History of Terrorism: From Russia With Hate

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By Peter Bergen

The news that the Istanbul attack was carried out by a Russian and citizens of Central Asian states that were once part of the Soviet Union might surprise those who have hitherto seen the group as a collection of mostly Arab fighters with a large Western European contingent.

Yet in fact, Russian citizens — many of whom are Chechens or Dagestanis from the largely Muslim North Caucasus region of Russia — are the largest group of foot soldiers in ISIS from a non-Muslim majority country, and they have played key roles in the group.

According to Turkish officials the attack at Istanbul airport was carried out by terrorists from Russia, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan and was planned by ISIS’s leadership. The Soufan Group, a New York-based intelligence consulting firm that tracks “foreign fighters” who have joined ISIS, estimates that 2,400 Russians have traveled to Syria. It placed the number of fighters from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan at 500 each.

In October, Russian President Vladimir Putin estimated the number of fighters who had left for Syria from Russia and the former Soviet republics at 5,000 to 7,000.

Individuals from the former Soviet republics have risen to the leadership ranks in ISIS. The most well known is Omar Shishani, killed in an American airstrike earlier this year, was an ethnic Chechen who had a $5 million U.S. reward on his head at the time of his death. He was the group’s commander in northern Syria and he also oversaw the prison in ISIS’s de facto Syrian capital, Raqqa, in which the terrorist group held foreign hostages.

Read the Remainder at CNN

 

Examining Terrorist Tactics: Soft Targets of Terror

ISIS has “upgraded”the Al Qaeda playbook and determined that several teams of shooters and bombers or suicide bombers working together and attacking multiple SOFT targets simultaneously is much more effective than one big operation against a hard target. Tactically, attacking multiple targets in unison let’s the terrorist take advantage of the mass confusion and the “spreading out “of law enforcement and medical resources. More to come on how to drill and prepare for this very real threat. -SF

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Bottom Line Up Front:

• In the past week, three suicide bombings killed more than 140 civilians; 72 in Lahore, Pakistan, 41 near Baghdad, Iraq, and 35 in Brussels, Belgium

• The targets of the attacks—mass transit, a children’s soccer match, and a public park—are designed for open access and enjoyment, and cannot be hardened without fundamentally changing their purpose and utility

• Attacks on soft targets stoke public fear of communal gathering spaces that are meant to enhance social cohesion

• With neither a shortage of people willing to blow themselves up nor a shortage of explosives with which to do so, the trend of mass-casualty attacks against soft targets will continue.

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The hardest terror strikes are often against the softest targets. This truism was demonstrated three times in the last week, with suicide bombings against civilians in Brussels on March 22, near Baghdad on March 25, and in Lahore on March 27. The combined casualties from the three attacks are massive: more than 140 people killed and 700 wounded, many grievously. The attacks were unrelated—the so-called Islamic State conducted the attacks in Brussels and near Baghdad; Jamaat ul-Ahrar, a Pakistani Taliban splinter group, conducted the Lahore bombing—but are all emblematic of what has been, and will continue to be, the preferred style of terror attacks: hitting soft targets with high-explosives.

Once a terrorist group has assembled an explosive device, the attack becomes a choice of target and timing. In Iraq, Belgium, and Pakistan, the attackers chose soft targets frequented by civilians, and their timing carefully: an award ceremony, rush hour, and a holiday celebration. The primary purpose of these attacks is to kill and maim as many people as possible; the slaughter of innocents in the most innocuous or idyllic settings eviscerates a society’s sense of security. 

There is nothing new about terror strikes against soft targets; what is new is that the baseline threat is now so high in so many countries. Countries such as Pakistan have battled nation-wide terrorism for years, with intermittent success at best, amid an overall strategic loss in countering the rise of violent extremism. Countries like Belgium face fewer pervasive terrorism concerns than Pakistan, but the threat is nevertheless real, and growing.

Unlike symbolic or high-value targets such as government buildings, there is no way to truly harden soft targets. Parks are designed for leisure, and for easy access and movement. Mass transit is designed to move people efficiently. Both would cease to fulfill their designed functions if onerous security measures were implemented. Furthermore, adding security on the perimeter of a soft target simply changes the strike zone. Terrorists are looking for high body counts; a crowd at a checkpoint for a park or a metro is just as attractive as a crowd inside a park or metro. One needs to look no further than Iraq to see how dangerous crowded checkpoints can be for the civilians they are ostensibly designed to protect. 

