Eye on Extremism: March 15

The New Yorker: The Wife Of The Pulse Night-Club Shooter Goes On Trial

“Omar Mateen spent the final two years of his life growing ever angrier at what he saw as the slaughter of Muslims overseas. In 2013, the twenty-nine-year-old security guard had been investigated by the F.B.I. for making statements in support of both Hezbollah and Al Qaeda to his co-workers at G4S, one of the largest private-security firms in the world. After his co-workers contacted the F.B.I., agents questioned Mateen several times and placed him under surveillance. During his second interview, Mateen admitted that he had made such statements, but the agency ultimately concluded that he was not a threat. On June 12, 2016, Mateen drove to the Pulse night club, in Orlando, and killed forty-nine people before being shot by police. It was the second-largest mass shooting in the nation’s history. Several months later, Noor Salman, Mateen’s wife, with whom he had a young son, was arrested in northern California, where she had been living with her family since the massacre. She was indicted on two counts: obstruction of justice, and providing material support to a terrorist organization—in this case, isis. Earlier this month, I went to Orlando to cover jury selection in her trial, which begins in federal court this week. I visited the Pulse night club, which sits empty, with a chain-link fence around its perimeter. A sign in front said that the building will reopen as a memorial in April. Mourners wrote messages of love and remembrance on banners affixed to the fence. Forty-nine dried white roses had been braided into it.”

Wired: Facebook Has Banned Britain First. Here's Who It Should Ban Next

“Facebook has banned Britain First and its two leaders after months of pressure on the platform to tackle right-wing extremism. In a blog post released after the ban, Facebook argued that the official Britain First page, and the personal pages of leaders Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, had “repeatedly broken our Community Standards” and ignored written warnings. In an emailed statement, Facebook specified a handful of posts that violated its guidelines, prompting the ban. These included a photo of Britain First leaders with the caption “Islamaphobic and Proud,” a post comparing Muslim immigrants with animals and multiple videos posted deliberately to incite hateful comments against Muslims. But the content and tone of these posts is nothing new. Britain First has a long history of using its Facebook page to openly incite hatred against Muslims. Today’s ban could easily have taken place at any point over the last few weeks, months or years. Yet Britain First's Facebook strategy has been consistent for years: incite hatred, target minorities and gradually expose people to extreme, right-wing views. It also isn't the only page on Facebook using such tactics to spread extreme views.”

Reuters: Anti-Money Laundering Controls Failing To Detect Terrorists, Cartels, And Sanctioned States

“Regulators are holding financial institutions responsible for the real-life consequences of anti-money laundering (AML) failures. Firms must reconfigure their transaction monitoring programs to identify the emergent, multi-dimensional money laundering and terrorism finance methods that are defeating today’s rules-based detection scenarios. Adopting an actor-centric hybrid threat finance (HTF) model can cut compliance costs, reduce risk, improve regulatory relations, and increase the usefulness of suspicious activity reports (SARs). Financial institutions are required by the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) to detect and report customers engaged in money laundering, fraud, terrorist financing, and sanctions violations. With millions of customers, banks have fielded automated transaction monitoring systems, which use money laundering detection scenarios known as rules, to alert firms to certain customers for potential violations. Current industry detection logic has proven flawed and inefficient at identifying financial crime, resulting in record-breaking regulatory fines for financial institutions that fail to detect terrorists, drug cartels, and sanctioned state actors exploiting the U.S. financial system.”

The Washington Post: Militant Threat Emerges In Egyptian Desert, Opening New Front In Terrorism Fight

“The desolate terrain of Egypt’s Western Desert is emerging as a new frontier in the global fight against terrorism. Militant groups linked to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda are using the desert as both a haven and a crossing point for smuggling fighters, weapons and illicit goods from Libya, where lawlessness rules. Along a highway stretching toward the Libyan border, the winds blow across a vast no man’s land of sand dunes, rocky scrubs and barren hills. There are no villages, no signs of life save for the cars and trucks that speed past. But this peaceful landscape, just an hour’s drive from Cairo, is the staging ground for an ambitious insurgency.”

Star Tribune: Charges Make Clear That Bloomington Mosque Bombing Was An 'Act Of Terrorism'

“No group — religious, ethnic or otherwise — has a monopoly on individuals who answer the siren call of violent extremism. That is an essential takeaway, especially in an age of escalating anti-immigrant sentiment, from the Tuesday announcement that three men from rural Illinois have been charged in the 2017 pipe bombing of a Bloomington mosque. The Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center also houses a religious school for children. Neither this, nor the fact that it is a house of worship, allegedly stopped the three from tossing into the building what one of them called a “huge ass black powder bomb,” according to an affidavit released by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Minnesota. The device was estimated to be 18 to 24 inches. It shattered the Aug. 5 morning calm when it exploded, starting a fire and causing heavy damage. Charged are Michael McWhorter, 29, Joseph Morris, 22, and Michael Hari, 47. McWhorter claimed the trio “did not intend to kill anyone,” according to the affidavit, but instead wanted to send a message that Muslims should leave the country. It is extremely fortunate that no one died. The bomb landed near the imam’s office while morning prayers were in process.”

