WASHINGTON — At least 50 Americans have joined the mix of extremist groups that are fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, and some could try to mount terrorist attacks at home, U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday.
Intelligence officials say the Syrian civil war has become one of the biggest magnets for Islamic extremists around the globe since CIA-backed militants fought to oust Soviet troops from Afghanistan in the 1980s, a war that ultimately gave rise to Al Qaeda.
James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that “7,500 or so” foreign fighters are in Syria from 50 countries. Clapper had cited an estimate of 7,000 at a Senate hearing last week.
A U.S. intelligence official told The Times that the total includes at least 50 Americans, a more concrete estimate than authorities have given previously. He declined to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss the figure publicly.
Second, although some violent loners during the last 20 years have supported far-left or Al Qaeda-inspired ideologies, examining lethal far-right loners is particularly important.2 In the United States, most violent loner attacks have been committed by far-rightists, and many have argued that such attacks are increasing (Bates, 2012; Damphousse and Smith, 2004; Hewitt, 2003; Michael, 2012). The United States Extremist Crime Database (ECDB) has identified close to 140 ideologically motivated homicides committed by far-rightists between 1990 and 2010. In this same period, the ECDB has documented only 30 total homicide incidents committed by supporters of Al Qaeda or other violent Salafist movements (many committed by the same individual) (Freilich, Chermak, Gruenewald, and Parkin, 2012). In addition, far-right leaders have aggressively promoted the use of such tactics during the past 20 years. Racist leader Louis Beam publicized the concept of “leaderless resistance” widely in the early 1980s. He argued that organizational hierarchies are cumbersome and open to law enforcement infiltration, and that criminal activities need to be isolated from larger organizations to limit the criminal and civil liability of the group (Beam, 1992). He pushed this concept in his writings, interviews, and public speaking engagements (Damphousse and Smith, 2004; Michael, 2012). The idea that loners or small cells can be effective also was popularized by White supremacists Alex Curtis and Tom Metzger as a tactical strategy that would make it more difficult for law enforcement agencies to infiltrate groups and conduct investigations (Bakker and de Graaf, 2011; Kaplan, 1997; Michael, 2012). Findings from one analysis of federal terrorism cases indicated that the number of indictees per case decreased after efforts to publicize the use of leaderless resistance tactics (Damphousse and Smith, 2004). In short, these results and offending patterns identified by the ECDB indicate that advocating for leaderless acts may have been successful.
Third, the public and media are currently interested in extremist loners because of recent cases of self-radicalized individuals with ideological agendas who have committed spectacular acts of violence (Bakker and de Graaf, 2010). Recent loner attacks include the Fort Hood assassinations by Nidal Hassan in 2009 and the antigovernment extremist Joseph Stack’s suicide mission that involved him flying his plane into an office building that housed an Internal Revenue Service office. Other earlier high-profile loner attacks include the abortion clinic and Olympic park bombings of Eric Rudolph and the multiple mail bombing attacks by Ted Kaczynski that lasted more than 20 years. The intense media coverage of these recent events has made it seem as though such attacks have increased, and thus, the public and policy makers have focused more attention on loner attacks. In fact, President Obama stated that the United States is far more likely to be attacked by loners than by coordinated terrorist attacks (see MacInnis, 2011).
In the past seven days, we’ve seen a major terror attack on Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad Iraq where 500 prisoners, including senior members of al Qaeda were freed by terrorists, and now we’ve got reports of a major attack on a prison complex in Pakistan has meant several hundred more terrorists and Taliban have been freed.
Pakistani Taliban disguised as policemen attacked a prison in the country’s northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan, freeing more than 300 prisoners late on Monday.
The jail officials said that several of the prisoners, four security personnel and two assailants were killed in the attack. The prison was housing at least 5000 prisoners, 250 of them hardcore militants.
Malik Qasim Khattak, advisor to the ministry of prisons, said that around 50 to 60 gunmen attacked the jail with bombs and guns before entering into the detention facility. “They detonated about 60 bombs inside the facility which caused the collapse of prison wall. The assailants succeeded in freeing more than 300 prisoners,” Khattak said, adding that the militants blew up two electricity transformers which created complete darkness.
