Eye on Extremism: August 5, 2022

CNN: Taliban Claim They Weren't Aware Al Qaeda Chief Was Living In Kabul

“The Taliban have claimed they were not aware that al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was residing in the Afghan capital of Kabul where the US said he was killed in a drone strike over the weekend. “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has no information about Ayman al-Zawahiri's arrival and stay in Kabul,” the Taliban said in a statement Thursday. “The leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has instructed the investigative and intelligence agencies to conduct a comprehensive and serious investigation into the various aspects of the incident,” the Taliban added. US President Joe Biden announced Monday that Zawahiri had been killed early Sunday by a US drone strike at a house in Kabul he had been residing in. A senior US administration official said senior Taliban figures from the Haqqani network were aware of the al Qaeda chief's presence in the area and even took steps to conceal his presence after the strike, restricting access to the safe house and rapidly relocating members of his family, including his daughter and her children. The house in which al-Zawahiri was hiding is in the Sherpur area of the Green Zone, where most of the officials from the previous Afghan government used to live.”

Voice Of America: FBI: Al-Qaida Determined To Strike At US Despite Leader's Killing

“FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Thursday that he remains worried about the potential for a large-scale attack planned or inspired by al-Qaida despite the killing of its top leader in a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan last weekend. Both al-Qaida and the Islamic State as well as their affiliates “intend to carry out or inspire large-scale attacks in the United States,” Wray said during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, a key architect of the attacks of September 11, 2001, was killed during the early Sunday morning strike on a safehouse in central Kabul. Asked if al-Qaida or the Islamic State would strike at the United States if given the opportunity, Wray said, “Oh, yeah!” In the near term, however, al-Qaida, with its leadership degraded, is more likely to focus on “cultivating its international affiliates and supporting small-scale” attacks in regions such as East and West Africa, he said. In his first public remarks about al-Zawahiri's killing, Wray said he was “not surprised but disappointed” that the head of al-Qaida was found hiding in a safehouse allegedly owned by a senior member of the Haqqani Network. Al-Zawahiri, who took over as al-Qaida leader after Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid in 2011, was on the FBI's Most Wanted List with a $25 million reward for his capture.”

United States

The Morning Call: Alaska Man Who Posed As ISIS-Inspired Radical And Threatened To Bomb Lafayette College Sentenced To 5 Years In Federal Prison

“The Alaska man who posed online as an ISIS-radicalized Lafayette College student, made threats to bomb several locations on campus and firebombed a car in Canada will spend more than five years in federal prison. Gavin Lee Casdorph, 22, of Anchorage, was charged in January 2019 and pleaded guilty in April 2020 to one count of willfully making false threats. He was sentenced Wednesday to five years and three months by U.S. District Judge Edward Smith at the federal courthouse in Easton. He was also given three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay more than $7,700 in restitution and a $1,000 fine. Casdorph has been in custody since December 2018. Federal authorities said Casdorph, 21, used the Twitter handle “BdanJafarSaleem” to post statements May 5, 2018, claiming he placed explosive devices around Lafayette’s campus in Easton and that he had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. He also emailed a threatening letter directly to college officials, authorities said. As a result of the threats, authorities carried out a campuswide sweep for explosives, and Lafayette College changed the location of its graduation ceremonies. The FBI said Casdorph created additional Twitter accounts that led them to a Lafayette College student.”

Iran

Reuters: Iran Arrests Militants Planning Attacks On Religious Gatherings - Ministry

“Iran has arrested a group of 10 Islamic State militants who were planning attacks on religious gatherings, the Iranian intelligence ministry said on Thursday. The 10 were captured in possession of explosive equipment, communication devices and weapons, a ministry statement said, adding the arrests took place over the past three days in two locations in western and southern Iran. The militants injured two Iranian intelligence agents in an exchange of fire before being arrested, the ministry said, without specifying where or when the clash took place. The ministry said the 10 were planning to attack religious processions taking place during the Islamic month of Muharram, which started on July 30.”

The Washington Free Beacon: Terror Threat: Al Qaeda’s Next Leader Has Deep Ties to Iran

…Hans-Jakob Schindler, a senior director at the Counter Extremism Project, which tracks jihadi groups, noted that al-Adel "has become very high value" since al-Zawahiri was killed, "and the Iranians usually take advantage of such situations." Al-Adel's "existence in Iran and his freedom to act while in Iran will solely depend on what the Iranian regime think his value and usefulness for their aims is," Schindler said.

