16 November 2016, In-depth analysis of Rohingya insurgency in Myanmar by Michelle Dozier

The Global New Light of Myanmar, a Myanmar government newspaper, reported that on 9 October between 1:00 am – 5:45 am, an estimated 90 insurgents killed nine border guard police officers during coordinated raids on three sites* in Rakhine State (formerly Arakan State):
*Media sources have given several versions of the exact strike points; these come from The Global New Light of Myanmar

1) the Border Guard Police headquarters Kyiganbyin (also written as Kyikan Pyin) village, Maungdaw Township

2) a police post in Kyeedangauk (also written as Kotankauk) village, Rathidaung (also written as Buthidaung) Township

3) and another police post in Ngakhuya (also written as Nagpura,) Maungdaw Township

Eight assailants were killed, and two were captured. The attackers left behind one homemade pistol, two rounds of ammunition, and one magazine. They stole 48 weapons of various types, 6,624 rounds of ammunition, 47 bayonets, and 164 magazines. Rohingya caretakers working at the Border Guard Police headquarters who knew where the weapons were stored have since disappeared.

The culprits were initially reported as the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO,) an insurgent group presumed defunct and/or dormant in recent years. The government later referred to them as the Aqa Mul Mujahidin organization (Faith Movement of Arakan, FMA,) a never before heard of group currently being linked to the RSO.

Rakhine State, which borders Bangladesh, is an impoverished region. It is also where sectarian conflicts between Buddhist Arakanese and Muslim Rohingyas have simmered since clashes in 2012 led to 100 deaths and thousands of internally displaced persons now in refugee camps. Rohingyas are the predominant ethnic group in the townships of Rakhine where the attacks took place, but they are considered non-citizens by the government. The United Nations says they are one of the world’s most persecuted minority groups.

According to the AFP, after the attacks, the Myanmar government closed the border with Bangladesh. It also deployed naval forces to shut down adjacent waterways, and it ferried infantry forces to the affected area by helicopter. Around 180 civilians, mostly Buddhist Arakanese and NGO workers, were evacuated for their safety. Businesses were closed, and an existing curfew was extended.

Following these initial stability operations, on 10 October, Tatmadaw (the Myanmar army,) and local police forces began a counteroffensive to clear the area of insurgents, estimated to number 240. Security forces encountered resistance from villagers armed with guns, knives, and sticks. Between four and seven locals were killed during security sweeps, although it is unclear how many were insurgents or innocent bystanders.

On 11 October, in Pyaungpit village in Maungdaw Township, a purported 300-strong Rohingya force ambushed a Tatmadaw patrol, killing five.

Additional Tatmadaw operations resulted in scores of suspects apprehended and many more dead. Anadolu Agency reported that Muslim organizations in Myanmar have condemned the violence.

Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counselor of Myanmar (the country’s national leader,) has urged caution and patience as the military conducted its investigations and security sweeps, and she requested the cooperation of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia in sharing intelligence on the threat.

In total, at least 40 people have died in these clashes, including nine police, five Tatmadaw soldiers, and 26 suspected insurgents.

The Myawady Daily reported that, in the course of their sweeps, government forces discovered 24 RSO flags, 40 RSO badges, a burnt MA-11 assault rifle (a Myanmar-produced copy of an HK-33,) and 1,510 rounds of ammunition.

The RSO emerged in 1982 to fight for Rohingya interests after Tatmadaw offensives in Rakhine State led to a refugee crisis. It fought into the 1990s but declined in 2001 after the Bangladesh military targeted its training camps on the Bangladesh side of the border. Despite many believing the RSO to be largely defunct since then, the RSO was suspected of being behind an attack on Bangladeshi police forces guarding a Rohingya refugee camp in Teknaf Upazila of Cox’s Bazar on 13 May 2016. RSO responsibility was never confirmed, however.

It should be noted that mujahidin violence in Arakan state erupted in 1948 and led to a rebellion that did not surrender until 1961. Accordingly, friction between Muslim communities and the Myanmar government are not new. (Friction with other ethnic groups and the government are not new, either. As many as 20 rebel groups in Myanmar have been active since the end of WW II.)

The Myanmar President’s office issued a report on the October attacks shortly after interrogating four captured insurgents. The report claims the FMA planned the attacks. Their leader is a 45-year-old Rohingya man simply named “Havistoohar” of Kyaukpyinseik village in Maungdaw Township. He is said to have attended a six-month military training course run by the Pakistani Taliban.

To launch his movement, Havistoohar posed as a refugee in Teknaf, Bangladesh, where he began seeking sources of funding from the Middle East. He worked with a Pakistani citizen named Kalis and 15 others to organize a group of fighters and collect supplies and food. Kalis, who also attended a terrorist training camp in Pakistan, came to Maungdaw to train local youths recruited by Havistoohar in weapons tactics.

Their mission, planned by Havistoohar, was simple: assault three security posts, kill the defenders, and steal their firearms. (Their original plan was for 400 fighters to attack six locations manned by Tatmadaw and local police.) Their end goal was to take over two Muslim-majority townships, Buthitaung and Maungdaw, and then spread radical Islamist propaganda through video and social networks to expand the movement.

Several videos were found online after the attacks showing men speaking the Rohingya’s Chittagong dialect of Bengali and carrying weapons similar to those stolen during the raids. One video shows a stocky, mustached, middle-aged man dressed in a black t-shirt and surrounded by young armed men in ordinary clothes. Police have identified the man as Havistoohar. Using the single-finger salute often used by other jihadists, ISIS in particular, he calls on the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine to join the mujahidin in a holy war against the government – this according to a translation by Reuters. In a second video, he references the military’s helicopters searching for the insurgents and encourages the men surrounding him to accept martyrdom. A third video shows Havistoohar marching along a muddy path leading a long column of what appears to be hundreds of mostly young men and boys, virtually all barefoot, with swords, sticks, firearms.

Throughout Myanmar, there is a deep-seated disregard for the Rohingya, who are still considered Bengalis and denied Myanmar citizenship, despite most having lived in Myanmar for generations. They suffered the worst of the anti-Muslim riots stoked by radical Buddhist nationalists after Myanmar began democratic reforms in 2011. Their plight was widely condemned by international human rights groups and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The violence also prompted a call for action by international jihadist groups, including ISIS and the Pakistani Taliban.

In an October 2014 report, the International Crisis Group suggested that the 2012 Buddhist-Rohingya communal conflict may have led to an attempt to revive the defunct RSO, and it warned that continued discrimination of the Rohingyas risked pushing some of them into violent extremism. It appears this has happened.

There are seven takeaways here. First, it is clear that an ISIS-inspired, radical Islamist insurgency has taken root in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. This was pointedly demonstrated by the attackers’ high level of organization, their military training, the effectiveness of their attacks, their PR videos, and their stated goals. The FMA’s methods of funding, recruitment, and training with foreign fighters are consistent with Islamists and ISIS affiliates elsewhere around the world. Additionally, the stockpiling of food and supplies, and the coordinated raids for weapons is consistent with insurgencies in their start-up phases.

Second, the size of the insurgency is unclear, but it appears large enough to pose a credible threat. Early reports stated only 90 fighters participated in the 9 October raids, but subsequent military sweeps aimed to round up 240 suspects. The 11 October ambush of Tatmadaw forces reportedly involved 300 fighters, and the original goal of the uprising aimed to mobilize 400 insurgents. An elderly resident told AFP that 500-600 were involved in the October attacks. In military terms, these larger numbers represent a battalion-sized force of fighters. Insurgent support forces (auxiliary forces) might number at least three times that as is consistent with insurgent methods of development.

Third, while an undisclosed number of foreigners have been identified in training and assisting the FMA, the group appears to mostly consist of Rohingyas. The movement then might appeal to locals since it does not appear to be a mostly Pakistani-driven one.

Fourth, looking forward, the presence of an ISIS-affiliated insurgency risks stoking already heightened anti-Muslim fears among Myanmar’s majority Buddhist population. This could lead to more Buddhist-Muslim communal violence.

Fifth, Rohingya advocacy groups are concerned that the government might use the cover of battling Islamist insurgents to further persecute the Rohingyas and perpetuate the same vicious cycle of retaliatory violence that has plagued the region in the past.

Sixth, the October violence is likely to derail a nine-member advisory commission designed to tackle the Rohingya issue. Established in August 2016 by State Counselor Suu Kyi and headed by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, the commission has been heavily criticized by Buddhist nationalists.

Seventh, while Tatmadaw appears to be exercising some restraint in its operations against other rebellious groups elsewhere in the country, it is unlikely to do so with the FMA, especially given the country’s current anti-Muslim/Rohingya sentiment. And while government heavy suppression may be successful in reducing further attacks in the near term, if it leads to excessive civilian casualties, this new Rohingya rebellion will likely grow in the intermediate term. If negative conditions persist for a longer period of time, global Islamist jihadist support for the FMA will likely increase.

Sources and further reading:

Myanmar: The Politics of Rakhine State,” International Crisis Group, 22 October 2014.

