Eye on Extremism: May 7, 2020

The National: European Prisons Releasing 1,000 Returned ISIS Fighters In 2020 Poses New Security Challenge

“The threat from ISIS will be greater after the release of 1,000 of its returned fighters from European prisons over the course of 2020, chief analyst at the UN told The National. Efforts to reform Europeans from the ISIS battlefields through official deradicalisation programmes are largely regarded by officials as having failed to change the beliefs of members. Edmund Fitton-Brown, a former British ambassador to Yemen who now serves as co-ordinator of the UN's sanctions monitoring team, told The National that the coronavirus crisis was a hiatus for ISIS but the group could emerge as a more dynamic force. Before the Covid-19 health crisis ISIS had the “smell of death” from a succession of defeats, but Mr Fitton-Brown warned that in its Iraq and Syria heartlands it could already seen to be “growing new confidence and becoming bolder”. The most recent UN report from his panel in January concluded that ISIS had not regenerated its ability to operate abroad, the threat it poses in Europe and fragile states such as Afghanistan would be strengthened by prisoner releases, he said. Recalling the attacks in France and Britain in recent months, Mr Fitton-Brown said returned fighters were coming out of “short-term incarceration” with the same frame of mind.”

The Jerusalem Post: Palestinian Terrorists Can Legally Take Part In EU-Funded Activities

“Palestinians affiliated with terrorist groups may participate in EU activities, EU Representative to West Bank and Gaza Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff wrote in an official letter obtained by The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. The letter, dated March 30, to the Palestinian NGO Network clarified that all EU-funded projects, including by Palestinian organizations, must follow EU law, such as a ban on funding terrorist groups. However, the letter points out that there are no Palestinian individuals on the EU's “restrictive measures list” barring funds to terrorists, such that the NGOs would not be penalized if members of terrorist groups benefit from EU funding. “While the entities and groups included in the EU restrictive lists cannot benefit from EU-funded activities, it is understood that a natural person affiliated to, sympathizing with or supporting any of the groups or entities mentioned in the EU restrictive lists is not excluded from benefiting from EU-funded activities, unless his/her exact name and surname...corresponds to any of the natural persons on the EU restrictive list,” the letter reads. The letter also states that “the EU does not ask any civil society organization to change its political position towards any Palestinian faction or to discriminate against any natural person based on his/her political affiliation.”

The National: Facebook Supervisory Board Pledges Independence On Extremist Content

“Facebook launched a supervisory board to monitor its response to the exploitation of its platform by extremist groups and influence campaigns that have undermined the role of its products as "public squares". The company, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, said the board would make final decisions about posts that lead to controversy about censorship, misinformation or free speech…Through the founding bylaws of the oversight board, Facebook has committed to carrying out our decisions even though it may at times disagree, unless doing so would violate the law. "Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has also personally committed to this arrangement." Groups such as the Counter Extremism Project have led exposes of terrorist recruitment material on Facebook and its rivals. While some material can be removed, the response is far from comprehensive or complete. Speaking at an online seminar on Wednesday, Alexander Ritzmann, the project's senior adviser, said social media giants had to regain lost credibility to address the concerns of those reporting abuses. The scrutiny and accountability handed to the regulatory board is only one part of the equation. "Transparency is the new sustainability. Everybody kind of likes it but nobody knows what it means," Mr Ritzmann said.”

United States

Salt Lake Tribune: Man Arrested In Utah For Allegedly Supporting ISIS

“A 23-year-old man was arrested in Utah last year on allegations he helped ISIS, but that’s about all officials are saying about the case. The scant allegations made public so far are in court documents unsealed Monday after Murat Suljovic’s latest court appearance. Seamus Hughes, with George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, first reported the case. The records show Suljovic was arrested in August 2019 in Salt Lake City. Document allege that in January 2019 he attempted to “provide material support and resources, including services, personnel, and training, to ISIS...knowing that ISIS is a designated terrorist organization and has engaged in and does engage in terrorism.” He pleaded not guilty to the charge Monday. Soljovic remains in custody. U.S. Attorney John Huber declined, through a spokesperson, to comment on the case. Suljovic’s attorney, Jessica Stengel, also declined to comment. But an order from Magistrate Judge Dustin B. Pead suggests the case “involves potential national security implications.” It also notes that officials seized 122, 700 files from Suljovic’s computer, the majority of which were “in HTML document format with screen captures and video thumbnails.”

