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Arrow Eye on Extremism - February 15, 2019

Eye on Extremism - February 15, 2019
By: The Counter Extremism Project

NOTE: Eye on Extremism will not publish on February 18 in observance of Presidents Day.

The Washington Post: At Least 38 Killed In Deadliest Attack On Security Forces In Indian-Controlled Kashmir In 3 Decades

“At least 38 paramilitary police officers were killed by a massive car bomb in Indian-controlled Kashmir in the worst attack on security personnel since the start of the insurgency in the disputed region three decades ago. The attack occurred Thursday afternoon about 3:15 p.m., police officials said, as a security convoy of 70 vehicles traveled down a major highway toward the city of Srinagar. An explosives-laden vehicle driven by a suicide bomber rammed into a bus carrying dozens of paramilitary personnel, said Sanjay Sharma, a spokesman for India’s Central Reserve Police Force. The killings will inflame tensions between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan, which both claim the Himalayan territory of Kashmir. India accuses Pakistan of sheltering and supporting militants that cross into Indian-controlled territory to carry out attacks against Indian rule. Kashmir is part of India’s only Muslim-majority state. Since 1989, militants have waged attacks against Indian forces in Kashmir, fighting either for the territory’s independence or its merger with Pakistan. Jaish-e-Mohammed, or Army of Mohammed, a militant group that seeks to merge Indian-held Kashmir with Pakistan, claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack.”

The Guardian: ISIS Fighters Firing At Escaping Family Members, Says Coalition

“Islamic State fighters shot and wounded fleeing family members trying to escape from its besieged enclave in Syria, according to a coalition commander, as Kurdish forces continued to tighten the noose on the remaining extremists. The battle to recapture the group’s last speck of territory is now only days from completion, Kurdish commanders said, with perhaps several hundred hardcore members dug into the centre of Baghuz village, a hamlet on the banks of the river Euphrates. A coalition military official said Isis had fired on the wives of fighters as they attempted to flee on Wednesday. Those “arriving to be screened are the wives of Isis fighters, some of whom sustained gunshot wounds while fleeing from Isis”, said British Maj Gen Christopher Ghika. Mustafa Bali, a Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesman, said hundreds of women and children had fled the enclave in the last few days. He said the fighters who remained appeared to be among the Isis elite who have lots of experience and are fighting “fiercely”. “They also don’t have other options. Either to surrender or die,” Bali said. Adnan Afrini, the SDF commander in Baghuz, said the fleeing families were complicating the advance of their troops, meaning he could not provide an estimate for when the town would be liberated.”

France 24: Jihadist Defeat, US Syria Pullout On Table At Coalition Talks

“Defence ministers from the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group meet on Friday in Munich to discuss how to reorganise in Syria after the defeat of the last pocket of jihadists and the departure of US troops. Time is short: IS fighters are cornered by an Arab-Kurdish militia backed by the US in a last battle over the remaining patch of territory the militants control in northeastern Syria. With defeat of IS's self-declared "caliphate" imminent, American troops are set to withdraw from Kurdish-controlled areas, prompting a repositioning of the remaining players in the region. Around 20 ministers including those from the US, France, Britain, and Germany will take part in the meeting, according to one source. US forces are the largest contributors by far to the anti-IS coalition and their pullout will leave a vacuum in Syria where major powers are jostling for influence. US President Donald Trump announced the pullout of around 2,000 US troops in December, stunning allies including France and Britain who warned the fight against jihadists was not finished. "The withdrawal of the American troops from Syria will evidently be at the heart of discussions," said French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly.”

The Daily Beast: In Much Of Iraq, ISIS Still Rules The Night

“Buzz and bustle has returned to the Iraqi capital as a million-plus visitors cram the international book fair, with whole families buying books by the armload, a sign of recovery of Iraq’s reputation as a center for literature and learning, instead of ISIS and car bombs. Young men sporting multi-colored mohawks rap out beat poetry to flute accompaniment near the historic Qishla clock tower, with a crowd of mostly men nodding in time to the music and smiling at the tale of a soldier who left his love for the front lines only to find that his brother married her in his absence. And traffic crawls at a near standstill as cars drop off whole families at the glittering but heavily guarded multi-storied Babylon Mall, where a neon-lit fountain beckons visitors to have coffee and shop in peace behind an artfully disguised blast wall. This is the shiny, happy surface of the post-ISIS campaign that Iraqi, Kurdish and foreign officials tell me is, in fact, painfully fragile, threatened at any moment to be literally blown away. Case in point, when a massive thunderclap went off as I waited for a plane in Baghdad Airport, the Iraqis around me jumped up in a panic and rushed to the window to see if they could spot the telltale curling smoke of a car bomb.”

The Washington Post: The U.S. Government And Facebook Are Negotiating A Record, Multi-Billion Dollar Fine For The Company’s Privacy Lapses

“The Federal Trade Commission and Facebook are negotiating over a multi-billion dollar fine that would settle the agency’s investigation into the social media giant’s privacy practices, according to two people familiar with the probe. The fine would be the largest the agency has ever imposed on a technology company, but the two sides have not yet agreed on an exact amount. Facebook has expressed initial concern with the FTC’s demands, one of the people said. If talks break down, the FTC could take the matter to court in what would likely be a bruising legal fight. Facebook confirmed it is in discussions with the agency but declined to comment further. The FTC declined to comment. The two people familiar with the probe spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private talks. A multi-billion dollar fine would amount to a reckoning for Facebook in the United States after a series of privacy lapses that may have put the personal information of its users at risk. Lawmakers have faulted the company for mishandling that data while failing to crack down on other digital ills, including the rise of online hate speech and the spread of disinformation from Russian operatives and other foreign actors.”

