Addressing Domestic Terrorism

David Bowdich, Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Los Angeles field branch, yesterday said that said that the FBI had classified the San Bernardino attack that resulted in at least 15 deaths and 21 injured on Wednesday as an act of domestic terrorism. The attack, which echoed that of the Paris attack last month, was carried out by Syed Rizwan Farook, a US citizen who was employed as an environmental engineer by the county of San Bernardino, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani citizen who secured permanent residency in the United States after marrying Farook. The two were killed in a shootout with police while in possession of thousands of rounds of ammunition and at least 12 explosive devices.

Authorities believe Farook and Malik may have become radicalized, though neither were on terrorist watch lists or under active surveillance. Investigators found that Malik had posted pro-Islamic State messages to her Facebook profile during the attack on the San Bernardino facility.

The attack highlights the challenge of addressing domestic radicalization. Many of the attackers in the Paris terror attack last month were Muslims who were citizens of Belgium and France, radicalized while living in Europe. A report by NATO following the January 2014 terror attacks in Paris highlighted many of the challenges, noting that

The radicalisation of certain individuals or groups in Western societies is a much more complex issue that requires urgent, in-depth analysis followed by adequate response. The Rapporteur argues that the complex nature of the terrorist threat requires the Euro-Atlantic community to revisit and adjust its strategies and instruments. In particular, improvements are urgently needed in the area of information exchange among law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Also, there is a need to supplement law enforcement methods with long-term strategies designed to tackle the spread of extremist ideologies. The Rapporteur underscores the importance of additional safeguards to ensure that anti-terrorist and de-radicalisation policies do not infringe on fundamental rights and liberties

What do you think? How should the United States and other Western countries address the threat posed by domestic terrorists? What steps, if any, might counter the threat? And what is the proper balance between the need to secure fundamental rights and individual liberties and detect and prevent future terror attacks?

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British Intervention In Syria

The British Parliament yesterday voted to approve airstrikes against ISIS. By a vote of 397 to 223, Prime Minister David Cameron won approval for his proposal to join the American-led coalition in striking Islamic State targets in Syria. Less than three hours later, four Royal Air Force Tornado strike fighters struck six targets in an ISIS-controlled oilfield in eastern Syria, the first British operation in the region. The British Defense Minister, Michael Fallon, confirmed that addition aircraft were being re-positioned to a British airbase in Cyprus to support and expand ongoing operations.

The vote to approve military action won a decisive majority,  with 315 of the 322 Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) voted to approve the action. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had attempted to rally his party in opposition to the movement, but was unable to do so, and 66 Labour MPs defected from their party to support the action, but 152 voted against it. President Obama quickly welcomed the decision.

What do you think? What do you think should be done to weaken the growing influence of the Islamic State? Will Western intervention be successful? Why?

Marking World Toilet Day: Campaigning for the Right to Pee

November 19 marked World Toilet Day, a day designated by the United Nations to draw attention to the need to improve sanitation conditions around the world. According to the United Nations, a $1 investment in providing safe water and sanitation generates a $4.3 return in the form of reduced health care costs. The United Nations has set as a goal to halve the proportion of people without access to sanitation. Currently around 1 billion people (or 15% of the world’s population) lacks access to toilets, increasing the risk of people, particularly children, dying from diarrheal disease.

In India, campaigners have been carrying out the Right to Pee campaign, drawing attention to the unequal practice of charging women to use toilets in large cities while men can use urinals for free. Campaigners claim that this practice forces poor women to relieve themselves in fields and alleyways, increasing risk of rape and sexual assault. They have demanded the government provide free access to urinals for women in major cities.

What do you think? What could governments in both the global North and South do to improve access to sanitation around the world? Is there a right to sanitation? Should there be? Why?

Are Russia and NATO on a Path to War?

Following the downing of a Russian aircraft by Turkish F-16 fighter jets, the international media quickly speculated that Russia and Turkey were on a warpath. Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), called for an emergency meeting of the group, a move which Russia described as an escalation. The downing of the Russian jet marks the first direct engagement between NATO and Russian forces since the end of the Cold War.

The issue at the heart of the current crisis was the subject of intense dispute. The Russian government maintains that the Russian aircraft were striking Islamic State targets in northern Syria, when Turkish fighter jets engaged and shot down a Russian plane. Turkey maintains that Russia was striking Turkmen rebel forces, repeatedly crossing into Turkish airspace and ignoring multiple warnings to leave Turkish airspace before being fired on. Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan condemned the event, which he said was provoked by a Russian violation of Turkish airspace and an infringement of Turkish sovereignty. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov implied the act was premeditated, stating that the downing “looks very much like a planned provocation.” He ordered the deployment of Russian anti-aircraft batteries to Syria.

