Are we safe? Terrorism, and stories of atrocities around the world seems to dominate the 24-hour news cycles on a daily basis, with news of beheadings, suicide bombings and kidnappings becoming almost commonplace. And as the threats and warnings made against the United States appear real and immediate, you have to wonder how bad things will get.
Americans have been, until 9/11, spared the sufferings felt by innocents in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Africa. But now, knowing that disaffected Americans have joined ISIS and are likely to have hatdched terrorist plots, the fear is hitting home.
Interviews about fear of terrorism, with 1,014 adult Americans were conducted by telephone by ORC International on September 5-7, 2014. The margin of sampling error for results based on the total sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
For the full results, use the link provided above, but some of the results were quite illuminating. To wit: The survey question, “How worried are you that you, or someone in your family, will become a victim of terrorism?” had been asked since 2006. Look at how the “very worried” fear has grown since 2006:
Is that fear misplaced? We don’t think so. When someone says it’s ridiculous for grown men and women to be cowering in fear over ISIS, that’s not to say that there isn’t a danger of retaliatory terrorist attacks in America. In fact, the possibility of retaliatory strikes, especially here on American soil, is a virtual certainty. You cannot go out and bomb people and not expect that the survivors aren’t going to retaliate. And one of the ways people retaliate against powerful armies is by initiating terrorist strikes against their citizens.
There are many definitions of terrorism, but we’ll go along with a definition by Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist, and a government counterterrorism consultant. According to his definition, terrorism is defined by the nature of the incident, not by the identity of the perpetrators. The fundamentals of terrorism include:
- “Violence or the threat of violence;
- “Calculated to create fear and alarm;
- “Intended to coerce certain actions;
- “Motive must include a political objective;
- “Generally directed against civilian targets; and
- “It can be [carried out by] a group or an individual.”
Essentially, terrorism can be summarized as violent acts that are “calculated to create an atmosphere of fear and alarm to coerce others into actions they would not otherwise undertake, or refrain from actions they desired to take.”
Regular criminal acts are not counted as terrorism. So, while drug-trafficking conducted by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) is not counted as terrorism, FARC’s attacks against Colombian citizens are.
Although the subject of this mini course is the Face of Modern Terrorism, truth is, terrorism is nothing new to America.
Picture, if you will, a typical lunch hour rush on Wall Street, 1920. A non-descript man driving a cart pressed an old horse forward stopped the animal and its heavy load in front of the U.S. Assay Office, across from the J. P. Morgan building in the heart of Wall Street. The driver got down and quickly disappeared into the crowd.
Minutes later, the cart exploded into a hail of metal fragments—immediately killing more than 30 people and injuring some 300. The carnage was horrific, and the death toll kept rising as the day wore on and more victims succumbed.
Who was responsible? Terrorism wasn’t even a word then. In the beginning it wasn’t obvious that the explosion was an intentional act. Crews cleaned the damage up overnight, including physical evidence that today would be crucial to identifying the perpetrator. By the next morning Wall Street was back in business.
Conspiracy theories abounded, but the New York Police and Fire Departments, the Bureau of Investigation (the FBI’s predecessor), and the U.S. Secret Service were on the job. The Bureau interviewed hundreds of people who had been around the area before, during, and after the attack, but developed little information of value. The few recollections of the driver and wagon were vague and virtually useless. The NYPD was able to reconstruct the bomb and its fuse mechanism, but there was much debate about the nature of the explosive, and all the potential components were commonly available.
Based on bomb attacks over the previous decade, the Bureau initially suspected followers of the Italian Anarchist Luigi Galleani. But the case couldn’t be proved, and the anarchist had fled the country. In the end, the bombers were not identified. The best evidence and analysis since that fateful day of September 16, 1920, suggests that the Bureau’s initial thought was correct—that a small group of Italian Anarchists were to blame. But the mystery remains.
For the young Bureau, the bombing became one of the earliest terrorism cases—and not the last, unfortunately, to involve the city of New York. As the decades passed, the threat from terrorism would grow and change, with different actors and causes coming and going from the scene.
In more modern times, and with the advent of the jihadist movement, see chapter 4…there have been attacks all over the world. According to the Heritage Foundation’s “Solution 2014.”
- From 1970 to 2011, there were 104,689 terrorist incidents worldwide. Terrorism directed at the United States homeland accounted for 2.3 percent of these attacks.
- At least 60 terrorist plots targeting the United States have been foiled since 9/11, largely prevented by U.S. law enforcement. The top five post-9/11 domestic targets include the U.S. Military (16 plots); New York City (14 plots); mass gatherings (nine plots); mass transit (eight plots); and critical infrastructure and Washington, D.C. (six plots each).
