Eye on Extremism: Feb 12, 2020

The Washington Post: US To Seek More Help From NATO To Counter Islamic State

“US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday he is looking to NATO allies for more help countering the Islamic State extremist group in Iraq and in bolstering U.S. defense efforts in the Middle East more broadly. In an interview while flying to Brussels to attend a NATO defense ministers meeting, Esper told reporters he wants NATO countries to do more to help Iraq’s security forces. “As they put more forces in, that could allow us to decrease” the U.S. military’s workload there, he said. Esper is looking for ways to reduce the U.S. troop presence in Iraq so that some can be brought home to focus on longer-term challenges, particularly from China. Similarly, he is considering pulling some troops out of Africa. The U.S. now has about 5,000 troops in Iraq, continuing a years-long effort to train and advise Iraqi security forces to prevent an ISIS resurgence. There also are about 12,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan more than 18 years after the U.S. invaded to topple the Taliban. NATO leads a training mission in Iraq, but that contingent is at leas than full strength. Esper will be discussing Iraq, Afghanistan and other major defense issues at NATO headquarters on Wednesday and Thursday before attending an international security conference in Munich, Germany where some of the same issues will be on the agenda.”

Reuters: Tehran-Backed Hezbollah Steps In To Guide Iraqi Militias In Soleimani's Wake

“Shortly after Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq, the Tehran-backed Lebanese organization Hezbollah urgently met with Iraqi militia leaders, seeking to unite them in the face of a huge void left by their powerful mentor’s death, two sources with knowledge of the meetings told Reuters. The meetings were meant to coordinate the political efforts of Iraq’s often-fractious militias, which lost not only Soleimani but also Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a unifying Iraqi paramilitary commander, in the Jan. 3 attack at Baghdad airport, the sources said. While offering few details, two additional sources in a pro-Iran regional alliance confirmed that Hezbollah, which is sanctioned as a terrorist group by the United States, has stepped in to help fill the void left by Soleimani in guiding the militias. All sources in this article spoke on condition of anonymity to address sensitive political activities rarely addressed in public. Officials with the governments of Iraq and Iran did not respond to requests for comment, nor did a spokesperson for the militia groups.”

The New York Times: US Military Downgrades Efforts Against Extremists In Sahel

“The U.S. military has switched from trying to degrade Islamic extremist groups in West Africa’s sprawling Sahel region to merely trying to contain them as their deadly threat increases, a new U.S. government report says. The quarterly report by the inspectors general for the Pentagon, State Department and USAID released this week is the first to be unclassified as interest surges in the U.S. military’s activities in Africa. Security allies are worried as the U.S. considers cutting troops on the continent to counter China and Russia elsewhere in the world. Top concerns in Africa include the fast-growing threat from multiple extremist groups in the Sahel region just south of the Sahara Desert and the enduring threat by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab in Somalia, which killed three Americans in an unprecedented attack against U.S. forces in Kenya last month. Consistent pressure on extremist groups is needed to weaken them, the report says, citing Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who has compared it to “mowing the lawn.” That need, along with the often slow development of local partners' militaries, “could require ongoing commitment of U.S. military resources,” the report adds.”

Associated Press: White Supremacist Propaganda Spreading, Anti-Bias Group Says

“Incidents of white supremacist propaganda distributed across the nation jumped by more than 120% between 2018 and last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League, making 2019 the second straight year that the circulation of propaganda material has more than doubled. The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism reported 2,713 cases of circulated propaganda by white supremacist groups, including fliers, posters and banners, compared with 1,214 cases in 2018. The printed propaganda distributed by white supremacist organizations includes material that directly spreads messages of discrimination against Jews, LGBTQ people and other minority communities -- but also items with their prejudice obscured by a focus on gauzier pro-America imagery. The sharp rise in cases of white supremacist propaganda distribution last year follows a jump of more than 180% between 2017, the first year that the Anti-Defamation League tracked material distribution, and 2018.”

United States

The New York Times: We Once Fought Jihadists. Now We Battle White Supremacists.

