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Exploring Nigeria’s Vulnerability in cyber warfare

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In August 2012 Boko Haram reportedly hacked the personnel records databases of Nigeria’s secret service.  The individual who successfully compromised the covert-personnel data system indicated the breach was executed in the name of Boko Haram and as a response to Nigeria’s handling of interactions with the group

.[1]   The retaliatory attack revealed the names, addresses, bank information and family members of current and former personnel assigned to the country’s spy agency. The attack would not have tremendous significance in and of itself.  However, it represents a substantial shift in tactics for a group whose name connotes an anti-Western stance. Until recently Boko Haram attack strategy was far from technological.  However, since its association with Al Qaeda, Boko Haram has demonstrated a vastly changed approach to executing its attacks.  Attacks are now more violent and reflect the markings of training by al Qaeda personnel.  Given that cyber space has been part of the terrorists’ warfare tool kit since 1998 when the Tamil Tigers executed a distributed denial of service attack, [2] and al Qaeda has used the Internet as a vital communication vehicle since 1996, Boko Haram’s incorporation of cyber into its arsenal is almost inevitable.  More importantly though, Boko Haram’s access to an individual who can execute such a successful attack is indicative of the cyber arsenal workforce capability available to any group or nation that wants to employ it.  Boko Haram’s tactic advancement clearly demonstrates that Nigeria and its neighboring Sahel region neighbors are ripe for exploitation as a cyber warfare hub.

Cyber warfare is experiencing a boon.  The success of activities like Ghostnet, Stuxnet, Byzantine Hades, and Titan Rain has shown that the demand for such products will not slow anytime soon. Nation-states have begun to incorporate cyber warfare against opponents’ cyber space attacks into their national security strategy.[3] However, the reality is that nations executing these attacks do not always want to be identified as the perpetrators.  Case in point- after a student from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China executed a vast nation-state intrusion called “Ghostnet,” several media accounts of the attack wondered if China was involved.  China denied any knowledge of the attacks and the sensitive information retrievals from 103 invaded national security databases remained unclaimed.   The Chinese continued their public stance of denying culpability when a report on corporate intrusions specifically named the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army’s Unit 61398.  According to the report investigators traced several intrusions into United States (U.S.) corporate and government secure information technology systems to the PLA unit.

Just as China prefers a public stance of denial, so might other nations. Public response to Ghostnet and Stuxnet made it apparent nations would not always want it known that they were perpetrators of an attack.  It was clear that for nation-states to continue to incorporate this new weapon, they had to accommodate the sensitive diplomatic nature of such attacks by finding an alternate approach.  But we have to acknowledge that their appetites for these attacks will not diminish.  If anything, they will grow. What could this mean? If we use Boko Haram as an example, we can suggest an alternate approach that leverages the chaotic political situation and burgeoning supply of talented cyber personnel within Nigeria and the Sahel.  Executing attacks from this third-party cyber location, offers attack perpetrators and the cyber arms industry the ability to outsource, just as manufacturing does.[4]

If we use the impact of improvised explosive devices on Afghanistan and and Iraq as an example, Nigeria and the Sahel can offer resources for “niggling” attacks that target nation-states with “improvised explosive device” level attacks.  These attacks would cause damage that is cumulatively significant, but individually not.[5] The costs could remain low, as the readily available workforce functions in a region with an average annual income of $1180 (U.S. dollars). The nation-states employing this workforce will have a great cost-benefit ratio and the workforce itself will achieve success in their chosen field.[6] While the Vice Chancellor of Osun State University is not pleased that the stated goal of computer science students was “making money in cyber crime”[7] the reality is perpetrators of cyber warfare can use the demographic of Nigeria and the Sahel to train recruits and execute attacks without impunity.  The Sahel has an economic environment that is conducive to cyber crime activities, an exploitable sophisticated cyber highway, and an area where officials are more focused on political distractors than enforcing information communication technology regulations.

