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Declassifying “Lone-Wolf” terrorism: Formulating a “Counter-Terror” strategy

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After “extensively” analysing and assessing global nation’s counter terrorism response towards lone wolf terror attacks along with the challenges faced by domestic and external security and intelligence agencies, numerous “viable” pragmatic counter-terror strategies were drafted by military and strategic experts throughout the world. Actions carried by “Lone-Wolf” terrorists are “virtually invisible” to “identify and separate”, hindering domestic and intelligence agencies to formulate an “accurate response”. The traditional “profiling” in law enforcement is no longer a viable strategy, particularly towards identifying the “lone-wolf” actor, however, the actor’s “operational mechanism” in the form of an “individualistic response” leaves numerous clues which law enforcement departments particularly hailing from domestic and intelligence groups can use to formulate an effective and efficient strategy.

Moreover, roughly every lone wolf attacker has showcased his/her commitment towards a cause, an alignment or a connection with active“terrorist factions”, pointing towards “increasing presence of radicalised youth” separating them from “potential sympathetic individuals and supporters”. In the light of “aggravating attacks” from “lone wolf terrorists”followed by the rise of “aggressive right-wing factions” (such as A.B. Breivik), law enforcement officers continue to face enormous challenges, especially when it comes to formulating a “viable” applicable strategyto identify lone wolf attackers, who continues to “hide in plain sight”, fearlessly.

Introduction

After the aggressive violence induced by radical Islamic terrorists against Charlie Hebdo on January 7th, 2015, the threat induced by lone wolf attackers have become a “top” priority for law enforcement officers particularly those hailing from domestic and external intelligence agencies. The law enforcement and intelligence agencies in Parisfaced with two prominent questions:

  • Was there any intelligence input prior to the attack?
  • Was there any way to prevent tragic loss of lives?
  • What should be the strategy to identify perpetrators and their plots?
  • Can we prevent future attacks from happening?

All the aforementioned questions are difficult to address. The Directorate General for External Security (DGSE) continues to simulate multiple “responses”, whereas the General Directorate for Internal Security has started “counter-terrorism liaison program” with Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM) along with Directorate for Defence Protection and Security (DPSD) in an effort to “strengthen, cooperate and coordinate” a response against future attacks. There is no absolute way to provide a suitable answer for the fourth aforementioned question, rather than stating the fact that, it is absolutely “difficult” for security and intelligence agencies to forecast and prevent future possible attacks. No intelligence agency would talk the responsibility to answer, however, drawing a strategic response in an effort to forecast and prevent an attack in the future would be “difficult”. The objective of the article is to evaluate and assess viable pragmatic counter-terror approachesagainst the threat posed by lone wolf terrorismwhile especially emphasising on strategies to counter “Charlie Hebdo” styled attacks. To begin with strategic viable solutions, it is imperative for policy makers to first define lone wolf terrorism.

The definition

The term “lone wolf” was first introduced by US law enforcement agencies towards individuals carrying out attacks outside a designated command structure.Operation Lone Wolf was carried by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)to “apprehend” Alex Curtis who instigated “right-wing factions” to participate in “lone-wolf” activism. Since then, numerous terminologies have been introduced by various strategic and intelligence experts, some calling it asan “individual resistance”, “self-indoctrinated terrorism tactics”and “self-sponsored terrorism”.

The article does not lean to a particular definition rather encourages law enforcement agencies and security, intelligence establishment to collect all “available definitions under an umbrella” in an effort to formulate an effective strategy. Traditional Counter-terrorism centred think tanksdefine Lone wolf as “an individual who acts on his/her own will outside a traditional organizing structure or a group”. Moreover, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) taking the definition to an extent, separates the definition with sleeper agents pointing towards the “dormant” nature of the sleeper agent who is “purposefully” tasked to infiltrate an organization and only reveals himself only on the command of a group or an organization. On the contrary, “A lone wolf is an “individual” operative without a “command and control” structurewho on his free will initiatives an attack”. Although,many counter-terrorism agencies ignore the “ideological” connection of the individual with other “active groups”, which the lone wolf could have been interacting either through “intra-personal interaction” or by “accessing internet”.