In addressing the situation, US President Barak Obama called on both Russia and Turkey to “take measures to avoid escalation.” But Russian intervention in Syria has complicated American and NATO allies efforts to fight the Islamic State in Syria. American strategy has been to oppose both ISIS and the Syrian government, supporting rebel forces in the region and striking ISIS targets from the air. Russian intervention has centered on supporting the Syrian government. While the Russian government maintains that its intervention is focused on defeating ISIS, Russian airstrikes have been condemned by the West for primarily targeting anti-government forces.

What do you think? Are NATO and Russia on a path to war? How might the situation in Turkey (and relatedly in Syria) be resolved to prevent further escalation?

Espionage Among Friends

Jonathan Pollard was paroled yesterday, after serving more than 30 years of a life sentence in a federal prison. While serving as a US Navy analyst, Pollard apparently gave suitcases of classified information to Israel. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, Pollard’s actions “put at risk important US intelligence and foreign policy interests”

Pollard’s conviction had long been a sticking point in US-Israeli relations, with Israel regularly pushing for his release. But his release had been steadfastly opposed by intelligence and defense officials, citing the volume of information sold to Israel and concerns that releasing him would send the wrong message to others who may be inclined to engage in similar actions. Interestingly, less than a week after a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Pollard was paroled. As a condition of his parole, Pollard is prohibited from leaving the United States for at least five years, preventing him from leaving the country for Israel, which granted him citizenship in 1995.

What do you think? Does Pollard’s release signal an improving relationship between the United States and Israel? Do you think Pollard should have been paroled? Why?

The Fallout from Paris

The international response to last Friday’s terrorist attack in Paris continues to intensify. Investigations by French authorities have led to multiple arrests in Belgium and France, and an international warrant has been issued for the Belgian citizen believed to be the mastermind for the attack. French President François Hollande descried the attacks as “an act of war” and has intensified French airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria.

Within the United States, the response to the attack in France has been shaded by the ongoing Presidential primary process. Republican presidential candidates from Donald Trump to Bobby Jindall have called for a range of military actions, from increased airstrikes to deploying American ground forces. Democratic candidates have generally supported President Obama’s existing strategy of airstrikes to support anti-ISIS forces—most notably rebels in Syria and Kurds in Iraq—rather than deploying US soldiers directly on the ground.

But perhaps the sharpest difference has been on the response to Syrian refugees. Noting that one of the terrorists killed in the Paris attack carried a Syrian passport, Republican presidential candidates have called for responses to address immigration. Some have called for an outright ban on refugees from Syria, while others have called for a religious test, limiting immigration to “true Christians” only. Governors of more than fifteen states have said that they would not accept Syrian refugees—proclamations that may be more symbolic than effective. But according to German sources, the Syrian passport was likely a fake intended to paint the attackers as Syrian refugees and provoke precisely this response.

What do you think? Should the United States and other Western countries take steps to limit the ability of Syrian refugees to seek asylum abroad? Why? Does such a move strengthen ISIS’s narrative, as President Obama suggests? Why? And how do you think the United States should respond to the Paris terror attacks?

Fighting the Islamic State after Paris

A series of simultaneous attacks launched in Paris yesterday resulted in at last 140 deaths and more than 80 injuries. French President François Hollande described the attack as an “act of war” perpetrated by Islamic State militants, and world leaders expressed sympathy and support. The attack targeted bars, restaurants, and nightclubs popular with young Parisians and a football match underway. At least eight gunmen and suicide bombers responsible for the attack have been captured or killed. The French government responded by temporarily closing its borders and imposing a curfew in Paris. In claiming responsibility for the attacks, the Islamic State warned the Paris attack was “the first of the storm.”

The Islamic State burst on to the international scene in 2014 after capturing large portions of territory in Iraq and Syria. Originally referred to as ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (the Islamic State in the Levant), the organization has launched operations in countries as far as Australia, Belgium, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Norway, and elsewhere.

What do you think? What, if anything, can be done to prevent terror attacks like that in Paris yesterday? How might France, the United States, and others work to address the growing reach of the Islamic State both in Europe and the Middle East? And how might the attacks affect EU migration policy as the European Union struggles to address the influx of Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS in Syria?