- After 9/11 until the end of 2011, the non-Western world—everywhere besides Western Europe and the Western Hemisphere—experienced 28,904 terrorist attacks. Of these, nearly 60 percent (17,153) targeted private, infrastructural, educational, media, or religious individuals and institutions.
- As of July 15, 2013, 603 detainees from Guantanamo Bay have been transferred: 532 detainees pre-January 22, 2009, and 71 detainees post-January 22, 2009. Of those transfers, 100 (16.6 percent) have been confirmed as re-engaging in terrorist activity. In total, 164 detainees are still held at Guantanamo Bay.
- U.S. citizens are being recruited to join al-Qaida and its affiliates. At least 10 Americans have joined jihadists in Syria, and between 2007 and 2010, over 40 Americans travelled abroad to join Somalia’s al-Shabaab.
The scope and breath of modern day terrorism is overwhelming. But to save ourselves from an enemy we must understand and recognize who we are dealing with. So, what makes a terrorist?
Leading politicians and scholars have argued that poverty and lack of education breed terrorism, despite the wealth of evidence showing that most terrorists come from middle-class, and often college-educated, backgrounds. Not all terrorists are jihadists (note the Oklahoma City bombing), but jihadists, who make up only about 5 percent of the muslim population worldwide, have done the most damage over the last 10 years and so have built up their armies of followers. Islamist terrorists and their supporters are shown by study after study to be better-off, better-educated, and have better opportunities than most others in their societies.
Perhaps the most chilling findings come from Sagemen, who studied 400 Al Qaeda members and found that "the vast majority–90 percent–came from caring, intact families. Sixty-three percent had gone to college, as compared with the 5-6 percent that’s usual for the third world. These are the best and brightest of their societies in many ways." So Al Qaeda and other violent jihadist movements are not best understood in the Marxian discourse of class struggle. The question isn’t money. It’s identity.
Terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman explains that from the bombers of 9/11 to Boston’s Tsarnaev brothers, everyone asks the question: why? Why would these men kill? Why would these men aim for such destruction? We know there is no one path to radicalization. The reasons why someone picks up a gun or blows themselves up are ineluctably personal, born variously of grievance and frustration; religious piety or the desire for systemic socio-economic change; and yet, though there is no universal terrorist personality, nor has a single, broadly applicable profile ever been produced, there are things we do know:
- Terrorists are generally motivated by a profound sense of (albeit, misguided) altruism; deep feelings of self-defense; and, if they are religiously observant or devout, an abiding, even unswerving, commitment to their faith and the conviction that their violence is not only theologically justified, but divinely commanded.
- All terrorists fundamentally believe they are serving a “good” cause designed to achieve a greater good for a wider constituency—whether real or imagined—which the terrorist and his organization or cell purport to represent. Indeed, it is this sense of self-righteous commitment and self-sacrifice that that draws people into terrorist groups, and helps them justify the violence they commit. The terrorist virtually always sees himself as a reluctant warrior: cast perpetually on the defensive and forced to take up arms to protect himself and his community. They see themselves as driven by desperation——and lacking any viable alternative—to violence against a repressive state, a predatory rival ethnic or nationalist group, or an unresponsive international order.
Religion only serves as one more justification—particularly in the case of suicide terrorism. In the case of Muslims, although the Quran forbids both suicide and the infliction of wanton violence, pronouncements have also been made by radical Muslim clerics, and in some instances have been promulgated as fatwas (Islamic religious edicts), affirming the legitimacy of violence in defense of defenseless peoples and to resist the invasion of Muslim lands. Radical Islamist terrorist movements have thus created a recruitment and support mechanism of compelling theological incentives that sustains their violent campaigns.
Now we have the Tsarnaev brothers products of centuries-long conflict between Russia and Chechnya. We have seen life-long devout Muslims as well as recent converts—including one Philadelphia suburban housewife who touted her petite stature and blonde hair and blue eyes as being so atypical of the stereotypical terrorist so as to defy any efforts at profiling. They come from every walk of life, from marginalized people working in menial jobs, some with long criminal records or histories of juvenile delinquency, to people from solidly middle and upper-middle class backgrounds with university and perhaps even graduate degrees and prior passions for cars, sports, rock music and other completely secular, material interests.
The spectrum of British jihadis over the past decade illustrates the panoply of individuals attracted to terrorism. Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber,” was a career criminal who dropped out of high school and converted to Islam while in prison before he was recruited to al Qaeda. But Omar Khyam, the mastermind behind a 2004 bombing plot of a shopping mall outside London, was the son of a wealthy businessman and grew up in a comfortable, upper-middle-class environment. And Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the al Qaeda operative responsible for the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002, attended an exclusive (e.g., expensive) private school.
The common element in the radicalization process reflects these individuals’ deep commitment to their faith—often recently re-discovered; their admiration of terrorist movements or leading terrorist figures who they see as having struck a cathartic blow for their creed’s enemies wherever they are and whomever they might be; hatred of their adopted homes, especially if in the United States and the West; and, a profoundly shared sense of alienation from their host countries.
One of the leading global risks analytics firms in the world, Maplecroft, just recently released its latest Terrorism and Security dashboard, which tracks terrorist attacks over the past 12-month period prior to July 1, 2013. The results, as you can see, are bleak. To make matters worse, given the date of the study, it does not include the terror perpetrated by ISIS operatives from July to the present.
Over the past year, fatalities from acts of terrorism rose by 30% to a recorded 18,668 deaths. During the same 12-month period, 9,471 attacks were recorded — an average of 26 a day.
Iraq had the most recorded terrorist attacks within the time frame, with 3,158. Iraq is currently staving off a Sunni rebellion led by ISIS militants and a full-scale sectarian civil war. ISIS controls oil and gas infrastructure in Iraq. A coalition, led by the U.S. and other countries is attempting to stop their advance and destroy the movement through targeted airstrikes. It is not clear that airstrikes alone can stop ISIS.
Despite the number of attacks in Iraq, Nigeria was the site of the deadliest terror attacks in the world. The Islamic militant group Boko Haram has intensified violence throughout the country and has struck in the key cities of Abuja and Lagos. Boko Haram kills an average of 24 people per attack.
The highest increase in terrorist attacks worldwide took place in China, Egypt, Libya, and Kenya. With the exception of China, the increase in attacks has significantly affected each country's economy.
Libya has found itself incapable of capitalizing on its vast oil fields as rival militias and terrorist organizations have blockaded ports, limited oil exports, and damaged state infrastructure. Meanwhile, tourism, a major source of revenue in both Egypt and Kenya, has taken a nose-dive as both countries struggle to provide security.
Although terrorist attacks have only had a negligible impact on China's economy, that impact is likely to increase. China is exploring methods of hydrocarbon extraction in the restive province of Xinjiang, which is home to China's Uyghur minority, which faces heavy discrimination.
Worryingly for investors, the high-growth economies of Colombia, Nigeria, the Philippines, India, and Thailand are all listed as being at "high" or "extreme" risk of further terrorist attacks. “The dynamic nature of terrorism means individual events are impossible to predict,” Maplecroft CEO Alyson Warhurst said in a press release. “However, up-to-date global intelligence on the intensity, frequency, precise location, and type of attacks can help organizations to make informed decisions relating to market entry, security measures for in-country operations, duty of care obligations, supply chain continuity and risk pricing.”
If you’re talking about modern day terrorism, you need to begin with Al-Qaida. The al-Qaida-led Islamist social movement consists of several thousand members (out of a worldwide Muslim population of more than one billion). It is composed of social networks that mobilize people to resort to terrorism. These networks may become formal organizations, like al-Qaida or its Indonesian affiliate, Jemaah Islamiyah, depending on shifting circumstances.
Moreover, while al-Qaida "Central" is currently headquartered along the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier, its "social movement has spread far beyond the original organization. This makes them even more dangerous because as a social movement it has dramatically grown beyond its organizational origins.
Today's al-Qaida (and the social movements it has spawned, see Chapter 7) is the product of three historical waves. The first consisted of the "old guard," the veterans of the anti-Soviet campaign in Afghanistan who joined Usama bin Laden in forming the core of al-Qaida "Central" in the 1980s.
The second wave joined al-Qaida in the 1990s after training in its camps in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida "Central" was predominant during this phase, closely directing its operations around the world.
The third wave, however, is the post-2001 generation of radicals, who joined al-Qaida following the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq. Although it lost its safe haven and training facilities in Afghanistan, the al-Qaida-led social movement is even more pervasive because of its global reach as well as its links to al-Qaida "Central" along the Pakistan-Afghan border.
Furthermore, the organization has had great success on the Internet, where it has radicalized a new generation of activists, including many among second-generation Muslim immigrants in Europe and North America. This was the group, for example, that carried out the suicide attacks against London's transportation system in July 2005. How are the members of al-Qaida's third wave mobilized into becoming "warriors for Islam?" they view themselves, rightly or wrongly, as "heroes, fighting for justice and fairness" to transform their societies.
ISIS, short for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, is a Sunni jihadist group whose unexpected and sudden takeover of of Mosul, Tikrit and extensive swaths of Iraqi territory triggered a new crisis, complete with atrocities targeting Iraqi army soldiers and volunteers.
Known in Arabic as Da'ash, it grew out of the Islamic State in Iraq, an al-Qaida affiliate which, in turn, came into existence after the 2003 US-led invasion. The leader or emir (prince) of Isis is a 43-year-old Sunni, known by his nom de guerre as Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi. His real name is Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai and he was actually held prisoner by US forces from 2005 to 2009.
U.S. military sources have quoted him as saying when he was released from Camp Bucca in Iraq: "I'll see you guys in New York." According to some accounts he was radicalized by his experience of captivity. He studied at the University of Baghdad, and was listed as a terrorist by the UN in 2011.
It is a measure of Baghdadi's success and charisma that Isis has become the group of choice for thousands of foreign would-be fighters who have flocked to his banner. Late last year, he announced the creation of a new group that would be merged with a rival al-Qaida affiliate active in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra. That was disputed both by Nusra and Osama bin Laden's successor as the leader of al-Qaida "central", the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri. Baghdadi, who has been described as more extreme than Bin Laden, refused an order from Zawahiri to focus the group's efforts in Iraq and leave Syria alone.
What follows is a map of the planned Caliphate, the Islamic State as envisioned in an image tweeted by members of ISIS.
Last February, al-Qaida disavowed ISIS, saying it was "in no way connected to it", that it had not been informed of its creation, and was not responsible for its actions. Isis was deemed too extreme for al-Qaida.
In the areas of Syria it controls, Isis has set up courts, schools and other services, flying its black jihadi flag everywhere. In Raqqa, it even started a consumer protection authority for food standards. It has established a reputation for extreme brutality, carrying out crucifixions, beheadings and amputations.
Estimates of Isis numbers range from 7,000 to 10,000.
Its rank and file members are drawn from fighters who were previously with al-Qaida, some former Ba'athists and soldiers of the Saddam-era army. What is far harder to know is how much support the group has from Iraq's wider Sunni community, the people who lost their power and influence when Saddam was overthrown.
Isis now presents itself as an ideologically superior alternative to al-Qaida within the jihadi community. As such, it has increasingly become a transnational movement with immediate objectives far beyond Iraq and Syria.
Although al-Qaida and ISIS dominate the news, the U.S. State Department has its eyes firmly focused on many other groups, which they refer to as FTOs. Some have been around for decades; others are spinoff groups or copycat groups of al-Qaida. What follows is a comprehensive list of those groups and short descriptions of each.
- ABDALLAH AZZAM BRIGADES
- ABU NIDAL ORGANIZATION
- ABU SAYYAF GROUP
- AL-AQSA MARTYRS BRIGADE
- ANSAR AL-ISLAM
- ARMY OF ISLAM
- ASBAT AL-ANSAR
- AUM SHINRIKYO
- BASQUE FATHERLAND AND LIBERTY
- COMMUNIST PARTY OF PHILIPPINES/NEW PEOPLE’S ARMY
- CONTINUITY IRISH REPUBLICAN ARMY
- GAMA’A AL-ISLAMIYYA
- HAQQANI NETWORK
- HARAKAT-UL JIHAD ISLAMI
- HARAKAT UL-JIHAD-I-ISLAMI/BANGLADESH
- HARAKAT UL-MUJAHIDEEN
- INDIAN MUJAHEDEEN
- ISLAMIC JIHAD UNION
- ISLAMIC MOVEMENT OF UZBEKISTAN
- JEMAAH ANSHORUT TAUHID
- JEMAAH ISLAMIYA
- KAHANE CHAI
- KATA’IB HIZBALLAH
- KURDISTAN WORKERS’ PARTY
- LASHKAR E-TAYYIBA
- LASHKAR I JHANGVI
- LIBERATION TIGERS OF TAMIL EELAM
- LIBYAN ISLAMIC FIGHTING GROUP
- MOROCCAN ISLAMIC COMBATANT GROUP
- NATIONAL LIBERATION ARMY
- PALESTINE ISLAMIC JIHAD - SHAQAQI FACTION
- PALESTINE LIBERATION FRONT - ABU ABBAS FACTION
- POPULAR FRONT FOR THE LIBERATION OF PALESTINE
- POPULAR FRONT FOR THE LIBERATION OF PALESTINE-GENERAL COMMAND
- AL-QAIDA IN THE ARABIAN PENINSULA
- AL-QAIDA IN IRAQ
- AL-QAIDA IN THE ISLAMIC MAGHREB
- REAL IRA
- REVOLUTIONARY ARMED FORCES OF COLOMBIA
- REVOLUTIONARY ORGANIZATION 17 NOVEMBER
- REVOLUTIONARY PEOPLE’S LIBERATION PARTY/FRONT
- REVOLUTIONARY STRUGGLE
- SHINING PATH
- TEHRIK-E TALIBAN PAKISTAN
- UNITED SELF-DEFENSE FORCES OF COLOMBIA
According to the Rand Corporation, since September 11, 2001, so-called "homegrown terrorists," working alone or with others, have planned and in some cases implemented terrorist activities, contributed financial or other material support to others' terrorist activities, or become radicalized in the United States and then traveled to other countries to conduct terrorist activities directed against those countries or against the United States.
