Master of Islamist doublespeak

The Swiss Islamic activist Tariq Ramadan has been invited by Griffith University to be the keynote speaker at its conference opening in Brisbane today. The fact that Australia is allowing Ramadan to enter the country at all will raise eyebrows in security circles elsewhere. Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood: the spiritual backers of al-Qa’ida and Hamas and whose goal is to Islamise the world. While it is, of course, unfair to tar someone with his grandfather’s views, there is ample reason to think that in the case of Tariq Ramadan the apple has not fallen far from the tree. Ramadan has been banned from entering the US because of his alleged association with extremists. The Geneva Islamic Centre, with which he is closely associated, has been linked to terrorists of the Algerian FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) and the GIA (Armed Islamic Group). A Spanish police report claimed that Ahmed Brahim, an al-Qa’ida leader jailed in Spain, was “in frequent contact” with Ramadan, a claim he has denied. Yet the Swiss activist has not only been allowed into Britain but is ensconced at St Anthony’s College, Oxford as a research fellow and is much lionised by the British establishment, appearing at security seminars on Islamism and even serving as an adviser to the British Government on tackling Islamic extremism. So how to explain this wild divergence of views about Tariq Ramadan? And does Australia have cause to be concerned?

Radicalization in the West

The NYPD’s understanding of the threat from Islamic-based terrorism to New York City has evolved since September 11, 2001. While the threat from overseas remains, terrorist attacks or thwarted plots against cities in Europe, Australia and Canada since 2001 fit a different paradigm. Rather than being directed from al-Qaeda abroad, these plots have been conceptualized and planned by “unremarkable” local residents/citizens who sought to attack their country of residence, utilizing al-Qaeda as their inspiration and ideological reference point.

Some of these cases include:

  • Madrid’s March 2004 attack
  • Amsterdam’s Hofstad Group
  • London’s July 2005 attack
  • Australia’s Operation Pendennis (which thwarted an attack(s) in November 2005)
  • The Toronto 18 Case (which thwarted an attack in June 2006)

Where once we would have defined the initial indicator of the threat at the point where a terrorist or group of terrorists would actually plan an attack, we have now shifted our focus to a much earlier point-a point where we believe the potential terrorist or group of terrorists begin and progress through a process of radicalization. The culmination of this process is a terrorist attack.

Understanding this trend and the radicalization process in the West that drives “unremarkable” people to become terrorists is vital for developing effective counter- strategies and has special importance for the NYPD and the City of New York. As one of the country’s iconic symbols and the target of numerous terrorist plots since the 1990’s, New York City continues to be among the top targets of terrorists worldwide.

In order to test whether the same framework for understanding radicalization abroad applied within the United States, we analyzed three U.S. homegrown terrorism cases and two New York City based cases:

  • • Lackawana, New York
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Northern Virginia
  • New York City – Herald Square Subway
  • New York City – The Al Muhajiroun Two

The same radicalization framework was applied to a study of the origins of the Hamburg cluster of individuals, who led the September 11 hijackers. This assessment, almost six years after 2001, provides some new insights, previously not fully-grasped by the law enforcement and intelligence community, into the origins of this devastating attack.