Toy Soldiers on a Mission: The Training and Indoctrination of Children for Jihad

Image result for child jihadist

On September 26, a children’s show aired on Iran’s Channel 2 to commemorate the Iran-Iraq war. Translated by The Middle East Media Research Institute, it shows children of different ages dressed in conservative Muslim clothing and military uniforms while praising martyrdom and jihad. In the video, the young protagonists wear badges of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on their chests and sing a song about their fathers fighting in the Iranian army, willing to die “in the path of God”[1]– presenting a disturbing example of youth indoctrination.

Another recent example of early indoctrination comes from the Indonesian city of Probolinggo, where a kindergarten has been accused of promoting radicalism for dressing children in ISIL-style costumes during an independence day parade.[2]

It is widely known that training is a fundamental component in the strategy of extremist and terrorist groups. The basis for the conservation of the jihadist ideology is to find new proselytes and to plant the seed of hatred in the next generations of jihadis. However, the data reveals this phenomenon to be an increasingly alarming one.

According to a Secretary-General report on children and armed conflict in Nigeria, since 2009 at least 8,000 young soldiers have been recruited by Boko Haram and, by the end of 2016, their army included many boys between 10 and 18.[3] Disconcerting data also suggests that in 2017, the number of recruited children in Somalia (2,127), South Sudan (1,221), the Syrian Arab Republic (961) and Yemen (842) was still remarkably high.[4]

Image result for child jihadist

We are all well aware that socio-cultural backgrounds play a leading role in shaping peoples’ future attitudes towards violence, especially in the early years of life. The reason is simple: social groups pass values, customs, beliefs, and rules from one generation to another to ensure a degree of uniformity and the survival of dominant ideologies.

What we often forget is that the transmission of cultural heritage can be both conscious and unconscious, because youth both unintentionally absorb the habits of those around them and deliberately follow instructions given to them by family, schools, peers, and media. This is such an effective means of imparting violent ideology that the innocence of children has now become a matter of grave concern for all of us.

Children are undoubtedly more suggestible than adults; their brains are not yet equipped with knowledge consolidated by past learning processes and experiences. As a consequence, they are extremely receptive to any information which could warp their worldview. The condition of children used as spies and suicide attackers[5] clearly exemplifies the above-mentioned concept: during childhood, critical thinking faculties are underdeveloped, making it difficult for youth to evaluate risks and personally assess the information given to them by jihadis.

Furthermore, jihadi strategists are fully aware of the role emotions play in learning. For this reason, they design specific media content to manipulate children, including songs, cartoons, and games which offer children jihadi role models and spread extremist ideas.

In the face of all this, the outlook seems bleak- so what can we do to prevent children from being drawn to terrorism?

De-radicalization strategies should be targeted at children and primarily based upon human variability because there are different types of extremist movements and the motives involved in joining them vary from person to person. Presumably, no single program could cover them all. In the case of children, we have already discussed how the origins of their radicalization process mainly lies in those people that provide them with role models to identify with. In order to keep children away from violent extremism, it is therefore absolutely necessary to stop adults from supporting or becoming terrorists.

In this digital age, new media has also become a powerful tool for spreading terrorist narratives to children. However, reacting to this threat merely by carrying out cyber attacks or playing the blame game will not help us develop the most effective counter-strategies. To be efficient, any approach should include three main operations: providing an in-depth analysis of terrorist narratives, preparing counter-narratives able to foster intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding, and disseminating counter-narratives (especially through social media and learning institutions.) This will help to reduce the effectiveness of the radical messages children and youth are currently being shown.

Cultural changes require time and cooperation to effectively eradicate dangerous norms and beliefs. But growing the seeds of hope and tolerance will provide our society with a positive foundation for future generations, and it all begins with protecting the youth.

[1] Iranian TV Children’s Show: Standing Next to Missiles, Children Sing in Praise of Jihad and Martyrdom, 9-26-2018,

[2] Kindergarten dresses children as jihadis for parade in Indonesia, 8-20-2018,

[3] Cf. Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Nigeria (S/2017/304), 4-6-2017, p.6,

[4] Cf. Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict (A/70/836-S/2016/360), 5-16-2018, p.2,

[5] Cf. UNODC, Handbook on children recruited and exploited by terrorist and violent extremist groups, Wien, 2017, p.11,

What Makes a Terrorist Attack Notable: Determinants of U.S. Media Coverage


With the sheer saturation of terrorist attacks occurring each week, US news outlets are forced to make decisions regarding what gets published. Characteristics of terrorist attacks such as casualty toll, perpetrator, or weapon type often determine newsworthiness and thus which attacks get covered. While past research has focused on coverage of domestic terrorist attacks within the United States, this paper examines determinants of US major media coverage of terrorist attacks across the globe. Using data collected over the past year, we examine the distribution of characteristics of large-scale terrorist attacks that did and did not garner coverage by major US news outlets.


Media coverage of terrorism strongly influences how the news-consuming public interprets both terrorist attacks and the political and cultural impact that terrorist attacks have on society. Coverage of terrorist events occurring in the United States between October 2001 and January 2010 reveals a media paradigm “in which fear of international terrorism is dominant, particularly as Muslims/Arabs/Islam working together in organized terrorist cells against a ‘Christian America,’ while domestic terrorism is cast as a minor threat that occurs in isolated incidents by troubled individuals” (Powell 2011) [1]. Güven (2018) writes that the media has a powerful ability to shape dialogue surrounding terrorism [2]. This dominant paradigm causes individual terrorists to be linked by government and media to overarching ideologies, which results in “intensified anti-terrorism legislation, snares of rumors, and disinformation in the name of public debate.” Since media coverage of terrorism shapes public sentiment and government policy, understanding the driving factors behind this coverage is vital to the study of the political, cultural, and economic realities of terrorism.

Prior research has demonstrated that a number of attack characteristics influence media coverage of terrorism. Chermak and Gruenewald (2006) examine terrorist incidents occurring in the United States pre-9/11 and find that a number of characteristics including region, seriousness, target type, and tactics influence New York Times coverage [3]. Attacks taking place in the northeast are covered more often than those taking place in other regions of the country, and attacks causing at least one death are almost fully covered while those without death tolls are covered around half the time. They also find attacks on civilian or airline targets result in more coverage than attacks on government or NGO targets. The same holds for attacks using firearms and hijackings which are covered significantly more often than other types of attacks. Kearns et al. (2017) find that post-9/11, Muslim perpetrators, the arrest of the perpetrator, law enforcement or government targets, and casualty rates all increase media coverage of terror attacks [4]. Media coverage decreases when the perpetrators are unknown or attacks target out-groups such as Muslims or other minorities. However, saturation of coverage also increases the threshold of an attack’s newsworthiness necessary for it to garner attention. Well before 9/11, Weiman and Brosius (1991) note that as terror coverage becomes more frequent and thus normalized, the number of victims for an attack to be covered increases as well [5]. As terrorist attacks become routine, that which was once newsworthy to many media outlets, is no longer worth mentioning.

Media coverage of terrorism resonates beyond the viewers it intends to attract with far-reaching implications. Because terrorist attacks are frequently motivated by the desire to bring attention to the perpetrators’ cause, increased media coverage of terrorist attacks often causes more attacks. This effect holds across multiple forms of media. Jetter (2017a) finds that one article on a terrorist attack results in approximately 1.4 future attacks in the same country over the next week, resulting on average in three additional casualties [6]. Jetter (2017b) also finds that one minute of Al-Qaeda coverage on a major news network results in one attack in the next week, resulting in 4.9 additional casualties on average [7]. However, Asal and Hoffman (2016) find a dampening effect of media coverage on cross-border terror. They find that “the more attention a country gets from international media sources, the less likely terrorist organizations operating within that state are to launch attacks outside their national borders,” and that terrorists active in states that receive little media coverage launch international and cross-border attacks requisite to promulgate their beliefs. Therefore, media coverage of terrorism can impact the frequency, location, and perpetrators of terrorist attacks, with a corresponding impact on lives.

While prior research has focused largely on domestic attacks in the United States, this work is oriented towards global attacks significant in their casualty tolls. Characteristics that impact media coverage of terrorist attacks are analyzed to determine how major US media outlets select which attacks to cover when their viewing audience may be unfamiliar with the context, perpetrators, or country in which the attack took place. These characteristics include casualty level, target type, weapon type, country, and terrorist group. We hypothesize that attacks with characteristics more engaging to the American public are more likely to be covered by American media. Such factors include higher casualty rates, attacks in active U.S. military deployment areas, attacks by groups well-known to Americans, and attacks with more notorious groups. We test our hypothesis by comparing the distribution of attack characteristics across attacks that did and did not receive major U.S. media coverage.

Data methodology

All records were pulled from the Rise To Peace Active Intelligence Database, running from June 7, 2017, to June 7, 2018. Using all attacks would be unrealistic: news saturation of terrorist attacks means only attacks that are notable would be expected to receive news coverage. To mitigate this, we pull all attacks where total casualty count, a sum of killed and injured victims, is greater than or equal to 21. This number is chosen because it represents the 90th percentile and higher of the first 1,000 attacks entered into the Active Intelligence Database, which generates a sensible coverage expectation. Next, we search for articles from U.S. news sources representing the attention of the U.S. media to these attacks. For our purposes, we use sources from the top five most-used U.S. news sites: CNN, Fox News, New York Times, Huffington Post, USA Today. Information on attacks is sought using keyword configuration “[Source] [Month] [Day] [Year] attack.” If those searches did not yield a hit on an article referencing the attack in question, the attack was coded as ‘Undercovered’. If at least one search returned a hit on an article referencing the attack in question, the attack was coded as ‘Covered’. This yields sets of 108 ‘Covered’ attacks and 68 ‘Undercovered’ attacks. Next, we create distributions of the data-sets comparing the prevalence of characteristics within each data-set. We calculate for five characteristics: casualty level, target type, weapon type, country, and terrorist group. The results are visualized below.


For the graphical analysis alone, we do not show characteristics whose representation among the 2 data-sets combined is less than 10. This is done to prevent conclusions on the basis of low data. Three of the five comparisons, therefore, suffered graphical exclusions of data: country, weapon type, and terrorist group. No data is excluded from the analyses of target type, casualty level. Results are shown below.

Target type

Attacks on civilian targets made up a larger portion of the undercovered attacks than the covered attacks, while security and political targets made up larger portions of the covered attacks than undercovered attacks [Figure 1].

Attacks on civilian targets comprised the largest portion of both data-sets, suggesting that civilian targets suffer from lower levels of notability due to their high frequency. This may explain the more equitable distribution of target types across covered attacks, which tend to distribute more coverage across rarer types of attacks.

Weapon type

Attacks carried out using suicide bombs and firearms were greater represented in the covered attacks data-set than were attacks utilizing IEDs or grenades, which made up a larger portion of the Undercovered attacks [Figure 2].

Exclusions from the analysis of weapon type: Misc, Unknown, Mortar, Rocket

High-casualty attacks using firearms tend to be rare, large-scale assaults on targets such as security installations or entire towns, increasing newsworthiness. Suicide bomb attacks tend to inflict larger casualty rates than other explosive-based attacks such as grenades or IEDs, and their occupation of the American psyche post-9/11 is a driving force behind greater coverage. Grenade and IED attacks, while similar in execution, tend not to capture the attention of the American public in the same way as the stereotypical Muslim suicide bomber.

Terrorist group

Attacks by Al-Shabaab, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) and the Taliban made up a larger portion of covered attacks than undercovered attacks, while attacks by Boko Haram, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and attacks by unknown actors were greater represented in undercovered attacks than covered attacks [Figure 3].

Exclusions from the analysis of terrorist group: Abu Sayyaf, AQIM, Bacham Militia, FARC, Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, [HPG,PKK], [ISIS,Jamaat ur Ahrar], Lashkar-e-Taiba, PYD, [Taliban,ISKP], TTP

The high rate of coverage of Taliban and ISKP attacks are consistent with the expectation that attacks on active U.S. military deployment areas would receive more coverage by virtue of of American attention to the area. U.S. drone strikes and special operations deployments to Somalia, as well as past U.N. commitments to the area, are similarly likely to drive attention towards Al-Shabaab’s actions in Somalia. Meanwhile, lack of U.S. engagement in Nigeria has likely reduced American attention towards Boko Haram. The finding regarding ISIS is contrary to expectations: considering high historical U.S. attention toward Iraq, as well as media sensationalization of brutal ISIS tactics and success, one would expect them to receive higher coverage levels. Finally, attacks committed by unknown actors are difficult to interpret given these attacks heavy distributions across regions.

Casualty Rate

As casualty tolls increase, attacks are greater represented in covered attacks than undercovered attacks. Only attacks causing 21-40 casualties comprise a greater portion of undercovered attacks than covered attacks [Figure 4].

This result is consistent with the expectations set on coverage contingent on the notability of attacks. The redistribution of media coverage from low to high-casualty attacks demonstrates a higher premium for media coverage placed on high-casualty attacks.


Finally, attacks in Afghanistan and Somalia make up a significantly greater portion of covered attacks than undercovered attacks, while those taking place in Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria are greater represented in undercovered attacks [Figure 5].

Exclusions from the analysis of country: Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, England, India, Indonesia, Iran, Libya, Mali, Niger, Philippines, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, USA, Yemen

Countries with higher representation in the covered attacks data-set tend to be those with significant US military involvement and public attention in recent years. US military presence in Afghanistan and its drone and air strikes in Somalia, coupled with troop deployment drives attack coverage in those countries. Reduced military involvement in Nigeria and Pakistan means attacks in those countries garner less coverage. However, the results in Iraq and Syria run contrary to the expectation that attacks in countries with larger US involvement tend to see increased media coverage. Attacks in Iraq and Syria were significantly greater represented in the undercovered attacks dataset.


The results provide some support for our hypothesized proxies for notability of terrorist attacks. Attacks with higher casualty levels, suicide bombers, political or security targets, and in some areas that have active U.S. military deployment (Afghanistan and Somalia) made up higher portions of the covered attacks data than the uncovered attacks data, suggesting they receive disproportionate attention in the U.S. media. Meanwhile, attacks using commonplace tactics like grenades and IEDs, in areas without significant U.S. military presence (Nigeria and Pakistan) and attacks against civilian targets were more represented in the undercovered data.

The notable outliers are intertwined: attacks in Iraq and Syria, as well as attacks committed by ISIS, were more represented in the undercovered data than in the covered data, suggesting they received disproportionately low coverage. This contradicts our expectations for notability given that ISIS has not only launched attacks on the United States in the past, but the U.S. has active military deployments in the region. We suggest two possible explanations for this discrepancy. First, the massive volume of attacks by ISIS has introduced a saturation level to media markets dampening coverage of ISIS in favor of other groups. The pure volume of violence, even at high levels, removes the notability from the attacks and reduces coverage of the attacks. However, this explanation is likely inconsistent with the finding that attacks in Afghanistan, and even with the ISIS cell in Afghanistan, ISKP, are greater represented in the covered than the undercovered data. The U.S. also has active U.S. military deployments there, but saturation does not appear to have dampened the proportion of coverage. The second possible explanation is the distinction in the data between territorial warfare and terrorism. The Rise To Peace Active Intelligence Database distinguishes between acts of terrorism and attempts at territorial control, only including the former. However, ISIS engages in both forms of warfare, and it, therefore, may receive higher proportions of coverage for territorial warfare and therefore still receive high media attention. This apparent discrepancy, and its implications for U.S. media coverage of foreign violence in Iraq and Syria is deserving of further research.


[1] Powell, Kimberly A. “Framing Islam: An Analysis of US Media Coverage of Terrorism Since 9/11.” Communication Studies 62, no. 1 (2011): 90-112.

[2] Güven, Fikret. “Mass Media’s Role in Conflicts: An Analysis of the Western Media’s Portrayal of Terrorism since September 11.” International Journal of Social Science 66, Spring II (2018): 183-196.

[3] Chermak, Steven M., and Jeffrey Gruenewald. “The Media’s Coverage of Domestic Terrorism.” Justice Quarterly 23, no. 4 (2006): 428-461.

[4] Kearns, Erin, Allison Betus, and Anthony Lemieux. “Why do Some Terrorist Attacks Receive More Media Attention Than Others?.” (2018).

[5] Weimann, Gabriel, and Hans-Bernd Brosius. “The Newsworthiness of International Terrorism.” Communication Research 18, no. 3 (1991): 333-354.

[6] Jetter, Michael. “The Effect of Media Attention on Terrorism.” Journal of Public Economics 153 (2017): 32-48.

[7] Jetter, Michael. “Terrorism and the Media: The Effect of US Television Coverage on Al-Qaeda Attacks.” (2017).

[8] Asal, Victor, and Aaron M. Hoffman. “Media effects: Do Terrorist Organizations Launch Foreign Attacks in Response to Levels of Press Freedom or Press Attention?.” Conflict Management and Peace Science 33, no. 4 (2016): 381-399.

Taliban Innovation, Global Threat: Combined Suicide and Firearm Attacks

Taliban attacks in Afghanistan represent a decade-long evolution of terror tactics, drawing influence from a variety of operating groups and countries, including Afghan mujahedeen fighters, Al-Qaeda, and Iraqi insurgents. Suicide attacks in Afghanistan are a relatively recent development. Afghan mujahideen fighters did not use suicide tactics in their campaign against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, nor did the Taliban use them for the first four years of the War in Afghanistan. Only 30 suicide attacks were executed in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2005, a figure which can be explained by the ethnic makeup of the Taliban at that time. Both the Taliban and the mujahideen were largely ethnic Pashtuns who scorned suicide.

However, a fall 2005 meeting between Afghan Taliban and Iraqi insurgent leaders dramatically changed Afghanistan’s terror landscape. Iraqi insurgents introduced IED and suicide bomb technology to the Taliban, causing an immediate uptick in these types of attacks in Afghanistan. 139 suicide attacks were committed in 2006, and 160 in 2007. Further, a Taliban tactic used to devastating effect involves sending suicide bombers to breach security perimeters, followed by gunmen to carry out direct assaults on a target. The June 2008 attack on Sarpoza Prison near Kandahar City is an early example of this combined attack tactic. The prison breach was initiated with a detonation at the back wall of the prison, and an RPG-triggered truck bomb explosion at the front gate. Gunmen then stormed the prison, killing half of the 30 guards and freeing 1,000 Taliban prisoners. The efficacy of this tactic lies in its rapidity and its shock-value. Police stationed nearby were unable to repel hostile gunfire, and a Canadian quick-reaction force would not arrive until two hours after the violence ceased. Two months later, an attack on Camp Salerno in Khost leveraged the same tactic but was foiled when three bombers were shot and three others detonated before reaching their target. Around this time, the Taliban carried out similar attacks on foot patrols in Helmand province, detonating IEDs or suicide bombs and then launching ambushes with RPGs and small arms.

The implementation of combined attacks can be seen as a response to the failure of Taliban traditional suicide bombings. While Iraqi insurgent groups such as Ansar al-Sunnah and Al-Qaeda attack soft targets like markets, the Taliban focuses its attacks on military and police installations. For, it was these entities who were responsible for drastically reducing suicide bombing casualties before the introduction of combined attacks. In the first 22 bombings in 2007, only three caused fatalities. This trend continued into 2010, when the suicide bombing death toll was halved from where it stood in 2007 in part because of better training of security forces as well as  NATO-led raids on bomb-making sites. Since late 2017, the Taliban has utilized Humvees and other military vehicles (often purchased by the US military for, and captured from Afghan security forces) as mobile IEDs. An October 2017 attack in Kandahar involving an opening car bomb, a firefight, and a second blast killed nearly three-quarters of an Afghan Army unit and allowed the Taliban to seize seven vehicles for use in future attacks. Rise to Peace’s Sara Huzar published an excellent analysis of this trend, which has the dual effect of being lethal and self-sustaining.

Combined attacks are now ubiquitous among terrorist groups around the globe. Rise to Peace’s Active Intelligence Database has identified more than 40 attacks since June 2017 that involve both suicide bombers and gunmen. The Taliban and Islamic State (ISIS and ISKP) are the most frequent practitioners of this method with 21 and 10 attacks respectively, but Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and others have also carried out combined attacks. Attacks combining the use of suicide bombs and firearms by these four groups caused a median of 27 total casualties, compared to 12 for attacks using only suicide bombs and 4 using only firearms. The mean casualties per attack was also highest for combined attacks at 40, compared to 23 for bomb-only attacks and 16 for firearm-only attacks. Each group’s reliance on combined attacks reflects the close relationship between suicide bombers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both the Taliban and ISIS/ISKP carry out combined attacks at a much higher rate than the mean for the four groups examined, at 15 and 10 percent respectively compared to around 2 percent each for Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

The Rise to Peace dataset demonstrates that suicide attacks have higher casualty rates compared to non-suicide attacks. However, suicide attacks inherently involve the death of perpetrators and thus have a higher operational cost to terrorist groups. Combined attacks, therefore, represent a tactical option for terrorist groups seeking a high lethality-to-operational-cost ratio by increasing the lethality of non-suicide attacks while mitigating the operational cost of multiple suicide attacks. This helps the Taliban perpetrate effective attacks despite suboptimal target selection (assuming maximum casualties inflicted is a terrorist group’s optimal outcome). As mentioned previously, the Taliban primarily executes suicide attacks against “hard” targets such as the recent attack on Kabul’s Interior Ministry and the 2008 attack on Camp Salerno. However, analysis by Northeastern Political Science PhD and U.S. Navy Reserve officer Joseph Mroszczyk finds that the perpetrator-to-total death rate is virtually identical for suicide and non-suicide attacks against police or military targets. Since the Taliban is committed to these targets, combined attack tactics dramatically increase the group’s impact.

Taliban suicide attack tactics constitute a synthesis of experience, shared knowledge, and practical necessity. Since the introduction of suicide attacks in Afghanistan in 2005, the Taliban’s repertoire has evolved to include combined attacks because of target selection and the increased lethality of these methods. Rise to Peace’s data bears out this conclusion. It also highlights the spread of combined attack tactics to groups such as the Islamic State, Al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram who have all used them to deadly effect.

AID Methodology

Filter where [weapon] [has all of] [suicide bomb AND firearm], Group by [group] to find combined attacks by any group

Filter where [group] [has any of] [*insert group name here], Group by [weapon] to compare attack methodologies within each group (this can be used for bomb only and combined attacks]

Data involving firearms only ignores targeted attacks because of their unique nature (bomb only and combined attacks include targeted attacks since they impact bystanders as well)

To find this data: Filter where [group] [has any of] [*insert group name here] and [weapon] [has any of] [firearm] and [weapon] [has none of] [suicide bomb] and [tags] [has none of] [targeted]

ISIS data combines ISIS and ISKP

One attack involved both the Taliban and ISKP so totals will be slightly off because of single-counting this attack

Central Asian Export of ‘Lone Wolf’ Terrorism: Case Studies, Comparisons and Lessons

Several high-profile terrorist attacks in Western Europe and North America in recent years have been committed by migrants from Central Asian countries, including Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. However, much of the popular discourse on foreign terror threats doesn’t include analysis of this trend. Most famously, President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban on countries allegedly prone to radicalization mentioned nothing of Central Asia. This report reviews relevant case studies of Central Asian ‘lone wolf’ terrorism abroad in order to find commonalities and lessons from these attacks. The report also analyzes contextualized casualty comparisons of Central Asian attacks in the context of post-9/11 international terrorism. This report concludes by noting both the mixed cyber and personal nature of recruitment and training among the case studies, as well as the presence of significant intelligence failures.

Since 1991, the Uzbek government has used brutal repression of a peaceful religious movement as a tool to stop the radicalization of the country’s Muslims. The Karimov regime imprisoned thousands accused of religious activity, banned imported Islamic literature, and controls the prayers and discussions in Uzbek mosques. It appeared to have worked: the country has seen little terrorist activity on its own soil since the 2000s.

However, radicalized Uzbeks and other Central Asians have since engaged in multiple instances of terrorism abroad. While this is likely due to the same radicalization and recruitment measures common to other demographics, the dual challenge for Central Asian migrants of integrating into foreign lands while being actively alienated by their own government has likely increased their susceptibility to radicalization. Moreover, some theorize that the Uzbek government’s control of domestic, Islamic voices shifted the country’s Muslims towards other, more politicized voices, including internet content which is often radical and serves extremists. Notoriously, this has occurred in Russia where tight Central Asian communities, combined with active extremist recruitment, have radicalized many guest workers. Indeed, up to 90% of ISIS foreign fighters from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan were radicalized or recruited while living as guest workers in Russia.

There has also been a push by terrorists to especially radicalize Central Asian migrants. ISIS tailored whole sets of online recruiting and social media content toward Uzbeks, including a specialized spokesman tasked with focusing his propaganda on Central Asians.

Case Studies
Boston Marathon Bomb Attack (April 15, 2013)
Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were born in Kyrgyzstan. In the 1990s they lived in Chechnya for a short time before returning to Kyrgyzstan due to political violence in the region. They moved to Dagestan in 2001 before gaining refugee status in the United States and immigrating. In 2011, the Russian government passed intelligence to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in which they warned of the Tsarnaevs’ possible radicalization, and that the Tsarnaev’s mother had been added to Russia’s terrorism database. These concerns focused on a planned trip the Tsarnaevs were taking to meet with known extremists in the Caucasus. The trip occurred in 2012 when Tamerlan travelled to Dagestan and Chechnya to allegedly pick up a new Russian passport, which he never actually received. Surveilling Tamerlan and his trip, Russia even reported that he interacted with mosques known for hosting extremists. After his return, Tamerlan and brother Dzhokhar used online bomb-making instructions from the Al-Qaeda magazine Inspire to construct two improvised explosive devices. They placed the two bombs near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, detonating them 10 seconds apart. The two bombs killed three people and wounded 264.

Istanbul Nightclub Attack (January 1, 2017)
Abdulkadir Masharipov is believed to have entered Afghanistan in 2011 after leaving Uzbekistan. During the ensuing five year period authorities believe he may have received militant training in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, or Syria. In January 2016, after moving through Iran, Masharipov settled at an ISIS safehouse in Konya, Turkey. His initial orders from ISIS suggested a New Year’s Eve attack on Taksim Square, but after surveilling the area his target was switched to a nightclub. Demonstrating a high level of military training, Masharipov entered the Reina nightclub in Istanbul just after midnight on January 1st and launched a two-hour assault with an automatic rifle, killing 39 and injuring 70.

St. Petersburg Metro Bombing (April 3, 2017)
Akbarjon Jalilov was a 22-year-old ethnic Uzbek who grew up in Kyrgyzstan. Interviews indicated that he became more religious during 2014, but neither family members nor his social media activities demonstrated a link to extremist groups. In 2015, he traveled to Turkey where he may have crossed the border into Syria. On April 3rd, 2017, Jalilov entered a St. Petersburg Metro station and detonated a suicide bomb, killing 14 commuters and injuring 60. Jalilov’s attack was claimed by the Imam Shamil Battalion, a small Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group operating in Syria.

Stockholm Truck Attack (April 7, 2017)
Rakhmat Akilov grew up in Uzbekistan but spent the four years between 2009 and 2013 as a legal, guest-worker in a Moscow cement factory. After losing that job in 2014 he moved from Uzbekistan to Sweden in search of work. The Uzbek government reported that in 2015 Akilov travelled to Turkey and attempted to cross the border into Syria, but was detained and sent home. On April 7, 2017, Akilov drove a truck into a department store in Stockholm, killing four people and injuring 15. After his attack, the Uzbek government revealed it had passed intelligence to Sweden regarding Akilov’s attempts to radicalize and recruit Uzbeks to join ISIS in Syria. He was on the Uzbek government’s suspected terrorist most wanted list . Swedish authorities admitted they had received intelligence in 2016 regarding Akilov’s possible radicalization, but that they had not confirmed its validity. Indeed, his social media accounts demonstrated several links to known extremists.

New York City Truck Attack (October 31, 2017)
Sayfullo Saipov moved from Uzbekistan to the United States in 2010, residing in an immigrant community in Ohio before moving to Patterson, New Jersey. There were few suspicions that he was radicalized before coming to the United States. His name had been on an FBI probe of a friend, but Saipov was not suspected of radicalization. Based on post-facto interviews and searches of his electronics, authorities discovered that he’d been viewing ISIS propaganda online for some time, and that he had used ISIS instructions from the internet to plan the attack. Saipov admitted that he spent a year planning the attack, and that he rented a truck to perform a test run earlier that month. On October 31, Saipov drove a truck onto a Manhattan sidewalk, killing eight people and wounding 12 – the deadliest terrorist attack in New York City since 9/11.

Contextualized Casualty Comparisons
This report includes visualization of the data on casualties produced by Central Asian terrorism. Due to because differences across time, location, and weapons, however, visualizing each attack across the entirety of post-9/11 terrorism data would be unlikely to yield any insights into the unique characteristics of Central Asian attacks. Thus, this report creates contextualized casualty comparisons for each attack. These comparisons visually compare attacks to other attacks that have similar weapons, locations, and timeframes in order to provide the most accurate demonstration of an attacker’s lethality versus others who performed similar actions. All data on attacks not discussed in the case study section of this report are pulled from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) run by the Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism (START). Each figure is labelled with the constraints set on attacks included in the contextualized casualty comparison. All attacks use the following search constraints: the “When” setting is set to “‘2002’ to ‘2016”, and the “Terrorism Criteria” is set to include ambiguous and unsuccessful attacks, while none of the Criteria restraints are used. All graphs display the number of killed victims along the X-axis and the number of injured victims along the Y-axis.

Boston Marathon Bomb Attack (April 15, 2013)

Attacks in this category had a mean of 3.739 killed and 13.124 injured. At 3 killed and 264 injured, the Boston attack placed just above the 50th percentile for killed and at the 100th percentile for injured.

Istanbul Nightclub Attack (January 1, 2017)

The attacks in this category had a mean of 2.614 killed and 4.557 injured. At 39 killed and 70 injured, the Istanbul attack fell above the 97.5th percentile for killed and 99th percentile for injured.

St. Petersburg Metro Bombing (April 3, 2017)

Attacks in this category had a mean of 19.615 killed and 113.923 injured. However, this was skewed by the presence of a major outlier. At 14 killed and 60 injured, the St. Petersburg attack placed just above the 50th percentile for killed and just above the 50th percentile for injured. Once the outlier was removed, the mean killed became 16.583 and the mean injured became 58.083, placing the St. Petersburg attack a bit above the 50th percentile in killed and injured.

Stockholm Truck Attack (April 7, 2017)

The attacks in this category had a mean of 14 killed and 68.25 injured. However, this was heavily skewed by a major outlier. At 4 killed and 15 injured, the Stockholm attack fell just above the 50th percentile for killed and 50th percentile for injured. However, once the major data outlier was removed, the category had a mean killed of 3.571 killed and 16.143 injured, with the Stockholm attack still hovering around the 50th percentile for killed and injured.

New York City Truck Attack (October 31, 2017)

The attacks in this category had a mean of 14 killed and 68.25 injured. However, this was heavily skewed by a major outlier. At 8 killed and 12 injured, the New York City attack fell just above the 50th percentile for killed and 50th percentile for injured. However, once the major data outlier was removed, the category had a mean killed of 3.571 killed and 16.143 injured, with the New York City attack still hovering around the 50th percentile for killed and 50th percentile for injured.

Two principle commonalities emerge from the analysis of the case studies above. First, the mix of cyber and personal recruitment and training reflects the hybrid nature of threats from non-state actors in the 21st century. While Abdulkadir Masharipov received intensive military training and was linked in to a terrorist chain of command, others never interacted with foreign militants directly and only used public information and propaganda to radicalize and plan their attacks. The use of vehicular attacks similarly exemplifies the reach of cyber-radicalization. Vehicle attacks require little expertise and are easy to coordinate from a distance, making them a central piece of ISIS’s inducement for ‘lone wolf’ attacks abroad. This problem speaks to the need for a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy that focuses on a broader range of possible attacks rather than monolithic expectations and ‘silver bullet’ solutions.
The second principle commonality was the repeated occurence of intelligence failures. The lack of intelligence-sharing or follow-through allowed both the Tsarnaev brothers and Rakhmat Akilov to perpetrate attacks even though they’d been marked ahead of time as possible militants. Whether this was due to resource constraints, inter-governmental trust issues, inter-agency cooperation problems, or an inability to detect these threats should be the subject of further study.

The univariate analysis of the contextualized casualty comparisons for Central Asian attacks indicates that while some attacks were abnormally lethal for their methodology, region, and timeframe, many of them fit within the scope of expected casualties for their attack types. This seems to show that Central Asian terrorists are not more lethal or injurious than similar attackers.

There are several caveats to the lessons derived here. First, the case study’s sample size being so limited inherently limited our ability to draw definitive conclusions on trends among Central Asian terrorists. Second, other forms of exported terror are underrepresented in this analysis. Most notably, there’s been a substantive movement of hundreds of radicalized Central Asian fighters into conflict zones in Afghanistan and Iraq to fight for Islamic non-state actors. While this analysis purposely focused on ‘lone wolf’ attacks, this still means the analysis is about a mere subset of the foreign terror threat, rather than it’s totality.
More research and analysis must be done if the Central Asian ‘lone wolf’ is to be evaluated as a categorizable form of attack. The diversity of radicalization forms, histories, and weapons make them a difficult cohort to understand as a unified entity. However, assessment of immigration policy and immigrant experiences may shift the integration of these future militants into host societies and alter their propensity to fight against the states they enter.

[1] Laruelle, Marlene.  “The Paradox of Uzbek Terror”.  Foreign Affairs.  Nov 1, 2017.

[2] ibid

[3] Ward, Alex.  “The New York attacker was from Uzbekistan. Here’s why that matters.” Vox.  Nov 1, 2017.

[4] Pannier, Bruce.  “Why are Uzbeks So Often Linked to Terrorist Attacks?”. RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty.  Nov 1, 2017.

[5] ibid

[6] Ward, Alex.  “The New York attacker was from Uzbekistan. Here’s why that matters.” Vox.  Nov 1, 2017.

[7] ibid

[8] Radia, Kirit.  “Boston Marathon Bombing Suspects’ Twisted Family History”.  ABC News.  April 22, 2013.

[9] ibid

[10] “Boston Marathon Bombing Timeline of key events”.  Chicago Tribune.  April 8, 2015.

[11] Schmitt, Eric, Michael Schmidt, and Ellen Barry.  “Bombing Inquiry Turns to Motive and Russia Trip”.  New York Times.  April 20, 2013.

[12] “Boston Marathon Bombing Timeline of key events”.  Chicago Tribune.  April 8, 2015.

[13] ibid

[14] Williams, Pete and Tom Winter.  “Court Documents Reveal Boston Bomber’s Statements to FBI”.  NBC News.  February 23, 2016.

[15] ibid

[16] “GTD ID: 201304150002”.  START Global Terrorism Database.

[17] “GTD ID: 201304150001”.  START Global Terrorism Database.

[18] “Istanbul Reina attacker ‘switched target’ after Raqqa order”. Hurriyet Daily News.  January 18, 2017.

[19] Arslan, Rengin.  “Abdulkadir Masharipov: who is Istanbul gun attack suspect?”.  BBC.  January 17, 2017.

[20] Istanbul Reina attacker ‘switched target’ after Raqqa order”. Hurriyet Daily News.  January 18, 2017.

[21] ibid

[22] ibid

[23] “Istanbul: Victims of Reina Nightclub Attack identified”.  Al Jazeera.  January 2, 2017.

[24] Mirovalev, Mansur.  “Russia bombing triggers crackdown on Central Asians”.  Al Jazeera.  May 15, 2017.

[25] Nikolskaya, Polina and Hulkar Isamova.  “Suspect in Russia metro bombing traveled to Turkey, say co-workers”.  Reuters.  April 8, 2017.

[26] ibid

[27] Nechepurenko, Ivan and Nail MacFarquhar.  “St. Petersburg Bomber Said to Be Ban From Kyrgyzstan; Death Toll Rises”.  New York Times.  April 4, 2017.

[28] Mirovalev, Mansur.  “Russia bombing triggers crackdown on Central Asians”.  Al Jazeera.  May 15, 2017.

[29]Akilovs bror i Uzbekistan: ‘Är det sant att han erkänt?'”. AftonBladet.  April 26, 2017.

[30] “Stockholm attack: who is suspect Rakhmat Akilov?”.  BBC.  April 10, 2017.

[31] “Uzbekistan says told West that Stockholm attack suspect was IS recruit”.  Reuters.  April 14, 2017.

[32] Habib, Heba, and Griff Witte.  “‘Sweden has been attacked’: Truck crashes into Stockholm store, killing 4”.  Washington Post.  April 8, 2017.

[33] “Uzbekistan says told West that Stockholm attack suspect was IS recruit”.  Reuters.  April 14, 2017.

[34] ibid

[35] ibid

[36] “Stockholm attack: who is suspect Rakhmat Akilov?”.  BBC.  April 10, 2017.

[37] Rosenberg, Eli, Devlin Barrett, and Sari Horwitz.  “SayfulloSaipov’s behavior behind the wheel of an empty truck raised suspicion before attack”.  Washington Post.  1 Nov, 2017.

[38] Ward, Alex.  “The New York attacker was from Uzbekistan. Here’s why that matters.” Vox.  Nov 1, 2017.

[39] Rosenberg, Eli, Devlin Barrett, and Sari Horwitz.  “SayfulloSaipov’s behavior behind the wheel of an empty truck raised suspicion before attack”.  Washington Post.  1 Nov, 2017.

[40] “Who Is Sayfullo Saipov, New York City terror attack suspect?”.  Cox Media Group.  Nov 2, 2017.

[41] Rosenberg, Eli, Devlin Barrett, and Sari Horwitz.  “SayfulloSaipov’s behavior behind the wheel of an empty truck raised suspicion before attack”.  Washington Post.  1 Nov, 2017.

[42] ibid

[43] Region: ”Eastern Europe”, “Western Europe”, “North America”

 Weapon Type: “Explosives/Bombs/Dynamite”

 Attack Type: “Non-suicide attack”

 Target Type: “Private Citizens & Property”

[44] Region: Amassed data from one search that utilized ”Eastern Europe”, “Western Europe”, “North America” and one that used Country: Turkey

 Attack Type: “Armed Assault”, “Non-suicide attack”

 Weapon Type: “Firearms”

 Target Type: “Private Citizens & Property”

[45] Region: ”Eastern Europe”, “Western Europe”, “North America”

 Attack Type: “Suicide attack”

 Weapon Type: “Explosives/Bombs/Dynamite”

 Target Type: “Transportation”

[46] Region: ”Eastern Europe”, “Western Europe”, “North America”

 Attack Type: “Non-suicide attack”

 Weapon Type: “Vehicle”

 Target Type: “Private Citizens & Property”

[47] Region: ”Eastern Europe”, “Western Europe”, “North America”

 Attack Type: “Non-suicide attack”

 Weapon Type: “Vehicle”

 Target Type: “Private Citizens & Property”

[48] Ioffe, Julia.  “Why Does Uzbekistan Export So Many Terrorists?”.  The Atlantic.  Nov 1, 2017.

[49] ibid

Terrorism in France: Past and Present

Photo: International Business Times, 2015

Of the 28 countries that make up the European Union, France has constantly been an influential force in shaping policy and taking action against extremist threats. Be that as it may, unfortunately, France also has the highest frequency of terror attacks of any EU country. The government has struggled not only to combat such provocations but also to understand why they have become so widespread.

France has the largest Muslim population in Europe and in 2015 11.8% of its population was foreign-born, compared to 8.9% in 2014. This number has risen and fallen as the EU has struggled to create and enforce strict immigration policies. Due to such bureaucratic logjams terror organizations have been able to infiltrate the country and recruit local and foreign citizens in its jails. The contagion can be traced back to a policy that was scrapped by then Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, in 2002.

Sarkozy eliminated the “Police de Proximité,” which was a neighborhood policing policy designed to effect friendlier police work. The absence of this program resulted in resentment of officers of the law, as well as an increase in repressive tactics and arrests. Consequently, many African and Middle Eastern youth were placed in French prisons, which proved fertile grounds for radicalization. They were angry, poor, and had criminal records – all reasons why recruiters for Islamic extremist organizations like ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) were able to radicalize them.

Since the 2002 spike in arrests, many of those who were radicalized have been released from prison and have gone on to perpetrate violence in France. How best to combat this rise in terrorism? An effort must be made to halt recruitment in French prisons. As for society as a whole, an outreach program to French youth, especially in inner cities and their schools, would prove beneficial. Such programs function like an inoculation against terror, stifling recruitment and the flow of extremist ideology.

In 2013 France went to war against two Muslim governments when it invaded Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR). This exacerbated tensions and widened the divide between Muslims and the French government. ISIS has carried out its deadliest assaults since this time. On January 7th, 2015 two Islamist gunmen forced their way into the Paris headquarters of satirical weekly news-magazine Charlie Hebdo and opened fire, killing twelve. Less than a year later, on November 13th, 2015, nine EU citizen members of ISIL launched a coordinated offensive at a soccer stadium, a concert hall, restaurants, and bars. 130 were killed, and 413 were wounded. On Bastille Day in 2016, an Islamic State supporter drove a truck through a crowd, killing 86 people. Just 12 days later ISIL soldiers slit the throat of an 85-year-old priest in Normandy, killing him.

Between 1980 and 2003, a span of 23 years, terror strikes killed 87 people in France. Between 2003 and 2018, only 15 years, three times as many people (250) were killed. The question remains, how can France and other EU countries stop attacks before they occur? The answer necessarily lies in policy. An anti-terrorism law was passed in 2014 that allowed the government to prevent at-risk citizens from leaving the country. The same law banned EU citizens from entering France if they were deemed a threat to society. The “French Patriot Act” passed in 2015, created a vast surveillance program. It proved a massive step in advancing French security, and it continues to pave the way for intelligence and law enforcement agencies to curb the dispersal of terrorist ideologies. 

French President Emmanuel Macron promises to tighten French immigration policy, but what’s missing, as stated earlier, is a comprehensive strategy aimed at educating the public with the intention of inoculating it against extremist views.

France is at a crossroads. Today’s legislation is vital to the country’s future. There must be a proactive strategy for countering terrorist recruitment. Those who would be affected most by such preventative measures, youth, are responsible for France’s future. Whether they step into a future that is violent or peaceful is up to lawmakers today.



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