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Terrorism

Fifth column in the West

Alexander Athos

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Our enemy in the West is not Islam, it’s a fifth column of Wahhabi Salafi hate preachers and their appeasers who allow the Wahhabi Salafi Takfiri Jihadi ideology to proliferate and radicalize Muslim youth to commit atrocities here and abroad as foreign fighters.

The West cannot allow the extremists to hide behind the skirts of religion, so called charities and misguided notions of free speech to facilitate radicalization and lone wolf terrorism in our homelands.

The Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) describes itself as a “non-profit, grassroots membership organization … established to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America,” to protect Muslims from hate crimes and discrimination, and to present “an Islamic perspective on issues of importance to the American public.” However an investigation of its activities and publications (in Arabic) shows that CAIR supports Wahhabi Salafi ideology and are instrumental in the propagation of that cult throughout America and have been the root cause of radicalization of terrorists. It is reported that CAIR have been instrumental in Wahhabi Salafi cult infiltrating or controlling over half the mosques in America with the help of huge donations from Saudi Arabian sources and so-called charities in the US such as the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF)headquartered in Richardson, Texas with branch offices in New Jersey, California, and Illinois. The Freedom House year long investigation concluded in its 89 page report, “Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Invade American Mosques.” that hundreds of Saudi documents disseminated at Wahhabi Salafi mosques in the US are telling America’s Muslims (surreptitiously in Arabic) that it is a religious obligation for all ‘good Muslims’ to hate Christians and Jews.
With the threat of fanatical lone wolves being so radicalized that they want to axe, bomb and kill their fellow non-Muslim citizens, it is imperative that CAIR and Wahhabi Salafi mosques, bookshops and hate preachers are fully investigated and if appropriate prosecuted under Anti-Terrorism legislation. The UAE terror listing of CAIR accords with the evidence it seems.

“CAIR has a key role in the “Wahhabi lobby”—the network of organizations, usually supported by donations from Saudi Arabia, whose aim is to propagate the especially extreme version of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. For one, it sends money to other parts of the lobby. According to CAIR’s Form 990 filings for 2003, its California offices invested $325,000 with the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT). The NAIT was established in 1971 by the Muslim Student Association of the U.S. and Canada, which bills itself as the precursor to the Islamic Society of North America, now the largest member of the Wahhabi lobby. According to Newsweek, authorities say that over the years “NAIT money has helped the Saudi Arabian sect of Wahhabism—or Salafism, as the broader, pan-Islamic movement is called—to seize control of hundreds of mosques in U.S. Muslim communities.” J. Michael Waller, a terrorism expert, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that NAIT is believed to own 50 to 79 percent of the mosques in North America. According to Waller, NAIT was raided as part of Operation Green Quest in 2002, on suspicions of involvement in terrorist financing”

Randall (“Ismail”) Royer, an American convert to Islam, served as CAIR’s communications specialist and civil rights coordinator; today he sits in jail on terrorism-related charges. In June 2003, Royer and ten other young men, ages 23 to 35, known as the “Virginia jihad group,” were indicted on forty-one counts of “conspiracy to train for and participate in a violent jihad overseas.” The defendants, nine of them U.S. citizens, were accused of association with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a radical Islamic group designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State in 2001. They were also accused of meeting covertly in private homes and at the Islamic Center in Falls Church to prepare themselves for battle by listening to lectures and watching videotapes. As the prosecutor noted, “Ten miles from Capitol Hill in the streets of northern Virginia, American citizens allegedly met, plotted, and recruited for violent jihad.” According to Matthew Epstein of the Investigative Project, Royer helped recruit the others to the jihad effort while he was working for CAIR. The group trained at firing ranges in Virginia and Pennsylvania; in addition, it practiced “small-unit military tactics” at a paintball war-games facility in Virginia, earning it the moniker, the “paintball jihadis.” Eventually members of the group traveled to Pakistan.

Five of the men indicted, including CAIR’s Royer, were found to have had in their possession, according to the indictment, “AK-47-style rifles, telescopic lenses, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and tracer rounds, documents on undertaking jihad and martyrdom, [and] a copy of the terrorist handbook containing instructions on how to manufacture and use explosives and chemicals as weapons.”
After four of the eleven defendants pleaded guilty, the remaining seven, including Royer, were accused in a new, 32-count indictment of yet more serious charges: conspiring to help Al-Qaeda and the Taliban battle American troops in Afghanistan.[25] Royer admitted in his grand jury testimony that he had already waged jihad in Bosnia under a commander acting on orders from Osama bin Laden. Prosecutors also presented evidence that his father, Ramon Royer, had rented a room in his St. Louis-area home in 2000 to Ziyad Khaleel, the student who purchased the satellite phone used by Al-Qaeda in planning the two U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa in August 1998.[26] Royer eventually pleaded guilty to lesser firearms-related charges, and the former CAIR staffer was sentenced to twenty years in prison.[http://www.meforum.org/916/cair-islamists-fooling-the-establishment ]

Laws banning incitement to terrorist acts must be uniformly promulgated amongst civilized nations and strictly enforced until the Wahhabi Salafi madness stops and the blood stops dripping from the hatchets of the haters of our way of life.
‘Inspire’,‘Resurgence’,‘Dabiq’ and all hate websites and Social Media sites must be taken down and all hate preachers who distribute or promote them and their incitement to terrorism and criminality must be prosecuted to decrease the very real terrorist risk to our homelands of radicalized Salafi’s cashed up with Saudi petro dollars.

On Monday 13 October 2014, in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu Canada, a new but zealous convert to Wahhabi Salafi Islam 12 months ago, Canadian Martin Couture-Rouleau murdered Canadian soldier Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent by running him and another soldier down in a car pointing his finger to heaven seeking Allah as his justification for doing so. Like so many Salafi’s this convert changed his name to a more Arabic one; Ahmad LeConverti (Ahmad the Converted) before embarking on his jihad against the West. Like so many young Salafi’s he became enamoured with ISIS and heeded its online call to glorify Allah by running down and murdering infidels by using motor cars.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was radicalized at a British Columbia Mosque, the Masjid Al Salaam & Education Centre. The umbrella organization for that Mosque, theBritish Columbia Muslim Association (BCMA) manage many schools and 15 Mosques in British Columbia. They are (according to their own literature) funded in large part by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Muslim World League. BCMA have a history of inviting radical hate preachers (like Siraj Wahhaj alleged co-conspirator with the Blind Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman in the first World Trade Centre Bombings in 1993 who also spoke at the BC mosque calling the West a ‘filthy garbage can’) to speak to their community (said to number 80,000) in British Columbia. The Koran’s they distribute are the Wahhabi annotated Korans that emphasize armed and violent Jihad as an obligation of all ‘good Muslims’.

Zaim Farouq Abdul-malik (Zale Thompson) like Wahhabi Salafi inspired maniac, Michael Adebolajo (the Woolwich hatchet slayer) just followed the Wahhabi Salafi Takfiri ‘script’ as articulated by its ideologues like:
•    The Blind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman,
•    Anwar al-Awlaki,
•    Omar Bakri Mohammed,
•    Abu Hamza (al-Masri) ,
•    Anjem Choudary,
•    Trewvor Brooks (Abu Izzadeen),
•    Mizanur Rahman,
•    Mohammed Achamlane,
•    Mohammad Ali Baryalei, and
•    Abu Musab Al Suri,
•    al-Bagdadi etc

Many troubled Muslim youths approached by Salafist groups likeForsane Alizza (FA- The Knights of Pride) and encouraged to progress his study their cult which was their brand of militant Salafi ‘Islam’ from their radical mosques or private ‘prayer groups’ and if suitable for mission training Al Qaeda operatives then arranged for the acolyte go to Pakistan for deeper indoctrination into the cult and specialist weapons and bomb training when he got out.
Forsane Alizza aka ‘Sharia4France’ is ostensibly an anti-Islamophobia group but authorities say it is a terrorist organization that used the mantra of anti-Islamophobia to mask its deeper purpose of radicalizing disenchanted youth from Islamic backgrounds. They followed the rhetoric of fellow terrorists like Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki to recruit disillusioned youth from Islamic communities in the West away from the traditional Islamic faith of their parents who immigrated to the West and instead adopt their cult. Their cult made everything from their plight to the perceived injustice of Muslims around the world easily understood in a populist way and in the vernacular. The converts were shown a way out of their sin and into heaven by taking the express lane of radical militancy to attack all enemies of the Wahhabi-Salafi Jihadi’s (the only true Muslims) whether they be Crusader-Zionists in AF-PAK, Shia Muslims, Sufi Muslims or Moderate Sunni Muslims (all apostates in the cults eyes to be excommunicated (Takfiri) and worthy of death) or non-Sharia democracies in the West. The ultimate goal of the cult is establishing a kind of ‘Third Reich’ Salafist caliphate stretching from Chechnya to the Philippines that will restore pride and power to “Muslims” (the ones that are left after the bad Muslims have been enlightened as to the true ‘path’ or eliminated); hence their name Forsane Alizza -The Knights of Pride.

