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


Friday, July 3, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 7/3/2015

CHARTS OF THE WEEK



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.

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

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 WATCH

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.

TERROR WATCH

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

DEVELOPING STORY

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.

FROM J.M. BERGER

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.

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

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.

ISIS WATCH

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.

TERROR WATCH

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.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

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

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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


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Friday, June 19, 2015
 

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

CHARLESTON ATTACK

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.


TERROR WATCH

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.

ISIS WATCH

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.


RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

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

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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

CYBER/ONLINE

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.

ISIS WATCH

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.

TERROR WATCH

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

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Friday, June 5, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 6/5/15, Al Nusra Evolves, Another ISIS 'Lone Wolf,' and More

PICTURE OF THE WEEK


ISIS: The State of Terror, Portuguese edition, at the Lisbon Book Fair.



TERROR WATCH

An Internal Struggle: Al Qaeda's Syrian Affiliate Is Grappling With Its Identity
What does Jabhat al-Nusra actually represent today? By Charles Lister

Quietly, al-Qaeda offshoots expand in Yemen and Syria
Al-Qaeda affiliates are significantly expanding their footholds in Syria and Yemen, using the chaos of civil wars to acquire territory and increase their influence, according to analysts, residents and intelligence officials.

ISIS WATCH

The Islamic State's Saudi Chess Match
By attacking Shiite targets in Yemen and Saudi Arabia and potentially drawing Iran into the fray, the group is playing a complicated game aimed at delegitimizing the royal family and destabilizing the kingdom. By Aaron Zelin

Usaamah Rahim's Boston terror plot: How deep does his network run?
Authorities are now trying to determine the depth of Rahim's network. Officers have raided locations in Massachusetts, where Rahim lived, and a Rhode Island home belonging to another of his associates.

Purported Boston terrorism plot targeting Pamela Geller was 'wishful thinking,' official says
Controversial anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller was mentioned as a possible target for beheading by a man who was shot and killed by a counter-terrorism task force this week, Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans said Thursday, but he characterized it as "more along the lines of wishful thinking."

ISIS Aims New Recruitment Video at Balkan Muslims
ISIS launched a new push to reel in disaffected Muslims as fighters in Syria and Iraq with a new video posted online Thursday, offering them a "stronghold" there to worship freely -- and to fight for. The 20-minute video by the core-ISIS propaganda machine, Al-Hayat Media Center, starred a group of camouflage-clad mujahideen from the Balkans region of Eastern Europe pleading for their countrymen to join brothers in the "caliphate."
Tweets as weapons: How 'Islamic State' is fighting its battles... digitally
Terrorist organization "Islamic State" is more than just simply savvy when it comes to using the internet as a propaganda tool. But what can be used to fight against such a profound social media strategy and smart users?

What an Estimate of 10,000 ISIS Fighters Killed Doesn’t Tell Us

It’s been more than eight months since the United States mobilized a coalition and launched a campaign of airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Despite the strikes hitting more than 6,200 targets, it has been difficult to measure the coalition’s success against ISIS.

ISIS movie maker, documentary producer said 'killed' in Iraq airstrike
The Iraqi Ministry of Interior announced the death of dozens of ISIS terrorists in an air strike in the west of Anbar province, Al Arabiya News Channel reported on Sunday.

In Minnesota, ISIS Offers a Different Allure
While it can be tempting to compare a recent round of would-be jihadis attempting to join the Islamic State group's campaign in the Middle East to previous instances of Somalis leaving to fight for al-Shabab in Somalia, key differences have made countering the extremist pull this time around all the more difficult.

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

Jihadism in Africa: Local Causes, Regional Expansion, International Alliances
The transnational terrorism of the twenty-first century feeds on local and regional conflicts, without which most terrorist groups would never have appeared in the first place. By Guido Steinberg and Annette Weber

Economic growth and terrorism: domestic, international, and suicide
This study evaluates the controversial issue of whether economic growth exerts a dampening effect on terrorism. By Seung-Whan Choi

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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Saturday, May 30, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 5/30/2015