While accepting responsibility for the attack, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had claimed that their attackers had freed around 300 inmates.
Bill Roggio indicates at least 30 of those escapees were hardcore militants. Roggio further indicates those responsible are the Ansar al Aseer, a joint Taliban and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan unit that has been designated to free imprisoned jihadists.
At the time of the attack on Abu Ghraib (now called the Baghdad Central Prison), I warned that those freed would not only rejoin the insurgency in Iraq, but could spread across the region causing mayhem in Syria’s civil war, or spark violence in Jordan, Egypt, or Turkey.
Now, we’ve got a second high profile incident involving attacks on detention facilities where high value al Qaeda and/or Taliban prisoners have been held - in a single week.
That doesn’t just happen out of thin air, though this is not the first time that the Taliban have attempted attacks on detention facilities with the goal of freeing Taliban/ and/or al Qaeda leadership. It’s part of a long term trend to bolster their numbers by taking on a major offensive. High profile attacks against detention facilities would do the trick.
The breakout in Pakistan means that terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the frontier provinces that are nominally under Pakistani control are likely to be emboldened to carry on further attacks, including against detention facilities. They may also seek out attacks against the ISAF in Afghanistan, the supply lines, as well as India. This doesn’t bode well for those countries as the terrorist attacks have largely resulted in significant civilian casualties.
What Dzhokhar Tsarnaev needed to learn to make explosives with a pressure cooker was at his fingertips in jihadist files on the Internet, according to a federal indictment accusing him of carrying out the bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured dozens more.
Investigators have been trying to determine whether Tsarnaev’s older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed while the two were on the run after the bombings, was influenced or trained by Islamic militants during a trip overseas. But the indictment released Thursday against 19-year-old Dzhokhar makes no mention of any overseas influence.
Before the attack, according to the indictment, he downloaded the summer 2010 issue of Inspire, an online English-language magazine published by al-Qaida. The issue detailed how to make bombs from pressure cookers, explosive powder extracted from fireworks and lethal shrapnel.
He also downloaded extremist Muslim literature, including “Defense of the Muslim Lands, the First Obligation After Imam,” which advocates “violence designed to terrorize the perceived enemies of Islam,” the indictment said. The article was written by the late Abdullah Azzam, whose legacy has inspired terrorist attacks in the Middle East.
Another tract downloaded — titled “The Slicing Sword, Against the One Who Forms Allegiances With the Disbelievers and Takes Them as Supporters Instead of Allah, His Messenger and the Believers” — included a foreword by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American propagandist for al-Qaida who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.
The 30-count indictment provides one of the most detailed public explanations to date of the brothers’ alleged motive — Islamic extremism — and the role the Internet may have played in influencing them.
Four days before a sweeping government surveillance law was set to expire last year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the chamber’s Intelligence Committee, took to the Senate floor. She touted the law’s value by listing some of the terrorist attacks it had helped thwart, including “a plot to bomb a downtown Chicago bar” that fall.
“So I believe the FISA Amendments Act is important,” the California Democrat said before a vote to extend the 2008 law, “and these cases show the program has worked.”
Today, however, the government is refusing to say whether that law was used to develop evidence to charge Adel Daoud, a 19-year-old Chicago man accused of the bomb plot.
And Daoud’s lawyers said in a motion filed Friday that the reason is simple. The government, they said, wants to avoid a constitutional challenge to the law, which governs a National Security Agency surveillance program that has once again become the focus of national debate over its reach into Americans’ private communications.
“Whenever it is good for the government to brag about its success, it speaks loudly and publicly,” lawyers Thomas Durkin and Joshua Herman wrote in their motion. “When a criminal defendant’s constitutional rights are at stake, however, it quickly and unequivocally clams up under the guise of State Secrets.”
David Coleman Headley, whose scouting missions were central to the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, was sentenced to 35 years in prison today.
