Eye on Extremism: February 6, 2019

Bloomberg: Trump Pledges To Stop ‘Endless Wars’ In Syria And Afghanistan

“Trump and his aides have scaled back the president’s vow in late December to withdraw forces “now,” saying the move would be more measured and that the U.S. will continue to strike at Islamic State. But the president spoke only hours after the Republican-controlled Senate passed legislation with a provision sponsored by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for the U.S. to avoid any “precipitous withdrawal” from Syria and Afghanistan. At its peak, Islamic State ruled territory the size of Britain, with a population of more than 10 million people, according to the Brookings Institution. Last week, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said “99.5 percent-plus of ISIS-controlled territory” has been recaptured. But General Joseph L. Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, told lawmakers on Tuesday that there’s a risk ISIS may try to reassert influence in the war-ravaged country.”

The Wall Street Journal: White House To Host Anti-Islamic State Conference 

“The Trump administration will face some of its skeptical allies on Wednesday when it hosts a meeting of the global coalition against Islamic State, a gathering that comes as the U.S. plans to withdraw its troops from Syria while asking partners to do more. The conference at the State Department will include all 79 members — 74 countries and five international organizations—of the Global Coalition against Islamic State. President Trump will address the gathering, the White House said Tuesday. Mr. Trump in December announced plans to withdraw more than 2,000 U.S. service members from Syria, citing the defeat of Islamic. U.S. military officers and intelligence officials since have disputed that assertion, sparking criticism from the president. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in part over his differences with the president on the decision. Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads U.S. Central Command, with oversight over all U.S. military forces in the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that he wasn’t consulted on the withdrawal decision. The White House said it had conferred with Mr. Mattis, who had opposed the move.”

The Independent: Intercepted Chats Tie Iranian Diplomat To Alleged Paris Terror Plot, Official Says

“European security officials have intercepted communications that suggest an Iranian diplomat was not only involved in an alleged plot last year to bomb a meeting of Tehran opponents outside Paris, but coordinated efforts with colleagues back in Iran, a well-placed western official told The Independent. The communications between Iranian diplomat Asadollah Asadi and counterparts in Iran were described as text messages, or chats, that have been collected by European intelligence services.  “Evidence of his contacts with the regime are recorded chats,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity while disclosing sensitive information. European security officials have intercepted communications that suggest an Iranian diplomat was not only involved in an alleged plot last year to bomb a meeting of Tehran opponents outside Paris, but coordinated efforts with colleagues back in Iran, a well-placed western official told The Independent. The communications between Iranian diplomat Asadollah Asadi and counterparts in Iran were described as text messages, or chats, that have been collected by European intelligence services. “Evidence of his contacts with the regime are recorded chats,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity while disclosing sensitive information.”

Daily Beast: ISIS Smuggler: Sleeper Cells And ‘Undead’ Suicide Bombers Have Infiltrated Europe

“Europe is bracing for a new wave of jihadist attacks by terrorists affiliated with the so-called Islamic State, what “you might call ISIS 2.0,” as Interpol chief Jürgen Stock recently told reporters. Some previously imprisoned jihadists are being released from jail, others are returning to Europe—and to prison—while still others, we have learned, have never been known to police and operate as “sleeper cells” waiting to be mobilized. It is in the face of such concerns that U.S. intelligence chiefs have warned, despite President Donald Trump’s assertions to the contrary, that ISIS is still far from defeated. Last week, the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) interviewed 18 ISIS cadres held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) closely allied with U.S. coalition forces in Syria. Two of the prisoners interviewed were former members of the ISIS intelligence operation known as the “emni,” sometimes also written as “amni.” 

The New York Times: John Cantlie, A British Journalist Held Hostage By ISIS, Is Believed To Be Still Alive

“More than six years after he was abducted in Syria by jihadists, John Cantlie, a British journalist, is believed to be still alive, a British government official said on Tuesday. Mr. Cantlie has been seen in several propaganda videos made by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, but the last one was released more than two years ago. On Tuesday, Ben Wallace, Britain’s minister for security, told journalists at a Home Office briefing that Mr. Cantlie was thought to be alive, though he did not disclose how the government might have knowledge of his condition. The Islamic State held Mr. Cantlie in a series of locations before moving him to a prison next to an oil installation near the Syrian city of Raqqa, where he became one of 23 Western captives held at the site in two cells, divided by sex. If he is still alive, he is one of the few people who might be able to tell what became of other inmates in the underground gulag that held them, including many hostages whose families know little about their fates.”