TERROR WATCH

Khorasan: Are Syria's mysterious 'strangers with horses' a threat to the west?
In Idlib province, they are known as “the strangers with the horses”. Among the senior ranks of Jabhat al-Nusra, they are referred to as “our friends”. In Europe and the US, the small band of jihadis is known by the contentious name “Khorasan” and blamed for hatching plots to attack the west. All seem to agree on one thing: just what the highly secretive group is up to in northern Syria remains one of the civil war’s enduring mysteries.
Iraqi Shiite Foreign Fighters on the Rise Again in Syria
Over the past few months, Iraqi Shiite fighters have once again expanded their role in defending the Assad regime in Syria. Beginning in late 2012, these fighters -- some of them experienced, others newly recruited -- formed some of the most dynamic foreign units in the war. By spring 2014, many of them had been pulled from the Syrian front to handle increasing pressure from the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq. Today, however, despite continued fighting in Iraqi hotspots such as Tikrit and Ramadi, these Shiite militias are increasingly adopting new responsibilities and reassuming older ones on many fronts in Syria.

Extremists are made, not born
Former extremist Mubin Shaikh discusses his experiences with (de-)radicalization.

ISIS WATCH

Journey to Jihad
About four thousand European jihadis have gone to Syria since the outbreak of war, in 2011, more than four hundred from Belgium. (It is estimated that at least a hundred Americans have joined the fight.) The migration of youths from seemingly stable and prosperous communities to fight with radical Islamists has bewildered not only their families but governments and security forces throughout Europe. The radicalization of Jejoen Bontinck, a Belgian teenager who was convicted of joining a terrorist group and traveling to Syria, offers insight into the pipeline of jihadis flowing out of Europe.

FBI struggling with surge in homegrown terror cases
The New York Police Department and other law enforcement agencies around the nation are increasing their surveillance of ISIS supporters in the U.S., in part to aid the FBI.

Second Saudi Arabia suicide bombing fuels ISIS campaign fears
In the second attack of its kind in a week, four people have died after a suicide bomber targeted a Shia mosque in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, fueling fears of an organised campaign by Islamic State inside the conservative Sunni kingdom.

ISIS Alternates Stick and Carrot to Control Palmyra
Hours after they swept into the Syrian city of Palmyra last week, Islamic State militants carried out scores of executions. Then, residents say, they set about acting like municipal functionaries.

How the ‘catastrophic’ American decision to disband Saddam’s military helped fuel the rise of ISIL
Twelve years later, there is increasing evidence former members of Saddam’s military have helped fuel the rise of the Islamic State.

No Islamic State Connection In Lindt Cafe Siege, Investigation Reveals
After studying Man Haron Monis’ online communication, no evidence has been found that link the gunman with the militant group.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK


J.M. Berger spoke at a recent conference at Boston University on the ways that ISIS uses social media to accentuate its apocalyptic appeal, previewing a forthcoming paper on the topic.

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT

Cyberhate on social media in the aftermath of Woolwich
A criminological analysis of the social media reaction, in particular the detection and propagation of cyberhate, following the 2013 Woolwich, London terrorist attack. BMatthew L. Williams and Pete Burnap

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, May 22, 2015
 

Weekly Brief 5/22/2015, Bin Laden's Bookshelf, Is ISIS Strategic?, and More

The U.S. government this week released a very large batch of documents seized during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. While many in the media rushed to make listicles out of bin Laden's English-language reading list and marveled at the al Qaeda job application (just like they did in 2007 when the last one appeared), those who want to take a more measured and thoughtful approach need turn only to Clint Watts for advice.

Clint used to work on the U.S. government's Harmony Program, which declassified important documents from the war on terror, so he knows a little something about sifting through long pages of sometimes turgid prose by al Qaeda leaders. Writing for War on the Rocks, he gives some very useful tips on how to work through the stash.

Related resources:
-- J.M. Berger

NEW FROM J.M. BERGER

Barack Obama Still Misunderestimates ISIL
The Obama administration’s misguided rhetoric on ISIL finally sped over the edge of a cliff over the last week. Officials stand now like Wile E. Coyote, still taking steps over thin air, bemused, in the moment before gravity takes hold. With the fall of Ramadi, and continuing through the fall of Palmyra, officials up to and including President Barack Obama have sought to recast the Islamic State’s victories as “tactical” setbacks. For those who do not speak Wonkese, making reference to an enemy’s “tactical” success is code for saying that the enemy is not “strategic.”

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

A new type of financier supporting Islamist armed groups emerged during the initial years of the Syrian conflict. These Gulf-based financiers openly advertised their activities on social media, using the medium to attract donations from across the Gulf. The international community moved slowly to neutralize these financiers, but in August 2014, the US government sanctioned two of the most prominent individuals, Hajaj al-Ajmi and Shafi al-Ajmi of Kuwait. Although the sanctions announced in August 2014 did not target all of the individuals publicly fundraising for Islamist armed groups in Syria, it did create a new environment in the Gulf. By Asher Berman

Why Terrorists Weep: The Socio-Cultural Practices of Jihadi Militants
How the non-military activities of terrorist groups can shed important new light on how extremists think and behave. Related resource: The Bored Jihadi, a new reading list and noteboard focused on jihadi culture. Both by Thomas Hegghammer

ISIS WATCH

Within a matter of days this week, the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, seized with apparent ease the cities of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria, in both cases seemingly coming out of nowhere to rout government forces. Yet a closer look at the two battles shows the group following a longerterm strategy, in both cases biding its time, taking territory mainly from other insurgent groups. Then, after years of war, attrition and corruption had left the government forces demoralized and, particularly in Syria, hollowed out, it attacked, overrunning them.

Despite months of an American-led bombing campaign, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has conquered the Iraqi city of Ramadi. It is a major setback, and it should compel policymakers to assess whether our strategy -- which in the near term boils down to containing and disrupting ISIS while we bolster stable governance in Iraq -- is working. What it should not do is prompt half-baked calls for inserting more American troops into Iraq. By Brian Fishman.

A central goal of the Islamic State is expansion. This week, the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, took over key cities in Iraq and Syria. It aims to build a broad colonial empire across many countries. A year after announcing its expansion goals, it is operating or has cells in more than a dozen countries.

ISIS Finances Are Strong
The Islamic State has revenue and assets that are more than enough to cover its current expenses despite expectations that airstrikes and falling oil prices would hurt the group’s finances, according to analysts at RAND Corporation, a nonprofit organization that researches public policy.

The President discusses ISIS, Syria and more.

Palmyra’s capture provides the extremist group with a strategic base from which to advance on key Syrian state-held areas.

In seeking to explain the recruiting success of the so-called Islamic State (IS), Western analysts tend to view the group through the lens of its most provocative acts: staged executions, destruction of heritage sites and calls to bring about the “End of Days.”* Yet while its Western enemies are preoccupied parsing the allure of its spectacular savagery and zealous apocalyptic ideology, IS is carefully cultivating a parallel appeal to its core Arab constituency, not through shock and awe but through routine and accomplishment. The brand that IS media most regularly markets to inhabitants of IS-controlled territory and supporters is that of a powerful but pragmatic actor sensibly governing a caliphate where they and their families can live and work, not just fight and die.

* J.M. Note: These aren't necessarily inconsistent with the article; in fact the local propaganda contributes to the group's Millenarian appeal.

Lonely Man Finds a Home in Islamic State
When Mark Taylor began visiting a New Zealand mosque about four years ago, worshippers there saw him as lonely, a little lost and possessing a childlike view of the world. They didn't see any anger or radicalism in the security guard who said he was a former Army soldier. And so they were not only appalled but also worried for him when he resurfaced last year in Syria, describing himself as an adventurer and posting social media messages under the Twitter handle "Kiwi Jihadi."

TERRORISM WATCH

The Purge: How Somalia’s Al Shabaab Turned Against Its Own Foreign Fighters
Counterterrorism agencies have long been preoccupied with the threat posed by the recruiting successes of the Somali terrorist group al Shabaab in Western countries. In recent years, however, al Shabaab has turned on the foreign fighters in its own ranks, waging a brutal campaign to purge the perceived spies from its midst. An intimate account of the Shabaab civil war was provided to The Intercept in a series of interviews conducted with a current member of al Shabaab and a source who has maintained close contacts with the group.

Exit From Refuge Was on Bin Laden's Mind
Osama bin Laden was considering leaving his hideaway in Abbottabad, Pakistan, just months before Navy SEALs stormed his compound and killed him, according to a trove of documents seized from his compound during the raid and declassified this week by the Obama administration.

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, May 15, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 5/15/2015: Return of the Sith, ISIS in Pakistan, More

After weeks of conflicting and inconsistent reports about his alleged incapacitating injuries, self-styled caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi surfaced this week in an audio recording that did little to settle the question. The recording vaguely referenced events in a March-to-April time frame and seemed to almost studiously avoid anything that would give the impression it was intended as proof of life.

Most of the content of the lecture was tedious recapping and predictable exhortation. While it reiterated previous calls for Muslims to join the Islamic State immediately, Baghdadi took unusual pains to explain that this call was not a sign of weakness. ISIS doesn't need the recruits, he explained, the recruits need to be with ISIS to save their souls. Saying "I'm not desperate" when no one has asked is a little like volunteering "I'm not racist."

Baghdadi covered a massive range of topics using an excessive number of words, so much that it was easy to miss the fact that some of his choicest words and one of the longest single sections of the speech was devoted to Saudi Arabia. Baghdadi made a number of pointed comments about Saudi willingness to bomb its neighbor but not to take up arms "in defense of Muslims" in Syria, Burma, Palestine and so on.

"Their treachery has become clear even to the laymen of the Muslims. ... So their masters from amongst the Jews and Crusaders had no more use for them. And so their masters began to replace them with the Safawī (Safavid) Rāfidah and the Kurdish atheists," Baghdadi said. "When Āl Salūl realized their masters’ abandonment of them, their disposal of them like tattered shoes, and their replacement of them, they launched their supposed war against the Rāfidah of Yemen. And it is not a storm of resolve, rather it is the kick of a dying person, by Allah’s permission, as he struggles during his last breaths."

ISIS WATCH

Minnesota Teen Terror Recruit Back in Prison After Violating Terms of Halfway House Agreement
Abdullahi Yusuf, a Somali-American who pleaded guilty to conspiring to support terrorists in the Middle East, has been taken into custody for allegedly violating conditions while living in a St. Paul halfway house. Yusuf drew national attention after a federal judge decided to place him in a halfway house and provide counseling for him rather than hold him in custody while awaiting sentencing. Yusuf’s alleged violations were not detailed in court records.

Review Roundup: The State of Terror
A look at the reviews for the new ISIS book by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger. "Smart granular analysis... nuanced and readable... a profound act of counterterrorism... packed with useful insights... big-brained research on political violence and some of the most acute thinking about the insurgency that is around today..." Buy it today.

Gunmen Ambush Bus in Pakistan, Killing Dozens
At least 43 people were killed when gunmen ambushed a bus in this southern port city, Pakistani officials said, in a sectarian assault that was the country’s first major attack claimed by Islamic State.

NSA director says ISIS ideology 'increasingly resonating' with Americans
The head of U.S. Cyber Command said Monday that the ability of ISIS to recruit adherents online is "a trend that is clearly increasing, not decreasing" and that the terror group's ideology is "increasingly resonating" with Americans.

Virginia woman sentenced for lying about ISIS bomb plot
A Virginia woman who tried to help a teenager join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and carry out a suicide bombing was sentenced Monday to 4½ years in federal prison for lying to the FBI about the plot.

Journey to ISIS: From an Astrophysics Student to Shell-Shocked Islamist Fighter
A Turkish foreign fighter's diary provides a unique glimpse into the everyday miseries of life in ISIS-held Syria and the psychological toll of air strikes on new recruits.

Defenders Of Minn. Men Accused Of Trying To Join ISIS Claim Entrapment
Lawyers for the four Minnesota men accused of trying to join ISIS say the FBI entrapped them.


TERROR WATCH

The Unknown American Al-Qaeda Operative
By Arif Rafiq. An American-born terrorist, al Qaeda leader's Ahmed Farooq's life and recent death reveal the deep cleavages within Pakistan's society.

The Detail in Seymour Hersh’s Bin Laden Story That Rings True
Hersh contends that “the C.I.A. did not learn of Bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the U.S.”

Al-Qaeda linked group brags about killing after blogger hacked to death
As the world reacted to the news that another secular blogger in Bangladesh had been killed in a machete attack in the north-eastern city of Sylhet, Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) claimed the attack on social media.

Four jihadists killed in clashes with Tunisian army
Four jihadists were killed Thursday in clashes with the Tunisian army in a mountainous region near the border with Algeria, the defence ministry said.

Inspectors in Syria Find Traces of Banned Military Chemicals
International inspectors have found traces of banned toxic chemicals in at least three military locations in Syria, four diplomats and officials said, less than two years after President Bashar al-Assad agreed to dismantle the country’s chemical arsenal.

