Terrorism

C plus

June 2014

The Global Governance Report Card grades international performance in addressing today's most daunting challenges. It seeks to inspire innovative and effective responses from global and U.S. policymakers to address them.

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Subject

  • Average

    Establishing Counterterrorism Norms

    Given that projections indicated that global deaths resulting from terrorism attacks escalated in 2013, the lack of advances in building consensus on counterterrorism norms was disappointing. That said, some commendable, if modest, progress occurred. The Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) released three best practice frameworks on countering violent extremism and assisting terrorism victims. These standards, derived from international discussions, provide guidance on important issues like community-oriented policies to counter violent extremism and globally recognized measures to help terrorism victims and their families participate in legal proceedings against suspects. The GCTF also announced a number of initiatives to build norms to deal with challenges like the treatment of foreign fighters, kidnapping for ransom, and the role of the judiciary in ensuring that the rule of law prevails. Finally, in June, the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute and the Hague International Centre for Counter-Terrorism hosted the GCTF Prison Deradicalization and Reintegration Plenary Meeting [PDF], to develop best practices relating specifically to psychological aspects of prison deradicalization and reintegration of terrorists into society.

    Yet, agreement on a comprehensive counterterrorism convention continued to elude UN negotiators, in part because countries could not agree on a consensus definition of terrorism. This inertia stalled progress on codifying new rules on important issues like the prosecution of terrorist suspects. Furthermore, though seven countries, including Canada, France, Iraq, and Afghanistan ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, substantive progress toward establishing this critical norm was stalled by its pending status in important countries, ranging from the United States to Malaysia and Israel.

  • Good

    Combating Terrorist Financing

    Global efforts to combat terrorist financing merited praise in 2013. International organizations and individual countries alike built on past progress. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) adopted a new methodology to assess countries' compliance with FATF recommendations, the internationally recognized standards for preventing terrorists from obtaining funds to carry out attacks. The methodology stipulates that assessments will examine and grade technical compliance—in terms of legal and institutional implementation—as well as the actual effectiveness of each country’s framework in producing results.

    In Turkey, FATF also demonstrated its influence over countries’ implementation of legal frameworks to fight terrorism. Threatened by expulsion from FATF, which would have triggered restrictions on its financial institutions operating abroad and on its government borrowing, Turkey passed a landmark counterterrorist financing law in February. The long-awaited legislation authorized the Turkish national Federal Crimes Investigation Board to freeze assets of persons or organizations suspected of terrorist involvement.

    The U.S. Treasury also continued to strategically add and remove [PDF] individuals from the list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons throughout the year. This ensured that an individual’s assets were blocked if they were participating in terrorist organizations or facilitating illicit transactions related to the funding of terrorist activity. Furthermore, the Treasury Department continued to enforce sanctions against countries, such as Syria [PDF] and Iran [PDF] that undermine international security by supporting and facilitating terrorism. (The interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries—United States, United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany— allowed Iran temporary relief from select sanctions in return for temporarily halting enrichment of uranium, but tight counterterrorist financing sanctions remained in place.)

    In addition, the European Union decided in July to add the military wing of Hezbollah to its terrorism blacklist, in light of the group’s involvement in bombings in Bulgaria and terrorist activity in Syria. The resulting sanctions froze all of the group’s assets in Europe, cutting off access to funds and fundraising for terrorist activities.

    Yet, efforts to thwart terrorist financing were diluted by the continued funding, suspected or explicit, of terrorist-designated groups by states including Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In addition, near the end of the review period, political discord over revelations of U.S. spying on cyber-communications threatened cooperation between the EU and the United States, which is crucial for combating terrorist financing. The European Parliament demanded that European countries suspend the EU-U.S. Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme, under which the EU and United States share bank data. Though cooler heads ultimately prevailed, the hiccup underscored the vulnerability of past progress—and the “good” assessment in this category—to diplomatic frictions.

  • Good

    Stemming the Threat of WMD Terrorism

    The need to safeguard nuclear and other WMD materials from falling into the hands of terrorist organizations or other nefarious actors remained a priority in 2013. As Syria’s civil war raged on, concerns mounted that the country’s chemical weapons facilities could become exposed to attack or infiltration by terrorist groups seeking to take advantage of the unstable environment. In the end, it was the Syrian government’s use of such weapons that led the United Nations Security Council to authorize a mission by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to identify and destroy the country’s chemical weapons facilities, materials, and existing stockpiles.

    On the nuclear front, the U.S. strategy of eliminating the core leadership of major terrorist groups was successful in weakening the select few groups who have the capability or the desire to access and use a nuclear weapon, including al-Qaeda central. By continuing to reduce their nuclear stockpiles, the United States and Russia further reduced the probability that excess fissile materials will leak onto the black market. Their efforts included the conclusion in April of a multilateral initiative transferring all remaining highly enriched uranium (HEU) in the Czech Republic to Russia, where it will be down-blended. The Czech Republic is now the tenth country from which all HEU was removed since the United States and Russia announced their initiative in 2009 to secure all vulnerable fissile material globally.

