Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Drums of war are beating: Hezbollah versus Israel

 

 

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  • Hezbollah’s elite forces have been withdrawn from Syria and redeployed in Southern Lebanon.
  • Israel believes this to be the moment to mount a strike against Hezbollah.
  • Lieberman may provoke a reaction that may send everybody over the edge.

27 May 2016

Original article here: ‪http://alrai.li/vzszy4l @AlraiMediaGroup

Translated by Sufyan Jan (‪@s_jan93) via ‪@O_Rich_

Key terms: Israel, Hezbollah, Lebanon.

 

South Lebanon by – Elijah J.Magnier (On Twitter: @EjmAlrai)

Every time a political solution seems imminent in Syria, and the warring factions adhere to the ceasefire imposed by Russia and the US, the drums of war are heard along Lebanon’s southern border.

Along these borders, preparations for the war are on-going. Hezbollah believes that it is directed against them “given that the region has been set against Hezbollah, having been branded as a terrorist organization by the GCC countries and the majority of western countries”.

Sources on the ground say “ Hezbollah is preparing for the next war with Israel that the latter may impose along the Israeli-Lebanese borders. The present Israeli government is packed with warmongers and its Secretary of Defence Lieberman will rely on the Israeli army to raise the levels of tension and not just along the borders. But he may well provoke a response from Hezbollah that will send the situation over the edge”.

Sources add, “Israel is carefully assessing Hezbollah’s increasing development and experience gained from its participation in the Syrian war. Israeli leaders maybe asking themselves: up to what point shall they allow Hezbollah to expand? Israeli society is one where, confronting the dangers along its borders, war is a primary focus. Right now, this puts Hezbollah in the spotlight”.

According to sources on the ground “Israel believes that Hezbollah is exhausted from the long war in Syria, where a number of its high profile leaders were killed, and where their forces were drained. Moreover, Israel believes its own forces can take adequate and efficient measures (when the war starts) to intercept Hezbollah’s missiles through its Iron Dome and other intercept advanced systems. Israeli soldiers run constant war drills simulating different war scenarios. The objects of these drills are multiple: boosting morale, enhancing military and technological capabilities and prepare the population for a forthcoming war. In addition, regional countries like Saudi Arabia encourage and support strikes against Hezbollah (considered a terrorist organisation by many Gulf countries). Hezbollah’s effective participation in the war in Syria and Iraq is propagandised as a sectarian campaign and its militants are accused of “committing genocide against the Sunnis”. Moreover, Hezbollah is also portrayed as a hegemonic force in Lebanon, confiscating the political and military decisions of the country. This is why Israel is enthusiastic about a war, especially as Prime Minister Netanyahu – accused of cowardice – has not yet waged a war against Hezbollah”.

Sources explain, “ Netanyahu knows that every previous Israeli Prime Minister who has waged war against Hezbollah and subsequently lost, was crucified by the media and by society. Israel knows that throughout its wars (in 1993, 1996 and 2006) it couldn’t kill a single Hezbollah leader at a significant level of leadership. The question is: How could [Israel] win this war? Hezbollah recalled their elite forces from Syria, and have kept in Syria units that are able to hold onto their gains, seeing that a political solution has been forced on all the warring parties”.

Israel’s calculations stem from an assessment of Hezbollah’s material capability, considering that there are only so many forces Hezbollah can deploy in this next war, and that the Israeli military command considers it can deal with any number of militants or military scenarios and come out victorious against Hezbollah. Furthermore the Americans are in need of some military victories in the Middle East that can be invested in the upcoming elections. Obama was able to initiate a multi front war in Iraq (Fallujah), and in Syria (north of Raqqa), without losing military personnel, and to utilize these victories against ISIS for the advantage of his successor in the oval office”.

Sources affirm, “Israel’s calculations are wrong if the decision to initiate a war is taken seriously. Tel Aviv has not considered the devastating force Hezbollah would use in any upcoming war. Moreover, no regional countries have never needed to come to the aid of Hezbollah: on the contrary some supported the Israelis, and lamented that the war ended too soon during the 33 days of war in 2006. Israel is not taking into account the confidence and experience accumulated by Hezbollah in these last few years. Also, Hezbollah has a few tricks up its sleeves that go beyond what Nasrallah has alluded to (striking the Ammonia factories in Haifa). The current arsenal has modern technological features: missiles can be launch from the Beqaa valley, the South Lebanon and the Syrian-Lebanese border which constitutes an area greater than Lebanon itself (10,000 square meter). Hezbollah can strike targets such as the Israeli defense ministry’s HQ and other such sensitive targets, and turn them into rubble: any Israeli unit would become a target. Israel can completely level entire areas but their aerial and naval forces would not be able to manoeuver easily, and Israeli society is not prepared to witness destruction on a level never witnessed in Israel before”.

The sources end: “Nasrallah was serious when he said that the region is heading towards a conflict, and that there would be casualties in the next few months. This is because he has information that tells him Israel is preparing for war, and soon. And because of this Hezbollah is prepared for an armed standoff”.

 

 

Syria…demarcation lines similar to the Lebanese civil war in the 80’s

 

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Written  on 23/5/2016 here:  via @AlraiMediaGroup

Translated by Sufyan Jan ‪@s_jan93 and ‪@O_Rich_

Key terms: Syria, Lebanon, ISIS, ISIL, IS, Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Russia, Iran, U.S., USA.

