January 6

The Role of the Proud Boys in the January 6th Attack

Proud Boy national chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio of Miami, Florida; former Proud Boy national chairman Ethan Nordean (“Rufio Panman”) of Auburn, Washington; Joseph Biggs (“Sergeant Biggs”) of Ormond Beach, Florida; Zachary Rehl of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Dominic Pezzola (“Spaz,” “Spazzola”) of Rochester, New York have all been charged with seditious conspiracy for their actions before and during the Capitol Breach on January 6, 2021. Their actions disrupted a joint session of the U.S. Congress convened to ascertain and count the electoral votes related to the 2020 presidential election.

All defendants now face a total of nine charges, and Pezzola faces an additional robbery charge.

Planning and Preparation 

In December 2020, Proud Boys’ leadership made a private, encrypted messaging channel known as the Ministry of Self-Defense (MOSD). This private channel was allegedly restricted to several core members and members of the Proud Boys’ leadership, including Enrique Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl, and Charles Donohoe. Tarrio explained that MOSD was a “national rallying planning committee.” After forming MOSD, Tarrio and the other leaders immediately began preparations for January 6, 2021.

On December 30, 2020, an individual sent Tarrio a document titled “1776 Returns.” This document outlined a plan to occupy a few “crucial buildings” in Washington, D.C., including the House and Senate Office buildings around the Capitol, with “as many people as possible” to “show our politicians We the People are in charge.”

January 6th Proud Boys Timeline

20220609 AMX GPH 20220609 Capitol timeline 300x159 - The Role of the Proud Boys in the January 6th Attack

Timeline of the storming of the U.S. Capitol. (Source: Republican American/ AP)

On the morning of the insurrection, the Proud Boys gathered by the Washington Monument. Around 10:00 am, notable members such as Rehl, Biggs, and Nordean gathered near the Washington Monument and then walked to a lawn in an unrestricted area east of the Capitol.

Around 11:30 am, the Proud Boys recongregated on the east lawn of the Capitol with an estimated 100 members.

By 12:45 pm, around the time former President Trump finished his address, the Proud Boys reached a point northwest of the Capitol known as the Peace Monument, where Pennsylvania Avenue intersects the Capitol grounds. The walkway led straight to the steps of the Capitol.

At 12:53 pm,  seven minutes before the Joint Session of Congress would be gaveled into session, a man in the crowd known as Ryan Samsel had a conversation with Biggs. Following that conversation, Samsel and a second man identified as Grant James ventured into the restricted area of Capitol Hill, striding up to the outmanned line of five or six Capitol Police officers. They confronted these officers belligerently, then shook and lifted the barrier, toppling it over on top of the officers. A female officer fell back and struck her head on the concrete.

With the first barricade toppled, more than a dozen Proud Boys streamed across it and past the officers, making their way toward the west Capitol steps. Closer to the Capitol, the mob encountered a second barrier. Nordean and Biggs played direct physical roles in tearing down the barrier.

At 1:00 pm, former Vice President Pence tweeted that he viewed his role that day as “ceremonial.” Former Vice President Pence would not unilaterally reject the results of the swing states’ popular elections. Around the same time, former President Trump was nearing the end of his speech at the Ellipse, stating, “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore. We are going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue—I love Pennsylvania Avenue—and we are going to the Capitol.”

Around 1:37 pm, there was a breakthrough at an impasse at the western base of the Capitol. Proud Boy Dan “Milkshake” Scott was apparently “one of the first, or perhaps the first,” rioter to “initiate contact with law enforcement at this location.” Allegedly, Scott pushed two officers backward, up the Capitol steps, and pulled an officer into the mob.

At 2:13 pm, Pezzola had stolen a police officer’s riot shield, using it to smash out a Capitol window pane as another rioter shattered the adjoining pane with a wooden plank. Pezzola climbed through one of the broken windows.

Each Leader’s Role  

These subsequent sections will describe the role each Proud Boys leader played before and during the January 6 attack. Nonetheless, please note that this section is a synopsis and does not include all the evidence against each individual. For complete details, reference the court document and transcript from the January 6 Committee Hearing.

Enrique Tarrio 

On November 7, 2020, news networks projected that former Vice President Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election. This had immediate implications for the Proud Boys. The same day, Tarrio posted onto the social media platform Parler stating the “standby order has been rescinded,” in reference to the legitimizing event that former President Trump had conferred upon the Proud Boys in late September during a Presidential debate. When former President Trump was asked if he would disavow “white supremacists and right-wing militia,” such as the Proud Boys, Trump responded, “the Proud Boys, stand back, and stand by. But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what — somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem.” After the debate, Tarrio posted, “Standing by, Sir.”

On December 29, 2020, Tarrio posted another message on Parler calling the Proud Boys members to “turn out on record numbers” on January 6, but this time “with a twist.” Tarrio wrote, “we will not be wearing our traditional Black and Yellow. We will be incognito and we will be spread across downtown DC in smaller teams.”

