Eye on Extremism: October 8, 2020

The New York Times: Islamic State ‘Beatles’ Jailers Are Charged In Abuse Of Murdered Hostages

“Two notorious Islamic State detainees from Britain were brought to the United States on Wednesday to face federal charges over accusations that they jailed and tortured Western hostages, some of whom were beheaded, Justice Department officials said. The transfer is a milestone in the saga of the two men, El Shafee Elsheikh, 32, and Alexanda Kotey, 36, who are half of an ISIS cell of four Britons called “the Beatles” — a nickname bestowed by their victims because of their accents — and known for their extreme brutality. The American government has linked the group to the kidnapping and abuse of more than two dozen hostages, some of whom were ultimately beheaded for propaganda videos, including the journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. The British extremists repeatedly beat the hostages they kept imprisoned in Raqqa, Syria, formerly the Islamic State’s self-declared capital, according to prosecutors. They subjected their hostages to abuses including waterboarding, mock executions, painful stress positions, food deprivation, beatings with sticks lasting 20 minutes or longer, chokeholds causing blackouts and electric shocks. They also forced their hostages to fight each other and to witness murders, court papers said.”

The New York Times: 2 Men Found Guilty Of Aiding 2013 Kenya Mall Attack

“A court in Kenya on Wednesday found two men guilty for their role in an assault on an upscale mall in the capital, Nairobi, that killed 67 people in 2013, the first convictions in one of the deadliest terror attacks in the country’s history. The men — Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hussein Hassan Mustafah — were found guilty of charges including conspiracy to commit terrorism and aiding the Qaeda-linked Shabab terrorist group. A third man, Liban Abdullah Omar, was acquitted of all charges. A fourth, Adan Dheq, was released last year because of a lack of evidence. The ruling comes seven years after the attack on the Westgate mall, in which Shabab gunmen killed 67 people from 13 countries, wounding 175 others. Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi of the Milimani law courts in Nairobi delivered the judgment, which had been delayed multiple times. A court translator gave the verdict, which took four hours to read, in Somali to the accused, who are all ethnic Somalis. “Their defenses and denials that they had any links that were associated with the act that were committed by the attackers is without substance and I dismiss it,” the chief magistrate said. “They were acting in concert with the attackers.”

United States

Associated Press: Hacker Who Helped Islamic State To Remain In US Prison

“A computer hacker who gave the Islamic State group personal data of more than 1,300 U.S. government and military personnel will remain in a federal prison after a judge rejected his request for compassionate release. Ardit Ferizi, 24, is serving a 20-year sentence. The native of Kosovo is the first person convicted in the U.S. of both computer hacking and terrorism charges. He is currently held at a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and is scheduled for release in 2032 if he gets credit for good behavior. Ferizi asked a federal judge in Alexandria to release him from prison. In a handwritten motion from prison, he said his asthma and obesity place him at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. He also said special restrictions at the prison require him to check in with staff every two hours, increasing his contact with guards and his risk of contracting the virus. Prosecutors opposed his release, and U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema rejected Ferizi's request at a hearing Tuesday, citing concerns that he might resume hacking if released, among other issues.”

Syria

Asian News International: US Strongly Condemns Deadly Terrorist Attack In Syria's Al Bab: State Department

“The United States is deeply concerned over the rising number of terrorist attacks in Syria and strongly condemns this week's deadly car bombing in the Syrian town of Al-Bab, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on Wednesday. “The United States strongly condemns the terrorist attack near a crowded traffic circle in al-Bab yesterday, which according to initial reports killed more than 20 innocent people and injured scores more,” Ortagus said. “We are deeply troubled by the rise in such terrorist attacks in recent months, and we again remind all parties that violence impedes the hope for a lasting political resolution to the conflict in Syria as called for by UNSCR 2254.” On Tuesday, the state-run SANA news agency reported that dozens of civilians were killed and wounded in the blast, which occurred on the territory controlled by Turkish-backed armed groups.”

Iran

The Washington Free Beacon: Iranian Terror Proxies Prop Up Venezuela’s Maduro, Report Says

“A network of Iranian terror proxy groups operating in Latin America, including Hezbollah, are providing the resources necessary for dictator Nicolas Maduro's regime in Venezuela to flourish, according to a new investigation released on Wednesday. Maduro's oppressive regime has faced down months of U.S. opposition and sanctions by forming “an extensive relationship with several foreign terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah and its terror sponsor the Islamic Republic of Iran,” according to a new report published by the Atlantic Council and the Center for a Secure Free Society, a national security think tank. The relationship is centered on keeping the anti-U.S. Maduro in power and solidifying Iran's terrorist footprint in Latin America, which has long served as an operational hub for Hezbollah forces. Iran has found an ally in Maduro, who has accepted millions of barrels of Iranian crude oil in recent months—a central lifeline for the isolated Venezuelan regime. In return, Maduro has opened Venezuela's borders to Iranian operatives and terror affiliates like Hezbollah, according to the report. Details about this relationship are likely to renew concerns about Iran's operations near the U.S. southern border, which could pose a direct threat to the American homeland.”

Iraq

Voice Of America: ‘Unbearable' Memories Push Some Yazidi Survivors Of IS To Suicide

“Driven by “unbearable” memories, the suicide rate among members of the Yazidi religious minority is increasing more than six years after the Islamic State (IS) terror group attacked Yazidis' homes in the Sinjar district in northern Iraq, according to Yazidi activists. Many Yazidis who fled the IS into Iraqi Kurdistan's refugee camps are now facing mental health issues. The distress is particularly acute among women who experienced sexual violence while in IS captivity. “There are multiple factors pushing some Yazidis to commit suicide, but the main reason is the unbearable memory of what happened during the IS genocide,” said Khodr al-Domali, a Yazidi researcher and coordinator of social support to Yazidi women in refugee camps. Al-Domali said thousands of Yazidis in refugee camps are afraid to return home because armed groups are fighting over who will control their villages and towns now that IS jihadists are gone. Yazidis who have returned home can't find work or educational opportunities, and they face discrimination by surrounding communities.”

Afghanistan

The National: Afghanistan: Over 500 Assassinated By The Taliban In Just Six Months

“Fifteen Taliban members thought to be responsible for a spate of assassinations in Kabul and beyond were captured on Tuesday, Afghanistan’s primary intelligence organisation announced. The National Directorate of Security (NDS) said the men were tasked with carrying out assassinations of security and defence forces as well as prominent political figures in Afghanistan. “Members of this group would operate in teams of four and five, and track movements of targets who are prominent and political figures in Afghanistan before carrying out their attacks,” a spokesperson for the NDS shared. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said 533 civilians have been killed and 412 others wounded in targeted attacks in the last six months. Among these were two of AIHRC’s own employees, 24-year-old Fatima Khalil and driver Ahmad Jawid Folad, who were killed in an explosion targeting their vehicle on June 26. The Afghan Ministry of Interior (MOI) provided equally grim figures, stating that at least 70 civilians were killed and more than 140 injured in the last two weeks of September.”

Nigeria

Premium Times: How Nigerian Army Can Win Boko Haram War - Borno Governor

“The Governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum, on Tuesday, listed some actions he believes the army can take to win the Boko Haram war. The governor who was a special guest of honour at the 2020 joint Chief of Army Staff Conference held in Maiduguri, Borno State, said the Nigeria Army being the flagship of the nation's military, has all it takes to win the war, only if it can review its fighting strategy. While commending the military for what he said was the recent improvement in troops' fighting spirit against the insurgents, the governor said the war could be ended in no time if the military especially the Nigeria Army can “change the war narratives.” He said it is appropriate to commend the army when it has done well “and we must also have the courage to tell each other the common truth and be critical of the troops' operations when things go wrong.” He said his administration will not relent in giving the soldiers all the needed support to win the war. “As part of the ten-point agenda of this administration ... the Borno state government shall sustain its role as a stakeholder in supporting the activities of the Nigerian army, through the provision of all the needed support and morale-boosting mechanism to all the security agencies to end the fight against Boko Haram crisis.”

Somalia

Associated Press: Extremists Release 2 Cuban Doctors In Somalia, Officials Say

“The al-Qaida-linked extremist group al-Shabab has released two Cuban doctors who were kidnapped in Kenya and held for a year and a half in neighboring Somalia, officials say. But a Cuban official has denied it. A senior Somali intelligence official told The Associated Press that the doctors were released over the weekend after months of negotiations with their captors. He declined to give further details. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Several sources told the AP that Somali intelligence, acting at the request of the Cuban government, negotiated for the doctors' release after it obtained a video showing them a few months ago. But an official with Cuba's foreign ministry, Juan Antonio Fernández Palacios, denied the reported release of Assel Herrera Correa and Landy Rodríguez Hernández, adding in a statement that “huge efforts continue to be made to ensure the liberation and safe return to the homeland.” It was not immediately clear where the doctors were Wednesday. Suspected Islamic extremists kidnapped the doctors in Kenya’s Mandera County as they were going to work in April 2019, killing one of their police bodyguards. The orthopedic surgeon and physician had been deployed in 2018.”

Dalsan Radio: Somali Military Kills Ten Al-Shabaab Fighters Including Senior Commander In Lower Shabelle Region

“Somali National Army (SNA) forces on Monday killed ten Alshabab militants including two senior Alshabab officials in a military operation near Barire town in Lower Shabelle region, military official confirms. The two senior operatives were identified as Isse Timaweyne also known as Abu Dhere who was in charge of who was Alshabab operations and Qorey who was in charge of Zakat in the region. Ahmed Hassan Siyad, 143 Section Commander of the Somali National Army told the military-owned radio that the successful operation conducted to flushing out terrorists and disrupting their plans to terrorize the residents in the Lower Shabelle region. “We discovered the militants' presence in the area and launched an attack on them, killing 10 of their fighters including two officials,” Siyad said This comes hours after the military killed four Alshabab fighters in Middle Shabelle on following fierce fighting on Monday. Alshabab group has been fighting in Somalia since 2007 to topple the internationally recognized government and establish Sharia law-based and understood in their own interpretation. The group was driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 by the Somali military and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) but they still carry out attacks in the capital and elsewhere.”

Mali

Agence France-Presse: 3 Mali National Guardsmen Killed In Overnight Attack

“Three national guardsmen were killed in an attack in central Mali on Tuesday night, a security official said, in the latest violence to hit the turbulent region. Unidentified gunmen ambushed the guardsmen at around 11 pm in the village of Birga-Peul near the town of Koro, by the border with Burkina Faso, the security official said on Wednesday, killing three. The militants also torched two vehicles and made off with another, added the official, who declined to be named. Mali has been struggling to quell a jihadist insurgency that emerged in 2012 and has since spread into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger. Central Mali has become an epicenter of the conflict, which has claimed the lives of thousands of soldiers and civilians.”

Africa

Al Jazeera: Attackers Kill 25 Displaced Civilians In Burkina Faso, UN Says

“A convoy carrying dozens of displaced civilians hoping to return to their homes in central-northern Burkina Faso was ambushed by armed assailants, who then separated the men from the group and killed 25 of them, the United Nations has said. The attack late on Sunday took place some 9km (five miles) from the town of Pissila in Sanmatenga province, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Wednesday. The women and children were let go, the UNHCR said in a statement based on survivors’ testimony. One man who was left for dead also survived. “The attack on the (internally displaced people) occurred as they were returning to their homes from Pissila, hoping for an improved security situation there,” the UN said. Ioli Kimyaci, UNHCR’s representative in Burkina Faso, denounced the “brutal and callous” attack. “Innocent civilians are seeking safety but instead are paying with their lives with alarming frequency,” she said. An impoverished country of some 20 million people, Burkina Faso is one of several West African states in recent years to have been gripped by escalating violence that has spread across the western portion of the Sahel region. Last year, clashes between government forces, bandits and armed groups linked to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda led to more than 2,000 deaths in Burkina Faso.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Whitemoor Prison Terrorist Atttackers ‘Known To Be Dangerous’

“When Brusthom Ziamani and Baz Hockton attacked Ian Trundle at HMP Whitemoor, Cambridgeshire, in January, the assault was the first terrorist attack to occur inside a British jail. It was not a snap decision by the two men responsible. They had planned it in advance, crafting makeshift weapons, fake suicide vests and a martyrdom letter. It was not the first time either of the men had been involved in prison violence … Prof Ian Acheson, a former prison governor and a senior adviser at the Counter Extremism Project, said he feared the murder of a prison officer by a terrorist was "creeping ever closer". "The system of risk management and intervention with terrorist offenders that we have got inside prisons is not fit for purpose," he said. "We need a fundamental review of how we manage the risk posed by, let's be clear, a very small number of prisoners in custody at the moment." He said the case "should be a wake-up call", and there should be discussion about placing such prisoners "under proper surveillance, so they can't fashion suicide belts in one of the most surveilled and secure environments in the country". Efforts should also be made to ensure "their toxic ideology is not just contained somehow but is actively challenged", Prof Acheson added.”

Germany

The National: Germany Criticised For Not Listing More Far-Right Groups As Terrorist Entities

“German efforts to curb far-right infiltration into the police and security services are being hampered by the nation’s failure to list more extremist organisations as terrorist entities. A report on extremism in the German security forces, published Tuesday, uncovered more than 350 suspected far-right cases between 2017 and April 2020. There have been a string of scandals involving far-right networks in the police and military in recent years. Experts have told The National that Germany should have been quicker to designate far-right groups as terrorist organisations. The move would have given the authorities powers to target bank accounts and electronic communications, and to raid properties in connection with their investigations. Hans-Jakob Schindler, Director of the Counter Extremism Project think tank, said more extremist groups need to be listed as terrorist groups. “There is clearly a problem with right-wing issues in the German security services,” he said. “Germany has this problem and needs to treat it equally to Islamist extremism. Just because these people are German and speak German does not mean they are any less dangerous. “Since 2019 everyone has been looking closely at the issue since the murder of a politician and then the Hanau terror attack earlier this year. It is an issue which needs urgently addressing.”

Technology

Formtek: Deepfakes: Trying To Make Sense Of What’s Real And What’s Not

“Deepfakes are videos or images that have been altered in ways to make it difficult to detect that it is not authentic. Deepfakes often make celebrities and public figures say things or appear in situations that are a spoof on reality or an attempt to deceive the viewer. Deepfakes have evolved from early days of photoshop alterations to images to now increasingly sophisticated alterations of videos and images. The problem is that it can become difficult for people to know when something is real or synthetic. In order to combat deepfakes, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon offered a ‘deepfake deteection challenge‘ to developers to create an algorithm that can spot when a video or image is fake or not. The results of the competition were not that encouraging. Contestants were given 124k deepfake videos to train their algorithm with. Even with those known videos, the best algorithms were able to spot fakes on 85 percent of the time. When the algorithms were tested with a different set of 10,000 unreleased videos, the best algorithm dropped to only 65 percent accuracy. Hany Farid, a professor at UC Berkeley, told Wired that “it’s all fine and good for helping human moderators, but it’s obviously not even close to the level of accuracy that you need. You need to make mistakes on the order of one in a billion, something like that.”