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Arrow Eye on Extremism - December 28, 2018

Eye on Extremism - December 28, 2018

Associated Press: Syria Military Takes Control Of Flash-Point Kurdish-Led Town

“Syria’s military announced Friday that it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive, and raised the national flag there. A Syrian Kurdish official however said the government troops arrived only at the town’s perimeter. Turkey’s president said the facts on the ground in Manbij remain uncertain, calling the government entering the town a “psychological act.” “I spoke with my friends, with intelligence, etc., about an hour ago and there is nothing certain at this moment,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul. The Kremlin, meanwhile, welcomed the Syrian military announcement. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it a “positive step” that could help stabilize the area.”

The Wall Street Journal: A Small U.S. Base Gets In Iran’s Way—But Maybe Not For Long

“When U.S. forces leave Syria, the plan is for troops from neighboring Turkey to take their place. One exception: a small, remote U.S. base in southern Syria that has made it more difficult for Iran to project power across the Middle East. More than 200 U.S. troops have been advising local Syrian fighters at the al-Tanf garrison, which they have used to combat Islamic State and which sits in strategically important terrain astride a potential Iranian supply route through Iraq to Syria. Those U.S. forces will likely be the last to leave Syria, U.S. officials say. But when they do, the Trump administration says that Ankara won’t take over the base, which is near Syria’s southern borders with Iraq and Jordan and far from the Turkish border to the north. President Trump has defended his decision to withdraw from Syria about 2,000 U.S. troops, the overwhelming majority of whom are in the northeast of the country, but details of the new plan remain unclear. They include how quickly that force will leave and how the withdrawal comports with another top administration objective: rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East.”

The National: Civilian Exodus From ISIS's Last Syria Bastion

“Thousands of civilians, mostly relatives of ISIS fighters, are fleeing the group's last stronghold in eastern Syria, a war monitor said on Thursday. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 11,500 people have fled the area since Kurdish-led forces broke ISIS defences and took the militants' main hub of Hajin two weeks ago. "The past fortnight saw the biggest exodus" since the launch in September of a broad offensive against ISIS by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the monitoring group said. The outfit is an alliance of the Kurdish militia which controls northeastern Syria and local Arab fighters that operates with backing from a US-led military coalition. ISIS had already lost all of its major urban centres earlier in 2018 but was clinging to the remote area in the Euphrates River Valley. The SDF launched an operation involving more than 15,000 fighters to smash the militants' last redoubt, known as the Hajin pocket, on September 10. They took the town of Hajin on December 14, after months of an offensive slowed by Turkish threats against the Kurds further north as well as fierce counter-attacks by ISIS fighters with little to lose. "Most of the displaced are IS relatives," said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Observatory, using an alternative acronym to ISIS.”

The Wall Street Journal: The Syria Fallout

“The implications of Donald Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria will play out over many months, but a portent was apparent Wednesday. While Mr. Trump was defending his Syria pullout during his visit with U.S. troops in Iraq, Russia was condemning Israel’s defensive air strikes in Syria. This is only some of what will fill the vacuum left by America’s departure. Israel rarely acknowledges its military actions, but for months it has been hitting targets inside Syria to deter and degrade the buildup of Iranian proxy military forces. Russia accused Israel of “provocative” actions, and Israel later said that its aerial defense system had been activated in response to an antiaircraft missile launched from Syria. Mr. Trump said with his typical bravado that Israel can defend itself well enough without the U.S. “And I spoke with Bibi [Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu]. I told Bibi. And, you know, we give Israel $4.5 billion a year. And they’re doing very well defending themselves, if you take a look,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Deal Over Aid Transfer In Hodeidah Paves Way For Houthi Withdrawal

“During its second meeting under the chairmanship of retired Dutch General Patrick Cammaert, the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) reached Thursday an agreement over the “transfer of humanitarian aid” to the province of Hodeidah, informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. The meeting of the UN committee tasked with monitoring the ceasefire in Hodeidah was attended by two representatives from the legitimate government and Houthis. However, there were signs Thursday that Houthis were shying away from the implementation of a deal reached with the Yemeni government in the Swedish capital to swap prisoners and detainees. The RCC is in the Yemeni port city to implement the first phase of the ceasefire deal that calls on Houthis to withdraw from the Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Issa ports after January 3, 2019.”

