Saudi Arabia, Syria and Bin Laden’s Ghost

Rebels from the Justice Brigade

This article was originally published by the Middle East Institute on 14 February 2014.

Osama bin Laden may be dead, but his ghost was in Riyadh the other day, hovering over Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah as he issued a decree making it a crime for any Saudi citizen to take part in a war outside the kingdom.

The obvious motivator was the civil war in Syria, where hundreds of young Saudis have been spotted in the ranks of the most radical jihadi groups battling both the government and other less extreme rebels. But the roots of the king’s action, and the problem it was designed to address, can be traced to the 1980s war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. » More

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The New Face of Terrorism

Mokhtar Belmokhtar graffiti

Photo: thierry ehrmann/Wikimedia Commons.

The denial that seems to have characterized most of American and European leaders’ assessment of the status of al Qaeda over the last three years seems to be over. Last week two of America’s top intelligence officials openly stated before Congress that the group is morphing, franchising and expanding its reach globally. Similarly, John Sawers, the head of MI6, recently told the British Parliament that “We are having to deal with al Qaeda emerging and multiplying in a whole new range of countries. There is no doubt at all that the threat is rising.”

These assessments are completely different from the tunes heard just a year ago on both sides of the Atlantic. The narrative touting al Qaeda’s demise took shape in Western capitals in early 2011. The first months of the so-called Arab Spring made Western observers swoon with hope at the sight of thousands of demonstrators throughout the Arab world fighting for democracy and adopting none of al Qaeda’s ideas and slogans. Al Qaeda’s message, they argued, had been defeated and the democracies that would rise from the ashes of the authoritarian regimes of Mubarak, Ben Ali, and Ghaddafi would push Arabs and Muslims further away from it. » More

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Geopolitical Considerations of the NATO-Colombia Cooperation Agreement

Colombian Navy

Photo: Cristianmed230/Wikimedia Commons.

In June 2013, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Colombia signed a security cooperation agreement aimed at exchanging intelligence information in order to improve the capabilities on both sides of the Atlantic to face common threats, particularly transnational crime.  This accord was sent to the Colombian Congress in September and, at the time of writing, is still awaiting ratification. It should be noted that this accord has weathered criticism, in particular from several Latin American leaders who regard it as a potential NATO “beachhead” into Latin America. The objective of this article is to place this agreement into the proper context of Latin American geopolitical and geosecurity affairs.

The Agreement

The Security of Information Agreement between Colombia and NATO was signed on June 25, 2013 between NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow and Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno. The goal is to strengthen security relations between the Alliance and the South American nation.

According to media reports, Bogotá will provide the Alliance with its experience in combating drug trafficking and international terrorism, while “Colombia will allegedly receive intelligence information from NATO, as well as gain access to best practices in relation to transparency, humanitarian operations, and strengthening the army.” In September 2013, the Colombian Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs sent a bill to the Colombian congress to ratify the Bogotá-NATO accord. The document highlights how “an objective of Colombia is to strengthen cooperation with multilateral organizations and nations […] to guide the future vision of the Colombian armed forces.” Hence, closer relations with NATO are strongly encouraged. » More

Hamas and Hezbollah Agree to Disagree on Syria

Graffiti displaying the word “Hamas”. Photo: Soman/Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s Note: This article is included in our ‘Conflict Hotspots 2014’ dossier which can be accessed here .

Born of a common struggle against Israel and nourished by common benefactors in Syria and Iran, Sunni Hamas and Shiite Hezbollah have long been natural allies despite their sectarian differences. Ever since the early 1990s, when Israel exiled Hamas’ leadership to Lebanon, the two groups have cultivated an alliance that has shaped the Middle East’s balance of power for decades.

But the crisis in Syria has ruptured the old “axis of resistance,” with regional forces giving the two organizations opposing stakes in the conflict and bringing unprecedented tension to their relationship. While Hezbollah fighters have fought and died for Bashar al-Assad in some of the civil war’s fiercest battles, Hamas has thrown in its lot with the rebels and retreated deeper into the embrace of Sunni Islamist powers in the region. » More

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Banks, Authorities, and CTF: A Missed Opportunity and Security Weakness

Wallet and Credit Cards

Photo: United States Navy/Wikimedia Commons.

A recent ISN blog by Owen Frazer highlighted the implications of the post-9/11 ‘Financial War on Terror’ for civil society groups as they grapple with the vulnerability global authorities believe they represent in the struggle against terrorism. But there is a third, critical party in this field that is not often contemplated from a security perspective, namely the Financial Services Industry (‘FSI’).

Following 9/11, the first step of the Bush administration’s ‘War on Terror’ was to sign Executive Order 13224, which aimed to launch ‘a strike on the financial foundation of the global terror network’ in order to ‘starve the terrorists of funding.’ This assault was led by the Financial Action Task Force (‘FATF’), a body originally set up in 1989 to co-ordinate a global response to the laundering of drug money through the banking system. Adding counter-terrorist financing (CTF) to the mandate of the FATF seemed logical at the time, and the Task Force expanded its original 40 Recommendations to include 9 Special Recommendations focused on CTF.  These additional recommendations were recently revised and amalgamated to create a new set of 40 Special Recommendations. In effect, this regime has led global authorities to delegate the frontline implementation of CTF policies to the FSI. » More

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