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Friday, March 27, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 3/27/15

Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes into Yemen this week, with ground forces very possibly to follow, all aimed at countering the rise of the Houthi movement, which it sees (or portrays) as an Iranian proxy, as opposed to the country's kind-of-president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is currently hanging his hat in Riyadh. A scorecard of the players is here.

The complexities of Yemeni politics are best left to the regional specialists (I especially recommend Gregory Johnsen). but I will say a few words about power and structure.

Since September 11, we have seen a gradually spreading trend toward the destruction of existing power structures, i.e. governments, through external intervention (Iraq, Afghanistan), internal uprising (Egypt, Tunisia) or both (Libya). The new power structures that have arisen to fill the vacuum are fragile at best, and nonexistent at worst. Yemen has been "on the brink" of disaster for years now, according to headline writers, and the chaos is only likely to deepen as a result of this week's events.

The overall trend in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond appears to be toward the creation and expansion of spaces that are less and less governed, creating more and more opportunities for evil actors such as ISIS and Bashar al Assad to inflict industrial-scale cruelties in the name of some semblance of order.

This may be an inevitable period of transition, one in which existing power structures overburdened with corruption must inevitably fall, and it doesn't take much imagination to see where those dominoes are pointing. The question is whether we must next endure a new dark age of escalating violence and toxic ideologies, and if there is any way to steer events in order to contain the chaos and minimize the horrific human costs that seem to lie unavoidably before us. I wish I had an answer to this question, but I don't.

The only advice that seems relevant at the moment, both for the West and for the powers that are still standing in the region, is: First, do no harm. Unfortunately, I don't think our current policy configurations meet that test.

More on this in the weeks to come.

-- J.M. Berger 

ISIS: THE STATE OF TERROR 





The official book launch for ISIS: The State of Terror took place at the Brookings Institution this week, with Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger taking part in a discussion moderated by Will McCants, director of the Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World. Audio of the event has been posted online. Later that evening, Stern and Berger discussed the book at the National Press Club. Video from that event will be available later.

Salon reviewed the book, calling it a "profound act of counterterrorism," and "an essential primer and antidote to the mindlessness that ISIS wants to foment." The Evening Standard wrote that the book is a "timely and important history of a movement that now defines the 21st century." Kirkus Reviews says "this book offers much to learn about ISIS and an expanded understanding of current events."

Additional book events will be held in New York City next week, and in Washington, D.C. in April. You can purchase ISIS: The State of Terror at bookstores everywhere and on Amazon.com.

ISIS WATCH

Under ISIS, Life In Mosul Takes A Turn For The Bleak
Daily life is increasingly grim. Fighters are on edge as coalition airstrikes hit ISIS military bases and convoys. Some ISIS fighters have retreated to Mosul from the nearby battlefront in Tikrit, where the government launched the first major assault against ISIS.

The Children of ISIS
Why did three American kids from the suburbs of Chicago try to run away to the Islamic state, and should the Feds treat them as terrorists?

Radicalisation and the 'sweet talkers' for IS
Stories of young Australians joining IS have been front page news for months, but who is convincing them to leave? Sarah Dingle uncovered three previously unreported cases of young Somali-Australian Muslims lured by ‘sweet talkers’ to join the war in Syria.

Has the Caliphate Come to Kabul?
Fear of the Islamic State is making for strange bedfellows in the land of warlords and the Taliban.

Pro-ISIS magazine in Istanbul bombed
A bomb blast ripped through the Istanbul offices of a radical, pro-ISIS magazine killing a writer and wounding its editor-in-chief as well as two other people on Wednesday night.

TERROR WATCH

The Bureaucracy of Terror
A new trove of documents that were among those seized in the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, were presented recently during the trial of Abid Naseer at the Brooklyn federal district court.

Agents’ chatter in Osmakac sting skirts line between protection, entrapment
Months after Sami Osmakac started serving a 40-year sentence for terrorism, debate continues over the FBI sting operation that landed him in prison.

