Eye on Extremism: March 4, 2019

The New York Times: IS Militants Hiding Behind Civilians, Slowing Syria Attack

“U.S.-backed Syrian fighters battling Islamic State militants in their last foothold in Syria said they were forced to slow down their push on Monday because the extremists are using civilians as human shields. But despite the slowing, Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, tweeted that the battle to retake Baghouz, the last territory in Syria held by the Islamic State group, was "going to be over soon." The U.S.-backed forces resumed their offensive on Baghouz last Friday, after a two-week pause to allow for the evacuation of civilians. Retaking the sliver of land would be a milestone in the devastating four-year campaign to end IS' self-proclaimed "caliphate" that once straddled a vast territory across both Syria and Iraq.”

USA Today: Facebook, YouTube And Social Media Are Failing Society. Pull Their Ads Until They Change

“Social media companies have failed us. How do we fix an industry that has proven that it is unwilling or unable to govern itself? We have tried scathing exposes in the media, #deleteFacebook, congressional hearings, and legislative relief. These efforts have not been enough. Even after years of repeated and spectacular failures on the part of the titans of tech, each week brings a new revelation of even deeper and more troubling problems in the industry. It’s time to hit them where it hurts: the bottom line.”

AMN: New Report Inadvertently Reveals Iranian Forces Along Israeli Front-Lines In Syria

“A new report from the Syrian Republican Guard revealed this week that several of the casualties from the Israeli attack this month on the Al-Quneitra Governorate were, in fact, Iranian soldiers. According to the Syrian Republican Guard, five of the recovered corpses from the Israeli attack on the military garrison in western Al-Quneitra were found to be the remains of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) personnel that were positioned near the border of the occupied Golan Heights. Thanks to DNA evidence, the Syrian military was able to confirm that the soldiers in western Al-Quneitra were from the IRGC; they have since begun the process of returning the bodies to Iran. While the DNA evidence helped confirm the identity of the soldiers, it also inadvertently revealed that the Iranian forces were still present along the border with the Israeli occupied Golan Heights.”

Arab Weekly: UK Bans Hezbollah, Designates It As Terrorist Group

“Being a member or inviting support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah became illegal March 1 in the United Kingdom, carrying a possible prison sentence of up to 10 years. The move came after UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid formally designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) commended the decision, describing the idea that there is a difference between Hezbollah’s military and political wing as a “fiction” and calling on other European countries to take a similar stance. “Until the rest of Europe comes to this realisation and takes action similar to the UK’s, Hezbollah will be free to spread its ideological and financial tentacles across the European Union and use those proceeds to strangle freedom and democracy in Lebanon,” a statement from CEP said.”

The National: What Can The West Do With Its Nationals Who Joined ISIS?

“As ISIS fighters and their families gather in makeshift camps in eastern Syria, the international community is grappling with the dilemma of what to do with 850 men and a few thousand women accused of loyalty to a group responsible for genocide and war crimes. Western countries have adopted different approaches but none appear willing to take their own radicalised nationals home. Hans-Jakob Schindler, Senior Director at the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) and special adviser to Unitad, said the investigative team in Baghdad could be used by Western countries to hand down a sentence to their nationals on home turf in a way that is fair, effective and that minimises the risk of losing tracks of their whereabouts. "If you have an individual who comes back and you cannot prove that individual joined ISIS, there is someone [from Unitad] in Iraq right now who will collect the evidence in a manner that is compatible and admissible with European courts – all you need to do is ask," he said. Mr Schindler said that Western countries "have the tools to manage the risk” of taking their nationals back.”

The Guardian: Revealed: Facebook’s Global Lobbying Against Data Privacy Laws

“Facebook has targeted politicians around the world – including the former UK chancellor, George Osborne – promising investments and incentives while seeking to pressure them into lobbying on Facebook’s behalf against data privacy legislation, an explosive new leak of internal Facebook documents has revealed. The documents, which have been seen by the Observer and Computer Weekly, reveal a secretive global lobbying operation targeting hundreds of legislators and regulators in an attempt to procure influence across the world, including in the UK, US, Canada, India, Vietnam, Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia and all 28 states of the EU. The documents include details of how Facebook: Lobbied politicians across Europe in a strategic operation to head off “overly restrictive” GDPR legislation. They include extraordinary claims that the Irish prime minister said his country could exercise significant influence as president of the EU, promoting Facebook’s interests even though technically it was supposed to remain neutral.”

United States

USA Today: Hoda Muthana Married Into ISIS. Is She Still American?

“A federal court on Monday will begin hearing the case of Hoda Muthana, a woman who secretly fled Alabama in 2014 to marry an Islamic State fighter in Syria and is now seeking to return to the United States with her 18-month-old son.  The Trump administration has barred Muthana, 24, and her son from returning to the U.S., contesting her claim to U.S. citizenship in a move that, if successful, could have serious and far-reaching implications for American citizens all over the world.  Her father, Ahmed Ali Muthana, a former diplomat at the United Nations for Yemen who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, filed the lawsuit earlier this month seeking to overturn the Trump administration's characterization of her as someone who was never an American citizen in the first place, thus denying her right to re-enter the country. Muthana joined the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, after telling her parents she was going to Atlanta as part of a field trip connected with her studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Instead, she withdrew from college and used her tuition reimbursement to purchase a plane ticket to Turkey. She traveled from there to Syria. In Syria, she twice married ISIS fighters who later died in combat.”

