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Arrow Eye on Extremism December 21, 2018

Eye on Extremism
December 21, 2018

The New York Times: U.S. To Withdraw About 7,000 Troops From Afghanistan, Officials Say

“The Trump administration has ordered the military to start withdrawing roughly 7,000 troops from Afghanistan in the coming months, two defense officials said Thursday, an abrupt shift in the 17-year-old war there and a decision that stunned Afghan officials, who said they had not been briefed on the plans. President Trump made the decision to pull the troops — about half the number the United States has in Afghanistan now — at the same time he decided to pull American forces out of Syria, one official said. The announcement came hours after Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, said that he would resign from his position at the end of February after disagreeing with the president over his approach to policy in the Middle East. The whirlwind of troop withdrawals and the resignation of Mr. Mattis leave a murky picture for what is next in the United States’ longest war, and they come as Afghanistan has been troubled by spasms of violence afflicting the capital, Kabul, and other important areas.”

U.S. News & World Report: U.S. Air Campaign Against Islamic State In Syria Likely To End

“The United States will likely end its air campaign against Islamic State in Syria when it pulls out troops, U.S. officials said on Thursday, as President Donald Trump defended the planned withdrawal against criticism from allies abroad and at home. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who had opposed Trump's decision on Syria, abruptly announced on Thursday he was resigning after meeting with the president. In a candid letter to Trump, the retired Marine general emphasized the importance of "showing respect" to allies. NATO allies France and Germany said Washington's change of course on Syria risks damaging the fight against Islamic State, the militant group that had seized swathes of Iraq and Syria but has now been squeezed to a sliver of Syrian territory. Several of Trump's fellow Republicans in Congress, joined by opposition Democrats, urged the president to reverse course, saying the withdrawal would strengthen the hand of Russia and Iran in Syria and enable a resurgence of Islamic State. Trump, however, gave no sign of changing his mind and lashed out at Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who is sometimes an ally of the president but who has said a withdrawal would have "devastating consequences" for the United States.”

The Washington Post: Israel Begins Destruction Of Hezbollah Tunnels

“The Israeli military says it has begun destroying a network of cross-border tunnels built by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group. Israel this month announced the discovery of the tunnels, which it says were part of a Hezbollah attack plot. So far, it has uncovered four tunnels in an open-ended operation meant to destroy the entire network. Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said Thursday that forces have begun destroying the tunnels in a new phase of the operation. He would not say how many tunnels were being targeted, but said forces were working at more than one location. He says each tunnel will take many hours to destroy, and all activity is taking place in Israeli territory. Israel and the U.N. say the tunnels violate a 2006 cease-fire resolution.”

The New York Times: Kurdish Fighters Discuss Releasing Almost 3,200 ISIS Prisoners

“America’s Kurdish allies in Syria are discussing the release of 3,200 Islamic State prisoners, a prominent monitoring group and a Western official of the anti-Islamic State coalition said on Thursday, a day after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of all American troops from the country. Top officials of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-led and American-supported militia fighting the Islamic State in eastern Syria, met on Wednesday to discuss the option of releasing about 1,100 Islamic State fighters and 2,080 relatives of the group’s members, according to Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights. Mostapha Bali, the spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, or S.D.F., denied that there had been any discussion of releasing prisoners from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. “Any news coming from such sources is not reliable and is not coming from us,” he said. But a Western official from the United States-led coalition fighting in Syria, which includes more than a dozen countries, confirmed that such discussions had taken place. “The best result of terrible options is probably for the Syrian regime to take custody of these people,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to discuss the matter on the record.”

France 24: French Jihadist Cherif Arrested In Djibouti

“French jihadist Peter Cherif, a known associate of the Kouachi brothers who killed 12 people in the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, has been arrested in Djibouti said an informed source Thursday. Cherif, also known by the pseudonym Abou Hamza, is being held while awaiting transfer to France, said the source. He was linked to a Paris jihadist cell and was named in the enquiry into the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 over his regular contact with the perpetrators Said and Cherif Kouachi. The Kouachi brothers were shot dead by French police days after the murderous attack. Peter Cherif was first arrested in Iraq in 2004 when he was fighting in the Al Qaeda ranks. Condemned to 15 years in a Baghdad prison, he managed to escaped in 2007 and headed for Syria. He was later extradited to France and incarcerated for 18 months before fleeing to Yemen. In 2015 Cherif was placed on a US list of “designated global terrorist” as a member of Al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate AQAP.”

