Killing twice for ISIS and saying so live on Facebook

The New York Times reports: He stabbed an off-duty police officer and left him bleeding to death on his own doorstep. He forced his way inside the home and stabbed and killed the officer’s female companion. He then sat down and videotaped himself live on Facebook declaring allegiance to the Islamic State, according to the French law enforcement authorities.

Sitting just behind him was the couple’s son, a terrified 3-year-old boy, of whom Larossi Abballa, the killer, said dismissively, “I have not decided what to do with him,” according to David Thomson, a French journalist for Radio France Internationale and the author of a book on jihadists who saw Mr. Abballa’s online posts before they were taken down.

The events that unfolded between about 8 p.m. and midnight on Monday — when elite police forces broke into the house in the small town of Magnanville, fatally shot Mr. Abballa, 25, and rescued the boy — were the second time within 48 hours in which a person appearing to act alone claimed to kill in the name of the Islamic State.

In the attacks in both Magnanville and Orlando, Fla., the killers had more than just brushed up against the authorities before, in what has become a distressingly familiar pattern — from the set of attacks in Paris in November, to those in Brussels in March and beyond. The Orlando gunman, Omar Mateen, had been interviewed twice by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for his possible links to terrorism, and Mr. Abballa had been convicted for having links to a terrorist network and served about two years in jail before being released.

Further complicating the job of protecting Western nations are governments’ dual goal of preserving civil liberties while trying to make people feel secure.

The attack in France was shocking not only to neighbors in Magnanville, about 35 miles from Paris, but across the country because it underscored that extremist attacks can happen in the most ordinary places, above all in those where people believe they are safe.

Mr. Abballa’s Facebook post from Monday night made clear that he wanted to terrify and destroy those he deemed “unbelievers,” people he had come to hate. He also wanted to encourage other lone wolves to do the same.

“It’s super simple,” he said, looking into the camera. “It’s enough to wait for them in front of their offices; don’t give them any respite. Know this, whether you are a policeman or a journalist, you will never feel calm again. One will wait for you in front of your homes. This is what you have earned.”

Boasting that he had “just killed a policeman and I just killed his wife,” he called on fellow believers to give priority to killing “police, prison guards, journalists.” He specifically named several writers and journalists, adding rappers to the list because, he said, they “are the allies of Satan.”

Even more chillingly, he warned that jihadists had “reserved some other surprises for the Euro; I am not going to say more.’’

“The Euro will be a cemetery,” he said, referring to the Euro 2016 soccer tournament being played over the next several weeks in 10 French cities.

It was unclear whether Mr. Abballa had specific knowledge of a potential attack on the matches or the crowds gathered for them.

The version of the video released by the Islamic State’s Amaq news agency was trimmed by a couple of minutes to omit images of the boy and Mr. Abballa’s references to him. On Twitter, opinion was divided between those who thought the images of a defenseless child were tasteless even by the standards of the Islamic State’s hardened propagandists and those who speculated that the extremist news agency did not want to show Mr. Abballa as unwilling to kill a child. [Continue reading…]

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The forgotten story of European refugee camps in the Middle East

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Tens of thousands of refugees fled a war. They journeyed across the Eastern Mediterranean, a trip filled with peril. But the promise of sanctuary on the other side was too great.

No, this is not the plight faced by Syrian refugees, desperate to escape the desolation of their homeland and find a safer, better life in Europe. Rather, it’s the curious and now mostly forgotten case of thousands of people from Eastern Europe and the Balkans who were housed in a series of camps across the Middle East, including in Syria, during World War II.

As the Nazi and Soviet war machines rolled through parts of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, vast civilian populations were displaced in their wake. In areas occupied by fascist troops, Jewish communities and other undesired minorities faced the harshest onslaught, but others, particularly those suspected of backing partisan fighters, also were subject to targeted attacks and forced evacuations. [Continue reading…]

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How Kosovo was turned into fertile ground for ISIS

The New York Times reports: Every Friday, just yards from a statue of Bill Clinton with arm aloft in a cheery wave, hundreds of young bearded men make a show of kneeling to pray on the sidewalk outside an improvised mosque in a former furniture store.

The mosque is one of scores built here with Saudi government money and blamed for spreading Wahhabism — the conservative ideology dominant in Saudi Arabia — in the 17 years since an American-led intervention wrested tiny Kosovo from Serbian oppression.

Since then — much of that time under the watch of American officials — Saudi money and influence have transformed this once-tolerant Muslim society at the hem of Europe into a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for jihadists.