The New York Times: Inside Facebook’s Secret Rulebook For Global Political Speech

“In a glass conference room at its California headquarters, Facebook is taking on the bonfires of hate and misinformation it has helped fuel across the world, one post at a time. The social network has drawn criticism for undermining democracy and for provoking bloodshed in societies small and large. But for Facebook, it’s also a business problem. The company, which makes about $5 billion in profit per quarter, has to show that it is serious about removing dangerous content. It must also continue to attract more users from more countries and try to keep them on the site longer. How can Facebook monitor billions of posts per day in over 100 languages, all without disturbing the endless expansion that is core to its business? The company’s solution: a network of workers using a maze of PowerPoint slides spelling out what’s forbidden. Every other Tuesday morning, several dozen Facebook employees gather over breakfast to come up with the rules, hashing out what the site’s two billion users should be allowed to say. The guidelines that emerge from these meetings are sent out to 7,500-plus moderators around the world. The closely held rules are extensive, and they make the company a far more powerful arbiter of global speech than has been publicly recognized or acknowledged by the company itself, The New York Times has found.”

United States

Al Jazeera: What's Next For The United States In Afghanistan?

“Zalmay Khalilzad is likely not a happy man right now. Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, had been on an urgent mission: Launch a peace process with the Taliban, and launch it soon. With US President Donald Trump eager to wind down the war, Washington has been eager to get a deal to give the president cover for a withdrawal. Khalilzad had made some progress. He facilitated several high-level meetings between senior US officials and Taliban representatives. The most encouraging exchange occurred in the UAE earlier this month. "They told me we cannot defeat you," Khalilzad said in an interview with the Afghan TV station Tolo News shortly after the UAE talks, referring to the Taliban. The insurgents told him that "we should first sit with you, which means the US, then with Afghans, and resolve the issues through political means." Given that the Taliban representation included the head of its political office and chief of staff to supreme leader Mullah Akhundzada, such a conciliatory message is nothing to sneeze at.”

The Washington Post: Trump’s Syria Decision Was Essentially Correct. Here’s How He Can Make The Most Of It

“President Trump’s Dec. 23 tweet promising a “slow and highly coordinated” withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria may ease the gnashing of teeth among officials and analysts in Washington, but it won’t end the criticism of his decision. That is precisely why the president should view the hullabaloo that erupted after he announced the Syrian pullout as an opportunity to take a number of steps to make the most of his essentially correct, but widely unpopular, move. Many observers have asserted that the withdrawal gives victory in Syria to Russia, Iran and the Syrian government. That’s absurd. Bashar al-Assad’s regime already controls about two-thirds of Syria, including all of the major cities. The portion of Syria that U.S. forces control alongside their Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) allies is mostly either desert or drought-prone plains. The oil fields there produce high-sulfur, low-value crude, and production has long been diminishing. Oil revenue made up only about 5 percent of Syrian gross domestic product before the 2011 uprising, according to the International Monetary Fund. In sum, holding northeastern Syria would not have enabled Washington to leverage any important concessions from Damascus, Tehran or Moscow.”

The Hill: The UN Must Do Better To Condemn Terrorism

“On Dec. 6, the United Nations failed to pass a resolution condemning Hamas’s terrorist activities. On Dec. 9, Hamas praised a terror attack that critically injured a pregnant woman Shira Ish-Ran and six other Israelis, calling it “heroic.” On Dec. 12, Shira’s baby, Amiad Yisrael, died as a result of the attack. The UN General Assembly claims to want peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but it seems to think it can achieve it by defending terrorists. Given the choice between peace and terrorism, the General Assembly has chosen to defend terrorism. The UN has condemned Israel — a UN member state — hundreds of times. But it has never condemned Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza and terrorizes the people of Israel. Just a month ago, Hamas fired over four hundred rockets into Israel. It has released hundreds of burning kites and encouraged violent demonstrations. These wanton acts of violence, which have risked the lives of untold numbers of civilians and caused millions of dollars worth of damage, clearly deserve the strongest of condemnations.”


NPR: With U.S. Troops Leaving Syria, What Will The Fight Against ISIS Look Like?

“Many wonder where the fight against ISIS will occur next. David Greene talks to Douglas Ollivant, a former Iraq director at the National Security Council, about that battle against ISIS.”

The Wall Street Journal: Thaw Warms Ties Between Gulf States And Syria

“U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf are exploring stronger ties with the Syrian regime, which was been widely shunned by Arab states in the region during the country’s nearly eight years of civil war. The United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus on Thursday. The resumption of diplomatic services underscores the government’s “keenness to restore relations between the two brotherly countries,” the U.A.E.’s foreign ministry said in a brief statement carried by the state news agency. The embassy’s chargé d’affaires began discharging his duty Thursday, it added. “This move will also prevent the dangers of regional interference in Syrian affairs,” the foreign ministry said without elaborating. The U.A.E., Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states cut ties with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after the conflict broke out in 2011, closing their embassies in Damascus and siding with the Syrian opposition seeking to oust Mr. Assad. The Arab League expelled Damascus from the 22-member pan-Arab organization following the Assad government’s crackdown on widespread protests. Member states imposed political and economic sanctions on Syria.”