Iraq

Kurdistan 24: Kurdish-Backed Security Forces Arrest Alleged ISIS Financial Chief In Raqqa

“The Kurdish-backed Anti-Terror Forces (HAT) in northeastern Syria arrested a senior Islamic State financial chief in Raqqa on Wednesday who was allegedly responsible for organizing sleeper cells in the city. The Kurdish-backed forces said in a statement that the suspect, Ahmed Muhammad Al-Ali, was “a financial official of the ISIS terrorist organization in the Raqqa region.” Al-Ali was arrested following information the forces gathered about the activities of Islamic State sleeper cell whereabouts in the region, the statement added. It also noted that “sums of money in various currencies,” and three mobile phones the terrorist used “to coordinate with sleeper cells” were seized. According to the internal security forces, they have recently “tightened security measures to pursue ISIS sleeper cells after the city of Raqqa was subjected to a number of terrorist acts.” In a separate incident on Tuesday, the Raqqa Military Council published a video of a raid against suspected Islamic State sleeper cells in the Tal Al-Bay’ah village in the eastern countryside of Raqqa province. Four suspects, accused of using “military force” in the city, were arrested in the raid, the UK-based war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported.”

Turkey

Asharq Al-Awsat: Turkey Arrests Dozens Of ISIS Elements In 4 Months

“Turkish security forces have carried out a total of 8,163 operations targeting terrorist organizations during April, said Interior Ministry spokesman Ismail Catakli. In a statement on Tuesday, he said 37 terrorists were neutralized (killed, injured or arrested) in three major operations, including 27 medium operations in rural areas and 253 operations in the cities. Turkish security operations against ISIS in the first four months of 2020 have so far led to the arrest of 354 ISIS suspects, including two senior operatives. Security officials seized many documents, weapons and ammunition of the terror group, thwarting possible terror incidents in large cities including the capital, Ankara, and Istanbul. ISIS has claimed responsibility for a number of terrorist operations in Turkey over the past five years, in which more than 300 people were killed and hundreds others were injured. The latest of these attacks was in the New Year’s Eve of 2017, when the Uzbek national ISIS militant, Abdulgadir Masharipov, attacked Reina nightclub in Istanbul, killing 39 and injuring 69 others. Security sources said the shooter had received orders directly from ISIS leaders in Syria’s Raqqa. Since then, Turkish security services have been carrying out ongoing campaigns against the organizations’ cells, arresting more than 5,000 of its members.”

Afghanistan

Al Jazeera: US Afghan Envoy To Meet Taliban In Qatar In New Efforts For Peace

“The US special envoy to Afghanistan is on a mission to press Taliban negotiators in Doha and officials in India and Pakistan to support a reduction in violence, acceleration of intra-Afghan peace talks and cooperation on handling the coronavirus pandemic, the US Department of State said on Wednesday. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad's trip comes amid concerns that surging Taliban attacks and the coronavirus pandemic could deal potentially fatal blows to his stalled efforts to end decades of strife in Afghanistan. At each stop, Khalilzad “will urge support for an immediate reduction in violence, accelerated timeline for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, and cooperation among all sides in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in Afghanistan,” the State Department said. The statement did not disclose the exact schedule of Khalilzad's trip, which began on Tuesday. It is the second trip he has made since April 12 in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic to salvage a February 29 accord that he and the Taliban's second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, signed for a phased withdrawal of US troops from the US's longest war. A successful initiative could help US President Donald Trump as he seeks re-election in November.”

