Rare case of female lone-wolf dissident republican ends in conviction in N. Ireland

Christine ConnorA British court has convicted a lone-wolf female dissident Irish republican, who plotted attacks against police officers after using Facebook to lure two men into joining a fictitious militant organization. Her two male accomplices took their own lives in recent months. The rare case centers on Christine Connor, a 31-year-old resident of Northern Ireland and self-described dissident republican.

The term ‘dissident republican’ refers to secessionist militants who campaign for the union between Northern Ireland —which currently belongs to the United Kingdom— and the Republic of Ireland, which gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1922. In 1998, after a decades-long armed campaign, the majority of Irish republicans surrendered their weapons and accepted the terms of the Good Friday agreement, which outlines a peaceful resolution to the problem of Northern Ireland’s status. But some republican activists rejected the agreement and vowed to continue to use violence to achieve the union of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. These are known as dissident republicans and typically support a number of paramilitary secessionist groups, such as the Continuity Irish Republican Army and the Real Irish Republican Army.

But Christine Connor did not belong to any of these groups. Instead, she used Facebook to create a fictitious dissident republican organization called ‘United Struggle’, and declared war on the Police Service of Northern Ireland. She then created another fictitious social media account using the image of Sanne Alexandra Andersson, a Swedish model and fashion personality. Connor then used her fake online persona to lure two men into joining the militant organization that she claimed to lead. One of them was Stuart Downes, an Englishman from the town of Shrewsbury, near the Welsh-English border. She convinced him to build explosive devices, which the police described as “sophisticated, fully functioning bombs”. In May of 2003, Connor used the devices in an unsuccessful attempt to kill two police officers in north Belfast.

The lone-wolf militant used her fake social media accounts to lure another man, an American called Zachary Gelvinger, into joining ‘United Struggle’. Gelvinger, who sent hundreds of dollars to Connor’s organization, had his home searched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and was arrested in the United Kingdom while attempting to visit Connor in prison, in July of 2013. Downes, the Englishman, was arrested by police in Shrewsbury shortly after making a phone call from a public phone box to claim responsibility on behalf of ‘United Struggle’ for Connor’s failed attempt to kill the police officers in Belfast. Tragically, Downes killed himself in June of 2016. Gelvinger, the American member of ‘United Struggle’, killed himself in May of this year.

Remarkably, neither of the two men had any connection to Northern Ireland or any previous involvement in republican politics in or out of the United Kingdom. Last month, Connor pleaded guilty to a score of offenses, including terrorism. Last Tuesday, she was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 June 2017 | Permalink

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Opinion: Trump’s silence over Tehran attacks exposes US policy conundrums

IranThe security map of the Middle East changed within a few hours on Wednesday, when the Islamic State managed to strike Iran for the first time. Six assailants —five men and a woman— stormed the Islamic Consultative Assembly, which serves as the parliament of Iran, and the mausoleum of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini. By the time they killed themselves, or were killed by security forces, the six had murdered 12 people and injured over 60. The Islamic State, which carried out the attack, had warned for several months that it would launch a direct assault at the heart of the world’s largest Shiite state. It tried to do so before, several times, and failed. But Wednesday’s attack was the first time it managed to do so successfully.

It is certainly ironic that Iran, one of the world’s most prolific sponsors of terrorism, boasts of being one of the most terrorism-free countries in the Middle East. Indeed, Wednesday’s bloody strike was the largest terrorist attack in Tehran’s history after the early years of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It is a remarkable record that many of Iran’s neighbors, such as Iraq or Syria, can only dream of. Moreover, Iran’s claim that its regional rival Saudi Arabia is responsible for Wednesday’s attack is both outlandish and absurd. It is true that militant Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia’s state religion, is at the root of the Islamic State’s doctrine. But the fanatics of the Islamic State direct as much ire against Saudi Arabia as they do against Iran. They accuse the former of being apostates —Muslim traitors who side with infidels— and the latter of being heretics that must be annihilated. Read more of this post

Islamic State faces imminent financial collapse, claims new study

ISIS meetingThe Islamic State is facing imminent financial collapse, according to a new study conducted by a London-based research group in association with one of the world’s leading international accounting firms. The recently launched report is entitled Caliphate in Decline: An Estimate of Islamic State’s Financial Fortunes. The analysis that forms the basis of the report was conducted by scholars at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, a research center that operates out of the Department of War Studies at King’s College in London. The report’s authors were joined by financial analysts at Ernst & Young, a British-based company that is often referred to as one of the world’s ‘big four’ accounting firms.

The report challenges the widely accepted claim that the Islamic State is the wealthiest terrorist organization in history. Its authors argue that the organization’s wealth is connected to its function as “a quasi-state”, with a geographical territory under its control and a subject population that lives in it. Territorial control, say the report’s authors, allows the Islamic State to amass significant revenue from sources like direct and indirect taxation, extraction of natural resources, and confiscation of property from citizens, among others. Even though much of the Islamic State’s financial activity is hidden, the study uses open sources to make the claim that the group’s income in 2014 was close to $2 billion. Last year, however, the overall income amassed from all sources dropped to less than $900 million, an estimated reduction of 45 percent, say the researchers.

