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Arrow Eye on Extremism / March 21, 2019

Eye on Extremism
March 21, 2019

March 21, 2019

Military Times: US-Backed Syrian Fighters Search Tunnels In Last ISIS Pocket

“U.S.-backed Syrian fighters are searching tunnels a day after seizing most of the last pocket of land held by Islamic State militants, an official said Wednesday. The long-running battle to retake the last outpost held by ISIS in eastern Syria appeared to have reached its conclusion, with no signs of battle Wednesday, although officials said a few remaining ISIS militants still had not surrendered. Ciyager Amed, an official with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said they were searching for any ISIS militants hiding in tunnels in a riverside pocket in the village of Baghouz. The SDF held back on announcing victory over ISIS. Associated Press journalists saw SDF soldiers loading women and children into trailer trucks on the hilltop over Baghouz, in a sign evacuations were ongoing Wednesday. Black smoke could be seen rising from the village.”

The San Francisco Chronicle: Analysis: US-Backed Forces Oust IS But Victory May Not Last

“In a campaign that spanned five years and two U.S. presidencies, unleashed more than 100,000 bombs and killed untold numbers of civilians, the U.S. military engineered the destruction of the Islamic State group's self-proclaimed empire in Iraq and Syria. That's a military success, but not necessarily one that will last. The Islamic State group is down, but it is not done. President Donald Trump on Wednesday flashed a color-coded map to illustrate what he called the imminent demise of IS in its last speck of Syrian territory. At its peak, in 2014-15, it controlled an area the size of Britain across Syria and Iraq and launched a series of extremist attacks around the world. His suggestion of finality for the anti-IS struggle, however, seemed premature. If history is a guide, the reconquering of IS-held territory may prove a short-lived victory unless Iraq and Syria fix the problem that gave rise to the extremist movement in the first place: governments that pit one ethnic or sectarian group against another. The U.S. military has been through this scenario before. In 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, ousted the ruling Taliban regime in a matter of weeks and installed Hamid Karzai as the country's leader. The war seemed over.”

Foreign Policy: Iraq Prepares To Evict U.S. Troops

“Momentum is building among deputies in the Iraqi parliament to oust U.S. troops entirely from the country—an outcome that would leave Iraq’s political future in the hands of neighboring Iran and leave its citizens more vulnerable to the Islamic State. Today, the United States fields an estimated 5,200 troops in Iraq. They are there as part of a security agreement with the Iraqi government to advise, assist, and support that country’s troops in the fight against the Islamic State. But the Iraqi parliament is expected to vote soon on draft laws calling for a full withdrawal. For now, things don’t look good for the troops. For one, there’s a strong union of Iranian and Iranian-backed military and political powers that is actively trying to push the United States out. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander Qassem Suleimani, who is close to the Fatah Iraqi political faction, is determined to do so. The party of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who is usually at odds with Suleimani but is in agreement on this issue, has said all foreign troops must go, not just the Americans. The purported reason? More sovereignty.”

Voice Of America: Israeli Army Warns Of New Hezbollah Threat

“A Hezbollah commander who allegedly headed a 2007 raid on an American base in Iraq, which ended with the slaying of kidnapped American soldiers, is now building a secret force that could attack Israel from Syria, according to an Israeli military intelligence report. Their report was released in the days leading up to a visit to Israel by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who also is stopping in Kuwait and Lebanon, where discussions will include the threat of Iran and Hezbollah. The force that Ali Musa Daqduq is building could be used to widen a front with Israel in case of another clash with Lebanon. Hezbollah also could launch attacks only from Syrian territory in an effort to spare Lebanon from painful Israeli retaliations, Yoram Schweitzer of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv said in an interview.”

Financial Times: NZ Challenge To Facebook, Google And Twitter Over Violent Content

“Large investors in New Zealand are urging Facebook, Google and Twitter to take more action in dealing with violent or extremist content published on their platforms after video footage of the terror attacks in Christchurch was uploaded online. The New Zealand Super Fund, Accident Compensation Corporation, Government Superannuation Fund Authority, National Provident Fund and Kiwi Wealth, which collectively manage assets of more than NZ$90bn ($61.6bn), have called on the three US companies to take more responsibility for material published on their websites. The suspected Christchurch shooter posted a manifesto on Facebook and broadcast what appeared to be live footage of the attack, which left 50 people dead at two mosques, on the social media site. The video spread to other sites including Twitter and YouTube, which is owned by Google. “These companies’ social licence to operate has been severely damaged,” said Matt Whineray, chief executive of NZ Super Fund. “An urgent remedy to this problem is required.” The move is the latest example of investors joining forces to hold companies to account on a range of ethical issues, from human rights to labour rights and gun control. Each of the five investors has holdings in Alphabet, the parent of Google, and Facebook.”

The Wall Street Journal: Facebook: Our AI Tools Failed To Catch New Zealand Attack Video

“Facebook Inc. acknowledged that the gruesome video of the New Zealand mosque shootings revealed gaps in its handling of live broadcasts by users, but pushed back against the idea of setting up a time delay. Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president for integrity, said in a post late Wednesday that the company’s artificial intelligence tools had failed to catch the video of the terrorist attack in Christchurch last week that was aired live on the social media platform by the shooter. The 17-minute video shows men, women and children being gunned down in a mosque. Mr. Rosen also said the video wasn’t prioritized for an expedited review when it was flagged by a user. That is because the user flagged the video after it ended, not during the live broadcast. In those cases, Facebook accelerates its reviews only if there is a report of a suicide attempt.”

