Al-Bagdadi's death. A brief commentary

Al-Bagdadi’s killing by US special forces in the  Syrian compound of Barisha is feeding a great debate about  its effective realization, with concerns about  the future of  Isis and global jihadism.

Al-Bagdadi’s death has been declared by many, even too many times, to be actually fully credible. Scepticism  is therefore a personal feeling and, for this reason, a bad ally when it comes to making a good analysis.

It is necessary, in fact, to acknowledge that these are top secret situations, known only to the exclusive war cabinet and, for this reason, impossible to fact check.

It is only possible to take note of the news and to try to highlight the possible consequences.

The most important result is  the way  al-Bagdadi’s killing was carried out and subsequently presented  by  official announcements only has a value and exclusivety as a "narration", or "communication object". This applies to Trump’s people, who as a President  is now struggling with upcoming elections, the risk of impeachment, leadership crisis in the Middle East etc., as well as for al-Bagdadi’s people, who are  effectively without a leader but with the dream of Caliphate that has survived  the military defeat in Syria and Iraq, and  is now expanding beyond those borders.

For the jihadists, the violent death of a chief is equal to his martyrdom, and it is the reason for the   US’s insistence that al-Bagdadi’s last moments of life were as a "whining coward". The aim is to discredit him and annihilate his legend.

However, this narrative cannot stop the “Caliphate”  by itself, in the same way that   Bin Laden’s death definitively did not stop al-Qaeda.

The experience of the Islamic State, as we have seen in Syria and Iraq, surely can never  be repeated  again with those human, geographical and warfare characteristics. However, it can recur elsewhere, with other leaders, flags and ways of fighting. It will appear very probably where serious problems and domestic instability still remain. Al-Qaeda is an exhaustive example again.

Maybe, and hopefully, spectacular attacks will no longer occur in Western countries, but the legacy of the Islamic State and al-Bagdadi will remain in the form of a debate on the Muslim faith at risk of radicalization, which will give the rise to the criminalization of this religious practice. This fact could yet again recreate the perfect  conditions for the perpetuation of the jihadist threat on Western countries.

If we want to make the Barisha compound’s operation fully effective and the killing of  al-Bagdadi not such as an illusion, we know which path to take.



Turkey and the Kurds

The Turkish invasion of the Syrian-Kurdish region, Rojava, must be  considered as a new evolution of the Syrian conflict but, at the same time, a revival of  Erdogan’s  old project to re-create about a “Great Turkey”. This fact should not surprise us.

Erdogan entered the conflict, in 2015, even supporting Islamist militia, not just to fight and overthrow the Syrian government of Bashar Assad, but also to take control of a large portion of the Middle East.

His aim has always been to set up  a modern version of the Ottoman Empire, even if geographically restricted to the areas around Turkey but politically extended to  all Sunni communities, with Erdogan in the role of Supreme Muslim political leader. He is very ambitious about this role even if  it would lead to a conflict with other regional powers. Saudi Arabia, his ally in the struggle against Syria, is the depositary of the Muslim Holy Places and for this reason considered not only religiously but also politically the most important reference for the Sunni community worldwide.

However, Erdogan’s priorities lie  elsewhere.

The Kurds are, in fact, the main obstacle to his personal and ambitious realization because of their claim and even armed struggle for administrative autonomy. For this reason he considers them terrorists.

The Kurds are the fourth ethnic group in the Middle East (after the Arabs, Turks and Persians) and the most populous ethnic group  in the world (approximately 50 million) without a State. They live in four Middle Eastern countries, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, where, for decades, they have been fighting for their autonomy from their respective central governments. Those struggles are often fought using legal means – in fact they have obtained political representation, even if with different systems of participation  – but their armed opposition employs the same way of fighting in every State. For this reason, they have always been persecuted, sometimes  with methods similar to  ethnic cleansing.

The Kurds partially obtained administrative autonomy only in Iraq, during and after Saddam Hussein’s regime. However, disputes about the distribution of oil revenues within the Iraqi Kurdish administrative government have always fragmented their ethnic unity and fight for more autonomy. If it existed as an independent State,  Kurdistan would be one of the richest  countries in that region: it has not only  oil (Iraq, 45 billion barrels, and Syria) but also gas (Iraq) and water (Turkey).  It would have an economic power that would make it  an important player on the regional chessboard. However it is something that is not accepted to  all Middle Eastern powers, especially Turkey.

The majority of Turkish Kurds live in the Southeast of the country and a minority in the mountains along the Southern frontier with Iraq and Syria. Those villages are touched by many rivers - the most important are the Tigris and the Euphrates –  which are involved in the huge and profitable dam project, Gap, or Southeast  Anatolia Project. Because of this, many Kurds have been obliged to move away from their villages and to be relocated elsewhere, mainly in populated and already problematic Turkish urban centres. This fact has weakened the Kurdish economy and impoverished its people.  

The Turkish invasion of  the Syrian-Kurdish region is only the latest Ankara’s disfigurement   against that population. Their most radical representatives (such as, the Kurdish Labour Party, PKK, both political party and armed militia) have thus continued their opposition even militarily, carrying out terrorist attacks against Turkish  institutional targets. These violent fringes are only a minority and do not represent the entire Kurdish community, neither Turkish nor Iraqi, which instead are against such bloody behaviour.

However, the evolution of the Syrian-Iraqi conflict saw Kurdish involvement against Assad’s regime and Islamist militia. Meanwhile, an agreement between the  Turkish government and Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the PKK (currently in jail), led to a truce and a cessation of the clashed in 2012. The truce  had been violated many times by  both parties until it became a small war inside a much larger one, the Syrian-Iraqi conflict. Like a matrioska, in fact, every war in the Middle East has other conflicts, whose size depends on the alliances, military forces and economic interests involved.

Erdogan’s war against the Syrian Kurds, in respect of the intensity and kind of arms utilized, has recently assumed the characteristics of ethnic cleansing, even if the Syrian Kurds had fought against Assad’s regime as has Turkey and, with the Iraqi Kurds, they were the main protagonists of the long and bloody opposition and even led to the dissolution of  IS from those countries.

However, what is now happening to the Syrian Kurds is not exclusively Erdogan’s responsibility.

The long and unsuccessful war on terror, fought by Western powers in the region and in Afghanistan since 2003, has caused a worsening in domestic stability, mainly in Iraq as a resulted of the withdrawal of  US troops and their allies. New subversive forces took power, and the failure of  the Arab springs even with help from  Saudi Arabia and Iran, transformed those riots into civil wars, both in Syria and Iraq. These  soon became regional wars, in a contest of and masked as a religious sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites.

This bloody religious controversy has only been the pretext to put the entire area under their respective controls, as  another conflict, in Yemen, with the same prerogatives, has clearly shown. Meanwhile extremist forces, mainly Sunni Islamist militia, such as al-Nusra and Daesh, took power showing great military capabilities, conquering a massive portion of Iraqi and Syrian territories and, at the same time, becoming responsible for atrocities over the region.

The Western powers, such as the United States and the European Union  even if involved in many Islamist terrorist  attacks, were hesitant to respond militarily when the conflict in Syria and Iraq degenerated and the incitements to violent action in Western societies increased. This fact permitted other world powers,  Russia, to take control of the situation, and to react with an effective strategy and defeat the Islamist militia. Even diplomatically, Putin demonstrated the capability to impose temporary solutions, truce or withdrawal of fighting forces etc. We should not be surprised that  now Putin is such as a new Tsar in the region.

A late and very limited US intervention, due to the decision of President Obama to leave Middle Eastern allies to react to the threats themselves, has also been a prerogative of  the Trump Administration. Although this is not the kind of a responsible behaviour expected from the greatest political and military democratic power in the world, Trump is consistent with his “America first” slogan, and because wars are very expensive, even politically.

The European Union, instead, has always been very fragmented toward Erdogan’s behaviour, at the expense of a common, shared and exhaustive foreign policy.  This is due to an economic and Eurocentric approach to its Middle East politics, with Brussels’ illusion of having the power to influence Erdogan with regards to the refugee problem linked with Western domestic security politics.

