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Women and Radicalization

Ninetta Bagarella and her husband, Totò, who successfully raised children in the extremist Mafia tradition. Image credit: Associated Press.

Emilie König, Yasmin Bulbocus, Sadaa Boular each have something in common: all are women of ISIS. Emile is a well-known example of a young French woman who converted to Islam and emigrated to Syria, where she served as a recruiter and propagandist for ISIL, while Yasmin is a former extremist that was radicalized when she was only seventeen. Meanwhile, the case of Safaa Boular, her sister Rizlaine, and her mother Mina, who were found guilty of plotting  terrorist attacks in Britain, is a clear example of transmission of dysfunctional values within families. Each has a unique story about how and why they became radicalized, but as a group, they provide fascinating insight into the role women play in ISIS.

As co-leaders, strategists, trainers, advisors, ruthless criminals, and persuaders, women involved with terrorist groups such as ISIS, as well as women in organized crime rings such as the Mafia, often share the same harsh attitudes towards authority and broader society. They reflect the criminal subcultures that raised them, bear unhealthy values, purvey hatred, and act as loyal partners in crime.

Many women of the Mafia pursue their own battle against the State and Civil Society. They are tasked with raising future generations of “men and women of honour,” thus ensuring the survival of their clans and criminal associations. The following conversation took place in the visitors room of the penitentiary where Gianni Riina, the eldest son of the most fierce Sicilian mafia boss Totò Riina, was imprisoned:

Salvo Riina: “See, I’m from the school of Corleone.”

Ninetta Bagarella: “Well, thank goodness, thank goodness.”

Salvo Riina: “My father’s from Corleone, my mother’s from Corleone, what other school and blood could I have?”

Ninetta Bagarella: “Pure blood.”

In this conversation, Ninetta Bagarella, Totò Riina’s wife, clearly expresses her satisfaction after her son Salvo remembers his “pure” Corleonese origins. As a woman, part of her role is to raise children who, like Salvo, have “pure” origins and strong ties to the organization- something which women in ISIS, raising extremist “cubs,” must also do.

The determination they show in pursuing these roles demonstrates that their power is seriously underestimated. Both in extremist groups and in mafia organizations, women make their own contributions in two ways:

  1. They provide potential extremist women with role models;
  2. They ensure the survival of criminal systems by raising children with extremist values.

With regard to the first issue, one possible counter-strategy could envisage the creation of narratives that focus on the life stories of women that were formerly involved in criminal organizations and decided to quit. The confrontation with real life examples of women who chose to abandon lives of extremism could help potential extremists develop new ideas and opinions about criminal groups, based on more genuine information.

The second issue presents us with a big challenge: preventing children from being indoctrinated by their parents and families. During the first few years of life, babies are totally dependent on their parents, so it is inconceivable to develop a strategy leaving their mothers or fathers out of their socialization. Instead, it is possible to expose older children to messages of tolerance and peace, using means familiar to them like cartoons, books and songs or planning different operations according to the characteristics of the context.

Ultimately, counterterrorism strategies should just not be “gender-sensitive,” but should be more specifically based on social roles.

This will ensure that the social roles played by women, often overlooked, are finally addressed- and that generations of their children will no longer be raised in lives of crime.

Women are key to counterterrorism efforts, because they play crucial roles in families and educational institutions and thus play a key role in either increasing or mitigating the risk of radicalization. Increasing the participation of women in the prevention of criminal behavior could help tackle the problem at its roots, giving new generations more chances to grow up with positive cultural values that promote social cohesion and solidarity.

Social Media and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism

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Far-right protestors at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 2017. Image credit: Anthony Crider.

In the United States, many would argue that one of the greatest threats to national security is terrorism, but its portrayal in media and politics has convinced most Americans that the threat only comes in the form of Islamic extremism. However, the threat of terrorism is diversifying. The number of domestic terrorists in the U.S. exhibiting ideological tendencies associated with right-wing extremism is increasing. Most recently, Robert Bowers killed eleven Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania on October 27, 2018. He faces 29 criminal charges and potentially the death penalty. Some have profiled the incident as the largest attack on the Jewish Community in the history of the United States- but Mr. Bowers is not the only extremist to engage in such activity as of late. Cesar Sayoc Jr., who this autumn mailed explosive devices to  Hillary Clinton, George Soros, former president Barack Obama, and other prominent Democratic figures, was arrested in Florida and faces five federal criminal charges, including interstate transportation of an explosive, illegal mailing of explosives, making threats against former presidents, and assaulting federal officers.

