Eye on Extremism, June 16, 2017

CBS News: CEP Spokesperson Tara Maller discusses the latest information concerning the situation involving countries that have severed diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar as a result of that country’s support for extremism and terrorism.
Reuters: Pressured In Europe, Facebook Details Removal Of Terrorism Content
“We’ve known that extremist groups have been weaponizing the internet for years,” said Hany Farid, a Dartmouth College computer scientist who studies ways to stem extremist material online.”So why, for years, have they been understaffing their moderation? Why, for years, have they been behind on innovation?” Farid asked. He called Facebook’s statement a public relations move in response to European governments.
Breibart: Jihad-Friendly Qatar May Have Inspired Former Gitmo Detainees To Return To Terror
“David Ibsen, the executive director of the non-governmental Counter Extremism Project (CEP), indicated that Doha likely influenced the re-enagement in jihadist activities of former Guantánamo detainees sent to Qatar, including members of the infamous ‘Taliban Five’ swapped for Bergdahl in May 2014. At least seven former prisoners from the Guantánamo detention center, commonly known as Gitmo, are believed to have ended up in Qatar, which has allowed Islamic terrorist groups such as the Taliban to flourish within its borders. All seven former Gitmo prisoners who have operated in Qatar are affiliated with the Afghan Taliban.”
Vice News: Facebook Will Use Artificial Intelligence To Fight “Terrorist Content”
Dartmouth College computer scientist Hany Farid applauded Facebook’s vow to take what he believes are necessary steps to combat terrorism online — but he’s not convinced the company will live up to the promise. “There’s a lot of talk about what they’re doing, but not a lot of talk about efficacy,” said Farid, who helped develop the technology Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook use to root out images of child pornography. He’s now partnered with the New York–based Counter Extremism Project to create technology that, he says, could help these platforms do the same for certain extremist content. “There’s no numbers in that press release…. How aggressive are they going to be at it? They have to be held accountable for actually removing the content.”
Reuters: Russia’s Military Says May Have Killed IS Leader Baghdadi
“Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday it was checking information that a Russian air strike near the Syrian city of Raqqa may have killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in late May. The air strike was launched after the Russian forces in Syria received intelligence that a meeting of Islamic State leaders was being planned, the ministry said in a statement posted on its Facebook page. ‘On May 28, after drones were used to confirm the information on the place and time of the meeting of IS leaders, between 00:35 and 00:45, Russian air forces launched a strike on the command point where the leaders were located,’ the statement said.”
i24 News: The Battle Against ISIS in Mosul: CEP Research Director Julie Shain discusses ISIS’s continued ability to direct and inspire attacks despite being slowly pushed out of Mosul.
Daily Mail: ISIS Is Planning New Wave Of Attacks On Europe With Explosives-Laden Drones And Female Jihadis, EU Law Enforcement Agency Warns
“Europe’s top law enforcement agency says explosives that mimic those used in Syria and Iraq are a leading threat to the European Union, along with returning fighters and would-be jihadis blocked from traveling to the war zone. In a report Thursday summarizing trends from 2016 , Europol says Islamic extremists bent on attacking Europe are trending younger and more of them are female than ever before. Arrests for jihadi activities rose last year for the third year in a row: from 395 in 2014 to 718 in 2016.”
CNBC: Senate Passes Sweeping Sanctions Bill Targeting Iran, Russia
“A frequently polarized Senate found common ground Thursday as Republicans and Democrats joined forces to approve a sweeping sanctions bill that punishes longtime adversaries Iran and Russia with an array of financial penalties. The bipartisan legislation passed overwhelmingly Thursday, 98-2, more than five months after U.S. intelligence agencies determined Moscow had deliberately interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign. Lawmakers have long sought to hit Iran with more sanctions in order to check its ballistic missile program and rebuke Tehran’s continued support for terrorist groups. The decisive bipartisan vote could put the Trump administration in a bind. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has offered only tepid support for the Russia sanctions package. Yet those penalties are melded with the Iran punishments. So the White House would have to reject stricter punishments against Iran, which it favors, in order to derail the Russia penalties.”
Fox News: Freed ISIS Child Soldier Recounts Horrors Of Brutal Training, Years Of Torture
“Akram was 7 years old when he learned how to behead a person. The lessons started with pictures that showed the way to decapitate an enemy. He then graduated from drawings to a town square, where he witnessed a real beheading.  Akram, now 8, was a prisoner of ISIS for 2 ½ half years. In captivity, he underwent brutal training, including torture, as he learned to become a child soldier. Freed by Kurdish fighters two months ago, along with a younger brother and sister, he is now in a refugee camp 25 miles east of Duhok, a Kurdish-controlled city in northern Iraq. Their mother is still in captivity.”
