Eye on Extremism: May 14, 2020

Arab News: UN Chief Calls On Lebanon To Disarm Hezbollah

“Lebanon on Wednesday entered talks with the International Monetary Fund, amid calls to disarm Hezbollah.  A report in the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday quoted UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as saying that the Lebanese government and the army should take all possible steps to prevent Hezbollah and other armed groups from acquiring weapons. He added that Hezbollah’s continued involvement in Syria “carries the risk of entangling Lebanon in regional conflicts and undermining the stability of Lebanon and the region.” Guterres also expressed concern over Israel’s use of Lebanese airspace to attack targets in Syria. Lebanon’s Supreme Defense Council, which is headed by President Michel Aoun, on Wednesday met to review measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and steps to control smuggling through illegal crossings on the border with Syria. Within an hour of the meeting, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah gave a televised speech in which he called on the Lebanese government and army to work with the Syrian regime to halt the cross-border smuggling.”

France 24: US, Cuba Trade Terrorism Accusations As Havana Blacklisted

“The United States and Cuba traded accusations of support for terrorism as President Donald Trump's administration on Wednesday blacklisted the communist island, saying it had not fully cooperated on counterterrorism. Washington increased the pressure on Havana just one day after Cuba urged a terrorism probe over gunfire that hit its embassy in the US capital. The State Department faulted Cuba over the presence of Colombia's leftist ELN rebels, who traveled to Havana in 2017 to negotiate with the Bogota government but have not returned. It was the first time that Cuba was not certified since 2015. It joined the ranks of four other US adversaries -- Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela. “Cuba's refusal to productively engage with the Colombian government demonstrates that it is not cooperating with US work to support Colombia's efforts to secure a just and lasting peace, security and opportunity for its people,” the State Department said. Colombian President Ivan Duque, a conservative ally of the United States, broke off talks with the ELN after a January car bomb attack on a Bogota police academy killed 21 recruits. The militants have been demanding, unsuccessfully, that Colombia grant safe passage for its negotiators to come back from Cuba.”

United States

The Washington Post: In Case You Thought There Couldn’t Be More Bad News: Anti-Semitism Is Spiking

“It should hardly be surprising that anti-Semitism is on the rise, given the 3½ years of President Trump’s xenophobia, his demonization of immigrants, his attacks on Jews for not siding with him on Israel and the appearance of Nazi regalia at anti-lockdown marches. The Anti-Defamation League’s annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents recorded “2107 antisemitic incidents in the United States, the highest number since ADL established the Audit in 1979. The high number of incidents came as the Jewish community grappled with vicious and lethal antisemitic attacks against communities in Poway, Jersey City and Monsey, and a spree of violent assaults in Brooklyn.” That represents a 12 percent hike over the prior year, amounting to an average of six incidents a day. Even worse, “There were 61 assault incidents, cases where individuals were physically targeted with violence accompanied by evidence of antisemitic animus. Antisemitic assault increased 56 percent from 39 in 2018.” The report also found: “Eleven of the 61 assaults were perpetrated with deadly weapons such as guns or knives. The 61 assault incidents harmed 95 victims, including five fatalities.” More than a third of the incidents occurred in New York and New Jersey.”

National Review: Terror-Charity Lobbyists Are Subsidized By U.S. Taxpayers

“The use of charity to advance radical ideologies is hardly a novel idea. European fascist movements built a base of support through charitable programs and promises of social welfare. The Ku Klux Klan delivered food and medicine to poor white communities. Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Khomeinists, Wahhabis, ISIS, and al-Qaeda have all made use of charities and welfare programs to propagate and consolidate their control over Muslim communities. Radical ideological movements do not only establish their own charitable groups; they also hijack the altruism and naïveté of others. In a widely discussed scandal in Britain, it emerged in 2014 that dozens of prominent charities had funded a jihadist support group for years, apparently under the impression they were merely backing a civil-rights campaign. But not all charitable accomplices to radical causes are guileless, respectable organizations; some are fellow travelers, perfectly aware of their partners’ extremism. One enormous charitable umbrella organization, InterAction, offers a compelling example.”