According to the AP, one American woman injured during the attacks that killed 160 people testified that because of Coleman, she knew the “sound of life leaving a 13-year-old child.”
“I don’t have any faith in Mr. Headley when he says he’s a changed person and believes in the American way of life,” US District Judge Harry Leinenweber said before handing down the sentence.
The U.S. government argued that life in prison was appropriate for Coleman, but they only sought 30 to 35 years in prison because Headley cooperated.
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez is leading a highly-charged hearing this morning in which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify about the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, providing a preview of what will likely be a new, powerful role for Menendez.
Menendez, a Democrat, is presiding over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in place of Sen. John Kerry, the panel’s chairman who is expected to soon be confirmed as Clinton’s replacement as Secretary of State. Once that happens, Menendez is expected to become chairman, giving him control of an influential committee that oversees how the Obama administration interacts with the rest of the world.
This long-anticipated hearing on the Sept. 11 attacks on the American embassy in Benghazi, delayed when Clinton fainted and suffered a concussion, is an early example of the kind of issue Menendez will be leading debate on as chairman.
The hearing room is packed with observers and news agencies from the United States and abroad. Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, also a Democrat, also sits on the committee.
Four Americans, including ambassador Chris Stevens, died in the attacks.
Republicans have strongly questioned the Obama administration’s response, particularly comments from U.N. ambassador Susan Rice that at one point attributed the attacks to a spontaneous demonstration.
In an era of terrorist plots and WMD proliferation, this news may come as a slight relief: Among countries with the highest risk of terrorist attacks, the United States ranks “relatively low,” according to a new study.
The University of Maryland collected data on 104,000 instances of terrorism in 158 nations, and ranked the likelihood of each country witnessing a terrorist attack within its borders.
Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan earn the top positions. The U.S. slides in at No. 41.
“In global terms, this is a relatively low level of activity,” according to the study, first reported by The Washington Times .
[REPORT: DHS Spent Money on Zombie Simulation]
“North America is the least-likely region to be involved in a terrorist attack, though this is not the general impression among many of its residents,” says Steve Killelea with the Institute for Economics and Peace, which published the study using statistics and analysis from the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism .
he leader of Hamas said Monday it was up to Israel to end the new conflict it had started, adding that a “land war” would cost Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the election.
“[Netanyahu] can do it, but he knows that it will not be a picnic and that it could be his political death and cost him the elections,” Khaled Meshaal, exiled leader of Hamas, told a news conference in Cairo.
“Whoever started the war must end it,” Meshaal said, adding that Netanyahu, who faces an election in January, had asked for a truce, an assertion a senior Israeli official described as untrue.
For its part, Israel said that while it was prepared to step up its offensive by sending in troops, it preferred a diplomatic solution that would end Palestinian rocket fire.
Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon has said that “if there is quiet in the south and no rockets and missiles are fired at Israel’s citizens, nor terrorist attacks engineered from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack.”
According to a poll by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, 84 percent of Israelis supported the current Gaza assault, but only 30 percent wanted an invasion, while 19 percent wanted their government to work on securing a truce soon.
Acting as a mediator, Egypt said Monday that a deal for a truce to end the fighting could be close, as Israel bombed dozens of suspected guerrilla sites in the densely populated Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in its campaign to quell militant rocket fire menacing nearly half of Israel’s population.
What Foreign Terrorism?
Kudos again to the FBI.
A Bangladeshi man who allegedly told a government informant that he sought to wage ‘jihad’ was indicted on two charges related to a plot to bomb the New York Federal Reserve in lower Manhattan.
Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, according to the indictment unsealed today in Brooklyn, New York, federal court.
He was arrested in October as part of a sting operation in which government agents helped him plot the would-be attack by supplying him with fake explosives, according to court papers.
Authorities took Nafis into custody after he allegedly attempted to detonate what he believed to be a 1,000-pound bomb at the bank, located at 33 Liberty Street, just a few blocks from the site of the former twin towers at the World Trade Center, which were destroyed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.