Eye on Extremism: May 12, 2020

BBC News: IS Regional Leader Sheikh Khorasani 'Arrested In Afghanistan'

“The leader of the Islamic State group in South Asia and the Far East has been arrested in Kabul, Afghanistan's intelligence service says. Zia ul-Haq, also known as Sheikh Omar Khorasani, was held with two other senior leaders of the militant group. The Taliban are the main militant group in Afghanistan but IS has been active in some areas and has carried out several bomb attacks in Kabul. Correspondents say the arrest will be a major breakthrough if confirmed. The other two were named as his spokesman Saheeb and chief of intelligence Abu Ali. The operation was conducted after a tip-off by four recently arrested senior IS members, and based on security and intelligence inputs, a statement by the service said. The agency “will continue its comprehensive and targeted operations to hunt down senior leaders of regional terrorist groups and destroy the joint hubs of these terrorist networks”, the statement said, quoted by Reuters. IS has carried out several deadly bombings in recent years, targeting Afghanistan's Shia and other minorities and killing scores of people. A report submitted to the UN last year said Sheikh Omar Khorasani had been replaced by the central leadership of the group because of his poor performance, but this has never been confirmed.”

New York Post: Man Arrested On Terrorism Charges After Social Media Threat To Ahmaud Arbery Protests

“Authorities in Georgia have arrested a 20-year-old man on terrorism-related charges for allegedly threatening future protests in the shooting death of unarmed black jogger Ahmaud Arbery, officials said. Rashawn Smith was taken into custody in Midway, Georgia, and charged with dissemination of information relating to terroristic acts, the Georgia Bureau of Information said Sunday night. “Smith created a Facebook User ID of an unwitting individual to post a hoax threat,” the agency said in a tweet. The GBI said it was made aware of the Facebook post at about 11:55 p.m. Saturday. Smith’s arrest comes two days after hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the Glynn County courthouse, calling for justice in Arbery’s death, while ex-cop Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis, 34, made their first appearance before a judge via video conference from the Glynn County jail. “It’s a cowardly move,” protest organizer Travis Riddle told First Coast News after Smith’s arrest. “We’re expecting the cowards to come out now. I think they’re afraid of what we’re trying to get to. They see everybody coming together, young, old, white, black,” Riddle told the news outlet.”

United States

The Washington Post: It’s Time To Get Serious About Sanctioning Global White Supremacist Groups

“Last month, the State Department designated a Russian white supremacist group, the Russian Imperial Movement, as a global terrorist organization and imposed sanctions on three of its leaders. The designations identified this group as providing training to white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Europe, which resulted in attacks carried out by two individuals in Sweden. The State Department described its action against the Russia Imperial Movement as “unprecedented.” Indeed, it was the first time financial sanctions have been used to target a white supremacist group. One State Department official said that “we are taking actions no previous administration has taken to counter this threat.” These designations, which freeze the assets of the targets subject to U.S. jurisdiction, are a welcome step. The Trump administration, however, should hold off on the self-congratulations. The threat of domestic and international right-wing extremism is greater than it has been in decades. In October 2019, 40 members of Congress signed a letter to the State Department identifying numerous global right-wing extremist groups, including the Azov Battalion and National Action. And many other groups and individuals have been identified by allies such as Britain, Canada and Germany.”

Foreign Policy: Inspector General Criticizes U.S. Counterterrorism Coordinator

“The U.S. government office charged with coordinating counterterrorism initiatives around the world has been dogged by management issues and staffing shortages that hamper U.S. efforts to combat foreign terrorist organizations, according to an inspector general’s report issued on Monday. The report reviewed the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism and found that the top counterterrorism envoy, Nathan Sales, “exhibited decisive leadership” but also “engaged in conduct that negatively affected” the bureau’s morale and productivity. The State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which wrote the report, cited incidents where Sales “lost his temper” in meetings with both U.S. and foreign officials, and said the bureau did “not provide sufficient policy guidance” or support to U.S. officials overseas working to coordinate counterterrorism efforts with foreign governments. The inspector general’s report paints a mixed picture of a bureau with a crucial and sweeping mandate for one of the Trump administration’s top national security priorities, particularly as terrorism threats grow in the Middle East and Africa and routine counterterrorism operations are hampered or derailed by the coronavirus pandemic.”

