Eye on Extremism: Mar 26, 2020

The Sydney Morning Herald: Australian Pleads Guilty Over Christchurch Mosque Attacks

“The Australian man accused of the Christchurch mosque attacks has entered shock guilty pleas. Amid extraordinary coronavirus lockdown restrictions, Brenton Tarrant, 29, appeared via video-link in the High Court in Christchurch on Thursday morning and admitted 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and a charge of engaging in a terrorist act. He previously pleaded not guilty to all the charges and was scheduled to stand trial on June 2. Tarrant, who wore a grey prisoner sweater, was largely silent and emotionless throughout the hearing. He sat alone in a white room with a grey door at Auckland Prison where he's held in maximum security. The terrorist's lawyers, Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson, appeared via video-link from another court room. The names of all 51 people killed were read to Tarrant, before he was asked how he pleaded to the murder charges. He queried the name of a victim before saying, “Oh, OK. Yes, guilty”. The same process was followed for the attempted murder charges. Justice Cameron Mander remanded Tarrant in custody, but has not yet set a date for sentencing, when the summary of facts would be made public."

ABC News: Domestic Terror Suspect Allegedly Plotted To Use Car Bomb On Hospital During Coronavirus Outbreak

“The FBI announced on Wednesday night that a domestic terrorism suspect who was allegedly planning to use a car bomb at a local medical facility was killed during an attempt to apprehend him just outside of Kansas City, Missouri. Timothy Wilson, 36, was “actively planning to commit an act of domestic terrorism -- a bombing -- and over the course of several months had considered several targets,” according to the FBI. He had recently decided to target a hospital as news surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic picked up, sources familiar worth the investigation told ABC News. Wilson was killed Tuesday when he allegedly showed up armed to pick up an inert explosive device supplied by authorities. He was injured and taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. It is unclear whether the suspect killed himself or he was shot by authorities. According to the FBI, Wilson sped up the plan to use his car as a bombing device “in an attempt to cause severe harm and mass casualties” during the coronavirus pandemic.”

United States

NBC News: Federal Prisons Aren't Properly Monitoring Terrorist Inmates, Report Says

“The U.S. Bureau of Prisons is not adequately keeping tabs on inmates with terrorism connections, and wasn't even aware of more than two dozen of them in its own facilities, according to an audit report released Wednesday. The Justice Department inspector general, Michael Horowitz, said his team identified 28 inmates who met the federal definition of an international or domestic terrorist who were not on prison lists as requiring special monitoring. The report said in most of those cases, courts or law enforcement agencies didn't provide sufficient information about them. In other cases, prison officials do not use the FBI's terrorist definition, Horowitz said, and for that reason were not monitoring most of the 462 inmates considered “sovereign citizens.” The FBI considers members of that movement to be domestic terrorists and defines them as “anti-government extremists” who believe they are not subject to any government authority and sometimes target police and other officials for violent attacks.”

The Hill: Better Intel Could Help The US Designate White Supremacist Groups As Terrorists

“A recent Politico article noted that the U.S. Department of State is intent on sanctioning a white supremacist group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The story explained that the White House had yet to approve the State Department plan. Historically, the White House, until the Trump administration, has played a secondary and non-directive role in shaping terrorist designations. There are some exceptions. During the Obama years, the White House got involved in the FTO designations of Boko Haram, Pakistan Taliban and Haqqani Network. In those cases, however, the National Security Council served as a forum to mediate a policy approach where disagreement existed between agencies and departments. In contrast, the Trump administration has been more directive by pushing forward the possibility of sanctioning as terrorist groups the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the latter of which remains undesignated. The Trump administration has been identified, fairly or unfairly, as being reluctant to take action against the rising challenge of white supremacy.”