Forsane Alizza has links to other radical Islamist groups in Europe, such as al-Muhajiroun / ‘Islam4UK’ in Britain and ‘Shariah4Belgium’, ‘Muslims Against Crusades’ as well as ‘Revolution Muslim’ in the United States. Al-Muhajiroun means “the Emigrants”. The name comes from their ‘target market’, the children of traditional Islamic parents who immigrated to the West. These Islamo-Fascist cult’s modus operandi is not unlike the Hitler Youth movement of the Nazi’s, brainwashing the youth with magazines, and sending them to specialized indoctrination schools and camps with their ‘brothers’ and SS style (Mujahedeen) elite training, how to be ‘good Muslims’ just like the Nazi’s did in the 1930’s by teaching the ‘jugend’ how to be ‘good Germans’. The devotees would then have no qualms about the war ahead and what had to be done to the ‘untermench’ (Jews, Crusaders and Takfiri or moderate/traditional Muslims). The allies upon liberating Eastern Europe could not believe how civilized people could commit the atrocities that the Einsatzgruppen did especially against women and children. These Hitler Youth graduates were formed into heartless death squads responsible for the murders of over 1,000,000 people, mainly Jews including women and children in occupied Eastern Europe between 1939 and 1944.

It is no surprise then that when today’s Wahhabi Salafi Takfiri Jihadi’s strike whether its Bali, Beslan or Toulouse, they do so without mercy and show no remorse afterward if they survive. Indeed they often laugh and smile chanting “Allahu Akbar” like the Bali mass murderer Amrozi bin Nurhasyim did when sentenced by an Indonesian Court rejecting his defence that his actions in 2002 planting bombs that indiscriminately killed 202 tourists because he was seeking to ‘strike at America and its allies, especially Israel’ were justified under Islam.

If we in the West allow them and other Wahhabi Salafi Takfiri’s free reign to radicalize our youth and the Wahhabi warpath will be strewn with the lives of more innocents in our homelands and ordinary Muslims will start to face persecution from an ill-informed public. This will play into the hands of Al Qaeda and ISIS and their narrative of a clash of civilizations and so become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Security agencies and Police must be able to fully investigate radical hate preachers the mosques, bookshops and internet sites known to incite, support and facilitate hatred, extremism and terrorism. How else can lone wolves be interdicted before they execute their schemes? For example:

Islamic Center of Queens on 37th Avenue Woodside (aka Masjid al-Fatima) which was founded by Brother Aqeel Khan and taken over by radicals from the Wahhabi Salafi group Hizb ut Tahrir and associated group al-Muhajiroun/Sharia4UK (via Omar Bakri Mohammed)
•    American Al-Muhajiroun member Syed “Fahad” Hashmi frequented the Mosque. He was indicted on terrorism charges in May 2007
•    Sajil Shahid / Sajeel Shahid also went to this Mosque. Sajeel was one of the Wahhabi Salafi mentors of the London 7/7 tube bombers setting up a safe house for them during their bomb making training in Pakistan. Shahid is associated with the Queens mosque by reason of his being both a leader of al-Muhajiroun in Pakistan as well as UK. Britons were outraged this year to learn he and his brother Adeel Shahid set up and ran for the last 5 years a government funded Wahhabi Salafi primary school ‘Ad-Deen’ in Ilford Essex using the pseudonym Abu Ibrahim. He said in an interview
•    ‘ We see the US and British governments as the biggest terrorists in the world.’
•    Al Muhajiroun and its leadership (through such operatives as brothers Sajil and Adil Shadid and associates such as Junaid Babar) used Lahore Pakistan as a base to train British Muslims to perform armed jihad in Af-Pak, Chechnya, Bosnia and UK. Richard Reid the Al Qaeda shoe bomber was a regular attendee of the Essex Islamic Community Centre before his failed attempt in 2001 to blow up American Airlines Flight 63 over Miami. Several jihadi brothers meeting at Ilford for ‘prayer’ were also foreign fighters with the Taliban in AF-Pak and now Syria/Iraq.
•    “’Al-Muhajiroun (aka Sharia4UK) has one goal,’ said Anjam Choudry, its UK chairman. ‘We would like to see the implementation of the sharia law in the UK. Under our rule this country would be known as the Islamic Republic of Great Britain. To do that, attracting young Asians is not enough. So we are making a conscious effort to recruit large numbers of non-Muslims. ‘Whites, Chinese, Japanese and Indians in this country are all bored with the capitalist system. It’s a bankrupt ideal. We have found that young non-Muslims, like our Asian followers, want something new. You can tell that from the anti-globalisation movement. So we’re offering them something pure: a religious mission, the values of sharia law and jihad.’” http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/feb/24/religion.september11
That is one of the reasons why Anjam Choudry, loves and promotes ISIS so much as they are imposing Sharia law strictly wherever their black flags capture a town in Syria or Iraq.
•    
“In July 2006, while London mourned the victims of 7/7 on the first anniversary of the attacks, the Islamist Mohammed Sawalha held an exhibition celebrating Islam. This Islam Expo, held at Alexandra Palace in north London. Here Sajil Shahid had a stall, promoting Islamic computer games…. Al Muhajiroun members such as Abdul Raheem Saleem, aka “Abu Yahya” in 2006 demonstration in Sloane Square, where placards called for the beheading of “those who insult Islam” … Abu Hamza,the radical preacher at Finsbury Park Mosque (and leader for a time of UK Muhajiroun had a role to play in the brainwashing of) Zacarias Moussaoui, the “20th man” in the 9/11 conspiracy” http://www.islam-watch.org/adrianmorgan/How-Britain-Encouraged-Terrorism2.htm
•    • Masjid al-Fatima Mosque also has links to Pakistani/American Wahhabi Salafi terrorist Moahmmed Junaid Babar who was implicated as a bomb instructor at a Lahore terrorist training centre used by the radicalized Muslim youths who committed the 2005 London 7/7 Bombings. He grew up in Queens NY before becoming radicalized by Al Muhajiroun’s with Abu Hamza al-Masri and Omar Bakri Mohammed. Babar was an associate of Pakistani/Canadian Momin Khawaja, andOmar Khyam who were part of a fertilizer bomb plot in London. He was also an associate of Kazi Nurur Rahman of East London who was planning a Mumbai style attack in the UK (having been trained by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Let) who carried out that atrocity as well as being part of the fertilizer bomb plot. Kazi Rahman was jailed for 9 years and will be released this year. Babar although guilty and liable for a life sentence went to prison for only 4 years being released in 2011 (as part of a plea bargain). He said in a BBC TV interview “I will kill every American that I see.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zAHW1MVTP4

Salafi Lone Wolves and Wahhabi-Salafi hate preachers who radicalize them are hatchet wielding ISIS jihadists on our streets seeking to do the ‘will of Allah’ as they are brainwashed to believe with radical zeal, especially if freshly ‘converted’.
How does one stop the Wahhabi warpath? Deal with KSA funding of Wahhabi Mosques and Islamist ‘Centres’ in our homelands and shut the mouths of the Salafist hate preachers and you minimize the Jihadist threat at our Parliaments and on our streets. Hadal Muhajiroun/Sharia4UK been dealt with in London, Forsane Alizza/Sharia4France, Sharia4Belgium been dealt with sooner by appropriate laws and LEO in France and Belgium, and hadMasjid Al Salaam & Education Centre and BCMA been dealt with in Canada and the poison dripping from the hate preachers lips who useMasjid al-Fatima dealt with in New York, London’s ‘7/7’, the Woolwich slaying, the Toulouse and Brussels massacres would not have happened and Patrice Vincent would be alive today and also Nathan Cirillo ( whose funeral is pictured above) would be alive today and the New York policemen would not be in hospital from axe wounds of the Wahhabis on the warpath.
The UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) at a regional workshop on incitement and violent extremism held in Nairobi November/December 2011 reaffirmed the UN’s policy that States need to prohibit and prevent incitement to terrorist acts motivated by extremism and intolerance.

