Eye on Extremism: November 19, 2020

Associated Press: Iraqi Official Says Combat Operations Against ISIS By US-Led Coalition Ending After Troop Drawdown

“Iraq’s foreign minister Wednesday condemned a rocket attack in the capital a day earlier, calling it a “terrorist act,” and said combat operations by the U.S.-led coalition will cease once troop withdrawals take place in the coming weeks. Fuad Hussein’s comments came hours after seven rockets struck Baghdad, four of them exploding inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government and home to the U.S. Embassy. The rockets, which killed a child and wounded five other civilians, indicated an end to an informal truce announced by Iran-backed militias in October to halt attacks targeting the U.S. presence in Iraq. One rocket landed just 600 meters (2,000 feet) from the U.S. Embassy compound, Iraqi security officials said. U.S. troops invaded Iraq in 2003 and left in 2011 but returned in 2014 after the Islamic State group overran large parts of Iraq. Frequent attacks targeting the U.S. Embassy and vehicles transporting equipment for U.S. troops have led Washington to threaten to close its Baghdad diplomatic mission. Hussein called the attack against the Green Zone “blatant, criminal and terrorist” in comments to reporters following a meeting with the U.S. ambassador and U.S. military leaders.”

Shabelle Media Natwork: Somalia: U.S. Blacklists Al-Shabaab Unit Leader After Deadly Kenya Attack

“The United States on Tuesday put on its terror blacklist the leader of an elite unit of Al-Shabaab blamed for a January attack in Kenya that killed three Americans. The State Department said that it was listing Maalim Ayman, leader of the Al-Shabaab squad Jaysh Ayman, as well as Abdullahi Osman Mohamed, who manages both explosives and media for the Al-Qaeda-linked movement as a whole, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Authorities say the Jaysh Ayman unit carried out the January attack on Camp Simba on Kenya's northern coast, killing three American personnel and destroying several aircraft.A 2018 study by the Jamestown Foundation described Jaysh Ayman as the Somali-based Al-Shabaab's effort to create a well-equipped “local” unit inside Kenya. Kenya has suffered a series of devastating attacks since it sent troops into Somalia in 2011 as part of an African Union mission that chased Al-Shabaab out of the capital Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab -- designated by Washington as a terrorist movement in 2008 -- was suspected in another suicide attack Tuesday at a Mogadishu restaurant that killed at last five people. Nathan Sales, the State Department counterterrorism coordinator, said that the United States was working with Kenya, Somalia, and other nations to apply “all instruments of national power” against Al-Shabaab.”

United States

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Pa. Husband And Wife Plead Guilty To Helping Relatives Who Joined ISIS

“A Pennsylvania husband and wife originally from Bangladesh pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in Philadelphia to providing support to family members who joined ISIS, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. Shahidul Gaffar, 40, a naturalized U.S. citizen, and his wife, Nabila Khan, 35, a legal permanent resident, pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization. The maximum sentences for both would be five years in prison, $250,000 fines, and three years of supervised release. Court documents show that Gaffar and Khan were listed as not in custody when they appeared in court to make their pleas. Prosecutors identified Gaffar and Khan as Pennsylvania residents but did not say specifically where they were living. The financial support, amounting to several thousand dollars, according to the newly unsealed information, aided two of Khan’s brothers, identified only by the initials JK and IK. Both men moved to Syria to join ISIS fighters. IK was killed in fighting last year, prosecutors said. The conspiracy dates to 2015 and also involves Khan’s mother, identified as YPK, who lived in Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia during the conspiracy, and Khan’s twin sister, NK, who lived in Bangladesh, prosecutors said.”

Syria

Agence France-Presse: Daesh Kills 11 Pro-Regime Fighters In Syria Clashes: Monitor

“Clashes in the Syrian desert between Russia-backed Syrian government forces and Daesh (Islamic State group) militants killed 11 regime loyalists Wednesday, a Britain-based pro-opposition war monitor said. Mobile Daesh units have remained active in the Badia desert since the jihadists lost the last shred of their self-proclaimed caliphate in March last year. A group of Daesh militants on Wednesday ambushed a Syrian regime convoy deployed to the desert to sweep it for hideouts, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The subsequent clashes killed at least 11 regime and pro-government fighters, including a Syrian army general, the monitor added. At least 17 other pro-government forces were wounded in the fighting some 70 kilometres (40 miles) southwest of the town of Al-Mayadeen. Intermittent fighting, mostly in the Badia, has killed more than 980 regime fighters and 140 allied Iran-backed combatants since March 2019, as well as more than 530 IS jihadists, the Observatory said. IS overran large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014, declaring a proto-state there, before military campaigns in both countries led to its territorial defeat.”

