ISIL: Cathedral Attack in the Sulu Province

Source: Reuters 2019

Abu Sayyaf attacked the Catholic Church, Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, during mass on January 27th in the Sulu Province of the Southern Philippines. The Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL) claims the two back-to-back bombings were the work of suicide bombers, which was later confirmed by Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano.

At least 20 people were killed in the attack and more than 100 individuals were injured. In response to this attack, the Filipino Government is on high alert and is conducting military operations to “destroy” Abu Sayyaf. President Duterte also declared martial law until the criminals are found.

Abu Sayyaf is a branch of the ISIL that has been active in the Philippines since 1991. The group is known for bombing a ferry in 2004, killing 116 people, as well as various kidnappings for ransom. The attack in Jolo is one of their largest to date, with 131 total casualties, as calculated by our Active Intelligence Database.

A week prior to the bombing, a referendum was conducted on the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which would allow for expanded autonomy of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. While experts don’t believe the two events are related, it’s possible that the attack was meant to further divide the Muslim and Christian communities in the province.

The Philippine government has taken proper steps to reassure the community through security personnel outside places of worship and patrols through large public areas. President Duterte responded with strong and ruthless commentary on the church bombing by declaring the military to take care of the threat posed by Abu Sayyaf by any means necessary.

The military adamantly agreed with Duterte and staged multiple manhunts to find Abu Sayyaf members behind the attack. The Army suffered a few fatalities in the altercations with Abu Sayyaf militants before making a major arrest.

On February 4th, five Abu Sayyaf members believed to have orchestrated the attack surrendered to the Philippine Army. This arrest, coupled with strong words from the President, undoubtedly relieved the fears of citizens in Jolo and throughout the Philippines.

At least 14 main suspects are still at large; however, the Philippine government needs to recognize that these main suspects are only one part of a larger terrorist organization. Abu Sayyaf has at least 400 members and the main suspects that the Army has in custody represent a small subset of the overall group.

The Philippine Government should gather the information they can from the members that surrendered in order to take down Abu Sayyaf. While the attack doesn’t seem related to the Bangsamoro Organic Law, the government needs to keep the referendum in mind as it symbolizes movement towards peace for many in the region.

Army of Injustice

Image Courtesy of Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

Iran has been the subject of much discussion in our current world climate. Whether it’s their nuclear weapons or their involvement in the proxy war going on in Yemen, Iran is a very important country right now for good and not so good reasons. While the majority-Shi’ite country has been involved in violent conflicts in recent years in Syria, Iraq, and currently in Yemen, they have avoided major bloodshed within their country’s borders in recent years. However, this recently changed when twenty-seven members of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) were killed in a suicide bombing which also wounded at least ten more members in the Sistan-Baluchestan province of Iraq near the Pakistani border.

This was a targeted attack by the terror group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), a Sunni extremist group that operates in Southeast Iran and Pakistan. The group was formed as an incarnation of the terror group Jundallah who was responsible for the last major terror attack in Iran in 2009 which killed over forty people and six members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the same area. Jundallah was essentially dissolved after the death of their founder Abdolmalek Rigi by Iran in 2010 which gave rise to Jaish al-Adl. The group was formed in 2012 by Salahuddin Farooqui a militant who strongly opposes Iran’s involvement in the ongoing Syrian civil war. They have become recognized for their attacks that primarily target Iranian security forces which makes this most recent act of terror on the Revolutionary Guard not all that surprising.

Jaish al-Adl is one of the biggest threats to Iran not only due to their terror but also because they are supported by regional rivals to Iran such as: Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Due to the recent attacks though, Iran has begun to crackdown on border security and has given Pakistan an ultimatum to do the same to prevent more terror attacks. The IRG Commander Mohammed Ali Jafari is quoted as saying, “If Pakistan fails to punish them in the near future, Iran will do so based on international law and will retaliate against the terrorists.” This statement was also reiterated by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani who deemed that “appropriate action” would be taken if Pakistan did not act. While the Iranian government does not solely blame Pakistan for the actions of Jaish al-Adl, they do believe that Pakistan’s negligence has played a significant role in the success of their terror attacks. The group is essentially using Pakistan as a form of protection and shelter by crossing into Iran to commit their terror attacks and crossing back over into Pakistan when they have finished their crimes. Iran believes that a more secure border between the two countries would save the lives of members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and regular civilians who have been caught in the crossfire.

