Bomb Attacks Terrorize the Colombian-Venezuelan Border

On December 14th, two bomb explosions were registered in Colombia at the border city of Cúcuta. The explosions occurred near the Camilo Daza Airport and left two police officers and one civilian dead.

These attacks add to the wave of violence in the Norte de Santander Department, located on Colombia’s border. In recent months, the civilian population and the security forces have been victims of criminal and terrorist actions by various groups that operate on the Colombian-Venezuelan border.

Wave of Violence at the Border

The explosions at the Cúcuta Airport are just one example of the terrorist actions affecting the border area between Colombia and Venezuela. Two factors can explain the disarray of public order at the border. First, this region of the world has the highest concentration of illicit crops, according to the United Nations, such as the enormous production of cocaine in the region of Catacumbo.

Secondly, public order is affected by the presence of dissidents of the FARC and the ELN; Venezuela is a safe haven for terrorist organizations and there is a lack of presence by the Colombian State. In fact, according to the Colombian authorities, 14 criminal organizations dispute the trade in illicit drugs, human trafficking, the sale of weapons, and the smuggling of merchandise in the region.

One of the most relevant terrorist attacks in recent months in Norte de Santander was the car bomb attack against Brigade 30 of the Colombian National Army. The explosion occurred on June 15th and injured 34 soldiers and two civilians. This attack was extremely worrying for the Colombian authorities, given that the vehicle carrying the bomb easily entered the army’s facilities. Although it is not completely clear who ordered the attack, it was likely the responsibility of local ELN cells.

Additionally, another recent terrorist act was the attack against Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez. The attack occurred on June 15th in the municipality of Sardinata, Norte de Santander.

The president was attacked with rifle bursts while boarding his helicopter; however, the attack did not result in any injuries. The mastermind of the attack, a former Colombian military man who joined as a member of the 33rd Front of the FARC dissidents, was captured. In addition, the Colombian authorities indicated that the attack was planned and organized from Venezuela.

Violence and crime do not seem to end in Norte de Santander. According to Brigadier General Fabio Cancelado, there are 1,500 armed men in the department, divided into illegal groups such as the ELN, the “Gulf Clan,” the dissidents of the 33rd Front of the FARC, the “Tren de Aragua,” the “Pelusos,” and “Rastrojos.”

These organizations are financed by illegal activities, such as cocaine trafficking, and are responsible for the murder of 22 social leaders and the displacement of 448 people in 2021.

The Two Explosions 

The explosions on December 14th were attacks that once again terrorized the population at the Colombian-Venezuelan border.

The first explosion occurred when an individual attempted to jump over an airport gate. The individual fell, and the device exploded. Minutes later, a suspicious device was found near the area of the first explosion. When two police officers from the explosive’s unit examined it, the bomb exploded.

The Colombian defense minister emphasized that these terrorist attacks are being planned from Venezuela by terrorist groups. The Colombian authorities believe the ELN and the 33rd Front of the FARC dissidents are responsible for the attack.

How to Stop the Violence?

Despite the fact that the problem of crime, violence, and terrorism at the Colombian-Venezuelan border area is of immense proportions, some actions can, and must, be taken.

Due to the significant amount of illicit crops, coca production and trafficking, and the income generated from this activity, it is necessary to spray coca crops with aerial and targeted herbicides. This will reduce the crops, and subsequently the income, of the terrorist organizations that operate in Norte de Santander.

Furthermore, it is necessary to protect the social leaders who live in this area and mitigate massive forced displacements.

Finally, it is necessary for the Colombian Armed Forces and the National Police to strengthen their intelligence, counter-terrorism, and counter-narcotics capabilities. This is of the utmost importance to anticipate terrorist attacks and effectively combat illegal armed groups in the region.


Daniel Felipe Ruiz Rozo, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Foreign Governments

Fanning the Flames: How Foreign Governments Fuel Domestic Extremism

Information warfare, according to Dan Kuehl of the United States’ National Defense University, is the “conflict or struggle between two or more groups in the information environment.” The rapid expansion of the online information space has significantly bolstered the efficacy of these information warfare tactics, offering governments unfettered access to one of the most influential and all-encompassing arenas of public discourse. Increasingly, governments exploit this access to undermine rival nations, waging disinformation campaigns to exacerbate social cleavages, divide communities, and fuel discontent.

The extent to which foreign actors have permeated U.S. online society is somewhat staggering. Troll farms, professional groups that coordinate internet activity to disseminate and amplify online propaganda, reached around 140 million Americans a month in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. As of late 2019, 15,000 Facebook pages with a majority U.S. following were being run by these troll farms, many of which are based far from American shores, in countries such as Russia, Kosovo, and Macedonia.

These pages included: the largest Christian American page on Facebook, with 20 times more followers than the next largest and reaching 75 million U.S. users per month; the largest African-American page on Facebook, reaching 30 million U.S. users per month; and the fifth-largest women’s page on Facebook, reaching 60 million U.S. users per month. Of the top 15 African-American pages, two-thirds were run by troll farms, and of the top 20 Christian pages, this figure reached 95%.

According to the reports, the target demographics of these troll farms mirror those selected by the Russia-backed Internet Research Agency in its effort to undermine U.S. political discourse during the 2016 election. Indeed, a 2018 Buzzfeed News investigation revealed that at least one member of the Internet Research Agency had visited Macedonia around the emergence of its first troll farms, and Facebook’s own cybersecurity chief has noted that Iranian troll farms have begun implementing Russian tactics. The behavior of these troll farms points to a disturbing conclusion: a well-organized and broadscale effort, orchestrated by foreign actors, to control the information ecosphere of American society.

