German police arrest four alleged right-wing extremists suspected of planning mosque attacks

Wall Street Journal: Police arrested four alleged right-wing extremists early Wednesday suspected of planning attacks on mosques and asylum seekers in Germany, the country’s top prosecutor said.

The Federal Prosecutor’s office said the four suspects procured explosives to carry out terrorist attacks in small groups on targets including mosques, accommodation for asylum seekers, and well-known Salafis—people who follow an ultra-fundamentalist branch of Islam.

According to the prosecutor’s office, 56-year old Andreas H., 39-year old Markus W., 22-year old Denise Vanessa G. and 47-year old Olaf O. are suspected of forming a right-wing terrorist group with other suspects called “Oldschool Society,” or OSS, no later than November last year.

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Kenya’s wrongheaded approach to terrorism

Hussein Khalid writes: The merciless killing of more than 140 innocent students at Kenya’s Garissa University College last month by al-Shabab terrorists requires a serious government response — both from Kenya and the United States. Unfortunately, my government has decided to double down on a long-standing counterterrorism strategy that includes human rights abuses and the indiscriminate targeting of the country’s Muslims. This is guaranteed to make the situation worse, not better. As Kenya’s loyal partner, the United States must persuade Nairobi to drop this unsound strategy.

The Kenyan government is cracking down on those who have sought to engage in counter-radicalization efforts simply because they have dared to question its tactics. Without presenting any evidence, Kenya’s top police official recently tried to label my nongovernmental organization, Haki Africa, which documents and challenges human rights abuses perpetrated by Kenyan security forces, as a possible associate of al-Shabab. Our bank account was frozen simply because of the work that we do. Another organization, Muslims for Human Rights, was similarly targeted.

This action was just the latest in an increasingly worrying trend of harassment and intimidation of civil society organizations. Such a heavy-handed approach is more than unjust; it is also ineffective and counterproductive. By alienating an important and sizable Kenyan community, the government is losing a key ally in its fight against violent extremism. If this pattern continues, I fear the security situation in my country can only get worse. [Continue reading…]

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The parallels between Zionist and Palestinian militancy

The Times of Israel interviews Bruce Hoffman, author of Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle For Israel 1917-1947: Former Downing Street Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell negotiated with the IRA for nearly a decade under Tony Blair’s New Labour Government to bring about the Good Friday Agreement and peace to Northern Ireland. Hoffman cites Powell’s book, “Talking To Terrorists,” three times in his new work.

In conversation a year ago, Powell admitted that powerful Western governments throughout the 20th century — particularly the British — operated with appalling hypocrisy by initially claiming that men like Nelson Mandela, Martin McGuinness, and Menachem Begin were terrorists, then, in the blink of an eye, portraying these men as honorable statesmen and forgetting about past atrocities.

Crucially, Powell admitted, states use the word “terrorist” as a form of insult and to help hold the balance of power when certain dissident actors threaten their legitimacy. And if so-called terrorists are using violence for purposes governments like, well, they tend to skip over that, Powell said.

In recalling this conversation to Hoffman, he nods his head in agreement.

“Look, that is absolutely right,” he says. “Terrorism is resorted to for practical reasons because there is no other tool available. And those who use terrorism, and then subsequently become the targets of terrorism, understand its power and how difficult it is to counter it. Not just militarily. But especially in terms of international perception. And that’s where Begin really was a master strategist.”

Hoffman, like Powell, says he is not championing terrorism. But as a realist, he claims the point of his book is not to get bound up by moral judgments when speaking about the subject.

Given that Israeli politicians fundamentally understand how Jewish terrorism played such an effective role in helping bring about the State of Israel, is it naïve to think they might have more of a sympathetic understanding of why Palestinians currently use terrorism to try to achieve their political objectives?

“Well it’s far more simple than that,” Hoffman replies. “No country that is created where terrorism has played some role wants to admit it, for fear of that weapon being used against them. And that’s what is really at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” [Continue reading…]

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We must talk to terrorists to restore their humanity — and ours

By Simon McMahon, Coventry University; Heaven Crawley, Coventry University, and Math Noortman, Coventry University

The twin towers, Madrid, July 7, Charlie Hebdo… the list of terrorist political acts and their victims feels endless. When people are killed and lives threatened for political motivations, demands for immediate reprisals and military counter-measures usually follow suit.

Military force and policing is our default tactic – and talking to terrorists, by contrast, feels counter-intuitive. After all, surely talking to murderers, criminals and fanatics will only legitimise their aims and tactics.

