Islamists of Central Asia: Latest Trend of Violent Extremism

Russia

Beirut – Russian authorities recently revealed that the suspected suicide bomber who attacked the metro in St. Petersburg was a Kyrgyz citizen born in Russia. This attack followed another that had targeted Reina nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve. That attack was executed by a Uighur from China who came to Turkey from Kyrgyzstan.

These two attacks shed light on the complicated dynamic of recruiting extremists in Kyrgyzstan and other central Asian countries and Russia’s efforts to alleviate terrorist threats by facilitating the travel of local extremists to Syria.

Earlier this month, a Kyrgyz citizen, who was born in Russia, blew himself up in St. Petersburg’s metro station, killing 13 people. A few days later, Russian police dismantled a bomb found in an apartment in the same city.

The St. Petersburg attack was a reminder that terror threats are still a cause for concern for the Russian leadership and community, Russia expert Max Sokov told Asharq Al-Awsat. This was the first time terrorism hit the northern capital of Russia even though two dangerous attacks were thwarted in November of last year and February earlier this year.

According to a report published by The Diplomat Magazine, over 350 Kyrgyz citizens, including around 80 women, went to Syria. Another report prepared by Radio Liberty Europe said the vast majority of Kyrgyz citizens, who left to fight with ISIS in Syria, are from the southern parts of the country.

Over 2,000-4,000 people from Central Asia, including Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Tajiks, Turkmen and Uighurs, have joined ISIS’s ranks. According to Sokov, the longest land border in the world is that separating Russia and Kazakhstan. Infiltrations across that border have increased, which has allowed different groups coming from “deep inside” Central Asia, such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, to move with relative freedom.

ISIS members hailing from central Asian countries have remarkably increased, especially in the past two years. Yet, it seems that ISIS does not consider Central Asia an important center for recruitment, like Europe and Tunisia.

For Central Asia’s residents, joining radical groups can be triggered by many factors, such as the failure of public institutions, level of education, poverty and wealth, the growing use of social media and the lack of opportunities for youth.

The Diplomat divided ISIS’s militants into different categories. The first includes citizens opposing their countries’ regime and politicians. They are not necessarily poor, but they dream of political and social changes in their countries. Driven by depression and disappointment, they decided to fight in Syria to feel that they are part of an important cause and to feel that they are heroes in an ideal battle for change. Some of them believe that they are fighting for freedom against an oppressive regime, while others think that the secular political regime has failed in providing them with a dignified life and that only an Islamic state can improve their future.

The second category is composed of people who have been oppressed or are escaping oppression. “Authorities in countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are oppressive and do not allow the existence of an opposition. Some of this category’s members, particularly those who ran away from oppression, consider regions controlled by ISIS as a safe haven,” continued The Diplomat.

The third category includes those who are looking for a better life. They are often lured by false promises that include money and new job opportunities. ISIS has promised many of them high salaries that may reach $5,000 and $10,000, which are a fortune in this region. But, eventually, they discover that these promises are false.

Sokov said evidence in the St. Petersburg attack points to the involvement of al-Nusra Front and members from Central Asia. It turned out that the suspect came from the Osh region in Kyrgyzstan where people from the Uzbek ethnicity live. Sokov noted that Central Asian and Caucasus citizens who have joined terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq are a concern to Moscow and the Central Asian authorities.

The Diplomat mentioned that terrorist groups tend to recruit central Asian members living in Russia. Those migrants often work in low-paying jobs or suffer from unemployment, which isolates them.

Amid these circumstances, some fall under the influence of Chechens, who recruit extremists at mosques, and end up traveling to Syria through Moscow, Grozny or Turkey.

The fourth category of ISIS militants is composed of people who come from religious backgrounds or are very interested in Islam, said The Diplomat. Religious knowledge in Central Asian countries is generally low, which makes members practicing Islam an easy target for recruiters, who convince them that ISIS will unify all Muslims and save them.

The last category includes girls and young women, who believe false promises of love and marriage. They are often lured through social media.

According to an article published by Reuters in 2016, Russian authorities worked on easing the threat of extremists by providing direct or indirect help for would-be militants wanting to head to Syria. Moscow sought to eliminate the threat of local terrorist attacks and therefore, intelligence and police officials overlooked or even facilitated the departure of militants to Syria. According to Reuters, this plan persisted up until at least the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games and it was even heightened out of fear that the extremists would carry out attacks at the sports event.

ISIS ‘Cubs’… a Ticking Time-Bomb

ISIS

Beirut – ISIS Terrorist group released a video earlier this month featuring two recruited Yazidi kids before they launched a suicide operation. The video sheds the light on ISIS‘s ongoing children recruitment policy, which saw a major rise since the operations to liberate Mosul kicked off.

