Countering Youth Extremism in Iraq: A Generational Challenge

Of the many countries around the world affected by terrorism in recent years, few have suffered to the degree that Iraq has. The brutal terrorist group known by various names including ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh has drastically damaged the country’s economy and infrastructure. More than anything else, it has brought a great deal of bloodshed and suffering to the country’s people. Through international cooperation and resolve Iraq has made great strides in disrupting, weakening, and dismantling ISIS by targeting its leadership, financial resources, and sources of propaganda. The battle to prevent the group from re-emerging, however, is far from over. Fortunately, the international community finds itself at a place in time wherein preventing groups like ISIS from flourishing is possible.

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Qayyarah, Iraq © Cosimoattanasio – Redline

The Federal Government of Iraq announced months ago that the terrorist group had been defeated. This may be true. But eradicating and preventing Daesh and groups like it from reemerging presents the greatest obstacle to sustained peace and stability. In order to address this issue, it is crucial that local governing authorities within the country, aided by logistical support from the international community, take steps to de-radicalize and reintegrate the children who’ve been taken as intellectual hostages by terrorist ideology. Without so doing, the terrorist narrative will be passed onto future generations.

According to Peter W. Singer from Brookings, despite, “…global consensus against sending children into battle…there are 300,000 children under 18 (boys and girls) serving as combatants in almost 75 percent of the world’s conflicts; in 80 percent of these, there are child fighters under 15, and in 18 percent, fighters less than 12 years old.” Many children have fought alongside terrorist groups carrying out executions, acting as suicide bombers, and contributing – to an increasingly large degree – to the development and proliferation of extremist propaganda. Terrorist groups see children as invaluable in passing their ideology onto future generations. Children are vulnerable to manipulation and are seen as effective vehicles for carrying out surprise attacks against terror organization’s enemies.

In the face of poverty and despair, children with little access to education often see joining terrorist groups as a source of income, pride, and adventure. They join terrorist groups because they provide them with a feeling of purpose and belonging. Addressing the issues that enable children and their families to see terrorist groups as feasible paths to a decent quality of life is crucial to preventing such groups from being able to successfully recruit children.

A variety of steps should be taken by international organizations, nonprofits, civil society, and local governments to tackle at its ideological roots the challenge of modern-day terror in Iraq. In order to address child terrorism, it is crucial that steps are taken to identify and weaken the structures and mechanisms through which terrorist groups recruit and mobilize youths. Religious leaders have a significant role to play here. It is critical that religious leaders who children see as role models and sources of guidance are encouraged to explicitly denounce false and perverted interpretations of Islam espoused and promulgated by groups like ISIS. In so doing, it’s possible that fewer children will be vulnerable to terrorist recruitment. Further, it increases the possibility of youths themselves speaking out against terrorist ideology. This, in turn, would prevent children from subscribing to the terrorist ideology for that sense of camaraderie and belonging.

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Rudaw – An ISIS propaganda photo shows a prayer session for child soldiers

Steps should also be taken to strengthen the fragile education system in parts of rural Iraq to make it harder for terrorist groups to indoctrinate children with their views. Developing Iraq’s education system through international cooperation and ensuring that educators are teaching peaceful Islamic values is vital to preventing terrorist groups from preaching violence and hate to children. Schooling must be made affordable and accessible as well. Throughout ISIS’s rise and brief reign, impoverished families were forced to send their children to schools that taught extremist interpretations of Islam. Ensuring Iraq’s future generations are provided with quality alternatives to schools of this nature is an important step toward inoculating them against extremism’s allure.

Adopting measures to heighten the accountability of everyone – from religious and terrorist leaders to family members – for terrorist activity perpetrated by recruited youth, is also paramount to discourage the proliferation of terrorist groups’ extremist ideologies. Demonstrating that Iraq’s judicial system is capable of identifying and bringing to justice those who contribute to the radicalization of children will discourage adults from engaging in the practice thereof.

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Michael Kamber/The New York Times

Defeating terrorism in Iraq will be a generational challenge. Reducing the pool of desperate, vulnerable children available for terrorist recruitment can only be achieved through improved living standards and access to education. According to Brookings’ Singer, “…underlying problems of hopelessness often lead children (and even their parents) to believe they have no better future than joining terrorism and its likely outcome of an early death.” Fadl Abu Hein, a psychology lecturer from Gaza, notes, “Martyrdom has become an ambition for our children. If they had a proper education in a normal environment, they wouldn’t have sought value in death.”

Defeating terrorism in Iraq and preventing it from reemerging is possible. Addressing the socioeconomic factors that render children vulnerable to extremist recruitment is indispensable to a comprehensive long-term counterterrorism strategy. The international community must help guide Iraq in its efforts to provide its younger generation with a better education, an improved economic environment, and finally, hope. As long as Iraqi youths lack such opportunities they will seek meaning and welfare anywhere it can be found. As long as terror organizations can provide such things, they will be able to recruit from a pool of Iraq’s most vulnerable.


Singer, Peter W. “The New Children of Terror.” Brookings, Brookings, 28 July 2016, www.brookings.edu/research/the-new-children-of-terror/.

“Saving the ‘Cubs of the Caliphate.’” Fair Observer, Fair Observer, 5 June 2018, www.fairobserver.com/region/middle_east_north_africa/iraqi-youth-countering-violent-extremism-isis-middle-east-latest-news-65241/.

“Iraq Research: Sense of Injustice Is Key to Violent Extremism.” United States Institute of Peace, 28 Dec. 2016, www.usip.org/publications/2016/01/iraq-research-sense-injustice-key-violent-extremism.

Press Release – June 5, 2018, et al. “Iraq: Extremism & Counter-Extremism.” Counter Extremism Project, 9 May 2018, www.counterextremism.com/countries/iraq.

Taliban Innovation, Global Threat: Combined Suicide and Firearm Attacks

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Taliban attacks in Afghanistan represent a decade-long evolution of terror tactics, drawing influence from a variety of operating groups and countries, including Afghan mujahedeen fighters, Al-Qaeda, and Iraqi insurgents. Suicide attacks in Afghanistan are a relatively recent development. Afghan mujahideen fighters did not use suicide tactics in their campaign against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, nor did the Taliban use them for the first four years of the War in Afghanistan. Only 30 suicide attacks were executed in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2005, a figure which can be explained by the ethnic makeup of the Taliban at that time. Both the Taliban and the mujahideen were largely ethnic Pashtuns who scorned suicide.

