Islamist Terrorism and Pakistan
May 14, 2010 | AIJAC staff
May 14, 2010
Number 05/10 #05
In the wake of the failed May 1 Times Square bombing in New York and the subsequent arrest of Faisal Shahzad as the alleged bomber, much is being written about the lessons of the attempted attack, especially after the US government blamed the Pakistani Taliban for the attack, and an alleged collaborator was arrested in Pakistan. This Update looks at some of the key analysis published, especially with respect to the increasingly prominent role of Pakistan as a source of these kinds of attacks.
First up is noted American foreign affairs commentator Fareed Zakaria, who looks at the history and identity of Pakistan to identify why it has become the source of up to 70% of international terrorist plots over the past decade. He reviews how sucessive Pakistani governments have tried to “use jihad both to gain domestic support and to hurt its perennial rival, India” leading to a country which is a “terrorist supermarket” sporting dozens of violent jihadi organisations. Moreover, he notes the distinction Pakistani authorities continue to make between terrorist groups – those that target Pakistanis are hunted down, those whose activities are directed abroad are largely left alone. For Zakaria’s full analysis of why Pakistan has become such an important source of Islamist terrorism, CLICK HERE.
Next up, Lebanese-American academic Fouad Ajami takes a broader look at the relationship to modernity of the type of terrorists represented by Shahzad, especially in the Pakistani context. His basic thesis is that men like Shahzad – who were educated in the US before gaining citizenship, and then becoming a terrorist – are both attracted and appalled by Western modernity, and he cites numerous similar examples. Ajami also recalls the difference between an immigrant to the West like Shahzad and his own experience as an Arab immigrant to the US decades earlier, where the watchword was integration, and when efforts to remain as rooted in their original communities as Shahzad was, with 13 trips back to Pakistan in recent years, were impossible. For Ajami’s well-written and insightful argument, CLICK HERE. Commenting further on Ajami’s thesis is Marty Peretz of the New Republic.
Finally, Scott Stewart, of the strategic analysis site Stratfor, looks at the larger history of apparently partly home-grown terrorist plots like the Times Square bombing. He points out that contrary to some commentators, this has hardly been an exclusively British phenomenon and cites numerous past cases. He also places such “grassroots” terrorism in the context of the larger struggle against violent Islamist movements and offers some suggestions how to authorities can better deal with this phenomenon. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- In the wake of the Times Square bombing attempt, Washington Institute terrorism expert Matthew Levitt had some interesting comments about the importance of building “resilience” in the face of terrorist threats.
- Former US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Mukasey looks at the implications for authorities in handling terrorism arising out of this case.
- An American Muslim activist calls for his co-religionists to treat Islamists as traitors.
- Israeli PM Netanyahu warns of Iranian attempts to provoke a war between Israeli and Syria. Meanwhile, Syrian client Hezbollah says it is getting ready for war.
- Interesting articles on US policy toward Syria come from Lee Smith, David Schenker and Bilal Y. Saab.
- Barry Rubin and the Jerusalem Post both comment on recent Russian efforts to back Syria (including by possibly building a nuclear reactor) and other radical regional players.
- Renowned literary critic Harold Bloom reviews a new book by British lawyer and intellectual Anthony Julius on the history of British antisemitism here (Another good review is here), plus an interesting interview with American intellectual Paul Berman about his new book The Flight of the Intellectuals.
By Fareed Zakaria
Washington Post, Monday, May 10, 2010; A17
Faisal Shahzad, the would-be terrorist of Times Square, seems to have followed a familiar path. Like many recruits to jihad, he was middle-class, educated, seemingly assimilated — and then something happened that radicalized him. We may never be sure what made him want to kill innocent men, women and children. But his story shares another important detail with those of many of his predecessors: a connection to Pakistan.
The British government has estimated that 70 percent of the terror plots it has uncovered in the past decade can be traced to Pakistan. That country remains a terrorist hothouse even as jihadism is losing favor elsewhere in the Muslim world. From Egypt to Jordan to Malaysia to Indonesia, radical Islamic groups have been weakened militarily and have lost much of the support they had politically. Why not in Pakistan? The answer is simple: From its founding, the Pakistani government has supported and encouraged jihadi groups, creating an atmosphere that has allowed them to flourish. It appears to have partially reversed course in recent years, but the rot is deep.