In the video, the two Yazidi children explained how they joined Islam and spoke about the training and guidance they received by the extremist group. As cited by an Iraqi website, one of two children, named Amjad, claimed that Yezidism is like following the devil, and represents a state of ignorance and heathenism. Both children received the organization’s ideology in the so-called “ISIS’s Institution”, before they were moved to a training camp in Syria, where they pledged loyalty and obedience to the local leaders. The children were filmed with a group of suicide bombers and later appeared standing on a massive armor that was loaded with bombs before exploding it.

Since the launch of Mosul operations in western Iraq, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights estimates that among the Syrian children recruited by ISIS there are 300 who died while fighting in Iraq in October. A report published by the CTC Sentinel – issued by the US Combating Terrorism Center at West Point – stated that children recruitment rapidly grew between 2015 and 2016. According to CTC’s statistics, ISIS mourned 89 children and juveniles between 1st of January 2015 and 31 January 2016 – 51% were killed in Iraq and 36% in Syria, while the rest of them were killed in Libya, Yemen, and Nigeria.

Based on the pictures shared by the organization, 60% of these recruited members were children, 34% were teenagers, and 6% were pre-teenagers. As per nationalities, 31% were Syrians, 25% were Syrian-Iraqis, and 11% were pure Iraqis. The other 33% were from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Libya, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and Nigeria.

According to the Counter-Terrorism Center’s study, among the 89 documented cases, 39% died after exploding a bombed car, 33% while fighting in random battles, 6% while working as preachers in units, and 4% exploded themselves to target civilians – the 18% left were killed in special operations in which they fought using light weapons before bombing themselves.

Pace

The given data emphasizes an accelerated pace of children and juveniles’ recruitment, as the number of young children who were killed in suicide attacks rose from 6% in 2015 to 11% in 2016. According to the report, suicide bombing witenessed a triple rise in January 2016 compared to that of the same period in 2015. Subsequently, operations implemented by children have become more common for ISIS amid the growing pressure it has faced in its strongholds over the past few months. Not to mention that suicide bombings have become an efficient tool in the organization’s psychological warfare against its enemies.

Olidort’s Study

On another hand, a study conducted by Dr. Jacob Olidort, fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy shows that ISIS’s efforts in teaching children its ideology eases the dedication of this loyalty by the coming generation. According to Olidort, ISIS’ curriculum can be divided to two parts: the first covers the traditional subjects related to religious studies like Quran, Hadith, ideology, jurisprudence, belief’s characteristics and practices in Islam – while the other part covers other subjects like physical readiness, history, geography, and mathematics, which are considered secondary interests for the Islamic identity of the organization and its alleged “Caliphate” project.

In ISIS’s world, school-books condemn western democracies and explain the differences among believers, non-believers, and Muslims who support the West and oppose ISIS. Olidort sees that the organization also uses these books to justify its violent approach and to emphasize the importance of killing to achieve religious goals. The study further shows how ISIS uses books to distort children’s perspective towards the world by stressing the duty of religious authority and the importance of fighting Muslims who disobey the Islamic Sharia.

In his study, Olidort noted that the organization begins the children training by encouraging them on spying and telling the ISIS group about their family members and friends who violate ISIS’s laws or criticize its alleged state.

Brain washing

In July 2015, the Daily Mail reported that ISIS released a video featuring a group of children wearing army customs, while shooting 25 soldiers from the Syrian army in the city of Palmyra – this video came following three others which screened children training on taking captives, setting ambushes, and snipping.

ISIS works on attracting these children in schools by offering candies and toys, and then focuses on washing their brains. A captured ISIS member said he joined the organization when he was 14 years old, and now after seven years spent in its ranks, he raped 200 women and killed around 500 people.

Subsequently, such cases have urged to prepare special programs to reintegrate children who grew under the control of ISIS.Centers to rehabilitate recruited children are a must in countries suffering from ISIS-led wars like in Syria and Iraq.

ISIS’ Divisional Strategy behind Istanbul’s Attack

FILE PHOTO - A man places flowers at the entrance of Reina nightclub, which was attacked by a gunman, in Istanbul

Beirut- In the first hours of 1 January 207, a new terrorist attack hit Turkey and targeted the Reina nightclub and restaurant, considered among the top amusement destinations in Istanbul, which receive hundreds of people to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

On January 2, ISIS claimed responsibility of the attack, which has opened a new chapter in the organization’s conflict with Turkish authorities.

