Examining Militancy in Nigeria: Mistakes of the South and Lessons for the North

On June 25, 2009, then President of Nigeria, Umaru Musa Yaradua, made a proclamation granting amnesty and unconditional pardon to everyone who directly or indirectly participated in the commission of offences, including those facing prosecution at the time, associated with militancy activities in the Niger Delta region. The requirement for this pardon to be effected was dependent on simply: the surrender of weapons and renunciation of militancy forms by concerned individuals at collection centres established for this purpose by the government. For about sixty days only, this proclamation stood valid, and in that time, over 20,192 individuals had accepted the terms of this amnesty offer.

In the same year, Boko Haram began an armed rebellion against the Nigerian government with multiple attacks across parts of northern Nigeria. Years later, Boko Haram became categorized as a terrorist group both in Nigeria and internationally, launching several attacks within Nigeria and neighbouring countries. For the last 12 years, Nigeria’s government steadily increased its responses to counter-terrorism, albeit widely perceived as counterproductive. More recently, the Nigerian government’s execution of the Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration, and Resettlement (DDRRR) program raises questions about its effectiveness.

The Identical Problem

The Niger Delta Militancy and the Boko Haram Insurgency are two main threats Nigeria has dealt with since its independence in 1960; both cases led to significant economic losses. Although the ideologies behind the two conflicts differ, the basis on which these ideologies come to be is very similar. In both scenarios, there is an ongoing deprivation of some sort, whether it be a functioning system where communities have access to basic amenities, or perceived injustice and marginalization, resulting in grievances that then form the ideological structure of these groups.

For the Boko Haram insurgency, endemic corruption is often cited as a menace in the Northern region that deprives the communities of even the basic needs that the government should provide. Widespread unemployment, lack of primary health care, massive poverty, and a general absence of the State all served as drivers for Boko Haram’s campaign in the North, especially in attracting recruits.

Similarly, unemployment, environmental degradation, and socioeconomic and political marginalization are unfortunate realities that communities in the Delta region face, leading to overwhelming amounts of militant activities. Between 2007 and 2009, the agitations in the Delta region worsened so much that Nigeria recorded an estimated daily loss of $58 million. The Presidential Amnesty Program (PAP) was an attempt to salvage the economic crisis and deteriorating security situation in the region.

Lessons for the Nigerian Government

A decade after PAP, security in the Delta region seems to be taking a new turn with the high rise of illicit markets, such as oil bunkering, as a means of survival. The underlying issues that fueled agitation in the area remain; unemployment rates have worsened, the perceived marginalization is still very much present, and the environment continues to suffer. By and large, the goal of the Amnesty program was bound to fail the moment it didn’t prioritize addressing the grievances that led to the agitations in the first instance.

With the surrender of over 37,000 repentant Boko Haram members thus far, and the ongoing DDRRR program, one can only hope that there is a plan to address the underlying issues that have fueled the Boko Haram campaign to avoid a repeat of the situation in the Niger Delta. Presently, there is a worsening insecurity dilemma due to the noticeable rise in illicit markets in the northern region, including those not linked to Boko Haram. In effect, it may be the worst of its kind should the government fail to be deliberate in preventing a recurrence of the northern conflict.

Joan McDappa, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Ukraine Claims to Have Obtained a List of Russian Spies Operating in Europe

Ukraine asserts that it has acquired a list of Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agents involved in criminal activities in Europe. More than 600 alleged Russian spies are purportedly operating in Europe.

According to reports, Ukraine has released names, addresses, and even SIM cards in an attempt to destroy these agents and damage Russia’s intelligence activities across Europe. Ukraine has been providing a list of FSB workers, which is the successor of Russia’s infamous and feared intelligence agency, the KGB.

Profiles, contact information, card details, “registration addresses,” and some financial details of 620 putative Russian spies are provided on the list, which was released in Russian and appeared to be unavailable on the ministry’s English version of the website.

John Sawers, who directed MI6 from 2009 to 2014, commented, “we are seeing the breadth of Russian aggressive intelligence activity across Europe. We probably only know 10% of what they’re doing; there will be a lot that intelligence services conduct that we don’t know about.”

The main concern is whether or not the list is accurate. Several of the identities appear to originate from prior leaks of FSB officers, according to Aric Toler, a specialist at the investigative reporting organization Bellingcat, but then other information on the list seems to be fresh.

He said that after doing some fact-checking, a lot of the items on the website’s list were massive database dumps since then. In other words, some of these spies have been revealed before and are not novices to the spy ring. However, several of these names are unfamiliar and could have far-reaching implications for Russian agents.

According to Representative Ritchie Torres from New York, the FBI should investigate the Russian diplomatic residence in New York City. At the same time, they have been appalled and alarmed by Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine. In that context, Representative Torres has formally requested that the FBI open an investigation into reports of espionage at the Russian diplomatic compound. Representative Torres also spoke to reporters about the white high-rise tower at 355 West 255th Street in the Bronx borough last month.

Since Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, Data has been Compromised.

When Russian troops breached Ukraine’s borders in late February, massive volumes of information concerning the Russian state as well as its operations have now become public. According to WIRED, the new access provides fresh prospects into closed private entities, and it could be a valuable resource for authorities ranging from journalists to war crimes experts.

The material is subdivided into two categories: that which Ukrainian officials or their partners intentionally publicize and that which is obtained by hacker groups such as DDoSecrets and Anonymous. Many hackers have demonstrated their support for Ukraine by hacking Russian websites and exposing secret Russian material. As a result, hundreds of gigabytes of data and thousands of communications have been made public.

What Is the Difference Between the SVR and the FSB?

The FSB is much more than a typical security agency. It has progressed significantly since the early 1990s, when it was on the verge of disintegration, combining the tasks of an exclusive police service with those of an espionage agency and wielding great power. According to sources, the FSB recruits a wide range of tech-savvy and competent individuals to help them improve their activities across the cyber world. IKSI, the Institute of Cryptography and Information Security, is the agency’s unique institute that used to specialize in code-breaking but now concentrates on data protection.

The distinguishing factor between the FSB and the SVR is the scope of their operations. The FSB is responsible for guaranteeing the safety of the entire population of Russia, whereas the SVR focuses on the security of predominantly state officials. The FSB has a variety of specific capabilities that the SVR does not, while on the other hand, the SVR also has a wide range of scope in which the FSB cannot perform. The SVR is primarily responsible for foreign intelligence, whilst the FSB is responsible for domestic intelligence. After all, both of these groups continue to collaborate on analysis and exploration, which still results in keeping their government’s power and balance.

Spy-Master: What Now?

Historically, after a spy is uncovered, an intelligence agent may be imprisoned. On the other hand, professional case agents are practically always working beneath diplomatic cover and enjoy sovereign immunity, so they are promptly released. While the operatives they oversee could face long prison sentences, the worst that foreign intelligence agents can anticipate is public exposure and a statement by the opposing government that they will be declared persona non grata and should leave forthwith. However, in the event of an aggressive invasion, this is no longer the case and it now becomes a contest of wits and bravery.

Russian agents could have been a high-value target for the Ukrainian government because their names had previously been disclosed, and they may have withheld top-secret information. Furthermore, a large number of Russian officials have been expelled from European countries. More than 20 European countries have removed some suspected Russian intelligence officers who may have been identified on the leaked list, according to Greg Myre, a national security correspondent for NPR and an American journalist for over 15 years.

As the invasion progresses, expulsions are becoming more common, and Russia’s invasion has caused these large-scale expulsions in a rather coordinated manner thus far. While it’s too early to determine, it is possible that this would lead to a long-term reduction in diplomatic operations between the West and Russia.

As per this assessment, Russia’s constant and abrupt data and information leaks could provide Ukraine an advantage, especially because Europe is supporting them in this effort. Russia’s intelligence assets would be compromised, and their operations may not proceed as well as intended. For Russia, not having cybersecurity can lead to consequences, ranging from aggravation to complete shutdown, which could be seen as a gain for Ukraine.


Kristian N. Rivera, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Censorship Through the UK´s Prevent Program

As a part of CONTEST, the Prevent program aims to stop people from embracing different forms of extremism that may lead to terrorism in the UK. The Prevent program targets lawful activity such as thought, expression and behavior to predict future criminal activity. In 2015, the UK drafted its public sector to carry out the “Prevent Duty.” Teachers, doctors, therapists, and other professionals in these institutions are legally obligated to carry out national security duties by referring individuals to Prevent and adhering to “British values.” Prevent has had some criticisms in the past and continues to raise significant concerns in determining the signs of radicalization and who is thought to be radicalized.

According to a report by Rights & Security International and another report by Child Rights International Network, Prevents´ counter-terrorism measures are leading to self-censorship among political activists and students in educational settings, especially if they are Muslim. Both organizations have reported observing an effect known as the “chilling effect,” which describes the byproduct of regulations in deterring people from exercising their rights. These groups self-censor from fear of attracting the attention of authorities, being subjected to extensive surveillance, or being subjected to harsher measures, such as arrest.

The UK national curriculum for secondary education states that schools should use citizenship education to “provide pupils with knowledge, skills and understanding to prepare them to play a full and active part in society” through “equipping pupils with the skills and knowledge to explore political and social issues critically, to weigh evidence, debate and make reasoned arguments.” With the awareness that their behavior is monitored, students are more reluctant to express themselves in certain forms of expression that are seen as indicators of “radicalization” or “extremism,” like religious expression, particularly if they are Muslim, political activism, as well as discussion and debating terrorism as a political and social issue.

One peace activist from the report by Rights & Security International regularly attends schools throughout the UK to engage with students in citizen education. He observed the awareness among school leaders is producing a risk aversion when it comes to hosting debates on wider topics unrelated to terrorism.

In recent years there has been a higher proportion of Prevent referrals for far-right rather than Islamist related extremism; however, both reports suggest there is an over reporting of Muslims. Referrals for Islamist-related concerns are less likely to be assessed as requiring a Channel intervention than referrals for far-right extremism. One interviewee from the Rights & Security International report argues right-wing extremists are not treated with the same urgency since they target ethnic minorities who, by virtue of their minority status, are not considered to be representative of the UK. Imagining a “Muslim threat” through radicalized assumptions is presumed to be a threat to western democratic values, whereas far-right extremists are considered to threaten only individuals and community cohesion.


Prevent focuses on monitoring activities, views, and behavior of individuals instead of uncovering the underlying causes and conditions conducive to an individual’s exploitation by extremist groups. According to the Neuchâtel Memorandum, the leading international standard on criminal justice and children in the context of counter terrorism, prevention strategies should focus on “key structural and societal factors” which renders children vulnerable to exploitation such as exclusion and discrimination, lack of access to education, domestic violence, lack of social relations, poor economic background, and unemployment.

State institutions should be willing to engage with nonviolent activists and civil society groups. Civic actors play a significant role in countering violent narratives by creating spaces for frustrated individuals to vent their grievances as well as a chance to challenge state injustices through nonviolent approaches. Allowing freedom of expression and enabling democratic spaces can make unknown issues visible and innovate potential solutions.

Finally, Prevent needs to reconsider its approach to human rights. In democratic societies, nonviolent individuals or organizations have the right to question, challenge, oppose, or support specific counter-terrorism laws, practices or policies. The Prevent program lacks proportionality, undermining human rights and the rule of law. The program may believe it is protecting the rights and safety for all but fails to realize it creates an environment of mistrust and misunderstanding, feelings vulnerable to exploitation by those who Prevent sought to protect against.


Camille Amberger, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow



The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Proactive Countermeasure Against Abu Sayyaf

Members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) come from a split of the Moro National Liberation Front, which was renowned as an active terrorist organization in the Philippines in the 1990s. Additionally, reports indicate that Al-Qaeda has funded and backed Abu Sayyaf. The organization is affiliated with Jemaah Islamiyah and specializes in kidnappings for ransom, bombings, assassinations, and extortion, and are responsible for numerous violent incidents between 2011 and 2018.

The ASG is concentrated in the Sulu Archipelago’s Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Basilan Provinces, with a strong and active presence in Mindanao. On occasion, members also travel to the capital of the Philippines, Manila. Unsurprisingly, the ASG has also been characterized as a criminal-like group because they are more profit-driven than philosophical. Most of its factions declared their allegiance to Daesh in 2014.

Abdurajak Janajalani, the group’s founder and senior leader, founded ASG in 1991. Janjalani studied in numerous Middle Eastern countries with the help of a so-called “fundamentalist organization.” He grew politicized and formed extreme ideas after studying and traveling in Libya, Saudi Arabia, and other nations. Janajalani encountered Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, according to the Center for International Security and Cooperation, and may have been one of the fighters who defended Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion. He considered Bin Laden’s philosophical narrative a gift because of his strong links with the past and was inspired to bring the ideology back to his homeland, the Philippines.

So, what exactly is Janjalani’s objective in Mindanao, Philippines? Janjalani’s goal is to create and execute an Islamic territory in southern Philippines, and an independent Salafist Sunni Islamic organization dedicated entirely to the Moros moiety.

For many years, it was assumed that this small group was fighting against the governments of the United States, Spain, and the Philippines. They claimed they had been repressed, resulting in the Bangsamoro fight, which molded their historical narrative. Furthermore, in 2016, the Islamic State released a video in which four “battalions” of militants from the Abu Sayyaf vowed loyalty to the group, indicating a visible allegiance to the Islamic State.

Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Comprehensive Efforts After the Marawi Siege

After the Marawi Siege in 2017, the Philippine government has increased its efforts to persuade ASG members to hand over their arsenal and surrender. A ground campaign had been implemented to retake the city of Marawi in southern Philippines, where militants connected with Daesh had assumed control, which resulted in a subsequent crackdown on the ASG leadership.

Since 2017, there has been a decrease in ASG-related incidents. According to statistics from the 11th Infantry Division, a Philippine defense force tasked with countering militancy in southern Sulu Island, ASG’s heartland; the number of militants operating in the area has reduced from around 300 in 2019 to about 100. Militant groups associated with Daesh reportedly lost foreign support in Sulu. “We are no longer monitoring fund transfers from the outside,” said Maj. Gen. Patrimonio, commander of the 11th Infantry Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Capitulation and Clash: Continuous Efforts of the AFP in Mindanao

In the province of Basilan, a follower of the ASG was killed in a quick shootout. On Friday, March 4, 2022, the clash occurred in Mangal village, Sumisip, as per Brigadier General Domingo Gobway, commander of Joint Task Force (JTF)-Basilan. According to Gobway, the forces were in the middle of a tactical operation when they were informed of the presence of Buloy Parang, an ASG supporter, in the Mangal village. Parang operated as a courier and anti-personnel explosive planter in the Sumisip area for the ASG alongside Pasil Bayali.

Army commanders reported that troops of the 41st Infantry Battalion tracked down and fought pro-Islamic State terrorists in a firefight in the village of Bungkaong in Patikul town on March 26, 2022, one of the Abu Sayyaf’s few surviving sanctuaries. There were no “issues of enemy fatalities,” but Patrimonio said soldiers found numerous items left behind by the insurgents, including one M16 automatic gun. According to him, no soldiers were seriously injured or killed in the incident.

On April 2, 2022, two suspected members of the ASG were killed, and nine others were injured in confrontations with government troops in the Basilan area. According to Brig. Gen. Domingo Gobway, head of Joint Task Force-Basilan, four of the nine casualties were soldiers from the 64th Infantry Regiment.

Since January 2022, there have been more than four reports of ASG surrendering or clashing with the AFP every month. Along with these stories, local governments have sponsored programs to attract militants to return to the folds of the law and bring peace together. Various reports have been made about prominent ASG officials surrendering. “Our struggle was going nowhere,” remarked Faizal engagements with government troops, as per the military, the first of which occurred in 2014. Several of the ASG’s trainees come from the communities where the militants take refuge. Furthermore, other senior leaders at ASG have either been killed or surrendered to the AFP.

What is Next for Abu Sayyaf?

The apparent absence of Islamist militant operations in Mindanao, the Philippines’ southernmost island, is beguiling. Militancy in the region appears to be on the wane in 2020 and 2021. The AFP besieged terrorist strongholds and welcomed large numbers of insurgents’ surrenders, mainly from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the ASG.

Following that, unsuccessful operations and the decapitation of global terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and ISIS, among many others, may have influenced the militant groups’ demise in the Philippines. Because these enormous organizations have also been crippled to their core, no support, allegiance, or finances have been shown to Philippine-based Islamic groups. Regardless of this gradual win, the presence of these groups is still evident. They may rise again, and may have spotted the right timing, for they still value their ideology. But then again, as long as the campaign against them is upheld, it might continuously dissolve in the coming years.


Kristian N. River, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Deadly Attacks Target Schools in Western Kabul

On April 19, 2022, at least nine individuals died, and more than 50 were injured, per UNICEF’s report, after a series of coordinated attacks occurred in Western Kabul in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, home to a large Shia and Hazara population.  The first attack struck the Mumtaz Education Center early Tuesday morning, followed by three explosions, one caused by a grenade, at the Abdul Rahim Shaheed High School, where elementary school girls are still allowed to attend.

While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, violence is not a new phenomenon for the Shia community, which has previously been the target of attacks by the Taliban and the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K).

Immediately following the attacks, various government and organizational figureheads spoke out, regarding the attacks as reprehensible and senseless.  Attacks against civilians, especially innocent children at schools, has struck an international nerve.  Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, reiterated that violence against schools is never acceptable, as schools should be a source of physical and emotional safety.  Moreover, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric stated that “attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, including schools, are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law.”

Hazara Shia Community in Afghanistan

In 2019, the U.S. Department of State estimated that 10-15 percent of Afghanistan’s population are Shia, and of the Shia population, 90 percent are ethnic Hazaras.  The Hazara community predominantly resides in central and western Kabul.  Due to the minority status of Afghan Shias, they are frequently targeted by Sunni-based organizations, such as the Taliban and IS-K.  Ultimately, the Hazara community has “encountered persecution and systematic discrimination in their chronicle for more than a century.”

Initially, hopes rang high for the Hazara community when the Taliban collapsed 20 years ago.  The prospect of a democracy resounded throughout Afghanistan; however, attacks persisted against the Hazara Shia community, especially with the rise of IS-K and their mission to purge Afghanistan of any Shia Hazara Muslims.  Now, with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the Hazara Shia community is fearful that any progress they have made within society will be shattered and that attacks will steadily increase against their community.

Other Attacks Against the Hazara Community

While the attacks on April 19th in Kabul are horrific, sadly, they were not unprecedented.  Afghanistan’s Hazara community has been continuously and brutally targeted by both the Taliban and IS-K, from being the victims of targeted killings to discrimination to kidnappings.

Recent attacks include those in July 2021, when Hazara men in the village of Mundarakht were massacred by Taliban fighters “during a  two-day killing spree.”  Additionally, the attacks of April 19, 2021, are not the first-time schools have been targeted in a largely Hazara community.  In May 2021, at least 90 individuals were killed after a car bomb was detonated outside he Sayed Ul-Shuhada High School, targeting female students.  Also, the IS-K detonated a group of suicide bombers at a Shia mosque in October 2021, killing 47 and injuring at least 70.

Moving Forward

Ultimately, attacks against innocent children, especially at schools, should never occur.  The ruthlessness of these attacks must be met with a thorough investigation and changes within Afghanistan to protect the Shia and Hazara communities.  This is a moment in which the Taliban can demonstrate to the international community that they have truly changed by providing safety and security for all Afghans.  Finally, the international community must pay careful attention to the unrelenting attacks against the Hazara Shia community and take actionable steps to secure their well-being and prosecute any human rights violations.


Rise to Peace Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


A Growing and Changing Threat: The Evolution of Narco-Warfare in Mexico

The levels of violence associated with drug trafficking in Mexico are critical. The country has several security challenges due to the presence, activities, and strengthening of drug cartels. These illegal organizations continually seek to innovate their methods to ship drug shipments around the world, expand throughout the country and the region, and contest control of illicit markets against other criminal groups.

However, one factor relevant to drug cartel violence Mexican security forces must address is the modernization of cartel equipment, vehicles, and weapons. The evolution of narco-warfare in Mexico is extremely threatening as it exponentially increases the firepower of these illegal organizations, their warfare, and their defenses.

Drug Trafficking Violence in Mexico

Mexico is currently experiencing one of its most violent periods. Drug cartels have intensified violence in the country, either through confrontation against other illegal organizations or against State forces.  In fact, it has been reported that in 2021 Mexico registered 33,315 homicides after the two most violent years in its history, under Andrés Manuel López Obrador, with 34,690 murder victims in 2019 and 34,554 in 2020.

Drug cartels are perhaps the biggest threat to the country’s security and stability.  Presently, 16 cartels are vying for control of the country; and the criminal organizations with the largest presence are the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), which has a presence in 24 states, and the Gulf Cartel, which has a presence in nine states. There are also other cartels with a large presence in the country, such as the Sinaloa Cartel or the Northeast Cartel, who have allied with the Zetas. Other criminal organizations with a presence in the country are Los Beltrán Leyva, La Familia Michoacana, Los Caballeros Templarios, Juarez Cartel, Arellano Felix Cartel, Tlahuac Cartel, Unión Tepito, Guerreros Unidos, Los Rojos, Los Viagras, and Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel.

Drug trafficking is the main source of financing for these groups and fuels the violence in the country.  According to the annual report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Mexican criminal organizations continue to control much of the import of cocaine into the United States and wholesale cocaine trafficking within the country. They rely heavily on local criminal groups and street gangs for retail distribution.

According to U.S. authorities, Mexican criminal groups often procure multi-ton shipments of cocaine from drug traffickers in South America. The report also notes that according to U.S. authorities, the main cocaine trafficking routes, the eastern Pacific route and the western Caribbean route converge in Mexico, from where the drug enters the United States, mostly by land across the country’s south-western border.

However, Mexican drug cartels also engage in other types of illegal activities beyond drug trafficking to finance and fortify themselves. Some of these include human trafficking, migrant smuggling, extortion, kidnapping, piracy, fuel theft, vehicle theft on federal highways, illegal logging, extortion of mining companies, water trafficking, trafficking of medical equipment and medicines, including unregistered and counterfeit products, and loans.

Evolution of Narco-Warfare: An Emerging Threat

The millions in revenue from drug trafficking and other illegal activities have allowed Mexican cartels to modernize their equipment and weaponry, leading to increased firepower and warfare capabilities. This is a significant risk factor for Mexico’s stability and security, as the trend indicates that the cartels will seek to strengthen themselves.

In 2011, Mexican authorities in the state of Tamaulipas found two dump trucks, such as those commonly used for transporting goods, converted into tanks with armor up to 2.5 centimeters thick.  The “narco-tanks” have continued to be used ever since, and with their use among drug cartels appearing to be increasingly common. In 2021, in the state of Tamaulipas there was a confrontation between two narco-tanks of the Gulf Cartel and the Northeast Cartel, both of which were also equipped with high-caliber weapons. In March of the same year, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) exhibited two of its narco-tanks on the streets of Michoacán, which were two large trucks armored from the wheels to the roof with iron plates, transformed into homemade tanks.

The drug cartels’ new capabilities are not limited to the creation of narco-tanks but are also reflected in the acquisition of better weaponry. During the failed operation to capture Ovidio Guzmán López, son of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, it became evident through videos that the Sinaloa Cartel was in possession of weapons such as machine guns, assault rifles, grenades, pistols, and mortars. The gunmen were further known to be in possession of the fearsome Barrett M82 rifle, which is known as “the weapon of choice of the narcos terrorizing Mexico.”  As for the acquisition of these weapons, Mexican authorities found that seven out of every ten weapons seized from criminals are of U.S. manufacture, with many manufactured in Arizona and Texas gun shops.

There have also been innovations in the use of technology and explosives. In 2022, alleged members of the CJNG used drones to drop explosives in Michoacán. The cartel members dropped explosives and are likely to employ this technique again in the future as drones are capable of autonomous flight, are lightweight, and cheaper than traditional aircraft.

Mexican cartels have also improved their human talent and the quality of their troops. For example, a few years ago it became known that the Los Zetas cartel offered huge sums of money to former members of the Mexican Special Forces (GAFES), an elite military special mission corps created by the National Defense Secretariat and trained abroad to confront rival cartels and law enforcement agencies.

Other cartels across the country have replicated this practice. In 2020, the Mexican Army dismantled an alleged Sinaloa Cartel training camp in which five alleged former Mexican Army soldiers were training the cartel’s new recruits.  The training camps have also been used by other cartels and have been described as places where new cartel members are taught to “handle long and short weapons, to set ambushes, to respect the rules, not to be a gossip and also to kill.”

The cartels themselves have also shared the evolution of narco-warfare through online videos. In 2020, the CJNG shared a video showing more than 80 people carrying different caliber weapons, anti-aircraft weapons, military equipment, and several armored cars. The individuals in this video shouted slogans in support of the cartel’s leader, alias “Mencho,” and claimed to be members of the organization’s elite group.

Present and Future Implications

Improvements in the capabilities of Mexican cartels demonstrate that the risk posed by these organizations has increased exponentially, which is likely to further increase levels of violence throughout Mexico.

The cartels’ technological, warfare, and tactical advances indicate a high capacity for innovation. They have large sources of financial resources to fund such advances, have infiltrated Mexican security agencies, and will use their improvements to increase their profits, zones of influence, and power within the Mexican state.

The cartels’ equipment, weapons, vehicles, and fighters will make it more difficult for the Mexican security forces to operate since they will have to use more resources to combat illegal organizations, which are no longer simple criminal groups. Instead, they are organized groups with the ability to carry out large-scale terrorist attacks, mobilize large numbers of men and resources, and confront state forces with large-caliber weapons.

Therefore, despite the fact that today there is no clear solution to end the war on drug trafficking, it is necessary for the Mexican government to propose effective strategies to dismantle drug cartels, tracing high-caliber weapons, monitoring retired soldiers, and anti-drone and anti-armored vehicle capabilities. The risk that the cartels continue to improve their equipment and weapons is latent, so effective measures need to be taken as soon as possible to mitigate this risk and prevent the cartels from reaching the military capabilities of a conventional army.


Daniel Felipe Ruiz Rozo, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Looking Back: Al-Qaeda’s Unexpected Attack Against the Central Intelligence Agency

For a decade, an elite team of military and intelligence agents operated in secret around the world with one clear intention: to track down and kill Osama bin Laden. As the investigation into Bin Laden’s whereabouts progressed, it came to a critical and unexpected conclusion. The so-called “informant” assisting the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials was an Al-Qaeda ally.

Due to this, Al-Qaeda achieved possibly its greatest success ever against the CIA and its Jordanian partner service on December 30, 2009. Seven CIA officers and one Jordanian officer were killed when a triple agent blew himself up at Forward Operating Base Chapman, a U.S. military base in Khost, Afghanistan.

So, who is the suicide bomber? He was a Palestinian whose parents had fled Beersheva during the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, eventually settling in Kuwait. They became refugees once more in 1991 when the Kuwaiti administration evacuated the Palestinian community following Kuwait’s liberation from the Iraqis by an American-led coalition. Humam Khalil al-Balawi grew up in Jordan before moving to Istanbul, Turkey, to pursue his medical degree and marry a Turkish woman. When he returned to Jordan, he found a job bringing medical aid to the needy in the enormous Marka refugee camp.

The CIA agents working on this case were made to assume that the Jordanian doctor had entered Al-Qaeda as a double agent when he provided a video claiming that he had met Al-Qaeda’s senior leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. But the truth is, he was a devoted follower of the Al-Qaeda ideology. It was all for show.

Jennifer Matthews, a mother of three and a desk-bound analyst, was the base leader in Khost. She was one of the agency’s top Al-Qaeda analysts, having spent years monitoring the most sought terrorist, Osama bin Laden, but Matthews was thought to lack field experience. In 1989, Matthews decided to join the CIA and was full of potential. A Capitol Hill employee who met Matthews overseas described her as “self-assured” and “able to blend into the atmosphere.”

The Error of the Operation

According to Matthews and other CIA officials, the doctor should be made to feel welcome and not searched. CIA officers formed a circle-like position to meet the “informant,” as seen in Zero Dark Thirty.

Furthermore, the Jordanian doctor was not stopped and searched before being taken to the facility. As al-Bawali stepped out of the car, he detonated his shrapnel-filled bomb in front of Matthews, Elizabeth Hanson, Scott Michael Roberson, Harold Brown Jr., Dane Clark Paresi, and Jeremy Wis, who were among those killed, in addition to Darren LaBonte.  It was also reported that several additional CIA officers were critically injured.

In a letter to CIA personnel in 2009, Barack Obama wrote that their deceased colleagues hailed from a “long line of patriots” who had already helped keep the country safe despite severe dangers. At that moment, President Obama recognized that the CIA had been put to the test “like never before,” since the 9/11 attacks.

Since the bombing of the CIA station in Beirut in 1983, the Camp Chapman attack has been regarded as the agency’s second-deadliest incident. In the Beirut incident, seventeen employees were killed. To summarize the issue, security standards failed because their treatment of al-Bawali was overly gentle.

The CIA officers used a desperate tactic in which they were deceived by false intelligence to obtain information. Again, the fact that they are stationed in a high-risk area serves as a reminder that, no matter how strong or poor their intelligence leads are, they must always put safety first.

Life of the CIA Agents

Jennifer Matthews worked as an analyst for the first seven years of her tenure at the CIA. Matthews was among those who digested intelligence delivered by someone else in the area and then examined what the CIA had acquired from it. She proceeded to the CIA’s counter-terrorist center in the mid-1990s, where she monitored al-Qaeda in a section of the agency that would see its prominence rise after the World Trade Center attack.

Scott Roberson was born on July 3, 1970, in Akron, Ohio, and relocated with his family to Tolland, Connecticut, where he promptly became an active member of the community. Roberson’s travels took him to a variety of countries and states, but regardless of where he was stationed, he was committed to serving his country and society. Working as a detective for the Atlanta Police Department, training police officers for the United Nations mission in Kosovo, safeguarding individuals working throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, and working as an officer for the CIA were among his professional responsibilities.

Darren Labonte served as a law enforcement officer in Libertyville, Illinois, and as a U.S. Marshal. According to his family, he achieved a leadership and shooting award at the FBI Institute in Quantico, Virginia, according to the FBI, and then went to the FBI’s New York district office. The CIA recruited him, and he withdrew from the Bureau in late 2006, moving to Washington, D.C. with his wife. His father was wary of the CIA, but his son always pursued his own path.

Elizabeth Hanson went through the CIA’s basic training at “The Farm” and was among a group of tech-savvy officers employed after 9/11. According to the book, Hanson was spirited as the CIA transitioned from a covert operation to one focused on tracking information on the web, over the broadcast media, or through advanced covert eavesdropping.

Harrold Brown Jr. was a former member of the United States military. He served in the Army as an intelligence officer and as a CIA case officer. When Harold was in town, he was the type of parent who always arrived at Mass when his kids were singing and smiling with delight at how much they could accomplish.

Dane Clark Paresi grew up in Portland and is a former Army Sergeant Major. Paresi matriculated from Marshall High School in Portland in 1982 and enlisted in the Army two days later, undergoing basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey. As per family members, joining the Army and the CIA was a childhood dream come true.

Jeremy Wise was a former SEAL with eight years of experience who was assisting Operation Enduring Freedom with Xe Services. He completed Westside Christian School in El Dorado, Arkansas, and graduated from Hendrix University in Conway, Arkansas. He was a member of Virginia Beach’s Trinity Church.

The CIA Memorial Wall

“In commemoration of those members of the Central Intelligence Agency who gave their lives in the service of their country.” The Memorial Wall may be seen on the north wall of the lobby of the original headquarters building. The 137 stars on this wall serve as a silent, simple memorial to those CIA officers who have given their lives in the line of duty. The Memorial Wall was commissioned by the CIA Fine Arts Commission in May 1973 and sculpted by Harold Vogel in July 1974.

According to the CIA, “personnel who die while serving their country in the field of intelligence are honored on the Memorial Wall posthumously.” Death can happen anywhere, even in foreign fields and the United States. “Death may occur in the foreign field or in the United States. Death must be of an inspirational or heroic character while in the performance of duty; or as the result of an act of terrorism while in the performance of duty; or as an act of premeditated violence targeted against an employee, motivated solely by that employee’s Agency affiliation; or in the performance of duty while serving in areas of hostilities or other exceptionally hazardous conditions where the death is a direct result of such hostilities or hazards.”

CIA station agents work in both favorable and adversarial nations. When apprehended by an unfriendly nation, a CIA field operative acting clandestinely is typically regarded as a spy and is susceptible to imprisonment, prosecution, and even severe punishment. To not only nurture informants but also escape capture, a CIA spy must be skilled at integrating what the agency refers to as “people and street smarts.” CIA field agents have been imprisoned, tortured, and even executed in hostile territories or countries.

After all, it’s tough to work in a fast-paced workplace while maintaining the highest priority on the goal, which is to ensure people’s safety and security. The Camp Chapman incident served as a stark reminder to the general public that the CIA, and other intelligence officers from throughout the world, have a difficult job. People may think their jobs are “awesome,” but they are putting their lives on the line to give actionable intelligence in the best interests of their countries.


Kristian Rivera, Counterterrorism Research Fellow


Mitigating Failed Counter-Insurgency Operations in India

Recent cases of repeated failed military operations in northeastern India provoked many to question New Delhi’s approach in countering insurgency in the Northeast. Failed operations at Oting and Chasa had once again incited many to question the age-old use of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the region.

The Act, which gives excessive powers to the Indian armed forces, had once again come under scrutiny. This time, it’s not just the public but also senior military officials and intellectuals from the armed forces. What lies ahead is New Delhi’s much needed change of approach in countering insurgency in the Northeast: a systematic change with legislative and institutional reforms.

From a mainland perspective, northeastern India is seen as a region infested with insurgency and secessionist movements. However, what is often overlooked is that it is also a region which has been periled by militarization. Under the premise of national security and countering insurgency, numerous civilians succumbed to its fallacious approaches. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 holds accountability for much of the fatality that the public had to been subjected to.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, known as AFSPA, bears a nauseant undertone along with its dreaded powers conferred upon the armed forces. AFSPA, previously known as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance was first enacted by the colonial British in 1942 to contain the Quit India Movement. Also, it was further adopted by Independent India in 1958 to suppress the armed struggle in the Northeast.

The AFSPA granted excessive powers to the Armed Forces which continue to be contested to this date. The special powers conferred upon the armed forces include licenses to kill, destroy, arrest without warrant, shoot based on mere suspicion, and impunity of trials.

M.G. Devasahayam, a retired IAS officer who also served in the Indian Army during the peak of insurgency in the Northeast noted that ‘while exercising such draconian powers, there is bound to be misuse’ and accordingly, it had been misused, with over 1,500 alleged extrajudicial killings by security forces in Manipur alone, the region continues to be tormented.

The justification needed to invoke the Act and confer such powers to the armed forces was highly reliant on the subjective understanding of the concerned head of the state, such that any area deemed as ‘disturbed’ would fall victim to the Act. Hence, with insurgency prevailing in the northeast region for decades, plagued civilians by such an Act as ‘draconian’ as AFSPA.

Cases from Oting and Chasa

The incident at Oting on the 4th of December, 2021, where fourteen civilians were killed by the armed forces adds to the civilian death count under AFSPA. At around 4 pm, the 21st Para Special Forces carried out an offense based on the intelligence they had received, unfortunately, resulting in the deaths of civilian coal miners instead of insurgents.

Various contestations circle around the event as to whether the Special Forces were in an attempt of a ‘fake-encounter,’ which the region is quite familiar with, or if it truly was a botched operation. However, evidence suggests its own answers, this is backed by survivor claims of indiscriminate firing and circulated footage of the armed forces attempting to change the attire of the victims. The incident was however, widely popularized as a case of ‘mistaken identity.’ Subsequently, various protests occurred in the following weeks. The issue of AFSPA was the central concern amid the various protests, and the repeal of the Act was echoed by both the public and politicians.

Of late, New Delhi has decided to partially uplift the Act from certain parts of the region, seven districts from Nagaland, 23 from Assam, and six from Manipur. However, Oting still remains under the Act. Over the past three years the ruling government has been able to resolve a number of insurgent issues in the region by signing several agreements with the insurgents, and the partial withdrawal is seemingly another victory for the party.

However, it is rather too early to celebrate, as with AFSPA, the partial withdrawal makes little to no difference. Given, the central issue concerning AFSPA is with its provisions which continue to be manipulated time and again.

One day after the Act was announced to be withdrawn, two civilians from the Chasa village were shot and injured. It was on the 2nd of April, 2022 when the 12th Para Special Forces carried out a failed operation, another case of ‘mistaken identity.’ Similar instance of indiscriminate firing were reported despite the victims shouting and claiming they were civilians. These repeated instances have unearthed major flaws in India’s national security measures, which require legislative reforms and structural changes in India’s security force deployments.

The Way Forward

Retired Lieutenant Gen H S Panag recommended that the deployment of the Indian Armed Forces is not a necessity to counter-insurgency in the region but is rather a role that needs to be taken by the Central Reserved Police Force (CRPF). He further suggested that the Act be repealed fully and replaced by a more humane act which can serve the interests of both the people and the state.

Accordingly, to reiterate Lt. Gen Panag’s recommendations, the insurgency issues in the Northeast can surely be contained by internal security forces, like the CRPF. Internal security problems can be addressed by internal security forces, which is something they are trained and specialized to do.

In cases of counter insurgency operations, forces accompanied by a commanding officer who is familiar with the topography, culture, and conditions of the region should be deployed so that operations can be carried out, keeping in mind the repercussions of the Act.

Henceforth, AFSPA should be fully repealed and a committee should be formed comprised of retired justices from the Supreme Court along with retired military officials and senior civil society members from the region. This committee would seek to draft an act that can effectively confer power to the armed forces, all the while safeguarding the rights of the people. In this way, ‘security’ in its real sense can be achieved.


Vetilo Venuh, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Who is the New Leader of ISIS?

In a prerecorded voice clip posted online, ISIS declared Abu al-Hassan al-Hashemi al-Quraishi as its new head. This announcement was made weeks after the death of Abu-Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurayshi, back in March. Despite the fact that they have similar sounding names, they are not thought to be connected. The moniker “Al-Qurayshi” originated from the Quraish, the clan of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, and is used as a component of an IS leader’s nom de guerre. The interim leader of ISIS is the brother of the deceased former caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as announced via two Iraqi police sources and one Western security source.

The new leader’s background is shrouded in mystery, but he comes from a small group of secretive, combative Iraqi jihadists who surfaced amid the US invasion in 2003. So, despite the fact that little is known about him, one thing is certain, he knows the narrative and the roots of all roots. As a result, he risks becoming as vicious as his brother, Al-Baghdadi, who was unafraid to carry out assaults as part of a worldwide terrorism network. He may, however, be a strategic one, with responsibilities such as ISIS recruitment planning and strengthening.

According to Iraqi security personnel, the new leader’s real name is Juma Awad al-Badri. Badri is an extremist who embraced Salafi jihadist groups in 2003 and is believed to have preceded Baghdadi as a close associate and Islamic law consultant. According to the report by Iraqi officials, Badri has been the director of the Islamic State’s Central Committee for a significant period of time.  This leadership group directs strategy and determines inheritance when a leader is captured or killed. It simply signifies that, after lurking in the shadows for years, he is still capable of authorizing and assuredly leading a pack. On the other hand, Iraqi security authorities and analysts have stated that, even if Badri does not have the customary strong personality, he may still carry out assaults in the most likely manner.

The Cost of Decapitation

Terrorist organizations may be forced to reallocate resources away from operational planning and more towards support and safety as a result of decapitation. Leaders being killed and captured can increase anxiety among remaining or new terrorist organization leaders, as can deliberate efforts to uncover moles inside the organization and civilian informants, because they rely on complicated intelligence. The new leader will also need to take time to study the bureaucracy and hierarchy of the organization. Aside from that, their presence will fade away in a few moments as they must rely on their new leader’s new approach. Due to their constant shifts and augments, milder attacks may occur, such as direct assaults rather than explosions. Terrorists’ target choices may be shifted towards civilians or other innocent bystanders.

Thus, according to a study on the influence and efficiency of targeted killings and decapitation attacks, as well as the ISIS terrorist attack data examined in this context, Al-Qurayshi’s death may have limited short-term effects on ISIS’s functionality and victimization, but it is highly improbable to have long-term detrimental impacts.

Furthermore, ISIS’s ability to adapt is on par with its use of technology and social media. This gives the group more clout in recruiting new members and increasing its financial capabilities. Ultimately, the more a terrorist organization performs like a bureaucrat, the less likely it is to resist management changes and have smooth transitions. To summarize, it is preferable to be more inquisitive about this new leader and to regard him as a hard-threat rather than a soft-threat because, at the end of the day, he is and always will be competent at leading a team.


Kristian N. Rivera, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Black Pill Ideology: What is Incel Extremism?

A new report published last month by the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center has detailed the growing terrorism threat from men who identify as “involuntary celibates” or “incels.” The report documents a growing trend in domestic terrorism involving the increasing threat of lone actors motivated by diverse amalgamations of extremist ideology.

Incel ideology is among these new forms of obscure extremist belief disrupting the traditional counter-terrorism typologies and frameworks operationalized by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

What is an “Incel”?

According to the report, “the term ‘incel’ is often used to describe men who feel unable to obtain romantic or sexual relationships with woman, to which they feel entitled.” The label is particularly prominent in the “manosphere,” an online subculture encompassing various blogs, forums, and websites dedicated to men’s issues. The manosphere is home to various groups and ideologies: pick-up artists advancing various courtship strategies, men’s-right activists arguing for greater gender equality in family court settlements, and the Men Going Their Own Way movement that advocates for men to disassociate themselves from women.

“Although these groups are known to promote male-dominant views,” says the report, “some members express extreme ideologies involving anti-woman hate, sexual objectification of women, and calls for violence targeting women.”

According to Florence Keen, a researcher at King College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, one of the largest online incel forums has 13,000 active members and roughly 200,000 threads. “The caveat I would always give is that we can’t say that the whole of the incel subculture is violence,” says Keen. “It really varies. Some will glorify violence while others will say ‘this is not what we are’”.

The term “involuntary celibacy” was coined in 1997 by a young female undergraduate at Canada’s Carleton University. It was used to entitle an online peer support forum for individuals struggling to find a sexual partner. Indeed, according to the Secret Service report, the forum was originally intended as a “non judgmental way for lonely people to identify as a group.”

The term grew in popularity and began to accompany a range of different forums. Over time, these forums bifurcated into two primary forms: one that provided a supportive and rehabilitative environment for romantically-alienated individuals, while another became increasingly militant and misogynistic.

According to researchers from the Council on Foreign Relations and Georgetown University, “as new incel forums proliferated on sites such as 4chan and Reddit, they also became more extreme: either ending or drowning out many of the previous discussions and debates about inceldom. A militant incel identity now began to coalesce with a demonstrably harder edge than before. The difference between the new lamentations and prior ones was the belief that those embracing the label ‘incel’ must act to take control of their lives and exact revenge for the dismissive and derogatory way they were treated.”

“The Black Pill”

According to the researchers, among the core beliefs of incel ideology is an understanding of society as a biologically stratified hierarchy wherein an individual’s place is determined primarily by physical characteristics.

According to this worldview, the top of this hierarchy includes idealized men and women, otherwise known as “Chads” and “Staceys”, the middle of this hierarchy includes so-called “normies”, and the bottom of this hierarchy includes the lowborn incels.

Incels believe that women are inherently shallow and make dating judgements based on superficial criteria largely involving physical appearance, such as height, weight, and race. Thus, according to incel ideology, men who do not conform to these physical ideals are cast aside in preference for men with the “right” features, regardless of personal integrity or character. Therefore, incels believe that a small number of “Chads” capture the majority of female attention, leaving incels sexually alienated and deprived of romantic interest.

Further, according to the researchers, incels distinguish themselves from Chads and normies “not just by their supposedly inferior physical appearance, but by their belief that they have gained privileged insights that normies do not see: that most women are attracted only to Chads, and that if one did not ‘win’ the genetic lottery, they are destined for mediocrity, social isolation, and abject loneliness.”

Incels perceive their isolation and sexual alienation as an inevitability of human mating patterns. They call this realization taking the “black pill”, a metaphor derived from the blue/red pill dichotomy of The Matrix, a science fiction film series in which individuals who take the blue pill choose to inhabit a world of illusion while those who take the red pill experience an awakening to the true nature of the world.

Within the manosphere, taking the “red pill” means awakening to the real nature of female mating preferences. According to the researchers, “it empowers those who take it to fully recognize the inherently shallow nature of woman, but also to understand better how men can manipulate and exploit these supposed female characteristics.”

The “black pill”, on the other hand, is totally nihilistic. “Taking [the black pill] means accepting a harsher reality than the red pill reveals,” say the researchers, “a reality where women and society are intrinsically biased against men who lack specific physical attributes, who therefore have no hope of ever being attractive to women or even accepted by society.”

Black pill ideology induces a powerful sense of permanent isolation and sexual marginalization for its adherents, a feeling of complete and inescapable romantic alienation rooted in female mating preferences. For incels, “it is women, then, who are responsible for their isolation and rejection,” say the researchers. “Women are therefore the primary targets of incels anger and violence.”

Online surveys of incels provide insight into the psychological core of this community. According to an October 2019 survey, 100% of respondents were male, 95% stated a belief in the “black pill”, and 85.5% were under the age of 30. While white males (56%) represented the largest ethnic subgroup, the user base included a diverse range of ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Over three quarters (77.5%) of incels have never experienced a sexual encounter, and 85% have never had a sexual relationship. An important psychological characteristic of the online incel community is the high prevalence of mental health issues: 24.6% report symptoms of autism, 27.9% report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, 47.8% report suicidal ideation, 59.6% report symptoms of anxiety, and 64.3% report symptoms of depression.

Is Incel Ideology Inherently Violent?

