Terrorism & Technolgy: Beginning of the End

Photo credit: AFP
Protests against president Putin in Turkey. Photo credit: AFP

“Yet we come together today knowing that the match of human progress never travels in a straight line: that our work is far from complete. That dangerous currents risk pulling us back to a darker more disordered world.” –President Barack Obama

The opening quote formed part of Obama’s address to the 70th UN General Assembly earlier in September this year; long before a fully loaded passenger airline headed for Russia was brought down by a bomb in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Long before an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) coordinated attacks in Paris left 130 people dead with 80 persons injured. Long before a Russian warplane Targeting Daesh (the now disavowed and forbidden Arabic acronym of the terrorist group, in English means a bigot who imposes his views on others) aka ISIL, ISIS or IS was shot down by Turkey over allegations that Turkish airspace was violated even when the warplane crashed in Syria’s territory. The turmoil that has followed is summarized by Turkish locals in the President Putin’s caricature above.

Though not at the forefront, Nigeria is not left behind. Long before Obama’s remarks, citizens in Nigeria’s North-east and neighboring West African countries have endured indiscriminate bombings by recalcitrant Boko Haram insurgents. Whereas majority of Nigerians have mainly endured the pain of terror from afar, surely, the impact of crippled economic activities in that region is not lost on the higher prices of food commodities i.e. Smoked fish, Onions, Cattle/meat, Pepper etc. for a people already bedeviled by austere economic hardships induced by falling oil revenues.

From Gun and racists violence in America to the immigration crisis rocking Europe, time and space would not permit details of “dangerous currents” moving through our world in Kenya, Libya, up until faraway Asia and much of the Middle-east. It will appear as though our world is at a threshold and things are falling apart. Perhaps, the most troubling of the dangerous currents in our world right now is the unholy marriage of terrorism and technology. Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations describes it as “a dramatic evolution in the nature of terrorist threat.”

Photo credit: thenigerianvoice
ICT. Photo credit: thenigerianvoice

Information and Communications Technology has grown rapidly and transformed our world into a borderless global village. Today we see social messaging apps i.e. Whatsapp, iMessage, BBM, specialized Apps etc. performing telco-Over The Top (OTT) services which enable users make data calls and protect their chats from government surveillance. ICT has accelerated business growth and the integration of developing countries into today’s knowledge-based global economy. ICT has become a weapon so great which, in terrorists’ hands, poses grave danger to our collective security.

As it is, a terrorist plot can be masterminded millions of miles outside a target country’s border, the ‘intelligence’ coordinated along encrypted communication chains and the attacks executed with support of inside citizens radicalized by Daesh’s hate ideology via its clever use of social media, and all these without tipping off National Security Agencies. Unlike al-Qaida’s terrorism campaigns of the early 2000’s which required person-to-person contacts, 21st Century Terrorism can be perpetuated at the speed of thought.

Photo credit: The Independent
A trail of Daesh aka ISIS insurgents. Photo credit: The Independent

Led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS emerged out of the vacuum of the ongoing 4 years Syrian civil war and in part, from a backfire of the West’s execution of strongmen like Moammar Gaddafi in Libya and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Asides external funding, reports have revealed that the terror empire generates up to $1m per day from black market sales of crude oil. Seeking to enhance his terror group social media campaign, in June 2015, al-Baghdadi rebranded and abolished the group’s Arabic name ‘Daesh’ with its negative undertone so as to polish its evil propaganda online and attract foreign youth followership. If you are behind enemy lines in IS controlled territory and say “Daesh”, you stand the risk of your tongue being cut-off!

In 2013, the fight against terrorism was altered in favor of terrorists after revelations from a former contractor for U.S. National Security Agency, Edward Snowden, now in Russia on asylum. Commenting on Snowden’s revelation of tens of thousands of intelligence collection techniques at a Yahoo news sponsored event on November 12 2015, Mathew Olsen, a former director of National Counterterrorism Center remarked “There are no doubts that the disclosures overall created a situation in which we lost coverage of terrorists. Specifically, we saw people that we were targeting with NSA surveillance stop using communications entirely. We saw them go to different service providers. We saw them go to uses of encryption — different ways they were reacting to what they were seeing. It shouldn’t be any surprise — these guys are sophisticated. …They’re reading the newspapers and seeing what we can do.”

Photo credit: travel noire
Paris. Photo credit: travel noire

The next day, on November 13, Daesh carried out simultaneous attacks in six different locations of the French capital, Paris. Expectedly, social media went viral with the #pray4paris trend in the days that followed the attacks. Some commentaries about the tragedy posited that the worlds concerns for Paris stank of inequality. Effectively some Nigerian commentaries argued that it was exaggerated, favoring a ‘us vs. them’ attitude instead; they didn’t mourn with us, let them mourn alone. Permit me a short take on this issue. Home to 16 million annual tourists, Paris is one of the most popular destinations in the world. France, with 54 million visitors in 2014 alone is even more popular than the U.S.

A traveler thinks about Paris and what comes to mind: A place one considers warm and Beautiful to live in? The bridge of ‘love padlocks’; a site for communicating emotions of love and seduction to our lovers? Or Light… a place welcome to all irrespective of race, religion and creed? Exaggeration or fanaticism, these are sentiments attached to the city of Paris, sentiments very much absent in our own assessment of Northeast Nigeria: a place we’ve always considered tense and riotous, enmeshed in ethnic bigotry and religious fanaticism.

Photo credit: heartlanguage.org
Map of Africa. Photo credit: heartlanguage.org

Beyond sentiments, I believe concerns were driven by something deeper. Like, if a terror plot of such magnitude with all the “G8 intelligence” can be executed below radar, without fear of France President, Francoise Hollande, who was watching a live football match before he was evacuated when a bomb went off within yards of the stadium, definitely, with Africa’s security situation, our concerns should not only be driven by solidarity it must also be driven by the grave threat terrorism poses to our collective humanity. At the other end of the spectrum, some believe the tragedy ought to unite us in pressing for more action from the Nigerian government to degrade and defeat Boko Haram. Though as correctly affirmed by Ban Ki-Moon in 2014 that “over the long-term, the biggest threat to terrorists is not the power of missiles but the politics of inclusion”, still, as Western powers unite forces to intensify onslaught on ISIS, President Buhari should impress upon his African Union colleagues the need to forge a united coalition on the African continent, to ensure that She never provides a safe haven for local and or fleeing foreign terrorists.

Finally, in our battle to heal the world, our best efforts to not lose the battle and win the war against terrorism, cybercrime etc. is threatened by the significant number of our youths who, everyday, are growing rebellious against the identities fostered on them by society. Turning to the ‘dark’ web in search of direction, our young people are exposed to damaging propagandas and content online. 20, 30, 50 years down the lane and more of these youths may find solace in terrorism or other apocalyptic vices. As you read, al-Baghdadi is bringing in 1,500 foreign fighters a month, from more than 100 nations according to General Mike Flynn, Commander of the U.S Special Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2004–2007. These foreign defenders of global terrorism are returning to their countries of residence, one of them France, to poison and cause societies to self-destruct while fanning the embers of hate and evil extremism. Is this the beginning of the end or is there still hope for humanity?

Photo credit: legacyfied
Boko Haram insurgents. Photo credit: legacyfied

While you think about that, chew on this also: after Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS in March this year, did it sponsor trainees to the Middle-east to learn under the hostile environment of relentless bombings from the West and Osama Bin Laden’s ruthless doctrine of waging jihad? If yes, if some survive and return, like a fresher that has undergone intense Graduate Management Trainee Program at a multinational, what breed of radicalized type will these ones be in the Boko Haram hierarchy? One thing is certain, if it is Western media and global sympathy we crave, these radicalized Daesh-Boko Haram hybrids will get it for us. Careful what you wish; we can do without such.

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4 thoughts on “Terrorism & Technolgy: Beginning of the End

  1. This is a good one.. It really hurts to see how much of harm terrorism has caused around the world and to realise technology has a lot to do with it is sad

    Like

  2. Nice writeup… Good analysis of the situation we have on our hands with the combo of terror and technology. Just as you’ve stated… Producing freshly trained terrorist from a GMT program brings a lot to mind.

    Like

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