fail.
We are talking about political and religious motives. What about “guns for hire” and terrorism as business?
Illicit drugs and money laundering are often involved in terrorism particularly to fund the terrorist operations. If a group is hiring thugs to carry out it’s acts it is still terrorism if the group is politically motivated, aiming at civilians etc.
You have talked with many terrorists. What’s your stance on so-called “enhanced interrogation methods”?
some argue for the “ticking bomb” method of interrogation — that if one is believed to hold intel that can save innocent lives then it’s okay to torture. I think it’s a mistake. First of all how do you know your inmate is holding such information. The best intelligence is gained from creating real rapport with a prisoner and that should always be attempted before all else. In many cases it won’t work initially or ever. Then intelligence may be gained by surveillance, recording conversations etc, sending in another “fake” prisoner to create rapport etc. Oftentimes that works. We should know that prison in itself is a very tough thing for most people to deal with and under circumstances of isolation and boredom some will open up and begin to talk. Others won’t. I don’t see the point of using violence or fear to get someone to talk as we cannot trust what one gets from a person in pain or terrorized is necessarily reliable and it also often cannot be used in court to get a conviction so it is problematic in that sense as well. And I find it morally repugnant to engage in such activities – even if we do gain by it. The truth is sometimes we do get good intel this way but we must ask ourselves do we want to be on the same level as our enemies? Likewise when our enemies gain evidence of us acting in this way they can use it against us to recruit more to their cause. We saw this when pictures of Abu Ghraib were leaked and now I think we may see it again from the graphic portrayals of violent interrogations now being depicted in Zero Dark Thirty. That’s a pity.
When I worked with detainees in Iraq many were completely amazed that they were not tortured by the Americans and it created a profound positive reaction in them. Yet one could argue that if indeed innocent lives could be saved torture of any type is worth it. I don’t personally agree but I do see the credence of such arguments. My own view is that to engage in any type of soft or hard torture is not worth it – it changes us so fundamentally and we can gain a lot of intel without resorting to these methods.
Why were the terrorists willing to talk to you? Do you have a powerful moment to remember?
I don’t know why they trusted me but I was very gratified that they did and I learned a lot. I have asked myself many times why they talked to me? I think I won their trust by being honest — saying openly what I was studying and why (an academic study), being interested in their whole lives and the context of their lives – they living circumstances, traveling to them and taking risks to do so, being empathetic and sincere and nonthreatening, and being a psychologist who could help them to untangle parts of their own lives. Not many people get to spend an hour or two talking to a psychologist who is nonjudgmental, kind and interested in their lives. I think many got interested in themselves as they talked and opened up a lot because of that. I have many, many powerful moments to remember – for instance when at a Gaza safe house the militants there asked if I’d considered that they could take me hostage — to which I replied that I had relied on their honor not to. Alan Johnston from the BBC was taken and held hostage some months later which chills me to this day… I saw and listened to many things that moved me a lot. All of these stories are in my book which is written more like a novel than an academic treatise – although the theory is woven throughout.
Will you continue this project? Are you interested to talk with western terrorists too? Jailed members of “November 17” in Greece for example?
I would love to continue the project but I haven’t funding for it at present. I did talk to western extremists in Europe as well – some in Belgium, France and Netherlands and UK. During the time I was in Greece I consciously decided to leave Greece out of the mix since my husband was serving there as U.S. Ambassador and I thought it best to keep a low profile on such work… to leave it for another day. Yes I’d love to speak with jailed Nov 17th and the violent extremists active in the Greek society even now. Many of their arguments about social injustices have validity but their endorsement and use of violence does not. And their ideology is so different from that of the militant jihadis so it would be an interesting contrast. By the way we all loved living in Greece. You have a most beautiful country, lovely culture, great food, great wine, unbelievable sea, sunshine, mountains and islands and very kind and good people! I’ll never forget my time there and I hope to return again and again!
Kashmir: EAMs at the LOC
First, it was Zahedan where an IRGC convoy; returning home from their tour of duty, along the borders of Sistan-Baluch, are suddenly ambushed and nearly annihilated. As the sun begins to rise at dawn, on the next day, (the 14th of February), over Pulwama in Kashmir, a strikingly similar event occurs to a much larger CRPF convoy, this time returning to duty.