At last but not least, also  NATO has responsibilities with  Erdogan’s war against the Kurds. As Turkey is the most  armed and strategic country of the Alliance in the Middle East, it is unconceivable, amongst other inconsistent behaviours, that Erdogan bought the most advanced antimissile system from Putin (S-400), in 2017, and that, last summer, Turkish troops were trained in Russia  on its use. No comments by NATO. Something is going wrong also within the Alliance.

With these prerogatives, the United States and European Union have lost their credibility and trust among the Middle Eastern allies, even the Kurds, who are now obliged to find  new alliances to coexist with the former enemy, the Assad’s regime, and not to be humiliated again by their old enemy, the Turkish “Sultan” Erdogan. 



Not only Islamic terrorism. New threats to domestic security

Islamic Terrorism is  commonly considered the greatest threat to  European security today. This is due to many factors, external and internal to the European Union or even the European regional area. In my opinion, this is the most famous but not the most dangerous threat facing Europe today. Islamic radicalization, and its call to the jihad,  is only one and a very particular threat, but other forces are now attempting to undermine the stability and security of all European countries, as well as those of other countries worldwide.

The success of jihadist terrorism to create panic and to impose  newer and newer security and defence measures is due to many elements. Firstly, there is great and wide propaganda on the web posted by Islamic Jihadist groups, mainly Isis, but  also al-Qaeda, that speaks about the main European capitals as future targets of their jihad or holy war. They incite their fighters, even the so called “lone wolves”, to act in their national countries against “infidels” in everyday life, wherever they are, and with every kind of instrument or weapon (such as knives, cars, trucks…). At the same time, their slogans speak of the conquest of Paris, Rome, the Vatican or Big Ben. These incitements are published on the Internet, on websites, even through periodical publications of jihadist reviews on line. They have an important role in the radicalization process of individuals much more familiar with navigation on the web- above all young  Muslims  even those outside Muslim  regions - who can take the challenge and try to act.

This fact has created global attention of analysts and journalists, as well as national security agencies. However, like flywheels, this information feeds the public fear.

Even if it is important to never underestimate every kind of threat,  however, this fear is easily utilized for different purposes  by political parties, especially nationalists or “sovreignists” ones in many  Western countries. In fact, Islamic Terrorism is often and erroneously associated with illicit immigration in Europe, mainly from North Africa and the Middle East.

Until now, only the terrorist attacks in Paris (2015) and Bruxelles (2016) have been carried out by people linked to Isis, and coming from  non-European regions. All the other bloody attacks have been carried out by European Muslim citizens or of second or even third generation immigrants. The problem is not immigration but the integration process that doesn’t work.

In my opinion, other subjects must now be considered as much more dangerous than jihadism for European as well as for all other Western countries’ domestic security. I refer to the far-right extremist groups or even white supremacist organizations. Even if they have not committed important terrorist attacks yet, and for this reason they are not considered “terrorists” by national and international law,  I consider them a new threat to the domestic and international security because of their subversive  arguments, their hate of “enemies” – such as Jews, black people and those have ways of life different to theirs - very similar to those of jihadist groups, and also for their links with other subversive groups around the world.

However, European terrorist lists don’t contain far-right groups, maybe because this domestic threat is more complex than the jihadist one -  due to social and economic failures common to all the Western world, and also because “far-right” is the common definition of some political parties that share the democratic participation in both European and American politics.

Nevertheless, their expressions of hate are very similar to an ideology: for this reason they could very soon become a global threat to the democratic system worldwide.




Minaccia jihadista e il rischio di radicalizzazione in Italia


Islamist Radicalization in the Italian prisons

The radicalization  phenomenon affects the Muslim penitentiary population in Italy and other European countries, such as France and the United Kingdom. It represents a typical by-product of incarceration, such as the aggregation of violent groups or gangs in order to obtain protection inside the penitentiary. Being part of a Muslim radicalized network  gives them a sense of belonging that is protective and life saving at the same time. It represents, in fact,  a sort of identity that they must  safeguard. 

