Eye on Extremism: June 9, 2022

The Washington Post: Inside The Taliban’s Secret War In The Panjshir Valley

“Taliban forces have been locked for months in a shadowy on-again, off-again battle with opposition fighters based in the Panjshir Valley. Just a few hours’ drive north of Kabul, the province has long been an anti-Taliban stronghold and remains the only significant pocket of resistance to the group since the fall of Kabul last August. The Washington Post secured a rare visit to the mountains and villages where the fight is playing out, getting a glimpse of a conflict that the Taliban has gone to great lengths to conceal. Taliban officials flatly deny there is any violence in the area, even though thousands of the group’s forces are visible across the valley. “Everything here is fine,” insisted Nasrullah Malikzada, the Taliban’s local information director in Panjshir. “There is no fighting at all.” Yet residents say assaults on Taliban positions are a regular occurrence, and dozens of people have been killed, with some civilians imprisoned in sweeping arrests. Those residents spoke on the condition of anonymity or used only one name for fear of reprisals. The clashes in Panjshir are unlikely to pose an imminent threat to the Taliban’s control of the province or the country, but the violent resistance here punctures key narratives propping up the movement’s claim to legitimacy: that its rule has brought peace to Afghanistan and that its fighters are capable of maintaining security.”

AFP: Paris 2015 Attacks Trial Hears Closing Arguments

“The trial over the November 2015 attacks in Paris, France's worst-ever terror assault, heard the beginning of closing arguments Wednesday by the three leading prosecutors in the case. For three days, the prosecutors will detail their version of the events on November 13, 2015, when 130 people died at the Bataclan concert hall and elsewhere in shootings that traumatised the country. In accordance with French court procedure, the prosecutors will then lay out their assessment of the level of guilt of each accused and finally, on Friday, recommend sentencing. In the dock is Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the Islamist hit team that opened fire in the packed concert hall and on cafe terraces in adjacent streets, as well as at the Stade de France sports arena. Also on trial are 19 others accused of various degrees of assistance to the killers. Twelve, including Abdeslam, risk life in prison, the maximum punishment under French law. “What will we remember from this trial? What images? What words?” asked prosecutor Camille Hennetier as she delivered her closing remarks in what is France's biggest trial ever, which started in September 2021. “Your verdict, of course,” she said. “And the names of the dead that were read out in September. The testimony of the survivors. And finally, without a doubt, the cruelty of the terrorists who fired again and again and took pleasure in killing.”

United States

NPR: A U.S. Woman Pleads Guilty To Leading An All-Female ISIS Battalion

“A U.S. woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to operating an all-female military group for ISIS in Syria. Allison Fluke-Ekren, 42, who became the leader of the ISIS battalion known as Khatiba Nusaybah, taught women how to use AK-47s and explosive devices, according to the U.S. Justice Department. “Over 100 women and young girls, including as young as 10 or 11-years-old, received military training from Fluke-Ekren in Syria on behalf of ISIS,” prosecutors said in a statement. Fluke-Ekren, who used to live in Kansas, was part of “terrorism-related activities” in Syria, Libya and Iraq between 2011 and 2019, according to prosecutors. Her late second husband was part of the terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia and claimed he helped steal U.S. documents and an electronic device following the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Special Mission and CIA Annex in Benghazi. Together, the couple provided the summarized information from the stolen items and reported to the head of Ansar al-Sharia, the group who was responsible for the terrorist attack, according to prosecutors. In 2014, prosecutors said Fluke-Ekren told a witness about her desire to carry out an attack on U.S. soil. “To conduct the attack, Fluke-Ekren explained that she could go to a shopping mall in the United States, park a vehicle full of explosives in the basement or parking garage level of the structure, and detonate the explosives in the vehicle with a cell phone triggering device,” prosecutors said.”

CT News Junkie: White Supremacy Is A Cancer And Connecticut Has It, Too

“…According to the non-profit, Counter Extremism Project, the NSC began in Massachusetts, and it is metastasizing. They are the Klan, but armed with social media accounts, and countering their hatred will take more than police action. It will take all of us speaking up and speaking out when we see even the slightest evidence of hatred creeping up the streets, because we know that hateful words begets violence begets pain. Sunlight really is powerful medicine. A few years ago, a man tried to burn down a mosque in Joplin, Mo. He was unsuccessful, but he returned a few weeks later when he was able to get the roof to catch fire, and the mosque was lost.  You might not expect a mosque to exist in that troubled land, though it might not be surprising to picture a mosque burning there. I am a native. I grew up in a sundown town, where people of anything other than European heritage were encouraged to leave the premises before dark, or … well, no one had to finish that sentence. Only here’s what happened next: People who knew nothing about Islam began turning out, starting with the casserole brigade (church ladies stepping over debris to bring sustenance to the wounded). A student at a local Christian college organized a heavily-attended fundraiser that helped the Muslims rebuild.”

Syria

Kurdistan 24: SDF Arrests ISIS Suspect In Raqqa

“The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) arrested an ISIS suspect in Syria's Raqqa province, the group's media center announced on Wednesday. “The SDF Counter-terrorism Units have arrested an ISIS terrorist responsible for intelligence and recruiting new terrorists,” the SDF said in a statement. The suspect was arrested “based on intelligence and precise tracking, the units raided the house where the terrorist was hiding in Raqqa city, arrested him, and confiscated communications equipment,” it added. The SDF freed Raqqa from ISIS control in October 2017 with support from the US-led anti-ISIS coalition. The northeastern Syrian city was the de-facto capital of ISIS's self-styled caliphate, which was completely destroyed after the SDF captured the eastern town of Baghouz in Deir al-Zor province in March 2019. The SDF rarely carries out operations against ISIS sleeper cells in the former ISIS capital since most ISIS sleeper cell activity has been concentrated in the eastern Arab-majority Deir al-Zor. On Monday, the coalition-linked Special Operations Joint Task Force-Levant (SOJTF) announced that the SDF-linked Internal Security Forces (known as Asayish in Kurdish) recently arrested five key ISIS facilitators in Deir al-Zor.”

Iraq

Reuters: Explosive Drone Detonates In Iraq's Northern City Of Erbil

“A drone exploded in Iraq's northern city of Erbil on Wednesday injuring three people and damaging several cars, according to a statement by Kurdistan's counter-terrorism service. The explosive drone detonated on Pirmam road in Erbil's outskirts at 9:35 p.m. Iraq time, the statement said. Two security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the drone was shot down. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. A security source said earlier that a drone attack targeted the U.S. consulate but did not give further details. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi told Kurdish Prime Minister Masoud Barzani in a phone call that Baghdad will cooperate with Erbil to hold the perpetrators accountable, according to a statement. "Bomb-laden drone hit Erbil-Pirmam road, causing civilian injuries and damage," the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq said on Twitter. "Iraq does not need self-proclaimed armed arbiters. Asserting State authority is essential. If the perpetrators are known, call them out and hold them to account." Last month, Iran Revolutionary Guards artillery fire hit an area north of Erbil, targeting what Iranian state television described as terrorist bases.”

Afghanistan

NBC News: Biden Admin Relies On Taliban-Controlled Airline To Help Afghans Flee Afghanistan

“The U.S. government indirectly pays an airline controlled by the Taliban regime to ferry Afghan refugees out of Kabul, four people familiar with the matter told NBC News. Without U.S. troops or diplomats on the ground, the Biden administration has no viable alternative to the arrangement as it tries to help Afghans seeking to resettle in the U.S. Working through the government of Qatar, which handles U.S. interests in Afghanistan, the Biden administration indirectly purchases plane tickets in bulk from Ariana Afghan Airlines, the country’s state-owned airline, said the sources, two of whom are members of refugee advocacy organizations. It’s unclear how much the airline charges the U.S. for the blocks of plane tickets or whether the Taliban require additional fees. The airline operates flights to Doha twice a week, and according to its website, a single ticket to Qatar costs about $478. The airline has been plagued by a poor safety record. Once the passengers are in Doha, the U.S. government arranges their passage to the U.S. The Taliban suspended chartered U.S. flights to Doha in January. At the time, U.S. officials said the suspension was due to a dispute between the Taliban and Qatar about who should be allowed on board. But three sources familiar with the matter said the main problem was that the Taliban did not want to see the flights portrayed in media coverage as “evacuations.” The flights resumed at the end of March.”

Nigeria

Deutsche Welle: More Violence Feared In Nigeria As Elections Approach

“At least 38 people are confirmed dead and scores of others were wounded in Sunday's attack on a Catholic church in Owo in southwest Nigeria, according to the Catholic diocese of Ondo State, where the incident took place. No group has claimed responsibility for the massacre and authorities have yet to identify the attackers, a police spokesperson told AP news agency. Until Sunday's attack, Ondo State was relatively peaceful. But according to South Africa-based security expert Ryan Cummings, Ondo has been seeing growing tension between farmers, who are predominantly Christian, and pastoralists, who are mainly Muslim. In August 2022, Ondo's state government passed an anti-grazing bill that protected farmers and severely limiting the use of pastures by nomadic pastoralists. These pastoralists are largely Fulani from the north, who have been pushed south by climate change and degradation of grazing lands. “Within this context we've seen quite a significant upsurge in communal violence,” said Cummings, the director of the South African security risk management consultancy Signal Risk. Farmers and pastoralists are forming armed militias and increasingly engaging in confrontations, he said.”

Mali

AFP: Fierce Fighting Underway At Key Border Town In Central Mali

“Malian forces and local armed groups have launched a bid to recapture a jihadist-held border town in a region where hundreds of civilians have died in the past few months, sources there say. Fighting has been unfolding over the last few days at the strategic town of Anderamboukane near the border with Niger, located in central Mali’s Menaka region. The clashes have pitched Mali’s armed forces and local allies, mainly ethnic Tuaregs, against militants allied to the Islamic State group, the sources say. “A big part of the Menaka region is under the control of the jihadists today,” Abdoul Wahab ag Ahmed Mohamed, head of Menaka’s interim authorities, told AFP. “From March to May, several hundred civilians were killed and between 20,000 and 30,000 people displaced,” said Moussa Ag Acharatoumane, leader of the Movement for the Salvation of Asawad (MSA), a Tuareg group which is fighting the jihadists. The figure for the displaced chimes with UN estimates. The head of the UN’s MINUSMA mission to Mali, El Ghassim Wane, described the situation in the Menaka region as “extremely dramatic” in a visit on May 31. Jihadists in northern Mali launched a revolt in 2012 that three years later spread to the center of the country — an ethnic powder-keg where the militants inflamed long-running community friction.”

Germany

WTOP News: The Hunt: Was A Fatal Collision In Berlin Terrorism?

“A teacher was killed and several of her students were injured Wednesday when a man, seemingly deliberately, drove his car into a group of pedestrians in Berlin. On this week’s episode of “The Hunt With WTOP National Security Correspondent J.J. Green,” Hans-Jakob Schindler — a senior adviser for the Counter Extremism Project who also lives and works in Berlin — explains what happened.”

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On June 24, 2017, Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) launched back-to-back explosions at a market in Kurram Agency of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in northwest Pakistan. The attack killed 67 people who were shopping in preparation for a religious holiday and wounded 200 others. 

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