Eye on Extremism: April 20

Counter Extremism Project

Fox News: CEP Spokesperson Tara Maller Discusses Continuing Provocations By North Korea And The Trump Administration's Options In The Region.

Voice Of America: Iranian Militia Role In Syria, Iraq Prompts Alarm

“Earlier in April he was spotted in the northern countryside of the central Syrian province of Hama, where the forces of President Bashar al-Assad have been battling a surprise rebel offensive and reportedly sustaining high casualties. On Monday, according to local news reports, General Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran's elite Quds Force, a special forces branch of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was in Kirkuk, 1,000 kilometers from Hama, trying to broker a deal between Shi'ite militias and the Kurds about eventual control of the disputed northern Iraqi city.”

Reuters: U.S. Defense Secretary: Must Overcome Iran's Destabilization Efforts To Help Yemen

“U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Wednesday that Iran's destabilizing influence in the Middle East would have to be overcome to end the conflict in Yemen, as the United States weighs increasing support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting there. At least 10,000 people have been killed and more than 3 million displaced in the war in Yemen, now in its third year. Millions of people are also struggling to feed themselves. "We will have to overcome Iran's efforts to destabilize yet another country and create another militia in their image of Lebanese Hezbollah, but the bottom line is we are on the right path for it," Mattis told reporters in Riyadh after meeting senior Saudi officials.”

Fox News: Head Games? ISIS Touts Chemical Weapons Attacks, But Iraqis, US Play It Down

“The Islamic State may be on the brink of defeat in Mosul, but the radical Muslim terror group isn't giving in without a bloody – and blistering – pushback. More than two dozen Iraqis stationed with U.S. and Australian military advisers in the Mosul vicinity required treatment after being hit Sunday by a chlorine gas attack. A day earlier, seven Iraqi soldiers were documented to have been injured in a similar attack in the Abar neighborhood of western Mosul. However, one Iraqi soldier positioned around the Mosul attack site dismissed the latest incidents as ‘not a big deal’ and insisted that there has been no significant fallout. Iraqi Major Gen. Abdul Ghany Alasady, too, denied accounts of a chemical assault.”

Wall Street Journal: Saudi-Led Antiterror Coalition Sharpens Its Focus

“A Saudi-led coalition force of 41 countries is now taking shape and has found a focus: protecting member nations against the threat from Islamic State as the militant group’s strongholds in Iraq and Syria disintegrate. The coalition, sometimes referred to as the “Muslim NATO,” is expected to have its first substantive meeting over the next few months in Riyadh when defense ministers from member states, from Morocco to Malaysia, will gather to agree on its structure and mission. However, these are Sunni-majority nations and absent from the alliance is Saudi Arabia’s major rival in the Middle East, Shiite powerhouse Iran, which sees the grouping as a sectarian show of force.”

New York Post: The FBI Has Active Terror Investigations In All 50 States

America is facing its “highest terror threat in years,” causing the FBI to launch investigations in all 50 states, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Tuesday. “The threat to our nation and our American way of life has not diminished,” Kelly said during a speech at George Washington University. “In fact, the threat has metastasized and decentralized.” Kelly singled out “radical Islam” as a driving force behind the threat. The increase comes as the country is experiencing an “unprecedented spike” in homegrown terrorism, according to Kelly. “We are under attack from terrorists both within and outside of our borders,” he said. There have been 36 cases of homegrown terrorists in 18 states over the past year, he said, calling the radicalization of Americans “notoriously difficult to predict and control.”

Fox News: Palm Sunday Bombing Suspect Surrenders To Egyptian Authorities

“A man suspected in one of the two Palm Sunday bombings of Coptic Christian churches in northern Egypt has turned himself in to authorities. Mahmoud Mohamed Ali Hussein is believed to have played a role in the bombing of St. George Church in the city of Tanta that killed 27 and injured 78, according to Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram. He turned himself in at a prosecutor’s office in the Qena governorate where most of the suspects are believed to be from. Authorities said they have arrested 13 members of a terrorist cell that was plotting attacks against more churches in the country, according to the newspaper.”

