Lessons from Strasbourg

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Cheriff Chekatt, the Strasbourg attacker. Image credit: BBC.

At approximately 8 pm on December 11th, 29-year-old Cheriff Chekatt opened fire in a crowded Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, killing and injuring numerous people in a premeditated act of terror. Not only did Chekatt manage to kill and wound numerous individuals, he was also able to evade authorities for two days before being shot and killed by police- despite the fact that, even before the attacks, Chekatt was already under surveillance (BBC News, 2018).

To understand why this attack was not prevented and why authorities were so slow to halt Chekatt’s rampage, this article will discuss the perpetrator’s background, examine the facts of the case, and outline what implications this attack has for the French government, the public, and others around the world.

Chekatt was born in Strasbourg in 1989 and has an extensive criminal history. He has 27 convictions for crimes, including robbery, in France, Germany, and Switzerland. Authorities believe he was radicalized in prison. They placed him on the “fiche S” in 2015, which is a watchlist monitored by the General Directorate of Internal Security, France’s primary domestic intelligence agency (BBC News, 2018).

The people placed on this watchlist represent potential threats to national security, so Chekatt’s placement on this list begs the question as to why he was able to carry out this attack while being monitored by the DGSI.

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The route taken by Chekatt throughout the attack and its aftermath. Image credit: BBC.

The attack itself took place in several locations. Chekatt remained constantly on the move to confuse authorities, using the Christmas market crowds as cover. The initial attack took place in Kléber, one of Strasbourg’s central squares, which is located near the main Christmas market area. He then moved onto the rue des Grandes Arcades, rue de Samon, rue des Chandelles, and rue Sainte-Hélène, until ultimately arriving at rue du Pont Saint-Martin.

During the attack, Chekatt used a gun and knife to wound and kill people while shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic) before arriving at Neudorf District via taxi (BBC News, 2018). Soldiers of the anti-terror Sentinelle operation had engaged Cheriff during his rampage, but only wounded him in the arm, enabling him to make it to a taxi and escape to the Neudorf district.

After learning he had disappeared in the Neudorf district, authorities launched a massive operation at approximately 7:30 pm on the 13th of December to apprehend Cheriff. At approximately 9 pm local time, police located Cheriff, who was trying to access a building but could not get in. After noticing authorities, Cheriff promptly fired upon them before being shot and killed. He had been carrying a gun, ammunition, and knife.

In his flat, authorities discovered a defensive grenade, loaded rifle, and four additional knives. The French government deemed this attack an act of terror, and so far there has been no news as to whether Chekatt was a member of a designated terrorist organization.

This case holds many implications for French security measures and public safety. First, while the suspect managed to kill at least three people and wound about twelve others, the attack could have been much worse had the French authorities not prepared emergency evacuation plans.

Because of this, the streets were cleared relatively quickly by authorities, and lives were undoubtedly saved because of it. However, this case also illustrates how difficult it is for authorities to track down a single assailant in a crowded area with thousands of people moving around.

Terrorist attacks at crowded events during the holidays are also not abnormal. For example, the truck attack in Berlin in December 2016 also occurred at a populated Christmas market. The primary implication to take from this is that the general public, not just in France but in every country around the world, must practice extreme vigilance when attending crowded gatherings in populated areas, especially during the holidays.

These gatherings are prime targets for lone-wolves and organized terrorist organizations who see these events as opportunities to inflict mass casualties.

The public should not become solely dependent on local law enforcement and other authorities, but should prepare ahead of time in the case a crisis does unfold to protect themselves, family, friends, and others.

This preparation can include conducting research on certain areas ahead of time, planning potential evacuation routes, and compiling an emergency kit made up of first aid, flashlights, water, and other provisions.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides an in-depth guide on how to prepare for potential crises ranging from natural disasters to terrorism.

Proper preparation can mitigate the number of fatalities and fallout from these attacks.

How Minnesota is Attempting to Combat Radicalization

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Abdifatah Ahmed, who travelled to join the Islamic State, posted this image on Facebook with the caption “The return of the khilaafa [caliphate] insha allah [God willing].” Image credit: Facebook.

In 2014, 18-year old Abdullahi Yusuf was about to travel internationally when he was stopped at the Minneapolis airport by FBI special agents. Yusuf was confronted by the special agents about his plans to travel to Syria and join the ranks of the Islamic State.

This encounter soon led to nine members of a loosely connected cell being arrested and charged after it was discovered that all of the men had planned to travel and join the declared caliphate. Pre-dating these arrests, several others linked to the nine young men through various community connections had already travelled to join ISIS.

All of these men were connected through the tight-knit community of Somali immigrants in the Minneapolis area. All of the men had been targeted for recruitment in person (at pick-up basketball games at a local mosque) as well as through social media. Abdifatah Ahmed, one of the men who had managed to travel to Syria and was killed fighting for the Islamic State, confirmed in messages to family members that he had begun to socialize with like-minded individuals at these recreational basketball games and was further radicalized by online recruitment.

Judge Michael J. Davis, who was tasked with overseeing the cases, could see that addressing the issue went far beyond the normal criminal justice system utilized in the United States. After thorough research into deradicalization programs across the globe, Judge Davis contacted Daniel Koehler of Germany to help establish a Terrorism Disengagement and Deradicalization Program. Koehler had previous experience in multiple countries, focusing much of his efforts on combating neo-Nazism.

Koehler’s method of deradicalization is unique, as it does not focus on theological re-education or debate. Instead, Koehler suggests that radicalized individuals experience ‘tunnel vision’ which affects how they view life’s problems and potential solutions. Gradually, they begin to believe that all of life’s problems can be solved through violent action- making them increasingly likely to commit terrorist acts.

Koehler believes the key to deradicalization is to introduce alternative, nonviolent solutions to life’s problems. Once a radicalized individual begins considering these options, then other ideas can be introduced to reduce the damage done by radicalization. For example, Koehler suggests introducing hobbies and passions from the individual’s life prior to radicalization. Once these are reintroduced, the individual should arrange contacts with other Muslims who are interested in these activities- ideally ones who are successful and well known.

Not every radicalized individual is eligible for participation in the program. Koehler has developed a psychological profile of individuals for whom he believes the program will be effective. These individuals exhibit specific traits such as being able to disassociate with group-think, and are able to recognize old hobbies and interests as enjoyable.

However, the program does have its limits. First, Koehler believes that each case needs a minimum of four mentors as well as a case coordinator. This staffing plan, while likely justified, is a budgetary concern for those attempting to spread similar programs to new states or cities. Second, the program is relatively new in the United States, resulting in a shortage of data about its successes and failures.

While the program sounds plausible in terms of potential success, gaining widespread acceptance will require supporting data. Third, there is not yet a solution in place to address an individual who begins to relapse into radicalization once they have completed the program.

The program’s staffing issues could potentially be eased by working with universities in the areas it is being implemented in.

These programs could utilize graduate students in the social sciences to ease budgetary restraints. Unfortunately, the lack of data can only be solved with additions of new data; this involves similar programs being spread and studied critically, and there is not much immediate action that can address this issue.

The program in Minnesota may be tested in the near future, as the FBI stated as recently as 2017 that there are multiple open investigations on individuals who want to join the Islamic State. Hopefully it proves a success.

ISIS Threat

Since ISIS’, or Daesh’s, ascension to power, following the chaos of the Syrian uprisings in 2011, the world has watched as these Islamists used increasingly brutal tactics to secure huge swaths of land in both Syria and Iraq. They targeted fragile, war-torn countries with low state capacity and worked to push their own agenda. The religious fundamentalists quickly gained international fame as they exploited the realm of social media to a new level, posting videos and creating multiple accounts on different platforms to attract followers from across the globe. However, the magnitude of their global attention eventually worked against the organization as the United States and other nations showed support and entered Syria for the sole purpose of extinguishing ISIS.

Over 30,000 airstrikes later and aggressive military policies by the United States, backed by around sixty-eight other countries, ISIS has lost most of its territory it formerly held in Iraq and Syria. Despite this, the group has managed to keep a small piece of land near the Syrian-Iraqi border for more than a year now. The plot of land is tucked around a quaint Syrian town known as Hajin in the Deir al-Zour province. Occasionally, militants still attempt to stage an attack outside of the small parcel of land they control, but even these attacks appear feeble and unorganized, like the last breath before they cease to exist any longer, unlike their prior attacks. Especially the attacks that took Europe by surprise in 2014 and 2015. However, it has been more than four years since Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Daesh, declared the caliphate and those attacks seem to be a distant memory to many. Today it appears to most of the world that ISIS is not only no longer a threat but has been eradicated from existence.

Maxwell B. Markusen, associate fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in D.C., spoke to the New York Timesand stated that this rhetoric commonly being used is destructive as it insinuates that ISIS is no longer a threat. Although the area they control has seriously diminished, this is not the case. ISIS’ lightning fast rise to the forefront of the world’s most feared organizations is mainly the result of the propaganda and recruitment arm that remains active. ISIS is currently broadcasting their videos and messages at a similar pace as they were when at the height of their power. There were more attacks in 2017 than in 2016 and although the numbers of successful attacks have gone down significantly, attempted attacks continue at a pace similar to that in 2015. Although their territory has diminished it is thought that they still retain around 30,000 members in total throughout Syria and Iraq, though these numbers cannot be confirmed. The American led fight to take Hajin, the last place ISIS officially operates from, is proving harder than anticipated, even with the help of the Syrian Democratic Forces. ISIS is pushed back against a corner and has no problem fighting like there is nothing to lose. They have been reported to use the civilians which has only slowed fighting further.

Recently, President Donald Trump tweeted a video statement where he declared, “we have beaten them, and we have beaten them badly. It’s time to bring our troops home…We won.” While many families will be rejoicing as their sons and daughters are sent home, one must wonder if pulling the estimated two thousand American troops out of Syria is the correct move. Not only is ISIS’ presence and influence still widely felt, it leaves only Russia, Iran and Hezbollah as the major players in the geopolitical center of the Middle East. Bordering Syria are five of the U.S. allies: Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, and Lebanon. None of these allies will appreciate the abrupt removal by the U.S. Once the U.S. leaves they give up their position of diplomatic leverage and forfeit it to the aforementioned countries still involved. The announcement came as a surprise, but will no doubt be greeted warmly by both Russia and Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria. Russia has long fought for sole influence over Syria and has long desired it as a military base for their naval and air forces. The Trump administrations own team seems to have been taken by surprise as well. Brett McGurk, the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, said at a briefingon December 11th, “if we’ve learned one thing over the years, enduring defeat of a group like this means you can’t just defeat their physical space and then leave. You have to make sure the internal security forces are in place to ensure that those gains, security gains, are enduring.”

Haphazardly pulling troops out may seem like a good move after years of being stationed in a war zone, but McGurk is accurate in his assessment. The U.S. has on more than one occasion, think Afghanistan and Iraq, acted against unfit regimes or terrorist organizations and then quickly left soon after the fighting slowed. ISIS is not obliterated; they still exist and are actively recruiting new followers. Leaving a country without infrastructure or institutions to maintain peace will only result in the resurfacing of the movement. The age old saying, ‘history repeats itself’ will ring true if the U.S. chooses not to learn from its past. In this situation, the U.S. should not pull out all troops and leave the region void of its influence. Instead, the U.S. should focus on rebuilding what they have aided in destroying and use their influence to not only keep ISIS at bay but also to work with other nations, including Syria to rebuild the country and its institutions. This in the long run will leave less space for terrorists’ organizations such as ISIS to flourish as many of the capabilities to protect against extremism are found within strong infrastructure and institutions.

Burkina Faso: Local Instability, Global Implications

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Figure 1 Retrieved from Nationsonline.org Link

Rampant political instability in Burkina Faso, stemming from the overthrow of dictator Blaise Compaoré, has resulted in a rapidly expanding crisis for counter-terror operations in the tri-border region between Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Ongoing conflicts across the region are complicated by local issues that reach back hundreds of years, such as ethnic and tribal divisions, combined with modern global terror networks that are exploiting the instability. Efforts to solve these issues have global significance; the United States has actively trained regional security and military forces to better equip them to combat terrorists, while France has conducted ongoing military operations in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali.

Since 2016, there have been 200 terror attacks in Burkina Faso, with at least 263 confirmed deaths stemming from these attacks. This is astounding considering that prior to the removal of Compaoré, Burkina Faso had never experienced a terror attack in its recorded history. While some of these attacks have been attributed to former elite special forces of the military of Burkina Faso from Compaoré’s regime, several terror networks operate in the area. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) remain the largest regional representatives of global terror operating in the region and have conducted ongoing attacks across multiple countries, capitalizing on weakened governments and ethnic and tribal conflicts. Local militias have been known to engage the global terror networks in armed conflict on occasion as the militaries and other security forces appear to be ineffective or incapable of conducting military operations against them.

The Burkinabé military, which was trained by French and U.S. special forces, has contributed to further instability. Counterterror operations conducted by the Burkinabé military have resulted in accusations of false arrests, extrajudicial killings, and other abuses- further eroding trust between local communities and the weak government. Both ISGS and AQIM will likely be able to capitalize on these strained relationships to increase recruiting capabilities as their affiliates globally have done in the past. Terror groups have begun to cement their long-term presence in Burkina Faso, operating at least partially in the open and driving the shutdown of many schools and hospitals. The closing of these establishments represents the failures of local government, and highlights the government’s inability to conduct successful counterterror operations. The school closures also decrease opportunities for local youth, increasing the likelihood that they will ultimately turn to extremism.

ISGS was created by Abu Walid al Sahrawi, who previously had allegiance to al Qaeda. ISGS still recruits heavily from al Qaeda ranks, but saw a drop in activity after recent French military operations killed several of its high-ranking members. Like so many terror groups in the past, ISGS operates most successfully in areas with weakened government institutions with weak border regions. Until further stabilization is secured in the region, counterterror operations will be unsuccessful in the long-term.