Kosovo now finds itself, like the rest of Europe, fending off the threat of radical Islam. Over the last two years, the police have identified 314 Kosovars — including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children — who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State, the highest number per capita in Europe.

They were radicalized and recruited, Kosovo investigators say, by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.

“They promoted political Islam,” said Fatos Makolli, the director of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police. “They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature. They brought these people closer to radical political Islam, which resulted in their radicalization.”

After two years of investigations, the police have charged 67 people, arrested 14 imams and shut down 19 Muslim organizations for acting against the Constitution, inciting hatred and recruiting for terrorism. The most recent sentences, which included a 10-year prison term, were handed down on Friday.

It is a stunning turnabout for a land of 1.8 million people that not long ago was among the most pro-American Muslim societies in the world. Americans were welcomed as liberators after leading months of NATO bombing in 1999 that spawned an independent Kosovo.

After the war, United Nations officials administered the territory and American forces helped keep the peace. The Saudis arrived, too, bringing millions of euros in aid to a poor and war-ravaged land.

But where the Americans saw a chance to create a new democracy, the Saudis saw a new land to spread Wahhabism.

“There is no evidence that any organization gave money directly to people to go to Syria,” Mr. Makolli said. “The issue is they supported thinkers who promote violence and jihad in the name of protecting Islam.”

Kosovo now has over 800 mosques, 240 of them built since the war and blamed for helping indoctrinate a new generation in Wahhabism. They are part of what moderate imams and officials here describe as a deliberate, long-term strategy by Saudi Arabia to reshape Islam in its image, not only in Kosovo but around the world.

Saudi diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2015 reveal a system of funding for mosques, Islamic centers and Saudi-trained clerics that spans Asia, Africa and Europe. In New Delhi alone, 140 Muslim preachers are listed as on the Saudi Consulate’s payroll.

All around Kosovo, families are grappling with the aftermath of years of proselytizing by Saudi-trained preachers. Some daughters refuse to shake hands with or talk to male relatives. Some sons have gone off to jihad. Religious vigilantes have threatened — or committed — violence against academics, journalists and politicians.

The Balkans, Europe’s historical fault line, have yet to heal from the ethnic wars of the 1990s. But they are now infected with a new intolerance, moderate imams and officials in the region warn.

How Kosovo and the very nature of its society was fundamentally recast is a story of a decades-long global ambition by Saudi Arabia to spread its hard-line version of Islam — heavily funded and systematically applied, including with threats and intimidation by followers. [Continue reading…]

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Deeyah Khan: Terrorists want us to become like them — intolerant, hateful, and cruel

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Islam is reshaping Europe

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Robert Kaplan writes: Orientalism, through which one culture appropriated and dominated another, is slowly evaporating in a world of cosmopolitan interactions and comparative studies, as [Edward] Said intuited it might. Europe has responded by artificially reconstructing national-cultural identities on the extreme right and left, to counter the threat from the civilization it once dominated.

Although the idea of an end to history — with all its ethnic and territorial disputes — turns out to have been a fantasy, this realization is no excuse for a retreat into nationalism. The cultural purity that Europe craves in the face of the Muslim-refugee influx is simply impossible in a world of increasing human interactions.

“The West,” if it does have a meaning beyond geography, manifests a spirit of ever more inclusive liberalism. Just as in the 19th century there was no going back to feudalism, there is no going back now to nationalism, not without courting disaster. [Continue reading…]

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White Europeans have a problem with otherness

Zia Haider Rahman writes: Twenty years ago, when New Yorkers asked me where I was from, all I’d say is that I grew up in Britain. Mentioning that I was born in Bangladesh drew only more questions, and New Yorkers simply wanted confirmation of what was to them the distinctive cultural marker: my British accent.

That accent was learned from imitating BBC News announcers on a cassette recorder. As a boy, I read about the destruction of millions of Jews and was gripped by fear: If white Europeans could do that to people who looked like them, imagine what they could do to me.

So I adapted, hoping to make myself less alien to these people so ill at ease with difference. I grew up not so long ago in a Britain that spat at nonwhites, beat us and daubed swastikas on walls.

Britain frightens its natives with the specter of a fifth column, and exhorts immigrants to integrate better and adopt British values. Do it and you’ll earn your stripes. But the promise is hollow, for Britain has no intention of keeping its side of the bargain. [Continue reading…]

Zia Haider Rahman read a longer version of this piece last month in Amsterdam.

