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Contents contributed and discussions participated by Ed Webb

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"It Started With Conversations - And Then They Started Hitting Each Other" - 0 views

  • Inside the prisons of Egypt and other Arab and Muslim countries, a ferocious competition has erupted between radical militants and more established political Islamists over fresh recruits. ISIS is often muscling out more peaceful groups for influence and loyalists among the mostly young men tossed into cramped cells for months or years.
  • Some inmates are subjected to torture and deprivation, despite having committed no or minimal crimes, fueling anger that researchers have long feared breeds extremism in Arab jails.
  • The political dynamics inside Arab detention centers have ramifications far beyond the prison walls. Jails in the Middle East have long forged radical extremists, including the Egyptian intellectual godfather of Islamic extremism, Sayyid Qutb, and the founder of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian ex-convict whose al-Qaeda in Iraq later morphed into ISIS. Alleged ISIS supporters find prisons to be fertile soil, especially in brutal Arab regimes like Egypt. There are numerous signs ISIS has begun using prisons that are intended to confine them and limit their activities to expand their influence and even plan operations. Egyptian authorities and activists believe former prisoners recruited by ISIS in jail were behind suicide bombings of churches in Cairo in December and on Palm Sunday this year in Alexandria and Tanta.
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  • “Many of the prisoners were already very angry after the coup and eager to fight,” said Yasser Khalil, an Egyptian journalist who has extensively covered prisons. “Telling them them they will go to heaven and get virgins just makes it that much more attractive. They say, ‘Yes, you have a Christian neighbor and he is lovely. But the Coptic Church supports the state, and thus they should be killed.’”
  • Reports have emerged of ISIS recruiters being locked up in prisons all the way from Algeria to Russia’s Caucasus region, Tajikistan, and Indonesia.
  • many warn that ISIS’s nihilism is overpowering the Brotherhood’s appeals. “This is the year of disappointment and disillusion when there’s no hope for the Islamist factions to get out of prison any time soon,”
  • Refusing legal counsel is one trait that distinguishes ISIS prisoners from other inmates, including alleged al-Qaeda supporters. “He used to love life. He used to be keen on getting out of jail. But not anymore.”
  • “ISIS says, ‘We tried democracy and we ended up in jail,’” Abdullah recalled. “‘It was the army that introduced the gun. Why is Sisi in power? He has guns.’”
  • “Imagine you are in prison — the great challenge is killing time,” said Ghadi, whose father and brother have been jailed. “Before you could read books. When they closed that door the only way to kill time is sharing your thoughts and experiences. The Islamist groups and factions are the great majority of prisoners. Imagine there’s a constant flow of radical ideas into your mind. They talk and listen and talk and listen. You start to give in. You get weak. You lose all rational argument. You are finally ready to absorb radical thoughts and arguments.”
  • Ahmed Abdullah, the liberal activist, had had enough. He approached some wealthy businessmen inside the prison and arranged for them to bribe guards to allow in some books. He launched a reading group using Arabic translations of world literature and philosophy. They read Franz Kafka to understand the nightmarish nature of Egypt’s bureaucracy, George Orwell as an illustration of brutal authoritarianism, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as an introduction to democratic governance and the social contract. To his delight the other prisoners were receptive; even some of the Islamists would attend the talks.

    Suddenly, security forces stormed in and seized the books, loudly accusing Abdullah, who is a professor of engineering at a university in Cairo, of poisoning the minds of the inmates. He was transferred to a dank solitary confinement cell, without a towel or blanket. After three days he was released from jail. He said authorities must have calculated he was more trouble inside prison than outside.

    “When we have a chance to compete we win,” said Abdullah, smoking flavored shisha at a cafe in central Cairo. “The inmates were really excited with what we had to say. But it turns out our government considers secular activists more dangerous than the Muslim Brotherhood, or ISIS.”

  • Many of Egypt’s estimated 40,000 prisoners are being held in makeshift jailhouses, interior ministry compounds and military camps that don’t have the capacity for separating inmates. One former prisoner described watching as another inmate was recruited by an ISIS supporter while sitting for hours in the van on the way from jail to court. One researcher described a brawl involving Brotherhood and ISIS prisoners during a similar transfer of inmates earlier this year.
  • “ISIS looks down on the Muslim Brotherhood, they consider them infidels, and they point this out to the younger Muslim Brotherhood members,”
  • ISIS targets recruits who have special skills. Gamal Ziada recalled intense competition between the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS over a prisoner who was a student at Cairo’s elite Zewail City of Science and Technology, considered Egypt’s MIT. “ISIS told him, ‘You’re not going to carry a weapon,’” Gamal Ziada said. “‘You’re not going to fight. You will use your brain.’”
  • “He tried to convince me that I was an apostate and that my parents were apostates too, and I have to convince my family to give up the pleasures of the world and return to Allah,” the smuggler said of his 2015 imprisonment. “He used to ask me to share lunch and dinner with him. He was ordering the best Turkish food in town. He was very rich. He told me that I could continue my work in smuggling for the Islamic State and make much more profit than I did with working with refugees.”
  • “His mission was to get closer to the poor and the simple people and convince them that if they joined the Islamic State they would have power, money, and women,” he said, “and heaven in the afterlife.”
  • Some experts fear ISIS has recruited potential sleeper agents in prison who might later become emboldened to act. Abdou, the researcher, said he interviewed one former inmate who joined ISIS in prison but dropped any Islamist pretenses the moment he walked out of jail, shaving his beard and going back to smoking shisha and lazing about with old friends.
  • ISIS recruitment and violence inside prisons jumped in 2015 when Egyptian authorities began clamping down on allowing books inside jails
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Peter Schwartzstein | Climate Change and Water Woes Drove ISIS Recruiting in Iraq - 0 views

