Map of Europe in flames, courtesy geralt/pixabay
This article was originally published by The European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) on 4 May 2016.
As an international actor, the EU can expect to win enemies as well as admirers. Two recent terrorist attacks in close succession – the first targeting an EU military mission in Bamako, the second in the ‘EU quarter’ in Brussels – seemingly confirm this. They also lend weight to the argument that if member states want the EU to be a robust international actor, they must give it the counterterrorist powers to protect itself. But is the EU facing a classic terrorist logic of action-and-reprisal and, if not, what exactly is the EU’s risk profile?
A player and a pole
On 22 March, bombs were detonated in the public area of Brussels Zaventem airport, raising concerns about the vulnerability of Europe’s interconnected infrastructure networks – a particular preoccupation of the European Commission. Already last year, the Thalys train was the subject of two terror scares, showing that Islamists are ready to disrupt Europe’s transport systems. Now it has emerged that the perpetrators may have been eyeing harder infrastructure targets across Europe, including such critical infrastructure as nuclear power plants.
Another bombing occurred in Brussels that day, in a metro station serving the EU quarter. Although at least one of the attackers had been employed in an EU institution (as a cleaner) there is no evidence that the terrorists were directly targeting EU buildings or personnel. But, as Islamist media feeds now boast about having ‘attacked the heart of Europe’, the seed of an idea may well have been planted. Indeed, there are indications that the terrorists had been scoping the city’s diplomatic buildings (choosing the metro only because of the crowds and softness of the target).
Portrait of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, courtesy thierry ehrmann/flickr
This article was originally published by the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) on 5 May 2016.
Former Baathists—members of the Baath Party that ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein—including army and security officers, are today the most influential figures in the Islamic State (IS). The opportunism and ideological ambiguity of the former regime elements (FRE) make them ruthless tacticians who use torture and intimidation, but they should also be seen as a potential Achilles heel of the IS. The EU, together with the United States, needs to cooperate on political intelligence in order to examine the possibilities and conditions for weakening IS by bargaining with some of its key members.
Origins of Cooperation between Baathists and Jihadists
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority embarked on the “de-baathification” of Iraq, a process that aimed to remove senior Baath Party members from the country’s institutions and political system. More than 400,000 members of the defeated Iraqi Armed Forces (IAF) were dismissed and barred from further employment in the government sector, while being allowed to keep their weapons. In the faltering economy, dominated by the public sector, de-baathification meant social exclusion or at least a sudden deprivation of privileges that the elite had become used to over decades. Some of them formed local insurgent forces, and later joined the rising jihadist groups including Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which in 2006 established the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (today’s IS). To a large extent this cooperation resulted from discriminatory policies of the Shiah prime minister Nouri al-Maliki (2006–2014), who persecuted former officials and marginalised the entire Sunni population.
What united the FRE and the jihadists was the common enemy, the United States and Maliki’s government, rather than ideology. Even during the Faith Campaign (Hussein’s shift towards Islam in the 90s) Baath Party members lived relatively secular lives. Despite different ideological backgrounds, the common enemies and shared desire for power led to a strong synthesis of the jihadists and the ex-Baathists. The degree to which this occurred can be illustrated by the fact that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the current leader of IS, was elected to the position in 2010 owing to the support of a former intelligence colonel, Samir al-Khlifawi, who subsequently cleansed the IS management and replenished it with further FRE.
Graffiti image of the nuclear scream, courtesy lonelysherpa/Flickr
This article was originally published by RSIS on 12 April 2016.
The recent Nuclear Security Summit 2016 in Washington DC highlighted the pervasive threat of nuclear terrorism, for which governments see the need to commit more resources and prioritise the issue as a primary national security agenda.
Since the biennial Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) ended its 2016 instalment in the United States, stakeholders and policy analysts are left searching for an equivalent high-level platform with the same mission. The critical role to enhance nuclear security has expanded with the threat of nuclear terrorism growing. Investigative works on the recent attacks in Paris and Brussels highlighted that terrorist organisations could be after radiological materials that will enable them to construct a crude nuclear bomb.
During the nongovernmental experts meeting of the NSS, Argentine ambassador Rafael Mariano Grossi mentioned that, unlike nuclear safety which has established quantitative guidelines, nuclear security requires variable policing efforts that are difficult to agree upon at the international level. Instruments such as the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT) have not been universally adopted, and could therefore pose a challenge in dealing with terrorism that is global in nature. As such, initiatives to deal with the threats of nuclear terrorism have been mostly adopted at the national level.
A ‘JIHAD’ tag on a red wall. Courtesy Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr
This article was originally published by the Oxford Research Group in February 2016.
In an attempt to understand the psychology of the West’s adversaries in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, this briefing asks the question, what does the wider world look like when seen from within the Islamic State group? Setting to one side the enormous political and economic deficiencies of the ‘host’ countries of the Middle East, it examines some of the contemporary and historic perceptions of the West’s relations with the Islamic and Arab worlds, and how these may have influenced IS strategy, particularly its 2015 shift from territorial expansion to attacks on and within Western states.
Al-Qaida has now been largely superseded by the so-called Islamic State (IS) and the new movement is proving to be uncomfortably resilient. In such circumstances it is a useful analytical tool to visualise how the world might appear from an IS perspective. This can all too easily prove controversial because it appears to give more credibility to a brutal and uncompromising movement than it even remotely deserves. Even so, it has a value and is an approach that should not be dismissed if one wants to try and understand the reasons for the resilience and use such reasoning to aid in developing policies that are more likely to ensure its decline.
This briefing seeks to do just that, and takes as an example the view of the world as it might be seen through the eyes of an utterly convinced supporter of the movement in Raqqa, the movement’s de facto capital in northern Syria, who might be engaged in the planning of its operations.
Pallets of 155 mm artillery shells containing “HD” mustard gas, courtesy US Government/wikimedia
This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies on 4 April 2016.
On 18 February, Moroccan police reportedly found chemical or biological agents while raiding a ‘safe house’ linked to Daesh in the province of El Jadida, on the Atlantic coast. It is presumed that the agents, possibly toxins, were intended for terrorist purposes.
Investigations are currently underway, spearheaded by the Moroccan Ministry of Interior’s Direction Générale de la Surveillance du Territoire. Official information remains scarce, but if confirmed, the discovery of a terrorist plot using chemical or biological weapons would mark a new milestone as extremists resort to more lethal and more devastating weapons, to spread violence with maximum casualties and the highest impact.
This development is not a surprise. Jihadist literature has, for a while, called for the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction – encouraging the production of ricin, botulinum and sarin. (An example of this can be found in the third edition of the magazine disseminated by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.)