Authors: Anne Speckhard, Ardian Shajkovci & Hamid Sebaly
Europe is bracing for a new wave of jihadist attacks by terrorists affiliated with the so-called Islamic State, what “you might call ISIS 2.0,” as Interpol chief Jürgen Stock recently told reporters. Some previously imprisoned jihadists are being released from jail, others are returning to Europe—and to prison—while still others, we have learned, have never been known to police and operate as “sleeper cells” waiting to be mobilized.
It is in the face of such concerns that U.S. intelligence chiefs have warned, despite President Donald Trump’s assertions to the contrary, that ISIS is still far from defeated.
Last week, the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) interviewed 18 ISIS cadres held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) closely allied with U.S. coalition forces in Syria. Two of the prisoners interviewed were former members of the ISIS intelligence operation known as the “emni,” sometimes also written as “amni.”
One of them, a Tunisian named Abdel Kadr, was a 35-year-old athletic-looking and obviously clever individual, who had illegally smuggled himself into Europe in 2008 and then managed to get legal residency, to live and work there, by marrying a German. Abdel Kadr claimed to have “found religion” and also, like many foreign fighters, to have been moved by the plight of Syrians assaulted by Bashar al-Assad’s forces, which caused him to leave Germany for Syria in 2014, driving an ambulance loaded with humanitarian supplies.
Abdel Kadr ultimately joined and served ISIS until he was captured by the YPG last year. He appears to have had high-level access in ISIS and was open to discussing what he knows while also seeking not to incriminate himself.
Regarding the ISIS emni, Abdel Kadr says there are both internal and external emni networks in ISIS, the former enforcing security within the self-declared caliphate and the latter sending operatives outside of it, to be sleeper cells organizing attacks in Europe and globally. They are not police but intelligence operatives, he said. “They live 24 hours per day with a mask. They are chosen specially for this. They have their own houses, special families. They have been chosen specially, and many were sent back to Europe.”
Prior to joining ISIS, Abdel Kadr had been a human and goods smuggler based in Germany, working between Turkey and Europe. He said he joined the Islamic State alongside his friend Dominic, a white German convert to Islam. Dominic wanted to return to Germany to work as an undercover operative for ISIS and, being fair-skinned with no known criminal history, he believed he could do so undetected. (He should not be confused with Dominic Musa Schmitz, a Salafi who wrote a book in German in 2016 about his disillusionment with Salafi Islam.)
“There are a lot of those who were trained by ISIS to go into Europe,” said Abdel Kadr. The emni member who trained and facilitated many of them was also a white European, an Austrian who went by the kunya, or pseudonym, of Abu Musa al-Almani.
“He was in charge of Germany,” Abdel Kadr explained. “He spoke around seven languages: German, Dutch, French, Arabic, and German with the accent of Austria. He was an Austrian native with long hair and a red beard,” Abdel Kadr said. “He was from a wealthy family in Austria and a convert from Christianity. I met him in Syria, but he was moving everywhere.” He was traveling back and forth via Turkey.
“I heard about this wave that they prepared for Europe,” Abdel Kadr told us. “They asked me if I’d like to go back to Germany. They were saying to me if you want to go back don’t worry about money, but they don’t know how I think.”
Abdel Kadr was content at that time inside ISIS doing business on the side and making considerable profits. And he had a ready excuse for begging off from such a mission. “I have seven pieces of shrapnel in my body,” he explained. “If I pass through an airport they will catch me.” Also, he looks like the Arab he is, and is liable to fall prey to profiling. “They were sending athletic guys who look European back into Europe,” Abdel Kadr told us.
The ISIS emni asked Abdel Kadr to return to his former human smuggling trade. “They wanted me to make logistics and coordination because before I joined ISIS and came, I was smuggling people between Turkey and Greece.” That was when Abdel Kadr was living in Germany with his German wife, making thousands of dollars smuggling Bengalis, Iranians, Pakistanis, Afghans who had already made their way into Turkey on into Europe. The back trails across the border were primitive and rough, he said, but he knew them. “Our bridge to cross the river was a tree we cut for that purpose.”
