After terrorist attack on church in Texas, will Trump press for extreme vetting of U.S. military recruits?

Needless to say, that’s a rhetorical question.

The Pentagon (and Trump) will no doubt be satisfied that a malcontent like Devin Patrick Kelley was kicked out of the Air Force, rather than questioning how he joined.

Trump has already indicated that he views the Texas shooting as not even related to guns — let alone terrorism:

Donald Trump has blamed Sunday’s deadly mass shooting at a Baptist church in Texas on the mental health of the perpetrator and claimed that gun ownership was not a factor.

Asked during a press conference in Tokyo what policies he would support to tackle mass shootings in the US, the president said: “I think that mental health is a problem here. Based on preliminary reports, this was a very deranged individual with a lot of problems over a very long period of time.

“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries, but this isn’t a guns situation … we could go into it but it’s a little bit soon to go into it. Fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise it wouldn’t have been as bad as it was, it would have been much worse.

“This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very sad event … these are great people at a very, very sad event, but that’s the way I view it.”

Is it a mental health problem, a gun problem, or a terrorism problem?

Unlike many observers, I hesitate to slap the label “terrorism” on every mass shooting in America. Why? Because terrorism, for as long as it remains a meaningful term (and that itself is a debatable issue), needs an ideological component. For the perpetrator to appropriately be called a terrorist, he (and it’s invariably he, rather than she) must be driven by some kind of belief system.

Since Devin Patrick Kelley is already dead, we may never be certain of his motives for murdering 26 churchgoers, but the testimony of former classmates strongly suggests he was a militant atheist and thus his hostility to religion may have been the determining factor in how he selected his target. So, at face value this shooting has a more obvious ideological component than does, for instance, the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas.

A terrorism problem? Yes.

A gun issue? “Fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise it wouldn’t have been as bad as it was, it would have been much worse.”

Indeed. Likewise, if no one had a gun — if Kelley and all the churchgoers had been armed with knives — there would have been no shooting, and probably no deaths.

The argument in favor of self-defense cannot be separated from the issue of the availability of deadly weapons.

So let’s get real: of course this is a gun issue.

A mental health problem?

Nowadays a lot of people balk at this explanation because it seems like a double standard is at play when Muslims get collectively blamed for terrorism carried out in the name of Islam, and yet the violence of white men is invariably viewed as something that has no connection with any wider trends in a white-dominated society.

Social trends, however, can hardly be discounted as irrelevant. While gun violence is a major problem in black America, the perpetrators of mass shootings are rarely black. The typical shooter is usually a white guy whose misanthropic rage swelled in isolation.

The obvious is worth stating: however Kelley might have described his own motives, we can be certain he was unhappy.

Unhappiness can metastasize and in the extreme turn into murderous violence and yet we vastly underestimate the problem of unhappiness itself if we reduce our concerns about mental health to the problem of mass shootings.

The sorry state of America’s collective mental health, is not just implicated in an epidemic of mass shootings; it has also resulted in the choice of a president who so often seethes with rage and foments hostility at home and abroad.

Trump’s anger is his own mental health problem, but given his unique position he has an unparalleled capacity to foster a contagion of discontent across this nation, manifesting in meanness, bigotry, xenophobia, racism, and potentially acts of mass violence.

While Trump should not be viewed as the root of all America’s problems, the harm he has already done, renders him incapable of healing national divisions he so persistently strives to widen.

Fear can bring people together, but this isn’t the foundation of real unity. What unifies us is the recognition that our common interests matter more than the things that make us stand apart.

Predictably, Trump is using the Texas tragedy to rally American national pride, yet what America dearly needs has far less to do with its national virtues than with a basic sense of humanity.

Love and kindness are resources on which every society depends, while fear and hatred shatter our human bonds.

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From truck driver to Uber driver to terror attack suspect

The New York Times reports: Sayfullo Saipov’s arrival in the United States in 2010 began unceremoniously in Ohio.

