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Terrorism

How Assad’s Atrocities Became a Powerful Motivator for Terrorist Recruitment

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Authors: Anne Speckhard and Molly Ellenberg*

When one thinks of the recent conflicts in Syria, images of ISIS beheadings, enslavement of Yazidis and black flags flying on behalf of the establishment of the ISIS Caliphate loom front and center. Many around the globe also fear and abhor the idea of ISIS criminals returning home, anxious that they may not be imprisoned and continue their heinous criminal acts, or even if imprisoned, spread their hateful ideology at home.[1] In the world’s collective consciousness, the Bashar al-Assad regime and its atrocities during the Syrian conflicts pale in comparison to ISIS’ brutal reign of terror. Indeed, ISIS became one of the largest, richest and most lethal and brutal terrorist organizations of all time.

Yet in March 2020, the Syrian Network for Human Rights reported from its tally of civilian casualties in the Syrian uprising that 91.4 percent of those occurring up to 2020 were caused by the Assad regime and other parties supportive of the regime, including Iranian and Russian groups. The numbers of civilian casualties attributed to ISIS, however, dwarf in comparison to those committed by the Assad regime, adding up to only 2.2 percent of the total. While ISIS is rated as the group responsible for the second-largest number of civilian casualties in Syria, its raw numbers are few compared to Assad’s.[2] This often overlooked fact actually explains much about terrorism and is a warning to us about how terrorist groups use humanitarian and conflict zones to recruit new members to their cause and engage them in terrorist violence.

Between 2015 and 2020, the lead author at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism [ICSVE] in-depth interviewed 239 male and female ISIS defectors, returnees, and imprisoned cadres, many who responded to calls from ISIS, rebel groups and the Syrian people themselves to come to their aid.[3] This in-depth research of ISIS cadres has allowed for examination of the specific influences, motivations, and sources of disillusionment these ISIS cadres experienced with ISIS as they relate to the Assad regime’s actions. Specifically, the present investigation explores the impact of amateur Syrian videos depicting suffering civilians on the decisions of foreign fighters to travel to Syria to immediately or subsequently join ISIS, the prevalence and correlates of locals and foreign fighters citing anger at the Assad regime as a primary motivation for joining ISIS, and ISIS’ contradictory involvement with the Assad regime as a source of disillusionment within ISIS ranks. Moreover, this policy paper looks in particular at the group of foreign fighters who traveled to Syria, initially out of a desire to fight the Assad regime, feeling that the Western world had abandoned the Syrian people. Looking at these aspects of influence and motivation for joining, will to fight and disillusionment as they relate to ISIS’ and the Syrian people’s portrayal of Assad’s atrocities as well as ISIS’ own actions leads to important insights into how humanitarian crises and conflicts are used by terrorist groups to draw in foreign fighters in particular, motivate them to fight, and keep them engaged in terrorism violence. It is critical to examine how foreign fighters in particular were manipulated by their emotional responses to the Syrian crisis and ultimately willingly joined or inadvertently fell into the ranks of ISIS, and also to examine what disillusioned them along these same topics, as doing so provides useful information and policy recommendations for avoiding similar non-responsiveness to future situations that terrorist groups, like ISIS, may be more than happy to exploit.

The failed Syrian Arab Spring in 2011 that devolved into armed conflict when Assad’s forces began gunning down unarmed protestors, leading to riots, violent uprising and finally civil war, provided the perfect platform for ISIS to join the dozens of disparate rebel groups that arose in Syria to fight the Syrian regime and use events happening in Syria to strengthen their own terrorist organization. Indeed, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi clearly foresaw in 2012, as he was rebuilding al-Qaeda in Iraq (which had been rebranded as the Islamic State in Iraq), the possibility of increasing the strength and ranks of ISI by attracting to his group the influx of foreign terrorist fighters flowing into Syria. He and his propagandists understood well that entering the Syrian conflict while presenting ISIS as defending Sunni Muslims under attack could be their grand play upon the existing al-Qaeda jihadist narratives already spread throughout the world, one which would become for ISIS a winning move to terrorist ascendancy.

Consistent with the propagandists’ goals, as ISIS rose into power, most of Baghdadi’s fighting forces were not native to Iraq and Syria. The earliest foreign terrorist fighters [FTFs] had been drawn to Syria first by the Free Syrian Army [FSA], al Nusra and the dozens of other groups operating there, as well as by the calls of ordinary Syrian civilians to come and help them. Before the end of 2014, when Baghdadi declared the Caliphate, approximately 15,000 FTFs from 80 countries had traveled to join the Syrian uprising,[4] many joining FSA and al Nusra. However, as ISIS rose in prominence, many of these FTFs later joined ISIS and, over time, FTFs and their families began streaming by the tens of thousands directly into the self-declared ISIS Caliphate, mounting to over 40,000 FTFs who ultimately traveled to Syria.[5]

Meanwhile, many of the rebel groups grew concerned about ISIS spies in their ranks and became suspicious of FTFs, imprisoning and sometimes even executing them. Likewise, groups like the FSA, who rejected the jihadist vision for Syria, saw the jihadist-minded foreign fighters as enemies to their nationalistic objectives. As such, foreign fighters in Syria found themselves subject to being hunted down, imprisoned and executed by previously welcoming rebel groups. ISIS, however, continued to welcome foreign fighters with open arms, inviting them to their shared vision of building an Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. ISIS’ welcoming stance also provided safe haven for those, with or without this vision, who could no longer make their way through territories bordering Turkey held by hostile groups, which were necessary to cross to make their way back home. As ISIS portrayed itself as the protector of Sunni Muslims, and promoted their rapidly expanding Caliphate as one governed by the laws of Allah, portraying it as the new Islamic utopia, many who fell into, or willfully joined their ranks, did so believing ISIS to be offering the best remedy to the oppression caused by dictators like Assad.