The reason for the drop is that the financial revenue model of the Islamic State is directly linked to its territorial control. In comparison to the peak of its power in the spring of 2014, the Islamic State has today lost control of over 60 percent of its territory in Iraq and nearly a third of its territory in neighboring Syria. As coalition forces are beginning to retake Mosul, the Islamic State is facing the potential loss of the caliphate’s commercial capital. These developments will continue to seriously erode the group’s tax base and severely limit its revenue streams. There are no signs, say the researchers, that the Islamic State has been able to devise new forms of revenue streams that are not connected to direct territorial control. However, the authors of the study warn that a potential financial collapse of the Islamic State will not prevent the organization from carrying out terrorist activities in the Middle East and beyond.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 March 2017 | Permalink

German security agencies had watched Berlin market attacker for a year

Berlin Christmas market attackThe central suspect in the Berlin Christmas market attack had been on the radar of German security agencies since January of this year, because he had links with radical Islamists and sought to buy guns for a terrorist attack. Anis Amiri, 23, left his native Tunisia in 2011, soon after the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring there. He lived in Italy for three years before arriving in Germany in July 2015. In April of this year, he applied for an asylum in Germany. According to German authorities, Amiri was arrested multiple times in Tunisia for drug-related offenses. He is also believed to have used at least six different aliases since moving to Europe, and to have claimed to be a citizen of Lebanon and Egypt at different times.

On Wednesday, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung revealed that Amiri’s cell phone and email accounts had been monitored by German security agencies at least since January of this year. The decision to monitor his telecommunications was reportedly taken by officials at Germany’s Center for Terrorism Defense (GTAZ). The agency functions as a fusion center for intelligence cooperation between German police and spy services. The newspaper said that Amiri was deemed suspicious because of his connections with several radical Islamists, who were arrested in Germany in recent months. They include Abu Walaa, a vocal supporter of the Islamic State who was captured in Northern Germany in November. According to anonymous German officials, Amiri had also told friends that he was seeking people to help him purchase weapons and use them to carry out attacks on civilians in Europe.

Last summer, Amiri was involved in a scuffle between rival drug gangs in Berlin, in which at least one knife was used. But he disappeared for several weeks when police tried to question him about it. He was eventually arrested and questioned by police in Berlin. It was discovered that, according to one German official, Amiri “was highly mobile”, moving between Berlin and northern Germany every few weeks. But, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, German authorities did not have enough evidence against him to keep him in detention. Shortly after Amiri’s arrest and subsequent release, German authorities decided to turn down his application for asylum due to security concerns. He was due to be deported from Germany before December 31. The German police is now offering up to €100,000 for Amiri’s capture.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 December 2016 | Permalink

Members of far-right group arrested in Kansas face WMD terrorism charges

Federal arrestsFederal authorities in the United States have charged three men with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction with the intention of blowing up an apartment complex in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in Kansas. The men, Patrick Eugene Stein, Curtis Allen and Gavin Wright, who called themselves ‘the Crusaders’, allegedly wanted to spark a religious war between Christians and Muslims in the United States. They were arrested last week in simultaneous raids conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, after they obtained guns and chemicals for making bombs. According to the US Department of Justice, the terrorism suspects planned to build a device similar to the ammonium nitrate-based bomb used by Timothy McVeigh in 1995 to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Recordings of telephone conversations between members of the ‘Crusaders’ reveal their desire to use the attack to entice militia groups across America to take up arms against the government. They also expressed a desire to “wake people up” and turn Americans against Islam and Muslims. It appears that the three men began planning their attack in early 2016. By early summer, they had selected as their primary target an apartment complex housing many Muslim immigrants from Somalia, located in Garden City, Kansas. According to court documents, the group planned to detonate explosives hidden inside cars parked across from the two main entrances to the apartment building. Knowing that one of the apartments is used as a makeshift mosque by the residents of the complex, the ‘Crusaders’ allegedly planned to detonate the bombs during the traditional Muslim prayer time on a Friday. The goal, according to the indictment, was to kill as many people as possible.

