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Friday, September 4, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief 9/4/2015, ISIS Leader Profiled, and More


Jihadology Podcast: Turkish Jihadism at Home and in Syria
North Caucasus Caucus comes on the show to talk about his recent research trip to Turkey. Hosted by Aaron Zelin.

Middle East Week: Child Soldiers of the Islamic State
John Horgan comes on the show to discuss his work studying the Islamic State's use of child soldiers. Hosted by Karl Morand.


The believer: How an introvert became the leader of the Islamic State
This essay tells the story of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS), a group so brutal and hardline that even al-Qaida deemed them too extreme. Baghdadi, an introverted religious scholar with a passion for soccer, now controls large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria. By William McCants.

Domestic Counterterrorism: Material Support or Bust
A longstanding counterterrorism tension is how to balance a robust intelligence presence and tough legal measures against hardcore terrorists with the need to gain the support of local communities. In the struggle against the Islamic State, this tension seems particularly acute. By Seamus Hughes.

The ISIS Economy: Crushing Taxes and High Unemployment
How the Islamic State uses economic persecution as a recruitment tactic. By Joanna Paraszczuk.

What Happens to Former ISIS Fighters?
In the last few years, more than four thousand Europeans have abandoned their home countries for the jihadi battlefields of Syria and Iraq, and close to a thousand have quietly returned. By Ben Taub.

Radical preacher Anjem Choudary to stand trial on terror charges
He is set to stand trial next year for allegedly encouraging support for the so-called Islamic State group.


Chechen Jihadists Leave Syria, Join the Fight in Ukraine
A battalion of fighters from the Caucasus is deployed on Kiev’s side in the Ukraine war. But their presence may do more harm than good.

Sovereign citizens consist of all colors and creeds
Olajuwon Ali Davis, an African-American soon to be sentenced in a criminal case, illustrates the changing face of the sovereign citizen movement.

Were foreigners involved in the Nord-Ost hostage crisis?
An Ahrar al-Sham commander claims his brother was involved in 2002 Moscow theatre attack.

‘My Jihad Is’ app fighting for youth
Developers of a project aimed at countering violent extremism and reclaiming the term “jihad” from destructive forces say the government needs to ensure national ­security spending supports community-led projects and not just law enforcement agencies.

Police arrest foreigner in Bangkok shrine bombing case
Thai police arrested a foreign suspect and seized bomb-making materials Saturday in the investigation of the bombing of a shrine in central Bangkok that killed 20 people, officials said.

Hoover chiropractor sentenced; filed $4.2 million in false IRS refunds
A chiropractor, whose lawyers say was "bamboozled" by the Patriot and Sovereign Citizen movements during a low point of his life, was sentenced Tuesday to serve five years on federal probation for trying to block an IRS investigation into his bogus tax refund claims of nearly $4.2 million.

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, August 28, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 8/28/2015, New Books, Junaid Hussain Killed, And More


Two important books are on the horizon for September, and both were the subjects of recent previews.

The ISIS Apocalypse
William McCants
The Islamic State is one of the most lethal and successful jihadist groups in modern history, surpassing even al-Qaeda. Thousands of its followers have marched across Syria and Iraq, subjugating millions, enslaving women, beheading captives, and daring anyone to stop them. Thousands more have spread terror beyond the Middle East under the Islamic State's black flag. How did the Islamic State attract so many followers and conquer so much land? By being more ruthless, more apocalyptic, and more devoted to state-building than its competitors.

Read a preview at Politico

Operation Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone
Scott Shane
"Objective Troy" tells the gripping and unsettling story of Anwar al-Awlaki, the once-celebrated American imam who called for moderation after 9/11, a man who ultimately directed his outsized talents to the mass murder of his fellow citizens. It follows Barack Obama’s campaign against the excesses of the Bush counterterrorism programs and his eventual embrace of the targeted killing of suspected militants. And it recounts how the president directed the mammoth machinery of spy agencies to hunt Awlaki down in a frantic, multi-million-dollar pursuit that would end with the death of Awlaki by a bizarre, robotic technology that is changing warfare—the drone.

Read a preview at The New York Times Magazine

And on sale now: ISIS: The State of Terror, by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger


Rethinking Political Islam
A collection of working papers that systematically assess the evolution of mainstream Islamist groups across 12 country cases. Curated by Shadi Hamid and Will McCants.