Throughout the article the focus will remain on “Operational mechanism” of lone wolf attackers. Although, a significant percentage of lone wolf attackers have been found “influenced” with radical Islamic militant organizations, such as the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda, the “decision, operational planning and carrying out procedure” has largely been “self”, instead of following “traditional commands” from the organizational leaders. Moreover, it is imperative for policy makers to include those “individuals that are inspired/self-indoctrinated by violent radical religion-centric terror organization” within the brackets lone wolf terrorism definition. They could have maintained “links” with the radical religion-centric organization, but the structure of the organization could not be “traditional”.

Absence of a “traditional individualistic behaviour”

Numerous terror attacks carried by “lone-wolves”in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, in particular to the attack by Barend Strydom, an African national, whoshot and killed a dozen people while wounding many, at the Strijdom Square in Pretoria, South Africa; In La Défense, a man stabbed and mortally wounded a soldier Cédric Cordier. The soldier was later declared “out of danger”. The attacker was identified as Alexandre Dhaussy, a French national who converted to Islam; Another Islamist Mohammed Merah killed over seven people in the city of Toulouse while taking numerous hostage. He was later killed during a 32-hour standoff; In one of the first deadliest attack in Germany, Arid Ukashot and killed two US soldiers while mortally wounding many others at Frankfort Airport; On October 22nd, 2014, a Canadian national Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot a soldier on-guard at the National War Memorial. The suspect then ran towards the Parliament of Canada and was engaged in a gun-battle with the forces. Additionally,subsequent attempts were made to bomb Seaside Park, New Jersey, lower Manhattan, New York; and New Jersey. Injuring over thirty civilians, the perpetrator Ahmad Khan Rahami was apprehended from Linden, New Jersey, after he open fired injuring three responding officers.

Policy makers must note that, the mastermind” individuals of some aforementioned examples of deadly violence and attacks, vary particularly with respect to their operational mechanism and “target locations”, along with ideological and political inclined groups. Moreover, the common element in these attacks point towards a particular indoctrination or “religion induced”. All the lone wolf attackers were strongly “believers of faith”.

It is important to note that, there is absolutely no “traditional” framework of a lone wolf attacker. However, in the light of their religion centric “differences” and “ideological” mindset coupled with the element of “faith in religion”, makes it easy for security and intelligence agencies to “classify or rule out lone wolf terror attack”. Additionally, there are certain characteristics which possess “significant similarities” among all lone wolf attackers. The fact that continues to challenge security and intelligence agencies is the presence of “few lone wolf attacks which were carried by individuals without any connection to a terror faction”. According to a research conducted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe(OSCE) jointly with INTERPOL, less than 1.34percent out of 78 lone wolf attacks in US, Germany, Canada, Australia were “individualistic” in nature. This numerical value further complicates the investigation carried by security and law enforcement agencies of lone wolf attacks, seriously hindering their ability to formulate a viable counter-terrorism strategy. Besides all agreements considered, the lone wolf attacks continue to accelerate phenomenally.

Identifying “motivating factors” of lone wolf elements

It will not be incorrect to state that, the radical religion-centric lone wolf “modus operandi” hosts similar characteristics of traditional “right-wing” lone wolf attacks. Throughout the 1990s, Tom Metzger and AlexCurtis openly instigated their followers to commit violent acts of crime. Furthermore,“radical-white” advocator Louis Beam, who was a former member of the notorious Ku Klux Klan, drew the “early strategy on how to carry out a leaderless revolution”. He drafted a scenario where “individuals could carry out attacks without responding to a centralised organization or a leader established headquarters”.

Although, experts have not directly linked the modus operandi used by “radical Islamic centred”lone wolf extremists with that of traditional “right-wing” attackers,however there is striking similarity ofsmall-scale attacks. In 2003, Osama-Bin Laden, through his supporters distributed “instructions” asking his followers not to wait for any instructions in “carrying out attacks”. He further asked his followers “to use whatever means available”. In the late 2004, Abu Musab al-Suri, a Spanish-Syrian national, who was an active member of the “closed circle” group of Bin Laden, published his narrative of Islamic Jihad through a paper titled “Call for Worldwide Islamic Resistance,”. In this roughly seventeen hundred “doctrine”, he mentioned a “new form of jihad”, highlighting the acts of terror carried by “small groups”, which he titled them as “leader-less resistance”. Individuals irrespective of their nationality or age, will wage war on allfronts-“fighting the West in the West”. Two years later, Abu Jihad al-Masri, a prominent figure in Al-Qaeda, published his narrative titled “How to fight alone”which was massively downloaded from Jihadi-centric websites.

