Eye on Extremism: Feb 6, 2020

Newsweek: Exclusive: U.S. Citizen Kidnapped By Taliban Group In Afghanistan

“An American contractor was captured by Taliban-aligned militants in Afghanistan last week, triggering a country-wide recovery effort, Newsweek has learned. Mark R. Frerichs of Lombard, Illinois, was kidnapped last Friday in Khost, a province located in the southeastern part of the country that borders the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, an underdeveloped region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. officials told Newsweek, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details publicly. Frerichs, 57, is a former U.S. Navy diver and the managing director for International Logistical Support, a U.S. government contractor. According to his LinkedIn account, he has worked as a civil engineer in several conflict zones from Iraq to Sudan during the past 10 years, where he has consulted on logistical contracts for both governments and non-governmental organizations. U.S. officials told Newsweek Frerichs had regularly traveled to Afghanistan since 2012. While no group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, U.S. officials believe the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network orchestrated the operation. Newsweek was unable to determine exactly how Frerichs was captured, but efforts to locate and recover him include a joint effort by Departments of State and Defense, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

WTOP: The Hunt: AQAP Leader Believed To Be Killed In US Drone Strike; Still No Confirmation

There have been reports this week that the head of Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, one of the most dangerous terror groups in the world, was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 25. President Donald Trump retweeted stories about it. But no U.S. officials will confirm it. On this week’s edition of The Hunt, Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior director of the Counter Extremism Project, tells WTOP national security correspondent J.J. Green that confirmation is complicated.

Fox News: What Is The Al Qaeda-Linked Al-Shabab Terrorist Group?

Al-Shabab, which means “the Youth” in Arabic, is believed to have formed around 2006. The U.S. State Department designated the group as a terrorist organization two years later, and in 2012, they pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda, according to the nonprofit Counter Extremism Project. As of 2017, al-Shabab was estimated to have up to 9,000 fighters in its ranks – led by Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah, a militant in his 40s. The U.S. State Department is currently offering a reward of up to $6 million for information leading to his capture. The group has been active in recruiting boys as young as 9 years old into its ranks – going so far as to kidnapping children from Somali schools, the Counter Extremism Project says.

Military Times: Signs Of White Supremacy, Extremism Up Again In Poll Of Active-Duty Troops

“More than one-third of all active-duty troops and more than half of minority service members say they have personally witnessed examples of white nationalism or ideological-driven racism within the ranks in recent months, according to the latest survey of active-duty Military Times readers. The poll surveyed 1,630 active-duty Military Times subscribers last fall on their views about political leaders, global threats and domestic policy priorities. It offers a troubling snapshot of troops’ exposure to extremist views while serving despite efforts from military leaders to promote diversity and respect for all races. The 2019 survey found that 36 percent of troops who responded have seen evidence of white supremacist and racist ideologies in the military, a significant rise from the year before, when only 22 percent — about 1 in 5 — reported the same in the 2018 poll. Enlisted members were more likely than officers to witness the extremist views (37 percent to 27 percent). Minorities were significantly more likely to report cases of racist behavior than whites (53 percent to 30 percent). Overall, troops who responded to the poll cited white nationalists as a greater national security threat than both domestic terrorism with a connection to Islam, as well as immigration.”

United States

Voice Of America: FBI Director: 2019 'Deadliest' Year For Domestic Terrorism

“FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Wednesday that 2019 was the deadliest year for domestic terrorism since the Oklahoma City truck bombing in 1995, adding that he'd raised combating racially motivated violence as a national priority for the bureau. “The spate of attacks we saw in 2019 underscores the continued threat posed by domestic violent extremists and perpetrators of hate crimes,” Wray said in prepared testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.  “Such crimes are not limited to the United States, and with the aid of internet like-minded hate groups can reach across borders.” Construction workers stand near a memorial they are building for the 22 people killed at the Cielo Vista Walmart seen in the background, Nov. 14, 2019, in El Paso, Texas, minutes before the store was reopened. Terror attacks carried out by white supremacists and other domestic extremists have been on the rise in recent years.  According to the FBI, domestic violent extremists killed 39 people in five separate attacks during fiscal 2019. That compares with four victims in four extremist attacks during fiscal 2018.”