“As a former soldier and F.B.I. agent, we both risked our lives to fight Al Qaeda. But the enemy we currently face is not a jihadist threat. It’s white supremacists — in the United States and overseas. One American group, The Base, peppered a recruitment video with footage of our faces, intercut with shots of masked men machine-gunning a spray-painted Star of David. The Scandinavia-based Nordic Resistance Movement called us out by name, referring to us in a recent statement as “the Jew Max Rose” and “Arab F.B.I. agent Ali Soufan.” Defenders of the Ukrainian Azov Battalion, which the F.B.I. calls “a paramilitary unit” notorious for its “association with neo-Nazi ideology,” accuse us of being part of a Kremlin campaign to “demonize” the group. Why the sudden attention? Because we, along with dedicated colleagues from across the political spectrum, are working to expose the truth about so-called domestic terrorism: There is nothing domestic about it. Over the past several months — at congressional hearings, in a report by the Soufan Center, and in a letter to the State Department signed by 40 members of Congress — we have documented the existence of a global network of white supremacist extremists that stretches across North America, Europe and Australia.”

Syria

Reuters: Widowed, Imprisoned, Detained: Remnants Of Islamic State In Limbo In Syria

“In northeastern Syria, prisons and detention camps hold thousands of men, women and children whose lives are in limbo nearly a year after the final defeat of Islamic State to which they once belonged. The area around Qamishli city is mainly controlled by Kurdish fighters who helped defeat the Islamist militant group. They have since been pushed into a small pocket of northeastern Syria by Turkish-led forces who consider them a security threat. Kurdish forces bear the brunt of looking after those captured as Islamic State collapsed, including hundreds of foreigners who fought alongside local militants to create a self-declared caliphate in the Middle East. What to do with the remnants of Islamic State, whose fighters tortured and executed thousands of people during its zenith from 2014, is a thorny issue for countries whose citizens went to fight with the group. Many European countries, for example, have hesitated to repatriate nationals, fearing a public backlash if they do. Europeans comprise a fifth of the roughly 10,000 Islamic State fighters held captive in Syria by Kurdish militias. Kurdish officials say they lack the resources to properly detain, investigate and prosecute the large number of prisoners as well as their families in camps.”

RFI: What Happened To 8,000 Islamic State Captives?

“The international agency Human Rights Watch has called on the Syrian and Kurdish authorities to investigate the fate of thousands of people who went missing while in the custody of the Islamic State armed group. More than 8,000 people, detained by IS when the terrorist militia controlled swathes of north and east Syria, remain unaccounted for, the New York-based watchdog said, citing figures from the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Among them are the British reporter John Cantlie and Italian Jesuit priest Paolo Dall'Oglio. Human Rights Watch 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 Islamic State killed all its captives, or blanket denials of any knowledge,” the report said. US-backed Kurdish-led forces overran the jihadists' last pocket of Syrian territory in the eastern village of Baghouz in March last year.”

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 Tuesday morning outside a military academy left at least six dead and 12 wounded, according to the Ministry of Interior Affairs. Bombings in Kabul have dropped off in recent months as peace talks between the United States and Taliban insurgents have reached a critical stage. In addition, 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 that was attacked Tuesday has been the target of attacks in the past claimed by the Islamic State. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the latest attack. 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 negotiatiors have offered a plan to reduce violence, but their U.S. counterparts have not yet formally resumed talks. The last round of formal talks was “paused” in December by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad following a complex Taliban attack on the U.S. military base at Bagram, north of Kabul.”

NBC News: U.S. Ready To Sign Peace Deal If Taliban Abide By Promise To Reduce Violence

“The United States and the Taliban are poised to clinch a deal that would see the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the start of peace talks between the insurgents and the Afghan government. But the agreement will go ahead only if the Taliban abide by a pledge to reduce violence over a seven-day period, according to a Western official, an Afghan official and two former U.S. officials briefed on the talks. The two sides have revived the same draft agreement that came close to being signed in September, which calls for a timeline for a U.S. troop pullout in exchange for the Taliban agreeing to cut ties with terrorist groups and entering into peace talks with their foes in the Afghan government. If the agreement goes ahead, it would potentially bring an end to America’s longest war by launching direct peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government for the first time. A deal would give President Donald Trump a talking point in his bid for re-election, allowing him to argue he fulfilled a campaign promise to extricate America from “endless” wars abroad.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Taliban Deny Suicide Attack That Killed Six In Kabul