It is clear that the United Nations General Assembly circumscribes the right of people (including religious preachers and political leaders of whatever ethnicity) to have freedom of opinion and expression and dissemination of ideas (Article 19 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948) by the necessary caveat that laws can and should be made to curb that freedom for the protection of national security and the rights of others (Article 19 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966).
Moreover in 2005 the Security Council of the UN made Resolution 1624 concerning threats to international peace and security caused by acts of terrorism condemning in the strongest terms the incitement of terrorist acts.
The UN repudiates any attempts at the justification or glorification (apologie) of terrorist acts that may incite further terrorist acts. The international community recognizes that incitements of terrorist acts are motivated by extremism and intolerance and that this poses a serious and growing danger to global communities.
Many terrorists masquerade as religious organizations and so the UN has made it clear that States must prevent the subversion of educational, cultural and religious institutions by terrorists and their supporters.
The Salafi-Takfiris seek like the Nazi party or the Bolsheviks, to be the vanguard of their own form of global revolution of what they see as their constituency (not Arians or the proletariat as Nazis and communists do) but of the world wide Ummah of Muslim people who they are actively seeking to convert to their cause and their dogma. They do this primarily through the financial and ideological infiltration and takeover of traditional Muslim mosques, educational institutions and ‘charities’.

If there is trouble with Turkey in relation to Cyprus or with respect to the treatment of Muslim minorities in Greece, it would serve Greece well to make lawful catagorizations and distinctions in their laws and policies based on a thorough understanding of the real source of terrorism. That way it can withstand the international pressure and scrutiny that may come to try and exploit any domestic problems that may arise from the country trying to protect its legitimate national interest.
In a recent article in ‘Defecnegreece.com’, Ionnis Michaletos titled, ‘Radical Islam passing through Greece’ (Nov 25 , 2011), the point is made that Greece in its delicate financial state is at serious risk from domestic terrorism and a transit point for the flow of terrorist resources across its borders and further into Europe.

However, it is dangerous, against the UN resolutions and counter-productive to label people too broadly by reference to religious, ethnic or national profiling as ‘terrorists’. For example the use of ‘Islamists’ by Ioannis and many others is unfortunate. The perpetrators of terrorist acts in the name of ‘Islam’ are not really ‘Muslims’ at all but simple political terrorists who try and legitimize their criminality and hatred by adopting the mantle of religion. By analogy it would be unjust to call anarchists who commit terrorist acts as ‘Orthodox Extremists/Orthodoxists’ even if the anarchists sought to justify their criminality by reference to the Orthodox religion.
The better approach would be to call them by the name of their philosophy; ‘Salafi-Takfiris’.

They are the Islamo-fascist ideological umbrella, source of funds and foot soldiers for Al Qaeda and associated movements (AQAM); Indonesian ‘JI’ ; Pakistani ‘JeM’; ‘LeJ’; Moroccan ‘Direct Path’; Algerian ‘GSPC’ Philippines ‘Abu Sayyaf’, etc and lone wolves/home-growns.

99.99% of the terrorist problem in Greece and the West (whether cells or lone wolves) does NOT come from traditional/orthodox Islam but from the well-funded and extreme Salafi-Takfiris (AKA Salafi-Jihadis).

Any Greek who is serious about wanting to know the truth behind unrest at home or in the Middle East should simply type ‘Salafi’ into the Google box before the issue they want to research. This will open up avenues of investigation that can ‘cut through’ the media speak that sometimes play to the tune of the rich and powerful who have an unfortunate financial vested interest in the nation states that support them that often leads to misinformation in the global media.
Read articles and books on Salafi- Takfiris and then you will see the scale and nature of the threat not just to our Greek homeland but also to millions of traditional Muslims who they hate as much as us. For example a Muslim referred me to an excellent small book ‘Terror’s Source’ by Vincenzo Oliveti. Even though it’s a 2002 book, it is well worth reading.
In fact because its central thesis is that Takfiris are spawned from Salafis and Salafis are the growing in number and themselves spawned from state sponsored/petro dollar driven Wahhabi infrastructure. Their game plan is the world ‘take over’ of mosques in the West, nation states in the Middle East then the mobilization of them against the West.
It is the current generation of ordinary orthodox Muslims more than the West that are currently the victims of this right wing ‘putsch’ into the West via traditional/orthodox Islam.

Rather than ethnic/cultural profiling and casting the net wide in a discriminatory manner against all Muslims or people from the Middle East, all law enforcement (LE) has to do to maximize its effectiveness both at counter radicalization and interdiction of lone wolves and extremist cells is to concentrate their efforts against all and any forms of Salafi-Takfiris and the nation states that sponsor them.
That includes funding (whether through so called ‘charities or schools) and propaganda (whether that be disguised as religion or not).
If all else fails ‘follow the (source of the) money’ and make laws that stop that flow and you will reduce the risk of contagion and brainwashing of home-grown individual terrorists and cells.
If you do not tomorrow’s generation of Muslims may well be press ganged; financed or duped into Salafi-Takfirism.
It would serve the Greek people well if the war on terrorism properly defined who the ‘terrorists’ are (especially as Al Qaeda was but a form of Salafi-Takfirism).

The term ‘terrorist’ should therefore not be classified as ‘Islamists’ but rather ‘Salafi-Takfiris’ and that adherents to that philosophy be named in the anti-terrorist legislation as ‘terrorists’ or ‘supporters of terrorist organization’.
Once the law is focused on the real threat (in our Greek homeland) the imposition of criminal sanctions can be effective and non-discriminatory. Also with broad community dialogue with Islamic communities in Greece with this understanding (whether they be domestic or refugees) can assist to ‘inoculate’ the broad Islamic community (on our own soil and in Europe more broadly) from contagion of this extremist group. In this way the authorities in Greece can protect the national interest in conformity with international law.

Alexander Athos is a writer and businessman.He was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (European History) Personal background Alexander was christened Orthodox brought up Catholic and now Evangelical Christian with an acceptance of the best in Christian tradition and a respect for genuine people of faith from other cultures. Political inclinations: Christian intellectual who has an eclectic predisposition to understanding global and national political and social trends and seeking to influence them for good by thoughtful and persuasive discourse.

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Terrorism

Sri Lanka’s fight against LTTE terrorism: In retrospect

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Authors: Ms. Nathasha Fernando and Ms. Ayodhya Krishani Amarajeewa

On the 19th of May 2020 Sri Lanka celebrated the National War Heroes Day and there was a surprise: Tamil Ealam Cyber Force attacking and defacing several government websites.

The Sri Lankan civil war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) and Sri Lankan state ended in May 2009. The LTTE was known to the world as a ‘terrorist group’, ‘insurgents’, and alternatively as ‘guerilla fighters’. A number of countries in the world has proscribed the LTTE as a terrorist organization especially following the 9/11 attacks in 2001 during which a global pledge was made to rid the world of terrorism. The Council of European Union pursuant toUNSC Resolution 1373/2001 formulated the European Union Terrorist List proscribing the LTTE as a terrorist organization up to date. In 2009, the LTTE was brutally annihilated by a resolute military assault by the Sri Lankan state armed forces. Although the LTTE were militarily annihilated, their ideology is promulgated in other ways through an extensive international diaspora and especially warfare in the cyber domain.

How Sri Lanka won the war

The failure of the peace-talks in 1990, 1995, and 2002 pointed out there was no way to fight against terrorism other than by military means. There were international commentators whom opined war could not be won militarily such as General A.S Kalkat and opposition leader Ranil Wikremasinghe who downplayed and mocked Sri Lanka’s military victories against the LTTE. In 2007, Sri Lankan military victory at Thoppigala was belittled by Wikremasinghe as “nothing to crow about”. Therefore with the election of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the president of Sri Lanka in 2005, appointment of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as secretary of defense, and several notable military men to head Sri Lanka’s tri-forces, the war was won to the dismay of the skeptics working against Sri Lanka’s national interests.