The New York Times: How To Stop Facebook’s Dangerous App Integration Ploy

“In response to calls that Facebook be forced to divest itself of WhatsApp and Instagram, Mark Zuckerberg has instead made a strategic power grab: He intends to put Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger onto a unified technical infrastructure. The integrated apps are to be encrypted to protect users from hackers. But who’s going to protect users from Facebook? Ideally, that would be the Federal Trade Commission, the agency charged with enforcing the antitrust laws and protecting consumers from unfair business practices. But the F.T.C. has looked the other way for far too long, failing to enforce its own 2011 consent decree under which Facebook was ordered to stop deceiving users about its privacy claims. The F.T.C. has also allowed Facebook to gobble up any company that could possibly compete against it, including Instagram and WhatsApp.”

United States

Politico: Why We Invited The Pope To The Arabian Peninsula

“In 1960, two American missionary doctors went deep into the harsh desert of the Arabian Peninsula to set up a hospital in a mud block building with dirt floors and a palm frond roof. For the Bedouins who lived there and practiced Islam, it would be their first experience with modern medicine—and their first contact with Christianity. Over the next few decades, with the encouragement and support from local tribal leaders, the husband-and-wife medical team would grow the hospital, save many lives and cement a lasting legacy of respect and admiration between Christians and Muslims in what would later become the United Arab Emirates. This week, that legacy will be honored when Pope Francis travels to the Arabian Peninsula—the first such visit for any pontiff. He will celebrate mass in Abu Dhabi with 120,000 of the more than 1 million Catholics who live in the UAE, and visit the local Catholic Cathedral that opened in 1965 on land donated by the government. The pope’s visit will send a strong signal across the region and world: People with different beliefs can live, work and worship together. Reverence, respect and compassion are core common values. Prayer is both uniting and unifying. But not everyone will welcome or embrace the message.”

U.S. News & World Report: 3 Men Accused Of Plotting Attack On Muslim Enclave In Court

“The case of one of three men accused of plotting to attack an upstate New York Muslim community is headed to a grand jury. The three men who appeared in town court Tuesday in suburban Rochester are accused of planning to attack the rural community of Islamberg with explosives. They were arrested last month on charges of criminal possession of a weapon and conspiracy. The Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester reports that the case against 18-year-old Andrew Crysel was waived to a grand jury. Preliminary hearings for 19-year-old Vincent Vetromile and 20-year-old Brian Colaneri were scheduled for next week. A 16-year-old boy also has been charged as an adolescent offender. Crysel had no comment as he entered court with his lawyer. Lawyers for Vetromile and Colaneri did not immediately respond to phone messages.”

The Missourian: Moberly Man Charged With Making Terrorist Threat

“A Moberly man was charged Tuesday with harassment and making a terrorist threat. Jordan Fugate, 19, was arrested Sunday after police said he sent a text message threatening to start firing a gun in Columbia. Fugate began texting the threats after a woman refused to comply with his demands, according to the probable cause statement for his arrest. Fugate then told the woman that he was going to come to Columbia the next day, Monday, and start shooting. The woman took this to mean that Fugate was going to shoot at the school she attends, according to the statement. She believed he could follow through with the threats, even though Fugate does not know where she goes to school. He's been charged with second-degree harassment and third-degree terrorist threats.”


The New York Times: U.S. Military Commander Warns That Islamic State May Quickly Regroup

“The Islamic State could stage a resurgence in Syria once the Pentagon withdraws its troops, the head of the United States Central Command told a Senate panel on Tuesday in a bleak warning that President Trump’s assertions of victory may be fleeting. The commander, Gen. Joseph L. Votel, who oversees military operations in the Middle East, also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Islamic State still controlled around 20 square miles of territory in Syria. That is a steep drop from the group’s pinnacle of 34,000 square miles in 2014 and has been used by the president to bolster his case that American troops and their allies have largely defeated the militant Sunni extremist group. Mr. Trump has indicated that he is ready to declare victory in Syria, a war that was featured in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. General Votel’s comments came during a testy hearing in which a succession of senators from both parties questioned Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria. It was yet another instance of top national security leaders diverging from the president on the pullout, a decision that led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in December.”