The authorities of the two affected nations issue immediate statements, (which are almost identical in tone and accusation), against elements resident within the territory of their shared common neighbour. Both independently issued statements seem to mirror each other in content and threat, as if they were Page 1 and Page 2 of a document seemingly prepared in advance within a spirit of “friendly collaboration”.
The initial murder of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corpsmen garnered almost no world media exposure, whereas the killing of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force para-militarymen exploded into an International Diplomatic Crisis that eventually required the frantic intervention of the Heads of State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, diplomatic envoys of the Peoples’ Republic of China, the Russia Federation, the UN and ofcourse, everyone’s favourite peacemaker and arbiter of international law and order, the US of A, to pacify emotions and reign in a possibly perceived; potentially imminent; Nuclear Confrontation between two adversarial neighbours, neither of whom recognize the legal sovereign nation status of the other.
Two weeks after Pulwama, in VietNam, whilst the US Head of State begins to dictate meaningless (and impossible to honour), terms and conditions towards the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea’s nuclear disarmament; the gravity of Pulwama is suddenly dragged onto centre stage as a possible Zero Hero event on the Doomsday Clock.
In an intentional act of war, (on the 26th of February), which is then openly glorified as live, patriotic entertainment, the Indian Air Force cross the Line of Control and bomb territory within Pakistan. In the intervening two weeks prior to this dubiously illegal infringement of a neighbour’s property, the world watched in awe at the mechanics of an electronic media that had been effectively tooled as an integrated weaponised instrument, and; also a consummate component of both, the Armed Forces and the State apparatus of an elected Government, with the sole aim of coordinating a line of thought; from which any deviation from the prescribed script was deemed to be a criminal offence.
News media, not so much the print media in terms of newspapers, but rather the online applications of instant messaging; exposed the gargantuan influence and capability that MultiNational Corporations have within any (and all), semi-developed, emerging economic nations: to create and guide a story that seamlessly blurs and oscillates between confusion and surreal fiction. Painting an illusion, as it were, or a dream swirling around disjoint facts.
On the 27th of February, the next day, the Pakistan Air Force duly retaliate and it seems that the elected Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy had finally gone rogue and had totally unhinged himself from reality with instructions to his Armed Forces to target nuclear installations within his neighbour’s territory.
At 7.40 AM Eastern Standard Time on the 27th of February, all Globex Futures Trading in the United States are suspended and the S&P, Dow and Oil indexes cease trading for over 4 hours, with the added excitement of all pending orders, prior to the halt, having their executions specifically cancelled. (Although Currency Exchange platforms remained active). Also on the 26th and 27th of February, Emergency Action Messages or EAMs of the US Nuclear Command and Control Structure commence firing up HFGCS (High Frequency Global Communication System) transmissions, which are a prelude to a Nuclear Alert.
So, why would an internal domestic attack on a police convoy within India lead to EAMs being issued at the LOC, (the Line Of Control within the disputed region of Kashmir). You may answer by saying that the reason is simply because Kashmir is a potential nuclear flashpoint, and that would be eminently correct. But my question would then be, why would this flashpoint be triggered when President Trump and Chairman Un are discussing the consequences of such an occurrence being played out for real between themselves?
The eternal question always remains, “who benefits?”. What message has the world at large been given?
CENTCOM or Central Command and the USINDOPACOM or the US Indo-Pacific Command of the US Armed Forces, are two gigantic military institutions that are run as autonomous and totally opaque entities by their respective Generals who see themselves as Roman Tribunes rather than Commanding Officers, with more power than their elected Head of State; under whom they, in effect, nominally serve. CENTCOM’s sphere of influence includes the carnage and the waste that they have laid to the sovereign nations of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and, that influence ends at the eastern border of Pakistan. In May 2018, when the previously titled entity USPACOM or US Pacific Command changed its name to the US Indo Pacific Command and suddenly incorporated India into its sphere of influence, their remit then began to encompass all territory upto the western border of India and, lo and behold, both spheres of these gigantic killing machines meet at the Line of Control within the volatile and disputed region of Kashmir.
