TIME Military

The Islamic State Celebrates Its First Birthday

ISIS flag Raqqa
Reuters A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa on June 29, 2014.

The durability of the terror proto-state proves daunting

Military commanders like to say that “quantity has a quality all its own.” It’s a shorthand way of saying that greater numbers of inferior weapons or troops often can beat smaller, superior forces. Given that Monday marks the first birthday of the declaration of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, it’s also worth noting that the passage of time, too, has a quality all its own.

The quantity of time counts, as days turn into weeks, and months have become a year. Time isn’t an inert presence, either on the physical battlefield or in the war of ideas. It’s a measure of will, a magnet to attract followers, and a manifestation of reality. Bottom line: persistence produces power.

This isn’t good. The Pentagon has adopted a go-slow approach, with its modest air campaign and turgid training schedule, in part to prod Iraq to do the fighting. That’s fine, so long as you believe ISIS is a slow-growing tumor, confined to Iraq and Syria. But as last Friday’s attacks in France, Kuwait and Tunisia that killed at least 60 make clear, it’s a malignancy that’s spreading.

“They’ve been able to hold ground for a year,” says retired Marine general James Mattis, who served as chief of U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013. “The longer they hold territory it become this radioactive thing, just spewing out this stuff as fighters go there and then come home again.”

“Listen to your caliph and obey him,” ISIS spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani said of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a recording released June 29, 2014. “Support your state, which grows every day.”

Chillingly, al-Adnani issued a call last Tuesday calling on Muslims to mark the holy month of Ramadan by making it “a month of disasters for the kuffar”—non-Muslims. He pledged those carrying out such attacks “tenfold” rewards in heaven in exchange for their martyrdom. Last week’s attacks followed. ISIS took responsibility for the beachfront attack in Tunisia that killed at least 38; an ISIS affiliate claimed credit for the blast at a Kuwait City mosque that took 27 lives; the suspect in the French attack reportedly told police of his ties to the Islamic State after decapitating his employer.

IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency CentreThis map shows where Islamic state and its affiliates are located. The black borders delineate where Islamic State has formally announced a wilaya (province) and the red shows attacks carried out in the name of Islamic State between the declaration of a caliphate on June 29, 2014, and June 22, 2015.

After a year in existence, ISIS continues to keep its grip on the huge swatch of land straddling what used to be the border between eastern Syria and western Iraq. “After awhile, possession is nine-tenths of legitimacy,” Anthony Cordesman, a military scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says of ISIS’s first anniversary. “Just being there, visible, over time gives you more and more influence and ability to create more extremists.”

This represents a new kind of threat. “The Islamic State is not an insurgency like the United States fought from 2003 until its departure from Iraq,” Rand Corp. analyst David Johnson notes in the latest issue of Parameters, the Army’s professional journal. “Rather, it is an aspiring proto-state bent on taking and holding territory.”

The U.S. actually has been fighting ISIS and its forebears for years. “Washington continues to fail to recognize the persistence of this organization going back to the declaration of what was then called the Islamic State of Iraq,” Brian Fishman of West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center told the House Armed Services Committee last Wednesday. “We don’t often recognize our long history of fighting ISIS, but we have effectively been fighting this organization for a decade already.”

As ISIS grew and began controlling greater swaths of Iraq and Syria, there was a sense its days were numbered. Following its seizure of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, just over a year ago, Pentagon officials repeatedly said that Iraqi forces, perhaps aided by small numbers of U.S. troops accompanying them to call in air strikes, would take back the city sometime in the first half of 2015. That hasn’t happened. And for every Tikrit that Iraqi forces, aided by Iranian-backed Shi’a militias, have taken from ISIS by military force, ISIS has attacked and occupied a city like Ramadi, capital of Iraq’s Anbar province.

Despite President Obama’s pledge to “degrade and destroy” ISIS last summer, little has changed. “Very little consequential territory has been reclaimed,” says retired general Jack Keane, who served as the Army’s second-ranking officer from 1999 to 2003. “ISIS still enjoys freedom of maneuver to attack at will, whenever and wherever it pleases.”

While the U.S.-led air campaign has led pretty much to a stalemate on the ground, ISIS’s survival has attracted supporters to its ranks, and led others around the world to claim membership. “What we see very frequently in Afghanistan, with respect to [ISIS], is a rebranding of people who are already in the battlefield,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Thursday in Belgium. They’re donning the ISIS label because “they regard as a better replacement for names they’ve had in the past.”

