Eye on Extremism: May 3, 2019

France 24: Escalated Bombing In Syria’s Idlib Displaces Nearly 140,000, UN Says

“Fighting in northwestern Syria has displaced nearly 140,000 people since February, the UN said on Wednesday, as the regime and its ally Russia have stepped up their bombardment. "Since February, over 138,500 women, children and men have been displaced from northern Hama and southern Idlib," said David Swanson of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA. "Between 1 and 28 April, its estimated more than 32,500 individuals have moved to different communities in Aleppo, Idlib and Hama governorates," he told AFP. Idlib has been protected from a massive regime offensive by a September deal inked by Damascus ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.”

The Wall Street Journal: South Asia Is Islamic State’s New Target

“Islamic State has lost its caliphate in the Middle East, but it retains the capability to cause mayhem thousands of miles away. This is the grim lesson of the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, in which suicide bombers killed more than 250 people at three churches and three luxury hotels. No region is entirely safe from such attacks, but South Asian democracies such as India and Sri Lanka appear particularly vulnerable. In March, Islamic State lost its last sliver of Syrian territory to U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, but the scale and sophistication of the Sri Lanka attacks show that the jihadist group remains dangerous. That eight of the nine suicide bombers detonated their explosives with no hitches points to expert bomb making. Most terrorist groups also cannot marshal the resources or manage the logistical complexity of plotting nearly simultaneous attacks across three cities.  Though a little-known local Islamist group, National Thowheed Jamath, executed the attack, an official Islamic State media channel released a video of the attackers pledging allegiance to the larger group. The choice of targets also highlighted Islamic State’s special animus against Christians and its desire to grab international headlines by targeting foreigners in high-end hotels.”

Reuters: Afghans Demand Ceasefire On Both Sides As First Step To Peace

“Thousands of Afghans taking part in a rare grand assembly to discuss a possible peace deal with Taliban militants are demanding a ceasefire on both sides as a first step, officials said on Thursday.  The “Loya Jirga” is meeting under a huge, permanent, white tent in Kabul with the aim of influencing peace talks between the United States and the Taliban to end a war that has raged since the militants’ ouster in 2001.  The Taliban, seeking to restore strict Islamic rule, refuse to talk to the government of President Ashraf Ghani which they dismiss as a U.S. puppet. They rejected an invitation to the Loya Jirga.  “We are here to urge both sides to announce a ceasefire. The war will end only when both sides stop fighting before they sign a permanent peace agreement,” said Abdul Hannan, a member of one the committees who travelled from the south to attend the assembly. The U.S. talks with the Taliban in Qatar are part of President Donald Trump’s efforts to end America’s longest war, which began when U.S.-backed forces ousted the Taliban weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.  Since October, U.S. and Taliban officials have held several rounds of talks aimed at ensuring a safe exit for U.S. forces in return for a Taliban guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used by militants to threaten the rest of the world.”

The Wall Street Journal: Mideast Insurgents Enter The Age Of Drone Warfare

“Yemen’s Houthi rebels have launched armed drone attacks with far more precision and reach than the U.S. and its Gulf allies have publicly acknowledged, people familiar with the matter said, showing how readily available technology is creating new dangers for America and its allies in the Middle East. A Houthi drone hit a Saudi Aramco oil refinery outside the capital Riyadh in July, a company executive and a Gulf official said. That month, a Houthi drone evaded Emirati air defenses and exploded at Abu Dhabi’s international airport in the United Arab Emirates, people familiar with the matter said. The airport attack damaged a truck and delayed some flights—but its reach and brazen nature unnerved the Emirati government, which denied it took place, a story the U.S. supported, former U.S. officials said. Saudi leaders as well publicly denied Houthi claims about the Aramco attack, which also did limited damage.”

The Washington Post: Iraq Is Pushing To Build An Isolation Camp For 30,000 Iraqis Who Lived Under ISIS In Syria

“Senior Iraqi officials are pressing to establish a special detention camp to isolate as many as 30,000 Iraqis who lived in the Islamic State’s final stronghold in ­Syria, captured in March by U.S.-backed forces.  But as Iraq prepares to repatriate citizens now held in ­Syria, humanitarian groups have been resisting efforts to move them to a single detention facility, fearing this could create prison camp conditions that would prevent them from reintegrating into society and, in some cases, further radicalize them. Objections from humanitarian groups have already scuttled a proposal to set up a new camp near Tal Afar in the northern province of Nineveh. Senior Iraqi officials, however, remain opposed to the idea of scattering the Islamic State returnees, mostly women and children, among existing displacement camps around the area, according to high-ranking figures in the Displacement Ministry and parliament. “The goal is to select a special place to contain those people,” said one Iraqi official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue. “It’s for security reasons, but also to keep them alive. If they return to their areas, they’ll be singled out for revenge attacks by people who lost relatives to the Islamic State.”

