Russia gives indirect support to Western far-right groups: US intelligence report

Pro-Russian forces in UkraineTHE KREMLIN IS PROVIDING “indirect and passive support” to Western neo-Nazi, white supremacist and other far-right groups, in an effort to subvert Western security, according to a leaked report produced by United States intelligence agencies. The report is titled “Russian Federation Support of Racially and Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists”. It was produced in July of 2021 by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), with information provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency.

According to Yahoo News, which obtained a copy of the unclassified report, it “stops short” of claiming that the government of Russia is giving direct financial and other material assistance to Western far-right groups. The report admits that US intelligence agencies do not have “indications of direct Russian government support” for such groups. However, it claims that Moscow appears to tolerate “some private Russian entities’ support” for American and European far-right organizations.

A number of Russian far-right groups are “actively training foreign white nationalists” and are engaged in efforts to recruit Western far-right extremists. These recruits come from countries such as Germany, Canada and the United States. They regularly travel to Russia, where they receive paramilitary training. Upon returning to their home countries, they help Russian far-right groups to “expand their reach into the West, increase membership and raise money”, the report claims.

The report cites the example of the St. Petersburg-based Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), which is known to have provided paramilitary training to Western white supremacists and neo-Nazis. In 2020 the US Department of State designated the RIM a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) group. The designation marked the first time in history that the US Department of State had formally applied the label of terrorist to a white supremacist organization. The ODNI report also cites the case of the neo-Nazi Rusich Reconnaissance and Sabotage Group, which has links with Russia’s Wagner Group, a private military contractor with significant presence in Ukraine, Africa and elsewhere.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 11 February 2022 | Permalink

German chancellor warns of threat to democracy from anti-vaccine militants

BfV GermanyGERMANY’S NEW CHANCELLOR, OLAF Scholz, warned that democracy “stands ready to defend itself”, after a special police unit uncovered an alleged assassination plot by anti-vaccine extremists in the city of Dresden. Dresden is located in the state of Saxony, which is considered a stronghold of anti-vaccine sentiment in Germany. It has one of the country’s highest COVID-19 infection rates and one of the lowest rates of vaccination among the local population.

On Wednesday morning, police raided at least five different properties in Dresden and a property in the nearby town of Heidenau, in connection with an alleged assassination plot against local government officials. According to a police statement, the searches were connected with an investigation of six German nationals, five men and one woman, who range in age from 32 to 64. All six are reportedly members of an online group calling itself “Dresden Offlinevernetzung” (“Dresden Offline Network”), which describes itself as an anti-vaccination and anti-government entity.

According to media reports, the group brings together conspiracy theorists, far-right extremists and anti-government militants, who frequently issue online calls to oppose mitigation measures against COVID-19 “with armed resistance, if necessary”. Police officials claim that members of Dresden Offlinevernetzung were planning to assassinate the prime minister of the state of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, 47, as well as other local government officials.

Assassination plans had allegedly been discussed by members of the group through online messaging platforms, such as Telegram, as well as in face-to-face meetings. Additionally, a number of group members had posted messages indicating they had access to working firearms, machetes or hunting-style crossbows. Several members of Dresden Offlinevernetzung are now in detention and are waiting to be arraigned. A few hours after the raids and arrests, Germany’s new Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said that German democracy was “ready to defend itself” against “this tiny minority of uninhibited extremists trying to impose their will on our entire society”. He added that he had authorized the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s federal domestic intelligence agency, to prioritize operations against violent anti-vaccine militants.

Last week, a group of anti-vaccine extremists held a Nazi-style torchlit rally in front of the home of Saxony’s Minister of Health, Petra Köpping.

► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 December 2021 | Permalink

US government report details first-ever drone attack on energy grid

Electrical substation

A REPORT ISSUED BY the United States government last month provides details of what is thought to be the first known attack on the country’s energy infrastructure by an unmanned aircraft system. The report appears in a Joint Intelligence Bulletin (JIB) dated October 28, 2021. The JIB is a collaborative intelligence product of the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Counterterrorism Center.

The report documents an apparent drone attack that took place on July 16, 2020. The target of the attack was an electrical substation in the state of Pennsylvania. The document does not provide details about the geographic location of the attack, nor does it identify the substation that was targeted. It does, however, give details about the type of commercial drone that was used, which it identifies as a Chinese-built DJI Mavic 2. The DJI Mavic 2 is a compact quadcopter drone, which is popular among aerial photography enthusiasts in the United States. It costs between $1,300 and $4,450, depending on its design and amount of features.

