TIME Terrorism

Why Terrorism Works: Jihadi John and the Fear Premium

Alan Henning
AP This frame from a video released by Islamic State militants purports to show 'Jihadi John' before the alleged killing of taxi driver Alan Henning, released on Oct. 3, 2014.

It costs a lot to identify future threats

What’s it worth it to keep the world safe from “Jihadi John”? In theory, the vast economic resources and intelligence power of the West should make identifying, tracking and detaining a single, brutal terrorist worth the cost.

But ease of travel, availability of low-tech weapons and our inability to identify future threats from the vast pool of potential terrorists make neutralizing bad guys before they become high-profile killers difficult. The calculation becomes even harder when you realize the enormous cost of counterterrorism investments and how many lives can be saved in other areas of life for the same money.

On the surface, it seems like a simple thing. Mohammed Emwazi, who was identified by the Washington Post Thursday as the ISIS executioner “Jihadi John”, had been questioned and released by British authorities long before he went to Syria to join the group, according to the BBC. Not surprisingly, some are already asking how such a notorious killer could have slipped through authorities’ hands.

For starters, it’s hard to know whom to watch. Investigations into the July 7, 2005 terrorist bombings in London that killed 52 people and injured 700 confirmed that the UK’s domestic security service, MI5, had previously come across some of the members of the plot. But the investigations [pdf] concluded that the huge amount of threat information before MI5 and the lack of evidence of an imminent threat meant “it would not be right or fair to criticise the Security Service for the fact they did not pay greater attention” to the plotters.

Similarly, after the Paris attack at the satirical weekly magazine, Charlie Hebdo, French authorities were criticized for not doing a better job tracking the killers beforehand. Both men had been on U.S. terrorist watch lists, and the French Prime Minister admitted “failings” by intelligence services after the attack. But some estimates say it costs millions to monitor just one terrorism suspect, let alone the hundreds that French authorities say they would have to track to foil every possible future attacker, assuming one could even create a reliable and useful list of suspects.

Some have tried to calculate the total cost of such an effort. A 2014 study by John Mueller of Ohio University and the CATO Institute and Mark Stewart of the University of Newcastle in Australia, did a “back of the envelope” estimate to compare the cost of attacks to the cost of prevention. The authors assumed what they say is a common valuation of a human life of $6 million-$7 million and factored in their calculations the consequences of an attack, its likelihood of success, the risk reduction of terrorism measures and their costs.

Their conclusion: based on an estimated $75 billion increase in annual counterterrorism spending in the wake of 9/11 by the U.S. government, authorities would have to stop “150 Boston-type attacks per year, 15 London-type attacks each year, or one 9/11-type attack every three years” to justify the expense.

Such numbers are more polemical than scientific, of course: dollar costs aren’t the only consequences to factor into the equation. We may decide to pay extra to feel safe from foreign threats, or to fight back against those who directly challenge our political and social structures. We may value humanitarian intervention against terrorists who embrace genocide. Or we may think that the costs of current terrorist attacks could rise dramatically if, for example, bad guys got nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

National security hawks argue that we should pay with diminished privacy to leverage America’s technical superiority in electronic surveillance, which gives a lot of coverage for relatively little money. Mueller points out that the “Transportation Security Administration’s Federal Air Marshal Service and its full body scanner technology together are nearly as costly as the entire FBI counterterrorism budget,” which delivers a regular stream of arrested potential future jihadis.

Ultimately, if all we’re doing is paying extra because we’re afraid, though, Mueller’s numbers highlight the premium that fear factor represents. It costs a lot more to protect you from a terrorist attack that is statistically extremely unlikely to kill you than to minimize many other daily dangers, like auto accidents, gun deaths and falls by seniors.

That of course is the asymmetric idea as far as terrorists are concerned–use cheap but scary methods to trick opponents into costly, ineffectual countermeasures. In other words, terrorism works.

See our cover story this week, “The ISIS Trap” for more on the current calculation before the Obama administration.

TIME Iraq

Know Right Now: ISIS Destroys Artifacts at Iraqi Museum

The video was apparently recorded at a museum in Mosul

ISIS released a new video purportedly showing the destruction of several ancient artifacts in a Mosul museum. Watch Know Right Now to find out more.