The Jerusalem Post: Cancer Patient Stopped At Gaza-Israel Crossing With Explosive Material

“Israeli authorities on Wednesday morning intercepted material used to manufacture explosive devices hidden inside spools of medical material at the Erez Crossing, the Shin Bet announced in a statement. According to the statement, the material was located during the security check at the crossing in the luggage of two sisters who are residents of the Gaza Strip. The two women had been approved to enter Israel for the purpose of receiving medical treatment for cancer, which one of the two sisters suffers from.”

ABC News: Syria Moved Aircraft Out Of US-Bombed Airstrip To Russian Base

“Syria has moved its aircraft from a base struck by the United States two weeks ago to a separate airbase in the port city of Latakia used by Russia's military, a U.S. official tells ABC News. Most of Syria’s operational fixed wing military aircraft have been moved to the base, according to the official. The tactical move to the base Russia uses for its fixed wing aircraft missions inside Syria is likely for protection from additional American strikes, since Russian aircraft will be nearby. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said last week that the Tomahawk cruise missile strike on April 7 had destroyed about 20 percent of the Syria's operational aircraft. That number implied that Syria has less than 100 operational military aircraft in its inventory.”

Voice Of America: Afghan Taliban Confirm Killing Of Shadow Governor

“Afghan Taliban have confirmed that Afghan security forces in a joint operation with NATO's Resolute Support (RS) forces have killed their shadow governor of Baghlan province Tuesday night. In a statement sent to the media, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Mawlawi Lal Mohammad Mohammadi died along with four fighters in aerial bombardment in the Dand-e-Ghori area. However, Ahmad Jawed Saleem, the spokesman of Afghan special forces said their aerial and ground operations killed 15 Taliban. Mohammadi is not the first Taliban shadow governor killed this year. RS and Afghan forces killed the shadow governor for Kundoz Mullah Abdul Salam in February.”

Bloomberg: Boko Haram Conflict Erodes Nigeria's Wheat Crop As Farmers Flee

“Wheat growers in Nigeria’s northeast have abandoned their farms under the onslaught of the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency, a setback for the country’s efforts to cut imports by boosting local production, a research agency said. ‘Wheat production in the zone has declined to just 20 percent of what it used to be due to insurgency,’ Oluwashina Olabanji, executive director of the Lake Chad Research Institute, said in an interview in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital. Borno, which used to account for about a quarter of Nigeria’s production, currently grows no wheat, he said.”

United States

Reuters: U.S. Approves $295.6 Million Military Equipment Sale To Iraq: Pentagon

“The U.S. State Department has approved the sale of $295.6 million worth of military equipment to Iraq for artillery and infantry Kurdish peshmerga units, a Pentagon agency said on Wednesday. The equipment requested by the Iraqi government would outfit two peshmerga infantry brigades and two support artillery battalions, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement. Congress was notified of the approval on Tuesday, and the notice does not mean the sale has been concluded, the agency said.”

Voice Of America: US Trying To Identify Chemical Agent Used In Mosul Attack

“Islamic State militants used a chemical in an attack on Iraqi forces in Mosul over the weekend, and the agent has been sent for testing to try to identify it, the U.S. general commanding coalition ground forces in Iraq said Wednesday. Major General Joseph Martin, speaking to Pentagon reporters via videoconference, said Islamic State militants had lobbed chemical shells at Iraqi security forces in west Mosul but the attack had ‘had no impact.’ ‘The Iraqi security forces ... were in vicinity of one of the strikes,’ Martin said. ‘They were taken back for the appropriate level of medical care. ... Nobody's been impacted. Nobody's died.’”

