Eye on Extremism: July 23, 2020

The New York Times: U.S. Deports Terrorism Convict It Had Sought To Hold Indefinitely

“The Trump administration said on Wednesday that it had deported a stateless Palestinian man who had completed a terrorism-related prison sentence, averting a legal showdown over whether the federal government has the authority in some cases to indefinitely detain a noncitizen. The man, Adham A. Hassoun, 58, was sent to an unidentified country on Tuesday, according to an affidavit filed in federal court in Buffalo, N.Y., and his lawyer, Jonathan Hafetz, a senior counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Mr. Hassoun is thrilled to be finally free after 17 months of illegal detention and is looking forward to resuming his life,” said Mr. Hafetz. Mr. Hafetz said his client’s location was being kept secret under a court protective order but called his deportation “a victory for the rule of law.” He said that Mr. Hassoun’s lawyers learned of his release in an “ecstatic” phone call from him. The case was a test of the Department of Homeland Security’s administrative authority to invoke a government regulation established under the USA Patriot Act and declare a convict who completed a terrorism sentence a threat to national security without providing proof of that threat to a federal court reviewing his detention.”

BBC News: Islamic State Remains 'Most Significant' Threat To UK

“The Islamic State group (IS) remains the “most significant” threat to the UK, the defence secretary has warned. Ben Wallace said the militant group's “poisonous ideology” endures despite it having lost territory it once held in Syria and Iraq - and a possible resurgence “should concern us all”. British aircraft have struck 40 targets as part of the fight against IS in the past year, Mr Wallace told MPs. The “hard fight” to beat IS, or Daesh, was “by no means done”, he said. Making a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Wallace said RAF strikes had hit 40 targets since July 2019. Targets ranged from caves in remote parts of northern Iraq, to weapons bunkers and training camps, he said. “RAF aircraft have continued to patrol the skies on an almost daily basis,” he said. Members of the group have “nowhere to hide”, he said, but added that the group's “poisonous ideology” still endures. “Daesh retains its intent to carry out and inspire attacks against us, and remains the most significant terrorist threat to the United Kingdom and our interests,” he said. “Conflict, economic collapse and inequality is creating new opportunities that they will continue to exploit, to grow and recruit.”

The Guardian: AFP Chief Warns Of Rising Risks Of Rightwing Extremism And 'Despicable' Child Exploitation

“The head of the Australian federal police has backed warnings about the rising threat of rightwing extremism and vowed to clamp down on terrorism regardless of the ideology behind it. The commissioner, Reece Kershaw, used his address to the National Press Club on Wednesday to also raise the alarm about the growing number of child exploitation cases – and signalled he may seek new powers if tech giants like Facebook push ahead with greater use of end-to-end encryption. Kershaw said the Covid-19 pandemic had not decreased Australia’s overall terror threat, which remained at the “probable” level. He said there had been seven terrorist attacks in Australia since September 2014, but in that time there had also been “18 major counter-terrorism disruption operations in response to potential or imminent attacks” including two since December. Mike Burgess, the head of domestic spy agency Asio, who was in the audience for Kershaw’s press club address, warned in February that intolerance based on race, gender and identity was on the rise across the western world. Burgess also warned that “the extreme rightwing threat is real and it is growing” in Australia. Asked if what the AFP was seeing out in the field was consistent with the Asio warning, Kershaw replied: “We’re never going to argue against the director general of Asio. He or she is always right.”

Iran

Radio Farda: Tehran Continues Its Terror Campaign In Europe - Will Europeans Respond?

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is waging an assassination campaign in Europe to silence its critics and pressure European governments to adopt conciliatory measures. The uptick should serve as a wakeup call. Amid popular unrest in Iran and the possibility of a “snapback” of UN sanctions, violence has become an even more attractive tool for a desperate regime. European governments are afraid to get tough on the Islamic Republic, lest they jeopardize the 2015 nuclear deal, yet passivity only encourages more violence. Europe has long been an unsafe place for Iranian dissidents and opposition figures. The clerical regime has executed more than 60 assassination operations since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Former Iranian Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar was murdered in Paris in 1991. Last year, opposition journalist Ruhollah Zam was lured from his hideaway in Paris to Iraq and arrested by regime intelligence agents. Zam currently faces execution in Iran. And just last month, Sadegh Zarza, a 64-year-old former member of the leadership of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, barely survived an assassination attempt in the Netherlands. Zarza’s brother Taher told the Dutch paper Leeuwarden Courant that Sadegh suffered numerous stab wounds to his chest, stomach, neck, and head.”

