Category Archives: Terrorism

The enemy of my enemy is my…

The U.S. State Department announced yesterday that it has designated the Iranian Baluch group Jundullah a terrorist organization. This makes a lot of sense considering that Jundullah is known for suicide bombings, beheadings and other hallmarks of many of the other radical groups the U.S. designates as terrorists. The Baluch separatist group might even have ties to al Qaeda.

The State Department release said:

Since its inception in 2003, Jundallah has engaged in numerous attacks resulting in the death and maiming of scores of Iranian civilians and government officials, primarily in Iran’s Sistan va Balochistan province. Jundallah uses a variety of terrorist tactics, including suicide bombings, ambushes, kidnappings and targeted assassinations. In May 2009, Jundallah attacked the crowded Shiite Amir al-Mo’menin mosque in Zahedan, destroying the mosque and killing and wounding numerous worshipers. An October 2009 bomb attack which killed more than 40 people was reportedly the deadliest terrorist attack in Iran since the 1980s. Following the February 2010 capture by Iranian authorities of Jundallah’s ex-leader, Abdul Malik Rigi, the group selected a new leader, al-Hajj Mohammed Dhahir Baluch, and confirmed its commitment to continue its terrorist activities. In July 2010, Jundallah attacked the Grand Mosque in Zahedan, killing approximately 30 and injuring hundreds.

What the State Department doesn’t mention, however, is that it’s commonly believed that the CIA supports Jundullah’s activities in an attempt to destabilize the Iranian government. Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker in July 2008 that Jundullah (and other domestic Iranian rebel groups) receive funding and support from Langley.

Maybe the Obama administration has cut back on its predecessor’s covert programs like support for Iranian terrorist group. Politico cites an unnamed Washington-based Iran expert saying that the designation of Jundullah as a terrorist group shows that “one bureaucratic fight in favor of engagement was won.” It’s a place to start.


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Maybe Faisal Shahzad isn’t that simple

Robert Wright, writing on the New York Times website, had a very intelligent takedown of simplistic attitudes towards jihadism as exhibited by Daniel Pipes and Jeffrey Goldberg, who treat religious violence as an entity that exists on its own, divorced from any realities of the world, almost like it’s something some people are born with.

Wright invites Pipes and Goldberg (and many others) to imagine a more complex reality. He writes:

In the universe I’m positing, the following scenario is conceivable:

A Pakistani guy moves to America, goes to college, gets a job, starts a family. He grows unhappy. Maybe he’s having financial problems (though I’m skeptical, for reasons outlined by Charles Lane here, that Shahzad’s home foreclosure actually signifies as much); or maybe the problem is just that he doesn’t find his social niche. And maybe he was a bit unstable to begin with — which would make it harder to find his niche and might intensify his reaction to not finding it.

Anyway, for whatever reason, he feels alienated in America. He stays in touch with people and events back home in Pakistan, and this gives him another reason to dislike America: American drones are firing missiles into Pakistan, sometimes killing women and children.

Thanks to the Internet, it doesn’t take him long to find like-minded folks, or to come under the influence of a radical imam operating out of Yemen. “Jihadi intent” is taking shape, and eventually he comes into the fold of actual jihadis, a faction of the Taliban in Pakistan. They give him what he hadn’t found in America: a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose. The basic ingredients of bomb-planting behavior are now in place.

I think Wright makes a good point here. We (Americans, that is) need to understand that it’s possible that policies like invading Muslim countries, locking up accused terrorists in secret prisons, and supporting repressive “secular” regimes are making the United States less, and not more, safe. A prime recruiting tool for jihadist groups in Pakistan are videos depicting American violence against Muslims. Less violence would make for less propaganda.

But while I’m on the topic of Faisal Shahzad, I want to raise something else.

Shahzad supposedly trained with the Pakistani Taliban before attempting to set off a car bomb in Times Square. This has now been corroborated by the Pakistani intelligence services and, apparently, by a confessed accomplice in Pakistan. But the whole thing leaves me with some questions.

First of all, there is something odd about the bomb itself, which New York police described as “crude.” A militant organization with almost ten years of bombings under their belt (no pun intended) should presumably be able to train someone how to make a decent bomb, particularly in what would be a major operation for the group. But the thing that I find even more incongruous is the fact that Shahzad is still alive. He supposedly left the bomb in his Nissan and then fled the scene. That doesn’t sound that strange until you think about the regularity with which the Pakistani Taliban uses suicide bombers, not planted car bombs, in its attacks. Wouldn’t someone who has trained with the Pakistani Taliban be sufficiently indoctrinated to blow himself up? Wouldn’t that be a more surefire plan?

It’s also worth considering that the Pakistani Taliban has never attempted an attack outside of Pakistan before, though I suppose this could be explained away by going back to my (Robert Wright’s) earlier point about American policies encouraging radicalism. With predator drones, piloted from Virginia, killing Pakistani civilians almost daily, it’s certainly not inconceivable that the Pakistani group would attempt to expand its reach.

