TIME Middle East

Survey Shows a Growing Fear of Islamic Extremism in the Middle East

Mideast Iraq
Militants from the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria celebrate the group's declaration of an Islamic state in Fallujah, Iraq, on June 30, 2014 Associated Press

An opinion poll conducted across 14 countries with a large Muslim population shows an increased fear of Islamic extremism and a drop in support for al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hizballah and Boko Haram

The threat of Islamic extremism is a growing worry among people in the Middle East, according to a new survey.

Frequent suicide bombings and the rise of the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) were concerns cited by many of the 14,244 people across 14 countries with large Muslim populations surveyed by the Pew Research Center.

Notably, the study was conducted from April 10 to May 25 — before ISIS had even seized the Iraqi city of Mosul — and the subsequent declaration of an Islamic state straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border may have further increased these tensions.

In Lebanon, anxiety about extremism among Christians, Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims rose 11 percentage points since 2013 to 92% of the population currently. Respondents in Jordan and Turkey, which both border war-torn Syria, shared similar concerns. In Jordan, these fears grew 13 percentage points to 62% in just two years.

The study also showed a drastic decline in support for Islamist groups Hamas, Hizballah, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram. A sweeping majority had unfavorable opinions of al-Qaeda, particularly among Christians, Muslims and Jews in both Israel and Lebanon. The Taliban — which has a base on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan — is opposed by 59% of the population in Pakistan. Hizballah is also generally disliked throughout the Middle East, peaking in Egypt, Turkey and Jordan where at least 8 in 10 people were opposed.

Hamas — a militant group that controls the Gaza Strip — drew widespread aversion throughout the Middle East and even in Palestine, where 53% of the population expressed negative views. When Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, the group was favored by 67% of the population in Palestine, but outright support has now waned to just 35%.

Suicide bombings remain a divisive subject. Although the act has lost popularity throughout the Middle East in recent years, “significant minorities of Muslims in a few countries do hold the view that it can be justified,” according to the report.

While suicide bombings have dropped throughout the Middle East, the study revealed that support in Nigeria grew by 11 percentage points since last year — although 61% of Nigerian Muslims still agree that it is not a justifiable method of defending Islam. A majority of the Nigerians surveyed also opposed Boko Haram, a terrorist group that has recently been spotlighted for kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls.

TIME Terrorism

Support for Suicide Bombings Plummets In Countries Where They Happen Most

LEBANON-UNREST-BLAST-HEZBOLLAH
Mourners attend the funeral of Abdel Karim Hodroj, a 20-year-old Lebanese General Security agency inspector who was killed the previous day in an overnight suicide blast, on June 25, 2014, in Beirut.. ANWAR AMRO—AFP/Getty Images

A Pew opinion poll finds that with a few exceptions, the more people see suicide bombings, the less they like them

Support for suicide bombers in the name of Islam has dropped in countries that have endured the most suicide bombings, a recent Pew survey reports.

When asked if suicide bombings can ever be justified against civilian targets “to defend Islam from its enemies,” a growing majority responded with “rarely” or “not at all.” Even in what has historically been the strongest bastion of support for these terror tactics, the Palestinian Territories, the percentage that replied “often/sometimes” tumbled to 46% in 2014, down from a high of 70% seven years ago. Pew noted that favorable views of Hamas had also significantly declined.

In Jordan, support fell from a high of 57% in 2005, the same year a series of bomb blasts ripped through three hotels in the nation’s capital Amman, to just 15% in 2014. In Pakistan–which has been ranked the third-most “bomb-scarred” country in the world by the UK-based NGO Action on Armed Violence — support fell this year to 3%, down from a high of 41% in 2004.

There were notable exceptions to the trend. Egypt, Turkey and Nigeria saw an uptick in people who said they believed that sometimes suicide bombings could be justified against civilian targets. Overall, though, the poll suggests that in the long-run, the more people experience the devastation of suicide bombs, the less they like them.

