Eye on Extremism: Apr 3, 2020

The National: Neo-Nazis Eye Coronavirus Pandemic As Rallying Cry, Experts Warn

“The virus itself and the world’s response to it has elicited “excitement” in the extreme right, British anti-hate charity Hope Not Hate said. Different groups, they say, are seeking to capitalise on the moment to drive recruitment, spread racist propaganda and plan attacks. “These groups understand that a pandemic and economic downturn provide them with opportunities to promote conspiracy theories, assign blame and offer their ideology as a solution,” Counter Extremism Project researcher Joshua Fisher-Birch told The National. Mr Fisher-Birch said groups like the Nordic Resistance and Hundred Handers movements have sought to grow their membership as a result of the pandemic, and Generation Identity has used the crisis to advocate for their brand of European ethnonationalism. The uptick in time spent online by those in lockdown in countries from Italy to the UK presents an opportunity for these groups to reach people on mainstream media platforms. “More and more of us are spending our time online, especially those people who have children are now home and being schooled remotely,” Oren Segal, Vice President of the Anti-Defamation League’s Centre on Extremism, told an online discussion hosted by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University on Monday. It’s not just the sheer amount of free time many have that could play into the hands of those recruiting for hate groups, said Mr Fisher-Birch.”

Voice Of America: Nigeria Announces 'Massive' Joint Offensive On Jihadists

“Nigeria on Thursday said it had launched a “massive” joint offensive with troops from Chad and Niger against jihadists waging a decade-long insurgency in the region. The announcement comes after Chad's defense minister said Tuesday his country had deployed forces across its neighbors' borders to battle insurgents who killed almost 100 Chadian soldiers last month. Nigeria's military said attacks by fighters from Boko Haram and a splinter group affiliated to the so-called Islamic State group had “necessitated the contiguous nations of the Lake Chad basin to jointly launch this massive onslaught.” Details about the operation were sketchy. Nigeria has made repeated claims in the past to have rolled back the insurgents. The 10-year revolt has left at least 36,000 dead and displaced around 1.8 million people in northeast Nigeria alone. The conflict has spilt over into neighboring countries as the Islamists have established camps and launched attacks against military and civilian targets. The countries around Lake Chad have set up a multinational force to counter the jihadists but it has so far failed to end the bloodshed. The militants on March 23 killed at least 98 Chadian soldiers in an attack on an island army base in Lake Chad.”

Daily Sabah: Turkey Freezes Assets Of Groups Linked To Daesh, Al-Qaida

“Turkey on Thursday froze the assets of three organizations linked to Daesh and al-Qaida terror groups in line with a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution. According to the Official Gazette, Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) and two groups affiliated with Daesh operating in Iraq, Libya and Yemen were added to the list of entities affiliated with the two terrorist organizations. Turkey recognized Daesh as a terrorist organization in 2013. Since then, the country has been attacked by Daesh terrorists numerous times, including 10 suicide bombings, seven bombings and four armed attacks, which killed 315 people and injured hundreds more. Turkey has been carrying out extensive anti-terror operations at home and abroad to capture terrorists. Turkish security forces have been involved in a long-running campaign to thwart the Daesh threat. Some 2,000 people have been arrested and 7,000 others deported in operations against Daesh in Turkey, while around 70,000 people have been denied entry to Turkey over their suspected links to the terrorist group. Security forces have also foiled at least 10 attack plots. Figures show that some 18,500 suspects are currently being monitored for links to the terrorist organization after being identified at airports upon arrival.”

United States

The New York Times: Man Pleads Guilty To Plotting To Attack White House With Anti-Tank Missile

“A Georgia man who sought to obtain an anti-tank missile pleaded guilty this week to plotting terrorist attacks on the White House, the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks, federal prosecutors said. The man, Hasher Jallal Taheb, 23, of Cumming, Ga., faces up to 20 years in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of five years after accepting a plea agreement on Wednesday in United States District Court in Atlanta, the authorities said. Mr. Taheb emerged as a suspect in March 2018, when local police received a tip from someone in his community saying that Mr. Taheb had become radicalized, changed his name and planned to travel abroad, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said. When Mr. Taheb later advertised his vehicle for sale, an F.B.I. informant said he was interested in buying it. That is when Mr. Taheb revealed his plans to carry out terrorist attacks on targets that included the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and a synagogue in Washington, D.C., the authorities said. The informant introduced Mr. Taheb to an undercover F.B.I. agent, to whom he showed a hand-drawn diagram of the West Wing of the White House, a criminal affidavit said.”

