June 28, 2011 3 Comments
The Muslim world, radicalization, terrorism, and Islamist ideology
June 28, 2011 3 Comments
June 23, 2011 Leave a comment
My New America Foundation colleague Brian Fishman and I released a report today on “best practices” for domestic counterterrorism and counterradicalization, based on case studies in the U.K., New York and L.A. Below is the executive summary, and you can find the full paper here.
Terrorism is not a new phenomenon, but since the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks the United States and the United Kingdom have significantly altered their counterterrorism programs or created new programs, laws, and institutions to cope with changing understandings of the threat posed by individuals living in the West attracted to al-Qaeda’s cause. While the programs the United Kingdom and the cities of New York and Los Angeles have put in place have varied, police and security officials on both sides of the Atlantic recognize the importance of local communities to the struggle against terrorism and radicalization. Based on evaluations of successes and mistakes from these three cases, the authors have created the following list of “best practices” for domestic counterterrorism and community outreach in the United States:
- Reduce the role of government in counter-radicalization programs
- Treat Muslim-Americans as citizens, not suspects
- Maintain dedicated counterterrorism commands or divisions within law enforcement agencies
- Use informants carefully and sparingly, especially in prosecutions
- Encourage and enable Muslim-American groups to push back against extremists
- Improve counterterrorism education guidelines and standards
These practices are not a panacea and do not aim to encapsulate the entirety of useful counterterrorism practices. Indeed, many techniques must change depending on the local context. Nonetheless, applying these concepts is likely to reduce the occurrence of jihadis being radicalized in the West and improve the chances, over the long-run, that radicalizing terrorists will be observed and disrupted.
Also, while I intend to do some more detailed writing on this in the future, be sure to read the U.K. section of the paper if you want to know what I think about the Prevent program.
June 19, 2011 9 Comments
Francophone African news coverage has been rather preoccupied with the news that Nigerien Presidential Guard forces this week intercepted a convoy of three 4X4 trucks in the north of the country not far from the uranium mining town of Arlit, destroying one truck and capturing another that had been abandoned, reportedly seizing nearly 640 kg of military-grade Semtex and hundreds of detonators in boxes stamped “Libya”, as well as nearly $90,000 in cash.
While Nigerien authorities originally announced that their troops had engaged “armed bandits,” it’s becoming increasingly clear that the trucks were either driven by arms traffickers with suspected links to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), as Radio France Internationale has reported, or directly by AQIM elements, as reported by Jeune Afrique and a Nigerien official close to the country’s president. An Arab fighter was killed in the exchange, identified by the latter as a “barbu” a standard term for Islamists, and a former fighter in the Nigerien Tuareg MNJ (Mouvement des Nigériens pour la Justice), which has waged several rebellions against the government in the past, surrendered to the Nigerien authorities on June 15.
While many of the details of the exchange remain confused and incomplete, the seizure of the explosives and detonators provide the first hard evidence that Libyan weapons are flowing out of the country and into the Sahel. Officials in the region as well as Europe and the United States have been warning about this nearly since the conflict in Libya began, news which made me rather skeptical, especially since much of the concern seemed to be coming from Algerian and Chadian officials, both of whom have other concerns about the instability and Western engagement in Libya. But this most recent incident seems to confirm the reports that weapons are leaving Libya through long-actve smuggling routes in the country’s south that traverse the relatively unpopulated and under-secured region north of Nigeria, routes which run south and west, crossing Mali and heading into West Africa.
The surrender of the trafficker and fighter Apta Mohammed is one of the more fascinating details of this story. Mohammed reportedly served as a “guide” for the convoy, and while his involvement could be an isolated instance of Tuareg involvement in weapons and other smuggling, it could also presage more troubling developments. Setting aside for a moment the potential AQIM involvement, Mohammed’s presence as part of the convoy could indicate an increasing involvement of former Tuareg fighters in the arms trade in the region, raising the possibility of more money and advanced weapons flowing into Niger’s north, which could upset the rather delicate balance that has held in the region since the most recent Tuareg uprising was settled in 2009. The North is already coping with the return of tens of thousands of Nigeriens (some Tuareg, some not) fleeing the instability in Libya, some of whom may have fought as “mercenaries” for Qaddafi. Again, this situation has been getting very short shrift in the anglophone Western press, but instability in Niger’s north could cause nasty problems in the Sahel and southern Libya, and deserves more attention.