CNN Business: Seven Weeks Later, Videos Of New Zealand Attack Still Circulating On Facebook And Instagram

“Almost seven weeks after a terrorist attack on a New Zealand mosque was streamed live on Facebook, copies of the video are still circulating on Facebook and Instagram. The existence of the videos, some of which have been on the platforms since the day of the attack, are indicative of the challenge tech companies face in combating the spread of white supremacist and other terror-related content on their platforms and raises questions about the effectiveness of Facebook's efforts to do so in particular. "The problem is that their hashing technology doesn't work the way it is supposed to," Hany Farid, a professor at Dartmouth and expert in digital forensics and image analysis, told CNN Business, saying it should be able to catch videos that are manipulated. "When Facebook tells you that artificial intelligence is going to save them and us, you should ask how that is if they can't even deal with the issue of removing previously identified content," he said.”

United States

The New York Times: He Was Trained By Al Qaeda To Bomb The Subway. Then He Switched Sides.

“He was a high-school dropout from Queens who worked in a coffee cart in downtown Manhattan in 2006 when a friend handed him an audiotape of a radical Muslim cleric. That was the start of a personal odyssey that sent the young man, Najibullah Zazi, to fight in Afghanistan, where a senior Al Qaeda official trained him to build bombs and sent him back to the United States, where he and two friends planned a suicide attack in the New York City subway system. Mr. Zazi was arrested in 2009, and on Thursday his case came to an end when a federal judge, citing his cooperation with American authorities and his testimony at two trials, gave Mr. Zazi a 10-year sentence that his lawyers said could result in his release from prison within days.  The plot, which authorities called one of most dangerous terrorist conspiracies since the Sept. 11 attacks, was abandoned by Mr. Zazi and two of his former classmates from Flushing High School after they became fearful they were under scrutiny.  Mr. Zazi switched sides after his arrest, providing what the government called “extraordinary cooperation” that included insight into terrorist groups and information about his friends and family members. That cooperation earned Mr. Zazi his freedom. “This one unthinkable second chance has come your way,” Judge Raymond J. Dearie told Mr. Zazi.”

Fox News: Feds: Va. Man Lied About Communication With Terror Group

“Federal authorities say they've arrested a Virginia man accused of lying about his ties to foreign terrorist organizations. U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Brian McGinn confirmed Thursday that Waqar Ul-Hassan was arrested at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina. A criminal complaint filed by a U.S. Attorney's Office in Virginia said Hassan was under investigation for communicating with terrorist groups. The complaint said Hassan lied to FBI agents in 2015 about collecting money and food for an extremist group in Pakistan, Jaish-e-Mohammad. Hassan, born in Pakistan, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2002. Since 2008, he's lived in or near Glade Spring, Virginia, or Pakistan. Court documents say he traveled to Pakistan in 2016 and returned to the U.S. on Tuesday. It's unclear if he has an attorney.”

Vice News: Why It’s So Hard To Charge White Nationalists With Terrorism

“A U.S. Army veteran who expressed support for the Islamic State group allegedly planned to build a bomb powerful enough to kill 50 people at a white nationalist rally in California.  An active-duty U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant stockpiled weapons and allegedly compiled a lengthy hit list, as part of an effort to establish “a white homeland.”  Only one of those men will face terrorism charges.  In the U.S., federal counterterrorism laws are built around the danger posed by foreign terrorist groups, like al-Qaeda and ISIS, rather than threats coming from the inside. After 9/11, the U.S. Patriot Act created a legal definition of “domestic terrorism,” but that particular crime doesn’t exist under the current penal code — except in a handful of narrow and specific circumstances.  As far-right terrorism in the U.S. becomes more frequent and more deadlyexperts and politicians worry the government lacks the appropriate tools to stop a domestic terror attack before one happens — and prosecute ones that do.  “Violent white supremacists and other far-right extremists are the most significant domestic terrorism threat facing the United States today,” Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who reintroduced legislation last month to combat far-right extremism, told VICE News in a statement.”