It seems as though violent conflict may be on the rise between Iran and Pakistan due to the actions of Jaish al-Adl. Pakistan claims that they are not responsible for the actions of the terror group but Iran believes that Pakistan is secretly working on behalf of the Saudi and UAE governments. Jafari stated, “The Saudi and UAE should know that Iran’s patience has ended, and we will no longer stand your secret support for these Anti-Islam criminals…we will avenge the blood of our martyrs.” An armed conflict between Iran and Pakistan could have huge implications on the rest of the region and possibly the rest of the world due to the potential for other parties such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US to get involved. If Pakistan does not respond to the requests of Iran it will be interesting to see how Iran responds. The leader of the IRG has already vowed to avenge the loss of their fellow soldiers. How many troops will they send in? Will they take the fight to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan? How will Pakistan respond if they are invaded by Iranian troops? Do they call in outside help such as Saudi Arabia? The hope is that the conflict does not escalate any further than it has to, but the Iranian troops have already pledged vengeance unless Pakistan cooperates with their demands and vengeance can sometimes be the most powerful weapon of war.

Afghanistan: What Does Peace with the Taliban Mean for Women?

Source: PRI (2016)

The United States and leaders of the Afghan Taliban are currently in the process of discussing peace talks and negotiations to end the 17 years of conflict. For many, this is a signal of hope that deadly violence and war will finally come to an end. For others, the peace talks have stimulated fear and uncertainty.

Her name is Laila Haidari. She is an Afghan woman, who owns and operates a rather unruly cafe in Kabul. Ms. Haidari is not your typical woman living in Afghanistan. In fact, she drives her own car, owns her own business, and chooses not to wear the required hijab.

The cafe she runs, “Taj Begum”, allows men and women to eat and drink together, even if they are not married. In addition, within the walls of her cafe, women can choose whether or not they dine wearing the hijab; a decision woman don’t typically have in Afghanistan.

Ms. Haidari is an example of an Afghan who isn’t completely convinced on the Taliban-U.S. peace process. Despite the progress of the talks, she insists the Taliban and their severe rulings are coming back. For Ms. Haidari and many other women living in Afghanistan, the peace talks have provoked fear and worry of what will happen in the aftermath of the withdrawal of western troops. Ms. Haidari states, “We are face to face with an ideology, not a group of people.” Ms. Haidari and the many other women in Afghanistan feel optimism at the possibility of peace, but they remain concerned at the distrust of what their lives and freedom will be like in the future.

When the Taliban seized the Afghan capital in 1996, life under the militants was brim, especially for women. The implementation of a brutal version of Sharia Law meant that women had very little to no independence or basic rights. They were forced to wear burkas, covering essentially every inch of their body.

Women of all ages were banned from schools and public life. Their lives were constantly under a magnifying glass. Everything they wore, everything they said, and everywhere they went was under supervision. Ultimately, it was the women in Afghanistan who paid the highest price under the Taliban and their government.

During the peace talks in Moscow, the Taliban seemed open to addressing the rights and concerns related to women. For example, the Taliban promised “that Islam guaranteed women’s rights to education and work”, but on the other hand, the Taliban also “attacked women’s rights activists for spreading immortality and indecency.”

These contradictory messages have given ammunition to the fears and concerns of women in Afghanistan that the Taliban is making false, empty promises to expedite the departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, only to eventually regress to old laws and rules that severely affect the daily lives of Afghans.

The fact that the Afghan government and its citizens have been excluded from the peace process is frightening for them. Many women fear that a peace deal giving power to the Taliban will result in a war on women and their rights. All of these concerns only solidify the notion that Afghans, especially women, should have a seat at the negotiation table.

Without their presence, the likelihood that women’s basic rights will be forgotten is painfully high. Their biggest fear is that women and all the freedoms they have achieved will fall victim to the peace process.

Afghanistan has made tremendous progress over the past decade in terms of women’s rights, independence and quality of life. Today, there are young girls being educated in many disciplines and pursuing careers in medicine, government and education.

