Eye on Extremism: August 27

CNN: Justice Department To Seek Death Penalty Against Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Suspect

“The Justice Department is planning to seek the death penalty against the suspected shooter in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue massacre. Robert Bowers, 46, has been charged in the October 2018 shooting that left 11 worshipers dead. His attorneys pleaded not guilty on his behalf in November and requested a jury trial. Federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty on charges that include obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, use and discharge of a firearm to commit murder and possession of a firearm during a violent crime. Prosecutors say their intent to seek the death penalty is justified because Bowers' anti-Semitic views played a role in the shooting, the shooting was intentional and he showed no remorse, according to a federal notice to seek the death penalty. Bowers has been indicted on 63 federal charges, including hate crime charges, according to a superseding indictment issued in January 2019. Of the 63 charges, 22 counts carry the death penalty, a Justice Department news release in January said.”

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Plans To Open Direct Talks With Iran-Backed Houthis In Yemen

“The Trump administration is preparing to initiate direct talks with Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen in an effort to end the four-year-old war, a conflict that has become a volatile front line in the conflict with Tehran, according to people familiar with the plans. The U.S. is looking to prod Saudi Arabia into taking part in secret talks in Oman with Houthi leaders in an effort to broker a cease-fire in Yemen, according to these people. The move could open the first significant channel between the Trump administration and the Houthis at a time when fears of a broader regional war are growing. In 2015, a few months after the war in Yemen began, top Obama administration envoys met secretly with Houthi rebels for the first time in Oman to press for a cease-fire and release of Americans held by the Yemeni fighters. U.S. officials met with Houthi leaders last December in Sweden during United Nations-led peace talks. But there haven’t been any significant direct negotiations since President Trump took office in 2017, current and former U.S. officials said. The conflict in Yemen has metastasized from a troubling regional civil war into a volatile international fight pitting Iran-backed Houthi forces against a Saudi-led military coalition supported by the U.S.”

DW: Erdogan And Putin Meet As Syria Offensive Pummels Idlib

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on Tuesday to discuss a Syrian military offensive against the jihadi-dominated province of Idlib where Moscow and Ankara had set up a demilitarized zone. Syrian troops backed by Russian airpower have advanced in recent weeks against jihadi forces in the last major rebel enclave in northwestern Syria, and encircled a Turkish military post. The fierce fighting has all but unraveled a fragile truce deal struck in September by Russia and Turkey as the Syrian regime pushes north to control strategic highways connecting the government-controlled cities of Aleppo and Hama and the regime's Alawite heartland in Latakia on the Mediterranean coast. Last week, a Turkish military convoy heading to an observation post in Idlib came under attack in an air raid conducted either by the Syrian government or Russian warplanes. The airstrike killed three civilians and wounded a dozen more. The Turkish Defense Ministry "strongly condemned" the August 19 attack and said it was contrary to "existing agreements as well as our cooperation and dialogue with Russia."

The Wall Street Journal: Republicans Warn Trump Over Afghanistan Pullout

“The ongoing negotiations between U.S. officials and the Taliban over the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan could soon run into a familiar stumbling block: Senate Republicans. The Trump administration has set Sept. 1 as an unofficial date to announce the withdrawal agreement, which would include a guarantee from the Taliban that they will fight terrorism in the country. A U.S.-Taliban agreement is a precursor to talks between the Taliban and Afghan government officials on a cease-fire and a power-sharing agreement. But Senate Republicans are warning that the Trump administration cannot pull out too many of the 14,500 U.S. military personnel currently stationed in Afghanistan to reach a deal with the Taliban. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), a defense hawk, said on “Face the Nation” on CBS Sunday that a rapid reduction, favored by the Taliban, could endanger U.S. national security. “I am concerned that the president, in his desire to get out, is going to make the same mistake that President Obama did in Iraq,” Mr. Graham said. Republicans like Mr. Graham have argued that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq under Mr. Obama was premature and led to the rise of ISIS in the country.”

