Prevention and Redemption Initiatives Are Key to Countering Terrorism in Russia

The mountains of Chechnya where “going to the forest” is a colloquial term for joining an extremist group. Photo Credit: eTurboNews.

A series of recent incidents validate the Russian Federation’s concerns over the rise of internationally-linked terrorist groups active within its territory. This security matter is heightened by the presence of battle-hardened fighters who returned from fighting in the Middle East and North Africa. The main query that emerges is whether Russian authorities will amend their counterterrorism tactics, or continue to engage in a framework simplified as a nexus of a military-bureaucratic-judicial instruments.

Russia has long contended with the dilemma of homegrown terrorism, especially in the North Caucasus region. Radicalization and the development of terror cells were intrinsically linked to the Chechen independence movement that expanded into neighboring Dagestan. Ayman al-Zawahiri (the current head of Al- Qaeda) once called the region ‘a shelter’ for fighters from across the globe. It is little wonder then that Daesh capitalized on homegrown ethnic grievances in Russia’s ‘inner abroad’ for recruitment.

Russian officials estimate that approximately 4000 citizens fought as militants in the armed conflicts in Syria. The state of affairs shifted domestically too. Militants that once operated under the banner of Imarat Kavkaz (Caucasus Emirate) transferred allegiances to Vilayat Kavkaz — a branch of Daesh in the North Caucasus. Russia identifies the pan-Islamist political movement Hizb ut- Tahrir (Party of Liberation) as a terrorist organization, and deems it culpable in the recruitment of foreign fighters as well. It is undoubtedly a case where international groups seized upon already active movements to franchise ideologies.

As a consequence, recent terror-related events in Russia are linked to the international moniker of Daesh, although the actors are domestic agents. The Federal Security Service (FSB) conducts operations across Russia linked to Daesh through a perpetrator’s affiliation, but few links to the umbrella organization. For instance:

• April 13: two suspected members were killed in a raid in Tyumen; an oil rich town in Siberia.
• June 26: a declared member who created explosives and sought to carry out attacks in the name of Daesh was neutralized in Saratov; a city in the southwest.
• July 1: police in Khanty-Mansi (a region in western Siberia) sent out an alert of a woman suspected of membership in an international terrorist organization being in the area.
• July 12: Moscow District Court sentenced seven members of Daesh to 15-21 years of incarceration for planning to attack the Sapsan train in Saint Petersburg in 2017.

These cases exhibit a Russian reliance on strict legislation and applications of force as primary counterterror tactics. Numerous laws have been passed, including the revocation of citizenship for naturalized citizens, life sentences for some terror-related crimes, and guidelines aimed to counter proliferation of extremist ideology, especially the contentious Yarovaya package.

A preference for the military-bureaucratic-judicial nexus and intelligence collection means psychological rehabilitation and cultural efforts receive less attention. Up until 2013, Russia applied such methods until preparations for the Sochi Olympics required hardline policies. However, emphasis on these two spheres provide Russian authorities with a humanitarian method to prevent radicalization before it takes root, and to counterbalance extremist teachings post-indoctrination, to those willing to relent. This is a key recommendation that needs to be met at many levels.

Those at risk of radicalization must be exposed to civil society organizations that promote tenets of inter-ethnic and inter-religious dialogue. Exposure to educational and employment prospects, tolerant views amongst peers, and wider community solidarity provide numerous opportunities for exchange.

Preservation of cultural traditions that display a wider understanding of ethnicity and religion — that have not been manipulated to advocate extremist or political views — teach at-risk youth they are already part of an important community, rather than a terrorist cell or a linked international organization. Sports provide additional occasions of solidarity, especially those that prioritize strength of character. For example, combat sports widely practiced across the region place the historic mindset of a ‘Caucasian warrior’ in a positive context, at the same time young girls practicing tightrope walking in Dagestan are taught to be ‘fearless’.

Psychological supports and deradicalization initiatives are of vital importance in the current context. These programs are especially beneficial to returnees willing to shun extremist views as they are offered a path towards redemption, as well as chances to inform at-risk peers of the realities of membership in such groups. The Comprehensive Plan of Counteraction of Ideology of Terrorism 2019-2023 reveals provisions covering this matter. As well, a member of the Russian State Duma announced the development of a rehabilitation center focused on individuals influenced by Hizb ut- Tahrir in annexed-Crimea, though it is viewed as politically motivated.

The Russian Federation strongly relies on military-bureaucratic-judicial methods as violent extremism and terrorism are serious infractions under the criminal code, as they should be. It seems easier to manage the localized and decentralized nature of domestic extremism in that framework. However, such hardline measures should be employed concurrently with softer methods aimed at prevention and redemption. They offer broader social advantages in totality.

Réjeanne Lacroix is the Editor-in-Chief at Rise to Peace.

Women’s Roles in Al-Shabaab: Deeper Understanding and Research Is Needed

The ‘daughters’ of Al-Shabaab, armed with assault rifles. Credit for image and caption: Al Jazeera.

In April 2019, it was reported that recent studies over-emphasise the role of men in terrorism, therefore overlooking and underestimating the influence of women. Accounting for over 15-25% of membership in terrorist organisations, women possess a significant role in the recruitment, operations and delegation of terrorist groups, to name a few.