One of the consequences of mass-casualty attacks such as those in Lahore or Brussels is that all crowded spaces become unsafe. Afraid to gather, people stay home, and society splinters ever so slightly more, eroding the societal resilience that is the best and most lasting counterterrorism measure available. 

The rise of the Islamic State is simply the most high-profile case in what is a global rise in violent extremism. There is no shortage of extremists—usually young males, but increasingly women as well—willing to blow themselves up using widely available explosives and designs for suicide vests or other bombs. The video footage of the three attackers at the Brussels airport shows three seemingly ordinary people among countless other ordinary people. Behavior analysis and suspicious pattern recognition do not provide much assistance in these uncontrolled spaces if the attackers maintain a modicum of calm and normalcy. As long as individuals are willing to die in order to kill scores of innocent people, places of communal gathering—whether mass transit systems or public parks—will continue to be targeted.

Read the Original Article at Soufan Group

Crusader Corner: Two Attacks and Two Terror Trends

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Bottom Line Up Front:

• On March 13, a car bomb detonated in Ankara, Turkey, killing at least 27 people in the third such attack in months

• On the same day, an attack claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb on several beachside resorts in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast, left between 16-22 people dead

• The attacks are unrelated, but both stem from two trends that will continue in the near future as the reach of violent extremism expands

• Resorts and hotels in locations not known for extremism will face increasing risks; the security situation in Turkey is likely to deteriorate much further.

Places of work and play are now equal targets for terrorism. On March 13, two terrorist attacks, differing in style and location, are the latest indication that two trend lines will continue for the foreseeable future. The car bombing in Ankara, Turkey, that killed at least 27 people, and the armed assault on several resort hotels in Ivory Coast that killed at least 16, are connected, but not in the traditional sense. Rather, the two attacks show that hotels and resorts in tenuously stable locations are prime targets for terrorism, and that Turkey will continue to suffer an increase in attacks. These two trends stem from the overall rise in violent extremism across North Africa and the Middle East and the inability of states to effectively combat the threat. Most of the nations in this region are weaker or less stable than they appear or are assumed to be, including Turkey. The path from superficial stability to violent collapse is a short one, and terrorism accelerates the downward momentum.

For some time now, places of recreation have been at risk for unpredictable attacks. This is particularly true for places that are not specifically known for terrorism, but are in regions convulsed with conflict. Indeed, West Africa and North Africa are merging into a single expansive zone of concern. Last June, a gunman killed 38 people in a beach resort near the Tunisian town of Sousse; the so-called Islamic State claimed credit for the attack. In November 2015, gunmen affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) attacked the Raddison Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali, killing 18 people. In January 2016, AQIM attacked a hotel and restaurant in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, killing 30. The threat is not contained to West or North Africa; in January, gunmen from the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab killed 20 people at a Mogadishu beach.

On March 13, AQIM struck again. Six gunmen attacked several resort hotels in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast. The attack killed at least 16, including locals and a French national enjoying the beach and amenities. The Ivory Coast has avoided terrorist attacks of this level until now. The persistent threat from neighboring countries is now proving too much for the country to defy; aid from France and other countries will likely increase in the aftermath of the attack. Assaults on local resorts strike at the economy of countries such as Ivory Coast, hurting local employment and cutting off international tourism revenues.

Seemingly a world away, Ankara, Turkey, witnessed its third mass casualty terrorist attack in recent months. Just hours after the Ivory Coast attack, a car bomb exploded in the center of the Turkish capital, killing at least 27. Unlike in Grand Bassam, there were no immediate claims of responsibility for the Ankara attack, with early blame centering on Kurdish extremist groups, or perhaps the Islamic State. Turkey, a NATO member, is experiencing a rising threat from the civil war in Syria, not just from the Islamic State, but also from the fighting to the south which has reignited the dormant conflict between Ankara and Turkey’s Kurdish population. Turkey appears unable to address the terrorism threat in a manner that will not lead to greater open conflict, and so the threat will persist.

The two attacks in two very different locations have their own local sparks, but the fuel comes from the wider rise in violent extremism that is the inevitable result of persistent conflicts from Libya to Syria, and other points north and south. Most states in this zone are not sufficiently stable to dismiss concerns that terrorism could lead to greater instability and worse.

Read the Original Article at Soufan Group

ISIS Corner: The Islamic State’s Tunisia Strategy

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Bottom Line Up Front:

• Armed militants are suspected to have crossed into Tunisia from Libya on March 7, carrying out attacks on Tunisian security forces in the border town of Ben Gardane

• The assault comes less than a week after five militants crossed the border from Libya and were killed in a shootout with Tunisian forces in the same town

• The increase in infiltrations from Libya follows a February 19 U.S. airstrike on an Islamic State training camp outside the Libyan city of Sabratha, near the Tunisian border

• From its positions in Libya, the Islamic State will likely continue to utilize its large contingent of Tunisian fighters to carry out attacks intended to undermine Tunisian stability.  

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Armed militants are suspected to have crossed into Tunisia from Libya on March 7, carrying out a series of coordinated attacks against Tunisian security forces in the eastern border town of Ben Gardane. The attacks targeted an army base, a national guard post, and a police station, leaving 53 dead—including 35 militants, 11 members of the security forces, and seven civilians. The assault comes less than a week after a March 2 raid by Tunisian security forces that resulted in the death of five militants in a house near Ben Gardane. As the security situation in neighboring Libya has deteriorated, Tunisia has become increasingly concerned about militants—particularly those from the so-called Islamic State—infiltrating the country to carry out attacks. While it is unclear if the militants in Ben Gardane did indeed belong to the Islamic State, Tunisia is the logical next stepping stone for the group’s expansion in North Africa

The March 7 assault represents a turning point for Tunisia in its battle against the Islamic State. Elevated concerns over border incursions had already compelled the Tunisian government to construct a 125-mile wall along the border with Libya. However, based on the scale and coordination of the assault on security forces, the wall is hardly serving as a deterrent. The five militants killed on March 2 were targeted in a raid on a safe house; the March 7 attacks launched an open assault on the security forces within Tunisian territory—a clear escalation in terms of operational capability. The audacity of this attack was not lost on Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, who called the attack ‘unprecedented,’ adding the motive was ‘probably to take control over the region, and to announce a new wilayah.’ 

Tunisians represent the single largest contingent of foreigners fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and new Tunisian recruits are now being directed to join the group in Libya. Ben Gardane in particular has long been known as a hotbed of recruitment for the Islamic State and other jihadist groups, making the recent uptick in suspected Islamic State activity in the town particularly alarming for Tunisian officials. According to Tunisian intelligence services, the Tunisian militants who carried out the attacks on the Bardo museum in Tunis and the Riu Imperial Marhaba resort in Sousse were trained in an Islamic State camp near the western Libyan city of Sabratha. That camp was the target of a U.S. airstrike on February 19, after intelligence officials became concerned that Islamic State militants were preparing for another attack—though the exact nature of the threat remains unclear. The airstrike specifically targeted Noureddine Chouchane, a senior Tunisian member of the Islamic State in Libya who had been recruiting and training Tunisians to carry out attacks in their homeland. 

The Islamic State’s exact strategy in Tunisia remains unclear. It could very well be that the March 7 assault was meant to test Tunisian defenses, and to prepare for a large-scale attempt to take Ben Gardane. Long a haven for militant jihadism, the town’s capture would hold symbolic importance for the Islamic State. The former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq—the precursor to the Islamic State—Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is reported to have stated: ‘If Ben Gardane had been located next to Fallujah, we would have liberated Iraq.’ The town also lies on key smuggling routes, and has long been used as a smuggling hub. If the Islamic State plans to expand its territory into Tunisia, Ben Gardane would be an ideal beachhead for the group. 

However, it is more likely that the Islamic State will continue to use its positions in Libya to chip away at stability in Tunisia. The March 7 assault proved that the group is not yet strong enough to take and hold territory within the country, as Tunisian security forces are well-trained, well-armed, and backed by Western allies; on March 1, prior to the incidents in Ben Gardane, the UK announced the deployment of special operations forces to Tunisia to assist with border security. The attacks on the Bardo museum and the Riu Imperial resort, as well as the November 2015 bombing of a bus carrying members of the Presidential Guard in Tunis, clearly demonstrated the Islamic State’s capacity to carry out devastating attacks on Tunisian soil. As long as the group can maintain its operational base in Libya, the risks of repeated direct conflict with Tunisian security forces are unnecessary. Instead, the Islamic State will continue to establish cells in Tunisia, in the hopes that repeated terror incidents will destabilize the Tunisian government. If the government does falter, the Islamic State will be prepared to strike.

