Eye on Extremism: October 24

The Hill: House Homeland Security Committee Advances Online Extremism Bill

“A House panel on Wednesday voted to advance a bill aimed at combating the scourge of extremist content online despite ongoing pushback from civil liberties groups and Republicans on the committee. The House Homeland Security Committee unanimously voted to advance the National Commission on Online Platforms and Homeland Security Act, greenlighting one of the first legislative efforts to address internet extremism and bigotry after a string of mass shooters were tied to white supremacist online footprints this year. “Through our oversight of the social media companies, it is evident that this is one of those areas where the private sector needs the government to be a convener,” committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said during his opening remarks. The bill, which has undergone several drafts over the past few months, would create a 12-member bipartisan commission of experts to research “how online platforms have been exploited to carry out mass-casualty targeted violence” — including acts of domestic and international terrorism as well as “covert foreign state influence campaigns.”

Foreign Affairs: The Coming ISIS Jailbreak

“U.S. President Donald Trump just handed the Islamic State (ISIS) a literal get-out-of-jail free card. On October 6, he announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from northeastern Syria in order to make way for a Turkish invasion. The Turks had in their sights the Kurdish forces with whom the United States partnered to topple ISIS’ territorial caliphate only seven months prior. Trump’s decision was a betrayal of these partners, whose ties to militants on the Turkish side of the border threatened Ankara. More ominously, the decision was a gift to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the biggest single boost to his organization since it captured a large swath of Iraq and Syria in 2014. Remarkably, ISIS won’t even have to adjust its strategy to seize this opportunity to rebuild. It can merely reuse the playbook that enabled its initial rise: a systematic campaign of jailbreaks that yielded the manpower and the leadership necessary to conquer physical territory. Thanks to the Trump administration, the Kurdish forces guarding Syrian prisons that contain tens of thousands of ISIS militants and their families are now fighting for their lives. The flurry of prison breaks reported in recent days isn’t just an accident of the Turkish invasion—for years, ISIS has relied on breaking its fighters out of jails and detention camps to bolster its manpower.”

The Wall Street Journal: Islamic State’s TikTok Posts Include Beheading Videos

“Islamic State militants, who have been posting propaganda videos to TikTok, the social-media network known for lighthearted content popular with teenagers, have also been posting execution and torture videos to the site. The videos, identified by social-media intelligence company Storyful, show balaclava-wearing militants grabbing captives, pushing them to the ground and beheading them with machetes. In another video, an assailant fires a gun at people at close range. The video is edited to show a burst of colorful confetti fly across the screen. The findings follow the discovery of Islamic State recruitment videos on TikTok, which The Wall Street Journal reported this week. Those videos, also identified by Storyful, glorified the group with songs and icons that appeared to be aimed more at recruitment and rousing enthusiasm. TikTok removed all the videos flagged by the Journal and canceled the accounts responsible. TikTok is owned by Beijing-based Bytedance Ltd. The company’s rules, which prohibit terrorist and criminal organizations from using TikTok, explicitly forbid showing violence or any content that incites violence. “DO NOT use TikTok to promote and support these organizations,” the company says in its guidelines.”

Jewish News Syndicate: Legislators Accuse Twitter Of Allowing Content From Hamas And Hezbollah, Violating Law

“It is outrageous that Twitter, a U.S.-based publicly traded company, would carve out exceptions to accommodate internationally designated terrorist organizations,” Counter Extremism Project executive director David Ibsen told JNS. “Twitter’s posture is representative of the tech industry’s absurd inconsistency, especially since Twitter removed Hamas-linked accounts back in 2016. Twitter’s latest refusal to apply standards consistently on its platform demonstrates how tech continues to apply its rules when it deems it convenient.” “Clearly, these companies cannot be trusted to ‘self-regulate,’ ” he added. “This kind of government oversight is needed to ensure that the tech industry operates in a way that protects our national security.”

United States

The Wall Street Journal: Barr Wants To Adopt Terrorism-Prevention Tactics To Stop Mass Shootings

“The same tactics that law-enforcement officials developed to stop terrorists should be adopted to prevent mass shootings, Attorney General William Barr said in a memo released Wednesday directing the FBI to find ways to better identify and thwart such attacks. Authorities should include psychologists, community groups and “intervention teams” when trying to gauge whether someone is gearing up for mass violence, in much the same way the FBI’s terrorism squads seek to identify people as they radicalize, Mr. Barr wrote in the memo to the nation’s federal prosecutors. “Some of our most creative and effective disruption and early engagement tactics were born of the posture we adopted with respect to terrorist threats,” Mr. Barr wrote, urging authorities to take a similar approach to today’s threats that “appear abruptly and with sometimes only ambiguous indications of intent.” Mr. Barr’s memo stops short of proposing stronger measures, such as gun control or a federal statute that would make domestic terrorism a crime, which some current and former Justice Department officials believe would give investigators and prosecutors a better tool to go after mass shooters before they act.”

