Eye on Extremism: February 22, 2021

Al Jazeera: Seven Election Officials Killed In Landmine Blast As Niger Votes

“Seven members of Niger’s electoral commission (CENI) have been killed during the country’s presidential election runoff when their vehicle hit a mine and exploded in the troubled western region of Tillaberi. The country regularly suffers attacks by armed groups and had increased to protect Sunday’s poll, in which the governing party candidate, Mohamed Bazoum, is facing former President Mahamane Ousmane. A vehicle belonging to CENI and carrying election workers to their polling stations hit a mine in the rural commune of Dargol in the southwest, said Harouna Mounkaila, vice president of the commission’s local branch. “They were leaving to drop off the ballot boxes and the members of the polling station,” Moukaila told Reuters news agency, adding that three other workers were seriously wounded. Tillaberi is in the tri-border area of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali where armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) have strengthened their foothold, launching frequent attacks and making swathes of the western portion of the Sahel ungovernable. The region’s government confirmed the death toll following Sunday’s explosion. “I had the news around midday [11:00 GMT] that there were seven killed when the vehicle blew up on a mine,” Tidjani Ibrahim Katiella told AFP news agency.”

Associated Press: Afghan Police: 3 Separate Kabul Explosions Kill 5, Wound 2

“Three sticky bomb attacks in the Afghan capital Kabul on Saturday killed at least five people and wounded two others, a police official said, amid a surge in violence in the war-torn country. Kabul police spokesman Ferdaws Faramarz said two explosions caused by sticky bombs attached to vehicles took place 15 minutes apart and a third targeting a police vehicle exploded about two hours later. No group immediately claimed responsibility. The majority of bomb attacks in the capital Kabul in recent months have been sticky bombs — explosive devices with magnets that are attached to vehicles and detonated by remote control or timer. The second explosion targeted a car in a northwestern Kabul neighborhood in which national army soldiers were traveling, killing two soldiers. A civilian passerby was also killed. The third explosion destroyed a police car in western Kabul killing two police officers. Meanwhile, the first blast targeted a civilian car wounding both travelers inside the vehicle. Kabul police said investigations were underway. The Islamic State group’s local affiliate has claimed responsibility for some of the attacks, but many go unclaimed, with the government putting the blame on the Taliban. The insurgents have denied responsibility for most of the attacks.”

United States

CBS News: Two Proud Boys Committed “Crimes Of Terrorism” During Capitol Riot, Federal Prosecutors Say

“At least two Capitol rioters may have committed “crimes of terrorism,” prosecutors say, which is cause to hold them without bail as they await trial — and may mean longer sentences should they be found guilty. Ethan Nordean and Dominic Pezzola, both members of the far-right group the Proud Boys, were each charged with a list of crimes that included destroying or removing government property, entering restricted areas and obstructing official proceedings. And this month, as prosecutors argued the men should not be released before trial, the government said their crimes amounted to “terrorism” — an allegation that is not itself a charge, but could influence prison sentences if the men are found guilty. Prosecutors wrote in a February 3 filing that Nordean, 30, was eligible to be detained before his trial because his case involved a “crime of terrorism.” He helped a group of rioters remove barricades surrounding the U.S. Capitol, prosecutors say, and the statute he's charged under is eligible for a terrorism sentencing enhancement — a rule that allows judges to lengthen prison terms if a crime is deemed to be terrorism. Similarly, prosecutors argued during a February 10 hearing that Pezzola, 43, should be detained because his charge of destroying government property qualifies as a crime of terrorism.”

Associated Press: California Man Charged With Trying To Help Terrorist Group

“A Russian man has been charged in California with attempting to provide support to a foreign terrorist organization, authorities said Friday. Murat Kurashev, 34, of Sacramento was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury. He is in custody and could face up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted. It wasn’t immediately clear whether he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf. Kurashev, a Russian national, was arrested by the FBI. The indictment accuses him of attempting to provide “material support or resources,” including financial support, to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. However, the indictment didn’t contain any details. The group, also known as the “Organization for the Liberation of the Levant,” is a militant group that aims to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The group has conducted suicide bombings and the United States has designated it as a foreign terrorist organization.”

