Eye on Extremism: September 19

The Wall Street Journal: Islamic State’s Deadly Return In Libya Imperils Oil Output

“Islamic State is staging a resurgence in chaotic Libya, claiming more than a dozen attacks in the North African country this year and threatening to disrupt the flow of oil from one of the world’s most significant suppliers. The group’s re-emergence comes two years after Libyan forces backed by U.S. air power dislodged the extremist group from its stronghold in the coastal city of Sirte, and it erodes one of the signature victories in the yearslong U.S.-led military campaign against the militants. The latest attack came last week when gunmen wearing explosive vests and carrying assault rifles stormed Libya’s state oil company, one of the country’s most important and heavily guarded institutions. Explosions shook the building and two employees died in the assault. One official said he shut himself in his office and began praying. “I saw my own coffin,” the official said. U.S. forces have kept up a steady barrage of strikes targeting Islamic State fighters in the country, including a drone strike in late August that killed a group member in Bani Walid, southeast of the capital, Tripoli, according to the U.S. Africa Command, which oversees American military operations in the country. Islamic State currently has between 400 and 750 members in Libya, an AFRICOM spokesman said recently.”

Sunday Times: Netanyahu And Putin Defuse Crisis After Syria Downs Russia Warplane

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to defuse a crisis on Tuesday after Syrian defences mistakenly downed a Russian warplane after Israeli air strikes. The incident late Monday was the deadliest known case of friendly fire between Syria and its key backer Russia since Moscow's game-changing 2015 military intervention. Putin said it was the result of "tragic accidental circumstances". The Ilyushin plane dropped off the radar over the Mediterranean after Turkey and Russia announced a deal that offered millions of people reprieve from a threatened military assault in northern Syria's Idlib province. The deadly chain of events started when Israeli missiles struck the coastal region of Latakia.”

The Washington Post: Kabul Braces For Attacks During Shiite Holiday As Rising Violence Convulses Afghanistan

“The exercise mats of the Maiwand wrestling club in Afghanistan’s capital are still stacked up in the yard and its walls spattered with blood after a double suicide bombing killed 30 people here two weeks ago. Outside, workmen are placing heavy concrete barriers in anticipation of another such attack. Nearby, inside a tent covered with posters of revered Shiite figures, six volunteer guards plan their night patrol in Dasht-i-Barchi, the heart of Kabul’s Shiite community — one that is increasingly under siege. Now it is the Islamic month of Muharram, a sacred time for the Shiites that peaks Thursday with Ashura, marking the death of revered Shiite martyr Hussein in 680 A.D. It is also a date favored by the extremist Islamic State group to unleash terrorist attacks against a community it sees as heretical. “We don’t have guns, only sticks and flashlights, but if we see a suspected suicider, we are all ready to run and hug him tightly. That way if he explodes, he will kill only one person instead of many,” said Ali Hassan, 22, one of the guards.  These informal self-protection measures reflect the growing fear, desperation and anger at the government among Kabul’s Shiites, most of them minority ethnic Hazaras, after a dozen terrorist attacks this year on Shiite mosques, education centers and other sites in the capital have killed 180 people and wounded more than 400. They are not the only ones worried. The rise in insurgent attacks across the country has all Afghans feeling increasingly insecure.”

Times: 'Hardline Takeover' Blamed For Latest Boko Haram Violence

“The execution of a kidnapped aid worker and the apparent death of a senior factional leader have sparked fears of an upsurge in Boko Haram violence in northeast Nigeria. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Monday announced that one of its employees, midwife Saifura Khorsa, had been killed after more than six months in captivity. That followed reports last week that hardliners in the Boko Haram splinter group Islamic State West Africa Province (Iswap) had killed their de facto leader, Mamman Nur. Recent weeks have seen a marked increase in Iswap attacks on the military, which security analysts tracking the conflict said was a sign of renewed strength and organisation. But sources with a deep knowledge of Iswap activities and talks with the government said it also followed the death of Nur, who was allegedly killed because of his more moderate approach.”

The Guardian: YouTube's 'alternative Influence Network' Breeds Rightwing Radicalisation, Report Finds

“YouTube provides a breeding ground for far-right radicalisation, where people interested in conservative and libertarian ideas are quickly exposed to white nationalist ones, according to a report from Data & Society. Although YouTube’s recommendation algorithms are partly to blame, the problem is fundamentally linked to the social network of political influencers on the platform and how, like other YouTube influencers, they invite one another on to their shows. The report describes an “alternative influence network” of about 65 scholars, media pundits and internet celebrities promoting a range of rightwing political positions, from mainstream conservatism to overt white nationalism. They are broadly united by their reactionary position: an opposition to feminism, social justice and leftwing politics and present themselves as an underdog alternative to the mainstream media.”

