Eye on Extremism: October 25

USA Today: A Year After Tree Of Life, America Is Confronting Domestic Terror Threat Head-On

“Last month we observed the solemn 18th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. We have made significant strides since then in securing our nation against large-scale terrorist attacks from foreign groups like al-Qaida. We have established a Department of Homeland Security, strengthened aviation and infrastructure protections, constructed an integrated intelligence apparatus and struck strong blows against terrorist enclaves overseas. This work must continue as the Islamic State, al-Qaida and other extreme violent Islamist organizations seek to regroup. But we must recognize that in the past two decades, the threats of terrorism and mass violence have metastasized. We have seen the emergence of new strains of ideologically motivated terrorism and targeted mass violence, much of which is launched by domestic actors. Dramatic expansion of internet and social media platforms has magnified the risk of online radicalization, leading to violent extremism. New technologies amplify the ability of violent extremists to carry out deadly attacks, and to publicize and glorify the carnage. In recent years, domestic extreme ideologues have carried out more deadly attacks than violent jihadists.”

The Hill: House Homeland Security Committee Subpoenas Security Officials For Testimony On Terrorism

“House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) on Thursday issued subpoenas for the public testimony of two senior Trump administration officials on terror threats facing the country. Thompson on Wednesday subpoenaed acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and acting National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Russell Travers, demanding that they testify in a public Oct. 30 hearing. A statement from the committee on the subpoenas said that it has been attempting to get McAleenan and Travers to testify since July and that both agencies previously pulled out of a hearing. “From the release of ISIS prisoners in Syria to the rising number of domestic terrorism incidents here at home to the continuing effort by Russia to meddle in our elections, there are urgent security threats facing the nation. I am concerned that turmoil within the White House and vacancies at the highest levels of the Department of Homeland Security are undermining our ability to respond to terrorist threats,” Thomson said in a statement. “It is inexcusable that the people charged with keeping the country safe from terrorism are refusing to show up to testify before Congress and speak to the American people about what they are doing to secure the homeland.”

CNN: CNN Poll: Most Americans Are Concerned About Syria And Think It's Likely ISIS Will Reemerge

“Three-quarters of Americans are concerned about the situation in Syria and many see a reemergence of ISIS as likely following recent changes in US policy, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS. But the country is divided over how to proceed. Just over half (51%) think the US has a responsibility to remain involved in the ongoing conflict in Syria, while 43% do not. The poll finds a sharp partisan divide over whether America has a responsibility to remain involved in the conflict there: 72% of Democrats say yes, while 65% of Republicans say no. Overall, three-quarters of the country (75%) is concerned about the situation in Syria, including 43% who are very concerned. Concern, too, is highly divided along partisan lines -- 65% of Democrats say they're very concerned. Less than half of independents (40%) and about a quarter (24%) of Republicans feel the same. President Donald Trump announced a withdrawal of all troops from Syria last week, but he reversed course on Wednesday, saying a “small number” will remain. The poll was conducted after the decision to remove them, but before he said some could stay. Around two-in-five (42%) Americans approved of Trump's decision to withdraw all US troops from Syria, while half (50%) disapproved.”

United States

MSNBC: Trump Admin Contradicts Trump On Escaped ISIS Militants

“Despite the obvious failures of his policy in northern Syria, Donald Trump delivered remarks yesterday celebrating what he perceived as a success. Of particular interest were the president’s comments about escaped ISIS militants. “I have just spoken to General Mazloum, a wonderful man, the Commander-in-Chief of the SDF Kurds. And he was extremely thankful for what the United States has done. Could not have been more thankful. General Mazloum has assured me that ISIS is under very, very strict lock and key, and the detention facilities are being strongly maintained. There were a few that got out – a small number, relatively speaking – and they’ve been largely recaptured.” To clarify, Trump was apparently referring to a conversation with Ferhat Abdi Şahin, commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which includes Kurdish militias. Whether he was “extremely thankful” for the United States abandoning our Kurdish allies is unclear. But of particular interest was Trump’s rhetoric about escaped members of ISIS. The terrorist network was already delighted by the Republican’s policy, since it effectively ended the U.S.-backed offensive against ISIS. Indeed, by any fair measure, ISIS was one of the biggest winners of Trump’s decision.”