And yet, from Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress to Gerry Adams’ Sinn Fein to Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organisation, history shows that talking with terrorists has often been a prerequisite for peace.

A recent debate organised by Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations brought together a former terrorist, the daughter of a victim of a terrorist bomb attack and experts on extreme violence to discuss whether we should in fact talk to terrorists.

The resounding conclusion was that there is no choice other than to talk to terrorists to bring their violence to an end. But, for genuine dialogue which addresses root causes as well as violent symptoms we need to shift our own ways of thinking too. We need to talk with those who are defined or labelled as terrorists, not simply to or at them.

[Read more…]

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From Chechnya to Boston: Tracing the Tsarnaev brothers’ motivations

Vanity Fair interviewed Masha Gessen, author of the new book, The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy:

The events leading up to the marathon tragedy aside, to some extent the story of the Tsarnaev family is the story of many immigrant families to the United States. Every family’s particular set of circumstances is different, of course, but the Tsarnaevs shared with others an intense condition of dislocation. What do we know about this?


If I had a penny for every time I thought, in the process of writing this book, There but for the grace of God . . . I don’t mean that every immigrant is at risk of becoming a terrorist, but I do mean that the immigrant existence is precarious and the things that go wrong can seem so minor—until they add up to tragedy. If Tamerlan’s dream of a boxing career had come true—and he was certainly gifted enough—the Boston bombing probably would not have happened. But I also have to wonder about smaller things. What if the Tsarnaevs’ sisters’ marriages had been happy? What if the beauty salon at which Zubeidat worked hadn’t fallen victim to the financial crisis? What if life had been just a little bit wealthier and just a little bit easier? Perhaps they would not have felt so much the outsiders.

The Tsarnaev case illuminates debates among experts about the path taken toward extremism—specifically, Islamic extremism—by some young people in Western countries, Europe as well as the United States. Can you tell us what this debate is about, and how the Tsarnaev story fits in?

Since 9/11 we have somehow come to accept the “radicalization” narrative, which basically holds that people become terrorists through a series of consecutive, traceable steps laid out for them by large international Islamic organizations. Reality is messier, and also smaller. First of all, radical beliefs are not a predictor of terrorist behavior: most people who hold radical beliefs never become terrorists, and some terrorists don’t hold radical beliefs. Second, this theory ignores the benefits of becoming a terrorist: it’s a shortcut to becoming a somebody, to belonging, perhaps even to becoming “great.” Look at the people who carried out the terrorist attacks of this past winter in Sydney, Paris, and Copenhagen. What do they have in common with one another and with the Tsarnaev brothers? They come from marginalized immigrant existences. They see a chance not only to become a part of something and become somebody but also a chance to declare war on a great power. And the great power accepts that declaration, which is I think the shortsighted and tragic way in which the war on terror has contributed to the glamorization and aggrandizement of terror itself.

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Meet the Weather Underground’s bomb guru

Bryan Burrough writes: Ever since 9/11, the threat of terrorist bombs on U.S. soil has become a major concern, drawing the attention of hordes of federal investigators and journalists. What few Americans remember clearly today is that barely 40 years ago, during the tumultuous 70s, such bombings were more or less routine, carried out by a half-dozen significant groups of underground radicals, from the Symbionese Liberation Army (best known for kidnapping the heiress Patricia Hearst in 1974) to lesser-known outfits like the F.A.L.N., a Puerto Rican independence group that bombed a Wall Street–area restaurant, Fraunces Tavern, killing four people in January 1975. Amazingly, during an 18-month period in 1971 and 1972, the F.B.I. counted more than 1,800 domestic bombings, almost five a day.

By far the best known of the radical underground groups was Weatherman, later known as the Weather Underground, which detonated dozens of bombs across the country from 1970 until it dissolved in late 1976. A splinter faction of the 60s-era protest group Students for a Democratic Society, Weather has been the subject of a dozen books, memoirs, and documentary films; its best-known leaders, Bernardine Dohrn and her husband, Bill Ayers, remain icons on the radical left to this day. Yet despite all the attention, very little has ever been revealed about the group’s internal dynamics, even less about its bombing tactics and strategies, a topic that few Weather alumni, mostly now in their 60s, have ever been eager to discuss publicly.

Partly as a result, Weather’s seven-year bombing campaign has been misunderstood in fundamental ways. To cite just one canard, Weather’s attacks, for much of its life, were the work not of 100or more underground radicals, as was widely assumed, but of a core group of barely a dozen people; almost all its bombs, in fact, were built by the same capable young man—its bomb guru. Nor, contrary to myth, did Weather’s leaders operate from grinding poverty or ghetto anonymity. In fact, Dohrn and Ayers lived in a beach bungalow in the seaside village of Hermosa Beach, California.