Fox News: As ISIS Crumbles, Syrian Kurds Worry About US Troop Withdrawal

“Pummeled by modern U.S. weaponry, ISIS has been reduced to a single town – Baghoz. Now the cruel caliphate is surrounded by members of the Syrian defense force – predominantly Kurds – who say there are just days remaining. Brave, but light on equipment, they rely heavily on the U.S. Fox News was granted rare access to the frontlines – to witness the final stand. It’s a long and hard road to the far east of the country – through territory still being attacked by ISIS sleeper cells. After three days on the road, first traveling west from Iraq then south through Syria, we finally reached a SDF base in the Omar oil fields in what was once an ISIS heartland. U.S. forces are everywhere here. You catch glimpses of them moving around, on the frontlines and in forward bases. U.S. mortar teams, intelligence, artillery and airstrikes are the reason the territorial caliphate was destroyed so quickly. In one U.S. base, Fox News saw hundreds of troops and dozens of U.S. armored vehicles – a reminder of the scale of U.S involvement. There are said to be 2,000 U.S. troops here, but some believe the actual figure is higher. The following day, in an SDF Humvee, we slowly pushed forward to the battlefield, bogged down by rain and mud.”

Washington Examiner: Top Commander Says US Will Rely On Allies To Stop ISIS From Resurging In Syria

“Once the United States pulls all its ground forces out of Syria, it will be up to the other members of the 79-nation Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS to make sure the terrorist group doesn’t retake territory in the country, the top U.S. commander for the region told Congress Tuesday. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that he expects that by the time U.S. troops withdraw from Syria, in what he called “a deliberate and coordinated manner,” all the remaining 20 square miles of Syria still controlled by an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 ISIS fighters will have been liberated. But Votel warned that even when the territory is reclaimed, the fight against ISIS will not be over. “The coalition’s hard-won battlefield gains can only be secured by maintaining a vigilant offensive against them,” Votel said, describing ISIS as a “dispersed and desegregated” organization “that retains leaders, fighters, facilitators, resources, and the profane ideology that fuels their efforts.” Votel’s warning came one day after the latest quarterly report to Congress from the Department of Defense’s internal watchdog declared ISIS “remains a battled-hardened and well-disciplined force” that seems “unfazed by Coalition airstrikes” and is “regenerating key functions and capabilities.”

Fortune: Senate Republicans Break From Trump On Syria Hours Before The State Of The Union

“The Republican-controlled Senate voted to require President Donald Trump to impose new sanctions on Syria, in a rebuke delivered just hours before the president is expected to defend his policies during his State of the Union address. The 77-23 vote Tuesday, a rare break with the president, was prompted by Senate Republicans’ strong disapproval of Trump’s announcement in December that he was declaring victory against Islamic State in Syria and withdrawing U.S. forces from the country. The legislation directs the administration to impose sanctions on entities doing business with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It also includes an amendment sponsored by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that urges Trump not to exit military conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan. McConnell stood by Trump during the 35-day partial government shutdown in a dispute over border security, and he is usually reluctant to criticize the president. But he has repeatedly warned that Islamic State and al-Qaeda have not been defeated. His amendment calls for the U.S. to avoid any “precipitous withdrawal” from Syria and Afghanistan.”

The National: ISIS Is Diminished, But Not Yet Defeated

“Representatives of 78 of the 79 nations that constitute the Global Coalition will be paying close attention to the remarks of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is due to address the organisation’s meeting in Washington tomorrow. The coalition was formed in 2014 to erode and defeat ISIS. In December, its unity was compromised, and membership dismayed, by President Trump’s announcement that the US had “defeated ISIS in Syria” and was pulling out of the country. Without doubt, the coalition has made tremendous progress against ISIS. In 2014, the group was in control of vast areas of Iraq and Syria, from Mosul in the east almost to Aleppo in the west. By January last year, its influence had been reduced to a few isolated pockets in Syria. In addition to the military might that has brought to bear against ISIS, coalition partners, including the UAE, have done much to disrupt the organisation’s funding and recruitment and to restore essential services in liberated areas. But now is not the time to pull back. The UN, the Pentagon and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies have all warned that ISIS remains a real threat, with up to 30,000 fighters still active in Syria. On Monday a report by the Pentagon went further."


