Terrorism in France: Past and Present

Photo: International Business Times, 2015

Of the 28 countries that make up the European Union, France has constantly been an influential force in shaping policy and taking action against extremist threats. Be that as it may, unfortunately, France also has the highest frequency of terror attacks of any EU country. The government has struggled not only to combat such provocations but also to understand why they have become so widespread.

France has the largest Muslim population in Europe and in 2015 11.8% of its population was foreign-born, compared to 8.9% in 2014. This number has risen and fallen as the EU has struggled to create and enforce strict immigration policies. Due to such bureaucratic logjams terror organizations have been able to infiltrate the country and recruit local and foreign citizens in its jails. The contagion can be traced back to a policy that was scrapped by then Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, in 2002.

Sarkozy eliminated the “Police de Proximité,” which was a neighborhood policing policy designed to effect friendlier police work. The absence of this program resulted in resentment of officers of the law, as well as an increase in repressive tactics and arrests. Consequently, many African and Middle Eastern youth were placed in French prisons, which proved fertile grounds for radicalization. They were angry, poor, and had criminal records – all reasons why recruiters for Islamic extremist organizations like ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) were able to radicalize them.

Since the 2002 spike in arrests, many of those who were radicalized have been released from prison and have gone on to perpetrate violence in France. How best to combat this rise in terrorism? An effort must be made to halt recruitment in French prisons. As for society as a whole, an outreach program to French youth, especially in inner cities and their schools, would prove beneficial. Such programs function like an inoculation against terror, stifling recruitment and the flow of extremist ideology.

In 2013 France went to war against two Muslim governments when it invaded Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR). This exacerbated tensions and widened the divide between Muslims and the French government. ISIS has carried out its deadliest assaults since this time. On January 7th, 2015 two Islamist gunmen forced their way into the Paris headquarters of satirical weekly news-magazine Charlie Hebdo and opened fire, killing twelve. Less than a year later, on November 13th, 2015, nine EU citizen members of ISIL launched a coordinated offensive at a soccer stadium, a concert hall, restaurants, and bars. 130 were killed, and 413 were wounded. On Bastille Day in 2016, an Islamic State supporter drove a truck through a crowd, killing 86 people. Just 12 days later ISIL soldiers slit the throat of an 85-year-old priest in Normandy, killing him.

Between 1980 and 2003, a span of 23 years, terror strikes killed 87 people in France. Between 2003 and 2018, only 15 years, three times as many people (250) were killed. The question remains, how can France and other EU countries stop attacks before they occur? The answer necessarily lies in policy. An anti-terrorism law was passed in 2014 that allowed the government to prevent at-risk citizens from leaving the country. The same law banned EU citizens from entering France if they were deemed a threat to society. The “French Patriot Act” passed in 2015, created a vast surveillance program. It proved a massive step in advancing French security, and it continues to pave the way for intelligence and law enforcement agencies to curb the dispersal of terrorist ideologies. 

French President Emmanuel Macron promises to tighten French immigration policy, but what’s missing, as stated earlier, is a comprehensive strategy aimed at educating the public with the intention of inoculating it against extremist views.

France is at a crossroads. Today’s legislation is vital to the country’s future. There must be a proactive strategy for countering terrorist recruitment. Those who would be affected most by such preventative measures, youth, are responsible for France’s future. Whether they step into a future that is violent or peaceful is up to lawmakers today.

Photo: yougov.uk

Sources

Laurence, Jonathan, and Justin Vaisse. “Understanding Urban Riots in France.” Brookings, Brookings, 28 July 2016, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/understanding-urban-riots-in-france/

Tribalat, M. “M. Tribalat.” Population, Institut National D’études Démographiques, 23 Jan. 2018, https://www.persee.fr/doc/pop_1634-2941_2004_num_59_1_18464

“Bilan Démographique 2016À Nouveau En Baisse, La Fécondité Atteint 1,93 Enfant Par Femme En 2016 .” Bilan Démographique 2016 – Insee Première – 1630, https://www.insee.fr/fr/statistiques/2554860

McPartland, Ben. “Some Truths about Immigration in France.” The Local, The Local, 13 Oct. 2015, https://www.thelocal.fr/20151013/some-truths-about-migration-to-and-from-france

RFI. “Auditors Slam Sarkozy Policing Policy.” RFI, RFI, 8 July 2011, http://en.rfi.fr/france/20110708-auditors-slam-sarkozy-policing-policy

Astier, Henri. “Paris Attacks: Prisons Provide Fertile Ground for Islamists.” BBC News, BBC, 5 Feb. 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31129398

“46 Years of Terrorist Attacks in Europe, Visualized.” The Washington Post, WP Company, www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/a-history-of-terrorism-in-europe/.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/a-history-of-terrorism-in-europe/

Smith, David, and Kim Willsher. “Clashes in Central African Republic as UN Authorises French Intervention.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 Dec. 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/05/central-african-republic-un-vote-french

Nicolas. “Global Legal Monitor.” France: National Assembly Adopts Immigration Bill | Global Legal Monitor, 9 Sept. 2015, http://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/france-national-assembly-adopts-immigration-bill/

Loesche, Dyfed, and Felix Richter. “Infographic: Many People Expect Terrorist Attacks in 2017.” Statista Infographics, 23 Mar. 2017, https://www.statista.com/chart/8638/many-people-expect-terrorist-attacks-in-2017/

Unrest Over Austerity Measures in Tunisia

Unrest erupted across Tunisia following a government decision to implement a new finance act on January 1st, 2018. The act mainly targeted the wealthy but also triggered elevated prices for basic goods and services throughout the country. It lifted Tunisia’s value-added tax from 18% to 19%, making the consumption of taxed goods and services more expensive. Thousands gathered in public spaces across Tunisia to protest the decision. According to Al Jazeera, “Protesters torched government buildings, looted shops and blocked roads, prompting the army to deploy some 2,100 troops to different parts of the country,” (Al Jazeera). Tunisia has unquestionably made progress since initiating the Arab Spring in December 2010. It would be a shame to have it reversed due to public impatience and a harsh, miscalculated government response.


