Eye on Extremism: August 5, 2020

The Atlantic: The Families Of ISIS’s Victims Are Asking For Justice

“Politics is usually about compromise, so we should savor those rare policy decisions for which every consideration—justice, morality, practicality—is neatly aligned. The Trump administration has a chance this week to reverse itself and get one such decision right. There are indications that it will. The underlying facts offer little to savor. The Islamic State kidnapped and murdered four Americans in 2014 and 2015. Some of the people responsible for those crimes are dead: Mohammed Emwazi—who allegedly held the knife that killed the journalists James Foley, 40, and Steven Sotloff, 31, and an aid worker, Peter Abdul-Rahman Kassig, 26—was killed in a drone strike in 2015; Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State and its rapist in chief, was killed last year. Another hostage, Kayla Jean Mueller, 26, was held separately, kept as a sex slave of Baghdadi and then murdered. Two more alleged members of the kidnapping cell, both British-born like Emwazi, are in custody in Iraq. Testimony from surviving hostages ties them to the cell, and they have spoken publicly from prison in ways that implicate them further. The United States can bring them to trial in federal court, probably the Eastern District of Virginia, whenever it likes.”

Voice Of America: Hundreds Of Domestic Terrorism Investigations Opened Since Start Of George Floyd Protests, Official Says

“The FBI has opened more than 300 domestic terrorism investigations since late May and arrested nearly 100 people in Portland, Oregon, a focal point of the George Floyd protests, a top federal prosecutor said on Tuesday. Erin Nealy Cox, the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Texas and co-head of a recently formed Justice Department task force on “antigovernment extremists,” told congressional lawmakers that the investigations were opened after May 28, three days after Floyd, an African American, died while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His death sparked nationwide protests. “That does not include any potential civil rights investigations or violent crime associated with the civil unrest,” Cox said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the protests that have at times been marked by violence. Attorney General William Barr announced the creation of the Justice Department task force in late June, saying “antigovernment extremists” had “engaged in indefensible acts of violence designed to undermine public order.”

The Washington Post: Hezbollah Operatives Seen Behind Spike In Drug Trafficking, Analysts Say

“At first glance, the shipping trailers that arrived at the Italian port of Salerno appeared to contain only paper, rolled up on giant industrial spools as tall as a man. But when an investigator sliced into one of the rolls with an electric saw, he unleashed an avalanche of little beige pills. Police found more caches inside other paper rolls, and by the time the search ended on July 1, customs agents had recovered 84 million tablets of the amphetamine Captagon. It was a record haul, worth an estimated $1.1 billion, and even more jarring was the suspect initially named by police as the likely source: the Islamic State. Yet, within days, suspicions began to shift toward different Middle Eastern groups. Intelligence officials concluded that the drugs did originate in Syria, but in factories located in areas controlled by President Bashar al-Assad’s government. The amphetamines departed Syria from Latakia, a coastal city with dedicated Iranian port facilities, and a known hub for smuggling operations by Tehran’s ally, Hezbollah. Italian police learned of the shipment because they happened to be monitoring the communications of a local crime family that was supposed to pick up the drugs, the authorities in Italy said.”

Iraq

Al Jazeera: Six Years On, Yazidis In Iraq Demand Justice For ISIL Persecution

“A couple of hundred people gathered in Iraq's Sinjar to remember the ISIL (ISIS) massacre and enslavement of the Yazidi people in August of 2014. During the ceremony on Tuesday, the audience watched a play and listened to the testimonies of the survivors. “It has been six years that we repeat this play and this ceremony but in vain. If it had led to anything then at least my brothers, my father and my uncle would be with us. We don't know anything about them. We don't know if they are alive or dead,” said Badriya Faisal, a survivor. The Yazidis are an ethnoreligious minority numbering approximately 550,000 in their heartland of northwest Iraq before ISIL swept through the rugged region in 2014. Their belief combines elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions. ISIL, which considers the Yazidis heretics, slaughtered thousands of Yazidi men and abducted women and girls. Yazidi children were forcibly converted to Islam, taught Arabic and banned from speaking their native Kurdish. After the ISIL fighters were chased out of Yazidi areas in 2015 by the Iraqi army and the US-led military coalition, little has been done to heal the wounds or secure the minority group against a possible resurgence.”

