Meet Abu Omar: Al Qaeda busted him out of Abu Ghraib. Now he has gone to fight in Syria. ... Abu Omar is one of the al Qaeda members who escaped during the Abu Ghraib prison break. He says six of his former cellmates have also made it to Syria. "Many more are on their way," he says in a strong Iraqi Arabic accent. "Everybody wants to go for jihad to Syria." ... Abu Omar sees the Syrian war as much more than a struggle against a brutal dictator. For him, it's a war against unbelievers, and its ultimate aim is the establishment of an Islamic government that transcends the borders of the modern Middle East. "Syria and Iraq are the same struggle to us," he explains. "Both governments in Iraq and Syria are run by unbelievers, so we will fight both. Syria is currently very weak and close to falling into the hands of the mujahideen [jihadists]." ... Abu Omar spent 26 months imprisoned in Abu Ghraib, which gained notoriety in 2004 after shocking pictures were published of American guards torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners. He was imprisoned on terrorism-related charges, but claims he is innocent of any crime. According to him, the experience of being locked up in Abu Ghraib led to his radicalization. "When I was in prison I met a lot of ISIS inmates," he says. "They convinced me of their ideas. Their ideology of creating a caliphate is the best, and I decided to join them in their fight."
The West thought it was winning the battle against jihadist terrorism. It should think again … It all looked different two years ago. Even before the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, al-Qaeda’s central leadership, holed up near the Afghan border in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, was on the ropes, hollowed out by drone attacks and able to communicate with the rest of the network only with difficulty and at great risk. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), its most capable franchise as far as mounting attacks on the West is concerned, was being hit hard by drone strikes and harried by Yemeni troops. The Shabab was under similar pressure in Somalia, as Western-backed African Union forces chased them out of the main cities. Above all, the Arab spring had derailed al-Qaeda’s central claim that corrupt regimes supported by the West could be overthrown only through violence. ... All those gains are now in question. The Shabab is recruiting more foreign fighters than ever (some of whom appear to have been involved in the attack on the Westgate). AQAP was responsible for the panic that led to the closure of 19 American embassies across the region and a global travel alert in early August. Meanwhile al-Qaeda’s core, anticipating the withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan after 2014, is already moving back into the country’s wild east. ... Above all, the poisoning of the Arab spring has given al-Qaeda and its allies an unprecedented opening.
Kidnapping Europeans for ransom has become a global business for Al Qaeda, bankrolling its operations across the globe. ... While European governments deny paying ransoms, an investigation by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just last year. ... In news releases and statements, the United States Treasury Department has cited ransom amounts that, taken together, put the total at around $165 million over the same period. ... These payments were made almost exclusively by European governments, who funneled the money through a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid, according to interviews conducted for this article with former hostages, negotiators, diplomats and government officials in 10 countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The inner workings of the kidnapping business were also revealed in thousands of pages of internal Qaeda documents found by this reporter while on assignment for The Associated Press in northern Mali last year. ... In its early years, Al Qaeda received most of its money from deep-pocketed donors, but counterterrorism officials now believe the group finances the bulk of its recruitment, training and arms purchases from ransoms paid to free Europeans. ... While in 2003 the kidnappers received around $200,000 per hostage, now they are netting up to $10 million, money that the second in command of Al Qaeda’s central leadership recently described as accounting for as much as half of his operating revenue. ... “Kidnapping hostages is an easy spoil,” wrote Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, “which I may describe as a profitable trade and a precious treasure.”
