Eye on Extremism: December 17

Haaretz: ISIS Is Still Alive And Well In Sinai, And Israel Fears A Major Attack On Its Egypt Border

“Although the American-led coalition has successfully put down the Islamic State and forced most of its operatives out of the last areas they controlled in northern Iraq and eastern Syria, the group’s branch in the Sinai Peninsula is continuing to function without any noticeable problems. More than a year after the collapse of Islamic State strongholds and its main command centers of Mosul in Iraq and in Raqqa in Syria, there may have been somewhat of a drop in the scope of the attacks by the organization in Sinai but it continues to battle the Egyptian army and its police force, causing them numerous casualties. The rise in activity by global jihad organizations in Sinai began in the last decade. At the beginning of this decade the most prominent among them was Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. In 2014, not long after ISIS declared the establishment of its “caliphates” in broad territories of Iraq and Syria, the operatives of the Sinai organization swore allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and changed the name of their group to Wilayat Sinai (“Sinai Province”). Among the serious attacks attributed to them was planting a bomb on a Russian aircraft flying from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg in October 2015, which exploded and crashed the plane, killing 224 passengers and crew members.”

CNN: US Defense Secretary Asks Iraqi PM To Help Prevent Iranian-Linked Attacks On US Troops

“US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has asked Iraq to help prevent attacks on US personnel that both countries have attributed to groups backed by Iran. Esper spoke with Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi on Sunday, asking for the Iraqi leader's assistance in preventing the attacks . "On the call, Secretary Esper reiterated United States support for a secure and sovereign Iraq and the people of Iraq. He also called on our Iraqi partners to continue to assist in preventing attacks on US and coalition personnel and facilities in the country," Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Sean Robertson told CNN in a statement. The call comes as US officials have grown increasingly concerned about a series of rocket attacks on military installations in Iraq where US and coalition personnel are stationed. There are some 5,000 US troops in Iraq, in addition to personnel from several other members of the anti-ISIS military coalition, part of a mission aimed at bolstering Iraq's security forces as they battle the remnants of the terrorist group.”

Quartz: West Africa’s Sahel Struggles To Contain Deadly Jihadist Groups That’ve Infiltrated Communities

“Leaders of G5 Sahel countries gathered for emergency talks in Niamey on Sunday after Niger faced the most spectacular military attack on its soil since jihadists gained a foothold in the region. Reportedly executed by dozens of men on motorcycles, on a base just 124 miles outside of the capital, near the border with Mali, the attack that killed 71 soldiers was claimed by the Islamic State and is being read as a warning that group is fast expanding its territory throughout the region. “These endless attacks carried out by terrorist groups in our region remind us not only of the gravity of the situation, but also the urgency for us to work more closely together,” said Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, the president of Burkina Faso, a nation that has now become the epicenter of the security crisis that has its roots in neighboring Mali’s conflict that began in 2012. Burkina Faso and Niger are part of the G5 Sahel, a regional military initiative that includes Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Niger, that was formed in 2014 to rout out jihadist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The body is backed the United States, the United Nations and the former colonial power France, who some activists in Mali and neighboring Burkina Faso blame for the escalating violence.”

Deutsche Welle: Germany: Number Of Right-Wing Extremists Rose By A Third In 2019

“The number of right-wing extremists active in Germany rose significantly in 2019, the Berlin-based Tagesspiegel newspaper reported on Monday. Germany's federal domestic intelligence service (BfV) and the state-level intelligence services identified over 32,200 right-wing extremists this year, the paper reported, citing information gathered from security sources. That figure is a third higher compared to 2018, when authorities counted 24,100 people involved in right-wing extremist networks. One of the main reasons for the spike is due to the BfV including groups affiliated with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) for the first time in its count of right-wing extremists. In January this year, the BfV took aim at the extreme-right faction of the AfD known as “Der Flügel” (The Wing) as well as the party's youth wing “Junge Alternative” (Young Alternative) over suspected extremism. According to Tagesspiegel, authorities included 7,000 members of the “Der Flügel” in its right-wing extremist count, as well as 1,000 members of the “Junge Alternative.” In January, the BfV declared both AfD-affiliated groups "suspected cases" of right-wing extremism, increasing observation to investigate whether they pose a threat to constitutional order.”