Daily Mail: The Sorry Terrorist: Australia’s Most Wanted ISIS Extremist Says He Feels ‘Repentant’ For Joining The Barbaric Group

“An Australian jihadi has confessed he regrets joining Islamic State after being locked up for more than two years in a maximum security prison in Turkey. Standing before the Turkish court, Neil Prakash, 27, admitted he made an error in judgment to join the extremist group, The Herald Sun reports. 'I feel regret for joining the Islamic State and for the time I spent with them. I feel repentant,' Prakash said in court. The Melbourne-born jihadi has spent two years and two months in a H-Type maximum-security prison in Gaziantep, Turkey. Prakash is facing terrorism charges for being a member of a terrorist organisation committing crimes against the state of Turkey. He faces up to seven-and-a-half to 15 years in prison if found guilty. In July, the Australian government lost a bid to have Prakash extradited to face local terrorism charges. The Muslim convert became radicalised at a Melbourne bookshop and moved to Syria in 2013. He fought with the caliphate for three years before paying a people smuggler to take him to Turkey. Yet he was caught crossing the Syrian border into Turkey and arrested by police after an Australian tip off in October 2016.”

United States

Business Insider: Trump Walks Back Claim That ISIS Is 'Defeated' A Day After His Announcement

“President Donald Trump on Thursday seemed walk back his claim that ISIS, also known as the Islamic State Group, has been totally defeated, which he had cited a day before as the reason for his decision to abruptly pull US troops out of Syria. Trump on Thursday tweeted that his decision to pull roughly 2,000 US troops out of Syria means other countries, including US adversaries, will have to continue the fight against ISIS. "Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight," Trump said. He added: "Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us. I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!" Russian President Vladimir Putin actually applauded Trump's decision to pull US troops out of Syria on Thursday. "The fact that the US has decided to withdraw its troops is right," Putin said at an annual press conference. The White House did not immediately respond for comment.”

The New York Times: American Withdrawal From Syria Shakes Up The Middle East

“The American decision to withdraw from Syria has abruptly scrambled the geopolitics of the Middle East, clearing the way for Iran to expand its influence across the region, leaving Israel virtually alone to stop it, and raising the prospect that thousands of Islamic State prisoners could be set free. Beyond the region, President Trump’s announcement ricocheted Thursday from Moscow, where it was praised, to Washington, where it was the catalyst for the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. The decision shows that even a relatively small move — the United States has only about 2,000 troops in Syria — can have far-reaching consequences in a complex war, leaving allies struggling to cope and adversaries pleased and emboldened. “Donald’s right, and I agree with him,” said President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whose influence over Syria can only grow more dominant as the United States exits.”

The Wall Street Journal: James Mattis To Depart As Defense Chief Over Troop Withdrawals From Syria, Afghanistan

“Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he would resign at the end of February after President Trump ordered the drawdown of all troops from Syria and many from Afghanistan, because his views no longer “aligned” with the president’s, an abrupt departure of a military figure considered a stalwart of national security. Mr. Mattis told the president he would quit during a White House meeting Thursday afternoon, after expressing concern about the president’s surprise call to rapidly withdraw more than 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria as well as the prospect of beginning to withdraw as many as half of the 14,000 troops now in Afghanistan in a matter of weeks. Military officials fear the moves could lead to the re-emergence of Islamic State or like-minded groups in countries where the military has made heavy investments or endanger the U.S.’s on-the-ground partners, U.S. officials said. Mr. Trump said Wednesday ISIS had been defeated in Syria and it is time to bring the troops home. He hasn’t addressed the drawdown in Afghanistan this week.”


The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Sets Syria Exit Plan As Allies Pledge To Carry Anti-ISIS Fight

“The Pentagon must develop and submit its plan to the White House to pull U.S. troops out of Syria by Wednesday, said officials, who calculated that a full withdrawal could take as long as three months. As military officials scrambled to produce an exit plan over Christmas, President Trump on Thursday defended his decision to order 2,000 U.S. service members to return home from Syria amid a growing schism between Washington and coalition partners who vowed to continue fighting the Islamic State extremist group. A day after Mr. Trump declared victory and ordered the U.S. to withdraw, he appeared Thursday to acknowledge that Islamic State, or ISIS, remained dangerous. But he said others had a responsibility to counter the group’s fighters, who once controlled large swaths of land in the Middle East. “Getting out of Syria was no surprise,” Mr. Trump wrote. “I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer.” The withdrawal plan announced Wednesday drew criticism from within the White House, among both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, the State Department and in the U.S. military. Many of them were concerned the move would embolden Iran’s presence in Syria and allow Islamic State to regroup.”

The Hill: US Will Close Base In Syria That Russia Complained About

“The U.S. is set to close a base in Syria which has drawn the ire of Russia, Buzzfeed reported Thursday. Special forces will be withdrawn from the Al-Tanf base near the Syrian border with Jordan, rebel commander Muhannad al-Talla told Buzzfeed. Leaving the base is part of a larger move by the U.S. to exit Syria, directed by the President Trump. Trump declared that ISIS in Syria has been defeated in defense of the withdrawal. On Friday, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces declared victory over ISIS in Hajin, the last major town held by the terrorist group. But ISIS continues to hold territory along the Syria-Iraq border. Russia has frequently condemned U.S. presence at Al-Tanf. In a response to the U.S. leaving the country, Russian officials specifically noted that deescalation would now be possible near the base.”

