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ISIS Claims the Easter Sunday Bombings in Sri Lanka. Here’s Why We Should Have Seen Them Coming

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The Islamic State terror group has claimed involvement in the horrific Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 320 people at Catholic services and in luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. In a brief statement from its Amaq “news agency,” ISIS declared the attackers “were ISIS” and targeted “citizens of states” in the anti-ISIS coalition.

Sri Lanka is not part of the coalition, and while some Europeans and Americans, including children, died in the attacks, most of the victims were Sri Lankan, and all those arrested in connection with the bombings so far reportedly have been from Sri Lanka.

The Amaq statement offered no further proof of ISIS involvement, and Sri Lankan officials have focused most of their attention on a little-known local group, after admitting that warnings from foreign intelligence sources that attacks on churches were imminent were largely ignored.

Sri Lanka’s state minister for defense said Tuesday that the attacks were carried out as revenge for the slaughter at mosques by a white-nationalist terrorist in Christchurch, New Zealand, last month.

ISIS has encouraged such acts of vengeance for Christchurch, as has al Qaeda, although the latter terror organization has told its followers specifically not to attack places of worship. The Amaq statement Tuesday did not mention the New Zealand atrocity.

Whatever an ISIS role, direct or indirect, one thing is certain: ISIS will exploit the carnage in Sri Lanka to great effect, and the killers on Easter Sunday took advantage of a situation where too many people had grown too complacent about the threat posed in countries never before seen on jihadi hit lists, and far from the usual front lines in the fight against their specific brand of terrorism.

Successes in past fights against terror are no guarantee of safety now in a world where instant communications are universal. A huge part of the problem is incitement and recruitment over the internet, which the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and other organizations work to address. But the terror challenge is constantly evolving. Law-enforcement officials in the U.S. are concerned that ISIS no longer works to inspire “lone wolves,” but whole packs of wolves. And cellphone communications, including encrypted messaging apps, have made it easier than ever for them to coordinate their suicidal attacks, as happened across Sri Lanka on Sunday.

Complacency should be considered a real and growing part of the threat.

Counterterror Complacency?

In February, we spent a week in Colombo at a regional United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime conference looking at ways to prevent violent extremism and reintegrate former and imprisoned terrorists into society.

We were aware that Indonesia and Bangladesh, both represented at the conference, recently experienced ISIS-inspired attacks. In Indonesia, one such attack involved an entire family driving motorbikes to carry out suicide attacks at multiple churches.

But we also knew that Sri Lanka did not have such a history. There, the history of terrorism has been tied to the largely Hindu “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,” which were defeated militarily in 2009 after years of separatist war waged against the mostly Buddhist Sinhalese majority.

It was the Tamil Tigers, after all, who first developed the suicide vest and sent women into crowds of people to blow themselves up long before the tactic spread like wildfire across the Middle East. They also developed techniques for attacking by sea with explosive-laden speedboats.

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No one at the conference doubted that the Sri Lankans had developed a serious counterterrorism and intelligence capability in the face of the formidable foe they had faced over decades. Likewise, our hosts were very proud they had defeated the Tamil Tigers and did not expect them to make a comeback given the huge deradicalization program they had put so many of their former foes through. We even interviewed satisfied graduates of the program.

Thus, when a Sri Lankan female intelligence officer asked about one of the militant jihadi groups that were starting to form in Sri Lanka, which she was following, the general view was that that they were small and ineffective. We told her that such groups should be watched carefully because they could pick up so easily on the viral, virulent ideas of groups like al Qaeda and ISIS, and spring into action at any time. She told us there had been difficulties tracking the preachers who incited hate, then went underground before action could be taken against them.

Clearly the group alleged to have carried out the Easter bombings, coming from a tiny minority of the country’s Muslim minority, which is only about 9 percent of the population, figured out how to create a series of stunning and spectacular attacks—choosing a Christian holiday to attack Catholic churches and going after Western hotel targets, knowing both would garner huge press coverage. That’s the sort of media exposure that terrorist groups thrive on.

The name of the group, reported out of Sri Lanka as the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, has a slightly misleading local transliteration. More conventionally, it should be called the Tawhid Jamaat. In Arabic, the language of the Quran, tawhid means the oneness of God and jamaat means brotherhood. Groups that adopt such labels often believe in suicide terrorism as a form of Islamic “martyrdom” in which the killer earns immediate entrance to Paradise and his family members also gain entrance upon their deaths.  

