By Elizabeth Economy, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Elizabeth Economy is C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and director of Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are her own.
In the aftermath of an apparent suicide attack in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on October 27 that injured dozens of people and killed five (including three involved in the attack), Chinese authorities moved quickly to label the incident terrorism and to arrest a handful of suspects who reportedly helped plot the attack. In the process, word leaked out that those involved were from Xinjiang, a Muslim-dominated region in the far northwest of China. For decades, Xinjiang, itself, has been the site of often-violent ethnic strife between the Muslim Uyghur majority and the Han Chinese minority. Uyghur discontent, however, has rarely spilled over into other parts of China. Now, Chinese authorities are claiming that Uyghur extremists have, for the first time, taken their cause to Beijing.
Assuming this suicide attack was, in fact, a premeditated terrorist attack and not simply an act of individual desperation – an assumption many in and outside China continue to question – the government’s next step will likely be to crack down in Xinjiang itself. Past violence in Xinjiang has been met by Beijing with highly repressive policies, mass arrests, and demonstrations of military and police force. In fact, the Tiananmen incident occurred while Beijing was already in the midst of a government-directed crackdown on online activists in Xinjiang. Even more moderate approaches have fallen flat. In May, for example, residents of one county in Xinjiang were the beneficiaries of more than 100 government-sponsored lectures on ethnic relations during “ethnic harmony education month.” The following month, 35 people died in ethnic violence in that same county.
By Robert Daly, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Robert Daly is director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson Center. The views expressed are his own.
At noon on October 28, an SUV exploded in front of Beijing's Gate of Heavenly Peace, or Tiananmen. Five people were killed and forty injured. The symbolic nature of the site, as well as the timing of the violence – China's Communist Party is about meet to set the country's direction for the next decade – make the explosion more important than a bombing would be in another Chinese city in a less sensitive season. The bus bomb that killed 16 in Wuhan in February, 1998, for example, did not get as much attention.
Not that Monday's tragedy has been widely covered in China. The site of the fire was barricaded and cleaned within hours. Chinese censors were just as thorough in scouring China's Internet for mention of what should have been the day's major story.
We will probably never know the intentions of the people in the SUV, but it appears that that this was either a murderously clumsy self-immolation or a terrorist attack. Beijing has declared that it was terrorism and has five suspects in custody who have confessed to planning it.
By David Andrew Weinberg, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been working overtime arming rebel groups in Syria. But events of the last month suggest these American allies have been throwing their lots in with radical, hardline Islamists.
Some observers are bullishly optimistic about the foreign policies of America’s Gulf allies, suggesting Saudi Arabia backs “the least Islamist component of the rebellion” and Qatar’s young new emir is displaying a more “mature” foreign policy that seeks to avoid controversy in places like Syria. However, there is worrying news coming from Syria’s Raqqa Province, now controlled by the al Qaeda affiliate Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Hateful books described by several different sources as the area’s new academic curriculum, reportedly originate from Saudi Arabia.
Ali al-Ahmed, who directs the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, has conducted previous reviews of official Saudi textbooks. He told me that although the seal from Saudi Arabia’s education ministry has been removed from the books, they otherwise appear identical to the ones he has reviewed. Al-Ahmed said that the two collections being brandished in Raqqa are “toxic,” promoting extremism and the dehumanization of non-Muslims.
But this isn’t the only development that appears to shed light on Saudi and Qatari objectives in Syria.
By Khurram Husain, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Khurram Husain is the Pakistan scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The views expressed are his own.
As Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif prepares to sit down with President Barack Obama on Wednesday, he might want to look to history for guidance.
Almost a quarter century ago, newly elected Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto visited Washington DC, where she was received like a celebrity. There was an address to a joint sitting of Congress, a commencement address at Harvard University and a dinner at the White House in her honor. In her address to Congress, Bhutto repeatedly emphasized her democratic credentials, and tapped into the triumphalist mood sweeping Western capitals as the disintegration of the Soviet Union gathered pace. She also underlined the common purpose between her country and her hosts as the war in Afghanistan drew to a close, describing both countries as “friends and partners, who have fought, side by side, in the cause of liberty.”
“We are now moral as well as political partners,” she said. “Two elected governments bonded together in a common respect for constitutional government, accountability, and a commitment to freedom.”
These words might have made some of her hosts a little uncomfortable. After all, here was a woman in her 30s who had already endured imprisonment and exile at the hands of a dictator embraced as a friend by the United States, one lavished with U.S. economic and military assistance.
