Terrorism in the Metaverse: How Extremist Organizations Penetrate Burgeoning Spaces

For as long as new technology has emerged, governments have struggled to keep up with their use by extremist organizations. Such organizations utilize these spaces because it allows them to access platforms where global youth congregate, and it is an opportunity to disseminate their ideals. With current technological trends, the way in which we communicate will undergo several iterations with each new development in computation power and integration of platforms. One of the most salient technologies which has a large potential to be popular in the latter decades of this century is the metaverse. While still in its infancy and undefined, policymakers must understand what it is and how terrorists have used technology in the past.

Terrorism and Technology

In the decades prior to the advent of the internet, terrorist organizations had fewer options for making their presence known to an international audience. They also had a far more limited means of recruitment since their organizations were not well known outside of the region or state in which they conducted operations. In order to truly bring attention to their aims, these groups had to do something drastic which would break into popular newspapers and widely circulate. During this era, the most popular ways to accomplish this include hijackings, bombings, or assassinations. One of the best case studies for this period is the 1977 Dutch Train Hijacking.

The Moluccans had a long history with the Dutch as they were under colonial rule and aided their interests in the Dutch East Indies. This relationship continued after the Second World War when the Dutch promised them their own state in exchange for armed cooperation against the Indonesian rebellion. After the conflict, the Moluccans did not receive any of the state’s promises, and those who served in the Royal Netherlands Indies Army (KNIL) immigrated to the Netherlands in 1951. Those who grew up in Holland felt betrayed by the Dutch, but they had the misfortune of being a small minority advocating for a hypothetical state in a geographically isolated island chain. This desperation resulted in hijacking a train and taking over a primary school to advance their political aims. The incident was endemic to that era of terrorism.

However, the true paradigm shift in how terrorists interacted with media occurred years prior during the 1972 Munich Games. The games were meant to bring about a new chapter in German history and signal to the world that they had moved past their dark history. Members of the terrorist group Black September planned to take Israeli hostages in exchange for the release of over 200 Palestinians held by Israel. This marked a clear demarcation from tactics of this era as they chose an event where the world’s media gathered to cover the games. Moreover, the event also solidified an internationalization of terrorism which had commenced when hijackings became transnational rather than solely domestic.

As the Munich attacks lasted for ten days, terrorists began to see the power technology could have on furthering their aims. The next development in how terrorists utilized emerging technologies was during the 1990s, when extremist groups took advantage of the emerging 24-hour news cycle and the proliferation of primitive websites dedicated to their content. The estimated number of terrorist-centric websites was limited during this period, but it highlights their determination to use any new medium to gather attention and facilitate recruitment efforts. During the past two decades, extremist organizations have made use of social networks to radicalize individuals to commit attacks. Furthermore, ISIS was found to upload thousands of videos onto YouTube over a three-month period.

What is the Metaverse?

While terrorists have been quick to adapt to technological advances and evolutions, it is crucial for policymakers to understand what the Metaverse is. Defining the metaverse is difficult in the present moment as the concept is in its infancy. As Facebook changed its name to Meta, it showed a glimpse of what the metaverse could be. While initially describing the applications it intends to create, the metaverse will likely include a wide variety of technological trends to converge our digital lives with our real lives.

Many platforms will likely integrate various aspects of their services to change the way we communicate and engage with content. As this occurs, the generations who will grow up with this technology will be increasingly isolated with the amount of time they will spend in the metaverse and will be preyed upon in these spaces by extremist organizations. It is also possible that spaces in the metaverse could become a hub for cyber-terrorism and disinformation through the advancement of deepfakes.

What Stakeholders Can Do

The metaverse will likely not reach maturity within 2022 but rather in 5-10 years from now when the first immersive iterations will have the full capabilities which tech experts have envisioned. While the functionality of the metaverse is not yet at full capacity, there can be steps taken to address this emerging challenge concerning state security.

A way to stay ahead of the challenges of the metaverse is investing in researching the technologies comprising the metaverse. Governments will also need to strengthen bonds with the private sector to mitigate the influence of extremist groups on the platform. Taking such steps will ensure that the next evolution in communication and entertainment will be a space bereft of extremist content.


Christopher Ynclan Jr., Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Terrorism and COVID-19: An Overview of their Impact on Syria

Syria is mired in poverty and disarray as a result of terrorism, and the impacts of COVID-19 have exacerbated the conditions. Syria needs a comprehensive plan to fight a series of unresolved difficulties after decades of terrorism, civil conflict, poverty, and famine. The largest refugee exodus in history occurred across the country during the previous year.

Desperation and Disarray in Syria

In 2016, 366 terrorist attacks occurred in Syria, and in 2019, more than 10,000 people were killed, and finally, according to the Observatory, in 2020, 6,800 individuals were killed. However, while these numbers are staggering, they do not compare to 2014, Syria’s deadliest year, in which 76,000 people were killed.

2021 marked one decade since Syria’s uprisings erupted; unfortunately, the nation remains impoverished and plagued with violence. It began as ruthless assaults on anti-government demonstrations, evolving into a complicated battleground involving international forces, local militias, and foreign fighters. The conflict also spawned the world’s biggest refugee crisis, with more than half of Syria’s people displaced. There are 5.5 million refugees living primarily in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt, while another 6.7 million are internally displaced.

The confluence of wars and attacks, economic crises, water shortages, and COVID-19 has created an atmosphere of terror and a dire humanitarian situation, according to Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. Humanitarian needs in Syria are at their highest as there is an urgent call for a total change in terms of policies and measures to demolish terrorism.

The Brutal Effects of Terrorism 

Terrorism has had a significant influence on oil, which is one of the Middle East’s most important industries. Attacks on oil production have resulted in supply disruptions. Considering ISIS’s primary revenue stream is the illicit sale of oil, Syria became a target for territorial control to gain access to oil wells and establish dominance in the oil market.

Additionally, day-to-day life, such as access to clean water and adequate living conditions, have been impacted by both terrorism and COVID-19 in Syria. However, even though humanitarian conditions have eroded, the Syrian government continues to restrict the distribution of humanitarian aid across the nation.  Roughly 11.1 million of the 17.5 million Syrians required humanitarian aid in 2020.

Of the humanitarian aid that was distributed to Syrians in the first half of 2021, the contributions consisted of food, access to clean water, hospital renovations, hygiene products, and basic essentials.

Notable improvements and humanitarian aid contributions across Syria include, the implementation of a water purification program to 10.5 million individuals across nine governorates; the distribution of food parcels to 1.3 million Syrians and the donation of basic household items, blankets, mattresses, and hygiene kits to 500,00 individuals throughout seven governorates; and the distribution of COVID-19-specific hygiene kits to prevent the spread of the virus. Additionally, thousands of Syrians received vouchers as a means to access food and hygiene products.

Current Outcomes and Future Suggestions

Syria’s current situation is inhumane. According to sources, terrorists belonging to the Islamic State (IS) in Syria appear to be plotting more fatal strikes in 2022. The assessment comes amid an uptick in IS activity in recent weeks, including two strikes in the war-torn country’s eastern and central areas, which the organization has claimed as its own.

Worldwide collaboration is needed to remedy the Syrian crisis. Shortages of basic goods, such as bread and petrol, have become a common concern, and the number of people in need of humanitarian aid climbed by 21% in 2021. Another aspect to consider is the COVID-19 vaccination rate. Currently, only 5% of the country’s overall population has been reported as fully vaccinated, raising questions about the government’s capacity to deliver vaccinations equitably even within its own borders.

Also, calls for Kurdish-led authorities and the U.S.-led coalition to compensate for the civilian casualties inflicted in their fight against the IS is sought to remedy the impact of their attacks in northeastern Syria. Moreover, the individuals with suspected ties to the IS and who continue to remain in camps and prisons must be swiftly investigated to provide answers and mitigate indefinite detentions.

Since the onset of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the U.S. Institute of Peace focused efforts on Syria, but an effective and long-lasting resolution is still lacking. Terrorism is demolishing the country, and the unstoppable attacks over the years make Syria a high priority for help.


Katerina Rebecca Paraskeva, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

U.S. Military

An Overview of Extremism in the U.S. Military

On January 6, 2021, a violent mob of Trump supporters launched an attack on the United States Capitol. They tore through the security perimeter, overwhelming police lines and invading the building. As the rioters attempted to break down the makeshift barricades defending the House Chamber, armed guards drew their weapons and members of Congress removed their lapel pins so as not to be identified. For U.S. Representative Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat trapped inside the chamber, the intentions of the rioters were clear, “they were going to try to kill members.”

One year after the January 6 attack, the identities of those involved are being revealed, exposing a leading role for individuals with ties to the U.S. military. Of the 727 defendants charged in the attack, at least 81 have a record of military service, including Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran fatally shot attempting to breach Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office suite. Over one quarter of these individuals were commissioned officers, and 44% had a history of deployment.

Of particular concern for security experts is that 37% were associated with violent extremist groups, including the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, making those rioters with military backgrounds over four times more likely to be part of such groups than rioters without. Indeed, this data reflects previous findings from the Justice Department’s Terrorism Research and Analysis Project, which suggest a significant over-representation of individuals with military backgrounds in right-wing extremist groups, including positions of leadership.

The prominence of these individuals in the attack highlights concerns of an upsurge in right-wing extremism within the U.S. military. Whilst officials attribute this growing extremism to broader social trends, security experts warn that the radicalization of service members, many of whom have undergone specialized military training, represents a critical threat. Indeed, according to Kristofer Goldsmith, former chief investigator at Vietnam Veterans of America, “we’re already in the early stages of an insurgency in the United States.”

Between 1990 to July 2021, at least 354 individuals with military ties committed criminal acts motivated by extremist aims, according to a research brief by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. It was found that between 1990-2010 there was an average of six criminal cases per year, but in the last decade that figure has tripled to 21 cases per year.

Whilst most of these acts are perpetrated by veterans, the “vast majority of [whom] actually became extremist after they were in the military,” according to Mark Pitcavage, a specialist on far-right groups for the Anti-Defamation League, the Department of Defense has also reported extremist activity among active-duty troops, including around 100 substantiated cases in 2021 alone. Indeed, according to a poll by the Military Times, over one third of active-duty troops have witnessed displays of white nationalism or ideologically-motivated racism in the U.S. military.

History of Extremism in the U.S. Military

Right-wing extremism in the U.S. military is far from new, according to Cassie Miller, a research specialist for the Southern Poverty Law Center, “historically, this has been a problem for the military.” In the 1960s, Black soldiers in Vietnam filed reports of white soldiers flying Confederate flags and celebrating the death of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. by parading in Ku Klux Klan-style robes.

In the 1970s, the K.K.K. was found to be operating openly at a U.S. Marine Corps base in California. In 1986, the Southern Poverty Law Center issued its first warning to the Pentagon concerning racially-motivated extremism in the U.S. military. In 1995, Army veteran Timothy McVeigh, an anti-government extremist detonated a truck bomb beneath a federal building in Oklahoma, killing 168 people in the deadliest domestic terrorist attack in U.S. history.

The January 6 attack, alongside a recent spate of foiled extremist plots, suggests a new surge in right-wing extremism within the U.S. military. These include an attempt by an Army private to orchestrate a murderous ambush on his own unit by passing secret information to a satanic neo-Nazi group; a plan to bomb a Black Lives Matter protest by three Nevada men with military backgrounds; and a failed ploy to kidnap the governor of Michigan involving two former Marines. “There is a crisis issue,” says Representative Jason Crow, a retired Army officer and member of the House Armed Services Committee, “the rise of extremism and white supremacy in the ranks.”

After January 6

Following the Capitol Hill riot, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin instituted a highly unusual military-wide “stand down” to address extremism within the ranks. Mr. Austin ordered that all military commands use this pause in operations to reinforce restrictions on extremist activity and to discuss troops’ views on the issue. After the stand down, a working group was established to support a Pentagon-led review of the prohibitions on extremist activity amongst service members.

“We don’t know the full breadth and depth of this,” said Department of Defense (D.O.D.) spokesman John Kirby at the time, describing the prevalence of extremism within the U.S. military. “It may be more than we’re comfortable feeling and admitting, and probably a lot less than the media attention surrounding it seems to suggest it could be. But where is it? It’s just not clear.”

Last month, following the conclusion of its review, the D.O.D. announced a set of updates to its guidelines on tackling extremism in the ranks. The new policies include strict prohibitions on social media activity. Under the new restrictions, “liking” or sharing extremist material will be considered advocacy and could result in disciplinary action. They also clarify behaviors considered active participation in extremist groups, such as rallying and fundraising.

Moreover, the updates involve enhanced screening of recruits. The military services all apply some degree of screening for extremism among their new entrants, including criminal background checks and the Marine Corps’ “moral qualification screening” forms. The guideline updates will further enhance these procedures. Further, efforts will be made to prepare retiring troops from being recruited by extremist groups.

Shortcomings in the Current Approach

Some experts warn that the guidelines are insufficient for tackling extremism among U.S. troops. The new D.O.D. rules do not prohibit membership of extremist organizations, such as the K.K.K. or the various right-wing militias seen at the Capitol Hill riot. Whilst the armed forces strongly discourage membership of extremist groups, this behavior is difficult to challenge in its protection under the First Amendment.

Concerns have also been raised regarding the enforcement of the new rules. The guidelines on prohibited social media activity do not include a list of banned organizations and have been described as “loosely defined” by a former chief prosecutor for the U.S. Air Force.

Moreover, it is unclear how the new rules will be enacted. “There’s no methodology in there,” said Kirby, announcing the new guidelines. Commanders are expected to be notified of concerns through “various streams of reporting.” Experts are concerned that the near total discretion of commanders to implement the new guidelines will further entrench the scattershot enforcement of counter-extremism procedures.

Further, whilst the D.O.D.’s review recommends the establishment of a dedicated central office for addressing extremism among troops, this proposal has not been implemented, and the Pentagon lacks a dedicated budget for counter-extremism work within the ranks.

“I really think the best option for their side of things would be to kind of create more of a centralized office that is staffed by a bunch of case managers … focusing on nonpunitive measures first,” said Andrew Mines, a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. “You can give commanders all the training you want, they’re still never going to be at the point where they have the same kind of competencies and expertise that folks with mental health background, with kind of generalist backgrounds in extremist organizations and extremist ideology”

Conclusions and Recommendations

In sum, the efforts of the D.O.D. in their updated guidelines do not go far enough to address increasing extremism in the armed forces. Whilst “the overwhelming majority of the men and women of the Department of Defense serve this country with honor and integrity,” said Mr. Austin, security experts are concerned by surging right-wing extremism among the ranks of the U.S. Armed Forces. “If leadership is not in touch with the people they’re leading, this kind of thing can happen,” stated Mr. Austin while discussing the January 6 attack before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I don’t think this is anything you can just put a Band-Aid on and fix.”

The Pentagon also needs to expand support for retired troops. Veterans are key targets for extremist groups, and data suggests that they are particularly vulnerable to the recruitment efforts of these organizations. Indeed, most extremists with military backgrounds underwent radicalization after leaving the armed forces. Therefore, while the new guidelines include some provisions for retiring troops, more work needs to be done in this area, and the Department of Veterans Affair should introduce a dedicated counter-extremism program.

Finally, the D.O.D. must investigate the underlying social and psychological drivers of extremism in its ranks. Officials recognize that surging right-wing extremism among troops can be attributed to broader trends in Western society. Yet the updated approach does little to acknowledge or address these deeper grievances surrounding American democracy, and the various economic and cultural frustrations empowering extremist recruitment efforts. Indeed, according to Mines, if you “don’t focus on the primary prevention side, you’re always going to be playing whack-a-mole.”

Extremism in the ranks of the world’s most powerful military force is a serious security risk, both within the United States and beyond. Tackling this threat will require a more effortful approach than simply restricting social media activity or enhancing screening protocols.

The Pentagon should adopt a comprehensive strategy to address extremism within the armed forces. As social division in the United States continues to grow, with trust in institutions collapsing, and Americans increasingly drawn toward extremist narratives, it becomes ever more important that attitudes, beliefs, and ideologies discordant with American values do not go unchallenged in the armed forces. The task is huge, but it must be undertaken, and it will require far more than a simple Band-Aid.


Oliver Alexander Crisp, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

United Kingdom

The State of Terrorism in the United Kingdom

Terrorism within the United Kingdom, over the past decade, has encountered many critical threats that have challenged its security. While the island nation is not unique in the threats it faces, it serves as a useful case study to analyze upcoming trends affecting its allies for the foreseeable future. By doing so, the United Kingdom and its allies can better understand emerging challenges and better support transatlantic security. To complete this aim, policymakers must investigate the history of terrorism within the United Kingdom and newer hazards to British society.

Challenges of the 20th Century

In the 20th century, one of the United Kingdom’s greatest threats was insecurity derived from Irish separatism threatening its territorial integrity. One of the earliest incidents of this insecurity occurred over a century ago during the Easter Rising of 1916. During this event, a coalition of Irish groups hoped to demand greater autonomy for Ireland while the United Kingdom was preoccupied with fighting the First World War. Although initially taken aback, British forces overwhelmed those involved in the rising. When the dust had settled, hundreds had died from the fighting and the event leaders were sentenced to death.

The Easter Rising would be a pivotal moment in Irish political history because it drew the Irish public’s support for their cause. Consequently, the rising would also inspire future generations of Irish separatists to use violence for a united Ireland.

The most infamous terrorist group which the Easter Rising would inspire was the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The group traces its heritage to the first organization to hold that name which fought the British Army during 1919. Ireland would be partitioned two years later and serve as a backdrop for the worst fighting between the IRA and loyalist paramilitary groups.

The IRA truly became infamous during the period known as the Troubles, which lasted from the 1960s to the 1990s. The sectarian violence claimed the lives of thousands and ended in signing the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The agreement created several integral institutions such as the Northern Ireland Assembly providing lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

Critical Threats in the 21st Century

In the new millennium, the United Kingdom’s primary threat to their national security stemmed not from Irish separatism but from Islamic extremism. This was made clear after the July 7th London bombings which killed 52 civilians. For much of the 2000s, al-Qaeda was the group responsible for either perpetrating or inspiring attacks in the United Kingdom. However, this changed with the rise of ISIS, which grew in capability and resources to inspire attacks. By the end of the 2010s, ISIS garnered attention with the 2017 Manchester bombing.

During 2022, the United Kingdom still faces an acute threat from Islamic extremism, but it also faces a rising challenge from right-wing extremism. In January 2022, a 17-year-old in the United Kingdom was arrested on suspicion of wanting to commit violence against members of the Muslim community and kill thousands of others. The head of MI5, Ken McCallum, stated that his agency is seeing young teenagers radicalized through the internet.

Policy for the Future

While the rise in right-wing extremism is not exclusive to the United Kingdom, it must understand the conditions causing this rise. In the present century, there has been a proliferation of technology designed to create a global public square and enable democratization of knowledge. Instead, the generations who have grown up with this technology have become increasingly isolated and have fewer friends than previous generations.

Many individuals have scoured the internet in search of companionship and comradery but instead are preyed upon by extremist groups who have grown in capacity to do so. Furthermore, the country which they find themselves in is also expected to become more ethnically diverse over the coming decades. Such conditions have compounded to create an environment rife for British youth to be wrangled into right-wing extremism.

To combat such developments, the United Kingdom should institute initiatives to alleviate the isolation which their youth face. The United Kingdom should also bolster its security through increased engagement in Northern Ireland and its domestic Muslim community; both areas could become sources of unrest.  Brexit and the increased capacity for ISIS recruitment efforts following the withdrawal from Afghanistan are both sources of increased unrest.

Moreover, they should also bolster their cybersecurity capabilities as competition will intensify in the coming decades. The United Kingdom will be subject to attempted penetrations in cyberspace by foreign governments to ascertain sensitive information. Should they back a harder line on authoritarian governments, there will also be efforts to weaken their resolve to do so. By taking initiative, the United Kingdom can be prepared for the upcoming years that will certainly present a challenge to their security.


Christopher Ynclan Jr., Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Humanitarian Crisis

On the Brink of Collapse: Afghanistan’s Humanitarian Crisis

“A full blown humanitarian catastrophe looms,” said Martin Griffiths, the United Nations’ emergency aid coordinator, describing the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan following the collapse of the country’s Western-backed government in August, 2021. “My message is urgent: Don’t shut the door on the people of Afghanistan.”

Five months after the Taliban seized power, Afghanistan is accelerating toward a full-scale humanitarian disaster, as famine, poverty, drought, civil unrest, and the impact of decades-long war, plunge the country into crisis.

In response to the looming calamity, the United Nations has launched its largest ever appeal for a single country, urging international donors to contribute more than $5 billion dollars in aid. However, many western governments, including the United States, share concerns that financial support would legitimize a violent Islamist-led government. Indeed, according to P. Michael McKinley, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, “any expanded assistance to Afghanistan risks the charge that it is consolidating the Taliban in power and weakening leverage to influence their behavior.”

As the Taliban tightens its hold on Afghanistan, enacting a reign of terror involving public executions, threats against journalists, and increasing restrictions on women’s freedoms, Western governments face a difficult choice. The escalating humanitarian crisis demands a response, but the United States remains undecided in its approach. All the while, the Afghan people continue to suffer, their country sliding ever closer to the brink of collapse.

Afghanistan on the Brink

When U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan, the country lost three quarters of its government budget and 40% of its GDP. The U.S. and its allies responded to the Taliban takeover with various economic sanctions, freezing $9 billion dollars in Afghan state assets overseas and cutting off the country’s access to the global financial system.

As the economic crisis deepens, three-quarters of Afghanistan’s 40 million people have been plunged into poverty and, according to the United Nations Development Programme, poverty could be near universal by mid-2022. The withdrawal of financial support has crippled the country’s ability to provide essential services, starving its cash-based economy of liquid funds and leaving public sector workers without wages.

Meanwhile, devastating droughts have destroyed crops across the country, exacerbating the country’s hunger crisis. Today, just 2% of Afghans have enough food, according to the World Food Program, and 8.7 million are on the brink of starvation. Indeed, without emergency support, Afghanistan faces the very real possibility of slipping into famine within the coming months.

Outbreaks of diarrhea, COVID-19, malaria, measles, and polio are pushing the country’s underfunded healthcare services to their breaking point. Medical staff, many of whom have gone unpaid for months, are experiencing major supply shortages, and Kabul’s COVID-19 treatment center, the only facility for the city’s four million inhabitants, has run short of the diesel fuel needed to produce oxygen for its patients. Further, according to a recent report by the International Rescue Committee, up to 90% of the country’s health centers could be shut down by the end of the year.

Engaging with the Crisis

After the collapse of Afghanistan’s Western-backed government, and the conclusion of the United States’ two-decades long mission to bring security and democracy to the country, it is not surprising that Washington is reluctant to engage with the crisis. Over $2 trillion dollars was spent on combating the Taliban insurgency, a military effort that cost the lives of over 2,000 American servicemen and women, and the U.S. is perturbed by the possibility that humanitarian support funds could strengthen the Taliban’s stature, or fall into the hands of the country’s new Islamist rulers.

However, even before the fall of Kabul, the United States consistently overrated it’s leverage over Afghan authorities. The Western-backed government, despite its complete dependence on U.S. aid, consistently snubbed Washington-led efforts to have the country adopt particular security, diplomatic, and anti-corruption strategies. Moreover, a failed Afghan state would be in no one’s interest, including the United States. Such a situation would cost millions of lives, inflame refugee flows, and transform the country into a state of civil strife and terrorist activity.

Already, the United States has made some attempts to expand the humanitarian exemptions from its sanctions, and has led efforts within the Security Council to relax U.N.-imposed economic restrictions. Nonetheless, mitigating the country’s looming humanitarian catastrophe requires broader international support.

Over the coming year, the United States and its partners must ensure that the country does not collapse. Emergency efforts must be undertaken to prevent famine and to keep essential services afloat. The entire Afghan population is imperiled by the country’s humanitarian crisis, including up to one million children threatened by famine. The child death toll alone could reach up to four times that sustained by the Afghan people during the entire U.S. occupation. The United States must act, in coordination with its partners, the United Nations, and key international stakeholders, to support on-the-ground humanitarian efforts to alleviate the crisis.

Indeed, these efforts will also serve U.S. interests, ending the upsurge in narcotics productions fueled by the country’s economic crisis, and encouraging Taliban cooperation, albeit likely tentative, in combatting the terrorist threat posed by the Islamic State’s Afghan offshoot.

Moreover, whilst concerns that Western relief funds could land in the Taliban’s pockets are founded, the United Nations has emphasized its “direct delivery” approach to assisting humanitarian operations, and recent moves by the U.N. Security Council exempting humanitarian support from sanctions has improved aid delivery. Nonetheless, the United States must remain steadfast in ensuring that all humanitarian support reaches the Afghan people.

Beyond 2022

Forecasting beyond the coming year, any attempt at building long-term stability in Afghanistan will require far-reaching efforts involving much deeper collaboration with the Taliban. Whilst relief measures will help mitigate humanitarian catastrophe, they also further entrench the country’s dependence on foreign aid and dissuade efforts to rebuild its institutions of government.

If Afghanistan is to be set on a path toward self-support, away from its reliance on overseas aid, then sanctions will have to be eased, and foreign support funds will need to be directed at restoring essential government functions, such as development, energy, and agriculture. Moreover, its foreign reserves will have to be released and the economy reconnected to the global financial system.

A broadscale effort to rebuild the Afghan state may well stretch beyond the will of the United States, with Washington’s reluctance to provide this level of support for a Taliban-led government inclining the U.S. toward inaction and forcing the responsibility of supporting the country’s development onto the shoulders of other international actors. Indeed, Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Iran, Pakistan, China, India, alongside key regional powers, such as Turkey and Qatar, can play an important role in stabilizing the country.

Nonetheless, Afghanistan’s escalating humanitarian crisis demands immediate action, and the United States must provide the emergency support needed to avoid catastrophic loss of life. However, the U.S. should also consider the consequences of its long-term approach for Afghan citizens, particularly given the promise made to them over twenty years ago.

Indeed, whilst many in the West are deeply troubled by any suggestion of supporting a Taliban-led Afghanistan, the consequences of failing to do so could be equally disturbing. Ultimately, a choice must be made; we can only hope it is the right one.


Oliver Alexander Crisp, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Difficulties in Defining Terrorism: The Case of the Mapuche in Chile and Argentina

The Mapuche conflict in Chile and Argentina has generated diverse reactions by the authorities of both countries. Some of the measures have been harshly criticized for employing counter-terrorism methods to resolve disputes with the Mapuche.

Some of the controversies include the use of the Anti-Terrorist Law by the Chilean government and the militarization of certain regions. The disputes with the indigenous Mapuche communities sparks a debate about what exactly terrorism is and how to combat it in South America.

The Mapuche Conflict

Some analysts point out that the current conflict between the Mapuche and the Chilean State originated in 1866 when the government determined that all territories south of the Biobío region became fiscal property. Eventually, the Chilean army entered the Mapuche territories and began the resettlement process from 1883 to 1930. This led to the reduction of the Mapuche’s territory from five million hectares to 500,000 hectares.

To this day, Mapuche communities persist in the region but have struggled to recover and maintain their ancestral territories in the Araucanía region, in southern Chile. Even though hundreds of indigenous Mapuche peacefully protest over their territories, some violent events have been registered in the region, especially in recent years.

In October and November 2021, episodes of violence were reported in the Araucanía region. One example includes a confrontation between the military and the Mapuche, resulting in three deaths, railway lines sabotaged, shootouts, and forest facilities set on fire. Additionally, a video of the group Weichan Auka Mapu (WAM) (Struggle for Ancestral Resistance) was broadcast, showing many armed individuals claiming the rights of the Mapuche.

Furthermore, in Argentina, similar events have occurred. In October 2021, Arabela Carreras, the governor of the Province of Río Negro, denounced that the organization Resistencia Ancestral Mapuche (RAM) committed terrorist acts in the region. The governor pointed out that there was an arson attack that endangered the lives of the area’s inhabitants. Likewise, Governor Carreras mentioned that the RAM organization is a belligerent group with international connections. For this reason, the governor asked for federal forces to intervene in the province.

These events have caused various journalists and analysts to point to the existence of “Mapuche Terrorism” in Argentina and Chile. Some researchers state that some events occurring in the Araucanía region are terrorism since they are serious crimes committed by ethnonationalist groups and are directed against owners and workers living in areas claimed as “ancestral property.” For this reason, researchers state that it is necessary to reinforce police capacities in the area.

However, other analysts believe there is no such thing as “Mapuche Terrorism.” because the conflict in southern Chile is historically due to unfulfilled political commitments by the State. They also mention that members of the community who choose to use force do not represent the entire Mapuche community. Therefore, they recommend that the Mapuche conflict not be approached exclusively from a military and police approach.

Even though the best intervention methods in the Mapuche conflict are still heavily debated, the Chilean and Argentinian governments have already taken measures regarding this situation.

The Anti-Terrorist Law and the Criminalization of the Mapuche

One of the Chilean government’s most questioned responses regarding the Mapuche conflict in Araucanía was the use of the Anti-Terrorist Law. The Anti-Terrorist Law was enacted during Pinochet’s regime in 1984. It has been amended several times and has even been invoked or attempted to be used against members of the Mapuche.

The Anti-Terrorist Law was invoked in 2013 against a Mapuche individual accused of committing arson in which two people died. In addition, in 2010, nine Mapuches were sentenced under the Anti-Terrorist Law and another 53 were prosecuted.

The use of the Anti-Terrorist Law continues to cause controversy even in recent years. In 2017, experts from the United Nations (UN) urged the Chilean government not to prosecute four Mapuche under the Anti-Terrorist Law for arson. The UN highlighted that the application of anti-terrorist legislation weakens the possibility for a fair trial and makes it less likely that the truth of what happened will come to light.

In addition, human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, have criticized the use of the Anti-Terrorist Law. Amnesty International presented a report pointing out that the application of the Anti-Terrorist Law in trials against Mapuche activists generates unfair processes without guarantees. Additionally, Amnesty International mentioned that one of the trials presents various irregularities and demonstrates discriminatory ways in which justice is applied against leaders of Indigenous peoples.

Argentinian journalists have mentioned that the Argentine press has played an important role in the criminalization of the Mapuche. As a result, public opinion leans in favor of measures such as the militarization of Mapuche territories.


Another measure used in Mapuche territories is increased militarization. The Chilean government declared a state of emergency in four provinces. Members of the armed forces were deployed due to the escalation of violence. However, the military presence is rejected by human rights organizations and by the Mapuche community.

According to President Piñera, the emergency State of Exception and militarization are necessary to better confront terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime; in no case is increased militarization directed against peaceful citizens.

The measure came into force on October 12, 2021; however, it was extended until mid-November. The measure was applauded by certain sectors of the population, who argue that it is the best way to maintain order and security in the regions with a Mapuche population. Nevertheless, the detractors, part of the opposition and indigenous organizations, maintain that it only puts more tension on the dispute.

The Difficulty of Defining Terrorism

The case of the Mapuche conflict in Chile and Argentina is a clear example of the difficulties that arise when defining what is considered terrorism.  Moreover, it is also unclear how terrorism should be addressed, given that some measures can be detrimental in criminalizing vulnerable populations and infringing on human rights.

Although there is no consensus on the definition of terrorism and the ways to handle it, it is necessary to think of alternatives to guarantee public order without falling into excesses. However, this is a difficult task without a clear answer, yet.


Daniel Felipe Ruiz Rozo, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


ISWAP’s Impact on Nigeria’s National Interests

More than half a decade ago, the now dominant faction in Nigeria’s conflict, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), split from Boko Haram, pledging allegiance to ISIS. Formerly led by the late Abu Musab al-Barnawi, son of the former Boko Haram leader and founder, Mohammed Yusuf, the group is said to have disapproved of Boko Haram’s extremist strategies.

Most of its attacks have targeted the Nigerian Army and its close allies. With a robust weaponry base, steady flow of funding, and exploitable societal gaps that aid its recruitment and expand its membership, ISWAP has successfully launched several attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.

A Growing Threat

Recently, ISWAP resumed its quest to both overthrow and expand into Boko Haram’s territory in north-eastern Nigeria. Since 2016, both rival groups have clashed severely, often leading to many deaths of its members and innocent civilians. Over the years, these infightings occurred intermittently.

The recent fights in 2021 resulted in the death of several individuals, including the former Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. ISWAP’s conquest over the region seems to be on track, even with the killing of Abu Musab al-Barnawi and his successor Malam Bako by the Nigerian Army.

Until They Struck

ISWAP has long constituted a high risk to the ongoing conflict in north-eastern Nigeria. With a membership base that is more than double the size of Boko Haram’s and a strategy that appeals to the locals, one would expect that curtailing the expansion of ISWAP would be prioritised. Unfortunately, these expectations have remained unmet as the group continues its offensives against the Nigerian military.

In December 2018, ISWAP attacked a Nigerian military base in Baga, a town reclaimed by the Nigerian army in February 2015. On February 23, 2019, while Nigeria held its general elections, ISWAP launched its first-ever attack on Borno state’s capital, Maiduguri, firing rockets at military targets.

In December 2021, ahead of the Nigerian president’s visit to Maiduguri, ISWAP launched multiple rocket attacks in the city and neighboring towns, perhaps their way of informing the president that the war with ISWAP was far from over. The attacks spurred reactions from the government, as the president called for an emergency meeting with his service chiefs 24 hours after the rocket attacks. Stressing the need to be firm and proactive in the fight against terrorism, the president urged the service chiefs to ensure that terrorists, especially ISWAP, be left with no room to escape.

The Culture of Silence

Nigeria has seen several democratic administrations come and go, one common trait among all is a culture of silence. Some internal conflicts and crises in Nigeria usually start as a minor problem that receives little to no attention from the concerned authorities. Before long, these problems manifest into grave issues that overwhelm the government; it appears as though if the situation fails to disrupt government activities, it is less of a priority.

At its initial stage, the conflict in north-eastern Nigeria received little attention from the government.  For a long time, what is now known as terrorism was not seen as a Nigerian problem but a minor northern problem; it took the disruption of activities in Abuja to provoke a response from the government. A similar trend occurred in the Niger Delta crisis, where a brief response only came after the country’s economy experienced a downward dive.

National Interests?

The safety of an impoverished citizen should mean as much as those in privileged and leadership positions. The culture of silence until resources and special interests are at risk questions the definition of the nation’s interests.

Although the concept of national interests remains ambiguous, whatever constitutes a nation’s interest should be collective and not individualistic. The culture of silence until a low-level issue is of consequence is dangerous and needs to change.


Joan McDappa, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


The Rising Threat of Cyberterrorism

The newest form of terrorism is cyberterrorism, which has been a rising threat in the last several years. The fusion of cyberspace with terrorism is known as cyberterrorism, and it refers to illegal assaults and threats of attacks on computers, networks, and the information stored on them that are carried out to intimidate or compel a government or its citizens in the pursuit of political or social goals. Many cyberattacks have been planned, increasingly so after 2011. Specifically, in Syria, several attacks have been organized in cyberspace.

The General Threat of Cyberterrorism

There are many different forms of cyberterrorism, such as weaponizing propaganda and extremist ideology. Additionally, cyberterrorism can facilitate recruitment, radicalization, and prompt terrorist attacks.

Even though there are many different kinds of cyberattacks, many still question the validity of whether cyberterrorism is an existent threat. Since most essential infrastructure in Western nations is connected via computers, the possibility of cyberterrorism is concerning.

Hackers have proved that, while not driven by the same aims as terrorists, anyone may get access to sensitive information and the functioning of critical systems. Terrorists may, at least in principle, follow the hackers’ lead and paralyze advanced countries’ military, financial, and service sectors after breaking into government and commercial computer networks.

Cyberterrorism in Syria and Organized Social Media Cyberattacks

In Syria, there were many attacks planned via cyberspace. Throughout the years, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has adapted its abilities and stayed at the forefront of using the internet for cyberterrorist activities. ISIS declared an Islamic state, or caliphate, over the territory it had conquered in Iraq and Syria in 2014. Simultaneously, a group of hackers claiming to be related to ISIS built a “cyber caliphate.” According to the news, they created a series of online activities that have drawn worldwide attention.

Syria has been the focal point that controlled all the attacks. Plenty of cyberattacks in Europe were exclusively organized in Syria. However, they were directed in real-time over the internet and encrypted online chat platforms from Syria.

In addition, ISIS organized and promoted attacks through social media. In this case, they used social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to spread their beliefs and synchronize attacks. Since the mid-2000s, the internet has become a common source of national defense and international security threats. Furthermore, the emergence and popularity of social media increased the militancy of a wide range of social groups, including terrorists.

In 2020, the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of the Treasury stated that they dismantled multiple cyber-financing schemes by the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military branch, al-Qaeda, and ISIS.  U.S. police confiscated millions of dollars from over 300 cryptocurrency accounts, three websites, and four Facebook pages. This operation represents the government’s largest-ever seizure of cryptocurrency in a terrorism-related case.

Sophisticated cyber-tools were used in all three financing systems, including the solicitation of bitcoin donations from across the world. These efforts by terrorist organizations reveal how they have shifted their terror financing efforts to online mediums. Organizations have resorted to bitcoin and social media campaigns to garner attention and earn funding.

Future Suggestions

The increasing reliance of today’s society on information technology has created a new type of vulnerability, allowing terrorists to attack targets that would otherwise be impregnable. The more technologically advanced a country is, the more exposed its infrastructure is to cyberattacks.

Therefore, one solution to minimize online terrorist financing and increase the cybersecurity of individual states is to create an organized global effort in securing government data from vulnerabilities. In addition, states must stay abreast of the newest technologies and ultimately outpace cyber advances of terrorist organizations, to achieve success.

Overall, states need to increase their investments in cybersecurity, especially considering the ever-evolving and global threat terrorist organizations now pose to cyberspace.


Katerina Rebecca Paraskeva, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


A Fight for the Border: Clashes Between the ELN and the FARC in Arauca

At least 27 people have been killed over the previous days in Arauca, Colombia. The authorities indicate that the deaths are due to clashes between militiamen from the National Liberation Army (ELN) and dissidents from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (FARC’s) 10th Front. The situation of violence in the department of Arauca has already left several civilian victims.

The Clashes

Clashes between the two terrorist organizations began at the beginning of January. The dispute occurred in the Arauca Department, which is located on the Colombian-Venezuelan border.

While initial reports indicated that 23 people died as a result of the fight on January 6th, the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office stated that the death toll rose to 27.  Likewise, it is likely that this number will continue to grow in the coming days.

Additionally, the investigations discovered that of the 21 identified bodies, 14 are Colombian while seven are Venezuelan. Thus, it is likely that both Colombians and Venezuelans comprise these criminal organizations.

Furthermore, regarding the damage caused against the civilian population, the Colombian Ombudsman’s Office pointed out that in municipalities of Arauca such as Tame, Fortul, and Saravena, 2,000 individuals are at risk of being displaced and seek to escape the armed confrontations.

The Colombian Defense Ministry indicated that among the deceased are high-ranking members of the FARC dissidents. For example, one of those identified is “Flaco Freddy,” a leader of the FARC dissidents, who had two arrest warrants, one for extortion and kidnapping and the other for illegal arms trafficking.

Some sources indicate that the conflict began due to the murder of Álvaro Padilla Tarazona, alias Mazamorro, second commander of the ELN’s Domingo Laín Sáez front, in the town of El Nula, on the border of Apure state. Colombian authorities have also revealed that many of those killed were apparently taken from their homes and shot at close range as revenge for the murder of Padilla Tarazona. However, the reasons for the confrontation stem from further back.

