Eye on Extremism: September 18, 2020

Reuters: U.S. Blacklists Hezbollah Official, Lebanon-Based Companies

“The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on a Hezbollah official and two Lebanon-based companies as the country experiences a deep economic crisis, accusing them of being linked to the Iran-backed Shi’ite group. The U.S. Treasury Department in a statement said it blacklisted Arch Consulting and Meamar Construction, building on sanctions imposed this month on two former government ministers Washington accused of enabling Hezbollah. Also hit with sanctions was Sultan Khalifah As’ad, who the Treasury said is a senior Hezbollah Executive Council official who provided project guidance to the companies. “The United States remains committed to targeting Hizballah and its supporters as they corruptly abuse Lebanese resources to enrich their leaders while the Lebanese people suffer from inadequate services,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement. The action freezes any U.S. assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them. Those that engage in certain transactions with those designated are also at risk of being hit with secondary sanctions, the Treasury said.”

The Associated Press: US Embassy In Kabul Warns Of Extremist Attacks Against Women

“The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan warned that extremists groups are planning attacks against a “variety of targets” but are taking particular aim at women. The warning didn’t specify which organizations were plotting the attacks. But it comes as the Taliban and government-appointed negotiators are sitting together for the first time to try to find a peaceful end to decades of relentless war. The “Taliban don’t have any plans to carry out any such attacks,” the group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told The Associated Press on Friday. Peace negotiations underway in Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, are in the initial stages, with participants still hammering out what items on the agenda will be negotiated and when. Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said at the start of negotiations last weekend that spoilers existed on both sides. He said that some among Afghanistan’s many leaders would be content to continue with the status quo rather than find a peaceful end to the war that might involve power sharing. According to the embassy warning issued late Thursday, “extremist organizations continue to plan attacks against a variety of targets in Afghanistan, including a heightened risk of attacks targeting female government and civilian workers, including teachers, human rights activists, office workers, and government employees.”

United States

Agence France-Presse: FBI Worried About Clashes Between Violent Groups Before US Vote

“The FBI is increasingly worried about possible violent clashes between ideologically-motivated extremist groups before the November election, director Chris Wray said Thursday. Wray said the Federal Bureau of Investigation is keeping a close eye on groups who have faced off in protests in various cities such as Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin. In those places, anti-racism and anti-police groups have squared off with right-wing and white nationalist activists who are often armed. Wray told a Congressional hearing that the FBI was deeply concerned about the growing tension on US streets, and groups that are “hijacking” protests to incite violence. “Now you've got an additional level of combustible violence,” he said, citing “violent extremist groups or individuals committing violence.” “Now you have both groups from the opposite sides adding to the combustibility and danger of the situation,” Wray told the House Homeland Security Committee. “We have certainly seen that in a number of cities. That's a force multiplier, in a bad way, that I'm concerned about.” Several people have been killed in those situations. In August, a 17-year-old with ties to arch-conservative groups was charged with shooting dead two people protesting against police mistreatment of blacks in Kenosha.”

The Washington Free Beacon: American Citizen Charged With Helping ISIS

“The Department of Justice announced charges Wednesday against an American citizen who allegedly provided support to ISIS operations. The indictment alleges that between 2015 and 2019, Lirim Sylejmani conspired to provide material support, personnel, and services to ISIS in Syria, according to a Justice Department statement. It also claims that Sylejmani, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Kosovo, trained with ISIS and spoke to multiple media outlets about his participation in the terrorist organization. Sylejmani, who was detained last year in Syria, made his first appearance in front of a Washington, D.C., federal court this week. “The defendant is a U.S. citizen who abandoned the country that welcomed him to join ISIS in Syria,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin. “He will now be held accountable for his actions in an American courtroom. Our national security prosecutors and law enforcement partners will continue to ensure that those who threaten our country are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” While ISIS has largely faded out of view for most Americans during the Trump administration, the group's operations remain a significant threat in the Middle East. In August, ISIS jailbroke an unknown number of suspected terrorists from an Afghan prison.”

Syria

Agence France-Presse: Islamic State Expanding Globally Amid Setbacks: US Official

“The Islamic State group continues to expand globally with some 20 affiliates, despite being forced out of Syria and the killing of its leaders, a top US counter-terror official said Thursday. The extremist group “has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to rebound from severe losses over the past six years by relying on a dedicated cadre of veteran mid-level commanders, extensive clandestine networks, and downturns in CT (counter-terrorism) pressure to persevere,” said Christopher Miller, director of the US National Counterterrorism Center. Since the October 2019 killing of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and several other prominent figures, new leader Mohammed Said Abd al-Rahman al-Mawla has been able to direct and inspire new attacks by its far-flung affiliates, Miller told a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee. On Thursday the group claimed responsibility for the killing of six French aid workers and their two local guides in Niger on August 9. Inside Syria and Iraq, Miller said, IS has undertaken “a steady rate” of assassinations and mortar and IED bomb attacks. Those included an operation in May that killed and wounded dozens of Iraqi soldiers.”

