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Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation

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Nowadays, it is almost impossible to find a jihadist organization which does not have its own online niche because the Internet provides endless opportunities for extremists, helping to override many traditional problems. Given this operational shift, counterterrorist policies have to be revised and adjusted in order to successfully prevent terrorist activities. Also, control over the online terrorist activities is of utmost importance because, as the attack of the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers in the Boston Marathon shows, counter terrorist professionals underestimated the significance of cyberspace and information collected there.

In light of this, the new book by Weimann can be found timely and valuable for a wide audience of readers. Providing an in deep study of numerous aspects of this important issue, this masterpiece is perfect to start with for students and scholars. Gabriel Weimann’s book analyzes the expansion of terrorists’ presence on the Internet in terms of its transformation, the impact on terrorist structural organization, and strategical approaches. In particular, the author tries to project the evolution of terrorist threat and how the global community has to confront it.

CyberspaceArticulating the importance of the Internet, the author underlines in part one of the book that terrorist groups began to acquire use of the Internet in the 1990s and since that time, have continued learning and reaching critical results. For terrorists, cyberspace serves many crucial functions that have been a serious problem recently: recruitment, indoctrination, fund-raising, the spread of propaganda material, psychological warfare, information gathering, coordination, communication, and virtual training. Being in constant search for new ways of communication, terrorists have increased their presence on brand-name social platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc. According to the author, it is a serious issue in light of the fact that counterterrorist measures and the efforts of these corporations are not effective enough to prevent the circulation of extremist materials. Interestingly, the active usage of the Internet by terrorist groups alter them structurally: instead of a traditional hierarchical organization of terrorist groups with a direct chain of command, a global jihadist network with semi-independent branches has become more popular.

The second part of the book focuses on three new tendencies produced by active terrorism entering into cyberspace. The author defines the first tendency as “narrowcasting”, which means the opportunity to embrace previously unreachable categories of the population: women and children. Another tendency refers to the modification of the lone wolf phenomenon. This form of terrorism is growing and promises to become an extremely serious issue due to the availability of extremist online materials, practical instructions, and the demands for these attacks from terrorist organizations. Stressing the importance of online fatwas and forum discussions, which have become a popular form of communication among terrorists, the author examines these new tendencies in terms of counterterrorism perspectives. Also, Weimann makes a unique attempt to scrutinize Hamas websites through the e-marketing model of Chaffey and his colleagues in order to determine the logic of Hamas’s decision makers in cyberspace. Worth noticing is the fact that it is a very promising application in the search for effective terrorism deterrents.  

The third part of the book focuses on future threats and challenges. Weimann emphasizes that terrorists, who are aware of the power of the Web, demonstrate a growing intent to conduct cyberattacks on the most important infrastructures of states and are recruiting Internet savvy individuals. So far, the striking difference between jihadist and state-employed hackers is obvious in terms of their capabilities, skills, damage, technologies, targets, etc. However, the author believes that the situation will change soon. While, previously, these attacks were mostly committed by a few jihadist enthusiasts, the day is coming when they will receive serious support from an interested government or governments, who are ready to use terrorists pursuing particular political goals. As the reality of the situation indicates, several states already sponsored cyberattacks, trying to weaken their competitors. In fact, there are a number of reasons why cyberterrorism attracts terrorist organizations: anonymity, the absence of geographical obstacles, vulnerability, the extent of damage, minimal resources, and a larger psychological impact.

The Internet made terrorists more powerful as well as more vulnerable for counterterrorist measures. However, the level of presence and terrorists’ efficiency in cyberspace dramatically outpace traditionally oriented government agencies. At the end of the book, Weimann provides recommendations of how to effectively protect society from online terrorism and succeed in the ongoing virtual war. In this regard, he calls on us to revise the negative connotation of the concept of noise, which can interrupt informational flows and communication among radicals. Also, this concept will help to cover the existing theoretical gap in the comprehension of this virtual ideological war. To be effective, counterterrorism agencies have to collect information and monitor online terrorist activities, including the content of their websites, forum discussions, etc. Simultaneously, the agencies have to launch psychological attacks in order to discredit their agenda and to articulate a peaceful alternative.

