Eye on Extremism: July 29, 2020

The Telegraph: UK Ambassador To Iraq Targeted With Threatening Messages After Speaking Out Against Militia Groups

“Britain’s ambassador to Iraq has been targeted by a graphic propaganda campaign featuring an image of his bloodied face after he spoke out against militia groups which are strengthening their grip on the war-torn country. Stephen Hickey was singled out by militias after he encouraged Iraq to turn its back on armed groups that operate out­side the law. In response, one militia group with ties to the Iranian regime published a series of posts on the messaging app Telegram which warned the senior diplomat to keep his views to himself. “Stop lying and mind your own business and represent your old country as a diplomat,” reads one message seen by The Daily Telegraph. It was posted by Harakat Hizbollah al-nujaba, an Iraqi Shia militia group backed by Iran. The warning was accompanied by two photographs of Mr Hickey which were edited so that his face and head were smeared with blood. Another mes­sage told the ambassador to stop playing “malicious games”, and a third warned him “not to intervene in issues that are bigger than you”. The warning was accompanied by two photographs of Mr Hickey which were edited so that his face and head were smeared with blood.”

The Washington Post: After Protester-Motorist Encounters, Activists Press Authorities To Step Up

“Two violent encounters over the weekend between motorists and racial justice demonstrators are the latest in a string of incidents that have left activists injured or dead, in some cases attracting criticism that police and prosecutors aren’t taking such threats seriously enough. Authorities in Aurora, Colo., and Austin — where the weekend incidents occurred — have not yet filed charges against the motorists who engaged with protesters. They say the cases highlight the difficulties they often face in trying to unravel these incidents, which are often clouded by claims of self-defense or lost or disoriented drivers. “Right now, we are getting cooperation only from one side, the Jeep driver,” said Matthew Longshore, the public information officer for the Aurora Police Department. “He is telling us his Jeep was surrounded. He felt threatened, and felt he was going to get injured, so he needed to get out of there.” Austin police released a statement saying they are trying to reconcile eyewitness accounts that offer “different versions of the incident.” Since the eruption of coast-to-coast protests after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day, dozens of motorists have been recorded driving their vehicles into marchers on city streets or highways.”

United States

The Wall Street Journal: Minneapolis Police Identify Man Suspected Of Inciting Violence

“A judge has granted permission for Minneapolis police to search the phone records of a man they suspect of inciting a string of fires and looting that engulfed the city in the days following the May 25 killing of George Floyd. According to an affidavit filed in the Fourth Judicial District court in Minnesota, the man—known as “Umbrella Man” from viral videos that show him dressed all in black and holding a black umbrella—is a “known associate of the Aryan Cowboys,” a white-supremacist prison gang, and a “full-fledged member” of the biker club Hells Angels. He took a four-pound sledgehammer to an Auto Zone store near the site of the killing and spray painted “free shit for everyone zone” on the doors, Erika Christensen, an arson investigator with the Minneapolis police, writes in the affidavit. “Within a short time after the looting started, the Auto Zone was set on fire. This was the first fire that set off a string of fires and looting throughout the precinct and the rest of the City,” according to the affidavit. The suspect, named in the affidavit as Mitchell Wesley Carlson, hasn’t been charged with a crime. In seeking the phone records, police say they were informed of Mr. Carlson’s involvement by a tipster who told them that the man’s motives were “to sow discord and racial unrest.”

