Eye on Extremism: March 6, 2019

The Washington Post: To The Bitter End, IS Militants Remain Organized And Brutal

“As final defeat looms, militants of the Islamic State group have remained organized and ruthless to their last breath. Keeping institutions functioning in their last shred of territory in Syria, they are continuing benefits like food and money to supporters while their religious police and fighters still impose their rule of fear and brutality. Refusing to surrender, the militants have tried to squeeze out any last possible gain. Over the past last weeks, they secured the evacuation of more than 10,000 of their exhausted and wounded followers, looking to ensure long-term survival and continued conflict. The militants — many of them foreigners, including Iraqis and Central Asians, along with some Syrian fighters — are now fighting their final battle, holed up in tunnels and caves inside Baghouz, the last village they control. Since Friday, they have put up desperate resistance to renewed pounding by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces aiming to take the tiny pocket on the Euphrates River near the Iraqi border. With no way out, they appear intent to fight to the death, SDF officials say. Around two dozen evacuees described the group’s final days to The Associated Press.”

The Wall Street Journal: U.S.-Backed Forces Are Holding 2,000 Suspected ISIS Fighters In Syria

“U.S.-backed forces in Syria are holding more than 2,000 suspected Islamic State fighters, U.S. defense officials said, at least double previous estimates and an obstacle to Trump administration plans to withdraw American forces from Syria. The new estimate compounds the challenge of relocating the captured Islamic State fighters to their home countries and makes it harder for the U.S.-led coalition to wind down operations in Syria, even after the extremists no longer hold territory. The development puts a greater burden on the U.S., which now may have to help U.S.-allied forces hold the captured Islamic State fighters. The U.S. military estimated last fall that the American-supported Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, was holding 800 foreign fighters from more than 50 countries. The number has increased by hundreds in the past two weeks, American defense officials said, as SDF members reclaimed territory from Islamic State and taken suspected fighters into custody. In addition, defense officials cited another group of at least 1,000 suspected Syrian and Iraqi extremist fighters who are in detention in Syria, a figure not previously disclosed. The actual number of those fighters could be even higher, officials acknowledged.”

Financial Times: Idlib: Russia And Turkey Dig In For A Final Syria Battle

“In the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on Valentine’s Day, President Vladimir Putin welcomed the leaders of Turkey and Iran with tea and biscuits. The topic of their conversation? Idlib. It was not the first time the trio had discussed the Syrian province but Moscow made it clear that it was rapidly running out of patience with its Turkish partner. After eight years of bloodshed that has killed as many as 500,000 people and forced 7.6m from their homes, Idlib, in the north-west of the country is the last bastion of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. It is also the site of a geopolitical showdown — stretching from Ankara to Moscow and Tehran and pulling in Washington — between powerful foreign militaries with opposing ambitions.”

The Independent: British Special Forces Expected To Step Into Counter-Terrorism Vacuum After US Pulls Out Of Afghanistan

“British Special Forces will be asked to play a key role in counter-terrorist operations in Afghanistan under military plans being drawn up by the Pentagon following Donald Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of the country, according to senior defence sources. While US officials are involved in contentious talks about future power sharing with the Taliban, planners in Washington have been putting together a strategic road-map which will meet the president’s demand for withdrawing the vast bulk of the 14,000 US military personnel currently deployed in Afghanistan. Other international forces, numbering around 9,000, will pull out along with the Americans over a time-frame of around three years. There would, however, be US air cover provided for Afghan forces and a smaller US-led force focusing on counter-terrorism against Isis and al-Qaeda fighters. The British Army’s SAS and the Royal Navy’s SBS are expected to be part of the mission, say US and Western military officials.”

Associated Press: Iran Lawyer Convicted After Defending Women Protesters

“A prominent human rights lawyer in Iran who defended protesters against the Islamic Republic’s mandatory headscarves for women has been convicted and faces years in prison, an activist group said Wednesday. The conviction of Nasrin Sotoudeh, who previously served three years in prison for her work, underlines the limits of challenging Iran’s theocracy as it faces economic pressure exacerbated by the U.S. pulling out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. It also highlights the limits of Iran’s civilian government as well, as the administration of President Hassan Rouhani and others have signaled an easing of their concern over the mandatory hijab. It shows “the insecurity the regime has to any peaceful challenge,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, which reported Sotoudeh’s conviction. “It knows a large segment of the country . are fed up with the hijab laws.”

