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News, analysis and primary source documents on terrorism, extremism and national security.


Friday, February 27, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief 2/27/2015

ISIS TRIES A TWITTER STORM

After some months rocked back on its heels in the face of Twitter crackdown and the suspension of thousands of accounts, ISIS social media workers tried to launch a hashtag campaign to promote ISIS media on Thursday. It didn't work out so well, however, as the group's many enemies decided to crash the party.

In a sample of 3,000 tweets taken in the middle of the campaign the most retweeted tweet in Arabic (excluding hashtag aggregators) was a Kurdish tweet attacking ISIS, and the negative tweets soared as the day went on. Similarly, when examining a similar sample on the English hashtag, an American political conservative activist claimed the most retweeted tweet, and a host of other players swamped the tag with rhetorical attacks, memes and photoshops, to the point that actual ISIS content was a very small portion of the activity.

All of this came as Twitter launched its latest and largest-yet crackdown on ISIS, obliterating most of its official media distribution team, a large number of the most important accounts, and a substantial number of general supporters. It may be time to retire the "ISIS as unstoppable social media behemoth" trope.

-- J.M. Berger

PHOTO OF THE WEEK



ISIS: The State of Terror is printed, and slowly working its way through warehouses and various systems and into bookstores and onto your front porches. The release date is March 24. Pre-order the book now. If you need something to fill the hours until then, try Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, available now.

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT

What Is Domestic Terrorism? A Method for Classifying Events From the Global Terrorism Database
Domestic terrorism accounts for a vast majority of all attacks, yet it is far less studied than its transnational counterpart. This article seeks to address the problem by proposing a method for refining original Global Terrorism Database (GTD) data into a constructively valid, crossnational domestic terrorism dataset.  By Richard E. Berkebile.

ISIS WATCH

‘Jihadi John’: Islamic State killer is identified as Londoner Mohammed Emwazi
The world knows him as “Jihadi John,” the masked man with a British accent who has beheaded several hostages held by the Islamic State and who taunts audiences in videos circulated widely online. But his real name, according to friends and others familiar with his case, is Mohammed Emwazi, a Briton from a well-to-do family who grew up in West London and graduated from college with a degree in computer programming.

Islamic State: 'Jihadi John''s background typical yet distinct
The identity of Syria's best-known jihadist is finally out: Mohammed Emwazi, better known as "Jihadi John", has been revealed as a former West London resident. He is middle class and well educated, which chimes with a lot of our research. Radicalisation is not principally driven by poverty or social deprivation.

ISIS Onslaught Engulfs Assyrian Christians as Militants Destroy Ancient Art
The latest to face the militants’ onslaught are the Assyrian Christians of northeastern Syria, one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, some speaking a modern version of Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

Three men from Brooklyn arrested, charged with supporting ISIS
Three Brooklyn residents were formally charged Wednesday with providing material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS.)

Fear of the Islamic State spawns a renegade Afghan militia
Former mujahideen commanders have created Afghanistan’s newest militia — Margh, or “Death,” in the local Dari language. It’s so named because they vow to fight to the end to prevent Syria- and Iraq-based extremists from establishing a foothold in their country.

Islamic State experts worry U.S. is underestimating fight for Mosul
U.S. commanders pressing for an attack on Mosul perhaps as early as this spring may be underestimating the importance of the city to its Islamic State occupiers, who are likely to put up a huge fight to retain their control, experts who’ve studied the extremist organization say.

Minnesota teen pleads guilty to conspiring to support Islamic State
A Minnesota teenager who had been stopped at the airport as he was trying to travel to Syria pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

TERROR WATCH

Documents from Osama bin Laden raid used in US terror trial
Al-Qaeda documents recovered from the home of Osama bin Laden tie a Pakistani student to an international plot against Western targets, according to American prosecutors.

Suicide bomb strikes top NATO envoy team in Afghanistan
A suicide bomber rammed a car laden with explosives into a vehicle belonging to NATO's top envoy in Afghanistan, killing one Turkish soldier and wounding at least one person, Turkish officials said.

Nigeria Boko Haram: Many killed in bus station bombings
Bomb attacks have killed at least 32 people in northern Nigeria, amid a wave of violence from Boko Haram militants.

-- INTELWIRE Staff 

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Friday, February 20, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief 2/20/15

CONTROVERSY OF THE WEEK

An article about ISIS by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic sparked off the latest
round of the "Islam and terrorism" debate that has been hanging around since the days of the first World Trade Center bombing. Wood's story emphasizes his view of ISIS as "very Islamic," in his words, and argues to ground an understanding of the group in an Islamic context.

On the far opposite end of the spectrum, President Obama for the first time this week discussed his reluctance to use the word "Islamic" to describe Islamic extremism. By his argument, ceding the word 'Islamic' to extremists some how validates their religious claim. This logic was much in the news this week as the White House summoned many Muslims to Washington to discuss mostly Muslim extremism, all without using the word Islamic.

