Islamic State’s Best Recruiting Tool Is Youth Boredom



Bloomberg View, by Eli Lake, Feb. 18, 2015:

“What makes these 17-year-old kids pick up an AK-47 instead of trying to start a business?”

It’s a question State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf asked Monday evening on MSNBC’s “Hardball.” She was on air to give a preview of this week’s White House summit on “countering violent extremism.”

And it’s also a puzzle that has confounded the U.S. government since the Sept. 11 attacks. In order to make a long-term dent in the conflict that used to be known as the war on terror, one has to ask why people join these murderous organizations in the first place. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have both spoken of such root causes. Harf suggested in her remarks that the West should address economic misery and poor governance to stop young people from joining the violent jihad.

But is she correct? Some young people — particularly those born far away from the conflict in the Middle East and North Africa — are just bored. No amount of small-business loans, education scholarships or political reform can compete with the toxic temptation of being part of a movement that claims to be changing history.

Radical Islam is hardly the first movement to take advantage of bored young people. Think of all the dreamers who flocked to both sides of the Spanish Civil War, or the utopians who volunteered to fight against great odds to create Israel. Then there was the first generation of holy Muslim warriors and foreign fighters who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Today the big historical draw for many bored young people is the promise of the caliphate. Shiraz Maher, a former member of the global radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir and now a researcher at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation in London, told me he joined jihad after 9/11 because he wanted to be part of history. Maher comes from a middle class family in the U.K. and was not drawn to political Islam out of despair. Following race riots in northern England, he decided at age 20 to join a group that looked like it would be on the winning side. “My feeling was that there was a sense we were going to create a new history,” he told me. “We are going to be part of something new.”

Looking back on his time inside the organization, he thinks the group is relatively tame compared to the Islamic State. “They are actually achieving a caliphate that we were only philosophizing about,” he said.

His point is an important one. Many of the recent major jihadists had plenty of economic and educational opportunity. Mohammed Atta was studying graduate-level architecture in Hamburg before he took the path to hijacking one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al-Qaeda, studied medicine at the University of Cairo. Osama bin Laden came from a prominent family of Saudi builders.

One recent study found that family money and education could be social indicators of inclinations toward terrorism. Released last year by Queen Mary University in London, it found that “youth, wealth, and being in full-time education were risk factors associated with radicalization.” Maher said in his four years inside Hizb ut-Tahrir, he found many of the most active members were students or college graduates.

This is not always the case. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who founded the predecessor organization to the Islamic State, was born into a slum near Amman, Jordan, and became radical in prison. But more often than not, at a certain point the path to radicalization plays on the deep desire of young people to be a someone in a movement that stands for something, no matter their backgrounds.

The argument that radical jihadists offer young people a worthy struggle is made persuasively in a new article on the Islamic State’s ideology by the Atlantic’s Graeme Wood. He concludes that Islamic State recruits “believe that they are personally involved in struggles beyond their own lives, and that merely to be swept up in the drama, on the side of righteousness, is a privilege and a pleasure — especially when it is also a burden.”

Unfortunately, the White House conference on counter-radicalization seems to miss this point. The agenda is loaded with academic-style jargon. “Vectors of radicalization” will be discussed. Extremism will be countered and positive narratives will be promoted online. It all sounds like an academic seminar on stopping gang violence, not a global summit to stop a death cult. Indeed, Obama conflated the issues explicitly in an interview with Vox earlier this month, in which he compared his job of fighting terrorism to that of a big-city mayor fighting crime.

This approach will not do. Instead of downplaying the threat of terrorism, Obama should heighten the contradictions. He should warn young people, particularly young Muslims, about the acute ideological danger coming from the Middle East. And then tell them it is the solemn calling of all those who cherish our open society to join our long war against Islamic Fascism. Instead of pandering, Obama should give the bored youth what they want: struggle.

To contact the author on this story:
Eli Lake at

Iran’s Peace Letter from a Poison Pen

In case you haven’t heard, peace is about to break out in the Middle East.

I realize it doesn’t look like that from the headlines: The government just fell in Yemen; Islamic State forces are threatening U.S. Marines in Iraq’s Anbar Province; Hezbollah is vowing revenge against Israel for killing the son of one of their beloved mass murderers.

