Eye on Extremism: January 3, 2022

The Washington Post: Taliban Cracks Down On More Rights While Demanding Western Aid

“Even as they appeal to the world to release frozen humanitarian aid funds and bank accounts, Taliban officials are taking new actions to restrict women’s freedoms and dismantle democratic institutions — defying the top two international concerns that have kept most foreign aid at bay as a cold winter looms for millions of destitute Afghans. Over the past week, the powerful ministry for Islamic guidance has issued rules requiring women to fully cover their heads if they ride in a public taxi and to be accompanied by a male relative if they travel more than 45 miles. The instructions also require cabdrivers to refuse to carry female passengers who do not comply and to stop playing music while driving because it is “un-Islamic.” In the western city of Herat, officials at the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice ordered all clothing shops to remove the heads of display mannequins, or face punishment. The officials said they are defined as “statues,” which must not be worshipped under Islam. During the previous era of Taliban rule, animal and human heads were obliterated from images. In the political arena, Taliban spokesmen announced the shutdown of two national election oversight commissions and two cabinet ministries.”

Reuters: Somalia's Al Shabaab Fighters Kill At Least 7 In Attack Near Capital

“Fighters from Somalia's al Shabaab militant group attacked a town north of the capital, Mogadishu, on Thursday, killing at least seven people as they battled government security forces, a resident and police said. The attack happened amid a political dispute between Somalia’s president and prime minister which its international partners worry has distracted the government from the fight against the insurgents. Police and residents in Balad, 30 km (18 miles) north of Mogadishu, said fighters from the al Qaeda-linked group attacked and overran government forces guarding a bridge at a town entrance early in the morning. “We were in a mosque praying when a heavy exchange of gunfire took place at the bridge. Al Shabaab thus captured the town, overrunning the soldiers at the bridge,” Hassan Nur, a shopkeeper in Balad, an agricultural town that links Somalia's Middle Shabelle region to Lower Shabelle, told Reuters by telephone. “There were few police forces in the town. (The police) were missing. When the firing started people ran into their houses. I counted five dead soldiers and two civilian women,” he said. Police captain Farah Ali said the fighters stayed briefly in the town after the attack but then left.”

United States

The Washington Post: Prosecutors Break Down Charges, Convictions For 725 Arrested So Far In Jan. 6 Attack On U.S. Capitol

“Federal prosecutors in the District have charged more than 725 individuals with various crimes in connection with the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection, when hundreds of rioters forced their way into the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. attorney’s office said Friday. As the country nears the first anniversary of the storming of the Capitol, the U.S. attorney’s office in the District, the largest office of federal prosecutors in the nation, released a breakdown of the arrests and convictions associated with the attack. Of those arrested, 225 people were charged with assault or resisting arrest. More than 75 of those were charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon against police officers. The office said 140 police officers, including Capitol officers and members of the D.C. police department, were victimized during the attack. The office said about 10 individuals were charged with assaulting members of the media or destroying their equipment. Some 640 people were charged with entering a restricted federal building or its grounds. And another 75 were charged with entering a restricted area with a deadly weapon. Prosecutors in the office have been working with the FBI as well as prosecutors in various locations around the nation. The office said the individuals arrested come from nearly all 50 states. One person, 35-year-old Ashli Babbitt of California, was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to breach a set of doors deep in the Capitol during the riot.”

WTOP News: The Hunt: What To Expect From Domestic Terrorists In The US In 2022

“In this week’s episode of “The Hunt, with WTOP National Security Correspondent J.J. Green,” Dr. Hans Jakob Schindler, Sr. Director of the Counter Extremism Project, says Americans need to realize that domestic terrorism doesn’t operate in a bubble.”

Syria

The Washington Post: Former Al-Qaeda Affiliate In Syria Seeks To Soften Its Brand

“The Islamist militants attacked the radio station for years, because it played music, because it hired women, because its liberal values posed a challenge to Syria’s zealous men with guns. Lately, though, the attacks on the station have stopped, and its tormentor — a militant group once affiliated with al-Qaeda called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham — is trying to convince Syrians and the world it is no longer as radical or repressive as it once was. The group, also referred to as HTS, gained notoriety a decade ago as the most formidable Islamist rebel formation trying to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The organization came to represent the dark forces metastasizing during Syria’s civil war: a jihadist movement that drew extremist fighters from around the world and sought to establish an Islamic state. Now the group says its focus has shifted to providing services to millions of people in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province through a fledgling government. It severed ties with al-Qaeda five years ago and says it is cracking down on other extremist groups. The founder of HTS, a veteran jihadist once seemingly ubiquitous in military fatigues, these days is photographed wearing suits. “That faction that used to harass us is trying to show people that they are moderate,” said Abdullah Klido, the chief executive of the radio station, called Radio Fresh.”

The National: UN Investigators Focus On ISIS Terror Camps In Hunt For $50m War Chest

“…Director of the Counter Extremism Project Hans-Jakob Schindler, who worked in the UN Security Council unit that monitors ISIS and Al Qaeda, told The National he believes the terror group's treasury structure still exists despite having diminished. “During the existence of the ISIS's physical caliphate, there was of course a whole administrative structure dealing with money coming in and being spent by the organisation,” he said. “This structure had overlapping responsibilities to ensure that money was not stolen from the organisation. Despite this, some ISIS leaders had actually managed to get some money out of the treasury for themselves.  “Therefore, it seems very likely that ISIS maintains some organised central structure that deals with money even now that the physical side of things is no longer existing. As pointed out by the UN Security Council's monitoring team, the organisation continues to have quite substantial assets and therefore it will need some organisational framework to ensure that these assets are protected and managed.” Mr Schindler said there are still financial flows into the camps containing ISIS fighters and their families from supporters outside the camps that is then handed over to the terror group. “This is of course not a massive amount of income for ISIS but it is one of the financial streams that it still has,” he said.”

Iraq

AFP: Iraq: 20 Civilians Found Dead After Stand-Off With Suspected Terrorist

“Iraqi security forces have launched an investigation into the deaths of 20 civilians during an operation to capture two terrorist suspects on Thursday. The tragedy occurred in Rashayed village in the central province of Babylon, just south of Baghdad, when special forces and intelligence officers prepared to raid the home of one of the suspects, a security source told AFP. Security forces “pursued two individuals accused of terrorism”, a security force statement said. “After surrounding him he opened fire indiscriminately at the forces.” State news agency INA reported that the mission was taken to arrest “wanted people hiding in a house, the owner of which opened fire on the security forces”. “Upon entering the house when the owner refused to surrender, the unit found that all members of his family, numbering 20 civilians, had died,” the agency reported. An intelligence source told AFP that the suspect was a member of ISIS. Iraq proclaimed victory against ISIS in late 2017 after reclaiming parts of northern and western regions seized by the extremist group in 2014. A low-level ISIS insurgency, particularly in the north, continues to disrupt efforts to restore stability to Iraq, which is scarred by years of warfare and unrest.”

Kurdistan 24: Iraq Still Needs Coalition Air Support Against ISIS: Military Spokesperson

“Following the agreed conclusion of the US-led coalition's combat mission in Iraq in December, the country still needs supporting coalition airstrikes to combat ISIS, Iraqi military spokesperson Yehia Rasool said on Friday. The Iraqi military needs support “especially in the air force, air defense, army aviation and intelligence system fields,” Rasool told the Arabic-language publication Al-Araby Al-Jadeed. Iraq also needs continued coalition airstrikes against ISIS remnants on the border with Syria, he added. The Arabic publication also quoted the commander of the Iraqi ground forces Lieutenant-General Qassem Muhammad al-Muhammadi, who said that ISIS remnants pose the most serious threat in Diyala province. He also said that most airstrikes against ISIS are carried out by Iraqi Air Force F-16 jets. However, he pointed out that the coalition monitors ISIS activity on the international border. The Iraqi Air Force regularly targets ISIS remnants with its F-16s along with its Su-25 and L-159 attack planes. The coalition frequently highlights such strikes to showcase the Iraqi Air Force's capabilities. “Tremendous progress achieved by Iraqi airpower & ground forces has crippled Daesh (ISIS) ability to resurge,” tweeted the official account of the coalition on Dec. 27 after Iraqi F-16s and L-159s targeted suspected ISIS caves and hideouts in the Hamrin Mountain in Diyala province.”

Turkey

Asharq Al-Awsat: Turkey Apprehends 30 Suspected ISIS Terrorists

“Turkey's security forces have arrested 30 suspected ISIS terrorists, primarily foreigners, in different parts of the country as part of preemptive operations to prevent possible terrorist attacks during the New Year celebrations. The security units arrested 23 persons linked to ISIS in Ankara during a joint security operation carried out by the intelligence and police services, based on an arrest warrant issued by the Public Prosecution Office. The detainees were involved with ISIS and linked to the conflict areas in Syria and Iraq. At the same time, anti-terror forces in the southern Osmaniye province arrested six people who had previously participated in ISIS armed activities in Syria. The state said the gendarmerie's counter-terrorism teams launched a security operation to reduce potential threats ahead of the New Year. They confiscated electronic devices found at the suspects' residences. In the northwestern province of Bolu, combat forces arrested several Iraqis after receiving a report about the presence of persons linked to the terrorist organization. Over the past two weeks, Turkey has intensified its campaigns against suspects linked to ISIS. The authorities announced that they had thwarted a plot to carry out a terrorist attack in Mersin and Adana on New Year's Eve.”

Afghanistan

The New York Times: U.S. Military Focusing On ISIS Cell Behind Attack At Kabul Airport

“Four months after an Islamic State suicide bomber killed scores of people, including 13 American service members, outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, U.S. and foreign intelligence officials have pieced together a profile of the assailant. Military commanders say they are using that information to focus on an Islamic State cell that they believe was involved in the attack, including its leadership and foot soldiers. The cell members could be among the first insurgents struck by armed MQ-9 Reaper drones flying missions over Afghanistan from a base in the Persian Gulf. The United States has not carried out any airstrikes in the country since the last American troops left on Aug. 30. The attack at the airport’s Abbey Gate unfolded four days earlier, during the frenzied final days of the largest noncombatant evacuation ever conducted by the U.S. military. It was one of the deadliest attacks of the 20-year war in Afghanistan. The Islamic State identified the suicide bomber as Abdul Rahman Al-Logari. American officials say he was a former engineering student who was one of several thousand militants freed from at least two high-security prisons after the Taliban seized control of Kabul on Aug. 15. The Taliban emptied the facilities indiscriminately, releasing not only their own imprisoned members but also fighters from Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, the group’s branch in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s nemesis.”

Pakistan

Associated Press: Military: 4 Pakistani Soldiers, 2 Militants Killed In Raids

“Pakistani security forces raided two militant hideouts in a former Taliban stronghold near Afghanistan, triggering shootings that killed four soldiers and two insurgents, the military said Friday. The first raid was carried our in the Tank district in the northwest, killing two militants, the statement said. The other strike was carried out in the North Waziristan district, capturing a militant before four soldiers died in the fighting. The military said troops seized a cache of weapons during both raids. The military provided no further details about the slain soldiers and detained militants. North Waziristan served as a militant stronghold for decades. The military carried out a full-fledged offensive in the region after an army-run school was attacked in December 2014 in the Peshawar city. The attack, claimed by Pakistani Taliban, killed 147 people, mostly schoolchildren. The latest violence in the northwest comes a day after a roadside bomb exploded outside a college in southwestern city of Quetta, killing six people and wounding at least 13 others.”

Lebanon

The Jerusalem Post: Lebanon May Be Getting Tired Of Hezbollah - Analysis

“First, it was Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the son-in-law of Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, who attacked the Shia Islamist political party Hezbollah and said that there would be “political consequences” for its actions against his party as it continues blocking the Cabinet from meeting. Then Aoun made a similar statement, saying that “unjustified, deliberate and systematic blockage which dismantles the state and drives it to its demise must be ended.” The Cabinet has not met since October. Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement is an ally of Hezbollah in the Lebanese parliament and in 2016 he was elected the president due to its support after 29 months of stalemate. Hezbollah quickly reacted to the Aoun statement by slamming Bassil – who has presidential aspirations when Aoun’s term ends next year – and indicating that Bassil might be losing its support. Meanwhile, Aoun on Thursday signed a presidential decree approving legislative elections for May 15, 2022, two months later than the current parliament had wanted it to take place. Experts are questioning whether the leaders of FPM are truly reconsidering their ties with Hezbollah so close to the upcoming 2022 parliamentary elections, and what such recent statements say about the growing resentment against Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Middle East

The Jerusalem Post: IDF Thwarts Stabbing Attack At West Bank Bus Stop, Kills Terrorist

“The IDF thwarted a stabbing attack against civilians at a bus stop at the Giti Avishar junction in the Samaria region of the West Bank, killing the Palestinian terrorist. No civilians or soldiers were injured in the Friday morning attack. The soldier who shot at the terrorist described the events of the attack in a video that was sent out to the Israeli media. “A car stopped near me,” he said. “A terrorist got out of the car wielding a knife, yelled ‘Allahu Akbar’ [God is great] and ran toward me. I shot in order to neutralize him.” The IDF explained that the terrorist had run in the direction of a bus stop where both soldiers and civilians were standing. The IDF later arrested the man who had driven the attacker to the scene. He was not carrying weapons and was taken in for questioning. Earlier this week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz held a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to thwart a violent Palestinian uprising in the West Bank. The rare meeting, which took place in Gantz’s Rosh Ha’ayin home, was the second one between the two leaders. They had met in August in Ramallah. Last month Palestinian terrorists killed 25-year-old Yehuda Dimentman and lightly wounded two others.”

The Times Of Israel: Senior West Bank Hamas Official To Be Charged With Incitement, Supporting Terror

“Hamas co-founder Hassan Yousef will be charged in the coming days in an Israeli military court for incitement to terror and supporting a terror group, Israel Police said in a statement on Sunday. Yousef, a senior figure in Hamas’s West Bank division, is seen as a relative moderate in the terror group’s apparatus. Since helping found the Hamas terror movement in the 1980s, Yousef has been arrested numerous times and spent years in Israeli prisons, much of it in administrative detention. Israeli forces arrested Yousef in mid-December, one of dozens of Palestinians picked up in operations following a wave of terror attacks. In the announcement on Sunday, police tied Yousef’s arrest to a speech he gave following an attack by a Hamas member in Jerusalem’s Old City. In mid-December, Hamas member Fadi Abu Shkhaydam opened fire on passersby near the Old City’s Chain Gate, killing an Israeli civilian, Eli Kay, before being shot dead. Yousef arrived at the Shkhaydam family’s mourning tent later to give a fiery speech. “The suspect arrived at the mourning tent of the terrorist’s family who carried out the shooting attack, where he praised the terrorist’s actions and even conveyed the condolences of the Hamas movement to his family,” Israel Police said in a statement.”

Nigeria

Reuters: Six Nigerian, Niger Troops Killed By Islamic State, Security Forces Say

“Six troops from Nigeria and Niger were killed by Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) militants during an operation this month, a joint military force said on Thursday. ISWAP, which split from Boko Haram five years ago and pledged allegiance to Islamic State, has been fighting troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria and Niger in the Lake Chad region. A Multinational Joint Task Force (MTJF) comprising soldiers from Nigeria and Niger had targeted Islamist insurgents near Lake Chad basin but met strong resistance and came under fire from mortar attacks and improvised explosive devices, MTJF spokesman Colonel Muhammad Dole said in a statement. Two officers and four other ranks from both countries were killed and 16 wounded, Dole said, without providing an exact date. Twenty-two militants were killed and 17 captured while gun trucks and other weapons and ammunition were destroyed, he said. The region were the attacks took place is part of Nigeria's northeastern Borno state, the centre of the Islamist insurgency in which about 300,000 people have died and millions left dependent on aid, according to the United Nations.”

Mali

Reuters: Suspected Militants Kill 8 Soldiers In Northern Mali, Army Says

“Eight soldiers were killed and seven others injured when their patrol was ambushed by suspected militants in western Mali, the army said in a statement on Thursday. The attack occurred late in the afternoon on Wednesday near the town of Nara, around 30 km (19 miles) south of border with Mauritania. “A unit in the Nara area was the target of a complex attack combining IEDs and heavy weapons,” the statement said. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the ambush. Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso are battling an Islamist insurgency that has flourished across Africa's Sahel region, killing thousands and displacing millions despite a nine-year effort by international forces to defeat it.”

Africa

The New York Times: Why Did Uganda Send Troops Into Congo?

“It has been a month since Uganda began air and artillery strikes in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and then sent in its troops, in an operation targeting a rebel group it accuses of carrying out a string of deadly attacks in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. The rebel group, the Allied Democratic Forces, is considered the deadliest armed outfit in the region and was designated as a terrorist organization this year by the United States. Uganda hopes the assault, which is being conducted jointly with Congolese forces, will evict the group from its bases in Congo. But among some civilians and observers, the incursion has raised numerous concerns. Many cite Uganda’s conduct during a previous intervention in Congo, from 1998-2003, when its forces were accused of killing and torturing civilians, plundering natural resources, and destroying villages. The latest mission, analysts say, could also compound regional security tensions, particularly with neighboring Rwanda, and could lead to reprisals against civilians, as has happened in the past. President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who has a longstanding security relationship with the West, could also use the incursion to improve his image abroad even as he cracks down on dissent at home. The operation, some say, is an ill-fated attempt to bring a military solution to the myriad political, social and economic problems facing people in eastern Congo.”

The Defense Post: Eleven Troops Hurt, 29 ‘Terrorists’ Neutralized In Burkina: Army

“Eleven soldiers were wounded and 29 “terrorists” neutralized in a weekend attack on security forces in Burkina Faso’s troubled northwest, the army said on Sunday. Military and police units came under attack on Saturday in the area of Gomboro “by armed individuals,” the army said. “The fighting caused injuries to 11 soldiers who were treated. Their response and counter-offensive allowed the neutralization of 29 terrorists and the recovery of a large amount of combat material including weapons, vehicles, and communication equipment,” the statement said. On December 23, an ambush by suspected jihadists targeting civilians and the VDP, an official self-defense force, in the northern You region left 41 people dead, including Ladji Yoro, considered a leader of the VDP. That attack was the deadliest since the bloodshed in Inata in the country’s north in mid-November, which claimed 57 lives including 53 police officers. Since 2015, Burkina Faso has been facing regular and deadly jihadist attacks, particularly in the northern and eastern regions, close to Mali and Niger, countries also battling armed jihadist groups. These attacks, often coupled with ambushes and attributed to jihadist movements affiliated with the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda, have killed more than 2,000 people and forced more than 1.4 million to flee their homes.”

Technology

The National: Facebook’s Toxic Legacy To Reach Court As Moderators Set Out Litany Of Troubles

“Dr Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior director of the Counter Extremism Project, a think tank, believes the platform will remain “toxic until regulation is introduced”. “The issue with Facebook is the combination of a hermetically sealed platform that is not actually open to outside analysis or audits, coupled with an absolute commercial drive to grow and to increase profits at all costs, and it is situated within a whole unregulated industry with next to no liability risks,” he told The National. “This combination is particularly toxic as it ensures that only when problems become absolutely undeniable, either, as was the case with the proliferation of the Christchurch attack video or when an internal whistleblower reveals the issue to the public, they are somewhat addressed but never in a manner that actually solves any of the issues in a systemic and sustainable manner. “It has been in crisis mode for several years; 2021 was not a crisis for Facebook since the problems are systemic within the company as well as external due to lack of regulation and liability risk. “The problems Facebook faced in 2021 are a reflection of this and, therefore, the company will not be able to overcome these issues under the current circumstances because this would require that it voluntarily changes its core business model or voluntarily limits its profits.”

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