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THE TRAGEDY OF SYRIA

 

CHAPTER 41 – The Glamourous Life of an Author

Amongst the many reasons why the ISIS crisis became so confusing, the tragedy of Syria ranks high on the list. At this moment, the ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia continues and if all of the opposing groups respect the agreement, the break will allow aid groups to assist the people caught in the middle of the fighting.

Since March 2011, rebels have been fighting the government of President Bashar Al-Assad, and Al-Assad has been fighting back. In the same year, U.S. President Barack Obama made no secret of his desire to see Al-Assad leave the Presidential office, but then quietly backed off his determination when the ISIS crisis broke.

Russia at first paid little attention since its primary focus was the Ukraine crisis but then President Vladimir Putin seemingly became worried about the loss of military sales and access to the Mediterranean provided by Syria and decided to intervene. Russia and Iran back Al-Assad while the United States backs some of the rebels attempting to remove him from office.

The rebels fighting Al-Assad have limited faith in the ceasefire but endorsed the flow of humanitarian aid while expressing their doubts.

One perhaps unintended result is that Al-Assad’s position has improved, thanks to that support from Russia and Iran and he has vowed to restore Syria to its pre-war territory, perhaps an unlikely goal. Russia wants to exert its political muscle in the region and the United States wants or more united effort against ISIS.

The rebels say the deal benefits Assad, whose military position has improved since the last truce brokered by Washington and Moscow collapsed earlier this year although no one seems to have gotten ISIS’s agreement to the ceasefire.

Can the bloodletting stop here? It’s going to be difficult. Beginning in March 2011, long before most of us had heard of ISIS, and up to the present, the hostilities in Syria have cost 296,097 lives with millions left homeless.

Following nearly two years of research, Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate is being released this month. It goes behind the news about ISIS and examines what might lie ahead.

ISIS: PRANKS, RUSES AND THE COST OF TERRORISM

 

ISIS Cover Final 2,pdf-page-001

By Al Emid Author Journalist Broadcaster
Chapter 40
The Glamorous Life of an Author

During this past weekend when much network attention focused on the record snowfalls in the United States, at least one incident illustrated both the severity of the terrorist threats and the severity of hoaxes and ruses. Even when something looks like a prank or ruse, authorities know that they have to treat it seriously.

Not surprisingly, Turkish Airlines has suffered several hoaxes in recent months. Most recently, a flight from Houston, Texas, diverted to Shannon, Ireland, on Sunday when a piece of paper with just the word ‘bomb’ written on it was found in the toilet, according to a Reuters report.

Airline staff and investigators found no explosive devices on board and the airplane flew on to Istanbul. At time of writing the Irish police have started an investigation.

According to Reuters, Turkish Airlines has been targeted with a series of hoax bomb warnings over the last year. Last November one of its airplanes diverted to Halifax while en route to Istanbul after a phony bomb threat.

The weekend hoax renews two questions, both of them serious.

How many such incidents are the work of pranksters of limited conscience and mental acuity who delight in seeing their work cause problems, costs and anguish and splashed across the headlines? I am reminded of the report in January 2015 in the Orange County Register. A hacker group identifying itself as Team System DZ hacked the site of a local non-profit group called Giving Children Hope whose mandate involved shipping food and medicines to children in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. At the time of the hacking it erected its own screen proclaiming ‘i Love ISIS’, including the faulty typography.

It appears doubtful that ISIS would bother hacking the web site of a non-threatening charitable organization in a small town in California.

One has to wonder about the mental balance of individuals who would invoke the name of ISIS as part of a prank.

Alternatively, is this another ruse, to check vigilance and reaction of authorities?

We may never know the answers to these two questions but we do know that these incidents increase both the emotional and financial cost of terrorism and when they involve airlines cause many to reconsider travel plans.

Following almost a year of research, Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate and set for release by Quidne Press in Spring goes behind the news about ISIS and examines what might lie ahead.

ISIS: THE BIG PICTURE TO DATE THIS YEAR

By Al Emid Author Journalist Broadcaster
Chapter 39
The Glamorous Life of an Author

Those who have sat — with greater or lesser degrees of attention — in university lectures on history –and confirmed history buffs — know that a historical event can have several perspectives. The simplest of these focuses on the facts: What happened? When did it happen? 

However, an examination of the bigger picture will often bring conclusions that go a long way to explaining why the event happened and what may come next.

