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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.

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Terrorism

Taliban Takeover and Resurgence of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan

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As a Security and International Relations student and someone who lived in Afghanistan, I believe that the withdrawal of the U.S and NATO troops will help Al-Qaeda reorganise its activities in Afghanistan and in a very short period. The group will be able to relaunch its activities.

After several years, the resurgence of Al-Qaeda is becoming evident in the post-US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. Like many other non-state actors, the year 2021 is a year of hope for Al-Qaeda because it provides an opportunity for them to launch their halted global terrorist mission.

The U.S withdrawal will limit its ability to strike the al-Qaida core in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it will be a turning point for the resurgence of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and from where they can expand their activities. Familiarity with the rugged terrain of Afghanistan and northern Africa will help Al-Qaeda to re-merge and assemble their forces quickly if there is no strong censorship on Al-Qaeda activities.

The relationship between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban is inseparable, and the victory of one group will pave the way for the resurgence of another group. Al-Qaeda and its adversary, Daesh داعش (IS) دولت اسلامی عراق وشام, will seek to extend their operations in Afghanistan in post-US and NATO withdrawal.

It is always very likely that terrorist groups are willing to help other terrorist organisations and provide them safe-havens. Terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State are very interested in conquering Afghanistan. They are not having other interests in Afghanistan; however, they believe that the Islamic Army will come from Khurasan, which is current day Afghanistan, and the last battle will take place in Syria, therefore, for that reason, without any doubt the resurgence of the Al-Qaeda is taking place in the world, and the starting point for that resurgence will be Afghanistan.

Looking to the future, it is very likely that the increasing connections between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda will lead the groups to work on long-term strategic partnerships. These terrorist groups will play their disrupting roles in terrorising civilians and government officials. The U.S and NATO intervention in Afghanistan had crippled Al-Qaeda. Still, the current withdrawal will give the group momentum to maximise the power vacuum created by the foreign troops in Afghanistan.

To conclude, I believe that the current grim situation in Afghanistan is paving the way for the resurgence of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, which can pose a serious threat to the international community. However, the scale and scope of terrorist activities of Al-Qaeda would be different from the 9/11 attacks due to strategic shifts in the strategic culture of the group. The group will always use its influence and strengthen ties with other terrorist groups stretching from Asia to Europe and Africa to America’s.

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Trends of Online Radicalization in Bangladesh: Security Implications

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Online radicalization poses a formidable threat to the stability of the country. With the imposition of lockdown in the last year, the nefarious fundamentalist   factions have ramped up their activities. As the country’s law and enforcement agencies are playing a vigilant and commendable role in combating heinous fundamental radicalism in Bangladesh, these radicals have instead resorted to the online mediums to recruit, sensitize and radicalize the youths of the country.

Bangladesh has historically been a bastion of pluralism as the country’s constitution provides primacy to the secular character of the republic. However, in keeping with the global trend of militancy Bangladesh had also witnessed spate of militant activities in the preceding decades culminating in the seige of Holi Artisan Bakery.

Since the catastrophic militant activities in 2016,Bangladesh government has taken  a slew of stern measures to combat the budding radicalism in the Bangladesh and to safeguard the country’s pluralist character.Hence, terrorist and radical factions didn’t gain ground in the succeeding years and last few years Bangladesh has enjoyed enviable stability from the untoward disturbances of these militants.

However, with the technological revolution in the country, it turns out that militants have adapted their tactics to the needs of the new epoch. While previously militants had a hard time in radicalizing people owing to the vigilance of the law enforcement agencies, in the realm of the online media militant find their fortress and esconsced themselves in various social media and web platforms.

In contrast to the traditional process of radicalization, militants found online radicalization much advantageous as it provided them with the opportunity to disseminate their diabolical propaganda to more people and help them conceal their identity.

Parallel with the acceleration of the online radicalization efforts, the character of the militants victims has also changed significantly.Previously, militants sprung mainly from the disadvantaged and destitute section of the country who were ridden by poverty and devoid of traditional schooling. Radical outfits found these militants easy prey  in their efforts to mobilize gullible youths to destabilize the country.

However, with the changing mediums of radicalization, the socioeconomic background has also witnessed c. In contrast to the impoverished background of militants, the  militants radicalized through online mediums represented instead deviated youths from very affluent backgrounds and these youths possessing modern university education. 

The radicalization of these urban university-educated students has baffled the policymakers and law-enforcement agencies of the country as the motivation of these youths don’t have any compelling rationale to join these militant organizations peddling medieval agendas.

The online radicalization is attributed as the  reason for the proliferation   of more urban educated militants. These urban credulous youths are allured by the rhetoric and propaganda of the militant leaders.

The online radicalizers remain within the shroud of online platforms and try to radicalize the youths with inflammatory speeches which seek to vilify the western liberal ideals and the democratic government.

