Eye on Extremism: August 14, 2020

Associated Press: US Seizes Virtual Currency Alleged To Fund Militant Groups

“The Justice Department said Thursday that it has seized millions of dollars from cryptocurrency accounts that militant groups, including al-Qaida and the Islamic State, used to finance their organizations and violent plots. Law enforcement officials said the groups used the accounts to solicit donations, including through a scam that sought to raise money from the sale of fraudulent personal protective equipment for the coronavirus pandemic. Officials described it as the largest-ever seizure of virtual currency funds related to terrorism. It’s also part of a broader Justice Department goal of dismantling financial networks for extremist organizations, including those designated as foreign terror groups. Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are favored for illicit transactions because they are perceived as hard to trace, and one of the groups singled out Thursday explicitly encouraged donations by telling potential contributors that the money trail would be difficult for law enforcement to untangle, the department said. The legal action, which included undercover work and forfeiture complaints, filed in Washington’s federal court is meant to deprive the organizations of funds needed to buy weapons and develop fighters, Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in a conference call announcing the case.”

The Telegraph: Turkey Grants Citizenship To Hamas Operatives Plotting Terror Attacks From Istanbul

“Turkey is granting citizenship to senior operatives of a Hamas terrorist cell, the Telegraph has learned, raising fears that the Palestinian group will have greater freedom to plot attacks on Israeli citizens around the world.  Turkish identity papers seen by the Telegraph show that at least one of 12 senior Hamas members, who are using the country as a base of operations, has received Turkish citizenship and an 11-digit identity number.  According to a senior source, seven of the 12 operatives have received Turkish citizenship, as well as passports, while the other five are in the process of receiving them. In some cases, the operatives are living under Turkish aliases. Hamas is proscribed by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organisation, while in Britain the group's armed wing has been banned.   Hamas says its main goal is to liberate Palestinians from Israeli occupation and establish an Islamic state. However, Turkey insists the group is a legitimate political movement which has been democratically elected in Gaza. A senior source in the region claimed of the operatives: “These are not foot soldiers but the most senior Hamas operatives outside of Gaza. [They] are actively raising funds and directing operatives to carry out attacks in the present day.”

United States

Boston Herald: Rhode Island ISIS Terror Sympathizer Sent Home By Boston Judge

“A Rhode Island man sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for threatening to behead a conservative blogger over her anti-ISIS views is the latest con to be set free under the coronavirus compassionate release movement. Nicholas Rovinski was set free this week after serving just five years of his sentence, with the 29-year-old’s lawyers successfully arguing his cerebral palsy and hypertension make him vulnerable to COVID-19. He was jailed at FCI Danbury, a “low-security” prison in Connecticut. U.S. Attorney in Boston Andrew Lelling appealed to the court to keep Rovinski behind bars for a crime he stressed could have resulted in a life term. He added 7,000 federal inmates have been let out and sent home during the pandemic. “The defendant has failed to meet his burden of establishing ‘extraordinary and compelling reasons’ that warrant releasing the defendant after serving barely a third of his 15-year sentence of imprisonment for two extraordinarily serious terrorism offenses that involved plotting the killing of U.S. citizens  on behalf of ISIS and for which his sentencing guideline range was at life,” Lelling wrote.”

Syria

Associated Press: UN: 8 Children Die Within Days In Syria Camp For IS Families

“At least eight children under the age of five have died in recent days from health problems linked to the dire conditions in a camp in northern Syria housing tens of thousands of female supporters of the Islamic State group and their children, the U.N. said Thursday. The U.N. children's agency says the eight died between Aug. 6-10 from malnutrition or dehydration from diarrhea. The camp has yet to report any outbreak of the new coronavirus, which has sickened people in other parts of war-torn Syria. “Any child’s death is tragic. It is even more so when the death could have been averted,” UNICEF said in a statement. It said nearly 40,000 children from 60 countries languish at the al-Hol camp. It is operated by U.S.-allied Kurdish forces that played a key role in dismantling the extremist group's self-styled caliphate, which once sprawled across large areas of Syria and Iraq. The extremists no longer control any territory, but continue to carry out sporadic attacks in both countries. The detainees at al-Hol mainly consist of the wives of IS fighters and their children, who were captured or surrendered to Kurdish forces.”