The Jerusalem Post: The Call To Brand Hezbollah

“The news that Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is actively considering labeling Hezbollah a terrorist organization should be welcomed across the civilized world. Momentum is finally gathering behind this movement, as governments belatedly recognize the pernicious and malign threat this organization poses. Previously, they have avoided such measures due to the so-called, entirely illusionary distinction between Hezbollah’s military and political wings. As Iran’s proxy-in-chief, we must use all tools at our disposal to cut off their funding and inhibit their ability to operate. Iran has long sought to destabilize its neighbors and perceived enemies through unconventional means. Lacking the resources of “the Great Satan” in the United States, it has sought to project its power by funding, supplying and training ruthless and violent groups who can disrupt and destabilize without requiring the force of a highly developed, well trained military. Hezbollah has become the standard bearer for this approach, which has also been extended to Hamas in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen. For a variety of political reasons, including a concerted lobbying effort by Islamists and apologists for extremism, Western governments have been reluctant to brand Hezbollah, in its entirety, as terrorists. The United Kingdom has long held off on such a move, with then home secretary Sajid Javid finally announcing full proscription earlier this year.”

VICE: Taken By ISIS: One American Father’s Harrowing Journey To Get His Kids Back From The Caliphate

“The scene was apocalyptic: Twisted steel from the skeletal frames of destroyed vehicles sticking out of mounds of earth; ammunition belts strewn along the side of the road; bloated and decomposing bodies of ISIS fighters lying between the obliterated buildings. It was March 23 and the territorial caliphate declared by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi had finally crumbled, the last town under the control of his so-called Islamic State now in the hands of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. But the story was far from over. Somewhere among the thousands of families who had poured out of ISIS’ last stronghold during the final assault were two young American children named Yousuf and Zahra. Their mother had been killed several months ago, and their father back in the U.S. was anxiously waiting to hear if they’d been found. Yousuf was just 4, and Zahra 1, when they were taken from their home in Miami to Syria. They are the children of Bashir Shikder and his wife, Rashida, devout Muslims who immigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh and became citizens. The kids were born in Florida; Rashida stayed home to care for them, while Bashir worked as an engineer.  But one day in early 2015, he returned from a trip overseas to find the house empty.”

United States

Al Jazeera: US Authorities Seek Death Penalty In Pittsburgh Synagogue Attack

“A man charged with killing 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue should face the death penalty if convicted, federal prosecutors said in a court filing on Monday. The United States Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty against 46-year-old Robert Bowers in last year's attack. The government filing said justification for a death sentence included allegations of substantial planning and premeditation, the vulnerability and number of victims, and a motivation of religious hostility. It also listed the injury, harm and loss caused to the victims and the choice of the Tree of Life synagogue as the site of the attack. The notice accused Bowers of targeting the worshippers “in order to maximise the devastation, amplify the harm of his crimes, and instill fear within the local, national and international Jewish communities.” Bowers has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial. His lawyers did not return messages seeking comment. A spokeswoman for US Attorney Scott Brady declined to discuss the filing. Prosecutors wrote that the death penalty will be justified if Bowers is convicted of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death or of using a gun to commit a crime of violence.”

The Washington Post: Creating A ‘Domestic Terrorism’ Charge Would Actually Hurt Communities Of Color

“In the wake of the horrific mass murder this month in El Paso, in which a gunman killed 22 people and wounded dozens of others, Americans have understandably sought ways to prevent such tragedies. In particular, some have called for making “domestic terrorism” a chargeable offense. As former federal civil rights prosecutors, we don’t believe that we need new laws. We just need to stop discriminating in the resourcing and enforcing of the laws we have. We already have powerful tools for prosecuting hate crimes — criminal offenses motivated by bias toward an individual’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The first federal hate crime law was passed in 1871 to address the Reconstruction-era racial terrorism experienced by African Americans, including lynchings. These laws have evolved over time. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded existing laws to protect a broader range of threatened communities. On the other hand, domestic terrorism (unlike international terrorism) is not a chargeable offense. It never has been, nor does it need to be. Such a law is unnecessary and would be harmful to communities of color.”

