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Homegrown Terrorists, Rebels in Search of a Cause

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The Boston bombing has refocused public attention on a steadily growing phenomenon the Obama administration has been trying to sweep under the carpet: domestic Islamist terrorists whose familiarity with American culture makes them more difficult to detect prior to their acts of terror.

By way of preventing similar attacks, therefore, it is necessary not only to monitor terror networks but also to understand the psychodynamics of the creation of “homegrown terrorists” in general, and the appeal of radical Islam to “In-betweeners”—young persons in a transitional phase in one or more key aspects of their lives—in particular.

The Vulnerable “In-betweeners”

Clinical psychologist Margaret Singer’s 1995 Cults in Our Midst spells out this behavioral pattern in some detail, explaining the individual’s vulnerability to seduction by an exploitative cult:

Vulnerable individuals are lonely, in a transition between high school and college, between college and a job or graduate school, traveling away from home, arriving in a new location, recently jilted or divorced, fresh from losing a job, feeling overwhelmed about how things are going, or not knowing what to do next in life. Unsettling personal occurrences are commonplace. At such times, we are all open to persuasion, more suggestible, more willing to take something offered us without thinking there may be strings attached.[1]

Child psychoanalyst Anna Freud long observed that adolescent behavior can range between enthusiasm about community activities to a longing for solitude. Adolescents can be submissive to a chosen leader or defiant of any authority, extremely self-absorbed or materialistic, and simultaneously very idealistic. Additionally, adolescents are struggling with notions of psychosocial control, that is, the ability to delay gratification, regulate emotions, control impulses, and resist peer influence.[2]

As with other malignant Pied Pipers, the appeal of Osama bin Laden and radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki has been a unique “fit” for adolescent rebelliousness and search for independent identity. Spiritual and religious sermonizing and discussion have the potential to draw young people toward a perceived idealistic pursuit of social justice or utopian causes embedded in much jihadist propaganda. The exciting study of weapons, military tactics, physical fitness, and bomb-making technology also appeals to young people; they prefer jihadism to their fathers’ mundane and boring vocations. But even if they were inclined to more traditional pursuits, jobs are scarce in most countries because of the global recession.

What would otherwise be normal adolescent rebellion and protest can thus transform into terrorist identification—and actions—through the tutelage of agitators like Awlaki. Particularly vulnerable to incitement are persons in the phase of “prolonged” or “extended” adolescence, who have yet to make the transition from childlike dependence to adult-like independence, and who purposefully shy away from adult responsibilities and refuse outright to act their age.[3]

A Community of “In-Betweeners”

The same psychodynamic traits seen in individuals can also apply to communities or even countries in transition, leaving them vulnerable on a larger scale to terror cult recruitment efforts. This is particularly true for disaffected late adolescent and young adult populations. Afghanistan after the Soviet occupation; Iraq after the defeat of Saddam; politically unsettled Lebanon after the departure of Syrian armed forces; unstable Somalia and Yemen—all are fertile ground for recruitment efforts. The recent Arab upheavals, with their roller-coaster ride between the opening of social and electoral spaces and authoritarian pushback may have also increased the appeal of jihadists.

The al-Qaeda cult is built on an intricate interweaving of jihadist theology that declares a “just cause” for the terror group as posited by self-appointed messiahs like bin Laden or Awlaki who use and twist Muslim teachings to suit their own ends in recruiting and indoctrinating recruits. In addition, many madrassas (traditional Muslim religious schools) can function like prep schools for jihad and its training camps, and some radical Western mosques prey on the “in-betweeners” and provide ideal climates to satisfy the six conditions Singer delineated as effective in putting thought-reform (i.e., brainwashing) processes into action:

  1. Keep the person unaware that there is an agenda to control or change the person. The terrorist training camps use peer-modeling, peer pressure, and the military with weapons and explosives training provided to excitable, angry young men. The radical jihadist incitement is presented as a normal extension of the recruits’ Qur’anic study and memorization.
  2. Control time and the physical environment including contacts and information. Easily accomplished in al-Qaeda’s Yemeni camps where U.S. jihadists are often sent.
  3. Create a sense of fear and dependency. The charismatic leaders hold forth a fantasy of shared grandiose power merged with visions of victorious jihad.
  4. Suppress old behavior and attitudes. Islamists allow no debate or dialectic of discussion.
  5. Instill new behavior and attitudes. Terror groups manipulate by a system of financial and social prestige rewards for the new terrorist identity and ideology which they proffer. Promised rewards from God in Paradise and for families left behind are offered by al-Qaeda.
  6. Put forth a closed system of logic. This is achieved through inculcation of a zero-sum outlook: us versus them, in-group (true believers) versus out-group (infidels).[4]

Pathways of Homegrown Terrorists

The pragmatic “personal pathway model” presented by psychologist Eric Shaw further helps explain the development of homegrown terrorists in combination with the “in-betweener” concept. He has found that terrorists solidify their identity through group cohesion and personal connection instilled in them through shared experiences of harsh treatment, most often received from security forces or in prison. Just as prison can provide a personal connection, spiritual inspiration, and group identity for a future terrorist, so too does al-Qaeda implement a comparable but calculated psycho-inspirational charismatic, mystical indoctrination and group connection in their training camps.