Stars And Stripes: ISIS Fighters Who Attacked Bagram Killed In Raids, Afghan Forces Say

“Five members of an Islamic State terror cell that attacked the largest American base in Afghanistan earlier this year were killed in a series of operations by Afghan commandos in and around Kabul, Afghan officials said Wednesday. The terror cell, which was blamed for two rocket attacks on Bagram Airfield in recent months and for firing rockets at President Ashraf Ghani’s inauguration in March, was eliminated and its leader captured in three raids in northern Kabul and a district just outside the capital, said the country’s main intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security. A video released by the NDS shows the bodies of men said to be members of the cell. The operations were conducted Tuesday evening, an official said in the video. Eight fighters were arrested during the raids, which were carried out by special operations forces assigned to the NDS, the agency said in a statement. An image from a video released by Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security on Wednesday, May 6, 2020, shows weapons said to have been confiscated during a series of raids in which five Islamic State fighters were killed and their terror cell eliminated. No one was seriously injured in the attacks on Bagram or the presidential inauguration attacks, but 25 people, including women and children, were killed in another attack blamed on the group, in which a gunman opened fire at a Sikh temple in Kabul in March.”

Hindustan Times: Members Of Islamic State-Haqqani Network Arrested Over Kabul Attacks

“Afghan security forces arrested eight members of a network grouping Islamic State and Haqqani militants responsible for bloody attacks in the capital including on Sikh worshippers, the country’s security agency said on Wednesday. The arrests were made as special forces carried out a raid on a property in Kabul on Tuesday evening, seizing weapons and explosives and killing five members of the joint network. The group was responsible for shootings of worshippers at a Sikh complex and at a large ceremony attended by many in the Hazara community, as well as rocket attacks on President Ashraf Ghani’s swearing-in ceremony and on Bagram airbase, the National Directorate of Security said in a statement. Gunmen and suicide bombers raided a Sikh religious complex in Kabul in March, killing 25 people. That was the second attack on a minority group claimed by Islamic State in a month after more than 30 people were shot dead in a gathering attended by many members of the ethnic Hazara community marking the anniversary of the death of a Hazara leader. Also in March, attackers fired rockets at Ghani’s inauguration ceremony and in April sent rockets into the Bagram airbase, though no one was killed in either attack.”

Pakistan

The New York Times: Top Kashmiri Militant Is Killed, Sparking Protests And Rage

“Before disappearing into the woods almost a decade ago, Riyaz Ahmad Naikoo was a schoolteacher living a relatively quiet life in Kashmir. But then he resurfaced in videos on social media sitting next to automatic weapons and grenades, rebranding himself as a fighter, and demanding that India pull out of the disputed Himalayan territory. Mr. Naikoo’s quest came to a violent end on Wednesday. Indian security forces surrounded the small village where he was hiding in the district of Pulwama, dug trenches to prevent civilians from coming to his rescue, and shot him dead. The gunning down of Mr. Naikoo, a senior leader in Hizbul Mujahideen, a banned militant group, was one of the most significant recent victories for Indian troops fighting the secession movement in Kashmir, a rugged, contested territory between India and Pakistan. His death has roiled the region, casting the insurgency into a leaderless future and immediately heightening tensions between Indian security forces and a local population that has often supported a brutal fight for independence. By late Wednesday, violent protests had broken out in Pulwama over his death, and at least 14 people were injured.”

Reuters: Indian Troops Kill Militants, Triggering Clashes Across Kashmir

“Indian troops killed four militants in gun battles in Kashmir on Wednesday, including the commander of the biggest separatist group fighting New Delhi, a police official said, triggering clashes across the disputed region that left dozens injured. Hundreds of Indian soldiers launched an operation late on Tuesday after receiving intelligence that Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo was hiding in a village in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. “He was trapped in a house and early today a gun battle took place during which he and his associate were killed,” Kashmir’s Inspector General of Police, Vijay Kumar, told Reuters. Two militants were killed in another gun battle nearby on Wednesday, Kumar added. Authorities disabled mobile internet across the Kashmir region early on Wednesday to forestall large crowds from gathering in the streets to mourn his killing. Still, locals came out and pelted soldiers with stones in an attempt to disrupt the operation in which Naikoo was killed, Kumar said, adding that demonstrators had to be beaten back by troops. “Several protesters have received pellet injures and three of them have bullet wounds. They have been hospitalized,” he said.”

