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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Friday, April 3, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 4/3/2015, Garissa Attack and More

The horrifying and lethal al Shabab attack on Garissa University this week and its Mogadishu hotel siege last week highlight one of the fundamental difficulties that arise when jihadi movements metastasize from terrorism to insurgency and devolve back again.

Purely terrorist groups, such al Qaeda before 9/11, are typically small. Insurgencies generally require much more manpower. Taking and holding a given town or a province takes hundreds or thousands of fighters. When a terrorist group adopts an insurgent approach with any degree of success, its ranks typically swell. If the insurgency fails but is not definitively crushed, it can free up potentially thousands of experienced fighters for terrorist activities.

And as Garissa shows, killing civilians requires far fewer people than taking and governing territory. It only takes a handful of fighters to create a tragedy of massive proportions. Even a small insurgency, transformed, makes for a huge terrorist capability.

In light of this, it is critically important that we start thinking now about the fall of ISIS, which commands far more fighters than al Shabab and has encouraged those fighters to even wilder excesses of violence under a more explicitly apocalyptic worldview. Should a coalition dislodge ISIS from its territory, tens of thousands of fighters could potentially be cut loose and re-purposed to terrorism.

It's imperative that we come up with a strategy to track fighters leaving Iraq and Syria. It's also desperately important that there be some kind of state structures capable of truly securing ISIS prisoners after its insurgency fails, whether that happens sooner or later. Finally, it is vital that we come up with new approaches to the currently intractable problem of deradicalization. Even imperfect deradicalization programs are preferable to none.

If we fail to get out ahead of this challenge, tragedies like Garissa may pale in comparison to what the future holds. Beating ISIS on the battlefield is only the first step.

-- J.M. Berger


A 6-Point Plan to Defeat ISIS in the Propaganda War
Each of ISIS's propaganda goals is vulnerable to a messaging counteroffensive. The authors of ISIS: The State of Terror propose a strategy.


The Islamic State, known as ISIS, exploded into the public eye in 2014 with startling speed and shocking brutality. It has captured the imagination of the global jihadist movement, attracting recruits in unprecedented numbers and wreaking bloody destruction with a sadistic glee that has alienated even the hardcore terrorists of its parent organization, al Qaeda. 

Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger, two of America's leading experts on terrorism, dissect the new model for violent extremism that ISIS has leveraged into an empire of death in Iraq and Syria, and an international network that is rapidly expanding in the Middle East, North Africa and around the world. 

Excerpt in The Atlantic | Audiobook excerpt | NYT Review | Salon Review

ISIS: The State of Terror traces the ideological innovations that the group deploys to recruit unprecedented numbers of Westerners, the composition of its infamous snuff videos, and the technological tools it exploits on social media to broadcast its atrocities, and its recruiting pitch to the world, including its success at attracting thousands of Western adherents. The authors examine ISIS's predatory abuse of women and children and its use of horror to manipulate world leaders and its own adherents as it builds its twisted society. The authors offer a much-needed perspective on how world leaders should prioritize and respond to ISIS's deliberate and insidious provocations. 


Two Women in Queens Are Charged With a Bomb Plot
Two women living in Queens have been charged with planning to build a bomb, in a plot revealed by a monthslong undercover investigation that found the women had discussed the merits of various types of bombs and had obtained four propane gas tanks. The women were believed to be ISIS sympathizers, but so far, no evidence points to an organizational link.

The Islamic State, Boko Haram and the evolution of international jihad
Through the acquisition of territory, adept use of social media and the pioneering of grisly tactics such as the mass beheading of captives and the enslavement of women and children, Boko Haram and the Islamic State have established themselves as the vanguard of a new, savage form of irregular warfare.

How Do You Defeat a Networked Enemy Like ISIS?
A panel at the First Annual Future War Conference discusses methodologies to confront and disrupt distribution networks and groups who use them. Peter Bergen, Chris Fussell, Ioannis Koskinas

Iraq claims "magnificent victory" over ISIS
Iraq declared a "magnificent victory" Wednesday over the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Tikrit, a key step in driving the militants out of their biggest strongholds.

Ex-Shabab Official Claims al-Qaida Ties Dissolved
A former al-Shabab intelligence official, claiming the Somali militant group "basically" no longer has relations with long-time ally al-Qaida, has raised the possibility it could align itself with the Islamic State group.

Palestinians push back ISIS in Damascus camp: monitor
Palestinian fighters and Syrian rebels retook control Thursday of large parts of a refugee camp in Damascus that had been seized by ISIS group jihadists, a monitoring group said.


American citizen linked to al-Qaeda is captured, flown secretly to U.S.
An American citizen who was once thought to be a top operative in al-Qaeda has been detained in Pakistan and secretly flown to New York to face federal terrorism charges, according to U.S. officials.

Militants Carry Out Deadly Attacks on Army Checkpoints in North Sinai
Militants in North Sinai simultaneously attacked two army checkpoints before dawn on Thursday, killing at least 13 Egyptian soldiers and two civilians, security officials said.

Afghan suicide blast kills 16, wounds dozens
A suicide bomber killed at least 16 people Thursday and wounded 40 others, including a prominent lawmaker, at an anti-corruption rally in eastern Afghanistan, the latest casualties ahead of the Taliban's expected spring offensive.

KKK-linked Florida prison guards charged in murder plot
Two Florida corrections officers and one former officer trainee have been charged in a plot to kill a former inmate who was getting out of prison, the Florida Attorney General's office said Thursday.

Ajnad Misr claim responsibility for Cairo University metro bombing
The militant group, Ajnad Misr, claimed responsibility for the bombing that injured eight people at the Cairo University metro station on Saturday.

Tunisia says senior militant commander killed in raid
Tunisian security forces have killed a senior Algerian militant who they accuse of helping orchestrate the Bardo museum attack which targeted foreign tourists, Tunisia's Prime Minister Habib Essid said on Sunday.


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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