Eye on Extremism: May 15, 2020

Reuters: U.S. Says Islamic State Conducted Attack On Kabul Hospital

“The United States on Thursday blamed Islamic State militants — not the Taliban — for a gruesome hospital attack in Afghanistan this week that killed two newborn babies, and it renewed calls for Afghans to embrace a troubled peace push with the Taliban insurgency. But it was unclear if the U.S. declaration would be enough to bolster the peace effort and reverse a decision by the Kabul government to resume offensive operations against the Taliban. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered the military on Tuesday to switch to “offensive mode” against the Taliban following the hospital attack in Kabul and a suicide bombing in Nangarhar province that killed scores of people. U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad blamed Islamic State for both attacks in a statement issued on Twitter, saying the group opposed any Taliban peace agreement and sought to trigger an Iraq-style sectarian war in Afghanistan. “Rather than falling into the ISIS trap and delay peace or create obstacles, Afghans must come together to crush this menace and pursue a historic peace opportunity,” Khalilzad said. “No more excuses. Afghans, and the world, deserve better.” An affiliate of the Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the Nangarhar bombing, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. No one has claimed the hospital attack.”

Brooklyn Daily Eagle: Neo-Nazi Extremist Charged With Trying To Buy Assault Weapons

“A Bayside man whose Instagram account glorified anti-Semitic killings was arraigned in Brooklyn federal court Wednesday after prosecutors say he tried to purchase illegal assault rifles with defaced serial numbers. Joseph Miner, 29, was arrested with his neighbor Tuesday night at a hotel near LaGuardia Airport, where prosecutors say the men attempted to purchase a cache of weapons, including the modified assault rifles. Miner, a former Cardozo High School and Queens College track star, maintained a hate-filled Instagram account under the name “Souljagoy,” in which he identified himself as a “Far Right Propagandist.” Instagram posts and messages entered into evidence allegedly show Miner giving the Nazi salute in a photo with the text “God I hate women jews and n——,” holding a knife in a photo captioned “overthrowing [Jews] is our Christian duty,” celebrating the anti-Semitic attack in Monsey, NY and praising Hitler. Miner was arraigned before Magistrate Judge Robert Levy. Federal prosecutors and Miner’s defense attorney Benjamin Silverman agreed on a permanent order of detention during Miner’s initial appearance Wednesday afternoon.”

Syria

The Wall Street Journal: Syria’s Assad Defeated His Foes. Now He Targets His Friends.

“For nine years, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has waged a brutal civil war against his enemies and allowed his friends to profit from it. Now, he is squeezing those same allies to solidify power and ensure the economy stays afloat as the costs of rebuilding from the conflict pile up. Mr. Assad has been targeting more than a dozen pro-regime money men, in a shakedown that has touched industries from real estate to telecommunications and energy and imparted the message that he alone dictates Syria’s future. Among those caught in the crosshairs is Rami Makhlouf, Mr. Assad’s cousin and ally who helped keep the money flowing to the regime during Syria’s civil war. In two recent Facebook videos, Mr. Makhlouf pleaded with the president not to seize his assets. Appearing disheveled and cornered, the camera-shy tycoon said accusations that he owed $250 million in taxes were fabricated by Syria’s intelligence services. “Mr. President, please, this is the truth,” Mr. Makhlouf said in his first video on April 30. “We are ready to open our books to everyone, and go over them number by number. If you get this figure, then I will gladly give it to you.” It wasn’t clear from Mr. Makhlouf’s video whether he was still in Syria, and he has remained out of the public eye since.”