United States

The New York Times: U.S. Kept Silent About Its Role In Another Firefight In Niger

“Green Berets working with government forces in Niger killed 11 Islamic State militants in a firefight in December, the American military acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday. The battle occurred two months after four United States soldiers died in an ambush in another part of Niger — and after senior commanders had imposed stricter limits on military missions in the West African country. No American or Nigerien forces were harmed in the December gun battle. But the combat — along with at least 10 other previously unreported attacks on American troops in West Africa between 2015 and 2017 — indicates that the deadly Oct. 4 ambush was not an isolated episode in a nation where the United States is building a major drone base. After the ambush, senior officers at United States Africa Command, which oversees American military operations on the continent, imposed additional measures to enhance the safety of troops on missions that were designed to train and advise local forces in Niger. But the missions did not end.”

Associated Press: Lawyers Differ On What Orlando Club Shooter's Widow Knew

“If jurors in a federal trial in Florida believe government prosecutors, the wife of the man who carried out one of the U.S.'s biggest mass shootings gave a "green light" to her husband when he wanted to execute his terrorist-inspired attack. But if they accept Noor Salman's attorney's account that she was a "devoted mother" with an IQ of 84 and was the victim of Omar Mateen's repeated lies throughout their marriage, they could decide she had no prior knowledge of the attack. Salman went on trial Wednesday in Orlando. The 31-year-old is accused of aiding and abetting her husband in his attack on the Pulse nightclub in June of 2016. She's also charged with obstruction of justice. If convicted, she faces life in prison. After opening statements, the government called a variety of witnesses who gave emotional testimony about that night at Pulse. Two police officers testified, as did a survivor who said she covered herself with a dead body while Mateen shot his way through the club. Prosecutors also showed video taken inside the club by one survivor; Salman covered her eyes with her hand and victims' family members in the court teared up.”

CNN: Florida Teen Held In Killing Was Being Investigated By FBI Over Possible ISIS Interest

“A Florida teenager accused of stabbing three people -- allegedly because two of them ridiculed his Muslim faith -- and who was the subject of an FBI-led investigation over his alleged activities on social media relating to terrorism, was about to be arrested on federal charges, local police reports show. Corey Johnson, of Jupiter, is accused of killing a boy celebrating his 13th birthday Monday at a sleepover and wounding a woman and one of her sons with a knife, Palm Beach Gardens interim police Chief Clint Shannon said. ‘This was not a random act of violence,’ Shannon said Tuesday. ‘All persons involved in this incident knew each other.’ The investigation -- which stretched back to at least January 2017 -- involves Johnson's alleged interest in ISIS, social media activity that included watching beheading videos, a threat Johnson allegedly made against a school in northern England and his reported fascination with dictators and extremist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, according to reports compiled by Jupiter police.”

NBC 10: NJ Man Pleads Guilty To Planning NYC Attack To Help ISIS

“A New Jersey man accused of planning to build a pressure cooker bomb and use it in New York City in support of the Islamic State pleaded guilty to federal charges Tuesday. Twenty-year-old Gregory Lepsky, of Point Pleasant, pleaded guilty in federal court to attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. Lepsky answered basic yes or no questions during Tuesday's appearance in federal court in Trenton. He was arrested in February 2017 when police were called to his family home after he threatened to kill the family dog. Authorities found a pressure cooker in Lepsky's bedroom closet. Subsequent searches of computers and other digital evidence turned up signs that he planned to build and set off the bomb, according to U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of New Jersey. He also sent social media messages saying he would become a martyr if necessary.”

The Washington Post: How A White Nationalist’s Family Came To Blows Over A Trailer Tryst

“Matthew Heimbach, who came to national attention in 2016 for shoving a black woman at a campaign rally for Donald Trump, was arrested Tuesday and accused of attacking his wife and choking his white nationalist group’s co-founder unconscious after the pair caught Heimbach having an affair in a trailer, authorities said. Heimbach helped launch the Traditionalist Worker Party years ago and has been involved in organizing white separatist, supremacist and nationalist events around the country. Heimbach, who is in his mid-20s, is “the affable, youthful face of hate in America,” an editor for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate­watch blog told The Washington Post. His desire for a United States split into separate racial states has lost Heimbach many friends, The Washington Post’s Joe Heim wrote after the Trump rally incident. He’s been excommunicated from his church and clashed with his parents — and last week was seen brawling with protesters at a white nationalist event at Michigan State University.”

