If Michel Djotodia, the Central African Republic's rebel leader turned interim president, is to be believed, Joseph Kony, the head of the infamous Lord's Resistance Army, is about to emerge from the jungle and surrender. "It's true, Joseph Kony wants to come out of the bush," Djotodia told the Guardian. "We are negotiating with him." Reports suggest that Kony is sheltering near the town of Nzako and asking intermediaries for food and supplies.
Let's just say that analysts tracking Kony are, well, skeptical about that claim. What's more likely, they say, is that the government is talking to a group of LRA fighters, possibly defectors, who may have no affiliation with Kony.
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In Russia, big scary men with mustaches and sabers are feeling threatened by little girls wearing religious headwear.
Local Cossack leaders in the city of Rostov in southern Russia were not happy with a local "fashion week," where one of the planned events was a children's hijab show. The controversial event was cancelled, allegedly because of Cossack complaints, according to the Kremlin-backed news service RT.
The Cossacks suggested that the show would be more appropriate in, for instance, the Muslim-dominated Chechnya. Timur Okkert, the head of the international relations department of the Rostov Cossack Host, an essential department in any Cossack host, said that the complaints were based on the complicated ethnic situation in the region and fears of provoking conflict.
Just when you think the story couldn't get any weirder, the Cossacks also came out against using ethnically Russian girls as models. It remains unclear whether they thought using non-ethnic-Russian models would instigate less unrest.
Rostov-on-Don is not far from the Northern Caucasus, where ethnic conflict has been rampant for years. Russian authorities are pumping up security measures in the region before the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics -- most recently by collecting saliva samples from Muslim women in Dagestan in an effort to identify potential suicide bombers, particularly the so-called Black Widows. In October, Naida Asiyalova, a Dagestani woman, detonated a bomb in the southern city of Volgograd, killing herself and six other people.
The Cossacks have been an important force in the Russian security effort. The nomadic people, known for their horsemanship and brutality, have been used by Eastern European rulers dating back to before the Russian empire's founding to protect their interests. Today, they are deployed to patrol Russian streets, often donning traditional garb, and use force when local police is not authorized to do so.
The Cossacks have very particular opinions on what to wear and what not to wear, and it seems that the authorities agree. Following several European courts' decisions banning religious symbols in schools, Russia's Supreme Court prohibited hijabs and other religious symbols in schools in July.
But while the Cossacks's fight against the hijab is part of a larger cultural war in the multi-ethnic Russian society, some would agree they are onto something with trying to ban a children's headscarf show. In Islam, the hijab is a symbol of sexual maturity, and girls usually start wearing the headdress after they have achieved puberty. Rights activists and sociologists have raised concerns about pre-pubescent girls donning the headscarf. When "Project Chastity," an effort to convince girls between the ages of 10 and 15 to wear the headscarf, was launched nationally in Algeria in early 2013, it met with vocal opposition. Sociologist Yousif Hantablawi told Al-Arabiya that the campaign would have a negative impact on little girls, as small children should not be making such life-changing decisions, and that it is wrong to "convince them" to wear a hijab.
In Saudi Arabia, Sheikh 'Abdallah Al-Daoud went even further, proposing that Saudis should start dressing girls younger than two in hijabs "in order to protect [them] from sexual molestation." His comments provoked outrage in the country, including some calls for prosecution.
What would the Cossacks say to a hijab-clad baby crawling along on a catwalk?
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With less than a 100 days till the Sochi Winter Olympics, Russia is really ramping up its security -- in decidedly creepy ways. Russian officials are taking saliva samples from orthodox Muslim women in Dagestan in an effort to gather DNA data in case they decided to blow themselves up during the Games.This comes after a suicide attack on Oct. 21 on a passenger bus in Volgograd in southern Russia carried out by a Dagestani woman, Naida Asiyalova. The bomb she detonated killed six people and wounded 30. Asiyalova was a representative of a new breed of suicide bombers, the so-called Black Widows, who have enacted close to 50 attacks in the region over the past 13 years.
According to Reuters, Russia is stepping up its push to eliminate leaders and operatives of the Islamic insurgency in the Northern Caucasus, which has been ravaging the region since the conclusion of the Second Chechen War in 2009, before the skiers, bobsledders and speedskaters descend on Sochi. The effort focuses on Salafi Muslims who adhere to a strict version of Islam and are often associated with jihadist movements. Salafi men are arrested, jailed, killed and kidnapped. Young madrassa students are photographed and fingerprinted. And the women are asked to spit.
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BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Just a few months ago, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) didn't officially exist. Now, the al Qaeda affiliate known colloquially as al-Dawla -- simply "the state" -- has emerged as a clear and present danger to Syria's mainstream armed opposition.
