The use of violence in pursuit of a hopeless cause

In a review of Does Terrorism Work? A History by Richard English, Thomas Nagel writes: Three of the four (not al-Qaida) are nationalist organisations – Irish, Palestinian, Basque – aiming to overthrow the rule of another nation: Britain, Israel, Spain. The IRA wants British withdrawal from Ulster and a united Ireland, Hamas wants the elimination of the state of Israel and the establishment of a strict Islamic regime over the entire territory of Mandate Palestine, and ETA wants a Basque state independent of Spain. All three were founded in competition with more moderate nationalist movements pursuing related but less radical aims by non-violent means: the Social Democratic and Labour Party in Northern Ireland, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and the Partido Nacionalista Vasco. Rivalry with these moderate nationalists has been a very important part of the drama. The terrorism of the IRA and ETA never had more than minority support among the populations they purported to represent, and they officially renounced violence in 2005 and 2011, respectively. Hamas, on the other hand, won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, but was prevented from taking power except in Gaza, and continues to employ violent means. Al-Qaida is not a nationalist but what English calls a ‘religio-political’ movement, with global ambitions, dedicated to the expulsion of the US military from the Middle East, the overthrow of what it regards as apostate Muslim regimes such as Saudi Arabia, and the eventual restoration of the Caliphate, a Salafist theocracy governing the Muslim world under sharia law. But again, these aims are not shared by most Muslims.

English makes it clear that one of the things these four groups share is hatred and the desire for revenge, which comes out in personal testimony if not always in their official statements of aims. He quotes Osama bin Laden: ‘Every Muslim, from the moment they realise the distinction in their hearts, hates Americans, hates Jews and hates Christians.’ Revenge for perceived injuries and humiliations is a powerful motive for violence, and if it is counted as a secondary aim of these movements, it defines a sense in which terrorism automatically ‘works’ whenever it kills or maims members of the target group. In that sense the destruction of the World Trade Center and Mountbatten’s assassination were sterling examples of terrorism working. But even though English includes revenge in his accounting, this is not what would ordinarily be meant by the question, ‘Does terrorism work?’ What we really want to know about are the political effects.

And here the record is dismal. What struck me on reading this book is how delusional these movements are, how little understanding they have of the balance of forces, the motives of their opponents and the political context in which they are operating. In this respect, it is excessively charitable to describe them as rational agents. True, they are employing violent means which they believe will induce their opponents to give up, but that belief is plainly irrational, and in any event false, as shown by the results. [Continue reading…]


Why the U.S. Army is worried about insurgents turning to remote-controlled weapons

The Washington Post reports: As conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Libya continue, battlefields in the region have turned into technological incubators for groups looking to find new and improved ways to kill one another.

While homemade munitions and Mad Max-style modifications to civilian equipment have been a staple of 21st-century warfare, a new Army report released last week by the branch’s Foreign Military Studies Office points to the growing trend of insurgent and terrorist groups using remote-controlled or “tele-operated” weaponry.

The report looks at 21 case studies — gathered mainly through social media and news reports — of remote-controlled rifles and machine guns used by groups such as the Islamic State, the Free Syrian Army and the now rebranded Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. Twenty of the weapons are from groups in Iraq and Syria, while one is from Libya in 2011. The modified weapons are mostly older Soviet variants, though at least one Syrian rebel group appeared to be using a U.S.-style rifle in one of its systems. The designs are rudimentary but include the necessary components — a small screen and operating cables — for firing the weapon from a distance. Some of the designs are stationary, while others are mounted on wheels or tracks. One such weapon, photographed with rebels in Misurata, Libya, appears to be a medium machine gun affixed to a toy truck. [Continue reading…]


Why Europe can’t find the jihadis in its midst

Mitch Prothero reports: The assignment given to the Belgian police in the summer of 2014 was straightforward but high stakes: Follow two men suspected of involvement with ISIS through the streets of Brussels. Find out who they meet, record what they say. A court had approved wiretaps for the men’s phones and for the use of tracking devices, and a specialized team of covert operators from the secret service had broken into the men’s homes and vehicles and planted bugs and GPS devices without leaving a trace.

Rather unusually, there had been little problem getting senior police officials and the courts that oversee Belgium’s personal privacy laws to approve the mission. Partly, it was the two men’s history: They had long criminal records — drug dealing, petty theft, and the occasional violent robbery — and now, unbeknownst to them, had been placed on a terrorism watch list.

With hundreds of people suspected of having ties to ISIS and al-Qaeda, it would be impossible for the Belgian authorities to monitor all of them. But these two were believed to be linked to Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old French-Algerian man charged with killing four people at the Jewish Museum of Brussels on May 24, 2014.

Belgian authorities knew there had been an alarming increase in violent rhetoric — as evidenced by the proliferation of online videos and public demonstrations, and by the criminal trials of members of Sharia4Belgium, a group advocating extremist ideology — much of it linked to the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But even for trained investigators, let alone police officers typically assigned to financial fraud or money-laundering cases, getting an overall sense of what was happening remained elusive.

In part this was because of the transformation in the threat posed by ISIS militants; as nebulous as al-Qaeda had been, it was at least an organization with a defined leadership and network of followers. These new cases were much more challenging, seemingly organic in nature, with a more diffuse structure that was nearly impossible to pin down. [Continue reading…]


‘I am sorry’: Islamist apologises for destroying Timbuktu mausoleums

The Guardian reports: The first defendant to plead guilty at the international criminal court has apologised to Mali and to mankind for destroying religious monuments in the ancient city of Timbuktu.

Ahmad al-Mahdi admitted directing the destruction of nine mausoleums and a mosque door in 2012, when Timbuktu was controlled by rebels and members of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

At the opening of his trial for war crimes in The Hague, he expressed his “deep regret” to the people of Timbuktu, to whom the monuments had been of great religious and cultural importance.

“I seek their forgiveness and I ask them to look at me as a son who has lost his way,” he said. “Those who forgive me will be rewarded by the almighty. I would like to make them a solemn promise that this was the first and the last wrongful act I will ever commit.”

Wearing a grey suit, blue shirt and tie and glasses, his long curly hair slicked back, Mahdi said he drew on Islamic teachings to enter his guilty plea. “We need to speak justice even to ourselves. We have to be truthful, even if it burns our own hands,” he said.

“All the charges brought against me are accurate and correct. I am really sorry, and I regret all the damage that my actions have caused.” [Continue reading…]


The tale of two victories against Syria’s worst killers

Hassan Hassan writes: On two consecutive Fridays this month, Aleppo was the site of major victories against the Assad regime and ISIL in Syria. In southwestern Aleppo, anti-government forces broke a month-long siege enforced by the regime. In eastern Aleppo, a coalition of Arab and Kurdish forces drove out ISIL from one of its critical strongholds, Manbij.

The two developments are a blow to the country’s worst killers, and thus should be commended. The win in southwestern Aleppo saved about 300,000 civilians from a crippling siege and a slow death, while the defeat of ISIL in Manbij will further weaken the group and deprive it a crucial planning and recruitment hub.

Notwithstanding the benefits of defeating regime forces in southern Aleppo, the liberation of Manbij is in many ways a far greater victory for Syria.

The battle for breaking the siege was framed as a victory for Al Qaeda’s newly-rebranded Jabhat Fateh Al Sham (JFS), formerly Jabhat Al Nusra. A week after the JFS-led forces stormed the Artillery Academy, one of the regime’s key bastions near the city of Aleppo, a tug-of-war erupted on social media after JFS members lashed out at attempts by some rebels to take credit for the accomplishment. [Continue reading…]


Trump makes the headlines with media help

Politico reports: After doubling down on his assertion that President Barack Obama is the “founder” of the Islamic State, Donald Trump on Friday suggested he was being sarcastic.

“Ratings challenged @CNN reports so seriously that I call President Obama (and Clinton) ‘the founder’ of ISIS, & MVP,” Trump tweeted Friday morning. “THEY DON’T GET SARCASM?” [Continue reading…]

It’s worth remembering at this time the real, demonstrable, non-hyperbolic role Trump has played in helping ISIS and Al Qaeda recruit new members:



In Trump’s tweet today, he alludes to the fact that even as he pours contempt on the press, he and they are indeed partners in a ratings-driven tango.

The conservative talk show host, Hugh Hewitt, had this exchange with Trump on the claim that Obama was the “founder” of ISIS:

Hugh Hewitt: I think I would say they created, they lost the peace. They created the Libyan vacuum, they created the vacuum into which ISIS came, but they didn’t create ISIS. That’s what I would say.

Donald Trump: Well, I disagree.

HH: All right, that’s okay.

DT: I mean, with his bad policies, that’s why ISIS came about.

HH: That’s…

DT: If he would have done things properly, you wouldn’t have had ISIS.

HH: That’s true.

DT: Therefore, he was the founder of ISIS.

HH: And that’s, I’d just use different language to communicate it…

DT: But they wouldn’t talk about your language, and they do talk about my language, right?

HH: Well, good point. Good point.

Trump lays the bait and the media bites, but the way it bites is what keeps the story alive for 24 hours instead of two.

Instead of feigning shock in response to each new Trumpism, a serious interviewer would drill into Trump’s wild claims — something like this:

Trump: Obama was the founder of ISIS.

Interviewer: Really? That’s an interesting claim you’re making. You know most experts say that ISIS was founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi back in 1999. Are you saying that back when Barack Obama was a state senator in Illinois, he was also a secret jihadist?

