Eye on Extremism: Mar 23, 2020

The Hill: FBI Warns White Supremacists Encouraging Members To Spread Coronavirus To Law Enforcement, Jews: Report

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York office recently sent out an alert to local authorities warning of extremist groups it said are encouraging their members to spread the novel coronavirus to police and Jewish people, ABC News reported. According to the news agency, the alert, which was reportedly issued on Thursday, said that “members of extremist groups are encouraging one another to spread the virus, if contracted, through bodily fluids and personal interactions.” The alert reportedly warned that the racist groups were urging their members to go to places where Jewish people “may be congregated, to include markets, political offices, businesses and places of worship.” The alert also reportedly said some white supremacists and neo-Nazis were also urging members who contract the virus to spread the disease to cops by using spray bottles. The Hill has reached out to the FBI for comment. The report comes as the Anti-Defamation League reports some extremists have been pushing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories online that blame Jewish people for the spread of the virus.”

NBC News: Neo-Nazis From U.S. And Europe Build Far-Right Links At Concerts In Germany

“As the deafeningly loud, rapid-fire music known as “hate rock” blasted out, hundreds of white nationalists, skinheads and neo-Nazis nodded their heads and swigged their drinks. Among them was Keith, 46, a welder from Las Vegas, who for the second year in a row had traveled from Nevada to Germany to attend several far-right events. “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,'' Keith told NBC News in June. However, he was not there just to enjoy the music. He said he was also hoping to share ideas and strategies with like-minded people — a small part of what Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said was becoming an increasingly interconnected international movement with “clear links” between Europe and the U.S. “You can't just sit at home and eat cheeseburgers anymore. It's time to mobilize,” said Keith, who did not wish to have his last name published, for fear of reprisals back in the U.S. Events like the one in Themar, a small town in central Germany, are reluctantly tolerated and strictly controlled by the authorities. Both federal and local police could be seen monitoring the gathering, and riot squads with water cannons were braced for trouble nearby.”

Radio Free Europe: Afghan Officials Hold First Prisoner-Swap Talks With Taliban, U.S. Envoy Says

“The Afghan government has held its first talks with the Taliban about a prisoner swap, the U.S. envoy to the war-torn country has said. “Prisoner releases by both sides is an important step in the peace process,” Zalmay Khalilzad said in a March 22 statement on Twitter. The talks -- held via Skype amid the coronavirus pandemic -- lasted more than two hours and were facilitated by the United States and Qatar, Khalilzad said. The spread of the novel coronavirus has made the release of prisoners “that much more urgent,” he said. Afghanistan announced the same day the first death in the country due to COVID-19, the new strain of the coronavirus. Afghanistan had 34 confirmed cases of the virus as of March 22. The United States last month signed a historic agreement with the Taliban that could lead to the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan and an end to the country's 18-year conflict. According to a joint declaration published by the U.S. and Afghan governments on February 29, the United States and NATO would withdraw all troops in Afghanistan within 14 months if the Taliban upheld the commitments made in the agreement.”

United States

The New York Times: Top U.S. Intelligence Official Taps New Counterterrorism Chief

“Lora Shiao, a career American intelligence officer, will be the next acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, the government’s central clearinghouse for intelligence on terrorist threats, Trump administration officials said on Saturday. Ms. Shiao, who is currently the center’s third-ranking official, replaces Russell Travers, who was abruptly replaced last week amid planned cutbacks by the acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, that have prompted fears among career officials of potential political retribution and a widespread loss of expertise. Ms. Shiao will begin serving as acting director on April 3, a spokeswoman for Mr. Grenell, Maura Beard, said in an email. President Trump has nominated Christopher C. Miller, a former National Security Council aide now working at the Pentagon, as his permanent choice for the top counterterrorism job, but it could take months for the Senate to confirm him. Mr. Grenell was installed in recent weeks to temporarily serve as the nation’s top intelligence official and he has made clear he plans to overhaul his office.”