“A suicide attack near a military academy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, left six people dead on Tuesday, the interior ministry said. “Six people including two civilians and four military personnel were killed,” interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said, adding that 12 people were wounded, five of them civilians. The bombing which took place near the government-run defence university, early in the morning, was the first major attack in the capital this year. The Taliban denied involvement in the blast and there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. “It wasn't our work,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, Reuters reported. This comes at a time of heightened uncertainty in the country as US and Taliban negotiators try to pursue talks towards a peace deal to end 18 years of war.  The Marshal Fahim Military Academy, modelled after European war colleges to train Afghan cadets, has been the scene of several attacks in the past, including an assault last may claimed by ISIS. For his part, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack in a statement released by his office. “The great nation of Afghanistan wants an end to violence, an end to the war, a ceasefire and an enduring peace,” the statement said.”

Yemen

Xinhua: 2 Yemeni Gov't Soldiers Killed In Al-Qaida Ambush

“Two soldiers or Yemen's newly-recruited forces were killed during an ambush set up by suspected al-Qaida militants in the country's southern province of Abyan on Tuesday, a security official told Xinhua. “Suspected militants of the Yemen-based al-Qaida branch set up an armed ambush and killed two pro-government soldiers in Al Mahfid district, southeast of Abyan,” the local security source said on condition of anonymity. The ambush targeted a military vehicle carrying food supplies for the pro-government soldiers stationed in the area, he said. Earlier this week, members of the al-Qaida group blew up a residential building belonging to a commander of the local security forces in Al Mahfid. Other local security sources based in Abyan confirmed to Xinhua that activities of the Yemen-based al-Qaida branch have increased recently in Abyan. Sporadic armed attacks are targeting the military checkpoints of the pro-government forces stationed in Abyan's areas. The Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) network, which mostly operates in eastern and southern provinces, has been responsible for many high-profile attacks against security forces in the country.”

Egypt

The Times Of Israel: Egyptian Forces Kill 17 Jihadists In North Sinai

“Egyptian police have killed 17 jihadists in a shootout in the restive northern Sinai, the interior ministry said Tuesday. Security forces are battling a long-running insurgency in the peninsula, spearheaded by the Islamic State group. The shootout flared as police, acting on intelligence, raided a hideout in North Sinai’s provincial capital of El-Arish, the ministry said in a statement. They found “terrorist elements” who were planning “hostile operations” and had weapons and explosives, the ministry added. The date of the raid was not specified. Egypt has for years been fighting an Islamist insurgency in north Sinai, which escalated following the military’s 2013 ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. Scores of policemen and soldiers have been killed in jihadist attacks. The army said Sunday that seven soldiers were killed or wounded and 10 jihadists killed following an attack on a north Sinai army post. A local affiliate of the Islamic State group later claimed responsibility. Earlier this month, the group said it had blown up a gas pipeline in the Sinai Peninsula that it claimed was connected to Israel.”

Libya

Egypt Independent: Libyan Military Police Arrest Egyptian Terrorist In Benghazi

“Military police in the Libyan city of Benghazi have detained a terrorist named Mohamed Sobhi, who holds Egyptian citizenship and is a former officer of the Islamic State (IS) in the al-Naqleya district. The Libya 24 newspaper on Monday quoted military sources saying that Sobhi confessed to crimes such as the abduction and rape of Libyan women, in addition to demanding ransoms from the families of kidnapped hostages. According to one source, Sobhi was arrested in a checkpoint on the road to the Musaid border crossing between Libya and Egypt. He had been planning to travel from Benghazi to Cairo. Sobhi was an officer in a militia led by IS terrorist leader Muhammad Salem Bahroun, also known as “al-Faar” (the rat), the source added. The Libya 24 report wrote that Sobhi entered Libya illegally and had previously worked as an electrician in Cairo. Sobhi detailed how Bahroun recruited hundreds of African immigrants from Chad and Sudan, and convinced fighters from the Boko Haram terrorist organization to fight alongside IS against the Libyan army.”