The specific device used in the attack in Pennsylvania had been modified by its operator, most likely in order to cause a short circuit and damage the distribution lines or transformers it came in contact with. The device had a thick copper wire hanging from its body, which was attached with nylon cords. Additionally, the perpetrator of the attack had taken steps to anonymize the device, be removing its quality control markings and other identifying information from it. The camera and internal memory card, which are standard technical features of DJI Mavic 2 drones, had also been removed, according to the report. As a result, the operator of the device has not been identified.

The report concludes that illicit [drone] activity is expected “to increase over energy sector and other critical infrastructure facilities as use of these systems in the United States continues to expand”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 November 2021 | Permalink

US designates two African armed groups as foreign terrorist organizations

THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT of state has designated two armed groups, based in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as foreign terrorist organizations. In a statement released last week, the US Department of State identified the groups as Mozambique’s Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama and Congo’s Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). In its statement, the US Department of State also said that the two groups have declared allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Established in Uganda in 1996, the ADF has had a presence in the eastern regions of Congo for over two decades. The ADF insurgency is rooted in regional ethnic rivalries. However, the group’s rhetoric became increasingly Islamist-centered in the 2000s. In 2013, following an intense recruitment campaign in Uganda, the ADF launched a series of attacks in northeastern Congo. It is currently involved in an insurgency against the Congolese military, which launched a major offensive against the group in 2019. Mozambique Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama, known locally as Al-Shabab (no relation to the Somali group by the same name), first appeared in 2017. Two years later, its leader, Abu Yasir Hassan, declared the group’s allegiance to ISIS and proclaimed that its goal was to establish an Islamic emirate in Mozambique.

US officials regularly refer to the two groups as “ISIS-DRC” and “ISIS-Mozambique”. In the spring of 2019, ISIS declared that the two groups were the armed wings of the so-called Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP). The militant group added that the mission of ISCAP was to build a caliphate in central, eastern, and eventually southern Africa. In addition to designating ISIS-DRC and ISIS-Mozambique as foreign terrorist organizations, the US Department of State named their leaders, Seka Musa Baluku and Abu Yasir Hassan, as “specially designated global terrorists”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 March 2021 | Permalink

Domestic extremists now pose the ‘greatest terrorism threat’ to the US, says report

US Capitol - IADOMESTIC EXTREMISTS, MOTIVATED BY conspiracy theories and opposed to mitigation measures against the coronavirus, pose “the greatest domestic terrorism threats” against the United States in 2021, according to a new government report. The report, dated January 13, is contained in a Joint Intelligence Bulletin, which is produced jointly by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center. It was accessed by Yahoo News, which reported on its contents on Wednesday.

Using blunt language, the bulletin warns that the attack on the Capitol on January 6 is very likely to motivate extremists to carry out more violent attacks across the country in 2021. In the coming months, violence will likely be “more sporadic, lone actor or small cell violence”, and will be carried out by “a loosely organized, sustained, and significant […] population” of domestic violent extremists (DVEs). These can be grouped into anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists (AGAAVE), militia violent extremists (MVEs), and racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs), according to the bulletin.

These actors broadly view the riot as a success for their cause and perceive it “as a step toward achieving their initiatives”. It will therefore “likely serve as a significant driver of violence [and] inspire others to commit” further violence in the coming weeks and months, the bulletin warns. The attack on the Capitol should therefore be seen as “part of an ongoing trend, in which extremists use demonstrations to carry out ideologically motivated violence”. Such violence is increasingly directed against members of the media, who are seen by DVEs as being complicit “in a system hostile to their beliefs”.

The bulletin also cautions that the recent purges of DVE users from mainstream social media platforms is prompting them to resort to fringe platforms, which they perceive as more secure. This mass migration is “further challenging” the ability of the authorities “to identify and warn of specific threats”, the bulletin concludes.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 January 2021 | Permalink

US soldier arrested for helping plan a neo-Nazi attack on his own unit

BoogalooAuthorities in the United States have formally charged an American soldier for helping a secretive neo-Nazi organization plan a terrorist attack on his own unit. Meanwhile, a government fusion center has warned law enforcement agencies that extremists may be planning violent acts in the Washington DC area.