Sri Lanka’s military victory was the result of courageous leadership and a solid grand-strategy. Although 4 percent allocation of the GDP to defense strained fiscal resources, financial assistance was sought from Iran, Libya, Russia and Pakistan. European Union, US and Canada assisted diplomatically by proscribing LTTE as terrorists aiding the government to limit LTTE foreign financing. Sri Lanka’s navy played a key role to cut of LTTE logistical lines and cripple the LTTE Sea Tigers. The intelligence wing of the military was also able to manipulate a defection from within LTTE internal ranks. The defector Karuna Amman was key to obtaining vital information on LTTE command structure and operations.

Tamil Ealam Cyber force

The LTTE political wing had been active even though the war ended in 2009. Sri Lankan government has been weak in countering the legitimacy of the LTTE claim of the Ealam, ‘Tamil Homeland’ in the cyberspace. The global Tamil community is one of the largest Diasporas in the world. The LTTE cyber strategy is to conduct “cyber-attacks”, use cyberspace for amassing funds, and support ideological propaganda. The LTTE has attempted to deface and hack the government of Sri Lanka’s websites several times. According to cyber security analysts, the virtual Elam that had been created by the post-war new generation of Tamils in exile are formulating new narratives of Ceylonese history portraying a government in exile; a different approach to reclaiming Ealam. Through websites such as www.tamilnation.org, www.eelam.com,www.tamilcanadian.com,www.tamileelamnews.com,www.tamileditors.com,www.eelamweb.com, and www.tamilnet.com  content  is aimed at redefining the notion of state and nation in a technocratic era. Some notable issues that are continuously represented in these website contents are government’s continued militarization of North, accusations of war crimes, government denial of war crimes and issues that denigrate the image of Sri Lanka internationally.

A raucous Tamil diaspora

According to a study by The International Crisis Group, the interplay between diaspora Tamils and the LTTE is complex and misunderstood. As SharikaThiranagama points out “all tigers are Tamil, but not all Tamils are tigers”. It was both state and LTTE violence that forced Tamils to seek political asylum abroad. These Tamils have a strong sense of victimization and injustice with guilt and shame for leaving Sri Lanka when their brethren fell in battle. These sentiments were manipulated by Prabhakaran in the 80s to establish links between LTTE cadres and Tamils in other countries who blended within Tamil communities in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and India while bureaucracies’ in Canada, Norway, Switzerland and Australia were infiltrated. Most funding was stopped by the government in 2009 with the arrest of KP-Selverasa Pathmanathan. Post war, the diaspora is still active and the real danger lies in how diaspora groups alter the history of Sri Lanka which misleads second and third generation of Tamils growing up in foreign countries to mistrust the Sinhalese.

Moving forward

In retrospect, the battle with virtual Ealam is the biggest and the most difficult war to win. It requires a national, regional and international cybersecurity strategy with experts working together. There are several national agencies for cyber security in Sri Lanka such as Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Readiness Team Coordinating Centre and Air Force Cyber Operations Centre. The government’s Cyber Security Strategy from 2019-2023 is aimed at countering cyber-attacks but much more needs to be done to create counter narratives to LTTE-driven ideology and narratives of virtual Eelam spread across the web and on social media.

This article is written by Ms. Nathasha Fernando and Ms. Ayodhya Krishani Amarajeewa.

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Terrorism

How Assad’s Atrocities Became a Powerful Motivator for Terrorist Recruitment

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Authors: Anne Speckhard and Molly Ellenberg*

When one thinks of the recent conflicts in Syria, images of ISIS beheadings, enslavement of Yazidis and black flags flying on behalf of the establishment of the ISIS Caliphate loom front and center. Many around the globe also fear and abhor the idea of ISIS criminals returning home, anxious that they may not be imprisoned and continue their heinous criminal acts, or even if imprisoned, spread their hateful ideology at home.[1] In the world’s collective consciousness, the Bashar al-Assad regime and its atrocities during the Syrian conflicts pale in comparison to ISIS’ brutal reign of terror. Indeed, ISIS became one of the largest, richest and most lethal and brutal terrorist organizations of all time.

Yet in March 2020, the Syrian Network for Human Rights reported from its tally of civilian casualties in the Syrian uprising that 91.4 percent of those occurring up to 2020 were caused by the Assad regime and other parties supportive of the regime, including Iranian and Russian groups. The numbers of civilian casualties attributed to ISIS, however, dwarf in comparison to those committed by the Assad regime, adding up to only 2.2 percent of the total. While ISIS is rated as the group responsible for the second-largest number of civilian casualties in Syria, its raw numbers are few compared to Assad’s.[2] This often overlooked fact actually explains much about terrorism and is a warning to us about how terrorist groups use humanitarian and conflict zones to recruit new members to their cause and engage them in terrorist violence.

Between 2015 and 2020, the lead author at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism [ICSVE] in-depth interviewed 239 male and female ISIS defectors, returnees, and imprisoned cadres, many who responded to calls from ISIS, rebel groups and the Syrian people themselves to come to their aid.[3] This in-depth research of ISIS cadres has allowed for examination of the specific influences, motivations, and sources of disillusionment these ISIS cadres experienced with ISIS as they relate to the Assad regime’s actions. Specifically, the present investigation explores the impact of amateur Syrian videos depicting suffering civilians on the decisions of foreign fighters to travel to Syria to immediately or subsequently join ISIS, the prevalence and correlates of locals and foreign fighters citing anger at the Assad regime as a primary motivation for joining ISIS, and ISIS’ contradictory involvement with the Assad regime as a source of disillusionment within ISIS ranks. Moreover, this policy paper looks in particular at the group of foreign fighters who traveled to Syria, initially out of a desire to fight the Assad regime, feeling that the Western world had abandoned the Syrian people. Looking at these aspects of influence and motivation for joining, will to fight and disillusionment as they relate to ISIS’ and the Syrian people’s portrayal of Assad’s atrocities as well as ISIS’ own actions leads to important insights into how humanitarian crises and conflicts are used by terrorist groups to draw in foreign fighters in particular, motivate them to fight, and keep them engaged in terrorism violence. It is critical to examine how foreign fighters in particular were manipulated by their emotional responses to the Syrian crisis and ultimately willingly joined or inadvertently fell into the ranks of ISIS, and also to examine what disillusioned them along these same topics, as doing so provides useful information and policy recommendations for avoiding similar non-responsiveness to future situations that terrorist groups, like ISIS, may be more than happy to exploit.

The failed Syrian Arab Spring in 2011 that devolved into armed conflict when Assad’s forces began gunning down unarmed protestors, leading to riots, violent uprising and finally civil war, provided the perfect platform for ISIS to join the dozens of disparate rebel groups that arose in Syria to fight the Syrian regime and use events happening in Syria to strengthen their own terrorist organization. Indeed, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi clearly foresaw in 2012, as he was rebuilding al-Qaeda in Iraq (which had been rebranded as the Islamic State in Iraq), the possibility of increasing the strength and ranks of ISI by attracting to his group the influx of foreign terrorist fighters flowing into Syria. He and his propagandists understood well that entering the Syrian conflict while presenting ISIS as defending Sunni Muslims under attack could be their grand play upon the existing al-Qaeda jihadist narratives already spread throughout the world, one which would become for ISIS a winning move to terrorist ascendancy.

Consistent with the propagandists’ goals, as ISIS rose into power, most of Baghdadi’s fighting forces were not native to Iraq and Syria. The earliest foreign terrorist fighters [FTFs] had been drawn to Syria first by the Free Syrian Army [FSA], al Nusra and the dozens of other groups operating there, as well as by the calls of ordinary Syrian civilians to come and help them. Before the end of 2014, when Baghdadi declared the Caliphate, approximately 15,000 FTFs from 80 countries had traveled to join the Syrian uprising,[4] many joining FSA and al Nusra. However, as ISIS rose in prominence, many of these FTFs later joined ISIS and, over time, FTFs and their families began streaming by the tens of thousands directly into the self-declared ISIS Caliphate, mounting to over 40,000 FTFs who ultimately traveled to Syria.[5]

Meanwhile, many of the rebel groups grew concerned about ISIS spies in their ranks and became suspicious of FTFs, imprisoning and sometimes even executing them. Likewise, groups like the FSA, who rejected the jihadist vision for Syria, saw the jihadist-minded foreign fighters as enemies to their nationalistic objectives. As such, foreign fighters in Syria found themselves subject to being hunted down, imprisoned and executed by previously welcoming rebel groups. ISIS, however, continued to welcome foreign fighters with open arms, inviting them to their shared vision of building an Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. ISIS’ welcoming stance also provided safe haven for those, with or without this vision, who could no longer make their way through territories bordering Turkey held by hostile groups, which were necessary to cross to make their way back home. As ISIS portrayed itself as the protector of Sunni Muslims, and promoted their rapidly expanding Caliphate as one governed by the laws of Allah, portraying it as the new Islamic utopia, many who fell into, or willfully joined their ranks, did so believing ISIS to be offering the best remedy to the oppression caused by dictators like Assad.

