In yet another example of the unrealistic ambitions of Egypt's new political class on the world stage, the Building and Development Party, the political wing of Gama'a al-Islamiyya (GI), is calling on the United States to remove the political party and its parent organization from the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
"Gama'a al-Islamiyya and the Building and Development Party do not consider the West as opponents, but instead advocate for the good of all and embrace all ideas that serve Islam," Building and Development Party spokesman Khaled al-Sharif said in a press conference on Sunday, according to a posting on the party's Facebook page. Daily News Egypt reports that al-Sharif then went on to "demand" that GI be taken off the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization list, and called for the United States to release Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as the "Blind Sheikh."
GI was a fixture in Egypt's collegiate political scene in the 1980s but became internationally infamous for a campaign of terror attacks in the 1990s, which included assassinations and massacres targeting tourists. GI also occasionally worked with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, then headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later merged his organization with al Qaeda and eventually became Osama bin Laden's successor in that organization. Abdel Rahman had ties to both organizations and is GI's spiritual leader -- he was imprisoned in Egypt in the 1980s for issuing a fatwa sanctioning the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, and is currently serving a life sentence in the United States for helping plan attacks in New York City, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. When the State Department's list of foreign terrorist groups was compiled in 1997, GI was an inaugural member.
In 2003, GI reentered the Egyptian political arena, formally renouncing violence in exchange for the release of hundreds of political prisoners. That promise has held, mostly. The change in tactics split the organization, and a violent faction formally joined al Qaeda in 2006. Mainstream members aren't a bunch of peaceniks, either; GI was responsible for organizing the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012, and has threatened to fight for the implementation of sharia law "even if that requires bloodshed."
It's not unheard of for an organization to work its way off the State Department's terror list -- after a years-long lobbying effort, Iranian dissident group Mujahideen-e-Khalq was delisted last September -- but it's a rare occasion. And though GI and its Building and Development Party aren't the only politicians in Egypt to call for the release of the Blind Sheikh, it's certainly not going to win them any fans in Foggy Bottom. It's also not going to happen.
With Pakistani elections looming on May 11, it seems like every day brings a new report about destabilizing attacks in the country. The unrelenting violence, which Pakistan's Express Tribune has dubbed the "Reign of Terror," includes assassinations that have delayed elections in several districts and left a staggering number of casualties. Bloomberg has compiled the most thorough timeline of the attacks and estimates that, in the past month, "at least 118 people have been killed and 494 injured."
Terrorists -- mostly from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but also Baluchi separatists -- have pursued politicians in particular, and candidates have been gunned down in the streets. On May 3, Saddiq Zaman Khattak, a parliamentary candidate for the secular Awami National Party (ANP), was shot and killed along with his three-year-old son while returning from Friday prayers in Karachi. Gunmen ambushed ANP candidate Muhammad Islam on April 27, killing his brother in the attack. And Fakhrul Islam, a provincial assembly candidate for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party in Hyderabad, was assassinated by the TTP on April 11.
Bombings, some of which have targeted candidates, have also indiscriminately killed their supporters. The deadliest blast killed at least 20 individuals at an ANP rally on April 16. The attacks have targeted election events, but also included car bombings and bomb and grenade attacks on campaign offices and potential polling places. Just today, gunmen abducted Ali Haider Gilani, a provincial assembly candidate for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, after killing his bodyguards. It is the first time a candidate has been kidnapped in the rash of attacks.
"It is pretty clear that this is the most violent election I have witnessed in 23 years" of election monitoring in Pakistan, Peter Manikas of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs told the Washington Post. "It's a different type of violence in trying to disrupt the election as a whole. It makes everything unsafe."
Early in April, the TTP singled out three political parties -- ANP, MQM, and PPP -- as the targets of their attacks, but in the past week, not even the fundamentalist Jamiat-e-Ulema (JeU) party has been spared. On May 6, a JeU rally was bombed in Kurram, killing 25, though a TTP spokesman was quick to assert that the Taliban didn't oppose the party so much as the candidate, "who they said had betrayed Arab fighters to U.S. agents," according to Reuters. The next day, a suicide bombing in Hangu targeting another JeU rally killed 10. In a new statement quoted by Reuters, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud expressed opposition to the political process as a whole, writing, "We don't accept the system of infidels which is called democracy."
The worst violence may in fact be yet to come, as Pakistanis head to the polls this weekend. TTP pamphlets posted in Karachi are warning potential voters to stay home, the Telegraph reports. "If you stay away you will protect yourself," one reads. "If not you are responsible for your fate.... If you go there you will be responsible for the loss of your life and your loved ones." In anticipation of attacks, more than 600,000 security personnel will be on duty for the elections, with five to ten guards at each polling place, according to the Associated Press.
It's a far cry from the atmosphere you'd hope for to mark the first time in Pakistani history that a democratically elected civilian government has finished its term.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
It's been more than a year since Omar Hammami, an American-born jihadist in Somalia who made a name for himself with lo-fi propaganda rap productions, posted a video telling viewers he feared for his life. The threat he felt came not from the Somali government, which he had come to fight against in 2008, or from the U.S. government, which has branded him a wanted terrorist, but from his own comrades in al-Shabab, the Somali affiliate of al Qaeda.
Since then, Hammami has been hiding out in Somalia, but he's hardly kept a low profile online. He is the apparent operator of the @abumamerican Twitter account, from which he has criticized al-Shabab's leadership and communicated with journalists and terrorism analysts -- he even gave an interview for a profile by Danger Room's Spencer Ackerman. In the past week, though, his luck living on the lam has been running out.
Last Thursday, Hammami live-tweeted what he claimed was an assassination attempt in which an al-Shabab gunman shot him in the neck in a coffee shop (he quickly posted pictures of blood running down his neck and soaking his shirt). Then his hideout was assaulted by militiamen who, after a shootout, reportedly hauled Hammami before an al-Shabab tribunal. According to Hammami's account on Twitter, the tribunal released him and several members of al-Shabab's leadership issued a fatwa protecting Hammami, but others in the organization still promised to pursue him. Yesterday, as Shabab-affiliated forces closed in around the village where he remains in hiding, Hammami seemed to think he could be killed shortly:
May not find another chance to tweet but just remember what we said and what we stood for. God kept me alive to deliver the mssg 2 the umah— abu m (@abumamerican) April 29, 2013
Today he did find another chance to tweet, reporting that a militia from the Somali province of Gedo is threatening to kill him "even if they lose 100 despite defections."
The apparent end of Hammami's life on the run is certainly high drama, but it's also a rare glimpse into the divisions in al-Shabab's leadership. There have been tensions in the organization before, but "it has not, to my knowledge, resulted in such a public display of discord," wrote Katherine Zimmerman, a senior analyst for the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project, when reached by email by FP.
There seems to be bad blood between Hammami and al-Shabab's emir, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who also goes by the kunya Abu Zubayr. In Hammami's telling, he went into hiding after a fight he had with Godane over the role of foreign fighters, taxation issues, and trial procedures. "i told him every last detail in person," Hammami told Ackerman in his interview, "leading to the beginning of the oppression." As militiamen gathered last Friday to drag him to the tribunal, Hammami saw Godane's hand: "abu zubayr has gone mad," he tweeted. "he's starting a civil war."
Hammami believes the decision to pursue him has driven a wedge between Godane and his deputies. And sure enough, after he was released by the tribunal, several senior leaders -- Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, the deputy emir, Hassan Dahir Aweys, a Shabab official who ran a rival militia until 2010, and Ibrahim Haji Jama Mead, a member of al-Shabab's Shura Council -- issued a fatwa protecting Hammami. "The fatwa," Zimmerman writes, "does indicate that these three have, and will continue to, position themselves on the side of protecting Hammami."
