Eye on Extremism: Mar 20, 2020

Deutsche Welle: Germany Bans Branch Of Far-Right 'Reichsbürger' Movement

“For the first time ever, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has banned a faction of the far-right “Reichsbürger” movement, a group that denies the existence and authority of the modern-day German government, an Interior Ministry spokesman said Thursday. “We will be relentless in continuing the fight against right-wing extremism, even in times of crisis,” Seehofer said. Police operations against the group “United German Peoples and Tribes” and related group “Osnabrücker Landmark” took place in 10 German states early Thursday morning, spokesman Steve Alter said on Twitter. Over 400 officers carried out simultaneous raids at the homes of 21 of the group's leaders early Thursday. The Interior Ministry said officers uncovered guns, baseball bats, propaganda materials, and small amounts of narcotics. Racism and anti-Semitism will not be given “a single millimeter” of space in our society, Seehofer said following the raids, adding that the banned group “spread racist and anti-Semitic texts, thereby systematically poisoning our free society.”

WTOP News: The Hunt: Terrorists Are Afraid Of The Coronavirus

“The coronavirus is sweeping the world, creating fear and panic in many places. But there is one positive thing that’s occurred as a result. In this week’s edition of The Hunt with WTOP national security correspondent J.J. Green, Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior adviser at the Counter Extremism Project, said that even terrorists are terrified of the COVID-19 virus, and they’ve taken drastic action.”

The New York Times: Pakistani Man, Off To Join ISIS, Is Arrested At Minneapolis Airport, U.S. Says

“A Pakistani doctor who the F.B.I. said was intent on joining the Islamic State, either on the battlefield in Syria or as a “lone wolf” in the United States, was arrested on Thursday before boarding a flight at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. The doctor, Muhammad Masood, 28, had been en route to Los Angeles to try to travel to the Middle East by cargo ship, the authorities said. He had initially bought a plane ticket from Chicago to Jordan, but officials said the flight was canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak. Mr. Masood, who most recently worked as a research coordinator at a medical clinic in Rochester, Minn., was charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. The charge carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Mr. Masood spent the past two years in the United States on a temporary visa, known as a H-1B, that is issued to skilled workers from abroad, a criminal affidavit said. Law enforcement officials said they began their investigation of Mr. Masood in January, after he posted on an encrypted social media platform asking for help making “hijrah,” the Arabic word for migration. The Federal Bureau of Investigation said the word was widely used by those seeking to join ISIS.”

United States

The Wall Street Journal: Terrorism Agency Head Fired In Continuing U.S. Intelligence Shakeup

“The acting chief of the National Counterterrorism Center and his deputy were fired Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter, the latest in recent personnel changes that have alarmed current and former officials worried that President Trump is politicizing the U.S. intelligence community. Russell Travers, a veteran counterterrorism official who took charge of NCTC last summer, was dismissed by Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence, the people said. The White House nominated a new head of NCTC on Wednesday, tapping Christopher Miller, a Pentagon counterterrorism official. Mr. Grenell, formerly the ambassador to Germany, is seen as a Trump loyalist who has scant intelligence experience. He was named to his post after his predecessor, Joseph Maguire, a retired Navy vice admiral, was berated by the president over how a subordinate briefed lawmakers about Russia’s potential goals in interfering in the 2020 election. Mr. Travers is a highly regarded veteran of counterterrorism work, who oversaw development of the U.S. database of known and suspected terrorists, called TIDES.”

The Salt Lake Tribune: Utah Man Denied Coronavirus Test Allegedly Threatened To Bomb Hospital

“A man who allegedly threatened to bomb a Utah hospital after learning he couldn’t receive a coronavirus test was arrested Thursday. The man called Intermountain Medical Center the day of his arrest seeking a test, according to a probable cause statement. “When the employee told [they man] that they would not be able to provide him with a test, he got upset and threatened to bring a bomb to the hospital and put it inside the cafeteria or a conference room,” the statement said. Murray police later arrested him. He was booked into Salt Lake County jail on suspicion of making a terrorism threat, a third-degree felony. He is being held in lieu of $10,000 bond. Salt Lake County jail spokeswoman Sgt. Carrie Fisher said the man underwent the jail’s coronavirus procedures for intake, which included having his temperature taken.”