But then there is Iran. Thirty-six years after the Islamic Revolution, the mullahs may finally be warming up to the Great Satan. On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sent a letter recently to President Barack Obama saying he was open to a more direct alliance against the Islamic State, if negotiators could iron out a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program. Khamenei has even said publicly he was open to a deal. Secretary of State John Kerry has been meeting with his counterpart, Javad Zarif. The meetings! The channels! The back channels! Diplomacy!

It’s the kind of thing that gets the hearts of our Iran-watchers palpitating. Over the years, Iran has sent a string of envoys to meet with Westerners to explain that their country’s war against the U.S., Israel, Sunni monarchies, ethnic minorities, gays, journalists and dissidents is all a big misunderstanding. Deep down, many of Iran’s leaders just want peace, these emissaries say, but they always end up getting undermined by the hardliners. Now, the hardliner of all hardliners, the supreme leader himself, is talking about peace too. And he’s even suggesting an alliance against a common foe. Any day now, he will lead the crowd in chants of “Life to America!”

All of this is tempting. The U.S. has little to show for its on-again-off-again war against Iran, and the two nations’ interests should be aligned in the war on terrorism that began after Sept. 11, 2001. The Sunni Islamists of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State consider the Shiites who run Iran to be apostates of the true faith. Iran has been fighting them in Syria and now is fighting them in Iraq. Why can’t bygones be bygones?

But before declaring Iran’s president his generation’s Gorbachev, it’s worth considering some bad news. To start, Iran has had an opportunistic relationship with al-Qaeda over the years, despite the whole apostasy problem. A year ago, the Treasury Department laid a lot of this out in a designation about al-Qaeda’s network in Iran. Terrorist operatives based in Mashhad, near Iran’s border with Afghanistan, were allowed to facilitate the transfer of al-Qaeda fighters from Pakistan to Syria through Iranian territory. After 9/11, Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, cut a deal with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps to allow family members to live in Iran while they moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Iran was also a key base in the last decade for al-Qaeda operatives such as Saif al-Adel, who was kept under a house arrest so loose he was able to write a semi-regular Internet column and help plan al-Qaeda’s war against the Iraqi government.

OK, opportunistic relationships can change. FDR and Stalin were allies against the Nazis, but after the Third Reich collapsed, the U.S. and the Soviet Union fought a cold war. Why can’t Iran and America be new allies in a war against the Islamic State? In many ways they already are.

The problem is: Iran really loves terrorism. Since 1979, it has used terrorism as a tool of statecraft like no other nation. In his testimony Thursday before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Nick Rasmussen, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, said Iran and Hezbollah “remain committed to conducting terrorist activities worldwide and we are concerned their activities could either endanger or target U.S. and other Western interests.”

Iran’s leaders have been implicated in terrorist attacks in South America, Europe and the Middle East. The Justice Department in 2011 accused Iran of attempting to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington at a popular Georgetown restaurant, Cafe Milano. For the Islamic Republic to give up its predilection for terror would require a cultural revolution inside its defense establishment. What would the Quds Force be without car bombers and kidnapping?

Some might argue that the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani, a supposed reformer, signifies just this kind of change. But there is little evidence he is opening up Iranian society. State executions of gays and arrests of dissidents continue. Even though Rouhani tweeted in 2013 a Jewish New Year message to his followers on Twitter, the regime remains steeped in ugly anti-Semitism. In response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris last month, a cultural center in Iran with close ties to the regime announced a Holocaust cartoon contest. Despite Rouhani’s campaign promises, the leaders of the country’s green movement, the people who took to the streets to protest the 2009 elections, remain under house arrest or brutal detention in the country’s prisons. If Iran is unwilling to stop terrorizing its own people, why should anyone think it will stop terrorizing the citizens of its historic enemies?

And this gets to the most important argument as to why an alliance with Iran is a recipe for more war. Iran has been a partner of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as his troops continue to massacre his own people, causing a death toll conservatively estimated to be north of 129,000. In Yemen, Iran-supported Houthi rebels drove the Obama administration this week to shutter its embassy and CIA station in Sana’a, setting back a crucial war against al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate. Iran-supported militias in Iraq threaten the Sunni Arab population, driving many potential Sunni allies into the arms of the terrorists. Iran’s participation in a coalition against Islamic State forces, while seemingly helpful, threatens to turn a fight against a terrorist group into a bloody, regional sectarian war.

It’s hard to know exactly what kind of deal, if any, will emerge from Iran’s nuclear negotiations in Geneva with the U.S. and other great powers. But if Obama believes he can purchase Iranian counter-terrorism cooperation with concessions on its nuclear program, he is paying Iran twice and getting very little in return.