Levels of Support for Suicide Bombing over Time

TIME

Pakistan Vows to Eliminate Terrorist Sanctuaries

ISLAMABAD— A Pakistani military operation launched in the country’s northwest will clear the area of terrorists and keep it from being used as a safe haven by militant groups, officials said Tuesday.

Pakistani officials briefed foreign media about the operation started two weeks ago against militants in the North Waziristan tribal area, which is considered the stronghold of groups such as the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban. The long-awaited operation is being closely watched to see how aggressively Pakistan moves against the militants and whether the operation sparks a backlash of violence in the rest of the country.

“Once we are done with the operation in North Waziristan, there won’t be a single terrorist,” said military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa.

The U.S. has long urged Pakistan to send troops into North Waziristan because the region had become a safe haven for groups who attacked American and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. It’s also become a hub for militants intent on overthrowing the Pakistani government who have used it as a base from which they’ve launched attacks on civilian and military targets across the country.

The U.S. has been especially concerned about the Haqqani network, which has been accused of carrying out some of the most deadly attacks in Afghanistan. U.S. officials have accused Pakistan in the past of supporting the militant group and others as a way to maintain influence in Afghanistan.

Since the operation was launched in North Waziristan, one of the questions has been whether the Pakistani military would go after all militant groups equally. Officials Tuesday said they would not discriminate.

“We will not permit anybody to use the soil of Pakistan against another country — Haqqani or no Haqqani,” said the Minister of States and Frontier Regions, Abdul Qaudir Baloch.

Officials also called on neighboring Afghanistan to act against militants who attack Pakistan from Afghan soil, including the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. Both countries have accused the other of harboring militants, but in recent months cross-border tensions have flared over accusations that Pakistani Taliban militants, including the leader of the group, are in northeastern Afghanistan.

“This has been raised at every level, that the leader of the TTP, Mullah Fazlullah is sitting across the border,” said Bajwa, referring to the Pakistani Taliban’s formal name — Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. “Afghanistan needs to do something about it.”

The officials declined to give a timetable for how long the operation would last, but analysts have said it could be months.

Nearly half a million refugees fled North Waziristan in a mass exodus that has sparked accusations that the government was not prepared to deal with the humanitarian crisis. The United Nations reported Monday that almost 100,000 people have also fled from North Waziristan to neighboring Afghanistan.

Officials Tuesday at the briefing disputed those figures and said the numbers were lower but declined to give any specific figures.

TIME

Car Bomb Explodes at Market in Northeast Nigeria

BAUCHI, Nigeria — A car bomb exploded Tuesday in a market in Maiduguri, the northeast Nigerian city that is the birthplace of Boko Haram Islamic extremists, reducing stalls, goods and vehicles to piles of trash. Dozens of people are feared dead, witnesses said.

Witnesses blamed Boko Haram extremists who are accused of a series of recent bomb attacks in the West African nation.

Tuesday’s explosives were hidden under a load of charcoal in a pickup van, according to witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Trader Daba Musa Yobe, who works near the popular market, said the bomb went off just after the market opened at 8 a.m., before most traders or customers had arrived.

Stalls and goods were reduced to debris as were the burned-out hulks of five cars and some tricycle taxis set ablaze by the explosion.

Yobe said security forces cordoned off the area but had a hard time keeping people out, though they warned there could be secondary explosions timed to target rescue efforts.

Witnesses said they saw about 50 bodies. They said the toll may be worse but fewer than normal traders and customers were around because most people stay up late to eat during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting from sunrise to sunset.

A security official at the scene confirmed the blast, saying many casualties are feared. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the press.

Explosions last week targeted the biggest shopping mall in Abuja, Nigeria’s central capital, killing 24 people; a medical college in northern Kano city, killing at least eight; and a hotel brothel in northeast Bauchi city that killed 10. It was the third bomb blast in as many months in Abuja, and the second in two months in Kano. In May, twin car bombs at a marketplace also left more than 130 dead in central Jos city and killed at least 14 people at a World Cup viewing site in Damaturu, another town in the northeast.

Maiduguri, a city of more than 1 million people, has suffered many attacks. In March, twin car bombs killed more than 50 people at a late-night market where people were watching a football match on a big screen.

Boko Haram has attracted international attention and condemnation since its April abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from a northeastern town.

Nigeria’s military announced Monday night that it had busted a terrorist intelligence cell and arrested a businessman who “participated actively” in the mass abduction that caused outrage around the world.

It was unclear if the first arrest of a suspect in the kidnappings could help in rescuing at least 219 girls who remain captive. Boko Haram is threatening to sell the girls into marriage and slavery if Nigeria’s government does not exchange them for detained insurgents.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade said in a statement that businessman Babuji Ya’ari belonged to a vigilante group fighting Boko Haram and used that membership as cover “while remaining an active terrorist.”

He said information yielded by Ya’ari’s detention had led to the arrests of two women — one who worked as a spy and arms procurer and another described as a paymaster.

Boko Haram has adopted a two-pronged strategy this year of bombings in urban areas and scorched-earth attacks in northeastern villages where people are gunned down and their homes burned.

On Sunday, suspected extremists sprayed gunfire on worshippers in four churches in a northeastern village and torched the buildings. At least 30 people were reported killed there.

The extremists have been attacking with more frequency and deadliness in recent months.

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday condemned the recent attacks. A statement said “The president assures all Nigerians once again that the federal government and national security agencies will continue to intensify ongoing efforts to end Boko Haram’s senseless attacks until the terrorists are routed and totally defeated.”

The inability of the military to curb attacks has brought international criticism, with the United Nations noting the government is failing in its duty to protect citizens. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement Monday “reiterates the readiness of the United Nations to support Nigeria as it responds to this challenge in a manner consistent with its international human rights obligations.”

TIME Iraq

The Iraqi Government Seems Helpless to Stop ISIS’s New Caliphate

The Sunni militant group says it has created its own Islamic empire. Their hold is less than secure, but Iraq's government seems helpless

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With the upload of an audio recording, radical Sunni militants on June 29 declared a new Islamic caliphate, a religious superstate, stretching from eastern Iraq to the Syrian city of Aleppo. The group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is now simply the Islamic State, dropping the names of the two countries whose sovereignty it doesn’t recognize.

After weeks of laying claim to Iraqi territory, the group’s spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said on Sunday that they had everything necessary to proclaim their state. The Caliph — or leader — is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Iraqi-born ISIS leader who appears to be giving al-Qaeda chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, a run for his money. “Listen to your leader and obey him,” said al-Adnani in the online statement. “Support your state, which grows continuously.”

But despite massive Sunni discontent with the Shi‘ite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a caliphate run by a Caliph whose location is unknown and whose representatives regularly order beheadings may still be too much for many Iraqis. “They put up the new rules at all the mosques,” said one resident of Mosul, an Iraqi city that has fallen to ISIS. “Now it’s no smoking, no argileh pipes, and they sent the women home from government jobs.”

Even more troubling than the strict Shari‘a law ISIS is known to enforce with public lashings and executions is the militant group’s assertion of sovereignty over the territory it controls. There are many Islamists and well-armed Sunnis within ISIS’s self-declared borders who won’t be keen to swear allegiance to al-Baghdadi and his black flag.

Until now, Sunni tribes and the old guard of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party have been playing along with ISIS against a common enemy: Baghdad and al-Maliki’s Shi‘ite-led government. But “there are a lot of tribes that don’t want to be part of a caliphate,” said Kenneth Pollack, a specialist in Middle East political-military affairs and a former CIA analyst. And it may be their resistance, rather the Iraqi army, that will prove the true obstacle for ISIS. “This is exactly the thing back in 2006 when they were al-Qaeda in Iraq that got them in to trouble and helped push the Sunni tribes back into the arms of the Americans.”

But as ISIS defends its new territory, its assertion of dominance may become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as an increasing number of fighters join the group seen as winning on the ground. “The events of the last three weeks have really boosted ISIS’s stock among the global jihadist movement,” said Pollack. “These guys took Mosul. When was the last time al-Qaeda did anything that impressive? So if you’re some young would-be jihadi I think there is a good likelihood you’re going to choose ISIS as opposed to the old al-Qaeda.”

ISIS fighters continue to battle Iraqi government troops, particularly for the strategic northern city of Tikrit. Despite outnumbering the jihadists, the Iraqi national army has retaken little ground, and is desperately reaching out to the international community for military support. Russia was quick to deliver a small fleet of warplanes over the weekend, and U.S. advisers are already in country to support the Iraqi military.

But al-Maliki’s choice of military force rather than political negotiation is failing, and calls for him to step down here are being heard in Tehran, and even in Iraq among his Shi‘ite support base. On July 1 Iraq’s parliament will reconvene and there will be a lot of pressure on al-Maliki to make the concessions suggested by U.S Secretary of State John Kerry and British First Secretary of State William Hague when they visited Iraq recently. Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities say the current government has a sectarian agenda and the Kurds are more interested in autonomy than a new deal with Baghdad.

“We are in a new reality now, and it’s clear Iraq will never be ruled by one man, one sect, or party,” said Hiwa Osman, an analyst and writer based in Erbil. “The new Iraq is to be managed, not ruled. Managing the relationships between the various regions is the only way forward if the country wants to stay together.”

A political solution out of the parliament tomorrow is unlikely. Not only has al-Maliki shown he’s unwilling to compromise, but Osman says those Sunnis who will be sitting in the opening session on Tuesday don’t have the necessary influence in the areas of the newly declared caliphate.

“If they were really the players, they would be on the ground in Mosul, in Tikrit, in Nineveh,” said Osman. “Not in Baghdad.”

TIME

Sentencing Due for Man Who Tried to Aid al-Qaida

LOS ANGELES — A California man who used Facebook to connect with al-Qaida and planned to train its fighters in Pakistan was scheduled to be sentenced Monday in federal court.

Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen, 25, of Garden Grove, pleaded guilty in December to one count of attempting to assist a known terrorist organization.

The crime carries a penalty of up to 15 years in federal prison and a lifetime of supervised release. He was scheduled to appear before U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter, who earlier voiced doubts about how Nguyen could have helped al-Qaida.

Nguyen’s attorney requested a shorter sentence by citing 14 other terrorism-related cases in which most received less than eight years in prison.

Between August and October 2013, Nguyen met several times with a man he thought was an al-Qaida recruiter but who was actually working for the FBI, according to court documents. Nguyen told the recruiter he was born to wage jihad and he agreed to travel to Pakistan via Mexico in order to train 30 al-Qaida fighters.

Nguyen was arrested at a Santa Ana bus terminal in October while waiting for a bus bound for Mexico. At the time of his arrest, Nguyen had a passport with a false name, along with a hard drive containing 180 weapons training videos, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Nguyen’s admission was outlined in a plea agreement filed in federal court.

Nguyen, who also went by the name Hasan Abu Omar Ghannoum, said he had traveled to Syria and for five months fought with rebel forces opposing the regime of Bashar al-Assad. While in Syria, Nguyen offered his services to al-Qaida but was turned down, according to federal prosecutors.

TIME

Prosecutors Move to Drop Charges Against Al-Arian

McLEAN, Va. — Federal prosecutors moved Friday to drop criminal contempt charges against a Palestinian activist whose case has sat in limbo for five years in front of a skeptical judge.

Former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian has been a target of the Justice Department for more than a decade. He was initially charged with playing a leadership role in the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He ended up taking a plea bargain on greatly reduced charges after a jury failed to convict him following a lengthy trial.