Tunisian police stand guard during a demonstration against the government and price hikes on January 9, 2018, in Tunis. AFP PHOTO /
© FETHI BELAID

According to statements released by the United Nations, since the beginning of the protests, which began immediately following the decision to implement the act, more than 778 people have been arrested. A spokesperson for the Tunisian Interior Ministry stated that at least 151 people were arrested on charges of vandalism and looting, as they should have been. Tunisians should not use the unrest as an excuse to commit crimes and foster instability in the country following the significant progress it has made since protests began in 2010. At least one person was reportedly killed in the western city of Tebourba. Protests that turned violent in other cities resulted in multiple injuries. The Tunisian government should refrain from arresting people arbitrarily and should respect the Tunisian people’s right to peaceful protest, demonstrations, and assembly. Tunisian security forces should be ordered to respond to the protests with calculated caution and restraint.

Protests began peacefully in the Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid. They quickly spread to other parts of the country, with the largest demonstrations occurring in the capital, Tunis. People chanted, waved Tunisian flags, and held banners demanding the Tunisian government abandon the act. To reiterate, notably, it was young Tunisian protesters who, in calling for reform, demanded progress and government accountability sparking the conflagration that came to be known as the Arab Spring in 2010. Tunisia is widely revered as the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring as a stable democracy. However, the country has experienced sluggish economic growth, fueling public dissatisfaction. The Tunisian President was quoted as saying, “2018 will be the last difficult year for Tunisia,” (Reuters). Tunisians have clearly demonstrated an understandably impatient yearning for progress.

In response to mass detentions, students and activists from around the country railed against the government, encircling official buildings and overflowing public squares demanding the release of protesters arrested during the past week. Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the UN Office on Human Rights stated to press in Geneva, Switzerland, “We’re concerned about the high number of arrests, some 778 people we understand have now been arrested since Monday, and around a third of those arrested were between the ages of 15 and 20 – so very young.”


© Faouzi Dridi, AFP | Tunisian protesters take to the streets in Siliana, some 130 km south of Tunis, late on January 11, 2017

Austerity measures were adopted by the government in response to World Bank requests that the country act urgently to fix its budget deficit, which swelled to 6% of its GDP in recent months. The IMF committed itself to providing Tunisia with $2.8 billion in loans to achieve sustainable economic growth and stability. The loans were provided on the condition that the country’s governing bodies implement significant social and economic reforms. As mentioned earlier, the finance act elevated prices of basic consumer goods including bread and fuel. The increased value-added tax rate has lifted the price of cars, phone calls, internet and hotel accommodation. The IMF should provide additional recommendations to the Tunisian government and its finance ministry to help resolve the budget deficit without increasingly burdening the Tunisian people. Steps to improve the country’s deficit are crucial to establishing lasting stability.

According to Al Jazeera correspondent Hashem Ahelbarra reporting from Tunis, “People on the streets were enthusiastic about the movement’s momentum. People here say that they want to continue to take to the streets in order to put more pressure on the government to scrap the austerity measures,” (Al Jazeera). Protesters have also used the protests to express discontent with the government for failing to stand by promises to improve living standards, reduce poverty and lower high unemployment rates. The government would be wise to pursue options that will address the budget deficit without imposing too steep a cost on the middle and lower classes. This could be achieved by encouraging investment and consumption.

Tunisian protesters shout slogans outside the governorate’s offices in Tunis during a demonstration over price hikes and austerity measures on January 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Sofiene HAMDAOUI

Governments around the world have responded to the protests by encouraging peace, reform, and restraint. When speaking with Tunisian officials, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he is confident that if the country, “…stands united,” Tunisia could, “…overcome its problems,” (The Seattle Times).

Progress in Tunisia will come in time. Its people are determined and hopeful to achieve the rights and prosperity they were promised in 2011. Just as they brought about change then, they will so today. It is important that the government reminds people it is working for and not against them. Though plodding, the country has made a great deal of progress since the revolution in 2011. According to an article from The Economist Intelligence Unit,

The dictatorship that repressed opposition parties, jailed political dissidents and curtailed free speech and human rights has been replaced by a pluralistic political system with over 200 registered political parties, freedom of speech and assembly, and free and fair elections, underpinned by a progressive constitution,” (EIU). Progress will continue if not hindered by unrest. The international community and its institutions must be prepared to support that progress. Tunisia is a prime example of what can be achieved when people voice their concerns about political change and the government responds through thoughtful reform. The country should continue to lead by example. If it does, the Tunisian people will see the progress for which they have yearned. At the moment, the protests are likely to continue.