    Furthermore, despite high diplomatic tensions, the United States and Russia both continued to adhere to agreements to eliminate superfluous fissile material that could pose a threat if it fell into the wrong hands. In June, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced that, under the HEU Purchase Agreement with Russia, the NNSA had managed to eliminate nearly 500 metric tons, or 95 percent of the agreed total, of Russian HEU—enough fissile material to build 19,000 nuclear weapons.

    In August, the NNSA also signed an agreement with the Chinese customs agency to renew cooperation between the two countries to deter, detect, and interdict illegal smuggling of nuclear materials. This agreement demonstrated that U.S.-China cooperation to reduce the threat of WMD terrorism continued to increase, notwithstanding sometimes rough diplomatic waters. The accord provided for U.S. assistance to high-priority Chinese seaports, including the enhancement of radiation detection systems, training for port officials to react to radiation alerts, and supplying communication systems. The same week, the NNSA and the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a similar initiative in the South American country.

    More problematically, the future of the U.S.-Russian program for securing fissile material in former nuclear weapon states appeared dim after the two countries failed to negotiate a follow-up agreement to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.

  • Poor

    Fighting Terrorism While Protecting Human Rights

    During the review period, respect for human rights in counterterrorism operations remained weak. The targeted killing of terrorists and terrorist suspects continued to spark severe global controversy. On the one hand, some experts argued that drone strikes have been instrumental in eliminating core terrorist leadership and denying terrorists safe haven, while limiting collateral damage. Throughout the year, however, major watchdogs like Human Rights Watch continued to object that these killings violate international laws governing warfare. Furthermore, the number of civilian casualties resulting from targeted drone strikes damages the legitimacy of counterterrorism operations.

    Also of concern, in a number of countries [PDF] from China and Russia, to Turkey and the Gulf states, governments persisted in using counterterrorism laws as a political tool to quell opposition. During the review period for instance, the United Nations condemned the Chilean government for citing counterterrorism legislation to justify the use of indiscriminate and disproportionate force against Mapuche indigenous communities during land protests. Similarly, governments applied counterterrorist legislation to silence journalists. Turkey's use of anti-terror laws to imprison over 8,000 journalists in 2013 alone, sometimes with life sentences, stood out as particularly egregious.

    To be sure, the Global Counterterrorism Forum proceeded with the establishment of an International Institute of Justice and the Rule of Law. This body, based in Malta, will serve as a training center for criminal justice and rule of law officials, particularly from North, West, and East Africa, who process terrorism cases. Planned training programs will focus specifically on respect for human rights and pillar four of the UN Counterterrorism Strategy, which underscores “the critical role” of rule of law and human rights in bringing terrorist suspects to justice. U.S. secretary of state John Kerry announced that the institute will open its doors in 2014. Nevertheless, these initiatives will address only a fraction of the human rights concerns in counterterrorism activities.

  • Average

    Developing Effective Terrorism Prevention Strategies

    Counterradicalization and deradicalization strategies are vital to preventing people from resorting to terrorism, and most countries continued to move in the right direction to strengthen these efforts during 2013. The Global Counterterrorism Forum, co-chaired by the United States and Turkey, included noteworthy achievements. One welcome innovation was the creation of a Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience, which will identify promising nongovernmental institutions, civil society groups, or local government bodies that require funding to implement valuable programs. Second, the GCTF launched programs like the International Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism in Abu Dhabi, which deserves modest praise for efforts to bridge the gap between influential policymakers and experts in countering violent extremism in its first year of operations.

    Furthermore, in light of the recent military interventions against terrorist groups in Mali and Somalia, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted a Political Declaration on a Common Position Against Terrorism. This included a new Counter-Terrorism Strategy and Implementation Plan, which emphasizes the necessity of coordinated terrorism prevention strategies at the regional as well as international level. It also stipulated that a terrorist attack against one ECOWAS member state constituted an attack against all, which lay a vital foundation for ECOWAS countries to build more cooperative prevention strategies, as well as response mechanisms.

    Despite these efforts, the threat of terrorism continued to grow in places like Iraq, Syria, Libya, the Sahel, and Sinai. This suggested that international terrorism prevention strategies to quell the growing tide of new and existing terrorist threats were not sufficient.

Leader

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United States

Gold Star

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Global Counterterrorism Forum

Most Improved

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Financial Action Task Force

laggard

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Iraq

Nigeria

Truant

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Pakistan

Detention

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Iran

Class Evaluation

The United States deserves recognition as a class leader for sustaining momentum against transnational terrorism, providing significant financing and technical support for capacity-building initiatives around the world, and for continuing to build a wide range of bilateral relationships that have prevented terrorist attacks in a number of instances.