Of far greater significance is the widespread confusion over what Weather set out to do. Its alumni have crafted an image of the group as benign urban guerrillas who never intended to hurt a soul, their only goal to damage symbols of American power, such as empty courthouses and university buildings, a Pentagon bathroom, the U.S. Capitol. This is what Weather eventually became. But it began as something else, a murderous core group that was obliged to soften its tactics only after they proved unsustainable. [Continue reading…]

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CIA chief says social media ‘greatly amplifies’ terror threat

Reuters: Social media and other technology are making it increasingly difficult to combat militants who are using such modern resources to share information and conduct operations, the head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency said on Friday.

CIA Director John Brennan, in a speech in New York, said such communications heighten the challenge of dealing with diffuse threats and attacks across the world from groups like Islamic State, known also as ISIL, and others.

“New technologies can help groups like ISIL coordinate operations, attract new recruits, disseminate propaganda, and inspire sympathizers across the globe to act in their name,” Brennan said, using an acronym for the militant group that has taken hold in Syria and Iraq.

“The overall threat of terrorism is greatly amplified by today’s interconnected world, where an incident in one corner of the globe can instantly spark a reaction thousands of miles away; and where a lone extremist can go online and learn how to carry out an attack without ever leaving home,” Brennan said.

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Why no one can afford to keep every suspected terrorist under continuous surveillance

David Wise writes: To keep a target under continuous surveillance, according to one experienced FBI source who asked to remain anonymous, could require three eight-hour shifts or perhaps two 12-hour shifts, with four special agents each shift. Several cars would be needed, sometimes even airplanes. If only one car was used, the person might quickly realize he was being followed.

“If you are just sitting around in the street, somebody’s going to notice you,” Parker explained. “If it’s a real sensitive case, you just cannot be made. You would run five or six cars, maybe seven or eight. If you don’t want any chance of the target making you, the average is three shifts, four guys to a shift, two cars — that’s a minimum. Three shifts, so 12 agents. If it’s a really important case, you could easily double that.” That minimum translates into 24 agents in three shifts of eight agents to keep watch on a single target.

Parker, who spent much of his career tracking Soviet and Russian spies, noted, “Most surveillance subjects are not moving more than a few hours a day. So you may also have to set up an OP [observation post],” often a house or apartment overlooking the target.

Just as the French services wiretapped the cellphones of the Paris terrorists, the FBI does not limit itself to physical surveillance of a subject. “You would also have technical means,” one surveillance specialist, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “If you run 24-hour surveillance, you have telephones, both cell and land lines, MISUR [microphone surveillance] and stationery lookouts.”

Agents might also lock onto the GPS of the suspect’s car, to see where he or she is going. In one high-profile espionage case, the FBI placed radio receivers at fixed points around the Washington area and was also able to plant an electronic device in the suspect’s car. When the target car passed by one of the receivers, the time and location were recorded. This setup was similar to the E-ZPass system, which is used by commuters to breeze through toll plazas without stopping.

With so much manpower required to monitor just one suspect, FBI supervisors often resist mounting a 24/7 surveillance. It takes away agents who might be working other cases. A smaller field office might not have enough agents. [Continue reading…]

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No, Islam isn’t inherently violent, and the math proves it

M. Steven Fish writes: There is a widely held belief in the United States today that Islam is a religion that goads its followers to violence. And indeed, global terrorism today is disproportionately an Islamist phenomenon, as I show in my recent book. The headlines in the past months have been full of Islamist-fueled violence, such as ISIS killing its hostages, the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and yesterday’s attack on a Copenhagen café.

And a cursory look at the data shows that from 1994-2008, I found that 204 high-casualty terrorist bombings occurred worldwide and that Islamists were responsible for 125, or 61 percent, of these incidents, accounting for 70 percent of all deaths.

I exclude from the data all terrorist incidents that occurred in Iraq after the American invasion, and I consider attacks on occupying military forces anywhere to be guerilla resistance, not terrorism. I also use a restrictive definition of “Islamist” and classify attacks by Chechen separatists as ethnonational rather than Islamist terrorism. In other words, even when we define both “terrorism” and “Islamist” restrictively, thereby limiting the number of incidents and casualties that can be blamed on Islamists, Islamists come out as the prime culprits.