But still today, there are provinces within the country that impose barbaric laws and treatment of women and girls. This brutality and oppression cannot be ignored and there is still significant headway ahead. For Afghans, the time has come to rebuild their country and continue to move forward. Peace, stability and happiness are all things the people of Afghanistan yearn for, but peace in Afghanistan should never come at the cost of women and their rights.

Private Sector Domestic Intelligence

In relation to terrorism, domestic intelligence collection is relatively limited in scope due an absence of an agency or structure dedicated solely to domestic intelligence collection. While the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies participate in intelligence collection and analysis within the United States, it is largely case-based and limited to involved parties. To be clear, domestic intelligence collection does not include subjects discovered communicating with foreign nationals (in those cases, there is a structure to go through with FISA courts that will lead to further intelligence collection and analysis.)

A collaborative effort between non-government parties could address many of the issues found in using government entities to conduct domestic intelligence operations. Such an approach has a proven track record of success, as there is a long history of private companies being tasked with intelligence operations, even domestically, dating back to the very beginning of the United States.

There have been attempts to address flaws in intelligence collection and dissemination by the federal government. Notably, the establishment of Fusion Centers and Joint Terrorism Task Forces was intended to bridge the disconnect between federal law enforcement, the private sector, and state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies. These groups have had debatable success, and there are many reports that private sector involvement in these groups is limited.

The objectives of domestic counter-terrorism intelligence collection are broad and seek to acquire data on a variety of activities, including:

  • Recruiting to extremist ideologies and groups
  • Acquiring funds and logistics
  • Training for terror operations
  • Detecting surveillance and reconnaissance
  • Planning of terror operations

Limiting the collection process to government entities, which have limited resources and limited scope of capabilities in domestic intelligence, leaves substantial gaps in which crucial intelligence may be missed. Indeed, there are several private intelligence companies as well as private research entities, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, that provide a significant amount of data on terrorism and extremism in the United States.
Another key area in which collaboration should be made is the inclusion of subject matter experts involved in numerous areas of American critical infrastructure, of which the vast majority is controlled and operated daily by the private sector.

However, when these groups work individually and do not cooperate, they often fail to close many of the gaps which exist in domestic intelligence.
This large pool of individuals and groups, ranging from non-profits to academic institutions, have created arguably the largest store of knowledge on counter-terrorism and counter-extremism- and yet it is not being fully utilized.

Establishing collaborative groups that unite academics, private companies, non-profits, and researchers could address the ‘explorative’ component of domestic intelligence collection and analysis. This element of intelligence seeks to develop more broad understandings of the threat picture facing the homeland, as well as collect data on individuals and groups involved in extremist ideologies which may lead to operational violence. Utilizing non-government entities to conduct intelligence could bring the technical strengths of the private sector, including innovation strengths and technology, to the forefront of the fight against terror.

The collaborative effort mentioned throughout this writing would work most effectively in collection and analysis of the vast open source data available, which comprises nearly 80% of useful intelligence. While there are brief collaborative efforts on research, the collaboration often occurs on specific, case-sensitive research studies about a specific topic- not long-term collaborations.

How can non-governmental entities be brought together to produce a unified intelligence product? A plausible strategy would be to first hold a conference or a series of conferences to bring together representatives of respected organizations from the disciplines discussed above, conducting meetings about logistical options for such a collaboration. An academic institution may be the strongest location to physically host such a collaboration due to its facilities, space, and readily accessible traditional sources of data. Furthermore, a strong online network in which research can be shared and collaboratively worked on with a clear system of dissemination must be established. All of this would develop a relatively substantial cost, however, and perhaps partial government funding would produce sufficient impetus to begin work on such a project.

Terror’s New Form

Source: The East African (2014)

Author: Caleb Septoff

Perhaps one of the greatest scientific achievements in human history is the invention of the internet, which landmarked the beginning of the digital age in the modern era. Its uses span multiple fields and in large part is responsible for the high levels of rapid globalization we have become accustomed to today. Although it has improved humanity in many facets, it has also led to the increase in the susceptibility of nations’ and individuals to cyber-attacks. The internet has evolved over the last decade with the inception of social media and cyber currency, but with this evolution comes a new wave of terrorism in the form of cyber-attacks, propaganda, hacking, and online recruitment. The threat has grown substantially – enough for even university institutions, namely New York University (NYU), to offer cyber security majors and courses solely to deter these types of attacks.