The jihadist organization seized the northern Syrian town of Azaz on Thursday, driving out Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated rebel groups. The clashes were reportedly sparked after ISIS fighters grew suspicious of German doctors working at a field hospital in the area, and the FSA brigades protected the physicians from potential retribution. The town is now reportedly quiet, as mediators attempt to negotiate a ceasefire deal that would see ISIS withdraw from its positions. For the moment, however, ISIS's presence in Azaz gives al Qaeda a presence on the border with Turkey, a NATO ally. However the conflict plays out, it will represent the most serious confrontation yet between jihadists and non-Islamist rebels fighting the Syrian regime.
Some of the FSA's advocates in Washington, however, see a silver lining to the rebel infighting. The United States has hesitated to provide military aid to Syria's armed opposition out of fear that such assistance could find its way into the hands of extremist groups -- a possibility that would presumably be eliminated if the FSA and jihadi groups are in open conflict.
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As French President François Hollande spoke at the inauguration of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Mali's first elected president since the country's unrest began in March 2012 with a coup, all that was missing was a 'Mission Accomplished' banner.
"We have won this war; we have chased out the terrorists; we have secured the north and finally ... we have, you have organized an uncontested election and the winner is now the president of Mali," he told the crowd gathered at a sports arena in Bamako, the capital, on Thursday, according to the Associated Press's report.
Hollande was insistent about that we, and didn't hesitate to boast about France's role in bringing about this moment. "If there had not been an intervention," he told the crowd, "today the terrorists would be here in Bamako."
France has begun withdrawing some of the 4,000 troops it deployed to Mali last winter, and plans to pull more out as a U.N. peacekeeping force increases its presence in the country. Hollande is certainly winding down his war. But is it won, as he claimed today?
The jihadi rebels in Mali seem to have disappeared as much they were defeated. Some fled into the Central African Republic, where they're accused of committing massacres. Others have fled to Niger, Algeria, and Libya, leaving behind weapons caches buried in the Sahara. "They absolutely refuse to fight us," a French soldier told the Wall Street Journal. Now those combat-veteran jihadists are waiting in the wings, still staging occasional attacks -- like the one that occurred right after FP's Yochi Dreazen left Mali, when a roadside bomb killed two Malian soldiers in Gao -- and waiting for their moment to stage a comeback.
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The latest controversy over the American prison at Guantánamo Bay stems from an improbable source: the wildly popular erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey -- and specifically whether it has become a bestseller of sorts among detainees at the facility.
First, some background. In July, Rep. Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat, returned from a trip to Guantánamo and claimed that U.S. military officials had told him that prisoners couldn't get enough of the book. "Rather than the Quran, the book that is requested most by the [high-value detainees] is Fifty Shades of Grey." Moran told the Huffington Post. "I guess there's not much going on, these guys are going nowhere, so what the hell." About a week later, Moran told the Miami Herald that he had disclosed the detainees' favorite reading material because he hoped to make their true nature known to their followers. The prisoners, Moran argued, are "not exactly holy warriors. Just the opposite. These people are phonies."
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Earlier this month, as the United States rushed to shutter embassies in response to a terrorist threat, New Zealand's prime minister made a remarkable but largely overlooked assertion. According to John Key, there are al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-trained individuals at large in his country.
"In New Zealand there are people who've been trained for al-Qaeda camps who operate out of New Zealand, who are in contact with people overseas, who have gone off to Yemen and other countries to train," he told a radio program in New Zealand on Aug. 1. "Some are still offshore and some are in New Zealand."
Key told the radio program that he had signed off on surveillance of al Qaeda-trained individuals in New Zealand, but could not legally arrest them. "It does not necessarily mean that they have broken the law at this point," Key said.
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Even the spokesman for the Yemeni embassy in Washington, D.C. is having a hard time believing a plot by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that the Yemeni government says it foiled.
Several news agencies -- including the BBC, the New York Times, and Bloomberg, among others -- reported this morning that the Yemeni government claimed it had stopped a large AQAP attack in Yemen's Hadhramaut province. As the BBC reported:
Yemeni government spokesman Rajeh Badi said the plot involved blowing up oil pipelines and taking control of certain cities -- including two ports in the south, one of which accounts for the bulk of Yemen's oil exports and is where a number of foreign workers are employed.
"There were attempts to control key cities in Yemen like Mukala and Bawzeer," said Mr Badi.
"This would be co-ordinated with attacks by al-Qaeda members on the gas facilities in Shebwa city and the blowing up of the gas pipe in Belhaf city."