This book addresses pivotal (and even interlocked) issues about the evolution of terrorism due to increasing reliance on the Web. Despite the essential difficulty and complexity of material, the author establishes a clear structure and masterfully guides readers through a diverse set of topics. It is important to underline that all materials in this book are related to each other in a very understandable manner. Despite the publication date of this book, there is no information or analysis of the most terrifying terrorist organization – the Islamic State. However, this cannot diminish the immense contribution to the terrorism studies this volume presents.

Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation
Gabriel Weimann, Woodrow Wilson Center Press with Columbia University Press, 2015

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Terrorism

UN launches new framework to strengthen fight against terrorism

MD Staff

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United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres launched a new Organization-wide framework on Thursday to coordinate efforts across the peace and security, humanitarian, human rights and sustainable development sectors.

Termed the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact, the framework is an agreement between the UN chief, 36 Organizational entities, the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and the World Customs Organization, to better serve the needs of Member States when it comes to tackling the scourge of international terrorism.

Speaking at the first meeting of the Compact’s Coordination Committee, at the UN Headquarters, in New York, Mr. Guterres highlighted the need to ensure full respect for international human rights standards and rule of law in countering terrorism.

“Policies that limit human rights only end up alienating the very communities they aim to protect and which normally have every interest in fighting extremism,” he said, adding that as a result “such policies can effectively drive people into the hands of terrorists and undermine our efforts on prevention.”

He also urged greater vigilance against the misuse of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, drones and 3D (three-dimensional) printing, as well as against the use of hate-speech and distortion of religious beliefs by extremist and terrorist groups.

According to the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, the Coordination Committee will oversee the implementation of the Compact and monitor its implementation. It is chaired by UN Under-Secretary-General for counter-terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov.

At its meeting, the Coordination Committee also discussed strategic priorities for the next two years, based on the sixth review of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, relevant Security Council resolutions and UN Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) assessments as well as Member States requests for technical help.

It also looked into the organization of work and ways to improve the delivery of an “All-of-UN” capacity-building support to Member States.

The UN Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact Task Force will replace the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, which was established in 2005 to strengthen UN system-wide coordination and coherence of counter-terrorism efforts.

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Terrorism

ISIL’s ‘legacy of terror’ in Iraq: UN verifies over 200 mass graves

MD Staff

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Investigators have uncovered more than 200 mass graves containing thousands of bodies in areas of Iraq formerly controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), according to a United Nations human rights report out on Tuesday.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said the 202 mass grave sites were found in governorates of Nineveh, Kirkuk, Salahuddin and Anbar in the north and western parts of the country – but there may be many more.

In the joint report, Unearthing Atrocities, the UN entities said the evidence gathered from the sites “will be central to ensuring credible investigations, prosecutions and convictions” in accordance with international due process standards.

Ján Kubiš, the top UN official in Iraq and the head of UNAMI, said that the mass grave sites “are a testament to harrowing human loss, profound suffering and shocking cruelty.”

“Determining the circumstances surrounding the significant loss of life will be an important step in the mourning process for families and their journey to secure their rights to truth and justice,” he added.

Between June 2014 and December 2017, ISIL seized large areas of Iraq, leading a campaign of widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, “acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possible genocide,” the report states.

Traumatized families have the ‘right to know’

The UNAMI-OHCHR report also documents the “significant challenges” families of the missing face in trying to find the fate of their loved ones.

At present, they must report to more than five separate authorities, a process that is both time-consuming and frustrating for traumatized families.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, underscored that the families “have the right to know.”

“ISIL’s horrific crimes in Iraq have left the headlines but the trauma of the victims’ families endures, with thousands of women, men and children still unaccounted for,” she said.