Before venturing into the subject of digital terrorism, it is important to explore something less widely known to the average internet user; this being the deep web and dark net. The internet is composed of two main points of access; the surface web and the dark web. The surface web is most common to everyday users and comprises mainly of search engines, like Google and Bing, and the information found is unrestricted. Comparatively, the deep web differs mainly in size, estimated at four to five hundred times bigger than the surface web, accounting for 90% of the internet. In comparison to the surface web, the wealth of information stored on the deep web is gigantic. Most of the deep web is restricted by applications, which grant access to databases or password protected sites. Anything from social media, such as Facebook or Instagram, to online banking are considered part of the deep web. In addition to its size, the dark web differs  in its accessibility. Despite popular beliefs, the deep web and dark net are not synonymous. Rather, the dark net exists hidden below the surface web. The dark net is almost entirely unregulated and is even harder to access than the deep web. To date, the dark net hosts an unknown number of websites, but the content ranges from people sending messages who wish to maintain anonymity to underground drug dealing, sex trafficking, weapons dealing, and the focus of this article, terrorists and extremists’ sites.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Daesh, was the first terrorist organization to truly maximize their outreach using the internet. When Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi declared the caliphate, a wave of propaganda and recruitment media took social media by storm. While destructive, authorities and the companies themselves were able to mitigate much of the content since it took place on the more accessible surface web. However, the organization consistently found new ways to respond to authorities’ crackdowns. First, they began attracting people through social media and other corners of the surface web and then slowly moved them towards more difficult protected places like domains and chat rooms on the dark net. In addition, the use of messaging applications that offered heavy encryption, like Telegram, were core ways for them to communicate. The use of these cyber tools aided in attracting over 20,000 foreign fighters from more than 10 different countries to flock to Syria to fight on ISIL’s behalf, and even more followers aided the organization from remote positions around the globe. In early 2018, New York Times’ reporter, Rukimini Callimachi, released a podcast by the name of “Caliphate.” The podcast goes into detail about one Canadian man’s experience of being recruited through multiple steps, starting on social media and eventually moving into private chat rooms. Callimachi’s reporting highlights how effective ISIL’s extensive reach was, not only technologically, but by simply creating effective connections with people, especially the youth.

Thus far, terrorists’ groups have not been able to do much more than the defacement of webpages and execution of minor cases of hacking. For example, a series of attacks in 2015, all claiming ties to Daesh, were executed in various countries. Most notably, a self-titled group called Cyber Caliphate managed to hack Malaysia Airlines’ main website, deface the French TV5 broadcast station, and hack the US military Central Command’s YouTube and Twitter accounts. Technology is continuously growing and it gets more sophisticated every year. As greater attention turns to digital recruitment and terrorism, these “small” attacks will grow larger in scope and harm. The possibility of cutting electric to hospitals or inciting mass riots through the spread of false media is very real and dangerous. The need to find adequate responses to the rising dangers of cyber terrorism is crucial to the future of counter terrorism. Perhaps most conspicuously, the important question becomes how to best be proactive in thwarting attacks and rather than simply being reactive.

The international community has a plethora of different third-party watch dogs when it comes to war and terrorism, whether they come in the form of global entities like the United Nations (UN) or International Non-Profit Organizations (INGO). In addition, a multitude of international treaties and agreements exist to set standards for war and outline what is not acceptable. The Geneva Convention, one of the most important and widely known, is comprised of four treaties and three protocols that establish standards for humanitarian rights and treatment during times of war. Yet, something these organizations don’t cover adequately is how to respond to cyber warfare and digital terrorism. One of the greatest challenges in dealing with these online threats is attribution, or ascribing blame to those who have committed the crime and proving it. According to a RAND Corporation video on the subject, they identify three main types of attribution: political (dealing with diplomatic knowledge and political actors’ objectives), technical (IP addresses, log file analysis, etc.), and clandestine (classified information and political insights).

