Eye on Extremism: May 16

Reuters: U.S.-Backed Forces Crack Down On Islamic State Fighters In Syria's Deir Al Zor

“U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces said on Wednesday they had begun a campaign against “terrorists” linked to Islamic State in a strategic town in the oil rich eastern province of Deir al Zor that residents and witnesses say has been at the center of protests opposing the rule of U.S.-supported militia. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spearheaded by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said it had so far arrested 20 militants and confiscated weapons in the security sweep in the vicinity of the town of Shuhail on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River and its outlying desert region.  “Our forces began a campaign in the early hours of the morning ... we have discovered two tunnels used by terrorists to launch attacks,” the SDF said in a statement.  Last week, a U.S.-led special operations raid on a suspected Islamic State fighters’ hideout in the town had sparked violent protests and attacks on SDF garrisons, three residents and social media footage showed. Eight people were killed in the raid, residents said.  SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali denied any civilians were killed in the operation that he said sought an “important” Islamic State militant cell inside Shuhail, part of a large swathe of territory in northeastern Syria the U.S.-backed group controls.”

The New York Times: Iran Threat Debate Is Set Off By Images Of Missiles At Sea

“The intelligence that caused the White House to escalate its warnings about a threat from Iran came from photographs of missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf that were put on board by Iranian paramilitary forces, three American officials said. Overhead imagery showed fully assembled missiles, stoking fears that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps would fire them at United States naval ships. Additional pieces of intelligence picked up threats against commercial shipping and potential attacks by Arab militias with Iran ties on American troops in Iraq. But just how alarmed the Trump administration should be over the new intelligence is a subject of fierce debate among the White House, the Pentagon, the C.I.A. and America’s allies. The photographs presented a different kind of threat than previously seen from Iran, said the three officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about it publicly. Taken with the other intelligence, the photographs could indicate that Iran is preparing to attack United States forces. That is the view of John R. Bolton, President Trump’s hard-line national security adviser, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.”

Voice Of America: Islamic State Announces 'Pakistan Province'

“The Islamic State group says it has established a “province” in Pakistan, days after the terrorist organization used the name “Hind Province” for an attack it claimed in the India-ruled portion of the disputed Kashmir region. Both of the divisions formerly fell under the “Khorasan Province” or ISKP — the name the Middle East-based terrorist group uses for its regional operations launched in early 2015 from bases in the border region of Afghanistan — according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist threats. The “Islamic State Pakistan Province,” in communiques issued via its global propaganda mouthpiece Amaq News Agency, took credit for killing a Pakistani police officer this week in Mastung, and it reported shooting at a gathering of militants linked to the outlawed Pakistani Taliban militant group in Quetta. Both the districts are located in violence-hit Baluchistan province, which borders Afghanistan and Iran. Several separatist Baluch groups and sectarian organizations also are active in the province. There was no immediate reaction available from the Pakistani government. Islamabad maintains there is no “organized” presence of IS in the country. Pakistani military officials say an ongoing nationwide military-led “intelligence-based operation” is primarily aimed at denying space in Pakistan to extremists linked to any terrorist groups.”

The Hill: Trump Takes Flak For Not Joining Anti-Extremism Pact

“The White House on Wednesday declined to join a global call to fight online terror, citing concerns about freedom of speech but in the process stoking a new controversy over its response to extremism. Lara Pham, the deputy director of the Counter Extremism Project, called the White House’s move “disappointing.” “It obviously indicates that unfortunately the U.S. in many ways is still behind other countries on this issue,” Pham said. Pham told The Hill that she hopes the document will be regarded as a “framework for regulation in the future.”

The Wall Street Journal: Blaming America First On Iran

“When the U.S. withdraws its diplomats from a foreign country amid a security threat, the domestic reaction in a previous age would have been to show solidarity against an adversary. But this is Washington in 2019, so the loyal opposition is reacting to the threat from Iran by blaming—President Trump. “Either the Trump administration is trying to goad Iran into war or a war could come by accident because of the administration’s reckless policies,” declared former Obama official Wendy Sherman Wednesday, after the State Department withdrew personnel from Iraq. Ms. Sherman is sore that Mr. Trump withdrew from the failed nuclear deal that she helped negotiate with Iran, but even she must realize that Shiite militias in Iraq often act as proxies for Iran. Does she want another Benghazi? Yet she blames Mr. Trump for a “march to war with Iran” and wants Congress, Europe and business leaders to “stand in [national security adviser] John Bolton’s way.” Senator Bernie Sanders says he’s also worried about “provocations on the part of the United States against Iran.”

Global Risk Affairs: Terrorism And The Tech Industry

“With the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from 2014 onwards, the issue of the misuse of modern communication technology via the internet and social media came to the forefront of the public mind. While in general, the activities of ISIL members online where only a continuation of the technological adaptation already started by the global Al-Qaida network, ISIL’s propaganda and communications skills took this adaptation to new heights, in part reflecting the tech-savvy skills of the younger generation of radicals that joined the terror group. The recent terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand makes it clear that the misuse of internet and social media services is not limited to organisations such as Al-Qaida or ISIL but extremist right-wing terrorists have “discovered” the opportunities of such services for their activities to share information and connect on an international scale. The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) has been monitoring and documenting the increasing online activities of right-wing extremist groups around the globe for a number of years already.”

United States

The New York Times Magazine: Was It An Invisible Attack On U.S. Diplomats, Or Something Stranger?