Before Tarrio could join the march to the Capitol, he was arrested on January 4th on charges stemming from violence after a “Stop the Steal” rally one month earlier. He was found to be in felony possession of two high-capacity magazines compatible with AR-15 or M4 assault rifles. Tarrio was released on January 5th and met with the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers, Elmer Stewart Rhodes III.

Ethan Nordean 

On November 7, 2020, Nordean posted, “we tried playing nice and by the rules, now you will deal with the monster you created. The spirit of 1776 has resurfaced and has created groups like the Proudboys and we will not be extinguished. We will grow like the flame that fuels us and spread like love that guides us. We are unstoppable, unrelenting and now … unforgiving. Good luck to all you traitors of this county we so deeply love … you’re going to need it.” Earlier that month, Nordean solicited militia groups in the Pacific Northwest to contact him on an encrypted social media application.

On November 27, 2020, Nordean created an online crowdfunding campaign that solicited donations for “protective gear and communications” to be used by the Proud Boys. Nordean shared this crowdsourcing campaign on his social media page and encouraged others to share it.

Joseph Biggs

On December 29, 2020, Biggs posted, “you won’t see us. We are going to smell like you, move like you, and look like you. The only thing we’ll do that’s us is think like us! Jan 6th is gonna be epic.”

On January 5th, the Proud Boys created another encrypted messaging channel on Telegram called “Boots on the Grounds.” Biggs used this channel to urge the Proud Boys to stay out of trouble the day before the insurrection. “Tomorrow’s the day. . . Just trying to get our numbers. So we can plan accordingly for tonight and tomorrow’s plan.” Later, he wrote, “We have a plan.”

Caroline Edwards, a witness in the January 6 Committee Hearing, confirmed Biggs led the crowd. When Biggs began to speak to the crowd, it became more emotionally charged and started to chant statements against Antifa. Biggs then turned his attention towards the Capitol Police and started questioning them, slowly turning the crowd’s attention onto the officers. Caroline Edwards also identified Ryan Samsel talking to Biggs. Once the conversation was over, Biggs and Samsel approached the first barricade, ripped it down, and approached officers.

Zachary Rehl 

On November 27, 2020, Rehl posted, “hopefully the firing squads are for the traitors that are trying to steal the election from the American people. Some people at the highest levels need to be made an example of with an execution or two or three.”

On December 30, 2020, Tarrio convened a video call for prospective members of MOSD. MOSD leadership emphasized that members were to follow the commands of leadership. Rehl warned prospective members that January 6 was going to be a “completely different operation” and the Proud Boys would not be conducting a night march.

On December 30, 2020, Rehl posted a link to an online fundraiser with the campaign name “Travel Expenses for upcoming Patriot Events.” This campaign generated over $5,500 in donations between December 30, 2020, and January 4, 2021.

Dominic Pezzola  

On December 31, 2020, Tarrio posted a photo of Pezzola from the Stop the Steal protest on December 12 in Washington D.C. Along with the photo, Tarrio posted, “Lords of War. #J6 #J20” in reference to January 6 and January 20, President Joe Biden’s inauguration date.

According to an affidavit, the FBI has spoken to an affiant known as “W-1,” who spoke with Pezzola along with other individuals. In this conversation, Pezzola bragged about breaking the windows to the Capitol by using a Capitol Police shield. “W-1” also detailed conversations with other members who admitted to their acts on January 6 and what they would have liked to accomplish, including killing Nancy Pelosi and former Vice President Mike Pence if given the chance.

The Impact of the Proud Boys in the U.S. 

Professor Rober A. Page,with his colleagues in the Project on Security and Threats from the University of Chicago, has been tracking insurrectionist sentiments in U.S. adults since June 2021. They found that 47 million U.S. adults agreed with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those 47 million, 21 million agreed with the statement that “use of force is justified to restore Donald Trump to the presidency.” Many of these 21 million survey participants with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. Of the 21 million, 6 million stated they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and one million stated they are themselves or personally know someone to be a member of a group, such as the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers.

Although a small percentage of people who hold extremist views commit an act of violence, the findings in this survey reveal how many Americans hold certain perspectives which can lead toward insurrection.

A 2021 report published by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that while the number of active hate groups in the U.S. has declined, the Proud Boys’ membership has increased. The Proud Boys gained 29 chapters in one year and now have 72 chapters nationwide.

The growth in membership may suggest that the current political and social climate in the U.S. have become a fertile ground for the Proud Boys’ brands of authoritarian politics.

The Proud Boys became something few have expected, a hegemonic force for the far-right who are able to appeal to mainstream conservatives, carving out a space for white nationalists and fascists. Their moderate strategies have won them greater appeal by foregrounding ultranationalism and a vicious opposition to left-leaning politics. Inching closer and closer to American mainstream conservatism has made the Proud Boys a dangerous force as they have garnered sympathetic media coverage. It is not a coincidence that the Proud Boys’ uniform  features black and yellow shirts from Fred Perry, a favored skinhead brand.

What Can Be Done?

According to the 2021 Southern Poverty Law Center report, the criminal legal system solely cannot address the spread of far-right extremism. Since a majority of groups concentrate on influencing mainstream politics, diverse communities must work together to help build resiliency through prevention, organization, and education.