Iraq

Foreign Policy: A Powerful Iran-Backed Militia Is Losing Influence In Iraq

“Five months after its charismatic leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was killed by a U.S. drone strike at the Baghdad airport, the Iran-backed group Kataib Hezbollah’s influence on Iraq may be quietly eroding. Despite an institutional void since widespread protests across Shiite-majority central and southern Iraq forced the previous government to resign late in 2019 and the international coalition’s recent withdrawal from several Iraqi bases, moves are afoot to more fully integrate some Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) factions into government chains of command and structures that existed prior to 2014. If Iraq’s new government manages to do so, it could reduce the influence of powerful armed groups with questionable loyalty to the Iraqi state. The PMU were officially formed in 2014 through a fatwa by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for volunteers to fight against the Islamic State in order to defend Shiite holy sites and Iraq in general. They played a key role in the country’s territorial defeat of the transnational terrorist group. Several of the brigades within the PMU belong to armed groups that had existed for many years prior to the PMU’s formation in 2014These factions have long been supported by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.”

The Telegraph: Iraq's New Prime Minister Reinstates Popular General To Head Of Counter-Terrorism

“Iraq’s newly confirmed prime minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi announced the reinstatement of a top general whose sacking in September sparked a wave of protests across the country. Speaking on state television on Saturday, Mr Kadhimi said that General Abdul Wahab Al-Saadi would be reinstated and promoted to head of the country’s elite Counter-Terrorism Services. In an olive branch to protesters, Mr Kadhimi also announced the release of those arrested at demonstrations which have flared up in cities across the country since October. He promised investigations into the deaths of hundreds of protesters killed in those demonstrations. Mr Saadi, a national hero from the country’s battles with Islamic State, is widely regarded as being close to the US. His sacking in September was interpreted by many as an indication of Iran’s growing influence over Baghdad. Hours after the announcement, protesters took to streets in cities across the country....”

Kurdistan 24: ISIS Burns Crop Fields In Iraq’s Disputed Makhmour: Peshmerga Commander

“As harvesting season arrives, members of the so-called Islamic State have restarted burning crop fields in Iraq, with the latest incident taking place on Monday in the disputed Makhmour district, a senior Peshmerga commander said on Monday. Members of the terrorist organization “have yet again started burning the wheat fields of innocent farmers,” Peshmerga Commander of the Gwer-Makhmour front Sirwan Barzani said in a tweet, which was accompanied by a video showing the fires. “Currently, in the Qeraj area, near the Qarechukh mountain, the fields of citizens are on fire. This is an example of their barbarity.” Kamaran M. Palani, a Ph.D. student at Leiden University and lecturer at Salahaddin University-Erbil, told Kurdistan 24 that farmers have been waiting for the harvesting season for close to eight months. “And this is what they get. The people of Makhmour haven't seen peace for most periods of the past 60 years,” he said. “My brother is very worried. He has a land not very far from this area and has invested a lot this year. He was so happy until this happened yesterday.”

Afghanistan

France 24: Violence Flares In Afghanistan As Hospital, Funeral Attacked

“Gunmen stormed a hospital on Tuesday in an ongoing attack in the Afghan capital Kabul, as a funeral in the country's restive east was also hit by a suicide bomber. Special forces rescued more than 80 people at the Kabul hospital, according to an interior ministry spokesman. Pictures circulating on social media showed heavily armed forces carrying babies in their arms, as the clearance operation continued. The facility is located in western Kabul, which is home to the capital's minority Shiite Hazara community -- a frequent target of Sunni militants from the Islamic State group. The flare-up in violence comes as Afghanistan grapples with myriad crises including a rise in militant operations across the country and a surge in coronavirus infections. A paediatrician who fled the hospital told AFP he heard a loud explosion at the entrance of the building. “The hospital was full of patients and doctors, there was total panic inside,” he said, asking not to be named. The humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF) supports maternity services at the hospital. Also on Tuesday, dozens of people were believed to have been killed or wounded in a suicide attack on the funeral of a local police commander in the country's eastern Nangarhar province, according to provincial spokesman Ataullah Khogyani.”

