Eye on Extremism: March 8, 2019

CNN: Top US General In Middle East Says Fight Against ISIS 'Far From Over'

“The top US general overseeing military operations in the Middle East warned Thursday that despite the terror group's territorial losses the fight against ISIS is “far from over,” cautioning that the remnants of the group are positioning themselves for a potential resurgence. “Reduction of the physical caliphate is a monumental military accomplishment but the fight against ISIS and violent extremism is far from over,” Gen. Joseph Votel the commander of US Central Command told the House Armed Services Committee. Votel acknowledged that the terror group's territory had shrunk from some 34,000 square miles at the height of its power to an area that is currently less than a single square mile in the Syrian town of Baghouz. But he cautioned that many ISIS fighters have left these last pockets and have dispersed across Syria and Iraq.”We will need to maintain a vigilant offensive against this now widely dispersed and disaggregated organization that includes leaders, fighters, facilitators, resources and of course their toxic ideology,” he said. And while hundreds of family members of ISIS fighters have left the group's last remaining pocket and surrendered to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, Votel warned that this was a “calculated move” aimed at preserving the group's ability to fight in the future.”

BBC: Brussels Jewish Museum Murders: Mehdi Nemmouche Guilty

“A French-born jihadist who spent a year fighting in Syria for the Islamic State (IS) group has been found guilty of the murder of four people in an anti-Semitic attack in Brussels in May 2014. Mehdi Nemmouche, 33, opened fire with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a handgun at the city's Jewish Museum. Three people died at the scene and one died later in hospital. A man who helped plan the attack and provided the weapons, Nacer Bendrer, was also found guilty of murder. Sentencing will be announced at a later date. The two-month-long trial involved apparent witness intimidation and testimony from former prisoners of IS in Syria. Two Israeli tourists, a volunteer worker and a receptionist were killed in the attack on the museum. Nemmouche's lawyers tried to suggest that he'd been framed in an elaborate conspiracy which blamed the murders on foreign intelligence agencies, but produced no evidence to support the claim.”

The Washington Post: Families Of U.S. Prisoners In Iran Plead With White House To Do More

“Families of Americans imprisoned or missing in Iran faulted the U.S. government on Thursday for not doing more to bring their loved ones home and called for establishing a dialogue with Tehran to negotiate their return. At turns embittered and bewildered, the criticisms of the Obama and Trump administrations were leveled by relatives of three men whom the United States considers hostages of the Iranian government. The family members attended a hearing before a House foreign affairs subcommittee called on the 12th anniversary of the disappearance of former FBI agent Robert Levinson. “After three very different presidential administrations, we are no closer to bringing Bob home than when we started,” said Christine Levinson, his wife, who believes her husband is alive and being held in Iran.”

The New York Times: U.S. Peace Talks With Taliban Trip Over A Big Question: What Is Terrorism?

“Nearly 11 days after peace negotiations between the United States and the Taliban began with high hopes, it has become clear that any resolution to the 18-year war could be frustratingly slow. One of the most prominent issues thwarting progress is a disagreement over a fundamental question: What is terrorism, and who is a terrorist? The answer is so important because the two sides had already agreed in principle on a framework for two crucial issues: the withdrawal of American troops, and a commitment that Afghan soil would not again be used to launch terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies, as Al Qaeda did with its strikes on Sept. 11, 2001. That attack led the Americans to invade Afghanistan in an effort to hunt down Al Qaeda’s mastermind, Osama bin Laden. The Taliban have said they would not allow Afghanistan to be used as a launching pad for international attacks. American negotiators have insisted on specifying that Afghanistan not be used by “terrorist” groups, but the Taliban have resisted, saying there was no universal definition of terrorism. The Taliban dragging their feet on one term might seem to be killing time, but officials, including current and former Taliban members, said it was a sensitive and existential issue for the group.”

Euractiv: Up To 400 Online Platforms Hosting Terrorist Content, Commission Says

“Between 200 and 400 online platforms are currently hosting content that could lead to terrorist radicalisation, the European Commission has said. Dr Hany Farid, a senior adviser for Counter Extremism Project (CEP), recently told EURACTIV that most platforms were unwilling to assume their civic responsibilities, which could soon backfire for them. Farid is a world-leading authority on computer forensics and developer of a hashing software capable of identifying and quickly removing violent images, video, and audio content online, the eGLYPH technology. “We are at where we are today because of the sheer unwillingness of the platforms to cooperate with wider social concerns,” he said. “The scale of extremist content online is phenomenal.” Farid said he would not be surprised if the platforms’ failure to counter the spread of terrorist content started to hit their revenues. “Advertisers are going to start to turn away,” he said. “They won’t want to be associated with businesses that allow the dissemination of such offensive material.”