Boston bombing jury sees mock bombs, victim autopsy photos
Jurors viewed the six-quart (5.7-liter) mock bombsafter an FBI special agent read out the instructions in al Qaeda's "Inspire" magazine that prosecutors contend Tsarnaev and his older brother used to make their bombs.

Are Syrian Islamists moving to counterbalance Al-Qaeda? Will it last?
Now finding themselves involved in the fifth year of a brutal civil conflict that has left at least 220,000 people dead, displaced 10 million others inside and outside the country, and trapped over 640,000 under military siege, the strategic thinking within the Syrian insurgency is subtly shifting.

Who’s who in Yemen
An attempt to break down the names, acronyms and confusing politics involved in Yemen.

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

Why Violence Abates: Imposed and Elective Declines in Terrorist Attacks
This article aims to understand why violence varies in the short term within many organizations, and places a special focus on declines in violence. By Michael Becker

Government protection against terrorism and crime
A game theoretic model is developed where a government protects against a terrorist seeking terrorism and criminal objectives. By Kjell Hauskena and Dipak K. Guptab

-- INTELWIRE Staff

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, March 20, 2015
 

Intelwire Weekly Brief, 3/20/2015 -- ISIS in Yemen, Tunisia, Afghanistan

BREAKING NEWS

ISIS has claimed a quadruple suicide bombing of two mosques in Sana'a, Yemen, following hard on the heels of its claim to the Bardo Museum attack in Tunisia. Both reports appear to be authentically issued by ISIS, based on their distribution by known official ISIS disseminators online, but there is a chance, probably small, that they are falsely claiming these incidents.

The gunmen in the latter attack reportedly trained in Libya, where ISIS has several significant strongholds. As ISIS's insurgency in Iraq comes under increasing pressure (though that initiative far from a fait accompli and introduces new and significant problems), it is compensating by flexing its terrorist muscles abroad.

In many ways, this can be seen as similar to the way al Qaeda metastasized after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, with notable differences. Importantly, it's happening much, much faster. In part, this is because ISIS is much stronger now than al Qaeda was in 2001, but it is also taking advantage of the groundwork laid by al Qaeda as it spread out geographically in response to U.S. military pressure. Additionally, ISIS is more centrally controlled, and it is strategically inclined toward swift and highly visible action, compared to al Qaeda's emphasis on stealth and long planning cycles.

More on all of this in the week to come.

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT

CTC Sentinel: Baya'a Special Issue
As the events above suggests, one of the most important issues in terrorism today is the mounting shift of allegiances from al Qaeda to ISIS. The Sentinel journal, published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, has devoted an entire issue to these questions, and it's important reading for everyone covering terrorism today. Of particular interest is Don Rassler's article on ISIS's new fronts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the very heart of al Qaeda territory. It's early days yet, but ISIS's relatively strong entry raises the question: If AQ can't hold Af-Pak, what can it hold?

-- J.M. Berger

INTELWIRE AT SXSW



J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan discussed the ISIS Twitter Census at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, this week. Read the full report here.

ISIS: THE STATE OF TERROR

ISIS: The State of Terror, the new book by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger, is on sale now in bookstores and on Kindle. The London Evening Standard calls it "timely and important history of a movement that now defines the 21st century." CNN's Peter Bergen says "Stern and Berger write clearly and persuasively and marshal impressive primary research from ISIS's prodigious propaganda to explain how ISIS became the dominant jihadi group today. It's a terrific and important read." Buy it now and learn about the growing challenge ISIS presents to the world.

ISIS WATCH

The Hidden Enemy In Iraq
The forces fighting ISIS in Iraq have been struggling with the vast number of IEDs the militant group is leaving in its wake.

Air Force Veteran Charged With Trying to Join the Islamic State
A federal grand jury in New York has indicted U.S. Air Force veteran Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh on charges that he conspired to join the Islamic State, the latest in a growing line of Americans being nabbed trying to fight alongside the extremist group.

Nigeria says it has ousted Boko Haram from town of Bama
Nigeria's military says it has retaken the north-eastern town of Bama from the Islamist military group Boko Haram.

