Digital Extremism

Digital Extremism

The world has been evolving each day, and by that, society is quickly adapting and changing its means of communication. Not so long ago, people would send letters to get in contact with friends and family that lived in other cities or states but now, talking to loved ones is easier, as staying in touch through social media is a reality. Although the use of these platforms improved many things in the modern world, they have also been used for bad purposes such as digital extremism. 

In this sense, social media platforms have been essential in recruiting new members for radical and extremist groups. At the beginning of digital extremism, the primary source for jihad propaganda was found in terrorist websites with mostly Arabic content with little information available in English. However, extremists started to use more interactive and western forms of social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. These platforms are specially utilized due to the anonymity they provide for the user, which for terrorists is the main priority, because of the greater protection they can get from law enforcement personnel. 

An example of the use of social media for online radicalization is Facebook, the largest social media site in the world. On Facebook people can create secret groups and add whoever they want to them, which can be used as a valuable tool to attract like-minded radicals to a cause. Also, the use of violent images can attract people’s curiosity toward propaganda. In addition to that, links in more moderate and sympathizer pages can direct the user to more hard-line propaganda pages that contain more information on extremism, such as data on jihad or white supremacist extremism with details on how the reader can become a member or prepare to conduct an attack. 

With the benefits that the use of social media generates for extremist recruiters, it is easy to acknowledge that research indicates that 90 percent of terrorist activity on the internet takes place using some type of social networking tool. The easiness that using the online spread of terrorism creates is deeply connected to the simpleness of uploading videos from smartphones or computers because radicals can actively do it wherever and whenever they want to and with the use of VPN, making it difficult to track their activity. Nevertheless, it is essential to recognize that the shift towards social media forums does not make jihad websites obsolete, because links provided in social media forums are usually redirected to these traditional sites, where important propaganda or practical information is available.

In essence, the diversification of social media, the growth of closed social media platforms, and the proliferation of anonymity among extremist propaganda pose new challenges to law enforcement agencies and intelligence services that seek to track and limit the activities of extremists that make the use of digital platforms. To contain the recruitment of young people, for example, the school plays an important role in addressing the issue, by talking to students and making sure that kids, teenagers, and young adults understand the danger of accessing certain links and talking to strangers online. Education is key to preventing this type of extremism to keep occurring and tackling the problem at its core, in the recruitment of new members.

Luiza Fernandes, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow.

Climate Change Fueled Eco-Terrorism: The Nexus Explained

We are sinking”: A Speech from the Sea

Tuvalu’s foreign minister Simon Kofe addressed the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) knee-deep in the sea to remind the world about climate emergencies and make world leaders realize the plight of residents of sinking island states. Although rising sea levels and climate change triggered by global warming are global threats, they may have minimal and reversible effects on some states. In contrast, other states may be disproportionately affected by climate change’s devastating impact, thereby making them early victims of climate change. For instance, the Small Island Developing States (SIDS)[1], a designation given by the United Nations to a group of 38 UN member states and 20 non-UN member states facing comparable sustainable development challenges, are on the verge of sinking due to the warming of the ocean and melting of land ice. The situation is alarming as it places them on the frontline of climate change and the survival of their statehood and population is at stake. The residents of sinking island states are exposed to unique social, economic, and environmental vulnerabilities. It is essential to brief on the vulnerabilities caused by climate change to formulate a theoretical framework to establish the link between climate change and violent extremism.

Climate Change Vulnerability

Climate change detrimentally affects a region’s ecosystem and directly disturbs the social and economic lives of people. First, unpredictable changes in weather conditions disrupt the agricultural cycle. Second, such regions are prone to natural calamities. Third, residents’ livelihood, especially those relying on fisheries, agriculture, and livelihood, is severely affected, thereby widening economic inequality. Fourth, food scarcity and poverty rates will uncontrollably spike, leading to intergenerational malnourishment and inequality. Fifth, climate change induces forced migration and displacement. Sixth, climate change disproportionately affects women as caregivers making them vulnerable to natural calamities such as floods and drought. Also, data indicate that eighty percent of the victims of forced displacement due to climate change are women[2]. Seventh, climate anxiety weakens the resilience capacities of people, and it erodes their faith in government, thereby causing political instability. Eighth, a study by the Harvard Kennedy School indicated that rising temperature and criminal behavior are intrinsically related, and the former positively influences the latter[3]. Ninth, climate skepticism, misinformation, lack of climate literacy, and awareness cause delusion; Consequently, delays public participation in combating climate change. Tenth, climate change disrupts the effective implementation of sustainable development goals.  The list is not exhaustive, and the author believes that the unknown vulnerabilities of climate change outnumber the known ones.

