Eye on Extremism: February 4, 2019

CNN: Pentagon Warns ISIS Likely To Retake Territory In Syria After US Withdraws

“The Pentagon believes ISIS could re-emerge and take back territory in Syria within months if the US does not maintain military pressure on the terror group, according to an official familiar with the latest assessment. The warning comes as the Pentagon continues to implement President Donald Trump's December order to withdraw all US troops from the country. A Pentagon report that is expected to be published next week is expected to state that ISIS could regain territory within six months to a year of a US withdrawal. However, some military and intelligence officials are concerned it could happen even sooner, one US official said. NBC News was first to report details of the Pentagon's assessment. On Tuesday the Worldwide Threat Assessment, released by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, stated that “ISIS will seek to exploit Sunni grievances, societal instability, and stretched security forces to regain territory in Iraq and Syria in the long term.” Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee that “ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.” The Pentagon report and Coats' assessment are at odds with claims made by Trump and other senior members of the administration.”

The New York Times: Trump Calls For Keeping Troops In Iraq To Watch Iran, Possibly Upending ISIS Fight

“President Trump plans to keep United States troops in Iraq to monitor and maintain pressure on neighboring Iran, committing to an American military presence in the region’s war zones even as he moves to withdraw forces from Syria and Afghanistan. “I want to be able to watch Iran,” Mr. Trump said in an interview aired Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We’re going to keep watching and we’re going to keep seeing and if there’s trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we’re going to know it before they do.” Mr. Trump’s comments come as the United States has quietly been negotiating with Iraq for weeks to allow perhaps hundreds of American commandos and support troops now operating in Syria to shift to bases in Iraq and strike the Islamic State from there. Military leaders are seeking to maintain pressure on the militant group as the president fundamentally reorders policy toward Syria and toward Afghanistan, where peace talks with the Taliban are underway. But senior American officers and diplomats said Mr. Trump’s comments could undercut the delicate negotiations in Iraq by inflaming fears among the Iraqis that the moves would be a guise to check Iran, potentially straining ties with Baghdad and weakening the ability of the United States to respond to Islamic State remnants in Syria.”

The Jerusalem Post: Iranian-Backed Militias Threaten Us Forces In Iraq

“Members of Hashd al-Shaabi, the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq, can be seen warning US troops near Mosul against “provocations,” in a video posted over the weekend. US troops on patrol in eastern Mosul were confronted by gunmen who monitored their movements and blocked their movement by placing an armored jeep across a road. Iran’s Press TV boasted on Saturday that “Hashd al-Shaabi stop US military patrol in Iraq’s Mosul.” The Hashd – also called the Popular Mobilization Units – are a group of militias that have grown in the last several years in response to the ISIS attack on Iraq in 2014. Some of the militias, such as Badr, have deep roots in Iraq, with leaders who fought alongside the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war. Others, such as Qais Khazali’s Asaib Ahl al-Haq, were once considered terrorist gangs that targeted US troops and Sunnis in Iraq, after the US invasion of 2003. Khazali was once held at Camp Cropper, a holding facility run by the US Army. In December 2017, he went to Lebanon, from where he threatened Israel. The PMU in Iraq increasingly play a similar role to Hezbollah in Lebanon, supporting armed militias and members in parliament. The Fatah Alliance, led by Badr’s Hadi al-Amiri, came in second in Iraq’s May 2018 elections.”

The Wall Street Journal: Islamic State, Seeking Next Chapter, Makes Inroads Through West Africa

“The battle began with two small drones buzzing over a base where more than 500 Nigerian troops guarded the shores of Lake Chad. Then came the clatter of gunfire from a column of armored cars, artillery units and tanks that also blasted jihadist battle songs from mounted speakers. Within hours, elite forces from one of Africa’s most powerful militaries had abandoned their base and its cache of heavy weapons, routed by an insurgent army fighting under the familiar black and white flag of Islamic State. “We were sitting ducks,” said Bitrus Madu, a Nigerian sergeant who fled the base in the town of Baga in December and walked through forests for three days to reach safety. “The terrorists control the whole region now.” In recent months, as Islamic State has seen its self-described caliphate in Iraq and Syria radically shrink, a Nigeria-born group calling itself the Islamic State West Africa Province, or ISWAP, has taken control of hundreds of square miles of territory, according to Nigerian and Western officials.”

The Washington Post: Regulate Social Media Now. The Future Of Democracy Is At Stake

“A few days ago, ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom, discovered that a tool it was using to track political advertising on Facebook had been quietly disabled — by Facebook. The browser extension had detected political ad campaigns and gathered details on the ads’ target audiences. Facebook also tracks political ad campaigns, but sometimes it fails to detect them. For the past year, the company had accepted corrections from ProPublica — until one day it decided it didn’t want them anymore. It also seems like “they don’t wish for there to be information about the targeting of political advertising,” an editor at ProPublica told me. Facebook also made news in recent days for another tool: an app, this time its own, designed to give the company access to extensive information about how consumers were using their telephones. Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, has defended the project vigorously, on the grounds that those who signed up to use this research app knew what they were doing — and were paid $20 a month. Unamused, Apple decided to intervene — and has now banned the app from its phones.”

9News: Exclusive: Al Qaeda Recruiter Turned FBI Informant Forged 'Intensive' Links With Anti-Western Australian Preachers

“Designed to spread the vengeful ideology of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda, a website named Revolution Muslim (RM) was quietly launched into cyberspace in 2007 out of a Brooklyn apartment. RM was the brainchild of New Yorker Jesse Morton and Yousef al-Khattab, two American men who had converted to Islam. Both Al Qaeda recruiters would later be hunted down by American counter-terror agencies, with Morton captured in Morocco after fleeing US soil. The pair were charged with soliciting murder through their RM network. "My organisation was the first to unashamedly promote the Al Qaeda world view on the streets of the United States," Morton, 39, told nine.com.au on the phone from his Washington D.C. base. Morton is no longer an Al Qaeda recruiter. While in prison he became an informant for the FBI, and now fights for the other side in the war on terror. A new study, When Terrorists Come Home, co-authored by Morton and a former NYPD counter-terror official, investigates how jihadist prisoners can be returned safely has just been released. The research, conducted in partnership with Counter Extremism Project, a Washington-based think-tank, was based on a number of intensive interviews conducted with jihadists who had been released from prison.”

United States

Fox News: 9/11's Youngest Victim Would Be 20 Now, And There's Optimism For A Trial At Last

“Christine Lee Hanson was the youngest victim of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. If the bright and playful toddler were alive today, she would be turning 20 later this month. Eighteen years after the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans, Christine's grandparents, Eunice and Lee Hanson, have fought for justice. After a recent 9/11 case update for the families in New York City, Eunice expressed optimism a that trial date might bet set at last for the five Al Qaeda suspects. "I admire this prosecution team. They're working very hard. Very devoted," Eunice said. On 9/11, an entire generation of the Hanson family was killed. Eunice and Lee Hanson lost their granddaughter Christine, her father and their son Peter, as well as Peter's wife, Sue Kim. They were heading to California to visit relatives and see Disneyland when their flight, United Airlines Flight 175, was hijacked and slammed into the World Trade Center. Christine's beloved Peter Rabbit was subsequently donated to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum by her grandparents.”