Syria

CNN: Assad May Win Syria's War, But He Will Preside Over A Broken Country

“In the summer of 2015, President Bashar al-Assad was in trouble. His army -- fighting on multiple fronts amid desertion and exhaustion -- was losing ground. Islamist rebel groups were threatening to cut key routes connecting regime strongholds. And then an Iranian general went to Moscow, and the tide of Syria's conflict began to change, gradually but remorselessly, in the regime's favor. That general was Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force. He had seen at first hand that the war was going badly, despite the involvement of pro-Iranian militia and the Lebanese Hezbollah fighting on the side of the regime. Soleimani's meetings in Moscow would rescue Assad but condemn Syria to destruction on an ever-greater scale. For the next two years, Russia and Iran underpinned a scorched-earth campaign that broke the back of the resistance but laid waste to Syria.”

SF Gate: Al Qaeda In Syria Losing Ground In Battles With Insurgents

“For the first time since its meteoric rise in 2012 amid the chaos of war, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria is in retreat, battling rival militant groups in the north and fighting for survival in a key foothold near the capital, Damascus. Over the past three weeks, the extremist group has been driven from nearly all of the northern province of Aleppo, losing dozens of fighters in battles there and in nearby Idlib province. The fighting poses a major challenge to the militant group, already beset by infighting and a string of assassinations that have taken out some of its top leaders. Unlike previous battles in which al Qaeda-linked fighters were able to quickly crush their opponents, the fighting has been particularly fierce, with the militants losing dozens of villages.”

The Sun: Hotel Of Horrors Inside The Luxury Syrian Hotel That ISIS Turned Into Hellhole JAIL Where Prisoners Were Tortured On Stretching Racks And Electrocution Chairs

“Horrifying images show inside a former luxury hotel in northern Syria that ISIS jihadis turned into a brutal jail where prisoners were tortured on stretching racks and electrocution chairs. Sun Online was granted exclusive access to the former resort in Manbij, which was taken over by extremists who held more than 100 prisoners at a time. The hotel is now being refurbished, but site manager Rambo - real name Agile - explains: "It was a beautiful place before, it had Turkish baths, luxury rooms and spas – but ISIS turned that into the torture prison for Manbij." In the basement below the main lobby there is an assortment of concrete rooms, each with mountains of evidence of bloodthirsty torture and killings. Pointing to one room, Rambo, who is from Manbij, states: "In this room prisoners were tied up and hung against the wall in darkness, like cattle. “In this room, the prisoners were chained up – at least 10 at time – to concrete and had to sit in a baby position for days.” Graffiti is all over the pitch-black basement walls and doors, showing various ISIS propaganda and slogans. “This is a sign of showing the pledge of allegiance to ISIS,” the builder explains pointing to a tree surrounded by the jihadists’ black flag.”

Iran

Reuters: U.S.-Iranian Man Gets 25 Years Prison For Trying To Buy Missiles For Iran

“A dual citizen of Iran and the United States was sentenced on Wednesday to 25 years in prison after he was found guilty of trying to buy surface-to-air missiles and aircraft components for the government of Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. Reza Olangian, 57, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska in Manhattan. The sentence is the minimum allowed under federal law. Prosecutors had asked the judge to impose a sentence that was longer than the minimum, although short of the life sentence suggested by federal guidelines. Preska said she did not believe a longer sentence was necessary. “I think Judge Preska saw that 25 years is an extraordinarily long time and that Mr. Olangian did not rise to the level of something as egregious as that,” Gregory Morvillo, Olangian’s lawyer, said after the sentencing. Olangian was convicted by a jury in November 2016 of crimes that included conspiring to acquire and transfer anti-aircraft missiles. His lawyers have said in court filings that Olangian will appeal his conviction. At his trial, they said Olangian was an opponent of the government of Iran, and that his efforts to broker weapons sales were actually meant as a sting operation to expose Iran’s efforts to evade U.S. sanctions. Olangian was born in Iran, came to the United States as a student in 1979, became a U.S. citizen in 1999 and moved back to Iran in 2004, according to court filings.”

Fox News: America Shouldn't Send Endangered Religious Minority Refugees Back To Iran

“Scores of members of Iranian religious minorities left their homeland more than a year ago at Washington’s invitation with the intention of coming to America. But now they may be barred from the U.S. for security reasons and could be placed in imminent danger of deportation back to the Islamic dictatorship – where they likely would face persecution, or even imprisonment and death.  Also at risk are two signature Trump administration policies: protection of religious minorities as a U.S. National Security Strategy priority and the highlighting of the Iranian regime’s repression. Allowing these refugees to be sent back to ugly fates in Iran would recast the administration’s noble policies as mere political propaganda. U.S. Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback rightly put the issue of the Iranian refugees at the top of his agenda at the first public briefing he hosted at the State Department Feb. 23. Resolving the issue will be his first major challenge. This crisis began in fall 2016 when 87 members of Iran’s repressed religious minority communities were selected to benefit under the Lautenberg Amendment – a process initially adopted to rescue Jews from the former Soviet Union and expanded in 2004 for Iran’s religious minorities.”

Iraq

Iraqi News: Iraqi Troops Kill Two Islamic State Members In Airstrike, North Of Baghdad

“Two militants were killed as Iraqi troops launched an airstrike, north of Baghdad on Wednesday. A statement by Baghdad Operations Command said, ‘depending on accurate information gathered by the intelligence, security troops managed to follow three gunmen in al-Baghdadi region, north of Baghdad.’ ‘An airstrike was then launched killing two militants and leaving the third, who ran away, wounded,’ the statement added. Thousands of IS militants as well as Iraqi civilians were killed since the government campaign, backed by paramilitary troops and the coalition, was launched in October 2016 to fight the militant group. Abadi announced in December full liberation of Iraqi lands, declaring end of war against IS members. However, Islamic State continues to launch sporadic attacks across Iraq against troops. Security reports indicate that the militant group still poses threat against stability in the country.”

Iraqi News: Paramilitary Troops Kill 10 Islamic State Militants In Kirkuk

“Ten Islamic State (IS) militants were killed Wednesday in a security operation to eliminate terrorism in the oil-rich Kirkuk province, a pro-government force said. In a statement, released by Baghdad Today, the media service of al-Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) said, ‘troops of the PMF’s 11th brigade and intelligence officers carried out a security operation to hunt for Islamic State militants at Khirbet Aziz village in Hawija, southwest of Kirkuk.’ ‘The troops killed 10 IS militants in the operation,’ according to the statement, adding that the manhunt operation will go on as scheduled to eliminate the remaining IS cells across Kirkuk. In October, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared that Iraqi troops recaptured Hawija, a main town held by Islamic State in the country.”

Afghanistan

The Washington Post: ‘The Taliban Is In The City’: Secretive Raids With U.S. Forces Launched To Stop Kabul Attacks

“The United States is bolstering its efforts to help the Afghan government squash a rash of deadly high-profile attacks in its capital city through Special Operations raids, intelligence to map out residents and additional military advising, the top U.S. general here said. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. said that defending Kabul is the main goal for the U.S.-led military coalition right now. Although the number of bombings in the sprawling city has remained about the same, they have increased in size, he said. Hundreds of people have been killed in the past year’s blasts, terrorizing civilians and damaging embassies and other buildings. ‘Yes, the Taliban is in the city,’ Nicholson said. ‘Yes, there are facilitation networks in the city. These networks need to be identified and destroyed, and then the safe houses or whatever locations they have developed need to be identified and eliminated.’”

The Times: Jihadists Rebuild Safe Havens In Afghanistan To Attack West

“Terrorist groups are rebuilding safe havens in Afghanistan for potential attacks on the West, even as the Taliban edges closer to peace talks aimed at ending the 16-year conflict, officials in the US and Pakistan have indicated. An invitation by Islamic State last week, urging fighters to leave their dwindling ‘caliphate’ in Iraq and Syria for fertile ground in Afghanistan, has crystallised fears in neighbouring states and Washington that, more than 16 years after 9/11, terrorists are returning to old haunts.”

Newsweek: ISIS Is Still Using Children To Carry Out Executions In Afghanistan, Photos Reveal

“Members of the Islamic State have released evidence that they are once again using children to execute prisoners in Afghanistan. Photos distributed on Wednesday show two small children participating in the execution of two Afghan soldiers and an accused spy in the country's eastern province of Nangarhar.  In the photos published by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremism online, the children are seen leading the orange-clad prisoners to the place of their execution. A final photo shows the children raising their guns in a celebratory salute as the prisoners lie dead on the floor in front of them. It is unclear exactly how old the children are, but in the images, they appear to be between the ages of five and eight.”

Pakistan

Reuters: Suicide Blast Targeting Police Kills Seven In Eastern Pakistani City Of Lahore

“A suicide bomb blast claimed by the Taliban ripped through a police checkpoint on the outskirts of the Pakistani city of Lahore on Wednesday, killing seven people and wounding 18, officials said. Jam Sajjad Hussain, spokesman of a state-run rescue service, told Reuters that his officials had taken seven dead bodies to hospitals. ‘Our rescuers are at work,’ he said. ‘They have shifted so far seven bodies.’ Deputy Inspector General of police Haider Ashraf said the bomb exploded when the police were changing guards at the checkpoint just outside an annual religious congregation in Raiwind, where nearly 80,000 people were in attendance.”

