An image taken from a YouTube video allegedly shows Islamic State (Isis) militants taking part in a military parade in Mosul, northern Iraq. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Britain should encourage jihadis fighting in Syria and Iraq to “come home”, the former global counter-terrorism director of MI6 has said.
David Cameron outlined new powers last week for police to seize the passports of terrorist suspects and stop British extremists from returning to the UK. Others, including Boris Johnson, the London mayor, have called for British jihadis to have their citizenship removed.
However, Richard Barrett, a former counter-terrorism chief at MI5 and MI6, said repentant fighters needed “to know that there is a place for them back at home”. Read the rest of this entry »
Al Qaeda’s ultra-extremist Syrian offshoot known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) is stepping up efforts to recruit Americans and other westerners for jihad in Syria and possibly for future domestic terror attacks, according to U.S. officials.
A new media outlet affiliated with ISIL recently began producing recruiting materials in both English and German that U.S. intelligence analysts say is a sign they are targeting western jihadists for recruitment.
It is the first time ISIL, one of the most prominent ultra-violent jihadists among Syria rebels groups, has set up a western-oriented media arm.
ISIL also is leading the major military operations now under way in Iran that has produced the group’s take over of several Iraqi cities, including Mosul, the second largest. Read the rest of this entry »
Sunni Arab tribalism has a significant socio-cultural, political, and security impact on the current uprising in Syria, with strong implications for post-Assad governance formation. Tribalism has fueled unrest throughout Syria, including in places such as Dera’a, where mass opposition demonstrations began on March 15, 2011, in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on the Euphrates River, and in the suburbs of Homs and Damascus, where some of the fiercest combat between the Syrian military and armed opposition groups has occurred. Millions of rural and urban Syrians express an active tribal identity and tribal affiliation is used extensively to mobilize the political and armed opposition against the Assad government as well as to organize paramilitary forces in support of the Syrian regime. Both the Syrian opposition and the Assad government recognize the political importance of the tribal networks that cross Syria and extend into neighboring countries. As a result, the support of Syria’s tribes is a strategic goal for both the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition.
Tribal Networks – The Social Demographic Impact of Tribalism in Syria
The Syrian Ba’ath Party has traditionally sought to undermine the independence of the country’s tribes through intimidation, infiltration, and dependence. These aggressive policies continued under the Assad government and were exacerbated by decades of economic stagnation and the near total collapse of the rural economy of regions in southern and eastern Syria due to drought, corrupt use of water resources and mismanagement of croplands where many tribesmen resided (Jadaliyya, February 16). In spite of these severe difficulties, tribal networks in Syria are, ironically, better equipped at present to influence the opposition against the Assad government than at any other point in Syria’s modern history.
Over the last several decades, relationships between different tribes have been strengthened by the mutual difficulties that all Syrian tribesmen face, and by a shared bond of kinship and a common Arab-Bedouin heritage that differentiates tribesmen from the ruling Assad family that usurped the power of the Syrian Ba’ath Party.  The economic disaster facing tribal youth, combined with the political pressure that is constantly applied by the Assad government, caused Syrian tribes to look to each other for mutual help and support. The traditional vertical authority of the shaykhs over the rest of their tribesmen weakened over time, causing decision-making authority to extend beyond one person (or family) in a specific tribal lineage to mutually supporting individuals in a wider network of tribes.  Under coercion from the state, many tribal shaykhs were forced to leave their traditional areas to live quietly in Damascus or Aleppo, or left Syria entirely, becoming remote figures from the perspective of their tribesmen. Without revenues, they became unable to provide for the essential needs of their tribes, particularly during the most recent drought that began in 2003 and lasted through the rest of the decade.
Last week, Michael D. McCright, a.k.a. Mikhial Jihad, a previously convicted felon from the north Seattle suburb of Lynnwood, pled guilty to lesser charges in a case involving his attempt to force a government vehicle carrying two Marines off the road and cause a collision on an interstate highway in Seattle. The incident occurred on July 12, 2011 and resulted in McCright’s arrest in Seattle on Sept. 8. McCright is linked to another American jihadist who plotted a suicide attack against Marines.
According to the Seattle PI, the Marine staff sergeant in the car targeted by McCright told police that the suspect’s “eyes widened and he appeared to become angry” when he saw the uniformed men, and that shortly thereafter McCright deliberately swerved his car into the path of their vehicle, forcing it off the road, then stopped right in front of it.
