It is no secret that Daesh has grand plans to conquer more of the Middle East from the vast terrain it currently controls in Syria and Iraq. The dreaded terror oganisation has also fanned out to Europe with its rabid ideology that has triggered self-starter attacks like the one against the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. But Latin America and the Caribbean?
Two months ago, General John Kelly of the US Southern Command warned of extremists radicalising Muslim converts and others in South America and the Caribbean. Security concerns were raised because these countries have weak law enforcement systems that allow extremist elements and wannabe terrorists an environment in which they can move freely across the region and to the thick of action in Syria and Iraq.
General Kelly estimated that there were around 100 that left from the Caribbean for Ash Sham, or the greater Levant region, which covers Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. The general’s revelations then raised some eyebrows but could not be verified.
Now, an independent probe has confirmed extremist doctrine has indeed spread to the Caribbean.
Veryan Khan, an analyst with the US-based Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), who tracks and studies social media and other channels to understand the recruitment tactics of terrorist groups, self-starter cells and separatist movements, says there are confirmed and documented Daesh cases in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, as well as in Guyana. Speaking to Khaleej Times, Veryan, who is also TRAC’s Editorial Director, says these cases are, however, sparse and do not amount to a groundswell of new activity for Daesh.
‘‘If you look at Daesh propaganda, (digitised computer generated maps at the beginning of their big budget films like Even if the Disbelievers Despise Such), their global vision starts in Rome, moves through the world ending with North America in the United States. South America isn’t even portrayed/visualised in their global propaganda map as existing,’’ she explains. Veryan says there are Daesh-affiliated Twitter accounts lamenting that a certain popular propaganda item has been translated into every other language besides Spanish. ‘‘This tells us that Latin America is low on Daesh’s outreach programme. The Caribbean, depending on the island, speaks a greater variety of languages (English, Spanish, French and Dutch or European language-based creoles). Therefore, Daesh’s message is more likely to get through to them.’’
On May 16th 2014, the terror tracking group noticed the very first tweet on the claim of the existence of Al Mexiki. Since then, all references to the Mexican in Daesh can be traced back to that first tweet but no new intelligence has been gathered on him.
‘‘I am not saying he doesn’t exist but I am saying that Tweet doesn’t pass our test for making a claim that it’s true. (Twitter is a very good source of primary resource information — but — Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium relies on key indicators and cross references to verify the veracity of any claim on Twitter.)
She says Latin America, particularly, Venezuela, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil have been much more receptive to Shia groups like Hezbollah than Sunni. Traditionally, the Shia discourse fits in better with the Leftist viewpoints from Venezuela and the overall revolutionary rhetoric.
There may be little cause for alarm about Daesh recruitments in South America, but Johan Obdola, a narco-terrorism expert and a former police chief in Venezuela, who heads the International Organization of Security and Intelligence, echoes Veryan’s views on Daesh in the Caribbean and says Trinidad and Tobago government officials have indicated that several of their nationals have joined the group
‘‘In the Caribbean, there is a group called Jamaat Al Muslimeen. Many of its members are based in Trinidad and Tobago. The group leader is Yasin Abu Bk, who could be playing an important role in recruitments for Daesh along with other actors,’’ says Johan.
So what are countries in the Caribbean and Latin America doing to counter Daesh’s propaganda and recruitment strategy? Veryan says individual countries are engaged at a planning level to counter threats posed by the group.
US border with Mexico on radar
US Republicans and members of Congress fear that the border with Mexico is porous and training camps have been established in Texas, but the Director of the FBI, in early May, termed the claims as “nonsense.”
In a recent Daesh video called We will Burn America the group compiled a long series of “on the spot” reporting from local media outlets hyping up the porous border — so the border is on their radar. ‘‘But I think more in terms of calling for self- starters in North America rather than being in operational stages for cross-border activity,’’ clarifies Veryan.
Sneaking a nuclear weapon through Mexico is not impossible, but such claims lack credibility. ‘‘I believe that is part of the propaganda of Daesh to attract supporters,’’ says Johan, who believes the confrontation between Daesh and Hezbollah in the Middle East could reach dangerous levels in Latin America, if states do not ramp up their security and guard against the drug trade that funds Hezbollah activities.
The big concern for US intelligence agencies is not young Daesh sympathisers who want to leave for Iraq-Syria to join Daesh, but local operatives or lone wolfs who might be preparing for some coordinated terrorist attacks.
Veryan agrees and says Daesh specialises in seeking out the disenfranchised, the people who feel guilty about their lives, the ones who want to make a difference for others. ‘‘Daesh has been very successful in cell strategy in Spain, but it has yet to really spread its message in Spanish. Which tells TRAC, again, if the person from Latin America is not actively searching it out and translating it, then the message is less likely to be heard.’’
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