An interesting paper (5-page PDF) on how ISIS, Al-Qaeda and its spin-offs, and other extremist groups make use of social media to promote their messages and to recruit new members. The report is from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism.

Transcending Organization: Individuals and “The Islamic State”

The innovative ways that foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq are leveraging social media and mobile apps to recruit aspirational supporters in the West reveal what is actually a paradigm shift occurring within the global jihadist movement, away from the organization-centric model advanced by Al-Qaida, to a movement unhindered by organizational structures. Counterterrorism policy and practice must rethink the way it approaches countering online radicalization.

August:28:2014 - 06:28 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Who represents the greatest threat to Muslims today? It’s not the US. It’s not Israel. It’s other Muslims, argues Azeem Ibrahim, of the US Army War College, at Al Arabiya TV.

Killing Muslims in the name of Islam is perverse. Religion is being used as a cloak for what is actually “ethnic, social, sectarian and/or tribal cleansing,” he says. Again, an article worth reading in full.

What is the greatest global threat to Muslims?
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

Who is responsible for the greatest numbers of deaths against Muslims today? Who commits the worst atrocities against Muslims? It is not the West that claims the highest headcount nor is it Israel. The sad truth is that today Muslims kill the most Muslims around the world.

Since the beginning of the Arab Spring in late 2010, more than 100,000 have been killed. Many of these deaths were in Syria, where thousands more languish in prisons expecting similarly grim fates. And with the rise of ISIS and the threat that it poses to regional stability, many more are expected to die.

Most of the fighters are killing “infidels”. Most of the those dying are allegedly “infidels”. Almost always, that means that they are the wrong kind of Muslim to the other Muslim holding the gun. Whether they are fighters or civilians, the sin of those dying is in many cases simply being Sunni rather than Shiite, or Shiite rather than Sunni. And woe betides any smaller minorities caught in the middle.

August:16:2014 - 09:09 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Writing at Al Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem finds the origin of extremist groups like ISIS to be in the Arab penchant for “conspiracy theories, delusions, self-deception, paranoia and xenophobia.” Undemocratic societies, where government seek to control the flow of information, leave vacuums which people will seek to fill. They end up filling them with nonsense, with anger, with paranoia.

It’s worth reading his column in full. He does a good job of pointing out the various zany theories that are rippling across not only the Arab world, but the world at large. And it’s scary.

Enough lies, the Arab body politic created the ISIS cancer
Hisham Melhem

Most people are averse to introspection, and rarely engage in self-criticism. Arabs are no different. However, the political culture that developed in the Arab World in the last 60 years, particularly in countries ruled by autocratic regimes, shifted blame from their catastrophic failures in governance to other external, sinister forces. For these countries, self-criticism has become next to impossible.

Over time, this legacy has created fertile terrain for conspiracy theories, delusions, self-deception, paranoia and xenophobia. If you read an Arab newspaper or many a website in the region, you will invariably encounter some of these symptoms. Admittedly, sometimes they can be entertaining, but in most cases they are downright ugly, reflecting deep pathologies of fear.

August:16:2014 - 08:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that the death of a Saudi national upon his return from Sierra Leone was not due to the Ebola virus. Tests in Saudi Arabia, Germany, and the US show that it was more likely that he died of meningitis.

The Saudi ban on Haj visas for people coming from Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea remains in effect.

Saudi Ebola suspect dies of infection

RIYADH — The lab tests on samples taken from the Saudi man who was suspected to have died of Ebola virus showed that Ebola was not responsible for his death. Local Arabic daily Al-Watan quoted informed sources on Wednesday as saying that the tests conducted in the US and Germany gave negative results. The sources said Ibrahim Al-Zahrani had possibility died of meningitis, a disease that he might have contracted in Sierra Leone where he was on a visit. Acting health minister Adel Fakeih told the GCC health ministers in Riyadh on Wednesday that the Kingdom was free of the Ebola virus. The ministers asked the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars to issue an official fatwa (religious edict) on how the people who die of highly infectious diseases should be buried.

August:15:2014 - 08:59 | Comments Off | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV carries a story about the black and grey markets in oil that are now springing up in the conflict-torn Middle East. ISIS, which has gained control over large parts of the Iraqi oil fields and most of those of Syria, is selling heavily discounted oil — often at a 70%-80% discount — to shadowy buyers. These buyers, if they can mix in their black market purchases with legitimate oil, stand to gain enormously. But ISIS, even selling at a discount, is said to be earning up to $1 million per day.

