Eye on Extremism, February 04, 2017
News and Updates from the Counter Extremism Project
CEP Policy and Program Updates
Enduring Links: ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood
The historical and contemporary connections between the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, and al-Qaeda are analyzed and explored in depth in the CEP report released January 26. Before assuming the highest positions of ISIS and al-Qaeda, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Osama bin Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, which served as a bridge, as it does today, between young Islamists and more violent jihadist groups. As the progenitor of the modern Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood underpins the belief system that fuels al-Qaeda and ISIS. The groups share ideological roots in the writings of the late Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb, and while they can disagree, their similarities far outweigh their differences.
Senior Advisor Hany Farid, CEP Technology, Featured in Major Media
The launch of CEP’s eGLYPH technology in June 2016, developed with Dartmouth College Computer Science Professor Dr. Hany Farid, continues to generate great interest from international media and policymakers. The technology is capable of detecting and removing extremist images, video, and audio content from Internet and social media platforms. CEP’s technology was noted in a speech by European Union Counterterrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove during an EU Parliament Hearing ‘Preventing and countering radicalisation and violent extremism’ and in a New York Times opinion piece written by two women suing Twitter for its alleged complicity in the death of their family members in terror attacks.
On January 27, Dr. Farid was interviewed on public radio’s Science Friday about the technology, as well as the reluctance of tech companies thus far to adopt it. Dr. Farid said, “My view is we can no longer pretend the Internet is not a place where terrorists are recruiting, radicalizing and glorifying with real consequences. Social media companies are nervous that if they go down this road, that eventually they will have to go down another road. I don’t buy into that slippery slope argument. I genuinely believe we have a real and immediate need, a real and immediate danger and a real and immediate problem we have to address. We have the technology to address it and I think we can do it in a way that is thoughtful to all aspects of this problem. If you talk to the families of the victims of San Bernardino, of Orlando, of Brussels and of Paris, they are tired of their families being murdered, tired of people being radicalized online and getting a free pass because people are saying the problem is too complex.”
HBO’s VICE News Tonight in December described CEP’s hashing technology and efforts to catalogue the types of content that already violate the terms of service of major Internet and social media companies. Dr. Farid was also recently interviewed by National Public Radio (NPR), the Guardian, and Defense One.
Former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly Joins the Counter Extremism Project
Ray Kelly, the former Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, became a member of the CEP Advisory Board in December. Commissioner Kelly spent nearly 50 years in public service, including 14 as the police commissioner for the City of New York. As the longest-serving police commissioner in the city’s history, Commissioner Kelly created the first counterterrorism bureau of any municipal police department in the country and a new global intelligence program, stationing New York City detectives in 11 foreign cities.
CEP Research and Analysis
Report on Iranian-Backed Houthis Released Following Attacks on Saudi Ship, U.N. Facility
Following Houthi attacks on a Saudi ship and a U.N. facility in southern Saudi Arabia on January 30, CEP released an updated analysis report on the Iranian-backed extremist group that included new details on their operations and history. A Saudi ship patrolling in the Red Sea was reportedly attacked by three Houthi “suicide gunboats,” killing two crew members and injuring three, while on the same day, a U.N. building was hit by Katyusha rockets. The Houthis have fought the Yemeni government for more than a decade and rejected a 2011 peace agreement that ended the Yemen civil war. In 2014, they captured Yemen’s capital, Sanaa and drove out the internationally recognized government.
CEP Releases Updated Database of Terrorists and Extremists
On January 18, CEP released the Terrorists and Extremists Database (TED), an updated, searchable list and interactive map containing detailed biographical information on more than 400 of the world’s most dangerous extremist leaders, propagandists, operatives, and financiers. Users can search the database in a number of different ways: by name, organization, type of leader, type of operative, and country of origin. Among the TED profiles are extremist leaders such as:
- Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS);
- Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah;
- Ayman al-Zawahiri, co-founder of al-Qaeda with Osama bin Laden in 1988 and its present leader; and
- Mahmoud Ezzat, the acting supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and leader of the world Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Mali, Burkina Faso Country Reports Released Following Deadly Truck Bombing
Following a suicide truck bombing at a military camp in the northern Mali city of Gao that killed at least 47 people and wounded more than 100, CEP released analysis reports on the countries of Mali and Burkina Faso, and on Islamist extremist group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The attack—claimed by AQIM’s Malian branch al-Mourabitoun—targeted Malian soldiers and members of pro-government forces who were set to begin mixed patrols, a key step in the implementation of a peace agreement between the government and Tuareg rebels that ended a 2012-2013 separatist movement in Gao and surrounding areas.
CounterPoint Blog: Terror Stays Closer to Home
ISIS announced itself to the world in 2014 by conquering Mosul, an Iraqi city of 1.8 million people, with only about 1,500 lightly armed men, assisted by coordinated social media promotion and online marketing. By late in the year, however, awakened to ISIS’s brutality, the U.S. and other nations struck back. When ISIS began to lose territory in Iraq and Syria, it changed its strategy, telling followers that rather than travel to the caliphate, they should strike against non-believers in their home countries. In this blog, CEP Research analyst Marielle Harris explains how ISIS followers responded.
Iraqi Shiite Militias Fight for Assad in Aleppo, Accused by U.N. of Human Rights Abuses
Iraqi Shiite militias fighting with Hezbollah for the Assad regime in Syria were accused of human rights abuses. CEP released updated analysis reports on the most powerful militias, Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH). In December, the United Nations implicated AAH’s Syrian wing, known as Harakat al-Nujaba, in the slaughter of dozens of civilians in Aleppo. Although supposedly operating independently of AAH in Iraq, Harakat al-Nujaba is comprised primarily of AAH fighters and those from fellow Iranian-backed militia KH. Iraq’s Shiite militias are referred to as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). In a July report, Human Rights Watch documented killings, disappearances, torture, and the destruction of homes by PMF groups during the fight to retake Fallujah and other Sunni-dominated areas in Iraq from ISIS. Nevertheless, the Shiite militias were formally recognized by the Iraqi Parliament in November 2016.
Social Media Post of the Week
CEP extensively monitors social media sites and frequently features a revealing posting in the Weekly Roundup. This example was found on Telegram.