Eye on Extremism: November 10, 2020

Reuters: Spain To Start Trial Of Suspects Linked To Deadly 2017 Van Attack

“Spain’s High Court will on Tuesday open the trial of three suspected Islamist militants linked to a 2017 attack in Barcelona which killed 14 people - Spain’s deadliest in over a decade. A single attacker drove a rented van into crowds on Barcelona’s central La Rambla boulevard, causing 14 deaths and injuring over a hundred people. Another man was killed during the attacker’s getaway. On the eve of the attack, an accidental explosion destroyed a house in Alcanar, southwest of Barcelona, where explosives and gas canisters had been stored. The blast killed the group’s suspected leader, an imam. Two of the accused, a Spaniard and a Moroccan, face charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation, manufacturing and storing explosives, and attempting to cause widespread destruction, which are all related to the Alcanar blast but not directly to the Barcelona attack, according to court documents. Prosecutors are seeking jail terms of 41 and 36 years for the two and eight years for another Moroccan national who is accused of being an accomplice. They have been in prison pending trial since their arrests in 2017 in connection with the blast. Eulogio Paz, head of one of the victims’ associations acting as a civil party in the trial, said on Friday his group was “going to fight for a murder charge and sentence for the accused ... regardless of whether they were closer or further away from the van” used in Barcelona.”

BBC News: Militant Islamists 'Behead More Than 50' In Mozambique

“More than 50 people have been beheaded in northern Mozambique by militant Islamists, state media report. The militants turned a football pitch in a village into an “execution ground”, where they decapitated and chopped bodies, other reports said. Several people were also beheaded in another village, state media reported. The beheadings are the latest in a series of gruesome attacks that the militants have carried out in gas-rich Cabo Delgado province since 2017. Up to 2,000 people have been killed and about 430,000 have been left homeless in the conflict in the mainly-Muslim province. The militants are linked to the Islamic State (IS) group, giving it a foothold in southern Africa. The group has exploited poverty and unemployment to recruit youth in their fight to establish Islamic rule in the area. Many locals complain that they have benefited little from the province's ruby and gas industries. The BBC's Jose Tembe reports from the capital, Maputo, that the latest attack was probably the worst carried out by the militants. Many people are shocked, and they are calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, he adds. The gunmen chanted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”, in English), fired shots, and set homes alight when they raided Nanjaba village on Friday night, the state-owned Mozambique News Agency quoted survivors as saying.”

United States

Associated Press: Prosecutors: Man’s Hatred Was Behind Minnesota Mosque Attack

“The leader of an anti-government group in Illinois and alleged mastermind behind a 2017 attack on a Minnesota mosque was acting on his hatred of Muslims when he came up with a plan to pipe bomb the building during morning prayers, prosecutors said Monday. But defense attorneys for Michael Hari, 49, said during opening statements in his trial that there is no forensic evidence showing Hari was even at the mosque during the early morning bombing, which didn’t cause any injuries but frightened community members. “This case is about hatred. It’s about prejudice,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison Ethen said. “It’s about how Michael Hari used his hatred to justify physical violence against his victims.” Hari has pleaded not guilty to multiple civil rights and hate crimes, including damaging property because of its religious character, forcibly obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs, conspiracy to commit felonies with fire and explosives, using a destructive device in a crime of violence, and possessing an unregistered destructive device. Several men were gathered at Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center for early morning prayers on Aug. 5, 2017, when a pipe bomb was thrown through the window of an imam’s office.”

The Indianapolis Star: Former Elkhart Woman Sentenced To 6 1/2 Years For Smuggling Cash And Gold For ISIS

“A former Indiana woman and widow of an Islamic State fighter has been sentenced to more than six years in prison for providing support to ISIS, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday. Samantha Marie Elhassani, 35, formerly of Elkhart, was sentenced in the Northern District of Indiana to 78 months in prison and three years of supervised release after pleading guilty last year to one count of financing terrorism. Elhassani, also known as Samantha Sally, was originally charged in August 2018 with conspiracy to provide material support to ISIS, stemming from criminal activity conducted between fall 2014 and summer 2015. She also was charged with aiding and abetting individuals in providing material support to ISIS. According to court documents, Elhassani helped her husband and his brother join ISIS by transporting more than $30,000 in cash and gold from the United States, depositing it in a safe deposit box in Hong Kong. Officials said Elhassani melted down the gold to look like jewelry and did not disclose the cash and gold on customs declaration forms. At the time Elhassani transported the money and gold, she knew that her husband and brother-in-law had expressed an interested in joining ISIS and that they intended to use these resources to support ISIS.”