ABC Fox Montana: Montana Terrorism Suspect Planning To Change Plea To Guilty

“A man arrested in Bozeman for sympathizing with terrorist groups is scheduled to change his plea this week. Court documents say Fabjan Alameti is set for an Aug. 28 hearing to change his plea in federal court. A plea agreement says Alameti will plead guilty to two counts of making a false statement to a federal officer in a matter involving terrorism. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 8 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If accepted, the court will dismiss two other charges against Alameti related to making false statements and possessing a firearm while using a controlled substance. Investigators say Alameti wanted to fight for ISIS and attack people to avenge the New Zealand mosque shooting.  Alameti is also quoted as saying that he was moving from New York to Montana to buy a gun because Montana has less stringent gun laws.”

ELLE: Two Sisters And The Terrorist Who Came Between Them

“We’re here to determine whether the woman is a terrorist, but all Lori sees is her sister. The gait and the posture she would recognize anywhere, even through her khaki prison uniform. The tattoo, a pair of puckered lips on her neck, peeking over the collar. She has Lori’s natural brown hair color, now gray at the roots. Sam is Lori’s older sister, but Sam was the one always getting in trouble. Parties, older boyfriends, dead-end jobs, dead-end marriages. And now, three federal charges: providing material support to ISIS, aiding and abetting ISIS, and lying to the FBI. The Justice Department says she supported ISIS, anyway. This is a procedural hearing today, part of the big case against her. U.S. law enforcement has known about Sam since at least November 2017, when she was interviewed by FBI agents in a Kurdish-run prison camp in Syria. Before that, she had been living for more than two years in Islamic State–controlled territory in Raqqa with her four young children. In the days and weeks leading up to this hearing, Sam has told the FBI, told her lawyers, told anyone who will listen that she was the victim of an abusive husband. He was Moroccan, but they met in Indiana. He used to be so much fun, she told them. They went skinny-dipping.”


The National: Air Strikes Kill 12 Civilians In North-Western Syria

“Russian and Syrian regime air strikes have killed 12 civilians in north-western Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says. The monitor said Russian air strikes on areas in the southern province of Idlib killed six civilians. It said the regime's raids also killed six civilians in the same area under the control of Al Qaeda-linked group Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, and wounded 27. Earlier on Monday at least four people, including a woman and her child, were killed in air raids on Bsakla village, said the opposition's Syrian Civil Defence rescue group, also known as White Helmets. Heavy shelling in the province, which borders Turkey, has killed more than 2,000 people including hundreds of civilians since the end of April. Syrian forces backed by Russian warplanes are advancing in the province to capture rebel-held areas. Ten of thousands of people have fled to the Turkish border over the past few days as the Syrian army pushes further into the stronghold. On Wednesday, the Syrian military seized the key town of Khan Sheikhoun from militants and allied rebels, and overran the countryside to the south, encircling a Turkish observation post in northern Hama. On Saturday, pro-government fighters gathered north of Khan Sheikhoun to press on with the offensive.”

France 24: Northwest Syria Clashes Kill 51 Fighters: Monitor

“Clashes between anti-government fighters and regime forces killed 51 combattants on both sides in northwestern Syria Tuesday, a war monitor said. Russia-backed regime fighters have for weeks been chipping away at the edges of the jihadist-run stronghold of Idlib -- a province that borders Turkey -- after bombarding it for months. But hardline rebels and jihadists on Tuesday attacked loyalist positions in the south of the bastion, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. “Violent clashes east of the town of Khan Sheikhun broke out at dawn after jihadist and opposition groups attacked regime positions,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said. The attack was led by the Al-Qaeda-linked Hurras al-Deen group and another jihadist faction -- Ansar al-Deen -- he said. The fighting has killed 23 regime forces and 20 opponents, including 13 jihadists, the Observatory said. In the southeast of the bastion, eight rebels were killed trying to sneak through frontlines towards regime positions near the Abu Duhur military airport, the monitor added. Regime forces recaptured Khan Sheikhun last week, and have been massing north of the town in recent days as they prepare to push on with their assault.”


The Guardian: Iran President Steps Back From Possible Trump Talks

“Iran’s president has back-pedalled on possible talks with Donald Trump and now says the US president must first lift sanctions imposed on Tehran. Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that otherwise a meeting between the two would be just a photo op and “that is not possible”. Rouhani’s change of heart came a day after Trump said there was a good chance the two leaders could meet after a surprise intervention by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, during the G7 summit in Biarritz to try to bring Washington and Tehran together. In a televised address, Rouhani said that “without the US’s withdrawal from sanctions, we will not witness any positive development”. He added that Washington “holds the key”. On Monday, Rouhani had expressed readiness to negotiate a way out of the crisis following America’s pullout from the 2015 nuclear deal and subsequent reimposition of biting sanctions. Trump also said he would be ready to meet if the conditions were right.”