Syria

Voice Of America: Officials, Experts Say Islamic State’s Economic Spigot Not Dry Yet

“Nearly two years after losing the last sliver of territory in eastern Syria, the Islamic State terror group seems to be generating substantial amounts of revenue that has been instrumental for funding its insurgency across Syria and Iraq. The group’s growing terror activity in both countries in recent months has occurred largely because it is still capable of generating cash from criminal networks, military officials and experts say. In a recent raid against Islamic State (IS) militants in the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) discovered a hideout that contained large amounts of weapons, ammunition and cash. “Every time we carry out an operation against Daesh terrorists, we find a lot of weapons and money,” said an SDF official, using an Arabic acronym for IS, which also goes by ISIS. The official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, also said “it is clear they possess a lot of money to finance their terrorism in the region.” According to the U.S. Treasury Department, IS has an estimated $100 million available in cash reserves. Experts believe a significant portion of that money could be from when IS ruled large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, particularly when the group introduced its own currency.”

Al Monitor: Islamic State Continues To Terrorize Raqqa

“Although the US-led international coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — a Kurdish-Arab alliance from the area — declared victory over the Islamic State when they took control of its last strongholds in al-Baghouz in March 2019, the global joy over eliminating the terrorist organization has not reached the people of Raqqa, the former capital of the caliphate, where IS seems to still wield significant influence. Many of the city's people are still living in fear of the militants. Even if they cannot control the area as they once did, many IS cells are terrorizing civilians with bombings in residential areas, assassinations and threats despite the thousands of SDF soldiers in the area. Hassan Abdullah (a pseudonym), a car dealer and a father of three in Raqqa who preferred not to reveal his real identity for fear of retaliation by IS or arrest by the SDF, lives in a rented house after the international coalition raids destroyed his family's home during the battle to expel IS from Raqqa. Abdullah told Al-Monitor that residents are even more afraid of IS than before. “IS still exists,” he said. “In September 2020, I got a phone call from a private number. The first thing I heard was: ‘We are the Islamic State, and we know that you make a lot of money from the car trade, and you have to pay zakat to us, or we are going to kill you,’” referring to a traditional Islamic charitable donation.”

Iraq

Asharq Al-Awsat: Militants Control Nineveh, Spread Fear In Mosul

“Firas” is a journalist and civil activist from Mosul, who had returned to the city in 2017, three years after the ISIS invasion. Back then, he didn’t know that he would be forced to leave again, this time because of threats by groups, who boasted about liberating the city. “Firas” actively joined major reconstruction campaigns in Mosul and writes reports and stories about the sufferings of its residents due to the remnants of ISIS. Speaking to told Asharq Al-Awsat, he said: “I was directly threatened by a group called “Raba'a Allah” after I published a blog on Facebook criticizing the posting of pictures of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander, Qassem Soleimani, on his death anniversary.” “The threats came in the form of several phone calls and text messages, in addition to a fierce attack by electronic armies on my Facebook account, which forced me to leave the city, fearing for my life,” he added. “Sabah” (also a pseudonym), a civilian activist from Mosul, has chosen to delete his posts on social media platforms to avoid being forced to leave the city. He said the “Raba'a Allah” group threatened him with imprisonment on charges of belonging to ISIS, if he did not delete posts criticizing factions affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces.”

Turkey

New Zealand Herald: Alleged 'Kiwi' Isis Terrorist: Suhayra Aden Set To Be Deported From Turkey

“It is believed a New Zealand woman and her two children who were detained at the Turkish border while trying to enter from Syria will be deported. The Turkish Ministry of National Defence alleges the woman - named as Suhayra Aden - is a terrorist affiliated to Islamic State. RNZ correspondent Vehbi Bas said Turkey has dropped charges against the 25-year-old and has begun procedures to deport her. He said internal Turkish police correspondence shows she was taken to a deportation centre on Tuesday. Aden acquired dual nationality after moving to Australia when she was 6 and travelled to Syria from there in 2014 to join Islamic State, leading to Australia stripping her of citizenship last year. While it is unclear where Aden will be deported to, Turkish authorities are referring to her as a New Zealand citizen in official documents. RNZ has approached the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for comment. Meanwhile, the Government has been refusing to disclose details on the welfare of the woman and her two children. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has previously told RNZ it is giving them consular assistance. But citing privacy reasons, it has not provided information on their welfare, and whether the woman has been charged, or is being deported.”

Afghanistan

Al Jazeera: US Calls On Taliban To End Violence In Afghanistan

“United States defence secretary Lloyd Austin called for a reduction in violence in Afghanistan and said more progress is needed in Afghan peace negotiations before Western forces withdraw from the war-torn country. “Clearly, the violence is too high right now and more progress needs to be to be made in the Afghan-led negotiations,” Secretary Austin said at a Pentagon news conference on Friday. “I urge all parties to choose the path towards peace, and the violence must decrease now,” Austin said a day after discussing Afghanistan with NATO defence ministers in Brussels. The US “will not undertake a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan” that puts NATO forces at risk, Austin said, adding “no decisions about our future force posture have been made.” “In the meantime, current missions will continue and, of course, commanders have the right and the responsibility to defend themselves and their Afghan partners against attack,” he said. New US President Joe Biden faces a thorny choice in Afghanistan: whether to withdraw all US forces by the end of April – as promised to the Taliban by the former Trump administration – or extend the US troop presence while trying to sustain troubled Afghan peace talks.”

