Eye on Extremism: April 4, 2019

The Wall Street Journal: New Zealand Shooter To Face 50 Murder Charges

“Three weeks after Christchurch shooter Brenton Tarrant live-streamed his mosque rampage on Facebook , authorities in New Zealand announced new charges against him and neighboring Australia passed laws to force social-media companies to remove violent or objectionable content. The 28-year-old Australian is accused of slaughtering 50 people at two mosques in a 21-minute massacre last month, the deadliest terrorist attack in New Zealand’s history. In response, the government said it would ban military-style semiautomatic and assault weapons. Mr. Tarrant will face 50 murder charges and 39 attempted-murder charges, with perhaps more to follow, New Zealand police said on Thursday. He hasn’t entered a plea and is scheduled to appear in court in Christchurch on Friday. A court clerk said previously that Mr. Tarrant intends to represent himself. He previously faced one charge of murder.”

The New York Times: Australia Passes Law To Punish Social Media Companies For Violent Posts

“Australia passed sweeping legislation Thursday that threatens huge fines for social media companies and jail for their executives if they fail to rapidly remove “abhorrent violent material” from their platforms. The law — strongly opposed by the tech industry — puts Australia at the forefront of a global movement to hold companies like Facebook and YouTube accountable for the content they host. It comes less than a month after a gunman, believed to be an Australian white nationalist, distributed a hate-filled manifesto online before using Facebook to live-stream the massacre of 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. “These platforms should not be weaponized for these purposes,” said Christan Porter, Australia’s attorney general, during a debate on the bill Thursday in the House of Representatives.”

The Washington Post: Monitor: IS Militants Blew Themselves Up In Syria’s Raqqa

“Islamic State militants blew themselves up following clashes with the U.S.-backed Syrian forces in the Syrian city of Raqqa, which was liberated from the extremists nearly two years ago, a war monitor said Wednesday. The U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces first confirmed then denied the report. The conflicting reports could not be immediately reconciled, and reflected the precarious security situation in the city, which the militants once called their capital, and which remains plagued with lawlessness despite efforts to rebuild. SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali called the initial news a “misunderstanding.” Bali said the explosion was caused by a land mine that wounded people. Another activist group, Raqqa Being Slaughtered Silently, said a land mine that went off in the western part of Raqqa killed two people.”

The New York Times: Attacks By White Extremists Are Growing. So Are Their Connections.

“In a manifesto posted online before his attack, the gunman who killed 50 last month in a rampage at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, said he drew inspiration from white extremist terrorism attacks in Norway, the United States, Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom. His references to those attacks placed him in an informal global network of white extremists whose violent attacks are occurring with greater frequency in the West. An analysis by The New York Times of recent terrorism attacks found that at least a third of white extremist killers since 2011 were inspired by others who perpetrated similar attacks, professed a reverence for them or showed an interest in their tactics. The connections between the killers span continents and highlight how the internet and social media have facilitated the spread of white extremist ideology and violence. In one instance, a school shooter in New Mexico corresponded with a gunman who attacked a mall in Munich. Altogether, they killed 11 people. One object of fascination for the Christchurch killer and at least four other white extremists was Anders Behring Breivik, the far-right extremist who killed 77 in a bombing and mass shooting in Norway in 2011.”

The Washington Examiner: Iran Responsible For Deaths Of 608 American Troops In Iraq

“The U.S. military has revealed it believes Iran has helped kill 608 U.S. troops in Iraq since 2003, according to newly revealed and formerly-classified numbers. "In Iraq, I can announce today, based on declassified U.S. military reports, that Iran is responsible for the deaths of at least 608 American service members," Brian Hook, U.S. Special Representative for Iran, said during a State Department briefing Tuesday. “This accounts for 17 percent of all deaths of U.S. personnel in Iraq from 2003 to 2011. This death toll is in addition to the many thousands of Iraqis killed by the IRGC’s proxies.” Since 2003, more than 4,400 U.S. service members have been killed in Iraq. This number has been a matter of debate for years, shrouded in secrecy by the Pentagon with the previous estimate put at about 500. Scores of American personnel were killed by highly lethal bombs, known as explosively formed projectiles, or EFPs, that Iran manufactured and supplied to Shiite militias across the border in Iraq. Many EFPs were powerful enough to destroy U.S. Humvees and even breach tank hulls.”

Business Insider: Facebook Is Partnering With A Big UK Newspaper To Publish Sponsored Articles Downplaying 'Technofears' And Praising The Company

“Facebook has found a novel solution to the never-ending deluge of negative headlines and news articles criticizing the company: Simply paying a British newspaper to run laudatory stories about it. On March 13, the series ran a feature headlined "What action is Facebook taking to tackle terrorist content?", which discussed Facebook's work to "ensure terrorist content is identified and removed as swiftly as possible." Two days later, a gunman opened fire at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 people and livestreaming the entire attack on Facebook. "The same week of the Christchurch attack, @Facebook told us in a sponsored puff piece in the @Telegraph that they have terrorist content under control," the European branch of policy organization Counter Extremism Project tweeted at the time. "This week, the picture looks very different.”