But that doesn't necessarily mean al-Shabab is headed for civil war, as Hammami suggests. "It is still not clear to me that the divisions over the treatment of Hammami and the fighters with him will result in an actual split within al Shabaab," Zimmerman writes, stressing previous tensions in the organization's senior leadership. Specifically, she cited Robow's 2010 decision to withdraw his troops from Mogadishu after rejecting Godane's strategic approach to the city, Aweys's public disagreement with Godane over whether al-Shabab should have a monopoly on jihadist groups in Somalia, and a message Mead addressed to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in which he expressed opposition to Godane's leadership. Despite their differences, Zimmerman points out, they've all remained stakeholders in the organization: "When these divisions surface, some are quick to assume that the group is weaker, but time and again, the group has remained united despite the divisions."
What's more, the internal fight over Hammami's fate doesn't split along what seems to be al-Shabab's largest internal fault line. That would be the fight "between the 'globalists' and the 'nationalists,'" writes Zimmerman, "those who sought to establish an Islamic caliphate in Somalia for the purpose of supporting al Qaeda's vision of jihad, and those who appeared to seek an Islamic caliphate as an end-state." Both Godane and Hammami are in the globalist camp (Hammami's even rapped about it); Robow and Aweys have tended to side with nationalists.
At the end of the day, Hammami seems to be caught in the middle of these rivals' power plays. And though the debate over his fate might not tear the organization apart, his desperate tweets do shine a light on the leadership's stark divisions.
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
I didn't think it would be hard to find "9 Disturbingly Good Jihadi Raps" online, but it was. There were, of course, the stylings of al-Shabab's rapper laureate, Omar Hammami, and the music video for "Dirty Kuffar," which was designed to go viral on social media sites like YouTube and Dailymotion.
But the most professional-sounding jihadi raps weren't on YouTube or SoundCloud -- they were tracks off M-Team's album "Clash of Civilizations." And to listen to them, I bought the songs on iTunes. They're also available for download from Amazon.com and Google Play, and they can be listened to on Spotify.
M-Team (that's short for Mujahideen Team) offered some bold thoughts about violent jihad in their debut album:
SPOKEN: Today is the day of retribution!
Today is the day of jihad!
Today is the day of victory or martyrdom,
so all you who believe, raise your hand and ready your weapons...
SUNG: Bust your weapons, take off oppression,
take their lives and right-hand possessions,
snatch a politician out the election,
give him injections, lethal infections...
The revolution, kaffir execution,
the true solution, the day of retribution!
"It's certainly very provocative," Rolling Stone associate editor Simon Vozick-Levinson told me when I asked him what he thought of it. "Rap and hip hop in particular are effective ways of getting a message out to a broader audience. If you have a strong conviction, putting it to a catchy beat is a good way to get your message across. To a Western audience, it's going to be pretty shocking."
It's also hardly the first time music has encouraged violence. And it's not just rap; before songs like "Cop Killer" and "Fuck tha' Police" in the early 1990s, there were controversies over groups like Black Sabbath and Twisted Sister. But is there a point where musicians go too far for mainstream music outlets?
Graham James, a spokesman for Spotify, said they were looking into M-Team's work and pointed out that Spotify, in its company policy, "reserve[s] the right to remove content that, in Spotify's opinion, is likely to incite hatred or discrimination of any kind, be that race, religion, sexuality or otherwise, or content that is deemed offensive, abusive, defamatory, illegal, pornographic or obscene in anyway." But he also expressed concern about using the policy for anything other than exceptional circumstances. "It's a very slippery slope. If you start taking down things you find objectionable, where do you ultimately draw that line?" he told FP. (Representatives from iTunes did not respond to requests for comment.)
Vozick-Levinson agrees: "Artists test boundaries, like Ice-T's song 'Cop Killer.' But that song didn't lead to an epidemic of violence; that song is a work of art. Time has shown that censorship isn't the answer. The better choice is to discuss these things and why they're objectionable rather than try to censor them."
And its worth noting that, like Ice-T, who went from rapping about shooting cops to playing a detective on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, M-Team took a decidedly more moderate tone in their sophomore album, "My Enemy's Enemy." As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and jihadi rap critic, described it on Twitter, "M-Team's later deviations diminish their jihadi cred. Kind of like how Katy Perry's later music diminishes the credibility of her early work as a gospel singer."
On Sunday, the Dagestan affiliate of the Caucasus Emirate, a separatist group in Russia that has been tied to al Qaeda by the United Nations, issued a statement denying responsibility for the attacks in Boston. Here's a translation by the jihadist media clearinghouse blog Jihadology:
[T]here are speculative assumptions that [Tamerlan Tsarnaev] may have been associated with the Mujahideen of the Caucasus Emirate, in particular with the Mujahideen of Dagestan.
The Command of the Province of Dagestan indicates in this regard that the Caucasian Mujahideen are not fighting against the United States of America. We are at war with Russia, which is not only responsible for the occupation of the Caucasus, but also for heinous crimes against Muslims.
The statement also stressed that the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Doku Umarov, has discouraged targeting civilians and blamed speculation about the Tsarnaevs' connection to Chechen separatists on Russian propaganda.
The Caucasus Emirate has been under particular scrutiny for the attacks, given the Tsarnaevs' Chechen heritage and older brother Tamerlan's trip to Chechnya and Dagestan last year, which some reports have tied to his radicalization.
The statement does not definitively indicate that the Tsarnaevs are not connected to the Caucasus Emirate, however. "The Caucasus Emirate is a very decentralized structure organizationally so I wouldn't necessarily say they speak on behalf of other wilayah or jama'at or even the emir Dokku Umarov," writes Aaron Zelin, the Richard Borow fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and founder of Jihadology, whom FP reached by email this morning. "The Caucasus Emirate is the main jihadi umbrella, but there are a bunch of wilayah and jama'at that work under it. I don't think we know enough information to determine if they could have worked with others."
The Dagestan affiliate of the Caucasus Emirate is not the first jihadist group to deny involvement in the attacks. The Pakistani Taliban issued a statement denying responsibility almost immediately after the bombings last week, with a spokesman for the organization saying, "Certainly, America is our target and we will attack the U.S. and its allies whenever the [Pakistani Taliban] finds the opportunity, but we are not involved in this attack."
News that the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings are brothers has sparked a great deal of interest in their family history and the relationship between the two siblings. But if they were indeed behind the assault, they wouldn't be the first brothers to plot or carry out such an attack. Here is a look at some of their predecessors in recent years:
In 2009, three brothers --ethnic Albanians from the former Yugoslavia -- were convicted of plotting to murder military personnel at Fort Dix, a base south of Trenton, N.J, along with two other men. Dritan Duka and Shain Duka received life in prison plus thirty years, while Eljvir received life imprisonment. The brothers claim they're innocent.
Last March, Mohammed Merah fatally shot a rabbi, three Jewish schoolchildren, and three French paratroopers in an attack in Toulouse, France before he himself was gunned down in a shootout with police. Merah, who claimed he was trained by al Qaeda, said the attack stemmed from France's ban on the full Muslim veil, the country's presence in Afghanistan, and his disgust over the treatment of Palestinians. His brother Abdelkader is being held in France on charges of complicity.
Late last year, Sheheryar Alam Qazi and Raees Alam Qazi were charged with aiding terrorists and planning to detonate a weapon of mass destruction in the United States (U.S. prosecutors say Raees wanted to retaliate against U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan by blowing up a New York City landmark). The Florida-based brothers are both naturalized U.S. citizens from Pakistan.
In March, a Danish court convicted two Danish brothers from Somalia of planning a terror attack with Somalia's al-Shabab militants, and sentenced each to three and a half years in prison. Guleed Mohamed Warsame and Nuur Mohamed Warsame were found guilty of conspiring to send Guleed to a Shabab-run training camp in Somalia.
In January, two Bedouin brothers from the Negev confessed to a plot to fire rockets at Israel and stage a suicide bombing at a bus station in Beersheba. Mahmoud Abu Quider reportedly scouted the attack sites, while his brother, Samah, was to help carry out the assaults.