After the bloody attack of the New Year’s Eve, the daily local newspaper Hurriyet Daily reported that the terrorist who attacked the restaurant comes from central Asian origins and most likely from the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. Information reported that the terrorist was in Konya, Turkey on the 22nd of November before he headed to Istanbul and carried on his attack that killed 39 people.

The Huffington Post also reported that in Konya, the terrorist met an ISIS militant known as “Sheikh Yussef” and coordinated details of the attack with him.

This was ISIS’ third attack in Turkey executed by members from Central Asia and countries that belonged to the Soviet Union. The first attack, implemented by a woman from Dagestan, targeted the Sultan Ahmed region in Istanbul in 2015 and the second, implemented by three men from the Republic of Chechnya, in the Ataturk International Airport.

In a new report, Dr. Anne Speckhard and Ahmet Yayla from the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism suggested that the attacker likely talks Russian as he came from Central Asian country and probably has ties with the Caucasus Islamic Province. This extremist province includes members from Chechnya and Dagestan who have long experience from their fighting against the Russians.

During interviews with members who separated from ISIS, many of them talked the organization’s recruitment of high-qualified members from Chechnya. Omar al-Shishani, who was recently killed, was a Georgian Chechen jihadist who served as a commander for ISIS in Syria, and previously as a sergeant in the Georgian Army.

Apparently, ISIS has intensified its attacks against Turkey through statements it released on internet or through its e-magazines. These threats have increased in correspondence with the Turkish operation against ISIS in the al-Bab region in Aleppo, which has killed more than 150 its members. The Euphrates Shield launched by Turkey in cooperation with Free Syrian Army in August has also contributed to increasing these threats.

ISIS has succeeded in its war against Turkey in exploiting the weaknesses of the Turkish regime; the terrorist organization used the factor of common borders to create cells and sow them all across the country. Before the launch of the al-Bab’s operation, ISIS members were able to easily reach Turkish territories.

Millions of Syrian refugees have also flowed to Turley, which facilitated the infiltration of ISIS members. Observers suggest that the organization has succeeded in spreading myriads of cells that worked on attracting thousands of new members, including Turkish citizens. According to Drs. Yayla and Speckhard, this success was promoted by Turkey’s neglect of the terrorist threat that emerged with the start of the Syrian war, as Ankara thought that ISIS members will help in keeping the Kurdish militias under control.

All the arrests made by the Turkish regime in cases of corruption in 2013 and then after the failed coup attempt in July have weakened the military and security bodies in Turkey, and that played a major role in disturbing the national security and stability of the country. In fact, ISIS has also taken advantage of the ongoing disputes among Islamists and seculars in Turkey and chose the Reina nightclub to emphasize its strategic equations.

The same report also notes that the Islamic Justice and Development Party, which is the ruling party in Turkey, launched anti-celebrations campaigns before the holiday season. The Ministry of Education issued a decree that banned celebrations on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, which enraged a major category of the Turkish community.

Observers and analysts see that in its attack on Reina nightclub, ISIS didn’t only seek to spark fear in the country and damage its economy, but it also aimed at stimulating and deepening interior religious, sectarian and political conflicts.

Divisions in Harakat Ahrar al-Sham

Islamist fighters carry weapons as they march during their graduation ceremony at a camp in eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus November 28, 2013. The newly graduated fighters, who went through military training, will operate under the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham brigade.

Beirut- In the beginning of December, some of Harakat Ahrar al-Sham leaders in Syria announced the formation of a new faction in the movement called Jaish al-Ahrar led by Jaber al-Sheikh. The group asserted that the faction will work under the directions of the movement; yet, according to the El-Dorar Al-Shamia, the movement’s leader Ali al-Omar denied and denounced this step.

This division emphasizes interior conflicts in the biggest extremist organization in Syria, which may have its impact on the opposition’s future starting from the big losses it faced with Aleppo’s fall in the hands of the regime and its Iranian and Russian allies.

Prior to the leadership’s elections in November, the extremist wing in Ahrar al-Sham nominated Abu Jaber al-Sheikh for a second term, while the pragmatic movement’s members preferred to back Kinan Nahas brother of Labib Nahas, the chief of foreign political relations in the organization. When the extremists recognized they couldn’t achieve an interior support to win support of third the Shura Council, they suspended their membership in it.

El-Dorar Al-Shamia website reported that 12 sheikhs and heralds from the movement called members of Jaish al-Ahrar to reconsider their decision and accused them of dividing the group. They also called all the leaders and factions of opposition to join forces and forget their conflicts for the sake of the oppressed Syrian people.

Collective leadership

Aron Lund, fellow in the Carnegie Middle East Program said that unlike other rebel groups in Syria, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham has always focused on maintaining the mass leadership through the Shura Council and other similar institutions. This approach, which according to the analyst, directly suspended the leadership of Hashem al-Sheikh, who succeeded Hassan Abboud who was assassinated in September 2014. Lund sees that Harakat Ahrar al-Sham’s success in overcoming the disaster of September 2014 was due to the generous funds the movement received from Turkey and a Gulf state along with the keenness of the organization on facing its loss by upholding collective leadership and controlling the local factions.

Relationship with Fath al-Sham

However, Lund notes that this successful strategy has enhanced the institutionalization of ideologies in the group and remarkably weakened the leadership. He also sees that countries supporting it have changed their positions and the conflict among members on joining Fath al-Sham’s organization played a significant role in the separation.

The analyst adds that the separation’s aftermath has appeared one year ago and that the current leader of the movement sought to enhance the role of the political council and to boost the other powers of the revolution. However, the conservative movement accused him of compromising the Haraka’s principles and its intellectual structure.

Conflict among different blocks

Many other reasons stand behind the rise of conflicts in Harat Ahrar al-Sham, as according to sources, this division likely resulted from the reorganization of the pragmatic wing based on the political shifts in Turkey. Over the past months, a Russian-Turkish agreement led to launch the Ankara-backed Euphrates Shield operation to which joined some groups from the Syrian opposition to combat ISIS and Kurdish militias instead of targeting Assad’s regime.

Number of fighters

Jaish al-Sham bragged about its troops in Aleppo, Idlib and Hama, which include around 5000 members. However, other sources said it actually included 1000 members with some of them recruited from small groups led by some of Ahrar al-Sham’s ex-founders.
Survival challenges

The timing of the emerging separation and the establishment of Jaish al-Ahrar has been so critical. And in spite that the organization has overcome many crucial phases, today it is facing threats more than any time ever before. These threats will not only weaken the organization which represents the biggest military faction in the Syrian opposition, but will also affect all the opposition and revolution’s powers, which face the most dangerous phase ever.

According to Lund, Fath al-Sham Front will likely be the biggest beneficiary of these divisions as many members from Ahrar al-Sham will prefer to join it. Eventually, the separation decision announced by Jaish al-Ahrar is still considered a bad development for the Syrian revolution; with the control of Assad’s forces over Aleppo, and its swift advancement near Damascus, attempts to settle interior problems among competing parties will be costly.

The Battle of Eradicating ISIS

Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) take part in an operation against ISIS militants south of Mosul, Iraq October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

Beirut- The two past weeks have witnessed the launch of the anticipated attack against ISIS’s stronghold in Mosul. While the Iraqi government and U.S. forces have confirmed that it will be a decisive battle, some analysts see that it may not lead to a complete eradication of the terrorist organization, which has proved its capability on development and survival over the past years.

ISIS has announced split from Al-Qaeda in 2013. U.S. President Barack Obama underestimated its powers and described it as a group of small players in the radical movement. Yet, ISIS suddenly controlled Mosul, the second biggest city in Iraq in June 2014. Over the two past years, the organization has succeeded in controlling the city and in advancing to seize many lands in Syria and Iraq supported by other extremist groups in the region. However, during the past months, ISIS has faced many major defeats and has lost 30% of its control areas, reported IHS JANE Center.

According to Syria Net, ISIS has loosed the following cities in Syria and Iraq:

* Ain al-Arab (Kobani): it is a Syrian city of a Kurdish majority, located in the far Northeast of Aleppo, on the Turkish borders. The city has witnessed heavy battles launched by Kurdish fighters against ISIS for more than four months. In January 2015, they have succeeded in Kicking out ISIS’ militants with the support of the U.S.-led International Coalition forces.

* Tell Abyad: located in Raqqa on the Turkish borders, which was controlled by the Kurds in June 2015. This city has been considered an important point used for the transit of weapons and fighters between Turkey and Raqqah, ISIS’s stronghold in Syria.

* Tadmur: ISIS siezed Tadmur in Homs in May 2015 and destroyed many of its historic monuments included in the UNESCO list. Supported by the Russian air force, Assad’s troops have succeeded in recapturing the city on 27 March 2016.

* Manbij: Syrian city recaptured by Kurdish militias on 6 August 2016 supported by the U.S. forces, after it fell under the control of ISIS since 2014.

* Jarablus: recaptured by Syrian fighting factions including the Free Syrian Army supported by the U.S. forces on 24 August 2014, as part of the “Euphrates Shield” operation launched by the Turkish forces against ISIS and the Kurdish militias at the same time.

* Syrian-Turkish borders: on 4 September, the Turkish forces and factions it supports succeeded in clearing ISIS from the last area it controls on the borders.

* Dabiq: Recaptured by Syrian opposition factions on 18 October.