The ISIS crisis has no shortage of examples. Last October, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to begin airstrikes in Syria appeared rooted in the current situation but the path to that decision actually started several decades earlier. Syrian President Bashir al Assad styled the move as a kind of international gesture of friendship but in fact intelligence specialists to whom I spoke argue that Putin had several big picture goals including Russia’s markets, its access to the Syrian port and staking a claim to getting back onto the world stage from which Russia had been largely excluded as a result of sanctions due to the Ukraine crisis.

The same principle applies to the tragedies that have already taken place in the Middle East in recent weeks and we have only seen two weeks of the New Year.

Last Friday night, gunmen stormed the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, an African country which until then had certainly had coups and counter-coups but little outright jihadist terrorist activity.

At time of writing, reports say that the attack left 28 dead, including six Canadians and an American as well as 56 or more injured. The Al Qaeda affiliate in the region – sometimes known as Al Qaeda in the Maghreb — claimed responsibility for the attack. The group posted a statement designating the attack at revenge on France and the ‘disbelieving West’. As is often the case with the targets of the terrorist attackers, the hotel and café are popular with Western visitors.

The Burkina Faso attack followed several other assaults.

On January 07, a suicide bomber in Libya drove a truck into a police college in Zliten killing at least 46 and wounding at last 200 people.

Last Tuesday, a suicide bomber linked to ISIS killed 10 people and injured at least 15 others in a blast in Istanbul seen as targeting German tourists.

On Thursday, a deadly attack in Jakarta Indonesia left at least seven dead (including five attackers) and at least 24 wounded. ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack as well – marking its first known assault in Southeast Asia. Indonesia has a history of homegrown terrorist incidents often aimed at police authorities.

Last Monday the suicide bombings in Baghdad resumed when an attack on a shopping mall left at least 17 dead and 40 people injured.

And as I write this article on Sunday, reports have come in saying that three American contractors working in Iraq have been declared missing by their company. At time of writing, authorities have not suggested whether ISIS, a Shiite militia or other non-state actor carried out the kidnapping, likely aimed at garnering a large ransom. The fact that it occurred in Baghdad at least points to ISIS.

Several conclusions seem reasonable in the big picture.

Notwithstanding some of its recent losses, ISIS remains as aggressive as it has ever been and has now added Indonesia to its list of war theaters. Moreover, the Indonesia attack represents its first known operation in that country.

Meanwhile in Africa, Al Qaeda’s assault in Burkina Faso suggests a re-start of the ongoing competition between ISIS and Al Qaeda, its former parent with whom it split a little less than two years ago. As well as its many Middle East war theaters ISIS had already exerted influence in Africa, much of it through the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram, which has very publicly and very strongly pledged allegiance and uses ISIS’s methods as a template for its own strategies.

Al Qaeda in the Maghreb had regrouped with some of its allies in December. Put simply, Al Qaeda and its allies and ISIS and its allies are choosing up sides in Africa.

The stakes in the competition are huge: the favor of patrons, the right to claim supremacy in the jihadist movement, domination of the world stage and attraction of recruits.

At least two of the attacks – in Zliten and Jakarta — could be viewed as attempts to intimidate police forces. And most of the attacks occurred in tourist areas, with irreparable harm to the local and national economies. Moreover, the Libya attack has the hallmark ISIS strategy of attacking countries with weak governments. Libya in fact has two competing governments, each one claiming national legitimacy.

Following almost a year of research, Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate and set for release by Quidne Press in Spring goes behind the news about ISIS and examines what might lie ahead.

ISIS: ONE OF THE MAJOR MENA GEOPOLITICAL RISKS FOR 2016

ISIS Cover Final 2,pdf-page-001

By Al Emid Author Journalist Broadcaster
Chapter 37
The Glamourous Life of an Author

The outlook for terrorism in the Middle East and more specifically the outlook for the ISIS crisis will not bring much New Year’s optimism to those who hopefully predict the end of ISIS and the Islamic State. The jihadist group has suffered some losses but it has also stretched its influence into several countries and reportedly has allies even in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

A report released yesterday by London England-based risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft says that 2016 will bring ‘…. little respite from the political instability, civil unrest, economic volatility, security crises and geopolitical rivalries that defined the last 12 months, and that the global turbulence of 2015 looks set to continue.’

The report surveys risks and crises around the world but in the region often termed the MENA – the Middle East and North Africa — it highlights the rising tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia and the international threat posed by ISIS as the foremost geopolitical risks for 2016.

At time of writing, Saudi Arabia and Iran have become locked in a battle of words, protests and diplomatic gun slinging, ostensibly resulting from Saudi Arabia s execution on January 02 of a Shi’ite cleric who had called for the overthrow of the ruling Saudi family. It can be reasonably suggested that Saudi Arabia authorities did not contemplate the full implications of the execution or might have reconsidered the decision.

In Tehran, demonstrators torched the Saudi embassy and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, invoked the wrath of Allah by declaring ‘God’s hand of retaliation will grip the neck of Saudi leaders.”

The day after the execution, Saudi Arabia had cut off diplomatic relations with Iran and several of the kingdom’s allies followed suit.

In the larger historic picture, the two countries have long fought a geopolitical war of rival religious beliefs, proxies and political alliances. It heated up in July when the United States and five other nations agreed to lift international sanctions in return for Iran’s agreement to limit its nuclear program. The deal also provides that Iran will have access to the global financial system, can retrieve an estimated US$ 100 billion in frozen assets and can ramp up its oil exports.

The stakes in this Islamic Cold War are many: regional supremacy and the right to claim leadership of Islam. Moreover, achieving peace in Syria and Yemen appears unlikely without some rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia and that apperas unlkely in the short-to-medum term.

That Cold War is certainly serious but not surprisingly, the Verisk Maplecroft report points to the Islamic State as the chief security risk in the MENA. Excluding Iraq and Syria ISIS killed 1269 people in 2015.

Though it has lost territory recently the Islamic State’s reach will continue to extend across the region, according to the report. ISIS has established allegiances with groups in northern Sinai and Libya, the latter reflecting its modus operandi of tackling countries with weak central governments. The MO had certainly worked in Syria and Iraq and at least partially accounted for their early sweep of victories. Libya’s government is not just weak but split:  it has actually had two competing ‘governments’ since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Although various nations have committed in various ways to military actions against ISIS, a strategy that would lead to the defeat of ISIS appears elusive in the assessment of the report’s authors.

And notwithstanding efforts to staunch ISIS’s income sources the report estimates that the Islamic State grossed up to US$ 600 million from taxation, extortion and confiscations in 2015, a total that it says underscores the limitations of the coalition’s heavy reliance on airstrikes.

Following almost a year of research, Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate and set for release by Quidne Press in Spring goes behind the news about ISIS and examines what might lie ahead.

ISIS – THE RUSSIAN PLANE AND THE CONFUSION

ISIS Cover Final 2,pdf-page-001

By Al Emid Author Journalist Broadcaster
Chapter 35
The Glamourous Life of an Author

The recent downing of a Russian warplane by Turkish jets serves as a reminder of the complexity of the various conflicts currently underway in Syria: a civil war, two conventional wars and some more local skirmishes. Both Russia and Turkey say that Turkish F-16s shot down the Russian SU-24, an all-weather attack aircraft, in the Turkey-Syria border area on November 24.

Part of the complexity flows from the incredible number of opposing forces and conflicts and so in this post I will list many of them.

While many hesitated to use the phrase at the time, the Syrian civil war actually started in 2011 when rebel forces took up arms against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a reaction to his crimes. According to some analyses, up to 1000 separate rebel groups opposed Assad at one time but later many of the groups merged.

Later, both ISIS and to a lesser extent Al-Qaeda have challenged the Syrian government after the civil war started.

The so-called ‘moderate rebels’ – in the way that observers often use the phrase – applies to those rebels fighting Assad or ISIS or both.

In August 2011, American President Barack Obama had openly called for Assad’s ouster, but hostilities in Syria have certainly given him a reprieve of indeterminate length. At this time, Assad shows no signs of leaving the scene and the United States and Russia disagree both on the future of Syria and the fate of Assad. Indeed, his fate appears to be one of the biggest choking points preventing a true alliance between the American-led anti-ISIS coalition and Russia.

Russia needs Assad to stay in the Presidential palace because it needs Syria for strategic reasons and could lose them in the event of a radical change in government, as would likely follow a forced departure by Assad. It also stands to leverage its participation as a way out of the isolation that followed the Ukraine adventure.