 

By Elijah J. Magnier: (on Twitter @EjmAlrai )

  • The military solution is over, what remains is scattered internal fighting.
  • The battle against ISIS continues until Deir Ezzour; Russia will participate in it.

 

The U.S. and Russia are trying to freeze the war in Syria to direct the military apparatus against the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda franchise in Syria. According to source within the decision makers in Syria, “Secretary of State John Kerry told his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov the U.S. is aiming to end the war in Syria, that is to freeze the situation on all fronts until a matured political solution can be agreed upon by all actors involved in the war in Syria”.

“ The US advised the Russians to avoid drowning in the Syrian quagmire as was the case for ground forces in Iraq following the 2003 invasion. The regional countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – are ready to continue supplying weapons and finance to rebels endlessly and we (the USA) won’t allow the rebels to be defeated, ensuring that the opposition withstands any assault by the Syrian regime and its allies for a long period. The cease-fire would force everyone to come to the negotiation table and would weaken ISIS and contain its militants within a defined geographic area.”

According to the source “The aim is to create the kind of demarcation lines in Syria, similar to the ones in the Lebanese civil war during the 80s, to be endured for many years to come. Inevitably, there will be the normal sporadic fighting along these lines and the situation may even deteriorate for a while. Nevertheless, the beginning of the end of the war in Syria will be on track. The political solution will have no victors and no losers, but a solution that will neither satisfy nor provoke either side. The Americans will hold back the Syrian opposition regional backers and Russia will use its influence over its allies led by Damascus. Such an agreement is supposed to hold at least until the end of the Obama administration is in office”.

No doubt such an agreement will cause squabbling between allies. For example in Ghouta, over 500 rebel fighters were killed due to fighting between Jaish Al-Islam and Faylaq Al-Rahman that is supported by Jaabhat Al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda in Syria), Ajnad Al-Sham and the Fustat army (without the participation of Ahrar Al-Sham). Ghouta is divided into an eastern and western part where brothers in arms fight each other, similar to what used to happen in Lebanon during the civil war between “Amal” movement and the Palestinians, or between “Amal” and the progressive socialist Druse party, or between the Palestinians and “Al-Murabetoon”. Therefore, the aim is to freeze the fight against Damascus long enough to have rebel factions killing each other. The population is armed and, inevitably, infighting is a natural reaction among the warlords to impose their control over weaker groups.

The new situation in Syria has led the Lebanese Hezbollah to redeploy its forces and withdraw a significant number of militants from the established demarcation lines – and decide not to be part of the U.S-Russia political agreement. The decision was taken at high command level in Lebanon, ordering Hezbollah to return to the main cities since all military offensives had been put on ice. Hezbollah will have a defensive military role, will protect the already controlled cities but will also take part in hit-and-run tactics in “enemy land”. Since Damascus agreed to join the political process for the moment, Hezbollah won’t go against the Russian-American deal.

Nevertheless, two issues persist: ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. As for Al-Nusra, in Syria, regional countries with Syrian proxies on the ground believe that the cease-fire is enough to turn the tide against Nusra if its disengagement with al-Qaeda Central does not happen. The Americans believe that the Syrian society and the various rebel factions will turn against Nusra.

As far as ISIS is concerned, it is probable that Obama won’t be able to defeat it before the end of his mandate, due in seven months, but hoping instead to degrade it and reduce its forces significantly. ISIS is the weakest force in Syria and Damascus is planning to move toward the al-Shaeer filed west of Syria and break the siege around Deir-ezzour. There is no intention of sending the Syrian Army and its allies to Raqqa because the liberation of this northern ISIS city will be a collective effort.

A new phase in the Syrian war has begun were most forces are heading toward de-escalation of the fighting between belligerents (at the exception of al-Qaeda and ISI), leaving the scene clear for the lords of war, though the Syrian people have not said their last word yet.

 

Hezbollah is not willing to engage in further battles if these aim only to improve the position of the Syrian government at the negotiation table in Geneva

A group of Hezbollah fighters take position in Sujoud village in south Lebanon September 13, 2008. Hezbollah reproduced the operation attack on an Israeli occupation position made by Hadi Nasrallah, a Hezbollah fighter and the eldest son of the group's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, to commemorate his death during the operation in September 13, 1997. REUTERS/ Ali Hashisho (LEBANON)

Hezbollah is not willing to engage in further battles if these aim only to improve the position of the Syrian government at the negotiation table in Geneva

. Hezbollah pulled out from all of rural Aleppo, Sahl al-Ghab and has returned to Damascus, Homs, Hama and Daraa

. The United States and Russia have agreed to engage in the peace process and full scale cease-fire in Syria. Damascus and Tehran have accepted to walk along with the US-Russia agreement.

. Hezbollah unwilling to sink in the Syrian mud, has redeployed its forces

. Iran agreed with Hezbollah’s decision of redeployment and has drawn in other forces to fill the void

. Hezbollah will remain in Syria only to defend strategic cities and won’t get involved in side battles

 

 

– Original article published here: ‪http://alrai.li/scqntlh ‪ v @AlraiMediaGroup

 

 

By Elijah J. Magnier: (On Twitter: @EjmAlrai)

After five years of war, Syria is on the path of a long durable cease-fire that doesn’t involve al-Qaeda in Syria (Jabhat al-Nusra) and the “Islamic State” ISIS. The Russian-US cease-fire has forced the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as Iran, to follow.