United States

The Detroit News: Airport Terror Suspect To Undergo Mental Tests

“Amor Ftouhi, a Tunisian national accused of stabbing a police officer during a terrorist attack at Bishop International Airport in Flint last year, will undergo psychiatric tests, a move that raises doubt about whether he will stand trial in November. The tests will determine if Ftouhi, 51, is competent to stand trial or suffers from diminished capacity. The upcoming tests were revealed by Ftouhi's lawyer, Joan Morgan, during a pretrial conference in federal court Tuesday. “I will be able to let the court and government know whether I would be interested in pursuing a mental-health defense,” Morgan told the judge. Ftouhi, whose outbursts and chants of “Allahu Akbar” have marked previous court appearances, was expected to attend the hearing in front of U.S. District Judge Linda Parker. There was a heavy security presence at the courthouse in downtown Flint, including a bomb-sniffing dog circling the courthouse, but Ftouhi stayed in the courthouse lock-up. The hearing came two weeks after Parker refused to relocate the terror trial based on a defense claim that the jury pool in Flint was tainted and prejudiced against Ftouhi. The judge also said a jury questionnaire will help determine prospective jurors' exposure to pretrial publicity about the case. Ftouhi is tentatively scheduled to stand trial Nov. 5 on three counts, including committing an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries, which is punishable by up to life in prison.”

Syria

Rudaw: SDF Secure Key Bridge In Counter-ISIS Op Near Hajin

“The SDF captured the bridge spanning the Euphrates River between the towns of al-Baghuz and Al Boukamal, rescue two Yezidis, the force announced on Tuesday. The Kurdish-led SDF secured the bridge after an overnight fight and held onto it after an ISIS counterattack Tuesday morning. Militants “launched an opposite attack this morning to recover the bridge, but our forces confronted them and killed them,” the SDF stated. The bridge connects the town of Al Boukamal on the western side of the river with villages and farmlands on the eastern bank, about 7 kilometres upstream from the border with Iraq. Al Boukamal and areas on the west side of the river are under the control of forces loyal to the Syrian regime. The SDF controls most of the territory on the east side and are battling to oust ISIS from the last stronghold in eastern Syria.”

Foreign Policy: Once Upon A Time, America Needed Syria

“Just as the Central Intelligence Agency came into being in September 1947, two of its officers drove east out of Beirut over the mountains to meet a colleague who had just arrived in Damascus. Archie and Kim Roosevelt were cousins—grandsons of the buccaneering 26th U.S. president no less—and, though only 29 and 31 years old respectively, were already veterans of the world of intelligence. Archie, who had recently completed a posting as the military attaché in Iran, was the new head of the CIA station in Beirut; Kim, who had served in the Office of Strategic Services during the war, was posing as a journalist on a commission for Harper’s magazine. The man they were going to meet would eventually become equally well known. His name was Miles Copeland. Once the two Roosevelts had met up with Copeland, the three men embarked on a tour of Syria. Ostensibly, they wished to see the country’s numerous Crusader castles; in reality, they were talent-scouting. In particular, they wanted to identify Syrians in positions of influence who had benefited from an American education and might be willing to help them in a matter that had assumed the greatest strategic significance. The cover and the real purpose of the mission dovetailed rather well: By the fall of 1947, Syria had become as important to the United States as it had been to the Crusaders eight centuries earlier.”

Iran

The Washington Post: Cybersecurity Firm: More Iran Hacks As US Sanctions Loomed

“An Iranian government-aligned group of hackers launched a major campaign targeting Mideast energy firms and others ahead of U.S. sanctions on Iran, a cybersecurity firm said Tuesday, warning further attacks remain possible as America re-imposes others on Tehran. While the firm FireEye says the so-called “spear-phishing” email campaign only involves hackers stealing information from infected computers, it involves a similar type of malware previously used to inject a program that destroyed tens of thousands of terminals in Saudi Arabia. The firm warns that raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November. “Whenever we see Iranian threat groups active in this region, particularly in line with geopolitical events, we have to be concerned they might either be engaged in or pre-positioning for a disruptive attack,” Alister Shepherd, a director for a FireEye subsidiary, told The Associated Press. Iran’s mission to the United Nations rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.” “Iran’s cyber capabilities are purely defensive, and these claims made by private firms are a form of false advertising designed to attract clients,” the mission said in a statement. “They should not be taken at face value.”