Reuters: Tillerson Accuses Iran Of 'Alarming Provocations' As U.S. Reviews Policy

“U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday accused Iran of 'alarming ongoing provocations' to destabilize countries in the Middle East as the Trump administration launched a review of its policy toward Tehran. Tillerson told reporters the review, which he announced on Tuesday, would not only look at Tehran's compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal but also its behavior in the region which he said undermined U.S. interests in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. His tough words matched those of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who said in a visit to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday that Iran's destabilizing influence would have to be overcome to end the conflict in Yemen.”

Reuters: U.S. Troops Still Battling Islamic State Near Site Of Afghan Bomb Strike

“U.S. troops are still battling suspected Islamic State fighters near the site where a massive bomb was dropped in eastern Afghanistan last week, a U.S. military official said on Wednesday. Nicknamed ‘the mother of all bombs’, the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb was dropped last Thursday from an American MC-130 aircraft in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, bordering Pakistan. Since then questions have surrounded the decision to use the weapon, which is one of the largest conventional bombs ever used in combat by the U.S. military.”

The New York Times: Jim Mattis, In Saudi Visit, Calls For Political Solution In Yemen

“Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called on Wednesday for a political solution in Yemen between Sunni Arabs, supported by a Saudi-led coalition, and Iranian-backed Houthis, but he stopped short of publicly warning America’s Sunni allies against a planned bombing campaign targeting the port city of Al Hudaydah. Human rights officials have warned that bombing Al Hudaydah could lead to a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and Mr. Mattis’s remarks were in line with those of many officials in the region that the Saudi coalition’s war against the Houthis, begun two years ago, cannot be won militarily.”

Syria

Associated Press: Young Syrian, Fighting For Home, Joined Islamic State Group

“He was barely 20 when Islamic State group militants stormed his home city of Deir el-Zour in oil-rich eastern Syria. Mohammed had already been fighting government forces the past two years, so it was an easy decision for him: join the militants to keep up the battle against President Bashar Assad's rule. Though he insists he was never a full-on member, Mohammed set about gaining the militants' trust. He memorized more of the Quran and learned by heart Shariah laws governing jihad, or holy war. He perfected the ‘IS look,’ letting his beard go bushy, wearing pants that stop above the ankle, and removing embroidery from his baggy shirt to show more austerity. He even carried a book of prayers in his pocket.”

Reuters: Russia Denies Media Report It Understated Syrian Battle Death Toll

“The Russian Defence Ministry on Wednesday dismissed as false a Reuters report which said Russia had understated the number of its servicemen and private contractors killed during a period of intense fighting to retake the city of Palmyra. Reuters reported on Tuesday that the death toll over the period from late January until late March was 21, more than four times higher than the official toll given by the defense ministry of five servicemen killed. Russian forces are backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his war with rebels and militants seeking to oust him, and Reuters did its own calculation of the Palmyra death toll based on conversations with friends and relatives of the killed men, social media posts, and cemetery officials.”

CNN: Syria Evacuations Resume After Deadly Convoy Attack

“The evacuation of civilians and rebels from several besieged Syrian towns resumed on Wednesday, Syrian state media and a monitoring group reported. The population swaps between opposition and regime-held areas had been halted after a suicide bombing ripped through a convoy of buses Saturday, killing 126 people, including 68 children, who were being evacuated as part of the same deal. On Wednesday morning, a convoy of buses rolled out of the pro-regime Shia villages of Al-Fu'ah and Kafraya, which have been under crippling siege for more than two years. At least 109 of those killed in the suicide blast on Saturday were evacuees from the same government-held towns.”

Turkey

Reuters: Turkey's Main Opposition Party Could Withdraw From Parliament - Hurriyet

“Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party could consider withdrawing from parliament in protest at irregularities in Sunday's referendum, the party's spokeswoman was quoted by Hurriyet daily as saying. ‘We don't recognise the referendum result,’ Selin Sayek Boke said. ‘There should be no doubt that we will exercise all our democratic rights against it.’ Boke said the referendum should be held again because its legitimacy was being questioned both in Turkey and internationally.”

CNN: Turkey's Electoral Board Rejects Calls To Annul Referendum

“Turkey's top electoral board overwhelmingly rejected objections to the way the country's referendum was run, semi-official Anadolu news agency reported Wednesday. A narrow majority of voters in Sunday's referendum backed the 18-article constitutional reform package, which will transform the country's parliamentary system into a powerful executive presidency. The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), along with individuals and civil society groups, challenged the result amid concerns over unstamped ballots and called for it to be annulled.”

Afghanistan

Voice Of America: Former Afghan President Karzai Calls Islamic State 'Tool' Of US

“Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday called the Islamic State terror group a ‘tool’ of the United States, and dismissed criticism of Russia for its ties with Taliban and efforts to bring the militant group into peace talks. ‘After it [the U.S.] dropped the bomb on Afghanistan, it did not eliminate Daesh,’ Karzai said, referring to last week's ‘mother of all bombs [MOAB]’ attack against Islamic State. ‘I consider Daesh their tool,’ Karzai told VOA's Afghan service in an exclusive interview in Kabul, using the Arabic acronym for IS. ‘I do not differentiate at all between Daesh and America.’”

Deutsche Welle: How Active Are Indian Jihadists In Afghanistan?

“On April 13, the United States dropped its biggest non-nuclear bomb in eastern Afghanistan on an ‘Islamic State’ (IS) target. The so-called 'mother of all bombs’ (MOAB) killed at least 96 IS fighters, according to Afghan officials. Surprisingly, 13 of them were from India. IS in Afghanistan is known to have recruited hundreds of local fighters as well as militants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Central and Southeast Asia, but an active involvement of Indian jihadists in IS' Afghanistan operations is not well documented.”

Yemen

Deutsche Welle: Houthi Rebels, Allies Using Banned Landmines In Yemen

“Houthi forces and their allies have been using banned landmines in war-torn Yemen, causing hundreds of civilian casualties and threatening the return of millions of people displaced in the country, Human Rights Watch said Thursday. The New York-based human rights organization said in a report that Shiite Houthi rebels and allied forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh have used landmines in at least six governorates in violation of the country's commitment to the international Mine Ban Treaty. ‘Houthi-Saleh forces have been flouting the landmine ban at the expense of Yemeni civilians,’ said Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch. ‘Yemen prohibited antipersonnel mines nearly two decades ago and no authorities should tolerate their use.’”

Saudi Arabia

Voice Of America: US, Saudi Arabia Affirm Cooperation In Countering 'Iran's Mischief'

“The United States is pledging support for Saudi efforts to counter Iran's destabilizing activities in the region. During talks Wednesday in Riyadh, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis emphasized to his Saudi counterpart, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the importance of cooperating and boosting Saudi security in order to ‘reinforce Saudi Arabia's resistance to Iran's mischief.’ ‘We are not leaving this region, but at the same time it is in our interest to see a strong Saudi Arabia military, security services and secret services,’ Mattis told reporters. ‘So what we can do here today could actually open the door possibly to bringing our president to Saudi Arabia.’”

Egypt

Associated Press: Egypt Police: Militant Involved In Monastery Attack Killed

“Egyptian police have tracked and killed one of the militants involved in an attack on a checkpoint near the famed Saint Catherine's Monastery in Sinai, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday. The late Tuesday attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group, killed one policeman and wounded at least three. It was a rare IS assault so far south in the peninsula, close to popular tourist destinations along the Red Sea coast. The ministry said Bedouin tribesmen helped track several militants who fled the scene after the attack. It said security forces then located and killed one of the militants, without providing details about what happened to the others.”