They rail against the intention of the democratic government and attribute all the blame of muslim plights to the western machination. They selectively portray  the violence in conflict ridden nations like Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan and cherry-pick the graphical images and videos to sensitize the deviant youths that their religion is in peril and only the youth can safeguard the religion from the clutches of western imperialism through radical activities. This evokes a kind of jihadi zeal in the youths which persuade them to engage in millitant mission to safeguard the honor of their religion . 

 These factors prod the youths to join the radical forces  which takes huge toll on the stability of the country.Besides, online radicalization also exacerbated the comunal rifts in the country which is manifested in frequent assault on country’s minority groups based on fictitious allegation of desecration. These attacks on minority is orchestrated by shrewd fundamentist to vitiate the prevailing communa

Regulating online platforms is much more difficult than traditional platforms which make combating these propaganda very arduous. 

One of the scapegoats of their propaganda is the democratic government in the country. These propagandists portray the democratically elected government in bad light through advancing their conspiracy theories and propaganda. These propaganda distort the conception of the general people about the government even when the people don’t engage in radical activities. 

 Waging wars through propaganda have also  become an attractive option for these radicals as these radical outfits launch smear-campaigns against the government and vitiate the government image to the general people through heinous propaganda machinery. Besides, these online radical outfits peddle conspiracy theories and a simplified understanding of the history and economics of the world. Unfortunately, even the majority of the educated young youths believe in these conspiracy theories and possess a skewed vision about  liberalism and modernity. 

 During the Covid-19 era with the imposition of the repeated lockdowns, numerous such online platforms sprung up. Under the facade of providing Islamic knowledge they are pedding nonsensical and harebrained propaganda and conspiracy theories to mobilize the youth in their efforts to destabilize the country and vitiate development.

During the  languorous lockdowns the youths provided prolific idle times which have come as a windfall to these radical outfits as they have accelerated their heinous propaganda amidst Covid-19 lockdown. There are several reasons for the sudden rise in online radicalization in Bangladesh. Firstly, as mentioned above the young people are compelled to spend more time online as the day to day activities including the education of the university has shifted to online platforms. Therefore, this extra time significantly amplifies the vulnerability of the country’s youth to these terrorist activities. 

 Secondly, Covid-19 induced pandemic has unmasked the cleavages of our societies as the middle class youth find their family income shrinking and face difficulties. Besides, the pandemic has worsened the depression and grievances of the youths with the prevailing system which further increase their vulnerability to the radical impulses. 

 Thirdly, unemployment remains one of the persistent blights in youth vitality. While the country has been  significantly developed in the previous decades, the economic prosperity didn’t translate to adequate job creation which has failed the country to channel youthful energies to the further development of the country. Instead, unemployment has reached epidemic proportions. The Covid-19 pandemic has further thrown into uncertainty the future of the country’s youth, exacerbating the employment scenario of the country and disrupting education for a prolonged period. These unemployed youths find the radical ideologies attractive as these ideologies are capitalized on the grievances of these disenchanted youths. Therefore, unemployment greatly heightens the risk of youth falling prey to radical preachers. 

 Against this backdrop, the government needs to take adequate measures to counter the surging trends of  online radicalization. To that end, the government should enact proper legal measures to incorporate the online area into the laws. Besides, the government should avert the heinous propaganda campaigns by meting out proper justice to nefarious propagandists. Moreover, the government should ensure a counter sensitization of the country’s youth with the ethos of liberation war and the pluralism of the country. 

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Russia’s War on Terror(ism)

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The chaotic US exit strategy from Afghanistan, the quick Taliban takeover, the resurgence of Isis-K attacks and the rise of militant factions have emphasized the need for other international actors to fill the void left by the United States and map out a strategy for Central Asian stability. In the words of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, the US withdrawal has opened “a Pandora’s box full of problems related to terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime and, unfortunately, religious extremism”. What if Afghanistan turns out to be a hotbed for international terrorism?

Terrorism in Russia has always been a pain in the neck since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is not by chance that the very word “terrorism” is mentioned at least fifteen times within the new 2021 Russian National Security Strategy. In late August, Putin took a hard line against the West’s proposal of housing refugees in Central Asia before they apply for visas to move to the United States and Europe. The message was pretty clear: “we don’t want to experience again what happened in the 1990s and the beginning of 2000s”. The traumatic years of the two Chechen Wars, the 1999 apartment bombings or the Dubrovka theater hostage crisis are still considered to be haunting phantoms. The question came up again especially in mid-2015, when the Kremlin began to fear North Caucasian returnees who had joined the Islamic State’s insurgents in the Syrian conflict.

If it is true that Russia may not have recovered from the Afghan syndrome yet; still, the risk of a fresh terrorist wave truly seems to be around the corner. In the last weeks, three special operations were conducted by the Federal Security Service (FSB) which ended up in the detention of a group of fifteen terrorists coming from Central Asia in the Sverdlovsk Oblast. Another similar operation was carried out in Ingushetia, where some supporters of the Islamic State planning attacks.

