Eye on Extremism, May 12, 2017

Associated Press: Iraqi Forces Move To Surround Mosul’s Old City, Held By ISIS

“U.S.-backed Iraqi forces were moving to surround Mosul’s Old City on Thursday, a week after launching a fresh push to drive Islamic State militants from areas they still hold, according to an Iraqi officer overseeing the operation. Iraqi special forces Lt. Gen. Sami al-Arathi said battle plans had changed and a northern advance was launched last week after Iraqi forces struggled to push into the Old City from the south. As Iraqi army and federal police forces push from the north, the country’s special forces are moving toward the Old City through Mosul’s western industrial neighborhoods. “The multi-axis advance … has presented the enemy with more dilemmas than they can react to,” U.S.-led coalition spokesman John Dorrian told reporters during a press conference Wednesday. Dorrian said over the past week Iraqi forces retook more than 30 square kilometers (12 square miles) of terrain from IS.”

Buzzfeed News: Us-Backed Forces Asked Isis To Hand Over A Syrian City. It Worked

“The sudden collapse of ISIS’s grip on the Syrian city of Tabqa and the dam supporting it was the result of a negotiated settlement between US-backed forces and the militant group, two US defense officials told BuzzFeed News. A third defense official said the withdrawal of roughly 70 ISIS fighters was “unconditional.” ISIS agreed to remove explosives from around the dam and leave its heavy weapons behind, a US official explained. Tabqa sits just west of ISIS’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, and has served as an entry point for the capital. Its collapse Wednesday could mark the last major step before the long-anticipated battle for the city, US military officials have said.”

Reuters: Turkey To Extradite Top Australian IS Recruiter ‘Within Months’: PM

“Turkey has agreed to a request from the Australian government to extradite a citizen it believes to be a top recruiter for the Islamic State militant group, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Friday. Melbourne-born Neil Prakash has been linked to several Australia-based attack plans and has appeared in Islamic State videos and magazines.  Australia alleges that Prakash actively recruited Australian men, women and children and encouraged acts of terrorism. The government announced financial sanctions against him in 2015, including anyone giving him financial assistance, with punishment of up to 10 years in jail.”

Bloomberg: Russia Seeks Accord With U.S. on Iran Role in Syria Safe Zones

“Russia is seeking to convince the U.S. to accept an Iranian role in a plan for foreign troops to police safe zones in Syria as a step toward ending the six-year war. The U.S. and Iran must show ‘compromise and flexibility’ in helping to secure the so-called de-escalation zones proposed by Russia to shore up a Syrian cease-fire, President Vladimir Putin’s Middle East envoy, Mikhail Bogdanov, told reporters in Sochi on Thursday. Russia is trying to mediate between the U.S. and Iran, though it’s under ‘no illusions’ about the difficulties, he said.”

The Jerusalem Post: Palestinian Terrorist Indicted For Fatal Stabbing Of Uk Student In Jerusalem

“Jameel Tamimi was indicted in the Jerusalem District Court on Thursday for the murder of Hannah Bladon, a 20-year-old British exchange student stabbed to death on April 14 on the Jerusalem Light Rail. According to the indictment filed by the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office, the attack took place extremely close to the Old City, where tens of thousands of visitors from across the globe were observing Passover and Easter. Tamimi, 57, a resident of east Jerusalem’s Ras el-Amud neighborhood, purchased a large knife, 30.5-centimeters long and 18.5-cm. wide, at 10:30 a.m.”

The Washington Free Beacon: Ohio Man Charged With Providing Support To ISIS

“A federal grand jury on Thursday charged an Ohio man with one count of attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State terrorist organization. Laith Waleed Alebbini, 26, allegedly attempted to join ISIS and was arrested on April 26 at the Cincinnati/Kentucky International Airport, according to a Justice Department press release. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested the suspect for trying to join the terror group in Syria, authorities said, and has remained in custody since then. During a subsequent interview with the FBI on Jan. 23, Alebbini admitted to posting pro-ISIS videos on Facebook and supporting the group’s ideological goals, describing himself as ‘the perfect recruit for ISIS.’ He added that he does not agree with the organization’s use of violence.”