Turkey

Asharq Al-Awsat: Turkey Detains ISIS Suspect Plotting Attack On Police

“Turkish police have detained a suspected ISIS militant who was allegedly planning to attack a police station, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported Thursday. Anadolu agency reported that the suspect, identified by the initials M.A., was held in an operation in the district of Inegol in northwestern Bursa province. Police seized a suicide vest and other explosive material, according to the report. The suspect was being monitored by police following five separate arson attacks on businesses in Inegol in the past two months, Anadolu reported. Anadolu said the suspect had entered Turkey illegally two years ago and had carried out acts on behalf of ISIS in Syria between 2017 and 2018. Turkey has suffered a string of attacks by ISIS militants over the last five years, including an attack at an Istanbul nightclub during New Year celebrations in the early hours of 2017. The attack killed 39 people, most of them foreigners.”

Afghanistan

The New York Times: Afghanistan To Investigate Video Showing Forces Mutilating Taliban Corpses

“Afghanistan’s defense ministry said it was investigating a video circulating on social media Thursday that showed men in Afghan army uniform mutilating bodies of purported Taliban fighters. The intensification of violence on the eve of peace talks to end the war, with fighters from both sides often resorting to brutal tactics, has raised concerns that revenge-taking might continue long after any peace deal is signed. The two-minute cellphone footage shows the men in uniforms smashing the heads of corpses  with hatchets. Other soldiers, with their faces visible, are gathered around the scene — some laugh, some film and photograph, one stands over a body, smoking a cigarette as he poses for a picture. The Taliban, in a statement, said the bodies of their fighters were mutilated in the Arghandab district of Zabul province. In early April, the Taliban killed a large number of soldiers from an Afghan army unit there, in the deadliest episode in the district in recent months. An Afghan official said the video likely dates to around that time. One man filming the mutilation scene can be heard saying, “They had come to fight in Arghandab — this is their Red Unit,” referring to the Taliban’s elite force. “If proven that these were personnel of the Afghan army, the perpetrators will be dealt with according to the law,” the defense ministry said.”

Reuters: Afghan Government Releases 80 Of Final 400 Taliban Prisoners

“The Afghan government has begun releasing the last Taliban prisoners from a final batch of 400 who the militants want freed before they agree to start peace negotiations, a security agency spokesman said on Friday. The government agreed on Sunday to release the 400 “hard-core” prisoners after consulting a grand assembly of elders and other community leaders, known as a Loya Jirga. “The government ... yesterday released 80 Taliban convicts out of the 400 that the Consultative Loya Jirga sanctioned for release to speed up efforts for direct talks and a lasting, nationwide ceasefire,” said Javid Faisal, spokesman for the National Security Council. He did not say when the remaining 320 would be set free. Disagreement over the release of the prisoners, who include some of those accused in connection with some of Afghanistan’s bloodiest attacks, has delayed negotiations for months as the United States withdraws troops under a deal signed with the Taliban in February. President Ashraf Ghani on Monday issued a decree to release the final batch of prisoners.”

Pakistan

Modern Diplomacy: Religious Extremism And Its Dynamics In Pakistan

“Pakistan has faced lots of problems during its independence. Four wars, insurgency, proxy war, and now extremism is becoming a more significant threat for Pakistan to tackle. External forces are also making footholds and supporting the insurgents to take stand against the state. During General Zia -ul- Haqq’s era, there were no actions taken by the government against the extremist group. Shia community in response to the threat from the Sunni community made Sipahe Sahaba was created by Sunnis to maintain the balance at the sectarian level. In 1996 a splinter group of Sipah e Shaba, Lashkar-e- Jhangvi, which was built by Riaz Basra it is one of the most violent Sunni groups. In the same year, numerous killings occurred in which both sects targeted religious leaders, doctors and highly qualified professionals. During the Nawaz Sharif period as well as Musharraf regime the Sectarian violence was on the peak Role of Madrassa culture: Madrassa is a place where the majority of poor children come to learn Islamic principles and the Quran. They provide free education to children. The government provides the Zakat fund to run these institutions.”