CBS News: U.S. Plans To Send Additional Troops To Northeastern Syria To Protect Oil Fields From ISIS, Pentagon Says

“A Pentagon official said Thursday that the U.S. is planning to send additional troops into northeastern Syria to protect oil fields from ISIS. The announcement comes as Russia, which has gained new power in the region, ordered all U.S. troops out of the country and called the remaining American troops an “occupying force.” The announcement is a reversal of President Trump's decision to pull U.S. forces from the area, which sparked a Turkish cross-border offensive earlier this month. While most U.S. troops are withdrawing from Syria, the Pentagon is planning a major increase in firepower to protect the ones left behind. If approved, a combat unit armed with tanks would be sent into an area along the Euphrates River to reinforce about 200 lightly armed troops who are staying in Syria to protect the oil fields. “One of the most significant gains by the U.S. and our partners in the fight against ISIS was gaining control of oil fields in Eastern Syria — a crucial source of revenue for ISIS,” a defense official said. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he was briefed on the situation Thursday by Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley. “There's a plan coming together from the Joint Chiefs, that I think may work, that may give us what we need to prevent ISIS from coming back around,” he said.”

ABC News: Over 100 ISIS Prisoners Are On The Loose, Security Officials Must Act Now: Experts

“Over one hundred ISIS soldiers have reportedly escaped prisons in Syria. Now security officials around the world need to work together to protect their borders in order to stop the next possible terrorist attack, experts say. Earlier this month, security at Syrian detention camps in al-Hol -- where thousands of ISIS soldiers were held -- weakened as Turkey invaded. As the Turkish Kurds fought the Syrian Kurds, who were guarding the jails, supporters of the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi attacked the camps and set ISIS prisoners free. “The concern is not with the thousands who were taken off the battlefield and put into prison, it's with the ones they don't know about that they are concerned about ... That threat has been consistent and constant,” said Darrell M. Blocker, a former senior Deputy Director of CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and an ABC News contributor. On Wednesday, U.S. Syria Envoy James Jeffrey told Congress that they “do not know” where the prisoners are. As President Trump announced withdrawing thousands of U.S. troops from the region, security experts said that leaving Syria -- a breeding ground for ISIS -- makes the U.S. vulnerable to possible attacks.”

Tablet Mag: Fighting The Wrong War On ISIS

“The war against the Islamic State ended in 2017 with the defeat of the self-proclaimed caliphate. Now, two years on, the time has come for a moral assessment of that war, in which a terrorist state lacking an army was able to defy the international community for four years before victory was won. Let’s take a close look at the strange waiting game played by the West. “No boots on the ground!” That was the watchword of Western governments and their militaries, including those in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. It was repeated over and over to the Kurds as they stood up to ISIS in Iraq and Syria. We Westerners wanted to be done with ISIS, which posed a twin threat to the Middle East and our own cities, but we did not intend to put our own boots on the ground. We were not going to repeat our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Aside from a limited number of Special Forces, the ground war against ISIS and its self-styled caliphate would fall to Kurdish and Iraqi proxies. We would train them, arm them, and supply them; we would provide air support and long-range artillery for the retaking of cities. But we were not going to send any soldiers in, for fear that one of them should fall into ISIS’ hands and be tortured on YouTube, sending public opinion into a tailspin.”


Business Insider: ISIS Is Staging Attacks In Symbolically Important Places To Send A Message: We're Back

“An ISIS attack on an Iraqi oil field checkpoint that killed at least two members of the Iraqi security forces sends a clear message: ISIS sees itself making a comeback, and it wants the world to know. Earlier this week, ISIS attacked security forces at a check point near Allas oilfield, in Iraq's Salahuddin province — a site that was one of the terror group's main sources of income during the territorial caliphate. “The important thing to note here is that ISIS attacked a checkpoint near the oil field,” said Brandon Wallace, a counterterrorism researcher at the Institute for the Study of War, who said it's an indication that ISIS is going after symbolic or economically vital targets likely to be guarded by security forces. The group is also trying to disrupt the social fabric in Iraq by going after village leaders, Wallace told Insider.  “If you take out the right guy in a village in one area, that can have much longer-lasting impact on the stability of the community,” he said, creating an environment in which ISIS is actually a viable alternative. The group seeks to do the same across the porous border in Syria. Over the past month, ISIS has made or attempted attacks in Raqqa, the former capital of its caliphate.”