Between these two poles, a forest of op-eds sprang up this week, decrying one or the other approach, mostly on the basis of social issues, specifically who is most offended by which perspective (Muslims by the former, conservatives by the latter, with many others, from experts to lay people, made uncomfortable in varying degrees), although rare spots of nuanced analysis could be found, such as this by H.A. Hellyer

My own take on this, published over at the Brookings Institution, is focused on classification. While there are legitimate social dimensions to this question, which I have written about previously, my focus in this piece pertains to accuracy and targeting. To fight extremism strategically, we need to understand it. And it's extremely important to understand what groups like ISIS believe about religion and how they define themselves. (While this is arguably the point Wood was trying to make in The Atlantic, the phrasing of certain passages contributed greatly to the response the piece received.)

Ultimately, the group dynamics that fuel a phenomenon like ISIS can be found in the world of identity-based extremism. I argue in the piece that ISIS has a greater commonality with identity groups from a wide variety of ideologies than it does with mainstream Islamic groups. An overemphasis on situating ISIS within Islam can cloud important strategic issues, including why it is so successful at recruiting and inspiring violence, while simultaneously creating wide opportunities for collateral damage from our anti-ISIS efforts within Muslim communities.

It should be noted that my views have evolved on this front. When I first started studying terrorism, I spent a lot of time reading about Islam and trying to understand the context from which I presumed jihadist groups arose. This wasn't a wasted effort, by any means, Islam is certainly not irrelevant to understanding jihadism.

But over time I began to see the parallel structures that pervade many extremist movements and ideologies, commonalities that remain even when those groups hate and fear each other. I believe understanding ISIS means first understanding the extremist dynamic that crosses boundaries of race and religion, and then understanding how that dynamic exploits religion to create and reinforce an exclusive identity.

If we are going to try to counter the ideology of ISIS, we first need to counter what makes it extreme, not what makes it Islamic (or not). This issue is explored at considerable length in my forthcoming book with Jessica Stern, ISIS: The State of Terror, and expect more on this in the weeks to come.

-- JMB

CVE SUMMIT

Why Countering Extremism Fails
Globally, there are hundreds of counter extremism programs. But there are very few countries that have programs addressing all four aspects (prevention, intervention, interdiction, and reintegration)—especially intervention and reintegration. As a result of this gap, individuals who have begun to radicalize are not turned around and those who have acted violently are not rehabilitated.

The White House CVE Summit: More of the same or a new direction?
America trots out CVE every three years or so in response to the latest atrocity perpetrated in the West by a confused young man inspired by whichever terrorist group has recently grabbed headlines. Properly conducting CVE today requires a simple, narrowly focused strategy that answers three questions: "Where?", "Who?" and "How?"

F.B.I. Chief Not Invited to Meeting on Countering Violent Extremism
The White House did not invite the most senior American official charged with preventing terrorist attacks — the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey — to the three-day conference this week on countering violent extremism in the United States and abroad because the administration did not want the event too focused on law enforcement issues, according to senior American officials.

Twitter under pressure to act more aggressively against terrorists
Twitter, the social media giant, is facing mounting questions from members of Congress and outside groups over the abuse of its network by Islamic State terrorists to spread propaganda and recruit foreign fighters.

ISIS WATCH

Islamic State Sprouting Limbs Beyond Its Base
The Islamic State is expanding beyond its base in Syria and Iraq to establish militant affiliates in Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt and Libya, American intelligence officials assert, raising the prospect of a new global war on terror.

The Islamic State ‘caliphate’ is in danger of losing its main supply route
For weeks, U.S.-backed forces have been fighting to oust the Islamic State from key areas of northern Iraq in a series of small-scale battles that could have an enormous impact on the group’s “caliphate.” A major prize in the clashes is a highway that serves as a lifeline for the Islamic State. It runs from the group’s Iraq stronghold in Mosul to its enclaves in northeastern Syria, including its self-styled capital, Raqqa, 300 miles away.

Egypt Launches Airstrike in Libya Against ISIS Branch
Egypt conducted an airstrike against an Islamist stronghold in Libya on Monday in retaliation for the beheading of at least a dozen Egyptian Christians by a local franchise of the Islamic State, in Cairo’s deepest reach yet into the chaos that has engulfed its neighbor.

Westerners join Iraqi Christian militia to fight Islamic State
Thousands of foreigners have flocked to Iraq and Syria in the past two years, mostly to join Islamic State, but a handful of idealistic Westerners are enlisting as well, citing frustration their governments are not doing more to combat the ultra-radical Islamists or prevent the suffering of innocents.

TERROR WATCH

After Attacks, Denmark Hesitates to Blame Islam
Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein’s journey from drug-addled street thug to self-proclaimed jihadist declaring loyalty to the Islamic State has stirred soul-searching in liberal-minded Denmark over whether Islam, in fact, was really a prime motivator for his violence, or merely served as a justifying cover for violent criminality.

Iran’s Shiite Militias Are Running Amok in Iraq
The United States is now acting as the air force, the armory, and the diplomatic cover for Iraqi militias that are committing some of the worst human rights abuses on the planet. These are “allies” that are actually beholden to our strategic foe, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and which often resort to the same vile tactics as the Islamic State itself.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram Loses Ground to Chadians
Chad’s army has made its deepest push yet into Nigeria in a three-front regional war against Boko Haram, entering a town 50 miles from a beleaguered Nigerian state capital that has been surrounded for months by the militant group, Nigerian security officials said Wednesday.