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT

“It's More Than Just a Name”: A Theoretical Approach to Eradicating Terrorism Through Propositions of Organizational Naming
The following study offers a series of propositions highlighting the effects and implications of organizational naming and labeling practices and their subsequent effects on the framing of terrorist organizations and activity. by Jacqueline S. Bruscella

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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Monday, May 11, 2015
 

Review Roundup -- ISIS: The State of Terror



Here's a roundup of reviews for ISIS: The State of Terror, the new book by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger, on sale everywhere: 

Washington Post: "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... Stern and Berger offer a nuanced and readable account of the ideological and organizational origins of the group."

Literary Review: "Stern and Berger draw on internet-based sources, big-brained research on political violence and some of the most acute thinking about the insurgency that is around today. ... Stern and Berger's book is packed with useful insights and also seeks to explain the different aspects of ISIS."

Salon: "Understanding ISIS, who it appeals to and why, as well as how it sees itself, isn't something we're supposed to do. One purpose of ISIS' savagery is to make us react without thinking, to compel us to view the world as it does, as a stark conflict between good and evil demanding immediate, dramatic action. In that light, consider 'ISIS: The State of Terror,' a profound act of counterterrorism."

The Telegraph: "Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger have produced a clear and succinct account of the rise of the fanatics... This book's achievement is to demonstrate how ISIS fits within the spectrum of blood-soaked jihadism."

Evening Standard: "One can only conclude, with the clarity of recent hindsight, that we should have seen it coming -- at least when seen through the lens of ISIS: The State of Terror, a new history of the threat by US academics Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger. ... a timely and important history of a movement that now defines the 21st century."

Prospect: "Perhaps the most interesting comparison to make is between IS and apocalyptic cults. Stern and Berger cite the examples of Heaven's Gate and the Branch Davidians, whose members attempted, or were pressured into, mass suicide on the basis that the end was nigh. THe eschatology of IS has found fertile soil."

Backbench: "Stern and Berger have made a valuable contribution to the discourse surrounding ISIS and I highly recommend their new book, which is equally accessible to both the academic and more casual reader with an interest in Middle Eastern affairs."

Prospect Magazine: "...the heart of their book is about the technology and psychology of IS. They ... break down the illusion of novelty, by situating the militants' sadistic tactics, apocalyptic ideas and social media dexterity in the context of other violent extremist groups. This may not be consolatory, but it is clarifying."

New York Times: "The authors do nimble jobs of turning their copious research and their own expertise on terrorism into coherent, accessible narratives that leave us with an understanding of the Islamic State's history and metastasis, and its modus operandi. ... The most compelling sections of the Stern-Berger book are devoted to comparing ISIS and Al Qaeda. ... The authors describe Al Qaeda as an exclusive 'vanguard movement,' a 'cabal that saw itself as the elite intellectual leaders of a global ideological revolution that it would assist and manipulate.' ... ISIS, in contrast, is more of a populist start-up operation."

Pragati: "Jessica Stern’s earlier book, Terror in the Name of God, was notable for her in person research with terrorists from around the globe, and JM Berger, whose book Jihad Joe is the definitive account of American recruits to Al-Qaeda. Together, they have a formidable insight into the motivations and means of the Islamic State –- motives and means which we will still need to face, even if IS itself goes into decline.

The Independent (Ireland): "...an engrossing book in which two scholars of Islamic terrorism describe the rise of a formidable jihadi movement... The jihadis are master propagandists, and the authors' description of the workings of the ISIS publicity machine is one of the strongest parts of a book full of insights... illuminating..."

Kirkus Reviews: "A detailed study of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria from its rise out of al-Qaida to its intended fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecies. ... this book offers much to learn about ISIS and an expanded understanding of current events."

Mick Endsor: "ISIS: The State of Terror is a brilliant analysis of a group that, in a matter of years, has gone from the verge of extinction to one of the single greatest threats to peace and stability in the Middle East and beyond. Many more pages will undoubtedly be written on ISIS in the coming years but Stern and Berger have set the standard here."

The Malaysian Reserve: "The book expertly focuses on the timelines and events that led to ISIS as well as the people within the organisation... A serious in-depth look into ISIS that doesn't feel as if it's just another Western 'liberal' propaganda. A must read, especially for those living in Muslim countries whether you're a Muslim or not."

New York Times: "[Stern and Berger] dissect the Islamic State's messaging in some detail, showing how the cruelty is aimed at recruiting a very specific demographic, 'angry, maladjusted young men' attracted to a total war against unbelief. ... The authors contrast the Islamic State's messaging with Al Qaeda's, and show why ISIS has ultimately been more successful."

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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BOOKS

"...smart, 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

ABOUT

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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