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Friday, July 31, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 7/31/2015, Mullah Omar Edition


The Taliban's confirmation of the death of Mullah Omar has huge implications for Afghanistan, but it also raises the stakes in the battle for global jihadist supremacy between al Qaeda and the upstart ISIS, a shift reflected in the overwhelming chatter among ISIS supporters online regarding the new development. | Read the full analysis on INTELWIRE

Jihadology Emergency Pod: The Death of Mullah Omar and Its Implications for ISIS
Aaron Zelin talks to J.M. Berger about the confirmed death of Mullah Omar, covering a variety of topics related to Omar's death and what it could mean for the broader Islamic State-Al Qaeda war.

Mullah Muhammad Omar’s Life Ends With Little Clarity
In the winter of 2014, an Afghan with links to topTaliban leaders approached Afghanistan’s intelligence service with a startling tip: Mullah Muhammad Omar, the secretive leader of the Taliban, had died in a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan. The tip left the intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, with a mystery that would take 18 months to begin unraveling. But even with the Taliban confirming on Thursday that the man they called Emir al-Momineen, or Commander of the Faithful, was dead, American and Afghan officials said they were just starting to piece together the story of Mullah Omar’s final years and of his demise.

The Mullah Omar Myth
Until this week, the myth of Mullah Omar exercised a powerful magic over men at all levels of the movement which he helped found in 1994. Omar was depicted as being simultaneously saintly, steadfast, wise and divinely guided. The revelation that he is long dead deprives the Taliban of their most powerful talisman.

Taliban leader Omar’s tale reflects clashing agendas
The belated disclosure this week of Omar’s death has added to the legend of the ghostlike Taliban chief, a figure so elusive that it appears to have taken U.S. spy agencies two years to determine that one of their top targets after 9/11 was no longer alive.

Afghan Taliban confirm Mullah Omar’s death, choose successor
The Afghan Taliban Shura, or Supreme Council, chose Mullah Omar’s deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, as its new leader. A new round of peace talks was indefinitely postponed amid concerns over how committed the new leadership is to ending the militant group’s 14-year insurgency.

Amid uncertainty over Mullah Omar’s fate....Power struggle flares up in Afghan Taliban movement
An internal power struggle has flared up in the Afghan Taliban movement and its de facto head Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor is facing a rebellion by certain important military commanders amid the uncertainty about the fate of Taliban supreme leader Mulla Mohammad Omar.


Despite bombing, Islamic State is no weaker than a year ago
After billions of dollars spent and more than 10,000 extremist fighters killed, the Islamic State group is fundamentally no weaker than it was when the U.S.-led bombing campaign began a year ago, American intelligence agencies have concluded.

Jersey Jihad: Inside the ISIS case that ensnared 5 friends
A year-long FBI/Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation spanning two states is just the latest in a growing number of ISIS cases nationwide.

Australia Arrests Nurse Who Says He Worked With ISIS Under Duress
A 39-year-old nurse from Melbourne who said he was forced to work with the Islamic State militant group in Syria was arrested upon returning to Australia, the authorities said Saturday.

Turkey’s Fight Against ISIS Explained
Can Turkey fight ISIS at the same time it is fighting the Kurds?

FBI: Lackawanna man tried to recruit for terrorist organization
Authorities in western New York 44-year-old Arafat Nagi on a charge of attempting to support the Islamic State group.

Florida Man Planned to Blow up Key West Beach in ISIS-Inspired Attack
Harlem Suarez wanted to bring terror to the Conch Republic, according to the FBI. The 23-year-old, also known as Almlak Benitez, was arrested after the feds claimed they uncovered a plot in which he planned to build a bomb and plant it under the sands of a Key West beach.

Captured ISIS Fighter: Joining Extremists in Syria Ruined My Life
A college dropout who surrendered after just three days of fighting for ISIS told NBC News that joining the militant group was the worst decision he ever made.


Inside the Twisted Mind of John Russell Houser
The Lafayette theater shooter was a frequent online commenter, with numerous posts on immigration, free speech, and his fears about America’s future.

Crime and Punishment in Kenya
AS U.S. President Barack Obama concluded his trip to Kenya, at the top of his agenda was the country’s ongoing fight against the Somali-based jihadist militia, al Shabab.

Somalia blast: Mogadishu hotel rocked by bomb
At least 13 people were killed and more than 40 others injured in a huge bomb explosion at a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu.


Global Civilization and Counterterrorism
The problem of global security becomes not just one of fighting disruptors of order, but also of understanding what constitutes order. By Yaneer Bar-Yam.

The Truth Campaign and the War of Ideas
In order to explore new thoughts and frameworks for winning in this domain, the Combating Terrorism Center invited subject matter experts from outside the counterterrorism community to a special Senior Conference panel on the war of ideas. The most interesting solution that emerged from this panel was to take the model employed by the Truth campaign to stop teenage smoking and apply it to the countering violent extremism (CVE) realm. By Pete Favat and Bryan C. Price.

Buy the new book ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger.

Buy J.M. Berger's seminal book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam


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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Mullah Omar and the AQ-ISIS War

The Taliban's confirmation of the death of Mullah Omar has huge implications for Afghanistan, but it also raises the stakes in the battle for global jihadist supremacy between al Qaeda and the upstart ISIS, a shift reflected in the overwhelming chatter among ISIS supporters online regarding the new development. 

Mullah Omar was the centerpiece of al Qaeda's rebuttal to ISIS's demand for allegiance from jihadist groups around the world, based on two key arguments. First, that al Qaeda had already pledged allegiance to Omar, therefore it could not pledge to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Second, that Baghdadi had illegitimately usurped Omar's title of Amir al Mumineen – Commander of the Faithful. 

Omar's death releases everyone who had pledged allegiance to him. Neither the pledge nor the title of Amir al Mumineen are automatically inherited by his successor. The timing of Omar's death adds another wrinkle. If he died two years ago, as reported by the press but not yet confirmed by the Taliban [UPDATE: Now confirmed], that means the position of Amir al Mumineen could possibly have been vacant when Baghdadi claimed it most consequentially in conjunction the declaration of the caliphate (the term had been used earlier, but not necessarily in a context that would usurp Mullah Omar), meaningfully destroying the pro-al Qaeda argument that ISIS had usurped Omar's rightful authority. 

Furthermore, if its leaders have been perpetuating the fiction that Omar was alive for two years in an effort to cling to power, it provides an additional opening for ISIS sympathizers in both al Qaeda and the Taliban itself to reject the current leadership as corrupt and switch sides. 

No matter how you slice it, this development is very, very good news for ISIS, which can now reiterate its demand for loyalty from global jihadist groups, thanks to the removal of the sole significant challenger to the legitimacy of its so-called caliph, and the mendacity of running an organization by issuing orders and guidance in the name of a dead leader, also known as the "Weekend at Bernie's" strategy. 

If al Qaeda's emir Ayman al Zawahiri is not also a "Bernie" at this point, he faces a dilemma. His lethargic stewardship of al Qaeda has deflated his ability to challenge Baghdadi directly on the basis of his own authority, and the pledge to Mullah Omar is one of very few planks in al Qaeda's argument against ISIS's hegemony (others revolve around the brutality of tactics, sectarian focus, and the lack of consultation with other jihadist groups in declaring the caliphate). 

Zawahiri's slate of bad options includes submitting himself to yet another figurehead's authority, which does little to reinforce an impression of strength, or trying to argue that he himself is strong enough to carry the mantle of the global jihadist movement, which is a tough sell. Or he could continue to rely on his existing strategy, which appears to be fervently hoping ISIS will just go away. 

Ultimately, the battle between al Qaeda and ISIS has less to do with technical legitimacy and jurisprudence, the fundamental elements of AQ's "Mullah Omar" gambit, and more do to with credibility and the appearance of strength. But the death of Mullah Omar hits al Qaeda in both hemispheres, forcefully, and it provides a convenient out for restless supporters who have until now resisted ISIS's siren song. 

Buy the new book ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger.

Buy J.M. Berger's seminal book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam.

Minor updates made at 12:20 p.m., 1:09 p.m. and 1:22 p.m.

Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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Friday, July 24, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 7/24/2015, ISIS in AfPak, Propaganda, Turkey, Chattanooga and More


Jihadology Podcast: The Emergence of the Islamic State in AfPak with Don Rassler (Part 1)
Jihadology Podcast: The Emergence of the Islamic State in AfPak with Don Rassler (Part 2)
A two-part interview with Don Rassler based on his article “Situating the Emergence of the Islamic State of Khorasan,” for the CTC Sentinel. By Aaron Zelin with Don Rassler.

Middle East Week: Islamic State's Propaganda Strategy
The basis for discussion is Charlie Winter's recent paper "The Virtual Caliphate: Understanding Islamic State's Propaganda Strategy". By Karl Morand with Charlie Winter.


ISIS Transforming Into Functioning State That Uses Terror as Tool
Increasingly, as it holds that territory and builds a capacity to govern, the group is transforming into a functioning state that uses extreme violence — terror — as a tool.

How One Young Woman Went From Fundamentalist Christian To ISIS Bride
How did a homeschooled, evangelical Christian from Chattanooga become an ISIS wife and mother?

Suicide Bomber in Suruc Is Said to Be a Turk With Possible Ties to ISIS
The suicide bomber who killed at least 32 people at a cultural center in southeastern Turkey has been identified as a Turkish citizen who is believed to have had ties to the Islamic State, a senior government official said Wednesday.

Turkey arrests 251 suspected militants
Turkey has arrested 251 after launching simultaneous raids targeting Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Kurdish militants in 13 provinces across the country on Friday, the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

Saudi arrests 431 ISIS-linked suspects
Saudi Arabia arrested 431 people as part of a crackdown on a cluster of cells linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group, the kingdom’s Ministry of Interior (MOI) said.

Boko Haram violence triggers refugee crisis in Niger
Terrorist attacks and atrocities committed by Islamist militant group Boko Haram have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere.

Italy Arrests 2 Men Accused of Planning Terrorist Attacks
The Italian police on Wednesday arrested two men accused of plotting attacks on national landmarks in Italy and of posting threatening messages online in support of the Islamic State.

U.S.-Trained Iraqi Troops Deployed to Help Retake Ramadi From ISIS
Around 3,000 newly American-trained Iraqi troops, along with 500 trained Sunni tribal fighters, have been deployed to help in an expected government offensive to retake the Sunni stronghold of Ramadi from Islamic State militants, Pentagon officials said during a trip to Baghdad on Thursday.

D.C.’s New Push: Use Saddam’s Men to Fight Obama’s ISIS War
An ex-senator, a former CIA officer, and an Iraqi mogul lobby Congress for a private army, led by Saddam’s officers, to take on the terrorists that have trampled America’s proxies.


Chattanooga Shooter Researched Religious Justification For Violence
The gunman who killed five American troops in a Chattanooga shooting spree last week did online research for militant Islamist "guidance" on committing violence. But there is no evidence so far that Mohammod Abdulazeez, 24 -- whose family insists he was deeply troubled and mentally ill -- was inspired by or directed by ISIS.