That didn't sound right to Mohammed Albasha, a spokesman for the Yemeni embassy, and he said so on his personal Twitter account:
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As new details have emerged about the terrorist threat that forced the closure of 19 U.S. diplomatic posts and the evacuation of American and British personnel from Yemen, officials have repeatedly raised alarms about how remarkably specific this particular threat was -- in terms of the size and timing of the planned attack (administration officials are telling reporters that the alert originated with intercepted communications between al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan and its Yemeni affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula). But specifics about the intended target of the attack have yet to leak.
Still, based on the U.S. response to the threat and AQAP's track record, it wouldn't be surprising if U.S. embassies were discussed. According to the private U.S. counterterrorism intelligence company IntelCenter, AQAP has mentioned the United States in its messages 16 times this year alone -- making America far and away AQAP's favorite target. (In comparison, the second-most threatened country, Yemen, has only been mentioned eight times, followed by France with six mentions.)
In a separate analysis, IntelCenter found that AQAP has publicly discussed attacking embassies seven times since December 2009. Last September, in a statement issued shortly after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, AQAP praised the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and urged others to emulate the attack: "[W]henever a Muslim gets hold of US ambassadors or delegates, he has the best example in the act of the grandsons of Omar Mukhtar in Libya -- who slaughtered the US ambassador -- may Allah reward them. Let the step of expelling embassies and consulates be a milestone to free the Muslim lands from the American domination and arrogance."
Think fast: Is al Qaeda defeated? Is it stronger than ever? Or is it both?
Not sure? You're in good company. Terrorism analysts can't decide either, and the threat of an attack by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has shuttered U.S. and Western embassies across the Middle East and South Asia in recent days, has re-started a debate about the state of the infamous terrorist network. The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that, "While al Qaeda's central leadership may be weakened, the rest of the group has morphed into smaller entities and dispersed, which has made the threat harder to predict and track," while the Telegraph described al Qaeda as "currently experiencing something of a renaissance" after prison breaks in Iraq and Pakistan. The latest threat that has shuttered embassies "is a wake-up call," Rep. Peter King said on ABC's This Week on Sunday. "Al Qaeda is, in many ways, stronger than it was before 9/11 because it's mutated and spread in different directions."
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It's officially jailbreak season. In a little over a week, inmates in Iraq, Libya, and now Pakistan have escaped from what were supposed to be secure prisons (the phenomenon has even reached Arkansas). Just this morning, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a statement promising to "spare no effort to free all our prisoners" held at Guantánamo Bay.
While jihadists have orchestrated several jailbreaks in the past year, the Washington Institute of Near East Policy's Aaron Zelin tells FP in an email, what's different now "is the scale and sophistication of these jail breaks and how it could affect the organizations and countries where they occurred." Of the recent string of prison breaks, he says, the one in Iraq is likely the most daunting. On Twitter, James Skylar Gerrond, an Air Force veteran who served at the Camp Bucca detention facility in Iraq from 2006 to 2007, described the jailbreak in Iraq as his "recurring nightmare for about 8 months." The escape "essentially erases all of the gains the United States made during the Sahwa [the "Sunni Awakening"] and Surge," Zelin writes, and will bolster the ranks of jihadi groups in Iraq and Syria.
As Egypt braces for a day of rival protests tomorrow, Tunisia was also plunged into turmoil today with the assassination of secular politician Mohamed Brahmi, the head of the country's Constituent Assembly and the opposition Movement of the People party. Brahmi was shot by a motorcyclist outside his home in Tunis this morning.
It is the second high-profile political assassination in Tunisia this year. In February, gunmen shot and killed secular political leader Chokri Belaid. Brahmi's assassination comes just one day after an adviser to Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh announced that more information about Belaid's assassination would be forthcoming -- the investigation issued warrants for five people in April, but the adviser, Noureddin B'Hiri, hinted that the Interior Ministry was close to publicly accusing the assassination's planners.
Thousands of Tunisians flooded into the street as the news of Brahmi's assassination broke. Protesters swarmed the ambulance carrying Brahmi's body and gathered outside the hospital to which it was taken. Others rallied at the Ministry of the Interior and chanted, "Down with the rule of the Islamists," according to a Reuters report. Even in the relatively conservative town of Sidi Bouzid, where Tunisia's 2011 revolution began, protesters blocked roads and set fire to the headquarters of the ruling Islamist Ennahda Party. Protests after Belaid's death in February led to the resignation of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, a member of the Ennahda Party.
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Israel is a country desperate for friends. Isolated in the Middle East and hated in large parts of the Arab world, it struggles to make alliances. The few it has, it guards fiercely. So it should perhaps come as no surprise that for years Israel has been courting China, inking trade deals and fêting one another over champagne. But that process now finds Israel in an awkward bind, one that may lead the country to compromise on its core anti-terror policies.
