Eye on Extremism: July 21, 2020

Axios: Chinese Ambassador Struggles To Explain Xinjiang Footage Of Blindfolded Prisoners

“China's ambassador to the U.K., Liu Xiaoming, struggled on Sunday to explain drone footage from the region of Xinjiang that appears to show prisoners with shaved heads shackled, blindfolded and being led to trains. Why it matters: The video, which first appeared in October 2019 but resurfaced and went viral recently, has prompted fresh scrutiny of the human rights abuses China is carrying out against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities. Since 2017, China's government has detained an estimated 1 million–2 million Uighurs in "re-education camps" that it claims are being used to root out extremism. Last month, AP reported that China is engaging in a sweeping campaign of forced birth control and sterilization on Uighurs and other minorities that is "far more widespread and systematic" than was previously known — efforts that some experts have described as "demographic genocide.”

Arab News: UK Police Consider Dropping ‘Islamist’, ‘Jihadi’ Terms When Describing Terror Attacks

“Police in the UK are considering replacing terms such as “Islamist terrorism” to describe acts of terror with phrases such as “adherents of Osama bin Laden’s ideology,” The Times reported on Monday. If implemented, officers would stop using phrases such as “jihadi” when describing attacks by those claiming Islam as a motive for terror because their usage was not helpful for community relations. The head of counter-terrorism policing in the UK, Neil Basu, discussed the use of language to describe acts of terror during an online forum in June with attack survivors, relatives of victims and experts. During the event it was pointed out that right-wing extremists such as Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in an attack in Norway in 2011, had often cited protecting Christianity as part of the motive for their actions, but were not described as “Christianist” or “crusaderist” by the police or the media. A change in the use of language was requested by the National Association of Muslim Police, which said the use of words such as “Islamist” fostered negative connotations of the UK’s Muslim community and could lead to a rise in discrimination and Islamophobia.”

Agence France-Presse: Indonesia Jails Leaders Of Al-Qaeda-Linked Extremist Group

“Indonesia on Monday jailed two top leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) -- an Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group behind the 2002 Bali bombings -- on terror charges linked to sending militants to fight in Syria. JI leader Para Wijayanto and deputy Budi Trikaryanto were handed seven and six-and-a-half year sentences, respectively, at a Jakarta court hearing done by videoconference due to coronavirus concerns. “The defendants prepared cadres to go to Syria as well as supported them financially while on the mission,” presiding judge Alex Adam Faisal told the East Jakarta District Court. The court said Wijayanto, 56, who took over JI's top job in 2009, recruited Indonesians to fight and train with groups, including an Al-Qaeda linked organization, opposed to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad between 2012 and 2018. The case against Wijayanto and Trikaryanto also included charges of belonging to a banned organization. Indonesia outlawed JI in 2008, making it illegal to belong to the group, and cracked down on its network as the world's biggest Muslim majority nation grappled with a string of extremist attacks. JI has been overshadowed in recent years by militant groups loyal to Islamic State.”

United States

Al Jazeera: Judge Allows Lawsuit Challenging US Terror Watchlist To Proceed

“A United States federal judge in Maryland is allowing dozens of Muslim plaintiffs to move ahead with a lawsuit against Attorney General William Barr and other federal officials challenging the constitutionality of the government's watchlist of people identified as “known or suspected terrorists”. Government lawyers had asked US District Judge Paula Xinis in Greenbelt to toss out the lawsuit. But in a 65-page ruling issued on Monday, she allowed it to proceed. It was not a total victory for the plaintiffs, though: The judge did toss out some parts of the case, including claims that the watchlist interfered with First Amendment rights to free assembly, as well as a claim that the watchlist is used to unfairly pressure Muslims into becoming FBI informants. Gadeir Abbas, a lawyer for the Council on American-Islamic Relations who is representing the plaintiffs, said Monday's ruling is the broadest legal challenge to the watchlist that has made it this far in the legal process and “is the latest sign that the era of the federal government's extrajudicial targeting of innocent Muslims will not go on forever”. A judge in Alexandria, Virginia ruled in favour of Muslim plaintiffs last year in a similar challenge that was focused a little more narrowly, but that case has been held up on the question of what kind of remedy should be crafted.”

Fox News: What Does The First-Ever Terrorism Charge Against MS-13 Member Really Mean?

“Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced its very first terrorist charge against a member of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang, better known as MS-13. After unsealing the indictment in Virginia against Melgar Diaz, Attorney General William Barr depicted him as the individual who “would green light assassinations” at the gang's behest in the United States. And analysts anticipate that the move will have a significant impact on America's ability to go after other gang members. “The terrorism approach will open up and afford greater intelligence and investigative tools. Utilization of Patriot Act type laws and regulations will afford a more comprehensive U.S..S. and international approach to disruption and dismantlement of the organized crime aspects to each gang,” Robert Clark, a former FBI gang specialist, told Fox News. “The terrorism laws and applications will afford greater intelligence gathering and investigative capacity as well as unilateral prosecution abilities.” Diaz himself moved to Virginia from El Salvador in 2003, and quickly joined the GLS – a clique of MS-13. A decade later, according to court documents, he was deported to his homeland but returned illegally six months later.”

