Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A blog post I did for Hurst Publishers about Mullah Omar’s death and the Haqqani factor

08/05/2015 Leave a comment

You can find the post here:

Aside from this, I’m sitting back and waiting before writing anything else, much like most other folks who have studied the group, because things are quite fluid now.

I wrote this piece because a few things jumped out at me as I read through the Taliban statements.

What piqued my curiosity was the reference to Omar living in Afghanistan for 14 years, which would place the time of his death sometime between May and July of 2015, if this is a true statement of fact.

The other thing that got me curious was the wording of the Haqqani statement and what it might portend for peace talks moving forward, as it seemed there was a positioning against this.

Meanwhile, I’m watching with interest to see what unfolds with the Political Office, and the reported resignations etc.

Categories: Uncategorized

Some links to background on Taliban history

08/03/2015 2 comments

I’m in the process of attempting to pull something together on the recent leadership change in the Taliban and how it has handled the focus of ISIS on the region. This might take a little while, and I’m not inclined to rush these things nor can I when juggling teaching responsibilities alongside kicking off a new project.

In the meantime, I’ve put together some links to book reviews and podcasts in which the history of the Taliban and its relations with a range of Arab groups and their relations with one another are discussed. These are drawn from or reference my book with Mustafa Hamid, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan which was released a little while ago.


From ‘Freedom Fighters to the Islamic State: The Mutation of Jihad  [Myra McDonald for War on the Rocks]

The Arabs at War in Afghanistan [ Justin Vela for The National]

Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan: an insider’s perspective [John Zubrzycki for The Australian]


From Afghanistan to Syria, an evolution of militancy 


Sources and Methods #17



Categories: Uncategorized

A little tidbit of interest about IS training and foreign deployment

06/25/2015 1 comment

I have been doing some reading instead of writing this afternoon and came across this interesting snippet over at Aymenn’s website

He has some source material outlining training and deployment. With his cautions about source veracity noted, I was interested in how closely this material appears to mirror training regimes in other militant salafist groups. What jumped out at me in particular was this mention about screening and deployment to various functional areas within IS:

4. The Caliphate army (choice depends on stern conditions the most important being not thinking of marriage and service will be in the lands of the Caliphate in the wilayats outside of Iraq and al-Sham, and other conditions).

The “not thinking of marriage” jumped out because although this implies deployment is for military service, so to speak, the language has echoes of the wording AQ uses for its external operations selections processes when it sends people out to do ‘work’ in the west, or in other locations away from where it has a base of operations. This may not be the case here but nonetheless that is what came to mind as I read it.  Although as I’m typing (this is a think out loud blog post folks)  I’m also remembering that in the past “marriage” has also been code for a suicide attack. So in coded terminology, it could mean those who are not thinking about martyrdom operations, not that it seems to be the case in this listing. Anyway, I found it quite interesting. Then too is the interesting question of why, if they’re deploying to other wilayats, would wanting to marry while there be frowned upon. Usually marrying locally is seen as a good thing. Is this potentially indicative of problems with marrying locally? Or does it mean they’re not actually going somewhere where they could easily marry, i.e. they’re not actually going to another wilayat? It’s very curious.

Also interesting was the mentions of the textbooks used. More sharia focus too in this account of training than what I have seen in other groups.  I’d be curious if this is a new addition relating to command and control issues IS is facing, particularly in relation to keeping the foreign volunteers in check, or the quality of these new arrivals in general, or whether it is aimed more at group cohesion more generally. In any event, it is interesting. More soon on these issues as this is what I’m gearing up to start writing about, among other things.


On my internet wanderings, I just read this piece Me and Abu Taubah and the below comment highlights why the extra  Sharia focus in training.

Aside from a lesson in scripted jihadi responses, our exchanges brought me insight into an individual who perhaps lacked the absolute conviction he first tried to project. It left me wondering how many others in the seemingly impenetrable Isis army could also be having doubts.

Categories: Uncategorized

My book — The Arabs at War in Afghanistan — is now available

05/13/2015 Leave a comment

Hi all,

My book with Mustafa Hamid is now available! Unfortunately, I didn’t get enough notice of the release date to organise the launch that I’d hoped to do, which was very disappointing, but at least it is out. You can get it via the below links


North America


Everywhere else



Categories: Uncategorized

Terror threat for all police in Australia raised to high, in line with national alert level – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

01/20/2015 Leave a comment

See the below article link for more detail. The UK also raised its threat level a few days ago if memory serves.

FWIW, this is entirely unsurprising, as those I was chatting with in Europe and elsewhere in recent times while on conference junket would remember as the topic came up on more than one occasion. The rising threat to LEA and first responders more generally has been there for a while. The arrests in Belgium may have heightened the sense of immediacy in terms of active plotting but we’ve already had police officers stabbed in Australia. And let’s also not forget that direct operational guidance has been released by ISIS instructing that LEA and others be specifically targeted.  The guidance didn’t directly specify other first responders but when I read it at the timeI did wonder if this might mean we’d also see an uptick in attacks / hostage takings etc against other first responders, not only ambulance and fire, but also media arriving at the scene.