On Monday the US Department of Justice charged Ethan Melzer of Louisville, Kentucky, with crimes including providing material support to terrorist groups. Melzer, 22, was reportedly arrested on June 10. He enlisted in the US Army in December 2018, and began his active service the following year. A few months later, he was assigned to a US military base in Europe.

It was there, according to the indictment, that Melzer was recruited by the Order of Nine Angels. This secretive group, known as O9A, ONA, or simply as The Order, is based mostly in the United Kingdom and is believed to have been around since the 1960s. Its ideology combines two themes, namely the occult and Nazism. US authorities describe The Order as “an occult-based neo-Nazi and racially motivated violent extremist group”, whose members espouse “neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic and Satanic beliefs”. It is widely known in neo-Nazi circles.

Members of The Order call for the overthrow of the Western way of life, which they dismiss as failed because it is associated with the Judeo-Christian tradition. They view the Third Reich as a solution to the ills of Western society and are tactical supporters of Sunni Salafi Jihadist groups, such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The Order calls on its members to keep a small circle of friends and family, and support violent groups whose actions that can help spark a global race war.

In 2019 and the first half of 2020, Melzer allegedly gave secret US Army information to The Order, which included deployment information about his unit and technical data about its weaponry and personnel strength. According to the US government, he gave the information to The Order with the expectation that it would be used by Salafi Jihadists to carry out attacks against US Army personnel. The US government says Melzer confessed to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents that he helped plot a terrorist attack with the aim of killing American military personnel. He has been charged with providing support to terrorist groups and conspiring to murder American military service members, among other crimes.

Meanwhile, a federal fusion center in Washington DC has warned that the national capital could become a target for homegrown violent extremists, whose goal is to provoke racial tension in the country. In an assessment published on Monday, the National Capital Region Threat Intelligence Consortium warned that Washington is “likely an active target for violent adherents of the boogaloo ideology due to the significant presence of US law enforcement entities, and the wide range of First Amendment-Protected events hosted here”. Boogaloo is a term used to describe loosely affiliated groups of subscribers to the view that the US is heading toward inevitable collapse, which should be accelerated through acts of violence aimed at government targets.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 June 2020 | Permalink

European neo-Nazis attended paramilitary training camps in Russia, article claims

UkraineMembers of neo-Nazi groups in Germany attended paramilitary training camps in Russia, which were organized by a group that the United States has designated a global terrorist organization, but which the Russian government has not banned. If true, these claims add further credence to the view that Russian far-right groups are becoming increasingly central in the worldwide network of racially motivated radical organizations.

The report was published on Friday by the German magazine Focus, which cited German “intelligence sources”. It said that the training camp was known in far-right circles as “Camp Partizan”, and was organized by a group calling itself the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM). As intelNews has reported previously, most RIM members are believed to be based in St. Petersburg, which is also the base of the group’s armed wing, the Imperial Legion. Most active members of the Imperial Legion are believed to have served in the Russian military.

Although it has been in existence since the early 2000s, the RIM drew considerable attention to its political platform after 2014, when it began to train groups of volunteers who then joined Russian-backed separatist forces in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. In a surprising move last April, the United States added the RIM to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) groups. That designation marked the first time in history that the US Department of State formally applied the label of terrorist to a white supremacist organization. The Department of State said at the time that the RIM had “provided paramilitary-style training to white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Europe”. The statement cited two members of the far-right Swedish Resistance Movement (SMR), who were later convicted of carrying out a string of bombings targeting immigrants in the Swedish city of Gothenburg.

Now, according to Focus, there is evidence that among Camp Partizan trainees were German rightwing extremists, who were members of two banned groups, the National Democratic Party and The Third Path. Members of these groups traveled to the outskirts of St. Petersburg, where they were allegedly trained in combat and were taught how to use makeshift weapons and explosives. Members of far-right groups from Scandinavia were also trained in the camp, and were able to use their skills as members of pro-Russian separatist militias in eastern Ukraine, according to Focus. The magazine said that the RIM’s armed wing , the aforementioned Imperial Legion, has a group of fighters in Ukraine.

