[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap] series of Salafist, jihadi terrorist attacks erupting at the onset of 2017 Ramadan portends a summer of terror for the West. Britain went to the polls Thursday on the heels of double attacks — Manchester and London – and two days ago ISIS targeted the Iranian Parliament. And now Al-Qaeda has stepped out of the ISIS shadow and seeks to be the premier mentor for Salafist assassins everywhere.
Both ISIS and al-Qaeda recently issued statements directing their followers to carry out inspired and semi-directed attacks, but the good news is that the posted guidance can be used to predict future strikes.
Three pieces of evidence are key. First, ISIS has re-issued statements and broadcasts from the late Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani, killed in August 30, 2016 by a U.S. air strike near Mosul. Adnani was ISIS director of intelligence and special operations and spokesperson who was credited with recruiting dozens of terrorists to stage “homegrown” terror attacks in Europe. Last May he ordered a series of attacks during Ramadan that reportedly killed more than 700 people. Additionally, current ISIS spokesman Abul-Hasan Al-Muhajir called for attacks in the United States, Europe, Russia, Australia, Iraq, Syria, Iran and the Philippines during Ramadan via an audio clip distributed on ISIS Telegram channels on June 12. Abul-Hasan Al-Muhajir’s speech was immediately translated to several other languages and widely distributed among ISIS members over numerous ISIS social media accounts.
Third, the son of Osama bin Laden and heir of the al-Qaeda terror franchise, Hamza bin Laden, issued a highly specific guidance for attacks in the West in a revealing, ten-minute video May 14.
These three sets of marching orders are extremely important to terrorist cadres and should be studied by security professionals. Initially, ISIS and al-Qaeda leadership will try to mobilize their members in the West to carry out attacks through the orders of central leadership. These efforts will focus planning on operations similar to ISIS attacks in Paris two years ago. In addition to these, ISIS and al-Qaeda seek to catalyze some attacks planned by jihadists entirely on their own without any direct involvement or direction of leadership.
In the long term, the key to pre-emption is counter-intelligence penetration of the jihadist community itself and face-to-face engagement with the suspected terrorist. The terror cells do all that they can to prevent this. Both ISIS and al-Qaeda teach their cadres during training two important rules as soon as they start their indoctrinations. The first rule is “to hear and obey” regardless of any circumstances. Through this first lesson Salafist organizations try to make sure that their orders will be carried out without any discussions and as a religious duty. Disciples who refuse to obey frequently are executed as examples. The second rule is “not to involve themselves with the teachings and literature of other Islamic traditions and not to communicate or discuss their ideologies with others even if they are family members” so as to isolate their cadres from the outside world. The isolation ensures the status quo of coercive mental conditioning.
Effective counter-terrorism over the long haul requires that the shell of secrecy and self-imposed mind control be penetrated. Because the cadres are taught not to discuss what they believe and what their plans are even with their close family members, it is all the more difficult for law enforcement to find out what their intentions are. These rules for terror cells ensure that terrorists survive among adverse environments, keep their belief systems intact and their true intentions hidden. Therefore, eliciting the terrorist’s own self-understanding and reversing it is a labor-intensive, long-term project not only for counter-terrorism professionals but for trusted mentors, teachers, Imams and psychologists.
Based on my 20 years of counterterrorism field experience as a chief of counterterrorism and operations department in Turkey and as a counterterrorism academic, I recommend three short-term measures to diminish or eliminate the immediate threats.
First, lock up the known players. The known threats are the jihadist fighters returning from Syria and Iraq. Thousands of terrorists who had been in the combat zones fighting for different terrorist organizations, including 400 former ISIS fighters in the UK alone, frequently are known to intelligence agencies. These experienced terrorists often form the backbone or strongest existence of terrorist groups in the host countries. At the very least, they will recruit new people even if they themselves do not carry out attacks. And past attacks clearly indicate that returnees have been involved; witness the Paris and Belgium attacks. It is essential that any known returnee is kept under detention, laws permitting, until a court proceeding rules that they are not threats.