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The Israeli Right’s historic ties to European fascism

Noam Rotem writes: The heads of the Freedom Party of Austria, an extremist, far-right political party, are currently visiting Israel following a formal invitation from the ruling Likud party.

This isn’t the first time top right-wing Israeli politicians have supported the Freedom Party of Austria, which was established by high-ranking members of the Nazi regime and SS officers. They themselves are deemed “Nazis” by Austrian politicians, publish anti-Semitic propaganda, and promote an Islamophobic, racist agenda. Deputy Minister of Regional Cooperation Ayoob Kara (Likud), for instance, participated in a 2010 ceremony alongside members of the party, while head of the Shomron Regional Authority in the West Bank, Gershon Mesika, took part in a conference organized by right-wing organizations, which included the Freedom Party of Austria.

However the ties between the Jewish-Israeli right and racist European movements goes back many years. [Continue reading…]

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An ISIS sanctuary right in the middle of Europe

Der Spiegel reports: Almost nothing remains of Ibro. There is just a single childhood photo remaining, an image of a flaxen-haired five-year-old that Ibro’s father scanned so he could always carry it with him on his mobile phone. But no recent pictures are available. Before Ibro left Bosnia to join Islamic State (IS) in 2014, he tore up all the images of himself he could find. His interpretation of Sharia included the belief that images of people were haram — forbidden.

Ibro’s father Sefik, a 58-year-old casual laborer, regularly visits friends to recharge his phone. Sefik lives in a hovel he built himself on the edge of the village of Donja Slapnica. His home has a wood stove and an outhouse but no electricity. When it gets cold, he wears his jacket and a stocking cap indoors.
The emotions Sefik has been carrying around with him since the day when Ibro disappeared are not immediately apparent from the outside. “When you’re dead, I won’t pray for you because you are an infidel.” That’s the last thing that Sefik, a slender man with a moustache, heard from Ibro. From his own son.

Ibro Cufurovic, born in 1995, is one of 200 to 300 Islamist radicals who have left Bosnia-Herzegovina to join IS or al-Qaida in Syria or Iraq. Two of the most wanted terrorists in the world are among them: Bajro Ikanovic, for many years the commander of the largest IS training camp in northern Syria; and Nusret Imamovic, a leading member of the Nusra Front in Syria, a group tied to al-Qaida. Bosnia, says the American Balkan expert and former NSA employee John Schindler, “is considered something of a ‘safehouse’ for radicals,” and now harbors a stable terrorist infrastructure. It is one that is not strictly hierarchical and is thus considered “off-message” within IS, but it nonetheless represents an existential threat to the fragmented republic.

According to findings by the Bosnian Ministry of Security, not only were munitions from Bosnia used in the January 2015 attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, but some of the weapons used in the November 13 Islamic State attack on Paris were also from former Yugoslav production.

It increasingly looks as though a new sanctuary for IS fighters, planners and recruiters has been established right in the middle of Europe. In some remote villages, the black flag of IS is flown and, as a share of the population, more fighters from Bosnia-Herzegovina have joined IS than from any other country in Europe, except for Belgium. Around 30 Bosnians have lost their lives in the Middle Eastern battlefields, with some 50 having returned home. [Continue reading…]

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Does ISIS even have a European strategy?

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Benjamin H. Friedman writes: With the bombers dead and investigations just a week old, the motives behind last week’s bombings in Brussels’ airport and metro will remain murky for some time. Of course, reporters and terrorism analysts have offered lots of speculation, much of it focused on how the attacks serve the agenda of ISIS’s leaders. That approach, I believe, overstates ISIS’s coherence and wisdom. If “ISIS” means the would-be state in Syria in Iraq, plus affiliated groups and clandestine networks of sympathizers, then it doesn’t have a strategy; it has strategies, often foolish ones.

Statements claiming responsibility for the attack, attributed to ISIS’s leadership in Syria, blame Belgium for joining in the war in Syria and Iraq and threaten coalition members with similar treatment. The attack, in other words, was meant to coerce foreign powers to quit making war on ISIS.

Those statements are indications that ISIS’s leaders didn’t know the particulars of the attack in advance, let alone direct it. Like some prior ISIS’s claims of reasonability for attacks, the statements seem to crib from media reports; they arrived hours after attacks without any detail unavailable in public. By claiming that the airport attackers “opened fire” with “automatic rifles,” the statements even repeat errors in initial reporting. [Continue reading…]

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On perilous refugee trail, women often become prey to sexual abuse

The New York Times reports: One Syrian woman who joined the stream of migrants to Germany was forced to pay down her husband’s debt to smugglers by making herself available for sex along the way. Another was beaten unconscious by a Hungarian prison guard after refusing his advances.