I’m not suggesting that the Times Square bombing attempt was fabricated or the connection to the Pakistani Taliban doesn’t exist. But it seems to me that the situation deserves a little more consideration than it has received.

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Filed under Pakistan, Terrorism

My favorite Al-Qaeda member has been captured!

Probably weird to say “my favorite” but I have a good reason.

In January 2007 the New Yorker published a profile of Adam Gadahn, the Northern California hippie child who ended up joining Al-Qaeda and becoming the group’s official English-language spokesperson. For whatever reason, I thought it was one of the most captivating pieces of journalism I’d ever read and I still remember it vividly.

On the occasion of Gadahn’s capture today in Karachi by American security forces, I urge you to read the New Yorker profile if you haven’t already. I’ll be re-reading it.

Also check out these before and after photos:


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Filed under Life Abroad, Terrorism

New Beginning?

Photo by the New York Times

Photo by the New York Times

After so much anticipation, how did President Obama’s “historic” address to the Muslim world actually turn out?  Who knows if it will actually be the “new beginning” that the Obama Administration billed it as, but it seemed to me like it hit all the right notes.

It may not be the most important thing, but Obama seemed to be making a serious effort to ingratiate himself with the Arab world.  He spoke a few words of (sometimes-mangled) Arabic, he quoted from the Qur’an with comfort, he complemented Arab history and scientific innovation.

I was impressed that from the beginning Obama recognized the treacherous legacies of colonialism, the Cold War and globalization in the Middle East.  Those aren’t obvious themes for an American president to take up, but they are important ones and I suspect that they will resonate well in the Arab world.  It also gave me great joy to hear his recognition of the 1953 coup against the democratically elected Iranian government.  If only he had mentioned the Syrian Crisis of 1957…

The best part of the speech, in my opinion, was his discussion of Israel-Palestine.  Marc Lynch sums up my feelings best:

I’m still struggling to grapple with this truly astonishing portion of his speech.  I don’t think I have ever heard any American politician, much less President, so eloquently, empathetically, and directly equate the suffering and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians. This is the one part which I have to quote:

“Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers – for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.”

This is quite possibly the most powerful statement of America’s stake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the urgent need for justice on both sides that I have ever heard.  He posed sharp challenges to Israelis and Palestinians alike, directly addressing the realities of Palestinian life under occupation and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza while also empathizing with Israeli fears.  He positioned the U.S. as the even-handed broker it needs to be:  “America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs.” Left unsaid, but clearly in the background, was the fact that he has been matching those words with deeds by forcefully taking on the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

This won’t satisfy most Arabs, I suspect.  The fact that Obama reaffirmed America’s “unbreakable” bond with the Jewish state will probably alone be enough to leave many with a bad taste.  Regardless, I think it is becoming clear that Obama is taking a more even-handed approach to the Israel-Palestine problem than any American leader before him. Israel is still the United States’ ally–that will not change–but it appears that Obama genuinely believes that securing Palestinian statehood should be a priority and he is willing to commit himself to that.  That’s nothing to scoff at.

Did I have any problems with the speech?  It’s hard to say.  I wish that more emphasis had been given to democracy and rejecting authoritarianism, but I know that that would have been diplomatically dicey after his day with King Abdullah yesterday and meetings with Mubarak today.

I think that if Obama really wanted to score serious points with the Arab street he could have come closer to recognizing the trauma that the United States has inflicted on the Muslim world, particularly over the past few years.  Ali Abunimah, with whom I do not agree on most things, makes this point:

It was disappointing that Obama recycled his predecessor’s notion that “violent extremism” exists in a vacuum, unrelated to America’s (and its proxies’) exponentially greater use of violence before and after September 11, 2001. He dwelled on the “enormous trauma” done to the US when almost 3,000 people were killed that day, but spoke not one word about the hundreds of thousands of orphans and widows left in Iraq – those whom Muntazer al-Zaidi’s flying shoe forced Americans to remember only for a few seconds last year. He ignored the dozens of civilians who die each week in the “necessary” war in Afghanistan, or the millions of refugees fleeing the US-invoked escalation in Pakistan.

The Arab reactions to the speech that I’ve read so far haven’t been  kind, but I think that’s probably because it is mostly well-educated leftists who are blogging/Tweeting in English.  But I think that people are reading Obama wrong.  For example, when Obama called Cairo a “timeless city,” Will from KabobFest asked if the line was “just one of those Orientalist tropes his speechwriter read in some Bernard Lewis book or Egyptian tourism pamphlet?”

President Obama is a former professor, a well-educated liberal who used to read Frantz Fanon when he was in college.  The American president is not listening to Bernard Lewis anymore.  That’s going to be hard for a lot of people to accept–they’ve become so accustomed to dismissing and disdaining American leaders.  But hopefully it is a transformation that will happen soon.

An Egyptian friend of mine suggested that Arab bloggers and analysts are skeptical and angry out of fear that Obama’s charm is part of some elaborate conspiracy.  I suppose, though, that it is in a way an elaborate conspiracy.  The aim of the conspiracy is to make large parts of the world stop hating the United States.