The Chicago Tribune: Pulling Out Of Syria Is The Right Move

“President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria can’t be taken at face value. His impulsive, unpredictable and uninformed style of operation always leaves the possibility that whatever he promises today will be discarded tomorrow. But if he actually follows through, it would be a net plus. The first reason is that the United States has no legal basis to be fighting in Syria. As law professors Jack Goldsmith of Harvard and Oona Hathaway of Yale wrote on Lawfare in April, when Trump ordered the bombing of chemical weapons sites, “There is no apparent domestic or international legal authority for the strikes.” The Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress approved against those connected to the 9/11 attacks can’t serve this purpose, because the Islamic State didn’t even exist then. Neither can the 2002 Iraq War resolution. The president’s authority to protect the nation doesn’t justify military action against the Syrian government, which poses no threat to us. Fighting wars on the mere whim of the person in the White House is a dangerous habit, and one we should be wise to break.”

Reuters: U.S. Tells U.N. It Is Committed To Destroying Islamic State In Syria

“The United States told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that it was committed to the “permanent destruction” of Islamic State in Syria and would keep pushing for the withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces in the country. The pledge followed President Donald Trump’s surprise decision to start what will be a total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. Trump declared on Wednesday that the troops had succeeded in their mission to defeat Islamic State, a decision that drew strong criticism from some fellow Republicans and concern among foreign allies. During a U.N. Security Council meeting on Syria on Thursday, U.S. diplomat Rodney Hunter, the political coordinator of the U.S. mission to the United Nations, did not specifically mention Trump’s decision. “The United States remains committed to the permanent destruction of ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria and around the world,” Hunter told the council, using an acronym for Islamic State. “We will use all instruments of our national power to press for a withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces.” “We will continue to work together with our allies to fight terrorism. The United States will also work with like-minded states, the United Nations, and the Syrian opposition, to seek a diplomatic end to this conflict,” he said.”

The Washington Post: The Jihadists No One Wants

“The imminent withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria announced this week will leave thousands of foreign Islamic State fighters and their family members piled up in prisons and camps in this remote corner of the country, wanted by neither their home governments nor their captors and posing a new threat to the region. The foreigners, more than 2,700 of them, flocked to join the Islamic State at the height of its territorial expansion but instead wound up being captured on the battlefield or surrendering to U.S.-backed forces. Governments that enthusiastically supported the U.S.-led war against the militants when the Islamic State’s conquests were threatening global stability are refusing to repatriate their citizens, citing the risk that they would spread radical ideology or perhaps carry out attacks back home. But the local administration doesn’t want responsibility for guarding and feeding so many militants and lacks the capacity to stage trials for people on charges of war crimes and other abuses, according to Abdulkarim Omar, who jointly heads the foreign affairs department of the Kurdish-led self-styled administration in northeastern Syria. “It’s a huge number. Some of them are very dangerous people, and we live in a very unstable area,” he said. Now, with U.S. troops preparing to withdraw, a new war could erupt at any time, jeopardizing the Kurds’ continued ability to guard the prisoners.”

NPR: Despite Remaining ISIS Threats, Pompeo Says U.S. Made 'Caliphate In Syria Go Away'

“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that the United States made "the caliphate in Syria go away" as the Pentagon plans to withdraw U.S. troops from the country. His comments in an interview with Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep follow President Trump's assertion that the U.S. has "won against ISIS.” In fact, the special presidential envoy to the fight against ISIS, Brett McGurk, estimated earlier this month that the group retains just 1 percent of its self-proclaimed caliphate. "The president made an enormous commitment to take down the caliphate. And that has been achieved," Pompeo told NPR. "We now have the battle that is a longtime battle which is a counterterrorism battle not only against ISIS but against al-Qaida and others." He later added, "We continue to push back against ISIS in West Africa, in Afghanistan, all across the world. That threat certainly is out there, the president has acknowledged that." Pompeo said the United States remains committed to the Kurds, American allies in the fight against ISIS. The Turkish government views the Kurds fighting in Syria as terrorists aligned with Kurdish rebels in Turkey. Without protection from the United States, the Turkish military is threatening to attack Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria, where U.S. troops are now deployed. Pompeo would not address the Kurdish-Turkish tension.”