Data originating from the Western Jihadism Project revealed that the role of women in such organisations take the form of traditional gender roles, where women are less likely to be involved in the planning of attacks, and more likely to support the organisation “behind the scenes”. Given this context, this piece will explore the role of women, specifically within the Al-Shabaab.

A woman in the Al-Shabaab operating in Kenya participated in an interview held in 2015 with an Al-Jazeera reporter. She recounted to have given shelter to Al-Shabaab members, whilst they referred to her by the name “Mother”. This woman also stated that she remembers providing accommodation to a young man named Ikrima. Ikrima would later be identified as one of the planners of Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi that left over 67 people dead.

Consistent with this woman’s account, it is identified that women in the Al-Shabaab play the role as “wives” of fighters, and partake in domestic activities. Women in the Al-Shabaab are reported to also be used as sex slaves, in addition to helping to attract new recruits. These women are often tricked into the Al-Shabaab by being lured with the prospect of employment, counselling or financial support. Some of these women who escaped have shared their stories, though they lived with the lifelong emotional, psychological and even physical scars inflicted upon them by the group.

In 2017, one woman stated that she had fell victim to this luring, and shared her account of the horrors she experienced while she was forced into sexual slavery by the Al-Shabaab. This woman recounts being smuggled from Kenya into Somalia and was brutally beaten and raped by as many as six Al-Shabaab men. One day, when the camp was empty of men, she managed to escape and encountered authorities who helped her to a hospital and eventually back to Kenya. She later learned that she was infected with HIV. The Al-Shabaab are reported to use women in sexual slavery to control the breeding of the next generation.

With consideration to the foregoing, not all women within the Al-Shabaab are tricked or lured into operating with the group. Recent studies have shown that there exists women voluntarily travel to Somalia to support the group’s agenda. A ‘key aspect’ to the Al-Shabaab’s operations is that Somali officials (such as officers or border control agents) do not recognise nor do they perceive women as a threat, allowing women to seamlessly pass through security checks. Therefore, women are often tasked with the transport and smuggling of weapons and go undetected at checkpoints. They are also tasked with gathering intelligence and information for the Al-Shabaab, as their manoeuvres and actions as women often pass without arousing suspicion.

The concern raised here is that the role of women within the Al-Shabaab remains under-reported, overlooked and rather unexplored. Continued research and analysis should be therefore encouraged regarding the significance of the role of women in the Al-Shabaab. Moreover, it must be emphasized that not all women within the Al-Shabaab are working with the group voluntarily, and a greater issue that must be addressed are the women who voluntarily join the group.

It has been reported than many young women specifically from Kenya travel to Somalia to join the group. These women often feel helpless in their former communities, and severe poverty often push them to join the Al-Shabaab. Another motive for women joining the group are their feelings of resentment towards Kenyan authorities who may have mistreated their sons or husbands. Joining the Al-Shabaab is therefore a form of retaliation and revenge, and analysts have even reported that for these women, joining the group is a form of empowerment.

However, as previously mentioned, once these women have experienced the reality of their role within the group (the brutal treatment and being forced into sexual slavery), women are left with two core choices: either remain in the group or attempt to return to Kenya. Those who remain in the group have reported that they stay because of fear or hopelessness. Those who attempt to return to Kenya face difficulty in returning to their former communities, and even face extrajudicial killings by Kenyan authorities if it is discovered that they were in Somalia assisting the Al-Shabaab.

The vulnerability and precarity of women’s roles in the Al-Shabaab necessitates more profound research, and equal recognition when conducting studies related to the group’s operations. Although not all women are tricked into joining the extremist group, resources can be made available to all women to provide education of the realities of the horrors of the Al-Shabaab. It has even been suggested that Somali forces should encourage more female presence of officers within their commands, to empower women and to demonstrate that there are options to empowerment, and that they need not to join the group.

Extremism Assessment Series: Antifascist Action (ANTIFA)

Image: The most identifiable form of the Antifa logo used by the group and found in public sources.

  • ANTIFA represents a semi-disorganized collection of extremists on the far-left, sometimes considered the alt-left
  • ANTIFA is more accurately described as a brand, as opposed to a formal group, however, for ease of understanding it may be referred to as such throughout this assessment
  • With the upcoming presidential election, ANTIFA violence should be expected to rise alongside increasing political turmoil

Summary of Extremist Narrative

 ANTIFA’s self-described purpose is to counter fascism and prevent fascism from taking root in society. The ‘enemy’ of ANTIFA does not stop solely with fascists, however. Individuals believed to be far-right, conservative, and even individuals considered center-left on the political spectrum may be identified as an enemy of ANTIFA. Within the often militant organization, tactics for accomplishing objectives can vary from acts of violence, vandalism, criminal damage to property, or spreading of propaganda in interest of their ideology.

Within the social and political roots of ANTIFA, free speech is targeted as believers in the underlying ideology of ANTIFA believe that select speech is violent and must be suppressed for the betterment of overall society. This is a key justification for believers to resort to violence. As such, law enforcement has been deemed as an accessory to the enemy by ANTIFA as law enforcement seeks to separate clashing political protestors, hence preventing ANTIFA from attacking those they deem the enemy.

History of the group

 The majority of individuals who identify as ANTIFA come from Marxist political backgrounds, including communists and socialists. It is important to understand that ANTIFA does not represent a single organization or network. Numerous groups or individuals may consider themselves ANTIFA members, leading to the group being highly disorganized in terms of the overall structure.