So, all that would seem to suggest Islam is more violent, right?

Not so. Rewind fifty or a hundred years and it was communists, anarchists, fascists, and others who thought than any means justified their glorious ends. Even now, Islamists are by no means the sole perpetrators. The Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and Colombia’s “narcoterrorists” blow up civilians and have nothing to do with Islam. In the United States, law enforcement considers the “sovereign citizens movement” to be a greater threat than Islamist terrorists. However, Islamists do commit most of the terrorism globally these days.

Look more closely, though, and you’ll see they don’t attack in the West very often. Of the 125 attacks committed by Islamists that I studied, 77—62 percent — of them were committed in predominantly Muslim countries, and their victims were overwhelmingly other Muslims. Another 40 attacks took place in just three countries — Israel, India, and the Philippines. Only four of the 125 attacks happened in the Western Hemisphere or Europe. They were ghastly and dramatic, just as they were intended to be. But they were, and still are, rare.

That means the risk of an American being killed by any act of terrorism in a given year is roughly one in 3.5 million, and the chances are that the act of terrorism won’t be committed by an Islamist. [Continue reading…]

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Anti-terrorism summit reinforces ‘fear and hate’ towards Muslims, critics warn

The Guardian reports: As Barack Obama prepares to host a summit on preventing homegrown terrorism, he faces a backlash from those he says he wants to empower: American Muslim community leaders, who warn that the summit risks stigmatizing and even endangering them.

Hanging over the “countering violent extremism” (CVE) summit, to be held Tuesday through Thursday at the White House and State Department, is Wednesday’s brutal murder of three Muslim students in North Carolina.

In the wake of the killings, Muslim leaders, some of whom met with Obama recently, say that whatever the summit’s intentions, it will reinforce a message that American Muslims are to be hated and feared, a spark in what they consider to be a powder-keg of Islamophobia in the media and online.

The killing of Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, “really underscores how dangerous it is for the US government, including the White House, to focus its countering violent extremism initiatives primarily on American Muslims”, said Farhana Khera, the executive director of civil rights law firm Muslim Advocates.

“We’ve long said to the administration, to those in government, that directing the bulk of CVE resources to US Muslims undermines the safety of all of us and endangers US Muslims, because it sends the message our community is to be viewed with fear, suspicion and even hate.” [Continue reading…]

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Matthew Harwood: The fear of lone-wolf terrorism rises

He was undoubtedly one of the worst “lone-wolf” terrorists in modern history. On July 22, 2011, after trying to take out Norway’s political leadership in Oslo with a car bomb and killing eight people, Anders Breivik boarded a ferry wearing a homemade police uniform and took it to a nearby island where he murdered another 69 people, most of them teenagers attending a youth camp run by the country’s Labour Party. Hunting them down methodically, as if he had all the time in the world, he acted in the coldest of cold blood. Some of them were shot in the head at point-blank range.  The killer, the “wolf” of that moment, committed his act, he claimed, to stop the “Islamicization” of his country. He was also against “feminism,” “cultural Marxism,” “Eurabia,” and his country’s ruling Labour Party.

Just stop for a moment and try to imagine the response here, had such a thing happened.  I guarantee you that, in security terms, our world would have been changed in major ways.  It would have grown even more controlled, surveilled, and militarized.  More money would have flowed into the coffers of the national security state.  More private contractors would have been hired.  You know the routine.  In the U.S., smaller versions of such attacks, like the Boston Marathon bombing, have galvanized the country and so helped further expand the national security apparatus, as well as the locking down of ever more places and things.  In these years, fevers of panic about terror and terrorists have repeatedly swept the country.  Put another way, otherwise pathetic individuals who would normally have no way of affecting our American world turn out to be remarkably capable of altering our lives and society in major ways.

Norway is a small country.  One in four Norwegians reported knowing “someone affected by the attacks,” including the prime minister at that time, Jens Stoltenberg.  Under the circumstances, it’s remarkable that Stoltenberg insisted “the Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness, and greater political participation” and ordinary citizens refused to react in the American fashion.  In the wake of an “incident” that might have transformed any society, a madman’s cold-blooded political slaughter of innocents, Norwegians, individually and en masse, chose not to panic or let their world be altered by Breivik’s horrific acts.  They did not build a greater counterterror security structure; they did not change their laws or create special terror legislation; they did not try Breivik in some special way; they did not even close their parliament and ring it with fortifications.  They were determined not to let Breivik deprive them of the openness they valued.  They exhibited neither hysteria nor bloodlust.  It was, in our world, the bravest of collective acts, stunning in its restraint.