Many of the early FTFs had watched scores of videos posted online, many recorded on mobile phones, of Syrian women and children calling out for help amidst rubble, following chemical attacks, or after experiencing the crimes of rape and torture. Covered in dirt and blood, these victims cried out to the Islamic ummah (global family of Muslims), “Muslims, Muslims of the world, where are you?”

In response to these heart-rending calls, many young Muslim men all over the globe became enraged at the world’s seeming indifference and heeded the call, many having no initial intention to ever join a terrorist group.

In the Balkans, young men vividly recalled the horrors of the wars with Serbia and the foreign fighters who had come to their aid. Having grown up under war, these young men now wished to offer the same defense for Syrians. Likewise, first-, second-, and third-generation Muslims of immigrant descent, as well as converts, in Europe and North America were astounded and angered by world powers who seemed oblivious to Assad’s atrocities against his own people. As President Obama drew his red line in Syria, but then failed to act, more young men around the world decided they would act in his stead.

In many countries, particularly in the Gulf and the Balkans, religious and even political leaders concerned about the growing atrocities in Syria began referring to the imperative to go to the aid of Syrians, yet their governments failed to take effective actions. As it increasingly appeared that no one was successfully responding to the pitiful calls of the besieged Syrians, Muslim youth around the globe increasingly felt that if world powers would not stand up for the defenseless Syrian people, they would. Many, therefore, believing the already popularized militant jihadist narrative about the obligation of Muslims to fight jihad, who moreover felt it was wrong, if not religiously forbidden, for them to remain living in relative comfort while their Islamic brothers and sisters in Syria suffered, became convinced that it was their duty to join the fight in Syria. This obligation to jihad, which had already been popularized by al Qaeda’s propagandist Anwar al Awlaki coupled with the effect of Syrian civilian suffering was not lost on ISIS propagandists who also began to use the call to jihad to their advantage as they joined the Syrian civilians and rebel groups in calling foreigners to travel to Syria.

Not everyone who joined ISIS did so initially. Indeed, 21.2 percent of the male foreign fighters in our sample initially were members of another group before joining ISIS. Many of the early travelers to Syria entered during a time when the rebel groups were still operating chaotically and there was a great deal of overlap and cooperation among the groups. Joining any particular rebel group was often a matter of being guided by a local, family member, or friend who had come before, and also occurred by random chance. However, as the groups solidified, and particularly as they began infighting, shifting alliances often created situations where individuals chose, or were forced, to move from one group into another, with many foreign fighters moving to ISIS where they were welcomed rather than suspected or persecuted as spies or jihadists. Likewise, ISIS appeared to many to be the strongest group, as it was gaining significant swathes of territory and had accumulated the money to provide its fighters with salaries, top of the line, and often new, weaponry and spent a great deal of time indoctrinating them into the Islamic underpinnings arguing that ISIS was both capable and destined to build a utopian Islamic Caliphate.

Emotional Responses to Suffering Used to Influence Terrorist Travel

When examining the data from the 236 in-depth interviews of ISIS defectors, returnees, and imprisoned cadres interviewed by ICSVE between September 2015 and January 2020 (the sample containing 43 nationalities and 55 ethnicities and made up of 198 males and 38 females it), it emerges that 41.5 percent of the men and 7.7 percent of the women who traveled to Syria and Iraq were influenced to undertake such travel by watching amateur videos that moved them to take up arms or provide humanitarian aid in Syria. These respondents described to the researchers their emotions evoked by watching mobile phone videos of mothers crying over their dying children, calling out to the ummah for help. For many interviewees from the Balkans, these videos triggered visceral post-traumatic reactions from childhood memories of their war-torn countries and for others who had not grown up in war also triggered deep feelings of outrage over unanswered and unstopped injustice.

For example, 29-year-old Kosovar, Albert, recalls his emotional pain watching amateur Syrian videos, “I have seen quite similar torture when we were in the war with Serbia. We were also the victims of injustice.” Albert felt compelled to act: “During the war in Kosovo, I was a child … there was no opportunity for me to be engaged in the war. But now I am getting older and I feel responsible to act. I could not just let it happen.”

Bosnian 33-year-old Elvin also recalls the calls by religious authorities in the mosques who would “invoke the need for Bosnians, especially, to pay back for the foreign fighters who came in ’91 and ’92.” Elvin recalls, “I watched [online] videos of Assad’s troops killing people… We had memories of Arabs coming to fight for our cause; I felt I owed this.”

Anger and Sadness over Assad’s Atrocities as Motivations to Travel to Syria

Foreign fighters who traveled to ISIS were often motivated to do so by anger and sadness over Assad’s atrocities toward his own people rather than affinity to ISIS’s goals per se, as evidenced in this sample’s responses, particularly among those who came early to the conflict zone.  Indeed, 52.3 percent of this sample’s interviewees reported being motivated by sadness and an urge to provide humanitarian aid. 57.5 percent of the foreign men and 30.8 percent of the foreign women in this sample of 236 stated that they traveled to Syria and joined ISIS with the goal of helping the Syrian people. These individuals, similar to those motivated by anger, were overcome with strong emotions upon seeing and hearing what Assad’s regime was doing to its own people in Syria, while also being aware that prominent leaders were calling for action, yet world powers were failing to put a stop to Assad’s offenses.

Zyad Abdul Hamid, a 35-year-old from Trinidad, expressed his feelings upon seeing Western leaders call for help for the Syrian people and feeling that if the Western powers failed to act, he personally could not: “I saw John McCain saying Syrians needed help. I was a Muslim and thought it’s binding upon me to help.” Zyad entered Syria in 2014 and claims he did not join any group initially: “I helped people buy clothes, stuff like this.” Like many who became trapped in territory that ISIS controlled, Zyad Abdul Hamid then fell into the ranks of ISIS although he was also drawn to their claims to be building an Islamic Caliphate. He recalls, “the groups started fighting each other and we stayed low. After a while, Dawlah [ISIS] took the outside, took the borders.” Zyad was both trapped and intrigued by ISIS’s message, recalling, “They came around talking to us. I’m a Muslim. I wanted to know about Islamic law.”