NPR: Iran Seen Preparing For Space Launch

“In the latest indication that it may be readying an attempt to launch another space rocket, Iran has given its launch pad a fresh coat of paint. A satellite image taken by the commercial company Planet shows the pad painted a bright blue. The image, taken August 24, was shared with NPR. Until this month, the launch pad at the Imam Khomeini Space Center had been sporting a burn scar from a previous failed launch attempt. It had also been covered in debris from a possible flash flood at the site this past spring. "The Iranians have finished clearing off the pad, and they painted over the previous launch scar," says Dave Schmerler, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies who has analyzed the imagery. Other recent imagery has shown vehicle activity at a nearby building where Iran assembles its rockets. "We're getting close to a launch, but exactly when that will happen I can't tell you," Schmerler says. Iran's press has reported that the government has three satellites that could be ready for launch by the end of the nation's calendar year in March of 2020. A recent report from August suggests that one of the satellites, a communications satellite known as Nahid-1, is ready for launch now.”

Express: Iran News: 'Weak' EU Policies Against Iran Blasted As Citizens Fight Regime Atrocities

“Hossein Abedini, a representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran - a dissident political organisation which considers itself to be the main opposition to the Iranian regime - told Express.co.uk the Iranian regime has been able to use dual nationals hostages as a “bargaining chip” to deal with the West thanks to the "weak" approach of the European Union against the rogue state. Mr Abedini said: “Whatever the regime says it’s not from a position of strength. If they saw robustness and if they saw a strong action, a unified action, they would retreat from their position. Our experience for many many years is that this regime has faced lots of crisis inside Iran. “It’s only a hollow threat but it’s, of course, a terrorist regime so the only way to deal with it is not to give it further concessions. “They should deal with it as strongly as they say. There are tactical measures that should be taken. “Especially putting the IRGC down on a terrorist list. “The EU, unfortunately, has weak and vassal governments with weak policies that are counterproductive. “It has only affected the regime to a degree to challenge its atrocities.”

The Wall Street Journal: Macron’s Iran Gambit

“Did French President Emmanuel Macron trap President Trump into a potential negotiation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ? That was a major media preoccupation at the G-7 meetings in France this weekend, but the more important story may have been Israel ’s weekend bombing of a military site in Syria that was a staging area for Iranian militia. Israel said Saturday it bombed the site to prevent attacks on its homeland by Iran’s proxies in Syria. Iran’s Quds Force is trying to expand and arm militia forces in Syria that can complement its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon. In the next war with Israel—and there will be another one—those proxies would be able to open what amounts to a second front against the Jewish state. Israel has been regularly bombing in Syria and even sometimes in Iraq to deter this military buildup. That puts Mr. Macron’s diplomatic gambit in sharper relief than merely trying to arrange a sit-down between the Iranian and American Presidents. France is trying to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran because it has business interests it wants to continue. Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from that deal and imposition of new sanctions is squeezing Iran’s economy and thus its leadership’s cash flow.”

The New York Times: Iran’s Rouhani Says No Talks With Trump Until Sanctions Are Lifted

“President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said on Tuesday that he would not sit down for a meeting with President Trump until Washington had lifted all of its economic sanctions against Iran. His comment came a day after President Emmanuel Macron of France said he would try to arrange a meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Rouhani in the next few weeks, in an attempt to ease the strained relationship between their countries. Mr. Trump said he was open to the idea if the Iranians were “good players.” Mr. Rouhani responded in kind. “In the relations between Iran and the U.S., we will not witness any positive development unless the U.S. abandons the sanctions and corrects the wrong path it has chosen,” Mr. Rouhani said during a meeting in Tehran on Tuesday, according to the semiofficial Iranian news agency Tasnim.”