With a group such as the Proud Boys who, over time, have become hardened and have lost their empathy, these suggestions may not be received well by members with violent tendencies. It takes time and adjustment to unravel all the hate, apathy, and anger cultivated by their initiation rituals. Psychologists and experts in sociology, criminology, and political science have identified deradicalization and disengagement strategies. The German non-profit, the Violence Prevention Network has begun to work in Pittsburgh to launch operations for more intervention programs in the U.S.

Christian Picciolini is a former neo-Nazi turned activist who, for two decades, helped individuals leave extremism through his disengagement work and organization, the Free Radical Project. Picciolini states that people join extremist groups because of life’s “potholes,” incidents of trauma or neglect which affect people and lead them to join extremist groups as they search for an identity, community, and purpose.

“So when I engage with people to help them to leave these movements, I never debate them ideologically,” said Christian Picciolini, “I don’t tell them that their ideas are wrong, even though of course, I know that they are. But what I do is I listen, and I listen for those potholes so that I can find ways to fill them in.”

It is never an easy task to convince someone why their beliefs are wrong and to not hate them for it, but taking the time to realize they are still human and have universal needs to be recognized as such is the first step. At times, it’s necessary to show someone humanity when they may not recognize your own.


Camille Amberger, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Proud Boys

Who are the Proud Boys?

On Monday, June 6, 2022, Proud Boys leaders Henry “Enrique” Tarrio (38), Ethan Nordean (31), Joseph Biggs (38), Zachary Rehl (37), and Dominic Pezzola (44) were charged with seditious conspiracy along with other charges for their actions leading up to and during the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.  The Proud Boys have been active since 2016 and were labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  The Proud Boys often identify themselves by wearing black and yellow polo shirts with logos and slogans.

Profile of the Proud Boys

Far-right American-Canadian commentator Gavin McInnes founded the Proud Boys in New York City in 2016. McInnes claimed it to be a fraternal drinking club and its existence was argued as necessary due to the inability for society to let men be proud of Western culture. McInnes has also endorsed the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, which argues that white populations are being purposely displaced by people of color, particularly immigrants in Western countries. He carved out a specific ideological space for frustrated men to claim that Western Culture is superior to all others, racism is a myth formed by guilty white liberals, Islam is a culture of violence, and feminism “is about de-masculizing men.”

Current leader Enrique Tarrio was appointed in November 2018 and has admitted that the Proud Boys attract those with white supremacist views.

The Proud Boys have described themselves as a pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world; also known as Western Chauvinists. Though they officially reject racism and tout the multiracial backgrounds of some of their members, they hold the belief that Western European culture is superior to all others. The Proud Boys show up to events and protests and are sometimes used as private security, looking for any reason to incite violence.

Dangerous Narratives

“Western Chauvinism”  can be interpreted as a thinly veiled code for white supremacy and patriarchal misogyny. It is often employed to make the motives of the Proud Boys appear more palatable to mainstream audiences and deflect any charges of racism. Using coded language such as substituting “Western Civilization” for the racial category of whiteness gives a wink and a nod to white supremacy while having the ability to maintain some degree of plausible deniability that they are a racist group.

The Proud Boys have also glorified the use of violence to achieve their goals. They have a history of inciting, supporting, and praising violence under the guise of self-defense. Proud Boys often declare, “we don’t start fights, we finish them.”

Ethan Nordean gained prominence within the Proud Boys due to a video depicting him fending off a baton from a counter-protester and then flattening his assailant. Nordean earned the accolade “Proud Boy of the Week” in the Proud Boys magazine. In an interview with conspiracy website Infowars’ Alex Jones questioning Nordean about the incident, Nordrean responded, “like Gavin McInnes says, violence isn’t great, but justified violence is amazing.”

The Proud Boys also advocate for “traditional” gender roles. One of the beliefs is to “venerate the housewife.” They glorify the traditional notions of womanhood while denigrating women who do not fit into those notions. The Proud Boys may claim they support the choice of some women being “housewives,” however, the reality is that they perceive women the same way as white supremacists and elements of the online manosphere do. Women are perceived as under-deserving of the same status as men, worthy of ridicule for deviating from traditional gender roles, objectifiable in some instances to serve men, and worthy of protection in others as long as they fulfill antiquated roles in the service of preserving “Western” society.

These narratives are dangerous as they help the Proud Boys’ beliefs be more palatable to a broader audience. The Proud Boys consistently attempt to present themselves as “patriots” and defenders of “conservative” values by being able to sidestep any branding of having an extremist label.


Four “rituals” must be performed to gain membership and rank. This hierarchical system promotes adherence to the Proud Boys´ identity and is a focal point for the radicalization of violence within the group.

First, to be initiated, the individual must publicly declare his desire to be a Proud Boy and Western Chauvinist. They must repeat the phrase “I’m a Proud Boy. I’m a Western chauvinist. I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” This is meant to instill pride in the Proud Boys and Western culture.