Likewise, such groups believe in the call to establish an Islamic state, to live under Sharia law, to reject democratic leaders, and to fight jihad until the end times. They believe that even other Muslims who do not adhere to their violent extremist views can and should be killed in the quest to establish a “pure” Islamic state. Those are all dangerous ideas that can culminate in actions like the Easter Sunday massacre.

It’s unlikely, however that a local group would be sophisticated enough to plan a series of coordinated attacks and be savvy enough to go after targets that Western media would respond to in a feeding frenzy of reporting activity. That is right out of the ISIS and al Qaeda playbooks and signals that in today’s interconnected world there was likely not only inspiration, but some level of consultation. Remember that simultaneous coordinated attacks have been carried out many times before, starting with bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, then 9/11 in 2001, Casablanca back in 2004 and in Madrid the same year, in London on 7/7 in 2005, in Paris in 2015 and in Brussels in 2016.

In the past, new groups were unlikely to mount such organized activity. But in today’s interconnected world, they can easily be inspired by ideas and tactics that have been passed around by the big brothers of terrorism.

Such attacks as these are likely the wave of the future. And as ISIS has lost its territory, we must remember this is a group that was able to establish a quasi-state that put the al Qaeda militant jihadi ideology on steroids as it declared its caliphate. This utopian dream then had the power to attract more than 40,000 foreign fighters to come and live under its authority and fight on its behalf.

Calling for Counternarratives

While ISIS may be on its knees in the lands it once controlled, the power of the ISIS dream lives on, as do the grievances felt by many of its followers, which made leaving home for so very many not so difficult to do.

Only a small number left, or tried to leave, Sri Lanka for the Islamic State. Yet even there, the call to the caliphate found resonance. We need to be aware that while many ISIS leaders have been killed, ideas are much harder, if not impossible, to kill. These ideas keep spreading around the world infecting even small Muslim communities where, as we now see, they may be least expected to take root.

Over social media, ISIS makes promises of a future with dignity, purpose, and significance while living under and serving the caliphate, even if the territory it now relies on is bandwidth rather than acreage. The power of social media enables such groups to blanket the internet with their propaganda claims, then sit back and watch who shares and retweets, “likes” or otherwise endorses their materials, after which terrorist recruiters swarm in on those who showed interest to seduce them further down the terrorist trajectory.

We need to recognize that the world has changed and small startup terrorist groups loosely affiliated with the big terror organizations of the past, and possibly with no connection at all, can make a name for themselves on the global stage. All they really need is belief in the martyrdom ideology, a few members actually willing to blow themselves up, and, perhaps, direction from an outside patron in order to turn a seemingly safe Easter Sunday into a bloodbath reported around the world.

Sri Lanka was an unlikely target and reminds us that groups like ISIS and al Qaeda have not been defeated, because their ideology lives on and their ability to use emotionally evocative messaging allows them to resonate with individuals alienated from society. Until we get as good at counter-messaging as they are at messaging—using emotionally evocative narratives and images to delegitimize them and their ideology—they will continue to spread their poison and violent hatred among us.  

At ICSVE, with our Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project, we used former insiders to speak out against such group, with some success. But the fight is going to be a long one, and it is very far from over.

Christopher Dickey also contributed reporting to this article.

First published in the 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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Indian Chronicle: Exposing the Indian Hybrid warfare against Pakistan

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In recent years Indian hybrid warfare against Pakistan has intensified manifold to malign Pakistan Internationally through disinformation and propaganda tactics. Hybrid warfare has mainly been described as achieving war-like objectives with the help of fake news, disinformation, and propaganda. The Objectives of Hybrid warfare are mostly to secure long term victory against the opponent. Similarly, India has launched massive hybrid warfare against Pakistan, which was uncovered by EU DisinfoLab in its report called “Indian Chronicle”.

EU DisinfoLab is an independent organization working to expose and tackle disinformation campaigns targeting the European Union and its member states. The organization has claimed that the disinformation campaign against Pakistan has been active since 2005, “a massive online and offline 15-year ongoing influence operation supporting Indian interests and discrediting Pakistan internationally”.