Sources:

“Tunisia’s Difficult Economic Situation Will Improve in 2018 -PM.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 9 Jan. 2018, af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFL8N1P41TJ?feedType=RSS&feedName=tunisiaNews.

Jazeera, Al. “More Protests Expected in Tunisia after Mass Arrests.” News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 12 Jan. 2018, www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/01/protests-expected-tunisia-mass-arrests-180112122337505.html.

Bouazza, Bouazza Ben. “Tunisian Govt Hopes That Days of Food Protests Are Subsiding.” The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times Company, 12 Jan. 2018, www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/tunisian-government-hoping-days-of-protests-are-subsiding/.

EIU Digital Solutions. “Tunisia.” Has the Jasmine Revolution Failed?, country.eiu.com/article.aspx?articleid=1916476975&Country=Tunisia&topic=Politics&subtopic=At%2Ba%2Bglance.

What Becomes of Returning ISIS Fighters?


Graphic from the Washington Post[1]

Since the Islamic State’s collapse in Syria and Iraq, returning jihadists pose a problem to countries that don’t know how to handle the risk they present. While most are imprisoned, some are being rehabilitated. The rehabilitation process is costly and long and it raises questions about how to deal with radicalized individuals and avoid additional radicalization and violence[2].

Solutions for de-radicalizing jihadists and their children are hardly one-size-fits-all. Especially when the people in question were not directly involved in attacks or violence, but could still radicalize others. While most countries have addressed the problem of returnees in their respective criminal justice systems, some critics have been vocal about potential negative ramifications.

In an interview with I.R.I.N. (Integrated Regional Information Networks), the father of a radicalized Kosovan fighter states that steep jail sentences will not help returnees, but rather encourage more people to become radicalized[3]. That may be true. By punishing returnees harshly, states run the risk of giving extremist groups more reasons to feel antagonized and persecuted, which they, in turn, could use in their rhetoric when radicalizing others.

The problem is that there are limited options for such people. While de-radicalization programs exist, they are costly and must be tailored to each individual. The programs work if done properly, but with approximately 5,600 fighters returning home, it is difficult, if not impossible, to accommodate so many at-risk people[4].

That said, mass incarceration does not eliminate the problem in the long run. A radicalized person needs to create a new identity and life purpose that does not revolve around violence. Therefore, a fusion of de-radicalization programs and incarceration might be the most efficient, realistic option for most states.

[1] Meko, Tim. Analysis | Islamic State fighters returning home. (Feb 22,2018.). Retrieved March 6, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/world/isis-returning-fighters/
[2] Meko, Tim. Analysis | Islamic State fighters returning home. (Feb 22,2018.). Retrieved March 6, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/world/isis-returning-fighters/
[3]Nianias, Helen. Lessons from Kosovo? How a European hotbed of Islamist extremism deals with returning fighters. (2018, March 2). https://www.irinnews.org/feature/2018/03/02/lessons-kosovo-how-european-hotbed-islamist-extremism-deals-returning-fighters
[4]  Meko, Tim. Analysis | Islamic State fighters returning home. (Feb 22,2018.). Retrieved March 6, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/world/isis-returning-fighters/

An Organizational Tactic or a Volunteer’s Catharsis: Is Suicide Terrorism Strategic for All Parties Involved?


© Copyright Glomacs

Many mistakenly believe that suicide terrorism is an act undertaken by the most deranged in a group of deranged people. Others contend that suicide terrorism is irrational, counterproductive, and plain crazy. Prominent scholars have proven otherwise — suicide terrorism follows a strategic logic. The details are calculated, from the logistics of the act to how it will advance the group’s cause. Where strategy is less conspicuous, however, is in the individual’s motivation. Individuals often engage in suicide terror to salve deeply-harbored rage or to exact revenge. Robert Pape, a leading academic on the topic, focuses on the strategic logic of suicide terror in terms of the organization as a whole. While this perspective does not invalidate Pape’s thesis, I contend that it is vital to distinguish the group’s strategy from the individual’s incentive. Pape’s dismissal of the individual’s motive weakens an otherwise sound analysis.

In his article The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, Robert Pape argues that suicide terrorism is not, despite common misconceptions, attributable to religious indoctrination or psychological predispositions. Rather, he argues that suicide attacks are intended to achieve political goals. Namely, they intend to coerce a target government to change policy, to mobilize additional recruits and to generate financial support. Often, terrorist organizations want to end foreign occupations in their homeland. The threat of indiscriminate, collective punishment is built into the attack’s design to coerce a government to withdraw state military forces.

It may be difficult for the average person to understand suicide terror, but in the context of traditional battlefield norms, it becomes clearer. Louise Richardson, the author of the book What Terrorists Want, argues that suicide terrorism is logical. Martyring oneself to kill others is consonant with warrior behavior throughout history. Soldiers engage in risky, albeit highly rewarding plans. They are aware that death is a possibility. Patriotism is reason enough for soldiers to sacrifice their lives. After all, 105 countries, the United States included, have robust militaries despite lacking enforced military conscription. In the context of traditional war, such notions are associated with valor. Yet a suicide bomber is written off as crazy. Like any group engaged in warfare, terror strategists choose tactics that benefit the organization, and the cause, the most. Per Pape and Richardson both, terror organizations continue using suicide as a tactic because it works.

