Eye on Extremism: July 10, 2020

Fox News: Taliban, Despite 'Peace' Talks, Led The World By Far In 2019 Terrorist Attacks, Study Finds

“Almost 8,500 terrorist attacks took place in 2019, killing more than 20,300 people – some 5,460 were known perpetrators and 14,840 were victims, according to a report released this week by the University of Maryland's National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) as part of its Global Terrorism Database (GTD). But even as talks intensified between the United States and the Taliban in Doha to ink a “peace deal” in Afghanistan – which was ultimately signed in February and involves an immediate drawdown of American troops – the insurgency was by far the highest executioners of attacks throughout all of last year, sustaining a “longstanding upward trend.” “The behavior of organizations engaging in peace talks can involve a variety of strategies,” Erin Miller, the GTD program manager, told Fox News. “Increasing violence may derail peace talks, but in some cases, it's the escalation of violence that pushes parties to the negotiating table – when that violence reaches intolerable levels – and the organization may view that as leverage in the negotiations.”

The Washington Post: Covid-19 Pandemic Is Stoking Extremist Flames Worldwide, Analysts Warn

“In India, mobs smashed stores and beat up shopkeepers in some town or village every week in June. The victims were mostly Muslims whom the rioters falsely accused of spreading the virus that causes covid-19. During the same month in Nigeria, Islamist militants took advantage of a police force weakened by the novel coronavirus to rampage through the country’s northern Borno province, slaughtering 81 people in a single day. In the United States, police investigated dozens of death threats against elected and public health officials, including an emailed vow to “put a bullet” through the brain of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D). Across the globe, violence has emerged a major and persistent side effect of the pandemic that has stricken 12 million people and killed more than 550,000. Even as it overwhelms hospitals, covid-19 is also straining security forces in scores of countries, exacerbating long-standing conflicts while fueling grievances and spurring the growth of extremist groups, security officials and analysts say in a series of new studies and interviews. The pandemic is creating new opportunities for the Islamic State and other militants in the Middle East and Africa, where hard-hit local governments are being forced to redeploy security forces to battle the disease, the analyses show.”

Deutsche Welle: Germany Security Report: Number Of Right-Wing Extremists Sharply Rose In 2019

“Right-wing extremism poses the biggest threat to security in Germany, the country's interior minister said Thursday at the presentation of the 2019 report by Germany's domestic intelligence agency. In Berlin, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and the head of Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) Thomas Haldenwang presented the organization's most recent findings, which showed that right-wing extremism in Germany sharply increased last year. According to the report, the BfV identified 32,080 right-wing extremists in Germany in 2019, up from 24,100 the year before. The BfV classified 13,000 of these cases as prepared to use violence, 300 more than in 2018. Right-wing extremism, racism, and anti-Semitism continue to increase in Germany, Seehofer said. “These areas are the biggest threat to security in Germany,” he said. Seehofer pointed to government action over the last year, saying no other government in Germany had done so much to fight far-right extremism. In recent months, several extreme far-right organizations were banned for views or activities deemed anti-constitutional. For the first time this year, the BfV report also reviewed the activities and member of the radical “Flügel”, or Wing, faction of Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.”

United States

Fox News: ICE Deports Illegal Immigrant Linked To El Salvador Terror Groups

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday deported an illegal immigrant who was wanted in El Salvador on charges of terrorism and leading terrorist organizations. Saul Alberto Benavides, 35, was flown on a charter flight coordinated by ICE’s Air Operations Unit from the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston to San Salvador, El Salvador, the agency said in a press release. Upon arriving in San Salvador, Benavides was turned over to officials from El Salvador’s Civilian National Police. The agency says Benavides illegally entered the United States by way of Roma, Texas – a town along the Mexico border – on July 1, 2019. According to ICE, Benavides was a member of the 18th Street gang, a transnational criminal organization founded in the 1960s by immigrants and multiracial youths. Benavides was nabbed by U.S. Border Patrol in Robstown, Texas – about 20 miles east of Corpus Christi – on March 26, 2020, and transferred into ICE custody. An immigration judge ordered Benavides removal from the U.S. to El Salvador on June 15, ICE said.”