According to a report in Haaretz, the Israeli government is currently under enormous pressure from Beijing to suppress evidence that the Bank of China laundered money for Islamic Jihad. In 2006, a Jewish-American teenager, Daniel Wultz, was killed in a suicide bombing carried out by Islamic Jihad at a Tel Aviv shawarma restaurant. His parents have now sued for damages -- at the initial encouragement of Israel -- and allege that the Bank of China laundered funds for the terror group, effectively bankrolling the operation that killed their son. Prior to filing the case, according to Haaretz, Israeli officials told the parents, Yekutiel and Sheryl Wultz, that they would support their case and provide evidence implicating the Bank of China. Now, at Beijing's urging, they're having second thoughts. So far, Israel has declined to provide the expert testimony they promised and are currently deliberating over whether to make Uzi Shaya, a former intelligence official, available to a New York City court.
That's right, under Chinese pressure, Israel may prevent the victims of a Tel Aviv terrorist attack from extracting damages from the people who bankrolled an operation that killed their son. Chalk it up to the cost of a new friendship.
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On Wednesday, the story of Robert Seldon Lady, a former CIA station chief in Milan, Italy, took another improbable turn when he was arrested in Panama near the Costa Rican border. Lady has been living quietly in the United States since fleeing an Italian investigation that resulted in him and 22 other Americans being convicted in absentia for their roles in the 2003 abduction of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a radical cleric the CIA believed was helping recruit jihadists to fight in Iraq.
Nasr, who also went by Abu Omar, was pulled off a Milanese street during a daily noon-time walk. He was thrown into the back of a van, driven to Aviano Air Base, near Venice, and then flown to Egypt, where he was interrogated and tortured. The practice of seizing suspected terrorists and forcibly removing them to a third-party state for interrogation is often known as extraordinary rendition; in the eyes of the Italian judicial system, though, Nasr's abduction was kidnapping. After an investigation implicated a collection of CIA agents in Italy, tying their cell phones to the place and time at which Nasr was thrown into the van, the Italian government conducted a trial that sentenced 23 Americans to seven to nine years each in prison. The convictions were upheld last September by the Italian Supreme Court.
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In the annals of jihadi groups, the story is an old one: A disaffected Muslim youth returns to Islam, reconnects with his faith, finds himself outraged at the injustices done to his brothers abroad, and travels to a conflict zone to wage jihad. Think Afghanistan in the 1980s and early 2000s, Iraq under American occupation, and Syria today.
But when it comes to the propaganda campaigns that have drawn Muslim youths to these conflicts, here's something we haven't seen before: a graphic novel encouraging young Muslims in the West to take up jihad.
A video released by the online jihadi "Mustafa Hamdi" depicting one young man's journey to Syria does just that, serving up a mix of aspirational thinking and sense of belonging to entice Muslims to join with Jabhat al-Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate fighting in Syria against the Syrian regime.
Said al-Shihri, the second-in-command of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has reportedly been killed. But unlike previous (and premature) reports of his death -- and there have been many -- this time the news came straight from the source, in an announcement by AQAP. Maybe this time Shihri will actually stay dead.
Image via Jihadology
The enemy of the CIA's enemy in Lebanon is still its enemy. But, according to a report for McClatchy by FP contributor Mitchell Prothero, when the CIA discovered that al Qaeda-affiliated rebel groups in Syria were plotting attacks against Hezbollah's strongholds in Lebanon, they shared that intelligence with the Lebanese government -- "with the understanding that it would be passed to Hezbollah." (A U.S. official speaking to FP disputed the notion that the CIA would provide intelligence to a terrorist organization.)
Lebanese officials and a security contractor said the intelligence had included phone calls monitored by U.S. intelligence between militants in Lebanon and the Gulf. "America might hate the NSA right now, but they were able to actually hear the calls and warn us what was said," a Lebanese official told Prothero.
That prompted anger among some national security experts, like Guardian editor Spencer Ackerman and Brett Friedman of the Marine Corps Gazette.
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Speaking on a 16th birthday that she nearly didn't live to see, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani education rights advocate targeted by the Taliban, called on an assembly at the United Nations on Friday to invest in educational opportunities for children around the globe and particularly for girls in the developing world.
She described her ordeal matter-of-factly, saying, "On the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed."
And she pushed back against her assailants' worldview. The Taliban thinks "that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would send girls to the hell just because of going to school," she observed. "The terrorists are misusing the name of Islam and Pashtun society for their own personal benefits. Pakistan is peace-loving democratic country. Pashtuns want education for their daughters and sons. And Islam is a religion of peace, humanity, and brotherhood. Islam says that it is not only each child's right to get education, rather it is their duty and responsibility."
