TIME Crime

Colorado Teenager Pleads Guilty of Conspiracy to Support ISIS

The 19-year-old woman pledged to marry an ISIS fighter in Syria and provide tactical support to its millitants

A 19-year-old Colorado woman pleaded guilty on Wednesday of conspiring to support Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) fighters, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Shannon Conley of Arvada, Colo., confessed to making online contact with a self-confessed member of ISIS. According to the plea agreement, Conley pledged, over a series of conversations, to marry a fighter in Syria, to provide tactical support to the organization and to engage in combat herself if necessary.

Conley joined the U.S. Army Explorers to gain training in armed combat, according to the Department of Justice, and even ignored warnings from federal agents to steer clear of a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. Conley was arrested at Denver International Airport on April 8 as she was attempting to board a flight to Turkey.

She faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a possible fine of up to $250,000. Conley will stand for sentencing on Jan. 23.

TIME United Nations

Reports: U.N. Seeks to Tackle Tide of Foreigners Joining Militant Groups

Resident of Tabqa city touring the streets on a motorcycle waves Islamist flag in celebration after Islamic State militants took over Tabqa air base, in nearby Raqqa city
A resident of Tabqa city touring the streets on a motorcycle celebrates after Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria militants took over Tabqa air base, in the nearby Syrian city of Raqqa on Aug. 24, 2014 Reuters

Draft resolution seen by Reuters sets out tough new rules for extremists wanting to cross borders to join jihadist groups

The U.N. Security Council plans to press countries to update their laws to make traveling abroad to join a terrorist group a serious criminal offense, in the hope of stemming the flow of fresh foreign recruits into the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS, reported Reuters.

According to Reuters, the U.S. circulated a draft resolution Monday night on how to “prevent and suppress the recruiting, organizing, transporting or equipping” of foreign fighters. The 15-member Security Council is expected to unanimously adopt the resolution at a meeting on Sept. 24, at which time it would be binding on all 193 bloc members states.

The draft calls on states to declare as illegal, as well as punishable under tough penalties, for citizens to by any means engage in the “perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts, or the providing or receiving of terrorist training,” Reuters said.

It also compels states “to require that airlines under their jurisdiction provide advance passenger information to the appropriate national authorities” on people under U.N. sanctions. States would also be required to bar anyone suspected of affiliation with a terrorist group — or of prospective affiliation with one — from entering their borders, said the news agency.

[Reuters]

TIME Chile

Suspected Anarchist Bombing Wounds at Least 10 People in Santiago

A police officer talks on his cell phone at the area where a bomb exploded in Santiago
A police officer talks on his cell phone at the area where a bomb exploded in Santiago, Chile, on Sept. 8, 2014 Ivan Alvarado—Reuters

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it parallels similar small-scale bombings levied on the city by anarchist groups

An explosion outside an underground train station in the Chilean capital of Santiago on Monday afternoon is a suspected “terrorist” act, say government officials.

At least 10 people were wounded in the lunchtime blast that shook a small shopping mall and food court inside Escuela Militar metro station in the affluent Las Condes neighborhood, Reuters reports. None of the injuries were fatal.

“This is an act that has all the hallmarks of a terrorist deed,” Álvaro Elizalde, the government’s chief spokesman, told reporters outside La Moneda presidential palace. “There is no doubt.”

The blast was the worst yet of at least 29 small-scale bombings and attempted bombings this year in normally peaceful Santiago. Anarchist groups have claimed responsibility for planting many of the devices, not all of which have detonated, and have called for the release of two associates who are imprisoned in Spain.

“This is a cowardly act because it has as its objective to hurt people, create fear and even kill innocent people,” said President Michelle Bachelet. “This is horrible, tremendously reprehensible, but Chile is and remains a safe country.”

No one has yet claimed responsibility for this latest bombing, but security footage shows two suspects putting an explosive device in a metal container, likely a trash can, Interior Minister Mahmud Aleuy told Reuters.

The attack also comes three days before the 41st anniversary of the 1973 coup that ousted socialist President Salvador Allende and began the 17-year dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Chilean politics are usually tense around the anniversary, and protests can teeter on violence. Chile returned to democracy in 1990.

Rescue crews search the area surrounding Escuela Militar metro station in Santiago where a bomb exploded on Sept. 8, 2014.