The history of the ideology that brought about ANTIFA can be found in both the history books as well as in the writings of various political theorists. Communism, socialism, and far-left anarchism have had a small following within the US for well over a century. Such Marxist political leanings often call for a societal revolution to rise up through militant activities to support their political agendas.

Political theorists have argued that the spread of extremist political leanings begets the rise of the opposite form of extremism along the linear political spectrum. Regardless of which form of extremism first came about, ANTIFA believes that ‘fascist creeping’ has begun to attempt to take hold within the United States. This partially is cited as justification for violent acts against those considered supporters of fascism. While various international groups have used a varying version of ‘anti-fascist action’, the current American use began in the mid-2000s.

In the lead up to the 2016 presidential elections, ANTIFA surged in activity and membership with followers engaging in acts of violence across the nation. Protests and counter-protests sparked civil unrest unlike anything observed in decades in the United States with groups like ANTIFA at the forefront of the violence.

 Current state of the movement

 ANTIFA is very much active as an extremist ideology and brand. With the modern version of the group having become increasingly active and violent since its inception just over a decade ago, ANTIFA will be a source of far-left extremism for the foreseeable future. The ability for ANTIFA to inspire and recruit people into its brand of thinking is highly dependent on a politically volatile United States, which most would agree is the current operating environment. With the looming 2020 presidential election approaching, look for ANTIFA or ANTIFA inspired violence to increase.

 Where is ANTIFA operating?

As has been widely observed, ANTIFA is often found participating in political protests across the nation. Primarily located in major US cities or on college campuses nationwide, ANTIFA often has a presence amongst more volatile far-left protests.

 What are the primary recruitment methods into the movement?

ANTIFA messaging can be found easily on the internet. The spread of Mark Bray’s 2017 writing, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, is a ready source of information for the brand and helps to spread its ideology. The spread of this and related writings on the internet has been fostered by various online communication platforms that also serve as communications centers for the coordination of physical militant activities and the organization of protests and counter-protests.

The Extremism Assessment Series is an initiative of Rise to Peace’s Domestic Counter Terrorism Program. It seeks to provide short educational pieces highlighting groups or social movements linked to extremist ideologies and/or tactics. Check back for new additions to the series.

Content Moderation Presents New Obstacles in the Internet Age

Image Credit: Cogito Tech (Cogitotech)

The first instance of a terrorist recording violent crimes and posting it online occurred when Mohammed Merah — the perpetrator of the 2012 Toulouse and Montauban attacks in France — did just that with his GoPro. Seven years later, the culprit of the Christchurch mosque shootings used a similar method. These attacks both beg the same question: How are social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter handling extremist content posted to their sites?

As a consequence, tech giants began the process of addressing this problem and seek to formulate a specific mechanism that targets extremist content. Facebook and Google focus significant attention towards development of their automated systems or AI (Artificial Intelligence) software to detect and eventually remove content that violates their policy.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) acts as a cooperative between tech companies to pool extremist content already in existence. A key purpose is to create unique digital fingerprints of contentious material called “hashes.” Hashes are then shared within the GIFCT community to ensure an expanded reach to tackle such material efficiently and the burden is lifted upon a single network to contain the bulk.

YouTube uses techniques like automated flagging also. Membership of their Trusted Flagger Program includes individuals, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and government agencies that are particularly effective at notifying YouTube of content that violates its Community Guidelines. YouTube has removed 8.2 million videos from its platform using these techniques as of March 2019.

In a Wired interview, Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Mike Schroepfer described AI the “best tool” to keep the Facebook community safe. AI is not infallible though, as it sometimes fails to understand the nuances of online extremism and hate. This is the point where the human moderators enter the picture.

The Verge provided a detailed piece detailing the lives of Facebook content moderators. Once the post has been flagged, the moderator can either delete it, ignore it or send it for further review. The moderators are trained to look at signs that are distressing for any number of people.

It took 17 minutes for the original live stream of the Christchurch attack posted on Facebook to be removed. That was more than enough time for it to be downloaded, copied, and posted to other platforms. Facebook claims it removed 1.5 million copies of the Christchurch footage within the first 24 hours, but copies remain.

Content moderation is such a mammoth task for social media companies because of the sheer scale of their operations. Millions of people are online and accessing these services at the same time. Errors are expected. The Christchurch attack exposed a glaring shortcoming in content reporting: livestreaming. Moderation has mechanisms for standard uploaded videos but there are not enough tools to moderate a livestream.

Another issue facing social media companies remains the tech savvy nature of modern extremists. Such content can be uploaded by manipulating audio and video quality to bypass the filters in place. Language poses another problem as most of the automatic content moderation is English-language based. Nearly half of Facebook users do not speak English therefore the company needs to expand its technology to incorporate other languages.

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram continue to develop their AI tools and improve their human moderator strategies. Nevertheless, the sections taking advantage of current security loopholes are evolving as well. With 4.3 billion internet users in the world in March of 2019, content moderation itself is under scrutiny.

Hezbollah and the Terror-Crime Nexus

Image Credits: Foreign Policy illustration and Getty Images

As the US security apparatus continues to publicly focus on Iran’s expansion in the Middle East, it has done little to actively address the threat posed from Iran’s favorite proxy, Hezbollah, on the southern border. Hezbollah has been known to operate international money laundering and drug trafficking operations via Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico for years. These operations, other than, notably, the Lebanese Canadian Bank case, have most often been prosecuted as drug-related crimes, rather than crimes of terrorism.

