Eye on Extremism: May 6, 2020

The Telegraph: Convicted Terrorist Wins First Round Of Legal Battle Against Government Ban On Early Release From Prison

“A Sunderland shopkeeper jailed for encouraging terrorism has won the first stage of a legal battle to overturn new rules barring terror offenders from being released early from prison. Lawyers for Mohammed Zahir Khan, who tweeted support for Islamic State (ISIL) and called for "death to Shias" say the emergency laws introduced by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland breach his human rights. It is the first legal appeal against the Government decision to force some 50 convicted terrorists who had been due to be freed automatically halfway through their sentences to serve at least two thirds before a parole board decides if they are safe to release. Khan was jailed for four-and-a-half years in May 2018 for encouraging terrorism, dissemination of a terror publication and stirring up religious hatred and would have been released in February but for the emergency laws introduced after the London Bridge and Streatham terror attacks....”

Reuters: Lebanon Summons German Ambassador Over Hezbollah Ban

“Lebanon’s foreign minister summoned the German ambassador on Tuesday to explain Berlin’s decision last week to ban the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement on its soil. Germany also classified the Iranian-backed movement as terrorist, a step which Hezbollah’s foe Israel has long urged along with the United States. Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti affirmed that “Hezbollah is a main political component in Lebanon which represents a wide section of the people and part of parliament,” his office said on Tuesday. Hitti called in Germany’s ambassador after the leader of Hezbollah, a military and political movement that is a major backer of the government, accused Germany on Monday of bowing to U.S. pressure. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah denounced police raids on mosque groups in Germany suspected of being close to the heavily armed Hezbollah, which he said had no official presence in Europe. Nasrallah also said Lebanon’s government was responsible for protecting its citizens in Germany. Iran has condemned Germany’s move, while Israel has urged other European Union countries to take similar action.”

Iraq

BBC News: IS Militants Step Up Attacks On Iraqi Security Forces

“Islamic State militants have stepped up their attacks on security forces in north-eastern Iraq, reportedly killing at least 18 people since the weekend. Four tribal militia fighters and three soldiers died in three incidents in Salahuddin, Kirkuk and Diyala provinces on Monday night, security sources said. Diyala also saw multiple attacks and clashes on Saturday and Sunday. Analysts believe IS is taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic, which is occupying the authorities' attention. Politicians are also distracted by talks on the formation of a new government and the impact on the economy of the collapse in global oil prices. At its height in 2014, IS controlled some 88,000sq km (34,000sq miles) of land stretching from western Syria to eastern Iraq, and imposed its brutal rule on almost eight million people., Iraqi pro-government forces declared victory against the jihadist group in late 2017, but several thousand militants are believed to be still active in the country. Many have been hiding out in and mounting attacks from tunnel networks and caves in the Hamrin mountains, which straddle Diyala, Kirkuk and Salahuddin.”

Sky News: Islamic State: RAF Airstrikes Kill Terrorists Hiding In Iraq Caves

“The RAF has carried out airstrikes on caves in Iraq where Islamic State (IS) terrorists were hiding out. Six cave entrances were bombed on 28 April by a pair of RAF Typhoons and other coalition aircraft northeast of Bayji in northern Iraq, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has revealed. Intelligence had confirmed a group of IS fighters with weapons were operating out of the caves. Setting out from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, the Typhoons and other aircraft were supported by a Voyager aerial refuelling tanker as they flew to Iraq. Following a "thorough check" of the area surrounding the caves, the aircraft used Paveway IV precision-guided bombs to strike all six of the caves. They then used surveillance to confirm all the terrorists' weapons had been successfully destroyed. An MoD statement said they had been successful in "removing more Daesh (IS) fighters from the battlefield and further downgrading the terrorist movement". Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: "The strikes continue because the Daesh threat is relentless and so will we be." Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the RAF has continued to fly daily armed reconnaissance missions over Iraq and eastern Syria as part of the global coalition against IS.”

Afghanistan

Reuters: Taliban Not Living Up To Commitments, U.S. Defense Secretary Says

“U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday that the Taliban were not living up to their commitments under an agreement signed this year, amid signs the fragile deal is under strain by a political deadlock and increasing Taliban violence. After lengthy talks behind closed doors, the Taliban and Washington signed an agreement in February for reduced violence and a move toward talks with the Afghan government, but attacks by the group have increased since then. “I don’t think they are,” Esper told reporters when asked if the Taliban were living up to their commitment. He added that he believed the Afghan government was also not living up to its commitment. The Afghan government was not part of an agreement between the United States and the Taliban. Esper said the Afghan government and the Taliban “both need to come together and make progress on the terms that (are) laid out.” Progress on moving to negotiations between the militant group and the Afghan government has been delayed, in part by the political feud between President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who both claimed to be Afghanistan’s rightful leader following September’s disputed election. The political deadlock comes as the Taliban has increased the pace of violence.”

Radio Free Europe: Taliban Urges Afghan Government To Speed Up Prisoner Release

“The Taliban has called on the Afghan government to speed up the release of prisoners in order to pave the way for negotiations with the militant movement. A landmark deal signed by the United States and the Taliban on February 29 calls for the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban fighters as a confidence-building measure ahead of formal peace talks aimed at ending the 18-year conflict. The agreement also provides for the militants to release 1,000 Afghan security force members. "In the last 3 days, our 300 prisoners were released from the Kbl Adm. (Kabul administration) prisons which we welcome," Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted late on May 4. "However, it is not enough -- the process should be expedited so the prisoners be saved from the Coronavirus and the way be paved for an earliest inception of intra-Afghan negotiations," Shaheen wrote. The Afghan government so far has released about 750 Taliban inmates from jails, according to the Office of National Security Council (ONSC). The Taliban has released 112 members of Afghan security forces, the ONSC says. Kabul has been wary of releasing large groups of prisoners, especially with Afghan forces suffering heavy casualties in recent weeks from Taliban attacks across the country.”

Lebanon

The Jerusalem Post: Hezbollah Doesn’t Want Another War With Israel, Yet

“Twenty years after the last IDF soldier left southern Lebanon, the hostility between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah has only intensified. The former guerilla group has morphed into a “terror superpower,” while Israel has strengthened its military might over concerns of a future war with its archnemesis. Though Hezbollah once spread its wings across the globe in an attempt to inflict as much damage as it could on Jews and Americans, their focus has shifted. The group turned to its neighbor, Syria, and built up local allied groups to open a new front in the south to counter Israel. Israel has always been willing to take calculated risks when it comes to defending its security and has recently taken the approach of warning Hezbollah fighters of incoming strikes in order to avoid deteriorating into a full-scale war. And while Israel has overall refrained from attacking the organization in Lebanon, it has carried out hundreds of strikes against Hezbollah infrastructure in neighboring Syria in an attempt to prevent it from obtaining precision missiles and other game-changing weaponry. On Monday night, an airstrike targeted a Syrian military research complex outside the city of Aleppo.”

Nigeria

AFP: Boko Haram Jihadists Clash With Army Near Key Niger City

“Boko Haram fighters clashed with government forces on Sunday in Diffa, the largest city in southwestern Niger, in what the jihadists said was a successful attack on a military camp. Conflicting versions of the outcome emerged on Tuesday, with the Islamists claiming to have overrun the site but local residents telling AFP that the assailants had been repelled. A propaganda video released by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a Boko Haram splinter group affiliated to the so-called Islamic State, purports to show heavily-armed insurgents storm an army camp following sustained fighting and heavy weapons fire. A soldier is seen lying face-down on the ground, either dead or unconscious, and being shot twice. The assailants then leave the camp with military vehicles and weapons to the cries of Allahu Akbar (God is greatest). The area around Diffa, a city of around 200,000 people located near the Nigerian border, has been repeatedly attacked by the jihadist group, which emerged in Nigeria in 2009. Local people testified that they heard the sound of heavy fighting. "We heard gunfire, especially heavy weapons, between 4:30 pm and 7:00 pm on the southern side of the city," Lawan Boukar, a local resident, said.”

