Eye on Extremism: August 1, 2022

Associated Press: Hezbollah Airs Video Of Israeli Barges In Disputed Gas Field

“Lebanon’s Hezbollah on Sunday aired drone footage of Israeli ships in a disputed gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, highlighting the tension at the center of U.S.-mediated maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel. The footage was aired as the U.S. energy envoy, Amos Hochstein, was landing in Beirut to mediate ongoing talks between Lebanon and Israel over their sea borders. Lebanon claims the Karish gas field is disputed territory under ongoing maritime border negotiations, whereas Israel says it lies within its internationally recognized economic waters. Caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib in a statement Friday said Hochstein will inform Lebanon of Israel’s response to Lebanon’s June proposal, adding that he was optimistic about reaching an agreement soon. There was no immediate response to the video from Israel. The footage aired on the Iran-backed party and militia’s Al-Manar television, showed barges from reconnaissance drones over the Karish gas field and their coordinates. It ended with footage of a rocket with the words “within range” in Arabic and Hebrew.”

BBC News: Mali And Burkina Faso: Did The Coups Halt Jihadist Attacks?

“Widespread anger at chronic insecurity in the West African countries of Mali and Burkina Faso paved the way for military men to kick out failing governments over the past two years. “There's no more room for mistakes,” said Mali's coup leader as he seized power in August 2020. “We have more than what it takes to win this war,” echoed Burkina Faso's new man in charge earlier this year. So are citizens now more safe? The short answer is, no. In both countries, attacks by Islamist militants on civilians have only increased. The same is true of civilian deaths - more ordinary people are being killed by Islamists, militants and the military. “The tallies for each year are increasing year by year,” says Héni Nsaibia, a senior researcher covering West Africa's Sahel region for the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (Acled). Data supplied to the BBC by Acled in June compares the 661 days before and after Mali's coup in August 2020, and the 138 days before and after Burkina Faso's coup in January 2022. To gather this data Acled relies on a network of “informants and professionals” as well as media reports, but Mr Nsaibia says tracking violence is particularly hard in the Sahel because of “Russian-driven disinformation, and the states themselves often feed the media with fake reports to make them appear more successful than they really are.”

United States

Houston Chronicle: Richmond Man Helped ISIS Share Propaganda, Forged Passports, Prosecutors Say

“A 24-year-old Richmond man facing charges of conspiracy to support ISIS was accused by federal prosecutors in a Friday detention hearing of helping spread the organization’s propaganda, stealing credit card information and forging travel documents and identification. Abdulrahman Al Qaysi, who was indicted in December 2020 but not arrested until earlier this summer, had ties to the United Cyber Caliphate, a group of hacking organizations that supports ISIS, prosecutors said. For years he used Facebook to share propaganda such as videos of beheadings and photoshopped images of the Statue of Liberty flying an ISIS flag, they added. On at least two occasions he shared a so-called “kill list” to dox U.S. military and State Department personnel, said Homeland Security special agent H. Albert Wittliff in his testimony. Prosecutors argued Al Qaysi, an Iraqi refugee who came to the United States when he was 10, was a flight risk because of the money he receives monthly from an uncle overseas and what they said was a history of creating fake U.S. passports for himself and others. “He has the means to run,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Alamdar Hamdani. “Not only in cash but in IDs.”

Iraq

Arab News: Iraq’s PMF Says Daesh Attack Thwarted In North Of Baghdad

“The Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) said it thwarted an attempted attack by Daesh in the Tarmiyah district, north of Baghdad, the Iraq News Agency (INA) reported on Friday. “A force from the 12th Brigade of the Popular Mobilization repelled an attack by [Daesh] that targeted the Tarmiyah district, north of Baghdad, and the force was able to thwart a [Daesh] attempt to infiltrate the district and carry out terrorist operations,” the PMF said in a statement carried by INA. The militants launched a counterattack in the district to secure the area and conducted security sweeps in search of fleeing Daesh fighters, the statement added.  Iraq’s PMF – a state-sanctioned umbrella organization of mostly Shiite militias backed by Iran – was created when influential Shiite cleric Ali Al-Sistani urged the public to take up arms against Daesh. While the militias were first created to fight the terrorist organization, the PMF’s biggest faction Hashd Al-Shaabi has also been responsible for dozens of attacks on US forces in Iraq since its formation.”

