Eye on Extremism: January 10, 2020

CNN: Ukraine Investigators Consider Missile Strike, Terrorism As Possible Causes Of Iran Plane Crash

“Ukrainian officials were on Thursday considering terrorism, a missile strike and catastrophic engine failure as potential causes for the fatal crash of one of its airliners in Iran, as aviation authorities in Tehran revealed the jetliner was on fire before it came down. Ukraine's National Security and Defense council chief, Oleksiy Danilov, said a meeting was taking place with Iranian authorities, where various causes behind the crash were “being studied,” including a theory that the plane was hit by an anti-aircraft missile, according to a statement on Facebook. Other theories under consideration are whether there were technical problems with one of the plane's engines that caused it to explode, whether the plane could have collided with a drone or “other flying object,” or whether there was an explosion inside the plane. The Ukrainian International Airlines (UIA) flight PS752 came down just minutes after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board, including dozens of Iranians and Canadians. The Boeing 737-800 was headed for Kiev, where 138 passengers were expected to take a connecting flight to Canada. Ukrainians, Swedes, Afghans, Germans and British nationals were also aboard.”

Council On Foreign Relations: Jihadi Violence And Terror Surging In West Africa

“In a follow up to his remarks in December, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the UN special representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) sounded the alarm on growing militant and jihadi violence. In his January 8 briefing to the UN Security Council, he said the “devastating surge” in terrorism has “shaken public confidence.” He focused on Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, where casualties from terrorism have increased fivefold since 2016, with 4,000 deaths in 2019 compared to 770 in 2016. He estimated those displaced in their own countries number half a million with an additional twenty-five thousand who have fled across national borders. He also noted that terrorist activity, broadly speaking, is moving from west to east. As though it were underscoring Dr. Chambas’s presentation, a rocket attack on a joint Malian, French, and UN base in northern Mali on January 9 wounded twenty, of whom eighteen were UN peacekeepers. Likely unconnected to the upsurge in violence further west, Boko Haram activity in the Lake Chad basin (Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon) continues, seemingly unabated. Militants, claiming to be the Boko Haram offshoot Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), killed some twenty Nigerian soldiers around January 8.”

Arab News: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Says Turkey Supports Extremists In Libya

“Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry claims Turkey continues to support extremists in Libya’s long-running civil war. Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday following a meeting in Cairo with his counterparts from France, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus on the situation in the eastern Mediterranean and Libya, Shoukry said the meeting aimed to reach a political consensus for the crisis, that political solutions are the best possible resolution, and that armed conflicts cannot help solve the crisis. Shoukry called for a cessation of hostilities in Libya, stressing that international law should be respected. He claimed that Turkey supports armed militias listed as sanctioned by the UN Security Council.  He noted that the recent agreements signed between Fayez Al-Serraj and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were a violation of the Sokhairat Agreement and that Turkish support for extremists continues. The Egyptian foreign minister said that Egypt had exerted “numerous efforts” to enable the people of Libya to reach a compromise. He stressed that Libya’s Presidential Council should represent all the Libyan regions, something it does not do currently.”

United States

CNN: Woman Who Planned To Build Bomb For US Terror Attack Sentenced To 15 Years In Prison

“A Queens woman who planned to build a bomb to be used in a US terrorist attack was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a federal judge on Thursday, according to a US attorney's office. Asia Siddiqui, along with her co-defendant Noelle Velentzas, pleaded guilty last year to planning to make a bomb for use in an attack inside the United States, according to a news release from the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District. Velentzas is awaiting sentencing. “Lives were saved when the defendants' plot to detonate a bomb in a terrorist attack was thwarted by the tireless efforts of law enforcement,” US Attorney Richard P. Donoghue said. Siddiqui, 35, and Velentzas, 31, are both US citizens and residents of the New York borough of Queens. They pleaded guilty in federal court in Brooklyn in August 2019. In the news release, authorities said the pair planned between 2013 and 2015 to build a bomb for use in an attack in the United States, taught each other chemistry and electrical skills and purchased materials to make an explosive device. Assistant Attorney General John Demers said the women were “inspired by radical Islam.”