The Nexus Explained in Light of the ‘Black Hole Theory’

The nexus between violent extremism and climate change is becoming more apparent. An area severely affected by climate change breeds vulnerabilities, making it fertile ground for radicalization and violent extremism to flourish. The problem evolves into a vicious cycle, with climate change breeding violent extremism and vice versa. Theoretically, this nexus can be explained in light of the black hole theory. Previously this theory was applied to explain the nexus between organized crime and terrorism. In the context of climate change, ‘black hole’ refers to the points of convergence between violent extremism and climate change vulnerabilities. It means areas severely affected by climate change become ‘black holes’ for violent extremism to breed.

The United Nations Development Programme’s report on the rise of violent extremism in the ‘lake chad basin’ in the Central African region portrays the nexus between violent extremism and climate crisis[4]. Similarly, a severe drought followed by food insecurity in Yemen allowed AQAP, Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, to capitalize on rising poverty to recruit members[5].

Eco-Terrorism Fueled by Climate Crisis

Eco-terrorism or eco-extremism, an extreme version of the radical environmentalism movement, stems from the non-conformist view of ecocentrism. According to this, it is anthropogenic activities that are responsible for environmental degradation. Hence the disaffected members believe that it is imperative to stop humankind by any means from damaging the environment. The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines eco-terrorism as “the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally oriented, subnational group of environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.[6]

The tactics used for eco-terrorism may range from tree spiking to arson and monkeywrenching. For instance, in 1989, John P. Blount, a member of an environmental extremist group called Earth First, was convicted for tree spiking in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest. According to the FBI, tree spiking is an act of terrorism aimed at sabotaging expensive logging equipment and severely harming the workmen[7]. In another instance, the FBI reported on an arson case that was aimed at spreading terror in the ‘seattle luxury houses.’ The suspects left a protest sign titled “Built green? Nope black!” at the crime scene[8]. The tactics used by the disaffected members of eco-terrorism make them different from other eco-centric communities.

Radicalization to Eco-Terrorism

Climate change-affected areas are fragile to numerous vulnerabilities, and extremist groups capitalize on these vulnerabilities to radicalize the population. Such groups induce violent extremist views in individuals by using the following tactics:

  •   You are bearing someone else’s burden: Disinformation about climate change is the tool used to spread eco-terrorism. The object is to create hatred against individuals and entities involved in large infrastructural projects. The recruits are misled to believe that the climate change-related disadvantages they face are due to projects that take a toll on the natural environment.
  •   Concern for future generation: Fear and insecurity about the future is induced in the minds of individuals. They are misinformed that if they fail to act, the survival of their future generations will be at stake, and their entire race will be forever wiped off from the face of Earth.
  •   Fear of forced displacement: The victims of climate change are made to believe that they will be deprived of shelter, livelihood, and quality of life. Further, forced displacement would split the population, and eventually, they will be in a situation of statelessness.
  •   Earth destroyers are set free: The victims of climate change are made aware of the weak criminal law regime against ecocide. They are disinformed that the environmental offenders are left unpunished, and hence they have to punish those who escape the law. The Seattle arsenal attack is an example of this.
  •   Take arms for Earth: This stage is the last phase of radicalization and the beginning of eco-terrorism. It induces a sense of negative responsibility on individuals and makes them believe that failure to prevent environmental degradation would make them equally culpable as the offender.


Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed his concern that climate change could fuel extremism and form a potential threat to global security[9]. This global threat requires a global response, with international organizations, governments (at all levels), the private sector, and other think tanks working cooperatively and collaboratively to combat this version of violent extremism. Hence, the international and national legal regime on climate change must be strengthened. It must include effective implementation of sustainable development goals that will stall climate-induced vulnerabilities and combat violent extremism from taking root. In addition, specific climate action needs to be strengthened, such as enforcing penal law on ecocide, promoting climate literacy and resilience-building programs, ensuring active participation of women and youth in combating climate change and setting up deradicalization institutes.

[1] United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing

Countries and Small Island Developing States, “About Small Island Developing State”, available at, https://www.un.org/ohrlls/content/about-small-island-developing-states, last accessed on July 23, 2022.

