Eye on Extremism: September 23, 2020

The New York Times: British Give U.S. Evidence Against ISIS ‘Beatles,’ Clearing Way For Trial

“The British government has transferred evidence to the United States against two notorious Islamic State detainees from Britain accused of playing a role in the torture and beheadings of Western hostages, apparently clearing the way for putting them on trial. The transfer followed a ruling by the United Kingdom High Court on Tuesday rejecting a new legal challenge to the British government cooperating with the United States, which one detainee’s mother had filed. “We are pleased with the U.K. High Court’s decision and we are grateful that the British government has passed its evidence to us and confirmed its commitment to cooperate with our efforts to investigate and prosecute the two ISIS terrorists currently being held in U.S. military custody,” said Marc Raimondi, a Justice Department spokesman. He added, “We remain committed to holding these defendants accountable and obtaining justice for the victims of their terrorist activity.” The two men, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, were captured by a Kurdish-led militia in early 2018. Last October, amid swelling chaos in northern Syria after President Trump’s endorsement of a Turkish operation to attack the militia, the Syrian Democratic Forces, American troops took custody of the men and brought them to a military base in Iraq.”

The Guardian: Asio Reveals Up To 40% Of Its Counter-Terrorism Cases Involve Far-Right Violent Extremism

“Far-right violent extremism constitutes up to 40% of the Australian domestic spy agency’s counter-terrorism caseload, up from 10-15% before 2016, a senior official has said. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s extraordinary increase in focus on the far right in Australia was revealed by its deputy director general of intelligence service delivery, Heather Cook, at a parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday. Cook also warned the Covid-19 pandemic had created both a greater opportunity for far-right extremists to recruit online and a powerful anti-government message for those that resent lockdowns to combat the pandemic. In the wake of the Christchurch massacre, Asio has been blunt about the risk from far-right terrorism, labelling it an “enduring threat” that is “real and growing”. Asio’s quantification of its concern at a parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security will play into Labor’s critique that the government has not done enough to combat the threat, failing to proscribe any rightwing extremist groups. Cook told the committee she would not give “specific numbers” of people under investigation but said “rightwing violent extremism … occupies approximately between 30 and 40% of Asio’s current caseload in counter-terrorism work … an increase from 10 to 15% prior to 2016.”

United States

ABC San Antonio: FBI: Man Arrested In San Antonio For Providing Support To ISIS, Discussing Possible Terror Attacks On U.S. Soil

“A Gonzales County man arrested by the FBI in San Antonio this week is accused of providing support to ISIS and discussed carrying out attacks in the United States and overseas on behalf of the terrorist group, federal court records reveal. Jaylyn Molina, who also refers to himself as “Abdur Rahim,” faces a charge of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, according to an unsealed criminal complaint filed in San Antonio. Molina was taken into custody Monday and is scheduled to make an appearance in federal court in San Antonio early next week, records show. A co-defendant, Kristopher Matthews, was taken into custody in Tennessee, including a motion to unseal records in the case filed Monday. A 14-page criminal complaint states that Matthews, a resident of Elgin, South Carolina, who refers to himself as “Ali Jibreel,” used an encrypted messaging application last year to find an ISIS facilitator outside the U.S. to help him travel to Syria and recruit additional members who support ISIS ideology. FBI officials became aware that Molina joined the same encrypted chat around April, and within weeks, he was using it to post manuals on how to train with an AK-47, records show.”

The Jerusalem Post: House Passes Bill That Requires Government Act Against Domestic Terrorism

“The federal government would be required to take steps to prevent domestic terrorism under a bill passed by the US House of Representatives. The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2020, which passed Monday by voice vote, would authorize dedicated domestic terrorism offices in the departments of Homeland Security and Justice, as well as the FBI, to analyze and monitor domestic terrorist activity. Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Illinois, sponsored the legislation, which had 179 co-sponsors. Sen. Dick Durbin, also an Illinois Democrat, has sponsored a similar measure in the Senate. “Racially/ethnically motivated violent extremists were the primary source of ideologically motivated lethal incidents and violence in 2018 and 2019. From the Tree of Life synagogue to a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, we have all tragically seen the deadly effect,” Schneider said Monday from the House floor. “According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of white nationalist groups rose by 55% since 2017. And last November, the FBI reported violent hate crimes reached a 16-year high in 2018. That number went up in 2019. “Groups like the Boogaloos, Rise Above Movement and White Nationalist militias across the country are organizing. And so must we.”

Syria

Voice Of America: Families Of Missing IS Victims Beg For Answers As New Mass Graves Discovered In Northeast Syria

“As local authorities in northeastern Syria announce the discovery of new mass graves belonging to the victims of Islamic State in Raqqa, families whose loved ones disappeared during the group’s control over the region hope they might finally get some answers. The First Responders, a rescue and recovery team in northeastern Syria, earlier this month announced finding a mass grave in the western outskirt of Raqqa’s Farusiya, raising the number of discovered sites to five this year.  Following the announcement and the recovery of 16 bodies from the grave, the families of the victims are calling on authorities to prioritize a speedy identification process of the remains. “The coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) must support The First Responders team with technical support so they would be able to verify the identities of the bodies found in mass graves and under the rubble of buildings that were destroyed during the battle to defeat IS in the city of Raqqa,” said Ensaf Nasser who has been looking for her husband since IS kidnapped him in 2014. Nasser’s husband, Foad Ahmed el-Mohamed, was a local journalist taking pictures of wounded civilians at Aisha Hospital in Deir el-Zour city when IS militants broke in and took him away.”