Deutsche Welle: Taliban Threat In Afghanistan 'Will Significantly Rise,' Says German Defense Minister

“NATO has made no decision on whether or when to pull out of Afghanistan, the military alliance's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.  However, the Taliban have increased violent attacks, and the so-called “intra-Afghan” talks with the government have gone nowhere.  “We are faced with many dilemmas, and there are no easy options,” Stoltenberg told journalists after talks between defense ministers in Brussels. “If we stay beyond May 1, we risk more violence, more attacks against our own troops,” he said. “But if we leave, then we will also risk that the gains that we have made are lost.” In an interview with DW on Thursday, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer warned there could be further instability if NATO forces stayed past that May 1 deadline. “What's clear is — and this is what the Taliban have announced — that with the decision not to leave the country by April 30, the threat level will rise, significantly rise — for the international troops and also for us,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said.”

Egypt

The Africa Report: Egypt’s North Sinai: Residents Stuck Between Islamist Rebels And Brutal Anti-Terrorism Operations

“Ten years after the Arab Spring, residents of the restive peninsula are caught between threats of Islamist militants and the oppression of the Egyptian military and its affiliated militias. Ten years ago in North Sinai, following the ouster of the then president Hosni Mubarak, *Ashraf, then a 15-year-old child, was accompanying his mother to stage a protest in front of one of the city’s burnt police stations in the Sheikh Zuwied district. The protesters demanded the release of Ashraf’s father, who had been arrested in connection to the 2005 bombings that targeted South Sinai. “While the whole country was celebrating freedom and democracy after Mubarak left, we were just starting to demand the most basic of our rights,” Ashraf, now a 26-year-old construction worker based in Suez, tells The Africa Report. Thousands of other North Sinai residents have for a long time been subjected to economic and social marginalisation in addition to radical state-sponsored violence like enforced disappearances, illegal arrests and extrajudicial killings. Due to the lack of media and civil society access and because of its physical closeness to the restive Gaza Strip and the Israeli border, North Sinai has been a militarised governorate where the army plays an important role in day-to-day life.”

Nigeria

The Independent: Girl Kidnapped By Boko Haram In 2018 School Raid Still Held Captive 3 Years On

“A schoolgirl kidnapped by Boko Haram is still being held captive three years after the Nigerian Islamist group’s abduction took place. Leah Sharibu was taken hostage at the age of just 14 from a boarding school in Dapchi in Yobe State Nigeria alongside 19 other girls in February 2018. Campaigners say Leah, who is now 17-years-old, is the only girl who has not yet been returned to her family following the raid and continues to be held captive. The International Organisation for Peace & Social Justice, which champions peace-building efforts in Nigeria, said she is one of thousands of women and children who have been “abducted, killed, injured and sexually assaulted” due to rising violence in Nigeria. More than 1,000 kidnapping incidents are recorded in the west African country each year but there are undeniably many which are never reported to the authorities, the charity states. Ayo Adedoyin, the chief executive of the organisation’s UK branch, called for the British government to invest more energy into demanding Leah is released. He added: “Leah Sharibu was abducted by Africa’s deadliest terrorist group, Boko Haram. Leah is one of Nigeria’s ‘luckier’ victims, by virtue of the mere fact that she is still alive, and in May this year she will become an adult.”

Mali

Reuters: Mali Creates Body To Open Talks With Islamist Militants

“Mali’s government has created a body to open talks with Islamist militants whose insurgency has made vast portions of the country ungovernable, the interim prime minister said on Friday, in the face of objections by France. A year ago ousted former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said his government was prepared to negotiate with al Qaeda-linked militants. National talks in the aftermath of the August coup that overthrew Keita endorsed that policy. “Dialogue is not an exclusive solution, but rather an additional means of bringing back into the bosom of the Republic those who left it, often for existential reasons far removed from any fanaticism,” said interim Prime Minister Moctar Ouane. The statement did not provide details of the makeup of a negotiating body. Former colonial power France, which has 5,000 troops in Mali, has previously signalled opposition to negotiating with Islamist groups that did not sign a 2015 peace deal it considers a framework for restoring peace to northern Mali. France is searching for an exit strategy after getting bogged down in a counter-insurgency operation in the Sahel which has cost billions and seen 55 French soldiers killed.”

