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Wanted Dead or Alive: The Frustrating, Failing Hunt for ISIS Leader Baghdadi

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Authors: Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. & Ardian Shajkovci, Ph.D. 

Last month Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi declared the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq. Yet a pressing question remains—where is Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the terrorist group that took over a third of Iraq’s territory in 2014 to establish the so-called caliphate, which terrorized millions in the region, horrified people all over the world, and inspired gruesome attacks in Europe and the United States?

Despite a $25 million U.S. State Department bounty on his head, al Baghdadi has managed to evade capture and death repeatedly. This, even with the fury of the U.S., Russian, Syrian, and Iraqi militaries focused on killing him.

While we were in Baghdad as researchers from the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) last month interviewing cadres from the so-called Islamic State who, unlike their leader, were caught and brought to justice, an Iraqi prison interrogator asked, “With all of your country’s military might why is it that the U.S. can’t find al Baghdadi?”

It’s a good question.

Intelligence is best informed from on-the-ground sources, which, in the case of ISIS, the Americans lack. Western intelligence services have found it nearly impossible to insert spies into the terrorist organization. Jordanian sources claimed to us to have done so, and in Jordan’s case there is also a corroborating news story of an agent who had infiltrated and served as a commander in ISIS being airlifted out before the coalition’s final assault on the ISIS capital Raqqa.

Several Kosovar government officials also have told ICSVE researchers about their attempts to infiltrate the organization, but admit they failed. One of them was discovered and killed. And while the Israeli Mossad and Russia may have succeeded (that is certainly what they would like us to believe), it’s not clear that the intelligence received from any of these actors is, or was, coming out of the organization in real time.

Clearly no government or intelligence service has enough information to kill al Baghdadi.

During interviews with 66 ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners to date, ICSVE researchers have learned that all cadres are highly controlled. Mobile phones are often taken from them. Those allowed to keep them often have their messages checked. Surveillance of communications is extremely tight. The fate of anyone accused of betraying ISIS is likely to be beheading. In our interviews we often heard of Russians, especially, decapitated after having been accused as spies—claims often made only out of suspicion and with little to no evidence backing them up.

The ISIS Emni (also written Amn or Amni, the intelligence arm of ISIS) was constantly on the alert for enemies within its own ranks, overseeing any external communications and carefully vetting those who joined. Recruits who appeared in Syria and Iraq without personal references spent time under Emni investigation, and often were sent directly to the front lines. The thinking was that if they took up arms, fought valiantly on behalf of the group and managed to survive, they were allowed in. If they died, “martyrdom” was their fate, and if they were true believers, they went to Paradise. Otherwise, to Hell.

Keep in mind as well, that ISIS is not just an agglomeration of fanatical volunteers, as it is sometimes portrayed. Its core structure was formed by a group of highly trained Iraqi former military and intelligence officers from Saddam Hussein’s government who were angry when they were dismissed and sent home following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Ultimately they allied with the short-lived but utterly savage group of jihadists that formed around the Jordanian firebrand Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who had won grudging recognition from Osama bin Laden as the leader of what became known as al Qaeda in Iraq.

The search for Zarqawi from 2003 until the Americans killed him in 2006 gives a glimpse of what’s going on now in the hunt for al Baghdadi.

Nada Bakos was one of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s “targeting officers” on Zarqawi’s trail. Now no longer with the CIA, she explained in a recent interview with the History Channel for a series about the ultimate demise of Adolf Hitler, “a targeting officer is a person who is analyzing information for the purposes of making it actionable—whether it’s working with the military or something the Agency itself could do.”

One sifts through “mountains and mountains” of information, said Bakos. “Everybody leaves a trace. … Everybody leaves some kind of footprint and some kind of pattern that you can find. Every human being is driven to seek out certain things: food, water, shelter, connection with other people. There are very basic instincts that drive a person to exist. And those leave a pattern.”

One also looks for weaknesses, and characteristics that set the prey apart: “Vulnerabilities of people on the run would include if they had a medical issue—understanding what that medical issue is and what they needed to treat that—family members, close friends, if they were interested in a particular area of the world, what they’d considered home,” said Bakos. “You’re trying to paint a picture of where someone might end up going—and what their strategy was and what their intent was.”