The New York Times: What Fighting Al Qaeda Taught Us About Fighting Coronavirus

“On Sept. 11, 2001, the job of every leader in the U.S. Special Operations community changed. In the ensuing years of fighting a highly complex, networked enemy, we redesigned how our organization communicated, shared information, made decisions and, most critically, maintained a cohesive culture while operating in almost every corner of the globe. We’re seeing a similar challenge today — except this time, it’s facing  the leadership of practically every organization in the world, from governments to Fortune 500 companies to the smallest nonprofit. They are now managing their teams through a crisis with no clear end in sight. Today’s leaders didn’t ask for this new role. But if history shows us one thing, it is that our greatest leaders emerge from the darkest moments. Leaders must be visible with their plans, honest with their words and adaptable with their actions — all while maintaining compassion for the situation and the impact it is having on their team. As part of our work at the McChrystal Group, we are in constant contact with scores of leaders around the country. For the past week, they have been fielding a constant stream of queries from customers and employees, and going through a series of increasingly drastic changes to how they will run their business.”

Syria

Asharq Al-Awsat: 5,000 Terrorists Detained In One Of The Toughest Prisons Worldwide

“In al-Hasakah, the United States and the international alliance against ISIS have established the largest prison in the world for extremists, holding around 5 thousand inmates. These are men who fought alongside ISIS until its final days in Baghuz last spring before turning themselves in and ending up in this place. Before entering, the guards verify the visitor’s identity and put them through complicated security checks, out of fear that pro-ISIS sleeper cells may slip in. At the main gate, tens of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) personnel stand in full uniform and fully armed. Visitors are asked not to discuss field news, including the death of ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Turkish attack on East Euphrates. These are the ISIS members who struck fear with their extremist rules, barbaric sentences and their crimes committed between 2014 and 2019. During its peak, ISIS issued its own religious system and currency and taxed around 7 million people. It also removed borders between areas under its control in Syria and Iraq before its geographic and military control were eradicated last March at the hands of several parties that operated under the umbrella of the Arab-Kurdish SDF supported by the international alliance led by the US.”

Modern Diplomacy: ISIS In Their Own Words

“From 2015 to 2019, Dr. Anne Speckhard interviewed 220 Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] defectors, returnees and imprisoned cadres in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, the Balkans, Europe and Central Asia. During these in-depth interviews, Dr. Speckhard examined the demographics, psycho-social vulnerabilities and motivations for joining ISIS, in addition to the influences and recruitment patterns that drew them to the group. Moreover, Dr. Speckhard inquired as to the interviewees’ roles, experiences and relationships within ISIS, variance in their will to fight and support violence, disillusionment and attempts to leave. This study’s sample of the first 220 (out of 239 to date) consisted of 182 men of 41 ethnicities, representing 35 different countries, and 38 females of 22 ethnicities, representing 18 countries. 51.1% of the men and 76.3% of the women were foreign members of ISIS, some who traveled to live under ISIS, and a few who engaged in ISIS recruitment or other activities, including planning attacks, in their home countries. The participants were primarily young and middle class. Most were raised Sunni Muslim, whereas others reverted or converted before joining ISIS.”

Iraq

Asharq Al-Awsat: Exclusive: ISIS In Iraq… A Growing Threat

“In late 2017, Iraq announced the military defeat of ISIS after fighting battles that lasted about three years. The terrorist group had occupied Mosul in 2014, and expanded its presence to the provinces of Salah al-Din, Anbar, Kirkuk and Diyala. Iraqi forces were able to put a military end to the ambitious ISIS “caliphate,” but failed to deal with the social environment the group had nestled for three years before its defeat. With little to no funding being allocated to rebuilding areas liberated from ISIS and a reluctance among refugees to return to those areas the threat of a resurgence of the extremist group resurfaced. Western reports, especially those based in the US, indicate that the terrorist organization has gone back to representing a grave danger to Iraq. Experts in Iraq agree this organization remains a threat that needs to be faced. Matching those concerns, last year, the Joint Iraqi Operations Command launched eight major military operations called the “Will to Victory” to counter the expansion of ISIS. “ISIS has a well-rounded structure that survived, it is reminiscent of the group’s early days in the 2013-2014 period,” Iraqi militia expert Hisham al-Hashemi told Asharq Al-Awsat, adding that the terrorist group enjoys large funding and a broad network of operatives.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Exclusive – ISIS Children Slowly Regain Normal Life At Kurdish Rehabilitation Center

“I dreamed of being a great boxer like Denis Lebedev, Russia’s most famous boxer,” said Nicolai as he recounts how he quit his homeland for Syria six years ago. When Nicolai’s father chose to join ISIS in 2014, he traveled with his family from the cold of Russia’s Saratov to the hotbed that is the Syrian conflict. The family first flew to Istanbul and made the journey by land to the border city of Antakya. Afterwards, they were smuggled to the Syrian city of Idlib. The father dreamed of achieving an illusion. The family soon lost contact with him as he surrendered to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) during ISIS’ last stand in Syria in the battle of Baghouz in March 2019. Nicolai, his mother and siblings soon found themselves seeking refuge at the sprawling al-Hol displacement camp in Syria. “My father heard about the ‘caliphate’ on the internet and decided to join it,” Nicolai told Asharq Al-Awsat. “My mother agreed to travel with him. I was only 10 at the time and didn’t understand what was happening.” According to Nicolai, his father worked at a reception department for ISIS where foreigners and displaced were received and their documents processed.”

Afghanistan

Reuters: Taliban-Afghan Government Skype Call Breathes Life Into Peace Process

“The Taliban and the Afghan government held a “virtual” meeting on prisoner releases on Sunday, officials said, offering some hope of a breakthrough on a matter that has deadlocked the two sides and threatened a nascent peace process. The two sides have differed on the release of prisoners - the Afghan government wanting a phased and conditional release and the Taliban wanting all prisoners released in one go as envisaged in an agreement signed with the United States in Doha last month. The impasse threatened to derail a carefully negotiated peace process outlined in the agreement, including a pullout of foreign forces from Afghanistan after over 18 years of fighting. The two sides spoke for over two hours in a Skype meeting facilitated by the United States and Qatar, officials said. “Prisoner releases by both sides is an important step in the peace process, as stated in the U.S.-Taliban agreement,” U.S. special representative Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted. “Everyone clearly understands the coronavirus threat makes prisoner releases that much more urgent,” he said, adding that “all sides conveyed their strong commitment to a reduction of violence, intra-Afghan negotiations, and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire.”

The Nation: Afghan Forces Eliminate More Than 50 Militants

“In response to the militants mounting assaults, Afghan forces on Sunday killed more than 50 insurgents in past 24 hours. The Afghan national defense and security forces killed 27 insurgents, including their leader Qari Hafiz and wounded 19 others in the northern Kunduz province in “active defense”, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. It added 12 more insurgents were killed and 14 wounded in Kandahar, eight others were killed and seven wounded in Helmand and five killed and six captured in Zabul. All are southern provinces. In past two days, the insurgents staged coordinated assaults in Zabul, Baghlan and Kapisa provinces, killing at least 40 Afghan forces. The attacks came after a relative reduction in violence in line with the rejuvenated yet fragile peace process. Condemning the attacks, President Mohammed Ashraf Ghani said it shows the militants reluctance to commit to peace.”

India

Financial Times: Islamist Extremists Eye India As Fertile Recruiting Ground

“As Delhi reeled last month from deadly communal riots, a new digital magazine began circulating, its main article headlined: “So where are you going? A call to Muslims of India.” Called the Voice of Hind — Arabic for India — it made no direct mention of the sectarian violence that claimed at least 53 lives as Hindu nationalist mobs rampaged through working-class neighbourhoods in the Indian capital. But it mocked the country’s Muslims for their faith in democracy, warning readers they were “on the verge of being stripped from your last shred of dignity”. The magazine — and its timing — highlights a renewed focus among transnational Islamist extremist groups on trying to recruit in India, at a time when Muslims feel increasingly marginalised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda. Even before the riots, Isis newsletter Al-Naba had dedicated an article to recent changes to India’s citizenship laws, which introduced religious criteria into citizenship rules for the first time, giving followers of other south Asian states priority over Muslims. The Islamist extremist group then used a Reuters photograph taken during the rampage — showing a bloodied Muslim being beaten by a Hindu mob — on an online poster justifying retaliatory violence.”

Yemen

Al Jazeera: Two Emirates Red Crescent Aid Workers Killed In Yemen's Aden

“Two aid workers have been killed in war-torn Yemen's south after they were kidnapped by unknown armed men, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) branch of the Red Crescent said. In a statement on Twitter, Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) said it “expresses its deep regret and condemnation of the loss of Ahmed Fouad al-Yousefi, Coordinator of ERC Operations in Aden, and his fellow Mohamed Tareq ... in one of the world's most vulnerable and complex humanitarian zones.” The two were kidnapped in the southern port city of Aden and later found dead, according to the statement. The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by Houthi rebels. A Saudi-UAE led military coalition allied with the government intervened in March 2015. The war has since killed more than 100,000 people, including thousands of civilians, according to a database project that tracks violence. But a separate conflict has been raging in the south between government forces and southern separatists, backed by the UAE.  The two parties signed a power-sharing agreement in Riyadh last November, with little sign of implementation on the ground.”

