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.


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

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.

TIME Books

I Grew Up the Son of an Islamic Jihadist

El-Sayyid A. Nosair, alleged assassin of Rabbi Meir Kahane. Nosair was charged with murder.
El-Sayyid A. Nosair, alleged assassin of Rabbi Meir Kahane. Nosair was charged with murder. AP

My father assassinated a rabbi and helped plan the first bombing of the World Trade Center

On November 5, 1990, an Arab gunman assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane during a speech at Marriot Hotel in New York City. My mother woke me up the minute she saw the breaking news on TV, and we fled the house in a terrified daze. I was 7 years old at the time—a shy, chubby New Jersey kid in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pajamas. The gunman was my father.

My father’s despicable act decimated my family. It tipped us into a life of death threats and media harassment, nomadic living and constant poverty. Kahane had been a pro-Israel militant and the founder of the Jewish Defense League. When he killed him, my father, El-Sayyid Nosair, became the first known Islamic jihadist to take a life on American soil. He worked with the support of a terror cell overseas that would ultimately call itself al-Qaeda. And his career as a terrorist was not yet over.

In 1993, from his prison cell at Attica, my father helped plan the first bombing of the World Trade Center with some old associates from a Jersey City mosque, including Omar Abdel-Rahman, whom the media dubbed “the Blind Sheikh.” Their horrible hope was that one tower would knock over the other and the death toll would be stratospheric. They had to settle for a blast that tore a hole 100 feet wide through four levels of concrete, the injury of more than a thousand innocents, and the deaths of six people, one of them a woman seven months pregnant.

The fact that my father went to prison when I was 7 just about ruined my life. But it also my made my life possible. He could not fill me with hate from jail. And, more than that, he could not stop me from coming into contact with the sorts of people he demonized and discovering that they were human beings—people I could care about and who could care about me. Bigotry cannot survive experience. My body rejected it.

When I was 18 and had finally seen a little bit of the world, I told my mom I could no longer judge people based on what they were—Muslim, Jewish, Christian, gay, straight—and that starting right then and there I was only going to judge them based on who they were. She listened, she nodded and she had the wisdom to speak the six most empowering words I have ever heard: “I’m so tired of hating people.”

She had good reason to be tired. Our journey had been harder on her than anyone else. For a time, she took to wearing not only the hijab that hid her hair, but also the veil called the niqab that cloaked everything but her eyes: She was a devout Muslim and she was afraid she’d be recognized.

My father is now in the United States penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, having been sentenced to life plus 15. I have not visited him in 20 years. Every so often, I’ll get an e-mail from the prison saying that he would like to initiate correspondence. But I’ve learned that even that leads nowhere good. He lied to us for so many years about what he’d done that one time I e-mailed him and asked, flat-out, whether he murdered the rabbi and plotted to attack the World Trade Center. I told him, I’m your son and I need to hear it from you. He answered me with an indecipherable, high-flown metaphor. It made him seem desperate, grasping—and guilty.

One of the many upsides to not speaking to my father anymore is that I’ve never had to listen to him pontificate about the vile events that took place on September 11th. He must have regarded the destruction of the Twin Towers as a great victory for Islam—maybe even as the culmination of the work he and the Blind Sheikh began years earlier.

For what it’s worth—and I’m not sure what it is worth at this point–my father now claims to support a peaceful solution in the Middle East. He also claims to abhor the killing of innocents, and he admonishes jihadists to think of their families. He said all this in an interview with the Los Angeles Times last year. I hope his change of heart is genuine, though it comes too late for the innocents that he himself helped murder. I don’t pretend to know what my father believes anymore. I just know that I spent too many years caring.

As for me, I’m no longer a Muslim and I no longer believe in God. It broke my mother’s heart when I told her, which, in turn, broke mine. My mother’s world 
is held together by her faith in Allah. What defines 
my world is love for my family and friends, the moral conviction that we must all be better to one another and to the generations that will come after us, and the desire to undo some of the damage my father has done in whatever small ways I can. I am convinced that empathy is stronger than hate, and that our lives should be dedicated to making it go viral.

