Eye on Extremism: January 13, 2021

Agence France-Presse: Jordanian Sentenced To Death For 2019 Tourist Stabbings

“Jordan's state security court sentenced a man to death on Tuesday for the 2019 stabbing of eight people, four of them foreign tourists, at one of the kingdom's ancient sites. The victims, who included one Swiss and three Mexican tourists, all survived the November 2019 knife attack in the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Jerash, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the capital Amman. Mustafa Abu Ruwais, 24, was sentenced to “death by hanging for the terrorist knife attack on tourists,” the court said. There is no right of appeal against the decisions of Jordan's state security court. Abu Ruwais, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, was at the time of the attack a resident of the Souf camp in Jerash, which houses some 20,000 Palestinian refugees. He was arrested immediately afterwards and charged with terrorism offences in January last year. The charge sheet alleged that Abu Ruwais “follows the ideology of the Daesh terrorist gang”, a pejorative reference to the Islamic State jihadist group, and has been “in contact with one of the members of this organisation in Syria” who gave the green light for the attack. But there was never any formal claim of responsibility for the attack.”

Associated Press: French Police Detain 7 In Probe Of Teacher's Beheading

“French anti-terrorism police on Tuesday detained seven people suspected of having communicated via social media with the killer of a schoolteacher whose beheading last year reopened debate about France's cherished rights of expression, a judicial official said. The teacher, Samuel Paty, was killed Oct. 16 outside his Paris-region school after showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a class debate on free expression. His killer, identified by authorities as Abdoullakh Anzorov, was later shot dead by police. Anzorov, an 18-year-old refugee of Chechen origin who had become radicalized, according to authorities, claimed responsibility for the slaying in a text found on his phone that was accompanied by a photograph of the teacher. The seven people detained Tuesday in the Paris region, as well as in western France and in the cities of Lyon and Toulouse, are suspected contacts of Anzorov, said the judicial official. The official wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss details of the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity. The suspects can be held for initial questioning by anti-terrorism investigators for up to 96 hours.”

United States

Associated Press: UN Official: Terrorists Using Pandemic To Stoke Extremism

“The U.N. counter-terrorism chief warned Tuesday that terrorists are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic and appealing to new “racially, ethnically and politically motivated violent extremist groups.” Vladimir Voronkov spoke at the U.N. Security Council’s 20th anniversary commemoration of the pivotal resolution to fight terrorism adopted after the 9/11 attacks on the United States -- and six days after a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. He said that throughout the past two decades, “the threat of terrorism has persisted, evolved and spread.” Al-Qaida, which was responsible for the 9/11 attacks that killed almost 3,000 people from 90 countries, is still proving resilient despite the loss of numerous leaders, Voronkov said. The Islamic State extremist group, which lost its self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria, is still carrying out attacks in the two countries “and seeking to reconstitute an external operations capability.” Voronkov, who heads the U.N. Counter-Terrorism Office, said terrorists have sought to exploit the COVID-19 crisis, “riding on the wave tops of polarization and hate speech amplified by the pandemic.”

The Washington Post: Justice Dept. Investigating Sedition And Conspiracy Charges And Any Terror Links To Violent Storming Of U.S. Capitol

“The Justice Department and FBI have created a sedition and conspiracy task force to pursue charges against participants in the storming of the U.S. Capitol and are investigating any links to domestic or foreign instigators, officials said Tuesday. The investigation, one of the largest ever undertaken by the department, includes counterterrorism and counterintelligence facets and has led to charges against more than 70 people and identified 170 suspects to date, acting U.S. attorney Michael R. Sherwin of D.C. said. Those arrest figures are expected to increase into the hundreds, if not “exponentially.” But Sherwin and Steven D’Antuono, head of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, said any impression that prosecutors have mostly charged misdemeanor Capitol trespassing and D.C. curfew offenses is misleading. They said the cases are only the beginning and that U.S. authorities are investigating everything including the plundering of congressional offices and digital devices, assaults on law enforcement officers, and theft of national security and defense information, in addition to felony murder and excessive use of force. “The gamut of cases is mind-blowing,” Sherwin said.”

Reuters: U.S. Imposes Counter Terrorism Sanctions On 5 People: Treasury Website

“The United States on Tuesday imposed counter terrorism sanctions on five people it tied to Iran, designating them each as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), according to the U.S. Treasury Department’s website. Reuters reported on Monday that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to use newly declassified U.S. intelligence to publicly accuse Iran of ties to al Qaeda in a speech on Tuesday, two people familiar with the matter said, as part of his last-minute offensive against Tehran before handing over to the incoming Biden administration.”

The Hill: Schumer Says Democrats Will Probe Extremist Groups After Capitol Attack

“Incoming Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday that Senate Democrats will launch probes stemming from the Jan. 6 Capitol attack after they take back control of the chamber on Jan. 20.  Schumer sent a letter to his caucus, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill, outlining plans for investigating both the mob violence and related issues and vowing “vigorous oversight.” “Our caucus will make sure that the events are fully investigated and every necessary security measure is in place for the upcoming Inauguration and the days leading up to it,” Schumer wrote in the letter. The Senate is getting briefed on the inauguration Tuesday amid growing security concerns about President-elect Joe Biden's swearing-in ceremony. Schumer, in his letter, also said Democrats will use the Judiciary Committee, once they take over the majority, to probe extremist groups. “Incoming-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Durbin and I have already announced that the committee, as one of its first acts under Democratic control, will closely examine the rise of violent extremist groups, white supremacists and violent fringe conspiracy theorists who are intent on undermining and overthrowing the government as we saw at the Capitol on January 6th,” Schumer wrote, referring to Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).”

Syria

Al Monitor: Is Al-Qaeda Affiliate Expanding Attacks Beyond Syrian Town Of Idlib?

“The Hurras al-Din (Guardians of Religion) group affiliated with al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for a recent attack on a Russian base in Tal al-Saman in the northern countryside of Raqqa, which is under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).  The attack raised questions about Hurras al-Din’s ability to carry out attacks outside the areas of its deployment in Idlib, northwestern Syria. Some wondered about the timing of this attack and the messages the group wants to convey to the various parties that share control over the Syrian territory, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) that controls Idlib. A car bomb targeted the Russian base near the village of Tal al-Saman on Dec. 31. A campaign dubbed “Raqqa Being Slaughtered” published photos on Facebook from the site of the bombing, noting that clashes with automatic weapons briefly broke out after the bombing without specifying the parties involved. The Russian forces had strengthened their military presence at the Tal al-Saman base during December 2020 following an agreement with the SDF.”

Agence France-Presse: Israeli Raids In Syria Kill 16: Monitor

“Israeli night raids targeting arms depots and military positions in eastern Syria killed at least five soldiers and 11 allied fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday. The Israeli air force carried out more than 18 strikes against multiple targets in an area stretching from the eastern town of Deir Ezzor to the Boukamal desert at the Syrian-Iraqi border, according to the Britain-based war monitor. The raids killed five Syrian soldiers and 11 allied fighters belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Lebanese Hezbollah and the Fatimid Brigade, which includes pro-Iranian Afghan fighters, the Observatory said, although their nationalities and a precise breakdown were not immediately known. The Syrian state news agency SANA reported the strikes but without giving further details. “At 1:10 am, the Israeli enemy carried out an aerial assault on the town of Deir Ezzor and the Boukamal region,” SANA said, citing a military source. “The results of the aggression are currently being verified,” it added. It was the second wave of Israeli raids in Syria in less than a week. The last strikes on January 7 targeted positions in southern Syria and south of the capital Damascus, killing three pro-Iran fighters.”

Iran

Bloomberg: Pompeo Confirms Death Of Al-Qaeda’s No. 2 In Iran In August

“Secretary of State Michael Pompeo argued that the Iranian government has provided far more support to al-Qaeda than Americans realize, citing what he said was new evidence of a burgeoning alliance and publicly confirming for the first time that the group’s No. 2 was killed in Tehran last year. Pompeo didn’t say who was responsible for the Aug. 7 assassination of Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, also known as Abu Muhammad al-Masri, though the New York Times reported in November that Israeli agents carried out the job at the behest of the U.S. He was on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list and had been indicted over U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The top U.S. diplomat disclosed Abdullah’s death at the start of a speech that was intended to ratchet up even more pressure on Iran as the Trump administration winds down, and to make it harder for the incoming Biden administration to re-enter a nuclear deal with the country’s leaders. “Al-Qaeda has a new home base: It is the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo, who has only days remaining on the job, said on Tuesday. “We ignore this Iran-al Qaeda nexus at our own peril.”

Reuters: Iran Denies Pompeo's Assertion It Has Ties With Al Qaeda

“Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday rejected as “warmongering lies” an assertion by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Iran has ties to the Islamist militant group al Qaeda. “(With) fictitious Iran ‘declassifications’ and AQ (al Qaeda) claims, (Pompeo) is pathetically ending his disastrous career with more warmongering lies,” Zarif tweeted. “No one is fooled. All 9/11 terrorists came from @SecPompeo’s favourite ME destinations; NONE from Iran,” Zarif said. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that al Qaeda had established a new home base in Iran and the United States had fewer options in dealing with the group now it was “burrowed inside” that country. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said: “Iran has been a victim of U.S. state terrorism and affiliated groups for years and has had a clear ...record in the fight against al Qaeda and Islamic State,” state media reported. Iran’s state religion is Shi’ite Islam, and the country views itself as a sworn enemy of Sunni Islamist militant groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda. However, U.S. officials have accused it in the past of providing shelter to some al Qaeda figures.”

Afghanistan

The Straits Times: Afghan Forces Foil ISIS Plan To Assassinate US Envoy

“The Afghan authorities said yesterday they had foiled a plan by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group to assassinate the top US envoy in Kabul, as a wave of targeted killings continues to rock the country. Intelligence officers dismantled a four-member ISIS cell in the eastern province of Nangarhar that had planned to murder Mr Ross Wilson and Afghan officials, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) said. Mr Wilson, US Charge d'Affaires in Kabul, has condemned a series of assassinations in the capital and other cities of prominent Afghans including journalists, activists and politicians in recent months. “The main assassin and facilitator of the cell, Abdul Wahed, had planned to assassinate the US ambassador in Afghanistan as well as some high-ranking Afghan officials,” the NDS said in a statement. “Their plan was foiled with their arrest.” The NDS did not offer further details and the United States embassy in Kabul did not respond to requests for comment. In recent months, deadly violence has rocked Afghanistan, including the new trend of targeted killings of prominent Afghans which have sown fear and chaos despite the Taleban and government engaging in peace talks.”

Al Jazeera: Why Afghanistan-Taliban Peace Talks Have Not Reached Breakthrough

“It has been almost a week since negotiators arrived back in Doha to resume a second round of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, with a United States team talking separately to both sides. But top Afghan government officials and Taliban leaders have been conspicuous by their absence from this round of meetings. On the Taliban side, chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Hakim and the head of the Taliban office in Qatar, Mullah Baradar, have not yet returned from their trip to Pakistan. In recent weeks, US diplomats and military leaders have also visited Pakistan. In a meeting between Pakistan’s military and acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs David Helvey, the two sides discussed an urgent need for a reduction in violence in Afghanistan. Islamabad insists it is “playing a positive role and its leadership is committed to helping Afghans find a solution” through talks. Meanwhile, US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and his entourage have returned to Doha after brief stopovers in Islamabad and Kabul. An Afghan official told Al Jazeera “the committee members are in Qatar and others are arriving as the talks proceed”. “We are ready and prepared for the talks, there is no delay from [us] and no new proposals have been conveyed to us,” Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem told Al Jazeera.”

Pakistan

Associated Press: Afghan Shiite Leader In Pakistan After Killings Of Miners

“An influential Afghan Shiite leader is visiting Pakistan where members of the minority sect are still reeling from the brutal killing of 11 Shiite coal miners, nine of whom were Afghan immigrants, earlier this month. The miners, who were abducted and killed by militants from the Islamic State group in southwestern Baluchistan province, were members of the minority Hazara. They were buried on Saturday, following a week of protests in Pakistan that sought to highlight the community’s plight. The visiting Afghan leader, Karim Khalili is also an ethnic Hazara. Members of the mostly Shiite community live in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and have suffered persecution from the majority Sunni Muslims in both countries. The Sunni militant Islamic State group, which is headquartered in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province bordering Pakistan, as well as Pakistani Sunni militant groups have repeatedly targeted Shiites. Khalili’s visit is seen as part of an effort to repair the troubled relations between the two neighboring countries in parallel with the peace talks underway in Qatar between the Afghan government negotiators and the Taliban. The warring sides are trying to find a political roadmap that would bring an end to decades of war in Afghanistan.”

Yemen

Arab News: US Move To Designate Houthis Terrorist Organization Will Help Yemen Peace Efforts: Officials, Analysts

“America’s decision to designate the Iran-backed Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization will help pave the way for peace in Yemen, government officials and analysts claim. The designation, due to come into effect the day before US President Donald Trump’s administration leaves office, would curb Houthi human rights abuses and the group’s resistance to peace efforts, while weakening financial sources that fuel the war in the country, they said. But critics have argued that the move might exacerbate the humanitarian crisis, escalate violence, and encourage the Houthis to strengthen ties with Iran. Yemen’s parliament has urged American legislators to approve the designation to punish the Houthis for crimes carried out against Yemenis. It believes the move would force the Houthis into accepting unfulfilled peace agreements and current peace efforts, the official news agency SABA said. “The Houthi militia has destroyed the land and people of Yemen and posed a threat to international peace and security,” the parliament said in a statement.”

Nigeria

Sahara Reporters: Six Nigerian Soldiers Killed In B'Haram Ambush In Yobe

“Nigerian troops killed Twenty-six Boko Haram terrorists on Saturday, hours after the terrorists killed at least six soldiers in an ambush in Yobe State. But military authorities in Yobe said one soldier was killed and another one injured. Credible sources said the soldiers were on their way for an induction ahead of their deployment to the North East's battlefields when the terrorists laid siege on the highway. One of the sources said six soldiers died at the ambush spot, and many others were injured. “The terrorists attacked our troops who were heading towards Buni Yadi and then retreated towards the dreaded Alagarno village,” he told DailyTrust. It was learnt that the terrorists ambushed the troops at Gonan Kaji, a village in Gujba Local Government Area along the Damaturu- Biu Road. The Nigerian Army under “Operation Tura Takai Bango” confirmed that troops deployed soon after the ambush killed 28 terrorists. In a statement signed by the acting Director, Defence Media Operations, Brigadier- General Benard Onyeuko, the Army noted that soldiers from headquarters and those from 27 Task Force Brigade, Buni Gari, and others from Special Forces Training School, Buni Yadi, repelled the attack.”

Africa

Africanews: Militants Continue To Stage Deadly Attacks As Insecurity Expands Into Previously ‘Safe’ Zones In West Africa, Sahel, Top Official Tells Security Council

“Insecurity across West Africa and the Sahel has expanded into areas previously considered safe, with militants continuing to stage deadly attacks, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the region told the Security Council today, as delegates called for consolidating gains in democratic governance recently expressed by several countries in their successful conduct of elections. “We need to confront the all-too-well-known root causes of exclusion, strengthen democratic governance and give a new and decisive push to fight insecurity,” said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). Describing a year of multiple challenges triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said the outbreak plunged most countries into recession and led to the diversion of resources from productive investments and the fight against insecurity. Nowhere has resilience been more sorely tested than in the Sahel, he emphasized, pointing out that massive floods have affected more than 1.7 million people. On the security front, he welcomed swift efforts to rescue 300 boys taken hostage on 11 December by militants allegedly affiliated with Boko Haram, in north-western Nigeria.”

Institute For Security Studies: West Africa: Boko Haram Blocks Lake Chad Trade Routes

“The Boko Haram insurgency has had devastating consequences on Lake Chad boat transporters, a socio-economic group that has been the locomotive of local trade for decades. An effective crisis response must address the needs of this often overlooked group. Interventions to deal with the Boko Haram threat have largely ignored the impact on the economic activity of boat drivers who have been affected since 2015. Not being able to cross over to Nigeria has deprived Chadian boat operators of their main, if not their only, source of livelihood. Before the Boko Haram crisis, generations of boat drivers contributed to a flourishing formal and informal economy based on the movement of people and goods. Their activity helped make the Lake Chad Basin a sub-regional trade hub. Compared to road transport, boats offered a faster solution to delivering large quantities of goods. This meant income for traders and boat drivers, and lower prices for consumers. Every week, canoes crowded with hundreds of people and goods (smoked fish, corn, wheat, cow and camel skins, among others), would leave Bol and Baga Sola in Chad, in the direction of Baga Kawa in Nigeria.”

Latin America

The Wall Street Journal: Cuba’s Support For Terror

“After a five-year hiatus, the State Department on Monday returned Cuba to its list of state sponsors of terrorism. What took so long? State’s practice of listing countries that “have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” has been in place since 1979. President Reagan added the tropical communist regime in 1982. Cuba remained so designated until President Obama removed it from the list in 2015 in its campaign to normalize relations. But Havana doesn’t want to be normal, and it has deepened and broadened its commitment to terrorism. The collapse of Venezuela’s democracy over two decades has been run out of Havana by Cuba’s military-intelligence apparatus. The once-sovereign South American nation is now essentially a Cuban satellite used as a base for transnational crime and terrorism. A 2019 report by the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism found that “Cuba and Venezuela continued to provide permissive environments for terrorists.” The report noted that “individuals linked” to dissident members of the Colombian drug-trafficking group FARC, “who remain committed to terrorism notwithstanding the peace accord,” as well as the smaller rebel National Liberation Army (ELN) and “Hizballah sympathizers” were in Venezuela.”

Technology

NBC News: Extremists Move To Secret Online Channels To Plan For Inauguration Day In D.C.

“Right-wing extremists are using channels on the encrypted communication app Telegram to call for violence against government officials on Jan. 20, the day President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated, with some extremists sharing knowledge of how to make, conceal and use homemade guns and bombs. The messages are being posted in Telegram chatrooms where white supremacist content has been freely shared for months, but chatter on the channels has increased since extremists have been forced off other platforms in the wake of the siege of the U.S. Capitol last week by pro-Trump rioters. Telegram is a Dubai-based messaging service that does little moderation of its content and has a sizable international user base, particularly in eastern Europe and the Middle East. In the days since the Capitol attack, for example, an Army field manual and exhortations to “shoot politicians” and “encourage armed struggle” have been posted in a Telegram channel that uses “fascist” in its name. Chris Sampson, chief of research at the Terror Asymmetrics Project on Strategy, Tactics and Radical Ideologies, a defense research institute, said his group is focused on and concerned about users of the channel and has alerted the FBI about it.”

Politico: Right-Wing Extremist Chatter Spreads On New Platforms As Threat Of Political Violence Ramps Up

“With the threat of future political violence looming, a surge in online extremist chatter is increasingly taking place in private groups and encrypted messaging apps with little, if any, rules about what is posted. Law enforcement nationwide is on high alert after last week’s riot at the Capitol, with reports suggesting that several extremist groups have planned armed demonstrations across the country to protest the end of Donald Trump’s presidency. But the severity of the threat is increasingly hard to ascertain, in part because of the crackdown that authorities have already put in place on message boards. That crackdown has driven would-be insurrectionists further underground and scattered their activity across innumerable platforms, including one — TikTok — that’s best known as a hub for teens to share videos. The diffuse, chaotic nature of the online chatter has fed into a climate of fear. Ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, the FBI has reportedly warned law enforcement agencies across the country to be on high alert for potentially violent protests in all 50 states over the next few weeks, and has gathered intelligence about an armed group planning to travel to D.C. to stage an uprising on the day of the inauguration.”