If only we Americans could say the same.  Now, as TomDispatch regular Matthew Harwood of the ACLU writes, alarm over what is supposed to be our latest terror threat — “lone-wolf” attacks — is on the rise here in the U.S, and is more or less guaranteed to change our society for the worse.  Though curiously, our most notorious “lone-wolf” killer, Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who murdered 16 Afghans — nine of them children — and wounded six more in a night of cold-blooded mayhem in Kandahar, Afghanistan, caused hardly a ripple here.  All that’s now needed is a high-profile lone-wolf attack in “the homeland,” and it doesn’t have to be anywhere near as devastating as Breivik’s or Bales’s.  (Most lone-wolf operations, as Harwood indicates, are not especially effective or destructive.)  In the meantime, while the lone wolf makes his (and yes, they are mostly men) appearance in our American world of national security fear and hysteria, there have been no serious attempts to put the exceedingly modest dangers involved in perspective. So TomDispatch is proud to have what may be the first such article of our moment. Tom Engelhardt

The lone-wolf terror trap
Why the cure will be worse than the disease
By Matthew Harwood

The shadow of a new threat seems to be darkening the national security landscape: the lone-wolf terrorist.

“The lone wolf is the new nightmare,” wrote Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer recently, and the conservative pundit wasn’t alone in thinking so. “I really see [lone wolves] as being a bigger threat than al-Qaeda, or the Islamic State, or the al-Qaeda franchises,” Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis at the global intelligence and advisory firm Stratfor, told VICE News. Similarly, in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks, appearing on “Meet the Press,” Attorney General Eric Holder said, “The thing that I think keeps me up most at night [is] this concern about the lone wolf who goes undetected.”

You could multiply such statements many times over.  There’s only one problem with the rising crescendo of alarm about lone wolves: most of it simply isn’t true. There’s nothing new about the “threat” and the concept is notoriously unreliable, as well as selectively used.  (These days, “lone wolf” has largely become a stand-in for “Islamic terrorist,” though the category itself is not bound to any specific ideological type.)  Worst of all, its recent highlighting paves the way for the heightening of abusive and counterproductive police and national security practices, including the infiltration of minority and activist communities and elaborate sting operations that ensnare the vulnerable. In addition, the categorization of such solitary individuals as terrorists supposedly driven by ideology — left or right, secular or religious — often obscures multiple other factors that may actually cause them to engage in violence.

[Read more…]

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How terrorism could become Christian

M. Steven Fish points out that “people in Christian countries make up one-third of the world’s population, while holding two-thirds of its wealth and nine-tenths of its military might.”

He goes on to engage in “some extravagant futuristic thinking,” imagining that “over the next several decades, Christendom declines. Imperial overstretch cripples the United States, while Western Europe’s gradual decline continues. Lower hydrocarbons prices and rulers’ boundless greed leave Russia in a position of fading sway as well.”

Given this scenario, he writes:

In order to participate successfully in the global economy as well as scholarly discourse and cultural production, Americans, Frenchmen, Brazilians and Russians now must master Mandarin and Modern Standard Arabic — with Turkish and Indonesian strongly recommended. Arab countries easily dismantle the state of Israel. The occasional invasion and occupation of parts of Russia, Southeastern Europe and the Philippines at moments when China or the Muslim countries believe they detect a security threat from those Christian lands becomes part of the rhythm of global politics. Such actions spark outrage in Christendom. But they do not prompt concerted, effective counteractions, since Christian countries no longer have the ability or will to resist.

In fact, many leaders in Europe and the Americas cannot resist financial enticements offered by China and the Muslim states, which help fund electoral campaigns and personal consumption. The lucre cools Western leaders’ passions for resisting what at any rate seem like inexorable trends in world politics.

Would everyone in Christendom accept these developments calmly? Some might not. Disregard for their cultures, languages, forms of government, products, services and security concerns may even ignite a widespread, slow-burning rage. The suspicion that even some of their own leaders were complicit in their countries’ degradation might be the final straw.

The final straw, that is, that broke a healthy human abhorrence of deadly violence against innocents and a normal human capacity for distinguishing between innocents and oppressors. Under such conditions, is it difficult to imagine that some self-proclaimed soldiers of Christianity would lash out by committing terrorist acts?