The New York Times: A Valentine In Uncertain Times: ‘I Kiss You Amid The Taliban’

“The poet Ramin Mazhar, who wrote these lines in Farsi, was barely 5 years old when the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to topple the Taliban’s oppressive regime. In the 18 years since, Mr. Mazhar and an entire generation of largely urban Afghans have grown up with all the basic liberties, including freedom of expression, that the Taliban had erased. But as American diplomats push for a deal with the Taliban to end the long war, Mr. Mazhar’s generation has been gripped by fear that those liberties could be at risk. Even Valentine’s Day has taken on a tinge of protest. In the Afghan tradition, love is often expressed through flowery poetry. This year, artists and activists like Mr. Mazhar are using Valentine’s Day to offer verses of a different sort, raising their voices against any potential erosion of rights. After Taliban representatives met with Afghan politicians in Moscow last week, smiling and exchanging handshakes in a scene of seeming bonhomie, Mr. Mazhar read his poem in a small auditorium at Kabul University as an emblem of dissent. His message: The mostly older leaders who sat with the Taliban did not represent the values that shaped his generation. His friends were nervous, he said, that his poem’s criticism of conservative thinking might prompt someone to throw a shoe at his face.”

United States

Associated Press: Pence Urges Europe To Quit Iran Deal, Stop Busting Sanctions

“The Trump administration lashed out at some of America’s closest traditional allies Thursday, accusing Britain, France and Germany of trying to bust U.S. sanctions against Iran and calling on European nations to join the United States in withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal. In an unusually blunt speech to a Middle East conference in Poland, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence slammed the three countries and the European Union as a whole for remaining parties to the landmark 2015 agreement after President Donald Trump withdrew from it last year and re-imposed tough sanctions on Iran. The harsh criticism threatened to further chill U.S.-European ties that are already badly strained on many issues, including trade and defense spending. And it underscored the stark two-year trans-Atlantic divide over Iran that manifested itself again ahead of the Warsaw conference co-hosted by the U.S. and Poland. France and Germany declined to send their top diplomats to the ministerial-level meeting. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also stayed away due to concerns it would become an anti-Iran vehicle. Britain, France and Germany, along with the rest of the EU, continue to support the nuclear deal as the best way to prevent Iran from developing atomic weapons.”

Arab News: US Slams Iran For Prolonging Yemen War And Blocking Peace

“The US on Thursday accused Iran of prolonging the war in Yemen with its support for the Houthis and called on Tehran to help make a ceasefire agreement a success. Speaking to Arab News at the Middle East conference in Warsaw, Washington’s special represenative for Iran Brian Hook said there had been extensive discussion at the meeting of the war, which is now in its fifth year. While Hook accused Tehran of being the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East, he urged the regime to play a positive role in the process that seeks to bring an end to the conflict in Yemen. “This conference was a very useful opportunity for us to educate the world about the very dangerous role Iran has played and continues to play in Yemen,” Hook said. “We have a very good agreement that came out of Sweden, Stockholm, but we now need the will of Iran and Houthis to implement the agreement. That is the diplomatic role that we need to take and we very much urge Iran and the Houthis to take that role.”


The Washington Times: ISIS Caliphate 'Crushed' But Threat Remains, U.S. Special Ops Commander Says

“The threat from the Islamic State caliphate has largely diminished, but the terror group remains a threat, the head of U.S. special operations warned lawmakers Thursday. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday, General Raymond Thomas, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, declared, “We have crushed the physical caliphate” ISIS established in Syria and Iraq. “The terrain that ISIS formerly maintained, a sanctuary from where they drew their resources, specifically oil resources, has been badly diminished,” he explained, “but they continue to be a threat.” Gen. Thomas appeared before the committee alongside acting Assistant Secretary of Defense Owen West and Gen. Paul Nakasone, head of U.S. Cyber Command, to testify on cybersecurity threats. Lawmakers grilled the senior military officials on the military’s cyber capabilities, the existing threat of ISIS, and withdrawing troops from Syria.”

Military Times: US forces have 1,000 ISIS detainees — and don’t know what to do with them

“The Islamic State’s physical territory has dwindled to a ramshackle camp only a few square kilometers wide in eastern Syria’s Deir Ez Zor province. But as the so-called caliphate’s end nears, questions remain about what will become of the roughly 1,000 ISIS fighters who have been detained by U.S. troops and local allies. While some of the ISIS detainees are front-lines troops and untrained cannon fodder, a significant cohort of them are also more capable militants trained as external operation planners and master bomb makers who pose a threat to the U.S. and its allies. “It’s closer to a thousand than it is hundreds already in detention, with more to potentially come,” Army Gen. Raymond Thomas, III, who helms U.S. Special Operations Command, said at a Senate hearing Thursday. “[It’s] a huge area of concern for us, especially because they’re being detained by the non-nation state that’s otherwise known as the Syrian Democratic Forces." U.S.-backed SDF troops, who fought to clear ISIS out of the eastern portion of Syria, have been in limbo ever since the Trump administration announced that U.S. forces would eventually depart the country after ISIS’ defeat. Early on in the anti-ISIS campaign, some within the SDF hoped to create their own nation.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: ISIS Trapped In Last Kilometer In Syria’s Baghouz

“The last remaining ISIS terrorists in eastern Syria were holed up in a square kilometer in the small town of Baghouz, announced Adnan Afrin, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). “The fighting is fierce. There is significant resistance," he told AFP in Al-Omar oil field, the main staging base for the SDF's offensive against the very last shred of ISIS. The Kurdish-led force had mounted an offensive against ISIS’ final position over the weekend. The few hundred fighters of various nationalities holding out in their last bastion by the Iraqi border have launched bruising counter-attacks in recent days, Afrin said. The extremists are also clinging to an adjacent camp, where a number of civilians are believed to be gathered. Afrin said it was impossible to provide accurate figures but he estimated the total number of fighters, men and women, at around 1,000. "There are many tunnels in Baghouz now. This is why the operation is dragging on. There are many suicide bombers attacking our positions, with explosives-laden cars and motorbikes," he said. People continued to trickle out of the last ISIS redoubt every day, trudging up a dirt road to a collection point where SDF fighters and volunteers provide first aid and carry out a first screening.”