Once again, the United States led the international “class” in combating transnational terrorism. In the past year, the United States continued to support anti­money laundering initiatives and the international implementation of frameworks to prevent terrorist financing. It also contributed to securing fissile material the world over–including by suggesting reductions in its own stockpiles, along with those of Russia—to prevent WMD terrorism. In addition, the United States also provided assistance to Mali, Nigeria, and Somalia, among others, to help fight the growing threat of terrorism in North Africa. Finally, the U.S. campaign to eliminate al-Qaeda’s top leadership dealt additional blows to the group’s central core in 2013, though splinter factions grew stronger during the year.

The Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), a U.S.-Turkish initiative that gathers counterterrorism officials and practitioners from around the world to boost international communication and coordination, is still comparatively young but its initial contributions earned the forum a gold star. These included releasing best-practice framework documents and related initiatives that provide policy guidance and legal advice on matters ranging from paying ransom for kidnappings to prosecuting suspected terrorists. The GCTF also expanded efforts to rehabilitate terrorists and announced the creation of the Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience, which will support grassroots efforts to counter violent extremism and is expected to raise more than $200 million from GCTF members in the next ten years. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), meanwhile, continued to improve their sterling work as the global leader for combating terrorist financing. In February, FATF introduced a new methodology to assess the effectiveness of member states’ counterterrorist financing frameworks. The multilateral body thus earned the status of “most improved,” despite beginning the year with high marks.

Iraq and Nigeria were the class laggards in 2013, as governments in both countries failed to contain the rising threat of terrorism within their borders, and actually exacerbated sectarian instability by marginalizing minorities. In Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s disregard for minority rights and oppression of the political opposition stoked frustration within the Sunni community, which extremists exploited. Nigeria (with the help of the United States) also made nascent attempts to control the expansion of terrorist groups within and surrounding its borders. However, the Abuja government failed to address the underlying regional concerns, including widespread poverty and marginalization of the northern Nigerian population, while undermining its own counterterrorism efforts with its heavy-handed military approach to Boko Haram and Ansaru.

Pakistan was the class truant in 2013, as its efforts fell far short of the measures necessary to counter persistent terrorist-related violence in the country. According to one estimate, terrorists carried out more than 1700 attacks, killing almost 2500 civilians—a 9 percent increase in terrorist attacks and a 19 percent increase in fatalities from the previous year. The government of Pakistan approved a National Counter Terrorism Authority Bill, 2013, ostensibly creating a national authority to streamline and coordinate the country’s counterterrorism strategy, but the effort appeared largely symbolic. Furthermore, the country continued to be a hotbed for militant Islamist groups, as well as a safe haven for terrorist leaders from several organizations, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, which appeared to enjoy at least implicit government protection.

Finally, Iran remained in detention for its financial and technical support of terrorist organizations, and for continuing to allow the al-Qaeda network to operate within its borders. In particular, the Iranian armed forces and intelligence services continued to fund and provide training and logistical assistance to the armed wing of Hezbollah. Tehran also continued to disregard FATF’s call to implement a counterterrorist financing regime or pass legislation to counter money laundering.

Table of Contents

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Introduction

In the past year, states persisted in the fight against terrorism but international momentum appeared to slow slightly as terrorism morphed into a more decentralized threat. Achievements included the continued implementation and enforcement of anti-money laundering legislation, especially through the efforts of the Financial Action Task Force. The United States and Russia also continued to make gains in securing fissile material worldwide to prevent a terrorist strike involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The United States added two major Nigerian jihadist groups to its list of designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations: Boko Haram, which carried out four hundred attacks in 2013 alone, and its splinter faction, Ansaru. Likewise, the European Union (EU) added the military wing of Hezbollah to its terrorism list because of the group’s involvement in Syria and a bombing it claimed responsibility for in Bulgaria. These listings allowed European governments to sanction the terrorist groups. The United States also provided financial, technical, and operational assistance for counterterrorism efforts in West and North Africa. Other, smaller, successes included the first year of operations at the International Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism in Abu Dhabi.

Still, the threat of terrorism did not significantly dissipate in 2013. According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, more than 5,000 attacks occurred in the first half of 2013 alone, indicating an upward trend given that only 8,500 attacks were recorded in all of 2012 (the last year for which terrorism figures have been published as of this writing). To be sure, definitions of terrorist attacks vary and reporting around the world is uneven, leading to discrepancies between sources. However, two things were clear; terrorists launched strikes in more than eighty countries across the globe, and the two leading organizations responsible for attacks, al-Qaeda and the Taliban—and their affiliates—orchestrated the majority of strikes.