However, a fall 2005 meeting between Afghan Taliban and Iraqi insurgent leaders dramatically changed Afghanistan’s terror landscape. Iraqi insurgents introduced IED and suicide bomb technology to the Taliban, causing an immediate uptick in these types of attacks in Afghanistan. 139 suicide attacks were committed in 2006, and 160 in 2007. Further, a Taliban tactic used to devastating effect involves sending suicide bombers to breach security perimeters, followed by gunmen to carry out direct assaults on a target. The June 2008 attack on Sarpoza Prison near Kandahar City is an early example of this combined attack tactic. The prison breach was initiated with a detonation at the back wall of the prison, and an RPG-triggered truck bomb explosion at the front gate. Gunmen then stormed the prison, killing half of the 30 guards and freeing 1,000 Taliban prisoners. The efficacy of this tactic lies in its rapidity and its shock-value. Police stationed nearby were unable to repel hostile gunfire, and a Canadian quick-reaction force would not arrive until two hours after the violence ceased. Two months later, an attack on Camp Salerno in Khost leveraged the same tactic but was foiled when three bombers were shot and three others detonated before reaching their target. Around this time, the Taliban carried out similar attacks on foot patrols in Helmand province, detonating IEDs or suicide bombs and then launching ambushes with RPGs and small arms.

The implementation of combined attacks can be seen as a response to the failure of Taliban traditional suicide bombings. While Iraqi insurgent groups such as Ansar al-Sunnah and Al-Qaeda attack soft targets like markets, the Taliban focuses its attacks on military and police installations. For, it was these entities who were responsible for drastically reducing suicide bombing casualties before the introduction of combined attacks. In the first 22 bombings in 2007, only three caused fatalities. This trend continued into 2010, when the suicide bombing death toll was halved from where it stood in 2007 in part because of better training of security forces as well as  NATO-led raids on bomb-making sites. Since late 2017, the Taliban has utilized Humvees and other military vehicles (often purchased by the US military for, and captured from Afghan security forces) as mobile IEDs. An October 2017 attack in Kandahar involving an opening car bomb, a firefight, and a second blast killed nearly three-quarters of an Afghan Army unit and allowed the Taliban to seize seven vehicles for use in future attacks. Rise to Peace’s Sara Huzar published an excellent analysis of this trend, which has the dual effect of being lethal and self-sustaining.

Combined attacks are now ubiquitous among terrorist groups around the globe. Rise to Peace’s Active Intelligence Database has identified more than 40 attacks since June 2017 that involve both suicide bombers and gunmen. The Taliban and Islamic State (ISIS and ISKP) are the most frequent practitioners of this method with 21 and 10 attacks respectively, but Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and others have also carried out combined attacks. Attacks combining the use of suicide bombs and firearms by these four groups caused a median of 27 total casualties, compared to 12 for attacks using only suicide bombs and 4 using only firearms. The mean casualties per attack was also highest for combined attacks at 40, compared to 23 for bomb-only attacks and 16 for firearm-only attacks. Each group’s reliance on combined attacks reflects the close relationship between suicide bombers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both the Taliban and ISIS/ISKP carry out combined attacks at a much higher rate than the mean for the four groups examined, at 15 and 10 percent respectively compared to around 2 percent each for Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

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The Rise to Peace dataset demonstrates that suicide attacks have higher casualty rates compared to non-suicide attacks. However, suicide attacks inherently involve the death of perpetrators and thus have a higher operational cost to terrorist groups. Combined attacks, therefore, represent a tactical option for terrorist groups seeking a high lethality-to-operational-cost ratio by increasing the lethality of non-suicide attacks while mitigating the operational cost of multiple suicide attacks. This helps the Taliban perpetrate effective attacks despite suboptimal target selection (assuming maximum casualties inflicted is a terrorist group’s optimal outcome). As mentioned previously, the Taliban primarily executes suicide attacks against “hard” targets such as the recent attack on Kabul’s Interior Ministry and the 2008 attack on Camp Salerno. However, analysis by Northeastern Political Science PhD and U.S. Navy Reserve officer Joseph Mroszczyk finds that the perpetrator-to-total death rate is virtually identical for suicide and non-suicide attacks against police or military targets. Since the Taliban is committed to these targets, combined attack tactics dramatically increase the group’s impact.

Taliban suicide attack tactics constitute a synthesis of experience, shared knowledge, and practical necessity. Since the introduction of suicide attacks in Afghanistan in 2005, the Taliban’s repertoire has evolved to include combined attacks because of target selection and the increased lethality of these methods. Rise to Peace’s data bears out this conclusion. It also highlights the spread of combined attack tactics to groups such as the Islamic State, Al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram who have all used them to deadly effect.

AID Methodology

Filter where [weapon] [has all of] [suicide bomb AND firearm], Group by [group] to find combined attacks by any group

Filter where [group] [has any of] [*insert group name here], Group by [weapon] to compare attack methodologies within each group (this can be used for bomb only and combined attacks]

Data involving firearms only ignores targeted attacks because of their unique nature (bomb only and combined attacks include targeted attacks since they impact bystanders as well)

To find this data: Filter where [group] [has any of] [*insert group name here] and [weapon] [has any of] [firearm] and [weapon] [has none of] [suicide bomb] and [tags] [has none of] [targeted]

ISIS data combines ISIS and ISKP

One attack involved both the Taliban and ISKP so totals will be slightly off because of single-counting this attack

Central Asian Export of ‘Lone Wolf’ Terrorism: Case Studies, Comparisons and Lessons

Several high-profile terrorist attacks in Western Europe and North America in recent years have been committed by migrants from Central Asian countries, including Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. However, much of the popular discourse on foreign terror threats doesn’t include analysis of this trend. Most famously, President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban on countries allegedly prone to radicalization mentioned nothing of Central Asia. This report reviews relevant case studies of Central Asian ‘lone wolf’ terrorism abroad in order to find commonalities and lessons from these attacks. The report also analyzes contextualized casualty comparisons of Central Asian attacks in the context of post-9/11 international terrorism. This report concludes by noting both the mixed cyber and personal nature of recruitment and training among the case studies, as well as the presence of significant intelligence failures.

Since 1991, the Uzbek government has used brutal repression of a peaceful religious movement as a tool to stop the radicalization of the country’s Muslims. The Karimov regime imprisoned thousands accused of religious activity, banned imported Islamic literature, and controls the prayers and discussions in Uzbek mosques. It appeared to have worked: the country has seen little terrorist activity on its own soil since the 2000s.

However, radicalized Uzbeks and other Central Asians have since engaged in multiple instances of terrorism abroad. While this is likely due to the same radicalization and recruitment measures common to other demographics, the dual challenge for Central Asian migrants of integrating into foreign lands while being actively alienated by their own government has likely increased their susceptibility to radicalization. Moreover, some theorize that the Uzbek government’s control of domestic, Islamic voices shifted the country’s Muslims towards other, more politicized voices, including internet content which is often radical and serves extremists. Notoriously, this has occurred in Russia where tight Central Asian communities, combined with active extremist recruitment, have radicalized many guest workers. Indeed, up to 90% of ISIS foreign fighters from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan were radicalized or recruited while living as guest workers in Russia.

There has also been a push by terrorists to especially radicalize Central Asian migrants. ISIS tailored whole sets of online recruiting and social media content toward Uzbeks, including a specialized spokesman tasked with focusing his propaganda on Central Asians.