The Times Of Israel: Austrian Authorities Foil IS-Inspired Terror Attack On Christmas Market

“Austrian authorities have foiled a plot to carry out a series of terror attacks, including bombing one of Vienna’s Christmas markets, local media reported Monday. The plot involved three men, including a 24-year-old ringleader who had been influenced by the ideology of the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, according to the APA news agency. The main suspect is thought to have hatched a plot to target the Christmas market in front of St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna city center between Christmas and New Year.  Other possible targets are said to have included Salzburg and locations in Germany, France and Luxembourg. An anonymous tip-off led to the ringleader, who was already in jail following two attempts to reach Syria and join IS. However, the report said he was able to remain in contact with his alleged accomplices via mobile phone — contrary to prison regulations. Part of the plot was a plan to help the ringleader escape. The two other suspects, aged 25 and 31, were taken into custody at the end of last week. All three men are ethnic Chechens. While Austria has been spared the major terror attacks that have hit other European countries including France, Britain and Germany in recent years, a relatively high number of Austrians have gone abroad to participate in Islamic extremism.”

NBC News: How Do You Spot A Deepfake? A Clue Hides Within Our Voices, Researchers

“Hany Farid is part of a team of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley who have developed a computer algorithm that they say may help to detect deepfakes. Farid has a track record of pushing tech companies to do more to remove problematic material. In a previous project to fight online extremism, he developed software for social media services to use to flag images and other posts supporting the Islamic State militant group and others.”

United States

Associated Press: Feds: Connecticut Man Wanted To Fight For Islamic State

“A Connecticut man who allegedly expressed interest in fighting for the Islamic State group in Syria was arrested as he prepared to leave the U.S. by boat, federal authorities said Monday. Ahmad Khalil Elshazly, 22, of West Haven, was arrested Sunday in the shoreline town of Stonington, where he expected to board a boat and begin a trip to Turkey, prosecutors said Sunday. He was ordered to be detained during a federal court hearing Monday in New Haven. Elshazly is charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. His public defender, Tracy Hayes, declined to comment. Federal authorities including Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham allege Elshazly, a U.S. citizen, began telling other people last year that he wanted to travel to Syria and the surrounding area to fight for the Islamic State. In October, he told others he wanted to kill 100 “kaffirs,” or infidels, prosecutors said. Authorities said Elshazly made numerous other statements including, “God willing! May this country (the U.S.) burn the same way they burned Muslims! May they burn in fire at the end!” Elshazly was worried about being stopped by law enforcement at an airport and arranged to travel by ship to Turkey, giving someone $500 to pay for a portion of his trip, prosecutors said.”

The New York Times: American Student Freed By Iran Calls For Nations To Release Political Hostages

“An American graduate student from Princeton University who had been imprisoned for three and a half years in Iran called on Monday for all nations to free their political prisoners. The student, Xiyue Wang, was released by Iran on Dec. 7 in a prisoner swap in Switzerland. In exchange, the United States handed over Masoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist. The exchange took place after weeks of negotiations involving diplomats in the United States and Iran, which do not have formal relations, and Switzerland, which regularly acts as an interlocutor between the other two powers. In a statement, the first since that day, Mr. Wang and his wife, Hua Qu, a Chinese citizen, thanked the governments, individuals and organizations that helped in the release. The two also posted photographs showing Mr. Wang smiling with his 6-year-old son, Shaofan. “Our family is doing well, and we are overjoyed and filled with deep gratitude for all the support we have received,” they said. “That said, our joy is tempered as our thoughts turn to all those who are still unjustly imprisoned and to their loved ones, who remain without them.” They added that “Xiyue’s release is a victory of humanity and diplomacy across nations and political differences.”

Syria

The Washington Post: Russia Eyes Major Commercial Projects In Syria

“Russia is considering a slew of major commercial projects in Syria, a senior Russian official said Tuesday. Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said after meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus that Russia will spend $500 million to modernize Syria’s commercial port of Tartus. Borisov said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that the four-year modernization program envisages an overhaul of the old port in Tartus and the construction of a new one. He added that there is also a plan to build a railway across Syria and Iraq that will link Syria’s Mediterranean coast with the Persian Gulf. Russia has a Soviet-era naval base in Tartus, the only such facility outside the former Soviet Union. In 2017, Moscow struck a deal with Assad’s government to extend its lease on Tartus for 49 years. The agreement allows Russia to keep up to 11 warships there, including nuclear-powered ones. Russia has waged a military campaign in Syria that helped shore up Assad’s hold on power and allowed his government to reclaim control over most of the country following a devastating civil war. Speaking during Tuesday’s meeting with Assad in Damascus, Borisov noted that Russia helped restore a fertilizer plant in Homs and plans to invest $200 million to expand its capacity.”

The New York Times: Finland Aims To Repatriate Islamic State Children From Syria 'As Soon As Possible'

“Finland will try to repatriate children of Finnish mothers who traveled to Syria to join Islamic State “as soon as possible”, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Monday. Finland is one of a number of European Union member states facing a decision over whether to bring home citizens with IS links who are trapped at the al-Hol camp displacement camp controlled by Kurds in northeastern Syria. More than 30 children born to 11 Finnish women are at al-Hol, according to Finnish media, and the fate of the mothers has caused divisions in Finland's five-party coalition government that took office last week. The Centre Party, a coalition ally of Marin's Social Democrats, opposes letting the wives of IS fighters back into Finland but supports repatriating their children. The Centre Party is worried by the rise in the polls of the opposition nationalist Finns Party, which says repatriating Islamic State detainees could endanger Finland's security. Marin said that, in an attempt to resolve the dispute in the coalition, the government had decided each case should be judged on its own merits. “The aim of the authorities' actions is to protect the interests of the child in all circumstances,” Marin said, leaving the door open for the repatriation of some of the mothers with their children.”

The National: Centre Deradicalising 15,000 Syrian Children Warns ISIS Is Regaining Ground

“A children’s rehabilitation centre in north-eastern Syria has warned of an ISIS revival unless the international community battles the militants' ideologies imprinted in youths. The group’s dogma will be hard to erase and may re-emerge, especially as diplomatic efforts to end the Syrian war have faltered, paving the way for an ISIS resurgence, Together of Algarnya said. “ISIS’s ideology still exists,” Mahmoud Al Mabrook, a Syrian activist and manager of Together for Algarnya told The National. “Although it has been defeated militarily, the threat it poses is evident in north-eastern Syria. The centre, in the city of Raqqa, has hosted nearly 15,000 children since its launch in 2017. It aims to rehabilitate children back into normal society and give them the opportunity to enrol in primary or secondary schooling. At the centre, children are taught about morality, peaceful co-existence and how to interact with one another. It also hosts reading, maths and psychological support programmes. But Mr Al Mabrook says the centre prioritises helping children whose parents were ISIS members. “Since 2017 we received 603 children who were illiterate, 434 children who were innumerate, 995 children who needed psychosocial support,” he said.”

Xinhua: Explosive Device Wounds 1 Civilian In Syria's Damascus

“An explosive device wounded one civilian on Monday when it ripped through his vehicle in Syria's capital of Damascus overnight, state news agency SANA reported. The explosive device was affixed under the car and went off in the Nahr Aysheh area south of Damascus, said SANA. SANA branded the explosion as an act of terror, stopping short of giving further details about the targeted person, who, it said, was transported to a hospital nearby. The capital has remained largely calm since the army secured its vicinity and eastern countryside following the withdrawal of the rebels in May of 2018. In a separate context, SANA said a number of civilians were wounded in the northern city of Aleppo as a result of a fresh rebel mortar fire on the city from the northwestern countryside of Aleppo.”

Iran

The Independent: Iran Protests: Over 300 Killed And Thousands Arrested In Violent Crackdown, Amnesty Says

“At least 304 people were killed and thousands more injured during anti-government protests across Iran last month, according to Amnesty International. The UK-based human rights organisation said the latest death toll was based on credible reports and eyewitness testimonies it had compiled. But the real number is likely even higher as security forces used lethal force to crush the protests. The high death toll over a period of only a few days may to be the highest casualty rate for any protests in the history of the Islamic Republic in the past 40 years. Iranian officials have acknowledged that a number of people, including what they referred to as innocent bystanders, have been killed, but they have not yet announced the total figure. Authorities have stated that over 7,000 people were arrested during the protests. They include journalists, activists, and students, and now human rights groups are raising an alarm that the detainees could be subject to ill-treatment and abuse. Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International told The Independent that detainees included children as young as 15, who are being held with adult detainees in facilities notorious for torture, such as Fashafouyeh prison in Tehran province.”

Iraq

Kurdistan 24: ISIS Intensifies Attacks In Diyala, Killing And Injuring 10 Iraqi Security Forces

“Both Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga forces have been involved in clashes with the so-called Islamic State in Iraq’s northeast Diyala Province. The area lies within the territory disputed between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Iraq’s federal government, and it has seen a resurgence in terrorist activity. Iraqi security sources announced on Monday that five soldiers had been killed and another five wounded in two separate attacks by the Islamic State on two different Iraqi military bases in the northeastern part of Diyala Province. According to Iraqi Security Cell Media, the first attack took place in Nofel village in the town of Miqdadiyah, as “the assailants directly attacked the military base killing two soldiers and injuring several others.” The statement from the security cell also explained that the second attack targeted a military force in the town of Baldarus, killing three soldiers and injuring four others, including an officer. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) previously conducted a multi-phased, joint military campaign in coordination with the Iraqi air force and the International Coalition to neutralize remnants of the Islamic State. However, the terrorist organization remains active in the area.”

Turkey

The Hill: Turkey Doubles Region's Troubles — First In Syria, And Now In Libya

“When a country’s diplomatic style is confrontational, what do you get? Confrontations. It has become Turkey’s signature style. But winning confrontations, or giving the appearance of doing so, can be a challenge. And Ankara may have been wrong-footed in a swiftly worsening crisis, prompted by a new stage in the Libyan civil war. Two weeks ago, the new twist in the crisis looked like a fracas based on rival claims to potential offshore reserves of natural gas in the Mediterranean. Ankara and Tripoli signed an agreement delineating a maritime border. Until then, few realized the two countries had such a border — the Greek island of Crete was in the way. But Turkey does not regard islands as having economic exclusivity stretching up to 200 miles beyond territorial waters. Tripoli now shares this view, even though the administration clutching to power in the Libyan capital controls much less than half of territorial Libya at present, and not even the bit of Mediterranean coastline used to justify the claim. At the time of this cartographic surprise, some speculated that Turkey wanted to annoy Greece — yet again — in order to claim what it regards as its share of potential lucrative natural gas reserves at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. Way to the south, Egypt already is an established producer. Israel’s Leviathan field, which comes on stream this month, will mean that that country now is self-sufficient and can export the surplus, initially via Egyptian gas liquefaction plants.”

Afghanistan

Xinhua: 22 Wounded In Bomb Attack In Afghanistan: Official

“At least 22 people were wounded in a bomb attack in Mazar-i-Sharif, capital of Afghanistan's northern Balkh province on Tuesday, a provincial health official confirmed. “Twenty-two people were admitted to the Balkh Regional Hospital's emergency department following an explosion in Mazar-i-Sharif Tuesday morning,” Shafequllah Shafeq from the hospital told Xinhua. The incident triggered panic among the patients but none of the wounded suffered life-threatening wounds, the official noted. In the meantime, Adil Shah Adil, the provincial police spokesman, told Xinhua that the blast was caused by an improvised explosive device (IED) attached to a bicycle parked at a sidewalk in Alokozai Square of the city at around 9:00 a.m. local time. One Afghan National Police (ANP) officer and five traffic police personnel were among the affected people, Adil added. Security forces have cordoned off the area for precautionary measures. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. Over the past months, big Afghan cities have witnessed a spate of terror attacks by the Taliban insurgents and Islamic State outfit opposing the government.”

Yemen

The National: Yemen's Houthis Kill Five After Village Rejects Conscription Campaign

“Five civilians including a woman were killed and dozens injured after male villagers in central Yemen refused to let Houthi rebels forcefully conscript them. The rebels arrived in the village of Al Masaqira in Al Hada district of central Yemen’s Damar province last Thursday, a government source told The National, but locals refused to join them. “The Houthi rebels attacked Al Masaqira and clashed with residents who refused to send their sons to the fronts to fight with them,” the source said. “The Houthi militia have killed five civilians and injured others so far in a campaign going on for three days.” The source said the militia sent more than 300 fighters backed by military vehicles to the village. “The militia forces imposed a siege around the village, arrested 146 villagers and forcibly displaced women and children, shelling residences.” Three homes were brunt down and several others were damaged by indiscriminate shelling in the village. On Saturday, the Yemeni Minister of the Human Rights, Dr Mohammed Askar, condemned the campaign against the residents of Al Masaqira. Dr Askar called on the international community to deal seriously with the Houthi crimes.”

Lebanon

Wall Street Journal: Protests Paralyze Lebanon’s Search For New Prime Minister

“An upswell in Lebanon’s protests has paralyzed the search for a new prime minister, as political gridlock deepens the country’s economic crisis. President Michel Aoun postponed Monday a series of meetings with members of parliament who appeared poised to name Saad Hariri as prime minister. Mr. Hariri had quit the same post in October in the face of growing protests, but re-emerged after Lebanon’s ruling parties failed to find an alternative compromise candidate acceptable to political elites and protesters. Mr. Aoun’s decision came as clashes between security and protesters escalated over the weekend. The clashes were the most violent yet in the two-month standoff in cities across the small Mediterranean nation. In Beirut, dozens of protesters were injured this weekend after confrontations near Parliament Square with security forces who fired rubber bullets and tear gas. The president’s delay has preserved a combustible status quo. Lebanon’s political elite have been reluctant to make concessions that would sacrifice long-held privileges. Protesters have called for a complete overhaul of the sectarian-based political system.”

Reuters: Lebanese Army Clashes With Supporters Of Hezbollah, Amal In Beirut

“Lebanese troops lobbed tear gas on Tuesday to disperse supporters of Shi’ite groups Hezbollah and Amal who tried to storm a square in Beirut in response to a video that purportedly offended Shi’ite figures, witnesses and media reports said. Hundreds of youths on motorcycles waving their party and religious flags gathered in downtown Beirut chanting “Shi’ites, Shi’ites” and setting fire to tires. They hurled stones and fireworks at security forces standing nearby, witnesses said. Ignoring calls for restraint by politicians, the youths tried to break a security cordon to storm the square where demonstrators have set up tents as part of an anti-government protest that has been going on for weeks. In the vicinity of the area close to a main road that links the capital’s eastern and western sections, scores of youths had burnt tires, smashed office buildings and torched several cars, live coverage by local television stations showed. The protesters camped in the square have been targeted by Shi’ite groups in the past angered by chants against their political leaders, although Tuesday’s violence was of an overtly sectarian nature. The video, which inflamed passions in a country where sectarian divisions run deep, was purportedly made by an expatriate Lebanese Sunni from the northern city of Tripoli and released on social media.”

The Times Of Israel: In 3rd Night Of Violence, Hezbollah Supporters Clash With Security Forces

“Supporters of Lebanon’s two main Shiite groups Hezbollah and Amal clashed with security forces and set fires to cars in the capital early Tuesday, apparently angered by a video circulating online that showed a man insulting Shiite figures. Police used tear gas and water cannons trying to disperse them. It was the third consecutive night of violence, and came hours after Lebanon’s president postponed talks on naming a new prime minister, further prolonging the turmoil and unrest in the Mediterranean country. President Michel Aoun postponed the binding consultations with leaders of parliamentary blocs after the only candidate — caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri — failed to win the backing of the country’s largest Christian groups amid a worsening economic and financial crisis. The postponement followed a violent weekend in the small nation that saw the toughest crackdown on demonstrations in two months. Lebanese security forces repeatedly fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse hundreds of protesters in downtown Beirut in the worst violence since demonstrations against the political elite erupted in mid-October.”

Middle East

Asharq Al-Awsat: Jordan Says Foiled Terrorist Isis Plot

“A Jordanian military court revealed on Sunday that authorities had foiled a terrorist attack by ISIS that had been planned for August. The plotters sought to bomb the intelligence bureau headquarters in the southern Maan province and target general security and police patrols. A judge at the court said the mastermind, who had been previously charged in another ISIS case, formed a terrorist cell soon after serving his sentence for plotting a terror attack. He has since been detained by authorities. The five suspects in the case are residents of Maan. One is a shop owner whose two employees are involved in the plot. The cell had met in Maan in July and started to become radicalized through ISIS media. They planned to carry out attacks in Maan in the name of the organization. Maan is known as a Salafist hotbed in Jordan. Since the eruption of the conflict in Syria, dozens of locals traveled to the neighboring country to join the fight. Many were tried and sentenced upon their return to their home country.”

Al Jazeera: Qatar's Emir Meets Hamas Leader Ismail Haniya In Doha

“Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani met Hamas leader Ismail Haniya in Doha on Monday to discuss the latest developments in Palestinian affairs. It was Haniya's first official visit to Qatar since he succeeded Khaled Meshaal as the head of the Hamas political bureau in the May 2017 elections, after Egypt granted him permission to travel for the first time in three years. His previous position of prime minister was filled by Yahya Sinwar, a former Palestinian prisoner who spent 22 years in Israeli jails. Sheikh Tamim expressed his country's steadfast and supportive stance to the Palestinian people in achieving their legitimate national rights. According to the Qatar News Agency (QNA), Haniya briefed Sheikh Tamim on the latest developments in Palestinian affairs, with special focus on the 12-year blockade on the Gaza Strip. Other issues of importance discussed included Jerusalem, the rampant Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank, and the status of Palestinian refugees and their right of return. The Hamas leader also thanked the emir for Doha's efforts in supporting the Palestinian people.”

Egypt

Egypt Independent: Egypt’s Endowments Ministry Cuts Ties With 7 Imams Linked To ‘Terrorist’ Groups

“Egypt’s Ministry of Endowments terminated on Monday the contracts of seven Imams, or preachers in the Islamic faith, after they were convicted of joining “terrorist groups.” The ministry clarified that the imams, all of whom were based in Ismailia, were terminated on December 16, with the Ministry asking that mosques in the area prohibit the preachers in question from delivering sermons and/or leading the congregation during prayer times. The termination of their contracts was in accordance with Civil Service Law no 81 of 2016 and the executive regulation, the ministry clarified, adding that the decision was circulated throughout the ministry’s directorates and a copy of the notice was received by the ministry’s inspectors and staff. In November, the ministry terminated the contracts of nine imams in Sohag and Qalyubiya and prohibited them from giving Friday sermons in mosques, again over charges that they had joined a “terrorist” organization.”

Libya

Al Jazeera: Egypt's El-Sisi Says Militias Holding Libyan Government 'Hostage'

“Libya's UN-supported government has been held hostage by “terrorist militias” in the capital, Tripoli, Egypt's leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has said. The comments came as the Libyan army denied reports of the imminent fall of Tripoli to forces led by renegade commander Khalifa Haftar. President el-Sisi said in televised comments on Sunday the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) “is not able to have a free and real will because they have been taken hostage”. He did not elaborate and there was no immediate comment from the Tripoli authorities. El-Sisi said the Libyan conflict posed a threat to Egypt's national security because fighters and weapons spill over the border into Egypt. He said Cairo had a right to interfere in Libya “but did not take this step to maintain the relationship and brotherhood with the Libyan people”. Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA), which supports a rival government in the country's east, has besieged the capital since April, vowing to oust the GNA from power. Libya descended into chaos after the 2011 civil war involving NATO air strikes ousted and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi. On Monday, the Libyan army denied recent media reports that Tripoli could soon fall into the hands of Haftar's forces.”

Nigeria

Pulse: NAF Disrupts Boko Haram Meeting, Kills Scores Of Terrorists

“NAF said the insurgents were obliterated as they assembled for a meeting at same area. Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, NAF Director of Public Relations and Information made this known in a statement on Monday in Abuja. Daramola said the operation was conducted through the Air Task Force (ATF) of Operation LAFIYA DOLE on Saturday. ‘The operation was executed on Dec. 14, following credible intelligence reports indicating that some of the ISWAP leaders had assembled for a meeting in one of two buildings at the centre of the settlement.’ ‘The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) jets dispatched by the ATF to attack the location scored accurate hits on the target building completely obliterating it and killing its terrorists’ occupants,’ he said.”

Xinhua: Nigerian Military Airstrikes Hit Boko Haram Meeting Venue

“Airstrikes by the Nigerian military have hit a meeting venue of terror group Boko Haram, killing an unknown number the militants on the fringes of Lake Chad in the northeastern state of Borno. In a statement made available to Xinhua on Monday, the Nigerian air force said the Boko Haram militants were regrouping and holding a meeting in one building at the center of Kollaram, a settlement in Borno, when military fighter jets were deployed to the location on Saturday. The airstrike which followed credible intelligence was part of ongoing efforts by the military to get rid of remnants of the Boko Haram group in the northeast region of Nigeria, the air force said. Boko Haram, which launched attacks in Nigeria's northeast region a decade ago, is known for its agenda to maintain a virtual caliphate in the most populous African country.”

Somalia

All Africa: Somalia: Key Alshabaab Facilitator To Spend 10 Years In Jail For Aiding The Terror Group

“A key al-shabab figure in Mogadishu has been sentenced to 10 years in prison by military court in Mogadishu. Ahmed Ali Aybakar will serve the prison for being a key al Shabaab facilitator in Mogadishu. The court acquitted him of belonging to the terror organization but termed him as a key al Shabaab sympathizer in Somalia's capital. Aybakar was accused of renting houses for members of al Shabaab in his name allowing them free movement within the capital as they plan and execute attacks. Somalia and Turkey host a joint trade exhibition aimed at sensitizing locals on how they can gain entry in the... He was arrested at a Mogadishu hospital in July of this year as he attempted to secure treatment for a wounded al Shabaab member. He had presented the wounded terrorist as his cousin as revealed by court documents as well as that not being the first terrorist he had helped seek treatment. Al-Shabab which is an Al Qaeda affiliate to Somalia has been waging wars against the government and the African Union mission to Somalia in an attempt to overthrew and impose their strict version of the Sharia.”

Air Force Times: AFRICOM’s 60th Airstrike In Somalia This Year Takes Out Terrorist

“U.S. Africa Command, in coordination with the government of Somalia, conducted an airstrike targeting an al-Shabaab terrorist in the vicinity of Dujuuma, Somalia, Dec. 16. The one terrorist was killed, according to a news release from AFRICOM, and no civilians were injured or killed in the attack. “The removal of al-Shabaab terrorists increases the security of the Somali people as these terrorists indiscriminately attack and extort innocent civilians and destabilize the elected government,” said Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Bradford J. Gering, AFRICOM’s deputy director of operations. “The Somali National Army and their partners have made significant strides in targeting al-Shabaab terrorists in order to deny them the ability to plot attacks against the people of Somalia.” Townsend is slated to visit Somali President Mohamed Abdullah Farmaajo and Chief of Defense Brig. Gen. Odawa Yusuf Raage on Nov. 5, according to AFRICOM. He visited Djibouti on Monday. U.S. Africa Command has conducted 60 airstrikes in 2019 against ISIS-Somalia and al-Shabaab militants, leadership, infrastructure, fighting positions and equipment — eight against ISIS-Somalia and 52 against al-Shabaab, said Col. Christopher Karns, AFRICOM’s director of public affairs.”

United Kingdom

Express: Christmas Terror Fears: Undercover Police To Patrol British Festive Fairs

“The security specialists will be armed and positioned in popular locations across the UK. A security source said: “You have the SAS working in a covert capacity at these key locations. They will react and respond accordingly should something happen. “They are there to identify any hostile reconnaissance or suspicious behaviour.” The country's terror threat level remains at substantial – which is the middle of the five-tier system. It was reduced to “severe” just weeks before convicted terrorist Usman Khan's multiple murders on London Bridge. This means an attack remains “likely” amid the ongoing threat from lone wolf terrorists and ISIS. Experts said terrorists consider it a major coup if they can successfully carry out an attack during the Christmas period. Professor Anthony Glees, from the University of Buckingham, told Daily Star Online: “The markets are seen as iconic sites to attack by jihadists because they're about Christmas and Christianity, they are markets that attract a lot of people and they are usually in sites that are hard to defend and usually undefended.” Security expert Will Geddes added: “Attacks at Christmas are symbolic, but it's also due to the open crowded public spaces.”

France

The National: French Foreign Minister Warns Of Terror Threat 'Arc' From Mali To The Middle East

“French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has warned of an emerging “arc of terrorist groups” running from West Africa to the Middle East. His comments came after 71 soldiers were killed in Niger in an attack carried out by hundreds of extremists and claimed by ISIS. Mr Le Drian, speaking to French broadcaster France Inter, said: “What is at stake in the Sahel [sub-Saharan Africa] is … the stability of the territory, but also our own security.” France’s military presence in sub-Saharan Africa from August 2014 has been criticised by some of its African partners. In the wake of a helicopter collision that killed 13 French soldiers, President Emmanuel Macron called on leaders of the G5 Sahel group to “clarify” their position on continued French military operations. Defending the French military presence in the region, Mr Le Drian said: “We are only there to fight terrorism.” Describing a terror threat stretching from war-torn Mali and the sub-Saharan region of Africa to the Middle East, the foreign minister said that ISIS remained a significant threat. “Daesh [ISIS] is not dead. Daesh has suffered defeats, but the fact remains that this threat is permanent,” he said. “We greatly underestimate the risk posed by Daesh fighters,” he added.”

Germany

Radio Free Europe: Germany Charges Kosovar Man With Supporting Islamic State

“German prosecutors say they have charged a man from Kosovo with supporting the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria. The suspect, identified only as Hasan B. in line with German privacy regulations, was charged in Hamburg earlier this month, federal prosecutors said on December 16. A statement said the suspect has been in custody since his arrest in June. Prosecutors said Hasan B. was charged on December 4 with supporting a foreign terrorist organization on allegations he facilitated the transfer of funds to an IS fighter in Syria 11 times in 2016 and 2017 and contributed “a three-digit amount” from his own money, as well. He is also accused of transferring money to a Macedonian national in 2015 to help him travel to Syria to fight alongside the IS group. Also in 2015, the accused is said to have opened a Facebook account for an IS member before helping him use the account to spread the group’s propaganda. The statement did not provide further details. Since 2012, some 400 citizens of Muslim-majority Kosovo have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight on the side of IS. Dozens of them have been killed.”

Europe

Al Jazeera: Refugees Or Hijackers? Teenagers Charged With Terrorism In Malta

“In March this year, a group of more than 100 migrants embarked upon an already deflating raft to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya. Their rescue story would later become a landmark case in Malta, a key first port of entry for migrants hoping to reach Europe. Three teenagers are now facing life imprisonment for their part in the story. According to radio transcripts documenting the rescue mission, an aircraft deployed by the European Union's naval operation to combat refugee smuggling in the Mediterranean spotted the sinking raft and called upon the El Hiblu 1, a commercial oil tanker on its way from Istanbul to Tripoli, to take the migrants back to Tripoli. Those rescued said the ship's chief officer swore on the Quran to take them to Europe. However, the next day, they woke up to see the coastline not of Europe, but of Libya - a country widely condemned for abuses against migrants including detention, rape, torture and human trafficking. They began to shout in protest and, according to some media reports, bang tools on the side of the boat. The chief officer communicated to Maltan authorities that he was turning the boat towards Valletta after he had lost command of his ship - rhetoric that was reinforced by the media and politicians, who described the migrants as “pirates” and “hijackers.”

Southeast Asia

Voice Of America: Indonesia Steps Up Investigation After Militant Attack On Police

“Police in Central Sulawesi say they are continuing their hunt for members of a militant group suspected of attacking local police officers last week.Authorities in the Indonesian province said Sunday the attack that killed one police officer was carried out by a group known as the East Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT).  Five gunmen ambushed villagers and held them and police officers hostage. The officers had just returned from Friday prayers at a small mosque near a police station in Central Sulawesi's Salubanga village, according to local police. Local officials said the attackers immediately fled from the vicinity. “Our members who were in the bulkhead post had a chance to fight back and ask for help from the closest post. As a result … one of our personnel on duty at the post by the name of Muhamad Saepul Muhdori has died,” said Sugeng Lestari, Central Sulawesi's police commissioner. The hostages reportedly managed to escape the scene as the militants exchanged gunfire with police. MIT, a U.N.-designated terrorist group, is mostly active in Indonesia's Java and Sulawesi province, with some presence in eastern provinces. While it is unclear how many fighters are in MIT, the group reportedly has ties with other terrorist groups in the country and abroad.”

The Straits Times: Indonesia Boosts Christmas Security Over Potential Terror Threat

“Muslim-majority Indonesia will deploy nearly 200,000 security personnel nationwide ahead of Christmas to guard against potential terror attacks, police said on Tuesday (Dec 17). The South-east Asian archipelago of 260 million has significant numbers of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists who have been targeted by radical Islamist groups. On Tuesday, the authorities said some 192,000 police and military personnel would be deployed to secure Christmas and New Year's Eve celebrations across the country - including in easternmost Papua, a predominantly Christian region. The deployment, which comes after a recent spate of attacks, is more than the 167,000 personnel deployed last year. “As many as 10,000 personnel will be deployed in Jakarta” alone, said National Police spokesman Argo Yuwono. “Based on intelligence data, there are potential risks... so we're taking preventive measures but we are also ready to take proactive action,” he added. Many past attacks in Indonesia, which has dozens of groups loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) violent ideology, have been against police and other state symbols. The authorities routinely arrest suspected ISIS-linked militants ahead of alleged planned attacks.”

Technology

Axios: The FTC's Preemptive Strike On Facebook

“News that the Federal Trade Commission is weighing immediate action to block Facebook's effort to integrate its messaging products casts a pall over the company's plans, whether or not regulators actually follow through. The big picture: CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in January, 2019 that Facebook would integrate the technical foundations of its messaging services — Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Facebook described the plan as motivated by engineering and business concerns, but critics noted that it would set roadblocks for any future effort to break Facebook up by unwinding its acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram. Driving the news: The Wall Street Journal reported late last week that the FTC was considering seeking a preliminary injunction to bar Facebook from proceeding with its integration plan. The FTC has not commented publicly.”

Yahoo Finance: Terror Group ISIS Testing Blockchain Messaging App

“The terror group ISIS is reportedly trying out a blockchain-based messaging app to escape scrutiny from its enemies. And chillingly, the use of blockchain could bring with it the ability to transfer cryptocurrency anywhere in the world. Until a recent law enforcement crackdown, the jihadists used Telegram to spread propaganda and send orders. But now it appears the extremists are exploring using the anonymous and encrypted BCM app. “The app’s core features of anonymity, encryption, and large group chat sizes also pose a great risk for adoption,” Brenna Smith, a cryptocrime researcher, wrote in her Cryptosint newsletter last week. “Extremists covet technologies that can get their message out to thousands all while concealing their identity.” She added: “A critical aspect of BCM is that it has a cryptocurrency wallet that lets users send, store, and receive Bitcoin and Ethereum — a feature that could easily be abused by extremists.” “It’s been widely reported that crypto platforms with no user identification become cesspools for criminal activity. “Compounded with BCM potentially launching its own exchange platform in the future, what would stop the app from becoming a major hub for terror financing?”