International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Tag Archives: terrorism

Attack in Egypt

On December 11, 2016, a bomb went off at a chapel adjacent to Egypt’s main Coptic Christian cathedral, killing 25 and wounding 49.

Amnesty international has stated, “Those responsible for this morning’s reprehensible bombing at a Coptic Christian church in Cairo should be brought to justice in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty”.

Mena (Egypt’s state run news) reported that12 kilograms of TNT explosives were used in this attack. It has mostly killed woman and children, and is the deadliest such attack since the 1st January 2011, when there was a church bombing in Alexandria, which killed 23 people.

President Abdel Farah Al-Sisi has encouraged the people of Egypt to band together, “to emerge victorious in the war against terrorism, which is the battle of all Egyptians”. He has stressed that the authority will take immediate action and will be harsh with its response. The Egyptian government has previously staked its mandate on the fight against Islamic groups, promising to protect the minorities as part of its pledge. This bombing has made the people question whether or not the government can protect them from these types of crimes.muslim-terror-attack-on-egyptian-coptic-church

“The government doesn’t protect us. They can’t protect us against terrorism in general,” said one man.

Egypt has seen a rise in attacks affiliated with ISIS since the former Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, was over thrown in 2003.

After today’s tragic even Egypt has declared three days of mourning.

White House confirms Airstrikes kill two high al Qaeda officials

On Thursday, the White House announced the death of two important al Qaeda officials in a series of airstrikes that occurred in January. One figure, Adam Gadahn, was widely known as the mouthpiece for al Qaeda. Gadahn, an American citizen who grew up in California, converted to Islam in 1995 and left for Pakistan 3 years later. Following 9/11, Gadahn appeared in several propaganda videos making threats and urging Muslims to target any Americans or people with Western ideals. The second official, Ahmed Farouq, was also an American who traveled across seas to join al Qaeda. While not as widely known as Gadahn, Farouq had risen to become the leader of the branch located in India.

While the successful target of these al Qaeda officials is a victory for the U.S. in the War on Terror, it is scary to see how propaganda messages by radical terrorist groups attract citizens of Western nations. Groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Haram have taken to social media in attempts to attract recruits and send messages. Gadahn and Farouq were two of several American/Western citizens that have joined a radical Islamic group and have risen to respected positions within the organization. Due to this increased use of social media by terrorist organizations, Western countries and their allies have to carefully study these methods of propaganda when addressing security concerns, as there are many others who have, and will continue to, join these groups.

UN Special Representative Stresses Role of Sexual Violence in Conflict

In her latest report on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, stressed that sexual violence has been implemented “as a ‘tactic of terror'” meant to target ethnic and religious minorities, as well as homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender individuals. Bangura’s report discusses sexuSRSG in Central African Republical crimes committed by non-State actors, including ISIL, Boko Haram, and Al-Shabaab. These crimes include the abduction, rape, and selling of women and girls into slavery. Bangura also argues that these terrorist groups have been using sexual violence in order to forcefully displace mass amounts of people so that they can use their land for it’s resources or for growing narcotics. Bangura’s report derives from information gathered by UN peacekeeping and political missions, NGO’s, and Member States.

As far as what the international community can do about this, Bangura asserts that the Security Council will have to work with Member States to develop an effective response that will quash this increasing threat. Bangura also notes that it is especially crucial that countries with pervasive sexual violence make a political commitment to dealing with the issue, acknowledging that progress to this end has been made in the DRC, Columbia, Somalia, and Cote d’Ivoire.

Bangura, in an interview previewing the report, also stressed the importance of community and religious engagement in not only helping to understand the nature of the violence, but also in helping the victims get the healing they need. Tackling the issue, according the Bangura, involves capacity-building, technical support, reforming laws, and collaborating with the judiciary to ensure that sexual violence crimes are investigated, perpetrators are prosecuted, and victims are given essential psychological, medical, legal, and livelihood support and services. This is really where a country’s political will come in.

What will be interesting to see is how the international community responds to these allegations made against these terrorist groups, especially since they are non-State actors. Bangura herself notes that this will be a challenge, as these groups are different than the non-State actors that the UN has formerly dealt with. What makes them difficult to deal with is that they are well-organized, have developed structures, have lots of land spread out in many countries, and use up-to-date technology to communicate with their members. To deal with these innovative groups, the UN and the rest of the international community will have to develop new tools and strategies.

Another interesting part of this report is the implication of establishing that sexual crimes have been committed by these actors. While sexual violence has often been viewed as a lesser crime in comparison to other atrocities, there is some precedent for elevating sexual violence crimes to the highest status of crimes, such as we have read about in post-genocide Rwandan justice. Will sexual violence crimes committed by these terrorist groups be elevated to such high status if these groups are ever brought to justice? The answer to this remains to be seen.

Is al-Qaeda’s Reach Dwindling?

For over a decade, al-Qaeda had cemented its reputation as one of the world’s most violent and notorious terrorist groups. However, as ISIS’s brutal and attention-grabbing tactics have hastened its ascension on the world stage, and other groups, such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Somalia’s al-Shabab have also launched violent attacks, al-Qaeda’s profile has slowly, but noticeably, declined.

Over the past several years, western drone strikes have decimated al-Qaeda’s core leadership; most recently, the group confirmed that CIA drone strikes had killed Ahmad Farooq, a Pakistani who both oversaw relations with the Pakistani Taliban and managed al-Qaeda’s south Asia operations, and Qari Abdullah Mansur, a Pakistani who oversaw suicide bombings against NATO troops in the region. The constant and rapid loss of its leadership had severely limited the group’s effectivity; in contrast to ISIS, al-Shabab, and Boko Haram, all of which are repeatedly demonstrating their international reach, al-Qaeda’s last successful international operation was the bombing of the London subway system, which was about a decade ago. The scope of al-Qaeda’s reach has dwindled drastically, and the group has relegated itself to focusing on attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Although al-Qaeda and its subsidiaries — particularly its branch in Yemen — remain powerful and dangerous players on the international stage, its capacity and notoriety has diminished.

Al-Shabaab Gunmen Attack Christians at Kenyan University

Early this morning, Islamist gunmen associated with Al-Shabaab, a Somali group dedicated to turning Somalia into a fundamentalist Islamic state, attacked Christians at Garissa University College. 70 have been reported killed and many others have been taken hostage. As far as Al-Shabaab goes, the group taking responsibility for the attack, the group is labeled as an international terrorist organization that has been blamed for several attacks in Somalia killing international aid workers, journalists, members of civil society, and AU peacekeepers. It also has committed acts of terrorism abroad, claiming responsibility for the Kampala, Uganda bombings in 2010.


President Kenyatta, a controversial figure by his own right, has called for the inspector-general of police “to take urgent steps” to ensure a boost in security personnel, noting that the nation is in dire need of more officers.

According to witnesses, the gunmen separated students according to their religion. Muslim students were allowed to leave, while Christian students were held hostage. Such religious targeting calls into mind the terror that Boko Haram, a militant Muslim group in Nigeria, has been reaping on Christians in the nation. Boko Haram is also committed to overthrowing the Nigerian government in order to replace it with an Islamic State. ISIS, an extremist militant Islamic movement, also has its stated aim of expanding its caliphate in the name of fundamental Islam. Such terrorist groups all seem to have in mind the goal of overthrowing existing order and replacing it with fundamental Islamic States. Given the sensitive nature of such conflicts revolving around religious difference, it will be interesting to see the role taken by the West and the United States in combating such terrorist organizations. Moreover, such conflicts bring to the forefront the issue of classifying violence that is targeted against groups because of their religion. Can such killings constitute a form of genocide? Is the international community compelled to act against such crimes as human rights violations?

For the full story, click here.

Can the ICC Prosecute Boko Haram?

August of last year Boko Haram, a terrorist organization based in northeastern Nigeria, made headlines when the International Criminal Court (ICC) reported that there was reason to believe that the group had committed crimes against humanity. According to a UN News Centre article at the time, the report detailed that the group had launched systematic attacks that resulted in the death of over 1,200 Christian and Muslim civilians since July 2009. More recently, on March 2nd, Boko Haram killed at least 90 people in two separate bomb attacks in northern Nigeria. Last month, according International Christian Concern and Associated Press, Boko Haram attacked a secondary school that left approximately 100 people dead.

Boko Haram’s indiscriminate attacks towards civilians leave little room for debate; the group should be tried for crimes against humanity. As a part to the Rome Statue, the ICC has the right to investigate the group, as well as the allegations that the government has not done enough to prevent the attacks.

AP Photo/Jossy Ola

AP Photo/Jossy Ola

The challenge lies, however, in Boko Haram’s decentralized command structure which makes identifying perpetrators extremely challenging. The leadership of group lies with a 30-person Shura council, with each member overseeing the activity of a cell of militants focused on a particular geographic areas. Members outside of the Shura council are generally unaware of the operations of other cells. As such, cells can operate independently from the concerns and vulnerabilities of other cells. Details on its leadership structure are scarce and a continued source of frustration for investigators.

The secretive and cell-like structure of the organization are clearly designed to avoid compromising the organization if a member or cell is captured. The group’s focus on local grievances, its decentralized structure, and secretive nature make the possibility of prosecution, let alone peace negotiations, seem unlikely. In such a situation, the ICC will need to create new and innovative ways to gather evidence in order to indicted Boko Haram’s worst perpetrators. What may be even more concerning, however, is how dependent the ICC’s success at indicting such perpetrators may be linked to the government’s ability to end the group’s activity.

Saudi Arabia’s New Terrorism Law

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Pictured: Kind Abdullah, Saudi Arabia

Human rights activists were shocked this week when Saudi Arabia put into effect a new terrorism law that enables the government to prosecute “anyone who demands reform, exposes corruption or otherwise engages in dissent.” Activists also say that merely “exposing corruption” could be seen as a violation of the anti-terrorism law.

The new law gives “broad powers,” which grant police the ability to raid homes and track internet activity on any suspicion of anti-government activity.  Security services are able to investigate these “suspicious cases” and need no prior approval from a judge or superior to do so.  Additionally, suspects can also be held incommunicado for 90 days and it is not necessary for lawyers to be present during the initial interrogation.  A UN special reporter on torture stated: “Torture is most frequently practiced during incommunicado detention.”

The new law defines terrorism as any criminal act that “destabilizes the society’s security or the state’s stability or exposes its national unity to harm.” Some terrorist acts include “disabling the ruling system” or “offending the nation’s reputation.”

Activists say the new law is a new attempt to keep the Al Saud family in control of the country. Saudi Arabia is one of the last countries in the world to have an absolute monarchy.  Every decision is made by King Abdullah, with no parliament to give input. The government has felt pressure from the country since the Arab Spring protests and there have been greater demands for democratic reform int he country.

In 2011, the government attempted to implement a similar law, but it was sidelined after human rights groups leaked a copy of the document online.  Since the incident, many activists have been detained and several rights groups have been shut down.  The Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights was one of the groups shut down and one of the founders, Al-Shubaily, is facing trial: 

“‘If I call for the release of someone from jail for being held longer than their sentence, I can be tried for ‘asking the state to take action,’” Mr Al-Shubaily said.  “When I call for a constitutional monarchy, I can now be charged with terrorism. They characterise you as a terrorist because you ask the kingdom to do something it does not want to do.’” 

Not only may this new law affect those within Saudi Arabia, but also international journalists and organizations abroad which “scrutinize Saudi Arabia’s human rights record could be targeted for prosecution in the kingdom,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Is this a circumstance in which the ICC should or might intervene? (Although Saudi Arabia is not currently signed onto the Rome Statute). The new law cannot be equated with mass murder cases, but is it worth an ICC investigation? Activists have expressed worry about the new law, especially due to its broad definitions, enabling the government to prosecute virtually anyone under it.


“Terrorism: Crime and Punishment”

I attended an event hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs last Thursday entitled “Terrorism: Crime and Punishment,” featuring Ambassador Thomas Pickering, Ambassador David Scheffer, and Thomas P. Sullivan. The event was a moderated discussion on post 9/11 justice and Guantanamo Bay. Though Ambassador Pickering was the main speaker of the event, Ambassador Scheffer’s comments gave me pause. He mentioned that he believed that the Bush administration after 9/11 should have set up an international tribunal with cooperation from the UN and the international community to deal with suspected terrorists instead of hiding them away in Guantanamo Bay. He believes that if these tribunals had been set up from the beginning the US could have avoided the bad press associated with detaining 50 suspected terrorists in Guantanamo for 12 years without sufficient evidence to hold them. I was surprised at the time that he would suggest international tribunals, but later realized that he was a former US ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues and a special expert on UN assistance to the Khmer Rouge trials. But though he does have an interesting point I am not sure it would have been feasible. His justification is that we would have gotten the international community on our side from the beginning, we might not have gotten involved in the never-ending conflict in the Middle East that we are in currently, and we would not be embroiled in a public relations nightmare over the U.S.’s use of torture in Guantanamo. But based on everything we have read about the use of international tribunals, would the UN or the ICC have agreed to hold a tribunal? The scale of the problem was nowhere near what it was in other countries, and like with the tribunals in Yugoslavia, the courts’ decision to set up a tribunal in the US to prosecute an event that happens regularly in other countries could have been accused of racism.  Also the ICC is supposed to be a court of last resort, utilized when the local judicial system no longer has the infrastructure to prosecute crimes. But I think the biggest problem would be ensuring a neutral court, as the US is such an influential member of the UN. Emotions were running very high after 9/11 and the courts must protect their legitimacy in the eyes of the world. I think if a tribunal were set up to prosecute suspected terrorists after 9/11 accusations of racism and bias would follow the courts. Though in 2001 Ambassador Scheffer advocated for an international tribunal he now believes it is too late and that instead the 50 prisoners in Guantanamo should be held as prisoners of war inside the United States as they were captured and detained under the rules of war. Though I do not believe an international tribunal after 9/11 would have been feasible or desirable, what are your thoughts?