Nation-state with Sufficient Political Distractors

Nigeria and its Sahel neighbors have many cultural influences, particularly from a tribal perspective.  In addition, there are many natural resources available for state use to contribute to the country’s gross national product. But while this should be a positive, they are heavily affected by the corruption and direct disregard demonstrated by government leaders.  As a result, unemployment is high, there is minimal foreign investment, and the black market runs the shadow economy with money laundering, bank fraud and identify theft running rampant.  These factors contribute significantly to many of the nations in the region ranking high on the Failed State Index, from a total perspective and reflecting a high economic decline total.[8], [9]

Modern Fiber-Optic Information Communication Infrastructure

In the year 2000 only 4.5 million of Africa’s one billion people were categorized as Internet users.  That was a little more than .42%. However, as the continent, its resources, and potential 2050 workforce were combined to become opportunities for investors, it became apparent to these investors, and the African nations where this workforce lives, that tremendous improvements to the continent’s information highway were imperative.

Those improvements started with the Eastern Africa Submarine System (EASS) fiber-optic cable proposal in 2003.[10]   Other improvements were the 2009 fiber-optic submarine cable system Seacom, the 2010 Western Africa cable system, and the 2014 projected finish “connectivity” project. The continent now boasts over 15% Internet users, with some individual states experiencing much higher usage.[11] World bank nations that recognized this need and invested in the highway’s improvements include Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC). South Africa joined the effort when it became a part of BRIC in 2010.

With these state of the art advancements, countries like Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia and the Sudan enjoy connectivity via mobile telephone technology to almost anywhere in the world.  The continent is now seen as an attractive foreign investment destination pursued by more than the initial chance takers. Residents of almost any state can access mobile technology, changing the definition of “remote Africa” and the number of marginalized populations.

But these same potential economy-boosting continental links also serve as the tool for cyber criminals to advance their entrepreneurial skills.

Cyber Warfare Attacks

The attacks executed by the perpetrators of Stuxnet, Ghostnet, and even Flame, were initially conceived and deployed incognito.  Flame functioned for almost two years before discovery; and when found, the United States did not initially acknowledge its role.  The negative international response to Flame and Ghostnet was enough for nation-states to realize that today’s military strategy-international diplomacy equilibrium demands a more discreet employment of this new weapon.  One that does not jeopardize current diplomatic relations or upset conventional weapons partners. The nations left vulnerable after each of these attacks also recognized that they would be at a disadvantage if they did not begin to include strategic cyber offensive and defensive operations into their national defense blueprint.  While the Flame attack was directly attributed to the United States, the Ghostnet attack was never conclusively identified as China directed. The young researcher identified as Ghostnet’s perpetrator was a well-known hacker who never implicated any other person or entity in the effort.

What if a nation-state employed the tactic and this type of workforce on a future attack?  That is: if a nation-state employed a third-party entity that is willing to NOT implicate the nation-state, could that nation-state successfully execute such a cyber warfare attack and not have to face the wrath of its international partners?

Rafal Rohozinksi, one of the investigators of Ghostnet and cofounder of Information Warfare Monitor, has suggested that such outsourcing could become a wave of the future.  Rohozinksi cites the factors that could contribute to the trend.  Nations need an alternative that offers anonymity, preserves current diplomatic balances and employs resources that are outside the nation’s jurisdiction.  To ensure anonymity remains throughout the event and its investigation, local resources from a jurisdiction that not prone to enforcing International Communications Technology (ICT) rules and regulations.[12]

According to a 2011 Harvard School of Public Health assessment Africa is expected to contribute 49% of the world’s 2050 population growth.[13] Rohozinski insists this 2050 workforce will have a demographic that is conducive to cyber crime: young, talented, from a developing nation, possessing a value system that has previously, and would in the future, support participation in or instigation of acts of cyber crime.[14]

If Rohozinski is correct, then we have to recognize that developing nations without strong ICT rules and regulation enforcement, nations with civil unrest or nations that lack services could serve as third party locations and perpetrator source.

