Eye on Extremism: April 21, 2021

The Wall Street Journal: Russia Strikes Islamic State Strongholds In Syria As Insurgency Gains Ground

“Russia unleashed airstrikes that it said killed as many as 200 militants in central Syria amid an intensifying assault by Islamic State insurgents that threatens the Syrian government’s access to oil and heightens the risks for its foreign backers. The airstrikes on a training camp took place Monday in Palmyra, according to Alexander Karpov, deputy chief of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Parties in Syria, a military entity. Islamic State militants are known to operate in the area. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors developments in the Syrian war, said 26 Islamic State members died in Russian airstrikes in Palmyra and other areas of the central Syrian desert in recent days. Mourners carrying the coffins of Syrian army soldiers in the city of Homs. Islamic State claimed responsibility for a Dec. 30 attack that killed nearly 40 soldiers in Syria. Islamic State in 2015 captured the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra and destroyed a series of Roman temples, tombs and other objects. Backed by Russian airstrikes, the Syrian government retook the ruins in 2016. The airstrikes came after Islamic State claimed to have killed two Russian soldiers who attempted to land in a helicopter in Syria’s Homs province.”

The Defense Post: Suspected ISWAP Jihadists Storm Army Base In Nigeria’s Borno State

“Suspected Islamic fighters stormed into a base in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state before an aerial bombardment killed their “key commanders,” the military said Monday. Jihadists from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) rolled up in a dozen gun trucks at the garrison town of Dikwa late Sunday and dislodged troops after a lengthy battle. “The terrorists in their numbers… attacked the town… just as the locals prepared to break their Ramadan fast for the day,” the military said in a statement. The soldiers withdrew to nearby Gulumba Gana town “to enable Air Component to engage” the insurgents, said the statement from army spokesman Brigadier General Mohammed Yerima. Troops launched a counter-offensive against the jihadists on Monday and “successfully reoccupied their main headquarters in Dikwa,” Yerima said. “The retreating terrorists suffered heavy losses in both equipment and personnel including some of their key leaders,” the statement said. A military source and residents said the militants had attacked the base around 1700 GMT on Sunday and stole weapons. “The terrorists attacked on two fronts aboard several light trucks mounted with heavy machine guns,” a military officer told AFP.”

Iraq

The National: Iraqi Army Arrests Two Senior ISIS Commanders Involved In Group's Financing

“Two senior ISIS leaders were arrested on Monday while trying to cross the border from Syria, Iraq's security forces said. One of the men was in charge of the group’s Zakat Fund in the cities of Tell Afar and Hadhar outside the city of Mosul in northern Iraq, the Iraqi military said. The men had been tracked by the Intelligence Service of the Iraqi Army 15th Division. Zakat is one of Islam’s five pillars. Muslims with sufficient income are required to pay a certain amount each year and Zakat contributions are supposed to help the poor. But in typical fashion, ISIS twisted this religious tradition and instead used donations to finance its operations. The second militant was in charge of ISIS' “War Spoils Diwan”, said the military. That department was in charge of counting and safekeeping material, both civilian and military, captured during ISIS operations. Both men were active at the time when ISIS overran large areas in northern and western Iraq following its 2014 blitz, which ended up with the group declaring an Islamic “caliphate” in vast parts of Iraq and Syria, totaling around one third of Iraq at one point. The military did not reveal the names or nationalities of the arrested pair. Requests to security officials for more details went unanswered.”

Turkey

The National: Turkey Summons Ambassador To Accuse Sweden Of ‘Supporting Terrorists’

“Turkey summoned Sweden’s Ambassador to demand an explanation after two Swedish ministers met with members of the internationally backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Ankara considers a terrorist group. The SDF was the main partner in the US-led international coalition fighting against ISIS on the ground in Syria. While the SDF is made up of Kurdish and Arab groups, Ankara says the control and backbone of the force are made up of the Syrian Kurdish YPG, an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militia that has waged a decades-old insurgency against the Turkish state. Turkish diplomatic sources said the ambassador was summoned to the ministry over a recent videoconference between Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist and senior SDF officials and added the call came shortly after contact between Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde and “terrorist elements”. There are 60,000 refugees in the Al Hawl camp on the Syria-Iraq border. AFPISIS prisoners could sow seeds of new violent extremism, deputy coalition commander in Iraq warns.”

