10 Islamic Militants that are Changing the Global Balance of Power

10 Islamic Militants that are Changing the Global Balance of Power

From the plains of Africa to the deserts of the Middle East to the mountains of Asia, Islamic militants are fighting for the establishment of the Caliphate, an Islamic state governed by Shari’a or Islamic law. These militants have divergent ideas about what the Caliphate will look like and who its leader will be. What they have in common is the potential to reshape the global balance of power. The leaders of these Islamic militant groups are challenging some of the most sophisticated military and security services in the world. Sometimes they win.

10. Syed Salahuddin, Commander of the United Jihad Council

Kashmir is a land of rolling mountains, green valleys, rich agriculture and precious minerals. It has also been the subject of brutal confrontations between Pakistan and India, nuclear powers that have been vying for the area’s natural resources since 1947.  The United Islamic Jihad, an umbrella organization of 14+ Islamic militant groups, was organized by Pakistan’s intelligence service to fight Indian control of the Kashmir.  Thanks to the leadership of Muhammad Yousuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin, the United Jihad Council and the fight for Kashmir has taken a deadly turn. It is no longer a territorial dispute between two regional powers. Syed Salahuddin’s call out to Islamic militants from al-Qaeda to ISIS to the Taliban to join the fight in Kashmir promises to transform the conflict into a Syrian style blood bath with a pure Islamic state as the final goal.

9. Abubakar Shekau, Commander of Boko Haram

Boko Haram, a once insignificant Islamic militant group in Northern Nigeria, has become a full-blown threat to Nigeria’s stability due to the leadership of Abubakar Shekau. He is known for his erratic rants in propaganda videos but his ruthlessness on the battlefield has earned him the title of the craziest of all Boko Haram commanders.  Since its establishment in 2002, Boko Haram has supported the establishment of a pure Islamic state. The focus of its operations, however, were largely local until 2009 when Abubakar Shekau took command. Boko Haram is now responsible for brazen attacks against Nigerian security forces and educational institutions. They received international acclaim for kidnapping 300 schoolgirls in April and are pursuing a campaign of territorial expansion that is spreading the group’s destructive powers closer to Nigeria’s major population centers.  Abubakar Shekau is a skilled networker and has forged an alliance with al-Qaeda’s central command and satellite outfit in Yemen—an indication that the group may soon be much more than just Nigeria’s problem.

8. Dr. Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, Commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad

Hamas is the Islamic militant organization that is splashed across the headlines when Israel goes to war in Gaza. Gaza, however, is home to a far deadlier and more radical organization that refuses to compromise in its fight to destroy Israel and create an Islamic state in its place.  The Palestinian Islamic Jihad employs purely military tactics to accomplish its goals and has consistently launched rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel even when Hamas has respected a truce.  Dr. Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, a former University of South Florida professor, has served as Secretary-General of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad since 1995. From offices in Syria and Iran, Dr. Shallah has secured the financial support to ensure the continued operation of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  Its perpetual military engagement with Israel will continue to undermine peace negotiations and spark full-blown wars between Israel and Palestine.

7. Doku Umarov, Deceased Commander of the Caucasus Emirate

The Caucasus Emirate formed when Chechnya’s secessionist movement from Russia failed. Under the leadership of Doku Umarov, the Islamists fighting in Chechnya declared a virtual Islamic state in the North Caucasus mountain range.  Their terrorist attacks against Russian security forces in the Caucasus and transportation centers in the heart of Russia put the international community on high alert during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Russia responded with a brutal counter-terror campaign that eliminated many of the Caucasus Emirate militant leaders, including Doku Umarov.  With the primary internal threat to Russia all but eliminated, Putin has engaged in an aggressive campaign of territorial expansion that has included the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and funding and supplying separatist leaders in Eastern Ukraine.  The current situation in the Ukraine may never have come to be if Doku Umarov had lived and the Caucasus Emirate continued to pose a serious threat to Russia.

6. Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary-General of Hezbollah

Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, has vacillated between a terrorist organization and a political organization with a military outfit. Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Shiite militant group since 1992, has been influential in leading Hezbollah from a militant organization to a political force with international diplomatic recognition.  Hezbollah was formed in the midst of Lebanon’s civil war and Israel’s occupation of Southern Lebanon in the 1980s with substantial support from Iran. Its goals include expelling Western nations from the Middle East, destroying Israel and establishing an Islamic state. Nasrallah has close ties to Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and to Iran, which it has pledged loyalty to.  Hezbollah’s commitment to the establishment of a Shiite Islamic state has placed it in direct confrontation with Sunni Islamic militants. Its fighters have helped Bashar al-Assad remain in power in Syria, and it promises to be a powerful force as Shiites and Sunnis battle for their own version of an Islamic state in the Middle East.

5. Maulana Qasim Khurasani, Commander of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Jamatul Ahrar

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been one of the most potent militant forces fighting against coalition forces in Afghanistan since its formation in 2007. The alliance of militant groups operating out of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan has been responsible for destabilizing Afghanistan’s nascent democratic government and attacking Pakistani security forces to support the establishment of a pure Islamic state in the region.  The TTP has consistently threatened to launch terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe; however, mere threats were not enough for some members of TTP’s leadership. Internal disputes within the TTP following the deaths of the organization’s top commanders resulted in the formation of the TTP Jamatul Ahrar in August, a hardline splinter group led by Maulana Qasim Khurasani. Inspired by the success of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Maulana Qasim Khurasani promises to increase the ruthlessness and focus of TTP attacks.

