The World as Seen from Raqqa

A ‘JIHAD’ tag on a red wall. Courtesy Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Oxford Research Group in February 2016.

Summary

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.

Introduction

Al-Qaida has now been largely superseded by the so-called Islamic State (IS) and the new movement is proving to be uncomfortably resilient.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.

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African Parliaments Lead the Continent’s Fight Against Weapons of Mass Destruction

Chemical Weapons

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.)

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Plans to Retake Mosul from ISIS Reveal There’s More at Stake than a City

Two Iraqi armed insurgents, courtesy Menendj/WikiMediaCommons

This article was originally published by the IPI Global Observatory on 11 March 2016.

It seems clear that pro-government forces in Iraq are preparing to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. The Islamic State (ISIS), a Sunni extremist group, captured Mosul following a series of assaults in June 2014, an offensive that ultimately resulted in an embarrassing collapse of the Iraqi Army in northern Iraq. Since then, the Iraqi government has made the recapture of Mosul a key domestic goal in its fight to reclaim its territory and reassert its control over a restive minority Sunni population. Prior to the events of 2014, the Sunnis were agitating for greater regional autonomy, akin to the political status of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and strongly against the Shiite-dominated central government.

Mosul lies at a strategic juncture between a number of groups, including the Turks, Kurds, Arab Sunnis and Persian Shiites. It is also lies in close proximity to several states and territories, including Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and the autonomous northern KRG. Which party controls this city is a significant determinant for all of these regional powers when considering their border security and foreign policy.

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This is Your Jihad on Drugs

Cache of weapons and drugs in Daykundi province, courtesy ResoluteSupportMedia/flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 7 March 2016.

Santa Claus is commonly imagined as a jolly, benevolent figure who delivers presents to deserving children all over the world. However, another version of Santa Claus exists in the organized crime underworld of Belgium where a Moroccan named Khalid Zerkani is commonly known as “Papa Noel.” Before his arrest, Zerkani would routinely handout money and presents to at-risk youth in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, luring them into his organization. Unlike ordinary organized crime groups that engage in illegal activities for personal enrichment, Zerkani’s group used its criminal proceeds to finance trips of recruits from Europe to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). One notorious recruit of Zerkani’s was Abdelhamid Abaaoud — the ringleader of the Paris terrorist attacks.

The link between crime, radicalism, and ISIL has only recently come into greater focus. Oil smuggling, extortion, and sex trafficking in ISIL-controlled territory are well-known, yet other crimes like drug production, trafficking, and consumption are not. It is important to better understand drug use and the drugs trade because both are helping ISIL commit atrocities and wage its campaign of terror. Viewing ISIL and other jihadist groups as mere collections of drug-crazed fanatics, however, would be a caricature. Organizations like ISIL use drugs for tactical, operational, and strategic reasons that are historically consistent with the behavior of other violent groups in the past. It is worth considering drug consumption within ISIL and other jihadist groups as we consider how to fight them.

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Is the Illegal Trade in Congolese Minerals Financing Terror?

Conflict Mineral Democratic Republic of the Congo, courtesy RSN_3230/flickr

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 2 March 2016.

Many resource-rich states across the globe have used revenues from mining to finance their development. In Africa, however, a lack of sufficiently robust or effectively enforced regulatory systems often means that states lose vast amounts to the illicit trade of natural resources.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the scourge of illegal resource acquisition and smuggling has been taking on a new dimension with terrorist groups becoming increasingly involved.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) is currently conducting a research project that tracks illicit financial flows related to resource extraction in the DRC.

Our studies have found that where multinationals were once the major players, terror groups are now increasingly joining the criminal networks that extort minerals from the eastern part of the country. This underscores the need for urgent and drastic measures to improve natural resource governance, both in the DRC and the broader region.

According to a 2009 report in African Business magazine, the total mineral wealth of the DRC is estimated to be about US$24 trillion: equal to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Europe and the United States combined. The country is home to the world’s largest reserves of cobalt, along with vast quantities of diamonds; so-called 3T minerals (tin, tungsten and coltan – which are mostly used in electronics such as laptops and mobile phones); gold; copper and others.

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