Eye on Extremism: July 22, 2020

Africa Center For Strategic Studies: African Militant Islamist Groups Set Record For Violent Activity

“A June-to-June review of violent episodes involving militant Islamist groups in Africa over the past decade underscores the growing and shifting threat posed by these groups. Key findings include: A 31-percent jump in violent events involving militant Islamist groups in Africa in the 12 months ending June 30, 2020, represents a record for violent activity by these groups. With 4,161 violent events, this period marks the first time this total has exceeded 4,000 and reflects a sixfold increase from 2011 (693). The rise in militant Islamist group activity in Africa can be attributed to increases in four of the five main theaters of violent extremist activity in Africa: Somalia, the Lake Chad Basin, the western Sahel, and Mozambique. North Africa is the only theater that has seen a decline, continuing a trend since 2015. The Sahel has seen the most dramatic escalation of violence since mid-2017. Events linked to the groups that formed the coalition of Jama’at Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) collectively grew nearly sevenfold since that time (from 147 events to 999 events for the 12 months ending June 30, 2020). The majority of violent attacks in the Sahel in 2020 were in Burkina Faso (516 vs. 361 in Mali and 118 in Niger).”

The National: Foreign Fighters Key To ISIS Resurgence As Thousands Join New Militias

“Legions of ISIS foreign fighters have fanned out across the globe to pose the threat of a resurgence by the group in territories from Syria into Asia. Researchers at King's College London said more emphasis needed to be placed on the movement of veteran fighters to conflict zones in South-East Asia and Africa rather than their return to Europe. Latest figures from the university showed that 53,000 people travelled to Syria to join ISIS between 2013 to 2018. The report by researchers in the defence studies department at King’s, in collaboration with Institute for Strategic Studies, said that career foreign fighters increased the risk of an ISIS resurgence as thousands joined new militia groups. “Despite governments’ concerns, numbers of ISIS foreign fighters returning home and engaging with violent extremism remains relatively low,” said Francesco Milan of the defence studies department, the report's author. “Of far greater risk is the growing threat from ISIS in both its former stronghold in Iraq and Syria and in terrorist zones around the world. “These relocators enable ISIS to evade direct confrontation and to strengthen their operations.”

United States

NPR: Ex-Counterterrorism Chief: Cutbacks Raise Risk Of New Attacks

“A recently ousted counterterrorism chief says the country is risking the gains made against terrorist threats by cutting back resources with little or no public debate. In an interview with NPR, Russ Travers also expressed frustration at the poor state of relations between the intelligence community and the Trump administration. “If people believe that conditions have so changed and the threat is so diminished that we can go back to the way things were [before the 9/11 attacks], so be it,” said Russ Travers, who served as acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “I just personally don't believe that's the right answer. And I don't like the quality of the discussion that has gotten us to this point,” Travers told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, co-host of All Things Considered, in his first broadcast interview since leaving his government post. Travers, who joined the intelligence community in the late 1970s, said he's never seen such bad relations between intelligence professionals and a presidential administration. “I've been doing this for 42 years. I have never seen longtime civil servants removed because they had opinions that were different than the administration,” he said.”

Voice Of America: Hezbollah-Linked Operative Extradited From Cyprus To US

“A Lebanese man accused of laundering drug money for the militant group Hezbollah has been extradited from Cyprus to the United States. Ghassan Diab, 37, arrived in Miami last week to face charges dating back to 2016 in the U.S. state of Florida, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement Saturday.  Diab has been charged with two counts of money laundering over $100,000, two counts of conspiracy to launder over $100,000, two counts of unlicensed transmission of currency over $100,000, and two counts of unlawful use of a two-way communications device to further the commission of money laundering, all of which are felonies under Florida law, according to a statement released by the department. In 2016, a state attorney in Florida identified Diab as an alleged Hezbollah associate, announcing charges against him as a part of an operation on money laundering by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Miami, according to the Justice Department. Diab was arrested in Cyprus in March 2019 upon his arrival from Beirut, Lebanon. U.S. law enforcement agencies in recent months have stepped up crackdowns on the Iranian-backed group and its financial networks.”

Fox News: Oklahoma DA Slaps Teens With Terrorism Charges, Accuses BLM Of Intimidating Officers, Protecting Criminals

“Two teenagers are the latest to face terrorism charges after allegedly helping to break in the windows of an Oklahoma City bail bonds business in late May during the civil unrest that swept the nation in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. Several dozen protesters conducted a sit-in at the office of Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater on Monday to demand that he drop the terrorism charges and resign. But Prater maintained last week that those who incite violence in the streets are “criminals” who “have subverted peaceful protests and impaired the open discussion regarding race in our country.” “When you employ these tactics for a political purpose, you are a terrorist,” he said. Prater also accused Black Lives Matter protestors of trying to intimidate him and law enforcement and of defending “criminals who are violent, exploitive and unscrupulous.” The district attorney said: “It is my job to protect innocent citizens and their property and I will continue to do it to the best of my ability.” The local chapter of Black Lives Matter criticized Prater for bringing the terrorism charges against “protesters,” especially in Oklahoma City, where a “white supremacist terrorist attack” killed at least 168 people and injured hundreds more on April 19, 1995.”