Asharq Al Awsat: Saudi Arabia: Iran Practicing Ugliest Forms of Terrorism

“The Saudi government accused on Tuesday Iran of practicing the ugliest form of terrorism through its blatant meddling in the affairs of Arab countries and support for terrorist militias. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz chaired the cabinet session that was held in Jeddah. The ministers stressed the need for solidarity and cooperation to confront Iran and its pawns. The Kingdom, they added, has exerted efforts to combat terrorism and it has not hesitated in providing all forms of cooperation with the international community to combat this phenomenon. King Salman then briefed the gatherers of the details of his talks with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy. He later sponsored their historic signing of a peace deal in Jeddah on Sunday. He congratulated the two countries on their achievement, hoping that it will pave the way for achieving stability and security, which will positively impact the region. King Salman also congratulated the presidents of Eritrea and Djibouti for holding a historic reconciliation meeting in Jeddah on Monday. The meeting was also sponsored by King Salman. The cabinet then reviewed the latest regional and international developments, welcoming the signing of the Eritrea-Ethiopia peace agreement.”

Iraq

Iraqi News: Four Islamic State Militants Apprehended In Iraq’s Mosul

“Four Islamic State (IS) militants were arrested Tuesday in the group’s previously proclaimed capital Mosul, the Iraqi Security Media Center said. “Police forces arrested four members of the terrorist Daesh (Islamic State) group upon arrest warrants at al-Salhiya village in Hamam al-Alil, south of Mosul,” Iraqi website Ayn Al Iraq quoted the center as saying in a statement. “The arrestees were serving as fighters for Islamic State during the group’s capture of Mosul,” the center added. The Islamic State group appeared on the international scene in 2014 when it seized large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, declaring the establishment of an Islamic “caliphate” from Mosul city. Later on, the group has become notorious for its brutality, including mass killings, abductions and beheadings, prompting the U.S. to lead an international coalition to destroy it. Despite the group’s crushing defeat at its main havens across Iraq, Islamic State continues to launch sporadic attacks against troops with security reports warning that the militant group still poses a threat against stability in the country. A total of 90 Iraqi civilians were killed, while 117 others were injured due to acts of violence and terrorism during the month of August, according to the monthly count by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).”

NPR: Protests Continue In Port City In Iraq Over Lack Of Drinking Water And Corruption

“Iraq's port city of Basra is a hub of oil wealth but is poor and angry. Protests have continued for weeks over a lack of drinking water and an excess of political corruption — with some blaming Iran. A lack of basic services led to protests this summer in Iraq's second-largest city. They turned violent recently, revealing further the underlying problems not only in Basra but in the entire country. Protesters burned down government buildings along with the offices of an Iranian-backed militia and the Iranian consulate. Several protesters were killed. NPR's Jane Arraf traveled to Basra and sent this report.”

Turkey

Human Rights Watch: Turkey/Iraq: Strikes May Break Laws Of War

“Four apparent Turkish military operations against the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq dating back over a year should be investigated for possible violations of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said today. The attacks killed at least seven non-combatants and wounded another, witnesses and relatives said. Speaking to Human Rights Watch by phone, witnesses and relatives said that what appeared to be Turkish air and ground attacks during four operations between May 2017 and June 2018 killed at least six men and one woman and injured another man. They said there were no apparent military objectives near the strikes. Human Rights Watch was unable to visit the sites but obtained photographs and death certificates to corroborate the allegations. “As Turkey steps up operations in Iraq, it should be taking all feasible precautions to avoid harming civilians there,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Turkey should investigate possible unlawful strikes that killed civilians, punish those responsible for wrongdoing, and compensate victims’ families.” The PKK, an outlawed armed group active in Turkey, has long maintained a presence in northern Iraq near the Turkish, Iranian, and Syrian borders. Turkish forces have conducted operations against the PKK in Iraq for over a decade. Since March, Turkish forces appear to have extended their presence into northern Iraq by at least 15 kilometers, establishing multiple outposts, including in rural areas of Dohuk and Erbil governorates under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).”

Yemen

Xinhua: Yemeni Gov't Forces Make Fresh Progress In Hodeidah Battles With Houthis

“The Yemeni government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition made a new progress in the ongoing battles against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in the Red Sea coast city of Hodeidah on Tuesday. The government troops launched a fresh military operation in coordination with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) forces operating in Yemen, capturing key areas near the city's main port and university, a military official told Xinhua on condition of anonymity. "The Giants Brigades forces continued in making ground advancement and plan to capture the strategic port of Hodeidah in the next days," the military source said. After capturing the "Kilo16 road", the pro-government forces launched a new operation overnight and managed to seize areas close to Hodeidah University, he added. More than 18 Houthi fighters were captured during the UAE-backed military operation that started Monday overnight, according to the source. Residents in Hodeidah confirmed that intensified airstrikes continued to bomb Houthi-controlled sites in different areas of Hodeidah, causing huge blasts. Last week, the Yemeni government troops backed by the UAE succeeded in cutting off the "Kilo16 road", the only supply route linking Houthi-controlled areas in northern provinces with the port city of Hodeidah.”

Saudi Arabia

Arab News: Mosque, House Hit By Houthi Missile Fragments In Saudi Arabia

“The Spokesman for the Directorate of Civil Defense in Asir Region, Col. Mohammed Al-Assami, said that Civil Defense Forces launched a report on Tuesday regarding a military projectile launched by the Iranian-backed Houthi militia from within Yemeni territory toward a village in the southern province of Dhahran. No casualties have been recorded, however, the projectile hit a mosque and the home of a citizen, as well as an agricultural well. The necessary procedures have been adopted to directly deal with such cases, reported the Saudi Press Agency.”

Nigeria

Associated Press: Nigerian President Condemns Boko Haram Killing Of Aid Worker

“Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is strongly condemning Boko Haram’s killing of a Red Cross aid worker and vows his government will do everything possible to ensure the safe return of all held by the extremist group. Saifura Hussaini Ahmed Khorsa was kidnapped in March along with two other health workers after an attack on a military facility in the northeastern town of Rann. The International Committee of the Red Cross announced Monday she had been killed. Buhari calls the killing “an act of extreme barbarism; utterly reprehensible and inhuman.” Boko Haram still holds Khorsa’s two colleagues and a Christian girl, Leah Sharibu, who was seized in February during a mass abduction of schoolgirls in Dapchi. The extremists have killed more than 20,000 people and kidnapped thousands during their nine-year insurgency.”

PR Nigeria: Nigeria, Niger Agree To Curtail Boko-Haram Insurgency Across Borders

“In continuation of his official visit to Niger Republic the Nigeria’s Minister of Defence Mansur Muhammad Dan-Ali was granted audience by President Muhammadu Issoufou of Niger at Presidential Palace Niamey. President Issoufou thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for providing good leadership in the sub-continent which lead to the succeses recorded in the fight against insurgency. He also hailed  the mutual cooperation between Nigeria and Niger. The HMOD informed the Nigerien leader that he is in Niger to strenthen the existing cooperation between the two countries especially in the fight against insurgency. The two countries also signed agreement on how to curtailed  boko haram terrorism and cross boarder crimes.”

Somalia

Horseed Media: Somalia: 16 Killed In Heavy Fighting In Gedo Region

“Fierce clashes between Somali regional forces of Jubaland and al-Shabab fighters erupted on Monday in Gedo region of southern Somalia, killing at least 16 from the both sides, officials confirmed on Tuesday. Jamal Hassan Farey, a senior commander of Jubaland forces, told reporters that they have launched heavy attack on al-Shabab fighters near Geedweyne in Gedo region in southern Somalia. “We have lost five soldiers and seven others sustained injuries during the fighting. We killed 11 al-Shabab fighters and seized weapons,” the commander said. The commander said the move to attack al-Shabab came after a tip-off indicates that the militants were planning to wage offensive on Jubaland forces but they responded quickly and attacked them.”

