Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra: “Nice and Respectable” Jihadism

“So it looks like gold. It looks beautiful from the outside, but on the inside, it is nothing.” – “Gold Plated Attraction”  (Al-Qaeda’s view of ISIS)   J.M Berger’s recent article in the Atlantic, ISIS Is Not Winning the War of Ideas, correctly asserts that Islamic State ideology does not have mass appeal. If it Read more about Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra: “Nice and Respectable” Jihadism[…]

Sure, Talk with ISIL. Just Choose the Right Topic

Terrorists At The Table: Why Negotiating is the Only Way to Peace received a glowing review from Fareed Zakaria. In his latest Washington Post column he distilled the book’s thesis as follows: “Terrorism is a reflection of an underlying political problem that almost always needs to be addressed politically.”  He went on to argue that the so-called Islamic State in Iraq Read more about Sure, Talk with ISIL. Just Choose the Right Topic[…]

ISIL’s Adaptive, Evolving Tactics: Regional & Global Implications

The triple attacks at a chemical plant in France, a beachside resort in Tunisia and a Shi’ite mosque in Kuwait, happened as Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani as-Shami implored ISIL sympathizers to perform jihad during Ramadan. ISIL fighters also re entered the outskirts of the town of Ayn al-Arab (Kobani) and reportedly massacred over two hundred Read more about ISIL’s Adaptive, Evolving Tactics: Regional & Global Implications[…]

How to Truly Defeat ISIL

In 2011, it was widely assumed that the so-called “Arab Spring” would render groups like al-Qaeda irrelevant, as dissidents would find that they could achieve their goals for reformation through the ballot box rather than needing to rely on violence. I was one of the early and consistent cynics of this thesis. It seemed clear Read more about How to Truly Defeat ISIL[…]

The “Islamic State” and the “Bewildered Herd”

Walter Lippmann and Edward Bernays were masters at understanding how images and rhetoric could be manipulated in order to trigger certain psychological responses from the public. They perfected this craft over the course of World War I, while serving as advisers to President Wilson. Bernays served on the Committee for Public Information (Creel Committee), tasked with turning Read more about The “Islamic State” and the “Bewildered Herd”[…]

Using Non-State Actors to Undermine a Non-State: China, the Taliban and ISIS

A rift may be opening up between jihadist groups in Pakistan that do the bidding of Pakistan’s ISI and want to launch attacks in the Indian Sub-Continent and those bitterly opposed to the ISI who wish to avenge the perceived humiliation of Muslims in China, Central Asia and Myanmar. Included in this latter category is Read more about Using Non-State Actors to Undermine a Non-State: China, the Taliban and ISIS[…]

Barbarians at the Gate: ISIS, Al-Qaeda and India

On September 3rd, Ayman al Zawahiri, the leader of Al Qaeda Central (AQC) announced the establishment of a new branch: al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). Zawahiri, often described as “long on words and short on charm”  delivered a characteristically ambling and inchoate message. He explained how the new group was the “blessed result”  of Read more about Barbarians at the Gate: ISIS, Al-Qaeda and India[…]

Sunni Leaders Are Key to Fighting Islamic State: An Optimistic View

While young Muslims from around the world continue to flood into the battlefields Syria, Obama’s two key diplomats in the coming war against the so-called Islamic State are also on the move. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel just flew to Turkey to enlist the country’s military support along its southern border with Syria, and Secretary Read more about Sunni Leaders Are Key to Fighting Islamic State: An Optimistic View[…]

Al-Qaeda Contra the “Caliphate:” A Guide for the Perplexed

The public discourse about transnational jihadist organizations indiscriminately lumps together al-Qaeda, its forerunners (such as the Taliban), affiliates (such as Jahbat al-Nusra), its derivatives (such as Ansar al-Sharia or the Islamic State), and even groups which have no strong connection to al-Qaeda or such as Hamas, Hezbollah, or local tribal militants. It is not just Read more about Al-Qaeda Contra the “Caliphate:” A Guide for the Perplexed[…]

Libya: More Good News for People Who Love Bad News

In a recently-published article for The National Interest, I explored the profound depth and scale of the problems facing Libya. That article ended on a cautiously optimistic note: while many of the endemic problems were set to persist indefinitely, there seemed to be a breakthrough between the central government and the Eastern rebels, which would allow Read more about Libya: More Good News for People Who Love Bad News[…]

Sectarian Jihad: A Confusing New Fashion

On December 10, 2013, Foreign Policy Magazine reported that the number of foreign fighters participating in the fight against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has eclipsed the number of jihadists who fought side-by-side in Afghanistan in the 1980s. “At this rate,” according to Foreign Policy’s Thomas Hegghammer, “the foreign fighter flow into Syria looks set to Read more about Sectarian Jihad: A Confusing New Fashion[…]