All Unquiet on the Western Front,” The Irrawaddy, 20 October 2016.

Myanmar Muslims condemn fatal attacks in Rakhine,” Anadolu Agency, 15 October 2016.

Myanmar gov’t still to name group behind Rakhine attack,” The Myawady Daily/Anadolu Agency, 14 October 2016.

Taliban-trained militants carried out Myanmar border raids: presidency,” AFP, 14 October 2016.

Nine policemen killed, five injured, one missing in border attacks,” The New Light of Myanmar, 10 October 2016.

Myanmar sends troops into Muslim-majority region after deadly attacks,” Reuters, 10 October 2016.

Rakhine border raids kill nine police officers,” AFP, 10 October 2016.

Govt justifies international involvement in Arakan issue,” The Irrawaddy, 29 August 2016.

The Rohingya and Islamic extremism: a convenient myth,” The Diplomat, 29 June 2015.

Attack on border fuels growing concern,” Myanmar Times, 26 May 2014.

Copyright © Muir Analytics 2016

Posted in Recent Friction Points | Leave a comment

4 November 2016, Terror group specializing in hotel attacks joins ISIS

*Note: because of the criticality of this subject material, it is presented both here and on Muir Analytics’ SecureHotel.US website.

On 30 October, a group called al-Murabitun (The Sentinels,) which is a faction of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM,) pledged support to ISIS, according to PJ Media and ISISliveuamap.com. A statement by the group, lead by Abul-Walid al-Sahrawi, simply read: “The Murabitun Brigade under leadership of Abul-Walid al-Sahrawi in northern Mali pledges allegiance to Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and joins the Islamic State.”

Al-Sahrawi, an Algerian, had pledged his individual support to ISIS in 2015, but reportedly few, if any, AQIM fighters followed. This caused some confusion in intelligence circles regarding the march of ISIS in North Africa. Now, however, the issue is clear.

The better-known senior leader of the Murabitun Brigade, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, appears to be remaining with AQIM at the moment.

Belmokhtar previously lead an organization going by several names, including the Masked Brigade and Those Who Sign in Blood. They are most famous for the spectacular January 2013 attack against the BP gas plant in In Amenas, Algeria. Belmokhtar’s group eventually merged with as-Sahrawi’s, which was called the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa. This then gave birth to the Murabitun Brigade in 2013.

In recent years, the Murabitun Brigade has staged scores of attacks in North and West Africa, including against hotels. In fact, the Murabitun Brigade has specialized in hotel attacks, several of which Muir Analytics has covered. They include the following:

There are four main takeaways here. First, it is not uncommon for Islamist jihadist terror groups, while bonded by strategic end goals, to splinter because of leadership and intricate philosophical-religious issues. Belmokhtar himself has both embraced and shunned al-Qaeda while fighting for its regional and global end goals: total submission to a version of Islam rooted in the extremist ideologies of Sayyid Qutb and Ayman Zawahiri. It should be noted that the ideological motivation of al-Sahrawi and his group also follow this ideology.

Second, the operational capabilities of both al-Sahrawi’s and Belmokhtar’s groups should not be considered diminished because of this split. They should be considered just as dangerous as before. This is because these men still control groups of highly motivated light infantry fighters that have a proven track record of attacking soft targets with aggressive military force – violence of action, to be specific. More to the point, they have a pronounced will to kill civilians, and they have an arsenal of weaponry, including AK-47s, RPK and PK machine guns, grenades, arson kits, and the like. This is all it takes to continue their established pattern of attacking hotels and other soft targets.

Third, one or both of these groups, because of this split, are now more likely to launch attacks to prove themselves. Belmokhtar did this exact thing to differentiate himself from AQIM through the In Amenas gas plant attack. He wanted to remain relevant, and he wanted to demonstrate his vicious reputation, so he planned and executed one of the most ambitious and audacious terror attacks in the post 9-11 period. There is no indication that Belmokhtar’s attitude has changed. Similarly, al-Sahrawi is probably under pressure from ISIS to perform and deliver a debut operation. From a broader view, the global rivalry between al-Qaeda and ISIS will exacerbate the potential for violence from these two organizations.

Finally, all these issues combined indicate more terrorist violence could occur in the near and/or intermediate term in North and West Africa. Local governments and their Western allies might reduce this threat if they strike these groups now during the temporary lull in their operational tempo created by this split. Otherwise, civilian targets, including hotels, should be considered high on each organization’s target list. Together, Belmokhtar and al-Sharawi have killed at least 53 and wounded 119 through their 2015-2016 hotel attacks. And they’ve done millions of dollars in damages as well. At this juncture, dramatically increased hotel security throughout the region is necessary to deter such attacks and save lies.

Sources and further reading:

Terrorists Behind String of Hotel Attacks Pledge Allegiance to ISIS,” PJMedia.com, 31 October 2016.

The Islamic state confirms the Murabitin Brigade lead by Abul-Walid as-Sahrawi in northern Mali has pledged allegiance to ISIS,” ISISliveumap.com, 30 October 2016.

Ivory Coast: 16 dead in Grand Bassam beach resort attack,” BBC, 14 March 2016.

Profile: Mokhtar Belmokhtar,” BBC, 15 June 2015.

Fears for 7 American hostages as Algerians confirm helicopter attack on besieged BP gas plant killed 30 captives and only 11 militants,” Daily Mail, 18 January 2013.

Tag Archives: Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa,” The Long War Journal.

Al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQRM,)” Counterterrorism Guide, National Counterterrorism Center, US Government.

Copyright © Muir Analytics 2016

Posted in Recent Friction Points | Leave a comment

19 September 2016, ISIS-motivated bomber hits in NYC, New Jersey, stabbing in Minnesota claimed by ISIS

Attack 1

Reuters reports that at 9:30 am on 17 September an explosive device detonated in Seaside Park, New Jersey. The device was hidden in a trashcan near the starting line of a Marine Corp charity race along the beach boardwalk, says CNN and Heavy. The location of the seat of the blast is reportedly D Street and Ocean Avenue.

The bomb consisted of three pipe bombs connected to a cell phone timer, specifically a flip phone. Only one of the bombs exploded.

The detonation injured no one, but town officials called a halt to the race that was happening in the area, the Seaside Semper Five.

Attack 2

The Guardian reports that on 17 September at 8:30 pm in Chelsea, NYC, a bomb exploded in, or next to, a dumpster, injuring 29. The New York City Police Department has stated that the seat of the blast was in front of 131 West 23d Street. (Other reports say 133 W. 23d Street.)

Photos of the blast site show a severely mangled dumpster and a debris field (roughly 100 feet X 100 feet) that encompasses the sidewalk and street. TV news on 18 September said that the dumpster was thrown more than 100 feet from the seat of the blast.

At 11:00 pm, the NYPD located another bomb on 27th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. Present reporting says that this device was contained in a pressure cooker and had ball bearings inside to use as shrapnel. It was connected to a cell phone timer, specifically a flip phone.

Some reporting says that Christmas tree lights were used as igniters for some or all of the bombs, but this is unconfirmed from official sources. It should be noted that the San Bernardino attackers (2015) used Christmas tree lights as igniters for their bombs.

A 9-11 call to police said there would be more attacks in the future. Investigators assert that the same bomb builder is linked to both attacks.

Additional bombs found

Confirmed reports say that two homeless people found a backpack or duffel with bombs in it at the Elizabeth, NJ, train station. The two removed the bombs from the platform, and police soon after destroyed them.

Attack 3

At 8:00 pm on 17 September, a man named Dahir Adan, wearing a private security company uniform, went on a stabbing frenzy in Crossroads Mall, St. Cloud Minnesota. Adan’s attack injured nine: two females and seven males, reports the Daily Mail. The youngest victim was a 15-year old girl. Adan reportedly asked at least one victim if they were Muslim before he attacked, and he was heard referencing Islam in the midst of his frenzy. An off duty police officer, Jason Falconer, shot Adan dead.

ISIS released a statement claiming responsibility for the stabbings: “The executor of the stabbing attacks in Minnesota yesterday was a soldier of the Islamic State and carried out the operation in response to calls to target the citizens of countries belonging to the crusader coalition.”

Bomb investigation

The bombing investigation unfolded unusually quickly. Authorities began looking for their NYC/NJ primary suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, on 18 September. Phone number and fingerprint evidence linked him to the bombs, say reports.

For the first time in U.S. history, authorities put out an electronic wanted poster over the nation’s Wireless Emergency Alerts looking for Rahami, mostly in the NJ and NYC area.

On the run, Rahami finally clashed with police in Linden, New Jersey, where he was wounded and taken in to custody. Investigators found a journal he left behind citing Islamist jihadist reasoning for the bombings. Some quotes from the journal include:

  • “You (USA government) continue your … slaught against … mujahideen be it Afhanistan, Iraq, Sham, Palestine… etc,”
  • “Brother Osama bin Laden offered you a truce…”
  • “I looked for guidence [sic] and Alhumdulilah Guidance came. Sheikh Anwar Brother Adnani Dawla [ISIS spokesperson]. Said it clearly attack the kuffar in their backyard.”
  • “Anwar al Awlaki has spoken the truth. ‘Join us in our new front’ IE Yemen.”
  • “Inshallah the sounds of the bombs will be heard in the streets. Gun shots to your police. Death to your Oppression.”
  • “pipe bombs, pressure cooker bombs on … in the streets they plan to run a mile.”
  • “In my heart I pray to the beautiful wise Allah. To not take jihad away from. I begged for shahadat [martyrdom] & Inshallah this call will be answered.”

Reports on 19 September say the NYC bombs used Tannerite explosives, a common and legal target-marking explosive used by shooting enthusiasts. Since Tannerite is difficult to set off – it requires a bullet moving 2,000 feet per second to make it explode – it could be that there was another compound in the bombs used to initiate the blasts. Additionally, Tannerite begins to degrade 45 minutes after it has been mixed and poured into a container, so it is a curious choice to use as a main compound for a bomb. This could be why the second device in NYC did not explode.

Black powder was detected in the New Jersey bombings.

At present, there are five takeaways here.

First, these bombings and the stabbings – three attacks all within a 12 hour time period – offer yet more proof that the United States is being plagued by an active irregular warfare threat, just like France, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Bangladesh, and other such places. This is par for the course after attacks such as San Bernardino, Orlando, Chattanooga, and Garland, Texas, just to name four. The U.S. is on a war footing whether the country realizes it or not.

Second, U.S. law enforcement rapidly secured the bombing case, demonstrating that the federal-local law enforcement counter terrorism mechanism can be highly effective. It did not prevent these bombings from happening, however.

Third, while the bombings were certainly dangerous, the sloppiness involved indicates a semi-professional (or less than that) terrorist cell or individual, probably home grown with limited training. One sloppiness element here directly refers to the poor bomb detonation ratio (five bombs deployed – one device was a bundle of three – and only two exploded.) More sloppiness was demonstrated by the alleged perpetrator not covering his tracks regarding fingerprints and cell phone numbers. (It is unclear if the several bombs [reportedly one bundle of five] found at the Elizabeth, NJ, train station were purposefully deployed or dumped by an operative who decided not to carry out his/her mission. If deployed, that would make the detonation ratio six bombs deployed with only two exploding.) Overall, a more professional team with a higher level of training and experience most likely would have carried out more successful bombing missions.

Fourth, evidence suggests that the culprits in both the stabbings and bombings were Islamist jihadist motivated. Here’s why:

  • ISIS took responsibility for the stabbings.
  • Dahir Adan asked at least one victim if they were Muslim before his attack, a common Islamist jihadist terror tactic seen in operations such as the Westgate mall attack in Kenya in 2013.
  • Ahmad Khan Rahami’s journal entries clearly link his fight with Islamist jihadist propagandists from both al Qaeda and ISIS. Additionally, his family and friends say Rahami seems to have been radicalized in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Pressure cooker bombs have been used by Islamist jihadist before in cases such as the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing and the 2006 Mumbai train bombings. The Inspire magazine connection, al Qaeda’s terrorism-promoting magazine, is clear as well. A previous issue told readers how to make these bombs.
  • The Marine Corps race suggests anti-U.S. military and anti-civilian targeting combined. This bolsters the Islamist jihad hypothesis angle, and so does just generally targeting New York City.
  • ISIS has called for attacks in the U.S. for several moths now. One of the most recent was published on 6 September 2016. It called on supporters to attack people on the streets, or commuters, or flower vendors, or any other manner of civilians, etc. Another ISIS threat was issued on 8 September calling on supporters to attack sports venues. This follows the exact same call to action (and then attacks) that have been happening in France, Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Bangladesh.

Ultimately, more attacks like these can be expected in the United States. It is likely that other terrorist individuals and/or groups will learn from the lessons of the mall stabbings and the NYC/NJ bombings. They are likely to increase operational security and plan for more destructive attacks.

Mumbai 2008 and Paris 2015 style attacks and/or simple to sophisticated bombing attacks should be expected by U.S. law enforcement and government security entities. Islamist jihadist-motivated stabbings like the one in St. Cloud have happened in New York City already, they are not uncommon in France, and they are commonplace in Israel. Attacks should be anticipated not only in the obvious metro areas such as Washington, DC, and New York City, but also in smaller towns such as Elizabeth, NJ. Attacking both metro and rural targets is a common Islamist jihadist tactic – specifically an ISIS tactic – that has been made readily apparent in France. It is now evolving in the US.

Sources and further reading:

New York bomb contained residue of Tannerite,” Israel National News, 19 September 2016.

The hero cop who shot dead rampaging Minnesota mall knifeman who stabbed nine after asking if they were Muslim and talking about Allah,” Daily Mail, 18 September 2016.

ISIS wing claims responsibility for Minnesota mall attack,” CNN, 18 September 2016.

Big blast, 29 injuries in NYC; pressure cooker device removed nearby,” USA Today, 18 September 2016.

At least 29 injured as explosion rocks New York street,” ITV, 18 September 2016.

Bomb explodes near Marine Corps race in New Jersey,” CNN, 17 September 2016.

Seaside Park Explosion Photos: Pictures from the Scene,” Heavy, 17 September 2016.

Device Explodes at Marine Race on Jersey Shore: Police,” NBC 4, 17 September 2016.

Copyright © Muir Analytics 2016

Posted in Recent Friction Points | Leave a comment

2 September 2016, ISIS attacks Davao, Philippines – a new front is opened

At around 10:30 pm on Friday, 2 September, an explosive device detonated at a night market in Davao city, the Philippines, killing 14 and wounding 68, say multiple reports (The Telegraph, The Independent, and CNN.) The latest from police says that the bomb was made from a 60mm mortar round triggered by a cellphone.

By analyzing multiple photographs of the blast scene and triangulating that data with maps, Muir Analytics has pegged the blast point (or seat of the explosion) to within 60 feet in front of Millennium Park’s bust sculpture of Sam Ratulangi, the first Governor of Sulawesi Province, Indonesia. For further reference see the “t” intersection of Roxas Avenue and Padre Zamora Street.  (Ironically, Governor Ratulangi’s most famous saying was, “Men lives to help others live.”)

The explosion happened in the outdoor massage area (mostly seated massages) in the Roxas Avenue night market. The area was packed with people sitting in chairs, a perfect killing zone for an IED left out in the open.

President Duterte declared a nationwide “state of lawless violence” in the wake of the attack. It is unclear what exact legal provisos this affords the president, but it is clear Duterte will increase intelligence, police, and military activity against the perpetrators in the coming days and weeks.

The mayor of Davao, Sara Duterte-Carpio, put a bounty of 2 million pesos ($42,975 USD) on those responsible, but specified that they must be brought in alive. The government wants the perpetrators for their intelligence value. (The mayor of Davao is President Duterte’s daughter. The vice mayor, Paulo Duterte, is President Duterte’s oldest son.)

Mayor Duterte-Carpio moreover on 5 September fired Davao’s police chief and the head of Task Force Davao, the Philippine military contingent that works jointly with Davao police to provide security for the city.

Regarding the investigation, the Inquirer reports that the government is looking for at least one man and two women suspected of planting the bomb. There might be a fourth male suspect involved as well. Witnesses say a man believed to be in his 40s had a massage and then hurriedly left, leaving his backpack behind. As people called out to the man about his backpack, it exploded. Two suspicious women nervously lingered in the area and also hurried away just before the blast.

While the Philippine government is not ruling out the involvement of drug gangs, it is mainly focusing its investigation on the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG,) primarily because ASG’s spokesperson, Abu Rami, claimed responsibility for the attack. Additionally, Davao’s vice-mayor, Paulo Duterte, said that ISIS-linked terrorists had threatened Davao before the attack, and ASG has pledged support to ISIS.

In other reporting, the Inquirer‘s management said Abu Rami called them and said the responsible party was an ASG ally called “Daulat Ul Islamiya.” Rami told the paper: “They are doing this to sympathize (with) our group and we are sending a message to President Rodrigo Duterte that all the Daulat throughout the country is not afraid of him.” Rami furthermore said that more attacks were coming, but they would stop “if Duterte will make our hadith his laws and he will seek conversion to Islam.”

This specific group, “Daulat Ul Islamiya,” is relatively unheard of in unclassified circles in the Philippines. It means “Islamic State.” This attack, then, is potentially ISIS’ first official attack in the Philippines.

Muir Analytics predicted the spread of ISIS in Southeast Asia in September 2014 in an article for UPI.

The IntelCenter lists five Philippine groups that have pledged support to, or joined, ISIS, including:

  • Abu Sayyaf Group
  • Ansar al-Khilafah
  • Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)
  • Bangsmoro Justice Movement (BJM)
  • Jemaah Islamiyah (JI, Indonesia-concentrated, regional based)

Additionally, on 12 June 2016, Caleb Weiss, for The Long War Journal, detailed several other groups that were associated with ISIS in the revealing article, “Islamic State details activity in the Philippines.” They include:

On 28 August 2016, another ISIS affiliated group called the “Maute group” staged a prison break of militants in Lanao del Sur, Marawi City, says The Independent. The Maute group is supposed to be a collection of former fighters from the MILF and other like groups. It is also reportedly associated with JI.

