Tag Archives: Far-right

Jihad & the Far-Right: The Dual Terror Threat Facing the West – New Zealand Special Report

Written by Ollie Wiltshire and Ziv Reuben

Executive Summary

Following the deaths of 50 people in the Christchurch Mosque shootings, Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda and Islamic State, called for reprisal attacks on far-right and Christian sites.

The rhetoric of the New Zealand shooter and the publications from the jihadist groups underscore that the two ideologies are catalyzing each other and increasing radicalization and the potential for attacks.

Far-right militants are more likely to be radicalized by the decentralized online community who perpetuate extremist ideologies. They are more likely to attack specific targets with ideological significance.

Jihadist militants are often radicalized by pro-Islamist online messaging groups and are targeted by recruiters to carry out attacks. They are more likely to attack public places in urban areas.

Threats to Global Businesses

This interactive relationship between far-right and jihadist lone-wolves has a number of implications on global businesses:

  1. Potential for attacks will increase around times of heightened tensions between Muslim communities and nationalist communities.
  2. Companies that are deemed by either the far-right groups or jihadists to be opposing one ideology or aiding the other may become specific targets. This threat is particularly relevant with regards to the far-right, who are more likely to attack specific companies.
  3. Those who may be radicalized may not be obviously adhering to extremist ideologies and may be mostly interacting with such groups online. They could be hard to detect and may be working within an organization.
  4. Targets with specific cultural significance are more likely to be attacked. This includes religious sites or overtly religious gatherings.

Christchurch Attack and Aftermath

50 people were killed and 50 others wounded in two consecutive shooting attacks at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, New Zealand during the Friday afternoon prayers on March 15. The perpetrator, a 28-year-old Australian identified as Brenton Tarrant, was arrested shortly after; he live-streamed parts of the attack.

The attack was carried out using two assault rifles, two shotguns, and another rifle. These firearms were reportedly bought via an online store. Two undetonated IEDs were found attached to a car in the area.

The suspect released a document detailing his motivations and ideologies, which he also emailed to Prime Minister Jacintha Arden. According to Tarrant, his motivation for the attack was to “crush immigration and deport those invaders already living on our soil”. Tarrant states that he developed his views in 2017, and was influenced by the Stockholm vehicular attack and French elections that year. He claimed that he traveled through Western Europe during this time.

Following the attack, Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda (AQ)-linked online groups released a series of messages calling for attacks on churches and Christians as a retaliation for the Christchurch attack.

The media foundations al-Andalus and Az-Zallaqa released a statement on March 18 in response to the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand calling on supporters to attack members of the far-right. Al-Andalus is the media outlet of al-Qaeda-Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), operating in North Africa, while Az-Zallaqa is the media outlet of Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam waal Muslimeen (JNIM), an al-Qaeda coalition operating in sub-Saharan Africa. The statement encourages young Muslims to carry out attacks on members of the far-right for inciting hatred and attacks on Muslims, specifically mentioning those who supported the attack in Christchurch within the media and on social networks.

Relationship between Far-right and Jihadist Radicals

While the New Zealand attack was clearly a part of the ongoing trend of far-right attacks being carried out by individuals radicalized online, the quick and strong response from jihadist groups over the incident is highly notable. It appears that the cycle of violence between the far-right and jihadist groups is escalating, with online communities radicalizing young European individuals to carry out lone-wolf attacks against Muslims and jihadist groups calling on lone-wolf Muslim youth to respond in kind. In this regard, it is important to note that the threat of self-radicalized individuals carrying out attacks now comes from two ends of the extremist ideological spectrum, both far-right and jihadist.

In addition, the rhetoric being used by the far-right and the rhetoric being used by jihadist groups feed into each other, escalating the threat of violence with each attack. That is to say, when a major attack carried by a jihadist militant occurs, far-right online chatter will increase and anti-Muslim sentiment will rise. This has the potential to push certain individuals towards carrying out lone-wolf attacks, which will then increase radicalization among Muslim communities. Although this is likely to happen throughout the world, areas where Muslim communities and communities of European descent meet are likely to be the most affected, including Western Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand.