Syria

CNN: Trump Says He Would Send US Troops Back To Syria Should ISIS Regain Strength

“President Donald Trump acknowledged the possibility that ISIS and other terror groups could regain their strength in Syria and Afghanistan if he withdraws or reduces troops in those countries and noted that he would send US forces back if they did. Trump, who announced in December that he was ordering staff to execute a “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of US troops from Syria, made the comments in an interview taped Friday with CBS's Margaret Brennan on “Face the Nation.”  “Because the concern in here by your intelligence chiefs, though, is that you could in that vacuum see a resurgence of ISIS,” Brennan said.  “Sure,” Trump replied.  “See a resurgence of terror groups like Al-Qaeda,” Brennan continued.  “And you know what we'll do? We'll come back if we have to,” Trump said.  “We have very fast airplanes, we have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly, and I'm not leaving,” he said. “We have a base in Iraq and the base is a fantastic edifice. I mean, I was there recently, and I couldn't believe the money that was spent on these massive runways. And these -- I've rarely seen anything like it.” On Friday, CNN reported that the Pentagon believes that ISIS could re-emerge and take back territory in Syria within months if the US does not maintain military pressure on the terror group, according to an official familiar with the latest assessment.”

The National: Six Foreign ISIS Suspects Captured By US-Backed Forces In Syria

“As the US-backed Syrian force fighting ISIS advances on its last pocket of territory in the Euphrates river Valley, six more suspected foreign fighters have been captured. “Six foreign jihadists of various nationalities who had actively participated in terrorist activities of the group for years were captured alive in an operation,” the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement on Saturday. The men are reportedly from Russia, Germany, Turkey, Sweden, Morocco and an unspecified country in Latin America. The once sprawling “caliphate” declared by ISIS in 2014 has now been reduced to a pocket of land just four kilometres square, the SDF said last week. The militia is now in the final stages of an operation launched over a month ago to retake the last territory still under ISIS control. More than 36,000 people have fled the “Hajin pocket” since the SDF assault began in early December, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor. Hundreds of civilians continue to flee the area, while ISIS fighters detained others for use as human shields, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said. Among the fleeing civilians last week was a German woman who came to live under ISIS as a 15-year-old.”

Fox News: US-Led Coalition Jets Bomb Syrian Army

“The America-led coalition bombed elements of the Syrian Army in the eastern portion of the country, an official confirmed to Fox News. It's not clear how many Syrian Army personnel may have been killed or injured. There were no U.S. troops near where the attack took place, officials said. "Our partner forces were fired upon and exercised their inherent right to self-defense. It is under investigation, so I cannot comment further at this time," Col. Sean Ryan, U.S. coalition spokesperson, told Fox News via email. Syrian state media said that U.S. jets hit a Syrian Army position near an area where Islamic State is being rooted out. “U.S. coalition aircraft launched an aggression this evening against one of the Syrian Arab army formations operating in the Albukamal area in the southeastern countryside of Deir al-Zor,” Syrian state news agency SANA cited the military source as saying early on Sunday, according to Reuters.”

Channel NewsAsia: Trapped In Shrinking Syria Holdout, IS Turns To Human Shields

“On a rooftop near the front line with the Islamic State group's collapsing caliphate in eastern Syria, a US-backed fighter and his comrades sip tea as they await orders to restart the battle. The Syrian Democratic Forces halted their ground assault on IS's final shreds of territory last week, saying the jihadists are increasingly using civilians as human shields to block the advance. In the desert hamlet of Baghouz, held mostly by the SDF, 22-year-old Mohammed Ibrahim Mohammed points towards a dirt mound separating areas under their control and the jihadists. "Since we arrived to this point almost six days ago we haven't moved forward," explained the young fatigue-clad man from the nearby town of Hajin, who joined the SDF just five months ago. "The fighting has stopped as we wait for the remaining civilians to leave," he said.”

NBC News: ISIS Still 'Acute' Threat To U.S., Interpol Chief Says

“Weeks after President Donald Trump abruptly announced that the U.S. would withdraw troops from Syria because “we have defeated ISIS,” one of the world's top law enforcement officials warns that the terrorist group is still an immediate threat. ISIS fighters retain the expertise, networks and intention to strike at the United States, Jürgen Stock, the secretary-general of Interpol, told NBC News in an exclusive interview at the organization’s headquarters in France. “The threat is still very acute, the threat is complex and the threat is more international than ever,” Stock said. Trump announced the Syria withdrawal on Dec. 19, a decision that has drawn much criticism and pushback from leaders in his own party. His plan has also caused consternation among many countries participating in the coalition to defeat ISIS, as they fear a U.S. withdrawal would create a power vacuum allowing ISIS to become resurgent and making it more difficult to capture remaining ISIS sympathizers in Syria. Next week, a draft Pentagon report will warn that without continued pressure, ISIS could regain territory in six to 12 months, two U.S. officials familiar with the draft told NBC News.”

NBC News: Life Under ISIS Led These Muslims To Christianity

“Four years have passed since the Islamic State group's fighters were run out of Kobani, a strategic city on the Syrian-Turkish border, but the militants' violent and extreme interpretation of Islam has left some questioning their faith. A new church is attracting converts. It is the first local Christian place of worship for decades. “If ISIS represents Islam, I don’t want to be a Muslim anymore,” Farhad Jasim, 23, who attends the Church of the Brethren, told NBC News. “Their God is not my God.” Religious conversions are rare and taboo in Syria, with those who abandon Islam often ostracized by their families and communities. “Even under the Syrian regime before the revolution, it was strictly forbidden to change religion from Islam to Christianity or the opposite,” said Omar, 38, who serves as an administrator at the Protestant church. (He asked for his last name not to be revealed for safety reasons. The church's priest declined to be interviewed.) “Changing your religion under ISIS wasn’t even imaginable. ISIS would kill you immediately,” he added. While residents are still dealing with the emotional scars left by the brutality of ISIS, Omar says many people in Kobani have been open-minded about Christianity.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: UN Calls For Humanitarian Access For People Fleeing ISIS In Syria

“The United Nations called on Friday for “unhindered humanitarian” access to civilians fleeing ISIS in the last pocket held by the terrorist group in eastern Syria. In the past week alone, the UN says more than 10,000 people have fled from the conflict zone to al-Hol, where the main camp for people displaced by the fighting against ISIS is located. “Humanitarian actors have collectively requested forces in control of the area to designate a transit site en route for al-Hol where life-saving assistance can be provided,” said Andrej Mahecic, spokesman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). So far, the request “remains unanswered,” he told journalists in Geneva. The area is under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by a US-led coalition, which are battling the last shreds of ISIS near the town of Hajin in the Euphrates River valley. The UNHCR says families fleeing the Hajin enclave describe a harrowing journey, “wading through mine fields and open fighting”. Once reaching the SDF positions, “they describe being herded into open trucks and having to endure another arduous journey in winter weather northwards to al-Hol camp. Little or no assistance is provided en route to the hungry and cold people, the vast majority of whom are women and children,” a UNHCR statement said.”

Iran

Al Jazeera: Attack On Paramilitary Base As Iran Marks Revolution Anniversary

“A member of Iran's Revolutionary Guards has been killed and five wounded in an attack on a paramilitary base in southeastern Iran, local media reported. The attack on Saturday came as the country held official celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of its Islamic Revolution. Mohammad Hadi Marashi, provincial deputy governor for security affairs, told the IRNA state news agency that the attack targeted a base of the Basij, a paramilitary force affiliated with the powerful Revolutionary Guards, in the city of Nik Shahr in Sistan-Baluchestan province. “A [paramilitary] Basij base in Nik Shahr came under ... fire this morning and several from the Revolutionary Guards communications personnel who were wiring the base were hit,” Marashi said.  “Five of the Guards personnel were wounded and one was martyred,” he said, adding that anniversary events were proceeding peacefully. Semi-official news agency Tasnim said Jaish al-Adl, a Sunni armed group, has claimed responsibility for the attack. Mohsen Golmohammadi, Nik Shahr's prosecutor, identified the victim as Morteza Aliahmadi in an interview with another semi-official news agency, Mehr.  The prosecutor said the two attackers scaled the wall of the military base before opening fire.”

The National Interest: Iran Poses A Growing Threat To Europe

“In January, German authorities arrested an Afghan-German dual national for spying on behalf of an Iranian intelligence agency. The incident was far from the first, and only underscored the potential threat lurking behind each new revelation. Last summer, four individuals were arrested in connection with an Iranian plot to set off explosives at a large gathering organized near Paris by the Iranian opposition. German authorities arrested the mastermind of that plot as well, a high-ranking Iranian diplomat named Assadollah Assadi , who was later extradited to face charges in Belgium along with the operatives to whom he had provided the explosives. In March, two other Iranian operatives were arrested in Albania, where they were allegedly plotting an attack on the home of roughly 3,000 members of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK), a group that was blamed by Iranian government officials for the anti-government protests that shook the Islamic Republic over the past year.”

I24: Iran Said To Mount ‘Guided Warheads’ On Missiles Capable Of Reaching Israel

“Iran has mounted new precision-guided warheads atop their most advanced and longest-range missiles, which are capable of reaching both Israel and American military bases in the Gulf, the semi-official Fars news agency reported Sunday.The unsourced report said that Iran’s Khoramshahr missile, which has a range of 2,000 kilometers (or 1,250 miles), have been upgraded with domestically-produced guided warheads. “The new generation of missiles with guided warheads has been named Khoramshahr 2 and they can be controlled until hitting the target and are able to carry warheads weighing nearly 2 tons,” the report said.The warheads had previously been mounted on shorter-range missiles including the Emad, Qadr and Qiam.Iran unveiled its new generation of Khoramshahr ballistic missiles in a high-profile military parade in September 2017 in what was widely interpreted as an act of defiance by Tehran in the face of US condemnations of its ballistic missile program.”

Iraq

Iraqi News: Iraqi Troops Destroy Two Islamic State Hotbeds In Salahuddin

“The Iraqi Security Media Center said on Sunday that two Islamic State hotbeds were destroyed in the central province of Salahuddin. “A joint security force from Salahuddin Operations Command carried out a security operation in Al Alam district in Salahuddin province, managing to find two hotbeds that were used by Islamic State militants,” the Arabic-language Baghdad Today news website quoted the center as saying in a statement. “The troops found clothes and cooking tools inside the hotbeds,” the statement read, adding that the hideouts were completely destroyed in the operation. Iraq declared the collapse of Islamic State’s territorial influence in November 2017 with the recapture of Rawa, a city on Anbar’s western borders with Syria, which was the group’s last bastion in Iraq. IS declared a self-styled “caliphate” in a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria in 2014. A government campaign, backed by a U.S.-led international coalition and paramilitary forces, was launched in 2016 to retake IS-held regions, managing to retake all havens, most notably the city of Mosul, the group’s previously proclaimed capital.”

Reuters: In Mosul Exhibition, Iraqi Artists Process Brutal Rule Of Islamic State

“A raven perched on the shoulder of a woman with flaming hair is Iraqi artist Marwan Fathi’s symbol for the terrible events he and his home city Mosul have had to endure. Three years under the oppressive and violent rule of Islamic State and the military campaign which drove it out in 2017 left much of the northern city in ruins. Thousands were killed, rendered homeless or maimed. Those who survived are deeply traumatised. ”I still jump awake at night thinking an air strike is about to hit or that they are coming to take one of us,” Fathi, 36, said. “Everyday is a struggle.” Fathi’s work is on display in “Return to Mosul” - the city’s first art exhibition since before it was seized by Islamic State, whose ultra hardline version of Sunni Islam prohibits most art forms. Artists from across Iraq are taking part in the six-day show, including many who lived in Mosul when it was in the militants’ grip. Hawkar Riskin’s haunting work ‘destruction’ depicts a giant skeleton standing on one leg, while Mohammad Al Kinani’s series of paintings - ‘Caliphate I’, ‘Caliphate II’ and ‘Caliphate III’ represents the beginning and end of Islamic State, and Mosul’s rebirth. Fathi said the artists who stayed in the city lived in constant fear and despair.”

Associated Press: 7 Iranian Pilgrims Wounded In Shooting Attack In Iraq

“Police and medical officials say seven Iranian Shiite pilgrims traveling in central Iraq were wounded when their bus came under attack by unidentified gunmen. The officials said late Sunday that the bus carrying 10 pilgrims was north of the capital of Baghdad when gunmen opened fire. They say the wounded passengers were taken to a hospital, including a woman who was in serious condition. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with briefing regulations. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.”

Deutsche Welle: Mosul: Where Demons, Women And 'Islamic State' Met

“During the IS occupation of Iraq's Mosul, secret sessions were held for women to exorcise demons — despite the IS deeming them black magic and banning any alternative religious practices. DW's Judit Neurink reports. “Women still come asking for the exorcism sessions,” says Othman, the muezzin who, five times a day, calls the faithful to pray at the Haiba Khatoon Mosque in the center of Mosul. He did the same during the three years Iraq's second city was occupied by IS and recalls how women would flock to the mosque for the sessions held especially for them to evict djinns, as the Quran calls demons or supernatural creatures. Othman is sitting in the mosque's gardens, where men are performing their prayers. This busy mosque near the University of Mosul is used a lot by traders, students and travelers who miss one of the set prayer times. It seems too busy a place for demon eviction sessions to have been held there, which hardly anyone knew about. Imams who returned to their mosques after IS left deny any knowledge of the practice anywhere during the occupation. “Most people in Mosul had no idea what was going on here,” Othman told DW. ”Perhaps only those who regularly came to this mosque to pray.”

Turkey

Deutsche Welle: Turkey Jails Kurdish Politicians Over Alleged Terror Links

“A Turkish court has handed prison sentences to ex-parliamentarians Gultan Kisanak and Sebahat Tuncel (pictured above) for belonging to a terrorist organization and disseminating terrorist propaganda. Both women have been in custody since late 2016. Tuncel, a former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), was jailed for 15 years, according to the Demiroren News Agency (DHA). She has been on hunger strike for three weeks and did not attend the hearing in court. Kisanak, who was serving as the joint mayor of Diyarbakir in Turkey's Kurdish southeast at the time of her arrest, was given a sentence of 14 years and three months. The politicians are accused of making speeches in favor of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and spreading propaganda during rallies and speeches. The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Kisanak rejected the charges in court, protesting that she had already been in custody for over two years. “I do what I do because it is true, legal, legitimate, humanitarian,” DHA quoted her as saying. “Everything I do is in the frame of democratic politics.” The HDP wrote on Twitter that it considers the trial a political rather than legal process that is aimed at “eliminating democratic politics.”

Afghanistan

The New York Times: End The War In Afghanistan

“On Sept. 14, 2001, Congress wrote what would prove to be one of the largest blank checks in the country’s history. The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists gave President George W. Bush authority to attack the Taliban, the Sunni fundamentalist force then dominating Afghanistan that refused to turn over the mastermind of the attacks perpetrated three days earlier, Osama bin Laden. In the House of Representatives and the Senate combined, there was only one vote in opposition: Barbara Lee, a Democratic representative from California, who warned of another Vietnam. “We must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target,” she said. “We cannot repeat past mistakes.” Days later, Mr. Bush told a joint session of Congress just how broadly he planned to use his new war powers. “Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there,” Mr. Bush declared. “It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

The New York Times: Taliban To Meet Afghan Politicians (But Not Ghani) In Moscow

“The Taliban are expected to meet with Afghan opposition leaders in Moscow in the coming days, a development that could further undermine the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which has found itself excluded from the talks seeking an end to the 17-year war. Even as the insurgents say they are close to a deal on core issues with American diplomats, they have refused to meet with the Afghan government. Mr. Ghani has repeatedly expressed concern that if the Americans rush to make a deal with the Taliban before the insurgents agree to negotiate with his officials, it could undermine a fragile Afghan state built at tremendous cost. For the Taliban to go around Mr. Ghani to meet with some of the country’s major political leaders, many of whom are at odds with him, would surely further anger the Afghan president. “At this moment, we do not see the need for such a meeting,” said Sebghat Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry. “We know it will not help Afghanistan toward reaching peace at all, so it’s little more than a political drama.” Officials and members of Afghan political parties said invitations to talks in Moscow, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, had been sent to representatives of a broad cross-section of the country’s political elite, including all the major parties. It was not immediately clear who was organizing the event or who would attend.”