For a wannabe terrorist shopping for help, Pakistan is a supermarket. There are dozens of jihadi organizations: Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, al-Qaeda, Jalaluddin and Siraj Haqqani’s network, and Tehrik-e-Taliban. The list goes on. Some of the major ones, such as the Kashmiri separatist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, operate openly via front groups throughout the country. But none seem to have any difficulty getting money and weapons.
The Pakistani scholar-politician Husain Haqqani tells in his brilliant history “Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military” how the government’s jihadist connections date to the country’s creation as an ideological, Islamic state and the decision by successive governments to use jihad both to gain domestic support and to hurt its perennial rival, India. Describing the military’s distinction between terrorists and “freedom fighters,” he notes that the problem is systemic. “This duality . . . is a structural problem, rooted in history and a consistent policy of the state. It is not just the inadvertent outcome of decisions by some governments.” That Haqqani is now Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington adds an ironic twist to the story. (And a sad one, because the elected government he represents appears to have little power. The military has actually gained strength over the past year.)
In recent months Pakistan’s government and military have taken tougher actions than ever against terrorists on their soil — and Pakistani troops have suffered grievously. Yet the generals continue to make a dubious distinction among terrorists. Those who threaten and attack the people of Pakistan have suffered the wrath of the Pakistani army. But then there are groups that threaten and attack only Afghans, Indians and Westerners — and those groups have largely been left alone.
Consider the tribal area where Faisal Shahzad is said to have trained on his visits to Pakistan: North Waziristan, where the deadliest groups that attack Afghans, Indians and Westerners hole up. Although last year the Pakistani military took the fight to South Waziristan, a haven for groups that have launched attacks inside Pakistan, the generals have refused to go into the North, despite repeated entreaties from the United States and NATO. As far as the Pakistani military is concerned, there’s always a compelling reason why now isn’t the right time to go there. And the respected Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, an expert on the Afghan insurgency, recently wrote in The Post that Pakistan continues to have influence with the Afghan Taliban and is using that leverage to force the Kabul government to do its bidding rather than to broker a peace between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Until the Pakistani military truly takes on a more holistic view of the country’s national interests — one that sees economic development, not strategic gamesmanship against Afghanistan and India, as the key to Pakistan’s security — terrorists will continue to find Pakistan an ideal place to go shopping.
Over the past four decades, much Islamic terrorism has been traced to two countries: Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Both were founded as ideological, Islamic states; the governments sought legitimacy by reinforcing that religious ideology, and that made the countries hothouses of militancy, fundamentalism and jihad. That trend is slowly being reversed in Saudi Arabia, perhaps because King Abdullah could make it happen as the enlightened ruler of an absolute monarchy. It may not be so easy for Pakistan to overcome its jihadist past.
Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back to Top
Millions like Faisal Shahzad are unsettled by a modern world they can neither master nor reject.
By FOUAD AJAMI
Wall Street Journal, MAY 10, 2010
“A Muslim has no nationality except his belief,” the intellectual godfather of the Islamists, Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, wrote decades ago. Qutb’s “children” are everywhere now; they carry the nationalities of foreign lands and plot against them. The Pakistani born Faisal Shahzad is a devotee of Sayyid Qutb’s doctrine, and Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, was another.
Qutb was executed by the secular dictatorship of Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1966. But his thoughts and legacy endure. Globalization, the shaking up of continents, the ease of travel, and the doors for immigration flung wide open by Western liberal societies have given Qutb’s worldview greater power and relevance. What can we make of a young man like Shahzad working for Elizabeth Arden, receiving that all-American degree, the MBA, jogging in the evening in Bridgeport, then plotting mass mayhem in Times Square?
The Islamists are now within the gates. They fled the fires and the failures of the Islamic world but brought the ruin with them. They mock national borders and identities. A parliamentary report issued by Britain’s House of Commons on the London Underground bombings of July 7, 2005 lays bare this menace and the challenge it poses to a system of open borders and modern citizenship.