Syria

Al Jazeera: Rocket Attack In Northwest Syria Kills Two Turkish Soldiers

“Two Turkish soldiers have been killed in a rocket attack in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, Turkey's defence ministry has said. A ministry statement said a third soldier was wounded in Thursday's attack, which it said was carried out by “radical groups”. Turkey's artillery units immediately mounted a powerful retaliation, the ministry said, but did not provide further details. The attack comes two weeks after Turkey and Russia - which support opposing sides in the Syrian conflict - agreed to a cease-fire in Idlib, halting a three-month air and ground campaign by the Syrian government in the rebel-held province. The operation killed hundreds and sent one million people fleeing toward the Turkish border. It also resulted in rare direct clashes between the Turkish military and Syrian government troops. Some 60 Turkish soldiers have been killed in Idlib since the start of February. The Turkish defence statement did not identify the group it holds responsible for the attack.”

France 24: Syria's Baghouz, One Year After Last Is Flag Came Down

“A year after the last black flag of the Islamic State group was lowered in the Syrian village of Baghouz, local farmer Hamad al-Ibrahim is trying to restore his damaged land. But traces of the jihadist group are still all around him in this small and remote village near the Iraqi border, where Kurdish fighters and the US-led coalition declared the IS proto-state defeated in March 2019 after a blistering months-long assault. At the foot of a craggy hill, 75-year-old Ibrahim spots discarded explosives belts and tattered military vests crumpled in the dust. Nearby, an empty bullet casing rusts and the mangled remains of charred vehicles dot the fields. “We are fixing the wreckage so we can sow this land with wheat for bread,” says the man who heads an extended family of 75 people. “We want to revive this plot and plant crops we can eat,” he tells AFP. The farmer returned to Baghouz a few months ago, having fled to other parts of Deir Ezzor province and later to the northern province of Raqa as the fight against IS raged. In a battered encampment on the edge of the village, once crammed with thousands of IS jihadists and their relatives, Ibrahim's family now works to clean up the detritus of war.”

Afghanistan

Reuters: Afghan Forces Ramp Up Defence Options As Taliban Attacks Continue

“Afghanistan said on Thursday it was ordering its forces to switch to an “active defence posture” as the Taliban continued to attack even after the militant group signed a deal with the United States. “The Taliban continued high level of violence despite the peace agreement,” acting defence minister Asadullah Kalid said in a video statement. “An active defence posture will reduce the restrictions on ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces) and it will allow them to carry out operations against the Taliban plotting attacks against ANDSF,” he added. Afghan government forces had previously been able to fight back only when under direct attack. The United States in February signed a deal with the Taliban aimed at paving the way for them to negotiate with the Afghan government, including an agreement on withdrawing foreign troops. The Taliban say they have held back from attacking international forces since then but have continued to attack Afghan forces, with U.S. and Afghan officials calling for a reduction in violence. Kalid also proposed a full ceasefire with the Taliban “to help the fight against the coronavirus.”

France 24: Taliban Should Agree Ceasefire To Stop Virus: Afghan Minister

“The Taliban should commit to a ceasefire as a way of tackling the novel coronavirus, Afghanistan's defence minister said Thursday, while also vowing that security forces would respond to continued insurgent attacks. “Our proposal is that to prevent this plague, a ceasefire should come, so that we would be able to prevent it and treat people in every corner of the country,” Defence Minister Asadullah Khalid said in a televised statement. Khalid's remarks come as Afghanistan grapples with multiple crises: an increase in Taliban violence that has thrown a supposed peace process into turmoil, mounting coronavirus cases, and a political feud that has seen two men claim the presidency. Health officials have confirmed 22 cases of the novel coronavirus, but only about 300 people have been tested in the country of some 35 million people that neighbours Iran, where more than 1,000 people have died from the highly contagious virus. Afghanistan's porous borders, a lack of medical facilities, a culture of hand shaking and hugging, and large illiterate populations in urban centres mean containing the outbreak could be a huge challenge.”