Iraq

* Tikrit: on 31 March, Iraqi forces have announced the recapture of Tikrit after a massive military operation.

* Sinjar: on 13 November 2015, Kurdish militias have released the city from ISIS’ control with the support of the International Coalition. This liberation succeeded in breaking a strategic route the extremist groups were using for transit between Syria and Iraq.

* Ramadi: Liberated on 9 February 2016.

* Fallujah: which was among the first Sunni cities seized by ISIS in 2014; the Iraqi Army has recaptured it on 26 June 2016.

* Al-Kayyara: Supported by the International Coalition, the Iraqi Forces have liberated it from ISIS members on 9 July 2016 to pave the way for the Mosul battle.

Battle of Mosul

Experts expect the battle of Mosul to last for two to three months and to be the toughest, particularly in the old neighborhoods of the city. Ghanem al-Abed, an expert from Mosul, told Asharq Al-Awsat he expects ISIS members to move toward Syria when they lose control.

Not the end

Despite all these incidents that have weakened ISIS, Mosul’s fall is not expected to lead toward the organization’s eradication. According to figures, ISIS still has 10,000-15,000 fighters compared to 30,000 in 2014. In a report released on “War on the Rocks” website, analysts have warned the parties combating ISIS from announcing a total collapse of ISIS, because over the past year, this latter has proved a remarkable capacity in working discretely.

The ongoing Battle in Mosul in no more than the first phase of “cleaning, returning stability and construction” campaign, which will be launched in the coming months or years. According to sources, the Iraqi army should focus of destroying not only the military infrastructure of ISIS, but also its secret cells and networks.

‘Jund al-Aqsa’, Remarkable Case on Radical Field in Syria

Syria

Beirut – Clashes between “Ahrar al-Sham” and “Jund al-Aqsa” in the northern region of Syria have led this latter to announce allegiance to “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham”, which has recently split from Al-Qaeda. This allegiance emphasizes attempts to resettle the “Jihadist” zone in Syria and to unify extremist groups in it on the long term.

On the 10th of October, “Fateh al-Sham” and “Ahrar al-Sham” have declared the final agreement concerning recent clashes that took place with “Jund al-Aqsa”, which urged “Fateh al-Sham” to intervene through negotiations to put an end to the ongoing fighting and to bring “Jund al-Aqsa” under its control.

The agreement pointed that the homage of “Jund a-Aqsa” to “Fateh al-Sham” as a total merge, which means that “Jund al-Aqsa” cannot be reformed in the future under any new form or name; finally, the agreement has also stressed on taking the situation in town of Sermine, Idlib to the stage as it was before clashes; handing the surveillance mission to “Fateh al-Sham”.

Deal after fighting

This deal has come to light after bloody clashes between “Jund al-Aqsa” and “Ahrar al-Sham” movements that lasted for many days in the regions controlled by opposition factions in the northern region of Syria. These clashes blew up following an attempt to kidnap a military official from Ahrar al-Sham through an operation that killed his wife and brother. According to local sources, Idlib clashes killed many people and wounded hundreds of others from both sides, including leaders from Ahrar al-Sham.

About “Jund al-Aqsa”

“Jund al-Aqsa is considered a radical group that includes Syrian and foreign militants – according to available information – this group has been established in 2013 by Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Qatari who belonged to al-Qaeda and chose not to line with Nusra Front or ISIS; the current “Emir” of this group is the Saudi Arabia Abu Thar al-Najdi l-Harthy.

Religious identity of the group

“Jund al-Aqsa” focuses on the importance of religious devoutness to protect what it called “Sunni nation” in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq; this group has not directed its members to launch attacks against the West but to concentrate their efforts to fight in Syria. However, “Jund al-Aqsa” does not consider itself part of the Syria opposition against Bashar Assad’s regime and does not acknowledge Syria as an independent country; instead, it sees it as part of a bigger Caliphate.

ISIS breakthrough

Sources in the national Islamic opposition in Syria have accused “Jund al-Aqsa” of cooperating with ISIS; however, despite all these accusations, leaders of “Jund al-Aqsa” have always declared loyalty to Al-Qaeda.

On 31 June, the group has issued a statement in which it praised the transformation of “Nusra Front” to “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham” and considered that this decision took by Al-Qaeda leaders will serve the interest of people in Syria.

Yet, sources suggest that a number of regular members in” al-Aqsa” may line with ISIS after rumors saying that the group has been breached by ISIS, which aims at targeting its leaders.

Meanwhile, “Jund al-Aqsa”’ expects its official to join Fateh Al-Sham to put an end to the ongoing fighting among the opposition’s factions.