  • With every flood or bout of extreme heat or cold, the jihadists would reappear, often supplementing their sales pitches with gifts. When a particularly vicious drought struck in 2010, the fifth in seven years, they doled out food baskets. When fierce winds eviscerated hundreds of eggplant fields near Kirkuk in the spring of 2012, they distributed cash. As farming communities limped from one debilitating crisis to another, the recruiters—all members of what soon became the Islamic State—began to see a return on their investment.
  • By the time the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) seized this swath of Iraq—along with most of the country’s west and north—in a brutal summer-long blitzkrieg in 2014, few locals were surprised to see dozens of former fertilizer market regulars among its ranks.

  • Across rural Iraq and Syria, farmers, officials, and village elders tell similar stories of desperate farmhands swapping backhoes for assault rifles. Already battered by decades of shoddy environmental policies, which had hobbled agriculture and impoverished its dependents, these men were in no state to navigate the extra challenges of climate change. And so when ISIS came along, propelled in large part by sectarian grievances and religious fanaticism, many of the most environmentally damaged Sunni Arab villages quickly emerged as some of the deep-pocketed jihadists’ foremost recruiting grounds.
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  • ISIS appears to have attracted much more support from water-deprived communities than from their better-resourced peers
  • Hussein torched some of southern Iraq’s most bountiful date plantations for fear that Iranian saboteurs might use them as cover to attack oil facilities around Basra. Where once 12 million palm trees stood, there’s now just miles of dusty scrubland laced with oil spills
  • Years of below average rains in the Kurdish region and Nineveh governorate, the only parts of Iraq where rain-fed agriculture was historically possible, had increased the country’s dependence on the Euphrates and Tigris, the Fertile Crescent’s two great rivers. At the same time, upstream Turkey and Iran were relentlessly damming them and their tributaries. Turkey has built over 600 large dams, including dozens of major ones near the Iraqi and Syrian borders. The Tigris and Euphrates’ combined flow in southern Iraq has subsequently shrunk so much that the Persian Gulf now barrels up to 45 miles upriver at high tide (the rivers used to project freshwater up to 3 miles out to sea).
  • the jihadists expertly exploited the desperation in Iraq’s agricultural heartland by rationalizing its inhabitants’ woes. They spread rumors that the Shia-dominated government was delaying crop payments and cutting off water to Sunni farmers. In fact, the lack of rain wasn’t due to climate change, but really a man-made ploy designed to drive Sunni landowners from their rich fertile fields, their emissaries suggested. Broke and unable to deal with their fast changing environment, many farmers ate it up.
  • By 2011, much of the Iraqi countryside was in desperate financial straits. Some 39 percent of people in rural areas were living in poverty, according to the World Bank. That’s two and a half times the country’s urban rate. Almost half lacked safe drinking water. The problems were so devastating in 2012-13 that tens of thousands of villagers ditched their fields altogether, preferring to try their luck in the slum districts of nearby cities instead.
  • water was becoming a resource that in some parts of Iraq only wealthier landowners could afford
  • When severe water shortages killed off countless livestock in 2011-12, jihadists descended on the animal markets to size up the frantic farmers, many of whom were trying to sell off their remaining cows and sheep before they too succumbed to drought.

    “They just watched us. We were like food on the table to them,”