Voice Of America: Some See Precedent In IS Bride's Bid To Return To US

“A U.S. government decision this month to deny an American-born Islamic State bride's request to return home has renewed debate over the fate of American citizens who have traveled to join IS in Iraq and Syria, with some experts saying the case could set a precedent for preventing U.S. citizens who joined jihadists from returning home. "It is certainly possible that the administration could use this case as a precedent to bar other U.S. citizens who became foreign fighters from returning, but I cannot speculate further until the legal case plays out," said Josh Lipowsky, a senior research analyst at the Counter Extremism Project.”

The Washington Post: Neo-Nazi Group’s Leader Is Black Man Who Vows To Dissolve It

“One of the nation’s largest neo-Nazi groups appears to have an unlikely new leader: a black activist who has vowed to dismantle it. Court documents filed Thursday suggest James Hart Stern wants to use his new position as director and president of the National Socialist Movement to undermine the Detroit-based group’s defense against a lawsuit. The NSM is one of several extremist groups sued over bloodshed at a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Stern’s filing asks a federal court in Virginia to issue a judgment against the group before one of the lawsuits goes to trial. Stern replaced Jeff Schoep as the group’s leader in January, according to Michigan corporate records. But those records and court documents say nothing about how or why Stern got the position. His feat invited comparisons to the recent Spike Lee movie “BlacKkKlansman” in which a black police officer infiltrates a branch of the Ku Klux Klan.”

Bloomberg: U.S. Renews Pressure On Europe Over ISIS Fighters Held In Syria

“The U.S. will keep pressing its European allies to take back citizens caught fighting for Islamic State in Syria if they’re released, National Security Adviser John Bolton said. The fate of the estimated 800 to 1,000 captives taken by Kurdish militias in northeastern Syria has been a sore point since President Donald Trump tweeted in February that the U.K., France, Germany and other European countries should “take back over 800 ISIS fighters” or “we will be forced to release them.”  Asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” whether the U.S. would put captured fighters on trial, Bolton said, “It’s a possibility, but we’re not eager to simply pick up that responsibility. We think that others have the responsibility, too, and that’s the approach we’re taking.” The U.S. is seeking to conclude a deal on the region’s status partly so the captives could remain imprisoned in northeastern Syria “for the foreseeable future,” Bolton said in the first of three scheduled television interviews on Sunday.”

CBS News: Bolton Says “ISIS Bride” Seeking Return To U.S. Needs To Show Evidence Of Citizenship

“White House national security adviser John Bolton said on “Face the Nation” Sunday that Hoda Muthana, who was born in New Jersey and left the U.S. to marry an ISIS fighter in Syria, needs to provide evidence of U.S. citizenship in her ongoing efforts to return home. The State Department has said Muthana is not a U.S. citizen and won't be allowed back in the country. Margaret Brennan: I want to ask you on another topic about this American, Hoda Muthana, an ISIS bride, born in New Jersey, living in Alabama before she went to live within the Caliphate. She told CBS that she is a U.S. citizen, that she traveled to Syria on an American passport. Why not have her face the consequences of her actions in a U.S. court? Ambassador Bolton: My understanding is that she is not a U.S. citizen. That's the take of the State Department at this point. Margaret Brennan: Well, they issued her passport. Ambassador Bolton: You know, look, all I can say is, what I've been informed and that's the position we take. But you know, just as a general proposition, Americans can renounce their citizenship by their words and by their actions aligning with foreign powers. I think you have to look at each case on its own. And if she's got evidence of citizenship, she needs to present it. We'll take a look it.”

Syria

Reuters: Islamic State Deploys Car Bombs In Defense Of Last Enclave

“Islamic State unleashed car bombs against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) assaulting Baghouz, in a last-ditch effort to stave off defeat in its final patch of territory, fighters from the U.S.-backed force said on Sunday. Capturing the besieged village in eastern Syria will be a milestone in international efforts to roll back the jihadists, whose self-styled “caliphate” covered roughly a third of Syria and Iraq at its height in 2014. But it is universally accepted that the group, which has been in territorial retreat since then and suffered its major defeats in 2017, will remain a security threat as an insurgent force with sleeper cells and some remote pockets of territory. The SDF had said it expected a “decisive battle” on Sunday after advancing gradually for 18 hours to avoid landmines sown by Islamic State (IS), whose fighters are also using underground tunnels to stage ambushes and then disappear.”

Al Jazeera: Rebels Attack Syrian Army Posts To Avenge Civilian Deaths

“Fighters of the Ansar al-Tawheed rebel group launched attacks against Syrian army posts in northwestern Syria, which they said killed at least 25 soldiers to avenge civilian deaths during recent army shelling. Rebels of the Turkey-backed mainstream Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions told the Reuters news agency that dozens of rebels belonging to Ansar al-Tawheed attacked two major army checkpoints near the village of Masasneh in northern Hama province in a dawn attack on Sunday. The army said in a statement that "a number of" its soldiers had been killed in attacks by "terrorists" and that bad weather had made the attacks easier. Syrian state television showed several corpses, which Ansar al-Tawheed rebels said were the bodies of their suicide squads who had caught army troops off guard in an area close to the opposition-held territory.”

Reuters: Ten Islamic State Members Executed By Rival Jihadists In Northwest Syria

“Ten members of Islamic State were summarily executed in Syria's Idlib province on Saturday by Tahrir al-Sham, according to Ebaa News Agency, a news outlet that supports the rival jihadist alliance. Ebaa said the executions were in response to an Islamic State suicide bomb attack at a restaurant in Idlib a day earlier. Although Islamic State and the groups that make up Tahrir al-Sham, including al Qaeda's former affiliate the Nusra Front, subscribe to hardline jihadist ideology, they have opposed each other for years. Islamic State has lost virtually all its territory to the Syrian army, backed by Russia, Iran and Shi'ite Muslim militias, and a rival campaign by Kurdish and Arab groups in the north supported by the United States. Ebaa quoted Anis al-Shami, a security official from Tahrir al-Sham, saying that the executions “today at the scene of the crime are fair punishment which might deter them and wake them from their stupor”. It published images showing masked gunmen in fatigues firing handguns at the heads of 10 bearded men who sat in front of them on the pavement. Reuters could not independently verify the agency's report. Tahrir al-Sham is the main jihadist group in northwest Syria, with a large armed presence throughout Idlib including along the Turkish border.”

