Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts

30 May 2017

*** Who are the new jihadis?

By Olivier Roy
There is something new about the jihadi terrorist violence of the past two decades. Both terrorism and jihad have existed for many years, and forms of “globalised” terror – in which highly symbolic locations or innocent civilians are targeted, with no regard for national borders – go back at least as far as the anarchist movement of the late 19th century. What is unprecedented is the way that terrorists now deliberately pursue their own deaths.

Over the past 20 years – from Khaled Kelkal, a leader of a plot to bomb Paris trains in 1995, to the Bataclan killers of 2015 – nearly every terrorist in France blew themselves up or got themselves killed by the police. Mohamed Merah, who killed a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, uttered a variant of a famous statement attributed to Osama bin Laden and routinely used by other jihadis: “We love death as you love life.” Now, the terrorist’s death is no longer just a possibility or an unfortunate consequence of his actions; it is a central part of his plan. The same fascination with death is found among the jihadis who join Islamic State. Suicide attacks are perceived as the ultimate goal of their engagement.

This systematic choice of death is a recent development. The perpetrators of terrorist attacks in France in the 1970s and 1980s, whether or not they had any connection with the Middle East, carefully planned their escapes. Muslim tradition, while it recognises the merits of the martyr who dies in combat, does not prize those who strike out in pursuit of their own deaths, because doing so interferes with God’s will. So, why, for the past 20 years, have terrorists regularly chosen to die? What does it say about contemporary Islamic radicalism? And what does it say about our societies today?

How Islamic State clings on in Libya

LIKE their comrades in Iraq and Syria, the jihadists of Islamic State (IS) in Libya were in retreat earlier this year. Their branch, considered the most lethal outside the Levant, was pushed out of Sirte, its coastal stronghold, in December and hit hard by American bombers in January. The blows seemed to dispel the idea that, as the core of its “caliphate” crumbled, Libya might serve as a fallback base for IS.

But although the jihadists are down in Libya, they are not out. And they may have international reach. Many of the fighters have regrouped in a swathe of desert valleys and rocky hills south-east of Tripoli. British police are probing links between Salman Abedi, the suicide-bomber who murdered 22 people at a concert in Manchester on May 22nd, and IS, which claimed responsibility for the attack. Mr Abedi was in Libya recently; his brother and father were arrested in Tripoli on May 24th. The militia holding them says the brother is a member of IS and was planning an attack on Tripoli.

Chaos has been the norm in Libya since the uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. Myriad armed groups, loosely aligned with rival governments in the east and west, vie for power. A UN-backed peace deal, signed by some of the adversaries in 2015, has failed to unite the country or create an effective state under the “government of national accord” (GNA). IS has fed on the chaos—and added to it, lately by attacking water pipelines and pumping stations.

In Indonesia and Philippines, Militants Find a Common Bond: ISIS


Philippine soldiers ran for cover to evade sniper fire on Thursday while trying to clear the southern city of Marawi of armed militants, one street at a time. CreditJes Aznar/Getty Images

BANGKOK — An eruption of violence in the southern Philippines and suicide bombings in Indonesia this week highlight the growing threat posed by militant backers of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia.

While the timing of the Jakarta bombings and the fighting on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao appears to be coincidental, experts on terrorism have been warning for months that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has provided a new basis for cooperation among extremists in the region.

“Setbacks in Syria and Iraq have heightened the importance of other theaters for ISIS, and in Southeast Asia, the focus is the Philippines,” said Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, based in Jakarta. “ISIS supporters around the region have been urged to join the jihad in the Philippines if they can’t get to Syria, and to wage war at home if they can’t travel at all.”

Syria Has Effectively Ceased to Exist

by Jonathan Spyer

On my last night in Damascus, some younger members of the Ministry of Information-sponsored delegation in which I was taking part decided to have a drink. It was late April, and the bars and restaurants were doing good business in the cool and breezy evenings. An inebriated Russian journalist, accompanied by a uniformed Russian soldier entered the bar opposite our hotel in the Old City where my colleagues were sitting. Words were exchanged. An altercation began.

At a certain point, the Russian journalist produced a pistol and aimed it at the forehead of one of the delegation's participants. He then entered our hotel, and threatened one of the employees there, all with his uniformed colleague silently accompanying him.

How the incident ended says much about who truly holds power in regime-controlled areas of Syria today. After the two Russians had departed, the delegation's participants sought to contact the authorities and report the incident. The representative of the Syrian security forces asked if the armed men were Russians. When told that they were, he replied that in that case, there was nothing the Syrian authorities could do.

The survival of the Assad regime is now assured, but the regime has become something of a façade. 