The formation of a new Taliban government ad interim itself poses serious threats to the stability of the entire region. The new Prime Minister Mohammad Hasan Akhund and the Minister of Internal Affairs Sirajuddin Haqqani are considered “terrorists” by the United Nations. The latter is the leader of the renowned Haqqani network which is said to have ties with Al-Qaeda. Last but not least, the Taliban themselves as an organization are still officially believed to be a terrorist group in Russia under a 2003 Russian Supreme Court’s ruling. According to the Russian political scientist Andrey Serenko, the Taliban victory may be a factor pushing for radicalization in other countries such as Russia.

In the last days, the Russian presidential envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov took part in a discussion hosted by the new government in Kabul with the representatives of China and Pakistan. Terrorism was among the covered topics. Immediately after the fall of Kabul, the Taliban sought to reassure the neighboring countries that the Afghan soil would not turn out to be a mushrooming ground for militant groups. However, as both Lavrov and Peskov stated, Russia is so far watching how their security promises will be kept before attempting any risky move. While keeping an eye on Kabul, Moscow is not sitting back.

Peace Mission-2021

Between September 20 and 24 the annual drills under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization were hosted by the Russian Federation at the Donguz training ground in the Orenburg Oblast. According to the commander of the troops of the Central Military District, Colonel General Aleksander Lapin declared that about 5,000 troops took part in the exercise.

Nine countries were involved, among which Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, India and Pakistan. The exercise simulated the scenario of a sudden escalation of tension in Central Asia due to terrorist threats. In Colonel General Lapin’s words, the exercise was as a complete success as it showed joint combat readiness and proved to be the largest drills in the history of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Peace Mission-2021 shows the need for Russia to engage with relevant actors in Eurasia such as China. As the Chinese fear about their Wakhan corridor and the risk of extremism increases in the Xinjiang province, both Moscow and Beijing highlight the strength of the Russo-Chinese entente also in the field of anti-terrorism.

Building a thick security belt

Just as the SCO drills were unfolding, some Russian troops were involved in another exercise at the Doytym An practice range in Mongolia. No need to say that the annual drill Selenga 2021 between Moscow and Ulaanbaatar focused right on fighting international terrorism. At the beginning of September, a major counterterrorism exercise, Rubezh-2021 (Frontier-2021), together with Kyrgyz and Tajik units. Such an extensive commitment from the Mongolian steppe to the Edelweisse training range is indicative of Moscow’s will to build a thick security belt around its borders.

However, the five Stans are now not acting as a unified bloc against the Taliban threat. Kyrgyzstan has decided to send a delegation to Kabul and Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan has shown its readiness to do business with the Taliban. Tajikistan, instead, is now holding the lead of the anti-Taliban front.

As there is no “Central Asian way” to deal with the newly formed government in Kabul, Moscow is trying to tighten its grip on the region especially by betting on Dushanbe. As the risk of extremist spillover appears to be increasingly tangible, Moscow has equipped its 201st military base in Tajikistan with a batch of 12.7-mm large-caliber machine guns Utes to strengthen its combat capabilities. Moreover, after a CSTO high-level meeting in Dushanbe and the assessment of an exacerbating security situation in Central Asia, the member states decided to deploy troops along the 1300-kilometer border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

Despite this, looking at the Afghan developments only as a threat is misleading. This is a unique opportunity for Moscow to reaffirm the importance of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and to secure its role as top security provider in Central Asia. Despite talks between Rahmon and the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to safeguard regional peace and stability, Moscow’s towering military presence and influence in the region is hard to overcome.

Resuming international cooperation?

Russia’s commitment within its backyard, however, seems not to be enough in order to fight international actors such as terrorist groups. On the anniversary of the 9/11 twin towers attacks, Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov released a statement in which he called for the revival of anti-terrorist cooperation between Moscow and Washington. Back in 2018 and 2019, the Foreign Ministries of the two countries had in fact contributed to build bilateral dialogue on counterterrorism despite a conceptual gap about the nature of this threat.

In July, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, warned that Moscow would not approve any US troops deployment in Central Asian countries. Despite this, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and the Chief of Russian General Staff General Valery Gerasimov met in Helsinki to discuss joint ways to fight terrorism and extremism.

Still, resuming dialogue on anti-terrorism does not reveal a total opening toward the United States. During the UN General Assembly, in fact, Lavrov did not miss the opportunity to criticize the US for its withdrawal. The Finnish meeting must be rather understood as a sign of the Kremlin’s pragmatism in foreign policy. A few weeks after the seventeenth anniversary of the Beslan school siege, Russia is firmly committed to fight any direct or indirect threat by all means. The War on Terror(ism) continues.

From our partner RIAC

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