Afghanistan

The Washington Post: After The Fall: What Afghanistan Looks Like Since The Taliban Takeover

“As I got off the plane at Kabul’s international airport in September, a group of Taliban fighters was on the tarmac. All of them were wearing Afghan special forces uniforms and carried U.S.-made weapons left behind in the chaos of America’s rushed withdrawal. Six weeks prior, I had left a country run by a Western-backed government, where I had carried out several photography assignments in the past year. So I had missed the Aug. 15 fall of Kabul to the Islamic insurgents. I had done embeds with the group in 2019 and 2020, when I photographed its commanders and fighters. Their attitude toward foreign journalists, once they were in control of Kabul, was generally friendly and inquisitive. They were happy to have publicity. But their takeover was difficult for me to process. For the losing side, the long years of death, pain and struggle now seemed pointless; the U.S. promises of democracy and civil rights, particularly for women, rang hollow, as the old order and its institutions were quickly swept away. A burqa-clad woman sits near a blast wall in an area formerly called Massoud Square in Kabul in September. Named after Ahmed Shah Massoud, who fought against the Taliban up to his assassination on Sept. 9, 2001, the square is awaiting a new name.”

Middle East

The Wall Street Journal: Death Of Al Qaeda Leader Sets Off Succession Race For Terrorist Group

“…This week, Western powers are meeting with Tehran for what has been described as a last-ditch effort to revive the deal that sets curbs on Iran’s nuclear program. Hans-Jakob Schindler, former coordinator of the U.N. Security Council’s ISIL, al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Team, said Iran’s nuclear talks with the U.S. presented Tehran with a unique opportunity should Adel could become a bargaining chip in gridlocked talks. “This would be an easy win for the Iranians,” said Mr. Schindler, who is now New York-based senior director at the Counter Extremism Project, an international policy organization focused on extremist ideology.  “This could be a point where a chip that they’ve been guarding so carefully could play out at quite considerable benefit.” Some U.S. officials say they are less concerned about al Qaeda’s old core group in and around Afghanistan and Pakistan—which has been severely weakened by two decades of U.S. counterterrorism strikes—than newer affiliates in Africa that might be able to mount attacks against the U.S. or its facilities in the region. But while African affiliates may be more potent—and have greater ungoverned space in which to grow—their goals tend to be more localized.”

Jewish News Syndicate: With Al-Zawahiri’s Assassination, It’s Groundhog Day For America (Again)

“…According to Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior director of the Counter Extremism Project and former coordinator of the United Nations Security Council’s ISIL, Al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Monitoring Team, al Zawahiri is most likely to be succeeded by a potentially even bolder operative, Saif al Adel, who is currently being harbored by Iran and can easily move to Afghanistan. The United States has now returned to the point at which it all started: the axis between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda that led to 9/11 and put troops into Afghanistan in the first place. Yet the Americans still don’t see it. Batting away concerns that Al-Qaeda was now back in Afghanistan, the National Security Council spokesman John Kirby insisted that the terrorist group’s leaders would now “think again” about hiding out in Kabul. So for the Biden administration, it’s Groundhog Day over and over again. They appear to be incapable of learning from experience. In fact, this is the third U.S. administration that has projected to itself and the world the fantasy of having made Afghanistan safe. Peace talks with the Taliban were started in secret by former President Barack Obama—a process that led to the Doha agreement signed by former President Donald Trump and whose timetable for withdrawal was accelerated so disastrously by Joe Biden.”

WTOP News: Ep. 343 | Ayman Al Zawahiri Killed In A US Drone Strike

“John Kirby, National Security Council Spokesman, Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler, Sr. Director of the Counter Extremism Project and Shawn Turner, former Communications Director for the Director of National Intelligence, discuss what happened, how it happened and what it means.”