Houthi rebels in Yemen eye oil-rich province, sparking fears of all-out civil war
The Shiite insurgents who have toppled Yemen’s government are threatening to take over a key oil-producing province to the east of the capital, triggering fears that the country could explode in all-out civil war.

-- by INTELWIRE Staff

Pre-order ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger. Buy J.M. Berger's book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam

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Friday, February 13, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 2/13/2015

VIDEO OF THE WEEK


Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

House CVE/Foreign Fighter Hearing Testimony
On Wednesday, the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing on countering violent extremism, foreign fighters, and homegrown terrorism. Francis Taylor from the Department of Homeland Security, Nicholas Rasmussen from the National Counterterrorism Center, and Michael Steinbach from the FBI gave statements on foreign fighters, ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the CVE efforts of their agencies.

Highlights of the testimony included increases to the official estimate of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria from a high of about 19,000 to a low of about 19,000. The current estimate of Americans who have traveled or attempted to travel to Iraq and Syria was upgraded to 150, one of a large number of highly inconsistent and likely unreliable estimates that have emanated from the administration over the last several months.

ISIS WATCH

ISIS magazine claims Hayat Boumeddiene is in Syria
The widow of Paris kosher supermarket gunman Amedy Coulibaly has linked up with ISIS, the terror group claims. The second issue of an ISIS French language magazine, which began circulating on pro-ISIS Twitter accounts Wednesday, contains a purported two-page question-and-answer story with Hayat Boumeddiene, who is believed to have disappeared into Syria before the January 9 attack.

Spreading Tentacles: The Islamic State in Bangladesh
Growing evidence suggests that the influence of the Islamic State organization has reached the South Asian, Muslim-majority country of Bangladesh. The Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate and the promise of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to return to all Muslims their “dignity, might, rights and leadership” seem to have infused a renewed Islamist fervor within a section of Bangladeshi youths and among existing radical elements.

Kayla Mueller, American hostage of the Islamic State, is confirmed dead
The U.S. government has confirmed that Kayla Mueller, a 26-year-old American woman held hostage by the Islamic State in Syria, was killed, reaching that conclusion after the group sent pictures of her body to her family.

Exposing ISIS: Activists Risk Death to Track Extremists
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, one of the founders of an activist group that secretly operates inside ISIS's home base talks about how they risk their lives to get the story out.

How the Islamic State makes sure you pay attention to it
Very deliberately, IS goes about formulating its propaganda in a manner that maximizes the international community’s abhorrence for its actions. Disgust is no by-product.

‘Pride and jihad’ IS issues latest recruitment call to children
Local sources in the provinces of Anbar and Ninevah in western and northern Iraq confirmed on Friday that the Islamic State has launched its biggest recruitment operation since 2012, focusing on children aged as young as 13.

Islamic State commander killed in drone strike, Afghanistan says
The top recruiter for the Islamic State group's affiliate in Afghanistan was killed by a drone strike Monday along with at least four other militants, local officials said, marking the first such attack on the extremist group in a volatile country where it has a small but growing following.


TERROR WATCH

U.N. Warns That Yemen May Collapse as Qaeda Fighters Make Big Gains
Fighters from Al Qaeda captured the headquarters of a Yemeni Army brigade on Thursday, as the United Nations issued a dire new warning that Yemen was headed toward disintegration.

France detains six from suspected jihadi network
French authorities in southwest France on Sunday detained six people suspected of involvement in a jihadi network. The Sunday morning sweep around the cities of Toulouse and Albi was the latest of several targeting suspected radicals since last month's terror attacks.

Bosnian immigrants plead not guilty in terror financing case
An immigrant couple from Bosnia pleaded not guilty Wednesday to federal charges of funneling money and military supplies to extremist groups in Iraq and Syria. Ramiz Hodzic, 40, and his wife, 35, are among six Bosnian immigrants living in the U.S. who were charged last week with conspiring to provide material support to groups the U.S. deems terrorist organizations, including Islamic State and Nusra Front, an al-Qaida-affiliated rebel group.

Niger Adds Its Troops to the War on Boko Haram
With the regional war against the Boko Haram militant group widening, Niger’s Parliament has agreed to send troops across the border to join the fight.

British jihadist Imran Khawaja jailed for 12 years
A British jihadist who travelled to Syria then faked his own death to try to return to the UK undetected has been given a 12-year custodial sentence.

Is China Making Its Own Terrorism Problem Worse?
It’s likely that the rise of the Islamic State has given a­ few disenfranchised young Uighurs a cause to fight and potentially die for. Still, experts say any increase in Uighur extremism is largely due to the fact that the very policies China says are meant to combat terrorism have actually made the threat worse.


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Friday, February 6, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 2/6/2015

In the wake of the so-called Islamic State's latest atrocity, the horrific death by fire inflicted on Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, a now-familiar refrain began to circulate through the media: "ISIS has miscalculated, and the backlash against this video may be its undoing."

Variations on this statement have been heard for months and months, appearing like clockwork with each iteration of ISIS's graphically violent propaganda. It was an understandable opinion last year, when ISIS was releasing videos of prisoners being forced to dig their own graves before being executed. By the time the James Foley video came out in the summer, it should have been clear that the backlash was not something ISIS had omitted from its calculations, but an integral part of the effect it was trying to achieve.

Nevertheless, many people, including myself at times, have reached for this comforting, if wrong, formulation. When ISIS executed British aid worker Alan Henning, everyone solemnly proclaimed that this time ISIS had gone too far, miscalculated and the backlash would devastate them. When they killed American Abdul Rahman Kassig, a convert to Islam, everyone lined up to say this time ISIS had gone too far, miscalculated and the backlash would devastate them.

When ISIS publicizes its inhuman horrors, its goal is to infuriate and horrify its enemies, to create divisions within the coalition fighting it, and to draw more and more countries ever deeper into the conflict. The "gone too far" theme may be reassuring, but it's dangerous. We shouldn't be congratulating ourselves for reacting to ISIS propaganda exactly as ISIS intends.

-- JMB

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

While ISIS once again dominated the headlines (its strongest asset as a terrorist group), It was a strong week in research on the broader but often less covered aspects of the Syrian war:

The Shiite Jihad in Syria and Its Regional Effects
The web of Iran-backed Shiite proxies is exceedingly complex, with much overlap and many changing aliases. In this new Institute study, Phillip Smyth -- a prominent blogger and University of Maryland researcher -- deftly navigates these many groups, exploring topics such as the narrative of pan-Shiite jihad, the range of Shiite clerical views on the jihad, recruitment techniques, and weapons used. His discussion compellingly shows why pursuing U.S. regional interests must involve targeting not only ISIS but also its Shiite adversaries.

Behind the Syrian Conflict's Digital Front Lines
Physical conflicts increasingly have a cyber element to them. This report highlights how Syrian opposition forces fell victim to a well-executed hacking operation targeting secret communications and plans. FireEye researchers uncovered these stolen documents as part of our ongoing threat research. Between at least November 2013 and January 2014, the hackers stole a cache of critical documents and Skype conversations revealing the Syrian opposition’s strategy, tactical battle plans, supply needs, and troves of personal information and chat sessions belonging to the men fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. While we do not know who conducted this hacking operation, if this data was acquired by Assad’s forces or their allies it could confer a distinct battlefield advantage.

A False Dichotomy? Mental Illness and Lone-Actor Terrorism
Emily Corner and Paul Gill University College London test whether significant differences in mental illness exist in a matched sample of lone- and group-based terrorists and whether there are distinct behavioral differences between lone-actor terrorists with and without mental illness.The odds of a lone-actor terrorist having a mental illness is 13.49 times higher than the odds of a group actor having a mental illness. Lone actors who were mentally ill were 18.07 times more likely to have a spouse or partner who was involved in a wider movement than those without a history of mental illness. Those with a mental illness were more likely to have a proximate upcoming life change, more likely to have been a recent victim of prejudice, and experienced proximate and chronic stress. The results identify behaviors and traits that security agencies can utilize to monitor and prevent lone-actor terrorism events.

ISIS WATCH

The Microsoft of Terrorism: Al Qaeda Loses Touch
Put simply, al Qaeda’s traditionally preeminent position in the jihadi hierarchy, long on the wane, is slipping still further. U.S. officials, for their part, are increasingly focused on the Islamic State, or ISIS, which continues to deliver a steady flow of battlefield victories and brutal beheadings. Yet al Qaeda has a clear path back to contention: a dramatic follow-up to the Hebdo attack. And with the group’s need for a win so great, Washington would be mistaken to count it out.

After Jordanian pilot’s death, king signals he will escalate fight against Islamic State
Jordan’s King Abdullah II vowed Wednesday that his military forces would hit Islamic State militants with “relentless” strikes upon “their own homes,” an escalation that could place Jordan in the middle of the Syrian civil war.

Reluctant Islamic State fighters choose between death, jail
While foreigners from across the world have joined the Islamic State militant group, some find day-to-day life in Iraq or Syria much more austere and violent than they had expected. These disillusioned new recruits also soon discover that it is a lot harder to leave than to join. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the Islamic State group has killed 120 of its own members in the past six months, most of them foreign fighters hoping to return home.

In Islamic State Stronghold of Raqqa, Foreign Fighters Dominate
In Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, a Syrian city on the banks of the Euphrates, few Syrians hold positions of power these days. Running the show, residents say, are the thousands of foreigners who have converged there to establish an Islamic utopia they believe will soon conquer the planet.

Islamic State Tightens Its Grip on Shaky Libya
The U.S. war against Islamic State has not yet extended to Libya. But the terror group is rapidly expanding its presence and activities there, and the embattled government is asking for Washington to include Libya in its international fight against the Islamic extremists.

Westerners join Kurds fighting Islamic State group in Iraq
As Kurdish fighters gathered around a fire in this damp, frigid mountain town in northwestern Iraq, exhausted from battling the Islamic State group, a surprising recruit wearing a tactical vest with the words "Christ is Lord" scribbled on it joined them. The fighter, with a sniper rifle slung over his shoulder and a Rambo-styled bandanna around his head, is 28-year-old Jordan Matson from Sturtevant, Wisconsin, a former U.S. Army soldier who joined the Kurds to fight the extremist group now holding a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria.

