Sunday, June 21, 2015

Terror in Charleston

On the Wednesday night of June 17, 2015, two days before Juneteenth, a day when the abolition of slavery in the United States is celebrated, Dylann Roof sat in a historically black church before knowingly and willingly choosing to murder and maim at least nine people.  On that Wednesday night, Dylann Roof took action on thoughts and plans he had harbored for many months beforehand.  On that Wednesday night, Dylann Roof chose to commit an act of terrorism and chose to become a terrorist.

While all terrorism is crime, not all crime is terrorism.  Roof clearly committed the crimes of murder and aggravated assault, but because his crimes were politically motivated they were also acts of terrorism.  This is what separates terrorism from traditional crime; the violence of the act is designed for an audience with the hope that it will incite political change.  In this case, Roof was hoping that his act would incite a new civil war - pinning blacks against whites.  In addition, his target couldn't have been any less hardened.  You really can't get a softer and less prepared target than a bunch of Wednesday-night church regulars; no doubt an unwitting and defenseless civilian target.

It has been mentioned and debated in the media as to whether Roof is mentally ill, and whether or not this played a part in his actions.  He likely is, but it is also of no significance since many criminals demonstrate symptoms of mental illness and it rarely excuses the perpetrator.  Having a mental illness would be more of a debatable factor if there wasn't an available understanding of his motivation; such as in the active shooter mass homicides in Aurora, CO, and Sandy Hook, CT.  Roof's motivation was racism.

Lastly, other than the fact that Roof chose to kill black people in a Christian church, there is no other evidence that he harbored ill-will toward Christians as a whole.  If his motivation was a religious gripe against Christians, he could have carried out his terrorism at a number of churches much closer to his home and that had a more diverse parishioner base.  It has become clear that Dylann Roof wanted to kill blacks - regardless of their religious affiliation - and that his form of terrorism was to be a racial one.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Congressional Confusion: Syria and the AUMF

In the wake of President Obama announcing airstrikes against the Islamic State inside Syria, the U.S. Congress has been in a state of confusion about the legality of the administration's actions.  Some members are  calling the strikes outright illegal, while others seem happy to see Islamic State terrorists targeted regardless of the legality.  U.S. and international media outlets are equally confused, and pressure has been levied on U.S. lawmakers to take action and "do their job."  The strikes are legal under the 2001 AUMF that was first put into use against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and it is very important to understand that legality going forward.

Since the AUMF does not specify any nation, organization, or person, the Obama administration can target any person or group that they can link to al Qaeda or to having supported the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Clearly, they have conclusively linked the Islamic State, Khorasan Group, and al-Nusra Front in this manner.

So where does the Congress go from here?  If  they pass a new law authorizing U.S. air strikes in Syria they risk unnecessarily expanding the scope of U.S. anti-terror military operations.  Importantly, they would be specifying a country - Syria - in a way the U.S. has not done before.  Adding to the 2001 AUMF, by legislating approval for new action specific to Syria, the U.S. would effectively be starting a new war when the old war is still under way and legal.  That being said, the Syrian government does not currently fall under the AUMF and strikes against it would be illegal.  The President would be wise to keep that top of mind as these military operations progress.

Congress might be better off taking this opportunity to reevaluate the 2001 AUMF and passing legislation to limit its scope, rather than explicitly authorizing a new battleground.  Limiting its scope would force the President to be very measured when deciding on which terrorist targets to attack.  However, terrorism thrives in regions where governments have failed, and it should be of no surprise that Syria is a place of its manifestation.  This insidious harmony is likely to continue, so Congress should consider this when deciding on any action to limit the AUMF and the President's ability to act quickly.

And, while the current strikes in Syria are legal under U.S. law, they may not be as clearly legal under international law.  Their international legality should be studied further.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Yemen and the Continued use of the AUMF

It has been in the news recently that the Director of the U.S. CIA, David Petraeus, has asked President Obama to expand the use of armed drones over the Arabian skies of turmoil-ridden Yemen.  Critics, including Yale Law School professor Bruce Ackerman in an article published in the Washington Post on April 20th (, have said that Obama's executive authorization of the expanded (or continued) use of drones in Yemen would be illegal without the statutory consent of the U.S. Congress.  Ackerman finds that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by congress in 2001, authorizing the president to militarily engage any and all of those persons and organizations whom operationally supported or were directly responsible for the attacks of 9/11, does not apply to Yemen and presumably the terrorist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  I, however, tend to disagree with Ackerman's conclusion.