Iraq

The Defense Post: US General Sees Iraq Troop Drawdown As IS Threat Dims

“A feared resurgence of the Islamic State has not so far materialized in Iraq, paving the way for a further coalition troop drawdown, a US commander said Wednesday. Though IS may never be completely eradicated, the group has been significantly diminished from when it controlled swathes of Iraq and Syria just a few years ago, Major General Kenneth Ekman, deputy commander of coalition forces, told reporters. “What that has allowed us to do is to reduce our footprint here in Iraq,” Ekman said, speaking from Baghdad. “I think over time, what you will see is a slow reduction of US forces,” he added. The presence of US troops in Iraq has been a flashpoint issue, with Iraqi lawmakers voting to formally demand the withdrawal of American forces in recent months. There are currently about 5,200 US troops in Iraq, which the United States invaded in 2003 to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Relations between the two countries have been strained since a series of attacks on US interests in Iraq in late 2019 that Washington has attributed to Iran or its paramilitary allies in Iraq. Ekman said a key sign of IS’s reduced threat was its inability to hold territory, with its activities reduced to a “low level insurgency hiding in rural areas and… in caves.”

Al Monitor: Iraqi PM Visits Islamic State Hotbed After Sniper Kills General

“Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi visited the town of Tarmiyah, near the Iraqi capital, on July 20 after a sniper killed the commanding general in the area three days before. Sunni-majority Tarmiyah has long been seen as an insurgent-prone area and lies roughly 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Baghdad, between two main arteries: The road to Kirkuk lies just east of it and the road to Tikrit to the west. Kadhimi’s visit seems to have been intended to dispel rumors of sectarian plans by Shiite armed groups to “take over” or retaliate against the Sunni town, as well as to foster a greater sense of security in a country struggling under the weight of security, public health and economic issues. Tarmiyah is surrounded by groves of trees, dense vegetation and farmland. It has in previous years been used by insurgent groups as a recruitment center and a foothold close to the capital in which to hide both men and weapons. Kadhimi, who has been commander-in-chief of the armed forces since he was sworn in as prime minister on May 7 and head of national intelligence since 2016, walked through the crowded streets and called the people of Tarmiyah “our people.” He noted while meeting with security chiefs in the town that efforts were underway to revive the sectarianism that had plagued the country in previous years and that his government would address the issue.”

Turkey

Reuters: Turkey Shifts Fight Against Kurdish Militants Deeper Into Iraq

“Turkey is taking its decades-old conflict with Kurdish militants deep into northern Iraq, establishing military bases and deploying armed military drones against the fighters in their mountain strongholds. The cross-border campaign has attracted less attention than Turkey’s incursions into neighbouring Syria - partly because Turkish troops have long been in Iraq - but it is part of a strategy to push the fight beyond its borders after years of bloodshed at home. Turkey has been battling an insurgency in its mainly Kurdish southeast by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants that has killed 40,000 people since the 1980s and which has largely been directed from within Iraq. After the breakdown of peace efforts in 2015, heavy fighting erupted again in Turkey. Since then President Tayyip Erdogan’s government has sought to address what it says is the root of the crisis. “The new approach aims to destroy the threat from where it begins,” a Turkish official told Reuters. A ground assault launched on June 17 and dubbed Operation Claw Tiger has seen Turkish troops advance up to 40 km (25 miles) inside Iraq and establish over 30 “temporary bases”, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.”