Samir Naji al-Hasan Moqbel has been held at Guantánamo Bay for more than 11 years. For the past two months, he has been on a hunger strike, which he described in the editorial pages of the New York Times today:
I could have been home years ago -- no one seriously thinks I am a threat -- but still I am here....
The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one.
I do not want to die here, but until President Obama and Yemen's president do something, that is what I risk every day.
Where is my government? I will submit to any "security measures" they want in order to go home, even though they are totally unnecessary.
I will agree to whatever it takes in order to be free.
It's true that, as of his last publicly available assessment, dated March 4, 2008, Joint Task Force Guantánamo considered Moqbel a low security threat and a medium intelligence asset. In recent months, Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansur Hadi has pressed for the release of Guantánamo's 90 Yemeni detainees (more than half of the prison's 166 inmates), calling the imprisonment "clear-cut tyranny." He has demanded that the United States return the detainees to Yemen and blocked efforts to repatriate them to third-party countries. "The United States is fond of talking democracy and human rights," he told Russia Today's Arabic station, "but when we were discussing ther prisoner issue with the American attorney general, he had nothing to say." Still, it's unlikely that Moqbel will be allowed to return to Yemen anytime soon, for reasons that have less to do with Moqbel and more to do with events half a world away.
The United States has tried remanding Guantánamo detainees to Gulf states before, with disastrous results. Beginning in 2006, the United States began passing detainees to the Prince Muhammad bin Nayef Center for Care and Counseling, a government-sponsored rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia. Despite months of reeducation and offers of wives and homes in Saudi Arabia, 11 former Guantánamo prisoners who participated in the program went on to join al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Among them was Said al-Shihri, the organization's resilient second-in-command, who recruited graduates of the program to follow him to Yemen.
Yemen's domestic attempt at a rehabilitation program, which was undertaken in late 2002 with jihadists arrested in Yemen and held in Yemeni prisons, lacked the resources of the Saudi program. Over the next several years, hundreds of prisoners were released, many of whom then traveled to Iraq to join Sunni extremist groups fighting the U.S. occupation. Over time, "the program evolved into a sort of tacit nonaggression pact between the government and the militants," Princeton scholar Gregory Johnsen explains in his book, The Last Refuge. "Prisoners no longer had to disavow violent jihad; they only had to agree not to carry out attacks in Yemen. The state struck a dangerous compromise: don't attack us and we won't attack you." The program finally fell apart in late 2005.
Since then, the country has been plagued by jailbreaks. The February 2006 escape of 23 individuals -- including Nasir al-Wuhayshi, now emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Qassim al-Raymi, who would become his military commander -- heralded the return of al Qaeda in Yemen. These prison breaks have continued with alarming frequency since.
There have been occasional proposals to restart a rehabilitation program in Yemen, but the most persistent advocate for such a program hasn't much helped matters. That would be Abd' al-Majid al-Zindani, whose strange clerical stylings have become a bizarre and uniquely Yemeni institution. An investigation into his ties to the bombers of the USS Cole and role in facilitating jihadists' travel to Afghanistan earned him a "specially designated global terrorist" label from the U.S. Treasury, and the Salafist clerical school he started, Iman University, has produced such famous alumni as Anwar al-Awlaki and John Walker Lindh -- making him a less-than-ideal candidate to reform militants.
In the meantime, the country has other pressing matters: the National Dialogue, which aims to resolve the many political grievances of the country's tribal, religious, and geographic factions while producing a constitutional referendum and elections; a continuing threat from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its local affiliates, which occupied wide swaths of several Yemeni provinces in 2012; a demographic crisis; a water crisis; an oil crisis. Building the capacity to accept U.S.-held detainees, in other words, has not been a priority. And without a program to accept and reintegrate detainees into daily life in Yemen, the remaining low-risk individuals at Guantánamo will remain in legal limbo.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
If confirmed as an act of terrorism, the two explosions that struck the Boston Marathon's finish line on Monday, killing at least two people and injuring dozens more, would represent the first such attack to strike the city in recent history.
Authorities initially declined to label the incident an act of terrorism; when asked by a reporter immediately after the explosions whether he would classify the incident as a terrorist attack, Boston Police Chief Ed Davis said, "You can reach your own conclusions." But CNN is now reporting that federal officials have classified the bombings as a terrorist attack and have moved on to investigating whether its origins were foreign or domestic.
According to the University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database, 16 acts of terrorism -- two of which resulted in injures, another two of which resulted in fatalities -- have occurred in Boston since 1970, and no acts of terrorism have occurred in the city since 1995.
According to the University of Maryland, the most recent lethal terrorist attack in Boston was the 1995 killing of Paul R. McLaughlin, a gangland prosecutor who was shot to death execution-style in his car. The only other Boston terror attack to have resulted in a fatality was the 1992 killing of Iwao Matsuda, the president of Chukyo University, who was shot to death in his hotel room while visiting the city to sign an exchange agreement with the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Over the course of its history, Boston has witnessed several bombings carried out by a variety of leftist groups, black nationalists, and abortion activists. But only one such bombing -- carried out by the obscure Marxist group United Freedom Front -- resulted in serious casualties. In that attack, on April 22, 1976, 22 people were injured -- including a man who lost a leg -- in a bombing that targeted the Suffolk County Courthouse.
In more recent years, Boston has had an ignominious connection with the major terrorist attacks carried out on U.S. soil. Two of the hijacked airliners in the Sept. 11 attacks -- American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 -- originated at Boston's Logan Airport, and the attacks that day claimed the lives of 206 people from Massachusetts or with strong ties to it. Still, in the decade that followed, Boston managed to avoid a major terrorist attack. Until, it seems, today.
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Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group responsible for more than 2,000 deaths in northern Nigeria, is apparently not interested in amnesty. In rejecting an offer (before it was actually put on the table) by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, the group appeared to respond with its own offer of sorts: "It is we that should grant you [a] pardon," said a man who sounds like Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in a recording translated by AFP. "Surprisingly, the Nigerian government is talking about granting us amnesty. What wrong have we done?"
In 2011, Boko Haram rejected a similar amnesty offer from Kashim Shettima, then governor-elect of Nigeria's Borno state, on the grounds that the group did not recognize the Nigerian constitution, only the laws of Allah. (No counteroffer of amnesty was made at that time.)
This time around, Boko Haram seems to have taken its cue from the Congolese Rally for Democracy, a rebel group active in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo during the Second Congo War, which greeted an amnesty offer from President Laurent Kabila with a similarly flippant riposte.
"Kabila is the one who deserves amnesty in the first place," the rebel group's vice president said in 1999. "Kabila should seek forgiveness from the rebels and all Congolese people. The only way to do so is to quit power and leave the Congolese in peace."
For what it's worth, the reverse-amnesty strategy was also tried (under slightly different circumstances) by the leader of a breakaway splinter of the Tamil Tigers in 2004. After receiving a "ridiculous" amnesty offer from the group's northern leadership, a spokesman for the rogue colonel, Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, said, "It is they who should think of being forgiven by our people [in the east] for the sacrifices made to protect the land and the people of Wanni [in the north]."
Said al-Shihri just won't stay dead. Each time the deputy emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has reportedly been killed, he has popped up again several months later with a new piece of propaganda. He did so after supposedly being killed in September, and he did it again today after his reported death in January.
Shihri fought in Chechnya and Afghanistan before being captured by U.S. forces in 2001 and detained at Guantánamo Bay. He underwent a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia and was released in September 2008, only to show up in a video announcing the formation of AQAP in Yemen just four months later.