The Independent: ISIS ‘Massacres Hundreds Of Prisoners’ As It Makes Last Stand In Eastern Syria

“Isis has quietly executed hundreds of prisoners in Syria over the last two months, as it makes a desperate last stand to hold on to its remaining territory. The extremist group has been cornered in a small pocket of territory on the eastern banks of the Euphrates river in eastern Syria, and US-backed forces recently sent the group fleeing from the last major town under its control. But with nowhere left to run, the group has begun massacring prisoners it has been holding, and has killed some 700 in the past two months, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Despite having a history of using executions to gain notoriety and attention, the Observatory said these latest killings were carried out in secret and away from the cameras, and the bodies buried in mass graves. The UK-based monitoring group said the prisoners were among 1,350 civilians and fighters that Isis had been holding, and that a number of Isis members who had tried to escape were among those killed. It added that the group is still thought to be holding hundreds of prisoners, citing sources within Isis and residents who had left the area it still controls. Isis has been putting up fierce resistance in its last redoubt – a string of villages in Deir Ezzor near the town of Hajin.”


Voice Of America: Iran Under Fire For Delayed Release Of Ailing Baha’i Leader

“Iran faces new criticism from Baha’i activists for its delayed release of an ailing Baha’i leader imprisoned for a decade and for its threat to jail a Baha’i woman for 11 years. The Baha’i International Community (BIC) said Iran released the last of seven imprisoned former leaders of the country’s Baha’i minority on Thursday. BIC sent VOA Persian photos of 56-year-old Afif Naeimi, a father of two from Tehran, with loved ones who greeted him with flowers after he emerged from the city’s Evin prison. Naeimi and the six other Iranian Baha’i leaders had been arrested in 2008 on national-security-related charges rejected as baseless by BIC, which said they were part of a long-running persecution of Iranian Baha’is by Tehran’s Islamist rulers who view them as heretics.”

Daily Mail: Was IRAN Behind Lockerbie Bombing? Terrorist's Daughter Insists Tehran Ordered Destruction Of Pan Am Flight 103 Not Gaddafi's Libya

“Palestinian terrorists in the pay of the Iranian regime committed the Lockerbie atrocity, it has been claimed. The daughter of a former terrorist has said her father admitted to relatives that his cell leader, Ahmed Jibril, led the 1988 plot to down Pam Am 103, which was blown up 30 years ago today by an explosive stored in a suitcase in the hold. Her claim adds credence to the long-held theory that Tehran ordered the attack on the New York-bound flight, transporting mainly American civilians, as payback after a missile from a US Navy cruiser shot down Iran Air flight 655 five months earlier, killing 290 civilians. The US has maintained its naval officers mistook the plane for a Iranian Air Force jet fighter, although the Iranian government says even if that is the case it would be criminally negligent. In 2001 Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was found guilty of the murder of all 270 people who were killed on board and in the town of Lockerbie where it crashed.”

Bloomberg: Israel Sees Iran Moving Closer As Trump Clears The Way In Syria

“It’s getting more difficult for Israel to keep its greatest foe away from its borders. Donald Trump’s snap decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria surprised allies and rivals alike, and has left Israel feeling more vulnerable to threats from its arch-enemy Iran. Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy army in Lebanon, has already dug tunnels into Israeli territory and benefited from the chaos of Syria’s war by opening up weapons-supply lines from Tehran. Now Iran is poised to fill a power vacuum left by the U.S., reaping the rewards of its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country’s long civil war. While the American presence of some 2,000 soldiers in Syria was more deterrent than determinant, its absence may lead Israel to step up its campaign of bombing runs to prevent more weapons from reaching Hezbollah. "The Americans were in the middle,” said Eyal Zisser, a political scientist at Tel Aviv University. “Now that they’re out, it will be much easier for Iran to have this open corridor from Tehran, through Baghdad -- you can just take a car and in several hours you’re in Beirut.”

Fox News: Albania Expels Iranian Diplomats After Terror Threat; Trump Cheers Decision

“Albania has expelled two Iranian diplomats for threatening the country’s security on the heels of recent terror-related arrests, drawing praise from the Trump administration as U.S. officials press European leaders to get tough on Tehran. In a letter to Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, Trump said the move would send a message that Iran's “terrorist activities in Europe and around the world will have severe consequences.” Albania’s foreign ministry told The Associated Press that the diplomats -- including the Iranian ambassador -- were expelled for “violating their diplomatic status” following talks with other countries, including Israel. Albanian media said the Iranians were suspected of illegal activities related to a World Cup qualifying match between Albania and Israel in 2016. About 20 people were arrested in Albania and Kosovo following that match, which was threatened with an alleged terrorist plot. Trump’s Dec. 14 letter to Rama thanked him for standing up to Iran and countering “its destabilizing activities and efforts to silence dissidents around the globe.” Both National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also released statements on Wednesday night in support of Albania's decision. "We stand with PM Rama and the Albanian people as they stand up to Iran’s reckless behavior in Europe and across the globe," Bolton said.”