The Wall Street Journal: Silicon Valley Hit With New Digital Tax In France

“The French government on Wednesday introduced a new levy aimed at big tech giants, adding to momentum behind more than a dozen similar measures globally that could collectively cost Silicon Valley companies billions of dollars. The measure, likely the first in a wave of proposed digital-services taxes to be applied in Europe, will apply a 3% tax on French-source revenue that companies like Alphabet Inc.’s Google or Amazon.com Inc. AMZN  reap from specific services like targeted advertising or running a digital marketplace. The new French tax will intensify pressure on the U.S. in a new round of multilateral talks, shepherded by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, about how to overhaul the corporate taxation system for the digital age. France and other European countries want a system that allocates more of Silicon Valley’s profits to their territories for taxation.”

United States

The Hill: GOP Chairman Eyes Move To Lock In Trump's Iran Deal Withdrawal

“Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said Tuesday he’d like to include language in the annual defense policy bill that codifies President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. Inhofe was speaking to reporters in his office about a congressional delegation trip last month that included stops in Germany, Israel, Kosovo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Algeria. Throughout the trip, Inhofe, a Trump supporter, said he found that countries such as Iran were “waiting Trump out." “They think he’s going to be defeated,” Inhofe said. “The Iranians are waiting to reestablish the deal that [former Secretary of State] John Kerry made, and they’re all assuming that he’ll be out of office.” To address that, Inhofe argued, Congress needs to codify what it can of actions Trump has taken, particularly support for Israel’s military and the withdrawal from the Iran deal.”

Brookings Institute: How Terrorism Undermines Democracy

“Terrorism can undermine political moderation in a democracy, paving the way for more extreme elements to gain footholds. The death toll of a terrorist attack, often inflicted in a spectacular way that draws media attention and leads to political criticism, can undermine faith in government. This lack of faith, in turn, can convince citizens to favor more extreme voices that promise law and order or, if they do not see any hope in government, turn to nongovernmental actors such as gangs or militias for security. Particularly after 9/11 (and, in Europe, following significant attacks by al-Qaida on public transportation systems in Madrid in 2004, London in 2005, and the Islamic State attack in Paris in 2015), even small terrorist attacks are seen in the context of a threat that is perceived as massive. This is true even though the number of terrorist attacks in Europe is roughly comparable between the pre- and post-9/11 eras, and in the United States the number of deaths from jihadi terrorism is far less than officials anticipated in the years after the 9/11 attacks. Political leaders must act—and must be seen as acting—to fight terrorism.”

The Wall Street Journal: Senators Propose Repeal Of 1991 And 2002 Mideast War Authorizations

“A bipartisan pair of senators will introduce legislation Wednesday repealing decades-old resolutions that authorized the use of military force for the Gulf and Iraq wars, the latest bid by lawmakers to reassert Congress’s role in shaping foreign policy. Sens. Tim Kaine (D., Va.) and Todd Young (R., Ind.) on Wednesday will unveil a bill that would repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force, or AUMFs, against Iraq, part of an effort to ensure the resolutions can’t be used in the future to justify other military operations. “It makes no sense that two AUMFs remain in place against a country that is now a close ally,” Mr. Kaine said in a statement. “They serve no operational purpose, run the risk of future abuse by the president, and help keep our nation at permanent war.” Lawmakers have long bemoaned their waning role in foreign-policy decisions, as recent presidents have relied on aging military-force authorizations to combat new threats from Islamic State, which didn’t exist in its current form when the authorizations were passed. But lawmakers have often been reluctant to cast votes repealing those resolutions, worried that exposing divisions would telegraph weakness to foreign allies and adversaries.”

Syria

Reuters: 'Dire' Conditions At Syria Camp As Thousands Flee ISIS

“An influx of thousands of people fleeing Islamic State has created “dire” conditions at the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, the aid agencies working there said on Tuesday. About 15,000 people have arrived at the camp in the last week alone as the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) lay siege to the last vestige of Islamic State’s territorial rule at the besieged village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border. “The conditions are definitely dire in the camp ... the problem is nobody was expecting these kinds of numbers so it has been overwhelming and it hasn’t stopped,” said Misty Buswell, spokeswoman for the International Rescue Committee (IRC). ”People are turning up with the clothes on their backs, and children barefoot without coats. Providing shelter in the camp is a big challenge as there are not enough tents,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Jordan. The United Nations said last week it was “gravely concerned” about the plight of thousands of civilians fleeing the last ISIL-held areas after intense fighting. Aid agencies said they were struggling to provide medical care and shelter for the new arrivals, while water supplies were being stretched thin in the camp.”