Vice News reported last week that no Americans are believed to have received training in Camp Partizan. However, the website claimed that one of the organizers of the infamous 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, is believed to have developed ties with the group, and even welcomed a RIM delegation to the US in 2017. Vice News spoke to intelligence experts from the Soufan Group who said that the RIM is emerging as “a critical node in the transnational white supremacy extremist movement” and that the Russian group is “going beyond networking and ideology, and is actually providing paramilitary training”.

The RIM’s relationship with the Kremlin can be described as complicated, and at times adversarial. The organization is openly critical of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which it accuses of being too liberal and too lenient on non-white immigration. However, the government in Moscow did not prevent —some argue it even facilitated— the group’s role in training Russian volunteers to join separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. The Russian government has criticized RIM views as extremist, and has at times arrested RIM members. However, it has not banned the group as a whole.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 June 2020 | Permalink

Analysis: Experts warn ISIS may be using COVID-19 crisis to stage global resurgence

ISIS IraqTerrorism experts have issued warnings that the Islamic State may be exploiting the global instability caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic to stage a worldwide resurgence. Indeed, there are signs that Islamic State activity has been intensifying in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and even Europe, in recent days.

On April 28, the Islamic State said it was responsible for a suicide attack in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, which injured four people. The attack targeted the Information Protection Agency, which is the de-facto intelligence agency of the local Kurdish-led government in northern Iraq. It is estimated that the Islamic State commands at least 20,000 armed fighters in Iraq and Syria. Between April 15 and 21 alone, the Islamic State carried out at over 30 operations across Iraq, according to reports.

On the same day, April 28, a motorist who appears to have deliberately rammed his vehicle into two police motorcyclists in Paris said he had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Earlier this month, police in the German city of Frankfurt arrested three alleged members of the Islamic State, who were in the process of planning a bomb attack aimed to kill large numbers of civilians. These attacks follow a reported “uptick in propaganda] by the Islamic State, aimed at a European audience.

On April 17, an Islamic State-linked group in the Philippines ambushed a military convoy and executed 11 soldiers after capturing them. The soldiers were attempting to arrest or kill a senior commander of the militant group. And on April 24, the government of Mozambique announced that the Islamic State is present and active there, after a group or armed militants killed 52 civilians in a village in Cabo Delgado, which is Mozambique’s oil-rich region.

Meanwhile, Islamic State publications and media messages describe the novel coronavirus as a divine form of retribution against atheist China, as well as against “polytheist” Iran, and the “crusaders” of Europe. Some Islamic State outlets have urged the group’s followers to refrain from venturing into heavily infected regions. But more recent messages have asked for an “insurrection” to coincide with the Ramadan, which will last for most of May.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 April 2020 | Permalink

DHS warns of rise in attacks by violent extremists amidst COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus COVID-19The Department of Homeland Security has warned law enforcement departments across the United States that violent extremists are mobilizing against health restrictions imposed to combat the novel coronavirus. This is the third warning known to have been issued by the DHS in the past month about the potential of violence by domestic violent extremists, as America continues to battle the pandemic.

The latest warning was issued on Thursday, April 23, in the form of a memorandum, which was communicated to law enforcement personnel throughout the US. The memorandum was marked ‘unclassified/law enforcement sensitive’ and was accessed by Politico, which reported on it on Thursday. It comes as a self-styled ‘Liberate’ movement is forming in several American states, which aims to pressure government officials to end lockdowns across the country.

The memorandum states that “recent incidents and arrests nationwide illustrate how the COVID-19 pandemic is driving violent actors —both non-ideologically and ideologically motivated— to threaten violence”. It goes on to cite arrests of violent extremists who have issued threats against elected and appointed government officials. There have also been threats made against government facilities, including police stations and federal buildings, by people protesting the lockdowns.

A man, described in the DHS report as an “anti-government extremist”, was arrested earlier this month after he threatened to kill the governor of New Mexico, Michelle Grisham, over her decision to impose ‘stay at home’ orders. Another man was arrested in Florida after he threatened to take action against the COVID-19 lockdown by blowing up the headquarters of the Orlando Police Department. Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation uncovered a plot by a white supremacist and anti-government radical to blow up a medical facility in the Kansas City, Missouri, area. On March 23, the DHS issued another report stating that American white supremacists were exploring ways to weaponize the coronavirus as early as January.

The latest DHS memorandum warns that the danger posed by domestic violent extremists will continue to escalate “until the virus is contained and the normal routine of US societal life resumes”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 April 2020 | Permalink

Extremist groups see coronavirus pandemic as opportunity to spread chaos: report

Islamic StateExtremist groups around the world are capitalizing on the novel coronavirus pandemic to rally their members around a common cause and spread chaos and violence, according to a new report. In an article published on Tuesday, veteran reporter Bridget Johnson, currently the managing editor for Homeland Security Today, writes that the world’s most active militant groups have issued numerous edicts and proclamations about COVID-19.

Johnson explains that most militant groups “have shown some concern” about their members’ health and wellbeing amidst the pandemic. The Islamic State was arguably the first Islamist group to instruct its members to take precautions against COVID-19. Johnson writes that the group began highlighting the threat of the virus in January, when an article in Al-Naba­, the Islamic State’s weekly newsletter, expressed “growing concern about the spread of the infectious virus”. The militant group has since prescribed that “the healthy should not enter the land of the epidemic and the afflicted should not exit from it”, and has advised its members to wash their hands and “cover the mouth when yawning and sneezing”.

In the past month, the Afghan Taliban have been carrying a “COVID-19 awareness campaign” in areas under their control. The campaign centers on community events that feature the distribution of masks, soap and informational pamphlets to families, writes Johnson. Taliban commanders have also been issuing regular warnings and threats against those who are caught resorting to price gouging or hoarding food and supplies. In recent communiques, the Taliban have called the coronavirus “a decree of Allah” and have urged their followers to respond to it “in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Prophet”, including daily readings of the Quran, repenting and reciting prayers.

Al-Qaeda publications have described COVID-19’s spread in Muslim communities as “a consequence of our own sins and our distance from the divine methodology, [our widespread] obscenity and moral corruption”. The group has also instructed its followers to view the coronavirus as “a powerful tsunami” that has the potential to ruin the American economy. A recent article by al-Qaeda propagandists stressed that the group’s co-founder, Osama bin Laden, “would often inquire about the economic impact of the [September 11] attacks, unlike most others who would limit the discussion to casualties”, according to Johnson. She adds that al-Qaeda has called on its members to “turn this calamity into a cause for uniting our ranks, [because] now is the time to spread the correct Aqeedah [creed], call people to jihad in the Way of Allah, and revolt against oppression and oppressors”.

Meanwhile, Islamic State publications in countries such as India have been pointing out that, with soldiers and police officers “deployed in streets and alleys” during the coronavirus pandemic, jihadists have “easy targets”. Islamic State members are also being urged to “intensify the pressure” while national governments around the world are “preoccupied with protecting their countries”, something that will inevitably distract them in the coming weeks and months, writes Johnson.

In the United States the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Counterterrorism Center have issued several warnings regarding threats made by racially motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) in connection with the pandemic. The warnings state that RMVEs have discussed weaponizing the virus and using it to infect members of racial or ethnic minorities. Some white supremacist theorists have utilized online forums to discuss their hope that the responses to the pandemic by governments around the world “could crash the global economy, hasten societal collapse, and lead to a race war”. Other RMVE groups have been promoting conspiracy theories blaming ethnic and religious minorities —primarily Jews— for the coronavirus pandemic, writes Johnson.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 April 2020 | Permalink

In historic first, US designates Russian white supremacist group as ‘global terrorists’

UkraineThe United States Department of State has designated a Russian white supremacist organization a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) group. This designation marks the first time in history that the US Department of State has formally applied the label of terrorist to a white supremacist organization.

The group in question is the Russian Imperial Movement, which is abbreviated as RID (РИД) in Russian or as RIM in English. It is a far-right nationalist group whose members are considered racially motivated violent extremists. The majority of its members are based mostly in St. Petersburg, which is also the base of the group’s armed wing, the Imperial Legion. Most active members of the Imperial Legion are believed to have served in the Russian military.

Although it has been in existence since the early 2000s, the RIM drew considerable attention to its political platform after 2014, when it began to train groups of volunteers who then joined Russian-backed separatist forces in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. The group has also trained neo-Nazi members of the Swedish Resistance Movement (SMR) who were later convicted of carrying out a string of bombings targeting immigrants in the Swedish city of Gothenburg.

The relationship between the RIM and the Russian government is believed to be adversarial. The RIM is openly critical of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which it accuses of being too liberal and too lenient on immigration. However, the government in Moscow did not prevent —some argue it even facilitated— the group’s role in training Russian volunteers to join separatist forces in Donbass.