Case Studies
Boston Marathon Bomb Attack (April 15, 2013)
Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were born in Kyrgyzstan. In the 1990s they lived in Chechnya for a short time before returning to Kyrgyzstan due to political violence in the region. They moved to Dagestan in 2001 before gaining refugee status in the United States and immigrating. In 2011, the Russian government passed intelligence to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in which they warned of the Tsarnaevs’ possible radicalization, and that the Tsarnaev’s mother had been added to Russia’s terrorism database. These concerns focused on a planned trip the Tsarnaevs were taking to meet with known extremists in the Caucasus. The trip occurred in 2012 when Tamerlan travelled to Dagestan and Chechnya to allegedly pick up a new Russian passport, which he never actually received. Surveilling Tamerlan and his trip, Russia even reported that he interacted with mosques known for hosting extremists. After his return, Tamerlan and brother Dzhokhar used online bomb-making instructions from the Al-Qaeda magazine Inspire to construct two improvised explosive devices. They placed the two bombs near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, detonating them 10 seconds apart. The two bombs killed three people and wounded 264.

Istanbul Nightclub Attack (January 1, 2017)
Abdulkadir Masharipov is believed to have entered Afghanistan in 2011 after leaving Uzbekistan. During the ensuing five year period authorities believe he may have received militant training in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, or Syria. In January 2016, after moving through Iran, Masharipov settled at an ISIS safehouse in Konya, Turkey. His initial orders from ISIS suggested a New Year’s Eve attack on Taksim Square, but after surveilling the area his target was switched to a nightclub. Demonstrating a high level of military training, Masharipov entered the Reina nightclub in Istanbul just after midnight on January 1st and launched a two-hour assault with an automatic rifle, killing 39 and injuring 70.

St. Petersburg Metro Bombing (April 3, 2017)
Akbarjon Jalilov was a 22-year-old ethnic Uzbek who grew up in Kyrgyzstan. Interviews indicated that he became more religious during 2014, but neither family members nor his social media activities demonstrated a link to extremist groups. In 2015, he traveled to Turkey where he may have crossed the border into Syria. On April 3rd, 2017, Jalilov entered a St. Petersburg Metro station and detonated a suicide bomb, killing 14 commuters and injuring 60. Jalilov’s attack was claimed by the Imam Shamil Battalion, a small Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group operating in Syria.

Stockholm Truck Attack (April 7, 2017)
Rakhmat Akilov grew up in Uzbekistan but spent the four years between 2009 and 2013 as a legal, guest-worker in a Moscow cement factory. After losing that job in 2014 he moved from Uzbekistan to Sweden in search of work. The Uzbek government reported that in 2015 Akilov travelled to Turkey and attempted to cross the border into Syria, but was detained and sent home. On April 7, 2017, Akilov drove a truck into a department store in Stockholm, killing four people and injuring 15. After his attack, the Uzbek government revealed it had passed intelligence to Sweden regarding Akilov’s attempts to radicalize and recruit Uzbeks to join ISIS in Syria. He was on the Uzbek government’s suspected terrorist most wanted list . Swedish authorities admitted they had received intelligence in 2016 regarding Akilov’s possible radicalization, but that they had not confirmed its validity. Indeed, his social media accounts demonstrated several links to known extremists.

New York City Truck Attack (October 31, 2017)
Sayfullo Saipov moved from Uzbekistan to the United States in 2010, residing in an immigrant community in Ohio before moving to Patterson, New Jersey. There were few suspicions that he was radicalized before coming to the United States. His name had been on an FBI probe of a friend, but Saipov was not suspected of radicalization. Based on post-facto interviews and searches of his electronics, authorities discovered that he’d been viewing ISIS propaganda online for some time, and that he had used ISIS instructions from the internet to plan the attack. Saipov admitted that he spent a year planning the attack, and that he rented a truck to perform a test run earlier that month. On October 31, Saipov drove a truck onto a Manhattan sidewalk, killing eight people and wounding 12 – the deadliest terrorist attack in New York City since 9/11.

Contextualized Casualty Comparisons
This report includes visualization of the data on casualties produced by Central Asian terrorism. Due to because differences across time, location, and weapons, however, visualizing each attack across the entirety of post-9/11 terrorism data would be unlikely to yield any insights into the unique characteristics of Central Asian attacks. Thus, this report creates contextualized casualty comparisons for each attack. These comparisons visually compare attacks to other attacks that have similar weapons, locations, and timeframes in order to provide the most accurate demonstration of an attacker’s lethality versus others who performed similar actions. All data on attacks not discussed in the case study section of this report are pulled from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) run by the Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism (START). Each figure is labelled with the constraints set on attacks included in the contextualized casualty comparison. All attacks use the following search constraints: the “When” setting is set to “‘2002’ to ‘2016”, and the “Terrorism Criteria” is set to include ambiguous and unsuccessful attacks, while none of the Criteria restraints are used. All graphs display the number of killed victims along the X-axis and the number of injured victims along the Y-axis.

Boston Marathon Bomb Attack (April 15, 2013)

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Attacks in this category had a mean of 3.739 killed and 13.124 injured. At 3 killed and 264 injured, the Boston attack placed just above the 50th percentile for killed and at the 100th percentile for injured.

Istanbul Nightclub Attack (January 1, 2017)

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The attacks in this category had a mean of 2.614 killed and 4.557 injured. At 39 killed and 70 injured, the Istanbul attack fell above the 97.5th percentile for killed and 99th percentile for injured.

St. Petersburg Metro Bombing (April 3, 2017)

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Attacks in this category had a mean of 19.615 killed and 113.923 injured. However, this was skewed by the presence of a major outlier. At 14 killed and 60 injured, the St. Petersburg attack placed just above the 50th percentile for killed and just above the 50th percentile for injured. Once the outlier was removed, the mean killed became 16.583 and the mean injured became 58.083, placing the St. Petersburg attack a bit above the 50th percentile in killed and injured.

Stockholm Truck Attack (April 7, 2017)

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The attacks in this category had a mean of 14 killed and 68.25 injured. However, this was heavily skewed by a major outlier. At 4 killed and 15 injured, the Stockholm attack fell just above the 50th percentile for killed and 50th percentile for injured. However, once the major data outlier was removed, the category had a mean killed of 3.571 killed and 16.143 injured, with the Stockholm attack still hovering around the 50th percentile for killed and injured.

New York City Truck Attack (October 31, 2017)

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The attacks in this category had a mean of 14 killed and 68.25 injured. However, this was heavily skewed by a major outlier. At 8 killed and 12 injured, the New York City attack fell just above the 50th percentile for killed and 50th percentile for injured. However, once the major data outlier was removed, the category had a mean killed of 3.571 killed and 16.143 injured, with the New York City attack still hovering around the 50th percentile for killed and 50th percentile for injured.