Tennessee Is the Capital of American Jihad
Long before the five U.S. service members were murdered this past week in Chattanooga, before the Boston Marathon bombers, the Fort Hood shooting or the rise of the Islamic State, it was another troubled teenager from the same state who embarked on a journey of jihad and ended in the first deadly terrorist attack on U.S. soil after 9/11.

The Vegas Plot
In the world of right-wing extremism, how do you tell who is dangerous?

Channel Project under fire after conviction of Britain youngest terrorist
Britain’s counter-radicalisation programmes are under the spotlight again after it emerged that Britain’s youngest terrorist was first referred to one two years ago.

Destroying Homes for Kurdistan
Diplomats and human rights workers claim that America’s closest ally in Iraq is engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing designed to push Arabs out of the future Kurdish state.


The Disengagement of Indonesian Jihadists: Understanding the Pathways
Utilizing original fieldwork conducted between 2010 and 2014, with fifty current and former members of Islamist extremist groups in Indonesia, this article will unpack the patterns, pathways, religious considerations, and psychological processes that propel individual militants to turn away from violence. By Julie Chernov Hwang.

Buy the new book ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger.

Buy J.M. Berger's seminal book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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Friday, July 17, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 7/17/15. Chattanooga, CVE Perspectives and More


Gunman Kills 4 Marines at Military Site in Chattanooga
A 24-year-old Kuwaiti-born gunman opened fire on a military recruiting station on Thursday, then raced to a second military site where he killed four United States Marines, prompting a federal domestic terrorism investigation.

Tennessee Gunman Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez: ‘Life Is Short and Bitter’
On Thursday, the authorities say that Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, killed four Marines and wounded at least three other people. He himself died in what the United States attorney here called a potential act of “domestic terrorism.”

4 Marines killed, a dead suspect and questions of motive
Suspected shooter Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, is dead, the FBI said. But -- publicly, at least -- investigators haven't said much more about him.

Chattanooga Suspect Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez Wasn’t on Law Enforcement Radar
The 24-year-old named by the FBI as the killer of four U.S. Marines Thursday in Chattanooga, Tenn. so far does not appear to have been on law enforcement’s radar.


Till Martyrdom Do Us Part: Gender and the ISIS Phenomenon
The recent unprecedented surge in female recruits to the terrorist organization Islamic State (ISIS) has brought this phenomenon into sharp focus. For many there remain misperceptions and misunderstandings concerning the role women play within these violent networks, often paired with engendered responses to the radicalisation of women. By Erin Marie Saltman and Melanie Smith.


Countering Islamic State recruitment: You're doing it totally wrong
In a CVE context, pushing back on terrorist narratives makes intuitive sense ― it’s a way of exposing falsehoods in a very public forum. But does it work? By Christina Nemr.

Are US Gains Against Islamic Extremists' Recruiting Illusory?
U.S. efforts to crack down on would-be terrorists – and specifically Islamic State sympathizers – have produced a series of arrests and prosecutions in recent months. Still, there are deep concerns such gains may not prevent another major terrorist attack. By Jeff Seldin.

Experts weigh in (part 6): Can the United States counter ISIS propaganda?
Clint Watts, Fox fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, explains why the U.S.’s current whole-of-government approach creates implementation challenges to sustaining an effective online campaign against ISIS propaganda. By Clint Watts, in response to Will McCants.

Why the Islamic State leaves tech companies torn between free speech and security
The social-media savvy of the militant group is raising difficult questions for many U.S. firms: how to preserve global platforms that offer forums for expression while preventing groups such as the Islamic State from exploiting those free-speech principles to advance their terrorist campaign. By Scott Higham and Ellen Nakashima.


How People Are Using Technology Against ISIS
The militant group’s presence on social media is thought to play a big role in spreading its propaganda, inspiring lone-wolf attacks and recruiting foreigners to its ranks. But that doesn’t mean it’s invulnerable online.

Escaping ISIS
First-hand accounts from women who escaped the group's brutal reign.

Raped, beaten and sold: Yazidi women tell of IS abuse
Three young Yazidi women have escaped from sex slavery in the hands of the Islamic State (IS) group and travelled to London, where they told their horrific stories.

Son of Boston Police Captain Arrested as Possible Terrorist
The estranged son of a respected Boston police captain was arrested July 4 by FBI agents as part of a counter-terrorism operation against alleged ISIS-inspired domestic terrorists, federal officials told ABC News today.

A Conversation with an ISIS Suicide Bomber Logistician
For one and a half years, Abu Abdullah was responsible for organizing Islamic State's suicide bombings in Baghdad. He is one of the organization's rare leading figures to be captured alive.

Iraq violence: Islamic State 'behind Baghdad attacks'
Islamic State (IS) militants have said they were behind a spate of bomb attacks in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, which killed at least 28 people.

Cleveland-area man accused of supporting Islamic State indicted on terrorism-related charge
A 28-count indictment was filed Thursday against 38-year-old Amir Said Rahman Al-Ghazi, of Sheffield Lake. Authorities say he was arrested June 19 after he tried to buy an assault rifle from an undercover FBI agent.


Syrian Islamists reach out to the U.S., but serious issues remain
Charles Lister outlines the myriad options and obstacles for dealing with the Syrian opposition.