United States

The Washington Post: Federal Agency Frets About Terrorism Threats At Burning Man

“Burning Man organizers say the U.S. government wants to place unreasonable conditions on a proposal to expand the counter-culture festival’s capacity to 100,000, including stepped-up security searches and new perimeter barriers that land managers say would reduce vulnerability to acts of terrorism. Group leaders say the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed stipulations for a new 10-year special use permit would for the first time require certified building inspections, maintenance of a county road and air quality mitigation that could raise their costs by $10 million a year at the annual event in the desert 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Reno. The draft environmental impact statement points to the mass shooting at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in October 2017. It’s apparently the first time the agency has analyzed terrorist threats as part of an environmental review for proposed activities on federal land. While terrorism has never occurred at Burning Man, “several vulnerabilities exist,” the 372-page document warns. It says the big crowds, “iconic status of Burning Man and widespread media coverage of the event could make the festival an attractive target for an individual or team of attackers.”

United Press International: Pompeo: There Will Be 'Devastating' Consequences If Turkey Attacks Syria

“U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Turkey of "devastating" consequences if it attacks Syria. Pompeo gave the warning to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu Wednesday in Washington during the first day of the two-day NATO Ministerial, State Department Spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement. "Secretary Pompeo expressed support for ongoing negotiations regarding northeast Syria, while warning of the potentially devastating consequences of unilateral Turkish military action in the region," Palladino said in the statement. The warning comes as Turkey has repeatedly threatened to attack the Kurdish-led American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as it believes the Islamic State fighters are also far-left Kurdish militants who are affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which Turkey has been fighting. America, on the other hand, has supported the SDF in its fight against the Islamic State, even delaying the withdrawal of troops from Syria in order to ensure their protection.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: St. Louis County Man Admits Supporting Terrorists, Including Man Who Fought For ISIS

“A man from St. Louis County pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges and admitted raising money for terrorists, including a fellow county resident who fought and died for the Islamic State in Syria, prosecutors said. Ramiz Zijad Hodzic, 44, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and one count of providing material support to terrorists. Hodzic sought and received money from others, including his co-defendants, to support foreign fighters battling in Syria. One of those fighters, Abdullah Ramo Pazara, is a former St. Louis County resident who became a U.S. citizen before leaving for Syria. While there, he bragged in Facebook messages to Hodzic and other supporters about killing prisoners, attending beheadings and buying a 16-year-old Yazidi slave, prosecutors have said. Hodzic supplied Pazara with military uniforms and a rifle scope, they said. Officials praised the efforts of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, other federal agencies and St. Louis and St. Louis County police in the case. Three other defendants in the case have already pleaded guilty. Last month, Mediha Medy Salkicevic, 38, of Schiller Park, Ill., pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and admitted sending money via PayPal to Hodzic.”

The Los Angeles Times: L.A. Synagogue Suspect Researched Deadly Terrorist Attack In N.Y., Detective Says

“The Seattle man accused of trying to run over two Jewish men outside a Los Angeles synagogue last year in what prosecutors allege was a hate-fueled attack had previously researched a New York City terror act in which a vehicle was used to kill pedestrians, a detective testified in court Wednesday. Mohamed Abdi Mohamed, 33, had searched online for information about a November 2017 terrorist attack that left eight people dead in lower Manhattan less than a day before he barreled his car toward two Jewish men outside Congregation Bais Yehuda late last year, according to Los Angeles Police Det. Easley De Larkin, who was testifying at a preliminary hearing in Mohamed’s case. On Nov. 23, police said, Mohamed drove into an intersection near the synagogue as a number of people were leaving a Friday night service. He began to curse at the congregants and made anti-Semitic remarks while driving past, before attempting to run them down near La Brea and Oakwood avenues, police said. The two men escaped unharmed. Mohamed tried to flee but was arrested after crashing his car a short time later. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Deborah S. Brazil ordered Mohamed to stand trial on charges of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon with hate crime allegations during the 90-minute hearing.”


Haaretz: Syrian Government Forces' Shelling Kills 17, Says War Monitor

“About half of those killed were under 18 years old, says the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Shelling by Syrian government forces of rebel-held areas in the northwest of the country has killed 17 civilians in the past 24 hours, a war monitoring group said on Thursday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group said the shelling was in different locations and that more than half the dead were under the age of 18. Violence has escalated in northwestern Syria this year along the frontline between pro-government forces and the largest remaining territory held by Syrian rebel groups. The area is subject to a ceasefire agreement struck in September between Russia and Turkey to avert a major government offensive to retake the northwest. Moscow is the government's strongest ally and Turkey backs some rebel groups.”

Foreign Policy: ISIS Has Not Been Defeated. It’s Alive And Well In Southern Syria.