For the individual to ascend to the second rank, they must submit to a ritualistic assault from at least five other members. Five members encircle the initiate and continuously punch them. This will only end when the initiate names five different types of breakfast cereals. Should the initiate succeed, they can become an official member. According to McInnes, this ritual is meant to weed out initiates deemed unfit and to mentally harden members in preparation for future fights.

Rank three is achieved by tattooing “Proud Boy” on their body. The final rank is achieved by the initiate intentionally engaging in violence on behalf of the Proud Boys. The journey to the final rank diminishes all initiates’ natural ability to have empathy towards others, instead replacing it with the belief that violence is the only solution to effecting political change.

The initiation process demonstrates how political violence is an inherent characteristic to the identity of the Proud Boys. Each step to reach the final rank is associated with socio-political views that justify the need for physical defense against degenerate forces. The initiation phases serve as a pro-social radicalization mechanism that justifies the need for commitment to increase, willingness, and the necessity of members to integrate the Proud Boys into their identity and the use of violence against those perceived as adversaries.

Organization and Operations

The goals of the Proud Boys’ engagement style appear to be designed to draw media attention, frame media perception, generate recruitment, manifest narratives, initiate members into higher ranks, and ensure their beliefs are perceived as palatable to the American political discourse.

All across the U.S., the Proud Boys are organized into local chapters that operate on a semi-autonomous level. The relationship between the national leadership and local chapters is depicted as dynamic and decentralized. This gives members latitude in determining the activities of their local factions, which can facilitate the creation of offshoot or splinter groups. In more recent years, the level of involvement from national leadership in local chapters’ jurisdictions has depended on the location and focal point of a certain campaign or activity.

The three most active regions are the Pacific Northwest, Miami, and New York. These focal points for the most activity involve street fighting and political activism. With the lack of oversight and individual chapter autonomy, members have experienced varying degrees of radicalization and commitment to violence.

Members operate under the belief that “The West is the Best.” They welcome non-white members as long as these members acknowledge that Western civilization is superior to all others. By sidestepping the question of race, they can make their proto-fascist appeal in the language of patriotic individualism: pro-America, pro-capitalism, and pro-Trump, allowing access into the Republican mainstream.

One strategy to legitimize their relationship with Republican politicians and Republican mainstream politics, is to have photos taken of Proud Boys members with Republican actors. Proud Boys members have been seen in photos with Donald Trump Jr., U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, former-Florida Governor Rick Scott, and U.S. Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Devin Nunes. Additionally, Senator Ted Cruz supported a non-binding resolution to define anti-fascist activists as domestic terrorists after Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio launched a petition in favor of the bill.

Memes and jokes are made to make light of the hateful beliefs of their members or try to brush off these jokes as pushing boundaries and that those who criticize their beliefs and comments “just don’t get it.” Far-right extremists often use irony as a cover to communicate their beliefs without having to face any real and legitimate consequences.

Typically wherever the Proud Boys are present, violence ensues. Their offline tactics have shown a pattern of staging multiple rallies in different cities to maintain the illusion of a larger presence. Their tactical engagements rely on physical intimidation and brawling to assert their political agendas.

Protesting is also a key component of their overall strategy of gathering more supporters. Six months after the January 6th attack, their attention shifted to the local level. “I’ve always said my goal for this year was simple,” Tarrio said; “start getting more involved in local politics, running our guys for office from local seats, whether it’s a simple GOP seat or a city council seat.”

The Proud Boys have appeared at small-town council gatherings and school board presentations with the intention of bringing their brand of intimidating politics to the local level. At some meetings, they threaten local community leaders, while at others, they stand silently and menacingly, watching the events.

Why the Seditious Conspiracy Charges Matter

A study conducted by Leonard Burstyn of the University of Chicago found that the concept of Trumpism has not created more racists in the U.S., but rather emboldened those with extremist views to feel more comfortable expressing those views in public.

It is important these prosecutions surrounding the January 6th attack go forward, since the Proud Boys have engaged in violent street activity without any real legal consequences for years. Accountability needs to be demonstrated as more Americans may be inclined to believe that violence is the only way to accept and express their political differences. When beliefs such as those of the Proud Boys become more accepted into the mainstream, it becomes harder to monitor and prevent domestic violence, as there is a larger set of diffuse actors. This can already be observed with the recent shooting in Buffalo.


Camille Amberger, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Islamic State Allegiances in Africa: A Sub-Saharan Breakdown

The ideology of the Islamic State has taken a significant hold in Sub-Saharan Africa. The group’s ideology has spread from just the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to a rapidly growing movement throughout Africa encompassing thousands of members. The Islamic State has various affiliates throughout Africa, including the Islamic State West Africa Province, Islamic State Central Africa Province, Islamic State Mozambique, and others who have pledged their allegiance to the organization.

The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara

The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) was first officially recognized by the Islamic State in the spring of 2019. Its first operations occurred in Burkina Faso near the Malian border and western Niger, and northeastern Mali. The ISGS has spread to southern Mali, and along the border of Niger and Burkina Faso. This organization has claimed the Tongo Tongo attack that occurred in Niger in 2017 that resulted in the death of four American and four Nigerien soldiers. This organization is a sub-group of the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), after being taken over by ISWAP in 2019. The goal of the ISGS is to establish a Salafist-Jihadi caliphate.

Islamic State West Africa Province

The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) first pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015. While ISWAP is often referred to as Boko Haram, the two organizations diverged from one another in 2016.

In late August 2021, ISWAP faced a significant setback when its former leader, Abu Musab Al-Barnawi, was killed. The details surrounding Al-Barnawi’s death remain greatly disputed; it is argued that Nigerian troops killed him, but others attest that he was killed by a rival organization. Despite this setback, ISWAP remains active throughout West Africa. Its most recent attack was on June 5, 2022, at an annual festival in Okene, Nigeria, that resulted in the death of two people.

Islamic State Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Islamic State Democratic Republic of the Congo (ISIS-DRC) is active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Uganda. This organization was first officially recognized by the Islamic State in 2018, but it may have begun operations as early as 2017.  In 2021, this group conducted attacks that resulted in the deaths of 1,200 people in just the DRC, not including its large-scale urban attacks in Uganda. It was formerly known as the Allied Democratic Forces but rebranded and aligned its ideology with the Islamic State.

Islamic State Mozambique

Officially recognized by the Islamic State in August 2019, the Islamic State Mozambique (ISIS-Mozambique) is most widely known for its siege of Palma in the province of Cabo Delgado in March 2021.  A French company, TotalEnergies’ liquified natural gas plant was attacked causing the project to be suspended until safety was guaranteed.  ISIS-Mozambique’s actions, overall, have resulted in the deaths of over 1,700 civilians and the displacement of 784,000 people from Northern Mozambique.

 Islamic State Central Africa Province

The Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) does not work as a cohesive unit but rather is an overarching entity comprised of distinct regional affiliates, such as ISIS-Mozambique and ISIS-DRC. These two organizations are distinctly different in their attacks, goals, and actions throughout the DRC and Mozambique and, therefore, should not be viewed as one single group.

Outlook and Mitigation Efforts of the Islamic State in Sub-Saharan Africa

The ideology of the Islamic State has taken hold of thousands throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, making the region a breeding ground for more radicalization and attacks.  Countless organizations, countries, and private militaries have become involved in hopes of slowing the growing threat of the Islamic State in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Reasons behind the involvement of the Islamic State in Sub-Saharan Africa range from economic instability to individuals identifying with the organization’s ideology, leaving a complex and extensive range of issues that the international community must address and mitigate. Without proper economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of individuals involved with the Islamic State will likely grow. It is uncertain the future of the Islamic State in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the Islamic State’s affiliate organizations continue to grow, and without a proper and warranted response, this security threat will continue to increase.


Claire Spethman, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


IS-K Seeks to Undermine the Taliban

In recent months, IS-K has increased the frequency and intensity of terrorist attacks against the Taliban and regional countries, up nearly 300% since last year. This surge of attacks comes as an attempt to undermine Taliban rule and provoke further tension with regional countries. By showing that terrorism has a home in Afghanistan, IS-K can sabotage promises made by the Taliban. IS-K may even attempt to prompt military action by countries in the region. This increased frequency of attacks also seeks to brand IS-K as the most anti-Shi’a extremist group in Afghanistan. IS-K’s strategy and operations in Afghanistan are likely to promote intra-jihadi competition, internal terrorist attacks, and regional instability.

Intra-Jihadi Competition

A primary motivator for IS-K to increase attacks is to promote their brand as the most anti-Shi’a extremist group in Afghanistan. This positioning helps the organization capture radicalized individuals that may have sought competing extremist groups. However, these attempts will lead to fiercer competition between jihadi movements, specifically Al-Qaeda. This competition may lead to retaliatory attacks by Al-Qaeda, which seeks to challenge IS-K’s assertion as the dominant extremist organization. This competition will also increase the number of external attacks on regional or western countries abroad, as both movements attempt to prove their commitment to anti-western action. With intensifying intra-jihadi competition, the international community should expect more frequent and intense external attacks launched from Afghanistan.

Internal Terrorist Attacks

Due to an economic and political crisis, discontent with the Taliban is at its peak. Looking to exploit that dissatisfaction, IS-K is launching numerous attacks against the Taliban to position itself as a militant opposition to the Taliban. This allows IS-K to radicalize individuals to their cause by appealing to anti-Taliban sentiment. IS-K is also launching terrorist attacks against Taliban-controlled territory to undermine the Taliban’s promise of security. The Taliban have previously portrayed themselves as a stabilizing force. By sabotaging security promises for citizens in Afghanistan, IS-K can continue to sow discontent and dissatisfaction with the Taliban and bolster recruitment. The international community and Afghanistan should expect IS-K to grow rapidly in current conditions and for internal attacks to become more frequent and intense.

Regional Instability

The core tenant of IS-K’s strategy involves undermining the Taliban’s promises to the international community. In their come to power, the Taliban promised that Afghanistan would not become a haven for terrorism. By launching external attacks against regional countries, IS-K can undermine this promise.