The Jerusalem Post: Who Will Fill The Vacuum Left By ISIS?

“Following extensive international media coverage, the United States recently announced it will be withdrawing its military forces from the Iraq-Syria border and from northern Syria. This declaration came after US President Donald Trump claimed ISIS had been defeated. He added that the move had been coordinated with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, following a months-long Syrian-Russian-Turkish initiative to create a buffer zone in the Idlib region. Idlib is the last important area still under Syrian rebel control. A few thousand terrorists belonging to Jabhat al-Nusra, a local Salafist group that is the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, still remain in Idlib. Fighting in the area is still ongoing. As a result, Syria requires vital military support from Iran and Russia. Turkey is, of course, concerned about renewed Kurdish activity, and the international and internal discourse regarding the Kurdish struggle for independence. In addition, continued violence in Syria could lead to a new wave of Syrian refugees heading for the border with Turkey. A very interesting phenomenon has taken place in the Idlib area of Syria: the presence of the Islamic State has almost completely disappeared. This radical Salafist group, which suddenly arrived on the scene a few years ago, and whose rule peaked and then sizzled about six months ago, operated as a quasi-governmental entity.”

The Washington Examiner: ISIS Fighters Accused Of Atrocities As Caliphate Teeters On ‘Verge Of Collapse’

“The last days of ISIS’ physical caliphate are desperate times for the remaining fighters who are being routed by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the Middle Euphrates River valley. "ISIS is on the verge of collapse and the end of the physical caliphate is at hand,” said British Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika in a statement issued this morning, while cautioning the liberation of the last of the territory held by ISIS does not signal the end of this campaign. The U.S.-led coalition said ISIS fighters are trying to melt into the local population and mix in with civilians who have been fleeing the fighting. Some ISIS members were said to have shot their own wives to prevent them from escaping. "Amongst those arriving to be screened are the wives of ISIS fighters, some of whom sustained gunshot wounds while fleeing from ISIS," said Ghika, a senior spokesman for the coalition. "These utterly despicable and ghastly acts further illustrate their barbaric nature and desperation as ISIS struggles to hold onto their remaining territory.” The latest summary of air and artillery strikes launched by the coalition is one measure of the level of fighting over the past two weeks. For the period between Jan. 27 and Feb. 9, the coalition conducted 199 strikes against 326 targets in both Syria and Iraq.”


Al Jazeera: Iran's Rouhani Vows Punishment For Sistan-Baluchestan Attack

“Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has condemned the suicide bombing in the country's Sistan-Baluchestan province, and vowed to punish the "criminal mercenaries" who carried out the attack that killed 27 members of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. "Without a doubt, all perpetrators and those who ordered this vicious, flagrant act will be punished soon with the hard work of the powerful security forces of the country," Rouhani said in a statement published on his website on Thursday. He said that the attack on Wednesday night was "another shame in the dark history of the main sponsors of terrorism", drawing a link between the incident and actions by the United States, Israel and their "regional agents" against Iran. In a separate statement before leaving for the Russian city of Sochi, Rouhani was also quoted by the IRNA news agency as saying that Tehran will make those responsible for the deadly incident "pay for the blood of our martyrs". Later, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, also weighed in saying that the link between the perpetrators of the attack "and the spy agencies of certain regional and extra-regional countries is obvious". He also ordered the Revolutionary Guard to investigate "any probable negligence" that might have led to the incident.”

The Wall Street Journal: Keep Your Revolution To Yourself, Iran

“Iran’s government is celebrating four decades of “revolution.” Since 1979, it has exported violent destabilization to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and my country, Yemen, and sponsored terrorist attacks on almost every continent. Iran’s leaders have enriched themselves at the expense of their people, and intimidated nations far beyond their borders. Happy 40th anniversary! But leave us out of it. For four years, war has afflicted Yemen’s people, precipitated by the Iran-backed Houthi militias’ coup in Sana’a and attempted takeover of the country. As President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi has rightfully affirmed, Yemenis want no part of Iran’s revolution. They want a government that answers to them, not to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Yemenis abhor sectarianism. We reject the Iranian model that pits communities against each other. Yemenis are humble. We lack the natural resources of our neighbors, and harbor no ambitions of playing geopolitics among great powers.”

Voice Of America: Iran’s Teachers Denounce Suppression Of Rights In Biggest Protests In Months

“Iranian teachers have staged peaceful rallies in at least six cities to protest what they see as government suppression of their rights and to call for better working conditions in their poorly paid profession. Images verified by VOA Persian and sent from social media users inside Iran showed teachers rallying Wednesday outside education departments in the northern cities of Ardabil and Urmia, the northwestern cities of Kermanshah, Marivan and Sanandaj, and in the northeastern city of Mashhad. It was the largest-scale protest by Iranian teachers since mid-November, when the Telegram channel of the Coordinating Council of Teachers Syndicates in Iran (CCTSI) posted photos of elementary and high school teachers staging sit-ins and holding protest signs in and outside their offices in at least 27 cities. That strike action followed a similar round of nationwide teacher protests in Iran in mid-October.”