Zarqawi was “an evil maniac,” Bakos said. Indeed, more than a dozen years ago, he was drawing world attention to himself by beheading hostages, setting a gruesome precedent embraced enthusiastically by his ideological heirs. As he was pursued, “It was really all about trying to figure out where within the network would he feel safest,” said Bakos. “Where does he want to communicate from? How does he want to live and exist in day-to-day life? We knew he had family members who are around him once in a while. Trying to envision what it was that drove him to exist in the way he wanted to. What did he want his life to look like?”

Eventually the Special Operations task force pursuing Zarqawi learned that an imam and learned Islamic scholar he considered his spiritual advisor would be meeting him at a house outside the Iraqi city of Baquba in June 2006. Drones followed the imam’s car, and when the cleric entered the building, an American F16 flattened it with two 500-pound bombs.

But, Bakos notes something else we might want to remember as we look at the hunt for Baghdadi. Zarqawi’s organization “was literally a network of nodes and power centers,” and not very hierarchical, according to Bakos. Which meant that even after his death and even after what appeared to be a near-complete defeat in Iraq, the group was able to scatter, regroup, and reorganize in Syria, eventually re-emerging as the so-called Islamic State under the leadership, whether real or titular, of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

WE NOTICED THAT in our interviews very few of the former ISIS cadres we’ve spoken with, even those serving in the high ranks of ISIS, report having seen al Baghdadi in person. Since his infamous 2014 video recording from a mosque in Mosul where he declared the establishment of the ISIS “caliphate,” al Baghdadi has lived a reclusive life, only occasionally posting statements online. Despite being the leader of one of the most virulent terrorist organizations to date, the intelligence officers surrounding him have kept his location and movements a closely guarded secret.

That ISIS learned from its predecessor and sister terrorist organizations how to protect its leader should not be a surprise. Those from the intelligence world of Saddam Hussein knew what to do to avoid repetition of the attempted and actual executions of Chechen terrorist leaders Basayev and al Khattab by the Russians, and Abu Musab al Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden by the United States, respectively. From the first moments of the formation of the ISIS caliphate the ISIS intelligence operatives took steps to minimize the possibility that al Baghdadi would meet the same fate and the organization would be prematurely decapitated.

So, finding al Baghdadi is not as simple as relying on the technical prowess of the American military, as our Iraqi interrogator believed. The highly precise and round-the-clock satellite surveillance that the United States employs and the sophisticated drones that can zoom in to search the ground in the greatest detail do very little to inform when the likes of al Baghdadi can scurry through the labyrinth of tunnels in Mosul and elsewhere that were built by ISIS. And when those tunnels are no longer available to him, al Baghdadi has the additional advantage of transforming his appearance, perhaps even disguising himself as an Arab woman hiding under a niqab to evade surveillance, as other ISIS cadres have attempted to do. While the U.S. troops and the U.S. supported Kurdish forces scour telephone intercepts, al Baghdadi almost certainly learned, as Osama bin Laden did, that he could only communicate with relative safety via couriers.

FOLLOWING THE 2003 U.S.-LED invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein was found hiding in a hole in the ground. This was not the result of the $25 million bounty that also was put on his head. It took the Americans many months to catch Saddam after mounting a massive hunt for him. The capture was finally accomplished by pulling in his former bodyguards who, under interrogation, gave bits and pieces that finally led to the discovery of Saddam’s whereabouts. At the time of his capture, Saddam may also have lacked the kind of devoted network that al Baghdadi can still rely on, with as many as 20,000 ISIS cadres that have melted back into society, according to Iraqi officials. It’s also apparent that the ISIS Emni knows how to spirit its members across international borders.

Like the proverbial cat with nine lives, al Baghdadi has been reported killed, yet resurfaced multiple times‍.

Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, chief of the U.S.-led coalition battling ISIS in Iraq and Syria told a conference call with journalists at the end of August, as he was about to rotate out of his assignment, that he thought al Baghdadi was still at large, but the question of where was left vague, to say the least.

“I don’t have a clue. He could be anywhere in the world for all I know,” said Townsend.

“Here’s what I think. I think he’s somewhere in Iraq and Syria. I think he’s probably somewhere in the Middle Euphrates River Valley.”