Recommendations

Avoid the vicinity of far-right protests, rallies, or buildings due to the potential for jihadists to target such gatherings.

Maintain vigilance in the vicinity of religious sites, refugee centers, or any institution which may be perceived to be linked to immigration.

Remain cognizant of your surroundings, including any suspicious behavior of individuals, which may include a person wearing winter clothing during warm weather and/or seemingly wandering around, as well as items that look out of place, such as bags or containers.

Immediately alert authorities of any suspicious behavior or items.

Public, private, and third sector organizations are advised to increase their awareness of threats on social media through the use of threat monitoring services. Increased awareness of an organization’s political footprint and perceptions from fringe online groups can help uncover potential violent actors and plots before they occur.

 

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Pittsburgh Shooting – How Social Media became a Platform for Decentralized Radicalism and Political Violence – USA Special Analysis Report

This intelligence report was written by: Ollie Wiltshire, Regional Director of Intelligence for Europe and the Americas 

Executive Summary

The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting by a white nationalist underscores the decentralized nature of radicalism in the USA, which is increasingly found on online domains.

The comments and influence that the social media site Gab had on the Pittsburgh shooter underscore the potency of some online political communities in catalyzing violence.

Further incidents of violence are likely to stem from similar cases of online radicalism, coming in the form for far-right, far-left, and Islamist attacks.

Public, private, and third sector organizations are advised to increase their awareness of threats on social media through the use of threat monitoring services.

Please be advised

On October 27, 2018, at 09:54 (local time) a white male entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1.6 km east of Carnegie Mellon University and 8 km east of downtown Pittsburgh, with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and at least three handguns. Upon entering the synagogue he was able to discharge his weapons, killing 11 worshippers and wounding six others, including four police officers. The suspect, who was taken into custody following a shootout with security forces, was later found to be Robert Bowers who will be charged with 29 federal criminal counts. While inside the synagogue, which was relatively full due to the Shabbat morning services, the shooter reportedly shouted a number of anti-Semitic statements, including saying to the police while surrendering, “all Jews need to die”.

The suspect, Robert Bowers, is a 46-year-old resident of Baldwin, Pennsylvania, a southern suburb of Pittsburgh. He was an active user of the social media platform Gab, where he registered in January under the handle “@onedingo”. His account description read ‘”jews are the children of satan. (John 8:44) — the lord jesus christ is come in the flesh (sic)”’. His cover picture was a photo with the number 1488, which is commonly associated with neo-Nazis and white supremacists. While using the platform Bowers published a number of posts, as well as reposting the content of others, which indicated that he was a believer that white people were being targeted for genocide in the United States and that Jews were responsible. In addition, Bowers criticized President Donald Trump for not being a nationalist and being controlled by Jews. Many of Bowers’ views appear to have surrounded the idea that Jews were catalyzing immigration into the US to the detriment of white citizens. Bowers had no known connections to any organized militant group.

Bowers reportedly made anti-Semitic posts directed at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) National Refugee Shabbat, in which Tree of Life Synagogue was participating, in the weeks before the shooting. The event was held to show support from the Jewish community towards various pro-refugee and immigrant initiatives. According to his social media, Bowers claimed that the group was aiding members of Central American caravans moving towards the United States border and referring to members of those caravans as “invaders”. Shortly before the attack, in an apparent reference to immigrants to the US, Bowers posted on Gab that “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

Background

The attack on the Pittsburgh synagogue came just two days after the arrest of Cesar Altieri Sayoc Jr., a Florida resident, in connection with a series of letter bombs in the United States which targeted liberal and pro-Democratic public figures. Sayoc was a registered Republican and was reported to be active on social media, where he would often post views deemed “extremist”, particularly with regards to his support for various right-wing policies and anti-liberal messages. Similar to Bowers, Sayoc was believed to have acted alone and had no known connection to any organized militant groups.