Court documents filed following McCright’s arrest indicate he has links with at least one of two men accused of plotting a suicide attack on a south Seattle Marine processing and intake center. The deputy prosecutor in McCright’s case said that McCright’s cell phone was used three times to call Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, a Des Moines, Wa., resident who is being held along with Walli Mujahidh, of Los Angeles; the calls from McCright’s phone were made prior to the July 22, 2011 arrests of Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh. The FBI decided to continue to investigate McCright’s possible links to domestic terrorism. And according to KING5 news, “[a] federal criminal justice source said the FBI had McCright on their radar even before the July 12 road rage incident.”
Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, a.k.a. Joseph Anthony Davis, and Walli Mujahidh, a.k.a. Frederick Domingue Jr., are accused of conspiring to murder federal agents and officers and conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction, for their roles in plotting a suicide attack on the Federal Way MEPS center in south Seattle. Initial charges were filed in late June 2011 shortly after their arrest in an FBI sting operation; further charges were added in July, including weapons violations and solicitation of a crime of violence. In August, the trial was postponed due to the complexity of the case and the quantity of evidence gathered by the FBI and police, The Associated Press reported. Both Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh pled not guilty at the time
In December, Mujahidh’s attorney said her client suffered from mental illness and “a fundamental misunderstanding of Islam,” and said he would plead guilty in the case, according to AP.
It is unclear how Mujahidh and Abdul-Latif had initially become acquainted, although Mujahidh had lived in Seattle before moving to California. Both men have criminal records; Mujahidh for domestic violence and theft, Abdul-Latif for theft, assault, and robbery, for which he served 31 months in prison,AP reported. Nor has it been explained just how McCright came to know Abdul-Latif.
All three men appear to be converts to Islam. According to AP, Abdul-Latif admired Osama bin Laden and had apparently posted videos on YouTube calling for jihad and extolling al Qaeda‘s leadership in Yemen and endorsing radical Islam. “We need to establish jihad with the tongue, with the heart and with the hand,” he said in a video posted in May 2011.
The federal complaint in the case describes the detailed preparations Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh made for the suicide attack plot over a period of months leading up to their arrests. Abul-Latif, who had spent some time in the Navy in the mid-1990s, was designated as the “emir” or leader of the cell. The men originally intended to cause a devastating attack at Joint Base Lewis-McChord Army base near Tacoma, but changed their focus to the MEPS center in south Seattle, which was located next to a daycare center. They conducted reconnaissance of the site, and sought to purchase fragmentation grenades, machine guns, bulletproof vests, and ammunition for the attack, in which they planned to kill as many soldiers as possible.
Rocket fire from the Gaza Strip targeting Israel’s south continues. This past week two rockets hit open areas in the western Negev. In the Jordan Valley, a Palestinian with carrying seven improvised IEDs was detained at a checkpoint in the Jordan Valley.
A group of Palestinian and left-wing European pro-Palestinian activists biking through the Jordan Valley clashed with IDF soldiers. A YouTube video showed an IDF officer striking a Danish activist with his rifle butt. The officer was immediately relieved of his command, until a full-scale investigation had been undertaken. The heads of the Israeli government and army, including the prime minister, strongly denounced the officer’s behavior.
The fly-in of anti-Israel activists intended as a provocation for the State of Israel was conducted without exceptional incident. There were limited public disturbances at the Ben-Gurion International Airport. In several European countries (most prominently in France), activists who had been prevented from boarding a plane to Israel held protests. The number of activists who reached Ben-Gurion Airport was small (78), far below the organizers’ expectations and declarations.
Rocket Fire Targeting the Western Negev
Rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory continues. On the night of April 15 two rockets fell in open areas in the western Negev. There were no casualties.
Rockets Fired into Israeli Territory 1
Note: The figures for March 2012 include 50 rockets intercepted and destroyed by the Iron Dome aerial defense system during the most recent round of escalation. In April 2012 three rockets were fired at Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat.
The Situation on the Ground
This past week the IDF carried out routine counterterrorist activities, detaining Palestinians suspected of terrorist activities and confiscating weapons. The security forces also dealt with local riots during which stones and Molotov cocktails were thrown at them.
Violent Clash in the Jordan Valley
On April 14 a group of approximately 250 Palestinians and pro-Palestinian left-wing activists from Europe, held a biking event through the Jordan Valley. They began near Jericho and their final destination was the region of Jiftlik in Samaria. They were detained by IDF soldiers on the Jordanian Valley road near the village of Uja and a clash broke out.
An Internet video showed an Israeli officer employing violence and striking a left-wing Danish activist with the butt of his M-16. The IDF Spokesman stated emphatically that it was a grave act which violated IDF values and that there was no justification for violence. However, the Spokesman noted that the video did not show the entire incident, in which behind the twenty-odd leftist and anarchist activists there were 200 Palestinians who tried to switch to the main Jordan Valley road and block it (Interview with the IDF Spokesman on Israeli Channel 2 radio, April 16, 2012).
The officer was immediately relieved of his command until “a thorough investigation can be conducted.” In addition, the Military Advocate General ordered an internal military police investigation, according to whose findings it will be decided whether or not to prosecute the officer (IDF Spokesman’s Website, April 16, 2012). Senior Israeli political and military figures, among them the prime minister, defense minister and IDF chief of staff, strongly denounced the officer’s behavior, emphasizing that it violated IDF values and did not reflect the ethical conduct of IDF soldiers and officers.
Palestinian Carrying IEDs Detained at Checkpoint in the Jordan Valley
On April 11, IDF military police detained a Palestinian at the Beqa’ot checkpoint in the Jordan Valley. He was found to be carrying seven improvised IEDs, three knives and bullets. He was transferred to the security forces for questioning (IDF Spokesman’s Website, April 11, 2012).
Note: Three months ago two similar events occurred at the same crossing. In the first, a Palestinian terrorist operative armed with a pipe bomb advanced toward an IDF force shouting “Allahu akbar.” When he ignored their orders to halt, they opened fire and killed him. In the second, the IDF opened fire at a Palestinian who tried to stab a soldier at the roadblock. The Palestinian was critically wounded and died as he was being taken to the hospital for treatment (IDF Spokesman’s Website, April 11, 2012).
Temporary Easing of the Fuel Crisis
Recently there was a temporary easing in the fuel crisis in the Gaza Strip following a delivery of diesel fuel from Israel to the Gaza Strip power plant, in accordance with an agreement reached between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. That resulted in an improvement in the supply of electricity to the Gazan population and an increase in the number of vehicles on the road. However, the boat bringing fuel from Qatar, which was supposed to help relieve the crisis, has not yet arrived.2
The power plant in the Gaza Strip, which has received fuel to manufacture electricity
Article in Egyptian Daily Newspaper Strongly Attacks Hamas
Following the Gaza Strip fuel crisis and Hamas’ accusations that Egypt is responsible it, on April 16 the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm published an article entitled “Egypt and Hamas’ faulty judgment.” The article, written by Dr. Tareq Fahmi, head of the Israeli studies department at the National Center for Middle Eastern Studies,3strongly attacked Hamas for trying to make Egypt responsible for its own crises (the fuel crisis and the crisis in the negotiations with Fatah). According to the article, among other things:
Hamas is of the opinion that after the Muslim Brotherhood achieved political power, it would be easy to deliver merchandise through the Rafah crossing or the smuggling tunnels, “with all the achievements and profit involved.” Hamas behaves “as though the lands of Egypt had turned into the private property of the Hamas movement.” However, said the article, Hamas has forgotten the existence of Egypt’s “red lines” of national security.
There has been, according to the article, a “security problem” in the Gaza Strip, the result of “the strategic expansion of the Palestinian factions,” which do as they please in the Sinai Peninsula. The Palestinian factions [i.e., the terrorist organizations] carry out “illegal activities” [i.e., terrorist activity] which threaten Egyptian national security. As a result, there is concern [in Egypt] that “in the future Israel’s activities will be directed against the Sinai Peninsula and not the Gaza Strip.”
Hamas seeks to involve Egypt in a confrontation with Israel, since the “illegal activities” [i.e., terrorist attacks] provide Israel with an excuse to reoccupy the Sinai Peninsula to turn it into a buffer zone to protect its security. Hamas may think that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power has created an opportunity for a war between Egypt and Israel, but the cost to Egypt of such a war would be very high.
In our assessment, the article was written as part of an exchange of blows in the media between Egypt and Hamas, caused by the fuel crisis in the Gaza Strip. However, it is also possible that it expresses genuine, if covert, Egyptian discontent at the way Hamas behaves towards Egypt and the attempts of the Palestinian terrorist organizations to gain a foothold in the Sinai Peninsula and turn it into a focal point for terrorist activity against Israel.