The Straits Times: ISIS Still Deadly In Iraq And Syria, Say Experts

“Late last month, a column of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters in armoured vehicles and on motorcycles thundered into eastern Syria to mount an unexpectedly fierce assault on US-backed militias near the city of Deir al-Zour. The attackers overran outposts and killed or captured dozens of soldiers before being driven back by US warplanes. The next day, in Iraq's northern Nineveh province, a roadside bomb killed four children as they travelled to their school by truck. Local officials described the event as tragic but not surprising: The same province has experienced about 17 such attacks every month in the year since ISIS was officially declared defeated in Iraq. An attack such as the one in eastern Syria reinforced a view that is widely held among US military and intelligence officials, as well as US allies in the region: Even as the territory claimed by ISIS continues to shrink, the group remains a powerful and deadly force across large swathes of Syria and Iraq. In some regions, the militants appear to be gaining ground, reconstituting themselves as a brutal insurgency bent on killing local leaders and police officers and terrorising populations. "They are reorganising and reactivating," Mr Masrour Barzani, the chancellor and top security official of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government, said in an interview before the Trump administration's surprise announcement on Wednesday that it will withdraw United States troops from Syria.”


Voice Of America: Turkey Misuses Terror Laws Against Hdp Leader, Experts Say

“While the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has demanded the release of Selahattin Demirtas, a former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Turkish courts convicted him of spreading terrorist propaganda, which some analysts and rights groups view as Ankara attempting to misuse the country’s counterterrorism laws to crack down on political dissidents. Demirtas was detained on terrorism charges and was convicted in another terrorist-related case in an effort to dodge the European court’s pressure on the country. “It is quite obvious that anti-terrorism laws and laws prohibiting propaganda for terrorism are just used in a very blunt way as a political instrument to suppress political opinion which the government finds inconvenient,” Andrew Gardner, a Turkey expert at Amnesty International, told VOA. “It is absolutely crystal clear that conviction by different courts was due to the fact that this case was fast-tracked. And the decision was issued after the ECHR and after the president of Turkey’s statement on the case made the political nature of the judgment very clear,” Gardner added. In November, Strasbourg-based ECHR argued that Demirtas’ pretrial detention had gone on longer than is legally justified. Turkey responded that it was not obligated to adhere to ECHR’s ruling."


The New York Times: Taliban Talks Covered Fate Of U.S. Military Presence In Afghanistan, Envoy Says

“In the most substantial formal talks so far with the Taliban, United States officials discussed the future of the American military presence in Afghanistan and an offer of a three-month cease-fire during which the insurgents and the Afghan government could have negotiations, a senior American diplomat said on Thursday. The diplomat, Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration’s special representative in charge of the talks for Afghan reconciliation to end the 17-year war, briefed Afghan leaders in Kabul on two days of talks with the Taliban this week in the United Arab Emirates. The discussions included representatives from the U.A.E., the host country; Saudi Arabia; and Pakistan — the only three nations that recognized the Taliban regime before it was toppled by the American invasion in 2001 and that still have varying degrees of influence over the insurgent group. Mr. Khalilzad said in interviews with the Afghan TV channels ToloNews and Ariana that progress had been made in the talks even though Taliban representatives refused to meet with a delegation sent to the U.A.E. by the Afghan government. “Unfortunately, Taliban did not agree to meet with the Afghan delegation, and I think it was the wrong decision on their part and left a negative impression to the participating countries,” Mr. Khalilzad said.”

Bloomberg: Talking Peace With The Taliban Is Pointless

“In Abu Dhabi this week, the U.S. and the Taliban engaged in some of the highest-level talks the two sides have held since the war in Afghanistan began more than 17 years ago. The effort will almost certainly prove futile, however, for two crucial reasons. The Taliban aren’t ready for peace. And the Afghan government couldn’t accommodate them even if they were. U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who met with Taliban representatives on Tuesday, has speculated a deal could be reached before April 20, when Afghanistan is slated to hold presidential elections. Certainly he’s progressed further in negotiations than previous U.S. diplomats have, and the fact that Taliban sponsor Pakistan seems to be backing U.S. efforts is a heartening sign. Without Pakistani support and shelter, the insurgents would find it nearly impossible to keep fighting. As overdue as peace talks are, though, they’re also premature. Structurally and operationally, the Taliban remain a jihadist movement. They’ve never developed a political wing akin to Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland and remain years away from doing so. Under the group’s central leader Haibatullah Akhundzada sits a shadowy, largely Pakistan-based leadership committee consisting of a couple of dozen senior mullahs and their trusted aides. Beneath this group are the various regional commanders with their respective fighters across Afghanistan, who operate with a great degree of operational autonomy.”

Xinhua: 15 Militants Killed In N. Afghan Airstrikes

“At least 15 Taliban militants have been killed and 13 others wounded following airstrikes in Afghanistan's northern province of Faryab, the country's Ministry of Defense said Thursday. The strikes were launched by Afghan Air Force in Dawlat Abad district on Wednesday, the ministry said in a statement. Those among the killed militants were three divisional commanders of militants' Sara Keta or Red Unit named Mullah Khalid, Mohammad Rasoul and Mullah Niyaz, the statement added. The strikes aimed at disrupting insurgents' activities in northern provinces and the raids will continue until insurgents renounce violence and join government-initiated peace and reconciliation process, the statement read. Afghan security forces, backed by the U.S.-led NATO coalition troops, have increased ground and air offensives against militants within the past few months as the Taliban militant group has been attempting to take territory and consolidate its positions ahead of winter in the Central Asian country. The militant group has yet to respond to the report.”