Humanitarian concerns were also a common motivating purpose among Western women who travelled to join ISIS. For instance, 46-year-old Canadian Kimberly Pullman, facing her own emotional crisis following a rape recalls deciding that it would be better to go help Syrian children as a nurse than stay mired in her suicidal state of mind. She remembers thinking, “If I was going to die at least I could die helping children […] I felt if I did something good it would overwrite the bad that had happened.”[6]

Similarly, 23-year-old Belgian Cassandra recalls how her much older husband, who was already deeply embedded in ISIS, manipulated her emotions by showing her videos of the actions of the Syrian regime. She recalls, “He told me about Syria and showed me videos of the torture of Bashar. I was in pain, so I have to do something.” Facing a difficult family situation at home, Cassandra left Europe at only 18 years old to join her French husband already living in Syria. Later she adopted three Syrian children, all Shia orphans, who many in ISIS felt should have been left to die. True to her helping nature, she sheltered them under the protection of her husband who had risen to become an emir in ISIS, in charge of making explosive-laden cars for suicide missions. While she had come to Syria with hopes of helping Syrians she now states that ISIS “will promise you peace and security. They didn’t do anything. They want[ed a] so-called Islamic State, at the end they have been destroyed from everywhere.” She laments, “Kids died, parents died, so many injured people…”

Anger, truly outrage over Assad’s atrocities, was also a common motivator for traveling to Syria and joining ISIS. In our sample, 18.9 percent of the foreign fighter males attributed anger at the actions of Assad’s regime and the rest of the world’s inaction in response to him, as a strong motivation for travelling to Syria and ultimately joining ISIS.

36-year-old Canadian Abu Ridwan al Canadia states his motivation clearly and succinctly: “I was following the news and you can’t basically sit by and not do anything.” Abu Ridwan claims he was not there to join a terrorist group and had no initial interest in ISIS, stating, “I was there to fight the Syrian regime.” Yet, he, like many foreign fighters drawn into the conflicts by humanitarian concerns, followed his group and pledged allegiance to ISIS only three months after arriving in Syria.

Will to Fight

While the reasons given for their willingness to engage in terrorist violence and fight for ISIS included wanting to establish the ISIS Caliphate, fear of ISIS punishments if they refused, fear of being captured or killed by the enemies of ISIS, along with a myriad of less often given reasons, a deep hatred of Assad formed the primary backbone for many ISIS cadres willingness to fight, particularly among foreign fighters. 9.1 percent (n=18) of the males in this sample stated that fighting Assad’s regime was their primary motivation for going to battle. Of these, 16 were foreign fighters. Of the 16 FTFs who stated that fighting Assad was their primary motivation to fight, 31.3 percent (n=5) were from the Balkans. The others were from the United Kingdom (n=2), Morocco (n=2), and one FTF each was from Canada, Germany, Kazakhstan, Libya, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia.

24-year-old UK Jack Letts recalls, “I came because of what Bashar was doing […] I believed they were Muslims and good to fight for an Islamic State, and fighting Assad.” Jack also states that while he became totally disillusioned of ISIS and rejected them while living under their rule, he still, even in prison, retains his will to fight Assad.[7]

Abu Khalid, a 32-year-old German, also recalls being moved to come to Syria out of a deep sense of responsibility to fight Assad’s regime. Similar to Jack Letts, Abu Khalid continues to view Assad as a war criminal that even now needs to be defeated. While Abu Khalid claims he would never again fight for ISIS, he admits that if the circumstance were supportive he would be willing to once again take up arms against Assad.  He explains, “If I get out of prison, I could see going back to fight Bashar. For this I came, this war criminal.”

Disillusionment with ISIS over its Dealings with Assad

Just as outrage and sadness over viewing Assad’s atrocities had drawn many into Syria and ultimately into ISIS ranks, ISIS’s cooperation with and failure to fight the Syrian regime also formed a significant source of disillusionment with ISIS. In this sample, 4.5 percent of the men reported being disillusioned by ISIS’s failure to fight Assad and 1.5 percent of the men were disillusioned by ISIS’s cooperation with Assad, namely ISIS’s selling oil and grain to the regime.[8] While many more may have expressed the same, ISIS cleverly hid its dealings with the Assad government from most of its members.

Of the 11 men who said they were disillusioned by ISIS’s failure to fight the Syrian regime or cooperation with it, seven were from Syria. This is likely due to the fact that Syrians were more likely to have much greater recognition of what was actually going on between ISIS and Assad’s government. Syrian ISIS fighters who could speak Arabic were often privy to the oil and grain sales, as they were the people who allowed Assad’s trucks to come and retrieve oil, or who guided the regime’s engineers to work on the pumps and pipelines held by ISIS. In contrast, ISIS took full advantage foreign fighters who could not understand the language or knew the political lay of the land and routinely sent them to kill Sunni tribesman, for example, in the genocidal al Sheitat slaughter, telling them that these were not even Sunni Muslims. Of course, for those who later learned the truth, disillusionment also set in.

31-year-old Kosovar Abu Naim, recalls how he was quickly disillusioned in 2013 by what he saw in Syria explaining that the rebel groups, including ISIS, were absorbed with infighting rather than focusing on fighting Assad’s forces, “There were too many groups involved. It’s as though they had forgotten about the regime. They started positioning [for power] amongst themselves.”[9]

27-year-old Swedish Abu Gibril also expresses his disappointment that ISIS didn’t keep their focus on fighting the Syrian regime, “They tried to make an Islamic State, but there were many things they did that was not smart. Instead of attacking the Kurds they should attack the Syrian army.”