Hezbollah has begun its re-deployment in Syria, withdrawing a large number of its elite troops from rural Aleppo, and indeed from all areas no longer considered strategic or necessary to fight over. Terrain was re-conquered in Homs, Hama, Quseyr, Talkalakh, Qalamoun, Zabadani, Aleppo and around Damascus.

Hezbollah’s move is a historical step in the chronology of the war in Syria. The intervention of its militants in Syria created turmoil around the Middle East, and it was accused of being behind the prevention of the fall of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2013, when rebel forces were, at that time, in the heart of Damascus.

According to a high level commanding officer in Syria, Hezbollah has decided to re-deploy, to regroup its forces and to return to the main cities of Homs, Hama, Damascus, Daraa and also to the Syrian-Lebanese border.

“Hezbollah didn’t come to Syria to be part of a peace plan, it came to stop the Takfiri (al-Qaeda, Ahrar al-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa, Jaish al-Muhajereen wal Ansar, and ISIS). If peace negotiations carry on and are approved by Damascus, Tehran and Moscow, we have no job to do here: we won’t take part in any future battle that has its objective the improvement of the conditions at the negotiating table in Geneva. Hezbollah won’t pull out of Syria but will reduce the engagement and size of its forces. If Moscow and Washington are willing to fight ISIS and Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah has no more work to do in Syria and will be observing, waiting to see if the situation unfolds as planned and agreed between Moscow and Washington”.

Hezbollah pulled out two weeks before the battle of Khan Tuman, last month, when Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) managed to re-take 3 kilometres south of Aleppo. None of Hezbollah fighters has died since the middle of last month (April) in Syria, following the US – Russian cease-fire and the cessation of most military activity by Russia over Syria. The agreement, largely respected, consists in ceasing all acts of hostility. The south of Syria, around Damascus, is respecting the cease-fire: northern Syria is the exception. The circle will be tighten around Jabhat al-Nusra and its close allies around Aleppo and Idlib if they do not start to show willingness to detach themselves.

According to the US – Russia deal, the Americans promised to turn the tide against Jabhat al-Nusra, in agreement with those Middle Eastern countries who feeding their proxies into Syria with money and weapons. These countries agreed to advise their Syrian proxies to keep their distance from Jabhat al-Nusra and to steer popular opinion against the Mujahedeen. What happen between Nusra and the Division 13, over two months ago, was no coincidence.

On the other hand, the Americans demand that Russia force Assad to respect the cease-fire and that he limits his air bombardment to defensive reactions only. Assad forces will only bomb rebel forces if these are planning an attack and violating the cease-fire with their allies of Jabhat al-Nusra.

But the issue is much more complicated than that. Jabhat al-Nusra has been able to win the hearts and minds of a large part of the Syrian society. Nusra, in fact, does not claim victory on the battlefield: this allows other groups to collect the Al-Nusra’s glory. Al-Nusra did not receive money from any Middle Eastern government directly, thus making it impossible for the surrounding states to impose their will on the Mujahedeen. Nusra collects money from donations, from other al-Qaeda affiliated groups, from ransoms, from administration of the area under its control, and from the spoil of war. This makes its decisions more independent than those of other rebel group.

Nevertheless, the U.S. is counting on its Middle Eastern allies to impose their will over the proxies they do finance, like Jaish al-Islam, whose fighters are engaged in a bloody war against Faylaq al-rahman and Jaish al-Fistat (of which al-Nusra is part off), in Ghouta, around Damascus. Over 500 militants have been killed there during the infighting to-date. What is interesting is that Ahrar al-Sham refused to take part in the infighting in Ghouta and did not fight alongside Nusra, against Saudi financed Jaish al-Islam.

Jordan on the other hand has succeeded in putting pressure on all southern groups maintaining an reasonable cease-fire in the south of Syria. This has meant the real possibility of achieving a lasting cease-fire. It is for this reason that both, the United States (willing to achieve a major step in Syria before President Obama’s end of mandate) and Russia are serious in implementing a general cease-fire in Syria.

According to informed sources in Syria, Iran agreed on a Hezbollah withdrawal from Sahl al-Ghab and around Aleppo when Russia announced a unilateral cease-fire. Russia is keeping forces on the ground with some of its Air Force, ready to re-launch hostilities if ever the deal with the United States falls through. The carrier Admiral Kornitsov  returns to the Middle East during the months of July and August, and has requested Iran to keep its ground forces in place to verify America’s seriousness and commitment in Syria.

It is clear that both Russia and Hezbollah would like to avoid sinking in the Syrian mud. Nevertheless, all forces are aware that, as long as Nusra and ISIS have not been defeated, there is still “a long war to go” in Syria.

Russia equivocates in Syria, Iran is confused and al-Qaeda takes the initiative

 

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Original article published:   via

Key terms: Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Damascus, SAA, IRGC, USA, Al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra.

Elijah J. Magnier : @EjmAlrai

The Damascus and Moscow alliance faced with the cooperation of the Middle Eastern regional countries and the United States in Syria is failing at the moment. Al-Qaeda in al-Sham (Jabhat al-Nusra) although excluded from the Cease-fire, grabbed the initiative on the ground and counter attacked south of Aleppo with many allies: Ahrar al-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa, Jaish al-Sunnah and the Turkestan forces (all not excluded from the Cease-fire) fighting within the ranks of Jaish al-Fateh, the “army of conquest,” which includes more jihadist organizations and others more moderate.

Although the southern Aleppo city of Khan Tuman seized by the “Army of Conquest” in recent days does not exceed a radius of 3 kms including the village of al-Khalidiya, the successful offensive of the Syrian rebels represent an important milestone in the history of the Syrian war for various reasons. It is revealing the vulnerability of Iran, the fine military planning of rebels and their capability to defy their enemies in spite of the presumed presence of Air Force power.

But most important is the fact that countries in the region know how to read the current political-military current dynamic and understand that Russia, at the moment is sinking politically in the mud of American diplomacy and is engaged in the tunnel of diplomacy. At this moment the Kremlin does not see any solid justification for re-engaging in another air force campaign similar to the one carried for six months, prior the cease-fire.

Now that over 97 cities and towns are engaged in the cessation of hostilities (COH), the Russian President Vladimir Putin needs a strong case to return to the Syrian arena in full force. Today, Moscow has placed itself alongside flexible American diplomacy, which in Syria changes according to developments and is unwilling to re-initiate a military campaign that could be considered aggressive to various countries in the Middle East. Such a flexible Russian attitude has angered Tehran and Damascus and their proxy allies, forcing them to alter plans of deployment.

 

During a meeting in Moscow between the Iranian revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) al-Quds commander Qassem Soleimani and President Putin in July 2015, Iran agreed to provide sufficient men to benefit from a full Russian engagement in the sky of Syria to recover the lost geography, reverse the situation (from being on the defensive to mounting an offensive campaign) and regain control of the Latakia rural area. The agreement – said sources in Syria – proposed that Iran, Hezbollah and the Iraqi militia provide sufficient troops to retake Aleppo, Sahel al-Ghab, Idlib, rural Latakia and create a wider perimeter around Damascus, including protection of the road between the capital and Daraa, south Syria. The aim was not to attack the “Islamic State” group, ISIS, on a large offensive scale, but to recover Palmyra and the energy (oil and gas fields). ISIS does not represent a danger to the regime because it has only enemies in the region and worldwide and is much easier to defeat since it does not enjoy the support of Syrian rebels, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan and the U.S.

 

In six months, Damascus troops and allies spread and managed to recover more than 10.000 square kms outside of the main cities that they were confined to prior to the Russian intervention. The sudden Cease-fire unilaterally (from Damascus and its allies’ side) agreed between Russia and the United States was opposed by Iran. The cease-fire has allowed some Russian forces to return home as heroes, but simultaneously has permitted the Syrian rebels to re-take the initiative and attack and recover Tal el-Eiss, the city of el-Eiss, Syriatel strategic hill, al-khalidiya and Khan Tuman, with large number of militants. Damascus allies’ forces, spread over the rural area, find today no reason to stay in a tactical and non-strategic open field without any air or artillery coverage, specially if the large military operation is due to cease. The Syrian Air Force and artillery are already spread too thin over tens of thousands of kilometres, facing the rebel- controlled area on several hot fronts , and is unable to offer the requested fire cover when its allies forces are under attack.

 

Sources in Syria reveal “Moscow has angered its allies in Syria, imposing – what the allies consider to be an inappropriate cease-fire timing considering that rebels were defeated on several fronts and troops were just about to reach the Turkish borders north of Aleppo; were already at the doors of Sahl al-Ghab; and prepared to advance toward Idlib, the heart of Jabhat al-Nusra, not far from breaking the siege of Fua and Kefraya”.

 

Decision makers in Syria say “Moscow gave the time for rebels to regroup and reorganise their offensives. There is no point in fighting and dying in areas we don’t need to hold on to. Before the Russian intervention, we were defending the main cities and no force could have managed to break in. Now we are on several fronts without serious coordination between all forces. It is time to change tactics and reduce military deployment”.

 

“Rebels are expected to attack other points and advance in rural areas in the coming weeks. The serious differences between Moscow and its Damascus allies over various objectives permit rebels to recover more territory. Although Russia is not asking the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, nevertheless, its unilateral deal with the Americans is exposing and endangering all forces spread thin as they are on the front lines. That was not the initial deal agreed between Tehran and Moscow. Russia fell into the diplomatic trap, offering a golden possibility to the Syrian negotiators in Geneva to impose their will when in fact most of these have no real power over the rebels on the ground around Aleppo and Idlib. Russia is unaware that even the unforeseen departure of Assad won’t stop the salafist jihadists continuing the war (like al-Qaeda, Jund al-Aqsa, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Muhajereen wal Ansar, Jaish al-Sunnah and others), said the source.

 

“Countries in the region are prepared to wait seven more months for a new U.S. President who would interact with Assad more aggressively than President Barack Obama. These countries will continue supporting the rebels in the next 7 months, sending money and weapons so they are prepared for another confrontation. The allies of Damascus consider Russia has repeated what the late President of Egypt Anwar al-Sadat did in 1973 when he stopped the war suddenly and gave Israel the opportunity to regroup its forces, returning to regain the initiative and overcome the Egyptian third army, all of which resulted in the Camp David agreement”.