The four men who pulled off those brutal attacks, the report noted, “were apparently well integrated into British society.” Three of them were second generation Britons born in West Yorkshire. The oldest, a 30-year-old father of a 14-month-old infant, “appeared to others as a role model to young people.” One of the four, 22 years of age, was a boy of some privilege; he owned a red Mercedes given to him by his father and was given to fashionable hairstyles and designer clothing. This young man played cricket on the eve of the bombings. The next day, the day of the terror, a surveillance camera filmed him in a store. “He buys snacks, quibbles with the cashier over his change, looks directly at the CCTV camera, and leaves.” Two of the four, rather like Faisal Shahzad, had spent time in Pakistan before they pulled off their deed.
A year after the London terror, hitherto tranquil Canada had its own encounter with the new Islamism. A ring of radical Islamists were charged with plotting to attack targets in southern Ontario with fertilizer bombs. A school-bus driver was one of the leaders of these would-be jihadists. A report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service unintentionally echoed the British House of Commons findings. “These individuals are part of Western society, and their ‘Canadianness’ makes detection more difficult. Increasingly, we are learning of more and more extremists that are homegrown. The implications of this shift are profound.”
And indeed they are, but how can “Canadianness” withstand the call of the faith and the obligation of jihad? I think of one Egyptian Islamist in London, a man by the name of Yasser Sirri, who gave the matter away some six years ago: “The whole Arab world was dangerous for me. I went to London,” he observed.
In Egypt, three sentences had been rendered against him: one condemned him to 25 years of hard labor, the second to 15 years, and the third to death for plotting to assassinate a prime minister. Sirri had fled Egypt to Yemen, then to the Sudan. But it was better and easier in bilad al-kufar, the lands of unbelief. There is wealth in the West and there are the liberties afforded by an open society.
In an earlier age—I speak here autobiographically, and not of some vanished world long ago but of the 1960s when I made my way to the United States—the world was altogether different. Mass migration from the Islamic world had not begun. The immigrants who turned up in Western lands were few, and they were keen to put the old lands, and their feuds and attachments, behind them. Islam was then a religion of Afro-Asia; it had not yet put down roots in Western Europe and the New World. Air travel was costly and infrequent.
The new lands, too, made their own claims, and the dominant ideology was one of assimilation. The national borders were real, and reflected deep civilizational differences. It was easy to tell where “the East” ended and Western lands began. Postmodernist ideas had not made their appearance. Western guilt had not become an article of faith in the West itself.
Nowadays the Islamic faith is portable. It is carried by itinerant preachers and imams who transmit its teachings to all corners of the world, and from the safety and plenty of the West they often agitate against the very economic and moral order that sustains them. Satellite television plays its part in this new agitation, and the Islam of the tele-preachers is invariably one of damnation and fire. From tranquil, banal places (Dubai and Qatar), satellite television offers an incendiary version of the faith to younger immigrants unsettled by a modern civilization they can neither master nor reject.
And home, the Old Country, is never far. Pakistani authorities say Faisal Shahzad made 13 visits to Pakistan in the last seven years. This would have been unthinkable three or four decades earlier. Shahzad lived on the seam between the Old Country and the New. The path of citizenship he took gave him the precious gift of an American passport but made no demands on him.
From Pakistan comes a profile of Shahzad’s father, a man of high military rank, and of property and standing: He was “a man of modern thinking and of the modern age,” it was said of him in his ancestral village of Mohib Banda in recent days. That arc from a secular father to a radicalized son is, in many ways, the arc of Pakistan since its birth as a nation-state six decades ago. The secular parents and the radicalized children is also a tale of Islam, that broken pact with modernity, the mothers who fought to shed the veil and the daughters who now wish to wear the burqa in Paris and Milan.
In its beginnings, the Pakistan of Faisal Shahzad’s parents was animated by the modern ideals of its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In that vision, Pakistan was to be a state for the Muslims of the subcontinent, but not an Islamic state in the way it ordered its political and cultural life. The bureaucratic and military elites who dominated the state, and defined its culture, were a worldly breed. The British Raj had been their formative culture.