France has recognized the need to develop stability in the tri-border region as critical to African security. French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian pledged €34 million to programs that will increase stability in the areas between Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. However, this funding will likely be insufficient to solve the vast underlying issues that are contributing to the destabilization. The U.S., who is already devoting significant funds to the region by way of military training and military equipment, must increase funding and develop solutions that will legitimize the governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. Corruption, which is an issue observed in each of these countries, must be addressed to ensure further legitimacy as well as to ensure that the funds being devoted to stabilization go to appropriate channels on the ground.



John Patrick Wilson is a Research Fellow with Rise to Peace and a Law Enforcement Professional.

World Cup and Olympics and Terrorism in Brazil

Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, terrorist attacks occurred in countries that were hosting global events, including incidents at the Munich Olympics in 1972 and at the Atlanta games in 1996. Since then, the risk of violence and terrorist attacks have become a growing concern for nations hosting these high profile events as well as the international community attending the events. However, on the occasion of Brazil hosting both the 2014 Soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the context and the problems experienced by Brazil and most Latin American countries became evident.

During the Cold War, the vast majority of these countries were under brutal military dictatorships that oppressed the people and labeled every opposition group as terrorists, whether they were peaceful or not. Brazil was among the countries where opposition groups were labeled as terrorists for the simple act of opposing to the government; in many cases protesters were interrogated and tortured by military officers. As a result, following the democratization in 1985 and its consolidation four years afterward, the term terrorist was removed from the vocabulary of Brazilian leaders due to its strong connotation and alignment with the military dictatorship.

As Brazil prepared to host the two most popular events in the world, the World Cup and the Olympics, the international pressure for security was so strong that the country had to pass more extensive anti-terrorism legislation. President Dilma Rousseff, fought in a guerilla during the 1970s and 1980s, and her successor, Michel Temer, is of Arab origin, both common among Brazilians. This resulted in the Brazilian law being much broader and ambiguous than ones in other Western countries, leaving many organizers and security professionals related to the events unhappy.

The consensus at the time was that Brazil was not prepared for an attack the scale of Munich in 1972. As an example, Brazil focused its preparation on so-called lone wolves, which act alone rather than having a group or cell supporting and coordinating the attack. At the time of organizing these events, the Islamic State was publishing videos and statements in Portuguese, creating fears that it could be behind an attack during these events, while the eyes of the world would be fixed on Rio de Janeiro.

Another issue of concern as noted by the New York Times was that the Brazilian soldiers in charge of protecting the various event sites were not prepared to deal with various terrorist scenarios. Not only was the training to counter terrorist attacks or violent insurgency insufficient, but the soldiers and police officers were poorly paid and inadequately equipped, as the state lacked the financial support for basic supplies and equipment, such as gasoline for police cars.

Luckily, there were no terrorist attacks during the World Cup or during the 2016 Olympics. However, the problems remain, and the event highlighted the inability of the Brazilian government to properly respond to terrorist activity.  In fact the same factors limiting efficacy for terror response actions such as insufficient training, lack of equipment, and poor pay, are also partly responsible for the high incidence of violence in Latin America. Thus, the region is unprepared to deal with terrorism and violent extremism, as well as to the day-to-day violence, with few resources invested in police which can counter violence, and even less devoted to tackling the issues that create and enable the rise of violence and drug trafficking. The World Cup and the Olympics exposed the lack of preparation and weakness of Brazil in terms of public safety, but until it becomes a priority for the state, nothing will change and Brazil will not be able to transcend its drug trafficking or homicide epidemics, let alone be prepared for a terrorist event.

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Brazilian Army Forces soldiers patrol on Copacabana beach ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Guerrilla Warfare in Latin America

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When a nation is invaded, or succumbs to an authoritarian government, its people usually are no match for either foreign or national military; these well trained troops would likely defeat them on a battlefield. However, as the road toward victory using conventional warfare is blocked, a side road featuring unconventional guerilla warfare can open. Many revolutions and resistance movements have used these side roads and more unconventional tactics to achieve great success. They paved the way for Yugoslavia’s President for almost the entirety of the Cold War, created chaos for the Colombian government, and even challenged the great military mastermind of Napoleon.

Guerrilla warfare, or unconventional war, occurs when a small group of combatants use military tactics such as sabotage, raids, landmines, and hit-and-run operations, to fight a traditional and often less mobile conventional army. Their aim is not only to kill enemy troops, but to attack the psyche and moral ensuring the enemy or oppressive government understands that they may occupy the territory, but they will not be able to control it. After they strike, guerrilla forces often go back to their hiding place, and wait for the next attack. This type of warfare is successful in irregular terrain, thick forests, caves, or hills which provide cover and places to hide.