Newsweek: Florida Man Who Threatened To Behead Bernie Sanders 'ISIS Style' Convicted

“A man has been found guilty of threatening to record himself beheading Vermont senator and 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the style of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). Robert Francis Pratersch, 57, of Kissimmee, Florida, has been convicted of threatening a federal official and interstate transmission of a threat to injure after leaving at least three voicemail messages for Sanders. According to a statement from Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez, Pratersch called the Office of Senator Bernie Sanders in Burlington, Vermont, to say how he was going to behead the senator “ISIS-style,” as well as film the execution. Pratersch’s threatening message also contained a string of anti-Semitic remarks aimed at Sanders. Following his conviction, Pratersch faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. He is due to appear in court for a sentencing hearing on July 16.  The case against the defendant was investigated by the FBI and the United States Capitol Police. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Vincent S. Chiu.”

The Chicago Sun Times: Trump Says Violence, Terrorism Against People Of All Faiths Must End

“President Donald Trump says people of faith around the world have faced terrible hardship of late. Trump says violence and terrorism against people of all faiths must end, and that “all civilized nations must join together in this effort.” Trump spoke Wednesday to faith leaders at a White House dinner in honor of the National Day of Prayer, an event that takes place Thursday. Trump paid respects to Jewish-Americans killed and wounded last week at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in California. He also recalled the attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka last Easter and on Muslims in New Zealand the month before. He also cited the burning of three black churches in Louisiana and last year’s shooting spree at a Pittsburgh synagogue.”

CNN: US Braced For Iranian Response As Oil Crackdown Starts

“The US is sanctioning friends and foes that import Iranian oil starting Thursday, but analysts say the White House might find it harder to eliminate Tehran's energy exports than it expects and Trump administration officials are bracing for Iran's response. As the administration ends waivers that allowed eight countries to continue purchasing Iranian crude and condensate, one administration official told CNN that they are concerned about the response from Tehran, which could target US assets in the Middle East and escalate tensions with the US and in the region. The administration has cut deeply into Iranian oil exports in a very short time, analysts say, and the waiver elimination aims to cut them off completely. US officials are wary, however, that countries will work to find ways around potential sanctions, through smuggling and the use of corporations with little connection to the US financial system.”

Syria

Reuters: Russia, Syrian Army Step Up Attacks On Rebel-Held Northwestern Syria: Residents, Medics:

“Russian and Syrian forces intensified air strikes and shelling in rebel-held northwestern Syria overnight, the heaviest assault since the area was declared a demilitarised zone under a Russian-Turkish deal, residents and medics said on Thursday. The targeted villages and towns in northern Hama and southern Idlib fall within a buffer zone agreed last September between Russia and Turkey as part of a deal which averted a major offensive on the area. Schools, health facilities and residential areas have been hit, United Nations regional humanitarian coordinator Panos Moumtzis told Reuters on Thursday. “The barrel bombing is the worst we have seen for at least 15 months.” He added that 300,000 people live in the buffer zone where there are hostilities. Earlier this week, the United States warned violence in the buffer zone “will result in the destabilisation of the region.”

The Washington Post: In ISIS Leader’s Video Appearance, Messages To Followers, Rivals And The West

“The appearance of the Islamic State’s leader in a video this week after a five-year absence appeared to be an effort to signal that the group is preparing for a long global war despite its territorial defeat, terrorism experts say. The video of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “is a critical element of ISIS’s change from a so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria to a global insurgency group,” said Rita Katz, executive director of SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity online. In the video, Baghdadi appears to be in good health and shows no signs of injuries despite reports that he had been wounded in battle. He is seen lecturing three men who seem to be ISIS commanders about the loss of fighters, battles, current political events and terrorist attacks. Baghdadi mentions the names of several ISIS commanders and other members killed in battle, including French brothers Fabien and Jean-Michel Clain, also known as Abu Anas al-Faransi and Abu Uthman. According to European intelligence officials, Fabian Clain was suspected of being involved in the planning of the Paris attacks in November 2015, which left 130 people dead, and had recorded a message claiming responsibility for the violence on behalf of the Islamic State.”

Iran

Asharq Al-Awsat: Iran, Turkey Reject Trump’s Move To Classify Muslim Brotherhood As Terrorist Organization

“Turkey and Iran on Wednesday criticized the United States over President Donald Trump's attempt to classify the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Ankara has rejected the US move, which the White House confirmed on Wednesday, saying it would promote "anti-Islamism" in the West and around the world. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, for his part, accused Washington of supporting terrorism in the region, stressing that Tehran opposed the inclusion of the "Muslim Brotherhood" on the US list of "terrorist organizations.” “The US is not in position to (..) start naming others as terror organizations and we reject by any attempt by the US in this regard,” Zarif was quoted by Reuters as saying. “The US is supporting the biggest terrorist in the region, that is Israel,” he added. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that Trump “has consulted with his national security team and leaders in the region who share his concern and this designation is working its way through the internal process.” According to Reuters, the inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood on the US list allows sanctions to be imposed on those who have relations with the group, which is classified as terrorist in a number of Arab countries.”

The Wall Street Journal: After Oil, Washington Weighs Sanctions On Iran’s Other Sources Of U.S. Dollars

“The Trump administration is considering a more-aggressive enforcement of its economic sanctions on Iran—targeting more companies and financial institutions that do business with the Islamic Republic in an attempt to cut off lucrative sources of U.S. dollar-denominated hard currency, U.S. officials said. The new sanctions on banks and businesses would be aimed at choking off trade including Iran’s petrochemical sales to Singapore and its consumer-goods sales to Afghanistan. The prospect of added pressure on Iran comes as Washington kicked off a fresh round of sanctions on Iranian oil exports on Thursday. The U.S. ban is aimed at coercing Iran into reaching a new nuclear and security pact. In targeting the country’s crude—its main income source—the U.S. hopes to sever the financial and trade ties that are keeping Iran’s economy afloat.”

The Economist: Why Shia Clerics Are Turning On Iran’s Theocracy

“The murder of an imam ought to provoke horror. But after a bodybuilder gunned down Mostafa Qassemi, a cleric in the western Iranian city of Hamedan, on April 27th over 100,000 people followed the killer on Instagram. Posts by his followers railed against Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “One less cleric,” women mutter on Tehran’s underground. Such is the anger at Iran’s ruling clerics, who preside over a shrinking economy. American sanctions on oil exports have sent the currency crashing. Inflation is near 40%; wages are falling in real terms. Basics such as chicken and clothes are becoming luxuries. The imf forecasts that gdp will contract by 6% this year. The theocrats offer no way out of the crisis. “We’re approaching a turning point,” says Sadegh Haghighat of Mofid University in the Shia holy city of Qom. Clerics there increasingly question the system of velayat-e faqih, or clerical rule.”

Newsmax: Report: Maduro Confidant Helped Iran, Hezbollah In Venezuela

“Tareck el Aissami, a close confidant of Hugo Chávez and Nicolas Maduro, who was indicted in the United States on drug trafficking charges in March, played a key role in helping Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamist group, gain ground in Latin America, reports The New York Times. The news outlet cited a secret dossier compiled by Venezuelan intelligence agents of el Aissami's corruption. The report comes days after Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó publicly called for the military to back him to force Maduro from power, sparking protests and violence. Maduro remained in power Thursday as the U.S. military was looking at "all options" regarding the unrest. The United States views Maduro's re-election last year as illegitimate and has recognized Guaido, the opposition leader of the National Assembly, as interim president.”

Iraq

Asharq Al-Awsat: Large-Scale Operation against ISIS Remnants in Iraq’s Kirkuk

“A commander in Iraq's Joint Operations Command has confirmed that Iraqi forces backed by US-led coalition warplanes have launched a military operation against ISIS remnants in Kirkuk province. The commander, who refused to be identified, spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat a day after the US Central Command announced that two US Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft conducted an air strike at Wadi Ashai, Iraq, in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve on April 30.  He said that Wadi Ashai has a rugged terrain that ISIS militants can turn into hideouts. The US Central Command said on Tuesday that the April 30 strike marked the F-35A’s first combat employment. The F-35As conducted the airstrike using a Joint Direct Attack Munition to strike an entrenched ISIS tunnel network and weapons cache deep in the Hamrin Mountains, a location able to threaten friendly forces, said the statement. “The F-35As, recently deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, joined the Combined Forces Air Component team in the US Central Command area of operations on April 15,” it added. A member of Kirkuk’s council told Asharq Al-Awsat that the operation against ISIS remnants is considered the largest since Iraq announced the organization's defeat late 2017.”

Afghanistan

Reuters: Don't Tell Us To Halt The Violence, Tell The Americans, Afghan Taliban Say

“The U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan should stop calling on Taliban militants to lay down their arms and tell the United States to end the use of force instead, the Taliban said on Friday.  Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born U.S. diplomat, entered a sixth round of talks with the hardline Islamist group in Qatar this week in a bid to end America’s longest war.  “In our opening session, I underscored to the Talibs that the Afghan people, who are their brothers & sisters, want this war to end,” Khalilzad said in a tweet.  “It is time to put down arms, stop the violence, & embrace peace.”  Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a series of sharp tweets in response.  “@US4AfghanPeace (Khalilzad’s twitter handle) should forget about the idea of us putting down our arms,” he said.  “Instead of such fantasies, he should drive the idea home (to the U.S.) about ending the use of force and incurring further human and financial losses for the decaying Kabul administration.”  He said the United States must stop repeating failed strategies while expecting different outcomes. “It would be better if @US4AfghanPeace musters the courage to call a spade a spade, not a gardening tool & accept the current realities.”

Fox News: Elite Drone And Attack Helicopter Task Force Still Hunts Taliban In Afghanistan

“Attack drones, fixed-wing surveillance aircraft and Apache helicopters continue to patrol the Afghanistan skies to find and destroy enemy targets and weapons in the austere, mountainous terrain of a war-weary country still immersed in more than 15-years of combat. When an Apache attack helicopter 30mm Chain Gun fires on an enemy target in Afghanistan, the strike is often a result of a complex mix of interwoven variables -- to include networked drones, fixed-wing intelligence aircraft and helicopters coordinating real-time video feeds with target analysis and aircraft-mounted electro-optical sensors. Most of these kinds of offensive military operations, still going on in Taliban-occupied areas of Afghanistan, can be attributed to a decade old elite unit referred to as Task Force ODIN -- Observe, Detect, Identify, Neutralize. ODIN is a precisely choreographed attack force combining medium and low-altitude drone sensors with fixed-wing aircraft intelligence analysis and nearby Apache helicopters. In effect, targets are found by overhead cameras and sensors, analyzed by combat engineers in the sky and sent via satellite or other networks to ground-based military commanders…..leading up to what becomes exact targeting -- and then..attack.”

Xinhua: 15 Militants Killed In Northern Afghanistan

“Up to 15 insurgents loyal to the Taliban group have been killed and 13 others arrested over the past 24 hours in the northern Samangan province, said army spokesman Abdul Hadi Jamal on Thursday. Clashes flared up in Ruyi Doab district on Wednesday after the security forces launched cleanup operations and the insurgents resisted, and later fled the area leaving 15 bodies behind and 13 more captured. Taliban militants who have intensified activities since launching their so-called annual spring offensive on April 12, have not made comment.”

Pakistan

Reuters: India Calls For Pakistan's Blacklisting By Terror Finance Watchdog

“India will ask the global money laundering and terror finance watchdog to put Pakistan on a blacklist of countries that fail to meet international standards in stopping financial crime, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Thursday.  The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) already has Pakistan on its “grey list” of countries with inadequate controls over curbing money laundering and terrorism financing.  But India wants Pakistan blacklisted, which would likely result in sanctions, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said last month.  “We want Pakistan downgraded on the FATF list,” Jaitley told reporters, adding that the Paris-based FATF was due to meet in mid-May and India would make its request then. The call came a day after India claimed a diplomatic victory with a U.N. Security Council committee blacklisting the founder of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) militant group, Masood Azhar.  His group claimed responsibility for a February suicide bombing that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in the Indian-controlled part of the disputed Kashmir region, an attack that brought the nuclear-armed neighbors to the brink of war.”

Gulf News: Pakistan Summons Afghan Diplomat Over Cross-Border Terror Attack

“Pakistan has lodged a strong protest against Afghanistan over a cross-border terrorist attack in North Waziristan that killed at least three soldiers. Pakistan’s Foreign Office (FO) on Wednesday summoned the Afghan Charge d’ Affaires over the attack “launched by terrorist groups coming from Afghanistan” that resulted in killing of three Pakistani soldiers and seriously injuring seven others. The statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) urged the Afghan government to take immediate action against the terrorist elements on their side and ensure effective measures so that such incidents were not repeated in future. The Afghan envoy was also informed that Pakistan considers such provocations as detrimental to peace and stability along Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Describing the incident, Pakistan’s FO said that “On the night of April 30/May 1, 70-80 terrorists based in Gayan and Bermal districts of Paktika crossed Pak-Afghan border, and launched fire raids and physical attacks on Pakistani military troops operating in North Waziristan district to fence the border.” Pakistan military immediately responded and repulsed the attack, killing scores of terrorists and forcing others to flee, according to the official statement.”

Yemen

Foreign Affairs: A Real Plan To End The War In Yemen

“A degree of normalcy has returned to Yemen’s biggest seaport, Hodeidah, thanks to a cease-fire among the country’s warring factions that has held since December 2018. But beyond the port’s outskirts, a vicious fight between Houthi insurgents and a Saudi-led military coalition rages on. The death toll keeps climbing; malnutrition and hunger are rampant. Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, the United Nations warned in February, is the worst in the world today. In Washington, a growing chorus of analysts and politicians has called on the United States to step up, withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi war effort, and turn the UN-brokered cease-fire into a lasting peace. Doing so, they argue, is the only morally and strategically defensible course of action. But of all the options before the United States, this one is the least likely to stop the killing, the dying, and the complications for U.S. interests.”

Lebanon

The Times Of Israel: Hezbollah Chief: IDF Forces That Enter Lebanon Will Be ‘Destroyed On Live TV’

“Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed Thursday his Iran-backed terror group would “annihilate and destroy” the Israeli military if the latter entered Lebanon in a future war. “Israel wants a war? Let it go to war. The Israeli units and brigades that dare to enter southern Lebanon will be annihilated and destroyed on live television before the whole world,” he said, according to multiple media reports in Israel and Lebanon. The taunts are typical of the Lebanese terror group leader, whose organization faced its last war with Israel in 2006. In a speech on April 22, Nasrallah claimed Israel’s ground forces were unprepared for a ground offensive in Lebanon and the Jewish state could no longer win battles solely from the air. “The Israelis say the home front is not ready. Any theoretical Israeli war needs a ground operation to achieve its desired goal. The era in which the air force decides the battle is over.” His latest comments on Thursday were at an event commemorating three years since the death of Mustafa Badreddine, Hezbollah’s former military chief who, according to reports in Arab media and statements by the IDF chief at the time, was killed by his own men, possibly on orders from Iran and Nasrallah himself.”

Libya

The Libya Observer: Sanallah Urges For Halt Of Military Operations, Warns Of ISIS Infiltration To Oil Facilities

“The Chairman of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) Mustafa Sanallah urged in an interview with Al-Hurra TV Channel for ending military operations in southern Tripoli and warned of ISIS militants' infiltration into oil facilities due to the war or the militarization of the oil sector. Sanallah warned that if the war would linger, then oil production could be affected or stopped, saying the only solution is to halt the military conflicts and that the oil sector must remain outside this war and neutral. "There are warships in Ras Lanuf port and Sidra port is still closed. There have been two attempts to seize two tugboats at the port. All in all, the workers in Sidra convinced the military unit to back off from seizing the tugboats as it could lead to the shutdown of the port." He explained. He said the NOC is working with all institutions in eastern and western Libya all alone and is based in Tripoli as the only legitimate body to operate the oil sector in the country, adding that they are working with the Presidential Council's government which is overseeing the work of the NOC since it is the legitimate government in Libya. "France-Italy rift over oil privileges in Libya is untrue. The NOC is operating with Italian Eni and French Total." Sanallah remarked.”

Nigeria

Xinhua: Boko Haram Kills At Least 14 Loggers In Nigerian Village

“At least 14 bodies of loggers from a village in Nigeria's northeastern state of Borno were evacuated to a police station following an attack by terror group Boko Haram earlier this week, the head of a local militia group told Xinhua on Thursday. Residents of Duwabayi village, in the state's Monguno area, found the bodies of the loggers killed after a Boko Haram attack on Tuesday evening and alerted the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), which helps the military fight the militants, said Ali Bulama, head of the CJTF in the area. "The victims were in search of trees to cut down in a bush near the village when the Boko Haram fighters attacked and shot them. We found bullet wounds on all the corpses and took them to the police station," Bulama said via telephone. Local police have declined to comment on the attack. Duwabayi village was deserted sometime last year after residents fled and took refuge in a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Monguno due to incessant Boko Haram attacks in the area. Monguno is located 135 km north of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, and hosts a military formation. The town has been repeatedly attacked by Boko Haram militants who have made several failed attempts to overrun the military base.”

Africa

Bloomberg: Merkel Pledges Funding For Islamist-Militant War In Burkina Faso

“Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany will provide 46 million euros ($52 million) to strengthen Burkina Faso’s defense forces as the West African nation faces one of its worst security threats in years. The money will help provide training and military equipment to Burkina Faso’s troops, and fund development initiatives in regions hit by violence, Burkinabe President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said in the capital, Ouagadouou, on Wednesday. West Africa’s Sahel region is being affected by increasing communal violence and attacks by militants allied with Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger are among the countries worst-affected by the unrest, with militants controlling swaths of territory and extremist-driven violence escalating.  Germany’s assistance will help Burkina Faso “better respond to the security issues in the north and to take actions that will help strengthen the resilience of the population in the area,” Kabore said after meeting Merkel. Merkel is on a three-nation tour of West Africa that includes a visit to Mali, where she will visit German troops deployed in the northern city of Gao as part of a United Nation’s peacekeeping mission.”

The New York Post: Trial In ISIS-Inspired Morocco Double Murder Delayed

“The trial for two dozen suspects charged with butchering two Scandinavian hikers was abruptly adjourned on Thursday. The trial was postponed minutes before opening statements were set to begin so the defense could have more time to prepare, Agence France-Presse reported. The two women, Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, of Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, had their throats slits and were beheaded in December in an isolated area of the Atlas Mountains, about 50 miles from Marrakesh. They were discovered by French hikers. In a disturbing video of the slayings shared on social media, which showed one of the women being beheaded, some of the attackers allegedly pledged allegiance to ISIS. One of them referred to the “enemies of Allah.” Investigators said some members of the “cell” were inspired by ISIS ideology but Morocco’s anti-terror chief said they had no contact with the jihadist group. ISIS has never claimed responsibility for the double murder. The suspects range in age from 25 to 33 and lived in Marrakesh. The three main defendants who are accused of direct involvement could face the death penalty. The trial will resume May 16.”

Al Arabiya: Sudan’s Bashir To Be Questioned Over ‘Financing Terrorism’

“Sudan’s prosecutor general has ordered the questioning of ousted president Omar al-Bashir over money-laundering and “financing terrorism,” the official SUNA news agency said on Thursday. “The acting public prosecutor general Al-Waleed Sayyed Ahmed has ordered the questioning of former president Omar al-Bashir... under anti-money laundering and financing terrorism laws,” SUNA said. A source in the prosecutor general’s office confirmed the state media report to AFP. Al-Bashir, who swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, ruled Sudan with an iron fist for three decades. During his rule the country was placed on Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism over its alleged links with Islamist militants. Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden lived in Sudan between 1992 to 1996. In October 2017, Washington lifted a 20-year-old trade embargo imposed on Sudan, but kept the country on the terrorism blacklist. Since last year however the two countries have been in talks to remove the country from the blacklist, but these have now been suspended since al-Bashir was ousted by the army on April 11. “That is a conversation that we are not able to engage at the moment,” a top State Department official, Makila James, told AFP last month during her visit to Khartoum.”

Australia

The Guardian: Melbourne 'Tinnie Terrorist' Leader Jailed For Seven Years Over Philippines Plot

“The Melbourne ringleader of a “tinnie terror” plot to sail from Queensland to help overthrow the Philippines government will spend up to seven years behind bars. Islamic State sympathiser Robert “Musa” Cerantonio and five other men plotted in 2016 to sail a seven-metre fishing boat off the Queensland coast, with plans to encourage others to overthrow the southern Philippines government and establish sharia law there. Cerantonio pleaded guilty to engaging in conduct in preparation for hostile activities. On Friday, the supreme court justice Michael Croucher ordered him to serve at least five years and three months in prison before being eligible for release on parole. He has already spent nearly three years in custody. Croucher said Cerantonio’s role in sharing his “putrid ideas” was deserving of a greater punishment than the other men who were subordinates and influenced by him. His co-accused – Murat Kaya, Kadir Kaya, Paul Dacre, Antonio Granata and Shayden Thorne – have each already been jailed for periods up to four years.  Croucher said Cerantonio was obviously intelligent. “He intended to use his considerable gifts for evil, not for good.” He was not satisfied that Cerantonio had renounced his extremist beliefs since his arrest in May 2016.”

New Zealand

CNN: Christchurch Terror Attack Death Toll Increases To 51

“Seven weeks after the Christchurch terror attack in New Zealand, the death toll has risen again. A Turkish citizen wounded in the mass shooting has died, New Zealand police said in a statement Friday, bringing the total number of deaths to 51. The 46-year-old man had been in a critical condition since the March 15 attacks on two mosques. "My heartfelt condolences go to the family and community of this man who has died overnight in Christchurch Hospital," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement Friday. "This sad news will be felt across Turkey, as well as New Zealand." The man was injured at al Noor mosque, where the majority of deaths occurred.  Police said they were not releasing his name at the request of the man's family. He is only the second victim to die in hospital following the Christchurch attacks, Ardern said, calling it a testament to the hard work of the country's medical staff. Nine others who were shot in the terrorist attack remain in hospital in a stable condition, she added. Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey's Minister of Foreign Affairs, tweeted his condolences to the man's family on Thursday, Turkey time.”

Europe

Associated Press: Italy Emerges As Ground Zero For European Extremist Populism

“Italy’s populist interior minister is uniting Europe’s right-wing parties under an anti-migrant, anti-Islam, anti-bureaucracy banner for this month’s European Union elections, pledging to reshape the continent from its technocratic heart in the EU’s base in Brussels. The latest target of Matteo Salvini’s wooing: Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban. The two bonded over a shared vision for a Europe with sturdy borders during a visit to Hungary by Salvini that included a tour of razor-wire fences Orban had built in 2015 to keep out asylum-seekers. Frans Timmerman, a Dutch politician who is second in command of the EU’s executive arm and running to be elected president, called the Salvini-Orban meeting “a love scene ... based on family values but which means discrimination.” Salvini, who became a Cabinet minister last year when his League party formed a coalition government with the populist 5-Star Movement, attracted Orban’s admiration for closing Italian ports to humanitarian rescue ships carrying migrants picked up at sea. Salvini’s influence is clear in the growth of a euroskeptic political group in the European Parliament, Europe of Nations and Freedom, or ENF.”

Southeast Asia

The Wall Street Journal: Sri Lanka Finds Evidence Of Planning For Further Attacks

“Police say arrests and searches of dozens of locations linked to the perpetrators of the Easter bombings have turned up significant evidence that new attacks could be in the works. Despite a state-of-emergency dragnet that has yielded over 100 arrests in 10 days, Sri Lankan authorities say they are deeply concerned that a second series of attacks could target places of worship and schools of the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community, which wasn’t targeted in the initial attacks on Christian churches and major international tourist hotels. On Thursday, police said they had found 36 sets of women’s white clothes of the sort usually worn to visit Buddhist temples hidden in a fertilizer sack in a van in the central city of Anuradhapura, a major religious city for Buddhists. Police say they have found other outfits attackers could use to blend in, including military uniforms, as well as bags similar to those used by the suicide bombers who killed more than 250 people on Easter Sunday.”

The New York Times: Churches In Sri Lankan Capital Cancel Sunday Mass Due To Threat

“Sri Lanka's Catholic churches have canceled Sunday mass in the capital Colombo for a second straight week, citing foreign intelligence warnings of threats to worshippers in the wake of the deadly Easter bombings on churches and hotels. Sri Lankan security forces have said they were maintaining a high level of alert as intelligence reports indicated the militants were likely to strike before the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which is due to begin on Monday. And the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka said this week that some of the Islamist militants behind the Easter bombings that killed over 250 people were likely to be still at large and could be planning more attacks. "The security situation has not improved yet," Colombo Archdiocese spokesman Edmund Tillekeratne said on Friday.”

Technology

The Washington Post: Facebook Bans Extremist Leaders Including Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos For Being ‘Dangerous’

“Facebook said on Thursday it has permanently banned several far-right and anti-Semitic figures and organizations, including Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Infowars host Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos and Laura Loomer, for being “dangerous,” a sign that the social network is more aggressively enforcing its hate-speech policies at a moment when bigoted violence is on the rise around the world. Facebook said it was going to remove the accounts, fan pages, and groups affiliated with these individuals on both Facebook and its sister site, Instagram, after it reevaluated the content that they had posted previously, or had examined their activities outside of Facebook, the company said. The removal also pertains to at least one of the organizations run by these people, Jones’ Infowars. “We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology. The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today,” Facebook said in a statement. The social network--which for years has resisted taking a more aggressive stance on extremism --is under massive pressure globally to curtail the ways in which its platform is used by hateful groups and individuals, most recently after massacres in Sri Lanka and New Zealand where the perpetrators used social media to spread their hateful messages.”

The Verge: House Democrats Want To See How Much Big Tech Is Spending To Curb Extremism

“On Thursday, Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee pressed major tech companies, including Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and Google, to submit their budgets to curb content from terrorists and extremists on their platforms. Committee chairman Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) first pushed the companies for a briefing in March after the white nationalist terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, was live-streamed to Facebook. According to the committee, no company was able to adequately comply with the committee’s requests. In April, lawmakers pressed companies again for more details. Some replied to these requests, but lawmakers didn’t find their answers to be sufficient. As a result, members are issuing a more aggressive push to learn exactly how much the firms spend on counterterrorism. “The fact that some of the largest corporations in the world are unable to tell us what they are specifically doing to stop terrorist and extremist content is not acceptable,” Thompson and Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) said. “Domestic terrorism is on the rise both here and abroad, and of all forms of terrorism and extremism are increasingly turning to these social media platforms to proliferate their message and spread their violent, hateful content.”

The New York Times: Facebook Bars Alex Jones, Louis Farrakhan And Others From Its Services

“After years of wavering about how to handle the extreme voices populating its platform, Facebook on Thursday evicted seven of its most controversial users — many of whom are conservatives — immediately inflaming the debate about the power and accountability of large technology companies. The social network said it had barred Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist and founder of Infowars, from its platform, along with a handful of other extremists. Louis Farrakhan, the outspoken black nationalist minister who has frequently been criticized for his anti-Semitic remarks, was also banned. The Silicon Valley company said these users were disallowed from using Facebook and Instagram under its policies against “dangerous individuals and organizations.” “We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement. “The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.”