Eye on Extremism, February 24, 2017

Counter Extremism Project

USA Today: European Welfare Benefits Help Fund ISIS Fighters

“Governments across Europe have accidentally paid taxpayer-funded welfare benefits such as unemployment funds, disability pensions and housing allowances to Islamic State militants who have used the money to wage war in Iraq and Syria, authorities and terrorism experts say. “It’s the critical terror financing issue of the day,” said Tom Keatinge, director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London. But the eye-catching headline is that a key funder of terrorists attacks in Europe are European governments,” he said. “In an increasing number of cases, people are taking money provided to them by their national governments and using it for other than what it’s intended for.” France is the largest source of Western fighters in Iraq and Syria — an estimated 2,000 as of May last year, according to the Counter Extremism Project, a think tank.”

The National: ‘Extremism Online Is Region’s Worst Threat’, Says British Minister

“The greatest challenge facing the region is the growth of extremism and the recruitment of young people using the internet, according to a British official. Tobias Ellwood, a member of parliament and the UK’s parliamentary undersecretary of state at the foreign and commonwealth office for the Middle East and Africa, said that in working with the UAE, his country was trying to encourage other nations to be more aware of the threat posed online. “One of the biggest challenges is the growth of extremism and the poisonous ideology which is challenging the peaceful religion of Islam,” he said during a one-day visit to the Emirates.”

The Washington Post: ‘Al-Qaeda Is Eating Us’: Syrian Rebels Are Losing Out To Extremists

“The biggest surviving rebel stronghold in northern Syria is falling under the control of al-Qaeda-linked extremists amid a surge of rebel infighting that threatens to vanquish what is left of the moderate rebellion. The ascent of the extremists in the northwestern province of Idlib coincides with a suspension of aid to moderate rebel groups by their international allies. The commanders of five of the groups say they were told earlier this month by representatives of the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey that they would receive no further arms or ammunition until they unite to form a coherent front against the jihadists, a goal that has eluded the fractious rebels throughout the six years of fighting.”

Reuters: Iraqi Forces Push Into First Districts Of Western Mosul

“U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces advanced deeper into the western half of Mosul on Friday one day after launching attacks on several fronts toward Islamic State’s last main stronghold in the city. Troops had recaptured Mosul airport on Thursday, an important prize in the battle to end the jihadists’ control of territory in Iraq. Counter-terrorism forces managed on Friday to fully control the Ghozlani army base, pushing deeper toward the southwestern districts of Tal al-Rumman and al-Mamoun, a military spokesman said. Federal police and an elite Interior Ministry unit known as Rapid Response are clearing the airport of roadside bombs and booby traps left by Islamic State militants who retreated from their positions there on Thursday. Iraqi government forces plan to repair the airport and use it as a base from which to drive the militants from Mosul’s western districts, where about 750,000 people are believed to be trapped.”

Reuters: Pentagon Plan To Defeat Islamic State To Look Beyond Iraq, Syria

“A Pentagon-led plan to defeat Islamic State, due in draft form by Monday, will look beyond Iraq and Syria to include the threat from jihadists around the world fueling the conflict, America’s top general said on Thursday. The remarks by Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggest the preliminary plan will be far broader in scope than initially thought and might initially omit more tactical details, like specific troop requests. ‘This is not about Syria and Iraq. It’s about trans-regional threat,’ Dunford told a think-tank event in Washington, citing other jihadist groups like al Qaeda. ‘So, when we go to the president with options, it will be in the context of the trans-regional threat.’ Dunford noted U.S. military estimates that Islamic State had drawn 45,000 foreign fighters from more than 100 nations around the world.”

NPR: A U.S. Commander Works With Iraqi Forces To Fight ‘Brutal Enemy’ ISIS

“The war against ISIS is entering a tough new phase, as Iraqi fighters with growing U.S. assistance push into western Mosul, warns the senior American commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend. ‘ISIS is a brutal, brutal enemy,’ said Townsend, speaking in Erbil as Iraq’s security forces were about to attack Mosul’s airport with help from the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition. He said west Mosul will be more complex and challenging than the eastern side of the city, which was retaken from the extremists in four months. ISIS has its command center on the west side, along with stores of rockets and car bombs — and an urban geographical advantage.”