Daily Mail: Bomb Blast Kills Eight Shiite Militiamen In Iraq

“Eight members of a militia linked to Iraq's powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr were killed Thursday in a bomb blast north of Baghdad, security sources said. The roadside bomb exploded when a convoy of Saraya al-Salam drove along a highway near Samarra, one source said, adding that several people were also wounded in the attack. One of the eight militiamen killed was a commander who took part in anti-jihadist operations in Iraq, said another source. Samarra -- a Sunni majority region -- is home to a major Iraqi security headquarters and to an important Shiite shrine where a 2006 bombing touched off two years of sectarian bloodletting. The militia, led by Sadr whose political alliance triumphed in May 2018 parliamentary elections, has been deployed in the Samarra region since 2014 when the Islamic State group swept across Iraq.”

Kurdistan 24: Iraqi Security Cracks Down On ISIS Sleeper Cells In Separate Operations

“In separate operations on Thursday, Iraqi security forces cracked down on Islamic State sleeper cells, arresting two members of the extremist group. In a statement released by an Iraqi intelligence directorate, troops captured an Islamic State “spy” working for the militant group in the province of Anbar in western Iraq. According to the statement, the arrest was carried out “in cooperation with the intelligence [unit] of the 1st Battalion Infantry Brigade 39, and after following accurate intelligence.” “The terrorist is a member of the Islamic State and was responsible for reporting on the movements of our [Iraqi] security forces ahead of liberation operations,” it added. Elsewhere, security arrested another Islamic State member inside the al-Jadah camp in the town of Qayara, about 60 kilometers south of Mosul. A separate statement by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense claimed that the detainee “specialized in the creation of propaganda on behalf of the terrorist group,” including the production of video content. Both suspects are expected to be charged under Article 4 of Iraq's anti-terrorism law. Neither statement revealed the identity of the suspects.”

Xinhua: Anti-IS Raid, Bombing Kill 6 Militants, Police Officer In North-Central Iraq

“A total of six Islamic State (IS) militants and a police officer were killed on Thursday in separate incidents in Iraq's north-central province of Salahudin, a provincial police source said. "A joint force of Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) and provincial police commandos conducted an operation against IS hideouts in Mteibijah, a rugged area in the eastern part of the province, killing six of the extremist militants and confiscating a cache of weapons and ammunition," Mohammed Khalil al-Bazi from the provincial police command told Xinhua. Iraqi security forces repeatedly tried to retake the control of Mteibijah, but the vast rugged land and nearby Himreen mountainous area have made it difficult for them to completely clear the area of the extremist militants. Earlier, hundreds of IS militants fled their former bases in the key cities in Salahudin, including the provincial capital Tikrit, some 170 km north of Baghdad, after the Iraqi forces cleared these areas during major anti-IS offensives. In another incident, a roadside bomb explosion near Makhoul Mountain, some 50 km north of Tikrit, killed Ghalib Khattab, head of explosives directorate of the provincial police, and wounded his driver.”


Ahval: Turkish Courts Charge Journalists With Terrorism Over Reports And Articles

“Experts and journalists said Turkey continues to use terrorism charges to jail journalists, sometimes without any evidence beyond their words and articles, OBC Transeuropa reported on Thursday. Lengthy pre-trial detentions and indifference to rulings from the European Court of Human Rights continue to damage Turkey’s free press, said lawyer Veysel Ok to OBC Transeuropa. “Far from fulfilling international standards, Turkey is doing the opposite,” said Ok. “The right to a fair trial is repeatedly violated and defendants are jailed on unlawful basis.” He also criticised Turkish courts taking testimonies from defendants in some cases through a video conferencing system rather than allowing the accused to physically attend the hearing. “Can you imagine that you are detained on the basis of your writings or speeches and you are not even given the chance to defend yourself in the courtroom,” he told OBC Transeuropa. In cases against journalists Turkish prosecutors routinely use statements, articles, news reports, and social media posts as evidence for charges, according to a recent joint report from the Media and Law Studies Association and the International Press Institute. Journalists speaking to OBC Transeuropa explained the lack of evidence in their cases.”

The Financial Times: Russia And Iran Take Turkey To Task On Syria Terror Groups

“Russia and Iran have demanded that Turkey honour its commitment to clear terror groups from the Syrian province of Idlib, in a sign of rising tension between the three countries as they vie for influence in the war-torn state. Disagreements over the approach to Idlib, Syria’s last opposition stronghold, which was recently overrun by Islamist extremists, have emerged as a flashpoint between the foreign powers, exacerbated in recent months by the opportunities presented by the US decision to withdraw troops from the country and rising unease in Moscow as its military campaign rumbles through a fourth year. Leaders of the three countries, which have starkly different objectives in Syria but have formed a loose, if fragile alliance to manage the conflict, met in the Russian coastal resort of Sochi on Thursday to discuss their differences, with host Vladimir Putin, Russian president, demanding the “elimination” of terror groups in Idlib. “I note that the Iranian and Turkish colleagues are ready to work together to finally relieve tensions and stabilise Idlib,” Mr Putin said. “We have agreed to take extra steps.” Turkey had said it would take responsibility for removing extremist factions from a 15km-20km buffer zone around Idlib as part of a deal struck with Moscow in September.”


The New York Times: A Shotgun Under Her Bed, This Afghan Maverick Wants No Peace With Taliban

“The driver of a car that was stopped in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, was shocked when a passing motorist rolled down the window and shouted at him: “Dirty donkey.” He was even more surprised when he looked up to see that the insult came from a woman. A woman driving a car. A woman driving a car without wearing the obligatory hijab. That was Laila Haidari who runs a popular cafe in Kabul that allows men and women to dine together, whether married or not, with or without a head scarf, and uses the profits to fund a rehabilitation clinic for drug addicts. Nearly everyone addresses Ms. Haidari, 39, as “Nana,” or “Mom,” and her supporters describe her as the “mother of a thousand children,” after the number of Afghan addicts she has reportedly saved.”

