Eye on Extremism: May 8, 2020

The Telegraph: Taliban Founder's Son Appointed Military Chief Of Insurgents

“The son of the Afghan Taliban's late founder has been appointed as the insurgents' military chief in a political reshuffle to check the power of his predecessor, senior militant figures have said. Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob has been announced head of the military commission for the movement trying to overthrown the internationally-backed government in Afghanistan. His appointment was confirmed as the militants have significantly ramped up attacks following a withdrawal agreement with America. The appointment of the son of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the one-eyed founder of the Taliban, reins in the former military leader Sardar Ibrahim as the movement closes in on negotiations with the Afghan government. Mullah Yaqoob will keep his previous post as deputy to the movement's overall leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada, but will now also oversee military operations. Mullah Omar died in 2013, though the insurgent movement continued to release statements in his name until it finally admitted he was dead in 2015. Two senior Taliban figures told the Telegraph that the decision had been made at the insistence of factions in the Taliban and among Pakistan's military who still have influence over the insurgents. Ibrahim had been considered too hostile to Pakistan and too close to Iran, the sources said. Zabiullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban, confirmed the appointment but would not comment on the reasons for it.”

Arab News: Senior Rebel Commander Killed In Yemen Amid Fierce Battles

“A senior Yemeni rebel commander was killed on Thursday, the Shiite rebels announced as fierce battles with government forces intensified along the front lines in the country’s central provinces. The slain rebels’ special forces commander, Mohamed Abdel Karim Al-Hamran, enjoyed close ties to the top Houthi leader, Abdul Malek Al-Houthi. He was the most high-ranking commander killed this year, part of an elite brigade trained by militants from the Lebanese group Hezbollah. Al-Hamran was killed in clashes between the central provinces of Marib and Bayda, which have been the epicenter of recent fighting, said Yemeni security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity under regulations. Warplanes with the Saudi-led coalition supporting the Yemeni government forces bombed Houthi targets across the provinces, setting military convoys ablaze. Dozens were killed and wounded on both sides, the officials added. The rebel military spokesman Yehia Sarea accused their adversaries of launching 11 ground assaults across the front lines in Marib and Bayda, and unleashing 110 airstrikes, including on the rebel-held capital of Sanaa.”

United States

The Detroit News: Judge Won't Free FBI Terror Suspect During COVID-19

“A federal judge refused Thursday to release an Ypsilanti man arrested by the FBI’s counterterrorism team who argued he was at high risk of getting COVID-19. U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts rejected the request from Yousef Ramadan, 31, after a hearing Wednesday that included evidence Ramadan lied about health issues that would leave him susceptible to contracting the virus. "...the court finds that Ramadan has a history of lying and engaging in deceitful and fraudulent behavior which makes him entirely untrustworthy," Roberts wrote. "The existence of the coronavirus pandemic — and its effect on Ramadan’s health and/or ability to meet with his attorney or prepare a defense — is not material to either the likelihood that Ramadan will appear or to the risk posed to the public if he is released," the judge added. Ramadan is facing firearms charges in a case that drew wider attention after his arrest by FBI counterterrorism investigators.  He was removed from a Royal Jordanian Airlines flight in August 2017 at Detroit Metropolitan Airport after investigators searched his checked baggage and found body armor, ammunition pouches, rifle scopes, knives and other paramilitary equipment. Ramadan, his wife and four children were flying on one-way tickets to Jordan.”

Syria

Voice Of America: US-Backed Forces Crack Down On Resurgent Islamic State 

“U.S.-led coalition special operation forces hit back against an Islamic State cell in Syria, capturing a midlevel leader linked to a rise in attacks by the terror group in the Deir el-Zour countryside. Coalition officials on Thursday hailed the mission’s success but shared few details about Wednesday’s raid, which included members of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The raid was at least the second in the Deir el-Zour area in the past week. An SDF-led operation on May 1 resulted in the arrest of an IS cell in Hajin that had been targeting U.S.-backed forces in the eastern countryside of Deir el-Zour. It also came as SDF commanders continue to raise concerns about what they see as a sizable increase in IS operations over the past month. A source close to the SDF told VOA that many of the attacks have involved improvised explosive devices (IEDs), but that attacks involving IS fighters have been increasingly lethal.  Coalition officials admit there is reason for concern, but caution against interpreting the surge in activity as a sign the terror group is close to regaining its former strength, either in Syria or in Iraq.”

Al Monitor: Kurdish And Coalition Forces Target Islamic State In Eastern Syria

“Kurdish-led and international coalition forces raided Islamic State (IS) positions yesterday in eastern Syria — a site of recent IS activity. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) carried out an operation in Deir ez-Zor on Wednesday night. They were supported by Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, the official name of the US-led international coalition against IS in Syria and Iraq. The raid led to the arrest of an IS fighter, the coalition spokesman Col. Myles Caggins said on Twitter today. The coalition supports the multiethnic SDF, which is led by the Kurdish group the People’s Protection Units (YPG), but also includes Arab and Syriac Christian divisions. The SDF said the arrested IS fighter was being questioned. The operation took place in a rural area in the east of Deir ez-Zor province, the SDF said on Twitter. Deir Ezzor 24, a local media outlet covering the province, said the raid by the SDF and the coalition took place late Wednesday evening in the village of Azzir. The coalition used helicopters and soldiers stormed a house; two IS members blew themselves up to avoid arrest and an Iraqi IS fighter was arrested, the outlet reported, citing an unnamed correspondent. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said that a Syrian man was arrested and that the SDF ordered people in the village to stay inside during the raid.”