Afghanistan

Reuters: U.S.-Backed Afghan Peace Conference In Turkey Postponed Over Taliban No-Show -Sources

“A Washington-backed Afghan peace conference in Turkey has been postponed due to the Taliban's non-participation, three sources told Reuters on Tuesday. The meeting was scheduled for April 24 to fast-track an agreement between Taliban insurgents and the Afghan government following Washington's announcement that foreign troops would leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11. “The Istanbul meeting is not happening on the given date because the Taliban refused to attend,” a senior Afghan government official told Reuters. The postponement was confirmed by two other sources, including one official whose country is involved in the planning process. There was no immediate revised date. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey, one of the hosts of the talks, later confirmed that they had been put off until after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends around mid-May. An Afghan government spokesman declined comment on the matter. Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem told Reuters in a text message that the group did not have any information about the postponement, and that he could not say anything about future dates for the conference post Ramadan.”

The Washington Post: ‘Extremely Difficult, But Not Impossible’: General Provides Assessment Of Afghan Counterterrorism Effort After U.S. Troops Depart

“America’s ability to strike extremist targets in Afghanistan will be significantly constrained once U.S. forces depart this year, making the task of containing terrorism threats extremely difficult but “not impossible,” a top general said Tuesday. Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, told members of the House Armed Services Committee that he is developing plans to address extremist threats in the wake of the withdrawal, which President Biden announced will be completed by Sept. 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that set off the long U.S. conflict there.  Describing the intense logistical and security challenges the United States may face trying to prevent renewed plots by al-Qaeda or other extremists without a presence on the ground, McKenzie said the military could use long-range missiles, crewed aircraft or Special Operations raids to strike targets when they are located. “I don’t want to make that sound easy,” McKenzie said of the larger “over the horizon” counterterrorism mission, as military officials call the effort to combat militants from afar. “It’s going to be extremely difficult to do it, but it will not be impossible.” McKenzie’s annual posture testimony marked the first public comments from a senior military official involved in Afghanistan.”

Arab News: Third Taliban Leader Killed In Peshawar In Past 4 Months

“A senior Taliban leader, Mullah Nek Muhammad Rehbar, was killed in Peshawar on Monday in an attack by two unidentified gunmen riding a motorbike, a police official and two Taliban leaders told Arab News. “A probe has been launched to determine the motive behind the incident,” the police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Arab News. Three others accompanying Rehbar, 35, were also injured in the attack, according to the police official. The slain Taliban commander oversaw military deployments in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. Its governor, Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, tweeted about the attack, which Daesh has claimed responsibility for. Rehbar was scheduled to return to his native Afghanistan after he and other key commanders were summoned by top Taliban leaders to their respective areas in the war-torn country. Rehbar’s brother, Maulvi Noor Muhammad, was also killed in Peshawar, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, during a shooting incident about 15 years ago. Afghan analysts say the slain Taliban commander had fought against Daesh militants in Nangarhar, which could be the main reason behind the attack in Peshawar. Zakir Jalali, a security analyst, said Taliban officials are easier to target when they live as refugees in other countries.”

India

The Washington Post: Further Evidence In Case Against Indian Activists Accused Of Terrorism Was Planted, New Report Says

“An unknown hacker planted more than 30 documents that investigators deemed incriminating on a laptop belonging to an Indian activist accused of terrorism, a new forensic analysis finds, indicating a more extensive use of malicious software than previously revealed. The report will heighten concerns about the controversial prosecution of a group of government critics under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Arsenal Consulting, a Massachusetts-based digital forensics firm, examined an electronic copy of the laptop at the request of defense lawyers. The Washington Post reviewed a copy of the report. A previous analysis by Arsenal, which The Washington Post reported in February, found that 10 letters had been deposited on the laptop, including one that discussed an alleged plot to assassinate Modi. The latest report by Arsenal finds that 22 additional documents were also delivered to the computer by the same attacker. The documents — now totaling 32 — have been cited by law enforcement as evidence against a group of activists accused of working with a banned Maoist militant group that has waged a decades-old insurgency against the Indian state. Known as the Bhima Koregaon case, the prosecution is considered a bellwether for the rule of law in India.”

Lebanon

The Times Of Israel: Gantz Warns Hezbollah Of ‘Heavy Consequences’ If It Threatens Israel

“Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday warned Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group that it will suffer “heavy consequences” if it acts against Israel. Touring the IDF’s Northern Command with senior military commanders, Gantz said the Israel Defense Forces “is ideally prepared along the northern border and definitely on the Lebanese front.” “We are aware of Hezbollah’s attempts to challenge us in new ways,” he said, without elaborating on the new tactics. “We will deal with any threat. If Hezbollah challenges the IDF and the State of Israel, it will suffer very, very heavy consequences and I hope they don’t do that.” Gantz issued a similar warning to Hezbollah last month. While in the north, Gantz attended a drill simulating fighting in Lebanon and visited a cross-border tunnel dug by Hezbollah, which was sealed by the IDF as part of “Operation Northern Shield” in the winter of 2018-2019. He also highlighted the Lebanese terror group’s backing from Iran and reiterated Israel’s opposition to the Islamic Republic obtaining nuclear weapons capability. “The State of Israel continues to act together with its partners in the world generally and the US in particular to prevent Iran from reaching a nuclear threshold,” Gantz said.”

