Information and news about terrorism

The recent and increasingly aggressive Boko Haram attacks in Northern Nigeria have forced United States’ foreign policy makers to reassess their current counterterrorism strategies.

Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group, has been fighting in Africa’s most populous country since 2009 to “overthrow the government and install an Islamist state” according to a BBC News profile. They claim to be influenced by Quranic verses, and they advocate against Nigeria’s progressively western-leaning society. Members of Boko Haram believe that the social and political fabric of Nigeria has been tainted by the West as demonstrated by the growing number of secularly educated and politically aware citizens. Though Boko Haram has been active since 2002, it wasn’t until last year that the U.S. government declared it a terrorist organization.

Within the past several months, the number of Boko Haram attacks has rapidly increased, specifically in the Borno state of Northeast Nigeria. They have attacked both civilians and soldiers, and have claimed responsibility for shootings in schools, marketplaces and government buildings. Despite the death of founder Mohammed Yusuf in 2009, the Nigerian government has been unable to staunch either Boko Haram’s violent actions or its growing sphere of influence.

The question arises: how should the Nigerian government, the U.S. government and the world deal with this kind of terrorist organization? A recent article in U.S. News called for a reexamination of U.S. counterterrorism policies.

The author very acutely noted: “It is important to remember that violent extremism does not rise up in a vacuum.” Like many other terrorist groups, Boko Haram maintains its stability by feeding on Nigeria’s economic and political strife. Young men are sucked into the recruiting process because they lack a productive outlet for their time and their frustrations.

Poverty, unemployment and illiteracy have served to exacerbate the problem in Nigeria, and current counterterrorism strategies lack long-term vision. Instead of utilizing drone strikes, military intervention and targeted killings – methods which primarily serve to instill fear – the U.S. needs to help Nigeria establish a new economy. A prosperous economy and the jobs that come with it are the first steps in eliminating Boko Haram’s recruiting grounds.

The same U.S. News article articulately noted: “[humanitarian aid and relief] programs should seek to empower local civil society and religious actors rather than undermine their nonviolent efforts to address the crisis.” By encouraging a structured civil society with strong social and religious leaders, Boko Haram will be unable to spread its violent message.

It is important to understand that the long-term implementation of social, political, educational and economic changes is challenging. While quick fixes and violent reaction to this kind of terrorism may seem effective, it will serve as a long-term hindrance to Nigeria’s success as a country.

— Allison Heymann

Sources: U.S. News, BBC, CNN
Photo: China Daily

On April 14 approximately 276 girls were abducted from a boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria, by the militant group Boko Haram. The international attention and social media activism that have followed since have all been indicators of universal outrage. But most importantly they have underscored the instability which has crippled Nigeria in recent years.

With a $6 billion national annual budget for security forces, Nigeria’s recent mass kidnapping might seem surprising, but it is indicative of a broader spectrum of disarray. Nigeria is the most populous state in Africa and its leading economy, laying claim to the 26th largest economy in the world. However, its citizens are often bound by dire living constraints.

In Nigeria’s Borno state, home to capital city Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, the per capita income is $1,631 compared to $4,000 in political capital Abuja. It is evident that poverty has planted the seeds for violent extremism. Since 2009 Boko Haram, in their quest to create an Islamic state in Nigeria, has been implicated in the deaths of over 12,000 Nigerian citizens. In 2013 they were officially declared a terrorist group by the United States government.

Despite Nigeria’s trouble with internal uprisings, it has become clear that its government has been troubled by its own internal issues. Recent Nigerian media reports have revealed that 10 generals and five other senior officers have been court martialed and found guilty of supplying info and ammunition to Boko Haram. This level of extremist sympathizing, while detestable, is not altogether shocking given Nigeria’s current state of affairs.

Corruption on the level of high-ranking government officials has long been linked to poverty throughout Africa. Nigeria has been operating at annual levels of around seven percent economic growth over the past few years but its correlation between national economic growth and increasing living standards has become tenuous at best.

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has framed his country’s growing poverty problems as a problem of wealth distribution. Considering the highly concentrated nature of wealth and political capital amongst the country’s oil barons, this assessment is worth considering. With oil reserves of upwards of 37 billion barrels, only second to Libya in all of Africa, Nigeria is surely not pressed for revenue generating natural resources. However, its influx of oil revenue has not made it a wealthy state.

By 2030 Nigeria’s population size is expected to increase from its 2010 level by upwards of 60 percent, making it the world’s eventual fifth largest population. There are currently over 160 million people living in Nigeria, 42.8 percent of whom are age 14 or younger. However, of the school age children who actually begin formal education, only two-thirds complete primary school. Like the rest of the world, lack of education coupled with the presence of poverty makes for a corrosive pair. It will surely take increasing levels of stability and government accountability to fend the two off.

On June 9, 20 more girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram in the northeastern town of Garkin Fulani, Nigeria. The abductions took place only a few miles from where the 200-plus girls were kidnapped in Chibok in mid-April. This most recent example of Nigeria’s internal security woes comes after President Goodluck vowed to protect this vulnerable and embattled area of Nigeria. Instead, another instance of atrocity has once again marred a Nigerian community still reeling from the effects of the past five years.

 — Taylor Dow

Sources: CNN, BBC, Global Public Square, Tribune, Business Day
Photo: The Indian Express

According to an article by the New York Times, the Independent Election Complaints Commission said that the Afghan presidential election this time around appears to be cleaner than the one in 2009.

Nader Mohseni, the commission’s spokesman, said that fraud was less prevalent in the 2014 elections compared to other elections in the past. Unlike the 2,842 complaints that the commission recorded in 2009, only 1,573 were counted this year.

“Compared with 7.5 million people who voted, that number is very small,” said Mohseni. “That’s what the international observers believe as well.”

Setting the election aside, the year 2014 is an important year for Afghanistan. Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, said that President Obama told Afghan president Hamid Karzai that his refusal to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement gave the U.S. no choice but to withdraw its military from the country.

“Keeping on 5,000 troops and some equipment at a handful of small bases will not be difficult if Karzai’s successor decides to sign the SOFA,” Cole said.

But is it necessary for U.S. troops to keep their presence in Afghanistan after more than a decade of combat in the country?

Around the time Cole made these remarks the Taliban has been involved in several violent campaigns that made Pakistani officials question whether Kabul can ultimately stay in control of the situation and confront the group.

“Whether the Afghanistan National Army can stand up to the Taliban is one question,” Cole said. “Another is, if Afghans still can’t stand up to the Taliban after a decade of US aid, when exactly would the billions poured into the country finally bear fruit?”

According to journalist Patrick Cockburn, the current situation in Afghanistan is not looking good at all.

While visiting Kabul a few years back, Cockburn realized “the main problem in Afghanistan was not the strength of the Taliban but the weakness of the government.”

“It does not matter how many NATO troops are in the country because they are there in support of a government detested by much of the population,” he explained. “Everywhere I went in the capital there were signs of this, even among prosperous people who might be expected to be natural supporters of the status quo.”

Cockburn also believes that this year’s election will not be a success and will be more fraudulent considering Karzai is no longer able to run for a third term.

“The April 2014 election is likely to be worse than anything seen before, with 20.7 million voter cards distributed in a country where half the population of 27 million are under the voting age of 18,” he said.

Cockburn also reveals that election-monitoring institutions, such as the one Mohseni represents, are under the control of the government.

As a result, if the Afghan government controls the Independent Elections Complaints Commission, there is no guarantee that the New York Times article is correct for claiming that the 2014 elections are in fact cleaner.

– Juan Campos

Photo: DW
The New York Times, Counterpunch, Z Magazine

Guns are more of a threat mechanism for Boko Haram. It is knives they use to kill.

Known for attacking Christians, government officials and schools in an effort to halt anything it considers to be Westernization, Boko Haram is an Islamic jihad terrorist organization that aims to form an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria. Their violent campaign, which began in 2002 under Mohammed Yusuf, is increasing in intensity and inciting fear throughout the region. This past year alone saw hundreds of deaths at the hands of Boko Haram and the group’s official recognition as a terrorist organization by the United States.

Many innocent Nigerians have been severely affected by the horrors around them. One young woman was held captive for three months and ordered to slit the throats of newcomers brought to her camp. Orders such as this, in addition to the slaughter of numerous people in front of captives, are not uncommon circumstances in the presence of Boko Haram.

Attacks on schools have resulted in an unfortunate educational hiatus. Borno state, for example, closed down all of its schools prior to the normal end of term in order to keep children and educators safe. And the conflict is spreading.

Thousands of refugees have run away from the region, taking refuge over international borders. Navanethem “Navi” Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has recommended a regional effort in order to take on the tumultuous issue of Boko Haram’s terrorist activity.

Nigeria’s national security advisor, Sambo Dasuki, also offers a new path to solve the problem. Claiming that corruption, injustice and a lack of opportunity have led many young Nigerians to support or even join Boko Haram, Dasuki proposes a plan quite different from the military campaign currently attacking Boko Haram camps that is failing to make much progress toward peace.

Dasuki calls it a “soft approach” and purports to enroll past Boko Haram members in vocational schools while local imams deliver different, more pacifist, interpretations of the Quran. The primary issue, however, is that a great many Nigerians, alienated in the northeastern section of the country where Boko Haram runs rampant, harbor a deep distrust for President Goodluck Jonathan’s counterinsurgency program in the area. This military action is expected to continue even through Dasuki’s new approach.

The hope is that a mobilization of “family, cultural, religious and national values” can turn the tide of the situation in northeast Nigeria. With enough energy behind these new initiatives, perhaps the number of people terrorizing civilians will subside and a feeling of safety and security will form as a replacement for fear.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: The Economist, BBC, Al Jazeera, All Africa
Photo: Daily Post

A terrorist attack at a train station in Kunming on March 1 that has left 29 people dead and 140 people injured has stirred up anger and fear in China. The group of eight people, including six men and two women, are thought to have been from the Xinjiang region in the Northwest of China.

Reports claim that the knife-wielding attackers initially tried to leave the country through crossing the border in Yunnan Province and later in Guangdong Province. After failing to leave the country, the killers decided to mount a terrorist attack at either a bus or a train station. The suspects are thought to have been radicalized Muslims trying to leave China to join the global jihad.

Chinese authorities shot and killed four of the attackers, while the other four are currently in custody after being caught in Honghe, a county 174 miles away from Kunming.

The attack drew sharp condemnations from both China and the United States. On March 5, at the opening session of the National People’s Congress, a moment of silence was observed for the victims. The leaders in China have promised to fight against terrorism. The U.S. has also called the attack in China an act of “terrorism.”

Observers worry that the Chinese government will simply use this attack as a further reason to continue its brutal crackdown on the ethnic Uighur minority, living predominantly in Xinjiang Province. Tensions between the majority Han Chinese and the minority Uighurs have always been high, and recent attempts by the government in Beijing to integrate China’s Western regions through repression, development and migration of Han Chinese into historically Uighur areas has only exacerbated the situation.

The Chinese government has not been accepting of Uighur culture. Stdudents are not allowed to fast during Ramadan, religious teaching for children is not permitted and Uighur-language education is dying out. Han Chinese now make up two-fifths of the Xinjiang population and control an out-sized portion of its wealth.

One way of reducing violence in China is not to crack down through increased military presence. The answer lies in giving the Uighurs an opportunity to participate in their local culture without fear of reprisal.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: Washington Post, New York Times, The Economist
Photo: China Daily

al qaeda
The youth who have grown up saturated with extreme jihadist ideology will form a criminal generation that poses a threat to not only their country, but to the world.

Children, almost exclusively young boys, are targeted by terrorist groups to be trained to be military-minded from a young age for several reasons. Most importantly, they are easier to persuade and control. Many recruited children are orphans who have grown up in conflict zones. The inclusion in a powerful group gives them the illusion of acceptance.

Children can also move around unnoticed much easier than adults; they are more likely to be overlooked in a situation where a man might trigger caution, and soldiers often hesitate to shoot them even if they know the child is carrying explosives.

Most importantly for recruiters, children who are trained as extremist soldiers will grow into adults willing to kill and die for those same ideals and will offer up their own children to the same training. Cairo University psychology professor and family relations consultant Waliyuddine Mukhtar says that “As a result [of their intensive training], years from now, a new generation of youth will emerge and pose a very serious threat not only to Syria but to surrounding countries as well.

Camps to train “cubs” have been opened in Syria and have released  footage showing children ages four to 17 years old shooting AK-47s, undergoing military training and shouting for the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” Recruiters rely heavily on orphans and the donated children of extremist families to fill these ranks.

Egyptian child psychologist and Ain Shams University lecturer Enas al-Jamal discusses the devastating effects on the psyche of child soldiers. “This child grows up on violence and the use of force, while internally suppressing fear that could erupt at any time after he is moved away from the fighting.”

Al-Jamal is realistic about the hardship of establishing these children in a peaceful civilian lifestyle. “The difficulty in rehabilitation stems from the fact that they were subjected to comprehensive brainwashing that turned them into killing machines convinced of the legitimacy of murder and suicide via suicide bombings.”

The work of undoing everything these children are being taught will take tremendous effort and a collective awareness. The leaders of al-Qaeda may be cut down, but they have planted their seeds deeply. However, people’s tending to those seeds could prevent their resurrection.

Lydia Caswell

Sources:, Central Asia Online, Hudson Institute
Photo: Sodaheadr

Long considered a vulnerably fractured nation, Yemen is home to one of the world’s deadliest al-Qaeda offshoots. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) formed in January 2009 from an alliance between al-Qaeda branches in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The organization, by carrying out attacks domestically while simultaneously acknowledging Western targets, instills fear over the world.

Recent developments have augmented this fear and made a necessity for action ever more apparent. Beginning with an exploding car bomb and followed by a grenade and gun assault, at least 14 inmates escaped from Yemen’s main security prison.

When in February 2006 23 convicted terrorists escaped from prison in Yemen’s capital of Sana’a, al-Qaeda experienced resurgence in the region. Nasser al-Wuhayshi, currently the leader of AQAP, played a vital role in the increased occurrence of attacks at the time.

Wuhayshi was among the escapees.

The connection between Wuhayshi and an al-Qaeda-heavy jailbreak is quite conspicuous. Including a vicious attack against the Yemeni Ministry of Defense a few months prior to the recent prison incident, in December 2013, AQAP has participated in and claimed responsibility for multitudinous attacks since its formation in 2009.

Extensive media and propaganda campaigns fuel the AQAP fire, keeping recruitment strong. The overarching goals of AQAP, of particular concern to the United States and other Western countries, is to rid Muslim countries of Western influence and to instead foster shari’a law under fundamentalist Islamic regimes. These intentions are dutifully carried out by a compartmentalized and decentralized hierarchy of power that enables AQAP to endure counterattacks and arrests without falling apart.

Despite this formation, it is important to note that Wuhayshi, over a period of four years, served alongside Osama bin-Laden in Afghanistan. Bin-Laden’s successor allegedly appointed Wuhayshi general manager of al-Qaeda fairly recently in July 2013. This position gives him extreme power and flexibility to do what he wishes with AQAP both regionally and internationally.

The main worry here is one of historical repetition. Wuhayshi, arguably one of the most powerful men in the world, especially in regard to terrorist and jihadist pursuits, earned his prestige as a result of escaping from jail. Now, once again, al-Qaeda affiliates have freed themselves from confinement. What this means for global security is yet to be seen.

Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, Al-Jazeera
Photo: Yahoo News

Syria_Immigration_Refugee_United States
The United States currently leads the world in refugee resettlement yet could fall short in the case of the crisis in Syria. With more than two million Syrians fleeing the country and another 6.5 million displaced within Syria’s borders, this is quite possibly the worst refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

The demand for resettlement is huge.

In a Senate hearing on January 7, State Department Assistant Secretary Anne Richard stated that the United States expected to begin resettling more refugees, increasing referral acceptances to several thousand Syrians in 2014. Additionally, the United Nations a few weeks ago stated that the United States would be accepting around 30,000 vulnerable Syrians referred for resettlement.

Unfortunately, post-9/11 immigration laws may pose some difficulties.

Under U.S. laws, not all of these vulnerable individuals can be legally received. Those people who are considered to have given ‘material support’ in some form or other to rebels are considered to have possibly supported terrorism, even if the ‘material support’ was approved by the United States.

In this manner, Syrians who gave so much as a sandwich or a cigarette to a soldier fighting for the Free Syrian Army will not be accepted, according to Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.

Human Rights First has called for the U.S. to resettle some 15,000 Syrians per year. While this perhaps should be feasible for the world’s leader of refugee resettlement, it is a particularly lofty goal for a country that will have a tough time finding Syrians with no connection to either side of the conflict.

As such, the United States is working on easing the anti-terrorism laws to some degree with respect to Syria in order to support the global effort to take in and support Syrian refugees.

The United Nations calculates that Syria has lost at least 35 years of human development from the multitude of tragedies that have occurred in the past three years. The strongest nation in the world should be doing more to work with the international community in aiding the victims of such devastating circumstance.

Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal
Photo: Think Progress

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has released a comprehensive look at the United States’ drone program from 2009 to the present. Sketching its missteps and apparent successes, the United Kingdom-based nonprofit relates the story of the Barack Obama administration’s relationship with drones and brings clarity to an otherwise opaque issue.

Drone strikes began after 9/11, after the passage of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF.) This law enables the president to “take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the (U.S.).”

Since the act’s passage, both the George W. Bush and the Obama administrations have launched hundreds of attacks on foreign soil.

By their count, over 390 covert drone strikes have killed more than 2,400 people thus far since Obama took office. Targeting Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Both civilians and militants have been killed.

Barack Obama first made use of drones just three days after the start of his presidency. While initial reports deemed it a success, information gathered later indicated that at least nine civilians were killed in the strike while the one 14-year-old survivor was blinded.

Instead of hitting a Taliban hideout, as intended, the drone struck a family household, killing a tribal elder and members of his family.

Although Obama was reportedly dismayed by the news, he has continued using drone strikes in much greater excess than his predecessor, although with greater rates of accuracy.

Under Obama, drone strikes have killed “six times as many people” than under Bush, but the casualties per strike has dropped from eight to six. Similarly, the civilian deaths have decreased as well, from three casualties per strike for Bush and only 1.43 casualties for Obama.

Some argue that drones help more than hinder anti-terrorism campaigns. As one Air Force officer expressed in the New York Times, “using them to go after terrorists not only was ethically permissible but also might be ethically obligatory, because of their advantages in identifying targets and striking with precision.”

Beyond their perceived benefits, mistaken drone strikes still rattle those who consider them immoral. In 2006, CIA drones killed at least 68 children located in a madrassa, or religious school.

Last month, drones attacked a convoy escorting a bride to her wedding. The U.S. has yet to comment on an attack that killed more than 15 civilians.

In September 2013, a law professor’s study found strikes harm global security and encourage other states and terrorist organizations to likewise arm themselves with unmanned weapons. As interest and concern over drones grow and the debate over their moral and unethical merits rage, the U.S. will carefully need to consider the cost of its continued employment.

Emily Bajet

Sources: The New York Times, Justice, The Bureau Investigates, GPO, The Guardian
Photo: RT

By the end of 2014, the United States is expected to have all of its troops withdrawn from Afghanistan after 13 years of occupation. Public opinion in the U.S. heavily favors troops leaving Afghanistan before the proposed deadline. A majority of Americans now believe that the initial occupation of Afghanistan in 2001 was a mistake.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has stressed the importance of pulling out of Afghanistan for years, but now Obama is trying to land a deal with the Afghan Government that will allow several thousand military personnel, Special Forces troops, and CIA members to stay in the country through 2024. Why would the U.S. effectively ‘end the occupation of Afghanistan’ while leaving behind thousands of workers for the next 10 years? There are two possible explanations that could explain why the U.S. is opting to remain in the region and not just let the Afghan government completely take over.

First, the U.S. government fears that if they leave Afghanistan in the same way they left Iraq, the country could lose ground to al-Qaeda. The Iraqi government has already lost two cities that were considered major wins for the U.S. troops during the fighting in 2004, Fallujah and Ramadi. The U.S. pulled out of Iraq before reaching an agreement between both governments that was similar to what they are working on in Afghanistan. Not securing an agreement meant the U.S. had no control over the political development in Iraq. Al-Qaeda and groups affiliated with al-Qaeda have since begun gaining more ground in the western Anbar province.

Another reason that could be compelling the U.S. to maintain a presence in the region is because the only Middle Eastern Pentagon base is in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a strategic geopolitical asset for the U.S. It borders Iran, China and Pakistan, so it sits in the center of an area of the world that the U.S has many vested interests. Maintaining top officials in the country can help influence U.S. interests throughout the region.

If the U.S. does not pull all of their officials from the region, there is a possibility of continuing a smaller scale occupation until 2024. On the other hand, if the U.S. completely leaves and al-Qaeda and other military groups regain control of the region, more problems could be created for the U.S. and for citizens of Afghanistan.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: The Telegraph, Global Research
Photo: The Telegraph