TIME Military

U.S. Strikes in Iraq Against Jihadists, Moving West Toward Syria

A Kurdish peshmerga fighter takes up position at the front line against the Islamic State, in Khazir
A Kurdish fighter primed for action against ISIS in the northern Iraq town of Khazir on Sunday. Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters

It looks increasingly like the U.S. will start attacking targets there

The U.S. military took a unilateral giant step toward bombing targets inside Syria over the weekend as it swung its crosshairs west and began bombing Islamic militants in the western Iraq province that borders Bashar al-Assad’s war-ravaged country.

President Obama said Sunday he will detail his plans for destroying the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in a speech to the nation Wednesday. “The next phase is now to start going on some offense,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “And ultimately we’re going to defeat them.”

He made clear—twice—that international borders won’t hamper U.S. efforts. “We will hunt down [ISIS] members and assets wherever they are,” he said. “I will reserve the right to always protect the American people and go after folks who are trying to hurt us wherever they are.”

Wherever. That means only one thing: Syria is the next stop on the road to defeating the Islamic jihadists.

“You don’t want to give them sanctuary at all,” says Anthony Zinni, former chief of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the region. “You can’t have a Pakistan,” where U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan have been frustrated by enemy forces who could scoot across borders to escape U.S. attacks. “They’ll simply regroup inside Syria and then re-attack—that’s stupid” if allowed to happen, the retired Marine general says.

The nation’s top military officer has already said rooting out ISIS’s Syrian haven is required for success. “Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria?” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Aug. 21. “The answer is ‘no’.”

The challenge of any U.S. military action in Syria is to hurt ISIS without helping the government of dictator Assad, whose civil war against several rebel groups, including ISIS, has killed nearly 200,000 people over three years. “We are supporting the Syrian moderate opposition,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Sunday in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The strikes launched Saturday and Sunday marked the first acknowledged time in a month-long U.S. bombing campaign of nearly 150 strikes against ISIS that U.S. munitions hit targets in western Iraq’s Anbar province. Prior American attacks had been limited to northern Iraq.

Like earlier strikes, the Pentagon justified the weekend’s action as part of Obama’s two-pronged ISIS effort to protect U.S. interests in Iraq and prevent humanitarian disasters against the Iraqi people. Earlier strikes were needed to defend the Mosul dam from an ISIS takeover, the Pentagon said, due to fear that the militants might sabotage it and send a 60-foot cascade of water down the Tigris River, threatening residents of Mosul.

The U.S. military used a similar justification for the weekend’s strikes on ISIS units near Anwar’s Haditha dam on the Euphrates River. “The potential loss of control of the dam or a catastrophic failure of the dam—and the flooding that might result—would have threatened U.S. personnel and facilities in and around Baghdad, as well as thousands of Iraqi citizens,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.

The attacks in Anbar—even if from the sky— mark a watershed return for the U.S. to the Sunni-dominated province where American forces fought several of the Iraq war’s most deadly battles before leaving the country nearly three years ago. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that the U.S. withdrawal—aided and abetted by a recalcitrant Iraqi government—was premature.

The Anbar action comes nine months after ISIS forces took control of Fallujah, one of its main cities and the site of some of the 2003-2011 war’s bloodiest battles between U.S. forces and Iraqi insurgents. Some U.S. military officers believe Washington should have begun stepped-up military action back then.

Military experts are divided on how well the Obama Administration has handled the ISIS threat. Lawrence Korb, a former assistant defense secretary in the Reagan Administration, praises the President’s methodical approach. “You make it clear we’re going to get these guys,” says Korb, now with the Center for American Progress think tank, “just like we got [Osama] bin Laden.”

Others suggest partisanship at home has hobbled the U.S. effort to deal with ISIS. “Our nation is suffering this current distraction because of our inability to reach a consensus on how to deal with the crisis in Syria over a year ago,” says Jerry Hendrix, a naval flight officer who went on to serve as the Navy’s top historian before retiring from the service as a captain two months ago. Hendrix, now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, blames “the hyper-partisan atmosphere and the continuous election campaign we find ourselves in” for the delay.

For his part, Zinni finds what he sees as Obama’s foot-dragging distressing. “The President’s job is not to put his finger up and test the political winds,” he says. “It’s to make a decision based on threats to our people and interests, and then explain to the American people why he’s doing it.”

