Eye on Extremism: Feb 13, 2020

The New York Times: Accused Mastermind Of Mumbai Attack Convicted Of Links To Terrorism

“An antiterrorism court in Pakistan on Wednesday convicted Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of the group that carried out deadly attack in Mumbai in 2008, on terrorism-related charges and sentenced him to five and a half years in prison. India and the United States call Mr. Saeed the mastermind of the Mumbai attack, which killed more than 160 people, including six Americans. For years, Pakistan had been under intense international pressure to take action against him and the radical Islamist group he founded, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the United States has offered a $10 million bounty for him. “The Hafiz Saeed conviction should have happened many years ago,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, a political analyst based in Islamabad, Pakistan. “That it did not is a measure of the internal tensions, institutional weaknesses and cognitive contradictions within Pakistan.” In the antiterrorism court in Lahore, the eastern Pakistani city where he was based, Mr. Saeed was found guilty of having links with terrorist groups, raising funds for terrorism and having illegal property, said his lawyer, Imran Gill. He was sentenced to two prison terms of five and half years, which will run concurrently, according to the judge, Arshad Hussain Bhatta. He was also fined $97.”

The Globe And Mail: Surge Of Violent Extremism Leads To Hunger And Refugee Exodus In Africa’s Sahel Region

“Africa’s fastest-growing Islamist insurgency is triggering a dramatic rise in hunger and a refugee exodus across three countries in the Sahel region of West Africa, leaving thousands of civilians dead and millions at risk of food shortages. Local and international troops are “over-matched” by the intensifying attacks from violent extremist militias in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, forcing armies to switch to a strategy of merely trying to “contain” the insurgency, the U.S. military admitted in a report this week. Mali is planning to recruit another 10,000 troops to fight the rebels; France is deploying a further 600 soldiers to reinforce its 4,500 troops in the region; Chad is sending another battalion of reinforcements; and Canada is among many Western countries providing training of police and counterterrorism forces in the region. But the military aid has failed to prevent the humanitarian catastrophe from growing worse. The region has suffered the most rapid increase in Islamist violent extremism of any region in Africa in recent years, with attacks doubling every year since 2015, according to data compiled by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.”

United States

ABC News: Man Pleads Guilty To Terrorism Charge After Blocking Hoover Dam Bridge With Armored Truck

“A man in Arizona has pleaded guilty to terrorism charges stemming from a June 2018 incident in which he created a barricade with an armored vehicle at the Hoover Dam, apparently in support of the far-right QAnon movement. Matthew Wright, 32, pleaded guilty on Feb. 4 to making a terroristic threat, aggravated assault and unlawful flight from pursuing law enforcement vehicle. Wright, armed with a rifle in a black armored truck, blocked the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Bridge over the Colorado River at the Hoover Dam, where the Arizona and Nevada state lines meet. According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, when authorities arrived Wright was standing next to the vehicle with a sign that read, “Release the OIG report,” known as a prominent demand of QAnon followers. Arizona Department of Public SafetyIn June 2018, Matthew Wright blocked a bridge near the Hoover Dam in an armored truck. In June 2018, Matthew Wright blocked a bridge near the Hoover Dam in an armored truck. After a nearly hour-long stand-off, Wright fled in his vehicle, driving over tire deflation devices and past law enforcement.”

Military Times: After Decades Focused On Terrorism, Special Operations Is Broadening Its Horizons

“With clear marching orders from the Defense Department to turn focus to competitors like China and Russia, the U.S. special operations community is at an inflection point. Kicking down doors in Afghanistan and Iraq will give way to more missions like training partners in Europe and Asia, and U.S. Special Operations Command could see a shift in its funding and oversight. But that re-focus should not mean that special operations forces will take a back seat to traditional air, land and sea power, according to a report released Wednesday, as competitors are already using proxy forces and misinformation campaigns, both of which are right in the SOF wheelhouse. “A successful U.S. national security strategy will require more from SOF and their partner nation forces—not less,” according to the Imperatives 2020 report from the Global SOF Foundation, a Tampa, Florida-based non-profit that advances “SOF capabilities and partnerships to confront global and networked threats.” The six-year-old organization, which is not affiliated with SOCOM, is holding a symposium in Washington on Wednesday.”

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.”