Xinhua: 7 Militants Including Taliban Key Commander Killed In S. Afghanistan

“At least seven militants including a Taliban key commander have been killed and five others injured in the southern Helmand province, an army statement said on Sunday. According to the statement, the government forces launched cleanup operations in parts of the restive province on Saturday and so far seven militants including notorious commander Qari Janan have been killed. A total of eight hideouts of the militants have also been destroyed during the operations, the statement said. However, it didn't say if there were casualties on security personnel. The Taliban militants have not commented on the government's statement.”

Yemen

Asharq Al-Awsat: Yemen: Triple Terrorist Threat Under Iranian Cover

“The developments in Yemen in recent days have revealed that the terrorist Iran-backed Houthi militias are providing cover for the al-Qaeda and ISIS groups in the war-torn country through Tehran’s direct backing. The Yemeni Interior Ministry had revealed the arrest of a Houthi terrorist cell that was operating under ISIS and Qaeda guise to destabilize Yemen and target state leaderships. The Yemen military also announced the launch of a wide-scale security operation to crackdown on ISIS and remaining members of al-Qaeda who are present in the western countryside of the southern Taiz province. This raises the question on whether the Houthis have paved the ground for the spread of terrorism throughout Yemen. Experience has shown that terrorism and its various affiliates thrive in unstable conditions. This is why, since the Houthi coup of 2014, terrorist organizations in Yemen have sought to take advantage of the poor security on the ground in order to impose their influence in the country.”

Al Jazeera: Yemen Government, Houthi Rebels Meet On UN Ship To Discuss Truce

“The representatives of Yemen's warring parties have met on a ship in the Red Sea to discuss the stalled truce agreement for the contested port city of Hodeidah. Retired Dutch General Patrick Cammaert chaired the meeting on board a United Nations' vessel off the Yemeni coast on Sunday after the Houthi rebels refused to hold talks in government-held areas. The discussions will continue on Monday, a UN statement said, describing the meeting as "cordial and constructive". Cammaert "warned the parties about the fragility of the ceasefire and urged them to instruct their commanders on the ground to refrain from any further violations that would jeopardise the Stockholm Agreement and the broader peace process for Yemen", the statement said. A Saudi-UAE coalition of forces has been fighting Houthi rebels for control of the country since 2014.”

The Washington Post: Yemen Coalition Alarmed At Houthi Cease-Fire Violations

“Yemen’s government and its key coalition partners Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates expressed “growing alarm” at what they say are “persistent, deliberate violations” by rival Houthi Shiite rebels of the December cease-fire agreement in the key port of Hodeida. Ambassadors of the three countries said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council obtained Friday by The Associated Press that they are also alarmed at the Houthis’ refusal to redeploy troops from the port area and allow a free flow of humanitarian aid, as called for the in the Dec. 13 agreement signed in Stockholm, Sweden. The coalition partners said they remain committed to the U.N.-facilitated deal and urged council members “to do everything in their power to demand that the Iran-backed Houthis comply with the terms of the Stockholm agreement.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Yemenis Decry International Silence Towards Houthi Violations

“Yemenis continue to voice their anger towards the continued silence of the international community against flagrant Houthi violations to the United Nations-brokered Stockholm agreement and the Iran-allied group’s refusal to comply with accords on the key port city of Hodeida. Yemenis were particularly enraged by the UN Special Envoy’s bureau issuing a statement on January 28 saying that both the internationally-recognized government and Houthis are working positively towards implementing the Stockholm agreement. Hard facts cited by the Yemeni public show that Houthi violence is on the rise without any progress being registered on the humanitarian and prisoner exchange files, both of which were mentioned in the deal signed last December in Sweden. Officials from the war-torn country criticized the UN envoy for being "soft" on violations staged by Houthi militias especially those undermining the Stockholm agreement.”

Lebanon

The New York Times: As Hezbollah Rises In Lebanon’s Government, Fears About U.S. Response Follow

“Lebanon’s newly formed government, which gives the Islamist movement Hezbollah key ministries, has raised concerns that the country could run afoul of sanctions by the United States that prohibit material support for the Iran-backed group. On Friday, the United States warned Hezbollah against propping up its agenda with its new position, which includes key posts in Lebanon’s government, including in the Ministry of Health. American officials are concerned Hezbollah will use the ministry to provide state-subsidized health care and patronage jobs to its supporters and possibly even its fighters, helping it endure punishing American sanctions that have made it difficult for the group to offer its usual social services to its Shiite Muslim base. “We call on the new government to ensure the resources and services of these ministries do not provide support to Hezbollah,” said a State Department spokesman, Robert Palladino. As the new cabinet coalesced on Thursday after nearly nine months of political deadlock, the assistant United States Treasury secretary for terrorist financing, Marshall Billingslea, warned Hezbollah that if it tried to “exploit these ministries to funnel money or undertake other activities in support of their terrorist agenda, then we will have significant concerns.”

Reuters: Building On Syria War Gains, Hezbollah Scores Political Win

“Hezbollah’s bigger role in Lebanon’s new unity government points to a growing appetite to shape state affairs and builds on unprecedented military clout the group is wielding after helping turn the tide in Syria’s war. Hezbollah’s expanding power in Lebanon reflects a deepening of Iranian influence in an arc of territory from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus that its foes Saudi Arabia and Israel have struggled to counter.  Deemed a terrorist organization by the United States, Iran-backed Hezbollah has assumed control of three ministries in the government led by the Western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, the largest number of portfolios it has ever held.  The new government was formed on Thursday, ending nine months of wrangling.  The most significant portfolio under Hezbollah control is the Health Ministry, the first time Hezbollah has controlled a ministry with a big budget, though the Shi’ite doctor it picked for the job is not a party member.  More broadly, Hezbollah and its political allies from across Lebanon’s sectarian spectrum have emerged with more than half of cabinet’s 30 seats, reflecting a May parliamentary election which the group declared a victory.”

ABC News: US Warns Lebanon's Hezbollah Not To Funnel Ministry's Money

“The U.S. is concerned about the militant Hezbollah group naming a health minister and two other posts in Lebanon's Cabinet and called on the new government to ensure the ministries' resources do not provide support to the organization, the State Department said Friday. Deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said that after the formation of the new government, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks forward to traveling to Lebanon. Lebanon was excluded last month from a regional tour by Pompeo, apparently because the Mediterranean country had no government until it was announced Thursday, breaking a nine-month deadlock that had deepened Lebanon's economic woes. “We call on the new government to ensure the resources and services of these ministries do not provide support to Hezbollah,” Palladino said in a statement. Also on Friday, a senior U.S. official warned Lebanon's Hezbollah not to exploit its newly gained clout in the new Lebanese Cabinet and channel funds from a ministry it controls to institutions affiliated with the Shiite militant group. The warning by Marshall Billingslea, the U.S. Treasury's assistant secretary on terror financing, underscores the delicate balance that Prime Minister Saad Hariri must strike in a national unity government in which the Iran-backed group has three seats, including the Health Ministry, which has one of the country's largest budgets.”