ABC News: 'Risk Of A Mass Breakout' At ISIS Prison Camps In Syria: Report

“There remains the “high impact risk of a mass breakout” of Islamic State prisoners from detention camps in Syria, according to a new U.S. government report. Published on Wednesday, the quarterly Inspector General report -- covering January through March of this year -- provided Congress an update on the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria using information from the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). More than a year after the U.S.-led coalition and its partners liberated the final territory of the so-called ISIS caliphate in Syria, the coalition said that the ISIS prisoners pose “one of the most significant risks to the success of the (defeat-ISIS) mission.” The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), America's majority-Kurdish partner who did most of the ground fighting in Syria, still hold approximately 2,000 foreign fighters and 8,000 Iraqi and Syrian fighters in about 20 detention centers in northeast Syria, the report said. Concerns about an ISIS prison break escalated in October as some SDF guards were pulled from prisons to join fighting against Turkish forces who had invaded northern Syria.”

Iran

Taylor & Francis Online: Iran And Hezbollah’s Pre-Operational Modus Operandi In The West

“Tensions between the United States and Iran/Hezbollah have been on the rise since 2018 when the U.S. administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal. These tensions spiked in January 2020 when U.S. strikes killed Qassem Soleimani the leader of Iran’s IRGC-Quds Force. Furthermore, there is mounting evidence that in recent years, Iran and Hezbollah have sought to create a sleeper network in the U.S. and Western Europe, which could be activated to launch attacks as part of a retaliatory attack. This paper assesses Iran and Hezbollah pre-operational modus operandi in the West derived from court documents and open source reporting of recent arrest of Hezbollah and Iranian agents in the US and abroad. It sheds lights on the recruitment, training, and placement of these agents and the intricacies of their past operations. While it is impossible to predict when, where or how Iran/Hezbollah might retaliate as retribution for Soleimani’s killing, this article argues that there is growing number of indicators and warning signs for a possible attack in the U.S. or against U.S. interests abroad.”

Iraq

Washington Examiner: Pentagon Watchdog Reports ISIS Continues To Wage ‘Low-Level Insurgency’ In Both Iraq And Syria

“The latest quarterly report to Congress by the Pentagon’s Office of the Lead Inspector General says that while the Islamic State remains unable to hold territory, the group can still mount small-arms attacks and continues to wage a “low-level insurgency” in both Iraq and Syria. “In Iraq, these attacks were concentrated in mountainous and desert provinces north and west of Baghdad,” writes acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell, who was just appointed to the post last month. “In Syria, the majority of attacks occurred in Dayr az Zawr, Hasakah, and Raqqah provinces.” According to the U.S. special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, there are still some 14,000 to 18,000 ISIS remnants spread between Syria and Iraq, therefore remaining a threat as an insurgency and terrorist operation. The report cites the U.S. Treasury Department as reporting that ISIS continues to generate funds through criminal activities and continues “to move money within and out of Syria and Iraq through couriers and other money services.” ISIS, it says, “has access to financial reserves in the hundreds of millions of dollars even as it works to rebuild ‘significantly reduced’ fund-generating networks.”

Kurdistan 24: Iraqi Official Says ISIS Behind Recent Crop Fires

“An Iraqi government official said on Thursday that members of the so-called Islamic State were behind crop fires in at least two provinces in recent weeks, though without much further clarification. Still-lit cigarettes left in grain fields, deliberately or otherwise, are among a number of possible causes named, said Mahdi al-Qaisy, an advisor for the Ministry of Agriculture, in comments to the Iraqi News Agency in which he citing a Civil Defense Directorate assessment. “Da’esh terrorist gangs are responsible for setting fires in agricultural crops in two or more provinces and the rest of the fires were caused by negligence and oversight,” said Qaisy. He also claimed that the blazes had not threatened the country’s “food security.” Coinciding with the arrival of the harvest season, crop field burnings started again recently, with Islamic State militants being accused of being behind some of them. This is amid a general uptick in the terrorist organization’s activity across Iraq. On Thursday afternoon, local media reports indicated that militants launched three mortar shells on a farming village in the western portion of Diyala province. Five people were reportedly wounded and transported to a nearby hospital, as security force teams were dispatched to the area.”

Turkey

Reuters: Turkey Detains Four More Kurdish Mayors On Alleged Terror Links

“Turkish authorities detained mayors of four more municipalities in Kurdish-majority areas on Friday as part of what it called terrorism related investigations, a security source and state-owned Anadolu news agency said on Friday. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) mayors of the eastern provinces of Igdir, Siirt and districts of Baykan and Kurtalan were detained at their houses, according to the source and to Anadolu. President Tayyip Erdogan’s government accuses the HDP of having links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, leading to prosecutions of thousands of its members and some leaders. The HDP denies such links. Since March 2019 local elections, mayors have been replaced by trustees in more than half of the roughly 65 municipalities won by the HDP. Ankara has appointed governors and other local authorities as trustees in those districts. The former co-leaders of the HDP have both been jailed since 2016 on terrorism charges, with several other prominent party members accused of supporting terrorism over what the government says are links to the PKK.”

Afghanistan

Voice Of America: Taliban Respond To Ghani’s Statement With Attack

“A Taliban attack on an Afghan army compound in Gardez city of Paktia province Thursday morning killed at least five civilians and wounded dozens more, including five people from the military. A spokesman for the army’s 203 Thunder Corps, Aimal Khan Mohmand, told VOA the suicide attacker in an explosives laden Mazda truck managed to damage the walls of the compound. Afghanistan’s Tolo news has reported that based on social media pictures, the building was “destroyed.” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility and said the attack was a response to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s order to resume offensive operations against the insurgent group. The operations were suspended since the insurgent group signed a landmark deal with the United States in Doha in February to try to end the war. The attack also comes days after multiple attacks in other parts of the country, including on a hospital in Kabul, killed more than 50 people including newborn babies. While Taliban denied those attacks, senior Afghan officials, including first vice president Amrullah Saleh, blamed the group for those attacks. The acting interior minister Massoud Andarabi accused a deadly Taliban faction, the Haqqani network, of having close ties with the local chapter of Islamic State which claimed some of the attacks.”

Pakistan

The Week: Summer Of Terror

“Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa is busy shuttling between the military offices in Karachi, the country’s financial capital, and the army headquarters in Rawalpindi. The Covid-19 pandemic has not only hit Pakistan’s economy but also turned international attention away from its favourite subject—Kashmir. Its army, therefore, has taken centre stage to meet the two challenges. Even before the pandemic, Pakistan’s economy had been witnessing a slump. There was pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global terror financing watchdog, which put Pakistan on the grey list and threatened sanctions. At the same time, terror outfits were growing desperate after India abrogated Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019. Last October, Bajwa met business leaders and government finance officials in Karachi to discuss ways to tackle the economic slowdown. The growing role of the military in the country’s economic management became clear when the military issued a statement after the meeting. National security was intimately linked to economy, said Bajwa, and to prosper, there should be a balance in security needs and economic growth.”

Lebanon

The Jerusalem Post: Hezbollah Is A Terrorist Entity. The EU Must Not Be Afraid To Say So

“The recent German government’s blacklisting of Hezbollah in its entirety is a significant step in the global fight against terrorism and Iranian aggression. The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and our allies across the world – the United States, Australia, Canada, Israel, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council – have all designated the entire Hezbollah a terrorist organization. It is therefore high time for the European Union (EU) to join the international consensus in ceasing its differentiation between Hezbollah’s so-called “political” and “military” wings, and outlaw the entire organization. The false distinction between the two wings came about after Hezbollah bombed a bus filled with Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, in 2012, killing six and wounding several others. As a consequence, the EU could no longer deny Hezbollah’s terrorist activities. But in order to not upset its relations with Lebanon where Hezbollah is a significant political player - it introduced a theoretical distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wings, of which only the latter was outlawed in July 2013. It should be noted that senior Hezbollah leadership consistently and vehemently deny that there is any distinction between their “wings,” and stress that it is one and the same organization.”

Africa

Voice Of America: 26 Killed In Attack On South Sudan Government Paramilitary Base

“Twenty-six people, including civilians, were killed when unidentified gunmen attacked a South Sudan Rapid Support Forces (RSF) base this week outside the town of Kadugli in South Kordofan state. RSF leader General Hamdan Dagalo condemned Monday’s attack. Kadugli town authorities said armed men in military uniforms attacked the RSF base. Nineteen others were injured in the attack and were airlifted to Khartoum for treatment, according to Major General Rasheed Abdulhameed Ismeal, the military caretaker governor of South Kordofan state. No arrests have been reported, and the gunmen remain unidentified but were said to have arrived in four Land Rovers. General Dagalo, a Sudanese Sovereign Council member, called the incident politically motivated. He accused unnamed individuals of trying to create insecurity by fueling tribal conflict among locals and pitting his RSF forces against the Sudan Armed Forces for political gain. Dagalo warned politicians against trying to foment violence among citizens. “Any politician who might have a plan of reaching any position should do that without harming the country. Currently, people are trying to survive the global pandemic, and many don’t have food to eat and at the same time others are instigating violence,” said Dagalo.”

Germany

BBC News: Germany Far Right: Explosives Found At Elite Soldier's Home

“German police investigating links between the military and the far right have seized weapons and explosives at the home of a special forces soldier. The 45-year-old sergeant major in the elite KSK special forces command has been under investigation since 2017. Reports say he had hidden a cache of weapons at his home in Nordsachsen in the eastern state of Saxony. German military intelligence (MAD) said in January there were 592 suspected far-right cases in the army last year. In March, officials said they had identified 27 people as far-right extremists. The KSK, considered the most secretive unit in the army, is seen as a particular problem. It has some 1,000 soldiers trained for crisis situations such as freeing hostages abroad and 20 of them have reportedly come under investigation. Germany's Spiegel website says action has been taken against nine of them. Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer promised further investigation of possible extremist networks and said it was clear there was no place for anyone in the armed forces who acted “in a radical way”. The military's far-right problem emerged in 2017. Inspections were ordered on all military barracks when Nazi-era memorabilia was found at two of them.”

Latin America

Reuters: Colombia Bombing Kills ELN Rebel Commander, Three Others

“A commander from Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels known for his management of illicit finances has been killed along with three others in a military bombing, the Defense Ministry said on Thursday. The bombing in the Montecristo rural area of Bolivar province was a joint operation between the air force, army troops and the police, Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said. “Alias 'Mocho Tierra' was considered a high-value target and was involved in the planning and execution of terrorist acts against the civilian population and the armed forces,” Trujillo said. The leader, whose identity was not disclosed, was an ELN member for nearly three decades and participated in a 1999 kidnapping of airline passengers. He was in charge of drug trafficking and illegal mining in the region that generated monthly revenues of about 4 billion pesos ($1 million), Trujillo said. The ELN, considered a terrorist group by the United States and European Union, declared a unilateral ceasefire during April in what it said was a humanitarian gesture amid the coronavirus pandemic. The group renewed attacks following the ceasefire, with the army blaming it for a series of bombings against oil pipelines.”

Technology

The National: How Extremists Are Using Zoom And Other Tools To Exploit This Pandemic

“Fresh evidence that radical groups like the Muslim Brotherhood are seeking to exploit the coronavirus pandemic is a reminder that, despite the setbacks they have suffered in recent years, Islamist extremists are actively seeking to regroup. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Isis and others were very much on the defensive, not least because of the catastrophic defeats they had suffered in Iraq and Syria following the collapse of the so-called caliphate. There were also indications of similar setbacks elsewhere in the Muslim world, with the Taliban under pressure to sign a US-sponsored peace accord in Afghanistan and the Islamist-backed Government of National Accord in Libya in danger of succumbing to the military offensive being undertaken by Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar. But with global attention focused on dealing with the coronavirus challenge, there is mounting evidence that Islamist hardliners are seeking to use the pandemic to recruit and rebuild their networks. As The National reported earlier this week, in Britain experts have raised concerns that the lockdown has enabled the Brotherhood to spread its ideology directly into the homes of potential sympathisers.”