Archive for the ‘Islamist terror strategies’ category

Hamza bin Laden offers ‘advice for martyrdom seekers in the West’

May 13, 2017

Hamza bin Laden offers ‘advice for martyrdom seekers in the West’, Long War Journal, May 13, 2017

(Islamist terror has nothing to do with Islam; it’s workplace violence. Didn’t Hamza bin Laden listen to Imam Obama? — DM)

“If you are unable to go for American Crusaders, target the interests of the Crusader member states of NATO,” Hamza continues. “And since Russia has forgotten what it tasted in Chechnya and Afghanistan, and has returned once again to interfere in matters concerning Islam, do not exclude it from your targets of priority. Give Russia a pertinent reminder of the days of your predecessors.”

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Hamza bin Laden, the son of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, has released a new message offering “advice” for “martyrdom seekers in the West.” Hamza encourages followers to lash out on their own, but only after carefully preparing their attack so they “may inflict damage far beyond anything the enemy has ever imagined.”

As Sahab, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, released the junior bin Laden’s message less one week after a similar appeal was issued by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Qasim al Raymi. The “lone mujahid” effort was first launched by AQAP, but the group’s rivals in the Islamic State have had far more success in inspiring and guiding individual attacks since 2014. The messages from Raymi and now Hamza bin Laden are likely part of al Qaeda’s effort to regain the initiative with respect to this tactic.

Hamza calls on individual jihadists to “avenge” the “children of Syria,” the “widows of Palestine,” the “free honorable women of Iraq,” and “the orphans of Afghanistan.”

“Exercise patience and deliberation, for it is among the qualities loved by Allah and His Messenger, peace be upon him,” Hamza says. “Accomplish your goals with secrecy. Attain the highest level of perfection in your actions, exercise utmost care and caution, and prepare diligently to inflict crippling losses on those who have disbelieved.”

Hamza specifically references AQAP’s Inspire Magazine, saying followers can “benefit” from it. (Interestingly, his father was reportedly less impressed by Inspire and even complained about some of the tactics advocated therein.)

“Be perfect in your choice of targets, so that you may damage your enemies more,” Hamza advises. “Be professional in your choice of weapons. It is not necessary that it should be a military tool. If you are able to pick a firearm, well and good; if not, the options are many.”

Osama’s heir encourages individual jihadists to “follow in the footsteps of martyrdom-seekers before” them, arguing they shouldn’t “underestimate” themselves. There is no reason to emigrate to the jihadists battlefields abroad, according to Hamza, because “professionally executed individual operations in the West” have “outweighed numerous operations in the East.” (Al Qaeda’s rivals in the Islamic State have made the same argument.)

“Know that inflicting punishment on Jews and Crusaders where you are present is more vexing and severe for the enemy,” Hamza continues. “It is sharper than a hundred warheads directed against their agents.”

Hamza wants followers to “prioritize” their “targets.”

First, “everyone who transgresses against our pure Religion, or against our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him)” should be struck. Hamza specifically mentions the Jan. 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, which was claimed by AQAP and carried out according to Ayman al Zawahiri’s general orders.

“Next, look out for Jewish interests everywhere.” But if the jihadist is not able to locate these, then “target American Crusaders.”

“If you are unable to go for American Crusaders, target the interests of the Crusader member states of NATO,” Hamza continues. “And since Russia has forgotten what it tasted in Chechnya and Afghanistan, and has returned once again to interfere in matters concerning Islam, do not exclude it from your targets of priority. Give Russia a pertinent reminder of the days of your predecessors.”

Hamza and other al Qaeda leaders want jihadist attacks to send a clear message to their enemies. “I strongly advise that the message you intend to convey through your blessed operation must be explained unequivocally in the media,” he advises. “It is absolutely imperative that people should know the objective of your operation.”

“We in al Qaeda emphasize the importance of conveying the following messages to Western states, and we advise you to do the same,” Hamza says. He provides a list of al Qaeda’s priorities for individual jihadists:

1. Our Religion and our Prophet (peace be upon him) are RED LINES. Let those who cross these lines take heed from Charlie Hebdo.

2. Palestine is a cause of our Islamic Ummah [worldwide community of Muslims]. And anyone who supports Jewish occupiers shall never dream of peace, with the permission of Allah.

3. Sham is a cause of our Islamic Ummah. Our people in Sham are faced with genocide. And everyone who participates in tormenting them with bombings or by aiding Bashar [al Assad] and his allies shall not escape punishment.

4. Our lands are occupied. The Land of the Two Sanctuaries [Saudi Arabia] is occupied. We shall continue to target you until you withdraw your forces from the Arabian Peninsula and from every single land of Islam.

5. Our airspace is violated by your aircrafts which unleash their deadly payload on our children. Our wealth and resources are expropriated every single day.

Hamza’s audio message is embedded in a video that is just over ten minutes long. Various operations, including the Dec. 2016 assassination of a Russian ambassador in Turkey, are lauded throughout the video.

As Hamza’s audio begins to play, an image of the Fort Hood shooter, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, is shown on screen. The photo of Hasan is followed by footage from the Nov. 5, 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, video from a service for the victims, and a brief clip of AQAP ideologue Anwar al Awlaki, who inspired Hasan.

An image of Ramzi Yousef, who orchestrated the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and other plots, is also included at the outset, as is footage from the 1993 bombing in lower Manhattan.

As Sahab released Hamza’s message with Arabic and English-language transcripts. Al Qaeda has been releasing messages with an English translation on an increasingly frequent basis. Recent messages from Ayman al Zawahiri and Raymi were also released with English transcripts.

Screen shots from the video accompanying Hamza bin Laden’s audio message:

 

 

 

Threat Assessment in the Domestic War

April 26, 2017

Threat Assessment in the Domestic War, Understanding the Threat, April 24, 2017

(Please see also, PC Pentagon Caves to CAIR, Agrees to ‘Review Anti-Terror Training Program. –DM)

Our federal intelligence and law enforcement officials have little understanding of the jihadi movement, key players, intent, modus operandi, and Islamic doctrine (sharia) driving the movement.  The lack of basic knowledge of this information is staggering.  Local and state officials have relied on DHS and the FBI for their understanding of the threat which is why there is little understanding at the local level as well.

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An objective review of the activities of the Islamic Movement in the United States, the response from US law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and the actions of local, state and federal leaders reveals the U.S. is closer to losing the war domestically than at any point in time since 9/11/2001.

Enemy Forces

The leading Muslim Brotherhood organization in the United States and the “mother ship” of their jihadi Movement – the US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) – hosted their second annual “Advocacy Day” on Capitol Hill on April 18, 2017 continuing it’s overwhelming information operation against the U.S. perpetrating the lie that Islam is here to peacefully coexist with our Constitutional Republic.  This hostile effort continues to produce elected officials willing to help promote the enemy’s agenda instead of doing their legal duty of identifying enemies and defending the Constitution against them.

The Diyanet Center of America, a massive Islamic Center/Mosque complex in Maryland, operates as a base for the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood’s operations with the support of local and state officials there.  The Turkish MB’s influence in the US rivals the Palestinian MB’s (Hamas) presence here.

The Diyanet Turkish Islamic Center of America in Maryland

The Turkish MB is continuing its info op on state legislators by paying for trips to Turkey to show the lawmakers it is a moderate” nation.  Groups like “The Holy Dove Foundation” and the “Turquoise Foundation” propagate this dangerous operation.