Arab News: Iraq’s Powerful Militias Not Worried About Al-Kadhimi

“Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi is set to visit Washington soon, although he does not yet have a date or an invitation, so he is scrambling to say all the right things in order to secure a meeting with US President Donald Trump. Iraq is worse off than it was two weeks ago and this last week has propelled two items to the top of the list for Al-Kadhimi’s visit to the US: Kata’ib Hezbollah’s continued attacks on the US and Iraqis, and calls by Al-Kadhimi for early elections that Kata’ib Hezbollah and its allies in Iraq’s Council of Representatives won’t allow to happen. The top agenda item for Trump is for Al-Kadhimi to do something about the militias that he supposedly commands as Iraq’s commander in chief. The militias that fall under the government’s security apparatus are attacking US personnel in Iraq, which are there to partner with the Baghdad government to ensure the enduring defeat of Daesh. The militias have now become more of a threat to the US and Iraqis than Daesh. Trump wants to know if the US has a partner in Iraq. The president is willing to pull US forces out of Iraq if this “partner” continues to disappoint. Republicans and Democrats are looking for a reason to end this experiment. And it won’t be without costs to Baghdad and Tehran.”

Afghanistan

Reuters: Afghan Grand Assembly On Fate Of Hundreds Of Taliban Prisoners Set For Friday

“Afghanistan will convene a grand assembly of elders, known as the loya jirga, in Kabul on Friday to decide the fate of hundreds of prisoners the Taliban insist should be released before entering peace talks with the government. A pact reached by U.S. and Taliban negotiators in Doha in February had agreed that 5,000 Taliban prisoners should be released from Afghan jails as a precondition to the militant movement holding talks with the government. President Ashraf Ghani’s government has released all but 400, saying their crimes were too grave. On Sunday, it declared a loya jirga, a traditional consultative gathering of elders, community leaders and politicians was needed to debate what to do with the remaining prisoners. And on Tuesday, the government fixed the date. “These 400 are those who have been convicted in killings from two to 40 people, drug trafficking, those sentenced to death and involved in major crimes, including kidnapping,” Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the president, said. He said a loya jirga, regarded in the constitutional as the highest expression of the Afghan people, was required as the president was not empowered to release prisoners convicted of such crimes.”

The New York Times: More U.S. Troops Will Leave Afghanistan Before The Election, Trump Says

“President Trump said that there would be fewer than 5,000 American troops in Afghanistan by Election Day in November, signaling that the United States would continue to withdraw troops from the country despite limited progress toward the start of peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. “We’re going down to 4,000, we’re negotiating right now,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Axios that was filmed on July 28 and released in full Monday night. The president’s statement seems to undercut U.S. diplomats’ repeated assertions that any further troop reductions in Afghanistan would be based on the Taliban’s commitment to the Feb. 29 peace agreement signed with the United States. After the signing, the U.S. military is supposed to completely withdraw from Afghanistan in 14 months, a move that senior military officials have called “aspirational.” Mr. Trump’s drive to pull U.S. forces from war zones, especially Afghanistan, has often put the White House at loggerheads with the State Department, as American negotiators and military officials have tried to keep an already shaky peace process on track. In the interview, Mr. Trump called the U.S. involvement in the Middle East “the single biggest mistake in the history of our country.”

Agence France-Presse: Islamic State Jihadists On The Run After Afghan Prison Raid

“Afghan authorities were searching Tuesday for about 270 inmates -- most of them Islamic State fighters -- who remained on the loose after escaping during a deadly prison raid. At least 29 people were killed when Islamic State (IS) gunmen attacked the facility in Jalalabad on Sunday, with fierce fighting lasting until Monday afternoon. More than 1,300 inmates tried to escape, a senior Afghan security official told AFP on condition of anonymity, but most were either swiftly re-arrested or surrendered when surrounded by security forces. But some 270 prisoners are “still on the loose”, the official said. “Most of those who escaped are from ISKP,” he said, referring to IS's Afghan branch, known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province. They included militants responsible for several bloody attacks, a second security official told AFP. Nangarhar provincial governor's spokesman Attaullah Khogyani confirmed many prisoners were still missing, but couldn't say how many were IS members. The brazen prison raid came a day after Afghanistan's intelligence agency announced the killing of a top IS commander near Jalalabad.”