The radicalization in jail and its effects for the entire community is a phenomenon quite limited in Italy, thanks to the policy of expulsion of extra-European citizens, guilty of crimes for which repatriation is foreseen  without or at the end of their imprisonment. The Italian data is, at the moment, fairly limited if compared to other European countries, even though it is growing compared to when IS enjoyed  much more fascination. Moreover, there is concern in Europe that the first releases of  Islamist terrorists  will take place in 2023, a date not too distant when we consider the need to articulate and test a preventive strategy about their reintegration and control. Once free, there could be the risk of their return to both radicalization and subversion.

Furthermore, in Italy, there are still no prison staff able to monitor Muslim prisoners with cognitive skills and adequate knowledge of the Arabic language and dialects. This ignorance also encompasses the security of the internal staff.

Moreover, the effort to counter  the radicalization phenomenon both in  and out  of European prisons has led radicalized Muslim people to the practice of mimicry (taqiyya, in Arabic), as suggested by the jihadist manuals on Internet. This consists of not showing any signs of change in daily habits, such as prayers, food, clothing, etc. It is clear how  difficult is  to monitor such a vast population, even in jails, in order to identify, isolate and contain the radicalization process. 

Furthermore, the practice of the Islamic rite in Italian prisons - although the Constitution guarantees  religious freedom - is not officially recognized. So, there are no prayer  facilities and religious personnel  with appropriate preparation and orientation. The risk is the  use of self-proclaimed imams, maybe bad teachers or subjects linked in various ways to jihadist networks.

Consequently, the organizational shortcomings and the lack of adequate religious facilities have given rise to feelings of exclusion, a sort of perception of the rejection of the inmates’ Muslim faith, which has become, in this way, in their perception, the religion of the “oppressed",  and the “excluded”. It ends up  sanctifying their envy towards the outside and  non-Muslim world from which they feel rejected.

The risk is to accentuate the circumstances in which Muslim radicalization was born and nourished, such as the religious and racial discrimination and the lack of integration. In fact, at the moment, the real problem related to the jihadist threat in Italy is basically linked to failed integration, social alienation and a lack of economic opportunities. It is a problem as basic of failed expectations or   xenophobic exclusion, up to a non-secondary, even dominant reason seen in the conversions of French jihadists for example, such as the involvement of Western countries in conflicts in Muslim regions, from Afghanistan to Libya, Syria and so on.

The radicalization process  is not an instantaneous, rapid, or lightning-fast phenomenon. It  requires a long and complex personal development. However, it also realizes on individuals and structures that guarantee the ideological and operational support to the new-radicalized subjects.

Italy is certainly at the forefront in terms of controlling the jihadist subversion. However it still remains extremely backward in preventing it.

This is why an in depth knowledge of this phenomenon and a wide-ranging preparation represent the necessary conditions for national counter-terrorism institutions to be  always prepared to investigate but above all to prevent, counter and eradicate this subversive threat to domestic and international security.

Paper in corso di pubblicazione negli Atti del  Convegno L'eversione in Italia e la risposta dello Stato, organizzato dall'Istituto Alti Studi sul terrorismo e l'eversione (IASTE), Acqui Terme (AL), il 23 febbraio 2019.

Quando anche le ambizioni di potenza dell'Iran infiammano l'Africa sub-sahariana


E’ raro che si parli di scontro fra sciiti e sunniti nell’Africa subsahariana. L’attenzione delle analisi di sicurezza internazionale è prevalentemente rivolta ad altri fattori destabilizzanti, in particolare ai forti flussi migratori, anche interni a quel continente sulle stesse tratte in cui avvengono i traffici di essere umani, armi, droghe, e tutto ciò che rende ed è alternativa a condizioni di vita precarie, al limite della sussistenza.L’attenzione è tutta per quella smuggling economy (economia del contrabbando) che ha assunto ormai ampiezza, consistenza finanziaria e potere da allertare i governi centrali delle (poche) nazioni più stabili della regione, ma che sta altresì finendo per dominare realtà statali più fragili, con il risultato di ampliare l’arco di instabilità dall’Africa occidentale a quella orientale. E l’area sub-sahariana ne è il cuore pulsante.>