Challenges faced by security and intelligence agencies

Lone wolf terrorist attacks are one of the most “unpredictable and difficult to diagnose” events. It will not be incorrect to state that, lone wolf terror attacks bring “nightmare” to intelligence agencies, domestic security institutions, national and regional law enforcement organizationsas they are extremely “sensitive” and “revolve around multiple possible scenarios”.

To begin with, lone wolf elements possess “individualistic” characterises, who live “shadowing intelligence agencies” in “plain clothes”. The attacker may be someone’s relative, friend, husband, brother, or neighbour living next door. Intelligence agencies cannot come to a inclusion simply by studying the perpetrators visual appearance or “daily routines”. The individual avoids “absolute outside contact” making his/her actions discreet. This further increases the difficulty for security and intelligence agencies to “identify and apprehend” a lone wolf attacker. While comparing the individual’s actions to “traditional/conventional terrorist factions”or “centralised command centred” terror actors, “individual” actors have the benefit to maintain a “low-life” and avoiding “all forms of attraction/suspicion” before and post-attack.

When “conventional” terror group members operate, the risk of “detection” from security and intelligence agencies remains high.

Furthermore, in the light of growing “right-wing” political activism followed by frequent protests by anti-government groups, it is very difficult for law enforcement agencies to differentiate between a political activist or a terrorist. This poses a grave threat to security and intelligence officers especially when they are forced to swing between their “gut” and “individual actions”, failing repeatedly to identify perpetrator while reassessing the individual’s operational mechanism, choice of targetor activities or propaganda. The epitome of lone wolf is “idiosyncratic”. They are individuals with motivated by “numerous ideologies and factors”: from radical Islamic fundamental or Wahhabi ideology to “extreme-right wing”, while suffering from “suicidal, obsessive compulsive behavioural disorder” which then fuels psychopathy. This “diverse” behaviour induces certain “vision”, which forces them make hateful comments/accusations on the internet, to disruptive activities which later concurs their quest of “violent actions”, which does not give away anything “unusual” characteristics forecasting the individual’s actions to be “violent”, alerting security and intelligence agencies only when the attack has occurred.

Policy makers must note that, it is literally impossible to differentiate between the lone wolves who carry violent attacks and radical fundamentalists who simply advocate their beliefs. In European Union member nations, and in US specifically, the “freedom of speech is absolute” which limits the investigation of intelligence and security agencies to only “active violent actions”. Although all terrorists are “radicals”but not every radical is a terrorist, which makes it a phenomenally difficult task for security agencies to rule out the “lone wolf”who is going to initiate an attack before the concerned agencies apprehend, particularly in the light of digital age and rapidly evolving “technical tools” used in intelligence.Policy makers must note that, the “original” lone wolves could have “seemingly popularity” which could result in the rise of “copiers”and instigate the youths in carrying attacks using “similar techniques”.

It is important to remember that, lone wolf attackers suffer from necessary skills, technical training, and“organizational support”of violent terror factions, their “attacks”,in the form of Charlie Hebdo shooting and the 32-hour hostage crisis in Sydney, can be lethal.

Drafting an effective Counter-terror policy

How should the intelligence and security agencies deal with the“phenomenally” growing threat of lone wolf terror attackswhile facing enormous challenges of identifying and arresting them, without raising suspicions? This question remains “unanswered” especially in an inclusive society which continues to debate on “human rights” and police brutality. Although, the fact remains unchanged: security and intelligence agencies are facing an enormous challenge,especially when it comes to lone wolves carrying out attacks “using all means available”.

However, the aforementioned statements and shortcomings highlight significant factors which could be utilised by policy makers to formulate an effective counter-terror strategy.

To begin with, the approach agency uses to track “radical elements” entering and exiting a country, plays a vital role. Formulating the strategy which focusses more on “how an attack” could take place rather than “the identity of the attacker” creates a big difference. Furthermore, it is imperative for security and intelligence agencies to extensively study on “how does an individual radicalises”, the entire procedure. Such “aggressive” and “out-of-the box” strategy could effectively reinforce the state’scounter-terror policywhich could, if “effectively and efficiently planned”, could put an end to a possible lone wolf attack.

It is imperative for security and intelligence agencies to understand the modus operandi of a lone wolf,while formulating carefully a “detection trap”unavoidable even by the “careful” individuals while reinforced with “every tactical manoeuvre”used in counter-terror planning. Counter-terror training should be extensive throughout law enforcement units, while training in “signal avoidance”, “isolation and individualism” should be provided at all levels, in an effort to apprehend a perpetrator “isolating” himself before an attack. This not only requires real time data inputsbut also requires an “effective and efficient flow of information and its management”. The union between the intelligence analysts and field operation staff makes the difference.

Furthermore, intelligence agencies should bring their attention to the essential “common feature” that might be link one lone wolf with another, separating the individual from “community” while indicating an “irrational behaviour”. At this point, security and intelligence agencies must “coordinate and cooperate” with relevant agencies before “making an arrest”. Also, it is important for security and intelligence agencies to strengthen their grip on community, which can be achieved by hosting confidence building mechanisms within the community, after all the masses are the true “eyes and ears”.

Policy makers must note that, lone wolf operators, although acting alone, at some point of time, receive inspiration from an ideology or violent actors, it is imperative for security and intelligence agencies to disrupt presence of any such materials or “hidden societies”. It the state’s responsibility to condemn any, all such acts, ideologies which promotes violence.

Since, lone wolves act outside the framework of an organization, their acts are ignited by a local incident. State must initiate awareness talks, community development “de-radicalisation” centric program inviting students, teachers, community leaders, parents and all stakeholders, while maintaining an “healthy” atmosphere rather than panic.

The formulation of an effective counter-terror program begins with “communicating” with certain section of communities. Alternatively, this should be carried out without “providing their acts a stage and an audience”. Countering lone wolves is a priority but not at the stake of “publicising” them in a way that incites others to “take the same route”.

In the end, the most effective way to counter lone wolf attacks rests in “understanding their operational mechanism”. In recent violent incidents, all the perpetrators where masculine and used licensed firearms to commit acts of crime.This “selective individuals” who carries licenced arms and significant ammunition needs to be isolated and carefully assessed by security and intelligence agencies. This can be done by “strengthening gun licensing policy along with strict background checks”.

Conclusion

As explained in the aforementioned arguments, security and intelligence agencies face an enormous challenge in countering lone wolf attackswhile any “formidable” counter terror strategy would have limited impact. Similar to all acts of terrorism,there is no way to guarantee absolute elimination of this threat. With this said, the road to counter lone wolf terrorism is “rough and long”. The answers for the question on “factors responsible for radicalisation of lone wolf terror actors” are in its premature stage,needs to be assessed thoroughly. In the light of increasing lone wolf terror attacks, new question repeatedly emerges, particularly highlighting the role of internet along with “narcissistic sadistic” comments made by “right wing” factions against minority communities. With few “radical Islamic” lone wolf actors, the question of “an individual’s sudden change of course to commit acts of terror” makes it difficult for security agencies to respond. Thus, through “extensive cooperation and coordination” between inter and intra domestic and intelligence agencies along with timely sharing of ideas, experience and assessment of lone wolf terror attacks,policy makers will be able to create viable counter-terror response against lone wolf acts of terrorism.

Anant Mishra is a security analyst with expertise in counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. His policy analysis has featured in national and international journals and conferences on security affairs.

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Hybrid Warfare Against Pakistan: Challenges and Response

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The term ‘hybrid warfare’ entered the strategic lexicon in the early 21st century despite having been practiced in various forms for a long time. It is defined as a blend of both kinetic and non-kinetic options to offset conventional power dynamics.  Hybrid warfare includes extensive use of tools like spreading disinformation, propaganda, economic coercion, backing proxy militia and cyber-attacks to achieve strategic objectives. In modern times, owing to the exponentially high cost of men and material used in traditional warfare, not only the great powers but various middle powers engage in hybrid warfare in order to destabilize, demoralize and disintegrate their core adversaries.

The advancement in technology over the 21st century encourages the blending of the different modes of warfare making hybrid warfare a practical option for meeting political objectives. The aspects of ambiguity and deniability that accompany hybrid warfare, make it an attractive option for states to exercise subtle power – they do not have to fear attribution and retribution. Hybrid warfare has become more popular because of the issue pertaining to major wars. The arrival of nuclear weapons in the 20th century even to India and Pakistan, and the different major wars have made conventional warfare much riskier. The consequences of the major wars have led to a transformation in how these wars are viewed. States that want to exert their influence have found other means to do so. There is an on-going debate in the UN about the serious consequences of the internet that can be constituted as acts of war. Its warfare without any direct violence.

