Eye on Extremism: August 9

The Guardian: Syria: New Idlib Clashes Sow 'Total Panic' Among Civilians, UN Says

“Fresh fighting around Syria’s jihadi-controlled enclave of Idlib has triggered “total panic” among civilians in recent days, according to a senior UN official who warned that a feared government offensive in the area was “playing with fire”. The renewed violence, which followed the breakdown of a brief ceasefire, came as international concern about Syria mounts. The British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said on Thursday that he was appalled by the deteriorating situation in the enclave, which is home to about 3 million people. “Appalled by situation in Idlib and how Assad backed by Russia revoked a ‘conditional’ ceasefire just days after announcing it – a repeated pattern of behaviour,” he tweeted. “Attacks on civilian targets are a violation of international humanitarian law – this must stop.”

The Wall Street Journal: Lost In Life, El Paso Suspect Found A Dark World Online

“The family of Patrick Crusius, the alleged gunman in El Paso’s mass shooting, worried he was a little lost, with few friends, but thought he wasn’t any more aimless than many others his age, said family lawyer Christopher Ayres. When Mr. Crusius discussed current events, history and politics with his grandfather, with whom he lived for a while, his ideas didn’t appear to be out of the mainstream, according to Mr. Ayres. Like many young men in Texas, he occasionally went to the gun range with his father. Evidence is emerging, however, that Mr. Crusius, 21 years old, cut a much different profile on the internet, where he spent some eight hours a day, according to his LinkedIn profile. He has told investigators that he came to his views by doing research online, according to a law-enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation, and didn’t speak to or organize with other white nationalists in person. He said he read the manifesto by the perpetrator of the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand and thought it had the right message.”

The National: Speculation Mounts Of A New ISIS Leader In The Making

“ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi has anointed a successor, the militant group's propaganda arm said on Thursday. If confirmed, the move could show that Al Baghdadi's health is deteriorating. The world's most-wanted terrorist leader was reportedly injured in fighting and last appeared in a video in late April. Amaq news agency reported on Tuesday night that Al Baghdadi nominated as his successor Abdullah Qardash, an Iraqi of Turkmen origin from the Telafar region near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Turkish state news agency Anadolu reported. US says it will prevent Turkey invasion into Syria Iraq launches third phase of anti-ISIS military operation. Mosul was the last ISIS stronghold in Iraq before it was recaptured in a US-led campaign to defeat the group in that country and Syria. Qardash, like Al Baghdadi, had been detained in Iraq by US forces that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. He had served as a religious commissar for Al Qaeda before joining ISIS and welcoming Al Baghdadi in Mosul when the city fell to the group in 2014, Anadolu reported. In his last public massage in April, Al Baghdadi said ISIS had launched a war of attrition ordained by God.”

Financial Times: Fragmented ISIS Fighters Remain Potent Threat In Iraq And Syria

“When four rifle-carrying men approached a group of Kurdish shepherds working in Iraq’s northern mountains, the fighters were quick to reveal that they were from Isis. The jihadist group has lost a stretch of territory the size of the UK across Iraq and Syria since 2015 — its self-declared caliphate now a shadow of its brutal former self. But, as the US military warned in a report published this week, Isis remain a potent threat. The terror group has in recent months “solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was resurging in Syria” as local security forces struggled to hold on to hard-won gains following the partial US military drawdown. As the Kurdish shepherds discovered, the Isis fighters had been able to survive in the mountainous region of northern Iraq, and appeared clean-shaven and healthy. “They looked like they had come from the public baths,” said sheep-owner Sami Diab, 60, who said the men carried Camelbak-style water packs and new-looking weapons. The shepherds, who spoke to the Financial Times in the town of Makhmour, have since moved into safer parts of Kurdish-controlled territory.”

Yahoo News: US Slaps Hezbollah Financier With Prison, $50 Mn Fine

“A Lebanese businessman designated by US authorities as an important financial supporter of Hezbollah was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to forfeit $50 million, the Justice Department said Thursday. Kassim Tajideen, 63, pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiracy to launder money as part of a scheme to evade US sanctions. He was named a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in May 2009 by the Treasury Department based on tens of millions of dollars in financial support given to Hezbollah, a Shiite political party and militant group in Lebanon. In a plea, Tajideen admitted to conspiring with at least five other people to conduct more than $50 million in transactions with US businesses, in violation of prohibitions barring his involvement with US persons or companies. “His sentencing and the $50 million forfeiture in this case are just the latest public examples of the Department of Justice's ongoing efforts to disrupt and dismantle Hezbollah and its support networks,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski. Tajideen, who operated a network of businesses in Lebanon and Africa, was extradited to the United States in March 2017 after his arrest overseas, according to the department.”