Incidents such as these are increasingly common. In 2017, there were a total of 65 domestic terrorism incidents in the United States. Approximately two-thirds of these incidents involved individuals who exhibited anti-Semitic, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-government, or fascist motivations. The remainder of the attacks were driven by left-wing ideologies and Islamic extremism. To give further context, the number of global terrorism incidents saw a decline of almost 40 percent, going from about 17,000 attacks in 2014 to about 11,000 attacks in 2017. Meanwhile, incidents in the United States increased nearly 10% from 2016 to 2017. Even as the total number of global terrorism incidents has seen a great decline, the United States itself has seen a significant increase in domestic terrorism. Given the complex profiles of recent domestic terrorists, it may be difficult to pinpoint the reasoning behind why exactly they carry out the attacks. However, such analysis is critical, as it can help us learn to identify and thwart future attackers.

The rise in domestic terrorism, and specifically right-wing extremism, stems from multivarious motivations. Some attackers exhibited warning signs, such as suspicious social media activity; both Robert Bowers and Cesar Sayoc vented their frustrations on the Internet before carrying out acts of terrorism. For others, such as the Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock, who killed 59 people, the motivation was unclear and has yet to be discovered. The cases of Bowers and Sayoc clearly prove that social media companies are not doing enough to monitor their users’ content and alert authorities to potentially dangerous individuals who may pose a threat to society. Platforms such as Gab, the social media website that Bowers used to post anti-Semitic videos and other content, has a user base of nearly 800,000 people, many of whom politically identify as members of the far-right (Molina, 2018). Many of these individuals have been removed from other social media platforms for posting hate speech and other forms of obscenity in the past. After the incident at the Tree of Life Synagogue, Gab went offline and suspended numerous user accounts. Gab’s service provider, GoDaddy, found that Gab had violated its terms of service by allowing the content that encouraged and promoted the use of violence, and subsequently gave Gab 24 hours to find new service provider to host the website.

The case of Gab reveals many reasons as to why Bowers was not identified as a threat or referred to law enforcement. First, his posts were not identified as “threatening” by platform regulators. Second, his posts were not taken down, despite their clear containment of threatening speech. Third, Gab did not inform or collaborate with law enforcement authorities to alert them that Bowers could be a threat to society. However, Gab is not the only platform guilty of this. Sayoc also had exhibited significant social media usage before carrying out the attempted mail bombings. He had used Twitter months before, sending threatening tweets to George Soros and former Attorney General Eric Holder. Clearly, these cases highlight the need for social media platforms to adapt their current regulation of user content, as well as their collaboration with U.S. law enforcement. There seems to be a pattern with many domestic terrorists in using social media as a platform to vent their grievances. By identifying these grievances in a timely manner, countless lives may be saved.

Mohammed Hamzah Khan: Case Study of an American Extremist

Mohammed Hamzah Khan, the young man radicalized in the suburbs of Chicago.

Born in the United States to first generation immigrants, Mohammed Hamzah Khan and his siblings were raised about 35 minutes west of Chicago in the middle class suburb of Bolingbrook, Illinois. Considering he was a student at Benedictine University, a well-known Roman Catholic university, it can be understood why it was such a surprise when Khan was arrested by federal authorities at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and charged with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Khan was detained with his brother (16) and sister (17) at the airport, where they intended to fly to Vienna before taking a bus to Turkey where they would meet with an IS operative who would smuggle them into Syria to join the caliphate. Mohammed was seen by authorities as the influence over his younger (and still juvenile, in the U.S. criminal justice system) siblings. Accordingly, his siblings were released to their parents without charges- but Mohammed remained.

Zarine Khan, Mohammed’s mother, stated that he and his sister were radicalized and preyed upon by IS recruiters on various social media accounts. In preparation for his travel to the caliphate, Khan got a job at a local store and raised sufficient travel funds for both himself and his siblings. It should be noted that Khan bought round trip tickets for the trip in an effort to mask their plans to travel to the caliphate- belying that there was likely some coaching in operational security by an IS operative online. Khan’s lawyer stated that Khan desired to join something bigger than himself, longing for a higher purpose. Khan’s lawyer made a strong argument against a long prison sentence, referencing the U.S. prison system and its record of further radicalizing individuals.

After years of court proceedings, Khan was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison, including time already served. Upon his release from prison, he enrolled in the College of DuPage, earning a 4.0 GPA and academic honors- though he remained subject to routine and random searches of his living quarters and electronic devices for at least 20 years after release. In the spring of 2018, Khan was found to have accessed multiple prohibited social media networks and- in clear violation of his parole. The judge tasked with overseeing Khan’s case stated that Khan had demonstrated major steps of rehabilitation, exemplified by his schooling successes, and suggested that the violations were due to a lack of maturity. However, on the day that federal authorities searched his room and discovered his parole violations, they also uncovered an IS flag and documents in Arabic under his bed- the translation of which remains unclear.

