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Jihadist Attacks in the West “Not Going to Stop,” Terrorism Expert Warns

terrorism-ar – en

Brian Fraga - published on 12/19/14

"Greater need and urgency" among jihadists to punish countries that have launched airstrikes against Islamic State

Motivated by the Islamic State’s calls to strike the West, home-grown terrorists are becoming a real threat on the domestic front, counter-terrorism experts say.

"What makes this ISIS call for self-starting jihadists across the globe to do something is they can now do it for a cause that’s unique, establishing a global caliphate, which has an appeal," said Brian Glyn Williams, a professor of Islamic history at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

Williams told Aleteia that there is a greater need and urgency among jihadists to punish countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, France, the United States and other nations that have launched airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Iraq and Syria.

"The message ISIS is putting out there is that they are calling for ad-hoc attacks to punish coalition countries, which is unprecedented," Williams said.

On Dec. 15, Man Haron Monis, an Iranian-born self-styled Muslim cleric with a lengthy criminal background, held several people hostage in the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney, Australia. Monis, 50, was armed and forced his hostages to hold a black flag with Islamic lettering in the cafe’s windows, evoking the Islamic State lifting its black flag over conquered territory.

The 16-hour standoff ended when police stormed the cafe, leading to a gun battle that left two hostages and Monis dead.

Several media profiles on Monis painted the picture of a violent individual who even after he fled Iran and obtained asylum in Australia, continued to be estranged from society and railed against his host country’s government and culture.

"It’s pretty obvious that the perpetrator was a deeply disturbed individual," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters during a press conference, adding that Monis was "well-known" to law enforcement authorities and the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.

According to published reports, Monis was facing 45 pending sex-related criminal charges at the time of his death. He was also accused of being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, who was stabbed multiple times and burned. His criminal history extended back to his native Iran, which he fled in 1995 for allegedly committing fraud, according to Iran’s semi-official Fars News.

"This guy should have been in jail. It’s clear the police knew who he was," Humera Khan, executive director of Muflehun, a counter-terrorism think tank, told Aleteia.

Monis also spread extremist beliefs on the Internet. Though born a Shiite, Monis converted to Sunni Islam and pledged alliance to the Islamic State on Twitter and his website, which described him as a Muslim cleric and activist who has "continuously been under attack and false accusation by the Australian government and media" since he started a "political letter campaign" in 2007.

According to Australian media reports, Monis wrote tasteless letters to families of fallen Australian military members. He also condemned Australia and Western governments for "launching" wars on Muslim soil, and his hyperbolic rants attracted almost 13,000 followers to his Facebook page.

"This guy is a very vivid illustration of the problem. There are too many of these attacks," said Edward Turzanski, the co-chairman of the Center for the Study of Terrorism at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Philadelphia-based think tank.

Turzanski told Aleteia that the Sydney hostage situation was the latest in a string of attacks motivated by a distinct "Islamist mindset" that abhors the West and sees it as an oppressor and enemy of the Muslim world.

"We’re not saying all Muslims are terrorists, but the people doing these attacks are Muslims of a specific kind. They engage in violence to impose their strident views," Turzanski said.

On Oct. 22, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a radicalized Muslim convert with a criminal background, opened fire in the Canadian Parliament building, killing a soldier before being fatally shot himself. In May, a young Frenchman named Mehdi Nemmouche who fought with ISIS in Syria shot and killed four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels. He was subsequently arrested.

The United States has seen its share of radicalized Muslims committing violent crimes and planning mass-casualty attacks. The 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, allegedly carried out by two Muslim brothers from Chechnya, killed three people and injured 264 others. Radical Muslims have also been arrested for planning to detonate car bombs in Times Square and subway tunnels in New York City.

On Oct. 1, a 23-year-old Portland, Oregon man, Mohamed Mohamud, was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for plotting to detonate a bomb during a public Christmas tree lighting in 2010. Ali Muhammad Brown, 29, is accused of executing four men in New Jersey and Washington state earlier this year as part of a crusade to punish the the U.S. government for its foreign policy in the Middle East. On Sept. 25, Alton Nolen, 30, beheaded a coworker and stabbed another person during an attack in a food processing plant outside Oklahoma City.

The attacks have been portrayed as "lone wolf" incidents perpetrated  by violent and mentally-unstable individuals who are usually estranged from society. However, Turzanski said there are too many commonalities to ignore the broader threat of domestic jihad.

"It is very much their ideology," Turzanski said. "You start putting all this together and the first thing that’s obvious is that people who intend to do us harm lack the capacity for mass-casualty attacks. If ISIS and Al Qaeda had the capacity for mass-casualty attacks against us, they would do it. This shows they have changed their mindset."

When the Islamic State began conquering large swaths of Iraq and Syria  the terror group now controls an area larger than Maryland — it was primarily focused on establishing a caliphate and recruiting Muslims across the world to join it. When the United States-led coalition began striking Islamic State positions – an airstrike this week is said to have killed several top-level IS leaders – the group called upon Muslims living in the west to launch terrorist attacks in defense of Islam.

What makes the Islamic State’s message especially threatening to the West is the group’s broad appeal and savvy use of social media to engage disaffected Muslims who might be willing to sacrifice themselves in terrorist attacks.

"Fighting for the faith, for the cause, has tremendous appeal to idealists, dreamists, radicalists, extremists and fundamentalists who aren’t happy in their current situation," said Williams, the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth professor.

"We compare ISIS’ messaging and intent with the stuff we previously saw from Al Qaeda, and it’s much more advanced and in local languages," Williams added. "Al Qaeda was clumsy and spoke mainly in Arabic, but ISIS is reaching audiences in English, French, German. They’re much more savvy and polished in their message. Their graphics are better, the filming of their documentaries is better. They’re more sophisticated and their outreach is much more active."

The promise of a caliphate  a state run by sharia law  also has a certain appeal that Al Qaeda lacked.

"We didn’t see jihadists or wannabe jihadists before traveling long distances to Yemen or Pakistan to join Al Qaeda," Williams said. "This new group, ISIS, is developing a utopian state. They’re actually offering housing and salaries and other things, even wives, for people who come."

Khan, the executive director of Muflehun, warned against overstating the jihadist threat on the homefront.

"Nothing systematically has changed since the Sydney attacks, though there could be copycats," Khan said. "People tend to be more scared of certain types of violence than others. Does that increase the risk of that happening? No, it just means people are more aware and scared of it."

However, Turzanski said the jihadist threat is real, and he argued that the West, as it becomes more secularized, will find itself at a disadvantage to address the problem.

"In a mindset where there is only one god and his name is Allah, and his one prophet is Muhammad, and that all unbelievers should be put to death, the Western world is a fertile ground for radicalized Muslim individuals to be scandalized, alienated and at-risk for violent acts," said Turzanski, who suggested that Western governments could track and collect "data points" on radical Muslim individuals considered at risk for jihadist attacks, though he noted the civil liberty concerns.

"We want a free society," Turzanski said. "But these individuals are confident of the rightness of their cause and they will use our freedoms to the maximum that they can. Meanwhile, we refuse to call things by their real name, and we refuse to act vigorously when they do get on the radar screen."

Said Turzanski: "They’re not going to stop."

Brian Fraga is a daily newspaper reporter who writes from Fall River, Massachusetts

Islamist MilitantsTerrorism
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