Reuters: Erdogan Says Turkey Will Crush Kurdish Militants Remaining In Syria 'Safe Zone'

“Turkey will use its right to crush Kurdish militia fighters if they have not withdrawn from a “safe zone” in northern Syria as per a truce agreement with the United States, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday. Earlier on Thursday, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) accused Turkey of launching an offensive targeting three villages in northeast Syria despite a truce, but Russia said a peace deal struck this week was going ahead smoothly. Erdogan said Turkey would implement its plans for an offensive if the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia did not withdraw from along its border as agreed upon with Russia. He also criticized world leaders meeting with YPG commanders, saying such moves hindered the fight against terrorism.”

Arab News: Terror Suspects Being Deported To Turkey For Trial

“Dozens of Daesh terror suspects were being deported to Turkey on Thursday after being removed from prisons in northern Syria by Turkish troops. The militants, all Turkish nationals, were seized during Turkey’s military offensive to establish a 30-km buffer zone on its border with Syria. Daesh family members held in detention facilities and camps are also being brought to Turkey, where those who have not been involved in war crimes will undergo rehabilitation. Militants from other nations will be kept in prisons in the border town of Tal Abyad under the control of Syrian National Army. Last week Turkey urged European countries to take back Daesh fighters released by People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria and put them on trial. “YPG released around 650 Daesh terrorists in Syria, including 150 Turkish citizens and 500 from countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. About 195 of the militants have been recaptured, he said. Many EU countries, especially France, have refused to take back nationals who fought for Daesh, preferring to extradite them to Iraq for trial. More than 300 people were killed and 1,500 injured in Daesh-linked terror attacks on Turkish territory.”


The Diplomat: The Taliban’s Diplomatic Reemergence

“In a fresh move to reinvigorate the “dead” peace talks, China announced it would host Taliban and Afghan delegates in a two-day meeting slated to begin on October 28 in Beijing. Although there was no official announcement from China, both Taliban and Afghan delegates confirmed they received invitation from Beijing.  This will be the first such meeting since the abrupt ending of talks between U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Doha-based Taliban leadership last month. Separately, diplomats from the United States, Russia, China and Pakistan are scheduled to meet in Moscow on October 25 to discuss the Afghan peace process. Disregarding the Taliban’s past and present violence, support for terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda or its dreadful human rights record, the group’s once reclusive militant leadership is gradually and rapidly strengthening and expanding their diplomatic outreach. Long before the launch of the Qatar peace talks in October 2018, the Taliban leadership received positive signals from regional countries as well as some European capitals. Such signals helped the group put forward a diplomatic front with a soft image alongside continuing its fighting across Afghanistan.”


Reuters: Suspected Militants Kill Two In Indian Kashmir, Set Apple Trucks Ablaze

“Suspected militants shot and killed two drivers and set fire to their apple trucks in Indian Kashmir on Thursday, a senior police official said. The official said the attack took place in south Kashmir’s Shopian district, which is a major apple-growing region and a hotbed of militancy that has raged in Indian Kashmir for decades. The state police tweeted that two civilians had been killed and a third person injured in Shopian, but did not give details. There have been signs that militant actions have picked up in Indian Kashmir in last two months after New Delhi revoked the region’s decades-old autonomy in August. Apple farming provides jobs for some 3.5 million people and is a major part of Indian Kashmir’s economy, which went into a tailspin after New Delhi imposed a lockdown on the region, including cutting phone and internet links. Over the last two weeks, suspected militants have killed one truck driver and a trader in Shopian. However, trade has shown signs of recovery, as more than 10,000 trucks laden with apples left Indian-ruled Kashmir last week. On an average, about 300-400 apple trucks have been moving out of Shopian alone, over the last 10 days.”


The National: Lebanon: Hezbollah Supporters Clash With Anti-Government Protesters

“Several people were injured in clashes between Hezbollah supporters and anti-government protesters in downtown Beirut on Thursday afternoon, hours after President Michel Aoun addressed the movement that has brought Lebanon to a standstill. Despite the heavy rain, protesters were hampered only by pro-Hezbollah attendees interrupting demands for the government’s resignation to shout slogans like “Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah’s leader) is the most honourable of them all”. The men also chanted “Hezbollah is not terrorist, it protects my country” and “we worship you, Nasrallah”. A large Israeli flag had been placed on the floor for people to walk on, signalling their hatred for Hezbollah’s archenemy. However, protesters criticised their “obscurantist” behaviour and drowned out the chants with music and danced in their rain ponchos. “I told them that I wanted to chant that all politicians must leave, including Nasrallah. They told me I could not say that. They just came to cause trouble,” one young women told The National. Another protester said she witnessed a Hezbollah supporter hitting a woman who had chanted that Nasrallah should resign too. “I was filming the scene and they tried to take my phone,” she said.”


Al Monitor: Why Egypt Agreed To Release Islamic Jihad Detainees

“An Islamic Jihad delegation, headed by its leader Ziad al-Nakhala, concluded a four-day visit Oct. 17 to the Egyptian capital of Cairo, which Nakhala described as fruitful, according to a statement issued by the movement Oct. 18. During the visit, the delegation held comprehensive talks with the Egyptian intelligence services on the latest developments in the Palestinian situation. They also reached an agreement to release around 40 young men stranded at Cairo airport and detained in Egypt, who returned to the Gaza Strip with the delegation through the Rafah crossing on the evening of Oct. 17. These men had been detained on charges of supporting or planning the demonstrations against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Sept. 20. Ahead of the visit, on Oct. 14, Islamic Jihad published a statement on its website saying that a delegation will head to Egypt in response to an Egyptian invitation to Nakhala to visit Cairo, in order to hold meetings with Egyptian officials on the latest developments in the Palestinian situation and strengthen ties. Tension had prevailed over the Egyptian relations with Islamic Jihad after the Egyptian authorities arrested members of the movement on charges of participating in the Sept. 20 demonstrations or filming police checkpoints in Tahrir Square.”


All Africa: Nigerian Girl Takes Boko Haram Heads-On

“Pressure is mounting from across the globe on the Boko Haram to release a brave Nigerian schoolgirl held captive for refusing to renounce her Christian faith and convert to Islam. Leah Sharibu was aged 14 when the Islamist terror group abducted 110 students from a girls' boarding school in the northeastern state of Yobe in February last year. Five students were killed while being held captive. Some 104 of the girls were released four weeks after the abduction. It is believed Sharibu is still held captive because of her refusal to renounce her Christian faith. This is in defiance of orders by the Boko Haram. Her bravery in the face of a terror group feared as the most lethal in the world has attracted international acclaim. In a video released exactly a year ago, Boko Haram warned that Sharibu would be a slave for life. “Based on our doctrines, it is now lawful for us to do whatever we want to do with her,” the group stated. The 21 Wilberforce Alert is encouraging people to stand in solidarity with the teenage girl by participating in a global prayer vigil on Saturday.”

United Kingdom

The Guardian: UK Man Who Fought Isis Found Guilty Of Terror Offence In Retrial

“A British man who trained to fight with Kurdish units against Islamic State has been found guilty of a terrorism offence in a retrial at the Old Bailey. Aidan James, 28, from Formby in Merseyside, was found guilty of training in weapons with the banned Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) in Iraq. But he was cleared of a second charge of attending a place of terror training with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. James was remanded in custody to be sentenced on 7 November. It is the first time a Briton has been put on trial for travelling to Syria to oppose Isis, after similar charges were dropped against former soldier James Matthews, 43, from east London, in 2018. James, who had been repeatedly turned down by British armed forces due to poor mental health, had no previous military knowledge when he set out to join the war against Isis in 2017. The court heard how he was in contact with the anti-terror Prevent programme before he left Britain for Iraq in August 2017. According to an officer’s notes of a meeting in April 2017, ruled inadmissible in the trial by Mr Justice Edis, James had said he wanted to help the “PKK YPG” in their battle against Isis. Days later, he was arrested on suspicion of preparing terrorist acts after broadcasting his intentions on Facebook.”


Deutsche Welle: Germany To End Anti-'Islamic State' Mission In March

“The German parliament on Thursday voted to end the Bundeswehr's anti-”Islamic State” (IS) mission in Syria and Iraq after March 31, 2020. The Christian Democrats (CDU) and Social Democrats (SPD) have been in a tussle over extending the mission's mandate, with the SPD demanding the German military end its role in the international coalition. The SPD has opposed extending the military mission, arguing that former Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen had promised parliament to terminate the anti-IS mandate. The mandate was set to expire at the end of October and would normally have been extended by a year. Germany has four Tornado reconnaissance jets, an AWAC aircraft and an in-flight refueling tanker based in Jordan carrying out missions as part of a US-led international coalition. Lawmakers also voted to extend the Bundeswehr's military training mission in Iraq for one year. The decision to end Germany's participation the anti-IS mission comes as Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has suggested the creation of an international security zone in northeast Syria. The United States has urged Germany to continue its participation in the anti-IS mission.”


Al Jazeera: Denmark Passes Legislation To Strip ISIL Fighters Of Citizenship

“Denmark's parliament has passed a law that allows the government to strip dual-national citizens, who fought with foreign armed groups, of their citizenship to stop them from returning to the country. The measure, which was approved on Thursday, is primarily designed to target Danes who fought for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group in Syria and Iraq. It enables the immigration and integration minister to revoke the citizenships of dual nationals, while they are abroad, even without a court ruling, which was previously a requirement. The bill was announced after Turkey began an offensive into northeast Syria on October 9, a region where ISIL captives are held in camps by Kurdish fighters. It was rushed to Parliament last week amid reports that hundreds of family members linked to ISIL escaped from a camp in the region. While the ruling Social Democrats, the centre-right Liberal Party and the populist Danish People's Party backed the bill in Parliament, the Social Liberals, the leftist-green Unity List and the Alternative voted against it. The Socialist People's Party abstained.”

Southeast Asia

Radio Free Europe: Suspected Islamic State Recruiter Arrested In The Maldives

“Police in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives have detained a local man who the United States says is a recruiter for the Islamic State (IS) militant group. Muhammad Ameen, 35, was arrested on October 23 on suspicion of spreading an “extremist ideology,” Maldivian police said the following day. He allegedly mobilized fighters for IS in Syria and Afghanistan. No further details were provided about the suspect although U.S. authorities last month designated him as a foreign terrorist leader of IS-Khorasan, a group that is reportedly active in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Citing local media, AFP reported that Ameen first sent fighters to Syria, but was now focused on recruiting Maldivians for combat in Afghanistan. He is also suspected of involvement in an explosion at Sultan Park in the capital of Male in September 2007 in which a dozen tourists were hurt with minor injuries. Up to 160 Maldivian militants are believed to be held in Syrian detention camps after IS was defeated in the country. The country’s parliamentary speaker and former president, Muhammad Nasheed, said in June that he wants to rehabilitate the imprisoned Maldivians but not without an internationally supervised reintegration program.”


Haaretz: U.S. Lawmakers Call On Twitter To Remove Hamas And Hezbollah Content

“Four Congress members have called out Twitter for allowing Hamas and Hezbollah to maintain a presence on the social media platform. Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J.; Tom Reed, R-N.Y.; Max Rose, D-N.Y.; and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., wrote in a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Tuesday that they were alarmed to learn that Twitter “draws a distinction between the political and military factions of these organizations,” quoting from Twitter’s initial response to their concerns. The congressmen said in their letter that the distinction “is not meaningful nor is it widely shared,” noting that Hezbollah and Hamas are designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. government. At a news conference Tuesday, Rose, Reed and Gottheimer said they are pushing the company to take down the Hezbollah and Hamas content by November 1. A Twitter official had written to the lawmakers last month. “There is no place on Twitter for terrorist organizations, violent extremist groups, or individuals who affiliate with and promote their illicit activities,” Carlos Monje Jr., the director of public policy and philanthropy for the United States and Canada, said in a letter.”

MIT Technology Review: Can You Really “Deradicalize” A Terrorist?

“Malam Aminu is a slight, bespectacled man with a neat goatee and a disconcerting droopy eyelid that by turns makes him look sinister and then not quite all there. When I first met him, in 2015, he was an inmate in Nigeria’s Kuje Prison, and one of the most senior members of Boko Haram being held in custody. He was also one of 41 subjects in a new experiment being conducted by the government. Faced with a difficult war against insurgents in the remote northeast, Nigeria had decided on a new strategy to tackle extremism: a mixture of amnesty, demobilization, and reprogramming to whittle away jihadist recruits. The idea was to undermine Boko Haram through bloodless attrition, not just by slugging it out on the battlefield. The program was designed and run by Fatima Akilu, a soft-spoken psychologist who had trained in the UK and the US. She drew on prison-based schemes under way in Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Australia, adapting them to Nigeria. The new approach involved changes across a range of policy areas: shifting the school curriculum to promote “critical thinking,” overhauling a sclerotic justice system, tinkering with the health services so that psycho-social care could be expanded. “The solutions are as complex as the reasons for radicalism,” Akilu told me.”