In light of this, it is understandable to wonder what could have driven an American citizen to such radicalization. Khan is the child of immigrants, making it possible he felt marginalized as a result. Additionally, Khan is a Muslim of Indian descent- a community which does not necessarily have a large population in the Chicago area, potentially deepening Khan’s marginalization even among the Chicago Muslim community. It is possible that these factors contributed to Khan’s recruitment and radicalization. However, Khan’s schooling also proved that he has above average intelligence and can function without issue in western society.

Notably, Khan had no criminal history prior to his arrest for attempting to provide material support to the IS. There is little information available about Khan’s time in prison, but it is critical to question whether further radicalization occurred during his time in custody. Khan’s attorney mentioned that it could potentially be more dangerous for Khan to have a lengthy prison sentence, due to the extremist ideologies often fostered in prison culture. Within prisons, those prisoners who are radicalized are typically radicalized by other inmates and not by outside motivators. Since Khan was already radicalized, he would have been susceptible to other inmates’ radical influence as well.

Discussion of reform in the United States prison system is beyond the scope of this particular research or case study; however, one reform policy could clearly limit radicalization in this case and others. To counter radicalization within prisons, personnel working in corrections must be diversified. This is particularly true when discussing radicalization amongst the Muslim prison population. The Salafist ideology suggests that the West is at war with Islam, and having a mostly Christian, Caucasian prison staff could increase the “us versus them” mindset amongst prisoners- making more prisoners susceptible to radicalization. Implementing hiring procedures and protocols to ensure that staff more accurately mirror the demographics represented in the prison population at each particular facility could help reduce some types of radicalization. This policy implementation would take a significant amount of time, but could be impactful in decades to come.

Ultimately, Mohammed’s case is an unusual one, but it is not entirely isolated. With the rise of IS recruiting online and through increasingly global networks, the United States must prepare for more cases like Mohammed’s- and implementing prison reform could be a key first step.

Rehabilitation in the Archipelago: Is Indonesia Building a Foundation of Success?

A group of policemen patrol at the Mobile Police Brigade headquarters in Depok, south of Jakarta, Indonesia, May 9, 2018

Since the turn of the century, much of countering violent extremism (CVE) discussion has rightly focused on the Middle East and Central Asia. While all corners of the world have seen a rise in violent extremism-related danger, Southeast Asia, arguably, has seen the steepest rise — particularly the archipelago of Indonesia.

With as many as 30 terrorist attacks dating back to the early-2000s, Indonesia has crafted multiple methods to eliminate the extremist threat.

This goes beyond simply creating an anti-terror special force called Detachment 88. Rehabilitation programs, centers, and schools — whether headed by the National Board on Anti-Terrorism, or civil organizations — have gained traction. The methods have focused on reintegration into society, education for extremist offender’s children in government schools, with special attention paid to preventing prisons from becoming breeding grounds for extremist ideology. In preventing violent extremism and reintegrating former extremists Indonesia is laying a proper foundation for success. But plenty of work needs to be done to make broaden efforts and establish Indonesia as a counterterror leader who the world can follow.

Rehabilitation of terrorism offenders in Indonesia is defined as, “all type of efforts, through cooperation of various entities, whether in social, psychology, education, economic, culture, human resources or other related fields, into a continuous process, which aims to rehabilitate terrorism inmates so they are able to be back in society as a holistic individual both mentally, emotionally, economically, and socially, so as to achieve self-sufficiency, productive and useful to the state and society.”

Psychological rehabilitation from terrorism attempts to reestablish the human capacity and societal function of former extremists.

According to frameworks researched in Indonesia, the processes of de-radicalization through societal rehabilitation revolve around exclusiveness and inclusiveness. Exclusiveness is simply rehabilitation through cutting imprisoned extremists off from the outside world in order to stop intra-prison ideological spread. Inclusiveness refers to dialogues with friends and family as a means of behavioral transformation.

Studies in the archipelago point to the three roles of radical extremist militants: leaders or ideologues preaching their radical beliefs, middle management organizers acting as recruiters and strategists, and followers carrying out attacks as foot soldiers. Furthermore, the reasons why so much radicalization takes place in prisons are ideological i.e. brainwashing, solidarity-driven, revenge-seeking, separatist mentality and/or mob mentality, and situational or forced reasons.

The general opinion among those in the Indonesian CVE field is that rehabilitation centers and policy around them must be more comprehensive.

