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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

‘Unprecedented terrorist violence’ in West Africa, Sahel region

MD Staff

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The top UN official in West Africa and the Sahel updated the Security Council on Wednesday, describing an “unprecedented” rise in terrorist violence across the region.

“The region has experienced a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets,” Mohamed Ibn Chambas, UN Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), told the Council in its first formal meeting of the year.

“The humanitarian consequences are alarming”, he spelled out.

In presenting his latest report, Mr. Chambas painted a picture of relentless attacks on civilian and military targets that he said, have “shaken public confidence”. 

A surge in casualties

The UNOWAS chief elaborated on terrorist-attack casualties in Burkina Faso Mali and Niger, which have leapt five-fold since 2016 – with more than 4,000 deaths reported in 2019 alone as compared to some 770 three years earlier.

“Most significantly,” he said, “the geographic focus of terrorist attacks has shifted eastwards from Mali to Burkina Faso and is increasingly threatening West African coastal States”.

He also flagged that the number of deaths in Burkina Faso jumped from about 80 in 2016 to over 1,800 last year.

And displacement has grown ten-fold to about half a million, on top of some 25,000 who have sought refuge in other countries. 

Mr. Chambas explained that “terrorist attacks are often deliberate efforts by violent extremists” to engage in illicit activities that include capturing weapons and illegal artisanal mining.

Intertwined challenges

Terrorism, organized crime and intercommunal violence are often intertwined, especially in peripheral areas where the State’s presence is weak.

“In those places, extremists provide safety and protection to populations, as well as social services in exchanged for loyalty”, he informed the Council, echoing the Secretary-General in saying that for these reasons, “counter-terrorism responses must focus on gaining the trust and support of local populations”. 

The Special Representative outlined that governments, local actors, regional organizations and the international community are mobilizing across the region to respond to these challenges.

On 21 December, the ECOWAS Heads of State summit “adopted a 2020-2024 action plan to eradicate terrorism in the sub-region”, he said.

Calling “now” the time for action, Mr. Chambas drew attention to the importance of supporting regional Governments by prioritizing “a cross-pillar approach at all levels and across all sectors”.

Turning to farmer-herder clashes, which he maintained are “some of the most violent local conflicts in the region”, the UNOWAS chief highlighted that 70 per cent of West Africa’s population depend on agriculture and livestock-rearing for a living, underscoring the importance of peaceful coexistence.

The Special Representative also pointed to climate change, among other factors, as increasingly exacerbating farmer-herder conflicts.

“The impact of climate change on security also spawns a negative relationship between climate change, social cohesion, irregular migration and criminality in some places”, he upheld.

Stemming negative security trends

The UNOWAS chief noted that in the months ahead, Togo, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Niger would be democratically electing their leaders and maintained that “all-too-worrying” security trends must not distract from political developments.

“Unresolved grievance, incomplete national reconciliation processes and sentiments of manipulation of institutions and processes carry risks of tensions and manifestations of political violence”, he warned.

In the months ahead, Mr. Chambas stressed that UNOWAS would continue to work with partners on the national and regional levels to promote consensus and inclusiveness in the elections. 

“As UNOWAS’ mandate is renewed, we count on the Council’s continued full support”, concluded the Special Representative.

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New Report Proposes Global DNA Synthesis Screening System to Counter Biotech Terror

MD Staff

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Rapid advancements in commercially available DNA synthesis technologies – used for example to artificially create gene sequences for clinical diagnosis and treatment – pose growing risks, with the potential to cause a catastrophic biological security threat if accidentally or deliberately misused.

A new World Economic Forum and Nuclear Threat Initiative report, “Biosecurity Innovation and Risk Reduction: A global Framework for Accessible, Safe and Secure DNA Synthesis,” gathers opinion from a group of global public- and private-sector experts who propose standardized screening practices to counter the threat.

Since scientists demonstrated the means to create a full viral genome in 2002, DNA synthesis technologies have become increasingly available and frequently used by scientists and engineers around the world. These technologies support myriad advancements in synthetic biology, enhancing the efficiency and sustainability of industries including energy, food, agriculture, health and manufacturing. Further advances in technology hold great promise for sustainable development and a safer and more secure society.

At the same time, new approaches to DNA editing and synthesis have made it easier to manipulate biological agents and systems, increasing the risk of a catastrophic accidental or deliberate biological event. These technologies make it possible to create pathogen or toxin DNA that could be misused. For example, in 2018 researchers published work detailing the synthesis of horsepox virus, an extinct virus related to smallpox, using synthetic DNA fragments purchased from a commercial provider. This demonstrated the potential for creating other viruses via commercially available technologies.

Although many DNA providers practice screening procedures, this approach is voluntary and is becoming increasingly expensive. As access expands and the cost of DNA synthesis declines, more DNA is likely to reach the market via additional providers, significantly expanding the user base. In the next two to three years, a new generation of benchtop DNA synthesis machines, enabled by enzymatic DNA synthesis methods, could become available without guidance or norms to prevent misuse.

This report, endorsed by an international expert Working Group, recommends a global system for synthetic DNA screening practices by developing an international, cost-effective, and sustainable mechanism to prevent illicit practices and misuse. The new framework improves the existing voluntary guidelines because it standardizes screening processes, is accessible to new players in the market, and provides valuable feedback data to evaluate the screening – all at lower cost.

“Biotechnology is at the centre of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. To deliver on the promise of the biotechnology revolution, we must seize opportunities to develop and deliver life-advancing innovations while simultaneously and urgently addressing potential risks associated with a growing and democratized bio-economy,” said Arnaud Bernaert, Head of Shaping the Future of Health and Health Care at the World Economic Forum.

The report also proposes that companies, international organizations and governments should explore options for the sustainable oversight and the maintenance of this proposed DNA sequence screening mechanism. DNA synthesis capabilities, in addition to other emerging technologies, can benefit from a larger system of common global life-science norms overseen by a globally recognized entity.

“Global DNA synthesis screening can be a critical tool to reduce the risk that life-science technologies could be deliberately misused to carry out biological attacks or accidentally result in a high-consequence or catastrophic biological event. The time is now,” said Ernest J. Moniz, Co-Chair and Chief Executive Officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

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Pensacola Rampage, Counter-Terrorism and Power Over Death

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“’I believe’ is the great word against metaphysical fear, and at the same time it is a promising avowal of love.”-Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West

On December 6, 2019, Mohammed Alshamrani, a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force deployed at a US Naval air station in Pensacola, Florida, opened fire with a 9-millimeter handgun, killing three service members, and injuring eight others. Although the shooter’s precise motive and ideology have not yet been fully established, there is tangible evidence that only hours before his murderous rampage, Alshamrani had railed against the United States for its support of Israel and also for stationing troops in Saudi Arabia. Also plausible is that he fully expected to be killed during the shooting melee, a welcome expectation that suggests a sought-after status of “martyrdom.”

More than likely, recalling certain earlier insights of Oswald Spengler, “I believe” was integral to the shooter’s core Jihadist ideology, a presumed avowal of God’s anticipated grant of immortality or power over death.  Hence, Alshamrani’s slaughter of certain “others” was actually an “avowal of love.”

Going forward, what matters most in this violent episode is what can be learned from the standpoint of improved US counter-terrorism practice. Above all, the lesson is as follows: There can be no greater form of power in world politics than a divinely promised power of immortality. Until now, this always preeminent form of power has remained essentially unrecognized by both scholars and policy-makers. In effectively all Jihadist terrorism-vulnerable countries, counter-terrorist strategies remain tangibly detached from what is most important.

There will be various pertinent concepts and theories to be systematically pondered. For Jihadist terrorists, the ultimate rationale of every operation must concern a presumed power over death.  Without such a core presumption, prima facie, there could be no rational purpose in ever launching “martyrdom” operations. This means, inter alia, that any government interested in more effective counter-terrorism must first learn how to suitably obstruct such a far-reaching terrorist presumption.

Whatever particular answers may be reached in these complex matters, the task involved must always be approached as an intellectual one. Or, as the ancient Greeks and Macedonians wrote about the art of war, it is always, necessarily, a multilayered task of “mind over mind” rather than just “mind over matter.”

Here, too, there will be certain corollary and convergent considerations of legality. Without exception, those Jihadist insurgents who would seek to justify willful injury and execution of noncombatants (e.g., American, European, Israeli, etc.) in the name of “martyrdom” are defiling authoritative international law. Even if the murderous terrorist calls were somehow grounded in jurisprudence –  that is, they would have recognizable elements of “just cause” – these criminals would still be guilty of wrongdoings.

Absolutely egregious and unjustifiable wrongdoings.

To wit, under binding law, insurgents, even those with a more-or-less defensible “just cause,” must nonetheless satisfy assorted jurisprudential limits on permissible targets and permissible levels of violence.

In all such law-based matters, the ends can never justify the means.

Never.

There is more. Under international law, even the most presumptively “sacred” rights of insurgency exclude the intentional targeting of civilians and/or a use of force designed to inflict gratuitous suffering. Whatever else might be said of any particular insurgent resort to force, it is always an impermissible insurgency (i.e., terrorism) when fighters choose to murder individuals in their homes or automobiles by stabbing and shooting. It is also always terrorism when such “martyrs” more systematically deposit nail-filled bombs in hotels, airports, buses or school playgrounds, or when they choose to heighten their odds of achieving immortality by opening fire at allied soldiers “on base.”

