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Al-Shabaab Holds its Ground against Somalia’s Amnesty Deal

Image courtesy of Surian Soosay/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 4 August 2017.

Most al-Shabaab members refused Farmajo’s offer – he must now defeat the group within two years as promised.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmajo) has employed a classic carrot-and-stick approach to al-Shabaab since taking office in February. In early April, Farmajo announced a 60-day amnesty for al-Shabaab militants, while also offering to open discussions with the movement’s leadership.

At the same time, he noted that Somalia was in a state of war, and promised to eradicate within two years those who didn’t take advantage of his offer to surrender. With the presumed expiration of that amnesty, it is clear which path most of al-Shabaab has chosen, but what is less clear is the Somali government’s ability to respond.

The provision of an amnesty was not a novel concept, as it followed on similar offers by previous Somali governments. With the election of the popular, less clan-inclined, and seemingly incorruptible Farmajo, however, there was some speculation that there may be a genuine opportunity for engagement with al-Shabaab. At an official level this was quickly squashed by top al-Shabaab leaders.

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Marketing to Extremists: Waging War in Cyberspace

This article was originally published by the Small Wars Journal on 9 July 2017.

Online, the Islamic State is a technologically savvy, sophisticated, and nimble organization that learns from its mistakes and from the actions of the Western intelligence services and NGOs that have sought to counter it. It is no secret that past and current efforts to reach potential terrorists before they can become radicalized and committed to a path of jihad and terrorism have proved inadequate. To use the language of online marketers, countering ISIS’s online activities will require quality content disseminated on a massive scale, with careful product placement. Placing counter-messaging products into platforms and forums that extremists frequent will increase the chances of potential terrorist recruits coming into contact with narratives outside of ISIS’ control.

ISIS’s cyber efforts have paid off; the FBI told Congress in July 2016 that “the message of radicalization spreads faster than we imagined just a few years ago.”[i] The number of foreigners who have been inspired by the Islamic State’s online propaganda to travel to Syria and Iraq (or elsewhere) and participate in the fighting is unclear, but most estimates place the tally at more than 20,000. Others have been set on the path of radicalization by ISIS’s online propaganda and have become “lone wolf” attackers in the United States or in Europe.[ii] Demographically speaking, the people who ISIS is most interested in targeting for recruitment came of age in the twenty-first century as “digital natives”; they have lived their entire lives surrounded by ubiquitous online communications and have embraced it in technologically sophisticated ways.[iii] ISIS knows how to appeal to these potential jihadis. Reaching them with counter-messages will require a sophisticated and multi-faceted approach.

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ISIS’s Global Campaign Remains Intact

Image courtesy of Surian Soosay/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by the Institute for the Study War on 12 July 2017.

ISIS’s first attack in Iran punctuated two stark realities: the group’s annual Ramadan campaign is alive while the US-led anti-ISIS campaign is on a path to failure. ISIS surges attacks every year during Ramadan in order to gain or increase momentum in its global campaign to maintain its declared caliphate, expand across the Muslim world, and win an apocalyptic war with the West. ISIS has conducted successful attacks in three new countries this year – the United Kingdom, the Philippines, and Iran – and will likely pull off more before the Muslim holy month is over. The jihadist group has sustained a global insurgency despite the considerable military pressure it faces in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS has been waging its global campaign in four separate “rings” since 2014. First, ISIS is defending and attempting to remain in and expand its territorial control in its “core terrain” in Syria and Iraq. Second, ISIS seeks to weaken the Middle East’s power centers of Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Third, ISIS is expanding in other Muslim majority countries through attack networks and, when possible, ground operations. Fourth, ISIS is conducting spectacular attacks in the non-Muslim majority world, or the “far abroad,” in order to polarize those communities and radicalize their minority Muslim populations. ISIS’s Ramadan surges set conditions in these rings, varying its main effort based on its circumstances and the capabilities in Iraq and Syria and of its networks abroad.

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“Diaspora as Partners”: The Canadian Model of Countering Violent Extremism

Image courtesy of Danielle Scott/Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 5 July 2017.

The truck attack on a mosque two weeks ago in Finsbury Park, London, represented two disturbing recent trends in terrorism. First, the manner of attack: There have been six major truck attacks in Western nations since December of last year—Nice, the Berlin Christmas Market, London Bridge, Westminster, Stockholm, and Finsbury Park. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are scrambling to find an answer to these kinds of attacks. Second, the profiles of the terrorists: The perpetrators have largely been either citizens or permanent residents from within the societies they attack.

Increasingly, the danger to a community or a country comes from inside rather than outside its borders. The solution favored by far right politicians and their supporters worldwide is to mitigate the risk of attack by preventing the movement and settlement of Muslims in western nations. However, most terrorism experts agree that this does not address the problem and is in many ways counter-productive.

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Lone-Actor vs Remote-Controlled Jihadi Terrorism: Rethinking the Threat to the West

Courtesy of James/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 20 April 2017.

At approximately 2:40 in the afternoon of March 22nd, British-born Khalid Masood — a violent criminal who had previously been investigated by MI5 for links to extremists — deliberately drove into pedestrians making their way across Westminster Bridge. He killed a mother on her way to collect her children from school, a pensioner, and two tourists. After crashing the rented vehicle into the gates of Parliament, Masood ran into New Palace Yard and stabbed an unarmed policeman to death before being shot and killed by plainclothes officers. In contrast to other recent attacks in Western nations, which have frequently (sometimes incorrectly) been labeled acts of “lone-actor” terrorism, Masood’s assault was followed by a volley of articles with titles such as “Remote-Control Terror,” “Don’t Bet on London Attacker Being a Lone Wolf,” and “The Myth of the ‘Lone Wolf’ Terrorist.” Analysts were keen to point out that “lone-actors” are very rarely truly alone and that instead they tend to emerge from within broader, extremist milieus. Moreover, what sometimes seems like lone-actor terrorism at first glance turns out to be connected to, if not directed by, foreign terrorist organizations. Yet the official word on Masood is that, regardless of his associations, he acted “wholly alone.” To accurately understand the nature of terrorism today, patient, measured analysis and consistent use of terminology are necessary. It is therefore important to re-examine the concept of lone-actor terrorism and to try and appreciate where it fits within the overall spectrum of jihadist terrorist activity in the West.

Many, if not most “lone-actor” jihadists (including Masood), are indeed connected to other extremists and terrorists in some shape or form. Such connections have been greatly facilitated by the growth of social media and encrypted communication applications, which have also enabled the rise of virtual “planners” or “entrepreneurs” and so-called “remote-controlled” or “enabled” attacks, such as those in Würzburg and Ansbach, Germany, in July last year. Moreover, the number of jihadists with bona fide connections to foreign terrorist organizations, including training and combat experience abroad, has risen sharply since the outbreak of conflict in Syria and Iraq. Western security services are currently bracing for a potential surge in the number of returning foreign fighters. » More

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