Posts Tagged ‘Counterterrorism’

Re-ordering the UK’s Campaign Primacy

4 August, 2008

In a weekend interview with The Daily Telegraph, which was also picked up by The Times, Brigadier Ed Butler – the former head of the SAS, and former commander of British forces in Afghanistan – claimed that not only were some British Muslims fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, but that militant Islamic groups in south-east Asia were also supporting terrorist plots in the UK.

“There are British passport holders who live in the UK who are being found in places like Kandahar… There is a link between Kandahar and urban conurbations in the UK. This is something the military understands, but the British public does not.”

Given this relationship between the foreign and domestic theatres, what are the implications for UK counterinsurgency strategy? In an article entitled Re-ordering the UK’s Campaign Primacy, IRG founder John Mackinlay argues that in the UK we are currently making a mistake in placing our expeditionary commitments over our domestic campaign, and that the current counterinsurgency discourse – as embodied in US Army / USMC FM 3-24 – is insufficiently nuanced to address the nature of the threat posed to Europe, and the UK in particular, by contemporary global insurgency:

Although doctrinally US and UK forces appear to have changed course, the core values of our security institutions remain the same, and at their most instinctive level they have not altered sufficiently to keep up with the changing world. In operational terms we are still facing backwards towards an era when counterinsurgency was a purely expeditionary activity, whereas in reality we need to be thinking more seriously about a 21st century adversary which does not require overseas territories, and which flourishes within our own population.

Representing an overwhelming US presence, US counterinsurgency doctrine is likely to become the concept for every future coalition. So it is this doctrine, and not a yet to be written NATO or national version, which will influence our future modus operandi.

FM3-24 has the appearance of novelty, it mentions the ‘global dimension’ and the possibility of ‘insurgent networks’, but in practical terms its prescriptions are only relevant to an expeditionary, territorial intervention focused on a particular state, with a clearly recognisable centre of gravity. The US doctrine is saying in effect that although the adversary which we seek to address is established globally and exerts itself in the virtual dimension, the military response will be a traditional unilateral expedition, whose capabilities will be tangible, territorial and limited to a space that is physical.

As a result of our failure to fully appreciate the inter-relationship of the domestic and expeditionary elements of our counterinsurgency campaign – or, at least, our failure to operationalise this understanding – it is argued that in the UK we are dangerously neglecting the former in pursuit of the latter.

In common with other European states the British government is engaged on two fronts, the overseas expeditions against the supposed sanctuaries in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a domestic campaign to stem disaffection and radicalisation in its own population. These campaigns are organisationally distinct. The overseas effort principally involves Defence, Foreign Affairs and Overseas Development, whereas the domestic plan of action principally involves the Home Affairs ministry. The problem is that in the UK the images and reverberations of the overseas campaign act against the domestic campaign. It is the continuous traffic of routine news and political debate concerning British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than old fashioned jihadi propaganda, which antagonises the vulnerable Muslim element of the British population, especially those who see their faith as the target of the war against terror.

Despite the obfuscations of its government, the British de facto give primacy to the expeditionary campaign. This prioritisation is not explicit, but by deed and declaration the government pursues its expeditionary campaigns in denial and disregard of mounting evidence that the UK’s foreign policy and military profile in the war against terror contributes to the increasing radicalisation of its own Muslim population.

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Read the full article here:
Re-ordering the UK’s Campaign Primacy

Why Terrorists Quit

18 July, 2008

The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has released the July issue [PDF] of its CTC Sentinel journal, which is quickly establishing itself as one of the finest non-subscription publications addressing contemporary terrorism and insurgency around.

The July issue leads with an article by Michael Jacobson entitled Why Terrorists Quit: Gaining From Al-Qa`ida’s Losses, which argues that there are valuable lessons to be learned from an understanding of the processes by which individual terrorists have in the past become de-radicalised, voluntarily de-selecting themselves from participation in contemporary jihadist militancy. Jacobson’s thoughts on this subject were examined in a March posting on this blog.

Also of note is Kirsten E. Schulze’s piece entitled Indonesia’s Approach to Jihadist Deradicalization, which provides an Indonesian perspective on the practice of ‘COIN Inside the Wire’ – the process of integrating rehabilitation of captured militants into broader COIN campaigns – a strategy whose implementation by the Saudis, and by the US in Iraq, was examined in this post earlier this month.

The full line up is as follows:

Why Terrorists Quit: Gaining From Al-Qa`ida’s Losses
By Michael Jacobson

An Ideological and Operational Threat: Abu `Amr/Shaykh `Isa
By Erich Marquardt & Abdul Hameed Bakier

Indonesia’s Approach to Jihadist Deradicalization
By Kirsten E. Schulze

The High Stakes Battle for the Future of Musa Qala
By David C. Isby

Al-Qa`ida Seeking to Recruit African-American Muslims
By Cadets Benjamin Haas & Daniel McGrory

Propaganda and Peace Deals: The Taliban’s Information War in Pakistan
By Arthur Keller

Uncovering Extremist Violence in Morocco
By Alison Pargeter

After Action Report: Nuanced Diplomacy in Zerok, Afghanistan
By Captain John G. Gibson, U.S. Army

Worrying Implications of the Terrorism Act for Insurgency Researchers

24 May, 2008

In a disturbing development of particular relevance to IRG members doing insurgency research in the War Studies Department at King’s – and to anyone working in the field in the UK – a masters student researching terrorist tactics at Nottingham University has been arrested and held for six days under the Terrorism Act after downloading Al-Qaeda related material from the internet.

Despite his Nottingham University supervisors insisting the materials were directly relevant to his research, Rizwaan Sabir, 22, was held for nearly a week under the Terrorism Act, accused of downloading the materials for illegal use. The student had obtained a copy of the al-Qaida training manual from a US government website for his research into terrorist tactics.

The case highlights what lecturers are claiming is a direct assault on academic freedom led by the government which, in its attempt to establish a “prevent agenda” against terrorist activity, is putting pressure on academics to become police informers.

Sabir was arrested on May 14 after the document was found by a university staff member on an administrator’s computer. The administrator, Hisham Yezza, an acquaintance of Sabir, had been asked by the student to print the 1,500-page document because Sabir could not afford the printing fees. The pair were arrested under the Terrorism Act, Sabir’s family home was searched and their computer and mobile phones seized. They were released uncharged six days later but Yezza, who is Algerian, was immediately rearrested on unrelated immigration charges and now faces deportation.

….

Sabir’s solicitor, Tayab Ali, said: “This could have been dealt with sensibly if the university had discussed the issue with Rizwaan and his tutors. This is the worrying aspect of the extension of detention [under the Terrorism Act]. They can use hugely powerful arrest powers before investigating.”

As well as the obvious implications for those conducting such valuable research, and for academic freedom in general, this incident raises other uncomfortable questions.

Since the passing of the Terrorism Act in 2006 it has been clear that the breadth of its provisions could potentially criminalise many people involved in legitimate research, indeed many people doing work in academia and in the private sector that is absolutely essential if we are to make progress in the ongoing ‘long war’. As such, it has also been clear that the authorities would therefore be relying upon a considerable amount of discretionary judgement when determining whether or not someone should actually be prosecuted under this legislation, which in turn raises questions as to how these discretionary judgements are to be made. Such discretionary judgements are not an ideal basis for any law, let alone one so sensitive, and one has to wonder whether in this case it was the Muslim identity of the individuals in question that prompted the arrests.

In many respects the Terrorism Act represents an important step in recognising and addressing the role played by the internet, and by radicalisation processes in general, in the current campaign being waged by Al-Qaeda and its decentralised affiliates. However, as this incident demonstrates, it is potentially highly problematic, and considerable care is going to be required if its implementation is not itself going to be a cause of further alienation and radicalisation among the UK’s Muslims.

Read the Guardian’s coverage of the arrests here.

Update: David here. I’ve blogged this also over at Kings of War:

Student researching al-Qaida tactics held for six days | higher news | EducationGuardian.co.uk

WTF is going on with the police?

A masters student researching terrorist tactics who was arrested and detained for six days after his university informed police about al-Qaida-related material he downloaded has spoken of the “psychological torture” he endured in custody.

Despite his Nottingham University supervisors insisting the materials were directly relevant to his research, Rizwaan Sabir, 22, was held for nearly a week under the Terrorism Act, accused of downloading the materials for illegal use. The student had obtained a copy of the al-Qaida training manual from a US government website for his research into terrorist tactics.

The case highlights what lecturers are claiming is a direct assault on academic freedom led by the government which, in its attempt to establish a “prevent agenda” against terrorist activity, is putting pressure on academics to become police informers.

I don’t get the reasoning behind this action. How can he be prosecuted for downloading something from a US government website? Why do those responsible not recognize that the AQ manual is required reading for anyone in this field? Get a grip!

Update: The more I think about this case the more puzzled I get. The article is portraying this as a threat to academic freedom and our commenters reckon its an example of profiling in action. Probably true on both counts but possibly defensible also (there really is a terror threat and radicalism is prevalent in universities). That said, the article mentions a ‘1,500 page’ Al Qaeda training manual which I am assuming (because its logical and about the right length) must be the Encyclopedia of Jihad downloaded from a ‘US gov’t website’. But I cannot find the full-length document on any government website. If anybody has a link please send it to me. What’s available are heavily redacted and translated versions. The real thing is available, I am told, in Arabic, on Jihadi websites. So, is the article wrong and he did not get it off a US government website? Or is the article wrong and what he had access to was the redacted version (which would be less worrisome and make the police look even worse)? Or something else? The story as reported just doesn’t add up. In any case, the basic point remains that discouraging precisely those students who possess the language skills and background from doing research on AQ terrorism is self-defeating.

Terrorism in the EU – Trends in 2007

8 April, 2008

Europol have just released a very useful report examining annual trends in terrorism in the European Union. Entitled EU Terrorism Situation & Trend Report 2008, it provides a comprehensive but concise analysis of the situation in the EU in 2007. The analysis is based on quantitative data supplied by EU member countries, making it a useful source of citable information.

This short extract, summarising terrorism-related arrests, was interesting:

A total of 1044 individuals were arrested for terrorism-related offences in 2007. This is an increase of 48 percent compared to 2006. France, Spain and the UK have reported the largest number of arrests per member state.

The number of arrested suspects for separatist terrorism has more than doubled in comparison to 2006. This increase is mainly due to the vast increase in the number of arrests in France and Spain. In 2007, Spain saw a seven-fold increase in arrested suspects: from 28 in 2006 to 196 in 2007. France went from 188 people arrested in 2006 to 315 in 2007, an increase of almost 68 percent.

Concerning Islamist terrorism, the number of arrested individuals decreased compared to 2006. In 2007, 201 persons were arrested for Islamist terrorism, compared to 257 in 2006. This decrease can mainly be attributed to a 35 percent decrease in the number of arrested suspects reported by France.

However, the UK reported a 30 percent increase in arrested suspects. Although no affiliation could be assigned, UK authorities estimate that, out of the 203 persons arrested in 2007, the vast majority were in relation to Islamist terrorism.

Get the report here.
(thanks to the anonymous reader for the tip and the link)

Update:

There have been some problems with the Europol link above. To download the report directly from the IRG, click here.

Countering Jihad in Germany

26 March, 2008

The international online edition of Spiegel magazine has an in-depth interview with Ernst Uhrlau, the president of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND. Uhrlau discusses the threat to Germany posed by Al-Qaeda inspired jihadist militants; the role played by homegrown terrorists, and by converts in particular; and the processes by which the marginalisation of Muslims can lead to radicalisation.

AFP/SITE Institute via SPIEGEL

The whole interview is recommended, but the following is an extract:

Uhrlau: Turkish Islam traditionally plays an important role for the domestic intelligence agencies. Milli Görüs, the largest Islamist organization in Germany with about 26,000 members, is under observation. With its extremist worldview, it poses a threat to our constitutional democratic order. But it is not an organization that preaches violence. Germany’s 2.5 million Muslims of Turkish origin come from a secular country that is strongly oriented toward the West, a country where militant fundamentalist movements are relatively insignificant — unlike Lebanon, say, where the radical Hezbollah has many supporters.

SPIEGEL: Does this mean that we should be pleased that the Turkish variety of Islamism is so strong in our country?

Uhrlau: At least we don’t have the kinds of problems that the United Kingdom and France are facing because of their colonial past. The Pakistani Muslims in England and the North African Muslims in France come from countries in which Islamist beliefs and violence play a more important role in parties and movements than in Germany. This is also reflected among the immigrant population.

SPIEGEL: Your counterparts in Paris and London are concerned about so-called home-grown terrorism. Is this something that we also have in Germany?

Uhrlau: The arrests in Oberschledorn are evidence that we also have this phenomenon in Germany. Even though many of the potential terrorists were born and grew up in Europe and do not stand out, they feel marginalized. As a reaction to this, the second or third generation of immigrants reverts much more strongly to its roots. In the process, religious belief becomes decisive. A process of isolation begins that leads to a parallel society. They are convinced that they must defend their own religion and values against the majority Western society.

SPIEGEL: Feeling misunderstood and wanting to defend your faith is one thing, but wanting to killing “infidels” is another.

Uhrlau: A fanatic prepared to commit violence sees himself as part of the ummah, the Muslim community of believers. He perceives any attack on his fellow Muslims — be it by the Israelis in the Gaza Strips or by the Americans in Iraq — as an attack on himself and his religion. Someone like this is an easy target for jihad or al-Qaida propaganda and can be recruited for the holy war against the “infidels.”

SPIEGEL: Did the refusal of the Social Democratic and Green Party coalition government under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to take part in the Iraq war reduce the risk of attack in Germany? Will a stronger German military presence in Afghanistan increase it?

Uhrlau: Jihad is triggered by current political developments. The jihadists do not reward us for having stayed out of the Iraq war. And whether we increase our presence in Afghanistan is irrelevant for the Islamists. As far as they are concerned, Germany is already not a neutral country. We are on the side of the hated Americans and we traditionally support Israel, which they consider a “Zionist entity.”