Politico: Islamic State Fighters Make Last Stand

“Islamic State militants are desperately fighting to hang on to the last tiny piece of territory they hold on the riverside in eastern Syria, deploying snipers, guided missiles and surprise tunnel attacks. The resistance prompted a fierce pounding Sunday by the U.S-led coalition and its ground allies in their final push to end the extremist group’s territorial hold. Rings of black smoke billowed over the besieged speck of land still controlled by the group in the village of Baghouz, after airstrikes hit several targets. Mortar rounds from a hill overlooking a tent encampment where the militants are still holed up rang into the night. The U.S.-backed force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces resumed an offensive to recapture the area in Baghouz on Friday night, after a two-week pause to allow for the evacuation of civilians from the area. Retaking the sliver of land would be a milestone in the devastating four-year campaign to end IS’ self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate that once straddled vast territory across Syria and Iraq. The group continues to be a threat, however, with sleeper cells in scattered desert pockets along the porous border between the two countries. Bottom of Form SDF commanders estimate that hundreds of fighters remain in Baghouz, taking cover in tunnels and trenches.”

The Guardian: The Caliphate Is A Hellscape Of Smoke And Fire – ISIS Has Nowhere Left To Go

“There is a flash of light in the dark town as an airstrike hits an Islamic State weapons depot. A few seconds later, a ball of flame engulfs the entire neighbourhood. The sonic boom sends shockwaves through Baghuz, shaking the ground miles away, and for a second everything and everyone is stunned into silence. Then the artillery fire starts up again. Five years after Isis swept across Syria and Iraq, all that remains of the “caliphate” that at its peak stretched across two countries and controlled 10 million people is a handful of streets in a bend of the Euphrates river running through this desert town, which will be retaken in the next few days. Trapped from the east and the west by advancing Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and by the Syrian regime and Russia on the other side of the river, the caliphate is a hellscape of smoke and fire. There is nowhere left for the fighters to go. The US-led coalition is making up for lost time in the fight to drive Isis out of its last stronghold. After a 10-day truce to evacuate women and children from the town, the offensive restarted this weekend at a tempo not seen even in the major battles for the cities of Mosul and Raqqa. Isis snipers, suicide bombs and heat-seeking rockets are preventing the SDF from making gains on the ground during daylight.”

Al Jazeera: Chlorine Likely Used In Attack On Syria Town Douma, Says OPCW

“The global chemical weapons watchdog has concluded that chlorine was likely used in an attack on the Syrian town of Douma last April. Inspectors at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Friday that a "toxic chemical" containing chlorine was used in the attack on the town, at the time held by rebels but besieged by pro-government forces. The attack on April 7, 2018, killed dozens of civilians and prompted air raids against the Syrian government by Britain, France, and the United States. Washington blamed the Syrian government and said it had used chemical weapons. Damascus denies having ever used chemical weapons. During an investigation in mid-April, inspectors from the OPCW visited two sites in Douma to interview witnesses and take samples, which have been analysed in OPCW-affiliated national laboratories. The investigation did not assign blame, but the information gathered provided "reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon has taken place on 7 April 2018.”

Sky News: Defeating IS In Syria May Not Mean The End Of The Terror Group

“In the queues of fighters and their families who have left the town of Baghuz - the last IS territory in Syria - it's clear some fled out of need rather than desire. A mother says: “I want to continue my pilgrimage and jihad (holy war) but I left Baghuz because of my injured daughter.” In other words, smashing Islamic State's territorial control of a vast swathe of Iraq and Syria doesn't necessarily equal the death of the group. That's the trouble - Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have landed at more than the precipice of a simple victory. For a start they are dealing with tens of thousands of people who bring with them not just medical needs after years of neglect in the IS caliphate. Each man and woman is being searched and assessed. You can pick through their possessions to see if there is an overt security risk but asserting control over people's minds isn't as simple. IS sleeper cells have staged a campaign of kidnappings and killings to undermine the Baghdad government in Iraq. The group is also thought to be behind bombings in northeastern Syria - controlled by US-backed Kurdish forces - including an attack that killed four Americans in January. The fate of the IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi also remains a mystery.”

ABC News Australia: New Zealand Jihadist Mark Taylor Captured In Syria And Jailed In Kurdish Prison

“A New Zealander serving with the Islamic State group has been captured in Northern Syria and is being held in a Kurdish prison. Nicknamed the Kiwi Jihadi, Mark Taylor told the ABC he fled the Islamic State group in December and surrendered to Kurdish forces because life had become unbearable. “There was no food, no money, basic services were pretty much collapsed. I was in a pickle myself and had to make a final decision, which was to leave,” Taylor said. For five years he lived with the extremist group but claims he wasn't a fighter and was only deployed as a guard. “I was helping to guard a border between the Syrian Government and the Islamic State,” he said. “There's a difference between fighting and guarding. Guarding you don't need to plan anything; attacking you need to make preparations. “Every two hours on a 24 hour basis, you have to guard a particular area.” In 2015, the US Government declared Taylor a global terrorist after he encouraged attacks in Australia and New Zealand and appeared in an IS propaganda video. He also posted a YouTube video telling followers to “commence your operations, even if it means you have to stab a few police officers, soldiers on Anzac Day and so be it.” In 2009, he was arrested in Pakistan for trying to gain access to Al Qaeda.”