TIME Syria

Murdered ISIS Hostage’s Daughter Says ‘Jihadi John’ Is Better Off Dead

Mohammed Emwazi in a still image from a video obtained from SITE Intel Group website February 26, 2015
Reuters Mohammed Emwazi in a still image from a video obtained from SITE Intel Group website February 26, 2015

"All the families will feel closure and relief once there's a bullet between his eyes"

The daughter of British aid worker David Haines, who was murdered by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) last September, has hit out at recently unveiled “Jihadi John,” saying he would be better off dead.

The London-accented militant’s identity was confirmed as 26-year-old Kuwaiti-born Briton Mohammed Emwazi by a U.S. intelligence official Thursday.

“It’s a good step, but I think all the families will feel closure and relief once there’s a bullet between his eyes,” Bethany Haines told ITV News.

Cloaked in a balaclava, Emwazi appeared in the beheading video of Haines’ father, as well as numerous other Western hostages, including James Foley, Steven Sotloff and Alan Henning.

Emwazi became radicalized after moving overseas to escape alienation and harassment in England, joining ISIS in Syria last year, according to reports.

Haines said she is waiting for Emwazi’s capture and does not fault British security for failing to thwart his journey to Syria. “It is shocking, but they’re doing their job, they’re doing the best they can they’ve not dealt with a so-called Islamic State like this before,” she said.

“Once he’s captured there will be a lot of happy faces,” Haines added.

[NBC]

TIME isis

Global Art Community Condemns ISIS Destruction of Artifacts at Mosul Museum

A new video purports to show militants destroying ancient works

A new video purporting to show militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) destroying ancient artifacts at a museum in the Iraqi city of Mosul has sent waves through the global art community.

Militants in the footage are shown pushing statues to the floor and smashing others with hammers. The Guardian reports that a man speaking to the camera then aims to justify the acts, citing how they didn’t exist in the time of the Prophet Muhammad and were worshipped by irreligious people.

The director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art condemned what he called the “catastrophic destruction to one of the most important museums in the Middle East.”

“This mindless attack on great art, on history, and on human understanding constitutes a tragic assault not only on the Mosul Museum, but on our universal commitment to use art to unite people and promote human understanding,” Thomas P. Campbell said in a statement.

Corine Wegener, a cultural heritage officer at the Smithsonian Institution who helps preserve ancient works at risk in war zones, labeled it the “wanton and unnecessary destruction of cultural heritage.”

“[ISIS] has a particular viewpoint about what’s offensive,” she told TIME. Wegener has helped facilitate workshops on how to protect cultural history in Syria and Iraq, in a partnership with the Penn Cultural Heritage Center and other groups. “The fact that they really feel this is something they have to do because they’re emulating the Prophet Muhammad makes our work really difficult.”

She adds, “the best we can do as cultural heritage professionals is to remind everyone that cultural heritage belongs to us all.”

The destruction at the Mosul Museum also prompted the cultural arm of the United Nations to call for the Security Council to hold an emergency meeting on protecting Iraq’s cultural heritage. “This attack is far more than a cultural tragedy,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in a statement, adding, “this is also a security issue as it fuels sectarianism, violent extremism and conflict in Iraq.”

The video showing the destruction of ancient works, including statues from the UNESCO world heritage site Hatra, is among the latest attacks on significant artifacts by the Islamist extremists. ISIS has reportedly destroyed thousands of books and manuscripts from Mosul’s central library.

TIME Terrorism

Masked ISIS Executioner Is Identified

"Jihadi John" appeared in a series of videos that featured the beheading of hostages

The masked Islamist militant who shocked and horrified the world by executing journalists and aid workers in videos that marked a new level of brutality in terrorism has finally been identified, according to multiple reports Thursday.

Multiple news outlets including the Washington Post and BBC, citing unnamed sources, report that authorities and people familiar with the case now believe the man formerly known only as “Jihadi John” is actually Mohammed Emwazi, from West London. Emwazi is now thought to be the man in front of the camera on the beheading videos produced and circulated by the militant group Islamist State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). He’s believed to be the man who executed American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid worker David Haines, British taxi driver Alan Henning, and U.S. aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known as Peter

“I have no doubt that Mohammed is Jihadi John,” the Post quoted an unnamed friend as saying of Emwazi. “He was like a brother to me. … I am sure it is him.” The New York Times cited an unnamed senior British security official who confirmed Emwazi’s identity.

MORE Inside ISIS: A TIME Special Report

Emwazi is believed to have appeared in multiple videos depicting the gruesome killing of hostages, each time wearing a black garment covering all but his eyes. Now in his mid-twenties, Emwazi was born in Kuwait but grew up in a middle class family in Britain and graduated from college with a degree in computer programming.