A third, a former makeup artist, dressed as a boy and stopped washing to ward off the men in her group of refugees. Now in an emergency shelter in Berlin, she still sleeps in her clothes and, like several women here, pushes a cupboard in front of her door at night.

“There is no lock or key or anything,” said Esraa al-Horani, the makeup artist and one of the few women here not afraid to give her name. She has been lucky, Ms. Horani said: “I’ve only been beaten and robbed.”

War and violence at home, exploitative smugglers and perilous seas along the way, an uncertain welcome and future on a foreign continent — these are some of the risks faced by tens of thousands of migrants who continue to make their way to Europe from the Middle East and beyond. But at each step of the way, the dangers are amplified for women.

Interviews with dozens of migrants, social workers and psychologists caring for traumatized new arrivals across Germany suggest that the current mass migration has been accompanied by a surge of violence against women. From forced marriages and sex trafficking to domestic abuse, women report violence from fellow refugees, smugglers, male family members and even European police officers. There are no reliable statistics for sexual and other abuse of female refugees. [Continue reading…]

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Why has the AK-47 become the jihadi terrorist weapon of choice?

The Guardian reports: In the early years after 9/11 the suicide belt, the car bomb and the homemade explosive device were the weapons of choice for jihadis: hidden, brutal and hard to counter.

But as 2015 heaves to a close, its atrocities littered across the calendar – Charlie Hebdo, Sousse, Garissa, Tunis, Copenhagen and Paris – it is the AK-47 that has come to the fore.

Across Europe more terrorist attacks have been carried out with Kalashnikov-type assault rifles this year than with any other device. In the 13 November Paris attacks, suicide bombers killed few but gunmen killed many. Further afield, in Tunisia and Kenya, it was also automatic weapons that did the damage.

The widespread availability of these guns has been known for years. But it took the scale of death meted out in Paris last month to force Europe to address the threat.

Now law enforcement officers across the continent are trying to establish some basic truths. Where do they come from? Who are the middlemen that deal in these deadly weapons? And why have they become so popular again? [Continue reading…]

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The migrant roots of ancient European ancestry

University of Cambridge

The first sequencing of ancient genomes extracted from human remains that date back to the Late Upper Palaeolithic period over 13,000 years ago has revealed a previously unknown “fourth strand” of ancient European ancestry.

This new lineage stems from populations of hunter-gatherers that split from western hunter-gatherers shortly after the ‘out of Africa’ expansion some 45,000 years ago and went on to settle in the Caucasus region, where southern Russia meets Georgia today.

Here these hunter-gatherers largely remained for millennia, becoming increasingly isolated as the Ice Age culminated in the last ‘Glacial Maximum’ some 25,000 years ago, which they weathered in the relative shelter of the Caucasus mountains until eventual thawing allowed movement and brought them into contact with other populations, likely from further east.

This led to a genetic mixture that resulted in the Yamnaya culture: horse-borne Steppe herders that swept into Western Europe around 5,000 years ago, arguably heralding the start of the Bronze Age and bringing with them metallurgy and animal herding skills, along with the Caucasus hunter-gatherer strand of ancestral DNA – now present in almost all populations from the European continent.

The research was conducted by an international team led by scientists from Cambridge University, Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin. The findings were published last month in the journal Nature Communications.

[Read more…]

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Living as a Muslim in the West’s ‘gray zone’

Laila Lalami writes: It was probably not a coincidence that the Paris attacks were aimed at restaurants, a concert hall and a sports stadium, places of leisure and community, nor that the victims included Muslims. As [ISIS’s magazine] Dabiq makes clear, ISIS wants to eliminate coexistence between religions and to create a response from the West that will force Muslims to choose sides: either they “apostatize and adopt” the infidel religion of the crusaders or “they perform hijrah to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens.” For ISIS to win, the gray zone must be eliminated.

Whose lives are gray? Mine, certainly. I was born in one nation (Morocco) speaking Arabic, came to my love of literature through a second language (French) and now live in a third country (America), where I write books and teach classes in yet another language (English). I have made my home in between all these cultures, all these languages, all these countries. And I have found it a glorious place to be. My friends are atheists and Muslims, Jews and Christians, believers and doubters. Each one makes my life richer.