Similarly, 33-year-old Abu Raqman of the UK explains, “I thought 100 percent they will win against Assad.” He became disillusioned when he saw that ISIS was attacking in Europe instead. “Personally, I don’t believe they should bring the war over there. The war is here [in Syria]. They should have focused on the biggest dictator here, not someone far away.”

24-year-old American-born Hoda Muthana agrees that ISIS’s actions outside of the active war with Assad’s regime were one of many sources of disillusionment for her. “Two enemies attacking each other is understandable,” she says, referring to ISIS fighting the regime. But she asks how those who served in ISIS’s killing machine will ever be able to atone for all the civilians they killed, “How are you going to justify for the kids you killed, when we believe all children go to heaven?”[10]

Conclusion

For many who joined ISIS, the events happening in Syria and the failure of the world’s leaders to stop Assad from cruelly killing and harming far more people than ISIS ever did created a massive whirlpool that pulled thousands of foreign fighters into travel across continents and oceans, many drowning themselves in terrorism as they sacrificed everything to come help their oppressed Muslims brother and sisters. A significant portion of these felt a personal responsibility to take up arms to fight Assad’s regime, and they initially came with good intentions even though they later fell into the ranks of ISIS. For many of these, even after becoming totally disillusioned of the Islamic State’s failed Caliphate, they continue in their hatred of Assad, so deeply that some would still be willing to take up arms once again to fight this war criminal. Likewise, while a large portion of ISIS members were disillusioned over time by the un-Islamic, corrupt and brutal nature of ISIS, some also found ISIS’s failure to fight Assad and even to cooperate with his government by selling them oil and grain to be strong enough reasons for wanting to give up on ISIS.

These are all lessons for the world to learn about how terrorist groups are able to use humanitarian crises and conflicts to recruit, influence, motivate and engage youth to take up arms for a terrorist cause and also how a terrorist group, when dealing with corrupt war criminals, can also be delegitimized in the eyes of its potential recruits and existing members.

When dealing with terrorist group recruitment, policy makers need to be keenly aware that when deep injustices are occurring, particularly aimed at Muslims, and Western powers do little to nothing to stop them, it plays into an already widely distributed al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, and ISIS militant jihadi narrative: that Muslims are oppressed, Islamic lands and people and the religion itself are under attack and the West is playing a role, if not actually behind the oppression and injustice. Moreover, the militant jihadist narrative of these terrorist groups teaches that Muslims themselves have an individual duty to fight jihad, to bring an end to such atrocities and to bring about justice for the Muslim ummah, who are, according to the militant jihadist narrative, supposed to be living under Islamic ideals and shariah law – even if that can only be obtained by raising arms to do so.

At this point in time, ISIS has been territorially defeated. Most ISIS foreign fighters were either killed, have fled the battleground, or are locked up at home, in Iraq, or in Syria.

Meanwhile, Assad remains both free and in power.

While the German authorities have recently arrested two key players among Assad’s henchmen responsible for torturing countless Syrians,[11] until he and his entire leadership regime are brought to justice, the lessons to ordinary Muslims seeking justice is very clear: It may be necessary to resort to terrorist violence and join a terrorist group in order to defend the defenseless and to try to bring justice to a conflict zone that world powers appear willing to ignore.

While ISIS brought no defense, nor justice to the Syrian people, neither have the world powers.

Until youth who may be vulnerable to terrorist recruitment see and hear with their own eyes and ears that the West is willing to defend the defenseless and will enact justice, they will remain vulnerable to terrorist recruitment. These are important lessons for the future.

*Molly Ellenberg, M.A. is a research fellow at ICSVE.  Molly Ellenberg holds an M.A. in Forensic Psychology from The George Washington University and a B.S. in Psychology with a Specialization in Clinical Psychology from UC San Diego. At ICSVE, she is working on coding and analyzing the data from ICSVE’s qualitative research interviews of ISIS and al Shabaab terrorists, running Facebook campaigns to disrupt ISIS’s and al Shabaab’s online and face-to-face recruitment, and developing and giving trainings for use with the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project videos. Molly has presented original research at the International Summit on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma and UC San Diego Research Conferences. Her research has also been published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma. Her previous research experiences include positions at Stanford University, UC San Diego, and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.

[1] Al Jazeera. “Finland’s Foreign Minister Faces Probe over Syria Repatriations.” News | Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera, February 19, 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/finland-foreign-minister-faces-probe-syria-repatriations-200219161057275.html.; Guy, Jack, James Frater, and Sarah Dean. “Norway’s Governing Coalition Collapses over ISIS Repatriation.” CNN. Cable News Network, January 20, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/20/europe/norway-government-collapse-isis-intl/index.html.
[2] Syrian Network for Human Rights. (2020, March). Retrieved from http://sn4hr.org/
[3] Speckhard, Anne, and Molly D. Ellenberg. “ISIS in Their Own Words: Recruitment History, Motivations for Joining, Travel, Experiences in ISIS, and Disillusionment over Time–Analysis of 220 In-depth Interviews of ISIS Returnees, Defectors and Prisoners.” Journal of Strategic Security 13, no. 1 (2020): 5.
[4] Foreign fighters flow to Syria. (2014, October 11). Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/foreign-fighters-flow-to-syria/2014/10/11/3d2549fa-5195-11e4-8c24-487e92bc997b_graphic.html
[5] Richard Barrett, “Beyond the Caliphate.” New York, NY: The Soufan Center (2017).
[6] Speckhard, Anne (March 31, 2020). Kimberly Pullman: A Canadian Woman Lured Over the Internet to the ISIS Caliphate. Homeland Security Today.
[7] Speckhard, Anne. “British-Born Jack Letts Discusses Mental Illness and His Path to ISIS.” Homeland Security Today, November 25, 2019. https://www.hstoday.us/subject-matter-areas/counterterrorism/british-born-jack-letts-discusses-mental-illness-and-his-path-to-isis/.
[8] Speckhard, Anne, and Ahmet S. Yayla. “ISIS revenues include sales of oil to the al-Assad regime.” ICSVE Brief Reports (2016).
[9] Speckhard, Anne. “The Call to Jihad,” April 28, 2018. https://www.icsve.org/the-call-to-jihad/.
[10] Speckhard, Anne, and Ardian Shajkovci. “American-Born Hoda Muthana Tells All About Joining ISIS and Escaping the Caliphate.” Homeland Security Today, April 23, 2019. https://www.hstoday.us/subject-matter-areas/terrorism-study/american-born-hoda-muthana-tells-all-about-joining-isis-and-escaping-the-caliphate/.
[11] Karadsheh, Jomana. “Germany Opens Landmark Trial of Syrian Regime Officers Accused of Crimes against Humanity.” CNN. Cable News Network, April 23, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/23/middleeast/syria-germany-trial-intl/index.html.