Iran

Radio Farda: Iran Says British Hezbollah Ban 'Irresponsible'

“Iran condemned Britain's decision to outlaw the political wing of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement on Saturday, describing it as “wrong and irresponsible.” Britain said Monday it would seek to make membership of the Shiite movement or inviting support for it a crime. The decision followed outrage over the display of the Hezbollah flag, which features a Kalashnikov assault rifle, at pro-Palestinian demonstrations in London. “Iran considers Hezbollah a legitimate and legal force which plays an effective and undeniable role in helping its country's political stability and safeguarding its security,” the foreign ministry said on its website. “[It] considers the decision to place Hezbollah on a terrorism blacklist to be wrong and irresponsible and one which will not contribute to the stability and security of Lebanon.” Hezbollah was established in 1982 during the Lebanese civil war and fought a 2006 war with Israel. It is also a major force in the country's politics, holding three cabinet posts. Britain blacklisted Hezbollah's military wing in 2008 but had until now made no move against its political wing. However, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Monday that any distinction between its military and political wings “does not exist.”

Voice Of America: Report: Iran Forming All-Syrian Militia In Syria

“Iranian military advisers in Syria are reportedly forming a new militia in the country under their supervision with the aim of boosting an Iranian agenda in the region, a rights group said in a recent report. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor that has researchers across Syria, said in a recent report that Iran has recruited at least 1,200 militiamen from different parts of Syria to form the new military force. Iranian and Syrian officials have been considering the building of such a force for a long time, sources in Iran also said. “This is part of a bill agreed upon between Tehran and Damascus in May 2017,” an Iranian defense reporter, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told VOA. The axis of resistance is a term used by pro-Iranian groups that refers to an ideological-military alliance between Iran, Syria and other Shiite groups, with the goal of countering U.S. and Israeli interests in the region. Since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011, Iran has been a major backer of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has been involved in major battles across the country, providing support to Syrian regime troops against rebel forces.”

Iraq

Mirror Online: ISIS Fighters' Fury Over Leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi 'Hiding In Iraqi Desert'

“ISIS fighters are furious at their 'hidden' leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliphate continues to lose ground. Fighters for the terror cult claim that Baghdadi, aged between 47-48, has 'melted into the desert' rather than take part in their last stand. Coalition forces continue to close in on the last small strongholds of ISIS territory - about half a square mile in the Syrian Euphrates valley - and surrendering soldiers have reportedly spoken of their anger at their leader. Mohammed Ali, a Canadian ISIS fighter captured by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces told The Sunday Times : "He's hiding somewhere. People were angry." The newspaper reports that western officials in the area, along with other local sources, believe Baghdadi is not in the last patch of ISIS territory but instead is in Anbar, a desert province in Iraq.”

The New York Times: Hopes For Missing Yazidis Dim As Islamic State Defeat Looms

“Baseh Hammo was 38 when she was enslaved by militants of the Islamic State group. Raped and abused, she was sold 17 times among members of the so-called “caliphate,” and moved from city to city across a vast stretch of territory IS once controlled in northern Iraq and Syria. Her ordeal came to an end in January in the Syrian village of Baghouz, when an IS member took pity on her as the final battle loomed with U.S.-led Syrian Kurdish forces. He put her on a truck with his own family and allowed them to leave the village. She was picked up by Syrian Kurdish forces and reunited with her two daughters in Iraq a few days later. Yet many Yazidis, followers of a minority faith, are still missing, five years after IS militants stormed Yazidi towns and villages in Iraq’s Sinjar region and abducted women and children. Women were forced into sexual slavery, and boys were taken to be indoctrinated in jihadi ideology. Hopes surged last month during a two-week pause in the U.S.-led coalition’s assault on Baghouz that some of the estimated 3,000 Yazidis still unaccounted for would emerge. But few turned up among the thousands who streamed out of the tiny village. Hussein Karo, who heads the Yazidi Rescue Bureau in Iraq’s regional Kurdish government, said only 47 Yazidis were rescued.”

Iraqi News: Eight Islamic State Terrorists Arrested On Iraqi-Syrian Border – Source

“Eight militants of the terrorist Islamic State group were killed Saturday during a security operation near the Iraqi-Syrian border, a security source was quoted as saying. “Iraqi troops carried out a security operation in the desert areas near Ar-Rutbah and Nukhayb towns in western Anbar to pursuit Islamic State terrorists,” the source told Almaalomah news website. “The operation resulted in the arrest of eight IS extremists,” the source said, adding that the arrestees are implicated in carrying out terrorist attacks against security forces and civilians in Anbar province. Law enforcement acted on precise intelligence data as they made the arrest, added the source. Iraq declared the collapse of Islamic State’s territorial influence in November 2017 with the recapture of Rawa, a city on Anbar’s western borders with Syria, which was the group’s last bastion in Iraq. IS declared a self-styled “caliphate” in a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria in 2014. A government campaign, backed by a U.S.-led international coalition and paramilitary forces, was launched in 2016 to retake IS-held regions, managing to retake all havens, most notably the city of Mosul, the group’s previously proclaimed capital.”

