Why can’t British intelligence services locate Isil hostages?

The Big Question: why has the UK so far been unable to find the suspected British Islamic State killer and the group’s hostages?
Alan Henning

Alan Henning Photo: PA

“We don’t know where he is. Obviously, if we knew where he was, we would be able to look at all sorts of options but we don’t know where he is.”

This unusually candid statement by British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, brought into sharp relief the relative impotence of the West in dealing with Islamic State militants who are holding a number of hostages.

Videos showing the murder of three men, two Americans and one British, have recently been released by the group. A fourth, Alan Henning, a British national, faces the same fate.

Hammond noted that “we are doing everything that we can to protect him”. But without reliable intelligence his options are limited. British and US special forces are highly capable, but their operations must be targeted with precision.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s recent exposures suggested to many that GCHQ and the NSA would be able to deliver such precision. Hitherto, they have not. Continue reading

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Where does the Islamic State’s fetish with beheading people come from?

Terror group’s tactics create fear out of all proportion to its military size
An IS militant with a man purported to be US journalist Steven Sotloff, in a still from the group's video

An IS militant with a man purported to be US journalist Steven Sotloff, in a still from the group’s video

Why does the Islamic State engage in beheadings and crucifixions? Of course, the practice of beheading is invoked in the Koran, but only the most extreme Islamic militants carry it out in the modern day.

We might identify three parts to this. First, psychological warfare is a key part of the Islamic State’s military strategy. Even where outnumbered, as they were in Mosul in June, the Islamic State’s fighters have used their reputation for terror to dissuade Iraqi forces from ever seeking battle. Which poorly paid soldier wishes to risk decapitation, impalement, or amputation for the sake of a distant, crumbling government? Fear is a uniquely effective weapon. Continue reading

The Balkanization of Al Qaeda

The "black flag of jihad" as used by...

The “black flag of jihad” as used by various Islamic terrorist organizations (since the late 1990s) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charles E. Berger   February 21, 2014

This month, Al Qaeda officially disenfranchised one of its affiliates, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In fact, ISIS is now in open warfare with al Nusra Front, another Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. These events reveal an Al Qaeda more Balkanized than unified. They also undermine the generally accepted view of a global Al Qaeda network expanding its reach. As opposed to a single organization bound by a common ideology, we should view the Al Qaeda network for what it is: a loose coalition of separate terrorist groups with their own individual causes. Our current strategy to defeat the Al Qaeda network by countering its ideology will likely fail. These other groups will continue on, perhaps under different names, long after Al Qaeda is militarily defeated.

The Obama administration’s 2011 National Strategy for Counterterrorism distanced itself from Bush’s “Global War on Terrorism” by accurately describing terrorism as a tactic, not an enemy. The enemy is now defined as Al Qaeda core (the organization established by Osama Bin Laden now largely located in Pakistan), its affiliates (other groups aligned with Al Qaeda) and its adherents. “Adherents” includes individuals who are inspired to take action based on the ideology of Al Qaeda. Adherents includes any terrorist or group who claims to share Al Qaeda’s ideology, leading to the conclusion the only way to defeat such a networked organization is to destroy this one common link—the ideology. While terrorist organizations can be destroyed and individuals can be imprisoned or killed, it is unlikely that we will ever achieve victory defined as stamping out an objectionable creed.

Terrorist groups are paramilitary organizations and behave as rational actors. Their strategies are directed specific political end states, or “causes.” While a group’s end state and ideology are related, they are not synonymous. For example, Al Qaeda and the Palestinian group Hamas share similar Islamist ideologies, but their end states are completely different. Likewise, the causes of most of the Al Qaeda’s affiliates are regional, differing from Al Qaeda core’s focus on the West. When these groups assume the Al Qaeda moniker, they anticipate a predictable counterterrorism response from the United States; however they do so to attract funds, recruits and media attention. Continue reading

The New Mastermind of Jihad

A recently freed Islamist thinker has long advocated small-scale, independent acts of anti-Western terror

By DAVID SAMUELS

Mohamed Merah, the 23-year-old Islamist gunman who hunted down three Jewish children and a rabbi after murdering three French paratroopers in Toulouse last month, didn’t act alone. In his journey from the slums of Toulouse, to the local mosques, to the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan that he described to French police, to filming his murder of the terrified children in order to post video clips on the web, Mr. Merah was following a path marked out years earlier by the coldblooded jihadist theoretician Abu Musab al-Suri.

clip_image001European Pressphoto Agency

Abu Musab al-Suri, in an undated photo released by the U.S. government’s Rewards for Justice program around 2004. He’s been called ‘the most dangerous terrorist you’ve never heard of.

What is perhaps more disturbing, Mr. al-Suri was recently set free from prison in Damascus, Syria, and his current whereabouts are unknown. Turned over to Syria after his capture by the CIA in late 2005, Mr. al-Suri was released sometime in December (according to intelligence sources and jihadist websites) by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad—a move apparently intended to warn the West of the consequences for opposing his rule.

Barely noticed in the midst of Mr. Assad’s own brutal assaults on civilians, Mr. al-Suri’s release may well contribute to the emergence of more attackers like Mr. Merah in the West. “His videos are already being reuploaded. His audios, reposted,” wrote Jarret Brachman, a former CIA analyst and the former director of West Point’s Center for Combating Terrorism, in a blog post after the news of Mr. al-Suri’s release first appeared on jihadist sites.

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Pakistan-Nato Links Strained After Air Strike

NATO Regional Command South, Afghanistan insignia

Image via Wikipedia

Saturday, 26th November 2011 07:46

Pakistan is reportedly set to review all diplomatic, military and intelligence links with the US and Nato following a deadly cross-border attack on a border checkpoint.

A spokesman for Nato troops in Afghanistan has admitted that it is “highly likely” its aircraft were behind the assault on Pakistani troops while hunting insurgents near the border.

As many as 28 soldiers died and 14 others were wounded in the strike, according to reports.

The Pakistani government has responded by blocking the vital supply route for Nato troops fighting in Afghanistan.

It has also ordered the US to vacate a controversial airbase within 15 days, reports say.

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China, Pakistan boost anti-terrorism

The coat of arms of Pakistan displays the nati...

Image via Wikipedia

11:00 PM, Nov. 25, 2011  |

Written by The Associated Press

JHELUM, Pakistan — The Pakistani and Chinese attack choppers swoop low across the valley, strafing a mock terrorist hideout and a bomb-making factory. Then a joint commando team storms the camp — to the gentle applause of top brass from both nations watching from the stands.

The fact that such a drill is needed reflects a new concern troubling their long-standing alliance: Chinese militants along the Afghan border allegedly aiding separatism in China and plotting terrorist attacks there

Countries around the world, especially the U.S., share Chinese concerns about Pakistan’s militant-infested tribal regions, but few get the same kind of public commitment of help as Beijing. It’s a legacy of China’s oft-hailed “all-weather friendship” with Pakistan.

Anti-terror cooperation is the latest example of the special relationship between the neighboring countries.

China’s good will is vital to Pakistan: China is its largest defense supplier, and it has helped construct two nuclear reactors. Chinese investments help keep the Pakistani economy afloat.

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Libya’s new leader declares an Islamic state

Posted By Blake Hounshell clip_image001Sunday, October 23, 2011 – 1:07 PM

clip_image003

In February, when Libya erupted in spontaneous protests that quickly turned into an armed revolt, Muammar al-Qaddafi and his son Seif al-Islam had a ready response: This was an al Qaeda-backed uprising, a plot to install “Islamic emirates” paying homage to Osama bin Laden.

The world scoffed (especially after the Qaddafis accused the revolutionaries of a lot more outlandish things, from putting hallucinogenic drugs in their Nescafe to being simple “criminals”). These weren’t jihadist terrorists — they were ordinary Libyans seeking freedom from an evil, capricious tyrant. And their leaders were secular liberals, people like Mahmoud Jibril, Mahmoud Shammam, and Ali Tarhouni — who sold the revolution to the West and made NATO intervention politically palatable.

This narrative was challenged as it became evident that some of the best anti-Qaddafi fighters were  Islamists like the February 17 Martyrs Brigade, which was later accused by some of killing interim “defense minister” Abdel Fattah Younis. Then, when Tripoli fell in August, one of the most prominent figures to emerge was Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the bearded former emir of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

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