The perpetrator source could easily begin with the University students who have professed a desire to work in the cyber crime industry.  These University students have already participated in attacks that focus necessary to execute such missions, one potential source of such attacks could very well be outside the borders of the

Taken together these factors make Africa attractive to almost any investor, especially any who inhabit the shadowy world of cyber crime. To hacking investors the limited resources needed to establish a presence is particularly inviting.  There is already an experienced cyber crime workforce, a reduced enforcement of ICT rules and regulations, a strong malware history and an economic environment that makes the potential very attractive.  As a business venture, there are few negatives.

Which Cyber Crimes?

Criminal use of the region’s Information highway already include electronic mail scams, scam letters that range from purchase of real estate, disbursement of money from wills, to sale of crude oil at below market prices. Communication usually occurs through electronic message via fax, e-mail or cell phone. Verification is difficult so victims ultimately pay the fees without evidence to validate the claim of the perpetrator.

While these types of cyber crime are perpetrated on a large scale in countries like Nigeria, the crimes themselves are not target specific.  The perpetrators initiate several scams at a time so that the perpetrator financially benefits, on average, from some, if not all, of the scams.  No one victim is regarded as the single important prey.

 Given the ideal conditions the region offers for third party cyber warfare attacks, several questions must be answered for national security strategists to understand the threat they could potentially face: would these same Nigerian or Sahel region cyber crime perpetrators initiate their perfected scams for another entity? Are they willing to expand their skill set and advance into target specific entities?  Finally, if they were willing to initiate target specific entities, would they execute an attack on infrastructure?  If they initiate the crime, is there a limit to the type of crimes they will launch?

There is already a perception/acceptance of students who “steal trade secrets, research documents or supplier’s agreements.  A cyber warfare or cyber espionage Internet malware, its indicators and its codes are available on the web, but are the already cyber crime literate workforce members motivated to execute these types of attacks? If the Boko Haram attack is an indication, they very well may be.  An almost unencumbered access to high quality information communication technology, combined with the computer literate young of 2050, make it wise for potential target nations to understand the threat this region could represent for them.  They must accept the reality that the opportunity this new industry offers the Sahel’s employment-opportunity-constrained workforce, and the potential to earn a living far above the current $1180 (U.S dollars) annual income, make the Sahel’s attractiveness as a cyber warfare third-party haven almost irresistible. [15]

Conclusion

The Sahel is already home to a variety of illicit activities, and adding cyber warfare to that list is not far fetched. Nation-states could benefit from expanding their repertoire of weapons, terrorist actors could include it in this arsenal against the West, and both would achieve their goals and objectives without significant infrastructure modifications. This could redefine cyber crime if both the nation-state and the terrorist actors, reconcile their value system with incorporating this approach to expanding their warfare arsenal.

These perpetrators of ill intent (whether nation-state or terrorist actor) recognize that, in today’s world, their victims do not have the option of “no presence on the web.” They can, therefore, inflict damage, pinpoint attacks, and execute attacks without significant cost. Their potential victims must therefore learn how to counter this attack approach while minimizing negative impact on the already fragile economies of the Sahel and, even, Nigeria.

The nations in the region, themselves, have to also include this consideration as they develop their law enforcement approach to information communication technology regulation enforcement.  Each nation already has shadow economies from the illicit crime and that economy feeds, houses, and clothes many of its citizens.  The governments of the area have to form a coalition with investing countries and identify alternates for these potential “failed state mercenaries and their robust cyber warfare attack tools.  We underestimated Boko Haram in the past.  We should not underestimate the bellwether Boko Haram’s cyber attack may represent.

