Eye on Extremism: December 4, 2018

The New York Times: Fourth Soldier Dies After Coordinated Bomb Blast In Afghanistan

“A fourth Army soldier has died as a result of a roadside bomb in central Afghanistan last week, the Pentagon announced on Monday, marking the episode as the single largest loss of American life in the war since 2015. Sgt. Jason M. McClary, 24, was in the armored vehicle that was hit by Taliban militants in Ghazni Province on Nov. 27. He died of his wounds in Landstuhl, Germany, on Sunday. Two Defense Department officials said the attack was well coordinated. The bomb was detonated by a trigger man who targeted the American vehicle in the middle of the joint Afghan and American convoy. The explosion flipped the soldiers’ mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, killing Army Capt. Andrew Patrick Ross, 29; Sgt. 1st Class Eric Michael Emond, 39; and Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan J. Elchin, 25. Two other soldiers and a civilian contractor were wounded. Captain Ross, the leader of the detachment, and Sergeant Emond were Green Berets and part of 3rd Special Forces Group, a unit sent to Ghazni after its provincial capital was overrun by Taliban militants in August and then retaken by American and Afghan troops. Sergeant Elchin was responsible for coordinating airstrikes. Officials said Sergeant McClary, originally assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, was a driver and turret gunner for the Green Beret unit, part of what the Pentagon calls the “uplift program,” where conventional troops are assigned to Special Operations units for more support.”

The Guardian: Iran Missile Tests May Breach UN Resolution, France And UK Warn

“France and the UK have echoed warnings by Donald Trump’s administration that Iran may be in breach of United Nations obligations by testing medium-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying multiple warheads. The remarks from Paris and London will be seen by the US government as the first sign that its key European partners may yet be persuaded to view Iran’s broader behaviour as so dangerous that their support for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal can no longer be justified. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, criticised Iran’s missile programme at the weekend and will be at a Nato foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels over the next two days to underline his message about the threat to Middle East stability posed by Iran. He is also due to meet the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Brussels. In a statement issued on Saturday, Pompeo said Iran had tested a medium-range ballistic missile, violating a UN resolution. The missile, according to Pompeo, is capable of carrying multiple warheads and “has a range that allows it to strike parts of Europe and anywhere in the Middle East.”

Bloomberg: Israeli Army Starts Operation To Destroy Hezbollah Tunnels

“The Israeli military launched an operation to destroy underground tunnels from Lebanon into Israel before the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia could use them to attack its northern communities. The operation was being conducted Tuesday on Israeli territory and the military has not crossed into Lebanon, Israeli officials said. It was not clear how many tunnels were being targeted. “This operation is purely defensive,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said by telephone. “It is within the borders of the state of Israel and it is meant to protect Israel and its population.” Even though the operation was said to be taking place within Israeli territory, there was no guarantee that it would not touch off wider fighting. That would depend in part on how Hezbollah reacts. There was no immediate response from the group. Israel bolstered security along its border with Lebanon and said that areas adjacent to its security fence have been declared a military zone. At the same time, residents of the area, around the city of Metullah, were told to continue their lives as normal, and no special precautions were ordered. The army did not specify how it was destroying the tunnels except to say it is doing so "by all technological means.” The tunnels “constitute a flagrant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty,” the military said in an emailed statement.”

CNN: ISIS Threat Shutters US Embassy In Democratic Republic Of The Congo For More Than A Week

“The US embassy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was closed after the US received intelligence that an ISIS-linked group could carry out attacks against US interests there, two US officials tell CNN.  The terror group is not believed to have a significant presence in the DRC and officials say it is believed that the operatives may have been planning to enter the DRC from outside the country.  The embassy had been closed since it received "credible and specific information of a possible terrorist threat against US Government facilities in Kinshasa" on November 24.  The embassy is expected to re-open to the public on Tuesday, according to a statement by the embassy. Cutting US troops The Pentagon recently approved a plan to reduce the number of US troops conducting counterterrorism missions in Africa over the next three years, three US officials tell CNN. One defense official told CNN that the planned reductions would reduce the number of US counterterrorism troops and their enablers who support operations by approximately 25%. The 11-day closure comes ahead of the December 23 elections in the Congo, which the US embassy had warned could bring potential unrest on short notice.  The threat also came amidst an ongoing outbreak of Ebola in that country -- the second largest and second deadliest outbreak of the virus in history.”

Bloomberg: France Faces A Typical Facebook Revolution

“The liberating role social networks played during the Arab Spring and the Russian protests of 2011 and 2012 was widely lauded. Little of that enthusiasm is on display today amid the violent “yellow vest” protests in France – even though Facebook is still doing what it does best: let people channel their rage. In a 2011 paean to “the Facebook revolution,” Chris Taylor of the tech news website Mashable wrote that Facebook was “democracy in action.” Philip Howard of the University of Washington, who researched the social network’s role in the Arab Spring, said the same year that social media “carried a cascade of messages about freedom and democracy across North Africa and the Middle East and helped raise expectations for the success of political uprising.” At the end of 2011, I took part in the Russian protests following a rigged parliamentary election. Facebook played a central role in organizing them. The emerging pattern – leaderless protest networks developing on U.S.-owned platforms; meme-like narratives fueling popular indignation; nebulous, quickly radicalizing, demands fueled by lots of underlying anger – led Russian President Vladimir Putin to suspect the U.S. of organizing action in different parts of the world according to the same playbook.”

United States

The Atlantic: Trump's Iran-Centric Syria Policy Takes Shape

“This fall, U.S.-led coalition forces have escalated attacks in Syria once more, launching over 1,000 air and artillery strikes, nearly all close to the border with Iraq, as Washington seeks to crush the Islamic State’s presence in the country before the end of the year. “They’re either here to fight to death, or they’re just going to get killed because they have nowhere to go,” coalition spokesperson Colonel Sean J. Ryan said of those remaining fighters. After isis is defeated territorially, however—a goal that now looks to be an inevitability—what happens to the roughly 2,000 American soldiers stationed in Syria is murky. Officials have offered new counter-Iranian justifications for maintaining a military presence there, an argument that critics claim lacks legal standing and which leaves open the possibility of a deployment with no end in sight. And with Democrats having recaptured the House in midterm elections, the Trump administration may soon be under pressure to better justify that strategy, something that could prove much harder than expected. There is a case to be made for maintaining at least some U.S. troops in Syria. The promise of extended American military support, for example, has helped cajole Kurdish fighters from inching towards the Assad regime, and encouraged Saudi Arabia to pledge financial support to stabilize areas captured from isis, Hassan Hassan, a senior research fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, told me.”

