Eye on Extremism: Feb 11, 2020

The Telegraph: Bloodbath In Mali As Jihadists Stoke Centuries-Old Tensions Between Ethnic Groups

“Jihadists in Mali are stirring up bouts of savage inter-ethnic bloodletting in their bid to regain their grip on the west African state, human rights campaigners have warned. The country's picturesque Mopti region – once one of west Africa's top backpacking destinations – has become a bloodbath in the last year as Islamic militants stoke centuries-old tensions between its main ethnic groups. Both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have been encouraging local Fulani herders, known in Mali as Peuhl, to wage a campaign of ethnic cleansing against their Dogon neighbours. The Dogon, who are mainly settled farmers, have responded by setting up their own self-defence militias, one of which massacred more than 150 Peuhl civilians in a revenge attack last March. A new report by Human Rights Watch says that at least 450 people died in tit-for-tat violence last year alone, with up to 50 villages suffering assaults by gangs armed with machine guns and machetes. Survivors have spoken of children as young as five being murdered, and of seeing teenagers have their hands chopped off. The violence in Mali's central belt comes seven years after France, the former colonial power, dispatched troops to kick out al-Qaeda militants who seized control of the country's north.”

Asia Times: Ex-Spokesman For Pakistan Taliban Escapes

“A leading member of the Pakistan Taliban has escaped custody more than two years after surrendering to authorities, said a senior security official. The confirmation comes days after Ehsanullah Ehsan – the former spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – released an audio message claiming he had escaped detention and was now in Turkey. A senior security source told AFP Ehsan was “one of our major assets in identifying and later tracking down militants.” The source was unable to confirm claims that Ehsan was in Turkey, or provide details of how he escaped. Ehsan was infamous for issuing chilling claims following TTP attacks and has been linked to some of the country’s most bloody attacks – including the bombing at a park in Lahore during Easter 2016, and the targeting of education activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Ehsan surrendered to authorities in 2017 and later gave high-profile interviews on Pakistani television, angering many in the country who believed he was being pampered by authorities after years of helping lead the bloody insurgency. Pakistani security officials argued, however, that he had supplied valuable intelligence in the fight against militants.”

The Guardian: EU Clamps Down On Free Ports Over Crime And Terrorism Links

“Brussels is clamping down on 82 free ports or free zones after identifying that their special tariff and duty status has aided the financing of terrorism, money laundering and organised crime. A set of new rules was introduced by the European commission just weeks before the launch on Monday of a UK government consultation on the creation of up to 10 free ports in post-Brexit Britain. Authorities across the EU have been obliged since 10 January to take extra measures to identify and report suspicious activities at the ports and zones as a result of the “high incidence of corruption, tax evasion, criminal activity”. The EU’s executive branch has said it will review the issue again next year owing to the popularity of such ports among high-net-worth individuals and criminal organisations seeking to circumvent recent crackdowns on bank secrecy. Free ports or free zones are a type of special economic zone (SEZ) where business and trade laws differ from those in the rest of the country. Goods can be landed, stored, handled, manufactured or reconfigured and re-exported without being subject to customs duty.”

United States

NBC News: Las Vegas Man Who Allegedly Wanted To Attack Synagogue Pleads Guilty To Having Bomb Parts

“A Las Vegas man who allegedly wanted to attack a synagogue and an LGBTQ bar pleaded guilty Monday to possessing bomb-making components, federal authorities said. Conor Climo, 23, faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nevada said in a statement. He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 14. Climo was arrested in August, after allegedly talking with members of a white supremacist group about setting fire to a synagogue and making Molotov cocktails and improvised explosive devices. Federal authorities said he admitted to the online conversations with Feuerkrieg Division, an offshoot of the white supremacist extremist group Atomwaffen Division. Climo also allegedly told FBI agents that he wanted to assemble an eight-member sniper platoon for the attack. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Climo also admitted to conducting surveillance on a bar in downtown Las Vegas that he believed catered to LGBTQ patrons. During a search of Climo's house, FBI agents found parts that could be assembled into a bomb, oxidizing agents that could be used for fuel and hand-drawn schematics, the office said. Authorities also seized two rifles — an AR-15 and a bolt-action.”