Asharq Al-Awsat: Al Jaber: Saudi Will Continue To Back Yemen’s Legitimacy Against Houthis

“Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed bin Saeed Al Jaber has stressed the kingdom’s continued support to Yemeni legitimacy led by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, and to the people against the Iranian-backed Houthi insurgency. Al Jaber, who is also the supervisor of the Saudi Development and Reconstruction Program for Yemen (SDRPY), underpinned the kingdom’s keenness to ensure Yemen’s security, stability, and unity. Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed discussed several issues with the Saudi ambassador in Riyadh on Thursday. The PM commended the Saudi stance towards Yemen, asserting that it will be marked in history that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman salvaged Yemen from Iran's blatant meddling. Saeed also lauded Riyadh’s support to Yemen in all fields, stressing the importance of focusing on investment to boost the economy and development, providing humanitarian aid, supporting the central bank, and working on the currency’s stability.”


The Jerusalem Post: Hezbollah Expands Clout In Lebanese Government, Selects Health Minister

“Hezbollah's role in the Lebanese government stands to widen when it names the new health minister though it will not be putting a party member in the job, sources say, as the United States extends sanctions against the Shi'ite Muslim movement. The new national unity government to be led by Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri is expected to be clinched in the next few days, ending more than seven months of deadlock between rival groups over cabinet seats. Hariri, who enjoys Western backing, lost more than a third of his lawmakers in the May 6 election but kept his post as the leading Sunni Muslim and so will return as premier, a position reserved for his sect under Lebanon's sectarian system of rule. But the election produced a parliament tilted in favor of Hezbollah thanks to gains by groups and individuals that support its possession of a major arsenal. Together, they won more than 70 of the 128 seats. By picking the health minister, Hezbollah will be moving beyond the marginal role it played in past governments: this ministry has the fourth biggest budget in the Lebanese state, outgoing Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani says. Hasbani told Reuters that recent foreign aid to his ministry included $120 million from the World Bank to be spent over five years from 2019.”

Middle East

Bloomberg: Israel Sees Iran Moving Closer As Trump Clears The Way In Syria

“It’s getting more difficult for Israel to keep its greatest foe away from its borders. Donald Trump’s snap decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria surprised allies and rivals alike, and has left Israel feeling more vulnerable to threats from its arch-enemy Iran. Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy army in Lebanon, has already dug tunnels into Israeli territory and benefited from the chaos of Syria’s war by opening up weapons-supply lines from Tehran. Now Iran is poised to fill a power vacuum left by the U.S., reaping the rewards of its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country’s long civil war. While the American presence of some 2,000 soldiers in Syria was more deterrent than determinant, its absence may lead Israel to step up its campaign of bombing runs to prevent more weapons from reaching Hezbollah.”

Times Of Israel: Jordanian Man Indicted For Attempted Murder, Terrorism In Eilat Assault

“A Jordanian man who was employed in the southern port city of Eilat was indicted Friday over the assault of two Israeli men several weeks ago, in what prosecutors are saying was a terror attack. According to the indictment, which was filed at the Beersheba District Court, Taher Halef had been planning to attack Israelis for over a decade. He is accused of several counts of attempted murder, as well as a terrorist conspiracy. Two Israelis, who were working as divers at the port, were seriously wounded when Halef attacked them with a hammer on November 30, police said at the time. In addition to the injured Israelis, who were brought to the city’s Yoseftal Hospital with head injuries, a second Jordanian worker who tried to restrain the attacker was lightly hurt. Halef was arrested following the incident, and police said several hours later that an initial probe had raised suspicions that the attack was nationalistically motivated.”

Jerusalem Post: BDS International Donation Accounts Frozen For Suspected Ties To Terrorism

“The Ramallah-based BDS International Committee had its online donation account frozen on suspicion of ties to terrorism by its fundraising site Donorbox, according to a Ministry of Strategic Affairs report on Friday. The American website, DonorBox, a popular fundraising platform for non-profits, which serves as the umbrella organization of the Palestinian Boycott Coalition, announced that it is freezing the accounts of the BDS National Committee (BNC), which operates from Ramallah and is headed by an Israeli resident, Omar Barghouti. DonorBox reached its decision after receiving a complaint from Shurat HaDin - the Israel Law Center with information provided by the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs that the organization is affiliated with declared terrorist organizations and it misleads donors by falsely claiming that it is a US-based charitable organization.”


