Eye on Extremism: August 13, 2020

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Prepares Sanctions Against Hezbollah’s Allies In Lebanon

“The Trump administration is preparing to impose anticorruption sanctions against prominent Lebanese politicians and businessmen in an effort to weaken Hezbollah’s influence in the aftermath of last week’s explosion in Beirut’s port, according to U.S. officials and others familiar with the plans. The blast, which killed at least 160 people and injured thousands more, has accelerated efforts in Washington to blacklist Lebanese leaders aligned with Hezbollah, the country’s dominant political and military force, according to these people. U.S. officials see an opportunity to drive a wedge between Hezbollah and its allies as part of a broader effort to contain the Shiite force backed by Tehran. Hezbollah has been part of Lebanese coalition governments for more than a decade and is the region’s most potent threat to Israel, which has bombed the group’s forces in Syria and Lebanon to prevent it from amassing advanced missiles. President Trump has used sanctions as a central tool in his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. Now some in his administration want to see the White House turn the screws in Lebanon. “I don’t see how you can react to this kind of event with anything other than ‘maximum pressure,’” said one U.S. official.”

Fox News: As The US Moves Out Of Afghanistan, Iran Cements Ties With The Taliban And Officials

“As a Shiite-majority nation, Iran has long been at odds with the Afghan Taliban, comprised almost entirely of devout adherers of Sunni Islam. Iran is said to have initially supported the U.S. mission to overthrow the Taliban government following the September 11, 2001, attacks. But as the U.S. and subsequent NATO footprint spread throughout Afghanistan in the years that followed, Iran reconstituted its Taliban relations – smuggling weaponry and allowing commanders to fund its insurgency through Iranian institutions...“Ghaani has a history of ties in Afghanistan dating back to the 1980s when he helped arm and support Shiite communities there on behalf of Iran," said Josh Lipowsky, senior research analyst at the Counter Extremism Project (C.E.P.). "Ghaani's influence has continued, as evidenced by a secretive 2018 meeting he had with the governor of Afghanistan's Bamiyan Province. Ghaani allegedly introduced himself at the time as Iran's deputy ambassador to Afghanistan." In late January this year, U.S. Marine General Frank McKenzie also warned of an increasing trend of Iranian interference on behalf of the Taliban in Afghanistan. "For years, Iran has sought to increase its influence with the Taliban in order to weaken the United States globally," Lipowsky asserted. "While the Taliban are not ideologically aligned with Iran and not as loyal as Hezbollah or the Iraqi militias, they will owe Iran for its support."

The Jerusalem Post: Lithuania Recognizes Hezbollah As A Terrorist Organization

“The Lithuanian government announced on Thursday the recognition of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. “Having taken into consideration the information acquired by our institutions and partners, we may conclude that ‘Hezbollah’ uses terrorist means that pose a threat to the security of a significant number of countries, including Lithuania. We stand together with the United States of America, Germany, United Kingdom, Netherlands, as well as other countries that had reached the same conclusion,” said Lithuanias's Foreign Minister Mr. Linas Linkevičius in a statement. “We appreciate the successful cooperation between the Lithuanian and Israeli national security agencies. We are thankful to these institutions for their significant work in helping ensure the safety of our citizens,” he continued. “It is important to note that we support peaceful people of Lebanon and their wish for their country to implement necessary reforms. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi spoke a few moments later with his Lithuanian counterpart, congratulating him on the Lithuanian government's decision. "Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that has controlled terror in large parts of Lebanon and turned them into Iranian-protected areas while taking Lebanese citizens, its economy and its political system hostage," said Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.”

United States

The Post Millennial: Jordan Banned The Muslim Brotherhood—The US Should Follow Suit

“According to the Counter Extremism Project (CEP): “A 2015 U.K. government investigation concluded that the Brotherhood has 'promoted a radical, transformative politics, at odds with a millennium of Islamic jurisprudence and statecraft....' In line with the British assessment, and despite the Brotherhood's official commitment to non-violence, CEP has documented ideological and operational links between the Brotherhood's ideology and violent terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS.” Examining the teachings, charters, ideology, and ambitions of the Muslim Brotherhood will leave you with a conclusion that their entire belief system and agenda is a combination of those of al-Qaida and ISIS. In 1997, the U.S. State Department added Hamas to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, established as its “Palestinian wing.” Violent jihad has always been on the Muslim Brotherhood's agenda, as a method of displaying strength “Jihad is an obligation from Allah on every Muslim and cannot be ignored nor evaded,” al-Banna wrote.”

WTOP News: The Hunt: Homegrown Extremists In The US Connected To Europe

“Domestic terrorism is on the rise in the U.S. On this week’s edition of “The Hunt” with WTOP National Security Correspondent J.J. Green, Dr. Hans Jakob-Schindler, Senior Director of the Counter Extremism Project, said connections to Europe are fueling that rise.”

