Research and Analysis Updates from the Counter Extremism Project
ISIS’s Systematic Brutality Against Religious Communities Continues
While Pope Francis begins his peace-building trip to Egypt, ISIS continues its campaign to murder, rape, torture, and displace members of other religious groups. ISIS’s deadly Palm Sunday bombings in Egypt at two Coptic Christian churches collectively killed 49 people. CEP’s report—ISIS’s Persecution of Religions—highlights ISIS’s ongoing use of genocidal violence and incendiary rhetoric against Muslims, Yazidis, Christians, Mandaeans, and other religious minorities.
ISIS and Al-Qaeda, Linked by Roots in Muslim Brotherhood, Discuss Alliance
Bitter rivals ISIS and al-Qaeda are reportedly in discussions about forging an alliance. The two groups, competitors for recruits, funding, and leadership of the global jihad movement, since their split in 2014. However, as CEP’s report makes clear, their shared origins in the Muslim Brotherhood movement could allow leaders of the two groups to overcome their differences and potentially join forces. The two groups share ideological roots in the writings of the late Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb, and while they can disagree on short-term goals and strategies, their similarities far outweigh their differences.
Pullout of Advertisers from Google Highlights Problem of Extremist Content on YouTube
The controversy surrounding ads appearing next to hateful and violent content on Google-owned YouTube underscores the need to address the pervasiveness of online extremist content. CEP’s report, Anwar al-Awlaki: Tracking Google’s Counter-Narrative Program, examines Google’s February 2016 pledge to divert users away from radicalizing and extremist content. The report found that the “bad stuff”—including lectures by Awlaki—have been consistently and even increasingly available on YouTube. In December 19, 2015, a search for Awlaki yielded 61,900 results. By February 3, 2017, this number had risen to 71,400. As CEP research shows, Awlaki has been found to play an influencing role in dozens of U.S. and European terrorism-related cases.
Converts Who Became Foreign Fighters, Recruiters, and Domestic Terrorists
CEP released Extremist Converts on March 27, a report that explores the diverse backgrounds of 131 American, Canadian, European, and Australian converts to Islam who have attempted or succeeded in becoming foreign fighters, propagandists or recruiters, and domestic terrorists. CEP’s report found that at least 60 percent converted at age 25 or younger; 28 percent pledged allegiance to or acted on behalf of ISIS; 18 percent allied themselves with al-Qaeda or its affiliates; and 18 percent were influenced by radical preacher and terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki.
Terror Targets in the West: Where and Why
On April 12, CEP released a new analysis report which probed how and why ISIS and al-Qaeda chose their targets in the West in order to gain maximum attention and create fear. In 2009, al-Qaeda’s then-second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri urged Muslims to “strike the interests of the enemies of Islam—namely, the Christians and the Jews—wherever and by whatever means you can.” CEP’s report includes detailed case studies of past attacks by ISIS and al-Qaeda, as well as each group’s justification for choosing its targets, which in addition to Christian and Jewish institutions, have included transportation systems and public spaces, cartoonists that have drawn the Islamic prophet Muhammad, law enforcement personnel, and military installations and personnel.
London Attacker Lived in U.K. City Burdened by Past Links to Well-Known Extremists
Terrorist Khalid Masood—who killed four people and wounded dozens more in the London attacks on March 22—lived in Luton, a town known as a bastion of Islamic and far-right extremism. The banned extremist group al-Muhajiroun, created by convicted radical preachers Omar Bakri Mohammad and Anjem Choudary first met in Luton, as did the planners of the 7/7 London bombings in 2005. CEP’s report, Extremist Hubs, profiles 10 areas in Europe, Australia, and North America unique for their concentration of extremist activity. Each profile includes a summary of recent extremist-related activity and the origins of the area’s designation. In some cases, national or local governments have taken action to curb extremism in these neighborhoods.
New Handbook to Assist German Educators with Radicalization, Complex Cultural Issues
CEP and the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD) unveiled a handbook designed for German educators who are confronted with radicalization and other complex cross-cultural and religious issues in Berlin, Germany on April 4. The handbook is specifically designed to assist German teachers, especially in areas with high immigrant populations, who often struggle to understand and properly respond to difficult and sensitive cultural and religious issues, including recognizing the signs of radicalization. The goal of the handbook is to present useful, practical options for action.