CEP Advisory Board Member Senator Joseph I. Lieberman For The Hill: Congress Must Confront Online Extremism 

“With each new terror attack or mass murder linked to extremist content online, major tech companies like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter make promises to better police their platforms. But after the outrage subsides, very little of consequence changes. It is clear now that tech firms will not effectively and consistently enforce their terms of service, since doing so negatively impacts their bottom line. Patience for their bait and switch tactics is wearing thin, and it is time for Congress to hold this unregulated industry accountable by modifying the blanket legal protection afforded through Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Tech companies have put profits over the physical safety of people for too long. How else can Facebook explain its inability to stop ISIS followers from exploiting its platform to host meetings, link to terrorist propaganda and organize? How else can YouTube explain its failure to permanently remove ISIS videos or take action against the responsible accounts that repeatedly upload them?”

Syria

Voice Of America: Syrian Unrest Breathes Life Into Islamic State Militant Group

“Officials are warning that Turkey's offensive into northeastern Syria might be giving the militant group Islamic State new life. However, American counterterrorism officials say the group's next moves are unclear. They warn that Islamic State, or IS, knows how to use conflicts in the area to make gains, as it did in Iraq. The officials spoke on the condition that their identities would not be released. IS has used the months since its defeat in Baghuz, Syria, to create “networks” of about 10,000 to 15,000 fighters, the officials said. The group is preparing for a long, violent insurgency. But, it remains uncertain how IS will change its plans “in Syria in light of the Turkish incursion,” a U.S. counterterrorism official told VOA. Most IS military operations had targeted Kurdish security forces before Turkey launched its offensive. Now, some believe, it is possible that IS may try to free some of its 12,000 fighters being held by the U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces – or SDF. It may also try to free some of the IS wives and other family members in camps in the area. In September, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi asked his fighters to do just that.”

Deutsche Welle: NATO Chief Warns 'Fight Against IS Is Not Over'

“NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned on Wednesday that “Islamic State” could revive itself following the US withdrawal in Syria. In a press conference setting the agenda for an upcoming, high-level NATO meeting, Stoltenberg said the fight against IS must continue. “Ending IS was the reason NATO went in (to northeastern Syria). We have to preserve those gains,” he said. “We also have to understand that the fight against IS is not over; they can come back.” Stoltenberg said NATO would continue to support the fight against IS in both Iraq and Afghanistan, especially through the training of local forces. Stoltenberg repeatedly called for a political solution to the conflict between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, addressing agreements between the US, Turkey and Russia. He said he: understood that Turkey had shouldered a great burden of terrorist attacks and hosting refugees; felt it was too early to judge the consequences of the Sochi agreement between Russia and Turkey; welcomed the agreement between Turkey and the US, saying reducing violence was the first step to a political solution; welcomed the German defense minister's recent calls for an international presence in northeastern Syria as an encouraging proposal for a political solution, adding that any solution would have to involve actors on the ground.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Desperate Pleas To Free Women, Children From ISIS Camps In Syria

“When Kamalle Dabboussy learned this month that President Donald Trump was removing troops from northeastern Syria, he pulled over in his car and wept. For months, Dabboussy has been lobbying the Australian government to remove his daughter and three grandchildren from a detention camp for relatives of ISIS militants. Now, he believes, the window to save them is closing. “It’s tough; it’s scary,” he told his daughter, Mariam, during a recent phone call. Dabboussy tried to comfort her. “We’re still pushing,” he said. The fate of tens of thousands of women and children in Kurdish-run detainee camps in Syria has posed a challenge for governments around the world since ISIS lost its last territory there earlier this year. But the chaos and violence that have followed the American pullback have intensified questions about what duty nations have to citizens detained abroad, even those affiliated with a brutal terrorist group. Dabboussy has been leading a contingent of about a dozen Australian families seeking the return of more than 65 relatives, most of them children. He has traveled to al-Hol, the camp where his daughter is being held in what he describes as unbearable conditions.”

