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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 

Sexual repression of Afghan women: a Taliban’s state-building strategy

Sexual Repression of Afghan Women: a Taliban’s State-Building Strategy

“Women’s security in the home is a reflection of the security in the country. If women cannot be safe at home, they’re not safe at all. And if women are not safe, then no one is safe,” Lina Abi Rafeh wrote.  

In just a year, Afghan women have lost most of the rights they had fought for over the last two decades. Women cannot study past primary school, can no longer work unless they are nurses or teachers, and are constrained to the domestic sphere as their support systems collapse. Reports show that most women’s shelters have stopped taking in new women as they are forced to operate in total secrecy or have been shut down completely, including the Ministry for Women’s Affairs

But what do all these restrictions have in common? They are making women “prisoners in their own home,” as Human Rights Watch stated, and are symptomatic of one of the Taliban’s state-building strategies: utilization of sexual capital. 

The Taliban, who rose back to power in August 2021, are rooting their state-building strategy in the private, the intimate, and the goal of destroying and reshaping women’s identities through strict, gendered, and repressive norms.

School curricula have been modified to focus more on religious studies and norms. “They dictate what women must wear, how they should travel, workplace segregation by sex, and even what kind of cell phones women should have. They enforce these rules through intimidation and inspections,” Human Rights Watch said.

The Taliban enforce a collective identity based on common –and imposed– norms and morals (women’s rights but “within Islamic law”). They are institutionalizing repression, or in other words, ideals of feminine purity, through the Ministry for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which replaced the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. 

The regulations focus on women’s bodies and most importantly relate to the Muslimwoman archetype coined by Fatima Mernissi. Characterized by modesty, chastity, and motherhood, this identity being forced upon women is primordial in creating collective cohesion in a context of local division and conflict. 

“State building is the insurgent’s central goal,” Stathis Kalyvas, author of The Logic of Violence in Civil War, writes. And as a proto-state –in a perpetual power struggle with domestic and international actors– the Taliban ultimately strives for control and will enter people’s homes to exert that control. Controlling sexual capital, or the way women dress, if they’re allowed to wear makeup, and refusing them any support for sexual violence, is merely a reflection of how the Taliban use the intimate to impose its state. 

Over the last year, the Taliban freed more than 3 000 prisoners, many of whom are perpetrators of gender-based violence. For women who were abused by their husbands, members of their families, or their communities, this means further insecurity and a reduction of their allocated space in society. 

“We don’t leave our home much,” a government worker told Human Rights Watch. “When we leave, we leave with a mahram [male guardian]. Some things like sanitary pads must be purchased by women themselves, but it’s hard to do it with a man accompanying us. …Women can’t take transport, they either must go out with a mahram or walk. They should walk with burqa, no heels, no makeup.”

By locking women into roles of mothers and wives, the Taliban seek to use their sexual capital to breed new generations of individuals who belong to a definitive collective identity.  

Furthermore, this increased polarization between the righteous Muslimwoman and the glorious militant man further brings the Taliban culture of political extremism and violence into the home. These norms already have –and will continue– to lead to increased domestic violence and sexual violence. It is a perpetual cycle; locking women in their homes, making them more prone to domestic and sexual violence and patriarchy-rooted masculinity, which serves the Taliban’s collective identity and thus, its state. 

Overall, there should be a greater focus on gendered analyses of Taliban state-building to better understand the group’s motive and strategy, going beyond the sole ideological and religious factors. In doing so, the long-term implications of a forced collective identity will be revealed and provide insight into the future for Afghan women in society.

Emma Beilouny, Counter-Terrorism Fellow

the US had assassinated al-Qaeda commander Ayman al-Zawahiri

US Assassinate Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda’s Number Two

After months of meticulous planning and geographic calculations, President Joe Biden announced that the US had assassinated al-Qaeda commander Ayman al-Zawahiri, also known as Al-Qaeda number 2 in Osama Bin Laden’s leadership, in a drone strike in Afghanistan. Al-Zawahiri, together with the attackers of 9/11, were then labelled as the most wanted after the tragedy back in 2001.

He was assassinated on Sunday during a CIA counterterrorism operation in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The strike was finally called off at 9:48 p.m. ET (0148 GMT) on July 30 by an unmanned aerial strike launching alleged “hellfire” missiles.

The drone reportedly fired two missiles at Zawahiri as he was on the balcony of a safe house, according to officials. Other members of the family were nearby, but they were unharmed, and they added that Zawahiri was the only victim of the incident. “Now justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more,” Joe Biden added.

A senior administration official told reporters that Zawahiri had been in hiding for years and had not been traced easily due to his remote activities, obviously trying to live his life in the shadows, as the CIA had been eyeing him in the areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The operation to locate and kill him was the result of “careful, patient, and persistent” work by the counter-terrorism and intelligence community.

CIA’s Effort to Trace Zawahiri

The United States government had been cognizant of a network that it believed backed Zawahiri for a number of years, and for the last year, following the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, officials had been on the lookout for signs of Al Qaeda’s presence in that nation.

CIA officials discovered this year that Zawahiri’s family—his wife, his daughter, and her children—had moved to a secure home in Kabul and later traced Zawahiri there.

In early April, intelligence officers began alerting senior government officials after emerging more certain over several months that they had accurately identified Zawahiri inside the Kabul safe house. President Joe Biden was subsequently briefed by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

The official said that to guarantee that the United States could cogently carry out an operation to kill Zawahiri without impeding the structural integrity of the building and with the least amount of risk to bystanders and Zawahiri’s family, officials probed the construction and condition of the safe house and closely examined its inhabitants. They have also discussed the potential legal repercussions of this strike, particularly given that it will take place in Afghanistan.

The administration also made sure that the severity of the attacks on civilians was kept to a minimum, if not none. Finally, the attack took place on July 30 and killed Zawahiri.

The Taliban Condemns the Drone Strike

According to a statement from the Taliban’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, the incident happened on Sunday. The ruling Islamist radicals severely criticized it as a violation of “international values” and the 2020 agreement on the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

However, US officials insisted that the operation was legal nevertheless because the killing of Zawahiri comes nearly a year after US troops completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan on the orders of Mr. Biden, bringing an end to a 20-year military presence there.

The Taliban vowed not to permit al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in regions they control as part of a 2020 peace agreement with the US, but the US believes that the Taliban knew all along about Zawahiri’s presence and they have provided shelter. From there, the violation of the Taliban’s peace agreement with the US has been visibly infringed.

Netizens’ Reaction to the US air strike

Many reactions surfaced after the announcement by Biden on the killing of Zawahiri. People have been debating whether the US should no longer intervene in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops because it risks more indiscriminate killings and human rights violations. It seems that other people have also been comparing the US’ proactive efforts to counter terrorism in vulnerable states and yet no actions were taken against Russia; some have remarked that the issue is long overdue and the US has double standards on so-called justice.

Moreover, Canada’s Prime Minister expressed his support for the counterterrorism effort, saying: “The death of Ayman al-Zawahiri is a step toward a safer world. Canada will keep working with our global partners to counter terrorist threats, promote peace and security, and keep people here at home and around the world safe.” Furthermore, we should never underestimate the officers who have gone above and beyond their mission to eliminate the threat not only in America, but globally.

Kristian Rivera, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Rise to Peace