Eye on Extremism: September 10, 2020

Al Jazeera: Facebook Bias Spurs Violence In India, US Rights Groups Say

“Civil rights groups on Wednesday said Facebook has failed to address hateful content in India as they demanded that the company's head of public policy there be removed. A letter addressed to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and his second-in-command Sheryl Sandberg wanted the social network's India policy chief Ankhi Das sidelined pending the results of a civil rights audit. "Facebook should not be complicit in more offline violence, much less another genocide, but the pattern of inaction displayed by the company is reckless to the point of complicity," said the letter signed by more than 40 groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center, Witness, Muslim Advocates, and Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. "It is no secret, given the acknowledged and harsh realities of Facebook's role in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, that online violence and hate easily spill into violence in real life." The letter comes in the wake of controversy over anti-Muslim remarks posted on the page of a member of the ruling party that were not initially removed.”

The Associated Press: Mozambique Accused Of Abuses In Its Fight Against Extremists

“Amnesty International Wednesday accused Mozambique’s government forces of torturing suspected members of an Islamist insurgency in the country’s northern Cabo Delgado province, as well as “possible extrajudicial executions” and “discarding a large number of corpses into apparent mass graves.” “This behavior flouts fundamental principles of humanity. The abuses attributed to the group known as Al-Shabaab can never justify further violations by the security forces of Mozambique,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa. “The government of Mozambique must now order a swift, transparent and impartial investigation to bring all those responsible for such crimes to justice in fair trials.” Mozambique’s extremist insurgency began in northern Cabo Delgado province, bordering Tanzania in the north and the Indian Ocean to the east, in October 2017. More than 1,000 civilians have been killed, mainly by the rebels, and the total number of fatalities stands at 1,854 including combatants on either side, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). The rebels dramatically stepped up their attacks in 2020 and in August captured the strategic port city of Mocimboa da Praia and have held it for nearly a month.”


The New York Times: U.S. To Reduce Troop Levels In Iraq To 3,000

“The United States is cutting troop levels in Iraq nearly in half, to 3,000 forces, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East said on Wednesday, in a long-expected move that will help fulfill President Trump’s goal of reducing the Pentagon’s overseas deployments. The decision to reduce the 5,200 troops now in Iraq comes three weeks after Mr. Trump met in Washington with Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the Iraqi prime minister, in part to complete details of the drawdown, which will happen this month. “This reduced footprint allows us to continue advising and assisting our Iraqi partners in rooting out the final remnants of ISIS in Iraq and ensuring its enduring defeat,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the commander of the military’s Central Command, said in remarks in Iraq on Wednesday. General McKenzie, who last month signaled the impending troop cuts, said improvements in the Iraqi military’s campaign against the Islamic State enabled the Pentagon to make the additional troop cuts. “This decision is due to our confidence in the Iraqi security forces’ increased ability to operate independently,” General McKenzie said. The move comes eight weeks before the November presidential election and allows Mr. Trump to tell voters he is fulfilling a campaign promise to bring home the troops.”

Saudi Arabia

Gulf News: Saudi Arabia: Two Militants Sentenced To Death Over Terror Attack

“A Saudi court today sentenced two militants to death on charges of involvement in a 2014 attack on a Shiite gathering and links to the terrorist Daesh group, the news portal Sabq reported. Both convicts did not show up at a court session held last week when rulings against co- defendants were delivered, according to the report. Last Wednesday, the court handed down death sentences to seven other defendants and a 25-year-jail term to each of three others in the same case. All the rulings are preliminary. The 2014 attack in the eastern Saudi region of Al Ihsa killed eight people, including three children.”


Voice Of America: Recent US Sanctions Increase Risk For Potential Hezbollah Allies

“A U.S. government decision Tuesday to sanction two former Lebanese government ministers is the latest unprecedented campaign against Hezbollah, with some observers saying the move dramatically increases the risk for Lebanese politicians to engage with the U.S.-designated terror group. The Trump administration said it blacklisted former Minister of Transportation and Public Works Yusuf Finyanus and former Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil because they had helped Hezbollah bypass U.S. sanctions and profit from multimillion-dollar government contracts. Firas Maksad, an adjunct professor and researcher on Lebanon at George Washington University, said that Lebanon’s economy is highly dollarized, giving Washington a “tremendous leverage” to use sanctions to deter Lebanon’s political groups from cozying up to the Iran proxy when the country is trying to form a new government. “In the past when the U.S. Treasury had moved to designate Lebanese banks, those banks would fall within 24 hours,” Maksad told VOA by phone. “These sanctions, in particular, are different and of a more significant caliber because it’s the first time that they target two former ministers.”

Middle East

Foreign Affairs: Al Qaeda’s Franchise Reboot

“Nineteen years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, does al Qaeda still pose a significant threat to U.S. national security? Among researchers, military and intelligence officials, and policymakers who study the group, there is little consensus. But very few experts on Salafi-jihadi movements would dismiss the group outright. So when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confidently declared in a March interview on Fox & Friends that “al Qaeda is a shadow of its former self,” we were startled and concerned. By portraying al Qaeda as more of a nuisance than a threat, Pompeo helped President Donald Trump’s administration make the case for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan and making peace with the Taliban. Unfortunately, politically motivated threat assessments can be very dangerous, and Pompeo’s characterization of al Qaeda reflects wishful thinking at best and naiveté at worst.”

Middle East Monitor: Hamas-Hezbollah Talks And Iran-Turkey Cooperation Come At A Crucial Time

“The recent meeting in Beirut between Hamas and Hezbollah leadership where the threats to the Palestinian cause and normalisation between Israel and Arab states were discussed is the latest sign that the two resistance movements have revived relations. The reconciliation between the Hamas and Hezbollah has been in the works over the past seven years, after falling out over the conflict which engulfed Syria in 2011, the once long-time allies finding themselves supporting opposing sides. Until 2012, the political bureau of the Palestinian movement Hamas had been based in the Syrian capital Damascus since it was expelled from neighbouring Jordan in 1999 after being accused of “illicit and harmful” activities. After initially abstaining from taking sides in Syria, referring to it as an “internal affair”, the dilemma Hamas found itself in soon became untenable as the country descended into civil war. Under then-leader Khaled Meshaal, the bureau left for Doha, effectively joining the “Turkish-Qatari axis” and shifting away from its traditional allies which it shared with Lebanon’s Hezbollah; Iran and Syria.”


Dalsan Radio: Somalia: SNA Kills 14 Alshabaab Fighters In Southern Somalia

“The Somali Military has on Tuesday killed at least 14 Alshabab militants including senior Alshabab officials in an operation conducted Lower Jubba on Tuesday, officials confirm. Speaking to the Media General Abdimalik Ma'alin commander of the SNA's 16th unit said 14 militants were killed in the operation covered in several villages which lies 75 kilometres from Kismayo. "Fourteen Alshabab militants were killed including two commanders in the operation," SNA's 16th unit Abdimalik Ma'alin said. Meanwhile, another fourteen Alshabab militants were on Tuesday killed and several others sustained injuries including civilians in Bal'ad town. A fierce gunfight erupted after the Somali military repulsed Alshabab attack at least 30 kilometres north of Mogadishu where the insurgents have been attacking the security forces. Somali government spokesman Ismail Mukhtar said the situation was calm in the town in a tweet. "The situation in the town is calm after an attack by Alshabab 14 militants were killed and soldier, seven civilians were wounded during the confrontation," he said in a tweet.”


The Washington Times: Africa Providing 'Safe Haven' To Islamist Terror Groups, Special Forces Commander Says

“A top U.S. commander warned Wednesday that terror groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State are finding new sanctuaries in Africa where they can rebuild their forces and attract new recruits. Air Force Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, head of special operations for U.S. Africa Command, sounded the alarm even as the Pentagon was announcing the death of senior leader of the Somali terror group al-Shabab in a U.S. airstrike last month. Abulqadir Commandos, reportedly a senior commander of the jihadist group, was killed near Saakow, Somalia, on Aug. 25, U.S. officials said. While groups such as the Islamic State and al Qaeda have been battered by attacks from the U.S. and allied nations over the past few years in the Middle East and Afghanistan, they are increasingly relying on Africa as a safe haven where they can reconstitute their dwindling numbers, while co-opting local fighters into their ranks, U.S. commanders say. Maj. Gen. Anderson noted that both terrorist groups have frequently stated they intend to attack and undermine the United States. “Africa is providing them that safe haven, that venue where they can establish themselves,” he said Wednesday during an online interview with the American Enterprise Institute.”

United Kingdom

The Independent: Manchester Arena Bombing Inquiry: MI5 Did Not Reopen Investigation Into Salman Abedi Despite His Visits To Terrorist Prisoner

“MI5 did not reopen its investigation into the Manchester Arena bomber despite knowing he was visiting a convicted terror offender in prison, an inquiry has heard. The probe is to examine whether Salman Abedi’s attack, which killed 22 victims and injured hundreds more on 22 May 2017, could have been prevented. On Wednesday, the third day of the public inquiry heard that signs of his radicalisation went back several years. Bereaved relatives were shown a photo from social media of Abedi performing a hand gesture used by Isis supporters, and told he had expressed support for the group and “spoken about martyrdom and jihad in positive terms”. A teacher saw a photo of him holding a gun in Libya during the country’s civil war, but believed his claim that he had merely been “shooting” on his family’s land. MI5 had received information on Abedi dating back to 2010, but repeatedly assessed that he did not pose a security threat despite knowing of his contact with Isis supporters and travel to Libya. Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, said it would consider whether it was “reasonable” for MI5 to close an active investigation into Abedi in July 2014, and not to reopen it in light of new intelligence.”


The Associated Press: German Officials: 1,000s Of Extremists Joined Virus Protest

“Thousands of far-right and anti-government extremists were among the crowds at demonstrations against Germany’s coronavirus restrictions last month that culminated in attempts by some protesters to storm parliament, German security officials said Wednesday. The incident was condemned across much of the political spectrum in Germany, with the president and other senior officials describing the rush on parliament as an assault on the heart of democracy. But some lawmakers also criticized the police handling of the Aug. 29 demonstrations and that there were only a handful of officers to stand in the way of hundreds of protesters despite advance warnings that extremists might try to enter the Reichstag. A preliminary review of images from the protests indicated that “at least 2,500 to 3,000 right-wing extremists and Reich Citizens took part in the protests,” the head of Berlin state’s intelligence service, Michael Fischer, told lawmakers in the capital’s regional assembly. The so-called Reich Citizens movement, which disputes the legitimacy of the post-World War II German Constitution and by extension the current government, has caused growing concern among security officials in recent years, in part due to its ties to the far right.”

Deutsche Welle: Halle Synagogue Attack Trial Offers Insights On Police Probe Into Far-Right Anti-Semitism

“Jewish survivors of the attack on the Halle synagogue have accused the police of failing to properly investigate the online far-right scene that is believed to have inspired last October's deadly attack in the eastern German city. 28-year-old Stephan B. is on trialfor attempting to commit what would have been the worst anti-Semitic atrocity in Germany since the Holocaust. Only the perpetrator's jammed weapons and the synagogue's locked door prevented a massacre. He has been charged with the murder of the two people who were killed that day — a passerby Jana L. and kebab shop customer Kevin S. Some 43 people, all survivors or the relatives of victims, are co-plaintiffs in the trial of the case that shows parallels to crimes perpetrated in Christchurch and other places. Several witnesses from in and around the synagogue and kebab shop were called on Tuesday and Wednesday, the tenth and eleventh trial days, describing in powerful detail their impressions and fears. Among them was a retired professor who was in the kebab shop, and who injured his shoulder as he escaped through a back window."


Brisbane Times: Keneally Calls For Right-Wing Extremists To Be Put On Terror Register

“The federal opposition has been calling for the Morrison government to send the criteria for the terror list to Parliament's powerful intelligence and security committee for a wide-scale review to make sure it is fit-for-purpose. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced last week that the Australian-born Christchurch gunman would be put on its proscribed terror list. While Australian security agencies have been monitoring and acting on the escalating threat of right-wing extremism, Australia has not listed any extreme right-wing groups as terrorist organisations on its proscribed list. All of Australia's Five Eyes intelligence partners - Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand - now have right-wing extremists groups or individuals listed as terrorist organisations. In a speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute on Thursday night, Senator Keneally will say that Australia is "the odd one out". She will say proscribing the Christchurch killer as a terrorist "would be symbolic, but it would be more than just symbolic". "Some experts suggest that, in our increasingly networked world, any practical distinction between domestic and international terrorism has almost gone completely," Senator Keneally will say, according to a draft of the speech.”


Euractiv: Stakeholders Jockey For Influence In EU’s Bid To Regulate Digital Services

“…On illegal content, US NGO the Counter Extremism Project said that “algorithms on social media and video sharing platforms still do prioritize harmful or illegal content, and in some cases are even amplifying terrorist and violent extremist propaganda”. As a result, transparency obligations should be imposed on how such algorithms operated, the group believes. Meanwhile, Microsoft sought to get its point across on the difficulty of identifying ‘gatekeeper platforms,’ saying that ‘the regulation should set an exacting and high threshold that only a few platforms likely meet.’ On the other side of the coin, consumer rights group BEUC favours the creation of a blacklist of prohibitions and of targeted obligations “comprising a defined list of comprehensive, self-enforcing and regularly reviewable prohibitions and obligations for large online platforms acting as gatekeepers.” The European Digital Rights organization EDRi noted that the advertising admission process for large online platforms is insufficient, and needs further scrutiny. However, the group also renewed their commitment to supporting freedom of expression online and said that “any attempt to weaken the current legal liability regime while pushing intermediaries to “take more responsibility” for online expression inevitably leads to the systematic over-removal of legitimate speech by commercial Big Tech companies.”