“The world has been celebrating the Islamic State’s defeat since the final battle of Baghouz on March 23. In February, President Donald Trump celebrated the United States’ alleged victory claiming that the group had been “100 percent” defeated. The United States and Britain have meanwhile moved on to debate stripping the citizenship of their nationals who joined the Islamic State. But contrary to Trump’s declaration, the terrorist group has not been vanquished, and it is currently regrouping near my hometown, Suwayda, in southern Syria—an area it has long terrorized while the government of Bashar al-Assad stood by in silent complicity. On July 24, 2018, I hugged my mother goodbye before she left Chicago to return to Syria by way of Lebanon. Unlike many other Syrian mothers, mine was allowed to come visit her refugee daughter because of her Lebanese citizenship. My mother arrived home in Syria at midnight. Four hours later, the Islamic State attacked, and I lost contact with my family. I followed helplessly on social media as militants went on a door-to-door slaughtering rampage.”

The New York Post: The Moment ISIS Sex Slaves Are Reunited With Yazidi Relatives

“This was the emotional moment a group of Yazidi women and children were reunited with relatives after being freed from terror in Syria. Families wept as they hugged and kissed their loved ones, who were held as ISIS sex slaves for almost five years by terrorists who ravaged their homeland. The victims were among thousands who were taken by ISIS militants when they stormed their communities in the Sinjar region of northwest Iraq in 2014. Thousands of others have also been killed by the terror group in acts the United Nations has recognized as genocide. The women and children crossed into Iraq from Syria last week after finally being released. In the footage, one woman breaks down in tears as she holds a baby in her arms. Another emotional scene sees a woman being carried away by a male relative as the crowd cheers. There are roughly 700,000 Yazidis in the world, with the vast majority of them concentrated in northern Iraq, in and around Sinjar. The Yazidis are ethnically Kurdish and have kept their religion alive for centuries, despite many years of oppression and threatened extermination, such as ISIS in recent years. Many were ISIS brides reportedly ordered to leave the crumbling town by battle-hardened husbands ready to be martyred in combat.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Exodus Of ISIS Families Overwhelms East Syria Hospitals

“Young children nursing severe facial burns, others suffering from malnutrition -- an exodus of militant families and civilians from ISIS' vanquished final enclave is overwhelming eastern Syria's hospitals. A handful of health facilities in the Kurdish-administered northeast receive dozens of patients every day, often including young victims who are terribly disfigured, some allegedly by mortar fire. Most arrivals are women and children from al-Hol, a camp for the displaced that has swelled far beyond its capacity to house more than 70,000 people during a months-long offensive against the last scrap of the militants’ so-called "caliphate,” Agence France Presse reported. "The situation here in the hospital is tragic," said Aydin Sleiman Khalil, who manages the main health institution in Hasakeh, some 40 kilometers from al-Hol. To cope with the influx, the semi-autonomous Kurdish region's hospitals are desperately seeking support from the international community and aid agencies.”


Iraqi News: Four Policemen Killed, Wounded In Armed Attack In Iraq’s Diyala

“Four Iraqi policemen were killed and wounded Wednesday in an armed attack on a security checkpoint in Diyala province, a security source was quoted as saying. “Armed men launched an attack on a security checkpoint in Jalawla district, in northeastern Diyala,” the source told Mawazin News. “The assault on the security checkpoint left a policeman dead and three others wounded,” the source added. Violence in the country has surged further with the emergence of Islamic State extremist militants who proclaimed an “Islamic Caliphate” in Iraq and Syria in 2014. The surge in violence between armed groups and government forces has resulted in over five million internally displaced persons across Iraq and left more than 11 million in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.”


Fox News: 'Taliban Five' Traded For Bowe Bergdahl At Center Of Afghanistan Peace Talks

“When U.S. Army private Bowe Bergdahl was brought back from captivity in 2014 in a controversial exchange involving the release of five Taliban officials from Guantanamo Bay, it was hard to imagine that those five men would one day be rubbing shoulders with U.S. top brass in a bid to bring peace to blood-swathed Afghanistan. According to multiple sources connected to the protracted talks, having “the five” in key delegation roles has some scratching heads. One U.S. intelligence source called it “a snub to us all,” and a clear power play. But in any case, some experts insist that Bergdahl may have inadvertently become the key player in ushering an end to America's longest war. Michael Ames, the co-author of a new book “American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the U.S. Tragedy in Afghanistan” with war veteran Matt Farwell, also told Fox News that these five officials “now form the core of the Taliban delegation meeting with U.S. diplomats about the future in Afghanistan,” and he pointed out that it was because of the exchange that the dialogue was sparked and renewed. “They have a seat at the table at the upscale Doha resort hosting the talks,” he said. According to Ames, U.S. officials were first told about the plans for the five men in secret talks held in 2010 in Germany.”