Many of the early FTFs had watched scores of videos posted online, many recorded on mobile phones, of Syrian women and children calling out for help amidst rubble, following chemical attacks, or after experiencing the crimes of rape and torture. Covered in dirt and blood, these victims cried out to the Islamic ummah (global family of Muslims), “Muslims, Muslims of the world, where are you?”

In response to these heart-rending calls, many young Muslim men all over the globe became enraged at the world’s seeming indifference and heeded the call, many having no initial intention to ever join a terrorist group.

In the Balkans, young men vividly recalled the horrors of the wars with Serbia and the foreign fighters who had come to their aid. Having grown up under war, these young men now wished to offer the same defense for Syrians. Likewise, first-, second-, and third-generation Muslims of immigrant descent, as well as converts, in Europe and North America were astounded and angered by world powers who seemed oblivious to Assad’s atrocities against his own people. As President Obama drew his red line in Syria, but then failed to act, more young men around the world decided they would act in his stead.

In many countries, particularly in the Gulf and the Balkans, religious and even political leaders concerned about the growing atrocities in Syria began referring to the imperative to go to the aid of Syrians, yet their governments failed to take effective actions. As it increasingly appeared that no one was successfully responding to the pitiful calls of the besieged Syrians, Muslim youth around the globe increasingly felt that if world powers would not stand up for the defenseless Syrian people, they would. Many, therefore, believing the already popularized militant jihadist narrative about the obligation of Muslims to fight jihad, who moreover felt it was wrong, if not religiously forbidden, for them to remain living in relative comfort while their Islamic brothers and sisters in Syria suffered, became convinced that it was their duty to join the fight in Syria. This obligation to jihad, which had already been popularized by al Qaeda’s propagandist Anwar al Awlaki coupled with the effect of Syrian civilian suffering was not lost on ISIS propagandists who also began to use the call to jihad to their advantage as they joined the Syrian civilians and rebel groups in calling foreigners to travel to Syria.

Not everyone who joined ISIS did so initially. Indeed, 21.2 percent of the male foreign fighters in our sample initially were members of another group before joining ISIS. Many of the early travelers to Syria entered during a time when the rebel groups were still operating chaotically and there was a great deal of overlap and cooperation among the groups. Joining any particular rebel group was often a matter of being guided by a local, family member, or friend who had come before, and also occurred by random chance. However, as the groups solidified, and particularly as they began infighting, shifting alliances often created situations where individuals chose, or were forced, to move from one group into another, with many foreign fighters moving to ISIS where they were welcomed rather than suspected or persecuted as spies or jihadists. Likewise, ISIS appeared to many to be the strongest group, as it was gaining significant swathes of territory and had accumulated the money to provide its fighters with salaries, top of the line, and often new, weaponry and spent a great deal of time indoctrinating them into the Islamic underpinnings arguing that ISIS was both capable and destined to build a utopian Islamic Caliphate.

Emotional Responses to Suffering Used to Influence Terrorist Travel

When examining the data from the 236 in-depth interviews of ISIS defectors, returnees, and imprisoned cadres interviewed by ICSVE between September 2015 and January 2020 (the sample containing 43 nationalities and 55 ethnicities and made up of 198 males and 38 females it), it emerges that 41.5 percent of the men and 7.7 percent of the women who traveled to Syria and Iraq were influenced to undertake such travel by watching amateur videos that moved them to take up arms or provide humanitarian aid in Syria. These respondents described to the researchers their emotions evoked by watching mobile phone videos of mothers crying over their dying children, calling out to the ummah for help. For many interviewees from the Balkans, these videos triggered visceral post-traumatic reactions from childhood memories of their war-torn countries and for others who had not grown up in war also triggered deep feelings of outrage over unanswered and unstopped injustice.

For example, 29-year-old Kosovar, Albert, recalls his emotional pain watching amateur Syrian videos, “I have seen quite similar torture when we were in the war with Serbia. We were also the victims of injustice.” Albert felt compelled to act: “During the war in Kosovo, I was a child … there was no opportunity for me to be engaged in the war. But now I am getting older and I feel responsible to act. I could not just let it happen.”

Bosnian 33-year-old Elvin also recalls the calls by religious authorities in the mosques who would “invoke the need for Bosnians, especially, to pay back for the foreign fighters who came in ’91 and ’92.” Elvin recalls, “I watched [online] videos of Assad’s troops killing people… We had memories of Arabs coming to fight for our cause; I felt I owed this.”

Anger and Sadness over Assad’s Atrocities as Motivations to Travel to Syria

Foreign fighters who traveled to ISIS were often motivated to do so by anger and sadness over Assad’s atrocities toward his own people rather than affinity to ISIS’s goals per se, as evidenced in this sample’s responses, particularly among those who came early to the conflict zone.  Indeed, 52.3 percent of this sample’s interviewees reported being motivated by sadness and an urge to provide humanitarian aid. 57.5 percent of the foreign men and 30.8 percent of the foreign women in this sample of 236 stated that they traveled to Syria and joined ISIS with the goal of helping the Syrian people. These individuals, similar to those motivated by anger, were overcome with strong emotions upon seeing and hearing what Assad’s regime was doing to its own people in Syria, while also being aware that prominent leaders were calling for action, yet world powers were failing to put a stop to Assad’s offenses.

Zyad Abdul Hamid, a 35-year-old from Trinidad, expressed his feelings upon seeing Western leaders call for help for the Syrian people and feeling that if the Western powers failed to act, he personally could not: “I saw John McCain saying Syrians needed help. I was a Muslim and thought it’s binding upon me to help.” Zyad entered Syria in 2014 and claims he did not join any group initially: “I helped people buy clothes, stuff like this.” Like many who became trapped in territory that ISIS controlled, Zyad Abdul Hamid then fell into the ranks of ISIS although he was also drawn to their claims to be building an Islamic Caliphate. He recalls, “the groups started fighting each other and we stayed low. After a while, Dawlah [ISIS] took the outside, took the borders.” Zyad was both trapped and intrigued by ISIS’s message, recalling, “They came around talking to us. I’m a Muslim. I wanted to know about Islamic law.”

Humanitarian concerns were also a common motivating purpose among Western women who travelled to join ISIS. For instance, 46-year-old Canadian Kimberly Pullman, facing her own emotional crisis following a rape recalls deciding that it would be better to go help Syrian children as a nurse than stay mired in her suicidal state of mind. She remembers thinking, “If I was going to die at least I could die helping children […] I felt if I did something good it would overwrite the bad that had happened.”[6]

Similarly, 23-year-old Belgian Cassandra recalls how her much older husband, who was already deeply embedded in ISIS, manipulated her emotions by showing her videos of the actions of the Syrian regime. She recalls, “He told me about Syria and showed me videos of the torture of Bashar. I was in pain, so I have to do something.” Facing a difficult family situation at home, Cassandra left Europe at only 18 years old to join her French husband already living in Syria. Later she adopted three Syrian children, all Shia orphans, who many in ISIS felt should have been left to die. True to her helping nature, she sheltered them under the protection of her husband who had risen to become an emir in ISIS, in charge of making explosive-laden cars for suicide missions. While she had come to Syria with hopes of helping Syrians she now states that ISIS “will promise you peace and security. They didn’t do anything. They want[ed a] so-called Islamic State, at the end they have been destroyed from everywhere.” She laments, “Kids died, parents died, so many injured people…”

Anger, truly outrage over Assad’s atrocities, was also a common motivator for traveling to Syria and joining ISIS. In our sample, 18.9 percent of the foreign fighter males attributed anger at the actions of Assad’s regime and the rest of the world’s inaction in response to him, as a strong motivation for travelling to Syria and ultimately joining ISIS.

36-year-old Canadian Abu Ridwan al Canadia states his motivation clearly and succinctly: “I was following the news and you can’t basically sit by and not do anything.” Abu Ridwan claims he was not there to join a terrorist group and had no initial interest in ISIS, stating, “I was there to fight the Syrian regime.” Yet, he, like many foreign fighters drawn into the conflicts by humanitarian concerns, followed his group and pledged allegiance to ISIS only three months after arriving in Syria.

Will to Fight

While the reasons given for their willingness to engage in terrorist violence and fight for ISIS included wanting to establish the ISIS Caliphate, fear of ISIS punishments if they refused, fear of being captured or killed by the enemies of ISIS, along with a myriad of less often given reasons, a deep hatred of Assad formed the primary backbone for many ISIS cadres willingness to fight, particularly among foreign fighters. 9.1 percent (n=18) of the males in this sample stated that fighting Assad’s regime was their primary motivation for going to battle. Of these, 16 were foreign fighters. Of the 16 FTFs who stated that fighting Assad was their primary motivation to fight, 31.3 percent (n=5) were from the Balkans. The others were from the United Kingdom (n=2), Morocco (n=2), and one FTF each was from Canada, Germany, Kazakhstan, Libya, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia.

24-year-old UK Jack Letts recalls, “I came because of what Bashar was doing […] I believed they were Muslims and good to fight for an Islamic State, and fighting Assad.” Jack also states that while he became totally disillusioned of ISIS and rejected them while living under their rule, he still, even in prison, retains his will to fight Assad.[7]

Abu Khalid, a 32-year-old German, also recalls being moved to come to Syria out of a deep sense of responsibility to fight Assad’s regime. Similar to Jack Letts, Abu Khalid continues to view Assad as a war criminal that even now needs to be defeated. While Abu Khalid claims he would never again fight for ISIS, he admits that if the circumstance were supportive he would be willing to once again take up arms against Assad.  He explains, “If I get out of prison, I could see going back to fight Bashar. For this I came, this war criminal.”

Disillusionment with ISIS over its Dealings with Assad

Just as outrage and sadness over viewing Assad’s atrocities had drawn many into Syria and ultimately into ISIS ranks, ISIS’s cooperation with and failure to fight the Syrian regime also formed a significant source of disillusionment with ISIS. In this sample, 4.5 percent of the men reported being disillusioned by ISIS’s failure to fight Assad and 1.5 percent of the men were disillusioned by ISIS’s cooperation with Assad, namely ISIS’s selling oil and grain to the regime.[8] While many more may have expressed the same, ISIS cleverly hid its dealings with the Assad government from most of its members.

Of the 11 men who said they were disillusioned by ISIS’s failure to fight the Syrian regime or cooperation with it, seven were from Syria. This is likely due to the fact that Syrians were more likely to have much greater recognition of what was actually going on between ISIS and Assad’s government. Syrian ISIS fighters who could speak Arabic were often privy to the oil and grain sales, as they were the people who allowed Assad’s trucks to come and retrieve oil, or who guided the regime’s engineers to work on the pumps and pipelines held by ISIS. In contrast, ISIS took full advantage foreign fighters who could not understand the language or knew the political lay of the land and routinely sent them to kill Sunni tribesman, for example, in the genocidal al Sheitat slaughter, telling them that these were not even Sunni Muslims. Of course, for those who later learned the truth, disillusionment also set in.

31-year-old Kosovar Abu Naim, recalls how he was quickly disillusioned in 2013 by what he saw in Syria explaining that the rebel groups, including ISIS, were absorbed with infighting rather than focusing on fighting Assad’s forces, “There were too many groups involved. It’s as though they had forgotten about the regime. They started positioning [for power] amongst themselves.”[9]

27-year-old Swedish Abu Gibril also expresses his disappointment that ISIS didn’t keep their focus on fighting the Syrian regime, “They tried to make an Islamic State, but there were many things they did that was not smart. Instead of attacking the Kurds they should attack the Syrian army.”

Similarly, 33-year-old Abu Raqman of the UK explains, “I thought 100 percent they will win against Assad.” He became disillusioned when he saw that ISIS was attacking in Europe instead. “Personally, I don’t believe they should bring the war over there. The war is here [in Syria]. They should have focused on the biggest dictator here, not someone far away.”

24-year-old American-born Hoda Muthana agrees that ISIS’s actions outside of the active war with Assad’s regime were one of many sources of disillusionment for her. “Two enemies attacking each other is understandable,” she says, referring to ISIS fighting the regime. But she asks how those who served in ISIS’s killing machine will ever be able to atone for all the civilians they killed, “How are you going to justify for the kids you killed, when we believe all children go to heaven?”[10]

Conclusion

For many who joined ISIS, the events happening in Syria and the failure of the world’s leaders to stop Assad from cruelly killing and harming far more people than ISIS ever did created a massive whirlpool that pulled thousands of foreign fighters into travel across continents and oceans, many drowning themselves in terrorism as they sacrificed everything to come help their oppressed Muslims brother and sisters. A significant portion of these felt a personal responsibility to take up arms to fight Assad’s regime, and they initially came with good intentions even though they later fell into the ranks of ISIS. For many of these, even after becoming totally disillusioned of the Islamic State’s failed Caliphate, they continue in their hatred of Assad, so deeply that some would still be willing to take up arms once again to fight this war criminal. Likewise, while a large portion of ISIS members were disillusioned over time by the un-Islamic, corrupt and brutal nature of ISIS, some also found ISIS’s failure to fight Assad and even to cooperate with his government by selling them oil and grain to be strong enough reasons for wanting to give up on ISIS.

These are all lessons for the world to learn about how terrorist groups are able to use humanitarian crises and conflicts to recruit, influence, motivate and engage youth to take up arms for a terrorist cause and also how a terrorist group, when dealing with corrupt war criminals, can also be delegitimized in the eyes of its potential recruits and existing members.

When dealing with terrorist group recruitment, policy makers need to be keenly aware that when deep injustices are occurring, particularly aimed at Muslims, and Western powers do little to nothing to stop them, it plays into an already widely distributed al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, and ISIS militant jihadi narrative: that Muslims are oppressed, Islamic lands and people and the religion itself are under attack and the West is playing a role, if not actually behind the oppression and injustice. Moreover, the militant jihadist narrative of these terrorist groups teaches that Muslims themselves have an individual duty to fight jihad, to bring an end to such atrocities and to bring about justice for the Muslim ummah, who are, according to the militant jihadist narrative, supposed to be living under Islamic ideals and shariah law – even if that can only be obtained by raising arms to do so.

At this point in time, ISIS has been territorially defeated. Most ISIS foreign fighters were either killed, have fled the battleground, or are locked up at home, in Iraq, or in Syria.

Meanwhile, Assad remains both free and in power.

While the German authorities have recently arrested two key players among Assad’s henchmen responsible for torturing countless Syrians,[11] until he and his entire leadership regime are brought to justice, the lessons to ordinary Muslims seeking justice is very clear: It may be necessary to resort to terrorist violence and join a terrorist group in order to defend the defenseless and to try to bring justice to a conflict zone that world powers appear willing to ignore.

While ISIS brought no defense, nor justice to the Syrian people, neither have the world powers.

Until youth who may be vulnerable to terrorist recruitment see and hear with their own eyes and ears that the West is willing to defend the defenseless and will enact justice, they will remain vulnerable to terrorist recruitment. These are important lessons for the future.

*Molly Ellenberg, M.A. is a research fellow at ICSVE.  Molly Ellenberg holds an M.A. in Forensic Psychology from The George Washington University and a B.S. in Psychology with a Specialization in Clinical Psychology from UC San Diego. At ICSVE, she is working on coding and analyzing the data from ICSVE’s qualitative research interviews of ISIS and al Shabaab terrorists, running Facebook campaigns to disrupt ISIS’s and al Shabaab’s online and face-to-face recruitment, and developing and giving trainings for use with the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project videos. Molly has presented original research at the International Summit on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma and UC San Diego Research Conferences. Her research has also been published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma. Her previous research experiences include positions at Stanford University, UC San Diego, and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.

