Eye on Extremism, May 5, 2017

Reuters: Mosul Offensive Gains Fresh Momentum As Army Attacks IS From Northwest

“The U.S.-backed Iraqi offensive to take back Mosul from Islamic State gained fresh momentum on Thursday, with an armored division trying to advance into the city from the northern side. The militants are now besieged in the northwestern corner of Mosul which includes the historic Old City center, the medieval Grand al-Nuri Mosque, and its landmark leaning minaret where their black flag has been flying since June 2014. The Iraqi army’s 9th Armoured Division and the Rapid Response units of the Interior Ministry have opened a new front in the northwest of the city, the military said in a statement. The attack will help the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) and Interior Ministry Federal Police troops who are painstakingly advancing from the south.”

Newsweek: ISIS Leader In Egypt Warns Muslims To Avoid Christian Gatherings

“The leader of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in Egypt has told Muslims to avoid Christian gatherings, pointing to the possibility of further attacks against Christians in the country after two suicide bombings that killed dozens last month. An interview with the unnamed leader appeared in the jihadi group’s latest release of its weekly Al Naba newspaper, published on the encrypted messaging platform Telegram. He also warned Muslims to keep away from potential army and police targets. “We are warning you to stay away from Christian gatherings, as well as the gatherings of the army and the police, and the areas that have political government facilities,” the leader said.”

BBC News: Syria Government ‘Producing Chemical Weapons At Research Facilities’

“Syria’s government is continuing to make chemical weapons in violation of a 2013 deal to eliminate them, a Western intelligence agency has told the BBC. A document says chemical and biological munitions are produced at three main sites near Damascus and Hama. It alleges that both Iran and Russia, the government’s allies, are aware. Western powers say a Syrian warplane dropped bombs containing the nerve agent Sarin on an opposition-held town a month ago, killing almost 90 people.”

The Hill: US, Iraq In Talks To Keep American Troops In Country After ISIS Fight: Report

“The Trump administration is in talks with the Iraqi government about keeping American troops in Iraq after the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the country is over, The Associated Press reported. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, are discussing ‘what the long-term U.S. presence would look like,’ a U.S. official told the AP. The official said ‘several thousand … similar to what we have now, maybe a little more,’ troops would stay in the country, but added that discussions were in early stages and ‘nothing has been finalized.’”

Washington Post: ISIS Is On The Decline In The Middle East, But Its Influence In Pakistan Is Rising

“When Noreen Leghari disappeared from her hometown of Hyderabad, Pakistan, in February, her parents thought she had been abducted. But then she reached out to them on Facebook. “I’ve joined Daesh,” said the 20-year-old medical student, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, “I’m in Syria for jihad. Stop searching for me.” Leghari, who had been in contact with extremists online for a year, was actually in the Pakistani city of Lahore. In April, security forces stormed her hideout there, killing one of her two accomplices — whom she had also married — and recovering two suicide vests and hand grenades. Leghari had planned to detonate herself at a crowded church two days later, on Easter Sunday.”

Fox News: Pentagon Eyes Iran-North Korea Military Connection

“When Iran attempted to launch a cruise missile from a “midget” submarine earlier this week, Pentagon officials saw more evidence of North Korean influence in the Islamic Republic – with intelligence reports saying the submarine was based on a Pyongyang design, the same type that sank a South Korean warship in 2010. According to U.S. defense officials, Iran was attempting to launch a Jask-2 cruise missile underwater for the first time, but the launch failed. Nonproliferation experts have long suspected North Korea and Iran are sharing expertise when it comes to their rogue missile programs. “The very first missiles we saw in Iran were simply copies of North Korean missiles,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a missile proliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.”

