We are at War With a Very Islamic Global Terror Network. Like it or Not

The horrendous attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a kosher market excited the entire world.  No matter what President Obama said, the attackers did not  “randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.” There was a very deliberate plan in place. The targets were obvious: a magazine that made fun of the Prophet Mohammed and Jews. However, there was a target that was not so obvious. The Kouachi brothers fled Paris to a printing shop in a nearby industrial park.  This was not just a panic escape; it was deliberate and a pre-planned destination. It is that part of the plan that attracted the attention of many intelligence analysts. The shop was seven miles from Charles de Gaulle International Airport and along major flight paths. The brothers were carrying an M72 anti-tank rocket launcher or the Yugoslav copy of that weapon. The range for both is 3300 ft.  We now know that the brother’s plan included an attack on aircraft along the flight path. Keeping the attention on the smaller attacks was deliberate so as not to cause panic as the French police and intelligence services sought out others who may be part of this larger, and more dangerous, plan. Statements by the brothers made it plain that they had brought the war by ISL to Europe.

There may be as many as 20 ISL sleeper cells of 120 to 180 people each ready to strike in France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. For example, there was an attack on 15 January in Verviers, Belgium. Verviers is about 69 miles (111 kilometers) east-southeast of Brussels and 200 miles (322 kilometers) northeast of Paris. Belgian counter-terrorism officers knew of a proposed attack, but said the date had been moved up because of what happened in France.  While not strictly related, the cell in Belgium and the cell in France had communications and used at least some of the same sources for weapons.  These make up a small, but determined, army willing to strike at Western targets.

We are also at war right here on American soil. Most people don’t recognize it yet. We see terrorist attacks like the one in Paris and react by putting up signs on Facebook that say “je suis Charlie Hebdo”. People return to the Boston Marathon to stand up to terror. However, we don’t see those attacks as akin to Pear Harbor.  The vast majority, whether it is the media or politicians, seem to be focused on the act of terrorism without seeing, and dealing with, the truth of the matter: we are being attacked by an enemy which considers themselves at war with the West. In their eyes we are afraid to fight back, or worse, leaders are complicit and will not fight back.

The war against Western culture is being waged in a new way and if we don’t wake up we will have lost before we have even started to fight back.  The U.S. is sending bombers “over there” to “degrade” an enemy we know little about. There are food drops to Kurds. There are weapons sales to those who pledge to fight ISL in the Middle East. The U.S. supported attacks on Assad in Syria, but now defend him. However, the war isn’t just in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria. It is right here at home on our streets and on our social media.

The war is being fought in slick media that includes publications, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.  There is person-to-person recruitment in prisons and on college campuses as well as in some mosques. There is also political pressure whether it is campaign contributions or organizing marches and cries of discrimination.

Physical terror attacks are the ones that most easily catch the attention of the public.  Cyber attacks have made from page news in the new year. One of the most obvious of these was the hack of the Central Command Twitter account.

ISL has replaced Al Qaeda as our bogyman of choice due in great part to high profile news coverage. While news agencies are now focused almost exclusively on ISL there may be more actors that should be of concern. For example, Boko Haram in Africa has connections to both France and to ISL. France has influence and military involvement in Mali, Cameroon and Chad.  Both ISL and Boko Haram have interests in that area and, apparently, some interconnection. According to Scott Morgan of Red Eagle Enterprises, an Africa expert in Washington D.C., Mali is believed to be a point of common interest and communication between Boko Haram and ISL. He notes the Black Banners of ISL have been seen in several villages and towns in Borno State. The Black Banner has also been seen in the logo that introduces and ends the videos that are being shown on YouTube.

We know that the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan have been working with ISL and promote their training.  Separately, the Khorasan group (related to one al Qaeda branch) in Syria is interested in European and U.S. resources. Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, warned, ” A group of core al Qaeda (Khorasan) terrorists in Syria is planning mass casualty attacks against the West.”

Hezbollah’s Rabbani network, backed by Iran and connected to the Sinaloa Drug Cartel, operates in Venezuela and is linked to the Sinaloa Cartel.  Besides operating cocaine labs they provide security for drug operations. There is also a cyber center and a training camp on Margarita Island off the coast.  They even have their own logo.

There are also cells in the U.S. and Mexico along their Northern border just as ISL has cells in Europe. Active groups in the Americas are being openly sheltered in Venezuela and Paraguay. Other sleeper groups are in Brazil, Mexico, and probably other places in the Americas. The cells in the Americas are primarily backed by Iran. Hunter Glass, an investigator based in South Carolina, has long followed Mexican white racist gangs. The Mexican gangs use a blue swastika with a lump on one end known to law and intelligence personnel as a “blue bunny.

In 2010 the hacker group LulzSec hacked into Arizona Department of Public Safety computers and revealed an internal memo from the Tucson Police Department that showed organizing and direction of U.S. would-be jihadis being run from Mexico.  Mexican authorities arrested Jameel Nasr in Tijuana, Baja California. Nasr was tasked with establishing the Hezbollah network in Mexico and throughout South America. In New York City the arrest of Jamal Yousef exposed a weapons cache of 100 M- 16 assault rifles, 100 AR-15 rifles, 2,500 hand grenades, C4 explosives and antitank munitions. According to Yousef, the weapons, which were being stored in Mexico, had been stolen from Iraq with the help of his cousin who was a member of Hezbollah.

These groups have been imbedded in the Americas for years. ISL presents a new and more physical threat. EU and U.S. intelligence sources believe rather than having new fighters join the army in the Middle East they train individuals and return them to their home countries. This is what happened in the French attack; they were trained by ISL and returned to the EU. Hundreds of young men have traveled to be trained and then returned to the EU and the U.S. rather than staying to fight. For example, before the most recent attacks police in Cannes broke up a planned series bombings by Ibrahim Boudina, a French-Algerian who had just returned from fighting with ISL in Syria. Boudina had almost a kilogram of the high explosive TATP inside soda cans in his family’s Cannes apartment building. Screws and nails were attached to one with sticky tape as shrapnel. In another case Mehdi Nemmouche, a French-Algerian ISL fighter who helped guard Western hostages in Syria before returning to Europe, allegedly shot and killed four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels in May 2014.

Bolstering this idea is that French al Qaeda operative and bomb-maker David Drugeon was identified as a talent-spotter for European jihadis in Syria. His project was to train them and return them for operations in Europe. While he was hit with a drone attack he is believed to still be alive and his current position in that operation is unknown.

More than 3,000 Europeans have left to fight in Syria. There are at least 500 fighters who are known to have returned to Europe. The UK reports they know of 250. France is following 200 and Belgium is following 70. Some of those going to fight with ISL are as young as 13, an age that could complicate how returnees are handled. FBI Director James Comey claims there are only a dozen or so Americans fighting in Syria and they are aware of all of them.  Agents in the Middle East claim there are at least 100 that have arrived with U.S. passports and probably several times that many without proper documentation. Of course ISL is much larger than in Syria, so Comey’s statement may be a sop to a concerned public getting as far from the real threat as possible without be called a liar; he does not address Iraq, Yemen, or other areas in his statement. At least as troubling as Comey’s claim that “a dozen or so” Americans are fighting with terrorists in Syria and yes, he knows who every one of them are is his view that they are “entitled to come back” unless their passport is revoked. But we are not to worry because any returnees will be tracked. The Kouachi brothers were tracked by the EU and they managed to quite easily bring at least part of their plan to fruition. Having returned fighters tracked is hardly soothing.

The hundreds of returned fighters in the EU have been identified by counter-intelligence efforts. They are the ones officials know about and can track; there are many more that are believed to have traveled home via non-official ports of entry. Spain has long been one of those entry points. Much like the southern border of the United States, illegal immigrants wanting to work in Europe have flooded across from Morocco. Until recently the concern in Spain has been for taking care of these thousands of individuals trying to find work and to seek social benefits provided by the richer European countries. Many of those people work their way to Calais, France where they try to enter the UK, which has the most generous benefits for anyone who can get there. The same system is believed to now be being used to move fighters into the mainland and across to England.

Turkey is of particular concern. There has been an open focus of the Turkish government turning to the Middle East rather than Europe. Additionally, their hostility towards the Kurds has made them natural allies of ISL there and some reports (especially from Greek sources) say that ISL has been allowed to use Turkish territory to attack the Kurds.

This Turkish/ISL pathway is illustrated by the story of Redouane Hagaoui. In January 2014, the 22-year old left his home in the Belgian town of Verviers. He was due to travel to Morocco to see his grandparents, but never arrived. Instead, Hagaoui went to Istanbul, called his family from somewhere in Turkey, and then vanished into Syria to become a fighter. Since once inside the EU there are no barriers to travel, that entry point should be of particular concern. While security agencies in several European countries were intensely investigating several groups of returnees from Syria and Iraq, but they only have access to official information on individuals returning through accredited routes.