Iraq

The National: ISIS Leader Al Mawla's Treachery Led To Death Of His Comrade In US Air Strikes

“The current leader of ISIS was an informant whose betrayal of his comrades led to at least one commander's death in a US air strike, newly released American intelligence reports have shown. Amir Al Mawla, who took over the ISIS leadership last October, provided American intelligence officials with “reams” of highly sensitive information on his colleagues. The declassified documents released by the Combatting Terrorism Centre at West Point, showed that Al Mawla identified at least 20 fellow terrorists including security chiefs, “judges” and key administrators. He also either provided or confirmed to the Americans his own identity card, as well as his wife’s and son’s Iraqi paperwork. “Al Mawla was a rat who gave up a lot of information on others in IS,” the centre's Daniel Milton said. “What does that tell you about him?” Until now, little has been know, about Al Mawla except his nicknames, the Professor and the Destroyer, and a reputation for brutality. When he was detained by US forces in Camp Bucca, Iraq, in 2004 while an Al Qaeda operative, he was shown photographs of his comrades. He identified them and gave detailed information about them. It is understood that his information gave the Americans enough intelligence to conduct a strike that killed one of Al Mawla’s comrades in 2008.”

Turkey

Daily Sabah: Police Detain 16 Foreign Nationals In Operations Against Daesh In Turkey's Capital Ankara

“Turkish police detained 16 foreign nationals over links to the Daesh terrorist group as part of a counterterrorism operation in the capital Ankara. The suspects had been in contact with Daesh terrorists in conflict zones, Ihlas News Agency (IHA) reported, citing security sources. The identities of the suspects have not been released but some of them were Iraqi nationals, the report said. Police are still trying to nab another three suspects as part of the operation. The terrorist group has been trying to establish a new formation in Turkey after receiving a heavy blow in Iraq and Syria. According to testimony by terrorists detained in previous operations in Adana province, Daesh had been trying to kidnap judges, prosecutors and tourist groups as ransom in return for Daesh terrorists held in Iraq and Syria. Turkey detained the so-called “Turkey emir” of Daesh, named Mahmut Özden, in August. He was planning to carry out an attack on Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque and target politicians, nongovernmental organization (NGO) heads and other prominent figures in Turkey, according to the official investigation.”

Afghanistan

Voice Of America: Afghan-Taliban Peace Talks Continue As Fighting Kills Dozens

“Officials in Afghanistan said Thursday the latest clashes between security forces and Taliban insurgents had killed around 60 combatants on both sides since Wednesday, even as delegates of the two adversaries negotiate peace. The Taliban staged predawn assaults on security outposts in eastern Nangarhar province, killing at least 22 Afghan security personnel and injuring 15 others, a provincial government spokesman told VOA. Attaullah Khogyani said that Afghan forces killed nearly 30 assailants in the ensuing fighting. Separately, insurgents attacked a district center in the southern Uruzgan province, killing at least five members of the pro-government forces, officials said. The Taliban did not immediately comment on the latest violence. Afghan Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid said insurgents were to blame. “There have been no attacks from our side...The enemies continue to attack and spill the blood of Afghans,” Khalid said at a ceremony in Kabul, where the U.S. military handed over four A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft to the Afghan Air Force.  The spate of deadly violence accompanied historic U.S.-brokered direct peace talks that began Saturday in Doha, Qatar, between the Taliban and a delegation representing the Afghan government.”

India

The Wire India: Islamic State Most Active In Southern States, Home Ministry Tells Parliament

“In the southern states alone, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has registered 17 cases related to the presence of the Islamic State (IS) and have arrested 122 persons for their alleged connection with them. The Union Home Ministry in a written reply in parliament informed that 12 states of India, including the five south Indian states, have seen a rise in cases related to the IS. Minister of State for Home, G. Kishan Reddy, in his written response, said, “Investigations by the NIA have revealed that the IS is most active in Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Jammu & Kashmir.” Reddy further added that both the central and state security agencies have come across several instances where individuals have joined the IS from these states. In his response, he further added that the IS is allegedly using various internet-based social media platforms to propagate its ideology. “Cyberspace is being closely watched in this regard by the agencies concerned and action is taken as per law,” he claimed in his response.”