Second, immediately implement 24/7 surveillance of ideological and known allies/supporters. Electronic surveillance should include top names on a prioritized list in each Western country. In all these countries jihadist supporters are known to intelligence agencies. True, not all those people constitute a threat, but they pose greater risk to their societies as twice happened with the recent attacks in the UK. These people are susceptible to be influenced by the terrorist organizations due to favorable feelings toward Salafist jihadi ideologies. An experienced and well-trained counterterrorism analyst or officer can easily pick up the clues through surveillance of listed suspects in the case an attack is being planned. Controlling the base population of terrorists is essential to preventing terrorist attacks as they are the most important tools of terrorist organizations abroad. Consider the fact that many of the individuals, as happened in the UK and the other attacks in Europe, were known to the intelligence agencies and yet they were able to carry out attacks.
Third, harden the targets. Thanks to Hamza bin Laden’s specific target priority list in his last video call, officials know which facilities and persons are the most at risk. Experience shows that the terrorists will abandon targets that are well guarded.
For example, the ISIS Reina nightclub attacker in Istanbul did not carry out his attack against the Taksim Square as planned because of heavy police presence. The jihadist decided on the spot to attack the Reina nightclub which was protected by a single security guard.
Counterterrorism business has deadly consequences, if not appropriately implemented. The principal success of countering terrorism is the prevention of attacks before they occur.
‘Disturbing spike’ in Afghan civilian casualties after peace talks began
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan witnessed a sharp rise since peace negotiations started in September last year, even though overall deaths and injuries dropped in 2020, compared to the previous year, according to a UN human rights report launched Tuesday.
In their annual Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA) documented some 8,820 civilian casualties (3,035 deaths and 5,785 injuries) in 2020, about 15 per cent less than in 2019.
It was also the first time the figure fell below 10,000 since 2013.
However, the country remains amongst the “deadliest places in the world to be a civilian”, according to Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“I am particularly appalled by the high numbers of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers killed since peace negotiations began in September”, she said.
At least 11 rights defenders, journalists and media workers lost their lives since September, resulting in many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs, and even leaving their homes and the country – in hope it will improve their safety.
Rise in ‘targeted killings’
According to the report, the overall drop in civilian casualties in 2020 was due to fewer casualties from suicide attacks by anti-Government elements in populated areas, as well as drop in casualties attributed to international military forces.
There was, however, a “worrying rise” in targeted killings by such elements – up about 45 per cent over 2019. The use of pressure-plate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by the Taliban, air strikes by the Afghan Air Force, and ground engagements also resulted in increased casualties, the report said.
According to the report, anti-Government elements bore responsibility for about 62 per cent civilian casualties, while pro-Government forces were responsible for about 25 per cent casualties. About 13 per cent of casualties were attributed to crossfire and other incidents.
2020 could have been ‘a year of peace’
Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, called on all parties to take immediate and concrete action to protect civilians, urging them “not to squander a single day in taking the urgent steps to avoid more suffering”.
“2020 could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished due to the conflict”, Ms. Lyons said.
The “overriding objective” of the report is to provide the parties responsible with the facts, and recommendations, so they take immediate and concrete steps to protect civilians, she added.
Ms. Lyons highlighted that “ultimately, the best way to protect civilians is to establish a humanitarian ceasefire” – a call consistently made by Secretary-General António Guterres and the Security Council.
“Parties refusing to consider a ceasefire must recognize the devastating consequences of such a posture on the lives of Afghan civilians.”
UNAMA-OHCHR report: Women casualties (killings and injuries) documented between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2020
‘Shocking toll’ on women and children
The report went on to note that the years-long conflict in Afghanistan “continues to wreak a shocking and detrimental toll” on women and children, who accounted for 43 per cent of all civilian casualties – 30 per cent children and 13 per cent women.
“This report shows the acute, lasting needs of victims of the armed conflict and demonstrates how much remains to be done to meet those needs in a meaningful way”, High Commissioner Bachelet said.
“The violence that has brought so much pain and suffering to the Afghan population for decades must stop and steps towards reaching a lasting peace must continue.”
Attacking civilians ‘serious violations’
With the conflict continuing, parties must do more to prevent and mitigate civilian casualties, the report said, urging them to fully implement the report’s recommendations and to ensure that respect and protection of human rights is central to the ongoing peace negotiations.
It also reminded the parties that deliberately attacking civilians or civilian objects are serious violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes.
Is Blacklisting on Cards for Pakistan?
Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has been an integral part of the economic decision making and regulatory procedures of the country. The days of the ultimate decision are finally on cards as the Global Watchdog is expected to evaluate and review the performance and strategies of Pakistan via virtual meeting tentatively scheduled for February 22-25, 2021. This would be a much-anticipated review since a keen eye would be payed following a long hiatus to the litigations recently undertaken by the country to eliminate the risks and gaps in the financial framework which might earn Pakistan, a way out from the grey list. However, while the preceding meeting only guided more hopes for better litigation and measures to curb terror financing, brimming foreign propaganda and nefarious rulings within the country itself might hamper the way out but instead could dig the trench further towards a harrowing financial turmoil.
Pakistan was placed on the grey list back in June 2018 due to strategic deficiencies. Just before the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in the world, Pakistan was allowed a breather of 4-months to comply with the 27-point action plan; of which Pakistan met only 14 targets while missing out on the rest of 13 targets. Moreover, Pakistan could only satisfy 10 of a total of 40 recommendations devised by the task force. These lags led to a major pitfall in the Pakistan’s Stock Market; PSX plummeting bellow 30,000 points. Furthermore, a bitter narrative started blooming regarding arch-rival India pulling all the strings to push Pakistan down further, even in the blacklist. This was largely shunned by the Indian representatives but the failure of the economic and diplomatic front of Pakistan was evident by now.
The FATF plenary was scheduled, like traditionally, in June. However, all scheduled evaluations and review procedures were deferred for 4-months in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing yet another unforeseen yet thoroughly welcomed relief span to Pakistan to strive more actively to meet the requirements.
In the preceding 4 months, Pakistan acutely worked to amend the contradicting laws and policies, the parliament playing an agile role to introduce new bills relating to counter-terrorism and countering money laundering as an act to expedite compliance to the international laws and ultimately meeting up all 27 points in the action plan. Almost all the bills presented, albeit some political resistance, were eventually passed which even led to optimism in the stock market; PSX climbing back over 40,000 points after more than half a year, rallying to record high levels despite of the pandemic wreaking havoc on the investors’ mentality across the globe.
The meeting held, after a steep deferral, back in October 2020; the FATF committee observed and commended on the vigilant stance assumed by Pakistan to crawl out of the Grey list. Pakistan has since delivered on 22 out of the 27 core points of the action plan defined. However, the meetings adjourned till February, retaining Pakistan in the grey list under the tag of ‘jurisdiction under enhanced monitoring’ whilst praising the steps of counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering adopted by Islamabad.
Pakistan was warned back in February last year that if not complied by the 27-point action plan, it could be a great threat to the foreign mechanism and would be eventually moved to the monitored jurisdiction, notoriously also known as the ‘Blacklist’. Later this month, FATF would examine if Pakistan meets the 8 key categories of the action plan; remedial actions taken against money laundering, counterfeit terrorism while also reviewing the vigilance of the institutions in countering Terror Financing and actively managing risk. The committee representing Pakistan would perpetually convince the plenary that the country in-fact meets the criteria and transitioning over the next month, the fate of the tormented economy would finally prevail in light of the decision made.
However, Pakistan has been sluggish in taking action against the notorious entities linked to terrorism around the region. The meeting nears with the pinned watch of UN regarding Pakistan’s role of providing a safe haven to Lashkar-e-Taiba founder, Hafiz Saeed, or the notorious acquittal of Ahmed Omer Sheikh, the prime culprit of the Daniel Pearle Murder case of 2002. Pakistan, however, claims to have made virtue on 22 of the defined 27 points while has garnered ‘Substantial progress’ on the remaining 5 points. Thus, the optimism brews that the meeting would push the country out of the list and would open more financial avenues especially in these distressful conditions.
Although Pakistan’s Foreign Office including the Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, appears optimistic to climb out of the grey list after 3 years, the infamous decisions passed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the excessive money laundering cases surging against the ex-office holders of Pakistan and the determined efforts of India to subvert Pakistan in global politics, all thwart down that optimism bit by bit. And while some of the economic experts claim that the decision of advancing Pakistan off the Grey list would be naïve move and would arguably impact regional dynamics, the decision could fall in tandem with the preceding outcome of sustaining the grey list status or could deteriorate the level further as gauged by a political expert, opining his narrative: “The facts demand that Pakistan remain on the grey list. The FATF shouldn’t just keep Pakistan on the grey list. It should rather warn Islamabad that absent rapid and wide-ranging reform; blacklisting is coming”.