Two principle commonalities emerge from the analysis of the case studies above. First, the mix of cyber and personal recruitment and training reflects the hybrid nature of threats from non-state actors in the 21st century. While Abdulkadir Masharipov received intensive military training and was linked in to a terrorist chain of command, others never interacted with foreign militants directly and only used public information and propaganda to radicalize and plan their attacks. The use of vehicular attacks similarly exemplifies the reach of cyber-radicalization. Vehicle attacks require little expertise and are easy to coordinate from a distance, making them a central piece of ISIS’s inducement for ‘lone wolf’ attacks abroad. This problem speaks to the need for a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy that focuses on a broader range of possible attacks rather than monolithic expectations and ‘silver bullet’ solutions.
The second principle commonality was the repeated occurence of intelligence failures. The lack of intelligence-sharing or follow-through allowed both the Tsarnaev brothers and Rakhmat Akilov to perpetrate attacks even though they’d been marked ahead of time as possible militants. Whether this was due to resource constraints, inter-governmental trust issues, inter-agency cooperation problems, or an inability to detect these threats should be the subject of further study.

The univariate analysis of the contextualized casualty comparisons for Central Asian attacks indicates that while some attacks were abnormally lethal for their methodology, region, and timeframe, many of them fit within the scope of expected casualties for their attack types. This seems to show that Central Asian terrorists are not more lethal or injurious than similar attackers.

There are several caveats to the lessons derived here. First, the case study’s sample size being so limited inherently limited our ability to draw definitive conclusions on trends among Central Asian terrorists. Second, other forms of exported terror are underrepresented in this analysis. Most notably, there’s been a substantive movement of hundreds of radicalized Central Asian fighters into conflict zones in Afghanistan and Iraq to fight for Islamic non-state actors. While this analysis purposely focused on ‘lone wolf’ attacks, this still means the analysis is about a mere subset of the foreign terror threat, rather than it’s totality.
More research and analysis must be done if the Central Asian ‘lone wolf’ is to be evaluated as a categorizable form of attack. The diversity of radicalization forms, histories, and weapons make them a difficult cohort to understand as a unified entity. However, assessment of immigration policy and immigrant experiences may shift the integration of these future militants into host societies and alter their propensity to fight against the states they enter.

[1] Laruelle, Marlene.  “The Paradox of Uzbek Terror”.  Foreign Affairs.  Nov 1, 2017.

[2] ibid

[3] Ward, Alex.  “The New York attacker was from Uzbekistan. Here’s why that matters.”  Vox.  Nov 1, 2017.

[4] Pannier, Bruce.  “Why are Uzbeks So Often Linked to Terrorist Attacks?”.  RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty.  Nov 1, 2017.

[5] ibid

[6] Ward, Alex.  “The New York attacker was from Uzbekistan. Here’s why that matters.”  Vox.  Nov 1, 2017.

[7] ibid

[8] Radia, Kirit.  “Boston Marathon Bombing Suspects’ Twisted Family History”.  ABC News.  April 22, 2013.  

[9] ibid

[10] “Boston Marathon Bombing Timeline of key events”.  Chicago Tribune.  April 8, 2015.

[11] Schmitt, Eric, Michael Schmidt, and Ellen Barry.  “Bombing Inquiry Turns to Motive and Russia Trip”.  New York Times.  April 20, 2013.

[12] “Boston Marathon Bombing Timeline of key events”.  Chicago Tribune.  April 8, 2015.

[13] ibid

[14] Williams, Pete and Tom Winter.  “Court Documents Reveal Boston Bomber’s Statements to FBI”.  NBC News.  February 23, 2016.  

[15] ibid

[16] “GTD ID: 201304150002”.  START Global Terrorism Database.  

[17] “GTD ID: 201304150001”.  START Global Terrorism Database.  

[18] “Istanbul Reina attacker ‘switched target’ after Raqqa order”.  Hurriyet Daily News.  January 18, 2017.  

[19] Arslan, Rengin.  “Abdulkadir Masharipov: who is Istanbul gun attack suspect?”.  BBC.  January 17, 2017.  

[20] Istanbul Reina attacker ‘switched target’ after Raqqa order”.  Hurriyet Daily News.  January 18, 2017.  

[21] ibid

[22] ibid

[23] “Istanbul: Victims of Reina Nightclub Attack identified”.  Al Jazeera.  January 2, 2017.  

[24] Mirovalev, Mansur.  “Russia bombing triggers crackdown on Central Asians”.  Al Jazeera.  May 15, 2017.  

[25] Nikolskaya, Polina and Hulkar Isamova.  “Suspect in Russia metro bombing traveled to Turkey, say co-workers”.  Reuters.  April 8, 2017.

[26] ibid

[27] Nechepurenko, Ivan and Nail MacFarquhar.  “St. Petersburg Bomber Said to Be Ban From Kyrgyzstan; Death Toll Rises”.  New York Times.  April 4, 2017.  

[28] Mirovalev, Mansur.  “Russia bombing triggers crackdown on Central Asians”.  Al Jazeera.  May 15, 2017.  

[29]Akilovs bror i Uzbekistan: ‘Är det sant att han erkänt?'”.  AftonBladet.  April 26, 2017.  

[30] “Stockholm attack: who is suspect Rakhmat Akilov?”.  BBC.  April 10, 2017.  

[31] “Uzbekistan says told West that Stockholm attack suspect was IS recruit”.  Reuters.  April 14, 2017.  

[32] Habib, Heba, and Griff Witte.  “‘Sweden has been attacked’: Truck crashes into Stockholm store, killing 4”.  Washington Post.  April 8, 2017.

[33] “Uzbekistan says told West that Stockholm attack suspect was IS recruit”.  Reuters.  April 14, 2017.  

[34] ibid

[35] ibid

[36] “Stockholm attack: who is suspect Rakhmat Akilov?”.  BBC.  April 10, 2017.

[37] Rosenberg, Eli, Devlin Barrett, and Sari Horwitz.  “SayfulloSaipov’s behavior behind the wheel of an empty truck raised suspicion before attack”.  Washington Post.  1 Nov, 2017.

[38] Ward, Alex.  “The New York attacker was from Uzbekistan. Here’s why that matters.”  Vox.  Nov 1, 2017.

[39] Rosenberg, Eli, Devlin Barrett, and Sari Horwitz.  “SayfulloSaipov’s behavior behind the wheel of an empty truck raised suspicion before attack”.  Washington Post.  1 Nov, 2017.

[40] “Who Is Sayfullo Saipov, New York City terror attack suspect?”.  Cox Media Group.  Nov 2, 2017.

[41] Rosenberg, Eli, Devlin Barrett, and Sari Horwitz.  “SayfulloSaipov’s behavior behind the wheel of an empty truck raised suspicion before attack”.  Washington Post.  1 Nov, 2017.

