Security and Terrorisms: before and after the Arab Spring
President George W. Bush, who was asked by American people for revenge against an undefinable enemy – religious terrorism - after the tragic events of 9/11, with a perfect American speech declared that war was over: mission accomplished! The war of the Iraqi battlefields and of Saddam Hussein as the primary (and easiest) target was, indeed, over, and the victory achieved through the dynamics of a classic war fought by modern troops. However, what did it happen next? The failure of state building policies in Iraq and of the use of democracy as a peace building tool appears very clear given the dramatic situation in North Africa and the Middle East.
Mission Accomplished, 1st May 2003.
In January 2014, James R. Clapper, the National Intelligence director, declared in his Statement for the record: : "...instability in the Middle East and North Africa has accelerated the decentralization of the movement (terrorism) which is increasingly influenced by local and regional issues...". Nothing had change since 2001 and Islamic terrorism is increasingly more efficient and insidious, getting more and more dangerous for the Western world as time goes by.
Clapper claims the instability of societies from the Fertile Crescent to the Atlantis mountains to be the factor that can bring about the growth and the spread of Islamic terrorism influenced by local dynamics. Instability is the key to the very existence of the theoretic, pragmatic and strategic modern jihad according to the Syrian apologist Mustafa Setmariam Nasr, born and raised in Spain and better known as Abu Mussal al-Suri.
However, in his speech about one year ago, Clapper did not mention at all the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, which remained understated among other radical groups. After one year, the impossible had become possible, against all analytical projections. IS is at the moment the crucial factor to be considered in order to understand what happened before and after the Arab Spring and the climate of international insecurity which stems from its very existence and action.
Jihad evolution: from organization to network.
Nizam, la tanzim: system, not organization. This is the formula where the new jihadist strategy is grounded. In its pamphlet, “Call for a global Islamic resistance,” al-Suri claims the need for an operative system, something like a protocol, available for anyone interested in joining the global jihad, whether alone or within a group of true companions, instead of an operative organization. The rest of the pamphlet explains the four guiding lines that represent the foundation of the new jihad:
– situationist outlook;
An epochal changing, a strategic revolution which emerges from the acceptance of the failure of the Bin-Laden-Zawahiri approach and sees in the future a radical fight: nizam, la tanzim, indeed.
In particular, what more interest us is the situationist outlook, which involves the exploitation of instability in the Islamic world, whether it is found or provoked through destabilizing terroristic attacks. In other words, jihadists need to capitalize on local problems of the Islamic population, presenting themselves as the only valid alternative to nationalism, as Hezbollah has done in Lebanon.
After this general reflection on the dangers brought about by a new typology of Islamic war, we need to address its concrete evolution inside a geographical theater very closed to our borders, the Maghreb region.
Al-Suri's situationist outlook: exploitation or creation of the ideal conditions for a local jihad
In order to understand how the situationist outlook can be exploited, we need to make room for sociological and anthropological explanations. Human history is characterized by certain constants which cyclically repeat themselves and some of them systemically determine the evolution of human communities. Among these constants, on that has maintained intact its power to change realities is immigration. This key factor is the root of both legal movements and trade of goods, and an equally remunerative illegal flux of exchange. It is in this context that flourishes the modern network of smugglers, linked to each other by tribal ties. Tribes are very strong centers of political power that cannot be outstepped to rule in these regions. Without the backing up of local tribes it is almost impossible to obtain local communities' support. Tribes are able to exercise their power across wide and scarcely populated territories through a network of clans and families, which generate forms of power that are not always homogeneous but definitely binding. From a sociological and anthropological point of view these are the people best suited to survive in such challenging environments, while learning to be strong and proudly hold out against external subordination. Tribes are always master of their own lands and national governments need to collaborate with them as the only way to gain consensus due to the fact the any form of assimilation is impracticable. The entire African continent is historically shot through by migration waves and contraband networks which create the informal market. Muammar Qaddafi was a strong supporter of the role of contraband in the continent, and especially in Libya, as a crucial economic activity for the population. It is certainly true that contraband shapes the lives of many if not every African man, thanks to the wide and articulated network of illegal trafficking of all sorts, from human trafficking to drugs, from arms to cigarettes and diamonds to every kind of goods.
The streets where caravans and the other means of transport travel across the country, and most of all the tribal organizations, are the primary actors of this primordial type of market. Therefore, who manages to control them controls the market itself. Criminal organizations, which often intertwine or even overlap with the tribal organizations, are active throughout the entire continent and manage illegal traffics with the blessing of national authorities, through a network of informal relations that flourish upon corruption. This is the main cause of the cyclical revolts that invest African countries generating the instability that al-Suri described as the ideal precondition for the penetration of the jihad.
The Maghreb region represents, for obvious geographical reasons, the match point of both legal and illegal trade across the continent. Western colonialism, its military face during the 19th century and the economic one during the second half of the 20th century, did not help African people to emerge from the situation of underdevelopment that still characterize their everyday lives. This, paired with the continuous population growth, makes up for an explosive mix easily to be exploited by radical movements.
Until the outbreak of the so called Arab Spring, with an unfortunate combination of questions of all sorts (while in Prague it was national self-determination at stake, in Maghreb it is the very existence of the people to be in danger) criminal networks did their job through their usual means. It is undeniable how globalization has changed these networks as well, allowing criminal organizations to be in direct contact with their international counterparts and multiplying their ability to provoke harm.
The relationship of interest between organized crime and phenomena of terrorism and insurgency.
The whole area of Sahel-Sahara is crossed by smuggled products headed up north, going in the opposite direction in comparison to weapons and subsidiaries goods. In Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria up to the Egyptian border criminal organizations have the complete control over the many routes of transit. Sometimes due to the fostering of governments, such the Qaddafi one which allowed the illegal trafficking of some Tuareg tribes or more often due to the easy corruption of public officers in order to facilitate the movement of these goods. In other words, the smuggling of illegal goods is flourishing and is generating an enormous economic flow which is enriching local lords, criminal networks, public officers and of course the people in charge. Something has changed, but not for the better. We need to address this problem by talking about Syria where the internal chaos is having a crucial role in the evolution of the Islamic State which, after following the same path of the Assad’s regime, has begun to entertain numerous relationships with tribes’ leaders involved in smuggling and thus is obtaining the right support in exchange for the insurance of being left alone. al-Suri himself encouraged this kind of relationship with the organized crime which he thought of as indispensable for the control over the territory, for economic help and to establish new international relationships. The same situation has taken place in Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia only to name a few. The Somali Shabaab thanks to the use of the harbors in the Indian ocean, especially the one in Chisimaio, have enriched their finances with the smuggling of coal towards the Arabic peninsula, with that of elephants’ fangs from Kenya or even with the blackmailing of Somali pirates that act in their territory of control. In Nigeria Boko haram deals, in the territories under his domain, with the smuggling of goods headed north and has declared his affiliations with the Islamic State. The news is that, whereas in the past organized crime that had control over the smuggling of illegal goods within the continent acted for its own good by establishing relationships with public officers that tolerated these activities in order to have an economic gain, now due to the increasing pressure generated by the dissatisfaction of the lower class and the parallel increase in the African populations organized crime prefers to be allied with insurgent movements that apparently give more hopes for the future. Organized crime acts, under a criminology perspective, as a normal economic business and tends to invest in relationships that will be profitable in the future. Thus the entire situation is highly explosive, to say the least. It’s the same way in which the mafia has operated since the beginning, by combining the interests of politics and the economy and their own. The Mafia model, given its easy reproducibility, is not typically Italian. But that’s a story for another time. Back to business, in what measure have these new relationships shaped this scenery? Criminals and insurgents have found reciprocally profitable to close deals with one another, given the matching of their interests. In some cases it was such a tight match that no differences are detectable between these two categories and are to be considerable as a whole. The primal goal is economic. For organized crime it is about the accumulation of capital to reinvest in new and even more profitable illegal activities, whereas for the insurgents it is about fund raising finalized to their affirmation and political legitimization. In this regard it is imperative for both to gain some kind of control over the territory because for criminals it means dealing the routes of trafficking whereas for insurgent it is about involving the local populations, the administration and the management of primary activities. This whole thing requires many economic resources from the Islamic State within the caliphate. The control over the commercial routes in Africa and Maghreb goes through a series of passages across multiple borders of different States, both thanks to corruption of custom officers and the physical control of unofficial passages. By reading this hypothetical informal geographic map of the different interests present in Maghreb you’d easily find out about the importance of peripheral areas between Libya and Egypt, mostly for the management of migrants directed towards Libya from the Arabic peninsula, and vice-versa, for the flux of cigarettes headed in the opposite directions. Or about the importance of the Libyan-Algerian and Libyan-Tunisian borders where Tripolitania is one of the most important intersection for the different commercial routes. Who is in charge of these important areas of transit is also in charge of a big economic gain. In Libya, today, different armed groups, of various features, fight each other for the control over this areas. Who is in charge manages to have the right relationships with the local organized crime, to thus gain political power thanks to the control of the territory. Many examples would be explanatory enough but the most emblematic one would be the one regarding the Zitan militias who after losing the battle against the forces of Misrata for the control over the airport of Tripoli, important economic intersection, started revolving around south by occupying the territories near the city of Gadames (500 km from Oasi and 568 km southwest of Tripoli. Crossing Azizia, Bir Ghnem, Giosc, Tigi, Nalut, Sinauen, Bir Zograr up to where the borders of Libya, Tunisia and south Algeria converge), fighting off the Tuareg tribes, once supported by the regime, in order to substitute them as the new illegal traffickers of the entire area. Furthermore, Sheba and Kufra are the main Libyan cities through which the whole illegal smuggling from the entire continent goes by. They constitute two key points along the human trafficking route and are controlled by a bunch of local communities made of Berber tribes and Arab ones that are not prone to recognizing one another. Since 2012, right after the fall of the regime, cities have been the stage of violent fights between local tribes, that of Tubu and Awlad Sulayman in particular, for the affirmation of their local supremacy. These fights soon began to move from Sheba to Kufra and demonstrated that the stakes are high and revolve around different interests and that old equilibrium need to be dealt with again.
This particular argument concerns us very much seeing that migrants that land on our coasts come from those two cities. The DA’s office of Palermo has recently issued three different international warrants to arrest the people involved in the recent shipwrecks near the island of Lampedusa. During the investigation a phone call was intercepted and it clearly testifies the involvement of the Libyan organized crime. In particular that of a group of militants commanded by someone that seems pleased by the millions of dollars the organization is gaining thanks to the human trafficking rings. This phone call describes the perverse and dangerous relationship that entails the typical form of organized crimes and the armed militias out of control in Libya. Some of which are already supporters of the Islamic State. In conclusion, answering the question on top, in regards to the situation ex ante in where the regimes were in fact able to control organized crimes, now it is not the case anymore. Big local and transnational criminal networks are looking for new partners reliable enough to organize illegal activities together. Now, if armed militias, even while bearing the flag of the Islamic State, will be able to present themselves as a serious partner for the organized crime, then the decision to collaborate or not will define the final outcome.