TIME Terrorism

Could Twitter and Facebook Stop the Next Terrorist Attack?

Social Media Illustrations
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Legislation would require them to alert law enforcement of possible attacks

Tech firms such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo are fighting another battle in Washington of late, this time to resist pending legislation that would require them to alert law enforcement of possible terrorist attacks, according to a report from the Associated Press.

The legislation, which has been proposed as a part of a larger intelligence bill, is now under review by the Senate Intelligence Committee. It’s inspired by the fact that terrorist groups such as the so-called Islamic State have increasingly used social media to recruit and disseminate propaganda. Nevertheless, the tech firms feel that the language in the proposed bill is too broad, and “would potentially put companies on the hook legally if they miss a tweet, video or blog that hints of an attack,” the AP said.

The firms have also reportedly said in private meetings that they are already doing their part by banning “grisly content like beheadings and [alerting] law enforcement if they suspect someone might get hurt, as soon as they are aware of a threat.”

TIME Nigeria

Blasts Have Killed at Least 29 People in Northeastern Nigeria

This is the second week in a row that the city has been attacked

Multiple bomb blasts, including at least one suspected suicide bombing, killed at least 29 people and wounded 60 at two bus stations in Gombe, Nigeria, on Wednesday.

Although no one immediately came forward to claim responsibility, the style of the attacks was typical of Islamist militant group Boko Haram, Reuters reports.

Witnesses told Reuters that the first explosion, which occurred around 7 p.m. local time at a mosque in Dadin Kowa motor park, was the work of a suspected suicide bomber and that a separate bomb went off near the same bus station not long after.

“I heard two loud explosions, one after the other; I saw people coming out of the mosque with blood gushing out … I counted about seven dead bodies,” Ahmed Abu, a bus driver, told Reuters of the second bombing.

Two more blasts were later reported near Duku bus station, southwest of Dadin Kowa.

This is not the first set of attacks in Gombe this month: at least 50 people died in dual bombings at a market there on July 17.

[Reuters]

TIME Military

Unmanned Aerial Vengeance: Drone Takes Out Terrorist Linked to Marine’s Killing

Marines Mourn Fallen Comrade
David McNew / Getty Images Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., the home base of Tony Sledd, honor him three days after he was killed in Kuwait in 2002.

Thirteen years after Kuwaiti ambush, Lance Corporal Sledd’s death is avenged

“If you target Americans,” President Obama warned terrorists during a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Tuesday, “you will find no safe haven.” Like an explosive exclamation point, the Pentagon confirmed his pledge hours later, announcing that the U.S. military had killed Muhsin al-Fadhli. Thirteen years earlier, the military said, al-Fadhli played a role in the killing of Marine Lance Corporal Antonio “Tony” Sledd.

It was a lengthy wait, and one that may not bring much comfort to Sledd’s family, who complained he never should have died. But the nature of both killings—and the 4,656 days between them—highlights the unusual complications of a religion-fueled war, where traditional norms of warfare often don’t apply.

Sledd was 20 when he died on Oct. 8, 2002, on Faylaka Island, 20 miles east of Kuwait City in the Persian Gulf. He was killed by a pair of Kuwaitis who had infiltrated a U.S. military training exercise in a white truck and opened fire with their AK-47s.

USMCLance Corporal Antonio Sledd

Sledd’s killing has been described by some as the first American casualty of the second Iraq war. While the invasion was five months away, the Marines were practicing urban warfare on the island, readying for the conflict. The killers gunned down Sledd during a break in the training as he readied a makeshift baseball diamond, echoing the sport he played as a youngster in Hillsborough, Fla.

As bizarre as Sheed’s death was, so was the way the U.S. military killed al-Fadhli, 34: with a drone strike July 8 as he traveled by vehicle near Sarmada in northwestern Syria. It took the Pentagon two weeks to confirm his death. “Al-Fadhli was the leader of a network of veteran al-Qaeda operatives, sometimes called the Khorasan Group, who are plotting external attacks against the United States and our allies,” Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. He added that al-Fadhli also was “involved” in the 2002 attack “against U.S. Marines on Faylaka Island in Kuwait.”

While the Pentagon said al-Fadhli was “among the few” al Qaeda leaders who “received advance notification” of the 9/11 attacks before they happened, the attack on the Marines on Faylaka Island was the only U.S. death the Pentagon cited in the statement detailing al-Fadhli’s killing in which he was alleged to have played an active role.

U.S. GovernmentMuhsin al-Fadhli

Sledd was one of about 150 Marines on the island, from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard a flotilla led by the amphibious assault ship USS Belleau Wood.