This is an area, often referred to by the acronym MERV, that runs about 250 kilometers from around Deir ez-Zour in Syria to Rawah in Iraq. “That’s where they believe their last sanctuary is,” said Townsend. “So I think he’s probably somewhere down there.”

But Townsend noted that fighting in MERV would not be like the siege of a city or a neighborhood. “You can’t really just contain the whole Euphrates River valley and starve them out. It’s too big. It’s too complex,” he said. And there is the added complication that rival forces—the Russians and the Syrian army of Bashar Assad with its allied Iran-backed militias—have converged on the area at the same time as the U.S.-led coalition and its allies, which have approached from the opposite side of the river. Obviously, time that might be spent hunting for al Baghdadi is spent avoiding clashes between the forces converging to kill or capture him.

“We’re looking for him every day,” said Townsend. “When we find him, I think we’ll just try to kill him first. It’s probably not worth all the trouble to try and capture him.”

That was more than four months ago, and the fighting, and the hunting, continues—along with the deconfliction issues. “We’re piling up a lot of airplanes in a very small piece of sky,” a senior U.S. Air Force officer in the operation told The New York Times at the end of December. Two senior figures, Abu Faysal and his deputy Abu Qudamah al Iraqi, were taken out by an airstrike on Dec. 1.

According to Daily Beast contributor Wladimir van Wilgenburg, who has followed the Syrian combat closely on the ground, “There are some remaining pockets of ISIS militants along the east bank of the Euphrates River [in Syria] and in the desert along the border with Iraq. Earlier this week 70 ISIS fighters and their families reportedly handed themselves over to the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces. So it’s possible Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is either in those pockets or in the desert. Most likely in the desert.”

Several Iraqi security officials that we spoke to last month said they strongly believe al Baghdadi is still around. Kurdish intelligence chief Lahur Talabany figured “99 percent he is alive.” Talabany cited the history of ISIS and its roots as al Qaeda in Iraq, which dispersed like bees when the hive was destroyed, then came back together in a swarm.

The man is wanted “dead or alive” but nobody seems to be sure which he is just now, which probably is just they way he’d like it.

“ABU BAKR AL BAGHDADI” is a kunya, a pseudonym similar to names many ISIS members give themselves indicating where they come from. In his case it means the father of Bakr, from Baghdad. In fact he was born in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in 1971, and his real name is Awwad Ibrahim Ali al Badri al Samarrai.

As head of the so-called Islamic State, Baghdadi sought to legitimize his claim as “caliph” with claims that his family ancestry traces back to the Prophet Muhammad, and because he had post-graduate training in Islamic studies.

But in operational terms a more important figure may have been Abu Muhammad al Adnani, often described as al Baghdadi’s right-hand man and the voice of the organization. He was the powerful head of the ISIS Emni who served as the “emir” of the Syrian territories and director of overseas operations, including horrific attacks in Europe. Unlike Baghdadi, Adnani was known for his battlefield strategy, prolific propaganda, and international plotting. He was killed by a coalition airstrike in 2016.

In the Zarqawi days, al Baghdadi was reported to have fallen out with Zarqawi, condemning his brutal bombings of Shiites. Yet when al Baghdadi came to head ISIS—and broke with al Qaeda’s core leadership—his terror organization became the most brutal seen to date, continuing the indiscriminate slaughter of Shia Muslims. And what is known of al Baghdadi’s personal heartlessness is no different than that of Zarqawi.

American hostage Kayla Mueller was held for a time with a half-dozen Yazidi girls as sex slaves for al Baghdadi in the home of Abu Sayyaf, a Tunisian working as the ISIS oil and gas emir. Hostages held with Mueller, reported that she frequently was called for by al Baghdadi who raped her mercilessly. She was killed in 2014.

Al Baghdadi harbored a deep hatred for the U.S. after his capture by the Americans in 2004 and the 10 months he spent in Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib. Some credit his time in the U.S.-run prison as connecting him to other jihadis, although his ties to Zarqawi mean he was already well connected, and others wonder what effect the abuses in Abu Ghraib had on shaping his own subsequent actions.

In 2013, al Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced that AQI and Jabhat al-Nusra terror groups were merging under the name “Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham” and later as the Islamic State. In 2014 he declared the ISIS Caliphate from Mosul and himself the Caliph—his only video performance to date. His latest public missive in September 2017, following an 11-month silence, was an audio recording urging his forces to resist the American supported Iraqi incursion into Mosul and to mount attacks worldwide. American forces judged it as authentic and current.