The most prominent Islamic organizations in the United States are a part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s network whose stated objective is to wage “civilization jihad” to establish an Islamic state under sharia (Islamic law).  Many of these organizations currently work with the U.S. government, including the USCMO, Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Muslim American Society (MAS), Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Muslim Legal Fund of America (MFLA), Muslim Advocates, Muslim Students Association (MSA), Hamas (doing business as CAIR), and many others.  The Muslim Brotherhood’s logistics and support network here is significant and they have penetrated all national agencies, have a broad plan and activities inside key U.S. infrastructure nodes, and control the U.S. national security decision-making process as it relates to Islamic jihad.

Anti-American hate groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and much of the media provide direct and aggressive support for these jihadi (“terrorist”) organizations.  Much of the media has demonstrated no interest in doing investigative journalism on these matters, and simply regurgitates whatever information the suit-wearing jihadi groups give them.

Preparations for War:  The USCMO is over-seeing the national coalescing of Islamic forces from individual mosques through regional councils to the USCMO leadership.  The USCMO is solidifying communications and logistics coordination as well as assisting in preparations for confrontation.  Mosques/Islamic Centers are organizing for armed confrontation with law enforcement, shoring up physical defenses where they see likely confrontation and increasing their pre-attack surveillances of churches and other targets.

Funding:  Nearly 16 years after 9/11, the U.S. government still views the government of Saudi Arabia as an ally in the war, despite the fact it has been implicated time and again in funding the global jihad against the West and, specifically, the United States.  Massive funding for Hamas and Hizbollah – both of which have a heavy presence in the U.S. – comes from Iran, and intelligence officials now believe the leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al Zawahiri, is being shielded by the Pakistani government in Karachi.  Pakistan is another U.S. “ally.”

Our leaders still believe they can use “moderate” muslim leaders to help America find it’s way to victory – a foolish and increasingly dangerous path.

“Friendly” Forces

The impact of the enemy’s information campaign (propaganda) is significant.  The recent jihadi incident in Sioux Falls, South Dakota sums up this entire war.

A sharia adherent jihadi – Ehab Jaber – went to a Christian event, filmed it live on Facebook, brandished weapons on video saying the crowd should be “terrified” and posted a number of other videos clearly indicating he had intent and desire to do harm to those who conflict with Islam.  Law enforcement officials and prosecutors refused to take any action and even publicly said the perpetrator broke no laws.  According to one state legislator, the Attorney General of South Dakota refused to push for a prosecution in this matter.

When massive public pressure came after the story gained international prominence last week, a SWAT team from Siuox Falls arrested Jaber last Friday (April 21).  The South Dakota Attorney General is now taking credit for this effort.

Updates on the Sioux Falls story can be followed HERE.

Our federal intelligence and law enforcement officials have little understanding of the jihadi movement, key players, intent, modus operandi, and Islamic doctrine (sharia) driving the movement.  The lack of basic knowledge of this information is staggering.  Local and state officials have relied on DHS and the FBI for their understanding of the threat which is why there is little understanding at the local level as well.

A Solution

UTT’s experience is that none of the law enforcement professionals, military, and intelligence analysts UTT trains have ever heard the information laid out in UTT’s 3-day “Understanding and Investigating the Jihadi Network” program, yet all of them state the information is “critical” to protecting their communities.

The enemy situation represents an insurgency in the United States.  Doctrinally, the response must be a counter-insurgency strategy.  In a counter-insurgency, the focus of effort is at the local level.  This is why the strategy for victory must be local police and citizens who understand the threat and have the courage to engage and defeat it.

This requires police be trained to understand and investigate the threat, and citizens be given the knowledge to support their police in aggressively taking care of the enemy in their communities.

UTT remains the only organization in America providing the training to do this and provide law enforcement with the tools they need to proactively find jihadis (“terrorists”), map out the jihadi network, and develop aggressive and innovative counter-strategies at the local and state level.

Citizens must move to get the attention of their sheriffs and pastors and organize to defend their communities.

Radical Iran-led Axis Confronted with U.S. Deterrence for First Time

April 11, 2017

Radical Iran-led Axis Confronted with U.S. Deterrence for First Time, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Yaakov Lappin, April 11, 2017

Until recently, the United States focused its attention exclusively on Sunni jihadist threats – ISIS and al-Qaida-affiliated groups. While these terrorists certainly need to be attacked, turning a blind eye to the activities of the more powerful radical Shi’ite coalition did nothing to stop the region’s destabilization. In this context, Assad’s numerous crimes against humanity went unanswered.

This helped embolden Assad to use chemical weapons. It also gave the Iranians confidence to magnify their meddling in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, and to target many other states. The end result is Iran’s enhanced ability to export its Khomeiniest Islamic fundamentalist doctrine.

Just as Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias have poured into Syria, the same has happened in Iraq, where 100,000 fighters supported by Tehran fight alongside the Iraqi government forces against ISIS. The IRGC’s network extends to Yemen’s Houthi Ansar Allah forces, who receive Iranian assistance. Ansar Allah, a heavily armed Shi’ite military force, fires ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia on a regular basis.

The IRGC and Hizballah have been linked to a recent large-scale terrorist plot in Bahrain.

If the message addressed in the cruise missile strike is followed up with a strategy of deterrence, addressed to Ayatollah Khamenei as much as it was addressed to Assad, the U.S. could begin projecting to the world that it recognizes the threat posed by Shi’ite jihadists as much as it takes seriously the threat from their fundamentalist Sunni equivalents.

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The conflict in Syria has long ceased being a civil war, becoming instead a clash between coalitions and blocs that divide the entire Middle East.

The Iranian-led axis is the most dangerous and highly armed bloc fighting in Syria. Bashar al-Assad’s regime is not an independent actor, but rather, a component of this wider axis. In many respects, Assad is a junior member of the Iranian coalition set up to fight for him.

Russia joined the Iranian axis in 2015, acting for its own reasons as the pro-Assad coalition’s air force, helping to preserve the Syrian regime.

This coalition enabled the Assad regime to conduct mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Syria, while also using unconventional weapons against civilians in an effort to terrorize rebel organizations into submission.

Feeling confident by its growing control of Syria, Iran also uses its regional coalition to arm, finance, and deploy Shi’ite jihadist agents all over the Middle East, and to attack those who stand in the way of Iranian domination.

The Iranian-led axis has been able to spread violence, terrorism, and Islamic militancy without facing repercussions.

Until recently, the United States focused its attention exclusively on Sunni jihadist threats – ISIS and al-Qaida-affiliated groups. While these terrorists certainly need to be attacked, turning a blind eye to the activities of the more powerful radical Shi’ite coalition did nothing to stop the region’s destabilization. In this context, Assad’s numerous crimes against humanity went unanswered.

This helped embolden Assad to use chemical weapons. It also gave the Iranians confidence to magnify their meddling in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, and to target many other states. The end result is Iran’s enhanced ability to export its Khomeiniest Islamic fundamentalist doctrine.

That sent a troubling message to America’s regional allies, who, in the face of these threats, formed a de facto coalition of pragmatic Sunni states – a coalition that includes Israel.

On April 6, the U.S. sent a signal that something may have changed. A cruise missile attack on an Assad regime air base, in response to a savage chemical weapons massacre in Idlib, Syria, was, first and foremost, a moral response to an intolerable act of evil.

But the strike also carries a wider prospective message about Washington’s new willingness to enforce red lines against Assad and his Shi’ite allies.

