Foreign Fighters, Homegrown Terrorism, and the Prevention of Violent Extremism
A number of student tickets are available. For more information, please contact email@example.com.
This event took place on Wednesday, December 7, 2016
JOANNE MYERS: Good evening, everyone. I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council, I would like to thank you all for beginning your evening with us.
Our program tonight is on terrorism and the prevention of violent extremism. The topic could not be more timely. In the 15 years since 9/11 when terrorism landed on our shores, the gravity of the situation brought about by terrorists and their violent acts is more complex and multifaceted than ever before. The challenges are enormous.
The question is: How can we, as a society that values life and our freedom, mitigate the consequences that drive those harboring grievances and prevent them from committing murderous acts in the first place?
Before we begin, I want to take a moment to thank the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), which is the co-sponsor of this event, and a special thanks to Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, who is my collaborator in the best sense of the word. Also, a note of appreciation to Ambassador Schaller, who introduced me to Mahmoud, so thank you.
In bringing together these well-known experts, Ali Soufan, who is on my near left, former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent and founder and CEO of The Soufan Group, and Seamus Hughes, who is seated next to him, who is with George Washington University's Center for Cyber & Homeland Security, we will have a rare opportunity to benefit from their firsthand experience in working on these issues.
In the next 30 minutes or so, these knowledgeable panelists will help us to understand how homegrown terrorism has evolved and how it can be tackled, what viable policy options can and should be considered, and how can we handle the rising number of battle-hardened radicals who are returning. Then we will open the floor to you to ask any questions that weren't addressed during their conversation.
At this time, I ask you to please join me in giving a very warm welcome to our panelists and to Ambassador Christian Dussey, who will be with us shortly. Thank you.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: Thank you very much, Joanne. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being with us this evening. My name is Mahmoud Mohamedou. I'm the deputy director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, which has the pleasure of organizing this event with the Carnegie Council. First of all, many thanks to Joanne Myers and all of her colleagues. It's a pleasure working with you. Thank you for your kind invitation for us to partner.
We have a very distinguished panel that I will introduce in a moment, Ali Soufan and Seamus Hughes, two experts on a topic that is indeed timely—urgent, in fact, we could say—and I think one of the most complex topics that we can tackle at this point. A few words on the topic and to say a little bit about what we want to do this evening. It is very much in the format of a conversation with these gentlemen and with the room, and we will open the floor soon enough so we can have comments from you.
The topic is really twofold. On the one hand, the evolution, the transformation of the so-called "violent extremism," "terrorism," and "radicalism"—the name game itself is an issue, and maybe we can come back to that—but fundamentally this projection of violence that we have been witnessing all around us for the past 15 years with a lot of urgency but obviously in a longer timeframe; what have been some of the driving forces behind this manifestation? What are some of the patterns that we can envision as such?
The second aspect of this discussion is also—of course, since this is a policy-related discussion—what has been done about this and what can be done as such? I'd like us also very much to think globally. This is New York; we are in the United States; there is a transition in terms of the administration, but both of you gentlemen work very much internationally, and I would love also to bring this topic in that sense.
So the issue of violence, as I said, has shot to the top of the agenda. Groups and individuals are manifesting it all around the world in any number of regions. We tend to think, of course obviously, of the Middle East and North Africa, but as you well know in West Africa, in the Sahel, in the Indian subcontinent, across Europe, in North America we've seen manifestations of this radicalism and these transformations, where from Mumbai to Madrid by way of Casablanca and Istanbul, we've seen individuals in their societies and across societies manifesting this.
What drives that? What makes a group of individuals or a single individual move from harboring particular feelings of radicalism to taking action and projecting that violence? Why are places that are thought to be beyond that threat today more and more the theater of such projections?
To help us make sense of these questions, we have two experts, Ali Soufan and Seamus Hughes. They've been introduced—you have the bios. Just to remind you, Ali has worked extensively on this. He chairs now his own group, The Soufan Group, and has also been for a number of years a special agent for the FBI and has published extensively on this. He has got The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, a book you might have come across, and I understand you have a new book coming out in a few months as well. Thank you for joining us, Ali. I am looking forward to your comments.
Seamus Hughes is the deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University's newly founded Center for Cyber and Homeland Security and previously served at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). He has also been researching this topic as such.
You've heard some of these questions, gentleman. Ali, if I may start with you, take us a little bit if you would—in the almost now 20 years we've been living with this, a generation has been born fundamentally surrounded by this issue, what to make of this, what to make of the centrality of this issue?
ALI SOUFAN: Thank you very much, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here. Thank you, Joanne. Thank you for your introduction.
I think the problem that we're dealing with today is a problem that existed for many years in the Middle East, even well beyond the 20 years you're talking about. I think if you want to talk about the current radicalization, its roots go back to 1979 and many of the incidents that took place in 1979.
First, you have the Iranian Revolution in February; then you have the Camp David Accords; then you have the November 1979 hostage situation in Mecca by Wahhabi extremists who were challenging the House of Saud. Then you had a gift that was given to many countries who were trying to deal with extremist populations, which was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December of 1979, when many people around the region said, "Hey, you know what? Why fight the custodian of the holy places if we can give you a ticket to go do jihad against communists in Afghanistan?"
Over there, you had people coming from North Africa, you had people coming from the Levant, you had people coming from the Gulf, and they got together. All these extremists suddenly were working together against the Soviets. But also, something else happened: When the Soviets left, there was a big division among these Arab mujahideens: "What do we do now? Do we go back home, or do we have another jihad?" Most of them said, "You know what? We came to fight the Soviets. Now we're going to go back home and live our lives."
The problem is: People like the Egyptians; they cannot go back home because the moment they get back home they are wanted maybe for the Sadat assassination or they are wanted for terrorist attacks—people like Ayman al-Zawahiri and so forth. So they decided to stay there in Afghanistan, and they worked with Osama bin Laden in establishing an organization that they called al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda was born toward 1989, and that's something a lot of people don't know. We started to get involved in investigating al-Qaeda around 1996, when Osama bin Laden was in Sudan. At that time, they were preparing an Islamic army to fight the United States and to fight Western interests. They said, "We defeated communism; now we have to defeat the crusaders and the Jews." Bin Laden, because of a lot of pressure from the Saudi government, the U.S. government, and the Sudanese government, left Sudan and went back to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan on August 23, 1996, I believe, he published the declaration of jihad on the United States.