Al Jazeera: Syrian Killed In Rare Clash Between US Troops, Government Forces

“A Syrian civilian was killed and another wounded in a rare clash between US troops and a group of government supporters who tried to block a United States convoy driving through a village in northeastern Syria, state media reported.The Syrian state-run media on Wednesday said the killed man was among residents of a village east of the town of Qamishli who had gathered at an army checkpoint, pelting the US convoy with stones and taking down a US flag from one of the vehicles. At that point, US troops fired with live ammunition and smoke bombs at the residents, the report said. A US military spokesman said coalition forces conducting a patrol near Qamishli encountered the checkpoint occupied by pro-Syrian government forces. “After coalition troops issued a series of warnings and de-escalation attempts, the patrol came under small arms fire from unknown individuals,” said Colonel Myles Caggins, a spokesman for the US-led coalition. “In self-defence, coalition troops returned fire,” he said. Hundreds of US troops are stationed in northeastern Syria, working with their local partners from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to fight against the ISIL (ISIS) group.”

The National: Syrian Kurds To Begin Trials For Foreign ISIS Fighters Next Month

“After months of deadlock, the Kurdish government will begin trials of foreign ISIS members, a Syrian Kurdish official said after a meeting with the Finnish government. Non-Syrians jailed in the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, also known as Rojava, will be tried from next month – with or without the help of their home countries, said Abdulkarim Omar, co-chairman of the authority’s foreign relations committee. The announcement follows a meeting between a delegation from the Syrian Kurdish committee and the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs at the end of January in Finland’s capital Helsinki. Mr Omar stated in a video posted on Facebook last week that the administration had asked for help from Finland to establish the special court. The countries with ISIS members on trial would have to support the administration with establishing the courts, he said. “It requires an international solution... this was the basis of our relationship with the international coalition against ISIS and we have to solve it together,” Mr Omar said. “These ISIS members must be tried, and the international community must assist us with this, continuing this relationship.” Finland has expressed its support for the creation of a special court in north-east Syria for trying foreigners.”

Iraq

Kurdistan 24: Iraq Launches Anti-ISIS Operation To Secure Western Border

“The Iraqi military announced on Wednesday that it had launched a new anti-Islamic State operation named “Iraqi Heroes” as part of ongoing efforts to secure the nation's often porous western borders with Syria and Jordan. “With God’s blessing, phase one of 'Iraqi Heroes' was launched at dawn today, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, with the participation of the Ground Forces Command, the Baghdad Operations Command, and the Border Guard Command and entities attached to it,” said Deputy Commander of Joint Operations Command Abdul Amir Rashid Yarallah in a statement. He added, “The process is to search and clear Anbar Province and surrounding areas in the Iraqi-Syrian-Jordanian borders... with the Middle Euphrates Command and Baghdad Operations Command to eliminate the remnants of terrorism, impose security, and enhance stability.” The military operation will be conducted from five axes with the full support of the entire Iraqi air force, according to the statement.”

Afghanistan

The New York Times: A U.S.-Taliban Deal Hinges On Reducing Violence. It Might Work Like This.

“The United States and the Taliban are perhaps the closest they have been to a deal that could begin the end of America’s longest war, with President Trump giving a conditional green light to his diplomats to prepare for signing. That condition, however, is no small one. The United States is demanding that in the week before any agreement is signed, there be a sustained, significant reduction in hostilities — something described as close to a cease-fire. The reduction is seen as a test of the ability of all sides to control their ranks, and to hold their fire in a complex conflict that is increasingly mixed up with local feuds and regional rivalries. The hope is that it will serve as a dry run for a more lasting cease-fire. If the sides do succeed in observing a period of reduced hostilities,  the next steps of the deal will fall into place: first a formal signing between the United States and the Taliban that rolls out a schedule for gradual withdrawal of the remaining American troops, and then the start of negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan leaders over the political future of the country. Here is what the pause in hostilities and the next steps of the peace process might look like, based on interviews with nearly a dozen current and former Afghan and Western officials as well as Taliban leaders who have followed the negotiations closely.”

The Washington Post: U.S.-Taliban Agreement On ‘Reduction In Violence’ Could Be Announced In Next Several Days

“Agreement between the United States and the Taliban on a “reduction in violence” in Afghanistan that could lead to direct peace talks between the militants and the Afghan government may be announced in the next several days, according to people familiar with the negotiations. Realization of those plans depend on whether the United States and the Taliban, in discussions this week, can finalize the parameters of the violence reduction, including its duration — expected to be seven days — and geographic coverage. They would also need to agree on the extent to which it applies to both the militants and U.S. forces, according to current and former Afghan and Taliban officials who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations. If the reduction is implemented, current plans call for it to be followed within days by the signing of a much broader U.S.-Taliban agreement under which the militants would quickly begin direct peace talks with the government, and the United States would start withdrawing troops. The State Department declined to comment. “Some good news could be forthcoming,” White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said at the Atlantic Council on Tuesday.”