Gizmodo: FBI Plans To Monitor Facebook, Twitter, And Instagram For Terrorism And Domestic Threats In Real-Time

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation is soliciting technology firms to build a tool that can monitor social media for threats. The agency posted a request for proposals on July 8 claiming it wants a “social media early alerting tool,” that will help it track the use of the platforms by terrorists, criminal organizations, and foreign agencies. “With increased use of social media platforms by subjects of current FBI investigations and individuals that pose a threat to the United States, it is critical to obtain a service which will allow the FBI to identify relevant information from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms in a timely fashion,” the request reads. “Consequently, the FBI needs near real-time access to a full range of social media exchanges in order to obtain the most current information available in furtherance of its law enforcement and intelligence missions.” The solicitation was first reported on by Defense One. The documents released by the FBI show that the agency plans to have a tool that can be accessed from all FBI headquarters and field offices, or through FBI-issued mobile devices.”

United States

Associated Press: Experts Push For Domestic Terrorism Law After Attacks

“Seven days, three mass shootings, 34 dead. The FBI has labeled two of those attacks, at a Texas Walmart and California food festival, as domestic terrorism — acts meant to intimidate or coerce a civilian population and affect government policy. But the bureau hasn’t gone that far with a shooting at an Ohio entertainment district. Even if there’s a domestic terrorism investigation, no specific domestic terrorism law exists in the federal criminal code. That means the Justice Department must rely on other laws such as hate crimes and weapons offenses in cases of politically motivated shootings. The legal gap has prompted many survivors, victims’ families, law enforcement officials and legal experts to call on lawmakers to create a domestic terrorism law that could aid investigators and punish perpetrators. “Calling something for what it is is an important first step in combating this problem,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. However, supporters of a domestic terrorism law say some lawmakers may be reluctant to push legislation that could target white supremacists.”

The Washington Post: Why Free Speech Makes It Difficult To Prosecute White Supremacy In America

“There is a tool at the federal government’s disposal that was created in 1970 to take down mob bosses, mafia families and organized criminal enterprises — groups of people with a common ideology who made the United States less safe. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) allowed the FBI and the Justice Department to hold accountable not just the low-level henchmen doing the dirty work, but the leaders and organizers behind desks who were making plans and issuing directives. Since it became federal law and statutes like it were adopted in 35 states, RICO has been used in lawsuits and criminal prosecutions to target New York’s five organized crime families, sex abuse in the Catholic church, corporate executives accused of contributing to the opioid epidemic, and street gangs such as MS-13 and the Bloods and the Crips. But applying RICO to American white supremacy, an ideology inspiring mass murder, is more complicated. Inspiration, experts say, is not the same as causation. “Today’s white supremacists adhere to both a tactic and folklore of leaderless resistance which glorifies lone actors or small cells that have tenuous ties to actual groups,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.”

The Blade: Terror Suspect Pleads Guilty To Plotting To Attack Toledo Bar

“A South Toledo man who went along with his girlfriend’s plotted plan to conduct a violent attack at a Toledo bar pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges.  Vincent Armstrong, 23, of the 3600 block of Willow Run Drive, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Toledo to a sole count of conspiracy to transport or receive an explosive with intent to kill, injure, or intimidate any individual, and maliciously damage or destroy by fire or explosive for his role in planning an attack referred to as ”D-day,” at a second-floor Toledo bar, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Freeman.  Armstrong faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.  The plea comes the same week as a mass shooting outside of a Dayton bar, though Mr. Freeman said Armstrong’s plea was planned before the Dayton incident. Armstrong entered Magistrate Judge James Knepp II’s courtroom Thursday with his head held high, wearing a slight grin. He waved to his family members who were seated in the back row of the courtroom. Magistrate Judge Knepp went through a series of standard questions with Armstrong before hearing the statement of facts, including if Armstrong had previously been treated for mental health or sought treatment from a counselor — to which Armstrong replied, ”no.” 

The Wall Street Journal: Uncle Trump To The Naval Rescue

“Well, well, look who’s coming to the rescue of the British and shipping in the Middle East. None other than the Trump Administration that is supposed to be an unreliable ally. The Brits now say they’re joining a U.S.-led coalition to protect merchant shipping after they failed to get help from the rest of Europe. The Royal Navy will join the effort organized by the U.S. Central Command after Iran seized a third ship this week. On July 19 the HMS Montrose frigate was patrolling near the Strait of Hormuz but was too far away to stop Iranian forces from taking a British-flagged tanker and crew that Tehran still hasn’t released. Britain needs help because nearly half of its frigates and destroyers are undergoing major repairs or upgrades. The Royal Navy has around 80 ships, down from more than 130 during the 1982 Falklands War. The country is without a deployable aircraft carrier, though it has plans for two. London spent more than 2% of gross domestic product on defense in 2018, fulfilling its NATO requirement. But former Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood admitted after the tanker seizure that “our Royal Navy is too small to manage our interests across the globe.”