Lebanon

The Wall Street Journal: Beirut Explosion Unleashes Public Anger At Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Most Powerful Group

“The throngs of antiestablishment protesters marching in Beirut after last week’s devastating explosion have turned their sights on one group above all: Hezbollah, the powerful, Iranian-backed Shiite political party and militia that has in recent years become a nearly untouchable force in Lebanon. Hezbollah, which since its birth has billed itself as a bulwark against Israel and other foreign powers and a protector of Lebanon’s Shia population, is facing new, public criticism as an impediment to political reform. Critics say the group helps cover up systemic corruption and has focused its attention abroad instead of dealing with a deteriorating economic situation at home. “They are the biggest obstacle to the project of founding a strong state with working institutions,” said Nizar Hassan, a 27-year-old activist with the Lebanese rights group Li Haki. “They are to blame for a lot of this.” Demonstrators have directed their ire broadly at the entire political system that emerged from the country’s 15-year civil war, with branches of government reserved for different Christian and Muslim religious sects that critics say has spawned corruption and incompetence.”

Newsweek: In Beirut Explosion Aftermath, Hezbollah Feels The Pressure

“Last week's devastating explosion in Beirut is the latest tragedy to befall the young country, piling on top of citizens already grappling with political turmoil, economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. Lebanese people—well used to violence and instability and still carrying the scars of brutal civil war—are angry, taking to the streets in their thousands to demand the fall of a political elite that has long lined its pockets by hollowing out the country. The amorphous blob of powerful corrupt interests is “bigger than the state,” according to former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who this week resigned amid the political fallout from the explosion. However, for many Diab is a perfect embodiment of the apathy and incompetence that resulted in Tuesday's blast. A reckoning is due, though the shadowy class of elites that has long profited from Lebanon's stagnation will fight tooth and nail to retain their positions and interests. One of the most powerful political factions is Hezbollah—the Iranian-backed Shia Islamist political party-cum-militia the controls much of Lebanon's south. The party, and its leader Hassan Nasrallah, wield massive influence in the country and effectively operate as a state within a state.”

Middle East

The Conversation: In COVID’s Shadow, Global Terrorism Goes Quiet. But We Have Seen This Before, And Should Be Wary

“Have we flattened the curve of global terrorism? In our COVID-19-obsessed news cycle stories about terrorism and terrorist attacks have largely disappeared. We now, though, understand a little more about how pandemics work. And ironically, long before the current pandemic, the language of epidemiology proved helpful in understanding by analogy the way in which terrorism works as a phenomenon that depends on social contact and exchange, and expands rapidly in an opportunistic fashion when defences are lowered. In this pandemic year, it appears one piece of good news is that the curve of international terrorist attacks has indeed been flattened. Having lost its physical caliphate, Islamic State also appears to have lost its capacity, if not its willingness, to launch attacks around the world well beyond conflict zones. We have seen this happen before. The September 11 attacks in 2001 were followed by a wave of attacks around the world. Bali in October 2002, Riyadh, Casablanca, Jakarta and Istanbul in 2003, Madrid in March 2004, followed by Khobar in May, then London in July 2005 and Bali in October, not to mention numerous other attacks in the Middle East and West Asia.”

Nigeria

Sahara Reporters: Boko Haram Recruiting Child Soldiers, Says MNJTF

“The Multinational Joint Task Force has said that Boko Haram terrorist group had introduced the use of child soldiers to resuscitate its declining influence in the Lake Chad Basin. Chief of Military Public Information for MNJTF, Timothy Antigha, said this in a statement issued from N’Djamena, Chad on Thursday. Antigha said the recruitment of child soldiers by the sect was part of their new strategy following the recent mass surrender of fighters to the military. He said information on this disturbing development was brought in by intelligence sources and corroborated by concerned individuals and groups a few days ago. He added that the Boko Haram terrorists further confirmed the development when they posted pictures of children dressed in military gear and holding assault rifles in a video released during the Sallah celebration. The statement reads, “Earlier, Boko Haram have engaged in the mass abduction of school girls, sexual enslavement of women and mass murder of innocent civilians. This recent employment of child soldiers is as a result of frustration caused by several operational losses, leadership crisis, as well as disillusionment among fighters and their subsequent surrender in hundreds to the MNJTF.”

Sahara Reporters: Boko Haram Terrorists Invade Borno Communities, Injure Traditional Leader

“Residents of Jetete, Goni Dusunari and Fashar communities under Magumeri Local Government Area of Borno State have been attacked by gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram terrorists. SaharaReporters gathered that a man identified as Bulama, a traditional leader in Fandamiri Village of Hoyo Ward, was shot by the gunmen and is currently receiving medical treatment at a hospital. The terrorists also demolished shops, rustled animals and stole food items in Fashar and Goni Dusunari communities. Boko Haram has continued to operate in different parts of the North-East especially Borno despite claims by the government that the sect had been defeated.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Terror Accused Hisham Muhammad 'Believed IS Was US Creation'

“A man accused of planning a terror attack has told a court he researched the Islamic State group because he believed it was “created by America”. Hisham Muhammad, of Victoria Avenue, Bury, is accused of planning both a “lone-wolf attack” and a drone attack. The 26-year-old told the Old Bailey he had “long held the suspicion” the group was “misrepresented or exaggerated in order to increase Islamophobia”. He denies engaging in conduct in preparation for acts of terrorism. His cousin Faisal Abu Ahmad, 25, denies failing to alert authorities of the alleged attack plan. In a defence statement read to the court, Mr Muhammad said he had watched extremist videos as research because he had “long held the suspicion as a devout Muslim that much of the material about Islamic State is misrepresented or exaggerated in order to increase Islamophobia”. He said that was “especially” the case in countries like the UK “where there is a desire to restrict Muslim immigration”. He told the jury “a lot more research” needed to be done into the group, adding: “I don't believe it exists... I believe it was created by America to take away the rights of Muslims.”

Australia

2GB: Calls For Hezbollah To Be Declared A Terrorist Organisation

“In the wake of the Beirut disaster, Peter Wertheim, Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-Chief Executive Officer, joins Michael to discuss the call for Hezbollah to be declared a terrorist organisation. To date, Australia has only outlawed Hezbollah’s external security organisation, but not the military wing – and New Zealand has banned the military wing, but not the security organisation. The other three members of the exclusive Five Eyes intelligence community, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, have a full ban on Hezbollah. Britain’s decision last year to impose a full ban on Hezbollah, together with persuasive arguments put to the Australian government by Jewish community organisations, may usher in a change of direction in Canberra.”

Southeast Asia

Military Times: COVID-19 Is An ‘Ally’ For ISIS In The Philippines, DoD Report Finds

“Three years and millions of dollars later, counter terrorism efforts in the Philippines have not made a “substantial difference,” a Defense Department Inspector General report released this week found. Since 2017, the U.S. has supported the Armed Forces of the Philippines in fighting terrorism through Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines. However, the strength and influence of extremist groups in the region have remained unchanged, the IG report published on Tuesday said. Additionally, the Philippine government diverted resources from counter terrorism to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. “Since the outset of Lead IG reporting on OPE-P in 2018, we have seen little progress in improving the economic, social, and political conditions in that part of the country,” DoD IG Sean O’Donnell said in the report. The commander of SOCOM said battling violent extremists groups will remain the number one priority for American commandos. Extremist groups tried to use social distancing restrictions necessitated by COVID-19 as a propaganda tool, the report said. Several social media accounts with possible ties to ISIS-East Asia threatened violence if mosques weren’t reopened and framed the Philippine government as incompetent, the report said.”

Technology

Arab News: Terror Groups Continue To Recruit US Citizens Online

“Terrorist groups in Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq are successfully using online methods to recruit American citizens, according to officials from the US Justice Department and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. In the past year, at least four US citizens have been convicted of funding terrorism or volunteering to commit terrorist acts overseas. On Aug. 11, 30-year-old Jesus Wilfredo Encarnacion was sentenced to 15 years in prison after attempting to join the Lashkar e-Tayyiba terrorist group in Pakistan. Zachary Clark, 41, also known as “Umar Kabir,” pleaded guilty on Aug. 10 to providing material support to Daesh. He faces up to 20 years behind bars. Delowar Mohammed Hossain, 33, was arrested in July 2019 at JFK International Airport, as he attempted to travel to Afghanistan to support Taliban efforts to kill US soldiers. Samantha Marie Elhassani, 34, traveled to Syria and Hong Kong with $30,000 to fund a terrorist attack planned by her husband and brother. She was charged in August 2018 and pleaded guilty in November last year. Encarnacion, Clark and Hossain lived in New York and Elhassani is from Indiana.”