Reuters: Pakistan Says Will Host Peace Talks Between U.S. And Afghan Taliban: Minister

“The next round of peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States will be held in Pakistan as part of efforts to seek a political settlement of the 17-year Afghan war, the Pakistan’s information minister confirmed on Thursday. Fawad Chaudhry give no further details. In Washington, a State Department spokesperson said in an email that the United States had not received any formal invitation to talks in Islamabad, however, and that there was “no meeting to announce at this time.” A Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid had said on Wednesday that the insurgents’ negotiators would meet their U.S. counterparts on Feb. 18 in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. The talks would come a week ahead of previously scheduled negotiations between the two sides in Qatar on Feb. 25. Mujahid said in a statement that the Qatar talks would still take place as scheduled. Both the Islamist movement and the United States hailed progress after the end of the last round of negotiations in Qatar last month.”

The Daily Star: Daesh Suspects Behind Kabul Twin Bombing Arrested: Officials

“Afghan spy agency says it has arrested two operatives from Daesh (ISIS) suspected to be behind a twin bombing at a sports club in Kabul last year that killed at least 26 people, including two journalists. In a statement Thursday, the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) said the two men who "had planned and facilitated" the deadly attack had been detained in Kabul, though it did not mention the date and time of their arrest. In the twin bombing last September, a suicide bomber first blew himself up inside a wrestling hall in a heavily Shiite neighborhood of west Kabul, followed by a car bomb that detonated as journalists and security forces gathered at the scene. Two journalists - a reporter and cameraman - working for local Tolo News, were among the 26 dead, while at least four journalists were also among 70 people wounded in the attack. The arrests comes days after the Afghan spy agency said it had detained three suspected of being behind a truck bombing that killed 150 people in Kabul's diplomatic area in May 2017. In a statement the NDS said the trio - who were members of the Haqqani network, an ally of the Taliban - were also accused of planning a separate suicide bombing last November that killed five employees of a multinational security company G4S in Kabul.”


The Washington Post: Everything Will Change After The Kashmir Attack

“Kashmir has endured roughly 30 years of insurgency, and the region is almost tragically numbed to headlines about terrorism, turmoil and tragedy. But what unfolded Thursday — the worst terrorist attack in decades — will fundamentally change both India’s internal policy within the state and its relations with Pakistan. More than 40 paramilitary police officers were killed by a suicide bomber from the terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Indians are apoplectic. This is clearly an act of war. And the man reportedly behind it, Maulana Masood Azhar, is free and operating with absolute impunity in Pakistan. That he was released in 1999 from an Indian prison — in a swap deal for the safety of passengers taken hostage in a commercial airline — makes Indians even angrier. Two decades later, Masood Azhar has not been brought to justice. Instead, he hides in plain sight in Bahawalpur, in Pakistan’s Punjab Province, and is now allowed to address huge Islamist militant gatherings over audio speakers in other parts of Pakistan. There will almost certainly be a strong military response from India. In September 2016, when an army camp was assaulted by terrorists who had infiltrated from Pakistan into Kashmir, the Narendra Modi government sent in commandos to Pakistan to carry out targeted counterattacks.”

Reuters: Indian PM Modi Warns Pakistan Of Strong Response For Kashmir Attack

“India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned Pakistan on Friday to expect a strong response to a car bomb attack on a military convoy in Kashmir that killed 44 paramilitary policemen, ratcheting up tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors. Coming just months ahead of a general election in India, the attack was the worst in decades in Jammu and Kashmir, even though there has been a long running insurgency in the country’s only Muslim majority state. “We will give a befitting reply, our neighbor will not be allowed to destabilize us,” Modi said in a speech, after meeting with security advisers earlier to discuss options. The Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility soon after a suicide bomber rammed a explosives-laden car into a bus carrying Central Reserve Police Force personnel on Thursday. The White House urged Pakistan in a statement “to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil”. India said it had “incontrovertible evidence” of the Pakistan involvement in the attack. The Pakistan government responded with a stiff denial, while calling the attack a matter of “grave concern.”


The National: Mike Pompeo Warns Of Hezbollah’s Growing Influence In Lebanon

“US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned on Thursday of the growing influence of the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon, while reaffirming the commitment of the US to a partnership with Beirut and its people. Speaking on the margins of the Warsaw conference, Mr Pompeo told Al Hurra television station that “Hezbollah is definitely more powerful than they were four or five years ago.” “I regret that” he said in the interview. He also expressed disappointment at the absence of Lebanon from the meeting of European and Middle Eastern leaders in Poland. The decision was announced by Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil after he met his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif in Beirut last week. “We want it [Lebanon] to be unified and we want Iran out” Mr Pompeo said. The US chief diplomat said the US is committed to a partnership with Lebanese authorities despite Hezbollah’s increasing influence. “We are partners with Lebanon to achieve a good outcome for the people of Lebanon” he said. The issue of illicit funding to the group was discussed in Warsaw, including ways to “push back against their money laundering, some of which takes place through Lebanese financial institutions,” Mr Pompeo explained.”


Epoch Times: Contain Qatar: An ‘Ally’ That Finances Terror

“The time has come to add tiny, gas-drenched Qatar to America’s list of nations to contain. Containment is a Cold War-era concept hatched by U.S. foreign service officer George Frost Kennan just after World War II, while he served in America’s embassy in Moscow. In 1946, Kennan penned the “long telegram”–an 8,000-word missive to Foggy Bottom on just how hostile and horrific socialist dictator Joseph Stalin’s foreign policy had become. His conclusion: “the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” Likewise with U.S. policy toward Qatar, which must contain the Gulf state’s jihadi tendencies. America should begin by clarifying that the United States regards Qatar–a country of only 300,000 citizens, but so rich it ranks seventh in the world, above the U.S., in GDP per capita—as a hostile force.”