Iraq

Asharq Al-Awsat: Iraqi Security Forces Thwart ISIS Infiltration Attempt On Border

“The Iraqi National Security Forces thwarted an infiltration attempt of ISIS terrorists on the western border with Syria, in Nineveh. The Security Media Cell issued a statement Monday, announcing that units of the National Security Agency received intelligence information about possible infiltrations in various spots. The intelligence teams set several ambushes and were able to arrest three terrorists, including a Syrian national. During interrogation, they admitted to being members of the ISIS terrorist organization and that they participated in most of the battles against the Iraqi forces. Based on their confessions, the terrorists were planning to form new military detachments to carry out terrorist operations. In addition, the intelligence agency announced that it arrested 10 terrorists in Saladin governorate, north of Baghdad. The agency said in a statement that through continuous monitoring, its units arrested 10 wanted terrorists, in accordance with the provisions of Article 4 of the constitution, for their affiliation with ISIS in separate areas of the governorate. The security units also coordinated with Sulaymaniyah security forces and arrested two terrorists while trying to flee to one of the neighboring countries.”

Turkey

The Jerusalem Post: Turkey’s Relationship With ISIS Proves It's Deserting Its European Allies

“With Turkey’s increasingly divisive and destabilizing influence in the Middle East, the region’s biggest concern for the West yet could be President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s burgeoning Islamist tendencies. In order to understand the Turkish role in the threat of ISIS, borne from the Muslim Brotherhood, it is necessary to rewind six years. 2014 marked the year when ISIS became a very real threat to the Middle East; within one year it had managed to take over a third of Iraq and half of Syria, employing 200,000 fighters in its control. ISIS quickly became successful in producing oil and selling it as an important source of income, not to mention that it was able to ensure a constant supply of weapons, ammunition, vehicles and advanced communication devices. The question is, how was it possible for ISIS to become a functioning state so quickly? With its increasing connections to Turkey over the years, whether through its oil industry or housing wanted members of the Muslim Brotherhood, this “neighborly” relationship is one that is repeatedly examined for consequences and decisions that Turkey is instrumental in today.”

Afghanistan

BBC News: Afghan-Taliban Peace Talks: What's Next?

“History took a front seat at the table this month when Afghan enemies formally sat face to face for the first time to embark on negotiations to end what is now regarded as the world's deadliest conflict. “We'll start introductions on the left,” suggested Masoom Stanikzai, the grey-bearded chief negotiator of the Afghan government's chosen delegation who only just survived a suicide attack nine years ago by bombers posing as messengers of peace. From the other long table, on the other side of the glittering Qatari ballroom, another Stanikzai of no relation loudly interjected with a grin. “You always do things from the left,” chimed in the white-bearded deputy head of the Taliban team, Abbas Stanikzai. “We mujahideen start from the right always.” In an instant, in these very first moments, would-be peacemakers were pulled back to days gone by when they brandished banners for communism or Islam - a violent war of words which sparked the Soviet invasion of 1979 and a fire which kills and maims across Afghanistan to this day. History has left its calling card in these talks which are as emotional as they are historic. Forty-two negotiators, one for every painful year of war, are now charged with the Herculean task of turning this page.”

The National: Afghan Violence 'Too High' Says US As Kabul-Taliban Talks Falter

“The level of violence in Afghanistan is unacceptably high and the United States expects further setbacks during talks, the Special Representative for Afghanistan said on Tuesday, as the Afghan government and Taliban remain far apart on even the most basic issues 10 days into talks meant to end two decades of war. “By any measure, current levels of violence are too high,” US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad told a House of Representatives hearing. “We know that reductions are possible,” Mr Khalilzad said. Despite the difficulties, the talks are the best hope for peace in years and come as a result of a February pact between the Taliban and the United States, allowing US forces to withdraw in exchange for Taliban promises on terrorism. But the militant group has refused to agree to a ceasefire and the war is grinding on. At least 57 members of the security forces have been killed in recent days in clashes across Afghanistan. With all foreign troops due to be gone by May 2021, pressure is building on the US-backed government in Kabul as it grapples with how to share power with its implacable foe or contend with a likely Taliban push for military victory.”