Zak Ebrahim was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on March 24, 1983, the son of an Egyptian industrial engineer and an American schoolteacher. He dedicates his life to speaking out against terrorism and spreading his message of peace and nonviolence. Jeff Giles has written for The New York Times Book Review, Rolling Stone, and Newsweek, and has been a top editor at Entertainment Weekly. His first novel for young adults will be published by Bloomsbury in 2016. From The Terrorist’s Son: A Story of Choice by Zak Ebrahim and Jeff Giles. Copyright © 2014 by Zak Ebrahim and Jeff Giles. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

TIME politics

Rand Paul: ‘I Am Not an Isolationist’

Rand Paul, Rod Blum
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. listens he is introduced to speak by Iowa Republican congressional candidate Rod Blum, left, during a meeting with local Republicans, Aug. 5, 2014, in Hiawatha, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall—AP

If I had been in President Obama's shoes, I would have acted more decisively and strongly against ISIS

Some pundits are surprised that I support destroying the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militarily. They shouldn’t be. I’ve said since I began public life that I am not an isolationist, nor am I an interventionist. I look at the world, and consider war, realistically and constitutionally.

I still see war as the last resort. But I agree with Reagan’s idea that no country should mistake U.S. reluctance for war for a lack of resolve.

As Commander-in-Chief, I would not allow our enemies to kill our citizens or our ambassadors. “Peace through Strength” only works if you have and show strength.

Our recent foreign policy has allowed radical jihadists to proliferate. Today, there are more terrorists groups than there were before 9/11, most notably ISIS. After all the sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq, why do we find ourselves in a more dangerous world?

And why, after six years, does President Obama lack a strategy to deal with threats like ISIS?

This administration’s dereliction of duty has both sins of action and inaction, which is what happens when you are flailing around wildly, without careful strategic thinking.

And while my predisposition is to less intervention, I do support intervention when our vital interests are threatened.

If I had been in President Obama’s shoes, I would have acted more decisively and strongly against ISIS. I would have called Congress back into session—even during recess.

This is what President Obama should have done. He should have been prepared with a strategic vision, a plan for victory and extricating ourselves. He should have asked for authorization for military action and would have, no doubt, received it.

Once we have decided that we have an enemy that requires destruction, we must have a comprehensive strategy—a realistic policy applying military power and skillful diplomacy to protect our national interests.

The immediate challenge is to define the national interest to determine the form of intervention we might pursue. I was repeatedly asked if I supported airstrikes. I do—if it makes sense as part of a larger strategy.

There’s no point in taking military action just for the sake of it, something Washington leaders can’t seem to understand. America has an interest in protecting more than 5,000 personnel serving at the largest American embassy in the world in northern Iraq. I am also persuaded by the plight of massacred Christians and Muslim minorities.

The long-term challenge is debilitating and ultimately eradicating a strong and growing ISIS, whose growth poses a significant terrorist threat to U.S. allies and enemies in the region, Europe, and our homeland.

The military means to achieve these goals include airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. Such airstrikes are the best way to suppress ISIS’s operational strength and allow allies such as the Kurds to regain a military advantage.

We should arm and aid capable and allied Kurdish fighters whose territory includes areas now under siege by the ISIS.

Since Syrian jihadists are also a threat to Israel, we should help reinforce Israel’s Iron Dome protection against missiles.

We must also secure our own borders and immigration policy from ISIS infiltration. Our border is porous, and the administration, rather than acting to protect it, instead ponders unconstitutional executive action, legalizing millions of illegal immigrants.

Our immigration system, especially the administration of student visas, requires a full-scale examination. Recently, it was estimated that as many as 6,000 possibly dangerous foreign students are unaccounted for. This is inexcusable over a decade after we were attacked on 9/11 by hijackers including one Saudi student who overstayed his student visa.

We should revoke passports from any Americans or dual citizens who are fighting with ISIS.

Important to the long-term stability in the region is the reengagement diplomatically with allies in the region and in Europe to recognize the shared nature of the threat of Radical Islam and the growing influence of jihadists. That is what will make this a comprehensive strategy.