Nigeria

The New York Times: Nigeria Governor Pleads For Military's Help After 30 Killed

“The governor of Nigeria's Borno state has urged the military to better defend a town where suspected Islamic extremists killed more than 30 people who had been left to sleep in their cars over the weekend after being locked outside the city gate. Gov. Babagana Zulum visited the scene Monday where some of the cars were still smoking with corpses inside them. The violence Sunday night marked the sixth time since June that the town of Auno had come under attack by suspected Boko Haram militants. While the governor put the death toll at 30, the military said only 10 people had died and that the motorists had defied a military warning that the highway would be closed at 5 p.m. The governor accused the military of failing to protect the stranded travelers and pleaded again for soldiers to re-establish a base there. “The fact is that we have made several attempts for the Nigeria military to establish their unit in Auno but nothing was done,” he said. “As soon as it is 5 o’clock and they closed up their gate, they abandon the people and move over to Maiduguri,” the capital of the northeastern state. Witnesses said the locked-out travelers came under attack around 10 p.m. and the assault lasted 45 minutes.”

Somalia

The Defense Post: Somali Troops Still Vulnerable To Al-Shabaab Outside Mogadishu, Pentagon Says

“Troops loyal to Somalia’s Federal Government in Mogadishu are not yet ready to stand on their own against al-Shabaab militants in the country’s south, the U.S. Defense Department said in a new report. Despite some successes, the Somali National Army – backed by African Union and U.S. forces – have made little progress in recent months on Operation Badbaado, a joint effort to secure rural areas south of the capital, according to a Pentagon Office of the Inspector General report presented to Congress on Tuesday, February 11. The assessment comes ahead of a potential limited drawdown of both U.S. and A.U. military forces contributing to the fight against the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants who still control swaths of southern Somalia. It also calls into question the feasibility of U.S. Africa Command’s goal of significantly degrading the militant network’s capabilities by 2021, despite a blistering drone strike campaign and American Special Operations Forces’ assistance on the ground.”

Africa

Reuters: Islamic State Claims Algeria Border Attack

“Islamic State said on Tuesday that it was behind Sunday’s attack on an Algerian military barracks near the country’s border with Mali that killed one soldier. The militant group sent the bomber in a vehicle rigged with explosives, but a sentry stopped him before he could enter the compound and the blast killed both men, according to a Defence Ministry statement. The group’s Algerian leader is a 47-year-old militant known as Abu Walid el-Sahrawi. “The martyred brother Omar al-Ansari ... entered the base and exploded his car against them,” the group said in a statement. Algeria, in common with other countries in the Sahel and Sahara regions, is growing increasingly concerned about the risk of militant groups taking advantage of the escalating conflict in Libya and chaos in Mali to expand their presence. In Mali, the government has said it is ready to talk with jihadist groups in the hope of ending an insurgency that has made swathes of the country ungovernable and stoked ethnic violence. In Libya, chaos in parts of the country since the 2011 revolution has created space for Islamic State, which launched a cross-border attack against a Tunisian town in 2016, but which is now mostly active in Libya’s south.”

The New York Times: Malian President Acknowledges Talk With Extremist Leaders

“Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has confirmed that his government is in contact with al-Qaida-linked extremist leaders as the West African country faces some of the worst violence since its crisis began in 2012, according to an interview with French media. While attending an African Union summit in Ethiopia, Keita also confirmed that Mali's military would soon be returning to the northern rebel stronghold town of Kidal, where it has not had a presence in six years. Keita told Radio France Internationale and France 24 that he had a duty “to do everything possible so that, by one means or another, we can achieve some sort of appeasement.” He added on Monday: “Because the number of deaths in the Sahel today is becoming exponential. And I think it is time that certain paths were explored.” “We in Mali have tried the challenge of an inclusive national dialogue, and among our recommendations is this aspect,” he said. “Why not try contact with those who we know are pulling the strings of the situation in Mali?” Keita was asked about media reports that he had allowed former President Dioncounda Traore to meet with extremist leaders Amadou Koufa and Iyad Ag Ghali.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Emergency Terror Law Presented To Parliament

“Emergency legislation designed to end the release of people convicted of terrorism offences halfway through their sentence has been presented to Parliament. The measures - which would apply to England, Scotland and Wales - were drawn up after the attack in Streatham, south London, earlier this month. The attacker, Sudesh Amman, had been freed from prison 10 days earlier. The government wants the measures to become law by the end of the month. MPs will consider all stages of the Terrorist Offenders Bill on Wednesday, before the Commons goes into recess on Thursday. The bill will then move to the Lords in time, ministers hope, for it to become law by 27 February. The aim is to prevent the 28 February release of Mohammed Zahir Khan, who is the next convicted terrorist due to be freed after serving half his sentence for encouraging terrorism. Under the government's proposals, people given a fixed or determinate sentence for a terror-related offence would be freed only with the agreement of the Parole Board - and after serving at least two-thirds of their term.”

