Eye on Extremism: January 18, 2019

The Wall Street Journal: Islamic State Returns To Guerrilla Tactics As It Loses Territory

“Islamic State is reverting to the guerrilla-style tactics it employed in its early days to strike targets, including a suicide bombing it claimed in northern Syria this week, as it stands to lose the last sliver of territory it controls. U.S.-backed forces in Syria on Thursday vowed to escalate military operations against Islamic State and root out its sleeper cells, a day after the attack that killed more than a dozen people, including four Americans. The terror group, which said the latest suicide attack targeted the U.S.-led coalition, is trying to cause chaos and horror throughout the country as it faces the loss of its remaining territory in eastern Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said.  An initial U.S. military assessment concluded the Islamic State was behind the attack, in which two U.S. military service members, a civilian Defense Department employee and a Pentagon contractor were killed, adding that the terror group targeted Americans.  Islamic State claimed responsibility for a deadly explosion that killed four Americans on Wednesday. WSJ's Gerald F. Seib explains three reasons why the tragic event is so ominous. Those tracking the group say Islamic State is still capable of carrying out sophisticated strikes far from its shrinking pocket of control in Deir Ezzour province in eastern Syria.”

The New York Times: A Favorite Restaurant In Syria Led ISIS To Americans

“For American troops posted in the dusty flatlands of northern Syria, the Palace of the Princes restaurant in Manbij offered a pleasant place to stop for grilled chicken, French fries or its locally renowned shawarma sandwich. The Americans liked the food so much that they dropped in frequently, often many times a week, residents said. Visiting officials were welcomed to red booths and water pipes; two American senators dined there in July. “They stop here for chicken and shawarma whenever they have a patrol in the city,” said Jassim al-Khalaf, 37, who sells vegetables nearby. “People here are used to it, so it’s not a new thing to see them.” The jihadists of the Islamic State noticed, too, dispatching a suicide bomber who blew himself up at the restaurant on Wednesday, killing at least 15 people, including four Americans: two service members, a Defense Department civilian and a military contractor. That attack, in a Syrian town celebrated as an American-backed island of stability, raised troubling questions about whether the American military had developed a false sense of security in a conflict zone, where avoiding predictable routines like a regular lunch spot can be a matter of life and death.”

CNBC: Trump Calls For Enhanced Missile Defenses, Stressing Evolving Threats From China, Russia, North Korea And Iran

“President Donald Trump on Thursday unveiled the first overhaul of American missile defense doctrine in nearly a decade at the Pentagon. Known as the missile defense review, the unclassified report, which was expected last year, is believed to have been delayed because of sensitivities about how to frame threats posed by China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, according to several defense officials. The 108-page report emphasizes the need for a "comprehensive approach to missile defense against rogue state and regional missile threats" and calls for the development of new technologies to its system in the future. "Our goal is simple, to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States anywhere, anytime, anyplace," Trump said. The initiatives outlined in the missile defense review must receive backing from Congress in order to proceed.”

The Wall Street Journal: A Bloody Month Of Jihad

“The Trump Administration says Islamic State has been defeated, and it is moving ahead with its withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria and reducing America’s antiterror commitments in Africa. Meantime, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel is replacing a terrorism subcommittee with one focused on investigating what he apparently thinks is a bigger threat: Donald Trump. The world’s terrorists don’t seem to have received this news that they’ve been defeated, as a spate of recent attacks around the globe shows.  On Wednesday a suicide bomber killed two American soldiers, one civilian Pentagon employee and a Defense Department contractor, as well as 15 allied fighters and civilians, in Manbij, Syria. Islamic State took responsibility for the attack and claimed it specifically targeted Americans. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says the incident shows that Mr. Trump’s retreat and declarations of victory in Syria are emboldening jihadists—and he’s probably right. • Also on Wednesday federal prosecutors charged a 21-year-old Georgia man with planning to attack the White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and a synagogue. According to a criminal complaint, Hasher Jallal Taheb planned to form an assault group armed with guns, homemade bombs, an antitank weapon and hand grenades.”

Reuters: Iran 'Shooting Itself In The Foot' With Spying, German Diplomat Warns

“Iran is harming Europe’s efforts to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear accord with actions such as the case of suspected espionage involving a member of the German military, veteran German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger said on Thursday. But Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, warned against any move by Europe to join Washington in withdrawing from the agreement, since the accord was intended solely to halt Iran’s nuclear program and did not address other behavior in the region or spying. Germany, which together with France has led efforts to keep the agreement in place, expressed grave concern this week to a senior Iranian diplomat about the case of an Afghan-German man who was arrested on Tuesday for suspected espionage. “The foreign ministry addressed the case unmistakably with the manager of the Iranian embassy on Jan. 15 and expressed our grave concern about the suspected intelligence activities,” a ministry source said.”