Associated Press: Judge Strips Terrorist Of Citizenship At Government Request

“A federal judge has stripped a terrorist of his naturalized U.S. citizenship, siding with the government in the case of a Pakistan-born man convicted more than 15 years ago of plotting to destroy New York’s Brooklyn Bridge. Defendant Iyman Faris, once a truck driver in Columbus, Ohio, was sentenced in 2003 for aiding and abetting al-Qaida by scoping out the bridge as part of a plot to cut through cables that support it. His case was among the first and highest-profile terrorism cases after the Sept. 11 attacks. Faris met with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and worked with Sept. 11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, although some critics questioned how realistic the plot was, given post-Sept. 11 security in New York. The government argued that Faris lied on immigration papers before becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1999 and that his terrorist affiliations demonstrated a lack of commitment to the U.S. Constitution. Faris entered the U.S. using with the passport and visa of someone he’d met in Bosnia, the government said. “He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing who took advantage of American generosity with plans to terrorize and murder,” Steven Weinhoeft, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, said in a statement. “He does not deserve the honor of being an American citizen.”

Syria

ABC News: Over Half A Million Displaced As Fighting In Syria's Last Rebel Stronghold Intensifies Despite US Warnings

“As Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad pushes further into the last rebel stronghold, his armed forces, backed by Russia and Iran, are sending hundreds of thousands fleeing -- exacerbating an already bleak humanitarian crisis. The top U.S. diplomat for Syria is heading to the region shortly to review potential U.S. responses. He's also vowing to implement more sanctions on Assad's regime and its backers, while warning of a possible new refugee crisis or the spread of foreign terrorist fighters. But the ramped-up rhetoric from U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has not halted Assad's offensive -- now in its third month -- as he pushes to win the country back militarily after nine years of war. James Jeffrey, special envoy for Syria, told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. is “very, very worried” about the ongoing assault into Idlib province by Assad and his supporters, including Iran and Hezbollah, who Jeffrey said are “actively involved” in this offensive.”

The New York Times: Israel Hits Iran-Backed Posts In Syria, Casualties Reported

“Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes early on Thursday near Damascus, wounding eight soldiers, Syrian state media said, while an opposition war monitoring group said the strikes targeted army positions as well as Iran-backed fighters, killing 12. The state news agency SANA said the Syrian air defenses shot down most of the missiles in the suburbs of the capital and the country's south before they reached their targets. It said the Israeli warplanes fired the missiles while flying over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and neighboring Lebanon. SANA quoted an unnamed military official as saying that eight soldiers were wounded in the airstrikes, adding that they caused material damage as well. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the Syrian war through a network of activists on the ground, said the airstrikes that occurred after midnight on Wednesday. They hit Syrian army positions and those of Iranian-backed militiamen west and south of the capital, as well as the Mazzeh military air base in Damascus. the Observatory said. A “large number of missiles” hit multiple positions in these areas, triggering a fire at the Scientific Research Center in the Damascus suburb of Jamraya.”

Washington Examiner: Pentagon Inspector General Warns Against Declaring Premature Victory Over ISIS

“The latest report to Congress from the Pentagon’s lead inspector general warns against declaring premature victory over the remnants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “The Defense Intelligence Agency’s analysis for the DoD OIG indicates that without a U.S. troop presence in Iraq, ISIS would likely resurge in Iraq,” writes Glenn Fine, the Pentagon’s inspector general. While noting that the number of ISIS attacks decreased in the last three months of 2019, “ISIS has continued to disseminate its propaganda on Twitter, Facebook, and Telegram, and U.S. Central Command reported that this propaganda revolved around two main themes: ISIS’s persistence in the face of adversity, and retaliation through a global insurgency.” Not surprisingly, Democrats disputed President Trump’s depiction of a U.S. strategy that is effectively eliminating terrorists and reducing the threat from Iran. “Rather than strengthening our national security, his reckless decisions in recent months have emboldened our adversaries in Syria and resulted in more than 60 American servicemembers being diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries while doing nothing to restrict Iran’s ability to acquire nuclear weapons,” said Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth in a statement issued after last night’s State of the Union address.”

Iran

Reuters: Iran's President Says America Is A Terrorist And Commits Terrorist Acts

“Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday said America was a terrorist and committed terrorist acts, in a speech broadcast live on state TV, pointing to economic sanctions. Tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States since top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3, prompting the Islamic Republic to retaliate with a missile attack against a U.S. base in Iraq days later.”