Reuters: American Al Qaeda Member Turned Informant Avoids Long Sentence

“A New York City-born former al Qaeda member who plotted to attack a commuter railroad will be released in three months after spending 8-1/2 years in custody because of the extensive intelligence he provided U.S. investigators after his arrest, prosecutors said. Bryant Neal Vinas, 34, pleaded guilty in 2009 after his capture by Pakistani authorities in 2008. At a hearing in Brooklyn on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis sentenced him to time served plus three months, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn. Vinas, a U.S. Army veteran, traveled to Pakistan in 2007 and eventually joined the militant group al Qaeda, which provided him weapons and explosives training, authorities said.”

The Guardian: Al-Qaida Tempts Yemen Recruits With Quiz Offering AK-47 As Top Prize

“Al-Qaida is attempting to recruit new members in Yemen by holding a quiz, with an AK-47 assault rifle as top prize, according to local residents and media. Militants have been touring the south-west city of Taiz in the build-up to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, putting up posters advertising the contest, residents reported. They encourage people to pick up the sheets from group members. Most of the questions focus on Al-Qaida’s extreme interpretation of Islam. ‘Name three articles of the [Yemeni] constitution which contradict Islamic Law,’ read one on a sheet seen by Reuters.”

Associated Press: Nigeria Negotiating With Boko Haram For More Chibok Releases

“Nigeria’s government is negotiating ‘seriously’ for the release of more than 110 kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls still held by Boko Haram and will exchange more detained members of the extremist group for them if needed, an official said Thursday. ‘We will not relent until all are back,’ the minister of women’s affairs and social development, Aisha Alhassan, told reporters in the capital, Abuja. The mass abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls from a boarding school three years ago brought world attention to Boko Haram’s deadly rampage in northern Nigeria. Thousands have been kidnapped or killed in the group’s eight-year insurgency, with millions driven from their homes.”

The Guardian: Somali Government Calls For End Of Arms Embargo To Defeat Al-Shabaab

“The Somalian government has pleaded for world leaders to lift an international arms embargo, as the head of the UN said Somalia needed a further $900m (£700m) in aid this year to combat its worst droughts in decades. Some of the hardest-hit areas are under the control of the Islamist group al-Shabaab. The Somali president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, said heavy weaponry would allow his government to crush the insurgency and drive the group from the country. Mohamed, who heads a young, new cabinet in which the international community is placing faith, made the plea at a conference in London convened by Theresa May. The event, attended by more than 40 countries, drew international figures including the UN secretary general, António Guterres, and the US defence secretary, James Mattis.”

United States

The Washington Post: More U.S. Soldiers May Be Heading To Afghanistan. That Might Not Solve The Problem.

“The emerging signs that the Trump administration may send thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan are generating a variety of reactions here, including relief at a signal of strong commitment from the new administration in Washington, and worry that it may not be enough to turn around a long, expensive war that the Taliban has fought to a draw. But many Afghan observers agree on one thing: Without a complementary political policy aimed at bolstering the weak ­Kabul government, pressing fractious leaders to get along and fending off the country’s meddlesome neighbors, no U.S. military surge alone can solve the broader problems that have made peace and stability so elusive.”

USA Today: Vice President Pence Says ISIS Is Waging Anti-Christian ‘Genocide’

“Vice President Pence said Thursday that the reign of terror carried out by the Islamic State militant group should be labeled ‘genocide’ against Christians. ‘I believe that ISIS is guilty of nothing short of genocide against people of the Christian faith, and it is time for the world to call it by name,’ Pence said at a speech to the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians, hosted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. ‘In Iraq at the hands of extremists, we have actually seen monasteries demolished, priests and monks beheaded, and the two-millennia-old Christian tradition in Mosul virtually extinguished overnight,’ Pence said.”

