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American Authorities suspect Terror Networks already present in US

The officials believe that networks are definitely broader, thicker and far more interconnected than they have ever seen before

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After years of undercover work, the U.S. is starting to pull back the veil on what appear to be loose-knit, perhaps deeply rooted networks of would-be terrorists who support each other even as many prepare to act alone.

Heightening the concern, these complex webs of connections and support seem to span several years and often cut across the ideological lines that delineate one terror group from another.

“Increasingly, the FBI’s had a lot of these,” according to a law enforcement official familiar with one of the most recent cases. “I think it is going on nationally.”

The official, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity, also said it was clear that “a lot of this predated ISIL,” using an acronym for the Islamic State terror group.Concern has reached all the way to the White House. After a meeting with national security officials late Thursday at the Pentagon, President Barack Obama said, “It’s conceivable that there are some networks here [in the U.S.] that could be activated.”

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“We have to do a better job of disrupting networks,” he added.

Yet former counterterror officials warn that doing so promises to be difficult, because what holds these networks together cannot be undone simply by trying to dismantle a single terror group.

“The differences between al-Nusra and ISIS [Islamic State] and al-Qaida and al-Shabab, for the regular people, it’s a distinction without a difference,” said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. “What’s really underlying it is the ideological underpinnings that drive these people.”

In many cases, researchers say, for the members of these groups, it comes down to a willingness to embrace violence to fill holes or gaps in their lives.

“If ISIS is eliminated tomorrow and moves on, there are going to be other groups that pop up, and these individuals are already primed,” said Hughes, who previously worked at the National Counterterrorism Center. “They’ll latch onto the next foreign terrorist organisation.”

Connections to Nicholas Young. Image source: VOA
Connections to Nicholas Young. Image source: VOA

Perhaps no case illustrates the dangers as much as that of Nicholas Young, 36, a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit police officer from Fairfax, Virginia, arrested this past week for trying to help Islamic State acquire mobile messaging accounts for use in recruiting new members.

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The arrest appeared to be the culmination of years of undercover work that most likely began in late 2010 when FBI agents interviewed Young about an acquaintance.

“Six years is a very long time for an active FBI investigation,” Hughes said. “They were clearly concerned.”

According to an FBI affidavit, the acquaintance in question was Zachary Chesser, who had been arrested earlier in 2010 after trying to travel to Somalia to join the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab terror group.

Young told investigators he was shocked by the charges and that it would be his religious and personal duty to have told someone if he suspected Chesser of any terror-related activity.But something got the FBI’s attention, and investigators kept him in their sights.

“From the law enforcement perspective, the hope is that if you follow this individual, he lights up the system and you get to see if there are any networks you need to be worried about,” Hughes said.

It would seem Young “lit up” the system.By January 2012, Young was in regular contact with an undercover law enforcement officer.

That March, the undercover officer reported on a meeting with Young and two other men to discuss “the fundamentals of marksmanship.”One of the two other men then joined the undercover officer and Young at a restaurant for the first of what were to be several shared meals over the coming months. They talked about jihad, martyrdom and evading authorities.

Both men at the March meeting would later be arrested on the same day, February 17, 2012.One of them, who was not named in court documents, was arrested on charges of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

The other man, Amine El-Khalifi of Alexandria, Virginia, was arrested in a sting operation as he attempted to carry out a shooting and suicide bombing at the U.S. Capitol in the name of al-Qaida.Even after those arrests, investigators continued to watch Young, who confided he had twice travelled to Libya a year earlier to fight with the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, an al-Qaida-linked group trying to overthrow then-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

By 2014, Young was expressing growing admiration for the Islamic State, advising an FBI informant on how to reach the terror group. Thinking the informant had successfully joined the ranks of IS, Young tried to send him the mobile messaging gift cards just last month. That act led to his arrest.

Law enforcement officials refuse to say whether the six-year investigation of the former Metro Transit officer will yield more arrests, but a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Washington field office said it is likely that more cases are on the way.

“Because of the national significance of Washington, D.C., and the vast number of potential geographic and human targets, northern Virginia and the surrounding area are likely to continue to experience arrests of individuals who have provided material support to designated terrorist organisations,” said the FBI’s Lindsay Ram.

Ten people have been arrested in Virginia on terror-related charges since March 2014, according to Hughes of the George Washington University extremism program. Only New York (18) and Minnesota (13) have seen more terror-related arrests in that period of time.

“A lot of these cases have to do with in-person … recruitment or radicalization, where they reinforce each other,” Hughes said.