[2] United Nations Development Programme. (2015). Resource guide on gender and climate change. available at https://www.undp.org/sites/g/files/zskgke326/files/publications/Resource.pdf, last accessed on October 04, 2022

[3] Harvard Kennedy School. (2012). Crime Weather and Climate Change. available at https://www.hks.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/centers/mrcbg/files/ranson_2012-8.FINAL.pdf, last accessed on October 03, 2022

[4] United Nations Geneva. (2021). Lake Chad Basin: “Fighting Terrorism, ‘decisive test’ on biggest challenges of our time. available at https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/news/2021/11/lake-chad-basin-fighting-terrorism-decisive-test-biggest-challenges-our, last accessed on October 04, 2022.

[5] Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies. (2012). “Yemen and Al-Qaida”. available at, https://www.dohainstitute.org/en/PoliticalStudies/Pages/Yemen_and_al-Qaeda.aspx last accessed on October 24, 2022.

[6] Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2002). Eco-terrorism. available at https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/news/testimony/the-threat-of-eco terrorism#:~:text=The%20FBI%20defines%20eco-terrorism%20as%20the%20use%20or,beyond%20the%20target%2C%20often%20of%20a%20symbolic%20nature., last accessed on October 01, 2022.

[7] ibid

[8] Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2008). The Seattle Eco-terrorism investigation. available at https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/news/stories/2008/march/seattlearson_030408.html, last accessed on October 02, 2022.

[9] Reuters. (2021). Johnson says climate change could fuel extremism. available at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i77BoB-tINw, last accessed on October 03, 2022. 

Varun VM, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow.

Remembering 9/11 in the Wake of Growing Threats

Remembering 9/11 in the Wake of Growing Threats

As the 21st commemoration of the September 11th terrorist attacks approaches, the solemn anniversary brings a new wave of urgency. It has been one year since the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan.

Throughout the past year, the Taliban have worked to reinforce oppression by stripping women of their rights and indoctrinating young boys. Once again, the threat of terrorism is pervasive. After 21 years, we must ask ourselves: how much progress has been made in effective counterterrorism?

Last month, the United States  killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. While this is a victory for the United States, it may only be a short-term cause for celebration. The death of their leader will undoubtedly fuel the anti-Western hatred held by al-Qaeda.

In addition, the Taliban have created a friendly environment in Afghanistan for al-Qaeda, a UN report says. In fact, Ayman al Zawahiri was found in the heart of Kabul. The amicable relationship between the two terrorist groups is dangerous not only for the future of Afghanistan but also for the West who may see the Taliban’s war-ridden intentions in the coming years.

How can the United States prevent this? First and foremost, the U.S. should analyze its role in history. The Soviet War in Afghanistan from 1979 – 1989 provides insight into the mistakes made by the United States that ultimately played a part in the rise of terrorism in the 90s.

Throughout the Soviet War, the United States supported rebel groups in Afghanistan to defeat the Soviets and advance their anti-communist agenda. Soon after the defeat, the United States abandoned the country leaving an unstable Afghan government that was easily seized by the Taliban.

From the 1989 up until the attacks on 9/11, Afghanistan then became a safe haven for radical jihadists and terrorists. During that time, some of the most heinous attacks were carried out with 9/11 being the most catastrophic.

The United States could avoid the repetition lost of the past by engaging with Afghanistan to ensure that the upcoming generation of Afghans is not a product of radical, fundamentalist indoctrination to be used for a terrorist agenda.

The United States can further intervene by analyzing relationships with regional actors like Pakistan, who delayed accountability for the 9/11 attacks by providing refuge for Osama Bin Laden, and reconsider new allyships that will further the prospect of counterterrorism in the face of the growing threat. In doing so, the United States can learn from the lessons that came after the Soviet War and contribute to active counterterrorism efforts.

At the very least, it is crucial for the United States to maintain vigilance. The Taliban and al-Qaeda now occupy Afghanistan, however, their desire to exert influence will not stop there. The fundamental principles of these two groups are rooted in Western hatred and the desire to return to Islamic Sharia law of their own version, further perpetuating violence and oppression.

As we remember the events of September 11th, it is also important to remember the role that the United States has as a powerhouse in international relations. With this considered, the U.S. must exercise influence through the correction of its past mistakes. In doing so, the United States can play its part in reducing the expansion of terrorism.

Remembering September 11th

Remembering September 11th: The Prevailing Memories of 9/11

Remembering September 11th

“The Black Swan Theory”, coined by Nassim Nicholas Caleb, describes sporadic, unforeseen, and highly significant events. These events are challenging to predict in the normal course of business and are unthinkable. The September 11th attacks portray the Black Swan theory. The tragic event was unexpected to the world, and its implications continue to affect the world 21 years later.

On September 11, 2001, a black swan event occurred when the deadliest terrorist strikes in American history resulted in 2,977 fatalities. On that Tuesday morning, 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists deliberately crashed four American passenger airlines headed for the West Coast.