British police free alleged teen ISIS recruits, arrest 18-year-old
British police, under pressure to stem the flow of would-be militants eager to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), on Monday arrested an 18-year-old man suspected of planning to travel to Syria. Hours earlier, they freed on bail three other U.K. teens detained in Turkey, allegedly on their way to link up with the extremist group.


TERROR WATCH

Tunisia’s Grand Compromise Faces its Biggest Test
In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Tunisia Senior Analyst Michaël Béchir Ayari discusses the political fallout of the 18 March attack on Tunis’s Bardo Museum which killed 23 people, mostly tourists.

Afghan Militia Leaders, Empowered by U.S. to Fight Taliban, Inspire Fear in Villages
Scattered across Afghanistan, militia leaders are a significant part of the legacy of the American war here, brought to power amid a Special Operations counterinsurgency strategy that mobilized anti-Taliban militias in areas beyond the grasp of the Afghan Army.

Syrian Activists Say Chlorine Gas Attack Kills 6 in Idlib Province
Anti-government activists in Syria said Tuesday that a chlorine bomb attack by government forces on a northwestern village overnight had killed six people and filled clinics with choking victims.

Christians riot in Pakistan after attacks targeting churches kill 14
Members of the Christian community rampaged through the streets of Lahore on Sunday after suicide bombers attacked two churches during morning services, killing at least 14 people and wounding more than 70.

Tattooed Neo-Nazi Named As Suspect In Deadly Arizona Shooting Spree
The man believed to have gone on a deadly shooting spree Wednesday in Mesa, Arizona has a criminal record and purported ties to neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups.

Manila: U.S. had key role in deadly counterterrorism raid in Philippines
U.S. counterterrorism personnel played a hidden but key role in a bungled commando operation in the Philippines that resulted in dozens of deaths and a political scandal, according to a government investigation released Tuesday in Manila.

Pentagon loses track of $500 million in weapons, equipment given to Yemen
The Pentagon is unable to account for more than $500 million in U.S. military aid given to Yemen, amid fears that the weaponry, aircraft and equipment is at risk of being seized by Iranian-backed rebels or al-Qaeda, according to U.S. officials.

-- By INTELWIRE Staff 

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, March 13, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief 03/13/15


It was a big week for INTELWIRE, starting with a panel at the Brookings Institution on ISIS ideology and propaganda featuring Will McCants, Jonathon Morgan, Anastasia Norton and Cole Bunzel, author of the new paper linked below.

Then, on Thursday, ISIS: The State of Terror officially went on sale. Follow @intelwire on Twitter for a rolling list of media appearances, and more importantly, buy the book and tell your friends!

From paper state to caliphate: The ideology of the Islamic State

While the Islamic State dominates headlines through its brutal tactics and pervasive propaganda, there is little awareness of the unique ideology driving the group's strategy. by Cole Bunzel

ISIS WATCH

ISIS sympathizer arrested after plotting to bomb U.S. consulate in Toronto: CBSA
At an immigration hearing on Wednesday, the Canada Border Services Agency alleged that Jahanzeb Malik, who first came to Canada in 2004 as a student, was an ISIS supporter and had plotted to bomb the U.S. consulate and financial buildings in Toronto.

IS welcomes Boko Haram allegiance: tape
The Islamic State group welcomed a pledge of allegiance made to it by Boko Haram and vowed to press with its expansion, according to an audiotape Thursday purportedly from its spokesman.

Iraqi Army Cements Hold on Tikrit, but Islamic State Sends a Message
BAGHDAD — Iraqi government forces and allied Shiite militias began consolidating control over most of the city of Tikrit on Wednesday, declaring they were on their way to a strategically and emotionally significant victory in their nine-day offensive against Islamic State militants there.

ISIS Finds New Frontier in Chaotic Libya
Libya has become a new frontier for the radical group as it comes under increasing pressure from American-led airstrikes on its original strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

Family Denies Palestinian Killed by ISIS Was Spy
Mohamed Musallam can be seen in a video released Tuesday on his knees wearing the familiar orange jumpsuit of an Islamic State captive. Before he is shot in the head by a boy, he admits under obvious duress that he was “an agent for the Israeli Mossad.”

A suspected female suicide bomber killed at least 12 people on Tuesday in Maiduguri, capital of Nigeria's Borno state, military and hospital sources said, three days after a multiple bomb attack in the city killed more than 50.

TERROR WATCH

Strategy for Defending Tsarnaev in Marathon Bombings Is Vintage Darrow
When Judy Clarke, the lead defense lawyer for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, announced at the outset of his trial last week that her client was responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings, she was following a strategy laid out by Clarence Darrow almost a century ago.  

Fall of U.S.-backed Syrian group casts doubt on plan to arm moderates
In recent days, Al Nusra and its adherents have gleefully uploaded images of foodstuffs and weapons purportedly captured after the group's forces commandeered the former bastion of a U.S.-backed rebel faction known as Harakat Hazm, or Resolve Movement.

Citing Fear of Neo-Nazi Group, a German Mayor Quits
The resignation of Markus Nierth, 46, mayor of Tröglitz, has set off a firestorm in Germany, where the authorities have become increasingly alarmed by the growing strength of far-right forces that have been taking to the streets to protest a swelling number of asylum seekers.

Why did the Madrid train bombings divide, not unite Spaniards?
Contrary to what happened in British society after the London attacks on July 7, 2005, the Madrid train bombings of March 11, 2004 profoundly divided Spanish society.


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

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Thursday, March 12, 2015
 

ISIS: The State of Terror, on sale now


Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger co-author the new book, "ISIS: The State of Terror," from Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. The book examines the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, its potential fall, how it is transforming the nature of extremist movements, and how we should evaluate the threat it presents. Jessica Stern is author of the seminal text Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. J.M. Berger is author of the definitive book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam

Read an excerpt in The Atlantic | Listen to an audiobook excerpt

Buy it now! | Buy the Kindle edition! 





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Friday, March 6, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief 03/06/2015

NEW FROM J.M BERGER: ISIS TWITTER CENSUS 



The ISIS Twitter census: Defining and describing the population of ISIS supporters on Twitter

Although much ink has been spilled on ISIS’s activity on Twitter, very basic questions about the group’s social media strategy remain unanswered. In a new analysis paper, J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan answer fundamental questions about how many Twitter users support ISIS, who and where they are, and how they participate in its highly organized online activities. This unprecedented study provides data derived from tens of thousands of ISIS supporting accounts on Twitter, as well as a look at the impact of suspensions on the network.

ISIS; THE STATE OF TERROR SHIPS THURSDAY

ISIS: The State of Terror, the new book from Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger, will go on sale Thursday on Amazon.com and at bookstores everywhere!

"By far the most important contribution yet to our understanding of an organization that remains cloaked in mystery and misunderstanding..." -- Reza Aslan 

"Stern and Berger write clearly and persuasively and marshal impressive primary research from ISIS's prodigious propaganda to explain how ISIS became the dominant jihadi group today. It's a terrific and important read." -- Peter Bergen

For more advance comment on the book, click here, or order today in hardcover, Kindle or Audible or audiobook format.

FEATURED REPORT 

Same Anger, Different Ideologies: Radical Muslim and Neo-Nazi
Religious ideology plays a central role in the radicalization of young Muslim Europeans currently being lured to join the Islamic State or kill in the group’s name at home. But the psychological process underlying radicalization is remarkably universal, terrorism experts say.

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

Live-tweeting terror: a rhetorical analysis of @HSMPress_ Twitter updates during the 2013 Nairobi hostage crisis
Terrorist organisations have seized an unprecedented opportunity to engage wider audiences with their ideologies and actions. This study aims to develop an understanding of this tactic by analysing its use in the 2013 Westgate Mall hostage crisis.  by Rachel Sullivan

Say Terrorist, Think Insurgent: Labeling and Analyzing Contemporary Terrorist Actors
Recent events are a reminder that the activities of even the most violent terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda or the Islamic State extend beyond the use of terrorist tactics. These actors usually employ classic guerrilla tactics as well, and their overall strategy combines both violent and political means. by Assaf Moghadam, Ronit Berger, Polina Beliakova

ISIS Sanctuary: March 4, 2015
ISIS core control zones inside Iraq and Syria have not shifted significantly since anti-ISIS operations began in June 2014, though anti-ISIS forces have cleared ISIS from several of its major frontier positions in Iraq and Syria.  by Jessica Lewis McFate

ISIS WATCH

Iraqi forces try to seal off Islamic State around Tikrit
Thousands of Iraqi soldiers and Shi'ite militiamen sought to seal off Islamic State fighters in Tikrit and nearby towns on Tuesday, the second day of Iraq's biggest offensive yet against a stronghold of the Sunni militants.

Iraqi Campaign to Drive ISIS From Tikrit Reveals Tensions With U.S.
Tensions between Iraq and the United States over how to battle the Islamic State broke into the open on Tuesday, as Iraqi officials declared that they would fight on their own timetable with or without American help, and as United States warplanes conspicuously sat out the biggest Iraqi counteroffensive yet amid concerns over Iran’s prominent role.

Californian tried to join Islamic State in Syria: prosecutors
A Southern California man whom prosecutors say sought to travel to Syria last year in a bid to join Islamic State fighters was indicted on federal charges, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.

Manufacturing jihad – Nicolas Hénin explains what he learned about ISIL
For most people, the attraction of Islamic State is difficult to understand but clearly their violent message is getting across to their followers. Nicolas Hénin is a French journalist who was taken hostage by the group for almost one year.

Against ISIS, Try Patience
If the United States were to take the lead in the ground war in Iraq and perhaps eventually in Syria by introducing conventional combat forces, we would feed into a radical Islamist narrative that pits the invading armies of the crusader against the committed defenders of Islam. In the process we would only strengthen the appeal and the morale of our enemies, while weakening and demoralizing our friends.

Three days before October terror attacks, alarm bells were sounding, intelligence documents show
Intelligence reports distributed three days before the killing of a uniformed soldier in Quebec last October show that security officials were bracing for just such an attack due to Canada’s “enhanced profile” and the experiences of allies.

Syria's Nusra Front may leave Qaeda to form new entity
Leaders of Syria's Nusra Front are considering cutting their links with al Qaeda to form a new entity backed by some Gulf states trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad, sources said.

Boko Haram Takes A Page From ISIS Propaganda Playbook
In its latest video, Islamist extremists from the Nigerian group Boko Haram display the bodies of two men accused of spying. They have been beheaded. Gone are Boko Haram's occasional grainy videos, replaced by slick productions apparently inspired by the self-proclaimed Islamic State.



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

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Friday, February 27, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief 2/27/2015

ISIS TRIES A TWITTER STORM

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

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

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

-- J.M. Berger

PHOTO OF THE WEEK



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

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT

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

ISIS WATCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TERROR WATCH

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

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

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

-- INTELWIRE Staff 

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

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Friday, February 20, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief 2/20/15

CONTROVERSY OF THE WEEK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- JMB

CVE SUMMIT

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

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

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

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

ISIS WATCH

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

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

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

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

TERROR WATCH

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

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

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

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

-- by INTELWIRE Staff

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Friday, February 13, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 2/13/2015

VIDEO OF THE WEEK


Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

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

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

ISIS WATCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


TERROR WATCH

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Friday, February 6, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 2/6/2015

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

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

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

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

-- JMB

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

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

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

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

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

ISIS WATCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


TERROR WATCH

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

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

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

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

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

-- INTELWIRE STAFF

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Friday, January 30, 2015
 

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 1/30/2015

VIDEO OF THE WEEK



Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream


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

ISIS WATCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TERROR WATCH

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

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

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

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT

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

-- By INTELWIRE Staff

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ISIS: THE STATE
OF TERROR

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

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

JIHAD JOE

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

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

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