Most of the individuals involved are Muslim, but the numbers are small. A total of 176 Americans have been indicted, arrested, or otherwise identified as jihadist terrorists or supporters since 9/11. They were involved in 82 cases, a majority of which involve the actions of a single individual.
Al Qaida has increasingly used the Internet to build an army of followers. Many of the terrorists began their journey online. However, al Qaida has not yet managed to inspire its online followers to action. Few of the 32 locally hatched jihadist plots to carry out terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11 got much beyond the discussion stage. Nevertheless, al Qaeda remains a threat.
ISIS may pose even more of a threat. According to CNN about 100 Americans have joined ISIS. Their return to the homeland must be prevented. But some may already be here.
As the United States begins what could be a lengthy military campaign against the Islamic State, intelligence and law enforcement officials said another Syrian group, led by a shadowy figure who was once among Osama bin Laden’s inner circle, posed a more direct threat to America and Europe. It’s a group called Khorasan, about which little is known.
U.S. officials have said Khorasan is intent on hitting the U.S. or its installations overseas. Khorasan is led by Muhsin al-Fadhli, a senior Qaida operative who, according to the State Department, was so close to Bin Laden that he was among a small group of people who knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before they were launched.
There is almost no public information about the Khorasan group, which was described by several intelligence, law enforcement and military officials as being made up of Qaida operatives from across the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa.
America must remain vigilant.
Does the U.S. have a strategy to combat terrorism, both at home and abroad? America is at war with a transnational terrorist movement fueled by a radical ideology of hatred, oppression, and murder. Protecting and defending the Homeland, the American people, and their livelihoods remains the government’s first and most solemn obligation.
A September 2011 survey by the New America Foundation and Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Public Policy examined 114 cases of non-jihadist terrorist acts in the 10 years following 9/11. In comparison, they found 188 cases of Islamist terrorism in the U.S. for the same period. Some of the cases examined involved plots that were foiled and unsuccessful.
Examples of domestic terror cases since 9/11 include a 2001 plot by Earl Krugel, a member of the Jewish Defense League, to blow up the office of Arab-American congressman Darrell Issa and the King Fahd mosque in Culver City, California and the February 2010 suicide attack by Andrew Joseph Stack III, where he flew his airplane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas killing one other person and injuring many more.
As for foreign terrorism, besides the coalition to fight ISIS, the U.S. has for years been cutting off funding of these groups, if they can. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has acted to block funding of terrorists and their supporters, and to promote international cooperation against them. On September 23, 2001, the President signed E.O. 13224, giving the United States a powerful tool to impede terrorist funding. This Executive Order (EO) provides a means to disrupt the financial support network for terrorists and terrorist organizations by authorizing the USG to designate and block the assets of foreign individuals and entities that commit, or pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism.
The EO also prohibits transactions between U.S. persons and designated individuals and entities. In addition, because of the pervasiveness of the financial base of foreign terrorists, the order authorizes the USG to block the assets of individuals and entities that provide support, offer assistance to, or otherwise associate with designated terrorists and terrorist organizations. The order also covers their subsidiaries, front organizations, agents, and associates.
The Secretary of State, in consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury, also has the authority to designate groups as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) pursuant to Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended. These designations play a critical role in U.S. counterterrorism efforts and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to get out of the terrorism business. As a consequence of such a designation, it is unlawful for U.S. citizens or any persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to provide material support or resources to a designated FTO. U.S. financial institutions are also required to freeze the funds of designated FTOs.