Understanding the Threat

This effort to infiltrate the U.S. digital landscape represents a serious national security threat. Indeed, the intention of these foreign actors is to destabilize American society. This is achieved by inflaming social tensions, provoking civil unrest, and strengthening extremist narratives. One approach adopted by these foreign actors is the dissemination and amplification of conspiracy theories.

In 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) labeled these theories as a domestic terrorism threat and drew attention to the radical adherents of QAnon conspiracy, who they described as “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists.” QAnon is a wide-ranging theory with an enormous number of offshoots and internal debates. But, at its core, is the belief that a powerful global cabal of Satan-worshippers is seeking to control society.

The FBI assessed that these theories, including QAnon, “very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts.” In a more recent assessment from earlier this year, the FBI described how morphing attitudes within the QAnon movement will likely incline its adherents towards “real world violence–including harming perceived members of the “cabal” such as Democrats and other political opposition.” Indeed, during the January 6 Capitol insurrection, QAnon flags and signs were visible within the crowd, and more than 20 self-identified QAnon adherents have been arrested in relation to the attack.

Despite the bizarre claims of the QAnon movement, it appears to have been far more prominent than once assumed. A poll of a nationally representative sample of 9,308 U.S. adults published earlier this year found that between 20 and 23 percent of Americans self-identify as QAnon believers, a figure far higher than previous surveys indicated.

The theory’s popularity seems, at least in part, to be driven by foreign governments seeking to exploit tensions within the U.S. Indeed, a report published by the New York-based Soufan Center revealed that around 20% of all QAnon-related Facebook posts between January 2020 and February 2021 originated outside the United States, a significant proportion of which came from Russia and China. “Throughout 2020,” the report reads, “the consistent foreign amplification of QAnon narratives online illustrates that externally driven disinformation efforts have contributed to the efficient spread of conspiracy theories.”

“We are seeing common narratives that seem to be resonating with individuals who are looking for extremist ideological beliefs to serve as the justification for violence being introduced by foreign nation-states” said Department of Homeland Security Counterterrorism Coordinator John Cohen, speaking shortly after the unveiling of President Joe Biden’s new National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism earlier this year. “There are threat actors, whether it’s foreign governments like Russia or Iran or China… that are taking advantage of that anger and the polarization of our society.”

Efforts to Divide American Society

The efforts of these foreign actors stretch far beyond the QAnon movement. Russian Facebook pages and accounts have been used to plan dozens of politically divisive demonstrations across the United States. For example, in 2016, two Russian Facebook pages organized dueling rallies in front of a Houston Islamic center. One of these rallies, organized by the Heart of Texas group, announced their demonstration to “Stop Islamification of Texas,” whilst another Russian-based group organized a “Save Islamic Knowledge” rally at the same time and location.

Both left-wing and right-wing causes have been weaponized by Russian actors, who have used targeting advertising, private messaging campaigns, and even offers of reimbursement for travel expenses, to incite a range of demonstrations, from the Being Patriotic group’s “March for Trump” rally in New York to the United Muslims of America group’s “Support Hillary. Save American Muslims” rally.

More recently, Russia and China have sought to spread various coronavirus-related conspiracies, including disinformation and propaganda about the origins of COVID-19, unproven treatments for the disease, and the efficacy and risks of the vaccine rollout. Europol has already warned that the efforts to combat COVID-19 have escalated the threat of violence extremism and Michele Grossman, from the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats, has described COVID-19 as a “swiftly weaponized gift,” for those “who seek to escalate violent conflict, accelerate civil unrest, and enhance social and political polarization.”

“They are constantly exploring, looking, poking, prodding,” says Matthew Masteron, former senior cyber security advisor at the Department of Homeland Security, “looking for ways to cast doubt, to divide us along racial lines, along political lines, along whatever societal divisions we already have in existence.”


The United States must work to counter the disruptive online influence of foreign actors in their attempts to divide American society. This challenge will require cooperation from the U.S. government, the private sector, civil society, and others in promoting a healthy, online information ecosphere. The United States must strike an important balance in this effort, ensuring that it protects public discourse from foreign subversion whilst also preserving freedom of expression.

Efforts must also be made to tackle the widespread social grievances from which extremist groups draw support, and the underlying disaffection of Americans drawn to violent political action. Indeed, the FBI have stated that “the uncovering of real conspiracies or cover-ups involving illegal, harmful, or unconstitutional activities by government officials or leading political figures” contributes to the growing intensity of the extremist threat.

As the United States continues to grow more polarized, and as more Americans are drawn to political violence, it is more urgent than ever that the U.S. address these issues. Indeed, analysis by Barbara F. Walter from the Political Instability Task Force, a CIA advisory panel, has recently warned that the U.S. is “closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe.” If the United States is to avoid this fate, it must work with intense resolve to strengthen enlightened public discourse and to rebuild the unity of its fractured society.


Oliver Alexander Crisp, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Lafiya Dole

Lafiya Dole: Africa’s Old Narrative

The eternally fascinating continent of Africa is home to fifty-four beautiful countries, which are rich in resources, diversity, strength, and sadly conflicts. In the words of Patricia Danzi, Regional Director for Africa for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), “conflicts last and they don’t stop – and more are added.”