Categorizing makes it easier to decide how to interpret the crime and, thus, how to assign punishment. However, it is not simple to prove digital crimes without access to data that, for the most part, is private, anonymous and not easily tracked. Citizens’ right to privacy and the level of privacy that is entitled has become a topic of high contention in the debate for higher cyber security. Although these are difficult issues to deal with, the international community needs to step up and begin to take action before cyber warfare reaches a level with much higher stakes. Like the UN, there needs to be a large international organization that can specialize in cyber security and cyber terrorism. It would require the nonexistence of any political affiliation to be effective and act on behalf of any country that requires its services to increase its credibility. Perhaps, most important, would be its role in providing international laws on cyber warfare and attacks to clearly and concisely build a foundation or framework for security agencies to work from. It would also be responsible for developing the mechanisms for freedom of expression and privacy; although this would most likely fall to the specific countries rather than the independent watch dog organization.

Social media platforms have done relatively well at combing through their users and content to locate possible terrorist activities, but this is not enough. Further action needs to be taken regarding regulation. Systems need to be devised to adequately monitor both the surface web content and the deep and dark web to locate, deter and respond to these threats before they can implement harm to critical infrastructures, governments, businesses, and even the psyches of viewers. Creating measures to regulate data and prevent data mining for terrorist activities is crucial to preventing the attacks in the future. There is no easy answer to the rising threat of cyber terrorism and warfare, but it’s imperative that solutions and international cooperation begins sooner than later.

Brazilian Prison Gangs: Message Delivered

Source: The Washington Post/Alex Gomes/AP

Author: Cameron Cassar

The newly elected right wing president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, had just been newly inaugurated when he had to deal with his first security crisis; terrorism attacks led by prison gangs in the Brazilian state of Ceara. The attacks have been centered on the capital of Ceara, Fortaleza, which is a metropolitan home to about 4 million Brazilians. These attacks have destroyed homes, businesses, modes of transportation, and has left many residents stuck in their homes due to threats of violence.

All of these attacks have been motivated by a desire to get the Brazilian government to end the practice of segregating gang factions in the Brazilian prison system. This goes completely against Bolsonaro and his ideologies. In fact, a major point of his political platform was that he vowed to enact strong policies to combat crime in Brazil. These policies include military takeovers in crime ridden Brazilian cities and shoot to kill policies for violent criminals.

This current wave of violence in Brazil shares many similarities to the wave of violence led by Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel during their reign of narcoterrorism in Colombia. However, while the Brazilian prison gangs have opted to mainly use violence, the Medellin Cartel not only committed violence to instill fear in lawmakers in Colombia, but they also bribed police officers to turn a blind eye towards their criminal activities. Importantly, both of these organizations have used “violent lobbying” tactics to scare lawmakers into implementing policies that benefit them. Pablo Escobar wanted to get rid of extradition while the Brazilian gangs want to eliminate desegregation in prisons. The gang leaders want to end the prison reform which includes ending the separation of rival gang members and the blocking of cell phone service in the prisons.

These reforms would hinder the effect of the gang leaders who are locked up inside of the prison by disconnecting them from the outside world, which gives them the chance to coordinate their attacks. However, many gang leaders do not want desegregation in the prisons because they fear for their safety amongst the other prisoners who are often times rival gang members with a personal vendetta against one another. Incidentally, the violent lobbying of the gangs has united them in an unusual alliance due to the “common enemy”. The First Capital Command and the Red Command, two of the biggest gangs in the area have already formed a pact and there are plenty more that will be formed as the conflict ensues.

Brazil has the third highest prison population behind China and the US (of course). The problem is that President Bolsonaro wants to be even tougher on crime, which will result in even more Brazilians being sent to prison. Some of the policies he wants to implement include lowering the age of criminal responsibility from age 18 to age 16, which will only increase the number of Brazilians in the prison system. More Brazilians in the Brazilian prison system will not help reform the broken prison system. If anything, the country needs less prisoners so they can focus on improving the conditions in the prisons due to the overcrowding. The point of prison is to rehabilitate the prisoners so they can be reintegrated into society when they are released, but a prison in bad condition and ran by the prisoners instead of the guards is not suitable for rehabilitation.

