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Six facts that question efficacy of Saudi Arabia led anti-terror alliance

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Islamic State

By Nithin Sridhar

Saudi Arabia has just announced the formation of a military coalition of 34 countries to fight against Islamic terrorist outfits. The coalition is dominated by Islamic countries, including Pakistan, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, UAE, Turkey, Libya, and Yemen. Though, the formation of such a coalition is a welcome step, serious doubts have been raised regarding the commitment of the coalition towards fighting the Islamic State’s menace.

Here are the six facts that raise serious questions regarding the efficacy of the Saudi led coalition:

1. Though, Saudi Arabia is part of the US coalition that is bombing ISIS locations, Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies have gradually withdrawn from the air strikes against ISIS, thus reducing the air raids to being largely a US effort supplemented by UK and France. According to one account, Bahrain and Jordan have not dropped even a single bomb in last several months and Saudi itself carries out bombing only once a month. 

2. Saudi Arabia and ISIS share extremist Islamic ideology. ISIS follows the Jihadi-Salafism of Sunni Islam. This Salafism is rooted in the Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam that is propagated by Saudi Arabia through its mosques and madrassas across the world. Salafism and Wahhabism are intimately connected and both derive their legitimacy from the literal interpretation of Islam. Further, Saudi Arabia spends a large amount of money every year to spread Wahhabism across the world. According to one estimate, more than $100 billion have been spent by Saudi in the past few decades to spread Wahhabi ideology.

3. Though Saudi Arabia officially claims to fight terrorism, Saudi donors have remained one of the most important funders of terror groups. A Wikileaks cable quoted Hillary Clinton as saying: “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” She added: “More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups.”

4. Saudi Arabia is deep neck in the Sunni-Shia conflict in the Middle East. Saudi and Iran are waging a proxy war for decades and this sectarian conflict has only strengthened terror groups and further helped them to recruit more people. For example, Saudi’s involvement in Yemen to counter Shia influence resulted in ISIS gaining strong ground in Yemen.

5. Turkey has failed to seal its border with ISIS-controlled Syria, thus allowing ISIS to carry out its oil trade and influx of foreign fighters. Russia has clearly accused Turkey of allowing huge quantities of oil from ISIS controlled oil fields to enter Turkey. Russia has further accused Turkey of shooting down Russian warplane in order to protect the oil supply routes from ISIS territories to Turkey.

6. Pakistan is widely known for its sheltering of various terror outfits including LeT and JuD. Pakistan is directly and indirectly involved in carrying out various acts of terrorism in India. Additionally, it has continued to support Taliban, who are still fighting in Afghanistan.

Considering how the countries involved in the present anti-terror coalition are either themselves involved in aiding and abetting terrorism, or in propagating extremist ideologies, or are taking part in sectarian conflicts, it will not be wrong to question whether there is a genuine desire to fight terrorism or is it just for photo-op? In any case, it is highly doubtful that the anti-terror coalition will see any considerable success as long as Saudi Arabia continues to export extremist Wahhabi ideology and fund terror outfits. Dr. Munish Raizada rightly points in his tweet:

(Photo: www.youthconnect.in)

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English-speaking ISIS Supporters Exploit Messaging App

English-speaking Islamic State supporters are refusing to give up

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English, ISIS, Supporters, Messaging
The Telegram logo is seen on a screen of a smartphone in this illustration, April 13, 2018. VOA

English-speaking Islamic State supporters are refusing to give up on the terror group’s ability to remain a force in Syria and Iraq, according to a new study that examined their behavior on the Telegram instant messaging service.

The report, “Encrypted Extremism: Inside the English-Speaking Islamic State Ecosystem on Telegram,” released Thursday by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, looked at 636 pro-Islamic State channels and groups in the 16 months from June 2017 through October 2018.

It found that even as the terror group was losing ground in Syria and Iraq to U.S.-backed forces, and even as IS leadership was encouraging followers to start looking to progress in IS provinces elsewhere, English-speaking supporters turned to Telegram to reinforce their faith in the caliphate.

“These are supporters that like to fight uphill battles,” report co-author Bennet Clifford told VOA. “What supporters are trying to do when they’re engaging with this conversation is attempt to shift the narrative away from loss and provide justifications for it.”

English, ISIS, Supporters, Messaging
FILE – An Islamic State flag is seen in this photo illustration. VOA

At the same time, these English-speaking supporters sought to amplify their beliefs, supplementing official IS propaganda with user-generated content while also increasing the distribution of instructional material on how to carry out attacks.

“I think it’s part of an attempt in some cases to spin the narrative their way,” Clifford added.

Attraction of Telegram

IS supporters first started flocking to Telegram, an instant messaging service that promises speed and encryption for private communications, in 2015 as social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook began a crackdown aimed at Islamic State’s often violent and gory propaganda.

Since then, IS has been hooked by Telegram’s promise that it will not disclose user data to government officials and by the service’s ability to let supporters organize and share large files, including video.

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“No other platforms appear to have developed the same balance of features, user-friendliness, and basic security that could warrant a new switch,” the report said.

That ease of use has long worried counterterrorism officials, who have watched as IS has used the online ecosystem to help plan and carry out the November 2015 attacks in Paris, attacks on a Christmas market in Berlin in December 2016 and the attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul just weeks later.

English-speaking facilitators

In those cases, the attackers appear to have been given instructions from IS officials in Syria and Iraq. But Telegram has given rise to several key English-speaking facilitators who have been operating on the periphery.

English, ISIS, Supporters, Messaging
FILE – Karen Aizha Hamidon, who allegedly worked to encourage several Indian militants last year to join the Islamic State group in the Middle East, is surrounded by reporters after attending a hearing at the Department of Justice in Manila, Philippines, Nov. 3, 2017. VOA

One of them, according to Clifford and co-author Helen Powell, was 36-year-old Karen Aizha Hamidon, who helped mobilize sympathizers from the United States to Singapore to join the terror group or its affiliates.

Hamidon, who was arrested by Philippine authorities in October 2017, has also been linked to efforts to establish an IS province in India.

Another key player, 34-year-old Ashraf al-Safoo, took a different approach before being arrested last October by the FBI in Chicago.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, al-Safoo was a key member of the Khattab Media Foundation, which used hacked social media accounts on platforms like Twitter to disseminate IS propaganda.

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“Much of the propaganda created and distributed by Khattab promotes violent jihad on behalf of ISIS and ISIS’s media office,” the Justice Department said in a statement using a different acronym for the militant group.

While both Hamidon and al-Safoo are now in custody, showing the ability of law enforcement to penetrate their Telegram operations, others are likely to replace them because of the ongoing need of Islamic State’s English-speaking supporters to communicate and find larger audiences.

“While there are a number of disadvantages for Islamic State supporters in the use of Telegram from a security perspective they’ll continue to do it because their balance of outreach and operational security,” Clifford said. “There’s not another alternative at this point in time.” (VOA)