Washington Examiner: Ignominious Distinction: Taliban Surpasses ISIS As 'World’s Deadliest' Nonstate Armed Group

“A new analysis from Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre says the Afghanistan-based Taliban has surpassed the Islamic State to become the world’s deadliest nonstate armed group. The group reported that while terrorist attacks decreased 10% to 14,009 in 2019, the lowest level since 2011, Taliban attacks increased by almost 90%, resulting in a 60% increase in deaths. The data shows that the Taliban accounted for more deaths than the next nine deadliest groups combined. The ignominious distinction comes as President Trump reportedly has given conditional approval to a peace deal with the Taliban that could mark the beginning of the end of America’s longest war, according to Afghan and U.S. officials. “But the deal will only be signed if the Taliban prove their commitment to a durable reduction of violence over a test period of about seven days later this month,” reports the New York Times. “If the Taliban do end hostilities and a deal is signed, the United States would then begin a gradual withdrawal of American troops, and direct negotiations would start between the Taliban and Afghan leaders over the future of their country,” the newspaper reports. Meanwhile, Islamic State attacks and resultant fatalities both fell by around 20% in comparison to 2018.”

Xinhua: Afghan Forces Detain Taliban Local Commander In Eastern Province

“Security forces have captured a group commander of the Taliban outfit in the eastern Paktika province, provincial police spokesman Shah Mohammad Arian said Wednesday. The arrested militant, identified as Mullah Khalid and captured on Tuesday evening, was commander of a 30-member Taliban fighters and he has admitted to involvement in subversive activities, the official said. Taliban militants who are operational in parts of Paktika with Sharan as its capital 155 km west of Kabul have yet to make comments.”

Pakistan

Associated Press: Pakistan Jails Cleric Wanted By US, India For Mumbai Attacks

“A Pakistani court on Wednesday handed down a five-year prison term to a radical cleric for terrorism financing. Hafiz Saaed is wanted by Washington and New Delhi for his alleged role in the bloody 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people in neighboring India. The U.S. put a $10 million bounty out for his arrest. The Pakistani court was not trying the cleric in connection with that attack, but on charges that his charity organizations, Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Falah-e-Insaniat, are fronts for funding the militant group that he founded, Lashkar-e-Taiba. India blames that group for the deadly attacks in Mumbai. Saeed and the four other suspects were present in the courtroom in the eastern city of Lahore when the judge announced the much-awaited verdict. Saeed was given a five-year prison term on terrorism financing charges in one case, plus six months in jail in another case registered against him in the eastern Punjab province.”

Yemen

Long War Journal: Saudi-Led Coalition In Yemen Reports Killing Lebanese Hezbollah Operatives Near Sana’a

“The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen reported that its airstrikes near the Yemeni capital Sana’a recently killed several members of Lebanese Hezbollah. According to the pro-Saudi Arabia outlet Al Hadath, coalition airstrikes killed “four experts of Hezbollah” east of Sana’a yesterday. Other outlets later picked up this report, with one adding that the Hezbollah operates included both Lebanese and Iraqi nationals. Al Arabiya, another pro-Saudi outlet, added that the two Lebanese members were killed in Ma’rib and al Jawf while the Iraqi members were both killed in Nihm. Quoting a Hadi government official, the government in Yemen backed by Saudi Arabia and its allies, Al Arabiya and Al Hadath report that there has been a “marked increase in Hezbollah activities in Yemen” since the death of Iranian Qods Force leader Qassem Soleimani. These claims have not been independently verified; though, these are not the first reports of Hezbollah operatives being killed recently in Yemen. Just last week, Muammar al Eryani, Yemen’s information minister under the Saudi-backed Hadi government, claimed that several other Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) members were killed in recent battles in northern Yemen.”