Arab News: US Envoy Plays Down Fears Of Early Afghan Withdrawal

“US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad sought to reassure Afghans on Wednesday over fears that Washington is seeking a hasty withdrawal from the country. In a wide-ranging interview with US-funded Radio Liberty — his first since arriving in Afghanistan to share details of last month’s peace talks with the Taliban — Khalilzad played down tension between Kabul and Washington over the negotiations.Last month’s marathon talks with the Taliban focused on the complete withdrawal of US troops from the country, with both the militants and Khalilzad saying that the dialogue — held behind closed doors in Doha — had brought significant progress. “We would like to assure the people of Afghanistan ... who have concerns about the American pullout that we have no intention of a deal for an exit,” Khalilzad said. “We are seeking a way for peace in Afghanistan so that it can open the way for the withdrawal of American troops,” he added. Khalilzad said that Washington hopes to have friendly relations with Afghanistan after the peace deal is finalized. The special envoy has held several meetings with Afghan leaders and politicians recently.”

Radio Free Europe: Left Out: Afghanistan Watches Its Own Peace Process From The Sidelines

“When the United States' special representative for Afghan reconciliation arrived in Kabul this week amid ongoing peace talks with the Taliban, the country's national-unity government was in disarray. Zalmay Khalilzad met with the leaders of the government, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, separately on April 1: Ghani with his running mate in the upcoming elections; and Abdullah, the de facto prime minister, with the country's foreign minister, an electoral ally. Meanwhile, Ghani's national-security adviser -- who is overseeing Kabul's ongoing war effort and recently had a much-publicized falling out with Washington -- was not in Kabul at all, but in the remote province of Nuristan.  The developments, analysts say, highlighted stark divisions within the government in Kabul that have been laid bare as the United States and the Taliban carry on negotiations aimed at ending the nearly 18-year war. The Afghan government, with no seat at the table, has essentially been shut out of its own peace process, relegated to lame-duck status as Washington talks of a military withdrawal and presidential elections approach in September.”


Egypt Today: Houthi Militants Deny UN Access To Yemen Food Aid

“Yemeni rebels blocked the UN from accessing vital food aid near the flashpoint port city of Hodeidah, a pro-government source said Tuesday. More than 100 workers were denied access to the Red Sea mills warehouse, said a source in the Arab coalition fighting on the side of the Yemeni government. ”Unfortunately, the Houthi (rebels) have decided to once again renege on a previous commitment, denying the team access to the mills,” the source told AFP.  In February, a team from the UN’s World Food Programme visited the Red Sea mills warehouse for the first time since September, when they became inaccessible due to the conflict between pro-government forces and the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.  The WFP said laboratory tests confirmed the wheat had been infested with insects and had to be fumigated to feed million of people.  WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel told AFP Tuesday the mission planned by the UN agency to the Red Sea mills was postponed due to “security reasons.”  Before the UN lost access in September the Red Sea mills held 51,000 tons of grain, which was enough to feed more than 3.7 million people for a month.  This comes after an agreement was struck in Sweden in February, in which Yemeni rivals agreed to redeploy their fighters outside the ports and away from areas that are key to the humanitarian relief effort.”

The National: Houthis Refuse Appeal To Free Baha'i Leader From Death Sentence

“Yemen’s Houthi rebels have refused to rule on an appeal against a prominent Baha’i leader who has been sentenced to death. Hamed Bin Haydara, has been in Houthi detention since 2013, and is charged with espionage and apostasy. A hearing was held for Mr Haydara on Tuesday but remained inconclusive, and the next court session is scheduled for the end of the month, according to the US Baha'i office of Public Affairs. Dozens of Baha'i followers, including six prominent members, held by the rebels have been tried on charges the minority says are false. “A Houthi court in Sanaa has also given 22 Baha’is the same charge as Mr Haydara, most of the defendants have been imprisoned and spent years in detention since the rebels took over Sanaa,” according to the Yemeni Initiative for Defending the Rights of Baha’is. A UN resolution has called for the immediate release of all Baha’i that are detained in Yemen due to their religious beliefs and to cease any harassment they are subjected to.”

Saudi Arabia

Arab News: World Faces ‘Urgent’ War On Terror, Saudi Envoy Tells UN

“Combating the extremist ideologies that fuel terror and militant violence is one of the world’s most urgent challenges, Saudi Arabia told the UN. In a speech to the General Assembly, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, highlighted the Kingdom’s resolve “to combat all terrorist crimes and violence based on religion or belief.” Al-Mouallimi also condemned the “despicable and disgraceful terrorist act that claimed the lives of innocents” in an attack on Muslim worshippers at two mosques in New Zealand. “Despite the pain we are suffering from this heinous crime, we stand with respect for the New Zealand people and government. Their feelings have been filled with love, sympathy and cohesion,” he said. “We also salute the Muslims of New Zealand who received these feelings with a mutual love that transcends the wounds and affirms the tolerance of Islam.” Saudi Arabia is confronting terrorist ideology and activity at local, regional and international levels, Al-Mouallimi said. The Kingdom is working to investigate the root causes of extremism and has developed a security strategy based on three elements — prevention, rehabilitation and care.”