But the world of Pakistan was recast in the 1980s under a zealous and stern military leader, Zia ul-Haq. Zia offered Pakistan Islamization and despotism. He had ridden the jihad in Afghanistan next door to supreme power; he brought the mullahs into the political world, and they, in turn, brought the militants with them.
This was the Pakistan in which young Faisal Shahzad was formed; the world of his parents was irretrievable. The maxim that Pakistan is governed by a trinity—Allah, army, America—gives away this confusion: The young man who would do his best to secure an American education before succumbing to the call of the jihad is a man in the grip of a deep schizophrenia. The overcrowded cities of Islam—from Karachi and Casablanca to Cairo—and those cities in Europe and North America where the Islamic diaspora is now present in force have untold multitudes of men like Faisal Shahzad.
This is a long twilight war, the struggle against radical Islamism. We can’t wish it away. No strategy of winning “hearts and minds,” no great outreach, will bring this struggle to an end. America can’t conciliate these furies. These men of nowhere—Faisal Shahzad, Nidal Malik Hasan, the American-born renegade cleric Anwar Awlaki now holed up in Yemen and their likes—are a deadly breed of combatants in this new kind of war. Modernity both attracts and unsettles them. America is at once the object of their dreams and the scapegoat onto which they project their deepest malignancies.
Mr. Ajami, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, is the author of “The Foreigner’s Gift” (Free Press, 2007).
Back to Top
By Scott Stewart
Stratfor, May 13, 2010
In the wake of the botched May 1 Times Square attack, some observers have begun to characterize Faisal Shahzad and the threat he posed as some sort of new or different approach to terrorism in the United States. Indeed, one media story on Sunday quoted terrorism experts who claimed that recent cases such as those involving Shahzad and Najibullah Zazi indicate that jihadists in the United States are “moving toward the “British model.” This model was described in the story as that of a Muslim who immigrates to the United Kingdom for an education, builds a life there and, after being radicalized, travels to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and then returns to the United Kingdom to launch an attack.
A close look at the history of jihadist plots in the United States and the operational models involved in orchestrating those plots suggests that this so-called British model is not confined to Great Britain. Indeed, a close look at people like Shahzad and Zazi through a historical prism reveals that they are clearly following a model of radicalization and action seen in the United States that predates jihadist attacks in the United Kingdom. In fact, in many U.K. terrorism cases, the perpetrators were the children of Muslim immigrants who were born in the United Kingdom, such as suicide bombers Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer and Hasib Hussain and cyberjihadist Younis Tsouli, and were not first-generation immigrants like Faisal Shahzad.
Now, this observation does not mean that we’re trying to take a cheap shot at the press. The objective here is to cut through the clutter and clearly explain the phenomenon of grassroots jihadism, outline its extensive history in the United States, note the challenges its operatives pose to counterterrorism agencies and discuss the weaknesses of such operatives. It is also important to remember that the proliferation of grassroots operatives in recent years is something that was clearly expected as a logical result of the devolution of the jihadist movement, a phenomenon that STRATFOR has closely followed for many years.
A Long History of Plots
Not long after it began, when the jihadist movement was beginning to move beyond Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal, it quickly appeared in the United States. In July 1990, influential jihadist preacher Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (“the Blind Sheikh”) moved to New York and began speaking at mosques in Brooklyn and Jersey City. After a rival was murdered, Rahman assumed control of the al-Kifah Refugee Center, an entity informally known in U.S. security circles as the “Brooklyn jihad office,” which recruited men to fight overseas and trained these aspiring jihadists at shooting ranges in New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut before sending them to fight in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The center also raised money to help fund these jihadist struggles. However, for the Blind Sheikh, jihad wasn’t an activity confined to Muslim lands. He issued fatwas authorizing attacks inside the United States and encouraged his followers to act locally. He didn’t have to wait long.
In November 1990, one of the Blind Sheikh’s followers, ElSayyid Nosair, gunned down Jewish political activist Meir Kahane in the ballroom of a Manhattan hotel. Nosair, an Egyptian with a engineering degree, had moved to the United States in 1981 in search of a better life. He married an American woman, had children and became an American citizen in 1989. Several other men associated with the Brooklyn jihad office would go on to conduct the 1993 bombing attack on the World Trade Center. The following men had profiles similar to Nosair’s, i.e., they first came to the United States, established themselves and then became radicalized:
Nosair’s cousin, Ibrahim Elgabrowny, was born in Egypt, married an American woman and was in the process of being naturalized at the time of the first World Trade Center bombing.
Nidal Ayyad was a Palestinian born in Kuwait who immigrated to the United States in 1985 to study chemical engineering at Rutgers. Shortly after he graduated from Rutgers in 1991, he began working for AlliedSignal and became an American citizen.
Mahmud Abouhalima was an Egyptian citizen who entered the United States on a tourist visa in 1985 and overstayed. He applied for amnesty and was granted permanent resident status in 1986. Abouhalima traveled to Afghanistan in 1988 to receive military training.
Ahmed Ajaj was a Palestinian who entered the United States on a political asylum claim. He left the country under a false identity and traveled to Afghanistan where he received advanced training in bombmaking. He traveled back to the United States with Abdul Basit (also known as Ramzi Yousef) to provide leadership and bombmaking skill to the cell of men associated with the Blind Sheikh who would go on to bomb the World Trade Center. Ajaj was arrested as he tried to enter the United States using an altered Swedish passport.
The following are some of the other notable jihadists involved in the long history of plots against the United States who have profiles similar to those of Zazi and Shahzad — and this list is by no means exhaustive:
- Sgt. Ali Mohammed, an Egyptian who immigrated to the United States in 1984 and received his citizenship after marrying an American woman. Mohammed enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as an instructor in Arabic culture at the Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, N.C. While serving in the U.S. Army, Mohammed traveled to Afghanistan where he reportedly fought the Soviets and trained jihadists. Mohammed also reportedly helped conduct surveillance of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi that were bombed in August 1998, and he pleaded guilty to his involvement in that plot in October 2000.
- Wadih el Hage, a Lebanese who immigrated to the United States in 1978 to study urban planning. El Hage married an American woman and became a naturalized citizen in 1989. He also traveled to Afghanistan for extended periods to participate in the jihad there, then in 1992 went to Sudan to work with Osama bin Laden. In 1994 el Hage moved to Nairobi, Kenya where he opened an Islamic charity (and al Qaeda branch office). El Hage was convicted in May of 2001 for participation in the East Africa embassy-bombings conspiracy.
- All six of the convicted Fort Dix plotters were foreign born. Agron Abdullahu, born in Turkey, and Serdar Tatar, born in Jordan, were naturalized U.S. citizens. Mohamed Shnewer and the three Duka brothers — Dritan, Eljvir and Shain — were ethnic Albanians who apparently entered the United States illegally over the Texas-Mexico border. The men became radicalized while living in the United States and were convicted in December 2008 for plotting to attack U.S. military personnel at Fort Dix, N.J.
- Syed Haris Ahmed, a naturalized American citizen born in Pakistan. In 1996, his parents immigrated to the United States, where Ahmed became a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, majoring in mechanical engineering. He reportedly traveled to Canada in March 2005 with a friend, Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, to meet with a group of other aspiring jihadists to plan attacks. Sadequee is a native-born American citizen whose parents came to the United States from Bangladesh. The two were convicted in 2009 for providing material support to terrorists. Ahmed received a 13-year prison sentence and Sadequee was sentenced to 17 years.
A Well-Established Pattern
Clearly, the pattern exhibited in recent cases by suspects such as Shahzad and Zazi is nothing new to the United States. It has been around since 1990, long before similar cases began to appear in the United Kingdom. Indeed, as we have discussed for several years now, an increase in the number of such operatives was to be anticipated as the jihadist movement devolved from a phenomenon based upon al Qaeda the group (which we call al Qaeda prime) toward one based on the wider jihadist movement. As al Qaeda prime was battered by efforts to destroy it, the group lost its place at the vanguard of jihadism on the physical battlefield. This change means that the primary jihadist threat to the West now emanates from regional jihadist groups and grassroots operatives and not al Qaeda prime.
