Eye on Extremism: November 12, 2020

The Washington Post: Several People Injured In Attack At Armistice Day Ceremony In Saudi City Of Jiddah, France Says

“Several people were injured Wednesday in an explosion at an Armistice Day commemoration in the Saudi Arabian port city of Jiddah, the French Foreign Ministry confirmed. The incident occurred at a non-Muslim cemetery, where foreign diplomats had gathered to mark the end of World War I at an annual event organized by the French Consulate. “This morning, at the Jiddah Cemetery, a ceremony commemorating the end of World War I was the target of an improvised explosive device attack,” the French Embassy in Saudia Arabia said in a statement. “The Embassies of France, Greece, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, which were associated with this commemoration, strongly condemn this cowardly attack.” Although details of the incident remain unclear, it follows a knife attack on a security guard at the French Consulate in Jiddah last month after France doubled down on defending caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, a stance that triggered protests and boycotts across the Muslim world. France has defended the caricatures and the principle of free expression after a teacher was beheaded in October in a Paris suburb for showing students those images. Three people were subsequently killed in a knife attack in a basilica in Nice. In an interview with Al Jazeera last month, President Emmanuel Macron sought to calm rising tensions between France and much of the Muslim world over the Muhammad caricatures.”

Reuters: EU To Tighten Rules On Online Extremism After Latest Attacks

“The EU plans to tighten its rules to combat online extremism, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday, ahead of a meeting this week between ministers under pressure to beef up security following deadly attacks in France and Austria. Suspected Islamist militants have killed eight people in less than a month in Paris, Nice and Vienna. The attacks refocused the bloc’s attention on the threat of extremism, which had slid from the top of the agenda in Europe following the 2017 defeat of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. French President Emmanuel Macron was due to discuss proposed new security measures with von der Leyen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel later on Tuesday. EU justice and interior ministers meet on Friday. Von der Leyen said a looming overhaul of EU rules for online platforms would include measures to combat extremist content. “Our values need to be protected online, as well as offline,” she said. “Take illegal hate speech and terrorist propaganda. In recent weeks we have seen once again how urgent this is.” Charles Michel, who chairs summits of EU leaders, has proposed setting up a special European institute to train imams.”

United States

Associated Press: Missouri Woman Gets Federal Prison In Terrorism Case

“A Missouri woman has been sentenced to four years in federal prison for participating in a conspiracy to help a former Missouri man who died in Syria while fighting for the Islamic State. Sedina Unkic Hodzic, 41, of St. Louis County, was sentenced Tuesday for conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and providing material support to terrorists, according to a news release from federal prosecutors. Hodzic and her husband, Ramiz Hodzic, sent money and supplies to Abdullah Ramo Pazara, prosecutors have said. Pazara lived in St. Louis County until 2013, when he went to Syria and became a commander for the Islamic State. He later died fighting for the group. Ramiz Hodzic was sentenced last year to eight years in prison. Several others also have been sentenced for their roles in the conspiracy.”

Milwaukee Independent: Rightwing Violence: White Supremacist Groups Found Behind Most Of This Year’s Domestic Terror Attacks

“White supremacists and other rightwing extremists have been responsible for 67% of domestic terror attacks and plots so far this year, with at least half of that violence targeting protesters, according to a new analysis from a centrist thinktank. The report found only a single deadly “far-left” attack in 2020, the shooting of Aaron Danielson, a rightwing activist, by a self-described “anti-fascist” during a protest in Portland this August. Experts on extremism said this was the first killing linked to an anti-fascist in the United States in 25 years. Violent rightwing actors were responsible for 41 politically motivated attacks and plots this year, while “far-left” actors were responsible for 12, according to analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), who have assembled a database of domestic terror attacks going back to 1994. The new data stands in stark contrast to claims by Donald Trump and justice department officials, who have responded to massive protests against police violence and racism by arguing that leftwing violence is a major threat, and that anti-fascist, or “antifa,” activists should be designated as a domestic terror group. Despite months of political unrest, a much smaller number of Americans have been killed in domestic terrorism incidents this year than in previous years, CSIS analysts found, in part because there has not yet been a politically motivated mass shooting.”


Voice Of America: Islamic State Regroups In Syrian Kurdish Region

“Cells affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) have been carrying out assassinations against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Deir ez-Zor, in eastern Syria. These cells have become widely active since the beginning of 2020 after their activities had subsided following the loss of their last stronghold, al-Baghouz, in eastern Deir ez-Zor in early 2019. IS’ operations have varied since losing ground in the face of the US-backed SDF. They started with attacking checkpoints and centers affiliated with the SDF and turned to assassinating SDF operatives or collaborators with the SDF and planting roadside bombs to target the SDF. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) had reported on Sept. 11 that 576 fighters, civilians, oil field workers and officials in service agencies have been assassinated since June 2018 within four governorates, namely Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa and Hasakah, in addition to the Manbij area, in the northeastern Aleppo governorate, all of which are under the control of the SDF. “Armed cells assassinated 201 civilians, including 15 children and 11 women, in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor, the countryside of Hasakah, Raqqa city and its countryside, and the Manbij area, in addition to the assassination of 371 SDF fighters, including local leaders in the same areas, while four members of the international coalition [against IS] were killed, not to mention the dozens of wounded as a result of these assassinations,” SOHR added.”