29 May 2017

ISIS Has A Strategy To Create A Media Frenzy And News Outlets Are Struggling To Disrupt It

Zeynep Tufekci

It’s 2017, and the world is shaken by another depraved mass murder, carried out and claimed in the name of ISIS. This time, it is children who are targeted. And just like the countless other times before, the mass media coverage seems stuck on a loop: the same few videos of victims panicking, anguished parents waiting for their children, and distraught mothers sobbing dominate our screens, playing again and again and again and again.

ISIS has a media strategy, and unfortunately, it is aimed exactly at generating this type of coverage. In fact, this media strategy is instinctively shared with other sensational mass killers — school shooters, white-supremacist terrorists, and others. They crave the distorted infamy they hope they will get after their death; they carefully prepare manifestos they hope will be published; they record videos they hope will be played on loop on cable TV.

Sometimes, the seeking of attention and “upping the ante” of victims is instinctive, as with young school shooters. Such mass murderers often meticulously collect clippings of media from past such incidents and obsessively follow the coverage. They "admire" and seek to emulate those who increased the numbers of victims. The Sandy Hook mass murder, carried out not by ISIS but by a disturbed young man in the US, seemed to do just that: target children, as a sick "one-upping" of sensational mass murder. In the case of ISIS, this stems not from instinct, but from a strategic understanding of the need for escalation to increase the coverage and horror.

Support for Terrorism in Muslim Majority Countries and Implications for Immigration Policies in the West

By Russell A Berman and Arno Tausch for Institute for National Security Studies (INSS)

According to the polling data collected by Russell Berman and Arno Tausch, 1) 8.3% of Muslims worldwide support the so-called Islamic State; 2) 18% of Syrian refugees sympathize with the group, while 30% of them want to establish a theocratic state in their war-torn country; and 3) 52% of all Arabs agree that US meddling in their region justifies terrorist responses. These percentages, Berman and Tausch are quick to note, tell a more complex and differentiated tale than one might first suspect, but they also raise legitimate questions about the hostility being directed towards certain Western immigration policies.

The Wind of Change across Europe

With elections in 2017 in key European Union states (France: presidential, April 23, second round May 7, National Assembly, June 11, second round June 18; Germany: Federal Diet, September 24; Netherlands: Second Chamber, March 15),1 an intensified debate about migration to Europe and Middle East terrorism – its origins, trajectories, dangers, and the extent of its mass support – is highly likely. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right Front National in France, predicted that European elections in 2017 will bring a wind of change across the region.2 With the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump’s US presidential victory, far right political parties throughout Europe are now capitalizing on Euroscepticism and anxieties about migration.3

To Resolve the Syrian Crisis, Partition Is Necessary

By Carol E B Choksy and Jamsheed K Choksy

Russia has proposed de-escalation zones, and the international community should step up with an impartial partition plan for Syria

Syria was never a country whose 14 provinces and 8 main communities were voluntarily bonded together by secularism and tolerance. Not surprisingly the six-year civil war became violently sectarian and ethnic. At ceasefire talks on May 4 in Astana, Kazakhstan, Russia proposed four “de-escalation zones” with Iran, Turkey, and itself serving as guarantors. Yes, partition is necessary. But having three nations that greatly abet the strife serve as enforcers will not produce peace. An impartial plan must be formulated and implemented.

Since 1971, under father Hafez al-Assad and son Basher, Syria has been ruled by Alawites comprising 13 percent of the population. Through oppressive rule, they and their Shiite partners engendered among Sunnis, 74 percent of the population, a desire to extract retribution. Christians, Druze, Jews and Yezidis found a degree of security by bending to the Alawite leadership’s wishes, but thereby came to be seen as complicit. After the civil war broke out in March 2011, the Syrian president’s security agents increased imprisonment, torture and execution of dissidents. His air force launched barrel and hose bombs and chemical attacks on civilians.

28 May 2017

* The Battle for Yemen: A Quagmire for Saudi Arabia and the UAE

By: Michael Horton

The Saudi- and Emirati-led war in Yemen has been ongoing for 26 months. The war, which began on March 26, 2015 and was ambitiously named “Operation Decisive Storm,” has achieved none of its stated intentions (al-Arabiya, March 26, 2015). The primary aim was the reinstallation of Yemen’s deeply unpopular president, Abd Raboo Mansur Hadi. However, Hadi, who many Yemenis view as a traitor, remains in exile in Saudi Arabia along with most of his government.