Wilayat West Africa Reboots for the Caliphate
This article will discuss how Wilayat West Africa militants responded to the military offensive and analyze the extent to which the militants were able to withstand the offensive tactically, strategically, and in terms of morale. By Jacob Zenn.


The Islamic State’s Destruction of Antiquities And How it Fits With A Broader Strategy For Power
Graeme Wood, Akbar Ahmed, and Will McCants take a look at the Islamic State’s acts of cultural destruction and how the world is responding.

Junaid Hussain, ISIS Recruiter, Reported Killed in Airstrike
A 21-year-old hacker from Birmingham, England, who tapped into American military networks and was a central figure in the Islamic State militant group’s online recruitment campaign, has been killed in Syria by an American airstrike, according to three senior American officials.

Inquiry Weighs Whether ISIS Analysis Was Distorted
The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State to provide a more optimistic account of progress, according to several officials familiar with the inquiry.

Northern Virginia teen sentenced to 11 years for aiding Islamic State
The Northern Virginia teenager who ran a prolific, pro-Islamic State Twitter account and helped a young friend join the terrorist group in Syria was sentenced Friday to 11 years and four months in federal prison — a term less than what prosecutors had sought but one that will still put the youth behind bars into his late 20s.

Arizona man Charged With Supporting ISIS
Ahmed Mohammed El Gammal, also known as Jammie Gammal, 42, of Avondale, Arizona, has been charged with supporting ISIS by helping a New York college student get terror training in Syria.

A provocative article says the Islamic State is a mystery. Here’s why that’s wrong.
While this piece may reflect the prevailing mood among former diplomats, political scientists are far less baffled. The systematic study of political violence further illuminates three key elements of the perceived “mystery” of the Islamic State: its treatment of civilians, battlefield tactics and broad strategy

YouTube's Battle Against ISIS
It wants videos with "reasonable messages, better messages" to drown out extremism, and is recruiting Muslims to make them. But will it work?


Saudi Arabia holding main suspect in 1996 Khobar Towers bombing: report
Asharq al-Awsat said Ahmed al-Mughassil, leader of the Hezbollah al-Hejaz who had been indicted by a U.S. court for the attack that killed 19 U.S. service personnel and wounded almost 500 people, had been captured in the Lebanese capital Beirut and transferred to Riyadh.

Jurors view police video of F. Glenn Miller Jr. just after his arrest in anti-Jewish fatal shootings
Jurors on Tuesday got a close-up look at F. Glenn Miller Jr. after his arrest last year, minutes after he allegedly killed three people at Jewish centers in Overland Park.

Top Racists And Neo-Nazis Back Donald Trump
America’s white nationalists have spoken, and they’ve spoken loud and clear: Donald Trump is their presidential candidate of choice. For his part, the candidate is not welcoming their support.

Train attack suspect hit with terror charges
The Moroccan suspect in a foiled attack on a high-speed train was hit Wednesday with terrorism charges after prosecutors argued he planned to unleash carnage among hundreds travelling from Belgium to 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, August 21, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 8/21/15, ISIS Apocalypse, the Joker's Jihad, the More Things Change


How ISIL Out-Terrorized Bin Laden
An excerpt from the highly anticipated new book by Will McCants: The Islamic State’s brutality and its insistence on apocalypse now and caliphate now set it apart from al-Qaeda, of which it was a part until 2014. We’re used to thinking of al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden as the baddest of the bad, but the Islamic State is worse. Bin Laden tamped down messianic fervor and sought popular Muslim support; the return of the early Islamic empire, or caliphate, was a distant dream. In contrast, the Islamic State’s members fight and govern by their own version of Machiavelli’s dictum “It is far safer to be feared than loved.” They stir messianic fervor rather than suppress it. They want God’s kingdom now rather than later. This is not Bin Laden’s jihad.

The War on Terror and Batman's War on the Joker are sadly similar
Did you ever think about how the relationship between Batman and the Joker mirrors the West’s war with jihadists? Probably not. I mean, holy shaky metaphors, Batman! Still, it has a certain charm. By J.M. Berger

Obama and Terrorism: Like It or Not, the War Goes On
President Barack Obama came into office determined to end a seemingly endless war on terrorism. Obama pledged to make his counterterrorism policies more nimble, more transparent, and more ethical than the ones pursued by the George W. Bush administration. But in many important ways, the relationship between Bush’s and Obama’s counterterrorism programs is marked by continuity as much as by change. By Jessica Stern


Jihadology Podcast: Palestinians and Global Jihad with Samar Batrawi
Aaron Zelin and Samar Batrawi discuss the history, politics, and implications of Palestinians in the global jihadi movement.

