Eye on Extremism: Jun 1, 2020

Salon: “Virtual Terrorism”: Far-Right Trolls Are Targeting Marginalized Groups On Zoom Calls

“On May 14, thirty-one residents of an East Oakland neighborhood joined a videoconference call to meet with their neighborhood services coordinator to hear updates about upcoming community events and resources available to residents; the meetings, which took place regularly in person prior to the pandemic, recently transitioned to virtual videoconferencing app Zoom. Then, five minutes into the call, the number of attendees jumped up to 72. The newly uninvited guests quickly overtook the meeting — first, by chanting the n-word; then by taking control of the screen. The trolls drew swastikas and displayed pornography images for all to see. “Then we restarted and it happened again — and it was just within less than 10 seconds that we'd hung up,” Marla Williams, who is the chairperson of Oakland Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council's Havenscourt neighborhood, told Salon. “I ended up with about 14 or 15 attendees, once we got it all under control.” This wasn't the first time Williams witnessed this kind of virtual attack. “It happened while I was on a call with the mayor before,” Williams said. “It's very unfortunate, and it's very important that there's still this type of this type of mentality out there.”

Fox News: Barr: Violence From Antifa, Other Groups 'Is Domestic Terrorism And Will Be Treated Accordingly'

“Attorney General William Barr said Sunday that the Department of Justice will treat violence by individuals associated with Antifa as domestic terrorism in a statement that condemned the far-left group and asserted that protests against police brutality and racial inequality following George Floyd's death have “been hijacked.”Such demonstrations in cities nationwide have turned into violent riots complete with looting, attacks against police and arson. Barr's statement came after President Trump earlier Sunday said he would designate Antifa as a terrorist organization. Antifa -- short for “anti-fascist” -- has very little central organization but violent left-wing protesters, particularly in places like Portland, Ore., often act under the Antifa banner. “With the rioting that is occurring in many of our cities around the country, the voices of peaceful and legitimate protests have been hijacked by violent radical elements. Groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate, violent, and extremist agenda,” Barr said.”

Foreign Policy: Extremism Is On The Rise In West Africa. Education Is Suffering.

“In Burkina Faso, militant groups aligned with al Qaeda and the Islamic State have stepped up attacks on schools, forcing some 350,000 children to stay home over the past three years. According to a Human Rights Watch report released on Tuesday, 107 schools have been burned, looted, and destroyed by militants opposed to secular education since 2017. Half of the documented attacks took place last year. “It’s their war against education,” a teacher told Human Rights Watch. Fifteen teachers and other school employees have been killed in the attacks. The attacks have not been confined to Burkina Faso. A UNICEF report issued last summer found that 1.9 million children across Central and West Africa had missed school as militant groups opposed to secular education have stepped up their attacks. Once out of school, children are at greater risk of being recruited by the armed groups or forced into child marriage, Al Jazeera reports. Uphill battle. Clashes between security forces and armed groups in Burkina Faso forced over 700,000 people to flee their homes last year, as part of a broader regional trend: In the last year alone, there was a fivefold increase in terrorist activity in the Sahel.”

United States

NBC News: Videos, Threats, But Few Signs Protests Have Been Stoked By 'Outsider' Extremist Groups

“Unrest, violence and property destruction in cities across the U.S. on Saturday showed few signs of having been stoked by organized extremists despite a growing narrative from several political figures that outside groups are to blame for some of the worst scenes of recent protests. Some fringe groups, most notably anti-government “Boogaloo” members with guns, were seen in numerous cities, stoking fear that more severe violence could be ahead. Law enforcement officials have also said they are looking into anarchist groups that have previously shown up at civil rights protests. And anecdotal reports of white supremacists and other extremist groups fomenting violence have been amplified by similar claims from authorities, including Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who tweeted on Saturday that the city is “now confronting white supremacists, members of organized crime, out of state instigators, and possibly even foreign actors to destroy and destabilize our city and our region.” That claim was later boosted by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, who claimed outside protesters, white supremacists and drug cartels were part of the protest groups in Minneapolis.”