Initial policy for rehabilitation took a so-called “soft-power” approach whereby aid money was allocated to the families of former extremists. In addition to money for food and clothing, police were told to begin engaging prison inmates in friendly religious discussion including the breaking of the Ramadan fast together. The success of these initial “soft-power” policies was limited with very few former extremist prisoners interested in talking.

It is unclear how much of this comes down to the widely held misconception that only radicals can get through to other radicals and that radicals already cooperating eventually become discredited. Struggles have been compounded by no official national budget allocated towards these policies thus creating some accountability issues. Nevertheless, early stages of these rehabilitation programs allowed police to recognize the complexities of radicalization and de-radicalization.

The government appointed bureau for anti-terrorism, the Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme (BNPT) has not been a straightforward success, or even a help for that matter thanks to weak institutions in Indonesia. Corruption in the prison system has meant that top-down funds from the BNPT rarely have the desired effect on rehabilitation in prison. Therefore, the civil organizations that have filled the gaps have begun applying a bottom-up approach by examining why past extremists have left or de-radicalized in rehabilitation programs or prison.

The main causes have proven to be disillusionment with extremist leadership, an awareness that the costs outweigh personal or movement-wide benefits, the development of new friendships outside militant groups, and changes to personal goals such as wanting a family or education. However, despite plenty of organizations adopting techniques to aid the rehabilitation process, civil organizations can only do so much.

Tailoring individual interventions is resource intensive and pushback within the country points to questions over why other prisoners do not have such publicized rehabilitation initiatives. The public’s knowledge of corruption makes it challenging for the Indonesian government to figure out how to make use of resources and assist civil organizations as their work may be discredited through association. With 23 civil organizations recently partnering to pool resources under the moniker C-Save, maybe proper steps are being laid to make sure the government’s top-down approach works in conjunction with the civil organization’s bottom-up approach.

The field of CVE is certainly not an exception to the idea that people are stronger when in conjunction with one another so in the spirit of the Indonesia Raya, “Let us proclaim, Indonesians unite!”

Psyops: A New Frontier in Counterterror?

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An American soldier spreads free newspapers to the people of Baghdad as part of a mission in psychological operations. Image credit: Department of Defense.

“Capture their minds, and their hearts and souls will follow”.

This slogan, popular among psyops experts, clearly exemplifies the main implications and targets of psychological operations in war.

The term “psyops” refers to strategic operations aiming to evoke emotional reactions in other people. Daniel Lerner, Social Scientist and Military Intelligence Officer in World War II, identified three levels of psychological operations:

  • White Propaganda: characterized by gentle methods of persuasion. The information given is truthful and not strongly biased. Sources are cited. At this level, the most powerful techniques are narratives, framing, omissions and emphasis.
  • Grey Propaganda: the source of information is ambiguous or non-disclosed, but the messages cannot be proven false. Information shows a clear bias, and a combination of omissions and selective emphasis is used.
  • Black Propaganda: achieves its objectives by means of falsifications. Its purpose is to create confusion and deceive its audience about the origins of information. This strategy has proven to be the least effective and durable in the long term.

Today, psychological operations play a key role in counterterrorism programs. If properly used, strategic communication can help induce a shift in human behaviors and attitudes- potentially making psyops a kep weapon in the fight against terrorism.

According to current approaches and approved studies, in the war against terrorism psychological planned activities are expected to act on at least four areas, with the purpose of:

  • inhibiting people from joining terrorist groups;
  • producing dissent within groups;
  • facilitating exit from groups;
  • reducing support for groups and their leaders.

Before being able to change human emotions, every counterterrorism strategy must first understand what causes them. For this reason, it is of primary importance to investigate the variables that motivate people to join extremist groups before we can engage in successful psyops.

Messages spread by jihadist extremists clearly label their enemies as disbelievers and invaders. These strong and dangerous beliefs are a powerful means of promoting extremist ideology, and must be countered with our own narratives. In order to be effective, these counter-narratives should be able to reverse the effects of jihadi propaganda by promoting a positive image of democratic societies and values. Psyops can be used to introduce potential radicals to more positive images of secular society.

Peace-building is an extremely complex and delicate task, one which requires the intervention of several forces and involves a wide range of actors coming from different cultural backgrounds. Even so, we must not give up hope. The stakes are high: if we are successful, the reward will be more freedom, respect and peace for all of global society.

When Will the Bloodshed in Syria End?

Late last year, most of the world let out a sigh of relief as it began to appear as though the almost decade-long, brutal Syrian civil war had ended. Bashar al-Assad’s men erected their flag in the town of Daraa. Although more violence did ensue, it was obvious what the flag represented. Daraa was the town where the uprising on March 6, 2011, first began. The flag was a statement.

