Eye on Extremism: January 4, 2024

Reuters: Blasts Kill Nearly 100 At Slain Commander Soleimani's Memorial; Iran Vows Revenge

“Two explosions killed nearly 100 people and wounded scores at a ceremony in Iran on Wednesday to commemorate commander Qassem Soleimani who was killed by a U.S. drone in 2020, Iranian officials said, blaming unspecified "terrorists". Iranian state television reported a first and then a second blast after 20 minutes during a crowded fourth-anniversary event at the cemetery where Soleimani is buried in the southeastern city of Kerman. No one claimed responsibility for the blasts. A senior Biden administration official said in Washington that the blasts appeared to represent "a terrorist attack" of the type carried out in the past by Islamic State militants. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi condemned the "heinous and inhumane crime", and Iran's top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei vowed revenge for the bloody twin bombings. "Cruel criminals ... must know that they will be strongly dealt with from now on and ... undoubtedly there will be a harsh response," Khamenei said in a statement, according to state media.”

Wall Street Journal: U.S. Seeks Drone Bases In Coastal West Africa To Stem Islamist Advance

“The U.S. is seeking to base military drones along the West African coast in an urgent effort to stop the spread of al Qaeda and Islamic State in the region, according to American and African officials. The U.S. is holding preliminary talks to allow American unarmed reconnaissance drones to use airfields in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Benin, countries on the Atlantic Ocean. Relatively stable and prosperous, the three coastal countries, along with Togo, now find themselves threatened by Islamist militants surging south from Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger—three beleaguered nations in the Sahel, the semidesert band south of the Sahara. The negotiations reflect a military retrenchment on the part of the U.S. For years, American commandos and drones backstopped French and local efforts to secure the Sahelian countries that are now at the center of the world’s most active Islamist insurgency. Since 2017, an estimated 41,000 people have been killed in jihadist violence in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The disorder has created an opening for Russia to deepen political and military ties in the region.”

CEP Mentions

WTOP News: The Hunt: Iran Surprised By Massive Terror Attack

“In this week’s episode of “The Hunt with WTOP national security correspondent JJ Green,” senior director at the Counter Extremism Project Hans-Jakob Schindler says the attack near the gravesite of Qassem Solemani, a former top Iranian military leader was “unprecedented.”

CAPX: The Illegal Immigrants The Government Won’t Talk About

“Is James Cleverly’s processor stripping its gears? He appeared on the deck of Radio 4s Today programme on Tuesday to declare ‘mission accomplished’ in delivering the Prime Ministers pledge to deal with the asylum claim backlog which stood at 92,000 in June this year. These claims had now been ‘processed’ he declared.”

News Letter: Terror Victim And Perpetrator Cannot Be Treated On A Par: Police Federation

“... Former prison governor, Professor Ian Acheson of the Counter Extremism Project, has also spoken out against the commissioner’s proposal – saying that any form of equivalence between the two groups would be the “antithesis of reconciliation". In a post on social media, the Enniskillen-born academic said: “This is foul and no amount of progressive sophistry can hide it. Eighty-seven percent of deaths in the Troubles were caused by republican and loyalist terrorists.”

United States

BBC: New Jersey Imam Shot And Killed Outside His Mosque

“Authorities said in a news conference that they believe the killing of Imam Hassan Sharif was not motivated by domestic terrorism or "bias" Mr Sharif was found with multiple gunshot wounds outside his mosque, Masjid-Muhammad-Newark, before dawn. He was taken to hospital where he later succumbed to his injuries. "The evidence collected thus far does not indicate that this was an act motivated by bias or an act of domestic terrorism," New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin told reporters. He added that investigators normally would "not go public with this type of information so early in our process" but that a rise in prejudice against the Muslim community compelled them to reveal their preliminary findings. "I know that in light of global events and with a rise in bias directed at many communities we're experiencing across our state - particularly the Muslim community - there are many in New Jersey right now who are feeling a heightened sense of fear or anxiety at the news of this slaying," he said. Governor Phil Murphy released a statement asking for anyone with information to come forward.”

Reuters: US Believes Hamas Used Al Shifa Hospital But Evacuated Before Israeli Operation- Source

“U.S. spy agencies assess that Islamist group Hamas and another Palestinian group fighting Israel used Gaza's Al Shifa Hospital to command forces and hold some hostages but largely evacuated the complex days before Israeli troops entered it, a U.S. official said on Tuesday, citing declassified U.S. intelligence. The complex was used by both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to command forces fighting against Israel, the U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. U.S. intelligence agencies have not disclosed the evidence on which they based their assessment. The official said the U.S. had independently confirmed the information. Israel has also said Al Shifa, which it had occupied earlier in the war in Gaza, had been used by Hamas. Israeli troops entered the hospital in November. The targeting of the hospital had stoked global alarm over the fate of civilians and patients who were inside. The World Health Organization last month described the emergency department in the enclave's main health facility as resembling a "bloodbath."”


Reuters: China's Xi Sends Condolences To Iran President On 'Terrorist Attack'

“China's President Xi Jinping sent a message of condolence to the Iranian president on Thursday for the "terrorist attack" a day earlier, Chinese state television CCTV said. Two explosions killed nearly 100 people and wounded scores in Iran on Wednesday at a ceremony to commemorate commander Qassem Soleimani who was killed by a U.S. drone in 2020. Iranian officials blamed Wednesday's incident on unspecified "terrorists". Xi said he was shocked at the attack and stressed that China opposes all forms of terrorism, "strongly condemns terrorist attacks", and firmly supports Iran's efforts to safeguard national security and stability, Xinhua said.”


Reuters: Three Iran-Backed Militia Fighters Killed In Baghdad Drone Strike – Sources

“At least three militia fighters were killed and six others wounded in a drone strike on an Iran-backed militia headquarters in eastern Baghdad on Thursday, police and security sources told Reuters. Police sources and eyewitnesses said at least two rockets struck a building used by Iraqi militia group al-Nujaba'a. A group spokesman said three of the group's fighters were killed, including a local commander in al-Nujaba'a. The spokesman accused the United States of carrying out the attack. Iraqi police and security sources said they had no further detail on who might have carried out the strike pending a government investigation. Last month, the United States carried out retaliatory air strikes in Iraq after a drone attack by Iran-aligned militants that left one U.S. service member in critical condition and wounded two others. read more. The U.S. military has already come under attack at least 100 times in Iraq and Syria since the Israel-Hamas war began in October, usually with a mix of rockets and one-way attack drones.”


Voice Of America: Taliban Maintain Poppy Crackdown, US Fears Farmers’ Return To Cultivation

“Afghanistan's Taliban government is touting major strides in combating drug production and trafficking over the past year. Acting defense minister Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid announced at a Kabul press conference on Sunday that 4,472 tons of narcotics had been destroyed, 8,282 individuals involved in production and smuggling were arrested, and 13,904 hectares of poppy crops were cleared. “Smuggling of all contraband has been prevented by 99 percent,” Mujahid claimed. The United States and the United Nations have confirmed a massive reduction in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan since the Taliban supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, banned the crop in April 2022. Afghanistan's poppy cultivation plummeted so dramatically after the Taliban ban that the country no longer holds the title of top global opiate supplier, ceding it to Myanmar, according to a 2023 report by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC. For nearly two decades, despite billions of dollars poured into counter-narcotics by Western donors, Afghanistan remained the world's opium kingpin, supplying more than 80% of the world’s illicit market.”


Voice Of America: Terror Attacks Test Ties As Pakistan Hosts Talks With Afghan Taliban

“A high-powered delegation from Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban held crucial talks with Pakistan officials Wednesday in a bid to ease tensions stemming from a surge in deadly cross-border attacks blamed on terrorists based on Afghan soil. Officials said Mullah Shirin Akhund, an influential Taliban leader, led his team of defense ministry and intelligence representatives at the meeting convened in Islamabad under what is known as the Joint Coordination Committee, or JCC. The committee was established to address border management and related security issues facing the two countries. “In the JCC meeting, the two sides discussed coordination mechanisms to facilitate cross-border movement with a view to promoting people-to-people contacts,” a Pakistani foreign ministry statement said after the meeting. The ministry did not share further details on the delegation-level discussions. Pakistani officials say that fugitive militants linked to anti-state Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, and allied groups have intensified cross-border attacks with “greater operational freedom” since the Islamist Taliban regained control of Afghanistan more than two years ago.”


Reuters: UN Security Council Members Call For Houthis To Stop Attacks On Shipping

“Members of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday called on Yemen's Houthis to halt their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, saying they are illegal and threaten regional stability, freedom of navigation and global food supplies. Addressing the council's first formal meeting of 2024, members also demanded that the Houthis release the Galaxy Leader, a Japanese-operated cargo ship linked to an Israeli company, and its crew, which the group seized on Nov. 19. Some members urged the council to take action to halt the Houthi missile and drone attacks. But the body took no formal steps in the open session before going into closed consultations. The United States believes the situation has reached an "inflection point," Chris Lu, a U.S. representative to the United Nations, told the council. "These attacks pose grave implications for maritime security, international shipping and commerce, and they undermine the fragile humanitarian situation in Yemen," threatening aid deliveries to the war-torn country, Lu said.”

Bloomberg: US, Other Countries Warn Houthis Against Further Attacks In Red Sea

“More than a dozen countries warned the Houthis, a Yemen-based rebel group backed by Iran, against continuing their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, which have disrupted global commerce and triggered a limited military response from the US. “The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways,” governments, including the US, the UK, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands and New Zealand, said in a joint statement Wednesday. They called the attacks “illegal, unacceptable, and profoundly destabilizing.” US officials said later that Singapore had also signed on to the statement. Numerous container shipping lines have elected to avoid the Red Sea following a wave of attacks, instead sailing their fleets thousands of miles around Africa. The channel normally handles about 12% of the world’s commerce. The attacks have added to the risks of a regional expansion of Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.”

Middle East

Reuters: Hezbollah Head Vows Group Will Not 'Be Silent' After Israeli Killing Of Hamas Deputy Chief

“The head of Lebanon's powerful armed group Hezbollah said on Wednesday that Israel's killing of the deputy chief of allied Palestinian faction Hamas in Beirut was "a major, dangerous crime about which we cannot be silent". In a televised speech, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah offered his condolences to Hamas for what he called a "flagrant Israeli aggression" on Tuesday night that killed Saleh al-Arouri. Tuesday's strike hit the southern Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh, in what analysts have said could also be a message from Israel to Hezbollah that even its prime stronghold there can be reached. It was the first strike to hit Beirut following almost three months of near daily fire between the Israeli military and Hezbollah that has been confined to the border region. Hezbollah launched rockets across the border on Oct. 8 in support of Hamas, which had carried out a deadly assault into southern Israel the previous day that prompted a fierce Israeli bombing campaign of the Gaza Strip. Hezbollah, founded by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in 1982, is the spearhead of a Tehran-backed alliance hostile to Israel and the United States. It fought a month-long war against Israel in 2006.”

Reuters: Israel Focuses Assault On Southern Gaza Amid Concern Over Spread Of War

“Israeli shelling killed 14 Palestinians on Thursday in Khan Younis in a southern coastal area of the Gaza Strip packed with people who had fled attacks in other parts of the enclave, Gaza health ministry officials said. The dead included nine children, an official told Reuters. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military on the attack although it had separately reported fighting and air strikes against Hamas militants in the Kkan Younis area on Thursday. Gaza residents also said Israeli planes and tanks bombarded three refugee camps in the centre of the shattered enclave in heavier attacks than in previous days. The latest action took place as Israel's war against Hamas neared the three-month mark amid international concern that the conflict was spreading beyond Gaza, drawing in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Hezbollah forces on the Lebanon-Israel border, and Red Sea shipping lanes. Fears were heightened after a drone strike on Tuesday killed Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri in the Lebanese capital Beirut. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed on Wednesday that his powerful Iran-backed Shi'ite militia "cannot be silent" following the killing.”


Bloomberg: Why Ethiopia’s Red Sea Port Deal With Somaliland Has Somalia On Edge

“Ethiopia has been landlocked since 1993, when Eritrea gained independence after a three-decade war, leaving it reliant on its neighbors’ ports. In 2023, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed identified regaining ocean access as a strategic objective and warned that failure to secure it could lead to conflict. Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti were incensed and said they would oppose any attempt to infringe on their territories, prompting Abiy to walk back his comments. Then on Jan. 1, Ethiopia struck a deal to secure direct passage to the Red Sea via Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia, which will get a stake in its national airline in return. The alliance has stoked tensions across one of the world’s most volatile regions. A memorandum of understanding envisions Ethiopia gaining access to the Bab El-Mandeb strait in Gulf of Aden via a corridor that it would lease from Somaliland for 50 years. Ethiopia could establish a military base and commercial facilities there. In exchange, Somaliland would get an unspecified share of Ethiopian Airlines, the continent’s largest carrier. While President Muse Bihi Abdi of Somaliland said Ethiopia will officially recognize his country as a sovereign state, Addis Ababa said that issue is still being assessed.”


Reuters: Argentina Detains Three Foreigners On Terrorism Suspicions

“Argentine authorities have detained three individuals with Syrian and Lebanese citizenship suspected of plotting a terrorist attack in the South American country, Argentina's security minister and federal police each said on Wednesday. Authorities did not give details on the suspects' identities, but said officials were investigating the suspects' objectives for visiting Argentina and a 35-kilogram package en route from Yemen to one of the suspects. "Indications arose of the possible entry into the country of three citizens of Syrian and Lebanese origin who, after arriving on different flights, were to meet in the city of Buenos Aires to plan an eventual terrorist act," Argentina's Federal Police said in a statement. The police did not specify when the arrests occurred. Security Minister Patricia Bullrich told journalists that the suspects had previously entered Argentina with passports from other countries. She said their identities would not be released until they could be verified. "Now there is an investigation. We will see if it was indeed a cell that came to Argentina or if it has another implication," said the minister, who took office on Dec. 10.”


BBC: Urgent Need For Terrorism AI Laws, Warns Think Tank

“The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) says there is a "clear need for legislation to keep up" with online terrorist threats. It comes after the UK's independent terror legislation reviewer was "recruited" by a chatbot in an experiment. The government says it will do "all we can" to protect the public. Writing in the Telegraph, the government's independent terrorism legislation reviewer Jonathan Hall KC said a key issue is that "it is hard to identify a person who could in law be responsible for chatbot-generated statements that encouraged terrorism." Mr Hall ran an experiment on Character.ai, a website where people can have AI-generated conversations with chatbots created by other users. He chatted to several bots seemingly designed to mimic the responses of other militant and extremist groups. One even said it was "a senior leader of Islamic State". Mr Hall said the bot tried to recruit him and expressed "total dedication and devotion" to the extremist group, proscribed under UK anti-terrorism laws. But Mr Hall said as the messages were not generated by a human, no crime was committed under current UK law. New legislation should hold chatbot creators and the websites which host them responsible, he said.”

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

In Their Own Words:

We reiterate once again that the brigades will directly target US bases across the region in case the US enemy commits a folly and decides to strike our resistance fighters and their camps [in Iraq].

Abu Ali al-Askari, Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) Security Official Mar. 2023
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