Voice Of America: Virus Restrictions Fuel Anti-Government 'Boogaloo' Movement

“They carry high-powered rifles and wear tactical gear, but their Hawaiian shirts and leis are what stand out in the crowds that have formed at state capital buildings to protest COVID-19 lockdown orders. The signature look for the “boogaloo” anti-government movement is designed to get attention. The group, which uses an '80s movie sequel as a code word for a second civil war, is among the extremists using the armed protests against state-at-home orders as a platform. Like other movements that once largely inhabited corners of the internet, it has seized on the social unrest and economic calamity caused by the pandemic to publicize its violent messages. In April, armed demonstrators passed out “Liberty or Boogaloo” fliers at a statehouse protest in Concord, New Hampshire. A leader of the Three Percenters militia movement who organized a rally in Olympia, Washington, last month encouraged rally participants to wear Hawaiian shirts, according to the Anti-Defamation League. On Saturday, a demonstration in Raleigh, North Carolina, promoted by a Facebook group called “Blue Igloo” — a derivation of the term — led to a police investigation of a confrontation between an armed protester and a couple pushing a stroller.”

Syria

The Irish Times: ‘Ramadan Offensive’ By Islamic State In Syria And Iraq

“Islamic State attacks have surged in a “Ramadan offensive” in Syria and Iraq as these war-ravaged countries struggle to contain the coronavirus and economic crises. United Nations human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet has warned the situation in Syria is a “ticking time-bomb that must not be ignored”. “We are receiving more reports every day of targeted killings and bombings from one end of the country to the other, with many such attacks taking place in populated areas,” she said. The circumstances she describes are also true of Iraq. While combatants make up the vast majority of victims in both countries, rising numbers of civilians are being killed. In Syria 521 pro-government forces and 182 members of Islamic State have been killed in attacks since late March, according to the Britain-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Islamic State has been joined by rival al-Qaeda-linked jihadi groups based in northwestern Idlib province. Although Idlib has been declared a ceasefire and de-confliction zone where Turkey has agreed to curb radical factions, the terror groups continue to strike Syrian troops and civilians outside Idlib. Such attacks elicit retaliation from the Syrian army and allied Russian air force.”

France 24: NGO Report Details IS Group’s ‘Abyss Of Horror’ In Northern Syria

“Human Rights Watch released details of a mass grave in Al-Hota gorge in northern Syria, in a report published on May 4. The NGO said that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group was responsible, and called for further investigations into this pit of death, in an interview with FRANCE 24. Researchers call it the “abyss of horror”. Located 85 kilometres north of Raqqa, the former capital of IS in Syria, was used as a mass grave by the jihadist group that ruled the region from 2013 to 2015, Human Rights Watch revealed. The NGO investigated the matter from 2014 to 2019, using satellite technology and geological maps, among other devices. It was able to film the bodies of six people, not yet identified, floating in the water at the bottom of the 50-metre-deep pit. But there are clear indications that the number of corpses there is much higher. Speaking to FRANCE 24, Nadim Houry, co-author of the report, a former director of HRW’s Terrorism/Counter-terrorism programme and now executive director of the Arab Reform Initiative think-tank, looked back on the investigation and the questions it raised.”

