TIME Terrorism

How to Stop the Next Domestic Terrorist

The former director of intelligence analysis for the NYPD explains how to detect and disrupt jihadist plots

There were warnings. They came from the director of the FBI, James Comey, and the spokesman for the Islamic State, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani. Comey told a February meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General, “We have investigations of people in various stages of radicalizing in all 50 states.” Al-Adnani announced last month, “O mujahedeen everywhere rush and go to make Ramadan a month of disasters for the infidels.”

July 16 was the last day of Ramadan. On that day, a shooter attacked a military recruiting center and another U.S. military site in Chattanooga, Tenn., killing five. Information about Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez and his motivation for his terrible actions is still being analyzed. But based on the targets, his social media profile, and his last texts before mobilizing to action, jihadist violence certainly seems to be a likely context to this event.

Could law enforcement and intelligence agencies have detected this particular individual before he turned to violence? And, more important, how do we defend against such attacks?

As the former director of intelligence analysis for the NYPD from 2007-2012, one of my top responsibilities was to do exactly that—detect and disrupt jihadist plots against New York before they could come to fruition. Finding lone actors, with no previous connections to terrorism, before they turned violent was one of the most difficult tasks our team of analysts and detectives had. But there are some actions that may increase the odds of identifying such people.

The most useful is probably the monitoring of social media. Trying to comprehensively monitor Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and Facebook is like trying to filter the ocean, but selective and focused observation of certain jihadist or pro-ISIS inclined sites, Twitter accounts and YouTube channels might provide an early warning or opportunity to identify an individual or individuals who has adopted the ideology promoted on these networks, and may suggest future action in furtherance of that ideology.

This is not a job for just any terrorism analyst or investigator. Those who observe these sites and social media channels must be savvy about language, references, and symbolism that provide the deeper insights about a person’s orientation and motivation. At the NYPD, we had a dedicated team of cyber analysts who could perform this capability and had the unique language skills to do so.

Another technique that a highly trained cyber intelligence and investigative team might include is adopting false identities and interacting with wannabe jihadists in the deep and dark Web in private forums or password-protected chat rooms. This would be a means to identify potential jihadists while they are still in the conspiratorial phase.

But sometimes, as in this case, there isn’t enough information. Initial reports are that Abdulazeez did not have much of a social media profile. Blog posts he made in recent weeks discussed philosophical issues about Islam and the meaning of life as well as the early times of Islam and the importance of jihad—content that would not have been decisive enough to trigger the opening of an investigation. Abdulazeez blogged last week that “life is short and bitter,” and Muslims should not miss an opportunity to “submit to Allah,” according SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that tracks extremist groups. In retrospect, this commentary is suggestive of an individual in turmoil who is looking to his religion for guidance during difficult times—not necessarily a terrorist.

A few days after the attack, many questions still remain about Abdulazeez: What motivated him? Was there a link to overseas terrorist organizations (either inspiration or command and control)? What was he trying to achieve with this dastardly attack? We’ll be sure to learn more in the coming days, which will hopefully add context and aid understanding of this event.

But for now, the events in Chattanooga are a puzzle half finished. The pieces we have look familiar, but we’re missing the pieces that will truly fill in the full picture of what to make of this latest American tragedy. Until then, we’ll have to be patient and struggle with the idea that this event may not have been preventable from a counterterrorism perspective.

Mitchell D. Silber is the executive managing director at K2 Intelligence, former director of intelligence analysis at the NYPD, and the author of The Al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West.

Read next: Everything We Know About the Chattanooga Gunman

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TIME Crime

Witness the Outpouring of Grief After the Chattanooga Shooting

Memorials were held on Thursday after a gunman opened fire on two military buildings, killing 4 Marines, as officials continued to investigate the crime scenes

TIME Iraq

A Series of Bombings Has Claimed 35 Lives in the Iraqi Capital

More than 100 people were also wounded

A string of car bombs and suicide attacks tore through the Iraqi capital on Sunday, killing 35 people and wounding more than 100.

The bombings occurred in Baghdad’s mainly Shi‘ite Muslim neighborhoods of Shaab, Bunouk and Kadhumuya, reports Reuters. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is believed responsible. The Sunni extremist group often sends militants into the capital.