Among other notable attacks, IS-K was responsible for the attack on the Koocha Risaldar mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan, in March 2022. The organization has also launched attacks and propaganda campaigns to target ties with Iran and China. If the Taliban cannot deal with the IS-K threat to regional and international countries, those countries may likely take more aggressive action to counter IS-K. Without fulfilling promises of security, the Taliban’s international partners may also be unwilling to continue their support. If the Taliban are unsuccessful in suppressing IS-K, the international community should expect long-term instability.

Next Steps

The Taliban has already launched a widespread, severe campaign against IS-K. However, this campaign is thus far ineffective. The U.S. is also limited in its counter-terrorism measures. This derives from a lack of intelligence-gathering infrastructure and an unwillingness from the Taliban to cooperate. Like many of the Taliban’s problems, the threat of IS-K is exacerbated by the underlying issues that plague the Afghan people. It is unlikely that there is a next step that will stifle IS-K’s growth and capabilities. For now, the U.S. and regional countries should act under the assumption that the Taliban will be unable to fulfill its promise of security and that Afghanistan has become a haven for terrorism.


Rise to Peace Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Civil War

How Likely is Another Civil War in Afghanistan and What Would it Mean for Pakistan?

For the second time, the Taliban captured Afghanistan putting an end to what is known as the United States’ longest war in the country. Though touted as the end of a twenty-year-long war, the Taliban’s return to power triggers other grave issues – a probable civil war. This results in the country again turning into a haven for regional and global terrorism, and thus threatens regional and global security. Another factor is the Taliban’s unaltered temperament toward Afghans which further increases the possibility of a public revolt against the group.

Besides the Taliban’s fundamentalist approach, Pakistan’s blatant endorsement is a likely driving force behind the prospective political and economic crises to accelerate in Afghanistan. As a result of such crises, the flames will inflict on Pakistan as well.

Additionally, the Taliban’s religiously inclined fundamental policies that are inspired by Pakistani madrasas engender a Taliban’s pro-Pakistan approach, enticing political turmoil against the group. Two major standpoints such as economic and political perspectives are therefore considered to highlight the likelihood of a prospective civil war in the Taliban-led Afghanistan.

The Economic Standpoint

The Taliban’s August 2021 takeover of Kabul was instantly followed by a sprint in the slowdown of the Afghan economy – an estimated 40 percent. As a result, with 500,000 job losses, the unemployment rate rampantly spiked. Such an unprecedented hike in the unemployment rate is becoming a provoking driver behind Afghans’ willingness to revolt against the Taliban’s rule, since the people might have no other alternative for survival, as the poverty rate has already spiked to 97 percent.

The exacerbating high rate of unemployment has also led to an aggravating fall in the public financial condition. As per the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report, an imminent prospect of a one-third decline in the per capita incomes was warned based on the facts over the last months of the year 2021. Vulnerable to such economic catastrophe, many civilians are now stranded in destitution and even have been forced to put their children on sale in desperation for life.

The Political Standpoint

The Taliban bears the brunt of political and military challenges from the Islamic State (ISIS) militants, the National Resistance Force (NRF), and the Liwa Fatemiyoun militia.

Since the fall of the elected government in Afghanistan in August 2021, terrorist groups such as ISIS unprecedently emerged stronger. Meaning that the Taliban’s return is still seen as a welcoming note by the world’s other renowned terrorist groups to reestablish in Afghanistan. This could be an undermining threat to the Taliban’s rule. Nonetheless, in the case of the fight against ISIS, Afghans are less likely to back the Taliban given the group’s nationwide negatively perceived image created by its tenacious policies.

Vulnerable to the Taliban’s ideology, the Hazara community, which comprises 9 to 10 percent of Afghanistan’s total population, is thought to be Iran-backed pro-Liwa Fatemiyoun. After fighting ISIS alongside Bashar-al-Assad in Syria, the Fatemiyoun has now turned its eyes on Afghanistan. The Fatemiyoun’s intention to target the Taliban becomes more feasible now. This is due to the Taliban’s anti-Shia ideology and the growing number of attacks on Shia Muslims in Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrawal. The Fatemiyoun militia will not only target the Taliban but also ISIS, as they do in Syria, which would go beyond one for the Taliban’s leadership to thus manage such a complicated triangular skirmish.

This saga turns even more perilous as the newly established Panjshir-based NRF targets the Taliban. This is primarily due to the Taliban’s reluctance to form an inclusive government and welcome the former politicians, government employees, and other prominent figures to their government circuit.

Implications for Pakistan

Driven by the Taliban’s pro-Pakistan stance, Afghans have opposed and feared the Taliban’s return. Despite such nationwide despise among Afghans, the group’s all-weather supporters, Pakistan’s military, and religious leadership warmly welcomed the Taliban’s return in August 2021. The people of Pakistan even celebrated the Taliban’s return and considered it as an indirect victory for Pakistan in Afghanistan. Given this, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan also went on to endorse the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul during a press conference in Islamabad, stating that “Afghanistan has broken the shackles of slavery.”