The New York Times: Syrian Surprise: How Trump's Phone Call Changed The War

“President Donald Trump's declaration in a phone call with Tayyip Erdogan that he was pulling U.S. troops from Syria has stunned Turkey and left it scrambling to respond to the changing battlefield on its southern border. In the phone call two weeks ago, Trump had been expected to deliver a standard warning to the Turkish president over his plan to launch a crossborder attack targeting U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, U.S. officials say. Instead, in the course of the conversation Trump reshaped U.S. policy in the Middle East, abandoning a quarter of Syrian territory and handing Ankara the job of finishing off Islamic State in Syria. "Trump asked: 'If we withdraw our soldiers, can you clean up ISIS?'", a Turkish official told Reuters. He said Erdogan replied that Turkish forces were up to the task.”

The Washington Post: Send Islamic State Fighters Held In Syria To Guantanamo Bay

“President Trump’s decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria is already having unintended consequences. The U.S. departure could lead to the release of 1,100 Islamic State fighters now held in detention camps in northeastern Syria — creating a dangerous new terrorist threat to the West. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — the Kurdish and Arab proxy forces whom the United States armed and trained to fight the Islamic State — do not have the capacity to guard and feed so many terrorists without U.S. support. And The Post reports that their home countries “are refusing to repatriate their citizens, citing the risk that they would spread radical ideology or perhaps carry out attacks back home.” If the SDF is abandoned by its U.S. patrons, it might have no choice but to release them. How much damage could these terrorists cause? To put it in perspective, the Islamic State had only about 700 fighters left when President Barack Obama withdrew U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011 — yet from that tiny nucleus, the Islamic State grew into the world’s largest, most powerful terrorist network, until Trump unleashed our military to beat the group back.”

i24 News: Syrian Forces Enter Manbij As Kurds Appeal For Help Facing Turkish Threat

“The Syrian army entered the key northern city of Manbij for the first time in six years on Friday, a spokesman said in a televised statement. The announcement came moments after the Kurds, left exposed by a US pledge to pull out its own troops, asked for the regime's help to face a threatened Turkish offensive.The Syrian army spokesman said the national flag was raised in Manbij, a key city which lies about 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of the Turkish border.The People's Protection Units (YPG), the main Kurdish militia in Syria, made its appeal following a shock announcement by its US ally last week of a full troop withdrawal from Syria.The YPG asked government forces to deploy in areas it already withdrew from earlier this year, especially the Manbij area, a key city where US-led coalition forces are stationed."We invite the Syrian government forces... to assert control over the areas our forces have withdrawn from, in particularly Manbij, and to protect these areas against a Turkish invasion," the statement said.”

Newsweek: U.S. Allies Left Behind Turn To Russia And Syria’s Assad For Help Against Turkey

“Syrian Kurds allied with the United States in battling the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) have turned toward the Syrian government and its Russian ally for assistance in the wake of a U.S. withdrawal and threats from Turkey. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been the leading Pentagon partner in Syria since 2015, a year after the U.S.-led coalition began bombing ISIS, but the impending departure of U.S. troops has left the militia feeling vulnerable to a potential offensive by Turkey, a fellow U.S. ally that views Kurdish separatists as foes. With limited firepower of their own and no regional allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces' political wing recently sent delegations to Damascus and Moscow to negotiate for their protection against Turkey, which also deals with Syrian government allies Russia and Iran. Syrian Kurdish politician Aldar Xelil told Reuters Thursday that another trip would soon be arranged in hopes of convincing the Syrian government to "fulfill its sovereign duty" by securing the border and blocking any Turkish offensive.”

BBC News: Hassan Al-Kontar: Inside The Story Of His Rescue From Syria

“After being stranded in an airport in Malaysia for seven months, a Syrian refugee became the face of the global migrant crisis. How did he end up in Canada? When it comes to airports, Hassan al-Kontar is something of an expert. The Syrian spent seven months stranded in Kuala Lumpur International Airport after finding himself caught in a Catch-22 of international refugee law. But when he landed in Vancouver at the end of November, he knew he was home. "The minute I put a foot in Vancouver airport, I felt the difference," he says. "It was a real moment when I realised that real life can be more beautiful than the dream itself." To many of the thousands of people who have followed his story in the news or on social media, Kontar's arrival in Canada as a permanent resident was the perfect happy ending.”