Author’s note: first published in Homeland Security Today

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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Terrorism

A question mark on FATF’s credibility

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While addressing a political gathering, India’s external affairs minister  S. Jaishanker made a startling lapsus de langue “We have been successful in pressurizing Pakistan and the fact that Pakistan’s behaviour has changed is because of pressure put by India by various measures. “Modi made personal efforts on global forums like G7 and G20 to keep Pakistan on the list”.

He was addressing the BJP leaders’ training programme on the Modi government’s foreign policy. Jaishanker is suave person. He generally avoids filibusters and gung-ho statements.

Jaishanker lauded Modi also for pushing back China from Doklam and Ladakh. To quote his statement, he said, ‘“One was in Doklam where China had to go back and the second is when they tried infringing LAC (the Line of Actual Control) in Ladakh’.

Lies galore

Doklam

India’s view of Doklam is debatable. China thinks India was the aggressor. India intervened and stopped China road work at ostensibly Bhutan’s request (India has no border with China at Doklam). India’s intransigence at Doklam opened China’s eyes. China began to suspect what India has up its sleeve.

Stobden in a newspaper article last year `China’s past border tactics, especially in Central Asia, offer India a clue’ points out, `If India falls for some kind of Chinese position over Aksai Chin, Beijing will then shift the focus to Arunachal to emphatically claim 90,000 sq km from India. Ceding Aksai Chin would fundamentally alter the status of J&K and Ladakh’.

No more integral part. Just `might is right’ or `jis ki lathi us ki bhains‘ (he who has the staff, has the cow).

With tacit US support, India is getting tougher with China. The 73-day standoff on the Doklam Plateau near the Nathula Pass on the Sikkim border was actuated by implicit US support. .

 Being at a disadvantage vis-à-vis India, China was compelled to resolve the stand-off through negotiations. China later developed high-altitude “electromagnetic catapult” rockets for its artillery units to liquidate the Indian advantage there, as also in Tibet Autonomous Region. China intends to mount a magnetically-propelled high-velocity rail-gun on its 055-class under-construction missile destroyer 055.

The Chinese government released a map to accuse India of trespassing into its territory, and in a detailed statement in the first week of August, it said “India has no right to interfere in or impede the boundary talks between China and Bhutan.”

India and China have one of the world’s longest disputed borders and areas — which include 37,000 sq km of uninhabited Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh with 1.4 million residents and over 84,000 sq km.

Meanwhile, their Armies have been modernising at a frenetic pace. The two sides are also carrying out one of history’s biggest conventional military build-ups along their borders. Doklam adds yet another flashpoint along the disputed borders of the two Asian giants.

Ladakh (Galwan) clashes

These clashes were at best a storm in a teacup. Both China and India have signed agreements not to use firearms. As such, India’s hullabaloo was much ado about nothing. Jaishanker like so many other Indian politicians keep projecting the issue as a “victory, nonetheless.

AT a height of 14,000 feet (Galwan Valley), the world’s first and second most populated countries and two nuclear powers engaged in violence. Thankfully for the planet they brawled with fisticuffs and threw stones at each other besides using barbed-wire-enveloped bludgeons to pummel each other.

In the battle that took place over several hours, India lost 20 lives, including an officer commanding (colonel). New Delhi claimed China lost 43 men as per radio intercepts.

India claimed that China’s aim is to “dominate Durbuk-DBO road, strengthen its position in the Fingers area, halt the construction of link roads in Galwan-Pangong Tso [salt lake] and negotiate de-escalation on its terms.” This is the assertion of Maj Gen (Dr) G.G. Dwivedi.

India alleged that not only have the Chinese changed the status quo at the Fingers, the mountain spurs along the lake, but also built substantial structures in the contested region of the Line of Actual Control. The hills protrude into the lake like fingers, and are numbered one to eight from west to east.

According to India, the LAC lies at Finger 8, but China points to Finger 4. The May 27 images by Planet Labs showed dozens of new structures, most likely tents that came up between Finger 8 and Finger 4 on the north bank of Pangong Tso, one of the main points of contention in the current standoff. The Indian Express (June 6) claimed this satellite imagery shows how the Chinese have changed the status quo on Pangong bank.

The Indian media alleged that China took over 640 kilometres of Ladakh territory. On the other hand the Chinese media insists that it is India which violated the Line of Actual Control.

The Chinese assertion was confirmed by Prime Minister Narender Modi. While addressing an all-party conference Modi said: “Neither have they [Chinese]” intruded into our border, nor has any post been taken over by them [China]. One wonders what was the point in whipping up of war hysteria by the Indian media. What a contradiction between Jaishankar’s and Modi’s statements.

FATF manipulated through India’s defence-purchases clout from influential countries

India leveraged its military purchases to keep Pakistan under the grey List. Amid Ladakh border standoff, India’s defence ministry approved purchase proposals amounting to an estimated Rs 38,900 cores. They included procurement of 21 MiG-29s, upgrading Indian Air Force’s existing MiG-29 aircraft, procurement of 12 Su-30 MKI aircraft. The MiG-29 procurement and up-gradation from Russia will cost Rs 7418 crore.