Middle East Week: Libya Peace Talks Continue
Mary Fitzgerald and Karl Morand talk about the recent UN talks in Geneva and the ongoing effort to end the civil war in Libya.


How Is The War Against The Islamic State Going? 10 Expert Opinions

In August 2014 the United States joined the war against the Islamic State (IS). Collected here are evaluations of that war from 10 experts: Ahmed Ali of the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani, J.M. Berger of the Brookings Institution, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Dr. Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Aron Lund of Syria in Crisis, Alex Mello of Horizon Client Access, Douglas Ollivant of the New America Foundation, Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi of the Middle East Forum, Craig Whiteside of the Naval War College, and Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy all of whom have been astute observers of the Islamic State, Syria and Iraq.

Mothers of ISIS
Their children abandoned them to join the terror organization. Now all they have is each other. By Julia Ioffe.

Rescuing Yazidi Slaves From Islamic State
When so called Islamic State swept across northern Iraq more than a year ago, the Yazidis, a religious minority, were trapped and overwhelmed. Now, a secret network of Yazidi smugglers is working to rescue those who remain in captivity.

The ‘Caliphate’ Will Not Be Televised: IS Bans TV, Destroys Satellite Dishes

Islamic State (IS) militants are destroying satellite dishes and television receivers in civilian homes to prevent people from watching "dangerous" foreign channels that air anti-IS reports, activists and eyewitnesses in Syria told RFE/RL this week.

Jihad and Girl Power: How ISIS Lured 3 London Girls
An estimated 4,000 Westerners have traveled to Syria and Iraq, more than 550 of them women and girls, to join the Islamic State.

Syrian Expert Who Shielded Palmyra Antiquities Meets a Grisly Death at ISIS’ Hands
Months after his home fell to the jihadists of the Islamic State, Khalid al-Asaad, the retired chief of antiquities for Palmyra, has fallen, too.

Islamic State claims responsibility for massive car bombing in Cairo
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a massive car bombing on Thursday that targeted security forces here in the Egyptian capital in what the militant group deemed as retaliation for a deadly government operation against its fighters.

Malaysia ISIS Recruits: Counterterrorism Police Detain 10 Suspected Islamic State Group Militants
At least 10 people with the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, were detained in multiple raids across Malaysia Thursday as the country's security forces continue to crack down on militant recruitment.


Obama and Terrorism: Like It or Not, the War Goes On
U.S. President Barack Obama came into office determined to end a seemingly endless war on terrorism. But in many important ways, the relationship between Bush's and Obama's counterterroism programs is marked by continuity as much as change. By Jessica Stern.

Should the United States Negotiate with Terrorists?
Longtime jihadist-watcher and FPRI fellow Clint Watts offers a provocative and novel idea: trying to splinter Nusra as a prelude to effective negotiations with it. By Clint Watts.

The Bin Laden Tapes
A trove of al Qaeda tapes provides a glimpse at the organization's early history, before its war with America.

Airstrikes by Syrian government kill as many as 100 in Damascus suburb
Government airstrikes killed as many as 100 people in a Damascus suburb Sunday, activists said, in one of the deadliest attacks of Syria’s four-year-old conflict.

Bangkok bombing: Thailand believes international terrorism is unlikely

Government suggests as many as 10 people were involved in atrocity, but finds no evidence of link to 'international terrorism.'

Nashville Hotel Nixes Conference for Group Cited by Charleston Church Gunman
A Nashville hotel has cancelled a conference by an organization cited in Charleston massacre gunman Dylann Roof's manifesto, leaving the group scrambling to find a new venue.

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, August 14, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 8/14/2015, ISIS and Rape, Foreign Fighters, Zawahiri Returns and More


Returning foreign fighters: Criminalization or reintegration?
Over the past several years, thousands of foreign fighters have traveled to Syria and Iraq on a scale unprecedented in modern history. While most foreign fighters remain engaged in combat, some have begun to return, posing a real, if sometimes exaggerated, security threat to home countries. In such situations, how should governments aim to respond? By Charles Lister.


Jihadology Podcast: IS and Attacks in the West with Thomas Hegghammer
Thomas Hegghammer talks to Aaron Zelin about his new paper, “Assessing the Islamic State’s Commitment to Attacking the West,” in Perspectives on Terrorism, co-authored with Petter Nesser.


ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape
Claiming the Quran’s support, the Islamic State codifies sex slavery in conquered regions of Iraq and Syria and uses the practice as a recruiting tool. By Rukmini Callimachi.

ISIS Leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Sexually Abused American Hostage Kayla Mueller, Officials Say
Before her death earlier this year, American hostage Kayla Mueller was repeatedly raped by the top leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to counter-terrorism officials.
The Jihadi Who Came in From the Cold
What one man’s journey from member of the Islamic State’s feared intelligence service to disillusioned defector tells us about the brutal extremist group.

When Cubs Become Lions: The Future of ISIS Child Soldiers
The Islamic State is bringing more and more young Muslim boys into its ranks—through methods ranging from inducement to coercion to abduction.

Meet two Indonesians who are training to join Islamic State
Southeast Asia is growing as a recruiting frontier for the terrorist group.

No bail for couple accused of trying to join Islamic State
A young Mississippi couple who are charged with attempting to join the Islamic State were ordered held without bail Tuesday, pending federal grand jury action on the charges.

Guantánamo now tracking captives’ interest in ISIS, founded after prison
U.S. intelligence analysts are gauging Guantánamo detainees’ interest in the Islamic State movement to analyze captives’ potential dangerousness if they are released from the prison camps in Cuba.

Obama's anti-ISIL push falls flat on social media
The White House has floundered in its attempt to enlist social media companies in the messaging war against ISIL as Washington seeks to counter the terrorist group’s prowess online.


The Oath Keepers Patrol Rooftops in Ferguson—The Facts Behind This ‘Mysterious’ Militia Group
As demonstrations and riots continue in Ferguson, an armed militia-esque group has appeared on rooftop patrols, pledging to protect private property. But given their anti-government rhetoric, the Oath Keepers' presence could inflame tensions further.

Al Qaeda leader Zawahiri pledges allegiance to new Taliban chief
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, in an online audio message, pledged allegiance to the new head of the Afghan Taliban in a move that could bolster his accession after the death of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Change in Militant Tactics Puts Tunisians on Edge
Recent attacks have provoked a widening security crackdown, and left Tunisians wondering if their country can withstand the onslaught of terrorism without giving up the tentative freedoms they — alone in the region — earned with their revolution that set off the Arab Spring more than four years ago.

Al-Qaida in Syria Withdraws From Area Near Turkish Border
Al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria said Monday it is withdrawing from areas along the border with Turkey where Ankara and Washington hope to drive out the Islamic State group.

Afghanistan slams Pakistan over wave of bloody Kabul attacks
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani accused Pakistan on Monday of sending "messages of war" and harbouring bombmaking camps, after a wave of devastating blasts in Kabul killed at least 56 people.

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, August 7, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 8/7/2015, Perspectives on Terrorism, Islamic State Edition


In August, Perspectives on Terrorism launched a special all-ISIS issue edited by Thomas Hegghammer. The issue was derived from a research conference in Oslo earlier this year, which I was fortunate enough to attend. It was easily the most interesting conference I've ever been to, and every panel had something important to share. The resulting papers are among the most serious research on the Islamic State to date, and I highly recommend the issue. The individual articles are listed below, and the whole issue can be found here.

-- J.M. 

A Long Way from Success: Assessing the War on the Islamic State
Progress thus far can best be described as a series of loosely linked tactical gains, rather than a significant strategic advance. By Charles Lister.

Assessing the Islamic State’s Commitment to Attacking the West
How much of a terrorist threat does the Islamic State (IS) pose to Western countries? By Thomas Hegghammer and Petter Nesser.

Picture Or It Didn’t Happen: A Snapshot of the Islamic State’s Official Media Output
This article seeks to examine, quantitatively and qualitatively, one week of official media releases of the Islamic State (IS). The analysis shows, among other things, that IS relies very heavily on visual as opposed to text-based propaganda, and that most of its military activities take place in Iraq, not Syria. By Aaron Y. Zelin.

The Metronome of Apocalyptic Time: Social Media as Carrier Wave for Millenarian Contagion
The Islamic State uses social media to activate a sense of “apocalyptic time” among its supporters online. It is the first group to employ these amplifying tactics on social media at an industrial scale, but it will likely not be the last. By J.M. Berger

Let Them Rot: The Challenges and Opportunities of Containing rather than Countering the Islamic State
An assessment of “Let Them Rot” as a strategy against the Islamic State suggests it may offer several advantages over sustained direct force, but also reveals many gaps in the current U.S.-led coalition’s ability to loosen the group’s grasp on Syria and Iraq. By Clint Watts.