ISIS intelligence “knew I was a people smuggler. All my German friends knew I was a smuggler,” Abdel Kadr explained. “Abu Musa al-Almani, who was in charge of Germany, came to me in Raqqa with Dominic and asked me about the smuggling. He said, ‘Dawlah [the State, ie. ISIS] needs you. The whole nation of Islam needs you.’”
The emni asked Abdel Kadr to help them smuggle trained operatives back into Europe following the routes from Turkey into Greece that he had previously exploited. Abdel Kadr claims he refused. “I took my injuries as an excuse to escape from this, I have a screw in my leg, shrapnel [from a bomb attack]. It took seven kilometers walking to get across to Greece. My role was five kilometers up to the tree [bridge]. Someone else took them inside, an Algerian guy.”
Abdel Kadr claims that he told ISIS he was no longer fit enough to do it. It may be true that he refused, as he was at the time engaged in a smuggling and trade operation inside ISIS, enriching himself there, or he may in fact have re-engaged in his former trade but did not want to tell us.
According to Abdel Kadr, when the emni was going to send a European back to attack they would first falsely announce inside ISIS, and on their external media, that he had been killed fighting or in a bomb attack. But later, it would be revealed that he was actually alive and had successfully attacked in Paris or Brussels, for instance, and had been “martyred” there.
In the case of most suicide attacks in Europe, according to Abdel Kadr, the death of the operative is announced by ISIS a few months earlier, when in fact, “they took them to a camp to train them. Then after you get a communiqué about their action in Europe. The communiqué on this date stated he died in France or Belgium, but for ourselves, seven or eight months before [we had heard] they were announcing his death.”
The same was true of Dominic, according to Abdel Kadr. “ISIS said he was killed, but it wasn’t true. He lived next to me and when I went to see his wife and children inside the ISIS area [in Tabqa, near Raqqa], they told me, ‘He is not killed, but we don’t know where he is.’” Abdel Kadr already knew Dominic’s desire to return to Europe to serve ISIS.
“He’s alive somewhere,” Abdel Kadr told us. “Up to now, there is no communiqué [about his actions in Europe].” Abdel Kadr, who is imprisoned by the YPG and says he is now totally disillusioned with ISIS, claims to have tried to thwart any possible attack by Dominic by alerting German and European intelligence about his friend’s “disappearance” and fake death announcement inside of ISIS.
“There are 1,000 partisans in Europe,” Abdel Kadr claims. “They have a big plan to introduce hundreds of refugees from all nationalities of the world,” he claims, saying ISIS was able to insert them into the refugee streams flowing into Europe. Many are sent to Europe with false passports. “They are processed by surgery, training and language and they send them as sleeping cells. In Turkey they give them hair transplants, surgically change their eyes, even the eye color.” (Presumably that would be with contact lenses.)
At least two of the attackers who struck Paris in November 2015 had entered Europe among refugees and carried false papers.
In 2015, Harry Sarfo, a German whose family originally was from Ghana, and who’d grown up in Britain, working as a postman there before he joined ISIS, was pressured by the ISIS emni to train and return to attack in Germany. He told the authorities, and later Der Spiegel and The New York Times, about his training and knowledge of these ISIS emni activities.
ISIS was telling Europeans to book short vacations in resorts in the south of Turkey, take many pictures, and then come to train for a short time with ISIS to be sent back to join sleeper cells in Europe. Without overstaying their Turkish visas and with the strong alibi of the resort booking and pictures to confirm it, they passed suspicions if questioned by security about their activities.
Abdel Kadr confirmed that this indeed was happening. “They are able to bring a youth into ISIS and then back into his family without the knowledge of his parents. They send him home to Europe after one year in training with ISIS,” he states. “There are some people who came with European faces for a short time and went back through Turkey,” he explains. “Like my friend, Dominic. I think he’s living in Europe,” Abdel Kadr concludes.
When asked about this case and others like it, a high-level YPG security official explains that his organization is doing everything it can to stop such operations. The YPG says it has caught and now holds in its prisons over 3,500 foreign fighters, many of them Europeans.
But the Kurds feel frustrated knowing that these foreigners streamed in through Turkey, some of them received medical help inside Turkey when injured, and most of the logistical supplies and extra food supplies for ISIS were delivered across the Turkish border.
Although the YPG has provided the core ground force working with the Americans to defeat ISIS, President Trump’s decision to withdraw some 2,000 U.S. troops providing logistical and other support leaves the organization in a vulnerable position. The Turkish government insists that the YPG is a branch of the Kurdish Workers Party or PKK, which Ankara and many other governments, including the U.S., deem a terrorist organization.
The YPG says the Turks have actually been complicit with ISIS. “They call us the terrorists” another YPG military intelligence officer told us, “but we are fighting terrorism every single day, losing our lives by the thousands doing so and trying to keep Europe safe from such people. We are fighting terrorism, while others are helping them to come and go, in and out of Syria, across our borders.”
Author’s note: Article first published in The Daily Beast
Pulwama attack: False Flag Operation?
On 14 February 2019, a terror attack killed 40 Indian soldiers at Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir (IOK). The unfortunate incident happened when a convey of Indian soldiers were hit by an SUV full of explosives. The incident was condemned by leaders from all over the world including Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. Mr. Khan immediately offered help to probe the incident and provide any possible help to find and capture the culprits. But the Indian government without proper investigation blame Pakistan for the Pulwama attack and showed intentions of strong retaliation.
The Pulwama attack created a serious deadlock between the two nuclear-armed countries. Pakistan called the Pulwama attack a “false flag operation” while India was all set for retaliation. The situation between the countries turned to an “international crisis” when Indian warplanes in the early morning of 26 February crossed the border and dropped bombs in Pakistani territory.
On the very next day, Pakistan conducts an airstrike in the Indian territory and shot down an Indian warplane. The Indian pilot Abhinandan was captured by Pakistani forces. The Balakot incident nearly damaged world peace as the two nuclear-armed states were ready for military conflict. However, Pakistan showed its longstanding desire for peace in the region by releasing the Indian pilot Abhinandan and exposing Modi’s false flag operation.
The Pakistani authorities called the Pulwama attack and the Balakot airstrikes as false flag operations conducted by fascist Modi’s regime to gain popular support in the upcoming election. The operation aimed to divert the public’s attention from domestic issues and create a regional crisis until the general election which was due in April of that year. But the Indian government denied all the allegations and blamed Pakistan for the Pulwama attack without any evidence.
However, during the recent police investigation of Arnab Goswami, the police have retrieved his WhatsApp which has exposed the Indian narrative of the Pulwama attack and Balakot Incident. Arnab Goswami is a renowned Indian journalist and strong supporter of Modi’s regime. During his conversation with Partho Dasgupta on 23 February 2019, Goswami hinted towards the Balakot airstrike and its importance for Prime Minister Modi in the upcoming election. Goswami texted “something big will happen”.
After a few messages on other matters, Dasgupta asked, “Dawood?”, referring to the notorious gangster who is wanted in several cases.
The conversation continued:
Arnab Goswami: “No sir Pakistan. Something major will be done this time.”
Partho Dasgupta: “Good.”
Partho Dasgupta: “It’s good for big man in this season.”
Partho Dasgupta: “He will sweep polls then.”
Partho Dasgupta: “Strike? Or bigger”
Arnab Goswami: “Bigger than a normal strike. And also, at the same time something major on Kashmir. In Pakistan, the government is confident of striking in a way that people will be elated. Exact words used.”
The police investigation of Arnab Goswami and leaked chats has exposed the Indian propaganda and vindicated Pakistan’s longstanding standing stance on Indian false flag operation. Prime Minister Imran Khan has asked for the world’s attention towards the Indian propaganda while saying “In 2019, I spoke at UNGA on how India’s fascist Modi govt used the Balakot crisis for domestic electoral gains. Latest revelations from communication of an Indian journalist, known for his warmongering, reveal the unholy nexus between the Modi govt & Indian media”.
Indian false flag operations like the Pulwama attack and Balakot airstrike are part of India’s Hybrid warfare against Pakistan. As I have discussed in my previous article, India is trying to defame Pakistan through propaganda tactics and present Pakistan as a hub of terrorism. But the recently leaked chats have exposed India and vindicate Pakistan’s desire for peace in the region.
After the leaked chats international community must take action against Modi’s fascist regime for damaging regional peace. Now that it is an established fact that Modi used false flag operations in Pulwama and Balakot to ensure victory in the election, the international community must support Pakistan’s stance towards peace and must hold India accountable.
Global War on Terror: Pakistan’s Role and Evolving Security Architecture for sustainable peace
If Afghanistan, according to former president of the United States (US) George W Bush was the center of terror, then Pakistan had been the center of war against it. After the 9/11 attacks, while announcing the Global War On Terror (GWOT), the former Bush administration invited international community including Pakistan for cooperation and adopted the foreign policy approach of “with us or against us” pick. Thus, there was no choice for the Pakistan except joining the US war in Afghanistan aimed terrorism elimination. The US policy of “with us or against us” to fight together against a common enemy could be dubbed as classic realist approach of “enemy of my enemy is my friend”.
Pakistan played a “crucial role” to eradicate the threat of terrorism to fulfill its desire for peace and stability at regional as well as global level. Despite playing pivotal role to fight the US-war on terrorism, Pakistan’s sacrifices and contributions has not been acknowledged and notion of ‘do more’ was raised by the US officials. However, terrorism encompasses various tactics to launch violent attacks against military personnel, civilians, and public. The most common tactics include use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), suicide bombing, firing, Hand Grenade, Gun and bombs and Rockets. Thus, it is difficult to respond the tactics of terrorism as an act of war through military operations. Realizing the complicated nature of counter-terrorism operations and lack of success of the US forces in Afghanistan to hit the tactics of terrorist, only way forward for the US is negotiations and political settlements. Pakistan performed important role to construct roadmap for US-Taliban talks and provided relentless support in ongoing Afghan peace process. Pakistan’s role and efforts to facilitate peace negotiations between the U.S. and Taliban to agree on ‘Doha agreement’ are widely appreciated by International community and acknowledged by the US. But when it comes to the US war on terror, Pakistan is still denied of its due appreciation in its fight against terrorism and relentless support to coalition forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s contribution of providing logistic and military support by giving access to its bases and ports to the US, deployment of its forces along its border with Afghanistan to eliminate infiltration of terrorist, intelligence and information sharing to hit and capture extremist leaders is much more than its commitments to Operation Enduring Freedom (2001–2014) or GWOT.
GWOT and Escalating Instability in Pakistan
In the aftermath of its decision to join GWOT, Pakistan became targeted by radical terrorist groups due multiple factors including foreign financial assistance to internal sectarian hostility, religious extremism, emergence of Islam in politics. Significantly the turmoil in Afghanistan had spill over impact in Pakistan. Escalating terrorist attacks and huge influx of Afghan refugees in Pakistan instigate instability and insecurity in the country. Pakistan paid heavy price for its decision to join coalition in terms of relations with Afghanistan, low growth in economic sector including loss of human lives and psychological effects. Pakistan is plagued unprecedented levels of violence since Pakistan joined the GWOT as a front-line state. Independent sources reported that in the post 9/11 period, Pakistan lost 64,000 lives, damaged infrastructure and suffered financial losses of 150 billion USD.