A bird’s-eye view of India’s defence deals

Rafale

India signed a formal agreement to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault for a reported 7.9 billion euros (8.8 billion dollars), one of its biggest defense deals in decades.7 Apr 2021. The five Rafale fighter jets which landed in Ambala on 29th July, 2020 would

Resurrect the Number 17 Golden Arrows squadron of the Indian Air Force. It will take

the IAF’s squadron strength to 31. When all the 36 Rafale jets are delivered by 2022,

it will take it to 32 squadrons. The state-of-the-art 4.5 Generation Rafale jet can reach almost double the speed of sound, with a top speed of 1.8 Mach. With its multi-role capabilities, including electronic warfare, air defence, ground support and in-depth strikes, the Rafale lends

air superiority to the Indian Air Force.

Armed Forces $130 billion modernization plan

The plan includes acquisition of a wide variety of arms and armament that includes missiles, warships, drones, fighter jets, surveillance equipment and creation of architecture for Artificial Intelligence.

Recent India and US Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo[1]spatial Cooperation (BECA) deal on 27 October, 2020 in Delhi envisages digitising military applications. Broadly, there are four important aspects in the field of Battle field digitisation, which in military parlance is termed as Network Centric Warfare.

MiG upgradeIndia will upgrade 59 of its MiG-29 aircraft and buy 21 more from Russia for about $1 billion.

Artillery, tanks and missiles

India will buy Excalibur artillery rounds for M777 ultra light howitzersfrom the United States, Igla-S air defence systems from Russia and Spike anti-tank guided missiles from Israel.

The Army will buy ammunition for its T-90 tanks, BMP-2 vehicles, air defence guns, artillery guns and small arms, as well as rockets, missiles and mortars. The Air Force will buy air-to-air missiles, air to-ground missiles, smart bombs, chaffs, flares and precision-guided munitions.

 Russia worth $800 million to buy weapons and spare parts.

India-US Guardian Drones Deal:

The US and the Indian Government signed a

$ 2-3 billion deal for the Guardian drones in 2018. The US Government has

cleared the sale of 22 predator Guardian drones to India. The drones are

manufactured by General Atomics.

 India-US Defence Deal of Naval Guns:

In November, 2019 a deal of $1.0210 billion with the US was sealed to obtain 13 MK45 Naval guns and related

equipment. The MK-45 Gun System will help India to conduct anti-surface

warfare and anti-air defence missions.

India-US Apache Contract:

India and the US have signed $930 million agreement for 6 Apache Helicopters for Indian Army. The contract was made in the year 2015 by the Indian Air Force for 22 Apache helicopters. Out of 22 helicopters, 17 have already been delivered to India and the rest will be delivered in the year 2023.

MH-60 Romeo Helicopters Deal:

Indian Navy will procure 24 Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters.

FATF’s double standards

It is questionable why supporting ongoing freedom movement in the occupied Kashmir is “terrorism”, but not India’s support to militant groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and erstwhile East Pakistan. India portrays the freedom movement in Kashmir as `terrorism’. The conduct of Indian diplomats amounted to state-sponsored terrorism. For one thing, India should close the `Free Balochistan’ office on her soil, and stop resuscitating propaganda skeletons of pre-Bangladesh days.

Unlike Kashmir, East Pakistan was not a disputed territory. It was an integral part of Pakistan. But, India harboured, nurtured, trained and armed Bengali ‘freedom fighters’ on Indian soil. Ina video, India’s army chief Manekshaw confessed that prime minister Indira Gandhi forced him to attack the erstwhile east Pakistan.

Negative impact of rigorous compliance

The managers of financial institutions in Pakistan are implementing the FATF conditions without understanding their purpose. They are harassing honest investors. For, instance, the manger of the national Saving Centre Poonch house Rawalpindi refuses to issue an investment certificate unless the applicant submits a host of documents. These documents include a current bank statement, source-of-income certificate besides bio-data along with a passport-size photograph. They call for the documents even if the applicant submits a cheque on his 40-year-old bank account.

Concluding remarks

The Financial Action Task Force has,  ostensibly,  noble objectives. It provides a `legal’, regulatory, framework for muzzling the hydra-headed monster of money-laundering. It aims at identifying loopholes in the prevailing financial system and plugging them. But, it has deviated from its declared objectives. It has become a tool to coerce countries, accused of financing terrorism or facilitating money-laundering.

The FATF is more interested in disciplining a state like Pakistan, not toeing US policies, than in checking money-laundering. The tacit message is that if Pakistan does not toe Indian and USA’s Afghan policy, and lease out air bases for drone attacks, then it will remain on FATF grey list. 

Pakistan is a bête noire and India a protégé at the FATF only because of stark geo-political interests. Otherwise the money laundering situation in India is no less gruesome than in Pakistan. India has even been a conduit of ammunition to the Islamic State study conducted by Conflict Armament Research had confirmed that seven Indian companies were involved in the supply chain of over 700 components, including fuses or detonating cords used by the so-called Islamic State to construct improvised explosive devices.

Political considerations, not FATF’s primary objectives, override voting behavior at the FATF..

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Terrorism

Politically expedient definition of “terrorism” to put Pakistan under watch list

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The writer is of the view that there is no universally-acceptable definition of “terrorism”. Influential countries in the United Nations utilize their leverage to get an individual or an entity declared a “terrorist”. “Freedom fighters” are called “terrorists” by their adversaries. He wonders whether it was fair to declare some religious or welfare organisations “terrorists’. And, to use this dubious “declaration” as justification to impose financial difficulties on Pakistan. He expressed ennui on apathy of international organisations towards India’s support, for example to Mukti Bahini that Pakistan considered a “terrorist’ organisation. The views expressed are personal.