Egypt

Egypt Independent: Al-Azhar Condemns Islamic State Murder Of Coptic Man In North Sinai

“Al-Azhar, the top institution in the world of Sunni Islam, condemned on the Islamic State’s murder of a Coptic Egyptian man, saying that the killing confirms that “these terrorist groups lack the lowest mean of humanity.” Undersecretary Mohamd al-Dhawini expressed his condolences to the the family of the 62 year-old victim, Nabil Habashy, calling his murder a scene that is shameful for humanity. The Islamic State had uploaded a video online on Sunday of Habashy being executed. The victim was shot to death six months after being abducted in the city of Bir al-Abed in North Sinai. ISIS members kidnapped Habashy in November while he was walking on a street in the city, using a stolen car to drive away. Habashy’s condition remained unknown until the video of his execution was posted. The Egyptian Ministry of Interior announced Monday that it had killed three terrorists involved in executing Habashy, who helped build a church in North Sinai. According to the ministry, the National Security Agency received information about the presence of a group of terrorists involved in the killing in North Sinai’s al-Abtal area. The information said that these terrorists were planning further hostile attacks targeting Coptic citizens, their properties, their places of worship, and the posts of armed forces and the police.”

Nigeria

All Africa: Nigeria: Soldiers Working With Boko Haram Expose Civilian Collaborators

“Some soldiers arrested in the crack down on Boko Haram funders have disclosed the identities of their civilian collaborators, according to sources. The arrests of the officers came after an in-depth investigation into connections between Boko Haram members and military officers, that they helped to infiltrate into the army and sabotage efforts to end insurgency in Nigeria. Daily Trust had reported how the Federal Government launched an operation against suspected financiers and collaborators of Boko Haram. The ongoing inter-agency operation is being led by a top intelligence officer, with an army general leading a task team comprising military personnel and staff from intelligence services. Multiple sources informed Daily Trust that the closely-guarded operation is being coordinated by Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), in collaboration with the Department of State Services (DSS), Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). As part of the operation, billions of naira traced to businesses belonging to persons of interest have been blocked in banks in series of “post no debit” letters sent out to banks by the CBN and NFIU. Twenty soldiers who were arrested in the operation are currently being detained in Borno State.”

Africa

The Wall Street Journal: Chad’s President Dies After Battle With Rebels, Military Says

“Idriss Déby, the military commander who ruled the oil-producing desert nation of Chad with an iron fist for three decades, died after sustaining injuries in clashes between rebels and government troops outside the capital. It was a shocking development for a region plagued by instability and rising jihadist violence. Gen. Azem Bermandoa Agouma, a military spokesman, read a statement on state television saying that Mr. Déby died from injuries in a weekend battle with rebels advancing on N’Djamena from the Libyan border. Parliament was dissolved and Mr. Déby’s son, Mahamat Kaka, took over as interim president until new elections can be held, Gen Agouma said. Two western diplomats and a rebel spokesman confirmed that Mr. Deby was wounded in the desert region of Kanem on Monday then flown 130 miles to an N’Djamena hospital where he died of his injuries. But they said questions remained over the circumstances, including how he was killed and why he was so close to the front line. Chad’s government has switched off the internet, imposed a 6 p.m. curfew and closed the country’s external borders.”

The Nation: The Bewildering Search For The Islamic State In Congo

“In 2003, three American college friends set out for Uganda. As they traveled through the north of the country, they were so moved by the suffering caused by the conflict between the government and the warlord Joseph Kony that they started an NGO called Invisible Children to spread awareness about the crisis and raise money for relief projects. Their work eventually drew the attention of Shannon Sedgwick Davis, a young Texas lawyer and CEO of the Bridgeway Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Bridgeway Capital Management, a multibillion-dollar hedge fund with investments in oil, pharmaceuticals, and consumer products. For years, Davis had been troubled by the limitations of charity, which she likened to “putting Band-Aids on bullet holes.” In January 2009, she was nursing her 1-month-old second child when she read a report from Human Rights Watch, a Bridgeway grantee, about a series of massacres committed by Kony’s forces. Having fled Uganda, they’d stormed through a cluster of hamlets in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, abducting children and killing their parents. Davis was so outraged that she resolved to seek a new approach to Bridgeway’s work. Documenting atrocities would no longer be enough.”