Middle East

The Times Of Israel: Israeli Man Lightly Hurt In West Bank Car-Ramming Attack

“An Israeli man was lightly wounded in a car-ramming attack near the Gush Etzion Junction in the West Bank on Wednesday, the army said. The driver of the vehicle was shot and fatally wounded by IDF troops who were on the scene, a military spokesperson said. A spokesperson for Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center said the Palestinian assailant was brought to the hospital in critical condition after receiving treatment on the scene by military medics. He was pronounced dead shortly after arriving to the hospital, an army spokesperson said. The assailant was later identified as Sahib Mousa Mashahrah, 21, from nearby al-Sawahreh, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency.”

Deutsche Welle: Israel: Assad Still In Possession Of Several Tons Of Chemical Weapons

“The Israeli military's estimate marked the first specific intelligence assessment of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military and weapons capabilities since a chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 killed some 90 people, including dozens of children. Three senior defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters that Israeli intelligence believed Syrian military commanders had ordered the devastating attack with Assad's knowledge. One official added that Israel estimates that Assad still has ‘between one and three tons’ of chemical weapons.”

Libya

Newsweek: ‘It Is Better To Die Than Stay In Libya:’ Libya's Slave Markets Remind Us Of Flaws In EU Migration Plans

“With summer weather approaching—bringing better conditions for crossing the Mediterranean—the EU and its member states are working with a sense of urgency that is palpable. Training the Libyan coastguard is a welcome move if it contributes to saving lives and treating those rescued with humanity and respect. But the question of what happens after they are rescued is key: People are currently taken to detention centers where they are held in inhuman conditions. Describing such centers, asylum seekers and migrants told me they had been beaten and forced to ask their relatives for money, that sometimes those who could not pay were shot, and that they were hardly fed at all.  In addition, the collusion between smugglers and people running some detention centres is no secret.”

United Kingdom

The Guardian: Armed Police To Be Trained To Shoot Through Windscreens To Stop Vehicle Attacks

“Armed police are being given new instructions to shoot through the windscreens of moving vehicles to stop Westminster-style attacks involving cars and lorries. Simon Chesterman, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on armed policing, said it was a change from a former policy that advised officers not to shoot drivers in motion and risk sending the vehicles out of control. ‘But if the vehicle’s being used as a weapon in the first place there aren’t many tactics available in relation to stopping it, particularly a very large lorry,’ he said. ‘Driving a vehicle in front of it is not going to stop it, so you need to shoot the driver.’”

Express: Man, 30, Arrested In North London Terrorism Probe

“Officers from the Metropolitan Police's counter-terrorism command arrested the man at an address in north London on Wednesday morning. Scotland Yard said: ‘Officers from the MPS Counter Terrorism Command [SO15] have this morning, Wednesday 19 April, arrested a 30-year-old man at an address in north London. He has been arrested and detained under Section 40(1) of the Terrorism Act 2000, on suspicion of being concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. He is at present in custody at a central London police station and officers are searching a residential address in north London. Inquiries continue.’”

Europe

Politico: Poland Follows Hungary’s Footsteps In Corralling Migrants

“Poland is mulling setting up special camps where asylum seekers would be housed in containers and kept behind fences in the event of another migration crisis, according to the country’s interior minister. ‘The thing is to be ready for such a situation in the form of places in which those waiting for deportation would be kept who may try to break the law,’ Mariusz Błaszczak told Polish radio on Tuesday. ‘That’s all it entails. Besides, there are similar container camps in France and in Germany.’ It’s a very similar approach to one adopted by Hungary, which has come under fire from the EU for its harsh approach to asylum seekers.”