Iraqi News: Iraqi Troops Destroy 10 Islamic State Hideouts In Anbar

“An Iraqi paramilitary commander said on Monday that 10 hotbeds of the Islamic State militant group were destroyed during an ongoing military operation in the country. “Security forces, backed by Iraqi warplanes, destroyed 10 Islamic State hideouts and killed all terrorists inside as part of the fourth phase of the Operation Will of Victory in the desert of Anbar on the Iraqi-Syrian border,” Qatari al-Obeidi, a senior commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces, told Iraq’s Almaalomah website. The operation was carried out based on intelligence information, he said, adding that the security forces launched a wide-scale campaign to search for other IS hideouts in the area. The Will of Victory Operation’s first phase had been launched in July, targeting IS elements in western regions. According to the Iraqi military, 13 villages were cleared in areas south of Nineveh during the operation’s third phase. Iraq declared the collapse of Islamic State’s territorial influence in Iraq in November 2017 with the recapture of Rawa, a city on Anbar’s western borders with Syria, which was the group’s last bastion in Iraq. In November, Iraqi forces recaptured Anbar’s western town of Rawa, the last Islamic State entrenchment in Iraq.”

Al Monitor: Hunt For Iraqi IS Leaders Continues Amid Heightened Secrecy

“As the fourth phase of Operation Will of Victory gets underway in Iraq to hunt down Islamic State (IS) remnants, attempts to understand who the current top IS military leaders are is proving frustrating. Several Iraqi security analysts and Deir ez-Zor sources have told Al-Monitor that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other key Iraqi leaders are mostly believed to be in Syria. But beyond that, scant information is available. One source, a well-connected Deir al-Zor native who cannot be named for security reasons, told Al-Monitor that a man known as Jabbar al-Iraqi may be key to understanding Baghdadi’s whereabouts. The source is known to have provided coordinates to the international coalition for IS targets in Syria in the past. Jabbar al-Iraqi is from the Shimmari tribe, he said, “an Iraqi Bedouin who uses this to his advantage to get IS leaders across the border,” the source said. The Shimmari tribe is one of the largest tribes in Iraq, and a significant number are in northeastern Syria as well. Jabbar al-Iraqi is a military leader of Wilayet al-Jazeera and is very close to Baghdadi, the source told Al-Monitor, adding that several local sources had told him that Baghdadi fled the Syrian Baghouz during the battle there in February-March 2019 by crossing into Iraq with shepherds.”

The Wall Street Journal: Iraq Moves To Pull Plug On Its Iran Power Cord

“Iraq is trying to cut its dependence on Iranian energy under pressure from the U.S., moving to connect its power grid to Tehran’s Arab rivals and develop alternatives to Iranian natural-gas imports. American officials, who are trying to isolate Tehran diplomatically and economically, have long criticized Iraq’s deep energy relationship with Iran. The U.S., however, has given Iraq a rare exemption from sanctions, largely because much of the country would plunge into darkness without Tehran’s energy but also because Baghdad has promised to break its Iranian habit. Between 30% and 40% of Iraq’s power supply is derived from Iranian electricity and natural gas, with electricity imports accounting for roughly a quarter of that total. Now, Iraqi officials say they have made progress on cutting back.”


Foreign Policy: How To Partner With The Taliban

“With the Trump administration apparently close to announcing a peace deal with the Taliban, it is now time for a major consideration of U.S. strategy for Afghanistan. Virtually everyone agrees that Americans should seek to maintain current liberal political gains and prevent a future sanctuary for international terrorists in the country. The question is: What is the best plan to achieve America’s core security aims over the long haul? Three options are now imaginable. The first is to maintain U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan indefinitely at, near, or even above today’s current levels of 14,000, a position favored by many in the U.S. Defense Department, think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, and prominent media commentators. The second is a negotiated complete withdrawal of all U.S. ground forces from Afghanistan in 2020, supported by Trump administration officials who favor negotiated promises from the Taliban; the New York Times editorial board, which would pass the buck to regional players like Pakistan, Russia, Iran, India, and China; and ”offshore” balancers, who believe a complete withdrawal would allow for more counterbalancing against potential regional hegemons like China in Asia.”