President Bolsonaro must now deal with the crisis that has begun to unfold in his country. However, many members of the left saw this wave of terror coming. As Renato Roseno of the Socialism and Liberty Party stated, “This crisis was entirely predictable, we were sitting on a barrel of gunpowder and it just needed someone to light the fuse”. It is now up to him to decide if he will counter these actions, if he will send in foreign help, will peacekeeping troops be deployed, and will he still be able to stick to his tough on crime policy? It will be interesting to see how Bolsonaro deals with his first major crisis as a president. Will he be able to stick to his hard right policies or will he be pressured to renege on the promises that got him elected as president in the first place?

Colombia: Prospects for Peace

Last week, Rodrigo Cadete, one of the leaders of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) dissident group, died in a military operation in the southern Caqueta region. The Colombian military claims responsibility for his death, along with the death of nine other militants. According to BBC News, Colombian Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said Cadete had been working to unite the group. “had been trying to unite some of the 1,700 members of the FARC.” On January 17th, there was a deadly car bombing at a Bogota police academy. The car bomb was claimed by Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN). The bomb left 21 military personnel dead, and 68 injured.
These attacks inform growing fears of a return to civil conflict in Colombia. Terrorism in Colombia is not new, since 1964 the country has been involved in a 52-year armed conflict involving the government and rebels, militant groups, and drug cartels. Although, following the historic peace agreement between FARC and the government, in September 2016, fears were temporarily allayed about ongoing civil strife in the country. As part of the deal, FARC members turned in their weapons and ammunition. The United Nations supervised the disarmament and demobilization of FARC rebels. In fact, after the agreement, arms-related fatalities in Colombia dropped from 3,000 a year to only 78.
Despite these signs of progress, the ELN has filled in for FARC to become the country’s largest guerilla group. The ELN has been responsible for deadly bombings, kidnappings, drug production, and extortion. Their goal is to overthrow the government to install a communist alternative. The death of Cadete demonstrates that the FARC may also not be completely irrelevant following the peace agreement. The Los Angeles Times reported that the ELN added about 1,000 former FARC rebels to its group, which now numbers about 2,500
. There are concerns that the January bomb attack will stall any opportunity for a peace deal with the ELN. President Ivan Duque had expressed his unwillingness to negotiate with the group until they ceased criminal activity and released people they had kidnapped. Nonetheless, continued engagement and discussion are important components in resolving terrorism. The Colombian government and the ELN militia must mutually understand and recognize the demands on each side; it’s also important for awareness and acknowledgement of the motivations for groups like FARC and the ELN. If the government can address the reasons these groups are using acts of terror, then it can better provide alternatives and solutions for these rebel groups acts of terror. For example, in the 2016 negotiations the government promised to create “transition zones” for the FARC rebels, as it was designed to integrate them into Colombian society, and provide reeducation, health care, and other social services. Although, there are criticisms that the government is failing to fulfill its obligations to provide these services. They have stalled in their provision of health services and drinkable water to former militants, which this risks collapsing the 2016 peace deal, and foreclosing future potential for an agreement with FARC. Thus, the government should guarantee and follow its commitment to the 2016 peace deal, and expand the framework for those negotiations to the ELN rebels.
Overall, violence in Colombia has decreased significantly since 2016, but the conflict is not over. The 2016 FARC agreement demonstrated that when both the government and the rebel groups come to the table to discuss their concerns and their primary goals, that concessions can be made, and progress can be agreed upon. Therefore, inclusion of the ELN in a peace agreement, and continued negotiation is important to strengthen the response to recent acts of terrorism. The civil war was a deep-seated conflict, therefore, solutions to the violence won’t be quick or easy, but continued negotiation between the government and ELN can begin to resolve the violence.