  • After several years of energetic groundwater extraction near the oil refining town of Baiji, Samir Saed’s two wells ran dry in early 2014, forcing him to lay off the two young men he employed as farm laborers. Jobless and angry, he suspects they soon joined ISIS
  • Some 39 percent of those polled in Salahaddin cited drought as a reason for their displacement. Studies from neighboring Syria, large parts of which enjoy similar conditions to northern and western Iraq, suggest that anthropogenic climate change has tripled the probability of long, debilitating droughts.
  • The jihadists adopted scorched earth tactics as they were beaten back, laying waste to hundreds of thousands of acres of prime farmland. And so for returning farmers, climate change and shoddy governance are now among the least of their worries. ISIS fighters ripped up buried irrigation pipes to mold makeshift mortars. They poisoned wells, blew up water canals, and carted off everything that was of any value, notably generators, tractors, and water pump parts.
  • More or less broke after the oil price crash, the Iraqi state can’t afford to pay farmers for crops they’ve delivered to state silos, let alone cover the multi-billion dollar agricultural clean up bill
  • Turkey has almost finished building the Ilisu Dam, which threatens to further cut the Tigris’ flow when it comes online, probably next year. Hotter temperatures are evaporating more and more surface water—up to six feet worth in Iraq’s lakes every year, according to Nature Iraq, a local NGO. As Baghdad’s relations with the upstream Kurdish region deteriorate, farmers might once more bear the brunt of the dispute. Kurdish authorities have cut off water to mostly Arab areas on several occasions in the past
  • If Iraq can’t get a grip on its crumbling environment, the next war might not be far off.
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The Reverse Midas Touch of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Is Turning the Middle East to Dust - 0 views

  • Can you get more “impulsive” than rounding up 11 fellow princes, including one of the world’s richest men and the commander of the national guard, and holding them at the Ritz Carlton on charges of corruption? Especially since MBS, who ordered the arrests only a few hours after his father set up an anti-corruption committee and put him in charge of it, isn’t exactly a paragon of probity and transparency himself
  • That the crown prince of Saudi Arabia can, essentially, kidnap the elected leaders of not one but two Middle Eastern countries — and, incidentally, put the leading Saudi royal he replaced as crown prince under palace arrest — speaks volumes about not just his “impulsive intervention policy” but the shameless pass he gets from Western governments for such rogue behavior. Imagine the reaction from the international community if Iran had, say, detained the Iraqi prime minister on Iranian soil after forcing him to resign on Iranian television. Yet President Donald Trump has gone out of his way to tweet his support for the crown prince and his father: “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing.”
  • The crown prince and his cronies had assumed that tiny, defenseless Qatar would be brought to heel within a matter of weeks, if not days. Five months on, however, the Qataris, continue to reject the long list of Saudi/UAE demands — including the closure of the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera media network — and have retreated into the warm embrace of the MBS’s key regional rivals, Iran and Turkey
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  • Yemen has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis — which MBS, as defense minister, shamefully intensified with his order last week to blockade all entry points into the country
  • the much-lauded MBS has in fact proved to be the reverse Midas — everything he touches turns to dust. Maybe the authors of that scathing BND memo underestimated just how much of a disaster this favored son of Salman would be both for the kingdom and for the wider region. The inconvenient truth about the crown prince is that he isn’t only impulsive, he’s incompetent; he isn’t only ambitious, he’s reckless. He is also a nationalist and a hawk who is bent on turning the long-standing Saudi/Iran cold war into a very hot war — and is even willing to ally with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel in order to do so. If MBS is the new “leader of the Arab world”… then Allah help the Arab world.
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Raqqa's dirty secret - BBC News - 0 views

  • three days of hard driving, carrying a deadly cargo - hundreds of IS fighters, their families and tonnes of weapons and ammunition
  • The deal to let IS fighters escape from Raqqa – de facto capital of their self-declared caliphate – had been arranged by local officials. It came after four months of fighting that left the city obliterated and almost devoid of people. It would spare lives and bring fighting to an end. The lives of the Arab, Kurdish and other fighters opposing IS would be spared.

    But it also enabled many hundreds of IS fighters to escape from the city. At the time, neither the US and British-led coalition, nor the SDF, which it backs, wanted to admit their part.

  • the BBC has spoken to dozens of people who were either on the convoy, or observed it, and to the men who negotiated the deal
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  • He and the rest of the drivers are angry. It’s weeks since they risked their lives for a journey that ruined engines and broke axles but still they haven’t been paid. It was a journey to hell and back, he says.
  • As soon as we entered, we saw IS fighters with their weapons and suicide belts on. They booby-trapped our trucks. If something were to go wrong in the deal, they would bomb the entire convoy. Even their children and women had suicide belts on
  • We took out around 4,000 people including women and children - our vehicle and their vehicles combined. When we entered Raqqa, we thought there were 200 people to collect. In my vehicle alone, I took 112 people.
  • the convoy was six to seven kilometres long. It included almost 50 trucks, 13 buses and more than 100 of the Islamic State group’s own vehicles
  • Ten trucks were loaded with weapons and ammunition
  • It was also understood that no foreigners would be allowed to leave Raqqa alive.

    Back in May, US Defence Secretary James Mattis described the fight against IS as a war of “annihilation”.“Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to north Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa. We are not going to allow them to do so,” he said on US television.

    But foreign fighters – those not from Syria and Iraq - were also able to join the convoy, according to the drivers

  • In light of the BBC investigation, the coalition now admits the part it played in the deal. Some 250 IS fighters were allowed to leave Raqqa, with 3,500 of their family members.

    “We didn’t want anyone to leave,” says Col Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the Western coalition against IS.

    “But this goes to the heart of our strategy, ‘by, with and through’ local leaders on the ground. It comes down to Syrians – they are the ones fighting and dying, they get to make the decisions regarding operations,”

  • According to Abu Fawzi, there were three or four foreigners with each driver. They would beat him and call him names, such as “infidel”, or “pig”.

    They might have been helping the fighters escape, but the Arab drivers were abused the entire route, they say. And threatened.

    “They said, 'Let us know when you rebuild Raqqa - we will come back,’” says Abu Fawzi. “They were defiant and didn’t care. They accused us of kicking them out of Raqqa.”

    A female foreign fighter threatened him with her AK-47.

  • “A one-eyed Tunisian fighter told me to fear God,” he says. “In a very calm voice, he asked why I had shaved. He said they would come back and enforce Sharia once again. I told him we have no problem with Sharia laws. We're all Muslims.”
  • Despite the abuse they suffered, the lorry drivers agreed - when it came to money, IS settled its bills.
  • IS may have been homicidal psychopaths, but they're always correct with the money
  • Along the route, many people we spoke to said they heard coalition aircraft, sometimes drones, following the convoy.
  • When the last of the convoy were about to cross, a US jet flew very low and deployed flares to light up the area. IS fighters shat their pants
  • Past the last SDF checkpoint, inside IS territory - a village between Markada and Al-Souwar - Abu Fawzi reached his destination. His lorry was full of ammunition and IS fighters wanted it hidden.

    When he finally made it back to safety, he was asked by the SDF where he’d dumped the goods.

    “We showed them the location on the map and he marked it so uncle Trump can bomb it later,” he says.

  • “Those highly placed foreigners have their own networks of smugglers. It’s usually the same people who organised their access to Syria. They co-ordinate with one another.”
  • battle-hardened militants have spread across Syria and further afield – and many of them aren’t done fighting yet
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What Saudi Arabia's purge means for the Middle East - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • Though seemingly unprecedented, the weekend’s developments follow the pattern Mohammed bin Salman has used since the beginning of his rapid ascent to power in 2015. In both domestic and foreign affairs, he has consistently undertaken sudden and wide-ranging campaigns for unclear reasons which shatter prevailing norms. At home, this audacious political strategy has proven relatively successful — at least in the short term. Abroad, foreign policy gambits such as the intervention in Yemen and the blockade of Qatar have rapidly degenerated into damaging quagmires. This combination of domestic success and foreign policy failure helps makes sense of this weekend’s blizzard of activity and may help preview what comes next.
  • Where Saudi state institutions are strong enough to mitigate the effects of provocative policies, international politics are less forgiving and have fewer safety nets. Virtually every major foreign policy initiative Mohammed bin Salman has championed has proved disastrous, often producing precisely the negative results that the move had been designed to prevent
  • The intervention in Yemen has been an unmitigated disaster
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  • The Qatar campaign has been similarly disastrous, effectively destroying the Gulf Cooperation Council in a quixotic effort to impose Saudi-UAE leadership. Despite the promise of rapid Qatari capitulation, the conflict quickly settled into an entrenched stalemate that has paralyzed the GCC and escalated the toxic polarization of regional politics. This quagmire exposed Saudi Arabia’s weakness and its inability to play the role of regional hegemon to which it aspired
  • Many regional observers therefore fear that Hariri’s resignation, announced in Riyadh with a sharply anti-Iranian speech, could trigger a political crisis intended to end with a military campaign against Hezbollah. Such a move would fit the pattern of bold foreign policy initiatives launched in the expectation of a rapid, politically popular victory. It would also very likely follow the pattern of such initiatives rapidly collapsing into a bloody, destabilizing quagmire.
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Syria's Arab and Kurdish women join forces to fight for future - Al-Monitor: the Pulse ... - 0 views

  • As the fight expands beyond Kurdish-dominated areas into Arab-heavy territory, a growing number of Arabs are either directly joining the Syrian Kurdish forces or Arab groups allied with them. They are collectively known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. An SDF official told Al-Monitor that as of Oct. 22, at least 500 Arab women had enlisted with the YPJ. Women fighters were the first to declare victory on Oct. 19 in Raqqa’s main square. “Many were Arabs,” the official said.
  • “So long as women are doing their jobs in the public sphere and there is full transparency, I don’t think even becoming fighters is that controversial in our society. Eastern Syria is not too religious.”
  • Ocalan’s rambling treatises on gender equality known as “jineoloji” — a play on words based on “jin,” which means “woman” in Kurdish — resonate with women of different ethnicities and creeds. This self-professed “science of women” is drilled into men and women across Rojava, or “Western Kurdistan,” as the Kurdish-dominated swath of territory controlled by the YPG is known. 
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  • “The anomaly of female leadership appears to be more acceptable among the Kurds than in most other Middle Eastern societies.”
  • Like many of her fellow Arab fighters she has picked up Kurmanji, the most common Kurdish dialect spoken in Rojava. “We are applying reverse assimilation here,” jokes her commander, a Syrian Kurd. She is referring to the central government’s decades-long drive to forcibly assimilate the Kurds by transplanting tens of thousands of Arabs into their midst, among other schemes.
  • “If women start using their positions to humiliate men, that could be a real problem in Arab society, far greater than any ethnic frictions that are likely to arise,” Hassan warned. “Our men are very sensitive, after all.”
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America's Forever Wars - The New York Times - 0 views

  • it’s time to take stock of how broadly American forces are already committed to far-flung regions and to begin thinking hard about how much of that investment is necessary, how long it should continue and whether there is a strategy beyond just killing terrorists. Which Congress, lamentably, has not done. If the public is quiet, that is partly because so few families bear so much of this military burden, and partly because America is not involved in anything comparable to the Vietnam War, when huge American casualties produced sustained public protest. It is also because Congress has spent little time considering such issues in a comprehensive way or debating why all these deployments are needed
  • President Trump, like his predecessor, insists that legislation passed in 2001 to authorize the war against Al Qaeda is sufficient. It isn’t. After the Niger tragedy, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker of Tennessee, has agreed to at least hold a hearing on the authorization issue.
  • “a collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America.”
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  • 6,785 Afghan security force members died in 2016 and 2,531 died in the first five months this year, according to the United States and Afghan governments. Tens of thousands of civilians also perished at the hands of various combatants, including in 2017, but the figures get little publicity. Most Americans tend not to think about them.
  • Senators who balk at paying for health care and the basic diplomatic missions of the State Department approved a $700 billion defense budget for 2017-18, far more than Mr. Trump even requested.

    Whether this largess will continue is unclear. But the larger question involves the American public and how many new military adventures, if any, it is prepared to tolerate.

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Somalia bombing may have been revenge for botched US-led operation | World news | The G... - 0 views

  • The man who killed more than 300 people with a truck bomb in the centre of Mogadishu on Saturday was a former soldier in Somalia’s army whose home town was raided by local troops and US special forces two months ago in a controversial operation in which 10 civilians were killed, officials in Somalia have said.

  • Following the raid, in which three children aged between six and 10 died, local tribal elders called for revenge against the Somali government and its allies.
  • The bigger truck bomb was detonated at a busy crossroads at least a kilometre from the Medina Gate when it reached a checkpoint where security guards became suspicious. The explosion ignited a fuel truck nearby which caused a massive fireball. It has been impossible to identify the type of truck from the wreckage.
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  • The US involvement in Somalia intensified in the later years of the Obama administration but has increased significantly since Donald Trump became president, with greater latitude given to local commanders to order airstrikes or take part in raids.

    Critics have argued this risks greater civilian casualties, which, in the tight-knit world of Somalia’s complex clan system, can prompt feuds and revenge attacks.

    The raid in August targeted the small town of Bariire, 30 miles (50km) west of Mogadishu, which is a stronghold of al-Shabaab.

    Investigators have established that both vehicles used in Saturday’s attack appear to have set out from Bariire, and the owner of the truck used for the bigger bomb was from the town or the surrounding region, officials say. He has been detained.

  • Bariire is known as an al-Shabaab stronghold which has been a lanchpad for several major attacks on Mogadishu.

    The group has been pushed out of major cities but retains control of swaths of countryside in the south and centre of Somalia.

  • In May a US Navy Seal was killed and two troops wounded in a raid on an al-Shabaab militant compound in Bariire, in what was the first US combat death in the African country since the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” disaster.

  • “If you go out more aggressively in this kind of environment you risk scoring some serious own goals. The extremists really cranked everything they could out of the botched raid in August. They put out images of the bodies of the kids, published the testimony of supposed witnesses,” said one western counter-terrorist expert with long experience of working with Somali authorities.
  • A recent United Nations study found that in “a majority of cases, state action appears to be the primary factor finally pushing individuals into violent extremism in Africa”.
  • Of more than 500 former members of militant organisations interviewed for the report, 71% pointed to “government action”, including “killing of a family member or friend” or “arrest of a family member or friend” as the incident that prompted them to join a group.
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Saudi king's visit to Russia heralds shift in global power structures | World news | Th... - 1 views

  • Saudi Arabia’s King Salman opened his historic four-day visit to Moscow by signalling a new era of cooperation with Russia, but demanding that Iran, an ally of the Kremlin, end its “interference” in Middle East politics.
  • The Saudis have traditionally seen the US as its chief – if not exclusive – foreign policy partner, but changes inside the Saudi regime, as well as Saudi fears about US reliability, have left the kingdom looking to diversify into wider set of alliances.
  • The visit to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on Thursday is the first by a ruling Saudi monarch to Moscow and is widely seen as a potential turning point in Middle East politics, and even the conduct of world oil markets.

