Eye on Extremism: January 11, 2023

Associated Press: US And Russia Clash Over Violent Extremism In Africa

“The United States accused Russian military contractors backed by the Kremlin on Tuesday of interfering in the internal affairs of African countries and “increasing the likelihood that violent extremism will grow” in the Sahel region which is facing increasing attacks and deteriorating security -- an allegation Russia denied. U.S. deputy ambassador Richard Mills lashed out at the Wagner Group at a U.N. Security Council meeting on West Africa and the Sahel, accusing its paramilitary forces of failing to address the extremist threat, robbing countries of their resources, committing human rights abuses, and endangering the safety and security of U.N. peacekeepers and staff. France’s political counselor Isis Jaraud-Darnault echoed Mills, saying “the model” used by Wagner mercenaries has proven “totally ineffective in combating terrorism.” He cited the “nefarious” and devastating impact of its work and human rights violations, including the alleged killing of over 30 civilians in Mali, and its pillaging of natural resources.”

Reuters: Al Qaeda Succession After Al-Zawahiri's Death Still Unclear -U.S. Official

“The succession of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was believed to have been killed in a U.S. raid last year, remains unclear, a U.S. intelligence official said on Tuesday. Zawahiri was killed in a U.S. strike in Afghanistan, the biggest blow to the militant group since its founder Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011. "The question for Al Qaeda, that it has not answered for itself, is who follows (Zawahiri)," Christine Abizaid, director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, said in an event organized by the Washington Institute when asked about Al Qaeda's "center of gravity" after Zawahiri's death. Zawahiri had been in hiding for years. Al Qaeda has not named a successor. Saif al-Adel, a mysterious, low-key former Egyptian special forces officer who is a high-ranking member of Al Qaeda, is seen by experts as the top contender. The United States is offering a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to his arrest. Abizaid also addressed the threat landscape in the United States and said the country faced an "unpredictable" environment, adding that Americans must remain vigilant about overseas-based extremist organizations such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State.”

United States

Associated Press: Victims From Belgium Describe NYC Bike Path Attack At Trial

“Two Belgium women, one who lost her legs and another whose sister died, were among several witnesses who gave dramatic and sometimes emotional testimony Tuesday at the trial of a man facing terrorism charges for killing eight people and seriously injuring a dozen others in an attack on a New York City bicycle path five years ago. The witnesses, some in tears, consumed most of the second day that evidence was presented in the trial of Sayfullo Saipov, 34, who could face the death penalty if he is convicted. On Halloween day in 2017, Saipov drove a rented truck into people riding bikes along the Hudson River on a stretch where pedestrians can snap postcard-perfect pictures of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the World Trade Center. Marion Van Reeth, of Belgium, told the jury she had no memory of being struck by the truck as it a zig-zagged over the path. She woke up in a hospital to learn her legs had been amputated and what was left of her right leg was paralyzed.”

Voice Of America: Key Official Says US Must Not Overlook Al-Qaida, Islamic State

“For months the gaze of U.S. counterterrorism officials has been shifting, moving from scrutiny of foreign terrorist organizations to individuals in the United States seeking out ideologies to justify their use of violence. The most likely attackers, according to the government's most recent terrorism advisory, are lone actors or small groups motivated by a wide array of beliefs and personal grievances who pose a "persistent and lethal threat to the homeland." But while attacks like the May 2022 mass shooting that killed 10 Black shoppers in Buffalo, New York, continue to grab headlines and the attention of officials, the top U.S. counterterrorism official cautions that jihadi groups, such as al-Qaida and Islamic State, cannot be forgotten. "We have still got to be really vigilant about the threat posed by those organizations that are based overseas that want to conduct attacks against Americans here in the homeland," National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid said Tuesday at an event hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.”

WNBC NBC: Teen Faces Federal Charges For Times Square NYE Machete Attack On NYPD Cops

“A Maine teenager alleged to have attempted to kill three NYPD officers blocks from Times Square on New Year's Eve in the name of jihad been charged federally, court documents show. As NBC News first reported, Trevor Bickford espoused jihadist views and attempted to kill police officers with a nearly 18" long knife just before the stroke of midnight. On Tuesday, the FBI alleged that starting last summer the 19-year-old from Wells, Maine, began to follow the teachings of a so-called cleric who espoused radical views and is the alleged spiritual leader of Al Qaeda, identified in court documents as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. In November, the FBI alleged he attempted to travel to the Middle East to support the Taliban and told a family member he wanted to be a suicide bomber. The complaint confirms the entirety of NBC News' reporting in the days that followed the attack. In a press release prosecutors say that Bickford wrote in his journal on New Year's Eve that "this will likely be my last entry" and that his brother had "joined the ranks of my enemy" by joining the US military.”

Business Insider: A Woman Who Left Alabama To Join ISIS Says She Felt 'Broken' After She Was Stripped Of Her US Citizenship

“… The Counter Extremism Project, a research nonprofit, said she promoted ISIS propaganda during her time with the group, tweeting in 2014 her intention to burn her US passport and calling for violent attacks in the US. In her interview, Muthana claimed those tweets were sent by someone else in ISIS after they took her phone. Muthana eventually fled the group during its downfall and was captured by Kurdish forces. After she expressed a desire to return to the US with her child, former President Donald Trump tweeted in February 2019 that he instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to let her come back. In the TNM interview, Muthana claimed that she was a "victim of ISIS" and that she was brainwashed by online traffickers in 2014 into joining the group. "Of course, I regret coming here," she told TNM. "If I could take it back I would do it in a heartbeat. I'm hoping my government looks at me as someone young at the time and naive."”

Syria

L’Orient-Le Jour: « Le Risque D’une Résurgence De L’ei Dépend Surtout Des Erreurs De Ses Adversaires »

“… Si la capacité de nuisance du groupe terroriste persiste dans la région, son centre opérationnel s’est déplacé hors du Moyen-Orient, suivant un modèle de décentralisation mené par el-Qaëda. Le risque d’une résurgence de l’EI réside moins dans la force du groupe que dans la faiblesse potentielle de ses adversaires, notamment en termes de contre-terrorisme. Membre et coordinateur de l’équipe de surveillance du Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU sur l’État islamique en Irak et au Levant, el-Qaëda et les talibans entre 2013 et 2018, Hans-Jakob Schindler, directeur du Counter-Extremism Project à Berlin, fait le point pour L’Orient-Le Jour.”

Iran

Reuters: France Has Not Ruled Out Declaring Iran's Guards To Be A Terrorist Group

“France's foreign ministry said on Tuesday it had not ruled out the idea that the European Union designate Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation, a day after Germany said the move would be politically important and make sense. Ties between Paris and Tehran have deteriorated in recent months as efforts to revive nuclear talks, to which France is one of the parties, have stalled. Tehran has detained seven French nationals while France is critical of an ongoing violent crackdown on protesters. With the European Union discussing a fourth round of sanctions over the crackdown and Iran's supply of weapons to Russia, some member states have called for the bloc to classify the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation. Britain is expected to make the decision in the coming weeks.”

Turkey

Associated Press: Turkish Medical Association Chief Convicted Of Terror Charge

“A court convicted the president of the Turkish Medical Association on Wednesday of disseminating “terror organization propaganda” following a trial that human rights groups had denounced as an attempt to silence government critics. The court in Istanbul sentenced Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci to nearly three years in prison but also ruled to release her from pre-trial detention while she appeals the verdict. Fincanci, 63, was arrested in October and charged with engaging in propaganda on behalf of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The arrest followed a media interview in which she called for an independent investigation into allegations that the Turkish military used chemical weapons against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq. Fincanci is the latest activist to be convicted under Turkey’s broad anti-terrorism laws. A forensic expert, she has spent much of her career documenting torture and ill-treatment, and has served as president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey.”

AFP: Turkish-Swiss IS Supporter Sentenced In 2020 Killing

“A Turkish-Swiss dual national who stabbed a passer-by to death in a rare jihadi attack in Switzerland was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in a psychiatric institution. Named only as Omer A., the 29-year-old was found guilty of murder, attempted murder, attempted arson in trying to blow up a gas station, support for the Islamic State group, downloading depictions of atrocious acts of violence, and breaking drug laws. On the evening of Sept. 12, 2020, he stabbed to death a 29-year-old Portuguese national at a kebab restaurant in the otherwise-tranquil town of Morges on the shores of Lake Geneva in western Switzerland. In a statement on its verdict, the Federal Criminal Court said the stabbing was a "jihadist-motivated attack." The court found the attack was premeditated, with Omer A. scouting several locations on the day of the attack, acquiring a kitchen knife, and then "acting in a brutal and determined manner." "Moreover, the court considered that the motives given to justify the act were absurd and showed a total disregard for human life," it said.”

Afghanistan

Associated Press: Afghan Women Athletes Barred From Play, Fear Taliban Threats

“Noura’s determination to play sports was so great that she defied her family’s opposition for years. Beatings from her mother and jeers from her neighbors never stopped her from the sports she loved. But the 20-year-old Afghan woman could not defy her country’s Taliban rulers. They have not just banned all sports for women and girls, they have actively intimidated and harassed those who once played, often scaring them from even practicing in private, Noura and other women say. Noura has been left shattered. “I’m not the same person anymore,” she said. “Since the Taliban came, I feel like I’m dead.” A number of girls and women who once played a variety of sports told The Associated Press they have been intimidated by the Taliban with visits and phone calls warning them not to engage in their sports. The women and girls spoke on condition of anonymity for fear they will face further threats.”

Fox News: China Cuts Deal With Taliban To Extract Oil In Afghanistan

“The Taliban is cutting its first major energy extractions agreement since taking control of Afghanistan in 2021, agreeing to a 25-year pact with a Chinese company to drill for oil in the country's Amu Darya basin. "The Amu Darya oil contract is an important project between China and Afghanistan," Wang Yu, the Chinese ambassador to Afghanistan, said at a press conference in Kabul, according to a BBC report last week. The Taliban's agreement is with China's Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum and Gas Company and is set for 25 years, while another Chinese state-owned company is also reportedly in talks with the Taliban to operate a copper mine in eastern Afghanistan. The deal comes as Chinese nationals have faced increasing security concerns as the country strengthens its ties to the Taliban, including an ISIS-K attack last month on a Kabul hotel popular with Chinese businessmen. The attack killed at least three people and injured another 18, including five Chinese nationals, and came despite assurances by the Taliban that security is "guaranteed" for Chinese citizens and other foreigners. Some observers believe such attacks on Chinese nationals are likely to continue, pointing out that Afghanistan's ISIS offshoot has taken issue with China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims.”

India

Al Arabiya: India Court Imprisons ISIS-Inspired Man Part Of Group With Plans To Attack Kerala, TN

“A counter terrorism court in India sentenced an ISIS-inspired man from Kerala to prison for seven years on Tuesday. A special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court made the ruling in the city of Cochin. It followed an investigation that revealed that Mohammad Polakanni was part of a group that sought to carry out attacks in the South Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The attacks would have reportedly targeted individuals including judges, police officers and politicians, in addition to tourist spots where Jewish people are known to visit. The investigation established that Polakanni was inspired by ISIS ideologies while abroad and “actively conspired over social media, to conduct terrorist attacks in South India,” a statement from the NIA said. He reportedly planned to join ISIS in Syria. To make this happen, the NIA said that the accused traveled from Saudi Arabia to Georgia in early 2019 with plans to cross through the Georgia-Turkey border and into Syria.”

Nigeria

AFP: Gunmen Kill 12 Nigeria Security Personnel In Ambush

“Twelve Nigeria security personnel and local vigilantes were killed by unidentified gunmen in an area of northwestern Kaduna state where criminal gangs and jihadists are both active, officials said on Tuesday. A patrol of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) paramilitary and the local vigilantes who work with the military were ambushed around a mining site on Monday morning, Olusola Odumosu, NSCDC spokesman said in a statement. Attacks from heavily armed criminal gangs, militias, and Islamist militants occur across Nigeria, where growing insecurity will be a major theme in next month’s election to replace President Muhammadu Buhari. “Seven personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) were ambushed and killed alongside five others from a sister security agency and local security service,” Odumosu said. He did not reference the other security agency, but community leaders in the area identified the five others as local vigilantes working alongside military and paramilitary personnel.”

Mali

Al Arabiya: At Least Three Soldiers Killed In Central Mali In Clashes With Extremists

“Three soldiers were killed and five were wounded in clashes with extremists in central Mali on Tuesday, the army said. The fighting between the towns of Mopti and Segou also left seven extremists dead, the army said in a statement on social networks overnight. The clashes erupted after several attacks against the security forces using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), it said. Mali is in the throes of a nearly 11-year-old security crisis triggered by a regional revolt in the north that developed into a full-blown extremist insurgency. Thousands have died, hundreds of thousands have fled their homes and devastating economic damage has been inflicted to one of the world’s poorest countries. In 2015, the insurgency spread to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso.Since August 2020, Mali has been ruled by the military, leading to a bustup with France, the country’s traditional ally, and close ties with Russia. A UN report presented to the Security Council on Tuesday said the security situation has “continued to deteriorate in (the) central Sahel, notably in Burkina Faso and Mali.” “In Mali, following the departure of international forces, armed groups have advanced in the east, gaining control of large areas bordering the Niger,” the report said.”

Africa

Reuters: French Minister Says France Still Committed To Burkina Faso Despite Tension

“A French minister said on Tuesday her government would not stop supporting Burkina Faso in its fight against Islamist militants and wished to remain involved despite growing anti-French sentiment and diplomatic tensions. Relations between France and Burkina Faso, a former French colony, have deteriorated following two military coups this year that were partly spurred by local authorities' failure to protect civilians from jihadist attacks. Tensions flared last month, when the Burkina Faso government requested the replacement of France's ambassador. The French government refused and described the move as "not standard practice". French State Secretary for Development, Francophonie and International Partnerships Chrysoula Zacharopoulou struck a conciliatory tone after meeting junta leader Ibrahim Traore in the capital Ouagadougou on Tuesday.”

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On May 27, 2018, Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamaah (ASWJ) militants carried out an attack in Monjane, Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique. The assailants beheaded over 10 villagers.   

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