In this context, Dr. Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, known with his connections with Al-Qaeda in Syria said that he contributed in reaching this agreement. On another hand, the conclusion of clashes between “Ahrar al-Sham” and “Jund al-Aqsa” highlights developments in the radical field in Syria and the efforts seeking to unify different radical groups in it.

Racism in the United States Nurtures “Lone Wolves”

trump

Beirut – The United States witnessed during the weekend three terrorist attacks in the states of Minnesota, New York, and New Jersey. These attacks seemed to be inspired by ISIS and pointed to the expansion of operations initiated by “Lone Wolves” amid the growing polarization and anti-Islamic calls incented by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Three attacks in 12 hours; bombing operations in the streets of New York and New Jersey and a knife-stabbing in a mall in Minnesota, which spread fear among U.S. citizens.

A bomb exploded in a garbage container in New Jersey, followed by another bombing that struck Manhattan in New York and killed 29 people, and a stabbing attack by a man who targeted nine people while screaming “Allah Akbar” in Crossroad Mall. According to ISIS’ Telegram Channel, this attack came as a response to the extremist organization’s call to target citizens of countries partaking in the “Crusades” of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS.

Security forces have killed the stabber Ahmad Khan Rahami and found a journal among his belongings which revealed that his attacks of New York were inspired by Al-Qaeda and ISIS; it also disclosed ideological links between him and Abu Mohammad Al-Adnani, the spokesperson of ISIS who was killed last month.

According to Dr. Matthew Levitt, from The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, ISIS has clearly called on its supporters to carry out individual attacks based on the “Lone Wolves” strategy anywhere in the world; in a handbook “How to Survive in the West” published by the terrorist organization on the internet in 2015, ISIS has said that the growth of lone wolves’ attacks will obstruct Western intelligence agencies from controlling the spread of violence and chaos in their countries.

During an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Alex Ward, a security expert, says it has become obvious that extremists have been directed to implement individual attacks more than any other time; availability of technologies and information for all people provides lone wolf perpetrators with constant capacity to launch any attack for any reason.

According to Levitt, people will witness more attacks by people who act independently and that such attacks may be carried out by perpetrators who are not linked.

Levitt also sees that ISIS may seek to carry out more opportunistic attacks of proved success. He adds that the organization has adopted terrorist operations which it did not implement, like Orlando’s shooting in Florida and the operation of Nice. Levitt concludes that ISIS may prefer to adopt only operations that succeed; despite that New York’s attacks can be considered as successful; given that it provoked fear among people for few days.

The rise of polarization and unfair behaviors toward Muslim communities may encourage on launching new attacks over U.S. territories. Lately, the Republican candidate Donald Trump has maximized his racist speeches against Muslims; in 2015, Trump called for the first time for a complete closure of borders to ban Muslims from entering the United States; back then, Trump’s extremism and his suggestion of a ban against Muslims helped him win the adoption as an official republican candidate, despite his accusation of religious fanaticism.

This week, Trump’s older sun has made headlines on social media after he compared Syrian refugees with Skittles fruit candy; Trump the son outlined that the United States should refuse refugees’ access to its territories; the candidate’s son has shared an image for a bowl of candies with the following question: “if I tell you that this bowl contains three candies that will kill you, would you take a handful of them?”

Finally, hatred feelings toward the United States have increased across the Islamic World; thus, the growth of polarized and extremist speeches that target Muslims will definitely aggravate enmity against USA. The polarizing communities tend to provoke severe reactions and violence levels that may reach terrorism.

Lebanon’s Qaa Explosions Egging on Sectarian Strife

Lebanese army soldiers patrol near the site where suicide bomb attacks took place in the Christian village of Qaa, in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Hassan Abdallah

Beirut- Earlier last week a series of eight suicide attacks shocked the Christian Qaa diminutive village located far in the northeast area of the Bekka governorate, Lebanon. The village lies proximate to borderlines with Syria.

As any other action, a countering reaction is systematic –in the case of the Qaa attacks the aftermath was precarious. The explosions indicate that the extremist rings deployed in the region have become accustomed and immune to intelligence operations and precautionary measures, despite that the same security body was able to neutralize and dismantle many ISIS-linked terrorist cells.

The series of explosions first launched on Monday morning, with the first suicide ring staging the attack- the other bombings followed soon in the evening, and were staged by the second terrorist cell.

The first ring comprised four suicide attackers who were laced with explosives that detonated sequentially at dawn. After the first explosion went off, security officials and Lebanese army members hustled to the area engaging in clashes with the other three suicide attackers that detonated in turn separated by a ten minute interval.

Nine were killed by the first wave of attacks, four of which were the perpetrators themselves, while another 15 were injured.