Afghanistan

Reuters: Taliban Suicide Attack Kills Eight Afghan Troops, Wounds Nine

“A suicide car bomber in central Afghanistan targeted a convoy of Afghan army troops, killing eight soldiers, the defence ministry said, while Taliban Islamist militants claimed responsibility for the attack amid a nationwide escalation of violence. Clashes have grown in recent weeks between Afghan government forces and Taliban insurgents after the government failed to free hundreds of jailed Taliban as part of a prisoner swap agreed by the warring sides. In a statement, the defence ministry said a car bomber targeted army troops in Monday’s incident in the district of Sayed Abad in Wardak province, killing eight soldiers and wounding nine more. The Taliban, claiming responsibility, said dozens of Afghan special forces were killed in their latest deadly assault on government forces, who have suffered many casualties in the recent fighting. A pact signed by the United States and Taliban in Doha in February laid out plans for a withdrawal of foreign forces from the war-torn country in exchange for security guarantees from the militants. But negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban for a peace settlement to end the 18-year-old war have been delayed over the release of nearly 600 Taliban prisoners Kabul says were involved in major attacks.”

The New York Times: For Women In Afghan Security Forces, A Daily Battle

“Motivated, educated and fresh from finishing police academy in Turkey, Second Lt. Zala Zazai had stellar qualifications for the job she took in eastern Afghanistan in June. It all mattered little once she started. On social media, she was called a prostitute, and men wrote that her very presence on the force would corrupt Khost Province, where she was posted. Her colleagues at Police Headquarters — where she was the only female officer on a staff of nearly 500 — tried to intimidate her into wearing a conservative head scarf and traditional clothes instead of her uniform, and to hide in back corners of the office away from the public, she said. Shopkeepers arrived at the station’s gates with no other business but to get a look at this novelty. Lieutenant Zazai, 21, came home from her first day feeling sick and frightened. She felt so unsafe that she asked her mother, Spesalai, who had accompanied her from Kabul, to stay with her at a shelter deep inside Police Headquarters. At night, the two women locked the door. During the day, Lieutenant Zazai scrambled to expedite the paperwork for a pistol. “I want to have something to defend myself with,” she said. Helping Afghan women, who were banished to their homes by the Taliban during their government in the 1990s, became a rallying cry for Western involvement in Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in 2001.”

Radio Free Europe: Suspected Taliban Attacks Kill Over A Dozen Afghan Security Personnel

“Over a dozen Afghan security personnel have been killed in suspected Taliban attacks. The Defense Ministry said a suicide truck bomber struck an army convoy in the central province of Maidan Wardak on July 20, killing at least eight Afghan soldiers. The ministry said another nine soldiers were wounded in the attack in Sayed Abad district. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the assault, although similar attacks in the past have been blamed on the Taliban and Islamic State (IS) extremist group. Hours earlier, an Afghan official said at least eight government security personnel were killed in a Taliban attack in the country's north. Esmatullah Moradi, the spokesman for the governor of Kunduz Province, said Taliban militants stormed two security checkpoints in the early hours of July 20. Moradi said five police officers and three government soldiers were killed in the hours-long clashes. The Taliban has not commented on the attacks. The attacks came as the Taliban intensify operations across the country, particularly in the country's north, where Afghan forces are more exposed. Last week, Taliban fighters stormed the offices of country's main intelligence agency in the northern province of Samangan, killing 11 security personnel and wounding dozens of others, mostly civilians.”

Pakistan

The Tribune: Toy Bomb Injures Five Children In Northwest Pakistan

“A bomb resembling a toy injured at least five children on Tuesday in Pakistan’s northwest tribal area bordering Afghanistan, officials said. The bomb exploded when the children were playing with it in South Waziristan district. Five children aged between six and 12 years were injured in the incident, the officials said, adding that the origin of the bomb was unclear. Dozens of children, mostly in northwest Pakistan, have lost their lives in the past while playing with ‘toys’ that turned out to be explosive devices. ‘Toy’ bombs were airdropped in neighbouring Afghanistan by Soviet forces during the 1980s civil war in the country. South Waziristan is one of the areas where the Pakistan Army has been battling militants linked to the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda for more than a decade.”