Syria

The Jerusalem Post: 60 Pro-Iranian Militants Killed In Syria Since May

“Some 60 pro-Iranian militants have been killed in attacks targeting Iranian strongholds in Syria since May, many of which were alleged Israeli airstrikes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Over 10 sites have been targeted throughout Syria since May, including warehouses and headquarters belonging to Iran and pro-Iranian militias.The targets included Iranian sites in Quneitra, Daraa, Homs, Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, Hama and Damascus. A large number of ammunition and weapons depots were destroyed in the strikes. Eight pro-Iranian militants of non-Syrian nationalities have died so far as a result of alleged Israeli airstrikes that targeted weapons warehouses in and near Damascus last week, according to SOHR. One of those killed was a terrorist from the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist movement, whose death led to ongoing tensions along Israel's northern border. The death toll is expected to continue to rise due to a number of injured people, including some in serious condition, according to SOHR. Syrian air defense systems were activated after Israeli aircraft launched missiles towards sites south of Damascus from over the Majdal Shams area of the Golan Heights, according to Syria's state news agency SANA.”

Kurdistan 24: Six Civilians Killed During Attack By Turkish-Backed Forces In Manbij: Report

“The Manbij Military Council (MMC) on Monday said six civilians were killed when Turkish-backed forces bombed villages in the countryside of Manbij. In a statement, the MMC said the bombings occurred in the villages of Qurt Wiran and Willanli, from the Turkish base in Sheikh Nasser and Awlashli village located to the northwest of the city of Manbij. According to the statement, six civilians, including children and women, were killed while six other children were injured. Meanwhile, on Monday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said five people, including children, were killed and 10 others injured by shelling from a Turkish military base in the village of Sheikh Nasser. The MMC, supported by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), liberated Manbij from the so-called Islamic State with American support in 2016 in one of the bloodiest campaigns Syria has witnessed against the terror group. However, US forces left the town and other border regions in northern Syria in October 2019 after Turkey targeted the SDF-held towns of Tal Abyad and Serekaniye (Ras al-Ain). In a deal Moscow brokered, the SDF invited Syrian forces to prevent a Turkish expansion. The deal paved the way for Russian and regime forces to enter Manbij.”

Iraq

Amnesty International: Yezidi Child Survivors Of ‘Islamic State’ Facing Unprecedented Health Crisis

“Almost 2,000 Yezidi children who have returned to their families after being held captive by the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) are facing a physical and mental health crisis, Amnesty International warned in a new report published today. The report, Legacy of Terror: The Plight of Yezidi Child Survivors of ISIS, also addresses the urgent need to end the enforced separation of women and their children born of sexual violence by IS members. Between 2014 and 2017, IS committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and what the UN describes as genocide against the Yezidi community in Iraq. The 57-page report reveals the extensive challenges now faced by the estimated 1,992 children who have returned to their families after being abducted, tortured, forced to fight, raped and subjected to numerous other horrendous human rights abuses by IS. “While the nightmare of their past has receded, hardships remain for these children. After enduring the horrors of war at an extremely young age, they now need urgent support from the national authorities in Iraq and the international community to build their future,” said Matt Wells, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Deputy Director – Thematic Issues.”

Afghanistan

The New York Times: Taliban Announce Brief Cease-Fire, As Afghan Peace Talks Look Imminent

“The Taliban said on Tuesday that they would observe a three-day cease-fire this week during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, as Afghanistan’s president suggested the long-delayed talks between his government and the insurgents over ending the war could start in a week. The developments promise to inject new optimism into a peace process that was floundering with disagreements over a prisoner swap and increased insurgent attacks, even as the United States continues to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. In a statement, the Taliban said they had ordered the group’s fighters “not to carry out any kind of attacks against the enemy” during the three days and nights of the Muslim festival, and to “retaliate strongly” only if attacked. Afghan officials greeted the announcement with a note of caution. “The Afghan government welcomes the announcement of a cease-fire by the Taliban in Eid days, but the Afghan people wanted a lasting cease-fire,” said Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani. “The Afghan government has taken all necessary steps to show its commitment for the peace process and calls on the Taliban to show commitment too. The Afghan people are tired of war and it must end.”