This gray life of mine is not unique. I share it with millions of people around the world. My brother in Dallas is a practicing Muslim — he prays, he fasts, he attends mosque — but he, too, would be considered to be in the gray zone, because he despises ISIS and everything it stands for.

Most of the time, gray lives go unnoticed in America. Other times, especially when people are scared, gray lives become targets. Hate crimes against Muslims spike after every major terrorist attack. But rather than stigmatize this hate, politicians and pundits often stoke it with fiery rhetoric, further diminishing the gray zone. Every time the gray zone recedes, ISIS gains ground.

The language that ISIS uses may be new, but the message is not. When President George W. Bush spoke to a joint session of Congress after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, he declared, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” It was a decisive threat, and it worked well for him in those early, confusing days, so he returned to it. “Either you are with us,” he said in 2002, “or you are with the enemy. There’s no in between.” This polarized thinking led to the United States invasion of Iraq, which led to the destabilization of the Middle East, which in turn led to the creation of ISIS.

Terrorist attacks affect all of us in the same way: We experience sorrow and anger at the loss of life. For Muslims, however, there is an additional layer of grief as we become subjects of suspicion. Muslims are called upon to condemn terrorism, but no matter how often or how loud or how clear the condemnations, the calls remain. Imagine if, after every mass shooting in a school or a movie theater in the United States, young white men in this country were told that they must publicly denounce gun violence. The reason this is not the case is that we presume each young white man to be solely responsible for his actions, whereas Muslims are held collectively responsible. To be a Muslim in the West is to be constantly on trial. [Continue reading…]

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Right-wing populism is surging on both sides of the Atlantic – here’s why

By Ruth Wodak, Lancaster University

On both sides of the Atlantic, right-wing populist parties are enjoying another moment in the sun. In Europe, the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) recently doubled its vote in a state election. Fellow travellers are making headway across Europe – France’s Front National, Hungary’s Jobbik, Bulgaria’s Ataka, and the party formally known as True Finns.

Many explanations for the European surge point to a xenophobic knee-jerk reaction to the refugee crisis, but that’s far too simplistic; the phenomenon is hardly confined to Europe. Look at the surprising success of Donald Trump in the US’s Republican party primary campaign. Many of his fellow candidates are struggling to keep up with his firebrand pronouncements, not least his proposal to deport millions of illegal immigrants.

So why exactly are these leaders and parties enjoying such success – and are they really all birds of a feather?

[Read more…]

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ISIS is losing ground. Will that mean more attacks overseas?

The Washington Post reports: Just hours after his men helped recapture the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar from Islamic State militants last week, Maj. Gen. Ali Ahmed, an officer with Kurdish security forces, watched another battle unfold on his television, this one some 2,500 miles away in Paris.

What had seemed a winning day in the war against the Islamic State had taken a horrific turn with attacks in the French capital that left 129 people dead.

The victory by Kurdish forces in Sinjar was just one in a string of losses for the militant group as it faces attacks on multiple fronts — from Ramadi in Iraq to Raqqa in Syria.

But the squeeze on Islamic State territory has coincided with an uptick in the group’s operations overseas. That’s no coincidence, according to some analysts, who expect the Islamic State to lash out with more attacks abroad to divert attention from its territorial losses.

“Their recruiting appeal is based on the appearance of strength, and that informs a lot of their strategy,” said J.M. Berger, co-author of “ISIS: The State of Terror” and a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

From the outset, the Islamic State has been acutely aware of its international image, with its slickly produced videos of beheadings and massacres a key part of attracting recruits.

“The brothers launched the attack in Paris to prove that we are a strong state and we can fight our enemies anywhere,” said one Islamic State sympathizer in Turkey, who declined to be named because of links to the terrorist group. “Since they are fighting us in our land, we are going to fight them in their lands.”

At its peak last year, the Islamic State had seized about a third of Iraqi territory, but it has lost about a third of that. After more than a year of bloody battles, pro-government forces wrested control of the oil refinery of Baiji in October.

In Ramadi, Iraqi security forces have steadily progressed in recent months and have encircled the city, according to Iraqi commanders.

“The city is besieged 360 degrees,” said Maj. Gen. Thamir Ismail, commander of SWAT forces in the province. “Daesh lost Baiji, and lost Sinjar, and now day by day they are losing Ramadi,” he said. He used an Arabic term for the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS and ISIL.

“They attacked Paris in order to keep up the morale of their fighters and distract from their losses in Syria and Iraq,” he said. “I expect that when we liberate Ramadi, there will be more attacks in Europe.” [Continue reading…]

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