Hezbollah’s drug enterprise is not separate from its terrorist activity. Hezbollah, as directed by Iran, began engaging in the drug trade from its inception in the 1980’s, “for Satan—America and the Jews. If we cannot kill them with guns, so we will kill them with drugs.” As such, the American strategy of prosecuting drug crimes connected to Hezbollah as just that, rather than as crimes of terror shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Hezbollah’s motives.

According to a 2018 CDC study, cocaine was involved in 19.4% of drug overdose deaths in 2016— cocaine which has often made its way into the US via Hezbollah channels. In recent years, the spike in prescription drug related deaths has led the Trump administration to declare a national emergency. The opioid epidemic has at least partially driven the decline in US life expectancy, and opioid overdose victims are often found to have also taken cocaine.

The CDC study claims that in 2016 alone, more than 10,000 Americans died from drug overdoses involving cocaine; that number is more than three times the amount of Americans that died in 9/11. When you take into account the stated goal of Hezbollah to use drugs as weapons to neutralize its enemies, one wonders why the American government has yet to address this activity with the same severity as it does traditional acts of terror.

There is a law on the books that could have been used to prosecute this enterprise: the United States enacted a federal terror financing statute in 1994 after 1993’s World Trade Center bombing, under which entities can be prosecuted for knowingly providing “material support or resources” to another entity to conduct terror operations.

While money laundering can often remove the evidence needed to prosecute terror financing under the 1993 statue, the proof uncovered by the Project Cassandra task force directly ties the drug trafficking funds to Hezbollah. However, up until now, the failure to do so appears to be political, as the Obama administration allegedly did not want to engender bad faith during the Iran deal negotiations.

This has resulted in severe immediate threats to US homeland security. In May, a New York court indicted Ali Kourani, a naturalized US citizen and Hezbollah operative who allegedly attempted to identify Israeli targets in New York and obtain information on John F. Kennedy International Airport security protocols. Prior to setting up shop in New York, Kourani was previously involved with a dealership in Michigan that sold used cars to Benin; it is not unlikely this business was part of the network of used car dealerships used to launder Hezbollah’s drug profits.

Even as the United States aims to keep tensions away from its soil by announcing its intent to establish a military coalition to protect commercial shipping vessels in the waters surrounding Yemen and Iran, it leaves its doorstep unguarded by failing to take direct action against these networks.

Now that the current administration has pulled out of the deal, and is faced with rising tensions from Iran, the next move should be to go after Hezbollah’s crime-terror infrastructure under terror financing laws. Project Cassandra amassed the evidence; the Trump administration should use it to protect US citizens and put pressure on Iran.

Exclusive interview with Khalid Noor on Doha peace conference

From Left, Khalid Noor and Lotfullah Najafzada at Doha peace conference. July 8, 2019.

Amid a series of peace talks over the last months, Taliban and Afghan representatives gathered in Doha and agreed on a roadmap to end the 18 years of war. Since last year, the U.S. appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as the lead Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation to broker a negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government, in hopes for a long term ceasefire. 

In Doha, Qatar, a meeting co-hosted by German and Qatari officials brought together diverse individuals interested in achieving lasting Afghan peace. Sixteen Taliban and sixty Afghan representatives (composed of delegates from political parties, government officials and civil society organizations) engaged in discussions that led to a potentially positive arrangement. Doha conference, instilled newfound hope as the Taliban agreed to reduce its reliance on violent attacks by avoiding various public spaces. Rise to Peace’s Ahmad Mohibi interviews Khalid Noor, one of the participants at Doha conference, to give a closer look at the future of the Afghan peace process. 

What is your takeaway from the Doha Peace Conference?

Khalid Noor: I think the Doha meeting was a great opportunity for the two sides [Taliban and the Afghan representatives] to sit down and share their issues, and to explain their concerns with each other. The talks provided the opportunity for both sides to discuss some of the most sensitive and critical topics that were overlooked at previous peace talks. For instance, we talked about regime creation. I personally changed the nature of the meeting from ceremonial to more serious discussions with my thoughts, that we want the regime to be the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — this is our goal and our red line. The Taliban wants an Islamic Emirate and that’s their red line. 

What were some of the questions that were brought forth to the Taliban at the Conference?

Khalid Noor: We would like to know how likely it is that the Taliban is willing to participate and accept our Islamic Republic if we bring substantial changes. My next point was that elections are valuable to us and we are not willing to lose them at any cost. Our fellow citizens are concerned about this, but they want to know: will you [Taliban] participate in an Afghan lead election that is controlled and financed by Afghans after reaching an agreement on a coalition government?

The moderator interrupted me shortly after my first two questions and requested if it’s possible to avoid technical and serious questions in order to not disrupt the meeting. I respectfully accepted but continued with my last question: Is it possible to elaborate and emphasize freedom of speech? For instance, you [Taliban] have said though press releases and other forms of public messaging, that the Taliban would respect freedom of speech. Although, in your other statements the Taliban threatens media over the same matter. It’s imperative for us to understand, ‘what’s happening on your side and what is your vision of certain freedoms in Afghanistan?’

What was one of the main points that both parties were mostly concerned about?

Khalid Noor: After listening to each other’s questions and concerns, the two sides started to raise their issues about violent attacks. For instance, we shared our sorrows and criticized the current Taliban tactic of sending suicide bombers to kill innocent people in congested parts of the cities. It is not Islamic or logical. The Taliban also criticized the Afghan government by saying that the government ‘only talks about the civilian casualties caused by us [Taliban] and not the night operations conducted by the government, that resulted in the martyrdom of our people and civilians. No news agency reports that. So, when you [Afghan government] raise such concerns, it’s also necessary to discuss our casualties as well.’ One of the Taliban members sternly asked, “Do you think our civilian casualties are not human beings?”

Were there any other matters discussed following the Taliban’s concern of mass casualties?

Khalid Noor: The Taliban raised another point about human rights after we repeatedly defended human rights, women’s rights, and freedom of speech. They told us, “since you are speaking about human rights, is human rights only what you hear about on television and what you believe is right, or do you think about what we go through? They [Afghan National Security Forces and Coalition Forces] enter our homes at night, disrespect our women, our children, and mothers.  For example, one of our commanders was arrested by the Afghanistan National Intelligence Agency and the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

When he was taken into custody at NDS, the investigators told him “Now call your God to help you.” The Taliban expanded on this example and challenged us on “what part of this misbehavior of our personnel, where torture is following the principles of human rights?” They continued and said, “if you look at the prison systems, they are not fair to us [Taliban]. Aren’t your human rights’ values applicable to this case or it’s only the media that shows our negative actions?” Taliban said “we are not denying our mistakes. We have done mistakes but to be fair, it’s good that both sides accept the mistakes.”

Who were some of the other key representatives at this Conference?

Khalid Noor: The two sides listened carefully to each other’s issues and concerns. Our Muslim scholars, who were part of the Kabul delegates, also condemned Taliban actions and illustrated that our interpretation of Islam is better than the Taliban interpretation. The Muslim scholars added that it’s imperative that we [Afghan and Taliban] scholars sit and discuss these issues and come to a conclusion whose interpretation of Islam is right or wrong.

Would you consider this meeting successful?

Khalid Noor: The main point of this meeting was that an opportunity emerged so that both sides could clearly raise their thoughts patiently. This was unlike many other peace talks. In previous conferences, the intra-Afghan dialogues were smaller, about 5-6 people from the Taliban and Afghan side. Unlike before, this time we were part of a bigger team where we discussed various topics. Most importantly, the Taliban delegates participated in the conversation and answered questions. This was a great achievement.

What can be done to increase the likelihood of success in future peace talks?

Khalid Noor: On day two, we were more open to collaborative discussions compared to the first day where mostly everyone was serious and had this hatred towards each other. Representatives from both sides felt comfortable to share something and they listened to each other. I really think that this was a good meeting as the two sides exchanged ideas. If we had one or two more days, I really believe that our discussion could have been more technical and friendlier. It’s imperative to keep such talks in the future. In addition to actual Afghan-Taliban peace negotiations, we need to have separate dialogues, because negotiations can be tough sometimes and in that circumstance, it’s better to refer the issue to the dialogue team, so they can discuss it without a judgment call or simply answer out of ignorance.

Do you believe that the Taliban will keep their promise in efforts to reduce violence? 

Khalid Noor: It’s too early to know if the Taliban will keep their promises or not. But I have to express that the two sides [Taliban and Afghan government] should be involved and support each other. It’s important that both the Afghan National Security Forces and the Taliban fighters implement the promise reached by both sides at the meeting. We are both held accountable. A judgment call can be made if we see a civilian casualty in any of their attacks. We would ask them: You promised us that you would not attack civilians, so what happened that now you attacked schools, hospitals, and targeted civilians? Thus, their promise is a way to keep them responsible for their actions.

This is in case they break the agreement, and they most likely will. But, it’s difficult for us to understand how strongly they are going to keep their promise.

What are some of the drivers for the Taliban to end their fight and join the Afghan government?

Khalid Noor: Some of the main reasons that the Taliban are willing to come to a negotiated settlement and end the war which the Afghan and American governments, along with the international community, believe that no party or side will create peace through war or the use of force. Neither the Taliban can defeat us, nor we can defeat them. In the past 18 years, we have been fighting continuously on the frontlines. Although the Taliban had massive casualties, they are still standing strong against the Afghan government. I do believe that each side has come to the understanding that negotiations are the best option, as war is not the solution to problems.

At the same time, we can tell they [Taliban] are tired of fighting and do not want to continue this war. Their foot soldiers are getting older and the leadership may face trust issues with the current generation of soldiers, as they may not be as loyal. I do not know for sure, but this is my personal understating.

Taliban said, “We also would like to see our children go to school. But because of you [Afghan government], we seek refuge in the mountains, so we cannot send our children to gain proper education and have the basic needs of living.”

What can the Afghan leaders offer to meet those drivers?

Khalid Noor: I strongly believe that the two sides [the Afghan government and the Taliban] should compromise on certain issues and accept each other’s point of view. Without compromise and understanding, there is no other way to solve the problem. The two sides should meet in the future to discuss their concerns. They may need to revise some of their strong policies or views to reach the common goal of a deal to build a regime in Afghanistan.

How does the U.S. contribute as the main broker in intra-Afghan dialogues?

Khalid Noor: The U.S. role in negotiations is critical. Bringing the two sides to a negotiation table is great assistance. Second, if the U.S. direct talks with the Taliban are successful, then this will definitely support the Afghan peace process. Additionally, the U.S. role in pressuring political parties and the Afghan government, so they can come to a united stand in efforts to negotiate with the Taliban, is very critical. I do believe that the U.S. has a key role in encouraging politicians, elites and the opposition to work together on a unified agenda and concept.