The Guardian: Six Terrorists Freed From Jail Committed Further Terror Act, Figures Reveal

“Six convicted terrorists have been released from prison and convicted of a further terrorist offence within seven years, it has been revealed, as parliament heads into a debate over emergency laws designed to keep extremist prisoners in jail for longer. Between January 2013 and December 2019, 196 individuals convicted of a terrorist offence were released from prison in England and Wales with 3.06% of them going on to be convicted of a further terrorist offence. The figures, which were released to Lord Anderson, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, through a written question to the government, come as parliament is set to debate emergency legislation announced less than 24 hours after the convicted terrorist Sudesh Amman stabbed two people in south London. The proposals, which the government hopes to rush through parliament in a single day, will block the automatic release of about 50 serving terrorist prisoners at the halfway point of their sentence. Human rights experts have warned applying a change in the conditions of a sentence retrospectively is potentially unlawful and the figures uncovered by Anderson are further evidence of a knee-jerk response by the government.”

Europe

The National: On The Fate Of ISIS Prisoners, The West Is Wrong To Pass The Buck

“The final fall of ISIS’s false caliphate in March 2019 after the liberation of the Syrian town of Baghouz was greeted with relief by every sane person. It left behind, however, the problem of what to do with the tens of thousands of fighters and family members who were detained in the aftermath. Everyone agreed they should be prosecuted – or dealt with more humanely, in the cases of children and those who could prove they had been held against their will. The questions were: where, and by whom? The issue was – and remains – particularly pressing when it comes to the thousands of foreigners who had flocked to ISIS’s black banner. Some countries were prepared to take their nationals back. Malaysia, for instance, has repatriated a small number. Two who returned last November are currently being tried and face up to 30 years in jail if convicted, while others have gone through rehabilitation programmes and are being monitored. European governments, on the other hand, have been extremely reluctant to do the same. Along with the US, they have held discussions about western nationals captured in Syria being transferred to Iraq, which has long been trying and convicting ISIS terrorists. Last summer, 11 French defendants were sentenced to death in an Iraqi court – with the full approval of President Emmanuel Macron’s administration.”

Southeast Asia

Reuters: Indonesia Will Not Take Back Nationals Who Joined Islamic State: Minister

“Indonesia has decided not to take back nearly 700 of its nationals who left home to join Islamic State in Syria and other countries, the chief security minister said on Tuesday. The minister, Mahfud MD, said the government needed to ensure the security of 267 million Indonesian citizens by keeping the fighters out of the country. The minister said, however, authorities would try to get more accurate data on the Indonesians who had joined Islamic State and might take back children aged 10 and younger, although this would be reviewed on a “case by case” basis.”

Yahoo News: 2 Maids Sentenced To Jail In Singapore For Financing Terrorism In Separate Cases

“Two Indonesian maids pleaded guilty to financing terrorism and were sentenced to jail on Wednesday (12 February). Turmini, who only goes by one name, was jailed for three years and nine months after the 31-year-old maid admitted to providing $1,216.73 to terrorist group Jemaah Anshaut Daulah (JAD), which is affiliated to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), over five months. Turmini had used her employer, whom she worked for six years, to unwittingly transfer the monies to a bank account of a supporter of the terrorist group, whom she had believed she loved and wanted to marry. The other maid, 36-year-old Retno Hernayani, was sentenced to one year and six months’ jail after she similarly remitted $140 to a supporter of the same terrorist group whom she loved and intended to marry. She had collected the money from other foreign domestic workers for the donation. Retno and Turmini, who did not know each other, had pleaded guilty to two and three charges respectively under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act, with remaining charges of a similar nature taken into consideration for their sentencing.”