The northern neighborhood of Shaab was hit worst when two bombs were set off near a market. A suicide attacker detonated explosives strapped to his body shortly after crowds gathered to see the aftermath of a car bomb. The combined blasts killed 19 people.

Nine other people died in a car bombing in Bunouk. Shortly afterward, security personnel with sniffer dogs swept the capital’s northeastern district when they received information about two more bomb threats.

As the daily Ramadan fast drew to a close, just before dusk, another suicide bomb killed five people in Kadhimiya. The district is home to one of Shi‘ism’s holiest shrines, the al-Kadhimiya Mosque. A separate bomb in the Iskan district to the city’s west killed another two people.

TIME Tunisia

Tunisian Forces Kill 5 Suspected Extremists in Counterterrorism Sweep

TUNISIA TERRORIST ATTACK
Steve Parsons—PA Photos /Landov Flowers remain on the beach as police officers patrol near the RIU Imperial Marhaba hotel in Sousse, Tunisia where 38 people lost their lives after a gunman stormed the beach.

38 people were killed by an Islamic extremist at beach resort in coastal Sousse on June 26

(TUNIS, Tunisia) — Tunisia’s security forces led a counterterrorism sweep in a mountainous central region Friday and killed five suspected extremists even as Western governments were calling their nationals home from a country they deem unsafe.

Tunisian Interior Ministry spokesman Walid Louguini told The Associated Press that a gunfight erupted Friday morning as a special national guard unit chased eight suspected extremists in the Ouled Bouomrane area. He said the operation was ongoing.

The army and national guard operation came a day after Britain’s government urged all U.K. tourists to leave Tunisia because an extremist attack is “highly likely,” saying the North African country hasn’t done enough to enhance security.

Thirty British tourists were among 38 victims killed by an Islamic extremist at beach resort in coastal Sousse on June 26.

Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid, speaking in a parliamentary debate, said his government “did everything in our power to protect (British) citizens and their interests, as well as those of all other countries.”

The government has carried out 7,000 security operations since the museum killing, arresting 1,000 people and stopping 15,000 young people from traveling to fight jihad abroad, Essid said, and was working to remedy “shortcomings.”

“Our country is going through a delicate situation, and is in danger,” he said.

Many Western European tour operators suspended trips to Tunisia following the Sousse killings.

France’s Foreign Ministry on Friday urged its citizens in Tunisia to be “particularly vigilant” but stopped short of urging departures. Germany, two of whose citizens died in the Sousse shooting, made no immediate change to its travel advice.

Ireland, Denmark, Belgium and Finland all discouraged citizens from non-essential travel to Tunisia.

Such decisions are a new wound for Tunisia’s struggling tourism industry and for the nation’s reputation as it tries to solidify its new democracy in a volatile region. An attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis in March left 22 dead, mostly foreign tourists.

Hotels in the resort of Hammamet were largely empty of foreign tourists Friday. At one, the swimming pool glistened in the Mediterranean sun, unperturbed by swimmers.

British Embassy officials were helping Friday with departures of British tourists at the Enfidha airport, but would not talk about the ramifications of the government’s warning.

The head of the Islamist party Ennahda’s group in parliament, Noureddine Bhiri, called the British decision “manifestly damaging to Tunisia and its democratic process.”

A French diplomat said French, British and German governments will work with Tunisia, notably in improving airport security and protecting tourist sites and foreign companies. The diplomat, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue, said Western experts would meet next week in Tunis to discuss security measures.

Myles Roberts, a 37-year-old Londoner, arrived in Tunisia on Wednesday a one-week trip. He said he was “reluctant to leave” but had no other way to get back home because Thomas Cook made plain that there would be no flights out after Sunday.

He said Britain’s call for travelers to return was tantamount to giving in to terrorism.

“We had IRA (Irish Republican Army) for 40 years, and we had 7/7,” Roberts said, referring to attacks in London that killed 52 subway and bus passengers on July 7, 2005. “It’s very safe here … The security is higher than usual but that is expected.”

___

Danica Kirka and Ashley Chan in London, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

TIME India

India’s Narendra Modi to Visit Pakistan in 2016 as Regional Foes Continue Dialogue

BRICS 2015 Summit
Sasha Mordovets—Getty Images From left: Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pose for a photo during the BRICS 2015 Summit in Ufa, Russia, on July 9, 2015

The visit was announced after bilateral talks between Modi and Pakistan's leader Nawaz Sharif on Friday

Correction appended, July 11, 2015

The highly anticipated talks between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Ufa, Russia, on Friday appeared to produce a few tangible positive outcomes, other than the former officially accepting an invitation to visit Pakistan next year.

Modi will travel to Pakistan’s capital city Islamabad for the 2016 summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), of which both India and Pakistan are founding members, according to a statement from the Foreign Secretaries of both countries after the meeting.

The one-on-one meeting between Modi and Sharif, the first in more than a year, took place in the led up to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit. Modi’s visit to Pakistan in 2016 will be his first ever, and the first by an Indian Prime Minister since Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004 (Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh never went across the border during his 10-year tenure).

The two leaders also made a renewed commitment to fighting terrorism — a thorn in the side of their bilateral relationship for several decades — announcing a meeting of their respective national security advisers in New Delhi to resolve security issues and enhanced cooperation regarding the 26/11 terrorist attacks of 2008 in Mumbai (which India has accused Pakistan of engineering).

The neighbors, which have fought three wars in the past six decades, also moved a step closer to resolving other long-standing issues. Sharif and Modi also pledged enhanced cooperation between security forces at the India-Pakistan border, where violent clashes between troops are a frequent occurrence, and the release of hundreds of fishermen from both countries — imprisoned for straying into the other’s international waters — within 15 days.

“Whatever was signed was welcome,” Gopalapuram Parthasarathy, a former High Commissioner of India to Pakistan, says to TIME in an interview. “Ultimately this relationship’s direction will depend on terrorism and the situation on the borders.”

However, given the fragile nature of similar bilateral agreements in the past, Parthasarathy does recognize the need to maintain “healthy skepticism” until concrete action is taken.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” he says. “Don’t forget we had great agreements in Lahore [during Vajpayee’s visit] and then we had Kargil [war of 1999] within three months.”

Correction: The original version of this article misstated the year of the most recent visit of Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It was 2004. The article also misstated the length of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s time in office. It was 10 years.

TIME justice

FBI Thwarted July 4 Terrorist Attacks, Director Says

FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on 'Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and the Challenges of Going Dark', on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 8, 2015.
Michael Reynolds—EPA FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on 'Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and the Challenges of Going Dark', on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 8, 2015.

"I do believe our work disrupted efforts to kill people," James Comey said

Some of the dozen arrests made by federal agents in the last four weeks helped to thwart potential terror attacks during the Fourth of July holiday, FBI Director James Comey said Thursday.

“I do believe our work disrupted efforts to kill people, likely in connection with July 4,” Comey told reporters at FBI headquarters in Washington.

Comey’s comments are a public confirmation made by other law enforcement that several people were arrested in the past month over concerns that they might have been inspired by ISIS to carry out attacks either during the holiday or during the Muslim holy period of…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Offers to Release Chibok Girls If Leaders Freed

nigeria boko haram
Olamikan Gbemiga—AP The parents of children abducted by Nigeria’s Boko Haram group attend an event linked to the 'Bring Back Our Girls' campaign at the presidential residence in Abuja, Nigeria on July 8, 2015.

The new initiative reopens last year's offer to the Nigerian government to release the 219 students in exchange for 16 Boko Haram detainees

(LAGOS, Nigeria) — Nigeria’s Boko Haram extremists are offering to free more than 200 young women and girls kidnapped from a boarding school in the town of Chibok in exchange for the release of militant leaders held by the government, a human rights activist has told The Associated Press.

The activist said Boko Haram’s current offer is limited to the girls from the school in northeastern Nigeria whose mass abduction in April 2014 ignited worldwide outrage and a campaign to “Bring Back Our Girls” that stretched to the White House.

The new initiative reopens an offer made last year to the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan to release the 219 students in exchange for 16 Boko Haram detainees, the activist said. The man, who was involved in negotiations with Boko Haram last year and is close to current negotiators, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters on this sensitive issue.

Fred Eno, an apolitical Nigerian who has been negotiating with Boko Haram for more than a year, told the AP that “another window of opportunity opened” in the last few days, though he could not discuss details.

He said the recent slew of Boko Haram bloodletting — some 350 people killed in the past nine days — is consistent with past ratcheting up of violence as the militants seek a stronger negotiating position.

Presidential adviser Femi Adesina said on Saturday that Nigeria’s government “will not be averse” to talks with Boko Haram. “Most wars, however furious or vicious, often end around the negotiation table,” he said.

Eno said the 5-week-old administration of President Muhammadu Buhari offers “a clean slate” to bring the militants back to negotiations that had become poisoned by the different security agencies and their advice to Jonathan.

Two months of talks last year led government representatives and Eno to travel in September to a northeastern town where the prisoner exchange was to take place, only to be stymied by the Department for State Service intelligence agency, the activist said.

At the last minute, the agency said it was holding only four of the militants sought by Boko Haram, the activist said.

It is not known how many Boko Haram suspects are detained by Nigeria’s intelligence agency, whose chief Buhari fired last week.

The activist said the agency continues to hold suspects illegally because it does not have enough evidence for a conviction, and any court would free them. Nigerian law requires charges be brought after 48 hours.

Thousands of suspects have died in custody, and some detainees wanted by Boko Haram may be among them. Amnesty International alleges that 8,000 detainees have died in military custody — some have been shot, some have died from untreated injuries due to torture, and some have died from starvation and other harsh treatment.

In May, about 300 women, girls and children being held captive by Boko Haram were rescued by Nigeria’s military, but none were from Chibok. It is believed that the militants view the Chibok girls as a last-resort bargaining chip.

In that infamous abduction, 274 mostly Christian girls preparing to write science exams were seized from the school by Islamic militants in the early hours of April 15, 2014. Dozens escaped on their own in the first few days, but 219 remain missing.

Boko Haram has not shown them since a May 2014 video in which its leader, Abubakar Shekau warned: “You won’t see the girls again unless you release our brothers you have captured.”

In the video, nearly 100 of the girls, who have been identified by their parents, were shown wearing Islamic hijab and reciting the Quran. One of them said they had converted to Islam.

International indignation at Nigeria’s failure to rescue the girls was joined by U.S. first lady Michelle Obama. In a radio address in May 2014, she said she and President Barack Obama are “outraged and heartbroken” over the abduction.

Jonathan’s government initially denied there had been any mass abduction and delays of a rescue that might have brought the girls home became a hallmark of his other failures. He steadfastly refused to meet with the Bring Back Our Girls campaigners, charging they were politicizing the issue.

On Wednesday, President Buhari welcomed those campaigners at the presidential villa in Abuja and pleaded “We only ask for your patience.” He said “The delay and conflicting reaction by the former government and its agencies is very unfortunate.”

Campaign leader Oby Ezekwesili said, “The rescue of our Chibok girls is the strongest statement that this government could make to showg respect for the sanctity and dignity of every Nigerian life.”

There have been unconfirmed reports that some of the girls have been taken to neighboring countries, and that some have been radicalized and trained as fighters. At least three were reported to have died — one from dysentery, one from malaria and one from a snake bite.

Last year, Shekau said the girls were an “old story,” and that he had married them off to his fighters.

Lawan Zanna, whose daughter is among the captives, said this week that 14 Chibok parents have died since the mass kidnapping, many from stress-related illnesses blamed on the ordeal.

Some of the Chibok girls who managed to escape have been rejected by their community and now live with family friends, tired of hearing taunts like “Boko Haram wives.”

The assumption that all girls and women held by the group have been raped is a difficult stigma to overcome in Nigeria’s highly religious and conservative society.

Shekau had threatened in 2013 to kidnap women and girls if Nigeria’s military did not release detained Boko Haram wives and children. The government freed them in May of that year as a goodwill gesture ahead of failed peace talks.

Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds more — girls, boys, women and young men. Some have become sex slaves, while others are used as fighters, according to former captives.

Nigerian opinion on negotiating with the extremists is mixed. Some say the group’s crimes are too heinous to be forgiven: The 6-year-old Islamic uprising has killed more than 13,000 people and forced about 1.5 million from their homes.

“A lot of people take a hard-line stance that you must never negotiate with a terrorist,” said Sen. Chris Anyanwu. She called it a “very complex” issue, balancing the lives of more than 200 girls against the dangers of freeing extremists.