Lebanon

Washington Examiner: Lebanese Hezbollah's Growing Crisis

“Caught between trying to keep a gun to the head of Lebanese democracy and attracting international bailout funds, the Lebanese Hezbollah is mired in a growing crisis. Economic concerns are front and center here. Lebanon's economy, already under pressure due to its decrepit infrastructure, endemic corruption, and fundamental mismanagement, was on life support even before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Its structural challenges have metastasized unchecked, barely veiled by artificial currency manipulation. Then, the virus came, and things quickly got a whole lot worse. Next, the U.S. Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act went into effect and further restricted Syria's access to foreign capital. Syria had been providing a critical economic boost to Lebanon — Beirut provided Bashar Assad's primary means of accessing international finance during the Syrian civil war. All of this has led to a situation in which inflation is wiping out salaries and sending the prices of basic goods soaring. It's quite clear what Lebanon needs to get out of this mess: a significant International Monetary Fund bailout tied to economic and countercorruption reform. The problem for Hezbollah, however, is that the United States and the European Union are demanding that any bailout come with serious reforms. Hezbollah knows that such reforms would weaken its ability to dominate Lebanese politics.”

Middle East

Agence France-Presse: Israel Probes Palestinian Jerusalem Governor Over 'Terrorism'

“Israel is investigating the Palestinian governor of Jerusalem over suspected terrorism, in the first such allegation against the often-arrested leader, his lawyer said Monday. Adnan Ghaith has been arrested by Israeli security forces more than 10 times over the past two years, but typically over the minor offence of engaging in “illegal” political activities in the disputed city. He has generally been released within a day or two. But Ghaith's lawyer Mohammed Mahmoud told AFP that in addition to political offences the governor was being probed over “planning an act of terrorism,” and not expected to be released soon. Under Israeli law, a broad range of offences fall under the terrorism umbrella, and the probe does not necessarily mean Ghaith is suspected of plotting an act of violence. It was the first time Ghaith was the subject of a terrorism investigation and Israel's powerful domestic security agency, the Shin Bet, was involved in the case, Mahmoud said. The Shin Bet did not immediately respond to a query about the investigation. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP that Ghaith had been arrested at his east Jerusalem home on Sunday.”

The National: Qatar's Hezbollah Funding Exposed By Whistle-Blower Contractor

“A whistle-blower has claimed that he earned tens of thousands of euros from Qatar for hiding a dossier that documented the country's support for Hezbollah. German press have reported that the security consultant was offered a total payment of €750,000 (Dh3.1 million) to suppress the information he had gathered about Qatar's illicit support for terrorism. The man, identified only as Jason, said he spent several months in negotiations in 2019 with a Qatari emissary in Europe. A German business executive who was reported to have witnessed some of the meetings said information had been passed to the Qataris that provided “transparency” in the “fight against certain critical, anti-Israeli networks”. Six meetings took place between the consultant and the Qataris before the talks broke down. Jason reportedly believed that he could receive a payment of €10m from Qatar to buy the evidence he had compiled. He said the information offered Qatar an opportunity to purge “shady people in their own ranks”, including a top-ranked general in Doha. In a familiar pattern tracked to Qatar's funding for the Muslim Brotherhood, the money to Hezbollah was funnelled through the country's charity sector. Outfits like Qatar Charity have bankrolled a variety of groups politically active throughout Europe.”

Agence France-Presse: Mawla The 'Destroyer', Brutal New Head Of IS Group

“The new IS leader was born, likely in 1976, in the town of Tal Afar, some 70 kilometres (40 miles) from Mosul. He was born into a Turkmen family, making him a rare non-Arab to ascend the ranks of IS, which at its height ruled vast parts of Iraq and Syria and drew volunteers from the West. His ethnic origins prompted the United Nations to predict in a January report that he might be a "temporary choice until the group finds a more legitimate 'emir', a direct descendant from the Quraysh Hashemite tribe who could therefore command the full support of the remote provinces." Mawla graduated from the Islamic Sciences College in Mosul. A former officer in the army of Saddam Hussein, he joined the ranks of Al-Qaeda after the US invasion of Iraq and Hussein's capture in 2003, according to the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) think-tank. He took on the role of religious commissary and a general Sharia jurist for al-Qaeda. In 2004, Mawla was detained by US forces at the Camp Bucca prison in southern Iraq, where he met Baghdadi.”