Libya, also caught up in internal conflict, is seeing attempts to move oil outside of government control.

The case of the Kurds is more “iffy”. There’s a lack of clarity about whether their sale of newly-produced oil is illegal and, at least for now, it seems that it’s being tolerated internationally. The US, for instance, recently accepted a tankerload of Kurdish oil. If this continues, then attempts to create an independent, non-OPEC oil-producer state of Kurdistan becomes much more likely. This, of course, would be at the expense of a unified Iraq.

Sales of black market oil surge in Middle East
Paul Crompton | Al Arabiya News

Crude oil sales through non-governmental channels are a rising trend in the Middle East, with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) radical fighters and Iraqi Kurdistan getting in on the action, experts say.

In conflict-ridden, oil-drenched Iraq, both ISIS and the Iraqi Kurdistan administration are shifting barrels through non-governmental, albeit vastly different, supply chains, while the weakened central authorities in Baghdad remain unable to take action.

For ISIS, the clandestine trade in crude involves loading oil from its seized oil fields onto trucks and selling it to shadowy parties – often Kurdish businessmen – at a knockdown discount.

The lucrative practice currently nets the Jihadist group around $1 million a day, according to industry journal Iraq Oil Report.


U.N. warns against oil trading with ISIS

July:29:2014 - 05:53 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat runs an interview with former US Ambassador Mark Hambly. Hambly, who had a reputation as one of the best “Arabists” in the State Dept., ran the Regional Media Center in London during and following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. In the interview, he explains why the Center was established in London.

The Center, in fact, was an expansion of the program I established in 1996-97 while I was the Information Officer at the embassy. I hired the first Arab support personnel for that office because it was abundantly clear that the pan-Arab media based in London — both print and satellite broadcast — was critically important and needed full-time attention. My job was to deal with the British media, a more than full-time job itself, but I was able to convince Washington that the Arabic media needed to be addressed as well. With the Iraq war, this became even more obvious, so the new Center was created. I was in Riyadh by then.

Mark Gregory Hambley: Coverage of the Arab–Israeli conflict
is biased on both sides

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Thanks to the presence of a number of pan-Arab newspapers and media outlets (including Asharq Al-Awsat) in London, for the last decade the US Embassy in the city has played host to one of the State Department’s Regional Media Hubs which aims to conduct ‘public diplomacy’ in the Arab World, engage with Arab and Iranian journalists, and monitor the Arab media.

Mark Gregory Hambley—a former US ambassador to Qatar and Lebanon—was appointed its first director when it was set up in 2003, after a decades-long career as a diplomat in the Middle East. Since retiring from the State Department in 2005, he has acted as an occasional advisor and consultant to the US government. Asharq Al-Awsat recently spoke to Ambassador Hambley about his time as director of the Hub and American efforts to engage with Arab media over the past ten years.

July:22:2014 - 08:45 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

The Great Game was the rivalry that played out between the British Empire and the Russian Empire in the 19th and early 20th C. for supremacy in Central Asia. Today, there’s a new “Great Game” being played out in iraq, says Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The rise of ISIS/ISIL and the declaration of a new “Islamic State” have brought into high relief the problems sectarian violence in the region. The direct causes are many, but the effects are a multiple of that, affecting all states in the region, including Saudi Arabia.

Cordesman’s piece is meant as possible guidance for US policy-makers. It’s an interesting analysis.

The New “Great Game” in the Middle East: Looking Beyond the “Islamic State” and Iraq
Anthony Cordesman

The U.S. has good reason to try to prevent the creation of a violent, extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, to reverse the gains of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria)/ ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham), and to help move Iraq back towards a more stable and unified form of government. The chances, however, are that the U.S. can at best have only partial success. The U.S. faces years in which Iraq is divided by sectarian and ethnic power struggles, the Syrian civil war continues, facilitating some form of radical Sunni threat crossing the border between Syria and Iraq.

ISIS/ISIL did not suddenly materialize in Iraq in December 2013. For years, the group exploited growing Sunni and Shi’ite sectarian divisions and steady drift towards civil war. For at least the last three years, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s actions of building his own power structure around a Shi’ite dominated state with close ties to Iran alienated Sunnis and exacerbated tensions.