Whether it is Europe or the U.S. a primary efforts for recruitment are aimed at Muslim teens and young men in the 20s and early 30s they call a “third generation.” These young men feel alienated from the countries to which their parents and grandparents immigrated. A significant group of these men feel marginalized within their own country and have no experience of any other. Thus, the IT program is probably more important to recruitment than any physical attacks at this time.  While these young men have few skills one of the efforts is aimed at the putting together of this third generation with veteran jihadists — men like Abdelkader Hakimi. Now 48, Hakimi left prison in 2011 after serving prison time for terrorism. On Facebook last year he suggested he was in Aleppo, Syria.

Besides IT and media efforts ISL and Iran have implemented social programs in the U.S. and Europe.  Both groups run sports and food programs aimed at the poorest young men in high Muslim population areas. Al Qaeda and Iran also provide clothing programs providing trendy items to young men who could not otherwise hope to have branded sports shoes, sweat shirts, and of course, baseball caps. Prison programs like visitation to those who have no family are also important radicalization efforts. In the U.S. Iran has supported motorcycle gangs with training and importing specialized weapons for them. Unlike the concerns of U.S. government agencies Iran smuggled weapons into California rather than taking them out of the country.

In France, the orphaned Kouachi brothers were first exposed to radicalization through one of these sports programs. Farid Benyettou ran the program first for al Qaeda and then for ISL. As early as 2004 three of Benyettou’s recruits traveled to Falluja then under the control of al Qaeda in Iraq’s leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  Benyettou talked to the youths about discovering their identities, and finding their “roots.” The roots he referred to were those of religious zealots, and eventually jihadi fighters. He became, for them, a sort of religious leader, a trainer of the Quran, and how it applied to being a jihadi. Benyettou talked to the young men about abuses committed by the United States in Iraq, most notably what happened at the Abu Ghraib prison. There are already pirated versions of the movie American Sniper are available on the internet. The movie has been edited and the expurgated scene of killing a child is being shown over and over in some Mosques and youth programs.

These efforts are just the beginning of the programs instituted by several jihadist groups. While violent attacks fill headlines there are many more faces to this very real warfare. Whether our governments admit it or not, we are at war and on our own ground with a very “Islamic State”. It is a threat we must face.

How do we face it?

First off Mr. President, and with all due respect, you cannot defeat an ideology unless you’re willing to name it. In the past year, you have  referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.
Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail.
Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combated, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.
Mr. President: You will need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if you are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.
Second, it is high time to resolve how best to defeat ISIS both on the battlefield & politically rather than constantly debating how “Islamic” it is. There can be no doubt that ISIS is composed of fanatical Muslims who justify everything they do through a bizarre and vicious interpretation of Islam. To try to argue that because an organization’s beliefs and practices are manifestly evil, they cannot be “Islamic” because Islam is good is understandable from a political and diplomatic point of view. But it is intellectually indefensible.

Third, Assad and ISIS are 2 sides of the same coin. Anyone who doesn’t believe this is just either clueless or delusional. Same goes for Al Qaeda and Iran. Talking about the latter, a bad deal is much worse than no deal and I am afraid the deal the US Administration is currently negotiating with Iran is nothing but a nightmare.

And here are my three main reasons:

  • There will be no limits on Iran’s ballistic-missile force, the presumed delivery means for its nuclear weapons. The U.S. position of seeking limits on the missile force was abandoned when the Supreme Leader objected.
  • There will be no resolution of Iran’s weaponization activities — described as “very alarming” by the Obama White House in November 2011 — before an agreement is reached. Iran is likely to promise once again to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency in its investigation, but no serious observer would expect anything other than continued obstructionism by Iran. At one point, a resolution of weaponization activities was a precondition for an agreement. Now it is being treated as an implementation issue.
  • Verification will likely be based primarily on Iran’s current safeguards agreement and a promise to implement the Additional Protocol — a promise Iran first made over a decade ago. Even if the Additional Protocol is observed, inspections will be by “managed access” based on Iran’s cooperation and good will. At one point, the U.S. insisted that effective verification required full access to facilities and people. Now, the U.S. and its P5+1 negotiating partners have settled for far less. There will be no unfettered inspections of suspected covert facilities such as the Lavizan-3 site recently revealed by the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Bottom Line: Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear-weapons capability is the surest way to prevent war and preserve peace. To that end, the negotiators should return to the table insisting upon limits that will permanently block Iran’s paths to nuclear weapons and resolve the IAEA’s concerns about Tehran’s nuclear-weapons work as a condition of an agreement.

The real choice is not between the administration’s deal and war, but between preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and capitulation…. and God knows what will surely happen if the US ever capitulates

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I'm a Lebanese American physical commodities trader, financier, and author. The President and Chief Executive officer of Blackhawk Partners, Inc., – a “private family office” that supports highly accomplished operating executives in expanding their companies organically through business acquisitions and physical commodities trades (mostly oil derivatives) around the world.