Eye on Extremism: Mar 18, 2020

Voice Of America: US To Designate New Islamic State Leader As Global Terrorist

“The United States is preparing to label the Islamic State terror group’s new leader, introduced to the world as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, as a “specially designated global terrorist.”  U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement Tuesday during a briefing with reporters, referring to al-Qurashi as Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla, one of the IS leaders many aliases. The move comes more than a month after U.S. defense and intelligence officials first unmasked al-Qurashi’s true identity, which IS had tried to keep hidden by assigning him a nom-de-guerre. A religious scholar, al-Qurashi was imprisoned in the now infamous U.S.-run Camp Bucca in Iraq, starting in 2004, where he met former IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  Intelligence officials say he was active in IS’ predecessor organization, al-Qaida in Iraq, and eventually became one of Baghdadi’s most trusted deputies.  Al-Quashi is also seen as the architect behind IS’ slaughter of the Yazidi religious minority and oversaw some of the terror group’s global operations.  Intelligence officials credit him with keeping IS, also known as ISIS or Daesh, from falling apart following Baghdadi’s death in a U.S. operation in October 2019.”

The Jerusalem Post: IDF: Hezbollah Worked With Syrian Troops To Attack Israel On Election Day

“An IDF investigation into an attempted attack on Israel on Election Day earlier this month has found that Hezbollah operatives worked with Syrian soldiers to carry it out from the Golan Heights. The inquiry into the thwarted attack near the village of Hader in the province of Qunietra found that Hezbollah attempted to attack IDF troops from a Syrian military compound in the demilitarized zone in the northern Golan Heights. On March 2, the IAF struck a vehicle, killing one man believed to be a Hezbollah operative. Syria’s SANA news agency reported that Israel struck Syrian government forces, wounding three soldiers and killing one civilian. In the weeks leading up to the thwarted attack, soldiers from IDF intelligence units identified suspicious movements by Hezbollah fighters and Syrian soldiers in sensitive locations in the area, “which indicated the planning of an attack,” the IDF said, adding that the operatives were seen filming the border with smartphones and cameras and measuring wind speed. “When there was an operational opportunity, the car being used by the cell was attacked by an IDF helicopter,” the military said in a statement.”

Bloomberg: Yemeni Rebels Say They’ve Seized Province On Saudi Border

“Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they’ve seized control of a strategic province bordering Saudi Arabia, freeing them to concentrate on capturing an energy-rich area nearby. A spokesman for the rebels, Yahya Saree, said Tuesday that they’ve overtaken almost all of Al-Jawf province. The Houthis’ next objective is to wrest control of Marib, home to oil and natural gas deposits. Fighting there escalated Tuesday amid airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition trying to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government. There was no immediate comment from the coalition. The five-year war in Yemen shows little sign of abating despite efforts last year to build momentum toward a peace deal. Since the Saudi-led coalition began its bombing campaign in 2015 tens of thousands of people have been killed and the country has descended into one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.”

United States

Voice Of America: Once Ardent Trump Supporters, White Nationalists Splinter Ahead Of Presidential Vote

“Once a cohesive and menacing threat closely in tune with Trump administration policies, America’s white nationalists have grown deeply divided and marginalized in recent years – thanks largely to a massive public backlash and social media crackdown. Broken and rudderless, they’re now bickering among themselves over the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign. While some white nationalists remain among President Donald Trump’s staunchest loyalists, others, disappointed with the president’s record on immigration and a host of other issues, are casting about for other candidates to support in the November election – going even so far as to praise some of the views of democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a fierce Trump critic. “The extreme right is fractured right now in terms of their support for President Trump,” said Joshua Fisher Birch, a researcher at the Counter Extremism Project.  ”Many who originally supported him are disappointed with how the last few years have gone.” Trump’s vow to build a “big, beautiful” wall along the southern border with Mexico is a work in progress that may never be completed. His promise to impose a total ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and to deport millions of others has fallen well short of the president’s pledge.”