Syria

The Jerusalem Post: Hezbollah Terrorist Killed In Alleged Israeli Airstrikes In Syria

“The Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist movement announced on Tuesday that Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad, a member of Hezbollah, was killed in alleged Israeli airstrikes in Damascus on Monday night. Israel is concerned about a possible response from Hezbollah, according to KAN news. Five pro-Iranian militants were killed and four others were wounded in the strikes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). While the identities of most of the dead are unknown, it is known that they were not of Syrian nationality, according to SOHR. A military source told Syria’s state news agency SANA on Monday night that seven Syrian soldiers were injured in the strikes. According to SOHR, the soldiers are from the Syrian Air Force’s Air Defense Force and two of the soldiers are in serious condition. Syrian air defense systems were activated on Monday evening after Israeli aircraft launched missiles towards sites south of Damascus from over the Majdal Shams area of the Golan Heights, according to SANA. Syrian air defenses responded to Israeli missiles in As-Suwayda, Izraa and Quneitra in southern Syria as well, according to SOHR.”

The Jerusalem Post: Hezbollah Threatens Israel After Member Of Terror Group Killed In Syria

“Hezbollah-linked social media accounts are mourning a member killed in Syria. On Tuesday night hundreds of accounts shared images of the dead “martyr” and also vowed revenge against Israel. One account showed Hezbollah driving a car toward the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, a common style iconography, suggesting the liberation of Jerusalem from Israel, among pro-Iran and Hezbollah accounts. Many accounts quoted various religious texts to mourn the death of a man whose name was given as Ali Kamel Mohsin. Al-Mayadeen media, which is pro-Hezbollah, said Israel was in fear of reprisal. Statements attributed to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah also suggested Israelis keep an eye open in case of an attack. Hezbollah monitored Israeli media for responses, suggesting Israel was concerned. “There is fear and alertness in Israel,” Al-Mayadeen noted. Social media accounts put up hashtags indicating it was a “sincere promise” to retaliate. Images of Mohsin showed him in fatigues with a rifle. He was allegedly killed during airstrikes in or near Damascus in the early morning hours of Tuesday. “If the blood of the martyrs awaken us wherever we fall asleep, hope ignites us that the possibility of responding is an opportunity to come,” one social media user noted.”

Iraq

Al Monitor: Mosul Sowing Seeds Post-Islamic State

“Following years of neglect and environmental abuse, the new governor of Ninevah province, Najm al-Jabouri, announced last June, a project to plant 1 million trees in an effort to revive Mosul, a city that is also known as al-Khaḍrah, which translates to “The Green.” Subsequently, many projects were launched and some have been finalized already. For instance, on July 15, a tree planting project at Mosul’s central transportation hub was completed by a group of youth volunteers. Mosul is known for being one of the most fertile cities in Iraq, and many scholars believe the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon were built near the city. However, many years of neglect, Turkish dams on the Tigris River and environmental damage by the Islamic State (IS) has contributed to its deforestation, turning it into a semi-arid city. IS not only unraveled the social fabric in Mosul, but it ravaged its fertile lands and systematically burnt the Yazidi's olive tree farms and Mosul’s palm trees, causing sandstorms in Iraq. Hence, the idea to plant trees in the city was born. On June 7, Jabouri officially launched the “Green Mosul” project proposed by Mosul Eye to plant 1 million trees in the city this year. Al-Monitor spoke to Omar Mohammed, founder of the internationally known blog Mosul Eye, an organization he created in 2014 to document the atrocities committed in Mosul during its occupation under IS.”

Afghanistan

The Guardian: Afghan Girl Shot Dead Taliban Fighters Who Killed Her Parents, Say Officials

“An Afghan girl shot dead three Taliban fighters after they killed her parents because they supported the government, local officials have said. The incident happened last week when a group of 40 insurgents stormed the village of Geriveh, in central Ghor province, where 16-year-old Qamar Gul was living with her parents and brother. Officials said the fighters, who were looking for Gul’s father, knocked on the door at 1am on 17 July. “The insurgents came to their doorstep and her mother went to see who was knocking,” said Mohamed Aref Aber, a spokesman for the provincial governor. “When she saw that they were armed, she refused to open the door.” Aber said Gul’s mother was immediately shot dead by the attackers, who then entered the house and shot at her father. According to Aber, Qamar Gul witnessed the death of her parents, picked up her father’s rifle and shot and killed three insurgents. She then started a one-hour battle with the Taliban alongside her 12-year-old brother, Habibullah, he added. Several other Taliban fighters reportedly joined the attack, but some villagers and pro-government militia men expelled them after a gunfight. Afghan officials have taken Qamar Gul and her younger brother to a safe place in the provincial capital.”