Somalia

All Africa: Somalia: Al-Shabaab Launches Attack On Somali Army Base

“Somali army confirmed on Monday that its forces killed 10 al-Shabab fighters on Sunday at one of its military bases in southern region. The Somali National Army (SNA) said several militants were injured during a hit and run attack on SNA bases in Ceel-Salini and Barire towns in Lower Shabelle. "The attacks were repelled. Further, 10 al-Shabab terrorists were confirmed to be killed and many injured," SNA said in a statement issued in Mogadishu. The soldiers, who had been fighting along with African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to stabilize the Horn of African nation, said there were no casualties suffered by SNA. It said the security forces had degraded al-Shabab capabilities to take effective attacks in Somalia. The allied forces have been on major offensives against the extremists in central and southern Somali regions, but the militants still hold swaths of territory in those regions, conducting ambushes and planting roadside bombs.”

Africa

Associated Press: French Commander: Extremists In Africa Try To Exploit Virus

“Islamic extremists in West Africa’s Sahel region are trying to exploit COVID-19 to gain followers but haven’t had much success, according to the commander of the French military’s Operation Barkhane there. The coronavirus has had little impact on counterterrorism operations by the more than 5,000 French soldiers in the arid region just below the vast Sahara desert, Gen. Pascal Facon told reporters Tuesday. COVID-19 “doesn’t change anything and everyone is very focused on the way the mission goes,” he said, adding that they have learned to adapt accordingly. “Much has been done to implement individual and collective measures to ensure that this constraint is as minimal as possible.” He attributed the very few cases among French soldiers to constant vigilance and a wide distribution in the field that minimizes the risk of large-scale virus transmission. But cases are rising in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Chad. Health authorities have confirmed more than 120 COVID-19 deaths in the countries where Barkhane is active, with more than 2,100 confirmed cases. Experts have said that limited testing capacity in remote and volatile parts of Africa means health authorities aren’t able to track the virus well.”

Europe

Reuters: EU To Beef Up Scrutiny Of Money-Laundering Risks, Adds Panama To List

“The European Commission aims to intensify its scrutiny of states posing money-laundering risks, and is looking into creating a new body to help police financial crime and monitor banks more strictly, draft documents seen by Reuters show. One document, expected to be published on Thursday, adds Panama and other countries to an existing blacklist but spares Saudi Arabia and U.S. territories that had been put on an earlier list before being shelved in the face of objections. A second document, also due on Thursday, suggests giving the European Union more powers to tackle financial malfeasance within the bloc after a spate of scandals at large banks dented the EU’s reputation. The proposal, still subject to changes, says the EU could set up by 2023 a common supervisory body in charge of carrying out inspections at banks and possibly empowered to impose sanctions and identify suspicious payments. The revised money-laundering list, expanded to include 22 from 16 states, is set to take effect from October. Under the draft proposal, the Commission added Panama, the Bahamas, Mauritius, Barbados, Botswana, Cambodia, Ghana, Jamaica, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nicaragua and Zimbabwe to its list of countries that “pose significant threats to the financial system of the Union” because of failings in tackling money laundering and terrorism financing.”

Technology

The Spokesman-Review: Facebook Removes Accounts Linked To Extremist Group QAnon

“Facebook says it has removed several groups, accounts and pages linked to QAnon, taking action for the first time against the far-right U.S. conspiracy theory circulated among supporters of President Donald Trump. The social-media giant made the announcement Tuesday as part of its monthly briefing on “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on its platforms. That’s Facebook’s term for fake accounts run with the intent of disrupting politics elections and society. In addition to the QAnon accounts, Facebook also removed accounts linked to VDARE, a U.S. website known for posting anti-immigration content, as well as accounts in Russia, Iran, Mauritania, Myanmar and the country of Georgia. QAnon is a right-wing conspiracy theory centered on the baseless belief that Trump is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the “deep state” and a child sex trafficking ring run by satanic pedophiles and cannibals. For more than two years, followers have pored over a tangled set of clues purportedly posted online by a high-ranking government official known only as “Q.” The conspiracy theory first emerged in a dark corner of the internet but has been creeping into the mainstream political arena. Trump has retweeted QAnon-promoting accounts and its followers flock to the president’s rallies wearing clothes and hats with QAnon symbols and slogans.”