Egypt

Egypt Independent: Egyptian Security Forces Kill 17 Militants In Shootout In North Sinai

“Egypt’s Interior Ministry said on Tuesday that 17 militants have been killed in North Sinai by Egyptian police forces after shootouts at two locations, with an official statement from the Ministry claiming the group was planning to carry out terrorist attacks in the country targeting army and police personnel. A statement for the ministry said that National Security Agency (NSA) was tipped off about a terrorist group hiding in a backyard in the Obidat area of al-Arish city. The statement said that the group was planning to use their hideout as place to plot violent attacks. State security forces and the militants exchanged fire at the location, leading to the deaths of 11 “terrorists,” the statement described. Police seized six automatic guns, two shotguns, and three improvised explosive devices, according to the Interior Ministry’s statement. Some of the individuals at the hideout fled the scene to an abandoned house in the al-Hous area in al-Arish, and Egyptian forces tracked them, leading to another exchange of fire and the deaths of six other militants, the statement said.”

Nigeria

Sahara Reporters: Boko Haram Terrorists Attack Borno Hours After President Buhari's Visit

“Boko Haram terrorists have once again carried out a deadly attack on residents of a village in Borno State. The attack occurred hours after President Muhammadu Buhari paid a condolence visit to the people of the state over the killing of 30 persons on Sunday. Wednesday’s attack, according to reports, happened at Jiddari-Polo area, a suburb near Maiduguri, the state capital. Residents scampered for safety as the military officials battled the insurgents.  Angered by the spate of Boko Haram attacks in the state, Borno residents turned their anger on Buhari during his visit by booing him.”

Somalia

Bloomberg: Government, Militants Target Somali Journalists, Amnesty Says

“Journalists in Somalia are not only targeted by al-Qaeda-linked militants, but also by government security forces, according to rights group Amnesty International. Freedom of the media and expression have deteriorated since Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi also known as Farmajo took office in 2017, with rampant killings of journalists, arbitrary arrests and violent attacks, Amnesty said Thursday in a report titled “We live in perpetual fear.” At least eight journalists have been killed in south-central Somalia and Puntland since 2017 and another eight fled since October 2018, according to the report. “Somali journalists are under siege,” said Deprose Muchena, the organization’s director for East and Southern Africa. “From barely surviving explosive-wired cars, being shot, beaten up and arbitrarily arrested, journalists are working in horrifying conditions.” Somalia, which has been unstable since the civil war that ousted then President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, tops the Committee to Protect Journalists’ list of countries where those who kill journalists aren’t prosecuted. Attempts at rebuilding Somalia have been disrupted by internal wrangles and attacks by al Shabaab militants who want to impose their version of Sharia law.”

Africa

France 24: US Mulls Troop Cuts In Africa As Strategy Switches To ‘Contain’ Extremists

“The United States announced Wednesday an initial plan for adjusting its military presence in Africa.The adjustment comes as a new US government report says that the US military has switched from trying to degrade Islamic extremist groups in West Africa’s sprawling Sahel region to merely trying to contain them. The first change will see part of one infantry unit, around 800 troops, replaced with a similar number of military trainers and advisors to support local forces in “spotlight African countries,” Defense Department officials said. “The message I’m relaying to my (African) partners is we are not walking away,” US Army Africa commander Major General Roger Cloutier told reporters. “We are still engaged.” The move is the first resulting from a sweeping Pentagon review of the presence of US forces around the world in an effort to better align that presence with US defense priorities—which list China and Russia as the principle threats to the country. That could mean reducing US deployments meant to confront Islamic militant threats, including in Africa. But the Pentagon is also wary of leaving a vacuum in certain areas, like in Africa, for the Chinese and Russians to fill, which could give them strategically valuable footholds.”

The North Africa Post: Algeria: ISIS Claims Responsibility For Suicide Bomb Attack On Military Barracks

“The Islamic state group, ISIS, on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the suicide bomb attack on a military camp, on Sunday, near the border with Mali in which one soldier was killed. Sunday an ISIS combatant, identified by the militant group as Omar al Ansari, tried to enter with a car laden with explosives a military camp at Bordj Badji Mokhtar, near the border with Mali. He was stopped by a sentry but managed to explode the vehicle, killing himself and the soldier. The attack is the first since two assaults on police stations in 2017. The latest major terror blow to Algeria was dealt by al Qaeda which seized Tiguentourine gas plant. The liberation operation resulted in the death of several people including expat workers. Algerian authorities have been on the alert over the constant threats of terror groups in the Sahel region including in Mali and Libya.”

All Africa: West Africa: Where Do Sahel Terrorists Get Their Heavy Weapons?