Associated Press: Indonesia Leader To Free Radical Cleric Behind Bali Bombings

“The ailing 80-year-old radical cleric who inspired the Bali bombers and other violent extremists in Indonesia will be released from prison, Indonesia’s president said Friday, slashing a 15-year sentence. The announcement of Abu Bakar Bashir’s imminent release came during campaigning for a presidential election due in April in which opponents of President Joko Widodo have tried to discredit him as insufficiently Islamic. “I have considered this decision for a long time, involving the National Police chief and legal experts,” Widodo told reporters. “This release was decided because of humanitarian considerations and also related to his health care.” The 2002 bombings on the popular Indonesian tourist island of Bali by al-Qaida-affiliated Jemaah Islamiyah militants killed 202 people, many of them foreigners including dozens of Australians.”

United States

U.S. News. & World Report: Man Accused Of Plotting July 4 Terror Attack Indicted

“An Ohio man accused of scouting locations for a terrorist attack during July 4 fireworks in downtown Cleveland has been charged with attempting to provide material support to Al Qaeda. An indictment filed Wednesday against 49-year-old Demetrius Pitts, of Maple Heights, comes after a federal court magistrate concluded in November that Pitts was mentally competent to stand trial. Prosecutors say he was arrested July 2, the day after discussing with an undercover operative working with the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force plans for a truck-bomb attack in Philadelphia. Prosecutors say an FBI operative gave Pitts a cellphone and a bus pass so he could travel to downtown Cleveland to scout locations for the July 4 attack. Messages seeking comment were left Thursday with Pitts' federal public defender.”

The Hill: Congress Sends Bill Renewing Anti-Terrorism Program To Trump

“Congress sent legislation to President Trump on Thursday that would reauthorize a program setting standards on protecting manufacturers and other chemical facilities from terror attacks. The program is set to sunset on Thursday, meaning Trump will have to sign it into law quickly in order to prevent it from lapsing. The Senate approved an amended version of the bill to reauthorize the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program for 15 months on Wednesday evening, and the House passed it by voice vote Thursday. The House had initially passed a bill earlier this month reauthorizing the standards for two years. But Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) had rejected that version of the bill, saying that he would only accept a short-term extension. Johnson sought broader reforms to the program. On Wednesday, he agreed to a 15-month reauthorization of the program, after negotiations with the committee’s ranking member Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). Johnson has authored legislation that would make changes to the Department of Homeland Security program, which applies to facilities that handle certain chemicals.”

ABC 15: FBI Describes Valley Terror Suspect As 'Homegrown Violent Extremist' And A 'Lone Wolf'

“The FBI is calling a Valley terror suspect, who was born in the U.S., as a "homegrown violent extremist." Federal investigators allege that 18-year-old Ismail Hamed was working in ISIS, and planned an attack in Maricopa County to further the terrorist group's ideology. On January 7, a Maricopa County Sheriff's deputy shot Hamed twice outside the MCSO Fountain Hills substation. "An individual attempted to potentially attack a deputy and try and take his life, and did so with the attitude and mentality to try to further terrorism," said Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone. Before shots were fired, the sheriff said Hamed mentioned his terrorist aims to dispatchers. "He made some statements during that call to indicate that he had an affiliation with a terror ideology," said Sheriff Penzone. When asked why only one deputy responded to Hamed's terroristic threats, Penzone clarified that the deputy involved was actually walking to his patrol vehicle to "check his computer and learn more about the call." Before he could get to his vehicle though, Hamed confronted the deputy in the parking lot and allegedly began throwing rocks before pulling out a knife. "The deputy gave numerous commands for him to drop the knife and stop advancing," said Sheriff Penzone. "The subject continued to advance. Basically chasing him partially around his own vehicle.”


The Washington Post: It’s Not Just ISIS. Many Terrorist Groups Have Been Declared Dead — Only To Rise Again.

“When political leaders have announced the defeat of terrorist groups in the past, a certain degree of skepticism often would have been warranted. It’s perhaps too early to tell if the same lesson applies to the most recent group to be declared dead: the Islamic State, which according to a tweet by President Trump last month and remarks by Vice President Pence on Wednesday, has now been defeated. The alleged defeat of the group by anti-ISIS coalition forces was Trump’s main argument to justify his decision to withdraw U.S. military personnel from Syria, despite objections by his own advisers. Less than a month later, on Wednesday, four Americans were killed in an attack in the Syrian city of Manbij, inevitably raising new doubts over any assessment that the Islamic State is beaten. The Islamic State could still succeed in reinventing itself, my colleague Adam Taylor writes, noting that “defeating an insurgent group that uses guerrilla tactics and terrorism is more difficult than beating a group that is trying to actually hold ground.” A look back in history shows that it certainly would not be the first group to morph into something different while maintaining its deadly mission.”