 

It is therefore expected that Hezbollah, a strong and effective ally of Damascus, will modify its deployment plans on the battlefield to mitigate the human losses as long as there is an unclear horizon and that Russian politics in Syria are unclear, say the sources. Six months ago, Damascus and its allies decided to retreat to the main cities and abandon distant and rural areas, difficult to supply logistically and considered less strategic. Today, Hezbollah refuses to engage in all on-going battles when military plans are drawn up but not implemented, even with limited officers. If Russia is willing to hit only ISIS in the East of Syria and refrain from hitting al-Nusra and other jihadists spread in vast area around Aleppo, Hezbollah is not willing to lose more men to keep a status quo. There will be no withdrawal from Syria but redeployment and reduce participation in many forthcoming battles, according to sources on the ground.

A fuzzy future is overwhelming Syria. It seems that the appeasing Russian policy of appeasement with regard to Jahbat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and other jihadists will negatively affect the Syrian army provided that there are no other changes in the Syrian dynamic. The war in Syria is not expected to end soon.

Lone Wolf: Radicalisation and De-Radicalisation, How Internet Changes The Life of Young Europeans

 

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Lone Wolf

Radicalisation and De-Radicalisation: Interview With Finn Abu Muhamad al-Finlandi @AlFinlandi, previously known as Abdullah .

10 May 2016.

Published by AL RAI: http://alrai.li/9gqbrv2 via @AlraiMediaGroup

Key terms: IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, AQ, Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Terrorism, Lone Wolf, Lone Wolves, Syria, Sham.

By Elijah J. Magnier @EjmAlrai

Profile

 

Background information on Abu Muhammad al Finlandi, aka Abdullah.

“[The] broader picture is that radicalisation appears to be caused by various combinations of personal problems, social frustrations and grievances, deprivation and yarning for identity, adventure and youth rebellion, and political grievances related to Europe, the Muslim World, as well as global politics.” (Nesser 2010:91).

Abdullah is a native-born Finn who grew up in an atheist family[1]. At school, he was bullied by his classmates and spent most of his time online[2]. Internet provided him with a relatively secure way to communicate without revealing his real identity. As an adolescent he studied theology but, Abdullah, which means “slave of God” in Arabic, continued as an atheist until age 17. He then became agnostic and started to look into religions[3].

Abdullah was a student in Southern Finland. His parents were not pleased when he converted to Islam, but respected his choice. His unusual behaviour for his western surroundings led to isolation: “I was already unhappy with their un-Islamic behaviour”. In 2011, he decided to travel to Syria to fight with Jabhat al-Nusra[4] (JAN). He was under surveillance by the Finnish Intelligence Service (SUPO), aware of his online involvement, put restrictions on his travel[5].

Because he could not embrace the Jihad in Syria, Abdullah decided to exert Jihad online. When he first appeared on social media, he called himself “Mujaahid4life”. He used a profile picture of a black-scarfed-armed man, with the desert as a background, in military outfit, and his index finger up, a sign used mainly by Sunni Muslims[6].

He became one of the best-known jihadist supporters, with good contacts with Mujahedeen and with activists in Syria, posting breaking news on Twitter, terrorist propaganda, brutal killings, and spending time translating, editing, and spreading terrorist material. In 2014, he switched loyalty to the “Islamic State” terrorist group, ISIS[7]. He carried out his cyber-jihad for almost two years, attracting thousands of Twitter followers.

Today, he is 21, educated, has a degree, a home, a regular income and a Muslim born wife. He speaks Finnish, English and Arabic and is learning the Quran.

A few years after his radicalisation, Abdullah decided to disengage. He challenged ISIS militants and supporters who accused him of treason, of being a spy, and an apostate with a guaranteed place in hell. He is still, to date, standing firm against many re-radicalisation attempts and went all the way to de-radicalising himself, rejecting extremist ideology but maintaining Muslim Salafi ideology as a religious obligation.

 

Assessment

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Abdullah trajectory with regard to his role played, ‘becoming involved’, ‘being involved’, and ‘ending involvement.

In November 2012, in his room, Abdullah[8] was converted to Islam, self-declared the Shahadah[9] and wanted to embark one the full Jihad. In 2014, following the split between ISIS and JAN, Abdullah could not remain neutral and he chose his side[10]. Abdullah was not involved in homeworking, research or distance learning but relied on the Internet to make friends. He was fully dedicated to his cause, embracing, disseminating and cheering daily jihadi propaganda. He maintained regular contacts with fighters in the battlefield. Abdullah wanted to be part of a big organisation that he believed in. He helped propagate ISIS’ message internationally, agreeing with all it was doing. He enjoyed the fame, being interviewed by mainstream media, remaining anonymous, and becoming a news reference for Jihadist online supporters. He considered himself the “ISIS European Ambassador online”. He challenged the United States: ”America is coming (to Syria and Iraq). Let them come. Lions[11] await”. Basically, Abdullah was enjoying the spontaneous emotional response of being part of a social group, and, simultaneously, observing and learning. This led to a tremendous internal struggle and a long process[12].

He then changed and distanced himself, not only by dropping his cause, but also giving up on his jihadist friends who had praised him for his role on social media. Abdullah had to face his main fear: rejection by his social group and loss of its solidarity. To survive that, he needed new perspectives. Abdullah resisted and “found strength by falling back to the roots of Islam”[13], justifying his previous belonging. He has managed to self-modify as indeed he did when he embraced alone a religion, Al-Qaeda and then ISIS. From 2011 to 2015, there were many changes in his life.