Suicide terror campaigns are performed with specific nationalistic goals in mind. Ergo, organizational use of such attacks is part of a strategy, not random violence carried out by the mentally ill. The overarching goal is to coerce troop withdrawal from terrorists’ homelands. But the dedication to organizational strategy in the attack’s every level lends credence to Pape’s thesis. Organizations that use suicide terror, for example, consider the target and the timing carefully to maximize coercive effects.

Suicide terrorists target democracies because they are perceived as vulnerable to collective punishment. Terror organizations strategically attack states that are limited in their ability to respond. Democracies have checks and balances. Byzantine political channels must be navigated before responding to attacks with military force. Whereas authoritarian states lack such inhibitions and can respond with ferocity.

Terrorist leaders are strategic at macro and micro levels. In addition to carefully choosing their target country and timing, they diligently select the individual for the mission. Terror strategists choose a psychologically sound member and train, supervise, and encourage that person. The advent of female suicide bombers indicates organizations are shifting tactics in response to counter-terror efforts. The upsurge in female attackers in Iraq coincided with security forces’ improved ability to detect and impede male attackers.  Leaders take advantage of traditional female apparel, which often consists of a floor-length abaya. Devices strapped to a female’s body are harder to detect given all that fabric. Due to religious and cultural austerity, police guards rarely search women.

I am sympathetic to Pape’s thesis, but it is too broad and errs in its parochial view of the phenomenon from the perspective of the terrorist organization. His dismissal of a suicide bomber’s personal motives is short-sighted. Pape argues that “…although study of the personal characteristics of suicide attackers may someday help identify individual terrorist organizations [that] are likely to recruit…the vast spread of suicide terrorism over the last two decades suggests that there may not be a single profile.” While this is valid, Pape fails to see that examining the personal characteristics of the suicide bomber has worth beyond the likelihood of identifying them in advance. Other authors have noted that suicide terrorists are often motivated by revenge and glory. Richardson embraces much of Pape’s thesis, but her discussion of individual motivation helps to fill in Pape’s analytic gaps.

While Pape grazes individual motivation in suicide terror, he focuses on characteristics bombers lack, rather than traits they possess. He posits that suicide bombers are generally neither fanatical nor extremely religious. It is worth emphasizing, however, that suicide bombers often act for personal reasons and not of accord with the group’s cause. Richardson touches on the motive variance between leaders and volunteers. She points out, “When leaders of terrorist groups speak of suicide attacks, they are hard-nosed and tactical. When volunteers speak of suicide attacks, they are emotional and excited.”

The individual yearning for martyrdom, regardless of underlying motivations, benefits terror strategists since they need members who are willing to die. According to Pape, the strategic logic of suicide terrorism revolves around the advancement of a group’s nationalist agenda and the symbiotic phenomenon of attackers killing out of hatred for an occupation in their homeland. One would-be suicide bomber stated, “I know we are fighting against the Americans and they are the occupation. We are doing it for God’s sake. We are doing it as jihad.”  Women, in particular, find motivation in response to their inferior social status. Because many women live in isolated communities controlled by extremists, knowing that a suicide attack will give them an identity is a driving factor.

Pape uses the absence of a terrorist profile as justification to ignore individual motivations in favor of a broader thesis.  Theses such as Pape’s are innocuous in academia. But in the policy world, his failure to examine personal motivations could prove consequential.

Terrorism or Just Terror: When Horror Springs From Within


© Lisa Marie Pane/AP, The Atlantic

Alyssa Alhadeff. Scott Beigel. Martin Duque Anguiano. Nicholas Dworet. Aaron Feis. Jamie Guttenberg. Chris Hixon. Luke Hoyer. Cara Loughran. Gina Montalto. Joaquin Oliver. Alaina Petty.  Meadow Pollack. Helena Ramsay. Alex Schachter. Carmen Schentrup. Peter Wang.

These are the names of the Parkland victims. They were students, teachers, and coaches. They had dreams, hopes, and ambitions. They were all lost too soon and they must all be remembered.

The Parkland victims are the latest in an all-too familiar-cycle of events in the United States.  There have been twenty-five major school shootings since the Columbine massacre in 1999.  American children harbor ever-present fears of school shootings, parents anxiously await calls from loved ones, and the United States remains paralyzed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3xoVCJOoB8

But is it terrorism? The Federal Bureau of Investigation distinguishes two major forms of terrorism: international and domestic. International terrorism is that which is committed by an individual or group, inspired by or associated with a designated foreign terrorist organization or state. Alternatively, domestic terrorism is that which is perpetrated by an individual or group inspired by or associated with domestic political, religious, social, racial, or environmental ideas. Pared down, terrorism is a tactic. It is employed in the pursuit of a political goal to generate fear and intimidation in a specific population.

School shootings bear many of terrorism’s hallmarks.  Certainly, they are designed to stoke fear and intimidation.  Their target populations are schools and the individuals who attend them: children, teachers, and administrators.  However, school shooters are not typically motivated by political goals. They are not ordinarily tied to underlying terrorist causes like religious, racial, or social issues. Consequently, most school shootings are not considered terrorism.

We’ve learned that dozens of people in the Parkland shooter’s orbit, prior to the attack, reported him to authorities as a troubled person. Shortly after the shooting, rumors surfaced that the shooter had ties to a white supremacist group.  However, as of this writing, the Parkland shooter’s motivations remain unclear.