NBC New York: NYPD’s Terrorism Official Says Unnamed Groups Planned Protest Violence In Advance

“New York's top terrorism official says there's evidence that members of anarchist groups from outside the city intentionally planned to incite violence at protests calling for justice in the death of George Floyd. Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said there is a high level of confidence within the NYPD that these unnamed groups had organized scouts, medics, and supply routes of rocks, bottles and accelerants for breakaway groups to commit vandalism and violence. There are strong indicators they planned for violence in advance using at times encrypted communications, he said. One out of every seven arrests, of 686 so far since May 28, has been people from out of state, according to Miller. He said those arrested came from Massachusettes, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Iowa, Nevada, Virginia, Maryland, Texas and St. Paul, Minnesota. A long day of protests Sunday stayed peaceful until the last hours of the night when reports of thrown projectiles turned tensions between police and protesters. Adam Harding, Myles Miller and Checkey Beckford report. On Saturday, Commissioner Shea had estimated at least 20 percent of protesters arrested Friday night were from out of town.”

Washington Examiner: Police Fatally Shoot Woman Who Tried To Attack Officer After Brother Was Charged With Assisting ISIS

“A woman was fatally shot by police after charging an officer with a butcher knife just days after her brother was charged with attempting to help the Islamic State. Temple Terrace Police were called to talk to a woman, identified as Heba Momtaz Al-Azhari, on Friday. She did not show any signs of distress while talking to the officer but later began brandishing a knife and tried to attack him with it, according to police. The officer then fatally shot the woman, who later died at a hospital. Part of the incident was caught on a surveillance camera and comes as the country faces mass protests over the death of George Floyd. “We want it to be clear that this was an unprovoked, very unfortunate situation, but that the officer really had no other choice, when the knife wasn't dropped and the assault continued, but to defend themselves,” Police Chief Kenneth Albano said. 'American astronauts on American rockets from American soil': NASA returns to space with help from SpaceX The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the situation. Heba Momtaz Al-Azhari has been identified as the sister of Muhammed Momtaz Al-Azhari, 23, who was arrested on May 24 by FBI agents.”

Syria

The New York Times: Western Countries Leave Children Of ISIS In Syrian Camps

“As about 900 children languish in fetid, disease-ridden detainment camps in northeastern Syria, the Western states their parents hail from have insisted they cannot take them back. But last month, when a 7-year-old French girl was on the verge of dying if she did not receive urgent medical care, France sent a medical jet and flew her to Paris for treatment, leaving behind her mother, two brothers and twin sister. The repatriation of the girl, Taymia, was the rare exception, but proof, rights advocates said, that countries can take their children back when they want to. “We have seen incredible hardheartedness when it comes to the responses of governments such as France that talk the talk about human rights,” said Letta Tayler, a senior counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If France could take one child out, why couldn’t it take the entire family?” Human rights groups say leaving the children in Syria threatens their mental and physical health and risks their indoctrination with Islamic State ideology, which is widely followed in the camps and could create a new generation of violent jihadists.”

Iraq

Associated Press: IS Blasts Iraq PM As American Agent, Calls For More Attacks

“The Islamic State group in an audio message blasted Iraq’s new prime minister, calling him an “American agent,” and criticized the closure of Islam’s holiest shrine in the Saudi holy city of Mecca to limit the spread of coronavirus. In the message allegedly read by the group’s chief spokesman Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi, released late Thursday, al-Qurayshi asked why mosques are being closed and people being prevented from praying at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, hinting that Muslims are immune to the coronavirus. The virus outbreak disrupted Islamic worship in the Middle East as Saudi Arabia in late March banned its citizens and other residents of the kingdom from performing the minor pilgrimage to Mecca. In other countries in the Middle East, Friday prayers were also suspended to limit the spread of the virus. Iraq’s new Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, a former intelligence chief backed by Washington, took office earlier this month after he played a part for years in the war against IS. The group was declared defeated in Iraq in 2017. Al-Kadhimi remains the “intelligence’s pointed sword” on the heads of Muslims, al-Qurayshi said, urging IS fighters to launch daily attacks in Syria, Iraq and other countries.”

BBC News: Islamic State: RAF Carries Out Four Air Strikes In May

“Royal Air Force drones and Typhoons carried out four sets of air strikes against the Islamic State group (IS) in May, the Ministry of Defence has said. It said the strikes in northern Iraq all hit their targets. Two similar operations in April were the UK's first strikes against the militant group in seven months. But the MoD said the RAF had flown daily armed patrols since March 2019, when IS lost its last strongholds in Iraq and Syria. The operations come as IS stepped up attacks on security forces in northern Iraq, reportedly while authorities were preoccupied with responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the actions showed UK Armed Forces were continuing to protect the country and its allies from “all those who seek to do us harm”. The first strike took place on 8 May, when a remotely piloted RAF Reaper destroyed a bunker, which the MoD said contained a group of IS fighters, at a location west of Tuz Khurmatu in northern Iraq. On 10 May, two Typhoons struck a cave system identified by surveillance aircraft as occupied by IS. Two Reapers struck another two bunkers on 13 May, while on 23 May, the MoD said a patrolling Reaper struck IS fighters hiding in woods.”

Turkey

Daily Sabah: Turkey Deports 12 Foreign Terrorist Fighters With Suspected Daesh-Links To Finland

“Twelve foreign terrorist fighters have been deported to Finland with an evacuation flight as part of Turkey’s efforts to repatriate former Daesh-linked persons to their country of origin, the Interior Ministry announced Sunday. In a statement on Twitter, the ministry further pointed out that the repatriation process was continuing. Prior to the global coronavirus pandemic, Turkey had repatriated a large number of foreign terrorist fighters but had to halt its efforts after countries closed their borders to curb the spread of the virus. According to the ministry’s figures in February, Turkey had deported 229 foreign terrorists, 75 of whom are European Union citizens, since its anti-terror operation Peace Spring in Syria.The issue of handling Daesh members and their families detained in Syria – including foreign members of the terror group – has been controversial, with Turkey arguing that foreign-born terrorists should be repatriated to their countries of origin, while several European countries have refused, saying the terrorists are denationalized. Turkey has also criticized Western countries for stripping some of the foreign terrorist fighters of their citizenship.”

Afghanistan

The Washington Post: Clashing Assessments Of Links Between Taliban And Islamic State Point To Problems For Afghanistan’s Peace Process

“Afghan officials at some of the highest echelons of power in Kabul are reviving claims that the Taliban and the Islamic State in Afghanistan are aiding each other in carrying out attacks and sharing training pipelines — boosting a long-held theory that threatens progress toward formal peace talks. This month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani linked a brutal attack on a maternity ward in the capital with a rise in Taliban violence elsewhere in the country. And Ghani’s national security adviser blamed the massacre on Taliban “sponsors” who “have now subcontracted their terror to other entities.” The evidence for such links is flimsy and has been repeatedly disputed by U.S. officials and Taliban leaders. But Afghan leaders’ persistence in making the claim highlights the depth of mistrust between the government and Taliban at a critical point in the peace process. The accusations touch on one of the few public conditions in the U.S.-Taliban peace deal: that the Taliban prevent groups like the Islamic State from operating on Afghan soil. No group publicly claimed responsibility for the maternity ward attack, but U.S. officials issued an emphatic, public rejection of the Afghan government claims. U.S. special representative Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted the United States blamed the Islamic State for the bloodshed.”

Associated Press: IS Claims Afghan Bus Attack; Civilians Killed In New Clashes

“The Islamic State group took responsibility Sunday for a deadly roadside bombing against a bus belonging to a local TV station in the Afghan capital, while renewed fighting in nearby provinces killed at least seven civilians, including a woman and several children. In a statement on an IS-affiliated website, the group said Saturday's attack in Kabul targeted a bus carrying employees of Khurshid TV, a station it described as “loyal to the Afghan apostate government.” Two employees were killed and four wounded, said Marwa Amini, the Interior Ministry deputy spokeswoman. Two of the wounded were in critical condition Sunday, said Mohammad Rafi Sediqi, an official at the station. Both the Taliban and the Islamic State are active in Kabul. IS has claimed recent attacks on civilian targets, while the Taliban has taken responsibility for attacking military targets. IS has been increasingly active in Afghanistan after suffering battlefield losses in recent months to government and U.S. forces, as well as its Taliban rivals. Another roadside bomb exploded in Kabul on Sunday as a police patrol was passing by, wounding three civilians, said Tariq Arian, the Interior Ministry spokesman. No one immediately claimed responsibly for the blast.”

Associated Press: Afghan Government Says Taliban Attack On Checkpoint Kills 14

“Taliban fighters attacked an army checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan, killing 14 military personnel, the Defense Ministry said Friday. The Taliban took responsibility for Thursday's attack in Paktia province, calling it a “defensive action,” without elaborating. Javid Faisal, spokesman for the Afghanistan national security adviser’s office, said despite sporadic clashes, a truce in effect during the three-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which ended Tuesday, would continue. The Taliban accused the Afghan government of carrying out an airstrike Wednesday killing several civilians. The government said the target was Taliban fighters. Neither side appeared ready to return to all out fighting, however. “The détente that started during Eid al-Fitr continues despite reports of scattered incidents to the contrary,” Faisal said. Meanwhile, a team of five Taliban members were in Kabul discussing the release of Taliban and Afghan government prisoners from. The Afghan government has released 2,000 Taliban prisoners since the signing of a peace deal between the United States and the Taliban on Feb. 29 and the insurgents have freed 347 captives. Under the peace deal, the Afghan government is to release up to 5,000 insurgents, while 1,000 Afghan soldiers and police will be freed by the Taliban.”

Foreign Policy: Taliban Leadership In Disarray On Verge Of Peace Talks

“Control of the Afghan Taliban is in disarray as the coronavirus has swept through the leadership, forcing a number of senior officials to seek treatment and leaving the way open for the son of the group’s founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, to take over as interim leader, according to sources in the Taliban and officials with the Afghan government and Western intelligence. The illness of senior Taliban leaders and their absence from decision-making come at a critical time for Afghanistan, as the United States is drawing down its troops in accordance with a bilateral deal struck with the Taliban in February. Any hint of disunity at the top of the Taliban—and the possibility that it could spill into a violent rivalry—could affect the next phase of the so-called peace process: direct talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government aimed at ending the nearly two-decade-old war. The Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, has been absent from meetings for some weeks, his place taken by Sirajuddin Haqqani, his deputy and scion of the brutal jihadi Haqqani network, which has links with al Qaeda, said Antonio Giustozzi, a leading expert on the Taliban at the Royal United Services Institute in London.”

Al Jazeera: Afghanistan's Abdullah Says Ready For Taliban Talks 'At Any Time'

“A top Afghan official appointed to lead Kabul's delegation in the much-awaited peace talks with the Taliban has said his team is ready to start discussions with the armed group “at any moment”. Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said on Saturday an ongoing lull in violence triggered by a surprise three-day truce offered by the Taliban on the Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday had set the tone for launching the peace talks. “The announcement of the ceasefire, a reduction in violence and the exchange of prisoners have all paved the way for a good beginning,” Abdullah said at his first press conference since taking on the role. “The negotiating team is ready to begin the talks at any moment,” he said, adding, however, that there must be a fresh ceasefire during the talks. The government in Kabul had welcomed the ceasefire and ordered its forces to comply with it. It also accelerated the release of hundreds of Taliban prisoners.  Officials have blamed the Taliban for carrying out some deadly attacks against security forces since the ceasefire ended on Tuesday, but also acknowledged that the temporary truce has led to an overall fall in violence across much of the country.”

Middle East

The National: Extremists Could Fill Gap If World Fails Covid-19 Test, Study Finds

“Extremists may fill the vacuum if governments around the world fail to get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic, a UK government-funded study has warned. Lockdowns and other restrictions may provide a “captive audience ripe for radicalisation”, according to the paper which looks at the potential links between Covid-19 and violent extremist recruitment. The paper is the latest to warn of links between increasing extremism and the pandemic as governments struggle with the impact of the crisis. The paper warns those at risk or radicalisation are filling more time online and in chat rooms where they are susceptible to misinformation and targeting by terrorist recruiters. With government attention focused on dealing with the crisis, the paper warned that the pandemic may allow for terrorists to plan opportunistic attacks. The limiting of personal freedoms have been seized on by radical ideologues to validate their world views, the paper says. The closure of mosques in Nigeria “have been framed as evidence of anti-Islam sentiments in government”, it said. “The failure or inability of government to reach certain areas or groups may lead to a void in which violent extremists may step,” it said.”

The Arab Weekly: Under Assault, ISIS Gasps For Air Through Propaganda

“As it struggles to rear its head again, ISIS issued an audio recording Thursday threatening governments it accused of supporting the international coalition fighting against it. The terror group’s threat against Iraq, whose incoming Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has close ties with the US, was expected. But their anger at Qatar, which has itself been accused of supporting extremism, raised questions. According to the audio broadcast on Telegram, a person identifying themselves as ISIS spokesman Abu Hamzah al-Quraishi vowed more attacks in Arab states. Quraishi urged ISIS fighters “everywhere to prepare whatever strength they could and be as hard as they could on the enemies of God and to raid their places,” according to the tape. The ISIS spokesman gave no specific targets but mentioned countries where the group is active, such as Syria and Iraq. He also took aim at Qatar for its hosting the US’s al-Udeid air base. “We have never forgotten that the base the tyrants built to host the American army was and still is the center of command of the crusade against Muslims in Khorasan, Iraq, the Levant, and Yemen,” he said, referring to the international coalition against ISIS led by the US. Al Udeid air base is the largest American air base in the region, hosting some 11,000 soldiers.”