Voice Of America: Iran Warns Israel Against Further Airstrikes In Syria

“Iran warned Israel on Tuesday of a “firm and appropriate” response if it continued attacking targets in Syria, where Tehran has backed President Bashar al-Assad and his forces in their nearly eight-year war against rebels and militants. Without responding directly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nevertheless said it was important to block Iranian influence in Syria. Israel, which views Tehran as its biggest security threat, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets and those of allied militia in Syria. With an election looming in April, Israel has been increasingly open about carrying out airstrikes. In a meeting with Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in Tehran, the secretary of Iran's National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said the Israeli attacks violated Syria's territorial integrity and were unacceptable. “If these actions continue, we will activate some calculated measures as a deterrent and as a firm and appropriate response to teach a lesson to the criminal and lying rulers of Israel,” Shamkhani was quoted as saying by Fars news agency. In Jerusalem, Netanyahu said he would hold talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 21, focusing on Iran's threat along the Syrian border. Moscow is a main backer of the Damascus government.”

Radio Liberty: Trump: Iran Doing 'Bad, Bad Things'

“U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged that the United States will continue to confront Iran's clerical regime. In his second State of the Union address delivered to the U.S. Congress on February 5, Trump declared, "We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants death to America and threatens genocide against the Jewish people.”

The Wall Street Journal: Europe’s Iran Trade Flop

“European diplomats have convinced themselves that they must abide by the flawed 2015 nuclear deal with Iran to demonstrate their credibility. Their latest attempt to keep the deal alive despite U.S. opposition shows otherwise. Behold the special-purpose vehicle, unveiled last week by the European Commission and Europe’s three signatories to the 2015 deal. The SPV, now christened the Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchange (Instex), is supposed to allow European Union companies to keep trading with Iran under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Instex will do this by managing complex barter transactions to avoid running afoul of sanctions the U.S. reimposed last year when it withdrew from the nuclear deal. The EC, Germany, France and the United Kingdom are clinging to the flawed agreement out of fear that Tehran might start developing the nuclear weapons Tehran intends to develop eventually anyway. They also hope to demonstrate European independence from American economic influence.”


Ahval: Turkey Guilty Of Terrorism In Northern Syria, Says Senior Kurdish Official

“Turkey's role in northern Syria is negative and the country is "engaging in terrorism itself," a  senior Syrian Kurdish official said during a panel in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Turkey has conducted two military interventions into Syria. The first operation, called Euphrates Shield, primarily targeted Islamic State (ISIS) in 2016 and the second intervention, dubbed Olive Branch, in 2018, targeted Syrian Kurdish Forces, namely the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the predominantly Kurdish militia that is a key component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, considered a terrorist organisation by Ankara. Ilham Ahmed, head of the Executive Committee of the Syrian Democratic Council, who is on a week-long visit to the U.S. capital for meetings, directed harsh criticism towards Turkey, calling on Western countries to support the Syrian Kurds following U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement in December of the immediate withdrawal of troops from Syria during a panel organised by American Rojava Center for Democracy at the National Press Club, Washington, DC.”


The Washington Post: Taliban Talks Shift To Moscow With Possible U.S.-Brokered Deal On Table

“Members of the Taliban and key Afghan power brokers, including former president Hamid Karzai, discussed their vision for the future of Afghanistan on Tuesday, meeting in Moscow for talks aimed at ending the war. The meeting shifted the fragile peace process from the United States, whose special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad declared a potential breakthrough with the Taliban just days ago. Moscow seeks to reassert its influence in the region and probably would want a role in shaping any possible peace plan. But the talks, being held over two days in a hotel maintained by the Russian government, included no representatives of President Ashraf Ghani’s government, inviting fierce criticism from the U.S.-backed Afghan leader. ”A peace deal with the Taliban will not be implemented unless there is a nationwide consensus,” Ghani said, adding that any agreements made without the Afghan government were meaningless. “Let hundreds of such meetings be held.” This did not stop some prominent Afghan politicians, such as Mohammad Mohaqiq, deputy to the government’s chief executive, from attending the intra-Afghan talks, but they did so in an independent capacity.”

Reuters: Talks With Taliban In 'Very, Very Early' Stages: U.S. General

“A top U.S. general said on Tuesday that talks between the United States and Taliban were in their “very, very early” stages and the Afghan government, so far excluded from talks, would have to be part of the solution.  “I would characterize where we are in the process as very, very early in the process,” U.S. General Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, told a Senate hearing.  “We clearly recognize that they (Afghan government) have to be a part of this solution and must be in the negotiation aspects of this, we can’t do that on their behalf.”  Votel also said that the United States would need to continue to support Afghan security forces financially even if U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan.”