Obama gets his chance Wednesday, the eve of the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

TIME Somalia

Somalia Braces for Retaliation After Al-Shabab Leader’s Death

United States Somalia
Hundreds of newly trained al-Shabab fighters perform military exercises in the Lafofe area south of Mogadishu, Somalia, Feb. 17, 2011. Farah Abdi Warsameh—AP

African Union peacekeepers were attacked in southwestern Somalia Saturday

Updated 2:22 p.m. ET

Officials in Somalia have placed the country on high alert in anticipation of retaliatory attacks after the U.S. confirmed Friday it killed the leader of al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated militant group operating in the country.

The Pentagon said Friday that intelligence had confirmed Shabab leader Ahmed Godane was killed in a Monday strike against the militant Islamist group. On Saturday, the day after the announcement, a convoy of African Union peacekeeping troops repelled an attack by the militant group in the south of the country.

Officials anticipate that Godane’s death may spark a new round of attacks from the group. Al-Shabab initially denied via Twitter that Goodane had been killed, but it confirmed his death Saturday and announced that Sheikh Ahmad Umar, also called Abu Ubaidah, as its next leader, Al Jazeera reports.

Under Goodane’s leaderhip, al-Shabab became a formal ally of al-Qaeda and carried out major terrorist attacks, including a round of suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, in 2010 that killed more than 70 and the attack on a Nairobi mall last year that left 67 people dead.

[CNN]

TIME Terrorism

Why Westerners Are Fighting for ISIS

A growing number of Westerners are joining the Islamist militant group— but why?

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is gaining notoriety for its barbaric methods, after videos showing beheadings and mass killings surfaced online.

Meanwhile, the group has been attracting an increasing number of foreign fighters from the West, analysts say. But why are so many foreigners joining ISIS’s fighting ranks? Among a range of explanations, one of them is that, compared with other jihadist groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS is extremely welcoming to foreigners, says Joshua Landis, a Syria specialist at the University of Oklahoma.

“The biggest reason for that is that ISIS philosophically has welcomed all Muslims as equals, as it’s building an Islamic state which does not have particular Syrian angle,” Landis says. “Also, ISIS’s leadership is made of people with very prominent roles that are foreigners so you’re not going to be discriminated against philosophically if you’re foreign.”

Social media also plays a significant role.

While in the past jihadist groups operated in secretive online forums, ISIS spreads its message — both in English and Arabic — on Twitter and Facebook, which are inherently open to the public. With its sleekly produced propaganda videos, ISIS reaches young, restless Muslims or other devotees around the world with a cause that they see is worth fight for, experts say.

“For many people who are lacking a strong sense of identity and purpose, their violent radical global narrative provides easy answers and solutions: it can be very powerful message for people who are looking for answers,” says Matthew Levitt, the director of counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Their online material shows capturing territory, establishing states, beheading enemies: they show that they are the sexiest jihadi group on the block.”

The U.S. State Department estimates that about 12,000 foreigners have traveled to Syria from at least 50 different countries to fight with a number of different groups, including ISIS. Marie Harf, a deputy spokeswoman for the State Department, told CNN that officials estimate the number of Americans fighting with Syrian-based groups ranges from several dozen to 100.

For more on ISIS’ recruiting techniques, watch the video above with TIME editor Matt McAllester.

TIME foreign affairs

ISIS Wants Me Dead: Why You May Be Next

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

My transformation from fundamentalist Muslim to double agent inside al Qaeda

One afternoon late last summer I had a tip-off. There was a video on YouTube, uploaded from Syria, and I was in it. A few minutes later, I watched a handful of jihadists open fire with AK-47s on posters of six prominent Danes. One was of NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen; I was another. A caption appeared: “Enemies of Islam.”

As I studied the video, I recognized one of the gunmen. He called himself Abu Khattab. He had joined a radical Islamist group in Syria, but I knew him from the streets of Copenhagen. He was one of dozens of young Danish Muslims who had gone to fight in Syria, and who had joined the al Qaeda affiliate al Nusra or the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS), now in control of huge areas of both Syria and Iraq.

Another clip posted by the same group featured Shiraz Tariq, a Pakistani extremist with whom I had gone paintballing a decade previously in the Danish city of Odense. In those days we had similar views. We believed in jihad against the West; we were Salafis who dreamt of turning places like Yemen and Somalia into Islamic states. We revered Osama bin Laden and sought to justify 9/11.

My fundamentalist interpretation of Islam—the intolerance it bred, the contempt for anyone who did not share what I believed to be the orthodox Islamic point of view—collapsed late in 2006. I simply could not justify the targeting of civilians and was troubled by what I saw as contradictions in Islam that no silver-tongued cleric could explain. My crisis of faith led me to work for no fewer than four Western intelligence agencies—against the very people with whom I had prayed and discussed the Koran.