Jabhat al-Nusra competes with Ahrar al-Sham in Idlib
Factions affiliated to the Army of Conquest have yet to agree on a unified approach to manage the province of Idlib, months after taking over it. This [lack of agreement] was exploited by Jabhat al-Nusra to fulfill its ambition of establishing an emirate of its own, ruled and managed solely by it.

So Long, Reddit
A longtime user leaves the community, explaining "The practical reality is that Reddit seems to have overtaken Stormfront as the world’s largest White Supremacy community."

Four Detained in France Over Suspected Terror Attack Plan

French police detained four people with links to Islamist extremist networks who were suspected of planning an attack against a military base in southern France.

Buy the new book ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger. 

Buy J.M. Berger's seminal book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam


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Friday, July 10, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 7/10/2015: July 4 Threats, ISIS Media Analysis and More

Every year, starting in late June, the same alarm goes out. Officials express heightened concerns about terrorist attacks on Fourth of July celebrations, but they take pains to mention the warning is not based on specific intelligence or a specific threat. This year was no different: The week leading up to Independence Day was filled with dire warnings about how this year represented the worst “threat environment” since September 11th, how, in the words of Matt Olsen, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, “this time is different.”

But every year, including “this time,” seems the same: Vigilance is urged, police are deployed, people tell an endless procession of television cameras that they’re going to the fireworks anyway, and then on July 5, everyone moves on.

Read the latest from J.M. Berger for Politico


The Virtual ‘Caliphate’: Understanding Islamic State’s Propaganda Strategy
It is not enough to understand Islamic State propaganda simply in terms of its ‘high-production value’ and ‘professionalism’. Moving beyond its eye-catching cinematography, this paper looks at the heart of the group’s media machine. Below, the organisation’s messaging operation will be dismantled into its constituent parts and assessed systematically by applying the 1958 theory of propaganda laid down by French philosopher Jacques Ellul in his book, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, to the author’s archive of Islamic State propaganda gathered between June 2014 and June 2015. By Charlie Winter.

What can we learn from the life histories of lone wolves?
Recent terrorist attacks and interrupted plots have pushed the threat of lone actor terrorism to the forefront of national security across the world. Like most terrorist tactics or strategies, lone actor terrorism diffused easily across ideological domains with many different ideological movements espousing the strategic need for operatives to act alone. By Paul Gill.

The Tunisian-Libyan Jihadi Connection
It should have come as no surprise that Seifeddine Rezgui, the individual that attacked tourists in Sousse, Tunisia more than a week ago, had trained at a camp in Libya. The attack represented the continuation of a relationship between Tunisian and Libyan militants that, having intensified since 2011, goes back to the 1980s. The events in Sousse are a stark reminder of this relationship: a connection that is set to continue should The Islamic State (IS) choose to repeat attacks in Tunisia in the coming months. By Aaron Zelin


This Is How the Islamic State Manufactures Child Militants
Ever since Islamist rebels newly in control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria declared themselves the Islamic State (IS) last year, children have featured prominently in the group's infamous propaganda. Videos like these, along with information gathered from children who have escaped IS, suggest kids are being subjected to a systematic process of indoctrination as they're trained by the group to be fully fledged militants. They are what IS calls the ashbal, or "lion cubs," and upon completion of their training, children are deployed on and off the front lines. They act as fighters and guards, recruiters and bomb makers. And if the world hopes to one day entertain the idea of rehabilitating these children, the world must first understand how they are being groomed for such horrors. By John Horgan and Mia Bloom

Man convicted of aiding Islamic State found with box cutter
A Minnesota man living at a halfway house while awaiting sentencing on a terror charge was returned to custody in April after a box cutter was found under his bed, according to a court document filed Monday.

Minnesota’s Somali-Americans Urge New Treatment for Would-Be Terrorists
The issue of how to deradicalize young people attracted to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has become increasingly important here and in many other communities where recruitment by militant Islamic groups, often done online, has led to arrests.

This Man Is The Leader In ISIS’s Recruiting War Against Al-Qaeda In Yemen
AQAP has been dodging U.S. drones for years, but the challenge from ISIS on its jihadi right is new and is being spearheaded by a man who goes by the name of Abu Bilal al-Harbi, who BuzzFeed News has identified as the top ISIS commander in Yemen. By Gregory Johnsen

The Women Who Secretly Keep ISIS Running
The U.S. military campaign against self-proclaimed Islamic State may be focused on the male fighters conducting attacks across Iraq and Syria. But the richest human intelligence source to fall into U.S. hands to date is the widow of a senior ISIS member. She is revealing details about the terror group’s inner workings—including the existence of a parallel women’s network within ISIS that’s responsible for recruitment, retention, intelligence, and sexual slavery in the so-called caliphate.

Crowdsourced Jihad: A New Framework for Understanding ISIS Plots Against the West
ISIS is taking work traditionally performed by “employees” (aka card-carrying members) and issuing an open call for individuals outside the organization to carry it out. Call it crowd-sourcing. By Mitchell Silber

'My dad doesn't want to be in Syria with Islamic State'
A grandfather - who joined Islamic State in Syria with 11 other family members of his family - is being held against his will after being "tricked" into going, his son has told ITV News.

ISIS offers a mix of brutality, charity during Ramadan
The double approach reflects the policy that the extremist group has followed ever since it overran large parts of the two countries and declared a “caliphate” in its territory last year. It has sought to build public support by providing services and acting as a functioning government, even as it imposes its strict version of Islamic law through violence.


New AQAP leader renews allegiance to the ‘beloved father,’ Ayman al Zawahiri
Qasim al Raymi has released his first audio message as the new emir of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Al Raymi became the head of AQAP after his predecessor, Nasir al Wuhayshi, was killed in a US drone strike in mid-June.

White Supremacists Extend Their Reach Through Websites
In late June, as much of the nation mourned the killing of nine parishioners in a Charleston, S.C., church, The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website, was busy posting articles on a different issue: black crime against white people.

Tenn. Political Candidate Charged in Plot to Burn N.Y. Mosque
Robert R. Doggart, a former candidate for Congress in Tennessee, was charged Tuesday with plotting to burn down a mosque in a New York town with a large Muslim population.

Islamic Battalions, Stocked With Chechens, Aid Ukraine in War With Rebels
Even for Ukrainians hardened by more than a year of war here against Russian-backed separatists, the appearance of Islamic combatants, mostly Chechens, in towns near the front lines comes as something of a surprise — and for many of the Ukrainians, a welcome one.

White Supremacists on Kik
Inside the lightning-fast, wildly absurd, occasionally terrifying world of app-based teenage white supremacy.

Before Obama: A brief, awkward history of Whac-a-Mole metaphors and the U.S. military
After delivering a statement on the U.S. military campaign against the Islamic State, President Obama took two questions Monday from the press corps at the Pentagon. Asked whether he would boost the size of the U.S. force fighting the militants in Iraq to more than 3,000, he relied on an old comparison.

Buy the new book ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger.

Buy J.M. Berger's seminal book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam


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Friday, July 3, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 7/3/2015


In the first year since ISIS declared its caliphate, the organization has consistently outperformed al Qaeda in Google searches, despite the fact that the latter group has enjoyed some significant success on the ground in Syria and Yemen. The fact that ISIS has successfully captured the imagination of the global jihadist movement (and its adversaries) is no secret, but a small data point I have previously noted in the Google Trends search classification points to its broader success in redefining what the movement is about and is worth remembering as we enter year two.

Al Qaeda is classified as a terrorist organization, and its emir, Ayman al Zawahiri, is classified as an "organization leader." ISIS is classified simply as an organization, and its purported caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, is listed as a "political leader." ISIS is not just a different scale of problem from al Qaeda, it's a different type of problem, and it has more successfully navigated the transition I wrote about back in February 2014, for many of the reasons I outlined in that piece. The leverage and fast communications capability that Zawahiri lacks, Baghdadi appears to possess in spades. And the difference in the pace of activity between the two could not be more clear.


Indicators of terrorist intent and capability: Tools for threat assessment
This article explores the concept of terrorism indicators by applying it to seven case studies of home-grown jihadist groups and individuals that occurred in three Western countries between 2004 and 2007. By Bart Schuurman and Quirine Eijkman.

The Smoldering Thai Insurgency
Thailand’s southern insurgency continues to smolder in the three mostly Muslim provinces along the border with Malaysia. The violence may pale in comparison to the major sectarian conflicts dominating the global stage at the moment, but Thailand’s insurgency does not appear to be burning out and there is little hope of any resolution in the near term. By Zachary Abuza.

The Majority Illusion in Social Networks
In some cases, the structure of an underlying social network can dramatically skew an individual's local observations, making a behavior appear far more common locally than it is globally. By Kristina Lerman, Xiaoran Yan, and Xin-Zeng Wu.


ISIS and the Lonely Young American
Rukmini Callimachi tells the story of an American teenager's online conversations with a man linked to the Islamic State. By Rukmini Callimachi.

Where Does ISIS Stand A Year After It Declared Its Caliphate?
It's been one year since the Islamic State insurgent group declared its caliphate, changing its name and proclaiming leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph of all Muslims.

Ignored and Unreported, Muslim Cartoonists Are Poking Fun at ISIS
Comic strips have been a staple of Arab culture since the early 20th century, and today a thriving community of Muslim cartoonists living across the world regularly comment on political and cultural events, often with daring intelligence and raw wit.

Islamic State Weaves Web of Support in Gulf Arab States
The killing of 27 people last week in Kuwait was the most lethal in any of the six hereditary-ruled Gulf Arab states since bombings in Riyadh killed 35 at the start of an al Qaeda campaign in Saudi Arabia in May 2003.The assault has raised concerns about the number of young Saudi men willing to travel to attack Shi'ites in smaller Gulf Arab states and so make good on a threat by Islamic State to step up violence in the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Gunman at Tunisian Beach Hotel Trained With Museum Attackers
The gunman who massacred 38 foreign tourists at a beachside hotel on June 26 trained with a militant group in Libya this year alongside two Tunisians who later killed 22 people at the national museum, security officials confirmed on Tuesday.

Jihadist Attacks on Egypt Grow Fiercer
Two years after President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi led a military takeover promising to restore order and security in Egypt, he faces a rising jihadist insurgency that has shaken the stability of this most populous Arab state, a key ally of the United States.

ISIS Allies Target Hamas and Energize Gaza Extremists
One bomb hit a Hamas security checkpoint in northern Gaza. A few days later, another exploded in a trash can. Another blew up next to a Gaza City high-rise, and a small one targeted a chicken store owned by a Hamas intelligence official, Saber Siyam.

In turf war with Afghan Taliban, Islamic State loyalists gain ground
Fighters loyal to Islamic State have seized substantial territory in Afghanistan for the first time, witnesses and officials said, wresting areas in the east from rival Taliban insurgents in a new threat to stability.

Who Are the Americans Accused of Joining ISIL?
The militant group that calls itself the Islamic State recruits foreign fighters—more than 20,000 to date, according to some estimates—from all over the world, France to Indonesia. And some of those, of course, are from the United States.

U.S. Citizen Arrested in New Jersey on Terror-Related Charges
The FBI arrested a U.S. citizen in New Jersey early Monday on terror-related charges amid heightened security concerns heading into the July 4 holiday.


How I was de-radicalised
A reporter explores the Aarhus Model, a programme designed in Denmark's second city to dissuade young people from going to fight for al-Qaeda or Islamic State.

Who commits mass shootings?
Are young, white men more likely than anyone else to become mass murderers? Well, it's complicated.

Five predominantly black Southern churches burn within a week; arson suspected in at least three
In the week after nine people were shot dead at Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina, five churches with predominantly black congregations in five Southern states burned. Three of the fires were being investigated as arson.

Dylann Roof, 4chan, and the New Online Racism
4chan’s trolling culture didn’t just birth Guy Fawkes hacktivism—it also inspired the racist and neo-fascist sites where the Charleston terrorist lurked.

Council Of Conservative Citizens Suspended From PayPal
In the wake of revelations that Dylann Roof, the alleged Charleston, South Carolina, shooter, was “awakened” to the epidemic of “black-on-white crime” by the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), PayPal – one of the world’s largest online money transfer services – has suspended the white nationalist hate group’s account.

Buy the new book ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger.

Buy J.M. Berger's seminal book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam


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Friday, June 26, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 6/26/2015: Day of Terror, More on Charleston


Terrorist Attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait Kill Dozens
Terrorists attacked sites in France, Tunisia and Kuwait on Friday, leaving a bloody toll on three continents and prompting new concerns about the spreading influence of jihadists. In France, attackers stormed an American­owned industrial chemical plant near Lyon, tried unsuccessfully to blow up the factory, and left behind a decapitated corpse. In Tunisia, at least one gunman disguised as a vacationer opened fire at a beach resort, killing at least 37 people before security forces shot him to death, officials said. And the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in one of the largest Shiite mosques in Kuwait City during Friday prayers.


A Day of Terror Highlights the Complexity of the ISIS Problem
Terror broke out around the globe Friday, as militants suspected or known to be aligned with the Islamic State carried out gruesome attacks in France, Tunisia, Kuwait, and Syria. As one of the largest extremist groups in recent memory, ISIS has the luxury of attacking on multiple fronts, using multiple methods, and it has increasingly displayed its willingness to do so.


Law Enforcement Assessment of the Violent Extremism Threat
Law enforcement agencies in the United States consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence that they face. By Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer

Country Reports on Terrorism 2014
The State Department's annual report tracking terrorism globally.


Me and Abu Taubah
Many struggle to imagine what goes on in the minds of an Islamic State recruit. A BBC reporter struck up a correspondence with one volunteer to try to find out. By Nina Arif.

Grisly ISIS Video Seems Aimed at Quashing Resistance
The video was one of the Islamic State’s most gruesome and appeared to suggest internal concern that civilians living in areas under the group’s control could be actively working against it.

Islamic State attacks Kobane 5 months after ouster; scores reported killed
Islamic State militants stormed into the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane on Thursday, launching suicide attacks and gunning down civilians five months after the extremists were driven from the area with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes.

ISIS bride reveals an unprecedented look inside the terrorist organization
A woman discusses why she returned home before marrying a fighter.

Father Tips Off Police to Son's Alleged ISIS Sympathies, Authorities Say
A North Carolina man was charged today with planning to gun down “a large number of citizens” in attacks to support ISIS here in the United States, authorities said. Ironically, it was the suspect’s father who first alerted authorities to his son’s ISIS sympathies. As a result, 19-year-old Justin Sullivan was arrested over Father’s Day weekend.


Lone wolf extremists like Dylann Roof are easy to develop but hard to track
The rise of the self-taught extremist has put investigators in a bind: White racist groups are less capable of producing organized violence, but the attacks that do develop come mainly from solo actors whose paths to violence are far more difficult to track.

Homegrown Extremists Tied to Deadlier Toll Than Jihadists in U.S. Since 9/11
Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims.

Link Exposed Between Charleston Killer And Haters' Convention In Russia
Jared Taylor and Sam Dickson, members of the white-supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens that is said to have inspired Roof before he opened fire on black churchgoers in South Carolina, attended the St. Petersburg conference of Russian and Western far-right leaders in March.

On Web, white supremacists stir up a growing and angry audience
An interview with the head of white supremacist site The Daily Stormer.

The Klan’s Vile Post-Charleston Recruiting Spree
Days after the massacre at a black church in South Carolina, some Americans woke to a vile surprise: KKK fliers with candy on their lawns. The propaganda included a phone number for the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Putin’s Plot to Get Texas to Secede
For Moscow's right-wingers, payback means teaming up with a band of Texas secessionists.


Fringe Following
In 2013, J.M. Berger wrote about what big data and social media can tell us about white supremacists.

Omar and Me
J.M. Berger on his strange, frustrating relationship with an American terrorist.

Buy the new book ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger. 

Buy J.M. Berger's seminal book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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Sunday, June 21, 2015

A definition of terrorism

For the record, my definition of terrorism:
Public violence targeting noncombatants, carried out by nongovernmental individuals or groups, in order to advance a political or ideological goal or amplify a political or ideological message.
The objective of this definition is to draw lines around a relatively consistent phenomenon, which has similar characteristics no matter who the perpetrators are, and to distinguish it from phenomena that have similar traits but are fundamentally different in conception and goal. 

Employing a consistent definition is useful for distinguishing how and why we respond to certain kinds of violence and removing certain biases (for instance, race and religion) that can make us less effective at countering terrorism as well as aggravating broader social problems. 