After accepting the plea deal in Tampa, Florida, in 2006, it had been expected that Al-Arian would be deported.

Instead, the legal saga continued when prosecutors in Alexandria sought his testimony in a separate investigation. Al-Arian refused, saying he had carefully negotiated the Florida plea deal to exclude the usual requirement to cooperate with government investigations.

But appellate courts ruled that prosecutors were within their rights to subpoena Al-Arian. In 2008, prosecutors in Virginia filed criminal contempt charges against Al-Arian for his refusal to testify despite a grant of immunity.

For the last five years, the case has sat dormant on the court docket. Judge Leonie Brinkema questioned the government’s tactics and wondered whether prosecutors were violating the spirit of Al-Arian’s plea deal in Florida, if not the letter of it.

In 2009, she told lawyers that she would rule “soon” on pretrial motions that needed to be resolved for the case to go forward. But without explanation, she has refused to rule on those matters.

The only substantive action she has taken on the case has been to liberalize the conditions of Al-Arian’s pretrial detention. For several years, he had essentially been on home arrest, living with his family. Last year, she modified the conditions so that Al-Arian was free to leave the home under GPS monitoring as long as he met a curfew.

As a result of the legal limbo, prosecutors have been unable to pursue the contempt case, and the government has been unable to deport him.

The five-year limbo is a rarity in criminal cases and even more unusual in the Eastern District of Virginia, known as the “Rocket Docket” for its swift disposition of cases.

Prosecutors said Friday they will drop the case, which will likely result in Al-Arian’s deportation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg noted in the motion to dismiss that the government had prodded Brinkema back in 2010 to rule on pretrial matters so the case could proceed, one way or another.

“The United States reaffirms the evaluations of the merit of the prosecution that were made in 2008 and again in 2010. Nevertheless, in light of the passage of time without resolution, the United States has decided that the best available course of action is to move to dismiss the indictment so that action can be taken to remove the defendant from the United States,” Kromberg wrote.

Prosecutors’ only other option for pushing the case forward would have been to pursue a writ against Brinkema in front of another judge, which would have proved awkward given that prosecutors appear before Brinkema on hundreds of criminal matters a year.

Al-Arian’s lawyer, Jonathan Turley, who had argued for the case to be dropped, declined comment until the judge formally signs off on the dismissal.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia also declined comment.

TIME Pakistan

Unbelievably, There Are Now Refugees Fleeing to Afghanistan

The Pakistani military’s offensive against insurgents in North Waziristan has sparked a humanitarian crisis, with thousands of Pakistanis concluding that Afghanistan is just a far safer place to be right now.

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The Pakistani military has begun operations against Islamic insurgents in the North Waziristan region, delivering the offensive that Washington has been requesting for a decade, and sparking a massive exodus of refugees — some of whom are fleeing to neighboring Afghanistan to escape the fighting.

Militants, who have long inhabited the mountainous tribal area, have found themselves the target of heavy artillery bombardment and airstrikes for the past fortnight, in what the military’s PR chief Major-General Asim Bajwa termed “the beginning of the end of terrorism in Pakistan.”

Reports began to surface on Thursday in the Pakistani press that ground troops had started moving into North Waziristan to clear out the insurgent forces.

Washington says militants have been using North Waziristan for years as a base from which to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan and to wage a terrorist insurgency against the Pakistani state.

Senior members of the Pakistani Taliban (the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan), the Haqqani Network and Al Qaeda’s central command — along with a smattering of militants from as far away as western China’s Xinjiang province and Chechnya — are believed to be holed up in the area. All are on Islamabad’s kill list.

“For the military, there’ll be no discrimination among Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Haqqani network or any other militant group,” Major-General Bajwa told reporters during a press conference in Rawalpindi on Thursday.