Radio Free Europe: Renewed Taliban, U.S. Peace Talks Enter Their Fifth Day

“Peace talks to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan continue as dialogue that would allow the United States to wind down its deployment entered a fifth day in the Qatari capital of Doha. AFP reported discussions lasted into the night on August 27 as Taliban and U.S. representatives were seen “shuttling between the two sides’ negotiating teams clutching papers.” Technical points of an agreement with the United States were being finalized, the militant group had earlier announced. U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad rejected suggestions a truce might not apply to the Taliban’s fight against the U.S.-backed Afghan government. “We will defend Afghan forces now and after any agreement with the Talibs,” Khalilzad tweeted during the ninth round of dialogue. “All sides agree Afghanistan’s future will be determined in intra-Afghan negotiations.” Previous rounds of U.S.-Taliban negotiations have focused on issues including a U.S. troop withdrawal, a cease-fire, intra-Afghan negotiations to follow, and guarantees by the militant group not to harbor terrorist groups. The Taliban has so far rejected holding direct talks with the Afghan government. The Taliban has said a news conference would be called to announce any deal reached and would include representatives from China, Russia, and the UN.”

Xinhua: Over 3 Dozen Militants Killed In N. Afghanistan

“At least 37 militants have been killed in parts of Afghanistan's northern Balkh province over the past 24 hours, army spokesman in the northern region Mohammad Hanif Rezai said Monday. The operations backed by fighting aircrafts and covered the restive Charbolak and Sholgara districts since Sunday have also left dozens of militants injured, the official said. Several villages have been liberated from the clutches of the armed militants, Rezai said. Taliban militants, who are active in parts of Balkh province with Mazar-e-Sharif as its capital 305 km north of Kabul, have yet to make comment.”


Gulf News: Coalition Denies Al Houthi Strike In Riyadh

“The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen dismissed an Al Houthi claim that it had struck the Saudi capital of Riyadh in a missile strike. Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said the Houthi account was “fake and deceptive”. Late Sunday, the Coalition said it had intercepted and destroyed six ballistic missiles fired by the Iran-aligned group targeting civilians in Jizan. The attacks are part of an escalation of cross-border assaults in the four-year-old conflict between the Houthis and coalition forces. The Houthis, who control the capital Sana’a, have in the past few months stepped up their attacks against targets in the kingdom. In response, the coalition has targeted military sites belonging to the group, especially around Sana’a. “The Houthi militias continued targeting of civilians through drones and ballistic missiles ...is an act of aggression and terrorism and a war crime according to international human law,” Al Malki said in a statement. The UAE condemned the attacks. In a statement issued on Monday, the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation reiterated its full solidarity with the Kingdom over these terrorist attacks targeting civilians, affirming its support of all measures taken by Saudi authorities to secure the country’s security and stability, as well as any actions taken in the face of extremism and terrorism.”


The New York Times: Lebanon Accuses Israel Of 2nd Attack In 2 Days

“An Israeli drone struck a Palestinian militia base in eastern Lebanon on Monday, Lebanon’s National News Agency said, the fourth time in three days that Israel has been accused of attacking Iranian-backed forces across the Middle East. The string of events — only one of which Israel has claimed responsibility for — has heightened tensions and raised fears that what has so far remained a shadow war between Iran and Israel and their respective allies could escalate into a more direct conflict. The strike on Monday hit the base of an Iranian-backed Palestinian militia, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, in the eastern Bekaa Valley. On Sunday, a drone exploded south of Beirut, shattering the windows of an office belonging to Hezbollah, another Iranian-backed group. Lebanese politicians across the spectrum condemned the attacks and accused Israel of pushing the country toward conflict. “What happened is tantamount to a declaration of war that allows us to resort to our right to defend our sovereignty, independence and territorial security,” President Michel Aoun of Lebanon told a top United Nations official on Monday, according to a statement released by the president’s office.”