What would make a school shooting terrorism and not just terrifying? If we learn that the Parkland shooter entered the school to kill students in the name of a white supremacist idea, then Parkland could rightfully be called terrorism.  If he was motivated by religious or social grievances, Parkland could be described as terrorism. However, absent such verifiable motivations, labeling the attack and others like it domestic terrorism is far from a slam-dunk.  This remains true, despite a consensus that the attack was a consummately terrifying act perpetrated against the Parkland students and administrators as well as the psyches of students, teachers, and parents across our country.

Fear is ever-present, we are warned that violent, religious zealots can strike anywhere, anytime. We’re no longer safe on our streets; vehicles can be used as weapons of war.  Churches and synagogues are no longer sacrosanct oases from our daily lives, let alone violence if gunmen are bent on bringing terror through the doors.  Places we used to associate with leisure – movie theaters, outdoor concerts, schools – have lost the veneer of security. We are told if we see something, say something – anything suspicious must be pointed out.

More must be done to prevent school shootings.  Regardless of what we call the events or the motivations of perpetrators, more must be done.  We must see improvements in school safety, improved mental health awareness and access, and additional, achievable gun safety measures.  America’s children are being conditioned to expect school shootings. Drills, meant to teach students how to remain safe if the unconscionable occurs, are a new focus of the classroom experience. But the drills themselves instill the student body with fear and trepidation.

Apparently, if the United States cannot see an act of violence through the lens of international terror, then little gets done.  9/11 made the United States rethink airport security. Anthrax letters sent to Congress inspired the implementation of thorough mail-screening measures. Laptops were briefly banned [JS2] on U.S. airlines after it was discovered that they could be weaponized by terrorists. Yet, school shootings persist without sensible changes.

The generation advancing through our school system now has been initiated in blood and war. The post 9/11 generation was born into a world of ubiquitous terror, it is their normal. War, violence, both occur daily. Our youth are bombarded with reports of tragic events at home and abroad. The bad actors are known by all. It cannot be lost on these children that their lives are radically different from those of their parents, the latter of whom did not experience similar fears of school shootings on a day-to-day basis.

In closing, and at the risk of seeming contradictory, school shootings are less prevalent than appears to be the case and they do not inflate the level of daily gun violence in the United States. The difference is that each horrible act is inflicted en masse on an innocent, vital segment of our population. The children in school now will be our workers and leaders tomorrow.  We cannot allow these horrors to continually be inflicted on them without expecting a traumatized population to emerge.

 

Terrorism in Africa: Will Tillerson Tip the Scale?

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to meet with leaders of five African nations this week. He is there to strengthen U.S.-African ties and discuss security and counterterrorism. The countries he will be visiting include Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Chad, and Nigeria. Certainly, his trip will also see him mending fences with leaders in the wake of President Trump’s “sh*thole countries” comment. That notwithstanding, Secretary Tillerson is in Africa to check in on counterterrorism efforts.

© Jeremiah Wakaya Secretary Tillerson’s plane touches down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. He is received by Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma and U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Robert Godec.

Secretary Tillerson will be, “…visiting nations engaged in battling Islamist terrorism, including Djibouti, home to Camp Lemonnier, America’s largest and most vital African military base,” [1]. Countries most steeped in conflict with prominent terrorist groups al-Shabaab and Boko Haram will command the bulk of the secretary’s time. Tillerson spoke at George Mason University hours before leaving for Africa. He provided the rationale for choosing the five countries, explaining that the United States has key prospects, troops, interests, and allies in Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Chad, and Nigeria. Doubtless, he will be visiting Ethiopia which,“…is a close U.S. ally in its counterterrorism operations in East Africa, notably against al-Shabab,” [1].

© Austin Ludolph Before his departure for Africa, Secretary Tillerson discusses security, economic welfare, and counterterrorism with George Mason University’s President, Ángel Cabrera 

Tillerson gives an impression of equanimity, praising, “…the role the African Union and G5 Sahel Group have taken on the security and counterterrorism front.” Tillerson pledged, “…$60 million from the U.S. to the G5 security force,” this year. [2] Trump’s feelings may differ. His, “…latest budget proposal in February slashed spending for Africa by 37%, down $3.1 billion from current levels,” [3]. Time will tell how the trip affects counterterrorism and security measures in Africa. As you read these words, imagine Mr. Tillerson trying to repair this:

http://abcn.ws/2G5Yh71

Sources:

1. https://www.dailyrepublic.com/wires/tillerson-arrives-in-africa-with-a-narrow-mission-counterterrorism/
2. https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/06/politics/tillerson-africa-challenges/index.html
3.http://abcnews.go.com/International/tillerson-cleaning-trumps-derogatory-comments-day-africa-trip/story?id=53609344

Jihadist Violence in Burkina Faso

Twin terrorist attacks targeting Burkina Faso’s army headquarters and the French embassy shook the country’s capital, Ouagadougou on March 2nd (Associated Press). The attacks were conducted by two groups of men, each with 4 to 5 people, and left 30 dead (including nine perpetrators) and 85 wounded. According to the International Crisis Group, “The attacks represent an alarming escalation for Burkina Faso in terms of organization, lethality of armaments and length of engagement,” (BBC). Symbolic locations in the capital were chosen as they represent power and authority to terrorist groups throughout the region. The attacks have heightened concerns about Burkina Faso’s increased jihadist violence.

