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 

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

Maher al-Agal

What the Death of Maher al-Agal Means for the Future of the Islamic State

Maher al-Agal was killed in a U.S. drone strike in northwest Syria on July 12, 2022. Al-Agal was a top leader of the Islamic State, and his absence from the group leaves the Islamic State without another leader to develop the organization’s goals. Having lost leaders like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi al Qurashi in the past, the Islamic State has recovered relative to the point of continuing attacks. This then poses the question, how will the death of Maher al-Agal impact the Islamic State?

Background of Maher al-Agal and his Rise to Power

Little is known about the life of Maher al-Agal previous to his involvement with the Islamic State. He was formerly a prominent member of the Islamic State in Raqqa when the organization held control of that territory.  In 2020, al-Agal moved to become a member of Turkish-backed factions and lived in the city of Afrin. Al-Agal eventually became a commander in one of those Turkish backed factions titled Jaysh Al-Sharqiyyah, the final position he held for the remainder of his life. According to the U.S. military, al-Agal aggressively worked to develop the Islamic State’s networks internationally.  By the end of his life, al-Agal was considered to be one of the top five leaders of the organization.

The Airstrike that Killed Maher al-Agal

The drone strike that killed al-Agal occurred in northwest Syria, where he was confirmed to be located.  A close associate of  al-Agal’s was seriously injured in the blast as confirmed by the U.S. government.  The target was confirmed to be al-Agal whilst he and his associate were riding a motorcycle in the town of Khaltan. An unconfirmed report by the U.S. military states that the associate eventually died of his injuries.  It has still yet to be confirmed if any civilians were injured or killed in the attack, but sources thus far have said there have not been any civilian casualties.

How Death and Capture of Past IS Leaders Have Impacted the Organization

Prominent leaders of the Islamic State have been killed in different attacks by the U.S., much like that of Maher al-Agal. The former leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in October of 2019. Baghdadi detonated his suicide vest, ultimately killing himself and three of his children during a pursuit inside a tunnel involving U.S. military canines.  Baghdadi first gained attention in 2014 when he officially declared the Islamic State a caliphate, and it spread throughout Iraq and Syria. Despite the death of Baghdadi, the Islamic State remained and continues to remain a prominent threat throughout the world.

The death of the former leader of the Islamic State, who took leadership after the death of Baghdadi, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, died February 2, 2022. Al-Qurashi had a similar death to Baghdadi; while being chased by U.S. forces, he detonated a suicide vest, resulting in the blast that killed some of his family members and an ISIS deputy.  His death seemed to slow the group in general; however, the organization still held hundreds to thousands of followers by the time Abu Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi was chosen as successor.

Abu Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi only remained the leader of the Islamic State for about three months before his capture by Turkish forces in late May.  Turkish officials claim that during the raid to capture him, their forces did not have to shoot a single bullet. The U.S., still has yet to confirm whether or not the man is, in fact, al-Qurashi.  However, Turkish officials allege that it is him without a doubt. The alleged capture of al-Qurashi still did not stop the Islamic State as the group still remains active throughout the world.


Overall, while governments welcome the death of Maher al-Agal throughout the world, it is still unclear how much of an impact this will have on the Islamic State as a whole. The group has suffered thousands of casualties and multiple deaths of its top leaders, yet they continue to push their ideology and grow, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. While this attack will impact the group and could lead to destabilization of the Islamic State as a whole, it is unlikely that the group will continue without a successor for long. It will take a united effort from the international community to help mitigate this crisis. While the death of leaders like al-Agal is a step in the right direction, ultimately, poverty reduction, stabilization of conflict zones, and repatriation and reintegration of foreign terrorist fighters and their families are just some ways to slow the growth of the Islamic State.


Claire Spethman, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Katibat Macina

Katibat Macina: A Growing Threat in Mali

According to a statement by the Malian government, heightened attention is on Katibat Macina, an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organization, for its massacre of 132 civilians in central Mali.  Mali has not seen a death toll that high from an isolated incident since 2012, leaving the country in a complete state of grief since the attack in late June. Katibat Macina continues to grow throughout Mali and is becoming an increasing security threat in the region.

The Mali War and Current State of the Conflict

In 2012, the Mali War began, and its roots are attributed to the fourth uprising by the Tuareg separatist group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad. This uprising led an Islamist takeover of all northern cities of Mali. It included an improvised military coup against the standing Malian military. This conflict has led to the deaths of over 25,000 people and caused the displacement of over four million. With the severity of this conflict and requests from the Malian president, France, and the UN Peacekeepers became involved in hopes of mitigation. However, French troops are withdrawing due to disagreements between leaders on best practices. This leaves the Malian government with UN Peacekeepers and their military committee that has yet to be able to counter the continued insurgency.

In the past year, the Malian government has heavily relied on Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group to support their fight against jihadists. Efforts to mitigate the growing jihadism in Mali have yet to be stopped and have spread throughout the Sahel, leaving the Malian military without significant progress towards peace.

Background of Katibat Macina

Katibat Macina first found its roots in 2015 from its founder and current leader, Amadou Kouffa, a former member of Ansar al-Din, another terrorist organization in Mali.  Katibat Macina first gained attention for their attack on the Byblos Hotel in Mopti. By 2016, the group’s operations focused more seriously on the Niger Delta, an area known for its rich agriculture, which only exacerbated the number of displaced persons throughout Mali.

After much public rejection for their harsh interpretations of Shar’ia, Katibat Macina was forced to hold a softer approach when aiming to gain more recruits. The group was able to grow and eventually shifted its main focus to attacking UN operations and personnel throughout Mali.

Massacre of 132 Civilians

From June 18, 2022, to June 19, 2022, Katibat Macina attacked the villages of Diallassagou, Diamweli, and Deguessagou in the Bandiagara area of Mali. Katibat Macina arrived armed on motorcycles and executed mostly men throughout the villages and set fire to many of the homes, vehicles, and barns forcing survivors to flee to Bankass.

Local sources have attributed this attack to the people of these villages for their cooperation with the Malian government and Russian mercenaries on counterterrorism efforts in the area. Katibat Macina attacked two additional cities; however, the fighters were ousted by traditional Dozo hunters or armed Dogon militiamen before the attack reached civilians. The Bandiagara area has often experienced jihadist violence, but nothing as severe as this recent massacre of innocent civilians. Some sources have claimed that the actual death count is lower than what has been reported in an effort by Dogon militiamen to gain more weapons; the Malian government has rejected these statements.

Current Mitigation Efforts & Outlook

Efforts to counter Katibat Macina have included ground combat, interviews of victims, and airstrikes. The Malian government has sent airstrikes in an effort to counter Kabitiat Macina in the vicinity of Bankass and Segue, as well as in Djenne and Tenenkou, where some of its members were located. Both the Malian government and Russian mercenaries have ramped up their counterterrorism efforts in these areas following the massacre.

The growth of jihadism in Mali and its presence throughout the entire Sahel has continued to grow without fail. The UN continues its peacekeeping efforts throughout Mali with its operation, UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali. However, this UN mission is often referred to as the most dangerous mission for peacekeepers due to high attacks targeting UN officials.

Following the withdrawal of French troops from Mali, the Malian government is struggling to properly counter these terrorist groups on their own, even coupled with the help of the UN. The Malian military needs proper funding and support from the international community o mitigate this growing security threat and prevent further massacres.


Claire Spethman, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow



A U.S. Drone Strike Kills an al-Qaeda Linked Commander in Syria

On June 27, another drone strike was successfully completed against the leader of an al-Qaeda affiliate group in northern Syria, according to the Syrian Civil Defense, a humanitarian organization. The attack occurred just before midnight when two rockets were fired towards the target.

As claimed by Syrian opposition activists and the U.S. military, the man killed, identified as Abu Hamzah al Yemeni, was a top member of an al-Qaeda-affiliated group.  The drone strike was conducted by a U.S.-led coalition in the northwest province of Idlib.

The U.S. Central Command stated that the attack targeted al Yemeni, a “top leader” of Hurras al-Din, an organization affiliated with al-Qaeda, as he was riding a motorcycle by himself at midnight. Furthermore, the body was then transported to the forensic department in Idlib. According to verified reports, there were no civilian casualties. Additionally, the U.S. Central Command stated that “the removal of this senior leader will disrupt al-Qaeda’s ability to carry out attacks against U.S. citizens, our partners and innocent civilians around the world.”

Overview of the Group Hurras al-din

On February 27, 2018, seven ardent Syrian rebel organizations joined together, actualizing their group which is now known as Hurras al-Din (HaD). In the months that followed the group’s founding, ten additional minor rebel organizations with a history of doctrinal and managerial ties to al-Qaeda joined. Reports estimate that at least 50% of the 700 – 2,500 members of the group are foreigners.

HaD is outspokenly committed to al-Qaeda. Additionally, al-Qaeda veterans from other countries make up the vast majority of HaD’s leadership. These significant ties to al-Qaeda makes HaD part of the watchlists of intelligence agencies, the U.S. government, and think tanks. The leadership of HaD is divided along two differing currents: one that adheres to the ideas of Libyan cleric Jamal Ibrahim Ashityawee al-Musratti and the other that adheres to those of al-Qaeda scholar Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. The “defining authority” for both currents is the al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The Public’s Opinion of the U.S. Drone Strikes

There were mixed comments online as to the recent attack in Syria. Some members of the online community have reiterated that the U.S. is dominating weak countries and committing crimes against humanity due to their Global War on Terror. However, CENTCOM said in its statement that violent extremist organizations, including al-Qaeda-aligned organizations such as Hurras al-Din “continue to present a threat to America and our allies.” It added that al-Qaeda-aligned militants use Syria as a safe haven to coordinate with their external affiliates and plan operations outside of Syria.


Kristian N. Rivera, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Rise to Peace