Members of the RIM have also traveled to the United States, but the extent of their interaction with American white supremacists is unknown. In January of this year it was reported that the leader of The Base, one of America’s most notorious neo-Nazi organizations, may be residing in Russia.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 07 April 2020 | Permalink

American white supremacists wanted to weaponize COVID-19 in early February

Coronavirus COVID-19In early February, when most Western governments were just beginning to wake up to the COVID-19 threat, some American white supremacists were already exploring ways to weaponize the new virus. This is disclosed in an intelligence report authored by analysts in the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service (FPS). The FPS is a law enforcement agency whose mission includes the physical protection of buildings and facilities used by the federal government.

The revelation is included in the FPS Weekly Intelligence Brief, which covers the week of February 17-24. Federal investigators found the information while monitoring online exchanges between what the FPS analysts describe as White Racially Motivated Violent Extremists. These exchanges took place on Telegram, an encrypted social networking application that has become popular with white supremacist groups due to its strong encryption standards.

According to the FPS, white supremacists discussed methods of using COVID-19 as a weapon to target members of local and federal law enforcement, as well as “nonwhite” individuals. Methods of attack reportedly included “saliva” or “spray bottles” containing bodily fluids of COVID-19 patients. Some members of the Telegram forum suggested smearing “saliva on door handles” at FBI field offices or smearing other bodily fluids on elevator buttons of apartment buildings located in “nonwhite neighborhoods”. Some white supremacists suggested that, should one of them contract the virus, they had an “obligation” to pass it on to members of law enforcement or non-whites.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 March 2020 | Permalink

Analysis: Al-Qaeda shifts strategic focus to Syria while still seeking to attack West

Jabhat al-NusraIn an effort to remain relevant, al-Qaeda has shifted its strategic focus from Yemen to Syria but continues to pursue a globalist agenda by seeking ways to attack Western targets, according to an expert report. Following the meteoric rise of the Islamic State in 2014, al-Qaeda found it difficult to retain its title as the main representative of the worldwide Sunni insurgency. But in an argue published last week on the website of the RAND Corporation, two al-Qaeda experts argue that the militant group is rebounding.

The authors, Middle East Institute senior fellow Charles Listeris and RAND senior political scientist Colin Clarke, editorial that al-Qaeda followed a pragmatic and patient strategy after 2014. Specifically, the group remained on the margins and “deliberately let the Islamic State bear the brunt of the West’s counterterrorism campaign” they argue. At the same time, al-Qaeda has sought to remain relevant by shifting the center of its activity from Yemen to Syria. That decision appears to have been taken in 2014, when the group began to systematically transport assets and resources from its traditional strongholds of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Levant, the authors argue.

Observers are still evaluating the implications of al-Qaeda’s strategic shift. Listeris and Clarke note that counterterrorism experts have yet to fully understand them. What appears certain is that al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the al-Nusra Front, “proved to be the most potent military actor on the battlefield” in the Levant. It did so by operating largely independently from al-Qaeda central, which allowed it to act with speed in pursuit of a strictly localized agenda that attracted many locals. At the same time, however, al-Nusra’s independence effectively separated it from its parent organization. Many al-Qaeda loyalists accused the group of abandoning al-Qaeda’s principles and left it when it rebranded itself to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Levantine Conquest Front) in 2016 and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Organization for the Liberation of the Levant) in 2017.

Al-Qaeda itself denounced Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in 2018 and today supports a number of smaller militias that operate on the ground in Syria. These smaller groups appear to be extremely professional and experienced, and are staffed by “veterans with decades of experience at al Qaeda’s highest levels”. What does this mean about al-Qaeda’s strategic priorities? Listeris and Clarke argue that Syria remains al-Qaeda’s priority. But the group remains focused on attacking the West while also pursuing guerrilla warfare in Syria, they say. This reflects al-Qaeda’s overarching narrative, namely to fight in local conflicts while pursuing the “far enemy” (the West), which it sees as a mortal enemy of Islam.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 September 2019 | Permalink

ISIS militant was first-ever Filipino suicide bomber, say police officials

Jolo PhilippinesAn Islamic State militant who blew himself up in the Philippines last week was probably history’s first-ever Filipino suicide bomber, according to police officials. The man was one of two militants who detonated suicide vests in Indanan, a town in the southern Philippines island of Sulu, on Friday. The twin blasts killed six people, in addition to the two suicide bombers. The target of the attack was a military base that houses the 1st Brigade Combat team of the Philippine Army. The 1,500-strong brigade is leading the counterinsurgency campaign in the country’s heavily Muslim southern regions. Three of the victims were 1st Brigade Combat team soldiers, while three civilians who happened to be walking nearby were also killed.