In a recent investigation EU DisinfoLab has exposed a malicious Indian campaign against Pakistan. In the report, “Indian Chronicle” EU DisinfoLab has exposed the dubious use of media outlets, NGOs, and fake personnel by India to malign Pakistan. The disinformation campaign mainly targeted the United Nations and the European Union through more than 750 fake media outlets and 10 fake NGOs. According to the report, “uncovered an entire network of coordinated UN-accredited NGOs promoting Indian interests and criticizing Pakistan repeatedly. We could tie at least 10 of them directly to the Srivastava family, with several other dubious NGOs pushing the same messages.”

According to the report the disinformation campaign is supported by the Srivastava group. The Srivastava group has helped in “resurrected dead NGOs” to spread fake news. The report says that “Our investigation led to the finding of 10 UN-accredited NGOs directly controlled by the Srivastava Group, which our full report introduces at length. Their common trait? The fact that they all rose from the ashes of real NGOs. Indian Chronicles effectively benefited from the track record of these organizations while pursuing their agenda: discrediting Pakistan and promoting Indian interests at UN conferences and hearings,”.

Moreover, Asian News International (ANI), a major news agency in India has provided a platform for suck fake news campaigns. The aim of the Srivastava group and ANI media outlet is “to reinforce pro-Indian and anti-Pakistan (and anti-Chinese) feelings” in India, and “internationally, to consolidate the power and improve the perception of India, to damage the reputation of other countries and ultimately benefit from more support from international institutions such as the EU and the UN”.

The report claim that the organizations funded by the Srivastava group-sponsored trips for European Parliament members to Kashmir. “The organizations created by the Srivastava Group in Brussels organized trips for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to Kashmir, Bangladesh, and the Maldives. Some of these trips led to much institutional controversy, as the delegations of MEPs were often presented as official EU delegations when they were in fact not traveling on behalf of the Parliament,”. Such sponsored trips aimed to build a positive image of India, while spreading disinformation about the alleged claims of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir.

Moreover, India has been actively involved in portraying Pakistan as a terrorist-sponsored state through its disinformation and fake news technique. For instance, India is lobbying strongly at FATF to put Pakistan on the blacklist.

India has also supported and sponsored Baloch separatist leaders and spread disinformation through their fake media outlets as mentioned in the EU DisinfoLab report.“These UN-accredited NGOs work in coordination with non-accredited think-tanks and minority-rights NGOs in Brussels and Geneva. Several of them – like the European Organization for Pakistani Minorities (EOPM), Baluchistan House, and the South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF) – were directly but opaquely created by the Srivastava group,”one of the examples is Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian spy who was captured in Pakistan.

The Indian Chronicle report has exposed the dubious face of India and the administrative structure of the United Nations and the European Union. Indian involvement in the spread of disinformation and resurrection of dead people and NGOs has exposed its long-standing for Human rights and democracy. Meanwhile, the reports have also exposed the administrative structure of the UN and EU, as they failed to notice the activities of fake UN-accredited NGOs and spread of disinformation through their affiliated NGOs.

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Hybrid Warfare: Threats to Pakistani Security

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‘Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of war’-Giulio Douhet

Hybrid threats are becoming a norm in Pakistan and if we want to move forward in this age of technological advancements, cybercrimes, and the use of social media, we must have a wholesome response mechanism.

Hybrid warfare is a military strategy that employs not only conventional forms of warfare but irregular with it as well. It involves propaganda, cyber-attacks, state-sponsored terrorism, electoral intervention, and many more means of multi-dimensional approaches towards war which are used by militarized non-state actors. The term ‘Hybrid’ came into use around 2005-2006 due to the Israel-Hezbollah war (“Lessons from Lebanon: Hezbollah and Hybrid Wars – Foreign Policy Research Institute” 2016) and became a hot-topic in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea. Using non-confrontational means can lead to internal struggles and crumbling of the target. What direct force won’t get you can be easily achieved by infiltration and multi-faceted resources. It’s neither character of war nor its outcome that defines it as a hybrid war, but the changing tactics (“State and Non-State Hybrid Warfare” 2018). In a world where everyone, from wealthy states to those caught in throes of hunger, is armed to the teeth, there are ways to achieve socio-political objectives through the use of violent and non-violent non-state actors.

Pakistan – A Target

Pakistan has risen to incredible heights despite it being a relatively young nation and this is only proved further by the interest international players have in its internal workings. Several factors contribute to the important stature Pakistan holds in the international community such as the Pak-China alliance, its geostrategic location, military aptitude, Russian interests in the Indian Ocean, Deep Sea Gwadar Port (One Belt One Road Project), neighbor to Afghanistan (a country existing as a battleground for proxies), etc. All these reasons make sure to keep Pakistan on the radar.