Detroit Free Press: Detroit's Infamous Right-Wing Extremist Died And Hardly Anyone Knew — Until Now

“In life, Donald Lobsinger made a lot of noise. He made a lot of enemies. As Detroit’s infamous right-wing agitator from the 1960s through the 1990s, he once assaulted a priest at a peace rally. As an anti-communist zealot at the height of the Cold War, Lobsinger led an organization named Breakthrough that spent years disrupting meetings, tearing banners, scuffling with police, haranguing anti-war protesters, staging publicity-generating stunts and chanting, “Kill abortionists.” His antics and proclivity for violence made him a household name across metro Detroit and he once received almost 74,000 votes as a Republican running for Congress. In death, he passed with almost no one noticing. And that was by design. Lobsinger died Nov. 18, 2018, at the Orchard Grove Health Campus in Romeo. He was 84. His funeral mass was celebrated at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ray Township. Family and close friends attended. “We sent out no newspaper obituaries,” said Henry Malburg, owner of the Henry M. Malburg Funeral Home in Romeo. “The family didn’t want it.” As a result, the Detroit media never found out about Lobsinger’s death. This article, 20 months late, is the first. The family-produced obituary on the funeral home website was brief, and only three people posted tributes.”

Syria

Associated Press: UN Official: 700 People Died In Syrian Camps For IS Families

“The U.N. counterterrorism chief said his office received information that 700 people died recently in two camps in northeast Syria, where about 70,000 mainly women and children connected to Islamic State fighters are detained in “very dire conditions.” Vladimir Vorontsov told a news conference Thursday that the people, including children, died of “lack of medicine, lack of food” at the al-Hol and Roj camps, which are overseen by Kurdish-led forces allied with the United States who spearheaded the fight against the extremist group. He said the deaths in the camps created “feelings of anger.” Vorontsov urged the international community to tackle “the huge problem” of what to do with these people, saying keeping them in camps “is very dangerous.” He warned that “they could create very explosive materials that could be very helpful for terrorists to restart their activities” in Syria and Iraq. The Islamic State, which once controlled large swathes of Iraq and Syria, lost its last Syrian strongholds in early 2019. But despite the loss of its self-styled caliphate, U.N. experts said earlier this year that the extremist group is mounting increasingly bold attacks in Syria and Iraq and is planning for the breakout of its fighters in detention facilities.”

Kurdistan 24: SDF Continues Pressure On ISIS Remnants In Northeast Syria

“The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with support from the US-led Coalition, carried out several security operations against the so-called Islamic State in the northern Syrian Deir al-Zor and Hasakah provinces this week. The SDF’s Coordination and Military Operations Centre on Wednesday announced on Twitter that they carried out a new operation against Islamic State fighters in Hasakah city. “After security monitoring and follow-up, and as part of a new operation targeting ISIS cells, our special units with the participation of the international coalition forces are arresting a member of an ISIS cell in Hasaka city and transferring him for investigation.” Furthermore, on Monday, the SDF Military Operation Centre said they carried separate operations in both Hasakah and Deir al-Zor.”With the air support from the international coalition, an operation by our special units in the northern countryside of Dair Al Zor, resulted in the arrest of 3 members of ISIS cells, and confiscated a set of equipment during the raid,” the group said in another statement. The SDF also arrested a member of Islamic State in the southern countryside of Hasakah and seized military weapons and equipment.”

Iraq

Military Times: Mass Grave Uncovered In Former ISIS Territory Of Northern Iraq

“Numerous human remains were recently uncovered from a suspected mass grave in the northern Iraqi village of Humeydat, part of the territory formerly controlled by Islamic State militants. Local officials found the grave, which extended over hundreds of meters, filled with bones, skulls, clothing and shoes. The remains are believed to be those of Shiite prisoners who were executed in June 2014 after ISIS gained control of Mosul, though an investigation is needed to confirm. Iraqi security forces have found mass graves in an area recently retaken from the Islamic State group that could contain up to 400 bodies, an Iraqi official said Sunday. An estimated 1,500 prisoners, both Shiite and Sunni, from Badoush were taken to the desert and separated, according to a Human Rights Watch investigation. ISIS allegedly executed 600 prisoners in this area, most of whom were Shiite. Experts performed an initial investigation, but further excavation has been halted due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, officials told The Associated Press. The Iraqi government task force that investigated mass graves prior to the pandemic had ongoing issues including understaffing and inadequate resources to store and identify remains, according to a November 2018 report from the United Nations.”

Afghanistan

CNN: Pentagon Chief Confirms He Was Briefed On Intelligence About Russian Payments To The Taliban

“Secretary of Defense Mark Esper confirmed Thursday that he had been briefed on information regarding Russian payments to the Taliban, seemingly acknowledging that Russia's support for the militant group in Afghanistan is not a “hoax,” as President Donald Trump has claimed. However, Esper also made clear that he has not seen intelligence that corroborates claims that American troops were killed as a result of the “bounty” payments, walking a delicate line between acknowledging a well-known threat and potentially clashing with the President. Esper's comments came during a long-awaited appearance before the House Armed Services Committee, where lawmakers had their first opportunity to ask the defense secretary and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley about their knowledge of intelligence on Russia offering bounties to the Taliban for killing US troops in Afghanistan. It was clear that both men attempted to carefully navigate questions from lawmakers, but Esper admitted exercising particular caution while addressing inquiries about whether he had been briefed on the matter and when. Responding to a very narrow line of questioning from Rep. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican, Esper initially told lawmakers that he did not recall a briefing that included the word “bounty,” but less than an hour later he clarified that answer when pressed by a Democratic member of the panel.”

Yemen

Al Jazeera: Saudi-Led Coalition In Yemen Says Explosive-Laden Boats Destroyed

“The Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Houthi group in Yemen has destroyed two explosive-laden boats in the Red Sea on Thursday, the coalition's spokesperson said. The two remotely controlled boats belonged to Houthi forces and were threatening navigation, according to the spokesperson's statement carried on Saudi state news agency SPA. The boats were destroyed 6km (3.7 miles) south of the Yemeni port of Salif. Arabic media cited a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Turki al-Malki, as saying the Houthis' boats had posed an “imminent threat to sea lines of communication, international trade and regional and international security”. “[The boats] were prepared to imminently execute hostile and terrorist actions in the Bab Al Mandab Strait and Southern Red Sea,” said al-Maliki. Al-Maliki added the operation had not violated recently agreed ceasefire deals, and “all precautionary measures” were taken to protect civilians. However, Yahya Sarea, a Houthi armed forces a spokesperson, said on Twitter the boats were civilian vessels and called the coalition attack a 'major aggression' which violated the Stockholm peace deal, a UN-brokered agreement reached in December 2018.”

Nigeria

Pulse Nigeria: Troops Kill 92 Boko Haram Terrorists, Rescue 35 Captives

“Troops of the Armed Forces of Nigeria killed 92 Boko Haram terrorists in the past week, according to Defence Headquarters. DHQ spokesperson, Major-General John Enenche, disclosed during a media briefing on Thursday, July 9, 2020 that troops had at least 17 recorded encounters with the Islamic sect terrorising the northeast region. He noted that troops of 25 Task Force Brigade killed 17 terrorists while on clearance operations along Damboa-Maiduguri Road, Borno State on Tuesday, July 7. Even though he had in a previous statement announced that two soldiers were killed in the encounter, Premium Times has reported that as many as 37 soldiers were killed, according to military sources. Boko Haram's reign of terror in the region commenced in 2009 and has led to the death of over 30,000, abduction of tens of thousands, and displacement of over 2.5 million people. The Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), a major Boko Haram faction, has carried out direct attacks on military troops for the past two years. Enenche further reported in his Thursday briefing that 75 other terrorists were killed in other encounters with troops in the northeast theatre. Four terrorists also surrendered to troops while 'some criminal elements and spies' were arrested.”

Africa

The Economist: Jihadists In The Sahel Threaten West Africa’s Coastal States

“You may think you’re safe,” says a 57-year-old resident of Doropo in northern Ivory Coast. “But jihadists are like ants, they can come in without being noticed.” On June 11th, just three weeks after Ivory Coast’s army reassuringly declared that its northern frontier with war-torn Burkina Faso was “under control”, a band of armed insurgents proved it wrong. Some 20 men on motorbikes descended on an army-and-police outpost near the border at Kafolo. The attackers killed 14 soldiers before roaring away into the bush. The attack was the worst since 2016, when gunmen killed 19 people in a beach resort in Grand-Bassam, east of Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial capital. It shows that even west Africa’s most populous countries, along the Atlantic coast, have become vulnerable to the predations of jihadists spilling out of failing states farther north in the Sahel, that vast swathe of land on the rim of the Sahara desert.”

Associated Press: Burkina Faso's Volunteer Fighters Are No Match For Jihadists

“Armed only with a knife, Issa Tamboure was no match for gun-wielding jihadists who attacked his village in northern Burkina Faso in March. So Tamboure, 63, rounded up his family — including his 13 children — and ran, eventually reaching a camp for people displaced by violence. But Tamboure was not a typical civilian fleeing the extremists linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State organization who have been dramatically escalating their attacks in the West African nation in recent years. He is among the volunteers who signed up with Burkina Faso’s military to help fight the militants. But his plight shows the program's weakness: With little training, few weapons, and dwindling means amid an economic downturn fueled by the coronavirus pandemic, volunteers now say they are unable to adequately battle the well-armed extremists. “When you don’t have enough to eat, you don’t have enough strength to use a rifle,” said Tamboure, running his fingers over the family's tattered tent in a makeshift displacement camp in Kongoussi, about 15 miles (25 kilometers) from his home. He said the number of volunteers who patrol a swath between his village and the camp at night has fallen in recent months to around 200 from 500.”

United Kingdom

Reuters: Man Who Planned To Attack London Gay Pride March Jailed For Life

“A man found guilty of plotting terrorist attacks on crowded central London tourist attractions including a Gay Pride march was jailed for life on Thursday. Mohiussunnath Chowdhury, 29, was told he must serve at least 25 years for preparing acts of terrorism. During his trial, Woolwich Crown Court heard how Chowdhury, from Luton north of London, divulged his plans to men he thought were his friends but who were in fact covert anti-terrorism officers. He told them he was considering targeting crowded central London tourist attractions and a Pride in London event, police said in a statement. “He also told them of a dream he had, that he and a prison inmate carried out an attack on an open-top bus, which police believe was in fact something Chowdhury was planning to do,” the statement added. The court had earlier heard that Chowdhury had been cleared of preparing to commit an act of terrorism in December 2018 after waving a sword at police outside Queen Elizabeth’s residence of Buckingham Palace. “Mohiussunnath Chowdhury posed a very real threat to the lives of innocent people,” said Commander Richard Smith, head of London police Counter Terrorism Command.”

The Guardian: Counter-Terrorism Police Arrest Four Men Over 'Potential Attack'

“Armed counter-terrorism police made a series of arrests on Thursday, over what they described a a potential attack linked to extremist Islamist ideology. Four men were arrested, three in east London. The fourth man was arrested by unarmed officers in Leicestershire. Neighbours near one address in Ilford said they heard loud bangs as armed police went in. At a suburban home in nearby Goodmayes, at least seven specialist counter-terrorism firearms officers were seen staging a raid. During one arrest in east London, a man was bitten on the foot by a police dog. Social media footage shows one officer at Ilfracombe Gardens, Goodmayes, instructing those inside to “walk towards me slowly” and “place your hands on your head”. A door was smashed and broken glass was strewn after the raid. The raids followed a joint investigation by counter-terrorism police and MI5, the security service. Investigators had been considering whether to arrest the men for some time and the operation was “intelligence-led”. Sources said the arrests may be significant and that the investigation was at an early stage. Arrests under terrorism laws do not always lead to charges, one source stressed.”

BBC News: Met Police Probationary Officer Charged With Neo-Nazi Terror Offence

“A probationary Metropolitan Police officer has been charged with being a member of a banned neo-Nazi group. Benjamin Hannam, 21, has been charged with five offences following an investigation by the Met's Counter Terrorism Command. Scotland Yard says he has been suspended from duty. Mr Hannam, from North London, will appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court next month. Charges include possession of an indecent photograph of a child in 2018 and possession of a prohibited image of a child in 2016. In relation to far-right activity, it is alleged that between December 2016 and January 2018 Mr Hannam belonged or professed to belong to a proscribed organisation, namely National Action, contrary to section 11 of the Terrorism Act 2000. He is also accused of falsely representing in his application to join the Met Police that he had not been a member of an organisation similar to the BNP, namely National Action, intending to make a gain for himself. He is further charged with falsely representing in his vetting form to join the Met that he had not been a member of National Action. Det Supt Ella Marriott said: “These are extremely serious charges for anyone to face, and I fully understand and appreciate how deeply concerning it might be for the public, and particularly local communities here in north London, that the charges are against a serving police officer.”