Lebanon

The Guardian: US Accuses Hezbollah Of Stockpiling Weapons And Ammonium Nitrate Across Europe

“The US has accused Hezbollah of storing caches of weapons and ammonium nitrate for use in explosives across Europe in recent years, with the alleged aim of preparing for future attacks ordered by Iran. The allegation was made by the state department’s counterterrorism coordinator, Nathan Sales, who called on European countries to take a tougher line on the Tehran-backed Lebanese Shia political movement and militia. The claim that Hezbollah has been moving and storing ammonium nitrate around Europe comes six weeks after a warehouse full of ammonium nitrate detonated in Beirut’s port, devastating the Lebanese capital. An investigation is under way into the blast and how the chemical, which is used as a fertilizer as well as in explosives, came to be left at the port for six years after being confiscated from a ship. Hezbollah is reported to have significant influence in the running of the port. “I can reveal that such [Hezbollah weapons] caches have been moved through Belgium to France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. I can also reveal that significant ammonium nitrate caches have been discovered or destroyed in France, Greece, and Italy,” Sales said in a video appearance at the American Jewish Committee, a US-based advocacy group.”

Africa

The Associated Press: Islamic State Claims Niger Killings Of French Aid Workers

“The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for killing six French aid workers, their driver and a local guide in a wildlife park in Niger last month. The Islamic State group said in its al-Naba newsletter published Thursday that a security detachment carried out a “blitz attack with firearms” in the Koure area southwest of Niger’s capital, Niamey. It also published a photo of two of the hostages still alive. The Aug. 9 attack shocked many who thought the region near the capital was not as dangerous as other parts of the West African nation. Islamic State in the Greater Sahara has been carrying out attacks in recent years in Niger and the tri-border region with Mali and Burkina Faso. The six French citizens and Nigerien driver were working for Paris-based NGO ACTED and Geneva-based IMPACT Initiatives. The other victim was a Nigerien guide at the giraffe reserve about 70 kilometers (45 miles) from the capital. The French government has warned citizens against traveling outside Niamey as extremists linked to Boko Haram, the Islamic State group and al-Qaida carry out attacks across the country. Niger also borders Chad, Nigeria and Libya. Violence by fighters linked to the IS group and al-Qaida is on the rise in the vast Sahel region south of the Sahara desert. France has deployed 5,100 soldiers to help fight the growing insurgency, and a local force made up of soldiers from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania has also been fighting the extremists.”

Council On Foreign Relations: Transnational White Supremacist Militancy Thriving In South Africa

“As white supremacist militancy has raced across the Western world, it has not spared South Africa from being swept up in the chaos. Domestic South African white supremacist movements both inform white supremacist movements elsewhere, and at the same time are influenced by global trends on the extreme right. South Africa, of course, has its own long—and painful—history of white supremacism. The formal apartheid system, which governed the country for over 40 years, institutionally oppressed the Black population, concentrating political, economic, and judicial power exclusively in white hands. Since the 1990s, when apartheid finally collapsed, race relations have remained raw, and the white population still holds much of the economic capital. The country remains one of the world's premier examples of the postcolonial challenges in managing racial tensions and promoting a sustainable national identity in a democratic context with the rule of law. Accordingly, South Africa still inflames the passions of white supremacists around the world. Dylann Roof, murderer of nine African Americans at Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in June 2015, was in no small part inspired by white supremacism in southern Africa—his Facebook profile picture showed him in a jacket emblazoned with the flags of Rhodesia, a bastion of white supremacy before it achieved independence as Zimbabwe, and apartheid-era South Africa, and his manifesto was published on a personal website titled “The Last Rhodesian.”

United Kingdom

The National: UK School Where ISIS Fanatic Tried To Recruit ‘Army Of Children’ For Terror Attacks Given Official Warning

“A UK school where an ISIS fanatic tried to recruit an ‘army of children’ to commit terror attacks has been given an official warning by the British regulator. The charity watchdog has issued the warning to the Lantern of Knowledge Educational Trust, which runs the independent fee-paying Islamic private school Lantern of Knowledge Boys Secondary School in in Waltham Forrest, north-east London. Former Islamic studies teacher Umar Haque was jailed for life in 2018 after using his position to show ISIS propaganda videos, including beheadings, to children as young as 11 as he tried to recruit them into a mini militia. Haque, 27, who also taught at a mosque in east London, staged training exercises during Islamic studies classes to prepare children for ISIS-inspired attacks in London. After a long investigation the UK's Charity Commission has issued an official warning to the trust which operates the school and found the trustees guilty of misconduct for allowing the children to be exposed to Haque's radicalisation. “Umar Haque’s action at this charity was appalling,” said Tim Hopkins, Assistant Director for Investigations and Inquiries at the Commission.”

The Indepenent: Terrorist Prisoners Hit Record High In British Jails Amid Warnings Of Radicalisation

“A record number of terrorists are being held in British prisons, new figures show amid warnings over radicalisation inside “chaotic” jails. Statistics released by the Home Office on Thursday indicate there were 243 people in custody for terror-related offences, up 24 on the previous year. It comes as the government pushes for a raft of changes aiming to jail terror offenders for longer and make serious criminals serve more of their sentences in prison. Four alleged terror attacks have been launched by serving or released prisoners in the past year, in Fishmongers’ Hall, HMP Whitemoor, Streatham and Reading. A prison officer working in the high-security estate told The Independent the current situation was a “nightmare”. “I don’t see any end to the attacks whatsoever, those ones that come in with an extremist view leave with a stronger one,” he added. “You’re releasing people onto the streets and you dread to think what’s going to happen. “No matter what ministers say everything is not great in UK prisons, it’s appalling.” The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was “no control” over radicalised inmates and raised concern over longer jail terms.”

Europe

Daily Sabah: Is There A Terrorism Threat In The Balkans?

“In early August, Serb Republic Interior Minister Dragan Lukac said: “Each and every terrorist act committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina was carried out by Wahhabis. Almost all terrorist acts committed on European soil, but also those around the world, have some connection to Bosnia and Herzegovina.” His words were met with fierce criticism from many Bosnians, especially on social media. What Lukac said is the latest in a series of controversial statements coming from various high-ranking Balkan politicians over the past year that aim to play on the worst fears of the international, particularly Western, public – terrorism. It is a salient feature of the ongoing demonization of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Muslim population that many Western analysts have thus far failed to comprehend, or worse still, fell for. To be clear: Bosnia-Herzegovina does have hundreds of Muslims adhering to puritanical Salafi or Wahhabi interpretations of Islam. However, it is common knowledge that adhering to puritanical teachings does not translate to joining a terrorist group. Second, the country has seen dozens of young men join the ranks of Daesh. Many were killed in the Syrian and Iraqi battlegrounds, while those that survived were returned and faced hefty prison sentences.”

Technology

Huff Post: Portland Proud Boys Rally Promoted On Facebook Pages Despite Extremist Ban

“Members of the Proud Boys and other far-right groups were using Facebook this week to promote and raise funds for an upcoming rally in Portland, Oregon, despite recent assurances from the social media giant that such extremist organizations would not be able to organize on its platform, and after a summer marred by political violence linked to the company. On Wednesday multiple Facebook pages were active showing persons affiliated with the Proud Boys or other far-right groups promoting a rally against “antifa” and Black Lives Matter scheduled for Sept. 26 in Portland.  Links to these Facebook pages were provided to HuffPost by the Tech Transparency Project, a watchdog group. The links showed far-right groups posting propaganda videos promoting the upcoming rally, and included a page utilizing Facebook’s own fundraising tool to collect money for the event. HuffPost asked Facebook about the pages on Wednesday evening and by early Thursday afternoon all had been removed. “Proud Boys and promoting their events are banned from Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We’ve already removed Events, Pages and accounts tied to the upcoming rally for this reason and our work to disrupt these efforts is ongoing.”

Reuters: TikTok Faces Another Test: Its First U.S. Presidential Election

“TikTok, already under scrutiny over its Chinese ownership and threatened with a possible ban by U.S. President Donald Trump, is facing another major challenge: how to handle content around its first U.S. presidential election. Originally known for teenagers' viral dance routines and prank videos, Tiktok is now increasingly a destination for political content from its users. The hashtags Trump2020 and Biden2020 have collectively had more than 12 billion views on the app … Members of TikTok's content advisory council also told Reuters that in a meeting last week they discussed issues including voter suppression and whether public supporters of the unfounded political conspiracy theory QAnon should be allowed on the platform, as well as what to do if the app is used to spread misinformation about contested results or incite post-election violence. "Even if it's not organic to TikTok, it's going to end up there," said Hany Farid, a digital forensics expert and council member, who said he hoped TikTok's election policies would become "clearer."

Pop Times UK: YouTube’s Plot To Silence Conspiracy Theories

“In January 2019, YouTube began rolling out the system. That’s when Mark Sargent noticed his flat-earth views take a nose dive. Other types of content were getting down-ranked, too, like moon-landing conspiracies or videos perseverating on chemtrails. Over the next few months, Goodrow and Rohe pushed out more than 30 refinements to the system that they say increased its accuracy… Then there’s the academic research. Berkeley professor Hany Farid and his team found that the frequency with which YouTube recommended conspiracy videos began to fall significantly in early 2019, precisely when YouTube was beginning its updates. By early 2020, his analysis found, those recommendations had gone down from a 2018 peak by 40 percent. Farid noticed that some channels weren’t merely reduced; they all but vanished from recommendations. Indeed, before YouTube made its switch, he’d found that 10 channels—including that of David Icke, the British writer who argues that reptilians walk among us—comprised 20 percent of all conspiracy recommendations (as Farid defines them); afterward, he found that recommendations for those sites “basically went to zero.”