The U.S. cannot simply intervene in Iraq by attacking ISIS/ISIL. It is a major movement in Syria as well as Iraq. The U.S. must also find some way to limit and roll back ISIS/ISIL -– without taking sides in Iraq’s broader civil war. At the same time, creating anything approaching a stable Iraq means creating new and lasting political bridges across Iraq’s increasingly polarized and divided factions as well as helping to create a more effective and truly national government in Iraq, as well as rebuild Iraqi forces that serve the nation, rather than an increasingly authoritarian Shi’ite leader.

It is far from clear that the U.S. can do this, and Syria and Iraq are only the most visible challenges taking place in the strategic game board that shapes the Middle East. The U.S. must also deal with a much broader set of new strategic forces that go far beyond Iraq’s borders. The U.S. must change the structure of its de facto alliances with key Arab states in the region, and it must deal with new forms of competition -– or “Great Game” with Russia — and possibly China, as well.

July:12:2014 - 07:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

Fuad Ajami, scholar and writer on Middle Eastern affairs, has died. I had the pleasure of hosting him at my home in Riyadh several times. While we had some differences on certain aspects of the politics of the Middle East, he was always courteous and informed, a pleasure to know.

June:23:2014 - 09:35 | Comments Off | Permalink

According to this piece in Saudi Gazette, the Internet hacking group Anonymous — or some anonymous group claiming to be Anonymous — is setting its sights on Gulf oil companies. Supposedly, the attacks are motivated by Anonymous’ anger that oil prices are denominated in dollars. That strikes me as just about the lamest excuse I’ve come across, but I guess I’m just not cut out to be a member of Anonymous, or Pretend Anonymous.

Cyber attacks loom over KSA, UAE, Qatar oil firms

DUBAI – A Middle East-based group of hackers has issued a threat warning of cyber attacks against oil, gas and energy companies in the Middle East, security firm Symantec has revealed.

The threat, made by Anonymous, a politically- motivated group of hacktivists, states that they are planning to attack before, during, and after June 20, 2014.

This is due to Anonymous disagreeing with the US dollar being used as the currency to buy and sell oil, Symantec said. According to the security firm, governments that may be attacked include those in Saudi Arabia Kuwait and Qatar.

Some of the possible company targets include Kuwait Oil Company, Petroleum Development Oman, Qatar Petroleum, Saudi Aramco, ADNOC, ENOC and Bahrain Petroleum Company.

While there are limited details regarding the tools that will be used, based on previous observations, Symantec said the attacks will most likely include distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, phishing/spear-phishing emails, intrusion and data-theft attempts, vulnerable software exploration, web application exploits, and website defacement.

June:19:2014 - 05:06 | Comments Off | Permalink

The insurgent/terrorist group, the Islamic State of Syria and al-Sham, ISIS, has taken over parts of Iraq and continues to battle in Syria. Various pundits have offered their opinions about how this group is funded. Some — including lazy ones who work from stereotypes — have blamed Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States despite the fact that several of those countries — and most certainly Saudi Arabia — have labeled the group as terrorists. Saudi Arabia has not only blocked funding, but has jailed those who support the group or who have gone off to fight with it.

Foreign Policy magazine offers a new take. It reports that even though some funding from GCC states had gone to ISIS in the early days, and it’s likely that some private funding still does, the group is now self-supporting. Through a variety of criminal acts, ISIS is able to find the money to fund operations, pay salaries, pay bribes, buy weapons, and train recruits. Were every riyal, dinar, dirham or dollar from the Gulf to be cut off, the group would be in fine fiscal shape.

Never mind that the group grabbed tens, if not hundreds of million dollars from Iraqi banks through simple robbery. The group is also involved in oil smuggling, extortion, and kidnappings for ransom. According to a report from the Carnegie Institute for Peace Studies, the group may be earning as much as $50 million per month on smuggled oil alone.

ISIS Uses Mafia Tactics to Fund Its Own Operations
Without Help From Persian Gulf Donors
Yochi Dreazen

When fighters from the Islamic State of Syria and al-Sham (ISIS) stole tens of millions of dollars from a bank in Mosul earlier this year, it wasn’t simply a startling symbol of the collapse of Baghdad’s control over Iraq’s second-largest city. The brazen theft was instead a stark illustration of one of the most alarming aspects of ISIS’s rise: the group’s growing ability to fund its own operations through bank heists, extortion, kidnappings, and other tactics more commonly associated with the mob than with violent Islamist extremists.