Bloomberg Politics: Rise Of Militant-Linked Party Casts Doubt On Pakistan’s Terrorist Crackdown

“The Mili Muslim League’s website reads like a regular Pakistan political outfit, offering translations in Urdu and English and promoting the rights of minorities and women. The party’s spokesman even calls for good trade relations with arch-rival India. Yet it’s backed by Hafiz Saeed, the suspected planner of the 2008 Mumbai attacks who was designated as a terrorist by the U.S. a decade ago. The MML’s creation, pushed along by Saeed who inaugurated its offices in Lahore in December, has led to fears Pakistan’s military is renewing its push to lend terror groups political legitimacy. Those concerns deepened with a high court decision on March. 9 to approve the party’s registration, allowing it to run in national elections scheduled for July. Pakistan is at pains to show it is acting against militants as it comes under increasing U.S. pressure. But the court’s ruling presents a challenge to incoming U.S. secretary of state and current CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, who’s vowed a harder line against the country if it fails to show it’s eliminating safe havens for terrorists.”

Al Jazeera: Six Killed In Raiwind Explosion Claimed By Tehreek-E-Taliban

“At least four Pakistani policemen and two civilians were killed when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle attacked a checkpoint on the outskirts of Lahore. The blast occurred on Wednesday in Raiwind, a town near the eastern Pakistani city, and was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) armed group. More than a dozen other people were wounded in the explosion, which took place close to a police post set up near the grounds where a religious congregation was taking place. ‘The police appear to be the target,’ Deputy Inspector General Haider Ashraf told local media. In a tweet, Punjab province's government ‘strongly condemned’ the attack.”

Yemen

The Washington Post: Mattis Asks Congress Not To Restrict U.S. Support For Saudi Bombing In Yemen

“Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made a personal appeal to Congress on Wednesday not to restrict the United States’ support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, as the sponsors of a privileged resolution to end Washington’s involvement announced that the Senate would vote on the matter next week. In a letter sent to congressional leaders Wednesday and obtained by The Washington Post, Mattis wrote that restricting military support the United States is providing to the Saudi-led coalition ‘could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counterterrorism, and reduce our influence with the Saudis — all of which would further exacerbate the situation and humanitarian crisis.’ He urged Congress not to impose restrictions on the ‘noncombat,’ ‘limited U.S. military support’ being provided to Saudi Arabia, which is ‘engaging in operations in its legitimate exercise of self-defense.’”

Al Jazeera: A Yemeni's Harrowing Journey Through The 'Gate Of Tears'

“With just the clothes on his back and $7 to his name, Abdullah Muhammad says it's a ‘miracle’ he managed to make it out of Yemen alive. Standing in the blistering heat of a parched, dusty road in Obock, the holes in his jeans and sweat dripping from his worn-out shirt are the only visible signs of the gruelling seven-day journey he made to reach safety. The ferocious sandstorms that routinely ravage the small port town are a welcome change from the gunfire and air strikes that decimated his hometown, he says. But with his mind still preoccupied with the safety of the family and friends he left behind, he's unsure of what to do next.”

Al Arabiya: Yemen Security Forces Seize Shipment Of Weapons On Its Way To The Houthis

“Yemeni security forces seized a shipment of weapons on their way to the Houthi militia in Sanaa on Wednesday. Security sources revealed that one of the security forces at a check point, in Marib province east of Sanaa seized the shipment. The weapons ranged from missile launchers, Kalashnikovs, explosives, which were hidden carefully in a large truck. Yemeni security services in Marib (east of Sanaa), seized more than once shipments of weapons and military equipment on the way to the Iran backed Houthi militia.”

Lebanon

Saudi Gazette: How Iran Finances Hezbollah

“Hezbollah is the ‘righteous son’ of the Iranian Revolution in the context of the Iranian attempt to export the revolution. Its birth was attained by the Iranian ambassadors in Syria, Ali Mohtashami and Mohammad Hasan Akhtari, the latter of whom stated: ‘Hezbollah, Hamas, and the (Islamic) Jihad are the legitimate sons of the Iranian revolution.’ Since its establishment in the early 1980s, the main financial support for Hezbollah has come from Iran. Although Hezbollah later tried to rely on other means of (self)-financing, such as money laundering and drugs, financial support from Iran has remained the backbone of both its domestic and its overseas operations. For example, Iran’s annual financial support of Hezbollah reached $60-100 million, i.e. $5-10 million per month as estimated by Western diplomats and Lebanese analysts, in 2002. Some estimations placed this figure as high as $200 dollars. As a result of the 2006 war, the sum was increased to $200-300 million, part of which was to be spent on reconstruction. In January 2008, Waleed Fares, director of the Project of the Future of Terrorism, a colleague from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that Iranian financial support to Hezbollah jumped from $400 million to $1 billion a year in 2008. ‘This rise shall enable Hezbollah to eliminate any opposition from inside Lebanon and to engage in operations targeting Western democracies and the moderate Arabs around the world,’ he added.”