ISIS is a global threat; we should treat it accordingly and build a coalition of nations who are also threatened by the rise of the Islamic State. Important partners such as Turkey, a NATO ally, Israel, and Jordan face an immediate threat, and unchecked growth endangers Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Gulf countries such as Qatar, and even Europe. Several potential partners—notably, the Turks, Qataris, and Saudis—have been reckless in their financial support of ISIS, which must cease immediately.

This is one set of principles. Any strategy, though, should be presented to the American people through Congress. If war is necessary, we should act as a nation. We should do so properly and constitutionally and with a real strategy and a plan for both victory and exit.

To develop a realistic strategy, we need to understand why the threat of ISIS exists. Jihadist Islam is festering in the region. But in order for it to grow, prosper, and conquer, it needs chaos.

Three years after President Obama waged war in Libya without Congressional approval, Libya is a sanctuary and safe haven for training and arms for terrorists from Northern Africa to Syria. Our deserted Embassy in Tripoli is controlled by militants. Jihadists today swim in our embassy pool.

Syria, likewise, has become a jihadist wonderland. In Syria, Obama’s plan just one year ago—and apparently Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s desire—was to aid rebels against Assad, despite the fact that many of these groups are al-Qaeda- and ISIS-affiliated. Until we acknowledge that arming the Islamic rebels in Syria allowed ISIS a safe haven, no amount of military might will extricate us from a flawed foreign policy.

Unfortunately, Obama’s decisions—from disengaging diplomatically in Iraq and the region and fomenting chaos in Libya and Syria—leave few good options. A more realistic and effective foreign policy would protect the vital interests of the nation without the unrealistic notion of nation-building.

Paul is the junior U.S. Senator for Kentucky.

TIME Media

Don’t Look: Beheadings, Stolen Nudes and Choosing to Be Decent

Just because you can look at something doesn't mean you should.

We live in the age of the image as weapon. Sometimes the crime is petty and lurid, as when, over Labor Day weekend, a cache of nude photographs of female celebrities was released online and spread through social media. Sometimes the crime is horrific and deadly, as on Tuesday, when ISIS released a video of the beheading of Steven Sotloff, the second journalist the group murdered on tape in recent weeks. (Disclosure: Sotloff contributed reporting to TIME.)

The two acts, clearly, are not nearly the same. One is theft, one is murder. One is a digital violation, one is physical violence.

But they have something important in common: the reliance on technology that makes it seamless to spread an image, almost instantly, across the world. And the reliance on an older piece of machinery to complete the violation: The human eye. The human brain. You.

It’s not just a matter, in either case, of someone doing a horrible thing and you witnessing it later. Here, the witnessing completes the act. That’s not to say that you, looking at your device, are the same as the terrorist or the hacker. But you are completing their aim: that many eyes, many places, see what they did, whether to terrorize or humiliate.

You didn’t swing the blade or hack the photos. But there is something you can do. You can choose not to look.

After the celebrity nudes were exposed, I saw variations on several arguments why it’s fine to look at them. “They shouldn’t have taken nude selfies.” Not your business. “They should have been more careful.” So what? If I leave my bike unlocked, you’re still a thief if you ride off on it. “They wanted someone to see them naked.” Not you. And not recognizing why that matters is pretty much the definition of being a creep. “I didn’t hack the pictures.” No; but someone did it with the intention of exposing their subjects before millions of people. You’re finishing the job for them.

With the beheadings, and videos of terrorist acts in general, the arguments are different. There was an argument, made forcefully after 9/11, that we shouldn’t whitewash terrorist violence. That we have not just a right but a duty to confront, say, the images of people jumping from the burning World Trade Center towers to remember the horror of what happened, to know what we we up against. But while the 9/11 attacks were in part a media spectacle, that’s a different thing from a deliberately filmed murder, a grisly performance meant explicitly to be shared for effect. The aim of the beheading videos are that you see them; watching them literally completes their purpose.

I’m not saying you’re evil if you watch one of these videos, or peep a stolen celebrity nudie. It’s about something less grandiose than evil, less widely discussed–but at least as important: decency. Decency, at least a very big part of it, is knowing that you are permitted to do a thing–it’s physically possible, it’s not illegal, no one can stop you–yet you shouldn’t anyway.