Iraqi News: Iraq: Four Million Displaced People Repatriated Since Islamic State Defeat

“At least four million displaced persons have been repatriated in Iraq since the liberation of Iraqi territories from Islamic State militants in 2017, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration said on Saturday. “Out of 4.4 million displaced persons, four million have safely returned to their homes across Iraq,” Al Ekhbariya TV channel quoted the ministry as saying in a statement. The ministry added that 95,000 families, made up of 465,000 displaced people, are still residing at refugee camps across the nation. According to the statement, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is personally following up the file of the families of Islamic State militants in Iraq and the neighboring countries, and has not issued any directives on that score so far. The United Nations says nearly five million people have been displaced since Islamic State militants took over large areas of Iraq in 2014 to proclaim a self-styled “Islamic Caliphate”. Local and international rights agencies have repeatedly highlighted poor living conditions both at refugee camps and at Islamic State-held areas. IS militants had regularly executed civilians attempting to flee their havens. Officials have also occasionally pointed out that refugees were reluctant to return home due to the severe damage to infrastructure.”

Iraqi News: 3 Islamic State Terrorists Killed While Trying To Infiltrate Into Iraq

“Three Islamic State terrorists were killed Sunday while trying to infiltrate from Syria into the western Iraqi province of Anbar, a security source was quoted as saying. Speaking to Almaalomah news website, the source said that security forces managed to kill the trio before sneaking from the Syrian city of Al-Baghuz into Anbar province. The arrest was made based on accurate intelligence reports, added the source. Iraq declared the collapse of Islamic State’s territorial influence in November 2017 with the recapture of Rawa, a city on Anbar’s western borders with Syria, which was the group’s last bastion in Iraq. IS declared a self-styled “caliphate” in a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria in 2014. A government campaign, backed by a U.S.-led international coalition and paramilitary forces, was launched in 2016 to retake IS-held regions, managing to retake all havens, most notably the city of Mosul, the group’s previously proclaimed capital.”

Iraqi News: US-Led Coalition Destroys Tunnel For ISIS In Anbar

“An official source in Anbar Province informed, on Sunday, that the US-led international coalition warplanes carried out air strikes on an area in Anbar and destroyed a tunnel belonging to the Islamic State group (ISIS) in Maheya Valley in the province. The source said in a statement that the warplanes of the international coalition conducted, at Saturday’s evening, an air strike on Maheya Valley, west of Kabisa and south of Heet. The source, who asked to be anonymous, added that the air strike resulted in the damage of a tunnel used by the Islamic State members as a hideout. It is noteworthy that the security forces, backed by the international coalition and Iraqi aviation, are frequently destroying headquarters belonging to the Islamic State in the areas that were held by them, inflicting heavy human and material damage on the group.”

Al Monitor: Iraqis Divided Over Continued Presence Of American Forces

“As the Islamic State (IS) appears to be losing its last stronghold in Syria, but guerrilla IS cells are cropping up in Iraq, controversy is growing about Iraq's need for foreign forces, especially US ones. One politician even accused the United States of plotting to foster an IS revival. Some 50 Iraqi parliament members submitted a request to the parliament speaker Feb. 19 to discuss and review the 2008 Strategic Framework Agreement between Iraq and the United States, which allows the presence of US forces in Iraq. Iraqi parties close to Iran have escalated their rhetoric against the US presence since US President Donald Trump's statements Feb. 3 on the role his forces play in watching Iran’s moves in the region. Joey Hood, charge d'affaires of the US mission in Iraq, told the media Feb. 19 that the US military presence in Iraq involves only around 5,200 advisers and trainers, and no actual combat troops. But some Iraqis claim there are more US military personnel in the country than that. Jaafar al-Husseini, a spokesman for the Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary group Kata'ib Hezbollah, told Lebanon's Al-Mayadeen news Feb. 18 that the group “is active in the border areas with Syria to follow up on the Americans’ movements.”

Afghanistan

Al Jazeera: US-Taliban Negotiations In Qatar Enter Fifth Day

“Negotiations between the Taliban and the United States officials in Qatar entered the fifth day in an attempt to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. The talks mark the highest level negotiations between the two sides since the US ramped up peace efforts last year. Cofounder of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, has joined the talks as the new head of the Taliban team. He met the US special representative, Zalmay Khalilzad, for the first time on Monday.  Since then, the two men and their respective delegations have been working to hammer out details of a framework agreement reached in six days of negotiations in Doha in January. “We have two core issues. The withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan is a core issue for us. And a core issue for the American side is that the soil of Afghanistan should not be used against the Americans and against its allies,” said Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen as talks entered a second day on Tuesday.  The US has also been asking for a Taliban ceasefire.  “If we do not reach a solution in this round of talks, then we will in the next round of talks, but that is our target,” Shaheen said.  In the latest round of talks, working groups are trying to find formulas that work for both sides.”   

The New York Post: Taliban Target Afghan Army Corps, Killing 23 Soldiers

“Taliban insurgents targeted an Afghan army corps at their camp in southern Helmand province, killing at least 23, officials said Saturday. Omar Zwak, spokesman for the provincial governor, said 16 other troops were wounded in the attack that began Friday and continued into Saturday in Wahser district. Qari Yusouf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said in a statement the insurgent group was responsible for the attack, which came even as Taliban negotiators met for talks with a U.S. peace envoy in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar. He said Taliban fighters engaged both Afghan and foreign forces inside the camp and killed “scores.” Zwak said U.S. advisers were present in the base, but in a separate area. “The foreign forces present at the base were all safe as the Taliban could not reach that part of the compound,” he said. Zwak said the attack began when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at Shorab camp. He said three other suicide bombers also blew themselves up as gunmen followed behind them. Zwak said 16 Taliban gunmen were killed in the fighting. In recent years, the Taliban and the Islamic State group have carried out near-daily attacks in Afghanistan, mainly targeting the government and its security forces.” 

Pakistan

The Independent: US Demands To Know If Pakistan Used F-16 Jet To Shoot Down Indian Warplane Over Kashmir

“The United States is trying to find out if Pakistan potentially violated an international agreement by using a US-built F-16 jet to shoot down an Indian warplane. Pakistan and India both conducted aerial bombing missions last week, including a clash which saw an Indian jet shot down over the disputed region of Kashmir. The US embassy in Islamabad said it was looking into reports that Pakistan used F-16 jets which would be a violation of Washington's military sale agreements that limit how Pakistan can use the planes. "We are aware of these reports and are seeking more information," a US embassy spokesperson said. "We take all allegations of misuse of defence articles very seriously." It is however not clear what exactly these so-called "end-user agreements" restrict Pakistan from doing.”

U.S. News & World Report: In Call With Pakistan's Khan, UK's May Urges Action On Terrorist Groups

“British Prime Minister Theresa May emphasized the importance of Pakistan taking action against all terrorist groups in a call with Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday, May's office said. India and Pakistan came to the brink of war this week as tensions escalated following a suicide car bombing that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in Indian-controlled Kashmir. India accusing Pakistan of harboring the Jaish-e Mohammad group behind the attack, which Islamabad denied. “She welcomed his commitment to reducing tensions with India,” May's office said of the call with Khan. “The leaders discussed the need to address the causes of this conflict. The prime minister emphasized the importance of Pakistan taking action against all terrorist groups, in support of global efforts to combat terrorism.”

Yemen

The National: UK Urges Houthis To Cut Ties With Hezbollah For Lasting Peace In Yemen

“Houthi rebels must cut ties with Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah to ensure that peace prevails in Yemen, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said during his visit to the UAE. The United Nations brokered a deal in December in Sweden between Yemen’s internationally recognised government and the rebels to pull out and redeploy forces around the port city of Hodediah as well as a prisoner exchange. Yemen’s internationally-recognised government blames Iran and Hezbollah for hindering the progress especially as the two sides have yet to implement the plan. “Well Hezbollah has now been prescribed in the UK as a terrorist organisation. They have a presence in Yemen and the Houthis know and we made it clear to the Houthis that influence, that relationship, has to end if there’s going to be a lasting peace,” Mr Hunt told Sky News Arabia on Sunday night. The agreement made in Sweden was intended to pave the way for wider negotiations to end the four-year war but progress has been slow. “It’s now been more than 80 days since that agreement and still we haven’t been able to clear Hodeidah of militias as was agreed in the Stockholm process,” Mr Hunt said. Britain’s top diplomat urged the government and rebels to stand by the Sweden agreement, stating that this is “the best chance we’ve had for peace for 4 years”.

Saudi Arabia

Asharq Al-Awsat: Saudi Interior Minister: Terrorism, Extremism Direct Threats To Entire World

“Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef warned on Sunday that terrorism and extremism pose a direct threat to the entire world. Addressing the 36th round of the Arab Interior Ministers Conference held in Tunis, he said: “We must tirelessly exert efforts to strongly and effectively confront these threats.” These efforts include cutting the financing of terrorist and extremist groups and combating money laundering. The conference was held under the auspices of Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi. Prince Abdulaziz also underscored the need to address illegal immigration, organized crime, border security, drug smuggling, human rights and cyber-crime. Moreover, he warned of the danger of foreign meddling in Arab internal affairs, singling out Iran’s threat to “our countries and societies.” He accused Tehran of seeking to destabilize the region and sow sedition among its people. “I am certain that this conference is aware of this danger and is working diligently to confront it,” he added. The conference was attended by senior security delegations, representatives of the Arab League, Arab Maghreb Union, Gulf Cooperation Council, Arab Red Crescent and Red Cross Organization, International Committee of the Red Cross, Interpol, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and other organizations.”

Radio Free Europe: Saudis Revoke Hamza Bin Laden’s Citizenship

“Saudi Arabia says it has revoked the citizenship of Hamza bin Laden, a son of deceased Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The announcement on March 1 comes a day after the United States said it was offering a $1 million reward for information leading to the “identification or location” of Hamza bin Laden. Riyadh did not provide specifics on why it was stripping bin Laden of his citizenship, but it said it was revoked on February 22. It was only made public now. The Saudis also stripped Osama bin Laden of his citizenship in 1994 while he was living in exile in Sudan. Hamza bin Laden’s location remains a mystery. Speculation has centered on Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran. A U.S. State Department statement on February 28 said he is “emerging as a leader” of the Al-Qaeda terror organization. A 2018 United Nations report highlighted that “Al-Qaeda propaganda continues to highlight a new generation of potential leaders, such as Hamza bin Laden...in an apparent attempt to project a younger image to its sympathizers.” He is believed to be 30 years old. The United States invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 because the Taliban-led government had protected Al-Qaeda and the elder bin Laden, who organized the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people.”

Lebanon

Al Jazeera: Hezbollah: British Ban An Insult To Lebanese People

“Hezbollah has said Britain is acting as “a subordinate that serves the American master” after London decided to ban the group in its entirety last week. Hezbollah's military wing was outlawed by the United Kingdom in 2008. However, now the British government has announced it is proscribing its political arm, too. Any member or supporter of the Iran-backed group will now be treated as a criminal in the UK and could be imprisoned for up to 10 years. Hezbollah responded by saying that the UK's decision to list it as a terrorist organisation was taken so as to fall in line with US policy, which also proscribes Hezbollah in its entirety. On Saturday, Iran said that the decision was “wrong and irresponsible”, and “will not contribute to the stability and security of Lebanon”. In a statement released a day before, Hezbollah also said: “UK's decision is an insult to the feelings, sympathies and will of the Lebanese people that consider Hezbollah a major political and popular force represented in the Lebanese parliament and cabinet.” A militia founded in the 1980s, Hezbollah has become a military force in the region. It displayed its political acumen in the elections held in Lebanon last May by securing a majority in parliament along with its allies.” 