Potentially, it is an indication that the U.S. is willing to use its military prowess beyond the objective of targeting ISIS, and that it recognizes that Sunni jihadists are not the only global security threat that warrants the use of military force.

Statements by senior Trump administration officials indicate that a shift has occurred. “What you have in Syria is a very destructive cycle of violence perpetuated by ISIS, obviously, but also by this regime and their Iranian and Russian sponsors,” National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster told Fox News Sunday.

Russia must choose between its alignment with Assad, Iran, and Hizballah, and working with the United States, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday. The firm comment was made hours before he touched down in Moscow for talks.

According to U.S. officials, the April 6 missile attack destroyed 20 percent of Assad’s fighter jets. It represents the first time that Washington has taken military action against a member of the Iranian-led coalition.

The strike could evolve into a ‘dialogue of deterrence’ that the U.S. initiates against dangerous actors. These radical actors all have ‘return addresses,’ and are likely to prove responsive to cost-benefit considerations, despite their extreme ideology. They may think twice before considering further development and usage of unconventional weapons.

Washington is now able to exercise muscular diplomacy – the only kind that is effective in the Middle East – and inform all members of the Iran’s pro-Assad coalition that the deployment of unconventional weapons will not be tolerated. It can also begin to rally and strengthen the pro-American coalition of states in the Middle East, who seek to keep a lid on both ISIS and Iran.

With American officials indicating that they are “ready to do more” in Syria if necessary, signs suggest that the strike represents the start of a policy of deterrence, and leaving open future options for drawing additional red lines.

In theory, should Washington decide that Iran’s transfer of weapons and extremist Shi’ite military forces to other lands has reached unacceptable levels, or that Iran’s missile development program has gone far enough, it could call on Tehran to cease these activities. This call would carry substantially more weight following last week’s missile attack on the Syrian airbase.

The U.S. is in a better position to inform Assad and his allies that there is a limit to how far they can go in pursuing their murderous ambitions.

While the objective of creating a renewed American deterrent posture is vital, it should not be confused with plans for wider military intervention in the seemingly endless Syrian conflict.

There is little reason to believe that conventional weapons use against Syrian civilians is going to stop any time soon, or that the enormous tragedy suffered by the Syrian people is about to end.

And there is certainly no indication that the U.S. is planning to initiate large-scale military involvement in this failed state.

Hence, the missile strike should be seen for what it is: an attempt to boost American deterrence, which can then be leveraged to restrain radical actors that have, until now, been operating completely unchecked.

That is a message that will likely be heard loud and clear not only in Damascus, but also in Tehran, which has not given up its long-term ambition of building nuclear weapons.

North Korea, which helped build Syria’s plutonium nuclear plant (destroyed in 2007 in a reported Israeli air strike), and which maintains close links with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, can be expected to take note as well.

If a policy of strategic deterrence follows the strike, it could have an impact on a coalition that is not just keeping Assad’s regime alive, but spreading its radical influence in many other areas.

In Syria, the Iranian Republican Guards Corps (IRGC) oversees ground operations across many battlefields to prop up Bashar al-Assad. Iran has gathered and armed tens of thousands of Shi’ite militia members from across the region into Syria, and manages a local force composed of 100,000 members. They fight alongside the Syrian Arab Army against Sunni rebel organizations, thereby increasing and entrenching Iranian influence.

The IRGC and its elite Quds Force are also helping to fill Hizballah’s weapons depots in Lebanon, with a vast array of surface-to-surface projectiles that are all pointed at Israel, often using Syria as an arms trafficking transit zone. Syria acts as a bridge that grants Iran access to Lebanon, and allows it to threaten both Israel and Jordan.

Jordan, an important U.S. ally, is deeply concerned by Iran’s actions in Syria, as evidenced by recent comments made by King Abdullah, who told the Washington Post that “there is an attempt to forge a geographic link between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah/Lebanon.” IRGC forces are stationed within a mere 45 miles from Jordan’s border, he warned, adding that any hostile forces approaching the Hashemite Kingdom “are not going to be tolerated.”

Hizballah, a Lebanese-based Iranian Shi’ite proxy, evolved into a powerful army by sending 7,000 to 9,000 of its own highly trained members into Syria’s ground war. It helped rescue the Assad regime from collapse, and took part in battles stretching from Aleppo to the Qalamoun Mountains northeast of Damascus.

Last year, the Arab League and the Sunni countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council all declared Hizballah to be a terrorist entity.

Just as Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias have poured into Syria, the same has happened in Iraq, where 100,000 fighters supported by Tehran fight alongside the Iraqi government forces against ISIS. The IRGC’s network extends to Yemen’s Houthi Ansar Allah forces, who receive Iranian assistance. Ansar Allah, a heavily armed Shi’ite military force, fires ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia on a regular basis.

The IRGC and Hizballah have been linked to a recent large-scale terrorist plot in Bahrain.

If the message addressed in the cruise missile strike is followed up with a strategy of deterrence, addressed to Ayatollah Khamenei as much as it was addressed to Assad, the U.S. could begin projecting to the world that it recognizes the threat posed by Shi’ite jihadists as much as it takes seriously the threat from their fundamentalist Sunni equivalents.

Washington’s campaign to pressure Russia to distance itself from its Middle Eastern allies could play an important part of this message.

What’s really behind Trump’s laptop ban

March 23, 2017

What’s really behind Trump’s laptop ban, Long War Journal, , March 23, 2017

Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia, detonated a laptop bomb on this Daallo Airlines aircraft in February 2016.

[Editor’s note: this article was originally published at Politico.]

More than 15 years after the September 11 hijackings, the U.S. government has issued yet another warning about airline security. On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced new restrictions on electronics brought on board certain U.S.-bound flights. Passengers on planes leaving from 10 airports throughout the Middle East and North Africa will no longer be able to carry laptops or similar electronics with them into the cabin of the plane. Cell phones and smaller electronics are unaffected by the new measures, but computers will have to be checked in luggage.

The move instantly generated controversy and questions. Namely, why now? Some dismissed the DHS announcement as a protectionist move aimed at boosting the futures of U.S. carriers, who have complained of unfair competition from Gulf airlines for years. Twitter wags called it a “Muslim laptop ban,” whose secret aim was to discourage travel from the Arab world. But by now it should be clear that the new restrictions are deadly serious, even if there are legitimate questions about how it is being implemented.

Initial press reports, including by the New York Times, cited anonymous officials as saying that the restrictions were not a response to new intelligence. But the DHS announcement implies otherwise. One question on the DHS web site reads, “Did new intelligence drive a decision to modify security procedures?” The answer: “Yes, intelligence is one aspect of every security-related decision.” The British government’s quick decision to follow suit also suggests that something new is afoot here.

Subsequent reports from CNN and The Daily Beast indicate that intelligence collected during a U.S. Special Forces raid in Yemen in January led to the restrictions. That is possible. The raid was highly controversial, but the Trump administration argues the costs were worth it because the U.S. learned key details about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) plotting. A Navy SEAL perished during the operation, as did a number of women and children. Within hours, jihadists began circulating a photo of an adorable little girl who died in the crossfire. The girl was the daughter of Anwar al Awlaki, a Yemeni-American al Qaeda ideologue killed in a September 2011 drone strike. Al Qaeda immediately called for revenge in her name.