Syria

Al Monitor: Syrian Kurdish Officials Setting Up Court To Try Foreign IS Fighters

“Amid ongoing operations to find and eliminate remnants of the Islamic State (IS), the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria plans to begin public trials for accused members of the extremist organization. The Social Justice Council of the Syrian Kurdish administration is setting up a special court to prosecute foreign IS militants whose home countries refuse to allow their return and to try them. Council member and lawyer Faisal Sabri told Al-Monitor, “We asked the European countries to assume their responsibilities toward IS detainees by establishing an international court on Syrian soil and sending international judges to try them, but they did not respond to our request. We have to set up public trials for them in accordance with international laws and human rights covenants and treaties.” “We have yet to determine when the trials will start,” Sabri continued. “We called on European and Arab countries to accept the extradition of their nationals from among IS children, orphans and wives residing in al-Hol camp. They have been posing a threat in the camp, which has turned into a hotbed of terrorism.”

Afghanistan

The Washington Post: Islamic State Claims Kabul Attack On Sikh Minority

“An Islamic State gunman stormed a temple used by Sikh and Hindu minorities in Kabul on Wednesday, killing 25 worshipers during an hours-long battle with Afghan security forces. More than six hours after the attack began, the Interior Ministry said the building had been cleared. Spokesman Tariq Aryan said eight were wounded in addition to the 25 killed. Afghan security forces rescued 80 others from the site, he said. The Islamic State asserted responsibility for the attack in a statement posted by the group’s media arm, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks the online postings of Islamist militant organizations. Although Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declared that the Islamic State was defeated late last year, officials estimated Islamic State fighters scattered across the country number in the hundreds. The group’s supply and recruitment networks were also believed to be badly damaged, and for months last year the extremists were unable to carry out attacks in Kabul. The Taliban denied any involvement in the attack Wednesday. After signing a peace deal with the United States last month, the group has been under pressure to reduce violence and enter into talks with the Afghan government.”

Reuters: Taliban Says Prisoner Release By Afghan Government To Start By End Of March

“The Afghan government said on Wednesday that it would free 100 Taliban detainees on humanitarian grounds at the end of March, raising uncertainty about the fate of a prisoner release deal with the insurgents, who have demanded that 5,000 detainees be freed. The deal announced earlier in the day by the Taliban would have removed a major hurdle to the convening of peace talks between the sides as part of a U.S.-brokered process aimed at ending America’s longest war and bringing peace to Afghanistan. But the announcement by Ashraf Ghani’s government cast fresh doubt on the prospects for the deal, as well as the stalled U.S. peace effort. “Subject to further discussions” 100 prisoners would be freed “on humanitarian grounds – including health, age and vulnerability to #COVID19 – by March 31 after guarantees by the Taliban and the prisoners that they will not re-enter the fight,” Ghani’s National Security Council said on Twitter, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus. That number is far less than the 1,500 prisoners that Ghani recently agreed to release. The Taliban have demanded that 5,000 detainees must be freed all at once as a pre-condition to peace talks, while the Afghan government is seeking a phased and conditional release.”

Yemen

France 24: Yemen War: Five Years On, Rebels Stronger Than Ever

“Five years after Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen's civil war, leading a military coalition to prop up the government which had been driven out of its capital, the Huthi rebels are only stronger, more resilient and gaining ground. The Iran-aligned insurgents' capabilities have developed in the past year, with attacks on strategic targets in Yemen and neighbouring Saudi Arabia using sophisticated drones. Experts say that pressure on the Saudis to reduce civilian casualties in air strikes, a drawdown by their coalition partner the United Arab Emirates' in mid-2019, and rifts within the government camp, have strengthened the rebels' resolve. The novel coronavirus sweeping the world could be a wild card in the conflict. Saudi Arabia has reported hundreds of cases and imposed tough lockdown measures, while Yemen appears highly vulnerable even if its broken healthcare system has not yet registered any cases. But after military victories in recent months that have given them the upper hand, the sixth year of the conflict is likely to deliver more gains to the rebels, and more hardship to civilians who have endured the long war. The Huthi tribal fighters belong to the Zaidi minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, that makes up a third of Yemen's Sunni-majority population.”