Pakistan’s arch enemy, India, has constantly been waging hybrid warfare against Pakistan since partition but it has been recently expedited with increased funding, training of a separatist militia, through economic subversion by politicizing international bodies such as FATF and carrying out diplomatic sabotage in the form of disinformation campaigns disclosure by EU Disinfo Lab. Though the decision was motivated by the political objective of placing Pakistan on the grey list, India’s hybrid warfare against Pakistan jeopardizes South Asia’s stability.

India’s main objective when it comes to hybrid warfare against Pakistan is it to keep Pakistan politically and economically unstable. This helps achieve certain other goals like preventing the rise of Pakistan’s power in Kashmir and pressuring Pakistan to settle on India’s terms in issues like Siachen and Sir Creek. India has tried to employ numerous tools to wage this warfare against Pakistan at the different levels.

India is trying to build a narrative, especially among Indian Muslims and Kashmiris that Pakistan is a failed or failing state and the partition of the Indian sub-continent was huge mistake. They are also generating the idea that the Indian Muslims are far superior to the Pakistanis and even the Bangladeshis. The hybrid warfare against Pakistan also has its internal dynamics, as it is very much part and parcel of India’s domestic politics particularly around elections. Even the Hindutva intoxicated BJP came to power by employing this strategy. India has also given rise to the narrative that she always tried to build good relations but the Pakistani military does not let the relations normalize. Also, it is the Pakistan Army, which is not allowing a solution to the Kashmir dispute because when Pakistan and India were engaged in backchannel diplomacy to work out a solution on the basis of President Musharraf’s four-point formula, it was the Pakistan Army which conducted, supported and funded the Mumbai attack of 2008. Thus, the Pakistan Army is portrayed as a major problem when it comes to Pakistan. It is also being projected that Pakistan’s defense expenditure is illogical as it needs to invest more in its development rather than the armed forces to defend itself against India. India is also exploiting the fault lines of Pakistan – Baluchistan and CPEC. Pakistan is also blamed for not allowing regional peace and integration. India links Pakistan to the Taliban at international level. Certainly, India’s main aim is to weaken the social contract of Pakistan by creating restlessness, divisions and instability within the country.

Pakistan needs a well calibrated strategy in how to counter India’s move at every platform. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to understand the nature of hybrid warfare while concentrating on Pakistan’s social and political harmony. More importantly, we need to realize the potential of CPEC. There must be good governance based on deliverance to overcome the vulnerabilities. There is no denying the fact that this is an era of multilateralism, but multilateral approach works well when there are healthy bilateral relations. While it is good to host conferences and seminars, there is a need for more practical action. We live in world were information spreads quickly. Hence, we need a counternarrative to India’s narrative of ‘talks and terrorism cannot go side by side’ but unfortunately Pakistan always acts in an apologetic manner. The media can potentially be the face of any state but in the case of Pakistan, the media does not care and there is no policy-based discussion between the media and the government. Also, Pakistan does not have enough English news channels to portray the positive image of Pakistan. Furthermore, every part of Pakistani society including the media, the civil society and academia should collectively respond to India’s hybrid warfare against Pakistan. For all of this to be successful, Pakistan’s immune system must be protected through socio-political harmony and improved governance. Last but not the least, India may not be able to sustain its economic lure for long, therefore, India must stop this hybrid warfare against Pakistan, and resume diplomatic activities for stability and prosperity of the region.

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How Putin’s Russia is Exploiting Jihadists Against pro-Navalny Protesters?

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Who is Putin’s terrorist: Navalny or Jihadist?

Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin is considering using old tactics to stem the growing wave of nationwide protests in support of his fiercest critic, popular opposition leader Alexei Navalny. This tactic was developed in the late 90s by the KGB ideologists and successfully applied in order to bring to power Vladimir Putin, who is ruling the country with an iron hand longer than all his Soviet predecessors except Joseph Stalin. The tactical skills of the Putin’s policy architects were aiming to frighten Russian citizens by Islamist terrorism and Chechen separatism and unite patriotic and nationalist forces around a new leader capable of challenging the West.