Turkey

Reuters: Exclusive: U.S. Halts Secretive Drone Program With Turkey Over Syria Incursion

“The United States has halted a secretive military intelligence cooperation program with Turkey that for years helped Ankara target Kurdish PKK militants, four U.S. officials told Reuters. The U.S. decision to indefinitely suspend the program, which has not been previously reported, was made in response to Turkey's cross-border military incursion into Syria in October, the U.S. officials said, revealing the extent of the damage to ties between the NATO allies from the incident. The U.S. officials, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said the United States late last year stopped flying the intelligence collection missions that targeted the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which both the United States and Turkey classify as terrorists. The U.S. military had carried out the missions using unarmed drone aircraft, which one official said were flown out of Turkey's Incirlik air base, where the U.S. military has a significant presence. The base is also a key hub for U.S. spy agencies operating in the region. The U.S. drone flights that took place within the program, in place since 2007, often zeroed in on mountainous territory in northern Iraq near the Turkish border, another official said.”

Afghanistan

Long War Journal: Taliban Promotes ‘Mujahideen’ Graduates From One Of Its Military Training Camps

“The Taliban continues to highlight the training of its fighters at its “military camps” that are located somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan. In a series of photographs released on Jan. 31 on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official web site, the group lauded the “Mujahideen,” or holy warriors, who recently graduated from the Mahmud Ghaznawi Military Camp. The photographs show the Taliban trainees exercising, drilling with weapons, and conducting day and night operations in a mountainous region as well as in vehicles, which are new Toyota Hiluxes. The trainees are equipped with new gear, including uniforms, backpacks, knee pads, gloves, and face masks. Some of the trainees wielded U.S.-made M-4 assault rifles, which presumably have been seized or bought from Afghan security forces. The location of the camp was not disclosed, but it is situated in a mountainous area in either Afghanistan or neighboring Pakistan. Either way, the location is alarming for the U.S. military and foreign policy. If it is located in Afghanistan, its existence further highlights the deteriorating security situation. The Taliban currently controls 74 and contests another 190 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, according to an ongoing study by FDD’s Long War Journal.”

Pakistan

The Economic Times: US Condemns Violent Extremism, Slams Pakistan Over Persecution Of Hindus

“The United States on Wednesday announced the launch of a 27-nation International Religious Freedom Alliance, which will try to adopt a collective approach in protecting and preserving religious freedom across the world. “We condemn terrorists and violent extremists who target religious minorities, whether they are Yezidis in Iraq, Hindus in Pakistan, Christians in northeast Nigeria, or Muslims in Burma,” Pompeo said.”

Middle East

France 24: Hamas Hails Jerusalem Car-Ramming Targeting Israeli Troops As 'Response' To US Peace Plan

“A car-ramming wounded 12 Israeli troops and two others early Thursday in an attack that Palestinian Islamist group Hamas hailed as a response to Washington's controversial Middle East peace plan. A manhunt was underway for the driver who fled the scene outside a popular Jerusalem entertainment spot. The attack occurred shortly before 2am (12am GMT) outside the First Station, an historic Ottoman-era railway terminus that has been turned into a cultural and entertainment centre with bars and restaurants. The attacker struck in the street outside where the soldiers had been marching, the army said. One of the soldiers was “severely injured” and has been evacuated to hospital. Public radio said they were new recruits on their way to an induction ceremony at Jerusalem's Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray. “During the incident, a terrorist sped his car towards (Israeli) soldiers,” the army said. Israeli troops “are currently pursuing the terrorist who escaped the scene”. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said “the incident is being investigated as a terror attack”. There have been car-rammings targeting Israeli troops in the past, in the occupied West Bank as well as Jerusalem.”

Somalia

ABC 14 News: What Is The Al Qaeda-Linked Al-Shabab Terrorist Group?

“Al-Shabab, an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group centered in Somalia, has come to be the goal of a escalating selection of U.S. airstrikes throughout President Trump’s administration. The militants belonging to the group have fought for several years to impose a strict model of Islam in the Horn of Africa country, while also launching assaults in neighboring international locations like Kenya, wherever they killed a U.S. services member and two American contractors for the Pentagon in January 2020. “Al-Shabab’s continued assaults degrade the Somali government’s potential to the two provide stability and ease the dire humanitarian condition in the country, and its affect in Somalia undermines the United States’ attempts to avoid the use of Somalia as a refuge for worldwide terrorists,” reads a Council on Foreign Relations profile of the group. Hundreds of newly trained al-Shabab fighters perform military exercises near Mogadishu, in Somalia, in 2011 Hundreds of recently educated al-Shabab fighters carry out armed service workouts in the vicinity of Mogadishu, in Somalia, in 2011. Al-Shabab, which usually means “the Youth” in Arabic, is considered to have shaped all-around 2006. The U.S. Condition Division selected the team as a terrorist firm two several years afterwards, and in 2012, they pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda, according to the nonprofit Counter Extremism Project.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Emergency Law Aims To Stop Next Terror Release

