Eye on Extremism: March 7, 2019

The Wall Street Journal: ‘Assad Or We Burn The Country’: How The Syrian Regime Prevailed

“Before the phrase was spray-painted on walls and stenciled on cars, Syrian military officers heard it in meetings to discuss how to quell an antigovernment uprising sweeping Syria in 2011. “Assad or we burn the country.” The stark words warned those who would defy President Bashar al-Assad. And when protests morphed into war, Mr. Assad, backed by hard-core members of his Alawite religious sect, made good on the threat, presiding over much of Syria’s destruction to maintain his grip on power. “In every meeting we had, the Alawite officers would say it—‘Assad or we burn the country,’” recalled Abduljabar al-Akidi, then a colonel in the Syrian army. “I knew that Assad would not leave until he had demolished the entire country and blood would run in the streets.” Today, after nearly eight years of conflict, Mr. Assad is on the verge of victory. His forces have clawed back control over much of the country, with the help of Russian air power and Iran-backed foreign militias. Despite his government’s documented atrocities, Arab states that long shunned it are beginning to normalize relations, evidently resigned to the regime’s survival. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have reopened embassies.”

The New York Times: Blasts In Kabul Hit Near Ceremony Attended By Top Officials

“Several explosions struck Thursday outside a ceremony in Kabul attended by Afghanistan's chief executive and the former president, both of whom were unharmed, officials said. There was conflicting information as to the casualty figures in the immediate aftermath of the blasts. A short while later, Health Ministry official Mohaibullah Zaeer said an initial check of Kabul's hospitals revealed three people have been killed and 32 wounded in the attack but he said the figures were not final. Earlier, another official, who was at the ceremony, said seven people were killed and at least 10 were wounded. He spoke on condition of anonymity to talk to reporters. The different accounts on the casualties could not immediately be reconciled. There was also no claim of responsibility for the explosions. Nusrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the blasts were due to mortar shells being fired and that one person has been arrested. Rahimi declined to answer questions on casualties.”

BBC: IS Militants 'Caught Trying To Escape' Last Syria Enclave

“About 400 Islamic State militants have been captured trying to escape the last piece of land the group holds in Syria, a US-backed militia says. A Syrian Democratic Forces commander said the jihadists were caught overnight as they attempted to slip out of Baghuz with the help of smugglers. Hundreds of others have surrendered and been evacuated from the village with thousands of civilians in recent days. It comes after US forces and the SDF stepped up their bombardment of Baghuz. Once the village is taken, the US and its allies are expected to formally declare the end of the "caliphate" proclaimed by IS in 2014. The group once controlled 88,000 sq km (34,000 sq miles) of territory stretching across Syria and neighbouring Iraq, imposed its brutal rule on almost eight million people, and generated billions of dollars from oil, extortion, robbery and kidnapping.”

The New York Times: Arab Raid Led To Freedom For American Hostage In Yemen

“An American hostage who was freed in Yemen in February after nearly 18 months in captivity was rescued in an armed raid led by the United Arab Emirates with help from the United States, according to American and Yemeni officials. The hostage, Danny Lavone Burch, had been held by a criminal Yemeni gang with a record of kidnapping Westerners for ransom. The gang was known to sell hostages to a powerful local affiliate of Al Qaeda, the officials said. President Trump hosted Mr. Burch at the White House on Wednesday, crediting his release as a result of “great help from U.A.E. and all of our friends.” The president did not provide details, but also said Mr. Burch’s rescue was one of “a few negotiations” worldwide to free Americans held captive. “Gosh, it’s great to be an American,” Mr. Burch told a small group of American officials and journalists in the Oval Office. “This is the end result: a happy man with a happy family,” Mr. Trump said. More than a half-dozen American and Yemeni officials described parts of the rescue operation on the condition of anonymity. Mr. Burch was retrieved from a cellar where he was being held in a lawless part of Yemen. One senior Yemeni official said seven people were arrested in the raid.”

The Washington Post: Mapping The Turkish Military’s Expanding Footprint

“Not since the days of the Ottoman Empire has the Turkish military had such an extensive global footprint. Under its ambitious president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey is expanding its intervention in Syria while keeping up a military presence in Iraq, Qatar, Somalia and Afghanistan and maintaining peacekeeping troops in the Balkans. At the same time, the Turkish navy patrols the Mediterranean and Aegean seas to protect energy and territorial interests. The effort comes at a cost. The military budget as a percentage of gross domestic product has risen, from 1.8 percent in 2015 to 2.2 percent in 2017, at a time when Turkey’s economy has weakened. Here’s a look at where Turkey is flexing its muscle, and why. Turkey’s military intervention in Syria is one of its largest foreign operations since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Erdogan sent troops to Syria in 2016 to fight both Islamic State jihadists and U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, which are linked to PKK militants who have battled for an autonomous Kurdish region inside Turkey. Turkish troops are also massing along the 911-kilometer (566-mile) border in the hope of establishing a safe zone to encourage the more than 3.6 million Syrians who fled to Turkey to return home and avert a new wave of refugees.”