Al Arabiya: US-Led Coalition In Syria Questions Two Russian Women Who Escaped ISIS

“The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released a video showing two Russian women wearing the niqab who were able to escape the last ISIS pocket east of the Euphrates. According to the observatory, they were questioned after being brought to a safe location. There are growing fears from more far-reaching terrorist activity after the return of more Western women belonging to ISIS to their home countries. Female members of ISIS work as recruiters and coordinators between leaders of the organization and smaller cells. They also push militants to carry out suicide attacks as they are usually not targeted by security apparatuses. According to experts on extremist movements, women who return from “the land of defeats”, as described by the organization in Syria and Iraq, are the most important part of it. In addition to carrying arms and recruiting new followers, both men and women, they are used as coordinators on specific channels on a site used between neo-extremists and experienced militants. They become a vital link between the command and combat personnel or small combat cells.”


Al Arabiya: Alarm Bells Over Iran’s Terrorist Operations At The Heart Of EU

“This year has been one of the most challenging ones for the security services in European countries as they have yet to form a firm counter-terrorism strategy to halt state-sanctioned terrorist operations across the EU. If the ISIS targeted people arbitrarily without any operation center in the EU, Iran’s regime uses its embassies to organize terrorist operations across Europe as part of its desperate response to domestic crises and growing dissent inside the country. The US administration commended this week the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama’s decision to expel the Iranian ambassador and another diplomat for plotting “terrorist attacks” in Albania, as said by Secretary Pompe. President Trump thanked Mr Rama for “steadfast efforts to stand up to Iran and to counter its destabilizing activities and efforts to silence dissidents around the globe.” It is crucial to know why Albania has become so important for the ruling regime in Iran that it is prepared to take such risks at this decisive moment. Since members of the Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), moved from Iraq to the Albanian capital Tirana under UN supervision in 2016, the regime has widely expanded its embassy, almost doubling the size and the number of staff.”

The Independent: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: British Woman Jailed In Iran Allowed Visit From Daughter To Mark 40th Birthday

“Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British mother jailed in Iran was allowed to meet with her daughter on her 40th birthday. Four-year-old Gabriella, who has been staying in Iran with family, said she “wished her mum was free” as the pair shared cake in jail, her father Richard Ratcliffe said. He added that Nazanin had been involved a “long battle” with prison authorities over recent months about health matters. His wife, he said, had found “some lumps in her breasts again” but claimed access to an oncologist has been blocked. The charity worker was sentenced to five years in jail in 2016 after being accused of spying – a charge she vehemently denies. Mr Ratcliffe has mounted a high-profile campaign for his wife’s release and has worked with foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt to secure her release. “Yesterday Garbriella was allowed in and Nazanin was able to make a small cake which they could celebrate with, and Garbriella cut the cake and wished her mum be free,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.”

The Express: Revealed: How Iran Wages ‘Cyber Terrorism’ To Secretly Spy On Millions And Incite ‘Chaos’

“A NEW wave of “cyber warfare” is using “mass surveillance” to “actively disrupt the communication of protesters and dissidents” in Iran and “promote terrorism” across the globe, an explosive document has claimed. The paper was compiled by the official Iranian resistance movement, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). It makes damning assertions which implicate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in waging “cyber warfare to preserve the theocracy”. NCRI representative Hossein Abedini has spoken to about his group’s findings. Furious Iranians, making use of cyber technology to disseminate their message, have been part of a popular uprising that erupted in Tehran in December 2017. But now the theocratic regime - led by Iran’s IRGC and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) - is using “cyber attacks” to suppress its people, the Iranian Resistance document seen by claims. It explains: “Millions of Iranians have access to the internet and more than 48 million own smartphones.”

Radio Free Europe: Iranian FM Takes Flak For Claiming Tehran Has Never Called For Destruction Of Israel

“When Iranian officials say Israel will be wiped off the map, does it mean they are suggesting that Iran should be the one to do it? The debate was renewed last week by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. When an interviewer from a French news magazine suggested that Paris might be reluctant to sell weaponry to Iran because the Islamic republic had called for Israel's destruction and had missiles that carried the inscription "Death to Israel", Zarif objected. No officials from the Islamic republic had ever called for the destruction of Israel, he said; rather, he claimed, the official line has always been that Israel's downfall would be of its own doing. The remarks were not well-received by the hard-line conservative camp, which answered with headlines accusing Zarif of distorting the words and clear policy of the Islamic republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.”

