Eye on Extremism: May 13, 2020

ABC News: FBI Offers $1 Million For Information Leading To Former Taliban Hostage's Captors

“The U.S. government on Tuesday offered $1 million for information leading to the capture of the Taliban militants who kidnapped and held Caitlan Coleman and her three children who were born during her five years in captivity. The FBI “seeking information” flier posted online Tuesday offers a substantial reward to anyone with credible information on those who abducted the Pennsylvania woman and her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle in Afghanistan in October 2012 and held them until 2017 in Pakistan. “I'm certainly happy to hear they're taking this step and hopeful that it will make justice possible,” Caitlan Coleman told ABC News on Tuesday. It's unclear why the FBI is offering the reward now. At least two Americans remain missing in Afghanistan, including commercial contractor Mark Frerichs, who was kidnapped on Jan. 31 by the Haqqani Network, a faction of the Afghan Taliban, U.S. officials believe. The announcement of the FBI reward in Coleman's case comes one week after the agency released a poster asking for information leading to Frerichs' safe return and after chief U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad first mentioned Frerichs' name, saying in a statement that he pressed senior Taliban leaders last Wednesday to take “actions necessary to secure the freedom of” Frerichs. Khalilzad also pressed for “assistance in helping obtain the freedom of American Mark Frerichs,” in a meeting with Pakistani General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the country's highest ranking military official.”

The National: ISIS War Crimes Investigators In Iraq Get Boost From Mobile Phone Data

“Mobile phone records have given UN investigators looking at ISIS war crimes in Iraq a major boost, the body’s annual report to the security council said this week. Authored by Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, the team’s fourth annual report said that “there has been “significant progress in the identification and the recovery of new evidence”. Presented to the security council on Monday and seen by AFP news agency on Tuesday, Mr Khan’s team attributed the gains to increased co-operation with Iraqi authorities in its mission to “obtain recordings of call data” of mobile phones from Iraqi companies. The collaboration enabled the collection of data from mobile phones, SIM cards and electronic storage used by ISIS, said the UN team leader. The data, the report said, could speed up judicial inquiries into members of the militant group that is suspected of crimes against all Iraqi communities, said Mr Khan. In the report, Mr Khan highlighted the August 2014 attacks against the Yazidi minority in the Sinjar region. The investigative team obtained “over 2 million call recordings” on the attacks, as well as geolocation coordinates. Data was also collected regarding the death of Iraqi military recruits in the region of Tikrit in June 2014, said Mr Khan in the 21-page report.”

Reuters: Facebook Reports Spike In Takedowns Of Hate Speech, Terrorism

“Facebook Inc on Tuesday reported a sharp increase in the number of posts it removed for promoting violence and hate speech across its apps, which it attributed to technology improvements for automatically identifying text and images. The world’s biggest social media company removed about 4.7 million posts connected to hate organizations on its flagship app in the first quarter, up from 1.6 million in the 2019 fourth quarter. It also deleted 9.6 million posts containing hate speech, compared with 5.7 million in the prior period. That marks a six-fold increase in hateful content removals since the second half of 2017, the earliest period for which Facebook discloses data. The company also said it put warning labels on about 50 million pieces of content related to COVID-19, after taking the unusually aggressive step of banning harmful misinformation about the new coronavirus at the start of the pandemic. “We have a good sense that these warning labels work. Ninety-five percent of the time that someone sees content with a label, they don’t click through to view that content,” Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told reporters on a press call.”

United States

Politico: ‘Conspiracy Bingo’: Trans-Atlantic Extremists Seize On The Pandemic

“The coronavirus is providing a global rallying cry for conspiracy theorists and far-right extremists on both sides of the Atlantic. People seizing on the pandemic range from white supremacists and anti-vaxxers in the U.S. to fascist and anti-refugee groups across Europe, according to a POLITICO review of thousands social media posts and interviews with misinformation experts tracking their online activities. They also include far-right populists on both continents who had previously tried to coordinate their efforts after the 2016 American presidential election. Not all online groups peddling messages on the pandemic have links to the far right, but those extremists have become especially vocal in using the outbreak to push their political agenda at a time of deepening public uncertainty and economic trauma. They are piggybacking on social media to promote coronavirus-related themes drawn from multiple sources — among them, Russian and Chinese disinformation campaigns, the Trump administration’s musings about the coronavirus’ origins and anti-Muslim themes from India’s nationalist ruling party.”