Afghanistan

Al Jazeera: Air Strikes In Afghanistan Kill 45 Civilians And Taliban Fighters

“Air strikes in eastern Afghanistan killed 45 people, including civilians and Taliban fighters, local officials said on Wednesday. Ali Ahmad Faqir Yar, governor of Adraskan district in the eastern Afghan province of Herat, said at least eight civilians were among the dead. “Forty-five people had been killed so far in air strikes by security forces in the Kham Ziarat area. Taliban were among those killed,” he said. It was unclear how many of the remaining 37 were civilians and how many were members of the Taliban. Qari Mohammad Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said in a statement two air strikes in Herat killed eight civilians and wounded 12. Two local officials confirmed there had been two rounds of air raids. “Such attacks would compel recently freed prisoners who wish to live normal lives to take up arms once again against the enemy,” said Ahmadi. Afghanistan's defence ministry said it was investigating allegations of civilian casualties in attacks by Afghan forces in the area. “The results of the investigation will be shared with the public and the media. The National Defense and Security Forces have the responsibility to protect the lives and property of the people, in this regard, they use all the opportunities and facilities and will not spare any effort,” a statement said.”

Middle East

Associated Press: Israel Reinforces Lebanon Border After Hezbollah Threats

“The Israeli military said Thursday it was reinforcing the country’s northern border with infantry troops “in accordance with the situational assessment.” The announcement comes after a strike earlier this week killed a fighter from the militant Hezbollah group near Damascus International Airport. The airstrike, which also killed four other foreign fighters, was widely attributed to Israel. Iran-backed Hezbollah has vowed in the past to retaliate for any fighter that Israel kills in Syria. The group fired a barrage of anti-tank missiles into Israel on Sept. 1 last year after two of its fighters were killed in an Israeli airstrike near Damascus days earlier. That prompted a reprisal of heavy Israeli artillery fire in a rare burst of fighting between the bitter enemies. Hezbollah and Israel fought a 34-day war in 2006 that ended in a draw. Israel did not comment on this week’s strike and generally refrains from discussing its activities in neighboring Syria. But it is believed to have carried out hundreds of strikes against pro-Iranian forces during the nearly decade-long civil war. Tehran has sent thousands of Iran-backed fighters in the past years to fight alongside Syrian government forces. Israel views Iran as a regional menace and has vowed to prevent any permanent Iranian military buildup in Syria, particularly near its frontier.”

Voice Of America: UN Warns Of Failure To Address Islamic State Women

“Efforts to deliver an enduring defeat to the Islamic State may be in danger because of difficulties with bringing the terror group’s members and associates who are women to justice. New analysis from the United Nations’ Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate [CTED] issued Wednesday described the situation as dire, warning too few of these IS women are being held to account, as many countries have been reluctant to repatriate them. “Women are the demographic group with the lowest overall rate of return from the conflict zone in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic,” according to the CTED report, based on a study of 80 U.N. member states. “Within judicial systems, there is an urgent need for training and capacity-building on gender-sensitive approaches to investigations and prosecutions,” the report added. Exactly how many women members of IS have been prosecuted or could be charged with crimes is difficult to say. The CTED analysis said for many U.N. member states, “accurate information on the fate of women returnees was either unavailable or only partially available.” Many Western countries have consistently refused to take back anyone who traveled to join the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate.”

Nigeria

Premium Times Nigeria: Boko Haram Executes Five Aid Workers

“Suspected members of the extremist Boko Haram sect have shot dead five persons believed to be humanitarian workers. The terrorist group publicized the development via a viral video it published on social media Wednesday. The gunmen who carried out the killing said their victims were aid workers working for nongovernmental organisations. The 35 seconds video featured five hooded armed men standing behind five abductees who were kneeling before them. An unidentified voice speaking in Hausa said, “this is a message to the infidels who are using you to cheat and turn our people into unbelievers. You should know that your employers are just using you to achieve their aims, but they don’t care about you. That’s why whenever we abduct you, they don’t care about you. “Our advice for you is that you should repent and turn to God, or else we shall continue to waylay and abduct you all in all the routes that you traverse. “And if you don’t heed to our warning, what is about to happen to these five aid workers would also be fate that will befall you too.” At the end of the speech, one of the gunmen ordered them to fire the abducted aid workers. The gunmen summarily shot at the five men whose faces were all blinded.”