Connections to Erick Jamal Hendricks. Image source: VOA
Connections to Erick Jamal Hendricks. Image source: VOA

Still, law enforcement officials warn against underestimating the power of social media, as evidenced in Thursday’s arrest of Erick Jamal Hendricks, 35, of Charlotte, North Carolina, charged with trying to recruit members for an IS sleeper cell — a group of willing terrorists who remain inactive and out of sight until they are called upon to join a plot.

Court documents show the FBI was able to link Hendricks through social media to several other U.S.-based IS followers.One of them, Amir Said Rahman Al-Ghazi, 38, was arrested in June 2015 after trying to buy an AK-47 assault rifle from an undercover agent.Another, Elton Simpson, was killed in May 2015 along with Nadir Hamid Soofi, when the two tried to attack an event in Garland, Texas, where amateur cartoonists were drawing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

The FBI says Hendricks had been in touch with Simpson via social media about a week prior to the Texas attack and even connected Simpson with an undercover FBI agent who was in Garland at the time.

For Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy, evidence that Hendricks and Simpson knew each on social media is especially worrisome.

“One thing that we know is that Junaid Hussain, who was functioning as an external operations connector/official for the Islamic State, was in touch with Elton Simpson,” Gartenstein-Ross said. “Rather than [contact between Simpson and Hendricks] being informal, there may have been a formal ISIL hand in helping to connect these disparate individuals together.”

Some of Hendrick’s claims may lend additional credence to those concerns.

During a conversation on social media in April 2015, Hendricks told an undercover FBI agent he was in contact with “senior people.”

“Does the head give orders?” the agent then asked.

“Only advice,” Hendricks replied.

“And connect ppl (people) to form groups,” Hendricks added, breaking up the word “groups” as he did with other words he feared would draw the attention of law enforcement.

“The networks are definitely broader, they’re definitely thicker and they’re definitely more interconnected than we’ve ever seen before,” Gartenstein-Ross said.

Another concern stemming from the arrests of Nicholas Young and Erick Jamal Henderson is that despite arrests, disruptions and the watchful eye of law enforcement, the loose-knit terror networks seem to be able to sustain themselves — and, in some cases, even outlive the terror groups that helped spark their creation.

“The adaptability of the threat moves faster than the state can keep up with it,” cautioned Mubin Shaikh, an expert who has worked with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. (VOA)

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Indo-Pak Peace Talks Futile Unless Islamabad Sheds Links with Terrorism, says Study

A Study by a U.S. think tank calls India and Pakistan talks futile, until Pakistan changes its approach.

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India and Pakistan
India and Pakistan. Wikimedia.

A Top United States of America (U.S.) think tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace called the relations between India and Pakistan futile, unless Islamabad changes its approach and sheds its links with Jihadi terrorism.

A report “Are India and Pakistan Peace Talks Worth a Damn”, authored by Ashley J Tellis stated that such a move supported by foreign countries would be counterproductive and misguided.

The report suggests that International community’s call for the India and Pakistan talks don’t recognize that the tension between the two countries is not actually due to the sharp differences between them, but due to the long rooted ideological, territorial and power-political hatred. The report states that these antagonisms are fueled by Pakistani army’s desire to subvert India’s powerful global position.

Tellis writes that Pakistan’s hatred is driven by its aim to be considered and treated equal to India, despite the vast differences in their achievements and capabilities.

Also ReadMilitant Groups in Pakistan Emerge as Political Parties : Can Violent Extremism and Politics Co-exist? 

New Delhi, however, has kept their stance clear and mentioned that India and Pakistan talks cannot be conducted, until, the latter stops supporting terrorism, and the people conducting destructive activities in India.

The report further suggests that Pakistan sees India as a genuine threat and continuously uses Jihadi terrorism as a source to weaken India. The report extends its support to India’s position and asks other international powers, including the U.S., to extend their support to New Delhi.

Earlier in September, Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) slammed Pakistan for its continuous terror activities. She attacked the country by saying that India has produced engineers, doctors, and scholars; Pakistan has produced terrorists.

Sushma Swaraj further said that when India is being recognised in the world for its IT and achievements in the space, Pakistan is producing Terrorist Organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba. She said that Pakistan is the world’s greatest exporter of havoc, death and inhumanity.

-by Megha Acharya  of NewsGram. Megha can be reached at @ImMeghaacharya. 

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Why are Ordinary Citizens becoming ‘Extremists’?

Factors of people dwelling into extremism

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Extremists
Extremists (Representational Image)

Oct 1, 2017: The 21st century is witnessing more and more of extremism, in the form of both verbal and physical assault. The phenomenon of showcasing extreme support is visible in many countries. Groups like ISIL target extremists and through them conduct violent activities in the name of defending ‘Islam’ and Muslim communities.

Who are Extremists?