Obviously the threat is not only in relation to Australia, but is a broader trend.  What is interesting to me is that in the western context it is something that’s clearly come in large part from an interplay of ISIS operational guidance, demographics, and of course on the ground radicalisation dynamics. But in other non-western contexts other dynamics and groups are at play. I’ll try to update this post a little later with some more on why ISIS has chosen to focus on LEA as a target as well as some thoughts on another group I think are going to be increasingly targeted, and that’s the media.

There’s no corresponding ‘threat’ level for other sectors but I have often wondered if media fully appreciate how and why they could be targeted. There’s an awful lot of reporting on how things have changed in the terror landscape but very little introspection on the part of media as to what it means for them.

There is certainly a limited appreciation of how media reporting influences threat and outcome. You could try saying it until you turned blue in the face, (and I should clarify here that many do understand) but I think the only way that lesson is going to get learned in the broader industry context is when media is directly targeted — not for cartoons or anything to do with free speech but just because terrorists see media as a good target.  I wonder how many think their TV studio for example is something that could be targeted and for what reasons and by whom. That came up in an Australian context recently with some reporting relating to the Sydney siege, and it got me thinking about the broader implications and targeting patterns we might see in the future.

Anyway, this is just a think out loud post that I might update some more tonight once I finish my teaching prep work I had slated to do and if my supply of snacks doesn’t run out (-:

Terror threat for all police in Australia raised to high, in line with national alert level – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

Categories: Uncategorized

Declaring the Sydney Siege as Terrorism for Insurance Purposes?

01/19/2015 Leave a comment

So, I’m a bit late in ploughing through all the reading I’ve stashed away, but the announcement a little while back that the Treasurer has declared the siege at Martin Place as a terrorist event for insurance purposes has me interested. For those outside of Australia, the background to this stems from the Terrorism Insurance Act of 2003. The Treasurer’s announcement was as follows:

Following the tragic events at the Martin Place Lindt Café in December 2014, I have today declared the siege a “terrorist incident” for the purposes of the Terrorism Insurance Act. Prior to making this decision, appropriate consultation was undertaken with the Attorney-General and a number of stakeholders, including the Insurance Council of Australia. The Government has taken this action to ensure businesses that suffered damages from the incident will not be denied claims due to terrorism exclusions in their insurance policies. The effect of this ministerial declaration is that insurers will be prevented from refusing claims from affected businesses on the basis that their policies exclude losses from acts of terrorism.

There is a really interesting article going into this from the insurance perspective, which you can find here. Anyway, I’m no lawyer, but this decision got me thinking about the precedent it sets, and the forthcoming government reviews about the incident, and potential liabilities or issues with precedent moving forward — because unfortunately the incident is not likely to be the last Australia faces. I was curious because (and I could be wrong here)  it did not seem as if the full CT apparatus was stood up or activated in response to the siege, presumably with very good reason. But yet, there’s this designation/declaration for insurance purposes.  That got me thinking about what might happen if there is fault found at some point in the reviews etc, relating to either preventability or response.

Maybe I’m totally off the mark here but declaring an event as terrorism, before the reviews are out, does seem to set a little bit of a precedent, and given the changes in the types of threats authorities are dealing with, I just wonder if all the future implications of this have been thought through. Anyway, this is more a think out loud post in which I may be eating a lot of humble pie for being wrong but I’m curious and so anyone who does have insight into this I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Meanwhile, I had been planning a post on legacy networks and reviews, inspired in part by an email exchange with Tim Holman @atgm2010. It is still coming but I have accidentally ended up on a somewhat distracting but ultimately very useful tangent–I’ve been re-reading the inquest witness statements from intel services in relation to the 7/7 attacks in the UK.  If nothing else they’ll provide some useful real work declass examples I can draw upon to better explain what I’m blathering on about in terms of groups, networks and methods of analysis framed in the Paris context and looking forward more generally. That’s keeping me occupied and what I’ll be posting on in relation to Paris. I have no interest in adding to the mound of stuff about ISIS and AQ in relation to this and as I’ve chatted about with several other people whose work I deeply respect, anyone who makes any definitive claim in respect to this is basically talking out of their behind. It means only what people make of it, and nothing of what actually is or might be, because simply put we just don’t know. Anyway, I might plough through that in time to post on Friday, which would make it my first cynical Friday post in a really long time. A happy week to you all.

Categories: Uncategorized

A few things

01/05/2015 1 comment


Hi all

I thought I might start the new year of with a post of a few things I’ve done over the past year or so, since I’ve been updating my records of what I’ve been up to (which is called avoiding the stack of reading I promised myself I’d get done over the holidays, and which has remained untouched).

First up I went to some amazing conferences and workshops.