The Daily Beast:The ISIS Stronghold Of Al Bab Falls To Turkish Backed Troops

“Backed by Turkish air, armor and artillery support, Free Syrian Army forces announced on Thursday the capture Al Bab, a major stronghold of the so-called Islamic State in northern Syria, following a two and a half months of battle. The city had served as the headquarters for ISIS intelligence operations, including terror attacks in Europe in 2015 and 2016. It is also an important stepping stone on the way to Raqqah, the capital of the putative ISIS caliphate. “Al Bab is free and under Free Syrian Army control after intensive operations against Daesh [ISIS],” said Col. Abu Firas, official military spokesman for FSA forces in the Turkish-backed Operation Euphrates Shield. He said operations were now under way to clear the outskirts of the city.”

The Times Of Israel: Egypt Denies Any Plans To Give Sinai To Palestinians

“The spokesman for Egypt’s president on Thursday categorically denied Israeli reports that Egypt has proposed giving up part of the Sinai Peninsula for the Palestinians to set up an independent state. In a statement, Alaa Youssef said the issue has not been discussed or presented ‘on any level.’ His remarks came at the end of a meeting on Thursday between top commanders of the Egyptian army and police with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo. The reports of establishing a Palestinian state in Sinai were first mentioned by Israeli Minister without portfolio Ayoub Kara (Likud) last Tuesday, causing an outcry in Egypt.”

Reuters: Bomb Kills At Least 10 In Shopping District In Pakistan’s Lahore

“A bomb blast in an upscale shopping center in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore killed at least 10 people on Thursday, a provincial government spokesman said, the latest attack in a surge of violence that has shaken the country. “It was a bomb blast with a huge sound impact that smashed the windows of almost all the buildings around,” said Punjab government spokesman Malik Mohammad Khan. He said the blast caused a huge crater and authorities were investigating the exact “nature and motives” of the blast. Punjab police spokesman Nayab Haider said the explosion was caused by a bomb that was detonated either remotely or by timer. Pakistan has been struck by a wave of militant attacks in recent weeks which have killed at least 130 people. One attack at a Sufi shrine in southern Sindh province killed 90 people.”

The Washington Post: Pakistan Army Launches First Nationwide Anti-Terrorism Operation

“When the Pakistan army announced that it was launching a nationwide military operation to ‘indiscriminately’ eliminate the threat of terrorism from the land, the adverb had a precise and politically loaded meaning. For the first time, after years of appeasing certain Islamist militant groups for political and religious reasons, the government has reluctantly agreed to allow the armed forces to enter Punjab province, authorized with special powers to hunt down, arrest and shoot suspected militants. Punjab is the political stronghold of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N. It is also the home of a variety of Islamist groups, including mainstream religious parties, sectarian movements officially banned for their violent methods, and anti-India militants who have been accused of a 2008 terrorist siege in Mumbai.”

Voice Of America: China Again Dismisses Reports Of Military Patrols In Afghanistan

“China’s Defense Ministry on Thursday dismissed reports Chinese military vehicles were patrolling inside Afghanistan, saying the two countries were only carrying out counter-terrorism operations along their common border. This month, the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst think tank said in a report on its website that Chinese troops were on Afghan soil conducting joint patrols with their Afghan counterparts. That followed a similar report in an Indian media outlet in November. Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said Chinese public security departments had counter-terrorism cooperation along the China-Afghanistan border.”

The Guardian: Stakeholders Worried About France’s Role In Fight Against Boko Haram Terrorism

“A Coalition of stakeholders committed to restoring peace in the north east under the aegis of Concerned Statesmen and Patriots In Nigeria (COSPIN) has expressed concern over what it described as the role of France in the activities of Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria. Addressing a press conference yesterday in Abuja, convener of the coalition, Professor Emmanuel Ome said the concern is necessitated by the silence of French authority despite the arrest of its nationals during the raid on ground zero in Sambisa forest by the Nigerian Army. He said France also owes Nigeria and the world an explanation regarding the sighting of its aircraft just across Nigeria’s borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger on numerous occasions by IDPs and victims of Boko Haram attacks.”

