It’s been a year since ISIS declared its caliphate, which is a form of an Islamic government headed by a political and religious successor to the prophet Muhammad (pbuh). While some analysts might argue that it has been a great year for the terrorist group since it was able to hold its ground, others view their current status quo as their peak position which will see a grave downhill ride over the upcoming few months.
To fully comprehend the real power of the Islamic State (known as ISIS) and the breaking point which has in fact begun and will be shrinking it down, one has to start form the very beginning.
Less than a month before declaring their so called “Islamic State”, last year on June 10, 2014, ISIS had surprised the world by capturing Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from a fleeing Iraqi army. The terror group suddenly dominated headlines for seizing large swaths of land in northern Iraq. After Mosul, they took over Tal Afar, and as the summer of 2014 wore on, they took Zumar, Sinjar, and Wana.
Shortly after that came the executions in the now-iconic propaganda videos of mainly Western journalists and aid workers, which later developed into systematic beheadings of everyone who defies the group’s will. However, long before ISIS became a household name in the West, it was penetrating underground and plotting its resurgence ever since the start of the US invasion of the sovereign Iraqi state back in 2002.
Rise of the Islamic State Timeline
OCT 2002: Abu Musab Al-Zarkawi, a militant extremist from Jordan who ran a paramilitary training camp in Afghanistan, relocates to Iraq amid high tension before the US invasion began.
AUG 2003: Zarkawi orchestrates the Jordanian embassy and UN headquarters in Baghdad. In Najaf also the Imam Ali Shrine is targeted sighting deep sectarian Sunni-Shia tension in the country.
OCT 2004: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, pledges allegiance to Osama bin Laden and renames his group “al Qaeda in the land of the two rivers” (AQ-1).
NOV 2005: AQ-1 bombs hotels in Amman, Jordan.
OCT 2006: AQ-1 announces formation of the the Mujahideen Shoura Council, and umbrella group comprised of six Iraqi-based insurgent groups allegedly to fight US occupation forces in Iraq.
FEB 2006: AQ-1 bombs the Golden Mosque of Samarra, igniting Iraq’s civil war.
JUN 2006: Zarqawi killed in a US airstrike. Abu Ayub Al-Masri assumes leadership and rebrands the group as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).
OCT 2006: Abu Ayoub Al-Masri disbands Mujahideen Shoura Council and names Anou Omar Al-Baghdadi as leader of ISI.
2007-2008: US military signs Awakening agreement and turn against ISI which goes underground.
AUG-DEC 2009: High ISI profile attacks which signals resurgence into the Iraqi scene.
APR 2010: Iraqi army and US military kill Abu Ayub Al-Masri in a raid. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is named emir of ISI in May 2010.
MAR 2011: Syrian uprisings begin which then shifts into a regional crisis with insurgents from all over the world joining in as Mujahideen.
JAN 2012: Amid Syria’s devastating war, militants launch a new al Qaeda branch in the country called the Nusra Front. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISI back in Iraq, claims he’s behind the birth of the group. The militants go on to capture a swath of Syrian territory, including the province of Raqqa, which will later become ISIS’ de facto capital.
APR 2013: Al-Baghdadi announces the merger of the Nusra Front and ISI into one organization under his leadership. He calls the new group the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). But the Nusra Front rejects the merger and reiterates its allegiance to al Qaeda’s central leadership with Ayman Zawahiri as their leader.
JUN 2013: Top al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri denounces the merger as well and tells ISIS to stay focused on Iraq. Al-Baghdadi rejects the order.
JUL 2013: ISIS attacks prisons in Iraq and frees hundreds of the most dangerous extremists.
JAN-FEB 2014: Clashes erupt between ISIS and other Islamist extremist groups in Syria. ISIS seizes parts of Fallujah and Ramadi in Iraq. Al-Zawahri disavows ISIS, making it the first local branch to be formally kicked out of the al Qaeda network.
JUN 2014: ISIS takes over Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, seizes Iraqi army arsenal and eventually establishes a land base about the size of the U.K. ISIS advances southward as Iraqi forces collapse. ISIS declares establishment of Caliphate, changes name to the Islamic State (IS). Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential Iraqi Shiite cleric, calls on his fighters to defend holy sites in Iraq against ISIS.
AUG 2014: The United States conducts its first airstrike against the Islamic State group in Iraq and forms coalition of several international and regional states to allegedly fight back ISIS via air assaults.
APR 2015: Iraqi military forces and Shiite defense forces drive Islamic State militants out of Tikrit, Iraq.