BBC: How The Far Right Hijacked A Teenager’s Murder

“A year ago, a German teenager was murdered, and her death quickly became a rallying point for anti-foreigner feeling. Rumours circulated online that she had been murdered by a Muslim immigrant. But the truth of what happened was very different from the wild speculation. Karin Gross lives in east Berlin. On 7 March 2018 she received a phone call at work from her 14-year-old daughter Keira. "She said to me: 'OK, Mama I'm at home, give me a ring when you are coming back.' So when I finished work I got in my car and phoned her. But she didn't answer." Karin called again, and again. No one picked up. She sent a WhatsApp message, but it didn't go through. She assumed that the network was down, or that her daughter had turned off her phone to have a nap. Karin drove home. When she entered her flat, she saw that the living room door was closed.”

United States

U.S. News & World Report: Trump Pick For Saudi Ambassador: Iran Threat Outweighs Other Concerns

“President Donald Trump's nominee to become ambassador to Saudi Arabia indicated Wednesday that the threat posed by Iran outweighs any U.S. consideration for diminishing its relationship with Saudi Arabia, despite facing a rare bipartisan display of continued outrage at the kingdom's recent behavior. The October extrajudicial killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, combined with other recent reports of torture, abuse and detention in Saudi Arabia dominated the confirmation hearing for John Abizaid, a retired Army general, to become America's top diplomat there. However Abizaid, who led Army Rangers into Grenada in 1983 and retired in 2007 after leading the military's highest command in the Middle East, framed those issues as "short-term problems" facing the U.S.-Saudi relationship, including the kingdom's continued and brutal persecution of dissidents among other human rights concerns. And he indicated those problems do not outweigh the need to maintain pressure on America's most predominant foe in the region: Sunni Muslim extremists, and Iran.”

NPR: White Supremacist Propaganda At 'Record-Setting' Levels, ADL Report Finds

“At first, you might not realize the flyer was put there by a white supremacy group. The poster, in shades of black, white and teal, features Andrew Jackson on horseback. The accompanying text reads: "European roots, American greatness." Flyers like this, posted across the country by American neo-Nazi and white supremacist group Identity Evropa are popping up far more than they used to. Others feature George Washington. According to a new report by the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacy propaganda increased by 182 percent in 2018 compared with the year before. The increase in flyers and other propaganda reflects a relatively new strategy for hate groups, the ADL says. Under intense scrutiny, white supremacists are reluctant to show their face in public, so they're relying more on leaflets and posters to spread hate without putting themselves at personal risk, it adds.”

Syria

Guardian: Syrian Refugees Launch Legal Bid To Try Assad For Crimes Against Humanity

“Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan after being tortured and witnessing massacres have submitted dossiers of evidence to the international criminal court in a novel attempt to prosecute President Bashar al-Assad. Although Syria is not a signatory to the court, based in The Hague, lawyers in London are relying on a precedent set by the ICC in extending jurisdiction to the crime of forcible population transfers. Last year, the court opened a preliminary investigation into the military leaders of Myanmar for alleged crimes against humanity involving deportation of its Rohingya people. Bangladesh, where the refugees fled, is a party to the Rome statute that established the ICC, as is Jordan, where millions of Syrian refugees now reside. There have been numerous efforts to persuade the ICC to act on allegations that the Assad regime committed war crimes through the use of chemical weapons and the mass murder of detainees. They have all failed so far because prosecutors in The Hague have not accepted they have jurisdiction to act.”

CNN: The ISIS Orphans Waiting To Come Home

“At 5 a.m. on a September morning in 2014, 14-year-old Soraya picked up a large suitcase and left her family home in the suburbs of Lyon, France. The sound of her closing the door as she left woke her older sister who promptly ran to warn her mother, Nadia. Nadia flung open the window and yelled at Soraya to come back. The girl paused for a few seconds, looked up and then walked on, past the parking lot and out of sight. Nadia called the police to tell them her daughter had run away. A few hours later, while speaking to one of Soraya's friends, she heard the real reason for her daughter's sudden departure: Soraya had gone to Syria to join ISIS. Nadia still struggles with the idea that her daughter was radicalized online at home. It's believed that Soraya was helped across several international borders by ISIS before slipping into Syria. Nadia and Soraya's names have been changed in this story for their protection. As the fight against ISIS in Syria draws to a close, much of Europe is dealing with the same problem: what to do with its citizens stuck in the shrinking caliphate. And each country grapples with it differently. France has been scarred more than any other European country on its own soil by ISIS-orchestrated or ISIS-inspired terrorism.”