Los Angeles Times: FBI Looks For Ties To Extremist Groups In Train Derailment Near Hospital Ship Mercy

“The FBI is examining whether a man accused of intentionally derailing a freight train near the Navy hospital ship Mercy, which is docked in San Pedro to help with the coronavirus crisis, had any ties to extremist groups, and agents are digging into his social media background. Eduardo Moreno, 44, of San Pedro was charged with deliberately wrecking a train during the incident Tuesday, which led to a derailment and fuel leak, according to the charges. “Moreno is the only person charged in the case. While the government has made no allegations linking Moreno to an extremist ideology, our investigation is continuing,” the FBI said in a statement to The Times. Prosecutors allege that Moreno derailed the train and deliberately crashed through barriers designed to stop engines before grinding to a halt 250 yards from the Mercy. Prosecutors said Moreno admitted during an interview that he had run the train beyond the track because he believed the Mercy was part of suspicious activities involving the coronavirus. Moreno, according to multiple sources, believed the Mercy was part of a government control conspiracy designed to divide and control the people. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly on the incident.”

Syria

Voice Of America: Trials Of IS Fighters In Syria Suspended Indefinitely

“It’s like we are holding a ticking bomb in our hands,” a guard in a prison in northeastern Syria told us in February. The facility holds roughly 5,000 accused Islamic State militants from all over the world. A month later, the metaphorical bomb went off. Prisoners rioted on Sunday, overrunning one floor of the prison and smashing interior doors. Later that night, wearing a black mask and flanked by men carrying AK-47s, Rubar Hassan, the prison’s director, appeared before news cameras, appealing for international help. More than a year after the territorial defeat of IS in Syria, officials here still feel baffled and betrayed by the international community. Defeating IS was considered a worldwide problem, but securing the region and preventing a resurgence of the group has mostly been left in the hands of ill-equipped local authorities. “These prisoners come from 50 different countries,” said Hassan. “But now they are with us, and many of these countries have turned their backs on us.” After repeated unanswered calls for countries to take back their nationals or form an international court, the regional government here said they were planning to start holding trials locally.”

Politico: U.S. Military Fears Pandemic Could Lead To ISIS Resurgence In Syria

“The military is concerned that the Islamic State terrorist group could rebound amid an unfolding humanitarian crisis in northeastern Syria, as local officials sound the alarm about a lack of resources to deal with a coronavirus outbreak. In order to help prevent a crisis, the international coalition to defeat the militant group has begun sending basic medical equipment and other supplies to the Syrian Democratic Forces guarding thousands of ISIS prisoners, two senior coalition staff officers who work directly on this issue told POLITICO. In addition to the potential for a new humanitarian crisis, the worry is that worsening conditions across the besieged region could spark riots in the detention centers and provide ISIS the opportunity to recruit additional members, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “Any conditions that are adverse, be it the pandemic or access to essential services, are always going to be things that Daesh could use for recruitment to try to bring people into their ideology,” said one of the officers, using the Arabic name for ISIS. Already this week, a group of ISIS prisoners tried to break out of a facility in Hassekah, the officers said, although the incident was unrelated to the coronavirus.”

Afghanistan

Reuters: Afghan Women Play 'Crucial' Role In Taliban Talks, Says Negotiator

“Afghanistan's “fragile gains” in women's rights are at risk unless women play a key role in peace talks with the Taliban, one of the few female members of the government's negotiating team has said. Lawmaker Fawzia Koofi, a vocal critic of the Taliban, is one of five women on the 21-member team announced by the government last week to hold historic talks with the Islamist militant group that once banished women from public life. She pledged to fight for the hard-won gains made by Afghan women since the era of Taliban rule, from education to freedom of movement, as the country seeks to draw a line under more than 40 years of war. “Women's role at this critical time in our history is very crucial and pivotal,” said Koofi, 45, a single mother of two daughters and the first woman to set up a political party in Afghanistan. “They have been victims of war. It is time women start playing their role as peace builders,” she said, warning their “fragile gains” would otherwise be at risk. The Taliban enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law that included public lashings, flogging and stonings. Under their rule from 1996 to 2001, Afghan women were obliged to cover their faces and could not study, work or leave the house without a male relative.”

