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China formally opened its first overseas military base on Tuesday with a flag-raising ceremony in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, the same day as the …
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Identifying Islamic Extremism: 10 Questions to Ask Suspects
June 1, 2017
By Leischen Stelter, American Military University
Police officers around the country understand they are an important element in the fight against terrorism. But what does that entail? How can an officer identify potential terrorist activity and what signs show a person may have been radicalized? What questions should officers ask to better understand a person’s level of radicalization?
During the 2nd annual Gulf Coast INLETS seminar in New Orleans, Brig Barker, who spent 20 years as a counterterrorism agent with the FBI and is considered an expert on the Jihadist mindset, gave a presentation called Homegrown Violent Extremists: Counterterrorism Strategies for Law Enforcement.
During this session, he discussed some of the signs of radicalization. Often an officer can get a sense of how radical a person is during a field interrogation (FI) or an actual formal interview. While no single action or discussion means a person has been radicalized, the combination of several factors should make officers suspicious.
Learn More, Register for AMU’s June 14 Webinar Taught by Brig Barker: Understanding the Jihadist Mindset: Pre-Attack Flags and Indicators of Islamic Extremism
10 Signs of Radicalization
Barker highlighted 10 points that can help an officer determine a person’s level of radicalization. As a caveat, these factors should be considered in totality—one indicator alone will not provide the full story as to how radical one may be.
1. Religiosity: Does religion dictate this person’s life? Do they unerringly go to mosque five times a day? Do they have a scar on their forehead from contacting their head on the ground during prayers? Such overzealous commitment may be a sign of radicalization.
2. Fixation on Islamic theology: Do they always want to talk about Islamic theology? Are they hyper-focused on the nuances of the teachings and following them literally? Officers should build rapport with individuals and “play the student” to learn how enmeshed the person is in this theology.
3. Black and white belief system: Do they uphold a strict belief system with no room for interpretation? Often radical believers see the world in black and white without room for gray.
4. Shedding of Western ways: Are they suddenly growing their beard out? Stopped wearing Western-style clothes? Have they stopped sleeping on a bed and sleep only on the floor? The more radical someone becomes, the more they may be shedding Western ways. Barker calls this the Haram corridor.
5. Language of Jihad: Officers should listen carefully to the words that only radicals would use. Those who are radicalized are often so immersed in reading theology that they can’t help but use the same language. If someone is moderate, they generally won’t use the language of these teachings.
6. Apathy: Has this person started disregarding other aspects of their life? Are they often late for work? Are they intently focused on seeing religious meanings in everything? Have they developed new vices?
7. Mentorship: In Barker’s experience, individuals don’t become radicalized all on their own. There is generally someone walking them down the path toward radicalization. While people love to blame the Internet for radicalizing people, said Barker, there’s always a person guiding him in that direction.
8. Physical appearance: Has his appearance recently changed? Is he growing his beard out without allowing his moustache to fall below his upper lip? Is he wearing his pants above his ankles? While appearance alone doesn’t mean he has been radicalized, it should be considered in totality as part of the overall investigation.
9. Propaganda: What books and materials is he consuming? If a person is moderate, they are not consuming some of the propaganda mentioned in the section above.
10. Travel history: Has the person gone to Yemen or Morocco to study Arabic? Such travels may mean they want to better understand the teachings from more radical scholars in the Middle East.
While most of these points focus on the radicalization of men, Barker emphasized that police shouldn’t discount the radicalization of women. “We’ve seen an uptick in ISIS recruiting women, so don’t rule out the female side of this,” he said. “They fall prey to the same propaganda and are being mentored by other radical females.”
10 Questions to Ask a Suspected Radical
Barker estimates he has interviewed more than 500 Jihadists during his FBI career. In his experience, someone who is radical cannot help but spew the propaganda they’re consuming. Officers can get a better sense of how radical someone is by asking them questions such as:
1. Help me understand, what is the actual definition of Kafir (infidel)?
2. What is your opinion about the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan/Palestine?
3. What do you believe would bring peace to the current world situation?
4. Which group (i.e. ISIS, Muslim Brotherhood, etc.) knows the truth about Islam?
5. If there was one Islamic scholar who had it right, who would that be?
6. Can you explain what a caliphate actually is?
7. You seem like a man of action not just words, what can law enforcement do to better understanding Islam?
8. I heard this term “Tawheed” (monotheism), what does that actually mean?
9. Anwar al-Awlaki seemed like a charismatic leader, what is your opinion of him?
10. In your opinion, do you believe the U.S. should get involved in Iraq and Syria?
If officers identify someone whom they suspect may be radicalized, Barker said they should contact the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) with as much detail as possible. Then, police should be diligent in seeking to collaborate with the JTTF because local police understand the territory and the community better than the federal agencies.
Further Training on Extremism
Since his retirement from the FBI in 2016, Barker remains passionate about combating terrorism. He founded the company Red Rock Global Security Group, which develops tools to help law enforcement disrupt terrorist attacks. “If officers better understand what to look for in the field, then they’re not operating in the dark,” he said.