Al Monitor: Pentagon Slashes Funding For Islamic State Fight

“The Donald Trump administration is again set to slash funding for the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in a new budget request unveiled today, as Iraq’s leaders have publicly demanded an end to the US-led combat mission. The Pentagon’s request would slash funding for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces to $200 million, down by a third from last year — money that will focus on “helping to provide wide-area security in liberated areas, addressing the ongoing [IS] threat, preventing [IS] re-emergence and setting conditions for long-term stability.” Overall, Trump is seeking $900 million for the counter-IS fight next year, a 30% cut from current year levels. Iraqi security forces, which have continued operations despite a US pause after an uptick in tensions with Iran, will receive $645 million for the IS fight. Even as the US troop footprint in Syria winnowed to just 600 American forces after Trump allowed a Turkish incursion into areas liberated from IS, the Pentagon insists that the budget “strengthens the security capabilities of [Department of Defense] partners countering [IS] to secure territory liberated from [IS] and to counter future [IS] threats by training and equipping partner security forces.”

The Daily Beast: The FBI Makes A Bizarre Claim About Pro-Choice Terrorism

“The FBI is expanding its focus on domestic terrorism, and that includes pro-choice violence — even though such violence is so vanishingly rare, it’s all but nonexistent. In testimony before the House judiciary committee on Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray disclosed that the bureau has recently “changed our terminology as part of a broader reorganization of the way in which we categorize our domestic terrorism efforts.” It’s part of a much-heralded reinvigoration of the bureau’s domestic terrorism focus after a rising tide of mostly white-supremacist terrorism. Among four broad categories of domestic terrorism that the FBI confronts, Wray said, is “abortion violent extremism.”  But Wray wasn’t only talking about the pro-life extremism that murders abortion providers in their churches, he hastened to add, but “people on either side of that issue who commit violence on behalf of different views on that topic.” His questioner, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), was puzzled at Wray’s seeming equivalence: “People on either side of that issue don't commit violence.” In fact, the FBI pointed The Daily Beast to just one episode of pro-choice-inspired terrorism – one that did not involve an actual act of violence, but rather a threat in an online comments section.”

Syria

The Washington Post: Syria And Turkey Inch Closer To War After Shelling Kills 5 Turkish Soldiers

“Syria and Turkey inched closer to all-out war Monday as their troops exchanged deadly fire for the second time in a matter of days in Idlib, a contested and ravaged northern province that is the last remaining major rebel redoubt in Syria' s nearly nine-year war. The latest hostilities started after shelling by Syrian forces killed five Turkish soldiers and injured five others, according to Turkey's Defense Ministry. The deaths came a week after a previous round of Syrian shelling in Idlib killed eight Turkish military personnel. Turkey's response Monday included attacks on what it said were “115 regime targets,” including mortar positions, tanks and a helicopter. One hundred and one troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were killed, the Turkish Defense Ministry said. The clashes followed a recent decision by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to send more Turkish troops to Idlib, a gamble aimed at slowing the pace of a quickening Syrian military advance. A ­Russian-backed Syrian offensive aimed at recapturing territory in and around the province has killed hundreds of civilians over a few months and sent hundreds of thousands of displaced people fleeing toward Turkey's border — startling Erdogan's government, which already hosts roughly 4 million Syrian refugees.”

Reuters: Eight Killed In Truck Blast In Syria's Afrin: Turkish Defense Ministry

“A bomb detonated on a truck containing diesel-filled barrels and killed eight civilians and wounded seven more, including children, in northwestern Syria’s Idlib region on Monday, the Turkish Defense Ministry said. The ministry said on its Twitter account that the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey designates as a terrorist group, was responsible for the attack in the city of Afrin, a region under the control of Turkey-backed rebels.”

RFI: HRW Urges Probes Into Fate Of Missing IS Captives

“Human Rights Watch called Tuesday for Damascus and the Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria to investigate the fate of thousands of people who went missing in the custody of the Islamic State group. More than 8,000 people, detained by IS when it controlled swathes of the north and east, remain unaccounted for, the New York-based watchdog said, citing figures from the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Among them are a few well-known cases of foreigners, such as British reporter John Cantlie and Italian Jesuit priest Paolo Dall'Oglio. HRW said the Syrian government and the Kurdish authorities who now control former IS territory have so far failed to prioritise the search for the truth about what happened to the missing. Kurdish authorities in the northeast “rarely” provide answers to those in search of their relatives, HRW said. “People whose relatives had been in areas now under the control of Syrian government forces similarly said they received only speculation that ISIS killed all its captives, or blanket denials of any knowledge,” the report said, using an alternative acronym for IS.”

Iran

The Jerusalem Post: Ex-CIA Official Warns Of Iran, ISIS Drones Armed With Chemical Weapons

“The greatest threat confronting the US and Israel may be swarms of drones armed with chemical weapons released by Iran or ISIS, an ex-CIA official has told The Jerusalem Post. The warning takes on greater meaning following a call on January 28 by ISIS’s new leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, to direct greater attention to attacking Israel and Jews, including using chemical weapons. Some dangerous countries and terrorist groups may already have their hands on chemical weapons – ISIS and multiple other groups used them in Syria in recent years – and anyone who does not, may be able to get them from North Korea, former CIA agent Tracy Walder told the Post. Regarding ISIS, there are “a couple of different prongs” to their interest in chemical weapons, she said. Part of what eventually became ISIS came out of groups run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – “someone I followed a lot” while at the CIA, Walder said. Zarqawi was very interested in “acquiring small-scale chemical weapons,” she said. “We are talking about anthrax, which contains spores, [and] even ricin.” Deploying the chemical weapons “is a very easy thing to do if you have access to a drone.”

Iraq

Reuters: Militant Group Targets Supply Convoy South Of Baghdad: Military Statement

“Militants on Monday targeted a convoy carrying food supplies south of Baghdad using an explosive device, the Iraqi military said in a statement, leading to only material losses. Lebanese pro-Iranian TV channel al-Mayadeen reported that the explosion targeted a convoy carrying military equipment to a base hosting U.S. forces south of the capital. The channel said there was damage to one vehicle but no casualties. The report comes amid heightened tension between Iran-backed paramilitary groups and the United States in Iraq. Washington killed top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike last month and Tehran fired missiles at two bases hosting U.S. forces in retaliation days later.”

Afghanistan

The Washington Post: Suicide Bombing Shatters Relative Calm In Kabul, Killing Six

“After months of relative calm in the Afghan capital, a suicide bombing on Tuesday morning outside a military academy left at least six dead and 12 wounded, according to the Interior Ministry. Bombings in Kabul have dropped off in recent months as peace talks between the United States and the rebel Taliban have reached a critical stage. Also, large scale military operations in the country’s east have disrupted the extremist Islamic State group’s ability to plan and carry out attacks. The military academy in Kabul attacked Tuesday has been the target of attacks in the past claimed by the Islamic State. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack Tuesday. Two civilians and four military personnel were among the dead, the ministry said in a statement. Afghan security forces cordoned off the area, and ambulances rushed in and out to evacuate casualties. The demand for a reduction in violence in Afghanistan has become central to now-stalled peace talks between the United States and the Taliban. Taliban negotiations have offered a plan to bring violence down, but their U.S. counterparts have not yet formally resumed talks.”

Fox News: Gen. Keane: Taliban Commanders Under Orders To Kill American Soldiers To Break Our Will

“Taliban commanders are under specific orders to step up their attacks on American troops, Fox News senior strategic analyst Gen. Jack Keane said Monday in response to an attack that killed two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan over the weekend. “Ever since the negotiations were broken off as a result of a killing of a U.S. soldier at the time when President Trump terminated those negotiations a number of months ago, the tactical commanders received orders to do everything they possibly can to increase the casualties to Americans,” Keane told “America’s Newsroom.” “This is designed principally to break American will at home to suggest that the war is futile, and therefore, we should just walk away.” Keane’s comments came after two U.S. soldiers were killed and six were wounded Saturday when American and Afghan troops were fired on during a mission in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. officials told Fox News. The casualties occurred when an Afghan wearing an army uniform suddenly opened fire, The Associated Press reported.”

Middle East

France 24: Israel Sentences Islamic Cleric To 28 Months For Inciting Terror

“An Israeli court Monday sentenced a firebrand Islamic cleric to 28 months in prison for incitement to terrorism in connection with deadly unrest at a Jerusalem holy site in 2017. Raed Salah had been convicted by Haifa magistrates' court of “incitement to terror” for “praising, sympathising or encouraging terrorism” in remarks made after attackers killed two policemen on the Haram al-Sharif mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount. The deadly July 14, 2017 attack, at the Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem site, was carried out by perpetrators from his hometown of Umm al-Fahm. His group, the radical northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, was outlawed in 2015 for incitement linked to the Jerusalem holy site. Salah was also found guilty of “supporting an illegal organisation” in Facebook posts from 2015 and 2016, in which he called his supporters to commit “acts of violence or terrorism” while speaking in favour of his movement. The Haifa court on Monday also noted that 61-year-old Salah made the criminal remarks on three separate occasions following the Jerusalem shooting.”

Egypt

Voice Of America: Egypt Moves Toward Toughening Up Draconian Anti-Terror Law

“Egypt's legislature on Monday gave its initial approval for toughening up already draconian anti-terrorism laws, with amendments that include life sentences and capital punishment for funding terrorism, the state-run news agency said. The sweeping anti-terrorism law was enacted in August 2015. It established an extremely broad definition of terrorism, describing it in one article as any act that disturbs public order with force. Some charges, such as leading or organizing a terrorist group, carry the death penalty. The 2015 law also included provisions to protect Egyptian security forces from prosecution, establish stiffer prison sentences for terror-related offenses, as well as heavy fines for those who publish “false news'' and a special judicial circuit for terrorism cases. Journalists who do not toe the government line could be punished under the law. The new amendments expand the definition for the crime of funding terrorist acts. These would now include providing a place for training one terrorist or more; giving them weapons or documents in any way or form; offering support and financing in order to help terrorists travel, even if the provider does not have a direct link to the terrorist crime.”

Egypt Independent: Ten Militants, Army Officer Killed In North Sinai Terrorist Attack

“Ten militants and an Egyptian army officer were killed over the weekend in North Sinai, according to a statement issued on Sunday evening by Spokesperson for the Egyptian Armed Forces Colonel Tamer al-Rifaei. Egypt managed to thwart a terrorist attack on a security base in North Sinai on Sunday, the statement clarified, which resulted in the deaths of 10 militants. An officer with the Egyptian Armed Forces was also killed during the attack and another officer injured in the exchange of fire, the statement said, adding that the armed forces managed to destroy a four-wheel drive vehicle used by the militants. Egypt’s armed forces are continuing to sweep the surrounding area in pursuit of other terrorist elements, the statement said, stressing that the military and police would  efforts to eliminate violent extremism. For years Egypt has battled an extremist insurgency in North Sinai, which is led by a local affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group. Extremists have targeted military personnel at security checkpoints in the area as well as civilians. In November 2017, dozens of gunmen attacked a mosque in North Sinai’s Al-Rawda village during Friday prayers, killing over 300 people.”

