This article was originally published by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) on 7 November 2016.
The so-called Islamic State (IS) is the most innovative terrorist group the world has seen. In the backdrop of its loss on the ground, IS is expanding its cyber capabilities to conduct more cyber-attacks and hacking. This and its migration into the ‘darknet’ will make IS more dangerous than before.
TERRORIST AND non-state actors have used different modes and mediums to spread their message and communicate with their comrades. The dawn of the Internet has also provided such groups with unparalleled opportunities to establish communications and operational links that were not possible before. Starting from websites, terrorist groups moved to more interactive mediums like chatrooms and forums. It was social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter that truly revolutionised how militants, terrorists and non-state actors communicated with each other, recruited sympathisers and supporters and disseminated their propaganda.
Courtesy Nicolas Raymond/flickr
This article was originally published by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) on 30 August 2016.
Gravely affected by the Syrian crisis, Lebanon has managed to remain relatively stable against all odds – despite the influx of some 1.5 million Syrian refugees and internal political crisis involving actors who support opposing Syrian factions. Lebanon’s resilience can be explained by the high opportunity cost of state breakdown for domestic, regional and international political actors. Moreover, international economic assistance, diaspora remittances and informal networks established by refugees help to prevent outright economic breakdown. Yet, stability remains extremely precarious. Important tipping points include (1) the IS strategy of spreading the conflict to Lebanon, and the consequent disintegration of the army along sectarian lines, (2) democratic decline and popular dissatisfaction, (3) Hizbullah’s domestic ambitions and Israeli fears over the group’s growing military power and (4) the potential for frustration between refugees and host communities turning into recurrent violence. However, (5) the slow economic decline and the worsening sanitary conditions stand out as the greatest challenges.
This article was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) on 19 July 2016.
The U.S. must recognize the risk a NATO ally may become a safe haven for al Qaeda as Erdogan consolidates power.
The failed coup attempt by elements of the Turkish Armed Forces on July 15 will enable President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to establish himself as an authoritarian ruler in Turkey. His priorities in the next few months will be to solidify the loyalty of the Turkish military establishment and complete the constitutional reform necessary to replace Turkey’s parliamentary democracy with an executive presidency, his longstanding goal. A post-coup Erdogan is much less likely to submit to American pressure without major returns. Erdogan immediately demanded the extradition of political rival Fethullah Gulen from the U.S., accusing Gulen of plotting the coup and condemning the U.S. for harboring him. Erdogan will likely deprioritize the fight against ISIS, undermining the counter-ISIS mission in Syria, as he focuses on consolidating power. He may even revoke past concessions to the U.S., including permission to use Turkey’s Incirlik airbase for counter-ISIS operations.
Erdogan has more dangerous options now that his rule is secure, however. A partnership with al Qaeda could grant him a powerful proxy force to achieve national security objectives without relying on the Turkish Military. American policymakers must recognize the dangerous possibility Erdogan will knowingly transform Turkey into the next Pakistan in pursuit of his own interests.
Boko Haram Acryl Painting, courtesy Debora Bogaerts/flickr
This interview transcript was originally published by the Harvard International Review on 19 February 2016.
Looking at other terrorist groups that we have seen, what makes the command structure of ISIS different from Al-Qaeda or others?
I do not think that it is that different. I think that because in several iterations it is a variant of Al-Qaeda to begin with, it has a very similar structure as Al-Qaeda. It has the same sort of melding of theological justification with operational command, finance, outreach, media. I think the problem that we are finding with this decade as opposed to the previous one is that the learning curve of terrorist groups has shrunk, and in that sense, Baghdadi [of ISIS] has been able to put together an operational structure that perhaps has existed with other groups. So, as facile and unsophisticated as governance by ISIS over the territory it controls may be, it is still governing them even though it has had no preparation. These people are not trained bureaucrats, with the exception of some former Saddamists, but Baghdadi has learned from the mistakes of previous terrorist groups, which has made the group more formidable.
MILK Militants laying prone, courtesy Keith Kristoffer Bacongco/WikimediaCommons
This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 23 February 2016.
Judging from the Islamic State’s propaganda, it would appear the group is rapidly overtaking the Muslim world. The Islamic State has declared wilayats (provinces) in ten countries spanning from Nigeria to the Caucasus region. It has executed high-profile attacks in several otherwise stable countries, including Tunisia, Turkey, Kuwait, France, and the United States. The group has championed its victories and downplayed its defeats at every turn, portraying itself as a military behemoth destined to restore the caliphate to its former glory. In short, the Islamic State would like the world — and especially prospective recruits — to believe it is “remaining and expanding” (baqiya wa tatamaddad), a slogan that defines the group’s propaganda.
Yet in reality, between state security forces and rival jihadist groups, the Islamic State has encountered one serious obstacle after another as it has tried to expand its presence beyond Syria and Iraq. Several of its nascent affiliates met decisive defeat. In some places, the Islamic State has been its own worst enemy, as personality clashes and disagreements over strategy created deep cleavages.