Shaw also found that a telling turning point for future terrorists occurs upon identifying glaring inconsistencies between the political philosophies and beliefs of their parents or their families of origin and their actual impotence in terms of effective social or moral action, and that often (though not always) nascent terrorists are frustrated by their failure to achieve professional or vocational places in society despite being aptly qualified for such posts.[5]

A number of “homegrown terrorists” illustrate the psychological patterns exhibited in the adolescent identity struggles discussed above.

Azzam the American

Adam Gadahn achieved notoriety as al-Qaeda’s most prominent English-speaking spokesman. The 25-year-old American was raised in Orange County, California, the son of rock musician Phil Pearlman, who changed the family name to Gadahn and dropped out of society to become a goat farmer. As one of four children working on the family goat farm, Adam was home-schooled in a nominally Christian and religiously eclectic home. According to one report, he had his first exposure to Islam as a boy through the family business when his father slaughtered goats according to Islamic law. During his teens Adam began to rebel against his family and society in general, and in 1993 moved in with his secular Jewish grandparents. Eventually, he left his grandparents’ home and began frequenting the Islamic Center of Orange County.

Gadahn illustrates the classic traits of an “in-betweener”—in-between his parents’ and grandparents’ homes, his parents’ eclectic religious tastes, and between a job or school. At the Orange County mosque, 15-year-old Adam fell under the spell of two naturalized U.S. citizens who were radical Muslims—Khalil Deek (a Palestinian computer repairman) and Hisham Diab (an Egyptian accountant). The two lived in apartments in an Anaheim neighborhood called “Little Gaza” where they began indoctrinating Adam with their extremist views. The president of the mosque, Haitham Bundakji, thought Gadahn, Deek, and Diab held such extremist views that he barred them from the site. In turn, they openly labeled him an infidel because he reached out to Christians and Jews. At one point, Gadahn was arrested for assaulting Bundakji.

Although many adolescents belittle their fathers in their struggles for independence, most actually need strong, caring male role models to help channel their energies to healthy vocational, ethical, and spiritual development. Gadahn’s failed attack on the Orange County mosque’s imam might easily indicate a repressed and displaced rage at, and disappointment in, both his father and grandfather.[6]

An American Taliban

John Walker Lindh represents another example of an “in-betweener” embracing radical Islam. Currently serving a 20-year prison sentence for providing aid to the Taliban in Afghanistan, Lindh (aka Suleiman Faris) has been made out by his family and lawyers to be an idealistic young California dreamer who took a wrong turn in his search for an (Islamic) identity. Attorney Henry Mark Holzer, who produced an in-depth, meticulously chronicled website about “Taliban John” disputes that view, contending that Lindh, in his own words and deeds embraced the spirit and plans of al-Qaeda to a greater degree than his defense lawyers would have the public believe.[7]

John was born in Washington, D.C., to Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh, baptized a Catholic and grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, until his family moved to San Anselmo in Marin County, California, when he was ten. John was sickly as a child with an intestinal disorder. Later, after several middle schools were tried and found wanting, his family decided on home-schooling. John rarely left home, participated regularly in Internet chat rooms, used fake names and sometimes pretended to be African-American. The Spike Lee film Malcolm X made a big impression on him and may have sparked his interest in Islam.[8] He eventually enrolled at Redwood High School but soon left and took an independent study program, receiving a high school equivalency degree at age sixteen.[9]

Lindh’s parents’ marriage was having serious problems throughout his adolescent years and ended in a divorce in 1999 after which John’s father “came out” as a homosexual. Some observers argue that discovering his father’s homosexuality was traumatic for the teenaged Lindh.[10] Frequently, traumatic events in the life history of terrorists contribute to their embrace of radicalism, and the issue of homosexuality or homosexual behavior not connected to sexual gratification but rather to power, dependency, and submission is often a factor among radical Islamists or their recruits.[11]

When Frank Lindh moved in with a male lover in 1997, the 16-year-old John dropped his father’s name in favor of his mother’s name, Walker. He subsequently converted to Islam and began attending mosques in Mill Valley and San Francisco eventually travelling to Yemen for ten months to study Arabic before returning briefly to the United States in 1999, then going back to Yemen and Pakistan to study in a madrassa.[12]

There is some controversy over an incident that may or may not have occurred which, if it did, may have had a profound effect on the young American “in-betweener.” Khizar Hayat, a Pakistani businessman paid for Walker’s madrassa tuition. In October 2002, Time reported that Hayat admitted to a homosexual relationship with Lindh, a claim denied by the latter’s lawyers. Yet it is puzzling as to why Lindh did not seek financial help for the madrassa from his parents, who had both supposedly encouraged his Islamic faith and his study of Arabic. Was he reluctant to reveal his new Islamist leanings and mentors? Or if the story is true, was he running away from an inner conflict about his father’s “coming out” and his own sexual identity?[13]

The Fort Hood Shooter

Physician psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan killed thirteen people and wounded thirty-three others at Fort Hood, Texas, on November 5, 2009. This 39-year-old, unmarried Army psychiatrist is a Muslim of Palestinian descent but was born and raised in Virginia.[14] Hasan showed signs of conflicts between his Muslim faith and his duties as an army medical officer. He was noted to have tried to convert some of his patients to Islam and to have given a bizarre PowerPoint presentation to his colleagues as he finished his psychiatric training.[15] He also made some grandiose recommendations and observations, including the notion that Muslim American soldiers be considered conscientious objectors,[16] and cited many Qur’anic passages that could be interpreted as against U.S. military efforts and, in hindsight, could provide rationalizations for his murderous behavior.