Voice Of America: Afghan Taliban Say They'll Suspend Fighting In Their Areas If Coronavirus Hits

“The Taliban said Thursday that they were willing to temporarily suspend fighting against the Afghan forces in areas hit by the coronavirus, rejecting news reports that the group could declare a truce amid the pandemic. The Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, in a statement said that he had been misquoted by the Associated Press, which reported Wednesday that the group was ready to declare a cease-fire in areas of Afghanistan under its control if they were hit by the pandemic. “God forbid, if there is an outbreak of coronavirus in areas under our control, we will have control over the situation, then we will not fight in that particular area so that health workers deliver assistance to that area,” Mujahid said in a tweet, stressing that the suspension of fighting in those areas was to ensure safe passage to relief groups that deliver aid under the threat of the contagious virus. Afghanistan had reported 239 positive cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday, with the majority of the cases, around 184, reported in western Herat province near Iran, where the Taliban maintain some control in rural areas. The U.N., U.S., EU and the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) have all called on the Taliban to agree to a cease-fire with the Afghan government so that the country can focus on containing the further spread of the pandemic.”

Al Jazeera: Weakened ISIL's Sectarian Agenda Exacts Heavy Toll In Afghanistan

“Mohammed Sharif sits in a tiny visitor's room inside a prison run by Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security [NDS], in the capital Kabul. A member of the Islamic State of the Khorasan Province (ISKP), an ISIL (ISIS) affiliate, Sharif, 21, spent the last eight months in prison after he was captured during a raid in Kabul. Last December, Afghan and US forces claimed to have meted out a humiliating defeat to ISKP in Nangarhar, its main stronghold in the war-torn country. But in the past weeks, the group resurfaced again claiming responsibility for the killing of more than 50 people in two attacks targeting the minority Shia and Sikh communities in the Afghan capital. This has raised concerns in the country's security establishment at the group's capability to carry out daring attacks in the capital, as the West-backed Kabul government prepared to hold talks with the Taliban as part of a United States-brokered peace process. The US and the Taliban signed an agreement on February 29 in Qatar's capital, Doha, aimed at ending the 18-year war, with a gradual withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.”

Lebanon

The Times Of Israel: Blamed For Bringing Virus To Lebanon, Hezbollah Now Trying To Stop Its Spread

“In the streets of Beirut’s southern suburbs, Hezbollah paramedics and volunteers on trucks and on foot sprayed disinfectants on shops and buildings. At a hospital where it once treated its wounded fighters, the group’s medical staff set up beds for a center to deal with coronavirus patients. Hezbollah says it is turning the organizational might it once deployed to fight Israel or in the civil war in neighboring Syria to battle the spread of the virus pandemic in Lebanon. It wants to send a clear message to its supporters in Lebanon’s Shiite community that it is a force to rely on in a crisis. The Iranian-backed terror group and political powerhouse is under pressure to send that message after a series of blows to its prestige. Opponents have angrily accused Hezbollah of helping bring coronavirus to Lebanon. It took more than three weeks for the country to halt flights from Iran after a woman who had just returned from Iran emerged as Lebanon’s first confirmed case on February 20. Critics claim Hezbollah was behind the delay, ostensibly to give its members and supporters time to return home, an accusation it denies. Since then, Lebanon has recorded nearly 480 cases and 12 deaths.”

Middle East

The New York Times: Extremists See Global Chaos From Virus As An Opportunity

“Both the Islamic State group and al-Qaida see the coronavirus as a threat, but some of their fighters also see the upheaval from the pandemic as an opportunity to win over more supporters and strike harder than before. Messages from the Islamic extremist groups show concern about the virus mixed with bravado, asserting that it is punishment for non-Muslims while also urging followers to repent and take care of themselves. Al-Qaida suggested in a statement Tuesday that non-Muslims use their time in quarantine to learn about Islam. But in a sharp commentary in its al-Naba newsletter in mid-March, IS urged followers to show no mercy and launch attacks in this time of crisis. In a commentary Tuesday, the International Crisis Group warned that the pandemic threatens the global solidarity that is key to fighting extremists, “allowing the jihadists to better prepare spectacular terror attacks.” Though analysts said it was too soon to say which attacks can be blamed on militants exploiting the coronavirus, Islamic extremists in late March carried out their deadliest assault yet against the military of Chad, a significant contributor to Africa’s growing counterterrorism efforts, killing at least 92 soldiers near the border with Nigeria and Niger.”

Libya

Financial Times: Foreign Powers Are Blatantly Flouting Libya’s Arms Embargo

“While the world has been distracted by the coronavirus pandemic, Khalifa Haftar, a renegade Libyan general, has chosen to step up his year-long assault on Tripoli. With his military stockpile boosted by planeloads of munitions and equipment flown in from the United Arab Emirates, Gen Haftar’s forces have shelled neighbourhoods of the Libyan capital with renewed severity in recent days. The offensive threatens to trigger a new phase of conflict just as Libyans are bracing for their own coronavirus outbreak. The north African state reported its first confirmed cases of Covid-19 last week, and its weak health system has limited ability to detect and treat the disease. All this appears to matter little to Libya’s warring parties or their foreign backers. But the outside world should be worried. A failed state on the southern flank of Europe brings significant threats to Europe: from terrorism to illegal migration. Now a fresh humanitarian disaster looms because of Libya’s inability to deal with Covid-19. For many Libyans, staying at home is not an easy option. There are few places to shelter from Gen Haftar’s indiscriminate artillery fire. It is also impossible for the large number of migrants, many in detention camps, to practise social distancing.”

Nigeria

The Punch Nigeria: Nigeria, Chad, Niger Bomb Boko Haram

“Nigeria, Chad and Niger Republics on Thursday announced a joint bombing and clearance operation of the Islamic State West African Province and the Boko Haram terrorists’ locations on the islands of the Lake Chad region. According to the Defence Media Operations of the Defence Headquarters, Abuja, the military also bombed the Boko Haram location in Parisu in Sambisa Forest on Tuesday. The Director of the Defence Operations, Brig Gen Bernard Onyeuko, said, “It would be recalled that following the decimation of the Boko Haram and ISWAP elements that retreated into the islands of the Lake Chad, their heinous acts necessitated the contiguous nations of the Lake Chad basin, Nigeria, Chad and Niger Republics, to jointly launch this massive onslaught on the terrorists across the common borders. “In furtherance of the objective of restoring peace and security to the North-East of the country, the armed forces, through the Air Task Force of Operation Lafiya Dole, ramped up attacks against terrorists’ locations in Borno State. “The latest of these attacks was executed at Parisu, a Boko Haram Terrorists’ hideout, within the Sambisa Forest on Tuesday after series of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance missions revealed a resurgence of activities within the settlement.”

Daily Post Nigeria: Boko Haram Terrorists Hit As Nigerian Military Strikes Hideout

“The Air Task Force of Operation Lafiya Dole (OPLD) has carried out a successful raid on Boko Haram hideout. Acting Director, Defence Media Operations, Brig.-Gen. Bernard Onyeuko, said this in a statement on Thursday. The latest attack was executed at Parisu, a Boko Haram Terrorists’ hideout, within the Sambisa Forest on March 31. This followed a series of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions. Onyeuko added that the ISR revealed a resurgence of activities within the settlement. Fighter jets bombed the hideout resulting in the destruction of some of the structures as well as the killing of several terrorists. “Other fighters, who attempted to reposition themselves in order to engage the attack aircraft, were taken out in follow-on strikes at their hiding places under shrubbery. “The Armed Forces of Nigeria, working in synergy with counterpart security agencies and stakeholders, will sustain the tempo of offensive action against all elements inimical to the peace and security of our beloved Nation,” he said. The military conducted a similar air operation in Niger State early in the week.”

Somalia

All Africa: Somalia: Al-Shabaab Took Over Areas In Lower Jubba

“A gun battle that lasted for one hour took place in an area close to the Kenya and Somali border in Lower Juba between forces of the Jubbaland administration and Al-Shabaab. The fighting erupted when Al-Shabaab attacked a military base in Jubbaland in Dag-adde village located in Dhobley district. Residents reported that they heard gunfire exchange between Jubbaland and Al-Shabaab, although no casualty can be confirmed. In a statement released on Al-Shabaab's website, they claimed that they had taken full control of the Dag-adde, which hosted a military base for the Jubbaland administration. Al-Shabaab also claimed they had confiscated a vehicle mounted with a gun and addressed the public. There is no confirmation from the Jubbaland military officials regarding the fighting.”

