Eye on Extremism: January 30, 2019

CNS News: DNI Dan Coats: Terrorism ‘Positioned To Increase In 2019’

“National Intelligence Director Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday at a hearing on the worldwide threats facing the U.S. that terrorism is expected to increase this year with ISIS “intent on resurging” and “al Qaeda showing signs of confidence” as evidences by the recent hotel attack in Kenya. “Terrorism remains a persistent threat, and in some ways is positioned to increase in 2019. The conflicts in Iraq and Syria have generated a large pool of skilled and battle-hardened fighters who remain dispersed throughout the region,” he testified. “While ISIS is nearing territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria, the group has returned to its guerilla warfare roots while continuing to plot attacks and direct its supporters worldwide. ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria,” Coats said.”

The Wall Street Journal: Acting Pentagon Chief Predicts End Of Islamic State Land Holdings In Two Weeks

“Islamic State’s grip on territory in Syria could be fully broken within two weeks, acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan said Tuesday, the result of U.S.-led efforts to liberate territory held by militants. “If we wind the clock back two years, I’d say 99.5%-plus of the ISIS-controlled territory has been returned to the Syrians. With a couple of weeks, it will be 100%,” Mr. Shanahan said in his first news conference as acting defense chief, the role he assumed after Jim Mattis resigned and abruptly left office last month. Defense officials have avoided saying how long it will take to formally end Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, in part because past predictions have proven unreliable. A year ago, the Pentagon said the territory held by the extremist group would be recaptured within months. But the final pockets have been resistant, even in the face of an aggressive, U.S.-led airstrike campaign. Experts and defense officials also warn that the end of Islamic State’s land holdings doesn’t mean the end of the danger from extremists, because the group would evolve into an insurgency, with cells around Syria and Iraq. “The long war against ISIS will not be won by destroying its territorial caliphate.”

Cleveland.com: Ohio Man Indicted, Accused Of Plotting Attack On Synagogue In Support Of ISIS

“A Toledo-area man was indicted on federal charges Tuesday, following his arrest in December for what federal authorities said was a plan to carry out a mass shooting at a synagogue in the name of the Islamic State. Damon Joseph, 21, of Holland is charged with attempting to provide material support to ISIS, attempting to commit a hate crime and possessing firearms in furtherance of a crime a violence. The FBI arrested him Dec. 7 after he grabbed a duffel bag with two disabled semi-automatic rifles from the car of an undercover agent. Following his arrest, he detailed his plans for the attack and “his intent to cause mass casualties in support of ISIS,” according to an affidavit written in December by FBI agent J. Troy Amundson. Authorities have not named the synagogue Joseph targeted. Joseph is in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. The FBI said Joseph was radicalized and went by the name Abdullah Ali Yusef. He shared photographs of guns and knives on social media, as well a pictures originally distributed by ISIS’s media arm, according to the affidavit. He also produced his own videos, authorities say. The FBI became aware of his social media postings in May, and an undercover agent started talking with him in September, court filings show.”

Fox News: ISIS Recruitment Drive In Somalia Could Prove 'Massive Threat To The US Presence' In The Region

“From the depths of ISIS' self-proclaimed territory in Somalia, members of the terror group released a propaganda video, “Men Who Have Been True”, celebrating dead fighters and detailing the branch’s endeavors to provide food and medical aid to the community. The video was splattered all over from messaging apps such as Telegram to almost 30 websites including Microsoft One Drive, YouTube, and Google Drive before being taken down by at least some major sites. According to the Counter Extremist Project (CEP), it marks a “clear effort to urge potential foreign fighters to look outside Iraq and Syria.” And the recruitment drive to the Horn of Africa may be working. Just last week, the Department of Justice announced that three naturalized U.S citizens originally from Kenya but living in Michigan had been arrested – one for embarking on his journey to join ISIS in Somalia and another two for acting as co-conspirators for the trip. The complaint asserts that all three defendants pledged allegiance to ISIS through videos they recorded themselves, and at least two are alleged to have discussed with each other their desire to join ISIS, to kill non-believers, and even to potentially use a car for a martyrdom operation to run down non-believers in the United States if they could not travel overseas to fight for ISIS.”

CNN: 30,000 Nigerians Flee Boko Haram Violence In Two Days, UN Says

“Escalating attacks by Boko Haram militants have forced 30,000 people out of Nigeria's northeast into Cameroonian borders over the weekend, the UN Refugee agency said on Tuesday. Thousands have also fled to neighboring Cameroon and Chad in recent weeks, the agency said. Hostilities have strained humanitarian operations and forced aid workers to pull out from some locations, and the destruction of livelihoods and infrastructure is widespread, UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said at a press briefing in Geneva. The recent upsurge in violence has also driven more than 80,000 civilians to seek refuge in already crowded camps or in towns in Borno State, where they are surviving in tough living conditions, Baloch said. More than 250,000 people have already been displaced from northeast Nigeria, and surging militant attacks targeting civilians have forced thousands more to run for their lives each day, the UN said.  Two aid workers held hostage by Boko Haram were executed last year after they were kidnapped in a hospital in a displacement camp in Rann.  The UN agency said it would need $848 million to provide food and assistance to those that have been affected by the crisis in Nigeria.”

Forbes: Facebook Has Just Been Caught Spying On Users' Private Messages And Data -- Again

“The last week has seen an immense global backlash following the news that Facebook plans to integrate its three powerhouse messaging platforms - Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram - into one giant data quarry. If anyone was holding out for some tangible reason to fear the data implications of this, then perhaps the news just in that Facebook has been caught paying teens and young adults for (almost) unfettered access to the private data on their phones will be it. You get the sense with Facebook, that data exploitation, treating the information exchanged by its billions of users, as a legitimate domain within which it can casually, commercially trawl, has become so entrenched in the DNA of the organization that it literally can't help itself. The reports overnight, first broken by TechCrunch, are that "desperate for data on its competitors, Facebook has been secretly paying people to install a 'Facebook Research' VPN that lets the company suck in all of a user’s phone and web activity.”