And it’s about something that probably every one of us who uses the Internet loses sight of sometimes: that at the other end of all these views and comments and transactions, there is, or was, an actual human person. That something is on video doesn’t make it a movie; that you’re seeing someone on your device doesn’t make them a video game character; that this naked person is an actress does not make looking at her against her will an entertainment.

These days, you can see almost anything. A lot of bad people know that and count on it. Sometimes the most powerful, most decent thing you can do is not to look.

TIME Military

Why the U.S. Won’t Buckle Under ISIS Pressure

Kurdish fighters inspect an ISIS vehicle, bearing a jihadist flag, after it was hit by a U.S. air strike in northern Iraq last month. Ahmad Al-Rubaye—AFP/Getty Images

The murder of two journalists only highlights the terrorists’ weakness

In the clash between Islamic militants and the West, Steven J. Sotloff was an innocent player caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the shock of Sotloff’s murder, announced Tuesday in a video released by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), only serves to highlight the weakness of those who killed him.

It’s a classic case of what the Pentagon calls asymmetric warfare—where one side in the fight is so outgunned that it resorts to unorthodox—and sometimes inhuman—tactics to try to even the odds, scrambling the rules of war that have guided nations for centuries.

Over the past month, the U.S. military has launched more than 100 air strikes against ISIS targets in northern Iraq. While U.S. officials have publicly justified the attacks on humanitarian grounds—as well as protecting U.S. interests—they also have obliterated dozens of ISIS vehicles and checkpoints, and those manning them.

There is no way ISIS can counter U.S. air strikes. It has no air force and apparently has few, if any, anti-aircraft weapons. Its ground forces, once identified, are easy targets for American laser- and GPS-guided bombs and missiles.

Unable to thwart the attacks, ISIS has tried to derail them by murdering a pair of journalists it was holding in captivity. The first, James Foley, a freelance reporter for the GlobalPost website, was allegedly killed by a black-clad man speaking with an English accent in a video released Aug. 19. ISIS released a second video 14 days later, purportedly showing the same man murdering Sotloff, who had freelanced for Time.

War, at least between states, is guided by international law, which prohibits intentionally killing innocent civilians. But non-state actors have long been willing to resort to terrorism and murder to make their points. The masked man who killed Sotloff used a knife, but the video was the real weapon—a broadcast attempt to overcome impotence on the battlefield. “I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings and in Amerli, Zumar and the Mosul Dam, despite our serious warnings,” the man said.

Because ISIS can’t stop the bombing by matching U.S. weaponry, it is trying to stop it by horrifying the American public in hopes they will compel President Obama to stop. That hope shows how little ISIS understands the American body politic: there is no indication the killings have put political pressure on Obama to slow his attacks on ISIS—if anything, the killings have increased support for the bombings.

Speaking to reporters in Estonia on Wednesday, Obama said, “Whatever these murderers think they’ll achieve by killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed. They have failed because, like people around the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism. We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists.”

That said, horror isn’t the only way to win an asymmetric war: sometimes the points non-state actors want to make are as much political as military, and through their patience and resolve they can prevail over stronger foes.

“We’ve been going after terrorist networks in that part of the world for more than a decade, with very good success,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday. “The real measure of success is that their ideology is ultimately defeated, and the only way that’s going to be done is through good governance. And we’ve said that time and again, but I think it’s worth repeating. There’s not going to be a military solution to this.”

But there too ISIS is showing weakness. Its rampaging militants have stormed towns and cities across much of Syria and Iraq, slaughtering civilians as they go and imposing the harshest form of religious law on territory they control. In more than a few places, the U.S. military intervention has not only hurt ISIS it has won support from their beleaguered victims.

In the latest recorded murder, the man threatened to kill another captive if the American bombings continue. “Just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people,” the man said. But ISIS is beginning to run out of hostages. The U.S. will never run out of missiles. And if ISIS continues its brutal tactics on the ground in Iraq, soon enough it will run out of local supporters, too.

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