On the morning of April 15, 2013, Chris Connolly, a sergeant with the Boston police bomb squad, completed a ritual he had performed annually for the past eight years. It started after dawn at the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth in the city’s tony Back Bay neighborhood. There Connolly and his teammates peered inside trash cans, peeked into car and store windows, and inspected flower planters. ... In the post-9/11 world, this was standard operating procedure, a precaution practiced by civilian bomb squads around the country. Later that morning half a million spectators would watch nearly 25,000 athletes run the Boston Marathon, and security experts have considered major sporting events to be potential terrorist targets since the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Even at this early hour, revelers were starting to gather, most ignoring the techs methodically working their way around bars and restaurants and postrace recovery areas. ... A sweep and a long wait: This was the life of an urban bomb squad. The hardest part, as Connolly knew, was staying alert. It’s difficult to maintain vigilance in the face of overwhelming statistical evidence that nothing is going to happen. Soon runners started coming in—the swift ones first, but gradually the slower ones, in greater numbers and more celebratory. ... It happened at 2:50 pm. Connolly didn’t see the first explosion; he felt it. By the time his brain registered what it was, he felt another.
ISIS is mysterious in part because it is so many things at once. It combines Islamic piety and reverence for the prophet and his companions with the most modern social-media platforms and encryption schemes; its videos blend the raw pornographic violence of a snuff film with the pious chanting of religious warriors; the group has the discipline of a prison gang (many of its recruits were indeed drawn from U.S.-organized prisons in Iraq), but also the tactical subtlety and capacity for deception of the most skilled members of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence services, who were also pulled into the ISIS net. It appears less brittle than al-Qaeda because its members care less about religious doctrine and organizational hierarchy. As has been said of the Episcopal Church (forgive the comparison), ISIS is solid at the core but loose at the edges. ... What is ravaging the Middle East right now is obviously deeper than ISIS. It has become commonplace over the last year to observe that we are witnessing the collapse of the post-Ottoman order—that the “lines in the sand” conjured in 1916 by the British and French diplomats Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot are being blown to dust. But we haven’t reckoned with how the insurgents perceive that process. ISIS has religious, psychological, and technological faces. But in some fundamental respects it is an anti-colonial movement that takes as its reference point Islam’s pre-colonial conception of power—an Islamic state, a Sunni caliphate. Even if ISIS is crushed, this idea of “our caliphate” is likely to persist, and return.
- Also: Popular Mechanics - Year One: Inside the Air War Against ISIS < 5min
- Also: Financial Times - Syria oil map: the journey of a barrel of Isis oil < 5min
- Also: The New York Times - ISIS Finances Are Strong < 5min
- Also: BBC - Inside Mosul: What's life like under Islamic State? < 5min
- Also: Vocativ - How ISIS Turned Looting Into Big Business < 5min
How an experimental unit transformed the intelligence community. ... Tenet decided to form a group of contrarian thinkers to challenge conventional wisdom in the intelligence community and mitigate the threat of additional surprises through “alternative analysis.” On that evening, his instructions were simple: “Tell me things others don’t and make [senior officials] feel uncomfortable.” ... It is devoted to “alternative analysis,” which includes techniques like “what ifs,” Team A/Team B exercises, and premortem analysis, all of which are used to identify holes in a plan, model an adversary to understand their weaknesses, or consider all of the conceivable ways a plan can fail beforehand. ... “Given that our mandate is ‘to provoke thought,’ the scope of our readership is a useful metric. In the past couple of years, we have watched Red Cell readership in our online publications grow significantly. Red Cell products have led to vigorous virtual discussions among readers within the [intelligence community]. In addition, we receive a good number of requests for Red Cell products from a diverse set of senior policymakers, suggesting that Red Cell products spark interest and are useful.”