Trump: No, I’m just saying he founded ISIS.

Interviewer: Yes, I got that — I just want to flesh out more of the details. When did he do this?

Trump: You’d need to talk to the intelligence agencies.

Interviewer: OK. But just to be clear: You’re saying that although Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is generally viewed as the leader of ISIS, Obama has a more pivotal role. Did he appoint Baghdadi?

Trump: As I said, you’d need to talk to the intelligence agencies.

Interviewer: But, here’s my problem: I’m sure that if I talked to anyone at any level in the CIA or the NSA or any other agency, no one would say Obama founded ISIS. You’re the person making this claim and either you back it up with some substance, or concede that it’s just a line designed to grab a headline — otherwise you’re just going to be seen as a guy who fools around and is willing to say anything to get attention.

Trump: I really don’t see what you’re driving at, but I will repeat what I told Hugh Hewitt yesterday, ISIS came about because of Obama’s bad policies.

Interviewer: Ah, so “founder” — that’s just you messing with the media…

Trump: That’s what I do. They seem to like it.


ISIS and its allies were responsible for a quarter of terrorism deaths in 13 years

The Washington Post reports: Between 2002 and 2015, the Islamic State was either directly or indirectly responsible for terrorist attacks that killed more than 33,000 people and wounded 41,000 more, according to a new analysis from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism.

It’s a startling figure. If attacks with unknown perpetrators are excluded, this means that the Islamic State bore responsibility for 13 percent of terrorist attacks globally during that period, with 26 percent of all terrorist attack deaths, 28 percent of injuries and a further 24 percent of kidnap victims.

These figures include not only acts committed by the core Islamic State group, but also the precursor groups that came before it was officially founded — primarily al-Qaeda in Iraq — as well as the affiliates and individuals inspired by the Islamic State who came after. [Continue reading…]


Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusra splits from al-Qaeda and changes its name

The Washington Post reports: Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate split from its parent organization and changed its name Thursday in a move widely interpreted as a bid to head off a U.S.-Russian plan to launch joint airstrikes against the group.

Jabhat al-Nusra announced that it would henceforth be known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham — or Front for the Conquest of Syria — and said it no longer owes allegiance to al-Qaeda.

The announcement was made in a video statement delivered to the Al Jazeera television network by the group’s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, who revealed his face for the first time since he declared the formation of the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda in early 2012.

He said the split was intended to remove any “pretext” for the United States and Russia to conduct airstrikes against the wider rebel movement while claiming they are targeting Jabhat al-Nusra. He also outlined a plan aimed at promoting unity among Syria’s fractious rebel groups at a critical time for the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. [Continue reading…]

Charles Lister writes: Al Qaeda’s central leadership has played a significant role in determining the trajectory of this move, which was underlined in the sequencing of the announcement. Six hours before Abu Mohammed al-Jolani appeared on television, Nusra Front media wing al-Manara al-Bayda (the White Minaret) published an audio statement in which al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and his deputy, Ahmed Hassan (Abu al-Khayr), gave their public blessings for the severance of ties. “The bonds of Islamic brotherhood are stronger than any obsolete links between organizations,” Zawahiri said. “These organizational links must be sacrificed without hesitation if they threaten your unity.”

That Abu al-Khayr also spoke was especially interesting, given the likelihood that he has been based inside Syria since at least late 2015, as I revealed earlier this year.

The Nusra Front also published the first confirmed photo and then video footage showing Jolani, who had previously insisted on concealing his face. Intriguingly, despite dissolving his ties to al Qaeda, Jolani appeared dressed in green military fatigues and a white headdress in what appeared to be a clear attempt to replicate well-known images of Osama bin Laden. In the video address, Jolani was also flanked by two key al Qaeda-linked figures, including Ahmed Salameh Mabrouk (Abu Faraj al-Masri), a veteran jihadi figure with experience fighting in Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Russia, and Azerbaijan. Having been Zawahiri’s closest aide through the 1990s, Mabrouk’s laptop was famously captured by the CIA in Baku, Azerbaijan, and described as the “Rosetta Stone of al Qaeda.”

Simply put, al Qaeda is coordinating its Syrian affiliate’s dissolution of ties to its own core leadership for the sake of preserving the long-term viability of the Nusra Front and its jihadi strategic objectives. The ideological ties between al Qaeda and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham remain strong. [Continue reading…]

Charles Lister this month published a 55-page profile of Jabhat al-Nusra.


Nusra Front is considering severing its ties to Al Qaeda

The Associated Press reports: Al-Qaida’s branch in Syria is considering splitting ties with the global terror group, members say.

A Nusra Front official told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the group’s leader plans to announce a disassociation with al-Qaida soon. Speaking via text message from northern Syria, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue, said Nusra will merge with other insurgent groups.