The New York Times: Man With Rifle And Body Armor Alarms Shoppers At Missouri Walmart

“A man with a loaded rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition walked into a Walmart in Springfield, Mo., on Thursday afternoon, alarming shoppers before he was detained by an armed off-duty firefighter and arrested by the police, according to the authorities and local news media. No shots were fired, and it was not clear what the man, who is in his 20s and whose name was not immediately released, was planning to do inside the store, Lt. Mike Lucas of the Springfield Police Department said. Lieutenant Lucas told The Springfield News-Leader that the man had intended “to cause chaos.” In an emailed statement, the Police Department said, “We are working to determine his motives.” “Nobody was harmed, thankfully,” Lieutenant Lucas told reporters at the scene. “Just a really scary, dangerous situation that thankfully got resolved, and everyone’s going home tonight.”

The Wall Street Journal: Justice Department Quietly Embraces The Term ‘Domestic Terrorism’

“Just one day after the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart, the top federal prosecutor in southern Texas declared that the incident would be treated as a terrorist attack. “We’re going to do what we do to terrorists in this country, which is deliver swift and certain justice,” said U.S. Attorney John Bash in a news conference on Sunday addressing the massacre, in which 22 people were killed and which appeared to be motivated by the suspect’s anti-immigrant animus. The government’s quick, unequivocal labeling of the El Paso rampage as an act of domestic terrorism was the latest example of its recent embrace of a term that it previously had used only sparingly to describe violence by Americans directed at fellow citizens. Justice Department officials appear to have grown increasingly comfortable using the same language when discussing such homegrown incidents—many of which appear to be motivated by white supremacy, white nationalism or far-right extremism—as they have long used when talking about those that are linked to Islamic extremism.”

CNN: US Fighter Jets Intercept Russian Bombers Near Alaska

“US and Canadian fighter jets intercepted two Russian long-range bombers off the coast of Alaska Thursday, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which released images of the encounter. Two US F-22 stealth jets and two Canadian CF-18 fighters intercepted the nuclear-capable Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers after they entered Alaskan and Canadian Air Defense Identification Zones, which extend approximately 200 miles off Alaska's western coast, NORAD said in a statement. The Russian aircraft remained in international airspace and never entered US or Canadian sovereign territory, the statement added. This latest intercept comes at a complicated time in US-Russian relations. On one hand, President Donald Trump has made it clear that he wants to improve relations with Moscow, but at the same time, the two countries have clashed over a wide range of geopolitical issues, including Russia's annexation of Crimea, election interference and the attempted poisoning of an alleged Russian spy in Britain.”


Voice Of America: Pentagon: Da'esh Slight Comeback Causing Stir In Region

“A Pentagon report that the Islamic State terror group is making a resurgence in both Syria and Iraq is causing bit of a stir in the region, where most governments would like to see a definitive end to its saga. Arab media gave wide coverage to the U.S. Defense Department report that the Islamic State group is making a comeback in both Iraq and Syria, amid widespread contempt for the organization. Most people in the region would like to see a quick end to IS, which has caused death and destruction in a number of countries, including Syria and Iraq. Islamic State's alleged leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, purportedly appeared in a video in April, claiming that the group would exact revenge for the loss of its so-called “caliphate.” U.S.-backed Kurdish militia fighters captured the group's last physical stronghold in the town of Baghuz, in eastern Syria, several months ago, but scattered reports of sleeper cell attacks in parts of Iraq and Syria persist. Reports about Baghdadi's whereabouts in recent years have placed him variously in Mosul, Iraq along the Iraqi-Syrian border, and in Raqqa, Syria. Arab media have reported that he was wounded or near death on several occasions. Yet, the man in the video appears to have no battle scars and no obvious traces of hardship.”

The Daily Beast: ISIS, Assad, And Turkey Are Waging A Shadow War On U.S. Allies In Syria

“An enormous fire raged across several wheat fields outside this town on July 6. It was a dry summer day and dark smoke towered over the countryside as the flames spread across the farmland. Some locals watched in awe at the inferno. Others tried to fight back with shovels and rakes. They had little success. They watched the blaze consume their livelihood. Locals told The Daily Beast that the fire started near Turkish military checkpoints along the border and made its way south across Kurdish farms. Scenes like this have become commonplace this summer as fires have burned across Northeast Syria (or “Rojava” as it is known to the Kurds and their supporters). They have been particularly destructive this year and suspiciously concentrated in contested territories that make up the lines between between U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Turkish troops and Syrian pro-regime forces—as well as scattered fires near former ISIS strongholds. Now, as Turkish leaders threaten to invade this region, things could heat up even more.”

The Washington Post: There’s A New Opening For Trump To Avoid Disaster In Syria

“This week, the United States and Turkey achieved a significant breakthrough. After many months of negotiations, the two countries agreed to coordinate on a joint buffer zone in northern Syria. This development offers a rare and fleeting opportunity for President Trump to step back from the brink of disaster. The president can salvage his Syria policy by making clear the United States will stick around to defend its vital national interests there. Ever since Trump announced by tweet last December that he was withdrawing all U.S. troops from Syria, without consulting most of his military commanders, the United States’ Syria strategy — especially in the northeast — has been a muddle. To his credit, the president partially walked back the decision, announcing in February that a small, residual force would remain to keep the Islamic State down, keep our partnership with the Kurds and keep an eye on Iranian forces. But the U.S.-Turkey rift, pushed to the breaking point by Turkish threats to unilaterally invade northeast Syria, risks turning that ambiguous U.S. policy into a total failure. If the Turks invade, the Kurds might ally with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to the advantage of Iran and the Islamic State. Any remaining U.S. leverage to push for an acceptable political solution would vanish.”

VOA: US Promises Parts Of Security Deal For NE Syria To Move ‘Rapidly’

“The United States is promising a new agreement with Turkey will help ease tensions and alleviate Ankara’s concerns in northeastern Syria, even as Turkish officials accuse Washington of letting prior agreements stall. U.S. and Turkish officials unveiled the deal Wednesday, following three days of talks in the Turkish capital. It calls for the establishment of a joint operations center in Turkey that would then coordinate the creation of a “safe zone” in northeast Syria, where Turkish officials have expressed increasing alarm over the presence of Syrian-Kurdish fighters. The U.S. Defense Department late Wednesday described the agreement as a crucial step, though it said more work needs to be done. The talks “made progress toward establishing a sustainable security mechanism in northeast Syria that addresses the legitimate concerns of our NATO ally Turkey,” Pentagon spokesman, Commander Sean Robertson, told VOA in statement.”


The New York Times: U.S. Sanctions Turn Iran’s Oil Industry Into Spy Vs. Spy

“They change offices every few months and store documents only in hard copy. They scan their businesses for covert listening devices and divert all office calls to their cellphones. They know they are under surveillance, and assume their electronics are hacked. They are not spies or jewel thieves but Iran’s oil traders, and they are suddenly in the cross hairs of  international intrigue and espionage. “Sometimes I feel like I am an actor playing in a thriller spy movie,” said Meysam Sharafi, a veteran oil trader in Tehran. Since President Trump imposed sanctions on Iranian oil sales last year, information on those sales has become a prized geopolitical weapon — coveted by Western intelligence agencies and top secret for Iran. And the business of selling Iranian oil, once a safe and lucrative enterprise for the well connected, has been transformed into a high-stakes global game of espionage and counterespionage.”

Radio Farda: Trump Criticizes Macron For Sending ‘Mixed Signals’ To Iran

“U.S. President Donald Trump has accused French President Emmanuel Macron of sending “mixed signals” to Iran over possible talks with Washington. "Iran is in serious financial trouble. They want desperately to talk to the U.S., but are given mixed signals from all of those purporting to represent us, including President Macron of France," Trump tweeted on August 8. "I know Emmanuel means well, as do all others, but nobody speaks for the United States but the United States itself," Trump wrote. Trump in May 2018 pulled out of the landmark nuclear deal that Iran signed with six world powers and began reimposing crippling sanctions on Tehran, saying the terms were not strict enough to prevent the country from developing nuclear weapons. Trump has indicated he is willing to talk to Iranian leaders, but Tehran has said that the sanctions must first be lifted. France, along with Britain, Germany, Russia, and China, has remained a part of the 2015 nuclear deal and unsuccessfully urged Washington to stay within the accord.”

Financial Times: Designated Chief Of Iran Payments Channel Pulls Out At Last Moment

“European efforts to launch a payments channel to facilitate trade with Iran suffered a fresh setback on Thursday when the German former diplomat who was set to take over as the new chief of Instex was forced to pull out at the last moment. The move by Bernd Erbel, 72, a former ambassador to Tehran, followed revelations in the German daily Bild of a recent YouTube interview in which the designated Instex chief voiced sympathy for Iran along with pointed criticism of Israel. Among other things, he said that Israel was “more than ever an alien body” in the Middle East. He also described the fall of Saddam Hussein as the “greatest tragedy of the early 21st century”. The foreign ministry in Berlin said that Mr Erbel, who was presented as the new head of Instex only last month, would not take on the role after all: “Mr Erbel has informed the foreign ministry that he will not be available for personal reasons.”

The Washington Post: Iran’s Cooperation With The Taliban Could Affect Talks On U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan

“In late 2018, as it became clear that the United States was contemplating a withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Iranian military announced that it was taking charge of the security of the border between Afghanistan and Iran. This indication of Tehran’s increased concern resulted from the prospect of renewed instability and insecurity. Just a few weeks later came an exchange of visits between Tehran and Taliban delegations. Iranian and Taliban representatives weren’t meeting for the first time, but, in a departure from the past, the Iranians publicized these meetings. Alongside these developments, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif acknowledged that his country had some level of cooperation with the Taliban. He also summarized Iran’s current thinking on the Taliban: “It would be impossible to have a future Afghanistan without any role for the Taliban.” How did Iran’s recently publicized relationship with the Taliban come about, and how might it affect the future of U.S.-Taliban talks?”


Morning Star: Turkey Accused Of Extensive Links To Former ISIS Fighters

“AN explosive new report has revealed extensive links between senior members of the Isis death cult and Nato member Turkey, including claims that intelligence services helped jihadists cross into Syria to commit alleged war crimes against Kurds. The database, published today by the Rojava Information Centre (RIC), draws on information gathered from jihadist Telegram messaging groups and local intelligence sources provided by the foreign ministry of North Eastern Syria. It details more than 40 former senior jihadists, including Isis commandeers, brigade leaders, recruiting officers and co-ordinators who the report claims are working closely with Turkish intelligence services (MIT). The former Isis fighters are now part of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), which Ankara allied with during its illegal invasion and occupation of the largely Kurdish canton of Afrin in northern Syria during Operation Olive Branch in January 2018. The FSA is made up of dozens of jihadist militias including Jaysh al-Islam, Suleiman Shah and Sultan Murad — all of which have been accused of atrocities. Ankara claimed its Afrin invasion, which displaced up to 300,000 people and killed at least 500, according to human rights groups, was to protect its border from terrorism.”


Voice Of America: Afghan Forces Claim Attack On IS Cells In Kabul

“Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, the country’s intelligence agency, released a new video showing its special forces attacking Islamic State sleeper cells in rural areas of Kabul Wednesday. The agency also said it arrested this week a key member of the terror group accused of coordinating suicide attacks and managing suicide bombers in the capital. The agency said in a statement that it acted on prior intelligence about three locations around the capital, killing two IS suicide bombers and seizing a large amount of explosives and ammunitions. “We have killed two IS suicide bombers and seized heavy weaponry, suicide vests, explosives and materials used to improvise vehicular bombs,” the statement said. At least two members of the Afghan security forces also died in the operation. Meanwhile, Afghan officials told VOA they had arrested a key member of the Islamic State terror group in Kabul. Eid Mohammad, nicknamed Abu Zar, a resident of Kabul province, was arrested by security forces this week. Abu Zar was responsible for coordinating suicide attacks in the capital and was involved in several recent terror attacks on the city.”

The National: ISIS Recruitment Is Growing In Afghanistan As US And Taliban Work For Peace

“In the shade of a riverside open-air restaurant in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad, Bilal sits cross legged on a pillow, with his eyes scanning the sky and the surrounding area ceaselessly. He jumps up nervously as the shadow of a bird crosses over his face. Bilal 28, is a fighter with IS Khorasan – the ISIS branch in Afghanistan – and says that over the past year, they have gained a few thousand fighters in the country, with their funding coming from interests abroad and criminal activity, such as kidnapping. IS-K has been active in Afghanistan since 2015. Its fighters pledge allegiance to ISIS command, which once operated out of the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa. There its members beheaded hostages, raped slaves and killed hundreds over accusations including sorcery. The Afghan National Army and the US military, as well as the Taliban, fight the extremist group in Afghanistan.  “There are an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 fighters and one fourth of them are foreigners,” says Lt Gen Abdul Hadi Khalid, a researcher at the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies and former vice minister of interior. Afghan’s spy agency puts the numbers much lower, saying that only about 3,000 remain and most fighters enter the country through the Iranian-Afghan border.”

TIME: The U.S. Is Close To A Peace Deal With The Taliban, Officials Say

“The U.S. and the Taliban both say they are close to calling it peace after 18 years of war and multiple rounds of tense but cordial negotiations between dark-suited diplomats and turbaned fighters over cups of tea in plush hotels in Doha, Qatar. On one side of the re-purposed ballroom tables, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is working relentlessly to close the hardest deal of his life: a peace agreement that would allow U.S. forces to withdraw fast enough to meet President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign timetable but buy the Afghan government enough time to negotiate a separate peace with the Taliban. On the other side sit Taliban commanders who drove the last Soviet forces out of Afghanistan 30 years ago, have fought the U.S.-led coalition to a bloody stalemate, and are still battling Afghan forces while the negotiations continue. An August 7 Taliban suicide attack on a police station in Kabul, the Afghan capital, killed 14 and wounded 145. Both Khalilzad and Taliban chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar are now privately telling allies that they’ve reached a deal that would require most conventional U.S. forces to withdraw before the end of November 2020, shortly after the U.S. presidential election, multiple U.S., Afghan and Pakistani officials briefed on the talks tell TIME.”


Associated Press: Indian PM: Changes In Kashmir Will Free It From ‘Terrorism’

“Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the nation Thursday night that he stripped the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir of its statehood and special constitutional status to free the disputed region of “terrorism and separatism.” Modi’s Hindu-led nationalist government imposed an unprecedented security lockdown and a near-total communications blackout in the Muslim-majority region since Sunday night, arresting more than 500 people. Kashmir is claimed in full by both India and its archrival Pakistan, although each controls only a part of it and rebels have been fighting Indian rule in the portion it administers for decades. This week, India downgraded the Himalayan region from statehood to a territory, limited its decision-making power and eliminated its right to its own constitution. In his first nationally broadcast speech on the decision, Modi described the changes for Jammu and Kashmir, as the region is formally known, as historic. He assured its residents that the situation will soon “return to normal gradually,” although he gave no specifics. Modi said the “mainstreaming” of the Kashmiri people with the rest of the nation would expedite development and create new jobs with investment from public and private companies.”

Bloomberg: Pakistan Wants China’s Help To Skirt Terror-Financing Blacklist

“Pakistan is looking to China and two other developing nations for support in avoiding tough financial sanctions, amid signs it is running out of time to meet global anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing standards, according to people familiar with the matter. The government in Islamabad expects it will fail to comply with enough of the 27 action items set by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force before a final review in October, the people said, asking for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions. Some FATF members -- notably arch-rival India -- could then push for Pakistan to be moved to the organization’s blacklist, which would reduce the country’s access to the global financial system and potentially disrupt its $6 billion International Monetary Fund program, the people added. That could trigger a balance of payments crisis, raising the stakes for China and others to head off the move. Pakistan has been on FATF’s “grey” monitoring list since last year, after a campaign by the U.S. and European nations to get the country to do more to combat militancy and close financing loopholes to terrorist groups.”


Arab News: Coalition intercepts Houthi drone targeting Saudi Arabia from Yemen

“The Arab coalition intercepted a Houthi drone launched from Yemen towards Jazan in Saudi Arabia on Thursday. Coalition spokesman, Col. Turki Al-Maliki, said the attempted attack “reflect the Houthis losses on the ground.” Earlier, the coalition said the Houthis fired a ballistic missile late Wednesday from a civilian site located in Yemen’s Al-Hajjah governorate. Al-Maliki said the missile was launched from a local market and fell within the same Yemeni governorate. It was unclear what the militants were targeting. Such  ”absurd attempts” are an extension to previous acts by the Iranian-backed militia that use civilian sites to launch their attacks from, Al-Maliki said. He said the militia has previously used a university campus as a site to launch a missile that fell on residential neighborhoods in Al-Jawf governorate. As well as using the missiles inside Yemen, the Iran-backed Houthis have launched dozens of strikes into Saudi Arabia, targeting civilian infrastructure such as airports and oil pipelines. The coalition says Iran has supplied the Houthis with ballistic missile technology.The Houthis triggered the Yemen conflict when they seized the capital Sanaa from the internationally recognized government in 2014.”


Asharq Al-Awsat: Lebanon Is Now A Hezbollah-Run State

“What began as a small shooting incident in the mountain village of Qabr Shmoun is now a full-fledged political crisis threatening the future of Lebanon. From weaving an ‘assassination attempt’ in an alleged ‘ambush’ the crescendo has gone to arguing the powers of the President and the Prime Minister. This is an issue that most Lebanese politicians have avoided discussing either because they are convinced that it is untreatable but only kept at bay, or feel it is futile to handle in a dangerous regional climate. The ‘Qabr Shmoun Incident’, indeed, has shown - like many before it – that the Lebanese may have ended the combat side of the Civil War (1975-1990) but continue to fight it in every other form. Absent are the goodwill, the true reconciliation and entente, the healthy coexistence, and the willingness to have a real state and citizenship. A few years ago, Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary general said “… why don’t you build a state first”, when answering a question about why his party refuses to hand over its arsenal to the Lebanese state.”

Middle East

Asharq Al-Awsat: Al-Qaeda And The Decentralization Of Terrorism

“According to several anonymous American intelligence officials, Osama Bin Laden’s favorite son, Hamza, has been killed. Information on when (sometime in the past two years), how (possibly an airstrike), where (likely in Afghanistan) and by whom (involving America) remains unclear. According to some Afghan sources, Hamza had allegedly been spending time in January 2019 in the Shultan Valley of Afghanistan’s northeastern Kunar province, where he was residing with a Lashkar-e-Tayyiba commander known as “Mawyaa.” According to Hamza himself, one of his sons was killed in a possible airstrike in Afghanistan in 2017, so Hamza was clearly being tracked, presumably by those who finally killed him. Ever since his emergence in August 2015, Hamza Bin Laden was perceived by many as being positioned to take over from Ayman al-Zawahiri as al-Qaeda’s global leader. Al-Qaeda itself declared that Hamza was “a young lion” who would “carry forward the cause.” But beyond assumptions made primarily in the West, it was never clear whether Hamza truly was the inevitable successor of Zawahiri. In fact, his messages rarely attracted the level of attention or excitement that al-Qaeda might have wished.”

The Jerusalem Post: Palestinian Terrorist Factions Applaud West Bank Terror Attack

“Several Palestinian factions on Thursday welcomed the murder of off-duty soldier Dvir Sorek in the Gush Etzion area, while the Palestinian Authority expressed fear that Israel would use the terrorist attack to intensify its security measures against Palestinians in the West Bank. The factions and many Palestinian activists urged Arab villagers in the Gush Etzion area to immediately delete footage or remove private security cameras so as to prevent the IDF from identifying the terrorists. In separate statements, the Palestinian factions praised the “heroic operation” and said it was a “natural response to Israeli crimes.” Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shehab described the murder as “heroic” and “bold,” and said it carried an important message to Israel because of its policy of holding Palestinians in administrative detention. “This operation is a natural response to the crimes of the occupation, the latest of which was the demolition of houses in Wadi al-Hummus,” he said, referring to the recent demolition by the IDF of 12 illegal buildings near the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher. “The operation,” he added, “affirms that all settlers and occupation soldiers are legitimate targets for the Palestinian resistance.”


Voice Of America: Egypt Says Security Forces Killed 17 Islamic Militants

“Security forces killed at least 17 suspected militants in raids in Cairo and in another province, Egypt officials said Thursday, four days after a car filled with explosives wrecked outside the county's main cancer hospital, killing at least 20 people in the ensuing explosion. The Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, said in a statement that eight of the militants were killed when security forces stormed their hideout in the town of Atsa in Fayoum province, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Cairo. It said another seven were killed in the Cairo suburb of Shortouk. The remaining two, including a brother of the suspected militant who was driving the car, were also killed in Cairo, the ministry said. It said police arrested another suspect. The statement said the militants were members of Hasm, which has links to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The ministry released a series of images and video purportedly depicting some of the militants and assault rifles found in their hideouts. The statement did not say when the raids took place, or whether police forces were wounded in the clashes with the militants.”

Xinhua: Egypt's Prosecution Orders Trial Of 10 People For Joining IS

“Egypt's state prosecution on Thursday ordered the trial of 10 Egyptian and Libyan nationals on charges of joining the militant group Islamic State (IS) in Libya, the official news agency MENA reported. The defendants facilitated the travel of Egyptian workers to Libya with an aim of committing terrorist crimes that jeopardized the interests of Egypt, the prosecution statement read. They also kidnapped some Egyptian citizens to seek ransom, while killing or torturing some others, it said. From 2011 until August 2017, some of the accused militants worked with terrorist groups in Libya including IS on killing Egyptians working in Libyan cities, according to the statement. Egypt is concerned about its 1,200-km western borders with Libya, where the smuggling of arms and militants has been active since the 2011 uprisings in the two countries.”


Deutsche Welle: Boko Haram: Nigeria Moves To Deradicalize Former Fighters

“The Nigerian government has developed an action plan for the total deradicalization and rehabilitation of former Boko Haram insurgents in a bid to find a lasting solution to the persistent Islamic extremism crisis in the country's north-east. The initiative was first proposed at the Nigerian National Security Council (NSC) meeting in September 2015, after which repentant Boko Haram members were encouraged to surrender and embrace peace. Hundreds of former insurgents, who either surrendered or were captured during clashes with Nigerian security forces, are currently undergoing the process of deradicalization in line with the government's Operation Safe Corridor.  Since 2011, the Boko Haram insurgency has killed over 50,000 people and displaced at least 2.1 million across Nigeria. The majority of their activity takes place in Borno State, including kidnappings and reprisal attacks. Following their release from rehabilitation centers, the ex-insurgents are issued certificates confirming their 'psychosocial normalcy' before they return to live in local communities. Treatment involves a combination of psychotherapy, art therapy and psycho-spiritual counseling. Boko Haram's extremist narrative is also broken down by imams, who hold lectures aimed at shifting the participants' simplistic worldview by offering alternative interpretations of Islamic texts and values.”


All Africa: Somalia: “We Are Coming For You Ruthlessly” - U.S. Tells Al-Shabaab

“Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, the new commander of U.S. Africa Command, visited Somalia on Wednesday and pledged to continue pressuring violent extremists such as al-Shabab. Townsend is now on his first trip to the African continent since he took charge of AFRICOM July 26. He met with Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre in the capital city of Mogadishu, as well as U.S. Ambassador Donald Yamamoto and senior Somali military leadership, AFRICOM said in a release. AFRICOM said Townsend's trip allowed him to assess the situation in Somalia, and reinforce AFRICOM's commitments to the region's security. “I am committed to working together and advancing our partnership with Somalia,” Townsend said in the release. “Along with Somalia and other international partners, we will apply continued pressure on violent extremist organizations. This pressure creates conditions and opportunity for further political and economic development.” Townsend said that Somali forces must keep pushing al-Shabab out of the remaining areas they hold to free Somali people living there, and that degrading the terrorist group's threat supports the interests of both Somalia and the United States.”

North Korea

Reuters: North Korea Took $2 Billion In Cyberattacks To Fund Weapons Program: U.N. Report

“North Korea has generated an estimated $2 billion for its weapons of mass destruction programs using “widespread and increasingly sophisticated” cyberattacks to steal from banks and cryptocurrency exchanges, according to a confidential U.N. report seen by Reuters on Monday. Pyongyang also “continued to enhance its nuclear and missile programmes although it did not conduct a nuclear test or ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) launch,” said the report to the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee by independent experts monitoring compliance over the past six months. The North Korean mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment on the report, which was submitted to the Security Council committee last week. The experts said North Korea “used cyberspace to launch increasingly sophisticated attacks to steal funds from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges to generate income.” They also used cyberspace to launder the stolen money, the report said.”


France 24: Chechnya Sends Ex-IS Women Into Schools, Not Jails

“Mother of five Zalina Gabibulayeva says she was “tricked” into joining the jihadists in Syria five years ago. Now, repentant and repatriated to Russia's Chechnya, she goes into schools to teach others of the dangers of extremism. Countries around the world are grappling with the question of how to treat citizens who travelled to the Islamic State “caliphate” and have since decided to return. That problem is felt particularly keenly in Russia, which has seen thousands of people leave to fight alongside jihadists in Syria, according to President Vladimir Putin. While some Western nations have stripped IS recruits of citizenship or banned them from coming back, Russia has actively repatriated women and children -- though the return of women was suspended more than a year ago over security concerns. Most of Russia's IS recruits came from Muslim-majority Caucasus republics such as Chechnya, the site of two bloody separatist conflicts with Moscow in the 1990s and now notorious for human rights abuses. The republic however has welcomed in women like Gabibulayeva -- with the expectation some go to work to prevent young Muslims from becoming radicalised. “We're useful. We can tell the new generation about what happened to us, so they don't make the same mistakes we did,” the 38-year-old says as her two youngest children play on the floor of her flat in regional capital Grozny.”


The Wall Street Journal: FBI Surveillance Proposal Sets Up Clash With Facebook

“An effort by the FBI to more aggressively monitor social media for threats sets up a clash with Facebook Inc.’s privacy policies and possibly its attempts to comply with a record $5 billion settlement with the U.S. government reached last month. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is soliciting proposals from outside vendors for a contract to pull vast quantities of public data from Facebook, Twitter Inc. and other social media “to proactively identify and reactively monitor threats to the United States and its interests.” The request was posted last month, weeks before a series of mass murders shook the country and led President Trump to call for social-media platforms to do more to detect potential shooters before they act. The deadline for bids is Aug. 27. As described in the solicitation, it appears that the service would violate Facebook’s ban against the use of its data for surveillance purposes, according to the company’s user agreements and people familiar with how it seeks to enforce them.”