Early on, Ibrahim’s nickname was “The Believer.” When he wasn’t in school, he spent much of his time at the local mosque, immersed in his religious studies; and when he came home at the end of the day, according to one of his brothers, Shamsi, he was quick to admonish anyone who strayed from the strictures of Islamic law. ... Now Ibrahim al-Badri is known to the world as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ruler of the Islamic State or ISIS, and he has the power not just to admonish but to punish and even execute anyone within his territories whose faith is not absolute. His followers call him “Commander of the Believers,” a title reserved for caliphs, the supreme spiritual and temporal rulers of the vast Muslim empire of the Middle Ages. Though his own realm is much smaller, he rules millions of subjects. Some are fanatically loyal to him; many others cower in fear of the bloody consequences for defying his brutal version of Islam. ... Since Baghdadi’s sudden emergence from obscurity in 2014 as the monster who ordered and broadcast on YouTube the beheading and even burning alive of those he deemed his enemies, news articles and books have traced his radicalization back to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Although the American invasion fed the fire and enabled it to spread, in fact, his radicalization began much earlier, ignited by an unlikely but highly volatile mixture of fundamentalism, Saddam Hussein’s secular totalitarianism, and his own need to control others. ... there is evidence that several of Baghdadi’s family members, perhaps even his father, were Salafis—adherents of an extreme, puritanical form of Sunni Islam widely practiced in Saudi Arabia and throughout much of the Middle East, including Iraq, where it has deep roots. ... Saddam’s creation of new jobs teaching the scripture may have influenced Baghdadi’s academic career. Unable to study law at the University of Baghdad as he wanted because of his middling grades in high school—he nearly failed English—Baghdadi studied the Quran there instead. ... Baghdadi’s master’s thesis was a commentary on an obscure medieval text on Quranic recitation. His task was to reconcile various versions of the manuscript. While tedious, it involved little imagination and no questioning of the content—a perfect project for a dogmatist. ... Radical jihadist manifestos circulated freely under the eyes of the watchful but clueless Americans. ... The growing unrest in Syria in 2011 played directly into their hands. Presented with an opportunity to inject violence into what had been a peaceful revolt, Baghdadi sent one of his Syrian operatives to set up a secret branch of the Islamic State in the country that year. The branch, later known as the Nusra Front, initially followed the Islamic State’s playbook by attacking civilians as part of a clandestine terror campaign to sow chaos. The hope was that the Islamic State would be able to capitalize on that chaos in order to make its first land grab.
- Also: Council on Foreign Relations - Backgrounders: The Islamic State 5-15min
- Also: Bloomberg - The Doomsday Ideology of Islamic State's Leader < 5min
- Also: The Chronicle of Higher Education - The Ties That Bind Jihadists 5-15min
- Also: Business Insider - An ISIS defector explained a key reason people continue joining the group < 5min
- Also: The Daily Beast - Meet the Islamic Fanatic Who Wants to Kill ISIS < 5min
- Also: Al-Jazeera - ISIL sells its oil, but who is buying it? < 5min
- Also: Bloomberg - Why ISIS Has All the Money It Needs < 5min
Taser is hoping France’s second encounter with terrorism this year will similarly set the stage for lucrative purchases of its wares overseas. ... Right now, two out of three uniformed police officers in America are carrying Tasers. Internationally, that figure drops to about one in 50, according to Taser estimates. As the American market has become saturated with Tasers, Smith views the European police market as ripe for disruption. ... But as Taser sets its sight on Europe in an age of deepening fear of terrorism, it is discovering that its own name and provenance pose significant challenges. Among law enforcement agencies in Europe, the American company is seen as symbolic of an American mode of policing that, far from pacifying communities, has provoked a backlash of violence and bitterness. Its eponymous product, the stun gun, speaks to an American reliance on technology over humanity and an overemphasis on heavy-handed security tactics instead of finesse. ... While plenty of European police would likely prefer the option of using “less lethal” force, they view Taser as an American firm that enables a uniquely American version of policing. ... Of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in America, about 17,800 have a contract with Taser. …= “Here's the deal with Taser,” says Richard Lichten, a 30-year veteran in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who now serves as a Taser expert on criminal trials. “Any tool the policeman carries -- Taser, baton, pepper spray -- can be misused. The officer has to be trained on the device. I am a proponent of the use of Tasers when it's used properly.”
Europe is beset by so many crises that it can be hard to remember them all. In rough order of prominence, they are: homegrown terrorism, the largest migration of people since World War II, sovereign debt, doubts about the euro’s viability, the rise of extreme right-wing parties such as France’s National Front, Russia’s menace to its western neighbors, growing Euro-skepticism (especially in Britain, which may easily vote to leave the European Union in a forthcoming referendum), the election of hard-line governments in Central and Eastern Europe, and the Catalan independence movement. Many of these are related—the sovereign-debt crises and doubts about the euro, for example—but they have combined over the last two years into a perfect storm which, with the notable exception of Germany’s Angela Merkel, has shown Europe’s leadership to be wanting in both speed and imagination. ... This is exactly what ISIS wants: to shut non-Muslim Europe down, to close the schools and places of culture and have people trembling in their beds, which, to be fair, was what ordinary Belgians were saying. ... The last time I knew for certain that I was witnessing history was on the night of the fall of the Berlin Wall, 26 years ago, perhaps the most optimistic moment in Europe’s postwar era. Today, this trek of the needy and desperate through Europe’s hopelessly undefended borders may not be as cinematic as the images of people tearing down the wall between freedom and dictatorship, but it is every bit as transformative, and it does now threaten the “tranquil sway” of the Continent.
- Also: Bloomberg - Meet the Two Brothers Making Millions Off the Refugee Crisis in Scandinavia 5-15min
- Also: The New Yorker - Journey to Jihad: Why are teen-agers joining ISIS? 5-15min
- Also: McKinsey - A window of opportunity for Europe [FULL REPORT] > 15min
- Also: Fortune - Germany needs migrants. Do we? 5-15min
Hikmatullah Shadman, an Afghan trucking-company owner, earned more than a hundred and sixty million dollars while contracting for the United States military; for the past three years, he has been battling to save much of his fortune in a federal court in Washington, D.C. In United States of America v. Sum of $70,990,605, et al., the Justice Department has accused Hikmat, as he’s known, of bribing contractors and soldiers to award him contracts. Hikmat has maintained his innocence, even as eight soldiers have pleaded guilty in related criminal cases. Several members of the Special Forces who have not been accused of wrongdoing have defended him. In a deposition, Major Jerry (Rusty) Bradley, a veteran Special Forces officer, said, “The only way to right a wrong of this magnitude is to be willing to draw your sword and defend everything that you believe in.” ... Hikmat, who is in his late twenties, looks disarmingly young and gentle. Slim, with a high brow that he often furrows, he countered the charges against him in grave, deliberate English. “The people who did this investigation were sitting in air-conditioned rooms,” he told me. “They don’t know what was happening in the field.” He offered to explain how he had made his fortune. “I was part of the Special Forces family,” he said. “I was trained by them.” ... Before the Americans came, Hikmat lived with his father, a schoolteacher; his mother; and five siblings in a four-room mud-walled house in one of the oldest parts of Kandahar City, in southern Afghanistan. In the summer of 2001, Hikmat was fourteen years old, and he and his friends chafed at the narrowness of life under the Taliban. No one had a telephone, televisions were banned, and there was rarely any electricity. ... He had started a side business selling fruit and soft drinks to the base, and that winter he quit his job as an interpreter in order to work on the business full time. Hikmat told me that a sergeant major at the Special Forces headquarters helped him register it at the main U.S. base, known as Kandahar Airfield, or KAF. On February 25, 2007, Hikmat signed a “blanket purchase agreement” with the U.S. military, an open-ended contract for trucking services. He started with a single rented truck.