Friends told the Post he was radicalized after what they say was a planned safari trip in Tanzania in 2009. His group was detained en route in Somalia and deported. Emwazi later told his friends he was met in Europe by a British intelligence officer who accused him of trying to support the al-Shabab militant group in Somalia and who tried to recruit him, the Post reports.

He became increasingly disillusioned with the West, according to emails he sent to a friend. He later moved to Kuwait, but was detained on a visit to London in June 2010 and prevented from leaving the country.

Security services have known his identity for some time but have not revealed it to the public, BBC reports.

A spokesperson at the British embassy in Washington decline to confirm the identity of “Jihadi John,” citing an “ongoing police investigation,” according to the Post. “Our prime minister has been clear that we want all those who have committed murder on behalf of ISIS to face justice for the appalling acts carried out,” the spokesperson said.

Bernadette Meehan, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, did not confirm Emwazi’s identify.

“The U.S. Government continues to investigate the murder of American citizens by [ISIS],” Meehan said. “We will not comment on ongoing investigations and therefore are not in a position to confirm or deny the identity of this individual. As the President has said, no matter how long it takes, the United States will not rest until we find and hold accountable the terrorists who are responsible for the murders of our citizens. We are working closely with our international partners, including the British Government, to do everything we can to bring these murderers to justice.”

Read next: Don’t Take the Bait: The U.S. Should Not Send Troops to Fight ISIS

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME uk

ISIS Uses Social Media to Lure British Muslim Girls, Think Tank Says

Renu Begun, sister of teenage British girl Shamima Begun, holds a photo of her sister as she makes an appeal for her to return home at Scotland Yard, in London
Reuters Renu Begun, sister of teenage British girl Shamima Begun, holds a photo of her sister as she makes an appeal for her to return home at Scotland Yard in London on Feb. 22, 2015

"The promise of an Islamist utopia" entices young girls to join global jihad

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is deploying social media and the promise of adventure to enlist young British Muslim girls to wage jihad in the Middle East, a counterextremism think tank said Monday.

Police are currently searching for three young British Muslim girls they believe might have traveled to Syria to join ISIS after apparently being seduced by the group’s fanaticism.

The trio, ranging in ages from 15 to 16, boarded a flight to Istanbul from London last week without notifying their families, Reuters reports. Turkey is a common waypoint for young extremists aiming to reach neighboring Syria.

ISIS uses social-media tools like Twitter, Facebook and Ask.fm as recruitment channels, according to the Quilliam Foundation, which estimates women account for approximately 10% of the 600 British Muslims so far recruited. The foundation released a 2014 report saying “the promise of an Islamist utopia” drew women lacking agency in their own lives in the West.

“Many of these girls are not allowed out, or to do certain things in society,” said Quilliam’s managing director Haras Rafiq. “When they are online, they are being targeted with messages of empowerment.”

“These girls are going abroad because they are not really achieving what they consider to be much in Britain,” Rafiq added.

[Reuters]

TIME Military

An Extraordinary Pentagon ‘Bull Session’ Over ISIS

DOD Chief Ashton Carter Travels To Middle East
Jonathan Ernst—Pool/Getty Images New Defense Secretary Ashton Carter begins Monday's anti-ISIS strategy session in Kuwait.

New defense chief convenes Kuwait confab to confirm war plans

College, where new Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has spent as much time as at the Pentagon, loves bull sessions. That’s just what Carter did Monday, summoning U.S. military and diplomatic brainpower to an unusual closed-door session in Kuwait where some of America’s finest Middle East minds gathered to debate how to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Sure, the more than two dozen attendees sat at a government-issue T-shaped table, complete with their names on placards, instead of sitting cross-legged on the floor. But, at the start of his second week on the job, Carter made clear he is as interested in listening as he is in talking. “This is team America,” he declared, before reporters were ushered out of the room.

At the end of the six-hour session, Carter declared ISIS “hardly invincible,” and gave no hint of any major change in U.S. policy, despite calls from some congressional Republicans for more robust military action. “Lasting defeat of this brutal group,” Carter said, “can and will be accomplished.”

No revamped war plan was expected to surface during the session, although Carter said the U.S. needs to step up its social-media duel with ISIS, and that certain unnamed allies need to do more. Rather, aides said, Carter was seeking to dive deeply into the current U.S. strategy, understand its logic and see if it can be improved.