Both the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center collapsed as a result of the collision between American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, which took off from Boston. Flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. and Flight 175 hit the South Tower at 9:03 a.m.

After passengers stormed the cockpit and attempted to subdue the hijackers, United Airlines Flight 93, leaving from Newark, New Jersey, crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 10:03 a.m. American Airlines Flight 77, departing from Dulles International Airport in Virginia, crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.

The attacks redefined how the United States views counterterrorism and national security. They also reinforced patriotic values, along with other defining principles of the United States. Furthermore, the aftermath saw a change in U.S. immigration laws and gave rise to an increase in discriminatory practices, prejudice, and hate crimes. All of this comes down to complex issues like economic reprisals, political and international tensions, abuses of human rights, and the escalation of unwarranted conflicts.

The Beginning of Everything

Sandra Crosby, a Boston University School of Medicine professor stated that the ongoing consequences of the US’s decisions to torture terror suspects have been profound – at their worst, inhumane.

Joseph Wippl, a Pardee School professor of the practice of international relations and a former Central Intelligence Agency officer expressed that beginning with 9/11, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) became more than ever a covert action agency.

Sarah Sherman-Stokes, a Boston University School of Law professor and associate director of LAW’s Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Program, has shared her perspective that the horrific events of September 11, 2001, forever altered the framework of United States immigration law and policy.

People may or may not have similar sentiments. The best and worst of what America had to showcase were in evidence as a result of the attacks, notwithstanding the wide range of emotions that have arisen since then; outrage, devastation, and hope. However, “the psychology of grieving” and the drumbeat of war soon overshadowed this opportunity for Americans to be drawn into the heart of mankind as a whole and experience the anguish of loss in locations far removed from their sensibilities yet within their military aircraft capability.

How Will This Be Remembered?

What would be the last remnant of 9/11 on its anniversary? Will this be depicted as a picturesque but consequentially irrelevant tragedy or as a pivotal juncture that fundamentally shaped the development of American and global politics? Will future generations view this day as a telling indicator of emerging themes, a politics of playing chess, the starting point for a string of disastrous foreign policy errors, or just a singular incident with only significant long-term effects?

Of course, it is difficult to predict with absolute certainty how 9/11 will be remembered as the years progressed; perhaps all we can say with certainty is that the interpretations made of it will differ depending on who is doing the interpreting. Moreover, the 9/11 attack may be a sentimental tragedy to remember, but this tragedy may also be considered a triumph to some. Americans will view 9/11 differently than Afghans, Iraqis, Saudis, Asians, or Europeans, and it is likely to be little more than a historical footnote for many people all across the world.

When time passes and more recent affairs take the stage, what is prominent in our minds today is frequently unimportant to others. Especially at a time when other societal challenges have surfaced, such as COVID-19, these are questions that will seem to arise. Will 9/11 still be remembered?

Furthermore, one of the most crucial lessons I’ve learned over the years as a Filipino counterterrorism practitioner is that the United States’ decisions and actions have a great impact on how the rest of the world views them: a powerhouse ally or an enemy. Furthermore, I observed a great deal of unity in the wake of 9/11, which shows that the bonds that unite Americans are stronger than any efforts to sever them.

May We Never Forget

Personally, I have worked with and for America. I was a counter-terrorism intern at American Counterterrorism Targeting & Resilience Institute, a qualifier at Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, and am now a fellow at Rise to Peace, Middle East Forum, and Pacific Forum. During the 9/11 attacks, I was still a year-old baby and had absolutely nothing to do in these fields.

But today, as a third-year political science student in the Philippines, I am one of the few Filipinos who devote their time to studying, writing, and researching global terrorism. I’m not doing this because I have a thorough understanding of what happened on September 11, 2001, but rather because I genuinely believe that we can contribute significantly to the development of a better and wiser counterterrorism response, even in the smallest way, through constructive and research-based discussion and a productive and exchange of conversations.

Although we are aware of the lapses and loopholes in the aftermath of 9/11, we should be proud of the significant steps we have taken together, particularly in the fields of research, counterterrorism, law enforcement, and intelligence. Moving forward, I hope that the lessons learned during 9/11 will serve as a wake-up call to the United States about its decisions and their global consequences as a hegemonic actor in global politics. As we mourn the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and mark their 21st anniversary, may we always be reminded to never forget.