Military Times: Special Operators Will Be Countering Violent Extremists For The ‘Long Haul’

“The commander of the United States Special Operations Command said Tuesday that American commandos will continue to engage violent extremists for the “long haul.” Army Gen. Richard D. Clarke, the commander of SOCOM, said Tuesday during a virtual running of the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, that countering violent extremist groups was a generational issue and would remain the number one priority for U.S. special operators. Clarke’s comments comes as national security experts and members of Congress have questioned SOCOM’s role in addressing near-peer adversaries like Russia and China. Maritime Special Operations Forces prepare for a mission during a training exercise aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier George Washington (CVN 73). (Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Everett Allen/Navy) This is the future of MARSOC, according to the commander of the elite Marine Corps Raiders “We may see a formation completely different 10 years from now,” its commander says. For decades SOCOM has provided troops trained and primed to operate against terrorist and extremists organizations often operating out of more permissive environments.”

Syria

Asharq Al-Awsat: ISIS Views Coronavirus As Celestial Punishment

“While the world suffers the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, which paralyzed economies and military and civil activities, terror group ISIS said it views it as a “divine punishment” and chooses to exploit the situation to build up terrorist activities around the world. The growth of ISIS terrorist acts appears to be linked, at least in part, to the decline in defensive actions by the International Coalition, as the pandemic forced the US-led Coalition to suspend important aspects of its campaign in Iraq and Syria. A senior Coalition official told CNN that ISIS has ramped up its attacks since the outbreak of the coronavirus, taking advantage of the curfew imposed by Iraqi authorities and the current instability. The increased attacks by the terror group come as Iraqi forces have been forced to divert resources and manpower to enforce curfews due to COVID-19, CNN reported. Before the temporary halt of some military operations due to the coronavirus, the US-led military coalition and its Syrian and Iraqi allies have succeeded in targeting mid-level ISIS leaders, the official told CNN, adding that it is difficult for the group to replace those leaders.”

Iraq

The Telegraph: Iraqi Youth Shot Dead During Protests Was Victim Of Militia Group With Iran Links

“The killers of a 20-year-old protester in Iraq have been unmasked as members of a pro-Iran militia group named “Thar Allah”, in the latest sign that Tehran is using proxies to expand its influence in the fragile nation. Thousands returned to the streets of Iraq this week to mount protests against the Iraqi government, as they demanded an end to corruption and Iranian interference in their country. But within hours of the protests resuming, a 20-year-old was shot dead in Basra and several others were injured by gunfire. A source in the Iraqi protest movement said the youth was killed by fighters from the Thar Allah movement, which they described as a “new Shia militia” seeking to advance Iranian interests in Iraq....”

Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal: Militants Attack Afghan Hospital, Killing Babies

“Militants wearing police uniforms stormed a hospital in Afghanistan Tuesday, killing at least 16 people, including two babies, triggering a move by the nation’s president to launch a new offensive against the Taliban and other insurgent groups in another setback for U.S. efforts to extricate itself from its longest war. The attack on the 100-bed hospital in Kabul, which includes a maternity ward run by the international aid group Doctors Without Borders, was carried out by three militants who repelled Afghan security forces for five hours until they were eventually overpowered and killed. In a city that has been battered for decades by deadly and demoralizing terrorist attacks, Tuesday’s assault targeting mothers and newborn babies still struck a nerve. Security forces cradling newborns in their arms rushed from the hospital as the attack unfolded. Inside, soldiers found at least one woman holding a newborn baby in her arms, both dead on the hospital floor, according to photographs released by Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry. “Brutal and heinous attack by a bunch of heartless terrorists, attacking a maternity hospital in Kabul, opening fire on mothers while they were admitted to give births to new lives is deplorable, senseless and cowardly,” Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, said on Twitter.”

CNN: Afghan President Orders Resumption Of Offensive Operations Against The Taliban In Blow To Trump's Deal

“The Trump administration's peace deal with the Taliban was dealt yet another blow Tuesday as the Afghan government announced it was resuming offensive operations against the insurgent group following a spate of deadly terrorist attacks. Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani announced the resumption of offensive operations during a televised address to the nation that took place in the wake of several deadly terrorist attacks, including one that targeted a maternity hospital that killed at least 13 people, including two newborn babies. “I strongly condemn recent attacks on a hospital in Kabul and Nangarhar province which killed a number of innocent people including women and children,” Ghani said Tuesday. The Taliban denied being responsible for the attack on the hospital and a second attack on a funeral procession that took place in Nangarhar province on Tuesday. As part of the deal negotiated between the Trump administration and the Taliban, the Afghan government, although not party to the agreement, agreed to suspend offensive operations against the Taliban and expressed willingness to partake in a ceasefire with the insurgent group.”

Reuters: Pompeo Urges Taliban, Afghan Govt To Bring Hospital, Funeral Attacker To Justice

“U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday called on the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban to cooperate to bring to justice the perpetrators of attacks on a hospital and a funeral that killed dozens of people, including two newborn babies. “The United States condemns in the strongest terms the two horrific attacks in Afghanistan,” Pompeo said in a statement. Gunmen dressed in police uniforms on Tuesday stormed a Kabul hospital, which houses a maternity ward, operated by the international humanitarian organization Doctors without Borders. Separately, a suicide bomber struck the funeral of a police commander in eastern Nangarhar province. The Taliban, the main Afghan militant group which in February signed a deal for a phased U.S. troop withdrawal, denied responsibility for both attacks. Islamic State’s regional affiliate operates in Nangarhar and recently has staged high-profile attacks in Kabul, where its leader was arrested on Monday. “We note the Taliban have denied any responsibility and condemned both attacks as heinous,” Pompeo said. “The Taliban and the Afghan government should cooperate to bring the perpetrators to justice.” His plea, however, faced major hurdles.”

Al Jazeera: Afghanistan: Deadly Suicide Attack Targets Funeral In Nangarhar

“At least 24 people were killed and dozens more wounded in a suicide blast claimed by ISIL (ISIS) at a funeral in eastern Afghanistan, according to the local government, in one of two attacks to hit the country on Tuesday.  The ISIL attacker detonated his explosives in the middle of the funeral ceremony in Kuz Kunar district, according to Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province. Mourners had gathered for the funeral of the commander of the district's police force, Shaykh Akram, who died of a heart attack on Monday night, when the bomber struck, Khogyani said.  According to a provincial council member, dozens of people, including politicians, provincial council members and locals had gathered for the funeral of Shaikh Akram, the militia commander. Later on Tuesday night, ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack. “The jihadist Abdallah al-Ansari hit Afghan security forces and militia allied to Nangarhar, exploding his [suicide] belt ... [and] killing and wounding 100 non-believers,” the armed group said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app. Battle-weary Nangarhar near the Pakistan border has long been a stronghold for both ISIL and the Taliban and has witnessed some of the hardest fighting in recent years.”

Saudi Arabia

Al Jazeera: FBI 'Mistakenly Reveals Saudi Official Linked' To 9/11 Attackers

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has accidentally disclosed the name of a Saudi diplomat suspected of directing support to two al-Qaeda hijackers in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Yahoo News reported. The mistake about the identity of the Saudi embassy official was made in a declaration by an FBI official in response to a lawsuit by families of 9/11 victims who accuse Saudi Arabia's government of involvement in the attacks, the report said on Tuesday. Michael Isikoff, the chief investigative journalist at Yahoo News who was the first to notice the apparent mistake, told Al Jazeera he knew right away the disclosure was “a slip-up”. “When I noticed that the declaration included this information, I contacted the FBI for comment. Because I knew that the justice department and the Trump administration had been going to extraordinary length to keep all of this under wraps,” he said. “In fact, both Attorney General William Barr and the Acting Director of the National Intelligence Richard Grennell had filed motions with the court saying that any information relating to the Saudi embassy official and all internal FBI documents about this matter were so sensitive; they were state secrets, that means if revealed they could cause damage to the national security.”

Nigeria

Reuters: Violence In Northwest Nigeria Drives 23,000 Into Niger: UNHCR

“Violence in northwest Nigeria has forced about 23,000 refugees to flee to Niger since April and raised concerns about the deteriorating security situation, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday. The numbers fleeing to neighbouring Niger have almost tripled from last year when the agency reported the first influx of 20,000 people following an insurgency and banditry in northern Nigeria which killed hundreds and displaced thousands. The latest influx of mostly women and children came after attacks by gunmen in Nigeria’s Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara states during April. The deadliest attack claimed 47 lives in Katsina State, the agency said, prompting air strikes by Nigerian security forces already stretched tackling a decade-long insurgency by Islamist group Boko Haram in the northeast. “We are working closely with authorities in Niger to relocate at least 7,000 refugees to safety ... where water, food, shelter, access to health and other essential assistance can be provided,” UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told a media briefing. “Discussions are also ongoing with the authorities to recognize on a prima facie basis the refugees fleeing Nigeria and arriving in the region,” he said.”

Africa

Arab News: Eight Burkina Soldiers Killed In Militant Attack

“Eight Burkinabe soldiers have been killed in a militant attack in the restive north of the country, security sources said. Militants ambushed the troops on Monday close to the Niger border in Yagha province, a security source said, leaving four dead and four others missing.”The bodies of the missing soldiers have been found during a search raising the death toll to eight,” the security source said late Tuesday. The attack took place in a village called Kankanfogouol, the sources said, in an area where armed groups move back and forth across the border and carry out attacks in both countries. “The health emergency linked to the implacable fight against COVID-19 must not make us forget the security imperative,” President Roch Marc Christian Kabore posted on Twitter. “We have to remain alert on both these fronts and I want to salute the commitment of our Defense and Security Forces,” he said, without detailing the latest attack. Burkina Faso is part of a regional effort to battle an Islamist insurgency, along with neighboring Mali and Niger, Mauritania and Chad. However, the West African country’s under-equipped and poorly trained military has been unable to stem the violence despite help from France, which has 5,000 troops in the region.”

United Kingdom

The Guardian: Senior Counter-Terror Official Put In Charge Of New UK Biosecurity Centre

“A senior Home Office counter-terrorism official who was at Eton and Oxford with Boris Johnson has been parachuted in to take temporary charge of the newly established joint biosecurity centre, responsible for coronavirus threat levels. Tom Hurd has switched jobs on an acting basis to get the new centre up and running “within days”, officials said, though he remains a candidate to take over as the next director general of MI6 later this year. The 55-year-old, the son of the former foreign secretary Douglas Hurd, has no obvious scientific background, having worked as a diplomat at the UN, as a Middle East specialist and latterly in security. Hurd and the prime minister have been described as friends. He is considered the frontrunner to to take over after Sir Alex Younger retires from MI6, once the biosecurity centre is established. It emphasises that the centre, while responsible for monitoring the number of coronavirus cases and the disease’s transmission rate, will be closely modelled on the UK’s anti-terrorism national security system.”

Technology

Weekly Blitz: Muslim Brotherhood Operative In Facebook’s Censorship Board

“Many social media users in the Middle East and North Africa region reacted to Facebook’s selection of Karman with confusion and derision as the Yemeni writer is more known for her Islamist activism and divisive stances than for public service commitment. According to experts, Facebook is mainly driven by a desire to influence politicians and decision-makers in the West so as to avoid regulatory restrictions that could impact its revenue. “Facebook continues to push specious arguments to create confusion and fear among lawmakers in an effort to maintain the status quo and limit the tech industry’s liability and responsibility,” said Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Executive Director David Ibsen. “Rather than dictating to public officials on how to keep the public safe, Zuckerberg and his company should instead halt their lobbying efforts and focus on keeping extremist and terrorist content off their platforms,” he said. The choice of Karman to Facebook’s advisory board will add to suspicions about the social media body’s political leanings and is unlikely to enhance the company’s credibility in the Arab world, experts say.”