News 24: Egypt Says It Killed 8 Militants Who Planned Holiday Attacks

“Egypt says security forces have killed eight militants and detained four more who planned attacks on minority Christians during the upcoming holiday season. In a Thursday statement, the Interior Ministry says the 12 belonged to "Hasm," which it says is an armed faction of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group removed from power in 2013. It said two of the eight killed were separately shot dead after they opened fire on security forces storming two residences in Cairo. The remaining six were killed in a shootout as they tried to flee Cairo. The Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, did not say when the events took place. The Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, was overthrown by the military after his yearlong rule inspired mass protests.”


Xinhua: U.S. Launches Two Airstrikes In Somalia, Killing 11 Militants

“The United States army said Thursday that it conducted two airstrikes on Wednesday, killing 11 al-Shabab militants outside Somalia's capital. The U.S. Africa Command (Africom) said in a statement that the two airstrikes targeting al-Shabab militants in the vicinity of Beled Amin South, about 40km north of Mogadishu, were in self-defense. According to the statement, Somali and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces were conducting an operation in the region to clear known al-Shabab facilities when al-Shabab militants maneuvered on and engaged the combined force. "U.S. personnel were present during the mission in an advisory capacity. No partner or U.S. service members were harmed during the operation," Africom said, adding that no civilians were injured or killed in the airstrikes. "We currently assess the first strike killed eight militants and we currently assess the second strike killed three militants," Africom said. According to the statement, the militant group is using the area around Beled Amin South to plan and execute attacks against Somalia's capital. The U.S. forces alongside Somali and African Union forces have increased ground and air offensives against the militant group in the past months.”


The Washington Post: Two Tourists Killed In Morocco — One Of Them Beheaded — In Likely Terrorist Attack

“Before Louisa Vesterager Jespersen left for a holiday in Morocco, she posted on Facebook asking for advice. “Dear friends, I’m going to Morocco in December,” the 24-year-old student from Denmark wrote. “Any of you guys who’s around by then or any mountain friends who knows something about Mount Toubkal?” On Monday, her body was found near that mountain, a popular tourist destination for hikers visiting the North African country. Her friend, Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, was also found dead. Agence France-Presse reported that at least one of the women had been decapitated. “This is a case of an unusually bestial killing of two totally innocent young women,” the Danish intelligence service said in a statement Thursday. Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen said the killings were “politically motivated and thus an act of terror.” Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said other leads are being followed as investigators seek a motive for the murders. Moroccan authorities arrested a suspect in Marrakesh on Tuesday and said he was a member of an unidentified militant group. The Danish intelligence service said in its statement that evidence suggests “the killings may be related to the terrorist organization Islamic State.”

Time: 2 Scandinavian Women Were Brutally Killed In Morocco. The Suspects Pledged Allegiance To ISIS

“Authorities arrested three more suspects Thursday in the deaths of two Scandinavian university students who were killed in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. Moroccan authorities said the men detained in Marrakech and a fourth suspect pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in a video. The office of Morocco’s prosecutor said four men seen in the video that was circulating on Twitter and recorded last week were the same four in custody for the slayings of the young women, whose bodies were discovered Monday. Moroccan authorities had said they considered the killings in a remote region of the Atlas Mountains to be a terrorist act and were investigating if the suspects had extremist ties, but hadn’t named a particular group. Other tourists found the two women, one from Norway and the other from Denmark, with stab wounds in their necks, according to national media in Morocco. Investigators have video surveillance footage showing three people putting up a tent near the victims’ tent, the media outlets said. The footage also shows the three leaving the area, near a village that is a frequent starting point for treks to Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak, the outlets said. Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen confirmed the identities of the victims, 24-year-old Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, of Denmark, and Norwegian citizen Maren Ueland, 28.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Westminster Attack: Parliament Gates 'Need To Be Constantly Armed'

“The chief coroner for England and Wales has called for armed police on all gates of Parliament following the 2017 Westminster terror attack. In his report Mark Lucraft QC said Scotland Yard should order that there is a constant armed presence. The coroner also urged MI5 to improve how it records the reasons why it closes investigations. Solicitors for the families called for all of the recommendations to be swiftly implemented. Khalid Masood killed four people on 22 March last year after hitting them with his car on Westminster Bridge - American tourist Kurt Cochran, retired window cleaner Leslie Rhodes, mother-of-two Aysha Frade and Romanian designer Andreea Cristea. He then ran into Parliament's grounds and stabbed to death unarmed PC Keith Palmer before he himself was shot dead by other officers. Clockwise from top left: PC Keith Palmer, Aysha Frade, Leslie Rhodes, Andreea Cristea and Kurt Cochran Coroners have the power to write reports to the government and other public bodies that make recommendations aimed at averting further similar tragedies. In his report, Mr Lucraft said: "It was a matter of concern that, at the time of the attack, one of the most vulnerable and public entrances to the Parliamentary Estate was not protected by armed police.”