“My dad introduced him as, ‘He’s new to the United States, and he’s going to stay with us,’ ” said Bekhzod Abdusamatov, 22.

Mr. Saipov, the suspect in the terrorist attack in Lower Manhattan that killed eight people on Tuesday, arrived from Tashkent — the Uzbek capital and its largest city — knowing little English, Mr. Abdusamatov said.

He spent those early days in the United States looking for a job and trying to improve his English, Mr. Abdusamatov said. But he was also a late sleeper.

At one point, Mr. Saipov made his way to Fort Myers, Fla., where he met a fellow Uzbek immigrant, Kobiljon Matkarov, 37. Mr. Saipov was working as a truck driver at the time.

“He was a very good person when I knew him,” he said. “He liked the U.S. He seemed very lucky, and all the time he was happy and talking like everything is O.K. He did not seem like a terrorist, but I did not know him from the inside.”

As investigators began on Tuesday to look into Mr. Saipov’s history, it became clear that he had been on the radar of federal authorities. Three officials said he had come to their attention as a result of an unrelated investigation, but it was not clear whether that was because he was a friend, an associate or a family member of someone under scrutiny or because he had been the focus of an investigation. [Continue reading…]

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Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock, son of a ‘psychopathic’ bank robber, was a high-stakes gambler who ‘kept to himself’

The Washington Post reports: Before he opened fire late Sunday, killing at least 58 people at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, gunman Stephen Paddock was living out his retirement as a high-stakes gambler in a quiet town outside Las Vegas.

Paddock, 64, would disappear for days at a time, frequenting casinos with his longtime girlfriend, neighbors said. Relatives also said Paddock had frequently visited Las Vegas to gamble and take in concerts.

Eric Paddock said his brother often gambled in tens of thousands of dollars. “My brother is not like you and me. He plays high-stakes video poker,” he said. “He sends me a text that says he won $250,000 at the casino.” [Continue reading…]

NBC News reports: The suspected gunman behind the Las Vegas massacre made several large gambling transactions in recent weeks, according to multiple senior law enforcement officials and a casino executive.

On several occasions, Stephen Paddock gambled more than $10,000 per day — and in some cases more than than $20,000 and $30,000 a day — at Las Vegas casinos, according to an NBC News source who read the suspect’s Multiple Currency Transaction Reports (CTR) and a casino gaming executive.

According to a U.S. statute, a CTR is a Treasury- and IRS-mandated report that casinos have to file when “each transaction in currency involving cash-in and cash-out of more than $10,000 in a gaming day.”

It was not immediately clear if those transactions were losses or wins. [Continue reading…]

Slate reports: News reports suggest Stephen Paddock, a reclusive professional gambler who lived in a retirement community in Nevada, had a very limited public profile before perpetrating one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. His late father, a notorious bank robber who spent eight years on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List after escaping from a federal prison in Texas, was a very different kind of criminal. The elder Paddock, whose nicknames included “Big Daddy” and “Chrome Dome,” was charged in 1960 with stealing about $25,000 from three separate bank branches in Phoenix, Arizona. Paddock was 34 at the time, and had already been to prison twice for his role in what the Arizona Republic called “confidence games.”

According to witnesses who testified at Patrick Benjamin Paddock’s trial in 1960, an assistant bank manager took the initiative to follow him after one of the robberies and took note of the unusual radio antennas affixed to his getaway vehicle. Two days later, six FBI agents located Paddock near a gas station in downtown Las Vegas. When the bank robber tried to run one of them over with his car, the agent fired at his windshield. Paddock was arrested shortly thereafter; a search of his vehicle turned up a loaded .38 snub-nose revolver, a blackjack, and about $3,000 in cash.