One concerning development was the rising influence of al-Qaeda offshoots in the Islamic Maghreb and Iraq. Though the United States continued its aggressive campaign to eliminate the central leadership of al-Qaeda, this very degradation of the organization’s core contributed to the acceleration of al-Qaeda’s decentralization; local franchises, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and al-Qaeda in Iraq, grew more powerful.

At the domestic level, governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan struggled to contain terrorist activity within their borders, with over half of attacks and fatalities in 2013 concentrated in those three countries. Likewise, conflicts in war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Syria continued to rage on without effective containment strategies, providing terrorist groups and Salafi jihadist ideology with a valuable safe haven to expand and thrive. While the January 2013 French intervention in Mali helped quell jihadist groups there, the threat of terrorism grew in neighboring countries, particularly in Libya where the post-Qadaffi interim government proved unable to control rival militias and jihadist groups.

Many countries continued to struggle with the challenge of respecting human rights within the context of counterterrorism operations, although some positive movement occurred. The United States, for the first time, inched toward increased transparency in its program of targeted drone strikes. Another positive step was the establishment of the International Institute on Justice and the Rule of Law [PDF] in Malta, which will begin offering human rights training in 2014 to officials that process terrorism cases. Still, overall progress remained inadequate.

Despite these problems, the United States performed fairly well as it led the global fight against terrorism. At the multilateral level, the Global Counterterrorism Forum and the Financial Action Task Force both merit praise for advancing states’ ability to fight terrorism. In contrast, Pakistan’s national counterterrorism efforts continued to fall short on several dimensions, while Iran remains in detention for openly supporting terrorist organizations. Collectively, United Nations (UN) member states, institutions, and ad hoc initiatives displayed reasonably respectable levels of cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

This review identifies six major areas for improvement. First, the United States should update its counterterrorism strategy towards the Middle East and North Africa, so that it avoids a one-size-fits-all approach to terrorist factions. Second, states should agree to international norms for the detention of terrorists and for targeted killings outside formal war zones. Third, states should establish common norms for the capture and detention of terrorists apprehended both in and outside of theaters of war. Fourth, the United Nations should establish a single counterterrorism coordinator to streamline that organization’s counterterrorism initiatives and use existing legal frameworks more effectively to prosecute state sponsors of terrorism. Fifth, nations should endeavor to break down the silos between domestic and international counterterrorism initiatives, and the counterterrorism agenda should be integrated more deeply with the fight against transnational crime, given the often overlapping methods and pipelines used by those groups. Finally, UN member states should decouple compliance with international counterterrorism mandates from capacity-building initiatives in order to boost the legitimacy of both operations.

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Background

The September 11 terrorist attacks shocked the international system, motivating unprecedented global cooperation to reduce the threat of transnational terrorism. They underscored how globalization—including interconnected financial, communications, and transportation systems—as well as new technology—have empowered nonstate actors to carry out devastating strikes from virtually anywhere on the planet. Multilateral counterterrorism mechanisms have existed since the 1960s when attacks like the 1972 Munich Olympics hostage taking, the 1988 explosion of a Pan American Airlines flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1997 massacre of tourists in Luxor, Egypt, focused international attention on the issue.

But prior to 9/11, the global counterterrorism regime lacked international priority and suffered from fragmentation. After the 2001 attacks, the United States led a global push to construct international norms to define, investigate, and disrupt terrorist networks. For the next decade, the United States was the primary leader in keeping counterterrorism a priority on the security agenda of international institutions and allies.

The United Nations also sought to formulate an international legal architecture to combat terrorism. As early as 1999, the UN Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 1267 in 1999 to enact sanctions on al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Soon after 9/11, the UNSC passed numerous legally binding resolutions, most prominently Resolution 1373, which requires all UN member states to “prevent and suppress” terrorist financing. In addition, in 2004 the UNSC issued Resolution 1540 to help focus states’ efforts on preventing nonstate actors from acquiring nuclear technology. However, UN member states have differed in their prioritization of the threat of terrorism, as well as in their capacity to carry out counterterrorism mandates; thus, implementation remains patchy. A 2006 UN General Assembly Global Counterterrorism Strategy helped to broaden ownership of UN counterterrorism activities beyond just the fifteen-member Security Council, but it has struggled [PDF] to add coherence to the UN’s disparate efforts in counterterrorism.

Furthermore, controversies over the lack of human rights protections in counterterrorism—particularly surrounding U.S.-led operations such as the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba—have tainted counterterrorism efforts in much of the world. As the United States stepped up its drone strikes in recent years, these debates have only grown fiercer.

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Class Evaluation

The United States deserves recognition as a class leader for sustaining momentum against transnational terrorism, providing significant financing and technical support for capacity-building initiatives around the world, and for continuing to build a wide range of bilateral relationships that have prevented terrorist attacks in a number of instances. Once again, the United States led the international “class” in combating transnational terrorism. In the past year, the United States continued to support anti­money laundering initiatives and the international implementation of frameworks to prevent terrorist financing. It also contributed to securing fissile material the world over–including by suggesting reductions in its own stockpiles, along with those of Russia—to prevent WMD terrorism. In addition, the United States also provided assistance to Mali, Nigeria, and Somalia, among others, to help fight the growing threat of terrorism in North Africa. Finally, the U.S. campaign to eliminate al-Qaeda’s top leadership dealt additional blows to the group’s central core in 2013, though splinter factions grew stronger during the year.

The Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), a U.S.-Turkish initiative that gathers counterterrorism officials and practitioners from around the world to boost international communication and coordination, is still comparatively young but its initial contributions earned the forum a gold star. These included releasing best-practice framework documents and related initiatives that provide policy guidance and legal advice on matters ranging from paying ransom for kidnappings to prosecuting suspected terrorists. The GCTF also expanded efforts to rehabilitate terrorists and announced the creation of the Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience, which will support grassroots efforts to counter violent extremism and is expected to raise more than $200 million from GCTF members in the next ten years. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), meanwhile, continued to improve their sterling work as the global leader for combating terrorist financing. In February, FATF introduced a new methodology to assess the effectiveness of member states’ counterterrorist financing frameworks. The multilateral body thus earned the status of “most improved,” despite beginning the year with high marks.

Iraq and Nigeria were the class laggards in 2013, as governments in both countries failed to contain the rising threat of terrorism within their borders, and actually exacerbated sectarian instability by marginalizing minorities. In Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s disregard for minority rights and oppression of the political opposition stoked frustration within the Sunni community, which extremists exploited. Nigeria (with the help of the United States) also made nascent attempts to control the expansion of terrorist groups within and surrounding its borders. However, the Abuja government failed to address the underlying regional concerns, including widespread poverty and marginalization of the northern Nigerian population, while undermining its own counterterrorism efforts with its heavy-handed military approach to Boko Haram and Ansaru.

Pakistan was the class truant in 2013, as its efforts fell far short of the measures necessary to counter persistent terrorist-related violence in the country. According to one estimate, terrorists carried out more than 1700 attacks, killing almost 2500 civilians—a 9 percent increase in terrorist attacks and a 19 percent increase in fatalities from the previous year. The government of Pakistan approved a National Counter Terrorism Authority Bill, 2013, ostensibly creating a national authority to streamline and coordinate the country’s counterterrorism strategy, but the effort appeared largely symbolic. Furthermore, the country continued to be a hotbed for militant Islamist groups, as well as a safe haven for terrorist leaders from several organizations, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, which appeared to enjoy at least implicit government protection.

Finally, Iran remained in detention for its financial and technical support of terrorist organizations, and for continuing to allow the al-Qaeda network to operate within its borders. In particular, the Iranian armed forces and intelligence services continued to fund and provide training and logistical assistance to the armed wing of Hezbollah. Tehran also continued to disregard FATF’s call to implement a counterterrorist financing regime or pass legislation to counter money laundering.

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U.S. Performance & Leadership

B minus

The United States again demonstrated leadership to counter transnational terrorism and reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism, even as it struggled in its efforts to contain and limit the power or size of al-Qaeda offshoots. At the same time, the United States made only modest progress in bringing its counterterrorism strategies and policies into line with protection of fundamental human rights. And despite concerted efforts to prevent a domestic attack, the United States suffered a “homegrown” terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon on March 15, which killed three people and injured many more.

The United States achieved significant results in its campaign to decapitate the senior leadership of major terrorist organizations around the world. Significantly, targeted U.S. strikes against the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, two insurgent groups responsible for the greatest number of terrorist acts during 2013, eliminated several senior leaders, including Pakistani Taliban second in command, Wali ur Rehman, in May, and, in November, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakeemullah Mehsud. Nevertheless, despite strikes against major al-Qaeda leadership, the initial decline of the organization’s core structure gave way to the expansion of decentralized factions, with power shifting toward the organization’s offshoots in the Islamic Maghreb and Iraq, in particular.

The United States also took some laudable actions to address the growing terrorist threat in North Africa and the Sahel. The United States added two Nigerian jihadist groups, Boko Haram and Ansaru, to its list of Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, empowering U.S. law enforcement agencies and the Treasury Department to more actively pursue these increasingly violent networks. The Department of State, in collaboration with the Department of Defense, continued to train and equip Nigerian security forces to better investigate and respond to attacks, and build neighborhood cohesion. The State Department also provided funding for a legal adviser for the Nigerian government to help it strengthen the country’s counterterrorist financing framework.