CNN: 500 ISIS Fighters Surrender In Group's Last Syrian Enclave

“Some 500 ISIS fighters surrendered to US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces on Tuesday, amid the final push to wrest the jihadist group from Baghouz, its last remaining enclave in eastern Syria. The militants were among a wave of people fleeing fighting in the village, near the Iraqi border, which has been pummeled by US-led coalition airstrikes in recent weeks. A CNN team was at a reception area on Tuesday where thousands were being processed -- both militants and civilians. SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Twitter that 3,500 people were evacuated from Baghouz on Tuesday alone. Civilians evacuated from Baghouz wait at a screening area held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Adnan Afrin, spokesman and commander for SDF, told CNN that “more than 6,000 people have fled or left Baghouz within the past 48 hours and more are expected to arrive to the reception areas.” Before the offensive started last month, SDF officials estimated that 1,500 civilians and 500 ISIS fighters remained, but as the assault got under way it became clear that the actual number was much higher. SDF commanders have told CNN that ISIS fighters are putting up a fierce resistance in their bid to hold onto the group's last scrap of territory, deploying guided missiles and using a network of tunnels to launch attacks.”

Los Angeles Times: Islamic State Wives Want To Come Home. But What Were They Doing While They Were Away?

“Thousands of foreign-born women left their homes and lives to join Islamic State and marry its fighters. But now that the militant group’s so-called caliphate is reduced to crumbled masonry and scorched rebar, many of them want to return home. Shamima Begum was a teenage schoolgirl in east London when she left home to join Islamic State; Hoda Muthana, an Alabama-born college student; Kimberly Gwen Polman, a 46-year-old single mom in Canada studying to be a children’s advocate. Now they’re held in a Kurdish-controlled prison in the hinterlands of eastern Syria, asking to be let back into their home countries. The women branded “ISIS brides,” using initials for the militant group, have become a focal point of fierce debate for governments worldwide: What are states’ responsibilities toward these women? A central question in that debate is what exactly did the women do in the caliphate? Were they cloistered housewives largely ignorant of the group’s realities, or active participants in its genocidal acts?  Women who fled fighting in Baghouz, Syria, stand in line at a makeshift screening point in the desert last month. When Islamic State declared the establishment of its caliphate in 2014, it called upon all able-bodied Muslims to emigrate and engage in jihad, or struggle, to further its cause.”

Iran

The New York Times: A High-Level Resignation In Iran Is Seen As Sign Of Hard-Liners’ Strength

“The surprise resignation of Iran’s foreign minister last week was a rare public display of the jockeying between hard-liners and the more moderate camp within the clerical leadership, a divide that has been exacerbated by the country’s deepening economic crisis, analysts said. Hard-liners have long had the edge. But Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s open show of frustration was a sign that he and his ally, President Hassan Rouhani, find themselves further weakened after the collapse of their biggest foreign policy project — the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers. The further empowerment of the hard-liners could presage even more tense relations with the United States and worsen Iran’s economic crisis, fueling instability. “Since the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Zarif is suffering,” said Talal Atrissi, a sociology professor at the Lebanese University in Beirut who studies Iran and its regional allies. The foreign minister, he said, “strongly believed in dialogue and negotiations with U.S., but the cancellation of the deal showed that the strategy that Zarif was following wasn’t correct.” At issue is which camp within the clerical leadership has more clout in foreign affairs.”

Reuters: U.S. Sanctions The Nujaba Militia Backed By Iran

“The United States has sanctioned Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, a radical Muslim militia group of about 10,0000 fighters, as well as its leader Akram Kaabi, the Treasury Department said on Tuesday. Active in Iraq and Syria, Nujaba, which is known by various names including the “The Movement of the Noble Ones,” is also loyal to Iran. Reuters reported in 2017 that it was helping Tehran create a supply route through Iraq to Damascus, and its leaders have publicly acknowledged Iran’s support.  Washington’s concerns about the group are growing. In September Republican Senators David Perdue, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio introduced the Iranian Proxies Terrorist Sanctions Act targeting it and another group. A bipartisan group in the House of Representatives in January then introduced companion legislation.  Kaabi is a cleric who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury in 2008 for threatening the peace and stability of Iraq.”