It’s also possible that Khamenei’s messages have been lost in translation. With apologies to Mel Brooks, it could be that when Iran’s supreme leader said he wanted “peace,” he meant: a piece of Yemen, a piece of Iraq, a piece of Syria, a piece of Gaza, a piece of Lebanon. You get the picture.

To contact the author on this story:
Eli Lake at

Daily Beast: Americans Already Returning From Syrian Jihad

NGO Leader’s Terror Designation Looks Familiar




Watchdog Wire, By Jerry Gordon:

Earlier today I watched a C-SPAN reprise of a Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) panel that featuring FDD Senior fellow, Tom Joscelyn, director of The Long War Journal, and Eli Lake, senior national security correspondent for Newsweek/The Daily Beast.

Watch the C-Span FDD panel: ”A Look at Al Qaeda and its Affiliates”.

I caught a discussion by Eli Lake about a story that both he and colleague Josh Rogin had broken at The Daily Beast.  It concerned, “an electronic conference between leaders of al Qaeda’s regional branches featuring advanced encryption methods with video, voice, and chat capabilities.”  MEMRI had posted a related story  out of Lahore, Pakistan  that an Al Qaeda “data hub” with a similar command and control net connecting  what the Obama Administration has taken to call the “core” of Al Qaeda with  its ‘affiliates’.  The latter includes the alphabet soup of AQAP in Yemen, AQIM in the Maghreb, Book Harem in Nigeria, Al Shabaab in Somalia and the latest Jihadi group in Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

As The Counter Jihad Report quoted Jocelyn saying,” It’s indisputable that [al Qaeda has] made more gains now than at any point in their history,”

The FDD panel was endeavoring to assess the validity of the 2012 Obama Presidential meme of “bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is on the run”.  Clearly, given the spate of AQ prison breaks across the Ummah in Libya, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen, releasing thousands of fighters the Jihadist group has not been flattened. This despite the Obama Administration conduct of counterterrorism, drone and special ops and secret war campaigns.  AQ appears to be alive and flourishing.  Moreover, AQ’s genetic ideological source, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been metastasizing from the Arab Spring genesis of early 2011 attempting to assume political power in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

AQ has become the go to opposition military force in Syria and has re-ignited sectarian warfare in Iraq.  Only Egypt’s military has overthrown elected MB leader, President Mohammed Morsi, now in jail along with the spiritual Leader of the MB, Mohammed Badie. Meanwhile the Egyptian MB has engaged in a futile uprising against Egyptian Gen. Adel Fattah al-Sisi’s army and security forces.  AQ has fomented sectarian warfare in Iraq after the Obama Administration took French leave in 2009 without putting in place a status of forces agreement.  Now, even the al Maliki government in Baghdad is suggesting that it may need US counterterrorism assistance.  The AQ opposition forces in Syria are fighting Assad’s military, the IRGC Al Quds force and attacking the latter’s ally Hezbollah in both Syria and Lebanon.

So what to make of all of these Jihadist activities by AQ?  Note this exchange between Tom Jocelyn and Eli Lake at the FDD panel:

Eli Lake: “Earlier this summer, Yemeni authorities were able to apprehend a carrier from AQ as he was uploading what appeared to be information from an important business meeting between high level AQ officials. It was a recording of a 7-hour remote internet conference. It opened with a message from Al-Zawahiri where he assessed that the U.S was in a similar situation to the Soviets in 1989.”

“There is no doubt about that AQ has lost a lot of senior leaders in the region, however, they have adapted and Zawahiri has shown he has the ability to manage and delegate.”

Tom Joscelyn: “The whole distinction between AQ core and affiliates is something we have been trying to shed light on for some time now. The core is not well defined; it sort of vaguely refers to the leadership and the councilors around them. However, if you think about it, you realize AQ is not so stupid to keep the whole of their leadership in one locale.”

“Why did so many people get it wrong? When you look back at the history of the post- 9/11 world, you see assessments that have consistently been wrong regarding the capabilities of AQ; when you look at their literature, AQ defines themselves as political revolutionaries, they want to wield political power.”

Lake: [Al Qaeda has] high levels of encryption. They are constantly aware of internet security. No one is allowed to use any type of wireless broadcast. They have developed some pretty impressive technology.”

Joscelyn: “What needs to be pointed out is the fact that the leadership has a way of reaching out to affiliates worldwide.”

“We are acting as if though the affiliates are something that AQ just stumbled upon. They have been part of their overall strategy for some time.”

“[O]ur enemy gets a say in this fight, and if we keep defining them narrowly as terrorists we are just going to keep picking off senior leadership without cracking the base of the organization.”

Lake: “[AQ and Iran] are like two rival cartels who share the interest of making sure that the FBI is weak. … [T]hey can cooperate when they see it is clearly in their shared interest.”

Joscelyn: “If you look at it right now, obviously Syria is a huge disagreement between the two. What is interesting is how many times the two have been able to put aside their differences in order to collude.”

The Washington Free Beacon noted differences between Lake and Jocelyn on what AQ’s objective is:

Lake said he remained hopeful that peaceful Muslims like the protesters in Egypt would reject the Islamist ideology, pointing to the necessity for groups such as AQAP to employ violent thugs to enforce Sharia law.

Joscelyn countered that al Qaeda continues to achieve victories despite the rejection of jihad by younger generations of Muslims.

“They’re not just terrorists—they’re political revolutionaries—and they want power for themselves.”

At a critical point in the panel discussion, FFD President and moderator Cliff May offered a useful historical analogy from WWII about fighting the no name war against AQ’s Jihadist ideology:

In 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill got together — they could see that they would defeat the Axis powers. They had no intention of destroying the populations of Germany, Italy and Japan, but they decided that they needed to destroy or defeat what they called the philosophies, what we call ideologies today, that were responsible for WWII. When we talk about ‘violent extremism,’ and we don’t grapple with the ideologies that are behind the regimes, movements and groups that are attacking the West. We are not taking up that task; we are not discrediting or delegitimizing those ideologies.

Jocelyn’s acknowledgement that the AQ doctrine is revolutionary and seeks to impose political governance based on Sharia is I believe a correct analysis.  Thus the Administration’s AQ core /affiliates paradigm is inaccurate.  All we are engaged in are endless whack a mole counterterrorism .campaigns. Rather AQ is more like a revolutionary mafia endeavoring to spread its doctrine through opportunistic forays into the soft underbelly of the Ummah.  The on again off again relations between AQ and the Islamic Regime in Tehran is a reflection of the diverse but underlying commonality in the fundamentalist Jihadist doctrine. May’s historical reference to the Quebec Conference in 1943 between Roosevelt and Churchill and the decision to destroy fascist militarist doctrine sent a message to the TV and FDD panel audience:  “it’s the doctrine, stupid”.

Jocelyn knows that the “core Jihadist” doctrine of AQ has to be destroyed and replaced.  Unfortunately, its thin religious veneer allows it to escape prosecution in the West, because it looks like an attack on a “religion” rather than what it is a totalitarian political ideology.

Given the attendance by the policy wonk community from both the Hill and the NGO’s, clearly FDD did a service both inside and outside the Beltway.

Jerry Gordon is Sr. Vice President of World Encounter Institute and Sr. Editor for the New English Review. He is a former Army Intelligence officer who served during the Vietnam era. Mr. Gordon has published widely in such outlets as: FrontPageMagazine, The American Thinker, WorldNetDaily, ChronWatch, New English Review and its blog The Iconoclast, Israpundit and others. He has been a frequent guest discussing Middle East issues on radio in both the U.S. and Canada. He is co-host of the Middle East Roundtable series on Northwest Florida talk radio 1330 – AM WEBY in Pensacola. He is a graduate of both Boston and Columbia Universities. He holds an MBA in Finance from the Columbia University Graduate School of Finance. He ended his investment banking career in Manhattan as Vice President and Director BMO Capital – a US subsidiary of the Bank of Montreal, where he developed a cross border merger and acquisition and private financing practice involving clients in Canada, the US, UK and Israel. He is the author of a collection of interviews with notable personalities in the counter-jihad movements in Canada, the US, titled The West Speaks.

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Analysis: Recent embassy closures triggered by Zawahiri communications with multiple subordinates

download (27)Long War Journal, By THOMAS JOSCELYN & BILL ROGGIO:

On Aug. 7, the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake and Josh Rogin reported that the US government’s decision to shutter more than 20 diplomatic facilities was based in part on intercepted communications between al Qaeda’s emir, Ayman al Zawahiri, and “more than 20 AQ operatives.” Citing three US officials “familiar with the intelligence,” Lake and Rogin described the communications as “a conference call that included the leaders or representatives of the top leadership of al Qaeda and its affiliates calling in from different locations.”

Several US officials contacted by The Long War Journal have confirmed that the Zawahiri-led communication first reported by the Daily Beast did in fact occur.

As both Lake and Rogin have subsequently reported, the communication was much more complex than a typical “conference call,” which they used as a shorthand description.

The original Daily Beast article set off controversy and speculation, with many assuming that such a communication would not take place because it would compromise al Qaeda’s operational security. But much of that speculation was fueled by the idea that what had transpired was akin to an ordinary business call. It was not.

The Long War Journal is withholding additional technical details at the request of US officials.

Journalists at major media organizations contacted by The Long War Journal say that US government officials have warned against pursuing the story. Some journalists have been told that the idea of a “conference call” is “not credible.”

Thus far, however, there does not appear to have been any official denial by the US government.

The original press reporting stated that the communication was between al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and Nasir al Wuhayshi, who heads al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Zawahiri appointed Wuhayshi to the position of al Qaeda’s general manager during the discussion. [See LWJ report, AQAP’s emir also serves as al Qaeda’s general manager.]

But subsequent press reporting indicates that additional al Qaeda operatives were involved in the conversation. NBC News previously reported that “a third al Qaeda operative who was part of the communication did express a willingness to die in a suicide attack — a request that had been denied in the past.”

This means, of course, that NBC‘s sources have confirmed that the discussion was not limited to Zawahiri and Wuhayshi.

Other press reporting has rightly observed that al Qaeda has long maintained a sophisticated Internet-based communications infrastructure. A segment aired on Aug. 8 by CNN detailed how al Qaeda operatives communicate over the Internet.

Writing for The Week, Marc Ambinder noted that early reports said a courier had been intercepted and that this “might — might — mean that the US got its hands on a copy of the tape” without actually intercepting a communication in real-time.

Many of the details concerning how the communication was obtained, and what exactly was said during it, remain unreported.



Ansar al-Sharia’s Role in Benghazi Attacks Still a Mystery

The U.S. didn’t consider Ansar al-Sharia a threat—until they showed up in Benghazi on Sept. 11. Eli Lake on the truth behind Libya’s latest jihadists:

Mohammad Hannon / AP Photo

One of the main participants in the Sept. 11 anniversary assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission and Central Intelligence Agency annex in Benghazi is a group formed earlier this year called Ansar al-Sharia, according to the current U.S. intelligence assessment of the attack. Ansar al-Sharia, which translates as “supporters of Islamic law,” has many roles in Libya’s second city. It provides security for the city’s main hospital. It’s also a social-services organization and an ideological movement that seeks to bring its corner of eastern Libya under the rule of an Islamic government, according to the group’s own public information and published interviews with its leaders.

Before the attacks, the U.S. intelligence community didn’t consider Ansar al-Sharia a threat to American interests, and the group wasn’t a priority target for the CIA officers monitoring jihadists in Libya, according to U.S. intelligence officials with knowledge of the investigations into the Benghazi attacks.

Because Ansar al-Sharia wasn’t designated as a terrorist group or thought to have significant connections to al Qaeda, there were fewer resources deployed to monitor the organization’s members, these officials say. It also makes it tricky to go after the group’s leaders now. Under the war resolution Congress passed three days after the original Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush and President Obama have asserted the authority to kill or capture al Qaeda and associated groups all over the world. That resolution is the legal basis for the maintenance of kill lists maintained by the CIA and the military to send special operations teams or predator drones to Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Because Ansar al-Sharia was regarded by the intelligence community as separate and distinct from al Qaeda, the group managed to avoid being added to these target lists, according to U.S. counterterrorism officials.

Some analysts in the intelligence community disagreed with the official assessment, however. A public report released in August by the Library of Congress at the direction of a Pentagon organization that focuses on counter-terrorism research concluded that Ansar al-Sharia “increasingly embodied al Qaeda’s presence in Libya.” But this wasn’t the prevailing view.

“In general, Ansar al-Sharia was viewed as a local extremist group with an eye on gaining political ground in Libya,”  said one U.S. official who is familiar with the intelligence assessment. “Of course, there were concerns that Islamist militias such as Ansar could help more violent extremists gain a foothold.”

One U.S. intelligence contractor working on the investigation into the Benghazi attacks said, “We were not focused on these guys.” Militias like Ansar al-Sharia, this person said, might be analyzed and monitored, but they weren’t the focus of the analysts who were maintaining kill lists and monitoring the broader war against al Qaeda.

Read more at The Daily Beast