Middle East

The New York Times: How A Ransom For Royal Falconers Reshaped The Middle East

“The V.I.P. terminal of Baghdad International Airport is a clean and quiet place, about a quarter-mile removed from the noise and squalor of the main arrivals-and-departures hall. If you have the right connections and $150 — American dollars only — you can wait for your flight in comfort on one of the soft white leather couches, sipping an espresso and getting a close-up view of some of the colorful people who run today’s Middle East. On a typical afternoon, your fellow passengers may include Iranian-trained guerrillas and death-squad veterans who have grown rich on embezzlement. If you stay long enough, gulf oil barons may glide by with their white-robed entourages, perhaps brushing past Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen in uniform or diplomats from Turkey or Russia, all of them hoping to bully or bribe Iraq’s weak state to their own preferred shape. Everyone is welcome as long as you speak the language of money. On the wall above you are wide-screen TVs and a stylized mural of ancient Iraq, so that you can compare today’s catastrophes with those of yesteryear. Before you leave, a customs official in a dark suit will take your ticket and passport and then return 10 minutes later, smiling obsequiously and extending your stamped documents with both hands.”

Africa

The Washington Post: The Tragedy Of Secretary Tillerson’s Last Trip To Africa

“Turns out Rex Tillerson’s voyage to Africa was the trip of no return. His tenure as secretary of state is finally ending, but with a whimper. His last hurrah as the top U.S. diplomat came in the form of a half-baked tour to Djibouti, Kenya, Chad, Nigeria and Ethiopia — all key U.S. allies on security and counter-terrorism. He got sick in Kenya and called off the day’s activities. He then cut short the Nigeria portion of the trip in order to come home to Washington on Tuesday to the news that President Trump had fired him and seeks to replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. So what was the point of it all? Couldn’t he have just stayed home and sent Africa an email?  From an optics perspective, the administration no doubt needed to do something to soften the blow of President Trump’s ‘shithole countries’ remarks (though Tillerson sidestepped the issue at news conferences), as well as address Trump’s nonsensical travel ban on Chad, which fields one of the most dependable fighting forces in West Africa in the fight against Boko Haram. Ultimately, many Africans in the countries he visited were unimpressed.”

Egypt

Al Arabiya: Bodies Of 21 Coptic Christians Beheaded By ISIS To Return To Egypt

“Three years after 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians were kidnapped and executed by ISIS militants in the city of Sirt in Libya, the Libyan attorney general, Siddiq Soor, agreed to return the bodies upon the request of Egypt’s public prosecutor. According to local media sources, the head of the Interrogations Office said that Libyan authorities received the request from Egypt’s public prosecutor through the Libyan foreign ministry. He added that the bodies were presented to forensics and DNA samples were taken. A committee from the foreign affairs and attorney general’s office met with the Egyptian public prosecutor and handed him the forensic samples that were taken from the bodies in order for them to be identified with the victims’ families. He confirmed that the bodies will be returned to Egypt, and that there are serious efforts in making sure that happens. The killings, documented in a grisly video released online by the extremists in 2015, shocked Egypt and led it to launch punitive airstrikes.”

Nigeria

Reuters: Update 2-Nigeria's Buhari Says No Rest Until Last Kidnapped Girl Released

“Nigeria’s president told the parents of 110 abducted schoolgirls on Wednesday he had ordered all military and security agencies to search for them, in his first visit to their home town since suspected Islamist militants took them a month ago. Muhammadu Buhari - who made security a cornerstone of his 2015 election win and could face voters again next year - promised a rennewed offensive against Boko Haram militants and defended his government’s record on limiting their territory. ‘I’ve directed the army, air force, police, DSS and the rest of the security agencies to find the girls wherever they are,’ he said at the start of tour of security hotspots across Nigeria. Security has become a politically charged issue with less than a year until the next election, scheduled for February 2019. Buhari has not said if he will seek a second term. The attack on the town of Dapchi in Yobe state on Feb. 19 was the biggest mass abduction since Boko Haram took more than 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in 2014.”

The Guardian Nigeria: Concentrate On Herders, Boko Haram, South East Group Tells IGP

“A non-profitable organisation, Igbo Ekunie Initiative (IEI), has enjoined the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, and the entire force to go after terrorist groups like herdsmen and Boko Haram instead of feasting on vigilantes. According to the group, the IGP had failed to acknowledge that vigilance groups had recognition in Anambra, Enugu, Imo and Abia states owing to the security they provide to the people. The president, Maazi Tochukwu Ezeoke, in a statement, condemned the IGP’s directive to the Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Garba Umar, ordering individuals and groups to disarm within 21 days.”