Nigeria

The New York Times: Suspected Boko Haram Fighters Kill At Least 30 In Nigeria

“At least 30 people have been killed in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno region after suspected Boko Haram fighters set ablaze several trucks carrying passengers on Sunday night, eyewitnesses and residents told Reuters. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Boko Haram group and rival Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) splinter group have often carried out attacks in the area. The passengers were stranded on Sunday evening along a military check point due to the curfew imposed by the military in the town of Auno before the attack, resident Bunu Ali who witnessed the attack said. Auno is about 15 miles from Maiduguri, the state capital. Eyewitness said the insurgents attacked on motorbikes, shooting sporadically. They set at least 18 vehicles ablaze and abducted several people, another eyewitness said. Nigerian Army Commander said the casualty figure was much smaller because the military had recovered 10 bodies on Monday. The commander said the military closed the road to curb the insurgency. Borno state is the epicenter of the Boko Haram and ISWA insurgency. The conflict has lasted a decade, during which time the militants have killed thousands and millions have fled from their homes in the region.”

Somalia

The Defense Post: Family Says Teenage Girl Killed In US Airstrike That Targeted Al Shabaab In Somalia

“When U.S. Africa Command announced it had conducted an airstrike on an al-Shabaab militant in the southern Somalia town of Jilib on February 2, it included an oft-repeated line: “We currently assess no civilians were injured or killed as a result of this airstrike.” But Mohamed Osman Abdi, English editor at Somalia National News Agency in Mogadishu, told The Defense Post that the casualty assessment, like many others, is wrong. “I got a call from a friend in Mogadishu, saying ‘did you know that some of your family were killed and injured in a strike which killed civilians in Jilib?’” Abdi said last week. Abdi told The Defense Post that his brother-in-law’s two daughters and his mother were sitting down to dinner when an explosion decimated their single-family home. One of the daughters, Nurto, about 20 years old, was killed, he said. Fatima, 15, was rushed to the local clinic with shrapnel in her right shoulder and chest. His mother-in-law is in critical condition, he says. Abdi said his family was unable to obtain photo evidence of the incident because Shabaab does not allow smartphones in its territory, but confirmed the identity of his relatives in photos posted on Twitter, and provided The Defense Post with other family photos for comparison.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Man Convicted Of Planning Terror Attacks On London Tourist Hotspots

“A man has been convicted of planning a terror attack at London tourist hotspots, just over a year after he was cleared of attacking police with a sword outside Buckingham Palace. Mohiussunnath Chowdhury, 28, from Luton, spoke about targeting attractions including Madame Tussauds, the gay Pride parade and a tourist bus. The former Uber driver unwittingly revealed his plot to undercover police. He also bragged to them that he had deceived the jury at his first trial. Chowdhury was cleared of a terror charge in December 2018 after slashing police with a sword outside the Queen's London residence while shouting “Allahu Akbar”. At the time Chowdhury told jurors he only wanted to be killed by police and did not intend to harm anyone. Chowdhury's sister, Sneha Chowdhury, was convicted of one count of failing to disclose information about acts of terrorism Undercover officers, posing as like-minded extremists, had Chowdhury under surveillance during a five-month operation, his trial at Woolwich Crown Court heard. The chicken shop worker prepared for his atrocity by lifting weights, practising stabbing and rehearsing beheading techniques, as well as booking shooting range training and trying to acquire a real gun, the court heard.”

BBC News: Manchester Arena Bomb Parts 'Bought By Brothers Using Mum's Card'

“The Manchester Arena attacker and his brother used their mother's bank account to buy tools and equipment to make a bomb, a court has been told. The Old Bailey heard Samia Tabbal's bank card was used to buy a battery and other items before the 2017 attack. Mrs Tabbal had been receiving tax credits, child and housing benefit of about £550 a week, even though she left the UK for Libya in October 2016. Hashem Abedi denies involvement in his brother Salman's attack. The jury was told Mrs Tabbal's bank statements showed a series of large cash withdrawals of between £50 and £300 each month in the UK after she left the country. As well as items from a B&Q superstore, her bank account was also used to pay for an industrial battery from a specialist shop in Salford, the court heard. Analysis of her documents showed her weekly tax credit and child benefit payments continued until 19 May, the jury was told, three days before the attack which killed 22 people outside an Ariana Grande concert. Her monthly housing benefit was last paid four days later, on 26 May. The financial investigation also revealed Salman Abedi, who had dropped out of a business management degree at the University of Salford on 13 January, received a student loan payment of £1,002.54 four days earlier and a further one of £2,258 at the end of the month.”

The Guardian: Urgent Crackdown On Terror Sentences Will Affect About 50 Inmates

“About 50 prisoners convicted of terror offences will no longer be automatically freed halfway through their sentences, under emergency government legislation designed to prevent further jihadi attacks by recently released inmates. The urgent introduction of a parliamentary bill on Tuesday – due to become law before the end of the month – is aimed at pre-empting the release of any more prisoners serving a fixed-length terrorist sentence. The move follows the London Bridge knife attacks by Usman Khan in November last year and the Streatham stabbings by Sudesh Amman this month. Both men were convicted terrorists released mid-term from prison on licence. Most of the 50 or so inmates affected by retrospective changes to enforcement of their sentences are believed to be serving time for jihadism-related crimes, though others may be far-right activists. Of the 224 inmates serving time for terror-related offences in British prisons in September last year, 77% were classed as having Islamist extremist views and 17% were deemed to support far-right ideologies.”

Daily Mail: Convicted Extremist's Mother Insists ISIS-Supporting Son Who Called For Beheadings 'Would Never Hurt Anyone' As Ministers Race To Stop His Automatic Early Release

“The mother of a convicted extremist has insisted her ISIS-supporting son who called for beheadings would 'never hurt anyone' as ministers race to stop his automatic release. Mohammed Zahir Khan had previously posed with an ISIS flag and had called for a so-called 'year of fear' before being jailed in 2018. The 42-year-old from Sunderland was supposed to have been imprisoned for four and a half years but is due for automatic release in the next few months. Ministers are facing a deadline of February 27 to pass the emergency terror legislation through Parliament that would end automatic release for offenders after half their sentence after Sudesh Amman attacked locals in Streatham. Khan's mother Tazeem Akhtar today claimed she wanted her son freed so he could be at home with her. The 63-year-old said Khan now wants to 'move on with his life'. Speaking to the Sun Online she said: 'He's not a danger to society. He would never hurt anyone. 'I just want to see him freed. He has served his time. I want to see him back here at home with me. He told me he leaves this month. He is very excited to leave.' She added that her son now wants to open a grocery store, 'get married and have a family of his own.’”

Europe

The New York Times: Russia Sentences Anti-Fascists On Bogus Terror Charges, Critics Say

“A Russian military court on Monday handed down harsh sentences of up to 18 years to seven members of a group of left-wing activists, who in turn accused the authorities of extorting confessions through torture and threats against their families. Critics said the charges of terrorism were fabricated and that the accused, as in other previous incidents, were entrapped by security agents. They compared the use of torture to extort testimony to the practices used by Soviet security forces during Stalin’s purges in the 1930s and early 1950s. The seven men, aged 23 to 31, were accused of creating a terrorist organization called “the Network” with the aim of launching terror attacks ahead of the 2018 World Cup soccer tournament in Russia and the presidential election that took place the same year. The prosecutors said the organization was managed from the Russian provincial city of Penza, where the Monday hearing took place. It also had cells in Moscow, St. Petersburg and in Belarus, said officers of the Federal Security Service, or the F.S.B., who ran the investigation. All seven men denied the charges. At least four of them initially pleaded guilty, but later switched, contending that their original pleas had been obtained under torture, that there was no such terror group and that prosecutors had invented the name “the Network.”