Tunisia has many advantages over other Arab states: no deep ethnic or sectarian divisions; no oil wealth that distorts the economy and draws foreign interference; a tradition of moderate Islam; widespread literacy; a small, apolitical army. ... Democracy didn’t turn Tunisian youths into jihadis, but it gave them the freedom to act on their unhappiness. By raising and then frustrating expectations, the revolution created conditions for radicalization to thrive. New liberties clashed with the old habits of a police state—young Tunisians were suddenly permitted to join civic and political groups, but the cops harassed them for expressing dissent. Educated Tunisians are twice as likely to be unemployed as uneducated ones, because the economy creates so few professional jobs. ... Salafis follow literalist interpretations of the Koran and maintain that all spheres of society must be ruled according to strict Sharia law (which, for example, promotes the removal of women from the public sphere). Those who support jihad make selective theological and legal arguments to justify violence against the perceived enemies of Islam. The targets do not change: the West, Jews, Shiites, the secular governments and security forces of Islamic countries, and Sunni Muslims who are deemed apostates. But the factors that drive young men and women to adopt Salafi jihadism are diverse and hard to parse: militants reach an overwhelmingly reductive idea by complex and twisted paths. ... Part of the success of ISIS consists in its ability to attract a wide array of people and make them all look, sound, and think alike. ... In Tunisia, leaving to wage jihad has become a social phenomenon. Recruitment spreads like a contagion through informal networks of friends and family members, and the country is small enough so that everyone knows of someone who has disappeared.
In the capital city of Bamako 800 miles away, the founder of Timbuktu’s Mamma Haidara Library, a scholar and community leader named Abdel Kader Haidara, saw the burning of the manuscripts as a tragedy—and a vindication of a remarkable plan he’d undertaken. Starting with no money besides the meager sum in his savings account, the librarian had recruited a loyal circle of volunteers, badgered and shamed the international community into funding the scheme, raised $1 million, and hired hundreds of amateur smugglers in Timbuktu and beyond. Their goal? Save books. ... Months earlier, Haidara had been pacing the courtyard at his home, pondering how to respond to the rebels’ seizure of Timbuktu. Largely thanks to Haidara, the city now had 45 libraries, ranging from small private archives to 10,000-volume collections. The libraries served as repositories for a total of 377,000 manuscripts—from 400-hundred-page, leather-encased volumes to single folios—including some of the greatest works of medieval literature in the world.
The group of European black-hat hackers who launched the attack against New York had spent much of the previous decade breaking into American corporate networks — credit-card companies, hospitals, big-box retailers — mostly for profit, and sometimes just because they could. When those attacks became routine, the group moved into more politically inclined hacks, both against and on behalf of various governments, rigging elections15 and fomenting dissent. In the summer of 2016, the hackers received an anonymous offer of $100 million to perform a cyberattack that would debilitate a major American city. ... to self-identified anarchists with a reflexively nihilistic will to power, the proposition had some appeal. Causing disruption was something that had been on their minds recently, as their conversations veered toward the problems with global capitalism, the rise of technocentrism, bitcoin, and the hubris required to nominate a man like Donald Trump. Their animus got more personal when American authorities arrested a well-respected white-hat hacker who had broken into an insulin pump in order to show the dangers of connecting devices without proper security. The black hats were on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum but had more empathy for their fellow hacker than they did for the American people, who, they felt, deserved a comeuppance ... The plan was to show how much of modern life in a city like New York could be disrupted by purely digital means. The hackers would get paid, but they also hoped their attack would dent America’s complacent faith in order and in the technology and political authority that undergirded it. As a bonus, their services would be in even greater demand.
Over the course of our more than 15 meetings with Abu Ahmad, we questioned him intensively about his knowledge of the jihadi group and his bona fides as one of the “soldiers of the caliphate.” Over a period of 10 months, we spent more than 100 hours with him. He patiently answered our questions on everything from how he ended up with the Islamic State, how the organization is organized, and the identity of the European foreign fighters within the group. Our interviews would go on for six hours a day, in week-long stretches. ... Abu Ahmad agreed to speak to us, he explained, for several reasons. Although he is still with the Islamic State, he doesn’t agree with everything the outfit does. He is attracted to the organization because he views it as the strongest Sunni group in the region. However, he is disappointed that it “has become too extreme,” blaming it for doing such things as crucifying, burning, and drowning its opponents and those who violate its rules. ... Abu Ahmad would soon sour on aspects of the jihadi group. First, the Islamic State has not brought jihadis together; on the contrary, tensions have risen with other groups, and he worried that “the rise of ISIS led to the breakup with the Nusra Front and the weakening of unified jihadi forces in Syria.” ... Secondly, while some of the foreign fighters were men who led truly religious lives in Europe, he discovered another group that he took to thinking of as the “crazies.” These were mostly young Belgian and Dutch criminals of Moroccan descent, unemployed and from broken homes, who lived marginal lives in marginal suburbs of marginal cities. Most of these crazies had no idea about religion, and hardly any of them ever read the Quran. To them, fighting in Syria was either an adventure or a way to repent for their “sinful lives” in Europe’s bars and discos. ... Baghdadi, the most wanted man in the world, drank either Pepsi or Mirinda, an orange-flavored soda.
- Also: Foreign Policy - How the Islamic State Seized a Chemical Weapons Stockpile - Part 2 5-15min
- Also: Foreign Policy - The Greatest Divorce in the Jihadi World - Part 3 5-15min
- Also: BuzzFeed - Inside The Real US Ground War On ISIS 5-15min
- Also: ProPublica - As ISIS Brewed in Iraq, Clinton’s State Department Cut Eyes and Ears on the Ground 5-15min
- Also: Washington Post - The tiny pill fueling Syria’s war and turning fighters into superhuman soldiers < 5min
- Also: The New Yorker - Trafficking in Terror 5-15min
- Also: Newsweek - The New Monument Men Outsmart ISIS < 5min
This is the story of the first 15 years of how we have dealt with that newfound fear—how we have confronted, sometimes heroically and sometimes irrationally, the mechanics, the politics, and the psychic challenges of the September 12 era. ... Have we succeeded in toughening up what overnight became known as “homeland security”? Absolutely. But not without a series of extravagant boondoggles along the way. ... Are we safer? Yes, we’re safer from the kind of orchestrated attack that shocked us on that September morning. It’s harder for terrorists to get into the country, and harder for them to pull off something spectacular if they do. But we have not plugged some of the most threatening security gaps. Worse, as the Orlando massacre reminded us, the world has become more populated by those who want to exploit those gaps, including those living among us—and who, in the United States, can easily obtain military-grade weapons. They are not deterred by the prospect of their own death, and they are happy to commit acts less ambitious than those of 9/11. That makes their attacks much harder to detect in advance. Our defenses are far stronger, but what we have to defend against has outpaced our progress. ... Have we adjusted, politically and emotionally, so that we can make rational decisions as a government and as a people to deal with the ongoing threat? Not yet. In a bitterly divided democracy, where attention spans are short and civic engagement is low and the potential for oversimplification and governing-by-headlines is high, that is hardly a surprise.
Most importantly, after being confronted with the inconsistencies in his passport, the man conceded that his name was not actually Muhammet Reza Reanjbar Rezaei. It was Abdulrahman bin Yar Muhammad. Moreover, he admitted that he was not actually Iranian: He had been born in Takhar, Afghanistan, and lived in Kabul with his wife and four children. ... Most importantly, they knew that the man arrested in Gaziantep was neither Muhammet Reza Reanjbar Rezaei nor Abdulrahman bin Yar Muhammad. And he was certainly not a refugee en route to Europe. ... the man in Gaziantep police custody was best known as Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, and he was on a desperate mission to reassert al Qaeda’s authority over its rebellious affiliate in Iraq. ... The Islamic State’s so-called caliphate would not be declared until 2014, but that is not when the group established an Islamic state. Indeed, just one day before Abd al-Hadi’s arrest, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq announced the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). Its mission was to govern territory and ultimately re-establish the caliphate. ... Al Qaeda’s leadership, hiding in the tribal lands of Pakistan far from Iraq, was not consulted. The announcement was therefore a deep challenge to al Qaeda’s authority and foreshadowed the violent, public divorce between the jihadi organization and what would become the Islamic State.
