- Debunking myths about terrorism
- Indonesia holds rival pageant exclusively for Muslim women
- Philippine troops clear rebels
New research is showing that not all radicals and extremists join a terrorist outfit solely for ideological reasons.
IN Minnesota, a disturbing 40-minute propaganda video recording urges young Somalian Americans residing in the state to join rebels fighting in Somalia.
Dahir Gure, an American Somalian now a rebel fighter in Somalia, said in the video with a toothy grin: "This is the real Disneyland. You need to join us." The recording by terrorist group Al-Shabaab was briefly shown on YouTube before it was removed for its violent content.
Subsequently, Al-Shabaab sent out a tweet saying it would document the journey of its Minnesota "martyrs".
In the past, terrorist groups used websites and chatrooms to reach their target groups. With the growth of space on social media, including Twitter, blogs and YouTube, such groups are now using these avenues to reach, radicalise and recruit new members.
Terrorist groups combine the online space with their existing offline recruitment methods to lure fighters to their violent causes.
At The Hague in the Netherlands, Moroccan and Turkish recruiters distribute on the streets an A4-sized paper with details on how to slip through Customs and immigration loopholes in Europe and join the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al- Assad. Among those who bought the idea were members of a Dutch football team who traded their soccer boots for war gear in Syria.
To better understand these evolving threats, research on terrorism needs to move away from stereotypical analysis of terrorists, said overseas and local security experts who spoke to The Straits Times recently at a security conference.
Research efforts also need to be evidence-based, have academic rigour and involve experts from other disciplines such as psychology, they said.
Researchers need to ask what makes people gravitate towards terrorism. New research is showing that not all radicals and extremists join a terrorist outfit solely for ideological reasons. Not all who become radicalised end up as terrorists or suicide bombers.
Meanwhile, a complex set of reasons are responsible for turning someone into a lone wolf or a suicide bomber, said the experts.
Their interviews with terrorists show that not all who become terrorists remain committed to the cause and, at some point, their extremist fervour may wane - an insight that allows for security agencies to potentially "turn them around".
Demos, a think-tank in Britain, found in its study in 2010, "The Edge Of Violence", that those who participated in terrorist activities were attracted more to the glamour and excitement of an attack, and that it was typically group dynamics that instigated a spiral towards violence rather than the ideology of violence.
New approaches are needed as new challenges come up, said Professor Edwin Bakker, a Dutch terrorism expert. A new security headache, he said, was the spike in the number of European-born Muslims who are fighting in the Middle East battlefields.
The growth of these numbers has caught security agencies by surprise, he said, adding that the latest figures show that of the 5,000-odd foreign fighters in Syria, 600 are from Europe.
In June this year, a gruesome video of a beheading in Syria surfaced on the Internet and those in Belgium and the Netherlands reeled in shock as they heard the attackers speaking with Dutch, Flemish and French accents.
In Indonesia, terrorists are stealing money through the Internet for their cause, said Indonesian terrorism analyst Solahudin. One jihadist, Rizki Gunawan, persuaded Mawan Kurniawan, a computer hacker, to hack into online investment company Speedline Inc to steal US$700,000 (RM2.3mil); part of the money was used to finance military training and operations in Poso, Sulawesi island, in 2011 and last year.
The Internet has also become an important means of military training for people who have difficulty getting access to real training camps, added Solahudin.
To understand these trends, researchers are doing transnational studies, said Professor John Horgan, who teaches security studies at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.
One example is a study on the little-understood trend of Muslim converts' role in terror attacks.
The wide scope of the project includes Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia.
The study examines how people connect with extremist online material and how they are influenced by what is found in both online and offline material.
In another project, researchers in a Rand study are examining the real impact the Internet has on influencing someone to become radicalised.
According to analysts, it is simplistic to believe that a person becomes self-radicalised after watching extremist videos on the Internet or reading terrorist magazines, like Inspire.
"An overwhelming majority of people who hold radical beliefs do not engage in violence. And, there is growing evidence that people who engage in terrorism don't necessarily hold radical beliefs," said Prof Horgan.
Using a more scientific approach to gather leads in terrorism research can also help predict future terror attacks, he said.
He and another academic, Dr John F. Morrison from the University of East London, have been monitoring the growth of the Irish Republican dissidents who are pushing for Britain's withdrawal from Northern Ireland, through force.
The two have been gathering data on the dissidents' steady rise by logging thousands of events and documents in the process.
Their leads suggest that the dissidents are expected to strike in spectacular style in 2016, the year that marks the 100th anniversary of the Easter Uprising, an event that led to the birth of the modern Irish Republic.
In the post-9/11 world, the threat of a terror attack any time, anywhere and from any group continues to be real.
It is difficult to answer with certainty whether the war on terror will be won by states fighting it.