Whether new intelligence led to the decision or not, we already know for certain that al Qaeda has continued to think up ways to terrorize the skies. For years, Al Qaeda operatives in Somalia, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere have been experimenting with sophisticated explosives that can be smuggled onto planes.

DHS points to the “attempted airliner downing in Somalia” in February 2016 as one reason for ongoing concerns. That bombing was carried out by al Shabaab, al Qaeda’s official branch in Somalia. Al Shabaab attempted to justify the failed attack by claiming “Western intelligence officials” were on board the flight, but that excuse may be a cover for something more sinister.

Some U.S. officials suspect that al Qaeda’s elite bomb makers wanted to test one of their newest inventions, a lightweight explosive disguised as a laptop that is difficult to detect with normal security procedures. At the very least, Shabaab’s attack demonstrated that al Qaeda has gotten closer to deploying a laptop-sized explosive that can blow a hole in jetliners. While no one other than the terrorist who detonated the bomb was killed, the plane was left with a gaping hole in its side.

Al Qaeda-linked terrorists have tested their contraptions before. In December 1994, a bomb was detonated on board a Philippine Airlines flight, killing one of the passengers and severely damaging the plane. The device was implanted by Ramzi Yousef, the nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Yousef planned to blow up several airliners at once as part of “Project Bojinka” and he wanted to try out his invention beforehand. Authorities ultimately scuttled his plot, but al Qaeda didn’t forget Yousef’s idea. Instead, the terrorist organization returned to it again in 2006, when a similar plan targeting jets leaving London’s Heathrow Airport was foiled.

Al Qaeda’s failure in 2006 didn’t dissuade the group from pressing forward with a version of Yousef’s original concept, either.

In September 2014, the U.S. began launching airstrikes against an al Qaeda cadre in Syria described by the Obama administration as the “Khorasan Group.” There was some initial confusion over what the Khorasan Group really is, with some opining that it was simply invented by American officials to justify bombings, or a separate terror entity altogether. In reality, it was simply a collection of al Qaeda veterans and specialists who were ordered by the group’s leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, to begin laying the groundwork in Syria for operations against the West.

As far as we know, the Khorasan Group never did attempt to strike the U.S. or Europe. Perhaps this is because a number of its leaders and members were killed in the drone campaign. But there is an additional wrinkle in the story: Zawahiri didn’t give his men the final green light for an operation. Instead, Zawahiri wanted the Khorasan cohort to be ready when called upon. In the meantime, al Qaeda didn’t want an attack inside the West to jeopardize its primary goal in Syria, which is toppling Bashar al Assad’s regime.

The Islamic State gets all the headlines, but Al Qaeda has quietly built its largest guerrilla army ever in Syria, with upwards of 10,000 or more men under its direct command. The group formerly known as Jabhat al Nusra merged with four other organizations to form Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (“Assembly for the Liberation of Syria”) in January. Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee months earlier, in June 2016, that Nusra was already al Qaeda’s “largest formal affiliate in history” with “direct ties” to Zawahiri. The merger gives al Qaeda control over an even larger force.

Al Qaeda could easily repurpose some of these jihadists for an assault in Europe, or possibly the U.S., but has chosen not to thus far. That is telling. Zawahiri and his lieutenants calculated that if Syria was turned into a launching pad for anti-Western terrorism, then their efforts would draw even more scrutiny. At a time when the U.S. and its allies were mainly focused on ISIS, al Qaeda’s potent rival, Zawahiri determined the West could wait.

But Zawahiri’s calculation with respect to Syria could change at any time. And the organization maintains cadres elsewhere that are still plotting against the U.S. and its interests.

The Khorasan Group included jihadists from around the globe, including men trained by AQAP’s most senior bomb maker, a Saudi known as Ibrahim al Asiri. U.S. officials have fingered al Asiri as the chief designer of especially devious explosive devices. Al Asiri has survived multiple attempts to kill him. But even if the U.S. did catch up with al Asiri tomorrow, his expertise would live on. Some of his deputies have trained still others in Syria.

Al Qaeda now has units deployed in several countries that are involved in anti-Western plotting. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2016, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned that al Qaeda “nodes in Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey” are “dedicating resources to planning attacks.”

The Pentagon regularly announces airstrikes targeting al Qaeda operatives, some of whom, identified as “external” plotters, have an eye on the West. Incredibly, more than a decade and a half after the 9/11 hijackings, al Qaeda members in Afghanistan are still involved in efforts to hit the U.S. In October 2016, for instance, the U.S. struck down Farouq al Qahtani in eastern Afghanistan. The Defense Department explained that Qahtani was “one of the terrorist group’s senior plotters of attacks against the United States.”

Meanwhile, ISIS has also proven it is capable of downing an airliner. Thus far, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men have used low-tech means. In October 2015, the so-called caliphate’s Sinai province claimed the bombing of a Russian airliner. If the group’s propaganda is accurate, then a Schweppes Gold soft drink can filled with explosives and equipped with a detonator led to the deaths of all 224 people on board. This beverage bomb was a far cry from the sleek explosives al Qaeda’s bomb makers have been experimenting with, but it was effective nonetheless. All it required was proper placement next to a fuel line or some other sensitive point in the airliner’s infrastructure. ISIS could have more sophisticated bomb designs in the pipeline as well.

The truth is that the threat to airliners isn’t going away any time soon. However, this doesn’t mean that every counterterrorism measure intended to protect passengers is the right one. Some quickly questioned the Trump administration’s policy. Why does it impact only flight carriers in some countries? Were security measures found to be lax in some airports, but not others? Why is the threat of a laptop bomb mitigated if it is in checked luggage, as opposed to on board the plane? And what about the possibility of al Qaeda or ISIS slipping a bomb onto connecting flights, before the planes head for the U.S. homeland?

These are all good questions that should be asked. And the Trump administration should answer them.

Robert Spencer: What if the media had covered World War II the way it covers jihad?

March 10, 2017

Robert Spencer: What if the media had covered World War II the way it covers jihad? Jihad Watch via YouTube, March 9, 2017

 

The future of counterterrorism: Addressing the evolving threat to domestic security

March 1, 2017

The future of counterterrorism: Addressing the evolving threat to domestic security, Long War Journal, February 28, 2017

Below is Thomas Joscelyn’s testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee Counterterrorism and Intelligence, on the future of counterterrorism and addressing the evolving threat to domestic security.

Chairman King, Ranking Member Rice, and other members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify today. The terrorist threat has evolved greatly since the September 11, 2001 hijackings. The U.S. arguably faces a more diverse set of threats today than ever. In my written and oral testimony, I intend to highlight both the scope of these threats, as well as some of what I think are the underappreciated risks.

My key points are as follows:

– The U.S. military and intelligence services have waged a prolific counterterrorism campaign to suppress threats to America. It is often argued that because no large-scale plot has been successful in the U.S. since 9/11 that the risk of such an attack is overblown. This argument ignores the fact that numerous plots, in various stages of development, have been thwarted since 2001. Meanwhile, Europe has been hit with larger-scale operations. In addition, the U.S. and its allies frequently target jihadists who are suspected of plotting against the West. America’s counterterrorism strategy is mainly intended to disrupt potentially significant operations that are in the pipeline.

-Over the past several years, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies claim to have struck numerous Islamic State (or ISIS) and al Qaeda “external operatives” in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. These so-called “external operatives” are involved in anti-Western plotting. Had they not been targeted, it is likely that at least some of their plans would have come to fruition. Importantly, it is likely that many “external operatives” remain in the game, and are still laying the groundwork for attacks in the U.S. and the West.

-In addition, the Islamic State and al Qaeda continue to adapt new messages in an attempt to inspire attacks abroad. U.S. law enforcement has been forced to spend significant resources to stop “inspired” plots. As we all know, some of them have not been thwarted. The Islamic State’s caliphate declaration in 2014 heightened the threat of inspired attacks, as would-be jihadists were lured to the false promises of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s cause.

-The Islamic State also developed a system for “remote-controlling” attacks in the West and elsewhere. This system relies on digital operatives who connect with aspiring jihadis via social media applications. The Islamic State has had more success with these types of small-scale operations in Europe. But as I explain in my written testimony, the FBI has uncovered a string of plots inside the U.S. involving these same virtual planners.

-The refugee crisis is predominately a humanitarian concern. The Islamic State has used migrant and refugee flows to infiltrate terrorists into Europe. Both the Islamic State and al Qaeda could seek to do the same with respect to the U.S., however, they have other means for sneaking jihadists into the country as well. While some terrorists have slipped into the West alongside refugees, the U.S. should remain focused on identifying specific threats.

-More than 15 years after 9/11, al Qaeda remains poorly understood. Most of al Qaeda’s resources are devoted to waging insurgencies in several countries. But as al Qaeda’s insurgency footprint has spread, so has the organization’s capacity for plotting against the West. On 9/11, al Qaeda’s anti-Western plotting was primarily confined to Afghanistan, with logistical support networks in Pakistan, Iran, and other countries. Testifying before the Senate in February 2016, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper warned that the al Qaeda threat to the West now emanates from multiple countries. Clapper testified that al Qaeda “nodes in Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey” are “dedicating resources to planning attacks.” To this list we can add Yemen. And jihadists from Africa have been involved in anti-Western plotting as well. Incredibly, al Qaeda is still plotting against the U.S. from Afghanistan.

Both the Islamic State and al Qaeda continue to seek ways to inspire terrorism inside the U.S. and they are using both new and old messages in pursuit of this goal.

The jihadists have long sought to inspire individuals or small groups of people to commit acts of terrorism for their cause. Individual terrorists are often described as “lone wolves,” but that term is misleading. If a person is acting in the name of a global, ideological cause, then he or she cannot be considered a “lone wolf,” even if the individual in question has zero contact with others. In fact, single attackers often express their support for the jihadists’ cause in ways that show the clear influence of propaganda.

Indeed, al Qaeda and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) first began to aggressively market the idea of “individual” or “lone” operations years ago. AQAP’s Inspire magazine is intended to provide would-be jihadists with everything they could need to commit an attack without professional training or contact. Anwar al Awlaki, an AQAP ideologue who was fluent in English, was an especially effective advocate for these types of plots. Despite the fact that Awlaki was killed in a U.S. airstrike in September 2011, his teachings remain widely available on the internet.

The Islamic State capitalized on the groundwork laid by Awlaki and AQAP. In fact, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s operation took these ideas and aggressively marketed them with an added incentive. Al Qaeda has told its followers that it wants to eventually resurrect an Islamic caliphate. Beginning in mid-2014, the Islamic State began to tell its followers that it had already done so in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. Baghdadi’s so-called caliphate has also instructed followers that it would be better for them to strike inside their home countries in the West, rather than migrate abroad for jihad. The Islamic State has consistently marketed this message.

In May 2016, for instance, Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al Adnani told followers that if foreign governments “have shut the door of hijrah [migration] in your faces,” then they should “open the door of jihad in theirs,” meaning in the West. “Make your deed a source of their regret,” Adnani continued. “Truly, the smallest act you do in their lands is more beloved to us than the biggest act done here; it is more effective for us and more harmful to them.”

“If one of you wishes and strives to reach the lands of the Islamic State,” Adnani told his audience, “then each of us wishes to be in your place to make examples of the crusaders, day and night, scaring them and terrorizing them, until every neighbor fears his neighbor.” Adnani told jihadists that they should “not make light of throwing a stone at a crusader in his land,” nor should they “underestimate any deed, as its consequences are great for the mujahidin and its effect is noxious to the disbelievers.”

The Islamic State continued to push this message after Adnani’s death in August 2016.

In at least several cases, we have seen individual jihadists who were first influenced by Awlaki and AQAP gravitate to the Islamic State’s cause. Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife were responsible for the December 2, 2015 San Bernardino massacre. They pledged allegiance to Baghdadi on social media, but Farook had drawn inspiration from Awlaki and AQAP’s Inspire years earlier.

Omar Mateen swore allegiance to Baghdadi repeatedly on the night of his assault on a LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida. However, a Muslim who knew Mateen previously reported to the FBI that Mateen was going down the extremist path. He told the FBI in 2014 that Mateen was watching Awlaki’s videos. It was not until approximately two years later, in early June 2016, that Mateen killed 49 people and wounded dozens more in the name of the supposed caliphate.

Ahmad Khan Rahami, the man who allegedly planted bombs throughout New York and New Jersey in September 2016, left behind a notebook. In it, Rahami mentioned Osama bin Laden, “guidance” from Awlaki, an also referenced Islamic State spokesman Adnani. Federal prosecutors wrote in the complaint that Rahami specifically wrote about “the instructions of terrorist leaders that, if travel is infeasible, to attack nonbelievers where they live.” This was Adnani’s key message, and remains a theme in Islamic State propaganda.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has alleged that other individuals who sought to support the Islamic State were first exposed to Awlaki’s teachings as well.

These cases demonstrate that the jihadis have developed a well of ideas from which individual adherents can draw, but it may take years for them to act on these beliefs, if they ever act on them at all. There is no question that the Islamic State has had greater success of late in influencing people to act in its name. But al Qaeda continues to produce recruiting materials and to experiment with new concepts for individual attacks as well.

Al Qaeda and its branches have recently called for revenge for Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who died in a U.S. prison earlier this month. Rahman was convicted by a U.S. court for his involvement in plots against New York City landmarks in the mid-1990s. Since then, al Qaeda has used Rahman’s “will” to prophesize his death and to proactively blame the U.S. for it. Approximately 20 years after al Qaeda first started pushing this theme, Rahman finally died. Al Qaeda’s continued use of Rahman’s prediction, which is really just jihadist propaganda, demonstrates how these groups can use the same concepts for years, whether or not the facts are consistent with their messaging. Al Qaeda also recently published a kidnapping guide based on old lectures by Saif al Adel, a senior figure in the group. Al Adel may or may not be currently in Syria. Al Qaeda is using his lectures on kidnappings and hostage operations as a way to potentially teach others how to carry them out. The guide was published in both Arabic and English, meaning that al Qaeda seeks an audience in the West for al Adel’s designs.

Both the Islamic State and AQAP also continue to produce English-language magazines for online audiences. The 15th issue of Inspire, which was released last year, provided instructions for carrying out “professional assassinations.” AQAP has been creating lists of high-profile targets in the U.S. and elsewhere that they hope supporters will use in selecting potential victims. AQAP’s idea is to maximize the impact of “lone” attacks by focusing on wealthy businessmen or other well-known individuals. AQAP has advocated for, and praised, indiscriminate attacks as well. But the group has critiqued some attacks (such as the Orlando massacre at a LGBT nightclub) for supposedly muddying the jihadists’ message. AQAP is trying to lay the groundwork for more targeted operations. For example, the January 2015 assault on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris was set in motion by al Qaeda and AQAP. Inspire even specifically identified the intended victims beforehand. Al Qaeda would like individual actors, with no foreign ties, to emulate such precise hits.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State has lowered the bar for what is considered a successful attack, pushing people to use cars, knives, or whatever weapons they can get in their hands. The Islamic State claimed that both the September 2016 mall stabbings in Minnesota and the vehicular assault at Ohio State University in November 2016 were the work of its “soldiers.” It may be the case that there were no digital ties between these attackers and the Islamic State. However, there is often more to the story of how the Islamic State guides such small-scale operations.