The Financial Action Task Force is supposed to plug money laundering. It is not meant to dubiously declare a person or entity terrorist to impose financial restrictions on it. According to an Islamabad-based think tank Tabadlab, Pakistan sustained a total of US$ 38 billion in economic losses due to FATF’ decision to thrice place the country on its grey list since 2008. In a way, the whole Pakistani nation was punished by declaring some religious outfits “terrorists”.

 Dubious “terrorism” label

Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed state, notwithstanding India’s occupation of some parts of it. Flouting international resolutions declaring Kashmir a disputed territory, India annexed the part under its illegal occupation a centrally controlled territory ruled by New Delhi.

Kashmiris started a movement for freedom.

In the course of time some religious organisations in Pakistan began to support the freedom movement in India. India calls the freedom movement “terrorism, and by corollary whosoever supports it. Hafiz Mohammad Saied runs a few non-government welfare oganisations. Former president Musharraf’s, in an interview pointed out that Saeed’s organisations are the best in Pakistan. Through its leverage with the USA and some other countries, India managed to get Saeed designated a terrorist by the United Nations. Without substantial incriminating evidence, Saeed was portrayed as the mastermind of Mumbai attacks. The fact however remains that the Mumbai trials lacked transparency.

To create financial difficulties for Pakistan, India through its “friends” managed to get Pakistan on Financial Action Task Force watch list for inability to take adequate action against Hafiz Saeed.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg (2008) observed that “arbitrary procedures for terrorist black-listing must now be changed”. There is no definition of terrorism. Mukti Bahini in former East Pakistan was freedom fighters to India but terrorists to Pakistan. Cuban terrorists were decorated n the USA as “freedom fighters”.

Political expediency not fairness is the basis of the “terrorism” definition. To the USA Taliban were freedom fighters as long s they fought the erstwhile Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The US began to subsequently regard them as “terrorists” when they allegedly sheltered international “terrorists”. The Taliban were designated terrorists under resolutions 1267 and 1373. The US used its influence to the hilt to get them so declared.  

According to principles of penology, an offence has to be first defined before it is made punishable. In the absence of a global, universally acceptable definition of the word ‘terrorism’, any figment of imagination could be stretched to mean terrorism.

Unless the word ‘terrorism is defined, it will not be possible to distinguish it from a freedom movement, protest, guerrilla warfare, subversion, criminal violence, para-militarism, communal violence or banditry. A nation cannot be punished for individual acts of terrorism, according to principles of natural justice and penology.

In the historical context, the term meant different things to different individuals and communities. The oldest ‘terrorists’ were holy warriors who killed civilians. Recent examples of religious terrorists are Aum Shinrikyo (Japanese), Rabbi Meir Kahane and Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir (Jews).

The Jewish-controlled media describes Hezbollah and Hamas as ‘religious terrorists’. In the first century A.D Palestine, the Jews publicly slit the Romans’ throats, in the seventh century India, the thugs strangulated gullible passersby to please the Hindu Devi Kali, and the 19th century adherents of Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will) mercilessly killed their pro-Tsar rivals.

Most historians believe that the term ‘terrorism’ received international publicity during the French reign of terror in 1793-94.

It is now common to dub one’s adversary a ‘terrorist’. Doing so forecloses possibility of political negotiation, and gives the powerful definer the right to eliminate the ‘terrorist’.

India’s self confessed “terrorism

Former East Pakistan was not a disputed state like Jammu and Kashmir. Yet, India tried tooth and nail to stoke an insurgency in East Pakistan. Confessions of former Research and Analysis Wing’s officers and diplomats bear testimony to India’s involvement in bloodshed in East Pakistan. B. Raman (A RAW officer), in his book The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane makes no bones about India’s involvement up to the level of prime minister in Bangladesh’s insurgency.

Elements in the definition: Points to ponder

There is a cliche “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. “Terrorism” is focused from narrow angles. Some definitions focus on the terrorist organizations’ mode of operation. Others emphasize the motivations and characteristics of terrorism, the modus operandi of individual terrorists.

In their book Political Terrorism, Schmidt and Youngman cited 109 different definitions of terrorism, which they obtained in a survey of leading academics in the field. From these definitions, the authors isolated the following recurring elements, in order of their statistical appearance in the definitions[1]: Violence, force (appeared in 83.5% of the definitions); political (65%); fear, emphasis on terror (51%); threats (47%); psychological effects and anticipated reactions (41.5%); discrepancy between the targets and the victims (37.5%); intentional, planned, systematic, organized action (32%); methods of combat, strategy, tactics (30.5%).

Former RAW officer RK Yadav’s disclosures

 In a published letter, Yadav made  startling revelation that India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi, parliament, RAW and armed forces acted in tandem to dismember Pakistan. It is eerie that no international agency declared India a “terrorist” for its nefarious activities. His  confessions in his letter are corroborated  are corroborated by B. Raman in his book The Kaoboys of R&AW. He reminds `Indian parliament passed resolution on March 31, 1971 to support insurgency. Indira Gandhi had then confided with Kao that in case Mujib was prevented, from ruling Pakistan, she would liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of the military junta. Kao, through one RAW agent, got hijacked a Fokker Friendship, the Ganga, of Indian Airlines hijacked from Srinagar to Lahore.

Why the hullabaloo about insurgency in Kashmir if India’s intervention in East Pakistan was justified.

Kulbushan Jadhav role

Jadhav was an Indian Navy officer, attached to RAW. His mission was to covertly carry out espionage and terrorism in Pakistan. Pakistan also alleged there were Indian markings on arms deliveries to Baloch rebels pushed by Jadhav.