Fox News: Hoda Muthana Case: Is ISIS Bride In ‘Significant’ Danger In Syrian Refugee Camp?

“ISIS bride Hoda Muthana's supporters say she'll "suffer immediate and irreparable harm" if she's forced to stay in the Syrian camp she now calls home -- but journalists who've visited the refugee center, government statistics and the actions of officials overseeing Muthana paint a somewhat different picture of the terror widow's life in limbo. For one thing, the camp appears to be more dangerous for children than adults, as statistics show two-thirds of the 80 people who have died there since December have been under the age of one. That figure from the United Nations and International Rescue Committee, and cited by The Guardian in a report about the al-Hawl camp, has come to the forefront amid her legal team's failure to convince a judge in Washington this week to expedite the case of Muthana and her 18-month-old son. Muthana’s father is suing the U.S. government to let her depart the Kurdish-controlled camp for America. “Our understanding is that, because she has taken such an adamant position in news media denouncing ISIS, that within these camps are ISIS supporters, who now view her as a heretic, she is now not a Muslim and should be executed and killed, so she faces significant danger from them," her lawyer Charles Swift said.”

The Hill: Difficult Post-ISIS Challenges Emerge For US, Allies

“With the military defeat of ISIS in Syria, its once large “caliphate” that stretched across Iraq and Syria has been reduced to dozens of tents near the Euphrates River. Now, new challenges are arising. ISIS members from Western countries are demanding a right to return to their home countries, victims of the terrorist group want justice, and the United States and its allies are  seeking to prevent an ISIS resurgence from its sleeper cells that still hold a threat. For the United States and its allies, one issue is how to prosecute and deal with Westerners who joined ISIS and now want to repatriate. Thousands of civilians, many of them suspected ISIS family members, were evacuated from the last remaining ISIS-held area in January and February. Among them are several high-profile Americans and Europeans.Hoda Muthana, daughter of a Yemeni diplomat and a so-called “ISIS bride,” joined ISIS in 2014 and the Obama administration revoked her passport in 2016. Now she is demanding to return to the United States from Syria. She is one of an estimated 3,200 ISIS members and their families who are being held in eastern Syria by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the main U.S. partner in the coalition fighting ISIS.”

Al Jazeera: Hundreds Of ISIL Fighters Surrender In Syria's Baghouz: SDF

“US-backed Kurdish-led forces in northeastern Syria captured 400 ISIL fighters who were trying to escape the armed group's last enclave in eastern Syria. A senior commander for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) also said on Wednesday that hundreds more Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS) soldiers surrendered from the last shred of territory they control in the village of Baghouz in Deir Az Zor province. "There are a large number of fighters who are inside and do not want to surrender," said the SDF commander. Those surrendering were among more than 2,000 people who left Baghouz on Wednesday in the latest evacuation, transported by trucks to a patch of desert where they are questioned, searched and given food and water. Scenes of surrender, humiliation, and anger highlighted the desperation of the armed group as its last major bastion in Syria teeters on the edge of collapse. The evacuations came as the US-backed force slowed its latest push on Baghouz, east of the Euphrates River, to allow people to leave the enclave.  Angry civilians evacuating from Baghouz chanted "Islamic State will remain" - underscoring the defiance of ISIL fighters and their supporters even as their defeat looms.”

Voice Of America: From Last Islamic State Village, An Exodus Without End

“At staging areas on the outskirts of the northeast Syrian village of Baghuz, the exodus before the end looked more like an exodus without end. Women and girls clad in burkas, along with small children, marching, shuffling, slowly but surely, joining thousands of others in abandoning the last shred of the Islamic State terror group’s self-declared caliphate. The scene played out on the ground and again on social media Wednesday, as officials with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces explained that another 2,000 people had chosen to leave Baghuz. About 400 IS fighters also surrendered, the SDF said, after a failed attempt to use smugglers to get them to safety. “We left the siege and the people that you call Daesh (Islamic State),” one woman told a cameraman for the Reuters news agency. “But what you don’t know is what’s inside the hearts of Daesh. The kindest people are there,” she added. Not all who left Baghuz are so sentimental. SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said among those escaping Wednesday were 12 boys, some of them Yazidis, who had been kidnapped by IS. Four of them said they had been taken from Tal Afar, in Iraq. On Twitter, Bali made a plea for anyone who could to help them return to their homes.