Iraq

Al Monitor: Has Islamic State Returned To Iraq?

“Iraqi security forces killed five suicide attackers northwest of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul Feb. 20. A car bomb in central Mosul killed one civilian and wounded 13 others Feb. 28, just the latest in many recent incidents that have also hit the southern and western parts of the country. A group of Islamic State fighters entered Haditha province in Anbar governorate on the evening of Feb. 23 and crossed Lake Tharthar in private boats. In Najaf governorate, they came upon six fishermen sleeping in a tent and opened fire, killing them all. On the same day, an IS group armed with explosive belts and machine guns attacked the village of Anamel in al-Shirqat, Saladin governorate. The residents along with the Federal Police and the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) fought back. Since the second half of last January up until the last 10 days of February, IS has carried out several operations in the west of Iraq and Saladin governorate. All the operations were in the desert and directed against civilians. Some of the civilians were attacked as they harvested desert truffles. Several IS operations have struck former IS territory in Anbar governorate and the surrounding desert close to the Syrian border, where the Iraqi security forces and the international coalition’s air force are still organizing strikes against IS targets.”

The New York Times: Group: Hundreds Of Iraqi IS Child Suspects Arrested

“Iraq and the Kurdish regional government have charged hundreds of children with terrorism for alleged affiliation with the Islamic State group, often using torture to coerce confessions, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday. In a report, the New York-based group estimated that Iraqi and Kurdish authorities were holding approximately 1,500 children for alleged IS affiliation in detention at the end of 2018. It said the prosecutions are often based on dubious accusations and forced confessions obtained through torture. The children are then sentenced to prison in hasty and unfair trials, HRW said. Belkis Wille, senior Iraq researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the approach that Iraq has adopted is one that "completely fails" to acknowledge what is commonly understood and reflected in international law, which is that children who were forcibly recruited should be treated as victims, not criminals.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Iraqi Forces Launch Largest Operation To Chase ISIS Militants

“Iraq’s Security Media Cell announced Monday the launching of the largest security operation in Anbar province. “The First Infantry Division of Anbar Operations Command has embarked on a large-scale military operation in South Sikar and Dabaa village to impose security, pursue wanted persons, search whether there were abductees, destroy arms and ammunition stores, and check information on families there,” a statement by the Cell said. “As part of the plan to hunt down and track terrorists, an operation carried out by the seventh Infantry Division in the west and east Wadi Hauran was launched and resulted in the destruction of six tunnels and three hideouts and the detonation of 299 explosive devices,” the statement added. A security source has earlier issued a warning saying that the desert area in Anbar province has become a military zone, warning citizens from going there. The warning was made through leaflets distributed among locals by army soldiers, who warned citizens as well as shepherds from entering the area and asked them to leave towards al-Rutba- al-Nakhib village, 160 kilometers away. The army also warned local residents of risking their lives if they didn't heed orders, given the ongoing military operations in the desert areas.”

Iraqi News: Iraqi Premier Says Gov’t To Continue Hunt For Islamic State Militants

“Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said on Tuesday that the government drew up plans to continue the military operations against the Islamic State terrorist group. “The coming days will witness visits by important figures to Iraq,” Alsumeria News quoted Abdul-Mahdi as saying at a weekly press conference. “The government is committed to considering the legitimate demands of all segments of Iraqi society,” he concluded. The Islamic State group appeared on the international scene in 2014 when it seized large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, declaring the establishment of an Islamic “caliphate” from Mosul city. Later on, the group has become notorious for its brutality, including mass killings, abductions and beheadings, prompting the U.S. to lead an international coalition to destroy it. Despite the group’s crushing defeat at its main havens across Iraq, Islamic State continues to launch sporadic attacks against troops with security reports warning that the militant group still poses a threat against stability in the country.”

Afghanistan

Daily News: Let's Withdraw From Afghanistan, And Learn The Hard Lessons

“A new joint resolution introduced in the Senate calls on the executive branch to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan within one year. President Trump has already expressed a desire to draw down, and with negotiations with the Taliban showing promising signs, it seems America’s longest war is coming to an end. However, politics always lag substantially behind reality. While polls show public support for withdrawal, much of Washington opposes bringing the war to a close. Policymakers must face some hard truths on Afghanistan. The core of our nation-building mission in Afghanistan has failed. We have not been able to pacify the Taliban insurgency, nor have we created a viable democratic government that can maintain order without external support. The Taliban now hold more territory, about half the country’s districts, than at any point since 2001. Last year marked the highest recorded number of civilian deaths since 2009.”