By Mohamed Ali, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mohamed Ali is the founder of the Iftiin Foundation, an organization that incubates social entrepreneurs and young leaders to encourage innovation in Somalia. He is also a New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute. The views expressed are his own.
As new footage emerges of gunmen chatting on cell phones and praying during their attack on an upscale Nairobi mall last month, many are still wondering how the group was able to lay siege to the building for four days, claiming almost 70 lives in the process.
But while understanding how the attack was orchestrated is important, the more pressing question should surely be why, despite international efforts to quell its power, Al-Shabaab is still able to recruit so many to its cause – including, reports suggest, foreign Somalis who grew up in the West? And why are many of those who participate in Al-Shabaab attacks young men? The answers to these questions could hold the key to undermining Al-Shabaab’s influence in the region.
Al-Shabaab, which means “youth” in Arabic, is aptly named – not because it is a youth movement (the group is led by older religious clerics) but because young people remain its greatest resource in a bloody campaign to impose radical Islam in the region. After all, it was a Mogadishu girl who walked into the home of her uncle, a Somali government minister, and detonated a suicide vest in 2011. I have also been repeatedly advised by Somali officials that attacks such as the one on a U.N. compound in June, regularly involve youths. And now, several young attackers who broke into the Westgate mall with guns and grenades have murdered dozens of men, women and children.
EJ Hogendoorn, Africa deputy program director at International Crisis Group, answers GPS readers’ questions about the recent U.S. military raids in Libya and Somalia, how Al-Shabaab might respond and the implications of Africa’s “youth bulge.”
Do the two U.S. raids in Africa this month signal a shift from drone attacks?
It’s not possible to tell at this point. The two raids underscore one limitation of drones: they cannot be used in urban settings where the possibility of killing civilians is very high. This would not only violate international humanitarian law, but would be counter-productive, since it would turn the population against the United States and its allies and possibly radicalize others into joining jihadi groups like Al-Shabaab.
The raids also suggest that the U.S. government recognizes that capturing a jihadi leader is much more valuable than killing one, even if there are risks to U.S. servicemen. The intelligence that can be gleaned from these men not only allows governments to learn about impending attacks, but also about their organization, financing and networks. Even if a captured militant does not divulge any information, the possibility that he might forces groups to alter plans and change communication protocols and locations. It also sows suspicion and discord that will hamper operations and could reveal the location of other commanders. This disruption is more significant than the elimination of one, or even a small group, of leaders, who can often be quickly replaced.
Raids and drone strikes, however, can only achieve limited tactical aims. As we have hopefully learned in Afghanistan and elsewhere, it’s much more useful to support the development of effective and inclusive governments that are better able to combat jihadi groups and address the grievances that drive young men, and some women, to join them.
U.S. special forces were involved in a pair of raids in Africa at the weekend. In Libya, Delta Force captured a key suspect in the East Africa embassy bombings that took place in 1998. However, Navy SEAL Team Six withdrew before being able to confirm if they had killed a suspected top leader of Al-Shabaab, a terrorist group linked to al Qaeda that has claimed responsibility for the attack last month on a shopping mall in Nairobi.
But what do these raids say about the U.S. role in Africa? How great is the threat from terrorism on the continent, and what should we expect next?
International Crisis Group’s Deputy Africa Director E.J. Hogendoorn will be taking GPS readers’ questions on these and related issues. Please leave your questions in the comments section below.
For more What in the World, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
By Global Public Square staff
Amid all of Washington's discussions on Syria and Iran, one other issue seems to have gotten ignored. The U.S. signed an actual international treaty this month, one with vast implications for terrorism and war around the world. The problem is…the treaty needs to be ratified by the U.S. Senate – and that's just not going to happen.
Let us explain.
It's the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty – an agreement that aims to control the $70 billion global trade of weapons. Almost every major commodity is subject to some form of international regulation – gold, oil, currencies. But there have been few controls on the flow of weaponry. Countries have wanted to have an unregulated free-for-all in the weapons market. And we are not just talking about guns.
The U.N. treaty covers battle tanks, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships. These are all weapons that are playing a part in ongoing wars in Syria and large parts of Africa. As Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan put it last week, these are the true "weapons of mass destruction" as much as the chemical weapons that were used in Syria last month. And yet everyone – including rogue states, militias, and terrorist groups – seem to have unfettered access to them.