Its other goal was to defeat Yemen’s Houthis, a Zaidi Shia organization that is now allied with many of the most capable units of what was the Yemeni Army. While the Houthis and their allies were pushed out of the port city of Aden and, most recently, the small Red Sea port of al-Mocha, the Houthis have retained control of the capital of Sanaa and most of northwest Yemen (Gulf News, February 10). For months, the frontlines in what is a complex multi-actor civil war have remained fixed. This is despite the fact that both Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have spent billions of dollars on unrelenting and devastating — at least for Yemen’s civilians — airstrikes, and backed a disparate mix of anti-Houthi forces and ground forces made up primarily of mercenaries.

ISIS in East Asia: Strategic Shifts and Security Implications

By Jasminder Singh and Muhammad Haziq Bin Jani for S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS)

As the Philippines battles with militant groups in Mindanao, Daesh supporters have both rechristened and reimagined the latter area as “Wilayah Asia Timur.” This step, observe Jasminder Singh and Muhammad Haziq Jani, is part of a strategic shift by the murderous group in East Asia. The alteration deemphasizes controlling territory in favor of banditry and crime, all in the name of jihad.

As the Philippines battles with militant groups in Mindanao, ISIS supporters have reimagined the area as “Wilayah Asia Timur” as part of ISIS’ strategic shift in East Asia. ISIS terrorists in Southeast Asia may revert to crime and banditry as part of their so-called jihad.


In June 2016, ISIS released a video that recognised the pledges of allegiance of various miltant groups in Mindanao. In that video Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) was recognised as amir of the ISIS groups. It also alluded to the conglomeration of ISIS elements in the Philippines. The A’maaq News Agency, an ISIS mouthpiece acknowledged the presence of ten such groups in six locations throughout Mindanao. This would include the four featured in the video, ASG, the Maute Group (MG), and Katibah al-Muhajir, a cell consisting of migrants from Malaysia and Indonesia.

Why the Trump-Led Islamic Summit in Saudi Arabia Was a Disaster for Pakistan

By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

The Donald Trump-led Arab Islamic American summit, held in Riyadh this weekend, was supposed to be Pakistan’s moment to cash its first check on the diplomatic investment it has made in the Saudi-led Islamic military coalition – which former Army Chief Raheel Sharif militarily heads. After all, the long standing U.S.-Saudi relationship has helped Islamabad ally itself with both, and at a time when the duo was spearheading an “Islamic” summit it was natural for Pakistan to expect a share of the spotlight.

With this in mind, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spent the entire duration of his flight to Riyadh rehearsing his address to the summit, which included leaders of 55 Muslim-majority states. It was time to drive home Islamabad’s perspective on countering Islamist terrorism – the theme of the event – considering Pakistan’s unique role as both victim and counterterrorism proponent. Raheel Sharif heads the counterterror militia, and the country is fourth on the Global Terrorism Index in terms of the most affected states.

Yet Nawaz Sharif wasn’t invited to address the summit. Neither was Raheel Sharif.

It was bad enough that Pakistan didn’t get a say in what was predictably reduced to a Gulf gathering, rather than an “Islamic” summit. Trump’s speech itself further added salt to the wounds.

27 May 2017

The Islamic State and the End of Lone-Wolf Terrorism


Once again, the world has awoken to news of another terrible terrorist attack — this time in Manchester, England, where a man detonated a bomb in the foyer of an Ariana Grande concert, killing at least 22 people. And, once again, the so-called Islamic State has claimed responsibility. Amid this continuing stream of terrorist attacks around the globe associated with the Islamic State, much has been made of the phenomenon of so-called lone-wolf terrorism. From the killing of 49 nightclub revelers in Orlando, Florida, to the murder of a police officer and his partner in the suburbs of Paris to the assault on holiday shoppers at a Christmas market in Berlin, individual terrorists have wreaked havoc, seemingly removed from plotters in faraway safe havens.

During our time at the White House, the U.S. government remained intently focused on detecting and disrupting the Islamic State’s ability to centrally plan, resource, enable, and coordinate external attacks from its physical safe haven in Syria, but the group’s unique capability to inspire attacks online became a key concern. This is largely how the Islamic State has been able to penetrate our borders: not through flows of refugees intent on conducting attacks against Americans but through the bits and bytes of today’s digital age.

26 May 2017

*** If the Fighting Ever Stops: Stabilization, Recovery, and Development in Syria

There is a natural tendency in war to focus on the fighting and the politics of a ceasefire or peace settlement, and to look at the challenges in creating some form of short-term stabilization. All are critical issues in ending the fighting in Syria. It is a country that is now the scene of a series of four interacting wars and power struggles: 

A war against ISIS that is joined to the fight against ISIS in Iraq, which is the focus of U.S.-led military efforts, and is concentrated in the populated areas of Eastern Syria. 