Somalia

Voice Of America: US Airstrike Hits Pro-Islamic State Militants In Somalia

“The U.S. military says it conducted an airstrike in Somalia’s Puntland region that killed seven pro-Islamic state militants. VOA’s Somali service initially reported the airstrike on Tuesday. Local officials and witnesses told VOA that Puntland regional forces carried out a ground operation against the militants in Turmasale and Amayra, mountainous hideouts near the village of Timirshe, 140 kilometers southeast of Bosaso. A statement Wednesday from the U.S. Africa Command said the airstrike was in response to an attack on partner forces by the militants. “We continue to apply pressure on terrorist groups and assist our Somali partners in disrupting their operations,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Miguel Castellanos, deputy director of operations, AFRICOM. “We continue our support to rid Somalia of the likes of ISIS and al-Shabaab.” AFRICOM said it assesses no civilians were injured or killed as a result of this latest airstrike. This was the United States’ 42nd airstrike of the year in Somalia, and the first targeting pro-ISIS forces. Officials in Puntland issued their own statement, saying they killed 20 ISIS militants during 48-hour operation in the eastern parts of Bari region. Puntland says senior local militants and one senior foreign fighter were among those killed in the operation.”

United Kingdom

The Independent: Neo-Nazi Terror Offender Jailed Over Indecent Images Of Children And Extreme Pornography

“A neo-Nazi has been jailed for possessing indecent images of children and extreme pornography. Jacek Tchorzewski, who had links to the Sonnenkrieg Division terrorist group, was imprisoned for terror offences last year. But the 19-year-old has now been sentenced at Harrow Crown Court for downloading videos, photos and animations depicting child rape, incest and “sexual interference with a corpse”. The court heard the material was discovered after police stopped Tchorzewski at Luton Airport on 20 February last year. He had been about to board a flight back to Poland after visiting his mother, who lives in High Wycombe. Prosecutor Margia Mostafa said officers who seized his phone and two laptops discovered “evidence of child pornography” as well as far-right terrorist material. “The contents of the images are fairly distressing,” she added, saying there were four videos in the most serious category showing the rape of boys and girls as young as five. Ms Mostafa said the victims shown included boys and girls, adding: “They have been clearly groomed and there is suggestion that these children are forced to smile at the camera.”

Technology

The Independent: Inside The UK-Based Site That Has Become The Far Right’s Youtube

“As mainstream social media platforms respond to pressure to ban extremists, the far right has found a new home for “hate and terror”.BitChute describes itself as a “free speech” website, but researchers say it is has become a major platform for neo-Nazi videos, racism, violence, conspiracy theories and even terrorist propaganda. It is one of several “alternative” social media companies capitalising on mainstream takedowns, including Russian Facebook-equivalent VK, Twitter alternative Parler and the Gab network. A report by counter-extremism research group Hope Not Hate said BitChute was “platforming hate and terror in the UK”. Author Gregory Davis described it as a version of “YouTube where you can get away with posting violent, Nazi and dangerous content”. “It is taking an increasingly large share of Nazi propaganda and really out-there Covid-19 conspiracy theories, including documentaries that question the existence of the virus,” he told The Independent. “The videos are predominantly far right, racist and homophobic … if you look on its trending list on any given day, you will see what people go there to watch.”

Lawfare: The Lawfare Podcast: Hany Farid On Deep Fakes, Doctored Photos And Disinformation

“This week on Lawfare's Arbiters of Truth series on disinformation, Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic spoke with Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, whose work focuses on analyzing and identifying altered photo and video—what’s known as digital image forensics. Recently, he has done work on deep fakes—realistic synthetic media in which a person’s likeness is altered to show them doing or saying something they never did or said. He’s also helped develop technology used by platforms to identify and remove material related to child sexual abuse. They talked about how dangerous deep fakes really are, how much of that danger is the technology itself and how much of it has to do with how big platforms amplify incendiary content, and whether platforms should moderate disinformation and misinformation in the same aggressive way they take down sexually abusive material.”