Egypt

Asharq Al-Awsat: Egypt: Trial Of 251 Terrorism Suspects Adjourned

“Egyptian judicial authorities adjourned on Saturday hearings into the appeals of 251 people accused in four terror-related cases. Former presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Aboul Fotouh is among them. The Cairo Criminal Court deferred the trial of 213 accused of belonging to Ansar Beit al-Maqdis to next Saturday. Among the charges is a plot to assassinate former Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Brahmani in 2013. The indictment dealt with more than 54 terrorist crimes including assassinations of officers and the assassination attempt of the former interior minister in addition to the murder of 42 police officers and 15 citizens as well as the injury of 349. Further, the indictment included bombing security facilities in several provinces. The Public Prosecution stated that the defendants “received military training at camps of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (the armed wing of the Palestinian Hamas movement) and that the group’s leader Mohammed Farij Ziadeh had communicated with al-Qaeda operatives and plotted to target ships crossing the Suez Canal, especially those belonging to the United States.”

Nigeria

Reuters: Islamic State Says It Killed 10 Nigerian Soldiers: Amaq

“Islamic State said on Saturday it killed 10 Nigerian soldiers in an attack on Thursday in the country’s northeastern Borno state, but a Nigerian Army spokesman said “no such incident was recorded.”  In a statement issued through its news agency Amaq, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on a village it referred to as Tdmari, near Maiduguri town. It said the attack happened two days ago.    The Nigerian Army spokesman insisted the “situation in the north east has been calm for sometime now. The Nigerian Army is consolidating its efforts and successes are being achieved.”  Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), which split from Islamist group Boko Haram in 2016, has carried out a number of attacks in northeast Nigeria in the last few months. Borno is the state worst hit by Islamist insurgents whose attacks on Nigerian military bases in the last few months made security a key issue in a just concluded presidential election won by incumbent Muhammadu Buhari.”

Somalia

Xinhua: Somali Forces Arrest Three Al-Shabab Militants

“Somali security forces have arrested three al-Shabab militants in the Amniyat, al-Shabab's intelligence wing in an operation in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, officials said on Sunday evening. Mohamed Abdullahi Tulah, deputy mayor for security in the Benadir region told journalists in Mogadishu that three al-Shabab militants were apprehended Sunday in an offensive conducted by Somali national forces in Wadajir district in Somalia's capital. “Our forces nabbed three al-Shabab extremists as they were trying to assassinate female member of electoral delegation committee,” Tulah said. He noted that they will intensify their operations against the extremists. The militants paraded by the government pleaded guilty and asked the people to forgive them. The arrest comes as assassinations in Mogadishu increased. On Feb. 20, militants shot Mohamed Mursal, a Somali deputy attorney general, while on Feb. 24, suspected al-Shabab fighters gunned down Osman Elmi Boqore, a member of federal parliament in Mogadishu's Karan district. On Thursday evening, the al-Qaida linked group al-Shabab launched an attack on Makka Al-Mukarama hotel in the capital, killing at least 36 people and injuring more than 60 others.”

Fox News: US Airstrikes Kill 26 More Al-Shabab Fighters In Somalia

“U.S. airstrikes have killed another 26 members of the al-Shabab extremist group in Somalia, officials said on Friday, in a continuation of recent attacks that had already killed 55 earlier this week. A U.S. Africa Command statement said the latest strike came on Thursday, in the Hiran region of the country. That's the same area where earlier attacks took place, and a known area of al-Shabab activity. The stepped-up U.S. action comes at a time of renewed terror attacks by al-Shabab in Mogadishu, the country's capital. The new strike was announced after more details were revealed about the latest terror attack, which left 24 people killed and another 50 injured. That attack began with a pair of car bombs Thursday night in Mogadishu, in a popular area of the city featuring a number of bars and restaurants. The attack was one of the most serious terror strikes in months. Somali officials said on Friday that those who had carried out the attack had been taken out in gun battles that continued into the morning with the al-Shabab, a group linked to al-Qaeda.  One of the bombs in the attack went off near the home of appeals court chief Judge Abshir Omar, and security forces fought off gunmen who tried to force their way inside.”

Associated Press: Deadly Siege In Somalia’s Capital Ends, Attackers Killed

“A nearly day-long siege in the heart of Somalia’s capital ended with all of the al-Shabab extremist attackers killed, police said Friday, as the death toll was at 24 and expected to climb. Capt. Mohamed Hussein told The Associated Press that an operation to clear the besieged buildings had begun, with bodies found. Two of the dead were soldiers, he said. The overnight attack began with a pair of car bombs exploding in a popular area of Mogadishu where Somalis were relaxing at restaurants and hotels Thursday evening. One went off near the home of appeals court chief Judge Abshir Omar, and security forces fought off gunmen who tried to force their way inside, Hussein said. “We heard a huge blast, a devastating blast that affected all the buildings,” said Mohamed Ibrahim Mo’alim, the secretary general of the national union of Somali journalists. At least four gunmen then opened fire at nearby buildings and businesses, sparking clashes with hotel guards, he said. Dozens of cars caught fire along busy Maka Almukarramah Road.”