Pakistan

Business Insider: Some Militaries And Militants See An Opportunity In The Coronavirus Crisis

“As the coronavirus pandemic monopolizes more of the world's time, money and attention, the latest surge of violence in Kashmir between India and Pakistan highlights the potential for countries to act more aggressively with less scrutiny. But state actors aren't the only ones who will be tempted to capitalize on the current chaos. As more governments become bogged down by the virus and the economic fallout from containment efforts, jihadist groups and other non-state actors will also have the opportunity to advance their positions in security hotspots around the world. This could not only raise the risk for military escalations in those areas in the short term, but could allow militias to resurge once the global health crisis eventually subsides. On March 18, Pakistan shelled positions along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, marking the fourth such attack by the Pakistani Army along the contested border region between Pakistan and India in as many days. While Kashmir is a perpetual security hotspot, this series of shellings marks a notable uptick in military activity in the area and could highlight Pakistan's willingness to be more risk-tolerant as both India and Pakistan (along with the rest of the world) deal with the growing effects of the coronavirus outbreak.”

Middle East

The Week: Amir Al-Mawli: Who Is The New Isis Leader?

“The Counter Extremism Project reports that upon the completion of his studying, he served as an officer in Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s army. But following the US-led occupation of Iraq and the capture of Hussein in 2003, he “turned to violent extremism and eventually took on the role of religious commissary and a general Sharia jurist for al-Qa’eda”. In 2004 he was detained by US forces in Camp Bucca prison in southern Iraq, which is where he is understood to have met al-Baghdadi. Upon his release, he is thought to have rejoined al-Qa’eda before breaking away and pledging loyalty to Isis in 2014. In 2004 he was detained by US forces in Camp Bucca prison in southern Iraq, which is where he is understood to have met al-Baghdadi. Upon his release, he is thought to have rejoined al-Qa’eda before breaking away and pledging loyalty to Isis in 2014.”

Nigeria

Punch Nigeria: FG Demands Plans By States To Tackle Extremism

“The Federal Government said on Thursday that it would embark on advocacy to get the 36 states and all local government areas in the country to develop strategies to prevent and counter violent extremism. The office of the National Security Adviser (Major General Babagana Monguno, retd.), disclosed this in Abuja at the “Validation meeting of the study on preventing and responding to violent extremism in selected states and the Federal Capital Territory.” The session was organised in conjunction with the United Nations Development Programme, specifically to identify the causes of violent extremism in parts of the country and to suggest community-based solutions to nipping them in the bud. Boko Haram insurgency is an example of violent extremism, which has led to the loss of thousands of lives in the North-East of the country, rendering many families homeless in the last 10 years. Speaking at the event, the representative of the NSA’s Office, Mrs Aisha Garba, recalled that the Federal Government launched a policy framework and national action plan against violent extremism in 2017.”

Somalia

Daily Nation: KDF Troops Kill 12 Suspected Al-Shabaab In Boni Forest Raid

“Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) troops on Thursday killed 12 suspected Al-Shabaab militants in a raid at their camp inside the vast Boni Forest in Lamu County. KDF's special operations team ambushed the terrorists at their Korisa Kotile camp, which has been their hideout for long. The camp is located at Nginda, between Korisa and Bargoni. Among those killed was a notorious local commander from the Coast region who had been providing intelligence and logistical support to terrorists hiding in the forest. Sources told the Nation that a suspect armed with an AK-47 rifle and four magazines was captured. The KDF soldiers found weapons, including three AK-47 rifles, seven magazines, more than 1,000 bullets, pouches and a water carrier. The raid comes a week after special forces killed six militants and captured one in Garissa County. This is a big blow to the extremist group as militants holed up in the forest may starve for lack of food supplies and ammunition. The camp was the group's only remaining one in Kenya, which it used to coordinate their activities.”