After a few hours of deceiving tranquility invaded with sorrow and tremor caused by the attack, the second phase of the attacks resumed later in the evening, leaving another six injured, one of which is in a critical situation.

Later that week, an official statement was made on arresting to new ISIS-affiliated rings. Army authorities stated last Thursday that to terrorist attacks were thwarted, in which ISIS had planned on targeting a touristic site and a densely populated area.

Another five members affiliated with the perpetrated attacks were arrested, the mastermind expected to be among them.

Most of the rings apprehended due to affiliations with ISIS appear to be of Syrian origins, which had recently illegally crossed borders into Lebanon. A source at the Ministry of Interior told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the terrorist cells mainly composed at a 65 to 90 percent of Syrian members.

Overrun by Syrian refugees, Lebanon is said to have received over 1.1 million asylum seekers, 400,000 of which reside in the Bekka valley.

Security sources, interviewed by Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper said that the substantial decrease in ISIS local activity could be traced back to the high-end measures and raiding campaigns conducted by security forces. The decrease also translates to ISIS attacks in Lebanon to be highly dependent on local recruitment, with training and recruitment cells being zeroed in on by authorities; terrorist activity fell consecutively.

The demographic view of the Bekka currently cites four chief towns aside from the Baalbek hosting an assorted population, two of which are Christian (one of which is Qaa), a Sunni town known by Arsal and a Shi’ite town called Labweh.

As the Syria war escalated, the refugee influx increased raising further tension among inner Lebanon population. Split views surfaced, Sunnis largely supporting the Syrian opposition’s quest to topple over a dictator’s regime, while a countering view of Christians who perceived all refugees to be automatically related to ISIS.

What added to the mix is that Shi’ite towns loudly state their stance from the Syria war as they support the so-called Hezbollah’s endeavor in fighting side by side to the Syrian regime head Bashar al-Assad.

Finding one more thing to differ over, it is feared that the Syrian tensions would evolve within a Lebanese hub spurring sectarian strife and flirting with chaos. The Qaa explosions added to the already tense situation, heightening the already mounted tension courting a Lebanese civil war.

A View into Radicalization in Jordan

Beirut-Jordan has once again fallen victim to terrorist attacks, the latest of which was an assault on the Baqaa refugee camp north of Amman that left five people dead, among them three intelligence members.

Baqaa, the largest of 10 official Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, lies 20 kilometers west of Amman. Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Tahawi, a staunch ISIS supporter and one of the first callers for Jihad in Syria, used to reside there.

The radical Islamist society in Jordan witnessed a considerable growth since the war erupted in Syria in 2011. At the start of the conflict, the jihadists preferred to join al-Nusra Front. Yet they began to change their allegiance amid changing circumstances.

Today, the militants prefer to join ISIS. The Jordanian authorities are fully aware of the dangers of such moves, which are compelling them to up security measures across the country.

However, increased measures will consolidate the determination of extremists to join jihadist groups unless they are accompanied by a comprehensive rehabilitation program.

The war in Syria has drawn thousands of extremist and radical militants from around the world. Their numbers had reached around 20,000 militants when the U.S.-led coalition launched attacks on bases belonging to ISIS, leaving it with huge losses both in Iraq and Syria.

Such losses increased defections from within the organization’s ranks, according to foreign embassy reports.

Well-informed sources said that an estimated 2,000 Jordanian militants have joined groups fighting in Syria. Researcher Hassan Haniyeh had previously told Asharq Al-Awsat that around 80 percent of them are now fighting alongside ISIS.

The group’s adoption of extremist sectarian rhetoric has allowed it to mobilize Jordanian youth. This strategy used to be adopted by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, born Ahmad Fadeel al-Nazal al-Khalayleh, a militant from Jordan who is now considered ISIS’s spiritual leader.

But around ten years after Zarqawi’s death, Jordan’s radical movement is hugely divided. The former animosity between Zarqawi and Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi has been revived as a result of divisions between ISIS and al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.

In addition to that, geographic factors have also played a role in compelling young Jordanian men in the past year to join ISIS rather than the ranks of al-Nusra Front. Such a phenomenon has also been noticed in Lebanon.

After security agencies and the Jordanian army blocked the country’s border with southern Syria, where all al-Nusra Front militants were located, Jordanian jihadists were forced to head to Syria via Turkey where ISIS was waiting for them.

Radical Jordanian groups have also suffered huge losses in Syria. According to recent statistics, the number of Jordanians who were killed in Syria has reached 350. Intelligence agencies have also arrested around 400 militants.