The militants last year seized a large swath of northeast Nigeria and declared an Islamic caliphate. Nigeria and its neighbors deployed a multinational army that forced them out of towns and villages this year, but the bloodshed has risen at a fierce rate since Buhari’s May 29 inauguration amid pledges to crush the insurgency.

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Associated Press writer Bashir Adigun contributed to this report from Abuja, Nigeria.

TIME Afghanistan

Afghan Government Officials in Direct Talks With Taliban

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
Allauddin Khan—AP Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a press conference in Kabul on May 26, 2015.

This marks the first official meeting between the two sides since the Taliban was ousted from power in 2001

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — An Afghan official says a government delegation has met with Taliban representatives in Pakistan.

An official from the Afghan government’s high peace council told The Associated Press that the meeting took place Tuesday in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

Sayed Zafar Hashemi, deputy spokesman for the Afghan president’s office, confirmed that the delegation travelled to Pakistan for talks with the Taliban.

The talks marked the first official meeting between the two sides since the Taliban was ousted from power in 2001 by a U.S.-led coalition invasion. Taliban and government representatives have met informally in the past. New Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has made it a public priority to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.

TIME United Kingdom

London Marks the 10th Anniversary of the July 7 Terrorist Attacks

"Ten years on from the 7/7 London attacks, the threat from terrorism continues to be as real as it is deadly"

On Tuesday, London will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the July 7, 2005, bombings that killed 52 people — the worst single terrorist attack on British soil.

A service will take place in St Paul’s Cathedral to remember those who died in what became known as the 7/7 bombings, reports the BBC. Family members of the victims and some of those who were injured will attend the ceremony.

A minute’s silence will be held across London’s transport network at 11:30 a.m. BST (6:30 a.m. ET) with London Underground trains and buses coming to a halt wherever possible.

There will also be a service at Hyde Park’s July 7 Memorial.

Just after 8:30 a.m. on 7 July, four suicide bombers with links to al-Qaeda detonated homemade bombs on three subway trains and one bus during the morning rush-hour.

Twenty-six people lost their lives in the bombing at Russell Square, six died at Edgware Road and seven in the explosion at Aldgate.

About an hour later, 13 people were killed as a fourth device detonated on a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square. More than 700 people were injured in the bombings.

“Ten years on from the 7/7 London attacks, the threat from terrorism continues to be as real as it is deadly — the murder of 30 innocent Britons whilst holidaying in Tunisia is a brutal reminder of that fact,” said U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. “But we will never be cowed by terrorism.”

[BBC]

TIME Nigeria

Fresh Horror in Nigeria After Bloody Week That Claimed Almost 250 Lives

Some 17,000 people have died in violence related to Boko Haram since 2009

A suicide bombing at a church in Potiskum on Sunday, and dual explosions in the central city of Jos in the early hours of Monday morning local time, have shaken Nigeria and mark the end of a week of atrocities in the embattled country that has left more than 200 dead.

The explosions in Jos, at a mosque and a popular restaurant, killed 44 people and wounded 67 early morning July 6, the AP reports. Witnesses said the bombing at Yantaya Mosque took place during a lecture by a leading cleric famous for preaching peaceful co-existence. The second bomb exploded at Shagalinku, a restaurant known to cater to the political elite.

No one has claimed responsibility for the church blast in Potiskum, which killed a priest and four congregants, but it is consistent with past attacks attributed to militant Islamist group Boko Haram, CNN reports.

Potiskum has recently been the focus of Boko Haram violence; in January, three people were killed and 43 hurt during a bombing in a market, and the next week another attack left four dead and 48 hurt at a bus station. Another bus station was attacked in February, killing 17, and in May the town’s College of Administrative and Business Studies was targeted.

Jos is also often a target for violence, as it sits on the fault line between the country’s Christian south and Muslim north.

Additionally, this past week has seen what new Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari described as a “heinous” burst of violence, the BBC reports, including suicide bombings in two small Borno villages, the killing of 97 people near Lake Chad, and 48 men shot dead in two villages near Monguno.

Amnesty International estimates that more than 17,000 people have been killed since 2009 in violence involving Boko Haram.

[BBC]

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