Would the subsequent events leading from Pulwama have been a test run to gauge the effectiveness of integrated electronic media in India, which is thus by default, the most established English language denominated media at USINDOPACOM’s disposal? Would it have been a weaponised trial in propagating an explosive narrative draped as high drama in order to influence, coerce, intimidate and subsume a diverse society to toe the line? Was it to keep Pakistan on the straight and narrow and make it clear to them how close they were to being obliterated were it not for the kind benevolence of CENTCOM intervention; a similar muscular feat that China perhaps would not have been able to effectively co-ordinate so quickly.
So although, on the face of it, the Prime Minister of India plays the well rehearsed role of the village fool, entwining within it, (in order to appeal to a barely semi-literate audience); his own myth of having risen from the ranks of poverty and social ostracisation to become the elected leader of a huge and diverse nation and with the Prime Minister of Pakistan playing the well constructed role of the suave, Western debonair who achieved his elected position after years of political struggle; both however remain actors playing lines they have been given within a huge stage production.
If either of them were truly representative of the will of their constituents as well as the projection of the visions of the future that their electorates see in themselves, then neither would have played leading roles in a scene that required EAMs at the LOC.
The only beneficiaries are the Roman Tribunes of the two COMMANDs of the US Armed Forces, who quietly engaged themselves in a live-fire exercise to test their proprietary war game theories and then gathered the subsequent extrapolated algorithmic data for future reference.
As Crazy Earl says in the epic Kubrick movie, Full Metal Jacket; “These are great days we’re living, bros. We are jolly green giants, walking the Earth with guns. These people we wasted here today are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world, we’re gonna miss not having anyone around that’s worth shooting”.
Pakistan’s commitment to eradicate terrorism is more advance than UNSC
Big blow to Indian diplomacy by United Nation Security Council (UNSC), when passed a resolution declaring JAISH-e-Muhammad (JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar as a global terrorist under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267, without linking him with Pulwama, or Kashmir Freedom Movement.
India, traditional rival, has been trying to blame Masood Azhar on suspicions of his possible involvement in Pulwama Incident, Bombay Attacks, Hijacking Indian Air, or Kashmir Freedom Movement. Since 2008, the US attempted four times to get Masood Azhar listed under the UNSC resolution 1267 but every time its move was thwarted by China. “The Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning ISIL (Da’ish), al Qaeda, and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities approved the addition of entry to its ISIL (Da’ish) and Al-Qaeda Sanctions List of individuals and entities subject to the assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo.” The resolution was limited to ISIL (Da’ish), Al-Qaeda only. But Indian addition of Kashmir or other incidents related to India made the resolution unfit on technical grounds.
Pakistan had rejected earlier proposals to list the JeM chief, as India wanted to link it with the movement in Indian Occupied Kashmir where Kashmiris are waging struggle to get their inalienable right of self-determination. Pakistan’s FO spokesperson said, “India is presenting this new development as its victory and confirmation of its narrative, but these claims are unfounded and false. Once politically motivated attempts to link it with the Pulwama incident and the legitimate Kashmiri struggle for the realization of the right to self-determination were removed, the current amended listing proposal was approved.” Of course, China withdrew its opposition after consultations with Pakistan, and that Pakistan agreed to the listing after its objections were addressed. China and Pakistan are on the same page and support each other on all national, international or regional issues. During his recent visit to China, Prime Minister Imran Khan had met President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang and discussed matters of mutual interest. Reviewing with satisfaction the historical development of China-Pakistan relations and the great strides made, both sides in the joint statement agreed to further strengthen the China-Pakistan all-weather strategic cooperative partnership in line with the principles set forth by the treaty of friendship, cooperation and good-neighborly relations signed in 2005.
This time, the resolution was presented on its original merit and got passed. As per the resolution, his assets should be frozen, travel ban and arms embargo should be imposed. But, Pakistan due to its own policies, has already frozen his assets and imposed a ban on his travel and arms embargo since long ago.
In a matter of fact, Pakistan was the victim of terrorism for almost the last four decades. We have sacrificed 80,000 precious lives, which no other nation can afford. We suffered an economic loss of approximately 250 billion US Dollars, which no other country can afford individually. The net loss in term of time, losing 4 decades means loss of almost two generations. Emotional suffering is much more and beyond any estimation.