CNN: Initial US Assessment Says ISIS Behind Syria Bombing

“The initial US assessment of the deadly bombing in Syria that killed four Americans is that ISIS was behind the attack, two US officials said Thursday. One official said it is believed that Wednesday's attack in Manbij was carried out by an ISIS sleeper cell. ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing on Wednesday. The ISIS-affiliated Amaq agency said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber with an explosive vest. The American deaths included two US service members, a defense contractor and a Department of Defense civilian, the US Central Command said in a statement. Three other US service members were injured in the attack. Prior to Wednesday's attack, only two US service members had been killed in action in Syria since the start of the campaign in 2014. Eight civilians and two Syrian Democratic Forces fighters were killed alongside the four Americans -- a total of 14 people, a senior commander at the Manbij Military Council told CNN Thursday. The restaurant that was bombed "was frequented by Coalition Forces," the commander said. "Such attacks were expected. We expected an increase in the attacks, especially that ISIS is in its final stages, but all the attacks that have happened so far have been small," he added.”

CBS News: ISIS Is Morphing In Syria, But It's Not Beaten Yet

“As CBS News senior national security correspondent David Martin reported on Thursday, President Trump appears to be standing firm on his decision to pull American forces out of Syria. The president himself has not yet commented on the topic since four Americans were killed in a targeted attack by ISIS in northern Syria on Wednesday. But Vice President Mike Pence did reiterate Mr. Trump's assertions, not long after the U.S. confirmed the casualties, that ISIS had been defeated in Syria and it is time to bring American troops home. Visiting the front lines of the ongoing war this week with U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters, however, CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata saw a different reality. What follows is his report from the front-line town of Ash Sha'fah, in eastern Syria. President Trump and Vice President Pence may continue to insist that ISIS is defeated in Syria, but the frontlines here tell a very different story, with U.S. forces and their allies on the ground battling a persistent enemy that refuses to surrender.Even as we made our way toward the fighting, we were warned that ISIS terror cells lurked among the ruined villages, launching counterattacks and planting bombs on the only road in and out.”

CBS News: ISIS Sleeper Cells Increase Attacks Away From The Battlefield In Syria

“U.S. intelligence has confirmed ISIS was responsible for a an attack at a restaurant in the city of Manbij Wednesday that left four Americans and more than a dozen others dead. Manbij had been considered a relatively safe place. Now, the bombing has underlined how ISIS remains a lethal force with widespread reach.  The attack happened around 150 miles from where U.S. troops and their allies have ISIS pinned down. As far as the terror group is concerned, any street in Syria is the front line.  Even as ISIS is diminished on the battlefield, sleeper cells have increased attacks away from it, morphing from a territorial force to an insurgent terror network, launching hit and run attacks. A drive-by assassination of a Kurdish commander took place in broad daylight along a road miles from any front line.  Ahmed Omar, a political adviser to the Kurdish government, said the decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. forces from Syria has only emboldened the terror group. ISIS would not be finished — instead, they would just change their strategy and tactics, he said. While commanders here believe the final push against ISIS may be over in less than two months, no one dares predict what comes after that.”

Al Jazeera: Syria's War: Who Is Responsible For The Dying Children Of Rukban?

“There was no heating to keep the tent warm. There was no money to buy the medicine which might have saved his daughter. There was not even enough milk in the breast of the mother - suffering from malnutrition - to feed the girl. There is nothing but misery in this camp. That is how Abdul Karim described the death of his two-month-old daughter Khadija to his friend Abdul Fattah Basleh in Rukban refugee camp in southern Syria, an encampment of about 50,000 people. Khadija was one of the at least eight children who have died in the camp this winter. The United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, which has been seeking permission to send life-saving aid, called the deaths a "man-made" tragedy. "The lives of babies continue to be cut short by health conditions that are preventable or treatable," said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF's regional director for the Middle East. He said that "more children will die, day in, and day out", in Rukban and areas around it, unless they are provided with safer shelters and reliable healthcare. The camp lies in the arid landscape alongside the sand-berms demarcating the Jordanian border.”

France 24: Coalition Hits Mosque Used By IS In Syria

“The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria destroyed a command center in a mosque in the war-torn country on Thursday, officials said. The strike is another indication that IS has not been "beaten" in Syria, as Trump claimed last month when he ordered the withdrawal of US forces from the country. Coalition aircraft "destroyed an ISIS command and control facility in a mosque in Safafiyah," a coalition statement read, using an alternate acronym for IS. "ISIS continues to violate Law of Armed Conflict and misuse protected structures like hospitals and mosques, which cause a facility to lose its protected status," the statement added. IS holdouts in Syria are mainly in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor. Four Americans, including two US soldiers, were killed Wednesday in a suicide blast claimed by IS in the northern city of Manbij. It was the deadliest attack against US forces since they first deployed to Syria four years ago.”