A struggle for some form of separate identity by Syria's Kurds in northern Syria that has become tied to Turkey’s fighting against its Kurdish rebels, while the Syrian Kurds have become the key U.S. ally on the ground in the fight against ISIS. 

A fight between the pro-Assad faction—backed by Russia, Iran and the Hezbollah—and largely Sunni Arab rebels that have been backed by the Arab Gulf states and Jordan, and have had limited U.S. support. 

Struggles within the Arab rebel forces that increasingly divide them between more moderate and secular forces and a steadily growing mix of Islamic extremist groups, some with ties to Al Qaeda. 

Thousands flee Philippine city after rebel rampage claimed by Islamic State

By Romeo Ranoco

Thousands of civilians fled fighting in the Philippines on Wednesday as troops tried to fend off Islamist militants who took over large parts of a city, capturing Christians, seizing and torching buildings and setting free scores of prisoners. 

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the rampage via its Amaq news agency, and President Rodrigo Duterte defended his decision to declare martial law on Mindanao, the Muslim-majority island where Marawi City is located, to prevent the spread of extremism in the impoverished region. 

The violence flared in Marawi on Tuesday afternoon after a botched raid by security forces on a hideout of the Maute, a militant group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State. 

Fighters quickly dispersed, torching buildings and taking over bridges, a hospital, two jails, a church and a college. Duterte said he heard reports they may have beheaded a police chief. 

He said Islamic State must be repelled from the Christian-majority Philippines and he would use all means possible to crush the Maute group and the allied Abu Sayyaf, whatever the consequences. 

25 May 2017

* The Saudi-Iran war of words keeps the region in a fragile state

It was nearly 50 years ago when Her Majesty’s government let it be known that it would no longer be able to sustain Britain’s traditional role east of Suez. The announcement could not have come at a worse time for the American administration, already over-burdened in Southeast Asia.

Richard Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger promulgated a doctrine in which selective partners of the US would henceforth be provided the means to take on the lion’s share of looking after their own security and limiting Soviet influence in their respective parts of the world. Washington turned to Saudi Arabia and Iran to play this role in the Gulf and Arabian peninsula. They were happy to do so, given the military equipment that came their way in exchange for the dollars they received from the US for their oil. But the “twin pillars” era came to an abrupt end when the shah lost his throne and revolution brought a hostile Islamic Republic into power in 1979. Saudi Arabia and Iran remain the region’s most powerful countries. But there any resemblance to the past ends, as the two are intense rivals engaged in wars of words and proxy struggles that could easily become more destructive. The animosity is difficult to exaggerate. Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi deputy crown prince, recently gave an interview in which he rejected talking to Iran, described it as expansionist and motivated by extremist religious interpretations, and suggested indirect conflict could soon give way to something more direct. He warned: “We will not wait until the battle is in Saudi Arabia but we will work so the battle is there in Iran.”

Final Stages of Mosul Battle Will be ‘Extremely Violent,’ U.S. Commander Says

by Thomas Gibbons

The last handful of neighborhoods held by the Islamic State in Mosul will likely be the most difficult to retake despite nearly eight months of street-by-street fighting, the U.S. officer in charge of advising Iraqi forces in the area predicted.

It’s going to be “extremely violent,” Col. Patrick Work, commanding officer of the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, said during a phone interview Saturday. Work is in charge of about 1,800 soldiers who are helping “advise and assist” the Iraqi forces around Mosul.

“The hardest days are still in front of them,” he said.

Mosul is a critical prize in the fight against the Islamic State. It was once the main urban stronghold for the militants in Iraq and the logistic base for other atrocities across northern Iraq, including purges against the Yazidi minority and the destruction of world-famous, pre-Islamic antiquities.

Work declined to give a timeline for the remainder of the operation in the western part of the city, but some Iraqi officers have said the battle could be over by the end of the week in conjunction with the start of Ramadan, a holy month of fasting, introspection and prayer.

Yet with some of the most difficult areas of the city still held by militants — and tens of thousands of civilians still trapped in their homes — the fighting could likely last well into the weeks ahead…

There’s No Such Thing as the ‘Arab Street’

by Jonathan Schanzer, Wall Street Journal

Washington has stopped trying to figure out the “Arab Street.” From what I can tell it happened somewhere around Nov. 9, 2016. America is probably better off for it.

I’m not saying we should ignore public opinion in the Arab world. Nor should we ignore its politics. The Middle East, and what happens there, is of crucial concern to American policy makers and interests.

But at least since I arrived in Washington in 2002, the foreign-policy establishment has been on a quixotic quest to tap into the thoughts of an estimated 365 million people. Armed with language lessons, history books and advanced degrees, America’s Middle East analysts labored to understand why Arab populations cheered the 9/11 attacks, jeered the 2003 Iraq invasion, and brought down dictators during the Arab Spring. I was among them, taking trips to dangerous places in the hope that I could acquire “ground truth” that would help in America’s battle for hearts and minds.

24 May 2017

*** Beating the Islamic State Selecting a New Strategy for Iraq and Syria

by Ben Connable, Natasha Lander, Kimberly Jackson

The U.S.-led strategy to defeat the Islamic State (IS) — a hybrid insurgent-terrorist group that as of mid-2016 controls territory in both Iraq and Syria — has been criticized for a lack of clarity, overemphasis on tactical objectives, and insufficient attention to the underlying causes of the greater civil conflict across both Iraq and Syria. This report assesses the current strategy and presents three options for a new strategy. Each of these options, derived from subject-matter-expert input, represents a broad strategic approach to defeating IS. Continuous counterterror focuses on containing and suppressing IS while accepting ongoing instability in Iraq and Syria. Practical stability seeks to reestablish the pre–Arab Spring order in Iraq and Syria, building stable states at the probable expense of democracy and human rights. The report recommends the third option: Legitimated stability. This approach pursues a long-term strategy that seeks to address the root causes of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, reconciling the disenfranchised Sunni Arab populations with their governments, and thereby removing the conditions that allowed IS to emerge and thrive. Other alternatives that fail to address root cause issues are likely to condemn the U.S. and its allies to continual crisis and unpredictable and unending reinvestment of resources, with little real gain in security or reduction in international terror.

** Trump gets it right in Saudi Arabia


For all the sound and fury over his public remarks and tweets in Washington, President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia has been a very different story. The president gave the right speech in the right place at the right time. There will still be critics on issues like human rights and Yemen, but the president had a different focus — and almost certainly the right one.

First, he needed to reassure the Saudis, the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and the other leaders of the 50 some Islamic countries meeting in the Kingdom that he was not anti-Islamic and did not see Islam as an enemy. He did just that — and in ways far more suited to the culture of his audience than the take-no-prisoners rhetoric he often employs in the U.S.

The first three paragraphs of his speech thanked his hosts, and talked about “the splendor of your country and the kindness of your citizens.” He mentioned the meeting between President Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz, and then went on to “extend my deep and heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of the distinguished heads of state who made this journey here today. You greatly honor us with your presence, and I send the warmest regards from my country to yours. I know that our time together will bring many blessings to both your people and mine.”

** The Scramble for Post-ISIS Syria Has Officially Begun


On Thursday, the United States deepened its involvement in the Syrian Civil War in ways that may only gradually become apparent. In targeting a convoy that Secretary of Defense James Mattis said included Iran-backed militiamen as well as Syrian regime forces, the U.S. apparently, for the first time since the conflict began six years ago, attacked foreign fighters allied to the Syrian government. The same incident also represented the second time the U.S. military has deliberately targeted Assad’s own forces, which the Trump administration struck last month in retaliation for the Syrian government using chemical weapons against civilians. Under Barack Obama, U.S. military operations in Syria were directed at ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates. Now two additional factions in the multifaceted civil war are in America’s crosshairs.

The development is in part a reflection of the fact that Donald Trump, who as a presidential candidate promised to focus solely on ISIS in Syria, has as president taken a surprisingly hard line on the Assad government. But it’s also reflective of a broader dynamic: As ISIS loses strength and territory in Syria, the endgame of the civil war is drawing nearer and the various powers engaged in that struggle are shedding a common enemy. The result is a race to carve out spheres of influence—and the United States under Trump appears to be getting in on the action.

23 May 2017

What history tells us about Saudi Arabia's 2030 plan

Saeed Alwahabi

Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 is helping the country address the challenging mission of freeing itself of its dependency on oil revenues. This ambition has been a repetitive theme of the kingdom's development plans since 1975.

Those who doubt Saudi Arabia’s capabilities to deliver something quite so substantial by 2030 should not forget what happened more than 40 years ago.

In December 1974, my family assets were a small house in the coastal city of Jeddah and a barely functioning Toyota sedan. By the mid-1980s, my father bought a brand new GMC Suburban shortly after finishing two beautiful buildings beside our house, which was given to us free of charge, as he was a member of the armed forces.

It was not only my family who went through this class transition, but also a generation of Saudi families who became today’s middle class.

I maintain that in 1975 the government had a vision to establish the modern state of Saudi Arabia, which required massive infrastructure projects and the empowerment of the Saudi people.