4. Major General Mohammed Ali Jafari, Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp was formed in the aftermath of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution. Its original mandate was to protect the Islamic state from internal and external threats but it has since expanded its role to exporting the Islamic revolution. In addition to controlling Iran’s conventional military and ballistic missile programs, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards is responsible for the actions of the Quds Force, an elite paramilitary unit skilled in irregular or asymmetric warfare, the act of drawing a conventional army into conflict with small units of combatants, and the primary force responsible for extending Iran’s Islamic revolution throughout the Middle East.  In 2005, Major General Mohammed Ali Jafari, the man responsible for developing Iran’s irregular warfare capabilities, took control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.  Under his command, the Quds Force has increased its presence and influence in the Middle East. The Quds force is rumored to have 20 headquarters spread throughout the Middle East and has been active in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and the Arab countries surrounding the Persian Gulf.  Major General Mohammed Ali Jafari and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp have been instrumental in fomenting a regional war between Sunni and Shiite extremists battling for their own version of a pure Islamic state.

3. Mullah Mohammad Omar, Leader of the Taliban

Mullah Mohammad Omar is the Taliban leader that just won’t quit and the United States’ 13-year engagement in Afghanistan has done little to diminish his influence. The creator of the Taliban, Mullah Omar took control of Afghanistan in 1996 imposing strict Shari’a law on the country until the 2001 U.S. led invasion that established Afghanistan’s democratic government. The Taliban’s version of Islamic fundamentalism blends the tribal customs of the Pashtuns with a Sunni inspired Islamic extremism.  Far from debilitating the Taliban, the U.S. presence in Afghanistan galvanized the Taliban insurgency causing militant groups throughout Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia to coalesce around a common cause—forcing the withdrawal of the infidels and destroying their system of government.  The Taliban has made significant gains since the U.S. withdrawal, retaking large swaths of territory that the Afghan government has all but surrendered.  In July, Mullah Omar’s annual post-Ramadan message included his plan to reestablish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.  Without U.S. troops to support Afghan security forces, there may be no stopping him.

2. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Commander of al-Qaeda

Osama bin Laden is dead but the al-Qaeda franchise is alive and well thanks to the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian born surgeon and veteran jihadist that worked hand in hand with bin Laden until his death in 2011. Zawahiri was instrumental in restructuring al-Qaeda from a centralized organization to a decentralized franchise, ensuring its survival despite being one of the most hunted groups in the world.  Al-Qaeda is no longer just one group; it is a multitude of Islamic militant groups that stretch from Africa to Central Asia. Affiliated groups include al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in North Africa, al Shabaab in East Africa and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. Al-Qaeda’s influence can also be found in the Islamic militants fighting in Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Caucasus and the Philippines.  Al-Qaeda remains the organization most capable of launching attacks within the United States and Europe. If its affiliated groups are successful in conquering territory, it is the al-Qaeda banner that will most likely unify them into a Caliphate with a size and scope that rivals the Caliphate established by the Prophet Mohammed.

1. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Commander of the Islamic State

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi needs no introduction. His brutality and brilliance as a military commander has earned him a front page spread since the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) captured large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq. Baghdadi was the former commander of al-Qaeda in Iraq; however, his involvement in Syria, against the direct instruction of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, caused him to break from the al-Qaeda franchise.  ISIS, renamed the Islamic State, has declared a Caliphate in the regions under its control and has extended an invitation to jihadists worldwide to take part in the fight and extend the Caliphate throughout the Middle East and Africa. ISIS is perhaps the richest of the jihadist groups with an estimated $2 billion bankroll.  The Islamic State under Baghdadi’s leadership promises to be ground zero for jihadists in coming years. It will, also, be ground zero for Sunni and Shiite extremists vying for their version of the Caliphate. Baghdadi’s brazenness, however, may also be his downfall. His schism with al-Qaeda may prevent the Islamic State from extending their influence beyond Syria and Iraq.

The Lewinsky Cover-Up: The sex scandal that distracted America from the Clinton’s true malfeasance

Monica Lewinsky has again taken center stage in the U.S. media going public about the affair that fueled the House of Representatives impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1999.  In the much-anticipated June Vanity Fair, Monica Lewinsky penned the essay Shame and Survival to reclaim the events that transpired during her days as a White House intern.  Political strategists have speculated that the essay was prompted by Clinton supporters in an effort to control the scandal from reemerging during Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The Lewinsky affair was the culmination of a six-year Independent Counsel investigation into an impressive array of scandals involving Hillary and Bill Clinton.  Those scandals, which included bank fraud, campaign finance fraud, regulatory interference, bribery and obstruction of justice, were all but forgotten in the media frenzy surrounding Bill Clinton’s sexscapades.  By putting the Lewinsky affair to bed, the multitude of scandals canonized as Whitewater is also being laid to rest as the product of a frivolous bipartisan witch-hunt.  Should they be?

The investigations

In 1989, Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan in Little Rock, AK joined the chorus of thrifts that collapsed due to corruption, fraud and greed in what became known as the Savings & Loan debacle.  Madison Guaranty had been under investigation by bank regulators since 1984 for suspicious lending practices, speculative land deals and exorbitant commissions paid to controlling partners—by the time it closed, the thrift had cost taxpayers $73 million.  James McDougal, owner of the thrift, and his wife Susan were intimately acquainted with the Clintons.  They were the Clintons’ friends, business partners, political supporters and campaign fundraisers.   The relationship that helped finance Bill Clinton’s political career would haunt him for the duration of his time in the White House.