“Their families have the right to know what happened to their loved ones. Truth, justice and reparations are critical to ensuring a full reckoning for the atrocities committed by ISIL.”

The report documents 202 mass grave sites across Iraq, amid fears that there could be more. Source: UNAMI-OHCHR report

Victim-centred approach needed

Among its recommendations, the report calls for a victim-centred approach and a transitional justice process that is established in consultation with, and accepted by, Iraqis, particularly those from affected communities.

It also urges a multidisciplinary approach to the recovery operations, with the participation of experienced specialists, including weapons contamination and explosives experts and crime scene investigators.

Alongside, it also calls on the international community to provide resources and technical support to efforts related to the exhumation, collection, transportation, storage and return of human remains to families, as well as their identification, particularly by helping strengthen the national Mass Graves Directorate.

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The Islamic State’s reviving scheme

Ahmed Genidy

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Despite the fact that ISIS lost 98 percent of its controlled territory, it is aiming for a reforming and coming back in the Sunni populated areas in Syria and Iraq. Due to the current war situation and its developed financial resource. ISIS used to relay on the territory under its control to collect billions of dollars through criminal activities such as taxation, extortion, robbery and the illegal sale of the curd oil. Now the group has shown its ability to collect money regardless of controlling large areas.

After the rise of ISIS in 2015 and the takeover of vast areas in Syria and Iraq, its budget estimation reached $6 billion, as a result, the Islamic State is considered as the wealthiest terrorist entity in the history. The question posed is how such a terrorist group budget could become equivalent to a state-nation budget? In 2015 the Islamic State main financial resources were; oil and gaze which gathered about 500$ million in 2015; taxation that generated approximately $360 million in the same year and finally; about $500 million robbed from bank vaults in Mosul.

Today the situation is different, the Islamic State has lost the majority of its territory. The global coalition had destroyed ISIS infrastructures in the Middle East as well as its communication routes and had killed the idea of the hegemonic Islamic caliphate in the region. Meanwhile, the Islamic State is struggling to control the last 2 percent of its territory. Therefore, its revenue stream from the main resources has been rapidly shrinking out.

As a result, ISIS no longer relies on the controlled territory for its financial survival. For example, ISIS leadership may have smuggled around $400 million out of Syria and Iraq. Laundering this money through fake entity is likely to occur especially in Turkey. Some other cash could be converted into valuable items and stockpiled to be used in the future.

The stockpile cash will provide the group with more than enough fund to continue as a clandestine terrorist movement with the ability to conduct campaigns of guerrilla warfare in the region. On the other hand, ISIS has supported its financial situation with a variety of funding portfolio. It has developed a range of criminal activities that do not require controlling territories such as kidnapping for ransom, drug smuggling and trafficking in antiquities.

Over the next years, the international community seeks to provide help for Syria and Iraq to recover. The reconstruction aid could provide an attractive target for the Islamic State and a possible financial boost to its comeback. It is possible that the Islamic State begins skimming off reconstruction contracts, the only way is to establish connections with the local officials which is not difficult for a terrorist entity with a huge amount of cash. Finally, the rise of the Iranian threats in the region reflects in many stakeholder’s fears from an Iranian’s control through Hezbollah over ISIS past territories. Therefore, a continuing support from regional states to the terrorist group is possible if ISIS adopts a suitable strategy to the supporters interests in the region.

The combination of the criminal activities, the reconstruction plan and the regional states financial support in the future will encourage the Islamic State to regroup and reorganize. For instance, in Kirkuk, the militants created a fake checkpoint to attack security forces earlier this year. Moreover, in Diyala and Saladin, sleeper cells activity began to hit back. The U.S. policy in the Middle East tends to view the war on terror as separate phases while jihadis consider it as one long war. Until the West recognize this, ISIS is likely to come over to repeat its strategy and to reviving the Islamic caliphate project in the future.

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