Kurdistan 24: Iraqi Airstrikes Kill 8 Suspected ISIS Members

“Eight suspected ISIS members were killed by twin Iraqi airstrikes in the west of Nineveh province on Thursday, according to a statement from the army’s media. The airstrikes targeted a “cave” in the province’s Adiya Mountain range based on intelligence provided by the security forces, the Security Media Cell announced. The hideout was completely destroyed, the statement added. An Iraqi Army unit visited the site to assess the damage, and they found the strikes yielded “positive results”. The Iraqi Air Force regularly targets ISIS remnants and their hideouts in remote areas of the country. Even though the group was declared territorially defeated in Iraq in December 2017, it still poses a threat. At least seven people were killed by a recent series of attacks across a number of provinces. In the face of the increasing attacks by the group, cooperation between the Iraqi and Kurdish forces is urgently needed, particularly in the disputed territories, the Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani warned in a statement. He called for continued coalition support to Iraqi and Kurdish forces to combat the group.”

Afghanistan

NBC News: Taliban Are Enforcing Their Rule With A Vengeance, Veteran Correspondent Warns

“Veteran Afghanistan correspondent Lynne O’Donnell says she has never seen the Taliban more brutal or the millions of people the austere fighters again govern more wretched. “I really never expected to find it as bad and as awful as I did. It’s a very very sad, unhappy, traumatized, depressed place,” she said after revealing she was forced to retract hard-hitting reports on the fundamentalist Islamic group. “They’re worse,” she said, commenting on the changes in the Taliban since their first time in power more than 20 years ago. The Australian journalist was speaking during a phone interview after being ejected from Afghanistan after just four days in the capital, Kabul. The account of her experiences there garnered widespread attention after she was visited by Taliban intelligence officers who she says brought her to their headquarters July 19 and demanded she give up her sources for previous reports. O’Donnell said she was held in a messy office, where the four officers wanted her to apologize for her work from 2021, focusing on reports on members of the Afghan LGBTQ community and on minors being forced into a life of sexual servitude to Taliban members. She said she was forced to recant reporting about the Taliban via Twitter, and issue tweets apologizing for three or four reports accusing authorities of forcefully marrying teenage girls.”

Reuters: One Dead In Clashes Between Taliban, Iran Border Forces, Afghan Police Official Says

“Clashes between Taliban forces and Iran border guards on Sunday have left at least one dead on the Afghanistan side, an Afghan police official said. “We have one killed and one wounded; the cause of the clash is not clear yet,” the police spokesman of the southern Afghan province of Nimroze, Bahram Haqmal, told Reuters. Maysam Barazandeh, the governor of the Iranian border area of Hirmand, was quoted by the semi-official news agency Fars as saying the clashes had stopped and there were no casualties. Iran’s Tasnim news agency said clashes broke out after Taliban forces tried to raise their flag “in an area which is not Afghan territory”. Local sources told Reuters that people living near the border on the Afghan side fled their homes to take cover when the clashes intensified. Since taking over Afghanistan a year ago, Taliban forces have frequently clashed with security forces of Iran, which neighbours the country to the west, as well as Pakistan, which neighbours it to the east.”