Middle East

The Washington Post: Russia, Turkey And Iran Agree To Coordinate On Syria Amid Potential U.S. Vacuum

“The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed Thursday on the need to coordinate on eventual arrangements for northeastern Syria after an expected U.S. troop withdrawal, but they remained far apart on what those plans could entail. The talks in Russia’s Black Sea resort town of Sochi underscored the various interests at play in Syria — Russia and Iran as key backers of President Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey seeking to keep close watch on Syrian Kurds seen by Ankara as a potential threat. The three-way statement — by Russian President Vladi*mir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani — also showed concerns over any vacuum caused by President Trump’s decision to pull out troops that have been battling the Islamic State in Syria’s northeast. “It is our joint view that the [U.S. withdrawal] is a positive move that will help stabilize this part of Syria, where legitimate government control should eventually be restored,” Putin said after the trio met for the latest round of Kremlin-initiated talks aimed at finding a way to end the eight-year conflict.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Arab Coalition Suggests Deploying Its Forces In Hodeidah

“The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen expressed on Thursday willingness to deploy forces in Hodeidah governorate under the Stockholm Agreement. “The Coalition forces reaffirm their willingness to the redeployment under the Stockholm Agreement, and call upon the United Nations and the Special Envoy for Yemen to exert pressure on the coup militia to implement the Stockholm Agreement, and hold the militia responsible for its failure,” it said in a statement. It added that it has been over six weeks since warring parties reached a deal to withdraw forces from Hodeidah and its ports under the deal signed in the Swedish capital in December. “The Coalition and legitimacy forces have fully committed themselves through all aspects of the ceasefire, and exhibited total discipline against the dangerous provocations that have exceeded 1,400 violations by Houthis, leaving many casualties and injuries,” it said. The statement accused militias of making no significant progress in the implementation of the agreement.”


U.S. News & World Report: In Libya's Former Jihadist Hotbed, Residents Hope For A Better Future

“With artillery fire rumbling in the distance, residents of Derna gathered in a streetside cafe on Saturday to discuss the future of their city, long a jihadist hotbed in eastern Libya. Libya National Army (LNA) soldiers did not declare final victory until the following day over the Islamist militants whose rules had determined life in the city since strongman Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011. But for owner Saif and his cappucino-drinking customers, the talk was already all about what should happen next with more jobs, above all to keep youngsters out of the militants' clutches, the top priority for many. "Seventy percent of residents are unemployed," he said. "We need an economic program." In a city notorious for having sent Islamist militants to Afghanistan and Syria and where citizens were prevented from voting in the 2014 national election, public services have been deteriorating for years. "We want better state services, health and schools," said Hafez, who runs a workshop. Derna has had just one small hospital since 2011 and supplies are limited. "We only have 120 beds instead of the 520 in the old hospital," said its assistant director, Adel Adwal, during a tour of the building. Only one, old X-ray machine is still functioning, but "it can break down any moment," he said.”

Voice Of America: US Military Denies Taking Part In Raid On Al-Qaida Site In Libya

“The U.S. military denied on Thursday taking part in a raid on an al-Qaida site in the Libyan city of Ubari, contradicting a statement by a Libyan official. The spokesperson for Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the Presidency Council of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord of Libya, said in a statement late Wednesday that a site with a number of al-Qaida members in Ubari was "raided" by joint U.S.-Libyan forces. "This joint work between the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord and the U.S. Government coincided with the meeting of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Foreign Minister Mohamed Sayala at the Global Coalition To Defeat Islamic State meeting last week," spokesperson Mohamed El Sallak said in the statement. But U.S. Africa Command, which is responsible for American troops in the area, said that although the United States supports what is described as counterterrorism efforts of the U.N.-recognized Libyan government, U.S. forces were not involved in the raid. "U.S. Africa Command was not involved in the reported raid of an al-Qaeda site in Ubari, Libya, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019," it said in a statement. "U.S. Africa Command has not conducted any air strikes in Libya in 2019."


CNN: Group With ISIS Ties Claims Responsibility For Attack On Nigerian Governor's Convoy

“A terror group with links to ISIS has claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a motorcade carrying a Nigerian state governor. Borno State Gov. Kashim Shettima's motorcade was traveling from the state capital of Maiduguri to a campaign rally in the village of Gamboru when it was ambushed Tuesday night. The Islamic State's West Africa Province terror group has claimed responsibility, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. Isa Gusau, a media aide for Shettima, told CNN on Thursday that security agencies were investigating the attack that he said killed three people. The terror group claimed that 42 people died in the assault. Militants ambushed the governor to attract media attention and spread its "propaganda strategy," Gusau said. "They (Boko Haram) feed on publicity and they did that to generate attention. So far only three died," Gusau said. The Islamic State's West Africa Province broke away from Boko Haram and forged stronger links with ISIS. The group has staged high-profile attacks in recent months on military bases, killing soldiers and burning villages in northern Nigeria despite claims by the Nigerian army that the group has been technically defeated. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has been criticized for failing to deliver on his campaign promises to end the years-long insurgency that has left thousands displaced in the northeastern part of the West African nation.”

