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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Sunday, September 13, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief 9/12/15, Zawahiri, New Research, and More

Zawahiri Re-emerges, With a Fatally Flawed Message 

Zawahiri: ISIS Is Illegitimate But Let's Cooperate

Zawahiri urges jihadists to unite, confront West

Al Qaeda released two new audio recordings of its leader, Ayman al Zawahiri. Both were months old and urged jihadis to reject the legitimacy of the Islamic State based on the binding nature of their previous pledge of allegiance to Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban.

Unfortunately, for Zawahiri, in between the time these messages were recorded and their release, the Taliban revealed that Mullah Omar had been dead for three years, fatally undercutting the primary logic of this argument. Al Qaeda's decision to release these messages in light of subsequent developments is baffling, especially considering Zawahiri had in the interim release a message acknowledging Omar's death.

Although the call to Mullah Omar's authority was the dominant message in the releases, the audio could easily have been edited to remove references that make Zawahiri look either clueless (if he didn't know Omar was dead) or complicit in the Taliban's three-year lie. More importantly, the invocation of Omar was the lynchpin of Zawahiri's argument against the Islamic State, and almost its entirety. Given that Omar was dead when Baghdadi claimed the title of caliph, it is clear that the main thrust of Zawahiri's case for al Qaeda is null and void. Jihadis can continue to stay with al Qaeda out of preference, and some certainly will, but preference is fickle, and it is not currently trending in al Qaeda's favor. If the global competition over the direction of the jihadi movement will now boil down to a popularity contest, al Qaeda needs a new public face, and fast.

None of this reflects particularly well on either Zawahiri or his underlings who published the message, and it is increasingly difficult to see how the al Qaeda emir can maintain his status as purported leader of a global jihadist movement that is either rejecting him, in the case of the Islamic State, or rendering him irrelevant, as in the case of al Qaeda's more successful affiliates in Yemen and Syria, which are far more robust and relevant than their parent organization.

-- J.M. Berger


The Road to Representivity
While social media platforms offer powerful new ways of understanding society, they are often researched poorly, with little examination of the extent to which insights are representative of social media users or wider society. By Carl Miller, Steve Ginnis, Rowena Stobart, Alex Krasodomski-Jones, and Michael Clemence.

One to One Online Interventions: A pilot CVE methodology
This project was carried out in order to assess the viability of a methodology for direct intervention with those at risk of falling into the orbit of violent extremist organizations. By Ross Frenett and Moli Dow.

A logic-based approach to understanding lone-actor terrorism
This paper proposes a method based on transforming characteristic and behavioural codes into a logic program and applying inductive logic programming to learn hypotheses about potentially relevant factors associated with terrorist behaviour, as well as the influence of specific factors on such behaviour. By Dalal Alrajeh and Paul Gill.


An American family saved their son from joining the Islamic State. Now he might go to prison.
Fifteen months after Asher Abid Khan turned back from joining the group, in May 2015, the FBI charged Khan with conspiracy and attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State. Instead of life inside the caliphate, Khan, now faces up to 30 years in prison. By Adam Goldman.

Can the Islamic State hijack September 11 from Zawahiri’s al Qaeda?
What better way to snub Zawahiri than to hijack ownership of the group’s most celebrated attack?  The Islamic State might do this in two ways. By Clint Watts.

U.S. Revamping Rebel Force Fighting ISIS in Syria
In an acknowledgment of severe shortcomings in its effort to create a force of moderate rebels to battle the Islamic State in Syria, the Pentagon is drawing up plans to significantly revamp the program by dropping larger numbers of fighters into safer zones as well as providing better intelligence and improving their combat skills.

Florida man accused of bomb plot at 9/11 memorial, FBI says
Joshua Ryne Goldberg of Orange Park, Florida, has been charged with distribution of information relating to explosive, destructive devices and weapons of mass destruction, U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III of the Middle District of Florida said Thursday in a news release.

Youth arrested on terrorism charges had cell number for Couture-Rouleau
The teenager from western Montreal currently on trial for allegedly preparing to leave Canada to take part in terrorist activity abroad communicated with Martin Couture-Rouleau dozens of times before the latter killed a Canadian soldier in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu last year.

The battle to retake Ramadi is going nowhere
U.S.-backed Iraqi forces­ are struggling to make headway in their battle to retake the western city of Ramadi, highlighting shortcomings in Washington’s strategy to counter Islamic State militants.

Islamic State conflict: Two Britons killed in RAF Syria strike
Two British Islamic State jihadists who died in Syria were killed by an RAF drone strike, David Cameron has said.

Turned in by mother, 21-year-old pleads guilty to ISIS charges
The 21-year-old was arrested by the FBI in June with several friends—including a former classmate from Fort Lee High School who had converted him from Judaism to Islam.


Extremism Grows in Yemen’s Civil War
In mid-June, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) announced the assassination of its leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi in a drone strike on the city of al-Mukalla. This is the most severe blow suffered by AQAP since its establishment by Wuhayshi and Saudi member Said al-Shahri in 2009. By Farea Al-Muslimi.

Minneapolis Fighting Terror Recruitment
Federal prosecutors and some leaders among the region’s large Somali population announced about $1 million in funding for programs meant to combat just that type of radicalization.

Taliban’s New Leader in Afghanistan Moves to Quash Dissent
In one of the first tests of his leadership, the head of Afghanistan’s Taliban militants is moving aggressively against a breakaway faction in the south of the country, according to Afghan and Taliban officials.

Russian hacker group exploits satellites to steal data, hide tracks
A group of sophisticated Russian-speaking hackers is exploiting commercial satellites to siphon sensitive data from diplomatic and military agencies in the United States and in Europe as well as to mask their location, a security firm said in a new report.

In Britain, teachers learn how to tackle extremists
As teachers in Britain return to school this month, they have a new legal obligation to keep an eye out for potential extremists.

Extremist Zack Davies jailed after trying to behead Asian dentist in Tesco as 'revenge for Lee Rigby'
Zack Davies, 26, shouted, "White power", "This is revenge" and "This is for Lee Rigby", as he launched the savage attack on 24-year-old Sikh Dr Sarandev Bhambra.

Russia Said to Get Iran's Clearance for Syria-Bound Flights
Iran has granted permission for Russian planes to fly over its territory en route to Syria, Russian news agencies said Wednesday, a bypass needed after Bulgaria refused overflights amid signs of a Russian military buildup in Syria that has concerned the U.S. and NATO.

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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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

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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

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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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