United States

Fox News: John Walker Lindh, American Ex-Taliban Militant, Obtained Irish Citizenship Thanks To His Irish Grandmother

“John Walker Lindh, a former American Taliban militant convicted in 2002 for supporting the terrorist organization and due to be freed in May, has obtained Irish citizenship in 2013 thanks to his family’s ancestry -- and he plans to live in the country when he leaves lockup. The former Islamist fighter, named “Detainee 001 in the war on terror,” was arrested in 2001, just months after the Sept. 11 attacks and the start of the war in Afghanistan, along with a group of Taliban fighters who were captured by U.S. forces. Walker Lindh’s release has prompted security concerns, as he's expressed wishes to travel to Ireland while also not denouncing radical Islamic ideology, including allegedly making pro-ISIS comments to journalists. Moving to Ireland became an option for Walker Lindh after he obtained citizenship there, while still in prison, sometime in 2013 thanks to his family’s lineage. His paternal grandmother, Kathleen Maguire, was an Irish citizen born in 1929 in a northwestern Irish town, the Foreign Policy magazine reported. The Irish citizenship law allows for anyone, within certain restrictions, to ask for citizenship if at least one of their grandparents was an Irish citizen born in Ireland.”


The New York Times: ‘Gone By Tonight’: Trump, Maps In Hand, Predicts The Collapse Of ISIS

“President Trump said on Wednesday that the last territory in Syria held by the Islamic State would be “gone by tonight,” despite reports of continuing fighting between the extremist group and American-backed local forces in Syria. It was the second time over the last month that Mr. Trump was ready to declare the liberation of the extremists’ self-declared caliphate — an area once roughly the size of Britain — across Iraq and Syria. In February, at a military base in Alaska, he said the Islamic State’s territory in Syria had been “100 percent” reclaimed; the group no longer controls land in neighboring Iraq. In Syria, officials with the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces near the last pocket of extremist-controlled territory said on Wednesday that a group of Islamic State fighters still controlled a sliver of land along the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, where they were holed up with women and children. As long as that area was still under the Islamic State’s control, “it would be weird to expect an announcement in the next day,” said a Syrian Democratic Forces official, who was not authorized to respond to Mr. Trump’s comments and spoke on the condition of anonymity. Mr. Trump, speaking to reporters before leaving the White House for a trip to Ohio, sought to prove that his earlier assertion had been correct — or close to it.”

Reuters: Battle For Last ISIS Enclave Edges Towards Its End

“The operation to take ISIS’s last enclave in eastern Syria looked close to an end on Wednesday, with no sign of clashes as US-backed fighters said they were combing the area for hidden extremists. Reuters reporters overlooking Baghouz from a hill on the bank of the Euphrates at the Iraqi border said the area was calm, and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia searched for tunnels and landmines, an SDF official said. The SDF on Tuesday captured an encampment where the extremists had been mounting a last defense of the tiny enclave, pushing diehard fighters onto a sliver of land at the Euphrates riverside. There was no immediate update from the SDF on Wednesday on the fate of these remaining militants. A group of women and children were seen being evacuated from the Baghouz area. ISIS’s defeat at Baghouz would end its territorial control over the third of Syria and Iraq it held in 2014 as it sought to carve out a huge caliphate in the region. While it would represent a significant milestone in Syria’s eight-year-old war and in the battle against ISIS, the extremist group remains a threat. Some of the group’s fighters remain holed up in the central Syrian desert and others have gone underground in Iraqi cities to wage an insurgent campaign to destabilize the government.”

The New York Times: The Evolution Of ISIS: From A Rogue State To A Tiny Sliver

“When the Islamic State raised its black flag over the Syrian city of Raqqa in early 2014, it began its transformation from fringe regional player to fearsome global threat. By the end of that year, it had seized large stretches of territory in Iraq and Syria, creating a rogue state the size of Britain. Now, that territory has been reduced to a sliver of land along the Euphrates River in southeastern Syria. Thousands of fighters remain in the region, but they have gone underground, carrying out quick strikes in the region and continuing to promote their ideology worldwide. Here are some of the major moments in the group’s evolution: From fringe group to major player. The Islamic State traces its roots to Al Qaeda in Iraq, an offshoot of the terrorist group that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. The Iraqi affiliate started an insurgency that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007, before it suffered defeat at the hands of American troops and local militias. By 2013, remnants of the Qaeda affiliate had rebranded themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and had identified opportunities in Syria, which was in the third year of its civil war. The Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi, was the architect of the group’s push to seize territory and declare its own state.”

Al Jazeera: Anatomy Of A 'Caliphate': The Rise And Fall Of ISIL

“Samer recalls the gruesome shock of seeing his friend's headless corpse strung up above Raqqa's main square. It's this memory, from a hot summer day in 2015, that defines his time living under ISIL's rule in Syria. “No one was allowed to touch it, nor bring it down for a proper burial,” Samer says of the body of his friend, an English literature graduate in his mid-20s who was killed for his “activism”. “I can't describe what I saw, simply because there are no words to describe it,” adds Samer, who uses a pseudonym to protect his identity. “I fainted in the middle of the crowd and was immediately taken away.” Public executions were a regular occurrence in ISIL's former self-proclaimed capital - a brutal tactic aimed at silencing dissent and striking fear into the population. At its peak in January 2015, ISIL covered an area across Syria and Iraq roughly equivalent to the size of the UK and attracted 40,000 foreign fighters to its cause. By March this year, however, the armed group had lost nearly 100 percent of its land, according to Conflict Monitor by IHS Markit, a security and defence observer. Today, only a handful of its fighters battle on in Baghouz, a town in Syria's Deir Az Zor province that represents its final holdout and which is currently under assault by a US-backed Kurdish-led force.”

