Eye on Extremism: September 2, 2020

ABC News: Trial To Begin For Suspects In Charlie Hebdo Terror Attack

“A trial related to the January 2015 deadly attacks on Charlie Hebdo employees and other targets is set to begin Wednesday in Paris. The gunmen fatally shot illustrators and journalists at Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, as well as a police officer and shoppers at a Jewish supermarket during a three-day killing spree beginning Jan. 7, 2015. Investigating magistrates have charged 14 people in connection to the attacks, which killed 17 people. Brothers Cherif and Said Kouachand and Amédy Coulibaly, the alleged perpetrators of the attacks, have been charged with financing terrorism, membership of a terrorist organization and supplying weapons to terrorists. The landmark trial is expected to last for two-and-a-half months. This combination of photos made on Jan. 8, 2015 shows French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo's deputy chief editor Bernard Maris and cartoonists Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut, aka Cabu, Charb, Tignous and Honore, who were among those killed during the attack on the Paris offices of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, 2015. Charlie Hebdo posted on Twitter the cover of its next edition to be released on Wednesday, in which the editorial staff decided to reprint the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that some found offensive five years ago.”

Newsweek: Facebook, Struggling To Combat Far-Right Extremism, Threatens To Block News From Platform In Australia

“Cornered by new legislation, Facebook has threatened to block anyone in Australia from sharing local and international news on its platforms. The move, which comes in response to a proposed law that will force the social network to pay media organizations for their journalistic content, would result in “publishers and people in Australia” being unable to post news to Facebook and Instagram. As the Mark Zuckerberg-led platform goes on the legal offensive, critics noted Facebook was quick to act when facing regulation that could see it out-of-pocket, but has failed to properly block hate speech, far-right conspiracies and extremist groups. “Facebook: stopping QAnon and far-right content is too hard. Also Facebook: removing all Australian news content is entirely possible,” tweeted Nick Evershed, who is a data and interactives editor for Guardian Australia, in response to Facebook's threat. On August 19, Facebook announced it had removed more than 790 groups, 100 pages and 1,500 ads tied to QAnon, a vast and unfounded political conspiracy theory that has existed online for years and is often centered around President Donald Trump.”

The Jerusalem Post: Austrian Court Convicts Iran-Trained Hezbollah Commander For Terrorism

“A court in the capital of the Austrian state of Carinthia last week convicted a Hezbollah commander and recruiter for new members for the Lebanese terrorist organization. The court in the city of Klagenfurt declared the 41-year-old Lebanese man guilty due to his membership in a terrorist organization, a criminal organization, and his role in training for terroristic purposes. The court sentenced the unnamed Lebanese man to a nine-year prison term, according to the Austria Press Agency.  The Jerusalem Post reported in March that the Hezbollah commander spent 13 years in the central European country while reportedly being involved in financing terrorism. According to the indictment, the Hezbollah commander has been a member of the Shi’ite terrorist movement since 2006. He oversaw a 60-member unit on the border to Syria where combat took place. The convicted Hezbollah terrorist participated in battle in which people were murdered during the Syrian civil war. The Austrian media report did not identify the victims. “On the part of Hezbollah alone, there were 12 dead during his time there. In the asylum procedure, he also stated that he had recruited 250 men and young people over the age of 14 to join Hezbollah. He also took part in ideological and military training, including in Iran, but also trained himself,” indictment noted, according to the Austrian wire service article.”

United States

NBC News: Man With Alleged 'Boogaloo' Ties Charged With Sending Threats To California Health Official

“A California man who authorities said has ties to the extremist anti-government Boogaloo movement has been charged in connection with two dozen harassing or threatening letters sent to Santa Clara County's top public health official, according to a police report and court records. Alan Joseph Viarengo, 55, of Gilroy, has not yet entered a plea but is facing two felony charges including stalking and threatening a public official in connection with 24 letters that were sent to Dr. Sara Cody between April 9 and July 29, according to court documents. Authorities allege Viarengo engaged in a sustained effort to intimidate Cody with letters containing misogynistic language, threats, pornography and anti-government views. In June, a letter addressed to Cody showed up with a picture of an igloo in the place of a return address and the phrase “Let’s Boogie” written above. “I’m glad you are getting threats,” the anonymous person wrote in the letter, according to the police report. “I posted your residence everywhere I could; I hope someone follows through.” Attorney Cody Salfen who is representing Viarengo said his client is a respected community member and “ a law-abiding citizen” who “respects the rule of law and the Constitution.”

The Washington Post: A Florida ‘Antifa Hunter’ Violently Threatened A BLM Activist. Now He’s Going To Prison For Three Years

“When he learned Don Gathers, a Black Lives Matter activist in Charlottesville, planned to run for a seat on the city council last year, a Florida man who called himself “the antifa hunter” organized a racist social media campaign that eventually led Gathers to quit the race over fears for his safety. In a hearing over video conference on Monday, Gathers told the man that he hopes one day he might be able to forgive him for his actions, the Associated Press reported. “But today is not that day,” Gathers said. “I despise all that you and others like you represent.” Daniel McMahon, 32, of Brandon, Fla., was sentenced Monday to three years and five months in federal prison for cyberstalking and bias-motivated intimidation and interference with a candidate for elected office. McMahon pleaded guilty in April to attacking Gathers online and to threatening to sexually assault the daughter of another activist who protested white supremacists. “This defendant weaponized social media to threaten and intimidate his perceived political enemies and propagate a violent white-supremacist ideology,” said U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen of the Western District of Virginia in a news release.”

The Washington Post: Muslim Cleric, Given Life Sentence For Promoting Religious Combat, Released Pending Appeal

“A Northern Virginia cleric sentenced to life in prison for encouraging religious combat after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was set free Tuesday as he continues to fight his conviction. Ali al-Timimi, 56, will remain on home confinement in Virginia, after 15 years behind bars, while his appeal is resolved. He is the last member of a group known as the “Virginia jihad network” to leave prison, in a case touted by the Justice Department and decried by Muslim groups as unduly harsh. Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, who presided over al-Timimi’s 2005 trial in federal court in Alexandria, ruled last month that al-Timimi could be released after a 14-day quarantine because he has a strong chance of seeing his sentence shortened on appeal and a high risk of complications if infected by the novel coronavirus. “There are exceptional reasons why his continued detention is not appropriate,” she wrote. “He may well have already served excess years in prison.” His only disciplinary infraction, she noted, was a 2018 incident in which he told a guard that if he was threatened by another inmate again he would beat the man up. Al-Timimi was fined $20. Defense attorney Jonathan Turley confirmed that he picked up al-Timimi at a ­maximum-security prison in Colorado and drove him to Virginia on Tuesday but declined to comment further.”

Turkey

BBC News: Turkey Detains Top Islamic State Commander In Raid

“Turkish police have arrested the top Islamic State (IS) commander in the country, the government says.

Mahmut Ozden had “important plans” in his possession and had received orders to carry out an attack, the Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said. He was detained in Adana province, and Mr Soylu said an operation was continuing against other IS figures. IS officially announced its presence in Turkey in 2019 and has conducted numerous attacks in the country. “[The suspect] had been constantly receiving orders from both Iraq and Syria to carry out an attack in Turkey,” Mr Soylu said on Tuesday. He announced the arrest on Twitter and congratulated the police. Ozden had been planning to carry out attacks with groups of 10 to 12 IS terrorists, Mr Soylu said. He referred to the suspect as the group's “emir” in Turkey. Plans seized during the raid revealed he had been plotting to kidnap several politicians, according to the Daily Sabah newspaper. Computers, documents, weapons and ammunition were also seized during the operation in the south-eastern province of Adana. Three other suspected terrorists were detained in the counterterrorism operation, the Anadolu Agency reported.”

Afghanistan

BBC News: Afghanistan Resumes Taliban Prisoner Release

“Afghanistan has resumed the controversial release of hundreds of Taliban prisoners. A Taliban official told the AFP news agency that 200 prisoners had been freed by the Afghan authorities since Monday, while the Taliban reportedly released four Afghan commandos. The release of Taliban inmates has been a pre-condition to negotiations to end 19 years of conflict in the country. Peace talks are expected to start in Qatar within days of the full release. An unnamed senior Afghan official told AFP that “dozens” of prisoners had been released on Monday, with the remaining prisoners due to follow suit “within a couple of days”. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai praised the resumption of the prisoner release, which he described as a “positive step towards peace in Afghanistan”. The release of 5,000 militants formed part of a peace deal reached by the US and the Taliban in February, which was meant to pave the way for talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. In August, the Afghan government began to free the final 400 Taliban prisoners, after the move was approved by an Afghan grand assembly of elders. But not all of the group was released, with both France and Australia objecting to the release of prisoners accused of fatal attacks against their nationals, including humanitarian workers.”