Syria had essentially won the war after receiving considerable support from Russia. The rebels and their allies had lost. The United States had prioritized the fight against the Islamic State and did not pay too much heed, except for words of consolation and a small amount of funding for refugees and the retraining of “well-vetted” rebels. As they entered the fray in the summer of 2017, the war was winding down and the Islamic State’s “caliphate” was hanging loosely by a thread.

After reports of chemical warfare, the U.S., along with other western nations, executed airstrikes targeting facilities in which chemical weaponry was thought to be manufactured. As the months dragged on, the Syrian government and its forces captured more and more of the last few areas held by rebels.

Finally, on October 15, 2018, Turkey, advocating on behalf of the rebels, and Russia, advocating on behalf of Assad’s regime, reached a ceasefire agreement in the Idlib region of Syria. This agreement was fabricated to establish Idlib as a buffer zone and essentially de-escalate any further perceived violence by the Syrian forces, focusing on the last of the remaining rebel forces.

As of November 26, 2018, this agreement is now being threatened given that Russia has accused the rebels of launching chemical attacks on the city of Aleppo, injuring at least 100 people. Although the rebels refused to take responsibility for the attack, the accusations were nevertheless met with immediate airstrikes by Russian forces.

The ceasefire that had managed to stand for a few months is now in danger of collapse. The chemicals in question have not yet officially been verified, although the Syrian government has claimed they are chlorine-based gas attacks. However, this has not yet been confirmed and could just as well have been a less harmful gas such as tear gas. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a third-party watchdog, is set to investigate further to find out what exactly was used.

Opposition forces, including the rebel forces, claim that Assad’s regime is simply fabricating the accusations to give them an excuse to wipe out the last remaining rebels once and for all. Both sides have reason to avoid conflict. All parties should be routing for a peaceful conclusion in which the dispute can be solved, otherwise innocent blood will inevitably be spilled again. As in most conflicts, it is the people of the country who have suffered the most, and they will again pay the price if this cannot be solved non-violently.

If violence cannot be avoided, a new surge of refugees will flow from the violence, most likely to Turkey. This is one of Turkey’s key reasons for desiring to keep the buffer zone intact. Wars often produce fragile states, which in turn often provide hotbeds for extremism to operate, as we saw with the Islamic State not long ago.

The United States has yet to issue a statement on the incident but seeing as thwarting international terrorism is one of their chief goals in the Middle East, they should exert their influence to help mediate the conflict between Turkey and Russia. Finally, Russia wishes to show the international community that conflict in Syria has died down and that countries should look to aid in stabilizing the country once again by paying for reconstruction projects.

This will never happen if war breaks out again and more lives are lost. The rebels numbers are low, there is no hope of beating Russia and Assad’s forces if peace is not reached the country of Syria will continue to bleed.

ISIS: From Unified Caliphate to Decentralized Lone Wolves

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Members of a US-led coalition prepare to fight ISIS and retake Hajin. Credit to Sgt. Timothy Koster.

This September, the Syrian Democratic Forces began the final push to retake the last vestige of territory held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS. After previous territorial concessions, the Islamic State has reorganized and consolidated their forces for a final stand in Hajin, a sliver of Syrian territory bordering the Euphrates River.

This final battle is a critical moment. Much like a wounded animal backed into a corner, it is expected that the remaining ISIS fighters, who are likely some of the most fanatical, will fight to the death without any intention to surrender. Regardless of how difficult the fight will be, coalition forces and security analysts are confident that Hajin will be retaken in a matter of months, and such an outcome would be a great victory for many reasons.

First, ISIS will lose the ability to tax Hajin’s inhabitants, limiting their ability to pay fighters. Second, they will lack any operational space to train new recruits into combatants. Most importantly, a victory would mark the end of ISIS’ ability to establish a Caliphate, one of the group’s primary political objectives. Since the organization’s inception, the group has focused on taking large swaths of territory in the Middle East. However, while this would certainly be a win, there is still the question of what happens next.

ISIS membership is estimated to be anywhere from 25,000 to 30,000, and fighters are spread throughout the world. The capture of Haijin will not result in the disappearance of these members, so there is a question as to how the organization will change after the loss of its territories.

Increasing devotion to counter-terrorism efforts by governments around the world will also pose an issue. Face-recognition and biometric technology at ports of entry have made it increasingly difficult for ISIS fighters to gain access to Western nations, and the terrorist group must now adapt to the changing situation to avoid detection by state governments. Accordingly, they have decreased their emphasis on hierarchy and relied less upon territory, focusing instead on unconventional tactics. ISIS once used conventional military force to conquer its territories, whereas now, the group has lost that capability and must adapt a clandestine strategy in order to survive.