Iraqi Sunnis in Baghdad told us that he still sends messages to his followers, although they are likely relying on rumors. American intelligence sources have told CNN that they have failed to intercept any ISIS communications confirming his death and that given his stature in the organization, the U.S. expects to see significant chatter discussing his demise should he be killed.

In December 2017 an Iraqi Ministry of Intelligence officials told us, “Iraqis may turn up the heat on trying to catch him in the next three months, as it will be good propaganda for the Prime Minister to do so while facing his bid for reelection.” That said, another MOI officer shrugged off questions about the hunt for al Baghdadi, asking in return, “Does it matter anymore? ISIS is defeated.”

It does.

In Iraq, officials estimate from 6,000 to 20,000 ISIS cadres have melted back into the landscape, which means the group may still harbor the capabilities and manpower to carry out guerrilla warfare with smaller scale suicide attacks and bombings, particularly if there is a leader to order it. But at this point, even without their leaders, ISIS and al Qaeda have spawned a social movement of small actors who attack on their own.

Likewise, for all that ISIS has lost—the territory that it once claimed as the caliphate, the oil fields from which it derived the wealth and revenues to enable it to finance weapons supplies and salaries for its fighters, its ability to enslave and sell captured women, its clandestine theft and sale of antiquities and other valuables, and its ability to impose taxes on those who lived under it—the ISIS dream still remains.

Even ISIS defectors and prisoners, while expressing their disillusionment with the group and its tactics, often show evidence of remaining loyalty to the ISIS dream they were sold. The Islamic State’s offer to young men and women the world over who are frustrated with injustices, political inequalities, and lack of opportunities still remains. The ISIS promise to join in building a new form of governance that they falsely claim will uphold Islamic ideals, be inclusive and offer justice and opportunities to all Muslims is a heady one. This utopian dream of the true Islamic Caliphate peddled throughout the world by ISIS has not been destroyed.

The fact that al Baghdadi is at large may make it seem to those true believes even more possible to resurrect the defeated empire.

As Gen. Townsend put it last August, “In 2014, the world watched in horror as ISIS seized more than 100,000 square kilometers of Syria and Iraq and brought more than 7 million people under its barbaric control. ISIS was something the world had rarely seen before. ISIS is the most evil entity I have encountered in my lifetime.”

Not only must we break the ISIS brand totally, discrediting entirely the dream they have sold as possible to achieve through violence and brutality, we must also do all we can to continue the hunt for the 25 Million Dollar Man, so that, one way or another, those who supported him and those he victimized can see he has been made to pay for all the crimes against humanity carried out under his leadership.

—with additional reporting by Christopher Dickey

Reference for this Article: Speckhard, Anne & Shajkovci, Ardian (1-6-2018) Wanted Dead or Alive: The Frustrating, Failing Hunt for ISIS Leader Baghdadi, Daily Beast 

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). She has interviewed over 500 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, the Balkans, the former Soviet Union and many countries in Europe. She is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Follow @AnneSpeckhard

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Think like Jihadist: Anatomy of Central Asian Salafi groups

Uran Botobekov

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Salafi Jihadism has become a serious problem in Central Asia that encompasses five former Soviet republics – Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan – collectively known as the “Five Stans”, as well as Afghanistan and western China. Central Asia, which was for 3,000 years a place of revival of main religions such as Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Shamanism, Manichaeism, Nestorian Christianity and Judaism, and where the great Sunni Islamic scholars as al-Bukhari, al-Ghazali, and Ahmed Yesevi lived, today has become a target for militant Salafi-Jihadist ideology.

In Central Asia, the focus of Islamic revival and of Jihadists groups has been the Ferghana Valley, a densely populated and ethnically mainly Uzbek territory divided politically between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The valley has traditionally been a center of Islamic fervor, and was the area where Salafists first established a presence. The mass poverty of the population, the drop in the level of education after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the corrupt and authoritarian rule of political regimes, and the repressive methods of law enforcement have played a role in the radicalization of Islamic groups in Central Asia.