BBC News: Taliban 'Not Seeking To Seize Whole Afghanistan'

“The Taliban official who has led the group's peace negotiations with the US has told the BBC the insurgents do not want to seize “the whole country by [military] power”. “It will not bring peace to Afghanistan,” Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai said. However, he said the group would not agree to a ceasefire until foreign forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan.  UN data shows that the Taliban are responsible for more civilian casualties than any other warring party. Mr Stanikzai, who until recently was the head of the Taliban's political office in Qatar and remains a leading figure in the group, spoke to the BBC while attending a meeting in Moscow with a number of senior Afghan opposition politicians.  He said the Taliban's experiences in power in the 1990s, when it faced armed opposition from rival Afghan groups, had led the group to conclude it was preferable to reach a solution by “coming to the table”. “Peace is more difficult than war,” Mr Stanikzai added, alluding to the difficulties in reaching a settlement. But he expressed hopes that the conflict could be brought to an end.  Mr Stanikzai has overseen a series of meetings with the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, in recent months.”

NPR: Taliban Attack Kills Dozens Of Soldiers And Police, Even As Peace Talks Continue

“Taliban fighters stormed an army post in northern Kunduz province early Tuesday, setting off a clash that killed more than two dozen people — most of them soldiers, Afghan officials said. The attack occurred on the outskirts of Kunduz City and set off a firefight between militants and security forces that lasted from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. local time, according to Pajhwok Afghan News, citing Deputy Chairman of Provincial Council Safiullah Amiri. At least 23 soldiers and three police officers died, the Associated Press reports, citing Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, head of the provincial council. The violence was on the same day as a Taliban meeting with a group of Afghan politicians in Moscow, discussions that followed last month's optimistic talks between U.S. and Taliban representatives. But like the U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Qatar, the Moscow meeting did not include Afghanistan's central government, led by President Ashraf Ghani. Taliban insurgents also attacked a police checkpoint in Baghlan province Monday night, Tolo news reports. At least 10 police officers, including the outpost's commander, reportedly died in that assault.”

U.S. News & World Report: Two Afghan Journalists Killed As Gunmen Open Fire In Radio Station

“Two Afghan journalists were killed on Tuesday night when gunmen entered a radio station and opened fire, authorities said. The presenter and reporter, both males in their 20s, died at the scene, said Semin Hussaini, director of Radio Hamsada. It was not known if they were on air at the time and both police and Hussaini said they no idea of the motive for the attack in Taloqan, capital of the northern province of Takhar. Theirs was the second killing of journalists in Afghanistan this year. Last month the Taliban kidnapped and later killed government worker and part-time journalist Javid Noori. Jawad Hejri, spokesman for the Takhar governor, said the gunmen fled without being identified and police were investigating. Taliban and other Islamist insurgents have repeatedly targeted Afghan journalists, killing 15 in 2018, the deadliest year yet for the country's media, according to Reporters Without Borders. The Paris-based media rights group said the three most dangerous countries for journalists to work in were Afghanistan, Syria and Mexico.”

Xinhua: Gun Battle Kills 5 Militants In Southern Afghanistan

“Clash between government forces and the Taliban group in Garmsir district of southern Helmand province has left five militants dead and injured three others, a statement from the provincial government said here on Wednesday. According to the statement, the clash flared up after the government forces stormed a Taliban hideout in Habibullah Kalai area on Tuesday which killed five insurgents on the spot and forcing the insurgents to flee. The security forces have also discovered and defused 25 mines and explosive devices from the area, the statement said. It also said that the operations would continue until the area is cleansed of the insurgents. Taliban militants haven't commented.”

Middle East

Al Monitor: Islamic Jihad, The New Lord Of Gaza?

“Who’s leading whom in the Gaza Strip? Does Hamas lord over the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a militant movement supported by Iran, or is it the other way around? Over the past few months, Israeli security forces have noted the growing influence of the Islamic Jihad on Hamas. Seeking to avoid problems with Iran, the Hamas leadership feels it has little choice but to follow the Islamic Jihad’s dictates in their actions when dealing with Israel and Egypt. This was exacerbated following the appointment of Ziyad al-Nakhalah as secretary-general of the Islamic Jihad in September 2018. Nakhalah replaces Abdullah Ramadan Shalah, who has been in a coma ever since he suffered a stroke in April 2018. Born in Khan Yunis, Nakhalah spent 14 years in Israeli prisons until he was released in the 1985 prisoner exchange called the “Jibril deal.” He was later expelled to Lebanon, where he was brought into the Islamic Jihad leadership by the movement’s founder, Fathi al-Shaqaqi. Shaqaqi was killed in Malta in 1995 in an attack attributed by foreign news sources to the Mossad. The hit was allegedly in retaliation for a terrorist attack at the Beit Lid intersection in January 1995 in which 21 soldiers and a civilian were killed.”