A recent report from the U.S. Secret Service details the rising threat from men who identify as incels. Indeed, the report states, “hatred of women, and the gender-based violence that is associated with it, requires increasing attention from everyone with a role in public safety.”

Indeed, over recent years, there have been a series of violent incel-related attacks. For example, the report describes a 2014 stabbing and killing spree that occurred near the University of California campus. The perpetrator, a 22-year-old, self-identified incel, killed six people, including three women who were shot outside a sorority house.

According to the report, “the attacker viewed these women as symbols of the type of women he was unable to attract.” Indeed, in a video posted to social media hours before the attack, he “recorded details of his hatred for women, his contempt for interracial couples, and his plans for retribution.”

Another incident involved a shooting that occurred in Plymouth, United Kingdom, in August 2021. The perpetrator, a 22-year-old male, shot and killed five people. The killer had uploaded videos to YouTube which included references to “inceldom” and the black pill worldview. He expressed misogynist and homophobic views and broadcast his hostility and contempt across online forums.

The killer’s mother, who was among his victims, had reportedly began to argue with her son over his views on women in the months before the attack. According to a neighbor, “[they] used to be close … but then his views changed and he went against women and he became a misogynist. They clashed a lot about that.”

However, the extent to which these attackers represent the broader incel community is far from clear. Indeed, the incel community is characterized by considerably broader ideological diversity than is usually portrayed in popular media. For example, studies suggest that the most hateful content is posted by a small minority of users. One investigation revealed that the strongest vitriol came from just 10% of the user base, suggesting the presence of different subgroups within the incel community, including a small, yet very active, element characterized by a pronounced sense of bitterness and anger.

Further, research indicates that incels describe various reasons for their participation in online forums. 74.6% reported that their participation made them “feel understood,” 69.9% said that it gave them “a sense of belonging,” 58.1% described how it made them “feel less lonely.”

Indeed, there is dissensus among security experts as to whether incel-related violence should be classified as a domestic terrorism threat. For example, speaking at the Global Counter Terror Summit in 2021, Assistant Chief Constable Tim Jaques, the U.K.’s deputy senior national coordinator for counter-terrorism policing stated that the Plymouth shooting earlier that year was not a terrorist attack.

“Incel in and of itself is not a terrorist ideology,” said Mr. Jaques. “The attack in Plymouth wasn’t driven by an ideology, albeit that individual was engaged in some kind of incel thinking. That doesn’t make him a terrorist … Ultimately the investigation found it was not anything to do with ideology, it’s not planned, it’s not done with forethought.”

Moreover, misogynistic violence is certainly not a new phenomenon. In 1989, a 25-year-old male orchestrated the École Polytechnique massacre, also known as the Montreal massacre, an anti-feminist mass shooting at an engineering school that left fourteen women murdered. In a suicide letter found in his pocket after the attack, the killer attacked feminism and raged against social changes that “retain the advantages of being women … while trying to grab those of the men.”

However, incel ideology is increasingly identified as an expanding national security concern among security officials and the intelligence community. An annual report published in 2020 by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, one of Canada’s foremost counter-terrorism agencies, drew attention to “gender-driven violence” as a developing trend in violent extremism.

Further, a January 2020 review from the Texas Department of Public Safety stated: “Once viewed as a criminal threat by many law enforcement agencies, Incels are now seen as a growing domestic terrorism concern due to the ideological nature of recent Incel attacks internationally, nationwide, and in Texas … The violence demonstrated by Incels in the past decade, coupled with extremely violent online rhetoric, suggests this particular trend could soon match, or potentially eclipse, the level of lethalness demonstrated by other domestic terrorism types.”

Indeed, according to Zack Beachamp, a senior correspondent at Vox who specializes in ideology and identity, “only a tiny percentage of incels seem willing to turn to violence or terrorism, and the movement isn’t a threat on the level of an al-Qaeda or ISIS. But it’s a new kind of danger, a testament to the power of online communities to radicalize frustrated young men based on their most personal and painful grievances.”

Countering Incel Ideology and Violence

Current counter-terrorism frameworks are ill-adapted to the non-traditional threats emerging across the domestic security landscape, including incel extremism. These models, developed during the War on Terror, were built to combat the strong hierarchical command structures typical of global terrorist organizations.

“This model is outdated to represent the contemporary threat landscape”, says Eviane Leidig, a research fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism’s Current and Emerging Threats programme.

Counter-terrorism efforts to combat violent incel extremism, and indeed other forms of militant ideology, should form part of a broader, more comprehensive, domestic strategy that can effectively identify and intercept the early phases of radicalization.

Community initiatives should be central to this strategy. According to researchers, “the incel movement is particularly dangerous because of its accessibility: incel radicalization takes genuine pain and searing loneliness and converts it into hatred, anger, and violence.” Thus, intervention strategies should target the early stages of suffering and isolation.

Indeed, according to Moonshot CVE, a countering violent extremism enterprise, “the incel ecosystem thrives – even depends – on the social isolation of its online spaces. It is therefore critical, both for its members and for public safety, that we work together to bridge the online-offline gap by getting incels the help and support they so desperately and self-evidently need.”

Fundamentally, there is nothing criminal about the formation of online support groups for individuals struggling to find romance. The danger emerges when these groups become host to violent, hate-fueled vitriol directed at women. Thus, according to researchers, the most effective way to prevent incel terrorism is “to undermine incel ideology in the first place through rehabilitation and insulation from new extremist blandishment.” Indeed, governments and the private sector must work together to address the spread of violent rhetoric online while also protecting free speech laws.

Perhaps most importantly, mental health resources for young men must be strengthened and expanded. Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are a prominent feature of online incel communities. Indeed, almost all incel-related attacks have been a successful or attempted murder-suicide. According to researchers, “arguably, the most effective way to prevent an incel from [perpetrating a violent attack] is by proactively addressing his suicidal impulses.”

These counter-terrorism recommendations apply not just to efforts directed at the extreme fringes of the incel community, but also their counterparts in far-right or Islamist circles. Indeed, all of these fringes recruit and mobilize support online, exploit personal vulnerabilities as part of their radicalization efforts, and glorify perpetrators of lone actor terrorist attacks.

Community-based, early intervention strategies and accessible mental health services are vital components of an effective, domestic counter-terrorism effort. Governments, the private sector, and civil society must work together to support vulnerable individuals and communities, and to undermine the allure of extremist narratives that drive violent action.

Incel extremism represents just one part of an emerging domestic security threat driven by non-traditional, “salad-bar” ideologies that draw from multiple, sometimes contradictory, streams of violent thought. Countering this threat will require an evolution of domestic counter-terrorism strategies involving expanded mental health support and early intervention community-based initiatives.


Oliver Alexander Crisp, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Rise to Peace