The missile strikes, which took place on Saturday, are a major escalation in Iran’s role in Syria. This is the first time Iran has fired missiles into Syria since the Arab country descended into a civil war in 2011.
The strikes come as ISIS claimed responsibility for two June 7th attacks in Tehran that targeted Iran’s Parliament building and a shrine dedicated to the republic’s revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini.
It was the first time that ISIS, which is fighting Iranian-backed militias in Syria, has claimed responsibility for an attack in Iran.
Iran’s military had vowed revenge for the attacks that killed 12 people.
Killings for Islam
Islam and Christianity have an interesting contrast. Jesus never killed anyone, and Christianity took 300 years before the killing began.
Whereas Islam began with killing of unbelievers right from the start.
NATO prepares for its summit in Warsaw, the leaders of the Alliance’s 28 nations will try to put a good face on what is clearly a deteriorating security situation on the Continent. Government officials, diplomats and military leaders are wringing their hands at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s apparent ability to run rings around the United States and its allies. In the space of two-plus years, Putin has occupied Crimea, destabilized the Ukraine, rode twice to the rescue of the Assad regime in Syria, extended de facto Russian control over large swathes of the Arctic, established military dominance over the Black and Baltic Seas and sought to undermine the political stability of fragile nations in Eastern Europe. On top of these activities, the Russian leader and his minions regularly threaten Western nations with the possible first use of nuclear weapons. NATO leaders, current and former, are in a panic that Putin will employ tactics similar to those that allowed him to wage war on the Ukraine, including so-called “little green men,” to go after one or more of the Baltic States, daring the Alliance to come to the defense of its members.
Many observers see Putin as adroitly exploiting Western economic weakness, domestic political incoherence and weakening Alliance ties. To these factors some would add growing American war weariness and Washington’s seeming reluctance to stand by its traditional allies and against regional aggressors. The U.S. appears to be pulling back, weakening its security commitments and reducing its military capabilities. The rest of the world seems like fertile ground for Russia and others to practice the arts of coercive predation and limited warfare.
The West’s seeming inability to identify Russian maneuvers for what they are, assault by all means available, and to devise an effective strategy to counter Moscow’s aggression has led a number of observers to explain the problem as due to the Kremlin’s success in a new kind of warfare. The term of art being used is “Gray Zone Conflict.” As one analyst explained, this is “activity that is coercive and aggressive in nature, but that is deliberately designed to remain below the threshold of conventional military conflict and open interstate war.” A veritable cottage industry (or perhaps more of a Potemkin village) has grown up in academia and among think tanks around the promulgation of theories of thresholds in gray zone conflict, the appropriate application of non-military coercion and aggression, the relationship between forms of governments and decisionmaking styles and their penchant for using techniques for coercion and low-level aggression.
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What is termed asymmetric, hybrid and gray zone conflict is classic state-on-state or even non-state actor-on-state politics and subversion that often were the preludes to war. Russia’s current campaigns to undermine U.S. and Alliance will to resist their activities in Eastern Europe are taken almost directly out of the Soviet playbook. The Soviets sponsored all sorts of terrorist groups and proxies (e.g., Cuban forces in Africa). Is that any different than Iran supporting Hezbollah and Hamas? Does anyone remember the Soviet political campaign to prevent the deployment of Pershing II ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles to Europe? We found out after the Cold War ended how deeply penetrated Western European political, administrative and security apparatuses were by Soviet and Eastern European intelligence services. But we are surprised that Moscow had been penetrating and subverting the Ukrainian government and military. What is new about all this? The answer is nothing.
If Vladimir Putin, the ex-KGB spy, can dust off his former employer’s playbook on subversion and coercion, then perhaps Western leaders should dig through their bookshelves for strategies from the same era that worked against Moscow. Specifically, Western planners and decisionmakers need to resurrect the wisdom of the “Yoda of the Pentagon,” Mr. Andrew Marshall. It was under his leadership that the Office of Net Assessment developed an approach to competing against the Soviet Union at multiple levels and over the long-term. Beginning in the late 1970s, a period when the West appeared to lack cohesion, America seemed weak militarily and divided politically and the Soviet Union and its allies were on the march, Marshall developed the idea of Competitive Strategies. Based on a few simple principles (the competition would be long-term, involve repeated moves and countermoves, leverage Western strengths against adversaries’ weaknesses, employ all assets and tools available and develop a coordinated campaign for influencing the opponent) the Competitive Strategies Initiative, formalized in 1986, sought to deny the Soviet Union plausible military options for attaining its objectives, counter Moscow’s techniques for coercion and aggression and exploit a range of economic, political, organizational and military weaknesses in the Soviet system to hold it at bay.
Whatever challenges the United States, Europe and the Free World face today, they pale in comparison to the difficulties confronting Vladimir Putin. Russia’s economy is weak, demographics lousy, relationships with all but the worst state actors poor and its military fragile. Putin’s attempts to intimidate his neighbors when they seek to move closer to the West and coerce the U.S. and Europe into granting Russia a zone of control are not a reflection of strength but a clear admission of weakness. As a number of eminent scholars have written, the Kremlin regime is a kleptocracy.