Lebanon

Foreign Policy: Hezbollah And Lebanon Are On The Brink Of Civil War Again

“During the 30 years since Lebanon’s civil war, the neighborhoods of the capital Beirut have been split on sectarian lines, mirroring the country’s sect-based power-sharing constitutional system. But this political edifice has been under challenge for months. In October, Lebanese people from across the religious spectrum came out on the streets and demonstrated against their political leaders, whom they described as a corrupt and self-serving elite. Last month when an explosion ripped through the city and left some of the dominantly Christian neighborhoods in ruins, it blew the lid off the country’s sectarian fault lines. Lebanon’s various communities are more suspicious of each other than at any time in recent memory. At the center of tensions, holding the key to both chaos and peace, is Hezbollah. It’s not clear how these vitriolic sectarian tensions will be resolved. No one wants the situation to escalate into another civil war. At a coffee shop in Ouzai, a Shiite-dominated southern suburb of Beirut barely 3 kilometers from the downtown neighborhood at the epicenter of the protests, a group of Hezbollah supporters accused the protestors of being foreign agents.”

Africa

Voice Of America: Watchdog Warns Of ‘Limited Progress’ In Africa Counterterror Fight

“Terrorist organizations appear to be tightening their grip on multiple regions of Africa, despite ongoing efforts by the United States and its allies to degrade their capabilities and limit their reach. The findings, part of a new report released Tuesday from the Defense Department inspector general, come as U.S.-led efforts have been forced to adjust, and in some cases, scale back activities because of the coronavirus making its way across the continent. “The United States and its international partners made limited progress,” Acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell wrote in the quarterly report, citing setbacks against affiliates of both al-Qaida and Islamic State, also known as IS or ISIS. Rather than slow terrorist groups down, the report warned the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, appears to have given many of them new opportunities to expand. “The pandemic exacerbated many of the underlying conditions that foster VEO (violent extremist organization) growth, including economic and food insecurity,” O’Donnell wrote, pointing to assessments by the United Nations that in some areas, terror groups “capitalized on the virus to undermine state government authority and continue their attacks.”

The Standard: CS Matiang’i Freezes Assets Of Persons Accused Of Financing Al-Shabaab

“Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has ordered the immediate freezing of assets attached to nine individuals, alleged to finance Al-Shabaab operations.  The Ministry has identified Halima Adan Ali, Waleed Ahmed Zein, Sheikh Guyo Gorsa Boru, Mohammed Abdi Ali alias Abu Fidaa, Nusiba Mohammed Haji, Abdimajit Adan Hassan, Mohammed Ali Abdi, Muktar Ibrahim Ali, and Mire Abdullahi Elmi as some of the individuals and entities supporting terrorist activities in Kenya. In a statement, CS Matiang’i said that his ministry will not relent or hesitate to subject any individual or entity seeking to harm Kenyans to the full force of the law. “The enemy is progressively planting operatives among civilians strategically to advance his agenda through recruitment and radicalization to violent extremism and terrorism,” the statement read in part. The CS further said his ministry will continue to disrupt terrorist operations and purpose on bringing the perpetrators, financiers and sponsors of these barbaric acts to book, as is in line with the country’s laws and international obligations. “The only way to deny terrorists the means to threaten our way of life is to choke their facilitation networks,” Matiang’i added.”