Lebanon

The Jerusalem Post: Hezbollah Unhappy After US Rescues American Fakhoury From Lebanon

“Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was recently in his bunker in Lebanon when he claims he switched on the TV to see a shocking scene. A US V-22 Osprey helicopter was lifting off from the US embassy and flying away low over the city. Soon the helicopter was out at sea, carrying away American citizen Amer Fakhoury who had been held for six months in Lebanon. On March 19 Fakhoury was safely at sea and Nasrallah was non-plussed. Fakhoury is from Lebanon but was naturalized in the US. He was accused by a military court in Lebanon of being involved in crimes during the 1980s Lebanese Civil War. Pro-Hezbollah activists accuse him of having worked with Israel as part of the South Lebanon Army. However, many Lebanese have received amnesty for the civil war era, as the country tried to put the battles behind it. When he returned to the country he was detained. US Senators put pressure on Lebanon to release him, with Jeanne Shaheen calling for sanctions and saying all options were on the table to assist him. Although he was released last week it appears Hezbollah and others put pressure on courts to deny him the ability to leave.”

Egypt

Asharq Al-Awsat: ISIS, Muslim Brotherhood Fatwas Call For Discrimination Against Christians, Women

“Egypt’s Dar El-Ifta’s Global Fatwa Index (GFI) has registered a number of fatwas by the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS organizations, calling for “discrimination” against Christians and women. Some fatwas were related to “building churches, looting non-Muslim money and classifying women as inferior to men.” The GFI released its findings on the occasion of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which falls on March 21. According to the GFI, racist opinions are divided into two trends. The first are the fatwas issued by extremist groups that seek to spread their agendas and loot the wealth of peoples and nations. The second trend focuses on Islamophobia against Muslim communities in western countries. The index said racist fatwas make up seven percent of religious edicts issued around the world. Eighty percent of the racist fatwas are issued by terrorist groups. Racist fatwas made up 35 percent of the Muslim Brotherhood’s edicts. Egypt has banned the Brotherhood as a terrorist group. The report also shed light on an answer published in 1980 in the Brotherhood’s “Daawa Magazine” to a question related to religious rulings on building churches.”

Nigeria

The Punch Nigeria: Army Destroys Boko Haram Food Supply Vans

“The Nigerian Army on Saturday said it had smashed Boko Haram food supply line and destroyed six vehicles used in conveying food and logistics to the hideouts of the terrorist group in Lake Chad and Sambisa Forest. The Acting General Officer Commanding, 7 Division, Nigerian Army, Brig-Gen. Abdul Ibrahim; who supervised the symbolic destruction of the intercepted vehicles and materials, said four persons were arrested when the vehicles were intercepted. He told journalists in Maiduguri, Borno State, on Saturday that the intercepted vehicles comprised four pickup trucks and two Peugeot station wagons. He said the arrested suspects include Abubakar Sadik, Fannami Modu and Modu Chellu of various addresses within Maiduguri. He said intelligence reports showed that the arrested suspects indulged in supplying Boko Haram with logistics from Maiduguri. “They have always transported food and logistics to the terrorist group in their enclaves in Sambisa Forest and Lake Chad region. “Despite warnings, some of them still continue with the illicit and illegal business of supplying logistics and other materials to Boko Haram,” he added.”

Somalia

The New York Times: Al Qaeda Branch In Somalia Threatens Americans In East Africa — And Even The U.S.

“Al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia, the terrorist group’s largest and most active global affiliate, has issued specific new threats against Americans in East Africa and even the United States, U.S. commandos, counterterrorism officials and intelligence analysts say. Several ominous signs indicate that the Qaeda affiliate, the Shabab, is seeking to expand its lethal mayhem well beyond its home base, and attack Americans wherever it can — threats that have prompted a recent flurry of American drone strikes in Somalia to snuff out the plotters. In recent months, two Shabab operatives have been arrested while taking flying lessons — one last summer in the Philippines and another more recently in an African country, intelligence officials say. Those arrests carried eerie echoes of the original Sept. 11 plotters, who trained to fly jetliners. Shabab fighters are seeking to acquire Chinese-made, shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, which could pose a deadly new risk to U.S. helicopters and other aircraft in Somalia. American commanders are hardening defenses at bases in the region after a Shabab attack in January at Manda Bay, Kenya, killed three Americans and revealed serious security vulnerabilities.”