Of the 14 incidents which were considered “terrorist” attacks in the US between the beginning of 2016 and the end of October 2018, only four had any connection with an organized militant group (in this case, the Islamic State), and these were only claims of allegiance. On three occasions, the Islamic State (IS) or IS-linked media stated that the attack was inspired by them. On one occasion, the claim came from the assailant himself, who stated that he had carried out the attack in the name of the group. Of all the militant incidents that have happened in the US since 2016, none were found to have been specifically planned or conducted by an organized militant group. On the contrary, all of the violent attacks carried out by non-state actors with the intention of catalyzing a climate of fear for political purposes were carried out by unaffiliated individuals. The vast majority of these individuals had been radicalized online, through both regular and social media.

Assessments & Forecast

Recent US attacks underscore lack of clarity between organized militancy and lone-wolf incidents

The shooting in Pittsburgh, the mail bombs across the USA, and the vast number of IS-inspired incidents in the country and throughout the West, illustrate that the difference between organized militancy and lone-wolf attacks has become increasingly convoluted. While traditionally both governments and the media had differentiated between “terrorism” and lone-wolves, the increase in radicalization online and individuals carrying out attacks on their own volition has shown that militancy has become democratized.

Those who carry out attacks no longer need to have any relation to charismatic militant leaders; they can be radicalized online. They no longer need to be in a specific geographical location to find ideologically like-minded extremists; they can be recruited to carry out attacks through social media. These individuals also no longer need large networks of criminal and militant connections to acquire attacking expertise or equipment; they can research and purchase such materials via the internet. Moreover, it has become ineffective, in many cases, to organize a militant group in a single location, where police are more likely to be alerted to activities. It is more effective to gain influence in online spaces, encouraging radical ideas and calling for attacks, which will then catalyze the individual’s motivation to carry out a shooting, stabbing, or vehicular ramming. In many cases, targeted individuals may have pre-existing issues with mental health, potentially making them more susceptible to radicalization.

Such was the case with Robert Bowers, who was not known to have any militant links but had engaged with extremist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semitic rhetoric on the Gab social media platform, which likely exacerbated pre-existing views. He did not appear to have been encouraged by any politically-motivated central organization to choose his target or carry out the attack; the shooting was entirely of his own doing. Nonetheless, there are also political ideologies within the US which will benefit or use the shooting to further their extremist views, with far-right users online praising Bowers and conspiracy theorists arguing that the attack was a “false flag” intended to cast a negative light on pro-white ideologies.

Social media created a base for extremism, increasing difficulty in countering radical ideologies, as well as opportunities for countermeasures

The use of websites such as Gab and the encrypted messaging network, Telegram, has become a base for a number of radical and pro-militancy groups, both far-right and jihadist. Through such social media websites, they have found a unique platform with which to discuss their ideologies, unchallenged and unaffected with the outside world; an environment which breeds radicalism due to the continued validation of their beliefs. While such platforms do not, themselves, encourage militancy, they are preferred by more extremist groups due to the premium that they place on privacy, particularly from government oversight, and on free speech, with both platforms being preferred by covert and fringe groups. FORECAST: Further cases of radicalization and militancy being planned, announced, or inspired on such websites will continue going forward, with this framework for attacks likely becoming among the most common in the West. This will particularly be the case in the US which is increasingly experiencing a climate of political violence and lone-wolf attacks.

