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Showing posts from October 7, 2013

'White Widows' and Knickers: Diversions from Real Threats

By Scott Stewart

In the wake of the assault on Nairobi's Westgate Mall, one of the media narratives that has fascinated me has been the focus on Samantha Lewthwaite, the so-called "white widow" of deceased suicide bomber Germaine Lindsay, who was one of the men responsible for the London Subway bombings on July 7, 2005. Really, the press coverage of Lewthwaite following the Westgate attack has been more like a media storm than a narrative, especially in Lewthwaite's home country, the United Kingdom. A British newspaper even published an article about the style of knickers she prefers.

The nonsensical media coverage of Lewthwaite (and her knickers) typifies an issue that has bothered me for some time. The press, and indeed even some analysts, tend to overstate the importance of some jihadists merely because they speak English, or were born in an English-speaking country.
The Lewthwaite Case

Despite some witness reports from Nairobi claiming that an English-speaking woman…

How Middle East Affairs Inform North Korean Strategy


The timing of a North Korean delegation's visit to Iran for "friendship week" suggests that more than just a cultural exchange is taking place. The apparent U.S.-Russia agreement on Syria and the early steps toward dialogue between Washington and Tehran can help Pyongyang gauge any possible rapprochement with the United States. They also emphasize how differently North Korea formulates its strategy to deal with Washington.


Under the auspice of the DPRK-Iran Friendship Association, North Korea and Iran mark friendship weeks nearly every year, but these usually come earlier in the year, between February and June. They also typically involve Iranian diplomats who are already stationed in North Korea, not North Korean delegations traveling to Iran. North Korean Labor Minister Jong Yong Su, the head of the association since 2005, has long-established relations with Tehran, and these ties may allow for a more candid dialogue between the two states -- a prospect…

Libya's Fraying Power Structures

Tripoli announced recently that it would extend registration deadlines for nearly 100 local council elections that have been delayed for months due to weak voter interest. The central government's urgency about holding local elections reflects its growing reliance on a widening pool of disparate rural authorities -- a departure from its post-revolutionary model of working with larger regional power centers to maintain a fragile peace.

Tripoli's weakened hold over Libyan security and power became evident soon after the ouster of former leader Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011. The interim authority that replaced him, the National Transitional Council, was tasked with holding together a country that is naturally fractured by geography and regional differences, without the strong security and political tools of the Gadhafi regime. The result has been a complicated system of interdependence between the central government and Libya's various urban centers and their respective envi…

Iran: A Mysterious High-Level Killing


For the second day in a row, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has denied that the recent death of Mojtaba Ahmadi, an Iranian allegedly working under a cyberwarfare unit linked to the corps, was an assassination. The murky details surrounding Ahmadi's death raise many more questions than answers, but the information released so far does not appear to support widespread speculation that this was either an Israeli-orchestrated operation or the result of an IRGC power struggle amid a developing U.S.-Iranian dialogue.


Mojtaba Ahmadi was found dead Oct. 2 in a forested area near his home in the town of Karaj, northwest of Tehran. An eyewitness at the scene of the police investigation told Alborz news agency, a regional media outlet based in northwestern Iran, that Ahmadi had two bullet wounds in his chest, suggesting he was shot at close range. The local police chief also told Alborz that two motorcycles were seeing fleeing the scene. Footage of Ahmadi's …