ISIS captors cared little about religion, says former hostage
A French journalist's ISIS captors cared little about religion, Didier Francois -- who spent over 10 months as the group's prisoner in Syria -- told CNN's Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.


TERROR WATCH

Declaring War on Radical Islam Is Not a Counterterrorism Strategy
Some members of Congress and noisy portions of the media and blogosphere are vexed by President Barack Obama’s refusal to declare war on “radical Islam.” Their distress seemed to be only exacerbated by the President’s measured and sensible response to Fareed Zakaria during a CNN interview last Sunday when asked, “Are we in a war with radical Islam?” The President’s response, worth rereading in full, was just what it should be: a serious discussion with the American people about a complex problem with no easy solutions, including a clear explanation of why terminology can be dangerous.

Yemen Political Limbo Deepens as Negotiations Fail
The country fell deeper into political limbo on Wednesday after rival Yemeni factions missed a deadline to agree on a new governmental setup in the wake of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s January resignation.

Boko Haram goes on rampage
Nigerian Boko Haram fighters went on the rampage in the Cameroonian border town of Fotokol on Wednesday, massacring civilians and torching a mosque before being repelled by regional forces.

Boko Haram Refugees Recount Brutality and Random Killings in Nigeria’s North
Refugees flocking into this besieged provincial capital describe a grim world of punishment, abduction and death under Boko Haram in the Islamist quasi state it has imposed in parts of northern Nigeria.

Rebels bombard Damascus, regime responds with air strikes
Syrian rebels fired dozens of mortar rounds at Damascus on Thursday, killing at least five people, with government forces responding with air strikes that killed eight people. At least 63 mortar rounds hit multiple districts of the capital, prompting the closure of Damascus University, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

-- INTELWIRE STAFF

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Friday, January 30, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 1/30/2015

VIDEO OF THE WEEK



Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream


INTELWIRE's J.M. Berger testified before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade about terrorist use of social media. His written testimony can be found here. Berger also spoke to All Things Considered on the subject.

ISIS WATCH

The Islamic State’s model
The Islamic State announced several months ago that it was “annexing” territory in Algeria (Wilayat al-Jazair), Libya (Wilayat al-Barqah, Wilayat al-Tarabulus and Wilayat al-Fizan), Sinai (Wilayat Sinai), Saudi Arabia (Wilayat al-Haramayn) and Yemen (Wilayat al-Yaman). It is likely that the Islamic State plans to pursue a similar approach in Afghanistan and Pakistan following its announcement of accepting pledges of allegiance from former members of the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban to also try and “annex” territory there under the framework of a new wilayah called “Wilayat Khorasan.”

ISIS and Boko Haram’s Unholy Online Alliance
Boko Haram, which has terrorized Nigeria in its quest to create an Islamic caliphate, appears to mirroring the Islamic State’s online media campaign and potentially laying the groundwork for future coordination between the groups, U.S. government officials and experts told The Daily Beast.

Group Linked to ISIS Says It’s Behind Assault on Libyan Hotel
Militants claiming allegiance to the Islamic State said they were responsible for an armed assault on a luxury hotel that killed at least eight people here on Tuesday, the most significant in a string of terrorist attacks against Western interests and government institutions in the capital since the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi more than three years ago.

'We Were Conned,' Chechens Who Fought With IS Tell Russian Media
Two Chechens who say they fought with the Islamic State (IS) group have expressed negative attitudes about the militants and say they regret their decisions to go to Syria, according to interviews published by Russian state media.

Anarchy leaves Libya vulnerable to expansion of Islamic State affiliates, potentially threatening oil sector
A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) was detonated on 27 January outside the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli. The attack was claimed by the Tripoli wilaya (province) branch of the Islamic State. This report examines the impact of the jihadist's rise on the conflict between the Libyan National Army-backed House of Representatives and the Islamist Libya Dawn-backed General National Congress.

Pro-ISIS Messages Create Dilemma For Social Media Companies
According to law enforcement officials, ISIS and other terrorist organizations are increasingly adept at using social media to recruit from abroad. Last year alone, the FBI reports, around 20 American citizens were detained trying to travel to Syria to join militants fighting for the so-called Islamic State.

Dozens dead in Egypt's Sinai as Islamists launch simultaneous attacks
Islamic State-linked militants killed at least 29 people in simultaneous attack around Egypt’s North Sinai region on Thursday night in one of the deadliest attacks on the country’s military for decades.

TERROR WATCH

Israel Is the New Front in the Syrian War
On the afternoon of Jan. 28, two Israeli soldiers were killed during a Hezbollah missile attack in Shebaa Farms, a disputed strip of land in the Golan Heights abutting southern Lebanon. Israel Defense Forces positions along the border in Mount Hermon were also mortared. Earlier in the day, following a Jan. 27 rocket attack launched into an Israeli section of the Golan, the Israeli Air Force hit Syrian Army artillery positions.

Who is in charge in Yemen?
The latest political developments in Yemen — which culminated in the sudden resignation of Prime Minister Khaled Bahah, his Cabinet and President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi on Jan. 22 — have left even the most politically consummate Yemenis struggling to put the pieces together.

Former Al-Shabab Commander Denounces Terror Group
A former top commander of Somalia's al-Shabab terror group says he has quit the insurgency, renouncing the violence perpetuated by his former comrades.