Iraq

The Wall Street Journal: Islamic State Takes Fight To Iraqi Security Forces As Coalition’s Ties With Baghdad Fray

“Islamic State has stepped up attacks in Iraq, seeking to exploit cracks in Baghdad’s alliance with the U.S.-led coalition and new security challenges resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Among a spate of attacks over the past week, militants have knocked out around 1,000 megawatts of the electricity supply by shooting at power lines in Iraq’s eastern province of Diyala. The attack resulted in more power cuts in Baghdad and the northern city of Kirkuk. Last week, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside an intelligence directorate in Kirkuk, in a rare attack inside a city. And in the deadliest attack for months, militants in the central Salahuddin province over the weekend ambushed a group of tribal fighters before dawn, killing 10 members of the security forces in an escalating war of attrition. Though Islamic State remains severely weakened by a multiyear campaign, the attacks underline the growing threat posed by the group a year after U.S.-backed forces declared the end of its so-called caliphate. The increase in attacks, confirmed by Iraqi officials and the U.S.-led coalition, comes after the U.S. pulled back in both Iraq and Syria, creating gaps for Islamic State to exploit. The increase in Islamic State attacks comes after the U.S. pulled back in Iraq and Syria, creating gaps for the militant group to exploit.”

Turkey

Daily Sabah: 7 PKK Terrorists Killed In Anti-Terror Operations In Southeast Turkey, Northern Iraq

“Turkish security forces killed seven armed terrorists in the country's southeast and northern Iraq, the interior and defense ministries said Thursday. In southeastern Turkey, three terrorists were killed by the provincial gendarmerie special operations forces in an air-backed anti-terror operation in the countryside of Adıyaman province, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. The operation in the region is still underway, it added. Later in the day, one of the killed terrorists was identified as Mehmet Fatih Demir, code-named Mahsum, who was in the gray category of the Interior Ministry's most wanted list with a TL 500,000 bounty on his head. The Interior Ministry's most wanted list is divided into five color-coded categories, with red indicating the greatest threat to Turkey's national security, followed by blue, green, orange and gray. Though the statement did not mention a specific terrorist group, Turkey has long been conducting operations against the PKK in the region. Four other terrorists were killed in northern Iraq's Hakurk, Zap and Haftanin regions, the Defense Ministry said. Turkish security forces have been carrying out a series of successful counterterrorism operations in northern Iraq and Syria, targeting terrorists with Turkish-made armed and unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).”

Afghanistan

Associated Press: Afghan Official Says 2 Explosions Rock Kabul; No Injuries

“Two explosions, about an hour apart, struck different areas of the Afghan capital late on Thursday, an official said. There were no casualties but some damage to a power station was reported. The first explosion hit the power station in the north of Kabul while the second, from a roadside bomb, occurred in the east of the city, said Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian. A man carrying an AK-47 automatic rifle was arrested in the area of the power station, but it wasn’t immediately clear if he was involved in the attack, said Arian. The rocket hit the station's outer wall. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. Both the Taliban and the Islamic State group are active in Kabul and its surroundings and frequently strike military and civilian targets.”

Pakistan

The Diplomat: India Killed Kashmir’s Top Militant Commander. What Now?

“The anti-India militancy in Kashmir suffered a serious setback on Wednesday morning when Indian security forces killed Riyaz Naikoo in an encounter at Pulwama in south Kashmir. Naikoo, who had been the Hizbul Mujahideen’s operational commander in the Valley since 2017, was India’s most-wanted terrorist in Kashmir. Naikoo is credited with having saved the HM from collapse in 2017, when another HM commander, Zakir Musa, left the group to set up the Ansar-ul-Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH), al-Qaeda’s Kashmir affiliate. Naikoo is said to have prevented an exodus of fighters from the HM to the newly formed AGH. Not only was he successful in holding the HM together, but he is also said to have played an important role in preventing inter-group fighting in the Valley, Naikoo’s elimination is a major victory for India’s counterinsurgency forces. It has come at a critical time; over the past month, security forces have suffered a string of reverses in encounters with militants in the Kashmir Valley. On April 5, for instance, Indian security forces intercepted five militants of The Resistance Front (TRF) at Keran near the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border between Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir.”

Egypt

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Eyes Troop Drawdown In Egypt’s Restive Sinai

“Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is leading a push to withdraw troops from an international peacekeeping force the U.S. heads in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where Egyptian security forces are battling Islamic State militants on Israel’s doorstep, according to current and former U.S. officials. The plan, which officials say faces opposition from the State Department and Israel, could hobble the peacekeeping mission at a time when Islamic State’s insurgency in the area is flaring again. A series of deadly attacks have targeted Egyptian forces, including an improvised bomb that killed and injured 10 soldiers on April 30, according to the country’s military. The U.S. currently has over 400 troops stationed in the region as a part of the 13-country Multinational Force & Observers, which is helping to implement the American-brokered peace treaty signed by Israel and Egypt in 1979. The 1,100-person international force has two main bases in the Sinai, a heavily fortified post in the north, where troops are largely confined to base due to the insurgency, and another in the resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, a popular destination for foreign tourists.”

Al Monitor: Terrorists In Sinai Increase Attacks During Ramadan

“Attacks against the Egyptian army in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula often occur during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Egyptian army spokesman Col. Tamer al-Rifai said in a statement April 30 that an improvised explosive device (IED) targeted a military vehicle near the city of Bir al-Abd in northern Sinai, killing and wounding 10 soldiers, including one officer and one noncommissioned officer. Rifai noted that the Egyptian army’s operation against terrorist members in Sinai is ongoing, so as to preserve the country’s security and stability. The following day, on May 1, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. Rifai announced on the same day that the Egyptian army carried out a military raid on a small farm in northern Sinai, which resulted in the killing of two highly dangerous terrorists. The army found during the raid multiple weapons, a radio device and ammunition. Khaled Okasha, head of the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor over the phone that terrorist elements in Sinai have always chosen the month of Ramadan — more precisely the fasting time — to conduct terrorist attacks. Okasha explained that the terrorists attack when the soldiers and officers are fasting or are breaking the fast (iftar), since their alertness would be relatively low.”

Nigeria

The Brookings Institute: The Fundamental Connection Between Education And Boko Haram In Nigeria

“On April 2, as Nigeria’s megacity Lagos and its capital Abuja locked down to control the spread of the coronavirus, the country’s military announced a massive operation — joining forces with neighboring Chad and Niger — against the terrorist group Boko Haram and its offshoot, the Islamic State’s West Africa Province. This spring offensive was in response to a seven-hour attack by Boko Haram fighters that killed 98 Chadian soldiers in late March. Since then, the joint Nigeria-Chad-Niger military offensive has killed hundreds of Boko Haram militants. In the past few weeks, Nigeria’s economy has entered into a dangerous spiral due to plummeting oil prices and the economic costs of its lockdown — an existential threat to the country, some say. Meanwhile, the conflict in Nigeria’s Lake Chad region, the epicenter of Boko Haram, has intensified. Aside from its kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014, Boko Haram has not captured the world’s attention the way global jihadist groups have. This is perhaps because its focus is local to northern Nigeria. Yet Boko Haram overtook ISIS as the world’s deadliest terrorist group in 2015, and its violent insurgency, now more than 10 years old, has displaced more than two million and killed tens of thousands in the country.”

All Africa: Nigeria: Troops Kill 343 Terrorists, 153 Bandits In 47 Days

“The Defence Headquarters has said between March 18 and May 5, troops had neutralised over 343 Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists in the northeast theatre of operations. Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, Major-General John Enenche, disclosed this on Wednesday at a news conference in Abuja. He said several other terrorists suffered various degrees of gunshot wounds with narrow chances of survival; while several others, including their key leaders, were killed by air bombardments. Enenche said most of the Boko Haram's logistics installations and networks were being destroyed; and 16 of their informants and logistics suppliers, arrested within the period. Dear valued readers, subscribe to the Daily Trust e-paper to continue enjoying our diet of authoritative news. Kindly subscribe here According to him,"at the call of this duty, some of our troops paid the supreme prize and others were wounded in action. "Some villages that were attacked during the period were rescued by our gallant troops and normalcy returned to the affected areas. "A number of Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance missions were conducted, which revealed criminal hideouts and their activities.”

Europe

The National: Spanish Police Arrest Man In Barcelona Over ISIS Terror Plot

“The Guardia Civil force said it arrested the Moroccan man, described as deeply radicalised, on Friday after a joint investigation with security forces in Morocco and the United States. "The suspect intended to carry out a terrorist act, the details of which are unknown," police said in a statement on Friday. It comes just weeks after one of the UK's top ISIS suspects was apprehended in Spain. Abdel Majed Abdel Bary, 28, one of Europe’s most high-profile ISIS terrorists, had taken advantage of the Spanish lockdown to enter the country and was using a face mask to disguise himself, authorities said. Last week, Spanish police arrested a 48-year-old man in Madrid who was urging people to carry out attacks on behalf of ISIS and to attack the King of Spain. Terrorist organisations, mainly ISIS, have exploited the current health alert and urged their followers to carry out attacks in Europe, the Guardia Civil said. "For this reason, the Guardia Civil have developed specific research work initiatives with the aim of detecting threats associated with this circumstance and preventing these possible actions." Judicial agency Eurojust said the number of terrorist investigations has risen by 14 per cent over the last year. It said it dealt with 222 terrorism cases last year, compared with 191 in 2018. The Counter Extremism Project has also warned extremist groups are continuing to plot attacks.”