Bloomberg: U.S. Withdrawal Opens Way For Terror Alliance In Afghanistan

“An alliance of terror groups aimed at destabilizing peace in South Asia is emerging in Afghanistan as U.S. troops pull out of the war-ravaged nation, security officials said. Pakistan-based militant organizations, the Lashker-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Afghan Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan, the local affiliate of the terror group, have come together to carry out raids on Indian assets in Kabul and also attacked a Sikh temple in the city, the officials said, requesting not to be identified citing rules on speaking to the media. The alliance is planning to step up attacks in other regions in South Asia, including against troops in India’s Kashmir, they said. A surge in terrorist activity in South Asia, home to quarter of the world’s population and a third of its poor, could result in diversion of resources needed to pull millions out of poverty in the region. There’s also a risk it may lead to a confrontation between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, after an attack on Indian forces in Kashmir brought them to the brink in 2019. “The longstanding fear has been that such groups would simply ‘wait out’ the U.S. and international presence, and that once the international presence was gone, they would destabilize Afghanistan and the larger region,” said Alyssa Ayres, Washington-based senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state.”

Pakistan

Associated Press: Police: 5 Pakistani Commandos Killed In Early Morning Raid

“A raid on a suspected militant hideout in northwestern Pakistan early on Tuesday morning killed five anti-terrorism commandos and two militants, the police said. According to police spokesman Imtiaz Khan, a blistering firefight erupted when the commandos tried to raid a house in the Chilas district, 460 kilometers (285 miles) north of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which borders Afghanistan. The fighting lasted several hours, Khan said. Along with the two militants killed, a cache of weapons and explosives was recovered, he added. It wasn’t immediately known which militant group was involved in the firefight. The Pakistani Taliban — the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP — are active in the province. Pakistan alleges that militants from the outlawed TTP have found safe havens in Afghanistan. A U.N. report released last week says that more than 6,000 Pakistani militants are hiding in Afghanistan, the majority of them from the TTP, which has also aligned with the Islamic State group based in Afghanistan. The U.N. report said the TTP and the IS affiliate pose a serious threat to both Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 2018, the group set fire to 14 schools for girls in the area; police arrested more than 35 militants suspected of involvement in the attack.”

Lebanon

Voice Of America: Lebanon Calls For Caution After Israel-Hezbollah Clashes 

“Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Tuesday that Israel had violated his country’s sovereignty with what he called a “dangerous military escalation” after Israeli and Hezbollah forces traded cross-border fire Monday. "I call for caution in the coming days because I fear that things will get worse in light of severe tension at the border,” Diab tweeted. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Hezbollah was “playing with fire” in comments shortly after Israel’s military said it thwarted an attempt by the militant group to sneak across the border. "Hezbollah and the state of Lebanon bear full responsibility for this incident and any attack that comes from Lebanese territory against the state of Israel. … Any attack against us will be answered with great force,” Netanyahu said. “(Hezbollah chief Hassan) Nasrallah already made a big mistake in estimating Israel's determination to protect itself, and the state of Lebanon paid a heavy price for it. I recommend it not repeat that mistake." The Israeli army said a small squad of armed men tried to infiltrate Israeli territory from the Shebaa Farms region — an area Israel captured in the 1967 war and that Lebanon claims.”

Nigeria

The Jamestown Foundation: Boko Haram’s Expansionary Project In Northwestern Nigeria: Can Shekau Outflank Ansaru And Islamic State In West Africa Province?

“On June 15, Boko Haram released a video featuring English, French (Cameroonian), Fulani, and Hausa-speaking fighters “greeting” fellow fighters in Zamfara and Niger states. Three weeks later, on July 7, Boko Haram released another video of fighters in Niger State returning “greetings” to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and “brothers” in Zamfara, which is one of Nigeria’s northwestern states; Lake Chad, which is the Boko Haram Bakura faction’s base; and Sambisa, Borno, which is Shekau’s base. These back-to-back videos recall the process of the Bakura faction’s pledge to Shekau one year earlier. Bakura’s joining Boko Haram turned Nigerian jihadism’s tide in Shekau’s favor vis-à-vis his rivals in Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Ansarul Muslim Fi Biladis Sudan (Ansaru). On September 23, 2019, Shekau had issued “greetings” to fighters on Lake Chad, which was reciprocated one day later in a video from an imam surrounded by two armed fighters near Lake Chad who claimed they were “commanded” by Bakura and “greeted” Shekau. These two videos followed a series of Boko Haram-claimed attacks around Lake Chad using styles copying Islamic State (IS), despite only ISWAP being formally part of IS.”