A person who has extreme political or religious views and lacks the quality of being ‘objective’. The actions of extremists may often be aggressive and violent. Various organisations including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have gauged the factors of people resorting to such measures.

One may wonder as to why do extremists resort to aggression and violence in the name of religion or ideology? What could lead to someone dwelling into such actions? Apart from education and poverty, there are factors which result in such behavior. Various studies and researches indicate factors- loneliness, depression, and need for societal acceptance as some of the reasons.

The FBI in one of its reports has stated some vulnerabilities which lead to terrorists or extremist groups.

Also Read: Muslim Population May Take Over European Dominance In the Coming Decades

The following factors make people more prone to believing in such ideology:

1. Feeling of loneliness.
2. Emotional distress.
3. Hatred towards a sect of society.
4. Disagreeing with governmental policies.
5. The need of being accepted in the society.

Terrorist organisations are in search for these people only. While the reasons for becoming an extremist is mostly a mystery, but terrorist organisations recruit the ones who have these vulnerabilities, as these factors are directly related to a person’s psychology and conscience, and the game can certainly be won by playing with the person’s psychology. These people are dehumanizing those who do not fit into their view, and as mentioned before this extremism is leading to terrorism. Extremism in India, which has lead to terrorism is prevalent in conflicted areas like Jammu and Kashmir, where Islamic militants are conditioning and instigating the citizens of the state to raise their voice against their nation.

The rising extremists is a grave concern that commands immediate actions to be taken. The present actions determine that the future may be very bleak. We need a future which has humanity and objectivity. Extremism needs to be beaten through the power of knowledge, education and right information.

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Will the Latest Message From Islamic State Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Provoke New Attacks in the West?

IS remains a potent organization, despite its continued losses in United States and Europe

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Islamic State
This image taken from a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (VOA)

Washington, September 30, 2017 : U.S. intelligence officials examining the latest audio statement claiming to be from Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi say, so far, they have no reason to doubt its authenticity.

However, there are questions as to whether the message from the leader of the collapsing, self-declared caliphate will cause IS operatives to spring into action. Some analysts see Baghdadi’s continued call to arms as almost a shot in the dark, aimed at rekindling interest despite the terror group’s fading fortunes in Syria and Iraq.

The still-early U.S. intelligence assessment comes just a day after the Islamic State’s al-Furqan media wing issued the 46-minute audio recording featuring Baghdadi, in which he calls on followers to “fan the flames of war on your enemies, take it to them and besiege them in every corner.”

“Continue your jihad and your blessed operations and do not let the crusaders rest in their homes and enjoy life and stability while your brethren are being shelled and killed,” he says.

islamic state
A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighter takes cover behind a wall on a street where they fight against Islamic State militants, on the front line on the western side of Raqqa, Syria (VOA)

Despite such threats, U.S. officials say the release of the latest audio message is not changing Washington’s approach.

“We are aware of the tape,” a National Security Council spokesman said Friday. “But whether it’s al-Baghdadi or any member of ISIS, the Trump administration’s policy is destroying ISIS in Iraq, Syria and around the globe.” ISIS is an acronym for Islamic State.

Still, intelligence and counterterror officials, both in the United States and in Europe, warn that IS remains a potent organization, despite its continued losses on the ground.

“We do not think battlefield losses alone will be sufficient to degrade its terrorism capabilities,” the head of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen, warned in written testimony to U.S. lawmakers earlier this week, calling IS’s reach on social media “unprecedented.”

And while Western counterterror officials say the expected wave of returning IS foreign fighters has yet to materialize, the experience and skill sets of the operatives who have made it back home are ample reasons to worry.

But some caution the new Baghdadi audio message may have more to do with the terror group’s long-term strategy than its desire to carry out attacks in the near term.

“The broadcast boosts morale by contextualizing the hardships facing the group as their losses accumulate by reminding Islamic State militants and their supporters that day-to-day actions are part of a broader struggle, and metrics of progress shouldn’t be assessed in a vacuum,” according to Jade Parker, a senior research associate at the Terror Asymmetrics Project (TAPSTRI).

ALSO READ  intelligence officials , Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, al-Furqan, war, enemies, threats, US officials, raqqa, National Security Council, isis, Iraq, Syria, U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen, terrorism, Terror Asymmetrics Project ,

Parker also believes that while it is “extremely unlikely” the latest Baghdadi audio will spark or accelerate any IS plots, it might prevent fraying within the organization’s ranks.

“Baghdadi’s silence during the final days of IS’s battle for Mosul was a sore point for many IS fighters and supporters who felt confused and abandoned by their leader,” she added. “This statement was likely released in part to avoid that sentiment with respect to the fight to retain ground in Raqqa.” (VOA)