In the early 1990s, the first armed jihadist groups in the region appeared in response to harsh persecution by the authoritarian regimes of communist China and Karimov’s Uzbekistan. In that period, many members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and China’s Uyghurs of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (now Turkestan Islamic Party – TIP) who adhered to the Salafist ideology, moved to neighboring Afghanistan and fought under the wing of the Taliban. The combination of repressive governments and economic deprivation in Central Asia, particularly China, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, served as an incubator of Salafi Jihadism. After 9/11, Central Asia’s jihadists, who are members of IMU and TIP, were the mainstay of Al Qaeda’s defense in southern Waziristan as well as participants in the fight against the armies of Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO.

Central Asian jihadist groups are supporters of Takfirizm, a kind of religious extremism that accuses other Muslims of disbelief or apostasy. This ideology became the banner of the caliphate and led to jihad against other Muslims and open disobedience against the authorities. These practices are part of the legacy of the Takfirist instructions and ideas that emerged from the Al-Qaida environment.

Many of Central Asia’s Islamists have been infected with the “virus” of the Salafi ideology from Arab preachers and local theologians who were educated in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt. After the link into al-Qaeda and Taliban, they laid an accusation of unbelief (takfir) against the rulers of the “Stans”. They refused to recognize official state institutions and declared jihad against the armed forces of their respective countries.

In response, the governments of the“Stans” and China have suppressed, and continue to suppress, the activities of more than twenty Islamic groups that are recognized by the court as extremist or terrorist organizations, which constitute a danger to the state’s constitutional order. In particular, the activities of the following Islamic groups have been suppressed: The Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan, Katibat Imam al Bukhari (KIB), TIP, Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ), IMU,Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), Zhaishul Mahdi, Jund-Al-Khalifa, Ansarullah, Jannat Oshiklari (Fans of Paradise), and others.

The second wave of the outflow of Central Asian Islamists abroad occurred after the start of the Syrian civil war. After the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011 and ISIS emerged as a competing alternative to al-Qaeda three years later, the thousands of Central Asian jihadists who streamed into Syria had to decide between al Qaeda and ISIS.

Some jihadists of IMU and Jund-Al-Khalifa shifted to Syria and joined ISIS. Central Asians, and especially the migrant workers from Russia, who traveled to Syria, independent of any of the main Salafi-Jihadi groups after 2014 tended to join al-Baghdadi’s Caliphate. Uyghur’s TIP, Uzbek’s KTJ and KIB became enmeshed with alQaeda in Syria and maintained loyalty to the Taliban.

After joining al Qaeda, Taliban and ISIS, the ideological base of Central Asian militants broadened and was affected by the more-global agenda of transnational Salafi-jihadi networks. Today, the goal of the religious groups from Central Asia has greatly expanded so that now their goal is to develop a world-wide caliphate. They have become an integral part of world-wide terrorism and jihadism.Thus, Central Asian Islamists have expanded their influence and militant activities to the Middle East. Over the past two decades, the locus of Central Asian radicals has moved from the Ferghana Valley through Afghanistan into the tribal badlands of Pakistan toward Syria.

Methods of preventing Central Asian Islamists attacks

Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups pose a significant threat to the security of not only the “Stans”, but the EU and the U.S. For example, Central Asia’s Islamist radicals committed the following attacks in the US and Europe:

A terrorist attack committed by a 29-year-old national of Uzbekistan, Sayfullo Saipov, in the downtown of New York City, which killed 8 civilians in 31 Oktober 2017;

The blast in the subway of St. Petersburg, which was committed by an Uzbek terrorist from southern Kyrgyzstan Akbarzhon Dzhalilov in April 2017;

The truck attack in the center of Stockholm Sweden by an immigrant from Uzbekistan, Rakhmat Akilov, rammed through the crowd last April;

The terrorist attack by a native of the Fergana Valley of Central Asia, Abdulkadir Masharipov, on December 31, 2016 murdered 39 people in the Reina nightclub in Istanbul;

The terrorist attack at the international airport of Ataturk in Turkeyby citizens of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in June 2016;

Another Uzbek terrorist, Ulugbek Kodirov, tried to kill even US President Barack Obama in July 2011 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison;

More than a dozen Uzbeks have been charged with terrorism between 2012 and 2016 in the USA and are now involved in continuing legal proceedings, which is evidence of the growing Islamic terrorism among immigrants from Central Asia.

To combat the Central Asian Salafi-jihadist groups, it is very important to understand the reasons for their ideological appeal to certain segments of Sunni Muslims. Only after a thorough analysis of their Jihadi ideology can a strategybe developed to combat them. In accordance with my scientific purposes, I continue to conduct my research on the activities of Central Asian Islamist groups.The goal is to prevent other terror attacks like 9/11 in the U.S.

Unfortunately, as the tragic example of Sri Lanka has shown, it is small Islamist terrorist groups associated with ISIS or al Qaida, including Central Asian jihadists, that due to the difficulty to triangulate, can pose the greatest danger to global stability. In this regard, I want to express my gratitude to Modern Diplomacy for providing a platform for comprehensive scientific researches on the roots and causes of the radicalization of Islamic ideology and the activities of Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups.A Geopolitical Handbook under the name “Anatomy of Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups” is a great contribution to European and global security by Modern Diplomacy.

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Terrorism and Mass Media: A Reflection from the Sri Lanka Terror Attack

Mohammad Kepayet

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The world shivers at the mention of terrorism. The international news storylines mostly present two hegemonic undertakings: the economic and power game ruling blocks comprising US, Russia, China, EU and so forth, on one hand, and the true battlegrounds of ruling blocks in Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and so forth, one the other. May be the storylines presented by the international media is not the true reflection of undertakings the world should know, and a lot more remain under presented behind those storylines. On the top of that, media houses play a twisted role in creating antagonists and protagonists in international geopolitics and assigning roles to different actors.

The terrorism, as we knew and believed once, has been changed in last couple of decades since the attack on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001. Not only terrorism has been changed after the World Trade Center in the emergence of new actors in the international power game but also it changed the perception of people about the religions and geopolitics; especially Islam and Middle East. In last March, A terror attack killed around fifty Muslims and left many injured during the Friday prayer in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. The international media mostly labeled it as shooting and the terrorist as a shooter. The terrorist livestreamed the whole attack like an animated videogame and inscribed some hate speeches on the gun he used in the attack. The incident in the Christchurch, New Zealand, is not the only attack on Muslim communities in recent years but one of the many incidents and the it is becoming frequent.  After the Christchurch incident in New Zealand, a massive terror attack demanded a death toll amounting 253 innocent lives on Ester Sunday last month in Sri Lanka. After the terror attack Sri Lanka, international news storylines undoubted labeled it as a terrorist activity and proactively probed the link with the local and international terrorist groups like Islamic State (IS) and the local terrorist group National Thowfeek Jamaath.  While it is beyond the proof yet whether the Sri Lanka Attack was a consequence of New Zealand attack, the proactive role of international media was noticeable to make an express linkage between the two. Media decide who should be called a terrorist based on his region or color not the fact that terrorism ransoms the equally without the consideration of religious or color of victims. A handful number of people died in Sri Lanka terror attack were Muslims.

This is a one-type of bias mass media play in response to terrorism. But in regard to terrorism there are numerous biased and nonsense roles mass media have been playing. It is said that a terrorist is always successful because he produces the level of fears and panics that changes the courses of longstanding societal, political and interfaith interactions among different groups, communities, regions and countries.  While mass media only probe the linkage of religions with the terrorism, they hardly concentrate on economic, political and social motives of terrorism. Either a mosque or a church or a chapel is mostly targeted and this strategy of terrorism give it an universal advantage. For example, if a mosque in New Zealand is attacked, it raises the concern of Muslim communities living in West and Muslin-minority countries around the world, on the other hand, if a Church is attacked anywhere of the World it raises the concern of non-Muslims about Muslims around the World; while an attack on non-religious places may not reach such an universal advantage. Media grabs a terrorist activity, widely publishes it, links it with religions, especially with Islam, and complements the objective terrorism dividing societies, and creating fears and panics.

