Eye on Extremism: October 12, 2020

The New York Times: Feared Shabab Exploit Somali Banking And Invest In Real Estate, U.N. Says

“The Shabab, the Somalia-based militant group that is Al Qaeda’s most powerful ally in Africa, is not only collecting millions of dollars in tariffs and payoffs but moving the money through local banks and even investing it in real estate and businesses, according to a new United Nations Security Council report. The report describes how the Shabab, known for suicide attacks and a severe interpretation of Islam that bans music and other pleasures, have diversified their funding streams. Although financial dealings with the Shabab are prohibited under Security Council sanctions, the report said the group had found ways to expand from strictly cash transactions into utilizing bank accounts and electronic mobile services to save, transfer and invest money. A Security Council panel of experts that monitors Somalia produced the report, which has not yet been made public. The New York Times obtained an advance copy. The Shabab’s deadly attacks have wreaked havoc in Somalia and across East Africa. The group sustains an estimated 4,000 fighters, and expands its power, by collecting money from around south and central Somalia, including in the capital, Mogadishu, the report said.”

Reuters: Iraqi Militias Say They Have Halted Anti-U.S. Attacks

“An array of Iran-backed Iraqi militia groups have suspended rocket attacks on U.S. forces on condition that Iraq’s government present a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops, one of the groups said on Sunday. A spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah, one of the most powerful Iran-backed militia groups in Iraq, said the groups were presenting no set deadline, but that if U.S. troops “insisted on staying” they would unleash much more violent attacks. Washington, which is slowly reducing its 5,000 troops in Iraq, threatened last month to shut its embassy unless the Iraqi government reins in Iran-aligned militias that have attacked U.S. interests with rockets and roadside bombs. The U.S. warning caused alarm in Iraq, where it was seen as a step towards air strikes, potentially turning Iraq into a battleground in a proxy war between the United States and Iran. A broad array of politicians called on the militia to stop provoking the Americans. “The factions have presented a conditional ceasefire,” Kataib Hezbollah spokesman Mohammed Mohi told Reuters. “It includes all factions of the (anti-U.S.) resistance, including those who have been targeting U.S. forces.” On Saturday, militia groups calling themselves the “Iraqi Resistance Coordination Commission” published a statement suggesting they would suspend attacks in return for a clear plan for U.S. troops to leave.”

United States

Associated Press: Case Against Man Linked To Extremist Group Could Be Near End

“Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys may be close to resolving the criminal case against a Maryland man whom the FBI linked to a violent white supremacist group, a court filing says. In Friday's status report, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom said efforts to resolve the case against William Bilbrough IV have been “slowed somewhat” by defense attorneys' ability to confer with their jailed client and “the timing of facility mail,” an apparent reference to the jail. “The parties expect disposition in this case within the next month. If no such disposition is achieved, the parties propose setting a deadline for an additional status report (on Nov. 9),” Windom wrote. Bilbrough's attorney, Robert Bonsib, declined to comment Sunday on the status of the case or WIndom's court filing. Bilbrough, of Denton, Maryland, was 19 when FBI agents arrested him and two other men in January as part of a broader investigation of The Base. Authorities said the three men were members of the group and that its goal was to accelerate the overthrow of the U.S. government and replace it with a white supremacist regime. Authorities in Georgia and Wisconsin also arrested four other men linked to The Base.”

Agence France-Presse: British-Born Isis Suspects Plead Not Guilty Over Deaths Of US Hostages

“Two British-born men accused of belonging to a notorious Islamic State kidnapping cell have pleaded not guilty in a US court to charges of conspiring to murder four American hostages. El Shafee Elsheikh, 32, and Alexanda Kotey, 36, were flown to the US from Iraq on Wednesday to face trial for involvement in the murders of the American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and relief workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. Appearing from prison by videolink, they both pleaded not guilty during a hearing in US district court in Alexandria, Virginia, and waived their right to a speedy trial. Judge TS Ellis described the case as “complex and unusual” and set the next hearing for 15 January. “Time is required in order to achieve the ends of justice in this case,” Ellis said. Besides the deaths of the four Americans, Elsheikh and Kotey are also suspected of involvement in the killings of two Britons, Alan Henning and David Haines, and several other hostages including two Japanese nationals. The two former British nationals had been in the custody of US forces in Iraq since October 2019 after being captured in January 2018 by Syrian Kurdish forces. Kotey and Elsheikh’s four-member Isis cell was dubbed the “Beatles” by their captives due to their British accents.”

