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The Maple Leaf Mujahideen: The Rise of the Canadian Jihadi Movement

Image courtesy of Urban Seed Education/Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This article was originally published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) on 1 September 2017.

Though seldom mentioned in the same breath as prolific Western jihadi producers such as France, Germany, and Belgium, Canada has a long and often overlooked history of producing jihadists. From the “Millennium Bomber” and the “Toronto 18” to the “Ottawa 3” and the “Calgary cluster,” jihadis have organized on Canadian soil to carry out attacks, both in-country and around the world. While Canadians have fought on jihadi battlefields as far flung as Afghanistan and Syria, their government has failed to implement comprehensive counterterrorism and deradicalization measures. Lagging far behind its Western allies, Canada implemented its first counterterrorism strategy in 2012 and has yet to create a desperately needed nationwide deradicalization program. The rise of ISIS and lone wolf attacks has increased the need for these reforms.

Though the United States has a Muslim population over triple the size of that of its northern neighbor, the two countries have seen an approximately equal number of their citizens join the Islamic State (see Graph 1 below). Canada is more similar to Italy and Switzerland—European countries far closer to the Islamic State—in terms of fighters sent in relation to its Muslim/overall population than to the equidistant United States (see Graphs 2 and 3 below). The defeat of the territorially based Islamic State will surely herald an influx of Canadian jihadists to their home country. However, the provisions introduced in the Combating Terrorism Act of 2012 and strengthened in the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2015, which prescribe lengthy prison sentences for any citizen “knowingly participating in or contributing to any activity of a terrorist group for the purpose of enhancing the ability of any terrorist group to commit a terrorist activity,” will do a great deal to mitigate the risks from this group. The greater threat to Canada lies in the radicals who never travelled to the Islamic State, thereby making themselves known to Canadian intelligence services, but instead remain embedded amongst the Canadian population. While there are a number of potential policies that Canada could implement to help combat homegrown jihadism, this analysis posits that a more comprehensive and reformed implementation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act (CMA) and the creation of a national deradicalization program offer the two most pragmatic solutions to mitigate the threat posed by Canadian jihadis to Canada.

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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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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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The (Overblown) Concerns Linking Foreign Fighters, Civil Wars, and Terrorist Campaigns

Courtesy of thierry ehrmann/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 15 June 2017.

More than 30,000 foreign fighters from 100 countries have entered ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq since 2011. While the flow of these fighters has decreased dramatically over the past twelve months, two important concerns remain regarding foreign fighters. First, foreign fighters could radicalize rebel groups causing an escalation of violence in conflicts, lengthening their duration, and/or reducing opportunities for their resolution. Second, upon the conclusion of their participation in foreign conflicts, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks. In two articles at Research & Politics and Journal of Conflict Resolution, we suggest that both of these concerns are easily exaggerated.

Previous studies present divided evidence as to whether foreign fighters aid or undermine the rebels that they join. On the one hand, data summarizing foreign fighter participation across the period 1900 to 2006 suggest that conflicts involving foreign fighters were more likely, on average, to conclude with insurgent victory than with government victory. On the other hand, in Chechnya, the arrival of foreign fighters perverted the goals of local rebels, negatively affecting their resource and recruitment bases and losing them support within local populations.

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Boko Haram in 2016: A Highly Adaptable Foe

Courtesy of Surian Soosay/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 7 February 2017.

Significant security gains have been made in the fight against Boko Haram, but the war is far from over.

Last year marked the seventh year since Boko Haram re-merged following a heavy-handed crackdown on the group in July 2009. Since then, the outfit has employed violence in Nigeria and the surrounding region at a dizzying pace. In 2014, according to data collected by the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), it was the world’s most deadly terrorist entity.

A lot has changed in the struggle against Boko Haram since then, including the advent of operations by the Multi-National Joint Task Force and the eviction of militants from most areas of territorial control.

This past August, the movement split into two factions. Long-time leader Abubakar Shekau favours a more indiscriminate attack profile, while the new Islamic State-backed Abu Musab al-Barnawi faction prefers to engage security forces directly (such as in Bosso, Niger in June). Despite these developments, the high rate of violence perpetrated by the group remains a consistent feature.

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