The key components of this definition are:
  • Violence is public: Terrorism is is usually theatrical and is done to influence an audience. The word "terrorism" itself comes from the effect it is perceived to have on the audience, but these days, it is used for more than just fear. For instance, ISIS uses terrorism to provoke and enrage.
  • Targets noncombatants: This includes both civilians and undeployed military personnel. Terrorist tactics can be used to fight deployed military personnel, but this is generally defined as insurgency or guerrilla warfare.
  • Violence is not attributed to government: This distinguishes between terrorism and state actions under its monopoly on violence, or war. This does not excuse state violence, it just reclassifies it. When a state uses violence against noncombatants, it can be an act of war, or a war crime. Against its own population, it can be genocide, oppression or tyranny. "Not attributed" matters here, as some terrorism is state-sponsored. It is possible to imagine an overtly state-directed terrorist campaign against an adversary (the question of ISIS's state status is obviously relevant), but this is relatively rare and should probably be thought of in a war context. 
  • Has political or ideological motive: This distinguishes an attack like Fort Hood or Charleston from being considered simply a mass shooting incident. It also distinguishes hate crimes sparked by uncomplex (i.e., nonideological) racism (such as a deadly fight with a longtime neighbor, or with a stranger in a bar, with an element of bias related to race or sexual orientation) from crimes designed to have a wider political impact. 

Buy the new book ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger. 

Buy J.M. Berger's seminal book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam

Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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Friday, June 19, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 6/19/15, Charleston, Wuhayshi, What Inspires ISIS, And Much More


Was what happened in Charleston terrorism?
In the wake of the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, terrorism expert Brian Phillips asks and answers five questions based on initial reports of the shooter and the massacre.

Dylann Roof, Suspect in Charleston Shooting, Flew the Flags of White Power
The Facebook profile picture chosen by Dylann Storm Roof in May is thick with symbolism. It shows Mr. Roof, a scowling young white man, wearing a black jacket adorned with two flags — one from apartheid-era South Africa, the other from white-ruled Rhodesia — that have been adopted as emblems by modern-day white supremacists.

Reddit’s Racists ‘Celebrate’ Charleston Terror—and Worry About the Blowback
The trolls of a racist subreddit worried about how the killings would make them look in the ‘Jew-owned media.’

Roommate Says Charleston Suspect Planned Shooting For 6 Months
The roommate of the white, 21-year old man who allegedly massacred nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina said Thursday that he thought the suspect had been planning the attack for about six months.


Al-Wuhayshi's death deprives al Qaeda of a dynamic heavyweight'
Even though he was only in his late 30s, AQAP leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi had more than 20 years of experience fighting jihad and had been close to Osama bin Laden. To many observers, his death is the most significant individual blow to al Qaeda since the killing of militant preacher Anwar al-Awlaki (also in Yemen) four years ago.

One-eyed sheikh Mokhtar Belmokhtar alive, says al-Qaeda
al-Qaeda in the Maghreb issued a statement denying reports that the veteran jihadist had been killed. 

Homeland Security Department curtails home-grown terror analysis
The Department of Homeland Security has stepped back for the past two years from conducting its own intelligence and analysis of home-grown extremism, according to current and former department officials, even though law enforcement and civil rights experts have warned of rising extremist threats.

Try, Try Again: White Supremacist Plans To Build 'Little Europe' In North Dakota
A self-described white supremacist who last year abandoned plans to mold a tiny North Dakota town into an Aryan enclave is ready to give it another go -- this time through crowdfunding.


Islamic Scripture Is Not the Problem And Funding Muslim Reformers Is Not the Solution
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is correct that darker passages of Islamic Scripture endorse violence and prescribe harsh punishments for moral or theological infractions. But Hirsi Ali is profoundly wrong when she argues that Islamic Scripture causes Muslim terrorism and thus that the U.S. government should fund Muslim dissidents to reform Islam. By Will McCants.
Experts weigh in: Can the United States counter ISIS propaganda?
With the presidential election coming up and U.S. messaging strategy against the Islamic State uncertain, Richard LeBaron and Will McCants take stock of where things stand.

How to stop ISIS from recruiting American teens
The steady stream of teenage recruits to ISIS is not simply a tragedy but also a particular challenge for U.S. officials, who cannot easily charge minors with terror support.

ISIS-Imposed Fuel Embargo Threatens Syria’s Medical Centers
Islamic State fighters are preventing fuel shipments from reaching rebel-held parts of northern Syria, causing severe shortages that are grounding ambulances, paralyzing medical centers and shutting down bakeries, according to antigovernment activists and aid workers.

ISIL-linked group claims deadly Yemen bombings
A series of car bombs kill dozens in capital Sanaa, as UN-brokered talks to resolve crisis were extended until Friday.

New Jersey Man Arrested in ISIS-Related Raid, 4th Tri-State Terror Arrest This Week
A man suspected of supporting ISIS-related activities was arrested as FBI agents raided a home in New Jersey early Thursday, accused of conspiring with at least one of the other men arrested in the area this week in the same investigation, law enforcement officials said.

Man charged with lunging at FBI agents with knife during terrorism probe on Staten Island
A man accused of coming at FBI agents with a knife on Staten Island Wednesday morning has been taken into custody. The agents were investigating an alleged ISIS sympathizer from Queens when they arrived at the house.


The Growing Right-Wing Terror Threat
A survey conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum indicates the main terrorist threat in the United States is not from violent Muslim extremists, but from right-wing extremists.

