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: http://www.hurstpublishers.com/mullah-omars-death-and-the-haqqani-factor/

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.

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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,  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



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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 http://www.aymennjawad.org/2015/06/islamic-state-training-camps-and-military

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.

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Had enough of the Australian Prime Minister’s counter terrorism huffy puffy? I have.

06/21/2015 Leave a comment

Had enough of the Australian Prime Minister’s counter terrorism huffy puffy? I have. I’ve seen Post-it Notes containing more useful insight and strategy than what is being offered up by our PM and by extension his government. So in the spirit of that comment, and as a late substitute for a Cynical Friday post, I offer you a Sunday night Post-it Note summary of National Security and CT by Captain Tony.


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Now before anyone goes and concludes from this that I don’t like him or the coalition, don’t bother.  I don’t like politicians full stop–especially when they politicise CT and make it harder for the  folks out there in CT arenas to do their work.

The politicisation of counter terrorism in Australia is not only infuriating, it is counter productive and the hubris with which politicians of all stripes are approaching the issue is truly disgusting.

In fairness, it’s not a politician’s job to be a specialist on terrorism. It is, however, their job to take advice from agencies that do have expertise in this area. Right now, I see very little of evidence of that happening. If the PM didn’t even consult the relevant ministers on some of the citizenship initiatives presented for ‘discussion’, it’s fairly reasonable to assume the agencies they oversee didn’t get a say.

Even if they did, they would be unlikely to be heard over the din of all of the fear mongering rhetoric that is dished out on an almost daily basis and that serves to do much of the propaganda dirty work for these groups (in direct contravention, I might add, to some of the National Security Public Information Guidelines that stress to government officials to minimise terrorist propaganda but which clearly don’t apply to politicians).

Basically we’re getting a lot of rhetoric and very little in the way of substance. Where is the progress on the new national counter terrorism strategy recommended by the DPMC Review? Where do all of these new initiatives fit into the old strategy or the new one? Has work even started on a new strategy? And where the hell is a white paper on all of this? I’d like the government to put its money where its mouth is and explain the state of play to the Australian public. It should provide a document that outlines how all these measures it is enacting will make for more effective counter terrorism and keep people safe and to do so in a way that shows this is the view shared by people who actually know about and do CT instead of a group of politicians. It’s a not an unreasonable ask.

With so much talk of its national security credentials and wanting to keep Australia safe and have national conversations on counter terrorism issues, it is remarkable that this government hasn’t even managed to author a white paper that would and should do all of this. The DPMC document was excellent, but it is not a white paper, or a strategy.  I’d like to know why this government feels that document was sufficient. But we don’t even get an explanation or update. We get nothing that reflects a whole of government consensus on counter terrorism at the strategic level, presents a balanced assessment from our agencies and explains to the public why all of this is necessary. Instead all we get is Post-it Note politics and an opposition that can’t even get its act together enough to ask some of these questions. It is shameful, and Australians deserve better.


Categories: Commentary

Hostage taking events, media coverage and government broadcast regulation: striking the right balance

06/10/2015 Leave a comment

I have just created a new page to house an extended series my colleague and I authored and from which we’ve drawn for a range of works. With my colleague Nick’s permission I’ve put a copy up here because this really is an important issue that just hasn’t had the traction that it should in Australia — although its relevance extends out to all those countries facing an increasingly complex threat environment. It is not an anti-media piece or an anti-government piece; it attempts to highlight the risks and to spur a discussion on what more can be done to ensure the safety of all those involved in such incidents is protected. A brief abstract follows the longer series of posts, placed here together for ease of reading.

Survivors of the hostage crisis that rocked Paris in January this year recently filed an unprecedented complaint against French media for endangerment and called for a new legal framework to police live coverage of events. The Paris Prosecutor’s Office is now investigating, while French Broadcast authorities are considering further regulatory action. In the aftermath of the Sydney siege, Australia’s media was heavily lauded for its responsible coverage. But it was not without incident or problems, many of which could have resulted in harm to hostages and adversely affected the outcome of the incident. Because they did not, they are unlikely to come to further attention in Australia, but are nonetheless important to consider. Had events unfolded differently in Sydney, legal action similar to that now underway in Paris could be before Australian courts. This should be cause for concern for Australian media and government. It should also stimulate a discussion between them on whether it is time to codify what type of responsible media practices are required when covering such an event and how these might best be regulated. To date, it has not. In this series of posts we outline the risks of such coverage and look at how other countries have attempted to deal with balancing press freedoms with protecting public safety and order before turning to consider what might be an appropriate response for Australia.


Dr Nicholas Gilmour is a Teaching Fellow at Massey University in Wellington teaching Intelligence, Crime and Security and Crime Science. Nicholas is a former British and New Zealand Police Officer and hostage negotiator. Dr Leah Farrall is a Research Associate at the University of Sydney’s USSC, and a Senior Lecturer in Security Studies at Massey University. She was formerly a Counter Terrorism Intelligence Analyst with the Australian Federal Police.

Categories: Commentary

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



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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).

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