Middle East

The Guardian: Muslims And Jews Face A Common Threat From White Supremacists. We Must Fight It Together

“THE TWO OF us have been having the exact same conversation for the past decade. About anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. One of us a Muslim, the other a Jew, we have conducted it in public and in private, on Twitter and on TV. We’ve agreed; we’ve argued; we’ve even wandered off topic to trade tips on how to get through a fast. Now we’ve come together because of the urgent and common threat that we face. Both of our communities are under violent attack from far-right white supremacists. In Christchurch, New Zealand, last month a white supremacist gunned down 50 Muslims at prayer. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, last October a white supremacist gunned down 11 Jews at prayer. Both killers were clear in their loathing of both Jews and Muslims. Both subscribed to the “great replacement theory,” which casts Muslims and other minorities as “invaders” of Western societies and a threat to white, Christian majorities. In this narrative, the supposed invasion is a wicked plot orchestrated by the same hidden hand behind all malign events through world history: the Jews. The point was put concisely in an online remark reposted by the Pittsburgh murderer: “It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!”


Arab News: Eastern Libyan Forces Ordered To Move West To Fight Militants

“Forces loyal to eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar have been ordered to move to western Libya to fight militants, their media office said on Wednesday. The deployment is likely to alarm the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, whose Prime Minister Fayez Al-Serraj has been negotiating over a power-sharing deal with a parallel administration in the east that is allied to Haftar. A video released by the Libyan National Army (LNA) media offfice showed a convoy of armored vehicles and pickup trucks mounted with heavy guns on the road. “In fulfilment of his (Haftar) orders, several military units moved to the western region to purge the remaining terrorist groups located in their last hideouts,” the LNA said in a statement with the video. It gave no details but the area appears to be the coastal road linking the eastern city of Benghazi, the LNA main base, with Tripoli in western Libya. A resident in Ras Lanuf, an oil town located on the coastal road, said tanks and military convoys were seen heading westwards in the direction of Sirte. Sirte is in central Libya controlled by a force from the western city of Mistrata allied to the Tripoli administration. In January, the LNA, which is loyal to Haftar, started a campaign to take control of the south and its oilfields.”


Sahara Reporters: Former Boko Haram Members Beg Nigerians For Forgiveness

“Former members of the Boko Haram sect have called on Nigerians to forgive them. The ex-members made the call while responding to questions from NAN, at a graduation de-radicalisation exercise and vocational training organised for them by the Nigerian government in Gombe State on Wednesday.  Bappah Musa, a farmer-turned member of the sect, who hails from Borno, said he was deceived into joining the group, only to realise that all they were told were lies, adding that he regretted all his actions while with the sect. Musa, who was a farmer before he joined the sect, said: “I beg Nigerians for forgiveness. I regret totally what we were forced to do; it was not my intention but I beg for forgiveness. I was a humble farmer before I was deceived to join the Boko Haram sect. All they told us were different from all we were made to do; they lied to me and deceived many of us. “My heart bleeds that we were used to destroy lives and property by the sect. “Today, I am graduating as a trained shoemaker. I can make shoes of different brands; I am now an ambassador of peace.” Ababa Ali, a 62-year-old ex-Boko Haram member said: “I am deeply pained in my heart that we had been associated with such a devilish group; I beg Nigerians to forgive and accept us back.”


All Africa: Somalia: Govt Vows To Retake Regions Held By Al-Shabaab

“The Somali government vowed Tuesday to retake regions held by the al-Shabab terrorist group across the country. In security operations that started Monday, the Somali National Army (SNA) liberated four regions in Lower Shabelle, in southern Somalia, the ministry of information said. The government “reaffirms its commitment to retake stronghold villages held by the terrorists,” the ministry said in a statement. Al-Shabab was expelled from the capital Mogadishu in August 2011, but is still in control of large parts of southern and central Somalia, and continues to carry out high-profile attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere, targeting public places and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and government bases.”


Reuters: Dozens Die In Burkina As Sahel Conflict Spirals

“More than 60 civilians have been killed in tit-for-tat clashes between communities in northern Burkina Faso in recent days, the government said on Wednesday, the latest in a bout of inter-communal violence afflicting West Africa’s Sahel region. Burkina and neighboring Mali have seen a spike in ethnic clashes fueled by Islamist militants as they seek to extend their influence over the Sahel, an arid region between Africa’s northern Sahara desert and its southern savannas. Islamist attacks have risen in recent months, and the violence has reignited long-standing tensions between communities as certain groups are blamed for collaborating with the jihadists.  New violence arose near the town of Arbinda in Burkina’s Soum province on Sunday night, when a religious leader and six of his family members were killed by unidentified armed men, the ruling Movement of People for Progress (MPP) party said in a statement on Wednesday. ”On the morning of April 1st, reprisal acts were reported in the Arbinda Department. They were directed against a community following the assassination of a religious leader,” said MPP spokesman Bindi Ouoba.”