Foreign Policy: The Taliban, At Least, Are Striking Gold In Afghanistan

“For decades, Afghanistan’s untapped mineral wealth has been touted as the country’s trillion-dollar El Dorado. But while the Afghan government has never been able to monetize mountains of copper, iron ore, gold, and gemstones, the Taliban have—and are ramping up their mining operations as just-started peace talks aim to shape the future of a postwar Afghanistan. In recent years, the Taliban have deliberately moved to secure control over regions of Afghanistan rich in mineral deposits, from lapis lazuli mines in northern Badakhshan to gold, lead, and zinc in Helmand and vast talc and marble deposits in southern Nangarhar. The Taliban, who already control most of the country’s mineral wealth, are banking on further developing the sector to make it the bedrock of the country’s postwar economy—or theirs, at least.”

Yemen

Arab News: US Calls On Houthis To Halt Attacks On Saudi Arabia

“The US on Tuesday called on Houthi militants in Yemen to stop launching attacks on Saudi Arabia. The State Department said it was “deeply concerned” by the Iran-backed group’s aggression, including attacks on Marib city. The statement comes after the militants have increased drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent weeks and as the UN continues to push for a political settlement to the conflict. “The United States remains deeply concerned by the Houthis’ aggression, supported by Iranian weapons shipments in violation of UN arms embargoes,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said. “We call on the Houthis to immediately cease their cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia and halt their attacks on the city of Marib, where nearly a million Yemenis have sought refuge since the beginning of the war.” The strongly-worded warning also called on the Houthis to stop  the “disgraceful treatment of journalists, opposition activists, and Yemeni Jews.” And it contained the latest warning over a stricken oil tanker off Yemen’s coast which experts increasingly fear could explode and spark an environmental disaster.”

Lebanon

The Wall Street Journal: Explosion Rocks Hezbollah Stronghold In Southern Lebanon

“A large explosion shook a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Lebanon on Tuesday, sending a thick plume of smoke over a country still reeling from the deadly Beirut explosion last month that devastated parts of the capital. Smoke was seen rising from the area surrounding the towns of Ain Qana and Kafarfila, the state-run National News Agency reported, saying echoes of the blast were heard across the regions of Nabatiyeh and Iqlim al-Tuffah. The news agency said there had been intensive Israeli flights over the area since the morning hours, but didn’t provide any other details. Neither the cause of the blast nor whether there were casualties was immediately clear. It comes after security lapses led to the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port, which killed nearly 200 people, injured more than 6,000 and left thousands of homes in ruins. Tuesday’s explosion was in an area controlled by Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite group that in recent years has become the dominant political and military force in Lebanon. Video footage from the scene showed residents of the village clambering over an area near the blast site that was covered with gray ash. An official with Hezbollah’s media unit said no casualties were recorded in the blast.”

Libya

Reuters: Egypt's Sisi Committed To Ridding Libya Of Militia, Regional Interference

“Egypt is committed to helping Libyans “rid their country of armed militias and terrorist organizations, and put an end to the blatant interference of some regional parties,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. Libya descended into chaos after the NATO-backed overthrow of leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Since 2014, it has been split, with an internationally recognized government controlling the capital, Tripoli, and the northwest, while military leader Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi rules the east. Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the government is backed by Turkey.”

Somalia

The Washington Times: Al-Shabab Negotiations Eyed As Path To End Fighting In Somalia

“Unprecedented diplomacy gave the Trump administration a path out of Afghanistan, and questions have been raised about whether a similar playbook could work for the seemingly endless U.S. military mission in Somalia. Most analysts and military insiders say the U.S. air campaign against the al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab, which has expanded steadily throughout President Trump’s nearly four years in office, can contain the group but not fully defeat it. With al-Shabab estimated to control as much as 25% of Somali territory, and with a central government in Mogadishu ill-equipped to handle the resilient terrorist group on its own, debate is growing in foreign policy circles about whether the U.S. should shift its focus to negotiations rather than a war with no end date and murky metrics for progress. The question has grown more urgent with serious setbacks in recent years for al Qaeda and the Islamic State group. Al-Shabab’s ability to hold its own in the field is proving an inspiration to jihadi movements in Africa and around the world. The State Department stresses that “reconciliation” among all stakeholders in Somalia is key to peace in the historically dysfunctional country. Officials in the administration have routinely conceded that military action alone isn’t the answer.”

Africa

Associated Press: Extremist Violence Causes Food Shortages In North Mozambique

“The escalating extremist insurgency in northern Mozambique has displaced 310,000 people, creating an urgent humanitarian crisis, the World Food Program said Tuesday. The rebels have recently stepped up attacks in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province, seizing the strategic port of Mocimboa da Praia, which they have held for six weeks. Clashes between the extremist fighters, aligned with the Islamic State group, and government forces have caused massive numbers of local residents to flee their homes and fields. The conflict has killed more than 1,500 people since it began in 2017 and the increased violence this year has caused widespread upheaval across the area. “We are deeply concerned about the unfolding humanitarian situation in Cabo Delgado where conflict and violence have left people without access to food and livelihoods,” Antonella D’Aprile, the World Food Program’s representative for Mozambique, said Tuesday. “The growing insecurity and poor infrastructure have meant that reaching out to people in need has become harder and now with COVID-19 the crisis becomes even more complex,” she said. The threat of hunger has grown in Mozambique’s north as entire communities have lost access to food and income, warns WFP.”