United States

Voice Of America: US Sees A Role For Russia In Trying To Restore Peace In Libya

“The commander of U.S. forces in Africa has told VOA the only way to restore peace in Libya is to bring rival factions together, and that will require cooperative efforts by many parties, including Russia. General Thomas Waldhauser, who heads the U.S. Africa Command, discussed the continuing political chaos in Libya while in Germany for the recent Munich Security Conference. Libya is a checkerboard of separate, divided power centers: The internationally backed Government of National Accord controls only part of Tripoli, while rival power bases vie for control over the rest of the capital and other cities.”

The Washington Post: U.S. Generals Want Elevated Talks With Russia About Iraq And Syria Operations Because Of Aerial Collision Fears

“Senior U.S. military officials want to elevate talks with Russia about air operations over Iraq and Syria, an effort that is meant to protect pilots from collisions but complicated by concerns at the Pentagon that doing so will make it look like Washington and Moscow have begun to collaborate on the battlefield. The talks, known as deconfliction, began in 2015 after the Russian military deployed forces to Khmeimim Air Base, a military installation along Syria’s Mediterranean coastline that has been used to launch airstrikes against opposition forces in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Russia’s arrival in Syria complicated U.S.-led operations against the Islamic State military group in Syria, which began a year earlier.”

CNN: Top General: US Mulling ‘Long-Term Commitment’ In Iraq

“The US military is contemplating a long-term presence in Iraq to stabilize the country after the anticipated defeat ISIS, America’s top military officer said Thursday. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford said that both the US and NATO have begun discussions with Iraq about the possibility. ‘We have, as has NATO, begun a dialogue about a long term commitment to grow the capacity, maintain the capacity of Iraqi Security Forces, but no decisions have been made yet,’ Dunford told an audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington, his first time fielding questions since the inauguration of President Donald Trump.”

Syria

NPR: Russian Defense Minister Says His Military Has Tested 162 Weapons In Syria

“Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made his way to the Duma, the lower house of parliament, on the eve of Defender of the Fatherland Day. The Feb. 23 national holiday was once known as Soviet Army and Navy Day, and Shoigu, dressed in the uniform of a general, came to boast about the Russian military’s latest achievements. ‘We tested 162 types of contemporary and modernized weapons in Syria, which showed a high level of effectiveness,’ Shoigu said. Only 10 weapons systems performed below expectations, he added. The Kremlin has never made a secret that its intervention on behalf of the Syrian government has been an excellent opportunity to show off its new military prowess.”

Reuters: Syria’s Warring Sides Face Off As U.N. Tells Them: End The Nightmare

“Opposing sides in the Syrian war came face-to-face in U.N. peace talks for the first time in three years on Thursday, to hear mediator Staffan de Mistura implore them to cooperate to find a way out of almost six years of war. ‘I ask you to work together. I know it’s not going to be easy to end this horrible conflict and lay the foundation for a country at peace with itself, sovereign and unified,’ Mistura told the delegates sitting opposite each other on the stage of the U.N. assembly hall in Geneva. Mistura will hold meetings with the delegations on Friday to establish a procedure for the talks, he told reporters after the opening session, adding it would be his ‘dream’ to bring them back together for direct talks, but there was work to be done before that could happen.”

Iraq

Associated Press: Iraq Retakes Mosul Airport Amid Cautious Advances Against IS

“Closely supported by the U.S.-led international coalition, Iraqi forces secured a series of cautious advances on Thursday, pushing into a sprawling military base outside of Mosul and onto the grounds of the city’s airport, where they took control of the runway. The three-pronged attack began just after sunrise, with three convoys of Iraqi forces snaking north across Nineveh’s hilly desert on Mosul’s southern approach. Iraq’s special forces joined federal police and rapid response units in the push — part of a major assault that started earlier this week to drive IS from the western half of Iraq’s second-largest city. By afternoon they had entered the Ghazlani military base south of the city, as well as the airport.”

NBC News: Iraqi Forces Recapture Isis-Held Mosul Airport Under Fire: State TV

“Iraqi forces advance towards Mosul airport on the southern edge of the jihadist stronghold on Feb. 23, 2017 for the first time since ISIS overran the region in 2014.  Iraq’s government said it took a major stride toward recapturing the ISIS stronghold of Mosul on Thursday, storming a strategically important airport and a nearby military base. ISIS had been using Mosul Airport as a training camp and a factory for making car bombs — one of their most effective weapons against U.S.-backed forces trying to retake the city.”

Turkey

BBC: Turkey Says ‘No’ To Saying ‘No’, Ahead Of Its Referendum

“The cartoon shows a bewildered man in a voting booth, eyes bulging as he examines a ballot paper. The choices: ‘evet’ (yes) or ‘terorist’ (you get the point). It was fertile ground for Turkey’s most famous satirical magazine, Penguen: the raging debate over whether to accept or reject a constitutional change that would radically enhance President Erdogan’s powers. It will be put to a referendum on 16 April. Mr Erdogan and the government support a yes vote – ‘evet’ – as reflected in the posters now springing up across Istanbul. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to say ‘hayir’- ‘no’. In a speech this month, Mr Erdogan said those voting ‘no’ would be ‘siding with the coup-plotters’, a reference to the attempted military overthrow last July.”

Reuters: Turkey Not Making Enough Progress To Merit Visa-Free EU Travel – Source

“Turkey is not delivering sufficiently on reforms to meet the terms of a migration deal that would allow Turks visa-free travel into the European Union, a senior EU official told Reuters on Thursday, citing an EU Commission report. Under the agreement reached in March last year at the peak of Europe’s biggest migration crisis since World War Two, Turkey committed to preventing Middle Eastern and Asian refugees moving from its territory into the EU, in exchange for financial support and visa-free access for its citizens. Turkey was doing well on border control but a regular report that the EU executive plans to publish next week will say it is still delaying reforms on ‘anti-terrorism legislation, party financing, judicial cooperation’, the source said. Complications around negotiations for the reunification of Cyprus also bode badly for Turkey, the official said.”

Afghanistan

Associated Press: Afghanistan May Seek Sanctions On Suspected Terror Networks

“A government official says Afghanistan is ready to seek United Nations sanctions against suspected terrorist networks and their supporters, a veiled reference to neighbor Pakistan – whom Kabul accuses of aiding Taliban insurgents, particularly the Haqqani network. At a conference Thursday, Shekib Mustaghni, Afghanistan’s foreign ministry spokesman, said it’s still waiting for Pakistan to act on a list of wanted terrorists Kabul says are hiding in Pakistan as well as 23 insurgent sanctuaries on Pakistani soil. Pakistan, meanwhile, has sent a list of 76 suspected insurgents it says have found a safe haven in Afghanistan.”

Egypt

Town Hall: ISIS Burns Christian Alive In Egypt

“A Christian father and his son were brutally murdered Wednesday in Egypt’s North Sinai region, an ISIS hot spot. Saad Hana, 65, was shot multiple times while his son Medhat, 45, was abducted and burned alive, officials told the Associated Press. Both bodies were found behind a school in the provincial capital of El-Arish. The murders come days after the terror group vowed to target the country’s Christian minority, releasing a video saying that Egyptian Christians are their ‘favorite prey’ and that ‘God gave orders to kill every infidel.’”

Middle East

Reuters: Israel Shoots Down Hamas Drone From Gaza Strip: Military

“An Israeli fighter jet on Thursday shot down a drone belonging to the Islamist group Hamas that had taken off from the Gaza Strip, the military said. The interception prevented ‘an immediate threat of infiltration’ into Israeli airspace and the drone fell into the Mediterranean sea, the military’s statement said. No Hamas comment was immediately available. In December, Hamas, which controls Gaza, blamed Israel for killing one of its drone experts in Tunisia. Israel had no official comment. Israel has in the past voiced concern that armed groups in Gaza and Lebanon would use drones carrying explosives inside its borders in a future war. Hamas and other Islamist militias have fired thousands of rockets at militarily superior Israel in previous conflicts but have made scant use of drones.”

Associated Press: Media: Israel To Conclude Arab Car Ramming Wasn’t Attack

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted by Israeli media Thursday as saying he may have been wrong to call an Israeli Arab driver who struck and killed a policeman and was fatally shot last month a terrorist, as Israeli media reported that a preliminary investigation has determined that the car ramming was unintentional. The incident exacerbated tensions between the government and Israel’s Arab minority, and a leading Arab lawmaker is now calling on senior officials to resign. ‘If there was a mistake, we have to say we erred, but I will wait for the official report,’ Netanyahu was quoted by Walla News as saying to reporters.”

Libya

Reuters: Bodies Of 27 Migrants Recovered In West Libya, 13 In Shipping Container

“The bodies of 27 migrants have been recovered in Western Libya, 13 of whom died of suffocation in a shipping container, the Red Crescent said on Thursday. The migrants found in the container appear to have been locked inside it for several days as it was transported to the coast at Khoms, where they were to attempt to cross the Mediterranean towards Europe, the Red Crescent said in a statement. Fifty-six migrants were rescued from the container, some suffering from serious injuries and fractures, the statement said. Another 14 migrant bodies were recovered from the sea near the coastal town of Zuwara, west of Tripoli, on Thursday, while some 124 migrants were rescued in the area, a local Red Crescent spokesman said.”

Nigeria

Newsweek: Cameroon Sends Back Over 500 Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram, U.N. Confirms

“Cameroon has forcibly repatriated more than 500 Nigerians who had fled into the country due to the Boko Haram insurgency, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR). A total of 517 Nigerians were sent back to their home country, including 313 who had applied for asylum, according to a UNHCR statement reported by AFP. Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group that has now fragmented into two factions, took up arms against the Nigerian government in 2009. The conflict, which has spread from northeast Nigeria to other countries in the Lake Chad region, has displaced more than 2 million people.”

United Kingdom

BBC: Syria Terror Suspect Arrested At Heathrow

“A man has been arrested at Heathrow Airport on suspicion of Syria-related terror offences, police have said. The suspect, 26 and of no fixed address, was detained by West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit officers after arriving on a flight from Turkey. He is being held in custody in the West Midlands. West Midlands Police said the arrest was pre-planned and there was no threat to the safety of the flight or the airport.”

Germany

The New York Times: Fake News Meets German Racism

“The story, about a mob of Arab men rampaging through the well-heeled streets of Frankfurt and sexually assaulting German women as they went, must have been irresistible — so irresistible that Bild, a popular newspaper, published it early this month with little scrutiny. The problem, as the local police soon found, was that it was ‘completely baseless.’ There was no record of any assault. The article relied entirely on interviews with a restaurant owner and one woman, whose motives for inventing these allegations remain unclear. Bild retracted the article last week. No matter: The damage had been done, the fictitious tale having found many believers, either eager or fearful, among the German public.”

The Daily Caller: Germany Reports Dramatic Increase In Islamic Extremism

“Germany’s population of Islamic extremists has grown from 100 people in 2013 to 1,600 in the last four years, the country’s security and intelligence agency (BfV) announced Wednesday. BfV said that radical adherents increased by several hundred in recent months. Out of the 1,600 on the list, about 570 are considered ‘dangerous’ and capable of plotting a terror attack. ‘We receive between two and four credible tips on planned terrorist activity in Germany each day,’ BfV chief Hans-Georg Maassen said, according to Deutsche Welle. ‘We have to recognize that we are living in a different situation now than was normal.’”

Reuters: Germany Arrests Man Suspected Of Planning Attack On Police, Soldiers

“Police have arrested a German man who has admitted planning to lure police or soldiers into a trap and kill them with a home-made bomb, prosecutors and police said on Thursday. Prosecutors said chemicals that could be used to make explosive devices were found during a search of his home in the town of Northeim in central Germany. The 26-year-old is believed to be a member of a group of Salafists, ultra-conservative Islamists, they said. In a statement, prosecutors and police called the arrest ‘a big success in the fight against terrorism’. German authorities are on high alert after a failed Tunisian asylum-seeker plowed a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin on Dec. 19, killing 12 people.”

Europe

The New York Times: Migrants Face Deportations And Walls In Europe, Too

“Just hours after the German cabinet approved tapping cellphones and attaching electronic bracelets to illegal migrants who might be deemed a threat, a group of Afghan men were put on a plane at a Munich airport Wednesday night and deported. The deportation was only the third such mass expulsion to Afghanistan since last fall, and in combination with new antiterrorism measures, it was a clear sign of the stiffening political headwinds that have made Europe, like America, a less welcoming place for migrants. Across the Continent, Europeans find themselves increasingly caught up in a debate over the treatment of migrants as rising hostility to newcomers clashes with long-held values of tolerance and openness.”

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