United States

Fortune: U.S. Intelligence Report Says ISIS Remains A Threat, Despite Trump’s Claims Of Defeat

“The U.S. intelligence community believes the terrorist group known as ISIS is still a threat, despite President Donald Trump’s earlier claims that American troops have “defeated ISIS.” “ISIS still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria, and it maintains eight branches, more than a dozen networks, and thousands of dispersed supporters around the world, despite significant leadership and territorial losses,” reads the Worldwide Threat Assessment, released by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Tuesday. “ISIS very likely will continue to pursue external attacks from Iraq and Syria against regional and Western adversaries, including the United States,” the report continues. Trump announced in December that American troops would immediately be withdrawn from Syria, tweeting that the U.S. has “defeated ISIS in Syria.”

Radio Farda: U.S. Counterterror Official Visiting Europe 'On Iran-Backed Terrorism'

“The U.S. State Department announced on January 29 that its top counterterrorism official is visiting Europe to discuss Iran’s terror related activities. Ambassador Nathan A. Sales will visit Denmark, Sweden and Norway this week to “discuss Iran-backed terrorism in Europe, prosecuting foreign terrorist fights, and combatting terrorist travel.” Since mid-2018, several European countries launched investigations and arrested individuals allegedly linked to Iran and involved in plots to bomb and assassinate Iranian opposition targets in France, Denmark and Holland. Ambassador Sales’ visit comes at a time when major European countries are preparing to launch a special trade payment system to help Iran continue its trade despite U.S. sanctions. Iran’s suspected terror activities is one of the main issues impacting Europe’s desire to continue cooperation with Iran.”

Syria

Arab News: Al-Qaeda’s Advance In Northern Syria Threatens Fragile Truce

“It only took a few days for Al-Qaeda-linked militants to seize more than two dozen towns and villages in northern Syria from rival insurgents earlier this month, expanding and cementing their control over an area the size of neighboring Lebanon. The advance by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, or the Levant Liberation Committee, was the most serious blow yet to a September cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey that averted a major government offensive in Idlib province, the last main stronghold of the Syrian opposition. It highlighted the growing threat posed by Al-Qaeda at a time when its rival, the Daesh group, is on the verge of defeat and the US is preparing to withdraw its 2,000 troops from Syria. Although HTS has formally severed ties with Al-Qaeda, experts say it is still closely linked to the global network founded by Osama bin Laden and could use its base in Syria to launch attacks in the West.”

Bloomberg: U.S. Close To Taking All Islamic State Land In Syria, Shanahan Says

“U.S.-backed forces are weeks away from liberating all the remaining land held by Islamic State in Syria, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said, though its territorial defeat doesn’t spell the end of the militant group’s ability to carry out attacks. “I’d say 99.5 percent-plus of the ISIS-controlled territory has been returned to the Syrians,” Shanahan told reporters on Tuesday. “Within a couple weeks it will be 100 percent.” The group is no longer “able to govern” and can’t use Syria as a safe haven because “we’ve eliminated the majority of their leadership,” he said. A territorial defeat of Islamic State in Syria would fuel further debate about President Donald Trump’s planned troop withdrawal and the future of America’s Kurdish allies in Syria. Trump’s critics have warned that his abrupt decision in December would enable the alliance between Russia, Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to sew up its victory in the eight-year civil war, which has killed an estimated half million people and turned millions more into refugees. Such a move could also open up the Kurds to attack from Turkish forces in northern Syria, who view the U.S.-allied forces as terrorists.”

NBC News: France Scrambles To Move ISIS Detainees Out Of Syria Ahead Of U.S. Withdrawal

“France is accelerating plans to end its military commitment in Syria and is considering airlifting captured foreign ISIS fighters out of the country, fearing that the precipitous American withdrawal of forces from the battlefield will leave liberated areas unstable and make it impossible to contain the prisoners. In the wake of President Donald Trump’s sudden announcement in December that he was pulling American forces out of Syria, a senior French official tells NBC News the country is scrambling to adjust its military posture in anticipation of a power vacuum in northeastern Syria as it carries on fighting against the Islamic State. Of critical concern to French military planners is implementing a plan to deal with captured ISIS fighters and get them to get of the country before a U.S. withdrawal. In an interview with French television BFMTV Tuesday, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said he “couldn’t mention specifics” when asked if France was planning to transfer as many as 130 ISIS fighters to French soil. Although France’s President Emmanuel Macron lambasted Trump for his decision last month to withdraw from Syria, French officials have been publicly cautious in commenting on how the withdrawal will affect their operations against the former caliphate.”

Bloomberg: ‘Defeated’ Islamic State Is Preparing For A Resurgence

“In announcing his plan to withdraw American forces from Syria, President Donald Trump said the U.S. had achieved its purpose there because it had “defeated” Islamic State, the most destructive Islamist militant organization the world has seen. Certainly the group has been subdued in Iraq and Syria by an array of forces, including the U.S. military. But Islamic State has not been finished off. Remnants continue to fight in Iraq and Syria and prepare for a resurgence, while affiliated groups make mayhem around the world, especially in Africa. 1. What condition is Islamic State in? Its self-declared caliphate -- a state that claims dominion over all Muslims -- is in ruins. The group has been pushed by U.S.-assisted Kurdish forces, Russian-backed Syrian troops and Iranian-supported militias to an ever-smaller area along the Iraq-Syria border. Its last remaining urban stronghold, Hajin in northeast Syria, fell in December. Still, it’s thought that the group’s enigmatic leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as well as several top deputies are alive and that order within the organization remains intact. 2. What’s the group up to in Iraq and Syria? Islamic State has turned to insurgency tactics such as bombings, sniper attacks and targeted killings.”