To India’s chagrin, India’s investigative journalists confirmed from Gazettes of India that he was commissioned in the Indian Navy in 1987 with the service ID of 41558Z Kulbhushan Sudhir. A later edition of the Gazette showed his promotion to the rank of commander after 13 years of service in 2000. His passport, E6934766, indicated he traveled to Iranfrom Pune as Hussein Mubarak Patel in December 2003. Another of his Passports, No. L9630722 (issued from Thane in 2014), inadvertently exposed his correct address: Jasdanwala Complex, old Mumbai-Pune Road, cutting through Navi Mumbai. The municipal records confirmed that the flat he lived in was owned by his mother, Avanti Jadhav. Furthermore, in his testimony before a Karachi magistrate, Karachi underworld figure Uzair Baloch confessed he had links with Jadhav. India’s prestigious Frontline surmised that Jadhav still served with the Indian Navy. Gazette of India files bore no record of Jadhav’s retirement. India told the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Jadhav was a retired naval officer. But, it refrained from stating exactly when he retired. The spy initially worked for Naval Intelligence, but later moved on to the Intelligence Bureau. He came in contact with RAW in 2010.

India portrays the freedom movement in Kashmir as `terrorism’. What about India’s terrorism in neighbouring countries? Will the world take notice of confessions by India’s former intelligence officers and diplomats?

Through Jhadav India wanted to replay the Mukti Bahini experience in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Doval doctrine: In line with India’s security czar Ajit Doval’s Doctrine, RAW aims at fomenting insurgency in Pakistan’s sensitive provinces. Doval is inspired by India’s nefarious efforts which resulted in the secession of East Pakistan. Naila Baloch’s `free Balochistan’ office has been working in New Delhi since 23 June 2018. BJP MLAs and RAW officers attended its inauguration.

Involvement in Afghanistan

India too trained Afghan Northern Alliance fighters. India’s ambassador Bharath Raj Muthu Kumar, with the consent of then foreign minister Jaswant Singh, `coordinated military and medical assistance that India was secretly giving to Massoud and his forces’… `helicopters, uniforms, ordnance, mortars, small armaments,  refurbished Kalashnikovs seized in Kashmir, combat and winter clothes, packaged food, medicines, and funds through his brother in London, Wali Massoud’, delivered circuitously with the help of other countries who helped this outreach’. When New Delhi queried about the benefit of costly support to Northern Alliance chief Massoud, Kumar explained, “He is battling someone we should be battling. When Massoud fights the Taliban, he fights Pakistan.”

Concluding remarks

It is questionable why supporting ongoing freedom movement in the occupied Kashmir is “terrorism”, but not India’s support to militant groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and erstwhile East Pakistan. India portrays the freedom movement in Kashmir as `terrorism’. What about India’s terrorism in neighbouring countries? Will the world take notice of confessions by India’s former diplomats. The conduct of Indian diplomats amounted to state-sponsored terrorism. For one thing, India should close the `Free Balochistan’ office on her soil, and stop resuscitating propaganda skeletons of pre-Bangladesh days.

Unlike Kashmir, East Pakistan was not a disputed territory. It was an integral part of Pakistan. But, India harboured, nurtured, trained and armed Bengali ‘freedom fighters’ on Indian soil.

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Terrorism

U.S.: From mass airstrikes to targeted terrorist attack

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The U.S.-led military operation “Inherent Resolve” has begun in August 2014. Its ostensible purpose was a struggle with the gaining ground ISIS at that moment. As the operation develops, Australia, France, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, Belgium and other countries joined the American airstrikes.

United forces, with purposes to show power and strengthen its influence in the region carried out more than three thousand airstrikes in the first year, resulting in thousands of victims among civilians. It is worth to note that member states of the coalition didn’t try to hide the fact that their actions caused the death of thousands of people. In 2018, British authorities justified civilian deaths by the fact that militants used them as human shields and it was impossible task to minimize losses.

According to “Airwars”, the British non-government organization, from 2014 till 2019 up to 13,190 civilians were killed in Iraq and Syria as a result of the international coalition actions.

However, despite all the “efforts” and the Pentagon’s loud statements about the fight against international terrorism, the fact of the continuously growing territory controlled by the militants testifies the opposite. In addition, since 2015, facts of provided by Washington direct support to terrorists have begun to be revealed. U.S. and its allies produced weapons were repeatedly found in the territories liberated from jihadists. So, for example in 2017 during armed clashes with government troops militants used anti-tank TOW-2 and SAMS air defense systems of the U.S. production. Also, American medicines, communication tools and even component kits for UAVs were found in positions abandoned by terrorists.

The negative reaction of the international community began to rise in this context and Washington had no choice but to change the strategy of its activity in Syria. The practice of mass airstrikes was replaced by targeted terrorist attacks against government forces by their backed militants.

For implementing of such kind of actions, U.S. retained its military presence in Homs province where their military base Al-Tanf is deployed. A huge amount of evidence U.S. servicemen training armed groups fighters is widely accessible. Moreover it’s known that 55 km zone around Al-Tanf has been inaccessible to government troops for years and Syrian army attempts to enter the area were suppressed by the U.S. airstrikes.

At the same time, IS militants have been spotted moving in this region without encumbrance and used the base as a safe zone for regrouping. Terrorists slipped in Deir ez-Zor, Palmyra, as well as Daraa and As-Suwayda from this area. In addition, the U.S. has created the Jaysh Maghawir al-Thawra group to fight government forces in the eastern section of the border between Syria and Iraq. Initially, the armed group was created to fight against government troops, but after a number of defeats they started to protect the area around the Al-Tanf.

Up to the date Washington continues to insist on Bashar al-Assad government “illegitimacy” and actively supports so-called moderate opposition. Pursuing its selfish economic and political goals, the United States counters to the international law, completely ignoring the tens of thousands victims among civilians and millions of refugees flooded Europe. Although the role of the White House and its allies in supporting terrorist groups is difficult to overestimate, the United States obviously will not consider it enough.

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