February 17, 2015

TSG IntelBrief: The New World Disorder

• The beheading of 21 Coptic Egyptians by a Libyan-affiliate of the Islamic State shows the inadequacy of describing the spreading extremism as primarily sectarian or even grievance-driven

• The brutal murders on the shores of the Mediterranean, in typical Islamic State cinematic sweep and scope, weren’t about Sunni oppression as was the professed case in Syria and Iraq; rather, these murders don’t pretend to be anything other than an expression of a violent ideology

• Like a wind-fed wildfire, this ideology of extremist violence is jumping borders faster than all attempts to contain it, with individual sparks igniting—most recently in Copenhagen—with unpredictable but often ominous results

• The upcoming conference by the U.S. government on countering violent extremism will take place amidst unprecedented violence that isn’t focused on a specific foe as much as it is focused on the fight itself.


It is a sign of how the spread of violent extremism has become a race to the very bottom of spectacle. Beheadings by extremist groups affiliated with the Islamic State now seem routine and therefore mass beheadings are required for the needed visual and visceral shock value. The choreographed and videotaped murder of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians on the Libyan shores of the Mediterranean wasn’t about avenging perceived Sunni oppression at the hands of the hated Shi’a; nor was it about avenging airstrikes by anti-Islamic State coalition governments. These murders were filmed as a celebration of the violent ideology sweeping not just the region but across the Internet and among far-flung individuals in Copenhagen, Paris, Ottawa, Sydney, and beyond.

This violent ideology of bin-Ladinism, which manifests itself in ways as different as a proclaimed caliphate of the Islamic State or a recently-released criminal in Denmark, represents the “New World Disorder.” This disorder has no respect for international borders that have already experienced the shocks of either union or disunion. Feeding off of persistent conflicts such as Iraq and Syria, societies in which connectedness is solely a cyber term, and the competing machinations of various regional governments, this ideology has achieved escape velocity and has crossed all assumed boundaries.

The gruesome murder of the Egyptian Coptic Christians, who had been kidnapped in two incidents—one last month and the other in late December 2014 in the central Libyan city of Sirte—was different from its previous videotaped executions. There was no pretense of justification (other than a nonsensical mention of the “hostile Egyptian Church”) nor were any real demands made. This was their ideology laid bare, with the justification being that the group did it and nothing more. The situation in Libya is extremely complicated—with tribal and regional actors vying for influence and power in a chaotic landscape—yet this spectacle failed to communicate what the group hoped to achieve beyond mass murder.

1,500 miles to the north in Copenhagen, Omar el-Hussein, a Danish-born citizen of Palestinian-descent, imitated—consciously or otherwise—last month’s attacks in Paris. In a Charlie Hebdo-esque attack, he shot at a free-speech rally, killing one person, and then later shot at a synagogue, again killing one person before later being killed by police. There is no indication el-Hussein was connected to any extremist group (though he appears to have been radicalized in prison, an all-too common occurrence), and yet he expressed the ideology just the same as if he were a member of the Islamic State or al-Qaeda. The killing of “the other,” be it driven by anti-Semitism or anti-liberal democracy, in its Denmark manifestation, violent extremism is simply a masked individual’s expression of what happened in Libya by 21 masked killers. In Raqqa, Syria, Mosul, Iraq, and elsewhere, the ideology manifests itself as anti-Shi’a and anti-moderate-Sunni. In the end it’s anti-everything-but-them.

What connects Libya to Copenhagen, Paris to Ottawa, and Raqqa to Mosul, is not a shared enmity to a specific foe. It’s a common approach to every point of difference or opposition: murder. This spreading threat that doesn’t flow from defined borders like other threats is what confronts the White House’s February 18 conference on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). The CVE conference will take place amidst a violent extremism that is unprecedented in its dispersal. When an individual doesn’t need a group affiliation to violently act, traditional counterterrorism efforts fail, putting more pressure on CVE efforts that struggle to get in between the vulnerable individual and the violent ideology before it’s too late. The New World Disorder will prove exceedingly taxing not only to law enforcement and intelligence services but to communities and CVE groups, as the ideology steadily spreads from the Mediterranean to the Baltic.


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