Middle East

The National: Are There Extremists That Qatar Does Not Fund?

“Qatar’s funding of extremists, in the Arab world and beyond, is no secret to most residents of the Middle East. Yet, in the past week, new details of Doha’s murky dealings abroad have emerged. According to German newspaper Die Zeit, Doha has been funding Hezbollah and its activities. The Lebanese militant group was created by Iran in the 1980s as a proxy and it is allied with the Syrian regime. The information was leaked by a whistleblower only identified as “Jason”, who worked as a contractor for Doha. He said he had been promised €750,000 (Dh3.1 million) from Qatar for the sole purpose of hiding evidence he had gathered of the country’s support for Hezbollah. The deal fell through and the contractor went public with the dossier. This revelation proves that Qatar continues to pursue a strategy of destabilising the region, funding extremists who undermine peace in their own countries and beyond. This scheme seems to have, in fact, expanded. Last year, The Qatar Papers, a book authored by two French journalists, uncovered Qatar’s financing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe.”

Egypt

France 24: Egyptian Armys Says It Killed 18 Islamist Militants In North Sinai

“Egypt's military said it killed 18 suspected Islamist militants in aerial and ground operations in the restive North Sinai region on Tuesday, as part of its battle to quell a long-running insurgency. The army said in a statement that its forces succeeded in foiling “an attack by takfiri terrorist elements on one of the security complexes” in the town of Bir al-Abd. Egyptian security officials use the term “takfiri” to designate extremist Islamist militants. “In cooperation with the air force, security forces managed to chase the takfiri elements across a farm and in abandoned houses killing 18, including one wearing an explosive belt,” the statement said. Two military personnel were killed and four others wounded in Tuesday's operations in Bir al-Abd. Troops also destroyed four cars including three that were packed with explosives. The town, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) west of North Sinai's capital al-Arish, has been the site of several terror attacks claimed by the Islamic State group including the deadliest attack in modern Egyptian history, in which more than 300 worshippers were gunned down in a mosque in 2017.”

Libya

The North Africa Post: Moroccan ISIS-Affiliates Leave Syria, Iraq For Libya – European Security Reports

“Two European counterterrorism reports have reported the movement of Islamic state group fighters, including Moroccan nationals, leaving Syria and Iraq to lawless Libya. Published by the European Center for Counterterrorism and France’s Center of Terrorism Analysis, the reports stress that fighters of the global terror group are fleeing Syria and Iraq, two hubs of the criminal group. The fleeing affiliates include dozens of Moroccans, local Moroccan Arabic media Al Ahdath Al Maghribia reports. At least 1,000 Moroccans have left the kingdom for hotbed conflict zones, mainly in Syria and Iraq. Libya is currently witnessing a rivalry between the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) supported by Turkey and Qatar and an eastern administration backed by Egypt, UAE, Russia and France. The European Union (UE) has called for the end of rivalries between the Libyan sides arguing that the conflict situation in the oil-rich country endangers countries around the Mediterranean. European countries continue to receive hundreds of migrants who depart from Libyan coasts. More than 650,000 people wait to leave Libyan shores for Europe, Malta warned.”

Africa

The North Africa Post: Tunisia: Terror Attack Targeting Military Patrol Foiled

“Tunisian security forces foiled Monday a terror attack after they nabbed a terrorist on verge of attacking a security patrol in one governorate in the south of the country. The ministry of the interior in a statement said the attack involved an improvised bomb device. The alleged terrorist, an affiliate of the Islamic state group (ISIS), is unknown to authorities, it added. This is the second incident this month. Last week, the interior ministry indicated that a terrorist linked to ISIS was rounded. The suspect was nabbed following coordination between several security forces entities including the intelligence service. This ISIS member had undergone training in the making of explosives and was plotting terror attacks against security personnel. Tunisia has been under security emergency since November 2015 after a string of bloody terror attacks hit capital Tunis and resort city of Sousse leaving over 70 people dead, mostly foreign holidaymakers. The North African country has stepped up prevention strategy but it has witnessed sporadic attacks involving ambushes.”