In 1978, James and Susan McDougal formed the Whitewater Development Corporation with Bill and Hillary Clinton to build vacation homes in the Ozark Mountains—four years later McDougal purchased Madison Guaranty.  During Hillary Clinton’s tenure at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, she preformed legal work for Madison Guaranty that helped stave off bank regulators.  In 1992, the Resolution Trust Corp., charged with the clean up of the collapsed Savings & Loan industry, named the Clintons as possible benefactors of illegal activity at Madison Guaranty in a criminal referral sent to the Justice Department.  The investigations that followed included a House Banking Committee investigation, a Special Senate Whitewater Committee investigation and two Independent Counsel investigations, which resulted in a series of high-profile resignations in the Executive Branch and netted the conviction of 12 defendants including the former Governor of Arkansas Jim Guy Tucker and the former Associate Attorney General and Rose Law Firm partner Webster Hubbell.  The Clintons, however, escaped criminal charges on all aspects of the investigations, except for Bill Clinton on perjury charges related to Monica Lewinsky.

The heart of the scandal

The Whitewater investigations incorporated a host of suspicious activity that ranged from the Clintons time in AK to their activity in the Oval Office.  The large scope of the Whitewater investigations obfuscated the original RTC criminal referral that brought the Whitewater affair to light.  In the myriad of alleged wrongdoing, the Clintons involvement with a troubled thrift that contributed to the collapse of the Savings & Loan industry shifted to the back burner.  The following are highlights from the scandal that started the scandals:

  • Bill Clinton was allegedly the recipient of several Madison Guaranty loans that helped finance his gubernatorial campaigns in the early 1980s.  In 1985, McDougal held a fundraising event to help Bill Clinton pay off his campaign debts.  Bank regulators later determined that money was improperly withdrawn from depositors’ accounts.
  • In 1985, Rose Law Firm was hired to do legal work for Madison Guaranty, which had attracted the attention of bank regulators the previous year.  Hillary Clinton drafted a recapitalization plan for Madison Guaranty that was approved by bank regulators and helped ensure the thrifts continued operation.  Billing records detailing Rose Law Firm’s relationship with Madison Guaranty were withheld from Whitewater investigators for four years.
  • Capital Management Services, a business investment corporation owned by David Hale that defrauded the Small Business Administration of $3.4 million, engaged in fraudulent lending activity with Madison Guaranty.  In 1986, a $300,000 loan from CMS was partially diverted by Madison Guaranty to the Whitewater Development Corp.
  • Hillary Clinton’s legal work for James McDougal and Madison Guaranty in 1986 included closing a fraudulent land deal known as Castle Grande.
  • In 1993, Clinton aides held several meetings with Treasury Department officials about the RTC’s investigation of Madison Guaranty.  Investigators later determined at least 40 meetings were held.
  • One month after filing years worth of delinquent taxes for the Whitewater Development Corp. in 1993 former Rose Law Firm partner and Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster was found dead.  His death was ruled a suicide.  White house aides entered his office before federal investigators were given access.

A cause for concern

The Whitewater investigations will be publicly remembered as a political fiasco charged by the partisan interests of the accusers and investigators—a public image solidified by the persecution of Bill Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky.  The investigations conducted by the RTC, Congress and the Independent Counsel failed to find criminalities in the Clintons relationship with Madison Guaranty.  The Clintons were, after all, just one of a number of Republican and Democratic politicians that had questionable financial entanglements with corrupt Savings & Loan institutions and had interfered with regulators on their behalf.  Political interference with regulators was a primary factor in transforming the Savings & Loan debacle of the late 1980s and early 1990s into a financial calamity that cost taxpayers $300 billion.  It is a scandal that America cannot afford to forget.  Unfortunately, in the case of Whitewater, it is a scandal that will never be properly remembered.






Tech Companies Face the Bottom Line in the NSA Surveillance Scandal: They Helped Make it Happen

Tech Companies Face the Bottom Line in the NSA Surveillance Scandal: 

They Helped Make it Happen

In March, leaders in the technology industry met with President Obama for the second time to express outrage over the National Security Agency’s surveillance of their users’ data.  The March meeting was follow up to the tech industry’s launch of the Global Governance Surveillance Reform campaign, a public call from the leaders of Apple, Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others to reform the laws governing metadata collection programs.

Outcry from the tech industry, which stands to lose an estimated  $35 billion by 2016 due to the surveillance scandal, has been a driving force behind presidential and congressional action to limit the NSA’s access to telephone, email and internet data.  Many of the tech companies that have publicly condemned the NSA, however, have longstanding relationships with the intelligence agency as contractors.  They, also, have privacy policies that have made metadata collection and analysis possible.

Spanking the NSA

Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian immortalized Edward Snowden in June 2013 by releasing the first in a series of articles based on leaked documents Snowden collected while employed by Booz Allen Hamilton, the security and intelligence consultancy firm with several multi-billion dollar contracts with the U.S. government.  Revelations that NSA surveillance activity included U.S. citizens and the heads of state of allied nations shocked the nation.  The program at the center of the storm, bulk telephony metadata collection, has existed since 2001 under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The Obama administration has scrambled to respond to public outcry over the scandal.  In August 2013, Obama formed the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, which released 46 recommendations to balance intelligence collection with civil liberties in its December report Liberty and Security in a Changing World.  The tech industry was heavily involved with the President’s Review Group and their influence can be seen in many of the report’s recommendations, which positions the tech industry to benefit from future surveillance programs.

  • Recommendation 5 calls for private providers or a 3rd party, such as a tech company, to hold metadata records, not the NSA.
  • Recommendation 9 enables tech companies to release transparency reports to its consumers about the number of data requests from the government.
  • Recommendation 20 calls for the development of new software that would enable the NSA to better target information, which would reduce the need for bulk metadata.

On March 27, 2014 the Obama administration announced its proposal to replace Section 215 of the Patriot Act with a new program that would leave metadata in the hands of the companies where it originated.  Data from tech companies could only be obtained through a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order and companies receiving the order would be required to provide technical assistance to ensure the data was received in a usable format.  The Obama surveillance program proposal is awaiting the passage of legislation, such as the FISA Transparency and Modernization Act of 2014 introduced to Congress on March 25, 2014 by House Intelligence Committee Chief Mike Rogers (R-MI), to enforce it.

The Tech Industry Knows What You Did Last Summer

The tech industry stands to profit from the surveillance reform it helped to instigate; government contracts for the private sector would be necessary to institute changes to NSA surveillance programs.  However, many of the tech companies that launched the Global Governance Surveillance Reform campaign and met repeatedly with Obama and administration officials to express concern over metadata collection have had longstanding relationships with the NSA.  Sprint, Microsoft and T Mobile, active in lobbying for surveillance reform, are all registered with the NSA as potential contractors.

The Acquisition Resource Center (ARC) of the NSA is a necessary step in obtaining contract work with the intelligence agency.  In 2011, Sprint, Microsoft and T Mobile were all registered members of NSA’s ARC.

The 2009 NSA Inspector General Report, leaked to the Guardian by Snowden, revealed NSA’s reliance on telecommunication companies to carry out their metadata collection program.  The collection partnership between the NSA and telecommunication giants AT&T and Verizon was crucial to the bulk metadata collection program; an end to the cooperation of telecommunications companies would have devastated the NSA’s surveillance activity.

The NSA has come to rely on telecommunication and tech companies to carry out their surveillance activity due to the incredible amount of information the tech industry collects and stores on its users.  Google’s privacy policies read more like a disclaimer about the many ways in which the private information of its consumers will be used for public purposes.  Google is clear that it collects information on its user’s location, call logs and web searches, which it uses for targeting advertisements and tailored web searches.  Google is also clear in its use of pattern recognition that the company collects biometric data on its users, such as facial features, to help its users tag photos and video footage.

Who’s Watching You?

The NSA surveillance scandal has brought privacy issues to the forefront of public consciousness.  Backlash from revelations that telephone, e-mail and Internet metadata was collected on U.S. citizens is pushing through government reforms that are shifting an increasing amount of responsibilities to the tech industry.  The tech industry, however, collects more information about its users than government agencies have ever had the ability to access.  Reigning in the NSA may do little to turn the tide on metadata collection and analysis.  Rather, it has the potential to push metadata collection, analysis and dissemination to the private sector, which is governed by, above all else, the quest for profits.

The Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation: A Caucasus Emirate Case Study

The Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation:  A Caucasus Emirate Case Study

With the 2014 Sochi Olympics set to kick off on February 7 all eyes will be on Russia’s ability to provide security to the millions of attendees and participants in the Winter Games.  Sochi is located a few hundred kilometers from the North Caucasus, a breeding ground for Islamic militants involved in a decades long struggle against the Russian Federation.  The Caucasus Emirate, the umbrella group for the Jihadist militants operating in the six provinces of the North Caucasus, have publicly promised to launch attacks during the Olympic games, causing international governments to set their threat levels as high as they can go.

Putin, however, has declared that the Sochi Olympics will be free from terrorism and has launched an aggressive counter-terror campaign to eliminate the threat.  Leadership decapitation, the practice of dismantling a terrorist organization by capturing or killing its leaders, is at the heart of Putin’s strategy and the body count of Caucasus Emirate militant leaders continues to pile up in the weeks leading to the Olympic games.

Leadership decapitation, while widely accepted and used by international governments to combat terrorist organization, has been called into question for its effectiveness at thwarting terrorist attacks.  Russia’s campaign against the Caucasus Emirate and the results of the Sochi Olympics will prove crucial to the debate surrounding the go-to counter-terror strategy.  Will the deaths of Caucasus Emirate’s leaders render the organization incapable of launching the attacks that they have threatened, or will the Sochi Olympics transform into a playground for terrorists asserting the continued strength and presence of the Global Jihad?  The events that transpire in Russia between February 7th and February 23rd will provide some answers.

Leadership Decapitation

In 2009, Jenna Jordan published “When Head’s Roll: Assessing the Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation”, one of the first large-scale empirical studies of the impact of leadership decapitation on terrorist groups.  Her quantitative analysis examined 298 cases of leadership decapitation over a 60-year period.  She found that the rate of organizational decline following the removal of a terrorist organization’s leadership was less than the decline of organizations that had not been the subject of a leadership decapitation campaign, i.e. killing or capturing terrorist leaders was largely counter-productive.  The study found that the negative consequences of leadership decapitation, which include an upsurge in violent attacks, especially rang true in terrorist organizations driven by religious motivations, such as the terrorist groups engaged in the Global Jihad.

Jordan’s findings have been the subject of controversy and scholars have come forward with additional empirical studies to counter the claim that the removal of a terrorist organization’s leadership is ineffective.  In 2012, two new empirical studies of leadership decapitation were released that reached the opposite conclusion of Jordan.  Patrick B. Johnston’s “Does Decapitation Work? Assessing the Effectiveness of Leadership Targeting in Counterinsurgency Campaigns”, examined 118 attempts to decapitate the leaders of insurgent groups over a 30-year period.  The study found that leadership decapitation contributed to government victory in counterinsurgency campaigns and reduced the intensity and frequency of militant attacks.

Bryan C. Price’s “Targeting Top Terrorists: How Leadership Decapitation Contributes to Counter-Terrorism” examined 207 terrorist groups targeted by leadership decapitation campaigns over a 30-year period.  Price’s study agreed with Jordan that the effectiveness of leadership decapitation is reduced the longer a terrorist group is in existence.  However, in stark contrast, it found that leadership decapitation was an effective method for destroying terrorist groups.  Price argued this was especially true for terrorist groups driven by religious motivations, such as those that engage in the Global Jihad.

Caucasus Emirate

In 2007, Dokku Umarov or Abu Usman announced the formation of the Caucasus Emirate, an Islamic state governed by the laws of Shari’a that spans the provinces of Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetiya, Kabardino-Balkariya, Karachaevo-Cherkessiya, and North Ossetia in the North Caucasus.  Umarov was a veteran of the 1994 and 1999 Chechen war for independence and was the President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, the Chechen secessionist movement’s government.  However, he abandoned Chechnya’s battle for independence from Russia in favor of jihad and the establishment of an Islamic state in the North Caucasus.

The Caucasus Emirate is an umbrella organization for Islamic militants operating in the North Caucasus.  It is simultaneously decentralized with self-sufficient militant groups, or jamaats, capable of launching attacks independently and centralized with Umarov in control of appointing militant leaders in the provinces who swear an oath of loyalty, or bay’ah, to him.  The Caucasus Emirate is aligned with the Global Jihad and cooperates closely with Islamic militants internationally.  Caucasus Emirate fighters have appeared in battles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria and foreign jihadists have augmented Caucasus Emirate’s forces in their jihad against Russia.

The true size and strength of the Caucasus Emirate has been difficult for security and intelligence services to estimate.  In 2010, Umarov announced the Caucasus Emirate had 10,000-30,000 insurgents engaged in jihad against Russia.  Russia’s security services estimates of CE’s force strength for the same year was 400-1,500.  In 2004, CE’s combined insurgent and auxiliary forces were estimated to be 15,000. (4) In addition to the steady stream of bombings, gunfights and targeted assassinations in the North Caucasus, the CE has claimed credit for the 2007 and 2009 bombing of the Nevsky express train between Moscow and St. Petersburg, the 2010 bombing of the Moscow Metro, the 2011 attack on a Moscow airport and the 2014 attacks on a train station and trolleybus in Volgograd.  As early as 2010, reports surfaced that CE militants were plotting to attack the Sochi Olympics.

Russia’s Anti-Terror Campaign

Since the creation of the Caucasus Emirate, Russia’s primary anti-terrorism force, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB), has launched numerous anti-terror operations built on leadership decapitation.  These operations have increased in number and intensity in the years leading up to the 2014 Olympics.

In Dagestan, the Shariat Jamaat remains one of the most active groups within the Caucasus Emirates despite the long list of leaders decapitated by the FSB.  In 2008, after less than a year as the commander of the Dagestani Front, Emir Abdul Majid was killed.  His replacement, Omar Sheikhulayev, or Emir Muaz, was killed in 2009.  His replacement, Umalat Magomedov, or Emir Al-Bara, was also killed in 2009—a mere seven months after his appointment as leader of Dagestan forces.

In 2010, less than a month after Umarov announced Magomed Vagabov, or Emir Seyfullah, as leader of the Dagestani Front, he was killed by the FSB.  Israpil Velijanov, or Emir Khasan or Hasan, was appointed his successor a short time later.  He was killed in 2011.  Control of the Shariat Jamaat was then transferred to Ibragimkhalil Daudov, or Emir Salikh, until his death at the hands of the FSB in 2012.  Rustam Asildarov, or Emir Abu Muhammad, is the current leader of Caucasus Emirate’s Dagestani forces.

Despite the rapid removal of the leaders of the Shariat Jamaat, it remains a deadly force in Dagestan responsible for a daily onslaught of violence.  While Shariat Jamaat denies any connection to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, responsible for the attack, lived in the capital of Dagestan for six months in 2012. The group is believed to be responsible for carrying out the Volgograd bombings in January.

The Yarmuk Jamaat is the CE’s primary military front in the Kabardino-Balkariya, Karachaevo-Cherkessiya provinces, located a few hours away from Sochi.  In 2011, a dramatic increase in militant violence prompted a large-scale counter-terror operation on April 29 that killed 16 Yarmuk Jamaat militants including its leader Asker Dzhappuev.

Dzhappuev had assumed command of Yarmuk Jamaat after the death of Anzor Astemirov, or Emir Sayfullah, in 2010.  Astemirov was intimately involved in the creation of the Caucasus Emirate and, in addition to commanding the Yarmuk Jamaat, led the CE’s Shari’a court system.  With the 2011 raid, the FSB announced that they had effectively dismantled the Yarmuk Jamaat.  However, Alim Zankishiev, or Emir Ubaidallah, emerged later that year to lead the Yarmuk Jamaat in several small-scale attacks.

In 2012, Zankishiev was killed in another round of leadership decapitation.  His successor Ruslan Baryrbekov, or Emir Khamza or Khamzat, was killed a few months later.  Khasanbi Fakov, or Emir Abu Khasan, was the last known commander of the Yarmuk Jamaat and led the militant group to an upsurge in violence until his death in an FSB operation in August 2013.

Despite the success of FSB operations in decapitating the Yarmuk Jamaat’s leadership, it remains an active security threat and one of the primary sources behind the Sochi terror alerts.  In January, Russia security services reported six suspicious deaths that resulted from experimentation with explosives in the province sandwiched between Kabardino-Balkaria and Sochi.  It is speculated that those dead were Yarmuk Jamaat militants.


The 2014 Sochi Olympics will be the first time Russia has hosted the games since the fall of the Soviet Union and Vladimir Putin has spared no expense in its preparation.  In addition to the large-scale counter-terror operations the FSB has conducted in the North Caucasus, Putin has passed repressive counter-terror laws and instituted a “ring of steel” surrounding Sochi where an estimated 100,000 FSB officers will be stationed for the events.

The FSB has conducted a successful leadership decapitation campaign against the Caucasus Emirate and killed many of the organizations top militants.  It is rumored that the founder of the group, Dokka Umarov, was killed in January, although the FSB has been unable to confirm these reports.  Despite the success of the leadership decapitation effort, security experts continue to affirm that a terrorist attack during the Sochi Olympics is likely.  Rumors of a plotted chemical attack at Sochi are contributing to the hysteria surrounding the games.

The events that transpire at Sochi will be symbolic for both the Putin administration and the Caucasus Emirate.  Umarov has called on militants to do everything in their power to disrupt the games.  Failure to carry out an attack will be indicative of an organization weakened to the point of collapse and lend credence to scholars and security experts who maintain leadership decapitation is an effective counter-terror strategy.  A successful terrorist attack during the Sochi games, on the other hand, will continue to support the conclusion that leadership decapitation is counter-productive and the national security community is in dire need of a new counter-terror strategy.


The Russian Loophole: Syria joins the UN Convention that enabled its chemical weapons program


“The Russian government was in some kind of trouble,” Vil Mirzayanov, a dissident Soviet chemist from Russia’s chemical weapons program, said of the diplomatic solution that pushed Syria to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on October 14.  “Ultimately, there are people that can reveal the old connections.  All these chemical weapons of Syria, they are a version of Russian chemical weapons.  The Russian government probably felt there was only one solution, so to cover their ass they pushed Syria to join the convention.”

Syria’s entrance into the CWC was met with a geo-political sigh of relief.  U.S. military intervention in Syria’s civil war had been averted.  The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the CWC’s investigative and enforcement arm, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  The Russians, the major force behind the initiative to transfer Syria’s chemical stockpiles into international control, were hailed for their diplomatic maneuvering.  Ironically, the Russians, the heroes behind Syria’s public denunciation of their chemical weapons program, were responsible for the establishment of Syria’s chemical weapons program.  Loopholes Russian negotiators inserted into the CWC made it possible.


The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, or the Chemical Weapons Convention, was the accumulation of 20 years of negotiations by the UN Conference on Disarmament.  After the disastrous results of the use of chemical agents during WWI and WWII, the international community drafted numerous resolutions against their use.    As the owners of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the global community, the U.S. and Russia were major stakeholders in the negotiations.  With the lofty goal of eliminating chemical weapons worldwide, the CWC entered into full force at the UN in April 1997.

“I was well informed in how to create loopholes in this convention,” Vil Mirzayanov said in an interview the day after Syria joined the CWC.  “I participated in meetings on how to do that.”  For 26 years, Vil Mirzayanov worked as a chemist for the State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, the center of Russia’s chemical weapons program.  After helping to develop a new wave of chemical warfare agents that were virtually undetectable by foreign inspectors, known as Novichok, Mirzayanov blew the whistle in 1994.  “I came to the conclusion that mostly chemical weapons are against the civilian population.  After that I decided that it was not good to work on this program anymore.  Especially after Russia developed a new generation of more poisonous and more powerful chemical agents and weaponized them.”

After a year of persecution within Russia for divulging state secrets, Vil Mirzayanov immigrated to the United States, where he continued to sound the alarm about Russia’s chemical weapons program.  It went unheeded.  In 1997, both the U.S. and Russia ratified the CWC; the threat of chemical war had superficially subsided.  Until August 21, 2013 when Syria unleashed the worst chemical weapons attack in nearly two decades.  According to Mirzayanov, the loopholes inserted into the CWC by Russian negotiators made that chemical weapons attack possible.  Article XI of the CWC, Economic and Technological Development, was the curtain that Russia hid behind to export a new generation of phosphate based chemical agents to rogue nations.

According to Article XI of the CWC, the ban on chemical weapons and the monitoring of their precursors will not interfere with their production and use for purposes outside of war.  The article gives the signatories of the convention the right to, “develop, produce, acquire, retain, transfer, and use chemicals.”  In addition, the CWC encourages the, “fullest possible exchange of chemicals, equipment and scientific and technical information,” and prohibits countries from using the CWC to, “restrict or impeded trade and the development and promotion of scientific and technological knowledge in the field of chemistry for industrial, agricultural, research, medical, pharmaceutical or other peaceful purposes.”

“Well, what does development mean?” Vil Mirzayanov said when speaking about the loophole he had a personal hand in developing.  “No one can tell you what it means exactly.  You can continue to synthesize new components and you can continue to test them.  This is a very bad loophole because it allows for the development of new kinds of chemical agents.”  The new generation of chemical agents that Russia developed while Boris Yeltsin pushed the Russian Parliament to ratify the CWC was done without fear of international interference.  Russia’s development of phosphate based chemical weapons was disguised by their dual-use application for civilian purposes.  The CWC, which grew out of the use of chlorine and phosgene gases during WWI and WWII, enabled its Signatories to engage in a new phase of chemical war—one that involved far deadlier chemical agents.


