Eye on Extremism: December 20, 2019

The Daily Beast: ‘Jihad Is The Way To Go’: Connecticut Man Charged With Trying To Fight For ISIS

“After tips from Islamic Centers in two different states, authorities arrested a Connecticut man they allege attempted to travel overseas to join the Islamic State. Kevin Imam McCormick, 26, was charged on Oct. 21 with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization after a months-long FBI investigation and allegedly pledging his allegiance to ISIS and its leader in a video. “I do like, I do like ISIS because Abu Musa was like my hero, I cry when I watch that video,” he said during one conversation with an FBI informant, according to court documents unsealed Thursday. The Department of Justice did not issue a press release announcing the October arrest until after the publication of this article. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Connecticut stated that McCormick is currently being detained but declined to provide additional comments. His defense attorneys have not responded to repeated requests for comment. According to the federal affidavit, the FBI was first alerted to McCormick, a former truck driver, on Aug. 24, when members from another state reported that McCormick had stated “we should support ISIS” and “Jihad is the way to go.” The community members also told authorities McCormick had asked about “circumcision and wanted a doctor that could help him with the procedure.”

The Washington Post: Inside The Taliban’s Afghanistan, Violence Remains The Path To Power

“Deep inside Taliban territory, high in the mountains that line the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, a top-ranking militant commander cradling a Kalashnikov boasted of the group's victory against the Islamic State here. He declared that “when the Taliban comes, the peace will also come.”But a deadly Taliban attack on the U.S. military base in Bagram just hours earlier undermined his message of comity. Even as the group dispatched negotiators to forge a peace deal with the United States, commanders and fighters were describing a militancy committed to the use of violence to achieve its goal of regaining political power after more than 18 years at war with U.S. and Afghan forces. The extraordinary briefing earlier this month by the acting director of the Taliban’s military operations, Moulawi Muhammad Ali Jan Ahmed, for a small group of Western journalists signaled the militants’ quest for legitimacy on the global stage after years of being seen as enemy combatants. The Taliban controls or contests roughly half of Afghanistan, and peace talks could formalize the group’s power. “For the last 18 years, we have fought the Afghan government and the Americans, and our struggle will continue,” said Ahmed, dressed in a black turban and camouflage jacket and flanked by deputies and aides.”

The Wall Street Journal: Germany’s Parliament Moves To Ban Hezbollah

“Germany’s parliament adopted a motion on Thursday urging the government to ban Hezbollah from operating in the country in the latest move by a Western nation to isolate the Iran-backed Lebanese movement. The motion was initiated by lawmakers in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc and backed by the center-left Social Democrats—the junior partner in her coalition—with support from some opposition representatives. Government officials said the broad backing made it likely the government would act on the motion early next year. Hezbollah—Arabic for the Party of God—is a political group that represents Shiite Muslims in Lebanon and has close ties to Iran. Its militia fights on behalf of Tehran in Syria and across the Middle East, but the group is also an important part of the governing coalition in Lebanon and its supporters credit it with helping to strengthen the country’s security. In the motion adopted on Thursday, German lawmakers said all activities of Hezbollah, including fundraising, should be banned in Germany. It also called on Berlin to lobby other European countries no longer to treat the political group separately from its anti-Israel military wing, which is already mostly banned from operating in Europe.”

The New York Times: Israel Strikes Militant Targets In Response To Gaza Fire

“The Israeli air force struck a number of Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip late Thursday in response to the launch of a projectile into southern Israel. The military said it attacked an underground installation, a naval target and a military compound. There were no reports of casualties. The airstrikes came shortly after Palestinian militants fired a projectile toward Israel, setting off air raid sirens in southern border communities. The army gave no details on where the projectile landed. But Channel 12 TV said militants had fired a mortar shell that landed in an open area. It was the second bout of fighting in less than 24 hours. Early Thursday, the Israeli air force struck several militant targets in Gaza in response to a rocket attack. The rocket was intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome air defense system. No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the rocket fire. Israel usually blames Gaza's ruling Hamas group for all attacks emanating from Gaza. With help from Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations, Hamas and Israel are seeking to strengthen “understandings” meant to boost calm and prevent further cross-border violence. The bitter enemies have fought three wars and numerous smaller spats of violence since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.”

Financial Times: UK’s Counter-Terrorism Programme Receives Surge In Far-Right Referrals

“The number of people referred to the UK government’s Prevent counter-extremism programme over far-right radicalism has almost doubled in three years, according to official statistics. A total of 1,389 people were directed to Prevent because of rightwing concerns in the year to March 2019, an annual rise of 6 per cent and a new record. That number is almost double the figure from 2015/16. By contrast, the number of suspected Islamist extremists being referred to Prevent was 1,404, a drop of 56 per cent in a year and far below the peak of 5,000 in 2015/16. In September, counterterror police named far-right terrorism as the fastest-growing threat to the UK, although they said that jihadis still represented the more severe danger. Neil Basu, the UK’s head of counter-terrorism, revealed then that seven out of 22 plots foiled since March 2017 had been linked to white supremacist ideology, with some of the proponents mimicking techniques used in jihadist attacks. Prevent, which has been running for more than a decade, is intended to safeguard vulnerable people from being turned into extremists. It seeks to identify those at risk and provide them with mental health support, training and mentoring.”

The New York Times: In Wake Of U.S. Base Shooting Pentagon Finds No New Threat From Saudi Students

“The Pentagon said on Thursday that it found no threat in its review of about 850 military students from Saudi Arabia studying in the United States, following a Dec. 6 shooting by a Saudi Air Force officer who killed three people at a base in Florida. "We can report that no information indicating an immediate threat scenario was discovered," said Garry Reid, a director for defense intelligence, counter-intelligence, law enforcement and security, briefing Pentagon reporters. The conclusion clears the way for the U.S. military services to, at their discretion, lift a freeze on operational training that had grounded Saudi military pilots and had restricted Saudi air crews to infantry officers to classwork. The FBI has said U.S. investigators believe Saudi Air Force Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, acted alone at a U.S. Navy base in Pensacola before he was fatally shot by a deputy sheriff. A group that tracks online extremism has said Alshamrani appeared to have posted criticism of U.S. wars in predominantly Muslim countries and quoted slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Twitter hours before the shooting.”

United States

CNN: Investigation Finds Washington State Congressman Took Part In 'Domestic Terrorism'

“A Republican state lawmaker in Washington is accused of participating “in an act of domestic terrorism against the United States,” according to a new report released Thursday by the Washington State House Republicans on their website. According to the report, Rep. Matt Shea is the subject of an investigation that was commissioned by the Washington State House Representatives to find out whether he “engaged in, planned, or promoted political violence.” Rampart Group LLC investigators say the investigation was sparked by “public allegations made against [Shea] in news media and online reporting,” the report said. According to the report, “[i]nvestigators have obtained evidence that Representative Shea, as a leader of the Patriot Movement, planned, engaged in, and promoted a total of three armed conflicts of political violence against the United States Government in three states outside the State of Washington over a three-year period to include 2014, 2015 and 2016.” Investigators say Shea declined their request for an interview. CNN has been unable to reach him for comment. Late Thursday, there was a Facebook post that appeared to be from Shea, saying in part, “Like we are seeing with our President this is a sham investigation meant to silence those of us who stand up against attempts to disarm and destroy our great country. I will not back down, I will not give in, I will not resign.”

New York Mag: Eleven Years After Obama’s Election, And Three Years Into The Trump Presidency, The Threat Of Domestic Terrorism Can’t Be Ignored.

“When Dylann Storm Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, he joined the Bible-study class before gunning down nine African-Americans as they prayed. Roof still communicates with his admirers on the outside. In jail, he began exchanging letters with a man in Arkansas named Billy Roper. A former schoolteacher and the son and grandson of Klansmen, Roper leads the Shield Wall Network, a group of several dozen white nationalists who organize rallies and conferences — often collaborating with neighboring hate groups — with the goal of building a white ethno-state. “I have a lot of empathy for him. I’m 47, and he’s young enough to be my son,” Roper said of Roof when interviewed recently for this project. “These millennials and now, I guess, Gen-Zers that are coming up, they are not stupid about the demographic trends and what they portend for the future. That angst, that anxiety that plagues them, drives them to do rash things — whether it’s that rash or not — I can empathize with.” I would humbly suggest we believe that Roper is being sincere, and that he speaks for many. Roper and Roof are only two of those affiliated with the 148 white-nationalist hate groups in this country.”


Voice Of America: Russia Seeks To Build Local Force In Northeast Syria

“Russia has been working to establish a new military force in the Kurdish-majority, northeastern part of Syria with the aim to deploy those troops and hardware to areas along the Syria-Turkey border, local sources told VOA. The military force reportedly would replace a U.S.-backed, Kurdish-armed group that Turkey claims are terrorists. "The Russians have already opened recruitment centers in two towns in our region, including Amuda and Tal Tamr," said a Kurdish journalist, requesting anonymity. He told VOA he knows "several young people who have signed up to join this force," adding that Russia is primarily "recruiting ethnic Kurds." Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, confirmed to VOA that Russian efforts were under way to build an allied force in the Kurdish region. Kurdish military officials said they were aware of Russia's plans, noting the new fighters will largely be used for patrol missions, along with Russian troops in the area.”

Foreign Policy: Who Exactly Is Turkey Resettling In Syria?

“Just two months after the launch of Turkey’s most recent incursion into Syria, dubbed Operation Peace Spring, civilians’ return to areas now occupied by Turkish forces has already begun. Turkey launched its long-anticipated operation in October in order to clear the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the border region of Syria and Turkey and create a so-called safe zone to settle millions of Syrian refugees who fled to Turkey over the course of the Syrian war. The Turkish government deems the YPG a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a decadeslong and deadly campaign for Kurdish autonomy inside Turkey. According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 75,000 people still remain displaced from areas in northeast Syria and are now sheltering in relatives’ homes and camps for internally displaced people after fleeing the Turkish operation. More than 17,000 people have crossed the border to Iraqi Kurdistan to seek safety, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The return of Syrians to their homes in the northeast is highly politicized. Considering the underpinnings of the operation, the return of Syrians to their homes in the northeast is highly politicized.”

Gulf News: More Than 60 Dead In Latest Syria Clashes: War Monitor

“Clashes between Syrian regime forces and armed groups in the country’s last major opposition bastion have killed more than 60 on both sides in the past 24 hours despite UN calls for de-escalation, a war monitoring group said Friday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 38 jallied rebels had been killed in battles with regime forces in the northwestern province of Idlib since Thursday night. The fighting near the rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan also killed 23 Syrian regime loyalists, the Observatory said. Russian warplanes, meanwhile, pounded areas around Maaret al-Numan and the nearby town of Saraqib with a series of air strikes, according to the war monitor. The flare-up triggered a wave of displacement from nearby areas, said an AFP correspondent there. Yasser Ibrahim al-Dandal said he was fleeing with his family to olive groves in northern Idlib, where they would sleep out in the open. “Hundreds of rockets hit Maarat al-Numan,” he told AFP. “The situation is very bad.”

The New York Times: Where Doctors Are Criminals

“There was the medical student who volunteered in eastern Aleppo even after his classmates were tortured and killed as a warning. There was the pharmacist who smuggled drugs past government checkpoints to cancer patients who needed them. There was the pediatrics medic who relied on expired medicines taken from an abandoned factory. Each took enormous risks to provide medical care to areas in Syria aligned against President Bashar al-Assad. Some were imprisoned and tortured, evidence of how the nearly 9-year-old conflict in Syria has normalized the criminalization of medical care. Physicians for Human Rights, which has documented the collapse of Syria’s health care system, said in a recently released study that Mr. al-Assad has successfully made medical assistance given to his enemies a terrorist act. The study is based on interviews with 21 formerly detained Syrian health care workers who have fled the country. None wished to be identified by name, fearing retribution against their families or themselves if they ever returned. The New York Times independently interviewed three of them. It also interviewed an emergency medic of an underground hospital, the subject of “The Cave,” an acclaimed 2019 documentary, who was so overcome by bombings she abandoned her aspirations to be a pediatrician.”


Kurdistan 24: Iraqi Forces Launch Anti-ISIS Operation In Anbar Desert

“Backed by the international anti-Islamic State coalition, Iraqi forces on Thursday carried out a military campaign to find sleeper cell hideouts of the extremist group in an inhospitable stretch of territory in the western province of Anbar. This marks the latest operation Iraq has conducted in and around central Anbar’s Wadi Houran, or Houran Valley, as well as additional locations. The areas are all characterized by rugged, barren terrain that has been a haven for members of the terrorist organization who use them as a base from which to plan and launch attacks in surrounding settlements and towns since its territorial collapse two years ago. An Iraqi military statement said that the operation aims to “search Wadi Houran, the Husayniyyat area, south of Al-Qaim, and the border areas” adjacent to Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The statement explained that local Hashd al-Ashayari, or Tribal Mobilization Forces, took part in the multi-front push against the so-called Islamic State’s militants, with air support provided by the national air force and the coalition. Although Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State in December 2017, the extremist group continues to launch regular attacks, including bombings, kidnappings, and ambushes against both Iraqi security forces, Kurdish forces, and civilians in areas liberated from its control as well as in major cities it never took over, such as Baghdad and Kirkuk.”

Kurdistan 24: Kurdish Villagers In Iraq's Disputed Makhmour District Repel ISIS Attack

“On Thursday night, residents of a Kurdish village in the disputed Iraqi district of Makhmour repelled an insurgent attack of the Islamic State, according to Kurdish military officials. The Ministry of Peshmerga, in an official statement released on their Facebook page, announced that on Thursday at 7 pm, the terrorist group’s militants attempted to infiltrate the village of Ali-Rash, located in Baqrte sub-district. Residents of the village who are members of the Peshmerga, according to the statement, faced the intruders head-on, leading to armed clashes between them. As the residents worked together to stave off the attack, the perpetrators eventually withdrew into the darkness. Soon after, the ministry released a video in which a portion of the battle is heard and briefly seen. One of the fighters who worked to defend the village told local media that a unit of “special forces from the Iraqi military arrived in the village after the attack to prevent any further insurgent operations in the area.” He also claimed that residents were well aware that “around 1,000 ISIS members exist in the foothills of Qarachokh Mountain in Makhmour district who are active during the night time.”

Xinhua: 8 IS Militants Killed In 2 Rocket Attacks In Iraq

“A total of eight Islamic State (IS) militants were killed on Thursday in two rocket attacks in Iraq's central province of Salahudin, the Iraqi military said. Iraqi security forces conducted a rocket attack targeting five IS militants on three motorcycles as they entered a hideout in Qara-Chokh Mountain in the northern part of Salahudin province, killing all the militants, according to a statement by the media office affiliated with the Iraqi Joint Operations Command (JOC). Later on, the troops fired another rocket on the same site when three IS militants came to evacuate the casualties of the first attack, killing them all, the JOC statement said. The security situation in Iraq has been dramatically improved after Iraqi security forces declared they had fully defeated the extremist IS militants across the country late in 2017. IS remnants, however, have since melted or regrouped in urban areas or resorted to deserts and rugged areas as safe havens, carrying out frequent guerilla attacks against security forces and civilians despite operations from time to time to hunt them down.”


The New York Times: Turkey Denies Allowing Hamas To Operate On Turkish Soil

“Turkey on Thursday denied accusations that a militant Palestinian group is using its territory to plan attacks against Israel. The denial came following media reports that claimed that Turkey was turning a blind eye as commanders of the Hamas group were allegedly ordering attacks against Israel from Istanbul. The Turkish Foreign Ministry rejected the report on its Twitter account. “We firmly reject the accusation that the Turkish territory is being used for any act against Israel or any other country,” the ministry said. The ministry added, however, that Turkey and other countries don't consider Hamas as a terrorist group “but as a political reality which has won the elections in Gaza back in 2006.” “Various countries, including Turkey, have contacts with Hamas at different levels,” the ministry said. In 2011, 11 Hamas prisoners who were freed from jails in Israel arrived in Istanbul as part of a prisoner exchange deal between the Palestinians and Israel. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who touts himself as the champion of the Palestinian cause, met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah in Istanbul on Saturday. Once close allies, ties between Israel and Turkey have been tense since 2010, when 10 Turkish citizens were killed by Israeli forces as a Turkish-led flotilla tried to break Israel's blockade on the Gaza Strip.”


NBC News: Taliban Aiming For An 'Inclusive' Afghan Government, Spokesman Says

“As the Taliban and the United States inch closer toward a deal that would have U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan, the militant group's leaders are trying to present themselves as a political movement ready to responsibly wield power. Suhail Shaheen, a senior Taliban spokesman, recently told NBC News that the Taliban was willing to form a government that includes allies of President Ashraf Ghani. “We want an inclusive government because that will guarantee a stable government in the country. Otherwise we will have fighting,” Shaheen said. The Taliban has so far rejected official negotiations with the Ghani administration, labeling it a “stooge” government. Shaheen did not elaborate on what an “inclusive” government means in practice or whether it amounted to a democracy. The Taliban has misled the media in the past and has consistently rejected taking part in elections and called on Afghans to boycott votes. Shaheen also said that shortly after signing the deal with the U.S., the Taliban would take part in an “intra-Afghan” negotiation with the aim of establishing a government in which all Afghans can participate. He added that the Taliban would consider the Afghan government as one faction of the non-Taliban side but would still not recognize it as legitimate.”

Saudi Arabia

Bloomberg: Saudi Theater Stabbing Was ‘Ordered By Al-Qaeda,’ State TV Says

“The suspect in a stabbing of performers during a live show in a Saudi theater last month acted on the orders of an Al-Qaeda leader in Yemen, Saudi state TV reported, without saying where it got the information. Al Ekhbariya on Thursday posted on its Twitter account footage appearing to show a man storm a stage during a live performance. A 33-year-old Yemeni resident of Saudi Arabia was held after the November attack. The victims, a woman and two men, were treated for superficial wounds. A criminal court has begun trial hearings on the case, according to Al Ekhbariya. Attacks by Al-Qaeda have declined significantly since a wave of bombings by the militant group in the early 2000s shook the kingdom.”


The Washington Post: Selection Of Hezbollah-Backed Prime Minister Triggers New Strife In Lebanon

“Lebanon has designated a new prime minister, whose candidacy was proposed by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement, a move that risks provoking further political unrest and alienating the country’s Western allies just when Lebanon most needs international support for its rapidly collapsing economy. Hassan Diab, a little-known engineering professor and former education minister who is from Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim community, was tasked Thursday with forming a government by the country’s Christian party president, Michel Aoun, after a day of consultations with political blocs showed that Diab commanded majority support in parliament. Few, however, expected his unexpected and controversial selection to survive either the immediate popular backlash that erupted on the streets or the scrutiny of the international community. His appointment not only runs counter to Lebanon’s long tradition of consensual politics but also appears to affirm that Hezbollah is indeed the most powerful political player in Lebanon, potentially deterring future Western aid. Lebanese leaders have been under pressure for weeks to choose a new prime minister to replace Saad Hariri, who resigned after nationwide protests erupted in Lebanon in October.”


Al Monitor: Egypt Reinforces Security Ahead Of Christmas Season

“Egyptian security forces were heavily deployed in Cairo and other governorates over the past few days in a campaign to protect churches, some mosques and vital economic facilities ahead of the New Year and Christmas celebrations. The army’s rapid deployment forces assisted the internal security forces in the mission. This is not the first time the Egyptian army has been deployed to provide protection. These forces were previously assigned to protect religious establishments in Sinai. The parliamentary National Defense and Security Committee approved the government's request in August 2016 to extend the law allowing armed forces to assist law enforcement agencies in protecting government and public facilities for a period of five years, ending August 2021. A media official with the Ministry of Interior told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the security forces are currently preparing to protect economic facilities and churches in the governorates, especially those that have been previously targeted by extremists. “Mosques affiliated with the Sufi order will also be protected, especially as they have been targeted before,” he said, recalling the bloody attack on al-Rawda mosque in North Sinai in November 2017.”


All Africa: Kenya: How Dusit Attack Marked Recast Of Local Terrorism

“The first sign that something big was happening at Dusit luxury hotel and complex in Westlands, Nairobi, on January 15 came through tweets. The tweets started coming first from people who had heard gunshots at the hotel but quickly escalated into cries for help. “14 Riverside under massive attack. Gunshots all over, someone out there please help. Thousands of lives in danger,” tweeted Aggie Assimwe Konde. I remember this tweet because Ms Konde -- whom I later learned worked at Msingi offices on the first floor of the building directly opposite DusitD2 Hotel -- kept the Nation informed about her ordeal until she was rescued later at night. Within minutes the newsroom switched to breaking news mode. While everyone agreed that the upscale Dusit complex was under attack, there was uncertainty on whether it was a terrorist attack or a robbery. Officers from the nearby Australian embassy were the first to respond to gunshots from the complex and confirm that it was a terror attack. Earlier, a grey Toyota car -- with three male occupants -- had tried to force its way into the complex following an explosion at the Secret Garden Restaurant on the premises, prompting police officers on guard at the gate to deflate its tyres.”

North Korea

The Wall Street Journal: North Korean Workers Flock Home As Sanctions Deadline Hits

“Wearing a Nike coat and an Adidas hat, a North Korean laborer waited with 60 compatriots to board a flight home from this city in Russia’s Far East. After three years of construction work, the laborer, Mr. Ri, was returning with $600, after his pay was docked for missed work due to an injury. He said he would miss his life in Russia, where he enjoyed watching the South Korean news on his mobile phone—until his North Korean handlers confiscated it three months ago to deter defections. “At least I’m taking back some money from Russia. I won’t receive anything working in Pyongyang,” Mr. Ri said. Hundreds of North Korean laborers are streaming out of Russia every day, thinning out a workforce that once stood at 30,000. Only several thousand remain. On most days this month, North Korean airline Air Koryo flies twice from Vladivostok to Pyongyang, up from twice a week earlier this year. The exodus was mandated in 2017 by the United Nations Security Council. Tightening sanctions in response to North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the Security Council barred countries from issuing new worker permits and said they would have to expel the regime’s workers within two years.”

United Kingdom

The Telegraph: Jihadi Referrals To Prevent Fall Despite Police Admitting Islamist Extremism Is Still Main Security Threat Facing UK

“Jihadi referrals to the anti-radicalism programme Prevent have declined, despite a senior police officer admitting ISIS-inspired extremism is still the main security threat facing Britain. The number of Islamist referrals to Prevent from March 2018 to 2019 dropped 56 per cent, from 3,197 to 1,404. Introduced in 2003, Prevent has attracted wide criticism for being racially prejudiced, sparking concerns this could be behind the drop in referrals. But national counter terror coordinator, Chief Superintendent Nik Adams, said the reduction is due to a growing public perception that “the Islamist threat has lessened over time.” Mr Adams warned members of the public to not get complacent in reporting concerns with jihadi extremism despite a drop in the number of large scale terror attacks occurring in the UK. The terror attack in London Bridge last month, where Cambridge University graduates Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones were killed, “reinforces” the “enduring threat” from Islamist terrorism, Mr Adams said. “Within our investigations nationally, we still see significant risks from ISIS inspired terrorism. That is not going away anytime soon,” Mr Adams told the Telegraph.”

BBC News: Kent Man Charged With Right-Wing Terrorism Offences

“A man has been charged with right-wing terrorism offences. George Fowle, 19, of Snodland in Kent, was arrested on 18 June at London Heathrow Airport. He is charged with two counts of possessing material likely to be of use to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, contrary to section 58 of the Terrorism Act (2000). Mr Fowle, of Lucas Road, is due to appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court on 6 January.”


The National: Irish Woman Accused Of ISIS Membership Released On Bail

“An Irish woman accused of being a member of ISIS was released on bail on Thursday after successfully appealing a decision by a Dublin court. Lisa Smith, from Dundalk, near the border with Northern Ireland, travelled to Syria in 2015 where she married British ISIS fighter Sajid Aslam, who later died in fighting. The 38-year-old former Irish Defence Forces member escaped the Ain Issa camp in October and was deported from Turkey on December 1 along with her two-year-old daughter, who was born in Syria. Questioned for three days on her return to Ireland, Ms Smith was charged with being a member of the extremist group. Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecution said the state believed Ms Smith was a flight risk but the alleged ISIS member appealed the decision to deny her bail, pleading that she be freed to spend time with her daughter. Justice Robert Eager granted bail, saying Ms Smith was entitled to the presumption of innocence. Ms Smith has been held at Limerick Prison since December 4 and is facing an eight-year sentence for membership of a terrorist organisation. Her daughter is being cared for by relatives. While on bail, Ms Smith must comply with a series of strict conditions.”

Reuters: Ex-Islamic State Fighters, Women And Children Return To Bosnia From Syria

“A group of 25 former Islamic State fighters, women and children, some of them orphaned, returned to Bosnia on Thursday, the prosecutor’s office and the security ministry said. Seven men have been handed over to the state prosecutor while six women and 12 children were taken to a reception center for further examination and medical assistance, the security ministry said. Some had been sought on international arrest warrants and the suspects were under investigation for the offences of organizing a terrorist group, joining foreign paramilitary groups, and terrorism, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. Bosnia’s state court has tried and convicted 46 people who returned from Syria or Iraq over the past few years. Islamic State lost its last territorial foothold in Syria in March this year and many of its militants are now believed to be in Kurdish-run prisons in northern Syria.”

Southeast Asia

The New York Times: In Japan, Iran’s President May Be Seeking A Line To The U.S.

“President Hassan Rouhani of Iran arrived in Japan on Friday for talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, amid speculation that Mr. Rouhani may seek to use the two countries’ friendly relationship to open a new line of communication with the Trump administration. The meeting comes as Mr. Rouhani faces steep challenges at home and abroad. American sanctions on oil sales, imposed by President Trump after he pulled the United States out of the 2015 global deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, have crippled Iran’s economy. And Iran has faced a growing backlash in the Middle East since it crushed a nationwide antigovernment uprising in November. Analysts said Japan, which is trusted by both the United States and Iran, could be well positioned to broker a new dialogue between the two countries, after the collapse of similar efforts by France. Kazuo Takahashi, a professor emeritus at the Open University of Japan who specializes in Middle East politics, said Mr. Rouhani hoped to show with his visit that Iran was still respected and not isolated, “and that he may even be able to get some concessions from Japan or the United States.”

The Washington Post: Maldives Arrests 3 Suspected Religious Extremists On Island

“Maldives police said they have raided a religious group that kept women and children isolated on an island and arrested three people suspected of spreading violent extremism. Mohamed Basheer, a police officer in charge of serious and organized crime, said in a television interview that the raid was conducted Wednesday on the island northeast of the capital, Male. Police said they received information about an isolated “quasi community” on the island that deprived women and children of their basic rights. The group forced women and children to sever all ties with the outside world, prevented children from attending schools and being vaccinated, and forced them into child marriages, a police statement said. It said the group promoted radicalization and the recruiting of people for foreign extremist organizations. The Indian Ocean archipelago nation, known for its luxury resorts, is majority Sunni Muslim and practicing or preaching other faiths is banned by law. The country is reported to have had the highest number of foreign fighters in Syria, where the Islamic State group was active. Police say some of them have returned to the Maldives and are spreading radical ideologies there, according to the Maldives Independent newspaper.”


The Wall Street Journal: Facial-Recognition Software Suffers From Racial Bias, U.S. Study Finds

“A far-reaching government analysis of the most widely used facial recognition algorithms found most of them appeared to suffer from racial bias, misidentifying Asian- and African-Americans far more often than Caucasians. The study released Thursday is the largest ever of its kind. It amplifies concerns artificial intelligence algorithms don’t treat individuals equally. Other research performed by academia and government investigators has shown facial-recognition algorithms sold by numerous tech companies fail to identify minorities and women at higher rates than white men. The research, conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology—a laboratory affiliated with the Commerce Department—found significant differences in accuracy when an algorithm is used to compare two photos to determine whether it is the same person. Such checks might, for instance, be performed by an immigration officer trying to identify a person in a passport photo. The study also found bias when algorithms are used to pick a person out of an image of a crowd, in instances such as when police are looking for a person of interest."”

Insider: Over 267 Million Facebook Users Had Their Names, Phone Numbers, And Profiles Exposed Thanks To A Public Database, Researcher Says

“Cybersecurity researchers said on Thursday that more than 267 million Facebook users had their personal data exposed in an online database that collected their names, Facebook IDs, and phone numbers. The database was available online without a password to anyone who accessed it for about two weeks, according to Comparitech, a tech website, and Bob Diachenko, a data-security researcher. Diachenko said that 267,140,436 records were exposed and that most of the people affected are from the United States. The report said that people identified in the database could be targeted by spam messages or other scam attempts using their name and phone number. A Facebook representative said after the database was taken offline: "We are looking into this issue, but believe this is likely information obtained before changes we made in the past few years to better protect people's information." Facebook removed phone-number information from its API in April 2018 following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. That would mean that the numbers included in the database are more than 18 months old.”

Axios: Facebook Struggles To Clean Up Its Messes

“To speed new products to market, Facebook famously used to tell its employees to "move fast and break things." The job of cleaning up some of the resulting debris is one the company is tackling a lot more slowly. Why it matters: Facebook is under pressure to offer users more control and provide the public with better accountability. The company has responded with a mix of apologies, policy changes and remedial steps. Mess one — privacy and personal data: In response to persistent controversies over Facebook's handling of personal data, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in May 2018 the company would provide what he called a "clear history" tool, "a simple control to clear your browsing history on Facebook — what you've clicked on, websites you've visited, and so on."