Russia

Newsweek: Russian Intelligence Says Foreigners Were Arrested For Allegedly Recruiting People To Fight For ISIS

“Police and federal agents arrested 60 foreigners in Moscow for allegedly helping people migrate from Central Asia to fight with ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Russian intelligence services announced Tuesday. Intelligence officials said that 17 addresses had been raided and three laboratories found producing forged documents, seals and stamps to help people cross borders illegally. Law enforcement also discovered a collection of foreign passports and Russian migration cards. Sixty people have been detained and accused of forming part of what Russian intelligence called an ‘ethnic criminal group’ organized to send support to Syria and Iraq. It is unclear which countries the 60 suspects came from, but many are suspected to be from the Central Asia region. Russia has become the world’s top exporter of foreign fighters to ISIS, according to a report released last year by the security consultancy the Soufan Group. The report claimed that around 3,417 people had left Russia to fight with ISIS. Many of the fighters from Russia came from the northern Caucasus region, which has several Muslim-majority republics, including Chechnya.”

Malaysia

The Diplomat: Where Is Malaysia’s New Counterterrorism Center In Its Islamic State Fight?

On Tuesday, a Malaysian official disclosed a few more specifics about one of Malaysia’s newly established counterterrorism centers. Though the details certainly helped shed more light on the new counter-messaging center’s activities, it also belies the significant challenges that remain for it as well as Malaysia’s broader terror fight. As I have noted before, as Malaysia has confronted the threat of terrorism in recent years with the Islamic State’s presence, it has set up a number of centers in this fight (See: ‘ASEAN’s Post-Marawi Islamic State Fight’). These include the regional counter-messaging center Malaysia has been trying to set up with assistance from the United States known as the Regional Digital Counter-Messaging Communication Center (RDC3) and the Counter-Messaging Center (CMC) run by the Royal Malaysian Police (See: ‘Malaysia’s New Terror Centers in its Islamic State War’). The CMC, established in May 2016 but only functioning months later, was designed to counter messaging by radical elements. Though Malaysian officials had previously indicated that CMC had begun operating and was working with other bodies such as the RDC3 to coordinate efforts for information-sharing with outside actors such as Interpol, they had offered few specifics regarding what exactly it had accomplished and how success was being measured.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Parsons Green: Tube Bomb Accused 'Moved By Hatred Of UK'

“The man accused of the Parsons Green Tube bombing was moved by ‘anger and hatred’ when he planted the explosives, the Old Bailey has heard. Prosecutor Alison Morgan said Ahmed Hassan blamed the UK for his father's death in Iraq and he ‘left nothing to chance’ in the attack's planning. His actions were ‘designed to cause death and destruction,’ she said. Mr Hassan, 18, denies attempted murder and causing an explosion likely to endanger life on 15 September 2017. He told his mentor college lecturer Kayte Cable that it was his ‘duty to hate Britain,’ the court heard. He had also told the Home Office he had been ‘trained to kill’ by the so-called Islamic State group, when he claimed asylum in 2016. In his evidence on Wednesday, he said that was a lie and he only wanted to cause a fire and not an explosion by planting the device on the Tube train.”

BBC News: Banff Man Connor Ward Convicted Of Planning Terrorism Attacks

“A 25-year-old man from Banff has been convicted of planning terrorism attacks. Connor Ward had denied breaching the Terrorism Act, and faced trial at the High Court in Edinburgh charged with conduct which showed his intention to commit acts of terrorism. The jury heard he acquired components for potential bombs and kept a list of Scottish mosque addresses. Sentence was deferred after the verdict following a five-week trial. Ward, a former psychiatric patient, claimed he was suffering from mental illness at the time he downloaded the documents. He was previously jailed for three years in 2012 after admitting explosives charges in connection with an incident which saw people evacuated from their homes. Judge Lord Burns adjourned sentence on Ward to the High Court in Glasgow on 11 April to obtain reports on his character. Ward acquired hundreds of ball bearings which could be used in pipe bombs and rocket tubes which could be used to fire projectiles. Police discovered that Ward had downloaded tens of thousands of documents from the internet on firearms and survival techniques.”

Europe

Al Jazeera: Hungary Sentences Refugee To Seven Years For 'Terror'

“A Hungarian court has convicted a Syrian refugee of ‘complicity in an act of terror’ and given him a sentence of seven years' imprisonment and a 10-year expulsion from Hungary. The refugee, referred to as Ahmed H in court proceedings, was also convicted on Wednesday of ‘illegal entry as part of a mass riot.’ The charges stem from an incident on the Hungary-Serbia border in 2015, when a group of asylum-seekers tried to enter EU territory at the Roszke crossing, near the Hungarian city of Szeged. ‘After more than two and a half years behind bars, this absurd decision comes as a devastating blow for Ahmed, his wife, and his two young daughters,’ Eda Seyhan, Amnesty International's campaigner on counterterrorism in Europe, said in an email to Al Jazeera.”