United Kingdom

Reuters: N. Irish Police Suspect New IRA Planted Bomb In Officer's Car

“Police in British-ruled Northern Ireland said on Tuesday they suspect that dissident Irish republican militants planted a booby-trap bomb found in the car of a part-time police officer. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said the bomb had been found on Monday in a car outside the family home of the female officer in Dungiven, a town near the northwestern city of Londonderry. The bomb was defused overnight. “What is really distressing here is the terrorists placed the bomb at the rear of the car, directly at the point where the victim’s three-year-old daughter sits,” PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan told journalists. “While the investigation is at an early stage and detectives are keeping an open mind, a strong line of inquiry is that this attack was the work of the New IRA,” McEwan said. The New IRA is one of a small number of active militant groups opposed to Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace deal. It has been behind some of the sporadic attacks that have continued, including the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in 2019. Some 3,600 people were killed in the conflict that began in the late 1960s between mainly Protestant unionists, who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, and predominantly Catholic nationalists, who want to be part of a united Irish republic.”

Sky News: London Bridge Terrorist Attack: Porter Grabbed Pike In Bid To Stop Killer

“The porter at Fishmongers' Hall who was attacked by a terrorist wielding a knife, grabbed a ceremonial pike from the wall and used it to try to stop the killer, the inquest has been told. Lukasz Koczocik was injured during this attack as Usman Khan grabbed the pike and stabbed the porter in his arm and hand, resulting in Koczocik dropping the weapon. Khan stabbed graduates Saskia Jones, 23 and Jack Meritt, 25, at a Cambridge University prison education conference, on November 29 2019. He then made his way onto London Bridge, where he told his pursuers to “call the police” before being shot dead, the inquest has heard. Mr Koczocik explained how he had been on the lower ground floor of Fishmongers' Hall, putting up Christmas decorations in the staff canteen when the housekeeper ran downstairs screaming “someone's got stabbed”. “I ran upstairs, literally ran upstairs, to check what had happened because I thought it was just an accident that had happened. “I see three men throwing and holding different objects like a chair, signs saying 'Mind the steps', trying to defend themselves. “It looks like a brawl to me, it wasn't that serious. I went through the first doors into the lobby, the reception area.”

New Zealand

Newsroom: Countering Dominant Narratives Of NZ’s Far Right

“A European Union-funded study has praised Jacinda Ardern's response to the March 15 terror attack and offered suggestions for how New Zealand can counter far-right narratives in the future. The report surveyed 12 far-right groups, including defunct 1990s-era skinhead gangs like Unit 88 and more modern white supremacist outfits like Action Zealandia, to determine the most prevalent extremist narratives. It then recommended potential avenues for countering these narratives. Titled From Gangs to Groupuscules and Solo-Actor Terrorism: New Zealand Radical Right Narratives and Counter-Narratives in the Context of the Christchurch Attack, the paper was written by William Allchorn, an expert on anti-Islamic extremism in Europe. It was published by the Hedayah Center and the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, which study extremism, and funded by a European Union counter-extremism project. Allchorn found 25 different extremist narratives had been deployed in New Zealand, ranging from white supremacy to anti-Semitism to identitarianism. “Key narratives centre upon ethno-nationalism and/or white supremacism, antisemitic and Islamophobic tropes, anti-establishment sentiment, environmentalism, and chauvinism at this present time,” he wrote.”

Southeast Asia

International Business Times: Who Is Jozeph Paul Zhang? ISIS And Al-Qaeda Want To Behead Indonesian Who Says He Is '26th Prophet'

“An Indonesian man of Chinese origin named Jozeph Paul Zhang ruffled feathers after calling himself the ''26th Prophet'' in a YouTube video that eventually went viral in no time, angering Muslims during the Ramadan season. Zhang, apart from claiming to be the 26th Prophet, also made offensive remarks about Islam and Muslims. He now faces death threats by the terrorist group ISIS. The Islamic State (ISIS) in Indonesia and Malaysia has called for Zhang's beheading for insulting the Prophet. Pro Al-Qaeda groups have also called for his death. The Indonesian police have filed a complaint against Zhang for hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims and are investigating the case. Zhang is booked under blasphemy laws and the Interpol has issued a red notice against him. Where is Jozeph Paul Zhang? The whereabouts of Jozeph Paul Zhang is a mystery, as the local media in Indonesia quoted immigration authorities saying that Zhang left the country in 2018 and flew to Hong Kong with a one way ticket and never returned. Speculations are rife that Zhang is currently somewhere in Europe but his exact location is yet to be confirmed. While several leaders in Indonesia claim him to be in Germany, the others say he might be somewhere else and has remained as a speculation.”

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

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