Eye on Extremism: October 7, 2020

Agence France-Presse: Mali Frees More Jihadists, Boosting Hostage Release Scenario

“A second batch of jihadists has been freed in Mali, sources said Tuesday, boosting speculation that a French charity worker and Malian politician held by the insurgents may be freed in a swap. About 30 “jihadist prisoners were released” late Monday and early Tuesday “and were flown north,” a Mali security source said. “It's to do with the release of the hostage Soumaila Cisse and the Frenchwoman, Sophie Petronin,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. More than 100 suspected or convicted rebels were released at the weekend, an official in charge of the negotiations said on Monday. They were released in the central region of Niono and the northern region of Tessalit after arriving by plane. Cisse, a 70-year-old former opposition leader and three-time presidential candidate, was abducted on March 25 while campaigning in his home region of Niafounke ahead of legislative elections. Petronin, a French charity worker who is now 75, was abducted by gunmen on December 24, 2016, in the northern city of Gao. She is the last French national held hostage in the world. Her son, Sebastien Chadaud, who lives in Switzerland, flew to Paris on Tuesday “and should be in (the Malian capital) Bamako in the early afternoon,” Petronin's nephew, Lionel Granouillac, told AFP.”

The National: Fears Terrorists Will Exploit Europe’s Migrant Routes In New ISIS Recruitment Drive

“Migrant routes across Europe used by ISIS terrorists who launched attacks on Paris could again be used by extremists, experts warn. The migrant crisis was exploited by ISIS terrorists five years ago, as they sought to pass from Syria through Europe under the radar and pick up asylum seekers to fight for the Caliphate cause. It is now feared these well-trodden paths will again be used in recruitment drives for the terrorist group … Hans-Jakob Schindler, director of the Counter Extremism Project think tank, said there could also be a major security risk with the movement of Syrians from Al Hol. Mr Schindler said any radicals who are tempted to flee the camp could join the majority of Syrian migrants and head to Europe. “There are a significant amount of Syrians in Al Hol who did not de-radicalise," he said. "If anything they re-radicalised and will come out with a new furore in their ideological thinking." Mr Schindler said these people were “extremely dangerous” and "pose a major threat to Europe".”

United States

ABC News: Nation’s Deadliest Domestic Terrorist Inspiring New Generation Of Hate-Filled ‘Monsters,’ FBI Records Show

“A week before 36-year-old Timothy Wilson decided to blow up a Kansas City-area hospital that was already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, he considered attacking a slew of other targets instead, including several local mosques, a synagogue and an elementary school filled with Black children. But, according to FBI records, before the avowed white supremacist from Raymore, Missouri, picked his final target in March, Wilson texted an associate with a particular question: “How did McVeigh do it?” More than 25 years ago, Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people and injured nearly 700 others when he bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City, making him the most ruthless domestic terrorist in U.S. history. Fortunately this time, Wilson's associate was actually an undercover FBI agent, and Wilson was stopped before he could carry out his bloody assault. In the past three years, the FBI has arrested a few hundred Americans suspected of ties to domestic terrorism or violent white supremacy. And, as the nation confronts a surge in racially motivated violence, the FBI uncovered references to McVeigh in several of those investigations, according to an ABC News review of court records and government documents.”

Syria

Al Jazeera: Truck Bomb In Syria’s Al-Bab Kills At Least 18

“At least 18 people have been killed in a truck bomb explosion in the Turkish-controlled town of Al-Bab in northwest Syria, a war monitor, activists and medics said. The explosion on Tuesday near a bus station also wounded at least 75 people, some of them seriously, the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Ibrahim al-Haj, a spokesman for the Syrian Civil Defence, a search-and-rescue group that operates in rebel-held parts of Syria also known as the White Helmets, said 82 people were wounded as a result of the blast. Videos and images circulated by activists on social media showed large plumes of smoke rising from the blast site, along with several fires and damaged buildings. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the car bombing, but there has been a string of attacks in Al-Bab since its capture by Turkish troops from the Islamic State group in 2017. “We condemn in the strongest terms these ongoing indiscriminate attacks on civilians,” senior UN humanitarian official Mark Cutts wrote on Twitter after the latest bombing. The town, 40 kilometres (25 miles) northeast of Syria’s second city Aleppo, was one of the western-most strongholds of the armed group’s self-styled territorial “caliphate.”