A lot of people were not paying attention to that. We were paying attention, and we started working the organization, trying to figure out their plots, trying to figure out what they were planning to do. A lot of people don't know that we actually in the FBI, here in New York City, indicted—secret indictment—Osama bin Laden and the organization of al-Qaeda in June of 1998, before the very first terrorist attack that was conducted by al-Qaeda, which was the East Africa embassy attack. They hit two embassies in East Africa in August of 1998, and then they hit the USS Cole. Between the USS Cole and the East Africa embassy bombings, we were able to disrupt many plots around the world and around the region in the Middle East. We disrupted plots in Albania, plots in the United Kingdom, plots in Morocco, and in other places.
Then 9/11 happened. That was the shock that America needed to wake up. It was like a mini-modern-day Pearl Harbor. I think we responded swiftly to the attacks. We invaded Afghanistan; we got rid of the Taliban regime; al-Qaeda was on the run, and suddenly in the middle of the fight we decided to take all the resources away from Afghanistan and send them to Iraq in order to prepare for the invasion of Iraq.
I remember I was in Kabul at the time, and Karzai, and many other leaders in Afghanistan were in total shock: "We're not ready yet. We need special forces. We need the U.S. troops to be in Afghanistan." But at the time, "mission accomplished"—let's go to invade another country that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, that had nothing to do with 9/11.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: Was that clearly a mistake?
ALI SOUFAN: It was a major mistake, and we'll talk about why it was a major mistake.
Al-Qaeda was dying at the time, and al-Qaeda transferred itself after Afghanistan from being a chief operator to being a chief motivator, so al-Qaeda is not an organization anymore, because most of the leaders were in jails, either in Afghanistan or in Guantanamo Bay. We were filling Guantanamo at the time with all these people that we were catching—around the world —who were members of al-Qaeda and in the theater in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It transferred itself from being an organization that requires an allegiance and requires people to go to Afghanistan in order to join to an entity that you can just say, "You know what? I believe in that thing that Osama bin Laden is saying, and I am going to operate under al-Qaeda's banner."
That created a lot of confusion, even in the jihadi network because now you have takfiris—those people who believe other Muslims are not Muslims if they don't agree exactly with their interpretation of the religion, which al-Qaeda as an organization is not a takfiri organization. Takfiri means people who believe that if you don't believe exactly what they believe—so you are relatively confused—if they don't believe exactly what you believe, you are not a Muslim, and you need to be killed, and those groups, this ideology, is not al-Qaeda ideology; this ideology is mostly in North Africa more than any other place in the region at the time.
What you had was groups who were part of the Algerian Civil War or Islamists in Morocco or Islamists in Mauritania and other places around the world started joining allegiance to Osama bin Laden and operating under al-Qaeda's banner. Why operating under al-Qaeda's banner? They felt Islam was under attack because of Iraq, because of Afghanistan, and now all of these individuals have to operate together under one umbrella. So you have al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb; you have an al-Shabaab movement in Somalia; you have al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent that they established later on, and so forth.
The people who were able to escape from Afghanistan who were closely associated with Osama bin Laden were mostly from the Arabian Peninsula, from Yemen and from Saudi Arabia. They were able to basically escape and go back to Yemen.
In 2003, we had an operation to basically disrupt what they were planning to do in Yemen, and I had the honor and the privilege to lead that operation, and we were able to arrest all of them and put them in jail. Some of them got killed in the process, but so what? So we put them all in jail.
In 2005, they decided to dig a tunnel, and they escaped from the top-security jail in Yemen, and those are the people who established al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that you hear about. AQAP is probably the only organization, the only affiliate of al-Qaeda that is closest to the interpretations of Osama bin Laden and the views of Osama bin Laden because Nasir al-Wuhayshi (aka Abu Basir), a Yemeni who was killed recently in a car accident in a way; there was a Hellfire missile coming to him, and he couldn't move, so it blew him up.
SEAMUS HUGHES: A special kind of car accident.
ALI SOUFAN: A special kind of car accident, pretty arranged. He was basically the chief of staff for Osama bin Laden, and he's one of the people that we were able to arrest during the 2003 operation and put in jail with all his comrades.
Those are the closest to al-Qaeda, and they continued from all the different affiliates to declare jihad on the West, not necessarily on the enemies that they had around them. You will remember, for example, the speeches of al-Alwaki—most of it happened there; Inspire magazine is from there; the printer bombing is from there; the underwear bomber came from there, and so forth. So they continued to focus their target on . . .
Why was Iraq a disaster? Iraq was a disaster because, first of all, in their ideology they are saying that the West is at war with Islam—that's number one; number two, in their ideology they say that they are basically fighting the end-of-time battle, and the end-of-time battle has to happen in Iraq, so they always thought that we were going to invade Iraq.
I remember early on when we were arresting people in Afghanistan, they would be in jail and said: "Did you invade Iraq yet?" They were like, "What are you talking about?" "Well, you're going to invade Iraq because that's what the Prophet told us 1,400 years ago, and that's the battle." So what did we do? We invaded Iraq.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: Thank you very much. Ali, let me stop you right there because there's a natural break in that moment in the story; actually the result of what you were describing is going to lead also naturally to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in fact. Before asking you about this, let me bring in Seamus to connect this with the evolution.
So you have this generation that Ali has been describing that really is being born in the late 20th century. Afghanistan is a key moment, and then it takes off. How do we see this now connecting with the most recent manifestation at precisely this time, 2008-09? We talk a lot, for instance, about "lone wolves;" the term becomes very much bandied about. Could you take it from there?
SEAMUS HUGHES: Absolutely. I hate following Ali because it's so hard. I like two things when I talk—the two things are data and stories; and good data tells good stories.
Let's talk a little bit about those stories, those lone wolves. We've gone through the evolution of Iraq. We're starting to talk about the beginning of the Islamic State.