The attacks appeared to be coordinated. One set of men drove to the army headquarters’ main entrance. Using a rocket-propelled grenade they made their way through the front gate. Inside the complex, a second vehicle packed with explosives hurtled toward the headquarters’ main building, at which point it detonated, causing damage not only to the building but also to the infrastructure surrounding it. The attackers then opened fire on military personnel near the main building’s courtyard. Reports have been confirmed by French and Burkinabe forces. Measures have been taken to heighten security around the complex but more measures are in order to secure additional terrorist targets throughout the country.

A group of attackers tried to enter the French embassy but were repelled. They then shifted positions, encircling the embassy and exchanging fire with Burkinabe security forces.  Burkinabe forces were supported by French military personnel, who in turn, had been deployed by helicopter around the building. The ensuing gunfight lasted several hours. French support was crucial to the local security force’s defense. According to a French military source, “Burkinabé forces were crushed at the beginning. We helped them,” (Depagne). According to Rinaldo Depagne, West Africa Program Director at The International Crisis Group, despite that Burkinabe forces were unable to counter the assailants on their own, “…compared to the previous two attacks in Ouagadougou in 2016 and 2017, the response time and organization of the reaction seem slightly improved.” Burkinabe security forces would benefit from additional training from international forces in the area in order to be more effective should a similar attack unfold in the future.

AFP PHOTO / Ahmed OUOBA (Photo credit AHMED OUOBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin claimed responsibility for the attack the next day, March 3rd. JNIM, or, translated to English: The Group to Support Muslims and Islam, aka GSIM, is an al-Qaeda affiliate in the Sahel region, comprised of formerly disparate jihadist groups including Ansar Eddine, al-Mourabitoun, and the Macina Liberation Front. JNIM’s leader, Iyad ag Ghali, said the attack was retaliation for French military airstrikes on February 14th. During that attack, a number of JNIM’s leaders, including the deputy of Mourabitoun, al-Hassan al-Ansari, and Malick ag Wanasnat, an ag Ghali confidant, were killed. That mission was part of an increased effort by Malian armed forces (FAMA) working closely with French counter-terrorism, aka The Barkhane, in support of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

Burkina Faso has experienced a spate of terrorist attacks since experiencing a coup in 2015. Notably, in January 2016, 30 people were killed in the capital by an attack claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). On August 13th, 2017 jihadists shot up a Turkish restaurant in the capital killing 19 and wounding 25. Areas in the country’s north, along its border with its unstable neighbor, Mali, have also seen jihadist violence. Many of the attacks have been conducted by Ansarul Islam, a local Islamist group with working ties to jihadist organizations in Mali.

Burkina Faso’s security forces deteriorated following the departure of President Blaise Compaoré in October 2014, rendering them incapable of repelling attacks like those on March 2nd. According to Burkinabe sources, the army has become disorganized. The Presidential Security Regiment (RSP), Burkinabe’s special forces, were dismantled and have not been replaced since the president left. According to the International Crisis Group, “Intelligence gathering appears to be weak, judging by the failure to detect or disrupt the major attacks that happened on Friday. Two teams totaling at least eight men were able to cross the city center carrying heavy weapons and driving a car full of explosives without being spotted,” (Depagne). Burkinabé authorities suspect members of their own army leaked vital information, aiding the attackers. Military attaches under President Compaore’s leadership, including spymaster Gilbert Diendéré, had been in charge of a comprehensive, international intelligence network that was quite effective. Key counterterrorism structures have not been replaced since their departure.

Steps have been taken to operationalize the G5 Sahel Joint Force, supported by France plus Burkina Faso and four of its neighbors. Military officials claim task force meetings were in progress when the attacks occurred. The attacks, in fact, may have been aimed at discouraging the mobilization of the G5 Sahel Joint Force.

Failure to address security challenges in Burkina Faso could lead to the intensification of an already complex regional conflict. The international community, including organizations like the United Nations, should cooperate to prevent the country from falling further into violence and instability. Cooperation to implement such efforts and foster stability in the region has worked in the past. It can work today and in the future as well.

Sources:

  1. Depagne, Renaldo. “Burkina Faso’s Alarming Escalation of Jihadist Violence.” Crisis Group, ICG, 7 Mar. 2018, www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/burkina-faso/burkina-fasos-alarming-escalation-jihadist-violence.
  2. “Burkina Faso Attack: French Embassy Targeted in Ouagadougou.” BBC News, BBC, 2 Mar. 2018, www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-43257453.
  3. Press, Associated. “Burkina Faso Authorities Arrest 8 after Jihadist Attacks.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 6 Mar. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/burkina-faso-authorities-arrest-8-after-jihadist-attacks/2018/03/06/6dd16370-2164-11e8-946c-9420060cb7bd_story.html?utm_term=.85043c6874e5.

 

The EU Calls for Removal of all Extremist Content on Social Media

The European Union has given social media companies like Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter three months to demonstrate that they are making efforts to rid their platforms of extremist content in order to fight online radicalization. This has been a significant issue in Europe, and the European Commission hopes that by removing extremist content an hour after notification, social media companies can halt the proliferation of radicalization and extremist ideologies [1].

This could certainly help stop the lone-wolf radicalization phenomenon that’s been occurring online, but certain realities of this plan remain unclear. The proposal adds to the existing, voluntary system agreed by the EU and social media companies, under which social media platforms are not legally responsible for the content circulating on their sites [2].

