The Islamic State (IS) continues to dominate Western media discourse regarding the Syrian conflict, and it remains true that they are the preeminent, and most deadly extremist force in much of the north and east of the country. However, the incessant focus on IS has overshadowed the threat posed to local and regional stability by other militant groups involved in the war in Syria. These include Jabhat al Nusra (JaN), which is one of the most successful, well-trained and well-equipped of the myriad rebel groups that have sprung up during the conflict. JaN is arguably the primary armed movement in a number of key Syrian regions, including the north-western Idlib province, the mountainous Qalamoun area along the frontier with Lebanon, and the Quneitra/Deraa zone to the immediate east of the Golan. While sharing an almost identical and uncompromising extremist ideology with the IS (although with an arguably more limited focus), JaN is a very different animal, as it combines an ability to adjust its activities to local realities and power structures, with an willingness to work with others. This brief analysis will seek to outline the group’s genesis and growth, and to identify what it is that makes JaN so dangerous, particularly, its pragmatism and its efforts to remain receptive to other Syrian rebel organisations, on occasion even with its dire enemies. First, it is worth examining just how the extremist movement evolved out of the maelstrom of the Iraq war to become such a major player in Syria.read more
The Islamic State (IS) continues to dominate Western media discourse regarding the Syrian conflict,...
NORTH KOREA’S PARADOX...
As examined in part one of this blog post, North Korea has these past few weeks displayed a notable...
CONSIDERING THE IMPLI...
The UK is eagerly awaiting its first ruling on the interception of legally privileged information,...
Inkerman Insights on Global Business Threat and Vulnerability
As examined in part one of this blog post, North Korea has these past few weeks displayed a notable contradiction between its actions and words. Although its rhetoric has remained fiery as ever, unusually this has been repeatedly flanked with cool behaviour. While a fragment of the explanation might lie in the Pyongyang leadership’s desire to evade mounting legal challenges, as we have seen, Chinese support means that Kim Jong un and his retinue are not likely to set foot in a courtroom any time soon. So why has there been this recent change in tack from Pyongyang?read more
The UK is eagerly awaiting its first ruling on the interception of legally privileged information, no date is yet known for the decision to be announced but what is known is the significant impact it will have on a large number of legal and investigatory professionals.read more
On 16 November 2014, a recording which presents itself as the latest execution video produced by the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group surfaced on the Internet. As well as showing what appears to be the murder of a number of captives in graphic detail, the video also contains a direct threat to many of its viewers. In his London accent, the host tells the camera that “the Islamic State will soon, like your puppet David Cameron said, begin to slaughter your people in your streets”. During the video, the masked executioner gesticulates with a knife clutched in his hand, the fresh blood on its blade emphasising the apparent sincerity of the threat he makes. These latest words from the man beneath the black cloth mark a noteworthy new entry in a debate which has been taking place for some years.read more
On 10 November 2014, North Korean soldiers edged too close to the Demilitarized Zone, receiving warning shots from the South Korean forces on the other side of the border. Reading solely from this unremarkable episode, one might think that lately it has been business as usual for Pyongyang. But few, if any, states can be said to conduct themselves in a more perplexing manner than North Korea. This example of normality was preceded by weeks of distinctly paradoxical behaviour, a characteristic which had become particularly pronounced during the autumn of 2014, when the foggy window outside observers have into the country became even more clouded than usual.read more
Early on 06 November 2014, the Libyan Supreme Court declared that the House of Representatives – the country’s governing body which was elected in June 2014 and has been sitting in the eastern city of Tobruk since August 2014 – is constitutionally invalid. The ruling was unexpected; while a legal challenge to the parliament’s activities was raised soon after its inaugural meeting in early August 2014, hearings and a decision on the issue have been repeatedly delayed. Such tactics by the Supreme Court have been seen in the past; a final ruling remains to be made over the constitutionality of the Political Isolation Law (PIL), and with Libya’s political situation so much in flux, further delays were expected. However, after weeks of postponement, the ruling was made early on 06 November 2014. What is more surprising, however, is the content of the ruling itself. The initial legal challenge pertained to the sitting of the House of Representatives in Tobruk and the failure of the body to attend an official handover ceremony from the General National Congress (GNC) which it had replaced. But what the Supreme Court has ultimately ruled against is the very legality of the process by which the House of Representatives was elected. This result has been celebrated by the Islamist-leaning parties and individuals who had been dominant in the GNC, but who lost out heavily to (more) secular and federalist politicians, and who never accepted the House of Representatives as a legitimate body.read more