Of course, while this devolution is a sign of success, it also presents challenges for counterterrorism practitioners. Grassroots operatives are nothing if not ambiguous. They are decentralized, can be insular, and they might not be meaningfully connected to the command, control and communication mechanism of any known militant groups or actors. This makes them exceedingly hard to identify, let alone pre-empt, before they carry out an attack. Government bureaucracies do not do well in dealing with ambiguity, and it is common to see grassroots operatives who had received some degree of government scrutiny at some point but were not identified as significant threats before they launched their attacks. This problem is even more pronounced if the grassroots operative is a lone wolf who does not seek any type of outside assistance or guidance.
But the security provided by this ambiguity comes at a price, and this is what we refer to as the grassroots paradox. The paradox is that decentralization helps conceal militant actors, but it also frequently results in a diminished attack capability. Traditionally, one of the biggest problems for small cells and lone-wolf operatives is acquiring the skills necessary to conduct a successful terrorist attack. Even though many websites and military manuals can provide instruction on such things as hand-to-hand combat and marksmanship, there is no substitute for hands-on experience in the real world. This is especially true when it comes to the more subtle skills required to conduct a complex terrorist attack, such as planning, surveillance and bombmaking. Many grassroots operatives also tend to lack the ability to realistically assess their low level of terrorist tradecraft or understand the limitations their lack of tradecraft presents. Because of this, they frequently attempt to conduct ambitious attacks that are far beyond their limited capabilities. These factors help explain why so few lone wolves and small cells have been able to pull off spectacular, mass-casualty attacks.
In recent months we have seen a message from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula urging grassroots jihadists to conduct simple attacks. This call was echoed by al Qaeda prime in a message from Adam Gadahn released on March 7. The message from Gadahn counseled jihadists against traveling to training camps in places like Pakistan or Yemen and advised them not to coordinate their attacks with others who could prove to be government agents or informants.
Now, neither Zazi nor Shahzad heeded this advice, and both reportedly attended some sort of training courses in Pakistan. But while these training courses may have taught them some basic concepts, the training clearly did not adequately prepare them to function as bombmakers upon their return to the United States. It is doubtful that self-trained operatives would be much more effective — there are subtle skills associated with bombmaking and preoperational surveillance that simply cannot be learned by watching YouTube or reading manuals. Nevertheless, while the threat posed by grassroots jihadists and lone wolves is less severe than that posed by highly trained militant operatives from the core al Qaeda group or its regional franchises, lesser-trained operatives can still kill people — remember Maj. Nidal Hasan and Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad.
And they also will most certainly continue to do so. Given the large number of grassroots plots that have emerged over the past two years, it is very likely that there are several individuals and groups working on attack plans in the United States and elsewhere at this very moment and some of these plots could prove more successful than Shahzad’s ill-fated attempt. As in the failed Christmas Day airliner bombing, the only thing that kept Shahzad from succeeding was his own lack of ability, not any sort of counterterrorism operation.
This grim truth illustrates the pressing need for law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the West to focus on identifying potential attackers before they can launch their attacks. The good news for security personnel is that grassroots operatives, whether they are lone wolves or part of a small cell, often lack street skills and tend to be very haphazard while conducting preoperational surveillance. While these individuals are in many ways more difficult to identify before an attack than operatives who communicate with, or are somehow connected to, jihadist groups, their amateurish methods tend to make them more vulnerable to detection while conducting operational activities than more highly skilled operatives. Therefore, a continued, proactive focus on identifying the “how” of attack planning — such as looking for preoperational surveillance — is of vital importance. This increase in situational awareness should extend not only to protective intelligence and counterterrorism professionals but also to street cops and even civilians (like the street vendor who brought Shahzad’s device to the attention of authorities). Sometimes, a grassroots threat can be most effectively countered by grassroots defenders.
“This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR“