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April 14, 2015 0

How to Deal With Iranian Expansionism

By Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

At the very moment that a nuclear deal with Iran is look­ing closer to real­ity, Iran is expand­ing its influ­ence through­out the Mid­dle East. To the Saudis, the Emi­rates and Israel — all of whom see Iran as the great­est threat in the region — this is a dis­turb­ing phenomenon.

Israel has reacted by call­ing on the United States to link the nuclear nego­ti­a­tions to Iran’s broader behav­ior in the region.  In his address before a joint ses­sion of Con­gress, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu said the U.S. should not sign a deal until Iran halts its ter­ror­ist activ­ity and ceases its sup­port of extrem­ist groups. More recently, the prime min­is­ter has called for no agree­ment until Iran accepts Israel’s     legitimacy.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the U.S. rejected those pro­pos­als as unachiev­able and saw them as an effort to block any nuclear deal.

The Saudis, in their usual way, took a more restrained approach, say­ing nice things about the frame­work agree­ment while decry­ing Iran’s activ­i­ties on many fronts in the region. Clearly, at this moment when the U.S. is pro­vid­ing essen­tial sup­port for the Saudi-led mil­i­tary coali­tion against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, they are not look­ing for a full-blown con­fronta­tion with their main ally and sup­porter, the United States.

On the other hand, the Saudis con­tinue to express in many ways their frus­tra­tion with what they per­ceive to be weak Amer­i­can lead­er­ship in the region. While not will­ing to link their cri­tique to the nuclear issue, they have found other ways to get their point across.

Their most extreme reac­tion took place in the fall of 2013 when in an unprece­dented fash­ion they turned down a seat at the United Nations Secu­rity Coun­cil. While they never stated a rea­son it was widely under­stood to be a protest over Amer­i­can pol­icy toward Syria and Iran.

Since then, Saudi con­cerns have only grown as they watch a con­tin­ued Iran­ian role in Syria and Iraq, U.S. coop­er­a­tion with Iran against ISIS and — more recently — the poten­tial for new sig­nif­i­cant Iran­ian influ­ence in Yemen through the Houthis.

Both the Israelis and the Saudis fear that lift­ing the deep­est sanc­tions against Iran through the nuclear deal will fur­ther embolden Iran­ian expansionism.

More­over, what­ever their views on the nuclear deal, they fear that the basic under­ly­ing theme, despite U.S. protests to the con­trary, is that Iran under Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani is an evolv­ing nation that can be moved toward a state of nor­malcy both at home and in its inter­na­tional rela­tions. So they worry that after the nuclear deal is signed, sealed and deliv­ered, the U.S. will be even more reluc­tant to iden­tify Iran for what is and to take action against it.

What is it that the U.S. admin­is­tra­tion can do to reas­sure its allies?

First, its rhetoric about Iran­ian behav­ior must be ele­vated by many deci­bels. The notion that such a change would jeop­ar­dize the nuclear talks does not ring true. The Ira­ni­ans have a huge inter­est in the removal of sanc­tions while also being able to main­tain its nuclear infra­struc­ture. They are not very likely to walk away because of a more hon­est and focused U.S. approach to Iran­ian behavior.

It was encour­ag­ing in that respect that Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry on April 8 on PBS New­sHour crit­i­cized Iran for sup­ply­ing the Houthis in Yemen and added that the U.S. “could do two things at once” – the nuclear deal and con­tain­ment of Iran’s desta­bi­liz­ing activ­i­ties in the region.

Still, a more sus­tained U.S. approach is needed, one which rec­og­nizes that Iran remains unre­pen­tant and extreme — includ­ing recent state­ments by its lead­ers call­ing for Israel’s destruc­tion — and is the great­est threat in the region.

Call­ing atten­tion to the huge arse­nal of mis­siles amassed by Iran­ian sur­ro­gate, Hezbol­lah, is a good place to start.

Using Holo­caust Remem­brance Day on April 15 to denounce Iran’s open call for Israel’s destruc­tion, most recently by the head of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard, would add to the chorus.

And finally, the president’s remarks about hav­ing Israel’s back in the face of any Iran­ian threat should be reflected in clear agree­ments. What exactly does it mean for the U.S. to be there for Israel and Saudi Arabia?

This becomes more sig­nif­i­cant than ever because of the per­cep­tion that the eager­ness for the nuclear deal was partly moti­vated by a U.S. desire to pull back from the region. And, it is sig­nif­i­cant because Saudi con­cerns about a poten­tially expand­ing nuclear Iran could lead them to seek their own nuclear weapons.  The con­se­quences for the region and the world of such nuclear pro­lif­er­a­tion would be disastrous.

Even before the nuclear frame­work agree­ment, the U.S. had a lot of work to do to reas­sure its allies in the Mid­dle East.

The need for such reas­sur­ance takes on a greater urgency as the real­ity of the nuclear agree­ment and the prospect of an embold­ened Iran loom larger.

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September 5, 2014 1

The American Face of Foreign Terror Recruits

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Mar­cos Alonso Zea of New York attempted to join AQAP

U.S. intel­li­gence esti­mates indi­cate that sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of Amer­i­cans – as few as a dozen or as many as 300, accord­ing to some offi­cials – have trav­eled abroad to fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Although most of these indi­vid­u­als have not been pub­licly iden­ti­fied, con­crete infor­ma­tion is avail­able about 20 Amer­i­cans who fought or attempted to travel abroad since the begin­ning of 2013. An analy­sis of their back­grounds pro­vides inter­est­ing sta­tis­tics that may sup­ple­ment our under­stand­ing of the peo­ple attracted to ter­ror orga­ni­za­tions and pro­vide clues about the many addi­tional, uniden­ti­fied Amer­i­cans believed to have trav­eled abroad.

For exam­ple, the infor­ma­tion tells us that:

  • They range in age from 18 to 44, but the major­ity are in their 20s.
  • Nine of them joined or attempted to join ISIS.
  • Six of them joined or attempted to join the Al Qaeda affil­i­ate in Syria Jab­hat al Nusra.
  • Three of them joined or attempted to join Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula (AQAP) in Yemen.
  • 13 of the 20, or 65%, are report­edly con­verts to Islam.
  • They come from across the coun­try: Six came from Cal­i­for­nia, two each from Min­nesota, Michi­gan, North Car­olina, Florida and New York. Other states rep­re­sented include Texas, Penn­syl­va­nia, Illi­nois, Mass­a­chu­setts and Arizona.
  • Only two of the 20 were women. (ADL has doc­u­mented 13 female cit­i­zens and per­ma­nent res­i­dents of the U.S. arrested on ter­ror­ism charges since 2002.)

The num­ber of Amer­i­cans iden­ti­fied as attempt­ing to join ISIS spiked sharply in 2014. Seven of the nine Amer­i­cans iden­ti­fied above attempted to join the ter­ror group just this year.  Whereas in 2013, half of the Amer­i­cans iden­ti­fied attempted to join the con­flict in Syria, but only one to ISIS.

This influx of Amer­i­cans attempt­ing to join ISIS is tak­ing place as ISIS steps ups its threats against the U.S., includ­ing behead­ing Amer­i­cans and expand­ing its sophis­ti­cated online media cam­paign designed to moti­vate and recruit westerners.

Indeed, con­fir­ma­tion by U.S. offi­cials that two Amer­i­can men with links to Min­nesota were killed last month in Syria is the lat­est indi­ca­tion that ISIS has replaced Al Shabaab in Soma­lia as the ter­ror­ist des­ti­na­tion of choice for Amer­i­can mil­i­tants. 

A full list of names follows:

  • Ahmad Abousamra of Mass­a­chu­setts: Believed to be work­ing with ISIS in Iraq or Syria (iden­ti­fied in 2014).
  • Abdi­rah­maan Muhumed of Min­nesota: Killed in Syria in August 2014 appar­ently fight­ing with ISIS.
  • Dou­glas McAu­thur McCain of Cal­i­for­nia: Killed in Syria in August 2014, appar­ently fight­ing with ISIS.
  • Don­ald Ray Mor­gan of North Car­olina: Arrested in August 2014 on firearm charges; believed to have been attempt­ing to join ISIS.
  • Adam Dan­dach of Cal­i­for­nia: Arrested in July 2014 on pass­port fraud charges; believed to have been attempt­ing to join ISIS.
  • Michael Todd Wolfe of Texas: Arrested in June 2014 for attempt­ing to join ISIS.
  • Moner Abu-Salha of Florida: Killed in a sui­cide attack he car­ried out in May 2014 on behalf of Jab­hat al Nusra.

    moner-abu-salha-nusra

    Moner Abu-Salha of Florida joined Jab­hat al Nusra

  • Shan­non Mau­reen Con­ley of Col­orado: Arrested in April 2014 for attempt­ing to join ISIS.
  • Mohammed Has­san Ham­dan of Michi­gan: Arrested in March 2014 for attempt­ing to join Hezbol­lah in Syria.
  • Nicholas Teau­sant of Cal­i­for­nia: Arrested in March 2014 for attempt­ing to join ISIS.
  • Basit Javed Sheikh of North Car­olina: Arrested Novem­ber 2013 for attempt­ing to join Jab­hat al Nusra.
  • Mar­cos Alonso Zea of New York: Arrested in Octo­ber 2013 for attempt­ing to join AQAP.
  • Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen of Cal­i­for­nia: Arrested in Octo­ber 2013 for attempt­ing to join Al Qaeda. Nguyen had pre­vi­ously fought in Syria.
  • Amir Farouq Ibrahim, of Penn­syl­va­nia: Assumed dead in July 2013 and believed to have fought with ISIS.
  • Justin Kaliebe of New York: Arrested in June 2013 for attempt­ing to join AQAP.
  • Nicole Mans­field of Michi­gan: Killed in May 2013, report­edly fight­ing with Jab­hat al Nusra.
  • Abdella Ahmad Tounisi of Illinios: Arrested in April 2013 for attempt­ing to join Jab­hat al Nusra.
  • Eric Har­roun of Ari­zona: Arrested in March 2013 for trav­el­ing to Syria to fight with Jab­hat al Nusra. He pleaded guilty to non-terror-related charges in Sep­tem­ber, 2013, and was sen­tenced to time served. That Har­roun fought in Syria is uncon­tested; how­ever, reports dif­fer as to whether he fought with Jab­hat al Nusra or with the Syr­ian Free Army, which is not con­sid­ered a ter­ror­ist organization.
  • Matthew Aaron Llaneza of Cal­i­for­nia: Arrested in Feb­ru­ary 2013 for attempted domes­tic ter­ror­ism and plans to travel to join the Tal­iban in Afghanistan.
  • Shel­ton Thomas Bell of Florida: Arrested in Jan­u­ary 2013 for attempt­ing to join AQAP.

In addi­tion to those indi­vid­u­als above, two appar­ent Amer­i­cans have been fea­tured in pro­pa­ganda videos from Syria, although their iden­ti­ties have not been fully verified:

  • A man called Abu Abdu­rah­man al-Trinidadi, allegedly Amer­i­can of Trinida­dian ori­gin, fea­tured sup­port­ing ISIS in a video released in August 2014.
  • A man called Abu Dujana al-Amriki, allegedly Amer­i­can, fea­tured sup­port­ing ISIS in a video released Novem­ber 2013.

Yet another Amer­i­can has been iden­ti­fied as fight­ing with ISIS because of his death in a Syr­ian airstrike in Sep­tem­ber 2014. Fur­ther infor­ma­tion about that indi­vid­ual has not yet been released.

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July 22, 2013 0

Florida Teen, Shelton Thomas Bell, Latest American To Attempt To Join Al Qaeda

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Shel­ton Thomas bell

The lat­est Amer­i­can cit­i­zen to appar­ently respond to Al Qaeda’s call by attempt­ing to join the ter­ror­ist group is 19-year-old Florid­ian Shel­ton Thomas Bell.

Bell, who accord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors attempted to join Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula (AQAP) in Yemen, has been charged with con­spir­ing and attempt­ing to pro­vide mate­r­ial sup­port to terrorists.

Since 2007, at least 52 Amer­i­can cit­i­zens and per­ma­nent res­i­dents have been arrested or charged for suc­cess­fully trav­el­ing or attempt­ing to travel abroad to reach Al Qaeda affil­i­ate groups. Many joined or attempted to join Al Shabaab in Soma­lia, while oth­ers have received train­ing in Pak­istan. More recently, some Amer­i­cans have been attracted to Jab­hat al-Nusrah in Syria.

Bell, report­edly a Mus­lim con­vert, “devised a plan to travel to the Ara­bian Penin­sula to join Ansar al Sharia (AAS),” an alias for (AQAP), “and par­tic­i­pate in vio­lent armed con­flict that he termed ‘jihad,’” accord­ing to the fed­eral indictment.

Bell and a juve­nile trav­eled to Jor­dan Sep­tem­ber 2012 and made con­tact with some­one who could facil­i­tate their travel to Yemen and intro­duce them to ter­ror­ists, accord­ing to the indictment.

The indict­ment also alleges that between May 2012 and Sep­tem­ber 2012, Bell and oth­ers engaged in phys­i­cal, firearms, and other train­ing in prepa­ra­tion for what Bell described as “the actions of jihad,” includ­ing “a night-time mis­sion” in which they van­dal­ized reli­gious stat­ues at a Jack­sonville cemetery.

Bell allegedly also made video and audio record­ings for the pur­pose of solic­it­ing and recruit­ing oth­ers to par­tic­i­pate in vio­lent jihad.

Lead­ers of the Islamic Cen­ter of North­east Florida in Jack­sonville report­edly noti­fied law enforce­ment about Bell because they were con­cerned about con­ver­sa­tion he was hav­ing about weapons and jihad at their mosque.

AQAP has been described by the U.S. gov­ern­ment as “the most active and dan­ger­ous” branch of Al Qaeda. The growth of AQAP has led Amer­i­can offi­cials to indi­cate that Yemen could become Al Qaeda’s next oper­a­tional and train­ing hub for the group’s mil­i­tants from around the world.

A key com­po­nent of AQAP’s oper­a­tional strat­egy entails reach­ing out to English-speaking audi­ences with its mes­sages and pro­pa­ganda in order to recruit new mem­bers. This mate­r­ial encour­ages West­ern audi­ences to adopt its ide­ol­ogy and carry out attacks against West­ern inter­ests in the Ara­bian Penin­sula and abroad.

The dri­ving forces behind AQAP’s English-language pro­pa­ganda machine were Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric, and Samir Khan, an Amer­i­can blog­ger and pro­pa­gan­dist, both of whom were killed in a Sep­tem­ber 30, 2011 drone strike.

Bell, who worked as a com­puter repair ven­dor at a flea mar­ket in Jack­sonville, is in jail await­ing trial on unre­lated grand theft charges.

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