In Somalia, the United States provided financial assistance to help build institutional capacity, humanitarian assistance to “help reduce the appeal of extremism,” and security training to help stabilize areas that are in danger of becoming terrorist safe havens. These efforts included the establishment of a U.S. military coordination cell in Mogadishu, which worked with the African Union Mission in Somalia to advise Somalian officials on counterterrorism operations against the al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist group al-Shabab. Finally, the United States aided France and the African-led International Support Mission to Mali in their counterterrorism efforts against al-Qaeda affiliates in Mali. This included authorizing $50 million in aid for Chad and France’s counterterrorism operations in the region and sending surveillance drones to assist in monitoring terrorist groups’ movements. In addition, the U.S. forces conducted refueling missions and airlifts for French troops, as well as trained and equipped West African security forces to combat the growing terrorist threat on the ground.

On the other hand, the U.S.-led Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership struggled to deliver coherent and effective support from U.S. government agencies to vulnerable governments in the region due to interagency disputes and lack of support for weak local governments. As breakoff factions of al-Qaeda grew stronger throughout the Middle East and North Africa, the United States failed to develop a clear strategy to address the shift in power. Nor did it demonstrate strong leadership to organize a concerted multilateral effort to address the burgeoning instability.

At the same time, the United States continued to struggle in balancing its counterterrorism efforts with the protection of human rights. In May, the UN rapporteurs on human rights and counterterrorism, on torture, and on health, as well as a UN working group on arbitrary detention, joined the Inter-American Commission to echo past demands that the United States end its indefinite detention of the 155 detainees that remained at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. They further demanded that independent watchdogs be granted access to monitor human rights at the facility, and that the United States move to close it down. The Obama administration again met staunch opposition from Congress as it sought to fulfill its pledge to close down the detention facility. Still, eleven detainees were released in 2013 and, in December, President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2014 fiscal year, which eased restrictions on releasing and transferring detainees.

In addition, during the reporting period, international controversy flared over the scope of counterterrorism surveillance by national intelligence services, particularly in the wake of the revelations of the U.S. National Security Agency’s massive PRISM program to monitor global Internet traffic. The “Snowden affair” undermined counterterrorism efforts by damaging intelligence cooperation among allies, while highlighting the absence of accepted global rules in this arena—though it remained unclear whether or not international consensus on such rules was feasible or would be productive.

More positively, the United States took its first steps to inject a modicum of transparency into the covert U.S. drone program. The Obama administration officially acknowledged the deaths of U.S. citizens at the hands of U.S. drones. President Obama also signed guidelines and delivered a speech explaining the administration’s approach to drone strikes—the first from the president on the issue. Statistics suggest that drone strikes were carried out less frequently following the speech. Still, the United States remained disengaged from international conversations to begin negotiating international norms for governing the use of drones. Furthermore, the details of the program remained opaque, civilian casualties continued to generate controversy, and the legal basis for the program remained controversial.

Finally, to address the threat of nuclear terrorism, the United States continued to marshal global momentum to secure vulnerable fissile material, including by down-blending weapons-grade uranium into fuel that cannot be used for weapons. At home, the United States moved forward with plans to downgrade its own domestic nuclear-grade uranium. Abroad, it assisted other countries like Russia and the Czech Republic in disposing of unnecessary nuclear fuel.

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Establishing Counterterrorism Norms

Average

Given that projections indicated that global deaths resulting from terrorism attacks escalated in 2013, the lack of advances in building consensus on counterterrorism norms was disappointing. That said, some commendable, if modest, progress occurred. The Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) released three best practice frameworks on countering violent extremism and assisting terrorism victims. These standards, derived from international discussions, provide guidance on important issues like community-oriented policies to counter violent extremism and globally recognized measures to help terrorism victims and their families participate in legal proceedings against suspects. The GCTF also announced a number of initiatives to build norms to deal with challenges like the treatment of foreign fighters, kidnapping for ransom, and the role of the judiciary in ensuring that the rule of law prevails. Finally, in June, the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute and the Hague International Centre for Counter-Terrorism hosted the GCTF Prison Deradicalization and Reintegration Plenary Meeting [PDF], to develop best practices relating specifically to psychological aspects of prison deradicalization and reintegration of terrorists into society.

Yet, agreement on a comprehensive counterterrorism convention continued to elude UN negotiators, in part because countries could not agree on a consensus definition of terrorism. This inertia stalled progress on codifying new rules on important issues like the prosecution of terrorist suspects. Furthermore, though seven countries, including Canada, France, Iraq, and Afghanistan ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, substantive progress toward establishing this critical norm was stalled by its pending status in important countries, ranging from the United States to Malaysia and Israel.