Despite public denial, Syria has long been known as the holder of the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the Middle East.  On August 21, 2013, Bashar al-Assad deployed these weapons against his own citizens in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus, a rebel stronghold.  Surface to surface rockets containing Sarin, a nerve agent, killed 1,429—most were civilians.  Russia’s initial reaction to the chemical attack by its longtime ally was to launch a public campaign blaming the rebels.  In an Op-Ed piece published by the New York Times on September 11, Vladimir Putin claimed Syrian opposition forces unleashed the chemical weapons to provoke international intervention.  In response to a smaller scale chemical weapons attack in Syria in March, Russia conducted an investigation under the guise of the OPCW and submitted a 100-page document to the UN that held the rebels responsible.  When this approach failed, Russia launched its diplomatic initiative to transfer Syria’s chemical arsenal to international control.

Sarin is a debilitating nerve agent that is fatal in even low quantities.  It attacks the nervous system and those who are exposed go through an excruciating process before death that includes loss of control over bodily functions, convulsions and eventually asphyxiation.  Sarin is one of a series of binary chemical agents that Russia developed while negotiating the CWC.  It is outlawed in the CWC as a schedule I—the most deadly—chemical weapon.  However, Sarin can be produced on the spot by mixing together its precursor chemicals, most notably methylphosphonyl diflouride and isopropanol, or rubbing alcohol.  As early as December 2012, reports emerged that Syria was taking steps to create Sarin from precursors and loading them into missiles.

In 1994, the same year Vil Mirzayanov was imprisoned for blowing the whistle on Russia’s Novichok program, Gen. Anatoly Kuntsevich was smuggling precursor chemicals for nerve gases into Syria.  Gen. Kuntsevich was a leader in Russia’s chemical weapons program.  He was in charge of Russia’s Shikany 2 military chemical facility, won the Lenin Prize in 1991 for developing binary chemical agents for the USSR, and oversaw the Novichok program where Mirzayanov worked.  Kuntsevich, also, served as an advisor to Boris Yeltsin on chemical disarmament, was in charge of Russia’s chemical and biological weapons conversion programs, and was a lead negotiator for Russia on the CWC.  “He was a typical military bureaucrat,” Mirzayanov recalled.  “A very dishonest guy.”

Kuntsevich’s transfer of chemical weapons components to Syria became the subject of a Russian Security Services investigation—an investigation that was ultimately dropped after Kuntsevich revealed to the press that the smuggled precursor chemicals were part of a legal trade agreement between Russia and Syria.  Mirzayanov chuckled when he spoke of the incident.  “They were probably mad because he figured he could make a few bucks on the side.  Russia was sending tons and tons of these chemicals to Syria, so Kuntsevich figured he could sell some himself and put some money in his pocket.”  The precursor components for nerve agents were transferred into Syria under the cover of environmental protection.  The chemical agents were reportedly to support the Pan-Arabian Ecological Center stationed near Damascus.  Kuntsevich was assigned to the program as a representative.  “He was working on environmental protection problems, but he has no idea what is that,” Mirzayanov said.  “That program had to do with chemical weapons activities.”

After his brief period in the media, Kuntsevich drifted away from the public eye.  In 2002, he died under mysterious circumstances on a flight from Aleppo-Moscow.  Rumors abound that his death was a targeted assassination by intelligence agencies attempting to curtail Syria’s chemical weapons program.  The Kuntsevich incident was a rare verifiable glimpse into Russian culpability for Syria’s CW capabilities.  The decades long relationship has also been cited in Special Intelligence Estimates released by the CIA in the 1980s and 1990s; Russia was named the source of the chemical agents, delivery systems and training that enabled the development of Syria’s CW program.

Russia is not the only source for the precursor chemicals that allowed Syria to produce Sarin and other nerve agents.  Companies in the U.S., U.K., Germany and France also supplied the needed precursors for Sarin as late as 2012.  However, Russia is the only country that supplied the on-going military equipment, supplies, technical knowledge and support to make Syria’s CW program operational.  “There’s no secret the Assad regime has had significant stockpiles of chemical weapons,” Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel said in response to Congressman Joe Wilson’s questions during the Sept. 4, 2013 House Foreign Relations Committee.  “The Russian’s supplied them.”

The Resolution

The Putin administration offered not just the diplomatic support but also the funds and personnel to avoid U.S. military intervention in Syria.  In September, Syria filed the appropriate paperwork, self-reported 23 chemical weapons sites, and opened their doors to inspectors from the OPCW.  On October 14, Syria officially entered into the CWC.  Russian experts were involved in every phase of Syria’s entrance into the UN convention.  Russian Foreign Minister Segio Lavov reported in an interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant that Russian experts were ready to be involved, “in all aspects of future activities—in inspections and in administrative structures that might be set up to coordinate activities between the UN and the OPCW on-site.”   In addition to personnel, Russia has offered to fund the OPCW inspection and dismantlement of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenals.

The UN resolution that paved the way for Syria’s entrance into the CWC authorized member states to, “acquire, control, transport, transfer and destroy chemical weapons.”  Public Integrity reported, the Russian chemical weapons demilitarization plant at Shchuch’ye is being discussed at the UN as the final resting place of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenals.  The diplomatic solution brought Syria’s chemical weapons program full circle.  The CWC that Russian negotiators manipulated to enable the continued operation of their chemical weapons program has also enabled Russia to reclaim the chemical weapons program that they helped to create in Syria.

“Without Russia, they cannot do anything,” Mirzayanov said of the positive aspects of Syria’s entrance into the CWC.  “The loopholes are for continuation of development in testing new generations of chemical weapons.  That’s on Russian soil, so it’s a Russian problem not a Syrian problem.  But, Russia will continue these policies,” Mirzayanov warned.  “They know the loopholes and they’re very dangerous loopholes.”