But Abu Khattab, Shiraz Tariq and many others I had met during my radical years traveled in the other direction, moving from radical thought to violent action. I had known shoe-bomber Richard Reid and the “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui. I had become a friend of Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric whose lectures and writing had galvanized a new generation of would-be jihadists and who was eventually killed by a U.S. drone.

The path to militancy among most of my friends—whether born Muslims or converts to Islam—was often similar: discrimination, a sense of rejection and then vulnerability to a simple and seductive message that offered discipline, comradeship and purpose. There were plenty of clerics capable of delivering that message. There was also rage about the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and Russia’s brutal campaign against the Chechens.

I converted to Islam after reading a book about the Prophet Mohammed in a public library in Denmark. As a wayward 21-year old with several spells in jail behind me, the religion provided structure and purpose. The Prophet prescribed for every eventuality; the idea of free will didn’t seem to matter any more.

Now the Internet is often the recruiting sergeant, with jihadi chat-rooms and slick online magazines and videos in several languages posted on extremist websites. ISIS has mastered the art of propaganda like no other group with its online English-language magazine Dabiq, almost daily videos of its fighters in action and its social programs.

In declaring a Caliphate in much of Syria and Iraq and showing just how merciless it will be to apostates, whether an American journalist, Syrian soldiers or fleeing Yazidis, ISIS is luring would-be jihadists the world over. They are mainly young men who celebrate the grotesque punishments meted out to enemies, are unmoved by the savage treatment of women and enticed by a warped vision of the Promised Land.

They are told it is their duty to fight the unbelievers. “And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [worshipping others besides Allah] and the religion will all be for Allah Alone [in the whole of the world],” in the words of the Koran. I remember Anwar al-Awlaki repeating that verse to a study group we had in Yemen in 2006, to justify jihad in pursuit of the Caliphate.

Of the thousands of foreign fighters who have flocked to Syria and Iraq, a few come home, shattered by the brutality. Others become suicide bombers or are killed on the battlefield. One Dane I had befriended in Yemen was killed fighting in Syria last year. A British-Pakistani I knew from the UK became Britain’s first suicide bomber in Syria.

Many more are learning skills they may one day use to terrorize Europe and even the U.S. Two-hundred and fifty have returned to the UK alone, prompting British authorities last week to ratchet up the terrorist threat level. There is immediate danger from lone wolves angered by U.S. strikes against ISIS. When terrorists act alone, it’s extremely difficult to stop them. As a double agent on the inside, I stopped two such plots being hatched in the UK after the lone-terrorist in each case confided their plans to me. But you can’t get lucky every time.

I have seen some of these men embrace martyrdom; many others have been consumed by the belief that there is only one true path and any dissenting view must be exterminated.

I know this mindset. After the Syria video was posted, Abu Khattab explained why I deserved death. “His task was to kill our beloved Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki,” he said. Then I received a message from another Danish militant I knew who had been jailed for his part in a terror plot but had been freed and was living in Copenhagen.

“How’s the family? Everyone hates you. Everyone wants you dead,” it said.

Morten Storm is a former double agent inside al Qaeda employed by the CIA, MI6, MI5 and Danish intelligence. His memoir, Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA, co-authored with Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister and published in September, tells the story of how he led the CIA to American al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

TIME foreign affairs

The Myth of the Invisible Jetsetting Jihadi

114847640
Getty Images

Having a passport doesn't make terrorists invincible in the West

If you believe the cable-news-o-sphere regarding American extremists fighting with the Islamic State, you might think a plane ticket is all that separates these “homegrown” fighters from executing a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. That some Americans – and Europeans – are flocking to Iraq and Syria to join forces with jihadist groups is certainly concerning. But making the jump from travel ease to terrorism overlooks a major American strength that’s proven to thwart attacks: local communities and domestic law enforcement.

It’s a bipartisan mistake to ignore this powerful dynamic, but the most recent example is John McCain and Lindsey Graham’s op-ed in the New York Times. “ISIS is now one of the largest, richest terrorist organizations in history,” they write. “It occupies a growing safe haven the size of Indiana spanning two countries in the heart of the Middle East, and its ranks are filled with thousands of radicals holding Western passports, including some Americans. They require nothing more than a plane ticket to travel to United States cities.” Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and Senate Intelligence Committee Chair gave McCain and Graham’s analysis a boost telling NBC, “This [the Islamic State] is a vicious, vicious movement. And it has to be confronted. I think Senator McCain and Senator Graham really laid the basis in Saturday’s New York Times in an op-ed for confrontation. And I happen to agree with what they said.”

The insinuation in McCain and Graham’s op-ed, of course, is that once one of these extremists enters an American city, they’ll have a quick and easy path to executing a terrorist attack. That’s inaccurate. Once in an American city, an extremist must still acquire weapons. And if he plans to conduct a large-scale strategic attack (rather than a lone wolf-type shooting), he must also connect with others, engage in planning and surveillance activity, and finally prepare and carry out the attack. All of these steps are constrained by the willingness and ability of local Muslim and non-Muslim communities to report extremist and suspicious activity, as well as by the domestic efforts of law enforcement.

Indeed, according to data collected by New America, about one-third of “homegrown” Jihadists who have been charged or killed since the 9/11 attacks have been implicated by a tip from local community members or family members, almost nine percent have been implicated by strangers alerting authorities to suspicious activity, and almost half have been monitored by an informant.

On the other hand, cases where “only a plane ticket” led inevitably to an attack are outliers. Here, the go-to case is that of Moner Abu Salha, an American citizen who returned to the U.S. after receiving training from Jabhat al Nusra, the Syrian al Qaeda affiliate, before returning to Syria to conduct a suicide attack. As McCain told CNN’s Candy Crowley in early August while arguing against the Obama administration’s policy, “Candy, there was a guy a month ago that was in Syria, went back to the United States, came back and blew himself up. We’re tracking 100 Americans who are over there now fighting for ISIS. ISIS is attracting extreme elements from all over the world, much less the Arab world. And what have we done?”

Yet even in this case, we can see the constraining role of local communities. According to an NBC investigative report, when Abu Salha returned to the United States he tried and failed to recruit his friends to fight with him in Syria. What’s more, according to a senior law enforcement official quoted by NBC, one of those friends tipped off the FBI, which put Abu Salha on their radar as he returned to Syria.

In a propaganda video released after his death, Abu Salha made clear that he felt these constraints: “I stayed with my friend’s family. And it was no good. The reason I had to stay with them is that the state I was in, I finally realized I was being watched,” he says in the video.

Indeed, Douglas McCain – an American who died fighting with ISIS – was known to American authorities because of his social media activity. He was also on a terrorism watchlist in order to constrain his ability to return undetected to an American city.

Three years into the Syrian civil war, there has been only one lethal attack in the West – the murder of four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels by Mehdi Nemmouche, a veteran of the Syrian jihad. In the United States, no one returning from or seeking to join a Syrian jihadist group has even been charged with plotting an attack inside the United States. In comparison, there have been two deadly incidents in the United States committed by individuals motivated by far right ideology in the past six months. If thousands of extremists were only a plane ride away from American cities, one would hardly expect such a limited record of Syria related violence in the West.

None of this is to say that Jihadist groups in Syria should be allowed to fester and develop the capability to conduct attacks in the United States, or that it is impossible that a returning Syrian foreign fighter will evade the layered defenses that protect the American homeland. That Abu Salha was able to return undetected to the United States after participating in Jihadist training should concern law enforcement. The layered defense system may need reinforcement to deal with new challenges, but the constraints it imposes upon jihadist activity ought not be obscured, particularly when making the case that the threat posed by foreign fighters calls for military action. Doing so does a great disservice to the admirable efforts of Muslim communities, local and federal law enforcement, and American citizens in confronting Jihadist extremism at home.

David Sterman, a research associate at the New America Foundation and a master’s candidate at Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies. His work focuses on homegrown extremism and the maintenance of the New America Foundation’s datasets on terrorism inside the United States and the relative roles of NSA surveillance and traditional investigative tools in preventing such terrorism. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk.

TIME conflict

“Murder in Munich”: A Terrorist Threat Ignored

19720918 cover
The September 18, 1972, cover of TIME TIME

September 5, 1972: Terrorists kidnap and kill Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics

Police psychologist Georg Sieber imagined 26 ways the 1972 Summer Olympics could go terribly wrong. Commissioned by organizers to predict worst-case scenarios for the Munich games, Sieber came up with a range of possibilities, from explosions to plane crashes, for which security teams should be prepared.

