Eye on Extremism, January 13, 2017

Reuters: Iraqi Forces Reach A Second Mosul Bridge, Fight Near University, Military Says

“Iraqi special forces pushed forward to reach a second bridge that links eastern Mosul to the city’s west, which is still fully controlled by Islamic State, a military statement said on Friday. Troops further north meanwhile battled to try to seize the strategic Mosul University area, capture of which would help parallel advances towards bridges over the Tigris river, a Reuters correspondent nearby said. Elite counter-terrorism service (CTS) units reached the southern 2nd Bridge, also called Freedom Bridge, one of five running across the river that bisects Mosul from north to south, the military statement reported by state TV said. Iraqi forces have now reached two of the bridges, after fighting their way to the southernmost 4th Bridge several days ago.”

Associated Press: Surge In Targeted Killings Of Al-Qaida Operatives In Syria

“The convoy of vehicles was driving on a dirt road in northwestern Syria when the aerial attack by the U.S.-led coalition struck, turning the vehicles into balls of fire and the people inside into unrecognizable charred corpses. Among the eight dead was Khattab al-Qahtani, a senior al-Qaida official from the Persian Gulf region with reported ties to Osama bin Laden, as well as a Syrian al-Qaida commander from the country’s east and a militant belonging to the Turkistan Islamic Party, a faction of Chinese jihadis fighting in Syria. The New Year’s Day attack was the first in a wave of airstrikes that has targeted al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria at an unprecedented rate, killing more than 50 militants allied with the international terror group since the beginning of the year.”

Associated Press : More Than 16,000 Civilians Killed In Iraq In 2016

“Violence and military operations claimed the lives of more than 16,000 civilians in Iraq last year, a research group said Thursday, making it one of the deadliest years for war-weary Iraqis since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. In its annual report, the London-based Iraq Body Count reported that 16,361 Iraqi civilians died in 2016. The northern province of Nineveh was the worst hit, with 7,431 people killed. The capital, Baghdad, was next with 3,714 civilians killed, the research showed. Ninevah’s capital, Mosul, fell to the Islamic State group in mid-2014 along with much of northern and western Iraq. Iraqi troops have since dislodged IS militants from major areas in a massive operation that started in mid-October.”

USA Today: U.S. Sanctions Syria For Use Of Chemical Weapons

“The Obama administration tightened sanctions against the Syrian regime Thursday in response to reports by international monitors that forces loyal to President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons in 2014 and 2015. ‘We condemn in the strongest possible terms the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons,’ said Ned Price, a spokesman for the National Security Council. ‘The Assad regime’s barbaric continued attacks demonstrate its willingness to defy basic standards of human decency, its international obligations, and longstanding global norms.’ A report last year by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found that the Syrian regime used chlorine gas as a weapon on at least three different occasions in its bloody, six-year-old civil war.”

Reuters: In Mosul Areas Retaken From Islamic State, Loss And Fear Linger

“Iraqi soldiers kicked in the gate of a home in eastern Mosul and emerged moments later with two young men whose hands they bound with plastic ties and dragged off toward black Humvees. The men, at least one suspected of belonging to Islamic State, denied ties to the militants who had been pushed out of the neighborhood a few days earlier. They were pale with fear as they knelt on the ground. Neighbors gathered around, most staring intently but saying nothing. One reaffirmed the accusations and another called one of the men’s brothers ‘a dog and the son of a dog’. The soldiers loaded the suspects into their vehicles and drove off. Moments earlier and just a few doors down, a middle-aged widower with a wrinkled face had pleaded with the soldiers’ commander to avenge Islamic State’s alleged murder of his brother, wife and son.”

Fox News: Iraq’s Yazidi Community Clings To Homeland Amid Genocide

“Members of one of the world’s most persecuted religious groups, the Yazidis of northern Iraq, are struggling over whether to leave their ancestral homeland or rebuild their diminished and traumatized community outside the Middle East. Some Yazidi leaders oppose migration and are seeking foreign help to re-establish their community in Iraq’s Sinjar region. Other Yazidi leaders support migration, and various western governments are welcoming them as refugees. Yazidi religious leaders are among those opposed to resettlement, fearing that being scattered will mean the end of their identity. Baba Chawish, the head of the Yazidi’s Spiritual Council and guardian of their holiest site, Lalish, told FoxNews.com that they desperately need protection and help, emphasizing that most Yazidis want to be able to sleep in their own houses and own beds and that  if they have to leave Yazidis will ‘vanish.’”