Germany

Deutsche Welle: Germany's AfD Considers Party Split Amid Controversy Over Radical Wing

“Infighting within the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party intensified on Thursday after the party's co-leader called for a radical faction to be split off into its own party. Co-leader Jörg Meuthen (pictured above) said the AfD and its strongly nationalist “Wing” (Flügel) faction could reach more voters if they were two separate parties. “Everyone knows that the Wing and its key exponents are costing us a massive amount of votes in the conservative camp,” he told the Tichys Einblick news magazine on Wednesday.  Expanding on his remarks, Meuthen told the German dpa news agency on Thursday that a decision could be made by the end of 2020. “We should discuss this in an atmosphere of calm, but then come to a decision by the end of the year,” Meuthen said. Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the BfV, launched an investigation into the “Wing”in March and put the group under surveillance. In the decision at the time, the BfV said the AfD faction has a “right-wing extremist tendency” that opposes free democratic order. Following the decision, the AfD announced it was planning on dissolving the faction, which has around 7,000 members.”

Australia

The Canberra Times: Melbourne Terror Plotter Loses Appeal

“A terrorist will remain in jail for at least 20 years for plotting a Christmas Day attack in Melbourne's CBD, with appeal judges ruling he got off lightly. Ibrahim Abbas is serving a maximum 24-year jail term after admitting to conspiring to plan an attack at Federation Square in 2016. He asked Victoria's Court of Appeal to reduce his sentence, saying it was too harsh considering he admitted to his crimes and helped police. Abbas gave evidence against his brother Hamza Abbas, cousin Abdullah Chaarani and friend Ahmed Mohamed, each convicted by a jury of the same charge over the same plot. The Court of Appeal on Friday refused Abbas' appeal against his sentence. “If anything, when one looks objectively at the horrifying nature of what was contemplated, and the sheer magnitude of the slaughter anticipated by the applicant in his fanatical zeal, the sentence imposed is to our mind quite moderate,” three appeal judges said in their ruling. They described Abbas' attitude as one of “unmitigated callousness and evil”. “He demonstrated no qualms, or pangs of conscience, about the tragedy and suffering he was about to unleash upon the community of which he was a member.” Abbas and his co-offenders were captured on CCTV scouting out CBD locations for the attack.”

Brisbane Times: Brisbane Man Accused Of Attempting To Support Terrorism Gets Bail

“An alleged terrorism sympathiser will be released from jail after a Brisbane court was told the coronavirus crisis will have a severe impact on his wellbeing. Alaa Adam Atwani is charged with attempting to provide support to a terrorist organisation in 2014. Prosecutors allege the 28-year-old sent video-editing software to his ISIS-affiliated brother, Samir, in Syria. Mr Atwani is expected to fight the charge after it is decided whether he will be transferred to NSW, where he is accused of committing the offence. He was granted bail in Brisbane Magistrates Court on Thursday. Deputy Chief Magistrate Janelle Brassington said Mr Atwani's situation was exceptional and he should be released. He had no criminal history, strong ties to the community and did not attempt to flee Australia when police started investigating him, she said. There is also likely to be a significant delay in his case. “That is not all attributable to COVID-19, but also to the probable consequences of the transfer to NSW and obtaining a court date for a jury trial,” Ms Brassington said. This could result in Mr Atwani spending a significant amount of time in jail waiting, which was likely to be tough given he was a former Queensland police recruit, she said.”

Technology

VICE: 8chan Users Coordinated Antisemitic Zoombombing Campaign

“A post from Tuesday, on the successor site to 8chan provided links to the Zoom calls of teachers at the Jewish school, with instructions to “really freak them out,” and included a reference to the “Boogaloo,” which is commonly known among the far-right as a future “race war” in the U.S. One user replied to the original message and made it clear the planned Zoombombing was racially motivated. The Counter Extremism Project, the U.S.-based global terrorism watchdog that first spotted the post targeting the Jewish day school in Philadelphia, said that federal authorities were aware of the Zoombombing plans. The FBI declined to comment. VICE, which will not name the school in Philadelphia to protect it from further targeting, couldn’t confirm with the school if the Zoombombing was successful after calls went unanswered.”