The New York Times: 16 Civilians Are Killed In Attack On Construction Company In Afghanistan

“At least 16 civilians were killed Wednesday in a complex attack on a construction company in eastern Afghanistan, officials said. The attack started with an early morning suicide explosion at the entrance of a construction company in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province. After the blast, four armed attackers wearing suicide vests entered the compound and shot employees of the company, prompting a firefight with Afghan security forces that lasted more than five hours, said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor. The office of the company, Entire Builders and Engineers, is close to the provincial airport, where American and Afghan forces are stationed. “All those killed were employees of E.B.E., nine civilians were also wounded in the attack, two of them in critical condition” Mr. Khogyani said. “All five attackers were killed, a vehicle laden with explosives, two suicide vests, rockets and mines were discovered in the scene of attack by security forces.” The Taliban said they were not behind the attack, which came as Americans and the insurgent group continued another round of marathon talks in Doha, Qatar. Nangarhar is the where the Islamic State’s local branch in Afghanistan has established a small foothold.”

Xinhua: Over 50 Taliban Militants Killed As Gov't Forces Intensify Operations In Afghanistan

“More than 50 militants have been killed in conflict-battered Afghanistan over the past 24 hours as the government forces have increased crackdowns on Taliban fighters, officials said Tuesday. At least 16 militants were reportedly killed and 27 others injured after aircraft targeted Taliban positions in Qaisar, Dawlat Abad and Pashtun Kot districts of the northern Faryab province since Monday afternoon, army spokesman in the northern region Mohammad Hanif Rezai said. The government forces have also attacked Taliban bastion in Qargan area of Imam Sahib district in the northern Kunduz province since Monday evening, killing 16 armed insurgents and wounding 10 others, army spokesman in the troubled province Ghulam Hazrat Karimi told reporters on Tuesday. The airstrikes also killed a Taliban commander named Kakar in Andar district of the eastern Ghazni province on Tuesday morning, provincial government spokesman Aref Nuri said. According to security officials, more than 20 militants including two Taliban commanders Mawlawi Zarif and Mawlawi Noorudin have been killed and 16 others injured in Faizabad district of the northern Jawzjan province over the past 24 hours.”

Pakistan

The Washington Post: Pakistan Arrests 44 Militants In New Crackdown On Extremist Groups

“Pakistan’s Interior Ministry announced Tuesday that authorities have arrested 44 people affiliated with outlawed organizations, including two relatives of the leader of an extremist group that claimed responsibility for a Feb. 14 terrorist attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Shehryar Afridi, the state minister of the interior, said a brother of Masood Azhar, the reclusive founder of Jaish-e-Muhammad, and another man believed to be his son were taken into custody Tuesday. Officials declined to identify the other detainees. The whereabouts of Azhar, 50, are not publicly known, but there were unconfirmed reports Tuesday that the government would soon decide whether to arrest him. Pakistan’s foreign minister said last week that Azhar was in Pakistan but was not in good health. The two arrested men, identified as Mufti Abdul Rauf and Hammad Azhar, were on a list of suspects submitted by India to Pakistani authorities in an official dossier after the bombing that killed 40 paramilitary policemen in Kashmir, the Himalayan region claimed by both countries. That attack triggered swift military retaliation from India, which sent fighter jets to bomb an alleged Jaish-e-Muhammad training camp and seminary inside Pakistan near the ”Line of Control” that separates the two portions of Kashmir.”

Gulf News Asia: Why Pakistan Must Crackdown Both ‘Good' And 'Bad' Taliban

“Dubai: “Good Taliban, Bad Taliban.” It is time to end this hypocritical strategy towards heavily-armed militant groups fighting either in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Pakistan has always fought against "Bad Taliban", such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a group that challenged Pakistan government’s writ in certain areas, including Swat and Wazirastan in the past. The "Good Taliban" is believed to be those militant groups largely active in Afghanistan and other fronts, including Kashmir that posed little harm to Pakistan. It is time to end this selective crackdown. This discriminatory approach against militant groups as Pakistan has suffered a lot since 9/11 due to this double standard.”