Ahmad Mohibi, a writer and activist is the founder of Rise to Peace. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) – Does joining terrorist groups challenge gender roles within society?

Photographer: Nicolas Bedoya

Source: Bloomberg

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) is a violent extremist group founded in 1964. The FARC is a Marxist-Leninist group that aims to redistribute wealth within the country and reform the government of Colombia. Their main tactics have been involvement in criminal organizations and challenging the Colombian government by way of terrorist attacks, including things like car bombs injuring civilians and attacks on government military forces like police and soldiers.

The FARC is considered a terrorist group by the Colombian government and other nations around the world. This organization has a significant number of female members and some completely female factions. At one point in time the group’s female members comprised 40% of the group’s members.

After 52 years of violent conflict against the Columbian government, this violent communist group agreed to peace. In 2017, the group rebranded itself to become the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force. At this time it became an official political party and disarmed itself. Although the group officially agreed to demobilization, dissident rebels with ties to the FARC still incite conflict and have continued to carry out attacks in recent years.

Women who joined the FARC express that their motivation came from their grievances that were not being addressed in normal Colombian society. Things like lack of opportunity for women, lack of education, poverty, and social inequality were all factors in the recruitment of women into this group. Joining the violent group allowed women to have leadership roles and gave a sense of purpose to a life within which they felt stuck. Membership in the group offered women “relative autonomy and a control over their lives” that was not accorded to them in the often patriarchal and rural societies of Colombia. Women state they joined in order to have leadership opportunities and escape traditional norms.

Rather than depicting female extremists as victims of radicalization who were lured or brainwashed into violent roles, this demonstrates that women turned to extremism to attempt to subvert their victimhood, which was derived from a patriarchal context, and not the violent group they chose to join. As such, one should not essentialize men and women to assume that they have inherently different reasons for choosing to join extremist groups. Instead, more emphasis should be placed on the opportunities and conditions within particular society that would lead women, and men, to this path of radicalization.

Women who are in leadership roles within the FARC can move from background or supporting positions to frontline jobs, allowing women to experience some emancipation from strict gender roles in their own societies. Being part of this extremist group has provided a place from which women can make political statements about their qualms with patriarchal and society void of opportunity by using violence. But should women really have to turn to violence in order for their voices to be heard? Further, do the leadership roles they enjoy within the FARC transfer into their civilian lives and everyday societies in Columbia?

Female extremists participating in the violence of terrorist groups is thought to incite the participation of others and garner popular support. In some societies with a traditional sense of gender roles, women are expected to stay in the home. As such, if women are vying for a particular cause and resorting to violent groups then it may be viewed as more dire a situation because they have had to ‘leave the home’. Women are undoubtedly an asset to violent groups. But are their contributions inherently valued or are women merely serving as additional bodies and fodder for violent attacks? Thus, are women really being liberated from their traditional role if they are “expendable assets to serve terrorists group nefarious agendas”?

The Colombian government attempted to provide demobilization programs to fighters in order to re-integrate them back into society. With the resurgence of violence, even after peace agreements, the program does not seem to be working. Although these women mostly cite their experiences in the FARC as positive ones, their autonomy and agency in their militarized roles made it harder for them to integrate back into life after their role in the conflict was over.

Disappointingly, some programs that attempt to reintegrate women back into society by way of employment opportunities fall right back into gender roles by offering women jobs in industries like hairdressing or being seamstresses. Overall, programs and policies that provide assistance to ex-extremists must pay more attention to why these women chose to join in the first place in order to dissuade the potential of recurring violence in the future.

Amy Hetherington

Amy is working on her MA thesis in Peace and Conflict in the School of Politics and International Relations at University College Dublin. Her course work focuses on religious extremism and political violence in the Middle East and North Africa. Amy’s thesis work examines the correlates for support/sympathy for Islamic terrorism in Muslim majority countries. Amy completed her undergraduate degree at Queen’s University, Canada in Religious Studies and World Languages with an International certificate. At Rise to Peace, Amy is a counter-terrorism research intern within the department for Women Extremism.

Hopes For Cease-fire After The Doha Intra-Afghan Dialogue

Hopes For Cease-fire After The Doha Intra-Afghan Dialogue

Afghan representatives at Doha peace conference. July 8, 2019

Originally published in the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

An unprecedented meeting between the Taliban, Afghan officials, and delegates from various political parties and civil society last week has raised hopes for peace, but it must now be followed up by a cease-fire to pave the way to lasting peace in the country.

In the Qatari capital, Doha, a meeting co-hosted by German and Qatari officials brought together diverse factions interested in achieving lasting Afghan peace. Sixteen Taliban and 60 Afghan representatives comprising delegates from political parties, government officials, and civil society organizations engaged in discussions that led to a potentially positive arrangement.

The Doha peace talks were unlike many other conferences. The Taliban agreed to reduce their reliance on violent attacks by avoiding various public spaces. Many Afghans vulnerable to terrorism and living under severe violence have newfound hope.

It was a positive milestone for Afghans. The Taliban leadership dined with female representatives, including one of their leading critics, Fawzia Kofi, a former MP of the Wolesi Jirga or lower house of the Afghan Parliament. The Taliban indicated a shift in their perspective toward women by saying they would protect their rights within an Islamic framework.

