Eye on Extremism: November 6, 2020

The Wall Street Journal: Trump Administration Set To Sanction Top Pro-Hezbollah Politician

“The Trump administration is expected on Friday to impose sanctions on one of Lebanon’s most powerful Christian politicians in an effort to chip away at Hezbollah’s grip on power, according to people briefed on the move. The U.S. is preparing to sanction former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil for assisting his key ally, the pro-Iranian political movement Hezbollah, said a U.S. official and another person briefed on the plan. The move is likely to upend attempts to form a new cabinet in crisis-ridden Lebanon. The White House has been expediting key sanctions targeting American foes in the Middle East, just 11 weeks before the end of the current presidential term. Though a last-minute change is still possible, the decision has been approved in principle by the Treasury Department and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is expected to unveil the sanctions in Washington Friday before noon, one person said. Treasury Department representatives didn’t return requests for comment. A spokesman for the State Department declined to comment. Mr. Bassil couldn’t be reached late Thursday for comment. Earlier this year, when asked about the possibility of being sanctioned by the U.S. for his ties to Hezbollah, Mr. Bassil told The Wall Street Journal that working with the group was a political reality in a country in which the Shiite group is a dominant player.”

The Wall Street Journal: Austria, France To Push For Tougher Measures Against Islamists

“Austria and France are planning a joint push for tougher European Union-wide measures to stamp out Islamist extremism on the continent after terrorist attacks in both countries in recent weeks, officials in Vienna and Paris said Thursday. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and French President Emmanuel Macron are expected to hold a videoconference next week with senior EU officials to discuss steps ranging from better screening of asylum seekers to harsher penalties for citizens who have fought with extremist groups abroad. The two leaders want to put their proposals before other EU heads of government at a Nov. 19 summit, according to Mr. Kurz and EU and French officials. “We will create a legal and political framework to fight with all our might political Islam—not only as a terrorism or a law-and-order issue, but as an ideology that is planting hatred into young people across Europe,” Mr. Kurz said in an interview. Mr. Kurz, who said he spoke to Mr. Macron just after the Vienna attack, said the proposals would focus on tougher sentencing for foreign fighters and supporters of Islamic State and other terror groups. A senior French government official confirmed the plans. A spokeswoman for Mr. Macron said the French president would have a videoconference with Mr. Kurz early next week, but didn’t provide further details.”

United States

NPR: Election Dispute Increases Risk Of Political Violence, Analysts Warn

“Domestic terrorism analysts have warned for weeks about the possible triggers of election-related violence: a protracted vote count. Claims of rigging. Rampant disinformation. Protesters and vigilantes. For all the worry about voter intimidation on Election Day, the aftermath was always the more urgent concern for groups and scholars who track how political disagreements spiral into street violence or extremist mobilizing. Now, the moment they dreaded has arrived, with a contentious vote count plunging the U.S. into an open-ended danger zone. “As I've said repeatedly, the period between Election Day and election results is dicey,” tweeted researcher J.J. MacNab of George Washington University's Program on Extremism. “When definitive information is lacking, conspiracy theories thrive.” Increasingly, extremism trackers say, the threat of unrest isn't just from a radical fringe but from ordinary people who are whipped up by partisan, conspiratorial messages. Already, Trump voters are coalescing by the tens of thousands in Facebook groups associated with the hashtag campaign “Stop the Steal”; one group amassed more than 350,000 members before it was removed for spreading disinformation.”

Associated Press: Oregon Man Charged With Conspiring To Aid Islamic State

“An Oregon man was indicted Thursday after authorities said he supported the Islamic State group by distributing articles on how to kill and maim with a knife and encouraging readers to carry out attacks. Hawazen Sameer Mothafar, 31, appeared in federal court in Portland on charges of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization and providing such support, U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams and FBI Special Agent in Charge Renn Cannon said. “The threat of ISIS-inspired terrorism remains very real thanks, in part, to an army of online supporters who produce propaganda that aims to incite ‘lone actor’ operators in the U.S. and around the world,” Cannon said. Mothafar, who has physical disabilities and uses a wheelchair, was released on condition that he limit travel and the use of electronic devices. The federal public defender appointed to represent him did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Mothafar lives in a Portland suburb. The indictment by a federal grand jury alleges that between February 2015 until the time of his arrest Thursday, Mothafar conspired with Islamic State group members to provide support, including creating and editing publications and articles.”

Bloomberg Law: Man Convicted Of Attempting To Join ISIS In Syria Loses Appeal

“A man’s conviction for attempting to provide support to ISIS will stand, because sufficient evidence indicates he attempted to travel to Syria as part of a conspiracy to join the terrorist organization, the Sixth Circuit said Thursday. Laith Alebbini is a Jordanian national and U.S. permanent resident. He came under FBI investigation after making threatening statements at a Turkish embassy. Alebbini told an informant of his interest in traveling through Turkey to Syria in order to join ISIS. He told family members he wanted to submit to ISIS’s command structure and fight the U.S., possibly by becoming a suicide bomber...”

Syria

Military Times: Coalition Aircraft Launched Almost 35,000 Strikes On ISIS Targets Over Six Years

“The U.S.-led multinational coalition launched almost 35,000 strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria over the past six years, officials told Military Times Wednesday. From August 2014 to September 2020, aircraft of the Combined Joint Task Force conducted 34,917 strikes in the region. “Combined Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) continues to work by, with, and through our local partners in Syria to ensure the enduring defeat of Daesh,” Marine Capt. Jose F. Uriarte, CJTF spokesperson, told Military Times in an email. “Despite the territorial defeat of ISIS, the degradation of its leadership, and the widespread refutation of its ideology, this violent Islamist extremist group still poses a threat,” Uriarte said. Uriarte did not immediately respond to questions about how many missions have been conducted this year. Currently, ISIS, or Daesh, is unable to maintain a foothold anywhere in Iraq or Syria, Kurdish media network Rudaw reported. “Five years ago, when I was here as a coalition spokesman, 40,000 Daesh fighters controlled an area of approximately 110 thousand square kilometers,” Col. Wayne Marotto, another CJTF-OIR spokesman, told Rudaw.”

Afghanistan

Al Jazeera: Afghanistan Violence Jumps 50 Percent Amid Peace Talks: Watchdog

“Violent attacks in Afghanistan have surged by 50 percent over recent months, even as the Kabul government and the Taliban launched unprecedented peace talks in September, a US watchdog warned on Thursday. Despite brief lulls provided by two temporary ceasefires over the summer, fighting has raged across the country as the Taliban launched devastating attacks on provincial capitals and security installations, with fears the violence may jeopardise negotiations. Attacks against Afghan forces and civilians were 50 percent higher in the three months to the end of September when compared to the previous quarter, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in its quarterly report to the US Congress. “Overall enemy-initiated attacks this quarter were also characterized as ‘above seasonal norms’,” the report added. The watchdog reported 2,561 civilian casualties this quarter, including 876 deaths, up 43 percent from the April to June period. The report’s publication comes as scattered calls to boycott the ongoing peace talks have been raised following back-to-back attacks on education centres in Kabul claimed by ISIL, but which some government officials insist were carried out by the Taliban.”

Africa

Agence France-Presse: Kidnapped Teachers Released In Troubled Cameroon Region

“Eleven teachers kidnapped this week in a restive anglophone region of Cameroon were released Thursday, local religious leaders said. The teachers were abducted in a raid on Tuesday on a Presbyterian primary and secondary school in Kumbo, in the Northwest Region.  A local administrative official confirmed the release to AFP, adding that it was “the result of pressure from the population.” Samuel Fonki, head of the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon, said the 11 had been released and “are in good health”. “The people went there (to the separatists' camp) three times to demand their release,” he said.  The government had said only six teachers were taken, but a member of the group which negotiated with the hostage-takers confirmed to AFP that they numbered 11. The abduction happened 10 days after seven schoolchildren were killed in a class in the neighbouring Southwest Region, which the government has blamed on militants. Since separatist violence erupted in Cameroon in 2017, the kidnapping of youngsters, attacks on teachers and destruction of schools have been frequent in the western part of the mainly French-speaking country. The government said Wednesday that three other schools in the anglophone regions had been attacked since Tuesday.”

France

France 24: Macron Urges Europe To Strengthen Border Controls After Terror Attacks

“Europe must rethink its open-border Schengen area, including a more robust protection of the zone's external frontiers, President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday, after a spate of Islamist attacks in France and Austria. The tighter controls were needed to curb clandestine immigration, said Macron, adding that the criminal gangs illegally trafficking migrants into Europe were often linked to terror networks. “I am in favour of a deep overhaul of Schengen to re-think its organisation and to strengthen our common border security with a proper border force,” Macron said during a visit to the Franco-Spanish border. The president said he would present proposals to European Union partners at an EU summit in December. Europe is reeling from two attacks in the past week that involved assailants who moved freely between Schengen member states. On Oct. 29, a Tunisian man killed three people in a church in Nice. Brahim Aouissaoui had arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa, which lies off North Africa, five weeks earlier. After being transferred to the mainland, Aouissaoui travelled into France by train hours before launching his attack. The jihadist who killed four people in Vienna on Monday travelled to neighbouring Slovakia in July in an attempt to buy ammunition, Austrian officials said.”

Stars And Stripes: Algerian Man Sentenced To Life After Failed French Church Bombing

“A Paris criminal court sentenced a 29-year-old Algerian man Thursday to life in prison for killing a woman and trying to bomb a church near the French capital in a failed 2015 attack that investigators said was plotted by Islamic State milita in Syria. The court imposed the sentence after a jury convicted Sidi Ahmed Ghlam on charges of murder and attempted terrorist murder. The life sentence allows no chance for parole for at least 22 years. Ghlam testified at his trial that at the time of the alleged crimes he had “embraced” ISIS ideology. He expressed regret over choosing that path, but denied killing the woman outside the church in the Paris suburb of Villejuif. He was arrested after shooting himself in the leg and calling an ambulance. Ghlam's sponsors in Syria were believed to be linked to major deadly attacks in France that year, including one at a kosher supermarket in January and the almost simultaneous attacks on the Bataclan concert hall, Paris cafes and the national stadium on Nov. 13, 2015. France has faced three more Islamic extremist attacks in recent weeks, and is again on high alert for acts of terrorism.”

Germany

Reuters: German Police Search Homes Of Four Suspected Of Ties To Vienna Attacker

“German police said on Friday they were conducting searches in several German towns in connection with four people believed to have ties to the suspected Vienna attacker who killed four people when he opened fire on bystanders and bars on Monday. Vienna police shot dead the 20-year-old dual citizen of Austria and North Macedonia who had previously been jailed for trying to join Islamic State in Syria. Germany’s BKA criminal police said on Twitter that they were searching homes and businesses in the German towns of Osnabrueck, Kassel and in the district of Pinneberg near Hamburg. “There is no initial suspicion that the four people affected by today’s measures took part in the attack but there are believed to have been links with the suspected attacker,” they said. The search warrants were obtained after the Austrian judiciary transferred information to German prosecutors, the BKA said. Switzerland has also arrested two men in connection with Monday’s attack, and Austria was in close contact with another unspecified country in its investigation, Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer had said on Thursday. All 15 people arrested in Austria in connection with the deadly rampage are part of the radical Islamist scene, Austrian Interior Ministry officials have said.”

Europe

Reuters: Those Held Over Vienna Attack Are Part Of Islamist Scene, Austria Says

“All 15 people arrested in connection with a deadly rampage in Vienna on Monday are part of the radical Islamist scene and just under half have criminal convictions, some for terrorism offences, Interior Ministry officials said on Thursday. A 20-year-old native of the city, who had previously been jailed for trying to join Islamic State in Syria, was shot dead by police within nine minutes of opening fire on bystanders and bars on Monday. He killed four people. “We are dealing with a violent perpetrator who was evidently intensely involved in the network of political Islam, of sympathisers, who took on their ideology,” Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said. The 15 are being held on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organisation. Seven of them have criminal convictions, Of those, four are for terrorism-related offences, Director General for Public Security Franz Ruf said. Of those four, two involved acts of violence like assault and two were for attempted so-called honour killings, Ruf said, adding: “One can see that all are to be linked to the radical Islamist milieu”. Switzerland has also arrested two men in connection with the attack, and Austria was in close contact with another unspecified country in its investigation, Nehammer said.”

Associated Press: Greek Police Arrest Man As IS Suspect On Tajikistan Warrant

“Greek police said Thursday they have arrested a 27-year-old man on an international arrest warrant issued by Tajikistan on suspicion of him being a member of the Islamic State group. Police said the man was arrested on Wednesday in the southern town of Tripoli. They said Greek authorities are in contact with authorities in Tajikistan to verify the man’s details and the contents of the arrest warrant. The suspect is being held in custody. Police said the man arrived in Greece as an asylum seeker in 2017 with his wife and two children, and currently lives in refugee apartment housing in Tripoli. The man has denied any connection to ISIS, and says the case against him is politically motivated as his wife is related to an opposition figure in Tajikistan.”

The Brussels Times: Belgian Police Arrest Two Minors Planning A Terrorist Attack

“Belgian police arrested two minors, who were suspected of planning a terrorist attack against the police, in the area of Eupen in the Liège province last weekend. Searches took place in Eupen and La Calamine, both in the Liège province, last Saturday In a press release, the federal prosecutor’s office specified that the two minors, aged 16 and 17, were brought before the investigating judge and the juvenile judge, and were then placed in a youth protection institution. They were arrested on suspicion of attempting a terror attack and for participation in a terrorist organisation last Saturday, the federal prosecutor confirmed to RTBF. The two had allegedly recorded a video message in which they had sworn allegiance to terrorist organisation Islamic State (IS), and were planning to attack at least one police station, reports De Morgen. Belgium’s Coordinating Body for Threat Analysis (OCAM) will maintain the current level of a terrorist threat at 2, on a scale of 4, for the whole country. Level 2, described as “medium”, means a threat is “unlikely but not non-existent.” The two were arrested on Saturday, meaning before the attack in the Austrian capital of Vienna, which was claimed by IS, took place on Monday.”

The Irish Times: Son Of Suspected Isis Fighter Challenges State’s Refusal To Recognise Him As Irish Citizen

“The Dublin-born seven-year-old son of a suspected Isis fighter has brought a High Court challenge over the State’s refusal to recognise him as an Irish citizen. The case has been brought on behalf of Abdul Malik Bekmirzaev, currently living with his mother Iryna Paltarzhytskaya in her native Belarus. His proceedings arise over the State’s refusal to re-issue him with an Irish passport or recognise him as an Irish citizen, which he claims is incorrect and in breach of his rights. That decision came after the State retrospectively revoked the naturalisation certificate granted to his father Alexandr Bekmirzaev, who it is alleged joined Isis in Syria. He is missing and his family fear he is dead. Alexandr Bekmirzaev became a naturalised Irish citizen in 2010, based on his marriage to an EU citizen in 2001, whom he divorced prior to obtaining his citizenship. The boy’s Irish citizenship was based on his father’s naturalisation. The boy’s lawyers say they learned from media reports in August that Mr Bekmirzaev’s citizenship had been revoked on the basis his 2001 marriage was one of convenience. Earlier this year, the boy brought separate judicial review proceedings challenging the Minister for Foreign Affairs’ failure to make a decision whether to renew his Irish passport.”

Canada

Agence France-Presse: Quebec City Sword Attack Suspect Appears In Court, Victims Identified

“A 24-year-old man accused of killing two people with a sword and injuring five others on Halloween night in Quebec City made a brief court appearance Thursday while four of the injured, including two French nationals, were named. The suspect, Carl Girouard, who suffers from mental disorders according to several local media, appeared at the hearing via video conference from a detention centre. The Montreal area man is charged with two counts of premeditated murder and five of attempted murder. Prosecutor Francois Godin told reporters outside the Quebec City courthouse that a bail hearing was scheduled for November 20. “This morning, we asked the judge to lift a publication ban” on details of the case that would allow for the release of the victims' names, he added. Four of the injured consented to being named publicly. They are Remy Belanger, Gilberto Porras, Lisa Mahmoud and Pierre Lagrevol. The latter two are French nationals who have been living in Canada for several years, according to the police. They did not immediately respond to AFP requests for interviews. The suspect wanted to kill as many people as possible during the rampage, which police said was motivated by what they called personal reasons, and not terrorism. He had planned the attack in advance.”