Eye on Extremism: October 14, 2020

Associated Post: UN Humanitarian Chief: Sahel Is Very Close To Tipping Point

“The U.N. humanitarian chief warned Tuesday that daunting problems in Africa’s Sahel region are getting worse and the region “is very close to a tipping point — and so by extension are its African neighbors, Europe, and the world.” Mark Lowcock said in a virtual speech to students at the Paris Institute for Political Science that he deals with the world’s worst humanitarian tragedies, and “nowhere scares me more than the Sahel.” He said six central Sahel countries -- Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger, and northeast Nigeria -- are at “a true epicenter of conflict and insecurity, weak governance, chronic underdevelopment and poverty, demographic pressures, and climate change.” Lowcock said there are conflicts between farmers and herders mainly over scarce resources, conflicts instigated by terrorist and extremist groups seeking to undermine governments, and violence from organized crime groups running trafficking networks who “stage kidnappings, loot assets and steal natural resources for profit.” Before 2012, only one militant Islamist group, Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, operated in Mali, he said, but extremist groups took lessons from the strength and territorial gains of the Islamic State extremist movement in Iraq and Syria after 2014 and “by 2018, more than 10 groups were active in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, in addition to groups like Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin.”

Haaretz: TikTok Removes Account Of Israeli Extremist Group Opposed To Jewish-Arab Coexistence

“The video-sharing social network TikTok removed the channel of Lehava, a far-right Israeli group that opposes Jewish-Arab coexistence and gay relationships. The group is led by Benzi Gopstein, who was banned from running in Israeli elections last year as head of the right-wing Jewish Power party due to anti-Arab statements considered incitement to racism. TikTok first took down three of Lehava’s videos and then completely removed the channel after receiving complaints about its content. The channel was permanently blocked over “repeated violations of our community conduct regulations,” TikTok said in a statement, according to the Lehava website. Gopstein told Israel National News that his attorneys are “checking into” filing a lawsuit against Tik Tok. “You can find every evil on TikTok, but somebody who talks a little about Judaism and about not assimilating – this, TikTok decided to close,” Gopstein said. Lehava also has been banned from Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.”

United States

CNN: Group Charged In Michigan Governor Kidnap Plot Discussed Targeting Virginia Governor, FBI Agent Says

“The group charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also discussed kidnapping Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, an FBI agent testified in court on Tuesday. FBI agent Richard Trask testified during a preliminary hearing that the group discussed taking out sitting governors due to their “coronavirus-related lockdown orders.” “They discussed possible targets, taking a sitting governor, specifically governors of Michigan and Virginia, over shut down orders,” Trask said. “The understanding at the time was to potentially kidnap a sitting governor and remove them from office,” he added. Though the benefits of working from home are myriad — there was zero chance you’d become a master of sourdough bread in the third-floor break room, right? The FBI obtained this information during a June 6 meeting in Dublin, Ohio. A person who attended the meeting came forward to authorities “based on concerns (over) some of the directions that the group was headed and potential violence.” The court hearing came days after 13 people were charged in an alleged domestic terror plot to kidnap Whitmer. The alleged scheme included plans to overthrow several state governments that the suspects “believe are violating the US Constitution,” according to a federal criminal complaint.”

Afghanistan

NPR: Tens Of Thousands Flee Latest Taliban Offensive, And Afghan Civilian Casualties Rise

“As the Taliban launched an offensive over the weekend to take areas of Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, there were hundreds of casualties amid some of the most intense urban fighting since Afghan peace talks began last month. Among the victims was a pregnant woman struck by a stray bullet. She survived but her fetus died in utero, apparently the result of the bullet's impact, Doctors Without Borders says. The woman was among the Afghan civilians who appeared to have been caught in crossfire while fleeing villages near the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, says Karsten Noko, the humanitarian affairs officer for Doctors Without Borders. The Taliban launched coordinated attacks in different parts of Helmand, says Omer Zwak, the provincial governor's spokesperson. Local authorities estimate that some 35,000 people have been displaced in the fighting, which intensified around Lashkar Gah on Sunday. There were so many casualties that the local 100-bed hospital was quickly overwhelmed, Noko says. A facility run by Doctors Without Borders absorbed some 20 more people needing treatment and care, including the woman hit by the stray bullet, who remains unconscious.”

Agence France-Presse: Afghan Villagers Fear Militants' Return Outside Shadow Of US Forces

“Living in the shadow of a US military base had provided protection to villagers in eastern Afghanistan, but locals now say the recent withdrawal of foreign troops has left them exposed to militant attacks. “When the Americans were here, there were drones in the air 24 hours a day and there were no Taliban and Islamic State,” said Kameen Khan, who lives near one former US base in the Achin district of Nangarhar province. “In the months since they left the area, the Taliban and IS have restarted their activities,” he told AFP. Dozens of US special forces set up shop in Achin -- and at another base in neighbouring Haska Mina -- to fight IS after the militants seized large parts of Nangarhar in 2015 and established a foothold in Afghanistan. For a while, the province was terrorised by jihadists, who sometimes beheaded locals or forced them to sit on bombs before detonating them. They also destroyed health centres and forced schools to close. For many in nearby towns and villages, the US arrival provided a welcome respite: attacks dropped dramatically as drones and jets pummelled militant positions.”

Lebanon

Reuters: Hezbollah, Amal Criticize Lebanon Team For Border Talks With Israel

“Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally Amal criticized on Wednesday a delegation set to represent Lebanon at U.S.-mediated talks with Israel over their disputed maritime border, hours before the first meeting. The statement from Lebanon’s two main Shi’ite parties called for reform of the negotiating team which they said must include only military officials, without any civilians or politicians. Formally still at war after decades of conflict, Lebanon and Israel agreed this month to negotiate over a long-running row relating to a sea border running through potentially gas-rich Mediterranean waters.”

Middle East

Long War Journal: Palestinian Islamic Jihad Threatens Conflict Over Palestinian Prisoner

“In a video published by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) on Oct. 10, the Iran-backed militant faction threatened Israel with conflict if Maher al-Akhras, a PIJ operative in administrative detention, were to die in the custody of Israeli authorities. The threat from PIJ and other militant factions in the Gaza Strip, came after the deterioration of Maher al-Akhras’ health due to a hunger strike he began more than 75 days ago in protest of his administrative detention. Administrative detention is a policy employed by the Israeli government that allows it to detain an individual suspected of being involved in terrorist activity without being formally charged of a crime or standing trial. According to an Al-Jazeera article, al-Akhras was detained in July in the West Bank by the Shin Bet based on evidence that he posed a “danger to public safety” due to his membership in Saraya al-Quds, the military wing of PIJ. In the publication featuring some of PIJ’s arsenal and various images of destroyed Israeli homes, Ziad Nakhala, the Secretary-General of PIJ, called al-Akhras a “mujahid” — an acknowledgement of al-Akhras’ membership in Saraya al-Quds. Furthermore, Nakahala warned Israel that it bears responsibility for the well-being of al-Akhras.”

Nigeria

Sahara Reporters: Boko Haram Terrorists Kill 14 Farmers In Borno

“Boko Haram terrorists have killed 14 farmers in Borno State, members of a local vigilante group said on Tuesday. Sources told AFP that insurgents on Monday seized 15 farmers working on their irrigation fields in Ngwom Village, 14 kilometres (nine miles) North of Maiduguri, and cut their throats. “They slaughtered the farmers, killing 14 while one survived with a deep slash. They left him for dead,” Babakura Kilo, a local of the vigilante group, said. The insurgents captured the farmers as they tended to their crops during the early afternoon, giving them no room to escape, said another member, Ibrahim Liman, who gave the same death toll. The survivor was taken to a hospital in a “life-threatening condition,” Liman said. Boko Haram and rival group, Islamic State West Africa Province, have increasingly targeted loggers, herders and fishermen in their violent campaign, accusing them of spying and passing information to the military and the local militia fighting them. At least 36,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which has displaced around two million from their homes since 2009. The violence has spread into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military coalition to fight the militants.”

Somalia

The Nation: Somalia Army Kills 11 Militants In Operation In Southern Region

“At least 11 al-Shabab extremists were killed on Tuesday by the Somali National Army (SNA) in a security operation in the southern region of Lower Shabelle, a military officer said on Tuesday. The operation started when the army received intelligence that the militants set up secret prisons in the outskirts of Barire town and the forces advanced targeting those areas, said Ahmed Hassan Ziyad, commander of SNA’s 143rd Unit. “The offensive was successful, there was stiff resistance from the militants, but we overpowered them, killing 11 of them including a senior leader named Abu Abdullahi Mustaf,” Ziyad said. He added that the army also freed locals who were confined by the militants in the secret prisons.In recent months, the government forces have intensified operations against al-Shabab militants in the southern regions where the militants hold swathes of rural areas, conducting ambushes and planting landmines.”

Africa

Reuters: Suspected Jihadists Kill 25 In Central Mali Attacks

“Suspected Islamist militants killed 25 people including 13 soldiers in multiple attacks in central Mali, burning down an army base and ambushing troops sent as reinforcements, the army and local authorities said on Tuesday. The attacks were the deadliest since the Aug. 18 military coup that overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, and came just days after scores of jailed militants were freed by the interim government in a prisoner swap. Nine soldiers were killed in the first attack that took place overnight against a base in Sokoura near the border with Burkina Faso, an army statement said. At around 8:30 a.m. (0830 GMT) on Tuesday, another three soldiers were killed in an ambush at a bridge near the base as their unit headed to the scene of the first attack, it said. Nine militants were killed in clashes with the reinforcement unit and two of their vehicles destroyed by the air force. In a third assault about 40 minutes later near the town of Bandiagara, gunmen ambushed a commercial truck, killing 12 traders and one soldier, according to Moulaye Guindo, the mayor of nearby Bankass, to which the traders were en route. A witness said he saw nine bodies at the military base and helped transport 20 wounded to local medical centres.”

Sudan News Agency; Attorney General Calls For Removing Sudan From Terrorism List

“Attorney General Hon. Taj Al-Sir Ali Al-Hibir has called on the international community to support removing Sudan from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism, referring to the radical change that occurred in Sudan's foreign policy and its efforts in combating terrorism and supporting peace, which culminated in the signing of the peace agreement between the government and the armed struggle movements earlier this month. Hon. Al-Hibir, addressing through video conference technology the Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, indicated that Sudan is considered a country of transit for human trafficking, stressing that through the legislative system and the work of the justice and security agencies, great efforts have been made by the country to combat human trafficking, weapons and drugs trafficking and terrorism and money laundering. He pointed out that Sudan, in cooperation with neighboring and friendly countries, was able to arrest a large number of criminal groups and networks and bring them to courts who were sentenced to prison terms.”

Europe

The New York Times: Turkish Defector Says He Was Ordered To Kill Politician In Austria

“One afternoon last month, a man claiming to be a Turkish intelligence operative walked into a police station in Vienna. His confession was explosive: The man said he had been ordered to shoot a Kurdish-Austrian politician, which he did not want to do, and asked for police protection. He also said that he had been forced to give false testimony used to convict an employee at the American Consulate in Istanbul. If true, the claims by the man, who identified himself as Feyyaz Ozturk, provide new insight into how far President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is prepared to go to pursue his foes. Mr. Ozturk’s confession, detailed in a police report which was obtained by The New York Times, could blow a hole in the conviction of Metin Topuz, who worked for the U.S. State Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration in Istanbul. In June, Mr. Topuz was sentenced by a Turkish court to more than eight years in prison on charges of aiding an armed terrorist group. The Topuz case is one of several against American citizens and U.S. government employees that American officials have said are groundless and that they see as an attempt by Mr. Erdogan to exert leverage in his increasingly antagonistic relations with the United States.”

Australia

ABC News Australia: High Court Upholds Islamic State Member Charge Against Adelaide Woman Zainab Abdirahman-Khalif

“South Australian woman Zainab Abdirahman-Khalif, who was re-arrested today after the High Court reinstated her conviction for being a member of terrorist group Islamic State (IS), will make a bid to be released on parole. An Adelaide jury had found her guilty of the charge, but she was freed on appeal. She will now return to jail. Her lawyer, James Caldicott, said she was devastated and disappointed by the outcome, and that she would be applying for release on parole. “My client, who has been in the community with no issue, no impropriety for a period of over a year, had now been [taken] back into custody,” Mr Caldicott said. “We will be, as urgently as we can, making an application for parole.” Abdirahman-Khalif had been denied parole just before her Supreme Court acquittal last year, he said. Mr Caldicott said the High Court decision would have wide-ranging consequences for future court cases involving terrorist group membership and criminal association offences, which he argued made those charges more difficult to defend. The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions welcomed today's ruling, saying it clarified the law by finding membership of a terrorist group does not require an exhaustive or rigid definition, but was instead a matter for a jury to decide.”

Technology

PYMNTS: Terrorists And Scammers Raise Government Alarms Over Crypto

“Across the globe, terrorists and criminals are leveraging cryptos in what is gearing up to be a significant national security threat to the United States. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Justice, which said in a report that rogue nations and other risks loom as exchanges are lightly (or not at all) regulated – making it difficult to, as the maxim goes, follow the money. In the report from the U.S. Attorney General’s Cyber-Digital Task Force, the “Cryptocurrency Enforcement Framework,” the authors noted that “cryptocurrency is increasingly used to buy and sell lethal drugs on the dark web (and by drug cartels seeking to launder their profits) … rogue states like Russia, Iran and North Korea may turn to cryptocurrency to fund cyberattacks, blunt the impact of U.S. and international sanctions, and decrease America’s influence in the global marketplace. And, while terrorist use of cryptocurrency is still evolving, certain terrorist groups have solicited cryptocurrency donations running into the millions of dollars via online social media campaigns.” The report also found that the fact that regulation is piecemeal and inconsistent across peer-to-peer exchanges and kiosks is detrimental to the safety and stability of the international financial system.”

Security Boulevard: Creating And Weaponizing Deep Fakes

“Professor Hany Farid of UC Berkeley spoke at Avast’s CyberSec&AI Connected virtual conference last week. The event showcased leading academics and tech professionals from around the world to examine critical issues around AI for privacy and cybersecurity. Farid has spent a lot of his time researching the use and evolution of deep fake videos. It was an intriguing session and demonstrated the lengths that the fake creators will go to make them more realistic and what security researchers will need to do to detect them. His session started off by taking us through their evolution: What began as innocent and simple photo editing software has evolved into an entire industry that is designed to “pollute the online ecosystem of video information.” The past couple of years has seen advances in more sophisticated image alteration and using AI tools to create these deep fakes. Farid illustrated his point by merging video footage of Hollywood stars Jennifer Lawrence and Steve Buscemi. The resulting clip retained Lawrence’s clothes, body, and hair, but replaced her face with that of Buscemi. Granted, this wasn’t designed to fool anyone, but it was a quite creepy demonstration of how the technology works nonetheless.”