Military Times: US-Backed Syrian Fighters Search Tunnels In Last ISIS Pocket

“U.S.-backed Syrian fighters are searching tunnels a day after seizing most of the last pocket of land held by Islamic State militants, an official said Wednesday. The long-running battle to retake the last outpost held by ISIS in eastern Syria appeared to have reached its conclusion, with no signs of battle Wednesday, although officials said a few remaining ISIS militants still had not surrendered. Ciyager Amed, an official with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said they were searching for any ISIS militants hiding in tunnels in a riverside pocket in the village of Baghouz. The SDF held back on announcing victory over ISIS. Associated Press journalists saw SDF soldiers loading women and children into trailer trucks on the hilltop over Baghouz, in a sign evacuations were ongoing Wednesday. Black smoke could be seen rising from the village. The SDF on Tuesday seized control of the encampment held by ISIS after hundreds of militants surrendered overnight, signaling the group’s collapse after months of stiff resistance. Fighters celebrated after months of grueling battles and an on-again off-again offensive that saw thousands of people, many of them women and children, evacuated from the pocket.”

Voice Of America: Analysts: IS Ideology Still A Threat Despite Setbacks

“As U.S.-backed forces fight to seize the last bit of territory held by the Islamic State (IS) in eastern Syria, the battle against jihadist influence is far from over. Counterterror experts warn that extremist groups may still try to recruit a rising generation of hundreds of millions of millennials to their ranks. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces on Tuesday announced full control over the remaining IS enclave of Baghuz in eastern Syria after hundreds of IS militants surrendered overnight. The capture was a significant step in the fight against IS, but not a complete victory over the terror group as fighting continued with some jihadists along the Euphrates River. Some experts said the final push in Baghuz was the end of Islamic State's self-declared caliphate, but IS and other radical Islamist organizations will continue to attract new members because the West has made little progress on the ideological battlefield. “In terms of what comes next, I think these movements adapt very quickly operationally,” said Juan Zarate, a senior national security analyst who served as deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism in the George W. Bush administration. “We will see this with ISIS going underground. We have seen this with al-Qaida adapting and going underground…”


Radio Farda: Iran Denies Joint Military Operation With Turkey, Again

“For a third time in three days Iran has denied repeated Turkish statements that the two countries are cooperating in a military operation against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The Kurdish party, which has been engaged in an armed struggle for autonomy in Turkey's mostly Kurdish southeast since 1984, is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union. On March 19, Turkey repeated its claim from a day earlier that it is carrying out a military operation jointly with Iran against Kurdish separatists, after Iran’s Fars news agency had quoted the military as denying it was involved. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan also repeated the claim adding it was the first of its kind and that he hoped further missions would follow. Iranian Army officials immediately denied Erdogan's comments. Nevertheless, Turkey's Ministry of Interior issued a statement and repeated Erdogan's claims. Once again, Iran responded by another denial. Spokesman of the Iranian Armed Forces, Abolfazl Shekarchi, said on Wednesday, March 20, Iran has no plan to hold joint military operations with Turkey at border areas.Speaking to the Islamic Republic's official news agency, IRNA, on Wednesday, Shekarchi underlined the absence of Iranian forces in a joint operation with Turkey and said the two countries have never had such action at their common borders.”

The Washington Post: Clues To The Identity Of Iran’s Next Supreme Leader In The Back Alleys Of A Holy City

“Wedged in the corner of a squat brick building in this holy Muslim city, Sheikh Aladdin al-Jazari's cramped office belies his ties to a powerful patron: the supreme leader of Iran. The furniture is sparse, and the rooms dimly lit. But Jazari is a key liaison to the office of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian leader, whom Jazari says he has met multiple times. As rumors swirl that Khamenei, 79, is laying the groundwork for his successor after three decades in power, clerics such as Jazari, from his perch next door in the spiritual heart of Shiite Islam, have rare visibility into a transition process known for its secrecy. He says that Iran’s next supreme ruler may not come from a list of more obvious candidates now circulating among analysts and insiders. He bases his assessment both on experience and, given his proximity to Khamenei’s inner circle, a degree of insight into the future.”

Time: This Iranian Lawyer Saved My Life. Now We Must Save Hers

“The lawyer who saved my life was just sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes in Iran. I first met Nasrin Sotoudeh — an internationally renowned human rights lawyer, and our country’s foremost campaigner for women’s rights and against child executions — when I was being harassed and violently intimidated by Iran’s intelligence services. My crime? I had removed my headscarf in public and put the video online, in protest of Iran’s forced hijab law and the stifling control over women’s bodies and choices that it represents. I finally felt empowered, being part of this White Wednesday movement in Iran, where every Wednesday women would courageously defy the regime in removing their headscarves, or wearing a white shawl in support of those who did, and which quickly grew into a near daily event. I was an ordinary woman, partaking in an extraordinary movement.”