MAY 2015: Iraqi forces abandon a military base in Ramadi, leaving the city to fall to Islamic State. The Iraqi army and Shiite defense forces launch an offensive to retake the city. Islamic State forces take the historic city of Palmyria in Syria. This gives the militant group control of a strategic highway.
JUN 2015: Battle breaks out between the Islamic State group and the Lebanese Resistance group Hezbollah along Lebanon’s northeast border with Syria. Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrullah vows to finish the fight against Islamic State Group. ISIS takes responsibility for several terrorist attacks in France, Tunisia, KSA and Kuwait.
JUL 2015: ISIS-affiliated militants unleash a wave of simultaneous attacks, including suicide car bombings, on Egyptian army checkpoints in the northern Sinai Peninsula.
ISIS Expansion hits a Dead-end
Advertising its violence online, the extremist group has successfully become a brand name for terrorism all over the world, turning into a magnet for regional and foreign radicals willing to join jihad. Last month’s deadly terror attacks in the KSA, Tunisia, France and Kuwait demonstrate how lone-wolf strikes by those sympathetic to the group across the globe pose as much of a risk to human life as trained terrorists operating directly under the ISIS banner on the actual battlefield.
Meanwhile, in ISIS heartlands, the group has profited from a power vacuum as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi struggle to maintain control of their increasingly-lawless countries, however there is one specific area where ISIS has been unable to spread its terror and further expand. That area is Lebanon’s northeast border with Syria. Similarly, the Nusra Front has been also losing grounds near Lebanon’s southeast border with Syria, especially in the Syrian Al-Suwayda province near the Syrian Golan Heights occupied by the Israeli Forces.
ISIS had been training new recruits and defectors from smaller rebel factions for several years now in Qalamoun, a militarily strategically important province in the south-west of Syria that borders Lebanon. The growth of the group in the area meant its fanatic fighters in Syria were now at the edge of the Lebanese heartland of its arch enemy the Lebanese resistance, Hezbollah.
As it was obviously anticipated, Hezbollah was not about to stand still in the face of ISIS expansion while knowing that leaving the responsibility for the Lebanese army to fight back ISIS alone will only leave the already weak military institution in jeopardy.
Starting June 2015, a battle broke out between the Islamic State group ISIS and Hezbollah along Lebanon’s northeast border with Syria. Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrullah, stood firm after several ISIS attempts to infiltrate Lebanese villages were aborted by Hezbollah fighters, declaring that the resistance would “finish” the fight.
As such, Hezbollah fighters have been holding off several attacks from ISIS in the mountainous region near the Syria-Lebanon border bearing a number of their own fighter as martyrs while killing Abu Balqis al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s “emir” for Qalamoun, in a shelling that targeted the area of Wadi Hmayed, on the outskirts of Lebanon’s Arsal.
For the past month, the Qalamoun battles have focused on Arsal’s eastern and southern outskirts, and on the western outskirts of the Syrian town of Flita, which lies roughly 23 kilometers southeast of Arsal.
ISIS had controlled Arsal’s northern outskirts since last year, while the Nusra Front had deployed in its eastern and southern outskirts but now they have lost these positions. ISIS seemingly still has its own plans for the Lebanese town of Ras Baalbek. And as the group has a vision to expand their so-called Caliphate over much of the Middle East, and as a fragmented state plagued by old sectarian hatreds, Lebanon is a natural place for them to attack. However, fortunately so far, their efforts have hit a dead-end.
The Lebanese army and Hezbollah have found themselves battling ISIS alongside each other, if not necessarily together. Apart from Lebanon’s radical ISIS-backed population, which is largely concentrated in the northern town of Tripoli, all four of the country’s major sects (Sunni, Shia, Druze, and Christian) are having the unusual experience of standing united in at least the desire to prevent ISIS from gaining a foothold in Lebanon.
The joint forces of the Lebanese army and Hezbollah, as well as ISIS’s preoccupation with its efforts in Syria and Iraq to maintain its fragile position, make it unlikely the group will be able to easily take much more territory on the Syrian-Lebanese border.
Still, there have been worried murmurs about ISIS terrorist dormant cells planning to commit acts of terrorism within Lebanon but further military expansion within the Lebanese borderline has proved to be up to this moment a hurdle for the terrorist group known as ISIS.
‘Unprecedented terrorist violence’ in West Africa, Sahel region
The top UN official in West Africa and the Sahel updated the Security Council on Wednesday, describing an “unprecedented” rise in terrorist violence across the region.