Egypt

Reuters: Egypt's Sisi Wins Parliamentary Approval For Possible Libya Intervention

“Egypt’s parliament gave President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi the green light for possible military intervention in Libya by approving the deployment of armed forces abroad to fight “terrorist groups” and “militias”. A sharp military escalation in Libya, where fighters led by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar have been battling the forces of the internationally recognised government, could risk igniting a direct conflict among the foreign powers that have poured in weapons and fighters in violation of an arms embargo. Sisi warned last week that Egypt would not stand idle if there was a threat to national security in Egypt and its western neighbour, Libya. Egypt, alongside the United Arab Emirates and Russia, backs Haftar, who abandoned an offensive on the capital last month after Turkey stepped up support for Tripoli. Egypt has flown air strikes on suspected militants in Libya since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 plunged the oil producer into chaos. It has also supported Haftar, an ex-Gaddafi general, since 2014 when he assembled a force in eastern Libya, according to U.N. reports. But sending ground-combat troops would be a major escalation. The eastern-based Libyan parliament allied to Haftar asked Cairo this month to intervene militarily to counter Turkey, and its president welcomed Egypt’s move on Monday, a spokesman said.”

United Kingdom

The Spectator: Why Police Shouldn’t Stop Using The Term ‘Islamist Terrorism’

“It is more apparent to terrorists than us that these conversations, though well-meaning, have little benefit to the actual business of countering terrorism. Which brings us to ideology, and the attempt by police to ban the term ‘Islamist’. Islamism is the particular name for a political ideology which seeks to establish an Islamic state. Its adherents range from those working within democracy to those willing to murder civilians to achieve this aim. According to critics of the word, 'Islamism' should be dropped because it conflates religious belief with terror. But the term ‘Islamism,’ rather than ‘Islamic’ is intended to draw a distinction between the political ideology and the religious beliefs of more than two million Brits. It is important though to understand how religion informs the political ideology. Which it does, significantly. I was present in the police meetings where these issues arose, and was disappointed that the use of the term 'Islamism' was framed in the context of the current discussions on race. This made it near impossible to make a dispassionate case in an entirely separate debate. Islamism is not just a made-up term, or a relic of a more racist past to be expunged like a statue or American Football team name. It is a necessarily precise and accepted term to describe the ultimate objective of both al-Qaeda and, as the name suggests, Islamic State.”

Germany

The New York Times: Trial Begins In Germany Over Synagogue Attack On Yom Kippur

“The trial of a German man charged with killing two people last fall after failing to blast into a synagogue filled with Jews observing Yom Kippur opens in eastern Germany on Tuesday. Prosecutors said the defendant, Stephan Balliet, 28, had made a “very comprehensive” confession, confirming his “far-right and anti-Semitic motives” behind the attack. He is charged with two counts of murder over the deaths of two bystanders and several counts of attempted murder, among other charges. If convicted, he could face life in prison. The attack — carried out in the city of Halle as dozens of worshipers were in the Humboldt Street Synagogue on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar — shocked Germany and raised alarm about the spread of right-wing extremism and anti-Semitic violence online. It also highlighted a lack of understanding among some security officials of the persistent threat, 75 years after the end of the Nazi era. Mr. Balliet, wearing a protective vest and jeans, was flown by helicopter to the court in Magdeburg hours before the trial opened on Tuesday. The trial had to be moved from a court in Naumburg to a larger courtroom to accommodate all of the participants and the widespread media interest in the case.”

China

Reuters: U.S. Adds 11 Companies To Economic Blacklist Over China's Treatment Of Uighurs

“The U.S. Commerce Department on Monday added 11 Chinese companies implicated in what it called human rights violations in connection with China’s treatment of its Uighurs in Xinjiang in western China to the U.S. economic blacklist. The department said the companies were involved in using forced labor by Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups. They include numerous textile companies and two firms the government said were conducting genetic analyses used to further the repression of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. Blacklisted firms cannot buy components from U.S. companies without U.S. government approval. It was the third group of companies and institutions in China added to the U.S. blacklist, after two rounds in which the Trump administration cited 37 entities it said were involved in China’s repression in Xinjiang. “Beijing actively promotes the reprehensible practice of forced labor and abusive DNA collection and analysis schemes to repress its citizens,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.”

Technology

The Guardian: Muslim Group Fears Australia Is Importing Rightwing Extremist Content Via Facebook

“A major Muslim advocacy group has expressed concern that Australia is importing rightwing extremist content from Britain, the US and Europe through social media platforms, and says it has identified what appears to be “inauthentic behaviour” between a network of pages in Australia that links to white supremacist content overseas. The Australian Muslim Advocacy Network has used a submission to the Senate inquiry into foreign interference through social media to warn that rising extremism undermines security, social cohesion and, ultimately, democracy. The group points out that 12 micro-parties with discriminatory anti-Muslim policies ran at the last federal election – “the largest number of groups that we have recorded”. “We remain very concerned about the exportation of right wing extremist rhetoric from the UK, Europe and USA to Australia through coordinated exercises on social media platforms like Facebook, and its potentially devastating impacts for Australia’s democracy, social cohesion and national security,” the submission says. The ABC has reported that rightwing extremists now make up around a third of all domestic investigations by Australia’s spy agency Asio.”