The Financial Times: Revolutionary Guards Drill Into Iran’s Gas Potential

“Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are looking to fill a vacuum in the energy sector created by western companies that pulled out of the Islamic republic following the reimposition of US sanctions. Saeed Mohammad, head of Khatam-ul-Anbia, the construction arm of the elite force, said his organisation was ready to replace Total, the French company, in the development of phase 11 of the South Pars gasfield, the republic’s flagship hydrocarbons project. “The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps stands by the dedicated government against this fierce economic war and is in the frontline of [foiling] economic conspiracies of the [US],” he said in a speech at the launch of new projects at South Pars this week. The guards’ involvement in the project would signal a shift in the government’s energy policy that analysts said had been forced on it by Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear accord last year and hit Iran with crippling sanctions. It underlined how regime hardliners have been emboldened by the US president’s aggressive stance towards the republic and were exploiting the pressure on President Hassan Rouhani’s government to consolidate their power.”


Al Monitor: Has The Islamic State Returned To Western Anbar?

“The Iraqi security forces have expanded their operations to track down members of the Islamic State (IS) in the vast Western Desert. The security forces, however, have yet to reach an integrated strategy to confront IS in these lands, which stretch along Iraq’s borders with three countries and are located near key Sunni and Shiite cities. The sub-governor of the city of al-Ratba in west Anbar, Emad al-Dulaimi, confirmed March 13 that an IS member killed a resident who was kidnapped while picking truffles more than two weeks ago in the desert. IS has terrorized the citizens of the provinces bordering the Western Desert, who headed to this area looking for sources of livelihood. IS kidnapped and executed many truffle collectors. Desert truffles are a kind of mushroom found in abundance this season in these areas and sold in the local markets. According to intelligence reports, IS members infiltrated the Western Desert bordering several Iraqi provinces, including Anbar, Karbala and Najaf. They fled the intensified crackdown on their last stronghold in eastern Syria. Hisham al-Hashimi, a researcher specializing in armed groups, confirmed these reports. “These groups have been infiltrating the area since September 2018,” he told Al-Monitor.”

Iraqi News: Iraqi Troops Arrest Six Islamic State Militants In Kirkuk

“Iraqi security forces arrested on Wednesday six members of the Islamic State militant group in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, the security media center said. “Iraqi troops carried out a successful security operation based on accurate intelligence reports to target IS terrorists in Kirkuk province,” Baghdad Today news website quoted the center as saying in a statement. According to the statement, the militants were plotting to “carry out terrorist attacks with the aim of undermining the security situation in Kirkuk,” adding that the arrests were made after more than 20 days of close surveillance of the terrorists. Islamic State continues to launch sporadic attacks across Iraq against troops. Security reports indicate that the militant group still poses a threat against stability in the country. Iraq declared the collapse of Islamic State’s territorial influence in November 2017 with the recapture of Rawa, a city on Anbar’s western borders with Syria, which was the group’s last bastion in Iraq. IS declared a self-styled “caliphate” in a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria in 2014.”


Al Monitor: Turkish Intervention Could Trigger Syria's 'Second Great War'

“After a bloody and protracted five-year war, the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-led coalition are on the verge of declaring victory against the Islamic State after the fall of its last crumbs of territory in Baghuz. With Islamic State cells continuing to operate to deadly effect in Syria and neighboring Iraq, it's too early to say "mission accomplished," cautioned Mazlum Kobane, the commander in chief of the SDF, in an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor March 10 at a heavily guarded complex near al-Omar oil field in eastern Syria. The charismatic 50-year-old Syrian Kurd, whom coalition officials address as “general,” is seen as one of the chief architects of the battle against the jihadis. US diplomats and officers of all ranks who have worked with him for the past four and a half years are full of praise for Kobane, whose nom de guerre was Sahin Cilo when he was a militant in the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK, which has been fighting Turkey for Kurdish independence, and now autonomy, since 1984, is on the US State Department's list of terrorist organizations. Turkey likes to remind Washington of this irony, and it's the reason why Kobane is unlikely to be rewarded for his prowess on US soil anytime soon. His real name is Ferhat Abdi Sahin and he is on Turkey's list of most wanted terrorists.”


Reuters: U.S. Envoy To Afghanistan To Brief Counterparts On Peace Effort

“The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, will meet with Chinese, Russian and European Union diplomats on Afghanistan on Thursday as he tries to forge a peace deal with the Taliban to bring an end to America’s longest war. “Discussion topics include international support for the Afghan peace process, the role each party can play in bringing an end to the war, and progress to date in peace talks,” the State Department said in a statement. The meeting at the State Department will include Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s presidential envoy to Afghanistan; Deng Xijun, his Chinese counterpart; and Roland Kobia, the EU’s special envoy. Khalilzad will brief them on his recent talks in Doha, Qatar, with the Taliban, where the United States reported progress but no final deal on a withdrawal of U.S.-led international forces. The Taliban rejects direct negotiations with the Kabul government led by President Ashraf Ghani, accusing it of being a U.S. puppet. U.S. negotiators are pressing the Taliban to accept a ceasefire and talks on Afghanistan’s political future with representatives of Afghan society, including Ghani’s government. But the talks have primarily focused on the Taliban’s counter-terrorism assurances and a U.S. troop withdrawal.”


Reuters: U.S. Envoy Blames Houthis For Yemen Peace Deal Delays

“The U.S. ambassador to Yemen blamed the Iran-aligned Houthi movement on Thursday for the stalling of a U.N.-led peace deal in the main port of Hodeidah and said the group’s weapons pose a threat to other countries in the region. The Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Houthis reached a ceasefire and troop withdrawal deal for Hodeidah, which is under Houthi control, at talks in Sweden in December. The pact was the first major breakthrough in efforts to end the four year war. While the truce has largely held, the troop withdrawal by both parties has yet to materialize with each side blaming the other for lack of progress. The deal aimed to avert a full-scale assault on the port which is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis facing starvation. “We are greatly frustrated by what we see as delays and stalling on the part of the Houthis in implementing what they agreed to in Sweden, but I have great confidence in the UN envoy and what he is doing,” ambassador Matthew Tueller told a televised news conference in the southern port of Aden, where the internationally recognized government is based.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Mothers Of Yemen Captives Accuse Houthis Of Operating Secret Jails

“The Association of Abductee Mothers condemned Houthi militias for kidnapping dozens of their children four years ago and transferring them to secret prisons dubbed “exchange houses.” They also accused the insurgents of starving and neglecting the health conditions of their love-ones, leading to the spread of diseases, especially infectious ones. The Association, which is a Yemeni human rights organization, issued on Wednesday a statement saying it does not know the whereabouts of dozens taken away by Houthis four years ago. In its latest report, the Association said 230 citizens, who were kidnapped before 2018, have disappeared. The militias transferred the captives from their places of detention to secret prisons, it added.”


Khaleej Times: US Wants End To Qatar Dispute, Calls For Gulf Unity

“US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday (March 20) renewed calls for a resolution to a festering dispute between four Arab nations - Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE - and Qatar. On a visit to Kuwait, which has been attempting to mediate an end to the crisis, Pompeo said the dispute that has roiled the Gulf Cooperation Council for almost two years is hindering efforts to combat regional threats posed by Iran, Daesh and other terrorist groups. "It's not in the best interest of the region, it's not in the best interest of the world," Pompeo told reporters at a news conference with Kuwait's foreign minister. "We need the Gulf countries working together on the complex set of challenges that face each of them.”


Al Jazeera: Hezbollah Set To Take Centre Stage As Pompeo Heads To Lebanon

“In January, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went on a diplomatic mission to scuttle Syria's readmission to the Arab League. On Thursday, he is expected in Lebanon, where he is set to target another one of Iran's allies, Hezbollah. Pompeo is scheduled to hold talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and is expected to ask him to make greater efforts to shield Lebanese policies from Iranian influence - while knowing that that may be hard to achieve since Hezbollah has three appointees in Hariri's cabinet and, along with its allies, controls 70 of the 128 seats in parliament. Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut (AUB), described Hariri as a “lame duck” and said that neither the US nor its ally Saudi Arabia should expect him to deliver, even as they continue to back him as a Sunni counterbalance to Shia Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia and Iran have been vying for hegemony over the Muslim world since Iran's 1979 revolution. Lebanon, home to both Shia and Sunnis, became an extended theatre for this rivalry. “Pompeo's visit comes soon after Iran's foreign minister's. He simply wants to say the US is not abandoning Lebanon just because Hezbollah is mighty strong,” Khashan told Al Jazeera.”

Voice Of America: Israeli Army Warns Of New Hezbollah Threat

“A Hezbollah commander who allegedly headed a 2007 raid on an American base in Iraq, which ended with the slaying of kidnapped American soldiers, is now building a secret force that could attack Israel from Syria, according to an Israeli military intelligence report. Their report was released in the days leading up to a visit to Israel by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who also is stopping in Kuwait and Lebanon, where discussions will include the threat of Iran and Hezbollah. The force that Ali Musa Daqduq is building could be used to widen a front with Israel in case of another clash with Lebanon. Hezbollah also could launch attacks only from Syrian territory in an effort to spare Lebanon from painful Israeli retaliations, Yoram Schweitzer of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv said in an interview. Israel and Lebanon have amassed such a destructive capability on both sides of the border that they deter one another there. Hence, Israeli attacks on convoys of arms for Hezbollah were targeted when they were in Syria, not Lebanon. Daqduq, who also is known as Ali Hussein Sajid, joined Hezbollah a quarter-century ago.”

Middle East

The Washington Post: Militant Groups Are Using Christchurch Mosque Shootings To Spread A Message Of Hate

“Militant groups are using the attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, to spread a message of hate, pushing a narrative that says the West is at war with Islam and Muslims worldwide, security officials and experts say. Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other groups have cited the massacre, which left 50 people dead, in recent online appeals to supporters and potential recruits. Some of the messages have included video footage the shooter apparently made as he arrived at one mosque and opened fire inside. “In a sense, the Christchurch attacker has done a giant favor for the global jihadist movement,” said Rita Katz, executive director at SITE Intelligence Group, a private firm that monitors extremist activity online. “And no one should be surprised when this attack is still a staple of jihadi propaganda and justifications for threats and incitements 10 years from now.”