SPIEGEL: How large is the army of jihadists in Germany?

Uhrlau: We estimate that there are a few hundred extremists who are prepared to commit acts of violence. Up to 700 people are under various levels of observation by German intelligence and security agencies. Most of them live in our midst. A small proportion of these people, however, stand out by being frequent travelers. We currently know that more than a dozen people, including converts, have traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years, where they seek contact with like-minded people.

SPIEGEL: So you simply allow these potential terrorists to go about their business?

Uhrlau: As long as there is no concrete evidence that they are making preparations for attacks, we have no other choice. But we do attempt to monitor their movements and determine their destinations. Not all of them are potential bombers — some are traveling as couriers. The Islamists are very familiar with the technical possibilities which the intelligence agencies have at their disposal. Hence important messages are delivered in person.

SPIEGEL: Can you prove direct contacts to al-Qaida?

Uhrlau: We follow them into the inaccessible tribal areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan …

SPIEGEL: … where al-Qaida’s terrorist training camps are located …

Uhrlau: … and we try to find out what they are doing there and with whom they are meeting. A lot of information is due to intensive cooperation with intelligence agencies in countries through which these suspects pass on their way to the Hindu Kush region. Some are briefly detained and questioned for other offences on their way back. But the fact that we are on their tail doesn’t really deter them. They continue undaunted. This doesn’t necessarily have to lead to the construction of a bomb. Some specialize in propaganda, in recruiting other activists or in conveying information.

Read the full interview here.

The Bombers Who Weren’t

25 March, 2008

While it is increasingly recognised that success in the fight against Al-Qaeda inspired militancy requires we gain a thorough understanding of the processes by which self-selecting individuals become radicalised, there is less appreciation of the lessons that might be learned from an understanding of the processes by which potential terrorists have in the past de-selected themselves, and become de-radicalised.

In an article entitled The Bombers Who Weren’t, Michael Jacobson – a former staff member of the 9/11 commission, and a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy – argues that such processes of de-radicalisation represent ‘fault lines that counterterrorism officials should exploit.’

It’s become a truism of counterterrorism that we must understand how and why individuals become jihadists in the first place. But almost nobody is studying the flip side of radicalization — understanding those who leave terrorist organizations. We’d do well to start. Figuring out why individuals walk away from terrorist groups can help governments predict whether an individual — or even a cell — is likely to go through with a plot. Understanding the dropouts should also make it easier for governments to determine which terrorists might be induced to switch sides, help stop radicalization and craft messages that could peel away people already in terrorist organizations. The more we know about why terrorists bail, the better we can fight them.

Jacobson illustrates his argument with reference to a number of Al-Qaeda operatives who did de-select themselves – including Sajid Badat, who was supposed to conduct an identical mission to that of ‘shoe-bomber’ Richard Reid, but who pulled-out at the last minute, leaving his dismantled bomb at his parents’ house.

Jacobson identifies a number of factors which in the past have caused individuals to break with Al-Qaeda, some of which are ‘strikingly prosaic’. Common reasons include:

  • Disillusionment with the group’s tactics and strategy.
  • Lack of respect for the group’s leadership, particularly their lack of battlefield military experience.
  • Money, particularly when inadequate compensation is perceived as unfair treatment towards an individual.
  • Petty slights and personal animosities between operatives and leadership figures.
  • Family ties and personal connections, particularly as experienced by an operative following his re-insertion into society following a period of detachment in a training camp or other retreat.

Unfortunately Jacobson has no suggestions on how this might be translated into practical counterterrorism policy, acknowledging that ‘there’s no obvious silver bullet here’. Nevertheless, such ‘fault lines’ seem an avenue worth exploring, and understanding and then exploiting processes of de-radicalisation should be incorporated as a goal within broader counter-radicalisation strategies.

Read the full article here.

From 9/11 to 7/7: Global Terrorism Today and the Challenges of Tomorrow

15 March, 2008

Presentation at Chatham House
7 April 2008, 13:30 to 14:30

The Director of the FBI, Robert S. Mueller III, is talking at Chatham House on 7 April on the subject of the evolving nature of the terrorist threat in the West:

Since 11 September 2001 when Al-Qaeda launched a massive attack on US targets from its base in Afghanistan, terrorists have executed attacks around the world, including the bombing of the London Underground and bus system in July 2005. Terrorist tactics continue to evolve and expand in Al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups, as well as homegrown terrorist cells, through foreign training camps and internet recruitment. With the United States and United Kingdom remaining prime targets, the speaker will discuss the future implications of the terrorist threat, and how the global community must work together to combat it.

For more information on this members-only event, and to register, click here.

Update:

Chatham House are now putting videos of some events online at FORA.tv, so if you can’t attend their events in person it is worth keeping an eye on this page.