Lebanon

The Jerusalem Post: Now Is The Time To Save Lebanon From Hezbollah

“The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is quickly sending the world into the biggest economic crisis in decades. Here in Israel, we’re witnessing how almost all the macro-economic strides the country has made in the last decade are quickly eroding. It’s hard to look beyond the next few hours. With all the threats that this crisis delivers, it also brings a severe security risk to Israel and the Middle East from the North; Hezbollah is trying to take advantage of the current financial distress of Lebanon. Usually we hear about Lebanon when tensions escalate on the border. In its prime, Lebanon was a European oasis in the heart of the Middle East. Lately, we neglect to observe that it is going bankrupt and on the fast track to being declared a failed state. In recent years, Lebanon has become the third country in the world that is the most in debt in terms of debt to GDP ratio. Overly dependent on its banks, Lebanon is now defaulting on its debt. Most recently, on March 9, it failed to pay a $1.2 billion payment to Eurobond. At this rate, official bankruptcy seems all but inevitable. How did it happen?”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Hezbollah And Its Friends

“The most noteworthy aspect of Hezbollah’s general-secretary's last speech was the shift from denial to affirmation. Denial reflected an image of the party as one that is fighting for justice and truth, a battle that disregards the balance of power in its path to fulfill its “honest promise”. This allowed the party to speak in the name of the Lebanese people and threaten its enemies, whom it would frame as the enemies of the Lebanese. It also allowed it to attract countless remains of parties, ideologies, and defeated dreams which count on the party to bring them back from oblivion. Affirmation refers to admitting to the Lebanese, though with circumlocution, that the party is subject to certain balances of power and that there are things it can and cannot do. This affirmation, by extension, confirms the following: The balance of power has shifted slightly against it after the US sanctions hit the party and Iran and Lebanon as well because of it. It also shifted because the economic difficulties facing Hassan Diab's government became clear. In addition, the revolution showed that the overwhelming majority of the Lebanese do not favor the same choices as those of Hezbollah.”

Libya

The New York Times: Tripoli Officials Say Clashes Escalating Over Libyan Capital

“Clashes between rival Libyan forces for control of the capital escalated Wednesday as militias allied with the U.N.-supported government launched an offensive against a military base held by their rivals, officials said. The renewed fighting comes despite increased international pressure on both sides to halt the violence over concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus. Libya reported its first case of the virus Tuesday. The fighting has been raging for nearly a year between military commander Khalifa Hifter's forces, which are allied with a rival government based in eastern Libya, and an array of militias in the west loosely linked to the authorities in Tripoli, the capital. Hifter's self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces said they repelled an attack on the al-Waitya airbase by Tripoli militias in the city's southern reaches. Late Wednesday, Hifter's force claimed to have gone over to the attack in response to its foes' offensive, saying it captured several Syrian mercenaries and seized small western coastal towns, including Jumayl, Rigdalin and Zultan. Videos circulated on social media showing Hifter's fighters celebrating after reaching the town of Rigdalin. For his part, Ossama Gowelii, who heads the so-called joint operation room of the Tripoli militias, said his forces successfully attacked the airbase and arrested a “number” of Hifter's fighters, including foreign mercenaries.”

Nigeria

Bloomberg: Boko Haram Insurgents Kill 139 Chadian, Nigerian Troops

“Boko Haram Islamist militants operating in Africa’s Lake Chad region killed 92 Chadian soldiers and 47 Nigerian troops in separate attacks on the same day, dealing a blow to a multinational effort to defeat their 11-year-old insurgency. At least 92 soldiers were killed and 47 injured in the attack on troops on Monday in the southern village of Boma on the shores of the lake near Chad’s common frontiers with Nigeria and Niger. “I have taken part in many military operations and led many operations as well but never in our history have we lost so many men in one single attack,” Chadian President Idriss Deby said in a You-tube video of his visit to the attack site. In Nigeria, at least 47 Nigerian soldiers were killed in an ambush in the northeastern town of Gorgi in a convoy of troops sent to reinforce the front lines, according to John Enenche, a military spokesman. Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon are members of a multinational force formed to defeat Boko Haram, which had embarked on a jihad in Nigeria in 2009 before spreading to neighboring countries.”