Shihri's latest brush with death reportedly began when he was seriously wounded in an airstrike in Yemen's northern Saada province on Nov. 28 and went into a coma. But a source connected to AQAP tells Yemeni journalist Shuaib al-Mosawa that rather than succumb to his wounds, as was reported in January, Shihri was treated by Syrian doctors fighting with AQAP and has since recovered. He appears to have recovered at least enough to make an audio recording, released today, calling for an uprising in Saudi Arabia.
According to AFP, the message references events that have taken place in the months since his death was announced by Yemen's state media -- demonstrating that it was recorded recently -- but does not explicitly reference reports of his demise. Al-Mosawa's source speculated that AQAP will comment more on recent events as the initial round of Yemen's National Dialogue winds down.
The full audio message, in Arabic, can be accessed at Jihadology here.
Image via Jihadology
For the first time in Pakistan's history, a democratically elected civilian government has successfully finished its five-year term -- despite a flurry of anti-government protests. But what does that success look like?
Foreign direct investment collapsed after President Asif Ali Zardari's government came to power in 2008, and has continued declining since, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, foreign aid from the United States spiked, more than doubling under the new government to over $4 billion a year before tapering off again in 2011.
The country's relative political stability has paid off in some respects. Child mortality is down. School enrollment has continued to improve as well, rising three percentage points between 2008 and 2011 (admittedly not as impressive as the 14-percent increase over the course of the previous five years). On the other hand, since 2009 the ratio of girls to boys receiving a primary or secondary education has declined, indicating that enrollment is increasingly skewing toward boys. Pakistan may have fallen from ninth to 13th place in the Fund for Peace's annual ranking of failed states between 2008 and 2012, but the slightly better finish was still pretty dismal (as Robert Kaplan's "What's Wrong with Pakistan?" article for FP's Failed States package last year attests).
Domestic security under Zardari's government got off to a rough start, but has started to improve more recently. Domestic suicide bombings surged in the last year of Pervez Musharraf's government -- from the single digits through the first half of the decade to 57 in 2007. Terror attacks hit their peak with 90 suicide bombings in 2009, but the number fell to 32 attacks in 2012.
For what it's worth, in the last five years there have also been 353 U.S. CIA airstrikes against terrorist targets that killed at least 2,376 individuals, compared to 12 strikes with a minimum death toll of 159 people from the start of the CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan in 2004 through 2007.
That figure does not include the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad in May 2011 -- for which President Obama famously did not give advance notice to the Pakistani government because of concerns about al Qaeda sympathizers in the Pakistani military and intelligence service. At an event at the Brooking Institution last month, retired CIA analyst and South Asia expert Bruce Riedel speculated that bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is also being sheltered by the Pakistani military. If the civilian government is slowly finding its sea legs, it has a long way to go.
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Al Qaeda-aligned extremists aren't optimistic about the war in Syria, and are preparing for a long fight -- against Assad, the United States, Israel, Iran, and even other Islamist rebels. That's the lesson of a "comprehensive strategy" posted to a members-only jihadi forum associated with al Qaeda.
The paper states some lofty goals for the forum, Shumukh al-Islam, whose members have been known to fight with jihadi groups in Syria like Jabhat al-Nusra. The author frames Shumukh almost like an al Qaeda think tank, writing, "We would like here for our forums ... to be centers for research and sophisticated studies that issue reports and advisory recommendations."
They have a long way to go. In an email to FP, Cole Bunzel, a doctoral candidate at Princeton University who wrote about the report for the Jihadica blog, writes that the "forums acting as a kind of jihadi think tank is more an aspiration than a reality," though he pointed out that there are efforts within the forums to provide more analysis.
The analysis presented in the "comprehensive strategy" for Syria is bleak for jihadi groups fighting against the Assad regime. Fighters "are exposed to extraordinary pressure, assault, forced retreat, ignominy, and many, many other things," and it is only likely to get worse. Shumukh expects a long war, and believes a foreign intervention is imminent -- "a Crusader power will, inevitably, arrive on Syrian territory, using multiple pretexts," the author writes. As for who would step in, the author fantasizes about a potential U.S.-Israeli-Iranian alliance; Bunzel notes in a wry footnote that the "author has a very confused understanding of Middle Eastern alliance politics."
The report speculates that the looming intervention will close Syria's porous borders, a critical avenue for new recruits to join jihadi groups. The key, then, is preparation. Jihadis should "increase greatly the inflow of recruits ... because the openness of these borders will not persist." Jabhat al-Nusra should manage a media office to produce flashy videos and press releases ("[f]or the media in this generation are equivalent to half the army"), an intelligence service, and a commando unit -- a sort of jihadi Joint Special Operations Command. They should establish a government-in-waiting to prepare for the fall of the Assad regime and "fill the void and manage people's affairs in the areas under our control," providing services in an approach not unlike Ansar al-Sharia's strategy in Yemen in early 2012. In some places, this has already begun; a recent article about Jabhat al-Nusra notes that, "Within their ranks, an aid department distributes bread, gas and blankets." This Phase IV planning is "of greater concern to us than the ongoing war," the author of the "comprehensive strategy" writes.
The post-war planning is necessary because the jihadis expect everyone to turn on them. Shumukh advises jihadis to prepare to fight anyone who "besiege[s] or conspire[s] against [them] whether ... from beyond Syria or by the brothers of the revolution itself." There is already an emerging schism between Jabhat al-Nusra and the umbrella group known as the Islamic Syrian Front, Bunzel notes, with more moderate Islamists supporting democratic governance. "That's just the kind of soft stance that JN jihadists -- and the authors of the Shumukh strategy -- seem intent on opposing," he writes.
It's an ambitious plan and "almost certainly has more analytical value for us analysts than it does practical value for jihadis on the battlefield," notes Bunzel. "What I find most revealing is the extraordinary depth of their paranoia and sense of pessimism regarding their future role in Syria." It's also a strategy that directly contradicts Osama bin Laden's own warning to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in a letter that was found at the complex where he was killed in Abbottabad, that trying to hold territory makes jihadis an exposed target. The strategy proved to be a failure in Yemen and provoked the very foreign intervention the report warns of when attempted in Mali. "Their calculation seems to be this: we jihadists are inevitably going to be squeezed by all the forces of the region," Bunzel explains, "so we should make sure to recruit heavily in the short term, take control of heavy and chemical weapons sites, and stake out territory for the looming fight."
This concern and uncertainty about what comes next was echoed by Abdullah Omar, a Free Syrian Army soldier, in a recent interview with the Global Post. When asked about Jabhat al-Nusra, he replied, "God only knows what's going to happen between them and the FSA and the new government after the Assad regime falls down." The jihadis, though, aren't waiting to find out. They're preparing for a fight they expect will pit them against the world.
ZAC BAILLIE/AFP/Getty Images
Sa'id al-Shihri, the deputy emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was killed today in the Yemeni province of Hadramawt according to the Yemeni Ministry of Defense. The report was met with skepticism by some Yemen experts. al-Shihri has been reported dead before, but the reports come amid an offensive surge against AQAP targets in Hadramawt, where many militants fled after being pushed out of the province of Abyan in June. Yemeni media reported that he was killed by the Yemeni armed forces, but according to the Washington Post, he was probably killed by an American drone.
Shihri, who went by the pseudonym Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, had fought in Afghanistan and Chechnya before being captured by U.S. forces in December 2001, soon after returning to Afghanistan. After several years of detention at Guantanamo Bay, Shihri went through a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia and was released in September, 2008. Four months later, he appeared in a video announcing the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an aggressive offshoot led by a former bin Laden aide Nasir al-Wuhayshi, which quickly gained the attention of Western journalists and the intelligence community with a series of high-profile attempted attacks and flashy online periodicals.
Shihri is believed to have helped plan a 2009 assassination attempt against Saudi prince Muhammad bin Nayif, then-head of Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism program and a proponent of the jihadi rehabilitation program Shihri underwent. He also worked to raise funds and recruits from Saudi Arabia. Some of his efforts were met with criticism from within the al Qaeda network. Documents recovered from bin Laden's safehouse in Abottabad include a letter from bin Laden criticizing Shihri's communiqués demanding the release of a Saudi fundraiser for AQAP, and suggesting that the al Qaeda franchise clear their press releases with al Qaeda Central.