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT

Becoming Mulan: Female Western Migrants to ISIS
The current flow of foreigners to Syria and Iraq is remarkable not only for its scale, but also for its inclusion of many women. Much has been written about the male fighters who migrate to engage in the conflict there; these fighters are prolific on social media and share details of their day-to-day experiences with supporters and opponents alike. Less, however, is known about the women who travel to join ISIS and support its state-building efforts. The flow of both men and women is a concern for Western governments, who fear that these individuals could pose a threat on return home. The number of Western migrants overall is estimated at 3,000, with as many as 550 of these being women.

-- By INTELWIRE Staff

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Friday, January 23, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 1/23/2015

CHART OF THE WEEK 



The diagram above (click to enlarge) shows an ISIS "sleeper" agent's network on Twitter. While there are large and identifiable clusters of ISIS supporters online, the sleeper agent (based in Europe) maintained several secretive accounts with only peripheral connections to obvious ISIS supporters.

ISIS WATCH
The fate of two Japanese hostages threatened with death by the self-styled Islamic State is unclear after the expiration of a 72-hour deadline imposed by the militants for Japan to pay $200 million to secure its citizens' release.

Japanese Mock ISIS with Internet Meme
Japanese Twitter users are defying their country's hostage crisis by mocking ISIS with a nationwide Photoshop battle of satirical images.

Peer pressure not propaganda crucial to IS recruitment: experts
Peer pressure from radicalised fighters in Syria and Iraq is more influential in attracting new recruits from Europe than Islamic State (IS) propaganda, according to British experts. The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), in a study to be released next month, found that peer groups and kinships were crucial in luring young fighters, rather than IS videos and Internet messages.

Iraq and its allies have made significant gains in battling militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), killing thousands of fighters and 50 percent of the group's top commanders, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday as an international coalition promised stronger efforts to stop the group and squash the spread of its extremist ideology.

About 10 former French soldiers have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) among the hundreds of French radicals believed to be fighting for the extremist group, France’s defense sources said Wednesday.

"They were looking for paradise, but only found hell." Such is the condition of foreign fighters in Syria, according to a Moroccan analyst. "The Islamic State won't allow them to leave, so they won't be able to tell the world what's really happening." At Agadir Street in Casablanca, people are talking about one local youth who went to Syria to fight for ISIS, only to be killed by the group because he wanted to come home.


TERROR WATCH


Chicago Muslims fight back against militants' recruiting of youths
This month's French tragedy — 17 people killed in attacks sparked by a satirical newspaper's caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad — underscores the importance of how American Muslim parents navigate their children's online curiosity about religion, say local parents, teachers and Islamic leaders.

A British jihadist who spent six months in Syria and faked his death in an attempt to return to the UK undetected has admitted four terrorism offences.

French and European officials will unveil new counter-terrorism measures Wednesday in Brussels, including possible changes to the bloc's Schengen visa-free travel zone, in the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris.

Senior US intelligence official Michael Vickers said Jan. 21 that the United States is continuing attacks on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) despite ongoing violence in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and has an intelligence relationship with the Houthi insurgent group that has seized much of the capital since September.

Greek police have arrested several people over alleged links to a suspected terror plot in Belgium. One of the men is alleged to have been in contact with the cell in Verviers, Belgium, where a shootout with police left two suspects dead on Thursday.

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

Religious versus sacred in extremism
"The popular media and many in academia often overstate the role that religion, and its supposedly unique qualities, has played in recent acts of terror. In this article, the author argues that the notion of religious violence is unhelpful and that there is a more useful concept that we can utilize to draw out the values and ideas that play a role in the move to violence in both religious and secular groups. ... This framework uses the concept of non-negotiable (or “sacred”) beliefs. It is as applicable to secular as it is to religious groups, and can show us much more about how such beliefs can contribute to violence."

Why We Radicalize
University of Maryland researchers aren’t content with the what of terrorism — they want to tackle the why. It’s the same question that has prompted journalists’ detailed explorations of the Paris attackers' paths to radicalization. A team of three full-time staff members at the terrorism center are trying to move beyond anecdote. They've amassed a data set of more than 1,500 people radicalized to violent and non-violent extremism in the United States since World War II and put them into three categories: Islamist, Far Right, and Far Left. The database — which hasn’t been released publicly — has detailed information about the terrorists' lives and backgrounds, including criminal records, social networks and histories of abuse. The researchers believe it's among the first of its kind.

Ambivalent Warriors: What Americans Think About the Fight Against ISIS
On January 8, the Brookings Project for U.S. Relations with the Islamic World (IWR) convened a panel of Middle East scholars and political experts to discuss American views on the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The analysis centered on the findings of a two-part poll uncovering American perspectives on Middle East conflicts. Also from Brookings this week, a report on CVE in Pakistan.

-- By INTELWIRE Staff

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Thursday, January 15, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief

CHART OF THE WEEK

Google searches for Boko Haram outnumbered searches for either al Qaeda or ISIS by an almost unbelievable margin, despite the Paris attacks and despite widespread complaints that its recent string of atrocities (below) is not garnering enough media attention. Searches for al Qaeda outstripped searches for ISIS (under its various names) for the first time since June.

LATEST FROM J.M. BERGER

Europe's New Crackdown 

They can take our lives, but can they also take our freedom? The Charlie Hebdo assault in Paris last week is only the latest chapter in a months-long series of attacks, which built in turn on a yearlong escalation of concerns about the extraordinary number of Europeans traveling to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State, al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, and a host of other jihadi groups. 


RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT

Be Afraid. Be A Little Afraid: The Threat of Terrorism from Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq 
Many U.S. and European intelligence officials fear that a wave of terrorism will sweep over Europe, driven by the civil war in Syria and continuing instability in Iraq. Many of the concerns stem from the large number of foreign fighters involved. By Daniel Byman and Jeremy Shapiro

TERROR WATCH

Nigeria's Boko Haram: Baga destruction 'shown in images'
Satellite images of Nigerian towns attacked by Boko Haram show widespread destruction and suggest a high death toll, Amnesty International says.

More Than a Dozen Detained in European Counterterrorism Raids
As European investigators moved on a broad front to sweep up suspected radicals, the Belgian police said on Friday that 13 people had been detained in Belgium and two in France after a shootout in which two men believed to be militants were killed.

West Struggles to Halt Flow of Citizens to War Zones
For more than a decade, Western governments have struggled to stem the flow of their citizens traveling to fight in war zones in Muslim countries. But last week’s commando-style raids in France were deadly reminders that those measures have done relatively little to reduce the threat. The number of people traveling abroad to fight continues to grow, with about 1,000 militant recruits joining the fight in Syria and Iraq each month, according to recent United States government figures.


Boko Haram galvanized activists all over the world last year when it kidnapped hundreds of school girls in Nigeria and threatened to sell them into slavery, but hardly a peep has been uttered since the Al Qaeda-linked army massacred as many as 2,000 people near the Chad border last week.

In the wake of the tragic shootings in Paris, French police and intelligence agencies are being asked to explain why known militants—including one who had visited an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen several years ago—were not subject to intense surveillance before they launched last week’s terrorist attack at the offices of a French satirical weekly.

Belgian operation thwarted 'major terrorist attacks'
A terror cell on the brink of carrying out an attack was the target of a raid Thursday that left two suspects dead, Belgian authorities said. A third suspect was injured and taken into custody in the operation at a building in the eastern city of Verviers, prosecutor's spokesman Thierry Werts told reporters.

College considered booting al Qaida blogger, FBI records show
A batch of newly released FBI records shows that agents weighed turning a former North Carolina al Qaida propagandist, Samir Khan, into an informant while the community college he attended considered expelling him over possible security threats to other students and faculty.

French Rein In Speech Backing Acts of Terror
The French authorities are moving aggressively to rein in speech supporting terrorism, employing a new law to mete out tough prison sentences in a crackdown that is stoking a free-speech debate after last week’s attacks in Paris.
Two journalists from Tunisia have reportedly been executed by an Islamic State group in Libya.


Radicalized youth making pit-stops to earn cash in oil-sands before joining extremist groups such as ISIS: chief
Before heading abroad to join extremist groups like ISIS, some Canadians have been stopping first in northern Alberta to earn money to finance their terrorist activities, the chief of the Edmonton Police Service told the National Post in an interview.


Ohio Man Charged With Plotting ISIS-Inspired Attack on U.S. Capitol
An Ohio man was arrested Wednesday as he neared what authorities say were the final stages of a terror plot to attack the U.S. Capitol with guns and pipe bombs in support of the Islamic State militant group.


Briton Lead Suspect in CENTCOM Twitter Hack
The main suspect in the hacking of the US Central Command is a Briton who spent time in prison for accessing Tony Blair’s personal accounts. Junaid Hussain, who is from Birmingham and is in his early twenties, is believed to be in Syria. Based on what appears to be his Twitter account, he has aligned himself with the jihadi group ISIS.

J.M. Berger joined the BBC to discuss the CENTCOM Twitter hack:



-- Compiled by INTELWIRE Staff 

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015
 

DId Zawahiri Order the Hebdo Attack?

Did Ayman al Zawahiri order the Charle Hebdo operation? I can't answer that question definitively, although I have my theories.

Did AQAP today announce that Zawahiri ordered the operation? That I can answer. Here's exactly what Nasr al-Ansi, the AQAP leader who appeared in the video, said (English translation by AQAP, so if someone wants to comment on the Arabic, hit me up on Twitter):
We in the Organization of Qa'idatul Jihad in the Arabian Peninsula claim responsibility for this operation as a vengeance for the Messenger of Allah. We clarify to the ummah that the one who chose the target, laid the plan and financed the operation is the leadership of the organization. We did it in compliance with the Command of Allah and supporting His Messenger -- peace be upon him -- then the order of our general amir, the generous sheikh [Ayman al Zawahiri], may Allah preserve him, and following the will of sheikh Osama bin Laden, may Allah have mercy on him. The arrangements with the amir of the operation were made by sheikh Anwar al Awlaki, may Allah have mercy on him...
What does this statement say?

1) The leadership of AQAP, explicitly, chose the target, laid the plan and financed the operation.

2) The plan was carried out "in compliance with" the orders of God and then Zawahiri.