Europe Must Confront Iranian Regime’s Terrorism
After a two-and-a-half-year investigation, on 4thFebruary 2021, a Belgian court sentenced four culprits for attempting to bomb a large gathering of tens of thousands, including politicians and dignitaries, at a global summit organized by the Iranian opposition – the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) – in Villipinte, France in June 2018.
The perpetrators who attempted to attack the global summit included Assadollah Assadi, a senior accredited Iranian diplomat, who received the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on attempted murder and terrorism charges – and his three accomplices who were imprisoned for 15,17, and 18 years, respectively. This was the first time that an Iranian diplomat was convicted in Europe.
The conviction and the sheer scale of the crime requires the EU to reconsider its approach to the Iranian regime.
The 2018 global summit was attended by tens of thousands of people who advocate for democracy and freedom in Iran. If the foiled terrorist plot had been successful, thousands of innocent people, including European citizens and prominent political figures, would have been killed or injured. The head of Belgium’s national security has blamed the Iranian regime for orchestrating the attack, including Iran’s Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Intelligence and Security who played a significant part in the execution of the attack.
Such terrorism-related trials are not new for the regime. In 1997, the regime was tried for a major terrorist act in Germany. The proceedings were called the Mykonos trial after a Berlin restaurant in which regime agents gunned down several opponents.
In a report dated April 10, 1997, the European Union’s Presidency stated: “The High Court of Justice’s findings in Berlin in the Mykonos case indicates Iranian regime officials’ involvement at the highest level.”
On April 29, 1997, the Council of the European Union reaffirmed that progress in normalizing relations between the EU and Iran would only be possible if Tehran’s officials respect international law and cease terrorist acts, including those against Iranians residing abroad. When the regime refused to comply,Europe made a declaration to expel Iranian nationals with intelligence and security ties. Twelve countries that were not members of the European Union at the time also complied with the declaration.
21 years after the Mykonos trial, Assadi used his diplomatic cover to take a high-powered explosive on a passenger plane from Iran to Austria. He then personally handed it over to two intelligence agents to detonate it at the NCRI rally in Paris. The irrefutable evidence in this case shows Iranian regime officials’ involvement at the highest levels.
Separately, the regime’s ambassador and three diplomats were expelled from Albania (January 2020), three diplomats were expelled from France and the Netherlands (March 2018), and a diplomat was expelled from Denmark (October 2018) in the wake of the regime’s terrorist plots. All of these expulsions reveal the involvement of the regime’s embassies, Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Intelligence and Security to create terror in the European region.
Despite all of this, the EU has not taken any serious measures to counter the regime’s belligerence.
Europe’s failure to take appropriate actions has emboldened Tehran. Inaction reassures the regime that it can act with impunity, even in Europe. Europe has essentially communicated to the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism that not even an attempt to bomb a peaceful gathering, which could lead to the killing of hundreds of European citizens, would bear any consequences. Thus, Europe’s appeasement is in large part fueling the regime’s aggression.
It is naive to speculate that Tehran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif did not know about this conspiracy. Zarif sits on the Supreme National Security Council, which approves all such major security decisions. Additionally, his ministry and embassies serve as logistical and operational centers for terrorism and espionage.
Those who hatched and approved this terrorist plot, none other than senior Iranian leadership, must be brought to justice. This step is a necessary deterrent against Tehran, the godfather of international terrorism.
German security officials are reportedly still investigating the numerous trips that Assadi made throughout Europe, where he helped establish an extensive Iranian regime spy network across the region. At the time of his arrest, he had received several receipts for payment of money. The identities of money recipients have yet to be determined. The regime has always used its embassies and so-called religious and cultural centers abroad as centers of espionage against its opponents.
Normalizing diplomatic relations with the Iranian regime must be made contingent on disbanding its terrorist apparatus in Europe and ensuring that it will never again engage in terrorism in Europe. By taking this critical step, European leaders will protect their own citizens and effectively counter the regime’s terrorist threats.
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