Africa

Fox News: Ethiopia's Stunning Reforms Now Challenged By Deadly Unrest

“Ethiopia's stunning political reforms are now threatened by long-standing ethnic tensions that have roared back to life since a young prime minister took power just five months ago and promised greater freedoms. While exiled groups once banned as terror organizations are welcomed home to join political dialogue, deadly violence erupts on the fringes of celebrations. On Saturday, tens of thousands of people gathered peacefully in Addis Ababa's Meskel Square to cheer one group's return. Two days later, police fired tear gas there to disperse people protesting killings blamed by some on youth from the same ethnicity. Suddenly, the government of 42-year-old Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appears to be reaching for security tactics whose unpopularity helped to bring down the previous government, while some Ethiopians who cheered Abiy's reforms now accuse him of being soft on the unrest that poses his biggest challenge so far.”

Reuters: Italian Priest Kidnapped Overnight Near Niger's Southern Border

“An Italian priest was kidnapped on Monday in south Niger, near the border with Burkina Faso, the second abduction of a European in the West African country this year. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the kidnapping, which was confirmed on Tuesday by the Nigerian and Italian governments. West African states have been struggling to gain the upper hand over jihadist groups, including some affiliated with al Qaeda and Islamic State, which are active along Niger’s porous borders with both Mali and Burkina Faso. The kidnapping took place in the village of Bomanga, in the southern Makalondi district, about 125 km (80 miles) from the capital Niamey. In a statement on Tuesday, Niamey’s Archbishop Laurent Lompo said Father Pier Luigi Maccalli was attacked and abducted by “unidentified individuals” on Monday evening. Maccalli had been working in Bomaga for 11 years as a member of the Society of African Missions (SMA), a Roman Catholic missionary organization. Italy’s embassy in Niamey has called on the local authorities to resolve the matter as quickly as possible, the Italian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Western powers, primarily France but also the United States, have deployed thousands of troops in the semi-arid Sahel region to combat what they see as a growing Islamist militant threat that targets both civilians and the military.”

Sudan Tribune: Sudan, U.S. To Discuss Removal From Terror List

“Sudan and the United States will hold a new round of talks on the normalisation of bilateral relations and Sudan removal from the list of countries supporting terrorism. A Senior Sudanese diplomat speaking to Sudan Tribune under the cover of anonymity on Tuesday disclosed that the bilateral talks will be held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meetings which have already started this week and will end in October. In October 2017, the United States ended a twenty-year economic embargo on Sudan but said its removal from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism requires a number of benchmarks after admitting that Khartoum is no longer supporting terrorism. The process is now linked to the improvement of human rights records including religious freedom and democratic reforms. However, Washington is no longer speaking about the end of the war in the Two Areas and Darfur because the American diplomats say the armed groups share the responsibility in the delay of the peace process. Since a visit by to Khartoum in November 2017, John Sullivan Deputy Secretary of State has agreed with the former Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour to exchange written notes on the outstanding issues.”

Germany

The Wall Street Journal: Germany’s Intelligence Chief Loses Post Over Comments On Far-Right Protests

“The German government is replacing a top intelligence official less than two weeks after he made comments that appeared to play down far-right violence at the margins of recent anti-immigration protests. Hans-Georg Maassen will leave his post as head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the government said on Tuesday, in a reshuffle aimed at defusing the latest outbreak of tension in the country’s fractious ruling alliance. The decision, hammered out in a meeting of the leaders of Angela Merkel’s left-right coalition, ends a tug of war between the center-left Social Democratic Party, junior partner in the coalition, which had been calling for Mr. Maassen’s ouster, and Horst Seehofer, interior minister and head of Bavaria’s conservative Christian Social Union, who had backed the intelligence chief.”

Canada

Yahoo News: ISIS Touts Toronto Shooting As Top Attack In Propaganda Video

“ISIL, also known as ISIS, has produced a propaganda video in which it claims responsibility for the deadly shooting on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue on July 22. The clip, titled “Harvest of the Lone Lions” was released by pro-Islamic State media on Sept. 16 It features a montage of news footage from what it claims were its most successful western terror attacks in 2018 and audio from a speech by ISIL leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in which he praises attackers in the West. “We congratulate the lions in the countries of the crusaders, in Canada, Europe and other countries,” he says, according to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute. It concludes with an animated infographic showing the number of casualties reported as the result of attacks in Nizhny Novgorod in Russia on May 5; Lieges, Belgium on May 29; Toronto on July 22 and Trappes, France, on Aug. 24. The infographic presents the Toronto attack as its most successful of the year, although its claim that there were 11 casualties is false. Two victims died, and 13 were injured. The gunman also died from a self inflicted gunshot. The video assigns the attack a success rate of 83.2 per cent, but does not explain how that number was calculated.”