The Islamic State (IS) has made headlines for many reasons – its ability to seize and control territory, its brutal tactics, its rapid expansion that has even brought it near the borders of states such as Turkey and Jordan. However, one of the fundamental factors that has allowed the IS to make such gains has been its ability to recruit foreign fighters from around the world. Recent US intelligence reportedly suggests that as many as 15,000 individuals from around the world have enlisted to fight with the IS in Iraq and Syria. Central to the recruitment of these individuals has been the Islamic State’s technologically-savvy and advanced use of a wide variety of media tools, including social networking sites, recruitment videos and the creation of its own glossy magazine and media centre. The IS is certainly not the first radical Islamist organisation to employ such tactics – Hezbollah is particularly known for its impressive command of media propaganda – however, the IS seems to have the most sophisticated command of such media tools compared to any other widely-recognised terrorist organisation.read more
On 23 October 2011, the Libyan people were wildly celebrating the death of one of the world’s most notorious dictators. Fast-forward three years, and it is clear that the celebrations are over. As the past two weeks have seen an alarming intensification of fighting in both eastern and western Libya, internationally-backed national dialogue initiatives have foundered. Negotiations coordinated by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) seem to have been stillborn, as an initial round of talks involving a narrow segment of political actors held in late September 2014 is all that has been achieved thus far. An Algerian-sponsored initiative, slated to be far more inclusive, has similarly stalled before getting off the ground. As violence has worsened in many parts of the country, political developments have also raised further challenges to an inclusive and peaceful resolution to the conflict, leaving the international community at a loss for a next move.read more
As the body count continues to rise in Baghdad, the troubled security situation is causing great concern that the darkest days of sectarian mayhem – as witnessed throughout 2006 and 2007 – have returned. Shi’ite militias appear to be responsible for much of the bloodshed in the city, and are largely operating with impunity, employing many of the same tactics as the terrorist group that they are ostensibly fighting. These militias, which are strongly backed by Iran, have become one of the main fighting forces of the Baghdad Government, and are now believed to consist of well over 100,000 troops. Despite having played a key role in the campaign against the Islamic State (IS), the resurgence of the Shi’ite paramilitary forces is having a severe and negative impact on the stability of Iraq, particularly on its capital city.read more
A number of recent incidents, seen largely as a spill-over from the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq, have brought the issue of Islamist radicalism to the forefront of public discourse in Germany.
On the night of 07 – 08 October 2014, the security forces were forced to intervene after a group of approximately 400 hard-line Islamists formed in response to a large gathering of Kurdish activists, who were protesting outside a Hamburg mosque – believed to be used by radicals – against the assault being carried out by the Islamic State (IS) on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani. German police used water cannons and batons to keep the two large groups apart from each other, many of whom were armed with knives and improvised weapons. Fourteen people were injured in the fighting, and another twenty-two arrested. Earlier in the day, Kurdish and Yazidi demonstrators clashed with an Islamist Chechen group in the northern German town of Celle, leaving nine people injured, including four police officers.
The recent arrest and subsequent brief imprisonment of a British tourist, charged with “homosexual acts” in Morocco has sparked renewed concern regarding the potential risks faced by gay travellers to certain destinations. While most of the world has steadily grown increasingly accepting of homosexuality, there have been some recent notable cases of countries taking steps in the opposite direction. In Uganda, concerted efforts have been made to pass a draconian anti-gay law. The law was struck down in August 2014, but some lawmakers are currently seeking to resurrect it. In Russia, the bizarre legislation banning “homosexual propaganda” was mirrored by an alarming rise in homophobic violence. In Egypt, local activists have claimed that the military-backed government has launched a crackdown against gay men, with most of those arrested being charged with such crimes as “debauchery” since there are no specific penalties for homosexuality in the Egyptian legal system. There are at least five countries in which conviction of certain homosexual activities can lead to a death sentence and some seventy more where it remains illegal in some way to be gay. It is relatively uncommon for foreign nationals to be charged under these laws, but the recent case in Morocco has demonstrated that the risk remains for travellers hailing from a country where homosexuality is not vilified to fall victim to more culturally conservative destinations.read more
Recent events, most notably the execution of four Western captives by the Islamic State (IS), have focused attention onto the issue of kidnappings carried out by militant organisations in the Middle East. Although extremist groups have long exploited hostage-taking for political, diplomatic or financial gain, it is today an even more effective tactic, due in part to the fact that public audiences are becoming increasingly inured to violence. Horrific events that would previously have garnered world-wide headlines – such as suicide bombings – now often pass largely unnoticed, and fail to elicit the commentary that they once did. Kidnappings remain sensationalist in nature and thus bypass this dynamic by allowing the victim and their story to be personalised, with the uncertainty over their fate creating the suspense necessary for a long-lasting and wide-reaching story, especially if the victim is a foreign national. In addition, kidnapping has also become more profitable for militant movements than ever before, with several sources suggesting that al Qaeda and its direct affiliates alone have taken in at least US$125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which US$66 million was paid just last year, which is a troubling indication of the growing nature of this problem.read more