Syria

The National: Former Diplomat Says Wives Of ISIS Members Need To Face Justice

“A former top diplomat has called for wives of ISIS terrorists to “face the full force of the law” after it was disclosed that funds raised in Europe were helping them tp escape Syrian detention camps. International laws should also be brought in to force financial, messaging and social media platforms to stop helping terrorists. “Failure to do so will hand a significant victory to ISIS and extremist organisations,” Sir Ivor Roberts said. The former head of counter-terrorism at Britain’s Foreign Office said reports of ISIS supporters across Europe using fund-raising apps to smuggle the women and their children back home showed the terrorists “are not fading into history”. Mr Roberts urged the British government to take firm action. “These women were either party to, or aware of, the atrocious acts committed by the caliphate and need to be held accountable,” he wrote in The Sunday Times. Female supporters of the terrorist group have used the funds from sympathisers to pay fixers and people smugglers to help them escape the Syrian camps, it was reported last week. Mr Roberts, a senior adviser at the Counter Extremism Project, insisted that the British authorities rapidly address the problem of overseas funding for ISIS, but said the priority should be bringing the women to justice.”

Iran

The Hill: America Needs To Stop Iranian-Controlled Militias In Our Hemisphere

“Iranian-controlled Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) are coming to the Western Hemisphere. According to Radio Farda, Iranian military commander Yahya Rahim Safavi, the former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is helping Venezuela to form PMUs and transferring Iran’s experience to Venezuela to stand “against America.” In 2014, the Wall Street Journal’s  Mary Anastasia O’Grady reported that the “West underestimates the growing threat from radical Islam (Iran) in the Americas,” through an Iran-Cuba-Venezuela nexus, with the help of regional allies Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador. PMUs are multinational Islamist militias under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which have helped Iran project its power and influence beyond its borders and to dominate Iraq. They have helped Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to remain in power. Iran and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah, the model Iranian militia, have had decades-long involvement in finding the soft underbelly of the United States’s South American neighbors through narco-terrorism and support of anti-U.S. regimes.”

Afghanistan

The Washington Post: With U.S. Troops Gone, Taliban Expands Influence In One Afghan Province

“Months after the Americans withdrew from this province in southeast Afghanistan, what little they left behind still lies scattered across the small military base: rations packaging for chicken pesto pasta, Rice Krispies cereal boxes, instant chocolate milk packets. Inside trailers, the floors are littered with Christmas decorations and letters from schoolchildren addressed “Dear soldier.” The U.S. military vacated Forward Operating Base Lightning in March, less than a month after American and Taliban leaders signed a peace deal that set in motion a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces. On a recent day this month, only trash, splintered plywood, crushed metal trailers and mounds of twisted wire remained where hundreds of American troops once trained Afghan forces, launched joint operations and conducted surveillance missions. But outside the base, Afghan officials say, the U.S. withdrawal has had an outsized impact. Targeted killings are on the rise, school attendance is down, and Taliban fighters are expanding their areas of influence, according to residents and officials. What has happened in Paktia province, just a few hours’ drive from Kabul, in the months since the departure of U.S. forces in March provides a glimpse into what might await other parts of the country as the Trump administration looks to pull out thousands more troops in the coming weeks — and possibly to withdraw completely by Christmas.”

Asian News International: 11 Afghan Security Force Members Killed In Taliban Attacks In Kunduz, Helmand

“At least 11 security force members were killed in Taliban attack in Kunduz and Helmand provinces on Thursday evening, Tolo News reported citing security sources. Taliban attacked security outposts in Ali Abad district in the northern province of Kunduz on Thursday evening, a security source said, adding that eight security force members, including four policemen and four army soldiers, were killed. The source said five army soldiers and two policemen were wounded in the attack. Four other forces were taken hostage by the Taliban, the source said. Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack by posting photos from the hostages. The group attacked two areas in Helmand on Thursday night: the Helmand highway and Nahri Saraj district, according to provincial governor's spokesman Omar Zwak. Zwak said that three security force members were killed and three others were wounded in the Taliban attacks in the province. However, a security source said that at least 10 soldiers were killed in the attacks.”

Nigeria

Daily Trust: 4 Suspected Boko Haram Logistics Suppliers Arrested In Borno

“The Borno Command of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) has arrested four suspected Boko Haram logistics suppliers with 34 jerrycans of fuel. The state Commandant, Mr Ibrahim Abdullahi, made the disclosure on Friday in Maiduguri while parading the suspects. Abdullahi said that one of the suspects, Usman Bapetel is the manager of a filling station in Husara village of Askira/Uba Local Government of Borno. He said that the rest comprising Alphonsus John, Nicholas Benjamin and Isaac Clement were arrested on Sept. 12, at Wastilla village in Michika Local Government Area in neibouring Adamawa. He said that exhibits recovered from the suspects included 34 yellow jerrycans loaded with about 880 liters of fuel concealed in sacks and three motor cycles. Abdullahi also disclosed that the command had recorded a total of 1,318 cases this year, with 734 treated while 468 are ongiong at various stages.”

Africa

BBC News: Kenya's Westgate Trial: Man Cleared Of Terrorism ‘Seized By Armed Men'

“A man who was cleared of terrorism charges over the 2013 Westgate shopping mall attack in Kenya has been abducted by unknown gunmen. On Wednesday, two men were convicted over the attack in the capital, Nairobi, which saw more than 71 dead. The third on trial, Liban Abdullahi Omar, whose brother was one of the attackers killed in the raid on the mall, was found not guilty. But witnesses say the next day gunmen stopped his taxi and abducted him. Mr Omar, a Somali refugee in Kenya, had just left anti-terror police offices in Nairobi when he was seized, according to Khelef Khalifa, the director of the NGO Muslims for Human Rights. He had been released from the Kamiti Maximum Prison and was going through clearance at the anti-terror office, as is the procedure with terror suspects. Mr Khalifa said hooded gunmen dressed in black intercepted Mr Omar's taxi. His lawyer, Mbugua Mureithi, told the Kenyan TV channel NTV that the men identified themselves as security agents. Police have declined to comment.”

United Kingdom

Arab News: UK Terrorist Watched Daesh Videos In Jail Before Trying To Kill Guard

“A convicted terrorist in the UK who tried to hack a prison guard to death watched and transcribed smuggled extremist propaganda videos in the months leading up to the attack. Brusthom Ziamani, 25, wore a fake suicide vest and used a makeshift knife during the attack on a prison guard in January this year. He admitted to obtaining a memory card while in prison that had Daesh propaganda videos on it. Ziamani was already serving a 19-year sentence for plotting to behead a soldier in 2015, and was on Thursday sentenced to life with a minimum of 21 years for the January attack and for obtaining extremist material. Investigators found a four-page “martyrdom note” in his pocket, which featured comments from Daesh propaganda videos, after he was restrained following the attack. He had used his cell’s DVD player to watch smuggled propaganda videos, and had transcribed at least one lecture by an Al-Qaeda preacher while in jail. The Times newspaper reported that Ziamani had previously plotted to kill non-Muslims while in jail. He is said to have converted to Islam after a youth spent as a practicing Jehovah’s Witness, and was radicalized following a stint committing violent robberies as part of a London gang.”

France

Radio France Internationale: France Charges Jihadist With Alleged Islamic State Murders In Iraq, Syria

“The judicial authorities in France have charged a man with murder days after his expulsion from Turkey, holding him in custody over crimes alleged to have taken place in jihadist-controlled areas of Iraq and Syria. Under the pseudonym “Abou Salman al Faransi”, 26-year-old Othman Garrido is believed to have arrived in the region in 2012, where anti-terror prosecutors (PNAT) say he committed “murder in connection with a terrorist undertaking” and joined a “terrorist conspiracy”. He is believed to have played an important role in and have information on the French jihadist scene. A judge on Friday ordered him to be jailed provisionally after he had spent the week in police custody. “Based on photographs of abuses where he is visible,” Garrido “was probably involved in other murders in Iraq and Syria” being probed in a separate investigation, PNAT said. Prosecutors suspect him of three murders in total, although they have not been able to precisely date the crimes. France has had an arrest warrant out since 2016 for Garrido, a native of the southern city Montpellier. Turkish forces captured him near the Syrian border in July, and handed him over under a Paris-Ankara deal covering the return of French jihadists.”

Southeast Asia

Al Jazeera: Philippines Arrests Woman Suspected Of Planning Suicide Attack

“An Indonesian woman suspected of planning a suicide bomb attack in the southern Philippines was arrested on Saturday in a pre-dawn raid, the military said. The arrest comes less than two months after 15 people were killed and 74 others wounded when two suicide bombers, both of them women, blew themselves up on Jolo island in the southern province of Sulu. Security forces blamed the August 24 attack on the Abu Sayyaf armed group. The Indonesian woman was identified as Rezky Fantasya Rullie and was the widow of an Indonesian who was killed in Sulu in August, the Joint Task Force said in a statement. She is also believed to be the daughter of two suicide bombers who killed 21 people in an attack on a Catholic cathedral in Jolo early last year, it added. That attack was blamed on a group linked to Abu Sayyaf. “We have been pursuing foreign terrorist suicide bombers in Sulu after the twin bombing of Jolo town (in August),” said Brigadier General William Gonzales. “Rullie was first on our list since we have received intelligence reports that she is going to conduct (a) suicide bombing.” A vest rigged with pipe bombs was seized along with other improvised explosive device components from the Jolo island house that is believed to be owned by an Abu Sayyaf leader, the military said.”

Technology

The Guardian: Michigan Terror Plot: Why Rightwing Extremists Are Thriving On Facebook

“In a year of escalating political violence in the United States, Facebook has served as a key organizing tool for violent extremists. An alleged plot to kidnap the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, was planned in part on Facebook, with one leader of the scheme broadcasting a video of his frustrations with Whitmer to a private Facebook group, and participants later sharing footage of their paramilitary exercises and bomb-making training, according to an FBI affidavit. A related Michigan militia group facing terrorism charges also used Facebook to recruit new members, according to the Michigan state police. Before Michigan, there was the militia group in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that used a Facebook event to encourage armed citizens to take to the streets, and the anti-government “boogaloo” cop-killer in California this May allegedly met his accomplice on Facebook. The deadly neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, was originally organized as a Facebook event. Facebook has defended itself as working hard to keep users safe and to adapt to emerging threats on its platform, as well as coordinating closely with law enforcement. But evidence has mounted for years that Mark Zuckerberg’s goal of using Facebook to “bring the world closer together” and to “give people the power to build community” has also built powerful tools for radicalization and coordinated violence.”

Vice: How Facebook Allows Misinformation To Spread Even After It’s Flagged

“With just weeks to go to the election, a new study has revealed major flaws in Facebook’s ability to automatically detect and flag misinformation, allowing pages to continue to spread content even after the company’s own fact-checking partners have labeled it misinformation. A new study by the digital rights group Avaaz, published on Friday morning, found hundreds of pieces of misinformation that have been tweaked slightly to prevent Facebook’s artificial intelligence system from placing a warning label on them … Facebook faced similar criticism in the wake of the Christchurch shooting last year, when multiple versions of the horrific video posted by shooter Brenton Tarrant continued to spread on the network for up to six months after the incident. At the time, the company promised to do better, but Avaaz’s report suggests its system is still not working the way Facebook claims it is. “This is both pathetic and not surprising,” Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who helped develop PhotoDNA, a technology for detecting online child abuse imagery. “The technology to detect these simple variants absolutely exists, but Facebook continually is unable or unwilling to be more aggressive with reining in misinformation.”