Hasan had extensive contacts with Awlaki, whom he apparently looked up to as a father or older brother figure. Hasan’s young adult level of father longing, identity confusion, and “in-betweener” phenomena is a typical pattern among terrorist recruits (in-between assignments—his Islamist convictions and his orders to leave for Afghanistan, etc.)

The Dirty Bomber

Jose Padilla, who sometimes calls himself Abdullah al-Muhajir, planned to explode a “dirty nuclear bomb” in Chicago. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, following his parents’ move to the United States mainland from Puerto Rico. He became a member of the Latin Kings street gang after his family moved to Chicago and was reportedly implicated in a gangland murder at the age of thirteen. Padilla was arrested in Florida in 1991 over a road-rage shooting incident and spent a year in jail.[17] He was subsequently arrested several times, and after serving time for aggravated assault, converted to Islam, initially professing a nonviolent philosophy and attending the Masjid al-Iman mosque in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His colleague and friend Adham Amin Hassoun was a registered agent for Benevolence International Foundation, a charitable trust that U.S. investigators accused of funding terrorist activities. Hassoun was charged with consorting with radical Islamists, including al-Qaeda, and arrested in 2002 for overstaying his visa.[18]

The increasingly radicalized Padilla traveled to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. He was tracked as an al-Qaeda follower and arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on May 8, 2002, because of significant evidence that he had been trained in the making and using of a “dirty nuclear bomb.”[19]

Significant in this case is the theme of Padilla’s prison recruitment and his prolonged adolescent acting out and rebellious search for an exciting identity. Psychopathic and narcissistic character patterns as well as adolescent identity crises are important warning signs among prison populations.

The Shoe Bomber

Still another radicalized “in-betweener” is the infamous but thankfully incompetent Richard Reid. Son of an English mother and a Jamaican father, Reid was born in 1973 in the London suburb of Bromley. His father was in prison for most of Richard’s childhood, and the youngster fell into a life of petty crime;[20] in the 1990s, he was jailed for assault and spent time in several youth prisons. In Feltham prison, Reid converted to Islam at age sixteen,[21] and after his release, began attending Brixton Mosque in south London.

Abdul Haqq Baker, chairman of the Brixton Mosque, indicated that at some point Reid was “tempted away” by Islamist extremists, telling the BBC that the extremists worked on weak characters and that Reid was “very, very impressionable.” Reid changed his dress from Western clothes to traditional Islamic robes, topped with a khaki combat jacket. There is some speculation that he met Zacarias Moussaoui, the 9/11 conspirator during this period; Moussaoui, who attended the Brixton Mosque during the 1990s, was expelled from it because of his extremist views. On December 22, 2001, Reid was on flight 63 from Paris to Miami when he tried to light a fuse connected to explosives in his shoe but was overpowered by passengers and crew on the flight.[22]

Reid highlights the extreme level of susceptibility to recruitment by a radical Islamist terror cult. The common and ominous findings in the lives of future homegrown terrorists are: absent or weak fathers; conflicts with authority; identity struggles; unresolved father longing; and exposure to radical Islamist imams or recruiters, often in prisons or ghettos.

The Underwear Bomber

Still another would-be terrorist is Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. On Christmas Day 2009, this self-described “lonely” 23-year-old Nigerian youth carried an explosive Christmas gift aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 concealed in his underwear, intent on killing hundreds of Americans on board the plane and more on the ground in Detroit. Abdulmutallab came from a large family with fourteen siblings; as with Osama bin Laden’s father Muhammad, who had forty children, it is doubtful if there was much quality father-son time for Umar and his father, a wealthy banker.

Based on some of his 2005 Internet postings, Abdulmutallab expressed conflicts about women, marriage, and family traditions, concerns that a more engaged father might have paid heed to during time with his son. “As I get lonely,” he posted, “the natural sexual drive awakens, and I struggle to control it, sometimes leading to minor sinful activities like not lowering the gaze (in the presence of unveiled women). And this problem makes me want to get married to avoid getting aroused.”[23] But his father denied him this outlet, forbidding it until he completed a master’s degree. Instead, Abdulmutallab became drawn to his university’s Islamic Society and eventually into the orbit of American-born, Yemeni-based Awlaki. Abdulmutallab displays the classic traits of a vulnerable “in-betweener” but, in this instance, appears to have also been caught between the mores and expectations of his Western-oriented parents and those of his Islamist university friends.