The Islamic State has sought to carry out attacks inside the U.S. via “remote-controlled” terrorists.

A series of attacks in Europe and elsewhere around the globe have been carried out by jihadists who were in contact, via social media applications, with Islamic State handlers in Syria and Iraq. The so-called caliphate’s members have been able to remotely guide willing recruits through small-scale plots that did not require much sophistication. These plots targeted victims in France, Germany, Russia, and other countries. In some cases, terrorists have received virtual support right up until the moment of their attack. The Islamic State has had more success orchestrating “remote-controlled” plots in Europe, but the jihadist group has also tried to carry out similar plots inside the U.S.

Since 2015, if not earlier, the U.S.-led coalition has launched airstrikes against the Islamic State operatives responsible for these operations. Jihadists such Rachid Kassim, Junaid Hussain, and Abu Issa al Amriki have all been targeted. Both Hussain and al Amriki sought to “remotely-control” attacks inside the U.S. They have reached into other countries as well. For example, British Prime Minister David Cameron connected Hussain to plots in the UK. And Hussain’s wife, Sally Jones, has also reportedly used the web to connect with female recruits.

Kassim was tracked to a location near Mosul, Iraq earlier this month. Hussain was killed in an American airstrike in Raqqa, Syria on August 24, 2015. Along with his wife, al Amriki perished in an airstrike near Al Bab, Syria on April 22, 2016. But law enforcement officials are still dealing with their legacy and it is possible that others will continue with their methods.

In this section, I will briefly outline several cases in which Hussain and al Amriki were in contact with convicted or suspected terror recruits inside the U.S. In a number of cases, the FBI has used confidential informants or other methods in sting operations to stop these recruits. It should be noted that it is not always clear how much of a threat a suspect really posed and the press has questioned the FBI’s methods in some of these cases. I have included the examples below to demonstrate how the Islamic State’s digital operatives have contacted potential jihadists across the U.S.

For example, Hussain was likely in contact with the two gunmen who opened fire at an event dedicated to drawing pictures of the Prophet Mohammed in Garland, Texas on May 3, 2015. As first reported by the SITE Intelligence Group, Hussain (tweeting under one of his aliases) quickly claimed the gunmen were acting on behalf of the caliphate. Then, in June 2015, Hussain claimed on Twitter that he had encouraged Usaamah Rahim, an Islamic State supporter, to carry a knife in case anyone attempted to arrest him. Rahim was shot and killed by police in Boston after allegedly wielding the blade. The DOJ subsequently confirmed that Rahim was “was communicating with [Islamic State] members overseas, including Junaid Hussain.”

On July 7, 2016, Munir Abdulkader, of West Chester, Ohio, pleaded guilty to various terrorism-related charges. According to the DOJ, Abdulkader communicated with Hussain, who “directed and encouraged Abdulkader to plan and execute a violent attack within the United States.” In conversations with both Hussain and a “confidential human source,” Abdulkader discussed a plot “to kill an identified military employee on account of his position with the U.S. government.” Abdulkader planned to abduct “the employee at the employee’s home” and then film this person’s execution. After murdering the military employee, Abdulkader “planned to perpetrate a violent attack on a police station in the Southern District of Ohio using firearms and Molotov cocktails.” Hussain repeatedly encouraged Islamic State followers to attack U.S. military personnel, just as Abdulkader planned.

On August 11, 2016, Emanuel Lutchman of Rochester, New York pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State as part of a planned New Year’s Eve attack. Lutchman admittedly conspired with Abu Issa al Amriki after he “initiated online contact” with the Islamic State planner on Christmas Day 2015. “In a series of subsequent communications,” DOJ noted, al Amriki “told Lutchman to plan an attack on New Year’s Eve and kill a number of kuffar [nonbelievers].” Al Amriki wanted Lutchman “to write something before the attack and give it to” an Islamic State member, “so that after the attack the [Islamic State] member could post it online to announce Lutchman’s allegiance” to the so-called caliphate. Lutchman wanted to join the Islamic State overseas, but al Amriki encouraged him to strike inside the U.S., as it would better serve the jihadists’ cause. “New years [sic] is here soon,” al Amriki typed to Lutchman. “Do operations and kill some kuffar.” Al Amriki also promised Lutchman some assistance in traveling to Syria or Libya, if the conditions were right. Lutchman divulged his contacts with al Amriki to individuals who, “unbeknownst to Lutchman,” were “cooperating with the FBI.”

On November 7, 2016, Aaron Travis Daniels, also known as Harun Muhammad and Abu Yusef, was arrested at an airport in Columbus, Ohio. He was reportedly en route to Trinidad, but he allegedly intended to travel to Libya for jihad. According to DOJ, Daniels was in contact with Abu Issa al Amriki, who acted as a “recruiter and external attack planner.” Daniels said at one point that it was al Amriki who “suggested” he go to Libya “to support jihad” and he allegedly “wired money to an intermediary” for al Amriki. The DOJ did not allege that Daniels planned to commit an attack in Ohio or elsewhere inside the U.S. Still, the allegations are significant because Daniels was allegedly in contact with al Amriki.

On November 29, 2016, Justin Nojan Sullivan, of Morganton, North Carolina, pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges. “Sullivan was in contact and plotted with now-deceased Syria-based terrorist Junaid Hussain to execute acts of mass violence in the United States in the name of the” Islamic State, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Mary B. McCord said in a statement. Sullivan and Hussain “conspired” to “plan mass shooting attacks in North Carolina and Virginia,” with Sullivan intending “to kill hundreds of innocent people.”

On February 10, 2017, the DOJ announced that two New York City residents, Munther Omar Saleh and Fareed Mumuni, pleaded guilty to terror-related charges. “Working with [Islamic State] fighters located overseas, Saleh and Mumuni also coordinated their plot to conduct a terrorist attack in New York City,” the DOJ explained. Saleh, from Queens, sought and received instructions from an [Islamic State] attack facilitator to create a pressure-cooker bomb and discussed with the same [Islamic State] attack facilitator potential targets for a terrorist attack in New York City.” Saleh “also sought and received religious authorization from an [Islamic State] fighter permitting Mumuni to conduct a suicide ‘martyrdom’ attack by using a pressure-cooker bomb against law enforcement officers who were following the co-conspirators and thus preventing them from traveling to join” the Islamic State. Federal prosecutors revealed that the “attack facilitator” Saleh was talking to was, in fact, Junaid Hussain.

Also on February 10, 2017, Mohamed Bailor Jalloh, a Virginia man and former member of the Army National Guard, was sentenced to 11 years in prison and five years supervised release for attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State. According to the DOJ, Jalloh was in contact with Islamic State members both in person and online. He met Islamic State members in Nigeria during a “six-month trip to Africa” and also “began communicating online with” an Islamic State member located overseas during this time. The Islamic State member “brokered” Jalloh’s “introduction” to the FBI’s confidential human source. This means the U.S. government’s intelligence was so good in this case that the digital handler was actually fooled into leading Jalloh into a dead-end. Still, Jalloh considered “conducting an attack similar to the terrorist attack at Ft. Hood, Texas,” which left 13 people dead and dozens more wounded.