Long War Journal: Islamic State Releases First Combat Video From Mali

“The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency, one of the jihadist group’s official media arms, released its first combat video from Mali earlier today. The brief video claimed to show an ambush on French forces somewhere near Mali’s border region with Niger. While no specific date was given, the video likely portrays last month’s Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) attack near Akabar in the northern Menaka region. In last week’s edition of Al Naba, the Islamic State’s weekly newsletter, the jihadist organization claimed a suicide bombing and subsequent assault on French forces near Akabar earlier last month. French forces confirmed a skirmish but claimed to have destroyed a suicide car bomb before it reached their positions.  While this video does not show a suicide bombing, distant smoke -presumably from the destroyed car bomb – can be seen providing more evidence that the video may be linked to that skirmish. Although the video offers the first official combat footage from the region, it is not the first ISGS video to be released by Amaq. In 2016, the outlet released footage of Abu Walid al Sahrawi, ISGS’ emir, giving an oath of bayah (allegiance) to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. This did, however, come almost a year after Sahrawi had already pledged his loyalty to Baghdadi’s cause.” 

United Kingdom

The Washington Post: A British Mother Marks Her Third Year Behind Bars In Iran — For No Good Reason

“Since I was released from captivity in Iran in January 2016, Iran has continued its 40-year habit of taking foreign nationals hostage. I write about this issue extensively, in large part because it seems as though there is a new case every month. But of the many innocent people being held as political leverage by the regime in Tehran, there is one case that has, from the very start, been harder than the rest for me to stomach. Wednesday marks three years since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a wife and mother who is a British-Iranian dual citizen, was detained at an Iranian airport as she and her little girl were preparing to return to London after visiting her family for the Iranian New Year. She was separated from her daughter, Gabriella — who was just under 2 years old at the time — and thrown into solitary confinement. Iran’s hostage-taking machine fired up its twin engines: a state-funded propaganda campaign and a fake legal process.”

BBC News: British Man 'Wrote Of Joy Fighting Islamic State'

“A British man wrote of his joy at fighting against the Islamic State group, describing it as “the biggest threat since Hitler”, a court heard. Aidan James, 28, of Formby, Merseyside, had no previous military knowledge when he allegedly set out to join the war in 2017 alongside the YPG Kurdish militia. The Old Bailey heard that in diary entries he told how he got “a kill” and was “playing my part in this war and feel good to be a part of history”. Mr James denies terrorism offences. He is accused of receiving training from the PKK before going on to fight with the People's Protection Unit known as the YPG in Syria. On the second day of his trial, the jury was shown Facebook pictures of Mr James posing with YPG insignia wearing military garb. In a December 2017 diary entry, he allegedly wrote: “The situation with Turkey continues to worsen the war is long from over but I am playing my part in this war and feel good to be a part of history and with the revolutionary force of YPG. “Daesh is the biggest threat the world has seen since Hitler so anything I can do in these operations is good.”


Al Arabiya: Germany Seeks To Deter Future Militants By Voiding Nationality

“Germans with a second nationality who fight abroad for groups like ISIS will lose their citizenship, the cabinet agreed in a draft law on Wednesday intended to deter future militants. Like other Western countries, Germany faces a conundrum of how to deal with citizens who travel to the Middle East to join violent extremist causes like ISIS, whose self-proclaimed “caliphate” was eliminated last month. The measure, which needs parliamentary approval, would exclude minors, cover only future cases, and not apply to single nationality Germans who could otherwise be left stateless. “This will send a signal to ISIS supporters, to those thinking of traveling to ISIS areas,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters. More than 1,000 Germans have left their country for Middle East war zones since 2013 and the government has been debating how to deal with them as US-backed forces took ISIS' last patch of territory in Syria and rounded up prisoners. About a third have returned to Germany, another third are believed to have died, and the rest are thought to be still in Iraq and Syria, including those detained by Iraqi forces and US-backed fighters in Syria, according to German intelligence officials.”

New Zealand

NBC News: Suspect In Christchurch Mosque Attack To Face 50 Murder Charges, Police Say

“The suspect accused of carrying out an attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, last month in what has been called a terrorist attack will be charged Friday with 50 counts of murder, authorities said. New Zealand police said in a statement Thursday that the suspect in the March 15 attack, previously identified as Australian national Brenton Tarrant, will face 50 murder and 39 attempted murder charges when he appears in court. “Other charges are still under consideration,” police said. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the attack “one of New Zealand's darkest days,” and less than a week later announced plans to ban nearly all military-style semi-automatic and assault-style rifles. New Zealand lawmakers on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly in favor of new gun restrictions during the first stage of a bill, the Associated Press reported. Only one of 120 lawmakers in Parliament voted against it. The vote Tuesday was the first of three that lawmakers must pass before the bill becomes law, according to the AP. The gunman in the attack appeared to post a lengthy manifesto detailing his white-supremacist worldview.Ardern has said her office was among more than 30 that received a manifesto minutes before the gunfire began but that there were no specifics that could have been acted upon.”


