Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

05 Mar 2015

In the Roundup this week we look at an account of life inside al-Qaeda, the state of religious minorities in Iraq, and efforts to stop jihadi groups becoming involved in the conflict in the Central African Republic.

We also feature analysis on new extremist groups in Egypt, questions on how centralised Boko Haram's leadership remains, and new research into global restrictions on religion.

Top Stories

Al-Qaeda: Aimen Dean, one of the first members of al-Qaeda who turned informant for MI6 in 1998, recounts his experiences of the group in a revealing inteview with Peter Marshall

Iraq: As operations begin to recapture territory seized by ISIS in June 2014, two new reports highlight the plight of religious minorities in Iraq. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws out the key findings.

Middle East and North Africa

Egypt: 'Revolutionary Punishment', a little-known group behind a deadly bombing in Cairo this week, can be linked to the teachings of Shahid Bolsen, an American convert to Islam and convicted murderer. Mokhtar Awad and Samuel Tadros profile his blend of revolutionary Salafism. 

Iraq: The Iraqi army has started operations to recapture swathes of territory seized by ISIS. Their greatest challenge will be taking Mosul: the capital of Sunni Iraq, in which an 'occupying force' of Shia and Kurds may not be welcome, write Michael Knights and Michael Pregent

Syria: Amid continuing news of the kidnapping of at least 220 Assyrian Christians by ISIS,  Richard Spencer tells of an Assyrian battalion that is fighting alongside Kurdish forces in north-west Syria, in an effort to defend its community from jihadi groups. 

Libya: Fears of an ISIS takeover in Libya are overblown, argues Geoffrey Howard. Its areas of strength are in regions that had histories of jihadism, and its momentum will be difficult to sustain. 

Sub-Saharan Africa

Central African Republic: During the crisis in the CAR, international jihadi groups volunteered to take revenge on Christian militias, but faith leaders in the country are working to prevent radicalisation, writes James Smith

Nigeria: With military advances against Boko Haram, and as the number of suicide bombings in  Nigeria with no claims of responsibility increase, John Campbell asks if Boko Haram is now operating away from a centralised leadership. If this is the case, Campbell says the current strategy being deployed by the government may be ineffective.

Nigeria: The effects of Boko Haram's attacks against the people of northeast Nigeria can be seen particularly clearly at the American University of Nigeria (AUN) in Yola. Margee Ensign reports on how the university has become a safe haven for 270,000 internally displaced people, but how this is itself turning into a humanitarian crisis.

Kenya: This week Kenya announced its plans to construct a "separation barrier" along vulnerable sections of its porous border with Somalia, primarily to keep out al-Shabaab militants and Somali illegal immigrants.  Simon Allison examines how effective this tactic will be at ensuring long term peace and stability in the region, referencing other examples from around the world. 

Central and South Asia

Pakistan/Afghanistan: The complicated relationship between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Taliban threatens an enduring peace process, argues Hekmatullah Azamy. In particular there is a fear that the growing influence of ISIS in the region will lead to the Taliban building its relationships with regional jihadi groups to continue its fight in both countries.

India: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is looking to engage the India diaspora, the second largest in the world, in the country's foreign policy. However, many diaspora Indians, particularly in the US, disagree with Modi's Hindu nationalist politics, writes Rama Lakshmi.

East & South East Asia

Indonesia/Philippines: With terrorist attacks in Indonesia decreasing, but with the Philippines witnessing the recent operation which resulted in the death of 44 police commandos, Scott N. McKay and David A. Webb investigate how counter-terrorism compares in the two countries. Their findings suggest the law enforcement-based approach in Indonesia has been more effective than the military-based approach in the Philippines.

Malaysia/Philippines: As repercussions continue following the operation to capture extremists in the Philippines earlier this year, Malaysian peace monitors are being deployed to the southern Philippines to help to stabilise the peace process between the government and Muslim rebels. Prashanth Parameswaran assesses the significance of this move and the difficulties that will be faced by the monitors.

Myanmar: As elections in the country draw closer, Hanna Hindstrom raises the continued struggle faced by the ethnic Muslim Rohinyga community in being recognised as citizens of Myanmar. Hindstrom notes that internal politics have led to the Rohingya being left with nothing to gain from country's political transition.


Religious Restrictions: A new report from the Pew Research Centre finds that overall global restrictions on religion fell in 2013, but there was an increase in anti-Semitism. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws out the key findings.


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