It’s unclear how feasible the EU proposal is since companies’ attempts to deliver on the one hour mandate will be a struggle. For example, Google currently reviews 98% of reported videos within 24 hours [3].

The recommendations are non-binding, but could potentially be taken into account by European courts. For now, they are meant as guidelines for how companies should remove illegal content [4].

The next few months will demonstrate how the EU will proceed and whether tech companies will become more helpful in the fight against violent extremism. While it is certainly a step in the right direction with regard to decreasing online radicalization, there will be pushback from companies that find the increased effort and potential legal battles bothersome.


[1] Gibbs, S. (2018, March 1). EU gives Facebook and Google three months to tackle extremist content. Retrieved March 1, 2018, from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/01/eu-facebook-google-youtube-twitter-extremist-content

[2] Social media faces EU ‘1-hour rule’ on taking down terror content. (March 1, 2018.). Retrieved March 1, 2018, from https://www.ft.com/content/708b82c4-1d65-11e8-aaca-4574d7dabfb6

[3] Social media faces EU ‘1-hour rule’ on taking down terror content. (March 1,2018). Retrieved March 1, 2018, from https://www.ft.com/content/708b82c4-1d65-11e8-aaca-4574d7dabfb6

[4] Gibbs, S. (2018, March 1). EU gives Facebook and Google three months to tackle extremist content. Retrieved March 1, 2018, from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/01/eu-facebook-google-youtube-twitter-extremist-content

Human Rights Champion or Ruthless Pragmatist: Did Aung San Suu Kyi Fool Us All?

CREDIT: HINDUSTAN TIMES / GETTY IMAGES

Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who is serving as the de facto leader of Myanmar, has for decades been hailed as a human rights champion. But Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis, in which more than 650,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees have been forced to flee their country, has highlighted a different side of Suu Kyi. She has failed to speak out for the persecuted minority.

In fact, her government even refers to Rohingya militants as terrorists. The media, past Nobel Peace Prize laureates, and diplomats across the world voiced their shock at her nonchalance regarding the brutal crackdown. The ensuing analysis will demonstrate that Suu Kyi’s lauded reputation as a peaceful warrior is largely the product of international hype. Said hype generated as a consequence of her father’s legacy and her status as a political prisoner. All this allowed her to become a symbol of rebellion without the accomplishments and political mettle of a real leader.

In 1947, Army Officer Aung San, Suu Kyi’s father, helped end colonial British rule in then-Burma. Though he was assassinated prior to independence when Suu Kyi was just two-years-old, he continues to be regarded as the founder of the modern nation – persistent conflicts amongst his nation’s tribes, notwithstanding. Using the tumultuous environment as an excuse to grab control, the military junta seized power in 1962 and ruled for the next fifty years.  Aung San’s unfulfilled dream would later play a role in Suu Kyi’s rise to power.

Suu Kyi, who left Burma at age fifteen to attend school abroad, returned home in 1988 to visit her ailing mother.  She was dismayed to witness the, “…regime’s disastrous nationalization of the economy,” the effect it had on the country, and the regime’s heavy-handed response to protests. Though Suu Kyi had been away from Burma for nearly thirty years and had no political experience, a group of disgruntled lawyers, students, writers, and army officers solicited her to lead the National League for Democracy (NLD), a new political party.

Despite Kyi’s thin resume, the NLD wanted a member of Aung San’s family to “sanctify their mission” and she accepted their request. She became the secretary general of the party and petitioned for the military leaders to transfer their power to a civilian government, with the overarching goal of establishing a society wherein the country’s various ethnic groups could peacefully coexist.

The following year, the military junta imprisoned Suu Kyi and the majority of the NLD’s leadership after they won the general election and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest for fifteen years. The junta had hoped to defuse her political will and the support she was garnering, however, they had “inadvertently turned her into an emblem of the struggle against them.” In 1991, Suu Kyi won a coveted Nobel Peace Prize in absentia due to her “non-violent struggle for both democracy and human rights.” This award rallied global opinion in favor of her peaceful platform.

Released from house arrest in 2010, Suu Kyi, whose popularity grew while she was imprisoned, reconnected with the NLD, which won forty-three out of forty-four seats in parliament in the 2012 election. This win placed Suu Kyi in parliament as leader of the opposition just two short years after her official release. In 2015, Myanmar participated in their first open, free and fair election since 1990, and the NLD secured their parliamentary majority. Suu Kyi experienced a swift rise to power, yet she had only lived as a free woman for a short period of time.

Despite the positive changes in Myanmar during the last several years, Suu Kyi’s response to the current Rohingya crisis has bitterly disappointed her former supporters, with some demanding she be stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize. In retrospect, Suu Kyi’s indifference to human rights is not new. Not only does Suu Kyi lack true political experience, she has long displayed an unsettling bias against particular ethnic groups in Myanmar.

In 2003, fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams, who visited Suu Kyi under house arrest, reported that Suu Kyi had not once mentioned human rights, even though those concerns propelled her into her role as a human rights champion. In 2012, an NLD spokesperson asserted that the Rohingya, who have lived in Myanmar for centuries, were not citizens of the country. In an interview the following year, Suu Kyi dismissed questions regarding violence against the Rohingya, stating Buddhists have, also, lost their homes and there was fear on both sides.  Suu Kyi also declined to talk about human rights at the Nobel Women’s Initiative meeting, reportedly stating that she was sick of answering questions about the issue.