India

Reuters: Militants Attack In Indian Kashmir As It Locks Down For Anniversary

“Militants attacked Indian security forces with a grenade and gunfire in Kashmir on Wednesday, defying a strict security lockdown on the first anniversary of the government's scrapping of the disputed Himalayan region's autonomy. There were no immediate reports of casualties, police said. Authorities blanketed Kashmir with troops, who laid out barbed wire and set up road blacks to prevent demonstrations a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government stripped India's only Muslim-majority state of its special rights. The government said the change was necessary to develop the strife-torn region and integrate it with the rest of India but it infuriated many Kashmiris and neighboring Pakistan. Some critics saw it as part of a pattern by the Hindu-nationalist government aimed at sidelining Muslims. The government denies that. Kashmir is claimed in full by India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it. Militants have been fighting Indian rule in its part of Kashmir since 1989 in a conflict that has killed at least 50,000 dead, according to official figures.”

Lebanon

CNN: Beirut Explosion: Thousands Injured Across Lebanese Capital

“A massive explosion ripped through central Beirut on Tuesday, killing dozens of people, injuring thousands and blowing out windows in buildings across the city. The blast near Beirut's port sent up a huge mushroom cloud-shaped shockwave, flipping cars and damaging distant buildings. It was felt as far as Cyprus, hundreds of miles away, and registered as a 3.3 magnitude earthquake in the Lebanese capital. Lebanon's Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, said that 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers and bombs, had been stored for six years at a port warehouse without safety measures, “endangering the safety of citizens,” according to a statement. The Prime Minister called the storage of the material “unacceptable” and called for an investigation into the cause of the blast, with the results released within five days, the statement said. Lebanon's General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim said the “highly explosive material” had been confiscated years earlier and stored in the warehouse, just minutes' walk from Beirut's shopping and nightlife districts.”

Middle East

Al Jazeera: Israel's Netanyahu Warns Hezbollah After Syria Attack

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged a tough response to any threats against Israel after it struck Syrian military targets in retaliation for an attempted attack in the occupied Golan Heights. “We hit a cell and now we hit the dispatchers. We will do what is necessary in order to defend ourselves,” he said on Tuesday during a tour of a military facility in central Israel. “These are not vain words; they have the weight of the State of Israel and the (military) behind them and this should be taken seriously,” the veteran premier added. Israel launched air raids on military targets in southern Syria late on Monday. The army said it was retaliating after an attempt to lay explosives in the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967. Syrian state-run news agency Sana said Israeli helicopters attacked Syrian army positions near Quneitra in the south but caused only material damage. It also said air defences had gone into action near the Syrian capital. Several Israeli media outlets reported that Monday's actions were in response to an increased threat from the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which has a significant presence in Syria.”

Modern Diplomacy: Can An ISIS Terrorist Be Rehabilitated And Reintegrated Into Society?

“Debates across the world are raging, discussing the issues pertaining to the repatriation of foreign terrorist fighters [FTFs] who left their home countries to fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] or live under their so-called Caliphate. Some died in Syria and some have made their way back home, but nearly 10,000 male FTFs, approximately 2,000 of them from Europe, are currently being held by the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] in prisons and camps in Northeast Syria. Likewise, thousands of women who brought or bore children into ISIS are now locked with their children in detention camps as well. It is unlikely that the SDF will be able to hold the FTFs forever, especially with frequent attacks by Turkey that pull guards away from their posts to assist in the fighting or with bombs that even hit the prisons and camps themselves, allowing the detainees to escape. Likewise given international challenges to holding trials in SDF territory these prisoners currently are being held without charges, except for those who were charged or tried in absentia at home. Ergo, it is crucial to determine if the FTFs will make it home, whether by entering stealthily, being extradited after crossing the border into Turkey, or being properly repatriated by their home countries, and then to decide what will happen with them.”