I assume we can all agree God probably didn't call up AQAP and say "Go assault the offices of Charlie Hedbo." It was "in compliance with" the command of God, meaning AQAP's interpretation of God's guidelines for life.

So if the attack was similarly "in compliance with" the order of Ayman al Zawahiri, that covers a wide range of possible contexts. One of those contexts might be that Zawahiri gave an explicit order to do this specific attack some time in the last five years.

UPDATE: Ibn Nabih rings in on Twitter with a comment on the Arabic translation. He says the phrasing is different for Allah versus Zawahiri, with Zawahiri's context being more like "in execution of the order" rather than in compliance. However it doesn't rule out the point above as to how specific the order might have been. END UPDATE

Another context is that Zawahiri generally ordered AQAP to carry out attacks on the West. Or, for instance, that it was done in compliance with Zawahiri's general guidelines for jihad published in 2013.

The unambiguous claim that AQAP leadership selected the target stands in sharp contrast to the mealy-mouthed "compliance" with Zawahiri. While it is certainly possible Zawahiri did explicitly order the Charlie Hebdo attack, it is also possible and perhaps most likely that this is a carefully parsed way to give the reputation of al Qaeda Central emir a badly needed boost.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015
 

A Plague on ISIS's House?

There are many scenarios under which the Islamic State (ISIS) defeats itself. We usually focus on the political ones, but recent rumblings out of Syria and Iraq point to the possibility of a medical meltdown.

When terrorists and bubonic plague are mentioned in the same sentence, it's usually in a scary story about the still-unrealized threat of biological attacks. But when I read Liz Sly's story a couple weeks ago about undrinkable water and garbage piling up in the streets in Mosul and Raqqa, I began to wonder whether ISIS and the people living under its cruel regime are more likely to be the victims of a virulent disease than the perpetrators of one.

Since then, there have been dubious reports of ebola breaking out in ISIS territories and much more credible reports of the return of such legacy diseases as polio and scabies. The conditions in Mosul and Raqqa are rife with the possibility of disease, and the plague has never truly been eradicated.

While the arrival of plague in ISIS territories would have a certain biblical flair and might be the undoing of the so-called caliphate, the victims would extend far beyond ISIS's architects of atrocities to the people who are simply unfortunate enough to live there or who live in adjacent areas.

Full-scale outbreaks of plague in the past have also been associated with widespread social breakdown. The question of post-ISIS Iraq and Syria already haunts us. But things could very well get worse.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014
 

Inspire 13: 100 Percent Perspiration

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula put out the 13th issue of its English-language magazine Inspire, with content and timing clearly meant to invoke the specter of its most-mocked attack, the 2009 Christmas Day bombing attempt in which a would-be terrorist wearing an underwear bomb did incredible damage to his own genitalia but failed to take down a plane.

Much of the issue is devoted to instructions for a "new" kind of "hidden" bomb that "America does not expect," a self-defeating announcement intended more to provoke an outburst of security theater than anything else. If this bomb design has any purpose at all, it is to sell full-body scanners to airports, as the instructions helpfully note that the bomb is vulnerable to such.

Image from Inspire 13

Beyond the extensive instructions on how to build this complicated and rather unwieldy device, Inspire 13 is in many ways more of the same -- much more, in this case, as the magazine clocks in at a whopping 112 page, almost all of which is devoted to singing the praises of "lone wolf" terrorist attacks. Unfortunately for AQAP, they don't have much to boast of in this category and the editors are forced to cite the successes of AQAP's hated rival, ISIS.


The list of lone wolf "successes" includes a number of highly marginal cases, which I wrote about in Foreign Policy this week. The entire issue reeks of desperation for relevance and headlines, including calls to assassinate Ben Bernanke, Bill Gates and Clark Ervin. It also includes lackluster responses from Anwar Awlaki to questions posed years ago by Inspire readers, reading lists and lengthy psuedo-intellectual justifications of jihadist action, of the sort ISIS has largely rendered obsolete in favor of a stripped down argument that can be summarized as "let's just kill a bunch of folks."

If genius is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration, Inspire should consider a new name, because it is 100 percent perspiration, an extraordinary amount of effort spent on repackaging a lot of old ideas.

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ISIS: THE STATE
OF TERROR

ISIS: The State of Terror, by Jessica Stern and J.M. BergerJessica Stern and J.M. Berger co-author the forthcoming book, "ISIS: The State of Terror," from Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. The book, which will debut in early 2015, will examine the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, its potential fall, how it is transforming the nature of extremist movements, and how we should evaluate the threat it presents. Jessica Stern is a Harvard lecturer on terrorism and the author of the seminal text Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. J.M. Berger is author of the definitive book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy, and editor of Intelwire.com.

Pre-order the book now | Pre-order Kindle version

JIHAD JOE

Jihad Joe by J.M. BergerJihad Joe: Americans Who Go To War In The Name Of Islam, the new book by INTELWIRE's J.M. Berger, is now available in both Kindle and hardcover editions. Order today!

Jihad Joe is the first comprehensive history of the American jihadist movement, from 1979 through the present. Click here to read more about the critical acclaim Jihad Joe has earned so far, including from the New York Times, Publisher's Weekly, Redstate.com and many more.

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