“The region has experienced a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets,” Mohamed Ibn Chambas, UN Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), told the Council in its first formal meeting of the year.
“The humanitarian consequences are alarming”, he spelled out.
In presenting his latest report, Mr. Chambas painted a picture of relentless attacks on civilian and military targets that he said, have “shaken public confidence”.
A surge in casualties
The UNOWAS chief elaborated on terrorist-attack casualties in Burkina Faso Mali and Niger, which have leapt five-fold since 2016 – with more than 4,000 deaths reported in 2019 alone as compared to some 770 three years earlier.
“Most significantly,” he said, “the geographic focus of terrorist attacks has shifted eastwards from Mali to Burkina Faso and is increasingly threatening West African coastal States”.
He also flagged that the number of deaths in Burkina Faso jumped from about 80 in 2016 to over 1,800 last year.
And displacement has grown ten-fold to about half a million, on top of some 25,000 who have sought refuge in other countries.
Mr. Chambas explained that “terrorist attacks are often deliberate efforts by violent extremists” to engage in illicit activities that include capturing weapons and illegal artisanal mining.
Terrorism, organized crime and intercommunal violence are often intertwined, especially in peripheral areas where the State’s presence is weak.
“In those places, extremists provide safety and protection to populations, as well as social services in exchanged for loyalty”, he informed the Council, echoing the Secretary-General in saying that for these reasons, “counter-terrorism responses must focus on gaining the trust and support of local populations”.
The Special Representative outlined that governments, local actors, regional organizations and the international community are mobilizing across the region to respond to these challenges.
On 21 December, the ECOWAS Heads of State summit “adopted a 2020-2024 action plan to eradicate terrorism in the sub-region”, he said.
Calling “now” the time for action, Mr. Chambas drew attention to the importance of supporting regional Governments by prioritizing “a cross-pillar approach at all levels and across all sectors”.
Turning to farmer-herder clashes, which he maintained are “some of the most violent local conflicts in the region”, the UNOWAS chief highlighted that 70 per cent of West Africa’s population depend on agriculture and livestock-rearing for a living, underscoring the importance of peaceful coexistence.
The Special Representative also pointed to climate change, among other factors, as increasingly exacerbating farmer-herder conflicts.
“The impact of climate change on security also spawns a negative relationship between climate change, social cohesion, irregular migration and criminality in some places”, he upheld.
Stemming negative security trends
The UNOWAS chief noted that in the months ahead, Togo, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Niger would be democratically electing their leaders and maintained that “all-too-worrying” security trends must not distract from political developments.
“Unresolved grievance, incomplete national reconciliation processes and sentiments of manipulation of institutions and processes carry risks of tensions and manifestations of political violence”, he warned.
In the months ahead, Mr. Chambas stressed that UNOWAS would continue to work with partners on the national and regional levels to promote consensus and inclusiveness in the elections.
“As UNOWAS’ mandate is renewed, we count on the Council’s continued full support”, concluded the Special Representative.
New Report Proposes Global DNA Synthesis Screening System to Counter Biotech Terror
Rapid advancements in commercially available DNA synthesis technologies – used for example to artificially create gene sequences for clinical diagnosis and treatment – pose growing risks, with the potential to cause a catastrophic biological security threat if accidentally or deliberately misused.
A new World Economic Forum and Nuclear Threat Initiative report, “Biosecurity Innovation and Risk Reduction: A global Framework for Accessible, Safe and Secure DNA Synthesis,” gathers opinion from a group of global public- and private-sector experts who propose standardized screening practices to counter the threat.
Since scientists demonstrated the means to create a full viral genome in 2002, DNA synthesis technologies have become increasingly available and frequently used by scientists and engineers around the world. These technologies support myriad advancements in synthetic biology, enhancing the efficiency and sustainability of industries including energy, food, agriculture, health and manufacturing. Further advances in technology hold great promise for sustainable development and a safer and more secure society.
At the same time, new approaches to DNA editing and synthesis have made it easier to manipulate biological agents and systems, increasing the risk of a catastrophic accidental or deliberate biological event. These technologies make it possible to create pathogen or toxin DNA that could be misused. For example, in 2018 researchers published work detailing the synthesis of horsepox virus, an extinct virus related to smallpox, using synthetic DNA fragments purchased from a commercial provider. This demonstrated the potential for creating other viruses via commercially available technologies.
Although many DNA providers practice screening procedures, this approach is voluntary and is becoming increasingly expensive. As access expands and the cost of DNA synthesis declines, more DNA is likely to reach the market via additional providers, significantly expanding the user base. In the next two to three years, a new generation of benchtop DNA synthesis machines, enabled by enzymatic DNA synthesis methods, could become available without guidance or norms to prevent misuse.