United States
USA Today: Pentagon To Send Nearly 4,000 More Troops To Afghanistan
“The Pentagon will send nearly 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in an effort to turn around a war that commanders have described as a stalemate, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Earlier this week, President Trump provided his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, with the authority to determine troop levels in Afghanistan. The Pentagon is reviewing the strategy for Afghanistan, which Mattis said may take several weeks. But the question of sending additional troops is considered urgent in order to halt recent Taliban advances as another fighting season gets underway. The Taliban generally steps up violence in the warm months, when snows melt and roads become passable.”
CNN: Iraqi Christians In Michigan Fear Deportation
“Iraqi native Atheer Ali fled to Michigan as a child nearly three decades ago. The 40-year-old man has a tattoo of a cross on his shoulder, a nod to his faith. Now he fears his visible symbol of Christianity will make him a target for violence and persecution if he’s deported back to the Muslim-majority nation following his detention by immigration officials in Detroit this week. Ali is one of more than 100 Iraqis in Michigan and northern Ohio under the jurisdiction of Detroit’s Immigration Customs Enforcement office who have been targeted for deportation. ICE says most have criminal records.”
Military Times: US Adds 3 Islamic State Group Leaders To Terrorism Blacklist
“The Trump administration on Thursday added three senior members of the Islamic State group to a terrorism blacklist, including the group’s leader and chief recruiter in India and a recruiter for attackers who carried out two deadly assaults in Europe. The State Department and Treasury said the trio have committed or pose a significant risk of committing terrorist attacks that threaten Americans or U.S. national interests. The move adds them to a list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, freezing any assets they may have in U.S. jurisdictions and barring Americans from any transactions with them. Authorities in France and Belgium have identified one of the men, Oussama Atar, as an organizer of both the November 2015 attack in Paris and the March 2016 attack in Brussels that together killed 162 people.”
The Hill: Treasury Acts To Disrupt ISIS Financing Network
“The Treasury Department on Thursday targeted an Iraqi national and money transfer company for its ties to ISIS’s financing network. The agency’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took action against Umar al Kubaysi and his company, Al Kawthar Money Exchange, blocking them from the United States financial system and freezing any U.S.-based assets. Officials say Al Kubaysi has moved money for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria since 2006, long before it split off from al Qaeda in Iraq. The Iraqi national helped move funding and arms to ISIS and other insurgent groups across the country and Syria, often through his financial exchange company, according to OFAC.”
Syria
Associated Press: Messy Fight Awaits IS’ Next Syrian Capital At Mayadeen
“As Islamic State militants take a pounding in their eroding Iraqi and Syrian strongholds, its leaders have set up a new headquarters in Syria away from the front lines, where they are digging in and likely planning more attacks against the West. The militants’ relocation could extend their ability to wreak havoc in the region and beyond for months to come. U.S. officials and Syrian activists say many commanders have fled the besieged cities of Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, in recent months for Mayadeen, a remote town in the heart of Syria’s IS-controlled, Euphrates River valley near the Iraqi border.”
Reuters: Spirits High Among Kurds In Syria As Coalition Battles For Raqqa
“Kurdish fighter Habun Kamishli proudly recalled the cat and mouse game she played with an Islamic State suicide bomber in the Syrian town of Raqqa, where the militant group is likely to make its last stand. ‘I was standing on a rooftop yesterday as our forces advanced. I noticed he was trying to sneak from one street to another to get into the building and kill us,’ she said. ‘Then I took a picture of his body with my phone. We are avenging the deaths of our fellow Kurds.’ The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, made up predominantly of Kurdish fighters, has seized territory to the north, east and west of Raqqa. The city of about 200,000 has been the base of operations for Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks on civilians across the globe.”
Reuters: Airstrikes Hit Damascus Area For First Time In Weeks
“Air strikes hit rebel-held districts east of Damascus on Thursday for the first time in weeks after shells landed in parts of the capital controlled by the Syrian government, a Reuters witness and a war monitor said. Fighting and bombardment around Damascus have eased significantly since Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed a deal for ‘de-escalation zones’ around Syria in an April meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan. Fighting since then has mostly focused on Syria’s sprawling desert in the centre and east of the country, where warring sides are racing to capture territory from Islamic State.”
Reuters: Putin Says Russia Aims To Beef Up Syrian Military In Mid-Term
“Russia’s medium-term plans in Syria include improving capability of the Syrian armed forces which would allow to relocate Russian troops in the country to the existing Russian bases, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday. ‘We aim to establish a process a political settlement (in Syria) between all the sides involved,’ Putin also said during a question and answer session with citizens. He said that after boosting the capability of the Syrian military, Russia’s aviation will continue helping it where necessary.”
BBC News: Russia Questions US Himars Missile Deployment In Syria
“The Russian defence ministry has raised concerns about US multiple-rocket launchers being deployed at a base in eastern Syria. It said it was not impossible the two Himars launchers being set up in al-Tanf would be used against troops fighting so-called Islamic State. The launchers were reportedly brought in from Jordan to Tanf, which is used by rebels and Western special forces. US aircraft bombed a government convoy in the area last month.”