[42] ibid

[43] Region: ”Eastern Europe”, “Western Europe”, “North America”

  Weapon Type: “Explosives/Bombs/Dynamite”

  Attack Type: “Non-suicide attack”

  Target Type: “Private Citizens & Property”

[44] Region: Amassed data from one search that utilized ”Eastern Europe”, “Western Europe”, “North America” and one that used Country: Turkey

   Attack Type: “Armed Assault”, “Non-suicide attack”

  Weapon Type: “Firearms”

  Target Type: “Private Citizens & Property”

[45] Region: ”Eastern Europe”, “Western Europe”, “North America”

   Attack Type: “Suicide attack”

  Weapon Type: “Explosives/Bombs/Dynamite”

  Target Type: “Transportation”

[46] Region: ”Eastern Europe”, “Western Europe”, “North America”

   Attack Type: “Non-suicide attack”

  Weapon Type: “Vehicle”

  Target Type: “Private Citizens & Property”

[47] Region: ”Eastern Europe”, “Western Europe”, “North America”

   Attack Type: “Non-suicide attack”

  Weapon Type: “Vehicle”

  Target Type: “Private Citizens & Property”

[48] Ioffe, Julia.  “Why Does Uzbekistan Export So Many Terrorists?”.  The Atlantic.  Nov 1, 2017.

[49] ibid

After the Violence in Gaza; Is There a Way Forward?

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Mahmud Hams/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Recent violence along the border between Gaza and Israel has sparked significant international concern and condemnation. Sixty protesters of varying ages were confirmed dead as a result of violence on May 14th in Gaza, a self-governing Palestinian territory sandwiched between Israel, Egypt and the East Mediterranean Sea. In a statement on May 23rd, Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the United Nations Security Council that, “…the number [of dead and injured Palestinians] continues to climb.” UN figures claim that Israel Defence Forces killed more than 76 Palestinian protesters in  May 2018. 3,000 more were left injured. The largest protests took place on the day the United States moved its embassy from Tel Aviv, Israel to Jerusalem. It also happened to be the eve of Nakba Day, when  Palestinians remember their expulsion from specific Palestinian territories during the 1947-1949 war. The protests resulted in the most bloodshed since the 2014 Gaza war.

Protesters demonstrated for a variety of reasons but are unlikely to achieve any of their objectives. The massive demonstrations were aimed at the decision to move the United States embassy to Jerusalem, a city which Israelis and Palestinians have disputed for decades. The protesters sought to display the Palestinian desire to return to homes in Israel from which they have been prevented from returning for 70 years. Their demonstrations also called for an end to Gaza’s siege and economic isolation. The territory currently experiences high levels of poverty and is faced with the additional economic challenges of significant import, export, and travel restrictions.

According to Nathan Thrall from the International Crisis Group, “Israel, Egypt and the U.S. share an interest in containing the protests, and it is possible that they will now act with greater urgency to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.” Israel could face a variety of long-term consequences if it responds improperly or inadequately to the protests. According to Thrall, it could result in the fraying of bipartisan support in the U.S., alienation from parts of the American Jewish community, growing calls for boycotts and sanctions, the announcement by the UN Office of Human Rights that it expects to publish a database of businesses that are linked to Israeli settlements or enable and support their establishment, expansion, and maintenance and the warning in April from the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that, “Violence against civilians, in a situation such as the one prevailing in Gaza, could constitute crimes under the Rome Statute of the ICC, as could the use of a civilian presence for the purpose of shielding military activities.”

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AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh

It is possible that given international responses to the violence in Gaza, the three countries will work in close coordination to expand their efforts to address the conflict and the issues that allowed it to flourish. According to reports from Arab media, Egypt offered to make concessions to Hamas in exchange for their agreement to dampen protests. According to Thrall, these included, “…expanding the area in which Gaza fishermen are permitted, opening Egypt’s crossing with Gaza on a regular basis, increasing imports of fuel and goods through the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel, and allowing greater numbers of medical patients to be treated in Israel and the West Bank.” The progress these steps represent is substantial. Actors involved in the conflict should adopt similar measures aimed at improving conditions in  Gaza as well.

According to UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov the international community should take the following steps: prioritize the  identification, facilitation, support, and acceleration of crucial infrastructure projects. Second, the UN and other international bodies should work alongside the Palestinian Authority, Israel and Egypt to alleviate economic burdens on Gaza. Third, all parties should be ordered to abide by the terms of the 2014 ceasefire. The envoy said such steps would facilitate, “…the unification of Gaza and the West Bank under a single, democratic and legitimate Palestinian authority in line with the Quartet Principles, and an end to the occupation and resolution of the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict (UN News).”

Actors engaged in the conflict directly and the international community alike should take steps to de-escalate tension, prevent further loss of life, and make real moves toward a political settlement. Gazans should be permitted to protest peacefully without being threatened by Israeli forces. Israel must stop using excessive or lethal force against unarmed protesters. Such actions provoke  severe upticks in hostility amongst Palestinian protesters who may, in turn steel themselves for more aggressive activity. Israeli military officials should be permitted to protect their border from hostiles posing existential threats to them and Israeli civilians. According to sources from the Israeli army, Palestinians threatened border officials during the protests by hurling firebombs, planting explosives, and flying flaming kites. Protest organizers must prohibit such activity. They must ensure that demonstrations remain peaceful. Failure to do so will yield further loss of life, more injuries, and delays on the way toward peace.

Palestinian leadership and Israel should agree on a comprehensive ceasefire including a  dialogue about peaceful governance and the free flow of goods and services between Gaza and Israel. Further, Hamas and Israel should take steps to exchange detainees captured during  the last few decades of hostilities. Such confidence-building measures have the potential to be productive and lead to increased cooperation in the future. The European Union should support the government of Gaza as long as it respects the ceasefire with Israel and refrains from supporting groups, individuals, or entities that threaten Israel.

Israel and other international actors should also take steps to address the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. Improved living standards there would do much to eliminate despair and hostility toward Israel, two conditions upon which violent extremist groups feed. International actors with economic influence over Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) should strongly urge the three to relax their economic pressure on Gaza. International organizations who have supported the PA in the past could improve the situation in Gaza by investing in infrastructure projects with prospects for long-term benefits for Gazans. A greater part of the budget should be apportioned to essential goods and services like sanitation, health facilities, trash disposal, and clean drinking water. Israel could stop providing the PA with tax revenues and instead use its money to fund projects such as these directly. Developing an environment in which jobs abound is crucial.

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(AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The UN Special Coordinator said the Middle East Quartet (the UN, European Union, United States, and Russia) continues to play a vital role in monitoring and mediating the conflict. As stated in a UN News report, the quartet remains, “…a key forum for resolving the conflict, including within the broader regional context (UN News).” Special Coordinator Mladenov concluded his remarks to the UN Security Council on May 23rd by saying “We must continue to work together to achieve a peaceful future for all the people of this troubled land.” The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has persisted for decades. Unless steps are taken to improve relations between local Palestinian governments and Israel, it will endure. Recent flare-ups may have reminded the international community of the importance of cooperation to address the conflict’s serious challenges. With time and steadfast resolve, the international community will make progress. The first steps to peace, however, must come from within Palestine and Israel.