Situation Number 21 was eerily prescient, as TIME would describe many years later. Sieber envisioned that “a dozen armed Palestinians would scale the perimeter fence of the [Olympic] Village. They would invade the building that housed the Israeli delegation, kill a hostage or two (“To enforce discipline,” Sieber says today), then demand the release of prisoners held in Israeli jails and a plane to fly to some Arab capital.” The West German organizers balked, asking Sieber to downsize his projections from cataclysmic to merely disorderly — from worst-case to simply bad-case scenarios. Situations such as Number 21 could only be prevented by scrapping the Olympics entirely, they argued. Instead of beefing up security, they scaled back their expectations of threat.

So they were unprepared when, early this morning in 1972, an attack unfolded almost exactly according to Sieber’s hypothetical specifications. Eight men affiliated with the Palestinian terrorist group Black September broke into the Israeli apartment before dawn and took 11 athletes and coaches hostage.

Thanks to lax security — exposed decades later when a classified report was made public in 2005 — it was a relatively easy task for the terrorists. They were seen scaling the fence, but, wearing tracksuits, were taken for athletes and ignored. Getting into the Israelis’ housing was even easier: Among other departures from Sieber’s recommendations, the team had been assigned rooms on the ground floor. Once inside, the terrorists killed two hostages almost immediately and demanded the release of 234 prisoners from Israeli jails in exchange for the rest. While the world watched, West German officials launched into poorly planned, ineffectual action. First, they dismissed Sieber, telling him his services were no longer needed. Then they botched a rescue mission that culminated in the deaths of all the remaining hostages, a German officer and five of the eight commandos. The three who survived were captured but later released in exchange for a hijacked Lufthansa plane.

Sept. 18, 1972,
A diagram of the events in Munich, from the Sept. 18, 1972, issue of TIME

The tragedy was also devastating to the Germans, who had hoped that being gracious Olympic hosts would distract from the memory of Nazi propaganda at their last games, the Berlin Olympics in 1936. They had given the 1972 Olympics the official motto Die Heiteren Spiele, which translates variously as the happy games, the cheerful games or the carefree games. That phrase presented a stark contrast to reality — and a grim reminder that merely hoping for the best will not prevent the worst.

Read TIME’s Sept. 18, 1972, cover story about the attack: Horror and Death at the Olympics

TIME Nigeria

As Boko Haram Strengthens, Terrified Locals Flee Major Nigerian City

Internally displaced persons, who are victims of Boko Haram attacks, stay at the IDP camp at Wurojuli
Internally displaced persons, who are victims of Boko Haram attacks, stay at the IDP camp for those fleeing violence from Boko Haram insurgents at Wurojuli, Gombe State Sept. 2, 2014. Reuters

Nigerian troops have floundered against the Islamist militants

Hundreds of people are believed to have fled the capital of Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state as Boko Haram militants continue to sweep unabated through the region and terrified locals doubt that the deflated Nigerian military will be able to protect them.

Nigerian officials are increasingly warning that the Islamist militant group might advance on Maiduguri, capital of the besieged state, and home to some 2 million people, the New York Times reports. Boko Haram, waging a barbarous campaign of violence, has over the summer quickly collected several municipalities in the northeast, some of which officials say could be used as bases from which the militants could close in on Maiduguri.

In an alarming harbinger earlier this week, Boko Haram fighters captured the town of Bama, about 45 miles from Maiduguri and a linchpin in the jihadists’ campaign to vanquish all of Borno. Government forces had rebuffed the militants during an initial siege on Monday, but the extremist group returned en masse the following day to overwhelm the town, according to Reuters.

A soldier who fought at Bama also told Reuters that government air reinforcements botched an air strike near the end of the battle, dropping bombs on parts of the town and killing everyone there — including insurgents, but also Nigerian troops.

Boko Haram fighters patrolling Bama have since prevented anyone from burying the dead, and bodies are rotting in its streets, the BBC reports. More than 26,000 people are believed to have fled the fallen town.

Meanwhile, a recent report from Chatham House, a London-based policy group, said the Nigerian army is failing, and will continue to fail, to battle back Boko Haram fighters, in large part because locals do not trust the national armed forces. Amnesty International has accused government troops of war crimes, including torturing suspected Boko Haram loyalists.

In late August, Boko Haram declared an Islamic caliphate in the land it has so far gathered up in northeast Nigeria, near the nation’s border with Cameroon. The group, dovetailing the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria’s ominous promises for the towns and cities it has taken in the Middle East, has said the claimed territories will be ruled under strict Islamic law.

Hundreds of schoolgirls from Chibok, also in Borno, are still missing, almost five months after they were snatched by Boko Haram militants.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser