Eye on Extremism: September 14, 2021

Bloomberg: U.S. Spy Chief Sees Top Terror Risks From Yemen, Iraq—Not Afghanistan

“The greatest threat to the U.S. from international terrorists comes from nations such as Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Iraq, with Afghanistan further down the priority list after the two-decade American troop presence ended, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said. Although U.S. intelligence officials are closely watching whether terrorist groups re-emerge inside Afghanistan, the country is no longer the prime concern when it comes to harboring terrorists who could carry out an attack inside America, Haines said Monday at a national security conference in the Washington suburbs. “We don’t prioritize -- at the top of the list -- Afghanistan,” Haines said. “What we’re looking at is Yemen and Somalia, Syria and Iraq. That’s where we see the greatest threat.” Nonetheless, a “big focus” for U.S. intelligence agencies is monitoring the possible reconstruction of terrorist groups in Afghanistan, Haines said, conceding that intelligence collection inside the country has been diminished since the American withdrawal. Her comments came as the Biden administration remains under criticism by both Republicans and Democrats for the hasty U.S. withdrawal following the Taliban takeover last month.”

The Guardian: Tech Firms Not Doing Enough To Fight Terrorism, Says Met Police Chief

“The UK most senior police officer has accused technology firms of failing to identify, monitor and report the activity of terrorists, in a plea for improved access to social media platforms. Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan police commissioner, also questioned the push to expand end-to-end encryption in a speech to law enforcement officials on Monday. Her comments follow calls last week by the home secretary, Priti Patel, for social media companies to take the protection of the public as seriously as their profit margins. Addressing the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s 20th annual summit in Israel, Dick said tech firms were not doing enough to stop the radicalisation of vulnerable people. “The tech companies and social media platforms have become much better at working alongside law enforcement and governments to help protect people against a huge range of online threats, and I pay tribute to them for that. “But there is still more they can and must do. They have the power and resources to make a real difference … They are not doing enough to protect people against the harm that takes place on their platforms.”

United States

NBC News: Ohio ISIS Supporter Who Plotted Synagogue Attack Sentenced To 20 Years

“An Ohio man who expressed support for the Islamic State terror group and said he wanted to attack a Toledo synagogue was sentenced to 20 years in prison Monday. Damon Joseph, 23, was arrested in 2018 after picking up what he thought were two semi-automatic rifles, the Justice Department said. Joseph, who went by the name Abdullah Ali Yusuf, pleaded guilty in May to charges of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization and attempting to commit a hate crime. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and will be under supervised release for the rest of his life, the Justice Department said Monday. Officials said he was planning the attack for the Sabbath when more people would be present, and identified two synagogues as potential targets. “In a matter of months, Damon Joseph progressed from a self-radicalized, virtual jihadist to planning an actual attack on fellow Americans,” Eric Smith, special agent in charge of the FBI's Cleveland office, said in a statement. He called Joseph's actions “antithetical to a just and free society.” Attorneys listed as representing Joseph did not immediately return requests for comment Monday evening.”

Associated Press: Militia Leader Gets 53 Years In Minnesota Mosque Bombing

“The leader of an Illinois anti-government militia group who authorities say masterminded the 2017 bombing of a Minnesota mosque was sentenced Monday to 53 years in prison for an attack that terrified the mosque’s community. Emily Claire Hari, who was previously known as Michael Hari and recently said she is transgender, faced a mandatory minimum of 30 years for the attack on Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington. Defense attorneys asked for the minimum, but prosecutors sought life, saying Hari hasn’t taken responsibility for the attack. No one was hurt in the bombing, but more than a dozen members of the mosque community gave victim impact statements Monday about the trauma it left behind. U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank said evidence clearly showed Hari’s intent was to “scare, intimidate and terrorize individuals of Muslim faith.” “Diversity is the strength of this country,” Frank said. “Anyone who doesn’t understand that doesn’t understand the constitutional promise of this country that brings a lot of people here.” “Anything less than 636 months would (be) disrespect to the law,” the judge added.”

Syria

Kurdistan 24: SDF Special Forces Arrest Two ISIS Suspects In Hasakah Province

“The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Monday that, backed by the US-led coalition's support, a special forces unit arrested two ISIS suspects in an operation on the outskirts of Hasakah province. “One of the arrested terrorists leads a dangerous cell in al-Hasakah city and its countryside, which is responsible for assassinations and was planning to target security and military points,” the SDF press office said. The SDF unit confiscated weapons and equipment in possession of the ISIS suspects. “The operation comes under the joint efforts exerted by the SDF and the international coalition to track down and eradicate Daesh (ISIS) cells in the region,” the SDF statement concluded. Although the SDF and the coalition announced the territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria in March 2019, sleeper cell attacks persist in what appears to be a deliberate campaign to destabilize northeastern parts of the nation, primarily in cities, towns, and rural tracts of land once under the terrorist group’s control. The coalition and the SDF have had success reducing ISIS sleeper cell activity in northeast Syria due to continued operation in the area. Last week, SDF-backed internal security forces, also known as Asayish, arrested four suspects with alleged links to the Islamic State (ISIS) near al-Hol camp.”

Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal: As Taliban Seek International Acceptance, Countries Seek To Engage—But Stop Short Of Recognition

“With a new government in place and uncontested control over the country, Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers are clamoring for international recognition of their reinstated Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Nearly a month after the fall of the Afghan republic, no nation has granted such recognition so far. Yet, governments world-wide, as well as the United Nations, are eager to open high-level contacts with the Taliban, especially as the country faces a humanitarian crisis. Some Western governments say that such dialogue with the Taliban is possible—and desirable—without de jure recognition of their administration. “Before recognition they should have some sort of mandate by the political will of the people,” a senior Western diplomat said. “But apart from the question of recognition we can interact with them, we can engage with them.” Before the reopening of Western embassies, all closed since the Aug. 15 fall of Kabul, that engagement can take the form of diplomats making short-term visits to Kabul, security conditions on the ground permitting, the diplomat added. Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani on Sunday became the first foreign government minister to visit Kabul since the Taliban takeover.”

The National: Afghan Terror Training Camps ‘Could Cause Wave Of Attacks In Europe In Five Years’

“…The director of the Counter Extremism Project, Hans-Jakob Schindler, has worked in the UN Security Council unit that monitors ISIS and Al Qaeda. He believes extremists from Europe may now travel to Afghanistan to train, and that terrorist attacks could increase when they return to the continent. “Tragically, it feels like we have come full circle. We are very much in a situation where we run the risk that we are chasing our tail,” he told The National. “Half of the Taliban’s new government are on the UN sanctions list for a very good reason. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are not separate and have never been separate.”

Middle East

SOFREP: Although Rumored Dead, Al-Qaeda’s Chief Al-Zawahiri Appears In Video Released On 9/11

“Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has been the head of al-Qaeda since the death of Osama Bin Laden in 2011, and was rumored dead, appeared on a video that the terrorist group released on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. The SITE (Search International Terrorist Entities) Intelligence Group, which tracks and monitors jihadist websites, said the video was released on Saturday. On it, al-Zawahri spoke on several subjects also mentioning that “Jerusalem will never be Judaized.” Further, he praised al-Qaeda attacks including one that had targeted Russian troops in Syria outside the city of Raqqa in January. The video of Al-Zawahri’s speech was slightly more than an hour long. It was produced by al-Qaeda’s as-Sahab Media Foundation. As-Sahab (The Cloud) is the official media wing of al-Qaeda’s core leadership based in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “Amid rumors of his death, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri shown in a new 60-minute video, this time offering some evidence that he is not dead – particularly, reference to events after December when rumors of death surfaced,” SITE director Rita Katz posted on Twitter. Rumors that al-Zawahiri had died from an illness have been circulating since late 2020.”

The Jerusalem Post: Terror In Jerusalem: 2 Injured In Stabbing Attack At Central Bus Station

“Two Israeli men were moderately injured in a stabbing attack at a store next to the Jerusalem Central Bus Station in Jerusalem on Monday. Two female Border Police patrol officers at the scene shot and wounded the terrorist. The attacker was identified as 17-year-old Basil Shawamra from the village of Deir al-Asal al-Fauqa near Hebron in the southern West Bank. Two additional suspects were detained. “We will continue to act resolutely against any attempt to harm Israeli citizens,” said Defense Minister Benny Gantz after the attack. “The vigilance and rapid and professional action of the forces on the ground prevented a much more severe result.” The victims were evacuated to Shaare Zedek Medical Center where doctors said they were conscious and stable. Israel Police Jerusalem District Commander Doron Turgeman told journalists there was “no doubt” that there is an escalation of violence taking place, stressing that police are prepared for any situation. “The deployment and fast response [of police] together with determination and exercises conducted in Jerusalem every day led to the quick neutralization of the terrorist and the prevention of additional lives being endangered,” said Turgeman. “An excellent response by the officers.”

Nigeria

The Washington Post: Authorities: Nearly 70 Students Freed In Northern Nigeria

“Nearly 70 students who were abducted from their school in northern Nigeria have regained their freedom after two weeks in captivity, Zamfara state Gov. Bello Matawalle said Monday. The students from the Government Day Secondary School were rescued with the help of some of the gunmen who had repented, he said. They were reunited with their families late Sunday. Heavily armed men had descended on the school on Sept. 1, the latest attack in a wave of school kidnappings in northern Nigeria that prompted the government to shut down all primary and secondary schools in Zamfara state. Police have said that 73 students were abducted and that five were rescued a day later. According to UNICEF, Nigeria has seen at least 10 abductions over the past year in which 1,436 students have been taken. About 200 students are still being held and 16 children have died in the attacks. School kidnappings have taken place in nine different states, and targets have included everyone from preschoolers to university students. Authorities have blamed the abductions on bandits who are believed to be motivated by the ransoms paid for the children’s release. However, some students held by the bandits have said they also have been threatened to not return to school when they are freed.”

Africa

Al Jazeera: ‘Gross Abuses’: Armed Groups Killing, Recruiting In Niger

“An increasing number of children are being killed and abducted in Niger as the conflict in the country’s western Tillaberi region, bordering Mali and Burkina Faso, has worsened significantly, a human rights group said on Monday. “Niger is at a precipice. In parts of the country an entire generation is growing up surrounded by death and destruction,” Amnesty International’s Matt Wells said while highlighting the release of a 57-page report. “The Nigerien government and its international partners must urgently take action to monitor and prevent further abuses across Tillaberi region and protect the basic rights of all those affected by this deadly conflict – especially children.” The London-based human rights group pointed the finger at the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and al-Qaeda-affiliated Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) for causing the “devastating impact on children” in the region. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), cited by Amnesty, violence against civilians led to 544 conflict-related deaths between January and August, up from 397 people killed in similar incidents in 2020. The report said armed groups have killed more than 60 children in Niger’s tri-border area in 2021, adding ISGS appears responsible for most of the killings.”

Southeast Asia

Los Angeles Times: Indonesia Arrests Key Leader In Al Qaeda-Linked Group

“Indonesia’s elite counter-terrorism squad has arrested a convicted militant and suspected leader of an Al Qaeda-linked group that has been blamed for a string of past bombings in the country, police said Monday. Abu Rusdan was seized late Friday in Bekasi, near the capital, Jakarta, along with three other suspected members of Jemaah Islamiah, police spokesman Ahmad Ramadhan said. “He is currently known to be active among the unlawful Jemaah Islamiah network’s leadership,” Ramadhan told the Associated Press. Indonesian authorities consider Rusdan to be a key figure in Jemaah Islamiah, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist group. The shadowy Southeast Asian network is widely blamed for attacks in the Philippines and Indonesia — including the 2002 bombings in the Indonesian resort island of Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists. Ramadhan described the arrests as part of a broader nationwide crackdown on the group. Police are still searching for other suspected members, followed tips that the group was recruiting and training new members in Indonesia. Born in Central Java, Rusdan, 61, was sentenced to jail in 2003 for sheltering Ali Ghufron, a militant who was later convicted and executed for carrying out the Bali bombings.”

Technology

The Jerusalem Post: Corona Led To Largest Surface For Cyberterror Attacks Ever - Cyber Chief

“The coronavirus created the largest cyber-vulnerable surface for terrorists to attack in history, Israel Cyber National Directorate Chief (INCD) Yigal Unna said on Monday. Speaking at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Reichman University in Herzliya, Unna said that Israel and Western countries are, “much more vulnerable” to cyber strikes because “the most developed countries and societies are... connected and Internet-based societies.” He continued stating that Israel and the West have “much more... single points of failure than at any point in history” in a range of sectors from health to mass transportation to energy to water. Next, the INCD chief said that with the onset of the pandemic forcing Israel and the West to leap forward even more in digitizing their societies, they now present “the largest attack-surface any hacker or any terrorist could imagine ever.” Unna said that this “cyber mess” combined with psychological warfare and influence campaigns could have massive new unpredictable consequences. On the positive side, he discussed the hacking into Iran’s “notorious prison, where dissidents are held” where hackers “penetrated the system over there – and after capturing video for a couple of weeks or months – took over the facility and then they published the ugly videos coming out of the jail.”

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On September 17, 2019, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated outside a Presidential rally in Charikar, Afghanistan, killing at least 26 people and injuring another 30. Later, a suicide bomber detonated outside the Ministry of Defense in Kabul, killing 22 and wounding 38 others. The Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks. 

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