[1] Al Jazeera. “Finland’s Foreign Minister Faces Probe over Syria Repatriations.” News | Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera, February 19, 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/finland-foreign-minister-faces-probe-syria-repatriations-200219161057275.html.; Guy, Jack, James Frater, and Sarah Dean. “Norway’s Governing Coalition Collapses over ISIS Repatriation.” CNN. Cable News Network, January 20, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/20/europe/norway-government-collapse-isis-intl/index.html.
[2] Syrian Network for Human Rights. (2020, March). Retrieved from http://sn4hr.org/
[3] Speckhard, Anne, and Molly D. Ellenberg. “ISIS in Their Own Words: Recruitment History, Motivations for Joining, Travel, Experiences in ISIS, and Disillusionment over Time–Analysis of 220 In-depth Interviews of ISIS Returnees, Defectors and Prisoners.” Journal of Strategic Security 13, no. 1 (2020): 5.
[4] Foreign fighters flow to Syria. (2014, October 11). Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/foreign-fighters-flow-to-syria/2014/10/11/3d2549fa-5195-11e4-8c24-487e92bc997b_graphic.html
[5] Richard Barrett, “Beyond the Caliphate.” New York, NY: The Soufan Center (2017).
[6] Speckhard, Anne (March 31, 2020). Kimberly Pullman: A Canadian Woman Lured Over the Internet to the ISIS Caliphate. Homeland Security Today.
[7] Speckhard, Anne. “British-Born Jack Letts Discusses Mental Illness and His Path to ISIS.” Homeland Security Today, November 25, 2019. https://www.hstoday.us/subject-matter-areas/counterterrorism/british-born-jack-letts-discusses-mental-illness-and-his-path-to-isis/.
[8] Speckhard, Anne, and Ahmet S. Yayla. “ISIS revenues include sales of oil to the al-Assad regime.” ICSVE Brief Reports (2016).
[9] Speckhard, Anne. “The Call to Jihad,” April 28, 2018. https://www.icsve.org/the-call-to-jihad/.
[10] Speckhard, Anne, and Ardian Shajkovci. “American-Born Hoda Muthana Tells All About Joining ISIS and Escaping the Caliphate.” Homeland Security Today, April 23, 2019. https://www.hstoday.us/subject-matter-areas/terrorism-study/american-born-hoda-muthana-tells-all-about-joining-isis-and-escaping-the-caliphate/.
[11] Karadsheh, Jomana. “Germany Opens Landmark Trial of Syrian Regime Officers Accused of Crimes against Humanity.” CNN. Cable News Network, April 23, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/23/middleeast/syria-germany-trial-intl/index.html.

Author’s note: first published in Homeland Security Today

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Terrorism

Delegitimizing ISIS and Militant Jihadist Ideologies May Also Require Addressing Anti-Western Biases

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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ISIS photo

Authors: Anne Speckhard and Molly Ellenberg*

When ISIS was defeated territorially, there was a significant decrease in the online propaganda output for which they became notorious and which helped them to attract an unprecedented 40,000 foreign terrorist fighters to wage jihad and live under the Caliphate in Syria. Nevertheless, they still manage to reuse years of product produced in their heyday as well as continue to produce videos and recruit online from hidden safe havens in Iraq and Syria. Thus, the logical next phase of fighting ISIS is not attacking militarily, but also digitally taking them out. Some of the ways of doing that are already being accomplished by Facebook, Twitter and other mainline platforms using machine-run algorithms to enforce terrorist propaganda takedown policies and by militaries who attack their safe havens and means of continuing to broadcast their messages of hate. However, there is also the need to delegitimize terrorist groups and their virulent ideologies so that they find it much harder to gain traction with their intended audience of potential recruits. In doing so we are finding in our analysis of Facebook comments to anti-ISIS counternarrative campaigns evidence that it may be necessary not only to work to delegitimize terrorist groups but also to work to repair views of, and trust in, Western powers at the same time, as the two appear to be intertwined – something that groups like ISIS are all too eager to exploit.

Counternarratives have been put forth as a potentially useful technique for fighting ISIS online, but many efforts to produce online counternarratives against ISIS, often produced by government entities, have proven ineffective due to their inability to resonate with viewers in the same emotionally evocative and deep-seated way that the terrorist propaganda does. In this vein, the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism [ICSVE] has created over 175 counternarrative videos, taken from a collection of interviews with 239 ISIS prisoners, returnees and defectors, translated and subtitled in 27 languages, each of which features a speaker who actually lived in ISIS and either returned to their home countries, defected from ISIS, or were imprisoned. These speakers’ stories mirror the poignant nature of ISIS’s propaganda, telling, sometimes with tears in their eyes, of believing the ISIS recruitment lies, but then ending up watching their families die, seeing innocent people being executed, or being tortured themselves for breaking the most minor and arbitrary rule. The speakers focus on the ways that ISIS lied to them and manipulated their deepest desires to serve Islam while twisting and misusing sacred Islamic scriptures, and eventually ruined their lives.

ICSVE’s project, called Breaking the ISIS Brand – the ISIS Defectors Interviews Project, focuses on capturing the voices and emotions of credible defectors and imprisoned cadres. The footage used in the videos, other than the film of the speakers themselves, is taken from actual ISIS propaganda to illustrate the speaker’s story, which makes a direct contradiction to the terrorist narrative, effectively turning ISIS propaganda back on itself. At the end of the videos, which are titled with pro-ISIS names in order to capture the attention of viewers seeking ISIS videos, the speakers give advice to others who may be thinking of joining ISIS, forcefully denouncing the group. ICSVE’s counternarrative videos have been used by law enforcement professionals, religious leaders, and non-governmental organizations in face-to-face interactions in Kyrgyzstan, the Netherlands, Belgium, Jordan, Iraq and elsewhere as part of robust countering violent extremism programs. Likewise, participants in ICSVE-led focus groups as well as one imprisoned ISIS terrorist emir in Iraq have also reported (or in the case of the emir, was observed) being deeply moved by the content of the videos.

ICSVE has also run over 100 Facebook campaigns in multiple languages crossing multiple continents to reach the same audiences from which ISIS tries to recruit. While quantitative metrics provide important insight into the success of the counternarratives, qualitative analysis of the comments on the videos have also allowed ICSVE to determine the emotional resonance of the counternarratives. This article examines comments on ICSVE’s counternarrative videos in Facebook ad campaigns running from Dec. 3 to Dec. 31, 2019, in local languages in Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Albania, Montenegro, and Saudi Arabia.

While not every viewer comments, those who do can be assumed to be engaged with the content of the video, which is a positive sign for using counternarratives. Very few comments on the counternarrative videos used in these campaigns expressed a positive view of ISIS; those who did typically called the speaker a liar or simply accusing ICSVE of lying, such as one commenter from Tunisia who wrote, “WTF I just watch and why the fuck is it keep coming in as a suggestion get the fuck outta here ain’t nobody got time for your bullshit” [sic]. On the other side of the spectrum, an Iraqi commenter clearly held a positive view of ISIS, writing in Arabic, “Raise the Lord of ISIS.” A viewer from Montenegro commented in Croatian, “Mockery! This is what the West does,” suggesting either that he did not believe the content of the video and implying that the counternarrative was part of a greater Western effort to discredit ISIS, or that ISIS was created by the West to make a mockery of Islam. Another Bosnian commenter suggested turning ISIS’s cruel punishments back on the speaker, writing, “While he was killing, he was a hero. Now that he’s trapped he becomes a coward, I suggest beheading him.”

Researchers testing these counternarratives in face-to-face interactions and focus groups notice that the speaker is almost always seen by the viewers as credible. However, online viewers often attack the credibility of the speaker as way of expressing anger over some aspect of what is being portrayed or over what they surmise is behind the counternarrative. For instance, some commenters took the counternarrative and speaker having been from their country as an insult to their national pride and thus suggested that they did not find the speaker credible. These commenters then spoke rather in defense of their own country rather than in defense of ISIS. One wrote in Croatian, “Hell, there are no ISIS terrorist in Bosnia! Fuck you, America!,” while a Tunisian viewer wrote, “The is falsification Tunisia is far from being the land of extremism we are by far the most tolerant open minded Arab country we do not discuss “Jihad” in the streets we don’t even discuss religion that much and those who went to Syria to kill their brothers are no longer welcomed they are a threat to our national security these imbeciles have no no rights and are not entitled to anything.” [sic]

Some commenters simply posted straightforwardly negative comments about ISIS, such as a commenter on the video shown in the Balkans, who wrote, “Every ISIS fighter should be executed and burned!” as well as commenters from Tunisia, who wrote, “U deserve nothing but a bullet a dirty one” [sic] and “We,  Tunisian people , don’t want these rats infesting our country ..they are NOT welcomed here . and we will chase them one by one out of our streets. may they rot in ISIS’s hell..” [sic]. Notably, one anti-ISIS commenter wrote not in negative terms toward ISIS members, but rather in constructive terms. The man wrote in Bosnian, “I would love to work in Kurdistan, not for faith but for justice.” All of the aforementioned comments demonstrate the ability of these counternarrative videos to evoke strong emotions and to engage viewers enough to comment and even sometimes engage in discussions with other commenters on Facebook, which is a very good sign regarding their effectiveness.

Many comments were neither straightforwardly positive nor negative, as they referenced the conspiracy theory that America and Israel created ISIS. Such comments can be classified as anti-ISIS but are certainly not endorsing non-violence or moderation and thus deserve further attention. One Jordanian commenter wrote, “Terrorism is an American and Zionist made even with different names. Daesh [ISIS] is lying. American Russian Jewish made. What the Americans did in Iraq is double double of what Daesh did.” The same commenter also suspected that ICSVE was a part of the conspiracy: “This is made by the westerners to destroy Arab countries for the sake of those monkeys and pigs Zionists.” Another Jordanian wrote, “The Zionist occupation is terrorism,” though he also acknowledged, “This is the first time for me to hear about Daesh that way,” indicating that the counternarrative video did introduce a new and interesting viewpoint, even if the commenter did not fully agree with that viewpoint. An Iraqi commenter, who viewed the same counternarrative as that shown in Jordan, doubted that the speaker did not commit more atrocities as part of ISIS while also broaching the topic of the anti-Zionist and anti-Western conspiracy, conflating all his perceived enemies as being part of Daesh: “Who says you didn’t kill or destroyed houses, you all are not honorable neither European, American, Israeli, Iranian you all Daesh.” Another Iraqi posted a cartoon of a pig bearing the Turkish flag, with piglets labeled in Arabic as Liberation Levant, Daesh, Al Nusra Front, Mohamed Al Fatih, Syrian Coalition, and Al Fatih Brigade suckling at its teats, suggesting with a degree of plausibility that the militant groups fighting in Syria who are overtly jihadist and who carry out jihadist crimes while calling out their slogans were birthed by and dependent on Turkey and not truly fighting for the rights of the Syrian people.

Although the conspiracy theory that Israel and the West created ISIS is more prevalent in Arab countries, commenters in the Balkans also indicated their support for the theory, although they mentioned Israel far less often than Tunisians, Iraqis, and Jordanians did, perhaps because Israel is seen as less of a threat for them. One commenter in Kosovo wrote, “ISIS is Russian organization mercenaries…!!! Many of them didn’t know why are what they fuckin doing…!!,” [sic] while another wrote, “ISAL [sic] is American killing army supported by money from NATO protection racket. Mafia!.”

Comments of this anti-Western and anti-Israeli nature have also been written on prior Facebook ad campaigns featuring other ICSVE counter narrative videos run earlier in 2019 and 2018. For instance, one Iraqi commenter wrote: “This is what you have done to my city and our people […] so that they facilitate something you’ve prepared which is a plan made by Israel, America, and Europe and it’s one the Cold War’s threads between the Soviet Union and America… do you think we’re not aware of your deeds […] we will expose all your plans […]”

Another commenter in Iraq wrote, “What Muslims, these are Jews that pretend to be Muslim to distort Islam, conspire and separate between Muslims for the sake of tearing Mohammed’s nation,” while another claimed, “The source of terrorism is Turkey.” A Jordanian commented that ISIS is “an American industry distorting the minds of the Arab-Islamic generation to eliminate Islam gradually, there is no God but Allah, Muhammed is the messenger of Allah,” and another wrote, “America is the godfather of terrorism.”

An important issue for consideration is that few of the comments on the ads were specifically pro-ISIS, but a large portion of the comments related to a perspective that is not oriented toward nonviolence, posing a difficult question: Is the view that ISIS was created by Western forces one that ought also to be challenged or left alone, given that people who hold it are extremely unlikely to join ISIS? Or does it simply create space for new terrorist organizations as well as established anti-Western groups such as al-Qaeda to recruit new members?

In addition to their significantly better social media machine, ISIS’s concrete, tangible ideology was a key deviation from al-Qaeda that likely contributed to the exponentially higher numbers of FTFs joining ISIS than al-Qaeda. However, ISIS’s loss of territory may be used as evidence that the Caliphate is, as al-Qaeda posits, a distant goal. Furthermore, propagation of the conspiracy, either purposefully or inadvertently through comments on counternarratives, that ISIS was created by Israel and Western powers to destroy Islam from within may also provide fodder for groups like al-Qaeda, which focus on targeting the “far enemy” while proselytizing to Muslims who do not adhere to their form of radical fundamentalism.

Previous studies of anti-American comments have put forward several explanations as to why these conspiracy theories have gained traction predominantly, but not exclusively, in the Arab world. The authors of one study suggested that the United States tends to be an archetype for a global power interfering in the Middle East, making Anti-American sentiments less about Americans and American society and more about global meddling in the affairs of Iraqis and Syrians. This hypothesis is supported by the presence of statements also made against Saudi Arabia and Iran in the comments on videos shown in Jordan, Iraq, and Tunisia. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have waged proxy wars in the region, often by funding sectarian militias. It is notable that commenters in the Balkans expressed anti-Russian sentiments, seemingly replacing Saudi Arabia and Iran with Russia as the more proximal global power of which to be wary, this particularly in light of Russian support for Serbian aggression in the last wars fought there. This fear was also legitimized by a recent report from the European Council on Foreign Relations concluding that Russia may intend to use the Balkans as a political bargaining chip with the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Arguably, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia have used Iraq, Syria, and other smaller Middle Eastern countries for similar purposes.

The anti-Israel comments, though sometimes linked with anti-Western and anti-American comments, however, cannot be placed in the same category and likely reflect societal-wide views and widespread anger in these Middle Eastern countries about Israel. Although there is evidence that Israel engages in covert operations in the region, that the country and its people are viewed in many comments as symbols of meddling global powers equal to the United States, Russia, or even Saudi Arabia and Iran is alarming. This likely reflects longstanding Middle Eastern anger against Israel over the Palestinian issue as well as views of Israel’s inflated power in the region, particularly following military defeat by Israel of some in the region coupled with anger over strong U.S. support for Israel. The anti-Israeli sentiments and the theory that Israel created ISIS to sow division among Muslims found in many of the comments appears to be a reflection of mainstream Middle Eastern society in which this view of equating ISIS with Zionism and eloquently claiming that ISIS was created by Israel is also spread in scores of online blog posts and opinion pieces. One commentator echoed these same statements: “Israel has plotted and conspired against Arab states in the region, playing sectarian and tribal tensions to generate instability.” He continued, “The fact that ISIS has not moved against Israel and instead focused on killing Muslims says a lot about this organization’s real mission.” The same question was also echoed in ICSVE’s interviews of ISIS members, some who asked their leaders why the group was not first attacking Israel before fighting Middle Eastern powers and attacking Western targets. Other online articles widely circulated in the Middle East also express the view that ISIS and Zionism are essentially the same ideology. It is likely the societally wide spread of such beliefs may underly the presence of anti-ISIS views mixed together with anti-Israel views stated in these Facebook comments. Moreover, it is interesting that the same thought process of likening ISIS’s ideology to Zionism has also been used by ISIS members and supporters to justify their actions and characterize people who support Israel and oppose ISIS as Islamophobic.

It’s very important to continue to work to delegitimize groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda through counternarrative campaigns and to debunk their ideology promoting militant jihad, “martyrdom,” hijrah (migration to lands ruled by shariah) and building a Caliphate even by violent means. However, this analysis of comments made to a series of anti-ISIS Facebook campaigns reveals the need to also consider how to address anti-Western sentiments found in those who are willing to oppose ISIS, as these views are all too often twisted to garner support for militant jihadist groups.

*Molly Ellenberg, M.A. is a research fellow at ICSVE.  Molly Ellenberg holds an M.A. in Forensic Psychology from The George Washington University and a B.S. in Psychology with a Specialization in Clinical Psychology from UC San Diego. At ICSVE, she is working on coding and analyzing the data from ICSVE’s qualitative research interviews of ISIS and al Shabaab terrorists, running Facebook campaigns to disrupt ISIS’s and al Shabaab’s online and face-to-face recruitment, and developing and giving trainings for use with the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project videos. Molly has presented original research at the International Summit on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma and UC San Diego Research Conferences. Her research has also been published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma. Her previous research experiences include positions at Stanford University, UC San Diego, and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.

Author’s note: first published in Homeland Security Today

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