Security experts discuss terror threat in Mideast, Africa at Lebanon conference

The two-day event, titled “Defeat of Terrorism in the Region and its Impact on Africa,” was attended by representatives of the security services in various countries. (supplied)
Updated 28 November 2018

Security experts discuss terror threat in Mideast, Africa at Lebanon conference

  • There are more than 40 terrorist organizations and groups in Africa
  • ‘Political will must be combined with the security administration to combat terrorism’

BEIRUT: “Why is terrorism becoming more widespread and complex?” That was the question posed by Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the general director of Lebanese General Security, to security experts from a dozen African nations during a conference organized by the Lebanese General Security Directorate in Beirut early this week.

The two-day event, titled “Defeat of Terrorism in the Region and its Impact on Africa,” was attended by representatives of the security services in the Congo, Burkina Faso, Zambia, Tunisia, Angola, Nigeria, Tanzania, Central Africa, Cameroon, Togo, Niger and Benin, as well Lebanese officials and a number of diplomats, including the ambassadors of Russia, Tunisia, Oman and Egypt.

“There are more than 40 terrorist organizations and groups” in Africa, according to Brig. Gen. Riad Taha, the head of the conference’s organizing committee.

“About 600,000 Lebanese are present in the African continent, and through our work in the security services, we found out that there are terrorist networks in Lebanon that have links with terrorist organizations in Africa,” he told Arab News. “They are trying to infiltrate the communities of their countries, in addition to the movement of armed terrorists to this continent in an attempt to form a large arch linking the Middle East to the west coast of Africa through the Horn of Africa in the east of the continent.”

Delegates at the conference discussed the direct and indirect causes of the development of terrorism in the Middle East, the environment in which it incubates, the circumstances surrounding the emergence of terrorist movements and their aims, funding and directions. It also discussed the fall of Daesh and the fate of members of terrorist movements.

“The international community is called upon to stop giving instructions remotely and to move toward serious and equal engagement in the open battle which, if we do not win, the whole world will lose, not just a single nation or a single state,” said Maj. Gen. Ibrahim.

“The geographic location of the African countries helped transform their lands into a backyard for many terrorist groups that have settled in northern Africa. As they developed, they sought allies and followers in the east and west coast of Africa. They transferred their ideas and tools to the whole continent until terrorist groups, such as Boko Haram, Ansar Al-Din, Jihad and Tawhid, Mujahideen Youth Movement, Ansar Al-Muslimeen, Ansar Al-Islam, and the Lord’s Resistance Army, along with Daesh and Al-Qaeda, settled in it.”

He said that the spread of terrorism on the African continent was due to “the qualitative change in the nature of the activities of terrorist groups, which have come to transcend the borders of countries and continents, and the success of these terrorist movements in employing the electronic industry in the service of its terrorist purposes at the levels of recruitment, media, electronic piracy and training.”

Maj. Gen. Ibrahim said the spread of terrorist groups to Africa was not unconnected to “factors of political and economic marginalization and tribal and ethnic conflicts in many African countries, which allowed the formation of ‘hybrid terrorism’ as a result of tribal hegemony with organized crime, and the intermingling of religious violence with tribal extremism.”

He said that “political will must be combined with the security administration to combat terrorism,” and added: “Our information indicates that terrorism, though weakened, has not faded and is still flexible. It is still capable of arming itself, acquiring technologies, using electronic platforms to recruit fighters and suicide bombers, planting extremist and violent ideas and launching attacks with simple weapons that are easy to get, including vehicle-ramming or individual attacks against commercial and tourist gatherings, to inflict the largest number of casualties. These operations are known as ‘lone wolf’ operations.”

He called for “the adoption of unified procedures for the exchange of intelligence, data, experiences and knowledge to achieve security and stability.”

Lebanese academic Jinane El-Khoury focused on “the transformation of terrorism from traditional terrorism to classic terrorism, then ballistic terrorism and recently to cyberterrorism.” She drew a distinction between “those who carry out terrorism and those who finance them; they are usually organized criminal groups, and the funding for that is the proceeds of cross-border crimes.”

She said “there is no single objective definition of terrorism” and talked about “the adoption of terrorism as a way to solve disputes and political differences.” She noted that “terrorism might also be financed in a legitimate way” and that “the Boko Haram group is on Twitter now and is being followed by thousands.”

El-Khoury also spoke about the use of “electronic means by terrorist groups, providing them with recruitment platforms, identifying potential targets, postal cooperation, collecting donations and destroying websites.”

Judge Jean Fahed, the head of Lebanon’s Higher Judicial Council, discussed the experiences of the Lebanese judiciary with terrorism and the development of legislation to confront it since 1923.

“Terrorist acts were carried out by conventional means and developed into proactive actions,” he said. Fahed revealed that 577 terrorism cases were presented to the Lebanese judiciary in 2017, compared with 27 in 2007. He pointed out that terrorists on trial refuse to hire lawyers to defend them, prolonging the legal process in the hope of taking advantage of a general amnesty. He also stressed that laws must be enacted to help protect witnesses.

Malik Al-Asta, a Lebanese banker, explained the ways in which banks can help to combat terrorism by preventing the spread of funding for terrorist acts and money laundering. As a result, he said, “charities are classified by banks as ‘highly risky’ clients until proven otherwise.”

The audience at the event raised many questions for the speakers. Some stressed the need to strike a balance in protecting human rights while fighting terrorism, while others asked about websites in the “deep web” which are not blocked despite being very dangerous, while more public sites in the “surface web” are pursued and blocked. The danger posed by the “dark web” was also stressed because “no one knows what is in it.”

Internal cohesion is a necessity to prevent the disintegration of states, said Masoud Al-Dahir, a professor of history at the Lebanese University.

“We may have entered into the era of barbaric globalization, because the element of power and domination is overwhelming,” he told Arab News. “There are countries that are able to protect themselves, while other countries have their economies and systems destroyed.

“In today’s world, there is no independent state or nation capable of confronting huge financial monopolies. The middle class has declined all over the world, except for internally cohesive countries.”

Al-Dahir said there he is unaware of any example in history of anything similar to what is happening now.

“In the past, the system of values ruled people,” he said. “Today, it is governed by the law of the jungle. Production is no longer competing with production. Where are the ideas of the French Revolution and sustainable development?

“In the past, big tribes used to protect smaller tribes. Nowadays, powerful states eat the weaker ones. Unless active forces move to stop the bullying, and unless we are united internally, we will proceed in the way of international disintegration, and terrorism will hit a different country every day.”

Syria stuck with Assad for now, says UK minister Jeremy Hunt

Updated 16 February 2019

Syria stuck with Assad for now, says UK minister Jeremy Hunt

  • Jeremy Hunt, the UK foreign secretary, said that Assad is likely to remain in his position “for the short-term and possibly longer”
  • Hunt added that the UK has “no plans” to reopen diplomatic relations with Syria

LONDON: Syria has no future under Bashar Assad but is stuck with the president due to Russian support, Britain’s top diplomat has said.
Jeremy Hunt, the UK foreign secretary, said that Assad is likely to remain in his position “for the short-term and possibly longer,” and called on Moscow to come forward with a solution.
“Assad … is a truly horrific man who has shown that he won’t hesitate to butcher his own people in order to prolong his hold on power. And what future would a country like Syria have with a leader like that?,” Hunt said in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
“But the reality is because of Russian support, he is there and he is likely to stay for the short-term and possibly longer. It is for the Russians now to come forward with their solution because they have chosen to intervene in the way they have.”
Hunt said it was “impossible” for Syria to have a bright future with Assad still in power.
“This is a man who mercilessly gassed his own people in the most brutally possible way against all international norms, and the Russians chose to prop him up. So it is for Russia now to show they are going to create peace and stability in Syria,” he said.
Hunt added that the UK has “no plans” to reopen diplomatic relations with Syria.
The British official said the US withdrawal from eastern Syria should not take place in a way that harms “our allies like the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) in Syria who fought very bravely along Western troops for many years.”
Asked about Britain’s role following the US pullout from Syria, Hunt said: “There is no prospect of British troops going in to replace the American troops leaving, but of course we had discussions with the United States on an ongoing basis and when I was in Washington a couple of weeks ago about how we stabilize the situation in Syria.”
Hunt also spoke about the territorial defeat of Daesh in Syria and Iraq — but cautioned that was not the same as crushing the mindset behind the terror group.
“We have not yet eliminated the cause of the Daesh movement which is so evil and so destructive and there is a lot more work left to do,” he said.
“It is very important that the global coalition does not hang its hat up and say we are done now, because if we do that there is a very good chance that Daesh will be back.”
“There (is) some evidence now in parts of Iraq that (Daesh is) regrouping and regathering strength.”
On Yemen, Hunt underlined the need for a comprehensive solution that would prevent Iran from using the country as a base to destabilize neighboring states.
Asked about his recent participation in the Warsaw Conference on the Middle East, the British foreign secretary said that the meetings went beyond the Iranian role in the region to touch on reshaping alliances in the Middle East.
He added that he attended a “very productive meeting about Yemen,” in the presence of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir and his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.
“We spent a long time talking about what is necessary to get peace over the line in Yemen,” he said.
In this regard, Hunt affirmed that a comprehensive settlement in Yemen could only be reached through “a government of national unity in which the Houthis have a stake in which the security of all communities in Yemen is assured, in which Iran is no longer using Yemen as a base to destabilize Yemen’s neighbors, and in which we can end the terrible humanitarian crisis which is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world right now.”
According to Hunt, the problem lies in how to achieve a final solution and to build trust, in particular the importance of implementing the Stockholm Agreement and withdrawal from the city of Hodeidah “so that we can open up the Red Sea Mills,” where 51,000 tones of UN wheat is stored.
He noted that he held a lengthy discussion with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif about this issue.
According to Hunt, he was told by Zarif that Iran wants to play its part in finding a solution. “We took those commitments at face value but we do now need to see that translated into the Houthis leaving the Port of Hodeideh.”
“All of us know that if that does not happen soon, we are going to see a return to hostilities and that would be an absolute tragedy to the people of Yemen,” Hunt said.
A version of this story was originally published in Asharq Al-Awsat