Kurdistan 24: SDF Forces Liberate 7 Ezidi, 4 Iraqi Shia Children From ISIS

“As the military offensive against the so-called Islamic State continues in Syria’s Baghouz, another batch of children have been rescued from the grips of the extremist group, including seven Yezidis (Ezidis) and four Iraqi Shias. In a tweet on Wednesday, Mustafa Bali, the head of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) media center, called on people to help facilitate the return of the four Iraqi children to their families. “These four children from the Shia community of Tal Afar were abducted by the terrorist ISIS group years ago, they were freed by our troops today during the evacuation of civilians,” Bali tweeted in Arabic. Elsewhere, Kurdish Affairs analyst Mutlu Civiroglu, who is currently in Deir al-Zor, saidthe SDF freed an additional seven Ezidi children who are originally from Sinjar (Shingal). “I talked to several Ezidi kids,” Civiroglu told Kurdistan 24. “They look desperate; very hungry, tired, exhausted, and skinny.” “They [the SDF] clean the boys, give them food, and later they take them to a quiet place, and the elders come and take them to one of the Ezidi centers” in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava). He explained that the Ezidi centers in Rojava then contact the families of the children before they are returned to Shingal. According to SDF commander Adnan Efrin, about 2,000 people were evacuated from Baghouz on Wednesday.”

Iran

Radio Farda: Soleimani's Deputy Says Qods Force Brought Assad To Iran

“The deputy of General Qassem (Ghassem) Soleimani has said that Iran’s Qods force brought Syria’s Bashar Assad to Tehran last week. Esmail Qa’ani deputy commander of the Qods force is quoted by Iran’s ISNA as saying that “those who were supposed to know [about the trip], knew about it”. Bashar Assad paid an unannounced visit to Iran last week, which prompted a controversy as Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was not invited to his meetings with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. Zarif resigned form his post in protest and was later asked by Rouhani to reconsider his resignation. Zarif accepted and returned to his post. Qa’ani has presented the issue as a “need to know’ situation, insisting that “those who should not have known, did not know” about the trip. He reiterated that few officials were informed, and the secrecy was maintained to the end of Assad’s visit.”

The New York Times: She Defended Iranian Women Who Removed Their Head-Coverings. Now She Is A Convict

“A prominent Iranian lawyer who defended women arrested when they defied Iran’s head-covering rule has been convicted of security-related crimes in a secret trial and could face a “very lengthy sentence,” a human-rights monitoring group reported Wednesday. The group, the Center for Human Rights in Iran, said it had learned of the conviction of the lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, from her husband. She was seized at her home by security agents last June and placed in Evin Prison in Tehran. Ms. Sotoudeh, 55, who has been in and out of Iranian prisons several times, is an international symbol of defiance to the limits on personal and political freedoms imposed by the Islamic Republic’s religious hierarchy. She won Europe’s most prestigious human rights award, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, in 2012. The Iranian authorities have never specified why they seized her in June, but at the time Ms. Sotoudeh was defending women arrested when they removed their hijabs, or Islamic head scarves, in public protests.”

The Wall Street Journal: Iranian Hackers Have Hit Hundreds Of Companies In Past Two Years

“Cyberattacks linked to Iranian hackers have targeted thousands of people at more than 200 companies over the past two years, Microsoft Corp. MSFT 0.04% said, part of a wave of computer intrusions from the country that researchers say has hit businesses and government entities around the globe. The campaign, the scope of which hadn’t previously been reported, stole corporate secrets and wiped data from computers. It caused damages estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity and affected oil-and-gas companies, heavy-machinery manufacturers and international conglomerates in more than a half-dozen countries including Saudi Arabia, Germany, the U.K., India and the U.S., according to researchers at Microsoft, which deployed incident-response teams to some of the affected companies. “These destructive attacks…are massively destabilizing events,” said John Lambert, the head of Microsoft’s Threat Intelligence Center.”

The Wall Street Journal: Hard-Line Cleric To Head Iran’s Judiciary

“An Iranian cleric known for his role in condemning thousands of political prisoners to death in the 1980s will take leadership of Iran’s powerful judiciary this week, in a move that is expected to keep the post under the influence of hard-liners. Ebrahim Raisi is set to take oath as Iran’s new chief of judiciary on Friday, according to an Iranian lawmaker quoted in state media. He succeeds Sadegh Larijani, another conservative cleric, who served as chief justice for 10 years before being named in December as head of head of a council that advises Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mr. Khamenei’s appointment of Mr. Raisi extends the hold of hard-liners and illustrates the enduring marginalization of reformists pushing for an overhaul of the judicial system and protection of human rights. While moderate President Hassan Rouhani doesn’t belong to the reformist camp in Iran’s complex political system, he has spoken in defense of gender equality and minority rights. The president routinely battles with the judiciary over internet censorship, which he has promised to relax. It isn’t clear whether Mr. Rouhani had a favorite to head the judiciary, who is appointed by the supreme leader. But Mr. Rouhani’s political clout has shrunk since his most recent election victory, particularly after President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 multilateral nuclear accord and reimposed sanctions on Iran.”

Iraq

Reuters: Militants Kill Seven Iraqi Shi'ite Paramilitaries In Northern Iraq

“Militants ambushed a convoy of pro-government, Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary fighters in northern Iraq on Wednesday night, killing at least seven of them and wounding 30, Iraqi military and police said on Thursday. No group immediately claimed responsibility, but Islamic State militants often carry out such attacks. The Sunni group has switched to insurgent hit-and-run tactics after losing almost all the territory it once controlled.  It has increased its attacks on the military, and such a high death toll especially among Shi’ite militias which were brought formally into the security forces last year is rare. A military statement said Iraqi forces launched an operation pursuing “terrorist elements” who had attacked a group of fighters from the Popular Mobilisation Forces - the umbrella group of Shi’ite militias - near the town of Makhmour. Makhmour is located between Mosul and Kirkuk. Iraqi forces backed by a U.S.-led coalition captured in late 2017 all the territory that fell under Islamic State control in 2014 and 2015, including Mosul, which served as the militants’ de facto capital. The group’s fighters have since waged a campaign of kidnapping, killing and bomb attacks targeting civilians and security forces.”

Iraqi News: Iraqi Security Forces Arrest Two Islamic State Terrorists In Anbar

“Iraqi security forces arrested on Wednesday two militants of the terrorist Islamic State group in Anbar province, a security source was quoted as saying. Speaking to the Arabic-language Almaalomah news website, the source said that troops of the Iraqi Special Forces launched a security operation in the desert of Ar-Rutbah, in western Anbar. “The troops arrested two IS militants and destroyed two armored vehicles during the operation,” the source said, adding that the operation will continue to eliminate the remaining IS cells in the area. Former Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi declared the end of military operations against Islamic State in Iraq on December 9, 2017 three years after the militant group captured about a third of Iraq’s territory. The jihadist group had seized large swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, when it proclaimed a “caliphate” and imposed its rule over some 10 million people.”

The National Interest: How To Turn Iraq Into A Terrorist Playground

“On January 25, popular Iraqi Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr submitted a bill to remove U.S. troops from Iraq. Qais al-Khazali, head of the Iranian-backed militia Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, followed-up on January 28 by threatening that an impending parliamentary vote would oust U.S. forces from the country. Al-Khazali suggested that Iraqis take military action to force out the American troops if such a political initiative were to fail. Washington and Baghdad’s strained relationship took an additional hit over the weekend when President Donald Trump said U.S. troops are in Iraq to watch Iran, increasing Iraqi concerns that Iraq could serve as a battleground between the two. Sadr and al-Khazali’s calls for the expulsion of U.S. troops are nothing new, but they are exacerbating already tense relations between Baghdad and Washington.  In September, U.S. officials threatened to cut aid to Iraq if the incoming government appointed Iranian-affiliated officials to high-level positions. In November, the Trump administration demanded that Iraq cut off Iranian energy imports as a condition for a limited waiver from secondary sanctions on Iran. Then, in December, Trump made a surprise visit to American military forces but failed to visit Baghdad or meet with lawmakers: a move Iraqi officials considered a snub to Iraq’s sovereignty.”

Turkey

Radio Free Europe: Turkey Says It Will Stage Raids With Iran Against Kurdish Rebels

“Turkey and Iran will carry out a joint operation against Kurdish rebels, Ankara's interior minister has said, without specifying when or where the proposed offensive would take place. Turkey has battled the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) for decades, while Iranian security forces have fought its affiliate, the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK). Turkey and many of its Western allies have listed the PKK as a "terrorist" group. Both groups have bases in neighbouring Iraq. "God willing, we will carry out a joint operation against the PKK together with Iran," Suleyman Soylu was quoted as saying by the state-run Anadolu agency on Wednesday. Soylu did not state which PKK bases the planned operation would target or when it will take place. Al Jazeera did not receive a response to Soylu's comments from the Iranian authorities. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan previously said a joint Turkish-Iranian operation against Kurdish fighters was "always on the agenda", and that the proposed offensive would target the fighters' hideouts in Iraq. In 2017, Erdogan said the two countries' military chiefs discussed how to work against the Kurdish fighters, but Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps denied that at the time.”

Afghanistan

Radio Free Europe: At Least 17 Killed In Afghanistan Attack As U.S. Sees 'Progress' In Peace Talks

“At least 17 people have been killed in a militant attack on a construction company in eastern Afghanistan, officials say. The extremist group Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the March 6 attack through its Amaq news website. Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar Province, said a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at the entrance of the company compound in the provincial capital, Jalalabad. Four militants then stormed the compound and shot employees of the company, triggering an hours-long gunbattle with Afghan security forces, Khogyani added. He said most of the dead and the 10 wounded were employees of a private construction company, Entire Builders and Engineers. The spokesman said that all five attackers were killed in the fighting. Provincial council member Ajmal Omar put the death toll slightly higher, saying 18 people had been killed with three in critical condition. The company is located near the main airport in Jalalabad where U.S. and Afghan forces are based. Both the Taliban and the IS group are active in eastern Afghanistan, especially in Nangarhar Province.”

Reuters: Attack On Shi'ite Muslim Gathering In Afghan Capital Kills At Least One

“Several rockets were fired on Thursday at a gathering of members of the Shi’ite Muslim Hazara minority in the Afghan capital, Kabul, killing at least one person and wounding several. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but over the years Hazaras have been repeatedly attacked by Sunni Muslim militant groups such as the Taliban, al Qaeda and Islamic State. TOLO News, which had a camera crew reporting live from the commemoration, said that at least 10 explosions were heard at the commemoration on the anniversary of a Hazara leader’s death. “Our gathering is under attack. Rockets are being dropped on us from every direction,” said Muhammad Mohaqiq, a lawmaker and leader of the main Hazara political party from the stage in comments aired on television. Hundreds of people including top government officials such as Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah and at least three candidates in a July presidential election were at the commemoration.”

The Wall Street Journal: Afghanistan’s Post-9/11 Generation

“I am an Afghan, and I belong to the first post-9/11 generation. I was 4 when the Taliban took over my native Bamiyan in 1998. Bamiyan is one of the most beautiful provinces of Afghanistan, covered with towering mountains and lush green fields. It’s also home to the world’s largest standing Buddha statues. Or it was until the Taliban destroyed them. In 1998 my parents lived in a little mud house at the bottom of the mountain in Dukani village, located in a narrow valley in between the mountains. Word of the Taliban’s brutality—how they would torture, imprison and murder Shiite Muslims—had spread among villagers. Women were advised to wear ragged clothes to avoid being raped. The women of our family had woven scarves for themselves out of old blankets. When the Taliban murdered villagers in 1999, people ran for their lives, leaving their homes and belongings. My family fled to the mountains and hid in a small cave along with two other families. The only light in the cave came through a small hole, which we had to seal to avoid detection.”

The New York Times: Attack On Shi'ite Muslim Gathering In Afghan Capital Kills At Least One

“Several rockets were fired on Thursday at a gathering of members of the Shi'ite Muslim Hazara minority in the Afghan capital, Kabul, killing at least one person and wounding several. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but over the years Hazaras have been repeatedly attacked by Sunni Muslim militant groups such as the Taliban, al Qaeda and Islamic State. TOLO News, which had a camera crew reporting live from the commemoration, said that at least 10 explosions were heard at the commemoration on the anniversary of a Hazara leader's death. "Our gathering is under attack. Rockets are being dropped on us from every direction," said Muhammad Mohaqiq, a lawmaker and leader of the main Hazara political party from the stage in comments aired on television.”

Reuters: Islamic State Claims Responsibility For Deadly Attack In Afghanistan: Amaq

“Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack that killed 16 people in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, the militant group’s Amaq news agency said on Wednesday.  Earlier in the day, suicide bombers and gunmen attacked a construction company office in the Afghan city of Jalalabad, killing 16 employees of the Afghan company, a provincial official said.  Jalalabad is the capital of Nangarhar province, which is on the border with Pakistan.”

Pakistan

Financial Times: Pakistan Launches Crackdown On Militants

“Pakistan’s banks have been ordered to restrict international remittances to relatives of suspected militants as Islamabad launched a crackdown after a terrorist attack in India brought the two countries to the brink of war. In the past two days Pakistan security forces have detained at least 60 members of militant groups, following international calls for Islamabad to disband radical Islamist groups.  Among those arrested were close relatives of Masood Azhar, founder of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (Army of Mohammad), which was blamed for the attack that killed 40 Indian paramilitary personnel last month.  The government has also banned two Islamic charities linked to Hafiz Saeed, founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was responsible for terror outrages in Mumbai in 2008.  The moves marked the most serious actions against suspected militants since Imran Khan, Pakistan’s former cricket captain, was installed as prime minister in August. Officials said the crackdown had the support of Pakistan’s powerful military, which has long been suspected of using terror groups as proxies to attack India, and cause havoc in neighbouring Afghanistan.  “All stakeholders, the civilians and the armed forces are on the same page.”

Reuters: Pakistan Seizes Religious Schools In Intensified Crackdown On Militants

“Pakistan intensified its crackdown against Islamist militants on Thursday, with the government announcing it had taken control of 182 religious schools and detained more than 100 people as part of its push against banned groups.  The move represents Pakistan’s biggest move against banned organizations in years and appears to be targeting Islamic welfare organizations that the United States says are a front for militant activities. Pakistan is facing pressure from global powers to act against groups carrying out attacks in India, including Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which claimed responsibility for the Feb. 14 attack that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police. The escalating tension in the wake of the bombing led to a major confrontation between the nuclear-armed rivals, with both countries carrying out aerial bombing missions and even engaging in a brief dogfight that prompted fears of a war. Pakistani officials say the crackdown is part of a long-planned drive and not a response to Indian anger over what New Delhi calls Islamabad’s failure to rein in militant groups operating on Pakistani soil. Previous large-scale crackdowns against anti-India militants have broadly been cosmetic, with the proscribed groups able to survive and continue operations.”

CNN: Pakistan Denies Terror Clampdown Is Result Of Indian Tensions

“Pakistan said it is not bowing to Indian or international pressure as it cracks down on militant groups in the wake of the crisis over Kashmir. On Tuesday, authorities said they detained 44 members of banned organizations, including the son and brother of Masood Azhar, the leader of militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). JeM claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Pulwama in Indian-controlled Kashmir on February 14, which resulted in the deaths of 40 Indian troops and precipitated the current escalation in tensions between the two nuclear-armed powers. Speaking to CNN, Pakistan's military spokesperson, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, said that any clamp-down on militants was part of an ongoing domestic policy. "We are not doing anything under anyone's pressure," Ghafoor said Tuesday, adding that Pakistan would root out "anybody who operates from Pakistan ... we feel that it is not in the interest of Pakistan." The detained militants -- Masood Azhar's brother Mufti Abdur Rauf and son Hammad Azhar -- were named in a dossier that India had sent to Pakistan in the wake of the Kashmir bombing and were being held in what Pakistan called "preventive custody" as there was no "actionable proof" against them, Islamabad's Ministry of Interior Secretary Azam Khan said to reporters Tuesday.”

Yemen

The New York Times: Yemen Asks U.S. For Help To Curb Smuggling Of Looted Ancient Artifacts

“Yemen’s deputy culture minister, Abdulhadi al-Azazi, remembers standing two years ago amid the rubble of a national museum in his war-torn hometown, Taiz. Objects he had admired as a youngster — ancient limestone carvings, gilded Torah scrolls, bejeweled Islamic daggers, a spindly 2,500-year-old mummy — were missing amid the charred debris and shattered display cases. “The museum was wrecked and everything was stolen,” he said in a telephone interview. “Everywhere in our country we see the same thing happening now.” Some four years into a civil war in which members of a Northern Yemeni faction known as Houthis have fought Saudi-backed Yemeni forces to a stalemate, the extent of the human suffering has drawn global attention. Less noticed have been the cultural institutions and archaeological relics lost or ravaged during the conflict, including thousands of antiquities taken from Yemen’s museums.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Yemeni Army Spokesman: Houthis Killed Stockholm Agreement

“Yemeni National Army spokesman Brigadier General Abdo Abdullah Majali said on Wednesday that Houthis “killed the Stockholm Agreement” they struck with the legitimate government in Sweden last December after they failed to abide by any of the clauses on redeploying their forces in the port city of Hodeidah. Majali told Asharq Al-Awsat that the national army will retain its right to respond to any of the violations carried out by Houthi militias. He also vowed that “what was taken from the legitimate government will be recovered.” In parallel to Majali’s statements, the United Nations announced that Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths was conducting intensive talks with Yemeni warring parties in an effort to advance the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement and try to revive hope of redeployment from Hodeidah and the opening of humanitarian corridors.”

Somalia

Defense Post: Al Shabaab Claims Car Bombing That Killed 4 In Somalia Capital

“Four people were killed and nine wounded when a car bomb exploded near a restaurant in central Mogadishu on Thursday, March 7, police said, as the Al-Shabaab jihadist group claimed responsibility. The blast “was caused by a car loaded with explosives, we perceive that it was parked near a restaurant along the road,” Somali police official Ibrahim Mohamed told AFP. The restaurant was near a security checkpoint in the Somali capital, not far from the presidential palace. The road in which the blast occurred houses eateries and tea shops. “The explosion was very heavy, and we could see the smoke and dust overwhelmed the whole area, it was a car bomb,” said witness Ibrahim Farey. Another, Aisha Hassan, said several vehicles were destroyed and buildings damaged. Al-Shabaab said it had planted the bomb, claiming in a statement that its “fighters targeted one of the checkpoints of the palace apostates.” The group is fighting to overthrow the internationally backed government in Somalia, but has also carried out attacks in neighboring Kenya, which has deployed troops as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia. In August, the U.S. Department of Defense assessed there to be between 3,000 and 7,000 al-Shabaab fighters and 70 to 250 Islamic State Somalia fighters in the Horn of Africa nation.”

Africa

Asharq Al-Awsat: Tunisia: 31 Sentenced To Death For Terrorist Attack

“Tunisia’s Criminal Court on terrorism cases in the capital’s Court of Appeal has sentenced 31 people to death over the 2014 terrorist attack on the house of former Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou. Among the 31 suspects are Seifallah Ben Hassine, known as Abu Ayyad, an associate of late al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and founder of the militant group Ansar al-Sharia. He is also the main suspect in a series of terrorist acts, including the assassination of Tunisian leftist Chokri Belaid and MP Mohamed el-Brahmi. The 31 suspects, who include Algerians as well as Tunisians, were sentenced in absentia. Some of them are reportedly dead. Algerian Khalid al-Shayeb, known as Luqman Abu Sakhr, was among them. He was allegedly killed in 2015 during armed clashes in the Gafsa region of southwestern Tunisia. The court also sentenced one defendant to three years in prison, seven others to ten years, while a number of other suspects received 20-year or life sentences. In addition, the Tunisian judiciary acquitted seven defendants of terrorism charges. In May 2014, a terrorist group attacked Ben Jeddou's house in Kasserine, killing four Tunisian security agents and injuring several others.”

United Kingdom

The Guardian: ISIS Follower Jailed For Terror Plot To Drive Van Into London Shoppers

“A man has been jailed for at least 15 years for a terrorist plot to drive a van into shoppers outside a Disney store on Oxford Street in London. Lewis Ludlow, 27, a Muslim convert who pledged allegiance to Islamic State, hoped to kill 100 people in a “spectacular” attack targeting London’s main shopping district or Madame Tussauds, one of the capital’s most popular tourist attractions. Last year, the former Royal Mail worker, who called himself “the Eagle” and “the Ghost”, pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey in central London to plotting an attack in the UK and funding Isis abroad. On Wednesday, Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC jailed Ludlow for life, ordering him to serve a minimum term of 15 years. He said Ludlow had been engaged in preparations for a “spectacular” multi-casualty attack “with the intention of causing death or terror”. The judge said: “Your commitment at the time … to violent extremism ran very deep and for some time. There could be no other explanation for your preparing to kill innocent people in a vehicle attack for ideological reasons.” On torn-up scraps of paper recovered from Ludlow‘s bin before his arrest, he detailed other potential attack sites, including St Paul’s Cathedral and a “Shia temple in Romford”, east London.”

BBC News: Counter Terrorism Police Say Suspect Packages Linked

“Counter terrorism police officers have said the suspect package found at Glasgow University is linked with devices discovered around London. Bomb disposal officers detonated the item after it was found in the mailroom on Wednesday morning. Police Scotland is now "working closely together" with officers investigating finds at Heathrow and London City airports and Waterloo station. Staff and students were evacuated from buildings and no-one was injured. Classes were expected to return to normal on Thursday. A controlled explosion took place on a suspect device found at Glasgow University Assistant Chief Constable Steve Johnson of Police Scotland said: "The package sent to the university was not opened and no-one was injured. A controlled explosion of the device was carried out this afternoon by EOD. "There are similarities in the package, its markings and the type of device that was recovered in Glasgow to those in London. "Therefore, we are now treating it as being linked to the three packages being investigated by the Met in London and both investigations are being run in tandem. "Our inquiries into the Glasgow package are at an early stage but there is no ongoing risk to the public.”

France

BBC News: France Chiolo Stabbing: Guards Protest After Jail 'Terror Attack'

“French prison guards blocked access to 18 prisons on Wednesday after an inmate in the north of the country wounded two guards in what the justice minister said was a terrorist attack. Michaël Chiolo was apparently given a knife when his female partner visited a high-security jail in Normandy. They barricaded themselves into a family-visiting area before police eventually moved in. Unions called for action at all prisons over safety and staffing. France has for years had to grapple with the spread of jihadism in its jail system. The head of Condé-sur-Sarthe jail near Alençon, where the attack took place, was seen unsuccessfully appealing to protesting guards to be allowed in. Tyres were set on fire and when police arrived they were jeered as the guards stopped them getting through. A hundred guards refused to let anyone into another high-security jail at Fleury-Mérogis, news channel BFMTV reported. One guard, Cédric, told the Ouest France website that he had treated the two guards stabbed in the attack. "It was carnage, the ferocity of it. I'm thinking of my colleagues and I worry tomorrow that might be us."

Southeast Asia

Asia Times: Report Highlights Extremist Danger In Philippines

“It is critical for the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in the Philippines to succeed because failure could mean more recruits for violent extremist groups, the Institute for Policy Analysis and Conflict (IPAC), an independent Jakarta-based think-tank, stated in a report that was released on March 5. The report, titled “The Jolo Bombings and the Legacy of ISIS in the Philippines,” examines the situation in the newly-created autonomous region in Muslim-inhabited areas in the south of the country and the involvement of local as well as foreign fighters in a conflict that started decades ago and has still not been resolved.  It suggests that Indonesian and possibly other militants from the region may be present in the southern Philippines. ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Roman Catholic cathedral in Jolo in the southern Philippines on January 27.  Although there is no forensic evidence to prove the involvement of foreigners, it is widely suspected that militants from other parts of Asia might have been involved in that attack, which claimed the lives of 20 people.  The report suggested that “stronger support for pro-ISIS components is only one of several outcomes of a failed BARMM but it could be the deadliest.”