Somalia

Associated Press: US Military Says Airstrike Killed Civilian In Somalia

“The U.S. military on Tuesday acknowledged killing a civilian and wounding three others with an airstrike in Somalia earlier this year. This is the second in a new series of quarterly reports the U.S. Africa Command issues on airstrikes in Somalia and allegations of civilian deaths after coming under pressure from Somalis and human rights groups. The new report substantiates allegations around a Feb. 2. airstrike. At the time, the U.S. said one member of the al-Shabab extremist group was killed in the vicinity of Jilib. “This admission is the third case they have substantiated in 13 years of airstrikes in the country,” Brian Castner, Amnesty International’s senior crisis adviser for arms and military operations, said in a statement. “Now that there has been an acknowledgment of their actions, there must be accountability and reparations for the victims and their families.” While the U.S. statement didn’t give details about the civilian killed, the Amnesty statement said the airstrike killed a woman and wounded three of her relatives. The human rights group last year released an investigation into U.S. airstrikes in Somalia that led to the U.S. acknowledging killing five civilians and wounding six others in three separate airstrikes.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Terror Accused Hisham Muhammad 'Was Planning Lone-Wolf Attack'

“An alleged supporter of the Islamic State group planned a "lone-wolf" drone attack, possibly targeting the British Army or police, a court has heard. Officers found weapons including a tomahawk and a machete inside a house in Greater Manchester rented by Hisham Muhammad, the Old Bailey was told. Prosecutors allege the 26-year-old researched how to modify a drone to be used in a terrorist attack. Mr Muhammad denies engaging in conduct in preparation for acts of terrorism. His cousin Faisal Abu Ahmad, 25, denies failing to alert authorities of the alleged attack plan. Prosecutor Anne Whyte QC told the court Mr Muhammad held "strong extremist views" and had downloaded extremist content. The Old Bailey heard the defendants, who shared a house in Victoria Avenue, Bury, received a visit from their landlord in June 2018 who felt "uneasy" after finding weapons inside. During a search of the house, officers also discovered wooden lollipop sticks attached together with a battery and electrical component, jurors were told. These items allegedly corresponded to sketches, which had details for modifying a drone to drop a device from it, the court heard. Two painted eggs containing crushed chilli seeds and shards of glass were also found, which prosecutors claim could be used as a "blinding disorientation device.”

Europe

Newsweek: Jehovah's Witness In Russia Convicted Of Extremism, Concern Over Crackdown

“A court in Russia has convicted and fined a Jehovah's Witnesses follower amid growing global concern over a campaign of persecution in the country against adherents of the religion. Russia's Supreme Court ruled the religion as an extremist organization in April 2017 and since then, the group has complained that authorities have raided more than 1,000 properties of its followers. There are 372 believers under criminal investigation and 43 people are in prison—including 10 who have been convicted of extremism. Yevgeniy Spirin, 34, had spent 160 days in pretrial detention and had been under house arrest from July 5, 2019, before his sentence was handed down on Tuesday on charges of organizing the activities of an extremist organization. The Furmanovsky City Court in the Ivanovo Region convicted Spirin and fined him 500,000 Russian rubles ($6,920). Spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses, Jarrod Lopes, said the conviction was "in complete disregard for the religious freedom enshrined in Russia's Constitution."