Newsweek: Iran Says U.S. Must Leave Middle East, ‘This Region Belongs To Us’

“A leading Iranian general has called on President Donald Trump to withdraw his forces from the entire Middle East, arguing that the United States has wasted resources there as rival nations such as Russia and China rose. Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, a senior adviser to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told a ceremony for the premiere of a new computer game at the Art University of Tabriz in northwestern Iran that the "U.S. is facing a big economic challenge" made worse by the ongoing war on terror launched with the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. Citing strategists, Safavi said that "the U.S. focused on Iraq and Afghanistan and wasted its costs, whereas the main rivals of the U.S. were China and Russia, which the U.S. ignored," according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency. "In the east of the world, China, India, Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran will be the new powers of the new century," he added, as cited by the semiofficial Tasnim News Agency. "A dramatic shift of the global center of power is taking place now from the West to the East.”


Associated Press: Iraqi Politicians, Fuming After Trump Visit, Demand US Forces Leave The Country

“Iraqi leaders are demanding U.S. troops leave the country after President Donald Trump’s surprise visit to Iraq, which lawmakers characterized as an arrogant affront to the nation’s sovereignty. Trump made a three-hour sojourn in Iraq, traveling to Asad Air Base, some 115 miles northwest of Baghdad, but he did not meet with any Iraqi officials. And in Iraq’s parliament, that perceived slight left both Washington’s allies and its foes fuming. The visit confirmed U.S. disregard for other nations’ sovereignty, said Hamdillah Kaabi, spokesman for nationalist Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon party. Al-Sadr, the Shiite Muslim cleric whose loyalists battled U.S. forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, now heads parliament’s largest bloc. He campaigned to limit the influence of both Washington and Tehran in Iraq’s affairs. Kaabi said Thursday the party had long sought to end Washington’s “arrogance and disrespect” in its dealings with Iraq. Former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the leader who worked most closely with the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, said in a statement Thursday that he rejected the “method of Trump’s visit,” and that “it was not appropriate to diplomatic mores and to relations with sovereign states.” Trump was initially set to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi at the military base.”


Voice Of America: Islamic State-Afghanistan Spokesman Killed In US Airstrike

“The United States is reporting more progress in its efforts to eradicate the Islamic State terror group's branch in Afghanistan, confirming the death of its spokesman in a U.S. airstrike. A U.S. military official said Thursday that Sultan Aziz Azam was killed Sunday (Dec. 23) in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province. A second IS member was also killed in the strike. No civilian casualties were reported as a result of the strike, which was first made public by Afghan officials. A spokesman for Afghanistan's Interior Ministry earlier told VOA that Azam was killed along with three of his guards. The spokesman said Azam was responsible for recruiting fighters to carry out high-profile attacks against civilians. U.S. report claims progress News of the strike follows the release of a quarterly report by the Pentagon to U.S. lawmakers, which hailed progress by both U.S. and Afghan forces against the terror group, also known as IS-Khorasan of ISIS-K. "ISIS-K faced significant territorial, leadership, and personnel losses in Nangarhar," according to the report, which covered the period from June to the end of November. But the Pentagon report also warned despite progress in Nangarhar province, IS-Khorasan has been finding ways to hang on. "It has sought refuge elsewhere in the country," the report said. "Although weakened, ISIS-K will most likely continue to plan and execute high-profile attacks in populated areas." Islamic State fighters remain.”


The New York Times: Suicide Bombing Kills Pakistani Insurgent Wanted For Attack On Chinese

“After the Chinese Consulate in a major Pakistani city was attacked by a squad of suicide bombers last month, Pakistani officials pointed fingers at the commander of a separatist group waging an insurgency in the southwestern province of Baluchistan. On Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed that commander, Aslam Baluch, along with five associates in an upscale neighborhood of Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan. No group claimed responsibility for the latest Kandahar bombing. But it is widely believed to be an act of revenge for November’s consulate assault, highlighting the cross-border trading of insurgents and attacks by proxy that remains at the heart of relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. To Afghan officials, Tuesday’s attack bore the hallmarks of an operation directed by Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the I.S.I. “The bomber was sent and guided by the I.S.I.,” Maj. Gen. Tadin Khan, the police chief of Kandahar, said on Thursday.”


Egypt Today: Houthis Recruited 10,000 Children In 3 Years: Yemeni Human Rights Min

“In Yemen, there are numerous violations of children's rights by the Houthis. The violations are displacement, kidnapping, murder, and forced recruitment into the ranks of the militias in clear violation of all conventions, treaties and laws on child protection and human rights. When the pressure increased on Al-Houthi militia, after many of its elements were killed on the fighting fronts, and after refusal of the Yemenis to comply with their threats to join their ranks, the Houthis resorted to the meanest methods. They forcibly abducted children from the streets, schools and houses and forced them to take up arms and join the ranks of the militia. Hence families voluntarily chose displacement to protect their children from the unknown fate on the front lines. According to statistics from the Yemeni Ministry of Human Rights, the number of children recruited by the Houthis is 10,000 children between 2015 and 2018. We visited the recruited children rehabilitation center affiliated to the King Salman Center for Humanitarian Relief. There, we found children who returned from different battle fronts in Yemeni governorates. Although they come from different areas, but the tragedy connects them; the tragedy of being a child and instead of wearing the school uniform, you wear the army combat uniform; instead of carrying a pen and a bag, you carry a weapon that is often heavier than your malnourished or sometimes starving body.”


Global News: Israeli Military Releases Video Showing Explosion, Says Another Hezbollah Tunnel Has Been Destroyed

“The Israeli military on Wednesday destroyed another cross-border tunnel it says was built by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, sending a loud explosion throughout the volatile area. Israel this month announced the discovery of the tunnels, which it says were part of a Hezbollah plot to sneak across the border and carry out attacks in Israel. Israel has so far uncovered five tunnels in an open-ended operation to destroy the entire network. At least two tunnels have been destroyed. The army released a video of Wednesday’s activity. It shows an officer shouting across the border and warning residents of the Lebanese village of Ayta ash Shab that they are in danger and to stand far away. The video then shows a countdown before a soldier pushes a button, and aerial footage of a powerful explosion.”

The Times Of Israel: Arab Israeli Who Glided Into Syria To Join Islamic State Jailed For 3.5 Years

“An Arab Israeli man who crossed into Syria on a hang glider in 2015 in order to join the Islamic State terror group was convicted and sentenced in an Israeli court on Thursday. Nidal Salah, a 26-year-old resident of the central town of Jaljulia, was sentenced to 43 months in prison by the Central District Court as part of a plea deal. Salah was convicted on charges of contacting a foreign agent, illegally leaving the country, membership in a terror organization, sending information to an enemy, and other offenses. In the summer of 2015, Salah, then 23, along with another Arab Israeli man, Hossam Hajalah, decided to join the Islamic State group fighting in Syria. After gliding into Syria, he was arrested and “brutally interrogated” by IS operatives, who forced him to convey information about Israel, according to the court. He was later released and officially joined IS, for whom he worked in a factory, producing surveillance and attack drones. The court said he also took part in fighting for the jihadist group and was asked to recruit more Arab Israelis to its ranks. Salah was later taken captive by the Syrian government during a battle but was able to flee, and was smuggled into Turkey in May 2018. He returned to Israel in June on a flight from Turkey and was arrested upon arrival. The court said it had agreed to a plea deal because of Salah’s confession, expression of remorse, and the “exceptional circumstances” of his captivity by IS.”

Middle East

The New York Post: Hezbollah’s Tunnels Are A Clear Threat To Israel — And The UN Doesn’t Care

“President Trump may seek to pull troops from Syria, but Iran and its Hezbollah terror surrogate remain firmly entrenched there and in adjacent Lebanon. That’s clear from their threats to Israel: This week IDF forces uncovered the fifth in a series of surprisingly sophisticated tunnels built by Hezbollah and designed to sneak terrorists into Israel from Lebanon. Jerusalem also staged airstrikes against storage and logistics facilities near Damascus that are used by Iran to ship weapons to Hezbollah, which has fought alongside Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. Israel will not “accept the Iranian military entrenchment in Syria,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday. Yet it’s the tunnels, all of which were later destroyed, that are of special concern. Built in urban areas, they were surprisingly large and equipped with ventilation shafts and electricity, and they reached at least 80 feet underground. All of them terminated near Israeli population centers.”


Agence France Presse: Libya's Chaos Continues To Feed Jihadist Threat

“Two years after the Islamic State group lost the Libyan city of Sirte - its last stronghold in the country - the jihadists continues to launch attacks, including in the heart of the capital, profiting from government weakness and general chaos. The last attack claimed by ISIS targeted Tripoli's foreign ministry on Tuesday, killing three and causing major damage to one of the capital's supposedly most secure buildings. It followed two similar attacks, one in September against the headquarters of the national oil company that killed two and another that hit the electoral commission in Tripoli in May, when 14 were slain. "ISIS has proved that it is capable of manoeuvring and of hitting strongly, two years after the loss of its stronghold in Sirte", said Libyan political analyst Jalal al-Fitouri. Its capabilities persist despite "the hunting down (of its fighters) in the Libyan desert by Libyan armed groups and the US military, which has launched numerous strikes against ISIS in the south", he said. ISIS has "benefitted from divisions" in the aftermath of Muammar Gaddafi's regime falling in 2011, Fitouri noted.”