The mountainous border dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan has been home to martial tribes for centuries. However, the presence of heavily armed insurgents and foreign jihadis is the notorious legacy of American and Saudi intelligence agencies, who used the fighters as proxy forces during the clandestine war with Soviet troops occupying Afghanistan in the 1980s.

“This is famously the powder keg, which has led to everything going wrong in the region and the beginning of heavily armed militant Islam,” William Dalrymple, the historian and author of nine books on South Asia, tells TIME. “Obviously in retrospect [it’s] one of the great mistakes of American foreign policy.”

The Pakistani secret service (ISI) is alleged to have helped insurgent elements fleeing the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, using those militant groups to maintain pressure on the newly formed government in Kabul, which they believed harbored pro-Indian sensibilities.

“The Pakistan Army, or elements within ISI, always continued to support the Taliban as a way of getting rid of the Karzai government and a way of installing a pro-Pakistani Taliban regime in Kabul,” says Dalrymple.

That policy appears to have backfired. In 2007, the Pakistani Taliban launched a fresh insurgency against Islamabad that to date has been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Pakistanis and at least 15,000 security personnel.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif campaigned last year on the promise of peace talks with the Taliban, but any hope of negotiations has been extinguished by a recent string of humiliating attacks, including a brazen assault on Karachi airport, deep in the country’s commercial hub.

The perennially stretched Pakistani state is now attempting to deal with the massive humanitarian fallout from the new offensive. In the less than two weeks of fighting, more than 450,000 people have been internally displaced. Officials estimate that the number will surpass 500,000 soon.

In a bizarre reversal of the norm, tens of thousands of Pakistanis have reportedly flooded into war-torn eastern Afghanistan to escape the fighting on the Pakistan side of the border.

“The [Afghan] government estimates there are over 60,000 thousand for now,” says Babar Baloch from U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees.

The exodus has also ignited fears that the polio epidemic rampant in North Waziristan for two years could spread to other parts of the region.

Meanwhile, analysts have already begun to criticize the new military campaign for not being part of a broader vision of Pakistan’s future.

“There isn’t yet a clear national strategy,” says Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. That means “operations are going to be tactical at best.” He adds: “The civilians were not brought in at the planning stage. And they’re not prepared in any way to take over from the military once the clearing has taken place.”

TIME Iraq

Syria Bombed ISIS Fighters in Iraq, Maliki Confirms

Syria has joined the conflict in Iraq by launching air strikes against the insurgents, the Iraqi Prime Minister confirms

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki confirmed Thursday that Syria bombed Islamic militants in the Iraqi border town of al-Qaim on Tuesday, the BBC reports.

Though Maliki claimed he didn’t request Syria’s support, he said he “welcomed” any action against the insurgents, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who now control large parts of northern and western Iraq.

Syria’s strikes may displease U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who on Wednesday warned outside actors in the Middle East against intervening in Iraq.

“We don’t need anything to take place that might exacerbate the sectarian divisions that are already at a heightened level of tension,” said Kerry while speaking at a NATO summit. Kerry previously ruled out U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.

Syria’s bombings in Iraq have been interpreted as the two countries uniting over a common enemy, ISIS. ISIS, which is opposed to Syria’s President Bashar Assad as well as Iraq’s Maliki, controls territory in northern Syria in addition to the land it’s recently claimed in Iraq, which includes border crossings between the two neighboring nations.

Reports have also suggested that Iran is aiding Iraq’s government by sending military supplies and launching surveillance drones over the country. Iran has also reinforced its western border with Iraq.

The Iraqi government has been struggling to halt ISIS’ progress. The group is believed to be only an hour’s drive north of the capital Baghdad.

Facing the mounting military might of ISIS on top of growing political and diplomatic pressure internally and from allies, Maliki has announced plans to form a new government when parliament reconvenes in the capital next week. He has also purchased Russian warplanes as the U.S. has persistently delayed Iraq’s attempts to buy American fighter jets.

[BBC]

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