Africa

Reuters: Militant Attack Kills 29 Malian Soldiers - Army

“Suspected Islamist militants killed 29 Malian soldiers on Thursday in an attack on a base in the country’s northeast, the army said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in the town of Tarkint, which is about 125 km (78 miles) north of the city of Gao. Mali’s army has repeatedly suffered heavy casualties from jihadist fighters active in the area with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State. The army said earlier in the day that just two soldiers had died but tweeted later that the death toll had “heavily evolved” to 29 killed and five wounded. Vast swathes of central and northern Mali are effectively lawless, used by the jihadists as a base for attacks in Mali and into neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso, where security has deteriorated markedly over the past year. Former colonial power France has had thousands of troops across the semi-arid band beneath the Sahara Desert known as the Sahel, but French officials acknowledge they have failed to slow the violence. French army chief Francois Lecointre told senators last month that the Malian, Nigerien and Burkinabe armies were losing the equivalent of one battalion per year to the militants’ attacks.”

United Kingdom

Evening Standard: ‘Legal Loophole’ Could Let Jihadi Brides Dodge Justice, Says Watchdog

“Jihadi brides who have given moral support to Islamic State fighters could escape prosecution because of a potential gap in the law, Britain’s terrorism watchdog warned today. Jonathan Hall QC said the “culpability of those who travel to Syria or Iraq” to provide “intangible” help to banned organisations such as IS was not covered by existing terrorism legislation. He added that some, such as “girls who are groomed in the UK and persuaded to go out to join Daesh”, might be able to argue for lenient treatment. But he warned that their role in helping terrorists remained “real” and that there was a potential hole in the law that might let them avoid justice. The warning by Mr Hall, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, came in his annual report published in Parliament today. The issue of women and girls who join extremist groups was highlighted by the case of Shamima Begum, the former Bethnal Green schoolgirl who travelled to Syria with two of her friends, to live under IS control and marry. She has been stripped of her citizenship and barred from returning to Britain. Her activities in Syria have been unknown.”

Sky News: Miss Hitler Contestant And Her Boyfriend Convicted On Terror Charges

“A young Yorkshire woman and her boyfriend, who worshipped Adolf Hitler and wanted to start a race war, have been convicted on terrorism charges. Alice Cutter, 23, from Sowerby Bridge, even entered a Miss Hitler alternative beauty competition and shared an obsession for guns and knives with her partner Mark Jones. The pair were found guilty of being members of the banned far-right group National Action after a retrial at Birmingham Crown Court. They were convicted alongside another two young men Garry Jack, 24, from Castle Bromwich, Birmingham and Connor Scothern, 19, from Nottingham. Alice Cutter and Mark Jones were found guilty of being members of the banned far-right group National Action A fifth defendant, Daniel Ward, pleaded guilty to being a member of National Action before the trial got under way. Sky News was given rare and exclusive access to the counter terrorism investigation, as detectives arrested 29-year-old Ward at his family home in Birmingham in September 2018. When told he was being arrested under the terrorism act, he said to officers: “That's nuts.” But authorities have described him as a dangerous individual who supported violent action.”

Germany

The New York Times: Germany Shuts Down Far-Right Clubs That Deny The Modern State

“The German government on Thursday banned two clubs linked to an anti-Semitic movement that refuses to recognize the modern German state, with the Interior Ministry ordering raids on the homes of the groups’ leaders in 10 states as part of a crackdown on Germany’s far right. “We relentlessly continue the fight against right-wing extremism even in times of crisis,” Horst Seehofer, Germany’s interior minister, said in a statement. “We are dealing with an association that distributes racist and anti-Semitic writings and thus systematically poisons our liberal society,” Mr. Seehofer added. After years of focusing on threats from Islamist extremists, the German authorities have started to train their resources on combating homegrown far-right extremists. There have been three major attacks in the last nine months, including the killing of a politician, a failed attack on a synagogue and the killing in February of nine Germans with immigrant backgrounds, all three of which were carried out by far-right extremists. “Far-right terror is the biggest threat to our democracy right now,” Christine Lambrecht, the country’s justice minister, said after the February attacks.”

Europe

The New York Times: Greek Anti-Terrorism Squad Finds Artillery, Secret Tunnel

“Greek anti-terrorism police found artillery and a secret tunnel during a raid on two premises in the Greek capital Athens on Thursday, authorities said. More than 20 people, non Greeks, were detained by anti-terrorist police. The raids, still underway, were taking place in the Athens neighborhood of Sepolia and in the Exarchia area of central Athens. The operation was launched after a tip-off, a police source said, adding that authorities were investigating possible links with a militant organization Turkey has outlawed. In November 2017, eight men and a woman were arrested by Greek police, days before an expected state visit by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. A Greek court acquitted them of any terrorism-related offences in May 2019, due to lack of evidence.”