Reuters: Two Killed In Kabul Cricket Stadium Grenade Attack, Police Say

“Two people were killed in the grenade explosion that shook Kabul's main cricket stadium during a domestic league match on Friday, police said on Saturday, updating their previous casualty toll. The blast occurred in the crowd as spectators watched a match between two teams from the local Shpageza cricket league, the Afghan Cricket Board (ACB) said. “The blast happened due to a grenade, two have been killed and some of our countrymen injured,” Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran said on Saturday, adding that security forces were looking for those responsible for the attack. “The match stopped for a while. After clean-up of the area the match restarted,” Zadran told Reuters. Initially, officials including ACB Chief Executive Nassib Khan had reported four injuries and no deaths as a result of the explosion. No ACB staff or players were hurt, Khan added. Cricket is a hugely popular sport in Afghanistan, with the country's national team continuing to do well on the international stage despite limited resources and instability at home. A number of Afghans are ranked among the top players in the world. Friday is a weekly holiday in Afghanistan, and the eight-team domestic league, which has been running for the last 10 days, had attracted a sizeable audience at the stadium in the capital.”

Lebanon

Al Arabiya: Congress Calls On EU To Designate Hezbollah In Its Entirety As A Terrorist Group

“The US House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) passed a measure calling on the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terror group in its entirety. Lawmakers on the committee also passed a separate resolution calling for the US government to dismantle narcotics networks of the Assad regime, specifically Captagon, an amphetamine-type stimulant. The resolution, which now will be voted on by the House, applauds and expresses support for the continued, increased cooperation between the US and EU in thwarting Hezbollah’s criminal and terrorist activities. It also calls on the EU to sanction Hezbollah-affiliated terrorists in tandem with the US. The resolution “urges the European Union to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization and increase pressure on the group.” Pressure on the group would include better cross-border cooperation between European Union members in combatting Hezbollah, issuing arrest warrants against members and active supporters of the group, freezing Hezbollah’s assets in Europe and banning fundraising activities in support of it.”

Middle East

The Times Of Israel: Palestinian Charged With Terror For Paving Stone Attack That Seriously Injured Man

“Terror charges were filed Sunday against a Palestinian accused of bashing a Bnei Brak man over the head with a piece of paving stone and seriously injuring him earlier this month. Prosecutors said the terror attack was aimed at sowing panic among the Israeli public. Ahmad Rashdan, 33, a resident of the West Bank town of Einabus, near Nablus, was indicted at the Tel Aviv District Court for attempted murder and aggravated assault as acts of terrorism, as well as obstruction of justice. According to the indictment, Rashdan “tried to murder a person of Jewish origin” with a paving stone for “a nationalist-ideological motive and with the aim of raising fear or panic among the public.” Prosecutors say the attack was premeditated and that Rashdan had visited the footbridge between the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak and neighboring Givat Shmuel two days earlier to plan how to carry it out. Then, on July 5, he arrived at the bridge and put a piece of paving stone he found into his bag. Rashdan noticed Yitzhak Dahan, 47, as he was heading to morning prayers. The two walked past each other, at which point Rashdan pulled out the paving stone and used it to hit Dahan on the head. Dahan fell to the floor bleeding and Rashdan ran off, prosecutors said.”

Somalia

Voice Of America: Al-Shabab Militants Execute 7 By Firing Squad In Somalia

“Somali-based militant group al-Shabab has executed seven men in Somalia’s southwestern region of Bay. The execution that was conducted publicly took place in the vicinity of Buula-Fulay in Somalia’s Bay region late Saturday. Six of the executed men were accused of spying for the Somali government and the U.S. Three of them were also accused of providing intelligence that led to the killing of senior al-Shabab leaders, Yusuf Jiis and Abdulkadir Commandos, who were targeted in U.S. airstrikes in 2020. An al-Shabab judge told local spectators that the six men have confessed, without providing evidence. Al-Shabab courts don’t allow lawyers who can defend the accused. Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s Somali state president Mustafe Omar said that the region’s special forces operations against al-Shabab militants inflicted the group heavy casualties. He said they believe that the troops killed 600 al-Shabab fighters during their operations against the militant group who a week ago infiltrated Ethiopia, sparking new confrontations near the Ethiopian border with Somalia.”