The Jerusalem Post: Hezbollah Deputy Says Israel Is Not Ready For A Confrontation With Lebanon

“Hezbollah's deputy secretary-general accused Israel of not being ready for a confrontation with Lebanon in an interview on Lebanese TV on Sunday. Naim Qassem said  that “Lebanon's new government is a unity government,” and that only three of its government ministers are members of the Hezbollah terrorist organization.  Qassem was responding to comments made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Hezbollah has infiltrated Lebanon with the support of Iran. Briefing a delegation of United Nations leaders who are in Israel on a mission headed by Israel’s UN envoy Danny Danon just before they headed to Israel’s northern border to inspect one of Hezbollah’s cross-border attack tunnels, Netanyahu said, “Hezbollah joined the Lebanese government, and now it controls the government, and thus Iran controls it.” Netanyahu then spoke about Operation Northern Shield, which ended three weeks ago: “Just as we stopped the tunnels, we will stop all acts of aggression from Lebanon, Syria or Iran.” He said that the Hezbollah’s terror tunnels are a “flagrant violation of international law… The very fact that you arrived in Israel attests to your integrity.”

Middle East

Blitz: Qatar Harboring Islamists And Jihadists

“Despite international criticism, the small peninsula state of Qatar has long played an outside role in harboring Islamists, including violent jihadists — whether the political leadership of Hamas, or the “unofficial Embassy” of the Afghan Taliban. The recent decision by several Arab States to designate a number of Qatari-hosted Islamists as terrorist entities has once again raised the issue of Qatari’s support for both violent and non-violent Islamists. And perhaps no individual sheltered by Qatar is as notorious or influential as the nonagenarian cleric Yusuf Al Qaradawi. Who is Yusuf Al Qaradawi? Yusuf Al Qaradawi is a Qatar-based cleric, Al-Azhar University-trained Islamic jurist and a prolific writer and scholar. Born in Egypt in 1926, Qaradawi was an early member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was even imprisoned by Gamal Abdel-Nasser as part of a crackdown following the Brotherhood’s involvement in an alleged assassination attempt. Egyptian hostility to the Brotherhood and its clerics led to Qaradawi’s long-term exile in Qatar, where he now lives as a personal guest and spiritual mentor to the Qatari Emir.”

NPR: U.S. Ends Funding For Palestinian Security Forces That Counter Militants

“The United States has cut funding for Palestinian security forces considered critical for the safety of Palestinians and Israelis, as a new U.S. anti-terrorism law took effect on Friday. But the U.S. says it will continue to help with security cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. The security forces patrol the Israeli-occupied West Bank, police areas under Palestinian Authority control and work to counter militants from groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The forces share intelligence and coordinate their movements with Israel. They have received training and equipment from the U.S. since they were established in the 1990s. Now, American security consultants have cleared out their Jerusalem offices and returned to the U.S., Palestinian officials say. The Palestinian police say some officer training courses have been put on hold, as have new vehicles for special forces units. “American aid is at the core of the process of training Palestinian security forces,” said the Palestinian police in a statement. “Many of these ongoing projects have stopped now.” This comes as the United States slashes the last of its remaining aid to the Palestinians, putting an end to humanitarian and development projects in the Palestinian territories.”

The New Republic: Could Unions Help Defeat ISIS?

“What’s the best way to fight terrorism? As the United States withdraws from Afghanistan and Syria, shifting from the unending War on Terror to the no less unending “Great Power competition” with China and Russia, a definitive answer to that question remains as elusive as it was when the U.S. dropped its first advance team north of Kabul in 2001.  Countries in the Middle East, however, continue to suffer more terrorist attacks each year than any other region. And from gender norms to organized crime, researchers have begun identifying a host of seemingly unlikely factors influencing terror networks’ growth. This month, a new study from Michael Marcusa in CUNY’s Comparative Politics journal suggested a particularly unusual area to focus on: labor unions. Marcusa looked at two towns in Tunisia that both appear to be perfect recruiting grounds for extremism, but have seen dramatically different outcomes. On the surface, the towns of Métlaoui and Sidi Bouzid are much the same. Both have sizable populations for Tunisian towns: 38,129 and 48,284 people, respectively. Both have high unemployment levels: 21.72 percent in Sidi Bouzid and 35.48 percent in Métlaoui.”

Egypt

Arab News: Egypt Army Says Kills 8 Militants In Desert Air Strikes

“Egypt's military said Saturday it had killed eight militants in air strikes in the Western Desert, as it leads a major campaign against Daesh. “The air force targeted the terrorist base... the completed operation has killed eight very dangerous terrorists”, the military said in a statement. The military said “other people” had been arrested during the operation, but did not give details. “The terrorist cell .... planned hostile actions that aimed to destabilise the country's security and stability”, the army said, without elaborating. Egypt launched an operation dubbed “Sinai 2018” a year ago, in a bid to dislodge Daesh from the northeastern Sinai Peninsula and other parts of the country, including the Western Desert bordering Libya. The security forces regularly announce that alleged extremists have been killed, but rarely identify the deceased, the groups they support, or the operations they were purportedly planning. It is impossible to verify information on military operations through independent sources. Groups including Human Rights Watch have denounced extra judicial killings, particularly in the Sinai peninsula.”

Nigeria

News 24: Boko Haram Kills At Least 60 In Nigeria Attack - Amnesty

“Boko Haram has killed at least 60 people in a “devastating” attack on the north-eastern Nigerian border town of Rann, Amnesty International said on Friday, calling it one of the deadliest assaults by the extremist group in its nearly decade-long insurgency. Fighters on motorcycles drove through the town near the Cameroon border on Monday morning, setting houses on fire and killing people left behind, the international rights group said in a series of Twitter posts. The fighters also chased residents fleeing the “massive attack” and killed several outside town. Amnesty published satellite imagery that it said showed “hundreds of burned structures”. Many likely served as shelters for displaced people who had arrived in recent months seeking protection. Most of Rann is “now destroyed”, the group said. The attack came as Nigeria faces what it has called an extremist resurgence, posing a serious challenge for President Muhammadu Buhari as he seeks re-election in two weeks' time. His administration once claimed Boko Haram had been “crushed” or “technically defeated”, while the military has faced questions over low morale and support. Witnesses told Amnesty that soldiers had left their posts the day before the attack.”

The Wall Street Journal: Islamic State, Seeking Next Chapter, Makes Inroads Through West Africa

“The battle began with two small drones buzzing over a base where more than 500 Nigerian troops guarded the shores of Lake Chad. Then came the clatter of gunfire from a column of armored cars, artillery units and tanks that also blasted jihadist battle songs from mounted speakers. Within hours, elite forces from one of Africa’s most powerful militaries had abandoned their base and its cache of heavy weapons, routed by an insurgent army fighting under the familiar black and white flag of Islamic State. “We were sitting ducks,” said Bitrus Madu, a Nigerian sergeant who fled the base in the town of Baga in December and walked through forests for three days to reach safety. “The terrorists control the whole region now.” In recent months, as Islamic State has seen its self-described caliphate in Iraq and Syria radically shrink, a Nigeria-born group calling itself the Islamic State West Africa Province, or ISWAP, has taken control of hundreds of square miles of territory, according to Nigerian and Western officials. The group’s rapid rise, largely away from public view, foreshadows the next chapter for Islamic State. Its local allies are expanding in a flurry of far-flung states, battling local armies and carving fundamentalist enclaves in Afghanistan, Mali, the Philippines and Somalia.”

The Guardian: They Say Boko Haram Is Gone. One Mother’s Terror Tells Another Story…

“When Boko Haram stormed into Baga in a hail of gunfire on Boxing Day, Zara Abubakar was lying in bed, waiting for her two-week-old triplets, Maryam, Muhafat and Mohammed, to go to sleep so she could have a bath. Heart pounding, she shouted for her four other children playing in the yard to come in, covering the babies with her body. For hours they all lay inside, waiting for the battle to let up. Then there was silence, followed by shouts of Allahu Akbar, and Baga mosque’s loudspeakers crackled into life. “Boko Haram made an announcement that they were not here for us but for the infidels [the military] and that they were now in charge,” Abubakar recounted, jogging one of the triplets in the crook of her elbow and another on her knee. It was a faction of Boko Haram called Islamic State West Africa Province (Iswap), which is allied with Isis. “They advised everyone in the town to be calm, adding that whoever wanted to stay could do so and anyone not willing to remain would be free to leave,” she said. It was not the first time that Abubakar had encountered Boko Haram. She had fled the Islamist group’s previous bloody assaults on Baga and was suspicious of the militants’ reassurances, convinced they would end up killing innocent civilians.”

Pulse Nigeria: Troops Kill 4 Boko Haram Terrorists In Borno Gun Battle

“Troops of Sector 3 of Operation Lafiya Dole deployed in Mallam Fatori in Abadam local government area of Borno State killed four Boko Haram terrorists during a gun battle on Saturday, February 2, 2019. According to a statement signed by Sector 3's Deputy Director of Army Public Relations, Colonel Ezindu Idimah, the terrorists were attempting to attack troops location around 6pm when they were discovered during a routine defence patrol.” The insurgents who came in their numbers met their waterloo as the gallant troops proved to be hard nut for them to crack. “The terrorists were mercilessly trashed due to the superior fire power, courage and discipline displayed by own troops in conjunction with the Air Task Force. “Many of them were neutralised while several others escaped with gunshot wounds. Various weapons and ammunition were recovered from the terrorists,” the statement read. Colonel Idimah also disclosed that three soldiers were wounded during the encounter but are receiving medical treatment at 7 Division Hospital in Maiduguri, the state capital. The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) also disclosed that its Air Task Force (ATF) of Operation Lafiya Dole destroyed a logistics base belonging to the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), a Boko Haram faction, near Arege in the northern part of Borno on Saturday.”

Somalia

News 24: 13 Al-Shabaab Fighters Killed In Somalia - US Army

“At least 13 fighters, part of the armed al-Shabaab group, have been killed in an airstrike outside the Somali capital, Mogadishu, the US army said. The airstrike happened in Gandarshe, 48km south of Mogadishu, on Friday, US Africom said in a statement on Saturday. “To support the Federal Government of Somalia's continued efforts to degrade al-Shabaab, US Africa Command conducted an airstrike targeting al-Shabaab fighters in the vicinity of Gandarshe, Lower Shebelle Region, Somalia, on February 1, 2019,” the statement said. “US Africa Command currently assesses this airstrike killed thirteen (13) militants. At this time, it was assessed no civilians were injured or killed in this airstrike.” This is the 10th US airstrike this year in the Horn of Africa country. Last year, it carried out at least 48 strikes in Somalia, killing more than 330 fighters, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Al-Shabaab is an al-Qaeda-linked armed group fighting to overthrow the country's western-backed government. The group regularly stages attacks against the Somali military and against troops from the African Union-mandated peacekeeping force Amisom. On Thursday, an airstrike by the US army killed 24 al-Shabaab fighters in neighbouring Hiran region.”

France 24: Somalia Port Boss Killed, Car Bomb Leaves 9 Dead In Shabaab Attacks

“Somalia's Al-Shabaab militants on Monday shot dead the Maltese manager of a port, while detonating a car bomb in the capital which killed nine people and wounded several others. In a deadly day for the restive nation, a gunman shot Maltese national Paul Anthony Formosa, manager of the port of Bossasso in semi-autonomous Puntland state for P&O Ports, a subsidiary of the Dubai-based DP World. Shortly thereafter a powerful explosion from a car bomb rocked the busy Hamarweyne market in the capital Mogadishu, killing nine people in the latest attack from the Al-Qaeda affiliate plaguing the country. "An armed man shot and killed Paul Anthony Formosa who was the construction project manager for DP World. He was killed inside the port and the security forces also shot the killer on the spot", local security official, Mohamed Dahir, told AFP. The Dubai government confirmed the death in a statement on Twitter and said the circumstances of the incident was being investigated.”

All Africa: Somalia: Al-Shabaab Battles Islamic Militants In Northeastern Somalia

“The al-Shabab militant group has scaled up its attacks against pro-Islamic State fighters in the northeastern mountainous Somali region of Bari, experts say. Intelligence and security officials say al-Shabab has seized two locations from pro-IS militants this week. One of the two areas is called El-Miraale, a water point that has been the focal point of clashes. The second village seized by al-Shabab is called Shebaab, south of the town of Qandala according to sources. Pro-IS militants have now retreated further into the highlands, but experts say the fighting is not over. Abdi Hassan Hussein is the former intelligence chief of Puntland. He has been monitoring the latest clashes between the two sides. “They are fighting over the control of the mountains, which has been a base for Daesh,” he said, using another term for Islamic State. Al-Shabab attacked IS in December after al-Shabab smuggled dozens of their militia members into the area, a move described as audacious attempt to reach IS hideouts. Hussein says al-Shabab lost the first round of the battle in mid-December last year and lost men but has since regrouped and launched a second-round offensive earlier this week. He says the key El-Miraale water point is now under control of al-Shabab.”

Al Africa: Somalia: Al-Shabab Carries Out A Car Bomb Attack In Southern Somalia

“Al-Shabaab has claimed it carried out a suicide car bomb attack in a government-controlled town in southern Somalia on Saturday morning, killing at least 16 Ethiopian soldiers. In a statement posted on its affiliated websites, the militant group said a bomber rammed his explosives-laden vehicle at a military base belonging to Ethiopian troops. The attack took place in Bardera town, located in the country's southern Gedo region, which lies near Somalia's porous border with Kenya. There were no independent sources confirming the deaths of the Ethiopian soldiers as the local authorities are yet to comment on the casualty figures. Somali troops backed by African Union peacekeepers have retaken the strategic town from Al-Shabaab following a joint military offensive in 2015.”

Africa

The Epoch Times: Kenya’s Struggle With Terrorism

“Fear and panic rocked Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, at 3 p.m. on Jan. 15 when four armed gunmen and a suicide bomber stormed the DusitD2 hotel complex at 14 Riverside. The result was a 12-hour siege that would last until the next morning, ending with all the terrorists being neutralized by security personnel. At least 21 people died in the attack. During the attack, Al Shabaab, a Somali terrorist group, spoke to Al Jazeera, claiming responsibility for the attack. “We are currently conducting an operation in Nairobi,” the group’s spokesperson told the news network. One of the reasons why Nairobi is a target for terrorism may be because of its international business presence, some experts say. Kenya has in the past five years been a target for terror attacks by Al Shabaab. This was initiated, among other reasons, by the entry of the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) into Somalia after the kidnapping of Italian tourists visiting the Kenyan coast. With the support of the African Union, Kenya entered Somalia to fight Al Shabaab as part of the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), even though the terrorist group said they were not responsible for the kidnapping.”

The National Interest: Why Do Extremist Groups Thrive In Africa?

“The January 15 terrorist attack in Nairobi, Kenya, at the high-end DusitD2 hotel and business complex killed at least twenty-one people and injured dozens of other innocent bystanders and ordinary Kenyans. It was carried out by the Somalia-based extremist organization al-Shabaab, which has notoriously been known for decades to attack soft targets in East Africa. Furthermore, this event comes on the heels of an uptick of al-Shabaab attacks in other nations along the Swahili coast, including in Mozambique in which women, children, and Western businesses (such as oil, gas and energy sector enterprises) have been targeted. This is undeniably a major concern for governments and its citizens alike. Throughout the continent of Africa—like throughout the rest of the world—extremism in all its forms has been on the rise. Unemployment, poverty, deprivation, marginalization can be contributing factors as well as catalysts to an individual’s pathway to extremism, though it is important to note that, based on numerous social science research reports, the journey to extremism is individualized and personal. In 2017, the United Nations Development Program completed an exhaustive study that included interviews with close to five hundred individuals who joined terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and al-Shabaab.”