The Wall Street Journal: Fake News Rattles Nigerian Election Campaign

“A recycled image of a baby with machete wounds being peddled as part of a current massacre. A fake endorsement from the U.S. ambassador. Reports that the president has been replaced with a Sudanese body double. As Nigeria prepares for elections on Saturday, it is grappling with the fake-news epidemic spreading across the continent. The problem has become so acute that the government of Africa’s most populous nation has warned that misinformation could be the biggest threat to credible elections. The police force is using radio broadcasts and telephone hotlines to counter misinformation. The government has said the sharing of fake images along with incorrect and inflammatory commentary have led to deaths in the country’s central region. Fake news has upended elections across the globe but found particularly fertile ground in Africa, where 54 countries, more than 1,000 languages and chronically underfunded local media complicate efforts to combat the spread of rumors and misinformation. The proliferation of fake news through Facebook Inc. and its WhatsApp messaging platform exacerbates tense ethnic, political, religious and social divides.”

U.S. News & World Report: Nigeria 'Delta Avengers' Militants Vow to Cripple Economy if Buhari Re-Elected

“A militant group in Nigeria's oil-rich southern Niger Delta threatened on Thursday to cripple the economy if President Muhammadu Buhari is re-elected on Saturday. The Niger Delta Avengers - who want their area to get a greater share of the oil revenue it produces - said they backed opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar and his promises to devolve more power to the regions. The Niger Delta Avengers were behind a 2016 wave of violence, including attacks on pipelines and other facilities, that helped push Nigeria into recession. The group, in a statement posted on its website, warned that if Buhari is re-elected there would be "a perpetual recession for Nigeria". Buhari later made a televised address promising that the government would ensuring a free, fair and peaceful vote, without making any reference to the Avengers' statement. His spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Attacks in the Niger Delta in 2016 cut Nigeria's crude output from a peak of 2.2 million barrels per day (mbpd) to near 1 mbpd - the lowest level seen in Africa's biggest economy in at least 30 years. That, combined with low oil prices, pushed the OPEC member state into its first recession in a quarter of a century - crude sales make up two-thirds of government revenue and 90 percent of its foreign exchange.”

The Economist: Boko Haram, Nigeria’s Jihadist Group, Is Regaining Strength

“A wild-eyed Nigerian soldier looks into the camera: “We don’t have adequate weapons,” he says. “We can’t just be wasting our lives.” Nigerian opposition activists, who have circulated the video widely, say it shows soldiers fleeing an offensive by Boko Haram, the bloodthirsty jihadists terrorising north-eastern Nigeria, in December. Army officials say the footage is from 2014, the nadir of their fight against the militants. Few believe the official line. Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president, came to power in 2015 promising to defeat Boko Haram. His inauguration was followed by military success. Insurgents were expelled from towns they had captured and forced into the bush. But this was followed by three years of stalemate that is now beginning to look like defeat.”


France 24: Jihadist Repatriation Poses Dilemmas For North African States

“As the net closes on remaining Islamic State group diehards in eastern Syria, the fate of captured foreign fighters and their families has grown into a major international headache. Many countries remain reluctant to repatriate their jihadist citizens, due to public opposition, the cost of prolonged detentions and concerns that they could pose a security threat. But pressure is rising on governments to take responsibility for those captured, especially after US President Donald Trump declared in December that American troops will be withdrawn from Syria, leaving local allies facing a struggle to keep prisoners in detention. North African states Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria have between them seen thousands leave to join jihadist groups in recent years and each has grappled with the issue in its own way. Tunisia has been one of the key sources of foreign fighters heading to conflicts around the world, with the UN in 2015 saying that some 5,000 citizens had flocked to mainly Syria and Libya. Under the country's constitution the authorities say they have an obligation to accept those who come home of their own accord, and at least 800 jihadists were either detained or placed under surveillance after making their own way back by late 2016.”

United Kingdom

The Independent: Most ‘ISIS Brides’ I Met In Syria Showed Signs Of Regret, Even Shame. Shamima Begum Is Different

“They climbed down from the trucks in a cloud of dust. More than 1,000 women and children had just left the last few square miles of Isis-held territory, broken and exhausted from fleeing the last battle. Waiting for them at the screening point in the Syrian desert last month were stern-looking Kurdish intelligence officials and US special forces soldiers. As far as they were concerned, these families who had stayed in the caliphate until its dying days were willing supporters of Isis. More than 20,000 women and children have gone through the same process in the past two months, before moving on to al-Hol displacement camp further north. Shamima Begum, the British teenager who fled her home in Bethnal Green to join Isis, would have made the same journey not so long ago. At times, there seemed to be more foreigners there than Syrians. Women from Iraq, Kazakhstan, even as far afield as Russia. “Isis brides”, they are called. “They didn’t come here for tourism,” said one Kurdish official, curtly. His implication was that these people were civilians, but they were not entirely innocent. But as I walked among the tired families, slumped on the ground, I could find no one who was willing to admit to being a willing citizen of the caliphate they had just left.”


Toronto Sun: Toronto ISIS Terrorist Sentenced To 7 Years In Prison

“A woman found guilty of terror charges for attacking workers at a Toronto-area Canadian Tire store has been sentenced to seven years in prison. Rehab Dughmosh was found guilty of four terrorism-related charges after attacking workers with a golf club and a butcher’s knife while draped in an ISIL banner in June 2017. She had also previously tried to travel to Syria to join ISIL, and one of the charges stemmed from that incident. Justice Maureen Forestell says the 34-year-old woman’s mental illness played a significant role in the attack and her attempts to join Islamic State militants in Syria. The judge says Dughmosh’s mental illness, likely schizophrenia, made her vulnerable to extremist beliefs. Dughmosh is not represented by a lawyer, but the person appointed by the court to assist her said she has shown significant improvement over time and no longer experiences suicidal or homicidal ideation.”