Moreover, Russia also fears jihadists from within its own territory who have become trained and radicalized by ISIS and might return home to cause trouble there.

Iran supports Syria and Assad and his government and to an extent opposes ISIS. However, Saudi Arabia opposes Assad and is nervous of Iran’s looming ascendancy in the region as a result of the recent nuclear treaty.

Saudi Arabia supports Syrian rebels while Iran supports Hezbollah fighters attempting to strengthen Assad’s very tenuous grip on power. Saudi Arabia categorically opposes any Russian effort to keep Assad in power and plans to boost aid to Syrian rebels if Assad does not soon head for the door and that appears an unlikely development at time of writing. It has participated in air strikes with the American-led coalition but currently has a greater concern about the mess in Yemen.

Britain opposes Assad, ISIS and Al Qaeda and backs moderate rebel groups and British Prime Minister David Cameron hopes to overcome Parliamentary opposition to increased involvement in Syria. As a part of the fallout from the Paris tragedies he stands likely to get that support next week.

France also backs moderate rebel forces and opposes both Assad and ISIS and has increased its bombing of ISIS targets as a result of the Paris tragedies

Qatar finances and equips anti-Assad groups and allows the coalition air forces to use its bases.

Turkey participates in the U.S.-led coalition, opposes ISIS and backs rebel forces in Syria. It allows the coalition to use its air bases and has permitted supply routes across its territory. It opposes and is opposed by some Kurdish factions who can be expected to demand autonomy when the time comes to work out a peace settlement.

The Turkmen who killed one of the two Russian pilots who ejected from the airplane (the other one escaped) are rebels from Syria’s ethnic Turkmen community, whose villages Turkey said had been bombed by Russian aircraft in recent weeks. Not surprisingly, the Turkmen opened fire at the crew as they tried to parachute to safety from the doomed warplane. Turkey has hotly and repeatedly protested Russia’s bombing of the Turkmen villages in Syria and complained that the Russian operations have complicated the possibility of creating a safe zone in northern Syria to protect civilians, as well as moderate rebels fighting Assad.

The killing of the Russian pilot by the Turkmen appears an act of revenge for Russia’s bombing of their territory.

Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan have little in common except for acceptance of refugees and a fear of the total number of them.

The complexity of these overlapping hostilities suggests that real true peace will be a long time in coming and that whenever the warring parties manage to find some accommodation, the peace time negotiations will be equally as complex as the sorting out the various forces in wartime.

Following almost a year of research, Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate and set for release by Quidne Press in early 2016 goes behind the news about ISIS and examines what might lie ahead. He has begun developing a follow-up book tentatively set for release later in 2016.

ISIS: THE AFRICAN CONNECTION

ISIS Cover Final 2,pdf-page-001

 

By Al Emid Author Journalist Broadcaster
Chapter 34
The Glamourous Life of an Author

Four people died in northern Cameroon on Saturday in a suicide bomb assault by militants suspected of belonging to Boko Haram, a Nigeria-based terrorist group. As well, three female attackers and one man blew themselves up in the attack, security officials said.

That followed the attack and siege at the Radisson Hotel in Bamako, Mali which cost 20 or more lives and for which an Al Qaeda-linked group claimed responsibility. The group, known as Al-Mourabitoun said that it was behind the siege and that it was done in cooperation with al Qaeda in the Maghreb according to reports by NBC and other news operations. At time of writing Mali remains in a state of emergency and the hunt continues for several of the assailants. Also at time of writing, ISIS has no apparent connection to this attack.

Whether by coincidence or by design, this attack marks a change in the approach of terrorists in Mali. According to the Global Terrorism Database, between 1990 and 2014, Mali had 199 terrorist attacks resulting in the deaths of 725 people including 178 apparent assailants. Additionally, in the first six months of 2015, the country suffered 77 terrorist attacks with 154 deaths, including 48 assailants.

However, until the attack on the hotel this Saturday, assailants rarely targeted business but often focussed on military and diplomatic targets. With one exception, the Saturday attack marked its first assault on a business target.

By comparison, the Cameroon operation bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram, according to African correspondent Samuel Okocha. The use of female suicide bombers suggests Boko Haram, and the attack on vulnerable and defenseless individuals also suggests the modus operandi of Boko Haram, Okocha reports. Boko Haram makes no secret of its admiration for ISIS, has pledged allegiance to it and uses ISIS’s methods as a template for its own attacks.

These attacks appear to provide a distraction from its losses. Boko Haram has been losing claimed territories to the Nigerian military, but that has not stopped its hit and run attacks, showing the group can still wreak havoc. The attack in Cameroon shows it still can also launch cross border attacks, Okocha explains.

The Cameroon attack appears to indicate a solidarity with ISIS. Since Boko Haram already sees ISIS as an ally of sorts, the recent Cameroon attack might amount to a show its strength as an affiliate in the region. This makes Boko Haram an asset to ISIS in its campaign to spread its influence.

Meanwhile, Brussels remains on curfew, following recent raids there and police remain on high alert in both Brussels and in Paris following the tragedies there last week.

The closeness of the Mali and Cameroon attacks to the Paris tragedy suggests – but does not conclusively prove — the possibility of co-ordination between terrorist groups. ISIS and the core Al Qaeda have a mutual hatred of each other, rooted in their bitter break-up last year. Still, the kind of planning and groundwork necessary for the Mali and Cameroon attacks at least leaves open the possibility of some co-ordination. What seems clear is that ISIS, directly and through its affiliates, has expanded its plans well outside Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile, even if no further attacks occur, the cost to date has become enormous as Paris, Brussels, Washington, New York and other major centers remain tense and Paris has begun trying to heal. Even Dearborn Michigan with its Muslim population subjected to online threats remains on edge.

Amongst the men and women currently vying to move into the White House in January 2017, Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has made one of the least vague, most specific proposals for defeating ISIS over time. Speaking at the Council of Foreign Relations on Thursday, she said that only an overwhelming push by its fellow Sunnis could remove ISIS, a pointed proposal, since ISIS largely consists of disaffected Sunnis and suggesting that they overthrow ISIS seems a difficult proposition.

That seems unlikely as long as Bashar al Assad and his regime remain in power in Syria since some of those disaffected Sunnis regard ISIS as something of a shield against Assad and his murderous regime.

Following almost a year of research, Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate and set for release by Quidne Press in early 2016 goes behind the news about ISIS and examines what might lie ahead. He has begun developing a follow-up book tentatively set for release later in 2016.

ISIS: MORE QUESTIONS FROM PARIS

ISIS Cover Final 2,pdf-page-001

By Al Emid Author Journalist Broadcaster
Chapter 33
The Glamourous Life of an Author

Literally around the world, mourners have set up memorials with flowers, votive lights, French flags and other items to express their grief over the tragedies in Paris. Strangers who would normally walk past each other talk as they deposit their tributes in city squares. Towers and buildings have been swathed in red, white and blue — the national colors of France.

Following the Paris massacre last Friday that left approximately 130 dead and over 350 injured these people come to pay their respects and to honor the victims. The massacre has had such a deep impact that individuals who otherwise would not give France much thought now crave updates about the massacre and the hunt for the terrorists who perpetrated it.

Still, long after the cleaners have cleared away the flowers and votive lights, we will have to grapple with some very difficult questions with anti-terrorism strategy at the top of the list. Early Friday, before the Paris attacks, President Barack Obama had insisted during an ABC interview taped on Thursday, that the United States and its allies had contained ISIS. Hours later the terrorists wreaked havoc across Paris and then most of them blew themselves up with suicide vests provided by their handlers.

What do these tragedies say about the effectiveness of the drive against ISIS to date? Obama has long said that the United States would work with coalition partners to ‘degrade and destroy’ ISIS and espoused a doctrine that he has called ‘strategic patience’. At a press conference in Antalya Turkey on Monday he insisted that his plan, comprising air strikes and local forces, was working and would produce results over time. However, one can reasonably argue that the three terrorism tragedies – Paris and before it Beirut Lebanon and Sharm el-Sheikh Egypt call into question the effectiveness of the strategy. That leaves open the question of whether a wholesale change in strategy would produce better results. If so, what strategy would work – or at least appear more promising? Can Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry cobble together an agreement with the other members of the anti-ISIS coalition?

How confident can we be that on this side of the Atlantic we will only have to deal with ‘lone wolves’ and ISIS recruits taken in by social media? How safe is North America? On Monday ISIS released a video claiming that it would attack Washington and police and security forces predictably ramped up precautionary measures. How much of its threats can ISIS actually carry out and how much is propaganda and posturing, designed to frighten us in the West?