Europe

EU Observer: Time For EU To Get Real On Hezbollah

“The UN Security Council's renewal of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) mandate on August 28 has presented an urgent opportunity to re-examine Europe's legacy in the region and, more importantly, the steps that are needed today to bring real stability to Lebanon. Founded in 1978 to oversee Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon, over 40 years later Unifil remains on the ground, fulfilling the same role, as a peacekeeper and monitoring hostilities. However, neither the EU's foreign policy, nor the Unifil mandate, are in line with the current state of affairs, as Hezbollah, the Iran-backed terrorist group which presents itself as a political party, continues to exploit Lebanon for its own nefarious purposes and insert itself into the political sphere. According to Western intelligence agencies, Iran funds Hezbollah to the tune of $200m to $300m [€168-€252] per year in cash outlays alone, and provides an arsenal of weapons and logistical services valued at more than $700m. The terrorist organisation has ravaged the region politically, economically, and violently for decades. The political impact of the Shiite militia is devastating to Lebanon. Since 1992, Hezbollah has woven itself into the political fabric of the country and held an inflated influence in the elected government.”

Al Jazeera: North Macedonia Arrests Three Men On Suspicion Of Plotting Attack

“Police in North Macedonia have arrested three men on suspicion of planning attacks in the country and have seized a large number of weapons in raids in five locations in the country's north. Police said on Tuesday the three men, one aged 22 and the others aged 25, had previously been convicted of participation in the ISIL (ISIS) armed group and had served prison terms on their return from the Middle East. They were arrested on suspicion of creating and participating in a “criminal cell, based on the ideological matrix of the ISIS terrorist organisation, with the intention of carrying out a terrorist act on targets in the territory of the Republic of Northern Macedonia”, police said. No specific targets were mentioned. The group members allegedly provided financial means and procured a large number of weapons, ammunition and military equipment, which they hid near a road in the northern village of Biljanovce, authorities said. Police said they seized five automatic rifles, a machinegun, 18 ammunition belts for automatic rifles, eight grenade launchers with fuses, camouflage vests and an ISIL flag with an Arabic inscription from the location.”

Australia

ABC News Australia: Former Anti-Islamic State Fighter Ashley Dyball Expected To Be Released From Prison Today

“A former anti-Islamic State fighter has been sentenced to three years in jail for improperly interfering with the corpse of a Queensland man, but is expected to be released from prison today. Ashley Dyball, 28, has already spent three-and-a-half years in custody over the death of 22-year-old Samuel Thompson in March 2017. Yesterday a Supreme Court jury in Brisbane found Dyball not guilty of murder, but guilty of interfering with Mr Thompson's corpse, which was found buried at the Beerburrum State Forest, north of Brisbane. Dyball also pleaded guilty to possessing a dangerous drug. Another man, Roberto Boscaino, was last year found guilty of Mr Thompson's murder. Dyball travelled to Syria in May 2015 to fight for the Kurdish YPG militia against Islamic State. During Dyball's trial, the Supreme Court in Brisbane heard Mr Thompson was looking for a new cannabis supplier when he arranged to meet Boscaino at his Bald Hills home on March 7, 2017. The court heard within an hour of arriving he died, likely from either facial or neck injuries, possibly inflicted with a tomahawk. Dyball helped Boscaino put Mr Thompson's body into a toolbox, loaded it onto Boscaino's ute and drove with him to the Beerburrum State Forest where Mr Thompson's body was buried in a shallow grave, the court was told.”

Technology

The Sociable: Facebook To Censor Anything It Deems Necessary To Avoid ‘Adverse Legal Or Regulatory Impacts’

“Facebook will start removing user content that could get the social media giant into legal or regulatory trouble in a move that appears to be in anticipation of legislative reform surrounding digital platforms and publishers … In June, UC Berkeley professor and expert in digital forensics Dr. Hany Farid testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that Facebook has a toxic business model that puts profit over the good of society and that its algorithms have been trained to encourage divisiveness and the amplification of misinformation. “Mark Zuckerberg is hiding the fact that he knows that hate, lies, and divisiveness are good for business,” Farid testified. “They didn’t set out to fuel misinformation and hate and divisiveness, but that’s what the algorithms learned. What we are witnessing with the left and right accusing Facebook of either too much censorship or not enough of it, is a reflection of the polarity that the algorithms were designed to amplify. However, I don’t like to place all the blame on a bogey man like Facebook. While the technology is powerful, we are individual human beings capable of rational thought, and we don’t have to add to the polarization if we so choose, but this takes tremendous will power.”