The day before the attack, some leathernecks had spotted the two Kuwaitis who they believed killed Sledd and wounded a second Marine. “We weren’t expecting trouble,” one Marine recalled. “I thought they were probably just curious about Marines.”

The next day, the Marines began their training using blanks, with armed sentries standing guard. But when there was a break in the action, Sledd’s platoon turned in their live ammo, according to Marines who were there. After shooting Sledd and wounding Lance Corporal George Simpson, 21, of Dayton, Ohio, Anas al-Kandari, 21, and his cousin, Jassem al-Hajiri, 26, suspected Islamic militants, were killed by a second group of Marines after firing on them.

An Army medevac helicopter picked up Sledd, who had been shot in the chin and stomach, within 10 minutes. “Marines can be as tough as woodpecker lips, and I thought he was going to live,” his first sergeant said after seeing him just before the rescue chopper lifted off, bound for a military hospital in Kuwait City. “He squeezed my hand as hard as any healthy Marine could do.” But he died during surgery.

“Till this day I don’t think I did enough and I want to apologize to Sledd’s family and friends,” a Marine comrade posted on a memorial website in 2009, more than six years after his death. “It was my job to bring him back and I didn’t, I’m so sorry!”

Sledd’s parents were upset that their son died amid armed Marines in an allied nation. “There’s no way civilians should have been in that area where Tony was,” Tom Sledd told the Orlando Sentinel shortly after his son’s death. “They should have been challenged and shot before they got close enough to shoot Tony…he was a good boy. He didn’t have to die so young.” His mother, Norma, agreed. “Security perimeters were not set up, and that is why he lost his life,” she said. “They murdered my son.”

Ten months later, a corps probe agreed that proper security would most likely have prevented the young Marine’s death. Sledd’s parents couldn’t be reached for comment on the Pentagon announcement of al-Fadhli’s death.

Sledd, whose fraternal twin, Mike, was serving in the corps when his brother died, sent his mother an email shortly before the attack. “Tell everyone I love them and we are doing the best we can to protect y’all’s country,” it read. “Love, Big T.”

Earlier this month, his government did its best to return the favor.

U.S. Government
TIME society

What Chattanooga Shootings Teach America

We need to fight terror with reason

In the wake of the Chattanooga shootings, another apparent act of lone-wolf terrorism, the search for answers and for retaliation comes again.

After every such incident, that search is renewed: why did this happen? Is it religion? Poverty? How do we stop it?

But maybe we are asking the wrong questions – sharpening the same tools again and again will do us no good if they weren’t the right tools.

What we need instead is an examination of whether we’re looking at the problem the right way to begin with. That perspective comes from 14 years of studying extremism, terrorism and sectarian conflict in the field – and 14 years studying American responses to terrorism post-9/11.

A perception of no choice

Terrorism is usually thought of as a “thing” — the result of a psychological or moral malfunction, the presence of evil, the absence of soul.

Secretary of State Kerry used this phrasing at a summit on countering violent extremism in February, when he said,

These people have no positive vision whatsoever. They represent a nihilism, a criminal anarchy that is unacceptable to any decent human being.

In more tactical and policy-related circles, studies of terrorism tend to focus more on the intent than the cause:

…the calculated use of unlawful violence…to inculcate fear.

In fact terrorism has no one cause, although it would be comforting to think it did, and even the reasoning can vary depending on the group and the perpetrator.

We could blame Islam, but the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, was a Christian. We could blame religion, but the UNABOMBER, Ted Kaczynski, was an atheist. Poverty is a common refrain, but the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were of the middle class. Stupidity or insanity would perhaps be satisfying answers, and yet we have seen time and time again how terrifyingly articulate and ostensibly sane terrorists can be — the 19th century French Anarchist Emile Henry being an excellent example.

All of these people had other options in life, but all are united by a common theme: the perception that they had none.

Terrorism, I would argue, is better viewed as the result of choice — or more accurately, it is the end of a long series of increasingly narrow choices.

Dylann Roof put this literally, in writings posted before his attack on the Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina:

I have no choice…. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.

Timothy McVeigh hinted at it in one of his own statements, when he said,

…if there is a hell, then I’ll be in good company with a lot of fighter pilots who also had to bomb innocents to win the war.

And Chattanooga’s Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez said as much only last week, when he described life “as a prison.”

An ever narrowing funnel

If we were diagramming this, it would look like a funnel, with “normal life” at the wide end, and “attack” at the narrowest point.