Yemen

Voice Of America: Yemen Accuses Houthi Rebels Of Breaking Cease-Fire

“Yemen and its Saudi and UAE allies are accusing the Houthi rebels of breaking their agreement to withdraw from two ports. Ambassadors from the three countries sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, asking him to demand the Houthis carry out their commitments. "Last week's sudden and unexplained refusal by the Houthis to withdraw from the ports of Salif and Ras Issa comes as no surprise after months of stalling tactics from their side," the letter said. The three countries who have been trying to push the Iranian-backed Houthis out of Yemen accuse the rebels of digging in by building trenches and reinforcing their military positions. There has been no reply from the rebels, who have said it's the other side that's breaking the deal. A U.N. spokesman urges both sides to follow through with their promises.”

Qatar

Arab News: Persecuted Qatari Tribe Renew Protests In Geneva

“Members of a Qatari family persecuted by the regime in Doha renewed their protests on Tuesday at the Swiss Press Club in Geneva. For more than 20 years the Al-Ghufrans have been systematically stripped of their citizenship, suffered discrimination and forced displacement, and been denied basic health, education and social services. The Al-Ghufrans are part of the Al-Murrah tribe, supporters of Sheikh Khalifa Al-Thani, the former emir of Qatar who was deposed in 1995 in a coup by his son, Sheikh Hamad. The family have been persecuted since then. “These violations that started in 1996 are still ongoing,” said Dr. Ali Al-Marri, a delegation leader. “They are mainly committed by the Qatari Ministry of Interior and the alleged private Human Rights Committee.”

Saudi Arabia

Arab News: Saudi Cabinet Welcomes ‘Constructive’ British Hezbollah Ban

“The Saudi Cabinet on Tuesday lauded the British government’s move to classify the political wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. At its weekly meeting, chaired by King Salman, the Cabinet described the move to outlaw the Lebanese movement as an “important and constructive” step in the global fight against terrorism. The Cabinet stressed it was now important that the international community followed suit in taking a firm and united stance towards terrorist militias that threatened the security and stability of the region.  Among other national and global issues discussed, the Cabinet reinstated its commitment to helping the people of Yemen by donating $500 million to co-finance the UN Humanitarian Response Plan for the war-torn country this year. The funding is in addition to the “IMDAD” initiative announced earlier this year to support food security and nutrition in Yemen. The Cabinet noted the Kingdom’s participation in the 40th session of the Human Rights Council, held in Geneva, and expressed its appreciation of the organization’s role in the promotion and protection of human rights around the world, which Saudi Arabia fully backed. During the meeting, the Cabinet authorized the go-ahead for talks between Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) over the headquarters of the Unified Military Command for member states.”

Middle East

NPR: After Finally Escaping ISIS Captivity, People Talk About Their Experiences

“As the last ISIS remnants hold out in a small pocket of Syria, captured Yazidis have been among those struggling to get out. Mary Louise Kelly, HOST: For more than two weeks, the U.S. and its allies in Syria have said they are on the verge of taking the last ISIS-held territory in the country. President Trump said it would be within a day. He said that on February 15th. Since then, the battle has stopped and started, stopped again as more and more civilians, including family members of ISIS fighters, have been allowed to leave. Stories have emerged of people, including Yazidis from Iraq, who have been held for years and that they are finally escaping ISIS captivity. NPR's Jane Arraf has been reporting on all this from Iraq. She joins me now. Hey, Jane. Kelly: Hi. Start with the latest on the fighting. This is in this last enclave in a town called Baghouz.”

Libya

Asharq Al-Awsat: Libya’s Neighbors Say Political Solution Only Way To End Its Crisis

“The foreign ministers of Libya’s neighbors stressed on Tuesday that the political solution remains the only way to resolve the country’s crisis. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry hosted in Cairo Algeria's Abdelkader Messahel and Tunisia's Khemais Jhinaoui to discuss the developments in Libya. They voiced their support for UN envoy Ghassan Salame’s mission to achieve rapprochement between rival Libyan powers in order to be able to hold a national conference as soon as possible. They also rejected foreign meddling in Libyan affairs. They noted that militias in the capital Tripoli were impeding efforts to resolve the crisis, while accusing sides, which they did not name, of constantly funding these groups. Shoukri called on the Libyans to “save their country,” adding that its neighbors are keen on having Tripoli regain its standing in the Arab world.”

Nigeria

The Punch Nigeria: ISIS-Backed Boko Haram Faction Allegedly Gets New Leader

“The leader of an Islamic State-backed faction of Boko Haram may have been replaced, sources say, against a backdrop of speculation as to his fate — and the group’s future direction. Three sources with deep knowledge of the group said they had been told in recent days that the Islamic State West Africa Province had dropped Abu Mus’ab Al-Barnawi. A previously unknown figure named Abu Abdullah Ibn Umar Albarnawi is said to have replaced Al-Barnawi, whose father Muhammad Yusuf founded Boko Haram in 2002. The name Al-Barnawi or variations of it derive from Arabic words meaning “The man from Borno,” a state in northeastern Nigeria. “If the information turns out to be true, it will have far-reaching implications and raise a lot of questions, including the fate of Al-Barnawi,” one of the sources told AFP. “The big question is, where is Al-Barnawi? Is he alive or is he dead? Knowing how Boko Haram operates, it is unlikely for a leader to be deposed and allowed to move freely.” Under Al-Barnawi, ISWAP split from the faction led by longtime Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in mid-2016 in opposition to the latter’s indiscriminate targeting of civilians. Shekau had previously pledged allegiance to ISIS chief Abubakr al-Baghdadi in 2015 but ISIS recognised only Al-Barnawi as leader.”

All Africa: Nigeria: Boko Haram Urged To Free Kidnapped Nurse

“The United Nations (UN) is pleading for the release of a female aid worker kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria a year ago. Alice Lokshah, a nurse and mother, was among seven humanitarian officials and medical doctors the Islamist group killed or abducted in the northeastern city of Rann. Three doctors were killed during the attack while three humanitarian workers were abducted and later executed by the terror group late last year. The fate of Lokshah is unknown but hopes are that she is held captive. “The UN calls for the immediate release of Alice, and for her safe return to her family,” said Edward Kallon, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria. Last Friday, the UN marked one year since the attack in Rann, a devastated town in the Borno State. The attack on March 1, 2018 sent shock waves through the community of aid workers from the UN and non-governmental organisations. “Any time violence claims an innocent life, it affects us all. That is a shock that strikes at the very core of our humanity,” Kallon said. Rann, which is 8 kilometres from the border with Cameroon, is among the worst affected by the Boko Haram crisis.”

Africa

France 24: Terror Attacks On The Rise In Mali: UN

“Security is worsening in Mali with terror attacks on the rise, targeting UN peacekeepers, Malian troops, international forces and civilians, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned in a report on Tuesday. The threat from extremist groups has spread from northern Mali to the center of the West African country, complicating efforts to implement a peace deal with armed groups. “Despite significant international efforts, the security situation has continued to deteriorate with an increase in the number of terrorist attacks,” said Guterres in the report sent to the Security Council. In 2018, there were 237 terror attacks, up from 226 in 2017 and 183 the previous year, said the report. The Security Council is planning to visit Mali this month for a closer look at the conflict as it faces a June deadline to extend the mandate of the 14,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping force deployed there. Mali has been struggling to return to stability after Al-Qaeda-linked extremists took control of the north in early 2012, prompting a military intervention by France. Although the jihadists were routed in the French operation in 2013, large stretches of the landlocked state remain out of government control.”

CBS News: U.S. Reducing Military Role In Africa As Al Qaeda Rebuilds

“As West African soldiers creep stealthily along the wall of a hotel in Burkina Faso, there's an eerie familiarity to the scene. Inside the building, all hell breaks loose as gunfire erupts. It's not real, this time, but could so easily be. It is a scene which has played out with alarming frequency in West Africa. Burkina Faso has become the epicenter for violent extremists bolstered by trained jihadists returning from Iraq and Syria, and now the soldiers here are being trained by U.S. Special Forces to storm a hotel under attack by Islamic extremists. The training comes at a crucial time. Major General Marcus Hicks says the focus on ISIS in Syria and Iraq has created an opportunity for other terror groups. "Al Qaeda has been able to take advantage of the attention being paid to the Middle East, while they quietly build infrastructure and support here in Africa," he told CBS News correspondent Debora Patta. Capt. Tim, one of the U.S. trainers, whose full identity couldn't be revealed for safety reasons, told Patta there is now "a stream of trained fighters who are coming from that region -- they need someplace to go.”