Thus, when the nationwide protests in support of Navalny from Yakutia to Kaliningrad became the most serious challenge, the Kremlin began to trumpet the threat of Islamist extremists and international terrorists. This time, the Putin regime is intimidating protesters with impending terrorist attacks of Central Asian and Caucasian jihadists and their Syrian parent organization, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

On the eve of the next nationwide protests on February 14, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Investigative Committee and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russia warned of the inadmissibility of calls to participate in an unsanctioned rally. Russian state news agencies RIA Novosti and TASS have disseminated information that the most powerful Sunni militant faction of HTS in northern Syria is preparing a series of lone-wolf attacks during the upcoming mass street protests of Navalny’s supporters in various Russian cities. In doing so, however, the pro-Kremlin media cited its undisclosed law enforcement sources and ultimately spread merely conspiracy theories.

According to anonymous sources of Russian security services, HTS-backed Uzbek Jihadi battalion Katibat Tawhid wal Jihad(KTJ), Chechen militant groups Ajnad al-Kavkaz (AK) and Jaysh al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar (JMA) are planning to carry out explosions and attack protesters. To achieve these purposes, terrorist groups allegedly recruited Russian citizens and Central Asian migrants, who expect their leaders’ commands.

pro-Navalny protesters

The Putin regime faced the most serious challenge when anti-government protests took place across the Russia in support Navalny in recent weeks. As is known, in mid-January, Navalny returned to the country after recovering from a chemical Novichok poisoning that nearly took his life and was immediately detained and later jailed for alleged parole violations. The robust Putin regime first demonstrated its grave alarm when tens of thousands pro-Navalny protesters demanded his resignation in more than 100 cities and towns, chanting Putin as a ‘thief’. Police detained more than 11,000 people at what they say were unsanctioned protests that the Moscow condemned as illegal and dangerous.

Alexei Navalny’s political creativity and tactical skill inspired Russian liberal youth weary with the corruption-plagued political order presided over by Putin. Fierce clashes between protesters and riot police during the mass rallies indicate that a new generation is not afraid of arrests and the repressive state machine. And to stop the pace of marathon confrontation with the opposition, Putin resorted to his long-standing KGB tactics, intimidating society with possible terrorist attacks and explosions by Islamists.

Will Uzbek and Chechen Jihadists hit pro-Navalny Protesters?

But the fact is, it’s not the first time Putin’s Russia has intimidated society with possible terror attacks by Islamist terrorists and Chechen separatists to achieve political goals. During the transition of power from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin at the end of the second millennium, Kremlin ideologists successfully tested anti-Islamist tactics to overcome the challenges of the political opposition. The ideologists of Putin’s election campaign created his image as a decisive and strong leader, the one who can defeat Islamist terrorism, Chechen separatism and preserve the integrity of Great Russia. His image as the only savior of the Russian Empire was accompanied by radio and television spots and news about the atrocities of Chechen militants and their beheading of Russian soldiers.

Meanwhile, there is a conspiracy theory in Russian political circles that the powerful FSB orchestrated apartment bombings in the Russian cities of Buinaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk in 1999 to boost Putin’s approval rating aiming to ensure his victory in the presidential elections. As a result of these “terrorist attacks”, 307 people were killed, more than 1,700 people were injured. Russian officials concluded that there was a “Chechen trail” in the bombings, but no proof of their involvement was adduced. Many still doubt the results of the investigation and consider Putin to be the culprit of this tragedy.

That’s when Putin uttered his famous phrase: “We will pursue the [Islamist] terrorists everywhere. If they are in an airport, we’ll kill them there. If we catch them in the toilet, we’ll exterminate them in the toilet.” Many still believe that the apartment bombings and the FSB’s tactic against Islamist extremists catapulted Putin into the presidency. Putin soon launched a second war in Chechnya and emerged victorious in the intra-Kremlin struggle. His ratings soared. He met with huge approval in a society weary from the economic collapse, corruption and crime of the Yeltsin era.

Usually people prefer to keep quiet about this tragedy. Russian political figures Sergei Yushenkov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, and Boris Berezovsky worked to unravel the mystery of apartment bombings. But all of them were brutally murdered under mysterious circumstances. Ultimately, the Kremlin’s tactics to combat Islamist terrorists not only helped to rocket Putin to the political Olympus, but also increased Islamophobia, nationalism and chauvinism in Russian society.

Today, even 22 years after Putin came to power, the Kremlin’s ideologists have begun to intimidate Russia’s liberal society with likely Islamist terrorist attacks again as the nationwide protests seriously threaten his regime. This illustrates the regime exhaustion and the lack of confidence in face of the strategic sophistication of Navalny’s team.

So far, neither HTS, nor Central Asian and North Caucasian Salafi-Jihadi groups have officially responded to the FSB on the plotting of terrorist attacks in Russian cities during opposition rallies. However, in encrypted Telegram chats, Uzbek and Chechen jihadists actively discussed the “leak information”.

Thus, one of the KTJ’s followers on Telegram under the name Al Hijrat said in Uzbek: “Kafir Putin frightens his people with the just sword of Allah.But the people of the blessed land of Sham know that he himself is the main terrorist. Russian infidels and Putin’s Nusayri puppy (Alawites regime of Bashar al-Assad) bomb Greater Idlib to destroy Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah. Executioners will have to hold a harsh response before the Almighty for their crimes.”

A pro-Jihadi chat “Inspire” in Telegram wrote in Russian: “the information about the impending attacks by Ajnad al-Kavkaz is fake. The authorities are trying to hold Russia’s awakening people from mass protests against Putin’s criminal group. To intimidate civilians, the Russian siloviki (FSB) can and are ready to commit terrorist acts, blaming HTS for this, which are not interested in what is happening there in Russia. The Putinists have a lot of experience in killing their own citizens and blowing up their houses.” In this message, Chechen militants indirectly protect HTS from accusations by pro-Kremlin media on impending terrorist attacks in Russian cities during opposition protests. This is no coincidence, since Ajnad al Kavkaz is known for its close ties with HTS.

On Telegram channel, some Russian-speaking jihadists from the post-Soviet space mocked at the ‘leaked information’, some expressed their anger against the “Russian occupants” in Sham, some advised protesters to be vigilant before the FSB provocation. A pro-Jihadi chat Icharkhoin Telegram recommended Muslims of Caucasus be ready for new repressions of Russian infidels and local Murtad (apostate), because after the bombings of houses in Volgodonsk, Putin started the 2-Chechen war and took away the independence of Ichkeria. The Telegram chat “Muhajireen” says that the Kremlin is preparing for a harsh suppression of the mass protests.

It is not the first time the Russian authorities have accused Central Asian and North Caucasian Jihadi networks of organizing terrorist act. On April 3, 2017, the Russian FSB blamed KTJ for the bombing on a subway train in St. Petersburg that killed 16 people and injured 67 others. On October 15, 2020, the FSB once again accused the Uzbek KTJ militants of preparing subversive and terrorist acts in Russian cities of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ufa, Maikop and Volgograd. In a statement, the intelligence services claimed that during the counter-terrorist operation, they prevented explosions and eliminated two members of KTJ. Then FSB distributed photos and videos of firearms, ammunition, IED’s chemical components, and religious literature seized during the operation.

On October 16, 2020, KTJ in its statement denied the Russian authorities’ accusation in these attacks. The Uzbek militant group stated that “according the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s policy, our activities are limited to the territory of Sham, and we do not conduct jihadi acts outside of it.” Further, KTJ assured via its Telegram channel that it “does not have its cells in Russia and is not involved in organizing terrorist acts there.”

Jihadi factor of Russian democracy

The Russian authorities often make thunderous statements about plotting terrorist attacks by “international terrorist groups” and how siloviki (FSB) successfully prevented its. This time, trumpeting about terrorist plots by HTS and its foreign subsidiaries during mass protests in various Russian cities, Moscow hoped to hit two birds with one stone. First, the Kremlin hopes that alarm on terrorist attacks could become a cold shower for Navalny’s supporters, as a result of which the activity of protesters will subside and the scale of the rallies will decrease. Second, by accusing HTS of plotting terrorist attacks, Russia is trying to justify its bloody bombing in northern Syria before the international community.

However, experts on jihadism and political Islam were skeptical about accusations of HTS for plotting terrorist attacks in Russia.HTS, Syria’s most powerful rebel group, is trying to implement a new strategy to transform itself from a global jihadist outlook into a local “moderate national liberation movement”. Today its new agenda is entirely dedicated to Syria and the Syrian local Sunni community. Within this new strategy, HTS severely restricted external attacks by its subsidiaries – Central Asian and North Caucasian Salafi-Jihadi groups –KTJ, AK and JMA. Consequently, HTS, which holds the last major rebel bastion in Idlib province and backs the local Salvation Government, is focused only on the internal Syrian jihad than organizing external terrorist attacks.