The New York Times: Palestinian Lives Don’t Matter

“The people of the Gaza Strip are protesting again, and soldiers are shooting again, and civilians are being victimized again. Only this time you may have missed the story, because these protests barely rated a buried paragraph in most Western news accounts. That’s odd: Some media outlets are prepared to devote months of journalistic effort in order to trace the trajectory of a single bullet that accidentally kills a Palestinian — provided the bullet is Israeli. The difference this time is that the shots are being fired by Hamas, the militant Islamist group that has ruled Gaza since 2007, when it usurped power from its rivals in the Fatah movement in a quick and dirty civil war. Since then, no genuine elections have been held, and no dissent brooked.”


The Washington Examiner: Nigeria's Christians Slaughtered By Boko Haram Amid Western Media Silence

“Terrorists of the group Boko Haram in Nigeria took over the town of Michika in Nigeria’s far eastern state of Adamawa, Monday, burning buildings and exchanging fire with government troops, according to Nigerian wire services and eyewitnesses interviewed for this report. The attack began at 7:30 p.m. in Michika and continued for hours with an unknown number of casualties, although initial reports mentioned “scores killed.” Nigeria’s 115 Task Force Battalion from nearby Lassa in Borno State was quickly dispatched and intercepted the terrorists, killing scores of them and causing “heavy casualties,” according to a press statement from an Army Public Affairs officer in the capital of Abuja. “I heard bomb blasts and lots of stray bullets,” said Father Peter John Wumbadi, head of St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Michika, in a cell phone call Monday night. Wumbadi said the hail of stray gunfire motivated him to pack six of his teenage students at the parish school into his SUV and drive past burning buildings and crowds of panicked citizens running for cover in the local bush. The military came to intervene, but many buildings were in flames, including the bank and some shops that were also looted. There was an onslaught today.”

The Punch Nigeria: Boko Haram Kills Four Farmers In Borno

“Four farmers were killed in an attack by Boko Haram insurgents in Borno state, witnesses said on Wednesday. The attack came a day after the jihadists killed three people in a raid in neighbouring Adamawa state. Fighters in trucks on Tuesday opened fire on the farmers as they worked in their fields outside Lassa village on the fringes of the group’s Sambisa forest enclave. “We lost four of our kinsmen to Boko Haram who came around 2:00 pm (1300 GMT) yesterday and shot them dead in their farm outside the village,” said Adamu Galadima, a militia leader assisting the military to fight the Islamists. “They (Boko Haram) tried to enter the village but our vigilantes mobilised and chased them away,” he said. Resident Danjuma Ijaduwa who gave a similar account, told AFP the attack was a reprisal after the jihadis incurred heavy losses the previous day. On Tuesday, vigilantes in Lassa laid an ambush on Boko Haram fighters as they fled a military pursuit. The insurgents were retreating to Sambisa forest after an attack on Michika town in Adamawa state where they killed three and robbed a bank. Residents said the jihadists lost men and equipment in the attack by vigilantes and troops. The Lassa area which lies near Sambisa forest has been repeatedly attacked.”


Reuters: Air Strike Kills Four People In Somalia -Relatives

“An air strike near the Somali town of Afgoye killed four people, a relative of one of the victims said on Tuesday. The United States frequently carries out such attacks that target Islamist militants in the Horn of Africa country. The attacks have helped bolster Somalia’s U.N.-backed central government against al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab insurgents. Abdiqadir Nur, an employee of telecoms firm Hormuud Telecom, and three others died at 1330 GMT while driving through Laanta Buuro village in the southwestern Lower Shabelle region, 45 km (28 miles) from the capital Mogadishu, relatives said. ”Nur and three others died on the spot. His brother Mahad Nur is totally burnt,” Nur’s cousin Abdullahi Ali said. In an email to Reuters, the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) said it carried out the air strike on Monday and that three militants had died in the attack. ”We are aware of reports alleging civilian casualties resulting from this air strike...The U.S. Africa Command will review any information it has about the incident, including any relevant information provided by third parties,” it said. Al Shabaab was driven out of Mogadishu in 2011, but retains a strong presence in southern and central parts of Somalia.”

AllAfrica: Somalia: 5 KDF Soldiers Reportedly Killed In Al-Shabab Ambush

“Photos purpoting to show the aftermath of KDF withdrawal and Alshabaab take over of KDF Military base in Busaar. At least five KDF soldiers were reportedly killed by a roadside bomb in Elwak Somalia. The soldiers had moved from their base in Busaar and were heading to the Kenyan border when the attack occurred. Pictures from the scene showed a burned lorry and an Armed Personnel Carrier (APC) which were destroyed in the attack. Kenyan authorities have not commented on the incident. Meanwhile, Al-Shabab took over the Busaar base which was occupied by Kenyan soldiers. Somalia authorities had questioned the rationale of the withdrawal in the Southern Somalia region, arguing that the militant group would wreak havoc on the residents as the local troops did not have the capacity to man the region.”