Fox News: Who Is The FBI’s Most Wanted American Terrorist? Meet Jehad Serwan Mostafa

“Late last year, the U.S. government upped the ante on Jehad Serwan Mostafa – a 38-year-old American citizen and former San Diego resident – branding him the most wanted American terrorist in the world. “Mostafa is believed to be the highest-ranking United States citizen fighting overseas for a terrorist organization,” U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer stated. “Al-Shabab’s reign of terror threatens U.S. national security, our international allies, and innocent civilians.” According to a recently unsealed federal indictment, the U.S. citizen – who has for years been on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terror list – has been charged with additional crimes related to his alleged involvement with Al Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabab in East Africa. Mostafa was first indicted in 2010, having fled the U.S. in December 2005. The superseding indictment expands the scope of the previous charges. It claims that Mostafa, at some point between March 2008 to at least February 2017, “conspired to provide material support, including himself as personnel to terrorists.” Now operating under “Ahmed Gurey,” “Ahmed,” “Abu Anwar al-Muhajir” and “Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir,” the FBI stated that Mostafa is a leader in Al-Shabab’s “explosives department,” and has taken on critical roles across the media and soldier training wings.”

Yahoo News: Salvadoran Accused Of Terrorism Ties Arrested In Carson City

“Federal marshals have arrested a Salvadoran man in Carson City that they say is in the U.S. illegally and has ties to a terrorist organization in Central America. U.S immigration and customs officials say Rene Antonio “Scrapy” Hernandez-Mejia was taken into custody on Wednesday. They say they intend to deport him to El Salvador to face criminal charges in his home country. ICE said in a statement Wednesday that Interpol issued a notice indicating Hernandez-Mejia was wanted for being part of a terrorist organization. Iterpol said he was part of the 18 Revolutionary Pandilla, which is a faction of an El Salvadoran gang called Shadow Park Locos, also known as “SPL.” Federal officials didn't specify the charges he faces in El Salvador but they say the gang has been involved with crimes including homicide, extortion and terrorism. No other details have been released. Federal court records in Reno don't list a lawyer for Hernandez-Mejia or indicate if a federal hearing is pending.”

Syria

Vice: Trump Says The U.S. Has Destroyed ‘100% Of ISIS.’ It Hasn’t.

“President Donald Trump made a number of eyebrow-raising claims during Wednesday’s address to the nation on the latest tensions in the Middle East — but perhaps none more so than his assertion that the U.S. had destroyed “100 percent of ISIS.” Near the end of his 10-minute address from the White House, responding to Iran’s missile strikes on U.S. bases in Iraq, Trump claimed the U.S. had destroyed “100 percent of ISIS and its territorial caliphate” in Iraq and Syria. But experts say that’s a misrepresentation of the situation. While the last pocket of the Sunni terror group’s so-called caliphate — which once stretched across wide swathes of Syria and Iraq, ruling as many as 12 million people — was finally retaken by U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led forces last March, that only spelled the end of the group’s existence as a territorial entity. The group continues to operate as an underground insurgent movement, commanding the loyalty of perhaps as many as 10,000 fighters across both countries, according to Matthew Henman, the head of Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center at IHS Markit, a nonpartisan defense information provider headquartered in London. “The territorial caliphate has been defeated, but the group is still very much active,” Henman told VICE News.”

Daily Sabah: Airstrikes Kill 8 Iran-Backed Militants Near Syria-Iraq Border, Monitor Says

“Airstrikes in eastern Syria killed eight fighters of the Iran-backed Iraqi militia in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces overnight, a war monitor said Friday. “Unidentified aircraft targeted vehicles and arms depots in the Boukamal area, causing a large explosion. At least eight Iraqi Hashed fighters were killed,” the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, said. The Observatory said the planes targeted positions belonging to the Popular Mobilization Forces near the border with Iraq. The Britain-based organization which documents the war in Syria through a network of activists on the ground said the planes struck among other targets weapons depots and vehicles belonging to the militias. It reported several explosions in the border area. Deir Ezzor 24, an activist collective that reports on news in the border area, said that the planes strikes struck trucks carrying weapons and depots for ballistic missiles in the area. Omar Abu Laila, a Europe-based activist from Deir el-Zour who runs the group, said the attack triggered “a huge explosion” heard in the Syrian-Iraqi border.”

Iran

BBC News: US Killing Of Qasem Soleimani Is Good News For IS Jihadists

“US President Donald Trump's decision to assassinate Gen Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran's Quds Force, has set off a chain of consequences. One of the first was on the unfinished war against jihadists. Almost immediately the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group suspended operations in Iraq. The US and their allies announced that their main job was now defending themselves. From a military point of view, probably they had no choice. Iran and the militias it sponsors here in Iraq have sworn vengeance for the killings caused by the missile fired by a US drone at Soleimani's vehicle as it left Baghdad airport on Friday. That puts US forces in Iraq, and those from Western allies working alongside them, squarely in the firing line. It is also very good for IS, and will speed up its recovery from the blows it took when its “caliphate” was smashed. It is also good news for the extremists that the Iraqi parliament passed a motion demanding an immediate American withdrawal from the entire country.”

Iraq

The Wall Street Journal: Iraqi Militias Remain A Wild Card In U.S.-Iran Standoff

“In the hours after President Trump declared that the U.S. and Iran were backing away from open conflict, militants in Baghdad fired two rockets that set off warning sirens at the U.S. Embassy. The blasts late Wednesday caused little damage, but they appeared to be a sign that Iraqi militia groups aligned with Iran could still play spoilers in the volatile conflict between Washington and Tehran. The groups have made clear they still want to exact revenge on America for last Friday’s drone strike in Baghdad. That U.S. attack killed not only Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Tehran’s most important military leader, but also Iraq’s top paramilitary commander, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes. As Iran’s point man in Iraq, Mr. Mohandes played an important role in exerting control over militias that are formally part of Iraq’s security forces, but often pursue their own agendas. In the past, Iran has relied on those militias—along with similar allies in places such as Lebanon and Yemen—to act as proxies in the region, conducting attacks that couldn’t be linked directly back to Tehran. Last month, one of those militias launched the rocket attack that killed an Iraqi-American contractor working on a base in northern Iraq, triggering the military escalation that led to the killing of Messrs. Mohandes and Soleimani.”

Kurdistan 24: Iraqi Forces Seize Dozens Of Explosives, Destroy 2 ISIS Caves In Kirkuk

“Iraqi security forces announced on Thursday that they had seized dozens of explosive devices and destroyed two caves and Islamic State sites northwest of the disputed Kirkuk province. An Iraqi military statement said the security forces carried out “inspections” in the Mama mountain range, including the villages of Kubaiba, Mzirir, and Mansuriya. The operations were meant “to purify the area of​​terrorist elements and arrest the wanted” within the Dibis district, located in northwestern Kirkuk. According to the security media cell, security forces found 32 explosive devices that belong to Islamic State remnants, adding that a bomb squad defused the explosives. Two caves and three Islamic State sleeper cell hideouts were also found in the same area and “destroyed,” it added. Elsewhere, the Islamic State launched an attack early Thursday against an Iraqi border police headquarters at the Iraq-Syria border, killing two people and wounding two others. Iraq’s security media cell said in a statement that “terrorist elements” attacked “the third regiment in the fourth border police brigade within the Iraqi-Syrian borders, which resulted in the death of two associates and the wounding of two others.” Iraqi security forces also carried out their first military operation since the US-led coalition announced the suspension of operations in Iraq.”

Xinhua: 2 Iraqi Border Guards Killed In IS Attack Near Border With Syria

“Two Iraqi border guards were killed, and two others wounded in an attack by Islamic State (IS) militants near the border with Syria in western Iraq, the Iraqi military said on Thursday. The extremist IS militants attacked a border guard force while conducting a search operation near the border line with neighboring Syria, leaving two border guards killed and wounding two others, according to a statement by the media office affiliated with the Iraqi Joint Operations Command. The statement did not give further details about where and when exactly the incident took place. Late in 2017, Iraq declared full liberation of its territories from IS militants after Iraqi forces seized the whole border areas with Syria and nearby desert in western Iraq. However, small groups or individuals of IS militants still trying to infiltrate into Iraq from neighboring Syria through the roughly 600 km long border with Iraq with vast rugged areas and desert land.”

Turkey

Reuters: Turkey Says 4 Of Its Soldiers Killed In Northeast Syria

“Four Turkish soldiers were killed in a car bomb attack in northeast Syria on Wednesday, the Turkish Defense Ministry said in a statement overnight. It said the attack occurred during a roadside security check in the region east of the Euphrates river in Syria, where Turkey carried out a military operation with allied Syrian rebels in October. The Turkish incursion targeted the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which spearheaded the U.S.-led war against Islamic State and which Ankara regards as a terrorist group tied to militants fighting an insurgency in southeast Turkey. No further details on the attack were immediately available.”

Afghanistan

Voice Of America: Taliban Says US-Iran Dispute Will Not Harm Afghan Peace Process

“The Taliban said Thursday it believes escalating military tensions between the United States and Iran are unlikely to hurt the insurgent group's negotiations with Washington aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan. The first official reaction from the Taliban comes a day after Tehran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops, though they did not cause any casualties.The attack was a retaliation to Friday's American airstrike in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad that killed Iranian military commander, Qassem Soleimani. Suhail Shaheen, who speaks for the Taliban's negotiating team, told VOA their meetings with U.S. interlocutors over the past year have brought the two adversaries in the 18-year-old Afghan on the verge of signing a peace deal. He dismissed reported concerns U.S.-Iran tensions threatens the peace initiative. “The developments will not have negative impact on the peace process because the (U.S.-Taliban) peace agreement is finalized and only remains to be signed (by the two sides),” Shaheen asserted. The progress, he insisted, has been achieved because both the Taliban and the U.S. agree the Afghan conflict could only be settled through peaceful means.”

The National: Rumblings Within The Taliban Make Ordinary Afghans Cautious Amid Prospects For Peace

“On the last Sunday of 2019, Afghans woke up to an exciting news of the Taliban insurgency agreeing to possible ceasefire, a much-needed respite from the constant violence. Reports suggested that this temporary truce with the US administration could last for as long as 10 days – a week longer than the last ceasefire between the two warring parties, during which time they would sit down to sign a deal to end America’s longest war. There was no mention of negotiations with the Afghan government in Kabul, a party to the conflict with whom the Taliban have consistently refused to talk to. But that did not deter the jubilation among the public who have been the worst victims of a war that began in 2001, when US-led forces – in response to the September 11 attacks on American soil – invaded the country and unseated the terror group from power. People posted on social media about plans to explore their homeland and visit far corners of the country that have been under Taliban control. There was talk of bonhomie and brotherhood between the Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters, much like during the three-day ceasefire – the first of its kind – that took place during Eid Al Adha in June 2018.”

Pakistan

Voice Of America: Afghan Government Returns Pakistani Relatives Of IS Fighters

“The Afghan government says more than 130 Pakistanis — women and children related to former fighters of the Islamic State terror group — have been returned to other family members and will be going home to Pakistan after being held in a detention center for several weeks. The 55 women and 76 children, mostly wives and children of IS fighters who were either killed or defected to the government last November, were reunited Thursday with their extended families in a ceremony in Jalalabad, the capital of Afghanistan's Nangarhar province. The women and children had been held since November, when a large number of IS fighters surrendered. The facility in Nangarhar had been manned by Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS). Six years ago we came to Achin and my father was killed in a fight with the Taliban,” said 12-year-old Ismatullah. “I was living in very difficult conditions in Achin with my mother and sisters. We are very happy we are going back to our own village,” Achin is a district in Nangarhar.”