Kristian Rivera, Counter-Terrorism Fellow

Terrorism Southeast

Security and Counter-Terrorism Efforts in Southeast Asia

The Global Terrorism Index (GTI), a comprehensive study prepared by the Institute for Economics and Peace on the impact of terrorism in 163 countries, reports that since 2020, the Southasia region has recorded a higher fatality rate compared to other regions. According to GTI 2022, among Southeast Asian countries, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia top the list. On the other hand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia, and Laos are least impacted by terrorism.

Although GTI is an ideal tool to assess the impact of terrorism on countries, the study is not without limitations. The countries are ranked based on four indicators: incidents, fatalities, injuries, and property damage. It means that the index relies only on the ensuing consequences of terrorism and fails to take into account the persisting threat of terrorism. For instance, according to the GTI 2022, Singapore is least impacted by terrorism. However, the Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report 2021, published by the Ministry of Home Affairs, acknowledges that the terrorism threat to Singapore remains high. The situation is similar to that of an active volcano. It means that a ‘zero score’ in GTI, as in the case of the majority of Southeast Asian countries, may not necessarily imply that the country is free from terrorism threats.

The terrorism activities reported in the Southeast Asia region reveal the changing dimension of international terrorism. In March 2021, a woman lone wolf attacker, inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), opened fire at the National Police Headquarters in Jakarta. In the Philippines, two women ISIL terrorists staged suicide bombings to avenge the death of their terrorist leader. Dr. Rommel C. Banlaoi, the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence, and Terrorism Research chairman, warned of the increased active participation of women in terror attacks. Further, he stated that women also teach and encourage children to be their successors after martyrdom. The situations indicate the spread of female militancy in the region and the intergenerational succession of terrorism.

The Singapore ministry of home affairs cited self-radicalization, Islamist terrorism, and far-right extremism as a potential threat to its homeland security. The ministry confirms that within Southeast Asia, ISIL remains the primary terrorism threat actor. ISIL’s success in digitalization of radicalization has accelerated the spread of propaganda and lone wolf attacks in the region. The situation makes it challenging for law enforcement agencies to identify sleeper cells and prevent acts of terrorism.

The nexus between conflict and terrorism is apparent in Myanmar. Political turmoil fuelled violent conflict leading to terrorism has landed Myanmar on top of GTI 2022. Since the military coup in February 2021, there has been a significant rise in terrorist attacks, and the  Anti-junta armed groups are responsible for causing the majority of deaths. Terrorism continues to breed on push and pull factors or vulnerabilities born out of conflicts, such as political instability, violence, poverty, unemployment, forced displacement, and oppression.

Thailand continues to be a transit and facilitation hub for terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah, and Hezbollah. The country is facing political instability, which impedes the government’s efforts to implement a counter-terrorism strategy. Further, Bangkok has become a hub for global organized crime syndicates. A report of the Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime confirms that organized crime syndicates are targeting Southeast Asia to expand operations, and the profits generated by such groups have reached unprecedented and dangerous levels. There exist a nexus between organized crime and terrorism. Organized crime facilitates terrorism and vice versa. Organized crime breeds in areas with political instability and a weak law enforcement system. Terrorism creates fertile ground for organized crime to breed. On the other hand, organized crime aids terrorist organizations in recruitment, funding, and logistics. In short, this nexus is capable of eroding regional security, as is the case in Southeast Asia.

An analysis of the counter-terrorism efforts made by Southeast Asian countries evidences the success of regional cooperation in overcoming the challenges and threats posed by evolving terrorism. A joint declaration of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN)  to counterterrorism strongly condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and declares terrorism as a direct challenge to the attainment of peace, progress, and prosperity. ASEAN has established a regional framework to control, prevent, and neutralize transnational crime. The ASEAN Convention on Counterterrorism aims to strengthen mutual legal assistance, cooperation, and rehabilitative programs to combat terrorism.

At the national level, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia are pioneers in counter-terrorism efforts. Indonesia is effectively implementing the four pillars of the United Nations Global Counterterrorism Strategy. It means that the country is making an effort to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, prevent and counter-terrorism, support member states and the UN to combat terrorism, and promote the rule of law and human rights. Indonesia has sought the support of the international comity in addressing the issues of terrorism financing and foreign terrorist fighters. The Singapore government has initiated the ‘SGSecure movement’ to empower its citizens to effectively identify radicalization signs and report suspicious activity. The programme is spread through educational institutions, civic societies, workplaces, etc. The government acknowledges the importance of people’s participation in countering self-radicalization and terrorism. Similarly, Malaysia has established specialized institutions, including the Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counterterrorism (SEARCCT), to counter terrorism and extremism through partnerships for goals, capacity building, and research.

Varun VM, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow 

Rise to Peace