Eye on Extremism: January 14, 2022

The New York Times: Rockets Possibly Fired By Pro-Iran Assailants Target U.S. Embassy In Iraq

“Four rockets targeted the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Thursday night, the latest in a series of aerial attacks amid Iranian threats and political violence as Iraq’s factions struggle to form a new government. The Iraqi military said one rocket had landed inside a school across the street from the U.S. Embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone, with shock waves from the blast slightly wounding an Iraqi child and an Iraqi soldier. There were no immediate reports of casualties or details about damage from the other three rockets. The U.S. embassy said on Twitter that its compound had been attacked “by terrorist groups attempting to undermine Iraq’s security, sovereignty and international relations.” “We have long said that these sorts of reprehensible attacks are an assault not just on diplomatic facilities, but on the sovereignty of Iraq itself,” the embassy’s post said. In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman, John F. Kirby, said “a relatively small number” of rockets had struck the Green Zone and that U.S. officials were still assessing the damage. The rockets were launched against the backdrop of a spate of rocket and drone strikes against American personnel in Iraq and Syria that Biden administration officials have attributed to Iran-backed militias.”

Reuters: Suspected Suicide Bombers Strike In Northwest Syria Near Turkish Border

“At least three people were killed Thursday in a series of explosions, including two suspected suicide bombings, in northwest Syria near the Turkish border, witnesses said, in the first such attacks this year. A rescue worker said one civilian was killed when an improvised explosive device went off in a vehicle near a transport office in the city of Azaz, near the main border crossing with Turkey. A few hours later, a suicide bombing in a marketplace in the town of al-Bab wounded three and killed the suspected bomber, a police source said. This was followed minutes later by another suicide bombing at a roundabout in the city of Afrin, a mainly Kurdish area that Turkish forces and their Syrian allies took from the Kurdish YPG militia in 2018. Main towns in the northwestern border area, run by Syrian Arab rebels backed by Turkey, have in the last year been frequently hit by bombings detonated in crowded civilian areas. Turkey and its allied rebels say the blasts aim to make ungovernable an area populated by more than 3 million Syrians who have fled government-controlled areas during the country's decadelong civil war. Turkish-backed Arab rebels in Azaz and other parts of the enclave have blamed previous blasts on the YPG, which controls some areas in the northwest and holds sway over swaths of Syria's northeast.”

United States

ABC News: FBI Arrests Oath Keepers Leader On Charge Of Seditious Conspiracy Involving Jan. 6 Attack

“The Justice Department has unsealed a major indictment charging the leader of the Oath Keepers militia group along with multiple other members with seditious conspiracy related to their alleged coordination in advance of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The three indictments mark the Justice Department's first Jan. 6 use of the seditious conspiracy charge, which accuses Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and other members of the group of conspiring to “oppose by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power” from outgoing President Donald Trump to incoming President Joe Biden. Rhodes was arrested in Little Elm, Texas, according to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. A lawyer representing Rhodes told ABC News that Rhodes was arrested while he was preparing for a virtual appearance Thursday before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. Attorney Jonathon Moseley said he was on the phone with Rhodes discussing the House investigation when Rhodes received a call from the FBI to come out of his house with his hands up in order to be arrested. A conviction on the charge of seditious conspiracy carries a maximum sentence of no more than 20 years.”

The New York Times: Jan. 6 Committee Subpoenas Four Big Tech Firms

“The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol issued subpoenas on Thursday to four major social media companies — Alphabet, Meta, Reddit and Twitter — criticizing them for allowing extremism to spread on their platforms and saying they have failed to cooperate adequately with the inquiry. In letters accompanying the subpoenas, the panel named Facebook, a unit of Meta, and YouTube, which is owned by Alphabet’s Google subsidiary, as among the worst offenders that contributed to the spread of misinformation and violent extremism. The committee said it had been investigating how the companies “contributed to the violent attack on our democracy, and what steps — if any — social media companies took to prevent their platforms from being breeding grounds for radicalizing people to violence.” “It’s disappointing that after months of engagement, we still do not have the documents and information necessary to answer those basic questions,” said the panel’s chairman, Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi.”

The Washington Post: Alabama Woman Who Became ‘ISIS Bride’ Will Continue Legal Fight To Return To U.S., Lawyers Say

“A woman from Alabama who left the United States in 2014 to join the Islamic State in Syria will fight on in her legal battle to regain American citizenship, her lawyers said, after the latest blow to her case. On Monday, the Supreme Court declined without comment to consider Hoda Muthana’s petition seeking permission to reenter the United States. The court refused to hear an appeal filed by her family or overturn lower court rulings in which relatives argued she was unlawfully denied her return to the country. Her legal team, the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America (CLCMA), called the outcome a “sad day for the Muthana family, and for the sanctity of United States citizenship in general.” American-born Muthana, 27, has been living with her 4-year-old son in a Syrian refugee camp. Her passport was revoked in 2016, and the U.S. government has since said she is not a citizen and will not be allowed to return to the United States. Muthana was 20 and a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham when she left the United States, after apparently becoming radicalized by online videos prompting her to seek a life under Islamic State rule. She used her college tuition money to secretly buy a plane ticket to the Middle East, while telling her family that she was going to Atlanta for a field trip as part of a class assignment.”

Iran

NBC News: Veterans, Families Urge Administration Not To Release Billions In Frozen Funds To Iran Until Terrorism Cases Are Settled

“U.S. military veterans and their families called on the Biden administration Thursday not to release frozen funds to Iran as part of nuclear negotiations until U.S. victims of terrorist attacks carried out by the Tehran regime or its proxies are compensated. More than 1,000 veterans and family members of those killed or wounded in bombings and other attacks in Iraq and elsewhere asked President Joe Biden in a letter to meet with some of the families whose loved ones were killed. “We share your view that Iran must never be allowed to develop or acquire nuclear weapons, but we do not believe that any sanctions on Iran should be lifted or suspended that result in the release of frozen funds until all outstanding judgments and pending claims against Iran and the IRGC have been fully satisfied,” said the letter, which was obtained by NBC News. The IGRC is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. “In our view, Iran’s frozen funds should go first to the regime’s American victims before a single dollar goes to the regime itself,” the letter said. The letter estimated that $60 billion in terrorism lawsuit judgments and associated liens have gone unpaid because of U.S. court cases against Iran, with billions more tied up in pending claims.”

Afghanistan

The National: Taliban Faces Internal Battles In Northern Province

“Hundreds of Afghans took to the streets of a provincial capital on Thursday to protest against the Taliban’s arrest of a local commander from the Uzbek ethnic minority. Uzbek Taliban fighters demonstrated in Maimana, in the northern province of Faryab, after an Uzbek Taliban commander named Makhdom Alam, also the police chief of Faryab, was sacked. “He was accused of kidnapping three women in Mazar-e-Sharif city. The Taliban fired him in response which angered the Uzbek Taliban fighters who started the protest”, a local reporter from Maimana city told The National, on condition of anonymity. Mr Alam was the Taliban’s shadow governor for Faryab province for many years during their battles with the previous governments. According to the BBC, Mr Alam was arrested in Balkh province on the orders of the Taliban’s Deputy Minister of Defence, Mullah Fazil. “The protesters I talked to are saying he is innocent and he was fired because he is from the Uzbek ethnicity, and the Taliban are discriminating against them,” the reporter said, adding that the protests surrounded the Governor’s office. A witness said that several Taliban commanders of Pashtun ethnicity were disarmed.”

The New York Times: The Taliban Have Staffing Issues. They Are Looking For Help In Pakistan.

“It was 20 years ago when the jihadi, a defense ministry official in the Taliban’s first government, fled Afghanistan as U.S. troops swept into the country. He settled in southwestern Pakistan with other Afghans, bought a house and became a baker. Then, after Kabul fell to the Taliban last August, Khyal Mohammad Ghayoor received a call from a stranger who identified himself only by the dual honorifics, Hajji Sahib, which roughly translates to a distinguished man who has made a pilgrimage to Mecca. The man told Mr. Ghayoor he was needed back in Afghanistan, not as a baker but as a police chief. Now, Mr. Ghayoor oversees 1,450 people as the head of Kabul’s traffic police. “I am very excited to be back in a free and liberated Afghanistan,” he said. Five months after their takeover of Afghanistan, the Taliban are grappling with the challenges of governance. Leaders promised to retain civil servants and prioritize ethnic diversity for top government roles, but instead have filled positions at all management levels with soldiers and theologians. Other government employees have fled or refused to work, leaving widespread vacancies in the fragile state. To help fill the gaps, Taliban officials are reaching into Pakistan.”

Nigeria

Daily Post Nigeria: Boko Haram Surrendering – Senate Committee Tasks Nigerian Military On Suppressing ISWAP

“The Senate Committee Chairman on Army, Senator Ali Ndume, has urged the military to suppress the activities of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in Southern Borno. Ndume made the call when he led members of the committee on an oversight visit to the headquarters of Joint Operation Hadin Kai in Maiduguri on Wednesday. According to him, ‘Boko Haram terrorists are surrendering’, while ISWAP is still attacking people. “As Boko Haram members are surrendering, ISWAP is attacking people, particularly in the southern part of the state. “It’s also important that we commend your effort to put you on notice. “Please do more so that under your leadership (Theatre Commander) this year, it will be written in gold that you brought an end to the insurgency. “We are in Borno to assess the security situation on the ground as well as find ways of addressing the challenges,” Ndume said. Earlier, Maj.-Gen. Christopher Musa, the Theatre Commander, hailed the committee for its commitment to address the challenges facing the army and assured it of the theatre’s commitment to discharge its assigned task. “We say a big thank you for your dedication, sacrifice and commitment.”

Africa

Long War Journal: Islamic State Claims Christmas Day Suicide Bombing In Congo

“After a long delay, the Islamic State has taken credit for the Christmas day suicide bombing in Beni, DRC, which left at least eight people dead. The bombing was orchestrated by the DRC wing of its Central Africa Province (ISCAP), which is locally known as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). According to the Islamic State, the bomber “killed and wounded upwards of 27 people, including [military] officers and government officials” after he detonated his explosive belt “at a Christian pub.” The jihadist group also provided a photo of the purported bomber that was taken prior to the attack, identified as ‘Bayan al-Ugandi,’ indicating he was a Ugandan national. This photo matches graphic photos of a man purported to be the bomber that were distributed on social media in the aftermath of the attack. Casualty numbers and the identities of victims provided by the Islamic State largely comport to what has been repeated in local media, suggesting that the Islamic State’s media apparatus monitored local reporting for such details. On Dec. 25, a suicide bomber detonated himself at the entrance of a popular restaurant in the town of Beni after being prevented by local security in entering the crowded establishment.”

United Kingdom

The Independent: Man Says He Was Not Encouraging Terror Attacks With Call For ‘Jihad With The Sword’

“An alleged Islamist extremist has said he did not mean to encourage terror attacks with a speech declaring that jihad “by fighting by sword” was compulsory for Muslims. Abubaker Deghayes, 53, made the claim while addressing the congregation at Brighton Mosque after evening prayers. He denies encouraging terrorism with a speech delivered on 1 November 2020. A trial at London’s Old Bailey was played footage of Mr Deghayes making a sword gesture while saying: “Jihad, jihad, jihad! Jihad is compulsory. Jihad by fighting by sword, this jihad is compulsory upon you, not jihad is the word of mouth.” The defendant added: “Jihad is compulsory upon you, you, you and you until the day of resurrection, whatever the British Government thinks, whatever Prevent thinks, whatever Israel thinks; send to the sea. They can go and drink from the sea [inaudible] Allah curse their fathers, OK?” Giving evidence on Thursday, he said he had been explaining a “very central part of Islam”. “I was encouraging people to put into practice the concept of jihad that exists in the religion of Islam, I’m not saying you should put it in practice and go and kill people or commit crime,” Mr Deghayes told the jury.”

France

RFI: Paris Attacks Accused Mohamed Abrini Shrugs Off Damning Evidence

“Wednesday's testimony from Mohamed Abrini, who is charged with complicity in the Paris attacks, focused on the suspect's 2015 journey from Belgium to the Islamic State heartland in Syria, and his return via London, Birmingham, Manchester and Paris. According to Mohamed Abrini, it's all very simple. He went to Syria to visit his younger brother's grave, the teenager having died some months earlier fighting for Islamic State. In Raqqa, Abrini's childhood friend, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, then a high-ranking emir in the terrorist organisation, asked him to return to Belgium via Birmingham, where Abrini was to collect a small sum of money. He did what he was asked. And a little tourism on the side. All the rest, Abrini says, is paranoia. The problem, as underlined on Wednesday by a lawyer representing the families of the Paris victims, is that Abaaoud was the chief organiser of Islamic State's overseas terror campaign. His envoys were neither debt collectors nor tourists. The people he sent to Europe were, inevitably and invariably, on a mission to murder. It is hardly paranoid to ask why Abrini made such a detour on his return from Syria, phoning numbers used by several other notorious terrorists, taking photographs of Manchester United's football stadium and Birmingham's New Street railway station, with a final brief unexplained visit to central Paris while he was waiting to be picked up at Charles de Gaulle airport.”

Technology

The Jerusalem Post: ISIS Bot Army Adapts To Survive Online Cyberslaughter - Report

“ISIS’s digital presence is under constant attack by the West, Iranian proxies and others, but its army of bots is learning to adapt even to aggressive attempts to shut it down, a new report by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at Reichman University said. Authored by ICT researcher Danielle Haberfeld and Research Director Dr. Eitan Azani, the report details both the waves of new cyber attacks mounted by the West and Iranian proxies on their rare common enemy, ISIS, as well as how the terror group is morphing to stay relevant in the cybersphere. After ISIS lost its hold on territory in 2017-2018, it migrated much of its influence to the online world. However, eventually the West, Iranian proxies and the “traditional” social media giants caught up with ISIS on traditional platforms like Facebook and Twitter and started to systematically and massively close their accounts. At first, ISIS was too fast for those hunting it digitally, and closing one account merely led to a new account. However, the report said that eventually Facebook, Twitter and some others improved their detection game and timing so that ISIS had to escape to newer and even less regulated platforms like Telegram, Element and “Rocketchat” and on to a variety of smaller, unofficial and decentralized chat rooms, instead of larger centralized accounts.”

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