The Islamic State —known also as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)— claimed responsibility for the attack, leading many to speculate that the suicide bombers were not Filipinos, but other Arab nationals. That would fit the pattern of the two previous suicide bombings that have taken place in the history of the Philippines. In July of 2018, a Moroccan ISIS follower drove a van laden with explosives at an army checkpoint on the island of Basilan, killing ten people. And in January of this year, two Indonesian suicide bombers attacked a Roman Catholic congregation on Jolo Island, killing 23 and injuring over 100 churchgoers. All three suicide bombers were members of Abu Sayyaf, a Filipino Salafi jihadist group that pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014. Moreover, none of the three suicide bombers were native Filipinos; rather they had traveled to the island country in order to carry out terrorist attacks.

This pattern may have changed as of last Friday, however. According to local military officials, a Filipino woman identified the remains of one of the two suicide bombers as belonging to her son. The woman reportedly told authorities that her son was named Norman Lasuca and was 23 years old. She also said that he, like his father, belonged to the Tausūg, a million-strong predominantly Muslim ethnic group that includes many recent converts to Islam.

On Tuesday, several Philippine Army commanders gave a press conference in Sulu, where they discussed the latest information regarding last week’s suicide attacks. One of the speakers, Brigadier-General Edgard Arevalo, said that the purported mother of the suicide bomber had provided DNA samples to the authorities, in order to help positively identify the body. If the DNA tests are positive “then […] we can say conclusively that the person is Filipino”, which will be a first, said Arevalo. A positive result would suggest that the ideology of ISIS may be more appealing to local Filipino youth than has generally been assumed by counterterrorism officials, Arevalo concluded.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 July 2019 | Permalink

No evidence Islamic State had foreknowledge of Sri Lanka bombings, says official

Sri Lanka Easter bombingsIt is not at all clear that the Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who claimed responsibility of the Sri Lanka bombings in April, had foreknowledge of the attacks, according to a top official. The militant Sunni group claimed it was behind the nine suicide blasts that targeted Catholic churches and five-star hotels in Sri Lanka’s western and eastern coastal regions on April 21. The near-simultaneous bombings killed 258 people and injured over 500. They are believed to constitute the bloodiest terrorist attack in the country’s history. Interestingly, many questioned the authenticity of the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility, which came a full two days following the deadly blasts. The group typically issues statements immediately following attacks by its followers around the world. The 48-hour delay in the case of the Sri Lanka bombings, therefore, was deemed “uncharacteristic” by some experts.

Now The Hindu, India’s most-circulated English-language daily, has claimed that the Islamic State probably became aware of the Sri Lanka attacks after they happened. The Islamic State’s news agency, Amaq, issued a statement of responsibility, accompanied by a video showing the suicide bombers pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi. But The Hindu has quoted “a senior official […] familiar with the probe” into the attacks, who claims that the militant group was contacted by its followers in Sri Lanka only after the attacks made international news headlines. A local Salafi jihadist communicated with the Islamic State on behalf of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), the local group that carried out the bombings. The Islamic State then secured the video of the suicide bombers “through a third party”, said the senior official. Sri Lankan Salafi jihadists eventually convinced the militant group to issue a statement endorsing the attacks in order to “honor those who sacrificed their lives” for the Islamic State’s cause, said the source. It follows, said the official, that the local suicide bombers “were all sympathizers of the Islamic State. But it remains unclear how they maintained links with the Islamic State, if in fact they did”, he added.

The deadly attacks continue to dominate the headlines in Sri Lanka, despite the passage of more than two months since they occurred. Three separate investigations have been launched by the government —one by former Supreme Court judges appointed by the president; one by the Sri Lankan parliament; and one by the country’s police and security services. None of these probes have uncovered evidence that the NTJ militants were in contact with the Islamic State before they launched their wave of suicide attacks on April 21, said The Hindu.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 June 2019 | Permalink

%d bloggers like this: