Eye on Extremism: May 1, 2020

The Washington Post: Taliban Attacks In Afghanistan Surge After U.S. Peace Deal, Inflicting Heavy Casualties

“Facing an emboldened Taliban, and with less U.S. military support, Afghan forces have suffered heavy casualties during a two-month surge in violence across the country that is threatening to jeopardize a fragile peace deal between the United States and the Taliban. A U.S. military assessment describes Taliban attacks on Afghan forces in March as “above seasonal norms,” according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). According to the Afghan National Security Council, the Taliban has carried out an average of 55 attacks a day since March 1 —­­­ a spike that has doubled casualties among Afghan security forces in some parts of the country, officials say. “The numbers show Taliban doing nothing for peace and everything to continue their campaign of terror against Afghans,” the council’s spokesman, Javid Faisal, said on Twitter. The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, on Tuesday called on the Taliban to reduce attacks and give “our political leadership on all sides an opportunity to determine the peaceful way forward,” according to a transcript of his remarks released by a U.S. military spokesman.”

The National: Social Media Platforms Allow Sanctioned Qatar-Based Extremists To Use Their Platforms

“Counter terrorism experts are warning social media companies to make more stringent checks after a “simple” investigation using the United Nation’s sanctions list of known extremists uncovered evidence of both ISIS and Al Qaeda terrorists having accounts. A fifth of the entities on the UN’s designated terror list, checked in a random sample by researchers at the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), had profiles on mainstream sites including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. One of the profiles belonged to major terror financier, Abd Al Rahman bin Umayr Al Nuaymi, who was blacklisted in 2014. Al Nuaymi, who once served as President of the Qatar Football Association, is accused of funnelling £1.6m a month to Al Qaeda. He also founded the Eid Charity which was designated by the Gulf states in 2017 for funding terrorism.”

Syria

Associated Press: Explosions Rock Weapons Warehouse On Base In Central Syria

“Explosions rocked a Syrian military base housing a weapons warehouse Friday in the country's central Homs province, and a local official said the cause was not immediately clear. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syria war, said an Israeli rocket attack was suspected. It said the weapons warehouse, south of the city of Homs, is for Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group, which has backed Syria's armed forces in the nine-year civil war. The Israeli military declined to comment on the reports. But it has in the past targeted Iranian and Iranian-backed targets inside Syria, saying it won't tolerate Tehran's increasing influence along its borders. In the past month, there have been several reports of suspected Israeli strikes on targets inside Syria, the last on Monday. Friday's explosions wounded 10 civilians walking nearby, Homs health director Hassan al-Guindi told local Syrian media. Smoke columns could be seen from a distance and the sound of explosions echoed into Homs city. Gov. Talal Barazi said it wasn't clear what caused the explosions. He said the military base includes a weapons warehouse but didn't name Hezbollah. The Observatory said the base has been used by the Lebanese militant group for years.”

Iraq

Military Times: Watch Coalition Aircraft Pummeling ISIS Cave Complexes In Iraq

“COVID or no COVID, the coalition is still keeping pressure on ISIS fighters across Syria and Iraq. Operation Inherent Resolve posted a video of coalition aircraft pummeling 10 ISIS cave complexes on April 29 in the Hamrin Mountains, Iraq. OIR said five to 10 ISIS fighters were killed in the strikes but those numbers could rise as Iraqi forces sweep and search the area post strike mission. The coalition said in a news release that ISIS has used the intricate system of tunnels in the mountain range to smuggle weapons and move senior leaders as one of their “last remaining operating” areas in Iraq. “The presence of Daesh in Iraq continues to diminish, thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of our Iraqi partner forces,” Maj Gen. Eric Hill, the commanding general, Special Operations Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, said in the release. “Strikes like these help our Iraqi partners maintain relentless pressure on the Daesh scourge, no matter where these terrorists hide,” he said in the release. Capt. Moises A. Navas, left, 34, of Germantown, Md., and Gunnery Sgt. Diego D. Pongo, right, 34, of Simi Valley, Calif., were the two Marines killed. After the strikes, the coalition said the Iraqi 14th Army Division conducted a sweep of the area and found ISIS documents and electronic devices.”

Afghanistan

NBC News: Watchdog: NATO Won't Release Taliban Attack Totals While U.S. Negotiates Afghan Peace Deal

“NATO's military mission stopped reporting the number of attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan after the U.S. signed a peace agreement with the group, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR. NATO's Resolute Support mission said it was not releasing the number because attacks by the Taliban “are now a critical part of deliberative interagency discussions regarding ongoing political negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban,” according to SIGAR's quarterly report to Congress about Afghanistan. The U.S. signed an agreement with the Taliban on Feb. 29 to begin a weeklong reduction of violence and to start talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. According to the report, Resolute Support said that from March 1 to 31, “the Taliban refrained from attacks against Coalition Forces” but increased attacks against Afghan National Defense Forces “to levels above seasonal norms.” Since the agreement was signed, NATO's Resolute Support mission has refused to provide the number of attacks by the Taliban to the public, the report said. Resolute Support includes about 8,600 U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan and a similar number of troops from allied nations."

Yemen

Arab News: Houthis’ Diversion Of Aid To Fighters Sustains Conflict

“When the fighting between the Iran-backed Houthi militia and forces loyal to the Saudi-backed government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi intensified in Sirwah this month, the Houthis hastily fled their positions, leaving weapons and belongings behind. In one of their camps, located about 40 kilometers west of Marib, government troops found sacks of food, including wheat and boxes of oil bearing the logos of international aid agencies, which the Houthi leadership appears to have supplied to its fighters as sustenance. The fate of any assistance that enters the areas controlled by the Houthis is precarious. Millions of dollars have been lost to lax oversight, an inability to monitor, and endemic corruption. That the Houthis divert or steal aid that was designated for Yemen’s vulnerable population and distribute it to their fighters is not shocking at this stage because it has been happening for the duration of the conflict in Yemen. As a de facto authority that does not answer to anyone, the Houthis are able to redistribute assistance as they see fit and rationalize its use for their fighters. The problem, however, is that this mismanagement will continue to happen because there is no ability to have full oversight on the militia’s operations.”

Middle East

Asharq Al-Awsat: Al-Qaeda Under Zawahiri And The Challenge Of ISIS

“Who remembers the last operation that al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for? For many people, the answer will need some thought. This question aims to shed light on what appears to be a clear decline of Qaeda’s role in planning and carrying out terrorist attacks around the world.Qaeda’s activity began to recede during the leadership of Osama bin Laden. But its waning became more evident in the nine years that followed the man’s killing by the US commando raid on his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan on the first of May, 2011 (US time). A review conducted by Asharq Al-Awsat on the press publications, which were issued by Qaeda under the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri, showed that the “general leadership” of the “jihad base” has turned from a direct base for attacks around the world to a promoter of operations in the areas of the group’s deployment. It also appears, based on these publications, that al-Zawahiri leads the organization with the help of another Egyptian leader named Hossam Abdel-Raouf, also known as Abu Mohsen, who is in charge of the media activities. A report by a US research center mentioned that there was another leader in the organization’s leadership assisting al-Zawahiri.”

Egypt

Reuters: Ten Egyptian Army Members Killed Or Wounded In A Bomb Attack: Spokesman

“Ten Egyptian army members including an officer were killed or wounded on Thursday when a bomb exploded in an armoured vehicle south of Bir al-Abd city in the Northern Sinai region, a military spokesman said in a statement. He did not specify how many had been killed in the attack, which not immediately claimed by any group. Militants loyal to Islamic State are active in the strategic border region. Egypt has been fighting Islamist insurgents who have killed hundreds of police and soldiers in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula since the ousting of Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 following mass protests against his rule. Militants have also carried out attacks elsewhere in the country. An Egyptian policeman and seven suspected militants were killed on April 14 in an exchange of gunfire after the ministry of interior received information about potential Easter attacks against Coptic Christians, the ministry said, adding that three other policemen had also been wounded. The military and police launched a major campaign against militant groups in 2018, focusing on the Sinai Peninsula as well as southern areas and the border with Libya.”

Libya

Libya Herald: Tripoli Interior Ministry Arrest ISIS Member

“The Interior Ministry of the internationally recognized Libyan government based in Tripoli announced on Tuesday that it had arrested a former member of ISIS. The Ministry said that its deterrence apparatus for combating organized crime and terrorism was able, and through what it called a tight security operation, that lasted for several weeks, to track, monitor and collect information from the arrest of a “Saeed Kamel Saeed Abdul Karim”, born in 1986 in Sirte, of Sudanese nationality and nicknamed Aburami “Kimo”. It reported that information indicated that he was a member of Ansar al-Sharia during the previous years and had pledged allegiance to the terrorist organization ISIS. He had worked in the media team of Ansar al-Sharia between 2012-2014 on Al-Tawhid Radio in Sirte, and he had pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014 and worked on Al-Bayan Radio, in the city of Sirte, as an expert in media editing, press editing, and show host. He was part of the team led by “Ahmed Saleh Al Hamali” nicknamed Abu Abdullah, responsible for the ISIS cell in Tripoli, which carried out many terrorist operations during the years 2014-2015. Hamali was killed in an anti-ISIS operation in Sirte by Operation Bunyan Al Marsous, He also had an archive containing data and information about the organization’s activity during its control of the city of Sirte the Ministry said.”

Africa

Asharq Al-Awsat: Exclusive - New Secrets Revealed About Bin Laden’s Years In Sudan

“I will leave, but you won’t solve your problems with the Americans.” These were the parting words of al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, as he boarded a military plane that flew him out of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to the mountains of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in 1996. Bin Laden, who was killed exactly nine years ago, never expected to be expelled by a fundamentalist regime that had adopted a hardline Islamic ideology opposed to the West and Americans. His prediction did come true, however. A year after he left Sudan, Washington imposed economic sanctions against the country. Seven years before his expulsion, Sudan had fallen into the hands of the National Islamic Front, also known as the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1970s, after a military coup on June 30, 1989. The coup was plotted by the group’s leader, Hassan al-Turabi. Afterwards, Sudan was transformed into a safe haven for Islamic jihadist groups in other countries, especially Arab ones. The US listed Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 after accusing its government of harboring the al-Qaeda leader and opening its territories to extremist groups from throughout the world. Bin Laden arrived in Sudan in 1991 under the guise of a businessman and investor.”

Germany

Deutsche Welle: CEP Senior Director Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler On DW News' The Day

“On DW News' "The Day with Brent Goff", Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler discusses Germany's designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, including its criminal activities and role in conflicts around the world such as Syria.”

Associated Press: Man Wanted In Germany For Alleged ISIS Terror Plot Arrested

“A 24-year-old man wanted in Germany for allegedly belonging to a cell that planned attacks on behalf of the Islamic State group has been arrested in Albania, police said Thursday. Albanian police said the suspect, a citizen of Tajikistan identified only as K.Z., was arrested on an international warrant issued by a federal court in Karlsruhe, Germany. Police said in a statement that the man is accused of being part of a terror group that has “founded a terror cell in Germany to make Jihad on behalf of the Islamic State.” The statement did not say why the suspect was in Albania. Albanian police and prosecutors are preparing the paperwork for his extradition to Germany, where he faces a charge of “participation in a foreign terror organization.” Earlier this month, four other Tajiks suspected of being members of ISIS were arrested in Germany on the same charge. German authorities said they joined the Islamic State group in January 2019, received instructions to form a cell in Germany and were planning an attack on American military facilities. A 30-year-old thought to be their leader, Ravsan B., has been in jailed in Germany since March 2019 on unspecified charges. German authorities allege that to finance an attack, he accepted a $40,000 contract to assassinate someone in Albania, but the slaying plan failed.”

Europe

Reuters: Militants, Fringe Groups Exploiting COVID-19, Warns EU Anti-Terrorism Chief

“The coronavirus pandemic is fuelling extremism on the far-right and far-left in Europe and giving Islamic State and other militants cover to regain influence, the European Union’s counter-terrorism chief has warned. While the priority must be tackling the health and economic fallout from COVID-19, governments should not overlook security issues, including the risk of frustration over lockdowns and economic hardships abetting radicalisation and recruitment, Gilles de Kerchove said. He told Reuters he would shortly circulate a paper to member states setting out a list of concerns - including reports that far-right groups have been sending out messages online encouraging supporters to go out and infect “enemies”. Beyond Europe, Islamic State and related groups are seeking to recoup ground in Iraq, Syria and the Sahel, exploiting the fact that governments are caught up in combating the virus or otherwise destabilised, including by the collapsed oil price. “The virus has an impact on fragile states and gives Daesh new room to breathe,” he said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “There are serious causes for concern.”

Associated Press: Danes Arrests 1 Man, Foiling Terror Plans

“Danish police carried out a raid in Copenhagen and arrested a man suspected of involvement in Islamist terrorism, authorities said Thursday, adding he likely acted alone. Flemming Drejer, the operative head of Denmark’s Security and Intelligence Service, known by its Danish acronym PET, said the suspect was trying to acquire weapons and munition, and was planning to carry out “one or several attacks.” Copenhagen Police Chief Inspector Joergen Bergen Skov said the man is suspected under the Scandinavian country’s terror laws and will face a pretrial custody hearing on Friday behind closed doors. The suspect was not identitfied. “You must have no doubt that PET’s efforts have led to the prevention of a terrorist attack,” Bergen Skov told a joint news conference with the domestic intelligence service. They declined to give details as to where and when the attack or attacks would take place. “We believe he was acting alone,” Dreyer said, adding the man had “a militant Islamic motive.” Danish authorities have reported foiling several extremist attacks in recent years, including ones linked to the 2005 publication in a newspaper of 12 cartoons by various artists depicting the Prophet Muhammad.”

Southeast Asia

Eurasia Review: Indonesia: Perennial Issue Of Terrorist Recidivism

“As COVID-19 continues to blanket countries around the world, Indonesia has faced a surge in coronavirus cases. With the government preoccupied by the burgeoning domestic health crisis, there have been opportunistic calls from local terrorist networks for followers to launch fresh attacks in the country. The surge in online activity of extremist groups has so far not been matched by a noticeable uptick in plots. Still, a recent incident saw two local ISIS-affiliated terrorists ambush and attempt to kill a member of the Indonesian National Police in broad daylight in Poso, Central Sulawesi. The 15 April 2020 attack, which resulted in both perpetrators being killed in a shootout with the police, took place only days after the release of an ISIS fatwa. Published in its weekly editorial newsletter, An-Naba, the fatwa called on ISIS’ followers and sympathisers to launch attacks in the name of the “caliphate” and capitalise on its enemies’ preoccupation with the COVID-19 outbreak. It was subsequently revealed that one of the Poso attackers, Ali, alias Darwin Gobel, had been on the radar of Indonesian law enforcement, having previously been convicted for planning a terrorist attack in Toli-Toli, Central Sulawesi in 2017.”