BBC News: Boy, 17, Pleads Guilty To Terror Offences

“A 17-year-old boy from west London has pleaded guilty to terror offences linked to the neo-Nazi group Sonnenkrieg Division. Oskar Dunn-Koczorowki admitted two counts of encouraging terrorism. He entered guilty pleas during an Old Bailey preliminary hearing. A court order that prevented his identification was lifted by the judge. He will be sentenced at a later date and will next appear on 25 February. The charges state that in August this year Dunn-Koczorowki used accounts on the Gab social media site - including one for the Sonnenkrieg Division itself - to post material that would encourage others to prepare or engage in acts of terrorism. A co-defendant - Michael Szewczuk, 18, from Leeds - also appeared in court, but has not yet entered pleas. Mr Szewczuk, a Polish national, is charged with five counts of encouraging terrorism and three of disseminating terrorist publications. A provisional trial date was fixed for 13 May 2019 at Manchester Crown Court. Both defendants were granted conditional bail.”


Euronews: Security At German Airports Increased After Terrorist Threat Reports

"Security has been "massively boosted" at Stuttgart Airport after media reports of a terrorist threat. A police spokesman in the southern city confirmed police numbers had been increased but refused to comment on claims that Islamist suspects had been spotted taking photographs at the facility. Heavily-armed police patrolled several other German airports on Thursday including Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden, Friedrichshafen and Mannheim. Security patrols will continue until further notice, said a federal police spokesman. Small German airports have also increased security, said the Reutlingen (Bade-Wurtemberg) police, adding that it was a "caution measure". Newspaper Tagesspiegel reported several suspected terrorists had been captured on security cameras staking out Stuttgart Airport.”


Reuters: Man Arrested On Suspicion Of Terrorism After Swedish School Blast

“A man has been arrested in Sweden on suspicion of terrorism-related crimes after an explosion on Thursday at a school in the south of the country, police said. Police said they were investigating what caused the blast at the high school in Hassleholm. No injuries were reported and a man in his 20s was arrested at the scene. “We are pretty sure this was a deliberate act,” police spokeswoman Kim Hild said, adding that additional information meant a terrorist offense could not be ruled out.”

The Wall Street Journal: Europe Faces Continuing Terror Threat, While Concerns In U.S. Ebb, Study Finds

“U.S. allies in Europe face a continuing “significant threat” of terrorist attacks from Islamic extremists, even as terrorism is taking a back seat in U.S. security planning that increasingly focuses on challenges from China and Russia, according to a report due for publication this week. “The threat of attacks from groups like the Islamic State and al Qaeda to U.S. allies like the United Kingdom and France is at one of the highest levels” since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said the report, written by scholars at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. Terrorism from far-right extremists also is on the rise in Europe, as it is in the U.S. “In 2017, Europe saw the highest number of right-wing attacks in over two decades,” the report said. The number of failed, foiled and successful terrorist attacks in Europe by Islamic extremists surged 725% between 2007 and 2017, the study found. While the rate of such attacks appears to have declined in 2018, possibly due to the dismemberment of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria, Europe faces a continuing threat from returning foreign fighters, online radicalization and potentially from convicted terrorists whose prison terms are ending, it said.”


The Verge: Slack Is Banning Some Users With Links To Iran Even If They’ve Left The Country

“This morning, many Slack users with ties to Iran discovered their accounts had been abruptly deactivated. The bans affected users living as far as Finland, Canada and the United States, many with few remaining ties to Iran in either citizenship or physical presence. “In order to comply with export control and economic sanctions laws…Slack prohibits unauthorized use of its products and services in certain sanctioned countries,” the notice from Slack read. “We’ve identified your team/account as originating from one of these countries and are closing the account effective immediately.” Users received no warning, and had no time to create archives or otherwise back up data. It was an abrupt reminder of the broad reach of US tech sanctions, and a sign of how haphazard companies are when enforcing them.

The Washington Post: Is Facebook A Psychopath?

“This year marks the 15th anniversary of the documentary “The Corporation.” The film took the premise that if a corporation was a person, as courts have claimed, we would need to consider the possibility that that “person” demonstrates the characteristics of a psychopath, as defined by the World Health Organization and the Manual of Mental Health Disorders — exhibiting traits like “reckless disregard for the safety of others,” “deceitfulness, repeated lying and conning others for profit,” “incapacity to experience guilt,” and “failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior.” I saw the movie about a year later, when it received a New York release, a few months after a Harvard dropout named Mark Zuckerberg gave an interview to CNBC about his new business. “Maybe we can make something cool,” Zuckerberg said, describing “The Facebook,” as it was called then, as a way for people to enter information about themselves and “connect with friends.” CNBC has never been the sort of outlet to ask a CEO and founder if his business model was psychopathic. But it’s certainly a conclusion we can consider now.”

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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