But while the Taliban may have failed in its efforts to silence critics like Malala, Pakistan has made little headway in increasing access to education and halting violence against children in recent years. The most recent U.N. data, tracked by the Guardian, show that gender parity at all levels of education in Pakistan has plateaued, with 82 girls to every 100 boys in primary school and 73 girls to every 100 boys in secondary school -- and this does not include the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA), where the Taliban has exerted the most influence.
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The FBI announced Tuesday that it is offering a $65,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the suspect behind the March 2008 bombing of a military recruiting station in Times Square, New York, adding in a statement that the suspect may also be connected to bombings carried out in New York City -- at the British Consulate in 2005 and the Mexican Consulate in 2007.
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Samuel Johnson once said that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Patriotism, and bad analogies.
For the uninitiated, Godwin's Law is one of the cardinal rules of the Internet. Coined in 1990 by Internet law expert Mike Godwin, the principle -- confirmed by countless contentious comment threads across the web -- is that the longer an online discussion persists, the greater the odds become that someone will make a comparison to Nazis or Adolf Hitler, to the point of near-inevitability. Nothing ends a debate faster than the hyperbolic unsupported counterfactual: "You know who else did [INSERT SUBJECT OF ARGUMENT HERE]? Hitler!"
But Hitler and the Nazis aren't the only recurring straw men used to end debates. Over the past 12 years, it's become clear that the longer a national security debate persists, the more likely it becomes that someone will try to end it by suggesting something -- some policy, some person, some technology -- "could have prevented 9/11."
The implication is that if something "could have prevented 9/11," then it must be justified. It's a trump card, a conversation-ender -- and it's impossible to prove. But that hasn't stopped people from using it -- from FBI Director Robert Mueller testifying on the Hill on Thursday to actor Mark Wahlberg's 2012 tough-guy claims. Here's a brief sampling of the people and policies that "could have prevented 9/11."
Assessments of the 9/11 attacks -- by everyone from members of the independent 9/11 Commission to Bush administration officials -- have time and again pointed out that there was no single point of failure that allowed the attacks to occur, and no "silver bullet" that could have prevented them. But acknowledging that is no way to cut short a debate about national security.
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Forget PRISM, the National Security Agency's system to help extract data from Google, Facebook, and the like. The more frightening secret program unearthed by the NSA leaks is the gathering and storing of millions of phone records and phone-location information of U.S. citizens.
According to current and former intelligence agency employees who have used the huge collection of metadata obtained from the country's largest telecom carriers, the information is widely available across the intelligence community from analysts' desktop computers.
The data is used to connect known or suspected terrorists to people in the United States, and to help locate them. It has also been used in foreign criminal investigations and to assist military forces overseas. But the laws that govern the collection of this information and its use are not as clear. Nor are they as strong as those associated with PRISM, the system the NSA is using to collate information from the servers of America's tech giants.
Metadata is not protected by the Fourth Amendment. Content of emails and instant messages -- what PRISM helps gather -- is. An order issued to Verizon by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court instructs the company to supply records of all its telephony metadata "on an ongoing, daily basis." Although legal experts say this kind of broad collection of metadata may be legal, it's also "remarkably overbroad and quite likely unwise," according to Paul Rosenzweig, a Bush administration policy official in the Homeland Security Department. "It is difficult to imagine a set of facts that would justify collecting all telephony meta-data in America. While we do live in a changed world after 9/11, one would hope it has not that much changed."
By comparison, PRISM appears more tightly constrained and operates on a more solid legal foundation. Current and former officials who have experience using huge sets of data available to intelligence analysts said that PRISM is used for precisely the kinds of intelligence gathering that Congress and the administration intended when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended in 2008. Officials wanted to allow intelligence agencies to target and intercept foreigners' communications when they travel across networks inside the United States.
The surveillance law prohibits targeting a U.S. citizen or legal resident without a warrant, which must establish a reasonable basis to suspect the individual of ties to terrorism or being an agent of a foreign power. In defending PRISM, administration officials have said repeatedly in recent days that the FISA Court oversees the collection program to ensure that it's reasonably designed to target foreign entities, and that any incidental collection of Americans' data is expunged. They've also said that press reports describing the system as allowing "direct access" to corporate servers is wrong. Separately, a U.S. intelligence official also said that the system cannot directly query an Internet company's data.
But the administration has not explained why broadly and indiscriminately collecting the metadata records of millions of U.S. citizens and legal residents comports with a law designed to protect innocent people from having their personal information revealed to intelligence analysts. Nor have officials explained why the NSA needs ongoing, daily access to all this information and for so many years, particularly since specific information can be obtained on an as-needed basis from the companies with a subpoena.
Here's why the metadata of phone records could be more invasive and a bigger threat to privacy and civil liberties than the PRISM system:
1. Metadata is often more revealing than contents of a communication, which is what's being collected with PRISM. A study in the journal Nature found that as few as four "spatio-temporal points," such as the location and time a phone call was placed, is enough to determine the identity of the caller 95 percent of the time.
2. The Wall Street Journal reports that in addition to phone metadata, the NSA also is collecting metadata on emails, website visits, and credit card transactions (although it's unclear whether those collection efforts are ongoing). If that information were combined with the phone metadata, the collective power could not only reveal someone's identity, but also provide an illustration of his entire social network, his financial transactions, and his movements.
3. Administration officials have said that intelligence analysts aren't indiscriminately searching this phone metadata. According to two intelligence employees who've used the data in counterterrorism investigations, it contains no names, and when a number that appears to be based in the United States shows up, it is blocked out with an "X" mark.
But these controls, said a former intelligence employee, are internal agency rules, and it's not clear that the FISA Court has anything to say about them. In this employee's experience, if he wanted to see the phone number associated with that X mark, he had to ask permission from his agency's general counsel. That permission was often obtained, but he wasn't aware of the legal process involved in securing it, or if the request was taken back to the FISA court.
4. The metadatabase is widely available across the intelligence community on analysts' desktops, increasing the potential for misuse.
5. The metadata has the potential for mission creep. It's not only used for dissecting potential homegrown terror plots, as some lawmakers have said. The metadata is also used to help military forces overseas target terrorist and insurgent networks. And it is used in foreign criminal investigations, including ones involving suspected weapons traffickers.
For all these reasons, and probably more yet to emerge, it's the metadata that's of bigger concern. By comparison, PRISM is a cool name, a lame PowerPoint presentation -- and business as usual.
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Early Wednesday, a U.S. drone strike in the tribal region of Pakistan reportedly killed Wali ur-Rehman, the Pakistani Taliban's second-in-command (in the blue vest above). The attack comes just six days after President Barack Obama unveiled tightened standards for carrying out lethal drone strikes -- a policy revision aimed at making such strikes less frequent.
For that reason, the attack raises an uncomfortable question for defenders of the president's prosecution of the war on terror: Did the president just violate his own highly touted and brand new policy guidance?
The short answer to that question is that we don't know, since the policy guidance is classified. But the question may reveal something just as interesting about the hype surrounding the speech: Wednesday's drone strike suggests that the president's speech did not in fact represent a radical departure from past policy.
In evaluating Wednesday's drone strike and its implications for last week's address, there are three key documents: Obama's speech and two accompanying fact sheets.
In laying out the "components of ... a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy" during his speech, Obama asserted that "first, we must finish the work of defeating al Qaeda and its associated forces." As for using lethal drone strikes to accomplish that end, he pointed out that "under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces." He also said that he would "continue to take strikes against high value al Qaeda targets, but also against forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces" in the "Afghan war theater."
[T]he United States will use lethal force only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons. It is simply not the case that all terrorists pose a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons; if a terrorist does not pose such a threat, the United States will not use lethal force.
So was Rehman an imminent threat? Ackerman offers a quick history of Rehman's long rap sheet but doesn't come to a conclusion. But the bottom line is that it doesn't matter. The administration's definition of imminence, as explained in the paragraph introducing it, applies "outside areas of active hostilities," meaning that the restriction Ackerman cites to indict the president doesn't apply in this case. By claiming broad powers in his fight in the "Afghan war theater" against "al Qaeda and its associated forces" Obama has all but given himself a carte blanche to carry out attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But let's say for a moment that the administration's conception of imminence had governed its actions in the strike against Rehman. Would that have made a difference? Probably not.
None of the documents released last week makes clear which definition of imminence the administration will use. But if the White House plans to use a definition at all similar to the one governing drone strikes against U.S. citizens, it is so broad as to be almost meaningless. That definition "does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future." A "high-level official could conclude, for example, that an individual poses an 'imminent threat' of violent attack against the United States where he is an operational leader of al-Qa'ida or an associated force and is personally and continually involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States." In short, the only criteria required to fulfill this definition of imminence is membership in a group continually plotting against the United States -- even if that plot has not reached its end-stage. Put even more succinctly: If you are a terrorist plotting against the United States, you are an "imminent" threat.
Obama, it seems, is trying to have it both ways -- keeping his effective drone strikes while getting his liberal critics off his back. The president has now thrown several bones to the left: He has once more pledged to close Guantánamo, reintroduce a media shield law for journalists, and consider some kind of oversight mechanism for drone strikes. But at the same time he has retained expansive legal authority to carry out drone strikes at his will.