Egypt

Associated Press: Egypt Officials Say 19 Militants, 5 Troops Killed In Sinai

“The Egyptian military said it has killed at least 19 militants in raids and airstrikes against an Islamic insurgency in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, in clashes that also left at least five casualties among its troops. Col. Tamer el-Rifai said in his statement late Saturday that the raids and airstrikes took place last week in the towns of Bir al-Abed, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid. He said forces dismantled at least five explosive devices and destroyed two four-wheel drive vehicles and a storehouse. The military statement did not specify the number of soldiers killed. Other officials however said two officers, including a colonel and a lieutenant, and three conscript soldiers were killed when an explosive device hit their vehicle Saturday while taking part in a campaign against the militants in central Sinai. The officials spoke in condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief the media. Other details about the incident could not be independently corroborated as Egyptian authorities heavily restrict access to that part of Sinai. The Sinai affiliate of the Islamic State group on Sunday claimed responsibility for the attack. For over a decade, Egypt has been fighting the Islamic militants and struggling to re-establish control over the restive border region.”

Somalia

Associated Press: Roadside Bomb Near Somalia's Capital Kills 8 Civilians

“A Somali police officer says at least eight civilians were killed when a minibus hit a roadside bomb outside the capital on Sunday morning. Abdullahi Ahmed says the minibus hit the bomb in the Hawa Abdi area near Mogadishu. The death toll may rise because many of the surviving passengers were seriously wounded, Ahmed said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast. However Somalia's extremist group al-Shabab, which is allied to al-Qaida, has carried out a series of bomb attacks in the area in recent months.”

Africa

Reuters: Militants In Burkina Faso Kill 35 In Separate Attacks, Government Says

“Militants in Burkina Faso attacked a cattle market and a humanitarian convoy, killing at least 35 people, the government said on Sunday. Saturday’s violence underscores deep instability in parts of Burkina Faso, which has been battling armed groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State since 2017. Twenty-five people were killed and more wounded in the attack on the market in the eastern village of Kompienga, while five civilians and five military police were killed near the northern village of Foube, the government said in a statement. Armed groups “targeted a humanitarian convoy returning from Foube after delivering supplies”, it said. A further 20 people were wounded in the convoy attack, it said. No group has claimed responsibility. Hundreds have been killed in the past year in the Sahel nation, and moer than half a million people have fled their homes due to the violence, which has also fuelled ethnic and religious tensions. The bloodshed follows the death of at least 15 people on Friday in an attack on a convoy transporting traders in northern Burkina Faso.”

Reuters: Mozambique Forces In Major Fighting With Insurgents, Says President

“Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi said government forces had engaged in extensive fighting against insurgents after they attacked the town of Macomia in the gas-rich northern region on Thursday. Nyusi’s comments on Saturday were the first time the government has acknowledged the attack on the town, which comes amid an Islamist insurgency in the province of Cabo Delgado that started in 2017 but has been gathering pace in recent months. Macomia, 230 km (145 miles) from the provincial capital of Pemba, is the latest significant town to be attacked since the start of the year as militias with suspected links to Islamic State have stepped up attacks, briefly seizing the strategically important town of Mocimboa da Praia. Analysts say heavy fighting followed the attack on Macomia, which began in the early hours of Thursday, when insurgents destroyed homes and infrastructure while residents fled. “The latest battles fought by the Defence and Security Forces were huge, they were very productive,” Nyusi was quoted as saying by Radio Mozambique and state broadcaster TVM. “We have information that top cadres of this force have been killed,” he said, referring to the insurgents.”

Al Jazeera: Niger Adopts New Wire-Tapping Legislation On Curbing 'Terrorism'

“Niger's parliament has passed legislation authorising wiretapping as a means of curbing “terrorism and transnational criminality” despite criticism from the opposition. The law adopted on Friday allows “research of information” which notably may “threaten state security” or “prevent the fight against terrorism and organised transnational crime”. It was passed despite an opposition protest walkout over concerns that it undermines the country's constitution which holds that “secrecy of correspondence and of communications is inviolable”. An opposition statement decried “the will of those in power to deprive Nigeriens ... of all privacy in their communications”. It added “this law will allow surveillance of all Nigeriens, as well as all those who live in Niger under the false pretexts” of maintaining security and fighting “terrorism”. Barkai Issouf, the minister overseeing relations with institutions, insisted that “this law is not a threat to liberty. It is indispensable and emanates from the government's wish to secure our people”.  The AFP news agency quoted Justice Minister Marou Amadou playing down the move: “You feared being listened in on? Well, you were before and you still are - only now it will be organised.”