This shift in organizational structure has significant implications for ISIS’ future strategy. ISIS-inspired lone wolf attacks have increased substantially, and will likely become even more common in the future. Internet-savvy campaigns to spread ISIS propaganda have inspired attackers around the world to commit acts of terror.

These solo attackers, or “lone wolves,” are difficult to pinpoint because they either have no direct affiliation with the group or operate within a small, cellular structure which has little to no communication with other group members. The Pulse Nightclub shooting, the NYC truck attack, and the Las Vegas mass shooting are all examples of lone-wolf attacks; for example, though he was not an official member of the Islamic State hierarchy, Omar Mateen still claimed allegiance to ISIS before going into Pulse Nightclub and killing nearly 50 people. These types of incidents are exactly what ISIS wants.

Many of these lone wolves do not have the training and resources needed to pull off a 9/11-scale attack, so instead, they turn to terrorism on a smaller scale. It is disturbingly easy for an ISIS-inspired individual to rent a U-Haul and run people over by the Hudson River, but incredibly difficult for a group of official members of a terrorist organization to hijack four planes and fly them into the Twin Towers. Focusing on recruiting and radicalizing lone wolves is, therefore, the easiest and most effective way for ISIS to ensure that their mission is carried on in the future.

Notably, the greatest impact of lone wolf attacks lies in their ability to incite fear and hysteria. Though the concrete impact of a lone wolf attack pales in comparison to the carnage of a large-scale incident, the possibility of a lone wolf attack still gravely concerns millions of people around the world.

The conventional capabilities of ISIS have been reduced dramatically, but people around the world should not turn a blind eye. In the words of an ISIS spokesman encouraging lone wolves to enter the fight, “the smallest action you do in the heart of their land is dearer to us than the largest action by us and more effective and more damaging to them.”

Kabul Wedding Hall Bombing

Last Tuesday, November 20, 2018, religious scholars and clerics gathered in the Uranus Wedding Hall in Kabul, Afghanistan. The hall was being used for a wedding as well as for an assembly of scholars congregating to celebrate the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday, a national, and widely celebrated holiday in Afghanistan. At 6:20 p.m. the bombing of the convocation took place, killing around 55 people and injuring 100 more, leaving many in critical condition.

The bombing is claimed to be a suicide bombing according to the Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman, Najib Danish, who also confirmed the death toll at the time. This attack, while horrific, is not remarkable in its manifestation.

Amidst a 17-year long war with the Taliban and a resurgence of suicide attacks, said to be claimed by lingering Islamist State loyalists, the Afghan government and its people are losing sight of a future that is not saturated in violence and marked by bloodshed.

Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, has continuously condemned attack after attack, labeling them inhumane, anti-Islamic, and haram, an Arabic word used to describe an act in Islamic jurisprudence that is forbidden in the eyes of God. As of 2016, it is estimated that 100,000 people have been killed since the U.S. invaded in 2001, and of that figure around 30,000 people are believed to have been civilians. Both these figures have continued to rise since then and show no signs of slowing down.

According to the United States Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, the UN Assistance Missions to Afghanistan (UNAMA) has documented around 37 attacks on places of worship, religious leaders, and worshippers in 2017 alone.

The attack at the wedding hall in Kabul is a prime example of the terrorism that has been plaguing the region for years now, mostly by the Taliban, but also by other extremist groups that have found a safe place to operate amongst the chaos. Although the Taliban has not claimed responsibility for the attack last Tuesday, it is not unheard of for the organization to attack religious sites.

Unknown to many who are not overly familiar with Islam the term constantly regurgitated by press and media alike, jihad, is not a naturally violent nor extreme prospect of Islam. In fact, most devout Muslims will take part in some sort of jihad. Jihad is used to describe a struggle or a fight, usually against oneself in an effort to improve one’s own devotion to God.

Organizations like the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State have claimed to be acting in accordance with jihad, whether it be against false Islamic practices or governments in violation of sharia. However, these groups have always been in violation themselves. They kill mercilessly and subjugate innocent people to their extreme beliefs and ways of life. Despite this, the Taliban has control of more Afghan land in their possession since 2001 insinuating that recruitment has been strong enough to keep the organization, not only afloat, but thriving.

It is important to understand that organizations like the Taliban, like most terrorists’ groups, prey on and seek to exploit youth that find themselves in exceedingly difficult situations. Youth are often disproportionately affected by war and economic strife. An example of this is evident when analyzing the birth of the Taliban in 1994.

Afghanistan has a long history of foreign intervention, first by the British, followed by the Soviets in the late 70s to the late 80s, and most recently the U.S. What this means is that during its inception, the Taliban targeted young men who had grown up in refugee camps, young men who knew nothing but war. The Taliban did not promise them a return to their homeland, rather the creation of a home they never knew.

Currently, the situation has become so dire that the Afghan government has discussed having peace talks with the Taliban in an effort to avoid more casualties. The government has even gone so far as to recognize them as a valid political entity. This has not proven fruitful but neither has violent retaliation, as seen by both the Afghan and U.S. militaries. So where then can a solution be found?

There is no easy fix, however, possible solutions could be attacking the problem at its core. In other words, citizens are the key to peace. Much of the recruitment today happens online, social media platforms have already started partnering with intelligence agencies to find solutions to limit access to the sites where recruitment takes place. In addition, educating young people, especially young men, in regions of high contestation is crucial.

Young people who decide to join extremists’ organizations often see no other option, in many of their eyes the government has failed them.

Youth must be shown another way and enlightened on the atrocities that organizations like the Taliban commit. It is critical that the government focuses on emphasizing and providing other ways to address legitimate grievances, not only to curb the flow of recruitment but also to build trust among the Afghan population again.

Legalization of Drugs in Brazil

Brazil continues to wage war against drug trafficking, prioritizing police and arrests. This past April, President Michel Temer deployed the Army to occupy the areas controlled by drug traffickers in Rio de Janeiro. Traffickers sought to maintain the trafficking operations, stay hidden, and let the smoke settle. They planned to return and regain control of the poor communities of Rio’s favelas once the Army pulled out.

The usual response of the security forces is in many ways contradictory. They seem to cooperate and fight the drug gangs, or commandos, simultaneously. Moreover, they accept bribes and let the drug traffickers take care of the slums, in a complete absence of the state. The country is marked by constant deaths and violence, against police officers, drug traffickers, and civilians.

Luiz Eduardo Soares’ book, Elite Squad, realistically sheds light on the interactions between police and drug traffickers. The book depicts how when faced with a security system that punishes honesty, police officers only have three options: to become a corrupt and join the system, to omit oneself from the violence, or to go to war. However, the Brazilian police are ill-equipped to go to war. They remain poorly trained, poorly equipped, and poorly paid. At the end of the day, these police officers have hopes and dreams and families at home. They do not want to go to war and risk putting their head in the path of the guillotine.

So how does the war on drugs continue under a context of intense police corruption and poor working conditions? This occurs in two main ways. Firstly, elite police squads are responsible for most of the incursions against drug traffickers. The ROTA acts in Sao Paulo, while the BOPE, which is represented in Elite Squad, acts in Rio de Janeiro. They are not paid any better than the usual police, but have a much more intensive training and are better equipped. Corrupt officers have no chance on these squads and are kicked out if they happen to sneak in after the tough and humiliating training they have to go through, in order to join the squad. The second option is to deploy the armed forces, usually the army or naval fusiliers when a politician needs a boost on his approval rating or Brazil is hosting a big international event, such as the World Cup.

The growing consensus around the world, among experts, politicians, and jurists, is that the War on Drugs has failed and that it only serves to shake up the ranks of criminal organizations and exacerbated the violence in poor communities all around the world. Luis Roberto Barroso, minister of the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court, defends the legalization of drugs as a way to counter this failure. According to Barroso, after 40 years, billions of dollars, and thousands of lives ruined through killings or imprisonments, things are far worse.

The main argument of Barroso is that drugs are bad and therefore it is the role of the state to “discourage consumption, treat dependents and repress trafficking”. He adds that legalization should be applied as a means towards achieving these goals. More than that, it is important to dismantle the drug traffickers’ strongholds in Brazil, which convince and force those living in poverty to join their ranks.

Barroso also compares the current situation to the cigarette issue. Cigarettes were not forbidden, but many restrictions have been imposed on advertising, the minimum age to purchase, and hefty taxes have been applied. As a result, in the past twenty years, the consumption of cigarettes in Brazil has been cut in half.

The criminalization of drugs in Brazil assists numerous people. It helps the drug traffickers that maintain their monopoly. It also helps the politicians who are corrupt and look for a scapegoat for the angers of the population about the high violence. Furthermore, it aids the police and the perverse public security system, which is deep in corruption. The one group it does not help is the working class. They continue to live under the violence and attempt to earn an honest living. However, they are met again and again with failure because of the control and temptations that drug traffickers spread throughout the favelas.