“Ministers are aiming to pass emergency legislation to block the automatic early release of convicted terror offenders before the next one is due to be freed in three weeks' time. Sunderland shopkeeper Mohammed Zahir Khan, 42, is expected to be released on 28 February after serving half of his sentence for encouraging terrorism. An official said legislation would be introduced to the Commons on Tuesday. It follows attacks in recent months by men convicted of terror offences. Khan was arrested in 2017 and given a four-and-a-half year sentence in May 2018 after pleading guilty. He had posted a statement on a Twitter account from the Islamic State group calling for attacks. He also admitted a charge of distributing material designed to incite religious hatred after calling for Shia Muslims to be burnt alive. The government's emergency measures, which require backing from Parliament, would postpone his release until the Parole Board has given its approval. Ministers have admitted they are likely to face a legal challenge over the plans and an ex-independent reviewer of terror legislation, Lord Carlile, said blocking early release “may be in breach of the law.”

Foreign Policy: When The Line Between Terrorism And Death Wish Disappears

“Was Sudesh Amman, the 20-year-old who on Sunday stabbed two people in south London before being shot dead by police, a terrorist? He had previously been convicted under terrorism laws, and he was wearing a fake suicide vest when he was killed, so there is a strong case for thinking that he was. But the botched and desperate nature of his attack, coupled with his obsession with martyrdom, suggest that while he may be classified as a terrorist, he is certainly not a conventional one. Instead, he is emblematic of a new and growing type of jihadi: the individual who embraces suicide not as a means to further a political cause but as an end in itself. The the little we know about Amman is disturbing enough: He was released from prison about a week prior to his death after serving half of his sentence of three years and four months for terrorism-related offenses. He was under active police surveillance at the time of the attack, suggesting that the authorities were not entirely serene about his early release. The terrorism offenses for which Amman was convicted in 2018 did not relate to actual acts of terrorism, but they were serious: He had disseminated jihadi propaganda on WhatsApp and on social media, sent beheading videos to his girlfriend, and downloaded documents that contained information on how to make bombs. And he had expressed a desire to die in a martyrdom operation.”

Forbes: Why U.K. Prisons Are ‘Warehouses’ Of Terrorism

“Two months, two eerily similar attacks. Late last year near London Bridge; on Sunday, a south London street. Members of the public mauled by knife-wielding young men bent on murder. Two corrupted minds untempered by recent prison terms for terror-related offences. Sunday’s assault on Streatham High Road could have been far, far worse. Tailed by counter-terror cops as he left his parole hostel, 20-year-old Sudesh Amman was shot dead before he could claim a life. In November, Londoners were less lucky. Usman Khan, a 28-year-old from Stoke-On-Trent,  stabbed and killed Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt, two graduates working in prisoner rehabilitation. Both perpetrators had recently done time for terror-related activities—researching and plotting attacks. Released on license in late 2018, Khan had served half of his 16-year term. Amman, guilty of lesser offences, was in prison for little over a year, one-third of his sentence. His murderous intent deepened while behind bars, says Amman’s mother. Her conclusion chimes with that of terror experts, many of whom warn that prison radicalisation is on the up.”

World Israel News: Analysis: Can Muslim Terrorists Be Deradicalized?

“On Friday November 29, 2019, an Islamist terror attack took place in London. Two young people, both recent Cambridge University graduates, Jack Merritt (25) and Saskia Jones (23), were stabbed and killed by a single attacker. It was a terrible and unnecessary loss of life. The special irony about Jack and Saskia’s deaths is that they (and a colleague) had been involved with Cambridge University’s Learning Together prison-rehabilitation program, similar to the U.S. version known as Inside-Out, both of which bring prison inmates together with students to learn together. The British programme is run by Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology, from which both Merritt and Jones had received M.Phils in criminology. On that Friday, the fifth anniversary of the program, they were attending a conference on offender rehabilitation. The event, dedicated to work on reintegrating prisoners after their release, took place in the stately Fishmongers’ Hall at the north end of London Bridge. It was attended by a mix of academics, students, graduates and former prisoners, some with tags.”

