by Fabien Merz
Since 2013, the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) has warned of a heightened threat emanating from jihadi terrorism in Switzerland. According to FIS’s assessment, the threat has continuously risen since then and reached a new high in 2016. This is a new situation for a country that has, since the two attacks conducted by Palestinian groups targeting an El Al airplane in Kloten in 1969 and the bombing of a Swissair machine in 1970, remained largely unscathed by terrorism. This has remained true even in the decade after 9/11 when a wave of jihadi terrorism inspired and often directed by al-Qaeda struck urban centers in Europe and elsewhere on multiple occasions.
A few reasons are usually named why Switzerland has been less affected by jihadist terrorism than other European countries. Most notably, its foreign policy informed by neutrality that made Switzerland less likely to become a deliberate target of jihadi groups as well as the country’s low levels of domestic radicalization. Indeed, a study conducted by ETH Zürich in 2013 found that Switzerland has been less touched by jihadist radicalization than other European countries. This, the study argued, was due to a number of factors. Firstly, the absence of “infecting clusters”, i.e. a jihadist mosque or a network of committed jihadists operating on its soil. Secondly, Switzerland’s ability to provide a good degree of social, economic and cultural integration to most Muslims living in Switzerland. Thirdly, the fact that 80-90% of the Swiss Muslim population trace their roots back to the Balkans and Turkey and that they often practice a tolerant and apolitical form of Islam thereby makes them more impermeable to radicalization. Finally, Swiss neutrality and the foreign policy resulting from it also plays a role by not giving any reasons of resentment to most Swiss Muslims.
By Hakim Khatib
It is estimated that a number between 27,000 and 31,000 foreign fighters have been flocking to Iraq and Syria since the breakout of the war in 2011.
An updated assessment of the flow of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq shows that there is a significant increase in the number of foreign fighters travelling to Syria. Data provided by the Soufan Group in 2014 estimated that the identifiable number of foreign fighters is approximately 12,000 from 81 countries. It was also believed that the number of foreign Jihadists coming form Western countries does not exceed 3000: “Around 2,500 are from Western countries, including most members of the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand”, according to Soufan’s initial report on Foreign Fighters in Syria. Now the number exceeds 27,000 foreign fighters from at least 86 countries.
by Erika Brady
The UK’s Counter-Terrorism strategy, known as CONTEST, is recognized as one of the most successful soft-focus strategies in the world, with an intended emphasis on community support and what have become known as ‘Prevent’ (or counter-extremism) measures. In all, there are four limbs to CONTEST: PREVENT, PROTECT, PURSUE and PREPARE. While there is much crossover between these areas, for example policing activities take place in all four limbs, each one has a specific focus with its own intrinsic goals. This article intends to provide an overview of CONTEST, and to explore the challenges of evaluating counter-terrorism strategies in general. In doing so, I intend to show that while robust and independent evaluation of CONTEST has not been undertaken from a quantitative approach, some level of evaluation has taken place and can be taken into consideration when moving forward with future analysis of the strategy.
by Hakim Khatib
Here we go again. Recent terrorist attacks against another European capital city in less than a year continue to shake the core of world politics. It is worth to note that terrorist attacks are not only happening against European states, but also against other countries, most notably Turkey and Indonesia. Is it a clash of cultures, religions, or it is merely politics? How do we keep serving Daesh (Islamic State)?
Von Julia Berczyk
Teil XX unserer Serie
zum „Islamischen Staat“
Persons traveling to participate in foreign conflicts by no means constitute a new phenomenon that is intrinsically tied to the ‘Islamic State’ (‘IS’). However, law enforcement agencies all over the world increasingly focus on foreign fighters travelling to Syria and Iraq due to a considerable rise in their number as well as the perceived threat they pose upon their return. Currently, around 650 German residents and citizens have travelled to the region to support jihadist groups such as the ‘IS’.
Von Hazim Fouad
Teil XVIII unserer Serie
zum „Islamischen Staat“
The burning of the Jordan pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh created a worldwide outcry, which was noticeably vocal in the Islamic world. Not only were we able to see people taken to the streets, we could also witness an utter condemnation of this act by prominent religious institutions like al-Azhar. Moreover, even before this terrific event the so called Islamic State (IS) has been criticized on various occasions by prominent Muslim scholars. The common trope these statements share is that despite its name, IS does not represent “true Islam”. The most prominent document in this regard surely is the open letter, which was addressed to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed “caliph” of IS, signed by 174 prominent Muslim figures and spokespersons from all over the world and which has been translated into multiple languages. The Facebook group that formed around this letter has currently reached over 100.000 likes and has developed into a hub for people from all over the world, who oppose IS ideology from a Muslim perspective. Although there has been some media coverage mentioning the publication of the letter, its actual contents have not been discussed very much in detail so far. So what does the document actually say? Let’s have a closer look:
by Holger Marcks
Teil XV unserer Serie
zum „Islamischen Staat“
Asymmetric conflicts in which rule is contested by non-state actors are often interpreted as a destabilization of order. This also holds true for the case of IS. Indeed, it cannot be denied that its transnational “jihad” has contributed to destabilizing a whole region. On the other hand, it has been repeatedly noted that IS has – within the territory it controls – established an alternative order offering stability. At least for those who fit in the worldview of the wannabe-caliphate. As reported by inhabitants of its powerhouse Raqqa, IS does not only create obedience by force but also by providing administration, workplaces and public services. Or as Benham T. Said put it, some few Arabs “associate an Islamic state with notions of justice, stability and prosperity”.