Voice Of America: At Least 10 Killed In Al-Shabab Attack Of Town On Somalia-Ethiopia Border

“At least 10 people were killed and more than 20 others injured Friday when al-Shabab extremists attacked a town that sits on the Somali side of the border with Ethiopia, according to witnesses and officials. “The militants launched a surprise dawn attack on the town of Aato in the Bakol region of Somalia this morning [Friday], triggering fierce gun battles with a joint Ethiopian paramilitary Liyu police officers and Somali forces,” witnesses who requested anonymity fearing reprisals told VOA. One of the witnesses said the militant fighters began their attack using car bombs and mortar shells, then used guns as they fought the opposing forces. At the time of the attack, members of Somalia’s parliament were in the town to distribute food aid sent from Mogadishu to drought-affected residents. It was not clear if the government delegation was the target of the al-Shabab attack. “Heavily armed militants, using mortar shells and machine guns mounted on vehicles attacked the town, confronting joint Somali and Ethiopian forces in the streets of the town in a battle that ensued for three hours,” Aden Mohamed Nor, a Somali lawmaker, in the town during the attack, told VOA by phone.  Nor said he saw the dead bodies of more than 10 combatants from both sides, and that al-Shabab took most of its dead and wounded fighters as they were repulsed.”

Africa

The Washington Post: Why Dangerous Content Thrives On Facebook And Tiktok In Kenya

“The shooter approaches from behind, raising a pistol to his victim’s head. He pulls the trigger and “pop,” a lifeless body slumps forward. The shot cuts to another execution, and another. The video was posted on Facebook, in a large group of al-Shabab and Islamic State supporters, where different versions were viewed thousands of times before being taken down. As Facebook and its competitor TikTok grow at breakneck speed in Kenya, and across Africa, researchers say the technology companies are failing to keep pace with a proliferation of terrorist content, hate speech and false information, taking advantage of poor regulatory frameworks to avoid stricter oversight. “It is a deliberate choice to maximize labor and profit extraction, because they view the societies in the Global South primarily as markets, not as societies,” said Nanjala Nyabola, a Kenyan technology and social researcher. About 1 in 5 Kenyans use Facebook, which its parent company last year renamed itself Meta, and TikTok has become one of the most downloaded apps in the country. The prevalence of violent and inflammatory content on the platforms poses real risks in this East African nation, as it prepares for a bitterly contested presidential election next month and deals with the threat of terrorism posed by a resurgent al-Shabab.”

Associated Press: U.N. Peacekeepers Kill 2, Wound 15 At Border Post In Congo

“U.N. peacekeepers returning from leave opened fire at a border post between Congo and Uganda, killing at least two people and wounding at least 15 more, the U.N. mission and Congo government officials said Sunday. Tensions between the population in restive eastern Congo and the U.N. peacekeeping force have risen dramatically in the past week, with nearly 20 killed in protests calling for the force to leave the region. Bintou Keita, head of the U.N. mission in Congo and special representative of the U.N. secretary general, said she was deeply shocked by the shootings in Kasindi, the border town with Uganda in the Beni territory of Congo's North Kivu province. She said it was not clear why the peacekeepers opened fire. “This serious incident has caused loss of life and serious injuries,” said Keita. “Faced with this unspeakable and irresponsible behavior, the perpetrators of the shooting were identified and arrested pending the conclusions of the investigation, which has already started in collaboration with the Congolese authorities.” She said the soldiers' home country has been contacted so that legal proceedings could begin. Their nationality was not given. Congo's government strongly condemned the shootings, confirming a provisional toll of two dead and 15 wounded.”

United Kingdom

Daily Mail: Exclusive: Convicted Terrorist, 29, Who Recruited ISIS Fighters And 'Radicalised' Manchester Arena Bomber Salman Abedi Could Be Freed From Jail As He Makes Bid For Parole

“A convicted terror boss and a friend of Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi has been told he can bid for freedom. Rochdale-born Abdalraouf Abdallah is expected to go before the Parole Board in November and could be back on the streets in the New Year. The fanatic was jailed in 2016 after being found guilty of helping people travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group. He was released on license in November 2020, but returned to jail a few months later for breaching strict conditions requiring good behaviour. Abdallah, now 29, was staying at an approved premises at the time and the rule breaches were not terror related. A spokesperson for the Parole Board said: 'We can confirm the parole review of Abdalraouf Abdallah has been referred to the Parole Board by the Secretary of State for Justice and is following standard processes. 'Parole Board decisions are solely focused on what risk a prisoner could represent to the public if released and whether that risk is manageable in the community. 'A panel will carefully examine a huge range of evidence, including details of the original crime, and any evidence of behaviour change, as well as explore the harm done and impact the crime has had on the victims.”