Bloomberg: Trump's Syria Gambit Risks Freeing ISIS Fighters Nobody Wants

“A month after President Donald Trump said he’d pull U.S. forces from Syria, a critical global security question is unanswered: What to do with hundreds of Islamic State fighters and their families -- including Europeans and Americans –- held by Kurdish forces in makeshift prisons? U.S. officials estimate there are 800 prisoners who need to be dealt with at a series of Kurdish-run prisons and holding facilities across northern Syria. Ilham Ahmed, a senior official with a Kurdish group that fought Islamic State alongside the U.S., says the number of family members of captured fighters may top 4,000. One thing is clear, Ahmed says: “No one wants to take them.” As Trump tries to meet a campaign pledge by getting America out of intractable Mideast wars, the prisoners have become a stumbling block -- one reason the administration has been walking back the president’s December promise of a quick withdrawal. There was concern that the Kurds, facing the bigger threat of a Turkish attack after their erstwhile U.S. allies leave, may be unable or unwilling to hold the prisoners. That risked allowing hardened ISIS fighters to return to their home countries, or resume the fight in Syria, where the self-proclaimed ISIS caliphate has been reduced to a couple of villages.”

The Washington Post: Kurdish Leader Sees No Sign Of U.S. Withdrawal In Syria

“More than a month after President Trump announced that U.S. forces were leaving Syria, there has been no sign of troop departures or a change in the relationship between Americans and their Syrian Kurdish allies, according to the leadership of the political umbrella organization of the Kurdish fighters. “There has been no change in the situation on the ground,” said Ilham Ahmed, who heads the executive committee of the Syrian Democratic Council. The situation is “just like before” Trump’s announcement, she said. Trump administration and defense officials have provided little information on how the departure is being organized, or on what timeline. Acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan said Tuesday that the military continued a “deliberate, coordinated, disciplined withdrawal” from Syria but that the process remained in the “early stages.” Fighters of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Defense Forces, who have led the ground fight against the Islamic State in Syria, have expressed concern over the withdrawal, and Shanahan, at a Pentagon news conference, said “99.5 percent plus” of militant-controlled territory had been returned to the Syrians. “Within a couple of weeks, it’ll be 100 percent.”

The Independent: Thousands Of Syrians Flee Last ISIS Territory With Tales Of Horror: ‘We Were Starving There’

“The trucks arrived just as night fell, pulling into a gravel clearing by the side of the road. From the back of each vehicle peered the faces of dozens of women and children, covered in a thick layer of dust. They were tired, hungry, cold and afraid. The sound of engines dimmed and were replaced by a cacophony of babies crying. “We were starving there,” said Aisha Najjar, 55, from the darkness of a crowded truck bed. “There were airstrikes and bombings all the time. We were trying to get out for two months.” Sareb, a young mother who gave only her first name, bounced her screaming nine-month-old son on her lap to try to calm him, but to no avail. “He won’t stop crying. He needs water,” she said. Hours earlier, these women had been among some of the last civilians still living in the Isis caliphate, which has been reduced to just two villages in the eastern Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor after months of fighting. As the territory held by the group gets smaller by the day, civilians have been flooding out from the Isis enclave, each with a more horrifying story than the last. More than 20,000 have escaped over the past month, according to an official overseeing the process. Since December, they have been under almost constant bombardment and completely cut off, as a few hundred mostly foreign Isis fighters make their last stand against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).”

Middle East Eye: In Syria And Sinai, Islamic State Will Rise Again Before It Falls

“President Donald Trump’s recent suggestion that the Islamic State (IS) has been “defeated” was broadly met with disbelief, even by US allies. It came at a time when IS was engaging in terrorist attacks against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), anti-IS coalition forces and other armed groups in Iraq and Syria, as well as attacks against civilians in Egypt and continued activities in Libya. Far from being obliterated, IS has transformed into an insurgency. Its current opportunistic mode of operation means that it will take advantage of any openings to prove its viability - though this does not mean a return to the physical “caliphate” anytime soon. As things stand in Egypt and Syria, IS is likely to witness a relative rise in the near future before any fall can occur.”

Haaretz: Al-Qaida Threat Grows In Syria As Militants Expand Control In North

“It only took a few days for al-Qaida-linked militants to seize more than two dozen towns and villages in northern Syria from rival insurgents earlier this month, expanding and cementing their control over an area the size of neighboring Lebanon. The advance by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or the Levant Liberation Committee, was the most serious blow yet to a September cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey that averted a major government offensive in Idlib province, the last main stronghold of the Syrian opposition. It highlighted the growing threat posed by al-Qaida at a time when its rival, ISIS, is on the verge of defeat and the U.S. is preparing to withdraw its 2,000 troops from Syria. Although HTS has formally severed ties with al-Qaida, experts say it is still closely linked to the global network founded by Osama bin Laden and could use its base in Syria to launch attacks in the West. Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics, says there is a “real danger” that the group’s advance “will not only worsen the humanitarian crisis for the 3 million inhabitants there, but also give (President Bashar) Assad and his allies the justification to assault the province.”

Saudi Gazette: Syrian Arab Fighters Battle Daesh Militia For ‘Revenge’

“Near the front line in eastern Syria, Amer Khalifa plays with a sword he found. To “avenge” his family, he has joined a Kurdish-led alliance fighting the Daesh (the so-called IS) group. The 22-year-old is one of numerous members of the Shaytat tribe who have joined the fight to flush out the militants from a shrinking enclave near the Iraqi border. Backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, they have confined the extremists to a final pocket spanning just four square kilometers (one and a half square miles) on the Euphrates River in Deir Ezzor province. “I want to avenge my brother and my relatives,” Khalifa says. “I will fight to the bitter end of the battle, and then I’ll hunt down their sleeper cells,” says the Deir Ezzor native. Daesh swept across large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014 and proclaimed an “caliphate” that at its peak reached the size of Britain. As they rampaged across Deir Ezzor, Daesh fighters massacred more than 900 members of the Arab Shaytat tribe. That summer, Khalifa’s 26-year-old brother, his maternal uncles, and a cousin on his father’s side all went missing. The young fighter believes Daesh killed them. He joined the Kurdish-led SDF in the neighboring northeastern province of Hasakeh in late 2016, after escaping his Daesh-controlled home village of Abu Hamam.”

Iran

The Washington Post: Syria, Iran Reach New Economic Agreements

“Syria’s president said Tuesday that new trade agreements with Iran will help the two countries face the “economic war” waged against them by the West. Bashar Assad spoke during a meeting with visiting Iranian First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri. The two countries have signed 11 agreements and memoranda of understanding to promote cooperation in Syria’s reconstruction after eight years of civil war, according to the Syrian state news agency SANA. The deals include agreements on infrastructure development, such as railways, combatting money laundering, cooperation in cinema as well as a “long-term strategic economic cooperation treaty.” Jahangiri said Iran has helped Syria in fighting “terrorism” and will be there during the reconstruction period. Iran has sent advisers and funds to support the Syrian government during the eight-year conflict. The government and its allies refer to the armed opposition as “terrorists.” SANA quoted Jahangiri as saying his visit, with a large economic delegation, was a “message to the Syrian people and to the international community.” Syria’s government is under Western sanctions linked to its actions over the course of the civil war.”

The New York Times: How Bitcoin Could Help Iran Undermine U.S. Sanctions

“Stepping from a car into a muddy industrial site in the Iranian desert, a 22-year old European Bitcoin investor raised his voice to be heard over the roar of a gas-fired generator. His Iranian counterparts — a bespectacled information-technology specialist, a self-described ‘‘hard-core Bitcoiner’’ and the businessman running the site — walked their foreign visitor over to gray shipping containers containing thousands of small computers. When completed and connected to the power grid, the computers would help process a cryptocurrency that, in theory at least, could enable Iran to evade United States sanctions. The value of Bitcoin, the dominant online currency in the world, is treacherously unpredictable. But it is an emerging front in the economic war between Washington and Tehran. Iran’s economy has been hobbled by banking sanctions that effectively stop foreign companies from doing business in the country. But transactions in Bitcoin, difficult to trace, could allow Iranians to make international payments while bypassing the American restrictions on banks.”

The National: Syria And Yemen On Warsaw’s Ministerial Agenda Next To Iran’s Threats

“Despite difficulties in securing high-level attendance from the European Union and the expected absence of Russia, US officials are in the final stages of preparing the Warsaw ministerial meeting on the Middle East in the Polish capital on February 13-14. Working groups and follow-up meetings will come out of Warsaw, and US officials insist now that it is “not an anti-Iran meeting or coalition-building exercise.” As the name suggests, they said on a call with reporters, it’s a meeting “to promote a future of peace and security in the Middle East.” A welcome dinner will be held at the Royal Palace on the 13th, followed by a day of discussions at the national stadium. A quad meeting between the US, UAE, UK and Saudi Arabia is expected to be held on the 14th to discuss Yemen.”

The Express: Iran Launching Attacks Against Israel ‘Daily’ In Tech War Threatening PLANES

“IRANIAN hackers are waging a relentless cyberwar against Israel with daily attempts to access key communication networks and computer systems, according to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There are fears that flights in and out of the country could be targeted if state-sponsored hackers manage to breach the cybersecurity systems protecting Israeli civil aviation programmes. Israeli officials have long suspected Iran of seeking to hack into important systems and also believe Tehran could try to interfere with April 6 elections. The Islamic Republic has also been named by other Western powers as a rising force in cyberwarfare. Mr Netanyahu told a cybersecurity conference in Tel Aviv: “Iran attacks Israel on a daily basis. “We monitor these attacks, we see these attacks and we foil these attacks all the time.”

The Wall Street Journal: Europe Opens Channel For Trade With Iran

“France, Britain and Germany, defying threats from Washington, are this week executing their plans to set up a special-payments company to secure some trade with Iran and blunt the impact of U.S. sanctions. In the short term, the new company is expected to struggle to achieve even its initial goal of enabling Tehran to import vital food and drugs at affordable prices. After months of delays, people familiar with the plan said Tuesday the three European governments had started the process of registering the company to run a payments channel that would allow goods to be bartered between European and Iranian companies without the need for direct financial transactions. The company should be established by Thursday or Friday, the people said. The company is being registered in France and will be headed by a German official with the French, British and German governments as shareholders—an arrangement intended to ward off U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s threat of sanctioning the entity by putting it under the aegis of Washington’s traditional European allies.”

Reuters: Sunni Militants Claim Responsibility For Blasts In Southeast Iran

“Jaish al-Adl, a Sunni militant group, claimed responsibility for explosions in the city of Zahedan, in southeastern Iran, that wounded three police officers.  The group said in a statement it had targeted a police station with “two strong bombs”, damaging a police car and a police motorcycle.  Iranian officials said the explosions were caused by percussion grenades, and left three police officers with minor injuries.”

Voice Of America: Iran's Cyber Spies Looking To Get Personal

“Iran appears to be broadening its presence in cyberspace, stealing information that would allow its cyber spies to monitor and track key political and business officials, including some in the United States. A new, U.S. intelligence report released Tuesday warned Iranian cyber actors "are targeting U.S. Government officials, government organizations, and companies to gain intelligence and position themselves for future cyber operations." The latest Worldwide Threat Assessment also said Tehran has been preparing to use such information for a range of possible cyber attacks against the U.S. and its allies, though it did not share specifics. Fears about Iran's growing prowess in cyberspace are not new, but the new assessment from the U.S. intelligence community echoes concerns voiced by private cybersecurity firms, which have pointed out a growing number of attacks by Iranian-linked actors targeting databases that contain personal information. "They are targeting a number of telecommunication and information technology entities and really going after just large amounts of PII [personally identifiable information]," said Cristiana Kittner, a senior analyst with FireEye. "Once in the network, they're looking at phone logs and employee records and airline records," she said.”

Iraq

The National: Spain's King Felipe VI Meets Anti-ISIS Coalition Troops During Visit To Iraq

“King Felipe VI of Spain arrived in Iraq for a surprise visit in what marks the first trip for a Spanish monarch in 40 years to the war-torn country. Casa Real, the Spanish Royal Household, announced on Wednesday morning that King Felipe landed in Baghdad early on Tuesday where he was greeted by the Spanish Ambassador to Iraq Juan Jose Escobar Stemman. The king, whose country is a part of an international coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq, held talks with the commander of the coalition and showed his gratitude for their efforts. “Thank you for what you do and for how you do it, you’re a source of pride for all Spaniards,” King Felipe told Spanish troops. Although Iraq declared victory over the insurgents in December 2017 with help from the coalition, the terror group continues to carry out sporadic attacks. Hundreds of Spanish military experts currently reside in Iraq. King Felipe also met with Iraqi President Barham Salih at the presidential palace. He was accompanied by the Spanish Minister of Defence Margarita Robles Fernandez and Ambassador Stemman. The king celebrated his 51st birthday on Wednesday. This is the first time King Felipe had visited Iraq, but it is not the first time he visited Spanish troops in the region. In 2015, he traveled to Lebanon to meet troops stationed there.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Iraqi Provinces Liberated From ISIS Hold Security Meeting

“The five Iraqi provinces that were liberated from the ISIS held an expanded security meeting on Tuesday to address the remaining pockets of the terrorist group in the country. The meeting included acting Kirkuk Governor Rakan al-Jabouri, Nineveh Governor Naufal al-Aaqoub, Diyala Governor Muthana al-Tamimi, Salaheddine Governor Ammar Jabr al-Jabbouri and Anbar Governor Ali Farhan and was chaired by Chief of Staff Othman al-Ghanemi. The talks focused on drafting plans to restore stability in the liberated regions and bolster security coordination with neighboring provinces. Several observers have underlined the dangerous security challenges in the liberated provinces, recognizing that ISIS was still a threat there. Security expert Saeed al-Jayashi said: “The military challenges in these provinces have been resolved. What remains are small ISIS pockets that every now and then, carry out assassinations and bombings.” He stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat the importance of holding meetings between local authorities and liberated provinces in order to permanently eliminate the ISIS threat. He underlined to that end the role that can be played by civilian groups and local authorities to resolve the people’s social problems.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Its Treasures Ruined By ISIS, Mosul Museum Hosts Modern Art

“Mosul's celebrated museum has not recovered since ISIS group jihadists ravaged its ancient treasures several years ago, but part of the complex reopened Tuesday to showcase more contemporary art. For the first time since ISIS overran the Iraqi city in 2014, visitors on Tuesday could wander the grandiose royal reception hall, which forms part of the museum. The building is considered the oldest government complex in Mosul and was recently renovated to host the 29-artist exhibit, titled "Return to Mosul," a member of the organizing Al-Ghad Radio station told AFP. The northern Iraqi city served as ISIS' brutal seat of power for three years, before Iraqi troops recaptured it in 2017. Much of Mosul's east has made a modest recovery, but the west -- home to the Old City and the museum -- remains in ruins. The exhibit was "proof that war didn't kill Mosul and that, on the contrary, it's living a full-on renaissance," said Huda Hani, a 25-year-old visitor on Tuesday. Buttoned up in warm jackets, families walked through the hall to look at the paintings and sculptures, many of which feature themes of home, return, or conflict. The rest of the museum, however, remains closed for security reasons, said its director Zeid Saadallah. "You have to protect what is left," he told AFP.”

Afghanistan

The Washington Post: The Return Of A Taliban Government? Afghanistan Talks Raise Once-Unthinkable Question.

“There is nothing on paper, only the vague outline of an agreement between American and Taliban negotiators in Qatar that could lead to U.S. troops withdrawing. There are more talks to come, and U.S. officials have said any final deal with the Islamist insurgents must include a “dialogue” among Afghans. But as news of the tentative accord spread Tuesday, the same question was worrying many Kabul residents — middle-aged women who remembered being forced to wear burqas, day laborers who fled rural fighting, college students who have grown up wearing jeans and surfing the Net. What if the Taliban comes back to power? It seems unthinkable, after 17 years of elected government, burgeoning malls and apartment complexes, ubiquitous cellphones and ATMs, that this capital of 6 million could again become a cowed, deserted city patrolled by turbaned religious enforcers with whips. But not necessarily impossible. Despite the tantalizing interlude of a cease-fire in June, when Taliban fighters mingled politely with urban residents before melting back into the hills, some experts and officials said the Sunni militia’s puritanical beliefs have never softened and that its goal, though now obscured by diplomatic language, remains the full-fledged imposition of Islamic law and conservative religious mores.”

The Washington Post: I Was Ambassador To Afghanistan. This Deal Is A Surrender.

“January 2002. I arrive in Kabul to reopen the U.S. Embassy. Destruction is everywhere. Kabul airport is closed, its runways cratered and littered with destroyed aircraft. The drive south from the military base at Bagram is through a wasteland. Nothing grows. No structures stand. In the city itself, entire blocks have been reduced to rubble, recalling images of Berlin in 1945. More than two decades of almost constant war left a terrible legacy. The damage was not only to the physical infrastructure. The Afghan people had suffered enormously through the civil war that began in the late 1970s and the tyranny of the Taliban that followed. None had suffered more than Afghan women and girls. After the U.S. invasion in October 2001 ousted the Taliban for harboring the al-Qaeda planners of the 9/11 terrorist attack, the human toll from the Taliban rule is why the United States’ initial assistance efforts focused on people rather than things. I remember taking our first congressional visitor, Joe Biden (D-Del.), who was then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to visit a girls school that we had helped to open. A first-grade class that Biden visited had students in a range of ages, from 6 to 12.”

Voice Of America: Afghans Worry As US Makes Progress In Taliban Talks

“As the U.S. makes headway in its direct talks with the Taliban, a sense of nervousness and betrayal has kicked in, with many government officials and ordinary Afghans fearing the country may return to the chaos it experienced following the Soviet Union's withdrawal in the late 1980s. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, has been holding discussions with the Afghan Taliban, Afghan government officials, and local and regional stakeholders in recent weeks to seek a negotiated settlement for America's longest war in Afghanistan. A Qatari official told Reuters on Sunday that a draft pact has been reached between the U.S. and the Taliban. The draft reportedly requires U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan within 18 months of the agreement being signed in exchange for the Taliban pledging not to allow the Afghan territory to serve as a base for terrorism. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Monday said he welcomes efforts toward reaching peace but insisted that they be carefully deliberated. "We insist on deliberations because we are fully aware of the experience of Dr. Najibullah's government. We all know how he was betrayed.”

