Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Keeping Up With ISIS

There Is Another Explanation for Orlando

And see, Nicholas Johnson, "Focus on Muslims Misplaced After Shooting," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 17, 2016, p. A5

If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way, however it may be. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.

-- Abu Mohammed al Adnani, the “official spokesman and a senior leader of Isis" according to U.S. Department of State, Yara Bayoumy, "Isis Urges More Attacks on Western 'Disbelievers;' Group Spokesman Adnani Seems to be Encouraging Attacks . . .," Independent, September 22, 2014

All Americans share the grief and heartache of our Orlando neighbors.

And almost all wonder how that horrific tragedy could have occurred. Was it a hate crime? Was the shooter mentally deranged? Was it the easy accessibility of AR-15 type weapons? Was it an ISIS-directed attack?

Humans are complex beings whose behavior can be driven by forces of which even they may be unaware. Frustration and anger, focused on one group or another, are often precursors of violence. There seems to be consensus that the shooter was not a "member" of ISIS, communicating with ISIS, following ISIS instructions for this massacre, nor was he trained, funded or otherwise aided by ISIS.

So then why do I say only "almost all" are wondering? Because surely there are some Americans in our national security establishment who are fully aware of the significance of ISIS' role, and what it means for our global anti-terrorist strategy.

And what might they know that they haven't shared with the rest of us?

They know that, however evil ISIS may be, it is also incredibly nimble and adaptive to modern technology and changed conditions. ("Can't bring metal guns or box cutters on planes anymore? OK, let's try undetectable plastic bombs in our shoes.")

In Iraq and Syria they have to risk their lives placing bombs along the roadside. We can drop even bigger bombs from unmanned airplanes without risking the life of a single pilot. It's no match. Theirs is a terrorist operation. Ours is a military operation. We can leave it to the International Criminal Court to sort out the ethical differences.

It's not going well for ISIS on the ground. So much so, that they are now discouraging the flow of replacement troops to help defend their new caliphate state.

They've tried ISIS-trained terrorists executing ISIS drafted plans outside of their territory -- in Europe and elsewhere. Sometimes successful (from their twisted perspective), that approach is also not working as well as it once did. The U.S. and its allies have become better at tracking the movement of their members, money and messages. Besides, it's expensive at a time when cash flow is declining.

So now they're trying another innovative strategy.

Officials from Orlando assure us that the shooter was not a member of ISIS, as he claimed, since it would be inconsistent with his claims at various times to have been a member of other terrorist organizations, some of which were opposed to ISIS. Officials are probably right about that -- if not solely for those reasons. And a few years ago that would have cleared both ISIS and the shooter of any ISIS involvement.

But those observations miss what Paul Harvey used to call, "the rest of the story."

To understand the latest switch in ISIS strategy and tactics you need to reflect, first, on the expression "practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty." Are you familiar with it? Do you practice it? I try to.

Note that, in following it, little if any money or other resources are required -- and certainly no major military operation. It may be simply a kind word or greeting to one of those millions of Americans who go through their days feeling as if they must be invisible to the rest of us.

Note also that there is no organizational planning or operation. This is not something that your local church, synagogue, or mosque is behind, orders you to do, or assists you in executing -- although it is something that may be consistent with its teachings.

Now consider, if it is possible for undirected individuals to do "random acts of kindness" all on their own, with little resources and no direction, it is also possible for undirected individuals to do "random acts of violence."

Indeed, the expression "random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty," at its creation, was a rejoinder to the expression "random acts of violence and senseless acts of cruelty."

And that, like the switch from guns to plastic bombs on planes, is ISIS' latest switch in strategy and tactics for responding to what they view as our war on them.

Their message, first in the fall of 2014 (as quoted at the top of this blog essay), and repeated this spring, has been (in effect and sometimes literally): "Don't come to the Middle East to fight along side us. Don't travel to training camps to learn terrorist techniques. Stay where you are, use what you have, kill and injure those you can reach. It doesn't have to be a military facility. You don't have to use a bomb. You don't even have to use a gun if you don't have one. You can kill with a knife, or a rock, or a car. You can drop someone from the roof of a tall building. Don't contact us. You don't need additional permission or instructions. But for the sake of keeping the ISIS movement alive, it is very important that you make a public declaration that you have done what you've done in the name of ISIS."

This is what happened in Orlando. Yes, there was hatred; yes, the shooter is at best a very odd duck; yes, AR-15-style weapons are easily accessible in Florida. But the pattern of violence followed by a statement of allegiance to ISIS is clear.

This pattern -- random acts of violence, followed by a statement about ISIS -- has evolved from repeated incidents in Australia, Canada, France and the U.S. (involving guns, knives, and automobiles) -- the very countries, and methods, suggested by Adnani. Orlando is just the latest.

Oh, no, I guess it's now just next to the latest: "The murder of two police officials by a man claiming allegiance to so-called Islamic State (IS) is 'unquestionably a terrorist act,' President Francois Hollande says." BBC -- "30 minutes ago."

That switch in ISIS strategy makes the job of the NSA, FBI, CIA, military, and local law enforcement even more difficult than it is already. But it's the consequence of our military "success" in Iraq and Syria, so we best confront that reality and pivot as promptly as possible -- starting with a public discussion of what we're now confronting.

[With thanks to Rachel Maddow.]

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The following day [June 15] a story appeared in the Washington Post that provides support for some of the assertions in this blog essay:
“America and Russia stop bombing the Islamic state . . . I pledge my alliance to [Islamic State leader] abu bakr al Baghdadi . . . may Allah accept me,” Omar Mateen wrote [in Facebook] . . ..

Mateen then posted . . .: “The real muslims will never accept the filthy ways of the west” and “You kill innocent women and children by doing us airstrikes . . . now taste the Islamic state vengeance.” . . .

The social media postings corroborate accounts that Mateen was motivated in part by a perceived connection to the Islamic State. The shooter made 911 phone calls during the shooting in which he pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State, . . ..

FBI Director James B. Comey said . . . there were no signs that Mateen was directly tied to any kind of network, and . . . it remained unclear exactly which extremist group he supported. Mateen’s references to terrorist groups have at times been muddled. Officials say he made comments in recent years to co-workers claiming he had family connections to al-Qaeda and was a member of Hezbollah, two opposing terrorist groups that have clashed repeatedly in Syria.
Kevin Sullivan, Ellen Nakashima, Matt Zapotosky and Mark Berman, "Orlando Shooter Posted Messages on Facebook Pledging Allwegiance to the Leader of ISIS and Vowing More Attacks," Washington Post (online), June 15, 2016, 11:12 p.m.


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