Leaders in Africa continue to make efforts to lessen the number of conflicts constantly arising and persisting. The challenge, sincerely, is a great one and one that has come to form, over time, the identity of Africa.

An Africa which is at peace with itself was the dream of Nelson Mandela and continues to be the dream of many other passionate leaders in Africa, but then, how can this be achieved? Could it be through Lafiya Dole?

Lafiya Dole

As part of the efforts to rework and add renewed vigor to the fight against terrorism and insurgency in Nigeria, especially in the Northeast, the Nigerian Army has decided to rename Operation Zaman Lafiya” to “Operation Lafiya Dole.”

Former Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Major General Tukur Yusufu Buratai addressed the 103 Battalion Nigerian Army based in Konduga, Borno State. He commended the Nigerian troops on their efforts thus far in the ongoing war against terrorism, all the while urging the army to fight harder in the pursuit and destruction of Boko Haram terrorists.

Lafiya Dole is a phrase in the Hausa dialect meaning, simply, “peace by force.” Quite a paradox, but unfortunately, acceptable not only in Nigeria but across the globe. If anything, the strategy of “peace by force” has done more harm than good.

Even with the Lafiya Dole campaign, peace, in reality, remains a mirage for the people of Nigeria. There is no peace in sight for Nigeria, not with the way it seeks to drive home its point to terrorists.

In Africa

Many African leaders hold firmly to the success of the Lafiya Dole philosophy. Similar strategies are continuously developed and implemented throughout Africa, both on state and regional levels. Silencing guns with bigger guns summarizes peace efforts in Africa. In reality, these efforts only help to further enhance resistance as the continent has seen increased activities among non-state actors, despite its efforts to cripple these activities.

Merely eliminating a leader of a violent group or members without first dealing with the conditions that allowed for such will only create a bigger problem. It is only a matter of time before another conflict arises. For a long time, this pattern has existed in Africa.


The philosophy of imposing peace rather than teaching it defeats the ideology it seeks to promote. The world seems to have lost itself in the pursuit of something it is yet to understand and fully accept. We certainly do not need to inflict more injury to heal a wound. Simply put, the antidote to these conflicts is peace.

A timeless example is Libya, where the quest and drive to save the people from oppression and Gadhafi required the use of oppressive techniques. Peace was thought to be attained through force, and now, what we have is nothing close to peace and everything far from it. Today, Libya is the source of everything that refutes peace, openly serving as the continent’s illegal arms depot for criminals and terrorists alike.

From a problem within control, it has grown to become a problem that seems like it will never end. Before Africa, or even the world, speaks of peace, justice must first be achieved, for there is never peace without justice. Currently, the tactic to achieve peace is to instill fear, however, given the right opportunity, chaos will erupt and worsen current conditions.


Joan McDappa, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Bashar al-Assad

Bashar al-Assad’s Impact on Syria

Bashar al-Assad has been Syria’s president for the last 21 years, since he took power on July 17th, 2000. This year, on May 26th, Bashar Al-Assad was elected again to be Syria’s president for seven more years. He won the election with an overwhelming majority of 95.1% of the votes.

The Re-election

Bashar al-Assad assumed control after the death of his father Hafez in 2000. Over the course of 21 years, most of al-Assad’s service was associated with death and horror because of the many battles with opposition groups.

During the bloody civil war, al-Assad is blameworthy for demolishing cities and for the captures and deaths of his opponents. He created a climate of horror; if individuals wanted to survive, they needed to escape the country.  Thousands of people have died, over 5.5 million have become refugees, and approximately 6.2 million were internally exiled.

Bashar al-Assad has been re-elected a total of four times. He has been proclaimed the victor on each occasion with close to 100% of the vote. However, al-Assad has done nothing to solve Syria’s long-standing challenges, particularly the country’s dysfunctional economy and politics, which finally led to an uprising in 2011.

The earliest protests against Syria’s government in 2011 were aimed at achieving political and economic changes. Soon after, organized Islamist groups seized control. As increasingly radical groups hijacked the Syrian chapter of the Arab uprising, the people who started the Syrian revolution were left with little hope.

There is still no chance for democracy eleven years later, and no one believes the al-Assad government’s assertion that his electoral triumph reflects the desires of the Syrian people.

The Support to ISIS

Even as the al-Assad regime fought to reclaim control of Syrian territory from the various rebel groups involved in the Syrian civil war, including ISIS, Bashar al-Assad’s regime constantly supported the Islamic State, even while the group controlled substantial amounts of territory.

The regime’s plan included directing its military operations against moderate Syrian rebel organizations opposed to the al-Assad dictatorship, particularly the Free Syrian Army, rather than the Islamic State. Any important choices would almost always include al-Assad, and government officials feared the ramifications of making sensitive decisions without al-Assad’s permission.

Without previous decision-making at the highest levels of the Syrian government, it is unimaginable that Syrian intelligence could have helped, enabled, or tolerated ISIS operations. In order to portray all Syrian opposition members as “terrorists,” the Syrian regime took this deliberate choice to permit and promote the Islamic State’s prolonged survival in Syria.

The Financial Resources Syria provided to ISIS

The Syrian regime also helped ISIS financially by allowing Syrian banks to operate and provide financial services in ISIS-controlled areas. A report in February of 2015 by The Financial Action Task Force, a multinational organization that develops and promotes policies to combat illicit financial activities, found that “more than 20 Syrian financial institutions with operations in ISIS-held territory” continued to do business. Furthermore, according to the report, these bank branches were “connected to their headquarters in Damascus; and some of them may preserve linkages to the international financial system.”