Xinhua: Clash Kills 4 Militants, Wounds 7 In Northern Afghanistan

“At least four militants were killed and seven others sustained injuries as government forces stormed Taliban hideouts in Qaisar district of the northern Faryab province on Tuesday, an army spokesman Mohammad Hanif Rezai said Wednesday. The government forces, according to the official, attacked a Taliban hideout in Arkalic area of Qaisar district Tuesday evening, killing four insurgents on the spot and wounding seven others. A weapon cache of the militants has also been destroyed, the official said, adding that the security forces would continue to chase militants elsewhere in Qaisar and adjoining areas. Taliban militants haven't commented yet.”

Pakistan

Star Tribune: Militants Kill 9 In Attack On Police Station In Pakistan

“Pakistani Taliban militants armed with guns and grenades attacked a regional police station in the southwestern Baluchistan province Tuesday, triggering a shootout that killed eight police officers and a civilian and wounded 17 others, officials said. Mir Zia Lango, the provincial interior minister, said four militants were involved in the attack in the district of Loralai and two of them were killed by security forces. He said an operation was underway to track down the others. "These terrorists might have caused more casualties if they had managed to enter the main police building," where dozens of youths were waiting for recruitment, he said. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, but gave no further details. Baluchistan province has also been the scene of a low-level insurgency by Baluch separatists. Elsewhere in Pakistan, a bomb went off at a home in the northwestern city of Bannu, killing five members of the same family, according to local police official Mohammad Tahir. He said the explosion badly damaged the house and that officers were investigating the circumstances.”

Yemen

Defense Post: Seven Killed In Yemen Market Bombing Blamed On Houthi Rebels

“A bomb attack in a market killed seven Yemeni civilians including a photographer for a UAE television channel in the government-controlled town of Mokha, medics and military sources said Tuesday, January 29. At least 20 people were wounded in the overnight blast in the Red Sea town, where pro-government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthi rebels are based. The improvised explosive device was planted on a motorcycle parked in the middle of the market, an official in the pro-government forces told AFP. Seven people were killed, the official and a hospital source said. A photographer for Abu Dhabi TV, Ziad al-Sharabi, was among the dead, the official Saba news agency quoted information minister Moammer al-Eryani as saying.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Houthis Attack UN Demining Team In Hodeidah

“The Iran-backed Houthi militias attacked on Tuesday a United Nations demining team that is operating in the coastal city of Hodeidah. Legitime government spokesman Rajeh Badi revealed that government officers and the UN team were working on removing mines in the Kilo 13 region when they were attacked by the terrorist militias, He stressed that the UN team had coordinated its operation with the Houthis before heading to the scene. The militias pledged to allow the team to go ahead with its demining mission. Despite this, the Houthis attacked the team and it was barred from accessing the area, Badi said."

Saudi Arabia

The National: Saudi Issues New Law To Combat Terror Financing

“Saudi Arabia’s new anti-terrorism law came into effect this week as the country looks to tackle the global network of funding for extremist groups, state media confirmed on Monday. The details of the plan, published in the national gazette Um Al Qura, shows that authorities will clamp down on 12 financial activities used to support and deliver funds to terrorist groups. The law targets entities that attempt to create shadow organisations funding terrorism under the guise of a charity, private banking or lending organisation, according to the Saudi Press Agency. Authorities will also be allowed to look into the suspicious activities of foreign exchange offices and those working in remittances. The new laws will help protect authorities as they look to track suspicious networks for those related to Hezbollah, the Houthis, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda. The new law allows for the transfer of individuals who authorities suspect are involved in terrorism funding to the public prosecution after their arrest. This allows for questioning of individuals to be added to a body of evidence. The Ministry of Finance will also be tasked with tracking gold and the precious jewelry trade. A protection programme was also announced alongside the new law.”

Egypt

Daily News Egypt: Al-Sisi, Patrushev Vow To Cooperate On Counter-Terrorism, Maintain Unity Of Libya, Syria

“Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Nikolai Patrushev, agreed on Tuesday on the importance of working closely to consolidate military and security efforts between the two countries, especially with regard to fighting terrorism and extremist ideology.  The meeting, attended by the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shokry, and the Head of General Intelligence, Abbas Kamel, as well as the Russian Ambassador to Cairo, also reviewed the latest developments of a number of regional issues, particularly Syria and Libya, where the two sides vowed to preserve the unity of these countries, and stressed the importance of political solutions to the various regional crises. The two sides also agreed to strengthen coordination on various regional issues of common concern. During the meeting, Al-Sisi stressed the appeasement of the Egyptian government and people for the close ties with Russia, and their keenness to continue strengthening them on various levels in the coming period, as part of the strategic partnership between the two countries.”

Africa

News24: 2 Killed, 5 Wounded In Blast At Mogadishu Gas Station

“The deputy mayor of Somalia's capital says two people were killed and five wounded in an explosion at a gas station. Mohamed Tulah says the casualties in the Mogadishu blast are "far less than what everybody was expecting." Tuesday's blast occurred near the ministry of petroleum. Mogadishu is often targeted in bombings by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab extremist group.”

Daily Maverick: Home-Grown Terror A Worsening Threat For Kenya

“The six attackers and 12 suspects in court for the 15 January terror attack on Nairobi’s dusitD2 hotel complex are mostly Kenyans. This was also the case in the 2015 attack on the Garissa University campus. By contrast, those who attacked the Westgate Mall in 2013 were largely foreigners. These three incidents suggest a trend of home-grown terrorists acting against their own country.  The latest attack – claimed by extremist group al-Shabaab – shows that not only is the terror threat far from over, but it is increasingly a local problem, with logistical support from Somalia. Most of the 18 who appeared in court were from counties like Isiolo, Nyeri, Kiambu, Mombasa and Machakos – hundreds of kilometres from the Somali border. This means al-Shabaab’s influence and cells may have penetrated many parts of Kenya. Among the six attackers were Ali Salim Gichunge, born and bred in Isiolo with roots in Nyeri. He is believed to have hosted the suspects in Kiambu, a county that borders Nairobi. EricKinyanjuireportedly from Limuru in Kiambu County, is under arrest and is believed to have been the commander.  The suicide bomber, Mahir Khalid Riziki, was a 25-year-old Kenyan al-Shabaab operative from Mombasa and had been on the Kenya police’s wanted list.”

North Korea

Daily Beast: Russian Officials Offered North Korea A Nuclear Power Plant: Wapo

“Russian officials secretly offered a nuclear power plant to North Korea last fall, said U.S. officials familiar with the discussions, The Washington Post reports. The offer was reportedly made in an effort to resolve deadlocked negotiations with the Trump administration over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. In exchange for dismantling its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, Russia offered North Korea a nuclear power plant. The Moscow offer, which U.S. intelligence officials became aware of in late 2018, marks a new bid by Russia to intervene in the high-stakes nuclear talks. The attempt is expected to unsettle Chinese and U.S. officials wary of granting Moscow an economic foothold on the Korean Peninsula. The deal reportedly would transfer all nuclear byproduct and waste back to Russia, reducing the risk that North Korea uses the power plant to build nuclear weapons while providing the impoverished country a new energy source.”

Germany

Deutsche Welle: German Police Arrest 3 Iraqi Refugees Suspected Of Planning Terror Attack

“Three Iraqi refugees were arrested on Wednesday in northern Germany for preparing a terror attack. Two 23-year-olds and a 36-year-old were arrested in an early morning raid in the state of Schleswig-Holstein after a months-long investigation, German police said. "According to the findings to date, the suspects had not yet selected a specific target for their attack," the federal prosecutor's office said in a statement. Two of the suspects are accused of preparing a bomb using gunpowder from fireworks and another of aiding and abetting the terror plans. Investigators allege the two 23-year-olds, Shahin F. and Hersh F., downloaded bomb-making instructions from the internet and tried to purchase a detonation device from the United Kingdom. British authorities were able to halt the shipment of the detonation device to Germany. A look at Germany's growing Salafist Islamic community The two accused also considered buying a 9mm handgun with the help of 36-year-old Rauf S., who negotiated with a separately prosecuted man to procure the weapon. However, Shahin F. and Hersh F. found the handgun too expensive and started considering a vehicle attack instead, prosecutors said.”

Australia

France 24: Australia Admits Misstep Over Islamic State Suspect

“Australia failed to make basic checks before stripping a suspected Islamic State fighter of his citizenship, a senior official said Wednesday, an admission likely to call into question the legality of the move. The country last month striped Neil Prakash of citizenship after claiming he was Fijian -- prompting strenuous denials from the authorities in Suva and an embarrassing diplomatic rift. Prakash is accused of being a member of the IS jihadist group, and identified as the 12th Australian dual national to lose their passport over terrorism links. He is currently in Turkey facing charges of joining the organisation. A parliamentary intelligence committee on Wednesday grilled Home Affairs officials on the issue, asking whether they verified his status with Fiji or consulted experts in Fijian law before revoking Prakash's citizenship. "No, we did not" admitted senior department official Linda Geddes. If Prakash is neither Fijian nor Australian he would now be stateless in contravention of decades old UN accords and Australian law. A Special Counsel advising the government told the parliamentary committee he offered "strong advice" on the case, but would not go into detail.”

9News: Exclusive: Al Qaeda Recruiter Turned FBI Informant Forged 'Intensive' Links With Anti-Western Australian Preachers

“Six years after two passenger jets slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, a new kind of hostile terror threat rose in New York. Designed to spread the vengeful ideology of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda, a website named Revolution Muslim (RM) was quietly launched into cyberspace in 2007 out of a Brooklyn apartment. The RM platform, which would forge potentially deadly links with some of Australia's most notorious anti-Western Muslim preachers, was a precursor to Islamic State's slick online propaganda machine. Its mission, while pushing US freedom of speech legislation to extreme limits, was to radicalise and recruit vulnerable young English-speaking men in the West into becoming jihadists. RM was the brainchild of New Yorker Jesse Morton and Yousef al-Khattab, two American men who had converted to Islam. Both Al Qaeda recruiters would later be hunted down by American counter-terror agencies, with Morton captured in Morocco after fleeing US soil. The pair were charged with soliciting murder through their RM network.”

9 News Australia: Alleged Islamic State Supporter On Trial Accused Of Sydney 'Machete Stabbing'

“An alleged Islamic State supporter who stabbed a man in his Sydney neighbourhood said he was going to kill him and aimed repeated blows at his head, a jury has been told. Ihsas Khan, 25, is on trial in the NSW Supreme Court after pleading not guilty to committing a terrorist act and wounding with intent to murder over the attack at Minto, in Sydney's southwest, in 2016. Khan is not disputing he stabbed Wayne Greenhalgh, but is fighting the charges on the grounds of mental illness. In a 2016 police interview played to the jury today, Mr Greenhalgh said he'd been walking by Khan's home on the afternoon of September 10 when the young man went inside and re-emerged with a backpack. He pulled out a "sword-like machete" and came at Mr Greenhalgh, who was 57 at the time. "He got me probably three or four times and I didn't know what to do," Mr Greenhalgh told police from his hospital bed. "There was blood pouring out of everywhere." He told the court today that Khan said: "I'm going to f---ing kill you... Allah Allah." Mr Greenhalgh ran to a nearby hairdresser to escape, while his neighbours fended off Khan with a broom, fence pailing and a rock. "Lucky they were there at that time, lucky," he told the court today.”

Southeast Asia

Reuters: Philippine President Suggests Church Bombing Was 'Suicide' Attack

“Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday twin explosions that killed 20 people in a church on a southern island at the weekend may have been a suicide attack, citing a briefing given to him by military commanders. Duterte’s comments run counter to statements by military and police officials on Tuesday, who said the bombs inside and outside of the church in Jolo appeared to have been detonated remotely. Security camera footage of suspects believed to have planted the bombs has been shown to media. If confirmed, it would be one of the first known cases of a suicide attack in the Philippines and would be consistent with details of a claim of responsibility by Islamic State via its Amaq news agency early on Monday. “It exploded. That is terrorism and suicide. You cannot carry plastic bags, you will be questioned by the military, police when you have backpack,” Duterte said when asked by reporters to clarify an earlier remark.  He added: “But you could see all around bits and pieces of flesh. We even stepped on it.”  Asked separately about Duterte’s comment, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said it was possible the second blast “may have been a suicide bomber.”

Venezuela

Insight Crime: Hezbollah’s Backing Of Maduro May Shine Light On Links With Venezuela

“Hezbollah’s explicit support for Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro could be the first step in confirming links between the South American nation’s government, the terrorist organization and organized crime groups. Hezbollah’s backing comes amid one of the country’s worst political crises in history. “Everyone knows that the US objective is not to defend democracy and freedom, according to Washington, but to appropriate the resources of the country and punish all states that oppose US hegemony,” Hezbollah said in a January 24 press release transmitted by the satellite television station Al Manar from Lebanon’s capital Beirut. In addition to the press release, Hezbollah’s support for Maduro was also evident through a January 25 visit that the leader of the terrorist group’s “Loyalty to the Resistance” parliamentary block, Mohammad Raad, had with Venezuela Ambassador to Libya Jesús González González.”

Technology

The Guardian: Nick Clegg Squirms As Facebook Apologist-In-Chief. Sound Familiar?

“Once upon a time there was a Tumblr account called Nick Clegg Looking Sad, which consisted almost entirely of pictures of the then deputy prime minister looking miserable. It doesn’t seem to have been updated since the 2015 general election, presumably because that represented peak misery, but I was reminded of it on Tuesday when Clegg made his first outing as spin doctor for Facebook. He had been given some happy news to impart, including the creation of a centre for electoral integrity to try to fight political disinformation campaigns aimed at skewing elections. But the pained expression crept in when confronted on TV with examples of the kind of graphic Instagram posts that 14-year-old Molly Russell’s bereaved parents believe had a bearing on their daughter’s suicide, and asked whether he would want his own children to see them. There is something horribly familiar about the sight of Clegg publicly squirming over the consequences of things he doesn’t quite have the power to stop, as if the coalition years were happening all over again in slow motion.”

Counter Extremism

Arab Youm: Saudi Ideological Warfare Center Combats Extremism By Correcting Misconceptions

“The Saudi Ideological Warfare Center (IWC), affiliated with the Saudi Ministry of Defense, participated in the Saudi booth at the recently held 50th Annual Cairo International Book Fair in Egypt. The center presented what it described as the "true" underpinnings and values of the Islam religion. These precepts, which are based on the moderate model of Islam, take into account the diversity of other religions, cultures and civilizations, stressed Colonel Abdullah bin Hadi Al-Hajjri, Director of the Support Services Department at the IWC. Addressing a forum during the fair, Al-Hajjri went on to say that the Ideological Warfare Center confronts the roots of extremism and terrorism through consolidating and promoting the true understanding of Islam and correcting misconceptions about the religion. The IWC corrects what it calls “misguidance” about Islam by managing an array of social media accounts, Al-Hajjri noted. These multi-lingual online accounts expose mistakes, allegations, suspicions and deceptive techniques uploaded by extremists and terrorists. Additionally, the IWC, via these social media accounts, promotes the positive image of Islam, the Saudi military official added.”

ISIS

24: Expert Speaks On ISIS's Ambitions For Deployment In Africa

“Muhammad Mukhtar Kandil, a researcher on extremist organizations, pointed out that a set of factors should be stressed, in view of ISIS's actions to relocate its central leadership from Syria and Iraq to the African continent. Kandil explained that the most important of these factors is the group's need for a major issue to exploit in order to promote itself; the natural topography that provides cover for the organization's presence and its operations. These include large territories, long borders and mountains and forests, which can provide resources to help sustain ISIS in case of a siege. This is in addition to the local population, their nature and engagement with issues related to ISIS's infiltration. Kandil asserted that these factors being widely available in Africa could ease the terror organization's task of infiltrating extensively into Africa. However, Kandil added that al-Qaeda has branches and followers in Africa, and ISIS's presence there might clash with its {rival's} ambitions.”

Muslim Brotherhood

Arab Youm: Egypt Foils Muslim Brotherhood Plot Aimed At Obstructing State Institutions

“In a new proactive crackdown targeting the remnants of terrorism, Egypt's National Security Agency captured 54 extremists, who were plotting to wreak havoc in the country during January and February 2019. The Ministry of Interior revealed that fugitive leaders of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood were plotting to spread chaos in Egypt by sabotaging public roads and terrorizing citizens, with the ultimate aim of disrupting public peace, harming the country's national interests and obstructing the state institutions. The ministry also noted that leaders of the banned Islamist group abroad held {online} meetings, via the Internet, with anti-state persons inside the country to carry out this malicious plot. The blacklisted organization intended to finance this scheme through local economic entities which are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, the ministry claimed.”

Houthi

Khabar Agency: A Gang Linked To The Houthis Stole Medical Devices

“Reliable sources in the province of Ibb, in central Yemen, revealed on Tuesday (January 29th, 2019) the activities of a Houthi-affiliated gang that was looting medical devices and seizing drug shipments. According to the sources, "the Houthi-backed gang stole an ultrasound device from the stores of the local health office in Ibb. The stolen device is worth $5000." The source added that the theft was carried out amid silence of the de facto Houthi-affiliated authorities. The sources also revealed the theft of medical equipment left by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) at the Thawra General Hospital in Ibb after departing the hospital and halting its medical activities due to harassment by the Houthi militants. The sources also reported the disappearance and theft, presumably also by the Houthi militants, of a shipment of pharmaceuticals provided by an international organization for the people of Ibb province.”