We know for certain that security will stay high at ‘hard’ targets such as airports but to what extent can even the most diligent authorities prevent problems with so-called ‘soft targets’ – public places such as the stadium, concert hall and restaurant in the Paris massacre?

And what of the near-impossibility – proven again by the Paris attacks – of keeping all suspects under surveillance 24 hours a day? Even the level of intelligence gathering has become something of an issue as Republican Presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida criticized fellow candidates Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen Rand Paul of Kentucky for voting to weaken American intelligence programs. Speaking at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council Annual Meeting on Monday he suggested that weakening intelligence-gathering capabilities would leave the U. S. vulnerable.

Are we – or at least are some North American politicians – headed into a fortress mentality with immigration policies? Sen. Cruz, as quoted in the Washington Post and other publications said the country could continue to provide a ‘safe haven’ for Christians but not ‘refugees that may have been infiltrated by ISIS.’ Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has called for sealing off American borders.

Is this going to be the flavor of political discourse in the near future?
How much of the rhetoric surrounding ISIS in the United States is purely political, when set against the current contests for the presidential nomination? As quoted in the Palm Beach Post Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson told reporters in Florida on Sunday that “we have to recognize that the global jihadist movement is an existential threat.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina said on Fox News Sunday fifteen months ago that ISIS posed “an existential threat”.
There are three questions here: whether ISIS is a genuine threat in North America, if so how much of a threat and whether the threat is being used as a convenient political issue.

In the more global political arena, will Russian President Vladimir Putin use the fact that the United States, its coalition partners, Russia and NATO (which he despises) have a common enemy as leverage to escape the isolation that followed the Ukraine adventure?

Are social policies including treatment of refugees going to suffer any further than they have already? At time of writing over half of American state governors have criticized Obama’s refugee policy and plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees next year. They have indicated that they do not want Syrian refugees in their states. (But we should note that the loudest critics of Obama’s policies are Republican governors.) They cite the possibility (as ISIS has threatened) of infiltration of refugee groups by racial jihadists.

And what of future crises? The Paris tragedies were carried out by well-organized and well-armed teams. Do they point to sleeper cells in Paris and elsewhere in France? Are there sleeper cells in other countries? If so, in which other countries?

Following almost a year of research, Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate and set for release by Quidne Press in early 2016 goes behind the news about ISIS and examines what might lie ahead. He has begun developing a follow-up book tentatively set for release later in 2016.

ISIS: QUESTIONS FROM PARIS

ISIS Cover Final 2,pdf-page-001

 

By Al Emid Author Journalist Broadcaster
Chapter 32
The Glamourous Life of an Author

The French air force struck Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State last night, adding another chapter to the most complex hostilities of our time.

Complex and ironic: with exquisite bad timing, President Barack Obama declared in an interview with ABC News early on Friday that the United States and its allies had contained ISIS. Obama may have been talking about ISIS’s territorial gains in Syria and Iraq, but he must wish he could take that statement back today. “I don’t think they’re gaining strength,” he said. “What is true, from the start our goal has been first to contain and we have contained them,” he said. “They have not gained ground in Iraq, and in Syria they’ll come in, they’ll leave, but you don’t see this systemic march by ISIL across the terrain.”

Indeed, networks played excerpts of the Obama interview during the day Friday – and then Friday night’s attacks tore Paris apart. The horrific series of assaults in Paris that left 129 people dead and over 350 injured, (at time of writing, the estimates still vary), followed two suicide bombings in Beirut Lebanon that killed about 43 people and injured 239, and the downing of the Russian passenger airplane and deaths of 224 people.

Those three tragedies force several disturbing and inescapable conclusions, amongst them that clearly ISIS has metamorphosed once and for all into a global terrorist organization, determined to wreak as much havoc on ‘apostates’ as possible. It has known affiliates in France, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen Tunisia and its activities provide a template for terrorist groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and elsewhere.

What is the ISIS endgame? It executed those three strategies outside of its ‘caliphate’ and for either or both of two reasons: to signal its determination to become the leading global jihadist force or to distract coalition forces from attacking the Islamic State. If the latter were the motive, it failed as the French air force struck Raqqa.

However beyond the rhetoric about ‘act of war’ and avowals of international solidarity that followed, we – and the individuals we trust – have to face some very difficult questions which do not come with easy answers. I can only include some of them here with more coming in another post.

