Tuesday's State of the Union address was the first since 2001 to not mention al-Qaeda. It opened with the promise of a post-post-9/11 era. "We are 15 years into this new century," President Obama observed. "Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars." "But tonight," he added, "we turn the page." It was an odd way to preface a request for Congress to bless a new U.S. military offensive against a terrorist group in the Middle East. What followed was, as my colleague Peter Beinart described it, possibly "the briefest and most half-hearted call to war in American history.
As the season for wheat planting in Iraq wound down early last month, farmers in areas under the control of Sunni militant group Islamic State grew worried. More than two dozen farmers told Reuters they had not planted the normal amount of seed, because they could not access their land, did not have the proper fertilizers or adequate fuel, or because they had no guarantees that Islamic State would buy their crop as Baghdad normally does. Farmers, and Iraqi and United Nations' officials, now fear a drastically reduced crop this spring. That could leave hundreds of thousands of Iraqis hungry. But another big loser would be Islamic State, which controls territory that normally produces as much as 40 percent of Iraq's wheat crop.
Shia Houthi rebels in the Yemeni capital Sanaa are attacking the presidential residence. Reports suggest President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi is inside. It came after the rebels reportedly overran the presidential palace in another party of the city. Yemen, a key US ally in the fight against al-Qaeda in the region, has seen unrest for months. Houthi militias overran Sanaa in September after moving out of their northern Yemen stronghold.
Dear Aspiring Ranger, You've probably just graduated from high school and you've undoubtedly already signed an Option 40 contract guaranteeing you a shot at the Ranger indoctrination program (R.I.P.). If you make it through R.I.P. you'll surely be sent off to fight in the Global War on Terror. You'll be part of what I often heard called "the tip of the spear." The war you're heading into has been going on for a remarkably long time. Imagine this: you were five years old when I was first deployed to Afghanistan in 2002. Now I'm graying a bit, losing a little up top, and I have a family. Believe me, it goes faster than you expect. Once you get to a certain age, you can't help thinking about the decisions you made (or that, in a sense, were made for you) when you were younger.
Even as the horrific terror attack in France was unfolding, the spotlight of blame was being placed on the religion of Islam. This blame has been severely misplaced. As a liberal atheist, I sincerely believe that religion has the ability to bring about personal and societal harm; but if we think we can excavate the entire problem of terrorism into the light of day by blaming it solely on religion, Indiana Jones would tell us that we’re digging in the wrong place. I’d argue that terrorism — and religious fundamentalism generally — arises primarily out of a preoccupation with power. Not power in the sense of brute physical dominance over others, which acts of terrorism surely are, but power as the basic psychological drive of the human animal.
Everyone worried that al Qaeda’s deadliest affiliate would try to take down a plane. Then came the slaughter at Charlie Hebdo. For more than five years, U.S. intelligence agencies, counterterrorism operators, and the military have been intensely focused on trying to stop al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemen branch of the global terrorist network, from sneaking hard-to-detect bombs onto airplanes and slaughtering hundreds of people. What they got last week was Paris—a completely different kind of attack.
Pop Quiz: What’s the difference between Al Qaeda and ISIL? Answer: Less than you might think. Many questions persist about the attacks in Paris last week, not least the relationship of the attackers with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State group (ISIL). In truth, both organizations encourage jihadi attacks; on that issue, their commonality is more important than their differences. It now seems clear that one or both of the brothers who attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, had some years ago traveled to Yemen for training from the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Belgian investigators said a plot to murder police officers across the country had been foiled "within hours or days" of being launched by raids in which two Islamist gunmen were killed. Fifteen suspects were in custody on Friday, they said, after a dozen raids around Brussels and in Verviers, the eastern town where two men believed to have fought in Syria were shot dead on Thursday after opening fire on police with assault weapons.
American jets are pounding Syria. But ISIS is taking key terrain—and putting more and more people under its black banners. ISIS continues to gain substantial ground in Syria, despite nearly 800 airstrikes in the American-led campaign to break its grip there. At least one-third of the country’s territory is now under ISIS influence, with recent gains in rural areas that can serve as a conduit to major cities that the so-called Islamic State hopes to eventually claim as part of its caliphate. Meanwhile, the Islamic extremist group does not appear to have suffered any major ground losses since the strikes began. The result is a net ground gain for ISIS, according to information compiled by two groups with on-the-ground sources.
This morning, a militant in a white robe and a graying beard, a spokesman for the terror group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, released a video in which he said that his group was responsible for the Charlie Hebdo attack, having picked the target and the attackers. It's early, but the analysts quoted in this morning's news stories mostly said the claim appears credible, particularly since the Kouachi brothers had shouted, while inside the magazine's offices, that they were there on Al Qaeda's behalf and since, too, there are reports that Said Kouachi traveled to Yemen in 2011. (Left unresolved is the matter of why AQAP would have waited a week to claim responsibility; perhaps this was a loose affiliation.
For two Mondays in a row, Dresden was the scene of massive protests against the growing number of Muslims living in Germany. The first, attracting about 18,000 supporters, happened two days before the attack in Paris on Charlie Hebdo, and the second was this week. The anti-immigration protesters, who call themselves PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), were claiming they had gathered to promote nationalism and call for the protection of German culture. But waving German flags and brandishing posters that demanded "Homeland Protection Not Islamization," the demonstrators in Dresden slammed asylum-seekers from Muslim regions for abusing Germany's welcoming policies toward refugees and for tainting the culture of Germany.
The United States on Tuesday declared Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah a "global terrorist," making it a crime to engage in transactions with the man behind the Dec. 16 attack in which 134 children at a Peshawar school were killed. The State Department said in a statement the formal designation also allows the U.S. government to seize any of his property or interests in the United States, including those under the control of U.S. citizens.
The Charlie Hebdo atrocity has ended in more terror and more blood. Even before the killers and hostage-takers met their end, voices were raised to warn against the danger of an anti-Muslim “backlash.” Lately, these warnings have been issued even before the completion of the terror attack that might supposedly provoke such a backlash. Australian bus riders were tweeting "I’ll ride with you” this past December even as a gunman held 17 people hostage in a chocolate shop. The New York Times posted its warning as the Charlie Hebdo killers still roamed northern France and their apparent confederates murdered a policewoman and seized Jewish women and children in a kosher supermarket on the eve of Shabbat.
We can blame religion in general, and we can blame Islam. (We can hem and haw around, Bill Maher-style, and say that we’re not blaming absolutely all Muslims but only some of them, perhaps most. Or we can go full Fox News and blame the whole damn religion.) We can blame free speech carried to irresponsible and obnoxious extremes, and we can blame the pantywaist spinelessness of liberalism. We can blame the cultural arrogance, racism and Islamophobia of French society, and we can turn around and blame its overly lax immigration policies, the residue of colonial guilt.
Twelve people were massacred in Paris on Wednesday merely for expressing their opinion through art. Many might not like the art that prompted the carnage. They may consider it obscene and even an attack on their faith. But in the 21st, 15th or 57th century - whatever your religion, calendar, or country - there is no excuse or justification for responding to art with murder. But there is a clear and frightening explanation for this violence, one that demands not merely outrage at the act itself, but at the system that has made it both predictable and inevitable. The problem is that this system is hundreds of years old, implicates most everyone, and has only become more entrenched in the last several decades as the world has become ever more globalised.
French police have stormed two hostage sites in the Paris area, killing three hostage takers. Two brothers who attacked Charlie Hebdo magazine on Wednesday were killed at a warehouse where they had held a hostage north of Paris. In the second incident, in eastern Paris, anti-terrorist forces stormed a kosher supermarket where hostages were being held by a gunman with reported links to the brothers. The gunman and four hostages died.
One of the two brothers who killed 12 in a massacre at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo this week has said he received financing by al Qaeda preacher Anwar al Awlaki in Yemen. Cherif Kouachi, who was killed along with his older brother by police on Friday after a siege at a printing works in north France following a three-day manhunt, made the assertion to BFM-TV before his death while holed up inside the building.
For months, fear of Boko Haram has gripped Nigeria’s northeast. The goals of the Islamic militant group, which captured international attention through a relentless campaign of brutality, have long been about killing. But last summer, something changed. Its aspirations became as much about territory as terrorism. It no longer wants to just cripple a government. It wants to become one. In August, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau announced the establishment of his “Islamic Caliphate,” quickly taking over every corner of Borno State in northeast Nigeria. But one town called Baga, populated by thousands of Nigerians along the western shores of Lake Chad, held out.
French anti-terrorism police converged on an area northeast of Paris on Thursday after two brothers suspected of being behind an attack on a satirical newspaper were spotted at a gasoline station in the region. France's prime minister said on Thursday he feared the Islamist militants who killed 12 people could strike again as a manhunt for two men widened across the country.
One of the suspects in the Paris attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine has been killed and the two others are in custody, two senior U.S. counterterrorism officials told NBC News. Authorities identified the three men as Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, both French and in their early 30s, and 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad, whose nationality wasn't immediately clear. One of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the investigation, told The Associated Press that the men were linked to a Yemeni terrorist network. And Cherif Kouachi was convicted in 2008 of terrorism charges for helping funnel fighters to Iraq's insurgency and sentenced to 18 months in prison.