Even when these unlawful terror-funding conduits were publicly disclosed, the al-Assad regime disregarded and permitted ISIS to undertake financial transactions through informal banking networks.

For example, the U.S. Treasury Department identified a number of ISIS’s financial facilitators and money service organizations in April, September, and November of 2019 for aiding ISIS activities in Syria and elsewhere. On the other hand, the Syrian government took no action against the publicly identified ISIS financial middlemen, who continued to operate unhindered.

Final Thoughts

ISIS remains an insurgency threat in Syria and an international threat as a terrorist organization. However, there is no clear global coalition, political or military, to counter the threat posed by the al-Assad dictatorship, which has murdered far more people than ISIS, enabled the terrorist group’s activities, and created massive population displacement, migratory flows, and regional instability.

The international community rose to the challenge of ISIS. However, it has failed horribly in addressing the al-Assad government’s multiple issues, much alone the tragedy that is the al-Assad dictatorship.

The U.S. must lead a renewed diplomatic attempt to deal with Syria’s current situation. Although any agreement should be consistent with the UN’s formal role, only Washington D.C. could organize the anti-Assad alliance’s various members. The U.S. should strategize to urge political compromises to achieve the safe return of refugees and ensure globally monitored resettlement efforts.


Katerina Rebecca Paraskeva, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Wagner Group

The Wagner Group: How PMCs Drive Extremism

Fourteen years ago, the world became aware of the many atrocities committed by private military contractors (PMCs) when Blackwater killed Iraqi civilians. The incident strained relations with the Iraqi government and proved counterproductive to American counterinsurgency efforts. PMCs have existed in conflicts for hundreds of years, but they have been under the international community’s radar during the War on Terror. Over a decade later, the European Union has sanctioned the Wagner Group for human rights abuses.

The Wagner Group

The Wagner Group, a private military contractor, is reported to be led by Dmitry Utkin and has been present in various conflicts throughout the globe. A significant core of the group originated from another mercenary group called the Slavonic Corps, which operated in Syria to protect oil fields.

The first instance of the Wagner Group appearing in a conflict was during 2014 in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists declared independence. Before leading the group, Utkin had worked in the Russian military intelligence service as a brigade commander. The group has also been linked to the Russian government, which they have denied. However, this contrasts reports that the Wagner Group operates in areas where the Russian government is known to also operate.

The Group’s Global Activities

In addition to Ukraine, the Wagner Group has operated in Syria, much like the mercenary group which preceded it. While in Syria, the PMCs have been accused of a wide variety of abuses which has caught the attention of international watchdog organizations. Among the most egregious was the reported torture of a Syrian man in 2017. They have also been alleged to have attacked American special forces in concert with pro-Assad forces.

An Expanding Presence

Furthermore, the group has expanded its operations within Africa to include several conflict zones. An infamous theater for its activities has been within the Central African Republic. The mercenary group was reportedly brought in at the behest of President Touadéra to help fight against rebels who opposed his rule. They, however, took liberties to the mandate given to them by their host as they were found to have committed several human rights cases of abuses. These abuses range from executions and torture to groundless imprisonment.

Another engagement of the group in Africa, which demonstrates their growing foothold in the continent, has been that of Libya. It is reported that the organization first appeared in Libya in 2019 to aid forces fighting the UN-backed government. The Wagner Group, unsurprisingly, engaged in nefarious behavior, which demonstrates a larger pattern of disregard for international law. Among such actions have included the placement of mines within noncombatant areas.

Alarmingly, there have been growing concerns of the Wagner Group continuing this disturbing pattern in a potential deployment to Mali. This comes on the heels of Mali denying the deployment of UN peacekeeping efforts to help stabilize the country. An invitation of the organization would certainly contribute to a deterioration of security for Mali’s citizens.

More alarming, it appears that governments in the region are turning away from long-established international norms for diplomacy and instead turning to mercenary groups to resolve political opposition.

Mercenaries only serve to instill a greater hatred for the governments that employ them and drive individuals to seek out organizations that oppose them. In some instances, they join extremist organizations that provide them that opportunity, as well as economic security which their governments have denied them.

Policies to Curtail Mercenary Activity in Africa

For the Wagner Group to operate within Africa, there must be an understanding of what allows them to do so. The reason stems from the political instability within the region as well as the perceived ineffectiveness of UN peacekeepers to bring stability to the states.

A critique of UN peacekeeping missions is with merit as there have been allegations of misconduct regarding different peacekeeping operations throughout Africa. One of the most recent is the allegations of abuse within the Central African Republic, which have damaged the credibility of the institution. Additionally, the procurement of mercenary groups allows these governments to not abide by international law and use whatever means are at their disposal to eliminate armed opposition.

Thus, it is necessary for nations who contribute to UN peacekeeping missions and the institution itself to implement harsher penalties on their citizens who have been found to be guilty of abuses while serving in an official capacity. Without institutional integrity and trust from fragile states, they will look for alternatives, such as mercenary groups.

Nations who comprise the UN should also consider providing more resources to peacekeeping missions. These resources may be more effective in providing credible deterrence and bringing stability to the region through tried and tested diplomacy.

Lastly, the international community must pressure nations that employ mercenary groups through sanctions and forbid their citizens from engaging in such efforts.


Christopher Ynclan Jr., Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Disintegration of the Second Marquetalia: The Death of “Romaña” and “El Paisa”

Two of the most important ex-commanders of the extinct FARC guerrilla were assassinated in Venezuela. Dario Velásquez, known as “El Paisa,” and Henry Castellanos, known as “Romaña,” died in ambushes last week, which is a great blow to the FARC dissidents, known as the Second Marquetalia.

The death of Velásquez and Castellanos, who were signatories in the peace process, but later abandoned it, reveals the struggle being wedged between dissident groups of the FARC for control of the illicit economies in Venezuela and Colombia.


Hernán Darío Velásquez, better known as “El Paisa,” began his criminal career in the FARC at the age of 19. He joined the eastern bloc of the FARC and was under the orders of the historical commanders of the guerrilla, the “Mono Jojoy.” “El Paisa” rapidly rose through the ranks of the FARC, specializing in activities such as drug and arms trafficking and extortion, especially in his hometown of Antioquia.

Years later, “El Paisa” led the Teófilo Forero mobile column, which was a special operations force within the FARC known for its combat expertise and bloody terrorist attacks.  Notable attacks include the bomb attack on the El Nogal Club in Bogotá, in which 36 people died, and the mass kidnapping of the deputies of Valle del Cauca.  These events led “El Paisa” to become one of the most wanted and feared men in Colombia, and one of the most important members of the FARC.

On the other hand, Henry Castellanos, better known as “Romaña,” commanded the 53rd front of the FARC, one of the most important in areas such as the Department of Meta. “Romaña” was also known as “the kidnapping czar” because of his specialty in random kidnappings on national roads, popularly known as “miraculous fishing.”

These kidnappings were carried out with the intention of financing the FARC’s guerrilla activities and occurred mainly in the Departments of Villavicencio, Cundinamarca, and Boyacá.

Castellanos also participated in the bloody takeover of the city of Mitú, where 43 people were killed and 61 members of the security forces were kidnapped. “Romaña’s” efficiency in kidnappings, extortion, and guerrilla takeovers led him to become a member of the FARC’s secretariat, the leadership of the terrorist organization.

Signing the Peace Agreement and its Abandonment

Both “El Paisa” and “Romaña” participated in signing the peace agreement with the Colombian government in 2016, and both were part of the FARC negotiating team despite being late additions to the negotiating table. The agreement sought to demobilize more than 32,000 guerrillas, reincorporate them into civilian life, and bring an absolute end to hostilities between the Colombian government and the FARC.

In July 2018, “El Paisa” left the Territorial Training and Reincorporation Space (ETCR) in Caquetá, where he was worked alongside other ex-combatants. Velásquez argued that the government betrayed the agreement since the terms were not being fulfilled and the capture of another FARC leader, Jesus Santrich, was a trap.

As for “Romaña,” he decided not to appear before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) in 2019, arguing that he had received death threats.

Months after the disappearance of “Romaña” and “El Paisa,” the former commanders appeared in a video with Iván Márquez, Jesús Santrich, and other deserters from the peace agreement announcing the creation of the Second Marquetalia. In the video, Márquez points out that the ex-guerrillas were forced to create a new organization because the government did not comply with the prior agreements. Thus, a new terrorist organization with a significant presence in Colombia and Venezuela was created.

The Killings and their Implications

On December 8th, the Colombian Defense Minister confirmed that both “Romaña” and “El Paisa” died in isolated events in Venezuela. The Minister also emphasized that the members of the second Marquetalia were protected by Nicolas Maduro’s regime, which significantly facilitated their illegal operations.

Although it is not possible to fully confirm who was behind the death of two of the most feared FARC dissidents, there are varying hypotheses. Some sources indicate that “El Paisa” was assassinated by the men under his command due to their mistreatment and that they wanted to seize his hidden fortune of millions of dollars.

However, the most viable hypothesis is that “El Paisa” was assassinated in an ambush by the 10th front of the FARC. Gentil Duarte leads the 10th front and disputes for control of drug trafficking routes, the illegal exploitation of minerals, and other activities from criminals in Colombia and in some areas of Venezuela, such as the State of Apure.

“Romaña’s” situation appears similar in nature. A Colombian news portal revealed that the photo where “Romaña” appears dead was taken by the FARC dissidents who ambushed him.

In addition to the deaths of “Romaña” and “El Paisa,” Jesús Santrich was also assassinated this year. The conditions of his death were very similar; there is no clear party responsible, it occurred on Venezuelan soil, and it is suspected that he was murdered due to drug-trafficking disputes.

The deaths of the leaders of the Second Marquetalia represent a great blow to this criminal and terrorist organization. The only relevant leader still alive is Iván Márquez, who is suspected to be hiding in another country.

In the event that “Romaña” and “El Paisa” were indeed killed by Gentil Duarte’s dissidents, this would demonstrate that Duarte’s group is winning over the Second Marquetalia. Meaning that Gentil Duarte’s dissidents are taking over a vast amount of territory in Colombia and Venezuela and that they are increasing in economic and arms power.

Finally, to stop the violence between the dissident groups of the FARC, it is necessary that both the Colombian State and the Venezuelan State confront narco-terrorist groups and gain control over their territories, especially near the borders. However, this is especially difficult since the two countries do not have diplomatic relations, which makes cooperation difficult, especially considering that the Venezuelan regime sponsors and protects some of these organizations.


Daniel Felipe Ruiz Rozo, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


The Escalation of Terrorism in Syria

Syria is one of the countries severely impacted by terrorism. It is widely known that Syria is afflicted by suffering, as terrorists have attacked innocent people, obliterated foundations, plundered Syria’s assets, and generated a humanitarian catastrophe throughout the country. Since 1979, Syria has been exposed to terrorist attacks, which persist today.