The Wall Street Journal: China Offers Iran $3 Billion Oil-Field Deal As Europe Halts Iranian Crude Purchases

“China’s state-run energy giant is making a new approach to clinch a $3 billion deal for more development of an Iranian oil field, seeking to take advantage of waivers allowed under U.S. sanctions as two European nations have ended crude purchases, according to people familiar with the matter. The moves highlight the divergent ways nations are reacting to temporary exemptions from U.S. sanctions on Iran. China’s decision to pursue lucrative deals with Tehran and deepen its presence in Iran contrasts with a retreat by Italy and Greece stemming from fear that financial transactions and physical trade with Iran have become too difficult. China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. , or Sinopec, told its government-owned counterpart, the National Iranian Oil Co., it wanted its share of the field’s production to be granted under the U.S. waiver allocated to China, one person said. Sinopec is driving a hard bargain, making stringent demands, the people said. The company asked to buy equipment of its choice—made in China—and requested reimbursement for costs as soon as the new development undergoes testing, terms Iran normally refuses.”

The Peninsula: Hamas Unveils Iran-Funded Homes For Former Israel Prisoners

“Hamas said Thursday it had allocated new homes funded by Iran in Gaza to former Palestinian prisoners who had been held in Israeli jails. The prisoners ministry said 26 apartments in a new building in southern Gaza had been given out in a lottery between 125 former Palestinian prisoners. Officials from Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, said the programme was the first of its kind funded by Iran. A second building will be constructed in northern Gaza, the ministry said, adding the project aimed to "reduce the suffering of our freed prisoners." Iran has long been a strong backer of Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad, providing them with funds, weapons and training.”


The Irish Times: Turkey Deports Dutch Journalist, Alleging Link To Al-Qaeda Offshoot

“Turkey on Thursday deported a 31-year-old journalist who works for Dutch newspapers, accusing her of links to the militant Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda offshoot involved in neighbouring Syria’s war. Dutch prosecution spokeswoman Jeichien de Graaff confirmed that Ans Boersma, who was put on a plane back to the Netherlands, was a person of interest in an ongoing investigation into militant activity. “She is not personally believed to have been involved in a terrorist crime,” but rather someone relevant to a wider investigation into several suspects, Ms de Graaff said. She said Dutch authorities had not sought Boersma’s deportation. The newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad (FD), Boersma’s main employer, issued a statement saying she had been briefly questioned by Dutch police after her arrival at Schiphol Airport and then released.”


Military Times: Trump Still Poised For A Drawdown In Afghanistan After The Deadliest Year For US Troops Since 2014

“The Trump administration has been contemplating a massive change in the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan, as the war there enters a new year. In late December, U.S. defense officials confirmed reports that they were planning for the possibility of bringing home up to 7,00 of the roughly 14,000 U.S. troops currently serving in Afghanistan. And while there has been push back against President Donald Trump’s proposed drawdown, the president appears poised to follow through with those plans after a meeting with Republican lawmakers Wednesday. “In today’s meeting, he stood up for a strong America and steadfastly opposed foreign wars. Putting America First means declaring victory in Afghanistan and Syria," Sen. Rand Paul, a longtime critic of foreign military interventions, said in a statement after the meeting. If the change indeed goes through, it would come after the bloodiest year for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since the previous drawdown in 2014, when the U.S.-led coalition shifted to an advisory role under NATO’s Resolute Support mission. The death toll has been matched with increased airstrikes against insurgent forces that rival all other years on record.”

Xinhua: Afghan Army Says Infighting Between Taliban Commanders Kills 8 In W. Afghanistan

“Infighting between two Taliban commanders in Shindand district of the western Herat province had left eight fighters dead, the Afghan army said in a statement on Friday. The clash, according to the statement, erupted on Thursday afternoon between Mullah Najibullah and Mullah Nangialai, and lasted for several hours. As a result, eight fighters from both sides were killed and several others injured. The armed outfit has yet to make comment on the report. Taliban factions occasionally fight each other over leadership in parts of the militancy-plagued country.”

Xinhua: Taliban Attack Kills 7 Police In N. Afghanistan

“Seven police lost their lives and three others sustained injuries as Taliban militants attacked a security checkpoint in Zakhil area outside Kunduz city, capital of Afghanistan's northern Kunduz province on Friday, local police officer Abdul Qayum said. However, the official asserted that the militants fled after facing resistance and suffering casualties. Meanwhile, provincial police spokesman Inamudin Rahmani has confirmed the clash, but could not provide details. Taliban militants haven't commented.”


Voice Of America: Pakistan Trying To Arrange US-Taliban Meeting

“Pakistan has intensified efforts to keep the U.S.-led dialogue with the Afghan Taliban on track by attempting to arrange a meeting between the visiting chief American negotiator and insurgent representatives, highly placed sources told VOA Thursday. These official sources appeared confident about bringing the two sides to the table, but maintained that the responsibility for the "success or failure” of the fledgling Afghan peace process rests “exclusively” with the two negotiating sides. The caution comes as U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, landed in the Pakistani capital Thursday amid expectations a direct meeting could take place between his delegation and Taliban negotiators during his stay in the country. Prior to his departure Wednesday from Kabul, Khalilzad told reporters that talks with the Taliban will “happen very soon. That’s what we’re working toward.” He did not elaborate. Officials representing the insurgency were not available immediately to respond to queries about the latest developments. Official sources in Islamabad expected “important developments” in the coming days but would not share further details. “There is no room for missed opportunities” under the circumstances, they said.”


