Eye on Extremism: September 30, 2021

Reuters: New Zealand Tightens Terror Law After Recent IS-Linked Attack

“New Zealand on Thursday passed a new security law to criminalise preparing a terror attack, tightening a loophole that was exposed by a man who went on to conduct a mass stabbing in the country's most populated city. New Zealand has for months been moving to strengthen its security laws amid heightened fears of lone wolf terror attacks, but the new law was rushed through its parliament after Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen stabbed and wounded seven people in a supermarket in Auckland earlier this month. It is now an offence to plot and prepare a terror attack, which Kris Faafoi, New Zealand's Minister of Justice, said brings security laws in line with most other countries. “The nature of terrorism has changed. Across the world there are more lone actors, rather than larger organised groups,” Faafoi said in an emailed statement. The new law comes less than a month after police shot dead Samsudeen, a 32-year-old Sri Lankan national, moments after he launched his attack. Samsudeen had been convicted and imprisoned for about three years before being released in July. New Zealand had in 2020 unsuccessfully sought to charge Samsudeen with terrorism offences after he bought a hunting knife and was found with Islamic State videos.”

The Hill: Milley: 'Real Possibility' Terrorist Groups Could Rebuild As Soon As Early Spring In Afghanistan

“Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley on Wednesday said there is “a real possibility” that al Qaeda or ISIS could reconstitute in Afghanistan as soon as early spring 2022. Milley said the terrorist threat from Afghanistan is currently less than it was on 9/11, but that “the conditions could be set for a reconstitution of al Qaeda and/or ISIS.” “It's a real possibility in the not too distant future, six, 12, 18, 24, 36 months, that kind of time frame, for reconstitution of al Qaeda or ISIS,” he told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who testified alongside Milley, agreed with the comments, saying “there is clearly a possibility” for the groups to build back up with U.S. forces out of the country. “Al Qaeda has been degraded over time. Now, terrorist organizations seek ungoverned spaces so that they can train and equip and thrive and, and so, there is clearly a possibility that that can happen here, going forward,” he said. “Our goal is to maintain a laser-like focus on this so that it doesn't happen.” The Trump administration in February 2020 signed a deal with the Taliban that agreed the United States would withdraw all its forces from Afghanistan in exchange for the promise the Islamic extremist group would not allow terrorist organizations to use the country as a launchpad for attacks.”

United States

Newsweek: U.S. Facing Over Twice As Many Domestic Terror Threats As Foreign, FBI Says

“The United States is facing far more domestic terror threats than those from international parties, according to the FBI. Timothy Langan, assistant director of the bureau's Counterterrorism Division, told lawmakers Wednesday that the U.S. is approaching more than 2,700 domestic terrorism threats. The number of international terror threats is under 1,000, Langan said when asked by Representative Nancy Mace to provide data on the FBI's caseload. Langan also gave statistics on terrorism-related deaths in the U.S. from 2015 to 2020. There were 80 reported international terrorism–related deaths in that five-year period, compared with 83 deaths linked to domestic terrorism. Langan was joined on Capitol Hill by officials from the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security in fielding questions from lawmakers on the Biden administration's counterterrorism strategy. “Preventing acts of terrorism is the FBI's number one priority,” Langan said during his opening statement. He also noted that the “greatest terrorism threat” is posed by lone actors or small cells radicalized online looking to attack “soft targets with easily accessible weapons.”

Syria

Al Monitor: Syrian Jihadist Group Won't Reconcile With Al-Qaeda Affiliate In Idlib

“Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which controls Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, is refusing calls from al-Qaeda-affiliated Hurras al-Din (Guardians of Religion Organization) to resolve their differences through Sharia arbitration. “A year into the unjust and aggressive arrest of a group of our Mujahideen brothers and students on the part of the HTS leadership, and after the harassment and injustice that our detained brothers have been subjected to over the course of this year, we had to make this statement,” Hurras al-Din leader Abu Humam al-Shami said in a statement released on Sept. 15. He added, “We call on the HTS leadership to resort to Sharia arbitration. ... Should HTS refuse to do so, then we ask for an independent judiciary that both parties agree on to look into the condition of our prisoners, resolve the differences, settle the status of properties and assets they confiscated, and [stop] the ongoing arrests against the Mujahideen.” Two members of HTS' Shura Council — Mazhar al-Wais and Abu Maria al-Qahtani (Iraqi national), both of whom are close to HTS leader Abu Muhammed al-Golani — refused the offer. Qahtani said in a statement, “People who take decisions on a whim keep raising oppression and Sharia arbitration slogans, also on a whim.”