Conclusions

The recruitment of homegrown terrorists involves the charismatic exploitation of young “in-betweeners” by radical imams and friends as well as Internet recruiters. Terror cults use well recognized mind control, thought reform techniques, and social group atmospheres to accomplish their ends, exploiting normal adolescents’ predilection for rebellion coupled with a search for ideals and causes.

The key psychodynamic patterns in homegrown terrorists are: (1) ambivalence toward, or disappointment in, parental figures resulting in “father longing”; (2) ambivalence about women, marriage, and intimacy; (3) prolonged adolescent identity searching with its accompanying crises; and, (4) an ambivalence toward authority, combining a fear or even hatred of authority with a longing for effective authority.

This conflict with authority often results in the “in-betweener” being placed in a setting that exacerbates the problem. Islamist imams, especially those affiliated with the Wahhabi brand of Salafism, regularly seek appointments as chaplains in American prisons and spread their gospel of intolerance among angry prisoners, finding a keen audience among young, incarcerated rebels in search of a cause.[24]

Are there minimally intrusive ways whereby Western intelligence officers can engage in monitoring of groups or individuals that have the potential for recruitment of young people for their dangerous and radical causes? More importantly, can specially trained teachers, diplomats, social workers, and other professionals listen to and engage in dialogue with these vulnerable young persons before they are brainwashed or seek brainwashing as a means of belonging? This, however, is a profoundly difficult and prolonged group therapy task not unlike Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and treatment of severe character and personality disorders.[25]

Peter A. Olsson is a retired physician-psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. He practiced psychiatry and psychotherapy and taught psychotherapy in Houston for twenty-five years and subsequently in New Hampshire. He is the author of Malignant Pied Pipers of Our Time: A Psychological Study of Destructive Cult Leaders from Rev. Jim Jones to Osama bin Laden (Baltimore: Publish America, 2005) and The Cult Of Osama: Psychoanalyzing Bin Laden and His Magnetism for Muslim Youths (Westport: Praeger Security International of Greenwood Group, 2007).

[1] Margaret Singer, Cults in Our Midst: The Hidden Menace in Our Everyday Lives (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995), pp. 21, 64-9.
[2] Anna Freud, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense (New York: International Universities Press, 1936), pp. 137-8.
[3] Siegfried Bernfeld, Über eine typische Form der männlichen Pubertät (Berlin: Imago, 1923), p. 9.
[4] Singer, Cults in Our Midst, pp. 21, 64-9.
[5] Eric D. Shaw, “Political Terrorists: Dangers of Diagnosis, Alternatives to the Psychopathological Model,” International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Summer 1986, pp. 188-9.
[6] Raffi Khatchadourian, “Azzam the American: The making of an Al Qaeda homegrown,” The New Yorker, Jan. 22, 2007; Los Angeles Times, Oct. 8, 2006.
[7] Henry Mark Holzer, “Taliban John: Journey’s End,” FrontPage Magazine, July 17, 2002.
[8] The Guardian (London), Oct. 4, 2002; Reuters, May 4, 2007.
[9] Associated Press, Jan. 11, 2013.
[10] See, for example, Jonah Goldberg, “Family Trouble,” National Review Online, Jan. 25, 2002.
[11] Lionel Ovesey, Homosexuality and Pseudohomosexuality (New York: Science House, 1969); Peter Olsson, The Cult of Osama: Psychoanalyzing Bin Laden and His Magnetism for Muslim Youths (Westport, Conn. and London: Praeger Security International of Greenwood Publishing, 2007), pp. 20-3.
[12] The Guardian, Oct. 4, 2002.
[13] Ibid.
[14] The New York Times, Nov. 5, 2009; ABC News, Nov. 6, 2009.
[15]Hasan’s Personal Jihad,” Human Events, Nov. 12, 2009.
[16] Fox News, Nov. 10, 2009.
[17]Profile: Jose Padilla,” BBC News, Nov. 22, 2005.
[18] CNN, June 15, 2002.
[19] The New York Times, June 10, 2002.
[20] “Who Is Richard Reid?” BBC News, Dec. 28, 2001.
[21]Richard Reid—The ‘Shoe Bomber,'” Global Jihad, Galilee, Isr., Mar. 14, 2007.
[22] “Who Is Richard Reid?”
[23] The Guardian (London), Dec. 29, 2009.
[24] See, for example, Daniel Pipes, “Freedom House Report on Saudi Venom in U.S. Mosques,” The New York Sun, Feb. 1, 2005; Patrick Dunleavy, “The Roots of Radical Islam in Prison,” IPT News, Aug. 14, 2009; Paul Barrett, “How a Muslim Chaplain Spread Extremism to an Inmate Flock,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 5, 2003.
[25] Based on author’s professional observation and experience at Veterans Administration Hospital, Houston, 1969-71, 1973-78, and the Oakland Naval Hospital, 1971-73.

Terrorism

Imprisoned ISIS Wives and Children Have Nowhere to Run To, Nowhere to Hide

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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The guards have said if the war comes close, then they will leave here,” a Western ISIS wife texted me today from Camp Roj in far northeastern Syria, a detention center that houses 500 ISIS wives and 1,200 of their children.  “What to do if we are left alone?” she asks. “There’s nowhere to go and too risky to get caught by Bashar [al-Assad].”

As she writes, I’m in Belgium sitting next to an FBI agent. I ask him what she should do, but amid all of this chaos, he doesn’t have an immediate answer.  

The ISIS wife continues: “I like how America thinks it’s too dangerous for them [the U.S. military] to be here but safe for us to remain with Assad.”

Over the past two years I’ve been in and out of the northeastern territory of Syria held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) six times with staff from the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). We have conducted in-depth interviews with 217 ISIS men and women, 100 of them in SDF held territory, for our project countering the ISIS brand, which the SDF has supported fully. 

The woman texting me today gave us an interview last year and has managed to stay in touch via illicit phones other detainees allow her to use.

At the same time she is texting me, our Kurdish translator texts that they are living under the sound of bombs and troops advancing. Assad’s troops are marching eastward, while Turkey is barreling in from the north. Which soldiers will reach Camp Roj first and what the women should do if the Kurdish YPJ-Women’s Protection Units guarding them decide it’s too dangerous to remain in place, is something the guards have told the inmates to think about. 

The female inmates of Camp Ain Issa, farther west, faced a similar dilemma earlier in the week when the Turks began shelling. Until Sunday, Ain Issa Camp housed a total of 12,000 women and children, but according to one Belgian woman, it descended into “complete chaos” as fires broke out, the guards left, and the women escaped in the hundreds. 

Among the women housed there, 265 were wives of foreigner terrorist fighters, alongside 1,000 of their children. On the second day of the Turkish air assault, Belgian ISIS wives Bouchra Abouallal and Tatiana Wielandt decided it was better to go on the run with their small children than remain in place to learn what next disaster might befall them.

We interviewed Bouchra Abouallal in September 2019.  Completely exhausted from her experience with ISIS, she said that life inside the Caliphate was “the best possible deradicalization program ever.” Already prosecuted in absentia and facing a five-year sentence in her home country of Belgium, she told ICSVE researchers she would prefer to return home even to serve a 20-year sentence rather than remain in the camp under the menace of the cruel ISIS-inmate enforcers who threatened all European women who no longer wanted anything to do with the ISIS Caliphate.

Now Bouchra Abouallal is on the run with her three small children. In audio messages punctuated in the background by shelling she told a Belgian journalist that she was headed toward the front lines in hopes she could make it to safety in Turkey, where she wishes to turn herself into the Belgian consulate and make her way home. 

While European officials here in Brussels have stated that Turkey agrees to help any escaped ISIS cadres that end in their hands to be returned to their homelands, up until recently, Belgium was refusing to let her come back. Instead of seeing her as someone victimized by the Islamic State’s propaganda and lies, and fooled by the “Shariah for Belgium” group that had radicalized many in her native city of Antwerp, Belgian politicians see her as a threat.

But it is not difficult for Belgian authorities to turn past posts on her social media accounts against her.

“Your system has failed oh Belgian state,” Bouchra’s Facebook page read after she slipped out of Belgium to go live under the Islamic State. Referring to the way the Belgian police had hassled her upon her first return home from Syria, her posts taunted them, saying “You were watching us 24/7 and you still haven’t managed to stop us. Why? Because Allah is the best planner (…)” Her threats continued with, “We have left because we believe that it is a duty for every Muslim. To the policeman who threatened to take our children away, I can say that my children will turn yours into orphans, with the will of Allah.”

Bouchra claims that it wasn’t she, but one of her ISIS husbands, who authored these hate-filled posts. She says he used to lock her up at home and post on her Facebook page without her permission. Indeed, when we interviewed Bouchra in September she spoke gently as she denounced ISIS, giving us permission to use both her image and her name in a counter narrative video—this, while knowing the ISIS enforcers in the camp would likely punish her for it.

The woman texting me today from Camp Roj does so fearing that if it becomes known it was her texting she will be punished by her YPJ guards. Yet pure terror drives her to try to stay connected with the outside world as she makes wrenching decisions for herself and her young child. 

Americans are also in this camp. We have interviewed two American passport holders—Canadian dual-citizen Kimberly Pullman and disputed American citizen Hoda Muthana. 

When I ask today’s texter about Americans in the camps, she tells me there are five in all, two more in Camp Roj and another in Camp Hol. She states that there are also two American children in Camp Roj. We’ve met one of them, Adam, the two-year-old son of Hoda Muthana. Both times we interviewed his mother, Adam was struggling with chronic bronchitis. Today the woman texting me from Camp Roj tells me that the air is thick with fumes from the bombings, which is causing many of the children to have breathing difficulties.

“Going to jail right now won’t be great,” this woman writes as she imagines her future in the West—if she can ever manage to get home. Then she envisions another future: “I could get lost among all of this trouble.” Then again she realizes that fleeing the camp, if her guards do abandon their posts, might also prove disastrous. 

“Please let the governments know that we are not happy with the escape of the women [who have left the camps]. We are actually scared and want to just be safe in our own embassies,” she texts. “We don’t want to keep running away. We want to be tried. I’ve already had the chance to run away before and I decided to be tried in my own country.”

Now the pressing question, amid all of this chaos unleashed by Trump greenlighting the Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria: Is anyone going to do anything to get these former ISIS wives and their children back home where they can face justice and live in safety or do we just leave them to face whatever fate turns up as hostile armies converge?

Author’s note: first published in the Daily Beast

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Terrorism

Indian Mujahideen, IS and Hizbul Tahrir: Breeding ground for terrorism in South Asia

Amjed Jaaved

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India Today dated October 8, 2019 has made the startling revelation `The Special Cell of the Delhi Police, probing an IM module, stumbled upon evidence suggesting an association between the two outfits’. It adds,   `Sources in intelligence agencies said that there was credible proof about IM’s links with international groups’. `The Indian Mujahideen had a hand in the Delhi serial blasts of 2008’ and have `links with the international radical group Hizbul Tahrir’.  The organisation was `trying to radicalise disgruntled Muslim youth’, according to recent intelligence inputs’.

Sri Lankan terrorists trained in India

Earlier, Sri Lankan investigations had revealed that the suicide bombers, involved in blasts, were radicalized in India. Sri Lanka had hauled up 116 suspects, including a Tamil medium teacher and a school principal. Those arrested confessed to having been tutored by Islamic-State moles in Tamil Nadu. Posters and social media postings in native Indian languages confirmed that the IS does have networks in several Indian states. A pro- IS Telegram channel released a poster in Bengali language which reads read: “Shighroi Aschhe [coming soon], Inshallah. The poster carried a logo of a group called Al-Mursalat. Some social posts in Sinhala language appeared in Tamil Nadu. Instead of taking notice of IS propaganda, BJP led government has been exploiting the matter for political advantage. BJP leader Vijayvargiya in West Bengal alleged, “If Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Mamata ji stays, Islamic State can enter West Bengal anytime.” India shrugs off the allegation saying that IS adherents in India are spill-over of Bangladesh’s New Jamatul  Mujahideen.  

Call Detail Records  of Sri Lankan-terror  mastermind Zaharan Hashim  indicated his links with IS adherents across India including  R Ashiq, Ismail, Salavuddin, Sadiq, Ali, Shahul Hameed, and Shamsuddin. In a video, Hashim is seen exhorting Muslims from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Sri Lanka to wage jihad. Hashim and another Sri Lanka bomber,  Mohammad Azaan, had travelled to India in 2017 and 2018 to discuss the plans of IS.

By 2013, India knew that its `missing ‘citizens were fighting alongside IS in Syria. It remained unruffled even until 2014 when IS kidnapped 39 `traitor’ Indians in Iraq and executed them. India’s RAW remained listless to an IS map of the Khorasan Caliphate showing engulfing some Indian. BBC reporter Andrew Hosken, who included the map in his 2015 book ‘Empire of Fear: Inside the Islamic State’ said IS wants “to take over all of what they see as the Islamic world”. India arrested about a hundred IS suspects while they returned to India after fall of IS’s last stronghold Baghouz in Iraq.

Why and how Indian Muslims are being radicalized: India is a fertile ground for ISIS cultivators because of Muslims’ persecution. Indian Muslims have less than two per cent parliamentary representation though they are about 14 per cent of Indian population.

The Muslim in India are about 172 million (14.2%), second largest religious community, according to 2011 census. The Muslim is a feeble voice within the parliament and without. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP gave less than two per cent of its tickets to Muslim candidates. Still, none of them were elected. Still Rashtraya Swayemsevak Sangh claims that Muslims in India are

The 2014 Lok Sabha had the lowest share of Muslim MPs in India. So it was despite increase in share of Muslim population in India from 13.4% to 14.2% between 2001 and 2011.

Names of about one-fourth of the eligible Muslim voters were deleted from voters’ list with impunity.   In Karnataka, alone the names of 6.6 million people were missing from the electoral list. Later, about 1.2 million were re-enlisted.

The Muslim population increased. Yet, the number of Muslim voters declined over the years. Obviously, the undercounting and deletion from voters’ list was actuated by planned discrimination, political exclusion, and total elimination. A caricature of Article 326 of India’s Constitution?

Muslims experience low literacy and high poverty rates, and Hindu-Muslim violence has claimed a disproportionate number of Muslim lives. The Muslim literacy rate ranks well below the national average and Muslim poverty rates are only slightly higher than low-caste Hindus, according to a November 2006 government report. Muslims make up 13.4 percent of India’s population, but hold less than 5 per cent of government posts and make up only four per cent of the undergraduate student body in India’s elite universities.