Colombia Farc: Dissident leader Rodrigo Cadete killed in military operation (2019, February 3rd). Retrieved February 10th 2019, from
After 21 die in a bombing, Colombians fear a resurgence of terror (2019, January 18th). Retrieved February 10th 2019, from

Violence and killings haven’t stopped in Colombia despite landmark peace deal (2019, February 6th). Retrieved February 11th 2018, from

Human rights workers are getting killed in Colombia. Here’s what could help save the peace (2019, February 11th). Retrieved February 11th 2019, from

Old Crisis Sparks Anew: The Bogota Car Bombing

Source: The Tico Times (2019) 

Author: Billy Baker

Colombia has a bloody history of political violence (La Violencia, FARC, ELN). But after the peace agreement with FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in 2016 and the peace talks with ELN (National Liberation Army), many thought that this would be the end of the bloodshed.

That was until January 17th, 2019, when a vehicle drove into the National Police Academy in Bogota, Colombia. The truck, armed with explosives, sped into the facility until hitting a wall. This triggered the detonation, killing 21 people (including the driver) and injuring 68 others. This marked the deadliest attack in 16 years.

Shortly after the bombing, ELN members in Colombia claimed responsibility for the attack. This has stalled peace talks currently being held in Cuba, although ELN chief negotiator, Pablo Beltran, has denied involvement in the attack. Colombian President Ivan Duque is now calling for the Cuban government to arrest and extradite the ELN negotiators in the country.

The Cuban government has responded by stating that they will follow the previously agreed protocol for a break in the dialogue. The protocol for this situation allows ELN negotiators to travel back to Colombia through Venezuela in a safe manner. It also requires the Colombian military not to engage any identified rebel strongholds for a 72-hour period during their return.

So what does this mean for the future? This single attack has damaged prospects for peace between ELN and the Colombian government, with the possibility of bringing back an escalation of widespread violence that Colombia has not experienced for years. This is unfortunately a possibility for a variety of reasons (low popularity for President Márquez, widespread disgust against ELN’s attack, need to respond to the attack).

It is necessary for the Colombian government to respond to the violence and crime that ELN has committed over the years. Along with the attack in Bogota, ELN has committed numerous attacks since peace talks began. Peace talks have proved difficult due to the group’s decentralized structure. This most recent attack by ELN has caused uncertainty about the future of political violence in Colombia.

Why Does a Person Become Radicalized?: Weighing Research Against the Tree of Life Shooting

In the 21st century, terror attacks have become relatively common. Within 2018 alone, 1,744 terror attacks were recorded by the Rise to Peace Active Intelligence database. Researchers for years have been trying to understand why one becomes radical, what psychologically is different in a person that makes them inherently violent or extreme? It is difficult to pinpoint because there is no one profile that all radicalized people fall under. Many come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, educated backgrounds, both men and women of different ages, etc.

According to Arie Kruglanski, a researcher at the University of Maryland, looking at extremism case by case, whether it is neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), or members of ISIL, the underlying reasons that propel them to be violently angry is the same.[1] These are a person’s need to have a significance, a narrative, and a justification. Significance refers to a person’s need to have feelings of purpose and self-worth. While a non-radicalized person usually puts significance in things such as ‘raising a family’ or ‘working hard in one’s career’ many of those who later become radicalized lack these outlets, and put value only in gender, religion, or race. Narrative, according toKruglanski,is what gives a person permission to commit violent acts. The last factor is justification, or having community or network that a radical person belongs to that supports and justifies the violence they are committing.

These three factors are displayed in the case of Robert Bowers, a white nationalist and neo-Nazi who killed 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh Synagogue on October 27th, 2018. When Bowers entered the synagogue, he proclaimed that he wanted to, “kill Jews,” right before he opened fire. Bowers is radicalized; however, he was not always the white nationalist he is today. Looking at his profile, he slowly fell into radicalization.

Bowers did not have a significance outside of his racial identity. It was evident after reading multiple accounts from his old neighbors that he did not have any significant identifiers, none of them could recall anything significant about him. Along with this, he never had a steady job and he also did not have any family. For Bowers, he prided himself on belonging to the white male majority and was passionate about ensuring that nobody impeded on that.

Bowers also created a narrative that gave him permission to turn to violence. Before the attack happened, the immediate threat to his significance or group, his white majority, was being attacked, in his eyes, when a caravan of immigrants was on its way to the United States. Neo-Nazis linked this to the Jewish community by suggesting that George Soros, a Holocaust survivor, was organizing and paying for the caravan.[2] In Bowers’ mind, this act would justify his violence because it was a ‘direct threat to his group.’