By Zachary Elkaim, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Zachary Elkaim is a researcher at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute in Washington D.C., focusing on national security issues. The views expressed are his own.
Kenya’s Foreign Ministry has claimed at least two al-Shabaab terrorists involved in the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi last week were Americans. This is neither new nor surprising, but it raises troubling questions about the American al-Shabaab connection.
The American-Somali community has grown since 1991, when immigrants fled the civil war. Current estimates of the number of Somali-born persons in the United States are unreliable, varying from under 50,000 to over 150,000. But once here, they often live in concentrated groups, with the largest community in Minnesota.
While the majority of the population have adjusted to American culture, the Somali experience in America has been punctuated by the radicalization of some its youth, a problem that has been on the radar since at least 2004. By 2007, al-Shabaab was openly issuing calls for foreign fighters to join their jihad, and small numbers of Somalis living in America began to answer the call. Americans trained, including the use of weapons, alongside Somalis from all over the world. Al-Shabaab’s ideological indoctrination included “anti-Ethiopian, anti-American, anti-Israeli, and anti-Western beliefs.”
CNN speaks with Fareed about the Nairobi attack, reports that attackers singled out non-Muslims as infidels for slaughter, and a suicide bombing at a church in Pakistan that killed 81 people.
What's going on here with these attacks on Christians? Now, there are reports in Kenya, a slaughter of Christians in Pakistan. We know Coptic Christians in Egypt have been targeted, including at their church. Give us some perspective.
It’s a very serious and tragic situation. Remember, many of these groups have always had this kind of very strong, violent attitude towards what they regard as heretics, any non-Muslims. What's interesting here is in most cases, these terror groups are now attacking locals because they have despaired of the prospect of doing the kind of large attacks on Americans, on American military installations.
In al-Shabaab’s case, they have been driven back in Somalia very effectively. But it’s always possible to attack civilians. It’s always possible to do terrorism. So, where they are failing to advance politically and even militarily in places like Somalia, in Pakistan, they then turn to these more spectacular acts of terrorism as a way of getting attention.
By Katherine Zimmerman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Katherine Zimmerman is a senior analyst at the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, and the author of the recently released report The Al Qaeda Network: A New Framework for Defining the Enemy. The views expressed are her own.
The Obama administration counts Somalia as a success story, but the rising death toll from al-Shabaab’s bloody attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall is a tragic reminder that U.S. strategy against al Qaeda, claims of success notwithstanding, is not working.
Al-Shabaab no longer controls vast expanses of territory as it once did, but reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated. Dismissed too often as a Somali nuisance, al-Shabaab is more than a local militia; it is part of the growing al Qaeda global network.
The Westgate mall attack is the deadliest terrorist attack in Kenya since al Qaeda’s 1998 truck bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi. Reminiscent of the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 164, the militants reportedly conducted a two-pronged assault with grenades and small arms, attacking separate floors. As of this writing, they continue to hold an unknown number of hostages. Among the scores of dead are Canadians, Britons, and Frenchmen. Four Americans have been listed as among the wounded.
By Alan J. Kuperman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Kuperman is editor of Nuclear Terrorism and Global Security: The Challenge of Phasing out Highly Enriched Uranium, and coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (NPPP) at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, where he is an associate professor. The views expressed are his own.
Nearly a dozen years after the al Qaeda strikes of September 11, 2001, America’s nuclear power plants – and civilian research facilities with bomb-grade uranium – are still not required to protect against a maximum credible terrorist attack of this scale. It is time for policymakers to act, if they want to prevent disaster.
The vulnerability to a terrorist strike was a key finding of a year-long study that I co-authored, as part of a larger interdisciplinary project at the University of Texas at Austin, under a contract for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (which has no responsibility for the final contents of the study).
The good news is that America’s military-related nuclear facilities, operated by the Departments of Defense and Energy, are generally much better protected. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has also modestly raised security requirements at civilian facilities, which have bolstered their protective measures.
Disturbingly, however, nuclear power plants still must protect against only five or six attackers (according to published reports), less than one-third the number who engaged in attacks on 9/11. Nor are these existing facilities required to withstand the impact of a commercial airliner, as hit the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Unlike the Navy’s nuclear assets, civilian reactors adjacent to large bodies of water are not required to deploy floating barriers to defend against ship-borne attacks. Nuclear utilities are not even required to protect against rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles with armor-piercing ammunition, weapons that are possessed by many terrorist organizations.