Droning on about UAVs: A Metacriticism

“Before we can talk about what is ‘effective’ we have to talk about what the goal is of using military force at all. Is it to make Americans safer? Is it to keep Afghanis, Pakistanis or Yemenis safe? What’s the goal?  The question of being ‘effective’ – if you’re asking do drones work to kill Read more about Droning on about UAVs: A Metacriticism[…]

The Syrian Conflict – An Unnatural Resource

Participation in the Syrian Conflict, albeit token, provides the Tehrik-i-Taliban with important symbolic and material resources. Crisis creates opportunity. The chronic instability, governance vacuums, and bitter fighting characterizing large swaths of Syria has provided some Islamist militant groups a highly-public platform to reap the spoils of conflict. The participation of groups like the Islamic State of Read more about The Syrian Conflict – An Unnatural Resource[…]

Regaining Legality: The Rendition Of Abu Anas Al-Libi

After 12 years of war, it is temping to interpret the increased use of drones in the U.S. counterterrorism campaign as a sign that officials now prefer to kill terror suspects rather than risk lives detaining them. These days, nostalgic interrogators and analysts see drone strikes as the new paradigm in counterterrorism, one with a Read more about Regaining Legality: The Rendition Of Abu Anas Al-Libi[…]

Abu Anas Arrested: But will a too-late victory for America hasten the early demise of Libya?

Image: Libyans burn an American flag in protest of al-Libi’s “kidnapping” On October 5th 2013, in a joint operation between the CIA and U.S. Special Forces, the United States captured and extracted Nazih Abdul-Gamed al-Ruqai, known popularly as Abu Anas al-Libi (not to be confused with the late Abu Yaya al-Libi of AQSL). Abu Anas Read more about Abu Anas Arrested: But will a too-late victory for America hasten the early demise of Libya?[…]

From Diyala to Dahiya and Beyond: The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria

After the deadly bombing in the Hezbollah stronghold of Dahiya in southern Beirut, Lebanon that killed close to 30 people and injured up to 400, jihadi media outlets were inundated with posts by members of the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) praising the attack. In the rebel-held provincial capital of al-Raqqa Read more about From Diyala to Dahiya and Beyond: The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria[…]

Ansar al-Sharia International & the Politics of Self Sacrifice

The name “Ansar al-Sharia” (Supporters of Islamic Law) has become ubiquitous, as a number of political Salafist groups, connected primarily by their allegiance to the legal opinions of a select number of controversial clerics of the jihadist bent such as the Jordanian Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, throughout the MENA region, and particularly in Arab Spring countries, Read more about Ansar al-Sharia International & the Politics of Self Sacrifice[…]

A Holy Alliance in Syria Threatens Wholesale U.S. Support for Opposition Forces

The Enemy of my Enemy is still my Enemy As early as last December 2012, U.S. diplomats active in Syria have prescribed caution in treating Syrian rebels fighting the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad as friendly to the United States. While the axiomatic “enemy of my enemy” cliché has been an antiquated notion since the Read more about A Holy Alliance in Syria Threatens Wholesale U.S. Support for Opposition Forces[…]

That Haven-Hopping Al-Qaeda Finds a Viable Landing Pad in the Sinai

What the vacuous security situation means for Egypt, her neighbors, and the U.S. As U.S. drone strikes and targeted killings in states like Pakistan and Yemen continue to make life for terrorists there less and less sustainable, the ethereal group of Islamic Salafists who self-identify as al-Qaeda seem to be adapting to this new brand Read more about That Haven-Hopping Al-Qaeda Finds a Viable Landing Pad in the Sinai[…]

And to the Victor Goes the Ruins

The next phase of the Syrian Civil War As the Syrian conflict has dragged on, growing in intensity with no sign of resolution or international intervention, the regime may seem incredibly resilient: they have been able to push the rebels out of Damascus, to protect the majority-Alawite territories, to hold Aleppo, and to keep pressure Read more about And to the Victor Goes the Ruins[…]

Al-Qaeda’s Renaissance: The Arab Spring and the New Mujahadeen

Musa al-Gharbi Following the military coup which removed Hosni Mubarak, it was widely reported that al-Qaeda was rendered obsolete by the Arab Spring. Fareed Zakaria, for instance, pronounced: “The Arab Revolts of 2011 represent a total repudiation of al Qaeda’s founding ideology. For 20 years, al Qaeda has said that the regimes of the Arab Read more about Al-Qaeda’s Renaissance: The Arab Spring and the New Mujahadeen[…]

Drones: The New American Way of War

SISMEC’s research on drones in Middle East Policy: “Drone Warfare in Yemen: Fostering Emirates through Counterterrorism?” Dr. Leila Hudson, Colin S. Owens, David J. Callen. Middle East Policy, Fall 2012. “Drone Warfare: Blowback from the New American Way of War,” Dr. Leila Hudson, Matt Flannes and Colin Owens. Middle East Policy, Fall 2011.   SISMEC Presents “Drones: The Read more about Drones: The New American Way of War[…]