Euractiv: Terrorist Threat Still Looms Over Europe, Europol Expert Warns

“The threat of terrorism ‘has not diminished and still persists’ in Europe, despite the loss of Islamic State territories in Syria and Iraq, according to the head of Europol’s Counter Terrorism Centre, Manuel Navarrete. EURACTIV’s partner Euroefe reports. ‘In Europe, we continue to be very vigilant. The threat is significant and takes many forms. We are talking about more than 20 incidents in 2017, from well-planned attacks such as in Barcelona and Manchester to less prepared ones,’ Navarrete said in an interview at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague (Netherlands). The colonel from the Guardia Civil (the Spanish police force) has been at the helm of the European Counter Terrorism Centre since January 2016, and his department works to ‘strengthen (the EU’s) response to terror.’”

Counter-Terrorism

Asharq Alawsat: Pakistan Appropriates Funds Of Terrorist Groups

“Pakistani officials have revealed that the Pakistani government has appropriated 148 offices and buildings of the {militant} Jamaat-Ud Daawah and its affiliates in the territory of Punjab. It has also put its hands on the properties and assets of the group in Azad Kashmir. According to a senior official at the Pakistani Interior Ministry, "All the properties of {Jamaat-Ud} Daawah and its charitable arm (Falah Humanitarian Foundation) were appropriated in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, in addition to 148 offices in Punjab province, as part of the government's recent measures against the two groups." The Interior Ministry official delivered this announcement to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security. According to the officials, the government took control of the assets of the two groups, including hospitals and clinics, and the Pakistan Red Crescent was informed of receiving seven ambulances belonging to these groups.”

Baladna Elyoum: Expert: Intellectual Terrorism Is Worse Than Armed Terrorism

“Addressing the "Terrorism hazards, their countering mechanism, and youth issues" forum that was held at the Culture & Science City in Egypt, Mahmoud Faisal, a crisis management specialist and Egypt Air pilot, urged students to be optimistic and not to surrender to terrorism. The expert emphasized that the {combined} hazards are more numerous and diverse than the ones associated with terrorism alone. He stressed that intellectual terrorism is more dangerous than the armed kind. He further noted that terrorism has no state, color or religion. On his part, security specialist General Hassan Sharif stated that all of the world's countries are suffering from terrorism. Thanks to the efforts of the Egyptian army and police forces, the volume of terrorism has dropped significantly in Egypt. The exception is its ongoing presence in Sinai region, though on a small scale, Sharif noted.”

ISIS

Aljarida: Algerian Security Probes ISIS Recruitment Of Teens Via Facebook

“The security forces of the Algerian Guelma Province have opened an investigation into the disappearance of three teenagers aged under 16, since last Friday. Sources close to the families of the missing teenagers claimed that the boys had, most likely, been recruited by ISIS via Facebook. The same sources estimate that the runaway boys crossed the nearby Tunisian border {heading} toward Libya to join the terrorist organization. They also said that separate notices in this regard were sent to the local police by the families.”

Muslim Brotherhood

Sout Al-Omma: Egyptian Presidential Candidate Accuses Muslim Brotherhood Of Spending Large Sums On Peddling "Poisonous Propaganda"

“Dr. Adel Esmat, election campaign spokesperson of the Egyptian presidential candidate Moussa Mostafa, stated that the recently launched harsh attacks against Moussa in the media are, first and foremost, aimed at undermining the presidential elections and tarnishing the state's image. Dr. Esmat noted that Muslim Brotherhood's fugitive leaders abroad are trying to depict Mostafa as a " Comparsa" or dummy candidate. The electoral campaign spokesperson emphasized that the Egyptians are well aware of the role played by the banned Islamic movement's figures, who fled to Turkey and Qatar. Those fugitive leaders have funneled large sums of money for promotion of their "poisonous" propaganda through their media outlets, with the aim of demoralizing the Egyptian people and discouraging them from taking part in the upcoming election, he noted.”

Houthi

Sahwa Net: Houthi Group Confiscates Revenues From Hajjah Province

“Houthi militants in Hajjah province have confiscated over YR53 million ($212,000) in tax revenues during the first two months of this year. An official source at the province's tax office disclosed that during January and February the revenues of cash payment taxes in Hajjah province amounted to YR53.81 million, an increase of YR30.64 million (approx. $120k) or 132% compared to the same period last year.”