Kurdistan 24: SDF-Linked Unit Arrests 'Important' ISIS Suspect In Syria's Deir Al-Zor

“The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Wednesday that counter-terrorism units, known as HAT, which are linked to local Internal Security Forces had arrested one suspect with alleged links to ISIS in the Deir al-Zor countryside, with support from the US-led coalition. The SDF's Coordination and Military Operations Center noted in a tweet that an important ISIS figure who was involved in monitoring and tracking SDF military patrols for bomb attacks and assassinations had been arrested. The account noted that the Coalition to Defeat ISIS provided support to the operation with live air surveillance. 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 extremist group’s control. The SDF specified in an earlier tweet that ISIS launched 20 attacks in August, killing 15 civilians and security personnel. Moreover, in the notorious al-Hol camp, ISIS-affiliated assailants killed 11 people and wounded four others. Over the same period, 83 ISIS suspects were also arrested with the support of the coalition.”

Afghanistan

The Washington Post: Kabul University Shuts Down As Taliban Government Bans Women From Campus, For Now

“The Taliban has said that women will be banned from teaching or studying at public universities in Afghanistan until they can be segregated from men — but at Kabul University, students of both genders have been sent home. The normally bustling campus was deserted and silent on Wednesday. Classes have been suspended; only male staff have been allowed to work on research or office tasks. The directives reflect a harsh new education policy imposed by the Taliban, in which females may be present on campuses only if they wear traditional Islamic garb and do not share space with male students. Senior government spokesman Bilal Karimi said authorities were “working on a comprehensive plan to ensure a peaceful environment for female students.” After that plan is finalized, he told The Washington Post in a voice message, “they would be allowed to continue their education.” Several Kabul University faculty members and students, reached at home Wednesday, expressed deep concern about the hardening Taliban stance on women’s access to public universities. Two weeks ago, the new minister of higher education stated flatly, “We will not allow coeducation.” Some private universities have already switched to divided classrooms.”

Reuters: Taliban Says U.S. Drones Must Stop Entering Afghanistan

“The Taliban on Wednesday warned of consequences if the United States did not stop flying drones over Afghan airspace. “The U.S. has violated all international rights and laws as well as its commitments made to the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, with the operation of these drones in Afghanistan,” the Taliban said in a statement on Twitter. “We call on all countries, especially United States, to treat Afghanistan in light of international rights, laws and commitments ... in order to prevent any negative consequences.” U.S. officials were not immediately available to comment. The Taliban Islamist militia swept back into power in Afghanistan last month after most U.S. and other Western troops left, ending a military and diplomatic mission that began soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Taliban leaders deny Islamic State and al Qaeda militants are active in the country, although Islamic State recently claimed responsibility for bomb attacks in the eastern city of Jalalabad. The Taliban are under pressure from the international community to renounce ties with al Qaeda, the group behind the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.”

Newsweek: With Naming Of New Atomic Chief, Is A Nuclear Taliban Possible?

“The new Taliban-led administration in Afghanistan has inherited an entire nation to run, and with it a wide range of responsibilities, one of them being a fledgling peaceful nuclear agency established a decade ago under the previous government. With the naming of a new atomic chief, the Taliban appears poised to press forward in this field. That has raised questions as to whether the Islamic Emirate could seek to militarize nuclear energy to develop a weapon of mass destruction, though experts remain deeply skeptical of such an endeavor at this juncture. Officially, no policy to this end appears to have been adopted, nor has the Taliban yet ruled out such an outcome. “There has been no decision so far on the development of nuclear weapons,” one Taliban official told Newsweek on the condition of anonymity. But a number of observers took notice last week when a list of official postings for the Taliban's interim government decreed by Taliban Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada and shared by the group's spokespersons identified “Engineer Najeebullah” as “Head of Atomic Energy.”

WTOP News: The Hunt: Concern Grows About Terror Groups Inside Taliban-Controlled Afghanistan

“Pentagon officials were grilled this week about whether Al Qaida or ISIS has the capability to launch terror attacks from Afghanistan. On this week’s episode of “The Hunt, with WTOP National Security Correspondent J.J. Green,” Dr. Hans Jakob Schindler, senior director of the Counter Extremism Project, said there are three main concerns.”

Mali

Reuters: Five Gendarmes Killed In Attack On Mining Convoy In Mali - Army

“Five gendarmes were killed and four were injured when a convoy they were escorting to an Australian-owned gold mine in southern Mali came under attack by militants, the army said. The al Qaeda-linked Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack, Menastream, a risk consultancy group that monitors jihadist activity across the Sahel region, reported on Wednesday. Armed attacks by Islamist militants and other groups are common across vast swathes of Mali and its neighbours Burkina Faso and Niger, despite a heavy presence of international troops. Thousands of civilians have been killed and millions displaced. Mali's army said in a statement that the convoy had been attacked by “terrorists” along a stretch of road between the towns of Sebabougou and Kwala, 188 kilometres (117 miles) from the capital Bamako. A local supplier had hired the convoy to deliver equipment to the Morila Gold Mine, which Australian lithium miner Firefinch (FFX.AX) acquired last year from AngloGold Ashanti (ANGJ.J) and Barrick Gold (ABX.TO), Firefinch's managing director told Reuters on Wednesday. “We only have limited details at this early stage but we can confirm the convoy was transporting a supplier's equipment to Morila,” Managing Director Michael Anderson said in an email.”

Africa

Human Rights Watch: Mozambique: ISIS-Linked Group Using Child Soldiers

“An Islamic State (ISIS) linked armed group in northern Mozambique is kidnapping boys and using them to fight government forces in violation of the international prohibition on the use of child soldiers, Human Rights Watch said today. The armed group, known locally as Al-Shabab, has abducted hundreds of boys, some as young as 12, trained them in bases across Cabo Delgado province, and forced them to fight alongside adults against government forces. In the town of Palma, parents said that they watched their sons wield guns when they returned with other fighters to raid their village. “Using children in fighting is cruel, unlawful, and should never take place,” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Mozambique’s Al-Shabab should immediately stop recruiting children and release every child in their ranks.” Human Rights Watch spoke by phone with four parents of kidnapped boys, a former child soldier, and two witnesses to abuses. The child soldier and witnesses had escaped from the Al-Shabaab training base in the town of Mbau, where they were held captive for several weeks. Their accounts are consistent with media reports that the armed group was kidnapping boys to be fighters.”

United Kingdom

The National: Suspected ISIS Extremist Arrested At Heathrow Airport

“A man has been arrested at London's Heathrow Airport on suspicion of terrorism and being a member of ISIS. The suspect, 25, from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, was held on Wednesday as he arrived back in the UK for alleged offences linked to extremism. He is suspected of having committed crimes including preparing for acts of terrorism, membership of a banned organisation, namely ISIS, and receiving weapons training. The man was arrested after an investigation by officers from Counter Terrorism Policing South East.”

France

Associated Press: France Delays Extraditing Italian Far-Left 1970s Militants

“A French court on Wednesday asked Italy for more information before deciding whether nine Italian former militants should be extradited to serve prison terms for their roles in the extreme-left terrorism that bloodied Italy in the 1970s and 1980s. The Italians, now aged 63 to 77, were convicted in Italy of terrorism, murder or attempted kidnapping but fled and lived in freedom for decades in France until their surprise arrests in April. Their presence in France has long been a sore point in relations with Italy. The Paris court held an extradition hearing in June and was expected to make a decision Wednesday, but instead demanded more information from Italy about their legal files and scheduled a new hearing Jan. 12. The overall extradition effort could last two or three years. Jean-Louis Chalanset, lawyer for one of the militants, welcomed the delay and denounced the extradition request as “political.” The activists were sentenced in Italy to terms ranging from 14 years to life in prison, but sought refuge abroad before they could be imprisoned for their sentences. They were active during the so-called “years of lead,” when Italy saw political violence by extreme-left and extreme-right groups. In April, thanks to new European justice rules, Italy renewed an effort for their extradition.”

Technology

The Washington Post: YouTube Is Banning Prominent Anti-Vaccine Activists And Blocking All Anti-Vaccine Content

“YouTube is taking down several video channels associated with high-profile anti-vaccine activists including Joseph Mercola and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who experts say are partially responsible for helping seed the skepticism that’s contributed to slowing vaccination rates across the country. As part of a new set of policies aimed at cutting down on anti-vaccine content on the Google-owned site, YouTube will ban any videos that claim that commonly used vaccines approved by health authorities are ineffective or dangerous. The company previously blocked videos that made those claims about coronavirus vaccines, but not ones for other vaccines like those for measles or chickenpox. Misinformation researchers have for years said the popularity of anti-vaccine content on YouTube was contributing to growing skepticism of lifesaving vaccines in the United States and around the world. Vaccination rates have slowed and about 56 percent of the U.S. population has had two shots, compared with 71 percent in Canada and 67 percent in the United Kingdom. In July, President Biden said social media companies were partially responsible for spreading misinformation about the vaccines, and need to do more to address the issue.”

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On October 16, 2020, while shouting “Allahu Akbar,” 18-year-old Abdoulakh Anzorov decapitated history teacher Samuel Paty in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. Paty had recently received death threats after showing caricatures of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad in class as part of a lesson on freedom of speech.  

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