(*)Exploring Nigeria’s Vulnerability in cyber warfare

By Denise N. Baken and Ioannis Mantzikos

Speech prepared for Society for the Study of Terrorism Conference 27-28 June 2013, University of East London

Bibliography

Adedayo, Olugbenga. “Secondary School Students’ Perceptions of Incidences of Internet Crimes Among School Age Children in Oyo and Ondo States, Nigeria (dissertation).” University of Ibadan, Nigeria, 2008. http://www.kaspersky.com/images/secondary_school_students_perceptions_of_incidences_of_internet_crimes_among_school_age_children_in_oyo_and_on-10-75860.pdf.

Adeniran, Adebusuyi. “The Internet and Emergence of Yahoo boys sub-Culture in Nigeria.” International Journal of Cyber Criminology 2, no. 2 (December 2008): 368–381.

Adigun, Bashir. “AP Exclusive: Nigeria Secret Police Details Leaked.” Salon, August 30, 2012. http://www.salon.com/2012/08/30/ap_exclusive_nigeria_secret_police_details_leaked/.

“Africa Internet Usage, Facebook and Population Statistics.” Internet World Stats: Usage and Population Statistics, June 30, 2012. http://internetworldstats.com/stats1.htm.

Baken, Denise, and Ioannis Mantzikos. “Cyberspace Improvised Explosive Device and the Failed State Catapult-The Strategic Symbiotic Relationship Failed State Status Offers Nation-State Cyberwarfare Arsenals.” In New-Old Salafi/Al Qaeda Threats.
Washington, DC: Association fro the Study of the Middle East and Africa, 2012.

Denning, Dorothy. “Cyberterrorism – Testimony Before the Special Oversight Panel on Terrorism Committee on Armed Services U.S. House of Representatives.” Georgetown University, May 23, 2000. http://www.cs.georgetown.edu/~denning/infosec/cyberterror.html.

Li, Hao. “World Population to Top 9 Billion by 2050, 49% Growth from Africa.” International Business Times, July 29, 2011. http://www.ibtimes.com/world-population-top-9-billion-2050-49-growth-africa-820105.

Mills, Elinor. “Report: Countries Prepping for Cyberwar.” CNN, November 17, 2009. http://articles.cnn.com/2009-11-17/tech/cnet.cyberwar.internet_1_south-korea-cyberwarfare-cyberattack?_s=PM:TECH.

Osman, Osman Dahir. “Submarine Fiber Optic Route to Somalia.” Hiiraan Online. September 27, 2007. http://www.hiiraan.com/news2/2007/sept/submarine_fiber_optic_route_to_somalia.aspx.

Panel on Cyber Crime. 41st St Gallen Symposium. University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpRYXRNWka0&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

Shuaib, Shuaib. “allAfrica.com: Nigeria: Cyber Crime, Our Biggest Problem – VC.” News. allAfrica.com, September 1, 2010. http://allafrica.com/stories/201009010416.html.

“The Failed States Index 2012 Interactive Grid.” FFP The Fund for Peace, June 18, 2012. http://www.fundforpeace.org/global/?q=fsi-grid2012.

“UNICEF – At a Glance: Nigeria – Statistics.” UNICEF. Accessed February 20, 2013. http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/nigeria_statistics.html.

[1] Bashir Adigun, “AP Exclusive: Nigeria Secret Police Details Leaked,” Salon, August 30, 2012, http://www.salon.com/2012/08/30/ap_exclusive_nigeria_secret_police_details_leaked/.

[2] Dorothy Denning, “Cyberterrorism – Testimony Before the Special Oversight Panel on Terrorism Committee on Armed Services U.S. House of Representatives,” Georgetown University, May 23, 2000,
http://www.cs.georgetown.edu/~denning/infosec/cyberterror.html.

[3] Elinor Mills, “Report: Countries Prepping for Cyberwar,” CNN, November 17, 2009, http://articles.cnn.com/2009-11-17/tech/cnet.cyberwar.internet_1_south-korea-cyberwarfare-cyberattack?_s=PM:TECH.

[4] Denise Baken and Ioannis Mantzikos, “Cyberspace Improvised Explosive Device and the Failed State Catapult-The Strategic Symbiotic Relationship Failed State Status Offers Nation-State Cyberwarfare Arsenals,”
in New-Old Salafi/Al Qaeda Threats (presented at the 5th Annual ASMEA Conference-History and the “New” Middle East and Africa, Washington, DC: Association fro the Study of the Middle East and Africa, 2012).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Shuaib Shuaib, “allAfrica.com: Nigeria: Cyber Crime, Our Biggest Problem – VC,” news, allAfrica.com, September 1, 2010, http://allafrica.com/stories/201009010416.html.

[7] Baken and Mantzikos, “Cyberspace Improvised Explosive Device and the Failed State Catapult-The Strategic Symbiotic Relationship Failed State Status Offers Nation-State Cyberwarfare Arsenals.”

[8] The Failed State Index rates several indicators, one of which is economic decline.  The maximum number a country receive for any indicator is 10.

[9] “The Failed States Index 2012 Interactive Grid,” FFP The Fund for Peace, June 18, 2012, http://www.fundforpeace.org/global/?q=fsi-grid2012.

[10] Osman Dahir Osman, “Submarine Fiber Optic Route to Somalia,” Hiiraan Online, September 27, 2007, http://www.hiiraan.com/news2/2007/sept/submarine_fiber_optic_route_to_somalia.aspx.

[11] “Africa Internet Usage, Facebook and Population Statistics.”

[12] Panel on Cyber Crime, 41st St Gallen Symposium (University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, 2011), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpRYXRNWka0&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

[13] Hao Li, “World Population to Top 9 Billion by 2050, 49% Growth from Africa,” International Business Times, July 29, 2011, http://www.ibtimes.com/world-population-top-9-billion-2050-49-growth-africa-820105.

[14] Panel on Cyber Crime.

[15] “UNICEF – At a Glance: Nigeria – Statistics,” UNICEF, accessed February 20, 2013, http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/nigeria_statistics.html.

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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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Terrorism

Strategies for combating international terrorism in Central Asia

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After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Central Asia has been cast as the site of a new “great game”. Central Asia has been largely influenced by international developments and the emergence of persistent sources of instability and tension in other parts of the world, including the Middle East and North Africa. Some states in the region have succeeded in expanding their relationships with other actors. For example, Kazakhstan has tried to advance its goals by participating in important international issues and designing appropriate policies. Although Kazakhstan has succeeded in this path, most of the countries in the region face major challenges.

At the moment, Central Asian states are facing serious menaces to their security from various challenges like drug trafficking, water disputes, religious fundamentalism and expansion of terrorist and takfiri groups such as ISIS.

Given the increased risk of terrorist groups infiltrating the region, the key question is: “What strategies exist to counter international terrorism in the Central Asian region?” This study suggest that an integrated long-term strategy is an effective and comprehensive way to combat international terrorism.

Central Asia and international terrorism

The war in Syria and Iraq has significantly altered modern terrorism, with radical Islamic militants from Central Asia being no exception. Most importantly, for the first time travelling outside of the region to fight in the ranks of militant and terrorist organisations became a mass phenomenon. In Syria, the radical Islamic militants from Central Asia have established terrorist organisations of their own. These terrorists have Salafi-Wahhabi inclinations and are among the backers of al-Qaeda, al-Nusra Front, and Daesh Takfiri groups. They have turned into a potential threat for countries in Central Asia as these international and organized terrorists may one day find their way to other regions and states after Syria. 

Activities of extremist networks which send their members and devotees to Syria have a determining role in the region. Many of the foreign rebels operating in Syria had links to these groups in their own countries. A portion of them are being encouraged by their relatives and friends in Syria to join the ranks of the Takfiri militants, especially older brothers motivate the younger ones to join the terrorists.

The terrorists’ method for recruiting forces is almost the same in most of the countries in the Central Asia. They usually do this through local sources and Islamist groups and organizations that have close ties with al-Qaeda, Salafists and Wahhabists. However, this is not done openly.

A number of terrorist groups are tasked with recruiting individuals to send them to fight in Syria. In fact, all terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and the al-Tahrir Party are busy with the recruitment. The Takfiri groups of al-Nusra Front and the so-called Islamic Jihad Union are also employing nationals from Central Asia. In some countries, the process of employment is done through indigenous people. For instance, one-third of all Kyrgyz people who have traveled to Saudi Arabia in pursuance of religious education have turned into extremist Salafi-Wahhabi preachers in Kyrgyzstan. That is why today the Kyrgyz are employing their people to prevent this. 

The Challenges of Combating Terrorism in Central Asia

Fighting terrorist threats in Central Asia is a complex issue. To counter these threats, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian governments have been reevaluating their national counter-terrorism strategies. Counter-terrorism cooperation under the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has its limits because not all the Central Asian governments are members of the organizations. Also these strategies have been mainly established to counter-terrorism within the member states, not the ones stemming from other regions. 

On the other hand, some external actors play a destructive role in improving the security situation in the region. Indeed none of the great powers are not serious fight against terrorism. At present, the security conditions of the region can be made more complicated for several reasons:

First, the spread of terrorism and extremist groups;
Second, U.S. competition to increase penetration;
Third, ISIS’s willingness to be present in the region;
Fourth, the presence of people from the countries of Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the ranks of ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria;

Iran and Fighting Terrorism in Central Asia

The rising threats of extremism in Central Asia represent a strong menace for Iran interests. Due to the increasing presence of ISIS forces in Afghanistan, the security of Central Asia remains a top priority on the Iran security agenda. The Iran-Central Asia Strategy should include in its objectives the challenges of foreign fighters and radicalization, drug trafficking and organized crime, and conflicts that require cooperation between Central Asia and Iran.

No one and no country can deny the constructive and positive role of Iran in fighting the scourge of terrorism in the region and the world. Iran’s efforts and assistance to regional countries have helped reign in the violence and bloodshed of ISIS terrorist group in various parts of the world by bringing the self-proclaimed statehood of ISIS to an end in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic Republic of Iran will continue to advocate dialogue, cooperation and trust among regional countries as the only viable way to end terrorism and devastating wars in the Middle East. In result no country would benefit from weakening Iran in the region.

In the past years, Iran has acted as a buffer zone and has prevented the entry of terrorist groups from Middle East to Central Asia. Iran has always tried to fight with terrorist and takfiri groups. Among foreign actors in the region Iran and Russia have a good cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Iran and Russia are winning the Fight against Terrorism in Syria. Undoubtedly Iran and Russia can offer their experience in combating terrorism to Central Asian countries.

Conclusion

No doubt, security, peace and respect for the sovereignty of countries, as well non-interference in their internal affairs, and an effective fight against terrorism without double standards will be in the interest of all countries in the world.

Fight against Terrorism Requires a holistic and coordinated approach. For the implementation of the international Counter Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia need a Regional Joint Action Plan. Integrating counter-terrorism strategy to political, economic and social development policies is an important part of the comprehensive approach.

In order to combat terrorism in Central Asia, there are a few issues to consider:

1. All States in region to combat terrorism must take coordinated action.

2. Fighting terrorism in Central Asia will not succeed without creating peace and stability in Afghanistan.

3. Combating terrorism requires the formation of a regional and international coalition with States that really have a concern for countering terrorism, not the countries that have been sponsors of terrorist groups.

4. The fight against terrorism requires the use of past experiences in this regard. Iran and Russia have considerable experience in combating terrorism.

