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]

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 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 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]

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.”

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