United Kingdom

The Independent: Man Charged With Terror Offences Over ‘Anarchist Website That Published Bomb-Making Instructions’

“A man accused of running an anarchist website that published bomb-making instructions has appeared in court. Toby Shone, 43, has been charged with three terror offences and four drug offences. He appeared at a hearing at the Old Bailey via video-link from HMP Wandsworth on Friday. Prosecution barrister Lee Ingham told the court: “The allegations relate to the running of a pro-anarchy website which included possession and putting instructions on a website of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and the like.” Mr Shone, of Drybrook in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, was arrested on 10 February. He has been charged with providing a service that enabled people to access publications, intending the effect to be encouragement of acts of terrorism. Mr Shone is also accused of inviting people to provide funding that could be used for the purposes of terrorism, and possession of material useful to a terrorist. He has been charged with possession of Class A and B drugs with intent to supply, producing a class B drug and a further count of class AA drug possession. Mr Shone was not asked to enter a plea and was remanded in custody ahead of a hearing at Bristol Crown Court on 4 June. His trial is scheduled to start on 6 October.”

The Independent: Alleged Terror Plotter Told Police He Joined Pro-Isis Chat Group ‘To Find Wife’

“An alleged terror plotter told police that he joined an Isis-supporting chat group because he was “trying to find a wife”, a court has heard. Sahayb Abu, 27, is accused of buying a sword, knife, body armour and balaclavas while preparing for an act of terrorism last year. The Old Bailey heard that he joined a group called Servants of the Unseen on the encrypted Telegram app on 23 June, after applying with messages including one reading: “Time for talk over 100 per cent. Talking is over. The kuffar [non-Muslims] aren’t talking, that’s for sure.” Jurors have been told that around 30 members of the group shared messages and images that actively displayed support for Isis, including terrorist propaganda. In a police interview following his arrest, Abu said he had been invited into the group by an American man and felt that “55 to 60 per cent of [the material shared] was Isis methodology” and the rest was imams and scholars. The court heard that Abu said he tried to “steer them to be a more Islamic group” and “help them become better Muslims.” Reading a summary of his remarks during police interviews on Friday, prosecutor John McGuinness QC said Abu claimed he had “been trying to find a wife for a while.”

Technology

Vice: A White Supremacist Podcast Got Taken Offline, For All Of 2 Seconds

“A podcast by two notorious white supremacists has been removed from its hosting platform, after a review of their content triggered by a VICE World News article found it to be in “extreme violation” of the platform’s terms of service. But in an illustration of the whack-a-mole challenge of tackling extremist content online, the podcast has since been re-uploaded to another platform, one with a reputation for hosting far-right and conspiracy theorist content. The podcast was launched last month by two prominent white supremacists, who have both promoted a brand of far-right ideology using slickly-edited videos, clothing lines, and mixed martial arts ... Joshua Fisher-Birch, a senior analyst at the New York-headquartered Counter Extremism Project who had previously called for the podcast to be taken down, welcomed the move. “It’s a positive step that PodOmatic has decided to stop hosting Rundo and Kapustin/Nikitin’s podcast, raising the number of podcasting platforms to two that have stopped providing them with services,” he told VICE World News. “Hopefully, in the future, other platforms will follow this example and follow their terms of service, or in some cases improve them, to prevent them from amplifying voices calling for white supremacist violence.”

The Straits Times: Battle For Young Hearts And Minds As Extremists Grow Savvy Online

“A 17-year-old detained under the Internal Security Act in January last year had begun to walk down the path of radicalisation in 2017 when he was aged 15, after imbibing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) material online. Last December, a 16-year-old became the youngest detainee yet to be dealt with under the ISA, and the first to be enthralled by far-right extremist ideology. What was striking was the similar methods by which these two cases came to be self-radicalised - by exclusivist propaganda material that painted the world in stark, us-versus-them terms. They are the latest in an emerging pattern of those being dealt with for terror-linked activity getting younger. Since 2015, seven of the 53 people that the Internal Security Department picked up for terror-related conduct were aged between 16 and 19. All had been radicalised online and each was a prime target for recruitment by extremists due to their young age, experts said. They noted that extremists have displayed a savvy in tapping online trends and emerging platforms to spread their ideology to young people. For instance, far-right extremists in the West have used chatrooms on messaging platform Discord - popular with young gamers - to spread their message, said Mr Muhammad Faizal Abdul Rahman, a homeland defence research fellow from the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).”