Pakistan was compelled to formulate “National Action Plan” at its own and has been implementing successfully for several years. Our achievement to the over-come menace of Terrorism has been acknowledged by the international community. Under the National Action Plan, Pakistan has taken all possible measures to eradicate terrorism from grassroots. Actions against Masood Azhar was part of our national priority. It has nothing to do with any third country.
UNSC’s decision in respect of Masood Azhar may be the last nail in Modi’s Elections. Indian Elections are based on “anti-Pakistan” and “hate-Pakistan”, Modi did his best to hate-Pakistan, harm-Pakistan, Isolate-Pakistan, etc. But all of his efforts went wrong and Pakistan has emerged as one of the most resilient nation, moderate, peace-loving and visionary nation. Pakistan’s narrative is more acceptable to the international community.
Horror in Sri Lanka and Love Fest in Vladivostok
The horrendous Easter bombings in Sri Lanka make little sense; the question remains, why? Following 30 years of civil war between the majority Buddhist Sinhalese (75%) and the minority and mostly Hindu Tamils (11%), who felt discriminated against after the country won independence from the British, it had enjoyed a decade of peace.
The Muslims are another minority in Sri Lanka. They have been under attack in recent years by a new aggressive Buddhism rearing its head. So why should Muslims attack Christians a fellow Abrahamic minority when there has never been any discord between them, and when they could be natural allies.
After ISIS claimed responsibility displaying faces-covered photos of the bombers (except for the leader whose face was uncovered), the murkiness of the circumstances precipitated out. He who pays the piper calls the tune they say, and the local group (National Thowheed Jam’aath) who were the instruments, did not have the wherewithal or the resources on their own — just a leader radicalized by attacks on Muslims by the extremists among Sinhalese Buddhists a year ago.
According to ISIS, it was revenge for the New Zealand mosque bombings but it was also designed to hit the tourist trade. Then too, Zahran Hashim the leader of the group, and who himself is thought to have carried out the attack on Colombo’s Shangri La Hotel was of Tamil background. The cycle continues.
Needless to say the attack on Christians also wrong-footed the security forces for they had intelligence reports since January, but clearly had little or no security presence. Will there be retribution? That is what Muslims fear (and ISIS wants) for it generates more recruits to continue the madness.
How did ISIS emerge? It might be repetitious to say so, but it takes the brutality of war to generate extremists. Think of the IRA, or the Tamil Tigers who invented the suicide bomber. The crazed path of destruction created in the Middle East and North Africa by the US will leave a trail many years hence.
And not only there, as the revolution fomented in Ukraine has led to a civil war, with Russia backing the ethnic Russians of the Donbass region in East Ukraine. Just this week, Russian president Vladimir Putin issued an order simplifying the procedure for them to obtain Russian passports. Is this another step towards eventual annexation?
Meanwhile, Mr. Putin has decided to fill the void left when Donald Trump in Vietnam walked away from what he called a bad deal with Kim Jon Un of North Korea. Kim had demanded an end to all economic sanctions before he would begin to dismantle his nuclear weaponry. Kim had a point: it is clearly not easy to replace destroyed armaments unlike sanctions.
Putin is now playing the role of global power broker with North Korea drawing the attention Trump had received briefly until the falling out. A new bromance? Perhaps, and one important enough for Putin to travel across seven time zones to Vladivostok for the meeting. Kim was met with great ceremonial pomp and treated to a lavish banquet laden with delicacies; thus indulging his twin weaknesses for deference and good food. No cheeseburgers, thank you — in marked contrast to Trump’s favorite food.
What does Putin get? Along with being seen as an influencer in North Korea, he could well become its intermediary, the go-to guy. The wily Putin seldom loses. He waits and watches, watches and waits. For Kim, his two neighbors Russia and China have been his strongest support for generations, to which he now returns.
He tried to emulate China, wanting capital and western firms to invest and kickstart a commercially moribund economy. But Trump’s price was too high. One wonders whether Trump will expound on the Art of the Missed Deal if he loses the next election. But then the ‘curiouser and curiouser’ Democrats might ensure that he does not have to.
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