NBC Los Angeles: Brother Of Terrorist Who Committed Mass Murder To Be Sentenced Monday

“The older brother of an Islamic terrorist who teamed with his wife to murder more than a dozen people at a Christmas party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino is slated to be sentenced Monday for his part in arranging a fraudulent marriage. Syed Raheel Farook, 34, pleaded guilty in January 2017 to conspiracy to commit immigration fraud in connection with a sham marriage involving his wife's sister. The U.S. Probation & Parole Office is recommending a sentence of five months in federal prison and two years of supervised release. Farook's attorneys are requesting that U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal waive prison time. “He is truly embarrassed by his participation in the marriage fraud scheme,'' according to a defense brief. “He is ashamed of the criminal conduct that will forever tarnish him.'' The brief points to Farook's six-year service in the U.S. Navy, work as a tax specialist with the California Board of Equalization and procurement of an advanced degree in business as indicators of his positive contributions to society. The defense also says that he was a victim of sexual abuse while his family resided in Pakistan in his formative years, causing mental health issues, and that he suffers from depression, for which he is receiving treatment from a psychiatrist, potential mitigating factors.”

Iraq

Asharq Al-Awsat: Iraqi Army, Int’l Coalition Launch Anti-Isis Operation

“The Iraqi army, backed by the international coalition air force, launched a major offensive to pursue ISIS militants in Makhoul Mountains, ISIS's most dangerous hideout in the northern regions. The Deputy Commander of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Abdul Amir al-Shammari, said in a statement Sunday, that the operation was launched following directives of Prime Minister and Commander in chief, Mustafa al-Kadhimi. Shammari stated that the wide-range offensive will cover Khanuka and Makhoul mountain ranges and will continue for several days. He named the units participating in the operation, including the 9th division of the army, the Special Forces Command, Nineveh Operations Command, the leadership of the Federal Police forces, rapid response brigade, units of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), and units of the Counter-Terrorism Service, with the support of the army and international coalition air forces. For his part, the Joint Operations Command spokesman Tahsin al-Khafaji confirmed that the operation was launched, indicating that the Iraqi forces “pursued a new tactic.” The Security Media Cell announced that the operation achieved its first objectives, uncovering 14 explosive devices, two tunnels, a missile platform, and various kinds of weapons and missiles.”

Afghanistan

Associated Press: Official: Suicide Car Bomber Kills 4 People In Afghanistan

“A suicide car bomber in Afghanistan killed at least four people and wounded 40 in an attack on a police base in the country's southern Kandahar province, a provincial official said Monday. Paramedics still searched the rubble of homes destroyed by the blast hours after the attack late Sunday night in the province's Maiwand district, said Mohammad Ashraf Nadery, the provincial director of Kandahar's public health department. He said those wounded included both soldiers and civilians. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though suspicion immediately fell on the Taliban. Kandahar long has been a stronghold for the militants since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks masterminded by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, whom the Taliban hosted at the time. Violence has soared in Afghanistan in recent months, even as the Taliban and government negotiators hold peace talks in Qatar. The two sides have made little progress and attacks continue despite warnings from the U.S. that continued violence could derail the talks. Under a February agreement signed with the U.S., the Taliban have committed to fighting militancy and those who threaten the U.S. in Afghanistan, specifically the Islamic State group and al-Qaida.”

Lebanon

Reuters: U.S. Envoy: Lebanon's Bassil Was Open To Breaking Ties With Hezbollah

“The U.S. envoy to Lebanon said on Monday that Lebanese Christian politician Gebran Bassil, who has been sanctioned by the United States, had voiced willingness to sever ties with Hezbollah, challenging his assertion that he rejected the idea outright. Washington on Friday blacklisted Bassil, son-in-law of Lebanon’s president and leader of its biggest Christian bloc, over charges of corruption and ties with the Iran-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah, which Washington deems a terrorist group. Bassil slammed the sanctions as unjust and politically motivated, saying they were imposed after he refused to submit to a U.S. demand to break ties with Hezbollah as that would risk Lebanon’s national unity and peace. U.S. Ambassador Dorothy Shea said in a video aired by local broadcasters that Bassil, in exchanges with her, had “expressed willingness to break with Hezbollah, on certain conditions. “He actually expressed gratitude that the United States had gotten him to see how the relationship is disadvantageous to the party,” said Shea, without elaborating on the conditions. Bassil’s office issued a statement saying Shea’s comments aimed to “drive a wedge” between his Free Patriotic Movement party and Hezbollah, but that the attempt would not work.”

Middle East

The Jerusalem Post: Minors Arrested For Planning Terror Attacks In The West Bank For Hamas

“Hamas has been recruiting minors in the West Bank to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens and soldiers, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said Monday. Two Palestinian minors, including a 16-year-old, were arrested by the Shin Bet last month. During their investigation, it was found that they had been recruited by Hamas over the Internet to carry out terrorist attacks, the Shin Bet said in a press release.  Their contact with Hamas in the Gaza Strip took place “frequently and over several months” on various social-networking sites, the Shin Bet said, adding that they were recruited by Bilal Kardi from Hamas’s cyber unit. The two minors were expecting to receive weapons, ammunition, uniforms and money to carry out shooting attacks and kidnappings in the West Bank for Hamas. They tried unsuccessfully to manufacture pipe bombs, the Shin Bet said.  They were asked to carry out various tasks for the group, such as collecting information on settlements, including photographing Bat Ayin and Kfar Etzion, and providing maps and gathering points of soldiers in the area. In return for their attacks, Hamas promised that they would be paid and that it would take responsibility for their actions. They were indicted in the Juvenile Military Court earlier this month.”

Nigeria

Daily Trust: Nigeria: 6 Nigerians Convicted In UAE Over 'Boko Haram Funding'

“Six Nigerians have been convicted by an Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over alleged funding of Boko Haram, investigations by Daily Trust reveals. Two of the convicts, Surajo Abubakar Muhammad and Saleh Yusuf Adamu were sentenced to life imprisonment while the remaining four, Ibrahim Ali Alhassan, AbdurRahman Ado Musa, Bashir Ali Yusuf and Muhammad Ibrahim Isa were handed ten-year imprisonment respectively. The convicts, according to a court judgment exclusively obtained by Daily Trust were tried and convicted in 2019. The court judgment also showed that between 2015 and 2016, the convicts were involved in different cash transfers allegedly in favour of Boko Haram to the tune of USD782, 000.00 even as those close to them said the transactions were for legitimate purposes. Our correspondents report that for the past 11 years, the issue of Boko Haram funding had remained mysterious and different theories advanced by prominent personalities and groups. This was probably the first time certain individuals were identified albeit outside the shores of Nigeria. A senior government official confirmed that they were aware of the case.”

Vanguard: Nigeria: Boko Haram Launches Fresh Attack In Gwoza Town - Residents

“Fleeing residents of Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno state have revealed that armed Boko Haram sect have on Sunday night launched an attack on the town with fear of severe casualties. Gwoza is one of the Council areas declared as Boko Haram caliphate until it was liberated. The incident according to sources started at about 10pm with heavy sounds of gunshots and explosions from the side of the terrorists and security operatives.”

Africa

Agence France-Presse: ADF Militia Kill More Than A Dozen In Attacks Near DR Congo’s Beni

“More than a dozen people have been killed in two attacks near Beni in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo that were blamed on the Islamist ADF group, local sources said Sunday. Late Saturday, an initial assault killed seven people, territorial administrator Donat Kibwana told an AFP correspondent, adding that “the attack took place at 11 pm and it was the ADF,” which originated in the 1990s as a Ugandan Muslim rebel group. Kibwana said the toll was still provisional and that the attack occurred at a town called Kisima. A second assault took place early Sunday near Oicha, which is in the same region as Beni, where the local authority and other sources said six people had died. The ADF is one of more than 100 militias that plague the eastern provinces of the vast DR Congo. The group has killed more than 640 civilians since the army launched a crackdown on it last November, according to an unofficial count. The ADF has never claimed responsibility for attacks. But since April 2019, several of its assaults have been claimed by the so-called Islamic State’s Central Africa Province, which has sometimes made factual errors in its statements. A total of 2,127 people have died in eastern DRC since President Felix Tshisekedi‘s inauguration in January 2019, according to an estimate in late October by experts at the Kivu Security Tracker (KST).”

France

France 24: Macron To Host Austria's Kurz Ahead Of EU Talks On Terror Response

“French President Emmanuel Macron will host the Austrian chancellor for talks on Tuesday before a video summit with other EU leaders to discuss a joint response to recent terrorist attacks carried out by radical Islamists. Macron and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz will be joined in a phone call by the leaders of Germany and the European Commission among others, the French presidency said. The meeting comes a week after a gunman killed four people in a shooting rampage in the heart of Vienna, an attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group. The bloodshed in the Austrian capital followed last month's attack on a church in Nice and the beheading of a teacher near Paris. Some of the participants in Tuesday's video call will take questions during an online news conference afterwards, Macron's office said. Last week, the French president called for a rethink of Europe's open-border Schengen area, including a more robust protection of the zone's external frontiers.”

Europe

Reuters: Austria Stopped Trailing Vienna Attacker In Summer, Report Says

“Austrian authorities watched a meeting in Vienna this summer between foreign Islamists and the jihadist who killed four people last week, and trailed him for days but then stopped, news agency APA reported on Monday. Austria has acknowledged that “intolerable mistakes were made” in the handling of intelligence on the attacker, a convicted jihadist, who killed four people in a shooting rampage in the centre of Vienna last Monday. He was shot dead by police. First Vienna said it had mishandled information from Slovakia that the gunman had tried to buy ammunition there in July. Then it admitted he had met people from Germany who were under observation there and who travelled to Austria, and that could have led it to see him as a greater threat. On Monday it confirmed a report by Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag that he had also met two Islamists arrested in Switzerland in connection with the attack who had travelled to Vienna between July 16 and July 20. “A meeting took place in Vienna among the people (you) addressed from Germany and Switzerland but there were also people present at the meeting with the later assailant who were arrested in the context of the investigation,” Director General for Public Security Franz Ruf told a news conference when asked about the reported July meeting.”

Associated Press: Austrian Authorities Raid Suspected Islamic Radicals

“Investigators in several Austrian regions carried out raids early Monday on people and organizations suspected of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas groups, prosecutors said. Authorities said there was no link between Monday’s action against suspected Islamic radicals and the attack in Vienna a week ago in which an assailant — described by officials as a supporter of the Islamic State group — fatally shot four people before being shot and killed by police. But the shooting has strengthened calls in Austria for a crackdown on Islamic extremism. Prosecutors in Graz said more than 70 people are under investigation in the new case and 60 properties, including apartments and offices, were searched, the Austria Press Agency reported. Thirty people were taken in for questioning. Prosecutors said they are looking into suspicions of terror financing, criminal organization and money laundering among other offenses. They said the raids resulted from more than a year of investigations. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, speaking later Monday after a meeting with European Union leader Charles Michel, said his country wants a coordinated, Europe-wide effort to tackle Islamic extremism in the wake of last week’s attack.”

Southeast Asia

The Jakarta Post: Dozens Of Suspected Terrorists Nabbed Amid Escalating Spread Of Propaganda During Pandemic

“The National Police’s counterterrorism squad, Densus 88, has arrested dozens of people across Indonesia in recent months amid concerns about intensifying terrorist propaganda during the coronavirus pandemic. Densus 88 recently apprehended six terrorism suspects believed to be affiliated with various terrorist groups, including Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), Adira and Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), in separate raids in Lampung, West Sumatra and Riau Islands. “The Densus 88 antiterror team made a preventive move on Friday and Saturday and arrested several [members] of the terrorist groups,” National Police spokesperson Brig. Gen. Awi Setiyono said in a statement on Sunday. The suspects arrested in Lampung were identified as SA, 35, a welding workshop owner; RK, 34, a private-sector employee; as well as S, 45, and I, 44, both traders. Meanwhile, AD, a 39-year-old driver, was arrested in West Sumatra, and MA, a self-employed 34-year old, was nabbed in Batam, Riau Islands. Riau Islands Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Harry Goldenhardt told The Jakarta Post on Monday that MA had been arrested at the entrance to a residential area in Kabil, Batam, far from his place of residence. It was the second arrest on terrorism charges in Batam this year following that of a 16-year-old JAD member on May 20.”

Technology

Morning Consult: We’ve Tracked Extremist Content On Facebook For Years: It Doesn’t Get Removed For Long

“As Facebook bends to mounting pressure to stem the spread of domestic extremist content and conspiracy theories, declaring an expansion of hate-speech policies and shutting down recruiting efforts by militia groups, it’s pertinent to look at Facebook’s track record for responding to foreign extremism on its platforms. The Alliance to Counter Crime Online and the Counter Extremism Project have spent years tracking for how violent groups ranging from Mexican cartels to ISIS utilize Facebook. Our organizations have jointly concluded that the world’s largest social media company has neither the capacity nor the will to comprehensively remove violent extremist content and misinformation, despite the fiduciary risks this brings. An excellent example is the designated terror group Hezbollah, which has used Facebook to broadcast propaganda, recruit for attacks, report on the activities of its leadership and even shill for money. Facebook has enabled Hezbollah to cheaply and instantaneously reach a global audience, addressing local, national and international issues in real time. Some analysts even suggest Hezbollah’s influence in the Levant and beyond depends a great deal on the party’s sophisticated use of social media to conduct grassroots advocacy."