Many things can go into the process that makes the funnel narrower and they usually come in pairs:

  • a lack of good education (the kind that teaches principles of critical thought and reason) and the presence of the wrong kind of education (the kind that teaches blind adherence, black-and-white thinking and illogic)
  • economic deprivation combined with a scapegoat upon which to blame one’s hardship
  • a particular kind of hatred that comes not from poverty but from privilege paired with the acute realization of others’ deprivation
  • marginalization combined with the perception that power and identity can be regained through group membership – and then action.

Each progressive choice shuts down some options, and makes others — especially one particular one — more likely.

Openness is the answer

The strong suggestion here is that if terrorism tends to correlate with a perceived lack of other options, then the best response to terrorism is to expand people’s ability to see a greater range of options available to them.

What that means is education, good governance and access to resources.

Following that, it means stopping whatever serves to make a society feel that its options have run out.

And that, in turn, means not repression, but more openness. Not a restriction or surrender of civil liberties, but the unequivocal statement that they are an inviolable part of who we are and what we want our society to be.

The presence of increasingly heavily armed and armored police is not a reminder of what society is enabled to do, but what it’s prohibited from doing, and a constant symbolic reminder of its fears.

While Americans tend to feel more secure with an armed presence nearby—a reaction mirrored across threats ranging from terrorism to crime, the irony is that the bigger and more prominent the weaponry, the more likely it is to cause more damage than it prevents.

Meanwhile the loss of perceived freedom of movement, the restrictions on thought and action, and the constant reminder of threat feeds into the narrowing funnel that those on the path to violence will tend to feel and act upon.

Historically speaking, it’s sadly clear that there is nothing that will rule out all acts of terrorism, any more than there is anything that would rule out all crime.

“Doing something” doesn’t mean more arms and armor

The best we can do is seek to manage, and reduce the percentages. In the public discourse, however, that doesn’t fly very well — no matter how rational it is.

The most common cry is that when it comes to terrorism, anything that doesn’t put another gun in the fight equates to “doing nothing.”

The hard change is shifting the public narrative away from fear in a way that builds more openness while, at the same time, paying respect to the loss and pain of those directly affected by acts of terrorism.

That urge to “do something” that carries the satisfaction of a retaliatory body count is a particularly hard one to swallow, even though we know full well that it is a basic terrorist goal to “do something that provokes a violent response.”

The point being that a violent response is then leveraged into a rallying cry, and greater recruiting “for the cause,” and the spiral continues to grow.

And yet we also know that as a nation, our greatest gains against racism have come when we recognized that it tends to die when dragged into the light of public discussion.

Similarly, religious radicalism is lessened by exposure to new ideas. This is the nature of reason, the nature of rationality, and it is the first, best way to reduce the chances of further attack.

There will of course always be a need for hard defenses against extremist violence, homegrown or otherwise — for intelligence and for soldiers, for police, and even for the arms and armor.

And yet the way we fight the battle has a lot to do with whether or not we win the war.

As a society, we need to be incredibly careful as we design and field our responses, when we hear ourselves say “they’ve pushed us…we have no choice.”

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

TIME Cameroon

2 Suicide Bombers Kill At Least 20 People in Cameroon

CAMEROON-RELIGION-ISLAM
Reinnier Kaze—AFP/Getty Images Muslim women walk in the Brituetterie district of Yaounde in northern Cameroon on July 16, 2015.

The suicide bombings happened in the middle of a crowded marketplace and a popular neighborhood

(YAOUNDE, Cameroon) — Cameroon’s police say that at least 20 bodies have been found in the regional capital of Maroua after two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a busy marketplace and a popular neighborhood.

Police officer Eric Bambue said the toll could rise as the search for bodies continues.

Cameroon, which borders Nigeria and has contributed troops to the multinational force fighting the Boko Haram Islamic extremist rebels there, has been attacked twice before by suicide bombers.

Boko Haram’s six-year-old insurgency to establish an Islamic State in Nigeria region has spilled over into neighboring countries.

According to Cameroonian businessman Ousmaila Toukour, hundreds more people were wounded and most of the goods sold in the market came from Nigeria.

TIME Syria

Leader of al-Qaeda Offshoot Khorasan Killed in U.S. Air Strike in Syria

Muhsin al-Fadhli is seen in an undated photo provided by the U.S. State Department
Reuters Muhsin al-Fadhli is seen in an undated photo provided by the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C.