What we saw in the U.S. context—and we'll look at it domestically—in the last two years or so we've had about 111 people arrested for terrorism-related activities as it relates to the Islamic State. Here's the biggest takeaway: At the Program on Extremism, we look at about 10,000 pages of legal documents; I interview these guys; I talk to prosecutors, defense attorneys, and family members to get a sense of who these individuals are.
The biggest takeaway is: There's not a typical profile of an ISIS recruit, or an al-Qaeda recruit for that matter. They're old; they're young; they're rich; they're poor; they're college graduates; they're high school kids. They have some distinguishing qualities. They tend to be younger—the average age is 27 of the 111 that have been arrested. They tend to be male—89 percent are male, although we've had 12 cases in the United States of women; that's a higher number than we've seen in the past. Despite what you're reading in the news of the day, they are also U.S. citizens. The vast majority of individuals who have been arrested for terrorism charges in the United States are U.S. citizens. So when we talk about homegrown terrorism, we really mean homegrown terrorism; they are born and raised here.
The case of the Islamic State individuals—the Americans who are drawn to this—they were drawn for a perceived religious obligation. So they were much more interested in traveling to Syria and Iraq to build the so-called "caliphate." Forty-six percent of the cases were interested in traveling. I'm going to put a caveat on that because it's changing. We've seen about 30 percent interested in domestic plotting.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: Why is that?
SEAMUS HUGHES: Why is it changing? Because the messaging for the Islamic State is changing, too. At the program, we also look at the online communications of ISIS recruiters and spotters, and they're saying, "It's too hard to go to Syria and Iraq. Do what you can where you are," or maybe go to Libya, perhaps even Yemen in some cases, but for the vast majority they're saying, "Don't come here any more." We have seen that in a recent case in the last three to six months, individuals not trying to travel because they assume they're on watchlists and things like that, and they're focusing their efforts on the homeland.
Of that 111, 60 have pled guilty. The average prison sentence is 12.9 years. I'm throwing a lot of numbers at you, but I'm going to circle back on why I think it's important. That's the sense of the data.
Let's talk a little about the stories; how do these kids get to this point? I use "kids"—it's a broad term, but we do have cases of a 15-year-old in South Carolina or a 17-year-old in Denver, individuals who are drawn to this. In many ways it's a mix between the old and the new—the old being the in-person recruitment that we see in Minneapolis where the neighborhood kids knew the other neighborhood kids and the first wave goes and the next wave calls back. But there's also that online dynamic I think we don't necessarily focus on enough in the right ways.
Using the online environment is threefold: First is the grooming. At the program, we saw last summer, we watched a young woman who was a recent convert to the faith have questions about her faith, ask them on Twitter and say, "Brothers and sisters, I'm a recent convert. Will you please help me?" An ISIS recruiter realized she was naïve and answered the questions in a very innocuous way over the course of a few weeks. Once he had built her trust, he then slowly introduced the jihadist narrative into the conversation. So they're using this as a grooming process.
The second way they use the online environment is logistical support. Think of a case like Mohammad Khan out of Chicago. Mohammad Khan is a 19-year-old kid who drives to the O'Hare Airport with his 17-year-old and 16-year-old siblings, gets picked up by the FBI for trying to join the Islamic State. When they go through his pocket litter—and Ali's done this quite a lot—they found six numbers of people to call when he gets to Turkey and how to cross the border. How does a kid from Illinois get this type of information? Through the contacts he made on Twitter, through a guy named Raphael Hostey, a British guy who is in Raqqa who is recruiting him.
The third way—I think it's the most important way now—is this idea of what the FBI director calls the "devil on the shoulder," egging people on to do what they can where they are, and we've seen a number of cases in the United States where there is a systematic approach, namely about a dozen English-language guys in Raqqa who are directing or enabling individuals and saying, "Go attack this police station. This is the knife to use. This is how you upload it on Telegram." We've seen that buildup. That's the nature of the threat.
But there's also the other part of this conversation: What do we do on prevention? This is where some of my background plays into this. Prior to being at George Washington University, my main job at the National Counterterrorism Center was to do community engagement as it relates to these issues. So for about three-and-a-half years I went to every mosque and community center around the country, usually after something bad happened.
So after the Boston Marathon bombing, the imam of the mosque calls me and says, "Seamus, two of my guys just did a horrible thing. Can you come talk to my congregation and try to prevent the next two?" These are very awkward conversations. You're going in as a government official and saying, "We're worried about terrorism, we're worried about these issues, and I need your help." Government, just by its very nature, doesn't get into this religious issue; there's First Amendment issues; there's establishment clause issues. It doesn't make us feel comfortable.
But we had to have these conversations because a lot of these type of things have to be community-driven. This time two years ago I was in Denver—there were about two or three inches of snow on the ground—meeting with about 300 people at a mosque there because three girls, a 17-year-old, a 16-year-old, and a 15-year-old had jumped on a plane, gone to Frankfurt, and meant to go to Turkey. Their father had called every phone number in the Denver phonebook until he got an FBI agent who was able to turn them around in Frankfurt. When those girls get back here, the community says, "Man, three of our girls just did this. I don't know what's going on here."
Those types of conversations are very important because you want to start a conversation about prevention and intervention, because by the time they jump on the plane it's a little bit too late. I think back to interviewing a lot of these family members of individuals who joined terrorist organizations who die over there or who are spending 20 years in jail, and at some point they say, "I watched this train wreck happen in slow motion, and I didn't know what to do."
So the process the U.S. government is trying to get to, the process the community is trying to get to is: what is the role of bystanders in this scenario.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: Any of this working?
SEAMUS HUGHES: Not really. It's getting there, but it's not really. We've been talking about this for the last year or so. There has been a shift in the administration's approach when it comes to countering violent extremism. In the past, it was this broad-based engagement.
I feel great when I talk to 300 people in a community center, but I don't know if that's my target audience; I don't know if I'm reaching the right people. What the administration has done is essentially moved away from this very large room to the one-on-one. Who's that 15-year-old kid I'm worried about? What makes him tick? What do I bring to the table? Is it a social worker? Is it a mental health professional? Is it a religious leader? Is it what, and how do I bring that kid back into the fold?
Because then you can go to Congress and say, "Here's my measure of effectiveness. I've closed a case; it's no longer a full-field investigation because of non-law enforcement means." So we're trying to encourage that now.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: Thank you very much, Seamus. This is very helpful, and I'm sure we'll come back to this.
Just before we open up for discussion, Ali, fill in the blank here on ISIS. It slows down a little bit apparently—not necessarily the case—in the early 2010s, and then all of a sudden the world wakes up. The specialists, the experts following this are not surprised, but then we have the manifestation of something that is even more powerful than al-Qaeda. To what do you ascribe this?
ALI SOUFAN: First of all, we have to keep in mind that ISIS is just a branch of al-Qaeda. ISIS was the al-Qaeda in Iraq. If you recall, we mentioned earlier about the different affiliates. Al-Qaeda were willing to take different affiliates; they didn't have any presence in Iraq under Saddam.
We kind of helped them create a monster there named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by taking a very insignificant jihadi that nobody knows about—he's a drug dealer, a pimp from Jordan who decided to be jihadi and escaped after the Afghan jihad to go to the Kurdish area in Iraq—and then suddenly he hears his name mentioned by Colin Powell in the United Nations to justify the war in Iraq, and suddenly that guy's a rock star.
However, that guy was an al-Qaeda member. In order for him to get more funding, more money—and al-Qaeda wanted also somebody to be present in the biggest jihadi theater of the time, in Iraq—they had a relationship made in hell. However, he was always rogue, and al-Qaeda in Iraq was always a rogue organization. They were targeting Muslims, for example, blowing up mosques, hitting Shia.
That came into the picture with a letter that was confiscated from Ayman al-Zawahiri sent from al-Qaeda to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, telling him, "Hey, cut it off, man. What the heck are you doing? You're making us look bad." So they were not worried, for example, that he's killing people; they were more worried about the image. For example, Zarqawi tells him, "Why are you doing these beheadings, man? A bullet can do the job; kill the guy with a bullet." So he's not worried that he's killing people; he's worried about the imagery of beheading people, for example.
That organization that was established continued to have problems especially after bin Laden's death. When the Syrian War happened, al-Qaeda decided to participate in the Syria jihad. They sent a few people from Iraq to go there. There was a lot of money; a lot of weapons; a lot of people; regional powers were interested in getting rid of Assad fast, so they were willing to support anyone. And guess what? That helped them tremendously.
The division that took place between ISIS and al-Qaeda happened when the al-Qaeda branch in Syria said, "Wait a second. This jihad is different than Iraq." Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Iraq, who was now the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, said: "No, no, no, no. You're still under me." Zawahiri became the judge. The whole thing in a nutshell: After a few months of fighting, he became the judge, and he said: "No. Syria jihad is different than Iraq jihad."
When he said that, Baghdadi said: "You know what? I really don't need you. I don't need al-Qaeda. You're on the run. You don't even have a state. I'm declaring a state. And, by the way, I raise you also a caliphate." That's what happened with the division.
ISIS had a different message than al-Qaeda. Remember, we said al-Qaeda changed its theory from being a chief operator to being chief motivator. ISIS said: "You know what? We're not going to do the chief motivator. We're going to be chief operator. We're going to establish a state. This state is baqiya wa tatamaddad, 'remaining and expanding,' and don't fight all these stupid jihads in your streets in New York or Paris. That doesn't mean anything. Come here. Let's establish this Islamic utopia. If you're poor, if you are in jail, if you don't have a job, if you're a loser, you're a loser because they are discriminating against you because you're a Muslim. So come over,"—and that's important to what we have today—"so come over there."
So they came. However, they went straight from being a terrorist group to an insurgency to a proto-state, but now their caliphate is not expanding, and their caliphate definitely is not remaining. So now they are going back with all their bravado to be underground again.
Then suddenly they found themselves exactly where al-Qaeda found themselves back after September of 2001; they found themselves being inspirational. So Abu Mohammad al-Adnani now is saying to them, "Look, don't"—as Seamus said—"don't come here."
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: This is the spokesman of ISIS.
ALI SOUFAN: The ISIS spokesperson, who also had his own car accident. He said, "Don't come here. Use whatever tool you can in order to kill the enemy in their own land. That's a better jihad for you. Use a knife. Use a car. Use a weapon."
But all the stuff that they are saying now, actually al-Qaeda said before, al-Qaeda did before. That recent video, for example, that message that came from ISIS with the guy sitting in the kitchen making a bomb—probably you saw it on the news—guess what? Al-Qaeda had in Inspire magazine how to make a bomb in your mother's kitchen. It's the same thing. But instead of reading it, they have a guy doing it actually in a very nice kitchen in Raqqa. They have nice kitchens over there. I didn't know that.
So now what Seamus is talking about and what we have been seeing in the United States mostly is people who are inspired by the message, who don't have direct connections with people in ISIS. They don't have direct connections with people in Raqqa or Mosul who are directing them, but they are inspired by what ISIS is putting out.
In every attack that we have been seeing recently—in Paris; in Belgium; in Germany in the train; here in the United States, that kid in Ohio last week—they did exactly what Adnani told them: "Do the attack, and then the most important thing for us to claim credit for it, you have to say that you gave bay'ah to ISIS or Baghdadi." The guy in Orlando: "I give bay'ah to Baghdadi." "You don't have to believe in that ideology, but just do it, and then you are going to be way more important."
So now what we are fighting is we're fighting a message. That's exactly what Seamus is talking about. The government sucks in messaging. We don't do propaganda. We have no idea how to do it, and they suck at it. So what we do is Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). The moment the government started to get involved in something like this it was viewed by the Muslim community as a spying program, not a program that can help them to enhance and strengthen their community.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: It was pretty controversial initially because some reports were—
ALI SOUFAN: It's still very controversial.
So now what we have is—15 years after 9/11, six years after bin Laden's death, 20 years after the declaration of jihad of Osama bin Laden—if you look at the social media today, if you look at the cyberspace, we don't have a space. They don't occupy the space because they are geniuses; they are occupying the space because they are active on the space. But the moderate majority of all of us are not there.
So this is the biggest problem that we have: How can we create a new space where people can stand up against extremism with all its forms? Let's agree on something, ladies and gentlemen. We killed bin Laden six years ago. On May 1, 2011, we killed Osama bin Laden, but we did not kill the message. The message today is way more potent. We had so many different tactical successes over the last 20 years or so, but all our tactical successes are nothing but a strategic failure. This is where we are today.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: Thank you very much, Ali.
I'd like to open it immediately for questions. Just to be complete, Seamus, though; radicalism, terrorism, and violent extremism are not synonymous with only one group, one religion, one people I think. I think you both know that most of us would agree with that.
But just to be complete, domestic militantism has been on the rise; violent extremist crimes in this city have doubled up over the past month. The current story in Mother Jones is about militias across the United States materializing here and there. Is this being looked at as well?
SEAMUS HUGHES: Not for the Countering Violent Extremism approach. At the Program, we look at all forms of extremism. We do a number of reports on sovereign citizens' ideology, which if you asked a beat cop what they're worried about on a daily basis, they'd say sovereign citizens because sovereign citizens kill cops.
There is that dynamic, but in terms of prevention work, no. You could argue that you're actually normalizing the approach for Islamist-inspired extremism the same way you're normalizing it for other forms of extremism. If your kid is a white supremacist and you're worried about him, you can kick him over to Life After Hate in Chicago, who can do an intervention; they're former white supremacists who do that kind of thing. If you have a kid that you're worried about who is thinking about joining ISIS, you have no other avenue besides the FBI or do nothing. So in many ways, CVE is actually normalizing the approach list.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: Very good. Thanks a lot.
QUESTION: I am Tala Dowlatshahi, and I am a United Nations employee.
QUESTION: Hi. I'm Michael Kaufman.
QUESTION: My name is Adam Shatz, and I'm a writer for the London Review of Books and other publications.
Ali Soufan spoke very well about the continuities between al-Qaeda and Islamic State and Islamic State as a branch of al-Qaeda. But I wonder, would it not be more accurate to see ISIS as an offshoot that arose in very different times and circumstances and that has sought to link very different constituencies?
Al-Qaeda emerged in Afghanistan, the prisons of Egypt, the conflict between Osama bin Laden and the Saudi kingdom. ISIS is an outgrowth of the Iraq War, the disenfranchisement of the Sunnis, and it has also been very successful in appealing to the aggrieved youth in the banlieues of Europe. So it's linking these constituencies, which appear to have very different concerns, but both suffer from these kind of crises of citizenship and identity. I'm wondering whether you could talk a little bit more about the differences between these groups.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: Thank you very much. Let's go back to the panel now. We have Syria; we have the election; and we have this question from Adam which I think raises a point we did overlook, which is sort of the postmodern youth that is very much going to this in a context that is not necessarily taking away, I think, the continuity. I would agree with you that there is continuity, but there is also that dimension.
ALI SOUFAN: Let's start with the third question, with your question, and we'll go up.
There are many different incubating factors that led into ISIS. ISIS is an accident of history, and that accident happened because of multiple things that are going on—regional struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia; sectarianism; the failure of the Arab states; the Arab Spring; the Iraq War—so you can look into a lot of these kind of things. But ideologically, ISIS operates from the same book as al-Qaeda.
Still you argue with people on ISIS, they tell you, "We are the real al-Qaeda. We are bin Laden's al-Qaeda, not Zawahiri's al-Qaeda." They have the whole idea that they all operate from the same strategy. It's called "the management of savagery," and they have different phases in the management of savagery.
The management of savagery is basically the strategy of these Salafi jihadi groups. Phase one: create a lot of terrorism; phase two: if the state collapses, they will have a large vacuum; phase three: they will be the only entity to put the whole thing together, Islam will be the only common thing among many people. You establish a state.
The difference between al-Qaeda and ISIS is what phase are you on. Are you phase two or are you phase three? That has been an ideological difference that goes from the time of Zarqawi in Iraq.
ISIS had many different dynamics that are different than al-Qaeda, but if you look at their recruitment in the West, that's nothing new. Al-Qaeda recruited in the West. I did a lot of operations in Western countries, arresting al-Qaeda folks.
SEAMUS HUGHES: Well, the Hamburg cell.
ALI SOUFAN: The Hamburg cell from the West, but also you have cells in Belgium. The people who killed Ahmad Shah Massoud 48 hours before 9/11 were two Tunisians from Belgium from Molenbeek, the same place—the network still now operates more toward ISIS.
Al-Qaeda asks people to be ideologically pure in a way; at least you're on the path to being ideologically pure. ISIS doesn't care. The number one book bought by freedom fighters—and there's about 5,000 of them from Western countries—is basically Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies. Seriously; that's not a joke; 80 percent of the people who went from Belgium to Iraq and Syria were in jail. These guys, one day it was like, "Oh, you want to tell me I can have sex with slaves and I can have weapons and kill people and behead people? Awesome. I'm there." A lot of them went for that. Ideology comes later for these groups.
If you look at it from the ideological perspective and from the different phases, now there's no state. Think about it this way: If Zawahiri is not in the picture, if Baghdadi is not in the picture, if suddenly Hamza bin Laden, bin Laden's son, is the new leader for al-Qaeda and those guys are doing the same thing—most of them are trying to inspire people; one uses social media and one uses Inspire magazine—there is a big opportunity that they're going to go back to the main tree.
Strategically speaking—not tactically—I am actually still more worried about al-Qaeda than about ISIS.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: And that could be the victory of bin Laden essentially.
ALI SOUFAN: Absolutely. Well, both of them are bin Laden. The big mosque in Raqqa is bin Laden's mosque. They named it bin Laden's mosque.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: On Syria?
ALI SOUFAN: On Syria, there is no right direction. If bombing hospitals and killing people is the right direction, there is no right direction.
Unfortunately, the Syrian situation, I truly believe—and that's my own personal opinion—that the Syrian revolution was lost about three or four years ago, immediately after it started, when it became a regional war. The people who are supporting Assad, they don't care about Assad; the people who are fighting him don't care about Assad. It became a regional tug of war. Turkey has its own interests; Iran has its own interests; the Gulf States have their own interests; and everyone has people who are fighting for them. You have Sunni foreign fighters; you have Shia foreign fighters; you have Hezbollah trying to do their own thing over there for their own personal and strategic interests. You have Qasem Soleimani trying to lead the Quds Force and Shia volunteers from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.
I think the situation in Syria is very disastrous. It became a regional war, and the solution of Syria has nothing to do with the Syrians anymore, unfortunately, and I think that is one of the biggest disasters. Syria is very interesting because in a way our fast intervention in Iraq created a huge problem, and the lack of intervention in Syria created a big problem, so it's like damned if you intervene and damned if you don't.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: Seamus, the gentleman asked about the election. I think it's an important discussion, and I'm sure you'll have important things to say. It's too early obviously. We know that the U.S. machinery—the administration has continuity in its DNA, but we have two different philosophies here at this stage. What can you envision?
SEAMUS HUGHES: I talk a lot about religion in my job, so I try to avoid politics, but let's talk a little bit about it. I think it does play a role when it comes to Countering Violent Extremism. The reason why those imams called me is because I had built a relationship with them over three-and-a-half years. They knew when I came there I wasn't going to say things that were inappropriate, that I was coming from a good place, and these type of things. Given the current rhetoric of the presidential campaign, it's clearly going to take some time to build back that reservoir of good trust that we've had for quite a while.
Here is my asterisk on this: If Hillary had won, they would have just changed their messages online to focus on Hillary as a woman president. They'll adjust and adapt based on the situation. So there's that dynamic I think we need to keep in mind when we talk about, "the sky is falling down because of a new president" when if there were was another president, we'd have the same kind of issues—maybe not of the same magnitude but still the same type of issues.
But you're absolutely right in terms of bureaucracy. The great thing about a bureaucracy is it doesn't change; it's also the worst thing about a bureaucracy. The guys that are doing Countering Violent Extremism have probably about a year window—until the assistant secretaries get nominated, put in, things like that—to prove themselves and then make their case to the administration and say, "This non-law enforcement approach is the way to go."
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has set up a new task force on Countering Violent Extremism, they have the Department of Justice (DOJ); they have about a dozen folks who are doing this, which is probably 11 more people than when I was in government. We're getting to a point on those type of things, so I think we'll see how that approach goes. The announcement of John Kelly for DHS actually is quite interesting—not particularly an ideologue on these issues—and I think will come at it as a management approach.
I do want to go back to your question on this one. In terms of—we talk a lot about ISIS in the last two or three years, and I think that's important; but in many ways when it comes to the homegrown jihadists, the groups are a difference without a distinction. At the same timeframe those 111 people who were arrested for ISIS-related activities, there were 79 people arrested for non-ISIS but jihadist-inspired terrorism—so, al-Shabaab, AQAP, al-Qaeda central; 13 other Islamist groups that people were drawn to.
So the ideology does matter in some aspects in these type of things. At the end of the day, it comes down to who can they find connections to online, who is the first guy to hook them, if they're going to be al-Shabaab that day or whether they're going to be ISIS.
Occasionally you see a discerning terrorist. Think back to a case in California, a guy named Adam Shafi, who decides he wants to go and join al-Nusra. When they arrested him, they had the wiretaps, and he said, "I don't want to join ISIS; they're too violent, but al-Nusra is really up my alley." So, a discerning terrorist who decides this terrorist group is a little too violent for me, but this terrorist group's really good, and so that plays out sometimes too.
ALI SOUFAN: It goes both ways because we've seen this pattern of the Americanization of some of these groups starting a few years back. Adam Gadahn a few years back was number three, four, five in al-Qaeda, and then you had a couple of kids from Minneapolis to go to al-Shabaab being in the top leadership. So you've had this cyber dimension that appeals becoming a reality also on the other side.
SEAMUS HUGHES: Surprisingly, we haven't seen many Americans rise through the ranks as high as you had seen in past terrorist organizations. The highest one we have is a guy named Abdellah Pizzaro [phonetic], a midlevel commander, spent 20 years in the United States, gets his U.S. citizenship and 11 days later gets on a plane and becomes Omar Shishani's deputy and runs a battalion of guys of foreign fighters there. But that's kind of an outlier. It's usually the knuckleheads for the most part.
QUESTION: I'm Shannon O'Shea, I'm from UNICEF.
I'm particularly interested in the fact that young people are being recruited into this, the average age being 27. What are some of the commonalities of young people being recruited into not just Muslim terrorist groups but into gangs, into white supremacy groups, etc.? It's not just Muslims.
There are a lot of commonalities, including lack of hope, lack of jobs, lack of sense of belonging, poverty. The government—as you've admitted—is not the best in terms of figuring out how to deal with that not in a reactive way but in a proactive way. Is there research that's being done, or some thinking out of the box, on how it's not just the government going to a mosque after a terrorist attack has occurred, but what are the things that can be done to influence, inspire, and make sure that people that have these common issues, that don't feel like they belong, are reached before they become extreme?
QUESTION: Don Simmons.
As ISIS has been militarily shrunk, ISIS's sources of income and prestige have been shrinking, and some of those fighters, as the paychecks dry up, have left. Could we be looking at a future where the international terrorist movement consists of a bunch of wise guys with clever websites cheerleading for strangers to kill people in distant places? Is that where we're headed?
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Xiao Kang.
I'm from the United Nations al-Qaeda/ISIL Sanctions Committee. I have a question regarding the future of ISIS. It continues to lose ground in Syria and Iraq, and it's trying to expand its presence and influence in other regions like North Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia. Do you think those areas are going to be the new core for this terrorist group and new training camps for all foreign fighters? What is the future of this organization?
QUESTION: Sondra Stein.
I read today in the New York Times that the Afghanis were asking for Saudi Arabia's help in not funding the Taliban. What do you think is going to happen in Afghanistan, and talk about Saudi Arabia and also particularly Saudi Arabia in Syria, as well as in Afghanistan?
QUESTION: I'm John Hirsch from the International Peace Institute.
The first lady more or less asked my question: What programs are underway to counter—because most of what you both have said has been analysis. Then in the paper this morning, there was a suggestion that in both Raqqa and Mosul they've pretty much defeated ISIS. Do you think that's accurate, or do you think that's inaccurate?
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: Thank you very much. Let's go back to the panel. I'm going to start with you, Seamus, this time. The first part of the last question and the first one are about the youth, the programs. Operationally can you tell us a bit more? And then, if you can address the other questions as well if you want to.
SEAMUS HUGHES: The age thing actually is new. In the mid-2000s, the average age of an al-Qaeda recruit was 32. So the trend lines are going younger. In one-third of the cases, they're 21 years or younger. It's very much a kind of youth movement, at least when it comes to foreign fighters in the U.S. context and primarily in Europe, too. You don't have the big thinkers who are debating the finer points of Dil Azam [phonetic]; they're not these type of guys. They're looking at the 140 characters on Twitter, which is kind of a shame because I really enjoy the back-and-forth when you talk to these guys.
ALI SOUFAN: It's like our president.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: Sign of the times. [Laughter]
SEAMUS HUGHES: We're actually in a very interesting point in the U.S. context when it comes to Countering Violent Extremism. Congress for the first time in the last 10 years has actually given the administration $10 million for prevention programs. Before that, it was me and three of my friends begging, borrowing, and stealing my way through whatever programs we could do.
The $10 million—the announcement of funding which is going to community grants—will give us a sense of what they want to focus on. Is it that broad-based engagement—which I hope it's not—or is those interventions? Do they get in that online space? Do they stop ceding the ideological battlefield when it comes to the online space? We'll know that in the next week or so.
Where this money goes to will tell you a lot about where it should go. In many ways, we're five years behind the United Kingdom, which went through giving out the money to community groups and then pulled back from that, and we're getting to that dynamic.
I do want to touch back on one of the questions in terms of where does ISIS go now. Despite my boyish good looks, I'm not a huge believer in online radicalization, but I would say there's an interesting dynamic right now on the online environment. In the good old days 10 years ago, you had about a dozen password-protected forums, you had to be primed to go join them, excited about the narrative, and we could collect against it. It was pretty good to do that.
Then the advent of social media—kind of a kicking on to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, places like that—you were able to get the fence-sitters in a way you hadn't before; the merely curious, the individuals who were following the Assad atrocities and things like that.
We're actually in a new phase now where ISIS is largely concentrated on Telegram, which is a mix between the old and the new. It's a closed and open platform, kind of a group chat, and that's going to change recruitment in very different ways. It's going to mean we're likely going to have less online recruitment, but the ones that we recruit are really true believers; they're all-in on this type of thing because they have more interaction, more of a daily thing. I don't think we've approached counter-messaging on that. So if you look at the State Department's programming—much is on Twitter, which still matters but doesn't matter that much anymore.
ALI SOUFAN: But it's very basic.
SEAMUS HUGHES: It's basic.
ALI SOUFAN: What ISIS does in the summer of 2014 is introduce something revolutionary, these videos. You speak about recruitment, but they are passive recruitment in and of themselves. The Hollywood style, the super-slow motion, the sound, the appeal, and the speed of all of that is something that al-Qaeda did not do. They pioneered it a bit with some of the videos, but I think that in and of itself is a message de facto.
SEAMUS HUGHES: So instead of the 30-second video which the State Department can put out tomorrow, that doesn't mean anything. In terms of a back-and-forth with a fighter who's in Raqqa—we used to be worried about spiritual sanctions, the Anwar al-Alwakis of the world who would say, "Go out and do this, and you're okay to attack." That's essentially a moot point now. Everyone agrees it is okay to join terrorist organizations. You have the perceived religious obligation.
What's more interesting is about the foreign fighters there, and our jihadists are looking for validation from guys who are in the field saying, "You should do this." They're feeling like, "I've talked to the rock star guy that's there."
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: Thank you very much.
Ali, there's a couple of questions on ISIS which I'll come to in a minute. Not to forget the Saudi Arabia and the geostrategic aspect, but on ISIS itself and looking forward, adding my questions to those of the colleagues here: We have a success narrative—and the Iraqis are very good at sending those—that is really not necessarily convincing. Mosul has not fallen, and it started a couple of weeks ago. It will inevitably, sooner or later, but it hasn't, and ISIS is not technically yet defeated. Everybody's taking it for granted, but it's the nature of these movements, as you said, that they bounce back, they morph, they produce another generation, and they inspire kids all over the world.
Are these success narratives, or narratives of closure, a problem that we've been carrying in our analysis over the past 15 years?
ALI SOUFAN: I think we have to be very careful in dealing with this, and I think probably people will understand it better if we bring the argument home with fake news. You've been reading a lot about fake news.
There are a lot of conspiracies over there. There are people who since 1996, since Osama bin Laden, 1996, trying to say that, "Hey, there is an alliance, a crusader-Jewish alliance, to destroy the Muslim world and plunder its money," and that was the basis of all the fatwas or the religious orders that al-Qaeda gave for all their terrorist attacks, and this is the same one that ISIS now is giving, even though at the beginning it wasn't part of the ISIS narrative.
When you put all these things on social media—you put it out on Twitter, on YouTube, on Facebook, you have that engagement—it's very similar to the people who share fake news here. They took it to a totally different level. In the Middle East, conspiracies are more easy to believe because nationalism doesn't really exist in so many different ways. You take the pharaoh out, and the whole system collapses if you don't replace a strong man with another strong man. "How is the new boss? Same as the old," as the saying goes. In al-Qaeda, their genius, the Salafi jihadis in general, understand that system, and they've played it very well to their own advantage, and that's what we're seeing,.
I am not a big believer in engaging with people, trying to convince them to change their minds. If I have an argument with you now—you tell me the Brooklyn Bridge is on fire; I tell you, no, the Brooklyn Bridge is not on fire—two minutes later, one minute later, the only thing we're hearing is "Brooklyn Bridge on fire."
All our studies, all our arguments, people who are inside the bubble, there are only two ways to get them out: cuffs or bullets; that's it. When they are in jail they can contemplate what they did, and a lot of them become reformers; they reform; some of them reform. Some of them claim they reform; the moment you put them out, you find them again on the battlefield, and that happened a lot.
So I think we have to keep that in mind. We have to create a new space rather than arguing with them on their own space. Try to argue with someone who believes "pizzagate" is fake. Now they are saying, "Oh, you know what? It's not fake. That guy was an actor. It actually happened, but they are trying to cover it up." That's conspiracies.
Conspiracies go in cycles, and that's exactly what we're having over there, and that's why—imagine trying to argue with a white supremacist that the white race is not the superior race and Hitler was a bad guy. It's not going to go anywhere.
That's why we have to create a new platform for something like this, and we have to basically put a message out that reminds people of what our identity is, and that message has to be different. The problem with the government, State Department, it's like a checklist: "We counter-message, check; put it everywhere around the world." No, the incubating factors in different places and different regions around the world are very different, even if you look at New York City.
If you're dealing with a community, for example, in Queens—and I'm talking about only the Muslim community—they are more concerned about Afghanistan and Pakistan issues. You go to Brooklyn, it's the Levant issues; the Arab-Israeli conflict is probably more interesting to them than what's happening in the hills of Kabul.
It's different, so you have to basically look at what we have and what's the problem we have. In the United States with kids, the problem that we have is an identity issue. Most of these kids are having some sort of an identity issue. The problem that we have is we have to remind people that the glass is half-full in America, not half-empty.
The Muslim population in America is more than four million people. We had 250 who went to Syria or attempted to go to Syria. In Belgium, the Muslim community is half a million, and you had more than 500 people who went to Syria. In the United States, we have only 150 who almost made it there. Why? Because the American dream works. Why? Because nationalism in America is not based on a bloodline.
Ronald Reagan used to say, "You can live in France, but you will never be French; you can live in England, but you'll never be English; you can live in Germany, but you will never be German; you live in America, you are an American." We have to remind people about that, and we have to create that space. If we don't do that, we're wasting our time.
We started this counter-narrative and CVE and all these things under the Bush administration. The Obama administration continued with it, and they enhanced it in so many different ways. But toward the end, we need to go back to the root and look at that message and look at the ideology and see how we can deal with the factors that encourage it to happen, created it—not deal with the symptoms; we have to deal with the disease.
The other question is about if we're there yet. We are there. Most of the terrorism that we have in America is basically people who are inspired. They read these things online, they get into that message, and they go ahead and carry out the attack without knowing anything about the group, without having that relationship. The phases of ISIS engagement face-to-face is gone. This is when they were trying to get people to go to Syria and Iraq. Now they just want people to kill. They want people to go from the radicalization process to the mobilization process overnight, so we are already there.
The question about Iraq and Syria, if ISIS is losing: They are losing; however, they didn't lose Raqqa yet. There is no pressure even on Raqqa at this point. There is a lot of pressure on Mosul.
But you have to keep one thing in mind. I agree with what you said—if we don't deal with the regional factors and the domestic factors that allowed a group like ISIS to exist, tomorrow we'll have "BISIS" or "THISIS" or "PHYSIS," you name it; something else will come.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: The "real al-Qaeda."
ALI SOUFAN: It will go back to something else.
So we have to deal with the incubating factors that are feeding into that narrative, encouraging people to join. Sometimes it's dealing with an issue of discrimination in Belgium or in France, or dealing with somebody saying stupid stuff in the United States that makes a kid believe that, "Oh, all these things are happening wrong in my life because I'm a Muslim or I am whatever."
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: Let me stop you right there because this is where we are today. We've gotten to the point where people start freaking out on a plane because a brown person sits next to them, and this is part of now the policies that have somehow led to this, unbeknownst to some of the people that actually made them.
ALI SOUFAN: I feel sorry for the Sikhs, who are not even Muslims, and they get shot all time.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: They complain all the time about that.
ALI SOUFAN: Well, they get beat all the time because of the turban and the hair.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: The question on financing?
ALI SOUFAN: This is a big problem. First of all, the Saudis and people in the Gulf States in general—Kuwait is also as big—they have a big Salafi jihadi movement, and that Salafi jihadi movement is allowed to fund and send money, even though legally they say they are not allowed. But they let it happen. They let it happen because strategically the only thing they think about is, "How can we diminish Iran's influence in the region and defeat Assad?" They really don't care how it happens as long as it's happening. So the moment they get caught, they put the people who are doing it in jail, but then it continues. It's a vicious cycle. I think that's a problem that we're having.
There is something that I saw on the BBC recently. They are finding a lot of weapons and ammunition in Iraq, in Mosul. You check the serial numbers of these weapons and ammunition—they were purchased from Eastern Europe by the United States or by the Saudis, and it takes two months from the date of purchase; they go to Turkey, and they end up in Mosul with ISIS fighting us. We're giving them to some rebels who we believe they are going to bring Madisonian democracy to the region, and those guys are giving it to ISIS to fight us with them.
I think we have to basically be careful, and we have to deal with these factors. We can't just ignore the facts on the ground. We need to hold ourselves accountable, and we need to hold also our allies accountable. This is a fight that cannot be solved by defeating ISIS or defeating al-Qaeda. We destroyed Taliban in Afghanistan; we destroyed bin Laden in Afghanistan. Bin Laden on the eve of 9/11 had 400 pledged members. Today, al-Nusra in Syria have thousands and thousands, have armies, have tanks, have missiles. Al-Nusra in Syria is bigger than whatever bin Laden ever—he didn't even imagine having armies like this, and we are only talking about al-Nusra. Since the Saudi adventure in Yemen, AQAP went from 1,000 to 4,000 members. This is according to official U.S. government numbers. I believe the number is way higher than that.
If you look at those 400 people in Afghanistan whose behinds we kicked after 9/11—half of them ended up in Guantanamo Bay—now we have a movement of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of members that go all the way from Southeast Asia to the Western shores of Africa to the message that Seamus was talking about here in the United States.
Let's go back to the fundamentals here, and let's kill the message instead of just killing messengers.
MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU: Thank you very much, Ali. Thank you, Seamus. Unfortunately, this is all the time we have. Before we go, I want to thank both of you for your insights. I think you've taken us through a lot. I also want to thank all the people who asked excellent questions and all of you for coming.
On behalf of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, my thanks to Carnegie. Please join me in thanking our colleagues this evening.
JOANNE MYERS: I thank you, Mahmoud; I thank you, Ali; and I thank you, Seamus, for an extraordinary discussion. I'm sure we have many questions left, so I invite you all to join us in continuing the conversation.
Thank you again.