Turning to the AQIM connection, rumors circulated just after the kidnapping of seven employees of the Uranium giant Areva and a subcontractor in Arlit last September that AQIM had been poking around the Aïr Mountains and making inroads among the Tuareg. The possibility of Tuareg cooperation with – or worse, membership in – AQIM caused a fair bit of concern at the time, though evidence of Tuaregs actually joining AQIM has been pretty slim. However, this most recent incident seems to indicate at least limited connections between AQIM and traffickers in the region, a fact that could pose another risk of instability; AQIM has quite a bit of money to throw around, accrued from kidnapping, the drug trade, and quite possibly the weapons trade as well. Given the crowded and increasingly dire situation posed by the region’s refugee crisis, AQIM could take advantage of the situation to stage a recruiting drive. Now, this is far from certain, as there is no evidence that AQIM has nearly the local connections or recruiting presence that it does in Northern Mali (in Timbuktu, for instance, they are said to openly advertise on walls) or in Mauritania, from where the organization has drawn a few hundred recruits in the past several years. But again, something to watch.
Which brings us, finally, to AQIM itself. When reports first emerged in April that AQIM had taken advantage of the disarray in Libya to seize high-quality heavy weapons, including anti-aircraft artillery and SAM-7 missiles, I argued (and still believe) that the weapons were likely intended not for attacks against military or civilian aircraft, but instead to defend AQIM camps against raids by Western Special Forces, most likely those who wear the bleu, blanc et rouge. However, Semtex, detonators and military-grade explosive devices are another game entirely.
For the past several months AQIM has been relatively quiet, aside from a brief spate of unusually deadly attacks against Algerian security forces in the country’s north. However, these weapons, aside from their obvious resale value to a number of interested groups in the region, could be used to restart a terrorist campaign in the Sahel, especially as Mauritania and Mali have tightened their counterterrorism relationship recently, and Mauritania has made it abundantly clear that they intend to go after AQIM camps in Mali. The problem with this is that despite the group’s very clear hatred of Mauritanian President Ould Abdel Aziz and desire to see him dead, AQIM in the Sahel has been limited in its terrorist ambitions by a lack of targets and huge open spaces that need to be traversed in order to wage any attack. And Mauritanian forces seem to have gotten increasingly good at disrupting AQIM operations, as evidenced by the botched attempt in February to kill Abdel Aziz in which Mauritania’s security services tracked a small AQIM convoy from the time it crossed the border with Senegal, eventually cornering one bomb-laden truck which spectacularly exploded during a firefight and chasing down the others.
The place where these weapons really could make a difference is northern Algeria, where AQIM has conducted a persistent IED campaign for years against Algeria’s army, police and gendarmerie. But again, many open questions remain about the Sahelian AQIM’s relationship with the increasingly isolated north, as well as the viability of smuggling routes that might allow the group to move weapons to their brothers in the “Triangle of Death”, especially at a time when Algeria’s security forces and a certain U.S. military command in Stuttgart are undoubtedly watching very closely.
Finally, this incident provides more evidence that, rather than seeking to run the revolt in Libya (as some members of the U.S. security establishment and Congress seem to want to believe), AQIM is using the chaos there to take what it can, before retreating to Algeria or Mali. No one has provided any indication that more than two or three AQIM members are entering Libya at any given time, and while they could be making contacts with rebels or other assorted jihadists for the purpose of fighting, it is just as likely that they are scouting the terrain, or laying the groundwork for other smuggling convoys. But as with so much in the world of counterterrorism and especially with regards to Libya and the Sahel, what we do not know far outweighs any shadows of information from open sources that pass for evidence. Caveat Lector.
June 13, 2011 1 Comment
In a previous post on Nigeria’s Boko Haram, I looked for patterns in the group’s use of violence against the state and against its religious rivals. In this post, I discuss the state’s response to the violence. This response is evolving and experimental. It has included the use of force, but has also featured efforts at making political reforms and addressing the grievances that motivate the movement.
Force has always been a major part of the state’s response to Boko Haram. When Boko Haram launched a full-scale uprising in 2009, state security forces cracked down hard, killing a number of the group’s members as well as its leader, Muhammad Yusuf. Since then the government has continued to use force. Last fall, the federal government deployed soldiers to the Northeast, where Boko Haram is based. In February, security forces raided several homes, arresting several suspects, recovering weapons, and killing a suspected financier for the group. In May, following an ambush on soldiers in Maiduguri, the army arrested 150 persons on suspicion of ties to Boko Haram. Just last week, fourteen more people were arrested in connection with recent attacks.
Killing and arresting suspected members of Boko Haram has proven sufficient for putting down mass uprisings, but these techniques have not halted the guerrilla tactics Boko Haram has increasingly used since the fall of 2010 – drive-by shootings, bombings, etc.
From the beginning, Nigerian authorities at the state and federal levels have looked beyond force to other techniques that could reduce the group’s appeal. These techniques have varied, but their common thrust has been a search for ways to break the tie between violent ideologies and populations susceptible to the appeal of those ideologies.
Authorities have attacked this problem from both sides. In the aftermath of the 2009 uprising, for example, they attempted to shut down inflammatory rhetoric by controlling who could preach. Restricting what came from the pulpits, they reasoned, would help control what came from the streets.
As time has gone by, though, authorities have concentrated more on reaching out to the rank-and-file of the group. This has been the case particularly since the elections this April. The new governor of Borno State (where Maiduguri is and where many of the recent attacks have occurred), Kashim Shettima, has proposed extending an amnesty to members of Boko Haram, in which militants would lay down their weapons in exchange for government-led efforts to address their grievances. Shettima believes that the problem required a political solution, and that force alone will not work. Governor Shettima recently emphasized education reform as a way to address the group’s grievances. This may appear ironic in light of Boko Haram’s well-known rejection of Western education, but Shettima’s logic is that improving education will help reduce poverty and thereby reduce the potential constituency for the group.
Boko Haram rejected the amnesty offer and has continued its attacks, but the idea continues to circulate, including at the federal level. In New York last week, President Goodluck Jonathan spoke of a “carrots-and-sticks approach” to Boko Haram. This Day elaborates, writing, “This involves an amnesty package for the group as well as strengthening security in the area to end the on-going blood-letting in the zone…To set the ball rolling, THISDAY gathered that the government will reinvigorate its intelligence gathering method to be able to nip in the bud further incidence of bombings in the area.”
The proponents of amnesty and other reforms, including Jonathan and Shettima, refer explicitly to the amnesty program in the Niger Delta, where militant groups have threatened oil production and clashed with security forces for years, as a model. The amnesty there succeeded in reducing violence for a time, but it has drawn its share of critics, including former militants who charge that the government has not fulfilled its promises to educate and re-train them. Some observers are equally skeptical of the amnesty proposals for Boko Haram.
As the government experiments with new ideas and attempts to refine its use of force, it faces criticism, especially from the press. Today’s editorial in Next attacks President Jonathan personally, and calls for “finding perpetrators of violence and bringing them to book” – a statement that reads to me as a call for mass arrests in the North. Next compares the situation in the North to the situation in the Niger Delta, but as a lament, not a model: “Boko Haram has quickly replaced the Nigeria Delta militants as the major crisis facing our nation’s people.” Domestic and international pressure on Nigeria’s state and federal authorities is increasing, making policymakers’ jobs even more difficult. Experiments with carrots and sticks will receive a great deal of scrutiny.
June 12, 2011 6 Comments
Northeastern Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement rejects Western-style education, seeks a stronger role for Islam in law and politics, and views the Nigerian state as illegitimate and as an enemy. The group emerged in the 2002-2004 period, when journalists dubbed it the “Nigerian Taliban.” It became infamous in July 2009, when members reacted to perceived persecution by police and launched an attack on police in several states. After a military crackdown that left many members as well as founder Muhammad Yusuf dead, the group lay dormant for a time. But since the fall of 2010, Boko Haram has caused havoc in Maiduguri and elsewhere in the Northeast, conducting assassinations (against police, politicians, and rival Islamic leaders), bombings (including bombings around the time of President Goodluck Jonathan’s May 29 inauguration), and small raids on police stations (more of which occurred last week).
In this post, I look at what Boko Haram hopes to accomplish through violence. My answers are only guesses – so much remains unknown about Boko Haram about Boko Haram and its thinking that it’s hard to do more than look at the movement from the outside and try to identify clues as to its strategies and goals. In Part II, I’ll consider how the government is reacting to the violence.
Probing State Weakness, Targeting Enemies
Boko Haram’s uprisings in 2004 and 2009 failed. The group suffered major casualties, lost its leader, and found that in open battle it was no match for state security forces. But since 2009, as Bloomberg points out, “Boko Haram has shown a more targeted approach.” One analyst elaborates:
“Boko Haram’s strategic focus is to attack institutions of the state to discredit it,” Jude Uzonwanne, Nigeria strategist for Monitor Group, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based investment advisory company, said in a telephone interview on Feb. 10. “They’re likely to intensify the attacks as the elections come closer and it becomes a guessing game how it will end.”
The elections are over, but the violence hasn’t ended yet. Boko Haram’s shift to guerrilla tactics – especially bomb attacks and drive-by shootings conducted by two-man motorcycle teams – suggests it has adopted a long-term strategy of undermining state authority by exposing the state’s limitations. The group still carries out raids, but it has not attempted a large uprising in nearly two years. The new leadership appears to have some degree of patience. Picking off targets and launching regular attacks has the effect of broadcasting the group’s anger, seizing headlines, and heightening people’s uneasiness regarding the actions, or inaction, of elected leaders and security forces. Whether this strategy has increased recruitment for the group is hard to tell, but if nothing else ordinary people in Northeastern Nigeria must now be keenly aware of Boko Haram’s power.
In addition to directing violence at the state, Boko Haram kills Muslim leaders. Assassins have murdered imams and religious personages of various theological stripes, from relatives of the Shehu of Borno (a symbol of the Islamic establishment) to hardline reformist clerics who are themselves anti-establishment. The common thread in these killings is Boko Haram’s desire to silence critics and dominate the field of Islamic discourse in the Northeast. Most of the imams Boko Haram has shot have publicly spoken out against the group’s use of violence. It is possible that Boko Haram is especially keen to assassinate so-called “Wahhabis” whose theological positions are relatively close to Boko Haram’s but who criticize the group; such figures perhaps represent the greatest threat to Boko Haram’s religious credibility. The debates between Boko Haram and its opponents are a reminder of how pluralist the ideological and religious landscape is in Muslim countries (for an example of a religious debate on violence that occurs in a much different context, that of Saudi Arabia, see here and here). In any case, Boko Haram’s killings of imams seem calculated to deter any Muslim leader whatsoever from speaking against the group.
Increasingly, Boko Haram’s violence risks triggering broader Christian-Muslim violence. Recent anti-Christian violence in the North, such as attacks on a Christian pastor and several churches have ratcheted up the rhetoric in the South:
An Anglican Bishop, Rt Rev. Owen Nwokolo has motioned religious fundamentalists in the north that the south would begin reprisal attacks against northerners in their midst if the current spate of killings of innocent southerners in the north continues.
The longer Boko Haram’s campaign of violence continues, the greater the risk that other groups will take up arms as well. This increases pressure on state and federal governments to respond. That response will be the topic of my next post.
June 3, 2011 Leave a comment
Amidst all of the talk about bin Laden’s death and succession, there is growing interest in the main-stream conversation in the younger generation of al-Qaeda leaders who, for all intents and purposes, have increasingly been the group’s public face for the past several years. In that vein, al-Wasat contributor Chris Anzalone has a really fantastic piece over at Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel looking at this new generation, with a focus on Abu Yahya al-Libi, Khalid bin ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Husaynan, ‘Attiyatullah al-Libi, and Anwar al-Awlaki. Here’s how it starts, but the whole piece is well-worth your time:
In the aftermath of the U.S. military’s killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden last month, analysts and presumably Al-Qaeda Central (AQC) are heavily engaged in discussions about possible successors to the Saudi militant as the new public face of the transnational jihadi trend, with sources reporting recently that Egyptian Saif al-Adel had been named the group’s “interim” leader. Yet the intense focus on who will be the “new bin Laden” glosses over the important fact that al-Qaeda has over the past several years developed a charismatic and influential cadre of scholar-ideologues who play a major role in legitimating the group’s campaign of violence and calling on Muslims to join or support it, a role made more important by the confusion that has resulted in jihadi circles from bin Laden’s death.
In an attempt to overcome the deficit of religious legitimacy in the senior levels of al-Qaeda and other militant groups, these organizations rely heavily on this cadre of ideologues, figures who possess some scholarly credentials (though the exact nature of these credentials is often left ambiguous). They combine some intellectual bona fides with personal charisma and rhetorical flare and serve as a kind of “missionary vanguard” for AQC and its sister groups. Chief among this group are AQC’s “mufti” (chief religious jurist), Abu Yahya al-Libi, the Kuwaiti preacher Khalid bin ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Husaynan, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-affiliated (AQAP) American militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, and Libyan ‘Atiyyatullah al-Libi, who some counter-terrorism officials have described as AQC’s “operations chief.”