Read the Original Article at The Soufan Group

ISIS Corner: ISIS’ Expansion Strategy in Libya

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Bottom Line Up Front: 

• On March 1, the UK announced that it will send a contingent of soldiers to help Tunisia secure its border with Libya

• The announcement comes a week after reports that French special forces are operating against the Islamic State in Libya

• International concern is growing about the spread of the Islamic State in Libya, and the group’s potential to expand beyond Libya’s porous borders

• In Libya, the Islamic State is geographically contained by an ocean to the north and a desert to the south; nevertheless, it has so far resisted containment and faces few obstacles to its continued spread

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Even as the so-called Islamic State faces increasing pressure in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State in Libya continues to expand. The vast territory of Libya, its large stores of weapons, and the absence of coherent government have enabled the Islamic State to move relatively freely around the country. This mobility has allowed the group to maintain a presence in both the east and the west of the country, and increasingly in the south. On March 1, in response to increased Islamic State activity, the UK government announced that it would be sending a small contingent of British troops to help Tunisia to secure its border with Libya. The Tunisian government has grown increasingly concerned over the threat posed by the Islamic State in Libya, and recently constructed a 125-mile border wall—complete with a moat—along the border with its war-torn neighbor. Despite the security wall, a small group of armed militants from Libya was able to cross into Tunisia on March 2, before being killed by Tunisian forces outside the city of Ben Gardane.

Other international actors have also stepped up their attempts to contain the spread of the group in Libya. French newspaper Le Monde reported last week that French Special Forces are operating against the Islamic State in Libya, and have reportedly launched ‘targeted strikes’ against senior members of the group. It is becoming increasingly apparent to international security officials that the Islamic State franchise in Libya is not merely an affiliate group—it was consciously constructed by senior Islamic State leadership in Raqqa. The Islamic State initially appeared in Libya when members of the Battar Brigade—an all-Libyan unit of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria—returned to Libya and declared a wilayah in the eastern city of Derna in the spring of 2014. Islamic State leadership has subsequently dispatched senior members—including Abu Nabil al-Anbari, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in November 2015—to head the Libyan franchise. 

Like its parent organization in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State in Libya is expansionist and opportunistic. The central coastal city of Sirte—seized primarily through the coopting of members of the Qadhafa tribe of former President Qadhafi—has served as the group’s Libyan capital since May of 2015. To ensure its economic sustainability, the Islamic State has attempted to capture energy infrastructure in the east, launching assaults on the oil and gas port at Ras Lanuf. The group has also spread south and west into the remote desert regions to secure access to lucrative smuggling routes running through the vast Sahara desert. In order to grow its ranks, the Islamic State has drawn fighters away from other extremist groups such as Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, and has even begun to encourage foreign recruits to travel to Libya, rather than to Iraq and Syria. 

This is particularly concerning for Tunisia, which has seen at least 6,000 of its citizens travel to fight in Iraq and Syria, and experienced two terror attacks carried out by Tunisians trained in Islamic State camps in Libya—spurring the construction of the border wall and the deployment of the British soldiers. Even if Tunisia—which has a roughly 285-mile border with Libya—is able to stem the flow of weapons and fighters to and from Libya, this task is far more difficult for Algeria and Egypt, whose borders with Libya run for approximately 615 and 692 miles, respectively. It is an even more demanding task for Libya’s southern neighbors Chad and Niger—two of the poorest countries in the world—both of which already struggle with Islamist militancy within their borders. 

Given recent indications, the international anti-Islamic State coalition will likely increase its role in combating the group in Libya. However, as in Iraq and Syria, periodic airstrikes will not succeed is dislodging the Islamic State from its strongholds, particularly in Sirte. Without effective and reliable partners on the ground, the Islamic State will simply weather the storm as it has in Iraq and Syria. While airstrikes against the Islamic State will be easier if the group is driven away from the populated areas along the coast, such a dispersal runs the risk of pushing the group into the desert regions of Algeria, Chad, Niger, Egypt, and Mali—bringing with it fighters, weapons, and poisonous ideology. As the rapid global spread of the Islamic State has shown, until the ideological appeal of the group can be effectively combated, limited military solutions can only accomplish so much. 

.For tailored research and analysis, please contact: info@soufangroup.com

Read the Original Article at The Soufan Group

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