With an understanding of militancy which moves away from a structured organization of fighters to a loose ideology which can recruit individuals across the world, comes new problems with regards to counter-militancy. Attempts to mitigate and stop attacks before they arise can no longer rely on methods of surveillance and infiltration of small cells while attempting to neutralize leaders. Rather, it is necessary that governments and private institutions take a more active role in analyzing such social media platforms for general trends with regards to possible targets, methods, and attacker profiles. Ideological and “meme” trends on such platforms can give indications of tendencies, while deep and dark web infiltration can allow for greater access to information on possible attacks. For example, the comments from Bowers in which he ends with “Screw your optics, I’m going in.” – indicated an imminent attack and could have been found, through online monitoring, prior to the incident to aid with mitigation attempts.

How the recent developments in militancy impact global corporate security

It is evident from both the Pittsburgh shooting and, perhaps more pertinently, from the mail bomber, that, unlike with IS attacks, the targets of this decentralized paradigm of militancy are not necessarily random. In fact, in both cases, they were highly specific. In the case of the Pittsburgh attack, it was the local Jewish community and in the case of the mail bomber, it was a number of prominent pro-Democrat individuals, including private businesses. With this in mind, global corporations and prominent individuals or institutions are liable to be targeted by such militants due to their political stance on various issues, and the interest in such targets can be tracked online. Unless serious investigations into the perceptions of a company’s political footprint are uncovered, it is far harder to understand whether or not there is a threat from extremist groups. It is important to gather whether or not a company is linked, or perceived to be linked, to an issue which is on the radar of online radicals, so appropriate steps can be taking towards securing the firm’s employees, assessments, and reputation.

Through a campaign of online social media, deep and dark web brand monitoring, companies are able to identify threats or sentiments which could result in violence prior to attacks. Unlike with militant groups who speak in highly clandestine circles, modern social media radicalism is relatively easy to survey and track. Private companies and individuals possess the abilities to monitor the perceptions of their brand from a security standpoint, to ensure they are not becoming the focus of political or Islamist radicals.

Recommendations

Public, private, and third sector organizations are advised to increase their awareness of threats on social media through the use of threat monitoring services. Increased awareness of an organization’s political footprint and perceptions from fringe online groups can help uncover potential violent actors and plots before they occur.

Far-right militant threat reflected in September 2018 arrest data; risk to immigrant communities, anti-Brexit figures to increase – UK Analysis

Executive Summary

Statistics demonstrate that the number of attempted militant attacks from far-right groups has significantly risen in recent years.

Since the Brexit vote, far-right militancy has been catalyzed by the polarization of British politics and a concurrent increase in Islamist militancy.

Nationalist rhetoric is expected to continue to manifest in an increased risk of attacks on minorities, as well as those seen as liberal or against Brexit.

Travel to the UK may continue going forward while remaining cognizant of the risks emanating from far-right militancy.

Please be advised

Statistics released by the UK Home Office in September demonstrate the increasing militant risk emanating from within the far-right. Since the assassination of anti-Brexit Labour Member of Parliament (MP) Jo Cox in 2016, the proportion of those arrested for militant-related charges who are considered ‘white’ has risen significantly. According to the Home Office report, white suspects constitute 38% of all those arrested on such charges in 2017, ahead of ethnically South Asian (referred to un the UK as Asian) suspects for the first time since the institution of the 2000 Terrorism Act.

In 2016, the far-right, allegedly neo-Nazi National Action group was officially banned under the Terrorism Act, the first group of its kind to face such action in over 70 years. The group is reported to have continued operations and is believed to have between 60-100 active members nationwide. Members of the group reportedly supported the murder of Jo Cox, sent threatening messages to LGBT and Jewish figures, including MPs, and held small-scale demonstrations in several cities in the UK before the 2016 ban. A member of National Action admitted to having planned to kill Labour MP Rosie Cooper with a machete in the summer of 2017, while in September 2018, three individuals from the Midlands were charged for their membership in National Action.

Notable Incidents

Three people were injured after a deliberate car collision near the al-Majlis al-Hussaini center in Cricklewood, North London during the overnight hours of September 18-19. The collision occurred following verbal altercations between the occupants of the car and a large group of people visiting the center. The assailants were consuming alcohol in the car park of the center and reacted belligerently when requested to stop by visitors.

Security forces arrested two 15-year-olds in Ramsgate, Kent on the south-eastern coast on September 20 in relation to an ongoing investigation into a possible far-right inspired militant attack, although police sources stated there was no imminent threat.

In March 2018, a number of Muslim MPs, businesses, and individuals were sent letters threatening attacks on April 3, deemed ‘Punish a Muslim Day’, however, no attacks were reported to have manifested on the day.

In February 2018 police arrested an alleged white supremacist on suspicion of planning to attack an LGBT+ event with a machete in the northwestern town of Barrow.

Assessments & Forecast

Since Brexit vote, far-right militancy has been catalyzed by the polarization of British politics and concurrent increase in Islamist militancy

The vote on the UK’s future in the EU in 2016 increased political factionalism, decreasing the emphasis on centrist politics which had continued for almost two decades, increasing nationalist sentiments and energizing elements of the far-right. The following years have witnessed persistent anti-migrant and anti-non-white rhetoric within far-right propaganda. This rhetoric has been coupled with an envisioning of opposition to Brexit as tantamount to treachery by such groups, with online abuse and threats against liberal, left-wing, and anti-Brexit figures significantly increased after the vote. The threat from such rhetoric was highlighted by the February 2018 in Barrow.

This rhetoric has supposedly exacerbated sentiments of disenfranchisement and alienation among the Muslim community, increasing the potential pool for recruitment and radicalization by Islamist groups and by individuals accessing online materials. This came alongside a series of militant attacks between March-June 2017, including the suicide bombing in a Manchester arena, a ‘lone-wolf’ vehicular and stabbing attack near Parliament in London, and the coordinated stabbing and vehicular attack that took place near London Bridge.

As demonstrated by the vehicular attack on a mosque in Finsbury Park, London shortly after the London Bridge attacks, the Islamist inspired attacks further heightened anti-Muslim, far-right sentiments and support. Thus, these incidents underscored the cycle of far-right and Islamist related militancy, with both influencing and exacerbating one another.

Expected continuation of nationalist rhetoric to manifest in increased risk of attacks on minorities, as well as those seen as liberal or against Brexit

FORECAST: Given ongoing political tensions surrounding Brexit, as well as the recent arrest of high-profile nationalist figure Tommy Robinson, it is plausible that nationalist and far-right sentiments and support will continue to grow, at least in the medium term. Other factors liable to augment such sentiments include the far-left policies of the opposition Labour Party, perceived snubbing of British interests by the EU in Brexit negotiations, and right-wing rhetoric from foreign sources, such as US President Donald Trump and European leaders, such as Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

It is therefore likely that the recent trend in increased far-right and white supremacist motivated militant-related activity will continue. Radicalized individuals and groups are liable to plan attacks on high-profile figures, organizations, and groups perceived to be pro-immigration, anti-Brexit, or related to an ethnic or religious community. As demonstrated by the planned attack in Barrow, they may also target groups which they perceive to be against traditional values, such as the LGBT+ community.

Based on precedent, these attacks are likely to remain rudimentary, with regards to their modus operandi; stabbing, physical assault, and vehicular rammings are the preferred methods of attack among far-right militants. That said, further intimidation campaigns, such as the ‘Punish a Muslim Day’ for example, may also be launched, in addition to trends like the recent trend of sending harmless white powder to high-profile individuals and community centers. While there have been reports of individuals attempting to access or assemble explosives, given the difficulty of obtaining or manufacturing such devices, they pose a lesser risk than the more low-sophistication methods mentioned above.

Recommendations

Travel to the UK may continue going forward while remaining cognizant of the risks emanating from far-right militancy.

Organizations related to ethnic or religious minority groups or the LGBT+ community are advised to maintain heightened vigilance and take precautionary measures to mitigate such risks.

Alert authorities immediately if suspicious behavior or items are witnessed.