Women, in particular, have been the victims of ignorance and extremism throughout the dark chapters of Afghan history. The international community’s contribution to building a democratic framework in Afghanistan resulted in the simple ability for girls to go to school.

This is a significant step in bringing peace and prosperity to the country. Women now work freely in the government and private sector. They represent an important portion of society and have been a symbol of change.

Given the Taliban’s harsh policy toward women and youth, this represents huge progress. Afghan journalist Harun Najafizada reminisced about his childhood when he and his brother Lotfullah Najifizada hid behind their mother. But now Lotfullah openly argued with Taliban representatives in Doha.

The presence and participation of youth at the Doha conference offered another noteworthy step. It was unique to see those under the age of 30 who were raised under the specter of war and feared violence by the Taliban, now sitting across from them. They ate, argued, exchanged ideas, and consequently asked for the violence to end.

Among the participants, Khalid Noor — a recent graduate of George Mason University and alum of Royal Military Academy Sandhurst — hopes for a peaceful Afghan future. He expressed satisfaction with the discussions and said he considers the Doha conference an excellent example of a way that both Taliban and Afghan representatives could “clearly raise their thoughts patiently.”

His father, Atta Mohammad Noor, had fought the Taliban as a commander of Jamiat-e Islami in the 1990s and as the longtime former governor of northern Balkh Province. He sees the Doha talks as a breakthrough. “This was unlike many other peace talks,” he said. The Doha framework was conducive to frank considerations that “both sides felt comfortable to share and they listened to each other.”

From Left, Khalid Noor and Lotfullah Najafzad at Doha peace conference.

“I really think that this was a good meeting as the two sides exchanged ideas,” he said, adding that it is “imperative to hold such talks in the future.”

A remarkable conclusion came after strong criticism and arguments. Both sides agreed to reduce violence by withholding attacks on religious centers, schools, hospitals, educational centers, bazaars, water dams, and workplaces. But the understanding now needs to translate into a tangible cease-fire across Afghanistan.

Continued peace talks and the recent nonbinding agreement with the Taliban are indicative of a few points. First, the Taliban are willing to accept some sort of cease-fire because they claim to feel remorse for killing civilians who are fellow Afghans. On the other hand, they simply may not have an alternative strategy.

Secondly, conferences in Doha, Moscow, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan denote the group’s desire to build a new reputation. Let’s not forget that the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of the 1990s was toppled by the U.S. government for harboring Al-Qaeda terrorists.

Read the full article on the website of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty


Ahmad Mohibi, a writer and activist is the founder of Rise to Peace. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi. 

Taliban attack threatens Afghan peace talks

On July 1st, 2019, the Taliban committed multiple attacks in Kabul, Afghanistan which killed at least forty people and injured over 100 more. The facilities damaged included the Private War Museum, a local television station, as well as a primary school. 

Soon after the attack, American and Taliban negotiators met in Qatar. The Taliban stated that their intended target was the logistics and engineering unit of the Ministry of Defense. The Interior Ministry reported that the car bomb detonated near the museum and television station after attackers entered the Defense Ministry building. 

Wounded children are taken to the hospital by the Kabul residents after the Kabul blast on July 1, 2019.

Recent peace talks involving the United States and Taliban negotiators have focused on four key issues:

  1. The Taliban will not allow fighters to utilize Afghan soil to launch attacks outside of the country
  2. Withdrawal of U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces from Afghanistan
  3. An Intra-Afghan dialogue
  4. A permanent ceasefire

During the latest round of peace talks in Qatar, the Taliban restated their concerns and reasons for their bombing in Kabul. They expressed that they wanted an immediate timeline for the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan.

Taliban representatives, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, Taliban’s main negotiator is eating lunch with the Afghan delegates. in Doha peace conference. July 8, 2019 (Rise to Peace).

The American government has responded with the timeframe of at least one year to eighteen months to remove troops from the country altogether. The Afghan peace process remains challenging as there is logistical planning behind each party’s wants and needs. 

If the United States continues peace talks with the Taliban, there are significant consequences that could take place. If the American government removes troops from Afghanistan, the international civilian presence will also be significantly reduced

This is important because if NATO members leave, it will affect the security risk of civilians working in the US embassy in Afghanistan. US employees rely on NATO for threat intelligence for potential evacuation in the workplace.

Therefore, if NATO leaves, that puts all US employees at risk against extremist groups in Afghanistan- which will then cause the US and other international civilians to leave. The majority of these employees work in the intelligence community, meaning that the US would also lose sight of the security threats coming from Afghanistan. 

Consequences for the US also affect the implications for the Afghan government. For instance, the loss of external economic and security assistance. US assistance in Afghanistan is based on US security interests. Therefore, if the US military presence no longer continues in Afghanistan, then there is no further commitment to help the country’s stability. Moreover, if the amount of US civilian personnel decreases, it will limit their ability to account for funds and other logistical matters that support assistance. 

Losing such assistance will directly impact the capacity of the Afghan government,  which could lead the government to lose its legitimacy.

If the Taliban wants a negotiation with the United States, they need to take into consideration the factors that could negatively influence a potential negotiation.

In recent talks, Taliban negotiators communicated that they want intra-Afghan dialogues, but later changed their mind calling the government of Afghanistan puppets of the US. If the Taliban then decided to have a conversation with the Afghan government, this action would contradict their previous statement. 