This report, endorsed by an international expert Working Group, recommends a global system for synthetic DNA screening practices by developing an international, cost-effective, and sustainable mechanism to prevent illicit practices and misuse. The new framework improves the existing voluntary guidelines because it standardizes screening processes, is accessible to new players in the market, and provides valuable feedback data to evaluate the screening – all at lower cost.
“Biotechnology is at the centre of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. To deliver on the promise of the biotechnology revolution, we must seize opportunities to develop and deliver life-advancing innovations while simultaneously and urgently addressing potential risks associated with a growing and democratized bio-economy,” said Arnaud Bernaert, Head of Shaping the Future of Health and Health Care at the World Economic Forum.
The report also proposes that companies, international organizations and governments should explore options for the sustainable oversight and the maintenance of this proposed DNA sequence screening mechanism. DNA synthesis capabilities, in addition to other emerging technologies, can benefit from a larger system of common global life-science norms overseen by a globally recognized entity.
“Global DNA synthesis screening can be a critical tool to reduce the risk that life-science technologies could be deliberately misused to carry out biological attacks or accidentally result in a high-consequence or catastrophic biological event. The time is now,” said Ernest J. Moniz, Co-Chair and Chief Executive Officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
Pensacola Rampage, Counter-Terrorism and Power Over Death
“’I believe’ is the great word against metaphysical fear, and at the same time it is a promising avowal of love.”-Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West
On December 6, 2019, Mohammed Alshamrani, a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force deployed at a US Naval air station in Pensacola, Florida, opened fire with a 9-millimeter handgun, killing three service members, and injuring eight others. Although the shooter’s precise motive and ideology have not yet been fully established, there is tangible evidence that only hours before his murderous rampage, Alshamrani had railed against the United States for its support of Israel and also for stationing troops in Saudi Arabia. Also plausible is that he fully expected to be killed during the shooting melee, a welcome expectation that suggests a sought-after status of “martyrdom.”
More than likely, recalling certain earlier insights of Oswald Spengler, “I believe” was integral to the shooter’s core Jihadist ideology, a presumed avowal of God’s anticipated grant of immortality or power over death. Hence, Alshamrani’s slaughter of certain “others” was actually an “avowal of love.”
Going forward, what matters most in this violent episode is what can be learned from the standpoint of improved US counter-terrorism practice. Above all, the lesson is as follows: There can be no greater form of power in world politics than a divinely promised power of immortality. Until now, this always preeminent form of power has remained essentially unrecognized by both scholars and policy-makers. In effectively all Jihadist terrorism-vulnerable countries, counter-terrorist strategies remain tangibly detached from what is most important.
There will be various pertinent concepts and theories to be systematically pondered. For Jihadist terrorists, the ultimate rationale of every operation must concern a presumed power over death. Without such a core presumption, prima facie, there could be no rational purpose in ever launching “martyrdom” operations. This means, inter alia, that any government interested in more effective counter-terrorism must first learn how to suitably obstruct such a far-reaching terrorist presumption.
Whatever particular answers may be reached in these complex matters, the task involved must always be approached as an intellectual one. Or, as the ancient Greeks and Macedonians wrote about the art of war, it is always, necessarily, a multilayered task of “mind over mind” rather than just “mind over matter.”
Here, too, there will be certain corollary and convergent considerations of legality. Without exception, those Jihadist insurgents who would seek to justify willful injury and execution of noncombatants (e.g., American, European, Israeli, etc.) in the name of “martyrdom” are defiling authoritative international law. Even if the murderous terrorist calls were somehow grounded in jurisprudence – that is, they would have recognizable elements of “just cause” – these criminals would still be guilty of wrongdoings.
Absolutely egregious and unjustifiable wrongdoings.
To wit, under binding law, insurgents, even those with a more-or-less defensible “just cause,” must nonetheless satisfy assorted jurisprudential limits on permissible targets and permissible levels of violence.
In all such law-based matters, the ends can never justify the means.
There is more. Under international law, even the most presumptively “sacred” rights of insurgency exclude the intentional targeting of civilians and/or a use of force designed to inflict gratuitous suffering. Whatever else might be said of any particular insurgent resort to force, it is always an impermissible insurgency (i.e., terrorism) when fighters choose to murder individuals in their homes or automobiles by stabbing and shooting. It is also always terrorism when such “martyrs” more systematically deposit nail-filled bombs in hotels, airports, buses or school playgrounds, or when they choose to heighten their odds of achieving immortality by opening fire at allied soldiers “on base.”