Islamic State Propaganda: Key Elements of the Group’s Messaging
By dissecting and examining the various strands of the group’s propaganda, narrative and brand, this article will deal with the message itself, focusing on how the Islamic State has gained the international traction it has. by Charlie Winter.

Countering Violent Extremism in America
This report analyzes the status quo of CVE in America, detailing the latest initiatives and the challenges they face. The second part summarizes the current CVE trends in various European countries, where authorities have implemented ambitious strategies for over a decade, and whose experience can therefore offer useful pointers to U.S. officials. Finally, the report seeks to provide recommendations. by Lorenzo Vidino and Seamus Hughes 

Buy the new book ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger.

Buy J.M. Berger's seminal book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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Saturday, June 13, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief 6/12/15: NYT on Kremlin Trolls, Guardian on AQ-ISIS Split

Charles Lister and Clint Watts speaking on ISIS in Oslo. Photo by Thomas Hegghammer.

It's been a long couple weeks of travel (and it's not quite over yet), but it's been full of interesting meetings and interesting people; I was particularly glad to finally meet the truly impressive Charles Lister, Brynjar Lia and Joas Wagemakers, as well as many other new friends, and to catch up with even more old friends in both Doha and Oslo. I especially appreciate everyone humoring my incessant travel complaints, even though I am well aware most of you have far more demanding schedules yourselves. I don't know how you all do it, but I am glad you do.

In the meantime, it was a good week for news and long reads, so let's get to it.

-- J.M. Berger


The Agency
From a nondescript office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, an army of well-paid “trolls” has tried to wreak havoc all around the Internet — and in real-life American communities.

White House Weighs Sanctions After Second Breach of a Computer System
The White House on Friday revealed that hackers had breached a second computer system at the Office of Personnel Management, and said that President Obama was considering financial sanctions against the attackers who gained access to the files of millions of federal workers.


How ISIS Crippled al Qaeda
ISIS has not simply eclipsed al-Qaida on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, and in the competition for funding and new recruits. According to a series of exclusive interviews with senior jihadi ideologues, Isis has successfully launched “a coup” against al-Qaida to destroy it from within. As a consequence, they now admit, al-Qaida – as an idea and an organisation – is now on the verge of collapse.

'Between the hammer and the anvil' - how ISIL has spelt doom for Iraq's Sunnis
One year on since ISIL first swept across Iraq and Syria: Stuck between ISIL on one side and Shia militias on the other, Iraq's Sunni minority has nowhere to go.

Va. teen admits he was secret voice behind a pro-ISIS Twitter account
Ali Shukri Amin—a suburban high school student who secretly ran a popular pro-Islamic State Twitter account—pleaded guilty in federal court as an adult to conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.

Another man connected to Boston terror plot arrested, police say
Authorities said they have identified a third man linked to a supposed terror plot to kill Boston police officers hatched by Usaama Rahim, officials said Thursday.

How Boko Haram Courted and Joined the Islamic State
Boko Haram, the radical Islamic sect that controls parts of Nigeria, became the largest affiliate of the Islamic State in March, after months of strengthening its media presence and courting the jihadist group.

The Worst of All Horrors
Psychologists in Iraq, a country long afflicted by violence, say they’ve never seen more terrible trauma than that caused by the Islamic State.

The Islamic State's Growth in Libya
The Islamic State (ISIS) has made gains throughout Libya since fall 2014, when local Islamist forces pledged allegiance to the “caliphate.” This map tracks those gains as well as major attacks by the group.

Can Libya Save Itself From ISIS?
Chaos and boat people make headlines, but on the ground in Libya there’s a weird kind of stability. If only the so-called Islamic State were not moving in so fast.

Obama’s Evolution on ISIS
President Obama said Monday that “we don’t have, yet, a complete strategy” to confront the threat posed by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Here are some of Mr. Obama’s statements about the American strategy to confront the Islamic State and its effectiveness.


Police: Suspect dead after attack on Dallas police building
A man suspected of spraying Dallas Police Headquarters with gunfire early on Saturday has been found dead in a van after a police sniper shot him and pipe bombs found in the vehicle were exploded, a police spokesman said.

The CIA Just Released Declassified Documents Related to the 9/11 Attacks
The CIA has released declassified versions of five internal documents dealing with the 9/11 terror attacks, according to a press release sent to reporters on Friday afternoon. The documents are described as being "related to the Agency's performance in the lead-up to the attacks."

Quebec introduces action plan to combat violent radicalization
The Quebec government announced a series of broad measures to fight violent extremism in the province Wednesday that includes a police squad to monitor social media platforms and an anti-radicalization centre based in Montreal.

'Twitter terrorist' who posted messages glorifying jihad has been jailed
Iraqi Alaa Esayed, 22, uploaded 45,600 Tweets in just under a year and used photo-sharing site Instragram to post pictures of soldier's corpses and prisoners being beheaded.

Buy the new book ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger. 

Buy J.M. Berger's seminal book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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", granular analysis..."

ISIS: The State of Terror
"Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger's new book, "ISIS," should be required reading for every politician and policymaker... Their smart, granular analysis is a bracing antidote to both facile dismissals and wild exaggerations... a nuanced and readable account of the ideological and organizational origins of the group." -- Washington Post

More on ISIS: The State of Terror

"...a timely warning..."

Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam:
"At a time when some politicians and pundits blur the line between Islam and terrorism, Berger, who knows this subject far better than the demagogues, sharply cautions against vilifying Muslim Americans. ... It is a timely warning from an expert who has not lost his perspective." -- New York Times

More on Jihad Joe


INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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