It should also be noted that ISIS, in a video released on 21 June 2016, declared war on the Philippines. In the video, presumably filmed in Syria, ISIS operatives beheaded three people deemed spies. Then, a man by the name of “Abu Oun al-Malysi” told Muslims all over Southeast Asia to join ISIS and fight in their home countries. “Kill the polytheists,” al-Malysi said. “Hit them with cars. You have knives, stab them in their chests. My brothers in Malaysia, launch your operations. We are here to support you,” he said.

Al-Malysi also placed special emphasis on the Philippines. He said if ISIS-inspired fighters could not make it to Syria, then they should instead travel to the Philippines and fight there. Al-Malysi announced that “Abdallah al-Filipini” was its chief commander in the Philippines.

When President Duterte assumed office, he acknowledged the political and economic hardships of minority ethnic and religious groups in the Philippines (and also communist-linked peoples,) and he attempted to negotiate with them. Duterte has hardened his position as negotiations have failed and/or been rejected. After ASG recently beheaded a kidnap victim, for example, the Inquirer said a cabinet member heard President Duterte say, “There’s no other option. These people are like germs, which must be eliminated.” Duterte reportedly directly addressed the ASG, saying, “You started this. I wanted to talk to you but you leave me with no choice.”

There are three main takeaways here followed by four critical questions.

First, ISIS’ war in the Philippines is now on. ISIS, by its own words and by the words of its affiliates like ASG, not only announced its policy to open up a new global front there, it also asserted its end goals and war methods.

Its main end goal is to subject the Philippines to Hadith-based sharia law – a Taliban-like version of sharia law – and force the conversion of its president. ISIS’ ways and means of war will be by individual attacks (aka, its leaderless revolution component,) and by organized groups (12 in all,) ideally, but not necessarily, operating under “Abdallah al-Filipini.”

Violence is to include all manner of military and improvised attacks. The latter include stabbings as in Abu Dhabi, vehicular homicides such as Nice, and other makeshift attack methods. Terrorists will look for opportunities to stage sensational attacks, so sophisticated/major bombings, kidnappings, and even Mumbai 2008/Paris November 2015 style raids in major metropolitan and resort areas cannot be ruled out.

The strategy described here is the standard ISIS approach, and the attack methods mentioned are all well within the proven capabilities of Philippine-based groups.

Second, while there have been score of attacks in the Philippines by ISIS affiliated organizations, since the Davao night market bombing was carried out by a group specifically calling itself the “Islamic State,” it can likely be considered ISIS’ first official attack in the Philippines. Muir Analytics will update/alter this conclusion if and when new information becomes available.

Third, because ISIS has declared war on the Philippines and attacks have begun, significant threat warnings are necessary, and physical security of potential targets should be increased nationwide. Terror attacks in violence prone regions such as Mindanao can almost certainly be expected, but the ISIS playbook also dictates distributed operations, or attacks both small and large scattered all over a country as is happening in France.

Metro areas such as Manila (including upscale areas such as Makati and Quezon City,) Davao, Cebu, and scores of other cities should be on alert. Small towns should not be considered immune, either – again, see a quick analysis of how ISIS is staging operations in France.

Hotels and resort areas such as, but not limited to, Palawan, Boracay, Sipaway, Lapu Lapu, etc. should be considered under threat.

Transport hubs (train stations, airports, ferry ports, etc.) and means of transit (airliners, maritime ferries, buses, trains, etc.) might also be targets.

The Philippines has seen attacks in all of these types of places and on all of these types of assets before. See various lists of terror attacks in the Philippines here, here, and here. Increased government and private security should be applied throughout.

In light of these developments, four questions arise.

One, will the war gain momentum and enlarge, or will it remain small scale? This depends on how many Muslims in the Philippines agree with ISIS’ ideology, an unforeseen factor at the moment.

Two, will the large rebel groups such as MILF and the Moro National Liberation Font reject or join ISIS? Or might they fracture – as is typical amongst Islamist groups in the Philippines – and bleed supporters to ISIS?

Three, will the communist New Peoples’ Army (NPA) take advantage of the ISIS problem and increase attacks to further its own cause? Dedicated and strong willed, the NPA is probably the most sophisticated rebel group in the Philippines, and recent peace talks with the government failed.

Four, might China also take advantage of the Philippines’ ISIS terrorism issue as an opportunity to seize yet more maritime territory away from Manila?

All of these threat warnings and strategic questions must be taken into account as the Philippines prepare to tackle this Islamist jihadist threat. It will be no easy task, and allied assistance from neighboring Southeast Asian countries and the United States will likely come into play if violence escalates to the extreme.

Sources and further reading:

The IntelCenter, “Islamic State’s 43 Global Affiliates Interactive World Map.”

Davao City blast caused by cellphone-triggered IED,” CNN, 5 September 2016.

Davao City bomb ‘similar’ to 2005 Ecoland IED – PNP chief,” Inquirer, 5 September 2016.

Philippines: 14 killed in Davao City bomb attack,” International Business Times (India), 5 September 2016.

Bloody Friday in Davao,” Inquirer, 4 September 2016.

We are equally affected after Davao blast, Oro mayor says,” The Sun Star, 3 September 2016.

Isis affiliate claims responsibility for Davao attack as Philippines President declares ‘state of lawlessness’,” The Independent, 3 September 2016.

Isil-linked Abu Sayyaf claims Philippines bomb attack in president Duterte’s home city which killed 14,” The Telegraph, 3 September 2016.

PNP chief: IED caused Davao blast,” Rappler, 3 September 2016.

Davao blast survivors claim 2 women left ‘bomb’,” ABS-CBN News, 3 September 2016.

Davao blast death toll rises to 14; 67 others hurt,” ABS-CBN News, 3 September 2016.

Abu Sayyaf disowns Davao explosion, says ally was behind attack,” Inquirer, 3 September 2016.

Philippines jailbreak: Isis supporters storm prison to free eight militants and 15 more inmates,” The Independent, 28 August 2016.

Copyright © Muir Analytics 2016

Posted in Recent Friction Points | Leave a comment

12 August 2016, 24 bombs in 7 provinces in Thailand

Between 10-14 August, terrorists deployed 24 bombs in seven mid-south provinces in Thailand. Fifteen bombs exploded, and another nine failed to detonate. At least six devices were the incendiary type (fire bombs), and the others were apparently the conventional type (concussion and/or shrapnel.)

CNN reported four people killed – all Thai nationals – and 36 wounded, including 10 foreigners. The latter consisted of Austrian, Netherlands/Dutch, Italian, and German nationals. Authorities said all of the bombs were similar or identical in construction, and they were triggered by cell phone timers.

As an aside, the head of Muir Analytics, in an article for UPI, warned in 2014 that insurgent/terrorist targeting of Thai tourist areas would increase.

While the official bombing chain of events has yet to be finalized, multiple reports indicate the following timeline:* **

*Muir Analytics will update the scenario if/when new information becomes available.

10 August

  • 8:00 pm, 2 bombs found/defused in Patong, Phuket Province (the island colloquially known as “Phuket,”) 1st at Royal Paradise Market/Royal Paradise Hotel, 2d at Chinatown Market

11 August

  • 3:00 pm, 1 bomb detonated, Tambon Thap Thieng, Trang Province, 200 meters from city hall and the provincial police chief’s house, 1 killed, 6 wounded
  • 10:15-11:00 pm, 2 bombs detonated, Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, 1st near Johnny’s 56 bar (device hidden in planter), 2d near Rain Tree Spa (device hidden in a planter,) 1 killed, 21 wounded

12 August

  • 2:15 am, at least 1 incendiary bomb detonated, Tambon Khuek Khak, Phangnga Province, Bang Niang Market, 80 shops/stalls destroyed
  • 2.30 am, at least 1 incendiary bomb detonated, Tambon Tubtiang (in Trang Town,) Trang Province, Lee Mart Department Store destroyed
  • 3:15 am, at least 1 incendiary bomb detonated, Ao Nang beach, Krabi Province, souvenir shop/shopping area destroyed
  • 7:45-8:45 am, 3 bombs, 2 bombs detonated, Patong, Phuket, 1st at a police booth at Patong beach, 2d at Loma Beach, 3d failed to detonate/defused at Patong beach park, 1 injured
  • 8:50 am, at least 1 incendiary bomb detonated, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, Tesco Lotus store burned
  • 8:02-8:30 am, 2 bombs detonated, Surat Thani, Surat Thani Province, 1st at the Thai Marine Police Division, and 2d at the Muang District Police station, 1 killed, 3 wounded
  • 9 am-9:05 am, 2 bombs detonated, Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, 1st near a clock tower, and 2d at Chat Chai market, 1 killed, 3 wounded
  • 9:00 am, 2 bombs detonated, Tambon Khuek Khak, Phangnga Province, both at Phang-nga market, 0 casualties

13 August

14 August

(**It is unclear if three bombs in Chachoengsao province were related to these mid-south bombings. In this case, on 18 August, one small bomb detonated under a pickup truck, and another was found under a nearby pickup truck and defused, both in the parking lot of the Anuchart Engineering Limited Partnership workshop. Another bomb was found and defused at a Burger King.)

The mid-south bombs exploded right after a majority of the population voted in favor of the new, military-sponsored constitution that, in a nutshell, dampened and delayed increased democratic reform in order to maintain political and economic stability. The three southern border provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat, and Yala – Thailand’s southern border insurgency zone (minus Songkhla) – mostly voted against the constitution. The bombings also took place on Queen Sirikit’s birthday, 12 August.

To date, a massive police investigation has linked the mid-south bombings to the southern insurgency. How so?

First, police say the bombing technology used was applied by insurgents who bombed Bangkok on 26 May 2013 at Ramkhamhaeng 43/1 in Bang Kapi.

Second, the police believe that two confirmed insurgents were involved in the bombings. First is Ahama Leng-ha from Narathiwat. He seems to have had a bomb building or leadership role in the operation. The Nation reports that his DNA is on file from an insurgent attack in 2008. It seems his DNA is linked to the mid-south bombings as well. The second is Asameen Gatem-madee from Pattani. He has been linked to an insurgent bombing in Koh Samui (see below.)

Third, the police believe CCTV footage has captured what appears to be, a) the bombing team boarding a train in Hat Yai, b) the same suspects entering a Muslim community in Surat Thani, and, c) the same suspects carrying backpacks and loitering at one of the bombing sites. Authorities noted that the suspects made efforts to conceal their identities from CCTV by wearing gloves, masks, and hats. This is counter surveillance tradecraft. Police have additional CCTV footage identifying other bombers in Trang and Hua Hin, and they have been linked to the far south, at least initially.

Fourth, the police arrested one person associated with the Krabi attack, which led to them arresting a Pattani man on 17 August, though no more details on these arrests have been released.

Fifth, on 22 August, the police said there were 20 people in the network who carried out these bombings, and that those responsible were from the southern insurgency zone. Adding to this point, the reconnoitering, bomb building, bomb placement, and detonations all took a wide and sophisticated intelligence, operations planning, execution, and logistical effort. The southern insurgency has these capabilities.

Sixth, and separate from the police investigation, on 17 August, a military official told the press that the southern border based insurgent group, Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN,) broadcasted a message saying that it would not recognize the new constitution until the “Siamese parliament” “addressed their Melayu Muslim identity as a group or state in the highest law.” The insurgency uses the term “Siamese” as an insult to Thailand, and the mid-south bombings could be seen as the violent communication of the insurgency’s clearly stated political disdain.

Seventh, the southern insurgency has the proven ability to strike targets spread out over multiple locations at the same time – distributed operations. On 17-18 February 2007, for example, it staged scores of attacks – bombings, arson, and assassinations – in all four southern provinces over a short timespan. And more recently in 2016, insurgents staged multiple attacks during the last 10 days of Ramadan in Narathiwat, Pattani, and Yala, including several bombings. This has been a continual pattern since the war began in earnest in 2004.

Eighth, the targets attacked in this case – police, civilian entertainment/tourist venues, and businesses – all fall in line with standard insurgent targeting.

Ninth, the insurgency’s end goals of an independent southern state are not even close to being met, and peace talks, which the movement seems to be clinging to as a means of progress, have floundered against the Thai government’s ignoring the critical element of the pressure of time. In fact, the government seems to have used the talks as a delaying tactic. As a result, the insurgency is most likely frustrated and angry. Striking these venues in mid-southern Thailand would then make sense for the insurgents as a means to pressure Bangkok.

Tenth, the insurgency has been linked to other attacks in the mid-south, namely the 1 August 2013 bombings in Phuket (one detonated, one failed,) and the 10 April 2015 bombing on Koh Samui. There is also speculation that insurgents might have been behind the firebombing of the Surat Thani Cooperative that happened on the same day as the Kho Samui attack. The Cooperative fire resulted in 30 tonnes of natural rubber destroyed. The insurgency, then, is comfortable operating outside the normal confines of the insurgency zone, and the mid-south attacks fall within its extended battlespace.

Another possibility could be that the bombers were part of a splinter group. In this regard, all 10 points mentioned above apply, along with the added element of a history of splintering. Over several decades, the BRN, for example, has split into at least two other major groups and multiple smaller ones (BRN-Coordinate, BRN-Congress, BRN-Ulama faction, etc.) And PULO (the Pattani United Liberation Organization) in decades past spawned New PULO, PULO 88, and Pulo Keris.

Additionally, while these bombings certainly demonstrated audacity, solid planning, and efficient bomb placement, 37% of the bombs failed to detonate, so the group responsible appears to have suffered from some degree of technical failing. This might have been because, as a splinter group, its bomb building expertise was limited.

Having said this, the government has made scores of insurgent arrests over the past many months, and it is possible that key insurgent bomb makers have been picked up, leaving the main groups with limited explosives expertise for the moment.

Might it have been a southern insurgent faction linked with an Islamist jihadist group such as ISIS, Jemaah Islamiyah, or the like? Although this is a much more speculative angle, it is indeed possible. ISIS is on the rise globally, including Southeast Asia. Police have arrested ISIS members in the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and especially Malaysia (over 100 arrested there). And ISIS is in Thailand as well.

Also, as ISIS’ territory in Syria and Iraq shrinks, it is beginning to carry out more distributed operations in various countries such as Egypt, Libya, Germany, Belgium, the U.S., Bangladesh, and France. In France alone there have been 10 attacks since the beginning of 2015-August 2016 in 8 different cities, so the distributed operations pattern fits. Additionally, ISIS has carried out two successful attacks (that have been made public) in Southeast Asia: 14 January 2016 in Jakarta, and 28 June 2016 in Kuala Lumpur. It is indeed possible that Thailand, the Philippines, or a neighboring country could be next.

Furthermore, two suspects linked to the ISIS attack in Malaysia – a grenade attack on a sports bar – have been traced to Narathiwat. It is not clear if they are Thai or Malaysian citizens, but police from both countries are pursuing the matter, and the evidence against the duo caused the Thai government to put up wanted posters for them in Narathiwat. If it were just a hunch, they wouldn’t have done that.

As for other possibilities, the Red Shirt angle proffered by the army was, compared to mounting police evidence, weak from the beginning. But Thailand can, in some cases, be the land of wild card conspiracy theories come true. For example, there is a government element that insists that an alleged Red Shirt operative, Sakarin Kharuehas, is connected to the mid-south bombings. It seems unlikely, but the evidence against him needs to be acted on, and eventually made public, or the angle needs to be scuttled. Only until all leads are exhausted will the entire bombing investigation be complete.

At present, the main takeaway here is this: regardless of the “whodunit” speculation, it is clear that Thailand has an irregular warfare group that is increasingly targeting its tourist areas. Improved counterinsurgency and/or counter terrorism methods, with counter political warfare and heightened physical security in the van, are critical at this juncture.

More attacks such as the mid-south bombings are possible both inside and outside the normal insurgency zone, and all tourist venues in country should be considered at risk. Furthermore, as tensions with Thailand’s irregular threat groups fester, a Mumbai and/or Paris 2015 style attack on local and/or tourist venues cannot be ruled out.

Sources and further reading:

Samui, Hua Hin blasts ‘linked’,” Bangkok Post, 30 August 2016.

Phuket bombing suspect ‘in Malaysia,’” The Nation, 20 August 2016.

Arson suspect also faces bombing charge,” The Nation, 18 August 2016.

Police: 2013 Ramkhamhaeng bomb possible link to attacks,” Bangkok Post, 17 August 2016.

Warrant for Phuket bombs suspect linked to insurgency,” Bangkok Post, 16 August 2016.

Thai police uncover more bombs,” TTR Weekly, 15 August 2016

Thai police find more unexploded bombs following coordinated blasts,” Reuters, 14 August 2014.

Unexploded bombs found in Phuket, Hua Hin,” Bangkok Post, 14 August 2016.

New ‘strange contraption’ found at Patong souvenir market, EOD unit confirms ‘undetonated bomb’,” The Phuket News, 14 August 2016.

Bomb attacks so far,” The Nation, 12 August 2016.

Thailand Bombings ‘Were Meant to Scare Tourists’ Locals in Phuket Say,” Time, 12 August 2016.

Thailand rocked by 11 bombs in one day,” CNN, 12 August 2016.

Bombs rattle Phuket and Phangnga,” Bangkok Post, 12 August 2016.

Bombs explode at Surat Thani police stations,” Bangkok Post, 12 August 2016.

Mother’s Day Attacks: Bombs Hit 5 Thai Provinces, Killing 4,” Khaosod English, 12 August 2016.

Cops widen Puchong bomb blast investigation to southern Thailand,” The Malay Mail, 26 July 2016.