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In the fight against terrorism, we are the only ones who can defeat ourselves

Yuval Noah Harari writes: As the literal meaning of the word indicates, terror is a military strategy that hopes to change the political situation by spreading fear rather than by causing material damage. This strategy is almost always adopted by very weak parties, who are unable to inflict much material damage on their enemies. Of course, every military action spreads fear. But in conventional warfare, fear is a byproduct of material losses, and is usually proportional to the force inflicting the losses. In terrorism, fear is the whole story, and there is an astounding disproportion between the actual strength of the terrorists and the fear they manage to inspire.

It is not easy to change the political situation through violence. On the first day of the battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, 19,000 members of the British army were killed and another 40,000 wounded. By the time the battle ended in November, both sides together had suffered more than a million casualties, which included 300,000 dead. Yet this unimaginable carnage hardly changed the political balance of power in Europe. It took another two years and millions of additional casualties for something finally to snap.

Compared to the Somme offensive, terrorism is a puny matter. Most terrorist attacks kill only a handful of people. In 2002, at the height of the Palestinian terror campaign against Israel, when buses and restaurants were hit every few days, the yearly toll reached 451 dead Israelis. In the same year, 542 Israelis were killed in car accidents. A few terrorist attacks, such as the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, kill hundreds. The 9/11 attacks set a new record, killing nearly 3,000 people. Yet even this is dwarfed by conventional warfare: if you add all the people killed and wounded in Europe by terrorist attacks since 1945 – including victims of nationalist, religious, leftist and rightist groups – it will still represent many fewer casualties than in any number of obscure first world war battles, such as the third battle of the Aisne (250,000 casualties) or the 10th battle of the Isonzo (225,000 casualties). [Continue reading…]

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How the FBI trains terrorists

Lyric R Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe write: People think that catching terrorists is just a matter of finding them – but, just as often, terrorists are created by the people doing the chase.

While making our film (T)ERROR, which tracks a single counter-terrorism sting operation over seven months, we realized that most people have serious misconceptions about FBI counter-terrorism efforts. They assume that informants infiltrate terrorist networks and then provide the FBI with information about those networks in order to stop terrorist plots from being carried out. That’s not true in the vast majority of domestic terrorism cases.

Since 9/11, as Human Rights Watch and others have documented, the FBI has routinely used paid informants not to capture existing terrorists, but to cultivate them. Through elaborate sting operations, informants are directed to spend months – sometimes years – building relationships with targets, stoking their anger and offering ideas and incentives that encourage them to engage in terrorist activity. And the moment a target takes a decisive step forward, crossing the line from aspirational to operational, the FBI swoops in to arrest him. [Continue reading…]

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Patriot Act idea rises in France, and is ridiculed

The New York Times reports: The arrests came quickly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. There was the Muslim man suspected of making anti-American statements. The Middle Eastern grocer, whose shop, a tipster said, had more clerks than it needed. Soon hundreds of men, mostly Muslims, were in American jails on immigration charges, suspected of being involved in the attacks.

They were not.

After shootings last week at a satirical newspaper and a kosher market in Paris, France finds itself grappling anew with a question the United States is still confronting: how to fight terrorism while protecting civil liberties. The answer is acute in a country that is sharply critical of American counterterrorism policies, which many see as a fearful overreaction to 9/11. Already in Europe, counterterrorism officials have arrested dozens of people, and France is mulling tough new antiterrorism laws.

Many European countries, and France in particular, already have robust counterterrorism laws, some of which American authorities have studied as possible models. But the terrorist rampage at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices and the Hyper Cacher market prompted calls to go even further. Valérie Pécresse, a minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy, said France needed its own version of the USA Patriot Act, which gave the United States more authority to collect intelligence and pointed America’s surveillance apparatus at its citizens.

Politicians and civil rights advocates on both sides of the Atlantic bristled at that suggestion, and at a string of arrests in which French officials used a new antiterrorism law to crack down on what previously would have been considered free speech. One man was sentenced to six months in prison for shouting support for the Charlie Hebdo attackers. Up to 100 others are under investigation for remarks that support or tried to justify terrorism, authorities said.

Dominique de Villepin, the former French prime minister, warned against the urge for “exceptional” measures. “The spiral of suspicion created in the United States by the Patriot Act and the enduring legitimization of torture or illegal detention has today caused that country to lose its moral compass,” he wrote in Le Monde, the French newspaper. [Continue reading…]

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The new war: How targeted killing has become the tactic of choice for both governments and terrorists

After Israel assassinated Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas in Gaza on March 22, 2004, John Negroponte, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, said that the United States was “deeply troubled by this action by the Government of Israel.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (representing the U.S.’s closest ally in the war in Iraq) went further and said that Israel “is not entitled to go in for this kind of unlawful killing and we condemn it. It is unacceptable, it is unjustified and it is very unlikely to achieve its objectives.”