To date, has the American administration underestimated the determination of ISIS? How coherent a strategy does it have? Has President Barack Obama’s so-called ‘strategic patience’ failed? (It would be difficult to argue to the contrary.) ISIS mounted three tragic assaults in three countries in just over a week. That points to the need for a complete rethinking of American foreign policy and with it Obama’s ‘strategic patience’ doctrine

And what of the billions of dollars being spent on intelligence? The ISIS assaults on Paris consisted of three well-organized, thoroughly trained and armed teams and six locations. It involved recruiting and indoctrination of willing suicide bombers, selection of targets with maximum exposure to crowds and at a time (Friday night) when Parisians would be at these targets in huge numbers, organizing a support network for the terrorists, training and equipping them with guns, cars and suicide vests. How did all of that escape intelligence forces until too late?

And what of Western priorities in the region? The United States generally accepts Saudi Arabia’s concerns about increasing Iranian influence in the region. However in the broader picture, the global aspirations of ISIS and the potential resurgence of Al Qaeda arguably have a greater priority than Saudi Arabia’s nervousness about Iran.
And on a personal day-to-day level, can we each find that blurry line – especially when travelling – between not letting this dominate our lives while at the same time acknowledging that it’s fact of life?

More questions in the next post – including the impact on immigration and political discourse — none of them with easier answers than those that I have outlined here.

Al Emid’s fifth book tntitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate and set for release by Quidne Press goes behind the news about ISIS and what might lie ahead. He has begun developing a follow-up book set for release in 2016.

MORE TOUGH QUESTIONS IN FOCUS

ISIS Cover Final 2,pdf-page-001

By Al Emid Author Journalist Broadcaster
Chapter 31
The Glamourous Life of an Author

In my previous post I suggested that the downing of the Russian airliner, apparently by the Sinai affiliate of ISIS, raised some tough questions. In fact, the tragedy actually pushed a long list of questions into focus, more than I could discuss in one post. In this edition, I am posing a few more, all of them important and none of them coming with an easy answer.

Even if investigators eventually disavow the current theories about the downing, most of these questions still need answers.

At time of writing investigators and analysts still have several theories about the actual cause of the bombing, but accepting for the moment that the most popular current theory proves correct and that a member of ISIS’s Sinai affiliate masterminded the planting of a bomb while working at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport, does this mean that the affiliate and even the core ISIS are raising the stakes in regional terrorism? This appears to be ISIS’s first use of an airplane as an instrument of death. Given that from a terrorist’s point of view the operation was successful – both in its murderous intent and the worldwide attention it brought to the perpetrators — should we expect more such attacks?

Commercial airlines make approximately 100,000 flights daily, all of them from airports of greater or lesser security regulations and greater or lesser compliance with regulations.

Fortunately, Al-Qaeda has not managed to do this since 9/11. However, ISIS has signalled its intentions – again – to pre-empt its former parent terrorist group and to claim the supremacy of jihadism. Given the differences in approach between Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and given ISIS’s ability to inspire followers how far can it go?

Until now, the core ISIS has not attempted this type of terrorist attack. Will the murderous success of this attack prompt them to attempt more such attacks? Given the worldwide horror and continuing impact of the Sinai bombing they may feel prompted to attempt a repeat operation.

Accepting for the moment that an airport insider planted the bomb and the obviously elevated scrutiny of all airport workers that will result both at Sharm el-Sheikh and at airports everywhere – how can authorities reasonably prevent another such incident? Given the number of airports and the number of workers? How do we estimate vulnerability and what kinds of air travel do we accept and what do we avoid? How do we decide what compromises we have to make in travelling?

I have discussed previously in these posts the fact that ISIS competes with its former parent – Al Qaeda for funding from patrons, for recruits and certainly for pre-eminence on the terrorism world stage. Will its move from strictly ground battles and car bombs to this air attack boost its claim to leadership of the jihadi terrorism world?

Will the same weakness and political problems in the area that allowed the ISIS affiliate to grow make it easier for Al Qaeda to mount a comeback in Egypt?

I have also discussed the fact that other groups, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, swear allegiance to ISIS and see ISIS’s modus operandi as a template for their own battles. Do we need to be alert to that possibility? That would mean that airports within Boko Haram’s reach could become suspect.