HTS emir Abu Mohammed al-Julani is well aware that any terrorist attacks in Russia could place his group among the global terrorist organizations, such as ISIS and al Qaeda, from which he decisively disavowed. HTS pursues a pragmatic approach to the political context, and its external attacks outside of Syria could undermine its fragile legacy, which Julani has achieved with great difficulty.

According to the new strategy, HTS has excluded Central Asian and local hardliners from its ranks. Those jihadists who did not want to submit to its new policy, such as former KTJ emir Abu Saloh al-Uzbeki and HTS Shura Council member Abu Malek al-Talli, were arrested or taken out of the Syrian jihad zone. Given the ability of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to pressure Russian-speaking militant groups to abandon its global jihadist ambitions, it can be concluded that the Russian FSB’s accusation against HTS raises many questions.

In conclusion, the Russian authorities alert about Islamists terrorist attacks during pro-Navalny protests is aimed at an internal audience and pursues exclusively domestic political goals. And these goals are clear as plain as the nose on the face. Using these methods, the Kremlin wants to stop the turbulent development of mass protests and divert the attention of people from the Navalny factor. If they succeed, the authorities will take time out to gather strength for the parliamentary elections in the fall of 2021.But if the wave of protests grows ever stronger and threatens Putin’s regime, then a repetition of the 1999 scenario is quite possible. As then, radical Islamism and terrorism can become a starting point for strengthening authoritarianism in Russia.

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Corona pandemic: Realism limitation in solving 21st century security threats

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Today, most serious threats of the 21st century are not ones we can protect ourselves by using armies or advanced weapons. Indeed, the popularity of extreme-right politics, unilateralism based on nationalism and COVID-19 are threatening the world’s post-war security architecture. 

The state-based unilateralism and the trends of national response to the 21st century’s biggest security threat trigger lack of coordination, diplomatic divisions, and incoherent global answer to COVID-19. Hence, as we face the biggest challenge of the contemporary century today, we need to rethink the very nature of our comprehension of national security threats. By doing so, we need a different approach to facing security threats.

With the Corona pandemic as a security threat, one of the foundational international relations theories, the realism, has been revealed to be far limited in terms of its explanatory power than it declares. The argument is that realism has a valid logic and reasons for confidence since answers to the pandemic have confirmed the supremacy of sovereign states, the grounds for the state’s power competition. Nevertheless, the pandemic also presents realism’s weaknesses as a source for successful policy answer to this security challenge. In other words, realism is better at defining risks and threats than suggesting solutions. Put simply, realism’s explanatory power lies in diagnosis rather than treatment or prevention. To make this clear, one insight the theory emphasizes is the representation of states as the fundamental actors in world politics. 

As the coronavirus hit, states shifted quickly to close or tighten international borders, controlled movement within their borders. However, while much independent national action is understandable from a realism’s point of view, it’s insufficient. Unilateralism and state-based measures, such as border controls did not spare states from the pandemic, and unilateral measures risk ending up in national economic and social crisis. 

To fight the Corona pandemic most efficiently, policymakers will have to shift to other theoretical traditions to overcome this security threat. They will depend more and more on greater international openness, trust and cooperation. Hence, while from the realism’s view, unilateral and state-based actions may serve national interest to fight the pandemic “within the national borders”, the pandemic is a global security threat and thus remains unsolved so long as other states and non-state actors have not done the same and states move on unilaterally. 

Solving global crises and security threats such as a pandemic, similar to world economic or other security crises cannot be solved based on the realist considerations of zero-sum competitive logic. Instead, transnational security threats, such as Coronavirus, is unmasking the limitations of individual states actions in the global system. Thus, while realism does an excellent job of “diagnosing the problem”, it does not offer solutions to that problem.   

Considering the necessity of worldwide medical items and actions, coordinated and offered by international organizations and non-state actors, the uncoordinated state-based actions result in an ineffective solution to this security crisis. The perspective this article aims to offer is that given the limitations of realism, we need more faith in international transboundary cooperation based on mutual trust, especially trust vis-a-vis international institutions. However, neither the United Nations nor the World Health Organization (WHO) nor any other non-state actor can overcome the Coronavirus on its own; nor non-state actors such as international institutions are alternatives to national states in international relations. 

Instead, they are an instrument of foreign policy and statecraft and states need to rely on them, incorporating them in finding solutions to global security threats. According to constitutionalists, Robert Keohane and Lisa Martin, “States are indeed self-interested, but cooperation is often in their interest and institutions help to facilitate that cooperation.”

From our partner Tehran Times

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