ISIS’s continuing existence is also generating American recruits, according to an alert last month from the Department of Homeland Security to U.S. law enforcement agencies shortly after police killed a pair planning to shoot up a “draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas. “We judge … that [ISIS’s] messaging is resonating with US-based violent extremists due to its championing of a multifaceted vision of a caliphate,” the agency warned. A key reason for its success in attracting followers, DHS added, is “the perceived legitimacy of its self-proclaimed re-establishment of the caliphate.”

Every day that the undefeated caliphate persists boosts the chances that its followers will strike targets in the U.S. “The most important way to discredit the appeal of their ideology is by military defeat,” Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told that armed services panel hearing last week. “If they’re not holding terrain, if there is no caliphate,” he said. “There is no Islamic utopia.”

TIME Terrorism

Friday’s Three Terror Attacks Might Not Be Connected—and That’s Even Scarier

Tunisia hotel attack
Amine Ben Aziza—Reuters Police officers control the crowd, while surrounding a man suspected to be involved in opening fire on a beachside hotel in Sousse, Tunisia, as a woman reacts, on June 26, 2015.

A bloody assault in Tunisia, a decapitation in France and a suicide bombing in Kuwait are part of the horrifying new normal of terrorism

Three separate terror attacks on the very same morning—perhaps 37 people rifled to death on a Tunisia beach, a businessman decapitated outside a gas factory in France and a Shi’ite mosque bombed in Kuwait City—sounds like more than a coincidence. Simultaneity has been a signature of al-Qaeda since Aug. 7, 1998, when the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were hit by truck bombs within minutes of each other. And if counterterrorism analysts say the greater threat now appears to be ISIS, sure enough the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria’s spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani just this week issued a general call for attacks in an audio message:

Muslims, embark and hasten toward jihad. O mujahedeen everywhere, rush and go to make Ramadan a month of disasters for the infidels.

But while the extremist group claimed responsibility for the Kuwait bombing—a rare attack in a rich kingdom that has largely escaped terror—ISIS has so far said nothing about the other two. There’s a very real chance that the timing of the three attacks was indeed coincidental—though the reason is scarcely less alarming. The fact is there are so many terror attacks these days that three bad ones happening on the same morning falls well within the realm of statistical probabilities.

There were 13,463 terror attacks across the globe in 2014, according to the U.S. State Department. That factors out to an average of 1,122 a month, or about 37 a day, which means a terror attack roughly every 40 minutes, somewhere in the world. Half of them took place in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where such atrocities have indeed grown so routine as to rarely qualify as international news. Syria, India and Nigeria together accounted for a bit better than a tenth of the sum. The rest were scattered around the globe, but not evenly. Of the 32,727 people killed, only 24 were Americans, or .07 percent of the total. Ten of those were in Afghanistan.

We are, moreover, in what has historically been the peak season for terror strikes, which past tallies show tend to rise in May, June and July. The holy month of Ramadan also factors in, with its associations of heightened piety. ISIS’s call to arms for Ramadan echoed similar summons from earlier insurgent groups in Iraq, where, as anyone who spent time in Baghdad over the last decade or so can attest, Fridays were seldom quiet.

If it seems like things are getting worse fast, they are. The number of attacks almost doubled from 2013 to 2014, as did the number fatalities. This had the perverse effect of making terror—which is meant to shock—actually less remarkable, as each attack dissolved into the generalized “background noise” of global news cycles.

ISIS has responded by amping up the horror. The group last year accounted for 17 percent of all terror strikes, yet nonetheless dominated the news by taking lives grotesquely and on video: Decapitating hostages, setting a Jordanian pilot alight in a cage, and in a new atrocity video released this week, killing captives by drowning them in a cage lowered into a pool; firing a rocket-propelled grenade at a car in which they are shackled; detonating explosive necklaces looped around their necks.

The group also wallows in mass killings, usually of Shi’ite Muslims and other groups the Sunni extremists of ISIS regard as apostates. Organized terror strikes by ISIS outside its theatre of military operations in Iraq and Syria remain infrequent, but when they come they do tend to be against Shi’ite targets, like the mosque in Kuwait City that ISIS dubbed “a gathering of apostates.” And as details emerge from rural France, where both suspects were taken alive, that attack may also turn out to have been inspired by, if not quite organized by ISIS. With a human head perched on a factory fence, the incident has the medieval flavor of the Islamic State.