Prior to his arrest, Paddock had been living in Tucson with his wife and four kids. (Most likely, the gunman who carried out Sunday night’s attack was among them.) According to a newspaper account, the family’s neighbors said they couldn’t believe that Paddock—who was known as a “hot rod racer who keeps his head shaved so he resembles Yul Brynner”—“was involved in crime.” [Continue reading…]

In social media in the aftermath of America’s latest mass shooting, once again there are objections to the fact that a white gunman is not being referred to by the press as a terrorist — the assumption being made by many that terrorist is a label reserved for brown people and mostly Muslims.

OK. Let’s call Paddock a terrorist.

There’s no disputing that he terrorized thousands of people in Las Vegas last night.

But beyond underlining the abhorrent nature of his actions, does calling the gunman a terrorist shed light on what he did?

Earlier today, ISIS made a transparently opportunistic attempt to claim Paddock as one of their own, saying he was “was ‘a soldier’ from its ranks who had converted to Islam months ago,” the Associated Press reports.

Really? Unless there’s some compelling evidence to back up this story or any other links to terrorism, I’m strongly inclined to believe Paddock’s career as a professional gambler and his family history had everything to do with the carnage he wrought and neither ISIS or any other terrorist organization or political ideology had any influence.

So why call him a terrorist?

Instead of pushing for a more inclusive use of a word that in common parlance has come to mean the worst of the worst, the most evil of human beings, maybe it’s time to face the fact that, at least in America, mass murder (typically carried out by men, usually white and using legally obtained weapons) is a much bigger problem than terrorism.

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Path to radicalization winds through shame and loneliness

Elizabeth Charnock and Dounia Bouzar write: The problem of Islamist radicalization presents a grim challenge to France, and the forces that drive young people to join violent extremist groups remain poorly understood. Far more than the United States, the circumstances that drive average people to become violent affect a far larger proportion of the population.

Often, discussions of the subject devolve into simple platitudes. Radicals must be mentally unstable; religious fanatics; or victims of societal pressure —or all of the above. Grooming efforts by terrorist recruiters, playing on the personal vulnerabilities and shame of French citizens, appear to be the root cause of radicalization.

While there is much argument about the value of deradicalization programs, including their ability to stop attacks, these programs have immense value from an intelligence gathering perspective. They can offer a unique mechanism for intelligence gathering on the jihadist recruitment process. And France provides a useful case study for the self-destructive paths the radicalized take.

The number of French-speaking jihadists worldwide well exceeds that of any other Western language. So it is no surprise that their recruitment efforts are the most sophisticated in France, as observed by CPDSI [Center for the Prevention of Sectarian Excesses Linked to Islam] firsthand through extended interviews with more than 1,000 individuals. The CPDSI is a French government entity that works to intervene in the lives of citizens at risk of becoming radicalized.

In France, there is significant evidence that ISIS recruiters utilize standard case officer techniques to broaden their pool of potential recruits well beyond the Muslim population. These recruiters probe for vulnerabilities and opportunities to drive wedges between the recruit and French society.

The vulnerabilities can be along any axis: social, socioeconomic, political, cultural, ethnic, religious, or psychological. The mission of the recruiter is to transform the malaise into an adherence to jihadist ideology. The goal is to manipulate the recruit into believing that such adherence is the only possible escape from their malaise.

The motivations of the recruit depend on their recruiter, but most motivations are pedestrian and banal, rather than ideologically or religiously motivated. For example, the promise to women of a faithful, protective husband holds an alluring pull, as roughly 50 percent of the radicalization cases reported in France involved women. The most common threads all share one thing in common: they promise access to a better world, and perhaps a better self. [Continue reading…]

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After London explosion, Trump criticizes Britain’s counterterrorism approach — for all the wrong reasons

The Washington Post reports: President Trump criticized Britain’s counterterrorism approach in several tweets on Friday morning, following a suspected terrorist attack in London that injured at least 22 people on a subway train.

Trump said authorities “must be proactive” and that attacks in Britain had been conducted by “sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard,” using a synonym for London’s Metropolitan Police. It is unclear whether Trump was tweeting about previous attackers, or about whoever was behind Friday’s incident. British Prime Minister Theresa May later commented on those remarks by Trump, saying that it was not “helpful for anybody to speculate on … an ongoing investigation.”