The OPCW Releases Its Decision on the U.S.-Russia Program to Destroy Syria’s Chemical Weapons

Friday September 27 marked a historic day for Syria’s chemical weapons program.  The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), responsible for implementing the UN’s Chemical Weapons Convention, issued its decision regarding the Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons.  The 41 member Executive Council of the OPCW released the report Decision:  The Russian Federation and the United States of America Destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons, which recognized that al-Assad’s Government had supplied the OPCW with detailed information regarding its chemical weapons stockpiles and research and manufacturing facilities.  It called for OPCW inspections of the facilities disclosed by the Syrian government within 30 days.  The OPCW accepted Syria’s application to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria will enter into on October 14, 2013.  According to the decision, the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons will take place after this date.

Syria’s Chemical Weapons: The Russian Connection

On August 21, 2013, the red line the Obama administration set for a military intervention in Syria was irrevocably crossed—President Bashar al-Assad dropped chemical weapons on a Damascus suburb killing 1,429 of his own citizens.  The military intervention threatened by the United States has been complicated by a lack of support from the UN National Security Council, namely Russia, who has indicated that it will veto any military action proposed against the Assad regime.  As Obama prepares to travel to Russia for a G-20 summit hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in early September, both the U.S. and Russia are deploying warships to the Mediterranean.  The conflict in Syria has the potential to transform into a Cold War-esque military showdown between the U.S. and Russia—it has been brewing since the early 1990s.

In the early 1990s, the Clinton administration was focused on securing support from Congress for the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty aimed at eradicating chemical weapons by 2004.  In 1994, Russia’s top negotiator for the treaty, Lt. Gen. Anatoly Kuntsevich, became the center of a Russian security services investigation for selling precursor components for nerve gas to Syria.  Kuntsevich served as an adviser to Boris Yeltsin on chemical disarmament and was the head of Russia’s chemical and biological weapons conversion programs.  Previously, he was in charge of Russia’s Shikany 2 military chemical facility and won the Lenin Prize in 1991 for developing binary chemical agents for the USSR.  He was Chairman of the committee on safeguarding and dismantling chemical and biological weapons, in 1993, when he smuggled 1600 pounds of nerve gas components into Syria and conspired to transfer 5 metric tons of chemical weapons components in 1994.  Russian security services revealed their investigation into Kuntsevich as he was running for a seat in Russia’s Parliament, the Duma, with Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party.  He was fired by Yeltsin and dropped from the ballot.

In a series of exclusive interviews with The Forward’s Edward Schilling in 1996, Kuntsevich revealed that the investigation into his dealings with Syria was political fall-out caused by in-fighting amongst Russia’s “Chemical Generals” over how to spend the approximately $400 million in U.S. aid allocated annually to help Russia dismantle its chemical and biological weapons arsenals.  Kuntsevich, speaking to “save his own skin”, claimed he wanted to use the funds appropriated under the Nunn-Lugar Act of 1991 for their intended purpose.  His colleagues, however, wanted to use the money to bolster the operating budget for Russia’s clandestine chemical and biological weapons program.  Kuntsevich affirmed that he transferred precursor chemicals to Syria, which he stated were legal shipments done in accordance with an unnamed treaty between Syria and Russia to aid the Pan-Arabian Ecological Center stationed near Damascus.

Ironically, the man that arranged Kuntsevich’s notorious interviews with The Forward, dissident Soviet scientist Vil Mirzayanov, was imprisoned by Kuntsevich in October and November of 1992.   Mirzayanov was arrested for blowing the whistle on Moscow’s break-through development of a family of nerve gases known as “Novichok” that could avoid detection by U.S. sensors—Kuntsevich oversaw the “Novichok” program where Mirzayanov worked.  Mirzayanov immigrated to the U.S. a short time later and forcefully warned that U.S. aid provided under the “Cooperative Threat Reduction” Initiative of the Nunn-Lugar Act was being used to fuel chemical weapons research.  He, also, warned of the loopholes that Kuntsevich and colleagues had inserted into the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) that enabled Russia to legally manufacture and export Nerve Agents, such as “Novichok”.  Congress ratified the CWC in 1997.  Nunn-Lugar appropriations for Russia continued until 2012 when Russia refused to renew the agreement, cutting off U.S. monitoring power of Russia’s Weapons of Mass Destruction in the midst of the Syria crisis.  U.S. taxpayers provided Russia an estimated $8 billion over the 21-year course of the program.

Russia’s military support for the Assad family is long-standing and has continued throughout the Syrian uprising.  In the 1970s and 80s, 90% of all USSR arms exports were to Syria.  The majority of Syria’s missile systems and weapons arsenals come from the former Soviet Union.  Russia has continued to serve as Syria’s primer arms supplier, and provided Bashar al-Assad with an estimated $1 billion in advanced military equipment in 2011—the start of the Syrian uprising.  The aid has included an air-defense system and anti-cruise missiles designed to protect Syrian installations from missile strikes from the air and sea.  In February 2013, Finnish authorities launched an investigation into Russian attempts to smuggle arms to Syria through a port in Helsinki.  There are repeated reports of Russian ships being detained in international waters for attempting to transport arms to Syria.  In 2002, Lt. Gen. Anatoly Kuntsevich died under mysterious circumstances on a flight from Aleppo-Moscow.  He reminds us of the undeniable fact that the military aid Russia supplied to Syria included the technology and equipment needed to create chemical warheads.