Iran

WTOP: The Hunt: Death Of Top Al Qaida Commander In Tehran Was Covered Up

“Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, the second in command of the terror group Al Qaida, was assassinated recently in Iran.On this week’s episode of “The Hunt with WTOP NSC JJ Green,” Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior director of the Counter Extremism Project, explains what happened.”

Afghanistan

France 24: Taliban Hails US Troop Drawdown From Afghanistan As 'Good Step'

“The Taliban on Wednesday welcomed the Pentagon's announcement it would soon pull about 2,000 US troops from Afghanistan as a “good step” that will help end the country's long-running conflict. The Pentagon announced Tuesday that the US will slash troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq to their lowest levels in nearly 20 years of war after President Donald Trump pledged to end conflicts abroad. “It is a good step and in the interest of the people of both countries,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP, referring to the US and Afghanistan. “The sooner the foreign forces leave, the more the war will be prevented.” Critics have expressed concerns that a precipitous departure could embolden the Taliban and erode gains made since 2001, when US-led forces ousted the hardline Islamists in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The latest Pentagon move would see 2,000 US troops quit Afghanistan by January 15, less than a week before President-elect Joe Biden is expected to be sworn into office. The withdrawal follows outgoing President Donald Trump's plan to end US military involvement in Afghanistan. Under a deal signed February 29, the Trump administration agreed to pull all foreign forces from the country by May 2021.”

Yemen

Al Monitor: Aid Groups In Yemen Say Houthi Terror Designation Would Deepen Crisis

“Should the Trump administration formally designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization, aid groups say it would greatly undermine their ability to deliver life-saving assistance to millions of civilians and worsen what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. In an effort to financially squeeze the Houthi group and pressure its regional backer, Iran, the State Department is considering naming the entire Houthi movement a foreign terrorist organization, as reported by Foreign Policy earlier this week. Saudi Arabia has lobbied hard for the terrorism designation, which would criminalize material support for the Houthis, trigger an asset freeze and impose a travel ban to the United States. The Trump administration might instead designate individual Houthi leaders as specially designated global terrorists, said a source familiar with the matter, in a mostly symbolic action that carries similar financial sanctions. The Iran-aligned group has waged a nearly six-year war in Yemen against a Saudi-led military coalition that intervened in early 2015 to restore the internationally recognized government. The fighting killed more than 100,000 people, devastated Yemen’s health infrastructure and pushed the impoverished country to the brink of famine.”

Foreign Policy: U.N. Pulling Americans From Northern Yemen Ahead Of Houthi Terrorist Designation

“American staffers for the United Nations and some workers at nongovernmental organizations have been relocated out of northern Yemen in anticipation of the Trump administration’s possible terrorist designation for the Iran-backed Houthi rebels that is likely to complicate aid deliveries and further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country. Officials familiar with the decision said that more than a dozen Americans working for the U.N. and international relief agencies in Yemen have been transferred temporarily out of Houthi-controlled territory in Sanaa. It remained unclear whether they have been redeployed to southern Yemen or to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, or when they might return. Depending on conditions in the country, the staff could return to regular rotations after a short leave. On Monday night, the U.N. sent an urgent WhatsApp message to relief agencies warning it was “most likely the designation of AA [Ansar Allah] as a terrorist organization will take place tonight by US Gov. UN are encouraging all US citizens to leave the North of Yemen as the implications are unknown.”

Middle East

France 24: Al Qaeda Deputy Leader Killed: Breaking Down The Mystery Surrounding His Reported Death

“Last week, The New York Times reported that Israeli agents, at the behest of the US, had assassinated al Qaeda's number two on the streets of Tehran. Abu Muhammad al-Masri was gunned down along with his daughter, Miriam. She was also reportedly a target, as she was being groomed for a leadership role in al Qaeda. Iran has vehemently denied these reports. To shed some light on this story, we talk to Ronen Bergman. He's one of the writers of the piece and also the author of “Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations”. Meanwhile, Lebanon has entered its second lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. This comes as the country reports more than 100,000 cases. Officials hope the latest restrictions will give the health sector time to avoid a collapse. But many fear the economic impact, especially struggling local businesses. Our correspondent Linda Tamim reports. And in Israel, a small stream is stoking ethnic divisions between Jews. Part of the stream crosses a kibbutz, a collective community in Israel which was built by European Jews more than six decades ago. Now, residents of the neighbouring town – mostly Arab and North African Jews – want the right to swim there, but the kibbutz won't agree.”

Nigeria

Fox News: Nigeria’s Christians Become Target Of Genocide As International Community Remains Silent: Advocates

“The religious persecution of Christians in Nigeria is teetering on genocide, religious leaders and foreign policy analysts caution in a desperate bid for the international community to take urgent action. The Rev. Johnnie Moore, co-author of the new book “The Next Jihad: Stop the Christian Genocide in Africa,” told Fox News that Christian communities have been decimated by terrorists in parts of Nigeria – and most of the persecution happening in the shadows. “Thousands of churches have been torched, children massacred, pastors beheaded, and homes and fields set ablaze by the tens of thousands, with people being targeted for their Christian faith alone,” he said. Earlier this year – just weeks before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic – Christian Solidarity International (CSI) warned of a possible genocide unfolding in the West Africa country of 206 million people. The warning underscored that “the conditions for genocide exist in Nigeria, with Christians, non-violent Muslims, and adherents of tribal religions being particularly vulnerable,” and called on the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to take heed. But the cry fell on deaf ears, and as the pandemic has gripped the already fragile state, the level of persecution is documented to be getting worse.”

Somalia

The New York Times: Somalia Worries That A U.S. Withdrawal Will Be Disastrous

“The American-trained Somali commando force Danab is usually deployed to counter the Qaeda-linked group Al Shabab: liberating areas it controls, ending its attacks on government offices and beachside restaurants, and targeting senior Shabab operatives. But with President Trump expected to withdraw American troops from Somalia, the highly specialized Somali force will be left in limbo, jeopardizing whatever security gains it helped achieve in recent years, officials and observers said. The U.S. military presence has been heavily focused on training, equipping and supporting the elite 850-soldier Somali unit. “The United States troops and the Danab unit they have trained are the ones who have taken a critical lead in disrupting terrorism activities,” said Hussein Sheikh-Ali, chairman of the Hiraal Institute research group and a former national security adviser to the Somali president. “If the mentor leaves, the unit might just literally collapse.” Following the Pentagon’s formal announcement on Tuesday that the United States will reduce its military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller, a former Green Beret and top counterterrorism official, is also expected to approve in the coming days plans to remove most if not all of the more than 700 American troops in Somalia conducting training and counterterrorism missions.”

Africa

Associated Press: Burkina Faso Moves Ahead With Vote Despite Extremist Attacks

“A change in Burkina Faso’s electoral code means results from this month’s election will be considered valid even if people can’t vote in parts of the West African country that are overrun by Islamic extremist violence. Candidates like Tegawende Ouedraogo, who ran and lost in 2015, fear the change could cost them the election. The 38-year-old is based in one of the hardest hit areas in the country, Sanmatenga province. The province accounts for almost 10% of the more than 2,000 fatalities due to violence this year, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project and thousands of people might not be able to vote. “When a tire bursts, people run away. There might be rumors of attacks and people will not go to polling stations,” he said. Burkina Faso will go to the polls on Nov. 22 to vote in presidential and legislative elections marred by ongoing violence. Attacks linked to Islamic militants have ravaged the once peaceful nation, forcing more than 1 million people from their homes and making swaths of land inaccessible. It now threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the elections. Burkina Faso’s main political parties voted to change the law in July, making the election valid based on the areas where people can vote, instead of previously requiring ballots to be cast across the country.”

Mozambique News Agency: PM Calls For Unity To Face Terrorism

“Mozambican Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosario on Wednesday urged all Mozambicans “to unite efforts in facing our common enemy of terrorism which is endangering the territorial integrity of our country and the tranquillity and welfare of the population”. Speaking in the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, in a question and answer session between the deputies and the government, Rosario said “this is one of those moments when, faced with the threat to territorial integrity and to the welfare of the public caused by the heinous acts of terrorism, there should be no room for us to display political party, ethnic, racial or religious differences”. “We must all remain vigilant and support the defence and security forces in the struggle against the terrorists”, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. The jihadist group in Cabo Delgado, which has pledged allegiance to the so-called “Islamic State”, has committed “the most barbaric atrocities”, said Rosario, “including the indiscriminate beheading of defenceless people, and the destruction of homes and of public and private infrastructure”. With such acts, the terrorists “are creating panic and fear among the population, who are forced to abandon their places of origin”, he added.”

United Kingdom

The New York Times: The Pandemic Makes Young People More Open To Radicalization, British Police Say

“British police say the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent social isolation have contributed to a “perfect storm” that is making more young people vulnerable to radicalization. Neil Basu, the assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said that police had already seen a sharp increase in extremist material online and, with young people spending more time online in isolation without the protective influence of schools and support networks, they were increasingly at risk. “In my opinion that is a perfect storm, one which we cannot predict and that we might be feeling the effects of for many years to come,” Mr. Basu said in a statement released by the police on Wednesday. The comments come after a series of attacks in France and a shooting this month in Vienna, all linked to Islamist extremists. Britain’s terror threat level was raised to its highest — severe — in the wake of the violence, meaning authorities suspect an attack is likely, though without a specified threat. Mr. Basu also noted that the police are seeing more young people being drawn to terrorist activity. In 2019, 12 children under the age of 18 — including some as young as 14 — were arrested in relation to terrorism offenses, he said.”

BBC News: Manchester Arena Inquiry: Attack On Crowds Leaving 'Not On Our Radar'

“A police counter-terrorism security adviser said prior to the Manchester bombing the risk of an attack on crowds leaving an event was not considered. Liz Forster, Greater Manchester Police's principal adviser, told the public inquiry into the arena attack: “It's changed the way we operate.” Ms Forster agreed it was a watershed moment as the threat to crowds in the foyer was not “on our radar” then. Twenty-two people died as they left an Ariana Grande concert in May 2017. The inquiry at Manchester Magistrates' Court is looking into the security advice police gave to the venue. The threat to people in the arena foyer “wasn't in sharp focus” at the time, Ms Forster told the hearing. “This sounds dreadful, but it wasn't the remit so we didn't look at crowds outside of that site perimeter. “At that time, 2014, that is not something that was on our radar.” She said her counter-terrorism advisers helped venues by “identifying vulnerabilities at a site that…. a dedicated attacker may take advantage of”. Their advice “won't necessarily stop an attack, it will help to mitigate the outcome or deter an attacker”, she said. She agreed the arena attack was a watershed moment for giving counter-terrorism security advice. “It was a totally different methodology… the attack for egress, so waiting around for people to come out.”

Reuters: UK Police Arrest Man Over 1974 Birmingham Pub Bombings

“British counter-terrorism police said on Wednesday they had arrested a man over the 1974 pub bombings in the city of Birmingham which killed 21 people, the deadliest attack on the British mainland in 30 years of Northern Irish violence. The bombings took place in the crowded Mulberry Bush pub and The Tavern in Birmingham, central England, on Nov. 21, 1974. Although the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was believed to have planted the explosives, it never claimed responsibility. West Midlands Police said counter-terrorism officers had arrested a 65-year-old man at his home in Belfast on Wednesday in connection with the attacks. “The man was arrested under the Terrorism Act and a search of his home is being carried out,” they said in a statement. “He will be interviewed under caution at a police station in Northern Ireland.” The bombings, in which over 180 people were also wounded, caused the biggest loss of life on the British mainland during the 30 years of conflict between mostly Catholic nationalists, who favoured Northern Ireland’s unification with the Republic of Ireland, and Protestants wanting to stay in the United Kingdom. The violence, known as “The Troubles” in which some 3,600 people died, was largely brought to an end with the 1998 Good Friday agreement.”

Germany

Associated Press: German Prosecutors Seek Life For Right-Wing Extremist Who Attacked Synagogue On Yom Kippur

“German prosecutors called Wednesday for a court to impose a life sentence on a 28-year-old right-wing extremist who attacked a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle last year, killing two people after he failed to gain entry to the building. The attack on Yom Kippur, Judaism's holiest day, is considered one of the worst anti-Semitic assaults in Germany's post-war history. The defendant, Stephan Balliet, has is alleged to have posted a screed against Jews before trying to shoot his way into the synagogue on Oct. 9, 2019, while broadcasting the attack live on a popular gaming site. Federal prosecutors asked the court in nearby Magdeburg to convict Balliet of murder, attempted murder, incitement to hatred and attempted violent extortion. They urged the judges to find the defendant “seriously culpable,” meaning that he would be barred from early release after 15 years. During his trial, which began in July, Balliet admitted he wanted to enter the synagogue and kill 51 people inside. When he was unable to open the building's heavy doors, the German shot and killed a 40-year-old woman in the street outside and a 20-year-old man at a nearby kebab shop, and wounded several others. Federal prosecutor Kai Lohse said the shooting had been an attack not just on the people inside the synagogue but on Jewish life in general in Germany.”

Europe

New Europe: ΜEPs Call For Stronger EU Response To Terrorist Threats

“The members of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee have called for an enhanced EU approach to terrorist threats, in the wake of several terror attacks across Europe. Their call came on Monday, during a discussion with Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson and Christian Klos, from Germany’s Interior Ministry, whose country currently holds the rotating six-month EU Council Presidency.  It followed a series of terror events across Europe, that started with the killing of Samuel Paty, a history teacher who was beheaded by a Moscow-born Chechen refugee for showing cartoons of prophet Mohammed during a class on freedom of speech, and further escalated with the killing of three people in the French city of Nice, at the heart of the Notre-Dam Basilica and most recently, with the attack in front of the main synagogue in Austria’s capital, Vienna, that left four people dead and dozens injured. During last week’s plenary session, MEPs stressed the need to further develop the bloc’s counter-terrorism strategy, along with additional efforts to promote fundamental freedoms and integration. To this end, the Civil Liberties Committee is preparing a resolution on the EU Security Union Strategy, that will reflect the parliament’s priorities over the next five years.”