Iran

The National: Thar Allah: Iran's Forgotten Terror Proxy In Iraq

“It was a bold opening gambit from new Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi. On the night of May 10, protesters gathered outside the offices of a little known militia organisation in Basra, Thar Allah. When they were met with live fire, it seemed a typically brutal response from Iraq’s numerous Iran-backed militias, whom many hold responsible for killing hundreds of protesters. What happened next surprised observers: Thar Allah’s offices were raided by security forces and their leader, Youssef Al Musawi, was arrested. Mr Al Kadhimi later tweeted that the raid had been executed on his personal orders and that “those who spill Iraqi blood will not rest.” The new PM has promised to re-establish rule of law. This means reining in powerful elements of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), some of which are linked to Iran. For now, the new policy could have some momentum following developments in recent weeks. PMF groups linked to Iraq’s religious authorities (sometimes called the Shrine PMF) have voluntarily moved towards stronger government control. Meanwhile, Iran-backed groups such as the notorious Kataib Hezbollah continue to violate Article 9 of Iraq’s Constitution, which outlaws political activity in the armed forces and mandates strong civilian control of the military.”

Iraq

Voice Of America: Data On Islamic State Attacks Could Be Masking Growing Problem, Some Fear

“Across Iraq and Syria there is a growing sense of unease that when it comes to the Islamic State terror group, data showing the jihadist force on its heels should not be trusted. While the U.S.-led military coalition argues Islamic State is a shadow of its former self, some officials with U.S. partner forces argue the terror group has actually become more powerful and more dangerous. “This year they have systematic attacks,” a source close to the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria told VOA, noting that last year IS attacked many of the same areas repeatedly. “Now they are spread like cancer.”  At issue is not just the number of attacks IS has carried out in recent weeks, but the choice of targets, the tactics and the ferocity of the terror group’s latest offensive.  “In Diyala and Salahaddin [Iraq], things are so bad that some Sunni tribes are carrying weapons,” said the source, who once fought alongside U.S. forces. Pressed about the data showing IS attacks, while trending up in recent weeks, are not as substantial as they were at the same time last year, he said simply, “I don’t believe it.”  The terror group’s activity has likewise made an impression on Jordan's King Abdullah II, a key partner in the anti-IS coalition.”

Kurdistan 24: Kurdistan Region Announces That First ISIS Trials In Iraq To Start In Mid-2021

“On Wednesday, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Coordinator for International Advocacy, Dindar Zebari, announced that the first trial of Islamic State militants in Iraq will take place in min-2021, with a national judicial team that will include judges from the Kurdistan Region, with an international judicial body that will supervise the course of investigations and trials. Zebari said in a statement that an Iraqi investigation team has been working with the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh (UNITAD) to investigate the Islamic State’s crimes against humanity in Sinjar (Shingal), other parts of Nineveh province, and the site of the Spiker airbase massacre in the city of Tikrit. “Following the ISIS attack in 2014, the KRG established several teams to investigate ISIS crimes, and follow on the minorities’ cases who felled victims to the terrorist group. So far there are 2,600 cases of kidnapped Yezidis (Ezidi), Christians, Shabak Kurds, and Turkmens. More than 3,000 cases still being investigated,” Zebari mentioned in the statement. The UNITAD expert team currently consists of 129 individuals from 48 different countries, half of them female, and all religious, and ethnic components of Iraq and Kurdistan Region are represented.”

Afghanistan

Reuters: Truck Bomb In Eastern Afghan City Kills Five, Taliban Claim Responsibility

“A truck packed with explosives blew up near a court in the eastern Afghan city of Gardez on Thursday, killing at least five people in an attack claimed by Taliban insurgents. The explosion comes two days after at least 56 people were killed in attacks elsewhere in the country, including women and newborn babies, dealing a setback to peace plans in the war-ravaged nation. “A car bomb explosion took place near a military court in Gardez city, which is a populated area. Dozens of civilians are feared to be dead and wounded,” said Tariq Arian, an interior ministry spokesman. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement said the rebel group was responsible for the attack. Emal Khan Momand, a military spokesman in Paktia province where Gardez is located, said the attack was carried out by a truck packed with explosives. Five people were killed and 14 were wounded, he said. Arian blamed the militant Haqqani network, which has ties to Taliban rebels and the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group. These groups rarely publicly claim responsibility for attacks. The blast comes after gunmen attacked a maternity hospital in Kabul, killing 24 people, including new mothers and newborn babies, on Tuesday.”

Associated Press: Death Toll From Attack On Kabul Maternity Clinic Rises To 24

“Officials on Wednesday raised the death toll from a militant attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul to 24, including mothers, nurses and two babies. A day after the shooting rampage, 20 infants were under medical observation, lying swaddled in blankets in hospital cribs. Militants had stormed the hospital Tuesday, setting off an hours-long shootout with police. As the gunfight raged, Afghan security forces carried out babies and frantic mothers. The clinic in Dashti Barchi, a mostly Shiite neighborhood in Afghanistan's capital, is supported by international aid group Doctors Without Borders. One woman gave birth as the shooting was taking place, the aid group said in a statement Wednesday. It said the woman and her baby were doing well. The Interior Ministry initially said Tuesday that 16 people were killed and more than 100 wounded. Wahid Majroh, the deputy public health minister, on Wednesday raised the death toll to 24 and said 16 people were wounded. Of those evacuated, 21 babies were taken to Kabul's Ataturk Hospital, where physician Sayed Fared said one infant had a broken bone and was transferred to a children's hospital. The other 20 babies “are in good health and under our observation,” he said.”

Voice Of America: US Pushes For Afghan Reconciliation Despite Terror Strikes

“The United States is pressing the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgency to come together to bring to justice the perpetrators of Tuesday's deadly terrorist strikes on a hospital and a funeral in Afghanistan. U.S. peace envoy for the country, Zalmay Khalilzad, stressed Wednesday that cooperation between the two Afghan adversaries “is necessary” to deal with the “common enemy” of terrorism and work for national peace to tackle challenges facing the country. “Failure to do so leaves Afghanistan vulnerable to terrorism, perpetual instability & economic hardship. Now is the time to press forward on peace,” Khalilzad tweeted Wednesday. He said the cooperation is also “necessary” to deal with the looming threat of the coronavirus pandemic.  Afghan officials confirmed Wednesday the collective death toll from the previous day's attacks has risen to at least 56, with women and newborn babies among the victims. The Islamic State terrorist group claimed its local affiliate, Khorasan Province (ISKP), carried out the suicide bombing of the funeral for a police commander in eastern Nangarhar province. No armed group took credit for Tuesday's bomb-and-gun assault on a maternity hospital in the Afghan capital, Kabul.”

Middle East

Weekly Blitz: Jordan Has Been Harboring Jihadists And Terrorists Defying Global Security Concerns

“Legally, Jordan’s parliament has to ratify a treaty, much the same way that the US Congress has to ratify any treaty signed by the president in order for it to have the force of law,” explained Josh Lipowsky, a senior researcher at the Counter Extremism Project (CEP). “Nonetheless, King Abdullah could choose to honor the extradition request as a goodwill gesture to the United States or if he believes it is in Jordan’s best interests”. He stressed that even without a formally ratified treaty, King Abdullah “can override the courts’ decision not to extradite Tamimi” and that it is “a matter of weighing potential damage to the US-Jordan relationship versus the threat of upsetting some on the Jordanian street”. “For now, the risk is low for King Abdullah to keep Tamimi in Jordan, but that could change if the United States were to threaten economic sanctions against Jordan,” Lipowsky continued. “The passage of the Omnibus Spending Bill in December threatens to sever financial aid to any country that ignores a U.S. extradition request of somebody indicted for a criminal offense that carries a life sentence. Tamimi’s 2017 U.S. indictment carries the penalty of life imprisonment or death, which means Jordanian aid could be threatened if her extradition is not carried out.”

Africa

Al Jazeera: Niger Says 75 Boko Haram Fighters Killed In Two Operations

“Approximately 75 members of the Boko Haram armed group have been killed in the southeast Sahel state of Niger and in neighbouring Nigeria. Twenty-five “terrorists” were killed on Monday south of Diffa, the main city in southeast Niger, while “about 50 ... were neutralised” on the same day on Nigerian soil in the Lake Chad region in two operations by a regional force, the defence ministry said in a statement quoted by the AFP news agency on Wednesday. On Monday, troops from Niger's contingent in the regional force carried out “aggressive reconnaissance” on the banks of the Komadougou river and clashed with Boko Haram fighters at a locality 74km (45 miles) south of Diffa, the ministry said. “All the terrorist group” comprising 25 combatants was killed, it said, adding that two soldiers were injured. The same day, approximately 50 “enemy elements” were “neutralised” in coalition air raids and artillery bombardment of Tombon-Fulani, an island in the marshy Lake Chad region in northeastern Nigeria, the defence ministry added. “Shelters and logistical dumps” were also destroyed, it said. Fighters carried out a major attack against a Nigerien military camp outside Diffa on May 3, killing two soldiers and wounding three others, according to the government.”

BBC News: Burkina Faso: Twelve Terror Suspects 'Found Dead In Their Cells'

“Twelve people arrested on suspicion of terror offences have been found dead in their police cells in Burkina Faso. The prosecutor for the town of Fada N'Gourma said 25 people had been detained overnight on Monday, and “unfortunately, 12 of them have died during the course of the night in the cells they were being held in”. The cause of death is currently unknown. Security sources told AFP news agency it may have been asphyxiation. An investigation has been launched. In a similar episode in July 2019, 11 people accused of drug trafficking were found dead in a cell belonging to the national police's drugs squad. It comes less than a month after Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it believed Burkina Faso security forces had executed 31 unarmed men in the northern town of Djibo, a few hours after arresting them in a counter-terror operation. Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa, is fighting Islamist insurgents with ties to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group. More than 300 civilians have been killed by militants, according to HRW, while the government has killed several hundred for allegedly supporting them. Most of the 12 dead men were ethnic Fulas, a group often accused of jihadist links, AFP reports."

Europe

Associated Press: EU Official Warns Of Extremists Exploiting Virus Outbreak

“The European Union’s counterterrorism official is warning that the coronavirus pandemic is being used by extremists as an opportunity to spread their message and could be exploited to carry out attacks. In a confidential briefing to member nations obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove cautioned that right-wing extremists and Islamic militants “could view attacks on medical personnel and facilities as highly effective, because these would generate a massive shock in society.” He noted that in the U.S., the FBI in March shot and killed a white supremacist while trying to arrest him for plotting to blow up a hospital treating COVID-19 patients, after initially considering an attack on an African-American school, mosque or synagogue. From past experience, he said it’s known that “terrorists and violent extremists, aiming to change societies and governmental systems through violence, seek to exploit major crises to achieve their objectives”. De Kerchove noted that the Islamic State group, for example, emerged after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and then gained strength during the Arab Spring uprisings.”

Technology

Reuters: France To Force Web Giants To Delete Some Content Within The Hour

“Social networks and other online content providers will have to remove paedophile and terrorism-related content from their platforms within the hour or face a fine of up to 4% of their global revenue under a French law voted in on Wednesday. For other “manifestly illicit” content, companies such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat will have 24 hours to remove it, according to the law, which sets up a specialised digital prosecutor at the courts and a government unit to observe hate speech online. Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told parliament the law will help reduce online hate speech. “People will think twice before crossing the red line if they know that there is a high likelihood that they will be held to account,” she said. Free-speech advocates criticised the new law. Online civil liberties defence group La Quadrature du Net(LQDN) said in a statement the legislator should have instead targeted the Internet giants’ business models. It said it was unrealistic to think content could be withdrawn within the hour and the law was unnecessary. “If the site does not censure the content (for instance because the complaint was sent during the weekend or at night), then police can force Internet service providers to block the site everywhere in France,” it said.”