However, the Taliban’s religiously inclined ideology could turn into a Pashtun ethnocentric ideology or diverge its political route, possibly to India. Recently a blend of Indian diplomats made a surprise visit to Kabul, a red sign for Pakistan. While there are already hints that the Taliban cordially provides congenial hospitality to the key Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) figures who were detained in the previous administration.

Second, Pakistan plays a double-faced game as more of a broker between the global superpowers vis-à-vis China, Russia, and the U.S. For Pakistan, leaning on and accompanying one will entice the other to recoil, as Pakistan’s brokerage role may not sustain longer given the dynamics in the world geopolitical order.

Third, Pakistan is already severely indebted and could become a buffer zone sandwiched between the great powers. Ties with the U.S. are already deteriorating with the aid flow decreasing, while the all-weather ally China’s aid does not come without huge interest rates. Already drowned in huge debts, Pakistan could face a similar fate as Sri Lanka, should the country fail to withstand such enormous debts and avoid the role of a broker and supporter of terrorist groups.


The controversial quell to the U.S.’ twenty-year-long war, coupled with the Taliban’s hold on power, serves as a stepping-stone to another likely political tumult in the country. Other renowned terrorist groups leverage this new phase in Afghanistan’s political scenario. The entry of these terrorist groups is a turning point for regional and global security. Additionally, Afghanistan would be devastated by another civil war. Being a significant Taliban supporter, Pakistan is going to get inflicted the most as the country may remain stuck in the great game.

The Taliban is recommended to form an inclusive government, and welcome professionals and prominent policymakers from the previous government. Also, the group needs to adhere to national interests such as retaining the national anthem, and the national flag while keeping in mind women’s rights, particularly girls’ education.

The Taliban also needs to stop solely depending on Pakistan both politically and economically, especially concerning policy level national matters. For Pakistan, it is important to shun lobbying and brokering for the Taliban on international platforms. Instead, Pakistan needs to critically examine the issues it faces.


Hamayun Khan, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Europe Turns to Mozambique for Natural Resources Despite Islamic State Attacks

Allegedly, energy companies are planning to return to the Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado despite unrest caused by ISIS-Mozambique. Due to the unrest with Ukraine and Russia, liquified natural gas production has slowed. Therefore, Europe is turning to Mozambique in hopes of mitigating the slow production.

Liquified Natural Gas Project in Mozambique

The Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Project, led by TotalEnergies, began with the discovery of a vast amount of natural gas in 2010 off the coast of Northern Mozambique. It was previously on track to begin providing liquified natural gas in 2024. Still, production has been put to a halt since April of 2021 due to the security situation in Cabo Delgado. LNG was forecasted to bring in over $100 billion to Mozambique in just 25 years of production.

Origins and the Current State of ISIS-Mozambique

ISIS-Mozambique has been in operation since October 2017, with Abu Yasir Hassan as the lead. Currently, 670,000 people within Northern Mozambique have been displaced, and the ISIS-Mozambique has claimed the lives of more than 1,300 civilians. According to reports, ISIS-Mozambique allegedly pledged allegiance to ISIS in April 2018, and was officially acknowledged by ISIS-Core in August 2019.

While it is unclear how many individuals are currently fighting for ISIS-Mozambique, the number is estimated to be in the thousands. The group quickly grew by leveraging economic grievances in a poverty-stricken and resource-rich area of the country. Additionally, ISIS-Mozambique provided loans to young men without any opportunity otherwise.

ISIS-Mozambique’s Palma Attack

On March 24, 2021, a siege lasting four days by an estimated 200 ISIS-Mozambique fighters left dozens dead at the Cabo Delgado town of Palma, with much of the city’s infrastructure destroyed. The town of Palma is home to over 70,000 people. There were numerous foreign workers for the LNG project trapped at the project site in the nearby area of the Afungi Peninsula. The prospect of ISIS-Mozambique gaining access to the LNG project proved worrisome and extremely dangerous; it would be alarming if high-yielding natural resources fell under their control.

Continued Attacks by ISIS-Mozambique

In the past six months, there have been numerous attacks in Northern Mozambique by ISIS-Mozambique. The violence has continued despite growing military interventions from different groups deployed to Mozambique in hopes of mitigating the continued violence. There are 24 countries and a multitude of other organizations working in Mozambique, including troops from Rwanda, the European Union, the South African Development Community military force, Angola, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.

Europe Turning to Mozambique for Liquified Natural Gas (LNG)

As the crisis in Ukraine continues, the shipping of LNG in Russia has reduced significantly. Russia provides one-third of the LNG to Europe, behind the U.S. and Qatar. After Russia invaded Ukraine, most international investors involved in Russian LNG projects froze their financing shares.

Europe has now turned to Mozambique in hopes of filling their need for LNG. Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio traveled to Mozambique in hopes of developing new deals regarding LNG supply partnerships as well as European government officials and parliament members have met to discuss how to best reduce its reliance on Russia’s liquified natural gas.

Outlook for Future Company Involvement

Mpho Molomo, the head of the Southern African Development Community mission in Mozambique, stated that it was too early to declare Mozambique safe enough to renew operations. The current state of Cabo Delgado has not reached a point of stability to guarantee the safety of energy company workers.