France

France 24: Commander Of Extremist Syrian Rebel Group Arrested In France For War Crimes

“This week, we talk to Clémence Bectarte from the International Federation for Human Rights about the arrest of a commander of an extremist Syrian rebel group. Islam Alloush stands accused of detaining and torturing civilians in Syria. In particular, he is suspected of being behind the abduction of the Syrians known as the “Douma Four” in 2013. His arrest in France comes months after several human rights groups filed a criminal complaint against members of his group, Jaysh al-Islam. Also, Turkey has carried out deadly air strikes on Syrian military positions after accusing Damascus of killing eight Turkish military personnel. The ongoing conflict has emptied entire towns in the area and sent huge numbers fleeing northwards. Finally, a new prime minister has been named in Iraq amid ongoing anti-government protests. Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi has pledged to support the opposition movement and to crack down on corruption among government officials. But protesters have widely rejected his appointment.”

CNS News: Release Of The First French Jihadist Who Joined ISIS Raises Security Concerns

“The recent release from prison of a Frenchman who joined ISIS in Syria in 2012 is raising concern in France, especially after a knife attack in London on Sunday prompted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to voice support for stopping the early release of convicted terrorists. The attack in Britain came days after the knifeman, Sudesh Amman, was freed early from prison, after a 2018 conviction for disseminating terrorist material. Frenchman Flavien Moreau, who was freed in mid-January, joined the Sunni terrorist group to fight against the Assad regime. His release prompted right wing politicians to call for longer detention periods for jihadists and radicalized individuals. Some have even suggested that the most dangerous people should remain incarcerated indefinitely. Of 550 prisoners, 70 of them women, convicted of acts of terrorism, jihad or related offenses, around 40 are expected to finish their sentences in 2020. Moreau is the first. In 2021, 107 prisoners serving terror-related sentences are due for release, while 147 are set for release in 2022, Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said in a television interview last week. Also of concern for many here is the possible repatriation of French jihadists being held by Kurdish forces in Syria.”

Southeast Asia

The New York Times: Indonesian Sentenced To Life In Prison In Bomb Plots

“An Indonesian court sentenced an Islamic State group sympathizer to life imprisonment on Wednesday after finding him guilty of plotting bomb attacks against police and Christians. Asmar Husin, who also uses the name Abu Hamzah, was arrested last March in North Sumatra province's Sibolga district. His indictment said the interrogation of another militant, Rinto Sugiharto, uncovered plans for several bomb attacks by a 10-member radical cell led by Husin. It said the 10 pledged allegiance to Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and promised to carry out suicide bombings in Jakarta and Lampung, a city in southern Sumatra. Prosecutors had sought a 15-year prison sentence for Husin. Presiding Judge Kadwanto in East Jakarta District Court said there was no reason for leniency because of the defendant's lack of remorse and his extreme ideology that could threaten religious harmony and peace. “He is very dangerous if left out of prison,” said Kadwanto, who uses one name. Husin's wife detonated a bomb during a siege of their home, killing herself and their 2-year-old child. She is believed to have blown herself up hours after throwing a homemade bomb that injured an officer as police tried to search the house.”

The Guardian: Maldives Stabbing: Australian And Two Chinese Injured In Attack Claimed By Isis Sympathisers

“Three people including an Australian man have been stabbed in the Maldives in an attack claimed by Islamic State sympathisers. Police in the South Asian archipelago said the Australian, 44, and two Chinese nationals were stabbed by “suspected extremists” between 7pm and 8pm on Tuesday on Hulhimalé, an island near the capital Male. Three people had been arrested in relation to the attack on Thursday, police said. “The Maldives Police Service is working closely with all relevant stakeholders in this matter, and assures the public of our continued efforts to ensure the safety and security of those in Maldives,” said in a statement. A radical group claiming to be affiliated with Isis took responsibility for the attack in a video posted online. It features three masked men accusing the Maldivian government being run by infidels, claiming the attacks are meant to hurt the country’s vital tourism industry and warning more attacks were coming. Police said they were working to confirm the veracity of the footage. One video being shared online shows a man in a blue shirt on a bike riding to hospital with a bloody back.”