Voice Of America: US Reaffirms Commitment To Protect Turkey

“U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has reiterated its pledge to protect Turkey, as the country opposes a recent U.S. decision to arm Syrian Kurdish fighters in an attempt to oust Islamic State militants from their stronghold in Raqqa. Mattis reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to its NATO ally after meeting Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, the highest level talks between the two countries since Washington announced on Tuesday plans to provide arms to the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds, also known as the YPG. Turkey is strongly opposed to the arms deal and has called for its reversal. Turkey believes the YPG is a terrorist group, an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. and Europe.”

Syria

Reuters: Assad Says De-Escalation Zones Chance For Rebels To ‘Reconcile’

“Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that de-escalation zones proposed by his ally Russia were a chance for rebels to ‘reconcile’ with Damascus and drive out Islamist militants, but vowed to fight on calling U.N.-led peace talks fruitless. Assad pledged, in an interview with Belarusian TV Channel ONT aired on Thursday, to defend the zones and to crush, with the support of Iran and Hezbollah, those who try to breach them. Efforts over the past year to halt the six-year Syrian war have fallen flat, and a ceasefire agreed to by the government side and rebels in December was violated early on. Russia’s proposal for zones took effect last week, covering areas in the west of the country and Damascus has suggested there could be a role for Russian military police. Assad said the primary aim was to protect civilians.”

Associated Press: Coalition: IS Town Fall ‘Victory’ For Syria Kurdish Partner

“The capture of a key Syrian town and a nearby dam from Islamic State group militants by Syrian Kurdish-led forces undermines the IS’s ability to defend its de facto capital, Raqqa and disrupts its ability to plan attacks in Western countries, the U.S.-led international coalition said Thursday. Tabqa and the nearby dam, Syria’s largest, were seized a day earlier in an offensive that lasted nearly seven weeks, with the backing of airstrikes from the international coalition. The Kurdish-led forces were clearing the town and the dam Thursday of land mines, the militants’ favorite weapon. The fall of Tabqa also denies militants ‘a key coordination hub’ that had been used by the group’s foreign fighters since 2013 to plan attacks against the West, the coalition said in a statement.”

Reuters: U.N. Has ‘A Million Questions’ On Syria After Astana Deal

“The United Nations still has a million questions about a Syria deal struck last week by Russia, Turkey and Iran, with aid convoys almost totally stalled despite a reported reduction in the fighting, a U.N. aid official said on Thursday.  ‘Russia and Turkey and Iran explained to us today and yesterday … that they will work very openly, proactively, with United Nations and humanitarian partners to implement this agreement,’ U.N. Syria humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland told reporters. ‘We do have a million questions and concerns but I think we don’t have the luxury that some have, of this distant cynicism, and saying it will fail. We need this to succeed.’”

Newsweek: Trump In Syria: Jordanians Deny U.S. Invasion As Troops Train At Border

“Jordanian commentators, including the military’s former deputy chief of staff, have dismissed media speculation of an impending ground invasion of Syria as U.S. and allied troops trained near the nations’ mutual border. About 7,400 soldiers from 20 nations began conducting Sunday annual U.S. and Jordan-led military exercises known as Exercise Eager Lion. This year’s drills, reportedly the largest and most complex of their kind, prompted concerns from the governments of neighboring Syria and its ally, Iran, that Washington and its allies were attempting to stage a major intervention to undermine recent gains made by the Syrian military against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).”

Turkey

Reuters: Turkish Minister Says EU To Focus On Updating Customs Union

“The European Union intends to focus more on updating its customs union with Turkey, the Turkish Minister for European Affairs said on Thursday. Leading European Union lawmakers called last month for a formal halt to Turkey’s long-stalled EU membership after a referendum to grant President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers, which the opposition said was flawed. They said Brussels could instead open talks on a looser relationship known as an ‘association agreement’, or strengthen the existing customs union. Speaking to broadcaster NTV following a meeting with the Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland in Strasboug, Turkish EU Minister Omer Celik said Turkey wanted the customs union to be updated as soon as possible.”