Reuters: Yazidi Genocide Evidence Mounting Against Islamic State: Legal Experts

“Legal experts said on Thursday there was growing evidence to prove atrocities by Islamic State against Iraq’s Yazidi minority, including sexual slavery and mass killings, legally constitute genocide, which could help bring militants to justice if they ever go on trial. In a report published in Human Rights Law Review, researchers found a ‘consistent and coordinated pattern’ of crimes being committed against Yazidis and concluded that Islamic State clearly displayed ‘genocidal intent’ against the minority group. The researchers said it was important to collect and preserve such evidence since members of the Islamist militant group could go on trial for genocide in the future.”

Daily Mail: Web Giants Sued For ‘Aiding’ ISIS Terrorists: Facebook, Twitter And Google Face Lawsuit From Families Of Victims Killed In California Attack

“Twitter, Google and Facebook are being sued for knowingly aiding IS by families of some of the victims of a terrorist attack in California that left 14 people dead. The relatives claim the tech giants have allowed the group to build a major online presence and push its extremist beliefs, as well as enlist recruits and promote attacks like the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. ‘Without defendants Twitter, Facebook and Google (YouTube), the explosive growth of IS over the last few years into the most feared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible,’ the suit alleges.”

Deutsche Welle: Can Warlord Hekmatyar Help Stabilize Afghanistan?

“Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was due to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani after arriving in the capital Kabul on Thursday. A heavily armed convoy escorted the notorious warlord – infamous for shelling Kabul in the early 1990s during the Afghan civil war – from eastern Nangarhar province to Kabul, the interior ministry and Hekmatyar’s spokesman confirmed. The former Afghan premier is set to play an active role in politics following a deal in September last year between the Afghan government and his militant group, Hezb-i-Islami. In February, the UN Security Council lifted sanctions against Hekmatyar, which included a freeze that had been put on his assets, a comprehensive travel ban and an arms embargo.”

Reuters: Boko Haram Behind Thousands Of Child Deaths: Report

“A campaign of violence led by terror group Boko Haram in Nigeria and neighboring countries is responsible for the deaths of nearly 4,000 children, according to a new United Nations report. Attacks by Boko Haram on communities and clashes between the group and security forces from 2013 up to this year have led to at least 3,900 deaths among people 18 and under in addition to more than 7,000 injured. In a disturbing trend, suicide attacks have accounted for a growing number of the casualties among minors. Investigators say they verified the use of 90 children for suicide bombings in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger — the majority of them being girls.”

International Business Times: Intelligence Services Identify 350 Potential Terrorists In The UK

“Intelligence services have identified 350 potential terrorists who have returned to Britain from fighting in Syria, sources have told the Times. The figure was disclosed to the newspaper to demonstrate the strain being placed on counter-terrorism agencies that place possible threats under round-the-clock surveillance to avoid an attack on British soil. Keeping just one person under watch requires between 24 and 30 intelligence officers, according to the source. Some returning extremists need additional surveillance as they have picked up training to avoid being electronically tracked, meaning they require physical monitoring too.”

United States

CNN: Pentagon Considers Sending More Troops To Afghanistan As It Prepares Options For President Trump

“The Pentagon is considering sending additional troops to Afghanistan in an effort to ‘move beyond the stalemate,’ US military officials told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday. A plan for more troops would be part of a broader set of recommendations on how to adjust the US military approach in Afghanistan that the Pentagon plans to send to President Donald Trump ‘within the next week,’ according to Theresa Whelan, the acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations. The troops, which could consist of special forces personnel and more conventional soldiers, would be part of the NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan army and police force in its fight against the Taliban but would also aid the US counterterrorism effort there as well.”

CNN: First On CNN: Pentagon Investigation: US Hit Mosque Complex In Syria

“A US Central Command investigation found that a March US airstrike in northern Syria did in fact strike a building that was part of a ‘mosque complex,’ two US defense officials told CNN Thursday. For days following the March 16 strike, the Pentagon adamantly rejected the notion that a mosque was hit and that there were civilian casualties — even as numerous social media reports showed images of bodies being taken out of the rubble. Instead, in the initial hours following the strike by US drones and aircraft, the Pentagon insisted that it hit only a building some 40 feet away from the mosque, where it said al Qaeda members were holding a meeting.”