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Combating Terrorist Financing

Good

Global efforts to combat terrorist financing merited praise in 2013. International organizations and individual countries alike built on past progress. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) adopted a new methodology to assess countries' compliance with FATF recommendations, the internationally recognized standards for preventing terrorists from obtaining funds to carry out attacks. The methodology stipulates that assessments will examine and grade technical compliance—in terms of legal and institutional implementation—as well as the actual effectiveness of each country’s framework in producing results.

In Turkey, FATF also demonstrated its influence over countries’ implementation of legal frameworks to fight terrorism. Threatened by expulsion from FATF, which would have triggered restrictions on its financial institutions operating abroad and on its government borrowing, Turkey passed a landmark counterterrorist financing law in February. The long-awaited legislation authorized the Turkish national Federal Crimes Investigation Board to freeze assets of persons or organizations suspected of terrorist involvement.

The U.S. Treasury also continued to strategically add and remove [PDF] individuals from the list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons throughout the year. This ensured that an individual’s assets were blocked if they were participating in terrorist organizations or facilitating illicit transactions related to the funding of terrorist activity. Furthermore, the Treasury Department continued to enforce sanctions against countries, such as Syria [PDF] and Iran [PDF] that undermine international security by supporting and facilitating terrorism. (The interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries—United States, United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany— allowed Iran temporary relief from select sanctions in return for temporarily halting enrichment of uranium, but tight counterterrorist financing sanctions remained in place.)

In addition, the European Union decided in July to add the military wing of Hezbollah to its terrorism blacklist, in light of the group’s involvement in bombings in Bulgaria and terrorist activity in Syria. The resulting sanctions froze all of the group’s assets in Europe, cutting off access to funds and fundraising for terrorist activities.

Yet, efforts to thwart terrorist financing were diluted by the continued funding, suspected or explicit, of terrorist-designated groups by states including Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In addition, near the end of the review period, political discord over revelations of U.S. spying on cyber-communications threatened cooperation between the EU and the United States, which is crucial for combating terrorist financing. The European Parliament demanded that European countries suspend the EU-U.S. Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme, under which the EU and United States share bank data. Though cooler heads ultimately prevailed, the hiccup underscored the vulnerability of past progress—and the “good” assessment in this category—to diplomatic frictions.

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Stemming the Threat of WMD Terrorism

Good

The need to safeguard nuclear and other WMD materials from falling into the hands of terrorist organizations or other nefarious actors remained a priority in 2013. As Syria’s civil war raged on, concerns mounted that the country’s chemical weapons facilities could become exposed to attack or infiltration by terrorist groups seeking to take advantage of the unstable environment. In the end, it was the Syrian government’s use of such weapons that led the United Nations Security Council to authorize a mission by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to identify and destroy the country’s chemical weapons facilities, materials, and existing stockpiles.

On the nuclear front, the U.S. strategy of eliminating the core leadership of major terrorist groups was successful in weakening the select few groups who have the capability or the desire to access and use a nuclear weapon, including al-Qaeda central. By continuing to reduce their nuclear stockpiles, the United States and Russia further reduced the probability that excess fissile materials will leak onto the black market. Their efforts included the conclusion in April of a multilateral initiative transferring all remaining highly enriched uranium (HEU) in the Czech Republic to Russia, where it will be down-blended. The Czech Republic is now the tenth country from which all HEU was removed since the United States and Russia announced their initiative in 2009 to secure all vulnerable fissile material globally.

Furthermore, despite high diplomatic tensions, the United States and Russia both continued to adhere to agreements to eliminate superfluous fissile material that could pose a threat if it fell into the wrong hands. In June, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced that, under the HEU Purchase Agreement with Russia, the NNSA had managed to eliminate nearly 500 metric tons, or 95 percent of the agreed total, of Russian HEU—enough fissile material to build 19,000 nuclear weapons.

In August, the NNSA also signed an agreement with the Chinese customs agency to renew cooperation between the two countries to deter, detect, and interdict illegal smuggling of nuclear materials. This agreement demonstrated that U.S.-China cooperation to reduce the threat of WMD terrorism continued to increase, notwithstanding sometimes rough diplomatic waters. The accord provided for U.S. assistance to high-priority Chinese seaports, including the enhancement of radiation detection systems, training for port officials to react to radiation alerts, and supplying communication systems. The same week, the NNSA and the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a similar initiative in the South American country.

More problematically, the future of the U.S.-Russian program for securing fissile material in former nuclear weapon states appeared dim after the two countries failed to negotiate a follow-up agreement to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.

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Fighting Terrorism While Protecting Human Rights

Poor

During the review period, respect for human rights in counterterrorism operations remained weak. The targeted killing of terrorists and terrorist suspects continued to spark severe global controversy. On the one hand, some experts argued that drone strikes have been instrumental in eliminating core terrorist leadership and denying terrorists safe haven, while limiting collateral damage. Throughout the year, however, major watchdogs like Human Rights Watch continued to object that these killings violate international laws governing warfare. Furthermore, the number of civilian casualties resulting from targeted drone strikes damages the legitimacy of counterterrorism operations.

