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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 


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


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.


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.


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


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.



Tweets referencing this post:



", 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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