First, nowhere in the AUMF does it specify that military engagement of those responsible for the 9/11 attacks is limited to Afghanistan. Nor does it specify that military engagement is limited to al Qaeda. However unfortunate some may find the wording, the AUMF allows for military engagement against any organization or support-network which the U.S. finds was responsible for 9/11 wherever they may be on Earth. Clearly, this vague terminology played a role in creating a political firestorm regarding the status of terrorists caught within the U.S., but that's an issue for another day.

Secondly, there is the quite obvious fact that AQAP carries the al Qaeda name and banner.  This isn't just a convenient branding, AQAP's leaders have ascribed to al Qaeda proper's agenda and have pledged loyalty to its leader - initially Osama bin Laden and now Ayman al-Zawahiri.  While other jihadist groups have a primarily regional or nationalist terror agenda, AQAP's main focus is the continued use of Yemen as a sanctuary to make certain that the U.S. experiences more and even deadlier 9/11s.  Neither Al-Shabaab, nor Boko Haram, nor even the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban have such a clear and concise anti-American agenda.  To be sure, there is no difference between al Qaeda's agenda prior to 9/11 and AQAP's current agenda.

Lastly, while the AQAP name was not official when 9/11 occurred, there is the history of operational linkages between al Qaeda and Yemen.  Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the al Qaeda operative responsible for the deadly 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, was known to be the link between Al-Shabaab and AQAP before his death in 2011.  In fact, phone records identified a location in Yemen as a key al Qaeda planning and support hub in the successful carrying-out of those bombings.  Furthermore, al Qaeda planned and executed the 2000 suicide-bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, and both suicide-bombers, as well as many of their convicted accomplices, were Yemeni nationals.  It is no wonder that on September 11, 2001, Ali Soufan and other special agents of one of the FBI's top counterterrorism squads at the time, I-49, watched the 9/11 attacks unfold from a television in the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a.

At first glance it may appear to some that AQAP is wholly apart from al Qaeda - or at the most a loosely affiliated iteration - but upon closer inspection one can see that AQAP is al Qaeda and always has been.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Citizenship Revoked: The Assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki

This morning it was reported that the United States government had killed two al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) members, Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, editor of the English-language jihadi magazine Inspire.  The two men were apparently killed by a U.S. airstrike in the volatile mountain region of Yemen, where they had been living for years.  However, this wasn't just another successful targeted killing of al Qaeda terrorists whom plot death and destruction against the West, this was the planned and targeted assassination of two U.S. citizens by their own government.

There is little doubt about the devious intentions and actions of these two individuals.  While both held U.S. citizenship, they railed against the U.S. government and called on Muslims around the world to kill innocent Americans with the same viciousness as the late Osama bin Laden, Awlaki through his sermons and Khan through his magazine.  But it's still unclear whether the two men ever actually took part in the direct operational planning of any terrorist attack.  This, combined with the fact of their U.S. citizenship, has already begun to spark debate in the U.S. and other civilized countries about the legality of these assassinations, if not their necessity.  Keep in mind there should be, and has been, a clear line between inspiring violent action and carrying out violent action.

The outright condemnation of these assassinations is difficult given that media reports have indirectly linked Awlaki to at least two terrorist operations; the Christmas-day underwear bomber and the attempted mailing of explosives to the U.S. through freight  airlines - however there's less evidence for Khan.  Additionally, without access to classified materials on the two men the case for reproach is made even more challenging.  All of that being said, Awlaki nor Khan were ever charged with a crime by any U.S. court prior to their assassinations.  So make no mistake, this was indeed an extrajudicial killing of two American citizens presumably by the U.S. government.

However, terror, murder, assassinations, and extrajudicial killings have been a part of war for some time and will likely continue.  Therefore the question arises, as a nation that values the rule of law and the order that comes with it, where will the U.S. draw the line for future operations, if at all?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Breivik and al Qaeda: Experts in Mass Killings and Xenophobia

The following blog post is my response to an article I read on  You can read the article here: Breivik and al Qaeda

You are correct in suggesting al Qaeda as an inspiration for Breivik, but to say he "deeply admires" them is an overstatement and misleading.  He is inspired by them because, like him, they are on the extreme right-wing of the political spectrum – they just fight for different cultural causes that are indeed at odds with each other.  They are not communists, marxists, or secular-socialists, whom would be on the left; they are fascists, extreme-nationalists, or cultural- supremacists.  Their goals are the same – cultural/ethnic dominance of a region – albeit for divergent groups of people, whom would eventually need to rectify with each other (most likely violently) if either group was to achieve its goals.