Al Jazeera: Boko Haram Attacks Two Military Bases In Northeast Nigeria

“Suspected Boko Haram fighters have attacked two military bases in northeast Nigeria, and briefly seized the headquarters of a multinational force comprising troops from Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon. Nigerian authorities reported on Thursday that the fighters overran the multinational joint task force post (MNJTF) which lies in the fishing town of Baga, less than 10km from the Nigerian-Chad border, and sacked a naval base in Mile 3, some 5km from Baga. A military source who asked not to be identified told the AFP news agency that Nigerian troops were "overpowered and forced to withdraw," adding that "the terrorists carted away gun trucks, ammunition and multiple rocket launchers from the base." According to the source, the fighters from Boko Haram, who have repeatedly struck military outposts in the region in recent months, stormed Baga in several vehicles.”


France24: Ambush Leaves Ten Burkina Faso Police Officers Dead

"The toll is 10 officers who have lost their lives and three wounded," the ministry said in a statement, adding that a police convoy from the Toeni region and reinforcements from the Dedougou area had been ambushed. Security minister Clement Sawadogo confirmed the toll on national television, announcing an increase in police and army forces patrolling the area. The officers were attacked while heading to the village of Loroni, near the border with Mali, after a school had been attacked and textbooks torched by armed assailants, a security source told AFP. The wounded, including two in serious condition, were taken to a hospital in Dedougou, the source added. "A convoy of defence and security forces who were scrambled from Tougan to come to the scene of the tragedy... also hit an explosive device that ripped through the lead vehicle but fortunately did not kill anybody," Sawadogo said, adding that three of the four officers in the vehicle were wounded.”

United Kingdom

The Independent: Friend Of Downing Street Bomb Plotter Convicted Of Trying To Join ISIS

“A friend of a man who plotted to blow up Downing Street and behead the prime minister has been convicted for trying to become an Isis fighter. Mohammad Aqib Imran, 22, was planning to join the terrorist group in Libya when he unwittingly asked an undercover spy to help him obtain a fake passport. His friend Naa’imur Zakariyah Rahman recorded a sponsorship video the pair hoped would gain militants’ trust after he carried out a terror attack in London. The footage showed Rahman, who planned to die in his assault on Downing Street, calling Imran his “brother in Islam” and wishing him “great success”. Rahman referred to his friend using his jihadi war name “Abu Sikkeen”, which was the name of online accounts used to view Isis propaganda and engage with security service roleplayers.


The Jakarta Post: Key French Jihadist Peter Cherif Set To Return Behind Bars

“One of France's most wanted jihadists, considered a potential source of valuable information by Western intelligence agencies, is set to return to prison Thursday following seven years on the run. Peter Cherif, 36, was close to the brothers who massacred staff members of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015. He later became a high-ranking member of Al-Qaeda in Yemen. French authorities have been seeking him since he disappeared in 2011 on the final day of his trial in Paris for fighting in Iraq alongside Al-Qaeda in 2004. Cherif, who was sentenced to five years in prison in the trial, was arrested on December 16 in Djibouti after arriving from Yemen carrying fake ID documents, according to the presidency of the Horn of Africa country. He arrived back in France on Sunday and has since refused to speak to investigators during questioning, according to a source close to the probe. On Thursday he appeared before a judge and was given a new "terrorist conspiracy" charge before returning to prison, a judicial source told AFP.”


The New York Times: Germany’s Far-Right Rebrands: Friendlier Face, Same Doctrine

“Christmas carols were playing and the scent of ginger hung in the crisp December air. Students sold organic plum compote and served mulled wine in biodegradable cups made from sugar cane. But then there were the postcards. “Islamization? Not with us,” read one. “Defend yourself! This is your country,” urged another. “Fortress Europe,” said a third. “Shut the borders.” This was no ordinary Christmas market, but one hosted by Generation Identity, a far-right youth movement under observation by several European intelligence services. Part hippie, part hipster, the activists of Generation Identity are one result of a broad image makeover the far right has tried to give itself in recent years. Better dressed, better educated and less angry than the skinheads of old — at least in public — they see themselves on the front line of a counterrevolution fought by a loose but increasingly well-networked web of actors in politics, publishing, civil society and business who call themselves the “new right.” Their aim: to bring down liberalism and rid Europe of non-European immigrants. The “new right” seeks to distance itself from the “old right,” which in Germany means neo-Nazis. Many analysts and officials consider this little more than clever rebranding. But they worry that it could allow groups like Generation Identity to act as a conduit between conservatism and extremism and draw young people into their orbit.”

