Eye on Extremism: October 16, 2020

Associated Press: Syria Kurds Free Hundreds Of IS Militants As Part Of Amnesty

“Kurdish-led authorities released on Thursday hundreds of militants from the Islamic State group imprisoned in northern Syria, as part of a general amnesty in the region controlled by the U.S.-backed fighters. Amina Omar, the head of the Syrian National Council, told reporters that IS members who were released have “no blood on their hands” and have all repented joining IS at some point. “They are people who can be reformed,” Omar said shortly before the men were freed. The Syrian Democratic Council said the 631 prisoners were released Thursday while 253 others will have their terms cut in half. It said the amnesty and the release followed requests by tribal leaders in northeastern and eastern Syria. Kurdish authorities currently operate more than two dozen detention facilities scattered across northeastern Syria, holding about 10,000 IS fighters. Among the detainees are some 2,000 foreigners whose home countries have refused to repatriate them, including about 800 Europeans. The Islamic State group — which at the height of its power in 2014 controlled a third of both Iraq and Syria — lost its last sliver of land last year when the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces captured the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz.”

The North Africa Post: US Emails Reveal Algeria’s Collusion With Terrorist Groups In Sahara & Sahel

“The Algerian junta, with its future constitution, seeks to muzzle its civil society and to divert attention from its internal problems by extending its influence beyond its borders through destabilizing neighboring countries. Reports about these destabilizing attempts and about Algeria’s connections with the terrorist groups roaming in the Sahel-Sahara region made the headlines from time to time. These connections came under the spotlight again this week when on October 12, 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo published, at the injunction of President Donald Trump, on the State Department website , the private server emails of Hillary Clinton while she was heading the same department under the Obama administration. One of these emails received on January 18, 2013, confirms, if need be, that the Algerian regime is in collusion with terrorist groups operating in the Sahara and the Sahel. Excerpts from the 2013 report revealed that Algeria was in contact with Mokhtar Belmokhtar and struck with him a secret understanding following the abduction of the Algerian consul in Gao (Mali) and six members of his diplomatic mission in April 2012. Under this agreement, Algeria would have reportedly asked Belmokhtar to concentrate «his operations in Mali, and occasionally, with the encouragement of the Algerian DGSE, attack Moroccan interests in the Sahara.”

United States

ABC News: Self-Described Neo-Nazi Pleads Guilty In Plot To Attack Historic Colorado Synagogue

“A self-described neo-Nazi pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to federal hate crime and explosives charges for plotting to blow up an historic synagogue in Colorado last year. Richard Holzer, 28, admitted to prosecutors that he intentionally targeted the congregants of Temple Emanuel, a synagogue in Pueblo, Colorado, and wanted to “get that place off the map,” U.S. Attorney Jason R. Dunn's office said in a news release. Undercover FBI agents foiled the plan in November 2019, before Holzer, who described himself as a Neo-Nazi and a white supremacist, could carry out his plot against the synagogue, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. “This is the most important work that we can do -- protecting our communities by stopping an attack before it occurred,” Dunn said in a statement. The attorney general's office said the details of Holzer's plea deal meet the federal definition of domestic terrorism, “as they involved criminal acts dangerous to human life that were intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.”

NPR: Michigan Charges 8th Man In Alleged Domestic Terrorism Plot To Kidnap Gov. Whitmer

“An eighth man is now charged with supporting an act of terrorism in the alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from her vacation home. Attorney General Dana Nessel's office says Brian Higgins, 51, was arrested in Wisconsin Thursday. He allegedly brought night-vision goggles to aid surveillance of Whitmer's home. Higgins participated “in a plan of domestic terrorism that included storming the Michigan Capitol building and harming government officials,” the attorney general's office said. The eight men are members of the militia group Wolverine Watchmen or are associates of the group, the attorney general's office said. They face a total of 20 state felony charges, including, for some, gang membership. Another six men are facing federal charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping. “Wolverine Watchmen members together with another group led by Adam Fox, the 'Michigan III%ers,' engaged in planning and training for various acts of violence,” the affidavit against Higgins says, “including kidnapping politicians and storming the Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing.”

Daily Mail: Secret Recordings Of Neo-Nazi Terror Network The Base 'Show The Group Actively Recruiting US Military Members As They Prepare For The “Impending Collapse” Of US Society And The Coming Race War'

“…While other extremist groups are focused on getting people together to produce propaganda and make a name for themselves around a specific ideology, The Base is focused on action, the experts say.  They are interested in training their members to use firearms and explosives. 'To have that kind of broad tent, that's incredibly dangerous,' said Joshua Fisher-Birch, a researcher with the Counter Extremism Project, a policy group formed to combat online extremist ideologies. Members of The Base also believe in an extreme form of survivalism and preparation, offering real-life survivalist training to resist the 'extinction' of the Caucasian race, the FBI has said. 'I think what marks The Base as a particular concern is that it is very blatant about its embrace of accelerationist ideas. This concept that societal collapse is not only imminent, but that they have a role to play in furthering it - so that we can have a race war in this country,' Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism said. 'There are many groups active online that have an on-the-ground presence, but it's the sub-culture that the base is embracing is so vividly militant,' he said. 'It's so blatantly hateful it's going to attract a certain type of extremist, one who is looking for action.'“


Fox News: US Drone Strike Kills 2 Senior Al Qaeda Operatives In Syria

“The U.S. military carried out a drone strike Thursday, killing two senior Al Qaeda operatives in northwest Syria. “U.S. forces conducted a strike against Al Qaeda in Syria in the vicinity of Idlib, Syria, Oct. 15. AQ-S continues to present a threat to America and our allies,” Maj. Beth Riordan, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command said in a statement to Fox News. Officials say the strike was carried out by the U.S. military’s elite Joint Special Operations Command.  It’s the first drone strike by the U.S. military against  Al Qaeda in Syria since mid-September. The U.S. military has been using a new missile to kill terrorists in the past year dubbed the “flying Ginsu” for the knives released by the specially modified Hellfire missile carried on MQ-9 Reaper drones. The missile does not carry a high explosive warhead greatly reducing collateral damage and killing innocent civilians. The GPS-guided “Ginsu” missile falls from the sky with enough force to shred through car roofs and human flesh while terrorists are traveling by car. Anyone nearby has a greater chance to live due to the lack of explosive in the missile.  It’s not clear if this type of missile was used Thursday, officials say. Idlib is the same area in Syria where nearly a year ago President Trump approved a raid by U.S. Special Operations forces to kill ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”


CBS News: U.S. And Taliban Agree To “Re-Set” As Afghanistan Peace Deal Marred By Spiraling Carnage

“The Trump administration's top envoy for Afghanistan said Thursday that the U.S. and the Taliban had “agreed to re-set actions by strictly adhering to” the terms of an agreement reached between the two sides earlier this year. The agreement was meant to reduce the level of violence in the almost-two-decade old war and sever the Taliban's links with other militant groups to enable the last 4,500 or so U.S. forces in the country to come home. But it hasn't been working. The Taliban, which agreed under the deal with the U.S. to reduce the violence that has left thousands of Afghans dead, including attacks on Afghan forces, has instead launched a new offensive in the southern Helmand province, driving thousands of civilians from their homes in the capital city of Lashkargah and surrounding districts. CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports that, in response, the U.S. military flew extensive air strikes over the weekend, killing an estimated 80 Taliban militants. “At present too many Afghans are dying,” U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said in a series of tweets on Thursday, announcing the agreement to “re-set” adherence to the agreement. “With the re-set, we expect that number [of fatalities] to drop significantly.”


Voice Of America: Militant Ambush, Bombing Kill 20 Pakistani Troops

“Pakistan said Thursday that heavily armed militants ambushed a convoy of vehicles in its southwestern Baluchistan province and killed at least 14 security personnel. A military statement said the convoy was carrying the oil and gas department staff from Gwadar to Karachi when it came under attack from a large group of gunmen on the main coastal highway linking the two cities. The statement added that paramilitary forces escorting the civilian vehicles engaged the assailants in an intense firefight. The statement noted that “substantial losses were also incurred” by the terrorists,” and the “effective” security response ensured the “safe exit from the area” of all civilians in the convoy. “Such cowardly acts by inimical elements to sabotage peace (sic), stability and economic development in Baluchistan shall never be allowed to succeed,” the statement vowed. Prime Minister Imran Khan denounced the deadly assault and ordered an urgent investigation. Ethnic Baluch separatists claimed credit for plotting the violence. The separatist insurgency has for years simmered in sparsely populated Baluchistan, though military officials say sustained crackdowns in recent years have degraded it.”

Middle East

The Jerusalem Post: UAE Anti-Terror Chief: We Must Pool Resources With Israel To Fight Terror

“The Abraham Accords, bringing normalization between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, are a victory for defeating extremism in the Middle East, a counterterror adviser to the UAE government has told The Jerusalem Post. A new approach was long overdue, and the time had come to finally acknowledge the central place of Jews and Christians in the region’s history, Dr. Ali al-Nuaimi said. “We need to pool all resources to work together to counter terrorism,” he said. “They [terrorists] are across borders; they are everywhere. It’s our responsibility as Muslims to get back our religion and to show it to our kids as a religion of peace.” After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the UAE sent troops to Afghanistan alongside the US and since then has developed a comprehensive strategy to target terrorism in the region, Nuaimi said. “Terrorism does not have a religion,” he said. “Terrorists are a threat to all of us, to the world, and no single nation will by itself be able to counter terrorism.” The UAE has waged a war against extremism at home and abroad through “soft power” such as foreign aid and education, Nuaimi said, adding that such an approach was essential to prevent radicalization.”


Al Jazeera: Somali Soldiers Killed In Al-Shabab Attack Near Mogadishu

“At least 13 Somali troops have been killed by the al-Shabab armed group near the district of Afgoye, northwest of the capital, Mogadishu, a military official has said. For more than 10 years, the group has been fighting to topple Somalia’s Western-backed central government and establish its own government based on its strict interpretation of Islamic law. “We left Afgoye district and attacked al-Shabab in the farms outside Afgoye,” Major Mohamed Ali told the Reuters news agency, describing Wednesday’s incident in the district about 30 kilometres (19 miles) from Mogadishu. “We killed four militants and chased al Shabab,” Ali said late on Wednesday. “Most of the military came back and we left two dozen soldiers there. Then, this evening, al-Shabab attacked our few soldiers and killed 13.” The al-Qaeda-linked armed group, which launches regular attacks in a bid to undermine Somalia’s central government, claimed responsibility for the deadly attack. “We killed 24 soldiers and the rest escaped and ran away,” said Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group’s military operations spokesman.”

Stars And Stripes: Islamic Militants In Somalia Kill Eight Army Soldiers, Official Says

“Somalia's militant rebels have killed at least eight soldiers in an ambush in the country's south, said a military official. Two other soldiers are missing after an attack on a military convoy traveling between the towns of Afoye and Wanlaweyn in Lower Shabelle region, Col. Ahmed Hassan said Thursday. Somalia's al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaida, has claimed responsibility for the attack. The militant group said it killed at least 25 soldiers, a claim dismissed by the Somali military. Al-Shabab fighters often attack troops traveling on the major roads between the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and nearby regions. The latest attack comes after Somalia's intelligence agency said it seized nearly 80 tons of sulfuric acid, preventing the chemical from being smuggled into territory held by al-Shabab, which would have used it to make explosives. Several people involved in the smuggling have been arrested, according to the intelligence agency.”


Voice Of America: Mali: Rights Groups Concerned After Jihadists Released In Prisoner Swap

“Rights groups are voicing concerns over the release of 200 jihadist militants in a recent prisoner exchange in Mali. The militants were freed by the government earlier this month in exchange for the release of four people, including a French aid worker, two Italian nationals and a prominent Malian opposition leader, who had been held captive by an al-Qaida-affiliated group in northern Mali. While local rights groups have welcomed last week’s release of the four individuals, they also believe that freeing a large number of “presumed terrorists” could pose a further threat to Mali’s stability and undermine the country’s judicial system. This release “means that the fundamental rights of those murdered by jihadists in Mali have been violated, while (their relatives) were waiting for justice to take its course,” said Aguibou Bouare, president of the National Human Rights Commission in Mali. “These people were released even though they have committed crimes,” he told VOA, adding, “Not complying with the rule of law, gives birth to impunity.” Mali has been struggling to contain a growing Islamist insurgency that began as a separatist uprising in the north in 2012, which was later taken over by jihadists.”


Reuters: Twenty Killed In Northern Burkina Faso Attacks, Says Government

“Armed groups have killed about 20 people in attacks on three villages in northern Burkina Faso, the government said in a statement on Thursday. The attacks on the villages of Demniol, Bombofa and Peteguerse took place on Wednesday, the communications ministry said, 10 days after gunmen killed 25 displaced people near the town of Pissila, about 140 kilometres (87 miles) to the southeast. Burkina Faso has descended into chaos in the last few years as Islamist groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State exploit ethnic grievances and government neglect of the arid north. This year alone, hundreds of people have been killed in dozens of attacks on civilians. Over 1 million people are displaced, more than one in every 20 inhabitants, according to the United Nations. Burkina is scheduled to hold presidential elections in November, but experts have raised concerns that displaced people will not be able to vote, especially in parts of the centre and north where the government appears to hold little control.”

The New York Times Magazine: How One Of The Most Stable Nations In West Africa Descended Into Mayhem

“A strange and terrible sound echoed across the badlands of swirling grit and desert scrub — the roar of a cadre of militants on motorcycles, more than a dozen of them. The growl of their engines was punctuated by the stuttering blasts of the riders’ Kalashnikovs. This was how they always arrived. There were no government troops around, no police officers, no one to stop them. Ami Bande was in the market in Nagraogo, a village in north-central Burkina Faso, when she heard the first gunshots. Speeding toward her were about 15 motorbikes, each carrying two men who had come to kill. Bande, who was 23, sprinted for home, arriving at the same time as one of the “motos.” The jihadist riding on the back yelled, “Stop!” As the bike skidded to a halt, he began firing his rifle. Two men were shot dead in front of Bande. After that, she ran from her town. A total of 32 civilians, including Bande’s brother-in-law, were slain in Nagraogo on Jan. 20. Another four were killed in a nearby village, five miles away. Soldiers weren’t there to protect them and only showed up days later in Barsalogho, where Bande and other survivors had fled, to escort them home to bury the corpses, she and other survivors said.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Prison Officers Under 'Constant Threat' Of Beheadings From Extremists

“Prison staff guarding extremist offenders are under “constant threat” from inmates who intend to “behead a guard and stream it online”, the Prison Officers' Association (POA) said. Last week two men were convicted of trying to murder an officer at HMP Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire. POA chairman Mark Fairhurst said the threat posed had never been greater. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said measures had been stepped up to “stop the spread of poisonous ideologies”. In January, Brusthom Ziamani, 25, and Baz Hockton, 26, armed with makeshift bladed weapons, tried to murder prison officer, Neil Trundle, at the maximum security jail. During the trial, it emerged Ziamani, an already-convicted terrorist, was eight months into the government's de-radicalisation scheme and Hockton became a radical Islamist while in jail. Mr Fairhurst said their “abhorrent attack” highlighted the “bravery of staff working across the high-security estate”. He said: “We are seeing increasingly that the people incarcerated for extremist crimes are more violent and more radicalised. “We must have a fundamental review to find out how effective our de-radicalisation programmes are.”


Vice: YouTube Bans QAnon After Helping Mainstream QAnon

“YouTube announced Thursday that it will begin “managing harmful conspiracy theories” on the platform by “removing more conspiracy theory content used to justify real-world violence.” The policy change will specifically target QAnon content and conspiracy theories that “targets an individual or group.” The move comes just weeks before the election, and well after the QAnon conspiracy theory has become mainstreamed in large part due to videos discussing QAnon on YouTube garnering millions of views. Facebook recently also banned QAnon and Holocaust denial content. Though YouTube was not specific beyond mentioning both QAnon and PizzaGate, presumably this ban will apply to conspiracy theories that target people like Bill Gates and George Soros, which have spread rampantly on the site. As we’ve reported many times, there is a huge difference between making a policy change—which, to be clear, is needed and long overdue—and actually enforcing it. Platforms like Facebook and YouTube operate on a scale that’s difficult to fathom, with billions of daily posts on Facebook and hundreds of hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute.”