The Hill: Hezbollah's Dangerous False Narrative About The Lebanese Army

“Recently, I have seen writers perpetuating Hezbollah propaganda claiming that the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah have become close partners. This is a false claim and needs to be debunked immediately. Hezbollah would like nothing more than for the West to fall for their false narratives and stop funding the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). The LAF is the only legitimate state security organization and the one constant entity ensuring the stability and security of Lebanon. With Hezbollah’s power threatened, it is resorting to spreading false narratives with the intention of creating doubt in the United States. The first false narrative is that Hezbollah has greater influence over the state-led military than U.S. officials are willing to admit. These allegations often point to the LAF’s failure to disarm Hezbollah and not enforcing UN Resolution 1701 which states that all militias other than the LAF must be disarmed. These critics are omitting the fact that attempting to disarm Hezbollah at this time would almost certainly lead to another civil war in Lebanon. Not only would this endanger the Christian community in Lebanon, but Lebanon’s border to Israel would be exposed to increased violence. Hezbollah could use the opportunity to strike Israeli civilians with their arsenal of Iranian rockets. The U.S. would be forced to intervene in order to oppose Iran and protect Israel. Another civil war in Lebanon is an unacceptable outcome for the U.S. and our allies in the region.”

Middle East

Asia Times: Al-Qaeda Not Down And Out, Even If Hamza Dead

“Last month, news media reported the death of Hamza bin Laden, the favorite son of the late al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, who was apparently willing to follow in his father’s footsteps. These reports cited several US officials who claimed that there was evidence confirming Hamza’s death. The New York Timesreported, citing its sources, that the United States was involved in the operation and Hamza died in an air strike during the first years of the current presidential administration. And yet little is known about the circumstances surrounding the terrorist’s death. If Hamza’s elimination proves true, it should rather be considered as a symbolic victory. Aged around 30, Hamza bin Laden was largely viewed as al-Qaeda’s emerging leader and was being prepared for this role for many years. Being young, charismatic and associated with the most famous man in terrorism, Hamza had all chances to become al-Qaeda’s new face. More important, as the Soufan Group’s chief executive officer Ali Soufan put it, he could unite jihadis all over the world, something that would be pretty timely, given the fall of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate. While representing a jihadist group that is an ideological rival to ISIS, Hamza had never criticized Islamic State.”


Al Monitor: Is Salafism Making Comeback In Egypt?

“Egypt’s Ministry of Religious Endowments granted on Aug. 7, for the first time since 2014, Vice President of the Salafist Call Sheikh Yasser Borhami a preaching permit for Friday sermons between Aug. 1 and Aug. 31 at Al-Kholafaa Al-Rashdeen Mosque in Alexandria. Borhami has repeatedly sparked controversy in the past with the fatwas he issues, including one barring Muslims from sending holiday greetings to Coptic Christians, another banning people from watching soccer games and one forbidding children from decorating their bedrooms with Disney character posters. The Ministry of Religious Endowments issued a law in June 2014, according to which only imams who are graduates of Al-Azhar University are authorized to preach, and only after passing an interview with the nationwide endowments directorates affiliated with the ministry, which in turn issue the preaching permits. The permit granted to Borhami includes seven instructions he must follow: First, he must abide by the unified sermon imposed by the Ministry of Religious Endowments, as per its July 2014 decision. Also, Borhami must abide by the Ash’ari doctrine, a moderate Islamic school of thought adopted by Al-Azhar. Second, his sermon must not exceed 15-20 minutes.”


The Daily Mail: Donald Trump Presses Merkel To Accept Captured ISIS Fighters Claiming They're Mostly From Germany, UK, France And Other European Nations

“Donald Trump urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 in Biarritz, France to take back captured ISIS fighters who journeyed to the conflict zone from Europe. He said most radicals being guarded came to the battlefield by way of Germany, France, the UK and other European nations 'We did a great job, and we have had very good talks. But you know, it's not fair for the United States to have these people. We want to give them to the areas where they came from,' he asserted in France. He said, 'And that includes not just Germany. France. We have a lot from France. We have a lot from the UK. We have a lot from a lot of different countries, and for the most part, all in Europe.' Merkel had been asked by a reporter, in English, about the ISIS fighters Trump has been threatening to unshackle in European countries, where they'll be free to roam. Yet it was Trump who responded, saying, 'We're talking about that now. We have a lot from Germany, which is a great thing. We'll work something out. I think we're going to work something out.'  The German chancellor said after that her nation had already accepted a 'a number' of people and 'we want to find a solution together' to the problem. She did not commit taking back ISIS fighters with German ties who were taken into custody in Syria.”