Reuters: Turkey Warned Wikipedia Over Content, Demands It Open Office: Minister

“Turkey has warned online encyclopedia Wikipedia, blocked by Ankara two weeks ago, over what it says is content creating a perception that Turkey is supporting terrorist organizations, Turkish Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan said on Thursday. Turkey’s telecommunications watchdog said two weeks ago that access to Wikipedia had been blocked, citing a law allowing it to ban access to websites deemed a threat to national security. Speaking to broadcaster NTV, Arslan demanded Wikipedia open a representative office in Turkey and be eligible to pay tax.”

Afghanistan

Reuters: Afghan Forces Face Challenge Of Absorbing Former Insurgents

“Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami party is preparing to place thousands of fighters in Afghanistan’s security forces, in one of the most complex parts of last year’s peace deal between the Western-backed government and the former insurgent warlord. Hizb-i-Islami has drawn up a list of 3,500 members of its militia for vetting and has handed over some 80 names, mostly senior officers, to a special commission set up to oversee the integration, said Karim Amin, one of Hekmatyar’s closest aides. The move was agreed under the terms of the peace deal which brought in Hekmatyar, notorious for his forces’ indiscriminate bombardment of Kabul during the 1990s civil war, after years of armed opposition.”

Voice Of America: Afghan Diplomat Alleges Pakistan Behind Resurgent Taliban

“Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan has accused the neighboring country of contributing to the continuous violence in his war-ravaged nation by not cutting ties to the Taliban. Omar Zakhilwal told an international conference in Islamabad Thursday that neighboring and regional countries need to create a ‘broader’ consensus to help end hostilities in Afghanistan and promote political reconciliation there. ‘We do not believe that Pakistan has yet given up on ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan, unfortunately. Despite the rhetoric, we do not believe that it has changed its policy. They contribute to the continuous violence in Afghanistan,’ the ambassador asserted.”

Fox News: MOAB Damage In Afghanistan Extreme, Widespread

“It has been one month since the U.S. military dropped its largest non-nuclear combat weapon — the MOAB — to eradicate ISIS from its base in Afghanistan’s Nanganhar province. And still, the ghostly destruction zone is a vision that haunts. FoxNews.com has obtained exclusive images illuminating the bomb’s impact taken this week, showing the gouged and singed earth and even the limb of a dead fighter that had yet to be removed or buried.  While the use of the MOAB, which stands for Massive Ordnance Air Blast, has been controversial, with analysts claiming it had little effect other than decimating Afghanistan’s territory, others on the ground are still insistent that it worked extremely well, not only to kill more than 90 ISIS fighters, but to eliminate supply routes and squash morale within the terrorist organization.”

Yemen

Reuters: Southern Yemen Leaders Launch Body Seeking Split From North

“Senior tribal, military and political leaders have formed a new council seeking the secession of southern Yemen, the former governor of the area’s main city Aden said on Thursday, threatening to bring more turmoil to a two-year-old civil war. Aidaroos al-Zubaidi made his announcement in a televised address in front of the flag of the former nation of South Yemen, whose forces were defeated by the north in 1994 and brought into a reunified country. Zubaidi said a ‘national political leadership’ under his presidency would administer and represent the south – a region which holds much of Yemen’s modest oil deposits, the backbone of its economy.”

Saudi Arabia

The Hill: Saudi Arabia Plans To Invest $40B In US Infrastructure: Report

Saudi Arabia plans on investing up to $40 billion in U.S. infrastructure, according to a new report. The spending could be announced as early as next week, during President Trump’s first visit there, Bloomberg said Thursday. Bloomberg said the investment would come from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. People familiar with the matter told the news outlet that no final decision has been made and the announcement may still be delayed. A White House official confirmed to Bloomberg that the plan is in the works, citing White House senior adviser Jared Kushner’s critical role in the talks. Kushner is President Trump’s son-in-law and is widely considered one of his closest confidants.”

Middle East

Reuters: Hezbollah Says Future War Would Be On Israeli Territory

“Lebanese Hezbollah said on Thursday that any future conflict between the Shi’ite group and Israel could take place inside Israeli territory, as tensions rise between the arch foes. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, also said in a speech televised live that the group was dismantling all its military positions along Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria, and this area would now be patrolled just by the Lebanese army. Hezbollah, an ally of Tehran and Damascus, has been fighting for years in Syria’s conflict against an array of rebels and Sunni Islamist fighters. The Syrian conflict has also been an arena where tensions between Israel and Hezbollah have ramped up. Recent Israeli air strikes against Hezbollah targets in Syria appeared to mark a more assertive stance toward the group.”

The Jerusalem Post: ‘Abbas Has Decided To Sign Peace Deal With Israel’

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has crossed the Rubicon and voiced ‘unprecedented’ readiness to reach a peace deal with Israel, sources close to the efforts to renew talks between Israel and the Palestinians have told The Jerusalem Post. Abbas, according to the sources, made this clear to President Donald Trump during their meeting at the White House last week. The president plans to use his trip to Israel later this month to receive assurances from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he, too, is committed to a peace agreement.”

Germany

Fox News: The Latest: Germany Launches Website To Help Migrants Leave

“Germany has launched a new website designed to help encourage migrants to return voluntarily to their home countries. The website http://www.returningfromgermany.de is part of the two-pronged strategy to dealing with the influx of more than 1 million asylum-seekers in the last two years. Germany is trying to speed up the asylum process for those likely to be allowed to stay like Syrians fleeing war, and quickly return home those with little hope of asylum. With deportations expensive and complicated, Germany has been encouraging volunteer returns with financial and other incentives.”

Deutsche Welle: German Journalist Arrested In Turkey

“German journalist Mesale Tolu was reportedly arrested during an overnight raid at her Istanbul apartment in the early hours of May 1. The socialist daily publication ‘Neues Deutschland’ first reported the arrest in Germany, which later was corroborated by German state broadcaster ARD and Turkish newspaper ‘Diken’. Tolu was reportedly placed under remand facing allegations of spreading ‘propaganda for a terrorist organization’ as well as ‘membership in a terrorist group.’ However, many of the more than 150 journalist arrested in Turkey under ongoing state of emergency measures introduced in the wake of the failed coup of July 15, 2016, are facing similar accusations.”

Europe

Forbes: The Problem Of Daesh Foreign Fighter Returnees And Homegrown Terrorism

“As Daesh is losing territory in Iraq and Syria, it is expected that many of the Daesh foreign fighters will eventually return to their home countries. The problem was recently emphasised by Mr Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs at the United Nations Security Council, in his 4th report on the threat posed by Daesh. Indeed, the Daesh foreign fighters returning to their home countries is a serious threat as in 2016, the number of Daesh foreign fighters has been assessed at over 30,000. It has been reported by Soufan Group that at least 5,000 fighters were from European countries, including over 3,700 Daesh fighters from just four countries: the UK, France, Germany and Belgium.”

Politico: Europe, Airlines Await Word On New U.S. Laptop Ban

“An expected expansion of the Trump administration’s laptop ban to include flights from Europe is causing heartburn among the travel industry and some European officials, who fear a logistical nightmare for millions of trans-Atlantic passengers just ahead of the summer vacation season. Briefings Thursday for U.S. senators and the major domestic airlines ended with no announcements from the Department of Homeland Security about changes to the restrictions, which already prohibit passengers from carrying laptops, tablets and e-readers into the cabins of planes flying to the U.S. from 10 Middle Eastern airports. But European airline officials are ‘preparing behind the scenes’ for DHS to announce that it’s expanding the ban to at least some airports there, an official from the trade group Airlines for Europe told POLITICO.”

Reuters: Austrian Court Jails Syrian For Life For Killing Assad Soldiers

“An Austrian court jailed a Syrian asylum seeker for life for murdering 20 wounded soldiers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army while fighting alongside an anti-Assad militia near the city of Homs, a court spokesman said. An interpreter had told the court the 27-year-old man recounted the episode to him in Arabic, but the accused argued his statement had been mistranslated. The jury decided against the man late on Wednesday, according to the spokesman. Austria has jailed several people for belonging to a terrorist organization, a charge usually leveled against foreign or local fighters fighting in Syria alongside Islamic State militants.”

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