Somalia

ABC News: Somalia Suicide Bomber Detonates In Tea Shop, Killing 2

“A Somali police officer says a suicide bomber has walked into a tea shop in Somalia's capital and detonated, killing at least two people. Capt. Mohamed Hussein says the bomber, posing as a pedestrian, entered the shop and detonated his vest among the crowd. Wednesday's blast in Mogadishu was the first since the country confirmed its lone case of the coronavirus on March 16. The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group claimed responsibility. It often targets the capital. The blast shattered a period of calm amid a large security presence in Mogadishu that officials had said prevented al-Shabab from smuggling explosives-rigged vehicles into the city.”

United Kingdom

The New York Times: Citing Death Penalty, U.K. Court Blocks Giving Evidence On ISIS ‘Beatles’ To U.S.

“The British government must withhold key evidence from the United States for the trial of two Islamic State detainees because the Trump administration has not provided assurances that the men will not be executed, the British Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday. The detainees were half of a cell of four ISIS Britons who handled Western hostages — some of whom were eventually beheaded on propaganda videos — and whose victims nicknamed them the Beatles because of their accents. Captured by a Kurdish militia in Syria in early 2018, the detainees, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, are being held by the American military in Iraq. The ruling in a lawsuit was a major setback for senior law-enforcement officials in both countries. The British government had stripped the two men of their citizenship and had agreed to share evidence about them for use in an American trial without assurances that they would not face capital punishment, even though Britain has abolished the death penalty. “No further assistance should be given for the purpose of any proceedings” against the men “in the United States of America without the appropriate death penalty assurances,” Justice Brian Kerr wrote.”

The Independent: Far-Right Terrorism Driven By Austerity In UK, Former Head Of MI5 Says

“The rise of far-right terrorism in Britain has been driven by years of austerity, the former head of MI5 has said. Lord Evans of Weardale, who was the director general of the Security Service between 2007 and 2013, said right-wing extremists had morphed from groups who “never quite managed to get their act together” into a more organised threat. He warned that organisations who have “explicitly decided that terrorism was part of the way forward” were on the rise, adding: “Partly I suspect it is a reflection of the social pressures on communities as a result of austerity measures. “There seems to be a constituency of disaffected males who find extreme right-wing beliefs attractive, and they have started to get their acts together to organise into groups and plot.” Lord Evans, who was made a life peer in 2014, was speaking to Raffaello Pantucci, a senior associate fellow in international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi). In the interview published in the CTC Sentinel journal, he said some far-right terrorists had been “consciously and deliberately inspired by the perceived success of violent Islamists”. Lord Evans said the English Defence League (EDL) were “mutually symbiotic” with Anjem Choudary’s al-Muhajiroun (ALM) group.”

France

France 24: France's Virus Lockdown Delays Charlie Hebdo Attack Trial

“The trial of 14 people accused of helping the jihadist gunmen who attacked the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and other Paris targets in January 2015 has been postponed because of France's coronavirus lockdown, prosecutors said Wednesday. The presiding judge for the trial, originally set to open on May 4, said the strict home confinement rules made it impossible to bring together “all the parties, witnesses and experts under the necessary sanitary conditions,” according to a court order seen by AFP. No new date has been set, although the national anti-terrorism prosector's office said it would probably be pushed back until next autumn. Seventeen people were killed over three days in and around Paris in the January 2015 attacks, beginning with the massacre of 12 people at the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo by Cherif and Said Kouachi on January 7. Over the following two days, a third gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, shot dead a young policewoman before killing four people at a Jewish supermarket. All three gunmen, who had claimed allegiance to jihadist groups, were killed by police. The 14 accused are suspected of having provided logistical aid to the attackers.”