The Lebanese Elections Are Over: What Next?

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On May 6th, Lebanon held its first parliamentary elections in nine years. Hezbollah was a big winner. The Shi’ite political party won a small majority in parliament, which dealt a blow to Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Hariri is expected to form the next government despite the Future Movement losing a third of its seats. It remains the largest Sunni bloc in parliament.

Hezbollah – and its political allies, like the Amal Movement – winning a small majority of seats in parliament is seen by some as a victory for Iran. Hezbollah is the only Lebanese political party with an armed wing. Its electoral gains empower it further, politically. The general elections were a loss for Prime Minister Hariri as he no longer heads the largest bloc in the Chamber of Deputies. He still retains most seats allocated to Sunni Muslims. Hariri faced opposition from within his own community. For example, some of his citizens saw him as being too soft on Hezbollah – the latter of which is fighting in neighboring Syria. Despite these significant developments, jump-starting the Lebanese economy must remain Prime Minister Hariri’s priority. Hariri has indicated his willingness work with his political rivals, including Hezbollah.

In the 2009 election, it was Saad Hariri’s pro-western alliance that won the most parliamentary seats. Since then, Iran’s influence has continued to grow, not just in Lebanon but across the region. Saudi Arabia used to play a major role in Lebanese politics, but it has been distracted with its war in Yemen. Riyadh also realized its Lebanon allies were fracturing and they could not be forced to deal with Hezbollah. Suffice it to say, Saudi Arabia will not abandon its Lebanese equities to a vacuum in which Iran could benefit. There is little indication that Lebanon is careening towards political instability. Lebanese politicians are even putting their divisions aside and negotiating in the election’s wake.

For some background, The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) helped form Hezbollah during Lebanon’s Civil War in the 1980’s. The Shia political party published an open letter in 1985 in which it identified Israel and the United States as sworn enemies. The Taif Agreement of 1989, which ended the Lebanese Civil War called for the disarmament of all militias. That’s when Hezbollah rebranded itself as a resistance group, fighting Israeli occupation of course, and that’s how its fighters kept their arms. But Hezbollah refused to disarm after Israeli forces withdrew in 2000. Instead, continued to build its military capability. 1992 saw national elections that included Hezbollah for the first time. And that’s when it started to have an explicit hand in Lebanese politics. When Lebanese leaders moved to shut down its private telecommunications network in 2008 Hezbollah responded by seizing much of Beirut and doing combat with Sunni groups. Western states, Israel, and Gulf countries see Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. In a denouement, Hezbollah transmits fighters to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s defense in Syria. So doing has provoked criticism and escalated intra-Lebanese sectarian tensions.

But power cuts, corruption, a garbage crisis, the economy, and the influx of 1.5 million Syrian refugees are Lebanon’s main problems now. And while Prime Minister Hariri did lose a third of the seats in parliament, Lebanese politics is built on consensus. Considering the deficit and corruption, the political process could find a way to return him to the Prime Ministership with support for economic development. If you think about it, Hariri lost influence in Lebanon after the new election law was enacted. But the law was unpopular with the people, as evidenced by low voter turnout. Hariri has dashed Sunni’s confidence in his choices by maintaining his Free Patriotic Movement alliance and shunning cooperation with President Michel Aoun. Voters were reluctant to go to the polls to elect The Future Movement. Meanwhile though, Hariri’s camp lacks good options. That too elicits low voter turnout.

Not only domestic factors will be impacted by Lebanon’s election. It has regional implications. In his latest crisis involving the kingdom, Hariri resigned from Saudi soil. He then withdrew his resignation as French President Macron mediated his escape, err, exit. This undermined Hariri significantly and raised questions about his ability to be Lebanon’s Sunni leader. Hariri lost five seats in Tripoli to Sunni rivals. Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati won four of them in the north, significantly undercutting Hariri’s leadership.

Given Lebanon’s consensus-based power-sharing system, election tea-leaf reading notwithstanding, Lebanese leaders must sit down and plan their country’s future. The clock is ticking for officials to stop politicking. Any delay in the new government’s formation will distract policymakers from meeting the people’s needs. Lebanon’s debt is “estimated at $80 billion by the Lebanese banking system.” It is one of the most indebted countries in the world. Yet, investment alone will not fix Lebanon’s economy.

Iran continues to consolidate its influence in Lebanon. Even Hezbollah supporters openly say they get their support from Iran. The formation of a U.S-Israel-Saudi axis designed to confront Iran in Syria among other places has backfired rather than trigger progress. But even cohesive containment strategies see Iran exacerbating regional tensions on the ground, as we’re seeing in Syria a la Iran and Israel. Israeli officials have said they see no distinction between Hezbollah and Lebanon. These elections reinforce such a view. But Lebanon cannot be a battlefield for another Israeli/Iranian war. Iran and Israel remain satisfied at present with UN Resolution 1701, adopted after the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflagration which, “called for a full cessation of hostilities in the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah.” The absence of reports of malicious activity generating from Southern Lebanon and Hezbollah’s satisfaction with exerting its influence internally in Lebanon following these elections bodes well. While a confrontation between Israel and Lebanon seems unlikely at this moment, we are seeing hostilities between Iran and Israel in the Golan Heights. WIth Syria now taking the position of proxy battlefield that Lebanon used to serve for the two combatants, the likelihood is greater that an Iranian Israeli confrontation could break out there, and it could generate a wider confrontation between Iran and the United States. Both parties should review UN Resolution 1701 for options on de-escalating Israeli Lebanese tensions. No one benefits from another war.

Nothing will change, however with regard to Hezbollah’s link to  Lebanese security. And there is growing concern in the Lebanese populace about Hezbollah’s smuggling of weapons from Syria. Many have slammed Hariri for deploying too few Lebanese Armed Forces to the Syrian border to prevent such weapons running.

So far, all Trump Administration indications suggest patience until the new Lebanese government is formed. We’ll have to see if Saad Hariri will keep his promises to Presidents Macron and Trump. If called upon to form a new government, Hariri will have to add that to his slew of challenges including protecting the resistance and moving the economy forward. But Hariri’s real focus should be engaging youth within his own citizenry to build trust between the population and the government structure. A huge drive to get the youth out to vote for independent lists and candidates failed to materialize. Conspicuous government corruption, and Lebanon’s unimproved waste management problems ought to make accountability priority number one. Voting turnout dropped from 54% in 2009 to 49%. Lebanon, following its recent elections, still has a long way to go.

Will the Kim-Trump Summit be a Step Towards Peace?

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Photo Credit: CNN

On May 10th, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong applauded the announcement of a summit set to for June 12th in Singapore between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald J. Trump, calling it a “significant step on the path to peace” (Straits Times). The announcement came after months of tension over North Korea’s steps toward acquiring the resources to develop and deliver nuclear weapons. The two leaders exchanged angry statements over Pyongyang’s testing of nuclear weapons, long-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles. But US President Donald Trump announced the date and location for the meeting on Twitter saying, “The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!” The announcement has the potential to lead to progress on questions of peace on the Korean peninsula and the elimination of  nuclear threats to global stability.

Given that the Korean War ended in the 1950s with a truce and not an official peace treaty, the war between North and South Korea has technically never come to an end. Following a summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un in Panmunjom, the village in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, it was announced that the two leaders had agreed to take steps toward the development and implementation of a permanent peace treaty that would supersede the 65-year-old armistice. Following this summit, preparations for the Trump-Kim meeting began to gain  momentum. South Korean officials expressed their optimism in the wake of the summit saying, “We welcome the North Korea-US summit to be held in Singapore on June 12. We hope the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as well as permanent peace on the peninsula, will successfully come about through this summit,” (Reuters). Dialogue between the two Koreas has played an important role in conjuring  the political will in Washington and Pyongyang to engage in dialogue. South Korea will continue to play a crucial role in talks aimed at reducing tension on, and the denuclearization of, the Korean peninsula.

Kim Jong Un, the country’s supreme ruler announced his willingness to take steps toward the advancement of global peace during his New Year’s Day address to the North Korean people. He expressed his willingness to engage in talks with South Korea and potentially other representatives from around the world in exchange for an international commitment to not engage in steps to overthrow the North Korean regime. The process gained further traction when high profile South Korean officials and Kim’s sister engaged in dialogue in South Korea during the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games. Since then, multiple meetings, both public and private, have occurred  between Chinese and South Korean officials as well as officials from the government of North Korea. The Trump-Kim summit will mark the first time a sitting US president and the leader of North Korea will engage in face- to-face talks. The United States and North Korea have yet to establish diplomatic ties.

According to a statement from the White House, Singapore was selected due to its neutrality and stability, each of which will preserve both leaders’ security. The country is seen as neutral territory, though it has close economic ties with the United States. The trip to Singapore will be the farthest Kim Jong Un has traveled from North Korea since becoming the country’s leader in 2011. Recent reports said that President Trump would have preferred holding the meeting in the demilitarized zone at Panmunjom between North and South Korea. Singapore arose as a host option once Trump gave in to his aides’ concerns about his security. The Singapore summit announcement came after three American detainees returned to the US from North Korea following a second trip by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang to finalize summit plans.

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Mike Pompeo and Kim Jong Un. Photo: The White House/Getty Images

If held, the talks will take place following 20 ballistic missile tests and one nuclear test conducted by North Korea throughout 2017. During the last six months, North Korean officials have made numerous claims that some of the missiles that the country developed were capable of reaching the US mainland. This raised US national security concerns as well as those of US partners and allies in the region. Statements suggest North Korean nuclear advances strengthened US and international resolve to engage with Pyongyang through sanctions and diplomacy and prevent the country from becoming a bonafide threat to international peace and security. The US-North Korean talks, in addition to the potential progress they may enable, are unprecedented. It would be a shame for an opportunity of such potential to go to waste as a result of American or North Korean obstinance. Efforts from the US, China, and South Korea, aided by indispensable international cooperation, have so far proven effective. They will be in the future as well provided  all parties are clear-eyed about their agendas, willing to embrace a spirit of compromise, and determined to cooperate in order to advance mutually compatible interests.

The 40-year Afghan War and the Everlasting Hope for Peace

The 40-year Afghan War and the Everlasting Hope for Peace

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Security forces run from the site of a suicide attack after the second bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, April 30, 2018. A coordinated double suicide bombing hit central Kabul on Monday morning, (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

Today marks the 40-year anniversary of the Afghan civil war. A country at war for four decades, Afghans continue to have faith that peace is possible.

The people are tenaciously hopeful, but for how long, given the unstable environment and competing for socio-political agendas? Terrorism continues to rise, and the democratic process is under fire. Just last week, more than 60 men, women, and children in Kabul and Baghlan province were killed in the voters’ registration attack. The following chronological framework of the Afghan Civil War may provide some perspective into this complex country turmoil and its psyche.

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Outside the presidential palace gate (Arg) in Kabul, the day after the Saur revolution on 28 April 1978

In 1978, The People’s Democratic Party, a political party in Afghanistan backed by the Soviet Union, attacked the presidential palace. The party killed the first president of Afghanistan, Sardar Mohammad Daoud Khan, and his entire family. Then, the Party took the throne. The People’s Democratic Party would remain in power for 14 years while fighting the U.S.-backed Afghan Mujahideen, a rebel group of freedom fighters that stood against the communist regime.

United States, Afghan Mujahideen, France, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other allies fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan. In the proxy war between the East and West, the West came out the winner and the Soviets subsequently lost the fight in Afghanistan. In 1989, the last of the Soviet troops pulled out, but the civil war continued as the Afghan Mujahideen set their sights on the last communist president of Afghanistan, Mohammad Najibullah.

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Soviet Army soldiers wave their hands as their last detachment crosses a bridge on the border between Afghanistan and Soviet Uzbekistan, Feb. 15, 1989.

In 1992, although the Mujahideen declared victory, a devastating civil war followed. From 1992-1996, Afghanistan experienced one of the most destructive civil wars in its history. Afghans often refer to it as the “Bloody War”. The Afghan Mujahideen did not compromise on a shared power by a unified government. Instead, fought for the throne, and like Syria resulted in a devastated Afghanistan. The most perilous party was the Hezbi Islami, meaning Islamic Party, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, also known as the “Butcher of Kabul”. Hekmatyar’s missiles killed thousands of innocent residents of Kabul. According to the Human Rights Watch, by the year 2000, roughly 1.5 million people died as a direct result of the conflict, and some 2 million people became permanently disabled.

In 1996, as the Mujahideen fought for power, the Taliban (“students” in Arabic) emerged in Pakistan. Backed by the Saudis and Pakistan, the Taliban seized Kabul in 1996. They introduced an extreme version of Islam, banning women from studying and working, and inflicting severe Islamic punishments upon the citizens, such as stoning people to death, public beheadings and amputations.

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Taliban militiamen drive toward the front line near Kabul in November 1997. (Reuters)

Afghans were struggling for deliverance when on September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda brought down the World Trade Center in an attack that killed more than 3,000 innocent Americans. That was the year that the United States declared a War on Terror and entered Afghanistan. Since then, the U.S. has remained, combating terrorism to build democracy and help bring more peace to the country. Despite the U.S.’ long tenure in Afghanistan, the same challenges exist.

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Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s bombardment of Kabul during the 1990s inflicted some of the worst damage in more than 40 years of war, destroying one-third of the city and killing tens of thousands of civilians.