Saudi Arabia

Gulf News: No Leniency For Educational Institutions Promoting Extremism In Saudi Arabia

“Saudi Arabia will show zero tolerance towards educational institutions trying to promote extremist and fundamental ideologies. Hamad Al Sheikh, Minister of Education, underlined that educational institutions should not be allowed to promote radical ideologies. 'There will not be any leniency towards those promoting fundamental ideologies and hence any violation in the academic field will be dealt with firmly.' 'We will neither allow dissemination of anything in contrary to the kingdom’s policy and approaches nor allow educational institutions to serve purposes other than that of their national contexts,' he said. The minister made these remarks while inaugurating the first virtual meeting of Saudi universities titled: “Enhancing national belongingness to crises”. The meeting was organised by Prince Khaled Al Faisal Institute for Moderation at King Abdul Aziz University. Al Sheikh said: “The role of universities is great in enhancing national identity and loyalty to the nation through a set of appropriate programmes and activities that help all its employees develop a sense of deep attachment and loyalty to the country and its leadership.”

Nigeria 

Sahara Reporters: Nigerian Military Take Out Boko Haram Bases In Sambisa Forest, Others

“Nigerian-led Multinational Joint Task Force has taken over major Boko Haram bases in Sambisa Forest. According to HumAngle newspaper, although the Nigerian military declared that the army killed 343 insurgents in recent combat operations, investigations have established that there were probably heavier casualties suffered by the insurgents between March 18 and May 5. “A number of air interdictions were conducted, which led to the destruction of several BHT logistics facilities and compounds housing some of their leaders, including Abu Usamah, and a number of their fighters who were eliminated,” Coordinator of Defence Military Operations, Maj.-Gen. John Enenche, said. The newspaper further said sources knowledgeable about the conflict in the North-East have revealed the exact locations of the MNJTF and the Nigerian military overran most of the operational camps in Kwalaram, Ngilewa, Sabon Tumbu, Bukarmairam, Wulgo all in the Marte and Gamboru Ngala axis of Borno State and that ISWAP fighters fleeing the recent Chadian military offensive in April were only about settling down in choice locations in Marte-Dikwa territories when the Nigeria Air Force identified, targeted and bombarded scores of the fighters.”

Africa

BBC News: Africa's Sahel Becomes Latest Al-Qaeda-IS Battleground

“West Africa's Sahel region has become the latest scene of jihadist in-fighting, after Islamic State group (IS) revealed it is engaged in fierce clashes with al-Qaeda militants in Mali and Burkina Faso. IS made the revelation on 7 May in a detailed report in its weekly newspaper al-Naba. It blamed al-Qaeda's Sahel affiliate, Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), for starting the fight and mobilising large forces to attack IS positions in the two countries. The scenario is familiar. IS and al-Qaeda affiliates have already locked horns in other jihadists hotspots, such as Yemen, Somali and Syria, competing for influence, recruits and resources. The IS article contradicts mainstream reports from earlier this year that suggested the two groups were collaborating in the region. The in-fighting could have an impact on jihadist operations against local and foreign troops in the Sahel, where both groups have significantly stepped up attacks since last year. In its report, IS decried recent al-Qaeda attacks on IS militants in Mali and Burkina Faso, where both groups are active. It said JNIM, on the orders of its leaders Iyad Ag Ghaly and Amadou Koufa, had amassed big forces to target IS on a number of occasions in both countries since April.”

Al Jazeera: Three UN Troops Killed In Roadside Bomb Attack In Mali

“Three United Nations soldiers from Chad have been killed in Mali when their convoy hit a roadside bomb, according to officials. The blast in the northern region of Aguelhok left four more soldiers seriously wounded, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, said in a statement on Sunday. “We will have to make every effort to identify and apprehend those responsible for these terrorist acts so that they can be brought to justice,” said Mahamat Saleh Annadif, MINUSMA mission head. “I bow before the remains of these brave Blue Helmets who died in the service of peace in Mali”. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned what he described as a “cowardly” attack. Guterres called on the authorities in Mali to spare no effort to identify those responsible “so that they can be brought to justice swiftly”, according to his spokesman Stephane Dujarric. The statement from his office also said attacks targeting UN peacekeepers could constitute war crimes under international law. Established in 2013, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali has some 13,000 troops, drawn from several nations, deployed across the vast semi-arid country that has been facing a worsening security situation in recent years.”

United Kingdom

The National: UK's Head Of Counter-Terrorism Says Publicity Raises Fear Of Copycat Killers

“The UK's head of counter-terrorism has raised concerns that publicity could encourage copycat killings. A new report examines how the media covers terror attacks, in particular the live streaming of the Christchurch atrocity in New Zealand in which 50 people were shot dead in two mosques. Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu has raised concerns about the media coverage of terror attacks and commissioned an independent report by the Royal United Services Institute think tank. “After the Christchurch attack I was very concerned about how it was reported by some media outlets,” Mr Basu said on Monday at a launch for the report. “From a personal perspective I watched first-hand the UK attacks in 2017. “My mission is simple: to stop a year like 2017 ever happening again. “The way terrorism is reported may play a role. I'm not interested in encroaching on the freedom of the press but I support any work that will minimise the harm of reporting terrorism. “The copycat does concern me very much.” The report, Terrorism and the Mass Media, examines the role the media can play in amplifying the effects of terrorism. Its author, Jessica White, a research fellow at the institute, concluded that there should be ethical guidelines to help the media in reporting terror attacks, similar to the code of practices used in reporting suicide cases.”

Europe

Reuters: Four Tajik Men Accused Of Militant Recruitment In Poland

“Four Tajik men have been detained in Poland on charges of trying to recruit Muslim converts to carry out militant attacks, authorities said on Monday. The four would be expelled and barred from reentering Poland and the rest of Europe's Schengen area, Stanislaw Zaryn, the spokesman for the minister coordinating special forces, said. “They were trying to recruit people who could be used to commit some kind of terrorist crimes,” Zaryn told Reuters. “They were inspired by ISIS (Islamic State) ... but they were not a part of the organisation,” he said. A Lebanese citizen was detained in April accused of trying to organise an Islamist network in Poland and other EU countries. In 2019 Polish security services arrested two far-right sympathisers accused of planning attacks against Muslims. Internal Border Guard officers detained the Tajik men on May 7 on the basis of evidence collected by the Internal Security Agency (ABW), Zaryn said in a statement. Special forces are under the control of interior minister Mariusz Kaminski.”

Deutsche Welle: Denmark Charges 2 Swedes With Terrorism Over Tax Office Blast

“Danish prosecutors on Monday charged two Swedish men with terrorism for targeting Denmark's central tax authority last year with a bomb. “An attack on the Danish Tax Agency is an attack on us all, and therefore this is a particularly serious case,” said Danish state prosecutor Lise-Lotte Nilas. The two men, aged 22 and 23, had driven from Sweden to the tax agency's main office in Copenhagen last August. They then planted an explosive device and detonated it. The blast ripped through the front of the tax office and blew out the windows of the building. Two people were inside at the time of the explosion. “Fortunately, no one was injured,” said Nilas. “But the prosecution service is of the opinion that the offense is so serious it amounts to a terror-like action, and the punishment should therefore be increased.” The men, who were arrested on an international warrant by Swedish security services, face life in prison if found guilty of the charges. In Denmark, an average life sentence amounts to about 16 years in prison. Although Danish authorities have yet to identify additional suspects, prosecutors said they could not rule out the possibility that others were involved in the planning and coordination of the attack.”