The Escalation of Terrorism

In 1979, Syria was designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism and proceeded its political and military bolster to aid several terrorist groups. Over the last few years, Syria has captivated global audiences due to its counter-terrorism endeavors. The unexpected and terrifying rise of ISIS in 2014 drew worldwide attention to Syria. In a few weeks, the broadest transnational alliance in global history was deployed to set in motion a counterattack against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The jihadist group, after five years, referring to themselves as “caliphate,” had been demolished. Whereas announcements of ISIS’s overcome were certainly untimely, a worldwide approach and consideration on countering fear-based oppression in Syria has since declined, as if to suggest that the work is exhausted.

In fact, as 2020 began, the world appeared to misunderstand counter-terrorism efforts in Syria, since the danger of ISIS could be long from over. ISIS holds thousands of warriors in Syria and maintains an unfaltering pace of agitators and fear-based oppressor assaults east of the Euphrates. More worryingly, ISIS appears to be developing strength and capacity west of the Euphrates. This is also where Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad and his local army accomplices generally appear unable to contain and overcome ISIS’s exercises.

The Current Situation in Syria

In 2021, according to military officials, over 14 soldiers were killed and three were injured in a bomb assault on a bus with armed forces in Damascus, the capital of Syria. Immediately after the attack, the army fired on a rebel state in Idlib, killing 12 people, according to rescue workers. The bombing of Damascus was the deadliest the capital has experienced in recent years. This was an infrequent incident, considering that the government’s army conquered the suburbs once owned by the opposition’s fighters after a decade of conflict in Syria.

Ultimately, 2021 has been one of the hardest years for Syria. Over the years, the accumulation of wars and terrorism has led to a crucial economic crisis and an enormous reduction of food resources. Therefore, the United States should adjust its policies and reflect on the current situation in Syria.

In 2021, the armed conflict in Syria has passed a ten-year milestone. At the present moment, the conflict has outstretched into a violent and ongoing deadlock, with several different and simultaneous armed conflicts overlapping with regional security concerns regarding Turkey, Iran, Israel, Kurds, and jihadist activities.

While the United Nations-led process has had difficulties progressing, Western nations have withdrawn their involvement, and some Arab nations are looking for ways to realign with Assad’s regime.

Conclusions and Suggestions

Syria’s attacks have resulted in a humanitarian disaster with dramatic repercussions for the country, neighboring states, and in general, globally. Approximately 500,000 people didn’t survive the attacks, and over 13 million have abandoned their homes.

Since 2015, the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) has played an important role in supporting people and building peace. USIP has likewise supported common society associations, informed policymakers, helped refugees in Syria’s neighboring states, and ultimately promoted peace.

In order to have critical outcomes, an organized effort is needed to help Syria diminish terrorism and conquer peace. Global support is needed to defeat the terrorist attacks. However, international counter-terrorism cooperation faces many obstacles, from geostrategic rivalries to the ubiquitous double standards and the influence of domestic politics at the time.

Regarding the current conditions in Syria, it is vital for Assad and his compatriots to be expelled. Today’s government supports the continuation of conflict to maintain its power. Although this eviction is needed for the same reasons, it remains a very complex operation.

Overall, the major concerns that make Syria a fertile ground for terrorism include the regime’s security drift, Islamist terrorism’s resilience, and recent demographic changes in some regions profiting Shias. Europe should enact guidelines to support Syria, such as providing aid to refugees, rebuilding regions attacked by ISIS, and providing solutions for future conflicts between neighboring states.


Katerina Rebecca Paraskeva, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Abubakar Shekau: His Many Deaths and Lasting Impact

Very little is known about Abubakar Shekau, the late leader of the group Jama’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-jihad. The little we know is that he was a one-time deputy to Mohammed Yusuf, founder of the group commonly referred to as Boko Haram.

Following Yusuf’s execution by the Nigerian forces in 2009, Shekau assumed leadership until his death on May 19th, 2021. In the almost 12 years of Shekau’s leadership, Boko Haram witnessed a steady rise in global recognition, media attention, and publicly acknowledged partnerships with other international terrorist organizations.

Boko Haram’s activities significantly transformed over the years, including a change in its targets, the nature of its attacks, and the weapons it used. Year after year, the group’s choices and standards of weapons continued to improve and the question of funding became louder and more critical to decipher. Additionally, while Boko Haram’s recruitment strategy continuously evolved, it nonetheless continued to produce its desired results.

Regarding Shekau’s leadership, even though deeply flawed and occasionally challenged by top group members, it would be wrong for any counter-terrorism strategy to make light of the capabilities of such an individual.

His Deaths

Conceivably, the Nigerian government may not have thought too lightly of Shekau, due to their many attempts to eliminate him. Since 2009, the Nigerian military, on at least four occasions, declared Abubakar Shekau dead before being debunked by Shekau’s typical video statements.

With such back history, it was no surprise that many would question what may now seem accurate, the announcement of the death of Abubakar Shekau on May 19th, 2021. Although, this time, the Nigerian military did not take credit for his death; rather, ISWAP, a rival faction, accepted responsibility for the events that led to his death, death by suicide.

Some have described the “mystery man” to be a psychopath and a joke. Regardless, Shekau remains an integral part of the group’s expansion. Psychopath or insane, joke or not, was he a dangerous person? Yes. Did he take advantage of the loopholes the Nigerian system graciously afforded him? Yes. Did he get what he wanted? Most definitely.

If his goal was to undermine the Nigerian military and destabilize the country as a whole, then Shekau found success. From influencing, whether directly or indirectly, the current violent crisis and criminalities on multiple fronts, the group’s desire is being fulfilled in the nation.

The growing unrest, much of which receives minute media coverage and security responses, is having a far-reaching effect on the entire nation. One of those many ways that is quite relatable is in the area of heightened food prices resulting from food scarcity.

A Hungry Nation

Northern Nigeria, which is home to numerous crises, such as farmers’ versus herdsmen, bandits, and kidnappers, is a key player in the agricultural sector and contributes significantly to the nation’s entire crop and livestock production output. Indeed, it is not beyond the expectation, that the Nigerian government highly prioritizes the region’s development.

The failure of the nation’s leadership to consider simply this grave consequence over the years has now put the entire nation in an avoidable struggle for daily survival.  A more worrying knowledge is the projection of the hardship that awaits the country in the coming years.

In Conclusion

Unless something is done, and quickly, the present, increasing criminality among citizens will only be the tip of the iceberg. With the grave damages brought about by one “mystery man” and the ripple effect of the actions of Boko Haram, alongside the response or nonresponse of the Nigerian government, a greater problem awaits.

While the Nigerian government continues to do its best to deal with the multiple fixes, perhaps unmasking the man, the group, and the truth behind them all, may lay a solid foundation to winning this blind war against an unknown enemy.


Joan McDappa, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Resisting Russia: Ukraine on the Verge of a Far-Right Insurgency

An unclassified U.S. intelligence document, first reported on December 3rd by The Washington Post, revealed that Russia is planning a massive military offensive against Ukraine as soon as early 2022, involving up to 175,000 troops.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly expressed concern regarding NATO expansion in Eastern Europe. In 2008, NATO, an American-led military alliance, promised membership to Ukraine. Russia saw this offer as a threat to its borders and an intrusion into its sphere of influence. Whilst Ukraine is still working to meet the admission criteria for NATO membership, the U.S. has declared an “ironclad commitment” to Ukraine’s security. The current crisis has provoked fears of an escalating war on European soil.

Should Russia enact its planned offensive, Ukraine’s military would quickly fall. “If Russia really wants to unleash its conventional capabilities, they could inflict massive damage in a very short period of time,” said Robert Lee, a Russian military expert at King’s College, London. “They can devastate the Ukrainian military in the east really quickly, within the first 30-40 minutes.”

In 2014, when Russian troops seized the Crimean Peninsula, Russian-backed separatists launched a takeover of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Ukraine’s military was unable to mount an effective resistance, and volunteer brigades took up arms to defeat the separatists. Eight years later, Ukrainian military officials have begun to speak of how they could mobilise a similar guerilla resistance of irregular military units to counter Russian occupation. One senior military official has stated that, if all else should fail, the Ukrainian military would simply open its weapon depots and allow the Ukrainian people to arm themselves.

Extremism within Ukraine’s Security Forces

The increasing possibility of a counter-Russian guerilla insurgency prompts further analysis of the ideologies of the armed units and volunteer battalions already operating within the country, and who would likely play a key role in such a resistance. Indeed, these groups have already been referred to as “Ukraine’s most potent and reliable force on the battlefield.”

Whilst many of these groups officially fall under the command of the Ukrainian government, they are far from a conventional military force, with many of them retaining their own distinct identity and command structure. The loyalty of these groups to the current government is far from certain, and some volunteer battalions have even been accused of war crimes.

The Azov movement was among the 30-odd volunteer units that helped defeat the takeover of the Donbas region by Russian-backed forces in 2014. Since then, Azov has become one of the most powerful militias in Ukraine. Whilst the group has sought to downplay its more extreme elements, Azov’s ideology of far-right ultranationalism is hard to deny. The group’s logo is a mirrored Wolfsangel, a symbol used by Nazi Germany, and most widely known as an emblem of the SS division Das Reich.

The group’s members openly espouse white supremacist and fascist ideology. Many of them have links to other neo-Nazi groups and have been accused of targeting minorities in Azov-controlled territory. The group’s first commander, Andriy Biketsky, stated in 2010 that Ukraine’s national mission was to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade… against Semite-led untermenschen [subhumans].” The group has already been accused of numerous human rights violations and war crimes, including mass looting, torture, and rape.

Groups like Azov are central to Ukraine’s expanding prominence as a major international hub for far-right extremism. Azov’s online recruitment strategy has helped establish a cult-like global following of fascists and white supremacists and has contributed to a flow of more than 17,000 foreign fighters who have come to Ukraine since 2015. This flow of foreign nationals is motivated by the allure of fighting alongside other far-right extremists. Many of them see Ukraine as a training ground to develop combat skills which they can bring home.

Security experts warn that Ukraine is radicalizing far-right foreign fighters in the same way as Syria has with Islamist extremists, creating an international network of combat-trained extremists. “I believe Europe is in great danger” says Alberto Testa, an expert on far-right radicalization at the University of West London. Testa describes Ukraine as a staging ground for a “white jihad struggle” where extremists can “train for what some would call racial holy war.”

The United States’ “Ironclad Commitment”

The prominence of far-right extremist groups within Ukraine introduces substantial complexity to the United States’ security commitment. Should Russia’s planned offensive occur, the Ukrainian military would quickly fall, and a grassroots insurgency of armed units and volunteer battalions would rapidly emerge as the country’s most effective resistance.