Syria

The Washington Times: 'We're Going To Have Huge Problems': U.S. General Warns Of Long-Term ISIS Resurgence

“In July, the group carried out at least 23 attacks in Syria alone, according to data compiled by the Counter Extremism Project. Those attacks were aimed mostly at forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, who for years has waged a simultaneous war against ISIS and U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a key American ally in battling the terrorist group. Perhaps more alarming are recent attacks perpetrated more than 2,000 miles away in Afghanistan by the group’s affiliate there, ISIS-Khorasan, or ISIS-K. This month, ISIS-K mounted a major assault on a prison in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, in an attempt to free hundreds of militant fighters held there. At least 29 people were killed as Afghan security forces exchanged gunfire with the ISIS-K fighters for hours. Hundreds of prisoners escaped during the assault, though Afghan government officials say the vast majority were rounded up and returned to the prison. While ISIS and the Taliban have traditionally have been rivals, Afghan government officials have argued that they are pursuing a marriage of convenience.”

Iraq

Reuters: Turkey Says Operations Against Kurdish Militants In Iraq To Continue, Urges Baghdad To Cooperate

“Turkey will continue its cross-border operations against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq if Baghdad continues to overlook the militants’ presence in the region, the foreign ministry said on Thursday, urging Iraqi authorities to cooperate with Ankara. Turkey has regularly attacked Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)militants, both in its mainly Kurdish southeast and in northern Iraq, where the group is based. In June, Ankara launched a new ground offensive, dubbed Operation Claw Tiger, that saw Turkish troops advance deeper into Iraq. On Tuesday, a Turkish air strike in northern Iraq killed two members of Iraq’s border guard and their driver, Iraq’s military said, calling the attack a “flagrant aggression”. Iraq’s foreign ministry then said Baghdad cancelled a visit by Turkey’s defence minister to the country, and summoned the Turkish ambassador to inform him of “Iraq’s confirmed rejection of his country’s attacks and violations”. In a statement early on Thursday, Turkey’s foreign ministry said PKK presence also threatened Iraq and that it was Baghdad’s responsibility to take measures against the militants, but that Ankara will defend its borders if the PKK’s presence is allowed. “Our country is ready to cooperate with Iraq on this issue.”

Afghanistan

Time: Prisoners For Peace: Trump Administration Mulls Releasing Taliban Drug Kingpin In Push For Afghan Peace Talks

“In 2005, Taliban financier and Afghan drug lord Haji Bashir Noorzai flew from Dubai to New York City to strike a deal with American officials seeking peace with the Taliban. Or so he thought. It was a trap. DEA officials met him, and arrested him for his global heroin trafficking operations that had been funding the Taliban’s war machine for years. He was tried in the Southern District of New York and sentenced to life in U.S. federal prison. That was then. Now, the Trump Administration is considering letting Noorzai out. Trying to make good on its Feb. 29 peace deal with the Taliban, the Administration is entertaining the militant group’s request to release Noorzai — and every last Taliban detainee in Guantanamo Bay — in order to get the former rulers of Afghanistan to sit down with the country’s current ruling elite for talks. When the Taliban’s co-founder Mullah Akhund Baradar asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the prisoners’ release at the end of July, U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad quietly recommended setting Noorzai free, a senior administration official and a senior western official say, though it would mean putting one of the world’s top drug kingpins back on the street.”

Stars And Stripes: Taliban Unlikely To Support Keeping US Counterterrorism In Afghanistan, Analysts Say

“Taliban negotiators are likely to oppose any proposal for the U.S. to establish a lasting counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan during upcoming peace talks with the government in Kabul, analysts said. While President Donald Trump has often called for a troop withdrawal, he also said the U.S. is “going to always have a presence” in Afghanistan for counterterrorism in an interview on Fox News radio last fall. Trump envisions the Taliban helping the U.S. fight the Islamic State, he said in a White House press briefing in February. Some lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, also have proposed leaving such a residual U.S. force to prevent the country being used again as a launchpad for global terrorism. But any remaining foreign presence is a nonstarter among Taliban members, said Andrew Watkins of the International Crisis Group, which released a report Tuesday on the group’s internal views. “Members of the Taliban we spoke to, at all levels of the organization, in all parts of the country, said this was a non-negotiable issue, that there cannot be a Western footprint,” said Watkins, the Brussels-based think tank’s senior analyst for Afghanistan.”

Pakistan

Associated Press: Pakistan Hopes New Laws Will Lead To Removal From Watch List

“Pakistan's information minister said Wednesday he hoped that five new bills passed in Parliament aimed at curbing terror financing and money laundering will lead to the country's removal from an international watch list. Shibli Faraz commented hours after the National Assembly, the powerful lower house of Parliament, passed bills to meet goals set by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force in February. The goals included targeting individuals linked to money laundering and terror financing. The Financial Action Task Force is a top anti-terrorism monitoring group. The task force said in February that Pakistan had fulfilled 14 of 27 steps to get off the watch list, but still needed to do more to track money transfers and investigate and prosecute terrorism-related financiers. Since then, Pakistan has detained and convicted several militants, including India’s most wanted man, Hafiz Saeed, who is now serving a five-year prison term. Pakistan wants to get off the task force's “gray list,” the color code for countries that are only partially fulfilling international rules for fighting terrorism financing and money laundering.”

Lebanon

Axios: U.S. Threatens To Veto UN Peacekeeping In Lebanon Over Hezbollah Concerns

“The Trump administration is threatening to veto a resolution to extend the UN's long-standing peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon if its mandate isn't changed, Israeli and U.S. officials tell me. Why it matters: The U.S. is the main funder of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which has an annual budget of $250 million. The veto threat is a tactical move, and part of a broader effort to put pressure on Iran and its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah. The resolution will come before the UN Security Council for a vote at the end of this month. It comes in the midst of a deep political crisis in Lebanon, following the Beirut port explosion, and with tensions running high between Israel and Hezbollah. The U.S. argues that Hezbollah is restricting the access and movements of the UN force, compromising its effectiveness. It wants all restrictions on the peacekeepers' movements lifted, along with enhanced reporting to the Security Council when UNIFIL's operations are challenged. The Trump administration is also demanding the following changes to UNIFIL’s mandate, per Israeli and U.S. officials.”

Somalia

Voice Of America: At Least 10 Killed In Somalia After Fighting Between Al-Shabab, Residents

“At least 10 people were killed and five others were wounded in fighting between al-Shabab and armed residents in Somalia's central region of Mudug, witnesses and officials said. The fighting started Wednesday after heavily-armed al-Shabab militants, who control parts of the region, tried to impose taxes on the residents of Shabellow village. It’s about 20 kilometers west of the Ba’ad weyn district, a base for the 21st division of the Somali National Army. “Heavily-armed al-Shabab members first asked us to pass through our village, but in fact we found out they wanted to seize our village and we confronted them,” the head of the village, Mohamed Ibrahim, told VOA by phone. Ibrahim said eight of the residents and a number of al-Shabab militants were killed in the fighting. “They [al-Shabab] killed eight civilians, including elders who could not run away, and women, and I saw the dead bodies of six of al-Shabab fighters,” Ibrahim said. Residents said the militants briefly took control of the village and burned houses and businesses. Al-Shabab militants have claimed responsibility of the attack, describing the village as a Somali military base, a claim denied by residents.”

Dalsan Radio: Somalia: Police Launch Manhunt After Al-Shabaab Inmate Escapes From Prison

“Police in Mogadishu have launched a massive manhunt for Al-Shabab inmate who escaped from prison on Tuesday night. The break out happened after inmates grabbed a gun from a warder and killed him on the spot as they went on to kill another warder obtaining their guns. Security forces ended the deadly shooting inside Mogadishu central prison after several hours15 inmates were killed during the confrontation and four warders. The Alshabab inmate was identified as Mubarak Ibrahim Idle and was serving a ten years sentence when he escaped. police have circulated his photograph. The escapee killed two people including an Autorickshaw driver near the Mogadishu central prison after he escaped. This is not the first time that inmate is escaping from the Mogadishu central prison where many of the country's most violent Alshabab, ISIS and hardcore criminals suspects are held.”

Africa

Agence France-Presse: Jihadists Seize Key Port In Gas-Rich Northern Mozambique

“Islamist militants occupied a key port in gas-rich northern Mozambique on Wednesday following days of attacks claimed by an Islamic State-affiliated group, a military source and local media said. “The port of Mocimboa da Praia was captured by the terrorists at dawn,” the Moz24Horas website reported, while a military source told AFP that the small town and its port had “fallen”. The assault is the latest in an intensifying insurgency in the country's north since 2017 which has killed more than 1,000 people and complicated plans to develop its offshore gas reserves. Mozambique's defence forces (FDS) confirmed that “terrorists” had launched “sequenced attacks” on several villages surrounding the port over the past week in an attempt to occupy the town. “At the moment, there are ongoing actions to neutralise the terrorists that are using populations in the affected areas as shields,” the FDS said in a statement. Mocimboa da Praia lies less than 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Afungi peninsula where a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility, one of Africa's biggest single investment projects, is located. The port is currently a major traffic hub for the gas project.”