The Times Of Israel: Airbase Near Damascus Said Bombed By Israel

“Israel was blamed for a series of major explosions were reported around a military airbase near the Syrian capital of Damascus early Friday morning. Syria’s sate run news agency and local media outlets attributed the airstrikes on the al-Mazzeh airport to the Israel Defense Forces. The IDF, which doesn’t comment on foreign reports of military operations, refused to confirm the reports. State news agency SANA said Israel had launched the missiles from Israeli-held territory north of the Sea of Galilee.”

New York Post: Man Faces Jail Time For Alleged ISIS Recruitment

“He wanted to “live in a tent” with ISIS — but is facing federal lockup instead. An Arizona man accused of acting as a recruiter for ISIS told friends he wanted to live in squalor with the terrorists — and praised them for “forcibly” taking over cities in Iraq, it emerged at his Manhattan federal trial Thursday. “Allah is great. Mosul falls by the hands of the state,” Ahem Mohammed el Gammal said after ISIS took over the Iraqi city in 2014. “No caliphate came by deliberation. All by the sword. It has to be taken like this,” el Gammal told a pal on Facebook. “We will take it forcibly. Not peacefully.”

CNS News: Egyptian Delegation To Lobby Trump Administration For Action Against Muslim Brotherhood

“A delegation of Egyptian lawmakers and civil society representatives plans to arrive in Washington the day after President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration to lobby the new administration to take firm action against the Muslim Brotherhood. “We are in a war against this group and other radical political Islam movements, so it is important to exploit the new anti-radical Islam atmosphere in America to achieve our goal,” the Al-Ahram daily quoted Tarek Radwan, deputy chairman of the Egyptian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, as saying.”

Washington Post: Forces Loyal To Self-Declared PM Seize Libyan Ministries

“A self-declared prime minister said Thursday that his forces have seized at least three ministries in Libya’s capital, declaring what appeared to be a miniature coup after what he described as a yearlong failure of the current U.N.-backed premier. Khalifa Ghwell told The Associated Press by phone from Tripoli that his forces control the ministries of defense, labor and the “martyrs and the wounded.” His so-called National Salvation government was formed by the outgoing parliament after a disputed 2014 transfer of power that led to the establishment of rival governments, each backed by an array of militias.”

RT: France Reintroduces Travel Restrictions For Minors Over ISIS Trips

“The French government is rolling back the policy allowing minors to travel abroad without their parents’ permission, over concerns that more radicalized teenagers will head to warzones to join terrorist groups such as Islamic State. The measures will come into effect on January 15, and will mean French citizens aged under 18 who hope to travel abroad must carry a document signed by their parents. They will also need to carry their passports, as well as a scan of the ID of the parent who signed the permission. The step was added to existing legislation from June 5, 2016, and will help to prevent teenagers from fleeing to Iraq and Syria to join Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), the law’s supporters say.”

USA Today: Cameroon Uses Witchcraft To Fight Boko Haram

“In the war on terror, guns and bombs just haven’t been enough. So Cameroon is trying spells and curses too. About a year ago, Cameroonian President Paul Biya urged citizens to use witchcraft against Boko Haram, the Islamic State-affiliated militants who have terrorized West Africa for years. ‘We expect every village to have brilliant actions in this direction,’ said Midjiyawa Bakari, governor of the Far North region of the country, echoing the president. ‘We want to hear that this or that village has wiped out or limited the sect’s damage through witchcraft. Fight for your country.’”

Reuters: Suspect In Ivory Coast Al Qaeda Attack Arrested In Mali

“Authorities in Mali have arrested a man believed to be linked to an al Qaeda attack on a beach resort town in neighboring Ivory Coast that killed 19 people early last year, Malian security officials said on Thursday. Gunmen shot swimmers and sunbathers in the town of Grand Bassam, 40 km (25 miles) from the commercial capital Abidjan, last March before storming into several hotels. The suspect was arrested in the town of Gossi in northern Mali by French soldiers involved in a regional operation against Islamist militant groups and was then handed over to Malian authorities. Defence ministry spokesman Colonel Aboudoulaye Sidibe gave the suspect’s name as Mimi Ould Baba Ould Cheick.”