If it does, that could throw a wrench in talks between the U.S. and Russia on a military partnership in Syria, complicating efforts to separate the militant fighters from other moderate rebel factions. [Continue reading…]


Civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes in Syria now ‘nearing Russian levels’

Charles Davies writes: somehow, someway, the news from Syria invariably manages to get worse, for those not yet fatigued by the routine of atrocity.

“It’s the worst week we’ve ever tracked,” Chris Woods, director of the monitoring group Airwars, told The Daily Beast. He was referring to a threat that emerged nearly two years ago: U.S. airstrikes, aimed at the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, but exacting a deadly toll on those stuck between ostensibly religious and ostensibly secular extremists.

Ahmad Mohammad, a 24-year-old Syrian activist, described it as a “massacre”: On July 19, over 90 civilians in the northern Syria village of Tokhar, just outside the town Manbij, were killed by suspected U.S. airstrikes as a U.S.-backed coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces, is fighting to reclaim the area along the Turkish border from the Islamic State.

When the uprising in Syria began in 2011, Mohammad said his goal was to spread “news of the revolution”; in 2016 his activism takes the form of “documenting abuses” — in this case, he sent along photos of women and children being buried in a mass grave, “human beings like all of us,” he said, whose only offense was living in a town occupied by terrorists from abroad.

In a statement, U.S. Central Command confirmed it carried out airstrikes in the area. “We are aware of reports alleging civilian casualties in the area,” it said. “If the information supporting the allegation is determined to be credible, we will then determine the next appropriate step.”

The CENTCOM-supported SDF, meanwhile, has dismissed reports of mass casualties in Manbij as “fabricated news” circulated by groups who “support terrorism,” according to a statement obtained by the Kurdish media network Rudaw.

Independent monitors and anti-ISIS activists on the ground, by contrast, insist that air support for the SDF has killed hundreds of innocents.

According to Airwars, the human beings dumped in that hole, along with corpses on streets and under rubble in and around Manbij that could not be afforded even a mass burial, bring the civilian death count from U.S.-led airstrikes in the area up to at least 190 since May 31.

Local activists claim the number is at least 368, and an activist with the Free Manbij Media Center told The Daily Beast the death toll on July 19 alone was “more than 150 people, mostly women and children” who were “killed while in their homes.”

The latest airstrikes have grabbed international headlines, but they are nothing new for Syrians. Since the U.S.-led coalition began bombing Syria, Airwars states there are credible reports of between 682 and 942 civilian deaths, meaning that nearly a third of what the military terms “collateral damage” has occurred in the last two months. It has gotten “so bad,” Woods said, “that we’re nearing Russian levels” (between 1,098 and 1,450 “likely” dead civilians since September 2015). The U.S. has thus far confirmed just 24 civilian deaths from its campaign in Syria. Like Russia, none of its partners — Australia, Bahrain, France, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, among others — has admitted to any. [Continue reading…]


Nice attacker had fascination with extreme violence

The Wall Street Journal reports: The man who killed 84 people in Nice was a violent drinker and drug taker with an “unbridled sex life” who developed a fascination with Islamic State and other terrorist propaganda, prosecutors said as they deepened their probe into whether a broader network fostered his radicalization.

François Molins, the chief Paris prosecutor overseeing the investigation into the Bastille Day attack, said Monday that police haven’t found any evidence that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel explicitly pledged allegiance to Islamic State or had links to any people associated with the Sunni Muslim militant group.

However, the prosecutor painted a picture of a man who underwent a rapid transformation in the weeks leading up the massacre and became suddenly enthralled with extremist messages and ultra-violent images.

Data recovered from Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s computer included pictures of militants draped in Islamic State flags and corpses as well as photos of Osama bin Laden and Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the head of an al Qaeda-aligned group called Murabitun. His computer also turned up searches for “horrible car accidents” and “shock videos,” Mr. Molins said. [Continue reading…]


9/11 report’s classified ’28 pages’ about potential Saudi Arabia ties released

The Guardian reports: The Obama administration has released the long-classified 28 pages of the official congressional report on the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, which concerned the alleged ties of the Saudi Arabian government to the 9/11 hijackers.

Publishing the long-awaited pages 13 years after they were first classified, the White House insisted they show no link between Saudi Arabia and the hijackers who carried out the terrorist attacks. The pages put into the public domain the remaining unseen section of the 2002 report, from the joint congressional inquiry into intelligence community activities before and after the 9/11 attacks.

“This information does not change the assessment of the US government that there’s no evidence that the Saudi government or senior Saudi individuals funded al-Qaida,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. “The number one takeaway from this should be that this administration is committed to transparency even when it comes to sensitive information related to national security.” [Continue reading…]