Canada

The Washington Post: Life Sentence For Canadian Man Who Joined ISIS, Narrated Propaganda Videos

“A Canadian man who was radicalized online, uprooted his life and joined the Islamic State in Syria, rising to a top position in the terrorist group’s English-language propaganda arm, was sentenced Friday to life in prison. Mohammed Khalifa, 39, was the English-language narrator in approximately 15 Islamic State propaganda videos, including some of its most influential and violent fare, prosecutors said. But he also had a starring role. Khalifa admitted that he appears in the final scenes of two documentary-length Islamic State videos — “Flames of War: Fighting Has Just Begun” and “Flames of War II: Until the Final Hour” — executing Syrian soldiers who had been forced to dig their own graves. Khalifa pleaded guilty in December to conspiring to provide material support to terrorism resulting in death. Prosecutors asked for the maximum penalty of life in prison. Khalifa’s attorneys had requested a sentence of 20 years, noting that he had killed two Syrian soldiers but no Americans, and that he had a wife and three children. The text of the statute under which Khalifa was charged does not require that victims who died be American. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III described Khalifa as “the Pied Piper who played the tune,” enabling the Islamic State to reach English speakers in the United States and Europe with violent propaganda.”

Australia

Brisbane Times: Alleged Brisbane Extremist Charged With Encouraging Terrorist Attack

“An Australian man already accused of funding an overseas fighter to travel to Syrian to join terrorist groups battling government forces, has also been charged with advocating for a terrorism act. Omar Saghir, 40, was arrested on July 16, 2019, by Australian Federal Police officers when he landed at Sydney Airport from Saudi Arabia, where he had been since 2019. The AFP allege Saghir played a senior role in a Brisbane group that held a “religiously motivated violent extremist ideology” and a desire to travel to Syria to fight. Saghir has also been accused of co-founding an organisation that provided funds to people who later fled Australia to join Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group fighting against Syrian government forces. Saghir is accused of transferred $1010 on August 8, 2013, to ‘Witness 1’ – who was in Turkey, but later went to Syria and fought against government forces. Witness 1 has provided a full statement to the AFP against Saghir, including details of conversations they had. These allegedly included discussions of ‘jihad’, providing Syrian anti-government fighters with “men and armaments” and asking the Mujahideen militant group to help with the fight in Syria. Saghir is also accused of posting videos to his Facebook account in mid-2019 showing the fighting in Syria and encouraging followers to join and support the cause.”

Technology

Vice: Is Joe Biden Dead, Replaced By 10 Different Deepfake Body Doubles? An Investigation

“…“The difference in Biden’s overall appearance between the two videos appears to be just a result of different lighting in the room,” Hany Farid, image forensics expert and professor at University of California, Berkeley told Motherboard. And in the original video from the conference, he noted, “you can clearly see that the claims being made about blinking and other artifacts are unfounded.” According to Giancarlo Fiorella, an investigator at Bellingcat, to achieve the uncanny valley effect of the side by side comparisons, an editor had to zoom in on Biden’s face in the YouTube video. Software zooms famously distort images. Fiorella noted this when Motherboard spoke with him about the videos. “[Zooming in] reduces the quality and maybe accounts for some of the ‘uhh, is this guy ok?’ effect,” he said. “I bet if you zoom in on anyone’s face when they’re talking they’d look weird, sorta like an uncanny valley effect.”

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On August 13, 2017, suspected al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) gunmen opened fire on a Turkish restaurant and hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. 19 people were killed and 22 others were wounded.    

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