Yahoo News: Tunisia Forces Kill 3 Jihadist Suspects In Shepherd Murders

“Tunisian security forces have shot dead three Islamic State-linked militants suspected of involvement in the grisly killings of shepherds in the restive Kasserine region, the interior ministry said Wednesday. “Three terrorists were killed overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday,” National Guard spokesman Houssemeddine Jebabli told AFP. “We seized Kalashnikov rifles, explosive belts, grenades, explosives and ammunition.” He said the three militants, members of the Islamic State's (IS) Tunisia branch Jund al-Khila fa, were involved “in the killing and beheading of shepherds in the area, as well as attempts to target security forces and the army”. He said the jihadists, named Houssem al-Thlithi, Mohamed Nasser al-Mbarki and Mondher al-Gharssali, had been shot dead in the Mount Salloum region. On Saturday, jihadist monitoring group SITE said IS had claimed responsibility for the beheading of Tunisian shepherd Mohamed Lakhdhar Makhloufi, whose body was found last month in nearby Mount Mghilla. In 2015, 16-year-old Mabrouk Soltani was beheaded in nearby Mount Mghilla by a group of extremists as his 14-year-old cousin watched. Jund al-Khilafa (Arabic for Soldiers of the Caliphate), claimed responsibility, accusing the boy of informing the army on their movements.”

United Kingdom

BBC News: Terror Suspect 'Entered Miss Hitler Beauty Contest'

“A neo-Nazi terror suspect entered a “Miss Hitler” beauty contest, organised to attract new members to the far-right group National Action, jurors heard. Alice Cutter, 22, allegedly entered the contest after taking on the nickname Buchenwald Princess in reference to the Nazi death camp. She is on trial with Mark Jones, 24, of Halifax, Garry Jack, 23, of Birmingham, and Connor Scothern, 18, of Nottingham. They deny being part of the banned extremist group. It was outlawed under terrorism legislation in 2016. Opening the case at Birmingham Crown Court, prosecutor Barnaby Jameson QC said Miss Cutter's partner, Mr Jones, visited Buchenwald in Germany in 2016. He is accused of posing for a photograph in the concentration camp's execution room while giving a Nazi salute. Jurors were shown a picture of two men in the room holding a National Action flag. “Buchenwald was a Nazi concentration camp that stood out, even by the standards of Nazi concentration camps, for its depravity,” said Mr Jameson. He said Miss Cutter entered the National Action-organised contest in June 2016 - days after the murder of MP Jo Cox. The prosecutor told jurors: “On 24 June 2016 National Action staged, if you can believe this, a beauty contest [called] Miss Hitler 2016.”

The Guardian: Newspapers Help To Radicalise Far Right, Says UK Anti-Terror Chief

“Britain’s counter-terrorism chief has said far-right terrorists are being radicalised by mainstream newspaper coverage, while also criticising the hypocrisy of outlets such as Mail Online, which uploaded the “manifesto” of the gunman in the Christchurch terror attack. Neil Basu, one of Britain’s top police officers, said it was ironic that while newspapers have repeatedly criticised the likes of Facebook and Google for hosting extremist content, sites including the Sun and the Mirror rushed to upload clips of footage filmed by the gunman as he attacked two mosques in New Zealand. “The same media companies who have lambasted social media platforms for not acting fast enough to remove extremist content are simultaneously publishing uncensored Daesh [Islamic State] propaganda on their websites, or make the rambling ‘manifestos’ of crazed killers available for download,” Basu said in an open letter to the media on how to report terrorism. He appeared to be singling out Mail Online, which uploaded the New Zealand’s terrorist’s 74-page “manifesto” to its website and made the document, which included an explanation of his far-right ideology, available for users to download from one of the world’s biggest news outlets.”


France 24: French Sugar Giant Accused Of 'Complicity In Acts Of Terrorism' For Alleged Syria Sorbitol Supply

“Business partners of French sugar giant Tereos have filed a complaint against the firm for allegedly supplying an artificial sweetener to Syria, where it is being used to make weapons, the plaintiffs' lawyer said Tuesday. Tereos, which denies the claims, is accused of “acts of terrorism and complicity in acts of terrorism”, according to documents from the anti-terror prosecutor's office seen by AFP. The plaintiffs allege that Tereos had vowed to halt deliveries to conflict zones after an EU-mandated NGO found dozens of the company's bags containing sorbitol in a warehouse of the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq after the liberation of Mosul in late 2016. Sorbitol, when mixed with potassium nitrate, can be used to make rocket propellants. Confronted with the findings by the Conflict Armament Research (CAR) NGO, Tereos admitted that some 45 tonnes of French-produced sorbitol had already vanished in Turkey in 2015 and resurfaced a year later in IS basements in Syria. When CAR released its report in December 2017, Tereos insisted it had “suspended its sorbitol supplies to so-called high-risk areas” shortly after the Mosul discovery. However, the plaintiffs say an internal company investigation has shown that two shipments of sorbitol were made to Syria in February and July 2017."


Asharq Al-Awsat: North Macedonia: 7 Plead Guilty To Joining ISIS

“Officials in North Macedonia have said that seven of the country's nationals have pleaded guilty to joining ISIS and fighting with it in Syria and Iraq. The North Macedonian prosecutor's office said late Tuesday the men on trial in a Skopje criminal court were arrested last August in Syria by members of the international coalition fighting the terrorist organization. According to the Associated Press, they were subsequently handed over to North Macedonian law enforcement agencies. All were charged with membership of an extremist group, while one also allegedly recruited for ISIS, AP said. If convicted, they face up to five years in jail. North Macedonian authorities said more than 130 of the country's nationals have joined ISIS.”