France

Agence France-Presse: French Jihadist To Be Retried As Prosecutors Seek Life Term

“A French jihadist given a 30-year jail term last week for crimes committed in Syria, will be retried after prosecutors appealed Thursday seeking life imprisonment. On Friday, a court jailed Vilus, 30, for crimes committed between 2013 and 2015 when he was a senior figure in the Islamic State extremist group, including overseeing the execution of two prisoners. Vilus was found guilty of all the charges against him, including membership of a terror organisation, heading a group of IS fighters, and “aggravated murder”. The judges handed down a 30-year prison term, of which Vilus would have to serve at least two-thirds, or 20 years, before parole can be considered. France's National Anti-Terror Prosecutor's office had sought a life sentence, with a minimum 22 years to be served, and said Thursday it had filed an appeal against the ruling. The appeal automatically gives rise to a retrial in front of a court that will be specially constituted as this concerns a terror case. At the original trial, public prosecutor Guillaume Michelin sought the highest sentence arguing Vilus “hasn't changed one bit” since his time with the Islamic State. “All the steps in the accused's journey are interlocked with the construction of the caliphate,” said the prosecutor, referring to the Islamist-ruled area that IS had carved out in Syria and Iraq.”

Technology

The Wall Street Journal: Why Some Hate Speech Continues To Elude Facebook’s AI Machinery

“An audit commissioned by Facebook Inc. urged it to improve artificial intelligence-based tools it uses to help identify problematic content such as hate speech, showcasing the current limits of technology in policing the world’s largest social media platform. The report, made public Wednesday, examined Facebook’s approach to civil rights and criticized it as “too reactive and piecemeal,” despite much-publicized investments in AI-based censors and human analysts trained to track down and remove harmful content. Facebook says that as of March those tools helped zap 89% of hate speech removed from the platform before users reported it, up from about 65% a year earlier, according to the report. But outside researchers argue it is still impossible to gauge just how many posts escape the dragnets on a platform so large. “I could just hop on [Facebook] right now and go to particular pages and find tons,” said Caitlin Carlson, a communications professor at Seattle University who has studied hate speech on Facebook. “If the tech is getting so much better, why isn’t Facebook getting so much better?” As powerful as Facebook’s AI-based tools are, removing objectionable posts isn’t as easy as hitting a delete button.”

Wired: Neo-Nazis Are Running Out Of Places To Hide Online

“In March 2019, amid the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre, the far right made a collective migration from an array of messenger platforms and discussion boards to the messaging app Telegram. On their new home—the same one ISIS adopted as its digital headquarters in 2015—neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups steadily grew their audiences by the thousands. The Russian-founded, UK-based Telegram connected different far-right communities, helping to bring far more organization to the movement as a whole. Despite repeated reporting about this trend, neo-Nazis on Telegram called for attacks on Jews, law enforcement, and minorities, and gave instructions how to do so, with no substantial counteraction. Far-right terrorist channels and groups—which they self-declare as “Terrorgram”—got to act like ISIS but saw none of the same consequences. Rita Katz (@Rita_Katz) is the executive director and founder of the SITE Intelligence Group, the world’s leading nongovernmental counterterrorism organization specializing in tracking and analyzing the online activity of the global extremist community. But amid emerging stories of neo-Nazi National Guard and Army personnel networking and plotting attacks on Telegram, the company is now taking thorough action against some of the most prominent and violence-promoting entities on its platform.”

Forbes: TikTok Cut 49 Million Videos For Banned Content In Just Six Months: Do You Feel Safer?

“Even as TikTok battles the threat of international bans while balancing its Chinese ownership with the security imperatives in America and Europe, the sheer scale of the platform has been highlighted by its transparency report, issued today. In the second half of 2019, TikTok says it had to remove less than 1% of videos for banned content—breaches of its content guidelines or illegal activity, albeit that equated to a staggering 49 million of them. Most of those videos (89.4%) were detected and removed automatically, before generating any views. A further 9% were taken down by TikTok before any user complaints were received. The ability for a social media platform to automate the monitoring of content has become a serious issue in the last two years, as international pressure has mounted on the likes of YouTube, Instagram and Facebook itself over the transmission of offensive content, including acts of violence, terrorism and self harm. TikTok’s appeal to a largely young audience, and the criticism it has received before over data security and user safety, makes it especially sensitive to such issues. The irony, though, is that this transparency report has been published right in the middle of an unprecedented backlash against TikTok following alleged security issues, a ban in India, and talk of similar restrictions in Australia and the U.S.”