    More than 15 cooperation agreements worth billions of pounds were signed, ranging from oil, military and space exploration, leading the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, to claim the visit marked the moment when Saudi-Russian relations “reached a new qualitative level”. In one of the most remarkable deals, the Saudis said they would purchase the Russian S-400 defence system.

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  • Russia has pulled out all the diplomatic stops to welcome the Saudi king, although there was glitch when the golden escalator due to take the ageing king down the steps at Moscow airport failed to function.
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The myth of the 'lone wolf' terrorist | News | The Guardian - 0 views

  • The modern concept of lone-wolf terrorism was developed by rightwing extremists in the US. In 1983, at a time when far-right organisations were coming under immense pressure from the FBI, a white nationalist named Louis Beam published a manifesto that called for “leaderless resistance” to the US government. Beam, who was a member of both the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nations group, was not the first extremist to elaborate the strategy, but he is one of the best known. He told his followers that only a movement based on “very small or even one-man cells of resistance … could combat the most powerful government on earth”.
  • the New York Times published a long article on the new threat headlined “New Face of Terror Crimes: ‘Lone Wolf’ Weaned on Hate”. This seems to have been the moment when the idea of terrorist “lone wolves” began to migrate from rightwing extremist circles, and the law enforcement officials monitoring them, to the mainstream. In court on charges of hate crimes in 2000, Curtis was described by prosecutors as an advocate of lone-wolf terrorism.
  • Although 9/11 was far from a typical terrorist attack, it quickly came to dominate thinking about the threat from Islamic militants. Security services built up organograms of terrorist groups. Analysts focused on individual terrorists only insofar as they were connected to bigger entities. Personal relations – particularly friendships based on shared ambitions and battlefield experiences, as well as tribal or familial links – were mistaken for institutional ones, formally connecting individuals to organisations and placing them under a chain of command.
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  • For prosecutors, who were working with outdated legislation, proving membership of a terrorist group was often the only way to secure convictions of individuals planning violence. For a number of governments around the world – Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Egypt – linking attacks on their soil to “al-Qaida” became a way to shift attention away from their own brutality, corruption and incompetence, and to gain diplomatic or material benefits from Washington. For some officials in Washington, linking terrorist attacks to “state-sponsored” groups became a convenient way to justify policies, such as the continuing isolation of Iran, or military interventions such as the invasion of Iraq. For many analysts and policymakers, who were heavily influenced by the conventional wisdom on terrorism inherited from the cold war, thinking in terms of hierarchical groups and state sponsors was comfortably familiar.
  • the threat from Islamic militancy was evolving into something different, something closer to the “leaderless resistance” promoted by white supremacists two decades earlier
  • Having identified this new threat, security officials, journalists and policymakers needed a new vocabulary to describe it. The rise of the term lone wolf wasn’t wholly unprecedented. In the aftermath of 9/11, the US had passed anti-terror legislation that included a so-called “lone wolf provision”. This made it possible to pursue terrorists who were members of groups based abroad but who were acting alone in the US. Yet this provision conformed to the prevailing idea that all terrorists belonged to bigger groups and acted on orders from their superiors. The stereotype of the lone wolf terrorist that dominates today’s media landscape was not yet fully formed.
  • Before the rise of the lone wolf, security officials used phrases – all equally flawed – such as “homegrowns”, “cleanskins”, “freelancers” or simply “unaffiliated”.
  • Lone wolves are now apparently everywhere, stalking our streets, schools and airports. Yet, as with the tendency to attribute all terrorist attacks to al-Qaida a decade earlier, this is a dangerous simplification.
  • many of the attacks that have been confidently identified as lone-wolf operations have turned out to be nothing of the sort. Very often, terrorists who are initially labelled lone wolves, have active links to established groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaida
  • we may be more likely to find lone wolves among far-right extremists than among their jihadi counterparts
  • Very often, what appear to be the clearest lone-wolf cases are revealed to be more complex. Even the strange case of the man who killed 86 people with a truck in Nice in July 2016 – with his background of alcohol abuse, casual sex and lack of apparent interest in religion or radical ideologies – may not be a true lone wolf. Eight of his friends and associates have been arrested and police are investigating his potential links to a broader network.
  • murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox, days before the EU referendum, by a 52-year-old called Thomas Mair, was the culmination of a steady intensification of rightwing extremist violence in the UK that had been largely ignored by the media and policymakers. According to police, on several occasions attackers came close to causing more casualties in a single operation than jihadis had ever inflicted. The closest call came in 2013 when Pavlo Lapshyn, a Ukrainian PhD student in the UK, planted a bomb outside a mosque in Tipton, West Midlands. Fortunately, Lapshyn had got his timings wrong and the congregation had yet to gather when the device exploded. Embedded in the trunks of trees surrounding the building, police found some of the 100 nails Lapshyn had added to the bomb to make it more lethal.
  • Thomas Mair, who was also widely described as a lone wolf, does appear to have been an authentic loner, yet his involvement in rightwing extremism goes back decades. In May 1999, the National Alliance, a white-supremacist organisation in West Virginia, sent Mair manuals that explained how to construct bombs and assemble homemade pistols. Seventeen years later, when police raided his home after the murder, they found stacks of far-right literature, Nazi memorabilia and cuttings on Anders Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who murdered 77 people in 2011.
  • Even Breivik himself, who has been called “the deadliest lone-wolf attacker in [Europe’s] history”, was not a true lone wolf. Prior to his arrest, Breivik had long been in contact with far-right organisations. A member of the English Defence League told the Telegraph that Breivik had been in regular contact with its members via Facebook, and had a “hypnotic” effect on them.
  • very few violent extremists act without letting others know what they may be planning
  • Any terrorist, however socially or physically isolated, is still part of a broader movement
  • the idea that terrorists operate alone allows us to break the link between an act of violence and its ideological hinterland. It implies that the responsibility for an individual’s violent extremism lies solely with the individual themselves
  • Terrorism is not something you do by yourself, it is highly social. People become interested in ideas, ideologies and activities, even appalling ones, because other people are interested in them
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The city fit for no-one - BBC News - 0 views

  • Tales of an “indiscriminate” bombing campaign, flattened buildings and hundreds of alleged civilian deaths rattled the local population.

    In June, Raqqa’s siege was completed and the US campaign was in full swing. Civilians were trapped inside with IS fighters.

    “America is a superpower. It was supposed to use laser-guided bombs and precision munitions. What did we get instead? Massive bombs, mortar rounds and countless artillery strikes. Is that how you liberate Raqqa? You’re murdering civilians instead,” Hatem says, his voice now quivering with a mix of anger and despair.

    Airwars, a group monitoring civilian deaths in Russian and US-led coalition air strikes Iraq and Syria, says that US-led forces dropped 5,775 bombs, shells and missiles in Raqqa in August alone, resulting in at least 433 likely civilian casualties.

  • the Islamic State group was quick to use civilian deaths to its own advantage and pumped one propaganda video after the other showing burnt corpses and maimed civilians.
  • “We know that for IS, the blood of civilians is very cheap. But is it the same for Americans? There was no-one operating the mortar that day. There were no IS fighters nearby even. It was there for nearly a month and their drones were flying night and day. Why bomb us? Why?”
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  • “There were 20, 30 civilians being killed every day. People were getting buried under the rubble of their own homes,” he says.

    Islamic State fighters, he says, we getting aggressive with the locals. At one point, they stopped sending bulldozers and trucks to move the rubble and rescue civilians.

    “They’d ask, ‘You want me to sacrifice the life of a brother for a corpse?’ How can you argue with animals like that?”

  • The SDF has its own sniper unit. Four foreigners, from Germany, Spain, the US and the UK.
  • IS fighters have mined the buildings and the roads, so few have been cleared.

    They’ve left motion sensors in some buildings so that when SDF forces enter, or open a cupboard door, a bomb detonates.

    Every home and workplace has been damaged. Even a captured IS weapons store has been left untouched for fear of booby traps.

  • Civilians in Raqqa, there may be as many as 20,000 in IS territory, are used as bait as well as human shields.
  • Time and time again, entire buildings are taken to kill a single fighter.

    It’s unsurprising so little of Raqqa is left. The SDF lacks the manpower to clear buildings themselves, so coalition bombs do the work.

  • IS had promised to grow a new empire from these streets. Instead, the bodies of its fighters clog the gutters.

    Every few hundred metres, there is another one. Some cut in half, some still with their weapons.

    Two men were hiding in a building doorway, but they were spotted.

    They lie dead where they stood, one, his legs sliced from his body.

    The fins of the missile that killed them stick out of the concrete pavement. There are scorch marks on at the building's entrance.

    An Arab fighter, with a skull and crossbones patch on his uniform, steps over the bodies, he has to check the building for booby traps.

  • They think it is mostly foreign fighters left inside Raqqa now. When I ask how many, most seem to agree: 400, no more.
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Preserving Stability Amidst Regional Conflagration: US-Jordan 2011-2016 | United States... - 1 views

  • protests in Jordan—of which there were more than eight thousand in 2011 to 2013—prompted Jordan’s king to repeatedly replace the prime minister, promise progress on political reforms, and seek international assistance to mitigate Jordanians’ discontent with economic and fiscal policies
  • Authorities amplified border security, security force training, and intelligence to mitigate external and internal threats, and Jordan joined the fight against ISIS launched by the United States after ISIS captured territory in Iraq. Despite a handful of terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016 and copious external and internal challenges, Jordan has remained largely stable, due in part to US support.
  • To help Jordan respond to new challenges required increased US assistance: the number of personnel at US Embassy Amman grew by nearly 75 percent between 2010 and 2016. The United States provided substantial economic and military support to Jordan, and all 3Ds mobilized assistance to refugees and host communities in northern Jordan. The US Department of Defense (DOD) and State Department (State) helped Jordanian forces reinforce border security and manage refugee inflows, and bulked up military training and equipment transfers to Jordanian counterparts. The 3Ds also worked closely together and with the Jordanian government to move assistance across the Syrian border, sparing many Syrians from having to flee to Jordan to meet basic needs.
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Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart - The New York Times - 0 views

  •  
    An excellent account of the MENA region's torments since 9/11. Highly recommended
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They can't sail for Europe - so what's happening to migrants trapped in Libya? | Middle... - 0 views

  • the group were first taken to an official centre in Zawiya. “There were 1,200 of us, stacked in hundreds in each room,” she says. “We were so tight that we could not lie down, we had to take turns to sleep."
  • “Once we were inside the detention centre, they started to blackmail us. They used the phones they had taken away to contact our friends in Libya and ask for money in exchange for our release or else directly called our relatives, threatening to kill us if they did not find a way to send money."
  • Libya has become the preferred destination for migrants and refugees heading for Europe. In the first half of 2017, at least 2,030 people died or went missing while crossing the Mediterranean for southern Europe. The greatest number set off from Libya.
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  • armed Libyan groups are receiving payoffs to stop boats leaving Libya, in exchange for aid, aircraft hangars and money
  • Laura Thompson of the International Organisation for Migration told AFP on Wednesday that there “are somewhere around 31 or 32 detention centres, and around half are controlled by, or are in the areas controlled by, the government”. She said that nobody knew how many people were being kept in the facilities, where conditions were "extremely bad”.
  • illegal facilities, directly run by armed militias involved in human trafficking and fuel smuggling, often with the complicity of members of the coastguard service
  • Male captives are frequently beaten until they can somehow get relatives to send more money to Libya, or else set to work in factories or oil refineries. Women may end up being trafficked sexually.
  • a UNICEF report released in February, "detention centres run by militias are nothing but forced labour camps, armed robbery prisons. For thousands of migrant women and children, prison is a hell of rape, violence, sexual exploitation, hunger, and repeated abuses."
  • "Europeans think the problem in Libya is politics,” he says, “but we cannot build a government of national unity without a national army."
  • “When the centres are overflowing, migrants are taken out, there is no money to feed them all,” Ibrahim says. “Some guards are good people, but some of them are corrupt.”

    He hints at the tangled relationship which exists between centre personnel, smugglers, militia and human traffickers, which pass desperate migrants between themselves like a resaleable human commodity.

    The guards at detention centres may take money from the traffickers, then hand the migrants over.

    Or smugglers tip off the coastguard when their migrants are due to sail to Europe so that they will be captured and passed to militias.

    Or militias will seize migrants in the streets on the grounds that they do not carry the necessary documentation, a requirement in Libya. “They pretend to arrest illegal migrants and then keep them in their centres without food and water, take their money, exploit them, abuse women,” Ibrahim says.

  • The coastguard has repeatedly denied that its members are involved in the people-trafficking trade.

    But a UN report has found that:

    "Abuses against migrants were widely reported, including executions, torture and deprivation of food, water and access to sanitation. The International Organisation for Migration also reported enslavement of sub-Saharan migrants. Smugglers, as well as the Department to Counter Illegal Migration and the coastguard, are directly involved in such grave human rights violations."

  • Happiness and Bright's mother - I am never told her name - took all the money that their families could spare, then crossed the Sahara, reached the Libyan coast and paid smugglers to take them to Europe. It was then they were captured and brought to Surman.

    Happiness says that her friend became ill after Bright was born but received no medical aid. “Now her body is in the nearby hospital. It can’t be sent back to her family. She lost her documents at sea, and her family does not have the money to send the corpse.”

  • “They use us as slaves, and when we are no longer needed, they throw us away,” he says. "Humanitarian organisations do not come here. Sometimes some locals come to us with soap and bread. But no international."
  • She too crossed the Sahara, this time to escape Boko Haram. She was determined that her children would not grow up afraid, fearing every day that they would die.

    "I do not care if they [the coastguards] have stopped me, I will try again," she says, looking at her newborn children. "I know it's dangerous. Nigeria is also dangerous. If war does not kill you, hunger will kill you, and here we are prisoners, the same hell. It's worth trying to cross the sea again.”

    Princess has yet to learn: she will be lucky to escape Libya.

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Making a Killing - OCCRP - 0 views

  • Since the outbreak of war in Syria, weapons from Central and Eastern Europe have flooded the conflict zone through two distinct pipelines – one sponsored by Saudi Arabia and coordinated by the CIA, and the other funded and directed by the Pentagon.

    A series of investigations by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) have brought to light these multi-billion-dollar weapons deliveries -- exposing the misleading and potentially illegal documents on which they rely, the shady dealers at its heart of the trade, and the governments that have profited from the war.

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    Detailed reports on arms pipelines into Syria
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