El País: Three Spanish ISIS Wives Speak Out: “We Just Want To Get Out Of Here”

“We just want to get out of here. […] They can’t condemn us for taking care of our household and our children in Islamic State.” So say Yolanda Martínez, Luna Fernández and Lubna Miludi, three Spanish citizens who traveled with their husbands to Syria in 2014 and who have survived the collapse of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) caliphate in its last stronghold in Baghouz, an oasis on the eastern border of Syria with Iraq. They are speaking to EL PAÍS in a cabin inside the Syrian camp of Al Hol, where they are being held in dangerous and unsanitary conditions together with another 73,000 people, 92% of whom are women and children. The three Spaniards are taking care of 15 minors. The husband of one of them, who is also Spanish, is being held prisoner in a Kurdish jail. The other two are dead. A total of 19 Spaniards are known to have joined the caliphate, or been born under it, and have survived its collapse. The Madrid natives Yolanda Martínez (34) and Luna Fernández (32) have four children each. Fernández is currently pregnant with her fifth child and is taking care of another four children, who she says are from a “Moroccan couple resident in Spain who died in the inferno that was Baghouz.” Both express their desire to return to Spain.”

Kurdistan 24: Red Crescent Willing To Return ISIS-Linked Dutch Citizens, Children To The Netherlands

“The Dutch Red Crescent announced on Wednesday that it was ready to help to repatriate Dutch citizens with a connection to the Islamic State and their children now in Syria, if requested by the Netherlands. “It's up to the government to decide whether children and citizens will be repatriated and under what conditions,” it said in a statement. However, the humanitarian organization added that, if the Dutch government decides to make the request, it must first reach an agreement with other local actors, including the local Kurdish-led authorities, as well as nations used for transit. ”If the Red Cross is requested, the aid organization is always available for (confidential) consultations with the government and other partners. Facilitating the return trip is also possible if an appeal is made to us and if all parties agree.” However, the organization made clear that it would never return citizens on its own initiative.  “As an independent, neutral organization, we operate independently, but we explicitly do not have decision-making authority in this matter,” it said.  “There must first be a concrete request from the authorities and parties involved to facilitate the return and all parties must agree with this. If that request is made, we will do our utmost to bring the women and children back to the Netherlands in complete transparency.”

Latin America

The Daily Signal: Maduro’s Missiles Pose A Terrorist Threat To The US, Experts Say

“If the regime of Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro falls, experts warn the country’s arsenal of Russian-made, SA-24 surface-to-air missiles might end up in the hands of terrorists or drug cartels, posing a threat to U.S. civil aviation. Man-portable air defense systems, or “MANPADS,” are a particularly chilling threat in the hands of a terrorist organization, since, by design, the weapons are transportable by a single person, making them much easier to smuggle than larger weapons systems. For that reason, U.S. security officials have long warned of MANPADS proliferating from the battlefields of Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Yemen. Yet, unlike those distant warzones, weapons from Venezuela could arrive in the U.S. by land.   “There are existing narco networks and smuggling routes, both overland and maritime, to potentially bring these MANPADS into the U.S. It’s a serious problem that we have no good answer for right now,” said Chris Harmer, a retired U.S. Navy commander and former congressional staffer.  In 1999, under the watch of Venezuela’s former president, Hugo Chavez, the country began purchasing a wide range of military hardware from Russia. According to a Reuters report, those weapons purchases included an order for 5,000 Russian-made, Igla-S MANPADS—known as the SA-24 in U.S. military circles.”

The National: Venezuelan Foreign Minister Denies His Country Harbours Hezbollah Cells, Lebanese MP Says

“Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, who is visiting Lebanon, denies US claims that his country harbours Hezbollah cells. “He said that the US sometimes accuses Venezuela of having Hezbollah cells but that’s not true,” Lebanese MP Yassine Jaber said after meeting Mr Arreaza on Wednesday. Mr Jaber, head of the foreign affairs committee in Parliament, replaced Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri to meet Mr Arreaza. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox Business in early February that Hezbollah had active cells in Venezuela. “The Iranians are impacting the people of Venezuela and throughout South America,” Mr Pompeo said. “We have an obligation to take down that risk for America.” The US considers Hezbollah to be a terrorist organisation. Mr Jaber said that Mr Arreaza told him he had stopped in Lebanon as part of a tour to “put forward his case” and gather support for the administration of President Nicolas Maduro. Venezuela entered a deep political crisis in January when leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Juan Guaido, invoked the constitution to assume interim presidency after declaring Mr Maduro’s 2018 re-election a fraud. Syria, Venezuela and the Iran-backed Lebanese party Hezbollah are all supported by Russia, which also backs the Maduro administration.”


Associated Press: Australia Could Jail Social Media Execs For Showing Violence

“Australia’s Parliament passed legislation on Thursday that could imprison social media executives if their platforms stream real violence such as the New Zealand mosque shootings. Critics warn that some of the most restrictive laws about online communication in the democratic world could have unforeseen consequences, including media censorship and reduced investment in Australia. The conservative government introduced the bills in response to the March 15 attacks in Christchurch in which an Australian white supremacist apparently used a helmet-mounted camera to broadcast live on Facebook as he shot worshippers in the two mosques. Australia’s government rushed the legislation through the last two days that Parliament sits before elections are expected in May, dispensing with the usual procedure of a committee scrutinizing its content first.”