Iran

The Guardian: Albanian Police Say Iranian 'Terror Cell' Planned To Attack Exiles

“Albanian police say they have discovered an Iranian paramilitary network that allegedly planned attacks in Albania against exiled members of an Iranian group that is seeking to overthrow the government in Tehran. The country’s police chief, Ardi Veliu, said the foreign wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards operated an “active terrorist cell” targeting members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, in Albania. He did not say what the alleged plot involved or whether any arrests were made. A police statement alleged that two Iranian security officials led the cell from Tehran. It said the network was allegedly linked to organised crime groups in Turkey and used a former MEK member to collect information in Albania. Veliu said a planned attack on the group in Albania by Iranian government agents was foiled in March. Last year Albania expelled Iran’s ambassador and another Iranian diplomat over alleged illegal activities threatening Albania’s security. MEK is outlawed in Iran and was listed as a terrorist organisation by the US state department until 2012. Around 2,500 of its members moved to Albania from Iraq in 2014.”

Iraq

Asharq Al-Awsat: Six Iraqi Police Officers Killed

“Six police officers including two senior commanders were killed in northern Iraq on Tuesday when ISIS militants opened fire on them during a reconnaissance mission, security sources said. Militant attacks on security forces are common in Iraq but the killing of senior commanders is rare. Major General Ali al-Lami, who commands the Iraqi Federal Police's Fourth Division, and Brigadier General Mohammed Allawi from the same division were killed alongside four members of their security detail, Samara Operations Command sources said. The generals were leading a reconnaissance mission in the Zor area north of Samara in Salahuddin. Militants opened fire on them as soon as they got there. Helicopter gunships were firing at the bushes in that area where the militants are hiding, Iraqi army officials said.  The defense ministry issued a statement of condolences calling the fallen generals martyrs and heroes. Four Iraqi police officers were killed and five wounded when ISIS militants attacked checkpoints in the Allas oilfields area of the northern Salahuddin province late on Monday, police said earlier. Iraq declared victory over the hardline militants in late 2017 after pushing them out of all territory it held in the country.”

Turkey

The New York Times: After Turkish Incursion, ISIS Wives Speak Out

“Now that Turkey’s military offensive has weakened Kurdish control in northeastern Syria, the question of what will happen to thousands of detained Islamic State fighters and their families is more pressing than ever. We traveled to Al Hol, a sprawling refugee camp guarded by Kurdish-led forces. Here, the wives and children of ISIS fighters are held in squalid conditions. There is no running water, and hundreds of children have died from disease and malnutrition since the beginning of the year. Instability caused by Turkey’s incursion could potentially provide an opportunity for them to escape. The people we spoke with offered divergent views on what the military operation might mean for them. We approached a group of women covered head to toe in black as they were lining up for humanitarian aid. One told us that she hoped the Turkish offensive would help pave the way for the caliphate’s resurgence. Another added, emphatically, “ISIS will not end.” Others openly denounced ISIS, saying the group had destroyed their lives. A Belgian woman with a small child on her hip pleaded for sympathy. “The world forgets that we’re just humans,” she said. “We’re not animals. We’re humans.”

Afghanistan

The New York Times: Rocket Attack Wounds At Least 5 Marines In Afghanistan

“At least five Marines were wounded on Tuesday during a Taliban rocket attack on a military base in southern Afghanistan, according to three defense officials. The high number of casualties came a day after Defense Secretary Mark. T. Esper visited the country. The attack occurred in the provincial capital of Helmand Province, Lashkar Gar, where American Marines keep a small base at the airfield there. The attack highlights that — despite President Trump’s assertion that the American military is hitting the Taliban “harder than they have ever been hit before” — the insurgent group is still capable of hitting a fortified military base in a well-defended provincial capital. Following the attack, the Taliban tweeted that their fighters had fired more than 60 “missiles” at the outpost and killed and wounded “tens” of Americans and Afghans. One defense official said it was only several rockets and those wounded were in a stable condition. In a tweet, Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for the American-led mission in Afghanistan said that there were no “U.S. or coalition casualties” but the “Taliban’s indiscriminate and inaccurate rockets resulted in two innocent Afghan civilians being injured.” It was unclear whether Colonel Leggett meant that no one was wounded in the Taliban attack.”

Xinhua: 4 Special Force Members Dead In N. Afghan Attack

“Four Afghan army special force members were killed and others wounded in a Taliban militants' ambush attack in northern Takhar province Wednesday, local police said. “The fighting erupted after militants ambushed a unit of Afghan National Army Special Operations Corps roughly at 2:00 a.m. (local time) Wednesday in Chachak locality, Khwaja Ghar district. Several militants were also killed and wounded during the clashes,” Abdul Khalil Asir from provincial police told Xinhua. The army and police forces arrived and secured the area after the fighting. The bodies and the wounded were shifted to an army camp. The province has been the scene of heavy clashes and fighting since long. Afghan security forces launched several anti-government operations in Takhar since early this month, destroying several militants' hideouts, fighting positions, attacking tunnels and weapons storage. Fighting rages across the war-torn country and clashes between security forces and Taliban have been continuing in most of the country's 34 provinces since early April when Taliban insurgents launched a yearly rebel offensive.”

Pakistan

Yahoo News: Pakistan-Sponsored Terrorism Ignored By World Press

“An Indian journalist, who testified before a US committee discussing human rights situation in Kashmir, said Pakistan-sponsored terrorism has been completely overlooked by the world press for the past 30 years, evoking a sharp reaction from a US Congresswoman who questioned her objectivity while reporting. Following the criticism by American lawmaker Ilhan Omar, Aarti Tikoo Singh, who flew in to the US at the Congressional invitation to testify, accused her of being “unfair” and also alleged the Congress hearing was “prejudiced, biased, a setup against India and in favour of Pakistan”. “Throughout these 30 years of conflict, Islamic jihad and terror in Kashmir perpetrated by Pakistan has been completely ignored and overlooked by the world press. There is no human rights activists and no press in the world which feels that it is their moral obligation to talk or write about the victims of Pakistani terror in Kashmir,” Singh said. While attacking the journalist, Omar had also said that press is at its worth worst when it is a mouthpiece for a government. “That is very unfair,” Singh told Congressman Brad Sharman, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation of the House Foreign Affairs Committee during a Congressional hearing on human rights in South Asia.”

Nigeria

All Africa: Nigeria: Troops Capture Boko Haram Top Commanders, 16 Others In Sting Operation

“The Nigerian Army yesterday said combined troops of 26 Task Force Brigade, 21 Special Armoured Brigade and elements of Civilian Joint Task Force, acting on intelligence, conducted a sting operation against some Boko Haram criminals hibernating around Pulka general area of Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno State on Sunday. Nigerian Army Operations Media Coordinator, Aminu Iliyasu, in a statement, said the operation led to the arrest of 16 active Boko Haram members. He said preliminary investigation revealed that some of the arrested suspects participated in the attack on Pulka and Gwoza, including the execution of some police personnel sometime ago. He said two of the arrested insurgents, Lawan Abubakar Umar Garliga and Bayaga Manye, had been on the Nigerian Army most wanted Boko Haram list earlier published on Serials 41 and 90. The suspects, who were Boko Haram logistics suppliers, included Alhaji Umaru, Goni Agwala, Momodu Shetene, Hassan Audu, Usman Manye, Ali Lawan, Modu Mallum, Modu Abubakar Jugudum, Bulama Ali, Umar Usman, Mustapha Alhaji Mele, Abor Lassan, Mallum Ari and Mala Bala.”

Somalia

New York Post: Alleged Somali Pirates Accused Of Kidnapping Hit With Terrorism Charges

“Two alleged Somali pirates previously accused of kidnapping an American journalist and holding him for more than two and a half years were hit with fresh federal charges on Wednesday — including new allegations they were working on behalf of terrorists. Mohamed Thalil Mohamed and Abdi Hassad were previously hit with kidnapping raps in connection with the long captivity of Michael Scott Moore. But defense attorneys for the pair were able to convince Brooklyn federal Judge Allyne Ross to drop the charges because the alleged crimes occurred out of US jurisdiction. So prosecutors decided to take a second swing at the case — and are now arguing that Mohamed and Hassan nabbed Moore on behalf of a terrorist group. The terror group was not named in court papers. Dressed in jail garb, Mohamed and Hassad, both pleaded not guilty to the charges contained in a new indictment in court Wednesday. “The charges that have been put forward are an overreach and will be dismissed,” James Kousouros, Hassad’s lawyer, told The Post following the arraignment.”

Africa

The Washington Post: Extremist Attacks Intensify At Mali, Burkina Faso Border

“Assaya Ngweba says Islamic extremists transformed his once-peaceful village in Burkina Faso, near the border with Mali, into “a place of misfortune and death.” Now the 78-year-old is among half a million people who have fled the area this year as the extremists linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group increase attacks and expand their range in West Africa. Concerted military actions by five regional countries, along with a French operation, have failed to stem the violence. The border between Burkina Faso and Mali is the latest flashpoint in the vast, arid Sahel region that stretches across Africa south of the Sahara Desert. In the past week at least 19 civilians have been killed by suspected extremists in Burkina Faso’s north. The extremists have launched deadly assaults against the regional G5 Sahel counterterror force set up in 2017 with soldiers from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. The worst occurred earlier this month when al-Qaida-linked fighters attacked two army bases in central Mali, killing at least 38 soldiers and leaving more than a dozen missing. The attack in Boulikessi “was devastating for the military in terms of morale and strategic impact because it laid bare the jihadists’ strength in that crucial border region which is a bridge to Islamist expansion further south,” said Human Rights Watch’s West Africa associate director, Corinne Dufka.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Pair Jailed For Inciting Copycat Terror Attacks

“Two men who encouraged copycat terror attacks after shootings in New Zealand have been jailed. Morgan Seales and Gabriele Longo discussed doing something similar to the attacks on mosques in Christchurch which claimed 51 lives in March. They were convicted of encouraging terrorism and other offences after a trial at Leeds Crown Court. Seales, from South Shields, was jailed for four years. Longo, from Crawley, West Sussex, was given a six-year term. The court heard the pair published extreme right-wing statements encouraging terrorism on a WhatsApp group called Christian White Militia. Counter-terror police arrested Seales, 20, from Turner Avenue, South Shields, shortly after the New Zealand attacks, when suspicions were raised about his online activities. Longo, 26, of Burdock Close, Crawley, was arrested the following month after he was identified from Seales' mobile phone records. As well as encouraging terrorism, the pair were also found guilty of possessing material for terrorist purposes and collecting or making a record of information useful in the preparation of an act of terrorism.”

Southeast Asia

Yahoo News: 3 Indonesian Maids Who Were Working In Singapore For Years Charged With Funding Terrorism

“They had been working as maids in Singapore for as long as 13 years when they became radicalised after viewing propaganda by the militant group ISIS online last year. Over time, the trio connected with others who were like-minded and even had “online boyfriends” who shared their pro-ISIS views. The three maids from Indonesia, who are in their 30s, galvanised support for the terrorist group via posts on several social media accounts, and allegedly contributed cash to fund terrorism-related activities. One of the maids was even prepared to be a suicide bomber for ISIS, while another wanted to join the terrorist group in Syria. At the State Courts on Wednesday (23 October), the trio, who have been detained under the Internal Security Act since last month, were each charged with funding terrorism. They are accused of remitting, collecting, or handing over about $1,600 in total, knowing that the money would be used to facilitate terrorist acts. Turmini, who goes by one name and is 31, is accused of remitting a total of 13,000,000 Indonesian rupiah, or about $1,200, to a person over five occasions between September last year and May.”

The Straits Times: Terrorist Linked To Al-Qaeda Will Be Freed Next Month, Confirms Malaysian Police Chief

“Unrepentant Malaysian terrorist Yazid Sufaat, who acquired 4 tonnes of ammonium nitrate in 2000 in preparation for a foiled bombing plot in Singapore, will be freed from prison next month, Malaysia's national police chief said on Wednesday (Oct 23). He confirmed the report in the The Straits Times last Saturday that the 55-year-old US-trained biochemist, who once attempted to produce weapons of mass destruction for Al-Qaeda, would be released from Simpang Renggam prison where he has spent two years in detention, the maximum allowed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota). “He has served his sentence, and only if he commits an offence after his release, will the police take action,” Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador told reporters after officiating the 69 Commando Golden Jubilee at the General Operations Force base in Ulu Kinta, Ipoh. “Just to detain him based on people's perception, we (the police) will not do that. (But) we understand people's concern, that he has the capability and was deeply involved in terrorism activities,” he said. Mr Abdul Hamid said the police would not challenge the release. In the 1990s, Yazid attempted to cultivate and load anthrax onto weapons in Afghanistan. His home in Kuala Lumpur had also been used by senior Al-Qaeda members for meetings.”

Technology

The Independent: Zuckerberg Claims He Is ‘Trying His Best’ To Remove Terrorist Content From Facebook, As Congress Attacks Company’s Cryptocurrency Plans And Civil Rights Record

“Mark Zuckerberg has been criticised by US politicians for his company's failure to remove terrorist content, its plans to introduce its own cryptocurrency and perceived bias over what views it promotes. The questions came as Mr Zuckerberg testified in front of the House Financial Services Committee, about Facebook's plans to create a global digital currency that would be available to all users of its services. But criticisms focused not just on that plan, but all of the various ways that Facebook conducts business around the world. Lawmakers asked about whether Facebook encouraged discrimination, for instance, as well as pointing out flaws in its content moderation techniques. During the hearings, Mr Zuckerberg was informed that videos of mass killings such as the Christchurch mosque shooting was still being hosted to watch by Facebook. He agreed that the company was “doing its best” to try and take such videos down, but suggested it would never be possible to catch them all. Mr Zuckerberg's hearing was advertised as focusing on Libra, the cryptocurrency that regulators fear could undermine government's power and traditional money. In recent months, the plan has come under scrutiny from lawmakers and has lost many of its biggest supporters.”