All Africa: Somalia: US Kills 15 Al-Shabab Terrorists In Latest Somalia Airstrikes

“U.S. airstrikes in Somalia this week killed more than 15 al-Shabab terrorists who were battling African Union and Somali forces, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) spokesman Major Karl Wiest told VOA on Friday. The militants posed an “imminent threat” to international forces who, according to a U.S. defense official, have now secured the town of Janaale in the country’s Lower Shabelle region and are building a forward operating base there. “Not to spike the football, but that's exactly the type of incremental progress we're seeing” from partner forces, said the defense official. AFRICOM said in a press release that it had conducted five strikes Monday and Tuesday against al-Shabab near Janaale, in coordination with the Somali government. The U.S. military’s casualty assessment, which is normally included in the press release, has been slowed because of “dense vegetation in the area,” a defense official told VOA. U.S. forces were nearby advising Somali partners at the time of the strikes. None were wounded in counter-al-Shabab operations there, officials said. Al-Shabab’s Shadada News Agency claimed dozens of AMISOM and Somali forces were killed battling the terror group earlier this week in the Lower Shabelle, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: How Neo-Nazi Group National Action Targeted Young People

“The conviction of four people at Birmingham Crown Court this week for membership of the banned neo-Nazi organisation National Action concluded a series of trials linked to the group. Since it became the first extreme right-wing organisation to be proscribed under terrorism legislation in December 2016, at least 15 court cases - including two retrials - have taken place involving members and former members. Nine involved terror offences, two involved sexual offences concerning children, with the rest relating to public order offences such as stirring up racial hatred. Fifteen people have been convicted of remaining members of the group after it was outlawed. So what do we now know about National Action? While it was never a political party and lacked the formal traits associated with being one, National Action nevertheless had a structure and an external identity. It also had a clear recruitment strategy: focus on the young. Places of educations were plastered with group propaganda, including Warwick University and Aston University in Birmingham. Some of those who founded and ran it had previously been involved with other organisations, including the British National Party.”

Daily Mail: Manchester Arena Suicide Bomber Salman Abedi's Father Who Was Arrested And Then Disappeared After The Attack 'Is Tracked Down Living In Istanbul'

“The father of the Manchester Arena terrorists, who was arrested in Libya following the bombing which killed 22 people, is receiving medical aid in Istanbul. Ramadan Abedi, who was captured by police in 2017 just hours after insisting his son Salman Abedi was not behind the suicide bombing in the UK, has been regularly visiting the Turkish capital for treatment, The Daily Telegraph has revealed. While it is yet unknown what the father is being treated for, sources told the paper that it is being paid for by the Libyan government who he previously worked for as a civil servant. Following the Manchester Arena blast in 2017, which saw Abedi's son Salman detonate a shrapnel-loaded bomb at a Ariana Grande concert, the father, who fled Tripoli in 1993 before claiming asylum in the UK, and his youngest son Hashem, 22, were arrested in Libya. Hashem, who was born a dual British and Libyan nationalist like his brother, was arrested by Libyan militia within 24 hours of the blast and eventually extradited back to the UK following a lengthy battle with the British authorities and convicted of plotting with his brother in carrying out the terrorist attack. Following the unprecedented move and after a seven-week trial at the Old Bailey this month, Hashem was found guilty of 22 counts of murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to cause explosions.”

The Guardian: The Brighton Jihadists: Bullied Brothers Who Went Into Battle

“Much has been written about Britons who fought in Syria, but little truly explains who these characters were, what made them tick. Or what actually happened when they disappeared into the byzantine politics of its brutal war. No Return tracks five teenage friends from Brighton who stepped into its chaos. All were killed except one. The survivor, Amer Deghayes, is the longest-serving Briton in Syria since the fighting began and offers a unique account of a ceaseless, shifting conflict. Equally crucial are those he left behind. I learned that more than 30 Brightonians – the largest identified group of potential jihadists in western Europe – had discussed plans to join him. All were between 13 and 18 years of age, some were girls, most were white, working-class Islamic converts from the forgotten estates of east Brighton. Investigating what had happened to these youngsters I discovered the Hillstreet Gang (HSG), whose members had converted to Islam in a makeshift gym. For several years the police considered them the most notorious street gang in Brighton. A hidden, violent side of the city revealed itself.”