Police probing cause of Surat Thani co-op fire,” Bangkok Post, 15 April 2015

BREAKING: ‘Bomb’ found on Phuket beach,” The Phuket News, 28 October 2014.

Copyright © Muir Analytics 2016

Posted in Recent Friction Points | Leave a comment

25 July 2016, American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin analyzes the coup in Turkey

Here, AEI’s Michael Rubin puts forth an even handed and thoughtful analysis of the coup in Turkey. Rubin’s piece, titled, “What happened in Turkey? And what comes next?,” suggests several possibilities regarding who was behind the coup:

  1. “…Erdoğan (Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) blamed Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic cleric and former Erdoğan ally…”
  2. “…Traditional Kemalists, those who follow the secular and pro-Western principles laid out by modern Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.”
  3. “…Erdoğan himself sparked the coup as a sort of Reichstag fire.”

Rubin asserts that, post coup, “Erdoğan is on the warpath”…and that “he believes he has a carte blanche to target enemies at home and perhaps abroad as well.”

Rubin has been proven right so far. Erdoğan has ordered the arrest of thousands, including 42 journalists, 31 academics, 100 generals and admirals, and some 9,000 security and military personnel.

This is curious because if so many people were backing the coup, it seems reasonable to postulate that it might have worked, or at least it would have lasted more than a few hours before being rolled up.

Regardless of the technicalities behind the coup, it is obvious that Erdoğan is using the event to massively clean house. Because he has been instituting Islamist jihadist policies since assuming office in 2014, which are completely counter to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s policies that modernized the country along secularist lines, Erdoğan’s purging of the government and society is seemingly paving the way for a more extremist country. In short, he is fundamentally transforming Turkey away from the vision of Atatürk. An Islamist republic might be the end goal. Time will tell, and it will tell soon.

Sources and further reading:

Michael Rubin, “What happened in Turkey? And what comes next?,” American Enterprise Institute, 17 July 2016.

Copyright © Muir Analytics 2016

Posted in Recent Friction Points | Leave a comment

7 July 2016, After multiple attempts, ISIS finally carries out attack in Malaysia

ISIS was finally able to carry out a successful attack in Malaysia on 28 June 2016. At 2:15 am, two ISIS agents threw a grenade at the Movida Kitchen+Terrace @ Changkat in Kuala Lumpur, injuring eight people who were on the front porch of the establishment. At the time, there were about 20 people in the club watching the Euro 2016 football (soccer) match between Spain and Italy, reports The Star in Malaysia.

Authorities initially blamed the attack on organized crime or street gangs, which are not uncommon in Malaysia, but by 4 July, the government’s investigation had revealed that the culprit was indeed ISIS.

Specifically, it said Muhammad Wanndy bin Mohamed Jedi, a Malaysian member of ISIS operating in Syria, had ordered on 21 June his supporters to attack “non-Islamic” bars, nightclubs and other like venues plus senior officials in government, the police, and judges. His message also said: “With His permission and His assistance, we will come to you with a military force that you cannot overcome.”

Jedi is said to have claimed responsibility for the attack on Facebook. After authorities publically named him, however, Jedi denied his involvement, reports Channel News Asia.

Additionally, reports The Star, one Abu Hamzah al-Fateh posted on Facebook: “Two soldiers of the caliphate in Malaysia have launched the first attack in the heart of the country, which is Kuala Lumpur, by targeting a nightclub filled with infidels using a grenade.” The “caliphate” terminology is yet a second indication that the responsible party was ISIS.

Police have since arrested over 15 suspects in connection with the plot, all members of ISIS, they say. Two of the arrested are police officers. They cast a dragnet for the two grenade-throwers, 28-year-old Md Saifuddin Muji, and 33-year-old Jasanizam Rosni.

This is not Malaysia’s first tussle with ISIS. Police have arrested over 150 ISIS suspects there in the last 24 months. Many of the arrested belonged to cells that had already reconnoitered their targets and gathered bomb-making materials. Those arrested have included active and former government personnel, businessmen, and housewives.

The Straits Times reported that, as of 12 January 2016, 17 Malaysians had died fighting for ISIS in Syria, and four of them had been suicide bombers. At least 100 Malaysians have traveled overseas to fight for ISIS. Combined, say police, all these issues translate to a direct ISIS threat to the Malaysian homeland. In fact, in November 2015, a leaked police memo said that there were 18 suicide bombers at large throughout the country. So far, that threat has been contained.

There are five main takeaways here. First, for the past two years, Malaysian security services have done a masterful job at preventing ISIS attacks on the homeland. The Straits Times cited Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar as saying, “the police had their own strategy of checking and countering the movement,” indicating that the government has had some kind of counter-ISIS program in action for some time, the activities of which remain classified.

Whatever the program, it’s been so effective that ISIS could only muster up a mere two people armed with a single grenade for its debut attack in Malaysia (though it was heinous, and casualties could have been much worse.) ISIS’ past plans were much more ambitious, including a takeover of federal buildings in attempts to overthrow the government, and the bombing a major Carlsberg beer plant.

Second, while this attack was small, it nevertheless demonstrated that ISIS in Malaysia is methodical, relentless, and flexible. When ISIS’ past Malaysia operations failed, it tried again. And when it failed again, it tried yet again. And again. It took ISIS about two years to successfully stage an attack in Malaysia, but it finally did. When its targeting and tactical ambitions seemed too big, it downsized and simplified, choosing one of the most basic terror attack scenarios possible: a grenade in a bar. Such determination indicates that ISIS will continue to plan attacks in Malaysia, and despite the ruthless efficiency of the Malaysian authorities, some might be successful.

As an aside, the scale of future attacks remains to be seen. Small attacks such as the Movida club scenario are certainly possible, and there is no indication that ISIS in Malaysia has dropped its more grandiose targeting regimen. Large and/or dramatic attacks, then, cannot be ruled out.

Third, the fact that ISIS has infiltrated the Malaysian police force along with other parts of society indicates a widespread movement with strong appeal. Because of this fact, Malaysian security forces will not only have to continue to adapt and track the threat at all levels of society, it will also have to monitor the government, the military, and the police for infiltrators. This will require sophisticated “mole hunts” and smart internal affairs investigations. This, in turn, will tax the resources of the intelligence services, and they will have to innovate to keep the threat in check.

Fourth, going forward, the Malaysian government will have to increase the breadth and tempo of its counter Islamist jihadist political warfare program. It set up this program in January 2016 with U.S. government help, mimicking one established in the UAE called Sawab, (“Right Path.”) The Malaysian program is called the Regional Digital Counter-Messaging Communication Center (RDC3,) reports The Diplomat.

Countering Islamist jihadist politico-religious warfare is not unfamiliar territory for Kuala Lumpur. In the 1990s and early 2000s, it had to process a long running, counter Islamist campaign against Nik Aziz and his Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS.) In the process, former PM Dr. Mahathir Mohamed personally oversaw the monitoring of radical mosques, and he jailed firebrand Imams accused of inciting violence. The government moreover successfully kept the terror group Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia at bay, in part due to reducing its Islamist messaging.

Despite these decisive successes, Malaysia still has pockets of society that remain more than sympathetic to Islamist causes, and even the government has a Wahhabi style police force that enforces strict sharia law in certain circumstances. These pockets will tend more toward the ISIS mindset, which will prolong the ISIS threat. Moving forward, then, the government will have to designate the difference between its ultra-conservatives that are pro-government and its Islamist jihadists that are anti-government, which is no easy task.

Fifth, Malaysia will need to coordinate its security and counter political warfare operations with its neighbors who also have ISIS problems. ISIS has been confirmed in Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, and Indonesia. ISIS attacked Indonesia in a raid on 14 January 2016 and again on 5 July 2016. Without such counterterror coordination, ISIS agents will be able to move, communicate, plan, gather logistics, and execute operations more easily. A regional, counter-ISIS task force is the most efficient way forward here, but getting politically fractured ASEAN to do this in an effective way without outside leadership is a difficult proposition.

Because ISIS is active in several Southeast Asian countries, and because there are Islamist jihadist insurgencies in theater that ISIS is seeking to coopt, the group can gain more regional traction if Malaysia does not increase its anti-ISIS efforts. Additionally, because ISIS is always looking for an opportunity to strike, and because Malaysian security forces have been positively identified as being part of the ISIS movement, small scale and/or spectacular attacks in Malaysia and the region cannot be ruled out.

Sources and further reading:

Malaysia arrests more ISIS suspects in hunt for Puchong grenade attackers,” The Straits Times, 8 July 2016.

Man reportedly behind Malaysia’s first IS-linked attack denies allegation,” Channel News Asia, 7 July 2016.

Local IS fighter claims Movida bombing is ‘first attack on Malaysian soil’,” The Star, 4 July 2016.

Nightclub blast in Puchong linked to IS: Malaysian police chief,” Channel News Asia, 4 July 2016.

Eight injured in Puchong bomb explosion,” The Star, 28 June 2016.

US, Malaysia to Set Up New Center to Counter Islamic State by End of 2015,” The Diplomat, 22 October 2016.

Copyright Muir Analytics 2016

Posted in Recent Friction Points | Leave a comment

3 July 2016, ISIS attacks restaurant in Bangladesh, murder hostages on the heels of multiple, global attacks

At 8:45 pm on 1 July in Dhaka, Bangladesh, reports CNN, eight or nine ISIS terrorists raided the Holey Artisan Bakery, initially killing several people and then taking more than 20 hostages. An eyewitness told the press that the attackers entered the venue with pistols, crude bombs, and edged weapons shouting, “Allahu akhbar!” as they took over. The BBC reports that “the victims had been ‘brutally’ attacked with sharp weapons,” and that the terrorists killed those who could not recite passages from the Koran. The indication is that people were slashed and stabbed to death, and maybe even beheaded. These are common Islamist jihadist killing tactics in Bangladesh.

At 12:56 am, authorities tried to negotiate with the terrorists, but to no avail. Not long after, commandos stormed the restaurant, killing all but one of the attackers. Initial reports said the commandos numbered about 100. If true, this is an unusually high number of troopers for a hostage rescue operation in a restaurant.

The casualty count as of 2 July was 20 civilians killed, 6 attackers killed, and 1 attacker arrested. At the beginning of the attack, 2 policemen were reported killed. The wounded count was approximately 30.

The dead restaurant patrons included one American, one Indian, seven Japanese, and nine Italians, reports the BBC.

ISIS’s media wing, Amaq News Agency, directly claimed responsibility for the attack and published pictures of the slaughtered hostages as proof. The government of Bangladesh has rejected this, saying ISIS was not involved.

The Holey Artisan Bakery is a café by day and restaurant by night in a protected, upscale neighborhood with embassies and the like.

This attack happened soon after the government arrested as many as 11,000 militant suspects possibly linked to Islamist jihadist groups. The Indian Express reports that the government had also recently kicked out of the country several Pakistani diplomats accused of arming militants, but offered few more details.

As an aside, Muir Analytics, based on its analyses of recent Islamist jihadist attacks in Bangladesh, predicted in December 2015 that a Paris style attack would likely happen in Bangladesh.

Most of these attacks seem to have been perpetrated by Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). It and ISIS appear to be working in concert, indicating that ISIS has included Bangladesh as a co-opt target country to include in its global caliphate.

It is important to note that al-Qaeda in the Indian Sub-Continent has also claimed attacks in country, as has Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist group.

At any rate, the Holey Artisan Bakery attack came on the heels of several high profile, global Islamist jihadist attacks. Some of them include:

30 June, two Taliban suicide bombers attacked a police cadet bus on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, killing 30 and wounding 58. The tactic used appears to have been a “double tap,” where, 1) a suicide car bomber detonated on the convoy, and then as first responders arrived, 2) a suicide bomber on foot detonated, adding to the carnage. (Washington Post)

29 June, three ISIS suicide bombers attacked Istanbul Ataturk Airport, killing 41 and wounding 230. One bomber apparently detonated at or near curbside check in, and the other two penetrated the airport with firearms and suicide vests. Once inside, they exchanged fire with security, and then detonated their explosives. (The Telegraph)

27 June, at least four men blew themselves up in the Christian village of Qaa, Lebanon, near the border of Syria, after being questioned by an alert security guard at 4:00 am local time. The guard, who knew his neighborhood well, did not recognize the men, and as he called out to them, they initiated their attack. He managed to shoot one of the attackers before they detonated their bombs, which killed 15. ISIS is suspected of being behind the attack. (Associated Press)

26 June, al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked insurgent group – and being aggressively courted by ISIS – attacked the Nasa Hablod hotel in Mogadishu with a car bomb and follow on gunmen who breached the hotel. (Muir Analytics calls this tactic the “Mogadishu special” because of its frequent use, especially against hotels.) Afterward, the attackers shot hotel patrons and staff, and then fought to the death against Somalia security forces. The attack killed at least 15. (Al Jazeera)

These are only some of the most recent attacks. USA Today has a list of multiple other attacks here. While some of these have happened in ongoing war zones such as Somalia, others have occurred in non-conflict countries that ISIS and al Qaeda have targeted. Then there has been other, smaller attacks barely mentioned in the press such as a recent, small in Bahrain, culprits unknown.

There are six main takeaways from these attacks.

First, from a global perspective, most of the above mentioned attacks stem from Islamist jihadist fighters believing that operations carried out during Ramadan wash away all of their sins and guarantee them a place in heaven (For most Muslim communities, Ramadan this year is from 6 June-6 July.)

It is critical to note that moderate Muslims believe that the Ramadan attack issue is a most serious blasphemy against God and all of mankind, and they fervently reject these notions. To them, attacks during Ramadan are forbidden.

Second, and again from a global perspective, these multi-country attacks clearly demonstrate that Islamist jihadists movements have increased their mass and operational tempo. They are emboldened by the fact that the national armies they face and the coalitions arrayed against them are ineffectual in counter irregular warfare.  The ISIS brand (and those similar to it) is a powerful motivator regarding terrorist organizing, planning, and killing. Without a central, global counter terrorism leadership mechanism to counter these forces, the growing global Islamist jihadist attack trend will continue.

Third, regarding Bangladesh, the restaurant attack was not surprising. Muir Analytics has followed the growing and bloody Islamist jihadist violence in Bangladesh here, here, and here, and it predicted that the violent trends would escalate, possibly with a “light infantry [attack] similar or identical to Paris…”

Fourth, with this heinous attack, Bangladesh’s previously low-key Islamist jihadist insurgency now must be categorized as a medium intensity insurgency and a new ISIS front. This is demonstrated by the insurgents’, a) targeting regimen, and b) upgrade in operational tactics.

Past targeting focused mostly individuals (primarily secular pundits) or religious minority groups. The targeting of the Holey Artisan Bakery, a high profile, foreign venue in the heart of the capital, just broke that mold. Going forward, the insurgents will, when it suits them, target foreigners, urban cosmopolitan gathering places, and larger groups of people in addition to their previous target sets.

Tactically, the Bangladeshi Islamist jihadists have increased their sophistication and effectiveness. Their intelligence assets have just proven that they are capable of reconnoitering not just unaware individuals for assassination and rural venues for small bombings, but urban establishments in protected areas for major assaults. Additionally, their operational planners are adroit enough to plan audacious and effective raids in the face of increased security and mass arrests (not that mass arrests are the best counterinsurgency method.) Finally, their fighters have demonstrated that they have the Islamist motivation, the assault skill sets, and will power to take a large number of people hostage and stab them to death while keeping security forces at bay.

Fifth, going forward, the government of Bangladesh will have to publicly face up to the fact that its country threat profile has intensified beyond its positive control, and that it has a significant Islamist jihadist insurgency on his hands. The government will have to apply a nationwide counterinsurgency campaign that will include the deployment of troops and police on a massive scale to facilitate enhanced physical security, carry out arrests of genuine suspects, and prosecute direct action missions. Intelligence will be critical at every juncture. Mass arrests of thousands will not suffice.

Sixth, as part of this counterinsurgency, the Bangladesh government will have to engage in a comprehensive counter political-religious warfare program in order to reduce the radical Islamist fervor that drives these people to commit mass murder.

This will be no small task. Intense Islamist jihadist friction festers in Bangladesh and has for years. Imam Fazlur Rahman, a Bangladeshi Islamist jihadist, was one of the co-signers of Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa announcing al Qaeda’s war against America, Saudi Arabia, and all infidel forces. What followed has been cataclysmic.

Additionally, during Bangladesh’s 1971 war for independence, Pakistan and its Bangladeshi militias murdered as many as 3 million people over religious and ethnic issues. It was genocide.

Quite obviously, ethno-religious conflict in Bangladesh can get massively out of hand. ISIS and its local cohorts, motivated by their doomsday bloodlust, are likely attracted to this possibility.

To defeat the jihadists and keep them from inciting mass violence, the Bangladeshi government will have to innovate far beyond its current national security efforts.

Sources and further reading:

Before attacks, we threw out Pakistan diplomats ‘working undercover’: Bangladesh,” The Indian Express, 3 July 2016.

Bangladesh siege: Twenty killed at Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka,” BBC, 2 July 2016.

Dhaka cafe standoff: At least 13 hostages rescued as siege ends,” CNN, 2 July 2016.

Officials: At least 30 Afghan police cadets killed in suicide bombings outside Kabul,” Washington Post, 30 June 2016.

Major terrorist attacks this year,” USA Today, 29 June 2016.

At least 5 killed, 15 wounded in suicide bombing in Lebanon village,” Fox News/AP, 27 June 2016.

Istanbul Ataturk airport attack: 41 dead and 239 injured in ‘hideous’ suicide bombings in Turkey,” The Telegraph, 26 June 2016.

Somalia: Al-Shabab attack at Nasa Hablod hotel kills 15,” Al Jazeera, 26 June 2016.

Copyright Muir Analytics 2016

Posted in Recent Friction Points | Leave a comment

22 March 2016, More religious murders, arrests in Bangladesh, Islamists radicals the main suspects

The Daily Mail reports that on 22 March, suspected Islamist militants in Kurigram town ambushed and hacked to death 68-year-old Hossain Ali, a Christian convert since 1999. Ali was on his regular morning walk down a busy street when two men waylaid him, stabbing him in the neck. Ali died quickly, and his attackers smashed a Molotov cocktail on the street as they egressed on a motorcycle.

Some Bangladeshi police suspect Islamist militants were responsible, specifically, Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). It has carried out identical violence in the recent past.

The Indian Express reports that ISIS claimed responsibility for murdering a Shia convert from Sunni Islam in Kaliganj on 14 March. While walking home at night, assailants emerged from the darkness to assail Abdur Razzak in a knife attack. Razzak was a well-known Shia preacher, headmaster of a secondary school, and a homeopathic doctor. He died at the hospital. The Daily Star said that ISIS claimed responsibility, but the police denied it.

On 21 February, reports Reuters, five or six people attacked Hindu priest, Jogeshwar Roy, at Deviganj temple near Panchagar. They slit his throat, and when one of his aids rushed to help Roy, the attackers shot and wounded him. ISIS claimed responsibility via twitter, saying:

“In a security operation facilitated by the almighty God, soldiers of the Caliphate liquidated the priest Jogeshwar Roy, the founder and the head of the Deviganj temple that belongs to the infidel Hindus. One of his companions was hurt after being targeted with light weapons in the area of Panchagar in Northern Bangladesh, and the Mujahideen returned to their positions unharmed, and all praise be to God.”

Police said ISIS was not involved and arrested suspects belonging to JMB. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly said that ISIS has no influence in Bangladesh.

Aside from these murders, Reuters reports that Bangladeshi authorities arrested five JMB terrorists on 21 March for planning attacks on Bangladeshi New Year’s celebrations, which happen in April. An intelligence source warned of the pending attacks, and an arrest team swooped in on the terrorists’ hideout, an apartment outside Dhaka. There, police found an explosive gel compound and bomb making materials. Bangladeshi New Year has been targeted by JMB before. In 2005, the group detonated 500 bombs in one day all over the country.

There are several takeaways from these murders and the arrests. First, Bangladesh is in the midst of a low level war, an insurgency, with Islamist jihadists as the main antagonists. There have been scores of murders and several bombings against the same target sets: religious minorities and secular pundits.

Second, is it JMB, or ISIS, or something else? Given that JMB has reportedly pledged support for ISIS, it’s the first two, combined. And this is logical. One of ISIS’ key strategies is to make contact with Islamist insurgencies and terror groups all over the world and co-opt them into its movement to make it one, large, global Islamist revolution.

Third, given the infusion of ISIS’ blood thirsty mentality into Bangladesh’s main rebel movement – if it truly takes root – the war there might intensify.

Fourth, JMB/ISIS forces have a demonstrated and proven targeting/direct action network in place. In other words, they have spies and assassins working together to eliminate their enemies. Islamist jihadists have been suspected of, or definitively involved in, at least nine murders of religious minorities and secular bloggers in recent months in Bangladesh. So far, however, they’ve been soft targets, unsuspecting and docile civilians. The JMB targeting-assassination network remains unproven against harder police and military targets. If it expands to these latter target sets, then it will be a sign that JMB will have professionalized to a higher degree, and the war will escalate.

As an aside, an ISIS-influenced JMB is likely to begin to target foreign entities, or at least facilitate outside ISIS teams that might enter Bangladesh to strike foreign entities.

Fifth, JMB/ISIS are trying to change Bangladeshi society with their violence. The most extreme Islamist jihadists believe in “purifying” local Sunni Muslim communities by ridding them of secularists and other religions, including other Muslims – Shia and the like. Purification is necessary so the Islamist jihadist version of the caliphate can operate as a “clean” religious entity without impediments or blemishes.

Ultimately, these issues spell trouble for Bangladesh. ISIS-fueled radicalization there will, in all probability, grow, as it is growing in similar irregular warfare zones around the globe. Bangladeshi security forces have so far done an excellent job of keeping Islamist jihadist violence to a minimum, but they will have to increase their efforts to stay ahead of the current threat trajectory.

Sources and further reading:

Islamic militants hack Christian convert to death in Bangladesh: Killers slash victim’s throat in busy street attack,” Daily Mail, 22 March 2016.

ISIS threat in India emerges not from Pakistan, but Bangladesh and West Bengal,” One India, 16 March 2016.

Bangladesh: Top Shia preacher killed in attack claimed by IS,” Indian Express, 15 March 2016.

Bangladesh arrests Islamist militants over bomb plot, seizes explosives,” Reuters, 14 March 2016.

Hindu priest killed in Bangladesh,” Reuters, 21 February 2016.

Copyright © Muir Analytics 2016

Posted in Recent Friction Points | Leave a comment

10 February 2016, Bomb in Cameroon, Boko Haram suspected

AfricaNews.com reports that two female suicide bombers detonated their explosives at a funeral in Nguetchéwé in northern Cameroon on 10 February. The blasts killed eight and wounded 45. Using northern Nigeria as its base, Boko Haram seeks to establish a radical form of sharia law in West Africa and is an ISIS affiliate.

As the funeral proceeded, the two suicide bombers slipped into the crowd and detonated their explosives as they met the bereaved family.

Boko Haram has frequently attacked northern Cameroon, especially as of late. On 18 January, it bombed a mosque using a 14-year old suicide bomber in Nguetchéwé, killing five. On 25 January, it sent four suicide bombers to attack a market in Bodo, killing 32 and wounding 66, reports Reuters. On 13 January, it killed 13 in an attack on another mosque in Kouyape. Boko Haram has attacked five mosques in Cameroon in recent months.

This is just a smattering of Boko Haram’s involvement in Cameroon. Virginia Comolli (of the London-based think tank, IISS,) in her authoritative book, Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency, asserts that the group has been using the border regions of Cameroon as sanctuary since 2004, and that its attacks there have dramatically increased since 2011.

Comolli says a Cameroon border task force was assembled to fend off Boko Haram, and while it has been successful at keeping the group from penetrating deeper into Cameroon, it has not been able to seal its border with Nigeria or keep it from impacting the border population, much of which is Muslim.

There are five observations here. First, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria said in December 2015 that Boko Haram had been “technically defeated.” It is not clear what he meant by this phrase, but it is obvious that Boko Haram is not defeated in any way, shape, or form. Its operations in Nigeria and neighboring countries, including Cameroon, continue nearly unabated. Past Nigerian campaigns to root out this group were largely based on destroying its ability to fight, but Nigeria did not address the core insurgent issues at stake. As a result, the group fights on.

Second, the border guard force that Cameroon has assembled needs to be reinforced and expanded. It also needs to adopt counterinsurgency tactics, techniques, and procedures to blunt Boko Haram’s religious propaganda and infiltration schemes.

Third, from the demographics of the suicide bombers mentioned above, there is no reason to believe that Boko Haram will halt suicide operations any time soon. Boko has proven that its recruiting for these operations is effective. It preys on the young, the susceptible, and those who have inferior status in Islamist jihadist society; females, in particular.

Fourth, the mosque attacks are likely symptomatic of Boko Haram adopting an ISIS strategy of “purifying” its version of Islam by exterminating other sects from existence. In the Middle East and South Asia, this has been done by attacking Shia mosques. In Cameroon, Boko Harm’s targets appear to be the Tijaniyya people who are Sufi Muslims. Islamist jihadists consider Sufis heretics.

Fifth, the Boko Haram problem will continue into the long term. Nigeria and neighboring countries can engage and defeat large-scale Boko Haram light infantry formations, but this will only cause the group to change its operational paradigm. It can easily scale down its massed light infantry operations and switch to smaller disbursed or distributed operations. This is exactly what al Shabaab did in Somalia after fighting conventional forces from neighboring countries such as Kenya. Boko Haram can even downsize from there and carry out terrorist operations such as the village and mosque attacks mentioned here. It is a flexible and resilient force to be reckoned with.

Nigeria, in order to defeat Boko Haram, needs to activate a well-planned and managed counterinsurgency war across security, political/religious, and economic spectrums. It needs to include neighboring countries in this endeavor. Otherwise, Boko Haram will continue to be a scourge in West Africa, and it could potentially expand operations and become more vicious as it furthers the ISIS brand of global Islamist jihadist revolution.

Sources and further reading:

8 killed, 45 injured in double suicide attack at a funeral in northern Cameroon,” Africanews.com, 10 February 2016.

Woman bombers kill six in northern Cameroon,” PressTV, 10 February 2016.

Suicide bombers kill 32, wound dozens in northern Cameroon,” Reuters, 26 January 2016.

Suicide bomber kills at least 12 in Cameroon mosque,” Reuters, 13 January 2016.

Virginia Comolli, Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency, Hurst and Company, 2015.

Copyright © Muir Analytics 2016

Posted in Recent Friction Points | Leave a comment