Filed under Democracy, Diplomacy, History, Israel-Palestine, Terrorism

Jordanians in Afghanistan?

The intepid crusaders at Wikileaks have uncovered a document called “NATO in Afghanistan: Master Narrative”.  Unfortunately you can no longer access it.  (I’m not entirely sure if I think that is unfortunate or not.) But one of the biggest revelations of the finding was the fact that Jordanian forces are secretely part of the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

I don’t blame the Jordanians for wanting to keep that a secret.  Pretty much everyone I have talked to in the Middle East thinks that the war in Afghanistan is just as bad as Iraq.  Americans might think that Afghanistan is “the good war” but to most people in the Middle East it’s not.  I’m generalizing here, of course.  I know that there are varied opinions, but I think it’s safe to say that His Majesty King Abdullah won’t get any more popular by sending Jordanians to fight in Afghanistan.

But the King is a master statesman and politician.But His Majesty King Abdullah is a master politician and statesmen.  He recognizes the fact that the fight against Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan and he knows that its in his best interest and the world’s if that battle is fought.  So he contributes what he can.  Secretely.  It makes sense.

Wikileaks describes Jordan this way:

Jordan is a middle eastern monarchy, backed by the US, and historically the CIA’s closest partner in its extraordinary rendition program. “the practice of torture is routine” in the country, according to a January 2007 report by UN special investigator for torture, Manfred Nowak.

That’s a bit simple, but not far off.  Jordan is close with the United States.  I just read some stunning facts King Abdullah in Ron Suskind’s book.  But I’m not sure if they have been the CIA’s closest partner in the extraordinary rendition program.  Egypt, Morocco, Syria and a host of other countries were deeply involved.

But once you start running your foreign policy in secret things get scary.  I know that the Jordanian government tortures prisoners.  King Abdullah probably covers this up by saying that “it is in his best interest and the world’s if that battle is fought” so he should “contribute what he can.  Secretely.”  It’s no good.

What’s the point?  Can you have secrecy and integrity? At what cost to each? That’s a question for someone who knows more than I do.  Even in the blogosphere I know that.

But if I can bring the tone down a little bit… I can’t imagine Jordanians in any place as verdant as Afghanistan.  One of my good Jordanian friends went to Vermont once.  She told me that it was too green, it gave her a headache.  That seems like it could be a problem on the battlefield.

Photo by‘s flickr stream used under a Creative Commons lisence.


Filed under Afghanistan, Terrorism, War

Terrorism in Egypt

Scott MacLeod at Time’s Middle East blog has a good post on last week’s bombing in the Khan el Khalili market in Cairo.  Khan el Khalili is one of the main tourist attractions in the city and the only casualty of the bombing was a French teenager.  It’s unclear who was responsible for the attack, but it seems unlikely that it was the work of a larger terror network like Al Qaeada.  MacLeod writes:

Judging from the amateurish nature of the attack, I would say that the perpetrators were far too simple-minded to have any strategic or tactical aims in mind. My guess is that this was a small group of local malcontents, ginned up on cassette tapes spewing radical Islam, waging an idiotic personal battle that they imagine to be part of a greater global jihad against infidels.  Mimicking al-Qaeda, in other words. But even amateurs are a reason to worry.

Indeed.  What would John Robb say?  Robb, aka Mr. Doom and Gloom 5GW (that’s Fifth Generation Warfare), is precisely concerned with this kind of thing: The global bazaar of violence. (It sounds especially strange to use that phrase when describing a terrorist attack in Khan el Khalili.)  A few alienated, poor, young men who find bomb-making instructions on the Internet can kill tourists in the market, cripple Egypt’s tourism industry, and seem far more influential than they should be.

Egypt seems particularly ripe for this kind of terrorism.  The country has a huge population of poor people who feel (rightfully) ignored by their government.  It doesn’t help that Egypt’s president Husni Mubarak showed little sympathy to the Palestinians during Israel’s attack on Gaza.  Also, let’s not forget that from 1992 to 1997 there was an ongoing Islamist terror campaign against tourists.  68 people (59 of them tourists) were massacred in Luxor in 1997.

Then, consider this analysis from MacLeod:

Mubarak’s regime has been easiest on the creeping influence of hard-line Islamic rules, practices and opinions so long as they are not advocated by organized groups. Liberals complain that the regime has effectively facilitated the spread of  Wahhabi-style Islam in the country, which takes the form of intolerant preaching on satellite channels and in newspapers, ultra-conservative female attire, book banning and attacks of various kinds on secularists and Christians.

The short term gain for the regime is that intolernt Islam may drain supporters away from the comparatively moderate Muslim Brotherhood, which poses a more immediate and tangible political threat. The MB won 88 seats, or 20%, in the 2005 parliamentary election. It also bolsters the regime’s warning to Egyptians as well as Western governments that the continued rise of political Islam means Mubarak’s regime is the only safe option for continued rule in Egypt. In the long term, however, appeasing or encouraging hard-line religion is playing with fire. You certainly don’t need to be an amateur to get your hands burned.

Suddenly the situation in Egypt starts to seem pretty terrifying.

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