Defense Post: ISIS Ambush In Southwest Egypt Injures 4 Police Officers

“Four Egyptian policeman were wounded in an ambush Tuesday, February 5 in the southwest of the country, a security source said, in an attack claimed by Islamic State. The attack took place in El-Wadi El-Gedid governorate (New Valley in English), a mostly arid region in the Western Desert bordering Libya, when gunmen ambushed a police checkpoint, the source said. The police “responded to the armed attack” leading to an “exchange of fire” with the assailants who managed to flee, the source said, adding that four policemen were wounded. ISIS’s propaganda agency Amaq released a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, saying ISIS “fighters” attacked the checkpoint on the Baghdad road that links El-Wadi El-Gedid’s capital Kharga to the city of Luxor further south, without giving further details. Egypt has been the target of several jihadist attacks in recent years including from ISIS who are active in the restive Northern Sinai region. The military launched a year ago an operation dubbed “Sinai 2018” in a bid to dislodge ISIS from the northeastern Sinai Peninsula and other parts of the country, including the Western Desert. On Saturday the military said it had killed eight jihadists in airstrikes in the Western Desert.”


Voice Of America: Displacement Escalates In Northeast Nigeria As Violence Intensifies

“The International Organization for Migration is appealing for $66 million to respond to an escalating displacement crisis, in northeastern Nigeria, which has left tens of thousands of people bereft of shelter and other basic life-saving needs.  Since November, more than 59,000 people have fled their homes in northeast Nigeria. Most of them, mainly women and children, have run from attacks by Boko Haram militants and other armed non-state actors in Borno State, the epicenter of the displacement crisis. Recent violence behind latest movement Fighting has displaced 1.8 million people since 2015. The U.N. migration agency's chief of mission in Nigeria, Frantz Celestin, said violence in the last two months of 2018 has triggered the largest movement of people in the shortest period of time over the past two years.  He said the escalating attacks and success in seizing towns suggest an increased sophistication in tactics by the armed groups. “This is why I think a lot of people move once they take the town,” Celestin said. “Or even, in a lot of cases, in the case of Monguno, just a rumor of an attack can displace people ... because if there is a rumor that one of the non-state armed groups is about to attack, people would want to get ahead of it before they enter the town.”

The Punch Nigeria: ISIS West Africa Could Disrupt Elections, Says Report

“The activities of a terrorist group, Islamic State’s West Africa Province, an affiliate of ISIS, could affect the forthcoming general elections in Nigeria, a report has claimed. The Wall Street Journal said ISWAP, which is working closely with its leaders in Niger and Chad, had been fortified with the return of fighters, who trained in Libya and the Middle East. The report agrees with a recent statement by the United States Government. The US, citing intelligence, claimed ISWAP was planning to attack security forces, infrastructure and public places in Nigeria during the general elections. The WSJ report said in contrast to Boko Haram and its killing of civilians, ISWAP’s estimated 5,000 men focus attacks on security forces and non-governmental organisations, following tactical advice from Syria. According to the report, the group overran and looted military bases in December 2018 in Baga, leaving hundreds of soldiers dead and seizing weapons. Security officials were said to have described the new group as a bigger threat than Boko Haram, given its sophistication. “The weapons are being smuggled from Libya to their factions in Nigeria and Mali,” the WSJ report quoted an arms smuggler in Niger named Yusuf as saying.”


Voice Of America: Senior Somali Military Officer Killed In Roadside Bombing

“A senior Somali military commander was killed in a powerful roadside explosion near the capital, Mogadishu, Tuesday just two months after his several other senior officers were killed in the same area by an improvised explosive device (IED), military officials confirmed to VOA Somali. Colonel Abdisalam Sheikh Aden died after his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device shortly after leaving a military base in Dhanane, on the southern outskirts of Mogadishu.  Aden was deputy commander of the 12th April Division, one of the biggest military sectors in Somalia. A second officer, Colonel Abdirahman Jimale Muse, who was in charge of the finances for the first battalion of Somali army, was also killed in Tuesday’s explosion. The death of the two officers came exactly two months after two senior military commanders including Aden’s predecessor were killed by IED in the same vicinity. The explosion on Dec. 6 killed the commander of the 12th April Division, General Omar Aden Dhabad “Omar Dhere,” and his deputy general, Abdi Ali Jamame.  The al-Shabab militant group claimed responsibility for the attack.”

North Korea

Associated Press: UN Experts: North Korea Nukes Intact, Dispersing Missiles

“North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs “remain intact” and its leaders are dispersing missile assembly and testing facilities to prevent “decapitation” strikes, U.N. experts said in a new report. The experts’ report to the Security Council, seen Tuesday by The Associated Press, says the country continues to defy U.N. economic sanctions, including through “a massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal.” The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — the country’s official name — also continues to violate an arms embargo, a ban on luxury goods and financial sanctions, the experts said. And the panel said it investigated “the DPRK’s sophisticated cyberattacks” against multiple countries “to evade financial sanctions.”

The Wall Street Journal: Trump Says He Will Meet North Korea’s Kim In Vietnam This Month:

“President Trump will meet for the second time with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam, he revealed during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday. “Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one,” Mr. Trump said. Messrs. Trump and Kim met for the first time in June in Singapore. They emerged with an agreement but it provided few particulars on the president’s stated goal of the rapid denuclearization of North Korea. The summit did mark a new era of diplomacy, with each side viewing the summit as a breakthrough. Mr. Trump became the only sitting U.S. president ever to meet with a North Korean leader, and Mr. Kim cemented his place on the world stage.”

United Kingdom

CNN: British Journalist John Cantlie Believed To Be Alive, Still Held By ISIS

“John Cantlie, a British journalist who was taken hostage in Syria in 2012 and appeared in a number of ISIS propaganda videos during his time in captivity, is believed to be alive, UK Security Minister Ben Wallace said Tuesday. Wallace told a briefing in London for international reporters, attended by CNN, that the British government believes Cantlie is still being held by ISIS. Cantlie, an experienced war photographer, was covering the Syrian conflict when he was abducted alongside American journalist James Foley, who was later beheaded by ISIS. Asked generally about British hostages around the world, Wallace said the UK does not pay ransom and discourages other countries from doing so. Wallace named Cantlie as the most public and prominent British hostage, and when asked directly if the belief is Cantlie is still alive, he said yes. Wallace would not elaborate or say whether Cantlie is thought to be in the rapidly-diminishing area still held by ISIS. Since his capture, Cantlie has appeared in ISIS videos dressed as a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit, and filmed in the style of roving foreign correspondent reporting from the streets of the so-called caliphate. Cantlie was last seen in a propaganda video released by ISIS in mid-December 2016, purportedly on the “frontline” of the fight for Mosul.”

The Independent: A Spike In Far Right Radicalisation Should Terrify Us – Here's How To Stop It In Its Tracks

“The British government’s Prevent program has been a magnet for criticism but its tracking of extremism has at least offered some revelations. Key among these has been a 36 per cent spike in referrals for people at risk of far-right radicalisation. In less turbulent times, this would have seen a surge in concern – certainly, at least, a debate. On the cusp of Brexit, amid panicky reports of empty shelves, delays at ports and possible civil unrest, it remains a very real crisis that risks being ignored. This summer we will be three years on from the death of Labour MP Jo Cox, murdered by a man radicalised by both mainstream media and fringe sources. It seems we’ve learned nothing about how extremist actors use various communication channels to grow support and influence the actions of individuals. In 2019, a sizeable section of social media has become dominated by a number of far-right groups, large and small, that use the medium both to spread their message and gather funding.”


Reuters: Russia Jails Jehovah's Witness For Six Years In Extremism Case

“A Russian court on Wednesday found a Jehovah’s Witness guilty of extremism and jailed him for six years, a spokesman for the Christian denomination said.  The United States and the European Union see the case of Dennis Christensen, a Danish national, as a litmus test for religious freedom and the latest twist in a worsening East-West standoff.  Christiansen, the first Jehovah’s Witness to be detained for extremism in Russia, had pleaded not guilty. ”Yes. It’s true unfortunately,” Yaroslav Sivulsky, a Jehovah’s Witness spokesman, told Reuters when asked if Christiansen had been found guilty and jailed for six years.”


Tech2: Facebook AT 15: Things Mark Zuckerberg Didn't Talk About In His Anniversary Post

“Facebook, the world’s largest social networking website with around 2.7 billion users across its services, has turned 15 years old. Yes, it has indeed been that long since most of us in India decided to leave that erstwhile Google-owned social networking site Orkut and migrate to the new kid on the block — Facebook. What started off with a noble intention to connect people has quickly transformed into a global behemoth. As Facebook turns 15, it is facing its toughest year yet to undo all the damage that's been done in the last couple of years when it comes to user trust, data privacy and related matters. CEO Mark Zuckerberg started off the anniversary post thus: “Fifteen years ago today, I launched the first version of the Facebook website from my college dorm. At the time, it struck me that there were many websites to find almost anything — books, music, news, information, businesses — except for what actually matters most: People. So I built a simple website organised around people, where we could connect with the people we wanted and share what was important to us.”

Counter Terrorism

Asharq Alawsat: Growing Activity Of Terrorist Groups In West And Central Africa

“A worldwide terrorism index issued by the Egyptian Fatwa Observatory warns of the expanding activity of terrorist groups in West and Central Africa, where terrorist organizations, most notably al-Qaeda and ISIS, are seeking to re-establish themselves in Africa and to launch larger operations. The index monitored 25 terrorist attacks executed during the last week of January, which targeted 11 countries, harming 464 people, including 189 dead and 275 injured. The Dar al-Ifta Index observed a continual increase in violence and terrorism in West Africa, especially in Burkina Faso, where three operations were carried out; with one targeting a village, while "Jama'at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin" group carried out two attacks on camps belonging to the Burkinabe army and police. The Burkinabe government resigned last month following a series of terrorist attacks, with al-Qaeda in West Africa stepping up its operations against the Burkinabe troops.”

Muslim Brotherhood

Sout Al-Omma: Muslim Brotherhood Branch In Tunisia Signs A Huge Deal With An International Public Relations Company

“Tunisian media outlets recently exposed a large number of suspicious covert deals that were signed by the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Nahda Party. The topmost of these controversial deals was an $18-million contract with an international public relations company aimed at polishing the image of the Islamist movement. This huge sum raises questions concerning the funding sources of the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm in Tunisia. It's noteworthy that Al-Nahda's 2019 annual budget, which was approved by its Shura Council during its 24th session, did not officially exceed $2.151 million.”


Sawaleif: Expert Underlines Causes Of Hamas' Acute Financial Crunch

“Ibrahim Al-Madhoun, a pro-Hamas political analyst, attributed the acute financial crisis facing the Islamist movement in Gaza to an array of causes. The first is the fact that Hamas has expanded; therefore, its expenditures have risen, as it now runs a large number of associations boasting tens of thousands of members, as well as thousands of employees who need to be paid. The Palestinian columnist added that the pressures applied by the USA on certain {funding} countries has forced them to halt their monetary support of the militant organization. Additionally, the ongoing crises in Syria, Libya and Yemen have affected the flow of funds to Hamas, which used to obtain sizeable donations from these countries, the journalist added.”


Al Arabiya: Will Hezbollah Exploit The Health Ministry To Open Lebanese Markets To Iranian Pharmaceuticals?

“Questions are being raised among various Lebanese circles as to Hezbollah's ability to exploit its control over the Ministry of Health so as to open the Lebanese markets to Iranian pharmaceuticals. Some sources mentioned that the Shiite organization might set up a new entity specializing in the import of medicinal products from Iran at discount prices. Answering these questions, Lebanese banking sources noted that it's extremely difficult to establish such an entity. They explained that the Lebanese banking sector, unlike its European counterparts, is unable to establish such a specialized body since the Lebanese economy is fully dollarized; therefore, the US treasury is keeping an eye on every single cent being paid by the Lebanese banks. Nonetheless, these sources warned that Hezbollah could use new ruses to elude sanctions by illegally smuggling Iranian pharmaceuticals into Lebanon via land routes despite the fact that drugs are not included in the sanctions.”


Newsyemen: Houthis Loot $40 Million A Month

“Yemen's Houthi militia, the Iranian arm in Yemen, refuses to deposit the money collected from major taxpayers in the Central Bank in Sana'a and insists on moving it to an unknown destination, sources in the Sana'a Tax Authority said. According to sources, the total sum collected monthly from major taxpayers comes to more than YR20 billion, equivalent to $40 million. These sums are growing monthly due to the Houthis' hiking of the senior taxpayers' tax rate to more than 200%. The sources confirmed that the Houthi-controlled Tax Authority refuses to transfer these amounts to the Authority's account in the Central Bank of Sana'a.”