AQAP, though, seems to have made it a point to assert its independence from al Qaeda central command. In the same letter, Bin Laden also advised against trying to hold territory in Yemen to establish an Islamic emirate -- a suggestion the AQAP leadership pointedly disregarded. Bin Laden's reasoning that it would leave AQAP tied to targets and exposed proved true. And if Shihri really was killed today, it could very well be that his location was revealed as AQAP fled their mistake in Abyan.
It has been a particularly rough week for al-Shabab. The al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist militia that has been battling for control of Somalia for the past few years has suffered three major setbacks in the course of a few days.
Just last month, prominent al-Shabab-affiliated cleric Sheikh Aboud Rogo was fingered in a leaked UN report on Somalia as a key recruiter for the group in East Africa with strong ties to al Qaeda. On the morning of Aug. 27, he was shot in his car along with several members of his family as they drove through Mombasa, Kenya.
No assailants have been identified, but crowds of thousands of Rogo's outraged supporters have taken in the streets of Mombasa to protest his death. At least one person has been reported dead so far and two churches have been vandalized by mobs, Jeune Afrique reported.
According to the U.N. report, Rogo was a key figure in the leadership of the Muslim Youth Centre (MYC) -- also known as Al-Hijra -- one of al-Shabab's main support networks in Kenya:
"The MYC relies heavily on the ideological guidance of prominent Kenyan Islamist extremists including Sheikh Aboud Rogo, a radical cleric based in Mombasa, Kenya, known associate of member of Al-Qaida East Africa and advocate of the violent overthrow of the Kenyan government. In consultation with Rogo, MYC has not only changed its name, but reorganized its membership and finances in order to permit its organization, the Pumwani Riyadha Mosque Committee (PRMC) in Nairobi, to continue funding Al Shabab."
Only a few days before Rogo's death, the U.N. Security Council announced that it was implementing targeted sanctions against Abubaker Shariff Ahmed, another Mombasa-based Kenyan national with deep links to al-Shabab. Ahmed has been in prison for over two years in Kenya for his involvement in a grenade attack on a Nairobi bus depot that killed three.
According to the Security Council resolution, Ahmed has six known aliases and is "a close associate of Aboud Rogo." Rogo's name is the only one mentioned in the Security Council resolution condemning Ahmed. Both men were placed under sanctions by the U.S. at the same time on July 5, 2012.
Also on the morning of Aug. 27, the AFP reported that African Union AMISOM troops captured the coastal al-Shabab stronghold of Marka:
"The loss of Marka, some 70 kilometres (45 miles) south of the capital Mogadishu, is another major blow for the insurgents, who have been on the back foot for several months."
Al-Shabab was pushed out of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, last year and has suffered number of further defeats over the past several months. However, they still maintain control of the two port cities of Barawe and Kismayo, their main stronghold.
Whether these events represent different strands of a coordinated regional crackdown on al-Shabab activities or whether the group is encountering a rather startling wave bad luck remains unclear.
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images
Energy resources are a hot commodity in the Levant Basin days, and with 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil, 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas, and 5 billion barrels of natural gas liquids at stake, the Israeli defense ministry is asking for a "one-time budget increase" of about $760 million to boost its naval capacity in the Mediterranean Sea so it can better protect the country's offshore natural gas platforms. Though Israel purchased its fourth Dolphin-class diesel-electric submarine from Germany earlier this year to the tune of over $500 million, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Benny Gantz are on board with the plan, which "calls for adding four new warships to Israel's naval fleet and deploying hundreds of soldiers in the area."
Natural gas discoveries in the early twenty-first century have created a military debacle for Israel, which does not have demarcated maritime boundary with Lebanon. All of the multinational gas platforms are privately owned and fall within Israel's exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles from the coast, but they are located beyond Israel's territorial waters, which only stretch 12 nautical miles from land.
Israel's first offshore natural gas discovery, Tamar, is not slated to come online until 2013, but the defense institution fears that the platforms are already targets for terrorist attacks from Hezbollah, which receives long-range missiles from Syria. The Israeli navy does not traditionally get the lion's share of the defense budget, and top officials are worrying. As one anonymous senior Israeli military planner told Reuters, "We will do our best, but not without a major boost to our capabilities." In May, senior naval officer Capt. Sassi Hodeda told the Los Angeles Times that the navy wants to improve its radar systems and use unmanned surface vehicles to patrol, but added that they require "special technology" the navy does not have.
If the navy does receive the extra funding, the vessels it purchases "will have to accommodate an advanced radar system, a helicopter and a launch system capable of firing long-range air defense and surface-to-surface missiles." According to the Jerusalem Post, the options include designing the ships in the U.S. using foreign military aid, and building them in South Korea, but if Israel is really looking for international help, maybe it should consider ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty first.
Have you ever wondered what it's like to be a terrorist-shooting sniper? Thanks to a program run by Jewish settlers in Gush Etzion, you too can spend a day beyond the Green Line learning how to take down extremist militants. As Yedioth Aharanoth reported recently, the experience allows tourists to "hear stories from the battleground, watch a simulated assassination of terrorists by guards, and fire weapons at the range." Sharon Gat, who manages the Caliber 3 shooting range, calls the opportunity a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" that was "created due to popular demand," and demand is certainly high among families. Enter Michel Brown, a Miami banker who brought his wife and three children to this warfare summer camp:
Upon entering the range, his five-year-old daughter, Tamara, bursts into tears. A half hour later, she is holding a gun and shooting clay bullets like a pro. "This is part of their education," Michel says as he proudly watches his daughter. "They should know where they come from and also feel some action."
By the end of the day, his trigger-happy son Jacob is confident that he can stop terrorist operatives with the best of them:
"This is an awesome experience. I learned how to stop a terrorist and how to rescue hostages. Now, when I find myself in distress, I will know how to deal."
Tourists receive a certificate at the end of the experience, and Gush Etzion Regional Council president Davidi Pearl hopes that the program will turn the Gush into "a world-famous ‘tourist gem.'"
If the program continues to be successful, we may have a small army of child counter-terror operatives on our hands.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Members of Turkey's Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) proposed a more decentralized Turkish government at a Brookings Institution panel on Tuesday.
"We don't believe that a centralized system of government that manages all of these different ethnic groups and communities is viable and productive," said BDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas. "We see this [decentralized government] as the most viable alternative."
Demirtas also emphasized that he is not calling for a completely independent Kurdish entity:
"We are not talking about the Kurdish people [living] in a region called Kurdistan."
Though he stressed that the BDP has no "organic relationship" with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which the Turkish government classifies as a terrorist organization, Demirtas noted that the PKK is not the problem, but a result of the problem:
"We believe the PKK is part of the reality of this conflic, and we believe that they should be communicated with.... We don't see the PKK as a problem, we see it as a result of the problem."
Ahmet Türk of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) agreed, and urged the audience to consider that the Turkish government's longstanding policy of denying its Kurdish citizens their civil rights might be the root of the problem.
"You don't provide Kurds an opportunity to express themselves, so the PKK emerged."
While Demirtas made sure to explain that his party does not condone violence, he did take issue with the Turkish government's definition of terrorism:
"This means of violence that is being used has to be understood correctly. The simple, traditional [definition of] terrorism cannot be used here. This is a 100-year-old conflict.... As long as you are unable to define it correctly, the wrong definition will cause misunderstanding."
BDP member and Turkish parliamentarian Gülten Kisanak argued that the PKK's numbers are evidence that the government must rethink its position toward the organization:
"According to data provided by the Turkish chief of staff, since 1978 40,000 Kurds have participated in the PKK and lost their life in fighting the struggle. I believe these numbers cannot be seen as terrorism in that sense."
The BDP may support President Abdullah Gül's call for a new "flexible and freedom-based" constitution, but its forward-thinking notions about the PKK isn't going to win it many points with Ankara.
ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
Among the many questions that remain over why and how a gunman was able to kill at least 76 people in Norway on Friday, perhaps nothing is more infuriating than the cushy fate that seems to await Anders Behring Breivik, the suspect. If you're going to go on a maniacal murder rampage and then not have the decency to include yourself in the body count -- Norway is the place to do it.
Norway takes the mantra of rehabilitation to an extreme. Not only are there no death sentences, there aren't life sentences. The maximum Breivik can face is 21 years (not per murder, but in total). Yes, there is a caveat that says a prisoner deemed to still be a threat can have his sentence expanded in five year blocks -- but in a very real sense, that means he will come up for parole every five years for the rest of his life -- or until he is no longer seen as a threat. Few killers in Norway serve more than 14 years.
The Norwegian prison system takes seriously the philosophy that inmates should be treated as humanely as possible and that jail sentences should be seen less as punishment than as an opportunity to reintegrate troubled people back into society. According to the numbers, this approach has some benefits -- only 20 percent of prisoners there eventually return to prison, as opposed to 50 - 60 percent in the United States and Britain. Violent crime is much lower than in other societies.
"Both society and the individual simply have to put aside their desire for revenge, and stop focusing on prisons as places of punishment and pain," one prison official said last year. "Depriving a person of their freedom for a period of time is sufficient punishment in itself without any need whatsoever for harsh prison conditions."
That's a fair point, but can the theory hold in a case like this? Will Breivik be seen as a person who can be rehabilitated and returned to society? And if not, what does the soft Norwegian prison system mean for him?
Wifi and Rock climbing walls
Norway doesn't have many jails to choose from (there are only 3,300 incarcerated prisoners in the whole country, compared to 2.5 million in the United States). Last year, Norway inaugurated its newest prison -- a campus that embodies its principles of rehabbing the worst of society.
With prisoners that include rapists and murderers, Halden Prison -- the second largest in the country and the most secure facility -- looks more like a sleepaway camp than a traditional prison -- architects say they purposely tried to avoid an "institutional feel." When it opened, some news accounts called it the "most humane" prison in the world. According to a Time magazine story last year:
Halden is spread over 75 acres (30 hectares) of gently sloping forest in southeastern Norway. The facility boasts amenities like a sound studio, jogging trails and a freestanding two-bedroom house where inmates can host their families during overnight visits. Unlike many American prisons, the air isn't tinged with the smell of sweat and urine. Instead, the scent of orange sorbet emanates from the "kitchen laboratory" where inmates take cooking courses.... To avoid an institutional feel, exteriors are not concrete but made of bricks, galvanized steel and larch; the buildings seem to have grown organically from the woodlands. And while there is one obvious symbol of incarceration -- a 20-ft. (6 m) concrete security wall along the prison's perimeter -- trees obscure it, and its top has been rounded off.
Prisoners' cells include flat screen TVs, minifridges, and long windows that let in more sunlight. Prisoners share kitchens and living rooms with sofas and coffee tables. There's a state-of-the-art gym with a climbing wall and expensive artwork commissioned for the prison. At other maximum security prisons, inmates have access to the internet, even in their jail cells.
Prison guards don't carry guns. And they are encouraged to be outgoing and friendly toward the inmates -- eating together and playing sports to "create a sense of family," one official said.
Other lower-security prisons in Norway (where violent criminals tend to end up after a few years) are even cushier -- with tennis courts, horseback riding, beaches, and ski trails (prisoners can participate in ski-jumping competitions in the winter at one facility). At an island prison (which includes murders and rapists as well) inmates work on a farm and live in "comfortable wooden houses shared between four to six inmates."
Societal criticism of prison life is somewhat faint (most of the criticism in the past has had to do with the fear that cushy jails could lure more organized crime to the country (one politician argued that some of the nicer prisons should "only be for Norwegian criminals.")
Time noted last summer that: "Norway's cultural values and attitudes toward crime mean the public sees no need to push for tougher penalties or harsher prisons."
The article also noted, "In Norway, acts of extreme violence are seen as aberrant events, not symptoms of national decay."
This unprecedented case could make Norwegians reexamine their thoughts on incarceration. For now, Breivik has been remanded to custody for eight weeks (he'll be held in isolation for the first month -- meaning no outside communication with anyone besides his lawyers). After that, if convicted, the alleged mass killer of at least 76 people may end up in a prison with a lovely rock-climbing wall to keep himself occupied.
To be clear -- no one has yet claimed responsibility for today's blasts in central Oslo. But Norway has not been immune from terror threats in the past. Al Qaeda's new chief, Ayman al Zawahri, has called for attacks on the country. After an audio message from Zawahri in 2003 singled it out, a spokesman for the foreign ministry said the government was "surprised" to be a target. Zawahri threatened Norway again in 2007, for participating "in the war against the Muslims."
Last year, Norway arrested two immigrants from China and Uzbekistan with alleged ties to al Qaeda. (A third man believed to be connected to the group was arrested in Germany). Norwegian authorities believed they were plotting an attack in Norway, though that was never confirmed. At the time, the minister of justice said the arrests indicated that the country needed to pay closer attention to possible links between immigrants and terror groups overseas.
But, why Norway?
The country supported the invasion of Afghanistan (though its troop presence is very low -- only about 400 soldiers); and there is still lingering anger over the Danish Mohammed cartoon controversy from 2006. A Norwegian newspaper reprinted some of them, forcing the government to apologize. Norway's embassy in Syria was attacked by protesters. Some analysts say Scandinavian countries are often lumped together by extremist groups -- meaning Denmark and Norway are seen as intertwined. In fact, one of the immigrants arrested last year in Norway, reportedly told police his target was originally the Danish newspaper that first published the cartoons.
Another potential explanation has to do with the complicated case of Mullah Krekar, an Iraqi Kurd who worked with Islamist groups there before moving to Norway in 1991 and claiming refugee status. He's praised bin Laden and has called for attacks against U.S. interests in Iraq. In 2005, he was ordered deported after being declared a national security threat, but his deportation was suspended. Earlier this month, prosecutors in Norway charged Krekar with threatening government officials. Krekar has denied having any links to al Qaeda and it seems unlikely the group would seek vengeance for his arrest.
In the end, Norway may simply have been attacked because -- despite being a low priority for terror groups -- it proved to be an easier target than higher profile locations. And in the wake of bin Laden's killing, al Qaeda has been looking to launch an attack against the West.
"It may be pointless to search for a single grievance," said Thomas Hegghammer, an expert on terror groups with the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, last year after the arrests were made. "Most likely, a combination of factors placed Norway on the jihadists' radar. In al-Qaeda's binary worldview, Norway is part of the ‘Jewish-Crusader alliance.' Not a platinum member, perhaps, but a member nonetheless.... Frustrated by the difficulty of striking key adversaries like Britain and the United States, al-Qaeda seems to be moving down the food chain."
AFP/ Getty Images
At least one bomb went off outside the offices of Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and several other government buildings earlier today. The prime minister was unharmed. Just within the hour, there were reports of a second blast in central Oslo, according to Norwegian state broadcaster NRK -- though there has been no confirmation yet.
CNN is reporting a "state of confusion" in the city. Roads into the center of the city have been shut. "It's complete chaos here. The windows are blown out in all the buildings close by," according to one reporter in the area.
No word yet on any deaths, though eight people have been reported injured. And that number will likely rise. So far, no one has claimed responsibility.
As protesters overwhelmed former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's security forces in Tunis, the regional office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), the George W. Bush administration's signature democracy promotion organization, watched as its mandate was fulfilled in the most unlikely of places.
It is, to say the least, an awkward bit of symbolism. MEPI defines its mission as "develop[ing] more pluralistic, participatory, and prosperous societies." And in the country where it is based, the Tunisian people proved themselves to be uniquely and spectacularly unhappy with their regime.
But according to current and former democracy promotion advocates in the U.S. government, the decision to base MEPI's offices in Tunisia was made because the embassy had enough free space to accommodate its staff, and the country was thought to be stable enough to not interfere with the organization's sometimes controversial work.
Scott Carpenter, a former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bush administration who oversaw the creation of MEPI, said that the Ben Ali regime was "constantly paranoid" about the organization's presence in the country, and never allowed it to undertake significant democracy promotion programs. As a result, "we were doing a lot of stuff very, very quietly - not to say covert, but very quietly," Carpenter said.
The Ben Ali regime's hostility to any efforts to open up the political system was attested to by other Western diplomats who served in Tunis. Alan Goulty, who served as the British ambassador in the country from 2004 to 2008, said that the government would constantly raise the specter of terrorism to discourage any contact with Tunisian opposition figures.
"There was one explosion in 1987 of a bomb, where a British lady was wounded and lost her leg," Goulty said. "I lost count of the times that Tunisian officials, 15 years later, reminded me of that incident to justify their claims that the Tunisian opposition, whatever form it took, was terrorist."
In theory, the European Union should have had considerable economic and political leverage to convince the Ben Ali regime to liberalize. Trade between EU member states and Tunisia in 2009 was in excess of $20 billion - by comparison, total U.S. imports and exports to the country were valued at around $800 million. The EU association agreement with Tunisia also provided a ready-made avenue for discussion human rights and political liberalization. In practice, however, EU efforts in the country were anemic at best.
"Frankly, the EU always pulled its punches [on democracy promotion], because of the need to operate unanimously," said Goulty. "And a different approach was taken by [our] Mediterranean partners, principally France and Italy, who believed that the best way forward was to get close to the regime and further one's economic interests."
In fact, the primary contribution that the United States made to Tunisia's recent unrest was neglect. As U.S. relations with the other North African states improved over the past two decades, the relative importance of Tunisia as a U.S. ally in the region declined. U.S. diplomats may not have had much success promoting liberalization in the country, but the national security implications of the fall of Ben Ali's regime raised steadily fewer concerns in Washington.
David Mack, currently a scholar at the Middle East Institute, served as the deputy chief of mission of the U.S. embassy in Tunisia from 1979 to 1982. "If you go back to the time when I was there, our relations were disappearing with Libya, we had poor relations with Algeria, and strained relationships in many parts of the Muslim world," he noted. "But the reality is that today Tunisia plays a smaller role overall in U.S. strategic political calculation."
However, diplomats insisted that Tunisia's apparent stability under Ben Ali did not cause them to underestimate the population's grievances with his regime. A prescient June 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks criticizes the "sclerotic" regime, which it says has "lost touch with the Tunisian people." The same memo complains that "make it exceptionally difficult for the US Mission to conduct business" and meet with regime opponents.
Those who spent time in the country seconded that assessment. "The place was so sterile -- you just feel people's fear, and the complete lack of dynamism in the society," said Carpenter. "Within the State Department we used to refer to it as ‘Syria with a smile.'"
PHILIPPE MERLE/AFP/Getty Images
Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, was gunned down by one of his bodyguards today in a crowded marketplace -- the highest-profile killing in Pakistan since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the latest blow to the country's beleaguered civilian government. Pakistan's interior minister has suggested that Taseer's killing was related to his support of repealing the country's controversial blasphemy law, which earned him the ire of Pakistan's religious parties.
Nevertheless, you'd think that those who supported Taseer's assassination would be relegated to the lunatic fringe -- or at least be reticent about shouting their praise for the act from the rooftops. Not so. Admirers of the gunman, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, have set up a Facebook page to commemorate the killer. In a few short hours, the page has been flooded with hundreds of posts by supporters lionizing their newfound hero.
"May Allah protect Malik Mumtaz; he has indeed made us very proud as Muslims," reads one representative post written by Kamran Qureshi who, if his Facebook information is to be believed, resides in Lahore. Sounds like the Pakistani security services just got the names of a number of individuals with whom they might want to have a conversation.
To prove that none of those arrested or questioned surrounding a bomb attack on the Nigerian capital of Abuja earlier this month were in fact involved, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has just released a note to journalists vowing to strike again. Letter from the spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, is pasted below:
"In an obvious attempt to intimidate anyone opposed to the presidential ambition of Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian government hiding under the cloak of terrorist hunters have been witch-hunting, falsely accusing and harassing its perceived opponents.
A perfect opportunity emerged on October 1, 2010 after the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) detonated car bombs in a symbolic attack in Abuja for which we reaffirm responsibility but with regrets to the avoidable loss of lives.
The government of President Goodluck Jonathan responded by arresting innocent persons on trumped-up charges, linking them with the attack. From Chief Raymond Dokpesi which indirectly was pointing at former military head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida to Henry Okah in South Africa, the government has also named and arrested persons not connected with our actions as suspects and masterminds.
The South African government is playing an obviously partial role over the Independence Day Bombing in its handling of the Henry Okah angle because the Nigerian government has threatened to nationalize the South Africa communication giant, MTN if the country does not follow a devious script.
Since the court in South Africa has turned into a Kangaroo one that is scandalously biased, and both governments are bent on blaming innocent persons on ridiculous insinuations and unrelated evidence, we have decided to carry out another attack in Abuja without altering our mode of operation to proof the suspects' innocence.
As usual we will give a thirty minutes advance warning to avoid civilian casualties then sit back and watch how the blame game will be played out on all those already falsely accused.
All eyes in the Middle East are on Iran, but it may be Lebanon that is closer to war. On Sunday, the former head of Lebanese General Security, Gen. Jamil al-Sayyed, announced that he had been informed by his lawyer that a Damascus court had issued arrest warrants for 33 figures for misleading the international tribunal charged with bringing the killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri to justice. One of those individuals was a former chief investigator of the U.N.-led investigation itself, Detlev Mehlis. But in comments to Foreign Policy, Mehlis poured cold water over the truth of Sayyed's claims, and suggested that he has no intention of backing down from his work in Lebanon.
Sayyed has a particular axe to grind in this case: He was imprisoned for over four years on suspicion of being involved in Hariri's killing. And the man partially responsible for putting him behind bars was none other than Mehlis, who asked Lebanese authorities to arrest him along with three other pro-Syrian generals.
"I should mention that I am not aware of any investigation against myself and members of my previous UNIIIC-team anywhere in the world," Mehlis said. "I realize that Mr. Sayyed has brought up the story of an arrest warrant, just as he brought up the story of a French arrest warrant a year ago, and I do not believe a word of what he is saying. "
The Syrian government has so far yet to confirm whether an arrest warrant has been issued. But even if one has, Mehlis left little doubt about the opinion of such a document. "If indeed there is a Syrian arrest warrant, it would be baseless, illegal, and politically motivated, without any practical implications," he said.
As the showdown over the tribunal heats up, Mehlis's work has been fiercely attacked by the court's critics in an attempt to discredit the entire enterprise. As Syria and Hezbollah attempt to use their increased leverage within Lebanon to scuttle the court entirely, there is no doubt that such condemnations will continue. The only real question is whether anyone will speak out against them.
JOSEPH BARRAK/AFP/Getty Images
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
Jon Stewart hosted Tony Blair on The Daily Show Tuesday night, and he barely let the former British prime minister get a word in edgewise. Stewart evidently had some things to get off his chest, because he harangued Blair at length in one of his occasional moments of earnest seriousness. And in so doing, he just may have eviscerated the logic of the war on terrorism:
Stewart: As a pragmatist, is our strategy to rid the world of extremists practical? In a long-term... You talk about this as a generational conflict. Are we being practical in that pursuit?
Blair: Well, I think we're being realistic that it exists, that it exists as a more or less a global movement, with a narrative that's quite deep. And I think you know it's not just about hard power but about soft power as well. It's about how we can bring people of different faiths together, and resolve the Middle East peace process, as well as the hard business of fighting. But I think we don't have an option but to confront this extremism and defeat it. Because when the extremism came here, to New York, on 9/11, it wasn't a provocation.
Stewart: No. But I think the point I'm trying to make is: A very small group of people can do a great deal of damage now. And the amount of resources that we're putting into changing regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan...
I live in New York. We have cockroaches. I'm rich. I hire people to come in; they fumigate... I will never, as long as I live in New York City, be totally rid of cockroaches. Now, I could seal my apartment; I could use bug bombs so that it was nearly unlivable and reduce the amount of cockroaches. But what kind of life is that for me? [Applause.] Do you see what I'm saying? Do you see where I'm going here? Our strategy seems idealistic and naïve to some extent.
Blair responded that he didn't "see what the alternative is" but to stand and fight. Then, after some back and forth about the wisdom of taking out Saddam Hussein, Stewart launched this monologue, with Blair trying vainly to interrupt:
"This is what I mean by naive: Omigod, we have cockroaches. We have to get rats to eat them. Omigod, now we have rats! Oh no, we better getter cats! Oh no, we're overrun by cats; let's get dogs! Omigod, we need to get polar bears!
Do you understand what I'm saying? We are chasing our tails around...
Our resources are not limitless. We cannot continue to go into countries, topple whatever regime we find distasteful, occupy that country to the extent that we can rebuild its infrastructure, re-win the hearts and minds because here's my point: Ultimately within that, there could still be a pocket of extremism in that country... So all that effort still would not gain us the advantage and the safety that we need, as evidenced by the attacks in England by homegrown extremists. So don't we need to rethink and be much smarter about the way we're handling this?"
The interview that aired was edited, but I recommend the entire dialogue, in which Blair and Stewart also tangle about the threat of Iran.
Amid last week's carnage in Lahore and Quetta, Pakistan is saying they've cleared Orakzai Agency of militants. They said the same thing barely three months ago (see here for more on June's "victory"). On Friday, militants blew up a girls school in Swat, seven months after announcing the district was "mostly clear", and a year after the army announced it had swept the district clean of Taliban.
Perhaps it's time to invent a term for the amount of time between a Pakistani declaration of victory over the Taliban in a district/province/city, etc., and when the Taliban reappear in the "cleaned" area. How about a "Kayani Unit"?
A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images
Answer: no. It is terrible. But perhaps there are some idiots out there who will find it appealing.
According to the Daily Beast's Lloyd Grove, the U.S. government is apparently "deeply concerned" that the magazine, called Inspire, will spread al Qaeda's message to susceptible audiences in the West. Grove quotes an anonymous counterterrorism official saying, "The packaging of this magazine may be slick, but the contents are as vile as the authors."
Actually, no -- the packaging is not slick at all. It's very "I played around with Microsoft Publisher for a few hours."
Marc Ambinder gots his paws on a copy of the first issue, and it's as ridiculous as you might imagine. One article, by someone named "the AQ chef," is called "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom." There's an essay by Yahya Ibrahim, a radical Canadian-born preacher, entitled "The West Should Ban the Niqab Covering Its Real Face." There's a "message to the people of Yemen" from al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, a column by Yemeni-American sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki, an interview with the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Abu Basir al Wahishi, and various practical lessons on such topics as sending encrypted messages and what you can expect when you join the jihad. It also has a page for "contact us," which is intriguing -- how does that work?
Granted, I'm not the target audience for this rag, and Brookings analyst Bruce Riedel makes a good point here: "From the standpoint of al Qaeda, it’s not intended to be a bestseller. They’re just looking for one guy who will be inspired by this to bomb Times Square, and this time maybe he will put together the bomb correctly.”
Still, I'd wager that the folks who are producing Inspire are going to get killed or captured before they inspire any such attacks. I also don't think we'll be seeing an al Qaeda iPad app anytime soon.
UPDATE: You can download the full pdf file here at your own risk (it's about 5 MB).
This post has been updated. Thanks to readers for pointing out my mistakes.
It hasn't attracted a whole lot of attention yet, but Russia's announcement this week of the arrest of militant leader Ali Taziyev, better known as Emir Magas could be a devastating blow to the insurgency in the North Caucasus. Magas was officially second-in-command behind the better-known Doku Umarov in the hierarchy of rebels aiming to establish an Islamic emirate in the Caucasus.
Past FP contributor and Bishkek-based International Crisis Group analysts Paul Quinn-Judge explains that Magas is actually a more significant target:
[W]hile Doku has become largely a figurehead in recent years – the last link with the old generation of independence fighters and a symbol of the war’s transformation into a religious struggle – Magas was a frontline commander, a highly successful military planner and an astute organiser. He was one of the commanders of the bloody attack on Nazran in 2004. He is sometimes alleged to have taken part in the hostage taking at Beslan later that year. He claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in June 2009 that badly injured the president of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, and in the period between these events he united virtually all the small semi-autonomous groups of Islamic fighters under the command of the North Caucasus Emirate. This is an achievement that seems to have eluded his predecessor, Shamil Basayev.
The guerrilla movement was quick to confirm that Magas had been captured, and did not try to hide the gravity of the development. A long commentary on the Ingush jihadist site hunafa drew parallels with the early losses of Mohamed’s followers. It described the capture as a “severe test” for the movement and for Magas. “May Allah give him strength,” the site said.
Magas has been taken to Moscow for questioning.
When I flipped open Evan Kohlmann's 2006 report on Insani Yardim Vakhi (IHH), the Turkish organization that helped organize the Gaza-bound flotilla raided by Israel on Monday, I was half-expecting a series of thinly-sourced allegations that attempted to tie the group to Islamic extremist movements. After all, Kohlmann's credentials have been raked over the coals in recent days, in an attempt to discredit the report. Surely, the source document would be equally thin on facts?
It isn't. Kohlmann's report is a relic from a time when one could express concern over an obscure Turkish NGO's connection to terrorists without the issue becoming hopelessly entangled with one's loyalties in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. And Kohlmann convincingly describes the group's extensive ties to jihadist groups in Europe, Turkey, and North Africa.
Drawing on a French intelligence report, Kohlmann describes how the group fell under the scrutiny of Turkish security forces in the late 1990s, who "uncovered an array of disturbing items, including firearms, explosives, [and] bomb-making instructions" in the organization's Istanbul offices. The Turks determined that the IHH's members were planning to join the mujahideen in Bosnia and Chechnya, and that the president of the organization had worked to send men to Muslim countries for "jihad," and trasferred weapons to those countries. An analysis of the group's telephone records also revealed phone calls to an al Qaeda guesthouse in Milan, and Algerian terrorist networks in Europe.
Overall, Kohlmann paints a picture of an organization that maintains close working relationships with extremist organizations, and which has often run afoul of Turkish authorities. In 1999, following the disastrous earthquakes that struck northwestern Turkey, the Turkish government eventually banned the IHH from distributing aid, naming it as one of several "fundamentalist organizations" that refused to provide information on its activities. It is not Israeli PR flacks that provide the damning facts about IHH, but French and Turkish authorities. In today's New York Times, Henri Barkey, no hard-line Kemalist himself, also refers to the IHH as a "quite fundamentalist" organization that has dabbled in inflammatory rhetoric against Jews.
Of course, none of this changes the fact that Israel's actions aboard the flotilla on Saturday constituted a tragedy, and a disaster for international peace. The Israel Defense Forces are tasked every day with confronting people who despise them, and Israel can only be truly protected by not killing them. Still, the IHH's history does shed light on the challenges that the IDF likely faced aboard the Mavi Marmara, and why it failed so spectacularly in its mission.
MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images
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