Asia

The Economist: Jihad Is As Contagious As Covid-19 In The Maldives

“The arrival of covid-19 in the Maldives was hardly surprising, since 1.5m tourists from all around the world visit the Indian-Ocean archipelago every year. By March 18th 13 foreigners had been declared infected, although there have not yet been any confirmed cases among locals. But a no less dangerous contagion—Muslim extremism—is also afflicting the islands. On February 4th three foreigners were stabbed in a suburb of Malé, the capital. (They survived.) Muslim militants claimed responsibility. It was the first incident of religious violence against foreigners since 2007, when jihadists set off a bomb in a park in Malé, injuring 12 tourists. Days after the stabbing, footage of a belligerent British visitor being manhandled by the police for dressing too scantily went viral, neatly illustrating the devoutly Muslim country’s awkward…”

Human Rights Watch: Uneven ‘Extremism’ Justice In Kyrgyzstan

“Each week, a young man who sells shoes at a market in southern Kyrgyzstan loses a day of work to travel to the open prison where he is serving a three-year sentence. But the crime for which he was convicted, possession of “extremist” material, no longer exists. When Kyrgyzstan overhauled its criminal code in January 2019, it decriminalized the possession of videos, pamphlets, songs, and other material the authorities label extremist. The charge had been widely used to imprison people for nonviolent behavior, such as practicing fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, or for even more innocuous legitimate activities. Since then, possession of such material can be treated as a crime only if the accused disseminated it or showed an intent to do so. Kyrgyzstan has stepped up efforts to counter violent extremism in recent years in response to hundreds of its citizens joining extremist armed groups in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. But its crackdown has led to serious abuses. The country’s overly broad definition of “extremism,” for example, includes acts of “hooliganism” and “vandalism,” allowing it to be misused against political and other targets.”

Australia

The Sydney Morning Herald: Police Carry Out Raids After Arrest Of Alleged Right-Wing Terrorist Plotter

“Counter-terrorism police are conducting further raids on people and locations associated with alleged would-be right-wing terrorist plotter Joshua Lucas, arrested on the state's South Coast on Saturday. Police had been observing the online and real-life actions of the 21-year-old unemployed Sanctuary Point man since February, when an alleged sharp escalation in his behaviour online the week before prompted the police's joint counter-terrorism team to act. It is alleged that Mr Lucas had planned to blow up an electrical substation on the South Coast and had planned to acquire military equipment, including firearms and items capable of making improvised explosive devices. He was charged with one count of planning a terrorist attack, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment upon conviction. On Friday, police from the JCTT were executing warrants in relation to his real-life associates and places connected to him. A statement from an Australian Federal Police spokesperson said the JCTT “continue to execute search warrants in regional NSW as part of a continuing police investigation. There is no current or impending threat to the community.”

Technology

NZ Herald: Investors Up Pressure On Facebook, Google And Twitter To Stop Sharing Of Terror Attacks

“Some of the world's biggest investors have sent an open letter to Facebook, Twitter and Google's parent Alphabet in a bid to put more pressure on the companies to prevent the sharing of objectionable content across social media. It's just over a year since the Christchurch terror attack which killed 51 people in two mosques on March 15 with the content live-streamed and shared widely on the internet. Soon after the event the $37 billion New Zealand Superannuation Fund called on other big investors to join it in pressuring the major social media companies to stop allowing the live-streaming of objectionable content. Since then social media companies have made some tweaks but the investors say it has not been enough. It an open letter published today the group who represent US$7.5 trillion in assets said they had been “dissatisfied with the response from your senior executives and boards”. “The failure to respond to these actions creates a significant business risk, beyond the harm caused to the global community. You have a duty to address that,” the letter stated. The investors said as owners of the companies they welcome changes made to the platforms but said mass shootings continued to be disseminated across the platforms.”