News Australia: Sydney Man Guilty Of Trying To Join ISIS

“An Islamist extremist from Sydney, who tried to enter Syria to fight for the terrorist organisation ISIS, gathered military equipment and was making final preparations in Turkey before his plan unravelled at the border. Amin Elmir, a 29-year-old from Bass Hill, pleaded guilty in the NSW Supreme Court on February 4, but documents detailing his crimes were only released by the court on Friday. They show Elmir, an Australian citizen, spoke frequently with a radicalised Australian known as EB who had travelled to Turkey in January 2015. A year later, in April 2016, EB - the son of Turkish migrants - helped guide Elmir around Turkey and contacted people who could help the would-be jihadi enter the so-called Caliphate. But police had searched EB's phone following his own trip to his parents' homeland and had infiltrated his networks. On May 25, the teenager messaged undercover officers asking for help getting his "bro in Turkey" into Syria. In June, a panic-stricken Elmir messaged EB after he got into a fight with the commander of a Turkish safehouse about Islam. "Bro they threw me out on the street with all military equipment they even tried to rob (me)," Elmir told EB. "I'm in the middle of the street with bags and I can't get a hotel."


Bloomberg: The West Should Let Islamic State Recruits Come Back Home

“Islamic State seduced an East London teenager named Shamima Begum in the winter of 2014. It used social media and personal appeals to spin a web around the 15-year-old, persuading her with emoji-studded messages, romantic memes and predatory religious tropes that a life of social justice and spiritual meaning awaited her in Syria in its self-declared caliphate. Begum disappeared in February, 2015, and resurfaced a week later in Raqqa, the Syrian city that Islamic State declared its capital. Now, pregnant and with two of her children dead, she wants to come home. Lots of Britons don’t want her back. Many Western countries are confronting the same problem: what to do about hundreds of citizens who were enticed to join Islamic State’s violent jihad. And it’s only going to get worse. Islamic State’s battlefield defeat has left northeastern Syria in the hands of a largely Kurdish militia that has held foreign fighters in detention for the last couple of years. The region looks poised to return, sooner or later, to government control, meaning that more of the foreigners are going to want to leave. Many Western security officials and politicians take the view that it makes sense to reject these appeals forever.”

Southeast Asia

The Straits Times: Singaporean Businessman, Who Funded ISIS Fighter, And His Friend Detained Under ISA

“Two radicalised Singaporeans, one of whom was based in Johor and had been supporting the top Malaysian ISIS fighter in Syria, have been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA). The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced on Friday (Feb 15) that businessman Mohamed Kazali Salleh, 48, and his Singapore-based friend Hazim Syahmi Mahfoot, 28, a freelance car exporter, were issued detention orders last month. The Royal Malaysian Police (RMP) also announced on Friday that they had arrested Kazali and five other individuals in operations in Johor, Selangor and Sabah in the past two months for involvement in militant groups. News of these latest arrests came as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) caliphate has been dismantled, with several hundred mostly foreign fighters making their last stand to defend an area under 1 sq km near Syria’s border with Iraq. However, security authorities remain concerned that the extremist ideology that fuelled the group remains active, and will continue to spread as foreign fighters seek to return home as well as export their battles to South-east Asia and elsewhere, including through social media. In Kazali’s case, he had funded and been in active contact with Syria-based ISIS militant Wan Mohd Aquil Wan Zainal Abidin, also known as Akel Zainal, MHA said.”

Free Malaysia Today: 6 Arrested For Planning Attacks, Links To Militants

“Authorities said today they had arrested six people, including four foreigners, suspected of planning attacks or being members of militant groups. Malaysia has been on high alert since gunmen allied with the Islamic State (IS) carried out a series of attacks in Jakarta, the capital of neighbouring Indonesia, in January 2016. Police said the six were arrested in five separate raids between December and January, on suspicion of planning attacks or having links to militant groups. “They include two Malaysians and four foreigners from Singapore, Bangladesh, the Philippines and a South Asian country,” Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement posted on social media. The group included a 48-year-old Singaporean accused of planning to attack a building used by Freemasons in Johor. He is believed to have links with Akel Zainal, a Malaysian identified as an IS fighter in Syria, police said. Police also detained a suspected member of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in a separate raid in Sabah, where he worked as a labourer. The 21-year-old suspect is believed to have ties with ASG leader Furuji Indama, Fuzi said. A 28-year-old man from an unidentified South Asian country was arrested during a raid in Selangor.”

South America

Foreign Policy: Paraguay Is A Fiscal Paradise For Terrorists

“The U.S. Department of Justice last year designated Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party and militant group, as a transnational criminal organization, thanks to its long-standing and well-documented partnership with Latin American drug cartels. A focal point of Hezbollah operations in the Western Hemisphere is the Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, a sanctuary for all sorts of organized crime. Numerous terrorism financing, money laundering, and drug trafficking cases in U.S. courts involve Hezbollah-aligned Lebanese nationals who operate there. Argentina and Brazil have shown an increased readiness to take action against Hezbollah, but Paraguay, the country where Hezbollah is most vulnerable to action, is the most reluctant to recognize the challenge.”

Haaretz: Venezuela’s President Maduro Says Rival ‘Serves The Interests Of The United States And The Zionists’

“The president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, called the self-declared interim president and opposition leader Juan Guaido “a CIA agent who serves the interests of the United States and the Zionists” in an interview with the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese media group, Al-Mayadeen. He added in the interview posted on Tuesday that he feels “love for the noble Palestinian cause,” and sent words of “encouragement to the Palestinian and Arab prisoners confined in Israeli jails.” Maduro denied that there are Hezbollah operatives acting in Venezuela. And he blamed the United States for trying seize the wealth and oil of Venezuela. Guaido, the president of the National Assembly of Venezuela, on January 23 declared himself the country’s interim president and called on Maduro to order new elections. The United States, the European Union and other world leaders maintain that Maduro’s re-election last year was fraudulent. The country’s military remains loyal to Maduro, however.”

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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