Historically the tactic has been successful against more well-trained larger armies. The Roman Empire struggled with the hit and run tactics of Germanic Tribes, the Crusaders struggled against the lighter equipped mamelukes, and Napoleon suffered during the Peninsular War, between 1807 and 1814. More recently, during World War II the Nazis faced guerrilla tactics from local resistance in the Western Front, with an honorable mention to the French Resistance that was crucial for the operation of D-Day, and by Partisans in the Eastern Front, usually fighting against SS divisions. In more modern warfare, the Vietnam War quickly became an unconventional war between the U.S. and the Vietcong, and tribal guerilla combatants have successfully fought in Afghanistan against the Russians and more recently the U.S.

Latin America has been plagued by guerilla factions which challenge existing governments. In Mexico, these groups, such as the Zapatistas, affected the revolution; while in Brazil, guerrilla movements occurred throughout the 20th century, starting as early as the 1930’s in the so-called Coluna Prestes and continued with the Guerrilha do Araguaia, during the military dictatorship. More recently, the FARC guerillas in Colombia and the Sendero Luminoso in Peru, have shown the impact that small bands of unconventional troops can have on standing governments. The most successful, however, was the Cuban Revolution, led by Fidel Castro and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.

In the Cuban Revolution, before the guerillas could properly engage in opposition to Fulgencio Batista’s oppressive regime, they went to Mexico to learn how to fight. It was in Mexico where Guevara joined Castro, and strengthened his movement. Although Guevara initially joined as the medic of the group, he played a key role in the eventual overthrow of Batista. Once the group concluded training, they want to Cuba and entrenched themselves in the mountainous region of the island, using radio as their primary propaganda tool and voice to the people, they waited for Batista’s army to come after them. Little by little, Castro and his fighters beat the regime’s armies and gained popular approval. A common misconception is that Castro’s regime was born a socialist, but that only occurred when the U.S. sent a guerrilla group formed by Cuban refugees that had fled when Castro took over and was decisively defeated in the Bay of Pigs.

While in other regions, bands of guerrillas are usually focused on foreign occupation, in Latin America the focus has been on government troops and oppression. This type of unconventional warfare is also related to socialist models, and more specifically, the Chinese model. One of the reasons why this approach has failed to inflict definitive change in Latin America is that they target the wrong population by focusing on peasants rather than urban dwellers, or the proletariat, as Latin American societies have a radically different organization to the Chinese ones, based on rural peasants.

Guerillas are much like terrorist organizations. Repression and counter-conflict may work to disband them in the short term, but it does not address the reasons why these groups are formed. In Latin America, like many other places in the world social unrest is caused by the marginalization, corruption, and lack of opportunities for people. Guerilla warfare has many parallels to terrorism including tactics and outcomes. In theory, guerilla warfare does not involve civilians, and is focused on groups of paramilitary individuals fighting another military group. Civilians may get caught in the cross-fire, but they are generally not the targets. In fact, many governments will not violate the Rule of Discrimination, by killing civilians together with guerrilla fighters, thus when they hide out in civilian areas, it is difficult for the government to retaliate. While terrorists have less regard for the distinction of civilian and military, and in fact often engage with or met out their violence against civilian targets. Despite this distinction, the outcome is often the same, communities engulfed in violence. While guerillas often seek to protect and be protected by the community, terrorists direct their efforts on expelling an enemy. In Latin America, the guerillas have traditionally sided with the common people in hopes of greater opportunities, and thus it is imperative that governments understand the distinction and work with these guerrillas to create a more peaceful and just society in the Latin American countries.

Women and Radicalization

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Ninetta Bagarella and her husband, Totò, who successfully raised children in the extremist Mafia tradition. Image credit: Associated Press.

Emilie König, Yasmin Bulbocus, Sadaa Boular each have something in common: all are women of ISIS. Emile is a well-known example of a young French woman who converted to Islam and emigrated to Syria, where she served as a recruiter and propagandist for ISIL, while Yasmin is a former extremist that was radicalized when she was only seventeen. Meanwhile, the case of Safaa Boular, her sister Rizlaine, and her mother Mina, who were found guilty of plotting  terrorist attacks in Britain, is a clear example of transmission of dysfunctional values within families. Each has a unique story about how and why they became radicalized, but as a group, they provide fascinating insight into the role women play in ISIS.

As co-leaders, strategists, trainers, advisors, ruthless criminals, and persuaders, women involved with terrorist groups such as ISIS, as well as women in organized crime rings such as the Mafia, often share the same harsh attitudes towards authority and broader society. They reflect the criminal subcultures that raised them, bear unhealthy values, purvey hatred, and act as loyal partners in crime.

Many women of the Mafia pursue their own battle against the State and Civil Society. They are tasked with raising future generations of “men and women of honour,” thus ensuring the survival of their clans and criminal associations. The following conversation took place in the visitors room of the penitentiary where Gianni Riina, the eldest son of the most fierce Sicilian mafia boss Totò Riina, was imprisoned:

Salvo Riina: “See, I’m from the school of Corleone.”

Ninetta Bagarella: “Well, thank goodness, thank goodness.”

Salvo Riina: “My father’s from Corleone, my mother’s from Corleone, what other school and blood could I have?”

Ninetta Bagarella: “Pure blood.”

In this conversation, Ninetta Bagarella, Totò Riina’s wife, clearly expresses her satisfaction after her son Salvo remembers his “pure” Corleonese origins. As a woman, part of her role is to raise children who, like Salvo, have “pure” origins and strong ties to the organization- something which women in ISIS, raising extremist “cubs,” must also do.

The determination they show in pursuing these roles demonstrates that their power is seriously underestimated. Both in extremist groups and in mafia organizations, women make their own contributions in two ways:

  1. They provide potential extremist women with role models;
  2. They ensure the survival of criminal systems by raising children with extremist values.

With regard to the first issue, one possible counter-strategy could envisage the creation of narratives that focus on the life stories of women that were formerly involved in criminal organizations and decided to quit. The confrontation with real life examples of women who chose to abandon lives of extremism could help potential extremists develop new ideas and opinions about criminal groups, based on more genuine information.

The second issue presents us with a big challenge: preventing children from being indoctrinated by their parents and families. During the first few years of life, babies are totally dependent on their parents, so it is inconceivable to develop a strategy leaving their mothers or fathers out of their socialization. Instead, it is possible to expose older children to messages of tolerance and peace, using means familiar to them like cartoons, books and songs or planning different operations according to the characteristics of the context.

Ultimately, counterterrorism strategies should just not be “gender-sensitive,” but should be more specifically based on social roles.

This will ensure that the social roles played by women, often overlooked, are finally addressed- and that generations of their children will no longer be raised in lives of crime.

Women are key to counterterrorism efforts, because they play crucial roles in families and educational institutions and thus play a key role in either increasing or mitigating the risk of radicalization. Increasing the participation of women in the prevention of criminal behavior could help tackle the problem at its roots, giving new generations more chances to grow up with positive cultural values that promote social cohesion and solidarity.

Social Media and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism

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Far-right protestors at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 2017. Image credit: Anthony Crider.

In the United States, many would argue that one of the greatest threats to national security is terrorism, but its portrayal in media and politics has convinced most Americans that the threat only comes in the form of Islamic extremism. However, the threat of terrorism is diversifying. The number of domestic terrorists in the U.S. exhibiting ideological tendencies associated with right-wing extremism is increasing. Most recently, Robert Bowers killed eleven Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania on October 27, 2018. He faces 29 criminal charges and potentially the death penalty. Some have profiled the incident as the largest attack on the Jewish Community in the history of the United States- but Mr. Bowers is not the only extremist to engage in such activity as of late. Cesar Sayoc Jr., who this autumn mailed explosive devices to  Hillary Clinton, George Soros, former president Barack Obama, and other prominent Democratic figures, was arrested in Florida and faces five federal criminal charges, including interstate transportation of an explosive, illegal mailing of explosives, making threats against former presidents, and assaulting federal officers.

Incidents such as these are increasingly common. In 2017, there were a total of 65 domestic terrorism incidents in the United States. Approximately two-thirds of these incidents involved individuals who exhibited anti-Semitic, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-government, or fascist motivations. The remainder of the attacks were driven by left-wing ideologies and Islamic extremism. To give further context, the number of global terrorism incidents saw a decline of almost 40 percent, going from about 17,000 attacks in 2014 to about 11,000 attacks in 2017. Meanwhile, incidents in the United States increased nearly 10% from 2016 to 2017. Even as the total number of global terrorism incidents has seen a great decline, the United States itself has seen a significant increase in domestic terrorism. Given the complex profiles of recent domestic terrorists, it may be difficult to pinpoint the reasoning behind why exactly they carry out the attacks. However, such analysis is critical, as it can help us learn to identify and thwart future attackers.

The rise in domestic terrorism, and specifically right-wing extremism, stems from multivarious motivations. Some attackers exhibited warning signs, such as suspicious social media activity; both Robert Bowers and Cesar Sayoc vented their frustrations on the Internet before carrying out acts of terrorism. For others, such as the Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock, who killed 59 people, the motivation was unclear and has yet to be discovered. The cases of Bowers and Sayoc clearly prove that social media companies are not doing enough to monitor their users’ content and alert authorities to potentially dangerous individuals who may pose a threat to society. Platforms such as Gab, the social media website that Bowers used to post anti-Semitic videos and other content, has a user base of nearly 800,000 people, many of whom politically identify as members of the far-right (Molina, 2018). Many of these individuals have been removed from other social media platforms for posting hate speech and other forms of obscenity in the past. After the incident at the Tree of Life Synagogue, Gab went offline and suspended numerous user accounts. Gab’s service provider, GoDaddy, found that Gab had violated its terms of service by allowing the content that encouraged and promoted the use of violence, and subsequently gave Gab 24 hours to find new service provider to host the website.

The case of Gab reveals many reasons as to why Bowers was not identified as a threat or referred to law enforcement. First, his posts were not identified as “threatening” by platform regulators. Second, his posts were not taken down, despite their clear containment of threatening speech. Third, Gab did not inform or collaborate with law enforcement authorities to alert them that Bowers could be a threat to society. However, Gab is not the only platform guilty of this. Sayoc also had exhibited significant social media usage before carrying out the attempted mail bombings. He had used Twitter months before, sending threatening tweets to George Soros and former Attorney General Eric Holder. Clearly, these cases highlight the need for social media platforms to adapt their current regulation of user content, as well as their collaboration with U.S. law enforcement. There seems to be a pattern with many domestic terrorists in using social media as a platform to vent their grievances. By identifying these grievances in a timely manner, countless lives may be saved.

Mohammed Hamzah Khan: Case Study of an American Extremist

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Mohammed Hamzah Khan, the young man radicalized in the suburbs of Chicago.

Born in the United States to first generation immigrants, Mohammed Hamzah Khan and his siblings were raised about 35 minutes west of Chicago in the middle class suburb of Bolingbrook, Illinois. Considering he was a student at Benedictine University, a well-known Roman Catholic university, it can be understood why it was such a surprise when Khan was arrested by federal authorities at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and charged with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Khan was detained with his brother (16) and sister (17) at the airport, where they intended to fly to Vienna before taking a bus to Turkey where they would meet with an IS operative who would smuggle them into Syria to join the caliphate. Mohammed was seen by authorities as the influence over his younger (and still juvenile, in the U.S. criminal justice system) siblings. Accordingly, his siblings were released to their parents without charges- but Mohammed remained.

Zarine Khan, Mohammed’s mother, stated that he and his sister were radicalized and preyed upon by IS recruiters on various social media accounts. In preparation for his travel to the caliphate, Khan got a job at a local store and raised sufficient travel funds for both himself and his siblings. It should be noted that Khan bought round trip tickets for the trip in an effort to mask their plans to travel to the caliphate- belying that there was likely some coaching in operational security by an IS operative online. Khan’s lawyer stated that Khan desired to join something bigger than himself, longing for a higher purpose. Khan’s lawyer made a strong argument against a long prison sentence, referencing the U.S. prison system and its record of further radicalizing individuals.

After years of court proceedings, Khan was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison, including time already served. Upon his release from prison, he enrolled in the College of DuPage, earning a 4.0 GPA and academic honors- though he remained subject to routine and random searches of his living quarters and electronic devices for at least 20 years after release. In the spring of 2018, Khan was found to have accessed multiple prohibited social media networks and- in clear violation of his parole. The judge tasked with overseeing Khan’s case stated that Khan had demonstrated major steps of rehabilitation, exemplified by his schooling successes, and suggested that the violations were due to a lack of maturity. However, on the day that federal authorities searched his room and discovered his parole violations, they also uncovered an IS flag and documents in Arabic under his bed- the translation of which remains unclear.

In light of this, it is understandable to wonder what could have driven an American citizen to such radicalization. Khan is the child of immigrants, making it possible he felt marginalized as a result. Additionally, Khan is a Muslim of Indian descent- a community which does not necessarily have a large population in the Chicago area, potentially deepening Khan’s marginalization even among the Chicago Muslim community. It is possible that these factors contributed to Khan’s recruitment and radicalization. However, Khan’s schooling also proved that he has above average intelligence and can function without issue in western society.

Notably, Khan had no criminal history prior to his arrest for attempting to provide material support to the IS. There is little information available about Khan’s time in prison, but it is critical to question whether further radicalization occurred during his time in custody. Khan’s attorney mentioned that it could potentially be more dangerous for Khan to have a lengthy prison sentence, due to the extremist ideologies often fostered in prison culture. Within prisons, those prisoners who are radicalized are typically radicalized by other inmates and not by outside motivators. Since Khan was already radicalized, he would have been susceptible to other inmates’ radical influence as well.

Discussion of reform in the United States prison system is beyond the scope of this particular research or case study; however, one reform policy could clearly limit radicalization in this case and others. To counter radicalization within prisons, personnel working in corrections must be diversified. This is particularly true when discussing radicalization amongst the Muslim prison population. The Salafist ideology suggests that the West is at war with Islam, and having a mostly Christian, Caucasian prison staff could increase the “us versus them” mindset amongst prisoners- making more prisoners susceptible to radicalization. Implementing hiring procedures and protocols to ensure that staff more accurately mirror the demographics represented in the prison population at each particular facility could help reduce some types of radicalization. This policy implementation would take a significant amount of time, but could be impactful in decades to come.