Abdullah’s activities represented a low threshold, as argued by Van Laer. He was not at direct risk; therefore he could not be accused of illegal activities online, providing verbal support for acts of terrorism[14], despite his support to any indiscriminate ISIS killing. He safely crossed virtual borders and managed to attract a substantial part of the World media. Although part of the social online community for many years, he has acquired a wide reputation, enjoying “dissociative anonymity, invisibility and minimising the authority”[15]. Fame prevailed and the ISIS adrenaline-effect was sweet. Nevertheless, he was one of the very rare ISIS supporters who refrained from using rude and insulting arguments when putting forward the case he believed in, unlike the vast active majority of ISIS online-supporters around the World.

Abdullah falls in the Peter Nesser’s protégé category[16]. He is intelligent, educated and well mannered. Most people who took up violent speech against ISIS regularly insulted him but he avoided similar replies. Yet he was dragged into the flow of radicalism by mainstream ISIS supporters, melded within the cause adopting the objectives of the terrorist group, and was confident enough to designate himself as ISIS virtual spokesperson: “A time will come when the West is attacked, but for years to come you need you to worry. We (speaking in the name of ISIS) want to focus first on the Middle East and take it. ISIS will reach Gaza (Palestine)”[17].

Now Abdullah has managed to extract himself from the jihadist circle. From posting hundreds of beheading photos, praising ISIS for slaughtering not only “infidels” but all enemies, he switched to rebuffing it and started a new Twitter account under the name of Abu Muhammad al-Finlandi, convinced that “ISIS fighters are nothing but filthy thugs. May Allah destroy and humiliate them”. The awakening was slow but he considers it efficient[18].

Abdullah went through a long religious learning process rethinking his support to ISIS until his “heart was opened to the truth”: then he declared war against ISIS (on social media) “to help others learn from his own experiences”[19] with ISIS.

 

 

Analysis

 

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Discernible trigger events leading towards radicalisation; intervention points that could possibly have reversed the process of radicalisation; which drivers were responsible for Abdullah disengagement and de-radicalisation?

 

The European Commission defines “embracing opinions as violent radicalisation”, but it is argued that the term is misrepresentative because it may not involve actual violence[20]. Yet, support for all acts of extreme violence and terrorist organisations, manifested online, maybe a form of self-declared terrorism. Violent terrorism may not be limited to carrying out physical acts: it may also include psychological acts of violence. Linking “violent radicalisation and terrorism”, only to corporeal effect may be inspiring online virtual jihadists.

Abdullah developed an interest in Al-Qaeda through “Inspire”, the online magazine; it made sense to him at that time. He carried out psychological online acts of violence. However, he was not a rooted Salafi extremist but was influenced by his entourage and aspired to participate. Social media interaction played an essential role in transforming his life and it radicalised him. The interaction with a particularly influential group of “keyboard jihadists” was stimulating. When he de-radicalised he struggled with his “old friends” who had provided him with support, a sense of security and belonging[21]. He was harshly attacked, accused of treason, told that he will face hell, and that he is abandoning pure Islam. Abdullah took a firm position and was obviously determined to come out of his unhealthy circle. Keeping a certain sectarian rhetoric in the early stages of disengagement was an undeniable defence mechanism, but he dropped it as time went by.

Although interest from his previous friends and media plunged, Abdullah found a more moderate platform. He promotes “the truth, even if he feels alone”. He was running his self-deradicalisation programme.

“There is not enough reliable data to reach definitive conclusions about the short-term, let alone the long-term, effectiveness of most existing deradicalisation programs[22]”. It may be difficult to take seriously hearing about a deradicalisation programme in Saudi Arabia[23] when hate speech is taught at elementary school, offering the same ideology adopted by Al-Qaeda and ISIS [24]. Moreover, it is not surprising that 20 percent of the Guantanamo Bay ex-detainees[25] released have joined Al-Qaeda[26]. Nonetheless, the real battle against Salafist extremists is no longer limited to any other country where al-Qaeda or ISIS is established. It is also today in Helsinki and in all other European capitals where jihadi Salafism is feeding minds, creating conflicts of identity and convincing many to join Jihad in the battlefield or, like Abdullah, in the bedroom. The borderless transnational Internet is offering, for those who cannot physically carry weapons and fight for “Allah”, a powerful platform for contributing to Jihad propaganda and recruitment, to serve terrorist organisations[27].

Jihadist propaganda material can easily fool those newly converted to Islam and also born Muslims with limited or no knowledge[28] of the contestable[29] aspects of Islamic theology. Indeed, Muslim scholars need many years of study to interpret their sharia laws from the Quran and the Hadith[30]. Jihadi groups justify brutal actions by using Islamic texts and quotes omitting essential consideration for the circumstances in which these were initially formulated over 1400 year ago. Members of terrorist organisations memorise the Quran, use key attractive words like Ummah (United Islamic Nation), Tawheed (monotheism), sectarian attributes like Takfir (apostate) or Ahl al-Sunnah (the righteous path followers), excluding other Muslims practice, claiming that they are fighting on behalf of all Muslims to establish an Islamic Caliphate. However, many scholars argue that greatest Jihad may be understood differently: the Jihad al-Nafs[31].

