Eye on Extremism: May 29, 2020

Fox News: State Department Announces $3M Reward For Info On Senior ISIS Leader

“The State Department Thursday announced a $3 million reward for any information on Muhammad Khadir Musa Ramadan, a senior leader in the Islamic State (ISIS). Ramadan, also known as Abu Bakr al-Gharib, is one of the group's leading propagandists. “Muhammad Khadir Musa Ramadan is one of ISIS's longest-serving senior media officials,” a State Department spokesperson told Fox News. “Ramadan oversees the group’s daily media operations, including the management of content from ISIS’s dispersed global network of supporters.” Intelligence officials said he has also played a key role in the gruesome videos for which ISIS has become notorious. “He has overseen the planning, coordination and production of numerous propaganda videos, publications and online platforms that included brutal and cruel scenes of torture and mass execution of innocent civilians,” the spokesperson told Fox News. “His interpretation of Islam is so extreme that he led an effort to purge ISIS of moderate opinions, imprisoning members of ISIS's propaganda teams who he felt did not match his level of fanaticism.” ISIS extremists have enslaved non-Muslims, carried out mass killings, and beheaded and tortured people on camera as recruiting tactics.”

The Jerusalem Post: Berlin Plans To Ban Pro-Iran, Anitsemitic Al-Quds Rally In 2021

“The State Minister of the Interior for the city-state of Berlin Andreas Geisel on Thursday said he will initiate a legal process to ban the annual Iranian regime-sponsored al-Quds rally in Berlin that calls for the destruction of Israel. According to a report in the Berlin Tagesspiegel paper, Geisel told Berlin’s parliament that he will invoke the new German law that outlawed Hezbollah’s activities to ban an attempt by Hezbollah and Iranian regime supporters to hold the al-Quds march in 2021. After the German federal government classified Hezbollah a terrorist organization in April, the organizers of al-Quds cancelled the May rally that has taken place each year in Berlin since 1996. Berlin has permitted the Iranian regime-sponsored demonstration to proceed each year since 1996. The current Berlin government and its Social Democratic party Mayor Michael Müller have faced criticism over the years for not seeking to legally ban the al-Quds march. Müller's administration said it would lose a legal battle to outlaw al-Quds. Critics say Müller should have tested the law to ban the rally. Al-Quds Day calls for the obliteration of the Jewish state and is attended by neo-Nazis, Hezbollah members and supporters, left-wing activists for the Palestinian terrorist organization the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.”

United States

CBS Miami: Florida Man Accused Of Planning Isis Terrorist Attack In Tampa Area

“A Florida man, accused of planning to carry out a terrorist attack in Tampa Bay on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq, has now been officially charged by federal prosecutors. On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the filing of a criminal complaint charging Muhammed Momtaz Al-Azhari, 23, with “attempting to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization,” namely ISIS. Investigators say Al-Azhari has a criminal history that includes previous terrorism charges in Saudi Arabia. They say he tried to buy multiple guns before acquiring a Glock pistol and a silencer. Prosecutors say he expressed “admiration” for the deceased Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen and even drove there to scope out the location. In a conversation with a confidential informant, the FBI says, Al-Azhari said “that’s how I want to die, to be honest.” The informant then asked how many people Al-Azhari wanted to kill. “I don’t want to take four or five, no. I want to take at least 50,” Al-Azhari replied on the recording, according to the affidavit. “You know like, brother Omar Mateen in Orlando did. He took 49 with him.” According to law enforcement, the 23-year-old couted potential targets around Tampa.”

Syria

Voice Of America: Rebuilt Islamic State Growing ‘More Brazen’ In Syria, Iraq

“Fighters and followers of the Islamic State, undaunted by the collapse of the terror group’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, are growing bolder and more dangerous, according to recent assessments by U.S. counterterrorism officials. The new appraisals attribute the change less to a leap in IS capabilities than to gradual progress due to long-term planning, which has masked the severity of the threat. “ISIS has been working to rebuild its operational capacity,” a U.S. counterterrorism official told VOA, using another acronym for the terror group. “They’ve made incremental, localized improvements to their operating capacity in primarily eastern Syria over the course of several months.” And the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in many ways, that planning is starting to pay off. “The group has been more assertive in pockets of Syria in recent weeks as these efforts have progressed, conducting more brazen attacks against Syrian security forces, including regime forces and Syrian Kurdish forces,” the official said.”

Iraq

NBC News: ISIS Is Using Coronavirus To Rebuild Its Terrorism Network In Iraq And Syria

“COVID-19 has cut a wide swath of pain and loss across a world which has struggled to keep pace with a deadly virus that has moved swiftly across borders. But for one group, the global pandemic has translated into regional opportunity. The Islamic State militant group has sought to expand upon the rebuilding effort it began last fall and use the coronavirus to spread its own, more violent flavor of destruction and terror. The Islamic State militant group has sought to expand upon the rebuilding effort it began last fall. “What you are witnessing these days are only signs of big changes in the region that’ll offer greater opportunities than we had previously in the past decade” read an online message on Thursday from new ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi, translated by Hassan Hassan, director of the Non-State Actors in Fragile Environments Program at the Center for Global Policy and a co-author of “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror.” The message comes as those who have been fighting ISIS for more than a half-decade have spoken publicly and in plain terms about the group‘s increasing strength. “The Islamic State group has been moving the fighting from Syria to Iraq ... (and) is strengthening, both financially and militarily,” said Lt. Col. Stein Grongstad, head of Norway’s forces in Iraq, there to advise and assist the Iraqi military.”

Afghanistan

Reuters: Afghan Government Says Ceasefire Still In Place Even As Skirmishes With Taliban Resume

“Skirmishes between Taliban fighters and Afghan security forces recommenced in Afghanistan in the day since a three-day ceasefire expired, but government officials said on Thursday that the incidents were minor and the truce could still hold. The Taliban have remained silent on government appeals for an extension of the ceasefire, which was announced for the Eid al-Fitr holiday that ends the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. “Taliban attacked checkpoints in the Syagird district of central Parwan province late Wednesday night,” a spokeswoman of the province’s governor said, adding that seven Afghan security forces personnel were killed. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, meanwhile, said the government had carried out air strikes on Wednesday in the southern province of Zabul despite the group’s fighters not having carried out any attacks. The United States has reached an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. forces after more than 18 years in Afghanistan, leaving the Afghan government to negotiate a peace deal with the Islamist insurgents to end the war. But so far the conflict has not subsided, with the holiday ceasefire having come at a time of intensified fighting. Since the truce formally ended on Tuesday night, senior Afghan government officials say there have been some violations from both sides, but not big enough to doom the ceasefire effort.”

The Diplomat: Why Are The Taliban Wooing A Persecuted Afghanistan Minority Group?

“Afghanistan’s most persecuted religious and ethnic minority, Shiite Hazaras, are being wooed by their most oppressive tyrant, the Taliban. According to reports, the Taliban has recruited one of its local leader from the Hazara minority community. The new governor of the Taliban’s shadow government in Balkhab district, Sar-e-Pul province in northern Afghanistan is Mawlawi Mahdi, a Shiite cleric militia leader. Previously, there have been reports indicating a few instances of cooperation between the Hazaras and the Taliban, and the presence of a small number of Hazaras in the Taliban rank and file. For instance, in 2012, reports emerged of around a dozen Shia Hazara men fighting alongside the Taliban in Qarabaghi, Ghazni province. However, such instances are an exception, and there has been no indication of widespread recruitment of Hazaras by the Taliban. Nevertheless, by recruiting a Shiite Hazara as a new governor of Balkhab district at this particular point, the Taliban aims to achieve three objectives. First, by accommodating Hazaras, the insurgent group wants to improve its image and international legitimacy as an inclusive group and a countrywide movement ahead of the intra-Afghan dialogue.”

Somalia

All Africa: Somalia: Army Kills Seven Al-Shabaab Militants In Operation

“Somali National Army (SNA) on Tuesday killed seven Al-Shabaab extremists in an operation in the central region of Hiran, a military commander said. Mohamud Hassan Ibrahim, commander of SNA's 22 Unit section 27, told reporters that government forces conducted an operation inflicting casualties on the militants. The commander said the operation was a planned one, aiming at destroying the terrorist group. The last incident came barely a day after Jubaland forces killed four Al-Shabaab extremists in an intense clash in Dhobley town in the country's southern region of Lower Juba. The Somali forces backed by African Union Mission in Somalia have intensified operations against Al-Shabaab extremists in central and southern regions, but the militants still hold swathes of rural areas in those regions conducting ambushes and planting land mines.”

All Africa: Somalia: Two Killed In Mogadishu Car Bomb Blast

“A senior official with Somali police force was among two killed in a car bomb attack in Mogadishu, the Somali capital on Thursday morning, local authorities said. Abdishakur Hussein, the police officer, and another occupant lost their lives after an improvised explosive device concealed in their car went off around Muna hotel. Al-Shabaab has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which becomes the third of its kind in the capital within this month. Gen Ali Gaab escaped two similar attacks. Mogadishu has been relatively calm in the past as the police stepped up measures to avert the frequent Al-Shabaab car bombs in the seaside capital that hosts the government.”

Africa

Al Jazeera: Many Killed In Central Mali Ethnic Attacks: Officials

“Armed men on motorcycles have killed at least 27 civilians in central Mali in three attacks on ethnic Dogon farming villages in less than 24 hours, local officials said on Thursday. Central Mali has been ravaged in recent years by ethnic reprisal killings, as recriminations between Fulani herding and Dogon farming communities over violence compound long-standing grievances. Local officials told Reuters news agency they believed the three attacks, between Tuesday night and Wednesday evening, were carried out by people claiming to be defending Fulani against rival Dogon. “We were surprised by the attack on the village of Tille. Seven were killed, all Dogons, some of them burned alive,” said Yacouba Kassogue, the deputy mayor of Doucombo, the municipality in which Tille is located. Attacks on villages in the neighbouring areas of Bankass and Koro killed another 20 civilians, most of them shot or burned to death, local officials said. A spokesman for Mali's army was not immediately available for comment. The army has been criticised by rights groups and residents for failing to protect civilians in central Mali. Violence between the Dogon and Fulani has compounded an already dire security situation in Mali's semi-arid and desert regions, which are used as a base by armed groups with ties to al-Qaeda and the ISIL (ISIS) group.”

Germany

Deutsche Welle: Germany Swears In Watchdog To Root Out Extremism In Forces

“Germany's parliament on Thursday inaugurated Eva Högl as its Bundeswehr overseer, who will head up a new defense ministry task force. Högl said the group must make a “really quite thorough” probe into extremist tendencies in the German military. Two weeks ago, police raided a KSK soldier's property in eastern Saxony state, allegedly finding a cache of weapons and explosives. Högl told parliament she was not leveling “general suspicion” at the 1,100-person KSK (Kommando Spezialkräfte) brigade based at Calw in southwestern Baden-Württemberg state, and that she was not targeting the Bundeswehr as a whole.  “It is however not only a cluster of individual cases,” she told parliament Thursday. “We must also look at what we have to do to change the structures so that such attitudes do not spread and to strengthen those soldiers who oppose them,” said Högl. On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the ministerial group probing the KSK would report to parliament. Already, the ministry was considering “psychological screening” of potential KSK recruits coupled with special training to deter extremism. The KSK's leading general Markus Kreitmayr told KSK members in a letter on May 18 that disclosures about far-right cases — since 2017 — had thrust his brigade into “the most difficult phase of its history.”

Australia

Brisbane Times: More Convicted Terrorists Due For Release Over Next Five Years, ASIO Warns

“The nation's domestic spy agency has warned the growing number of convicted terrorists due for release from Australian prisons over the next five years could use their profile to recruit more people to their cause. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation also raised the alarm about foreign fighters returning from Syria and Iraq in the coming years as it argued the case for expanded powers to forcibly question terrorists and foreign spies. Without naming any specific country, ASIO warned foreign spies were operating “at a scale, breadth and ambition that has not previously been seen in Australia”. China has previously been blamed by security agencies for large-scale hacking in Australia, while ASIO has investigated a suspected Chinese military intelligence operative in Melbourne who allegedly approached a Liberal Party member about running for parliament. ASIO would have the power to compulsorily question foreign spies and children as young as 14 under laws introduced to Federal Parliament earlier this month. The agency would also be able to place tracking devices on cars with only internal approval, rather than a warrant, as part of a major overhaul of the agency's powers.”