Iraq
Reuters: Iraqi Forces Say About To Encircle Islamic State In Mosul’s Old City
“Iraqi forces said they were about to complete the encirclement of Islamic State’s stronghold in the Old City of Mosul, after taking control of a neighboring district on Thursday. Iraq’s military said it had captured Bab Sinjar, north of the historic, densely-populated district where the militants launched their cross-border ‘caliphate’ in 2014.  Government forces and their allies still have to take full control of Medical City, a complex of hospitals further north along the bank of the Tigris, to enclose the militant enclave.”
Reuters: Mosul Old City Residents Spend Hungry And Fearful Ramadan Under IS Rule
“For Salam, a resident in the Islamic State-held Old City of Mosul, the holy fasting month of Ramadan this year is the worst he’s seen in a lifetime marked by wars and deprivations. ‘We are slowly dying from hunger, boiling mouldy wheat as soup’ to break the fast at sunset, the 47 year-old father of three said by phone from the district besieged by Iraqi forces, asking to withhold his name fearing the militants’ retribution. The only wish he makes in his prayers is for his family to survive the final days of the self-proclaimed caliphate declared three years ago by IS’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from a nearby mosque.”
Turkey
Reuters: Thousands Rally In Turkey After Opposition Lawmaker Jailed
“Several thousand people took to the streets of Turkey’s two biggest cities on Thursday to protest against a 25-year prison sentence handed down to an opposition lawmaker on spying charges. A court sentenced Enis Berberoglu, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), on charges of military espionage on Wednesday. It said he gave an opposition newspaper a video purporting to show Turkey’s intelligence agency trucking weapons into Syria. He is the first lawmaker from the secular CHP to be jailed in a government crackdown that followed last July’s failed coup. More than 50,000 people have been imprisoned and over 150,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs.”
Reuters: Turkey Says U.S. Decision To Issue Arrest Warrants ‘Wrong’, ‘Lacks Legal Basis’
“Turkey on Thursday condemned a decision by U.S. authorities to issue arrest warrants to some members of President Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail over a brawl that erupted in Washington last month, saying it ‘lacked legal basis’. Washington prosecutors have charged a dozen Turkish security and police officers with assault after an attack on protesters during Erdogan’s visit to the U.S. capital last month, officials said. ‘This decision taken by U.S. authorities is wrong, biased and lacks legal basis,’ Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. ‘The brawl in front of the Turkish ambassador’s residence was caused by the failure of local security authorities to take necessary measures … Turkish citizens cannot be held responsible for the incident that took place.’”
Reuters: Turkey Sentences U.N. War Crimes Judge On ‘Terrorism’ Charges: Hague
“Turkey has sentenced a U.N. war crimes judge to 7 years and six months in prison on charges of ‘membership in a terrorist organization’, an international court in the Hague said on Thursday. Judge Aydin Sedaf Akay has been held in Turkey since September, one of tens of thousands of Turkish officials arrested in a crackdown on people and organizations after a foiled coup in which hundreds died. The U.N. court said in a statement that Turkey’s actions constituted a ‘further breach of Judge Akay’s protected status’, as U.N. judges have diplomatic immunity under international law.”
Afghanistan
Reuters: Four Killed In Attack On Mosque In Kabul
“Two gunmen and a suicide bomber killed at least four people and wounded eight more in an attack at a mosque in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Thursday, the Interior Ministry said. The three suspected attackers tried to enter the Al Zahra mosque, used by Kabul’s Shi’ite minority, but were blocked by police, setting off a gun battle, ministry spokesman Najib Danish said. The attackers then took refuge in a kitchen, where one detonated a bomb while the other two were killed by security forces, he said. The attack came as mosques around the city were crowded for a night of religious observances as part of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.”
Fox News: Afghanistan Suicide Bombing Leaves Two Dead, Multiple Others Injured
“Two people were killed and at least five others injured after a suicide bomber struck outside a Shiite mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday. The attacker was initially prevented from entering the mosque by police, according to The Independent. After participating in a gun fight with the police, however, he was able to enter the kitchen area where he proceeded to detonate his bomb. The Islamic State took responsibility for the attack. Mosques have been more crowded than usual in the evening hours recently as Muslims observe the holy month of Ramadan. A truck bomb in Kabul on May 31 killed more than 150 people.”
Yemen
Reuters: One Wounded In Missile Attack On UAE Ship Off Yemen, SPA Reports
“One crew member was wounded when Yemen’s Houthis fired a missile at a United Arab Emirates ship carrying medical supplies in the Red Sea, the UAE news agency WAM reported on Thursday. WAM quoted a statement from the UAE armed forces as saying that the ship came under attack opposite the Yemeni port of al-Mokha. The statement warned that the UAE would pursue those behind the attack. ‘The attack did not cause any damage to the ship, while a crew member was hurt,’ WAM said. The Saudi state news agency earlier quoted the Saudi-led military coalition, which includes the UAE, as saying the ship was hit while leaving al-Mokha port but gave no further details.”
The New York Times: Unicef Steps In To Pay Yemen’s Doctors As War And Cholera Rage
“Desperate to halt the cholera crisis afflicting Yemen, Unicef has taken the unusual step of paying the country’s doctors and nurses, who have not received salaries in months. The regional director for Unicef, Geert Cappelaere, said on Thursday that Yemen’s health workers are crucial to the effort to combat cholera and that they should not be expected to work for free. Their normal pay has been disrupted by the civil war that has raged since March 2015 between the Saudi-backed government and the country’s Houthi rebels and their allies.”
Egypt
CNBC: Egypt’s Spat With Qatar Is A ‘Matter Of Principle’
“Cairo isn’t worried about a potential financial fallout from its political rift with Doha, Egypt’s Minister of Finance Amr El-Garhy told CNBC on Friday. ‘It’s not a matter of a loss of money…it’s a matter of principle,’ he said on the sidelines of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s second annual meeting in Jeju, South Korea. Egypt, alongside six other Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the U.A.E, severed ties with Qatar last week, accusing the oil-rich monarchy of supporting terrorism. The Gulf governments are particularly wary of Doha’s relationship with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, a non-violent organization, as President Donald Trump urges Arab leaders to take a stronger stance against extremists. Doha has repeatedly denied allegations of funding terrorism.”
Middle East
Times Of Israel: Israel And Hamas Court Catastrophe In High-Stakes Game Of Chicken
“The Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority and, to a lesser extent, the Egyptian government are locked in a game of chicken with Hamas, which has brought along the two million unfortunate residents of the Gaza Strip for the ride. This death race is being fueled by a combination of internal Palestinian spats, various Israeli policies, military changes on the ground, and a diplomatic siege in the Gulf. A catastrophic collision seems increasingly likely. Yet, speaking to the Knesset on Monday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman indicated that he was unperturbed, noting that the past year was the quietest on the Gaza border since 1967 and that while there have been protests recently along the security fence, they have not been made up of huge, organic crowds but of ‘Hamas operatives that were bused there.’”
Nigeria
Reuters: Disappearance Of Boko Haram Bride Sparks Concern About Return To Militants
“The disappearance of a former Boko Haram bride who recently returned home after three years in the militants’ stronghold in northeast Nigeria has stoked concern about the difficulty of deradicalising and reintegrating women seized by the jihadists. The wife of a Boko Haram commander, 25-year-old Aisha, was among 70 women and children who in February finished a nine-month deradicalization program, having being captured by the army in a raid on the militants’ Sambisa forest base last year. Last month Aisha vanished from her family home in Borno’s state capital Maiduguri, taking the baby boy fathered by her Boko Haram husband and some of her clothes, according to her younger sister Bintu Yerima.”
United Kingdom
BBC News: UK Terror Arrests Nearing Record Levels
“The UK is heading for a record number of terrorism-related arrests amid massive investigations into three attacks. New figures show that in the year to March 2017, police arrested 304 people – up a fifth on the previous 12 months. Combined with those held since March, it means this year’s total may top the previous record of 315, set in 2015. The figures include the dozen held and later released without charge during the Westminster Bridge investigation. But they don’t include those held since the Manchester or London Bridge attacks. More than 40 people have been held in relation to both of those incidents – with all 22 arrested in Manchester released without charge.”
Daily Mail: Terror Arrests Soared To 304 In Year Ending In March 2017 – The Highest Since Records Began 16 Years Ago
“Terror suspects are being arrested at a record rate as security services attempt to contain the unprecedented threat. Official figures show there were 304 arrests for terrorism-related offences in Great Britain in the year to the end of March this year. This was an increase of 18 per cent on the previous 12 months, and the highest number in any financial year on record since data collection started in September 2001. The statistics come a month after UK security services revealed they are handling a staggering 500 active terror investigations.”
Europe
Reuters: Pressured In Europe, Facebook Details Removal Of Terrorism Content
“Facebook Inc on Thursday offered additional insight on its efforts to remove terrorism content, a response to political pressure in Europe to militant groups using the social network for propaganda and recruiting. Facebook has ramped up use of artificial intelligence such as image matching and language understanding to identify and remove content quickly, Monika Bickert, Facebook’s director of global policy management, and Brian Fishman, counter-terrorism policy manager, explained in a blog post. The world’s largest social media network, with 1.9 billion users, Facebook has not always been so open about its operations, and its statement was met with skepticism by some who have criticized U.S. technology companies for moving slowly.”

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