Pakistan undertook a series of military operations to counter the menace of terrorism and extremism. According to the Global Terrorism Database, the sudden explosion of the terrorist attacks occurred in 2005 till 2014. Counter terrorism operations by Pakistan’s military contributed in the WOT and played a pivotal role in winning it. Significant decrease in terrorist activities in Pakistan since 2014 highlights achievement of military operations against terrorists and militants.(See figure 01)
Source: Global Terrorism Data Base & Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS)
Pakistan’s Security Situation in 2020 and Geographic Distribution of terrorist activities
The trends in terrorist attacks indicates that number and lethality of terrorist activities in Pakistan is declining and country is heading towards peace and stability. In 2020, a total of 146 terrorism incidents were reported from across the country in which 220 people lost their lives, while another 547 were wounded. However, in 2019, a total of 230 terrorism incidents were reported from across the country in which 318 people lost their lives, while another 720 were wounded. The statistics for 2020 show a decline in number of terrorist attacks by nearly 38% as compared to 2019 when 230 attacks took place. Geographical distribution of terrorist attacks indicates a notable difference among provinces. Like the previous year, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP) and Balochistan had suffered most numbers of incidents; when compared with 2019, all the provinces have witnessed decline in terrorist activities. Meanwhile, Federal Capital Islamabad, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir remained the safest places as not even a signal terrorist attack occurred during the year 2020. Statistics mentioned in Pakistan’s security report 2020, published by Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) shows that country is making gradual progress to eradicate terrorism.
Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), National/Local newspapers & Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS)
Pakistan’s counter terrorism operations have played significant role to fight the violence and establishing peace in the country. Yet, Pakistan’s fight against terrorism is facing challenges due to continuing foreign finances and resources supply to terrorists’ organizations. Pakistan’s Counter-terrorism strategies should formulate mechanism to further strengthen multilateral cooperation among states to prevent, protect and pursue an attack and enhance the capacity to minimize the consequence of terrorist attack. Pakistan has entered in a fruitful phase of combating terrorism and managing its consequences efficaciously. Thus far, the US needed to acknowledge the unconditional contributions and sacrifices made by Pakistan and support the country in fighting this exhaustively expensive war on behalf of world community.
Hidden History – 1977 Terrorist Attacks in Moscow
On January 8, 1977,a series of terrorist attacks struck Moscow city, the capital of the Soviet Union. Three explosions occurred in a row in different places, with an interval of less than 40 minutes. All the employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the KGB were raised on alarm. Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, who spent Saturday hunting, urgently left for the capital. At that time, the life of Muscovites was not overshadowed by rampant criminality. The concept of “terrorism” was exclusively referred to as a characteristic of capitalist countries by the Soviet people.
OnSunday rush hour, the first bomb exploded at 17.33 in a Moscow metro train,which was on the stretch between the stations “Izmailovskaya” and “Pervomayskaya”.The second bomb went off in the grocery storeNo.15 in the formerly named Dzerzhinsky Street (now Bolshaya Lubyanka), not far from the headquarters of the KGB at 18.05.Five minutes later, the third explosion occurred near the grocery store No.5.In total,7 people were killed and 37 got injuries of varying severity.The terrorist incident was kept secret from the public.
The KGB was assigned to lead the operation codenamed “Explosives” (“Взрывники”). The best investigators of the Prosecutor General`s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the KGB were engaged in the criminal investigation. The progress of the investigation was regularly reported to the then KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov and personally to Leonid Brezhnev. Although more than 500 witnesses were interviewed, not a single clue was found.In the end, the circle of suspected cities was reduced to three – Rostov-on-Don, Kharkov and Yerevan.
However, the terrorists were identified only after they began to prepare a new terrorist attack. On November 2, 1977, they decided to repeat the attack leaving a bag with a bomb, similar to the ones that went off in January in the waiting room of the Kursk railway station. But it stood in a crowded hall almost for a day and did not explode, because the batteries ran out. The ownerless item attracted one of the passengers’ attention, who reported the finding to the police on duty. A valuable piece of evidence was obtained: a blue sports jacket with an Olympic patch and a hat with earflaps manufactured in Yerevan.