Nigeria

Pulse Nigeria: How Boko Haram Killed 20 Soldiers In Borno

“When suspected Boko Haram militants snuck into Monguno in Borno state on Tuesday, January 7, 2020, they first posed as a convoy of soldiers. Once inside Monguno however, they went for the soldiers guarding the northeastern community, destroyed at least 750 homes and sent residents scampering into surrounding bushes. When the dust settled in Monguno and gunpowder grew cold at dusk, about 20 soldiers had been killed and nearly 1,000 people rendered homeless, according to two residents and a military source who spoke to Reuters. One Monguno resident who identified himself as Gumati Sadu said people fled into the bush for safety during the fighting. Sadu added that three civilians were killed by stray bullets. At the time of filing this, a military spokesman has declined to comment. Boko Haram splinter group, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), claimed responsibility for the attack on its Amaq news agency. According to ISWAP, one of its militants detonated a car bomb in the town, killing at least 8 soldiers and destroying 3 armored vehicles. The group also said it had seized a vehicle, weapons and ammunition before exiting the town.”

Premium Times: Boko Haram Abducts 7 Travellers Near Maiduguri

“Gunmen believed to be members of Boko Haram Thursday ambushed vehicles travelling along the Maiduguri-Damaturu highway and abducted seven travellers, a witness said. According to a passenger who escaped the attack, the insurgents, driving in two Hilux vehicles, waylaid two unsuspecting vehicles – a Volkswagen golf and a Toyota Hiace Mass Transit bus belong to the Adamawa Sunshine Transport Company. They took seven passengers from the vehicles, the source said. The source, who witnessed the incident, said the attackers were all armed and some were dressed in military uniforms. The eyewitness, who asked not to be named, said the attack took place a few kilometres from Auno village. Auno is an agrarian community about 20km from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. “They came in two Hilux jeeps; and as we were driving towards Auno, after Jakana village, they stormed the highway and stopped a Volkswagen golf car that was ahead and forced every person, including the driver out,” the source said. “While this was happening, a 19-seater Toyota Hiace bus of the Adamawa Sunshine Toyota ran into the scene and could not escape the gunmen. So they forced two passengers on the bus to come down and then took all of them away in their vehicle.”

Somalia

Xinhua: AU Urges World To Support Somalia To Tackle Terrorism

“The African Union on Thursday appealed to the international community to increase its assistance and support to Somalia to help Mogadishu fight global terrorism and extremism amid increased terror attacks. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission also condemned a car bomb attack at Sayidka Junction checkpoint in Mogadishu on Wednesday in which at least five people were killed and 11 others injured. “The perpetrators of yesterday's (Wednesday) murderous act shall be pursued until justice is done,” Mahamat said in a statement issued in Mogadishu. Security officials said al-Shabab suicide bomber was trying to pass through the checkpoint but detonated the explosive device when he was unable to do so. The military group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it targeted the heavily guarded checkpoint at the entrance of the presidential palace where senior government officials intending to enter the presidential palace were being searched at the checkpoint. Mahamat said the terrorists have shown no respect for life by indiscriminately targeting innocent Somalis, noting that their interest is to spread carnage, fear and destruction among the civilian population.”

Africa

The Washington Post: Suspected Islamist Militants Kill 25 Soldiers In Niger

“An attack by suspected Islamist militants on motorbikes killed at least 25 soldiers Thursday in the West African nation of Niger, adding to a death toll that has surged in recent weeks as troops struggle to contain violent extremism in the region. The clash unfolded in the western village of Chinegodar near the border with Mali, according to Nigerien defense officials, as fighters with ties to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda look to seize new swaths of territory. The bloodshed came about a month after gunmen ambushed a Nigerien army post in another border town, killing 71 soldiers in the deadliest strike on the nation’s forces in recent memory. The Islamic State West Africa Province asserted responsibility for that massacre two days later. Extremist groups routinely carry out attacks across the Sahel region, which lies south of the Sahara Desert. The scourge took root nearly a decade ago, and authorities warn it is spreading as governments struggle to combat it amid limited resources. The Thursday battle in western Niger also killed 63 “terrorists,” Col. Souleymane Gozobi, a Nigerien defense spokesman, said on national television. No group immediately asserted responsibility for the attack. The Niger ambush followed a rocket attack on a U.N. military base Thursday in northern Mali that wounded 20 people, including 18 peacekeepers from Chad.”

Long War Journal: Deadly Raid In Kenya Carried Out Under ‘Direction’ Of Al-Qaeda Leadership, Shabaab Says

“Shabaab has released a video featuring its spokesman, Ali Mohamud Rage, who claims credit on behalf of the organization for the deadly raid on an airfield in Kenya earlier this week. Three Americans were killed and others wounded when the jihadists stormed the Manda Bay Airfield (Camp Simba) in a predawn raid. It is not clear how many casualties Kenya suffered. Several planes and equipment were also damaged in the raid. In the video, Rage says the attack was “carried out under the guidance and direction of the leadership of al-Qaeda, foremost among them being Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri, may Allah protect him.” Shabaab has repeatedly signaled its loyalty to al-Qaeda’s global leadership. And the group’s latest video is filled with footage of both Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. An archival clip of Zawahiri is featured at the beginning of the production.  “Oh Muslims of Somalia, I give you the glad tidings that America and its servile allies will be defeated in Somalia, by the permission of Allah, the same way they were defeated in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Zawahiri says in the recording. “However, you must be patient and steadfast.”

Deutsche Welle: Africa's Sahel Seeks New Ways To Fight Terrorism

“The tranquil city of Pau at the foot of the Pyrenees in south-western France is the venue for Monday's meeting between heads of states from five West African countries – Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Chad – and French President Emmanuel Macron. The three-hour meeting focuses on the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region.  But the meeting is not just about the views of the French and West African leaders. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, EU Council President Charles Michel and the President of the African Union Moussa Faki are also invited to the working lunch. The goal is to adopt a new, common strategy for military missions in West Africa. French troops have been stationed in West Africa since 2014 under the military Operation Barkhane. The five states on the southern edge of the Sahara founded their own joint reaction force in 2018 with 5,000 soldiers from all five countries. The United Nations is also in Mali with its MINUSMA mission. But the lack of coordination, frequent fatal accidents and attacks has shaken trust in the mission. “Despite all military efforts that have been put in, more is needed to tackle the problem of jihadist terrorism in the Sahel,” said Paul Melly, a West Africa expert at the London-based think tank Chatham House.”

United Kingdom

The Guardian: Counter-Terrorism Police Investigate Attack On Prison Officers

“Counter-terrorism police are investigating an attack by two inmates at a maximum-security jail that resulted in five prison officers being taken to hospital. The two prisoners involved at the incident at HMP Whitemoor near March in Cambridgeshire were wearing fake suicide vests and brandishing improvised bladed weapons, according to reports. One of the alleged perpetrators of the incident, which took place on Thursday morning as cells were unlocked, is serving a sentence for a terrorism offence while the other had been jailed for a violent offence, the BBC reported. One officer, thought to be the initial target, was stabbed and slashed, the others had rushed to help. The officers’ injuries are not believed to be life-threatening. The Metropolitan police said their counter-terrorism command unit had been called in to the maximum security prison “due to certain circumstances relating to this incident”. No arrests had been made so far, the force said. A Prison Service spokesman said the incident was “quickly resolved by brave staff – and our thoughts are with the injured officers at this time”. He did not state the nature of the officers’ injuries.”