TSN Special Report: Indonesia Spot Report: Online Jihadism and COVID-19
The global Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis is providing Indonesian jihadists with opportunities to consolidate their internal support and may prompt some to consider attacks.
Jihadist narratives on the virus — particularly anti-Chinese sentiment — could find traction among some Islamists but are still unlikely to convert many to terrorism.
Still, jihadists will add to mounting public criticism of government, finding common voice with Islamists and contributing to the risk of political upheaval in the coming weeks and months.
The virus' spread is also posing the same physical threat to jihadists as to other communities, with online discussions suggesting extremists in prison in Indonesia and refugee camps in Syria could be at increased risk of infection as the virus spreads.
TSN Special Report: Social Cohesion in SW Kirkuk: Milestones and Challenges
Over 300,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) have returned to their areas in Kirkuk province since its liberation, half of whom are from southwest Kirkuk. The relatively high rate of return has brought hope back to southwest Kirkuk, although challenges to return and recovery remain. Several factors contributed to encouraging residents to return to their homes, including a more reassuring security environment, a partial restoration of basic services, and an improved relationship between local authorities and the federal government.
However, security and social cohesion challenges continue to hinder stability in southwest Kirkuk. One of the primary challenges facing the area is a lack of long-term programs designed to deal with societal divisions created by over a decade and a half of conflict. Short-term achievements are often not followed by long-term strategies from the Gov- ernment of Iraq (GoI) to build on these successes and put in place policies to mitigate future conflicts.
Community-led conflict resolution efforts are often ad-hoc with no clear long-term strategy. Several interviews with local government officials and tribal and civil society leaders suggest that people are expecting the federal government to intervene with solutions and programs. The GoI does not appear to be planning or carrying out such programs.
Further, divisions among and within communities remain strong and deeply embedded. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’s (Daesh) continued presence, lack of basic services, intra-tribal competition, lack of government intervention to deal with returning Daesh-affiliated families and individuals, and exclusion of women from public life pose
a challenge to the rehabilitation of southwest Kirkuk.
TSN Special Report: Peace Building Initiatives after Mindanao Terrorist Attacks
Following the bombing of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Sulu, on Sunday 27 January, and the grenade attack on Masjid Al-Islam in Barangay Talon-Talon, Zamboanga City, just a few days later on Wednesday 30 January, The Stabilisation Network (TSN) and our local partners conducted two special events as a way of building community resilience and demonstrating unity in countering violent extremism (CVE) in southern Philippines.
TSN Special Report: Raqqawis on US Withdrawal
On 19 December, the United States officially announced the withdrawal of US forces from Syria. Following this policy shift by the Trump administration, The Stabilisation Network (TSN) sought to understand how Raqqawis view this decision and its ramifications on their society, city, and lives.
In the 24hrs after the announcement, TSN gathered the opinions of over forty individ- uals of both genders via TSN’s networks in Raqqa Province. The overwhelming majority expressed confusion and shock over the decision and fear and uncertainty about the future. In general, most Raqqawis were concerned first and foremost with the security situation. At the forefront was anxiety about the regime’s return, followed by scepticism about Turkey’s war with the Kurds and its potential stabilising role in Raqqa, and finally apprehension about Daesh’s return to Raqqa. Another important concern for Raqqawis is the economic situation after the US leave. The US fostered an environment that allowed for the proliferation of international non-governmental organisations. Without the US, the jobs and relief these organisations provided are now called into question. Importantly, not a single interviewee supported the decision.
Al Shabaab Wives and Widows: A Survey
This paper seeks to understand the role Somali women play in al-Shabaab (AS) and their place in Somali society more broadly. Its findings paint a complicated picture, with women far more than unwitting victims of predatory husbands and a rapacious group. Rather, women who join AS through marriage largely do so willingly, with many of those interviewed saying they believe they are doing a service in protection of their country and the wider Muslim community. They praised AS’s judicial system as fairer than that administered by the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), and largely embraced their role in spreading AS’s ideology to their children.
In conversations with both AS wives and widows as well as with Somali subject matter experts, it became clear that women are more than just homemakers in AS-controlled terri- tories. Interviewees noted cases where women have been allowed to open businesses, have run safe houses in government-controlled territory and abroad, and have even themselves participated in terrorist operations on behalf of the group. Such activity is made easier because women, according to interviewees, are generally allowed to move unencumbered between FGS and AS areas and are seen as beyond suspicion.
Nevertheless, the interviewees said that in much of AS’s territory, ordinary women and men have been turning against the group in ever greater numbers. It is already common practice for fighters to send their wives and children to government-controlled towns because of the perceived danger from airstrikes and joint Somali-US offensives, especially in the country’s south. The fear that comes from the ongoing air war has caused a number of women to rethink their roles within the group, and the group’s uncompromising—and at times contradictory—application of its version of shari’a law has only exacerbated this disillusionment.
The findings of this study paint a picture both of AS and of the women who are associated with it that is complex, but one that offers several possible leverage points for programs to exploit existing weaknesses in the group’s self-portrayal and its gender-based policies.
TSN Special Report: HTS and Women (May 2018)
This report explores how Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) appeals to and influences women, as well as women’s role within the group in Syria’s Idlib and Dar’a provinces. The principal aims of this analysis are: a) to better understand how women participate in and are affected by HTS and b) to offer programmatic recommendations to address the push and pull factors that shape women’s engagement with HTS and which create opportunities for HTS to recruit, influence, or otherwise affect women and girls.
Existing research on HTS has focused primarily on the group’s military and governance functions and specifically, the involvement of military-aged males in such roles. This has left a significant gap in understanding how the group’s various social activities are used to attract and influence different groups and sub-groups of women. Such information is valuable for ensuring that future programming addresses multiple gender groups, in particular women, in a way that is targeted and responsive to their needs.
Research Note: The research and analysis contained in this report is current as of May 2018. At the time of writing, the military situation in Syria is subject to change rapidly, with a high probability of an imminent regime offensive on rebel-held Dar’a. With changes in military realities, the social activities discussed in this report are also subject to change. However, even as details on the ground change, the broader themes discussed throughout the report remain relevant to understanding and predicting HTS’s approach to social control.
TSN Special Report: Jaysh Khalid Bin Al-Walid (September 2017)
Jaysh Khalid Bin al-Walid (KBW) was formed on 21 May 2016 by three small salafi-jihadi
groups in the Yarmouk Basin, roughly 30km northwest of Dar’a City. Though the group’s
roots are in the moderate Syrian Armed Opposition, today KBW is the Islamic State in
Iraq and the Levant (Daesh) in all but name. The ties in leadership and media production
between KBW and Daesh betray the two groups’ close working relationship, despite Daesh
not having declared the Yarmouk Basin an official wilaya (province). Nevertheless, KBW
has expanded Daesh’s influence in the Syrian South, particularly after its successful 20
February offensive against rival salafi-jihadi and moderate Opposition groups. Subsequent
Opposition attempts to dislodge KBW from the Yarmouk Basin have failed, and the area
has nominally become a stagnant front. However, intensified Coalition airstrikes targeting
KBW leadership may have drastically curtailed KBW’s effectiveness as a fighting force.
Moreover, the vacuum created following the continued decapitation of KBW’s leadership
has led to heightened tension within the organization that could result in infighting and
splintering. Nevertheless, following the liberation of Mosul, the coming liberation of
Raqqa City, and the Regime’s incipient campaign to retake Dayr al-Zawr, Daesh may look
to increase its activity along new fronts, such as KBW’s foothold in Dar’a Province, which
would pose considerable security concerns to Israel, Jordan, and the fragile de-escalation
zone between the opposition and Regime.
HTS roots out Daesh sleeper cells in Idlib Province (July 2017)
HTS has been vigorously and publicly conducting wide-scale anti-Daesh operations in Idlib Province. On 9 July, HTS launched a security operation targeting Daesh sleeper cells in multiple areas across Idlib Province. HTS announced the arrest of more than 100 Daesh fighters and reportedly recovered weapons, money, and explosive devices during its campaign. The remaining members of Jund al-Aqsa, an unofficial Daesh affiliate in Idlib Province, have been subject to arrest.
HTS also reportedly arrested Abu Sulayman al-Rusi, the alleged leader of the clandestine Daesh presence in the province.
HTS has turned the crackdown into a public relations initiative to demonstrate its handle on the security situation in Idlib. HTS-linked media outlet al-Iba Agency heavily publicized the campaign, releasing photos of houses being raided and Daesh fighters captured. HTS has repeatedly accused Daesh sleeper cells of being behind a string of IED explosions targeting opposition groups in Idlib Province. Idlib has been rocked by a string of IED explosions since June, with casualties from opposition groups and residents and raising resident alarm about the province’s security situation. On 16 June, the HTS cleric Abdullah al-Muhaysini survived a suicide bomber attack after Friday prayers, afterwards accusing Daesh of being behind the assassination attempt.
Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports indicate that Daesh fighters returning from Raqqa are being put through HTS “repentance” trainings and reincorporated into HTS’s ranks. If true, these reports indicate that HTS will accommodate fighters from Daesh, an arch enemy, if it serves the interests of the group. Such behaviour would be in keeping with past practices of HTS, for whom strategy has been driven more by pragmatism than ideology.
TSN Update - Daesh withholding medicine and medical care from Raqqawis (July 2017)
Daesh is forcibly shifting civilians into densely populated parts of Raqqa to serve as human shields, while also refusing medical treatment to wounded civilians. Raqqawi activists reported this week that there is a lack of medical supplies available to the general population. Daesh is withholding medicine and medical care from civilians injured in the fighting, giving preferential treatment to its fighters. Daesh is also exploiting its monopoly on drinking water to prevent civilians from evacuating to liberated territories. The insufficient medical treatment and potable water available to Raqqawis is exacerbating an outbreak of what’s likely cholera, caused by contaminated water sources.
In light of the cholera outbreak, spreading as a result of unclean drinking water, Raqqawis may become further dependent on Daesh, who controls the dwindling supply of clean, bottled water in the city. Daesh has been distributing the water to civilian homes as a means of encouraging non-combatants to remain in the city. Potable water plays a vital role in Raqqa, including in the SDF’s ability to continue its offensive into Daesh territory, and at this point control of water supplies is tantamount to control of the civilian population. Furthermore, civilians may be inclined to move southeast towards Deir al-Zawr and Mayadeen, rather than northwest to SDF territory, because as Daesh withdraws, it has been destroying water infrastructure, greatly undermining the SDF and Raqqa Civilian Council’s ability to provide essential services such drinking water.
The lack of water and medicine and the cholera outbreak are likely to create a vicious cycle which will perpetuate itself as the siege continues and humanitarian conditions worsen. The circumstances also play in Daesh’s favour because Daesh is ostensibly still able to provide services in the form of potable water distribution, and Daesh opponents are not able to guarantee essential services and therefore do not have the same credibility as a governing entity, subsequently bolstering Daesh’s standing, even as it rapidly loses ground.
TSN Special Report - Militias, Kingmakers in Tripoli (February 2017)
Although two different governments—the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Government of National Salvation (GNS)—operate out of the Libyan capital of Tripoli, the most powerful actors in the city are in reality local militias and gangs. These armed groups take on many shades, ranging from de facto security and law enforcement units to illegal smuggling, drug trafficking, and kidnapping rings. It is therefore unsurprising that these militias and gangs regularly clash with one another, exacerbating the city’s endemic instability.
Conflicts between armed groups and divided loyalties to the two governments have split Tripoli between East (GNA) and West (GNS) with each half controlled by a rival government and its militia allies, resulting in a municipal schism which serves as a microcosm of the GNA’s national-level failures. The UN-backed unity government is wholly reliant upon militias for military teeth, it has failed to unite a polarized country, and it has been unable to stabilize Libya in the face of the crises that have plagued the country since the 2011 Revolution. If the GNA is to succeed in resolving the Libyan political crisis and uniting the country, it must make greater strides to disarm the rampant militias and must reintegrate them into the government’s fledgling security apparatus, the Presidential Guard. Demonstrating to the rest of Libya and the international community that the GNA, not local militias, is in control of Tripoli would greatly enhance the unity government’s position; otherwise, the GNA’s viability, both inside Libya’s capital and throughout the country, will continue to erode.
TSN Special Report - Jihadist and Islamist Groups in Libya (February 2017)
Violent extremist organizations (VEOs) have played a central role in the Libyan crisis since the country’s revolution erupted in 2011. They flourished following the outbreak of the so-called Second Libyan Civil War in 2014, reaching their high-water mark in 2015 when Daesh controlled the urban centers of Derna and Sirte, and Al-Qa’ida (AQ)-affiliate Ansar al-Shari’a (AS) firmly embedded itself in Benghazi. However, both VEOs suffered serious defeats in 2016, with the Bunyan al-Marsous (BAM) coalition ousting Daesh from its stronghold in Sirte in early December 2016, and Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s anti-Islamist “Operation Dignity” confining AS and its allies to a few neighborhoods in Benghazi.
Following its defeat in Sirte, reports indicate that Daesh is establishing insurgent cells to the south and east of Tripoli, with the organization focusing on small-scale terrorist attacks targeting Libyan infrastructure. This strategy has proven effective thus far at depriving essential services from civilians which in itself undermines the legitimacy of the struggling UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). Should the GNA fail and a new power struggle ensue, VEOs in Libya, including both AS and Daesh, will greatly benefit from the subsequent instability. Moreover, staunch anti-Haftar Islamist militias aligned with the GNA might rally around AS’s banner, bringing moderate Islamist forces into the more radical fold.
Providing national security, political agency, and economic opportunity are paramount to preventing a resurgence of VEOs in Libya. However, military escalation between the GNA and Gen. Haftar and further economic deterioration mean that, in early 2017, it is possible that VEOs might yet succeed in steering Libya down an extremist course.
TSN Special Report - A primer on Libya's GNA (January 2017)
Through its first year of existence, the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has struggled as Libya has only become further mired in a multi-polar political crisis plaguing the country. Though the GNA successfully ousted Daesh from its stronghold in Sirte, the terrorist organization continues to pose a major threat to Libya’s national security. Additionally, military confrontation with the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by eastern military strongman General Khalifa Haftar, has become increasing likely, with Gen. Haftar now representing the most significant threat to the GNA’s continued viability. Control of Libya’s vital “Oil Crescent”, meanwhile, remains a likely military flashpoint between the GNA and LNA. Furthermore, should the UN-backed government continue to fail to meet its objectives, the resurgent Government of National Salvation (GNS) may coopt the GNA’s anti-Haftar base of support, thereby creating a third political pole in an already divided country.
If the GNA is to survive, it must simultaneously continue its fight against Daesh while also making significant progress toward achieving its core missions of unifying the country’s political factions and stabilizing the faltering Libyan economy. If current trends hold, however, this will prove a very tall order.