“The piercing, high-pitched noises were first heard by a couple of recently arrived United States Embassy officials in Havana in late 2016, soon after Donald Trump was elected president. They heard the noises in their homes, in the city’s leafy western suburbs. If they moved to a different room, or walked outside, the noise stopped. The two officials said they believed that the sound was man-made, a form of harassment. Around the same time, they began to develop a variety of symptoms: headaches, fatigue, dizziness, mental fog, hearing loss, nausea. On Dec. 30, 2016, the Embassy’s chargé d’affaires, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, and his security chief, Anthony Spotti, were told what the men were experiencing. By then, a third Embassy worker who lived nearby also heard the sounds and began developing symptoms. DeLaurentis eventually sent the three for evaluation by an otolaryngologist at the University of Miami, who told them they had damage to their inner ears’ vestibular organs. Similar reports of sickness after hearing noises began trickling in from other diplomats in Havana. One of them, a foreign-service officer, told me he was awakened one morning in March by a screeching noise. “It paralyzed me,” he said. “When the sound occurred, I could not move. I couldn’t get up until it stopped.”

The Wall Street Journal: Trump Can’t Afford To Go Soft On Turkey

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be playing dumb, but he’s not stupid. The strongman plunked down a deposit for Russia’s advanced S-400 air-defense system in December 2017—months after Congress passed a law that triggers painful U.S. sanctions on governments that purchase Russian armaments. Now Mr. Erdogan wants an exemption, and he apparently believes President Trump is inclined to give him one. Mr. Trump likely cannot do so without congressional approval. But even if he could, he shouldn’t. The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, is crystal clear about imposing sanctions on any entity that “engages in a significant transaction with . . . defense or intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation.” The S-400 cost Ankara around $2.5 billion and is widely believed to rank among the most lethal air defense systems in the world. But its lethality is not the reason that the U.S. State and Treasury departments have been pleading with Mr. Erdogan to cancel the sale. The greater problem is that it risks exposing U.S. technology to hostile powers.”

NBC News: The Feds Need To Up Their Game Against Domestic Extremists, Critics Say

“In a windowless office in midtown Manhattan, two researchers huddle over a computer screen reading a four-paragraph message targeting Jews just posted to 4chan, a fringe social media site popular with white supremacists. "I will dance for joy if more synagogues in the United States are attacked," the anonymous poster writes. Oren Segal, who leads a 12-person team at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism that tracks extremists around the clock, tells his researchers it's time to alert law enforcement. "We definitely want to get this to [the FBI]," says Segal, whose team has been on heightened alert since October 2018 following deadly shootings at two U.S. synagogues. Segal is frustrated by the anonymous nature of the threat, but notes, "We've found people with less [identifying information] ... What we need to do is identify other people who are interacting with this and see if we can find a location.”

Fox News: Sen. McSally Defends John Bolton On Iran, Says US Doesn't Want War: 'Stop Playing Politics'

“U.S. Sen. Martha McSally on Wednesday blasted those who've criticized National Security Adviser John Bolton as a "war monger" amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran. "I think he is a realist. I know John Bolton and I know he cares about protecting Americans and their interests. I just think this type of infighting is not helpful right now," McSally, an Arizona Republican, said during an appearance on "The Story with Martha MacCallum." McSally encouraged her Senate colleagues to "get the classified information on what we are dealing with." "Any situation where there are threats like this, we present courses of action to be able to protect America," McSally said. "That is what we are going through right now and I think that is what Americans want us to do. Stop playing politics with this and let's make sure we present all the options available to keep us safe and keep our troops and Americans safe.”


The New York Times Magazine: To Stay Or To Flee: A Syrian Mother’s Impossible Choice

“At the end of her shift in January 2019, Suhair was listening intently to Bjorn Muller, a former line chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant Inter Scaldes, as he explained in Dutch to her and the other kitchen trainees what each did well that day and what they could improve upon. Though she was not 100 percent sure what was being said, Suhair laughed when the others did. She had been studying the language for more than a year, but those lessons about van Gogh and Rembrandt, Dutch birthday traditions, the Netherlands’ history and the requisite forms for navigating its bureaucracy weren’t proving entirely relevant here at Orionis, a work-placement agency in Vlissingen, a seaside town in the southern province of Zeeland. Muller was talking about menus, work flow and hygiene as he gestured to notes he had made in washable marker on the stainless-steel countertops, where they prepare each day’s lunch.”

Al Jazeera: Are Russia And Turkey Making Deals Or Parting Ways In Syria?

“Over the past few weeks, northwest Syria witnessed yet another serious military escalation. Russian and Syrian regime forces unleashed a deadly campaign of bombardment on parts of Idlib, Aleppo and Hama provinces, after two attacks by Hay'et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an armed group formerly linked to al-Qaeda, killed 22 pro-regime fighters on April 27. The recent escalation was the most significant one since Moscow and Ankara reached a tentative deal to avert a ground offensive by establishing a demilitarised zone in rebel-held areas in the northwest last September. Over the past few months, the terms of the agreement have been repeatedly violated, with bombardment and sporadic clashes killing close to 500 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Turkish troops were also targeted in two separate incidents in early May. Syrian regime forces shelled a Turkish observation post in northern Hama province, while Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) attacked Turkish positions near Tel Rifaat, northern Aleppo province, killing one Turkish soldier. These attacks and the developments that followed demonstrate that significant cracks are appearing in the Russian-Turkish alliance, as the two sides struggle to implement the agreed ceasefires.”


Haaretz: Rohani Vs. Revolutionary Guards: Inside Iran's Turbulent Debate On War With America

“Confronted by the Trump administration’s 'maximum pressure' policy and by hardliners at home, Iran's Rohani is fighting a losing battle for negotiations, not conflict, with the U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran a year ago. Since then, tensions between the two countries have increased steadily, as the United States has dialed up pressure on Iran.”