Council On Foreign Relations: Mass Defection Of Boko Haram Fighters In Cameroon

“Nigerian Major General Ibrahim Manu Yusuf, commander of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) fighting the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency in the Lake Chad Basin, announced August 7 that 109 Boko Haram fighters and their prisoners had defected on the Nigerian-Cameroonian border. Yusuf said the defection was encouraged by a campaign through which Boko Haram fighters who defect would be pardoned. This specific group of defectors have been taken to the Cameroonian Center for Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration. The facility reportedly was built to accommodate 100 but already has 250 residents. According to Voice of America (VOA), the defectors consisted of forty-five Nigerian and three Cameroonian fighters, forty-five Nigerian children, and sixteen women, characterized as “sex slaves.” It is not clear whether the women and children had been kidnapped. One defector said he had joined Boko Haram in return for a promised motorcycle. He said that in the two years he had been part of the movement he had been unable to see his two wives, perhaps implying that his participation was coerced.”

France

RFI: French Terror Victims Group To Take Legal Action Over Brutal Niger Attack Photos

“The French organisation representing victims of terrorism says it will file a legal complaint after the publication of photos of the bodies of humanitarian workers killed in Sunday's attack in Niger. It says the images were relayed to France, notably by accounts linked to far right followers and jihadist movements. The French foreign ministry has issued a firm warning this Wednesday against travelling to Niger after six French nationals were among eight people killed by suspected jihadists at the weekend. The ministry website said people were “strongly advised” not to travel anywhere in the country, the exception being the capital Niamey, for which travel was “not advised unless for compelling reasons.” The new advice means that the southern part of Niger, roughly a quarter of the country, has been added to the so-called red zone, for which there is a strong recommendation to avoid. The managing director and spokesman of the French terror victims association (AFVT), Guillaume Denoix de Saint Marc, said the pictures came from two sources, probably from within Niger and were then relayed by extremist groups."

New Zealand

The Canberra Times: Dozens Head To NZ For Mosque Terror Trial

“Dozens of people affected by the Christchurch mosque shootings have returned to New Zealand ahead of this month's sentencing. Minister Megan Woods said 53 people - including some from Australia - were currently in NZ's managed isolation facilities, quarantining for a fortnight so they can either participate or support family. Australian Brenton Tarrant, 29, will be sentenced for his atrocity in a multi-day hearing in Christchurch's High Court beginning August 24. Tarrant was convicted of 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one terrorism charge in March after reversing his initial plea. High Court Justice Cameron Mander has withheld the sentencing until now to allow the full participation of as many victims as possible. Ms Woods, a Christchurch-based MP, said she was pleased to be able to overcome COVID-19 and facilitate the movement of people. “They're just incredibly pleased that in the middle of a global pandemic, where it is incredibly difficult to move around the world, that they have been able to travel here,” she told Radio NZ. Ms Woods said among the cohort were 34 victims and 13 support people, who had travelled “to be able to support their family members, many of whom are those who lost immediate family members, fathers and brothers and so forth, in the shootings.”

Technology

The Verge: Facebook Still Hosts Boogaloo Extremist Groups, Report Finds

“Facebook is still littered with groups and pages aligned with the antigovernment “boogaloo” movement months after the company announced that it would ban these communities, according to a new report from the Tech Transparency Project Wednesday. In June, Facebook announced that it would remove groups dedicated to the boogaloo movement, months after reports first surfaced that the right-wing extremist group leveraged the platform to organize for an armed revolt. At the time, Facebook said that it removed over 200 boogaloo Facebook groups and 95 Instagram accounts for violating its policies against organized violence, along with 400 other groups that were related to the extremist movement. But that policy change could be less effective than it originally suggested. In its report Wednesday, the Tech Transparency Project said that it had “found that Facebook has consistently failed to spot boogaloo activity and missed boogaloo groups’ simple name changes designed to evade detection.” The organization identified 110 boogaloo Facebook groups that were created since the platform announced its ban on them in June and some of these groups “have more than 1,000” members. They often share instructions on creating explosives and other harmful behavior.”

JURIST: Facebook Has Not Shared Evidence Of Myanmar Crimes: UN Investigator

“The head of the UN’s Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) said Monday that Facebook has not shared evidence of “serious international crimes” relating to its investigation into military abuses in Myanmar. Nicholas Koumjian, head of the UN body collecting evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law for the purpose of criminal prosecution, told Reuters that Facebook holds information that is “highly relevant and probative of serious international crimes” but has not shared it with the IIMM yet. Koumjian said, “Unfortunately, to date, the Mechanism has not received any material from Facebook but our discussions continue and I am hopeful that the Mechanism will eventually receive this important evidence.” A case on the interpretation and application of the Genocide Convention is ongoing before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the 2017 military “clearance operation” that led more than 730,000 people to flee to Bangladesh. The 2019 case was instituted by The Gambia. Myanmar denies the charge of genocide and has maintained that its security forces were conducting legitimate operations against Rohingya militants who attacked its border police.”