Africa

The New York Times: U.S. And Tunisia Are Fighting Militants Together. Just Don’t Ask Them About It.

“Two years ago, American Marines battled Al Qaeda militants in western Tunisia along the border with Algeria. A Marine and a Tunisian soldier were wounded and two other Marines were later commended for their valor in the gunfight. Yet many details of the February 2017 clash remain murky, largely because of the Tunisian government’s political sensitivities over the presence of American forces in its territory. Publicly, American officials will say only that the battle happened in a North African “host” country. The Tunisian authorities have refused to confirm that anything happened at all. Last year, when one of the most detailed accounts of the clash to date surfaced in a report in Task & Purpose, a privately owned American website focused on military and veterans affairs, the Tunisian Ministry of Defense was dismissive. It said the “presence of American troops in Tunisia was only for cooperation and training, not conducting operations.” But in fact, the United States and Tunisia have quietly expanded and deepened their security and counterterrorism ties over the past several years, with some 150 Americans training and advising their Tunisian counterparts in one of the largest missions of its kind on the African continent, according to American officials.”

CNN: US Special Forces Train Troops In African Nation Facing Twin Terror Threat

“In a nation that has been plagued by terror attacks in recent years, a major soccer game represents a prime target. US troops were on hand this week to help oversee a large-scale training exercise in Burkina Faso, where local forces were drilled on how to cope with an attack that could potentially target thousands of fans. CNN was on the ground when the scenario played out on Wednesday with a simulation of an attack at a major downtown stadium complex in the country's capital, Ouagadougou, where the game turned deadly after terrorists stormed the facility, firing their AK-47s into the crowd and shouting as players and spectators fled in panic. Within minutes an elite team of police commandos backed by soldiers arrived on the scene in an armored vehicle, driving through the entrance, taking cover and engaging the terrorists in a lengthy firefight until the attackers were eliminated or captured. Following the firefight a team of investigators arrived to gather evidence in order to help support law enforcement efforts to go after the terrorists. The scenario was designed to present a major test for the Burkinabe units. “It would be a challenge for us,” a US team leader for 3rd Special Forces Group, which was involved in advising Burkinabe forces participating in the exercise, said of the scenario.” 

United Kingdom

Financial Times: UK Grapples With How To Deal With ISIS Returnees

“Grainy CCTV footage from early 2015 shows London schoolgirl Shamima Begum leaving Gatwick airport with two friends to start life with Isis in Syria. Four years later the Islamist terror group’s self-declared caliphate is crumbling and the 19-year-old Ms Begum — after marrying an Isis fighter, and with a newborn son — is stuck in a Syrian refugee camp, desperate to return to the UK. The decision by home secretary Sajid Javid last month to revoke Ms Begum’s British citizenship has unleashed a public debate on the ethics and legality of refusing to let her back into the UK with her baby. But amid the discussion of human rights and state responsibilities, little attention has been paid to what fate will await Ms Begum — and about 400 other Britons recruited by Isis, many as fighters — if they ever manage to return home. Behind the scenes, however, cogs are turning inside the UK government. The Home Office knows that should Ms Begum succeed with a legal appeal against Mr Javid’s decision to revoke her citizenship, the runaway schoolgirl will need an intensive programme of re-integration. Mohammed Elshimi, a researcher at the Royal United Service Institute, a think-tank, said this was the hardest task of all.”

Germany

Deutsche Welle: Germany To Strip 'Islamic State' Fighters' Citizenship — Report

“Germany's governing coalition has agreed to strip fighters of the “Islamic State” (IS) militant group of their citizenship, according to German outlets Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR. The new law would apply to jihadists who are of age, have a second nationality and take part in future battles as part of IS. It would not apply to IS fighters who are currently imprisoned. Germany's Nationality Act already includes a similar rule for dual nationals who join “the armed forces or a comparable armed unit” of another country without the permission of the German Defense Ministry. The new legislation would expand the Nationality Act to apply to someone who “takes part in combat operations abroad for a terrorist militia,” which is defined as an “armed paramilitary organization” that violates international law in order to “establish new state or state structures.” The governing coalition, comprised of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives (CDU/CSU) and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), had pledged to reform the law last year. But disagreements between the CDU/CSU and SPD stopped them from agreeing on a concrete proposal. The head of the CSU in the German Bundestag, Alexander Dobrindt, reportedly accused Justice Minister Katarina Barley from the SPD of delaying the legislation last week.”

Europe

The New York Times: Dutch ISIS Fighter, Husband Of Shamima Begum, Wants To Return Home With Family

“The Dutch husband of Shamima Begum, the teenager who fled Britain to join the Islamic State, has told British news outlets that he wants to return to the Netherlands with his wife and their newborn son. “We should live in Holland,” Ms. Begum’s husband, Yago Riedijk, 27, told the BBC in an interview broadcast on Sunday. He admitted to fighting for the Islamic State, but said he has since rejected the group. He is being held at a Kurdish detention center in northeastern Syria. Ms. Begum, 19, was recently in the Al Hawl refugee camp in northern Syria, but her family’s lawyer said she was forced to move after receiving threats. Mr. Riedijk married Ms. Begum days after she arrived in Syria, when he was 23 and she was 15. They have since had three children, two of whom have died. The third was born last month in the refugee camp, after the couple fled the last remaining Islamic State stronghold in Syria. Mr. Riedijik defended their union. “To be honest, when my friend came and said there was a girl who was interested in marriage, I wasn’t that interested because of her age, but I accepted the offer anyway,” he said. Then the 23-year-old son of a railway engineer, he had grown up in a well-to-do suburb of Arnhem, in the eastern part of the Netherlands.”