May’s former chief of staff, Nick Timothy, was more blunt in his criticism, writing: “True or not — and I’m sure he doesn’t know — this is so unhelpful from leader of our ally and intelligence partner.” [Continue reading…]

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Why do people die fighting for a cause?

Science reports: To beat your enemies, you must understand them intimately. And so anthropologist Scott Atran and his colleagues have spent the last 2 years interviewing Islamic State group fighters and their opponents on the front lines. For a study published yesterday in Nature Human Behavior, Atran, director of research at Artis International, a research institute based in Scottsdale, Arizona, and his research team personally talked with extremists in the field, whom they’d reached through local leaders. They also conducted online surveys with thousands of Spanish citizens in order to include a more pacific population. Science spoke with Atran, who also holds positions at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, and France’s CNRS in Paris, about his work. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: What makes someone willing to die fighting for a cause?

A: Well, lots of things, but what best predicted willingness to die on the battlefront was both devotion to a tight-knit group of comrades—fusion with them—and commitment to sacred values. But the values actually trumped the group, which may be the first time that was shown. Because most of the military sociology and psychology, at least since World War II, has said that will to fight is based on camaraderie and fighting for your buddies.

In September 2014, [then-President Barack] Obama’s national security director said the greatest mistake the U.S. made in Iraq was underestimating ISIS’s will to fight, and he said it was similar in Vietnam. And then he said will to fight is an imponderable, which is why we undertook this study.

Q: What are sacred values?

A: They are moral values. We’ve shown in lots of different contexts that sacred values are immune or resistant to material trade-offs. You wouldn’t sell your children or sell out your country or your religion for all the money in China. Another aspect is that they generate actions because they’re the right thing to do, so you’re not really worried about risks or rewards or cost or consequences. [Continue reading…]

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In Barcelona, a heartening rejection of Islamophobia

The Washington Post reports: On Sunday, thousands of local Muslims marched down La Rambla, the scenic, tree-lined boulevard where the first of two coordinated attacks took place. Young and old, men and women, many of whom were veiled, the demonstrators chanted in unison: “I am Muslim! Not a terrorist!” Non-Muslims lined the sidewalks, clapping and crying. Some stepped forward to hug demonstrators as they passed.

At a Sunday news conference on the investigation, Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s regional president, grew most animated when he spoke in defense of the local Moroccan population. “The Moroccan people are integrated in Catalonia, and they have made important contributions to the community,” he said.

Some, especially in rural Catalonia, might have said otherwise. Home to the largest percentage of Spain’s Muslim population — about 25 percent — the region is also the locus of Islamist militant activity in the country. Roughly a quarter of those arrested on suspicion of radicalized tendencies between 2013 and 2016 were arrested in Barcelona and its environs, according to data released by the Real Instituto Elcano, a Madrid-based think tank.

Carola García-Calvo, a senior terrorism analyst at Elcano, said that part of the reason was that Barcelona has long been a receiving center for immigrants and one of the few places in Spain where the vulnerable group of second-generation immigrant youths has matured in a concentrated mass.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after the Las Ramblas attack, a small group of demonstrators from the far-right Falange movement — named for a fascist group active in 1930s Spain — protested what they called the “Islamicization of Europe.”

But that was far from a widespread sentiment. Thousands of counterprotesters ultimately turned out in response, drowning out the handful of rightists and forcing them to disband. [Continue reading…]

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When terror came to Barcelona

Miguel-Anxo Murado writes: With the blood of tourists shed in the streets of Barcelona, the Spanish and Catalan police forces are working together to tackle the common threat.

Perhaps inevitably, the bitter differences will re-emerge as the shock recedes. And yet, between now and then, the horror has opened a window through which we are able to catch a glimpse of our common humanity, of how frail it is, of how thin is the line that divides civility from barbarism.

Cityscapes are so embedded in the life of our nations that any major event that happens in them has inadvertent historical resonance and additional meaning. In Stockholm, the terrorist started his car in the street where Olof Palme, the Swedish prime minister who embodied an ideal of social cohesion, was assassinated many years before. In London, the attacker knifed his way right up to the gates of Parliament, the visible representation of democracy’s long history. And it was in Las Ramblas of Barcelona, standing guard on a rooftop as a volunteer during the Spanish Civil War, that the British writer George Orwell was struck by a realization that would ultimately lead him to write “1984,” his enduring denunciation of totalitarianism and the politics of fear.

On Thursday, the terrorists began killing people precisely on the spot of Orwell’s epiphany. By the time the vehicle had ran its course, it had left a half-mile trail of pain. Already, yesterday, that scar was covered with a tribute of flowers. It occurred to me that many of them may have come from the same kiosks hit by the van.

“If you can feel that staying human is worth while,” wrote Orwell, “even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.” [Continue reading…]

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Nature of Las Ramblas attack provides harsh lessons in fight against terror

Jason Burke writes: The precise motivation and the identity of the Barcelona attackers will become clear in the next few hours. Islamic State has claimed responsibility on its Amaq news agency, though in recent months such claims have become highly unreliable.

Individuals close to Isis and active on social media have been celebrating the attack, but this does not necessarily indicate a direct connection between the attacker or attackers and the group.

Tactics spread among militants when they are seen to work. There is no skill needed to drive a vehicle into a crowd, nor any difficulty involved in obtaining one. This makes a car, van or lorry an ideal weapon for today’s terrorists, who are often inspired by a group but are not actually part of it, and for the most part, lack the training and means necessary for more complex attacks.

The second lesson is that there is now little discrimination in targeting. This means tourists are very much in the line of fire. A decade or so ago, Islamic militant groups sought to send specific messages through their violence. Random attacks against unarmed civilians were seen as ineffective, and even counter-productive in terms of garnering public support in the Muslim world. The 9/11 attack was launched against targets seen by al-Qaida as symbols of US economic, political and military power.

In 2004, Spain was the target of the bloodiest jihadi attack on European soil when commuter trains were bombed by al-Qaida sympathisers in Madrid. One aim was to undermine Spanish support for military intervention in Iraq, and influence an election. Spain was also a particular target because of the historic resonance for militants of the Islamic kingdom of Andalusia, lost to Christendom 900 years ago.

This has changed. Isis has led a broader shift towards attacking anyone, anywhere, anyhow. Public spaces, always inherently vulnerable, are now more at risk than ever. Music fans in Manchester, summer revellers in Nice, pub-goers in London, and of course tourists, whether taking pictures on Westminster Bridge, on a beach in Tunisia, or on an airplane returning to Russia from Egypt. [Continue reading…]

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‘Terror’ struck Barcelona, according to Trump. Charlottesville? ‘Call it whatever you want.’

Callum Borchers writes: Within hours of a vehicular attack in Barcelona that killed at least 13 and injured dozens of others on Thursday, President Trump called it “terror.”


Yet at a news conference three days after a similar episode in Charlottesville, where an alleged Nazi sympathizer drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring 19, the president would not definitely assign the same label.

“Was this terrorism?” a journalist asked on Tuesday.

“Well, I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and this country,” Trump replied, “and that is — you can call it terrorism, you can call it murder, you can call it whatever you want.” [Continue reading…]

However each attack gets labelled, the more important question is how they are related since it’s hard to dismiss the temporal sequence as purely coincidental.

The reality is that an attack of this kind requires very little planning and thus the first attack could indeed have triggered the second. Moreover, the attacker in Barcelona would surely have been fully aware of the attack in Charlottesville and thus seen global media attention as ripe for the picking through an escalation of violence.

Was the latest attack conceived as a way of mocking (and goading) American Islamophobic terrorists — as if to say, your brutality is no match of ours?

Was it intended to highlight Trump’s hypocrisy in his responses to violent attacks?