In the Moscow-Yerevan train near the administrative border of Georgian SSR and Armenia SSR, an unknown young man who was traveling with a friend was detained. The passengers were identified quickly enough. They turned out to be 28-year-old Hakob Stepanyan and 23-year-old Zaven Baghdasaryan. Regardless of the fact that it was sharply opposed by Karen Demirchyan, the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Armenian SSR Communist Party, their apartments in Yerevan were searched, where additional evidence were found, including elements of explosive devices and a scheme of an explosive device that went off in the Moscow metro. Through Stepanyan, the investigation reached the third member of the criminal group. Stepanyan and Baghdasaryan, realizing that they were fully exposed, testified against the third member of the group, Stepan Zatikyan,who was not in Moscow at the time of the explosion. They confessed that he dragged them into the preparation of the terrorist attack. It was Zatikyan, who was the brain and ideological inspirer of the group. By that time, he was working at the Yerevan Electromechanical Plant. While studying at the Yerevan Polytechnic Institute, he founded the illegal National United Party of Armenia (NUPA) along with other friends in 1966.The group of nationalists developed an active underground activity and advocated for separatism. They published a clandestine periodical named “Paros” (Phare) and distributed leaflets protesting against “Russian chauvinism” and demanding the return of Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakhichevan to Armenia SSR. The group was uncovered in 1968. The founders and active members of the NUPA were convicted of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda. Zatikyan’s verdict was not too harsh, he was released in 1972.In 1975, he sent a statement to the Supreme Soviet in which he renounced Soviet citizenship and asked to be given the opportunity to leave for any non-socialist country. The NUPA operated until 1987, when it was renamed the Union for National Self-Determination.
The investigation into the case of Zatikyan and his accomplices lasted about a year. The trial of the terrorists in the Supreme Court of the USSR took place from January 16 to 20, 1979. It was closed and secret. Even the relatives of the defendants were not allowed into the courtroom. The only information about the trial and the verdict in the news media was a short note in Izvestia (January 31, 1979).Stepanyan and Baghdasaryan pleaded guilty, Zatikyan did not. For him, the court became a political platform.A documentary about this trial was made. On the recording, one can hear Zatikyan saying in Armenian: “Tell people that these were Stepan’s last words: Revenge, revenge and revenge again.”On the other hand, Stepanyan said: “If one of us survives, there will be explosions again.”
On January 24, 1979, all the accused were found guilty by the court and sentenced to capital punishment – execution. On January 30, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR rejected the petition for clemency, and on the same day, the sentence was carried out.
The acts of terrorism carried out by Armenian nationalists have gone beyond the Soviet Union borders. In this respect,Turkish diplomats have become the target of terrorism. “Armenian terrorism, as well as its support in the larger Armenian community, was unique in its visceral hatred of its Turkish enemy” writes Michael M. Gunter in his book titled Armenian History and the Question of Genocide. As a result of the Armenian terror, more than 30 Turkish diplomats and their families have lost their lives since 1970.Most of these assassinations were mainly carried out by terrorist organizations, such as the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) and the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide (JCAG).Both groups were founded in the mid-1970s and by the early 1980s had become extremely active.Despite both groups having disintegrated in the end of 1980s, an Armenian protester was spotted with an ASALA T-shirtin Los Angeles on July22, 2020.The ideology that feeds those terrorist organizations, which mainly operated in Western countries, is still alive. The main reason for their “success” in the West is that they have not been properly punished until now.
Furthermore,Armenian terrorist organizations systematically and deliberately perpetrated acts of terrorism on Azerbaijani territory, as well. On March 19, 1994, 14 civilians lost their lives and 49 were injured as a result of the bombed attack perpetrated at the “20 January” metro station in Baku.
To put it briefly, the terrorist tradition of the Armenian ultranationalists needs to be deeply and systematically studied. The root causes of violent extremism in Armenian society are complex, multifaceted and intertwined as it has more than 100 years of history. Armenians present their terrorists to future generations as heroes, leaving their statues and encouraging future generations to grow up as terrorists.A clear example of this is the monument erected in memory of members of the ASALA terrorist organization at the Yerablur State Military Cemetery in Yerevan, Armenia.Asidefrom that, the defeat on the front in the 44-day war with Azerbaijan correspondingly pushed Armenian society into a deep sense of collective frustration and humiliation; in turn, it triggered a rise in nationalist sentiments and made them more radicalized, which galvanize terrorist attacks against Azerbaijani people. Considering that, the intelligence services and law enforcement agencies of the countries, where both Azerbaijani and Armenian diaspora live, should expeditiously increase situational awareness.
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