Asharq Al-Awsat: Head Of UN Monitor Team Survives Houthi Shooting In Hodeidah

“A United Nations report reaffirmed that the convoy moving retired Dutch General Patrick Cammaert, who is leading the current UN ceasefire monitor team, has arrived at its destination safely after having come under Houthi fire. A car was hit with one round as they returned to the city center from a meeting with a delegation from the legitimate Yemeni government, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Iran-backed Houthis militants don’t run a clean record when it comes to attacking UN officials, with its most stark assault being the admitted assassination attempt on the life of former UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh, who at the time of the attack was trying to reach their Yemen bastion, Sanaa. The attack, which took place in May 2017, was officially labeled as an assassination attempt and marked the last visit for Ould Cheikh to the coupist stronghold.”


Hamodia: Hezbollah At Heart Of Lebanon’s Financial Problems

“Lebanon has the terrorist organization Hezbollah to thank for much of the country’s financial problems. Financial strains in Lebanon have been brought into focus by turbulence on markets where its dollar-denominated sovereign bonds suffered a heavy sell-off last week following comments by the finance minister about the public debt. The bonds recovered this week on assurances the government is “absolutely not” planning to restructure the debt and is committed to paying its maturing debt and interest payments at predetermined dates. But the episode has added to debate about Lebanon’s debt sustainability after warnings from politicians, the IMF and World Bank over economic and financial conditions in a country that has suffered years of low economic growth. Lebanon’s factional politics has led to years of policy paralysis and obstructed reforms needed to boost investor confidence. More than eight months after an election, politicians have been unable to agree on a new government.”

Al Jazeera: Lebanon Summit Reveals Arab Divisions Over Syria, Iran

“As Lebanon prepares to host a regional economic summit this weekend, the meeting has been overshadowed by divisions over Syria's future and efforts to contain Iran. Having previously confirmed their attendance at the Arab Economic and Social Development summit in Beirut, many heads of state are now set to stay away. The emirs of Qatar and Kuwait will not attend, Egypt is planning to send the prime minister rather than the president, while the Palestinian Authority president has said he will be in New York. The snubs seem to be a message to Iran, whose allies, including Hezbollah, hold power in Lebanon and support the Syrian government. Iran's allies saw the talks as an opportunity to bring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad back into the Arab fold, eyeing an Arab League foreign minister-level meeting before the summit as a chance to hold a vote on Syria's reinstatement to the regional body.”

Times Of Israel: Top Fatah Official And Hezbollah Leader Meet In Lebanon

“Top Fatah and Palestine Liberation Organization official Azzam al-Ahmad met Deputy Hezbollah Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem in Lebanon, the official Palestinian Authority news site Wafa reported on Thursday. Senior Fatah and PLO officials do not frequently meet high-ranking Hezbollah leaders. The last known time Ahmad met a senior Hezbollah official was in late 2017, when he met Hassan Nasrallah, the terror group’s secretary-general. Both the United States and Israel consider Hezbollah to be a terrorist group. In their meeting, Ahmad and Qassem affirmed “the need to fight against the American-Israeli attempts to end the Palestinian national project,” the Wafa report said. Both the Palestinians and Hezbollah have recently been highly critical of the US and Israel’s policies regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since shortly after US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and initiated the relocation of the US embassy in the Jewish state to the city, PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared the Palestinians would no longer work with an American-dominated peace process and called for the establishment of a multilateral mechanism to replace it.”


ABC News: Militants Kidnap Christian Man In Egypt's Sinai Peninsula

“Islamic militants on Thursday kidnapped a Christian man traveling in a communal taxi in the turbulent north of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, according to security officials, an incident that raises the specter of renewed attacks on minority Christians in the region after a two-year lull. The officials did not identify the man, but said police pursued the kidnappers into the desert to which they fled after the incident, killing one of them and wounding two others in a firefight, but could not free the hostage. Two policemen were also wounded in the firefight, said the officials. There was no word on whether any of the other passengers traveling in the taxi, a minibus, were harmed, suggesting that the kidnapping of the Christian man could have been planned. The attack took place about 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of el-Arish, northern Sinai's largest city, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media. A spate of attacks on Christians in northern Sinai in late 2016 and early 2017 forced nearly 300 families to flee their homes there and find refuge elsewhere in Egypt. Those killed included a cleric, workers, a doctor and a merchant. The last Christian to be killed in Sinai was in January 2018, when militants gunned him down as he walked on the street in el-Arish.”


Channel Newsasia: Boko Haram Claims Attack On Northeast Nigerian Town Of Rann – Video

“Islamist insurgency Boko Haram has claimed it carried out Monday's attack on the northeast Nigerian town of Rann, according to a video released on Thursday by Nigerian journalist Ahmad Salkida. Reuters had originally reported that Islamic State West Africa (ISWA), an offshoot of Boko Haram that is now the dominant group, was responsible for the attack, citing sources. If Boko Haram's involvement is confirmed, it would mean that both ISWA and Boko Haram are able to overrun Nigerian military positions in the northeast. Major General Benson Akinroluyo told Reuters the video was recorded during the attack on Rann, but that troops are now on the ground, and that he had visited the town.”


The Washington Post: Deadly Nairobi Attack Comes As U.S. Military Ramps Up Airstrikes Against Al-Shabab In Somalia

“When the Somali extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for this week’s 19-hour siege of a Nairobi complex that left at least 21 dead, it said the attack was “a response to the witless remarks of U.S. president, Donald Trump, and his declaration of al-Quds [Jerusalem] as the capital of Israel.”  Most of the victims of the attack were Kenyan, and the effects of trauma, tightened security and economic losses will also be mostly felt by Kenyans. But al-Shabab’s stated reason for the attack is a reminder that it comes amid an escalation in its battle for survival against a growing number of U.S. airstrikes, which are supported by Kenya. The U.S. military’s unmanned drones, based in Somalia and neighboring countries, conducted 47 strikes in 2018, up from 31 in 2017, according to U.S. Africa Command. The most recent U.S. strike was Jan. 8, and several in December killed 62 al-Shabab fighters. The Trump administration has loosened the U.S. military’s rules of engagement in Somalia, allowing it to preemptively strike militants that may not pose an immediate threat to Americans or their allies. More than 300 al-Shabab fighters were killed in last year’s strikes.”

The Wall Street Journal: America’s Other Endless War: Battling Al-Shabaab In Somalia

“The U.S. commandos careened between grief and anger as Alex Conrad’s flag-draped coffin was hoisted onto the cargo plane. Al-Shabaab militants allied with al Qaeda had killed Staff Sgt. Conrad at a rudimentary outpost that American Green Berets built with help of the Somali army. Now, just as Sgt. Conrad’s comrades were sending him on his final trip home, they were grappling with more bad news. The Somali army had abandoned the outpost hours after the sergeant died. The Green Beret commander frantically called a senior Somali official. “We lost lives there,” the Green Beret said. “It’s not acceptable to give it back.” America’s war against al-Shabaab is one of the longest-running conflicts in U.S. history, simmering quietly for a dozen years in the desert landscape of the Horn of Africa. It has proven a frustrating mission with wins but no victory, setbacks but no defeat. Its limitations were apparent just this week, when al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an 18-hour siege that left at least 21 victims—including one American—and five attackers dead at a hotel-and-office complex in Nairobi, Kenya. Somalia is one in a series of American wars unleashed by the Sept. 11 attacks, from Afghanistan and Syria to Niger and Yemen.”

The Guardian: West Mustn’t Ignore Threat Of Al-Shabaab

“The massacre of 20-plus civilians by al-Shabaab fighters at a hotel in Nairobi (SAS hero is hailed as Kenyatta orders hunt for hotel terrorists, 17 January) is the third major attack on the Kenyan state within the last five years; two previous being the Westgate shopping mall (71 fatalities) and the Garissa University College (148 fatalities). While the official al-Shabaab explanation is that it is retaliatory action for Kenya’s military intervention in southern Somalia and its participation in Amisom, there is a masking of the broader al-Shabaab strategy. This is to destabilise the states neighbouring Somalia which have Somali-speaking minority populations, in order to establish a sharia-defined east African caliphate. You report that Kenya’s president said the country would “relentlessly pursue” the planners of the assault. The 2 million-plus ethnic Somali Kenyans (in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh, as well as Wajir, Mandera and Garissa counties) may well feel the heavy hand of the Kenyan security forces; the international community should counsel against this, in order not to alienate this important ethnic and religious segment of the Kenyan state. The threat of al-Shabaab can only be ignored by the west at its peril.”


Pulse Nigeria: How Africa Became The Hotbed For Terrorism

“While the global terrorism index reported that deaths from terrorism fell by about 27% in 2017, Nigeria was still ranked third on the list of most terrorized countries with a score of 8.660. Other Africans in the top 20 are Somalia and Egypt with a score of 8.020 and 7.345 respectively. The drop from the Global Terrorism Index released in December 2018 continues the trend of consistent dwindling of terrorism deaths since 2014. The reason for the welcome dwindling in numbers is the result of ISIL’s continuing decline. The index reports that, “The number of deaths from terrorist attacks attributed to ISIL fell by 52 per cent in 2017, with total incidents falling by 22 per cent.  “There was a corresponding decrease in the lethality of attacks, highlighting the weakening capacity of the organization. ISIL has now lost most of its territory and sources of revenue and is actively redirecting resources away from the Middle East and into North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia.” The shift of base to Africa is highlighted in how Somalia and Egypt recorded the largest increases in the number of deaths from terrorism in 2017. The index reports that, “In Somalia, Al-Shabaab was responsible for the single largest terrorist attack in 2017, when a truck bomb detonated outside a hotel, killing 587 people.”

The Economist: Another Terrorist Outrage In Nairobi

“Kenya has a reputation, often deserved, for being among Africa’s most successful states. Yet its vulnerability to terrorism has long been a weakness. So there was universal dismay, but little surprise, when jihadist gunmen attacked a hotel and office complex in one of Nairobi’s most affluent districts on JanuaryTop of FormBottom of Form 15th. At least five gunmen forced their way past a security barrier at the 14 Riverside complex, in the suburb of Westlands, in mid-afternoon. One reportedly blew himself up. Others ran through the grounds firing automatic weapons and lobbing grenades. Late lunchers were killed in their seats at a restaurant near the entrance. Office workers and hotel guests hid where they could, as the killers prowled the corridors. “They were literally hunting us, banging on doors and calling us to come out,” said a researcher who cowered in an office loo. Kenyan security forces rescued hundreds and killed the gunmen. But at least 21 people died, according to official figures. Nairobi has been here before. In September 2013 gunmen unleashed slaughter at the Westgate shopping mall, barely a mile away, killing 67 people. Al-Shabab, a Somali group of jihadists linked to al-Qaeda, have claimed responsibility for both attacks; retaliation, they say, for a Kenyan incursion into Somalia.”

France 24: 'White Man' Found Shot Dead In Burkina's Jihadist-Hit North

“The body of a "white man with gunshot wounds" has been found in a northern region of Burkina Faso where jihadists have carried out attacks, a security official told AFP Thursday. The body was found late on Wednesday in Siega in Soum province, "and is being taken to Dori for identification," the source said.  Last month, 34-year-old Canadian aid worker Edith Blais, was reported missing with an Italian friend, Lucas Tacchetto, 30, as they were travelling between the western town of Bobo-Dioulasso and the capital Ouagadougou.  Separately, Canadian geologist Kirk Woodman was kidnapped from a gold mine in the east of the country late on Tuesday. His abductors were last seen heading towards neighbouring Niger, a direction that would not have taken them through Soum, officials said. Burkina Faso lies in the heart of the vast Sahel region, which is struggling with a bloody Islamist insurgency. The region turned into a hotbed of violent extremism and lawlessness after chaos engulfed Libya in 2011. An Islamist insurgency began in northern Mali, while Boko Haram rose in northern Nigeria.”


Arab News: French Military To Continue Fight Against Daesh In Levant: Macron

“President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday the death of four Americans in Syria this week showed that the battle against Daesh militants would continue and he vowed that France would keep its troops in the region this year. "The announced withdrawal of our American ally should not deflect us from our strategic objective to eradicate Daesh", Macron said in a speech in Toulouse to the armed forces. Citing the death of 16 people, including four Americans, in a suicide bombing in Manbij, Syria, near the border with Turkey, Macron said the next few months would be decisive. "We will remain militarily engaged in the Levant in the international coalition over the coming year," he said.”


Reuters: Brussels Jewish Museum Shooting Suspect Refuses To Testify

“A Frenchman accused of killing four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels refused to answer questions in court on Tuesday, his lawyer said, at a trial regarded by prosecutors as the first over an attack by a European former fighter in Syria. Highlighting the threat posed by returning Islamist fighters, Mehdi Nemmouche, 33, faces life in prison over the shooting in May 2014 after returning from the war in Syria. Nemmouche has admitted to carrying a Kalashnikov, a revolver and ammunition similar to that used in the shooting, weaponry that was displayed in the court room on Tuesday. His lawyer, however, told the jury that he did not pull the trigger in the attack that killed an Israeli couple and two museum staff, Belgian public broadcaster RTBF said. His defense lawyer alleged the camera footage of the shooting used by prosecutors was faked and blamed the shooting on Israel’s Mossad spy agency. Nemmouche, who appeared alongside his alleged accomplice in court, said he would not take the stand because witnesses who could have spoken in his favor were not allowed to appear.”

Latin America

The Independent: Bogota Explosion: Nine Dead And Dozens Injured After Car Bomb Attack At Police Station In Colombia Capital

“At least nine people have been killed and dozens injured after a car bomb exploded at a police station in Bogota, Colombia's capital. Ambulances and helicopters rushed to the General Santander national police academy, the normaly tightly-guarded target of the attack.  Images posted on social media showed a charred and burning vehicle surrounded by debris. The police barracks buildings nearby are pockmarked with damage from the blast and have shattered windows. The death toll, reported by the defence ministry, currently stands at nine, and the Bogota health ministry said a further 54 people were injured. Residents of Bogota have been asked to donate blood at four points across the capital to help doctors treating the scores of wounded. No-one has yet claimed responsibility for today’s bombing, but leftist rebels from the National Liberation Army group have stepped up attacks on police in Colombia in recent months as peace talks with the president Ivan Duque have stalled.  Last week the ELN rejected Mr Duque’s demands for a unilateral ceasefire before negotiations in Havana resume. The Cuban-inspired insurgency had been a minor player but stepped up its operations after the main guerilla group, FARC, disarmed in 2016.”


France 24: Islamic State Woman Found Guilty Of Terror Crimes In Canada

“A Canadian jury found a woman guilty Thursday of terror crimes for trying to join the Islamic State group and in its name attacking staff at a Toronto-area department store two years ago. Rehab Dughmosh, who was arrested in June 2017 when she was 32, was found guilty of four counts of leaving the country for the purpose of joining a terror group, assaults with a golf club and a butcher knife, and carrying an archery bow. According to court documents cited by Canadian media, she attempted to fly to Syria in April 2016 to join the IS group, and when that failed returned home and plotted the mall attack. Her plans to go to Syria were thwarted by Turkish officials tipped off by her brother. At the time, Dughmosh claimed that she was just trying to visit family, although she admitted after her arrest that she had intended to travel to join IS. The court heard that Dughmosh admitted to pledging her allegiance to the Islamic State group, and on the day in question packed bags with weapons, including a hammer, barbecue skewers, straws tipped with screws and a child's shovel made into claws. She also hid the knife and bow in her robe. But on her way out of her apartment she ran into her estranged husband, who confiscated the bags. He reportedly did not know about the concealed weapons.”

Vice: ISIS Fighter From ‘Caliphate’ Says The RCMP Is De-Radicalizing Him

“Amidst the backdrop of a continuing war against ISIS—which has lost most of its territory in Syria but remains an international terror threat—countries around the globe are still contending with what to do with the former militants who return home. But one infamous Canadian ISIS fighter, who once slipped back into Canada undetected, claims western citizens worried about ex-militants like himself have nothing to fear.  “We all want to put the bad things we've done behind us, not be belittled for it,” said the Toronto-area resident and university student going by the jihadi nom de guerre Abu Huzaifa al-Kanadi. “I know it may sound weird but listening to us, hearing us out... because we all want to move forward.” Huzaifa, who made international headlines after an in-depth podcast series, “Caliphate”, released last year by the New York Times focused on his experiences fighting for ISIS in Syria, now claims federal police are actively working to help reintegrate him back into Canadian society. Canadian politicians have hotly debated whether Justin Trudeau’s government is ensuring Canadian law enforcement are properly handling the threat of its returnees, with official government numbers putting them at just under 60 with an additional 190 still abroad.”

Southeast Asia

SF Gate: Indonesian Presidential Candidates Debate Corruption, Terrorism

“Indonesian President Joko Widodo pledged to intensify the fight against corruption through merit-based political appointments in the first presidential debate as his challenger Prabowo Subianto mooted higher pay for bureaucrats to tackle the menace seen as hindering the country's development. Seeking to win over swing voters, Widodo, known as Jokowi, defended his track record on corruption, terrorism, law reform and human rights in Thursday's presidential debate, while Prabowo pitched for a decisive administration to tackle corruption and threats from home-grown and foreign terror groups. Although the economy has taken the center-stage in the election campaign, sporadic terrorist attacks and allegations of human rights violations from Papua to Aceh have marked Jokowi's tenure, allowing his challenger to project himself as a strongman capable of tackling these issues more effectively. Jokowi's approval rating is at 53.2 percent, compared with 34.1 percent for Prabowo, according to a survey by Charta Politika released on Wednesday. The incumbent, a former furniture businessman and the first non-elite to occupy the presidential office, led his rival by 20 points in a December survey by Indikator Politik Indonesia.”


The New York Times: Facebook Advertising Profiles Are A Mystery To Most Users, Survey Says

“The scrutiny of Facebook’s collection and use of consumer data in recent years has prompted the tech giant to repeatedly defend its efforts around transparency and privacy. But about three-fourths of Facebook users were unaware that the company lists their personal traits and interests for advertisers on its site, according to a study published by the Pew Research Center on Wednesday. Half of the users who looked at the Facebook page with that data — known as their “Ad Preferences” — said they were not comfortable with the company’s compiling that information. Pew conducted a nationally representative survey of 963 American adults with Facebook accounts between Sept. 4 and Oct. 1 of last year. While consumers have learned more in recent years about how they are targeted for online ads, the study suggests that many still do not know how much of their behavior is tracked, where it is compiled or even that Facebook has a page that lists all of that information. Pew focused on Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, because it “plays an incredibly important role in the media ecosystem of the world,” said Lee Rainie, Pew’s director of internet and technology research.”