While such sessions often happen without public notice in Washington, convening one abroad — and publicly detailing its purpose and attendees — marks a shift in how the Pentagon is conducting business under its new chief.

Those at the session included Army General Lloyd Austin, who as head of U.S. Central Command, oversees the anti-ISIS campaign, and Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s military chief. Diplomats attending included retired Marine general John Allen, now the White House’s envoy responsible for ISIS, and U.S. ambassadors in the region.

The Pentagon instructed those attending to leave their PowerPoint presentations at home and be ready to face questions from Carter. These kinds of sessions — especially when senior officials are visiting from the capital — often turn into subordinates’ show-and-tell rather than tough questions with frank answers. “We had an incisive, candid, wide-ranging discussion—there were no briefings,” Carter said afterward. “It was the sharing of experience and ideas and expertise and it made me very proud of the American team here in this region.”

Carter, a physicist by training, has spent much of his career lecturing on college campuses, including at Harvard, Oxford and Stanford. Between academic gigs, he also has served tours inside the Pentagon, including as deputy defense secretary from 2011 to 2013.

Carter plainly wants the war on ISIS to end differently than the wars the U.S. launched in Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003), where battlefield successes turned into nation-building quagmires. “If we are to have a defeat of [ISIS] … it needs to be a lasting defeat,” he told U.S. troops at Kuwait’s Camp Arifjan before Monday’s session began. “What we discuss here, and what I learn here, will be important to me as I formulate our own direction in this campaign and as I help the President to lead it.”

Assuming Carter heard something that could help turn the tide against ISIS, getting the White House to listen to his advice could prove challenging. President Obama’s first two defense chiefs, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, made no secret of their disdain for White House interference in Pentagon planning, and Pentagon officials cited such micromanagement as a problem during Chuck Hagel’s recently concluded tenure.

TIME Terrorism

Read an American ISIS Hostage’s Last Letter to Her Family

Kayla Mueller, 26, an American humanitarian worker from Prescott, Ariz.
Mueller Family—Reuters Kayla Mueller, 26, an American humanitarian worker from Prescott, Ariz.

Kayla Mueller said she was "remaining strong"

An American who died while held captive by the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) wrote in her final letter to her family that she was “OK, healthy, remaining strong and being treated kindly.”

“Do not worry… I love you all,” Kayla Mueller wrote in the letter, revealed Monday on NBC’s Today show. “My heart longs to be with you all as… I have never felt before, but praise be to God you are in my dreams almost every evening and for just those brief moments in my sleeping conscious that we are together I am given a warmth.”

The Obama Administration confirmed earlier this month that Mueller, an aid worker who was 26, had died. ISIS said she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike, but U.S. officials haven’t confirmed that.

Read the full letter at NBC

Read next: What Kayla Mueller’s Life Reveals About Her Generation

TIME Australia

Australian Leader Outlines Tough New Anti-Terrorism Measures

Prime Minister Tony Abbott Announces Changes In National Security Speech
Stefan Postles—Getty Images Prime Minister Tony Abbott during his speech on National Security at the Australian Federal Police headquarters on February 23, 2015 in Canberra, Australia.

Abbott decried the spread of Islamic extremism in Syria and Iraq as a “new dark age”

Australians who hold dual nationality and flout antiterrorism laws will have their citizenship suspended or revoked, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced Monday during an address on national security.

Even those born in Australia could have citizenship privileges taken away if they are involved in terrorism, reports the BBC.

“These [measures] could include restricting the ability to leave or return to Australia, and access to consular services overseas, as well as access to welfare payments,” Abbott said at the federal police headquarters in the capital, Canberra.

The 57-year-old Premier stressed that the new legislation would also target preachers who incite religious or racial hatred.

“By any measure, the threat to Australia is worsening,” he added, calling the spread of Islamic extremism over Syria and Iraq a “new dark age.”

Abbott said that many of his compatriots were becoming radicalized and lured into the “death cult” of terrorist groups. About 90 Australian nationals are believed to have traveled abroad to fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

During his speech, Abbott also announced the appointment of a new counterterrorism chief and seven new financial analysts to crack down on terrorist financing.

The move comes in the wake of the Sydney siege, during which a lone gunman, Man Haron Monis, held 18 people hostage at a café in the city center. Three people including Monis, who had pledged fealty to ISIS, died at the scene.

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