Eye on Extremism: Jun 26, 2020

Reuters: Commander In Somali Al Shabaab Militant Group Killed - State Media

“Somali security forces have killed a commander of the al Shabaab militant group in a military operation, state radio reported on Thursday. Ahsraf Azmi Abu Hamdan, who was from Nepal, was a senior trainer in the Islamist group. He was killed in an operation in the Middle Juba region in southern Somalia, state radio said. Three other fighers were also killed. Al Shabaab has been fighting to topple Somalia’s central government since 2008 to establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islam’s sharia law.”

Al Monitor: Intel: Al-Qaeda Branch Confirms US Drone Killed Zarqawi Relative In Syria

“An al-Qaeda branch in northwest Syria has confirmed that a US drone strike earlier this month killed one of the group’s most senior leaders, a veteran Jordanian jihadi who had been the brother-in-law of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Huras al-Din, an al-Qaeda branch in northwest Syria, released a statement Wednesday saying that Khaled al-Aruri, also known as Abul Qassam al-Urduni, was killed as a result of a US strike on a vehicle he was in earlier this month in Idlib province. Aruri was headed to a meeting of local militant leaders in order to form a military cooperation body, the statement read. Video of the vehicle appeared to show it had been struck with a non-explosive missile bearing long metal blades, possibly the RX9 Hellfire missile, which the US military and CIA have used in prior strikes to limit collateral damage. The United States took credit for the strike last week. Why it matters: The strike is one of Washington’s latest assassinations of senior jihadi leaders hiding out in an area of Syria controlled by Islamist rebels, some of whom are backed by Turkey. Huras al-Din’s statement said Aruri was the group’s deputy emir for martyrdom, though others have suggested he may have been the group’s de facto leader.”

United States

The Washington Post: Soldiers’ Cases Highlight Reach Of White Supremacy In U.S. Military

“As Ohio National Guard soldiers were dispatched to help quell unrest in Washington, D.C., one was keeping a secret from his commanders: He had frequently espoused neo-Nazi views among like-minded friends. Pfc. Shandon Simpson had participated in a white supremacist channel on the Telegram messaging app called RapeWaffen Division, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. The channel’s members have touted the rape of female police officers, posted images with Confederate battle flags and swastikas and called white women who have children with men of other races “traitors.” On Twitter, Simpson tried to recruit fascists to join him in a new group, used an image of Nazi Party leader Richard Walther Darré as his profile picture and marked the 75th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s death on April 30. “I pay respects to him as a martyr who died in Berlin completely unwilling to capitulate,” Simpson tweeted, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors extremism online. “In loving memory of a great leader of the German people. Rest in peace, führer.” Simpson is one of several service members whose actions have come under scrutiny in recent months as the U.S. military grapples with white extremism in its ranks.”

Iraq

Reuters: Iraqi Forces Raid Iran-Backed Militia Base In Baghdad

“Iraqi security forces raided a headquarters belonging to a powerful Iran-backed militia in southern Baghdad late on Thursday and detained more than a dozen members of the group, government officials and paramilitary sources said. The raid was the most brazen action by Iraqi forces against a major Iran-backed militia group in years and targeted the Kataib Hezbollah faction, which U.S. officials have accused of firing rockets at bases hosting U.S. troops and other facilities in Iraq. Iraqi government officials and paramilitary sources then gave contradicting versions of what followed. The paramilitary sources and one government official said those detained were transferred shortly afterwards to the security branch of Iraq’s paramilitary umbrella grouping, the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF). A second government official denied any such transfer and said the militiamen were still in the custody of other security services. The sources gave different numbers for those detained. A PMF official said it was 19. A government official said it was 23. The raid was the first sign that the government of Iraq’s new prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, intends to make good on pledges to take tough action against militia groups that have targeted U.S. installations.”

Afghanistan

Associated Press: US Watchdog: Afghan Gov’t Weakened Ahead Of Taliban Talks

“A U.S. watchdog warned that “systemic” corruption within the Afghan government is weakening its bargaining position in upcoming peace negotiations with the Taliban, even as the insurgents said Thursday they were ready and had compiled their agenda for the long-awaited talks. John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, said the Taliban and other militants underscored the government’s corruption, using it to “undermine public support for the government, garner recruits to their cause, and weaken the government’s bargaining position during future peace negotiations.” “It is the most insidious threat the Afghan government faces because it saps the support of citizens who are trying to go about their daily work, feed their families, and live free of fear and intimidation,” Sopko told a monitoring group known as Integrity Watch Afghanistan on Wednesday. Meanwhile, about 50 civil society activists in Kabul rallied on Thursday against corruption, urging the International Monetary Fund to rescind a $220 million loan given last month to the Afghan government to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Afghanistan has reported over 30,000 cases, including 675 deaths, but testing is severely limited, and experts say the number of infected is likely much higher.”

The Guardian: 'There Hasn't Been Rehabilitation': Afghanistan Struggles With Fate Of 'Daesh Wives'

“The “Daesh wives” from the Afghan branch of Islamic State look very young. Most are already mothers. Hundreds of them have fled combat, airstrikes and near-starvation in eastern Afghanistan where the faction of Isis known as Islamic State in Khorasan (ISK) has been under fierce bombardment from Afghan and US special forces, as well as involved in violent clashes with rival militants the Taliban. Last November, after a military operation, President Ashraf Ghani declared Isis “obliterated” in the region where it first gained a foothold in 2014, and more than 225 militants, 190 women and 208 children surrendered. In Jalalabad city, separated from the male fighters who were taken to other detention centres or prisons, the women were first housed by local authorities in a makeshift accommodation centre, awaiting transfer to Kabul or back to the remote Afghan and Pakistani tribal areas where most originated. In the centre, children were everywhere– – running, laughing, playing with colourful toys. On the walls they’d drawn drones, explosions, men shooting AK-47s from pickup trucks– – memories of their time spent in hell near the Pakistani border in Nangarhar province, ISK’s former stronghold.”

Middle East

Agence France-Presse: UN Envoy Warns Israeli Annexation May Fuel Extremism

“The UN's Middle East envoy warned Thursday that Israel's aim to annex parts of the occupied West Bank may fuel extremism and ignite a regional conflict. Just days before Israel intends to kick-start plans to annex its West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley, the United Nations has been urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abandon the proposal. Such a move could do irrevocable damage to Israeli-Palestinian relations, and also turn Palestinians towards extremism, according to UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov. If Palestinians “feel that there is no prospect of a peaceful resolution to the conflict, that only creates opportunities for radicals,” he told journalists in Jerusalem. Mladenov pointed to a “long litany of such developments” in the Middle East, referring to the rise of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. “You leave a vacuum, you take away a political prospect, you take away a positive agenda, and very quickly somebody comes and fills it with a negative and very destructive agenda,” he said. Mladenov was speaking a day after a UN Security Council session in which Secretary General Antonio Guterres, as well as European and Arab powers, called on Netanyahu to end his annexation ambitions.”

Somalia

Long War Journal: Shabaab Hits Somali, Turkish Bases With Suicide Bombings

“Since the beginning of the week, Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, has launched two suicide bombings on two military bases across Somalia. One of the bases targeted was Turkey’s military base in Mogadishu. On Sunday, Shabaab launched a suicide assault on a Somali military base in the town of Bacaadweyn in the north-central Mudug region. Local media reported that a suicide car bomb was detonated at the base’s perimeter before an assault team entered the fray. As many as six people were killed in that assault, including two soldiers. Shabaab’s claim of responsibility, released through its Shahada News Agency, confirmed the use of a suicide car bombing while offering little additional detail compared to local news reports. The suicide assault comes as Somali forces have launched an offensive earlier this month against Shabaab in the Galmudug region (comprised of the Somali regions of Galgaduud and Mudug). This came after Shabaab assassinated the governor of Mudug in another suicide bombing in the region last month. Much of Somalia’s efforts have been directed around securing the areas near the cities of Galkayo and El-Buur.”

Africa

Reuters: Ivory Coast Says Burkina Faso National Led Deadly Attack Against Army

“Ivory Coast's army said on Thursday it had identified a detained Burkina Faso national as the coordinator of a suspected jihadist attack that killed at least 13 soldiers this month. The ambush on the night of June 10 on a military outpost in Kafolo was the deadliest since gunmen from al Qaeda’s North African branch stormed the beach resort of Grand Bassam in March 2016, killing 19 people. In the wake of the latest attack, the army rounded up 30 suspected militants believed to have been involved, as well as weapons, motorcycles and telephones, the statement said. “Among the combatants arrested was the Kafolo attack coordinator. He is called Sidibe Ali ... of Burkinabé nationality,” it added. On Monday, the defence minister had said those arrested included the suspected head of a jihadist group. Last month, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso launched a joint military operation called Operation Comoe to tackle the expanding threat from Islamist jihadists linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State in the Sahel region. Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have been worst hit by the militant violence, but there are concerns that the attacks could spread to coastal nations.”

Al Jazeera: Armed Group Abducts 10 Aid Workers In Southwestern Niger

“Unidentified gunmen have abducted 10 humanitarian aid workers as they were distributing food in a village in southwestern Niger, their NGO said in a statement. Kadidiatou Harouna, of the Action and Impact Progress (APIS), said on Thursday the assailants drove into the village in the Tillaberi region on Wednesday afternoon on a motorbike and told the victims to follow them. She told the AFP news agency APIS, a partner of the UN World Food Programme, had worked in the volatile region near the borders with Burkina Faso and Mali “without problems” in the past year.   A German aid worker and an Italian priest were abducted in the region in 2018. Gunmen in the area have previously stolen several vehicles of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) in the region. One of the MSF vehicles was used in May 2019 in a failed attack on a high-security prison near the Niger capital, Niamey, where fighters were being held, according to the authorities. Fighters with links to al-Qaeda and the ISIL (ISIS) group have increasingly mounted attacks across the Sahel in recent years despite the presence of thousands of regional and foreign troops in the region.”

France

France 24: French Jihadist Goes On Trial Over IS Group Executions In Syria

“A French jihadist went on trial Thursday on terror charges amid accusations that he oversaw executions in Syria as a senior figure in the Islamic State (IS) extremist group. Tyler Vilus, 30, is facing charges of belonging to a terrorist group, heading a unit of IS group fighters and “aggravated murder” between 2013 and 2015. He faces a life sentence if convicted. Investigators suspect him of being part of the “Al-Muhajireen” (the immigrants) brigade, a squadron that tortured and carried out summary executions, which he denies. Vilus is also accused of supervising executions as a member of the religious police in the north-eastern Syrian town of Ash Shaddadi, close to the Iraqi border. In a 2015 video published by the IS group's media department, a man alleged to be Vilus is two metres away as two kneeling and blindfolded prisoners – one belonging to the Free Syrian Army rebel fighters and the other a member of Bashar al-Assad's army – are executed with a bullet to the head. In an interview with FRANCE 24, sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar, an expert in radicalisation, described Vilus as a “charismatic personality” who became an “emir”, or general, of the IS group and was heavily involved in propaganda efforts to attract people to Syria.”

Southeast Asia

The Straits Times: Jakarta Jails ISIS-Linked Couple Who Tried To Assassinate Minister

“An Indonesian couple with links to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group who tried to assassinate the country's chief security minister were jailed yesterday. A Jakarta court handed a 12-year sentence to Syahrial Alamsyah, 51, and nine years to his wife Fitria Diana, 21, after convicting them on terrorism charges for trying to kill then Security Minister Wiranto in October last year. The sentences were below prosecutors' demands for a 16-year and 12-year term, respectively. The court rejected the couple's defence that they were solely motivated by anti-government sentiment, ruling that Alamsyah belonged to a local extremist group allied to ISIS. “We rule that the defendant is guilty of terrorism together with his wife,” presiding judge Masrizal, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told the West Jakarta District Court. A third defendant was also sentenced to five years on terror charges linked to a separate attack planned with Alamsyah last year. The hearing was held by videoconference due to coronavirus concerns, with lawyers and judges wearing face masks and the defendants listening via video link. The trial had heard that Alamsyah stabbed Mr Wiranto, 73, as he exited a car during a visit to Pandeglang regency on Java island.”

Human Rights Watch: Maldives: Extremist Groups Threaten Rights Activists

“Groups that endorse violent ultra-nationalist or Islamist ideology have tried to shut down a leading women’s rights organization in the Maldives since mid-June 2020, and have threatened other activist groups, Human Rights Watch said today. But the Maldives government has failed to act against these groups. The government of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih should investigate and appropriately prosecute those responsible for harassment, intimidation, or assault, instead of appeasing these groups. “Islamist extremist groups that are a relic of the previous abusive government persist in their threats and violence against pro-democracy activists,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Solih administration should demonstrate a firm commitment to free expression by taking action against those attacking it.”  Recently, extremist groups – called “gangs” in the Maldives – opened a social media campaign demanding the government ban Uthema, the country’s main women’s rights organization. The women’s rights group had published a report assessing the Maldives government’s adherence to its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.”

Technology

The Wall Street Journal: Facebook Looks To Contain Advertising Boycott Over Hate Speech

“Facebook Inc. is working to persuade its top advertisers not to pause spending on the social network, as it tries to keep a boycott from a handful of marketers from turning into a widespread revolt. Facebook executives in emails and calls with advertisers and ad agencies over the past week have conveyed that they are taking seriously the concerns of civil-rights groups about the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation on its platform. But they are also maintaining that business interests won’t dictate their policies, according to people familiar with the discussions. “We do not make policy changes tied to revenue pressure,” Carolyn Everson, vice president of Global Business Group at Facebook, said in an email to advertisers last weekend that was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “We set our policies based on principles rather than business interests.” Facebook executives are also vowing to invest more to tackle hate on the platform including continuing the development of artificial-intelligence technology that can detect hate speech, according to the email.”

CNN: White Supremacists Openly Organize Racist Violence On Telegram, Report Finds

“On June 5, a car full of White supremacists drove through the streets of Knoxville, Tennessee, harassing and abusing people attending a Black Lives Matter protest. One of those in the car shouted to a group of protesters: "You wanna die? Come on in. 9mm with your name on it." The occupants of the car recorded several videos as they went -- videos that were later uploaded to the encrypted messaging app Telegram. One of the channels they used was The Fascist Group Esoteric Anti Root Collective -- one of more than 200 White supremacist Telegram groups that have become much more active in the midst of protests across the United States, according to CNN analysis. According to a new report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) -- shared exclusively with CNN -- these channels have thousands of members. The ISD, a London-based think tank studying extremism, says they include frequent and explicit threats of violence against minority communities and BLM protesters -- threats that in some cases have translated into violence. In May, the White supremacist group Rise Above Movement launched its own Telegram channel, which, according to the Countering Extremism Project, features anti-Semitism and anti-migration themes. White supremacists have migrated to Telegram because it's less active in moderating content than other social media networks, according to ISD and other researchers. The channels share everything from manuals on how to manufacture 3D guns to praise for mass killers.”

The Sociable: ‘Facebook’s Business Model Is Poison & Its Algorithms Amplify Misinformation’: Digital Forensics Expert Testifies

“Facebook’s business model is poison and its divisive algorithms are a driving force behind online misinformation, according to a digital forensic expert’s testimony during a House hearing on Wednesday. Who’s to blame for the spread of misinformation online? How does it spread and what can be done about it? The answers are not all black and white, and that was the subject of yesterday’s congressional hearing titled, “A COUNTRY IN CRISIS: HOW DISINFORMATION ONLINE IS DIVIDING THE NATION.” Appearing virtually before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce UC Berkeley professor and expert in digital forensics Dr. Hany Farid testified that Facebook has a toxic business model that puts profit over the good of society and that its algorithms have been trained to encourage divisiveness and the amplification of misinformation.”