The Local Sweden: Setback For Sweden's Proposed Anti-Terror Laws

“Plans from the Swedish government to make it illegal to be part of a terrorist organization have hit an obstacle, with the country's legislative council saying the proposal goes against the Swedish constitution. The proposed law could be incompatible with the constitutional right to freedom of association, according to the Council on Legislation, an agency tasked with evaluating the legal validity of law proposals. “The council therefore finds that it cannot approve the referred proposal being forward,” it wrote in its decision. The government had proposed introducing two new anti-terror laws: one making it illegal to be participate in a terrorist organization, and one making it illegal to cooperate with these organizations. Currently it is only possible to prosecute members of such groups if there is evidence of other crimes, such as incitement to terror, travelling internationally for terrorist purposes, or training or recruiting people to carry out terrorist crimes. Under the proposal, the punishment would be up to six years' imprisonment for crimes classified as 'aggravated', and up to two years in other cases. “We will discover more cases of those who commit these crimes. It will be easier to map the networks themselves,” Justice Minister Morgan Johansson had said when the law was referred to the legislative council for consideration.”

New Zealand

The Washington Post: New Zealand Bans Military-Style Rifles, Prime Minister Says Days After Mosque Attacks That Left 50 Dead

“New Zealand has banned military-style semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Thursday, just six days after attacks on two mosques in Christchurch that left 50 people dead. A buyback program will be launched to take existing weapons out of circulation, and those who do not comply will be subject to fines, she said. “On 15 March, our history changed forever. Now, our laws will, too,” Ardern said. “We are announcing action today on behalf of all New Zealanders to strengthen our gun laws and make our country a safer place.” The gunman who attacked the Al Noor and Linwood mosques here Friday used AR-15 rifles in the worst mass shooting New Zealand has ever seen. In addition to the 50 killed, 40 people were injured. New Zealand has a tradition of hunting and shooting as sport, but there is no legal provision to own weapons for self-defense. Ardern has said there is no reason for New Zealanders to own these kinds of weapons, and there is broad consensus on that argument. The center-right opposition National Party supported the ban, with its leader, Simon Bridges, saying it was “imperative in the national interest to keep New Zealanders safe.”

Fox News: Man Claims Police Ignored His Warnings About Extremist Members At Alleged New Zealand Shooter's Rifle Club

“A man who once visited the rifle club which also counted as a member the New Zealand mass shooting suspect says he warned police about the shocking and extremist views of members there years ago, but nothing was done. Pete Breidahl, a New Zealand Army veteran, says he went to the Bruce Rifle Club outside the town of Dunedin once for a serviceman's rifle match hosted by the club, and was horrified by what he saw. Discussions among members there about zombie apocalypses as well as rifles used for combat and “homicidal fantasies” were enough to make Briedahl concerned about the mental stability of those members -- and report what he heard to an arms officer with local police. “You gotta do something about the Bruce Rifle Club, those people are not f---ing right,” Breidahl said he told the officer in a video live-streamed to Facebook. He added that he also met the accused shooter, who Fox News is choosing not to name, that murdered 50 Muslims at two mosques on Friday. But police officers reportedly did not take Briedahl seriously. “She dismissed me straight away,” he recently told TIME about the officer's response to his warning. “She told me they were ‘a bunch of funny folk’ down at the club and ‘it’s just who they were.’”


Wired: Why Tech Platforms Don’t Treat All Terrorism The Same

“In January 2018, the top policy executives from YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter testified in a Senate hearing about terrorism and social media, touting their companies’ use of artificial intelligence to detect and remove terrorist content from groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. After the hearing, Muslim Advocates, a civil rights group that has been working with tech companies for five or six years, told executives in an open letter it was alarmed to hear “almost no mention about violent actions by white supremacists,” calling the omission “particularly striking” in light of the murder of Heather Heyer at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and similar events. More than a year later, Muslim Advocates has yet to receive a formal response to its letter. But concerns that Big Tech expends more effort to curb the spread of terrorist content from high-profile foreign groups, while applying fewer resources and less urgency toward terrorist content from white supremacists, resurfaced last week after the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called, “the worst act of terrorism on our shores.” In the US, some critics say law enforcement is hamstrung in combating white supremacists by inadequate tools, such as the lack of a domestic terrorism law.”

Time: The New Zealand Attack Exposed How White Supremacy Has Long Flourished Online

“Before opening fire on worshippers at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch last Friday, killing 50 and wounding many more, the far-right terrorist who carried out the attack uploaded a post to an anonymous online message board called 8chan. “Well lads, it’s time to stop shitposting and time to make a real life effort post,” he wrote, shortly before live-streaming the massacre on Facebook. Then, addressing 8chan’s denizens, he added a request: “Please do your part by spreading my message, making memes and shitposting as you usually do.” His appeal was heeded by a decentralized, international network of white supremacists and their sympathizers, many of them users of anonymous message boards like 8chan, who proceeded to repost copies of the horrific video to sites like Facebook and YouTube.”

The New York Times: Google Fined $1.7 Billion By E.U. For Unfair Advertising Rules

“European authorities on Wednesday fined Google 1.5 billion euros for antitrust violations in the online advertising market, continuing its efforts to rein in the world’s biggest technology companies. The fine, worth about $1.7 billion, is the third against Google by the European Union since 2017, reinforcing the region’s position as the world’s most aggressive watchdog of an industry with an increasingly powerful role in society and the global economy. The regulators said Google had violated antitrust rules by imposing unfair terms on companies that used its search bar on their websites in Europe. Europe’s regulatory approach was once criticized as unfairly focusing on technology companies from the United States, but is now viewed as a potential global model as governments question the influence of Silicon Valley.”

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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