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Monday, November 30, 2015

INTELWIRE Weekly Brief, 11/30/2015: Defining the Planned Parenthood attack; ISIS, Syria, Sovereigns and More


Friday's attack on a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs has reignited a debate about the definition of terrorism. As the suspect's profile is slowly filled out, amid reports of an anti-abortion statement amid a wider rambling response to questions from authorities, much of the discussion online has focused on the perception that domestic terror suspects, usually white, are more likely to be classified as mentally ill than political.

There is merit to this complaint, particularly as it pertains to the Charleston Church shooting earlier this year, which was carried out for the explicit purpose of starting a race war after consuming and being consumed by white supremacist ideology. The problem is particularly acute during the "specunalysis" phase of breaking news coverage, in terms of when the word "terrorism" is used and how often, based on the race or religion of the offender.

What we know about the Planned Parenthood case is still evolving, but it serves to illustrate the complexities of how terrorism intersects with possible mental illness. However, there is also a growing acknowledgement that mental illness isn't just a factor for white terrorists, with ISIS's recruitment and adoption of attacks by people who are clearly on the borderline. At the same time, mental illness is not always grounds for dismissing an ideological hook. It is possible to be both mentally ill and a terrorist.

There are two separate issues here. The first is whether politicians, the media and society disproportionately focus on mental health explanations for white Christians who kill with political motives in the United States relative to other demographic groups, which I think is a clear trend and a serious problem, although some movement can be seen.

The second is how we attempt to distinguish between terrorism and mental illness overall, which I think is an equally serious problem that is obscured and complicated by the first. Both of these issues urgently deserve our attention, and we can't tackle one and not the other. Unfortunately, pent-up frustration is filling this discussion with far more heat than light in the wake of this latest attack.

Based on what we know so far, which I should stress isn't much, this looks more like a case where the question revolves around mental illness than the domestic terrorism bias. For instance, it doesn't look like the Roof case, where there is no ambiguity about its ideological basis, and the profiles below raise some obvious questions about mental health. This reading may well change in the days to come.

Nevertheless, I think it's worth noting that there has been movement on both of these issues over the last year or two. The debate is being aired more often, and while there are still embedded assumptions as events unfold, there is a nascent awareness that is working its way through our public discourse, even if the process is painful and slow.

-- JMB

Robert Dear, Suspect in Colorado Killings, ‘Preferred to Be Left Alone’
Robert L. Dear Jr. was a man who lived off the grid. On this lonely, snow-covered patch of land in a hamlet ringed by the Rocky Mountains, his home was a white trailer, with a forest-green four-wheeler by the front door and a modest black cross painted on one end. As police officers surrounded it on Saturday, looking for clues to what they said had sent its owner on a shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood center that left three dead and nine wounded, neighbors said they barely knew him, beyond one man’s memory of his handing out anti-Obama political pamphlets.

Alleged Colorado gunman was adrift and alienated
Robert Lewis Dear Jr., 57, the man in custody in connection with Friday’s shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, appears to have been a malcontent who drifted from place to place.

Here’s What We Know About The Suspect In The Planned Parenthood Shooting
Robert L. Dear, 57, was arrested by police following a shooting at the Colorado Springs clinic where three people, including a police officer, were killed.


FBI warns NY police about anti-Islam Arizona man who may be headed to state to confront Muslim group
The FBI got involved after a Muslim group based near Albany notified the agency that Jon Ritzheimer, 32, of Phoenix had posted a video on Nov. 18 in which he showed a gun, made profane anti-Obama statements and said he was driving cross-country to confront them, sources and a group spokesman said.

Police Arrest 4th Suspect In Black Lives Matter Shooting, No Charges Yet Filed
Police said late Wednesday that they arrested a fourth suspect after a group of white supremacists allegedly opened fire on Black Lives Matter protesters Monday night in Minneapolis. Local prosecutors have until Monday to file charges against the men being held.

Al Qaeda Executes Dozens Of Syrian Soldiers In ISIS-Style Video
Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, released an ISIS-style execution video on Wednesday, the latest sign of an ongoing rivalry between the terror groups.

Yes, there are 70,000 moderate opposition fighters in Syria. Here’s what we know about them,
David Cameron told Parliament that there are ‘about 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups’ who could help fight Islamic State. By Charles Lister.

'Sovereign citizens' want millions from Indianapolis
Brent Allen Swallers says in a lawsuit he has "no obligation from God to obey the wrongdoers' commands." The wrongdoers, he says, are Indianapolis government officials. He wants $1.5 million out of the city treasury as repayment.

The Islamic Movement Of Uzbekistan Comes Unraveled
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) now appears to have fractured into several bands.

Mali Arrests 2 Over Attack on Luxury Hotel in Bamako
Malian special forces have arrested two men over last week's attack on a luxury hotel in the capital, according to a statement distributed Friday morning, as the government provided a breakdown by nationality of the 20 people killed in the attack.

Sovereign citizens: Terrorism assessment warns of rising threat from anti-government extremists
Anti-government extremists known as "sovereign citizens" have been identified as a potential terrorism threat in Australia by a confidential NSW Police report.

Man Charged with Using Explosive Device at Falls Church Mosque
A 27-year-old man of no fixed address was charged with damaging property and using a hoax explosive device at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, a Falls Church, Virginia, mosque, on Thursday, Nov. 19.


ISIS’ Grip on Libyan City Gives It a Fallback Option
When the Libyan arm of the Islamic State first raised the group’s black flag over the coastal city of Surt almost one year ago, it was just a bunch of local militants trying to look tough. Today Surt is an actively managed colony of the central Islamic State, crowded with foreign fighters from around the region, according to residents, local militia leaders and hostages recently released from the city’s main prison.

Predatory Islamic State Wrings Money From Those It Rules
Across wide expanses of Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State, with the goal of building a credible government, has set up a predatory and violent bureaucracy that wrings every last American dollar, Iraqi dinar and Syrian pound it can from those who live under its control or pass through its territory.

Paris Attacks Plot Was Hatched in Plain Sight
The ease with which the attackers moved—all while avoiding detection by France’s security apparatus—suggests the challenges in identifying would-be terrorists and preventing further attacks in the fluid, digital and transnational world of today, especially when they are European citizens.

Paris terror attack suspect believed to be in Syria
French intelligence services believe Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam has escaped to Syria, according to a source close to the investigation and a counterterrorism source.

What Does ISIS Really Want Now?
In the latest issue of Dabiq, ISIS’s on-line magazine, the organization sets forth two principal but contradictory goals, which it labels “options.” By Jessica Stern.

Militants Attack Hotel in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Killing at Least 7
Islamic State militants attacked a hotel in the northern Sinai Peninsula of Egypt with explosives and gunfire early on Tuesday, killing at least seven people, including a judge, according to security officials, Egyptian state media and a statement by the group.


Jihadology Podcast: The Syrian Jihad: A History
Charles Lister comes back on the show for an in-depth discussion on jihadism in Syria. By Aaron Zelin with Charles Lister.

Understanding the Mali Hotel Attack
Andrew Lebovich comes on the show to discuss the recent attack in Bamako, the groups involved, the security situation in Mali, and much more. By Karl Morand with Andrew Lebovich.

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
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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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