Germany

The New York Times: Intel Chief: German Extremists Disbanding Is 'Smoke Screen'

“The head of one of Germany's state security agencies has accused an extremist faction within the country's main far-right party of trying to create a “smoke screen” by announcing it will disband. Leaders of the far-right Alternative for Germany had called last week for the radical ‘Wing’ faction of the party to dissolve after the country's domestic intelligence agency classified it as extremist. The Wing's leading figures, Bjoern Hoecke and Andreas Kalbitz, agreed Tuesday to disband the faction. But the head of the domestic intelligence agency in Thuringia state, where Hoecke is the party's regional leader, said this appeared to be a tactical maneuver. Stephan Kramer told German news agency dpa in an interview published Wednesday the move was “a smoke screen,” adding that it was more important to see whether the party distances itself from the extremist faction. Alternative for Germany currently has seats in all German state assemblies and the federal parliament. It is strongest in the east.”

Deutsche Welle: AfD: Too Far-Right

“Albrecht Andreas Harlass loves German traditions. He loves his German shepherd dog Bruno or the changing seasons and their special characteristics, for example, the serene atmosphere at Christmas: that's when Harlass sets up the Yule Candlestick, modeled on pagan Germanic rituals. And he likes to quote archaic table prayers: “Let us give thanks for clouds and wind, for bread and fruit, for forebears and progeny.” Albrecht Andreas Harlass shares all this with his friends on social media. He is spokesman for the AfD parliamentary party in the state parliament of Saxony. But Harlass does not stop at being traditional. According to a court verdict, it is permissible to refer to him as a “Neo-Nazi through-and-through.” His Yule Candlestick also belonged to the customs of the murderous SS under the Nazi regime and the table prayer was penned by an NS ideologue and anti-Semitic writer. Harlass wears clothes ordered from a neo-Nazi internet retailer. And in his speeches, he dreams of his party “seizing power” in Germany – a term generally associated with the beginning of Hitler's rule. Harlass fantasizes about another Germany. A Germany that puts an end to the hated policies of the established parties.”

Southeast Asia

The New York Times: Police Kill Suspected Militant, Arrest 2 In Indonesia Raid

“Indonesia's police anti-terrorism squad shot and killed one suspect and arrested two others in a raid on the main island of Java, seizing weapons and chemicals allegedly used for bomb making, officials said Thursday. The man fatally shot by police resisted arrest by wielding a long sword, said National Police spokesman Argo Yuwono. The suspects were linked to a banned militant organization responsible for recent attacks on police, a local affiliate of the Islamic State group known as the Jama'ah Anshorut Daulah, Yuwono said. The raid took place in Subah village of Batang district in Central Java province late Wednesday. Yuwono said police seized two machetes, a sword, a bayonet blade and materials often used by militants to make bombs, and were interrogating the two suspects. Indonesia has been battling militants since the 2002 bombings on the resort island of Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists. Attacks aimed at foreigners have been largely replaced in recent years by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government, police and anti-terrorism forces, inspired by Islamic State group attacks abroad.”

Technology

The Straits Times: Facebook Removes Network Of White Supremacist Accounts

“Facebook Inc has removed dozens of user accounts plus other Pages and Groups on its social network associated with the Northwest Front, a group pushing for a white nation-state in the US Pacific Northwest. The company doesn't allow groups that “proclaim hateful and violent missions,” according to a statement on Wednesday (March 25) from Mr Brian Fishman, Facebook's policy director for counter-terrorism and dangerous organisations. The removal included 36 Facebook accounts, 10 Instagram accounts, nine private groups and nine Pages, according to a company spokeswoman. Menlo Park, California-based Facebook had previously banned the organisation and removed accounts from its members in 2015, but many of them created new accounts under pseudonyms, the company said. Facebook's content review processes have been under some strain as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. The company has been working to combat misinformation about the disease caused by the coronavirus, taking up resources typically focused on other issues. Facebook employees and content reviewers also are working remotely.”