ISIS scholars cherry-picking from the text aim to impose the Jihad as an obligation for all Muslims calling it Fard A’yn[32]. ISIS and JAN’s interpretation runs as far as supporting the killing of other Muslims[33], making it impossible for young enthusiastic Muslims to distinguish what is religiously right or wrong. It is therefore not a question of ideology for the vast majority of young Al-Qaeda and ISIS fighters but an excuse to ride the horse of Jihad. According to Canadian de-radicalised Mubin Shaikh, “Justifying to yourself being radical is in relation to moral sidestepping mechanisms in which people (recruited Jihadists) make excuses and try to self-justify because they know they’re in the wrong and this is where cognitive dissonance is at play[34]”.

When Abdullah said, “ ideology is strongly centred around the sense of brotherhood and belonging, it’s essentially a utopia”, he was confirming that joining terrorist groups was not based primarily on religious ideology. He suggests that the best way to keep youngsters away from radicalisation is to “talk to them”. He believes government counter-terrorism efforts alienate Muslim communities and create hostility to any sort of anti-extremism effort. According to Abdullah, a better approach would be to organise community-based efforts. It is important to make youngsters feel they are part of something greater than themselves, quite separately from terrorist organisations[35].

Moreover, support for the families of young Jihadists[36] must be envisaged, in particular for those who did manage to join ISIS and who died on the battlefield. These families represent a powerful counter-force to ISIS propaganda when they can share their experience, however painful and difficult. Diffusing this level of information constitutes a influential element for increasing awareness of the danger of self-radicalisation, together with its wider effects.

 

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Abdullah is a nom de guerre. The subject in question chooses not to reveal his real identity. All quotes by/related to Abdullah, aka Abu Muhammad al-Finlandi, are the result of an interview with the author for he purpose of this essay. Abdullah and the author exchanged, since several years, communication over ISIS and the on-going war in Syria and Iraq (as on off example, see http://www.theguardian.com/world/middle-east-live/live/2014/aug/18/iraq-crisis-uk-mission-could-last-for-months-live-updates#block-53f1fb6ae4b038fb92169cad @EjmAlrai with ‪@mujahid4life 18 August 2014) when he was radicalised and later, when de-radicalised (his new social account is ‪@AlFinlandi aka Abu Muhammad al-Finlandi). Abdullah agreed to publish the interview and details of his life, engagement and disengagement from ISIS. Few attempts to interview him in 2014 were not always successful. http://www.breitbart.com/london/2014/08/13/bbc-tries-to-interview-jihadi-about-jumanji/

[2] Williams Sara, The bullied Finnish teenager who became an ISIS social media kingpin – and then got out, Newsweek, June 2015. http://europe.newsweek.com/bullied-finnish-teenager-who-became-isis-social-media-kingpin-then-got-out-328290

[3] Abdullah quote: “I thought that if God exists then He would be one in essence, unlike His creation, would send Messengers and Prophets with clear tests for mankind and would be recognised and followed. All this made Islam very appealing since I noticed it filled all my criteria. I wanted to be filled and did not find anything similar in other religions”.

[4] Profile: Syria’s al-Nusra Front, BBC News, April 2013. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-18048033

[5] Abdullah quotes:“SUPO keeps an eye on me and now I am on their watch-list. For the time being I cannot leave Europe. But, as soon as I can, I shall leave for the Middle East. I hope to get married as soon as possible and then maybe to study abroad”.

[6] To indicate, “there is no God but Allah”.

[7] Thompson Nick et al, ISIS: Everything you need yo know about the rise of the militant group, CNN, February 2015. http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/14/world/isis-everything-you-need-to-know/

[8] Williams Sara, The bullied Finnish teenager who became an ISIS social media kingpin – and then got out, Newsweek, June 2015. http://europe.newsweek.com/bullied-finnish-teenager-who-became-isis-social-media-kingpin-then-got-out-328290

[9] Shahada: The statement of faith, BBC religions, August 2009. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/practices/shahadah.shtml

[10] A quote by Abdullah: “My bay’ah (oath of allegiance) is for the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) and (to) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (ISIS Leader) and my life is for Allah. We have no helper but him”.

[11] A quote by Abdullah, “Lions” is a self-attribute by ISIS describing the courage of its fighters.

[12] Abdullah quote, April 2016: “I saw Al-Qaeda – and later ISIS – as increasingly correct because I saw the scholarly ground they stood upon as being strong. I also had a view that the aspects most opposed by non-Muslims were the most correct. I never condoned suicide bombings but I saw them as a necessary evil to get to the end goal, ISIS Caliphate. Basically I got to a mind-set where I would not question the jihadist narrative at all because I saw all other paths as wrong. I found a sense of belonging with both Al-Qaeda and ISIS. The ideology is strongly centred on a sense of brotherhood and belonging. It’s essentially a utopia”.

[13] Quote from Abdullah to the author.

[14] Van Laer, Jeroen, Val Aelst Peter, Internet and Social Movement Action Repertoires: Opportunities and Limitations, [PDF], September 2010. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13691181003628307?journalCode=rics20

[15] Suler John, CyberPsychology & Behavior, The Online Disinhibition Effect, July 2004, Vol. 7, N.3, pp.321-326.

http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/1094931041291295

[16] Nesser Petter, Joining Jihadi terrorist cells in Europe. Exploring Motivational aspects of recruitment and radicalization, in Ranstorp Mangus (ed): Understanding violent Radicalisaton. Terrorist and Jihadist movement in Europe. London and New York, Routledge, 2010, p.93.

[17] Abdullah quotes to the author.