A decade later, so-called targeted killing is no longer a counter-terrorism tactic favored mostly just by the Israelis — it has become a tactic of choice both for the U.S. government and for groups and individuals linked to Al Qaeda.

When Barack Obama took office in 2009, he entered the White House with the promise of ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and closing down Guantánamo Bay, but with no hope of being able to credibly claim victory in the war on terrorism, he opted to replace boots on the ground with drone warfare.

He seemed enamored with the technique’s precision, its futuristic glamor and the fact that it would have an even less impact on the lives of ordinary Americans — lives already far removed from the effects of foreign wars. A drone war was a war that America could conduct with very few Americans needing to leave home or even pay much attention.

War was going to shift from shock-and-awe to background noise with drone strikes occurring like lightening strikes in a storm too distant for any American to hear the thunder.

The use of targeted killing apparently no longer deeply troubled the U.S. government. But the tactic that was supposed to finish off Al Qaeda seems to have had the opposite effect.

The U.S. might at this point retain close to exclusive control over deadly drone warfare but it has neverthless created an easy to imitate model of targeted violence where the claimed legitimacy of the violence is not defined by its instruments or the authority of its perpetrators but simply by the idea that the targets are not innocent.

Following the Charlie Hebdo killings, the unity of “Je suis Charlie” in France is meant to show the terrorists that they cannot win, but in as much as Cherif and Said Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly hoped to be of influence, I doubt very much that they cared about broad public opinion. Their target audience, narrow yet widely dispersed, readily accepts the idea that a war defending Islam can legitimately strike “blasphemers,” security forces, Jewish, and political targets.

Terrorism is redefining itself, shifting away from the use of indiscriminate violence in preference for precision targeting.

Analysts in the media have generally ascribed this shift to a matter of expedience — it’s easier to buy guns than construct bombs. But true as that might be, I suspect the shift has more to do with an ideological shift which springs from the desire to widen the recruiting base of future killers.

Killing innocent people is very hard to justify in the name of any cause. Moreover, to hold ordinary citizens accountable for the actions of their governments isn’t a particularly persuasive argument when universally people feel like they have little influence over the affairs of state.

Just hours before the Kouachi brothers were killed, a Frenchman identified in the media simply as Didier was greeted by one of them at the entrance to the print shop in Dammartin-en-Goele where they had taken refuge. As he left, the gunman said, “Go, we don’t kill civilians.”

This seems to now be central to Al Qaeda’s message: we are not indiscriminate killers.

When President Obama ordered the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, no doubt he believed his decision was legally defensible and morally justifiable, but in the eyes of Awlaki’s supporters this action must have reinforced the notion that anyone can claim the right to kill when they are convinced that their victims deserve to die.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last week reiterated what have become frequent warnings about the rising threat from “lone wolf” terrorists — those whose actions are impossible to anticipate.

But the lone wolves are not out committing random acts of violence:

A new ISIS video released last week warned: “We will expand across all of Europe, to France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and also the USA… I say to my brothers, if you see a police officer — kill him. Kill them all.”

(The same video also encouraged killing “all infidels that you see in the streets” — an indication that ISIS still has a predilection for old-school, indiscriminate, mass violence.)

Over the last year, as government and security officials in Europe and North America have made increasingly frequent warnings about the dangers posed by Western fighters returning to their home countries from Syria, bringing the war with them, I have been among those who thought the threat was being exaggerated.

The flow of fighters appeared to be going overwhelmingly in the opposite direction and if a few returned home, it seemed much more likely that their decision would be precipitated by disenchantment with jihad rather than the desire to take their fight to the West.

The evidence now suggests, however, that the official warnings were not the kind of fear-mongering that commonly and cynically gets ascribed to nothing more than the promotion of an ever-expanding national security state.

When 80,000 security personnel get deployed to hunt down two men, it’s easy to argue that this kind of response amounts to a massive over-reaction. To a degree, that seems true, yet police and other domestic security forces do actually find themselves in a situation for which there are neither parallels in conventional law enforcement or even earlier forms of terrorism.

Even so, as Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service, said on German public television this week, “we must be calm and master the situation with a sense of proportion. Panic and hysteria don’t help.”

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The passionate intensity of terrorists who lack true conviction

Slavoj Žižek writes: Long ago Friedrich Nietzsche perceived how Western civilisation was moving in the direction of the Last Man, an apathetic creature with no great passion or commitment. Unable to dream, tired of life, he takes no risks, seeking only comfort and security, an expression of tolerance with one another: “A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end, for a pleasant death. They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health. ‘We have discovered happiness,’ – say the Last Men, and they blink.”

It effectively may appear that the split between the permissive First World and the fundamentalist reaction to it runs more and more along the lines of the opposition between leading a long satisfying life full of material and cultural wealth, and dedicating one’s life to some transcendent Cause. Is this antagonism not the one between what Nietzsche called “passive” and “active” nihilism? We in the West are the Nietzschean Last Men, immersed in stupid daily pleasures, while the Muslim radicals are ready to risk everything, engaged in the struggle up to their self-destruction. William Butler Yeats’ “Second Coming” seems perfectly to render our present predicament: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” This is an excellent description of the current split between anemic liberals and impassioned fundamentalists. “The best” are no longer able fully to engage, while “the worst” engage in racist, religious, sexist fanaticism.

However, do the terrorist fundamentalists really fit this description? What they obviously lack is a feature that is easy to discern in all authentic fundamentalists, from Tibetan Buddhists to the Amish in the US: the absence of resentment and envy, the deep indifference towards the non-believers’ way of life. If today’s so-called fundamentalists really believe they have found their way to Truth, why should they feel threatened by non-believers, why should they envy them? When a Buddhist encounters a Western hedonist, he hardly condemns. He just benevolently notes that the hedonist’s search for happiness is self-defeating. In contrast to true fundamentalists, the terrorist pseudo-fundamentalists are deeply bothered, intrigued, fascinated, by the sinful life of the non-believers. One can feel that, in fighting the sinful other, they are fighting their own temptation.

It is here that Yeats’ diagnosis falls short of the present predicament: the passionate intensity of the terrorists bears witness to a lack of true conviction. How fragile the belief of a Muslim must be if he feels threatened by a stupid caricature in a weekly satirical newspaper? [Continue reading…]

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What is the religion-terrorism connection?

John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed write: The religious language and symbolism that terrorists use tend to place religion at center stage. Many critics charge that global terrorism is attributable to Islam — a militant or violent religion — and terrorists who are particularly religious folks. For example, in a Washington Times commentary, author Sam Harris writes:

It is time we admitted that we are not at war with “terrorism”. We are at war with Islam. This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran. The only reason Muslim fundamentalism is a threat to us is because the fundamentals of Islam are a threat to us. Every American should read the Koran and discover the relentlessness with which non-Muslims are vilified in its pages. The idea that Islam is a “peaceful religion hijacked by extremists” is a dangerous fantasy — and it is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for Muslims to indulge.

Lawrence Auster of FrontPage magazine echoes this sentiment. He writes: “The problem is not ‘radical’ Islam but Islam itself, from which it follows that we must seek to weaken and contain Islam…”

What do the data say? Does personal piety correlate with radical views? The answer is no. Large majorities of those with radical views and moderate views (94% and 90%, respectively) say that religion is an important part of their daily lives. And no significant difference exists between radicals and moderates in mosque attendance.

Gallup probed respondents further and actually asked those who condone and condemn extremist acts why they said what they did. The responses fly in the face of conventional wisdom. For example, in Indonesia, the largest Muslim majority country in the world, many of those who condemn terrorism cite humanitarian or religious justifications to support their response. For example, one woman says, “Killing one life is as sinful as killing the whole world,” paraphrasing verse 5:32 in the Quran.

On the other hand, not a single respondent in Indonesia who condones the attacks of 9/11 cites the Quran for justification. Instead, this group’s responses are markedly secular and worldly. For example, one Indonesian respondent says, “The US government is too controlling toward other countries, seems like colonizing”. The real difference between those who condone terrorist acts and all others is about politics, not piety.

How then do we explain extremists’ religious rhetoric? As our data clearly demonstrate, religion is the dominant ideology in today’s Arab and Muslim world, just as secular Arab nationalism was in the days of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Palestinian Liberation Organization — from its inception, a staunchly secular group — used secular Palestinian nationalism in its rhetoric to justify acts of violence and to recruit. Just as Arab nationalism was used in the 1960s, today religion is used to justify extremism and terrorism.

Examining the link between religion and terrorism requires a larger and more complex context. Throughout history, close ties have existed among religion, politics, and societies. Leaders have used and hijacked religion to recruit members, to justify their actions, and to glorify fighting and dying in a sacred struggle. [Continue reading…]

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