Environmental activists have viewed this as an opportunity to emphasize renewable energy sources instead of depending on fossil fuels, such as LNG. While attacks have slowed in Mozambique, it is still not safe enough to continue production despite the need of liquified natural gas in Europe. If the safety of the workers are not guaranteed, production should remain halted until ISIS-Mozambique is no longer a threat.


Claire Spethman, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Five Years After the Philippines’ Marawi Siege: Lessons from Within

It has been almost five years since armed militants from two ISIL-affiliated organizations, Abu Sayyaf and the Maute, battled with Philippine government forces on May 23, 2017. The siege ensued when the military attempted to arrest senior ISIL leader Isnilon Hapilon.

As a result, attackers retaliated, proclaiming the city a nascent caliphate of ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq, and the Levant, more commonly known as ISIS. Before capturing the city’s major thoroughfares and significant bridges, the armed militants caused severe damage to Catholic churches, the city jail, and two schools. Militants also beheaded a police officer and took churchgoers and residents hostage.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the entire island of Mindanao on the evening of the assaults. Initially, President Duterte expected the fighting to finish in a matter of weeks. However, he had no idea that this was simply the beginning of a more bloody and horrific assault.

Who Were the Perpetrators?

The main commanders of this unprecedented assault, Isnilon Hapilon, and brothers Abdullah and Omar Maute were members of the local armed groups, Abu Sayyaf and Maute. Both groups have historically been responsible for bombings, attacks on government forces, and hostage-taking in the Philippines. However, foreign militants participated in the war, including those from Malaysia, Indonesia, Yemen, and Chechnya. There is also evidence that the terrorist members involved in this attack enlisted a significant number of radicalized children and teenagers, many of whom were recruited from Marawi’s local schools.

During the conflict, an estimated 1,200 people were declared dead. Although the majority of these were militant extremists, Amnesty International claimed that the militants also carried out kidnappings and extrajudicial executions.

Mission Accomplished

The capture of Marawi prompted the Philippines’ most prolonged armed combatant insurgency. Government troops seized a stronghold on October 16, 2017, killing both Hapilon and Maute. After troops subdued the remaining ISIS fighters on October 23, 2017, five months after the siege began, Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana said there were no more “militants” in Marawi, which ended the long, weary battle.

The Aftermath of the Marawi Siege

The Marawi crisis, which affected many residents, had a significant impact on the local market and the daily needs of Marawi families. According to the United Nations Human Rights Commission Philippines, the Marawi armed conflict between government troops and pro-ISIS insurgents has internally displaced 98% of the area’s overall population, as well as villagers from nearby municipalities, who were forced to flee due to severe food scarcity and political and economic restrictions.

How is Marawi Now?

After years of planning and reconstructing the country’s sole Islamic city, Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) is nearing the completion of the major rehabilitation operation for internally displaced families. Even within Marawi’s most impacted area, or “ground zero,” the Maranaws, particularly those displaced by the 2017-armed war, are now reaping the first dividends of the government-led rebuilding.

Meanwhile, the Marawi Fire Substation, a Maritime Outpost, the Rorogagus Barangay Health Station, the Marawi Central Police Station, and a solar power irrigation system were all completed, to help the Maranaws embrace a complete and secure community with peace and stabilization.

Furthermore, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) administration has set aside P500 million for Marawi’s reconstruction in 2021 as part of the newly-formed government’s 12-point priority plan.

Lessons Learned and Reflections as a Filipino Counter-Terrorism Practitioner

I have learned that the scars of this historic siege will undoubtedly persist in the hearts of those who were affected, as well as the troops who were determined to defend the people, even if it meant risking their lives. The standard narrative is that it is their job. However, I am referencing their fortitude in the midst of their weapons’ failure; terrorist groups have also leveraged technical advancement in plotting, recruiting, and networking, making it even more difficult to obverse.

Filipinos are known for their “resilience.” Most people define it as the ability to bounce back from setbacks, embrace change, and persevere in the face of adversity. It is meaningless to be resilient if the Philippine government’s response to these issues is ambiguous. How eager and probing is the government to promote research to fight atrocities in the aftermath of the Marawi Siege? Is this enough, if there is a movement at all? What was the intensity of the response to the Marawi crisis?

We should not box our belief that resilience is the only chance. There is also hope, the ability to recognize important goals, the measures required to achieve them, and the willingness to take those steps. This requires an extensive effort of the government to connect with the civil society in order to prioritize their goals in the field of local security. Although the resilient superhero is often thought to be preferable, it has a dark side; it possesses the same characteristics that hinder self-awareness and, as a result, the ability to maintain a realistic self-concept.

As a Filipino, I believe we should start by assessing where we stand in terms of counter-terrorism operations, such as preventing and suppressing terrorism financing, and encouraging constructive dialogue on counter-terrorism challenges, particularly based upon the principles between state officials and the private sector, social service organizations, and news outlets. Although there is evidence of a deterrent, the government should always consistently take action to prevent such unprecedented happenings.


Kristian N. Rivera, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Rise to Peace