One of the clearest examples of the preference of jihadists to join ISIS rather than al-Nusra Front was the case of Ahmed Atta Allah Shebib al-Majali, a member of the Jordanian Air Force, who joined al-Nusra’s ranks in July 2013, according to the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar that is close to so-called Hezbollah.

But Majali later joined ISIS before being killed in the battlefield in the summer of 2014.

Another example is of a boy named Ashraf Khreisat, who has recently appeared in a video, which was allegedly shot in northern Syria, showing him tearing his passport while surrounded by a group of Moroccan men.

Although Jordanians are highly inclined to join ISIS, the older generation of Jordanian radicals prefers to fight alongside al-Nusra Front.

The project of radical militants in Jordan goes beyond the defense of Syria’s Sunnis, observers said, adding that such fighters seek to establish an Islamist government in Jordan.

But such an objective remains far-fetched in a country that is based on a stable constitutional monarchy.

Although the number of supporters for extremist and radical thoughts in Jordan ranges between 8,000 and 12,000, and despite their rise in popularity, the absolute majority of Jordanians does not seek to fight in Syria and does not necessarily back extremist movements such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, in particular after Muath al-Kasasbeh, a Royal Jordanian Air Force pilot, was brutally murdered by ISIS.

Nowadays, less than five percent of the population might back extremist organizations, mainly after Kasasbeh’s killing tarnished the image of radical Jordanians.

In an effort to combat the wave of extremism, Jordanian authorities have taken a series of precautionary measures such as monitoring the border to cut the road to any attempt by more extremists to join radical groups in Syria.

In conclusion, a rise in the number of radical Jordanian militants fighting in Syria has severe repercussions in Jordan. In the long term, this radicalization, in its newest edition, would weaken the traditional social structure.

Now, the highest priority should be to confront the totalitarian ideologies that are promoted by ISIS and which in a dramatic move continue to attract and mobilize more youth.

Hezbollah’s Doctrine in Lebanese Elections

Beirut-The municipal elections that were held in Lebanon this month showed a huge drop in the support for Lebanese political parties, including the so-called Hezbollah.

The rise of independents, influential families and the Lebanese Communist Party was a sign that Hezbollah’s role at the popular Shi’ite base has begun to diminish as a result of its interference in the Syrian war and the rising economic challenges that Lebanon is facing.

Many believe that Hezbollah had built its reputation for fighting Israel and for leading to or contributing to Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.

Yet this organization, which is religiously, politically and militarily linked to Iran, is facing a growing problem. With its expansion outside Lebanon’s border and its belief that it will become stronger than ever, the party has become more fragile.

Since 2012, Hezbollah has given up on its essential role to fight Israel by joining the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar Assad, in the war against rebels – most of them Sunnis – trying to topple him.

According to sources close to Hezbollah, the party has between 5,000 to 7,000 fighters deployed in Syria, where more than 1,500 party members died in the battlefield.

A former Hezbollah advisor, who refused to be identified, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the group’s popular base continues to back its interference in Syria.

Kamal Feghali, who is an expert in statistics and documentation, agreed with the advisor.
Feghali said: “The alliance between Hezbollah and Amal Movement is political and is based on the slogan of the resistance.”

“Despite all the criticism directed at Speaker Nabih Berri, who heads the Shi’ite Amal Movement, nobody can deny the development projects carried out in the South,” Feghali told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Southern Lebanon is one of the governorates that enjoy advanced infrastructure, he said.
In addition to that, Hezbollah finances several institutions that have made many development achievements.

The result of this support was obvious in the election victories made by Hezbollah in its strongholds in Baalbek-Hermel, Beirut’s southern suburbs and many towns and villages in southern Lebanon, added Feghali.

But the devil is in the detail.

Despite Hezbollah’s stranglehold on Shi’ite areas, the possession of weapons and its alliance with Amal, a number of independent and influential families, in addition to the Lebanese Communist Party, were able to make partial gains in several areas.

Analyst and Expert in Islamic Affairs Qassem Qassir told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Hezbollah preserved its popular base. Yet there were some cases of rebellion.”

Meanwhile, the party is facing growing challenges linked to the war in Syria, in particular after the assassination of its top military commander, Mustafa Badreddine, who is the relative of slain Hezbollah official Imad Mughniyeh.

Badreddine was one of five Hezbollah suspects accused by the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

While some sides pointed their fingers at Israel, Hezbollah blamed Syrian rebels for Badreddine’s murder in a shelling.

Several of the party’s top officials were killed in the past years. Among them were Jihad Mughniyeh and Samir Qantar.

The continued losses of the Hezbollah leadership and its inability to achieve all-out victory in Syria, in addition to Lebanon’s gloomy economic situation are expected to put more strain on the party, which seems to have entered a narrow tunnel.