The terrorism in any form is a threat to the peaceful coexistence around the world. However, the place that faces the problem faces an extensive and long-lasting challenge. Historically, Sri Lanka is a politically turbulent place just ending a phase of civil conflict with the LTTE around a decade ago. Last year it faced an anti-Muslin riots that destroyed a mosque and raised a communal tension around the country.  As acknowledged by local and international security agencies, they had prior knowledge of an upcoming attack. Despite the fact of prior knowledge, security agencies in Sri Lanka did not take any preventive action. Sri Lanka is currently undergoing some political transitions that started from October 2018. President Maithripala Sirisena announced that Mahinda Rajapaksa is the new Prime Minister. Although, by various forces Sirisena removes Rajapaksa and returned Wickremesinghe. In this unstable situation miscreant takes the advantage of terror attack.The terror attack on the verge of that transition and the non-preventive activity by security forces indicate a political connection with the terror attack. Some block might have been taking advantage of this turbulent situation. Historically, the Sri Lankan turbulence with the LTTE was fueled by different external and internal blocks. Instead of going with the flow, mass media should play an investigate role to probe the other reasons like political, economic and geopolitical reasons behind the terror attack. 

In Christchurch attack, the terrorist Brenton Tarrant livestreamed the attack on Facebook. The livestreamed video was reposted and rebroadcasted millions of times in different local and international media around the world. While it is clear that Brenton Tarrant wanted the world to watch the video, by reposting and rebroadcasting the video media complemented a terrorist’s objective. This tendency of media was seen in some previous terrorist attacks. In 2016, the terror attack in a residential hotel in Dhaka was livestreamed by several national and international media. In recent India-Pakistan border conflict media from both countries played a provocative role. Some media house in India compared the Indian invasion in Pakistan with the patriotism. This is definitely a breach of media’s broadcast standards. 

In case of Sri Lanka terror attack, media relied on previous IS attacks to probe a linkage between the IS and the local National Thowfeek Jamaath. It is, however, true that attacks by IS or local terrorist group cannot be sidestepped. But the focus on IS and local terror group targeted some local innocent people and Muslims that created another bias and discrimination on the local community. Moreover, the focus on the IS and its associated group may shade the actual perpetuator if some group other than IS is responsible for the attack. Even some media proactively created a presuming linkage of Sri Lankan attack with the Christchurch attack. This again aggravated the situation in Sri Lanka and around the world.

It is generally presumed that media houses are concerned about the increasing the TRP and public viewing volumes by broadcasting controversial news storylines. This sick competition leads media houses globally to go beyond their broadcasting standards. Media is said, however, to be the “Fourth Estate” of democracy whereas increasing the TRP or viewing volumes by sick competition is an opposite to the notion. There should have some ethical standards and regulations regarding broadcasting the news and storylines grounded on the policy of harnessing communities and promoting global peace not dividing the world into pieces.

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Kashmir: EAMs at the LOC

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First, it was Zahedan where an IRGC convoy; returning home from their tour of duty, along the borders of Sistan-Baluch, are suddenly ambushed and nearly annihilated. As the sun begins to rise at dawn, on the next day, (the 14th of February), over Pulwama in Kashmir, a strikingly similar event occurs to a much larger CRPF convoy, this time returning to duty.

The authorities of the two affected nations issue immediate statements, (which are almost identical in tone and accusation), against elements resident within the territory of their shared common neighbour. Both independently issued statements seem to mirror each other in content and threat, as if they were Page 1 and Page 2 of a document seemingly prepared in advance within a spirit of “friendly collaboration”.

The initial murder of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corpsmen garnered almost no world media exposure, whereas the killing of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force para-militarymen exploded into an International Diplomatic Crisis that eventually required the frantic intervention of the Heads of State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, diplomatic envoys of the Peoples’ Republic of China, the Russia Federation, the UN and ofcourse, everyone’s favourite peacemaker and arbiter of international law and order, the US of A, to pacify emotions and reign in a possibly perceived; potentially imminent; Nuclear Confrontation between two adversarial neighbours, neither of whom recognize the legal sovereign nation status of the other.

Two weeks after Pulwama, in VietNam, whilst the US Head of State begins to dictate meaningless (and impossible to honour), terms and conditions towards the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea’s nuclear disarmament; the gravity of Pulwama is suddenly dragged onto centre stage as a possible Zero Hero event on the Doomsday Clock.

In an intentional act of war, (on the 26th of February), which is then openly glorified as live, patriotic entertainment, the Indian Air Force cross the Line of Control and bomb territory within Pakistan. In the intervening two weeks prior to this dubiously illegal infringement of a neighbour’s property, the world watched in awe at the mechanics of an electronic media that had been effectively tooled as an integrated weaponised instrument, and; also a consummate component of both, the Armed Forces and the State apparatus of an elected Government, with the sole aim of coordinating a line of thought; from which any deviation from the prescribed script was deemed to be a criminal offence.