Historical Relationship and Rivalry Between the Two Guerrillas

The war between the ELN and the FARC has been reinvigorated with new actors. The clashes between the two guerrillas in Arauca between 2004 and 2010 left at least 500 civilians and 600 subversives dead and more than 50,000 people displaced.

Eventually, in 2010 the FARC and the ELN agreed to a truce in Arauca. The pact was known as “no more confrontation between revolutionaries” and put an end to the confrontations between the two guerrillas, and they divided the territory. In 2013, both guerrillas formally agreed to undertake a joint offensive against the Colombian Security Forces.

However, after the peace process with the FARC, several dissident groups emerged and called off the truce. The new FARC groups, especially the 10th Front, began to expand to control the regional illicit markets, such as drug trafficking and oil exploitation. Furthermore, Arauca is characterized as a strategic zone for the guerrillas due to its geographic location on the border and weak state presence.

To this day, the dispute for control of Arauca continues as the void left by the extinct FARC has not been filled and there is no clear winner for control of the region.

The State’s Response

In response to the increase in homicides and forced displacements in the Arauca Department, the Colombian Government implemented new measures. Two battalions with 680 army men have already been deployed to the Arauca Department, to strengthen security in Saravena, Arauquita, and Tame. Furthermore, checkpoints were installed on the roads of the affected municipalities, since some residents were confined to their homes for fear of clashes.

The Venezuelan Government also announced the dispatch of the military to the border. The Defense Minister of Venezuela, Vladimir Padrino López, reported that the Bolivarian National Armed Force (FANB) is deployed in the municipalities bordering Arauca.

Although it is true that the presence of the military will likely decrease the homicide rates in Arauca, a comprehensive approach is required to deal with the events that occurred in Arauca. Situations such as forced displacements require the intervention of public entities to guarantee the protection of human rights in the area.

Finally, to reduce the risk factors for sustained conflicts, it is necessary to increase the institutional supply on the border with Venezuela. Moreover, it is necessary to confront the terrorist organizations that operate there and attack their sources of financing, such as drug trafficking.


Daniel Felipe Ruiz Rozo, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


The Misuse of Counter-Terrorism: How Authoritarian States Repress Dissent

Within the past two decades, governments across the world have worked diligently to prevent large-scale terrorist attacks. Furthermore, when examining the current global state of counter-terrorism, it is evident that the counter-terrorism tools at the disposal of governments are the most effective they have ever been.

However, there has been a noticeable rise of governments detaining critics under the guise of counter-terrorism. To understand what can be done, we must understand what circumstances led to the rise of this worrying trend in recent years.

Origins of Contemporary Counter-Terrorism

Although counter-terrorism is not a new phenomenon, the modern way we conceptualize and practice it began after the September 11th attacks. The deaths of thousands of Americans on U.S. soil provided a wake-up call to the traditional agencies of our national security apparatus. These attacks provided the impetus for the creation of new agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, becoming the cornerstone of national security. In addition, the government passed the Patriot Act within the same year, giving newfound powers to agencies with a counter-terrorism focus.

The most infamous of these agencies which were given more authority to expand surveillance was the National Security Agency (NSA). The agency traces its heritage to the establishment of the Armed Forces Security Agency, which later became the agency it is today in 1952 to better coordinate communication intelligence (COMINT) across the government.

After the Cold War, the NSA was viewed similarly to other intelligence community agencies, as relics of a time where the USSR was our greatest threat. The agency was given a reinvigorated purpose in an era that had replaced the threat of Communism with the threat of terrorism.

Moreover, the United States shaped international counter-terrorism norms in the early years of the War on Terror.  A wide coalition of nations supported the U.S. decision to combat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. This became evident by the unanimous passage of Resolution 1386 of the UN Security Council, which established the International Security of Assistance Form (ISAF).

Counter-terrorism operations became apolitical among the states participating in the international system. The use of tools to conduct mass surveillance was also normalized as it was seen as necessary to combat terrorism. While the tools used to conduct counter-terrorism were seen as controversial, they were indicative of an attitude by the United States to fight terrorism by any means necessary.

Authoritarian “Counter-Terrorism”

As the War on Terror has progressed, many states adopted the norms and tools used by the United States. The progression of time has also led to more advanced technology being adopted each year by governments around the world. These conditions have allowed authoritarian states the unprecedented ability to spy upon their citizens, accessing their movements and online presence. They have used this information on those they consider dissidents to quell criticism against their regimes by having them recant statements made online.

In the most extreme of these cases, regimes have used the excuse of counter-terrorism to imprison their citizens whom they believe weaken their regime. Authoritarian states have consistently targeted journalists.

Authoritarian regimes survive by instilling fear within their state by ensuring any forms of dissent are met with harsh repercussions. In a healthy society, journalists act as a fourth estate that safeguards against government abuses. These imprisonments of journalists have occurred from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to as far as Myanmar. Such actions only delegitimize counter-terror operations which aim to defeat extremist organizations, such as ISIS.

What Can Be Done

It is important to note the current deficiencies existing in contemporary counter-terrorism when confronting this issue. The most pressing issue is the varying doctrines among states regarding how they combat terrorism. Several of these doctrines have developed primarily from military rules of engagement. Attitudes and norms have also molded theses from the War on Terror.

In order for reform to occur, there must be a codification of rules of engagement within international law. Such reforms would limit the scope of counter-terrorism operations to only extremist groups, which are widely agreed upon to be threats to international security. Deviation from these newly established norms would ensure that states will no longer be able to use counter-terrorism as a justification for their nefarious actions in a legal context.


Christopher Ynclan Jr., Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Rise to Peace