The Tunisia attack, on a pair of beach hotels popular with European tourists also resulted in an arrest, of a man from the Tunisian city of Kairouan who had hidden a Kalashnikov in a beach umbrella. There were no immediate claims of responsibility, but both the targets and the setting— a moderate and democratic Arab nation friendly to the West—meant that attack is likeliest to hit closest to home for Americans. The dead included British, German and Belgian visitors, according to reports.

The U.S. remains at once quite safe and yet more vulnerable than it’s been in a decade, according to authorities. Officials explain the paradox by noting that the surge in the number of attacks worldwide includes few of the “spectacular” strikes such as bombings of civilian airlines, or other plots that the West in particular has hardened itself against. But officials expect more and more of the kind of attacks ISIS calls for — small-bore, lone-wolf, often impulsive attacks that may be impossible to detect in advance.

“In many ways I would say the threat streams now are higher than they’ve been since any time after Sept. 11,” Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican who serves on the House Intelligence subcommittee, tells TIME, speaking before Friday’s attacks. “ISIS has added a whole new dimension to it.”

The group’s power to inspire attacks, largely through its adept use of social media, has intelligence and counter-terrorism authorities scrambling to discern threats that could pop up anywhere a laptop or smart phone connects to the Internet. It’s a far more diffuse threat than Western countries faced from al-Qaeda, which organized specific plots through a rigid hierarchy, notes Jane Harman, formerly ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Subcommittee, now director of the Wilson Center in Washington. “A terror cell [now] is somebody on the web encountering some dangerous information,” Harman says. “That’s a terror cell.”

TIME Terrorism

Family of Boston Terrorism Suspect ‘Unaware of Any Radicalization’

Usaamah Rahim was killed Tuesday after authorities said he lunged at them with a large knife

A lawyer for the family of a man killed by terrorism investigators in Boston earlier this week said Thursday they were shocked by accusations that he was radicalized by extremists and were under no suspicion that had been the case.

Usaamah Rahim, 26, was shot and killed Tuesday after authorities say he lunged toward them with a large knife that he bought on the Internet. An FBI affidavit filed Wednesday stated Rahim had initially planned to behead someone outside Massachusetts, but later changed his mind to “go after” the “boys in blue” instead, a reference that officials took to mean police. The document states Rahim discussed his plans with at least two people, including 26-year-old David Wright, who was charged Wednesday with conspiring to conceal or destroy evidence.

Earlier on Thursday, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans told NBC that Rahim was allegedly plotting to behead conservative blogger and anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller. But Evans called the idea “wishful thinking.”

“The family is unaware of any radicalization,” Ronald Sullivan, an attorney for Rahim’s family and a Harvard Law professor, said during a news conference. Sullivan said the family is ready and willing to “enter into a joint relationship with investigators to get to the truth.” Rahim’s private burial was scheduled for Friday.

TIME Terrorism

Is U.S. Claim of 10,000 ISIS Dead Believable?

A top U.S. diplomat strayed from a long-held wartime taboo Wednesday when he reported that 10,000 ISIS militants had been killed in Iraq and Syria, raising questions about how that number was compiled and whether it accurately reflected a U.S.-led coalition’s success against the Islamic terror group.

“We have seen a lot of losses within Daesh since the start of this campaign, more than 10,000,” Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on France Inter radio, using an alternate name for ISIS. “It will end up having an impact.”

Blinken made the remarks as a stand-in for Secretary of State John Kerry at a Paris meeting of coalition members …

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

TIME Terrorism

Terrorism Suspect Slain in Boston Plotted to Kill Officers, Officials Say

Police vehicles sit in front of a multi-storied home on June 2, 2015, in Everett, Mass., being searched by authorities in connection with a man shot and killed earlier in the day in Boston. The man, under surveillance by terrorism investigators, was killed after he lunged with a knife at a Boston police officer and an FBI agent.
Steven Senne—AP Police vehicles sit in front of a multistory home being searched by authorities on June 2, 2015, in Everett, Mass., in connection with a man shot and killed earlier in the day in Boston. The man, under surveillance by terrorism investigators, was killed after he lunged with a knife at a Boston police officer and an FBI agent

Officials said Usaamah Rahim was being kept under surveillance after they received "terrorist-related information" about him

A man who was under constant surveillance before being fatally shot by authorities in Boston on Tuesday had initially planned to behead a person outside Massachusetts, according to an FBI affidavit filed on Wednesday, but changed his mind to “go after” the “boys in blue” instead.

Authorities say 26-year-old Usaamah Rahim was killed early Tuesday after being approached by law-enforcement officers in the Roslindale neighborhood and taking out a large knife he bought via Amazon.com before moving toward them. Rahim is said in the document to have discussed his plans with at least two people, including David Wright, also 26, who appeared in court on Wednesday. He was charged with conspiring to conceal evidence of Rahim’s plans.

Officials said Rahim was being kept under 24-hour surveillance after they received “terrorist-related information” about him, the Associated Press reports. Texas Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a Wednesday hearing that Rahim was being investigated for “communicating with and spreading ISIS propaganda online,” referencing the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. McCaul called the case “a reminder of the dangers posed by individuals radicalized through social media.”

Ibrahim Rahim, a brother of the deceased, claimed on his Facebook page that his brother was shot in the back while on the phone. In a rare move, officers showed a video to religious and civil rights leaders in a bid to prove that Rahim had, in fact, moved toward officers with a military-style knife. Authorities shot Rahim three times.

“What the video does reveal to us very clearly is that the individual was not on the cell phone, the individual was not shot in the back and that the information reported by others that that was the case was inaccurate,” Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, said at a news conference, CNN reports. He added that the video “150%” corroborates the police account.

TIME Middle East

You Really Can’t Tell Your Terrorists Without a Scorecard

Shootouts between four Mideast terrorist groups reveal what the label obscures

Hopscotching the headlines of the day, we see that Hamas and Hizballah were both active on Tuesday—though not against Israel, the country each was created to oppose. Both groups, rightly listed as terrorist organizations, were going hammer and tongs against other terrorists: Hamas took out a Gaza Strip fundamentalist associated with ISIS, the extremist group in control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria, while Hizballah battled al-Qaeda’s powerful Nusra Front near Lebanon’s border with Syria. All four sides claimed victory.

What to make of all this? Maybe only that though they all wear black, and often appear delighted with the role of Bad Guy, the groups gathered under the great enveloping cloak marked “terrorist” are far from the same. And the differences are not only sectarian. Three of Monday’s four combatants—Hamas, ISIS and al-Qaeda—are Sunni Muslim groups. The exception is Hizballah, which Iran created to solidify Lebanon’s Shi’ite population and bring the fight to Israel after Israeli forces invaded Lebanon in 1982.

None of the groups is any one thing, but some can at least be safely approached. ISIS and quite possibly al-Nusra would arrest me, and in time perhaps saw off my head. Hizballah serves reporters Doner kebabs—said to be delicious—and Hamas issues journalist visas in Gaza. Both are essentially political organizations, which also operate what they call “military wings.” Those wings have carried out terrorist attacks, but they are calculated toward achieving a political end. Usually that end involves Israel—Hamas’s charter calls for its elimination, yet the stated goals of last summer’s Gaza war was an extra three miles of fishing rights in the Mediterranean—but the clash on Monday was about eliminating a rival: ISIS.

Hamas, which promotes both Islamist and nationalist goals—it wants a Palestinian state—and appears to crave U.S. recognition, simply is not radical enough for the extremists of ISIS, some of whom live under its rule in Gaza, the coastal enclave between Israel and Egypt. There, Hamas police stations have been bombed, and its military wing rocketed, by groups that consider the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate unworthy. In response, Hamas has set up checkpoints, trying to cull the herd. Its officials said the man killed on Tuesday, Yussef al-Hatarman, was shot after threatening to blow himself up along with the Hamas police officers who had come to arrest him. The Hamas Interior Ministry released photos of suicide belts and other arms apparently confiscated in the raid—embracing a great law enforcement tradition.

It wasn’t the first time Hamas has defended its monopoly on force in Gaza against more radical groups. In 2009, its police attacked a compound held by a fundamentalist who had just declared Gaza an “Islamic emirate.” The death toll then was 28, but officials expressed regret at the loss of life. Hamas had sent a local theology professor in to try to coax the rebels to see the error of their ways, something the professor later told me he’d been able to manage in the past. But then, as even terrorists are finding out, six years ago the radical fringe in the Middle East was still out on the fringe, and not nearly so radical.

TIME U.K.

Top Oxford University Academic Says the U.S. ‘Overreacted’ to 9/11

Apparently, the British are historically more resilient to terrorist threats

Incoming Oxford University vice chancellor Louise Richardson said this week that the U.S. overreacted to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, thanks in large part to the American populace’s lack of exposure to violent extremism, according to a report in the U.K. Telegraph.

The professor, who specializes in the study of terrorism, made the remarks during a British Council conference in London on Tuesday. During a panel discussion focusing on radicalization in universities, Richardson added that the British have historically had a much more levelheaded response to terrorism.

“The British population in the course of the Troubles and violence in Northern Ireland proved really quite resilient, I think far more so than the U.S.,” said Richardson. “And the scale of the overreaction in the U.S. to the 9/11 atrocity was reflective of the fact that it was such a new experience in the U.S.”

Last week, Richardson was nominated to become Oxford University’s new vice chancellor, making her the first woman to hold the position since its creation in 1230, reports the BBC.

Read more at the Telegraph.

TIME Saudi Arabia

College Student Killed Trying to Stop ISIS Attack Called a Hero

saudi arabia dammam mosque attack
AFP/Getty Images Saudi security forces inspect the site of a suicide bombing that targeted the Shiite Al-Anoud mosque in the coastal city of Dammam on May 29, 2015.

He confronted a suicide bomber who was trying to enter a mosque in Saudi Arabia

A college student who was killed in Saudi Arabia on Friday after halting a suicide bomber who had attempted to enter a packed mosque is being remembered as a hero.

Abduljaleel Alarbash, an undergraduate who was studying electrical engineering at Wichita State University, and his cousin were working security at the mosque in the port city of Dammam, roles for which they volunteered after a recent mosque attack, The Wichita Eagle reports. Alarbash became alarmed when someone dressed in all black attempted to go inside—women had been told to remain at home due to safety. The bomber was reported to have blown himself up, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), after Alarbash tried to turn him in.

“They saved a lot of lives,” Yagoob “Jacob” Alsarouj, a close friend of Alarbash and recent graduate of WSU, said. “What he did was a selfless act … that’s something really to be proud of.”

Abduljaleel, 22, had returned to Saudi Arabia to get married and was due back to school in the fall, according to a professor who taught him in the spring.

“I am not surprised that Abduljaleel did what he had to do to save the lives of all those people by giving up his own so readily,” said Preethika Kumar, one of Alarbash’s professors, in a statement. “In my faith, when someone is able to love God so deeply to the extent of putting their neighbor before themselves always, even to the point of laying their life down, he or she is a saint.”

TIME Military

New Rules Mean No More Outside Food for Guantánamo Bay Inmates

Guantanamo Future
Charles Dharapak—AP A soldier stands at the now closed Camp X-Ray, which was used as the first detention facility for al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who were captured after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, on Nov. 21, 2013

Critics say the policy severs a valuable emotional link to outside world

New military regulations will prevent attorneys from bringing food to inmates being held in custody at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, reports the Miami Herald.

Effective this week, the ruling will reverse a long-standing policy that allowed inmates’ representatives to bring fast food and homemade treats into their legal conferences at the facility.

Attorneys chided the ruling as another means of cutting off their clients’ few remaining links to life outside of the military prison, where Washington incarcerates alleged al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

“It’s actually quite tragic for the clients,” attorney Alka Pradhan told the Miami Herald. “Sometimes the food we bring is the only thing from the outside world they’ve seen in months, and they really look forward to it.”

Prison officials have defended the policy citing health and safety reasons.

[Miami Herald]

TIME Terrorism

These Are the Cities Most Likely to Be Hit by a Terrorist Attack

Twelve of the world's capital cities are considered at "extreme risk" of an attack

A report by global-risk-analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft has identified the cities most likely to be hit by a terrorist attack.

Maplecroft analyzed 1,300 of the world’s important urban centers and commercial hubs and ranked them based on the intensity and frequency of attacks in the year following February 2014. The report also combined the number and severity of attacks in the previous five years.

Baghdad is considered the most at-risk city in the world, with 1,141 people dying in 380 attacks. In all, seven of the most at-risk cities are all in Iraq, including Mosul ranked at No. 2 and Ramadi at No. 3.

According to the index, 64 cities around the world are at “extreme risk” of an attack, most of these are in the Middle East (27) including cities in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan or Asia.

Of those 64 at extreme risk of a terrorist attack, 12 are capital cities including Egypt’s Cairo, Abuja in Nigeria, Nairobi in Kenya and Pakistan’s Islamabad.

There are 14 cities in Africa that have seen an increased risk of violence, which has been attributed to militant extremist groups Boko Haram and al-Shabab as well as political instability.

Three cities at extreme risk of attacks are in Europe, with Ukraine’s Luhansk ranked at 46, Donetsk at 56, and Grozny in Russia at 54.

The British city most at risk of an attack is Belfast (91), compared with Manchester (398) and London, which is ranked at 400.

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris that left 17 people dead in January, the city was considered “high risk” and its ranking soared from 201 before the attacks to 97.

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