Heirs of Zarqawi or Saddam? The relationship between al-Qaida in Iraq and the Islamic State
This paper examines the relationship between al-Qaida in Iraq and Islamic State, asking what remains of AQI within the current incarnation of IS. By Truls H. Tønnessen.

Understanding Jihadi Proto-States
This article offers an overview of previous and current “jihadi proto-states”, discusses their characteristics and common features, and explores ways of understanding their ultra-aggressive behaviour. By Brynjar Lia.

The Concept of Bay‘a in the Islamic State’s Ideology
Given the long roots of bay‘a (pledge of allegiance) in Islamic tradition and the controversial claim by the Islamic State (IS) to be a caliphate, the application of bay‘a to the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and his project is a contested issue among radical Islamists. By Joas Wagemakers.

Social Media, Recruitment, Allegiance and the Islamic State
We analyze how the process of recruitment of foreigners shapes the adverse selection problem affecting the dissident groups that they join. By Scott Gates, Sukanya Podder.

The Islamic State’s Eastern Frontier: Ramadi and Fallujah as Theaters of Sectarian Conflict
The jihadist organization lacks the military capability to fully incorporate these areas into its Syria-based caliphate, but it can use them as a base for launching attacks on government forces in central Iraq, supplementing its limited core forces with local recruits. By Kirk Sowell.

Understanding the Daesh Economy
We analyze Daesh as an economic entity, demonstrating first that the amount of productive activity in areas it controls is small and second that its institutions are inimical to sustained growth. By Jamie Hansen-Lewis and Jacob N. Shapiro.

The Evolution in Islamic State Administration: The Documentary Evidence
This paper traces the development in Islamic State administration from the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006 until the present day. By Aymenn al-Tamimi.

The Dreams of Islamic State
Previous research has shown that jihadis attach great importance to dreams, to the point of taking them into account in personal and strategic decision-making. By Iain R. Edgar.

Is ISIS a Revolutionary Group and if Yes, What Are the Implications?
This paper argues that thinking of the Islamic State as a revolutionary group opens up new perspectives that take advantage of the recent historical record, while shielding us from overly exceptionalist interpretations. By Stathis N. Kalyvas.


Jihadology Podcast: ‘Boko Haram’ Transitions to The Islamic State in West Africa
Aaron Zelin and Jacob Zenn discuss the group commonly referred to as Boko Haram.


FBI to Seek Counseling, Not Handcuffs, for Some Islamic State Suspects
Faced with a wave of potential homegrown terrorists, the FBI embarks on a new approach to help prevent people from turning violent

German who fought for 'IS' in Syria denounces extremism
Back from Syria and charged with fighting for the "Islamic State," the German Ebrahim B. no longer has illusions of "five-star jihad" and now advocates against extremism.

Think-Tank Releases Anti-Radicalisation Video to Counter ISIS Propaganda
The video, which was crowdfunded by 150 donors across ten different countries, is accompanied by a line which reads, "ISIL are radicalising our brothers to fight in Syria. They are tearing families apart. Enough is enough."


How federal agents foiled a murderous Jade Helm 15 retaliation plot
Federal officials say three North Carolina men spent months compiling their cache, much of it purchased through a military surplus store owner who became so concerned about the plot that the person became the FBI’s informant.

Push for Retribution in Egypt Frays Muslim Brotherhood
A veteran leader of the Muslim Brotherhood was so alarmed by the rising calls for violence from the group’s youth that he risked arrest to urge the movement to stay peaceful.

Reddit bans several of its most racist communities
Reddit has adopted an expanded content policy, proposed in July, and has banned a number of communities — including r/coontown, Reddit's notoriously hateful white supremacist community.

Haqqani network founder endorses new Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor
Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder and head of the Pakistan-based militant Haqqani network, has backed Mullah Omar's successor Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Haqqani's statement comes days after media reports claimed he had died.

After Omar: The Future of the Taliban and the War in Afghanistan
Mullah Omar’s death will have serious ramifications not just for the future of Afghanistan, but also for regional stability and the global jihad. By Arif Rafiq.

Zawahiri’s Mullah Omar Problem
The news of Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s 2013 death has not only seriously shaken the movement he founded, but also threatens to divide al-Qaeda.

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 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


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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


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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