But the FBI had been monitoring the group after receiving a tip-off by a man who said he had attended the ‘Crusaders’ planning meetings and was concerned about their violent intentions. The FBI promptly put together a sting operation, in which FBI agents posing as far-right militants offered to sell the group guns. Soon afterwards, the girlfriend of Curtis Allen, one of the ‘Crusaders’, contacted the authorities saying her boyfriend had physically abused her. She then showed police officers a room in her house where Allen had reportedly stored weapons and chemicals for manufacturing explosives. Realizing that the militant group was close to launching a strike, the FBI decided to move in and arrest its members last week. All of them are currently being held without bail and face life in prison if convicted.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 October 2016 | Permalink

Comment: Far-right militancy just as dangerous as Islamist extremism

Dylann RoofMany in the United States associate terrorism with contemporary versions of militant Islam. The data, however, tells a different story: since 2002, domestic extremists who hold far-right ideologies have struck more often and have killed more people than Islamic-inspired radicals. This blog has argued in the past that American counterterrorism policy creates a security vacuum by over-concentrating on Islamic-inspired radicals and largely ignoring domestic terrorist groups. In an insightful article published earlier this year in Newsweek magazine, Kurt Eichenwald, a 20-year veteran of investigative reporting and author of The Informant, argues that far-right radicalism is a bigger threat to American security than Islamic militancy, including the Islamic State.

Eichenwald cites a report by Duke University’s Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, which was based on surveys from 382 law enforcement groups across the US. The report, published in June of last year, argues that American “law enforcement agencies […] consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence” they face. He also points to increasing incidents of surveillance of Muslim schools, religious and community centers in nearly a dozen states by members of far-right militia groups for what informants describe as “operational purposes”.

American counterterrorism specialists understand that the term “far-right militancy” encompasses thousands of groups of various sizes and capabilities, which are both wildly diverse and constantly evolving, says Eichenwald. Most experts separate the members of these groups into three distinct categories, namely violent racists, anti-federalist (or anti-government) radicals, and religious fundamentalists. These factions, which include dozens of sub-factions, do not usually work together and even have adversarial relations with each other. Violent racists operate as members of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan in mostly rural and semi-urban settings. In urban environments, neo-Nazi and skinhead groups are more prevalent than the KKK. Anti-government radicals join armed militias that espouse various ideologies representing the so-called “sovereign citizens” worldview —namely the belief that federal, state or local laws are tyrannical and do not apply to them. The final category, religious fundamentalists, are members of various Christian identity groups that prioritize the Bible over the US Constitution and support the violent imposition of Christian religious codes on social life.

The list of these groups is growing, says Eichenwald, largely in reaction to economic pressures caused by the deep recession of 2007. The ascendency of Barack Obama to the US presidency has also radicalized the racist-oriented far right, he says, which overlaps to some extent with the militia movement. In 2008 there were 42 organized militia groups operating in the US. Today there are 276, he says, referring to information provided by the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center. There is no doubt that Islamic fundamentalism poses clear dangers to US security. But, as Eichenwald argues, this country has been extremely lucky to have avoided a repeat of the 1995 attack on the Oklahoma Federal Building, which was carried out by a white supremacist guided by militant anti-government ideas. A repeat of such a massacre in recent years has not been due to lack of trying, says Eichenwald, and ignoring the problem will not make it go away.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 October 2016 | Permalink

Flow of foreign fighters to ISIS drops to near zero, intel assessments show

ISIS meetingThe transfer of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State and other Sunni militant groups has been all but eliminated in countries across the world, according to intelligence assessments. In previous years, it has been estimated that nearly as many as 2,000 foreign recruits, both men and women, crossed into Syria each month, mainly from Turkey, with the intention of joining armed Sunni groups. By the end of 2015, it was believed that over 30,000 foreign nationals from close to 90 countries had entered Syria and Iraq to fight for one of the Sunni-inspired opposition groups taking part in the Syrian civil war. Most of these foreign recruits joined the Islamic State, which is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

But current intelligence assessments produced by analysts in the US Intelligence Community suggest that the total inflow of foreign recruits has trickled down to a total of just 50 since the beginning of 2016. Many European countries, notably Belgium and Britain, have not seen any of their nationals leaving for Syria or Iraq this year, while fewer than 10 Americans have done so since January. According to The Washington Post, which last week published a report on the subject, this unprecedented trend is largely attributable to the shrinking territory —and presumably operational strength— of the Islamic State. Some experts note that, like al-Qaeda before it, the Islamic State is now seen as “failing entity” by Sunnis, prompting many aspiring jihadists to not wish to be associated with the group. It has also becoming more difficult for individuals to enter Syria, as Western governments and Turkey have grown progressively vigilant of young men and women seeking to travel to regional warzones. The Islamic State has also lost its control over regions that are adjacent to Turkey’s borders, which discourages Turkish and Syrian smugglers from attempting to transfer people across the notoriously porous border.

But even though the decline is sustainable, and marks “an important milestone” in multinational endeavors to combat the growth of the Islamic State, The Washington Post notes that it also raises critical questions about the future of Western security. Specifically, the paper wonders whether the terrorism threat from the Islamic State is easing, or if it is “morphing into a more dangerous new phase”, in which potential recruits are instructed to attack Western targets and former recruits disperse into conflict-prone areas across the world to spread the jihad there.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 September 2016 | Permalink