I kicked off with Alliance 21 in Canberra in July, where I got to indulge my not so secret often confused inner realist with lots of good conversation and talks about the Asia Pacific region. The full videos are here


I stopped off on the way home to do a quick interview in Sydney with the 7:30 Report, which I’ll post later if I can find it.

Then in early August, it was back to Sydney for a visit to SBS studios to participate in an Insight episode on young men wanting to join the fight in Syria and Iraq.

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 1.30.21 am


The full video is available here

For those of you overseas who might have seen the news of recent CT arrests… one of the main participants in this program (the young man on the bottom right) was one of those arrested.  I think his comments on the  program gave good insight into how young people can be so easily swayed but overall the program really didn’t do justice to the views of others on the show including but not limited to the wonderful efforts of the Australian Muslim Youth, members of whom were on the show and who do such valuable work in community outreach in what must at times be very trying circumstances It was good to see them have a voice, but I’d like to see mainstream media in Australia focus more on their efforts instead of giving political oxygen to those radicalised to extreme views.

After that it was a mad rush to get sorted to go to the inaugural VoxPol conference on Violent Online Political Extremism, at which I gave a presentation, but more importantly got to finally meet a host of awesome folks whose work I deeply admire starting with the lady of the moment responsible for it all, the rather awesome Maura Conway. I also managed to meet Thomas Hegghammer, Alex Hitchens, Peter Neuman, Shiraz Maher, Aaron Zelin and a host of others, talked an amazing amount of shop, accidentally consumed a few drinks also known as capacity building with these folks and otherwise had a great time.

capacity building


Then I moved on to do my field research and enjoy a little time out in Europe.

In November I was fortunate enough to attend the United States Studies Centre and Griffith University’s International Dialogue on Women in Leadership, which was an amazing and very inspiring event attending by some truly incredible women including our former Governor General, and the head of Oxfam Winnie Byanyima. I pestered as many people as I could for advice and came away with some great insights. It was a very welcome respite to be in a room almost solely filled by accomplished and successful women and I realised I have to get out more to events like this. I was also thrilled to get to finally meet Yassmin Abdel-Magied who I have long followed on twitter though sadly we didn’t get too much time for a chat.

A few days later I headed off to a foreign fighters workshop in Melbourne where I got to meet up with Thomas and Aaron again, meet Magnus Ranstorp, whose work was so important in influencing me to get into this field of study a long time ago, the rather awesome Tim Holman,  Clint Watts whose company we all really enjoyed, Dan Mori for whom I have nothing but admiration, Andrew Zammit whose work if you are not following you should and who I was so pleased to hear is going to pursue doctoral studies in this area, and the man of the moment who brought it all together David Malet. Here too I got to talk a ridiculous amount of shop and had a great time hanging out with the guys, in between juggling some other stuff I had to do whilst in town, having an accidental shopping bender and of course sneaking in a few not so accidental this time drinks with the guys.

So that was a fun filled, always informative group of conferences and workshops with some great people.

I’ve also done a little bit of media of late, mostly radio because I hate TV with a passion (you can’t do an interview in your PJ’s for TV, and with the time differences they’re almost always impossible to arrange anyway.) That said I did get talked into appearing on CNN, which will probably be my first and last appearance since I was tired and cranky owing to repeated efforts to link the Sydney siege to ISIS.

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 2.26.53 am

I really enjoyed the radio chats I had with the folks over at Radio National’s Religion and Ethics Report, one of which was on al-Shabab and the other on the Sydney siege.

Lastly I didn’t get much research pushed out this year because I was tied up with book processes that felt like they would never end but we got there and I’m told the book is now in print and due to hit stores in the United Kingdom and United States soon.



I’m not sure about an Australian publisher yet, or elsewhere. That’s on my list of things to do but with amazon it doesn’t really  matter anyway.  I’m so grateful to Greg, Jason, Alex and Barnett Rubin for their wonderful endorsements. I’m also very grateful to Yassin Musharbash for his wonderful considered piece translated here from German that included an interview with Mustafa and I in Alexandria.

I did however manage to put out one substantive piece of research, working alongside Felix Keuhn and Alex Strick Van Linschoten. We produced an Expert Report for the Talha Ahsan case in the US which focussed on the groups and training that took place in Afghanistan, and radicalisation and recruitment trajectories during that time frame. You have to scroll through quite a bit to get to our report. Most of it was my research that fell out of my PhD and other research endeavours, or drew from Alex and Felix’s books or my forthcoming book. I was really grateful for the opportunity to work with the guys and it went a long way to killing off some of the issues with writing blocks I’d had.

Anyway, that’s about it for this past year. For the rest of it I’ve been busy teaching security studies, which has been a welcome respite from terrorism and insurgency all of the time. Over the break I sat down and planned out my research and teaching objectives for the next little while and so I’ll be posting some more about them soon and hopefully getting my new blog Securified ready to go live next month and figuring out a better way to manage multiple twitter accounts and a truly scary looking RSS feed.




Categories: Uncategorized

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