Eye on Extremism: January 19, 2022

The Hill: US Sanctions Lebanese Tourism Company, Hezbollah Members For Ties To Terrorism

“The Biden administration on Tuesday issued sanctions against a Lebanese travel company and three businessmen for financially supporting Hezbollah, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization based in Lebanon.  Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the sanctions designation was carried out “in solidarity with the Lebanese people, whose security and sovereignty remains threatened by Hizballah’s corrupt and destabilizing activities.” The sanctions target the business Dar Al Salam for Travel & Tourism and three of its founders, Adel Diab, Ali Mohamad Daoun, and Jihad Salem Alame. The Treasury Department said all three men are members of Hezbollah and have “materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of” Hezbollah. “With this action, Treasury is disrupting businessmen who raise and launder funds for Hizballah’s destabilizing activities while the Lebanese people face worsening economic and humanitarian crises,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in a statement. “Hizballah claims it supports the Lebanese people, but just like other corrupt actors in Lebanon that Treasury has designated, Hizballah continues to profit from insulated business ventures and backdoor political deals, amassing wealth that the Lebanese people never see.”

Associated Press: Al-Shabab Claims Deadly Bombing Near Somali Military Camp

“At least four people were killed and 10 others wounded in Somalia’s capital when a man in an explosive vest detonated at a teashop opposite a Somali military training camp on Tuesday, the Somali National News Agency reports. The teashop in Mogadishu is frequented by new recruits from the Nacnaca training camp. The extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, saying via its Andalus radio station that it targeted a “Turkish training camp for Somali militias.” Turkey has a much larger, heavily fortified military training camp for the Somali army not far away from the Nacnaca camp. In October, a suicide bomber targeted the same area, killing at least 10 people.”

United States

NBC News: Texas Synagogue Hostage-Taker Was Known To U.K. Intelligence Before He Flew To U.S.

“A British man who held four people hostage at a synagogue in Texas on Saturday was known to U.K. intelligence, a British security source told NBC News. Malik Faisal Akram, 44, was probed over suspected terrorist links, but the case was closed by the time he traveled to the United States because it didn’t meet the threshold for further investigation, the security source said. Akram was named by the FBI as the gunman in the more than 10-hour standoff at Congregation Beth Israel that culminated in the hostages escaping unharmed before he was killed by federal agents. Akram, who is from Lancashire in northwest England, was the subject of a short, low-level investigation by the U.K.'s MI5 domestic intelligence agency in the second half of 2020, the security source said. It lasted over a month and was based on information that he may have been involved in Islamist terrorism, the source added. When there was no indication of a terrorist threat, the source said, Akram joined approximately 40,000 other closed “subjects of interest” in Britain who have been investigated but not found to be plotting terrorist attacks. The U.K.'s Home Office declined to comment, citing an ongoing police investigation. The news was first reported by the BBC.”

The Hill: FBI, DHS Warn Faith-Based Communities Will Likely Remain Targets For Violence

“A Monday letter from top officials in the FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned that faith-based groups are likely to remain targets of violence. “Faith based communities have and will likely continue to be targets of violence by both domestic violent extremists and those inspired by foreign terrorists,” FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate and John D. Cohen, who is the top intelligence official at DHS, said in the letter, which was obtained by CNN. The letter also said online platforms linked with domestic violent extremism had discussed Jewish targets in connection with conspiracy theories about the pandemic, the results of the 2020 election and “even the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and resettlement of Afghans to the United States,” according to CNN. The letter comes shortly after several hostages were held for hours at Congregation Beth Israel, a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, over the weekend before one was released and the other three escaped. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also said on Sunday that DHS would work alongside Congress to increase funding to allow faith-based groups to enhance their security and provide more protection against terrorism, hate crimes and targeted violence, CNN reported.”

Syria

Al Monitor: Syrian Jihadist Leader In Western Wear, Opens Road In Idlib

“Unlike all other leaders of extremist organizations, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani attended a public event in Idlib, displaying zero concerns about being targeted by the international coalition warplanes that pursue extremist leaders in northern Syria. On Jan. 7, Golani participated in the opening of the Aleppo-Bab al-Hawa road alongside the prime minister of the HTS-affiliated Syrian Salvation Government, Ali Keda. The project is the government’s first major project carried out in areas outside the control of the Syrian government. Golani appeared in public wearing modern clothes, which raised questions on social media. Many believed his outfit was an attempt to come across as “moderate,” although HTS was previously known as al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra. The group is designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the UN Security Council. This isn't Golani's first attempt at a makeover. In June last year, he did a television interview with American journalist Martin Smith of PBS in a blue suit rather than his usual robes. Photos from the road opening went viral, showing Golani standing next to Keda in the city of Sarmada, 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Idlib.”

Iran

Al Monitor: Iran Tries Arab Dissident For Terrorism

“A “Revolutionary” court in Tehran opened the trial of Habib Chaab, the leader of a foreign-based pan-Arab movement, on terror-related charges. Reading out the indictment in the Jan. 18 session, a prosecutor accused Chaab of “corruption on earth,” a charge in Iran’s Islamic penal code that is punishable by the death penalty. The indictment was based on Chaab’s alleged role in “masterminding and carrying out terrorist operations” in a campaign “to fight the Islamic Republic establishment.”  Chaab, also identified as Asyud, is believed to have been one of the founders of an Arab opposition group, known by such names as Al-Nidhal, Al-Ahwaziyah and the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz, which advocates independence for the Arab minority in Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province. The trial largely focused on a September 2018 attack by several gunmen who ambushed an Iran Army Day parade in the city of Ahvaz, leaving at least 25 people dead. Iranian authorities have blamed the attack on Chaab’s movement, a charge the group has denied. The first session was adjourned without the defendant given a chance to speak to the court. Wearing a prison uniform, the bearded Chaab was seated facing the photo of one of the children killed in the 2018 attack.”

Iraq

Asharq Al-Awsat: Anticipating Militia Attacks, Iraqi Security On Maximum Alert In Baghdad

“Iraqi security authorities have announced a state of maximum alert as they anticipate armed attacks in Baghdad and other cities. Hours after the visit of the commander of the Iranian “Quds Force,” Ismail Qaani, armed factions held several meetings to discuss “mechanisms to stop Muqtada al-Sadr’s project of forming a majority government without them.” “The Iraqi forces received orders to deploy in separate areas, according to the rules of engagement,” an Iraqi officer who requested anonymity told Asharq Al-Awsat. Meanwhile, three Shiite factions’ leaders confirmed holding separate meetings in military headquarters, without mentioning any details about their outcomes. Later, multiple political sources said that leading figures in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards joined Qaani in Baghdad to meet with leaders in the Coordination Framework. These meetings aim to unify the Shiite house after the recent row between the Coordination Framework and the Sadrist movement. Iraq might for the first time in years get a government that excludes Iran-backed parties if Sadr, who dominated the recent election, keeps his word, say Iraqi politicians, government officials and independent analysts. Meetings mounted by Iranian officials in Iraq are taking place with a pragmatic motive to adapt to the accelerating transformations led by Sadr.”

Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal: Taliban Intensify Efforts To Take Control Of Afghanistan’s Overseas Embassies

“Five months after the Taliban seized Kabul, Afghanistan’s new rulers are stepping up their campaign to gain control of the country’s embassies abroad, most of which continue to be run by diplomats appointed by the former, U.S.-backed government. No foreign capital has formally recognized the Taliban. And nearly all of the country’s 65 diplomatic missions still fly the flag of the fallen Afghan republic—though after the Aug. 15 flight of former President Ashraf Ghani from Kabul, they have no government to represent. The Taliban recently dispatched an envoy to the United Nations, but the global body declined to accept him. The diplomat, Suhail Shaheen, protested, saying Afghanistan’s seat should be held by “the current government in Afghanistan, which has sovereignty and writ all over the country.” In other places, the Taliban are trying a less direct approach. In China, where the ambassador of the former government has resigned, the Taliban are angling to have an ally become the de facto head of the embassy. In Italy, a pro-Taliban diplomat tried to enter the embassy, but was blocked by the ambassador, an appointee of the Afghan republic, in a confrontation that ended in a fist fight and intervention by the Italian police.”

The Washington Post: How To Help Afghans Without Aiding The Taliban

“In Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, aid groups are overwhelmed by the starving. More than half the population, the United Nations has warned, won’t get enough to eat this winter. The biggest problem isn’t a lack of food. Rather, it’s the disappearance of what had been the lifeblood of the Afghan economy — Western cash. As fears of a humanitarian disaster mount, the West faces a desperate dilemma: Can it help Afghans without aiding the Taliban? The answer depends on your definition of “aid.” But a range of creative solutions are circulating — with some already being put to use — that could begin to address warnings from relief agencies that Western sanctions on the Taliban are hurting the Afghan people. Since the fall of Kabul in August, the Taliban — unrecognized and under sanctions by the United States and European Union — have been barred from accessing $10 billion in Afghan government funds, mostly frozen in the U.S. Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, flows of foreign aid — once used to cover the majority of public expenditures — have slowed to a trickle. The result is a convergence of financial woes that take the troubles of a poverty-stricken, war-torn country, mixes them with the hardships faced by U.S.-sanctioned states like Iran and Venezuela, then piles on the dire experience of a nation like Argentina during its catastrophic debt default and banking crisis.”

Pakistan

Voice Of America: Taliban Militants Claim Responsibility For Rare Attack In Pakistan’s Capital

“The outlawed Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility Tuesday for a rare overnight attack in Islamabad that killed a police officer and wounded two others. Police officials said two gunmen riding a motorcycle opened fire on a security checkpoint near one of the city’s busy markets late on Monday. They say the ensuing shootout killed both the assailants. “The gunfire by terrorists martyred a police officer while two others were wounded,” said a police statement. Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed condemned the gun attack as an act of terrorism. “We have received a kind of signal that terrorist incidents have started happening in Islamabad,” local media quoted Ahmed as telling reporters after attending the funeral prayers of the slain police officer. The Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on Twitter and confirmed the killing of its two gunmen involved in it. The TTP has increased attacks in Pakistan, particularly since early December when a 30-day ceasefire between the militants and the government expired. Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban had brokered the truce to try to pave the way for substantive peace talks between the two adversaries.”

Financial Times: Taliban Victory Unleashes Hardline Forces In Pakistan

“Groups of Taliban fighters, dressed in the group’s usual assortment of military fatigues and shawls, have massed on Afghanistan’s long and arid southern border with Pakistan. The Durand Line, a 19th century boundary demarcated by British imperialists, is fiercely rejected by many on both sides of the border for carving up the traditional lands of the Pashtun people, tens of millions of whom live on either side. In a series of choreographed, well-publicised incidents, Taliban fighters dismantled poles and barbed wire erected by Pakistan, accompanied by denunciations from their leaders. In one video, local fighters appeared to topple a pillar emblazoned with the Pakistani flag and rolled it down a sandy hill. Pakistan has long been one of the Taliban’s most important advocates, from openly supporting its regime before 2001 to allegedly providing a haven to the group during the US war. Prime Minister Imran Khan welcomed the Islamists’ military conquest in August and has lobbied for more international assistance for its government. Yet the Taliban’s victory has unleashed a wave of hardline forces that Khan’s government is struggling to control, on and within Pakistan’s borders.”

Yemen

Arab News: Houthi Terror Chief Among 20 Killed As Coalition Strikes Back

“A Houthi terrorist chief was one of about 20 people killed on Tuesday when airstrikes by the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen struck militia targets in Sanaa. Abdullah Qassim Al-Junaid, the head of the Iran-backed militia’s aviation academy, had been sentenced to death in his absence by a court in Marib last year on charges of staging a military coup and committing war crimes. Tuesday’s airstrikes targeting Houthi camps and strongholds in the Yemeni capital were the heaviest in nearly three years. They followed a Houthi drone attack on Monday on an oil storage depot on the outskirts of UAE capital Abu Dhabi, in which three people died, and the launch of eight armed drones from Yemen to Saudi Arabia, which the Kingdom’s air defenses intercepted and destroyed. After Monday’s drone strike the UAE said it reserved the right to respond to “terrorist attacks and criminal escalation,” and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan agreed in a phone call to “jointly stand up to these acts of aggression.” The US vowed to hold the Houthis accountable for the attack, which was also condemned by the UN, the EU, Britain and France, and throughout the Gulf and the wider Middle East, including Israel.”

The National: Houthi Terror Attack: What Drones Do The Terrorists Have?

“After Monday’s terrorist attack against the UAE, which killed three people and wounded six, international attention is once again focused on low-cost drones: how to stop them, and how to prevent their acquisition by terror groups. This follows the UAE's announcement that drones were a suspected method behind the attack, but an investigation is ongoing. Explosive drones, or the “loitering munitions” suspected in this case, have become a challenge to advanced militaries around the world. But what exactly are these weapons, frequently used by the Houthis and other Iran-backed groups to attack Saudi Arabia and Iraq? Iran has proliferated unmanned aircraft originally designed for target practice in the 1980s. They typically have a rear-mounted “pusher propeller” system and are constructed from cheap material, sometimes including wooden components. As cameras evolved, drones such as Iran’s Ababil were used for reconnaissance, but in recent years the flimsy looking planes have been rigged with bombs and are sometimes referred to as “Kamikaze drones”. Notoriously, they were used in an attack that shocked the world at Abqaiq in Saudi Arabia in September 2019, when critical oil infrastructure was destroyed.”

Middle East

The Cipher Brief: The Economics Driving Security In The Middle East

“The Cipher Brief welcomes former National Intelligence Manager for Iran, ODNI, and Cipher Brief Expert Norm Roule for a virtual briefing on the economics affecting the situation in the Middle East. Norman T. Roule served for 34 years in the Central Intelligence Agency, managing numerous programs relating to Iran and the Middle East. He served as the National Intelligence Manager for Iran (NIM-I) at the ODNI from November 2008 until September 2017. As NIM-I, he was the principal Intelligence Community (IC) official responsible for overseeing all aspects of national intelligence policy and activities related to Iran, to include IC engagement on Iran issues with senior policy makers in the National Security Council and the Department of State. Mr. Roule currently serves as a Senior Adviser to the Counter Extremism Project and United Against Nuclear Iran.”

Nigeria

Premium Times Nigeria: 220 People Killed, 200 Kidnapped In Niger State Between January 1 & 17 – Governor

“At least 220 people have been killed in attacks on about 300 communities in Niger State this year, the state governor has said. Governor Sani Bello said this while addressing journalists after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House in Abuja. “In January this year alone, we suffered not less than 50 reported attacks and loss of lives, between 1st and 17th January. Within the same period, not less than 300 communities have been invaded by bandits. “The number of people kidnapped is 200, including three Chinese nationals. We also lost some security personnel. Their number is 25. Unfortunately, we lost about 165 civilians and 30 local vigilantes. So, it’s a very dire situation that we have been battling in the last few weeks since the beginning of this year,” Mr Bello said. Mr Bello suggested that the terror groups carrying out the attacks operate not only in Niger State but also in other nearby states. “What I realize is that they have been taking us on a merry-go-round. When we deal with them in Niger, they move to Kaduna. When Kaduna deals with them, they move to Katsina. They have been hibernating in the forest. Some of these operations need to be handled simultaneously so that we get the result. “We are not happy and we are sad with the developments in these states.”

Africa

France 24: Four French Soldiers Injured In Burkina Faso Bomb Blast, Says Army

“Four French soldiers were wounded in an improvised explosive device blast in northern Burkina Faso, France's military told AFP Tuesday evening. “(Their) off-road vehicle activated an IED as it left Ouahigouya airport,” the army said in a statement, adding the unit was part of the Barkhane operation, Paris' deployment in the Sahel against a jihadist insurgency. Four soldiers were wounded, including one seriously, the army said, with the group either evacuated to Mali or France for those in a more serious condition. Burkina Faso has been struggling with jihadist attacks since 2015, when militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group began mounting cross-border raids from Mali. More than 2,000 people have died, according to an AFP toll. The flashpoint “tri-border” area is frequently targeted by Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM) with deadly attacks against civilians and soldiers. The French army has killed several high-ranking members of ISGS since the start of its military intervention in Mali in 2013. But in June last year, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a major scaleback in the Barkhane mission to refocus on counter-terrorism operations and supporting local forces.”

The Irish Times: Mozambique: Better Co-Ordination Needed To Tackle Islamist Insurgency – Experts

“The two international forces helping Mozambique to tackle an Islamist insurgency in its northern provinces need to better co-ordinate their operations to bring the deadly conflict under control, security experts have said. Southern African leaders have agreed to extend a regional military mission in Mozambique’s war-torn north, citing the “significant progress” its troops had made against the Islamist militants terrorising Cabo Delgado province since 2017. Following a Southern African Development Community (SADC) security summit in Malawi last week, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa hailed the regional military mission for “neutralising” the insurgents, saying life was beginning to return to normal in the resource-rich province. Known locally as Al-Shabaab (“the youth”), the militants have aligned themselves with the international terror group Islamic State, also known as Isis, and are seeking to establish a caliphate in the region. The SADC mission in Mozambique (Samim), which was deployed in August, comprises special forces from Lesotho, Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania. The decision by SADC to extend its mission by at least three months came days after Rwanda signed an agreement with Mozambique to expand their military cooperation, which also began last year.”

United Kingdom

The Independent: Lisa Smith Bid To Have Terror Charges Dismissed To Continue On Wednesday

“A legal bid by former Irish Defence Forces member Lisa Smith to have terror-related charges against her dropped will continue at the Special Criminal Court on Wednesday. Co Louth woman Smith, 39, is accused of being a member of so-called Islamic State (IS) and financing terrorism. A pre-trial application, brought under section 4.e of the Criminal Procedure Act, to have the case against her thrown out is expected to conclude on Wednesday. The defence, led by Michael O’Higgins SC, made an application on Monday for the case to be dismissed on the grounds there is not sufficient evidence to convict her on any of the charges. Sean Gillane SC for the prosecution has maintained there is enough evidence to proceed. The hearing was adjourned on Tuesday and will resume on Wednesday at 10.30am at the SCC. The details of Tuesday’s hearing cannot be reported on by the media. If the application is not successful, the trial will go ahead and is likely to last for 12 weeks. Ms Smith has appeared in court throughout the application, arriving on Tuesday in a dark coat and black face covering. The case received widespread attention in 2019 when it emerged that Smith, a former Air Corps soldier who had worked on the Government jet, had been detained in Syria over alleged links to IS.”

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On May 23, 2016, two suicide bombings at a military base in Aden, Yemen, killed at least 45 army recruits and injured approximately 60 people. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.   

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