What seems least likely is the possibility that Charlottesville was nowhere within the considerations of the perpetrator(s) of today’s deadly attack in Barcelona.

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Trump believes fiction can defeat terrorism

 


Snopes fact checks Trump’s story. Conclusion: False.

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Charlottesville attack shows homegrown terror on the right is on the rise

File 20170814 5720 19n6pps
James Alex Fields Jr., second from left, holds a black shield in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a white supremacist rally took place.
Alan Goffinski via AP

By Arie Perliger, University of Massachusetts Lowell

The attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a man named James Alex Fields Jr. used his Dodge Challenger as a weapon against a crowd of protesters, underscores the growing violence of America’s far-right wing.

According to reports, Fields was a active member of an online far-right community. Like many other far-right activists, he believes that he represents a wider ideological community, even though he acted alone.

My 15 years experience of studying violent extremism in Western societies has taught me that dealing effectively with far-right violence requires treating its manifestations as domestic terrorism.

In the wake of the Charlottesville attack, the Department of Justice announced it would launch a federal investigation:

“…that kind of violence, committed for seeming political ends, is the very definition of domestic terrorism.”

This acknowledgment may signal that a growing domestic menace may finally get the attention it deserves. While attacks by outsider Jihadist groups will probably continue, domestic terrorism still deserves more attention than it’s getting.

[Read more…]

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Double standard decried as Minnesota mosque bombed

Al Jazeera reports: Social media users have voiced frustration at what they described as a double standard after a mosque was bombed in the US.

The explosion at around 5am local time (09:00 GMT) at the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, caused damage but did not cause any casualties.

Worshippers had been preparing for the dawn prayer when the attack happened.

There were between 15 and 20 people inside the building at the time, according to Star Tribune, a local newspaper. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Rick Thornton, the FBI’s special agent in charge of the investigation, told reporters Saturday afternoon that the blast was caused by an “improvised explosive device” but offered no further details about its composition or possible suspects. Neither the FBI nor the Bloomington Police Department, which initially responded to the explosion, speculated on a motive for the incident.

“At this point, our focus is to determine who and why,” Thornton said at a news conference. “Is it a hate crime? Is it an act of terror?…Again, that’s what the investigation is going to determine.”

The attack was quickly condemned by religious leaders and politicians. Hussein said a “standing opposition group” has regularly protested against the mosque — and sometimes its mere existence — since it opened in 2011.

“Hate is not okay,” Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, told reporters, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “We need an America where people are safe with their neighbors.”

If the attack was motivated by anti-Muslim bias, it would represent “another in a long list of hate incidents targeting Islamic institutions nationwide in recent months,” CAIR-MN civil rights director Amir Malik said. CAIR said in a report last month that anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States nearly doubled in the first half of this year over the same period in 2016. At least 35 anti-mosque acts — including vandalism and arson — were reported during the first three months of this year, the organization has said. [Continue reading…]

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Human Rights Watch: Saudi terrorism is killing people in Yemen

Al Jazeera reports: The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) has questioned Saudi Arabia’s accusation of Qatar funding terrorism while the Kingdom itself continues to carry out “terrorism that is killing people in Yemen”.

The conflict in Yemen has escalated dramatically since March 2015, when the Saudi-led forces launched a military operation against the rebels.

Since the conflict began, more than 10,000 people have been killed and millions have been driven from their homes.

“We don’t talk about government terrorism such as the Saudi-led coalition that is killing people in Yemen,” HRW’s Kenneth Roth said at the Freedom of Expression, Facing up to the Threat conference in Qatar’s capital Doha on Monday.

“I am not aware of Qatar financing terrorist groups, but I am aware of the long-term Saudi promotion of an extreme version of Islam that is often adopted by terrorist groups.”