Also of concern, in a number of countries [PDF] from China and Russia, to Turkey and the Gulf states, governments persisted in using counterterrorism laws as a political tool to quell opposition. During the review period for instance, the United Nations condemned the Chilean government for citing counterterrorism legislation to justify the use of indiscriminate and disproportionate force against Mapuche indigenous communities during land protests. Similarly, governments applied counterterrorist legislation to silence journalists. Turkey's use of anti-terror laws to imprison over 8,000 journalists in 2013 alone, sometimes with life sentences, stood out as particularly egregious.

To be sure, the Global Counterterrorism Forum proceeded with the establishment of an International Institute of Justice and the Rule of Law. This body, based in Malta, will serve as a training center for criminal justice and rule of law officials, particularly from North, West, and East Africa, who process terrorism cases. Planned training programs will focus specifically on respect for human rights and pillar four of the UN Counterterrorism Strategy, which underscores “the critical role” of rule of law and human rights in bringing terrorist suspects to justice. U.S. secretary of state John Kerry announced that the institute will open its doors in 2014. Nevertheless, these initiatives will address only a fraction of the human rights concerns in counterterrorism activities.

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Developing Effective Terrorism Prevention Strategies

Average

Counterradicalization and deradicalization strategies are vital to preventing people from resorting to terrorism, and most countries continued to move in the right direction to strengthen these efforts during 2013. The Global Counterterrorism Forum, co-chaired by the United States and Turkey, included noteworthy achievements. One welcome innovation was the creation of a Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience, which will identify promising nongovernmental institutions, civil society groups, or local government bodies that require funding to implement valuable programs. Second, the GCTF launched programs like the International Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism in Abu Dhabi, which deserves modest praise for efforts to bridge the gap between influential policymakers and experts in countering violent extremism in its first year of operations.

Furthermore, in light of the recent military interventions against terrorist groups in Mali and Somalia, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted a Political Declaration on a Common Position Against Terrorism. This included a new Counter-Terrorism Strategy and Implementation Plan, which emphasizes the necessity of coordinated terrorism prevention strategies at the regional as well as international level. It also stipulated that a terrorist attack against one ECOWAS member state constituted an attack against all, which lay a vital foundation for ECOWAS countries to build more cooperative prevention strategies, as well as response mechanisms.

Despite these efforts, the threat of terrorism continued to grow in places like Iraq, Syria, Libya, the Sahel, and Sinai. This suggested that international terrorism prevention strategies to quell the growing tide of new and existing terrorist threats were not sufficient.

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Areas for Improvement

To improve the fight against terrorism, the United States and its international partners should take the following steps:

  • The United States should develop an updated counterterrorism strategy for the Middle East and North Africa, which avoids a one-size-fits-all approach to distinct terrorist factions. In particular, this strategy should improve multilateral cooperation to better track and anticipate al-Qaeda’s expansion into ungoverned or conflict-torn regions.

  • States should establish common norms for the detention of terrorists apprehended both in and outside theaters of war, and develop expedited extradition procedures to facilitate trials in home countries where sufficient capacity and dedication to human rights norms exist. When capture of a terrorist suspect is feasible, these bolstered norms for detention could also provide alternatives to targeted killings using drone strikes.

  • States should begin the long and difficult process of negotiating international norms governing targeted killings, including by drones, of suspected terrorists. This includes working toward international consensus on if and how existing laws governing warfare and technology need to be revised or updated. Drone technology will not disappear, and in the coming decades a greater number of states will probably develop the capacity to carry out strikes with unmanned aerial vehicles.

  • The United Nations should establish a counterterrorism coordinator [PDF] to streamline and provide strategic coherence for the mandates of multiple counterterrorism directors who currently oversee the UN’s efforts. Furthermore, states should utilize the existing international legal frameworks more robustly to hold state sponsors of terrorism accountable.

  • States should endeavor to integrate counterterrorism with the fight against transnational crime, given emerging relationships between terrorist and criminal networks. International and domestic agencies that fight terrorism should follow suit and break down the silos between counterterrorism and anticrime efforts.

  • When confronted with poor state compliance with counterterrorism obligations, the United States and other donor nations should carefully assess whether the deficit reflects primarily limited capacity or minimal commitment. If the former, they should redouble capacity-building efforts. If the latter, they should deploy incentives to alter the calculations of the target government. This would boost legitimacy of both counterterrorism and capacity-building operations.

Credits

Produced by the Council on Foreign Relations and Threespot

  • Executive Producer: Stewart Patrick
  • Web Producer: Andrei Henry
  • Producer / Writer: Farah Faisal Thaler
  • Assistant Producer: Isabella Bennett
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