CNN: Trump To Visit The Vatican, Israel And Saudi Arabia On First Foreign Trip

“President Donald Trump said Thursday his first foreign trip later this month will include visits to the Vatican, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, stops that his top aides hope will both combat views of the President abroad and build toward Middle East peace. The stops will come before Trump attends a NATO meeting in Brussels on May 25 and a G7 meeting in Italy on May 26. ‘Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam, and it is there that we will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies to combat extremism, terrorism and violence, and to embrace a more just and hopeful future for young Muslims in their countries,’ Trump said Thursday in announcing his trip during a Rose Garden ceremony where the he signed a religious liberty executive order.”

Syria

The New York Times: Russia Reaches Deal For Syria Safe Zones, But Some Rebels Scoff

“Russia, Iran and Turkey signed a memorandum on Thursday to create four ‘de-escalation zones’ in Syria, to reduce bloodshed in a war now in its seventh year, but many questions remained about the plan. Presented at talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, the memorandum was the most ambitious of recent proposals, but it was not signed by the Syrian rebels or government. Rebel representatives said it left too many loopholes for the Syrian military to continue what the rebels called indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas. The memorandum calls for a pause in fighting, including government airstrikes, and for unhindered aid deliveries in and around the four main zones still held by rebels unaffiliated with the Islamic State.”

Foreign Policy: Putin Has a New Secret Weapon in Syria: Chechens

“The Russian intervention in Syria has been, by most accounts, a success. And Russian President Vladimir Putin is going to do everything he can to keep it that way. Beginning with an air campaign on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September 2015, Russian forces have not only stopped regime losses but also helped Damascus retake Aleppo city in December 2016. Now with the opposition stronghold under government control and Assad’s hold on power no longer in question, Moscow has said it plans to reduce its presence in the country. But while some Russian forces did initially depart in early January, Moscow is actually expanding its role in Syria.”

Iraq

The New York Times: Iraqi Forces Open A Front In West Mosul, Trying To Squeeze ISIS

“Iraqi forces opened a new front in western Mosul on Thursday in a major shift intended to accelerate an operation that had slowed to a crawl, leaving hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped on an urban battlefield. The attack began early in the day as the Ninth Division of the Iraqi Army and Interior Ministry troops who had been pulled from another combat assignment started pushing into Mosul from the north, according to an Iraqi military statement. The Iraqi Counterterrorism Service has been clawing its way from the south, and the goal of the new operation is to force the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, to fight in multiple directions and collapse its defenses.”

Turkey

Reuters: Turkey Says Syria Safe Zones Cover Idlib, Parts Of Aleppo, Latakia And Homs

“Turkey’s foreign ministry said on Thursday an agreement reached in Kazakhstan to create safe zones inside Syria will cover all of Idlib province, as well as parts of Aleppo, Latakia and Homs. It said the deal would ban all use of weapons in those areas, and allow humanitarian aid to be brought in.”

Yemen

Reuters: Thousands Protest At Yemen President’s Sacking Of Southern Leaders

“Tens of thousands of Yemenis protested in Aden on Thursday against President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s sacking of the provincial governor and a cabinet minister widely praised for helping drive Iran-aligned Houthis from the city in 2015. The two men sacked, Aden provincial governor Aydaroos al-Zubaidi and cabinet member Hani bin Brek, are both seen as supporting separatism for southern Yemen, while Hadi is determined to tighten his grip over a unified country. Zubaidi was one of the leaders of the Southern Resistance that helped expel the Houthis from his city. Diplomats and some analysts say Hadi is uncomfortable with the fact that among the forces trained and supported by the United Arab Emirates are some pro-secessionist fighters.”