The Jerusalem Post: Hezbollah Presence In South Syria Much Larger Than Previously Revealed

“Hezbollah’s presence in southern Syria is much larger than previously revealed to the public, a new report by the Alma Research and Education Center has found, with some 58 sites where the terrorist group’s Southern Command and Golan Project have been deployed. The report, which is based on Syrian opposition websites and cross-referenced with actual locations of sites (some military) damaged by Israel, revealed 58 locations belonging to the group in the southern Syrian provinces of Quneitra and Dera’a. “In our estimation, the operational and intelligence infrastructure, which is widely deployed in southern Syria, constitutes a quality basis for Hezbollah’s ongoing activities in the sector, with an emphasis on intelligence gathering and operational planning,” the report read. Syrian troops recaptured southern Syria seven years after losing the area to rebel groups and returned to their positions along with Hezbollah operatives and Iranian-backed troops. Though the Israeli military revealed Hezbollah’s network on the Syrian Golan Heights last year, the deployment of the group’s forces was not completely known, with less than a dozen places known in the province of Quneitra.”


Reuters: Afghan Security Forces Kill Al Qaeda Leader, Accuse Taliban Of Harbouring Him

“Afghanistan’s intelligence agency said on Tuesday they had killed a senior regional Al Qaeda member in southwestern Afghanistan, accusing the insurgent Taliban of harbouring him. Under a deal with the United States, signed in February, the Taliban agreed to cut ties with international militant groups including Al Qaeda. Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security said in a statement they had killed the Al Qaeda leader during an operation in Afghanistan’s Farah province where he was “given a safe haven and protection” by the Taliban. The Taliban, in response to a request for comment, said they were investigating the issue. The United States is due to pull out its troops by May under a deal with the Taliban, subject to security guarantees while the insurgent group holds talks with the Afghan government in Doha to broker a peace deal. It was not immediately clear how an incoming U.S. administration led by President-elect Joe Biden would treat the deal, though most analysts expect the United States to continue to abide by the agreement. Washington has been trying to end more than 19 years of war since the United States invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban rulers, who had harboured al Qaeda militants who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.”


Reuters: Israeli Military Says It Downed Hezbollah Drone From Lebanon

“Israel’s military said on Tuesday that it had downed a drone belonging to the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah after it crossed into Israeli airspace from Lebanon. There was no imminent danger to nearby Israeli communities or Israeli troops, the military said in a statement.”


The Punch Nigeria: US Will Do Everything To Dislodge Terrorists From Nigeria, Says Pompeo

“United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, on Wednesday, says the US government will use all tools at its disposal in the fight against terrorist elements in Nigeria and West Africa. Pompeo made this known after the virtual meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS co-hosted by Nigeria on Tuesday. According to him, “great progress” was made at the meeting with the Federal Government of Nigeria. The US Secretary of State tweeted, “Great progress was made at yesterday’s virtual Global @Coalition to Defeat ISIS meeting on West Africa. We will use all tools at our disposal to counter ISIS and its affiliates anywhere in the world. My thanks to Nigeria for co-hosting the event.” At the meeting, the US and the 82-member global coalition it leads expressed full commitment to defeating ISIS and other terror groups including Boko Haram. The PUNCH had reported that the Commander, US Special Operations Command Africa, Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, in August this year, sounded the alarm that the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda terrorist groups were infiltrating northern Nigeria and parts of West Africa.”

Sahara Reporters: Nigerian Army Releases List Of 86 Most Wanted Terrorists

“The Nigerian Army has released a list of 86 persons wanted in connection with acts of terrorism. Those on the list are alleged to be members of the Boko Haram sect. Nigerian troops are fighting jihadist insurgency in the northeastern part of Nigeria. The latest release is the fourth to be issued by the military authorities, who have in the past equally rolled out lists of wanted terrorists. The list was launched by Tukur Buratai, Chief of Army Staff, alongside Babagana Zulum, governor of Borno State, at the Nigerian Army Super Camp, Chabbal in Konduga Local Government Area of Borno. Buratai said the two events were part of activities designed for the final push to end Boko Haram activities in the North-East region. The army chief said no “child CJTF” will participate in the operation, calling on the public to support the military in fishing out remnants of the insurgents. Prominent on the list is the leader of the Boko Haram sect, Abubakar Shekau, who has been declared dead on a few occasions in the past. Others are Abu Musa Al Barnawi, Modu Sulum, Malkam Umar, Bello Husba, Yan Kolo, Ibrahim Abu Maryam, Baka Kwasari, Bana Gonna, Mohammed Abu Maryam, Abu Imma, and Abu Dardda.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Manchester Arena Inquiry: 'Concerns' Over Terror Risk Assessments

“The head of security at Manchester Arena on the night of a terror attack there had raised concerns four months earlier that risk assessments for the venue were not “extensive enough”, an inquiry heard. Tom Rigby, who works for Showsec, also said he would not expect any of his team to have checked the mezzanine level where bomber Salman Abedi hid. Abedi had waited in a CCTV blind spot. Mr Rigby said it was “practice for a long time” not to check that area. Twenty-two people were killed and many more were injured as they left an Ariana Grande concert on 22 May 2017. The inquiry heard there had been an assessment of the risk that terrorism posed to members of Showsec security staff, but no counter terrorism risk assessment carried out in relation to the audience of an event. The court was shown an email Mr Rigby sent in January 2017 to a colleague at Showsec responsible for health and safety. Mr Rigby had said: “Maybe it's the new format but it doesn't look extensive enough to be correct.” His colleague replied six days later, simply saying: “All good, Tom.”

Keep The Faith: New Research To Protect Public From Violent Extremists

“The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) and Staffordshire University are joining forces on a ground-breaking research project which aims to shed new light on the intentions of violent extremists. The ‘Disguised compliance in terrorist offending’ project will provide frontline staff across UK security agencies with the best tools and approaches to assess the true intentions of people motivated to acts of violence by ideologies. The research finding will be valuable to those who interrogate suspects and gather intelligence. The project, led on behalf of CEP by international extremism expert Prof. Ian Acheson, will also seek to assess the risk of convicted terrorists who are reintegrated into the community after serving prison sentences. CEP’s Executive Director, David Ibsen, said: “I’m excited that we have been able to partner on this project. The Counter Extremism Project has been at the forefront of international research to protect citizens against terrorism but this project is the first of its kind in the UK. “The attacks in the UK last December and emerging news from Vienna just last week demonstrate the urgent need for the security agencies to have the best techniques to assess the credibility of extremists. They are faced with sophisticated offenders and have to make risk-based decisions every day which have massive implications for public safety.”


France 24: France Calls For 'Rapid And Coordinated' European Front Against Terrorism

“French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday urged a “rapid and coordinated” European response to terror attacks that have plagued the continent in recent years. Such a response should focus on “the development of common databases, the exchange of information or the strengthening of criminal policies,” he said after hosting a video conference with fellow EU leaders. The online summit came a week after a convicted Islamic State group supporter killed four people in a shooting rampage in the heart of Vienna, following hot on the heels of last month's attack on a church in the French city of Nice and the beheading of a teacher in a Paris suburb two weeks before that. Macron called the summit after the Austrian attack to seek an EU-wide response to Islamist attacks. It was attended by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, European Council chief Charles Michel and EU Commission head Ursula von der Leyen. The leaders discussed the need for a “determined fight against terrorist propaganda and hate speech on the internet,” Macron told an online briefing after the meeting. “The internet is a space of freedom, our social networks too, but this freedom exists only if there is security and if it is not the refuge of those who flout our values or seek to indoctrinate with deadly ideologies,” he said.”


Reuters: Germany's Merkel Urges European Border Reform After Terrorist Attacks

“German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was urgently necessary for Europe to reform the open-border Schengen area in light of recent terrorist attacks. “I want to mention the entry-exit system in the Schengen area, which should be ready in 2022,” she said after a meeting with other European leaders on Tuesday. “It is vitally necessary to know who comes in and who leaves the Schengen area.”


The New York Times: Austria’s Leader Seeks Crackdown On Islamist Terrorism After Attack

“Austria would allow courts to extend the sentences of convicted terrorists and it would establish a new criminal offense for people who “create the breeding ground” for terrorism, as part of a package of legislative proposals announced a week after an Islamic State sympathizer killed four people in Vienna. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced the tough new proposals on Wednesday after meeting with his cabinet in the Austrian capital, Vienna, a day after he held talks with President Emmanuel Macron of France and other European Union leaders to coordinate efforts across the bloc to crack down on Islamist terrorism. “We will do everything to protect the population,” Mr. Kurz said. The legislative package will be put before Parliament for approval before the end of the year. France and Austria have both been attacked recently: Last week in Vienna, a 20-year-old previously sentenced to prison for trying to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State fatally shot four people. In France last month, a Tunisian man fatally stabbed three people in Nice, and an 18-year-old Chechen refugee beheaded a teacher in the Paris suburbs. Unlike Mr. Macron, whose government launched a broad crackdown in response to the attacks, leading to widespread hostility against France in the Muslim world, Mr. Kurz, a conservative, had initially responded with conciliatory words that sought to defuse tensions.”

Reuters: Austria Proposes Indefinite Detention For Those Posing Terrorist Threat

“Austria plans to make it possible for courts to imprison those convicted of terrorism-related offences for as long as they are deemed a threat, the government said on Wednesday. The move follows a shooting rampage in Vienna last week in which a convicted jihadist who had been released early from prison killed four people and was shot dead by police. The 20-year-old gunman had been sentenced to 22 months for trying to join Islamic State in Syria. Austria has admitted to an intelligence failure in the run-up to the attack. “If a mentally abnormal criminal can be locked up for life because he is a threat, then a terrorist who poses a threat can be locked up for life,” conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a news conference on a package of planned anti-terrorism measures. Kurz said that could become an option for courts when sentencing those convicted of jihadist crimes. For those who have already served their sentence, Austria would plan more systematic monitoring through electronic tagging. Last week’s attack was the first such deadly militant assault in a generation in the small, neutral country. Proportionally, Austria has a relatively large number of people who have joined Islamic State in Syria or Iraq or sought to.”


The Guardian: Sydney Man Who Planned Terrorist Act Jailed For 12 Years After Being Carried Into Court

“A New South Wales man who has been jailed for at least 12 years for planning a terrorist attack has been warned he may still be detained after his sentence is served. The 20-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was carried into the NSW supreme court by three corrective services officers before he was sentenced by justice Geoffrey Bellew on Wednesday. The man, who had previously shown “bizarre behaviour” before the court including refusing to answer questions when cross-examined and lying under a table, continued to do so during his sentencing. After yelling that he “did not want to be here” he mumbled and prayed throughout the proceedings before yelling at the end that it was “Islamophobic”. In custody, he went on a hunger strike and refused to comply with the rules of the youth justice centre where he was being held, with more than 100 misbehaviour reports against him including assaulting staff. Bellew said the offending by the man, who was 16 at the time, was “not spontaneous, it was planned”. He was satisfied that the man and his associate were planning to perform a terrorist attack on innocent members of the public imminently before they were arrested. In 2015, he visited Egypt with his family, where he travelled alone to the town of El-Arish, which at the time had been subject to terrorist attacks.”


The Guardian: Man Who Killed 10 In Toronto Van Attack Pleads Not Guilty

“A Canadian man who killed 10 people when he drove a van on to a crowded Toronto sidewalk has pleaded not guilty and his lawyer said he will argue he is not criminally responsible because of his state of mind at the time. Alek Minassian, 28, faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder over the April 2018 attack, the worst mass murder in the city’s history. Because he has admitted to the killings, the judge-only trial will instead focus on Minassian’s state of mind at the time of the attack. “I am entering a plea of not criminally responsible for all of the counts,” Minassian said via a Zoom call on Tuesday. Minassian’s lawyer, Boris Bytensky, said he will argue his client was not criminally responsible due to a mental illness. Both the Crown and defence teams are expected to rely heavily on the testimony of medical and mental health experts. “On a warm spring afternoon on 23 April 2018, numerous pedestrians were out along Yonge enjoying the sunshine when their worlds were shattered by the actions of Mr Minassian,” the prosecution lawyer Joe Callaghan said. Reading a statement of facts that both sides agreed on, Callaghan said Minassian drove “straight at people”. “The only issue at this trial is the criminal responsibility,” Callaghan said.”


Foreign Policy: Jihadist Networks Dig In On Social Media Across Central Asia

“Central Asia was long a digital backwater. Over the past decade, however, the region’s five republics—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—underwent a rapid digital transformation. High-speed fiber connections, mobile phones, and social media are widespread, while online services and tech hubs are proliferating. Yet the internet, as always, is a double-edged sword: As more Central Asians get online, they are being exposed to sophisticated extremist content in their native languages—and facing serious risks of radicalization. Global jihadist movements have established a foothold in the region. Terrorist cells with links to Central Asia were purportedly behind attacks in New York and St. Petersburg in 2017, Stockholm in 2018, and Istanbul in 2019. Central Asian governments have struggled to contain organized terrorist activities, especially after several thousand battle-tested foreign fighters returned from campaigns in war-torn Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Part of the reason they are so hard to control is because many Central Asian extremists have migrated online. Central Asia’s new generation of digital extremists are working on fertile soil. They can target huge youthful populations facing a dismal future with dim educational opportunities, limited job prospects, and little social mobility.”