Sometimes, more or less explicitly, Jihadist insurgents have advanced a long discredited legal argument known as tu quoque. This formal argument maintains that because the other side (e.g., “infidels,” “apostates,” “blasphemers”) is allegedly guilty of an equivalent or greater criminality, the Jihadist side is free ipso facto of any consequent legal wrongdoing. Such a disingenuous argument is always more-or-less inventive, but it is also always invalid.
Apropos of this unchanging invalidity, one need only be reminded of the postwar judgments rendered by the Nuremberg and Far East (Japan) international tribunals. Both landmark tribunals refused to accept any defense of tu quoque.
There is more. Regarding conventional armies and insurgent forces, the residual right to use armed force can never supplant the peremptory rules of humanitarian international law. Such utterly primary or jus cogens rules are correctly referenced as the law of armed conflict orthe law of war.
Today, especially in parts of Asia and the Middle East, supporters of terror-violence against selected noncombatants insist wrongly that the ends somehow justify the means. Leaving aside the ordinary ethical standards by which any such specious argument must be regarded as indecent, the ends can neverjustify the means under binding international law. Appropriately, for more than two thousand years, conspicuous legal principles have specified that intentional violence against the innocent is prohibited.
In law, such violence is malum in se, or “evil in itself.”
In law, one man’s (or woman’s) terrorist, can never be another man’s (or woman’s) “freedom-fighter.” Although it is true that certain insurgencies can sometimes be judged lawful or law-enforcing, even such presumptively allowable resorts to force must still conform to the longstanding laws of war.
Jurisprudentially, it comes down to this: Whenever an insurgent or insurgent group resorts to unjust means, these actions constitute terrorism. For example, even if now ritualistic Palestinian claims of a hostile “occupation” were to be accepted as reasonable and lawful, any corollary claims of entitlement to “any means necessary” would nonetheless remain false.
International law always displays variously specific and determinable forms. Accordingly, it cannot be casually invented and reinvented by individual terrorists, terror groups or their state patrons in order to justify selective interests. This is especially true where terror violence intentionally targets a designated victim state’s most fragile and vulnerable civilian populations.
National liberation movements that fail to meet the test of just means are never correctly described as lawful or legitimate. Even if authoritative law were to accept the questionable argument that PA, Hamas and assorted sister groups had fulfilled the accepted criteria of “national liberation,” they could still not satisfy the equally relevant legal standards of discrimination, proportionality, and military necessity. More precisely, these critical standards were applied to insurgent or sub-state organizations by the common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, and (additionally) by the two 1977 Protocols to these Conventions.
Standards of “humanity” are also binding upon all combatants by virtue of certain broader customary and conventional international law, including Article 1 of the Preamble to the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907. This rule, commonly called the “Martens Clause,” makes all persons responsible for the “laws of humanity,” and for the associated “dictates of public conscience.”
There is more. Under international law, going back to the “classical” writings of Hugo Grotius and Emmerich de Vattel (legal scholars embraced by the American Founding Fathers in writing both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution), terrorist crimes always mandate universal cooperation in apprehension and punishment. As punishers of “grave breaches” under international law, all states are expected to search out and prosecute or extradite individual terrorists. In no conceivable circumstances are governments ever permitted to treat terrorist “martyrs” as legitimate “freedom fighters.”
This is emphatically true for the United States, which incorporates international law as the “supreme law of the land” at Article 6 of the Constitution, and which was formed by its Founding Fathers according to timeless principles of Natural Law. Although generally unrecognized, even by US lawyers, core legal authority for the American republic was derived from Blackstone’s Commentaries.
There is more. In law, rights can never stem from wrongs. Even if American or Israeli Jihadist adversaries continue to insist on identifying themselves as “martyrs,” such treatment can have no exculpatory or mitigating effect on subsequent terrorist crimes.
Ultimately, Jihadist insurgents are in search of the most plainly supreme form of power on earth – power over death. Derivatively, counter-terrorism policy-makers in the United States, Israel, or Europe ought never lose sight of immortality as a prime driver of terrorist crimes. Though not usually apparent or self-evident, it is the incomparable promise of power over death that could soon drive Jihadist operatives to certain “higher-order” or WMD forms of destruction.
At that point, which could become nuclear and/or biological, the key counter-terrorism struggle of “mind over mind” will already have been conclusively and irretrievably lost.
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