Eye on Extremism: November 9, 2020

The Wall Street Journal: China Irate After U.S. Removes ‘Terrorist’ Label From Separatist Group

“China responded with anger after the U.S. State Department removed from its list of terrorist organizations a largely defunct Uighur separatist group that Beijing partly blames for ethnic tensions in its remote northwest. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ordered the delisting of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a group that once advocated for an independent state in China’s Xinjiang region, on Oct. 20, according to the latest issue of the Federal Register, published Thursday. Beijing deplored and rejected the decision, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday. The U.S. “has an ugly two-faced approach toward terrorist organizations,” Mr. Wang said, alleging the Uighur group had a long history of violent activity that posed a threat to China’s national security. U.S. officials didn’t respond to the criticism from Beijing. A State Department official said Friday that the delisting occurred “because, for more than a decade, there has been no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist.” The official said ETIM was removed from the U.S. Terrorist Exclusion List, which prohibits members of terrorist groups from entering or remaining in the U.S.”

France 24: France Holds Talks With Tunisia On Returning Islamic Extremists After Nice Church Attack

“Tunisia is willing on certain conditions to take back its nationals expelled from France, the interior minister said Saturday, after talks with his visiting French counterpart on measures against Islamist radicalisation. The former French colony is “prepared to receive any Tunisian”, Taoufik Charfeddine said at the end of a visit by Gerald Darmanin, following a deadly attack in Nice last month allegedly carried out by a Tunisian jihadist. “But this must be done in line with conditions and regulations” under international laws and conventions, and “preserving the dignity of the Tunisian” being returned, Charfeddine told reporters. The French interior minister also met with Tunisian President Kais Saied. Sources close to Darmanin said ahead of the talks that he would submit to authorities a list of some 20 Tunisians who France wants to expel, on the basis that they had been convicted on terrorism charges or were suspected of jihadist inclinations. The French interior minister is due to visit Algeria on Sunday on a similar mission. Public opinion in Tunisia is hostile towards the return of suspected jihadists, and authorities have refused the return of their citizens from France on the basis of travel restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic.”

United States

CBS Philly: 2 Heavily Armed Va. Men Found Outside Convention Center Charged As Philly Police Investigate Threat Of Attack

“Two heavily armed Virginia men found outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center were arrested by Philadelphia police late Thursday night. This comes as mail-in ballots were being counted inside of the center. On Friday, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office charged 42-year-old Joshua Macia and 61-year-old Antonio Lamotta, both of Chesapeake, Virginia, with several weapons charges. “On Nov. 5, 2020, the FBI in Norfolk, Virginia received a tip stating individuals were en route from Virginia Beach to Philadelphia in a silver Hummer truck and were in possession of weapons and ammunition,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said. That alert was broadcasted throughout the police department, including to the hundreds of officers protecting the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The vehicle with Virginia tags was found unattended on the 200 block of North 13th Street in Center City. A few minutes later, officers stopped two armed men on the street. Police say they did not have a license to carry in Pennsylvania and were placed under arrest. Investigators say Lamotta was wearing a Beretta handgun in plain view and Macias was concealing another.”

Syria

Kurdistan 24: SDF Arrest Four ISIS Members In Rare Raid In Eastern Syria’s Deir Al-Zor

“In a special operation supported by the US-led Coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Sunday arrested four suspected Islamic State fighters in rural Deir al-Zor province. “In a joint operation, our special forces and the international coalition forces raided today an ISIS cell in Albusayrah, Deir Ezzor countryside,” the SDF Media Centre said in a statement. “During the operation, four terrorists were arrested and large quantities of ammunition were seized.” According to the pro-SDF Deir al-Zor Media Centre the operation was carried out by Anti-Terror Forces (HAT), affiliated to the Internal Security Forces, also known as Asayish. The sleeper cell group was allegedly responsible for carrying out assassinations targeting tribal leaders and civilians working with the local Autonomous Administration of North and East of Syria (AANES) in the area around al-Busayrah. The suspects' tactic was drive-by shootings on motorcycles. On Friday, Col. Wayne Marotto, the Spokesman for the US-led Coalition, wrote on Twitter that Iraqi and Syrian partners carried out “15 operations against Daesh (ISIS), preventing 12 leaders & 22 henchmen from committing acts of terror.”

Iraq

Reuters: Gunmen Kill At Least 11 In Attack On Iraqi Army Post In Baghdad, Sources Say

“Unidentified gunmen killed at least 11 people and wounded eight others including soldiers in an attack on an Iraqi army post in western Baghdad, police sources and medics said on Monday. The assailants in four vehicles attacked the post in the capital’s southwestern district of Al-Radhwaniya using grenades and automatic weapons, the sources said. The Iraqi military said in a statement that a “terrorist group” of four elements attacked a post of a government-backed Sunni militiamen, killing four people and wounding three. The army and police forces have started an operation in search of the attackers, police sources said.”

Afghanistan

Associated Press: Militant Mortar Fire Kills 8 Afghan Civilians, Official Says

“At least eight Afghan civilians — five children and three women — were killed Sunday when militants fired mortars into eastern Ghazni province’s capital city, a provincial official said. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. But Wahidullah Jumazada, a spokesman for the provincial governor, blamed insurgents who he said often fire mortars or rockets toward military bases in the area which miss their intended targets. At least four more children and three men were also wounded by the firing, he said. Violence has soared in Afghanistan in recent months, even as the Taliban and government negotiators hold peace talks in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar to find an end to decades of relentless war in Afghanistan. The two sides have made little progress. Washington’s peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been pressing for an agreement on a reduction of violence or a cease-fire, which the Taliban have refused, saying a permanent truce would be part of the negotiations. The talks are part of a negotiated agreement between the United States and the Taliban to allow U.S. and NATO troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, ending 19 years of military engagement.”

Voice Of America: Afghan Government Says Taliban Maintaining Ties With Al-Qaida

“The Afghan government says that the killing of a high-ranking al-Qaida leader in a Taliban safe haven in eastern Afghanistan last month is an indication that the Taliban is not keeping up with its pledge to end ties with al-Qaida. “Unfortunately, the Taliban still provide a safe environment for these terrorist groups to operate,” Siddeq Siddiqqui, a spokesperson for the Afghan government, told VOA. “The Taliban harbor of al-Qaida operatives is contrary to Taliban's commitment to cut ties with foreign terrorist groups,” Siddiqqui said, referring to the U.S.-Taliban deal in February that required the Taliban to stop supporting terrorist groups such as Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaida. The Afghan government said on October 24 that its forces had killed a senior al-Qaida leader, Abu Muhsin al-Masri, in a Taliban-controlled area in the eastern province of Ghazni. The country’s National Directorate of Intelligence (NDS) said al-Masri was a close aide to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and had supported the Taliban and Haqqani Network for years. It said he was living in Ghazni under Taliban protection. Al-Masri, who was 61 or 62 years old, is also known as Husam Abd al-Ra’uf and had been on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Most Wanted Terrorist list since December 2018.”

Voice Of America: Taliban Expect Biden To Stick To Afghan Peace Deal Without 'Significant Change'

“The Taliban say they expect President-elect Joe Biden to stick to a peace agreement the insurgent group sealed with the United States earlier this year to end the war in Afghanistan, America’s longest. The February 29 landmark pact negotiated by President Donald Trump’s administration has set in motion a “conditions-based” withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan by May 2021. The U.S. military has since cut the size of its troop presence to 4,500 soldiers, from around 13,000 at the time of the signing of the deal and vacated several Afghan bases. “It (the agreement) serves the interest of the Afghan nation and the interest of the American nation. It should not be subject to any significant change and should be implemented in the form in which it is agreed upon,” Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem told VOA when asked for his comments on the fate of the pact under the next U.S. president. “It is our expectation that the ongoing peace process and the agreement with the U.S. government will remain on track,” Naeem said. He spoke to VOA from Qatar’s capital, Doha, where the Taliban maintains its political office.”

The Week: Afghans Mourn The Loss Of Young Lives In ISIS Attacks

“These days, it seems like Afghans barely have time to mourn. All over the country, families get news of loved ones killed in violent attacks. They weep. Bury the dead. And repeat. The latest attack took place on Monday when gunmen stormed Kabul University and killed students in their classrooms. The attack is one of many that have shaken Afghanistan in recent weeks. ISIS, as well as the Taliban, have stepped up their attacks amid peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The two sides have been meeting in Doha, Qatar, but progress has been slow. On Monday, photos online showed panicked students scrambling to climb the campus walls to safety. Concerned relatives showed up to get news of their loved ones. Head of Kabul University students' union, Omid Mehriyar, was on the scene and collected victims' cellphones to connect with their relatives. Member of Parliament Naheed Farid tweeted a quote from Mehriyar: “I was scared,” he said. “Some had calls from their mothers and fathers. I couldn't relay the news to them. Then, I saw one of the victims had 142 missed calls. And there was a final message [that read] 'my beloved, where are you?'”

Egypt

Reuters: Shifting Militant Tactics Curb Development In Egypt's North Sinai

“When Egyptian farmer Mohamed al-Qalaji’s family returned to their village in North Sinai last month after the army had expelled Islamist militants, his son was killed by a booby trap in a sheep pen. Egypt is rolling out ambitious development projects in the peninsula adjoining the Suez Canal, Israel and Gaza, but pockets of instability persist despite an intensified military campaign. Large scale assaults on military and government positions have subsided but militants have shifted tactics, staging more individual attacks, deploying snipers and planting explosives, security sources and analysts say. Their ability to temporarily overrun villages near Bir al-Abd in north-west Sinai this summer shows security remains fragile, while poverty and neglect have not been fully addressed, they say. At least 15 people have been killed by explosive devices around Bir al-Abd since Oct. 10, security sources said, alarming residents and highlighting the risks for development projects. “Eight booby traps went off in houses in our village alone,” said Qalaji, 39, speaking by phone. “People are afraid to enter their houses.”

Nigeria

The Christian Post: 12 Christians, Pastor Killed In Suspected Boko Haram Attack; Others Kidnapped

“Islamic extremists believed to be affiliated with Boko Haram reportedly killed several Christians, including a pastor, and kidnapped several others in an attack carried out in Nigeria’s conflict-ridden northeast earlier this week. According to The Associated Press, the insurgents killed at least 12 people in the attack on the Takulashi village near Chibok in Borno state on Sunday morning. The militants are also said to have abducted nine women and young girls. Sources who spoke with Morning Star News, a nonprofit news organization that covers global Christian persecution, reported that all 12 people killed in the incident were Christians.  One of the deceased victims was the pastor of a church belonging to the Church of Christ in Nations denomination. “They also burned down houses and looted food items from our houses,” area resident Ishaku Musa told the outlet. “At the end of the shootings and looting, which lasted about two hours, 12 of our people in the community were killed, three women were kidnapped and also four children were abducted by the Boko Haram attackers.” Musa explained that the gunmen arrived in the village in six gun-trucks and three other heavy-duty vehicles. The militants reportedly fired their weapons indiscriminately.”

Africa

Associated Press: Attack On Burkina Faso Mosque Wounds 6, Says Government

“An unknown assailant threw a flammable bottle into a mosque in Burkina Faso’s capital, wounding six people, the government spokesman said Sunday. Investigations into the Friday evening attack are ongoing, Remis Fulgance Dandjinou told The Associated Press. Security Minister Ousseni Compaore visited the site of the Friday evening attack and met with the victims on Saturday, according to a Facebook post from the ministry. A 30-year-old woman who arrived at the mosque for evening prayers shortly after the attack told AP that people were crying and some were lying on the ground with burns. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of her safety. A note left on the ground nearby said: “Close the mosque or we’ll launch grenades at you,” she said. Burkina Faso has been reeling from attacks linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group for five years. More than 2,100 people have been killed this year due to violence, seven times larger than the number from two years ago, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. Burkina Faso experts say that years of extremist violence could be fueling anti-Islamic sentiment.”

Bloomberg: Ivory Coast Rounds Up Opposition Leaders Accused Of Terrorism

“Ivory Coast authorities arrested a key opposition leader amid a wave of detentions targeting politicians who face terrorism and murder charges over their calls for a civil disobedience campaign and a transitional government. The arrests and charges risk inflaming tensions in the world’s top cocoa grower, where the opposition and the government have been in a standoff over last week’s presidential election. The opposition boycotted the vote after arguing that the constitution barred President Alassane Ouattara -- who was declared the winner on Nov. 3 -- from seeking a third term. The state is hitting back after the main opposition leader, Henri Konan Bedie, and his ally Pascal Affi N’Guessan urged their supporters to join a civil disobedience campaign in the run-up to the election and this week called for a transitional government to prepare fresh elections -- actions that Public Prosecutor Richard Adou said constituted crimes against the state. “All the acts perpetrated and sponsored by the promoters” of the proposed transitional council have sought to “undermine the authority of the state in order to achieve the overthrow of the institutions of the republic,” he said in Abidjan, the commercial capital.”

Voice Of America: Algeria Eyes Cross-Border Missions As Fear Of Militant Spillover Grows

“Algeria approved constitutional amendments on Sunday that experts call an ambitious move to answer public demands after months of protests and to safeguard its borders against violent extremism spillover from Libya and other troubled neighbors. Since its independence from France in 1962, the North African country’s constitution has stipulated that the army’s mission is to defend Algeria’s borders and sovereignty without breaching other nations’ sovereignty. That changed in the Nov. 1 referendum when articles 28 and 29 of the constitution where amended to allow cross-border operations upon the approval of two-thirds of its parliament and under the supervision of the Arab League, the African Union and the United Nations. “It is a pragmatic choice, the region is unstable, and Algeria is surrounded by states, mainly Mali, Niger and Mauritania, that are considered to be fragile states, so Algeria needs to be ready if a conflict erupts in its neighbors,” Dalia Ghanem, Algerian resident scholar at the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, told VOA. Ghanem said the new amendments to allow the army to carry out cross-border peacekeeping missions are an attempt by the new government to prepare Algerians for any future military interference in neighboring countries.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Man Jailed For Downloading Islamic State Terror Videos

“A man has been jailed for downloading Islamic State group material, including bomb-making videos and a video showing two men being killed with a knife. Ataubaq Taj, 34, of Hacking Street, Salford was sentenced to six years when he appeared at Manchester Crown Court. Taj, formerly of Accrington, was convicted last month of making a record containing information likely to be useful to a terrorist. He was ordered to serve five years in jail and an additional year on licence. Counter Terrorism Policing North West said Taj downloaded and stored several files of propaganda material on his phone, laptop, USB drives and CDs. These included an IS video demonstrating the most effective ways of killing with a knife and how to make an improvised bomb. Taj was arrested and released under investigation after officers searched his previous address in Accrington, Lancashire, in July 2019. He was arrested for a second time in January and charged in February. Det Ch Insp Andrew Meeks said the “result comes after months of meticulous investigating from our officers to ensure that Ataubaq Taj has been brought to justice for his possession of dangerous propagandist material”. “While there were no known plans for Taj to put into action the material he was consuming, it was nevertheless alarming that he was storing so much of this dangerous digital media on his devices,” he added.”

BBC News: Rugby Teenager Paul Dunleavy Jailed For Terror Offences

“A teenager who was part of a banned neo-Nazi group has been jailed for preparing acts of terrorism. A judge ruled 17-year-old Paul Dunleavy can be named but described his efforts to commit the act as “inept”. Dunleavy had admitted nine counts of possessing terror manuals and also had videos of the New Zealand terror attack in 2019, in which 51 people died. At Birmingham Crown Court, Judge Paul Farrer QC jailed the defendant for five years and six months. Dunleavy, who had denied preparing an attack, had joined a neo-Nazi group called Feuerkrieg Division (FKD) in July last year, the court was told. The group was created by a 13-year-old Estonian and was outlawed in the UK this summer after being linked to terrorism cases around the world. Judge Farrer said Dunleavy had offered practical advice on firearms to other FKD members, some of whom have gone on themselves to be convicted of terrorism offences in other countries. The judge told the defendant he harboured an intention to commit an act of terrorism, but added it was unlikely the he would have followed through, describing his preparations as “inept.”

The Independent: Isis Member Used Bitcoin To Transfer Money From UK 'For Release Of Jihadists In Syrian Prisons', Court Hears

“An alleged Isis member attempted to use Bitcoin to help imprisoned jihadists escape from prisons in northern Syria, a court has heard. Hashim Chaudhary, 27, was allegedly a member of Isis since January 2016 and carried out fundraising and propaganda work to benefit the group. Prosecutor Samuel Main told the Old Bailey the case was “factually novel” and one of the first times someone had been charged with Isis membership in the UK. “The defendant is alleged to have used Bitcoin to transfer funds abroad,” he told a hearing on Friday. “He held himself out as being able to engage in that kind of transaction.” Mr Chaudhary is accused of gathering funds and transferring money abroad using the cryptocurrency to allow captured Isis militants to escape Kurdish-controlled prison camps in northern Syria. He is also accused of disseminating terrorist publications through Twitter and the encrypted messaging app Telegram. Mr Chaudhary, from Leicester, is charged with membership of a proscribed organisation, two counts of entering a terrorist funding arrangement and four counts of disseminating terrorist publications. He has not yet been asked to enter a plea to the charges. Justice Sweeney remanded Mr Chaudhary in custody ahead of a plea hearing on 8 March.”

The Guardian: Manchester Bomber's Parents Among Six Sought For Questioning

“The parents of the suicide bomber Salman Abedi are among six people detectives want to question over the Manchester Arena bombing, a legal ruling has revealed. Abedi’s father, Ramadan Abedi, and mother, Samia Tabbal, are among four suspects, while police want to trace and eliminate two other people from their investigation. Greater Manchester police (GMP) had sought to restrict the information being released during the ongoing public inquiry into the May 2017 terrorist attack but the application, which many bereaved families were against, was successfully opposed by various media organisations. The inquiry’s chair, Sir John Saunders, decided the information would not give rise to a risk of prejudice to future criminal investigations as GMP had argued. Earlier this year, Abedi’s brother, Hashem, was jailed for a minimum of 55 years for the murders of 22 people in the bombing after he helped his older sibling plan the attack. The Guardian revealed how the brothers dissident father, Ramadan, who was arrested in Libya the day after the blast alongside his other terrorist son, was quietly released without charge and has vanished. Ramadan, 54, fought against the Gaddafi regime in Libya with a militant group that was designated a terrorist organisation by the US.”

Daily Mail: ISIS Supporter Who Planned To Behead A Soldier On An Anzac Day Parade Aged 14 Is Among 100 Convicted Terrorists Due To Be Freed As Early As Next Month

“An ISIS supporter who planned to behead a soldier on an Anzac Day parade when he was just 14 is among convicted terrorists who could be freed soon. He is among more than 100 convicted terrorists that could be freed in Britain - some as early as next month - after becoming eligible for parole. Others that are set for a potential release include two childhood friends who were trained with weapons in Syria, a Londoner who downloaded terrorist manuals with assassination instructions and a man who tried to join ISIS to marry a 9-year-old girl. Their chance of being freed comes after the release of the UK's first al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist in February. It emerged that Moinul Abedin, 47, who was jailed for 20 years in 2002 after collecting nearly 100kg of bomb-making chemicals in Birmingham, was released quietly after a parole hearing. Abedin's arrest and prosecution followed an MI5 surveillance operation in which he was given the codename 'Pivoting Dancer,' according to The Times. The disclosure comes after the decision last week to raise Britain's terror threat level to 'severe', which means that an attack is considered 'likely'. It also follows terrorist attacks in Paris and Vienna, with the attack in Austria involving a 20-year-old gunman who had been released early from prison after being jailed last year for trying to join ISIS abroad.”

France

The New York Times: Attacks In France Point To A Threat Beyond Extremist Networks

“All were unknown to police intelligence officials. None pledged allegiance to a terrorist group, and no group claimed them as members. None stated any political agenda. Signs of radicalization, if at all visible, were expressed on social media. And they came armed with little more than knives. The three young men behind recent terrorist attacks that have shaken France present a difficult challenge to the French authorities — isolated, self-radicalized individuals, rather than Islamist extremist networks — raising tough questions about whether the broad measures the government has taken in response are the right ones. Unattached to any group, harder to track and with an often obscured, hair-trigger propensity for violence that needs just the right spark, they are a far cry from the well-orchestrated and synchronized assaults in the wave of terrorism that swept France half a decade ago. Involving sophisticated planning and weapons, the past attacks killed and injured hundreds and were claimed by the Islamic State and an Al Qaeda affiliate. They were also different from this week’s attack in Vienna, which was carried out in the name of the Islamic State by an Austrian national already convicted of trying to join the organization in Syria.”

Europe

Politico: Austria Shuts Down Mosque After Vienna Terror Attack

“Austrian authorities have shut down a mosque and an Islamic association frequented by the man who killed four people in a terror attack in Vienna earlier this week. Integration Minister Susanne Raab and Interior Minister Karl Nehammer announced the closure of the Tewhid Mosque in Vienna and the Melit Ibrahim Association on Friday following a meeting with the president of Austria’s Islamic Faith Community, Ümit Vural, local media reported. The decision came after a 20-year-old supporter of the so-called Islamic State terrorist group went on a deadly rampage in the Austrian capital on Monday night, killing four. The attacker was shot dead by police. The gunman had frequented the mosque and the association, Raab said, saying the closure decision was made in the name of national security as the two institutions had been found not to hold a “positive attitude toward society and the state” as mandated in Austria’s so-called Islam Law. But she stressed that the move should not be seen as an attack on Islam or Muslims. “The goal of terrorism is to drive a wedge into our society — between Muslims and non-Muslims,” she said. At the same press conference, the interior minister acknowledged intelligence failures prior to the attack, saying “intolerable mistakes were made.”

Technology

Reuters: Facebook Removes 'Inauthentic' Networks Spanning Eight Nations

“Facebook on Friday said it has dismantled seven separate networks of fake accounts and pages on its platform that were active in Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Myanmar, Georgia, and Ukraine due to “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”. The social media platform announced it had taken down the new networks as part of its monthly report into “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, which also noted Facebook had removed nearly 8,000 pages involved in deceptive campaigns around the world in October. Many of the networks taken down by Facebook were involved in deceptive political influence campaigns using fake accounts, targeting audiences both domestically and abroad. One network of Facebook accounts and pages was operated from Egypt, Turkey, and Morocco by individuals connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist movement that operates networks of groups across the Middle East. The pages targeted countries across the region and included some terrorism-related content, Facebook said. Facebook found two “inauthentic” networks in Georgia spreading political content, one of which the platform traced to individuals associated with two political parties.”

The Guardian: 'Nobody Can Block It': How The Telegram App Fuels Global Protest

“One Sunday in August, two weeks after Belarus’s authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko declared an implausibly decisive victory in presidential elections, I joined a crowd of around 100,000 people as it moved through central Minsk. Protest in Belarus was no longer the domain of a few hundred hardy opposition figures, and the homemade placards many people carried illustrated how broad the coalition had become: “Let’s drink to love, from the bartenders of Belarus”; “Teachers against violence”; “Working class, go on strike!” … According to Joshua Fisher-Birch, a researcher at the Counter Extremism Project in New York, Telegram was the forum Isis fighters used most often to communicate with each other at the height of the group’s dominance of parts of Iraq and Syria. “They felt it was a safe space, because they would not have their data shared with any government, and they also liked the ease of use,” he tells me. Durov’s explanations for why he does not lose sleep over this have been far from convincing: “Ultimately, Isis will always find a way to communicate within themselves, and if any means of communication turns out to be not secure, they’ll just switch to another one,” he said at a conference in 2015. But, despite its initial reluctance to work with governments, Telegram has started taking action against terrorist-linked channels, Fisher-Birch says.”