The Wall Street Journal: When Mark Zuckerberg Said Privacy, He Didn’t Mean Privacy From Facebook

“Mark Zuckerberg has outlined a new vision for Facebook Inc. FB that he says is focused on privacy. It is a major shift in direction, but it doesn’t mean what you think it means. What the Facebook chief executive’s manifesto really promises is a more tightly integrated version of Facebook’s various apps and services, cloaked in the raiments of privacy but, in fact, continuing to operate in contradiction to it. Facebook would still gather data from its existing sources—the core social network, its Instagram app, an web-wide tracking system and countless apps that sometimes send the company deeply personal information—but also increasingly from messaging apps. These would double as interfaces with businesses and, eventually, usurp the functions of our credit cards and digital wallets. (He mentioned “payments” in his note four times.)”

United States

The New York Times: General Says Islamic State A 'Serious Generational Problem'

“Even as Islamic State militants are losing the last of their territory in Syria, the militants who remain are unbroken and radicalized, and represent a "serious generational problem," the top U.S. commander for the Mideast said Thursday. Gen. Joseph Votel told the House Armed Services Committee that unless the extremist group and its ideology are handled properly, IS will sow the seeds of future violent extremism. "What we are seeing now is not the surrender of ISIS as an organization but a calculated decision to preserve the safety of their families and preservation of their capabilities," said Votel, adding that the insurgents are going to ground in remote areas, "waiting for the right time to resurge." Votel's assessment provides a reality check to President Donald Trump's repeated assertion in recent weeks that IS has been defeated and lost 100 percent of its "caliphate," which once covered a vast territory straddling Syria and Iraq.”

The New York Times: No Pressure To Withdraw From Syria By Specific Date: U.S. General

“The general overseeing U.S. forces in the Middle East said on Thursday that he was under no pressure to withdraw forces from Syria by any specific date, after President Donald Trump ordered the drawdown of most U.S. troops from Syria. "What is driving the withdrawal of course is our mission, which is the defeat of ISIS, and so that is our principal focus, and that is making sure that we protect our forces, that we don't withdraw in a manner that increases the risk to our forces," U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command, said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. "There is not pressure on me to meet a specific date at this particular time," Votel said. Trump ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria in December after he said they had defeated Islamic State militants in Syria. The abrupt decision sparked an outcry from allies and U.S. lawmakers and was a factor in Jim Mattis??? resignation as defense secretary.”

Syria

Kurdistan24: Life After ISIS: Hellish Public Execution Square In Raqqa Returns To Former Glory

“Once known as the Islamic State “public square from hell,” with regular executions, crucifixions, and lashings, Raqqa’s old Paradise Square is returning to its former glory, two years after its liberation. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) liberated Raqqa in October 2017, after a heavy battle that lasted months. When it was retaken, the damage to the city’s infrastructure was extensive and grim. Now, the Raqqa Civil Council (RCC) is focused on rebuilding and providing services as life slowly comes back to the streets of the Islamic State Caliphate’s former capital in Syria. Just after its liberation, civilians in Raqqa were hesitant to visit the square which reminded them of the city’s suffering under the jihadist group’s tyrannical reign. “The square was a place where heads were put on spikes. Today, it is full of life and fountains,” Zabia (38) from Raqqa told Kurdistan 24. “The people are now coming and going without fear. Before, it was challenging to pass by.”

Reuters: Waves Of People Still Leaving Islamic State's Last Syrian Enclave

“Thousands of people could still be left inside Islamic State’s last enclave in eastern Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said, as the waves of evacuations from the tiny area continued on Thursday. The SDF has said it wants to ensure all civilians have been evacuated before launching a final assault on the besieged enclave of Baghouz. It is the last shred of populated territory held by Islamic State, which once controlled swathes of Iraq and Syria. “We are still hearing about the presence of thousands inside Baghouz,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told al-Hadath television. “We expect a fierce battle later on after the end of the civilian evacuation, given that those that will remain in Baghouz are the ones brimming with salafi jihadi ideology and the ones for whom surrender is not an option,” he said. Even with its defeat at Baghouz looming large, Islamic State is still widely assessed to represent a security threat, with a foothold in patches of remote territory and the ability to mount guerrilla attacks. Many thousands of people, many of them the families of Islamic State fighters, have poured out of Baghouz over the last several weeks. Hundreds of Islamic State militants have also surrendered, the SDF says.”

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Gives European Allies Friday Target To Sign On To Syria Proposal

“The Trump administration is pressing eight European allies to commit by Friday to a U.S. proposal to stabilize northeastern Syria, U.S. officials said, setting a target meant to persuade reluctant partners to join Washington in the still-developing plan. With U.S.-backed forces poised to seize the last remaining pocket of Islamic State resistance in Syria, U.S. officials have asked key allies, including France, the U.K. and Turkey, to remain part of the alliance and ensure the terror group doesn’t regain a foothold in northeastern Syria. The plan also is meant to avert a potential clash between the U.S.’s Kurdish allies there and Turkey, which considers the Syrian fighters terrorists. Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. forces in the Middle East, on Thursday described the allied presence as essential to the U.S. effort in Syria, saying the absence of allies would make the mission more difficult and hurt momentum. Under the latest Trump administration plans, U.S. forces would stay in the northern Syrian city of Manbij, continuing joint patrols with Turkish counterparts. A second group would be based east of the Euphrates River Valley as part of a safe zone between Turkey and Syria. Those U.S. forces also will help train and advise local forces so they can secure reclaimed territory once under Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, defense officials have said.”

Al Jazeera: ICC Urged To Investigate Syria's Forced Deportations

“Human rights lawyers have urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a preliminary investigation into alleged mass deportations by Syrian authorities, in an attempt to hold President Bashar al-Assad's regime accountable for atrocities carried out during the country's bloody civil war. On Thursday, a group of lawyers said it filed requests with the ICC on behalf of 28 victims who were forced across the border into Jordan, according to a statement by UK law firm Stoke White. Lawyer Toby Cadman said legal experts at the Guernica Centre for International Justice argued that a precedent set last year in a case involving the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar could be used to give the ICC jurisdiction over at least part of the Syrian conflict. That case focussed on Muslim Rohingya driven out from Myanmar, which is not an ICC member, into Bangladesh, which is and the ICC ruled it had jurisdiction to look at a range of allegations against Myanmar's security forces. Syria, however, is not a member of the ICC and thus the court has no jurisdiction in the country. That has meant that numerous allegations of atrocities committed during the conflict have not been prosecuted at the world's first permanent criminal tribunal, something that Cadman wants to change.”

Voice Of America: Syria Rejects Watchdog Report On Chemical Weapons Use

“The Syrian government has rejected a report by an international chemical weapons watchdog that found chlorine most likely was used in an attack on the rebel-held city of Douma last year. A Syrian Foreign Ministry statement released Thursday said the report was “full of flagrant falsification of facts'' and lacked “credibility.” The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) released a report last week that said there were “reasonable grounds” to believe toxic chemicals containing chlorine had been used in the attack in April 2018. Eyewitnesses and medical workers at the time said more than 40 people were killed in the attack. The OPCW inspectors traveled to Douma. Their report did not assign blame for the use of chemicals. The Syrian statement said the investigation had “ignored statements from witnesses who experienced this incident and who described the claim that chemical weapons had been used in Douma as having been a play put on by armed terrorist groups.”

Iran

Reuters: U.S. Urges U.N. To Restore Tough Missile Restrictions On Iran After Tests

“The United States accused Iran on Thursday of defying a U.N. Security Council resolution with one ballistic missile test and two satellite launches since December and urged the council to “bring back tougher international restrictions” on Tehran. A 2015 U.N. resolution “called upon” Iran to refrain for up to eight years from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons following an agreement with six world powers. Some states argue that the language does not make it obligatory.  In a letter to the 15-member council, acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jonathan Cohen said Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile on Dec. 1, 2018, and attempted to place satellites in orbit on Jan. 15 and Feb. 5. “Iran has carried out these three launches in defiance of the expressed will of the U.N. Security Council, and such provocations continue to destabilize the entire Middle East region,” Cohen wrote. Iran says its missiles are not designed to carry nuclear weapons. The Iranian mission to the United Nations was not immediately available to comment on the U.S. letter. At a Security Council meeting in December, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the body to toughen that measure to reflect language in a 2010 resolution that left no room for interpretation by banning Iran from “activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.”

