Eye on Extremism: Mar 17, 2020

The Guardian: UK's Air War Against Isis Ends After Five Years

“Britain’s five-year air war against Isis has quietly come to an end, with official figures revealing no bombs have been dropped since September – yet the MoD still acknowledges only one civilian casualty in the entire conflict. The data shows that over a period longer than the first world war, 4,215 bombs and missiles were launched from Reaper drones or RAF jets in Syria and Iraq, and a wide discrepancy has emerged between UK and US estimates of the number of civilians killed. The US-led coalition against Isis estimates that all air raids caused 1,370 civilian casualties, and a fresh analysis by Airwars, an NGO, of “problem strikes”, in which it believed noncombatants were killed, has highlighted three involving the RAF. Fifteen civilians were killed by the RAF in the strikes in 2017 and 2018, based on evidence from local reports. In the worst incident, 12 civilians were killed as a result of a blast at a building housing Isis fighters in Raqqa in Syria in August 2017. Chris Woods, director of Airwars, said the UK was “one of several of the US’s key European allies in the war against so-called Islamic State to routinely deny civilian harm from their own actions”, listing France and Belgium as other nations that refused to acknowledge the deaths of noncombatants.”

East Asia Forum: Extremist Charities Spread In Indonesia

“The Indonesian government has arrested more than 1100 suspected terrorists since 2015, with still more killed in counter-terrorism operations or during attacks. As of 2018, there were 432 terrorist inmates across 117 prisons. Hundreds are undergoing or awaiting trial. While the Indonesian government is successfully enforcing the anti-terrorism law, the proliferation of extremist charities exposes the families of incarcerated or slain militants to extremist influence. Providing stipends and financial assistance to militants’ families is part of the organisational expenses of terrorist groups. This is to support the militant — typically male and the sole breadwinner in the family — in focussing on his militant objectives without worrying about the welfare of his family. For example, US$15,000 out of US$100,000 sent by al-Qaeda to Jemaah Islamiyah in 2003 was allocated to support the families of arrested group members. Many so-called Islamic State (IS) informal charities emerged in recent years — partly due to increased demand as there were more arrests in 2015–2019 than in 2002–2013. These charities facilitate family visits to prison, inmates’ trip to their hometown upon completion of their sentences and provide inmates with meals. They also sponsor the families’ healthcare and education expenses and capital for setting up businesses.”

United States

The New York Times: Once-Accused Al Qaeda Sympathizer Goes Home

“When Uzair Paracha was convicted in 2005 in Manhattan of trying to help a terrorist enter the United States, federal prosecutors hailed the verdict as “another victory in the global fight against terrorism.” He was sentenced to 30 years in prison. But now — nearly 17 years after he was first arrested — Mr. Paracha, 40, has been released and flown to Pakistan, the land of his birth, with all charges against him dropped, according to a government court filing on Monday and his lawyer. The lawyer, Ramzi Kassem, confirmed Mr. Paracha left the United States on Friday night and was with his family in Pakistan. Mr. Paracha’s release followed months of secret negotiations between the government and his lawyers and comes nearly two years after a judge ordered a new trial for him, saying newly discovered evidence called his guilt into question. The government had indicated in court papers that it did not believe the new evidence exonerated Mr. Paracha. As recently as late 2018, prosecutors described Mr. Paracha as “an avowed Al Qaeda supporter” whose release would pose a “serious danger to the public.”

Military.com: Marine Under Investigation For Allegedly Sharing White Supremacist Material Online

“The Marines are investigating an infantryman based at Camp Pendleton for potential violations of the Pentagon's policy against extremism, according to a Marine Corps spokesman. Lance Cpl. Thomas Cade Martin, 23, posted what some experts called “white supremacist” material across at least two social media accounts over the last two years. The material includes a flyer with the white supremacist slogan “not stolen, conquered” over a map of the continental U.S. That flyer has been associated with the white nationalist “Patriot Front” organization. Identical flyers were anonymously distributed at San Diego State University in 2018. His pages also include stylized patriotic graphics and photo illustrations of early 20th Century nationalistic propaganda which experts say are similar to those affiliated with the American Identity Movement, a white supremacist organization that changed its name from Identity Evropa after its involvement in planning the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., where a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd and killed an anti-racist activist. Martin describes himself on his Twitter account as a “nationalist” and says he is the chairman of a group called the “U.S. Nationalist Initiative.” Its Facebook page has more than 1,400 followers.”

Syria

Reuters: Russia Says Militants In Syria's Idlib Region Not Complying With Ceasefire

“Russia’s foreign ministry said on Monday that militants in Syria’s Idlib region are not complying with a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey, the Interfax news agency reported. The foreign ministry said the militants were taking counter-offensive action in the region.”

Iran

The Times Of Israel: IDF indicates Iran scaling back terror activity in light of coronavirus

“The Israel Defense Forces indicated Monday its primary foe in the region, Iran, was curbing its activities as it grapples with a major outbreak of the coronavirus. IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman told reporters that the military noted a decrease in the amount of activity in the region by Israel’s enemies, without specifically naming Iran. “There are countries who have gotten it way worse than us with this corona[virus] story, and as a result their activities are at a slower pace,” Zilberman said. Iran is among the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus, with hundreds of people reported killed, including a senior cleric on Monday, and at least another 14,000 people infected with the disease. The real numbers may be even higher, as some have questioned the government’s reporting. Cabinet ministers, members of parliament, Revolutionary Guard members and Health Ministry officials have been infected, compounding fears about Iran’s response to the global pandemic, which has infected nearly 170,000 people worldwide and killed more than 6,500. Iran is widely considered Israel’s main enemy in the region, controlling and funding terror groups across the Middle East, notably the powerful Hezbollah terrorist militia in Lebanon.”

Iraq

Al Monitor: Iraqi Anti-IS Operations Hindered By Coalition Base Attacks

“The fighter from a local armed group in the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) climbed in early March to a vantage point that had cartridges strewn about amid rusty barrels, sandbags and old, long-disused blue tarpaulins. “This was where the PMU used to fight from. About 50 died here in 2015 in the battle against the Islamic State (IS),” the fighter, who only wanted to be identified as Maad, told Al-Monitor as the spring wind whipped through. He pointed at dirt tracks leading into the mountains and said, “But the road there is still full of mines. Everywhere.” On March 10, the US military announced that two US Marines had been killed in the nearby Makhmour mountains. The deaths occurred during a “close range” firefight called “one of the most intense clashes” with IS in several months, chief coalition spokesman Col. Myles Caggins told CNN shortly afterward. The operation reportedly involved several dozen Iraqi Counterterrorism Services forces and about a dozen Marine special forces.”

Afghanistan

The Washington Post: The Taliban’s Political Leaders Signed A Peace Deal — But Its Military Commanders Could Put That At Risk

“On Feb. 29, the United States and the Taliban signed a historic peace agreement, calling for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops in exchange for Taliban guarantees not to use Afghanistan as a base for terrorist attacks against the West. Although there were early snags — including a disagreement over when the Afghan government would release Taliban prisoners — the deal represents a rare chance to reach a negotiated settlement in America’s longest war. The Taliban’s military council has instructed its commanders and governors to avoid targeting international troops — but the Taliban has resumed fighting Afghan forces in earnest. This puts U.S. forces at risk from accidental attack, but also from a deliberate attempt to spoil the cease-fire or any future agreement. These risks highlight an important organizational divide within the Taliban between its senior political figures mostly based in Pakistan, who have been responsible for negotiations with the United States, and Taliban military commanders on the ground in Afghanistan. How will this divide impact the prospects of a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan? The Taliban’s primary decision-making body is a political, rather than a military, one.”

Foreign Affairs: Peace Hasn’t Broken Out In Afghanistan

“On February 29, the United States and the Taliban signed a preliminary peace deal aimed at ending nearly 19 years of war in Afghanistan. The agreement calls for the United States to gradually withdraw its troops from the country over the next 14 months and for the Taliban and the Afghan government (which was not a party to the deal) to open direct talks. The Taliban further promise in the deal to prevent terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda or the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), from operating in territory they control. Much could go wrong rather quickly. The United States and the Taliban had agreed that a prisoner exchange should precede the negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani initially balked at the prospect. The talks did not begin on March 10, as specified in the U.S.-Taliban accord, but on that day Ghani did agree to release 1,500 Taliban fighters, in groups of 100 per day, beginning on March 14; once negotiations with the Taliban have begun, Ghani’s decree stated, the Afghan government would release an additional 3,500 militants, in batches of 500 every two weeks.”

Egypt

Arab News: Egypt Police Say Killed 6 Militants In Northern Sinai

“Egyptian police have killed six militants in a shootout in the restive northern Sinai region, the interior ministry said Monday. The firefight broke out as police forces raided a hideout of “terrorist elements” intent on carrying out “hostile operations,” it said. Egypt’s security forces are battling a long-running insurgency in the peninsula, spearheaded by a local affiliate of the Daesh group. Weapons and explosives were found in the militants’ possession, the ministry added, in a statement released along with gruesome photos of the slain militants. The date of the raid was not specified. The Islamist insurgency in North Sinai escalated following the military’s 2013 ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Mursi. Scores of policemen and soldiers have since been killed in militant attacks. Last month, Daesh said it had blown up a gas pipeline in the Sinai Peninsula, saying it was connected to Israel. Security sources however said the targeted pipeline was a domestic one. Cairo launched a nationwide operation against militants in February 2018, mainly focusing on North Sinai province.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Policeman Killed In Terrorist Attack In Sinai

“One Egyptian policeman was killed in a terrorist attack in al-Arish, North Sinai, according to tribal and medical eyewitnesses. Sinai Tribal Union, a gathering of tribesmen who cooperate with the Egyptian authorities during security operations, announced that a security officer at Bir al-Abed Police Department, northeast of Sinai, survived an assassination attempt. The incident happened when a group of masked gunmen opened fire at the officer's car, killing his driver immediately. The Union issued a statement announcing the death of officer Ahmed Abdusalam, who was killed by extremists during the attack. Mervat Saleh, a Bir Al-Abed resident who witnessed the incident, reported that she heard gunshots in front of her building, and after things calmed down, residents found out that someone attacked the sheriff’s car. She added that the perpetrators were armed, masked, and targeted the car with heavy fire while it was parked in front of a pharmacy. However, the sheriff was inside the pharmacy and they shot his driver instead. Saleh said that an ambulance rushed to the scene followed by policemen who immediately began combing the region looking for the attackers.”

Africa

The National: Fifty Boko Haram Militants Killed In Niger

“Fifty fighters from Nigeria's terrorist group Boko Haram were killed in an overnight clash in the south-east of neighbouring Niger, the government said on Monday. The Defence Ministry said armed the terrorists, riding in about 20 vehicles, attacked a military post in Toummour, in the restive Diffa region. The assailants were repelled in a “spontaneous riposte”, the ministry said, giving a provisional toll of one soldier wounded and 50 Boko Haram fighters killed. Reinforcements from the Special Intervention Battalion joined the chase to the shores of Lake Chad, the ministry said. It said “several suspects” were captured along with two vehicles and weapons. The region adjoining Nigeria and Chad has repeatedly suffered attacks since 2015 by Boko Haram, which has bases hidden in the vast Lake Chad area, where the borders of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria meet. They had subsided since late last year, but on March 7, Boko Haram fighters, also in about 20 vehicles, raided another army base in Chetima Wango, leaving eight soldiers dead and three missing. State radio said there were three successive clashes and that vehicles that managed to cross the border into Nigeria were “almost all neutralised” in air strikes by a joint multinational force from Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon.”

The National Interest: Why Is Terrorism Rising In West Africa?

“The local al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates responsible for thousands of deaths in the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa in the past year — namely, Jama'at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) — are now reportedly coordinating their operations. The emerging cooperation between jihadist fighters so far appears to be centered more on de-escalating tensions, rather than actually merging their efforts. But the worrying development nonetheless could empower the two groups to wreak even more havoc in the already unstable region and expand their influence across even greater swaths of Africa. JNIM and ISGS initially operated out of central Mali and northern Burkina Faso. Over the past year, increasingly violent and frequent militant attacks have begun affecting the Mali-Niger border area and southern parts of Burkina Faso. Over the past year, more than 2,600 people have been killed and more than a half-million have been displaced in Burkina Faso alone. The surge of jihadist violence is also increasingly encroaching on countries in coastal West Africa. Benin has seen two militant-related incidents along its northern border, including the abduction of two French tourists and an attack on a police post.”

Atlantic Council: Removing Sudan’s Terrorism Designation: Proceeding With Caution

“No aspect of US policy towards Sudan has garnered more scrutiny, from both inside and outside the country, than Sudan’s continued designation on the US State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST) list. To many, the listing is seen as a vestige of US policy towards the previous authoritarian regime—which was overthrown in a democratic uprising last year and replaced by a civilian-led transitional council—and of a long-past era when Sudan was an active belligerent in the spread of political Islam across the region. Sudan’s continued SST listing stands out to its critics as an anachronism and a symbol of Washington’s own lethargy in updating its policy toward Khartoum.  But the issue itself—whether Sudan should remain on the list and what would be required to remove it—is vastly complicated. To the chagrin of many Sudanese, far more than a stroke of President Trump’s pen is needed to secure Sudan’s removal. Rather, the process involves an interlocking network of legislative processes, legal rulings, financial settlements, intelligence assessments, and, most of all, politics, to unwind this ultimate tool in America’s sanctions arsenal. This paper ultimately argues that the costs of inaction likely outweigh the benefits, but its main purpose is to outline and explain the network of complicating procedural and political factors that make this such a thorny issue to resolve with any expediency.”

United Kingdom

Daily Mail: Far Right Terrorist Who Became A Muslim Extremist And Befriended Streatham Knifeman Sudesh Amman While In Prison Has Release Postponed 'Because He's High Risk To The Public' In First Case Of Its Kind

“A far right terrorist who became a Muslim extremist and befriended the Streatham knifeman behind bars has had his release postponed in the first case of its kind since a spate of attacks by former inmates. The 'model' prisoner who befriended Streatham knifeman Sudesh Amman whilst in prison was previously handed a detention and training order for terrorism offences. He had reached the point in his sentence where he should have gained automatic release but it was believed he was still a threat. Prison officials said they received intelligence that the inmate known as X, poses a 'high risk to the public' if he were to be released as he believes in extremist Islamic ideology. There are also fears that he could have learned tricks from other prisoners to escape detection from the authorities. Guards were concerned when he left his job inside to pray for his friend Sudesh Amman when he was shot dead after stabbing people in south London in February. It is said he appeared upset by the death and 'did not believe him to be a bad person.’”

France

ABC News: French Judges Order Charges Against 20 In 2015 Paris Attacks

“French judges investigating the 2015 Islamic State attacks that left 130 people dead in Paris have ordered charges against 20 people, including a Belgian accused of masterminding the attacks who was held for years in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq before being freed and returned home. Three of the group, including the alleged mastermind, Oussama Atar, are believed to have died in the group's final months of fighting in Iraq and Syria. Also accused is the only survivor of the Paris cell, Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested near his home in Brussels after months on the run. Abdeslam's brother, Brahim, blew himself up in Paris. Of the 20, 11 are jailed, three are under house arrest and six face international arrest warrants. All are charged with terrorism offenses. Atar is charged as the leader. The Nov. 13, 2015, attacks were linked to March 2016 bombings in Brussels.”

Europe

Forbes: Russia Continues To Conflate Freedom Of Religion Or Belief And Extremism

“On March 4, 2020, Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, presented her new report on human rights impact of policies and practices aimed at preventing and countering violent extremism. In the report, the Special Rapporteur stressed that any laws based on the broad concept of extremism cannot be seen as human rights compliant. She emphasized that: “The category of ‘extremist’ crimes is particularly vague and problematic. Absent the qualifier of ‘violent extremism conducive to terrorism’, the term remains broad and overly vague and may encroach on human rights in profound and far-reaching ways… The term ‘extremism’ has no purchase in binding international legal standards and, when operative as a criminal legal category, is irreconcilable with the principle of legal certainty; it is therefore per se incompatible with the exercise of certain fundamental human rights.” The Special Rapporteur further added that “legislation that criminalizes ‘extremist’ thought, belief and content or ‘hate speech’ on the basis that it is a precursor to terrorism, because it is often used as a placeholder for silencing non-established or minority religious groups or non-majority opinions.”