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Fighting Terrorism Online: EU Internet Forum committed to an EU-wide Crisis Protocol

MD Staff

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The participants of the 5th EU Internet Forum, hosted by Commissioners Avramopoulos and King, have committed to an EU Crisis Protocol – a rapid response to contain the viral spread of terrorist and violent extremist content online. The Commission, Member States and online service providers, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, JustPaste.it and Snap have committed to working together on a voluntary basis within the framework set out by the Crisis Protocol, while ensuring strong data protection and fundamental rights safeguards. The EU Internet Forum also discussed the overall progress made in ensuring the removal of terrorist content online since its last meeting in December 2018 as well as how to strengthen cooperation on other challenges, such as child sexual exploitation online.

Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “Since I launched the EU Internet Forum 4 years ago, it has gone from strength to strength, offering Member States and online platforms an effective framework to work together to tackle terrorist content online. We have managed to build a strong relationship of trust and mutual understanding with the internet platforms. I am pleased with the progress we are making and the remarkable results we have achieved. Today, we are taking this cooperation another step further with an EU Crisis Protocol. With this, we will be ready to act quickly, effectively and in a more coordinated way to stop the spread of terrorist content.”   

Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King added: “The events in New Zealand earlier this year were a stark reminder that terrorist content spreads online at a tremendous speed. While our response might be quick, it isn’t quick enough. The Protocol is an EU response to contain the havoc created by such events – in a coordinated way.”

In the aftermath of the terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, government leaders and online platforms agreed on the Christchurch Call for Action. On this occasion, President Juncker announced the development of an EU Crisis Protocol in the context of the EU Internet Forum. The EU Protocol will allow Member States and online platforms to respond rapidly and in a coordinated manner to the dissemination of terrorist content online in the event of a terrorist attack.

The EU Crisis Protocol endorsed by the EU Internet Forum today will:

    Provide a coordinated and rapid reaction: Member States’ authorities, together with Europol, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) and online service providers will be able to respond quickly, in a coordinated manner to ensure that the spread of terrorist or violent extremist content is swiftly contained.

    Facilitate public and private sector cooperation: In the event of a crisis, law enforcement authorities and online service providers will share relevant information on the online content (e.g., URLs, audio-visual media, and metadata) on a voluntary basis, in a secure way and in real time.

    Facilitate a voluntary arrangement: The Protocol does not replace national legal frameworks or existing national crisis management mechanisms. It should apply only to extraordinary situations where those national measures are no longer sufficient to coordinate a rapid and cross-border response.

The EU Internet Forum also discussed the overall progress made in ensuring the removal of terrorist content online since its last meeting in December 2018 and looked at the emerging challenges. This included, for the first time, a discussion on the global threat of online child sexual abuse and exploitation. Cooperation between public authorities and online platforms is key to fight against these horrible crimes effectively. Participants also took stock of the work to tackle the challenges presented by right wing extremism and the radicalising effect of violent political discourse.

Background

The EU Internet Forum was launched by Commissioner Avramopoulos in December 2015 to address internet misuse by terrorist groups. It brings together EU Home Affairs Ministers, the internet industry and other stakeholders who work together voluntarily to address this complex issue. Since its creation, the EU Internet Forum meets annually to take stock of the progress made in removing terrorist content online and to discuss emerging challenges. In 2015, an efficient referral mechanism to flag and remove terrorist content online was created at Europol.

In 2016, at the EU Internet Forum, the industry announced the creation of the “database of hashes” to make removals permanent and irreversible. The database is a critical tool in stemming the spread of terrorist content online. Since its launch, the database has gathered over 200,000 hashes (pictures, videos, etc.) and has helped both large and small platforms to remove such content quickly.

President Juncker announced the development of the EU Protocol in Paris earlier this year when he attended a meeting of government leaders and CEOs of major online platforms that was co-hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

A first exercise to operationalise the Protocol already took place at Europol on 11 September 2019.

The EU Crisis Protocol will contribute to efforts undertaken at global level in the context of the Christchurch call, in particular the Crisis Response Protocol as announced in September at the margins of 2019 UNGA.

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