Bowers received justification for his actions through a large community of support on social media. While none of Bowers’ neighbors knew about his antisemitic behavior, he freely posted slanders on a platform called Gab. Gab is a social network that allegedly champions free speech, individual liberty and the free flow of information online. All are welcome.[3] Gab is also known to be a popular social network for being friendly for extremists and even a “safe haven” for neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the alt-right. Bowers had been posting antisemitic slanders on his account for months before the attack. His last post on Gab stated that he, “can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” This was posted minutes before opening fire.

Gab stated that while it supports freedom of speech, it also “unequivocally disavows and condemns all acts of terrorism and violence…Gab’s mission is very simple: to defend free expression and individual liberty online for all people.” Gab said it was alerted to the suspect’s profile on their platform, backed up the data, suspended the account, and contacted the FBI.[4] This online community, which provided Bowers’s justification for violence, worked in tandem with his narrative and significance to craft a person capable of carrying out an extremist attack.






Afghanistan: Results of the Moscow talks with Taliban

Taliban representatives at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation / Sergei Savostyanov / TASS

Earlier this week, Channel News USA discussed how the Taliban and Afghan government held talks in Moscow regarding women’s rights, a new Islamic Constitution, and the exit of the United States from the war-stricken country.

The meeting was headed by former president Hamid Karzai, Afghan politicians consulted with Taliban members to reach an agreement on how to reach long-lasting peace. The New York Times noted that Afghan politicians wanted to focus on keeping the rewards from the past twenty years, whereas the Taliban mostly discussed how they know believe that women should be given more rights, such as the right to work and education. Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, who heads the Taliban delegation, discloses to the reporters that the talks went successfully.

“We agreed on many points and I am hopeful that in future, we can succeed more further, and finally we can reach a solution. We can find complete peace in Afghanistan.” 

The Afghan delegation consisted mostly of former Mujahideen political leaders, elites, members from political parties, and current members Parliament. There were only two women in the entire delegation.

Afghans expressed on different kinds of social media that this delegation does not necessarily accurately represent Afghanistan. However, Afghan politician Atta Muhammad Noor stated that the participants of the delegation viewed themselves to be more representative of Afghanistan than the current government.

The National discusses how in the end, there was a joint declaration formed that addressed “removal of foreign forces, the release of Taliban prisoners and removal of Taliban leaders from a UN blacklist.”

However, even though the talks seemed to have helped make progress with current issues, Afghan civilians and political commentators feel that the talks have actually harmed chances of long-term peace, while also giving Taliban insurgents an advantage with their negotiations with the United States.

Although such talks had not happened in the past due to fear of disapproval from the United States, there is still debate on whether the current talks were successful. Hekmatullah Azamy, deputy director at Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, believes that the Moscow talks greatly increased the insurgents’ influence and advantage.

“The Taliban had made military progress in the last year, but with this meeting, they have also gained certain political status and legitimacy, in terms of local diplomacy,” he said.

“To see them recognized by the Afghan political elite should worry the government because in some ways it brings the Taliban mainstream. The next time they sit with the US, the Taliban can say confidently that the Afghan people don’t have a problem with them. This will affect the Afghan government.”

Mr. Azamy also believes that the president has been handling these talks diplomatically, as Mr. Ghani offered the Taliban to open an office inside of Afghanistan, even though the insurgents quickly declined the offer. Overall, a majority of civilians have reacted by criticizing the absence of government during the talks and the lack of accurate representation. Afghans fear that there will be the return of communism and mujahideen if American forces leave the country.

Ultimately, holding these talks in Moscow in the first place was a good step in the right direction. Beginning negotiations will help in producing solutions that work for both parties, while also benefiting the citizens. Mr. Karzai should have presented a more diverse and representative delegation, in order to prove to civilians that these talks are to help them, too.

Additionally, the Afghan government, specifically the president, should have been present at the talks, since the Afghan government is such a crucial part in bringing peace to the country, and the government itself plays a major role in the country.

Lastly, more talks should be held in the future, possibly with the involvement of the United States, since the role that America plays in Afghanistan’s long-term peace is of concern to citizens and politicians.