There are many details of the president's policies -- such as whether he will continue the controversial tactic known as "signature strikes -- that remain unclear. And until the administration provides more clarity, the only ways to judge Obama's drone program are by the legal justifications publicly available and the number of dead bodies in the remote areas of the world frequented by America's drones.
Judging by the five dead in Miram Shah this week, not much has changed.
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Barack Obama's counterterrorism speech on Thursday has drawn mixed reviews here in the United States (here at FP, Rosa Brooks gave the address an A-, while Emile Simpson found it to be a "conceptual car crash") -- and reactions have been similar in the countries that may be most affected by the president's proposals.
In the Pakistani press, the takeaway from the speech was the Obama administration's position on drone strikes, which have targeted militants in the tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. With a touch of optimism, Pakistani reports listed the revised criteria for drone strikes described in the speech and new "presidential policy guidance" as a major shift in U.S. policy. The reports also took special note of Obama's acknowledgement of the "thousands of Pakistani soldiers [who] have lost their lives fighting extremists."
For some in Pakistan, though, including the government's Foreign Ministry, the speech was too little, too late. The ministry issued a statement saying that, while officials agreed with Obama's comment that "force alone cannot make us safe," the Pakistani government "has consistently maintained that the drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives, have human rights and humanitarian implications and violate the principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law." In an op-ed in Dawn, Pakistani author Rafia Zakaria wrote that the speech would have been better two years ago. In the time since the May 2011 Osama bin Laden raid, she pointed out, terrorism in Pakistan has metastasized as groups like the Pakistani Taliban have been emboldened by airstrikes:
The United States delegitimised the Pakistani state by continuing its onslaught of drone strikes year after year. Unheeded by both Parliamentary resolutions that denied any tacit agreement on drones and the statements of UN Rapporteurs calling them illegal; the Predators continued to fly, releasing Hellfire missiles over Pakistani territory and treating Pakistani borders as arbitrary impediments to American strategy.... The Tehreek-e-Taliban made the same point as the Americans, that the Pakistani state was not able to protect its own people, that their invasive capacity to kill was greater than the government's capacity to protect and that the writ of the state simply did not apply.
Meanwhile, in Yemen, despite the prevalence of U.S. drone strikes in the country, the reaction has focused on Obama's comments about the Guantánamo Bay detention center, where Yemeni nationals make up the majority of remaining detainees. The most-read article on the Yemen Post website on Friday, titled "Gitmo detainees could be heading home to Yemen soon," led with:
Following weeks of an intense political debate between Yemeni and American officials regarding the fate of Yemen 56 cleared terror detainees in Guantanamo Bay prison, America's infamous terror penitentiary, US President Barack Obama said he is ready to resume the transfers of prisoners, hence ended his self-imposed moratorium. In a speech on Thursday at the National Defense University President Obama made clear he wished to reduce Guantanamo "detainee population" ahead of the potential closure of the facility altogether.
The article also noted the looming political fight in Washington, stating, "While the news will come as a relief to many Yemeni officials and the families of detainees, not all American officials agree with their president's decision." The Yemeni government issued a press release and the Yemen Post article quotes officials from the country's Human Rights Ministry confirming U.S.-Yemeni cooperation on a new rehabilitation program in Yemen for repatriated detainees.
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President Obama is giving a much-hyped counterterrorism address this afternoon at the National Defense University in which he'll announce new restrictions on drone strikes and targeted killings, and renew his push to shutter the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. But this isn't the Obama administration's first big speech on drone policy -- current and former officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, former counterterrorism czar and current CIA chief John Brennan, former State Department legal adviser Harold Koh, and former Pentaon general counsel Jeh Johnson, have all delivered carefully crafted statements on the subject in recent years. Here's what we've learned so far.
The basics. Starting with the first major speech in March 2010 by Harold Koh, the Obama administration has sketched out a legal framework for drone strikes and other targeted killing operations -- though the fact that many of these strikes are conducted by remotely piloted vehicles wasn't acknowledged until a speech by John Brennan in May 2012. That justification rests on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force against al Qaeda, which, in the administration's interpretation, allows for the use of force against al Qaeda-affiliated targets that pose an imminent threat to the United States in countries that have either given permission to the United States or are unwilling or unable to take action against the targets on their own. This rubric has been refined a bit -- but not much -- in subsequent speeches by Brennan and Eric Holder.
Yes, U.S. citizens can be targeted. There's legal precedent for the government using lethal force against American citizens abroad who have taken up arms against the United States, but the Obama administration did not lay out the rationale for such a scenario until a speech by Holder in March 2012. "The president may use force abroad against a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war," Holder said in an address at Northwestern University, "even if that individual happens to be a U.S. citizen." Holder has since expanded on this in writing to indicate that the government does not have the authority to conduct targeted killings domestically. Additionally, in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee released on Wednesday, Holder revealed that targeted killings have killed four U.S. citizens since 2009, but that only one of them was the intended target of a strike.