The solution is clearly to legalize drugs, but given that criminalization benefits so many powerful people, society as a whole will keep suffering from this failed policy. While corruption reigns supreme in Brazilian politics, the poor man will keep suffering, the traffickers will keep profiting, and the police will either become more corrupt or blatantly ignore the problems. Furthermore, the elite squads will remain at war against drug traffickers. Brazil’s drug problem is a reflection of its corruption problem. Legalizing drugs could be a start on solving the larger national problems. It is better to take small measures and improve the lives of many than to do nothing at all and ignore the issues that affect millions of people.

Zulfi Hoxha (Abu Hamza al-Amriki): A Case Study of Radicalization

In early 2018, news emerged that a 25-year old from New Jersey was fighting as a commander for the Islamic State in the Levant. Zulfi Hoxha, who goes by the kunya Abu Hamza al-Amriki, initially became famous in jihadist circles after participating in a beheading of a Kurdish soldier. Hoxha is now a major propaganda figure in the terror network.

Hoxha’s family immigrated to the United States roughly forty years ago from Albania. His family spent much of their time in America owning and operating a restaurant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Growing up with two brothers and a sister, Hoxha had a relatively stable upbringing. However, when Hoxha was only thirteen years old, his father passed away.

Shortly following the death of his father, Hoxha’s family sold the restaurant. Following the New York Police Department’s radicalization model, stage two of the radicalization process often begins with a catalyst event that challenges one’s beliefs. Hoxha regularly attended a mosque in Atlantic City, however, it is not immediately clear which mosque he attended. Hoxha’s mother, Ltefaji, stated that her son Hoxha “hated” the people at the mosque. 

Growing up in New Jersey, Hoxha was a member of the 1.8% of the population that adheres to the Islamic faith. Being the child of immigrants, particularly from Albania, it is possible that Hoxha felt, at times, like an outcast. Former high school classmates of Hoxha shared that he was a loner and socially ‘goofy’.

There is an Islamic Center that caters to Sunni Albanians in northern New Jersey, but it is unlikely that his family would make this commute on a regular basis. In Atlantic City, there is the Masjid al-Furgaan Mosque as well as the Muslim Community Organization of South Jersey organization. Both of these religious institutions adhere to Salafist Islamic beliefs. Hoxha had a consistent presence on social media as well as on various gaming networks. The content of many of his messages indicates that Hoxha was adopting extremist views.

Hoxha left for Syria in 2015. After arriving in the country he sent a message to a friend stating that he was “in the safe house”. This message was followed by a statement indicating that he would be engaging in three months of further training. Hoxha’s mother, Ltefaji, confirmed that she spoke with her son in early 2017. However, she has not been contacted by him since. It is believed that Hoxha is still alive, his departure and increasing isolation from family may be attributed to his further radicalization. Moreover, this could be an attempt to prevent himself from being tracked or targeted by the United States.

Hoxha demonstrated several signs of being on the path to radicalization. He should have been considered ‘high-risk’. A strong comparison can be made to Hoxha’s ‘profile’ and radicalization process and the recruitment process of various street gangs in the United States. Relative instability within immigrant communities, who have not fully assimilated to American society, often breeds a situation that drives youth from these communities to group together.

This instability is often enhanced by the social and economic marginalization of these communities.  The death of Hoxha’s father occurred during a critical developmental period of his life. This was followed quickly by the departure of his family’s longstanding business (i.e. a catalyst event). When one becomes radicalized it often follows a significant life event.

Up to 75% of domestic jihadists knew or were in contact with another jihadist prior to becoming radicalized. With Salafist organizations operating in the small Muslim community in Atlantic City, it is plausible that someone from within this community introduced some extremist beliefs to Hoxha. These beliefs, paired with perceived marginalization that Hoxha likely felt as an immigrant minority, made him highly vulnerable to further Salafist recruiting.

The proximity to Salafist organizations within the Islamic community that Hoxha belonged to cannot be ignored. Furthermore, Hoxha would have been increasingly vulnerable to online recruiting as he was a documented user of social media platforms and gaming platforms that the Islamic State uses to recruit youth.

Intervention programs, used by many major cities in an effort to address high-risk youth and young adults, could be reformatted to be applied to a counter-terrorism model. By focusing resources on major population centers, a model can be shaped and altered as it evolves. In the case of Hoxha, working with Sunni Muslim religious figures in these areas to identify behaviors, trends, and individuals, a profile of risk can be established (i.e. high-risk, moderate-risk, low-risk). Intervention models indicate that the individual has shown some warning signs that have been identified by experts previously as being indicators of potential future behavior.

Through close cooperation with religious figures within the community, social workers, and law enforcement, various intervention programs can be applied to reduce radicalization.