Far-right ultranationalist units, such as Azov, would likely be among the strongest elements of this insurgency, as they were during the 2014 campaign against Russian-backed separatists. The guerilla tactics led by these units would likely represent the country’s greatest weapon. Indeed, these tactics represent “Ukraine’s best deterrent against Putin’s invasion force,” according to counter-insurgency specialist Thomas X. Hannes.

So far, the U.S. has attempted to distance itself from the extremist elements of Ukraine’s security forces. It has sought to prevent military assistance from reaching Azov. The State Department has branded Azov’s political and paramilitary offshoots as “nationalist hate groups.” However, should Ukraine face the offensive described in intelligence reports, then these elements would be central to the country’s counter-Russian effort.  The U.S. would need to make a difficult choice: does its “ironclad commitment” to Ukraine’s sovereignty justify support for far-right extremists?


The situation in Ukraine represents years of diplomatic failure. The international community’s inability to resolve the Ukraine crisis has fueled violence and extremism within the country’s borders, and beyond. The conflict has turned Ukraine into a violent training ground for fascists and white supremacists, creating a global network of combat-trained extremists ready to wage racial holy war. The crisis also has the potential of igniting a terrifying, and possibly catastrophic, global conflict.

The United States and Russia should work urgently to prevent the possibility of armed conflict and propose a solution for the crisis in Ukraine. The security and prosperity of the Ukrainian people should be central to any peace-seeking effort in Eastern Europe. If NATO and Russia are to co-exist peacefully, then they must work together to build mutual trust, challenge hatred, and serve the cause of peace.


Oliver Alexander Crisp, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


ISIS in the Congo: A Counter-Terrorism Perspective

With much attention spotlighting ISIS-K’s increased capabilities, little attention has been brought to their counterparts within Central Africa. Much like their counterparts in Central Asia, the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) has increased its activities within Central Africa this year.

As ISCAP has carried out attacks, they have united the governments of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in combating them, despite their past differences. While ISIS has lost territory in the Middle East, it is evident that its affiliates remain salient threats to the regions they operate in, as well as international security as a whole.

Origins of ISCAP

The formation of the Islamic State in Central Africa traces back to ISIS’s ambitions to expand into Africa in late 2018. The first attacks in the region occurred one year later within the DRC. That same year, the group expanded operations into Mozambique, which cemented their threat to Central African security.

ISCAP has traditionally been composed of the Congo-based Allied Defence Forces (ADF) and fighters within Mozambique. In 2020, the Mozambique branch had conquered cities within Mozambique, which alarmed states within the region. This year, the branch within Mozambique has been the target of a multilateral offensive from a coalition of states, which has weakened their operational capacity compared to their previous success in 2020.

Growing Operational Capability

The ADF did not begin life as an exclusively Islamic militant organization, but rather as a rebel group seeking to oust the current Ugandan government. As the group went into remote regions of Uganda it began to change into the militant group it is today, recruiting disaffected Muslim youth.

The branch within the DRC has seen its capacity grow in 2021, as they have been attributed to an uptick of attacks within the country. They have also become increasingly brutal, demonstrated through released videos of beheadings as part of their propaganda. This is in light of this branch conducting over 20 attacks this year alone. Moreover, their attacks within Uganda have become indicative of an augmentation in their capabilities to harm the people of Central Africa. The most brazen of such attacks occurred on November 16th in which they bombed the capital of Uganda.

Ghosts of the Past

While both governments are interested in the defeat of ISCAP, relations between the DRC and Uganda have been fraught with tensions. These strained relations stem from the actions of the Ugandans during the Congo Wars, which ended in 2003. The Ugandans were found to violate the DRC’s sovereignty and were forced to pay reparations by the Hague.

As these wounds are still fresh in the minds of many within the DRC, skepticism of another Ugandan intervention underlies their thoughts. Despite these reservations, the government of the DRC has invited Ugandan troops into the country to aid in the fight against the insurgents.

A Roadmap for Peace

The fight against Islamic militants within Africa is not a new endeavor. However, it is important to note the evolution of such groups within Africa and their capabilities. More than 20 years ago, the United States’ embassy in Kenya was attacked by suicide bombers. Since that time, a small group, which at one point pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, captured large swathes of sovereign territory in the Levant, and created a network of global affiliates that carried out their own attacks. No longer are such groups content with attacking government symbols, such as an embassy, but rather they seek the prestige of carving out states from the territory of sovereign nations.

As this is Africa’s new reality, there are policy directives that should be considered to effectively address the current situation of the Congo. To effectively rout this group, it is imperative that a formalized dissemination of intelligence exist between states in the region. While the DRC and Uganda are engaged in combating the DRC-based branch, the Mozambique-based branch still can provide refuge to any escaping combatants to regain strength. Without such a coordinated effort, it is unlikely that ISCAP’s threat to Central African security will subside.

Secondly, a concrete timeline should exist detailing when Ugandan troops will be present and what they must abide by while in the DRC. Any such violation would be met with recourse similar to the previous deal given by the Hague.

The DRC has deemed that the Ugandans would be beneficial to combat ISCAP; however, any such breakdown of relations between the two would detrimentally impact security. Finally, the states of Central Africa must address the underlying conditions which have driven their Muslim youth to join ISIS affiliates.


Christopher Ynclan Jr., Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Rise to Peace