In its early years ISIS — like the Taliban and other Sunni militants — received most of its funding from wealthy donors in Kuwait, Qatar, and other Persian Gulf countries. Extremists in those U.S. ally states continue to send money to ISIS, but American counterterrorism officials believe that the group now finances the bulk of its recruitment, weapons purchases, and attacks without outside help. In other words, even if the United States and its allies somehow stopped the flow of money from the Persian Gulf to the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, it would be too late to prevent ISIS from banking enough money to fight on for years.

“The overwhelming majority of their money comes from criminal activities like bank heists, extortion, robberies, and smuggling,” said one U.S. counterterrorism official. “They’re getting some money from outside donors, but that pales in comparison to their self-funding.”

June:18:2014 - 07:33 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat runs an interesting interview with Greg Gause, an American analyst who focuses on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. The interview ranges widely, from Qatar and its ambitions, to the stresses within the GCC brought about by Syria, to the future of relations between the US and Iran, to why Kuwait has become the center for terrorist funding. It’s worth reading in full.

In Conversation with Gregory Gause

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Beyond its terrible human and material cost, the Syrian conflict has exposed and exacerbated some of the Middle East’s deepest political fault lines. Outside of Syria itself, the crisis has been defined by stark differences among regional and international powers—not only between backers and opponents of the Bashar Al-Assad regime, but also within the anti-Assad camp—over how to approach the crisis.

Meanwhile, the United States seems close to an agreement with Iran——Bashar Al-Assad’s chief regional ally—over the Islamic Republic’s controversial nuclear program. This deeply worries many Arab states, especially those in the Gulf, who struggle to understand Washington’s willingness to deal with the two issues separately. This has been a main source of tension between the US and Saudi Arabia, one of the US’s oldest allies in the region.

Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with one of the leading American experts in the politics and international relations of the Middle East, Professor Gregory Gause, about these and other important developments. Currently a professor of political science at the University of Vermont and a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, he will soon be joining the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. Gause is the author of numerous articles on regional matters, as well as three books: The International Relations of the Persian Gulf (2010), Oil Monarchies: Domestic and Security Challenges in the Arab Gulf States (1994); Saudi–Yemeni Relations: Domestic Structures and Foreign Influence (1990).

June:17:2014 - 08:10 | Comments Off | Permalink

War, crises, and sanctions in several of the oil-producing states is leading to a global oil shortage, Bloomberg news reports in this piece carried by Asharq Alawsat. This is driving prices higher and pinching economies as well as consumers. Saudi Arabia, the country with the greatest oil reserves, needs to increase its production to record levels if oil prices are to remain within economic reason, the report says.

This is the direct opposite of what analysts had been suggesting just half a year ago when there were positive expectations that Libya, Iraq, and Iran would work their ways out of their problems and get their oil back on the market.

Increased production from the US takes pressure off prices in the US, but because of laws prohibiting the export of crude oil, it does little for the global market other than to reduce US demand. That’s not a small thing, but it is insufficient to make up the shortfall between international demand and international production.

World needs Saudi Arabia to supply record oil as OPEC meets

London, Bloomberg—OPEC ministers say they will almost certainly leave their oil-production ceiling unchanged when the group meets this week. What really matters for markets is whether Saudi Arabia will respond to global supply shortfalls by pumping a record amount of crude.

Just six months ago, energy analysts predicted output from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries would climb too high and Saudi Arabia needed to cut to make room for other suppliers. They changed their minds after production from Libya, Iran and Iraq failed to rebound as anticipated, and industrialized nations’ stockpiles fell to the lowest for the time of year since 2008. Saudi Arabia may need to pump a record 11 million barrels a day by December to cover the other member nations, says Energy Aspects, a consultant.

“Now it’s not whether the Saudis will make room, but whether they’ll keep it going and maintain enough spare capacity,” said Jamie Webster, a Washington-based analyst at IHS, an industry researcher. “OPEC is increasingly having a hard time just doing its job of bringing all the barrels needed.”

June:10:2014 - 07:29 | Comments Off | Permalink
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