New research being done on terrorism will plug loopholes in the understanding of terrorism and play an important part in strengthening policies aimed at weakening terrorist organisations. The work is never done. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network
JAKARTA: The Miss World beauty contest, which has attracted fierce opposition by hardline Islamic groups in host country Indonesia, is now facing another challenge – a rival pageant exclusively for Muslims.
The Muslimah World contest to be held on Wednesday in Jakarta is "Islam's answer to Miss World", the pageant's founder Eka Shanti said Saturday.
"Muslimah World is a beauty pageant, but the requirements are very different from Miss World – you have to be pious, be a positive role model and show how you balance a life of spirituality in today's modernised world," Eka said.
The pageant is the latest backlash against Miss World, which has already dropped the bikini from its beach fashion round and has attracted more than a month of protests by Muslim hardliners demanding the show be scrapped.
The 20 Muslimah World finalists were chosen from more than 500, who took part in online rounds, reciting Quranic verses and telling stories of how they came to wear the Islamic headscarf, a requirement for the pageant.
The finalists, from Iran, Malaysia, Brunei, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Indonesia, will parade Islamic fashions in what Eka said is an opportunity to show young Muslim women they do not need to show their "immodest" parts – including their hair and bare shoulders – to be beautiful.
But Eka said she did not support hardliners' calls to cancel the Miss World contest, acknowledging that Indonesia was a diverse country with many faiths.
"We don't just want to shout 'no' to Miss World. We'd rather show our children they have choices. Do you want to be like the women in Miss World? Or like those in Muslimah World?" Eka said.
After repeated protests, government officials announced last week that the Miss World final would be moved from the outskirts of the capital Jakarta to the resort island of Bali, where the contest began last week with no opposition from the Hindu majority there.
The organisers, however, were not party to the decision and have said it would be "impossible" to make the last-minute change.
Despite the decision, protesters from the Islamic group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia demonstrated in the central Java city of Yogyakarta yesterday, its spokeswoman saying "Miss World is not welcome in Indonesia at all".
The decision to move the final round was the latest victory for Islamic fringe groups, who are wielding increasing power and have succeeded in getting several events they deem un-Islamic changed or cancelled in recent years. — AFP
ZAMBOANGA: Philippine troops seeking to end a six-day standoff that has killed more than 50 people in the south were clearing the remaining Muslim rebels as a ceasefire plan collapsed.
Police estimated the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) gunmen were now holding as few as seven civilian hostages in the southern port city of Zamboanga, compared to more than 100 a day earlier, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said.
His comments boosted hopes that the crisis, which had left entire neighbourhoods razed to the ground by the gunmen and forced tens of thousands of residents to flee, would soon be resolved.
"By today, it's quite clear that not only is this incursion being contained," Roxas said. "From contained it has evolved into constriction, which is to reduce the operating space of the MNLF. Now it is into clearing."
Relentless day and night operations by at least 3,000 elite government troops have killed 43 rebels while 19 others had been detained, said military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala.
"Right now we are optimistic that our operations are effective and that we are delivering a significant blow to our enemies," he said.
"We hope that we can finish this calibrated response at the soonest possible time," he said, while refusing to give a timetable.
He cautioned that the remaining gunmen were still dangerous, with the military limited to using light weaponry to avoid civilian casualties.
He said the military and police forces had suffered six dead while four civilians were also killed.
The optimistic assessment of the operation came as a ceasefire plan brokered by Vice-President Jejomar Binay between the government and MNLF leader Nur Misuari was abandoned.
"The vice-president is sad that his efforts to secure the release of the hostages in Zamboanga City did not prosper," his spokesman Joey Salgado said in a statement.
"Both the MNLF and the Philippine government wanted peace, but there were terms set that were not acceptable," he said without elaborating.
Binay, the country's number-two elected official, followed President Benigno Aquino to Zamboanga yesterday to discuss the ceasefire plan with the Filipino leader.
The standoff began on Monday, when heavily armed MNLF forces entered Zamboanga's coastal districts and took hostages in a bid to scupper peace talks between another militant group and the government.
At one time, the gunmen used nearly 200 civilians as human shields, officials said.
The rebels also forced groups of the hostages to stand between them and attacking military units.
The fighting forced 69,000 people to flee their homes, the civil defence office said.
Nearly 500 houses were torched by the rebels, who shot at fire trucks sent to attend to the blazes, city fire marshal Dominador Zabala said.
The MNLF waged a 25-year guerilla war for independence before signing a peace treaty in 1996 that granted limited self-rule to the south's Muslim minority.
Misuari, who has accused the government of violating the terms of a 1996 treaty by negotiating a separate deal with a rival faction, had disappeared from public view shortly before the fighting began. — AFP
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