Former officials would like to see more transparency -- to a point. Jeh Johnson has expressed concern about how limited public information about the drone program is affecting its reputation. "In the absence of an official picture of what our government is doing, and by what authority, many in the public fill the void by envisioning the worst," he said in a speech in March 2013. That sentiment was seconded by Koh; in a speech earlier this month, he told an audience at Oxford University that the administration "has not been sufficiently transparent to the media, to the Congress and to our allies." But Johnson wouldn't go so far as to endorse a court for approving targets, which he said could not provide the transparency and credibility its advocates suggest.
For every vague explanation that has been given in these drone speeches, though, there are more questions. Here are a few things we still don't know:
Who is the government really targeting? As Micah Zenko pointed out last month, internal government assessments obtained by McClatchy demonstrate that, in addition to members of al Qaeda, U.S. airstrikes have targeted hundreds of "Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists" from "the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals described only as 'foreign fighters' and 'other militants.'" That goes far beyond the limited scope that the Obama administration has outlined in a Justice Department white paper: that the United States can lawfully target a "senior operational leader of al-Qa'ida or an associated force" who "poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States." In his speech earlier this month, Koh stuck with what Zenko has called "the fundamental myth of the Obama administration's targeted killing program" -- that those targeted are clearly "cobelligerents" of al Qaeda. The administration has yet to discuss publicly the use of "signature strikes," in which groups are targeted based on a set of observed behaviors that are similar to those of terrorist cells.
Just how imminent is 'imminent'? What determines when capture isn't 'feasible'? That Justice Department white paper has a lot of fuzzy language in it. Targeted killings are authorized by "an informed, high-level official of the US government" when there is an "imminent threat of violent attack" and capture is deemed "unfeasible." But really, who qualifies to make that call? Does simply being a member of al Qaeda make someone an imminent threat, or does there have to be a specific plot associated with the individual or cell? Capture was feasible for Osama bin Laden in a safehouse just outside a military base in the heart of Pakistan, but not for men riding in an SUV bumping along a rural Yemeni road -- who makes that determination, and how? Rosa Brooks has written more about how the white paper said a lot by not saying very much at all.
Where and when does the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force not apply? In his February 2012 speech, Johnson called the AUMF "the bedrock of the military's domestic legal authority" for drone strikes and the broader war on terror -- but the AUMF was written to target individuals responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It's been a bit of a stretch for the administration to claim that this authorizes them to target organizations only tangentially affiliated with al Qaeda -- some of which didn't even exist in 2001, and some analysts and politicians have argued that it's time to revise the AUMF. Or, as Brooks has asserted, it might make more sense to scrap it altogether and start over with a new law that doesn't try to shoehorn new authorizations into an old law with more legalese.
But if past speeches are any indication, don't expect too many answers today.
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Ahead of President Obama's big counterterrorism speech tomorrow, Attorney General Eric Holder has written a letter, obtained by the New York Times, to the Senate Judiciary Committee disclosing the four American citizens killed by targeted strikes during the Obama administration, three of whom "were not specifically targeted by the United States":
Since 2009, the United States, in the conduct of U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qa'ida and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, has specifically targeted and killed one U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi. The United States is further aware of three other U.S. citizens who have been killed in such U.S. counterterrorism operations over that same time period: Samir Khan, 'Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Aulaqi, and Jude Kenan Mohammed. These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States.
The letter does not include the names of all Americans who have been killed in drone strikes. A fifth U.S. citizen, Ahmed Hijazi (a.k.a. Kamal Derwish) was killed in 2002 during the Bush administration in the first ever U.S. drone strike. That strike, in Yemen, was directed at Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, who was associated with the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. An unnamed FBI source told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer several years ago that another U.S. citizen was believed to have been killed by a U.S. cruise missile in Somalia sometime between 2006 and early 2009.
Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were propagandists for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and the U.S. government believes that Awlaki played a role in planning the attempted underwear bombing in 2009. His son, 'Abd al-Rahman, had reportedly linked up with AQAP members while looking for Awklaki when a drone targeted his vehicle. The three men were killed in a series of airstrikes in September and October 2011.
The only new name is Jude Kenan Mohammed, whose death in Pakistan was rumored in a February 2012 local news story in his hometown of Raleigh, N.C but had not been previously acknowledged.
With the letter, the Obama administration has now admitted killing more U.S. citizens than detainees the Bush administration admitted waterboarding. Hooray for transparency?
The full text of Holder's letter is included below:
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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.
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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."
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