The Hill: Iran's Coming Response: Increased Terrorism And Cyber Attacks?

“We need to prepare. With the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln and a group of B-52 bombers to the Middle East, tensions with Iran have reached a critical phase. While Iran poses a very real threat to the world’s supply of oil, the current situation also underscores that we must be prepared — immediately — to counter Iranian-sponsored terrorism and to respond to the threat that Iran’s growing cyber capabilities pose to the United States and our allies in the region. The stark reality is that Iran is constantly putting our interests and those of our allies at direct risk. We’ve seen this happen in a wide range of ways: For nearly four decades, Iran has funded Hezbollah, a terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans; Iran’s support, along with Russia’s, for the Syrian regime has made that conflict hugely bloody; and Iran’s meddling in Yemen has created one of the worst humanitarian crises of our era. Moreover, Iran’s covert and illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons is precisely why we are now in the current situation. With the U.S. applying maximum pressure by terminating our sanctions waivers and cutting off Iran’s oil exports, it is not surprising that Iran, in turn, is threatening the nearly one-third of the world’s ocean-shipped oil supply that passes through the Straits of Hormuz.”

The Jerusalem Post: Hardliners Target Iran's President As U.S. Pressure Grows

“Growing US pressure on Iran has weakened pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani and made his hardline rivals more assertive at home and abroad, recent developments show. When he succeeded firebrand leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2013, Rouhani was seen as an establishment figure who would do little to end Iran's long standoff with the West. Two years later, his administration signed the nuclear deal with six world powers that spurred hopes for wider political change. Rouhani's authority is now waning: his brother, a key adviser on the 2015 deal, has been sentenced to jail on unspecified corruption charges, a hardline rival heads the judiciary and his government is under fire for responding too softly to US President Donald Trump's sanctions squeeze. Trump has said lifting sanctions in return for curbs on Iran's nuclear program did not stop Tehran meddling in neighboring states or developing ballistic missile capabilities and Rouhani's outreach to the West was a fig leaf.”

Forbes: Iran's Military Warns Of Imminent 'Full-Scale Confrontation' With 'American-Zionist Front'

“"We are on the cusp of a full-scale confrontation with the enemy," claimed hardliner Hossein Salami, the recently appointed head of Iran's IRGC on Wednesday. "This moment in history, because the enemy has stepped into the field of confrontation with us with all the possible capacity, is the most decisive moment of the Islamic revolution." Earlier on Wednesday, Iran's Defense Minister also clearly decided that there had not been any incendiary public statements for 24-hours, and so he announced that Iran will "defeat the American-Zionist front," adding that "today, the Islamic Republic of Iran stands at the peak of defense-military preparedness to counter any threat or act of aggression." The question now, as tension builds, is does Iran have a plan? Is the plan to push and prod at America to see what reaction it can get? Is it to provoke Israel, as a proxy, into acting first, drawing in the U.S. and causing regional rifts? Has Iran's leadership gamed the likelihood that President Trump and his aides might be cajoled into a hurried regional campaign that might split the international community and provide some relief from the economic sanctions that are now hitting hard?”

Fox News: Sen. Thom Tillis: Iran Funnels Hundreds Of Millions Into Terrorist Organizations

“Sen. Thom Tillis, R, N.C., Wednesday defended recent action taken by President Trump in response to “credible threats” from Iran and spoke out against the country's state-sponsored terrorism. During an appearance on ”America's Newsroom,” Tillis said he supports the president's display of strength as tensions continue to rise between the United States and Iran. This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed that Iran-backed missiles positioned rockets near American military bases in Iraq, prompting the State Department to order non-emergency personnel at the U.S. embassy and consulate there to leave the country. “They spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year and they channel them into terrorist organizations throughout the world,” Tillis said.  “If you don't go after them, they'll spread their influences,” he added. ”Hundreds of millions a year go into the terrorist organizations and the country aided and assisted militia that killed hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq during the conflict there.” Tillis added that although it is not his desire or that of the president to engage in war with Iran, the United States needs to take action and “manage the risks that come along with it.” Tillis also said that the president should impose economic sanctions on Iran.”


The New York Times: U.S. Orders Partial Evacuation Of Embassy In Baghdad

“The State Department ordered a partial evacuation of the United States Embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday, responding to what the Trump administration said was a threat linked to Iran, one that has led to an accelerated movement of American ships and bombers into the Persian Gulf. The department ordered “nonemergency U.S. government employees,” at both the embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in Erbil, to leave the country. The order applies primarily to full-time diplomats posted to Iraq by State Department headquarters in Washington, and an embassy statement said that visa services in Iraq would be suspended as a result. Contractors who provide security, food and other such services will remain in place for now. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that the administration had received intelligence related to “Iranian activity” that put American facilities and service personnel at “substantial risk.” Other American officials have said the same piece of intelligence points to potential attacks by Shiite Arab militias tied to Iran against American troops in Iraq or Syria. The State Department already had been discussing big cuts to the ranks of employees in the Baghdad and Kabul embassies as part of trying to wind down American involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, American officials said.”

The New York Times: Iraq, Fearing Another U.S. War, Warns Militias Against Provocation

“In the Trump administration’s recent bellicose talk about Iran, Iraqis hear eerie echoes of the months just before the American invasion of Iraq. Iraqi officials, wary of another war on their land, say they have warned armed groups tied to Iran to refrain from taking any action that could provoke American retaliation. “The last two days there have been continuous meetings with all the groups to convey the Iraqi government’s message that if anyone does something, it is their responsibility, not Iraq’s,” said Sayed al-Jayashi, a senior member of Iraq’s National Security Council. “The Iraqi government is responsible for protecting American interests in Iraq,” he added. “We will become the enemy of anyone who does something against American interests.”

Iraqi News: Iraqi Security Kill 9 Islamic State Fighters In Anbar

“Iraqi security forces killed on Wednesday nine members of the Islamic State militant group during a preemptive operation in Anbar province, a security source was quoted as saying. Speaking to Almaalomah news website, the source said that counter-terrorism forces in Anbar killed nine Islamic State terrorists, who were planning to launch attacks against security forces deployed in Ar-Rutbah district in western Anbar. The troops, according to the source, also destroyed several Islamic State tunnels and seized a large cache of the group’s ammunition. Iraq declared the collapse of Islamic State’s territorial influence in November 2017 with the recapture of Rawa, a city on Anbar’s western borders with Syria, which was the group’s last bastion in Iraq. IS declared a self-styled “caliphate” in a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria in 2014. A government campaign, backed by a U.S.-led international coalition and paramilitary forces, was launched in 2016 to retake IS-held regions, managing to retake all havens, most notably the city of Mosul, the group’s previously proclaimed capital.”

Kurdistan 24: US Should Continue To Work With Kurds To Prevent ISIS Resurgence, Security Expert Says

“The United States should continue to work with the Kurdish security forces in both the Kurdistan Region and Syria to prevent a possible resurgence of the so-called Islamic State, a US foreign policy and security expert said on Tuesday. In an interview with Kurdistan 24, Christine Wormuth, director of the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center, highlighted the role the Kurdish forces played in the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “The Kurds have been tremendous partners for the United States in the fight against ISIS,” she said, adding the Kurdistan Region Peshmerga as well as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) “demonstrated their bravery” in the war against the terror group. “They were really essential partners in pushing ISIS out of Iraq and Syria, so my hope is that the United States will continue to work with the Kurdish security forces.” Wormuth noted that the US, Iraq, and other countries in the region and abroad should “be concerned about the possibility that ISIS might come back at some point.” Indeed, senior Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials have often warned that the root causes of the terror group’s emergence must be addressed to prevent a resurgence.”


Vox: Why Turkey Has Accused NBA Player Enes Kanter Of “Terror” Ties

“The Portland Trail Blazers still have to win four games to reach the NBA Finals. So do the Toronto Raptors. But if that happens — and that’s a big if, as the Trail Blazers are already down a game to the reigning NBA champs the Golden State Warriors — the NBA playoffs could suddenly have some geopolitical implications.  That’s because Enes Kanter, the center for the Portland team, is currently the target of an Interpol “red notice” — basically, an arrest warrant — put out by the Turkish government.  Kanter is an outspoken and longtime critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğanand his increasingly authoritarian policies. Kanter’s Turkish passport was revoked in 2017, and though he’s a reportedly a US green card holder, if he travels to Canada to compete, he could open himself up to arrest. Again, the Trail Blazers are still a long way from reaching the NBA finals (as are the Raptors). But the potential matchup has already prompted Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) to write to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ask him and Canadian officials to “facilitate Mr. Kanter’s safe passage to and from Canada” if Portland and Toronto meet in the finals.”


The New York Times: How The Taliban Infiltrated A Vital Afghan Army Base — Again

“Some Taliban fighters hid inside a sewage tanker truck, hoping the smelly interior would prevent a close inspection — as it did. They rode it into one of the most important military bases in Afghanistan and then hid in an empty warehouse. Other insurgents used ladders to climb the fences, scaling two sets of them, to cross a no man’s land that had once been protected by motion detectors and infrared cameras but now had only sleepy guards in watchtowers. The infiltrators had friends in high places, as well, according to Afghan and American military officials: an Afghan lieutenant colonel and a sergeant major who made sure they knew where to go, and where to hide on the sprawling base. The ensuing attack on Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, on March 1, was not one of the country’s deadliest, but it may well have been its most embarrassing. It was the third time the Taliban had infiltrated that base, the headquarters for the Afghan Army’s 215th Corps. Before the assault was over, 23 Afghan soldiers and base workers would be dead, and the American military would once again have to come to the rescue of a base it had long since handed over to the Afghans. An American airstrike finally ended the attack after 20 hours of fighting.”

Voice Of America: Taliban Overrun District Center In South Afghanistan

“The Taliban captured a district center Wednesday in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 13 government soldiers. The fighting comes as Russia asserted the Taliban is getting stronger and called for increased efforts to reach a negotiated settlement to the 17-year-old war. Local officials and insurgent sources reported Taliban fighters assaulted Shamulzayi in Zabul province before dawn, forcing Afghan security forces out of the district center and also overrunning the regional office of the government intelligence agency, NDS. A provincial security official requesting anonymity confirmed to VOA the fighting killed at least 13 personnel of the Afghan National Army. The Defense Ministry announced a counteroffensive was underway in to retake the lost ground, claiming the insurgents suffered heavy casualties in the process. “Afghan air forces are in the area. Taliban [fighters] are on run from district,” the ministry said in a statement. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahmadi acknowledged fighting was raging in the area “because some enemy [government] posts” were still offering resistance. He rejected official claims of retaking the district center from the Taliban.”

The Hill: Pentagon Asked For Funds To Reimburse Taliban Expenses: Report

“Earlier this year, the Pentagon reportedly asked Congress for funding to reimburse the Taliban for transportation and other expenses the group incurs by attending peace negotiations. “The Defense Department requested fiscal 2020 funding to support certain reconciliation activities, including logistic support for members of the Taliban and, in March 2019, they sent a notification letter to the Committee on using fiscal year 2019 funds for similar activities,” a spokesman for House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense Chairman Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.) told Roll Call.  The money would pay for the terrorist organization's transportation, lodging, food and supplies, the spokesman said. He also said the Defense Department's request “would implicate provisions of law concerning material support to terrorists, the Taliban’s ongoing offensive operations against U.S. service members, and their continuing lack of acknowledgement of the government of Afghanistan or the rights of women in Afghan society.” The funding request is like “life imitating The Onion,” Steve Ellis, executive vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, told Roll Call.”

Xinhua: 5 Security Forces, 40 Militants Killed In Afghanistan Within Day

“At least five security forces and nearly 40 Taliban militants have been killed in clashes in Afghanistan within the past 24 hours, authorities said Wednesday. Three Afghan army soldiers, two police officers and four militants were killed after Afghan security forces repelled an attack by Taliban on remote Shamulzay district in southern province of Zabul Tuesday night, Afghan Ministry of Defense said confirmed. The ministry added that heavy clashes with the security forces foiled the enemy's plan to capture the remote district, in southeast of provincial capital Qalat city. At least 17 militants were also wounded in the fighting in the district, bordering Pakistan. Zabiullah Mujahid, a purported Taliban spokesman, claimed that the insurgents overran the government offices in the district. In a separate incident, four Taliban militants were killed after Afghan Air Force targeted a running vehicle in Naw Bahar district of Zabul on Tuesday. In another incident, four Taliban militants were killed and eight others wounded after Afghan army commandoes launched an operation in Khelahzai village, on outskirts of Pul-e-Khumri, capital of northern Baghlan province Tuesday night, army Corps 217 Pamir said in a statement.”


The Defense Post: ISIS Announces New India And Pakistan Provinces, Casually Breaking Up Khorasan

“Islamic State, in a continuation of its Wilayah restructuring, causally announced the creation of a Wilayah Pakistan on Wednesday, May 15 when claiming two attacks in Pakistan. This followed the creation of Wilayah al-Hind (India) in a May 10 statement claiming an attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir. A statement issued on May 15 claimed a gun attack on a police officer in the Mastung area, about 40 km south of of Quetta in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province. A traffic police officer was shot and killed by unknown gunmen in that area on May 12. A second statement quickly followed, with ISIS claiming a gun attack on “elements of the Taliban movement” also in Quetta. This may refer to what The Nation reported as an attack on a group of laborers on May 14 that killed three people and injured a fourth. Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest and poorest province, has been rocked by ethnic Baloch separatist, Islamist and sectarian insurgencies for years.”

Voice Of America: Pakistani Authorities Arrest Islamist Leader

“Pakistani authorities on Wednesday arrested a senior leader of the Pakistan-based Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and its affiliated Falah-e-Insaniat (FiF) charity group, which are both U.S.- and U.N.-designated terror organizations. Abdul Rehman Makki, the Islamist leader, was taken into custody in Punjab province on charges of inciting hatred and using defamatory language against authorities for the recent countrywide crackdown against banned militant organizations. Makki was reportedly upset over the government's action against religious groups and harshly denounced it in a recent public gathering. He also condemned the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global terror watchdog, for putting Pakistan on notice to take measures against terror financing in the country. During the gathering, he also sought donations from followers for the outlawed JuD terror group. Militant groups in Pakistan reportedly collect donations under the guise of religion and welfare for the poor, but instead use the money to fund terrorism inside and outside of Pakistan.”


The New York Times: In Yemen, Fighting Resumes Between Houthi Rebels And Government Forces

“Houthi fighters and Saudi-backed pro-government forces renewed fighting in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday. The fighting breached a cease-fire and is likely to complicate a troop withdrawal agreement intended to pave the way for wider peace talks aimed at ending the four-year war, which is seen as part of a wider regional conflict between Saudi Arabia and the Iran-backed Houthi. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, many of them civilians, and aid agencies say the humanitarian crisis is the worst in the world. As the main entry point for food imports and aid, Hodeidah, which has been under Houthi control, is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis threatened by starvation because of the war.”

Saudi Arabia

Asharq Al-Awsat: Eleven Terror Attacks Sought Harming Saudi Oil Facilities

“Iran, using regional proxies, has been gradually scaling up its attacks against Saudi oil targets since 2003. In total eleven terror attempts have targeted Saudi Arabian oil facilities within the last 16 years. Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Houthis have each staged attacks against the kingdom. The latest in a series of terror-linked violence was a multiple drone attack which hit Aramco oil stations in each of the Al Duawadimi and Afif districts in Riyadh. It is worth noting that the attacks came a day after officials in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates claimed four oil tankers were damaged by “sabotage” suspected to have been carried out by Iran or its allied proxies. Drone terror attacks by Houthis against the pumping stations is reminiscent of previous attempts, such as the abortive attack which attempted to blow up a platform and an Aramco oil distribution station in April 2017 in the Saudi port city of Jizan. Two oil tankers belonging to the Saudi national shipping company in the Red Sea were attacked by Yemen's Houthi militia after crossing the Bab al-Mandab Strait in 2018 as well. One of the earliest attacks on oil installations and pipelines in Saudi Arabia was staged by car suicide bombers who detonated in an oil refinery in eastern Saudi Arabia, killing a security man and thwarting Saudi Arabia in November.”

The National: Saudi-Backed Yemen Forces Attack Houthi Sites

“Forces of the internationally recognised Yemeni government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition, killed 97 Houthi forces and captured 120 in the governorate of Al Dhalea, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television said on Wednesday, citing military sources. No further details about the military operation were available. The attack comes a day after Riyadh said that an oil pipeline that runs across Saudi Arabia was hit on Tuesday by drones, as regional tensions continued to flare. Responding to the attack on Saudi, the UK's Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said it was “not just wrong but undermines the trust needed to resolve the conflict” in Yemen. Mr Hunt, however, also emphasised that it is “not the time for provocation” when progress has been made in the peace process. The Houthis, who are fighting coaltion forces in Yemen, said on Tuesday they launched seven drones targeting vital Saudi installations, without elaborating. They later claimed responsibility for the pipeline attack in comments broadcast by Houthi military spokesman Brig Gen Yahya Sari. The pipeline that runs from the kingdom's oil-rich Eastern Province to a Red Sea port was shut down, but Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al Falih vowed that the production and export of Saudi oil would not be interrupted.”

Middle East

Reuters: UAE Court Sentences Six Lebanese To Jail In Hezbollah Trial: State Media

“The United Arab Emirates on Wednesday jailed six Lebanese men, four of them for life, for setting up a terrorist cell with links to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the state news agency WAM reported.  The UAE Federal Court sentenced two of the six men to 10 years each in jail and acquitted five others, WAM said.  The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait - all U.S.-allied Sunni Muslim states - classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in 2016 and warned its citizens and resident expatriates against any links to it.  The 11 defendants, all of them Shi’ite Muslims who have lived and worked in the UAE for more than 15 years, were arrested in late 2017 and early 2018. They were charged in February with establishing a cell linked to the Hezbollah group, backed by Shi’ite Iran.  Rights groups have said the men did not receive a fair trial. Amnesty International said eight of them had been held in solitary confinement for more than a year, which can amount to torture.”

YNet: Hezbollah Could Use Maritime Border Dispute As Excuse To Go To War With Israel

“The growing tension between the United States and Iran in recent days might result in Iran-backed organizations, especially Hezbollah, acting against Israel if Tehran deems it suitable for its interests. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah understands the Lebanese public will not forgive him for starting the Third Lebanon War - which would most likely lead to partial destruction of Lebanon - all in the name of Iran. Nasrallah, however, understands that he’d be able to justify such a war if it’s motivated by seemingly genuine attempts to defend Lebanese national interests. As far as he’s concerned there is an interest worth defending, he believes Israel has gas fields that extend into Lebanese territory - fields that are estimated to be worth billions of dollars. In May 2000, Israel surprised the world by pulling its troops out of southern Lebanon and unilaterally ending an 18-year-old conflict. The Lebanese government refused to cooperate with Israel on the withdrawal, prompting the Jewish state to negotiate with the UN in order to agree upon internationally recognized land borders.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt Urge Qatar To Stop Funding Terror Groups

“Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt called on Qatar Wednesday to stop funding terrorist groups and respect the rights of migrant workers. The three countries made the demand before the UN Human Rights Council's Review on Qatar. In its speech to the Council, Saudi Arabia called on Qatar to take the necessary measures to stop its financing of the terrorist groups and to take the necessary measures not to give terrorist groups media platforms to spread fanatical ideas of terrorism. The Kingdom also urged the removal of obstacles that hinder Qatari citizens and expatriates working in Qatar from performing the Hajj pilgrimage and Umrah. Saudi Arabia expressed deep concern over the tragic humanitarian situation of hundreds of Qatari families of Al-Ghufran clan as the Qatari government withdrew citizenship from members of Al-Ghufran clan, confiscated their money and property and discriminated against them with forced displacement in addition to robbing them of their rights to return home. For its part, Bahrain demanded that Qatar to take the necessary and immediate measures to remove barriers hindering access to justice for migrant workers, to apply the necessary standards to ensure their protection from abuse and exploitation, to punish offenders and to ensure that they receive their wages in a timely manner.”


Egypt Today: Egypt Blacklists 600 Persons For Funding Muslim Brotherhood: Sources

“The Egyptian state committee tasked with confiscating and managing the funds and assets of terrorist groups blacklisted 600 persons, including Muslim Brotherhood figures and sons, high-level sources revealed. Egypt designated the Muslim Brotherhood group as a terrorist organization in December 2013. The committee received information proving the involvement of the recently blacklisted persons in funding terrorist attacks against army and police personnel and civilians, the sources explained.  The sons of the imprisoned Muslim Brotherhood figures cooperated with fugitives of the group who fled to other countries to provide logistic support and financial assistance on monthly basis required to fund the group's terrorist attacks, according to the sources.  According to law, the committee has to submit an official request to Cairo Court of Urgent Matters before the former can seize and manage the assets of the blacklisted persons and transfer the ownership of these assets to the state's public treasury.  The committee then would inform the state's concerned parties including the Central Bank of Egypt and the Real Estate Registration Office.”


Bloomberg: Nigeria Risks Losing Rescued Women To Boko Haram, Group Says

“Nigeria could lose thousands of women rescued from Boko Haram Islamist militants to the insurgents all over again if they’re not properly reintegrated in the society, the International Crisis Group said. Tens of thousands of women who either fled from the group or were captured by the military since 2015 are still in various stages of the integration process, subject to stigma and risks of sexual abuse, the Brussels-based rights group said in a report. “Their hardship is a humanitarian concern but also could fuel the conflict,” the Crisis Group said. “Either because they could return to Boko Haram or because their plight could deter male insurgents inclined to demobilize from doing so.” Boko Haram and its offshoot known as the Islamic State West Africa Province are waging a 10-year-old violent campaign to impose their version of Islamic law on Africa’s most populous country of more than 200 million people. More than 20,000 people have died in the conflict and millions driven from their homes. More than 800,000 people are currently in hard-to-reach areas, largely under the control of the insurgents, according to the Crisis Group.”

Mail & Guardian: Surviving Boko Haram’s War On Children

“It took great courage, but finally, Musa decided that he would run away. He doesn’t remember exactly when he ran. During his years in the forests somewhere in northeast Nigeria, as a Boko Haram captive, the concepts of time and space lost their meaning. He sits now in a cream-painted room in an undisclosed location in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State and the heart of a decade-old insurgency that has pitted the Islamist militants against the Nigerian government. The air conditioner in the room struggles to work in stifling heat. Intricate embroidery patterns on his purple kaftan momentarily pull attention away from distant eyes. “My life was miserable before,” he says, the first of many heavy sentences from a teenager who has, in the past six years, experienced the trauma of war firsthand. Musa was about nine when his world turned upside down. He was with his father in Gamboru, a market town near the border with Cameroon, when Boko Haram militants attacked. They kidnapped him. He hasn’t seen his mother since.”

All Africa: Nigeria: 54 Hostages Rescued From The Boko Haram

“Nigerian troops have rescued more than 50 hostages from Boko Haram terrorists northeast of the country. Some 29 adults and 25 children were freed during operations in a number of villages in the Borno State. They have been rescued under the military's Operation Lafiya Dole (Peace by Force) to eliminate the Islamic militants. “No encounter was made with the Boko Haram terrorists as they ran away before troops' arrival leaving behind 54 suspected kidnapped victims,” said Colonel Sagir Musa, Acting spokesman of the Nigerian Army. Troops recently destroyed makeshift accommodation for suspected terrorists also in Borno state. Musa restated the Nigerian Army's resolution to ending terrorism and other forms of insecurities across the West African country. “We appeal to the public to continue to provide useful information about suspicious movement of terrorists and criminals wherever they are seen hibernating in Nigeria,” he said. The Boko Haram is involved in a decade-long campaign to topple the Nigerian government and establish an Islamic state. More than 20 000 people have been killed and hundreds of others, including schoolchildren, have been kidnapped while more than three million people displaced.”


Standard Digital: Al-Shabab Demands Sh150m Ransom For Kidnapped Cubans

“Suspected Al-Shabaab militants who are holding two Cuban doctors after their abduction in Mandera are now demanding Sh150 million in ransom. The ransom demand was communicated through community elders who went to a remote area between the towns of Buale and El-Ade in Jubaland region of Somalia. This is where general practitioner Herera Corea and surgeon Landy Rodriguez are said to have been seen alive by the elders who were sent to negotiate their release. After days of negotiations, community elders from Mandera and Bulahawo in Somalia who travelled to the area confirmed that the two are alive and offering treatment to the community in a restricted environment. “They seem to be under the care and offering medical care services to the locals,” said a security official who cited the elders’ message.”


BBC News: Niger Ambush: Militants Kill 17 Soldiers Near Mali

“Militants have killed 17 Nigerien soldiers in an ambush near the border with Mali, Niger government spokesman has told the BBC.  Eleven soldiers are missing after the attack near the western village of Tongo Tongo, Abdourahaman Zakariyyah said. Militants killed four US soldiers at the same place in 2017.  Niger and other countries in the Sahel have been facing a growing militant threat from several Islamist groups. Militants belonging to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) - an affiliate of al-Qaeda - are active in the region and are known to conduct cross-border raids. They are most active in neighbouring Mali, where French troops intervened in 2013 to prevent them from advancing on the capital. Mr Zakariyyah said the soldiers were in pursuit of militants who attacked a high security prison 50km (30 miles) on Tuesday outside the capital, Niamey.  “One of the soldiers' vehicles drove into a landmine and then the assailants started firing at our soldiers,” Mr Zakariyyah told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.  He did not identify the perpetrators of the attack but said it happened near where US troops and five Niger soldiers were killed two years ago.”

CNN: Four Killed In Ambush On Catholic Parade In Burkina Faso

“Four people were killed and a statue of the Virgin Mary was destroyed in an attack on parishioners during a religious procession in Burkina Faso, church officials told CNN on Wednesday. Unidentified armed men, who on Monday stopped a group of worshipers during a Catholic parade in the remote village of Zimtenga, in the Kongoussi area of the country's northwest, set children free but killed four adults. They then burned a statue of the Virgin Mary, Paul Ouédraogo, president of the Episcopal Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger told CNN. Monday's attack came a day after six people, including a priest, were killed by gunmen who opened fire on worshipers in a Catholic church in Dablo in the central part of the country. “We will not be bogged down by the religious attacks,” said Cardinal Philippe Ouédraogo at an ongoing conference of Catholic bishops in the capital, Ouagadougou, on Tuesday. Christians have recently come under attack across the northwest African country, which is facing a growing terrorist threat. In April, five churchgoers, including a pastor, were killed in a deadly attack by armed men in Silgadji town. Escalating attacks by armed Islamist groups have forced tens of thousands to flee their villages this year, Human Rights Watch said in a recent report.”


Xinhua: Bulk Of Austrian Far-Right Extremist's Funding Comes From Germany: Report

“The majority of the 20,000 euros (22,440 U.S. dollars) in funding received by the Austrian right-wing extremist Martin Sellner came from bank accounts in Germany, according to bank statements seen by German (Sueddeutscher Zeitung, NDR, WDR) and Austrian (Wiener Standard) publications on Wednesday. Sellner is a leading figure of the Identitarian Movement of Austria (IBOe, also known as Generation Identity), a right-wing nationalist and new right organization, which is part of a broader Europe-wide network. According to German media reports, Sellner received funding from around 250 people in Europe in the first three months of last year. The majority of donors were in Germany and made donations of between 10 and 500 euros. Only three of the donors transferred amounts in excess of 1,000 euros, according to German media. Donors reportedly included German artists, filmmakers, corporate executives and university professors. Some were even low-level functionaries of the German right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD). The notes attached to the donations showed the extent of support for Sellner's ideology and struggle against the alleged demise of Christianity in Europe.”


ABC News: 7 Kids Of Nordic IS Couple Killed In Syria Return To Sweden

“The grandfather of seven children of a Swedish-Norwegian couple that had joined the Islamic State group and were killed in Syria says they have returned to Sweden. The grandfather, Patricio Galvez, says the children, aged between 1 and 8, will be taken care of by social services and now needed “peace and quiet.” Galvez spoke to Swedish broadcaster SVT upon arriving on Wednesday in Goteborg, Sweden's second largest city on the west coast. Last month, Galvez was allowed to travel to Iraq to pick up the children of his daughter Amanda Gonzales, a Swede, and her Norwegian husband Michael Skramo. The two were reported killed earlier this year. The children were living at a refugee camp in northern Syria before being transferred to the city of Irbil in Iraq.”

Southeast Asia

Reuters: Sri Lanka Says Hardline Buddhist Groups Likely To Blame For Anti-Muslim Attacks

“Sri Lanka said on Wednesday that hardline Buddhist groups were likely to blame for a wave of anti-Muslim riots that swept the island this week in apparent retaliation for Easter bombings by Islamist militants.  The April 21 attacks, claimed by Islamic State, targeted churches and hotels, killing more than 250 people and fuelling fears of a backlash against the nation’s minority Muslims.  In the anti-Muslim unrest that started Sunday, mobs moved through towns in Sri Lanka’s northwest, ransacking mosques, burning Korans and attacking shops with petrol bombs, residents said.  Authorities have arrested some 78 suspected rioters, including three described as Sinhala Buddhist extremists who had been investigated for similar actions in the town in Kandy district last year.  “These are organised attacks on Muslim business houses and premises,” Navin Dissanayake, minister of plantation industries, said during a government news conference about the security situation.  Asked who was organising the attacks, Dissanayake said: “I think these organizations that Amith Weerasinghe, Dan Priyasad, and Namal Kumara (are heading),” referring to the three Buddhist extremists arrested on Tuesday.”

Xinhua: Indonesian Police Nab 9 Terror Suspects

“Indonesian Police spokesperson Dedi Prasetyo said on Wednesday that nine terror suspects have been arrested in Central Java and East Java provinces, part of whom have been involved in Islamic State (IS) activities in Syria. The operation, coded “Preventive Strike,” was conducted by police anti-terror squad of Densus 88 on Tuesday, Dedi said. He said eight of the suspects were captured in Central Java cities of Semarang, Sragen, Sukoharjo, Kudus and Jepara. The other one was in Madiun, East Java. All of them are members of the banned IS-affiliated homegrown radical group of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), Dedi said. The spokesperson said seven of the nine arrested suspects have been involved in IS activities in Syria, carring out logistics distribution and other missions.”

The Jakarta Post: New Challenge To Global Terrorism

“Suicide bombings shook Sri Lanka on April 21, just over a month after white supremacy terrorist Brenton Tarrant opened fire on Muslims who were performing Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15. The Sri Lankan government accused the local radical Islamic group National Thowheeth Jama’ath (National Tauhid Jamaah/NTJ) of perpetrating the bombings, but later Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the terror. At first glance, the carnage in Sri Lanka and New Zealand appears to be simply violent acts of hatred between two parties. It turns out not to be that simple. The cruel and barbaric terrorist attack in New Zealand, which was then avenged by no-less-brutal acts of terror in Sri Lanka, has unfurled a new challenge to the discourse on global terrorism.”

The Straits Times: Three Temples, Including Batu Caves, On Alert After Malaysia Foils ISIS Threat

“Three temples in Kuala Lumpur have tightened security following the arrest of four suspects linked to an extremist religious group said to have ties with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group. The three temples are the Batu Caves Sri Subramaniyar Temple, Sri Maha Mariamman Devasthanam temple on Jalan Tun H.S Lee, and Courthill Sri Ganesha Temple on Jalan Pudu Ulu. In a statement on Thursday (May 16), Sri Maha Mariamman Temple Devasthanam Kuala Lumpur, which runs the three historic temples, said it was wary after it was reported that one of the reasons cited for the planned attack was to avenge the death of fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim. “We view the arrests seriously, and their intentions which had been planned, which was to target places of worship as well as entertainment outlets in a supposedly act of revenge on the unfortunate death of the fireman in the Seafield temple incident last year,” according to the organisation. It added that among the steps taken were random checks on bags and monitoring of visitors. It also urged devotees to keep a watchful eye for suspicious characters.”


The Washington Post: White House Declines To Back Christchurch Call To Stamp Out Online Extremism Amid Free Speech Concerns

“The United States broke with 18 governments and five top American tech firms Wednesday by declining to endorse a New Zealand-led effort to curb extremism online, a response to the live-streamed shootings at two Christchurch mosques that killed 51. White House officials said free-speech concerns prevented them from formally signing onto the largest campaign to date targeting extremism online. But it was another example of the United States standing at odds to some its closest allies. Leaders from around the globe, including British Prime Minister Theresa May, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, signed the “Christchurch Call,” which was unveiled at a gathering in Paris that had been organized by French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter also signed on to the document, pledging to work more closely with one another and governments to make certain their sites do not become conduits for terrorism. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was among the attendees at the conference. The document was nonbinding, but reflected the heightened global frustration with the inability of Facebook, Google and Twitter to restrain hateful posts, photos and videos that have spawned real-world violence.”