Furthermore, Suu Kyi’s government has made no effort to annul laws limiting the number of children Muslims can have, hindering inter-marriage and keeping the Rohingya marginalized. These instances of indifference to groups within the country predated her silence on the Rohingya crisis, yet largely failed to grab the media’s attention. Suu Kyi has repeatedly stated her platform ensures universal rights, trading on her father’s dream of Myanmar’s ethnic groups living in harmony.

Her ruthless pragmatism may be designed to ensure she remains the de facto leader to keep the military from recouping power, but this is hypocritical. While Suu Kyi may have been sincere back when she was a powerless dissident, “…her great mistake was actually acceding to power,” which exposed her to situations that would reveal her flaws.

Human nature tends to simplify complex problems, prompting people to, “…overlook their heroes’ flaws, fail to see the challenges they will face in power, and assume that countries are the products of their leaders when it is almost always the other way around.” To be sure, leaders have difficult choices to make and must walk a fine line to stay in power.

Yet Suu Kyi’s inaction on the Rohingya crisis is particularly abhorrent since her fame was predicated on her advocacy for human rights. The international community has every right to feel disappointed in Suu Kyi. But her case betrays a more worrisome reality: when circumstances change, heroes can become villains. Signs of their treachery can often hide in plain sight.

Vehicles as Tools of Destruction: The New Weapons of Terror

It was a day of celebration. Strolling down the waterfront with fireworks overhead. Thousands gathered to mark the holiday.  The evening was ideal, but all things come to an end.  You heard a commotion and turned.  Next, you heard screams.  You didn’t know what it was, but you knew that something was horribly wrong.  The crowd started moving, immediately it was a stampede – a rush to get away from the horrible thing causing the terror.  In your panic to flee, you looked back to see what it was.  A truck had jumped the curb and was running people over.

This could’ve been the story of any one of the hundreds who experienced the Bastille Day horror in Nice, France on July 14, 2016.  The terrorist Mohamed Lahuaiej Bouhlel, inspired by an ISIL call to arms, drove a 19-ton truck into the French crowd.  Bouhlel was able to drive a mile, kill eighty-six people and wound three hundred. Nice certainly wasn’t the world’s first vehicular terrorist attack and it wouldn’t be the last.  Attacks in Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and several other nations demonstrate the destructive capabilities of terrorists using vehicles for attacks.

Vehicular terrorist attacks are on the rise. ISIL and Al Qaeda have both called for using vehicles as weapons.  If a terrorist can’t use a bullet or bomb, they’re encouraged to use any means at their disposal. ISIL and other Islamist groups aren’t even the only ones to use cars and trucks as weapons.  In May 2017, Richard Rojas, a U.S. Navy veteran, drove his car through Times Square crowds in New York City evidently seeking suicide by cop. Fewer than three months later, James Alex Fields Jr., a  white supremacist from Ohio, used his car to run over dozens of counter-protesters during the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville Virginia.

© CNN On May 18, 2017, Richard Rojas drove his vehicle into pedestrians in New York City’s Times Square. Evidence indicates Rojas was moved by personal motivations and drug use, not terrorism.

Vehicles are used because they are easy to acquire. An individual must simply obey driving rules to obtain a license in that state or country. In Europe, guns and other weapons are hard to come by due to heavy regulation. Vehicles, however, have less stringent requirements.  In the United States, with its lax gun restrictions, terrorism has occurred with both firearms and vehicles. But, vehicle attacks have frequently occurred in cities that have tighter gun laws.

Vehicles are used because of their potential for maximum destruction. The speed, size, and power of a vehicle can exceed the destructive capabilities of other methods.  Often, vehicle attacks only stop when the attacker can drive no further. A vehicle striking a crowded street or event can easily kill dozens and injure hundreds.

Vehicles are used because they are ubiquitous. Cars and trucks are everywhere.  We cannot avoid them in our modern lives. The true essence of terror is its caprice. By turning something unremarkable into a weapon of war, the actual terror factor increases. No one knows who, what, or when something will strike.

Vehicular attacks are difficult to counter. Cities and their streets were designed before the advent of vehicular terrorism. Pedestrians walk within meters of traffic. And most open spaces – plazas, waterfronts, cultural attractions – require street access. Finally, fiscal considerations always remain primary in establishing effective prevention and mitigation protocols.

While elimination of the problem is unrealistic, mitigation is not and measures can be taken to improve the status quo. Cities can establish barriers.  These include erecting posts, fences, and planting trees alongside streets.  Many cities strategically park large trucks outside large, outdoor public events to prevent vehicular attacks. Governments can slow the speed of traffic by lowering limits and erecting speed bumps. Or, alternatively, cities can expand their car-free pedestrian zones to ensure that walkers can safety travel and enjoy areas and events designed for the public.

© Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images – A newly installed barricade in Sydney, Australia to prevent vehicular attacks like those in Nice and London

After the attack in Nice, the world united in condemning the horrors perpetrated in France’s streets.  Men, women, and children were indiscriminately targeted.  Families were forever changed by the actions of one individual moved by the violent advocacy of his terrorist group.  The world has come together too many times to mourn lives lost when trucks and cars have been used as weapons of war.  More can be done to make our streets and public spaces safe from violent actors.  More must be done to ensure citizens don’t have to fear walking along the sidewalk, partaking in public demonstrations or just living their everday lives.