ISIS

Akhbarona: Moroccan-Spanish Companies Implicated In ISIS Financing

“A document issued by the executive branch of the Anti-Money Laundering Department in Spain revealed serious information pointing to the involvement of big-name Moroccan companies in organized crime and terror financing. These companies, operating through joint companies listed under the name of intermediaries, are involved in suspicious trade transactions which implicated owners of 71 bank accounts. Most of the account-owners are Moroccan nationals. According to the Spanish document, the Department monitored money laundering activities and secret trade deals carried out {by these companies} between 2011 and 2015. In the process, Spanish authorities uncovered dozens of bank accounts linked to the joint Spanish – Moroccan companies which were involved in the financing of organized crime. This was done with the knowledge of the Moroccan owners or by the private initiative of intermediaries. The Spanish authorities discovered that 200k euros in cash {transferred from these bank accounts} had reached ISIS. This is in addition to roughly 3 million euros obtained by ISIS {from these companies} in the form of food items supplied by Turkish and Greek shipping lines.”

Counter-Terrorism

Parlmany: Egypt: Integrated Parliamentary Plan To Confront Terrorism

“With the announcement by President Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi of his decision, which is expected to be passed by law in parliament, to form a Supreme Council to combat terrorism and extremism, MPs proposed multiple ideas for a comprehensive strategy to eliminate terrorist groups and dry up their funding sources. These ideas are expected to be placed on the Supreme Council's table immediately after its inauguration. The proposed ideas are: to change the security strategy in dealing with this type of crime, to prepare lists of individuals who joined terrorist groups after the revolution, and to hold an international conference conveying the message that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist group, and countries supporting it will be subject to sanctions. Parliament members stressed the importance of the urgent enactment of four legislations - Cybercrime Law, Deterrent Law that stipulates harsh penalties for anyone harboring terrorists, a law punishing realtors who fail to update authorities on the rental of apartments {to suspected militants} and a law against bogus complaints.”

Muslim Brotherhood

Sout Alomma: Egypt: Lawsuit Demanding Expropriation Of Beheira's 'Death Farm' From Muslim Brotherhood Officials

“Egyptian lawyer Dr. Samir Sabry submitted a lawsuit to the Administrative Court of the State Council demanding that the Prime Minister order the issuance of a decision to confiscate the 'farm of death' in Beheira Province {where Egyptian security forces found caches of weapons and explosives}. He also demanded putting it up for public auction. The 'farm of death' is registered under the names of Muslim Brotherhood officials from Kafr El-Sheikh Province. Sabry demanded that after its sale, revenues will be transferred to Tahya Misr Fund.”

Sout Alomma: Internal Muslim Brotherhood Fight On Media Outlets

“The Muslim Brotherhood's internal rift deepened after {unknown} activists of the group took over its official pages on the internet in an attempt to control media outlets belonging to it. This comes as part of the ongoing power struggle within the group. Yesterday, the official page of the Alexandria Brotherhood published an announcement of a soon-to-be-convened press conference intended to unveil new steps. It added that the group would publish further details of the conference, without specifying the date or reasons for holding it. Hours later, Brotherhood websites declared that the official page of the Brotherhood in Alexandria had been hacked along with other official pages of the Brotherhood {in the social media}. These Brotherhood-affiliated websites also emphasized that there is no planned press conference and the group has no knowledge of this {Brotherhood-sponsored} conference {in Alexandria}. The Brotherhood stressed that the group has no idea who is now running its social media pages since the hacking.”

Hezbollah

Al-Quds Al-Arabi: Lebanese Parliamentary Delegation In Washington To Discuss Draft Of New Sanctions On Hezbollah

“A Lebanese parliamentary delegation arrived in Washington, D.C. to participate in the 2017 spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The delegation will take advantage of its presence in Washington to hold talks with US officials on the draft of new US sanctions on Hezbollah, which the Trump administration is seeking to expand. The new sanctions are expected to include activities, individuals and institutions affiliated with Hezbollah, but not only them. According to reports in Lebanese media outlets, the Shiite Amal Movement, the Syrian National Social Party and the Free Patriotic Movement will also be included in the new and expanded sanctions. The Lebanese authorities fear that the sanctions, to be issued in May or June, will include new measures against Lebanese banks which will be harsher and broader.”