United Kingdom

The Independent: MPs Back New Terror Laws As Government Warned It Can't 'Lock Terrorists Away For Longer And Hope For The Best'

“The government must not jail terrorists for longer and “hope for the best”, it has been warned as MPs passed a controversial suite of terror laws. The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill contains a range of powers to keep extremists in jail for longer, despite concerns about radicalisation inside prisons. Three attacks, in Fishmongers’ Hall, Streatham and Reading, have been carried out since last November by released inmates while a fourth alleged attack happened inside a high-security prison. David Lammy, the shadow justice secretary, called for greater focus on deradicalisation and rehabilitation efforts, and funding for the stretched probation service that supervises freed terrorists. He said: “It is simply not good enough to lock terrorists away for longer, put them out of our minds and hope for the best. As we’ve seen from the devastating attacks at Streatham and Fishmongers’ Hall, this approach does not work.” Mr Lammy argued that longer prison sentences alone “cannot protect the public from ever-present threat of radicalisation and serious terrorist atrocities”. “Even offenders convicted of the most serious terror offences will at some point be released back into society - that is the reality,” he told MPs.”

Germany

Associated Press: Tajik Man Faces IS-Related Terrorism Charges In Germany

“Authorities have charged a Tajik man with membership in a terrorist organization on allegations he led a group plotting attacks in Germany in coordination with Islamic State leaders in Syria and Afghanistan, prosecutors said Tuesday. Ravsan B., whose last name wasn’t released in line with German privacy laws, also faces charges of weapons violations, preparing an act of violence, and other counts. The 30-year-old, who has been in custody since March 2019, is accused of forming a cell of the Islamic State in Germany with other Tajik nationals no later than January 2019 to carry out attacks and raise money for the extremist organization. For the latter goal, they allegedly took a contract for $40,000 to kill an Albanian businessman and traveled to the country at the end of February, 2019. There they procured weapons from contacts and observed the target over several days but eventually experienced misgivings as to whether they were focused on the right man and returned to Germany without killing him, prosecutors said. They also allegedly brought the weapons with them, and when back in Germany also procured explosives and detonators to use in an unspecified attack. Acting on orders from an Islamic State member in Afghanistan, they decided to kill a man who had made critical comments about Islam, and take photographs to use as propaganda to raise support for the fight against “infidels,” prosecutors said.”

Deutsche Welle: Germany: Anti-Semitic Attack Suspect Shows No Remorse In Court

“Stephan B. remained impassive as he was led into the large, low-ceilinged Magdeburg courtroom on Tuesday morning. As in the video that he live-streamed on the internet during last October's deadly attack in Halle, he was shaven-headed and dressed in a thick black jacket, only this time he was also handcuffed and shackled, wearing a disposable coronavirus protection mask, and with at least six masked guards around him. The trial itself was only able to begin after a two-hour delay, apparently because the rigorous security checks took much longer than predicted. But by midday, the courtroom was packed. Spectators and journalists observed proceedings from behind a glass screen, while the ranks of seats in front were filled with some of the 43 co-plaintiffs — many of them the people who had been in the synagogue last October — and their lawyers. The 28-year-old defendant  has been charged with two cases of murder in the killings of 40-year-old Jana L. and 20-year-old Kevin S., as well as 68 cases of attempted murder. The latter figure comprises the 52 people who were observing Yom Kippur inside the Halle synagogue plus a number of other passers-by and police officers that he shot at during the attack and his two-hour attempted escape.”

Technology

CBS News: Twitter Unveils Plan To Limit QAnon Activity In New Crackdown

“Twitter unveiled a series of actions to limit the impact of QAnon-related content on its platform on Tuesday. The company said in a statement that it is taking action in an effort to “protect the public conversation in the face of evolving threats.” The company said it will “no longer serve content and accounts associated with QAnon in Trends and recommendations” and is going to block URLs associated with QAnon from being shared on the platform. They will also no longer highlight QAnon activity in search, conversations, or trends. Those who believe in the QAnon conspiracy theory claim that President Trump will soon expose a group of globalists and celebrities that has been covertly running America. They say they learned this information from “Q,” an anonymous, high-ranking official in the Trump administration. QAnon believers say many of the world's issues are tied back to the “deep-state,” including JFK's assassination and and ISIS, and that many presidents, excluding Mr. Trump, are part of the alleged collusion. The FBI designated the group as a potential domestic extremist group last year. The action steps will be “rolled out comprehensively this week,” the company tweeted.”

Medium: Nazis And Cryptocurrency: The Evolution Of Telegram

“Telegram’s open door policy for extremists has long been known to law enforcement, journalists and academics. But Telegram may now be on the way to becoming a cryptocurrency trading platform, which could open up new avenues of financing for those very same hate groups. And that’s something new and potentially troubling. “Telegram has become a petri dish for extremism,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino. “The introduction of crypto currency can create a whole lot of networking that wasn’t previously there,” Levin said. “If propaganda is the motor oil of extremism, financing will be the gasoline”… “It’s worth noting that there are several other channels still up that are part of the ‘Terrorgram’ network, which raises questions about why those were not removed,” Joshua Fisher-Birch, a research analyst with the Counter Extremism Project, wrote in an email. “In short, this is a first step, but it’s unclear what happens from here.”