Yemen is also facing a health crisis, with the charity Oxfam reporting 360,000 suspected cases of cholera in the three months since the outbreak started in April. [Continue reading…]

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Blaming religion for Middle East violence ignores nuance and absolves governments of their responsibility

Tristan Dunning writes: As the Islamic State group’s territorial project slowly but inexorably comes to an end in Iraq and Syria, the White House is once again trotting out the twin rationales of foreign fighters and the impending apocalypse to absolve itself of any responsibility for the rise and spread of extremist militant Islam.

Last week, US Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk revealed that the US-led coalition was compiling a database of foreign jihadists fighting for IS, thereby signalling that the White House may be preparing to shift the focus of its operations from the ongoing recruitment bazaars of Iraq and Syria, to the putative eschatological battle against extremist militant Islam on a global level.

In similar vein, White House Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka asserted earlier this year that IS propagated the idea that Judgement Day was nigh and that now was the last chance to engage in jihad and thereby ascend to Paradise.

Invocations of such rationales as official explanations for the rise and persistence of extremist militant Islam are not only misleading, but also potentially counterproductive and dangerous. There are a variety of other more mundane reasons at play aside from supposed religious dogma. [Continue reading…]

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How ISIS nearly stumbled on the ingredients for a ‘dirty bomb’

The Washington Post reports: On the day the Islamic State overran the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014, it laid claim to one of the greatest weapons bonanzas ever to fall to a terrorist group: a large metropolis dotted with military bases and garrisons stocked with guns, bombs, rockets and even battle tanks.

But the most fearsome weapon in Mosul on that day was never used by the terrorists. Only now is it becoming clear what happened to it.

Locked away in a storage room on a Mosul college campus were two caches of cobalt-60, a metallic substance with lethally high levels of radiation. When contained within the heavy shielding of a radiotherapy machine, cobalt-60 is used to kill cancer cells. In terrorists’ hands, it is the core ingredient of a “dirty bomb,” a weapon that could be used to spread radiation and panic.

Western intelligence agencies were aware of the cobalt and watched anxiously for three years for signs that the militants might try to use it. Those concerns intensified in late 2014 when Islamic State officials boasted of obtaining radioactive material, and again early last year when the terrorists took over laboratories at the same Mosul college campus with the apparent aim of building new kinds of weapons.

In Washington, independent nuclear experts drafted papers and ran calculations about the potency of the cobalt and the extent of the damage it could do. The details were kept under wraps on the chance that Mosul’s occupiers might not be fully aware of what they had.

Iraqi military commanders were apprised of the potential threat as they battled Islamic State fighters block by block through the sprawling complex where the cobalt was last seen. Finally, earlier this year, government officials entered the bullet-pocked campus building and peered into the storage room where the cobalt machines were kept.

They were still there, exactly as they were when the Islamic State seized the campus in 2014. The cobalt apparently had never been touched.

“They are not that smart,” a relieved health ministry official said of the city’s former occupiers.

Why the Islamic State failed to take advantage of its windfall is not clear. U.S. officials and nuclear experts speculate that the terrorists may have been stymied by a practical concern: how to dismantle the machines’ thick cladding without exposing themselves to a burst of deadly radiation.

More certain is the fact that the danger has not entirely passed. With dozens of Islamic State stragglers still loose in the city, U.S. officials requested that details about the cobalt’s current whereabouts not be revealed.

They also acknowledged that their worries extend far beyond Mosul. Similar equipment exists in hundreds of cities around the world, some of them in conflict zones. [Continue reading…]

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‘Hero’ imam praises group that saved Finsbury Park suspect from angry crowd

The Guardian reports: In the chaos and terror of the moment, events might have taken an even darker turn.

Outside the Muslim Welfare Centre, three men wrestled to the ground the driver of a van which had ploughed into people leaving the mosque.

Amid confusion, distress and anger, a crowd gathered. Fists and feet struck out. Suddenly a voice shouted: “No one touch him – no one! No one!”

It came from Mohammed Mahmoud, the mosque’s imam, later hailed as the hero of the day. He urged the crowd to be calm and restrained until the police arrived. [Continue reading…]

 

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