Taliban should consider the amount of collateral damage caused by their attacks.

Furthermore, the Taliban should consider the amount of collateral damage caused by their attacks. For instance, killing innocent people, including children, in their most recent attack in Kabul, does not help alleviate the situation between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

With the costs closely outweighing the benefits, should the U.S. continue peace talks with the Taliban? Yes. The overarching goal of Afghanistan Peace Talks is an eventual ceasefire. 

If the U.S. decides to take an immediate departure from Afghanistan, then the American government is choosing to lose, and leave Afghanistan vulnerable to terrorism. 

Women of the Irish Republican Army: Powerful or Powerless?

Photographer: Colman Doyle took during the time of the ‘Troubles’ in West Belfast 1970s

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) is a paramilitary organization that has operated out of Ireland since 1917. There have been many versions of the IRA throughout time such as the ‘OLD IRA’ and the ‘REAL IRA’ however the focus of the group has mostly remained the same, which is that the whole of Ireland should be an independent republic free from British rule.

The focus of the group has mostly remained the same, which is that the whole of Ireland should be an independent republic free from British rule.

In 1969, the IRA was determined to see the British withdrawal from Northern Ireland but with a differing of opinion, the IRA split into two separate wings: officials and provisionals. Officials used their efforts to gain independence through peaceful action, while the provisionals used violence and extremism to make its agenda known.

This division on part of the provisionals resulted in an estimated 1,800 deaths, which included more than 500 civilians. As the Provisional IRA and other paramilitary organizations continued on what can only be described as a violent path, the British Army in the meantime retaliated which eventually marked the time known as the “Troubles” which affected Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for almost 30 years.

Women have been known to participate in many roles within the IRA. During the 1970s many women were compelled to join in some capacity as the resistance within the community helped to politicize them.

While many of these roles have involved protests and civil rights matters a number of women became known for their roles as combatants during the time of the troubles. This is an interesting development in paramilitary organizations as women were not often included in these physically violent positions.

The IRA stands as a departure in the traditional roles women hold in terrorism and changes the narrative of how they are viewed. This shift in the structure of terrorist groups raises the question of why the change in dynamics and what does it mean for how the group operates.

Does the addition of women to the group make it stronger or vulnerable? There is a tendency in research and in situations where female terrorists are actively observed to view them as victims instead of perpetrators despite overwhelming evidence to suggest otherwise.

There is a tendency in research and in situations where female terrorists are actively observed to view them as victims instead of perpetrators despite overwhelming evidence to suggest otherwise.

Societal norms and constructs have added to a preconceived notion that women are naturally more peaceful and less violent than men but it is naïve to allow this belief to distort the reality that women are active players in terrorism and are not to be overlooked. In fact, it could be argued that they are more dangerous than men in the sense they can use their femininity and this false image to mislead and conceal their violent agendas from others. A key member of the IRA and a prime example of this shift in gendered terrorism is Dolores Price.

In fact, it could be argued that they [women] are more dangerous than men in the sense they can use their femininity and this false image to mislead and conceal their violent agendas from others.

Dolores Price joined the Provisional IRA in the 1970s along with her sister Marian Price. During her time in the IRA, Price was known for her extreme devotion to the cause and her inherently violent nature.

Price was involved with some of the IRA’s most devastating crimes: In 1973 she participated in a car bombing at the Old Bailey in London injuring over 200 people and killing one.

Price and her sister were arrested shortly after the bombing. Originally the sentence was life imprisonment, however, their sentences were eventually brought down to 20 years. Price only served seven years for her role and participation in the bombing. While in prison Price went on a hunger strike in order to be moved to a different prison in Northern Ireland.

Other members of the IRA imprisoned for the bombing joined the hunger strike and it went on for 208 days due to the prisoners being fed forcefully by prison officers in order to keep them alive. The force-feeding was abruptly brought to an end when another member of the strike died.

Price began to resent and blame Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams for the ordering of the abduction and murder of the most high profile victim of the IRA. Price revealed that she was given the order of taking Jean McConville- a mother to 10 children, across the border where she was heinously murdered and buried by the IRA.

Price also made the accusation that Adams was responsible for the creation of a covert unit in Belfast that was used to push out informants of the IRA who were supplying information to defense agencies. Adams, who helped shape the Northern Ireland peace process, denies any knowledge of such. Price continued to be involved with political issues up until the 1990s.

Price also noted that she and her sister were fearful due to threats from other members of the IRA and the political party Sinn Féin after she made allegations against them publicly. Price died in January 2013 after being found in her home in Dublin from a suspected toxic illness due to mixing the medication.

Dolores Price’s role in the IRA raises the issue that is central to the women in extremism program- what motivates a woman to become involved in a terrorist organization and what it looks like compared to the experience of a man.

There is a certain attractiveness for men to join a terrorist organization in terms of the sexualization and allure of violence but there is little to suggest that women do not join for the same reasons.

In this case, we can only theorize about why Price joined the IRA but a lot can be deduced from her actions and involvement.

In an effort to understand more about the motivations of women in terrorist organizations there is a need to explore the attraction of power and loyalty to men in the community as factors for involvement.

Power and attraction are some of the most common reasons for the justification of violence.

Dolores Prices involvement in the IRA should pose as a reminder that combatant women can have a bigger influence in terrorism than men and should not be expected to be less militant or less dangerous due to their gender.