Practically, Muslims, under Hindu influence, are divided into three groups of Indian Muslims—ashraf, ajlaf, and arzal. The ashrafs are upper-class Muslims of Arab ancestry. Ajlafs are Hindus who converted to Islam to escape persecution, and arzals, correlate to the lowest caste of Hindus (harigans). The November 2006 Sachar Report made recommendations to ameliorate the lot of the Indian Muslim. University of Chicago Professor Steven Wilkinson says, “The conclusions aren’t very revolutionary and I wouldn’t expect much in the way of policy change from it.” The professor of political science whose research focuses on ethnic politics in India. Wilkinson says the report fails to offer clear analysis about the nature of Muslim marginalization, and leaves in question whether solutions should focus on Muslims or general public poverty alleviation.

Hard-line Hindu nationalists argue Indian Muslims (as well as Christians) converted from Hinduism and should reconvert to the majority religion. Ruling BJP seeks to win votes proposing to build a temple on the site of a former mosque in Ayodhya, a city in India’s most populous and politically important state of Uttar Pradesh. Temples in IHK are being renovated with little attention to mosques. It is eerie that RSS chief claims `Muslims in India Happiest in the World Courtesy Hindu Culture’. 

Motivational training complement with India-made explosives: The IS India not only imparts motivational training to volunteers but also equips them with necessary kit to do explosions. Besides imparting ideological training, IS in India equips fresh recruits with improvised-explosive devices. Unreliability of dry-buttery cells in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) forced the IS to opt for solar cells.  The study, conducted by Conflict Armament Research (Europe) has confirmed that Indian solar-cell and detonator-producing industries are a big exporter to the IS importers abroad. To bypass customs surveillance, Indian companies export the hardware through intermediaries. The study revealed,  `Seven Indian companies figure in a list of 51 commercial entities from 20 countries theater involved in the supply chain of over 700 components used by the Islamic State to construct IEDs. The Indian firms meet bulk of IS’s demand for detonators, detonating cords,  safety fuses, cables, wires, and other electronic components, India’s trade laws allow export of such components. The companies include Solar Industries, Economic Explosives, Premier Explosives, Ideal Explosives, and Chamundi. Indian products came to light when seized during battles in the Iraqi towns of al Rabia, Kirkuk, Mosul, and Tikrit and the Syrian town of Kobani.

While being preoccupied with Masood obsession, India ignored lurking presence of IM-IS-HT affiliates in its several states. Let India to stop politicising Masood Azhar and focus on emerging threat. India needs to revamp its attitude to the menace before it is too late.

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Terrorism

Who are the Real Terrorists in North East Syria?

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Earlier this week President Trump abruptly changed course and green-lighted a Turkish incursion into north east Syria with disastrous results. The subsequent invasion has unleashed a hellish nightmare of carnage and chaos in what was a dangerous, but relatively peaceful, area governed by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who had just defeated ISIS territorially.

In recent days, over 30 civilians—including Kurds, Christians and minorities, and very young children—have been killed in indiscriminate Turkish bombings and mortar fire. Likewise, the UN reports that over 130,000 Syrians have suddenly become displaced, fleeing Turkish violence. In addition to these massive displacements, Turkey insists that it will forcibly repatriate 1 to 2 million of the 3 million Syrian refugees it is currently housing back into the SDF-held areas it is now overtaking. That 83% of these Arabs never lived in the areas they are to be forcibly resettled in, begs the question of whose homes and lands will they be overtaking? 

Turkey claims to be fighting a terrorist group and wanting to clean their border area of terrorists, but the pictures coming out of northeast Syria instead make Turkey look like the terrorist aggressor. Countless photos and videos, many of them validated, circulate of Syrian civilians lying bloodied and dead on the ground while their family members wail unconsolably. Hevrin Khalaf, a female, and the Secretary-General of the pro-Kurdish Future Syria Party, is reported to have been dragged from her car and assassinated by Turkish-hired thugs who said while filming her corpse, “this is the corpse of pigs.” Likewise, video footage of bearded mercenary soldiers backed by the Turks, shooting their Kurdish captives while calling them “kufar scum” (unbelievers) are said by U.S. forces to appear authentic. If so, these actions are war crimes.

These bearded assassins, backed by Turkey are likely the same unemployed ISIS, al Nusra, and other former jihadists still happy to kill in the name of Allah, who Turkey used to clear Afrin in 2018. Indeed, they have shown a brutality akin to their mother groups, some even shouting ISIS slogans as they kill, such as “Baqiya wa tatamadad!” meaning we (ISIS) will remain forever, and expand. 

That Turkey would use former ISIS cadres to fight the Kurds is no surprise, given they worked closely with ISIS to try to quell the Kurds early on in the Syrian conflicts and continue to see their interests in destroying Kurdish power to lie with militant jihadist and Islamist groups. An ISIS emir that ICSVE interviewed in 2019 went into great detail about his work on behalf of ISIS, about how he negotiated with the Turkish MIT and military regarding border entry for the 40,000+ foreign fighters that streamed across Turkey into ISIS-controlled areas of Syria, agreements for sending wounded ISIS fighters back into Turkey for medical treatment, supplying water for the Tabqa dam to provide electrical power for ISIS, and so on. According to this emir, even then, Turkey was insisting on a buffer security zone. Now it appears they will go to any lengths to get it.