United Kingdom

The National: Two ISIS 'Beatles' To Face US Trial In Summer

“Two Londoners alleged to be members of the ISIS-affiliated “Beatles” group may face trial in the US as early as this summer, British media reported. Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, who are currently being held by western-backed Kurdish forces in the north of Syria, are expected to soon be transferred to US custody. As US President Donald Trump prepares to withdraw American troops from Syria, there are growing concerns that the men could be broken out of jail by ISIS supporters or set free by their overstretched captors. The men, who have been stripped of their British citizenship, are deemed to be members of a four-member execution cell led by a fighter dubbed “Jihadi John”, identified as Mohammed Emwazi. Among the 27 beheaded western hostages who fell victim to the group were US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning. Mr Kotey and Mr Elsheikh were captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces in January last year. FBI agents were given permission the following month to visit Britain to review evidence against the men on an “information-sharing basis only”. Britain wants the US to prosecute the men because it maintains there would be “insufficient evidence” to do so in the UK.”

The Independent: One In Four Londoners ‘Have Witnessed Extremism’, Poll Suggests

“One in four Londoners have witnessed support for extremism in the past year, a survey has shown amid warnings that counter-radicalisation efforts are not reaching all communities. A YouGov poll for the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime showed 25 per cent had witnessed views “promoting, endorsing or supporting extremism”. The research suggests that as many as 1.5 million London adults may have been exposed to hate speech, in the wake of four terror attacks by Isis supporters and a far-right terrorist in the capital. ”It’s clear that our ability as a country to tackle radicalisation and violent extremism is simply not good enough, and this is putting our safety and security at risk,” mayor Sadiq Khan said.  “I don’t think there are things such as hard to reach communities, there is hard to reach government and we need to do a far better job at making sure we engage with all Londoners.” Speaking to terror attack survivors, former extremists, religious leaders and counter-radicalisation campaigners gathered at London’s City Hall, Mr Khan said authorities needed to gain the trust of people exposed to extremism of all kinds.”

The Economist: Why Free Speech, Hate Speech And Radicalisation Are Hard To Define

“In Britain’s high places, there is much hand-wringing at the moment over the relationships between freedom of belief, hate speech, prejudice, violence and ultimately terrorism. At least three senior-level processes have been undertaken. First, the government has announced there will be an “independent review” of its so-called Prevent programme whose aim is to counter, and if possible nip in the bud, all kinds of violent extremism, ranging from the Islamist sort to the white-nativist variety. The review has received only the most cautious of welcomes from the voluble lobby of politically active Muslims who complain that Prevent is stigmatising their community. Meanwhile, the Commission on Countering Extremism, a powerful advisory body, recently asked everybody with an interest in the topic to offer submissions that will help its deliberations on how extremism should be defined. And finally Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee has just completed a year of investigations into the extent and appropriate definition of Islamophobia.”

France

The Washington Times: Official: 3 Charged In France In Strasbourg Attack Probe

“A French judicial official says three people detained over the investigation into the Christmas market attack in Strasbourg that left five dead have been handed preliminary terrorism charges. The judicial official, who isn’t authorized to speak publicly about the investigation, wouldn’t name the three, who were arrested on Tuesday in Alsace, along with another two suspects who were freed without being charged the next day. The judicial official on Saturday wouldn’t confirm French media reports that they are suspected of helping the gunman obtain the weapon he used to carry out the December 2018 assault. The alleged killer, Cherif Chekatt, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. He died in a shootout with police two days after the Dec. 11 attack.”

Germany

Asharq Al-Awsat: After Joining ISIS Aged 15, German Woman Asks To Go Home

“Four years after leaving Germany to live under the ISIS terrorist group, 19-year-old Leonora has fled the militants' last bastion in eastern Syria and says it's time to go home. “I was a little bit naive,” she says in English, wearing a long billowing black robe, and a beige headscarf with white spots. US-backed forces are fighting the last ISIS militants in a final shred of territory in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border, causing thousands of people to flee. Just beyond the frontline village of Baghouz, Leonora and her two small children are among the thousands of men, women and children to have scrambled out this week. The young German woman says she first came to Syria aged 15, just two months after converting to Islam. “After three days, I married my German husband,” she tells AFP, at a screening center for the displaced run by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Leonora says she became the third wife of German radical Martin Lemke, after he traveled to Syria with his first two wives. ISIS had the year before swept across large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq, declaring a “caliphate” in areas it controlled.”

Australia

The Australian: ISIS Terror Plotter ‘Wants To Be ­Deradicalised’

“A Sydney man who was involved in a macabre plan to start killing six or seven random Australians a month in the name of Islamic State says he now wants to be ­deradicalised in prison, the NSW Supreme Court heard yesterday. Omarjan Azari, 26, was found guilty in 2017 of an act in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act, in a telephone conversation with a senior Islamic State recruiter, Mohammed Ali Baryalei. The crown case against Azari included a 20-minute telephone conversation between the pair in which Baryalei directed Azari to grab any person, preferably British, American or French, and “finish him, finish her (and) put the flag of (Islamic) State in the background”. Baryalei, a former Kings Cross bouncer who fled to Syria in 2013, told Azari he wanted to target Western tourists so the killings would make “worldwide news”. He also offered to give him a video camera so he could film the murders — and have them broadcast by Islamic State’s media arm. “Terminate five, six, seven people a month and we will make videos and videos and videos,” Baryalei said. Azari told Baryalei at the time he was under “extreme surveillance” and would have to wait at least two months before he carried out the plan.”

Canada

Toronto Sun: Toronto Man Pleads Guilty To Trying To Join ISIS In Syria

“A Toronto man has admitted he left Canada to participate in ISIS terrorist activity on the same day day Parliament Hill was attacked by a gunman who murdered Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. Pamir Hakimzadeh, now 29, flew from Toronto to Amsterdam on Oct. 22, 2014 and then travelled to Istanbul, Turkey the next day, Crown attorney Chris Walsh told Justice John McMahon Friday. Before his departure, Hakimzadeh had “exhibited increasingly radical Islamic beliefs, speaking in favour of or in defence of ISIS … and had viewed a website providing instructions on how to get into Syria,” Walsh said.  “Pamir had previously commented that Muslims are being oppressed all over the world and that it’s up to Muslims to go fight,” Walsh said in reading an agreed statement of fact in court. “Pamir considered whether or not ISIS was prophesized in the Qur’an and whether they would bring justice to all Muslims in the Middle East. Pamir’s family did not share his views on ISIS,” said Walsh. Hakimzadeh’s plan was foiled when a Turkish cabbie suspected “he was trying to join ISIS and turned him over to the police,” court heard. Turkish authorities deported him back to Canada on Nov. 19, 2014 and banned him from entering Turkey for one year.”

Southeast Asia

The New York Times: 5 Soldiers And 3 ISIS-Linked Militants Killed In Clashes In Philippines

“Five soldiers and three members of Abu Sayyaf, a militant group linked to the Islamic State, were killed in a gun battle on Saturday on the southern Philippine island of Jolo, six days after a church bombing linked to the group left 22 dead, the military said. The fighting occurred in the jungles around the town of Patikul on Jolo, where the soldiers have been on the trail of an Abu Sayyaf unit blamed for an attack on the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel last Sunday. Twin explosions rocked Mount Carmel Cathedral, in downtown Jolo, as worshipers celebrated Mass. After the initial death toll of 21, a 68-year-old woman who was among the 100 or so others wounded died of her injuries on Friday. President Rodrigo Duterte and the military blamed the church attack on “suicide bombers” deployed by Abu Sayyaf working in concert with the Islamic State group. Security officials have said that early indications point to foreign bombers, though they have provided no conclusive evidence so far. Abu Sayyaf, which is blamed for the worst terrorist attacks since the 1990s, is known to have links with foreign jihadists. On Friday, Jolo’s provincial police chief, Pablo Labra, said that, based on the accounts of witnesses and body parts recovered by investigators from the blast site, the church had been attacked by a female suicide bomber.”

The Washington Post: Philippine Forces Cleared This City Of Islamist Militants In 2017. It’s Still A Ghost Town.

“At the edge of a bridge leading into the heart of the devastation from a 2017 siege against Islamic State-linked militants, an electric-blue billboard stands apart from the ruins. “Marawi will rise again! Soon . . .” it proudly declares in rainbow-colored letters. So far, it sounds like an empty promise. More than a year since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared the city liberated, Marawi looks almost as it did when the bombs and bullets stopped flying in October 2017, following five months of urban combat. Not a single new structure has been built. Almost none of the debris has been cleared. Snakes and mosquitoes infest the bright-green canopy of weeds engulfing the ruins. The odd stray dog has taken refuge inside battle-ravaged buildings. About 100,000 people displaced from the Marawi violence are unable to return home, living with relatives or in camps across the southern island of Mindanao. This predominantly Muslim region has seen clashes for decades between Philippine security forces and various groups of insurgents and militants, including the Abu Sayyaf. Marawi, however, stands apart.”

Today Online: The Big Read: Battered In The Middle East, ISIS Eyes South-East Asia As Next Terrorism Hotspot

“The terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is today a shadow of its once-formidable self in the Middle East, with its army in tatters and its territories reduced to a sliver of turf. But the ISIS ideology — which includes the setting up of a caliphate — is far from dead and buried. And its supporters, including those who have returned home after fighting wars in Iraq and Syria, have now set their sights on turning South-east Asia into the next terrorism hotspot. For ISIS, the region has all the ingredients needed to become its next cauldron of violence: Porous borders, existence of logistical bases, weak regimes, poor enforcement measures and disenchantment among marginalised Muslims. “South-east Asia has been dubbed as the second front for ISIS,” said Professor Mohd Kamarulnizam Abdullah, who researches on terrorism and religious violence at Universiti Utara Malaysia. The region already has had a taste of ISIS-style terror in recent years. In 2016, ISIS-linked militants launched a gun and bomb assault in the centre of Jakarta, killing several people. Last Sunday (Jan 27), a Roman Catholic cathedral on the island of Jolo in southern Philippines was bombed as worshippers gathered for mass.”

Technology

The New York Times: Facebook Turns 15: A Friendship No One Asked For

Forbes: How AI Is Now Being Trained To 'Detoxify' Social Media

“Is AI the answer to frustrating the building pressure on social media to be regulated or even restricted? As Google finally brings the shutter down on its own ill-fated Google+, can its world-leading artificial intelligence provide the solution for other platforms as they battle to restore safe online environments? That might be the plan, but making this work is proving one of the toughest tests yet for the company's AI. It turns out that moderating our behavior is much harder than manipulating it. Most teens have now experienced or witnessed cyberbullying, and the lack of controls on social media distribution of damaging content continues to make frontpage headlines. Meanwhile, ‘grown-up’ discussion forums have become echo chambers that enable and even encourage organized harassment.”

Fox News: Facebook's Business Model Exploits YOU And Mark Zuckerberg Could Care Less

“Mark Zuckerberg's staunch defense of Facebook’s business model and actions in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed revealed more than ever the negative impact the company continues to have on society and us as individuals. Unfortunately, the op-ed offers little reassurance to anyone uneasy about the company’s intrusion into their privacy. Zuckerberg touts the company’s “transparency tools” -- which purportedly show Facebook users why they're being targeted by certain ads -- but knowing that your social interactions are being monitored doesn’t make it less creepy. An entire system built on knowing what every single user does on its platform (and beyond) is invasive and not what most people signed up for or understand. I’m sure that mass surveillance was not the vision when Facebook was conceived in a Harvard dorm room 15 years ago, but it's certainly the reality now.”

ISIS

Baghdad Post: Iraq: Warnings Against New Methods Used By ISIS To Attract Young Recruits

“A member of the Iraqi Parliament Committee on Security and Defense, MP Faleh al-Issawi, confirmed the existence of centers for ISIS in the province of Anbar which are luring the unemployed. Al-Issawi said in a press statement: "The terrorist ISIS group has centers, where it engages with families returning from displacement. They have been luring young people and the unemployed to join the ranks of the organization." He added: "The war on terrorism needs an intellectual campaign to educate youth and to spend money for reconstruction, not just military and security efforts." Al-Issawi also called on the government to take decisions that boost the security of the liberated provinces and support the return of displaced people and reconstruction.”

Muslim Brotherhood

Wikimsrweb: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood Ally Divulges The Group's Unsavory Ties With The Mafia

“Emad Abu Hashem, a former ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, recently disclosed that the banned Islamist group used to conduct suspicious and direct ties with mafia networks {both} domestically and internationally. The influential lobbying strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood was aimed at equipping its members with a comparative advantage enabling the organization's activists to take absolute preference over others in gaining profits and wealth, Abu Hashem explained. He added that the outlawed group conducts a diverse array of illicit trade activities with the criminal networks, including excavating and selling antiquities, smuggling and promoting narcotics and hallucinogenic drugs via pharmacies and pharmacists affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, money-laundering transactions, illegal currency-exchange deals, weapons and ammunition trafficking and smuggling, and trading foreign consumer goods.”

7adramout Net: Egypt: Constitutional Amendment Might Open The Door To The Comeback Of Muslim Brotherhood Associations

“Chaired by Councilor Hanafi Jabali, the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt nullified, on Saturday, Article 42 of Law no. 84 of 2002 on Civic Associations. This article entitled the government to dissolve any non-governmental organization in case it alters its activity or receives funds from foreign entities without a judicial ruling {stating otherwise}. Law experts fear that the new amendment could open the door to a potential return of previously banned and dissolved associations linked to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood or foreign agencies. It's worth mentioning that the Egyptian government, between 2013 and 2017, froze hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated NGOs for allegedly practicing illicit activities.”

Harakat al-Shabaab

Alaraby: Rivalry Heats Up Between ISIS And Al-Shabab Over Funding Sources In Somalia

“The Somali capital, Mogadishu, which boasts the largest market in Somalia, Bakaro, is considered an invaluable economic territory by both ISIS and Harakat al-Shabaab, according to Mohammed Yousuf, an Economics Professor at the University of Somalia. ISIS has been searching for income sources in that area, which is viewed as the heart of the country's economy, by extorting and intimidating local traders and business owners. On its part, al-Shabaab raises huge sums of money by imposing royalties on companies and business people. Consequently, both terrorist organizations are, in essence, fighting each other in an effort to defend their revenue sources, Yousuf elaborated. He added that regrettably, in the meantime, innocent citizens continue to pay the heavy costs of this dispute.”

Houthi

Gulf 365: Oil Companies Established By The Houthis

“Iranian support for the Houthi militants is not limited to ballistic missiles and drones but also includes fuel shipments, according to the UN experts' report for 2018. Yemen's Hodeidah port remains a harbor for the incoming death {and destruction} from Iran. The Houthis obtain armaments, fuel and logistics from Iran for a futile war which has been going on for four years. Meanwhile, Yemeni experts have confirmed the founding of oil companies by Houthis following directives issued by Iran. These companies are part of the Houthis' aim to diversify the revenues of fuel supplies to meet the financial expenditures of their leadership and the high costs of their war effort.”