Therefore it should come as no surprise that Breivik noted the utility of al Qaeda’s ideology, the success of their tactics, or a potential willingness to work with them to achieve his European goals.  There are plenty of examples throughout history of fascist/extreme-nationalist organizations teaming up with groups they would otherwise find undesirable in order to achieve a tactical advantage.  This does not mean that one right-wing group ever accepted, pretended to accept, or “deeply admired” the ideology of the other group they were working with.  Breivik, like the Nazis in WWII-era Germany, and less like the fanaticism of many Islamic terror outfits, seems to be a pragmatist – willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve his goals.  This is the scariest part.  In his writings he does not appear to be clinically insane, but instead a quite sane and pragmatic idealist.  The perfect killer.

Yes, Breivik seems to have found inspiration in al Qaeda, but that’s only because they are the contemporary example of “best-in-class” right-wing terrorism.  Why wouldn’t he want to get some help in his uphill battle from the guys who are doing it right?  I think they've advertised enough to garner the respect of any terrorist worth his salt, "Al Qaeda: Experts in mass killings and xenophobia."  And don’t willingly overlook that he also mentioned his empathy for “Christian” Serbia’s plight, “All they (the Serbs) wanted was to drive out Islam by deporting the Albanian Muslims back to Albania.”

The point is that Breivik, al Qaeda, the Nazis, the Taliban – are all examples of what is wrong with right-wing extremism particularly and political extremism of any kind generally.  Let’s just hope us pragmatists in the middle can continue to keep our heads on a swivel.  And while it’s likely the scenario would play out the other way around, you better believe that if Breivik came to al Qaeda bearing gifts – nuclear or biologically weapons for example – they would gladly accept his offer of partnership.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Bin Laden: He didn't realize what he was getting into

Two things occured to me yesterday while reading an article on about Osama's killing at the hands of U.S. forces in Pakistan. The first is that bin Laden didn't truly believe the hateful doctrine he was spewing to his followers - at least he didn't believe it to the extent his suicide operatives did. The second is that when bin Laden first decided to confront and declare war against the U.S., he really didn't understand how powerful his new enemy was. He didn't understand the global reach of the U.S. national security apparatus, or envision it being more powerful than his old Soviet enemy (whom he honestly believed he defeated with his Afghan mujahideen holy warriors).

In the article, dated May 5, 2011, it is revealed that the Navy SEALs were trained to expect bin Laden to possibly have a suicide vest on and ready to detonate. This is not a surprise given that bin Laden has sent numerous members of his organization, and others, to their deaths in this "holier than thou" manner. But he didn't have a suicide vest on. He wasn't ready to blow himself and his pursuers to pieces in the name of Allah. It appears he was ready to do the exact opposite. It's been widely reported that bin Laden had 500 euros and two phone numbers sewn into his robe when he was killed. Osama bin Laden was ready to run.

Why was this so? Simply put, he was a coward who didn't truly believe in his own vitriolic preachings. If he had, there is no doubt he would have made sure to take as many American agents with him on his way to the after-life. Imagine the benefit to al Qaeda's movement had bin Laden decided to make his final moment a symbolic suicide attack against U.S. forces? He would have been praised by his followers for decades or centuries as a martyr to the likes of Jesus Christ. This would have been devastating for anti-jihadist terrorism operations. Suicide attacks against U.S. and allied forces would most likely increase exponentially for years to come. However, he didn't plan to, nor did he, sacrifice himself for the sake of his unholy cause. He planned to survive. He planned to run and hide like a coward, while he continued sending young Muslim men and women to their deaths on his behalf. We should all be thankful that bin Laden himself exposed his al Qaeda movement for the baseless fraud it really is.

Regarding the second point...bin Laden's public disdain for the U.S. began in 1990, when the Saudi Arabian monarchy allowed U.S. troops on their soil to defend against a potential Iraqi assault. Bin Laden was insulted by the fact that the Saudi monarchy denied his request to allow him and his mujahideen holy warriors to defend against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, but then allowed an "infidel" U.S. military - with women among their ranks - to have the job. After defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan - the greatest military force in the world in his view - why shouldn't he have been tasked with defending the holiest country in all of Islam? This was not to be, and bin Laden turned his ire toward the United States, a foe he believed much less powerful than his old communist enemy. Over twenty years later, after fleeing and witnessing the horror he'd brought down upon his colleagues in Tora Bora, while holed-up in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, how wrong he'd turned out to be.
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