United States

NPR: U.S. Forces ‘Acted In Self-Defense’ In Battle That Killed 33 Civilians In Afghanistan

“A U.S. military investigation has cleared the U.S. forces of wrongdoing in fighting that left 33 civilians dead and 27 others wounded last year in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province, saying that they acted in self-defense. ‘To defend themselves and Afghan forces, U.S. forces returned fire in self-defense at Taliban who were using civilian houses as firing positions,’ according to the U.S. military report published Thursday. The November firefight started when Afghan special operations forces and some U.S.military advisers entered the village of Boz in an attempt to capture Taliban leaders there. Taliban forces started firing at the troops from civilian buildings. As the joint forces began to take casualties, they called for U.S. aerial reinforcements.”

CNN: Defense Nominee Mattis Emerges With Strong Support

“President-elect Donald Trump’s selection to be defense secretary emerged from his confirmation hearing Thursday with seemingly broad support, after he took a strong posture against Russian President Vladimir Putin and answered tough questions on women and gays in combat. Ret. Gen. James Mattis also cleared one early procedural hurdle in his confirmation as the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of giving him a waiver to a law barring military officials from becoming defense secretary within seven years of their military service. The Senate’s 81-17 vote, following the Senate Armed Services Committee’s bipartisan 24-3 vote, also signaled Mattis would likely face little opposition to his confirmation.”

Syria

Reuters: Syrian Ceasefire Largely Holding, Aid Not Going In – UN

“The ceasefire in the Syria war is holding for the most part but humanitarian aid is still not getting through to besieged areas where food is running out, the U.N. envoy said on Thursday. Envoy Staffan de Mistura voiced concern that 23 buses and Syrian drivers used in recent evacuations were being stopped from leaving the villages of Foua and Kefraya in Idlib province by armed groups. He called for them to be allowed to leave. ‘These are not U.N. officials, these are Syrian buses with Syrian drivers. And that is not to happen because this complicates then tit-for-tat approaches,’ de Mistura told reporters in Geneva after the weekly meeting of the humanitarian task force.”

Reuters: In Syria, A Rebel Fighter Clears Islamic State Minefields

“Ahmad Najjar stands in the middle of an Islamic State minefield in northern Syria holding torn camouflage rags that he said were from the clothing of a colleague recently blown up while dismantling explosives planted by the militant group. Najjar, a 27 year-old Free Syrian Army fighter from the rebel-held town of Marea, risks his life every day to clear mines planted in roads and fields by Islamic State last summer when they briefly surrounded his hometown. During Syria’s almost six year-long war, Najjar gave up his university studies in Aleppo and joined rebels defending Marea, a town which has at various times been a frontline between Islamic State, rebel and Kurdish forces.”

Turkey

Reuters: Erdogan, Putin Discuss Broadening Syrian Ceasefire: Turkish Sources

“Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan discussed broadening a ceasefire in Syria across the country with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin by telephone on Thursday, sources in Erdogan’s office said. The two leaders discussed Syrian peace talks planned to be held in Kazakhstan and bilateral relations, the sources said. Turkey and Russia back opposing sides in Syria’s war but brokered a ceasefire meant to lead to the Astana talks.”

Voice Of America: Fears Of IS Threat Grow In Turkey After Attack

“Rather than uniting Turkey, the so-called Islamic State attack on an Istanbul nightclub, which killed 39 on New Year’s Day, appears to have only deepened societal divisions. Some social media posts have supported the attack, denigrating the revelers as decadent and anti-Islamic and therefore having gotten what they deserved. One theologian declared the attack was a message that ‘Turkey is not the old Turkey, and that the pious will bring all others to their knees.’ ‘There were those who gloated over this attack and who seem to celebrate it, rather than mark the tragedy that happened in front of them,’ said Semih Idiz, a political columnist for the website Al-Monitor. ‘This all goes back to this post-modern civil war that has been going on between Islamists and secularists, between the ultra-conservative nationalists and the more pro-European elements.’”

Sputnik News: Russia, Turkey Agree To Coordinate Airstrikes Against Terrorists In Syria

“Russian and Turkish military officials on Thursday agreed to coordinate airstrikes against terrorist targets in Syria and signed a memorandum on combat flight safety during missions in Syrian airspace, the Russian Defense Ministry said. On January 12, Russian and Turkish military officials held consultations on coordination of actions in the fight against terrorists in Syria at the Russian Defense Ministry. ‘The memorandum establishes mechanisms of coordination and interaction between Russian and Turkish aircraft during airstrikes against terrorist targets, as well as measures aimed at preventing flight incidents involving aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles in Syrian airspace,’ the ministry said in a statement.”

CNN: Turkey Lawmakers Brawl In Parliament

“Istanbul (CNN)Lawmakers in Turkey brawled during a debate over constitutional amendments that would expand presidential powers, according to state news agency Anadolu. The fight broke out on Wednesday shortly after opposition lawmaker Özgür Özel told ruling party lawmakers ‘You are trying to destroy yourselves when the TV is off and nobody sees. We won’t let it happen,’ according to Anadolu. Lawmakers were debating ending ‘parliament’s authorization to inspect ministers and the Cabinet.’ Shortly after Özel comments, fellow members of the main opposition Republican People’s Party encircled the speaker’s rostrum with arms joined, occupying the area in protest. The fight broke out soon afterward, according to Anadolu. One senior lawmaker with the ruling Justice and Development (AK) party suffered a broken nose, according to the report.”

Afghanistan

Voice Of America: Afghan Government Disputes US Report On Taliban Gains

“The Afghan government Thursday pushed back against a U.S. inspector general’s report that said Afghan forces are losing significant territory to Taliban insurgents and are not capable of keeping the nation secure. ‘These calculations are not constant,’ Mohammad Radmanesh, a spokesperson for the Afghan defense ministry, told VOA’s Afghan service. ‘Now we have recaptured many areas from the enemy.’ On Wednesday, the U.S. Special Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan (SIGAR) reported that territory under the Afghan government diminished significantly in 2016 and that the Taliban made large gains.”

Daily Mail: Rise In Afghans Returning Home Threatens Overstretched Resources, U.N. Says

“More than 9,400 undocumented Afghans have returned home from Iran and Pakistan in the first week of 2017, raising concerns over how the war-torn Asian nation will cope with the rising influx, the United Nations said on Wednesday. The vast majority were young men crossing the border from Iran. Although repatriation is not compulsory, the Pakistani government has stepped up pressure to send people back amid growing local animosity towards Afghan refugees. The United Nations migration agency – the International Organization for Migration (IOM) – said most returnees from Iran were young men deported while looking for work, or on the migration route to Europe. Future patterns were hard to predict.”

Middle East

BBC: Gaza Electricity Crisis: Hamas Breaks Up Protest

“Security forces in Gaza have broken up a protest by thousands of people who demanded an end to electricity cuts. Stones were thrown as security officers of the Hamas Islamist movement, which controls Gaza, fired in the air and dispersed the crowd. Locals now get just four hours of power per day, instead of eight-hour cycles. A vital plant was badly hit in fighting with Israel in 2014, but financial troubles and inter-Palestinian tensions have also contributed to the crisis. A Hamas spokesman said security forces had tried to prevent protesters from storming the headquarters of the electricity company.”

The Times Of Israel: Police Recommend Indicting Head Of Outlawed Islamic Group

“Police said Thursday they had recommended indicting Sheikh Raed Salah, the head of an outlawed Islamist group, on suspicion of incitement to terrorism and violence, as well as supporting an illegal organization. In a statement, police said an investigation into Salah was completed last week and that the case had been passed to Haifa District prosecutors for review. Salah is currently serving a nine-month sentence for a previous conviction of incitement and is due to be released from prison next month. Investigators began questioning the sheikh about the recent allegations in December. They apparently concern evidence from before he began serving out his prison sentence.”

Libya

Associated Press: Forces Loyal To Self-Declared PM Seize Libyan Ministries

“A self-declared prime minister said Thursday that his forces have seized at least three ministries in Libya’s capital, declaring what appeared to be a miniature coup after what he described as a yearlong failure of the current U.N.-backed premier. Khalifa Ghwell told The Associated Press by phone from Tripoli that his forces control the ministries of defense, labor and the ‘martyrs and the wounded.’ His so-called National Salvation government was formed by the outgoing parliament after a disputed 2014 transfer of power that led to the establishment of rival governments, each backed by an array of militias.”

Nigeria

UN: Humanitarian Crisis Triggered By Boko Haram Is Worsening

“The humanitarian crisis triggered by Boko Haram’s ‘violent and inhuman campaign’ is worsening, with 10.7 million people in need of aid in northeast Nigeria and parts of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, the U.N. humanitarian chief said Thursday. Stephen O’Brien told the U.N. Security Council that although Boko Haram has lost much of the territory it once controlled as a result of military campaigns in the region, its raids and suicide bombings targeting civilians are still causing widespread death and destruction in those four countries which comprise the Lake Chad Basin. Over the past 12 months, he said, the crisis has grown ‘in dramatic fashion,’ with the number of people needing humanitarian help, rising from about nine million in July.”

United Kingdom

The Guardian: Body Of Briton Killed Fighting Isis In Syria ‘Has Been Recovered’

“The body of a British man who was killed while fighting alongside Kurdish forces in northern Syria has been recovered from Islamic State territory, Kurdish activists have told the BBC. Ryan Lock, a chef from Chichester in West Sussex, was killed during an advance on Raqqa, Isis’s de facto capital, on 21 December. He was one of many foreign volunteers who have gone to fight alongside the Kurdish People’s Defence Units (YPG). BBC News said it had been told that the 20-year-old’s body had only now been recovered from Isis fighters, who had retrieved it after his death. Lock’s remains have been taken to north-east Syria for an official postmortem, the broadcaster added. There were no details on how the body was recovered.”

Germany

RT: Germany Plans To Start Sending Refugees Back To Greece In March

“Berlin is likely to reinstate a rule obliging refugees to stay in the first European country they enter and start returning them to Greece if it was their first location in the European Union, a German Interior Ministry spokesman said in an interview with AFP. ‘In line with the recommendation from the European Commission, Germany believes that such transfers will be possible from March 15th,’ said the spokesman, Tobias Plate. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has already asked the country’s Migration Office to halt sending refugees back to Greece only until March 15, German media reports, citing an internal paper from the minister.”

The Jerusalem Post: German Court Calls Synagogue Torching An Act To ‘Criticize Israel’

“German regional court in the city of Wuppertal affirmed a lower court decision last Friday stating that a violent attempt to burn the city’s synagogue by three men in 2014 was a justified expression of criticism of Israel’s policies. Johannes Pinnel, a spokesman for the regional court in Wuppertal, outlined the court’s decision in a statement. Three German Palestinians sought to torch the Wuppertal synagogue with Molotov cocktails in July, 2014.  The local Wuppertal court panel said in its 2015 decision that the three men wanted to draw ‘attention to the Gaza conflict’ with Israel. The court deemed the attack not to be motivated by antisemitism.”

Deutsche Welle: Germany’s Merkel Calls For ‘Cross-Border Cooperation’ On EU Security

“German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday urged EU nations to work together to improve security across the bloc by increasing the exchange of data and creating a register of people entering and leaving the Schengen area, a European visa-free travel zone. ‘Everyone sees the urgency and everyone knows that if we do not succeed, each country will introduce its own border controls and free movement won’t be possible,’ Merkel told a joint press conference with Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel. In recent years, Europe has witnessed several terrorist attacks that have left dozens dead in Berlin, Paris, Brussels and elsewhere. In her New Year’s address to the nation, Merkel described terrorism as the greatest challenge facing the nation.”

Europe

Sputnik: Austria To Focus On Fight Against Terrorism As OSCE Chair – Foreign Minister

“Austria’s Foreign Minister said that fight against terrorism and radicalism would be a top priority during Austria’s chairmanship at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Fight against terrorism and radicalism would be a top priority during Austria’s chairmanship at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said Thursday. The minister urged 57 OSCE member countries to work closer together to prevent attacks by the Daesh terror group, such as those seen by Europe and Turkey in the past two years, as well as curtail radicalization.”

Technology

Reuters: Syrian Migrant Launches Facebook ‘Fake News’ Legal Fight

“A Syrian migrant who posed for a selfie with Angela Merkel is suing Facebook after being falsely linked to terrorism in posts shared on the social media network. The legal action comes as Facebook has been facing significant pressure to combat the proliferation of fake news reports on its platform. In Germany, there have been numerous instances of false allegations on social media made against migrants and refugees. Anas Modamani is one of those who has been the target of such false reports. He briefly sprung to prominence in September 2015, when Angela Merkel visited the Berlin migrant shelter where he was then living.”

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