Yemen

Asharq Al-Awsat: 'White Coat' Houthi Terrorism Frightens Sanaa

“In Sanaa’s Dabwa slums, teams of Houthi health workers sporting outfits designed for those dealing with coronavirus patients fired rounds of bullets to intimidate residents into staying home. The teams claimed they were pursuing a coronavirus patient who escaped quarantine after being diagnosed. Residents in the Houthi-controlled areas said that the militia's raids a few days ago appeared to be “white terrorism” because armed men used clothes intended for medical personnel, and were terrorizing people instead of reassuring them. Houthis have exploited the gravity of the coronavirus crisis to double levies and terrorize the public by displaying their military strength and manipulating virus data. This has left Sanaa residents in dismay. Sources suggest that raising funds in Ramadan is the most prominent reason for the Houthis refusing to acknowledge the number of confirmed coronavirus cases. For Houthis, Islam’s holy month of fasting, Ramadan, is a month focused on collecting levies on which militias and their supervisors depend to cover their expenses, movements, and salaries. Houthi gunmen are using money from collected zakat and annual taxes to fund their war effort. In other news, the last few days witnessed rage spurring among tribesmen in Al Bayda' Governorate after Houthis gunned down a female in al-Tafa district.”

Africa

All Africa: Kenya: War On Terror Finds Way To Policeman's Doorstep

“A police officer attached to Kabete Police Station has been detained at the Anti-Terrorist Police Unit (ATPU) headquarters for a period of 10 days as authorities seek to establish his connection with terror group Al Shabaab. Police Constable Martin Munyi Ireri was arrested at Aurum House in Githurai alongside Paul Mwangangi Mutinda and Jeremiah Ngige Mburu with assorted items that authorities say are linked to terrorism. While seeking their detention, Inspector Richard Ngatia told Principal Magistrate Catolun Muthoni Nzibe that the suspects were arrested on May 1 and that the police need time to finalise their investigations. Mr Ngatia said several government agencies will be involved in the probe. He displayed assorted items recovered from the suspects including several telephones, tear gas canisters and data. Defence lawyer Paul Mugwe opposed the 10 days sought by police on grounds that Mr Ireri was an officer, thus the source of tear gas canisters recovered from him can be established. Mr Mugwe said the canisters were not hand grenades as claimed by police. He said a T-Shirt recovered from the suspects had writings which implied the three are not aligned with terror activities.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Luton Far-Right Extremist Admits Having Explosives

“A far-right extremist has pleaded guilty to terror offences and having explosives. Filip Golon Bednarczyk, 25, of Luton, Bedfordshire, was arrested by counter-terrorism detectives on 11 December. They found a 2kg (4.4lb) bag of sulphur powder, electric components and instructions on how to make bombs, the Old Bailey heard. Bednarczyk attended court via a video-link on Wednesday. He will be sentenced at a later date. An analysis of his electronic devices revealed an interest in firearms, knives and killings as well as extreme right-wing views, the court heard. Bednarczyk's computer was found to have the “manifesto” belonging to the man responsible for the 2019 attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, and he had searched the internet for Nazis, the Polish Defence League and Britain First. He pleaded guilty to possessing an explosive substance and seven charges of possessing a document likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. Bednarczyk was remanded in custody while a psychiatric report is prepared.”

Germany

Voice Of America: Experts Split On Impact Of Germany’s Hezbollah Ban

“Germany’s recent decision to ban the political activities of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has sparked a debate among experts, with some believing the move was necessary while others arguing it would have little impact on Hezbollah’s terrorist activities. German authorities last week declared the Iranian-backed group a “Shiite terrorist organization,” outlawing its activity on German soil. Police also carried out raids on mosques and community centers with suspected links to the extremist group in different parts of Germany. “Germany’s designation is a recognition of Hezbollah’s unitary nature – that it has no separate military or political wings as the EU declared in its 2013 designation,” said Josh Lipowsky, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Counter Extremism Project (CEP). The European Union considers Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist organization, while allowing its political wing to operate in the bloc’s countries. The Netherlands and Germany are the only EU members that recognize Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization. The U.K. dropped the distinction last year, but it is no longer part of the EU. In 1997, Hezbollah was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Lebanon Seeks Explanation From Germany Over Hezbollah Ban