Nigeria

Reuters: Nigeria Asks Google To Block Banned Groups From YouTube

“Nigeria asked Google (GOOGL.O) to block the use of YouTube channels and livestreams by banned groups and terrorist organizations in the country, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said on Thursday. Nigeria has been exploring ways to regulate social media usage in the country, Africa's most populous. The country is home to millions of internet users and platforms like YouTube, Twitter (TWTR.N), Facebook (META.O) and Tiktok are popular. YouTube “channels and emails containing names of banned groups and their affiliates should not be allowed on Google platforms,” Mohammed said he told Google executives in Abuja, the country's capital. Charles Murito, Google's sub-Saharan African director for government affairs and public policy, in a statement said the company already has measures to address the Nigerian government's concerns.Those measures include a system for trained users to flag troublesome content, he added. “We share the same goals and objectives,” Murito said. “We do not want our platform to be used for ill purposes.” The minister said the government was particularly concerned with online activities by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The government has labeled IPOB, a group campaigning for the secession of a southeastern region of Nigeria, a “terrorist organization.”

Somalia

All Africa: Somalia: Al-Shabaab Attacks AU Base In Somalia

“Al-Shabaab launched an attack against African Union troops' base in South of Somalia on Wednesday, residents said. The attack sparked a heavy gunfight between Al-Shabaab and AU forces from Uganda based in Golweyn, a small town in Lower Shabelle region. The two sides exchanged heavy and small weapons in the battle which, according to villagers caused casualties on both sides.It comes as SNA and ATMIS stepped up operation against Al-Shabaab in Lower Shabelle region, the most militarised region in Somalia.”

Africa

All Africa: West Africa: Peace Talks With Sahelian Jihadists? It's Worth A Shot

“After years of failed military efforts, the path forward has to include some kind of accommodation with the militants. Since at least 2017, when Mali's government organised a peace forum called the Conference of National Understanding, prominent voices in the country and the wider Sahel region have explored the possibility of dialogue with jihadists. After years of failed counterterrorism campaigns by France and local armed forces, any possible conclusion of the Sahel crisis - which has killed thousands and uprooted millions - will inevitably include a negotiated settlement with militants. Yet, while different kinds of local and national-level deals have been struck with jihadists in recent years, a definitive accord - national, permanent, and multi-issue - has remained elusive in the central Sahel, which includes Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. All three countries are in bad shape, and trend lines suggest things could deteriorate further. That's why dialogue is worth trying, though the path forward is uncertain and a settlement might fit poorly with standard Western liberal peacemaking frameworks. The idea of public negotiations with Sahelian jihadists has received tentative but growing attention from major research NGOs. Yet there are many questions that remain unanswered.”

Australia

Brisbane Times: Accused Terrorist Cuts Off Tracking Device, Buys One-Way Overseas Ticket

“An Australian man charged with terrorism offences allegedly cut off the tracking device he had been ordered to wear and booked a one-way ticket to Saudi Arabia to fly out that night. Omar Saghir, 40, was arrested in July 2021 by Australian Federal Police officers when he landed at Sydney Airport from Saudi Arabia, where he had been since 2019. The AFP alleges Saghir played a senior role in a Brisbane group that held a “religiously motivated violent extremist ideology” and a desire to travel to Syria to fight. Saghir has also been accused of co-founding an organisation that provided funds to people who later fled Australia to join Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group fighting against Syrian government forces. Additional charges laid against Saghir also accused him of advocating terrorism on social media, in a series of videos of himself posted to Facebook between March 2019 and February 2020. In those videos, Saghir allegedly incited others to provide support to the proscribed terrorist organisation Islamic State, and called for followers to retaliate against those who were fighting Islamic State. Saghir was granted bail in February by the Brisbane Supreme Court, but was re-arrested on June 30 by counter-terrorism officers.”

Technology

CEPA: Tech Must Fight Terrorist Hate Speech

“…Europe’s terrorist content bill came into effect just two months ago and represents a positive step forward. The Counter Extremism Project, with whom I work, supported it.  The bill is not a vague catchall like hate speech legislation, which is subjective, open to misinterpretation, and raises legitimate freedom of expression concerns. This terrorist content law defines what type of videos and other content are considered to be terrorist. It is explicit. Bomb-making videos, for example, are forbidden. These videos are not a reasonable expression of speech – they are designed for malign purposes. Under the new European law, police notifications to remove such content are binding. We could and should have gone further - mandating takedowns. Terrorist content continues to proliferate online, not just hundreds of thousands or millions of videos and images, but billions of pieces of content. In many cases, removed images just reappear. Platforms should be obliged to use hashing technology to keep illegal videos from reappearing. A tragic example is the 2019 Christchurch attack on a mosque in New Zealand. It was live-streamed and went viral. Two months after the tragedy, the video was still available online.”

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

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

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