Ultimately, Mohammed’s case is an unusual one, but it is not entirely isolated. With the rise of IS recruiting online and through increasingly global networks, the United States must prepare for more cases like Mohammed’s- and implementing prison reform could be a key first step.

Rehabilitation in the Archipelago: Is Indonesia Building a Foundation of Success?

F9302264 208B 4D50 ADB8 C76BC05FEE40 - Rehabilitation in the Archipelago: Is Indonesia Building a Foundation of Success?

A group of policemen patrol at the Mobile Police Brigade headquarters in Depok, south of Jakarta, Indonesia, May 9, 2018

Since the turn of the century, much of countering violent extremism (CVE) discussion has rightly focused on the Middle East and Central Asia. While all corners of the world have seen a rise in violent extremism-related danger, Southeast Asia, arguably, has seen the steepest rise — particularly the archipelago of Indonesia.

With as many as 30 terrorist attacks dating back to the early-2000s, Indonesia has crafted multiple methods to eliminate the extremist threat.

This goes beyond simply creating an anti-terror special force called Detachment 88. Rehabilitation programs, centers, and schools — whether headed by the National Board on Anti-Terrorism, or civil organizations — have gained traction. The methods have focused on reintegration into society, education for extremist offender’s children in government schools, with special attention paid to preventing prisons from becoming breeding grounds for extremist ideology. In preventing violent extremism and reintegrating former extremists Indonesia is laying a proper foundation for success. But plenty of work needs to be done to make broaden efforts and establish Indonesia as a counterterror leader who the world can follow.

Rehabilitation of terrorism offenders in Indonesia is defined as, “all type of efforts, through cooperation of various entities, whether in social, psychology, education, economic, culture, human resources or other related fields, into a continuous process, which aims to rehabilitate terrorism inmates so they are able to be back in society as a holistic individual both mentally, emotionally, economically, and socially, so as to achieve self-sufficiency, productive and useful to the state and society.”

Psychological rehabilitation from terrorism attempts to reestablish the human capacity and societal function of former extremists.

According to frameworks researched in Indonesia, the processes of de-radicalization through societal rehabilitation revolve around exclusiveness and inclusiveness. Exclusiveness is simply rehabilitation through cutting imprisoned extremists off from the outside world in order to stop intra-prison ideological spread. Inclusiveness refers to dialogues with friends and family as a means of behavioral transformation.

Studies in the archipelago point to the three roles of radical extremist militants: leaders or ideologues preaching their radical beliefs, middle management organizers acting as recruiters and strategists, and followers carrying out attacks as foot soldiers. Furthermore, the reasons why so much radicalization takes place in prisons are ideological i.e. brainwashing, solidarity-driven, revenge-seeking, separatist mentality and/or mob mentality, and situational or forced reasons.

The general opinion among those in the Indonesian CVE field is that rehabilitation centers and policy around them must be more comprehensive.

Initial policy for rehabilitation took a so-called “soft-power” approach whereby aid money was allocated to the families of former extremists. In addition to money for food and clothing, police were told to begin engaging prison inmates in friendly religious discussion including the breaking of the Ramadan fast together. The success of these initial “soft-power” policies was limited with very few former extremist prisoners interested in talking.

It is unclear how much of this comes down to the widely held misconception that only radicals can get through to other radicals and that radicals already cooperating eventually become discredited. Struggles have been compounded by no official national budget allocated towards these policies thus creating some accountability issues. Nevertheless, early stages of these rehabilitation programs allowed police to recognize the complexities of radicalization and de-radicalization.

The government appointed bureau for anti-terrorism, the Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme (BNPT) has not been a straightforward success, or even a help for that matter thanks to weak institutions in Indonesia. Corruption in the prison system has meant that top-down funds from the BNPT rarely have the desired effect on rehabilitation in prison. Therefore, the civil organizations that have filled the gaps have begun applying a bottom-up approach by examining why past extremists have left or de-radicalized in rehabilitation programs or prison.

The main causes have proven to be disillusionment with extremist leadership, an awareness that the costs outweigh personal or movement-wide benefits, the development of new friendships outside militant groups, and changes to personal goals such as wanting a family or education. However, despite plenty of organizations adopting techniques to aid the rehabilitation process, civil organizations can only do so much.

Tailoring individual interventions is resource intensive and pushback within the country points to questions over why other prisoners do not have such publicized rehabilitation initiatives. The public’s knowledge of corruption makes it challenging for the Indonesian government to figure out how to make use of resources and assist civil organizations as their work may be discredited through association. With 23 civil organizations recently partnering to pool resources under the moniker C-Save, maybe proper steps are being laid to make sure the government’s top-down approach works in conjunction with the civil organization’s bottom-up approach.

The field of CVE is certainly not an exception to the idea that people are stronger when in conjunction with one another so in the spirit of the Indonesia Raya, “Let us proclaim, Indonesians unite!”

Rise to Peace