“Terror attacks on military outposts in the Liptako-Gourma area where Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger meet are increasingly ambitious and complex. Their frequency and the damage inflicted on defence and security forces is worrying, and raises questions about where the terror groups are sourcing their heavy weapons. New research by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on the links between violent extremism, organised crime and local conflicts in Liptako-Gourma reveals that terrorist groups in the Sahel region - of which Liptako-Gourma forms part - are using weapons from the military barracks they're looting. Since the outbreak of the crisis in Mali in 2012, the origin of the many weapons circulating in the area has generated speculation. Libya was at one point the main source of arms. Weapons proliferation was linked to the fall of the Muammar Gaddafi regime in 2011. Following the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led military intervention, Libya lost control of a large part of the stockpiles it had amassed over 40 years. The transfer of weapons from Libya strengthened armed rebel movements in Mali in 2012.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Terror Sentence Changes 'Must Extend To Northern Ireland'

“There have been calls for new legislation ending the early release of people convicted of terror offences to be extended to Northern Ireland. MPs are debating the Terrorist Offenders Bill at Westminster. It means terror offenders will only be considered for release once they have served two-thirds of their term and with the approval of the Parole Board. It was introduced in response to an Islamist-related terrorist incident in London last month. The attacker, Sudesh Amman, had been freed from prison 10 days earlier. At present, offenders who receive standard determinate sentences for terror convictions are released automatically after serving half their sentence. The new legislation is being fast-tracked through the House of Commons. 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. Justice Minister Naomi Long said while the decision on whether or not to extend the legislation lay with the secretary of state, Stormont officials would “engage on the implications for Northern Ireland.”

Sky News: More Than 160 Terrorists Released Early In Seven Years, Mps Told

“More than 160 convicted terrorists have been released early in the last seven years, MPs have been told, as the Commons debated the government's emergency terror legislation. Conservative MP John Hayes, a former security minister, said he was “surprised and disappointed” by the “significant” numbers contained in research from the House of Commons library. He said this figure did not include offenders who had spent fewer than 12 months in prison. The disclosure was made as MPs debated the government's Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill, with the legislation clearing all of its Commons stages on Wednesday. This will stop around 50 terrorists being automatically released halfway through their sentences. The bill will ensure that terrorist offenders cannot be released early without what the government says is a “thorough risk assessment” from the Parole Board. Those who are deemed to still be a threat to public safety will be forced to spend the rest of their sentence behind bars, ministers say. The legislation will cover offenders sentenced for offences such as training for terrorism, membership of a proscribed organisation and the dissemination of terrorist publications.”

Southeast Asia

The Straits Times: Jakarta Blocks Return Of Over 600 ISIS Fighters And Family Members

“Indonesia has decided not to allow more than 600 of its citizens, comprising those believed to be Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters as well as their family members, to return home. All are stranded in a refugee camp in Syria since United States-led coalition forces defeated the militant group last March. “There is no plan to take back terrorists. We will not take back foreign terrorist fighters to Indonesia... For children aged below 10, we may consider case by case. We will see whether the minors are orphans,” Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud MD told reporters on Tuesday after meeting President Joko Widodo. “The government is going to gather more valid data on how many there are, their identities and those who were involved in terrorism,” added Mr Mahfud. Citing data from the US Central Intelligence Agency, he said there were 689 Indonesians stranded in Syria, but so far the identities of only 288 have been established. The Indonesians who travelled to Syria to join ISIS reportedly burned their Indonesian passports and all forms of identification.”

France 24: Top US Commander Warns Philippines Rift Could Hurt Terrorism Fight

“A top US commander warned ending a security pact with the Philippines' would hurt counter-terrorism efforts in the country's restive south Thursday, putting him at odds with commander-in-chief Donald Trump. Washington's top military officer in Asia-Pacific Admiral Philip Davidson said he hoped Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to scrap a deal allowing US forces to be based in the country would be rethought. Manila has given “180 day notice so we have some time for diplomatic efforts,” Davidson said at an event in Sydney. “I hope we can get to a successful outcome.” Trump has said he would be “fine” with the end of the visiting forces agreement as it would save the United States “a lot of money”. But Davidson insisted the move would hamper military operations in Duterte's home island of Mindanao -- where separatist and Islamist violence has killed some 100,000 people. “Our ability to help the Philippines in their counter-violent extremist fight in the south, our ability to train and operate within the Philippines and with Philippines armed forces would be challenged without that visiting forces agreement,” he warned.”