Though it may be secure militarily, Pakistan is still vulnerable to hybrid threats due to internal dynamics, numerous conflicting interests of nations in state-affairs, and increasing non-state actors. South Asian nuclearization has all but guaranteed that a full-fledged war between Pakistan and India is unlikely therefore the latter uses hybrid warfare to weaken Pakistan from within.

Evolutionary Nature of War

There was truth to Heraclites’s words when he claimed that change is the only constant in our world. The social theory of evolutionary change tells us that individuals, communities, societies, and states are always in a state of motion, continuously evolving according to the era. War is born from man, it is only fair that if a man changes, so shall war. It has become more complex; the stakes have raised from territorial boundaries to the maintenance of world order and preservation of state sovereignty. Wars are no longer fought on the borders, skirmishes aside, the real destruction takes place within. Due to the paradigm shift after the Cold War (Ball 2018), there rose a need for legal, economical, socio-political, and informational means of warfare. It is used as a way to undermine other nation-states in pursuit of national power; the international system is not only a race but also a way to tear others down.

Threats to Pakistani Security

To secure Pakistan from all sides, we must first analyze the threats it faces from all sides. Conventional Warfare used to be seen as one dimensional and it only perceived assault to be done through the land, air, or sea channels. However, now it is fought in various intangible zones.

·         External

India

India is a budding regional hegemon due to its political and economic growth including hidden agendas. Pakistan is perceived to be a direct threat to India especially after the launch of the CPEC project, perceived to be undermining its hold over the region, which is why it is employing stratagems of hybrid warfare to internally weaken Pakistan. Till now India has used State-Sponsored terrorism, funded insurgencies, operated terror cells, and even sent fighter jets into Pakistani Airspace as an attempt to ruin its reputation in the international community.

Afghanistan

There has been growing instability in Afghanistan which has led to mass migrations across the porous border into Pakistan, with around 1.4 million registered Afghans (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 2018) and 1 million unregistered (“Amnesty International” 2019). India has its claws in Afghan matters as well and will use it to exploit Pakistan’s weaknesses even after US forces leave the arena. Afghan Government’s poor administrative capability especially after the return of DAESH (Tribune 2020) and Tehrik-e-Taliban Afghanistan are threats to Pakistan as well as regional peace and are a major cause of lawlessness in the country and has a spillover effect for its neighbors.

Iran

Ideologically speaking, Iran is a sectarian threat to Pakistan and its Port Chahbahar stands to lose active traffic once CPEC is fully functional which means it stands as an instigator of hybrid warfare and it would be a risk to overlook it based on past good relations.

USA

Even after the Cold War, strategic rivalry and animosity between the powers including Russia, America, and China still exist. The emergence of China as an economic superpower is perceived as a threat to the US due to which there is a major shift in its defensive posture towards the region.

The US has shown significant interest in Pakistan due to its geo-strategic location but not all interest has yielded positive results. They carried out a surgical strike for the capture and assassination of Osama-Bin-Laden. Such a breach of sovereignty and security is a hybrid threat.

·         Internal

Sectarian

There are several lobbies in Pakistan all vying for their own cause. The Iranian lobby has sectarian undercurrents. Sectarianism has always been one of the leading factors of the divide in the Muslim civilization and is the rising trend of terrorism.Such conflict itself is volatile and is deepening the rift between different sects(Shia-Sunni) of Pakistan, causing unrest.

Economic

Rising prices of commodities such as flour and sugar can lead to social unrest and discord. Such industries and their stocks are under the thumb of a select few, the elites. With the right bribes and conditions, even they would agree to sell out society.

Non-State Actors

Non-state actors are groups or organizations that have influence in the state but work independently and have their socio-political agendas (“Towards a Typology of Non-State Actors in ‘Hybrid Warfare’: Proxy, Auxiliary, Surrogate and Affiliated Forces” 2019). They work on political opportunities and mobilized grievances. Groups like BLA (Balochistan Liberation Army), TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan), and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) are some of the major actors. Pakistan needs to focus on curbing Jihadist Terrorism as it is keeping it from leaving the grey list of FATF.

·         Technological

Information

It refers to the spread of miscommunication. Propaganda and circulation of false news through social media are a relatively common way to cause turmoil in a community. Once a rumor is circling, there is no way to erase it. India claims that Pakistan is spreading the false narrative of ‘Islam being in danger’ to justify its actions, although untrue, is something that the Indians fully believe now. That Pakistani Intelligentsia is made solely to create narratives under which to attack India. Such beliefs further antagonize the states against each other.

Indian Chronicles are a prime example of information warfare being waged against Pakistan.

Cyber

Channels such as Cyber-Jihad and Dark Web come under the purview of cyber warfare and are a threat to the fabric of society and its security in Pakistan.

Given the above discussed bleak prevailing internal security situation, Pakistan needs to formulate a short to mid and long-term response that curbs all external and internal parties alongside proxies from infiltrating and influencing the working of the state and affecting the masses.

For a full-spectrum approach, all domains should be covered such as diplomacy, defense, internal and external security, economic, informational, cyber, and media security.

There are steps to be followed through for active and effective quelling of hybrid threats. First, a strategy must be put for, then tactical action should be taken and lastly, the implementation process should be supervised and fully followed through.

The main focus of the state should be on deterrence towards, protection from, and prevention of hybrid threats to the state.

One must not forget that Hybrid war is a mix of both unconventional and conventional warfare, therefore a nation-wide response should include the intertwined operational capabilities of armed forces alongside political actors. Pakistan sees its security being threatened both by internal factors and external hostile/proxy elements. This is hampering state development. State-building and nation-building must go hand in hand if counter and deter such threats effectively.

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The Impact of Management in Information Security

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Authors: Sajad Abedi and Mahdi Mohammadi

Due to the increasing role of information security in the management of any society, public and private organizations and institutions are inevitably required to provide the necessary infrastructure to achieve this. In addition to material resources, management techniques also have a great impact on the optimal and successful implementation of information security management systems. The recording of management standards in the field of ICT information security can be designed in a planned way to change the security situation of organizations according to the needs of the organization and ensure security in terms of business continuity and to some extent at other levels (crisis management and soft war). Despite extensive research in this area, unfortunately for various reasons, including the level of security of the issue for governmental and non-governmental institutions or the direct relationship of the field with their interests, clear and useful information on how to implement and prioritize the implementation of a system over the years. The past has not happened until today.

The protection of the organization’s information resources is essential to ensure the successful continuation of business activities. The fact that information and information assets play a key role in the success of organizations has necessitated a new approach to protecting them. Until now, risk analysis and management has been used to identify the information security needs of the organization. After analyzing the risks, security controls were identified and implemented to bring the risks to an acceptable level. But it seems that risk analysis is not enough to identify the information security needs of the organization. Evidence of this claim is that risk analysis does not take into account legal requirements, regulations and other factors that are not considered as risk, but are mandatory for the organization.

Identifying, assessing and managing information security risks is one of the key steps in reducing cyber threats to organizations and also preventing the unfortunate consequences of security incidents that make organizations more prepared to face cyber risks. The risk assessment process, which is the first phase of a set of risk management activities, provides significant assistance to organizations in making the right decision to select security solutions. Risk assessment is actually done to answer the following questions: * If a particular hazard occurs in the organization, how much damage will it cause? * What is the probability of any risk occurring? * Controlling how much each risk costs. Is it affordable or not? The results of risk assessment can help in the correct orientation in choosing solutions (which is to eliminate the main threats) and can also be used in formulating and modifying the security policies of the organization. Risk management is a comprehensive process used to determine, identify, control, and minimize the effects and consequences of potential events. This process allows managers to strike the right balance between operating costs and financial costs, and to achieve relevant benefits by protecting business processes that support the organization’s goals. The risk management process can greatly reduce the number and severity of security incidents that occur in the organization. Risk management has 5 steps, which are: 1. Planning: At this stage, how to manage potential risks in the organization is determined and completed by developing a risk management plan. This plan defines the risk management team, defines the roles and responsibilities of individuals and the criteria for assessing identified risks. Documented. 2. Identification: At this stage, team members gather around each other, identify potential hazards, and record them in the organization’s risk list. Arranging group brainstorming sessions is a good way to identify hazards 3. Assessment: In this step, the assessment of identified risks is performed using the criteria defined in the risk management plan. Risks are assessed based on their probability of occurrence and possible consequences.

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