In the summer of 2014, Anthony McGinty and Michelle Sosa were hired by Los Angeles World Airports to lead a unique, new classified intelligence unit on the West Coast. After only two years, their global scope and analytic capabilities promise to rival the agencies of a small nation-state. Their roles suggest an intriguing new direction for infrastructure protection in an era when threats are as internationally networked as they are hard to predict. ... their current operation falls somewhere between a start-up and a think tank. Because she came from an intelligence background, Sosa had an eye for big-picture narratives; McGinty’s 25 years as a street detective and war veteran gave him tactical insights and a deep knowledge of police culture. Together, the two of them have brought classified in-house intelligence analysis to one of the world’s busiest airports ... Their work promises to propel the city’s aging airport to the forefront of today’s conversations about what it means to protect critical infrastructure and, in the process, to redefine where true power lies in the 21st-century metropolis. ... More than 50,000 badged employees report to work there each day, many with direct access to the airfield—and thus to the vulnerable aircraft waiting upon it. More than 100,000 passenger vehicles use the airport’s roads and parking lots every day, and, in 2015 alone, LAX hosted 75 million passengers in combined departures and arrivals.
As he fielded guilty pleas throughout 2015, Davis thought about how he might offer leniency to the conspiracy’s least culpable members. He could do so only if he knew for sure that the men would never again be tempted by jihadism. To that end, Davis began to research whether there are effective therapies for reforming extremists. He hoped to find a credible way to transform Yusuf and his friends back into the ordinary young men they’d once been. This could spare the youths years behind bars—an act of compassion that would undermine the Islamic State narrative that the West despises its Muslim citizens. ... Davis discovered that numerous nations, from Denmark to Indonesia, have developed methods for nudging young men and women back from the extremist brink—a process known as deradicalization. The judge became intent on starting the first laboratory for deradicalization in the US; he just needed to find an expert he could trust, someone with a proven track record of liberating young minds from violent extremism. ... Koehler’s key finding has been that all extremists, regardless of ideology, develop a sort of tunnel vision as they go through the indoctrination process. ... Koehler sees little point in starting moral or theological arguments with these young people, who are more interested in becoming warriors than debating the finer points of scripture. Instead, he advocates repluralization: the careful reintroduction of problems and solutions into a radicalized person’s life, so that they can no longer devote all their mental energy to stewing over their paranoia. ... Koehler believes that each client needs at least four mentors plus an “intervention coordinator” and that full deradicalization can be achieved only after a matter of years, not months.
The figure of Yahya—an English-speaking convert within ISIS with powerful connections and the cojones to challenge Baghdadi to a death match—intrigued me. But Cerantonio didn’t elaborate on his identity and referred to him only by an alias, in the traditional Arabic style, with his first name and the name of his firstborn: Yahya, father of Hassan. He said Yahya was a fellow Dhahiri—a member of an obscure, ultra-literalist legal school that had enjoyed a sort of revival within the Islamic State. He didn’t, or wouldn’t, say more. I wrote down the name and committed to investigating Yahya later. ... Soon enough, I began collecting clues to his identity.
The world is about to experience the greatest geopolitical transformation in at least the past three generations. The United States’ need for oil has greatly diminished, and its goals in the Middle East have changed. The United States now views the world wholly in relation to its other interests. Global and local demographics, new outsiders in the area, and a new contest shaping up between Iran and Saudi Arabia contribute to continuing instability in the Middle East. A global energy crisis could soon draw many countries into the Middle East, and a simultaneous political crisis could erode state authorities there, unleashing a new wave of violence and terrorism. ... The United States is transforming into a country with global reach but no global interests. For the 4 billion people on this planet who are utterly dependent on global trade for their well-being, this transformation is possibly the worst outcome imaginable. ... Even if the United States was convinced that its economic and physical security required international engagement, it is about to step out to lunch, and it is going to be a very, very long lunch. Just as the rest of the world needs the United States, it is leaving the building.