“Lebanese Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti summoned on Tuesday the Germany Ambassador to Lebanon, George Berglin, to seek further clarification on Berlin’s decision to ban activity by Hezbollah on its soil. The German diplomat made clear that Germany’s decision had been taken a while ago, but it has only recently come into force. “Germany did not classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, but rather prohibited its activities on German territories,” Berglin said. 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. German police carried out raids in Germany last Thursday to detain suspected Hezbollah members. Security officials believe up to 1,050 people in Germany are part of Hezbollah. Meanwhile, a US State Department spokesperson commented Tuesday on the Lebanese government’s economic reform plan. In a statement, a copy of which was obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat, the spokesperson said that the measure of success of the new plan hinges on the ability of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government to implement serious reforms able to lead to “transparency” and to answer the demands of the Lebanese people.”

Europe

Associated Press: Kosovo Albanian Woman Charged With Joining Is Terror Group

“Kosovo prosecutors on Wednesday filed terrorism charges against an ethnic Albanian woman who allegedly joined a terror group in Syria. The special prosecutors’ office said the suspect, identified only as D.D., left Kosovo in October 2014 to go to a Syrian city after crossing through North Macedonia and Turkey. There it said she joined her husband, a fighter with the Islamic State group, who trained her how to use a weapon and made her part of their logistics group. After her husband was killed in the fighting she married another IS fighter, living and operating in Syria’s conflict zones until December 2018 when she was arrested near the border with Turkey. The defendant is part of a group of 110 Kosovo citizens repatriated from Syria last year. She faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the charges. About 30 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo are still believed to be with terror groups in Syria and Iraq.”

Southeast Asia

Asia Times: ISIS Eyes Covid-19 Weakness In Indonesia

“With battered Islamic State (ISIS) urging its followers to take advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic’s disruption and launch renewed attacks around the world, Indonesian counter-terrorism police have seized a startling amount of ammunition in raids at opposite ends of Java. Terrorism experts say the 2,300 rounds of ammunition, all of it for assault rifles and other service weapons used by the police and military, is the most Indonesian militants are known to have had in their possession in almost two decades. Three suspects allegedly belonging to the ISIS-linked Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) were arrested on April 26 by the Detachment 88 counterterrorism unit in the Surabaya suburb of Sidoarjo, along with 288 rounds of 5.56 mm and 9 mm ammunition. Also seized in the raid was a camouflaged Pindad-made SSI-V4 sniper rifle, normally carried by specialized elements of Army Strategic Reserve (Kostrad) raider battalions, and two 9 mm Browning automatic pistols. A day later, following a trail left by employees of a Surabaya-based courier company, police captured three more militants and reportedly found an additional 2,000 rounds of ammunition near the Banten province capital of Serang, west of Jakarta.”

New Zealand

The Independent: Far-Right Extremist Who Had Christchurch Terror Attack Manifesto Was Collecting Bomb Components

“A far-right extremist who called police support for LGBT Pride events the “death of European culture” has admitted terror and explosives offences. Filip Golon Bednarczyk, 26, had collected bomb manuals, components and a 2kg bag of sulphur powder while researching guns and weapons. The Old Bailey heard that he had a copy of the Christchurch attacker’s manifesto, which claimed white people are being “replaced”, and called for further attacks. He also shared memes supporting the terror attack, which left 51 people dead and inspired massacres around the world. During a virtual hearing at the Old Bailey on Wednesday, Bednarczyk admitted possessing an explosive substance under suspicious circumstances between May and December last year. He also pleaded guilty to seven charges of possessing a document likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. The offences related to various titles about homemade explosives, including Semtex and black powder. Prosecutor Dan Pawson-Pounds asked for sentencing to be put off to a later date. He said the Crown had received a basis of plea from the defendant and a psychiatric report was being prepared.”