Why is Russia harassing President Obama’s new ambassador? BY LEON ARON | APRIL 12, 2012
Russians are known for their warm welcomes, rolling out the red carpet for honored guests and ensconcing them in bear hugs, complete with three hearty kisses on the cheeks. Perhaps the new U.S. Ambassador to RussiaMichael McFaul didn’t quite expect the same gracious reception given the frosty relationship between Washington and Moscow these days, but his first few months on the job have been unusual, if not downright hostile, a lot more Cold War than Russian Reset. Upon arriving in Moscow, the ambassador greeted his guests with an effervescent — even hokey — YouTube video introducing himself, a longtime student of and friend to Russia. In response, he was met with an Arctic propaganda blast reminiscent of the early 1980s, and harassment likely without precedent for U.S. ambassadors — either in the Soviet Union or in post-Soviet Russia.
The Obama administration has since complainedto the Russian government about the harassment of McFaul. “Everywhere I go,” McFaul tweeted, “[the Gazprom-owned national television network] NTV is there. Wonder who gives them my calendar. They wouldn’t tell me. Wonder what laws are here for such things.” By crowding the U.S. ambassador and filming his comings and goings, NTV reporters act not unlike former KGB myrmidons, clearly seeking to intimidate not only McFaul but even more so his Russia interlocutors, whom they try to intercept and “interview.” It wouldn’t be the first time that the Kremlin has successfully snooped into the affairs of the U.S. Embassy — in fact, there’s a long tradition of mutual suspicion and spycraft between these old adversaries, but the host government sharing his open schedule with flunkies just to intimidate the ambassador seems a new low in what was hoped to have been a new period of mutual respect and good relations.
It is always sad and maddening to hear about insults to human dignity by paid propagandists and thugs of authoritarian regimes. Yet the hounding of McFaul is particularly bizarre. Not only is he a brilliant scholar, the author of hundreds of articles and several books on Russia, and one of the most popular professors at Stanford University, but McFaul is widely regarded as a man of profound intellectual and personal integrity. In at least 20 years that I’ve known and deeply admired Mike, I’ve met no one who did not hold him in highest esteem, even those who disagreed with him professionally.
A native of Montana and a Californian by professional choice, Mike epitomizes America’s democratic spirit, free inquiry, unfettered debate, and respect for the right to question authority. He is also a sparkling, often ebullient conversationalist. Anyone who spends even a few minutes in his company finds his discourse utterly infectious.
That he is a Russian speaker and, with his shock of blond hair, Hollywood-handsome, does not hurt him a bit among Russian television viewers — not to mention his legion of longtime admirers among pro-democracy experts and intelligentsia. It is all of this — but particularly the last bit — that makes McFaul such a stark and embossing contrast to the intellectual grayness of Putinism, the vulgarity of its propaganda, and the pettiness of its cat-and-mouse games with intellectuals and pro-democracy opposition.
From the start of his ambassadorship a few months ago, McFaul seemed determined to treat Russia as a normal country: he proclaimed himself willing to speak to anyone – even his detractors. “I respect press right to go anywhere & ask any questions,” he tweeted of NTV, even as he wondered whether “they have a right to read my email and listen to my phone?”
But there is more to it than that. McFaul was among the key architects of the reset in the U.S.-Russian relations. Whatever this effort has or has not achieved and whatever built-in flaws handicapped the reset from the beginning, there is little doubt about McFaul’s sincerity, good faith, and passionate commitment that the effort would make both countries more secure and prosperous. Among other things, he worked tirelessly on the New START nuclear arms treaty and helped to secure Russia’s entry in the World Trade Organization.
Huge balls of fire and mushrooms of smoke seen on the latest videos from Homs indicate that the Syrian army is using more powerful weapons in its assault on the remaining rebel strongholds in the city.
This is what the daily shelling of Homs used to look like when the Baba Amro district was still under rebel control:
February 8, 2012
Explosions seen on the latest videos look rather different:
March 24, 2012
There is an oil pipeline passing through Homs that can produce similar effects when hit with shells. However, it seems unlikely that so many shells would repeatedly hit the pipeline or that the refinery is still operating.
One YouTube video identifies these as napalm bombs. Well, the balls of fire are certainly not entirely unlike videos of napalm bombing that can be found on YouTube. However, napalm is normally delivered with bombs and these are probably thermobaric or fuel-air bombs of the kind the Russians used in Chechnya. Given the regime’s connections to Russia, it comes rather natural that Mr. Putin would share with Bashar Assad his rich experience in waging counter-insurgency in the Caucuses.
March 24, 2012
To the best of our knowledge, the first video starring a fireball in Homs hit YouTube on February 14. By now they have become a regular feature in opposition videos.
February 14, 2012
Though the Syrians usually call them rockets, they actually appear to be shells. At least in the next video some kind of a howitzer exit clearly precedes the shriek and the explosion. Read the rest of this entry »