Eye on Extremism: Jun 30, 2020

The New York Times: Trump Got Written Briefing In February On Possible Russian Bounties, Officials Say

"American officials provided a written briefing in late February to President Trump laying out their conclusion that a Russian military intelligence unit offered and paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, two officials familiar with the matter said. The investigation into the suspected Russian covert operation to incentivize such killings has focused in part on an April 2019 car bombing that killed three Marines as one such potential attack, according to multiple officials familiar with the matter. The new information emerged as the White House tried on Monday to play down the intelligence assessment that Russia sought to encourage and reward killings — including reiterating a claim that Mr. Trump was never briefed about the matter and portraying the conclusion as disputed and dubious."

The Wall Street Journal: Iran Issues Warrant To Arrest President Trump Over Killing Of General

“Iran issued a warrant to arrest President Trump and 35 others over the killing of a top Iranian general earlier this year, a largely symbolic order that is Tehran’s latest attempt to draw international attention to what it has labeled an act of terrorism. Iran has asked Interpol for assistance in detaining the individuals, who include Mr. Trump and political and military officials from the U.S. and other countries, Tehran Prosecutor-General Ali Alqasi Mehr said Monday, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency. Mr. Mehr didn’t disclose the names of the other officials sought by Iran, but said all of them were involved in the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was targeted in an American drone strike in Iraq’s capital in January. “This is another political stunt by the Iranian regime,” White House Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said during a visit to Saudi Arabia Monday. “It’s a propaganda stunt that no-one takes seriously and makes the Iranians look foolish.” Interpol didn’t comment directly on Iran’s announcement but said in an emailed statement that according to its constitution, “it is strictly forbidden for the Organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.”

The New York Times: Lawmakers Press For Answers On Russian Bounty Offers To Taliban To Kill U.S. Troops

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress demanded on Monday that American intelligence agencies promptly share with lawmakers what they know about a suspected Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan, and threatened to retaliate against the Kremlin. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, each requested that all lawmakers be briefed on the matter and for C.I.A. and other intelligence officials to explain how President Trump was informed of intelligence collected about the plot. Mr. Trump has said he was not made aware of an intelligence assessment about the plot; officials have said that it was briefed to the highest levels of the White House and appeared in the president’s daily intelligence brief. “Congress and the country need answers now,” Ms. Pelosi, Democrat of California, wrote in a letter to John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, and Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director. “Congress needs to know what the intelligence community knows about this significant threat to American troops and our allies and what options are available to hold Russia accountable.”

United States

Brookings Institute: How The Boogaloo Movement Is Turning Memes Into Violent Action

“Late last month, Steven Carrillo pulled up in an unmarked van outside a federal courthouse in Oakland as protests against police violence raged in the city and opened fire on two security officers posted outside, leaving one of the men dead, according to federal prosecutors. A week later, prosecutors allege, Carrillo ambushed police who came to search his home, killing one and critically wounding another. Carrillo appears to have been part of the Boogaloo movement, an extremist, right-leaning and libertarian, anti-government militia with online roots that is increasingly organizing attacks in the real world. As he ran from police, Carrillo used his own blood to scrawl Boogaloo slogans on a car he had stolen—”I became unreasonable,” “Boog,” and “Stop the duopoly.” Carrillo was later found to be in possession of a Boogaloo patch circulated by one of the Boogaloo movement’s rapidly growing Facebook groups, the Thicc Boog Line, which was identified in a February Network Contagion Research Institute report. The Boogaloo movement represents a new breed of self-organizing online militias that are using memes to incite violent insurrection and terror against the government and law enforcement.”

Syria

Al Jazeera: Let ISIL-Linked Canadians In Syria Come Home: Rights Group

“A rights group has called on Canada to repatriate 47 of its citizens, including 26 children “unlawfully detained in dire conditions” in northeast Syria, accused of having links to ISIL (ISIS). On Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report documenting the position of the detainees, and calling on Canada to urgently bring its citizens home, giving priority to children and other vulnerable detainees. Since 2017, the Kurdish-led authorities in northeast Syria have repeatedly urged countries to repatriate their nationals, saying they lack the capacity to properly guard them. On 22 June, France repatriated10 children from northeast Syria. “The Canadian government has decided it is not convenient to discuss the issue politically,” Sara Kayyali, Syria researcher at HRW, told Al Jazeera. “Canada has failed to provide moral authority on the issue of repatriation in Syria,” she said. The Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry informed Al Jazeera in an email: “Given the security situation on the ground and the current COVID-19 context, the Government of Canada's ability to provide any kind of consular assistance in Syria remains extremely limited. “The security environment in northeastern Syria is unstable and highly complex.”

Iran

Arab News: World Must Wake Up To Iran Regime’s Extremism, Sectarianism

“The Middle East and the wider world had been at peace with Iran until the clerics took power in 1979. They hijacked the popular uprising and implemented an ideology that incited religious and sectarian tensions and wars. In addition, they deployed militias and mercenaries to target different ethnic and religious groupings in the region. The Iranian regime’s project pivots around exporting its extremist sectarian “revolution.” Or, to put it more bluntly, the Wilayat Al-Faqih regime has, since its inception, sowed the seeds of terrorism and sectarianism in the Middle East. The present-day rulers in Iran have embarked on a mission to spread chaos across the region. For this objective, they have largely depended on armed militias that receive money, weapons and training at military camps run by the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Iran’s regime has established so-called cultural centers under the supervision of the IRGC in several countries, including Sudan, Nigeria, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Comoros. These centers focus on creating and embedding terrorist cells and spreading the regime’s hard-line Wilayat Al-Faqih ideology. The Iranian regime has also carried out terror operations targeting diplomatic missions and dissidents both inside and outside Iran.”

Iraq

The National Interest: What Was ISIS’s Real Estate Market Like? Gw University Releases “The ISIS Files”

“George Washington University has released the first batch of its “ISIS Files,” a trove of bureaucratic documents captured from the Islamic State during the Iraqi offensive in Mosul. The files paint a picture of a militant group that enmeshed itself into daily life even as it fought a war against the entire world with stunning brutality. Most of this first batch is related to real estate and finance, with only a few documents related to ideology and terrorism. “The picture that emerges from this repository is revealing in both its range and complexity,” wrote Haroro J. Ingram and Devorah Margolin, senior fellows at the George Washington University's Program on Extremism, in a paper released alongside the files. “[D]ocuments from the Islamic Police and Agriculture departments tell of an organization seemingly obsessed with bureaucracy and institutionalizing every detail of its system of control,” they continued. “The collection also offers a human perspective of the Islamic State, with each file detailing the lives of those that lived under the Islamic State’s occupation.” The documents were unearthed by Rukmini Callimachi, a New York Times reporter who was embedded with the Iraqi military during the 2016 offensive to recapture the major metropolis of Mosul.”

Afghanistan

The New York Times: Mortar Strikes Kill At Least 20 At Livestock Auction In Afghanistan

“At least 20 civilians were killed and dozens of others wounded when mortar rounds struck a crowded livestock market in southern Afghanistan on Monday, with the government and the Taliban pointing blame at each other. Residents in the district of Sangin, in Helmand Province, where the livestock market is held in a Taliban-controlled area, said that three mortar rounds struck just as the bazaar was buzzing with a crowd of nearly 500 people and hundreds of animals. Several local elders said that the mortars had been fired by the Second Brigade of the Afghan Army, which has a base in the southwest of the district. “Human and animal flesh was mixed,” said Saifullah Khan, who was at the market. “Twenty-five people were killed on the spot, 10 others died of their wounds later.” Mr. Khan said that although the Taliban had fired rockets at the army base the day before, Monday morning had been quiet and there had been no fighting before the bazaar had started. Video from the small district clinic showed a large crowd carrying victims, the floors of the compound covered in blood. Children could be heard crying. At the bazaar, bodies of dead animals appeared to be still lying around among hats and shoes.”

Reuters: Afghan Peace Talks Likely To Start Soon, Reduced Violence Needed: Pakistan Ambassador

“Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan said on Monday that negotiations between the Afghan government and the insurgent Taliban were expected to begin soon but that the release of 5,000 prisoners and a reduction of violence were the final hurdles. Pakistan is Afghanistan’s top trading partner and is seen as a key regional player in helping facilitate a February troop withdrawal deal between the United States and the Taliban to begin the process of ending 18 years of war. The agreement was intended to quickly lead to talks between the militant group and the Afghan government, but became mired in delays. Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul, Zahid Nasrullah Khan, told Reuters in an interview he was “cautiously optimistic” and that talks could begin next month, so long as the final issues were overcome. “The two important things are the level of violence – that it should be kept low to have an enabling environment – and to reach that magic figure of 5,000 prisoners (released),” he said. Reuters reported on Friday that progress was being made over the release of a few hundred controversial Taliban prisoners and that the issue would likely be resolved soon.”

Reuters: Taliban Say Afghan Peace Effort Figured In Video Talks With U.S.'S Pompeo

“The head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a video conference to discuss the Afghan peace process, the Islamist group said on Tuesday, in a bid to remove hurdles in the path to peace talks. Increasing violence and a contentious prisoner swap between the Afghan government and the Taliban have delayed talks that were to have begun in March between the insurgent group and a team mandated by Kabul. On Twitter, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said Monday’s talks between the official, Mullah Baradar, and Pompeo discussed full implementation of the Doha accord and the withdrawal of foreign troops, as well as the release of prisoners, intra-Afghan talks and a reduction in fighting. The Doha agreement, signed between the United States and Taliban in February, drew up plans for a withdrawal of foreign forces from the war-torn country in exchange for security guarantees from the insurgent group. “Baradar once again reiterated that the Taliban are committed not to let anyone use Afghan soil (to launch attacks) against any country,” Shaheen said.”

Atlantic Council: A Divided Taliban Could Unleash A New Proxy War In Afghanistan

“The COVID-19 pandemic is transforming international relations not just by straining relations among powerful states, but also by disrupting violent nonstate actors. Perhaps no major militant outfit has felt the impact as much as the Taliban. The group’s leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, is either seriously ill with the virus or possibly dead. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of the powerful Haqqani Network and deputy leader of the Taliban, is also very ill with COVID-19. This has allowed Mohammad Yaqoob, the other deputy leader, to take operational control of the organization. The shift in the balance of power within the Taliban has the potential to upend Afghan security, India-Pakistan relations, and the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Haqqani is an ally of Pakistan and al-Qaeda, while Yaqoob favors the peace process with the United States and rapprochement with India. Yaqoob’s rise might therefore seem like good news for Washington. But, as Yaqoob and Haqqani factions compete with each other for power, a spike in violence against soft targets by the Haqqani faction and its allies as well as a new proxy war between India and Pakistan are likely to ensue.”

Pakistan

The New York Times: Gunmen Wage Deadly Battle At Pakistan Stock Exchange

“Armed with assault rifles and hand grenades, separatist militants tried to storm Pakistan’s stock exchange in the city of Karachi on Monday, killing three people and wounding several others before security officers shot and killed the attackers, officials said. Workers fled for safety, taking shelter in the exchange building as the gunmen and security forces waged a gun battle outside. Three security officers — one police officer and two private security guards — were killed, along with all four attackers dead, and the separatists were unable to get into the building, officials said. “As soon as the firing started, we closed the doors of our office. It was terrifying,” said Faisal Memon, an employee of a brokerage firm who works on the third floor. “Thank God that a smaller number of people are coming to the building these days because of coronavirus.” In social media posts credited to the Baluchistan Liberation Army, the separatist group claimed responsibility for the attack. The B.L.A. is an ethnic Baluch insurgent group in Baluchistan Province, the resource-rich southwestern region of Pakistan, which has been racked by violence for years.”

Lebanon

The Jerusalem Post: Lebanon Protests Increase Possibility Of Hezbollah Attack Against Israel

“Over the past few weeks, protests in Lebanon have regained strength, mainly in response to economic distress and the deterioration in the value of the Lebanese currency, the pound. As the protests were not convenient for Hezbollah when they broke out in October 2019, they are still not convenient with their renewed strength now. (Hezbollah is accused by the protesters as being the major factor of the deterioration of the Lebanese economy due to its activities that prevent foreign aid and economic investments.) Alongside the protests within the internal Lebanese arena, Hezbollah suffers from various additional international pressures. First, there are the international sanctions targeting Hezbollah, both from the United States and Europe, where more and more countries have recognized Hezbollah’s civilian wing as a terrorist organization. Second, there are the Lebanese government’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), alongside the conditions it put in place against Hezbollah (implementation of Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1680, regarding dismantling of its weapons and the placing of a border control between Syria and Lebanon). The third is the American attempt to change the UNIFIL forces’ mandate in southern Lebanon and to extend its jurisdiction until the end of August.”

The Jerusalem Post: US Justice Department Appeals Early Release Of Hezbollah Financier

“…And Josh Lipowsky, a senior research analyst at the Counter Extremism Project, warned of the consequences for other cases if Tajideen is released early. “This release risks setting a precedent for the early release of designated terrorists. And we have to fully consider the risks that such early releases pose and be concerned what happens to these people after their release,” Lipowsky said. Tajideen's initial request for early release, filed with the prison, was turned down by the warden, prompting Tajideen to file the request with the federal district court in Washington, DC. Justice Department arguments at the May hearing, that Tajideen was of reasonable health for a man of his age, and that there was no coronavirus in the prison he was held in, were rejected by Walton. Tajideen suffers from hypertension but his condition has not worsened. Following the ruling that he may be released, Tajideen was removed from the prison following a two-week quarantine for coronavirus, and moved to a county detention center where he is currently still being held, awaiting deportation.”

Nigeria

Reuters: Four Aid Workers Say Islamist Militants Abducted Them In Northeast Nigeria

“Islamist militants have abducted four aid workers and a private security worker in northeast Nigeria, the hostages said in a video seen by Reuters on Monday. The hostages identified themselves and said they each worked for different organizations. With just their heads and shoulders showing against leafy plants outdoors, they named large aid groups Action Against Hunger, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and REACH. “I am appealing to the International Rescue Committee to come and rescue me,” said one of the hostages, who gave his name as Luka Filibus. The incident underscores the increasing risk for aid workers in northeast Nigeria, where a decade-long conflict with Boko Haram and Islamic State's regional ally has fuelled one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. The abduction is also a sign of how dangerous the region has become since Nigeria's military withdrew into garrison towns they call “super camps”, leaving previously safe major roads, much of the countryside and smaller towns unprotected. Nigeria's army has this year touted major victories against the insurgents, but recent attacks and the abductions undermine the claims. While the hostages did not name Islamic State or Boko Haram, they referred to their captors as soldiers of the “khalifa.”

The Defense Post: Jihadists In NE Nigeria Kill 11, Others Missing: Security Sources

“At least nine Nigerian soldiers and two members of a civil defense militia were killed in a jihadist attack on a civilian convoy in northeast Borno state, security sources told AFP Sunday. Several civilians were said to be missing after the ambush. The jihadist fighters opened fire with heavy guns and rocket-propelled grenades on the convoy of more than a hundred vehicles Saturday afternoon outside Komala village near the town of Damboa, 90 kilometers (55 miles) from the regional capital Maiduguri. Damboa lies on the fringes of Boko Haram‘s Sambisa forest enclave from where the group launches attacks on villages and against troops. “Nine soldiers and two (anti-jihadist) militia were killed in the attack, “ a military officer said. “It was an ambush on a civilian convoy escorted by troops and the militia,” said the military officer who asked not to be identified. The convoy was heading from Maiduguri to Damboa when it was attacked, according to militia leader Ibrahim Liman who confirmed the death toll. “The bodies of nine soldiers and two vigilantes were recovered from the attack along with others who sustained injuries,” Liman said. The jihadist militants seized several vehicles and looted supplies before withdrawing to their Sambisa enclave, he added.”

Somalia

All Africa: Somalia: SNA Drives Alshabaab Militants Out Of Key Towns South Of The Country

“Somali National Army (SNA) intensified the heat on Alshabab militants driving them out of key positions in the southern region of Kismayo. The Saturday operation follows days of surveillance as the government seeks to neutralize the militants who previously had a presence in most parts of the country. Hassan Iraqi, commander of SNA's 5th Unit 16 Division told reporters the army conducted a well-planned operation inflicting severe casualties on the militants. He said the forces will intensify operations until they drive out the militants in the whole region. Locals said the heavily intensified army attacked Alshabab militants areas outside of Kismayo town. The areas liberated are Jaana-Abdalle, Helishid, Mayonde and Garas'ebe which are under Kimayo town. On Friday the army killed four terrorists including a senior Nepalese trainer who was identified as Ashraf Azmi Abu Hamza in an operation conducted in Middle Jubba of Somalia.”

United Kingdom

Al Jazeera: Libyan Suspect In Court Over UK's Deadly Knife Attack In Reading

“A 25-year-old Libyan asylum seeker has made his first appearance before a court after being accused of stabbing three men to death with a kitchen knife in the town of Reading in the United Kingdom. Wearing a gray prison-issue tracksuit and a blue face mask, Khairi Saadallah on Monday spoke only to confirm his name, birth date and address before London's Westminster Magistrates' Court by video link from a courtroom in Coventry, central England. No plea was entered and he was remanded in custody until a further hearing on Wednesday. Saadallah faces three counts of murder and three of attempted murder over the June 20 attack in Reading, 64km (40 miles) west of London. Friends James Furlong, 36, David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, were enjoying a warm Saturday evening in the town's Forbury Gardens park when they were stabbed. Each died from a single stab wound. Three other men were injured. Police have declared the stabbings a “terrorist attack”. Prosecutor Jan Newbold said Saadallah stabbed his victims “without warning or provocation” while shouting “words to the effect of 'Allahu akbar'“ - the Arabic phrase for God is great.”

France

Agence France-Presse: France And Sahel Leaders Mull State Of Anti-Jihad Campaign

“Leaders from five West African countries and their ally France meet Tuesday to confer over their troubled efforts to stem a jihadist offensive unfolding in the Sahel. Meeting in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, presidents will take stock nearly six months after rebooting their campaign in Pau, southwestern France. Since then, the jihadists have continued to carry out almost daily attacks, although they have also lost a key leader and two rebel groups are said to be at odds. French President Emmanuel Macron hosted the summit in January to secure a public commitment from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger at a time of deepening concern in France after it lost 13 troops in a helicopter crash. The insurgency kicked off in northern Mali in 2012, during a rebellion by Touareg separatists that was later overtaken by the jihadists. Despite thousands of UN and French troops, the conflict spread to central Mali, neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, stirring feuds between ethnic groups and triggering fears for states farther south. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed, hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes and the economies of the three countries, already among the poorest in the world, have been grievously damaged.”

Technology

Daily Mail: The Murky World Of Twitch: How Amazon's Video Platform Has Been Rocked By Sexual Harassment Claims Against Gamers Amid Crackdown On Scantily Clad 'Booby Streamers'

“Popular Twitch gamers can have millions of followers, and the platform itself has more than 100million monthly users. Online gaming has grown further during the coronavirus-related lockdowns around the world. Twitch previously came under criticism last October when an synagogue shooter in Germany live-streamed a deadly gun rampage on the website. The 35-minute video was streamed live and stayed there for another 30 minutes after the broadcast had finished before it was finally taken down. In that time more than 2,000 people viewed the footage and some of them distributed it further via other social media networks. A Twitch spokesman said at the time that 'Twitch has a zero-tolerance policy against hateful conduct, and any act of violence is taken extremely seriously'. The gunman had only attempted a live-stream on Twitch once before, the company said. 'Amazon is just as much to blame as Twitch for allowing this stream online,' said Hans-Jakob Schindler of the Counter Extremism Project at the time. 'Online platforms need to step up and stop their services being used and in turn, parent companies need to hold them accountable.'”