Somalia

The Conversation: Public Outrage Deters Al-Shabaab More Than Counter-Terror Efforts. Here’s Why

“In September 2014, a US drone strike killed Al-Shabaab’s most influential leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane. The immediate assumption was that Godane’s death would weaken the group and reduce its capacity to carry out further terrorist activities. Al-Shabaab, which is Arabic for “the youth”, is the Al-Qaeda-linked militant group that seeks to create an Islamic emirate in Somalia. The killing of its longest-ruling leader was thought significant enough to cause disarray and eventual collapse. Indeed, the White House touted it as “a major symbolic and operational loss” for the group. What followed, however, was confounding. Al-Shabaab quickly replaced its fallen leader, and conducted more suicide-bombings than ever before. From Godane’s death to September 2017, the group carried out 91 suicide bombings. This was an almost doubling of its attacks. Then on 14 October 2017, the terrorist group carried out one of the world’s deadliest suicide-bombings in Mogadishu. The airport compound which houses the United Nations, several foreign embassies and African mission troops was the intended target. But the attack didn’t reach its intended target. Instead, close to 600 civilians were killed in what still ranks among the world’s deadliest acts of terrorism since 11 September 2001 (9/11).”

Africa

Voice Of America: Africa’s COVID-19 Chaos Opens Door For Opportunistic Extremists

“As a pandemic rages and weakens fragile societies, terrorists lie in wait to pounce on vulnerable people, especially on the African continent, says a top U.S. military commander. U.S. military officials say their work on the continent has continued unabated, but that extremists are actively seeking every opportunity to gain a foothold, from Senegal to Somalia. Violent extremist organizations, or VEOs, are seizing on Africa’s coronavirus chaos to advance their goals in vulnerable societies, from Nigeria to Mozambique, says the head of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson. He spoke to reporters via Zoom video conference from AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. “I do believe the extremists will look to exploit any opportunity they get, and COVID presents those opportunities, because COVID stresses any government. ... we know the governments and the nations of Africa are also feeling that stress, and the VEOs will look to exploit that. I can't tell you exactly how, because that will manifest itself in different ways in each of these countries. But these VEOs are very dynamic and they're very flexible, and they will look to see where those weak points are, where that can be exploited, and they will go after it,” he said.”

United Kingdom

Daily Mail: Security Services 'Underestimate' The Risks Posed By Female ISIS Recruits Because Of Gender Stereotypes, UN Counter-Terror Chief Warns

“The security risk posed by female ISIS recruits is being 'underestimated' due to gender stereotyping, the head of the UN's counter-terrorism body has said. Michele Coninsx warned that security services often see female terrorists only as 'victims' and called for a more 'nuanced' approach to dealing with them. It comes as Shamima Begum, a British 'jihadi bride' who fled her family home in east London in 2015 to join ISIS in Syria, fights to return to the UK so she can stand trial. Begum, who married an ISIS fighter and had three children by him, was reportedly a member of ISIS's armed military police and enforced its strict sharia laws. She insists that she did not take part in any violence. A report by the agency that Ms Coninsx runs - the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate - warned that some UN member states are failing to properly investigate the roles played by women in ISIS.”

Technology

Forbes: Study: Facebook Allows And Recommends White Supremacist, Anti-Semitic And Qanon Groups With Thousands Of Members

“Despite efforts to curb hate speech and misinformation, Facebook still hosts a number of hateful and conspiratorial groups, including anti-Semitic and white supremacist groups with hundreds of thousands of members, and regularly recommends users join them, according to a study published Tuesday by the Anti-Defamation League. Though Facebook groups can be banned for repeatedly posting items flagged as false news, it’s possible to circumvent the regulations, leaving Facebook groups as largely self-moderated spaces ripe for bigotry and misinformation. Among the groups profiled in the study are “QAnon News & Updates” and “Official Q / QAnon Public Group,” whose over 200,000 combined members believe the conspiracy theory that a “deep state” of federal bureaucrats, Democrats and celebrities are plotting against President Trump and his supporters, while running an international sex-trafficking ring. In the groups, members frequently make anti-Semitic posts, theorize that the coronavirus pandemic is a hoax and speculate that the Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd’s death were paid for by outside actors like China, the Democrats or George Soros.”