[18] Abdullah quotes to the author:” It was a long process that started with the ISIS executions of journalists and aid-workers. I could not reconcile the actions of ISIS with Islamic scripture. Then I progressed to looking into anti-ISIS and anti-AQ material. I saw it as being more correct and fitting with the Islamic texts”.

[19] Abdullah quotes to the author.

[20] Reinares Fernando et al, Radicalisation Processes Leading to Acts of Terrorism, A concise report prepared by the European commission’s expert group on violent radicalisation, May 2008, p.5.

http://www.rikcoolsaet.be/files/art_ip_wz/Expert%20Group%20Report%20Violent%20Radicalisation%20FINAL.pdf

[21] Dearden Lizzie, Former ISIS militant who grew up in the UK says coalition bombing campaign will drive more Jihadists to launch attacks, The Independent, April 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/former-isis-militant-harry-sarfo-who-grew-up-in-the-uk-says-coalition-bombing-campaign-will-drive-a6982696.html

[22] Rabasa Angel et al, Deradicalizing Islamist Extremists, RAND, National Security research Division, 2010, page 16. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG1053.pdf

[23] Hubbard Ben, Inside Saudi Arabia’s Re-education Prison for Jihadists, The New York Times, April 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/10/world/middleeast/inside-saudi-arabias-re-education-prison-for-jihadists.html?_r=1

[24] Fattah Hassan, Don’t Be Friends With Christians or Jews, Saudi Texts say, The New York Times, May 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/24/world/24saudi.html

[25] Fenton Jennifer, Freed Guantanamo detainees: Where are they now? Al Jazeera, Jan 2016. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/01/released-guantanamo-bay-detainees-160110094618370.html

[26] Al-Jazeera English, Ex-Guantanamo inmates “fail rehab”, 20 Jun 2010. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2010/06/201062013047249951.html

[27] Corera Gordon, The World most wanted cyber-Jihadist, Younis Tsouli (Irhabi 007), BBC News, Jan 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7191248.stm

[28] Le HuffPost, Un Journliste a infiltré pendant six mois une cellule de Daech en France: “Soldats d’Allah” dans Special investigation sur C+ [Frensh], [Translated comment] “I didn’t see Islam in all this business”, LE HUFFINGTONPOST (associated with Le Monde), 1 Mai 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.fr/2016/04/30/special-investigation-soldats-allah-infiltration-daech-france_n_9813416.html

[29] Bianonie Mohamed, The Islamic Etiquette of disagreement, Presentation at the Islamic Center of Raleigh NC, Columbia, June 1998. http://islam1.org/khutub/Etiquete_of_disagreement.htm

[30] Fatoohi Louay, The Meaning of “Hadith”, Quranic studies, March 2011. http://www.quranicstudies.com/prophet-muhammad/the-meaning-of-hadith/

[31] Sharif Surkheel, Jihad al-Nafs: The Greater Struggle, Jihad and its dimensions, The Jawziyyah Institute, 2006. http://cdn.muslimmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/nafs.pdf

[32] A compulsory duty on every single Muslim to perform, like praying and fasting, defence of the Muslims Lands, The First obligation After Iman, Chap[ter 3, Fard Ayn and Fard Kifaya, RELIGIOSCOPE.

http://www.religioscope.com/info/doc/jihad/azzam_defence_5_chap3.htm

[33] Obeidallah Dean, ISIS’s gruesome Muslim Death Toll, The Daily Beast, October 2014. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/07/isis-s-gruesome-muslim-death-toll.html

[34] Quote from Abdullah to the author.

[35] Hussain Murtza, A Better Way To Keep Kids From Joining ISIS: Talk To Them, The Intercept, April 2016. https://theintercept.com/2016/04/07/a-better-approach-to-countering-violent-extremism/

[36] Maher Shiraz and Neumann Peter, Pain, Confusion, Anger, and Shame: The Stories of Islamic State Families, ICSR King’s College London, April 2016. [PDF] http://icsr.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/ICSR-Report-Pain-Confusion-Anger-and-Shame-The-Stories-of-Islamic-State-Families1.pdf

Bigo Didier et al, Directorate-General for Internal Policies, Policy Department citizens’ right and constitutional affairs, European Parliament, Preventing and Countering Youth Radicalisation in the EU, 2014. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/etudes/join/2014/509977/IPOL-LIBE_ET(2014)509977_EN.pdf

Crenshaw Martha, The psychology of terrorism: An Agenda for the 21st century. Political Psychology, 21(2): 405-420, June 2000.

Diani Mario, & McAdam Doug, Social Movements and Networks: Relational Approaches to Collective Action, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Hamm, M. S. (2012), The Spectacular Few: Prisoner Radicalisation and Terrorism in the Post-9/11 Era. New York: New York University Press.

Horgan John, From profiles to pathways and roots to routes: Perspectives from psychology on radicalization into terrorism. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 2009, 618(1): 80-94 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249666801_From_Profiles_to_Pathways_and_Roots_to_Routes_Perspectives_from_Psychology_on_Radicalization_into_Terrorism

Sebastian Sprenger, “Maj. Gen. Lord Is a Ground breaker,” Federal Computer Week, October 15, 2007, vol. 21, no. 34.

Tahiri Hussein et al, Community and Radicalisation, Victoria University, September 2013. https://www.livingsafetogether.gov.au/informationadvice/Documents/preventing-violent-extremism-and-radicalisation-in-australia.pdf