Saudi Arabia

Reuters: Saudi Arabia Says Trump Visit To Enhance Cooperation In Fighting Extremism

“Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said on Thursday that an upcoming visit to the kingdom by U.S. President Donald Trump would enhance cooperation between the United States and Muslim countries in the fight against extremism. Speaking to reporters after the Trump administration said the president would visit Riyadh as well as Israel later this month, Adel al-Jubeir said Trump had a high probability of succeeding in his efforts to secure a peace deal with Israelis and Palestinians because of his ‘fresh’ approach. Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, will be Trump’s initial stop on his first international trip as president.”

Egypt

Associated Press: Egypt Court Orders Release Of Muslim Brotherhood Financier

“An Egyptian court has ordered the release on bail of a senior leader and financier of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood who has been in detention for nearly two years. A judicial official said on Thursday that businessman Hassan Malik is to be released within 48 hours on bail of 20,000 Egyptian pounds – about $1,108 – and pending the prosecution didn’t challenge the decision. The official spoke on condition of anonymity under regulations. Malik was arrested in 2015 over accusations including plotting to harm the national economy and exacerbating instability of the dollar exchange rate. He was never tried.”

Nigeria

Newsweek: Boko Haram Leader Abubakar Shekau Wounded In Airstrikes: Report

“Nigerian security forces are believed to have wounded the contested leader of extremist militant group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau. Sources with links to Boko Haram told AFP Wednesday that Shekau was wounded when two Nigerian Air Force jets bombarded militants who had gathered for prayers in Balla village, northeastern Nigeria, on April 28. Nigeria’s military has not responded to a request for comment. ‘He [Shekau] is believed to be receiving treatment near the Nigerian border with Cameroon around Kolofata,’ an unnamed source told the news agency.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Terror Threat: UK Upgrades Armed Police Response

“Britain is upgrading its armed police response to terror attacks, with £114m to fund an extra 1,000 armed police over five years. What capability does this buy, and how prepared is the UK for what is known as a marauding terrorist firearms attack? Wind the clock back to November 2008 and the answer was – almost totally unprepared. Over a near two-day period, a 10-man cell of heavily-armed jihadists from Pakistan carried out a prolonged massacre in the heart of India’s commercial capital, Mumbai, killing 164 people.”

CNN: Police Arrest Man At Heathrow On Terrorism-Related Charges

“British police arrested a man at London’s Heathrow Airport on Thursday on suspicion of terrorism-related offenses, Metropolitan Police said. The 30-year-old man was arrested by counterterrorism officers as he stepped off a flight from Istanbul, Turkey. They say he was suspected of preparing for terrorist acts and terrorist training. Officers are searching an address in east London, the statement said. The man is being held at a police station.”

Germany

Deutsche Welle: Latest Scandal Puts Spotlight On Possible Extremist Views In The Bundeswehr

“An alleged far-right terror plot continues to rock the German military and pile pressure on the defense minister. Some are asking whether officials looked the other way when confronted with evidence of extremist views. It was ‘simply astonishing,’ Boris Nannt, the deputy spokesman for the ministry of defense who routinely sports his grey army uniform at press conferences, told journalists earlier this week, that army officials who were presented with evidence of right-wing extremism did not inform the military’s counter intelligence services, the Militärische Abschirmdienst (MAD).”

Europe

Associated Press: Albania Court Jails Former Imam In Absentia For Terrorism

“An Albanian court has sentenced in absentia a former Muslim imam accused of terrorism charges including recruiting and sending men to fight with rebel groups in Syria. The Serious Crime Court on Thursday ordered 15 years in prison for Almir Daci, who has been imam at Leshnice village, Pogradec district, 140 kilometers (87 miles) east of the capital Tirana. Daci, who is believed to be fighting with rebels in Syria, has recruited some 25 men in eastern Albania. About two-thirds of Albania’s three million people are Muslims. Despite calls from mainstream religious leaders not to join rebel groups in Syria and Iraq, scores of Albanians are believed to have joined Islamic extremist groups there.”

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