Afghanistan is not an easy fix. Afghans are ready for a democratic change in order to bring more peace to their homeland, but establishing democracy requires time. The question remains as to whether the government is ready to hold a transparent election because Afghans are so tired of war. In fact, most Afghans are willing to give up almost everything, including many civil liberties, in exchange for a semblance of peace in their homeland. It is hopeful that, despite the failures of the government, Afghans, and particularly the young generation, the generation of war, will be able to make some traction.

Through higher education, new opportunities will present themselves to these young men and women. Armed with a level of understanding and the kind of knowledge aimed at progress over destruction, this generation will be the agents of change.

Ahmad Shah Mohibi is founder and president of Rise to Peace, and a national security expert. Ahmad Mohibi is a published writer, as well as a George Washington University and George Mason University Alumni. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi

Follow the Money: Sources of Terrorism Funding

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© CNN Money[1]

In 2015, ISIL’s annual revenue was estimated to range from $1 billion to $2.4 Billion.[2] The terror organization had a higher GDP than 60 legitimate countries. Unsurprisingly, ISIL is considered the most well-funded terrorist organization in the world.[3] Governments and law enforcement agencies must aggressively follow the money and stop the flow of financial support to reduce and ultimately eliminate terrorist conduct.

Although political and religious ideologies are often foremost in our analyses, money is primary to any terrorist attack, be it a small-scale, stand-alone attack or a large, complex operation. Terrorism operations are not always cheap. The price of an attack can range from $500, in the case of the Boston Marathon bombings, to $450,000, al Qaeda’s estimated costs for perpetrating 9/11.[4]

Terror groups leverage a catalog of methods to acquire funding. In many senses, ISIL is not doing anything new. Rather, it has succeeded in acquiring funding on a heretofore unprecedented scale for a terror organization. It continues to use traditional terrorist methods in addition to developing its own, unique means to acquire funding.

Terrorist groups exploit natural and economic resources. They operate in the vacuum created by weak and collapsed states. ISIL levied punishing taxes in territory it usurped. Terror groups are also perfectly situated to capitalize on unguarded reserves of diamonds and oil. Diamonds, in particular, are uniquely valuable and easy to smuggle. Al Qaeda reportedly traded in diamonds prior to 9/11.[5]

Oil, as is frequently the case, is the big-ticket item. Oil is the one resource that the current globalized economy cannot live without. The Middle East is rich in this precious fuel including ISIL territory in Syria and Iraq. Regardless of their lack of access to global oil markets, ISIL continues to find buyers for their black gold. ISIL allegedly made more than half of its 2015 revenue, roughly $500 million, through the sale of oil in its territory.[6]

Tried-and-true criminal operations remain at terrorists’ disposal. A mainstay of terrorist funding comes from the drug trade. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) relied on narcotics trafficking, the Colombian FARC exploited the cocaine trade, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) sought to drive out competing drug networks.[7] Ideologically, terrorists might denounce drug use as un-Islamic, but they never fail to exploit this revenue stream.

Kidnappings and ransoms remain a lucrative source of terrorism funding. Unlike the United States, Israel, and several European nations who refuse to pay ransoms, others have submitted to kidnapper’s demands. ISIL is estimated to have made between $20 to $45 million in kidnapping ransoms.[8] Kidnappings remain a mainstay of terrorist networks across the world.

Illegal second-hand markets exist as alternative avenues for illicit revenue. The Provisional Irish Republican Army engaged in arms smuggling throughout its terror reign. Hezbollah even exploited regional price differences in the United States to buy cigarettes in lower taxed states and illegally sell them at a discount in high tax states like New York. ISIL’s variation on the theme sees them plundering historical sites and selling priceless artifacts for millions of dollars.

State and non-state actors alike can provide economic support to terror networks. Before 9/11, state-sponsored terrorism was a significant concern. Libya, Iran, and Pakistan are perennially accused of funneling money to terrorist groups. Regional support is another key asset. Charities and corporations can serve as fronts to give an organization’s fiscal acquisitions a legal veneer[9]. Al Qaeda does this routinely. Since 9/11, though such criminal conduct has worsened, international condemnation and penalties have moved some state actors to chasten their public relations with terror groups.

Governments and law enforcement alike are familiar with terror organizations’ funding methods. However, shutting down the revenue flow is no simple task. Counter-terrorism forces do not have an easy time targeting natural resources such as captured oil fields without damaging assets that are invaluable to the state. Furthermore, how many generations of law enforcement have sought in vain to eliminate smuggling and drug trafficking? The needle hasn’t moved enough towards a cessation.

Terrorists will innovate. They will use any means available to acquire funding. Law enforcement must be equally innovative, vigilant and nimble when it comes to eliminating these networks as they appear. Law enforcement coordination has improved since 9/11, but a lack of interagency synergy continues to impede our ability to sufficiently reduce terror funding streams. Synergy requires cooperation between all agencies monitoring illicit revenue flows, be they drug enforcement, intelligence groups, or government trade organizations.

The formidable nature of the challenge before us can be discouraging. But our commitment to shutting down illicit terrorist funding is requisite in this fight. If law enforcement could slow or prevent even one attack, the effort would have been worth it. Governments, in coordination with financial institutions, must implement tighter regulations to monitor illicit capital flows and aggressively continue to shut down lucrative criminal activities.


[1] Pagliery, Jose. “Inside the $2 Billion ISIS War Machine.” CNNMoney, last modified -12-06T03:04:34, accessed Mar 21, 2018, http://money.cnn.com/2015/12/06/news/isis-funding/index.html.
[2] Daniel L. Glaser, testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade and House Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, June 9, 2016b; Center for the Analysis of Terrorism, ISIS Financing 2015, Paris, May 2016.
[3] Nicholas Ryder (2018) Out with the Old and In with the Old? A Critical Review of the Financial War on Terrorism on the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 41:2, 79-95, DOI: 10.1080/1057610X.2016.1249780
[4] Nicholas Ryder, Out with the Old and In with the Old? A Critical Review of the Financial War on Terrorism on the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, 80-81.
[5] Terrorist Financing: U.S. Agencies should Systematically Assess Terrorists’ use of Alternative Financing Mechanisms: United States. General Accounting Office,2003.
[6] Maruyama, Ellie and Hallahan, Kelsey, “Following the Money: A Primer on Terrorist Financing,” Center for a New American Security, last modified June 9, accessed Mar 16, 2018, https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/following-the-money-1.
[7] Clarke, Colin P., “Drugs & Thugs: Funding Terrorism through Narcotics Trafficking.” Journal of Strategic Security 9, no. 3
(2016): 1-15. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5038/1944-0472.9.3.1536
[8] Clarke, Colin P., Kimberly Jackson, Patrick B. Johnston, Eric Robinson, and Howard J. Shatz. Financial Futures of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant: Findings from a RAND Corporation Workshop. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2017. https://www.rand.org/pubs/conf_proceedings/CF361.html. Also available in print form.
[9] Michael Jacobson (2010) Terrorist Financing and the Internet, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 33:4, 353-363, DOI: 10.1080/10576101003587184

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