More than 15 years after the 9/11 hijackings, al Qaeda is still plotting against the U.S.

Al Qaeda has not been able to replicate its most devastating attack in history, the September 11, 2001 hijackings. But this does not mean the al Qaeda threat has disappeared. Instead, al Qaeda has evolved. There are multiple explanations for why the U.S. has not been struck with another 9/11-style, mass casualty operation. These reasons include: the inherent difficulty in planning large-scale attacks, America’s improved defenses, and a prolific counterterrorism campaign overseas.

In addition, contrary to a widely-held assumption in counterterrorism circles, al Qaeda has not made striking the U.S. its sole priority. In fact, al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri has even ordered his men in Syria to stand down at times, as they prioritized the war against Bashar al Assad’s regime over bombings, hijackings, or other assaults in the West. However, Zawahiri could change his calculation at any time, and it would then be up to America’s intelligence and law enforcement officials to detect and thwart specific plots launched from Syria. One additional caveat here is warranted. Despite the fact that Zawahiri has not given the final green light for an anti-Western operation launched from Syrian soil, al Qaeda has been laying the groundwork for such attacks in Syria and elsewhere. There is a risk that al Qaeda could seek to launch Mumbai-style attacks in American or European cities, bomb trains or other mass transit locations, plant sophisticated explosives on Western airliners, or dream up some other horrible attack.

In September 2014, the Obama administration announced that it launched airstrikes against al Qaeda’s so-called “Khorasan Group” in Syria. There was some confusion surrounding this group. The Khorasan Shura is an elite body within al Qaeda and part of this group is dedicated to launching “external operations,” that is, attacks in the West. Several significant leaders in the Khorasan Group were previously based in Iran, where al Qaeda maintains a core facilitation hub. In fact, at least two Khorasan figures previously headed al Qaeda’s Iran-based network, which shuttles operatives throughout the Middle East and sometimes into the West. As I have previously testified before this committee, some foiled al Qaeda plots against the West were facilitated by operatives based in Iran.

Al Qaeda began relocating senior operatives to Syria in 2011. And the U.S. has targeted known or obscure al Qaeda veterans in Syria in the years since, often citing their presumed threat to the U.S. and the West. I will not list all of these operatives here, but we regularly track the al Qaeda figures targeted in drone strikes at FDD’s Long War Journal.

During the final months of the Obama administration, American military and intelligence officials highlighted al Qaeda’s continued plotting against the U.S. on multiple occasions. And there was also a shift in America’s air campaign, from targeted strikes on individual al Qaeda operatives in Syria to bombings intended to destroy whole training camps or other facilities. In addition, the U.S. Treasury and State Departments began to designate terrorist leaders within al Qaeda’s branch in Syria who may not play any direct role in international operations. This change in tactics reflects the realization that al Qaeda has built its largest paramilitary force in history in Syria. And while only part of this force may have an eye on the West, there is often no easy way to delineate between jihadists involved in al Qaeda’s insurgency operations and those who are participating in plots against America or European nations.

In October 2016, the Defense Department announced that the U.S. had carried out “transregional” airstrikes against al Qaeda’s “external” operatives in Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Al Qaeda “doesn’t recognize borders when they conspire to commit terrorist attacks against the West, and we will continue to work with our partners and allies to find and destroy their leaders, their fighters and their cells that are planning attacks externally,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said shortly after the bombings. Davis added that some of al Qaeda’s “external” plotters enjoyed a “friendly, hospitable environment” within Al Nusrah Front, which was the name used by al Qaeda’s guerrilla army in Syria until mid-2016. Davis added that the jihadists targeted “are people who are from outside Syria in many cases and who are focused on external operations.”

The Pentagon provided short descriptions for each of the al Qaeda operatives targeted in October 2016. On October 17, Haydar Kirkan was killed in Idlib, Syria. He was “a long-serving and experienced facilitator and courier for al Qaeda in Syria,” who “had ties to al Qaeda senior leaders, including Osama bin Laden.” Davis added that Kirkan “was al Qaeda’s senior external terror attack planner in Syria, Turkey and Europe.” Kirkan oversaw a significant network inside Turkey. The U.S. has killed a number of individuals with backgrounds similar to Kirkan since 2014.

On October 21, an AQAP leader known as Abu Hadi al-Bayhani and four others were killed in a U.S. airstrike in Yemen’s Marib governorate. The Pentagon tied al-Bayhani to AQAP’s “external” plotting, noting that the al Qaeda arm relies on “leaders like Bayhani to build and maintain safe havens” from which it “plans external operations.”

Then, on October 23, two senior al Qaeda leaders, Farouq al-Qahtani and Bilal al-Utabi, were killed in airstrikes in Afghanistan. Qahtani was one of al Qaeda’s most prominent figures in the Afghan insurgency, as he was the group’s emir for eastern Afghanistan and coordinated operations with the Taliban. Osama bin Laden’s files indicate that Qahtani was responsible for re-establishing al Qaeda’s safe havens in Afghanistan in 2010, if not earlier. But Qahtani was also tasked with plotting attacks in the West.

General John W. Nicholson, the Commander of NATO’s Resolute Support and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, described the threat posed by Qahtani in a recent interview with the CTC Sentinel, a publication produced by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. Gen. Nicholson described Qahtani as al Qaeda’s “external operations director,” saying that he was “actively involved in the last year in plotting attacks against the United States.” Nicholson added this warning: “There’s active plotting against our homeland going on in Afghanistan. If we relieve pressure on this system, then they’re going to be able to advance their work more quickly than they would otherwise.”

Kirkan, Bayhani, and Qahtani are just some of the men involved in anti-Western plotting who have been killed in recent bombings. And these targeted airstrikes are just part of the picture.

In October 2015, the U.S. and its Afghan allies destroyed what was probably the largest al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan’s history in the Shorabak district of Kandahar. The facility was an estimated 30 square miles in size, making it bigger than any of al Qaeda’s pre-9/11 camps.

The U.S. military says that approximately 250 al Qaeda operatives were killed or captured in Afghanistan in 2016. This is far more than the U.S. government’s longstanding estimate for al Qaeda’s entire force structure in all of Afghanistan. For years, U.S. officials claimed there was just 50 to 100 al Qaeda jihadists throughout the entire country.

On January 20, the Defense Department announced that “more than 150 al Qaeda terrorists” had been killed in Syria since the beginning of 2017. In addition to individual terrorists involved in plotting against the West, the U.S. struck the Shaykh Sulayman training camp, which had been “operational since at least 2013.”

The reality is that al Qaeda now operates large training camps in more countries today than on 9/11. The next 9/11-style plotters could be in those camps, or fighting in jihadist insurgencies, right now. If so, it will be up to America’s offensive counterterrorism campaign and its defenses to stop them.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

Developing an Effective Counter Radicalization Strategy

August 30, 2016

Developing an Effective Counter Radicalization Strategy, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Scott Newark, August 29, 2016

Western governments appear to have finally accepted the reality that a new front on the Islamist war has opened up and it’s in our own backyards. It is all too easy for al-Qaida, or ISIS, or whatever new Islamist group, to publish propaganda to incite radicalized or radically prone young Muslims living in the West, and to hand them chillingly accurate information to “build bombs in your mother’s kitchen.”

These young recruits are being recruited to kill soldiers, police and civilians in their own countries rather than attempting to travel to join the Islamist slaughter abroad. And while there has been some success in suppressing the capabilities of international Islamist networks and in military action against the ISIS “caliphate,” domestic terrorist attacks throughout the West show that the threat has not gone away or even been diminished. And that means our approach must also evolve.

We must acknowledge that this threat comes from people and groups who have an unyielding belief that their version of Islam calls for the submission of the world to its dictates, and that killing those who oppose or resist this is not only permissible but obligatory..

Equally, while the Islamist ideology may prey on and exploit persons with mental illness, they are yelling Allahu Ahkbar and not “Sigmund Freud” when they detonate the suicide bombs or murder innocent civilians with knives, guns or trucks. The extremist religious motivation is the key to understanding their actions and in developing a strategy to help prevent the radicalization that leads to it.

Second, this “religious” motivation must be acknowledged by our official entities and the larger Muslim community within Western societies who want nothing to do with it and who reject its goals. For them, Islam may be a religion of peace that forbids killing of innocent civilians, but for others, their version of Islam commands it. There are clearly different conclusions being reached, but the good guys and the bad guys are reading from the same book, and acknowledging this fact is essential if we’re going to be successful. Candor, however uncomfortable, is a better long-term strategy than forcing security and law enforcement agencies to twist themselves into pretzels at each new incident to avoid offending anyone.

It is also critical to recognize that the domestic terrorist pool is comprised of people who, through different processes, have been indoctrinated into the Islamist extremist ideology that includes committing murderous acts of terrorism. This must be the starting point of the counter-radicalization strategy. Simply focusing on “de-radicalizing” extremists does nothing to stop someone from heading down that path in the first place. Similarly, limiting intervention to those espousing extremist beliefs and violent intentions assumes an ability to foretell actions that is simply unrealistic. While not all Islamic extremists are terrorists, all Islamist terrorists ascribe to the extremist version of Islam. It only makes sense to start where the terrorism motivation originates.

We also must acknowledge that the Islamist strategy includes establishing a “global Caliphate.” This vision is not limited to the overt savagery wrought on Muslims and non-Muslims alike, but also includes the murky Islamist political efforts of the Muslim Brotherhood and its spidery network of seemingly benign organizations. Their intent, in their own words, is “destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.” One other quote worth keeping in mind is the official motto of the Muslim Brotherhood which says it all:

“God is our goal, Quran is our Constitution, the Prophet is our leader, struggle [jihad] is our way, and death in the service of God is the loftiest of our wishes.”

Lest there be anyone who still doubts the existence and clear purpose of this long-term strategy, let me suggest you read the materials in the Holy Land Foundation terror financing case or the compelling 2011 book, The Grand Jihad by former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy.

It is also important to understand that for the Muslim Brotherhood network of groups, “war is deception.” Lying to the kuffar (non-believers) is fully authorized by the Quran through the doctrine known as taqiyya.

Domestic Islamist inspired terrorism incidents in the West (and elsewhere) are getting worse. What’s more, there is clear evidence that significant numbers of their Western citizens have travelled to the Middle East to pursue murderous Islamist jihad, and increasing numbers of them are finding ways to return “home.”

While some cases have involved people who received training abroad, most of these cases involve radicalization that took place in Western societies including Canada and the United States. That’s a chilling reality that must be acknowledged including determining how it took place and who was involved. That hard truth was summed up by a parent of one of the young Toronto 18 would-be terrorists when he warned, “They’re stealing our kids.” It’s time we started focusing on who “they” are.

While there has been significant work done on analyzing the general psychological profile of persons vulnerable to such radicalization, very few concrete measures have been taken to identify and then proactively target the means by which such radicalization occurs.

What follows, therefore, are specific action item suggestions to confront and defeat this newest security threat.

Counter-radicalization actions

1/ Ensure there is a clear and official awareness of the threat of extremist Islamism and domestic radicalization, and an understanding of the supportive Muslim Brotherhood’s long-term goals.

2/ Identify all Muslim Brotherhood links in Islamic groups including mosques and Islamic learning centers.

3/ Identify all Wahabbi/Saudi/Salafist linked funding of mosques and learning centers and Islamic organizations with a consideration of prohibiting it.

This issue has already been the subject of some media reporting and given the charitable or non-profit status of such organizations, the required information should be available. What’s required is personified by the mission statement of the Investigative Project on Terrorism: Investigate, Analyze, Expose.

4/ Improve “community outreach” efforts

Outreach to the Islamic community is a critical component of preventing radicalization, but it must be conducted on an informed basis so that the people included are not pursuing a contrary agenda. Authorities engaging in outreach activities must conduct sufficient background analysis to ensure that liaisons are established with persons genuinely seeking to prevent Islamist radicalization rather than with self-appointed “leaders” of the community whose views (public and private) are not representative of the communities they claim to represent. The goal is to both detect and assist people at risk of radicalization (and their families) and to help rehabilitate people who have been radicalized.

5/ Promote integration and identify segregation efforts

Successful integration into Western multicultural society is likely the best protection against radicalization, and thus efforts to promote it should be recognized and supported. Conversely, deliberate efforts by mosques, learning centers or Islamic organizations to promote segregation of Muslims away from the larger community should be recognized as cause for concern.

6/ Use existing legal tools

Use existing hate speech laws, which prohibit promoting hatred against groups based on religion, gender or other defined factors, for unlawful conduct that is part of Islamist radicalization. Also, use the full spectrum of civil regulatory tools to try to prevent publicly regulated facilities from being used to promote radicalization or activities which are contrary to defined Western societal values. This strategy of “using all the tools in the toolbox” will be controversial but will also likely expose such anti-social practices to the light of day, which is a good thing.

7/ Amend Immigration and Citizenship Legislation

These statutes could be amended to modernize inadmissibility or acquired citizenship revocation criteria to people who actively advocate or promote cultural, religious or racial intolerance, gender inequality or the elimination of any of secular democracy, individual liberty or the rule of secular law. It’s time we recognize that we do have a “culture” and it’s worth protecting and preserving.

8/ Proactive cyber efforts against recruitment/radicalization sites

Self-radicalization, aided by jihadi websites, is a reality facing intelligence and law enforcement personnel. While monitoring such sites is obviously a useful tactic, at some point the harm in allowing the glorification and recruitment outweighs the benefit of monitoring this activity. Deploying a proactive offensive cyber attack strategy to melt down the bad guys’ cyber and social media capabilities is worth considering.

9./ Protect children from radicalized parents

Children living in Western societies should receive the full benefit of our laws that are explicitly designed to protect them from harm, including anti-social indoctrination or abuse from their parents in the name of extremist Islam. This could provide refuge for victims of “honor violence,” like the murdered Aqsa Parvez and the Shafia sisters in Canada. These kids deserved better and we should ensure that such abuse does not continue because of a politically correct aversion to confronting the truth.

Western countries face an unprecedented threat to domestic security through the radicalization of persons to a nihilistic Islamist ideology, where death is a preferred tactic to discussion. These suggestions will legitimately generate controversy precisely because they go to the core of the threat, which is violence predicated on religious beliefs. It is clearly a difficult challenge, but one that must be undertaken with truth and candor as our guides.