Sometimes, more or less explicitly, Jihadist insurgents have advanced a long discredited legal argument known as tu quoque. This formal argument maintains that because the other side (e.g., “infidels,” “apostates,” “blasphemers”) is allegedly guilty of an equivalent or greater criminality, the Jihadist side is free ipso facto of any consequent legal wrongdoing. Such a disingenuous argument is always more-or-less inventive, but it is also always invalid.

Apropos of this unchanging invalidity, one need only be reminded of the postwar judgments rendered by the Nuremberg and Far East (Japan) international tribunals. Both landmark tribunals refused to accept any defense of tu quoque.

There is more. Regarding conventional armies and insurgent forces, the residual right to use armed force can never supplant the peremptory rules of humanitarian international law. Such utterly primary or jus cogens rules are correctly referenced as the law of armed conflict orthe law of war.

Today, especially in parts of Asia and the Middle East, supporters of terror-violence against selected noncombatants insist wrongly that the ends somehow justify the means. Leaving aside the ordinary ethical standards by which any such specious argument must be regarded as indecent, the ends can neverjustify the means under binding international law. Appropriately, for more than two thousand years, conspicuous legal principles have specified that intentional violence against the innocent is prohibited.

Always.

In law, such violence is malum in se, or “evil in itself.”

Always.

In law, one man’s (or woman’s) terrorist, can never be another man’s (or woman’s) “freedom-fighter.” Although it is true that certain insurgencies can sometimes be judged lawful or law-enforcing, even such presumptively allowable resorts to force must still conform to the longstanding laws of war.

Always.

Jurisprudentially, it comes down to this: Whenever an insurgent or insurgent group resorts to unjust means, these actions constitute terrorism. For example, even if now ritualistic Palestinian claims of a hostile “occupation” were to be accepted as reasonable and lawful, any corollary claims of entitlement to “any means necessary” would nonetheless remain false.

International law always displays variously specific and determinable forms. Accordingly, it cannot be casually invented and reinvented by individual terrorists, terror groups or their state patrons in order to justify selective interests. This is especially true where terror violence intentionally targets a designated victim state’s most fragile and vulnerable civilian populations.

National liberation movements that fail to meet the test of just means are never correctly described as lawful or legitimate. Even if authoritative law were to accept the questionable argument that PA, Hamas and assorted sister groups had fulfilled the accepted criteria of “national liberation,” they could still not satisfy the equally relevant legal standards of discrimination, proportionality, and military necessity. More precisely, these critical standards were applied to insurgent or sub-state organizations by the common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, and (additionally) by the two 1977 Protocols to these Conventions.

Standards of “humanity” are also binding upon all combatants by virtue of certain broader customary and conventional international law, including Article 1 of the Preamble to the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907. This rule, commonly called the “Martens Clause,” makes all persons responsible for the “laws of humanity,” and for the associated “dictates of public conscience.”

There is more. Under international law, going back to the “classical” writings of Hugo Grotius and Emmerich de Vattel (legal scholars embraced by the American Founding Fathers in writing both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution), terrorist crimes always mandate universal cooperation in apprehension and punishment. As punishers of “grave breaches” under international law, all states are expected to search out and prosecute or extradite individual terrorists. In no conceivable circumstances are governments ever permitted to treat terrorist “martyrs” as legitimate “freedom fighters.”

This is emphatically true for the United States, which incorporates international law as the “supreme law of the land” at Article 6 of the Constitution, and which was formed by its Founding Fathers according to timeless principles of Natural Law. Although generally unrecognized, even by US lawyers, core legal authority for the American republic was derived from Blackstone’s Commentaries.

There is more. In law, rights can never stem from wrongs. Even if American or Israeli Jihadist adversaries continue to insist on identifying themselves as “martyrs,” such treatment can have no exculpatory or mitigating effect on subsequent terrorist crimes.

 Ultimately, Jihadist insurgents are in search of the most plainly supreme form of power on earth – power over death. Derivatively, counter-terrorism policy-makers in the United States, Israel, or Europe ought never lose sight of immortality as a prime driver of terrorist crimes. Though not usually apparent or self-evident, it is the incomparable promise of power over death that could soon drive Jihadist operatives to certain “higher-order” or WMD forms of destruction.

At that point, which could become nuclear and/or biological, the key counter-terrorism struggle of “mind over mind” will already have been conclusively and irretrievably lost.

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