Canada

Reuters: Teen Pleads Guilty To Terrorism Charges In Canadian Court

“A teenager charged with terrorism-related offenses pleaded guilty on Tuesday in a Canadian courtroom. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) said the teen pleaded guilty to four charges, including knowingly facilitating terrorist activity, making or possessing explosive materials and counseling a person to place a bomb or other lethal device in public. The accused cannot be identified by law while being tried as a minor. The individual was charged in January 2019 after a pair of national security raids in Kingston, Ontario, a community located about two hours from Canada’s capital city of Ottawa. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has said the investigation stemmed from an FBI tip in December 2018 and involved multiple agencies. Police have said a bomb was never placed and that, while there was a substantial and credible attack plot, there was never any imminent danger to the public. CBC said the Crown is seeking an adult sentence.”

Australia

The Sydney Morning Herald: 'It's Complicated': Australia Hardens Stance Against IS Wives, Children

“Dozens of Australian-born women married to Islamic State fighters in Syria face an even tougher battle to return home, after Foreign Minister Marise Payne warned coronavirus had stretched the resources needed to deradicalise and reintegrate women and children. Speaking during high-level talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington, Senator Payne said that while some orphan children of IS families had returned to Australia, the Morrison government "would not put our communities at home at risk" in order to repatriate more people from Syria. The toughening of the government’s stance sits at odds with Pompeo’s calls for countries to bring back and prosecute their own jihadist nationals. It also comes amid ongoing debate over the future of the wives and children of Australian fighters, many of whom have been residing in the squalid al-Hawl camp for years and are seeking to return following the fall of the terror group. Asked about the matter at the latest Australian-US Ministerial (AUSMIN) consultations on Tuesday, US time, Senator Payne said coronavirus travel restrictions had complicated what was an already challenging situation in Syria, "so any assessment of the sorts of resources that would be needed - to re-integrate, to monitor, to secure, and to deradicalise people who are brought home - are under significantly more pressure than they usually would be."

Southeast Asia

Arab News: Bangladesh Raises Security Alert After Eid Terror Attack Warning

“Bangladesh police have issued a security alert for all units following a tip-off about an impending terror attack by a militant group during the upcoming Eid Al-Adha festival, officials from the police headquarters told Arab News on Tuesday. “Police have beefed up security measures considering all the security aspects of recent developments and members will remain on high alert during Eid Al-Adha and August,” Haider Ali Khan, additional deputy inspector general of intelligence and special affairs, told Arab News. It follows police intelligence sources saying that Daesh had asked its followers to “operate globally ahead of Eid” while the police notice said that the “Neo JMB” may carry out the attack. The Neo JMB is a new branch of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a home-grown Islamist group militant outfit that has been outlawed in the country since 2005. Bangladesh has been on high alert since 2016, when seven militants attacked a cafe in Dhaka killing 22 people. The 12-hour siege of the Holey Artisan cafe saw eight people go on trial, while one man was acquitted. Daesh claimed the attack, but Bangladeshi authorities rejected the claim and blamed the JMB instead.”

Technology

Cyber Scoop: Islamic State Propaganda Efforts Struggle After Telegram Takedowns, Report Says

“The Islamic State terrorist group is reportedly struggling to regain a foothold on mainstream social networks amid tighter controls from technology firms and ongoing attention from the U.S. military. As major networks have stifled the group, it has tried to build a presence on a number of marginal social media platforms, only to be met “by increasing efforts by these companies to bring down content,” the European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol, said Tuesday in a report examining the extremist group’s activities over 2019. Telegram, previously the primary source of terrorist propaganda online, according to Europol, said in November that it had removed more than 5,000 “terrorist accounts and bots” during a two day effort against the group, an uptick from the typical average of 200 to 300 removals. Since then, IS supporters have shifted to more fringe services, like the Russia-based TamTam and Hoop Messenger, which is hosted in Canada. Extremists also have explored the use of chat services designed for blockchain developers in an apparent act of desperation, Europol noted.”