Iraq

Newsweek: Iraq Rocked By New Violence As Tensions Escalate Among Soldiers, Militias And Militants

“Two more rockets rained down in Iraq on Tuesday, prolonging a period of particularly violent unrest among soldiers, militias and militants with competing interests. Reports emerged Tuesday of rocket fire and explosions near the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, spreading speculation of yet another attack targeting U.S. and allied personnel tasked with battling the hardline Sunni Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and who are also facing a growing resistance campaign from Shiite Muslim militias. Coalition spokesperson Colonel Myles B. Caggins III said the “Iraqis are investigating the explosions in Baghdad,” but denied foreign personnel were targeted. “As of 11pm (Baghdad Time), no rockets were fired at Camp Taji. In Baghdad no explosions occurred near US/Coalition facilities,” Caggins tweeted in English and Arabic-language statements. A spokesperson for the Popular Mobilization Forces official militia collective said the group was aware of reports of the attacks, but referred Newsweek to the Iraqi military's Security Media Cell, which released further details of the incident. “Two Katyusha rockets were fired from the Arab Jabbour area toward the Al-Jadriya area, one of which landed on an abandoned building near the Hajj and Umrah Commission, and one of which fell in the Tigris river, without significant losses,” the cell said in a statement.”

Al Jazeera: Rockets Strike Baghdad's Green Zone, Fourth Attack In Days

“At least three rockets struck Baghdad's fortified Green Zone near the United States Embassy late Tuesday, the fourth such attack in the span of a week.  It came a day after an attack on a training base south of the capital, where US-led coalition troops and NATO trainers were present, Iraqi security officials said. At least three rockets struck the Green Zone, the seat of Iraq's government and home to several foreign embassies, two Iraqi security officials said. Myles Caggins, a spokesman for the US-led coalition, said the rockets fell at least 2km (1.2 miles) from the embassy. There were no immediate reports of casualties.  The previous evening, rockets hit the Basmaya base near the Iraqi capital, an Iraqi army statement said. The projectiles landed in an area that includes agricultural land and a factory, according to the statement. No more details were provided. A Spanish contingent of the coalition and NATO trainers are present at the Basmaya site. There was no immediate confirmation of the attack from the coalition, and no armed group claimed responsibility.”

Afghanistan

Eurasian Times: Reduction In Violence Reported In Afghanistan Due To Coronavirus Pandemic

“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread in Afghanistan with a total of 22 cases so far, both the Taliban and the Afghan government have reported a reduction in violence. According to Tolo News, the Afghan Interior Ministry said that 16 attacks took place over the past 24 hours. While on Friday, March 13, the Ministry of Defense reported 95 incidents in 24 hours which included rocket attacks, shelling and roadside bomb blasts in Kapisa, Laghman, Kunar, Balkh, Helmand, Faryab, Badakhshan, Kunduz, Wardak and Logar. Marwa Amini, deputy spokesperson for the ministry, said that the reduction in violence resulted in “five civilians and security force being killed, and 19 others being injured.” Importantly, the volatile province of Kunduz, which has observed unrelenting clashes has been calm over the last two days, according to the Afghan media citing local officials. All sides in the conflict observed a truce or seven-day reduction of violence in late February after the US-Taliban peace deal in Doha, Qatar on February 29. This was to be followed up with prisoners swap agreement but President Ghani publicly said he would not release 5,000 Taliban prisoners.”

Eurasia Review: Islamic State In Afghanistan: Reading Between The Blurred Lines

“There are certain discrepancies that are openly visible between the threat perceptions of ISIS, the central group, and its supposed wilayat in Afghanistan. The signing of a “peace” agreement between the US and the Taliban on 29 February in Doha, Qatar, sped up the process of a return to the mainstream for the Taliban insurgency who were ousted from power in 2001 in the wake of Washington’s war against terror. However, in 2020, the Taliban standing on a higher negotiating ground arguably has a strong grasp of narratives on multiple fronts compared to the US and its allies who have been fighting the group for more than 19 years. In midst of America’s ‘endless war’ in Afghanistan, the rise of the so–called Islamic State (ISIS) or Daesh in Iraq and Syria added a new dimension to global jihadist movements. ISIS had a history with Afghanistan, with the group’s ideologue and former chief of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musa al–Zarqawi, running training camps in southern Afghanistan and pledging his allegiance to Al Qaeda’s chief Osama Bin Laden in 2004. Since the signing of the Doha deal, there is great clarity to the fact that the US wants an exit from Afghanistan and is ready to compromise on issues that would have earlier been non–negotiable.”

Yemen

ABC News: Heavy Fighting In Central Yemen Leaves At Least 38 Dead

“Heavy fighting in Yemen between pro-government forces and Shiite rebels killed more than three dozen people in the previous 24 hours, Yemeni officials and tribal leaders said Tuesday. The rebels, known as Houthis, have been attacking forces of the internationally recognized government in the district of Sorouh in central Marib province. Fierce clashes left at least 38 fighters from both sides dead and wounded dozens more, the officials said. The military of the internationally recognized government reported the clashes saying its forces, backed by airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition, killed at least 20 Houthi rebels. It did not report deaths from its side. The officials and tribal leaders said the rebels advanced deep into the district before government forces pushed them back and captured at least 30 Houthi fighters. Houthi officials said the Saudi-led coalition carried out at least 15 airstrikes against their fighters. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, while the tribal leaders did so for fear of reprisals. The new bout of fighting came three weeks after the Houthis dealt a major blow to the Saudi-backed government when they took the strategic northern city of Hazm, the capital of Jawf province, which borders Marib.”

Middle East

The Jerusalem Post: Coronavirus Hits Terrorists Hardest From ISIS To Iran – Analysis

“Amid all the chaos caused by the coronavirus tidal wave, it may also rid the world of many of its worst terrorists or at least freeze their activity. There are no statistics for how it is impacting ISIS supporters and will be none as the group would never report negative data and has no connections to international groups like the WHO or the civilized world. But ISIS’s stunning recent order to its followers to stay away from Europe means not only that it is afraid of future infection if its agents go there, but that its network of followers there is likely already being hit. This would make lots of sense since ISIS members tend to be disconnected from the Western world and could have gone longer ignoring the dangers of infection than average people. Furthermore, ISIS members would be wary of accepting medical assistance from the authorities in their host countries as their faces may already be on the wanted list. Iran is the paradigm case of a regime sponsoring terrorism which is known to be getting hit harder than any other countries besides China and Italy. The Islamic Republic is notoriously dishonest about numbers which can hurt its public relations.”

Libya

The National: The Libyan Connection: ISIS-Linked Terror Group Inspired Abedi Brothers

“The murderous Abedi brothers were inspired by an ISIS-linked group of extremists as they prepared to attack a pop concert in the city where they were born. Hashem Abedi is believed to have created and used an email address - bedab7jeanagmail.com - that was inspired by the Arabic slogan “through slaughter we have come”. The email account was used to purchase chemical components for the bomb. The slogan was chosen by the Syrian-based armed group Katibat Al Battar Al Libi when it formed in 2012 and was well-known among militants in North Africa. Handwritten scraps of paper bearing the email address were found in a bin at the Manchester home of the brothers following the attack on the Manchester Arena where 22 people were killed by a bomb detonated by Salman Abedi. Katibat Al Battar Al Libi was an extremist group with a predominantly Libyan membership but also comprised of other North Africans and Europeans who headed to Syria in the wake of the Arab uprisings. The email address hinted at the source of influence on the brothers but a limited amount of phone and communications data has been available to the investigators, meaning it was impossible to trace potential key figures in Libya behind their radicalisation.”

Somalia

The Defense Post: Somali National Army Launches Action To Oust Al-Shabaab From Janaale

“Somalia’s Federal Government said elements of the Somali National Army and elite Danab forces launched an operation to capture the town of Janaale from al-Shabaab militants at dawn on Monday. “Government forces have successfully taken over the Janaale bridge and drive[n] al-Shabaab from their strongholds in the city,” the information ministry said in a Tuesday, March 17 statement. “Ongoing military operations continue inside the city to completely rid the terrorist al-Shabaab from Janaale and surrounding areas. The initial assessment from commanders is that several militants have been killed thus far,” the statement said. The ministry encouraged people with relatives in Janaale to “inform them of this operation and encourage them to stay in their homes.” Pro-government media outlet Somali National Television reported that the SNA had captured the town after al-Shabaab militants fled on Monday. A spokesperson for Somalia’s information ministry also said Janaale is under government control as of Tuesday. Major Karl Wiest, a spokesperson for U.S. Africa Command, declined to comment on ongoing operations.”

United Kingdom

The New York Times: Brother Of Manchester Bomber Is Found Guilty In Murder Of 22 People

“A jury in Britain on Tuesday convicted the brother of a suicide bomber who killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in 2017, finding him guilty on all 22 counts of murder for his role in planning and executing the attack. The man, Hashem Abedi, was the brother of Salman Abedi, the man who detonated a vest laden with explosives, killing children, teenagers, and parents waiting to pick them up after Ms. Grande’s concert at Manchester Arena in northwestern England. More than 235 people were injured in the bombing, one of Britain’s worst recent terrorist attacks, and hundreds of others suffered psychological damage. The jury took four and a half hours to find Hashem Abedi guilty on all of the murder charges, along with one count of attempted murder and one count of conspiracy to cause an explosion. A murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence, prosecutors said. “Hashem Abedi encouraged and helped his brother knowing that Salman Abedi planned to commit an atrocity,” Max Hill, director of public prosecutions, said in a statement. “He has blood on his hands even if he didn’t detonate the bomb.” Mr. Hill said he hoped Mr. Abedi’s conviction would give the victims’ families “a sense that some justice has been done.”

BBC News: The Road To The Manchester Arena Bombing

“The Manchester Arena suicide bombing, an attack lasting only a moment, was the endpoint of a lengthy conspiracy. At 22:31 BST on 22 May 2017, in a large foyer filling with people after an Ariana Grande concert, the attacker emerged from a stairway, crossed the concourse and detonated his device. Of those he walked among, 22 were killed: children, teenagers, parents. They included students, a nurse, a police officer, a support worker for those with special needs, and a school receptionist. They came from different parts of the UK and diverse backgrounds, each with their own reason for being there. Saffie Roussos, aged only eight, had attended the concert with her mother and sister. Olivia Campbell-Hardy, 15, had attended with a friend, as had 14-year-old Nell Jones. So too had Eilidh Macleod, also 14. Liam Curry and Chloe Rutherford, from South Shields, were teenage sweethearts out for the night together. Sorrell Leczkowski, 14, was in the foyer, along with her mother and grandmother, to meet her sister.”

Germany 

Deutsche Welle: Germany 'Must Do More' To Fight Racism: Council Of Europe

“Germany must step up efforts to prevent and counter extremism and neo-Nazism, the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) said in a report published on Monday. The report also stated there is strong evidence for extensive racial profiling by German police. The ECRI recommended Germany should take action to: Ensure that evidence of online hate speech is shared with the police; Eliminate existing and prevent future racial profiling; Establish a system of organizations that provide victims of discrimination with effective support; Accelerate the National Action Plan on Integration, as children with migrant backgrounds are twice as likely to leave school without qualifications. The report commended Germany's efforts to fight racism and discrimination, noting that “Germany warmly welcomed an extraordinarily large number of asylum seekers in 2015” and “invested many resources” in their inclusive integration. However, the report said public discourse in the country has become increasingly xenophobic, noting “high levels of Islamophobia.”