North Korea

The Wall Street Journal: North Korean Launch Site Is Being Built Back Up Again

“North Korea is restoring a missile launch site it previously claimed to be dismantling as an overture to the U.S., according to newly released commercial satellite photos and people briefed on South Korean intelligence. The move has sparked concerns that North Korea may be wavering on some of the gestures it made to demonstrate its willingness to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The disclosure of the restoration work comes in the wake of last week’s U.S.-North Korean summit meeting in Hanoi, which failed to make headway on nuclear and sanctions issues. “It is not a positive signal,” said Joel Wit, a former State Department official who is the director of 38 North, a website on North Korea nuclear issues. “It is a step backwards from where we have been in terms of North Korea’s demonstrated willingness to restrain its programs.”

United Kingdom

CNBC: Terrorism Investigation Launched After Explosive Devices Found Near London's Heathrow And City Airports And At Waterloo Station

“A counterterrorism investigation is underway by London police after three improvised explosive devices were found across the city on Tuesday. All of the packages were white postal bags containing yellow bags inside them which had material that the police said was capable of igniting “an initially small fire when opened.” No arrests have been made. “The Met Police Counter Terrorism Command is treating the incidents as a linked series and is keeping an open mind regarding motives,” a release said. The first device was found at a building near Heathrow Airport in southwest London at around 9:40 a.m. U.K. time. The package ignited after staff in the building opened it. Then shortly before midday, British Transport Police were called to reports of a suspicious package in the post room at Waterloo rail station. Specialist officers made the device safe. Just moments later, police were called to a report of a suspicious package at offices at the City Aviation House by City Airport in east London. The building was evacuated as a precaution. The device was made safe by specialist officers. No injuries were recorded and no flights were delayed although police closed the light rail service to City Airport for a short time.”

France

Euronews: Inmate Stabs Two French Prison Guards In 'Terrorist Attack'

“A prison inmate in France seriously injured two guards on Tuesday in what authorities have described as a "terrorist attack." Michaël Chiolo, a 27-year-old inmate at the the prison in Condé-sur-Sarthe, near Alençon, some 200 kms east of Paris, stabbed the two guards at 09:45 CET in the family-visiting unit. He then retreated into a room with his wife, who was visiting. Police reinforcements were sent to the prison and both were arrested shortly after 19:30, according to Interior Minister Christophe Castaner. Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet had earlier in the day labelled the incident a "terrorist attack" and ordered an "inspection" of the site, which she described as one of the most secure in the country. The anti-terror branch of the Paris prosecutor's office has been tasked with the investigation. A police source told the AFP news agency that Chiolo had been radicalised in prison.”

Germany

The Washington Post: Germany Charges Russian Man Over Alleged Extremist Bomb Plot

“German prosecutors said Tuesday they have charged a Russian national with plotting an Islamic extremist bombing in Germany with an alleged accomplice arrested in France for involvement in a separate planned attack there. The pair were associates for a time of Anis Amri, a Tunisian who carried out an attack on a Christmas market in Berlin in December 2016 in which 12 people were killed, but weren’t aware of his plans for that rampage, federal prosecutors said. The 31-year-old, who was identified only as Magomed-Ali C. because of German privacy laws and was arrested in August, was charged at a Berlin court with preparing an act of violence and preparing an explosion. He is accused of storing a “not insignificant” but unspecified amount of the explosive TATP at his Berlin apartment in October 2016, with which he and alleged accomplice Clement B. are believed to have planned to carry out an attack in Germany. Prosecutors said Magomed-Ali C. arrived in Germany in late 2011 and was already an Islamic extremist then. They said that he spent time at a now-closed radical Berlin mosque and decided to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group, but that plan was foiled when local police got wind of it in 2015 and Berlin’s office for foreigners barred him from leaving Germany.”

Technology

The Verge: Some Major Android Apps Are Still Sending Data Directly To Facebook

“Major Android mobile apps from companies including Yelp and Duolingo send data that could be used to personally identify you for ad tracking straight to Facebook immediately upon logging in, according to a new report from the London-based UK charity and watchdog group Privacy International (PI). This data transfer happens even if a user isn’t logged into Facebook on that device and even in the event the user doesn’t have an active Facebook account at all. In addition to Yelp and Duolingo, PI found that two Muslim prayer apps, as well as a bible app and a job search app called Indeed, also sent similar data to Facebook that could be used to help identify users for ad targeting purposes when they browse the social network. It’s not clear exactly what type of data is being sent in this case, other than that a user opened the app at a given time, but PI’s report says this transmission may also reveal custom identifiers that help Facebook track that user across its network of services and when that person opens Facebook on a mobile device.”