News media, not so much the print media in terms of newspapers, but rather the online applications of instant messaging; exposed the gargantuan influence and capability that MultiNational Corporations have within any (and all), semi-developed, emerging economic nations: to create and guide a story that seamlessly blurs and oscillates between confusion and surreal fiction. Painting an illusion, as it were, or a dream swirling around disjoint facts.

On the 27th of February, the next day, the Pakistan Air Force duly retaliate and it seems that the elected Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy had finally gone rogue and had totally unhinged himself from reality with instructions to his Armed Forces to target nuclear installations within his neighbour’s territory.

At 7.40 AM Eastern Standard Time on the 27th of February, all Globex Futures Trading in the United States are suspended and the S&P, Dow and Oil indexes cease trading for over 4 hours, with the added excitement of all pending orders, prior to the halt, having their executions specifically cancelled. (Although Currency Exchange platforms remained active). Also on the 26th and 27th of February, Emergency Action Messages or EAMs of the US Nuclear Command and Control Structure commence firing up HFGCS (High Frequency Global Communication System) transmissions, which are a prelude to a Nuclear Alert.

So, why would an internal domestic attack on a police convoy within India lead to EAMs being issued at the LOC, (the Line Of Control within the disputed region of Kashmir). You may answer by saying that the reason is simply because Kashmir is a potential nuclear flashpoint, and that would be eminently correct. But my question would then be, why would this flashpoint be triggered when President Trump and Chairman Un are discussing the consequences of such an occurrence being played out for real between themselves?

The eternal question always remains, “who benefits?”. What message has the world at large been given?

CENTCOM or Central Command and the USINDOPACOM or the US Indo-Pacific Command of the US Armed Forces, are two gigantic military institutions that are run as autonomous and totally opaque entities by their respective Generals who see themselves as Roman Tribunes rather than Commanding Officers, with more power than their elected Head of State; under whom they, in effect, nominally serve. CENTCOM’s sphere of influence includes the carnage and the waste that they have laid to the sovereign nations of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and, that influence ends at the eastern border of Pakistan. In May 2018, when the previously titled entity USPACOM or US Pacific Command changed its name to the US Indo Pacific Command and suddenly incorporated India into its sphere of influence, their remit then began to encompass all territory upto the western border of India and, lo and behold, both spheres of these gigantic killing machines meet at the Line of Control within the volatile and disputed region of Kashmir.

Would the subsequent events leading from Pulwama have been a test run to gauge the effectiveness of integrated electronic media in India, which is thus by default, the most established English language denominated media at USINDOPACOM’s disposal? Would it have been a weaponised trial in propagating an explosive narrative draped as high drama in order to influence, coerce, intimidate and subsume a diverse society to toe the line? Was it to keep Pakistan on the straight and narrow and make it clear to them how close they were to being obliterated were it not for the kind benevolence of CENTCOM intervention; a similar muscular feat that China perhaps would not have been able to effectively co-ordinate so quickly.

So although, on the face of it, the Prime Minister of India plays the well rehearsed role of the village fool, entwining within it, (in order to appeal to a barely semi-literate audience); his own myth of having risen from the ranks of poverty and social ostracisation to become the elected leader of a huge and diverse nation and with the Prime Minister of Pakistan playing the well constructed role of the suave, Western debonair who achieved his elected position after years of political struggle; both however remain actors playing lines they have been given within a huge stage production.

If either of them were truly representative of the will of their constituents as well as the projection of the visions of the future that their electorates see in themselves, then neither would have played leading roles in a scene that required EAMs at the LOC.

The only beneficiaries are the Roman Tribunes of the two COMMANDs of the US Armed Forces, who quietly engaged themselves in a live-fire exercise to test their proprietary war game theories and then gathered the subsequent extrapolated algorithmic data for future reference.

As Crazy Earl says in the epic Kubrick movie, Full Metal Jacket; “These are great days we’re living, bros. We are jolly green giants, walking the Earth with guns. These people we wasted here today are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world, we’re gonna miss not having anyone around that’s worth shooting”.

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