Iraq

Reuters: Iraq Leader Says Islamic State Foreign Fighters May Face Death Penalty: Interview

“Iraqi President Barham Salih said foreign Islamic State fighters tried in Iraq could be handed death sentences, according to an interview published by Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National on Friday. The IS fighters “will be tried in accordance to Iraqi law and may be sentenced to death if found guilty” of killing Iraqis, the paper quoted Salih as saying on its website. U.S.-backed forces in Syria handed some 280 Iraqi and foreign suspected Islamic State members last month, Iraq’s military said. More such handovers are expected under an agreement  o transfer some 500 detainees held by U.S.-backed forces in Syria. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said Iraq would either help repatriate non-Iraqi IS detainees to their home countries, or prosecute those suspected of having committed crimes against Iraq and Iraqis. Under Iraqi law those could face the death penalty. Salih’s remarks were the first public comments confirming that foreign IS fighters could face execution in Iraq. “There are certain cases in which some of these foreign fighters have been implicated in cases of terrorism on Iraqi soil or against Iraqi citizens. Here Iraqi law will take precedence,” he said.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: ISIS Ambush Kills 6 PMF Members In Northern Iraq

“Six members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) were killed in an ambush by the ISIS terrorist group in northern Iraq, officials said Thursday. Thirty-one others were wounded when ISIS ambushed a bus carrying the members in an area south of Mosul city. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi opened an investigation into the attack, which took place late Wednesday near the town of Makhmour. An official from the PMF said the bus was en route from Mosul to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. He blamed the attack on ISIS, which was vanquished in Iraq in late 2017 but has recently stepped up activities. The wounded were transported to the nearest health-care facility in the nearby town of Qayyarah, in Nineveh Province. Member of the parliamentary security and defense committee former interior minister Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban told Asharq Al-Awsat that such attacks demonstrate that ISIS has breached security measures. He demanded that the breaches be properly addressed, highlighting the need for bolstering intelligence efforts, which would “greatly limit such attacks, but not eliminate them.” “Some of these violations, including this one, are politically-motivated on the local and regional levels,” he added without elaborating.”

Turkey

Bloomberg: Turkey Vows Unilateral Syria ‘Safe Zone’ If U.S. Talks Fail

“Turkey warned that it would seek to enforce a “safe zone” in northeast Syria on its own if talks with the U.S. on the issue fail. “We’re working to reach a consensus with the U.S,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told state-run Anadolu Agency on Friday. “If that’s not possible, then we would do it ourselves,” he said, adding that preparations for such a mission are complete. Turkey wants the zone to keep Kurdish fighters it regards as a terrorist force with designs on Turkish territory away from its border, and is keen to have sole military jurisdiction in the frontier region. But Washington armed the YPG militia in the fight against Islamic State and the Trump administration’s under pressure to protect the Kurds. The dispute is just the latest between the NATO allies, who are also at loggerheads over Ankara’s decision to buy a Russian missile-defense system. The U.S. has warned that the purchase could imperil Turkey’s chances of buying the next-generation F-35 jet it’s helping to build, and possibly trigger sanctions.”

Afghanistan

The Washington Post: Islamic State Claims Attack On Shiite Memorial Service In Kabul, Killing Three

“An outdoor memorial service attended by numerous Afghan politicians and officials, including Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and former president Hamid Karzai, was attacked by mortar fire Thursday in the Afghan capital, killing three people, police and health officials said. The attack, which also wounded 20 people, was claimed by the Islamic State extremist group through its affiliated website.  The midmorning gathering, which drew several thousand mourners, was being held in a public arena to mark the anniversary of the death of a minority Shiite and ethnic Hazara leader, Abdul Ali Mazari, who was killed in 1995 by the Taliban.  A year ago this week, a memorial service here for Mazari was attacked by a suicide bomber outside a mosque, killing 10 and injuring 22. Both attacks took place in southwestern Kabul, the heart of the capital’s large Shiite and Hazara community, which has been the target of dozens of bombings and other attacks in recent years. The 2018 bombing was also claimed by the Islamic State, a radical Sunni group that views Shiites as heretics and has claimed most terrorist attacks on Shiite targets.”

The Washington Post: UN Chief Urges Speedy Afghan Government And Taliban Talks

“Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling for immediate talks between Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban, saying the current moment represents “perhaps the most significant chance” to find a negotiated resolution of the country’s 17-year war. The U.N. chief stressed in a report to the Security Council circulated Thursday that “a sustainable peace agreement can be reached only through comprehensive intra-Afghan dialogue.” Guterres expressed hope that progress in U.S. talks with the Taliban will bring about direct talks between Taliban insurgents and the government. “I call for the beginning of immediate, direct and substantive talks, towards the hope of ending this conflict and its unacceptable toll in lives,” he said. U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is currently holding talks with the Taliban in Qatar, which are now in their second week. This has raised expectations there could be some progress. Khalilzad has said he sees himself as a “catalyst” to finding a formula for Afghans to sit down with each other and work out a roadmap for a peaceful future. He also said he wants intra-Afghan negotiations to start immediately. Despite stepped-up U.S. efforts to end America’s longest war, attacks have continued in Afghanistan.”

Pakistan

The Wall Street Journal: India And Pakistan Are Flirting With Nuclear Disaster

“If you had to name the man most likely to spark a nuclear war, who would you pick? Kim Jong Un? Here’s another candidate: Masood Azhar, the founder of the Pakistani jihadist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, or Army of Mohammed. After three weeks of dramatically escalating tensions, India and Pakistan appear to have pulled back from the brink of war—for now. But the larger question remains: What does the Pakistani army’s longstanding policy of nurturing jihadist groups mean for stability in South Asia? As an increasingly nationalist India grows more assertive, Pakistan’s jihadists could inadvertently trigger a catastrophic war. JeM stands at the center of the continuing confrontation between the two nuclear-armed nations. It flared up with a Valentine’s Day suicide car-bombing in Indian Kashmir that killed more than 40 Indian soldiers. On Feb. 26, Indian warplanes retaliated by bombing a JeM training camp in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the first attack across the international border since the 1971 war that turned East Pakistan into independent Bangladesh.”

The New York Times: ‘Everything Went Black’: Attack Rattles A Tense Jammu And Kashmir

“Fears of communal violence were once again raised in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday when a grenade blew up at a crowded bus stand, killing one person and wounding many others. Around the same time, videos of two Indian men beating Kashmiri street vendors in a northern Indian city went viral online, further stoking tensions. The violence followed a week of hostilities in Kashmir between India and Pakistan, both of which claim the mountainous region. On Thursday, witnesses said that a young man lobbed a grenade toward a crowd of people, including many students, who were waiting for a bus in central Jammu, one of the larger cities in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir. “There was a loud bang — everything went black in front of my eyes,” said Sat Kumar, a trader, who was taken to the hospital along with more than two dozen others who were injured in the attack, some critically. The young man who threw the grenade initially got away. But later in the day, Indian police officials said they had apprehended someone with the help of CCTV footage. Indian officials identified the suspect as a 17-year-old Kashmiri who was part of a militant group fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir.”

The Washington Post: Popular Support For Militants Complicates Pakistan Crackdown

“On the congested streets of Bahawalpur, a city in southern Pakistan’s jihadi heartland, emotions run high in favor of Jaish-e-Mohammad, a U.N.-designated terror group that recently pushed nuclear-armed India and Pakistan to the brink of war. Such support complicates Prime Minister Imran Khan’s latest crackdown on militant groups, including Jaish-e-Mohammed. In recent days, Khan has ordered the takeover of assets and property of dozens of banned militant organizations that operate in Pakistan. Many of the groups are popular among the poor because they operate networks of charities. Some groups have also enjoyed the support of the military and intelligence services. “Jaish-e-Mohammad is not a terrorist group, they just want to spread Islam,” said Tahir Zia, a gray-bearded resident of Bahawalpur, a city whose 18th-century founders claim to be direct descendants of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad. According to Pakistan’s counter-terrorism agency, the government has outlawed 68 militant groups. This includes Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lahskar-e-Taiba and Harakat-ul Mujahedeen — Pakistan-based groups that seek to wrest control of Indian-controlled territory in the disputed Kashmir region. Kashmir is split between Pakistan and India and claimed by both in its entirety.”

Yemen

Asharq Al-Awsat: Houthis Offer Own Interpretation Of Sweden Deal To Visiting UN Officials In Sanaa

“Amid an escalation in attacks by the Houthi militias against legitimate government positions in southern Hodeidah, the Iran-backed militants informed UN officials in Sanaa Thursday that they wanted to maintain their security presence in the city and its ports, in defiance of the Sweden deal. Informed political sources in Sanaa said high-ranking officials from the coup government held a meeting with director of the office of UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths and Jens Toyberg-Frandzen, deputy of Michael Lollesgaard, the head of the UN observer mission. The Houthis informed the UN officials that they “refuse to deal with any redeployment plan in Hodeidah and its three ports if it means an end to their security and administrative presence in the city,” the sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.”

Lebanon

The Times Of Israel: Lebanon’s President Says Hezbollah Part Of Lebanese People

“Lebanon’s president has spoken up in defense of the country’s Hezbollah terror group, telling a visiting British official that the group’s allegiances in the region do not affect internal Lebanese politics. President Michel Aoun’s office quoted him as saying that Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese people and is represented in the Cabinet and parliament. The comments by Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, came after his meeting with Britain’s Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt on Thursday. Hezbollah is allied with the Syrian government and Iran. Britain last week banned Hezbollah as a terrorist group, saying it is destabilizing the Middle East. The US also considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, as does Israel. Hezbollah said the decision was proof that the British government is “merely a puppet” that does the bidding of its American “masters.”

Egypt

Reuters: Egyptian Forces Kill Seven Militants Near Cairo: Government

“Egyptian security forces killed seven suspected militants in two operations in Giza, across the Nile from central Cairo, the interior ministry said on Thursday. Three of the militants had disguised themselves as electricity workers to plant explosives, but were killed in an exchange of fire after their truck was intercepted, a ministry statement said. One police officer was wounded. Four more were killed when security forces raided an apartment they were using. The suspects were not identified but the ministry said they were members of the Hasm group, which emerged in 2016 and has claimed several attacks on security forces. Egypt accuses the group of being a militant wing of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood denies this. Authorities frequently announce deaths of suspects identified as Islamist militants in clashes or raids, often in remote areas including the Sinai Peninsula, where the armed forces have been battling an insurgency.”

Nigeria

The Washington Post: At Least 5 Killed In Nigeria As Van Strikes Boko Haram Mine

“A resident says at least five farmers are dead and dozens are wounded in northeastern Nigeria after their vehicle struck a land mine buried by Boko Haram extremists. Bello-Indimi Zabarmari says the blast occurred Wednesday. He says the mine was planted as the extremists fled after trying to attack Khaddamari town outside Maiduguri city in Borno state on the eve of the Feb. 23 elections. Zabarmari says the farmers defied soldiers’ warnings not to use the road because they wanted to reach their cucumber farms. He says four died at the scene and a fifth died at a hospital. A security source who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters had estimated seven dead. Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency is now a decade old.”

Somalia

Business Insider: The Real Reason Terror Group Al-Shabaab Banned Plastic Bags

“Terrorism is no laughing matter. But the notorious Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab managed to become the subject of derision in the news media when it declared last year that it was banning plastic bags. Al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia, claimed that plastic bags presented “a serious threat to the well-being of humans and animals alike.” Websites from The Daily Caller to The Small Wars Journal tweeted their mockery about the terrorist group's peculiar edict while a photojournalist for the magazine National Geographic had to clarify his own tweet about the phenomenon as “not satire.” Al-Shabaab remains far from the first associate of al-Qaeda to try tackling environmental issues. Osama bin Laden spent several of his last days fretting over climate change, and the reclusive leader of the Taliban encouraged Afghans to plant more trees in a bizarre “special message” in 2017. Despite these commonalities, the Somali terrorist group has distinguished itself from its foreign allies with a history of outlandish boycotts, outlawing staples of modernity from bras and ringtones to the Internet, music, and television. The reach of these frequent bans remains a matter of debate, given that several East African militaries—bolstered by American airstrikes—have expelled the militants from much of Somalia.”

The National: New Strategies Are Needed To Loosen Al Shabab's Grip On Somalia

“It is often noted that Somali government control does not extend far beyond the country’s capital, Mogadishu. Thereafter, vast tracts of land are controlled by a hotchpotch of militias – chief among them Al Shabab, which has spent more than a decade trying to overthrow the government – or by state presidents who have sought to insulate their regions from Somalia’s many problems and rejected interference from Mogadishu. But it is now worth asking whether government control stretches beyond even a couple of streets from the presidential palace. Earlier this month, a 22-hour Al Shabab siege in Mogadishu’s busiest street left 20 dead and a car bomb yesterday killed at least four. It now appears that US airstrikes in southern and central Somalia have pushed Al Shabab militants to seek cover in the capital, which the group actually controlled until it was repelled in 2011.”

Africa

Military Times: African Terrorist Groups ‘Aren’t Necessarily A Threat To The Homeland,’ AFRICOM Leader Says

“U.S. Africa Command’s counter-terrorism mission is facing some troop cuts, which has lawmakers wondering how that will impact the safety of the American homeland from terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State’s regional loyalists. The answer is probably not much. One problem AFRICOM faces is characterizing the threats the organization faces, Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, AFRICOM commander, told the House Armed Services Committee Thursday. “The threats we are working against aren’t necessarily a threat to the homeland and may not be a threat to the region overall,” Waldhauser said. That fact is one of the reasons the Defense Department tasked AFRICOM to optimize its forces, and cut unnecessary missions. “In many of these groups, we have the intersection of jihadist philosophy with crime, historical influence, criminal activity, shipping of weapons, drugs, cattle and so forth,” Waldhauser said. “These groups may hang out a shingle and say ‘we’re with ISIS today,’” But they “may or may not have the intent or capability to attack outside their particular part of the country.” “Even though they may call themselves al-Qaida or ISIS, sometimes it’s difficult to say they’re a threat to the homeland.” 

United Kingdom

The Guardian: Number Of People In Jail For Terrorism Offences Falls For First Time Since 2013

“The number of prisoners in custody for terrorism offences has fallen for the first time in five years, official figures show. There were 221 people in custody in Great Britain for terrorism-related offences at the end of December, a decrease of 1% on the 224 in the previous year and the first fall since the year ending December 2013, according to Home Office statistics. Forty-nine prisoners held for terrorism-related offences were released from custody in Great Britain in the year ending 30 September, of which 26 had been sentenced to four years in prison or more. Police and security services face a surge in the number of convicted terrorists released from prisons they either complete their sentence or become eligible for parole. The lowest number of arrests for terrorism offences in five years was also recorded in the year to December. There were 273 arrests for terrorism-related activity in the period, a decrease of 41% compared with the 465 arrests in the previous year. This was the lowest number of arrests since the year ending December 2013. However, each of the past five years the number of arrests has been above the annual average of 258 arrests over the whole time series.”

Germany

Reuters: Germany Charges Couple Who Tested Ricin On Hamster With Plotting Islamist Attack

“A Tunisian man and his German wife who bought ricin and tested the lethal toxin on a hamster have been charged with plotting Islamist-motivated attacks using a biological weapon, German prosecutors said on Thursday. The GBA Federal Prosecutor’s Office said that 30-year-old Sief Allah H. and 43-year-old Yasmin H. had acquired knowledge on how to turn ricin into a weapon and ordered 3,300 grains of the poison, which can be found in castor beans, online. Sief Allah H. was arrested in Cologne in June and police detained Yasmin H. a month later. The couple also face charges of planning attacks using metal balls and homemade explosives as well as seeking membership of Islamic State. Prosecutors did not say if the two suspects had a chosen a date or location for their planned attacks. Germany has been on high alert since December 2016, when an Islamist militant from Tunisia killed 12 people by driving a truck into crowds at a Christmas market in Berlin. Prosecutors last month charged a Russian man who knew the perpetrator of the Christmas market attack with plotting to bomb another target in Germany. On Thursday, they said Sief Allah H. and Yasmin H. started plotting for attacks in 2018 after Sief Allah H. twice failed to cross into Syria from Turkey a year earlier.”

Canada

Vice News: Canada Is Spending $300K On Research Into Far-Right Extremism

“The government of Canada will provide funding for a research team seeking to learn more about Canadian far-right extremism. In a press release on Wednesday, Public Safety Canada announced it give researchers at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology $366,985 over three years to study the movement. The research will be led by Dr. Barbara Perry with Ryan Scrivens of the University of Michigan and David Hoffman of the University of New Brunswick. For years, the three have been leading the way in researching the far-right in Canada. In 2015, Perry and Scrivens produced a much-cited survey outlining the far-right ecosystem in Canada, a project that will be expanded with this funding. The research team has announced it will conduct “interviews with law enforcement, community anti-hate activists, and former and current extremists” in order to further understand the movement and growth of far-right extremism in Canada. They will also partner with the UK-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) to “conduct innovative analysis of online content and media coverage, designed to inform local responses to hate speech and hate crime.” The far-right has changed significantly since the 2015 study, Perry told VICE in an interview.”

Europe

The New York Times: Denmark Charges 14 People With Unlawfully Sharing Video Of Beheading

“Two are barely teenagers. The oldest is beyond retirement age. But all three are among 14 people in Denmark who have been charged with unlawfully sharing a graphic video online of the killing of a young woman in Morocco late last year. The charges follow an investigation into 118 police reports of the unlawful sharing of a video that depicted the death of either Louisa Vestager Jespersen, 24, of Denmark or her friend Maren Ueland, 28, of Norway. It is unclear which woman was seen in the footage. “The 14 people are accused of violating the penal code by sharing the video — usually via Facebook Messenger or other social networks,” Michael Kjeldgaard, the police chief of East Jutland, said in a statement. In December last year, Ms. Jespersen and Ms. Ueland were hiking in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains when they were attacked and killed by a group of men who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. Soon after, the grisly video of one of their killings began to spread online, and was even forwarded to the women’s family members. In the clip, one of the victims is shown screaming while a man cuts her neck with a knife. The authorities urged people to refrain from sharing the footage and advised them to delete the video if they had it, but it was still widely shared on social media and was even passed among students in schoolyards, the police said.”

The New York Times: Jury In Belgium Convicts Man In Jewish Museum Attack

“A French citizen suspected of working for the Islamic State in Syria was convicted Thursday of murdering four people at a Jewish museum in Belgium’s capital, an attack that crystallized fears in Europe that foreign fighters would return to sow terror at home. Reading out the jury verdict at the Brussels criminal court, presiding Judge Laurence Massart, said the defendant, Mehdi Nemmouche, was guilty of four “terrorist murders” in the killing of an Israeli couple and two museum employees on May 24, 2014. Mr. Nemmouche, 33, sat impassively while the verdict was read, three police officers wearing ski masks surrounding him. He faces up to 30 years in prison at a sentencing hearing set for Monday. Another defendant, Nacer Bendrer, was found “guilty beyond all reasonable doubt” of supplying the revolver and assault rifle used in the killings. Mr. Bendrer, 30, sat with his head bowed during the reading of the verdicts. Defense lawyers had argued the killings were part of a conspiracy and Mr. Nemmouche was set up by security officials — perhaps from Iran or Lebanon — who shot the couple because the Israelis might have been members of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service. Security camera video from the Jewish museum’s entrance showed a man wearing a baseball cap and armed with a revolver shoot the man and woman in the back of the head at point-blank range.”

Technology

The Guardian: Facebook’s New Move Isn't About Privacy. It’s About Domination

“If you have visited China in recent years you might have discovered how difficult it is to make your way through without WeChat, an all-purpose mobile phone application. People in China use WeChat for everything from sending messages to family to reading news and opinion to ordering food to paying at vending machines to paying for a taxi. WeChat lets you deposit money in your bank, search for a library book, make a medical appointment, conduct business conference calls, and interact with the government. In China, WeChat is the operating system of your life, as it is for almost 1.1 billion people. For Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, WeChat is both his greatest challenge and the model for the future of his company. Zuckerberg has long wanted Facebook to be the operating system of our lives – at least for those who live outside of China. WeChat is what Facebook has yet to become. WeChat, should it move beyond China and its diaspora, is also the greatest threat to Facebook’s global domination.”

The New York Times: Zuckerberg’s So-Called Shift Toward Privacy

“I was tempted to roll my eyes on Wednesday when Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, posted a manifesto outlining his plan to make social networking more “privacy-focused” and less about the public disclosure of information. Why take seriously someone who has repeatedly promised — but seldom delivered — improvements to Facebook’s privacy practices? This is a company, after all, that signed a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission agreeing to improve how it handles the personal information of its users, after federal regulators filed charges against it for deceiving consumers about their privacy. That was about seven years ago, and it has been one scandal after another since. But I don’t believe in cynicism: Things can get better if we want them to — through regulatory oversight and political pressure. That said, I also don’t believe in being a sucker. So I read Mr. Zuckerberg’s plan with a keen eye on distinguishing meaningful changes from mere platitudes and evasions.”