And what of American allies as the U. S. looks to increase airstrikes against ISIS? While Arab allies went on early missions their participation has greatly diminished and the U. S. does the vast majority of bombing. Will this tragedy force a re-thinking of their priorities?

Since Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have shifted much of their attention – and many of their aircraft — to their fight the Houthi rebels in Yemen what can the U. S. expect from them?

Jordan has also shifted much of its attention to Yemen so how much can the U. S. expect from this traditionally staunch ally?
Bahrain, which has an uneasy relationship with the U. S., has reportedly not struck Syrian targets since February and Qatar which has a close relationship with the U. S. has participated modestly.(To be fair, while these countries have reduced their involvement, they continue to allow American use of their bases.)

And if as some analysts suspect, this operation was not under the direct command and control of the core ISIS but orchestrated by a quasi-independent affiliate of ISIS, should we expect more imitators?

And where does all of this leave President Barack Obama’s ‘degrade and destroy’ policy for dealing with ISIS?
Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate and set for release by Quidne Press behind the news about ISIS and what might lie ahead. He has begun developing a follow-up book set for release in 2016.

ISIS: TOUGH QUESTIONS IN FOCUS

ISIS Cover Final 2,pdf-page-001

ISIS: TOUGH QUESTIONS IN FOCUS

By Al Emid Author Journalist Broadcaster
Chapter 30
The Glamourous Life of an Author

Yesterday’s news about the downing of a Russian airliner brought into sharp focus several questions, some of which we began confronting after 9/11 and some new ones. American and British authorities tentatively attributed the disaster to a bomb placed on the Russian airliner by someone connected to ISIS or an ISIS affiliate in the Sharm el-Sheikh airport.
The questions need answers even if the accusation eventually proves mistaken. At time of writing, the Egyptian authorities are insisting on reserving judgement in the absence of firm proof.
Governments can be expected to increase surveillance beyond their current levels, collecting even more telephone conversations and internet traffic in bulk than they already accumulate. We will have to grapple more than ever with that blurry and ever-shifting line between public safety and our individual privacy. How much of our privacy are we willing to surrender in the cause of safety?
How do we fight an enemy that has proven its murderous ability off the battlefield time and again? If authorities eventually prove that the tragedy resulted from an onboard bomb it will mean that terrorists have — again – turned an airplane into an instrument of death. How do we win the fight in every airport in the world?
Will air travel become even more trying and vexing than it has become in recent years? Will this tragedy – again even if we eventually find that reports of a bomb on board prove mistaken – lead to higher levels of security at all airports, border crossings and therefore higher costs of travel? Most likely that will happen.
ISIS has called for war on Russia and the United States in response to their air strikes in Syria. Where does the downing of the airliner by ISIS – if eventually confirmed – leave President Barack Obama’s determination to keep American military involvement to a minimum? If this tragedy amounts to a retaliation for Russian bomb strikes in Syria, what will it mean for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decisions?
And what of Egypt’s role in the ISIS crisis? Western governments see Egypt as a linchpin in their hopes to contain terrorism generally and ISIS and al Qaeda specifically. ISIS will likely continue its current campaign of suicide bombings and shootings aimed at toppling President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government.
And what of President Obama’s belief that peace in Syria means that President Bashir al-Assad has to go? Assad has already had a reprieve of sorts but have recent events served to extend the reprieve?

For both foreign direct investing and retail investing, to what extent will this and the general instability in the Middle East lead to a re-thinking of plans? Foreign direct investors – businesses setting up large operations, making acquisitions or embarking on joint ventures will pause for thought when considering this region. The recent agreement between Iran and the P5+1 powers means that one of the world’s few remaining closed economies could become open for business and companies such as Shell plan to move as quickly as possible. Are these plans going to continue? On the retail side of investing will investors shy away from investing in this region?

And what does the future hold, starting in January 2017? None of the men and women currently competing for the right to lead the United States and its armed forces has offered a clear plan for confronting the ISIS crisis. President Obama’s policy of ‘strategic patience’ has paid very limited dividends.

Not all of the questions have desultory or quirky answers. Contrary to an assumption that I sometimes encounter, the entire Middle East is not in flames. The countries of the Gulf – including the seven city-states of United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar still retain their ‘safe haven’ status, attracting huge flows of human and financial capital.
Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate and set for release by Quidne Press behind the news about ISIS and what might lie ahead. He has begun developing a follow-up book set for release in 2016.