Southeast Asia

Reuters: Blast Wounds At Least 18 At Restaurant In Southern Philippines

“A bomb exploded at a restaurant in the southern Philippines on Wednesday, wounding at least 18 people in a suspected revenge attack by a militant group, security officials said.  There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast in the mostly Christian city of Isulan on the southern island of Mindanao, a region troubled by banditry and armed rebellions.  The bombing was suspected to be in retaliation for the killing of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a pro-Islamic State group, by government troops, Major General Cirilito Sobejana said. ”This could be an effort to avenge their losses. We have neutralized many of their members in our relentless operations,” Sobejana told reporters. Another possible motive for the attack was an extortion letter sent to the restaurant owner last week, he said. Government forces have in recent months pursued members of the small pro-Islamic state militant group in central Mindanao. The BIFF was blamed for a blast in August and another bombing in September in Isulan that killed five people and wounded dozens. Islamist militants operate in the south of the largely Christian country and some are known to have links with groups abroad, including al Qaeda and Islamic State.”


The Washington Post: House Lawmakers To Question Facebook, Google On Spread Of White Nationalism Online

“House Democrats plan to grill Facebook and Google next week on their efforts to stop the spread of white nationalism and hate speech online, a hearing that comes in response to a series of violent, racially motivated attacks around the world, including a mass shooting in New Zealand last month. The scheduled April 9 hearing by the House Judiciary Committee seeks to probe “the impact white nationalist groups have on American communities and the spread of white identity ideology,” the panel announced Wednesday, along with “what social media companies can do” to stop the spread of extremist content on the web. Facebook, Google and other tech giants long have faced criticism from Congress for failing to crack down on a wide array of abusive posts, photos and videos that attack people on the basis of race, gender or other traits. These companies and their peers, including Twitter, explicitly bar such attacks. But their heightened attention to the issue and investments in more content reviewers —along with more potent artificial intelligence tools — still haven’t thwarted the proliferation of troubling content. The shooting at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch brought this into sharp relief, after videos of the attack targeting Muslims spread rapidly on social-media sites.”

Bloomberg: Facebook-Streamed Violence Banned Under New Australian Law

“Australia passed legislation aimed at stopping violent crime and acts of extremism from being live-streamed on the internet amid warnings from the legal profession and technology companies that the new law is flawed. The legislation, drafted in the wake of the deadly mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 50 people dead, carries penalties of up to 10 percent of a company’s annual turnover and potential prison sentences for executives of social-media companies who fail to expeditiously remove abhorrent violent material from their platforms. Facebook Inc. came under sharp criticism for not taking down a video live-streamed by the alleged Christchurch gunman fast enough. The bill, aimed at preventing the “weaponizing” of social media platforms by terrorists and criminals, became law after passing the lower house on Thursday, the last sitting day before parliament dissolves before elections next month. It cleared the upper house late Wednesday with no debate or amendments. Australia’s measures come after Singapore announced plans to introduce tough new laws to hold online outlets accountable for the spread of fake news. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is calling for new global regulations for everything from hate speech online to privacy and data protection.”

USA Today: Another Scandal: Facebook User Data Reportedly At Risk Again

“In what seems like a broken record, Facebook is facing another scandal related to the transparency of its user data. The UpGuard cybersecurity firm reports that it uncovered two cases in which massive buckets of third-party Facebook app data were left exposed on the public internet. In one such case, a Mexico-based media company named Cultura Colectiva amassed 146 gigabytes of data with more than 540 million records. The records are said to include user comments, likes, reactions, account names, Facebook IDs and more. Another exposure, UpGuard says, came from a since-discontinued Facebook-integrated app called At The Pool and was apparently posted on a public Amazon cloud server. This second data trove reportedly included unprotected passwords for 22,000 users. Though At The Pool shut down in 2014, UpGuard wrote that, “this should offer little consolation to the app’s end users whose names, passwords, email addresses, Facebook IDs, and other details were openly exposed for an unknown period of time.”

The New York Times: Big Tech’s Original Sin

“When it comes to explaining why Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have become hotbeds for extremism, propaganda and bigotry, there’s a tendency to overcomplicate things. That’s understandable. The algorithms that govern the platforms are unknowable trade secrets. There are, in some cases, billions of users to account for. There are meaty issues of free speech and copyright law playing out in real time across borders. Technology is confusing! And, yes, it’s true that the tech companies are dealing with thorny problems that most likely have no universally satisfying outcome. Big Tech’s problems are indeed dizzying and manifold, but the last few years have taught us that there’s an Occam’s razor quality to any explanation of the toxicity of our online platforms. The original sin, it seems, isn’t all that complicated; it’s the prioritization of growth — above all else and at the expense of those of us who use the services.”