The Defense Post: Austria To Repatriate Orphan Children Of Female ISIS Adherent From Syria

“Austria is preparing to repatriate from Syria two young orphans of a female Islamic State supporter in the first such move for Vienna, a government spokesperson said Monday, August 26. The decision to hand over the boys aged one and three to their grandmother in Vienna was made after positive DNA results and a court granting her custody, according to foreign ministry spokesperson Peter Guschelbauer. “We have decided to bring back the two orphans, and preparations have started … It is the first repatriation of children from this region,” he told AFP, adding that the process could take several weeks. The children are now in the crammed Kurdish-run al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria. Their Austrian mother, who went to join ISIS in 2014 when she was 15 years old, is believed to have died. Guschelbauer said at least three other children could be repatriated later. Last week, authorities in northeastern Syria handed over to Germany four children from ISIS families, all of them under 10 years old. Another dozen children of alleged jihadist fighters have been repatriated from Iraq to Germany since March. France and Belgium have also brought a handful of orphans home, while the United States last year repatriated a woman, Samantha Elhassani, with her four children. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kosovo have repatriated dozens of women and children.”


Slate: China’s Global War On Terrorism

“Chinese President Xi Jinping listed terrorism—alongside extremism and separatism— as one of ”three evils” his country is combating in a June 2017 speech delivered to a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Astana, Kazakhstan. In discussing this evil, China often uses language that seems lifted directly out of U.S.-style war on terror rhetoric. But no one should be fooled. Beijing’s sole strategy for counterterrorism is widespread surveillance and repression, completely out of proportion to the level of threat it faces. It is using the threat of terrorism to mute international criticism of these practices—and to export them abroad. It’s Beijing’s handling of Xinjiang province that shows what a Chinese counterterrorism strategy really looks like. Over the past decade, groups advocating separatism for Xinjiang’s Muslim Uighur minority—including the Turkistan Islamic Party and before it, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement—have been linked to numerous low-level attacks using knives and vehicles as weapons. China responded by putting between 1 million and 3 million Uighurs in concentration camps, which government spokespeople refer to as “vocational training centers” that “purge ideological diseases.”

Southeast Asia

Al Jazeera: Sri Lanka Urged To Tackle 'Hate Propaganda' Against Muslims

“A United Nations human rights expert has called on Sri Lanka to take urgent action on “hate propaganda targeting Muslim communities” following a spate of deadly attacks on churches and hotels on Easter Sunday. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, issued the call on Monday at the end of a 12-day mission to the Buddhist-majority country in the Indian Ocean. He said there was a “serious deficit of trust among ethnoreligious communities” in the wake of the ISIL-claimed attacks in April. More than 250 people were killed in the bombings, the deadliest since the end of a 26-year-civil war against Tamil separatist fighters in 2009. “While the government promptly brought the situation more or less under control after the bomb blasts, many religious communities remain very concerned about their security because of incitement to hatred and violence by some religious extremists,” Shaheed said in a statement. The suicide assaults led to anti-Muslim riots in May, which were partly blamed on Buddhist groups.  There was also a spike in reports of hate speech, with a senior Buddhist monk saying in June Muslims should be stoned in one case.”


The Wall Street Journal: Google Warns Against Blocking ‘Cookies’ Entirely, Triggering Criticism

“After promising to offer tools to let users limit “cookies,” tiny files that help internet and advertising companies track users, Alphabet Inc. ’s Google suggested it won’t go any further, saying in a blog post that blocking cookies entirely could be counterproductive for user privacy. The post from late last week has drawn criticism in recent days from some privacy advocates who say Google’s Chrome internet browser should catch up to the stricter practices of rivals Firefox and Safari. Ad tech companies and some digital publishers are wary of a major crackdown on cookies, saying it would hurt their businesses. In its post, Google said blocking cookies will encourage the rise of other, more nefarious methods of tracking internet users. These include so-called “fingerprinting” through which sites collect various signals about users, such as the fonts on their screens or the devices they use, to keep track of unique individuals as they browse the internet. Google said it was exploring new privacy technologies to enable personalized ads without compromising privacy, in a framework it called the “privacy sandbox.”