The Jerusalem Post: German Company Linked With Iran's Rockets Stops Business With Tehran

“A spokesman for the German company Krempel, which provided construction material to Tehran businessmen that was used in rockets produced by the Iranian regime to gas Syrians earlier this year, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the global business firm has stopped trade with the Islamic Republic of Iran. “Since several months ago, Krempel no longer delivers goods to Iran,” said Rainer Westermann. “Corporations realize that doing business with Iran means funding the IRGC’s terror strategy,” US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell told the Post on Thursday. The IRGC stands for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the US designated as a terrorist entity last year. Grenell is widely credited with causing German businesses to leave Iran and has been praised for his efforts in seeking to counter companies that aid Iran’s terrorism and cause suffering for Syrians and Iranians within the Islamic Republic. The Krempel Group, located near the southern city of Stuttgart, sold electronic press boards to Iranian companies that were used in the production of rockets. The press boards are frequently inserted into motors. Regime forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad fired the Iranian missiles containing Krempel material, resulting in the severe gassing of 21 adults and children.”


The Wall Street Journal: Recent Explosions In Greece Spark Worries Of Emerging Urban Violence

“A recent spate of bombings in Greece has authorities warning about the danger of increased violence from urban anarchist groups. Two people suffered minor injuries on Thursday after a small bomb exploded outside a church in central Athens, the latest in a string of blasts. Earlier this month, a more powerful explosive detonated outside the headquarters of a Greek media company. No one was hurt. Police have said they suspect far-left extremists were behind the blasts, and said they are on guard to prevent further attacks. No group has claimed responsibility for either bombing. Greece’s left-leaning government, led by the Syriza party of Prime Minister Alex Tsipras, has condemned the attacks. Syriza called Thursday’s bombing “a repulsive action” opposed by all of Greek society.” What ‘Lone Wolf’ Gang Did Before Scandinavian Tourist Beheadings

“Unsettling details have emerged about the alleged killers of two Scandinavian backpackers decapitated in a terrorist attack in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains. Police yesterday arrested five more people for the murders of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, of Norway, bringing the total in custody to 19. Ms Jespersen and Ms Ueland were found dead early on December 17 above the village of Imlil near Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak and a popular hiking and trekking destination. The pair were stabbed multiple times before the killers slit their throats and decapitated them in the crime which shook the world. A graphic video allegedly showing Ms Jespersen’s murder was filmed by one of the assailants and uploaded to social media, where it went viral after thousands of people shared it on Facebook, Twitter, 4Chan and Reddit.”

Associated Press: Sweden Charges Trio With Chemical Stockpile Of Plotting Extremist Attack, Backing Islamic State

Swedish prosecutors say they have charged three men with preparing an extremist attack, and they were also charged along with three other men for financing the Islamic State group. The state prosecutor’s office said in a statement Thursday that the main three suspects allegedly acquired and stored large quantities of chemicals and other equipment “to kill and harm other people” among other things. It noted that should the planned terrorist crime been carried out, “it could have seriously hurt Sweden.” All six men, who are reportedly from Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan, are charged with sending money abroad that was eventually forwarded to IS. Five of the six men are in police custody while one is freed pending a trial, which is set to start Jan. 7. All deny any wrongdoing.”

Southeast Asia

The New York Times: Bangladesh’s Choice: Authoritarianism Or Extremism

“Elections in Bangladesh are never tame. There were boycotts during the last parliamentary election in 2014, and voting-day violence killed some 20 people. The one before that, in December 2008, was notable for having taken place at all: Originally scheduled for January 2007, it was postponed after a military-backed coup and street battles that shut down the country. This year again, in the lead-up to the next parliamentary election on Sunday, violent skirmishes have broken out between supporters of the two main camps, the incumbent Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (B.N.P.). Fatalities remain lower so far than in the past, but the stakes of this race are no less high: At bottom, this election is a contest between two forms of authoritarianism — only one is more dangerous than the other. Bangladesh, one of the largest Muslim-majority nations in the world, has done well in major respects. Its economy has grown at an average rate of about 7 percent for several years.”


The New York Times: 5 Takeaways From Facebook’s Leaked Moderation Documents

“Sometimes an emoji is just an emoji. Sometimes it may be a threat. And with only a few seconds to spare, Facebook moderators have to make the call — even if the text that accompanies the laughing yellow face is in an unfamiliar language. To help with those decisions, Facebook has created a list of guidelines for what its two billion users should be allowed to say. The rules, which are regularly updated, are then given to its moderators. For Facebook, the goal is clarity. But for the thousands of moderators across the world, faced with navigating this byzantine maze of rules as they monitor billions of posts per day in over 100 languages, clarity is hard to come by. Facebook keeps its rulebooks and their existence largely secret. But The New York Times acquired 1,400 pages from these guidelines, and found problems not just in how the rules are drafted but in the way the moderation itself is done.”

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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