Muhsin al-Fadhli was killed while traveling close to the Turkish border

A Pentagon spokesperson has confirmed that a U.S. air strike in Syria earlier this month killed a top leader of al-Qaeda splinter group Khorasan who had rare advanced knowledge of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

On July 8, Muhsin al-Fadhli was traveling near Sarmada, a town in northwestern Syria close to the Turkish border, when a U.S. drone targeted and struck his vehicle. The BBC reports that he had previously evaded a similar attempt on his life last September.

Though the bloody rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has prompted American counterterrorism efforts to pivot away from al-Qaeda, al-Fadhli, a former confidant of Osama bin Laden, had remained a major target. A 2012 U.S. State Department report recognized him as “al-Qaida’s senior facilitator and financier in Iran” and a ringleader in the 2002 terrorist attack on a French oil tanker off the Yemeni coast.

At the time of his death, security officials had identified him as the leader of Khorasan, a Syria-based cabal of senior al-Qaeda members believed to possibly “pose as much of a danger as the [ISIS],” as National Intelligence Director James Clapper said last September. As ISIS conducted its public campaign of gruesome theatrics, al-Qaeda kept something of a low profile, purposely disassociating itself from what President Barack Obama had dubbed “junior varsity” jihadism. Despite ISIS’s rising profile, it is the elusive al-Qaeda leadership that possesses the organization and experience to execute a terrorist attack on Western soil, the New York Times reports.

Al-Fadhli was a seasoned jihadist. He was just 20 years old in 2001, but was already sufficiently elevated in al-Qaeda’s ranks to learn in advance of the planned assault on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Accordingly, his death comes as a symbolic if not insurmountable blow to the group’s leadership.

“[Al-Fadhli] is certainly one of the most capable of the al-Qaeda core members,” Congressman Adam Schiff, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, told the Times last year, following a botched attempt on the extremist’s life. “His loss would be significant, but as we’ve seen before, any decapitation is only a short-term gain. The hydra will grow another head.”

TIME Nigeria

Nigerian President Reveals Plan to Fight Boko Haram

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at an interview in Washington on July 21, 2015.
Cliff Owen—AP Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at an interview in Washington on July 21, 2015.

Muhammadu Buhari says neighboring countries of Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger would join Nigeria by the end of July

(WASHINGTON) — Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said Tuesday a multinational African force will be in place within 10 days to take the fight to the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram that has killed thousands and was behind the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls.

Buhari predicted in an interview with The Associated Press that Boko Haram would be defeated in 18 months or less. But he conceded that Nigerian authorities lack intelligence about the girls still missing after the mass-kidnapping from the northern town of Chibok in April 2014 — an act that stirred international outrage and a campaign to “Bring Back Our Girls” that reached as far as the White House.

He said his government is open to freeing detained militants in exchange for the girls’ freedom, but only if it finds credible Boko Haram leaders to negotiate with.

“I think Nigeria will make as much sacrifice as humanly possible to get the girls back. This is our main objective,” Buhari said, a day after meeting with President Barack Obama.

Buhari spoke at the presidential guest house opposite the White House in a room decorated with murals of ceremonial Washington. He wore a traditional embroidered hat, popular among Muslims in northern Nigeria.

The visit by the 72-year old former dictator comes two months after taking office. Both Nigeria and the United States look to improve relations that soured because of government and military failures under Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, who was defeated in March elections. Obama said Monday the U.S. wants to cooperate on counter-terrorism and in combating corruption in Africa’s largest economy and oil producer.

The elections heralded the first democratic change of power in the West African nation that has suffered decades of military rule, but Buhari faces formidable challenges — not least the Boko Haram insurgency that has killed more than 13,000 people and driven another 1.5 million from their homes.

Buhari, a former general, last week fired the service chiefs of the once-mighty Nigerian military, which he has accused of corruption. But he expressed confidence that the Islamists that have launched suicide bombings and village attacks since his inauguration, killing hundreds, would be surrounded and eliminated with the help of neighboring Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. He said the multinational force would be ready by the end of the month.

“We are going to deny them recruitment. We are going to deny them free movement across borders. We are going to deny them training. We are going to deny them receiving reinforcement in terms of equipment,” said Buhari, who studied 35 years ago at the U.S. Army War College.

Boko Haram in March declared an affiliation with the Islamic State group, and Buhari said it has links with Islamist militants in northern Mali. But he predicted that the multinational force could break the back of Boko Haram within 18 months.

Despite the fighting talk, the Nigerian leader said he remained open to negotiations over the kidnapped girls but said it was first necessary to establish that those claiming to negotiate on behalf of the insurgents were really Boko Haram leaders who know the girls’ location and condition.

Dozens of the schoolgirls escaped in the days after the abduction, but 219 remain missing.

A human rights activist told AP this month that the extremists are offering to free the girls in exchange for the release of captured militant leaders. Buhari said: “We just can’t say yes or no in a sort of an impulsive manner. We have to establish the facts before we agree” to negotiations.

Buhari’s early visit to Washington is a sign of the importance the U.S. attaches to good relations with Nigeria, the world’s seventh-most populous nation at 170 million and America’s top trading partner in Africa. Top U.S. trade and finance officials have met the Nigerian delegation, and Buhari was meeting Tuesday with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, and CIA Director John Brennan, where he would be urging more American help against Boko Haram.

“The United States is very clear of the situation. What we need is intelligence, we need training facilities, we need some equipment,” he said.

Buhari acknowledged U.S. concerns over human rights abuses by Nigeria’s military. Amnesty International has accused the Nigerian army’s leadership of complicity in the death of 8,000 detainees in the battle against Boko Haram. Such concerns prompted Washington last year to block the sale of U.S. attack helicopters. Buhari said that new military chiefs were retraining forces and would adhere to internationally acceptable rules of engagement.

Nigeria also wants U.S. help in recovering government funds and the proceeds of crude oil exports that have been illegally diverted from the nation’s coffers, also hit by the decline in world oil prices.

In a Washington Post opinion commentary on Monday, Buhari wrote that $150 billion in funds have been stolen in the past decade and held in foreign bank accounts on behalf of former, corrupt officials.

____

Associated Press writer Michelle Faul contributed to this report from Lagos, Nigeria.

TIME U.K.

2 Men Charged With Planning Attack on U.S. Troops in U.K.

The men wanted to join ISIS, authorities said

Two men who wanted to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) have been charged with plotting an attack on American soldiers in the U.K.

Junead Ahmed Khan, 24, and his uncle, Shazib Ahmed Khan, 22, are accused of planning to attack American military bases in Mildenhall and Lakenheath, which house a combined 10,000 American personnel, according to ABC’s Jon Williams. They were also planning to travel to Syria to join ISIS, Bloomberg reports.

The pair have been held in police custody in the U.K. since their arrest on July 14. They will appear in London court.

The latest arrests are in line with Prime Minister David Cameron’s crackdown of ISIS extremists, which he outlined in a speech on Monday, warning young Britons of the pitfalls of joining the terror group. “If you are a boy, they will brainwash you, strap bombs to your body and blow you up,” he said. “If you are a girl, they will enslave and abuse you.”

TIME Innovation

Releasing Drug Offenders Won’t End Mass Incarceration

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Releasing drug offenders won’t end mass incarceration.

By Oliver Roeder at FiveThirtyEight

2. Here’s the real solution to Greece’s woes. (Hint: It’s not crushing austerity measures.)

By James Surowiecki in the New Yorker

3. The “entrepreneur gene” is a myth.

By Aimee Groth in Quartz

4. To protect the brain health of our children, tackle poverty.

By Joan L. Luby in JAMA Pediatrics

5. Stop obsessing over why people become terrorists.

By Isabel Larroca in the Wilson Quarterly

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME National Security

U.S. Officials Probe Why Tennessee Shooting Suspect Visited Qatar in 2014

Four Marines and One Sailor Killed In Military Center Shootings In Chattanooga, Tennessee
Handout/Hamilton County Sheriff's Office/Getty Images Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez poses for a mugshot photo after he was was arrested on April 20, 2015, on a DUI offense

Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez also spent seven months in Jordan last year with his family

The chief suspect in the killing of five U.S. service members in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Thursday had traveled to Qatar at least once during a trip to the Middle East in 2014.

The reasons for Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez’s stopover in the Qatari capital Doha or the duration of his stay are still unknown, reports Reuters. Qatar has both native jihadist supporters as well as a U.S. air base.

Counterterrorism officials are also investigating a seven-month trip Abdulazeez took to Jordan in 2014 with his family. Officials are examining whether he became radicalized during this trip, but there is currently no evidence to suggest the 24-year-old had any contact with militant groups or individuals.

Abdulazeez, a Kuwaiti-born naturalized U.S. citizen of Jordanian descent, opened fire at a military recruiting center in Chattanooga on Thursday, before driving to a naval-reserve facility where he shot and killed four Marines. Three people were injured including a sailor who died the following Saturday. Abdulazeez was killed in a subsequent gunfight with law-enforcement officers.

On Monday, an official close to the investigation told Reuters that there was evidence that the suspect could have had access to jihadist propaganda online.

[Reuters]

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