Von Yassin Musharbash
Teil IX unserer Serie
zum „Islamischen Staat“
Last November, the media organisation of the „Islamic State“ (IS) published a video, the sole purpose of which was to prove that the „caliphate“ which the IS has established in June 2014 was in fact a proper state. The video highlighted a host of institutions in order to drive home the claim of real statehood, including examples like a working judiciary, a prison administration, a schooling system, and so on. At one point in the video, the IS claimed that it was also financially independent and had apt resources at its disposal, namely oil and gas.
However, while it is true that the IS controls a number of oil and gas fields in Syria as well as in Iraq, we have by now enough evidence to be rather sure that the economic base of the „caliphate“ is by no means sustainable.
By Yan St-Pierre
In 2014, two insurgency organisations stood out by their expansion, success and brutality: The Islamic State (IS) and Boko Haram (BH). The former emerged from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq and became a major actor in the Middle East, its influence reaching beyond the borders of its self-proclaimed “caliphate”, while the latter spread its violence throughout north-eastern Nigeria, spilling over into Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Because of their still growing success, many wonder about a possible partnership between IS and BH. To this I answer that there is a connection, but no partnership. Currently, any evidence suggesting a partnership is circumstantial at best.
By Guido Steinberg
Since 2003, several organizations in the Arab world swore allegiance to Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaida and became part of what was been called “al-Qaeda’s affiliate network”. The emergence of al-Qaeda groups in Saudi Arabia 2003, Iraq 2004, Algeria 2007 and Yemen 2009 convinced many supporters and enemies that there was a truly global network of jihadist groups at work, commanded and controlled by the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan.
However, the reality was a lot more complicated. Far from being subordinate to Osama Bin Laden and Aiman al-Zawahiri, these organizations were not willing to submit to al-Qaeda command and control. Their relationship with “al-Qaeda central” was rather an alliance between independent partners of different strength. Although the al-Qaeda leadership sometimes influenced decisions taken by the regional groupings, there are numerous examples of “affiliates” ignoring its advice even regarding strategic issues.
By Andreas Armborst
One element within US counter-terrorism strategies is “reducing terrorist group cohesion”, as the think tank RAND recommends in one of its reports. The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point (CTC) puts these recommendations into actions. Reports like ”Cracks in the Foundation” or ”Dysfunction and Decline” vividly depict the internal disagreement and disunity between al-Qaeda central (AQ) and its regional affiliates, most of all AQ in Iraq (AQI). Albeit these reports are drafted by pundits and certainly provide meaningful and often rare insights into the inner life of the global jihadi movement, they also serve another purpose: to deliberately amplify the very same trend they describe: disunity.
By Mathieu Guidere
Part III of our series
In the late summer of 2014, the international community watched helplessly as ISIS unleashed widespread serious human rights violations against civilians across Syria and Iraq. Of note, were the different forms of sexual abuse initially directed against women from the Yazidi community of Sinjar, but rapidly expanded to women from many regions and backgrounds. Far from being attributable to isolated incidents or to the behavior of a few individuals, the abuses were, and continue to be, part of the “sexual politics” implemented by ISIS in all “wilayas” (regions) under its control and endorsed by its military hierarchy. The abuses represent a clear example of the use of rape as a weapon of war, based on the “theology of sexuality” in a war zone. Fatwas and theological arguments inspired by the medieval practices of historical Muslim armies provide the justification for the policies and practices.
By Pieter Van Ostaeyen
On Thursday January 15, only a week after the bloody attacks in Paris by the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibali, Belgium was on high alert. In a raid carried out by police and security forces in the small village of Verviers, two alleged terrorists were shot dead, a third suspect was arrested. The action was part of a larger operation carried out throughout the country to prevent imminent attacks by a group of Islamists, some of whom were directly tied to the war in Syria and Iraq. In the days that followed it became clear that the prevented attacks probably were aimed at a high ranking police official. The terror threat level was subsequently raised to level three, indicating that the threat of attacks was imminent. What makes Belgium such a hub for Jihadis?