Afghanistan

Reuters: Exclusive: Taliban, Afghan Negotiators Set Ground Rules To Safeguard Peace Talks - Sources

“Taliban and Afghan government-backed negotiators have agreed on a broad code of conduct to advance the intra-Afghan peace talks in Qatar, even as key differences between the two warring sides remain, three official sources told Reuters on Tuesday. Efforts to resolve disagreements over Islamic jurisprudence and whether a U.S.-Taliban accord reached in February on a U.S. troop withdrawal would serve as the basis of the peace talks will continue on the sidelines of the main negotiations, two sources said. The progress was achieved with the help of U.S. officials, as the two sides drew up 19 ground rules that their negotiators should observe during talks, the sources said. “Firming up code of conduct was extremely crucial as it proves that both sides are willing to continue talks even as we see that violence has not reduced on the ground,” said one senior Western diplomat on conditions of anonymity. Nader Nadery, a senior government negotiator, told Reuters that issues still need to be ironed out. “The discussion over the rules and procedures is not yet completed and there are issues that need to be further finalised and therefore more work needs to be done,” said Nadery.”

Agence France-Presse: Afghan President Urges Taliban To 'Have Courage' And Silence Guns

“Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called on the Taliban to “have courage and declare a national ceasefire” on Tuesday as he visited Doha where peace talks between government and Taliban negotiators have stalled. At the end of a two-day trip, his first to Doha since the talks began, Ghani gave a lecture where he said Afghanistan's long conflict had to be resolved through negotiation, “not under the barrel of the gun”. “Nobody is going to wipe you out,” he said in front of a socially distanced crowd of diplomats and academics, three weeks after the launch of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Talks between the two sides, hosted by the Gulf state and aimed at ending Afghanistan's 19-year war, have slowed over disagreements on how to frame a code of conduct that will guide the broader talks. Headline issues, including a ceasefire or the type of governance that will shape Afghanistan's future, have yet to be discussed. Meanwhile violence continues to rage in Afghanistan, with a suicide attack targeting a provincial governor killing at least eight people on Monday. Earlier Ghani met with Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, with Doha reaffirming its commitment to facilitate the peace process.”

Bloomberg: Afghan Leader Wants Taliban To Help Fight Against Islamic State

“Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wants Taliban fighters to integrate into the country’s armed forces and join efforts to eliminate Islamic State militants, the first clear indication of the government’s vision for its defense and security apparatus if peace talks in Qatar progress. “The reason we want peace with Taliban” is because once the militants are reintegrated into Afghan society “we will be able to isolate these much more larger networks” of Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, Ghani said at the Doha-based think tank Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies. During a two-day state visit to Qatar that ended Tuesday, Ghani met with local leaders and his own government’s negotiators in order to push peace efforts forward. U.S. special envoy on Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, is also in the Persian Gulf country to support the process. Despite a month of talks Afghan government representatives and the Taliban are yet to agree on a code of conduct or procedural rules intended to guide the formal talks ahead.”

Lebanon

The National: Hezbollah Is Losing Its Ability To Intimidate Anyone

“Last week, Lebanon’s Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, announced that an agreement had been reached on a framework for negotiations with Israel to delineate the two nations' maritime boundaries. The agreement, mediated by the US, could allow them to resolve their dispute over offshore gas fields in the Mediterranean. Mr Berri is a close ally of the militant political party Hezbollah, and the fact that he approved of the framework suggested the party had given him the go-ahead to do so. But it didn’t make the decision any less remarkable. By agreeing to indirect negotiations, Hezbollah implicitly acknowledged that a compromise could be reached when it had argued that Lebanon’s rights to its offshore gas were inviolable. That prior insistence meant, in principle, that there was nothing over which to compromise. Stark reality, however, has trumped ideology. Lebanon is going through a terrible economic crisis, exacerbated by the resistance of the country’s politicians and parties to introducing reforms that would unlock financial aid from the International Monetary Fund. Such reforms would threaten their networks of corruption and patronage. That is why the prospect of offshore gas reserves represents a valuable lifeline for them, especially when Hezbollah’s and Mr Berri’s supporters are increasingly unhappy with Lebanon's economic situation.”

Middle East

The Washington Post: When Extremist Soccer ‘Ultras’ Aligned With Israel’s Right-Wing Government, Mayhem Followed

“This summer in Jerusalem, small, spontaneous protests against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu grew into weekly Saturday night gatherings of thousands. They were decentralized and largely leaderless, with seas of handmade signs, cartoonish effigies and calls for Netanyahu’s resignation over his indictments on corruption charges and his Likud party’s fumbling response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. When the Jerusalem police cracked down, the protests only accelerated. Eventually, Netanyahu’s backers craved their own show of force. They found it in a group of soccer fans. That group, La Familia, is composed of infamously racist “ultras” who support the team Beitar Jerusalem. On their face, ultras are highly organized fans; at games, they lead raucous chants, unfurl massive banners and set off flares. In practice, they can operate as members of a street gang united by criminality, ideology or a little bit of both. Beitar is the unofficial team of Israel’s political right. It is the only club in the Israeli Premier League to never have had an Arab player on its roster, and it is Netanyahu’s favorite team. So as the summer’s protests swept Jerusalem, Likud activist Amnon Ben Ami put the call out for the ultras on his popular Facebook page: “La Familia, you are the medicine against those anarchists.”

Egypt

Al Monitor: Are Sinai-Based Terrorists Shifting To Cairo?

“Egyptian authorities continue to crack down on terrorist elements in the Sinai Peninsula, but more recently these operations seem to have moved out of Sinai and closer to the capital city of Cairo. On Sept. 28, Egypt’s security forces killed two suspected militants in Qalyubia governorate, in the Greater Cairo area. The Egyptian Ministry of Interior said in a statement that a shootout erupted when police raided a hideout in al-Qalg used by suspects planning terrorist attacks. The statement said Hossam Abd Rabbo, 47, and Ahmed al-Sayyid al Biyoumi Ibrahim, 37, were killed and found in possession of a machine gun, a pistol and various types of ammunition of different calibers. According to the statement, the suspects belonged to an extremist and terrorist cell that had been targeted in April before carrying out a terrorist attack ahead of the Coptic holidays. The ministry had said April 14 that Muhammad al-Hofi, a counterterrorism officer at the ministry, was killed during clashes with terrorists in Cairo's Amiriyah district. Seven terrorist operatives were also killed. The Egyptian armed forces announced Aug. 30 that seven officers and soldiers were killed and wounded during raids conducted at terrorist groups’ hideouts in the northern Sinai Peninsula, which indicates that the confrontation has moved to the capital and nearby governorates, according to observers.”

Nigeria

Agence France-Presse: Nigerian Displaced Face Jihadist Attacks After Returning Home

“Authorities in volatile northeastern Nigeria have been encouraging thousands of people displaced by jihadist violence to return home, even as bloody attacks persist. On September 27, hundreds of people came back to Baga, a fishing town on the shores of Lake Chad in Borno state, six years after it was seized by Boko Haram. Their return came shortly after the convoy of Governor Babagana Umara Zulum was ambushed by the IS-linked Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) while he was making an assessment of the area. Thirty security personnel and civilians were killed. Jihadists have seized swathes of territory in Borno, Boko Haram's birthplace, forcing some two million to flee their homes. Most of the displaced have moved into squalid camps in the regional capital, Maiduguri, relying on food handouts from international charities. Like many officials before him, Zulum has insisted that the displaced “must return” to rebuild their homes and live a “dignified” life. Since 2018, people have returned to five major towns where they typically live behind a defensive line of trenches to fend off jihadists.”

Africa

Asharq Al-Awsat: Security Forces Bust Terrorist Cell Planning Attacks In Morocco

“Security agencies in Morocco busted on Monday an ISIS-affiliated terrorist cell in the northern city of Tangier. After receiving information about terrorist activity, security forces raided four positions in the city, arresting the primary suspect and three members of the cell. They confiscated a number of weapons and electronic equipment. Investigations with the suspects revealed that they sought to join ISIS training camps in the Sahel region, but failed, prompting them to turn to plotting dangerous terrorist attacks in Morocco. Investigators also discovered a recording of one of the members pledging his allegiance to the current alleged leader of ISIS. The Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation said the arrest underscores that terrorism is still a threat in the kingdom, warning that extremists were still plotting operations in the country. Investigations will continue with the detainees.”

Germany

The New York Times: Far-Right Extremism Taints German Security Services In Hundreds Of Cases

“Germany’s security services recorded more than 1,400 cases of suspected far-right extremism among soldiers, police officers and intelligence agents in the three years ending in March, according to a government report released Tuesday. The report, compiled by the domestic intelligence service, is a first attempt to document the extent of far-right infiltration of the security services. It comes as the number of cases of extremists found in police forces and the military has multiplied. Dozens of police officers have been suspended for joining far-right chat groups and sharing neo-Nazi propaganda. In June, the defense minister disbanded a whole company of Germany’s special forces after explosives, a machine gun and SS memorabilia were found on the property of a sergeant major. Horst Seehofer, the German interior minister who presented the new report flanked by intelligence and police chiefs, said Tuesday that there should be “no tolerance” for extremists and that every case was “shameful.” But Mr. Seehofer insisted that there was no “structural problem,” and said the vast majority of people in the security services were loyal to the German Constitution.”