Eye on Extremism: January 14, 2020

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Calls Pensacola Attack Terrorism; Pressures Apple Over Gunman’s Locked Phones

“Attorney General William Barr called the December attack by a Saudi aviation student that killed three people at a Florida Navy base an act of terrorism, escalating pressure on Apple Inc. to help unlock a pair of the gunman’s iPhones that could provide more information about his radicalization. Mr. Barr called on Apple to find a way to crack the encrypted phones in a high-profile request that ramped up a long-simmering fight between tech firms and the government over how to best balance digital security with the imperatives of criminal investigations. Second Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, a member of the Saudi air force who was training with the U.S. military, posted anti-U.S. messages on social media about two hours before he opened fire in a classroom at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Dec. 6, Mr. Barr said Monday. The gunfire lasted about 15 minutes before Lt. Alshamrani was killed by responding sheriff’s deputies. During the attack, Lt. Alshamrani made statements critical of U.S. military actions overseas and fired shots at a picture of President Trump, officials said. In the weeks beforehand, the gunman used social media to blame the U.S. for crimes against Muslims, officials said, issuing a warning on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that “the countdown has started.”

CBS News: Two U.S. Soldiers Killed By Roadside Bomb In Afghanistan Identified

“The identities of two U.S. service members killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on Saturday have been released. Two others were injured in the attack. Military officials identified the two soldiers killed as 29-year-old Staff Sargeant Ian McLaughlin of Newport News, Virginia, and 21-year-old Private First Class Miguel Villalon of Joliet, Illinois. They both served as combat engineers in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Taliban took responsibility for Saturday's attack. A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yusouf Ahmadi, said it occurred in the southern Kandahar province. More than 2,400 U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan. Last year was the deadliest for U.S. service members there since 2014, with 23 American troops killed, even as Washington engaged in peace talks with the Taliban. The latest attack seemed certain to stall fresh efforts to restart the on-again, off-again peace talks between Washington and the Taliban. U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been pressing the insurgents to declare a cease-fire or at least reduce violent attacks. That would give a window in which the U.S. and the Taliban could forge an agreement to withdraw all of America's troops. That agreement would also set out a road map for direct Afghan-to-Afghan talks, mapping out the country's post-war future.”

The Washington Post: France To Deploy More Soldiers To West Africa, Where Terrorist Groups Are Growing

“France announced Monday that it will send hundreds more soldiers to West Africa, and five presidents of countries in the region said they welcome the support in the fight against a surge of Islamist violence. French President Emmanuel Macron’s pledge to expand his country’s military presence in the restive Sahel, which has endured a crippling wave of attacks in recent months, represented a sharp pivot from his December threat to withdraw troops in light of anti-French protests. The leaders of Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania met their French counterpart in southwestern France, where they agreed to build a shared command structure with the European power that once colonized much of West Africa. Ahead of the announcement, the presidents laid wreaths at a memorial for French soldiers who died this past fall in Mali. France, which has roughly 4,500 troops in the region — the most of any outside nation by far — plans to deploy another 220 soldiers, Macron said alongside the West African presidents. In a joint statement, the leaders said they would keep working together to protect civilians and “prevent an extension of the terrorist threat.” Residents of the Sahel, which lies south of the Sahara, have applauded defense assistance from France in the recent past, but now some blame the foreign troops for deteriorating security.”

United States

The Washington Post: Pensacola Shooting Was An Act Of Terrorism, Attorney General Says

“Attorney General William P. Barr said Monday that the December shooting that killed three U.S. sailors on a Florida base was an act of terrorism, as officials revealed harrowing new details about the 15-minute rampage and publicly called out Apple Inc. to help them unlock the killer’s phones. At a news conference to discuss the results of the FBI’s investigation into the shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Barr said investigators had found evidence that Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani, a Royal Saudi Air Force member training at the base, was motivated by “jihadist ideology” and had posted anti-American messages on social media about two hours before his attack. FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said that during the attack, Shamrani fired shots at pictures of President Trump and a past U.S. president, and witnesses at the scene said he made statements critical of American military actions overseas. Bowdich said that while Shamrani did not seem to be inspired by one specific terrorist group, he harbored anti-American and anti-Israeli views and felt “violence was necessary.” Bowdich said the gunman’s social media comments echoed those of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Yemeni American cleric tied to the terrorist group al-Qaeda who was killed in a drone strike in 2011.”

Bloomberg: Apple Says It’s Helping FBI Investigate Florida Terrorist Attack

“Apple Inc. said on Monday that it is helping the FBI investigate a Dec. 6 terrorist attack at a Florida Navy base, pushing back on criticism by U.S. Attorney General William Barr. However, Apple didn’t comment on Barr’s main assertion that the company has provided no “substantive assistance” to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to unlock two iPhones belonging to the terrorist. Apple said the FBI notified the company on Jan. 6 that it needed additional help. “Only then did we learn about the existence of a second iPhone associated with the investigation and the FBI’s inability to access either iPhone,” Apple said in a statement. The company provided information about the shooter’s Apple accounts, iCloud backups, and transaction information, and in total, handed over “many gigabytes” of data to investigators, it said. It added that it provided “all of the information” it has. On Jan. 8, Apple said it got a subpoena for information related to the second iPhone, which it responded to within hours. The company didn’t say what that response entailed. “Early outreach is critical to accessing information and finding additional options,” the company said. “We are continuing to work with the FBI, and our engineering teams recently had a call to provide additional technical assistance.”

CBS New York: New York Synagogue Attack: Grafton Thomas Pleads Not Guilty To Federal Hate Crime Charges

“The man accused of stabbing five people at a synagogue in Rockland County pleaded not guilty today to federal hate crime charges. The 37-year-old Grafton Thomas is charged with five counts of attempting to kill the victims because of their religion and five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religion in an attempt to kill. Each count has a maximum sentence of life in prison. The suspect told magistrate Paul Davidson “Good morning your honor, my name is Grafton E. Thomas.” He wore an orange jumpsuit and smiled at family members including his mother in the second row. Thomas’ attorney claims he suffers from severe mental illness and was currently taking Prozac, but he was not antisemitic and his illness was to blame for the Dec. 28 attack. Prosecutors say the 37-year-old stormed into a rabbi’s Monsey home with a machete while a half-dozen Orthodox Jews were inside celebrating Chanukah. He allegedly told dozens of congregants “no one is leaving.” Thomas then drove to New York City, where he was stopped by two NYPD officers in Harlem. Investigators found a trove of evidence inside his car, including a machete.”

The Daily Beast: U.S. Put Environmental Group On ‘Extremist’ List With Nazis: Report

“The Department of Homeland Security has included a group of anti-pipeline activists in a list of “extremists,” alongside white supremacists and murderers, The Guardian reports. The group, called the Valve Turners, consists of five members accused of turning off oil pipes in four states in 2016. Two members were convicted, in a trial that saw prosecutors liken them to the Unabomber and al Qaeda. Three other members were acquitted after a judge dismissed charges against them. Nevertheless, DHS reportedly listed the group alongside extremists like Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine black church-goers in a 2015 massacre, and James Fields, a neo-Nazi who killed one person and injured more than a dozen others when he drove a car into a crowd at a 2017 white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The “extremist” classification, revealed as the result of a Freedom of Information Request by the group Property of the People, came shortly after the U.K. was revealed to have placed the environmentalist group Extinction Rebellion on a similar list.”

France 24: US Sends Home 21 Saudis As Probe Finds Shooting Was 'Terrorism'

“The United States will send home 21 Saudi military trainees after an investigation into the “jihadist” killing of three American sailors last month, the Justice Department announced Monday. Attorney General Bill Barr said the December 6 shootings by Royal Saudi Air Force 2nd Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani at the US Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida was an “act of terrorism.” “The evidence shows that the shooter was motivated by jihadist ideology,” he told reporters. There was no evidence that Alshamrani had colluded with others, although Barr said FBI investigators had been unable to unlock his two phones to determine whom he had contacted. “We have asked Apple for their help in unlocking the shooter's iPhones. So far Apple has not given us any substantive assistance,” Barr said. The attorney general said 21 of Alshamrani's colleagues were being expelled from the base's flight school after the probe found many of them had jihadist material and child porn.”

Syria

The Washington Post: Syrian Army Urges Civilians To Leave Last Rebel Enclave; Russia Offers 3 Ways Out

“On Sunday, residents of a rebel-held pocket in northwestern Syria saw white leaflets drop from the sky, carrying a message from the government: It's time to leave. The Russian Defense Ministry announced later in the day that it had set up three checkpoints for civilians to leave embattled Idlib province. “Your safety lies in you leaving the areas of armed groups and heading toward official crossings that the government opened,” the Syrian army leaflet said. The three crossings would open Monday, and transportation and medical help would be made available, the message continued, while army units would soon deploy to “cleanse” the area. The warning was issued on the day that a cease-fire brokered by Turkey and Russia took effect, as Russia and its allies promised to halt airstrikes. Russia has been Syrian President Bashar al- Assad’s main ally, alongside Iran, during the war, which started in 2011 as a revolt against the government.”

Iran

CNN: US Troops Sheltered In Saddam-Era Bunkers During Iran Missile Attack

“Akeem Ferguson was in a bunker when his team received the bone-chilling radio transmission: Six Iranian ballistic missiles were headed in their direction. The concrete slab they had taken cover under offered little protection from projectiles that US troops in Iraq were being attacked with. “I held on to my gun and put my head down and I tried to find a happy place, so I started singing to my daughters in my head,” said the six-foot tall US staff sergeant. “And I just waited. I hoped that whatever happened, that it was quick.” “I was 100% ready to die,” he added. Sergeant Ferguson outside a US-made military bunker, similar to the one he took cover in on the night of the Iranian attacks.Sergeant Ferguson outside a US-made military bunker, similar to the one he took cover in on the night of the Iranian attacks. Ferguson survived unscathed along with other US troops and civilian contractors on Iraq's al-Assad base, after a barrage of Iranian ballistic missiles on the morning of January 8. The strike was the widest scale attack on a base housing US troops in decades. Troops said the absence of casualties was nothing short of a “miracle.”

Express: Iran Crisis: ISIS Gives It’s SUPPORT To Trump Branding Soleimani’s Death An ‘Act Of God’

“The remarks by the terror-group were reported in the Islamic State’s weekly newspaper Al-Naba and did not condemn or give any reference to the US for the assassination of Iran’s top military official. General Soleimani, was killed during airstrikes ordered by US President Donald Trump on January 3. General Soleimani, 62, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, 66, commander of a pro-Iran Iraqi militia, had been travelling through Badgdad, when the two-vehicle convey was struck by three missiles from an MQ-9 Reaper Drone. Four days after the attack, Tehran retaliated and launched a series of ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases housing US troops. US officials said 15 missiles were fired, with 10 striking the Ain al-Asad base 100 miles west of the Iraqi capital. The Ain al-Asad air base was first used by American forces after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. The base has since become the station for US troops in the battle against ISIS in the region. The growing tensions in the Middle East has sparked fears the threat of ISIS could return after corporation between US and UK forces with Iraq reached an all-time low.”

Long War Journal: Federal Lawsuits Target Both Iran And Private Firms For Allegedly Financing Taliban And Al-Qaeda Operations That Killed U.S. Troops

“On December 27, 2019, more than 500 members of American military families, including over 100 Gold Star families, filed two lawsuits: one against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and another against eight multinational companies that operate in Afghanistan. The pair of lawsuits alleges that the government of Iran and these specific corporations – the defendants in the cases – materially assisted al-Qaeda and the Taliban to kill American military forces. The first lawsuit involves 503 Americans seeking damages from the Islamic Republic under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which holds state sponsors of terrorism liable for extrajudicial killings of Americans. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, alleges that Iran provided financial, material, and tactical support to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. This support reportedly resulted in hundreds of American casualties between 2007 and 2017. Based on State Department cables and Congressional testimony, the lawsuit accuses Iran of building close ties to al-Qaeda. After 9/11, the Iranian government offered a safe haven for senior al-Qaeda leaders. While living in Iran, they reportedly directed and organized terrorist operations around the world.”

Iraq

The Wall Street Journal: ‘We Could Feel The Shock Wave’: How U.S. Troops Withstood Attack On Iraq Base

“More than two hours before Iran fired its first salvo of missiles at the large base here in western Iraq last week, American soldiers took cover in concrete bunkers that once belonged to Saddam Hussein’s military. Air Force Capt. Nate Brown, a 34-year-old from Alabama, said he had sent his wife a message telling her he loved her before seeking shelter in one of the bunkers, where there were no phone or radio connections. Some soldiers said they played the card game Uno and even dozed off as they waited to see what would happen. The missiles started slamming into the base—which hosts the largest number of U.S. troops of any single facility in Iraq—around 1:30 a.m. last Wednesday, gouging craters in the surface of the airfield and torching metal containers. Personnel are still clearing the debris. “We could feel the shock wave and when the impact hit, the bunker doors sunk in,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Staci Coleman. “My personal opinion is that they really wanted to target our [air] assets and if they so happened to kill Americans in the process, that was OK with them.”

Afghanistan

Voice Of America: Afghan Military: Taliban Customs House Destroyed In Southwest Afghanistan

“Afghanistan's military says a Taliban customs house was destroyed during an operation in the southwestern part of the country. A spokesperson of the Afghanistan Defense Ministry, Fawad Aman, told VOA Monday that the insurgent group generated a daily revenue of more than $38,000 from the customs house it was running in Farah province. The ongoing military campaign, code-named Operation Lucky, was launched in December 2019 with the objective of clearing the province of Taliban militants. Since security forces began targeting Taliban narcotics processing labs in early 2018, the Taliban reportedly has resorted to establishing customs houses as a means to generate more revenue to help finance its insurgency in southern Afghanistan. The insurgent group also runs customs houses in other provinces, including Herat, Ghor and Nimruz, according to the Afghan military. The Afghan Taliban also enforces a strict judicial system in remote parts of the country where authorities have no control. Security officials also say the Taliban is using the money to purchase weapons and strengthen its combat capabilities against Afghan forces.”

Lebanon

The Jerusalem Post: Funding Lebanon Is Funding Hezbollah

“December 2019 was a bizarre month in America’s nearly four-decade-long struggle with Hezbollah. It ended with the US embassy in Baghdad under attack by one form of Hezbollah angry at the deaths of their comrades killed in Iraq and Syria on December 29. The Trump administration killed their comrades in another form of Hezbollah because they killed an American contractor and wounded others in Kirkuk on December 27. What makes this so weird is that the month began quite differently when on December 6 the US sent $105 million to Lebanon, a country controlled by Hezbollah. After the Trump administration withheld $105m. in aid to Lebanon’s military in late September, the Washington press corps thought it smelled another Ukraine-style Trump scandal. The New York Times complained that Trump “officials halted the funding to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department had approved, at a critical time.” The Los Angeles Times fretted that Trump was withholding money precisely as Lebanon “convulses under an unprecedented wave of anti-government protests” and announced that Lebanon’s army is “viewed as a guarantor of stability.”

Middle East

Daily Mail: ISIS Is Regrouping And On The Rise In The Middle East, Jordan's King Abdullah Warns

“ISIS is regrouping and is once more on the rise in the Middle East, King Abdullah of Jordan has warned.   King Abdullah expressed concerns that the terror group had been re-establishing itself over the past year in south-eastern Syria and western Iraq. 'We have to deal with the reemergence of ISIS,' the king said, adding that it was a 'major concern'. He added that many foreign fighters in Syria have made their way to Libya. His comments come months after ISIS was ousted from its final stronghold in Syria. He made the claims in a sit-down interview with France 24 in Amman, during which he also discussed US tensions with Iran, the stalled peace process between Israel and Palestine, and the conflict in Syria. 'From a European perspective, with Libya being much closer to Europe, this is going to be an important discussion in the next couple of days,' Abdullah said. 'Several thousand fighters have left Idlib (Syria) through the northern border and have ended up in Libya, that is something that we in the region but also our European friends will have to address in 2020.' Regarding last week's spiking of tensions between Iran and the United States, Abdullah said he hoped that 'in the next several months we set the right tone for the region, which is really to bring the temperature down.’”

Africa

CNN: Three Teachers Killed In Suspected Militant Attack On Kenya Primary School

“Three teachers were killed in a suspected Al Shabaab attack on a primary school in northeastern Kenya, police said on Monday.The incident happened around 2 a.m. local time in Kamuthe in Garrisa County near the Somali border, where Al Shabaab militants have notched up attacks in recent weeks. The assailants attacked a police post and partially damaged a telecommunications mast, National Kenya Police Service, said in a tweet about the incident, adding that its officers were in pursuit of the attackers. The group's militants also shot dead four children who sought refuge at a nearby police post in Saretho village, near Garrisa, last week. Police in Kenya said the attackers had also targeted a telecoms mast in the area. Three Americans, including a US service member and two civilian contractors, were killed in the attack carried out by Al-Shabaab on a Kenya Defense Force in Manda Bay, Lamu County near Kenya's border with Somalia. Kenya's military said its officers killed at least four terrorists in the attack on the airfield. Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab, based in Somali, has carried out several onslaughts on public places, including schools and a hotel in Kenya. The group's fighters killed 147 people in a brutal attack on a Kenyan university campus in Garissa near the Somali border in 2015.”

The New York Times: France, West Africa To Unite Forces In Fight Against Islamist Militants

“France and five West African states agreed on Monday to combine their military forces under one command structure to fight a growing Islamist militancy in the Sahel region, with Paris committing an extra 220 troops. French President Emmanuel Macron had called the leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania, known as the G5, to the southwestern French town of Pau to discuss the battle against insurgents in the Sahel, an arid region just below the Sahara desert. With growing anti-French sentiment in the five countries over Paris' handling of an insurgency by Islamist militants that has seen hundreds of their soldiers killed in recent weeks, Macron had warned that he could withdraw French troops without a clear political commitment from them. France, the former colonial power, has 4,500 troops in Mali and the wider Sahel, but security has been progressively worsening. Macron said the situation had now been clarified. Militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have strengthened their foothold, making large swathes of territory ungovernable and stoking ethnic violence, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso. “Today, more than ever, the fact is that the results, despite the effort, are below the expectations of the population,” Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Kabore told a joint news conference.”

CNN: Niger Declares Three Days Of Mourning After 89 Soldiers Killed In Attack On Military Base

“The Niger government has declared three days of national mourning after 89 soldiers were killed in an attack on a military base, a government spokesman said. The attack happened on Thursday when heavily armed militants attacked an army outpost in Chinagodrar in the country's west, near the border of Mali, government spokesman Abdourahame Zakari said in a statement Sunday. Niger's flag will also be flown at half-staff throughout the territory as the country mourns the troops killed in the raid. President Mahamadou Issoufou sent his “deepest condolences” to the victims' families and wished those wounded in the attack a speedy recovery. The number of troops killed in Thursday's attack tops casualty figures from last month's raid by jihadist militants on another military outpost in the country's west, which left 71 soldiers dead. Military troops in Niger and neighboring Mali are fighting to suppress a jihadist insurgency, which has seen army outposts in both countries attacked by militants in recent months. In November, 13 French soldiers were killed in a crash involving two helicopters during an operation against jihadists fighters in Mali. More than 50 soldiers died in a militant attack on a military camp in the northeast of Mali in November.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Trio In Court Accused Of Terrorism Offences

“Three men have appeared in court over the alleged sharing or possession of videos and magazines produced by so-called Islamic State. Mohamed Ismail, 23, Muhammed Tahir, 19, and Mohammed Saeed, 21, are charged with terrorism offences. Mr Ismail, of Harrow in London, and Mr Tahir, of Peterborough, are accused of disseminating a terrorist publication. Mr Saeed, of Manchester, is accused of possessing an article suspected to be for a purpose connected to terrorism. The three were remanded in custody ahead of them appearing at the Old Bailey on 7 February, following the hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court.”

The Telegraph: Priti Patel Defends Decision To Add Extinction Rebellion To Anti-Terrorism Watch List

“Priti Patel has defended a decision to flag Extinction Rebellion’s beliefs to the Government’s terror watchdog, after criticism from MPs and a former head of the programme. The Government added the protest group’s beliefs onto the list of ideologies that warrant reporting someone to the Prevent programme, which seeks to stop terror attacks. The move was condemned by Sir Keir, the Labour leadership frontrunner, who said it was “completely wrong and counterproductive”. The Home Secretary was criticised by Sir Peter Fahy, former head of Prevent, who told The Guardian adding environmental groups to the programme’s remit risked losing public trust.”

Germany 

Deutsche Welle: Germany Jails Jihadi For Syrian Massacre

“A German court on Monday sentenced a 31-year-old Syrian man to life in prison for double homicide and accessory to 17 counts of murder committed during his time as an Islamist militant. The former Nusra Front jihadi was found guilty of killing two people and overseeing the murder of at least 17 others in northern Syria. The victims were members of Syrian security forces and army personnel captured during the first years of the conflict. They were then executed at a dumping ground near the city of Tabka as part of a larger massacre in the area in 2013. Three other defendants were also handed down prison sentences ranging from three to eight years. All four came to Germany as refugees. German prosecutors have sought to jail militants and members of Syria's security forces who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. In October, German federal prosecutors announced charges against two suspected former Syrian secret service officers. The charges included participating in mass rape, torture and crimes against humanity Prosecutors also charged an Iraqi man and his German wife for genocide for chaining up a Yazidi girl and leaving the 5-year-old to die of thirst. Both are believed to be members of the “Islamic State.”

Southeast Asia

South China Morning Post: Singapore Man On Trial For Terrorism Financing Admits To Sending Money To Isis

“The first Singaporean to be charged with terrorism financing began his trial in a district court on Monday by admitting to giving S$450 (US$330) to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis), but claimed trial for his actions because he did not recognise Singapore law. Imran Kassim, a 36-year-old former managing director of logistics firm Novo Logistics, faces one charge under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act. He is accused of remitting the money on October 31, 2014, through Western Union to a man in Turkey, known as Mohamad Alsaied Almidan, to publish Isis propaganda. Imran’s trial in open court is the first of its kind in Singapore. Another Singaporean was jailed last year, after a closed-door hearing, for giving more than S$1,000 (US$740) to a Jamaican preacher who had been imprisoned for stirring racial hatred. Imran will return to court on Tuesday for District Judge Seah Chi-Ling’s verdict. If convicted of the offence of providing property and services for terrorist purposes, he could be jailed for up to 10 years, fined up to S$500,000 (US$370,000) or both. Imran has been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) since August 2017.”