Meanwhile, General Mazloum Kobani Abdi told U.S. Ambassador William Roebuck, the U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS “You have given up on us. You are leaving us to be slaughtered.” He also asked in confused despair how the U.S. could also insist that the Kurds not turn to others, like the Russians for support, effectively boxing them in for slaughter.

When ISIS foolishly attacked Kobani in 2014, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) rose up and fought valiantly and since 2015, they fought with U.S. military backing, to defeat ISIS.  They have been our “boots on the ground”, sustaining most of the casualties and doing all the heavy lifting in defeating a global foe. While U.S. forces lost less than 20 troops after they aligned with the Kurds to fight ISIS in Syria, our hardy allies lost 11,000 male and female brave fighters who faced down this global foe.

Indeed, while ISIS was an active force on the ground in Syria, it external emni (intelligence arm), threatened the globe, mounting and inciting attacks in many major cities from New York, to Brussels (where two Americans were killed), to Paris, Nice, Stockholm, London and Istanbul to name but a few.

In serving as our “boots on the ground” forces for the territorial defeat of ISIS, and continuing to battle the remnants of ISIS, the Kurds saved, and continue to save, countless Americans and Westerners from being slaughtered by a heinous force willing to attack, anywhere, at any time.  

Yet their current aggressor, Turkey, calls these Kurds terrorists. That picking up arms against ISIS gave them the sudden opportunity to rule a considerable swathe of Syrian land that they had liberated from ISIS is no one’s fault, except those who supported ISIS in the first place—Turkish government officials among them. No doubt, the Kurds once in power, made some mistakes, but it is notable how quickly they moved to incorporating minorities into their ranks and transitioning to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who have had a good record of building a grassroots democracy amidst the ashes of war. That their majority Kurdish leadership may have long-term aspirations to one day become a fully independent Kurdish state should be no surprise, but that they were acquiescing to all U.S. demands upon them to remain within Syria and negotiate some kind of governance agreement with Assad also needs to be noted. The trouble in that regard, is Assad wants to appoint top-down leaders in the area and thereby destroy the grass-roots nature of the Kurdish democracy building. From a position of strength and good governance, with U.S. backing behind them, the SDF had a chance of becoming a real island of democracy, perhaps even one day spreading such, within the Syrian state.

In the meantime, with ISIS defeated territorially, ISIS is still far from total defeat. In recent months ISIS has been attacking on a weekly basis in both Syria and Iraq, and the SDF were busy rounding up ISIS sleeper cells while also holding more than 70,000 ISIS prisoners and their family members, thousands of which are from European and Western countries who have refused to repatriate and bring them home to justice.

Now, amidst the chaos unleashed by Turkey, up to 800 ISIS cadres have escaped when their prison was shelled, with hundreds more ISIS women and children escaping from their bombed and burning camps. Where they will run to amidst the chaos is uncertain, but Turkey and beyond, is certainly a possibility given that when cornered in Hajin, and later Baghouz, SDF leaders told ICSVE that ISIS leaders were asking to be bussed out of Syria into Turkey—presumably believing they would be welcomed into a country that had helped them in the past. 

500 of the worse ISIS cadres are said to have been transferred by U.S. forces from Syria, into Iraq, and possibly more will befall the same fate. For those of us who still believe in human rights and rule of law, even when applied to ISIS cadres, it’s unfortunate that in Iraq these prisoners—many of them Westerners—can expect forced confessions, hurried court proceedings and almost certainly sentence of life imprisonment, or death, based on very little, if any, evidence presented against them. Whereas, in our ISIS interviews conducted in SDF territory, with 100 of the ISIS foreign terrorist fighters, the prisoners stated that they were not being subjected to torture and were fairly treated by the SDF. Likewise, the SDF was working patiently, including in efforts with ICSVE, to gather testimonies and data to prod Western countries into action that have been reluctant to take their ISIS citizens home for prosecution.

While the SDF could only do its important work with U.S. support, this support was not costing us much. Few troops were deployed on the ground and our air support was operating out of Iraq, where it is likely the U.S. forces will stay for some time. That we should not involve ourselves in endless wars or that the troops need to come home is something most agree with, but how and when is also of great importance.

Any U.S. withdrawal of support for the SDF should only occur because they are no longer serving our interests and must take place in a planful and secure manner without allowing for an all-out slaughter of civilians or of the allied forces who, by fighting ISIS, saved Americans countless lives.

Given that the Kurds sacrificed greatly to defeat ISIS territorially on the ground, and when in power, began at once to build one of the only democracies in the middle east that is respecting minority rights and following Western rule of law, while being surrounded by dictatorial and corrupt regimes, it seems we should have continued to give them our full support. Instead Trump has unleashed Turkish forces on a group that Turkey universally treats as terrorists and is willing to violently displace and kill. This sudden betrayal of our loyal allies is a matter that needs to be quickly resolved in Washington, D.C. 

Our American ideals, and our reputation as stalwart and reliable allies, are at stake right now, and this disastrous decision needs to be reversed immediately.  

From our partner ICSVE Brief Reports.

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