Fox News: Soldier Set To Be Sentenced For Trying To Help Islamic State

“A soldier based in Hawaii is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday for trying to help the Islamic State group. Sgt. 1st Class Ikaika Kang pleaded guilty in August to four counts of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. He said he provided classified military documents, a drone and other help. He agreed when Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson described other support he provided to undercover agents Kang believed were part of the Islamic State group. By at least early 2016, Kang became sympathetic to the group, Sorenson said. The FBI gathered information from sources he knew, worked with or lived with when it began an investigation in August 2016, Sorenson said. Kang provided voluminous, digital documents that included sensitive information including the U.S. military's weapons file, details about a sensitive mobile airspace management system, various military manuals and documents containing personal information about U.S. service members, Sorenson said. Trained as an air traffic controller with a secret security clearance, Kang also provided documents including call signs, mission procedures and radio frequencies, Sorenson said. At one of the meetings with agents Kang believed were part of the Islamic State, he swore loyalty to the group in Arabic and English and kissed an Islamic State flag given to him by a purported Islamic State sheikh, Sorenson said.”

Townhall: America Unprepared For Arson Terrorism

“Wildfires have devastated California and killed 88 people, with the number of casualties continuously rising. Californians lost their homes, farms, and pets. Americans throughout the nation have offered assistance and contributed financially. Our hearts broke from news of the devastation.  These California fires were not started intentionally. But what if we lived in fear that park fires would be started maliciously? What if we were threatened daily with arson terrorism?  Arson terrorism has been a daily and agonizing reality in Israel.  Israel has spent this past year under unyielding bombardment of terroristic arson. For over seven months, on a daily basis, Israeli farms, homes, schools, national parks, and wildlife sanctuaries have been burned by malicious fires, fires started as intentional acts of terrorism. Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad members and supporters, who desire to overtake Israel and “kill Jews,” have been attempting to weaken the Israeli borders by overwhelming the border towns with unremitting fires. The fires are started by terrorists launching burning kites and incendiary balloons from Gaza into Israel. The fires rage and firefighters struggle to put them out. As we have seen in California, putting out fires in dry climates is rather challenging. Israelis have lost over 8,648 acres of farmland and forests to arson terrorism. For scale, imagine Central Park in NYC, then multiply that by 10. That is how much land has been lost.”

Syria

The New Yorker: Syria’s Last Bastion Of Freedom

“The province of Idlib, a pocket of rolling olive groves and shimmering wheat fields in northern Syria, is home to three million people who, since 2015, have been effectively trapped. They live in the country’s last remaining opposition enclave, amid a chaotic assortment of rebels, the most powerful of whom are religious fundamentalists. Last year, the U.S. special envoy Brett McGurk called Idlib “the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11.” Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, has vowed to launch an invasion of Idlib, which could subject its cinder-block towns and villages to rockets, barrel bombs, cluster bombs, even chemical weapons. This could spark a refugee crisis of historic proportions, driving millions of people into Turkey and Europe. Idlib residents, in the meantime, must continue to live on a capricious battlefield with no rule of law and no clear governing authority. In the summer of 2017, for the first time anywhere in Syria since 1954, the residents of the town of Saraqib decided to seize control of their future—and hold a genuinely free election.”

The National: Charities Operating In Syria May Be Funding Extremists

“Charities operating in Syria and Turkey may be breaching anti-terrorism law by unintentionally financing extremist groups operating along the border between Syria and Turkey, an independent British NGO regulator warned on Monday. The Charity Commission issued an alert to warn charities responding to the humanitarian crisis in Syria that their aid may involuntarily end up swelling the coffers of extremist groups and to remind them of their duties under counter-terrorism legislation and charity law. The alert came following reports that the Bab Al-Hawa crossing is under the control of Hay’at Tahir Al-Sham (HTS), a group born as an al-Qaeda affiliate in 2011 and proscribed under the Terrorist Act 2000 since May 2017. Charities and their partners use the Bab Al-Hawa crossing to deliver aid into the Idlib province in Syria, the last rebel stronghold in the country’s northwest. The Commission warned that the extremist group could incur financial benefit from any aid passing through the Bab Al-Hawa crossing, therefore exposing charities and their partners to criminal charges under the act.”

France24: Nearly 30,000 Syrians Return Home From Jordan After Border Reopens

“Around 28,000 Syrians have returned home from Jordan since the border between the two Arab countries was reopened in mid-October, a Jordanian security source said Monday. Amman estimates that it has taken in close to 1.3 million refugees from its war-torn neighbour since the war in Syria broke out in March 2011, and spent more than $10 billion to host them. About 650,000 Syrian refugees have registered with the United Nations in Jordan. The security source, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, said that since the Jordan-Syria border reopened on October 15 "around 28,000 Syrians have returned home voluntarily". "They include around 3,400 Syrians registered as refugees with the United Nations." Known as Jaber on the Jordanian side and Nassib in Syria, the border is a key Middle East trade route and its reopening after a three-year closure was seen as a boon for the economies of both countries. It was closed when rebels fighting the Syrian regime overran it in April 2015.”

Middle East Monitor: Norwegian Police: 30 Norwegians Killed In Syria

“The Norwegian police said as many as 30 Norwegian citizens who went to Syria to participate in hostilities there have been killed, while, Norwegian ABC Nyheter reported. The paper quoted the Norwegian police as saying that about 100 Norwegians have left their country to Syria and joined the Daesh militant group, adding that another 30 Norwegians are still in Syria and their fate is unknown. “We know very little about those who are currently in Syria,” said Martin Berenson, Norwegian police senior adviser. “There are also at least 20 children of the Norwegians who had left for Syria” he added. The police reported the return of 40 Norwegians from Syria to their homeland, noting that all returnees are currently under observation, while some were put in prison. There are no women among returning citizens.”

Arab News: The Challenges Of Investigating Chemical Weapons Attacks In Syria

“The last two weeks have provided a reminder of the difficulty in formally assigning blame for chemical weapons use in Syria and important steps toward addressing that problem. On Nov. 24, Syrian rebels allegedly used chlorine gas in an attack on regime-controlled parts of Aleppo. Syrian regime and Russian media sources reported the attack, which caused multiple casualties though no deaths. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights — a more neutral source — also reported that shells fell “in Al-Khalidiya neighborhood and Jam’iyyat Al-Zahraa neighborhood,” causing “suffocation.” Russian government and Syrian regime officials quickly blamed opposition forces for using chemical weapons. Aside from the deep hypocrisy of the Syrian regime — the primary perpetrator of chemical weapons attacks in Syria — condemning the use of chemical weapons by its opponents, the allegations against rebel forces are complicated.”

Iran

Jerusalem Post: Operation Northern Shield Comes Amid Rising Iranian, Hezbollah Rhetoric

“Iran launched a new warship and tested a ballistic missile in the days before Israel launched Operation Northern Shield. Hezbollah released a video threatening sites throughout Israel. In addition, tensions in Syria have risen after a mysterious air strike south of Damascus last Thursday. Hezbollah claimed its fighters were not hurt in that air strike. In the last year, as the Syrian civil war has wound down and the Syrian regime, backed by Iran and Russia, has largely defeated the Syrian rebels, Iran’s influence has grown. Iran has constructed a corridor of influence stretching from Tehran via Baghdad to Damascus and Beirut. This “road to the sea” enabled Iran to funnel weapons to Syria and its Hezbollah ally. The IDF revealed in September that it had carried out more than 200 air strikes against Iran in the last year and a half. One of those strikes led to the downing of a Russian IL-20 in September, when Syrian air defense S-200s mistakenly shot down the Russian plane in Latakia while trying to defend against an attack. Then Russia deployed the S-300 air defense system to Syria and has been training Syrians to use it. The Institute for the Study of War warned on November 30 that Russia’s air defense network was expanding in Syria.”

The Express: World War 3: US Sends Aircraft Carrier To Iran’s Coast After Tehran Launches New Warship

“A US aircraft carrier strike group is on its way to the Persian Gulf, ending the longest period without American military presence in the region for more than two decades as tensions with Iran threaten to boil over. The USS John C Stennis and support ships will arrive off the coast of Iran by the end of the week marking the first such US military presence in the area for eight months. The move comes after Tehran launched a new destroyer, the Sahand, and warned President Trump against continued US sanctions. The two-month deployment of the Stennis is a “show of force” against Iran as the US stands firm against the Islamic Republic, the Wall Street Journal said. Tensions between the two countries have soared since Mr Trump announced in May he was pulling the US out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which curbed Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.”

Reuters: Special Report: How Iran Spreads Disinformation Around The World

“Website Nile Net Online promises Egyptians “true news” from its offices in the heart of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, “to expand the scope of freedom of expression in the Arab world.”  Its views on America do not chime with those of Egypt’s state media, which celebrate Donald Trump’s warm relations with Cairo. In one recent article, Nile Net Online derided the American president as a “low-level theater actor” who “turned America into a laughing stock” after he attacked Iran in a speech at the United Nations. Until recently, Nile Net Online had more than 115,000 page-followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But its contact telephone numbers, including one listed as 0123456789, don’t work. A Facebook map showing its location dropped a pin onto the middle of the street, rather than any building. And regulars at the square, including a newspaper stallholder and a policeman, say they have never heard of the website.”

NBC News: Families Of Americans Held In Iran Ask Trump To Pull Visas For Kids Of Top Iran Officials

“Families of Americans detained in Iran have urged the Trump administration to deny U.S. visas to the children of top-ranking officials in the Iranian government, but the White House has yet to take action, two sources close to the families told NBC News. The families of the imprisoned Americans see the administration's response to their request as part of a broader failure to place a top priority on securing the release of their loved ones, despite a campaign promise from the president to resolve the issue, two family friends and two congressional aides told NBC News. At least four American citizens and one U.S. legal resident are currently imprisoned in Iran after secretive trials on charges of alleged espionage. Human rights groups say the detentions are arbitrary and baseless. The families have provided the administration and several lawmakers with a list of Iranian nationals living in the U.S. alleged to be the children or relatives of senior Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani himself.”

Iraq

The Independent: Shrinking Territory Of ISIS Forces Its Leaders Into The Open, And Into The Crosshairs

“Isis leaders who for years have found sanctuary in the vast “caliphate” that once stretched across Iraq and Syria are being captured and killed in increasing numbers, as the impending loss of the last of the group’s territory has left them with nowhere to run.   At the height of its power Isis controlled an area roughly the same size as Britain and ruled over some 10 million people, but today it is cornered into a string of towns and villages in eastern Syria along the Euphrates River in Deir Ez-Zor. The area around the town of Hajin, near the border with Iraq, has been a refuge for senior members who retreated from other battlefields to fight another day. Now, an offensive by US-backed fighters has forced many of them out of their safe havens and into the crosshairs.  The US-led coalition fighting Isis announced this week that it had killed a senior member of the group in the Badiyah Desert, near Hajin, adding to a string of high-level targets in recent months. Abu al-Umarayn was killed in a targeted strike along with several other Isis members on 2 December, according to the coalition. He was thought to be involved in the 2014 murder of US citizen Peter Kassig, a 26-year-old aid worker who was executed by the group after being kidnapped while on a humanitarian mission in Syria. Umarayn’s death, and other recent captures, have been attributed to the pressure on the group caused by the ongoing offensive against Hajin, which is the last populated area under Isis control.”

Rudaw: ISIS Attacks In Iraq At All-Time Highs In Kirkuk, Saladin Provinces

“Attacks by ISIS in Kirkuk province have more than doubled in the past year because "the Iraqi government has not addressed risk factors that contribute to instability," according to a brief released by the Center for Strategic & International Studies. "ACLED data show that attacks in Kirkuk and Salah ad-Dine Provinces are at all-time highs through October 2018," read the report from the US-based think tank of Georgetown University released at the end of November. In addition to the Iraqi government's failure to address instability, the report noted costly reconstruction, corruption, economic stagnation and "ungoverned spaces in disputed regions across the country." The latter factor is primarily due to security gaps between Iraqi forces and the Kurdistan Regional Government's security forces, the Peshmerga. "Much like the insurgent tactics of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) — the Islamic State’s predecessors — Islamic State militants are seizing on local grievances, taking advantage of ungoverned space by operating from cell structures to conduct hit and run attacks, kidnappings for ransom, targeted assassinations, and bombings using improvised explosive devices, read the report.”

Voice Of America: Families Of Local IS Members Face Rejection In Iraq  

“More than one year after its liberation from Islamic State terror, the Iraqi city of Mosul still suffers from scars left behind.  Families and children of the terror group have returned to their homes in Mosul, facing rejection and shame by the local community. One widow of a former IS fighter in Mosul, who requested anonymity, told VOA she and her two children have been going through a distressing situation for being linked to an IS member.  "My husband was an IS member, but what does this have to do with me? If my husband joined the al Qaida group, what does this have to do with my children? The family and parents have nothing to do with someone's affiliation with a terror group," she said.  She added that her entire family is punished for being related to a former IS member. Her father has been in prison for two years now after being accused of having relations with IS. The widow said her ex-husband was killed when U.S.-backed Iraqi forces freed the town of Hamam al-Alil in southern Mosul.  Hamam al-Alil was liberated from IS in November 2016. Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, was a major IS stronghold when the group's leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi announced his so-called caliphate in 2014.  Some 20,000 women were widowed, and at least 13,000 children were orphaned, during the Mosul battle, London-based Asharq Al-Awsat Arabic reported.”

Kurdistan 24: Coalition Warplanes Shell Islamic State Militants Around Kifri

“The US-led coalition on Monday shelled Islamic State (IS) militants in Garmiyan, near the city of Kifri, according to a Peshmerga commander. The airstrikes took place in the areas of Palkana, Balaga, and Gharra, a Kurdish Peshmerga Commander in the area, Jamal Warni, told Kurdistan 24. He mentioned that the number of casualties among the jihadists is unknown, but that the bombardments targeting different areas went on for hours. Despite the liberation of IS-held territories, the jihadist group is reorganizing, taking advantage of ongoing instability to refocus its insurgent campaign against the Iraqi government. “While the Islamic State’s territorial control has been reduced to minor pockets of rural Iraq, the group was still carrying out an average of 75 attacks per month in 2018, including a doubling of attacks year over year in Kirkuk province,” according to a research released by Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIC) on Friday. The group’s insurgency-style attacks, kidnappings, ambushes, and use of explosives considerably increased in the country since the end of 2017, when Iraq declared final victory against IS. The insurgency intensified after the attack and military takeover by Iraqi forces and Shia militias over Kirkuk and other disputed territories in October of last year, driving out the Kurdish Peshmerga forces who were protecting the area.”

Afghanistan

The Washington Post: After Gains In Afghanistan, Resurgent Taliban Is In No Rush For Peace Talks

“Everyone, it seems, is pushing for peace in Afghanistan these days. President Trump’s special envoy is racing around the region, trying to drum up support for talks with the insurgent Taliban. The Russians, eager to get into the act, have hosted a conference on the issue. The Pakistanis, long accused of abetting the insurgents, insist they want to help end the war. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani hopes to win reelection in April as the man who brought peace to his country after 17 years.  The Taliban, however, seems to be in no hurry at all. Last week, when Ghani laid out his upbeat vision of a “road map” to peace at a conference in Geneva, the response from the insurgents was scathing. They dismissed his government as a “powerless” foreign puppet and any discussion with its officials as a “waste of time.” They said they were waging a holy war against American “invaders” and would negotiate only with them. The insurgents reacted with the same dismissive scorn several days ago when U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told a conference in California that the Trump administration wanted to solve the conflict without agreeing to withdraw troops. “The valiant Afghan Muslim nation is absolutely determined to force the occupying American forces out of Afghanistan,” Taliban officials declared in an online message. “We will not tire.”

The Washington Post: Afghan Official: Taliban Storm Checkpoint, Kill Police Chief

“An Afghan official says the Taliban stormed a police checkpoint in northern Sari Pul province, killing a district police chief and another officer. Zabi Amani, the governor’s spokesman, says the attack on Monday night in Sayyad district also wounded four policemen. Amani says the attack triggered an hours-long gun battle and that there are also casualties among the Taliban. He didn’t elaborate. Meanwhile, a shootout that broke out overnight between Kabul police and a man who was being evicted under a court order from his house in the Afghan capital left one policeman dead and six people, including a reporter, wounded. Basir Mujahid, spokesman for the Kabul police, says roads around the area have been blocked off and sporadic shooting is still taking place at the site on Tuesday.”

Pakistan

The Wall Street Journal: Trump Asks For Pakistan’s Help In Afghan Peace Talks With Taliban

“President Trump is making a personal appeal to Pakistan’s new prime minister to help end the war in Afghanistan as one of his special envoys returns to the region to try and lay the groundwork for substantive peace talks with the Taliban-led insurgency. Mr. Trump sent Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan a personal letter asking for his help in pushing the Taliban into peace talks, American and Pakistani officials said on Monday. The letter arrived as Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration envoy overseeing talks with the Taliban, embarked on an 18-day trip that will take him to Pakistan, Afghanistan and six other countries as he tries to build a consensus for regional peace talks. The White House National Security Council said Mr. Trump asked Mr. Khan in the letter to lend his “full support” to the deepening U.S. efforts to launch such talks, including Mr. Khalilzad’s trip. White House officials declined to release the text of the letter, but said it mentioned the Taliban’s use of Pakistan as a safe haven and Mr. Khan’s ability to play a central role in regional peace talks. “In the letter, the president recognizes that Pakistan has the ability to deny the Taliban sanctuary on its territory,” said a National Security Council spokesman.“The letter also makes clear that Pakistan’s assistance with the Afghan peace process is fundamental to building an enduring U.S.-Pakistan partnership."

Kasmir Observer: Hello, We Are Joining Militants: 5 Boys Call Home

“Five boys on Monday left their homes and called their respective families that they are joining militant ranks, police said. The boys, whose names have not been revealed, were “rescued” and had no contact with the militants, a police spokesperson said. “Parents of some boys from Srinagar reported to Police that they received phone calls from their kids who had left for their school in morning informing that they are going to join the (militant) ranks,” the spokesperson said, adding, “To ensure quick and timely action, Srinagar police constituted a special team and with the help of families  strenuous efforts led  to tracing of  all the five missing boy.” He said that boys were brought back safely. “It is learnt that the boys were threatening to join militancy whereas no active association of these boys could be found with any outfit.” Later, the spokesperson said, the five boys were counselled and handed over to the parents. “Timely information and efforts of the family played a key role in this endeavour,” the spokesperson added. Meanwhile, police said ten associates of militants were arrested in Pulwama district on Monday as the police claimed to have busted two modules of militant outfits, officials said. "Two militant modules of Hizbul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Muhammad were busted after 10 associates of militant outfits were arrested," a police officer said.”

Yemen

Euronews: Plane Carrying Wounded Arrives In Oman, Fulfilling Yemen Houthi Demand

“A plane carrying wounded members of Yemen's Houthi movement arrived in Oman's capital Muscat on Monday, the Houthi spokesman said on Twitter, fulfilling a demand the Houthis had made before they would attend peace talks in Sweden. Yemeni Houthi officials are expected to travel to Sweden shortly for talks as early as Wednesday to end the nearly four-year-old war, after a Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting against the Houthis allowed the evacuation flight.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Hodeidah Operation Reveals Names Of Foreign Houthi Trainers

“The Yemeni national army captured on Monday a naval base that the Iranian-backed Houthis were using as a headquarters in the port city of Hodeidah. The forces also seized plans, documents, Iranian-made equipment and the names of foreign Houthi trainers during the operation. Lebanese and Iranian names were included in the list. The operation came at a time when the militias were continuing their violation of the humanitarian truce that was announced in mid-November by the joint forces and Arab coalition. Spokesman for the Amaleeqa Brigades Waddah al-Dbeish said that the operation was in retaliation to the militias’ violation of the ceasefire and their shelling of liberated residential neighborhoods. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the operation secured a number of buildings and villas in the Khamseen road. The army also discovered maps of naval mines that the Houthis had planted at sea.”

Lebanon

Times Of Israel: Meeting Pompeo, Netanyahu Said To Threaten Lebanon If No Clampdown On Hezbollah

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks on Monday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss joint efforts to curb Iranian aggression in the region, including reining in Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group. Netanyahu was reported to be telling Pompeo that Israel could take military action if Beirut does not clamp down on Hezbollah, amid concerns that Tehran has begun shipping advanced arms directly to the terror group in Lebanon. Netanyahu made an unexpected trip to Brussels on Monday afternoon for the meeting with Pompeo, who is in Belgium for talks with NATO counterparts. In a public statement before the closed door talks, Netanyahu thanked Pompeo for the administration’s “strong” stance on Iran, and said he looked forward to discussing joint Israeli-US efforts to “curb Iran’s aggression in the region, in Syria, in Iraq, in Lebanon and elsewhere.” There was no immediate statement from the State Department. A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. According to Hadashot news, in a report shortly before the meeting, Netanyahu was planning to tell Pompeo to convey a warning to Beirut that Israel would take action if Lebanon does not work to keep Hezbollah from arming itself. Reports in recent weeks have pointed to Iran shipping arms directly to its proxy terror group in Lebanon, and not via Syria, as had been done until recently.”

Middle East

Mirror: ISIS Mastermind's Deputy Found Cowering In Underground Tunnel With Gold Bars And Cash

“Islamic State mastermind Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s deputy was caught cowering in a tunnel under a house in Syria preparing to blow himself up. Osama Awaid Al-Ibrahim, or Abu Zeid, was hiding in an underground passage with 20 mobile phones, 80 gold ingots and a huge wad of cash. He surrendered after being talked out by his sister and was arrested by the US-led coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces in Al-Tayyana, east of the Euphrates river. The former Syrian officer defected in the civil war and joined al-Qaeda, then Islamic State. It was also reported that Dhef Al-Melash, who served as a public relations officer for the terror group, has been seized.”

Libya

The Jamestown Foundation: The Islamic State In Libya: Operational Revival, Geographic Dispersal, And Changing Paradigms

“Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of Mission of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Ghassan Salamé, addressed the UN Security Council in September concerning the outbreak of clashes in Tripoli in August. During the address, he linked the persisting instability engulfing Libya to the potential broad-scale return of terrorist organizations. He stated that, “ISIL (Islamic State—IS) presence and operations in Libya are only spreading.” Salamé further stated that Libya may turn into “a shelter for terrorist groups of all persuasions.” These concerns echoed the words that other external and internal actors have voiced over the past months. During this period, IS has managed to strike targets across Libya, in line with its operational crescendo already recorded in 2017. In November, the group carried out an attack against a police station in Tazirbu (Kufra district)—killing at least eight civilians—with several more wounded and kidnapped. One month earlier, IS claimed responsibility for an attack in al-Fuqaha (Jufra district), burning security offices and governmental buildings, leaving four dead and several injured. While these attacks show the IS capacity of operating in the south and in the desert, the group has also managed to strike targets in major urban centers across the country.”

Nigeria

Vanguard: Buni Gari Boko Haram Attack: More Corpses Of Soldiers Recovered In Bush

“A source, yesterday, revealed that two additional bodies of dead soldiers have been recovered in a surrounding bush after Saturday night attack on a military location at Buni Gari in Yobe by Boko Haram. The source also disclosed yesterday night that some soldiers are still missing following the attack which he described as very terrible. A hospital source equally confirmed recovered bodies were taken to the Damaturu Specialist Hospital mortuary, yesterday afternoon, as six remains of other soldiers were still lying there before the latest addition. “Six soldiers were brought in on Sunday. We have another two soldiers that were brought in today (yesterday) from the attack making a total of eight soldiers.” Unfortunately, the army authorities are yet to release any official statement on the attack, but it was also gathered that Brig. Gen. Mohammed Baba Dala, the Sector 2 Commander Operation Lafiya Dole, visited Buni Gari yesterday to assess first hand, the impact of the attack on his troops.”

News 24: Boko Haram Raid Kills Two Soldiers In NE Nigeria

“Boko Haram jihadists killed two soldiers and seriously wounded five militia members in separate attacks in the troubled northeast of the country, military and militia sources told AFP Sunday. Gunmen from Boko Haram faction the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) attacked a remote base in Buni Gari village, in Yobe state, 60km from the state capital Damaturu on Saturday, with six of the attackers killed. "We lost two soldiers in the attack and six terrorists were also killed and their bodies recovered by soldiers," a military officer told AFP. Air support and reinforcements from a military base in the nearby town of Buni Yadi "effectively routed" the jihadists, said the officer. He asked not to be named because he was not cleared to speak about the incident. A member of the militia fighting beside the troops confirmed that the bodies of two soldiers and six jihadists had been recovered after the gun battle, which lasted less than an hour. Buni Yadi district is a known ISWAP stronghold. Around the same time in Maiduguri, capital of neighbouring Borno state, a female suicide bomber seriously wounded five members of the local militia at a checkpoint. Civilian militia members had stopped two female suicide bombers at Muna Garage security checkpoint, but one managed to detonate her suicide vest, militia leader Babakura Kolo said.”

Somalia

Voice Of America: In Somalia, Businesses Face 'Taxation' By Militants

“Al-Shabab and pro-Islamic State militants in Somalia are engaged in an economic war, and it is the country's business sector that is getting cut down in the crossfire. Somali businessmen and analysts say the rival Islamist groups are targeting companies to an unprecedented degree with demands for so-called taxes. Al-Shabab has already strong-armed business owners for years to finance its war against the Somali government and African peacekeepers who protect it. Now, al-Shabab is stepping up its demands, and pro-IS groups are apparently trying to fund its own activities by copying Shabab's tactics of pay up-or-pay the consequences. The groups are leaving a trail of bodies as a warning to those who don't cooperate. Somali intelligence sources say IS militants killed telecommunications official Abdullahi Ali Omar in Bosaso on August 7 for not paying up, and that they're also behind the more recent shootings of at least eight employees of Hormuud, the country's largest telecommunications company. Meanwhile, Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the shooting of businessman Nur Khayre Gutale on October 29 in Mogadishu, although it said Gutale was targeted because he was involved in the selection of Somalia's parliament in early 2017. Abdirahman Mohamed Turyare, former director of Somalia's National Intelligence Agency, says the extortion demands are strangling merchants who have managed to function, even thrive, in Somalia's perpetual state of war and chaos.”

Africa

Asharq Al-Awsat: Tunisia: ISIS Claims Responsibility For Kasserine Attack

“ISIS terrorist organization claimed Sunday its responsibility for the terrorist attack that occurred earlier this week in Kasserine governorate, 200 km south of the capital. Akher Khabar Online website quoted ISIS' Amaq news agency as saying that a number of armed ISIS terrorists attacked a security patrol in central Kasserine’s al-Manar district. On Thursday night, the security patrol came under fire from two unknown people who tried to approach it before fleeing on a motorcycle, Agence Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) reported. A citizen was wounded and taken to the regional hospital of Kasserine for treatment, while the members of the security patrol were unharmed. Last week, the Interior Ministry announced the dismantling of four sleeper cells active in a number of governorates around the country planning to carry out a series of terrorist attacks on vital targets in the country. The sleeper cells coordinated with a number of terrorist leaders taking refuge in the Tunisian mountains, it said. In the same context, the security services uncovered a laboratory for the development of explosives and toxic gases, along with other materials that would have been used to develop the planned terrorist attacks. Authorities have ordered the seizure of the weapons and materials.”

News 24: Six Shot Dead In 'Terror Attack' In Burkina Faso

“Six people were shot dead on Monday by police in eastern Burkina Faso during a "terrorist attack" on a security patrol, security sources said. An officer was also wounded in the incident at about 0500 GMT near Bougui, about 10km from Fada N'Gourma, the main town in the Eastern Region administrative area, a source said. "A patrol team of the territorial gendarmerie brigade of Fada N'Gourma was ambushed in the village of Bougui," a security source told AFP.  "The terrorists opened fire at the convoy, damaging the lead vehicle." The police responded, firing on the attackers, killing six of them but leaving one officer with a foot injury, another security source said. "Several weapons, including Kalashnikovs and ammunition," were seized from the attackers, the source added. The security patrol was attacked during an operation to dismantle a cache of weapons belonging to suspected terrorists in the nearby area, a local official said. Burkina Faso, bordering Mali and Niger, has been battling jihadist attacks over the last three years. Attacks initially began in the north of the country but have since spread to the east, near the border with Togo and Benin. On Friday five people, including four police officers, were killed when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device (IED) in the eastern town of Boungou. According to a report in late September, jihadist attacks have claimed 229 lives in the country since 2015.”

Europe

Associated Press: Ukraine Calls Up Reservists Amid Rising Tensions With Russia

“Ukraine’s president announced a partial call-up of reservists for training amid tensions with Russia, saying Monday that the country needs to beef up its defenses to counter the threat of a Russian invasion. The Kremlin dismissed the Ukrainian leader’s statement as an “absurd” attempt to inflame tensions. Ukraine has also accused Russia of blockading its ports on the Sea of Azov and urged Germany and other Western allies to boost their naval presence in the Black Sea to help deter Russia from further aggression. Relations between the two neighbors have been strained following a Nov. 25 clash in which the Russian coast guard fired upon and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews off the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014 from Ukraine. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko responded by introducing martial law for 30 days in the country’s border areas and barring all Russian males aged 16 to 60 from entering the country, a move he said was needed to prevent Russia from assembling destabilizing forces in Ukraine. Poroshenko said Monday that some reservists will be summoned for training as part of martial law and some military units will be redeployed.”

Australia

9 News Australia: Accused ISIS Member ‘Groomed Online’

“A South Australian woman found to be a member of the Islamic State terror group became socially isolated and was groomed over the internet, a court has heard. Zainab Abdirahman-Khalif appeared in the Supreme Court after she was convicted of membership of a terrorist organisation in the state's first terrorism trial. Dr Loraine Lim, a forensic psychologist, told the court the 23-year-old dropped out of university, became disconnected from her peers and turned to the internet as her only social outlet. "She had been the victim of grooming by some of her online peers," Dr Lim said. During the September trial, jurors heard Abdirahman-Khalif had been communicating online with three young women and knew about their deadly terror attack on a police station in Kenya before it occurred. The former nursing student was stopped by police at Adelaide Airport after she tried to board a plane to Istanbul in July 2016. Carrying only hand luggage and less than $200 in cash, she told officers she intended to work for an aid organisation and expected her living expenses and the cost of a flight home would be covered. Abdirahman-Khalif was later released, but arrested at the Port Adelaide TAFE SA campus in May 2017, following a year-long investigation. Today, her lawyer, Bill Boucaut SC, said she does not understand the legal concept of membership and does not see herself as a member of Islamic State.”

ABC Australia: The Search For Extremist Answers

“He knew he was going to die. So the Islamic State fighter in Syria made one last phone call. It was to his family, at home in Melbourne's suburbs. "He called and said he was going on a suicide mission in the morning and he was just calling to say goodbye," a family member said. It left his family desperately searching for answers that would never come. Every act of violent extremism, whether it occurs thousands of kilometres away or on Bourke Street, leaves a series of questions. Researchers and community leaders believe a new series of interviews with families of young extremists from Melbourne could provide some answers. The identities of the 11 families — who agreed to be interviewed because of their involvement with a Broadmeadows-based social services provider — were protected.  The report's researchers say it is the first time Australian families of violent extremists have participated in research of this scale and nature. The interviews paint a complex picture of the anger, sorrow and bewilderment felt by those closest to a violent extremist, and detail troubling allegations about the handling of some cases by authorities and the process of radicalisation. Some families saw the signs and reported them.”

The Guardian: Cricketer Usman Khawaja's Brother Charged Over 'Terrorism' Notebook

“The brother of Australian cricketer Usman Khawaja has been charged with attempting to pervert justice and forgery after he allegedly used fake documents containing a terror plot to kill senior politicians to “set up” his colleague over a personal grievance. Police confirmed on Tuesday that Arsalan Khawaja had been formally charged after he was arrested on Tuesday as part of an investigation into a fake terrorism “hit list” found in a university notebook. He faces one count of attempting to pervert justice and one count of forgery for allegedly making a false document. Khawaja has been refused bail and will appear in Parramatta Local Court later today. Khawaja had previously been questioned by police in relation to the notebook, which resulted in the wrongful arrest of PhD student Mohamed Kamer Nizamdeen in August. “We believe that this was planned and it was calculated,” Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said. “We have no information to suggest that there is any ongoing threat to the community arising from our inquiries into the matter.” Nizamdeen, a student from the University of New South Wales, was falsely accused of plotting Islamic State-inspired lone-wolf attacks on a list of targets including the former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House.”

Daily Mail Australia: The One Main Factor Driving Young Muslims Into Extremism Is Revealed – And It’s NOT Hardline Preachers Or Mosques

“Ice addiction has been labelled the key factor driving young Muslims in Australia to extremism. The link was unearthed after families of extremists were interviewed as part of a new report by Deakin University and the Victorian Arabic Social Services (VASS). The families believe some young men turned to religion in a bid to distance themselves from past drug use, and then became extremists. VASS CEO Leila Alloush described drug addiction, and particularly ice, as the 'number one' factor driving young men to violent extremism. Both the Bourke Street terrorist last month, and 2017's Brighton attacker, had histories of substance abuse, the ABC reports. One interviewee claimed their relative had switched between strict religious behaviour and partying hard, believing they were doing 'a bit of good and a bit of bad'.  Authorities were urged to investigate this link between Islamic extremism and drug addiction last year after it emerged that Brighton gunman Yacqub Khayre had been a long-term drug abuser. Khayre was said to have used methamphetamine for more than a decade and it is understood that two of his four co-accused also had histories of substance abuse. Khayre was born in Somalia but moved to Australia aged three and began abusing drugs after dropping out of school in year 12 following the death of his grandfather.”

Technology

Financial Times: How Extremist Videos Are Hitting UK Relations With US Tech Groups

“Automattic, the US tech group that owns web design company WordPress, and a little known academic research platform are at the centre of a long-running battle with the UK government over what officials say is a refusal to remove violent Islamist videos. Jihadology.net and its founder, Washington-based analyst Aaron Zelin, claim the site is a vital research portal that provides a valuable service for academics, policymakers and journalists researching Islamist extremism. However, UK security officials say it could be used as a convenient platform for extremists to access videos and messages from outlawed terror groups such as Isis and al-Qaeda. They want Mr Zelin and Automattic, which hosts the site through WordPress, to remove or password protect some of the more violent and disturbing videos it publishes. The stand-off between the Silicon Valley group, Mr Zelin and the UK authorities highlights the struggle between western governments and big US technology companies to reduce the impact and spread of extremist content online. Freedom of expression v national security But it also underscores the dilemma governments face in drawing the line between freedom of expression and matters of national security. Last month the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee, which scrutinises the work of the country’s intelligence services, published a report urging government to increase the pressure on businesses to pull advertising from platforms that fail to take down illegal and inappropriate content.”

EU Reporter: #Terrorism – MEPS Propose New Measure To Tackle The Threat

“Parliament’s terrorism committee is proposing a range of new measures to tackle the threat, from addressing radicalization, to tracking terrorist financing and helping victims. The special committee on terrorism was set up in July 2017 to evaluate how the fight against terrorism could be improved. Its findings and recommendations will be discussed by MEPs during the December plenary in Strasbourg. Co-operation and information sharing. Given its international character, fighting terrorism requires a strong coordinated response and rapid information-sharing by EU countries. “There are still gaps in the exchange of information between member states, technical gaps in the interoperability,” said German EPP member Monika Hohlmeier, one of the report authors. “If we want to boost the information exchange, Europol and Eurojust must be strengthened and used as information hubs.” Belgian ECR member Helga Stevens, one of the other report authors, highlighted the issue of decryption “Forced decryption is very hard for smaller member states because it requires a lot of technical and human resources. I propose to give Europol authority to specialize in decryption, so they can assist member states. That would give prosecutors and police access to messages on WhatsApp and messenger for example. Right now it is quite difficult, social media companies refuse to give access to the courts.”

Wired: The Truth About Facebook's Fake Quest To Connect The World

“FOR ITS FEARSOME size and confident leadership, Facebook seems strangely precarious. Maybe it’s my feeling that something that can grow so big so fast might disappear swiftly, too. Or the sense that the world is revving up to take on Facebook. A hearing last week by a grand committee representing nine governments was brimming with anger, as politicians lashed out at an apologetic Facebook underling unlucky enough to be sitting next to an empty chair behind a Mark Zuckerberg placard. One Canadian member of Parliament spoke for the room when he concluded that, “While we were playing on our phones and apps, our democratic institutions seem to have been upended by frat-boy billionaires from California.” All solutions are on the table: fines, regulations, breaking up the company. And as serious as these inquiries may be, the real problem for Facebook is internal, not external. The mythology of Facebook as a well-meaning company doing good by connecting the world didn’t only pacify an unsuspecting public for a decade, it inspired a fiercely loyal workforce. How does a company bounce back after its deepest myths have been smashed?”

Counter Terrorism

Ahram Alyoum: Egypt: Youth Forums Held To Combat Terrorism By Promoting Enlightened Thoughts

“Dr. Haitham Ghonaim, Chairman of the Organization of Arab African Unity for Relief, Human Rights and Anti-Terrorism, stated that Egypt views extremism, in all shapes and forms, as the intellectual umbrella used by all terrorist organizations to disseminate their destructive messages. For instance, militant groups manipulate religious thought to lure new recruits into their ranks and to accomplish political goals, Dr. Haitham explained. Therefore, in order to dismantle the intellectual structure of these radical movements, the Organization of Arab African Unity for Relief, Human Rights and Anti-Terrorism regularly organizes youth forums aimed at promoting "enlightened and righteous religious ideologies," the Egyptian human rights activists noted. Dr. Haitham went on to say that his organization focuses on refuting extremist content, which is propagated by terrorists mainly on social media platforms. On his part, journalist writer Bahaa Al-Din Abed, Head of the Media Commission at the aforementioned Organization, said that sharing and supporting youngsters in shaping their future careers is the best way to counter terrorism, which undermines the public safety. By directing youths to positive and effective utilization of their time and energy, the state can successfully contain terrorism, journalist Abed emphasized.”

ISIS

Shafaaq News: Iraqi Politician Identifies Fertile Ground For ISIS Cells In Diyala

“On Monday, Zahed Al-Dalawi, Council Member of the Iraqi Diyala Province, warned of numerous factors that constitute fertile ground for the resurrection of ISIS cells, which he describes as already active rather than sleeper-cells. Al-Dalawi cautioned that the lack of basic services, particularly in education and employment, in the remote areas of Diyala provides a conducive environment for forming new ISIS cells. He disclosed that ISIS militants are exploiting the illiteracy and poverty of local residents to obtain intelligence information about the security forces in return for sums of money. Al-Dalawi called upon the relevant authorities to provide jobs and adequate living conditions for the residents of the remote areas in order to distance them from ISIS terrorists, who jeopardize all Iraqi territories according to him.”

Syria-Scope: Syria: Al-Nusra Front Buys Sex Slaves From ISIS  

“Local sources report that the Al-Nusra Front recently bought four female sex slaves, two children and a young man from ISIS leaders in Syria's Idlib rural areas. The same sources mentioned that these captives hold American, French and British passports. The women were, most likely, smuggled out of Mosul into Idlib across the Syrian-Iraqi borders, the sources noted. In return for these hostages, Al-Nusra Front paid ISIS unspecified sums of money. In addition, Al-Nusra Front provided shelters and territories to ISIS militants in a border village in northern Idlib, the sources added.”

Al-Nusra Front

Alahed News: Al-Nusra Front's Sources Of Funding  

“Since Al Nusra Front, which is currently known as Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, appeared in Syria in 2014, the question surrounding its sources of funding has been repeated more than once. This came especially when the terror group denied receiving funding from abroad. But the question of funding has resurfaced with its diminishing areas of control, since taxes it had been collecting from local residents were a key source of income. The most prominent feature of Al Nusra's financing operations is what has recently become apparent in relation to the abduction of wealthy people and their release in exchange for ransom. This type of funding is not new, given that the Hay'at's history is full of this sort of activity. But exposing its true image following its military defeats puts a spotlight on the Hay'at's criminal activity. Despite the denial of some of the group's leaders regarding these operations, claiming the kidnappings are part of "individual actions," not many believe them. This is especially since the Hay'at has always boasted of the discipline of its militants on the one hand, and the consequences that will be borne by any violator of instructions within the group.”

Houthi

Bawabatii: Political Detainees Become Houthis' New Funding Source

“Houthi militants in Yemen are executing a new money-making policy of abducting citizens from their homes and imposing ransom payments on their families in exchange for their release. In some cases, these payments are as high as YR4.5 million (nearly $15,000). More than 16,800 cases of extrajudicial detention have been recorded, according to a Human Rights Watch report, since the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh took control of the Yemeni capital of Sana'a in late September 2014, and up until April 2018.”