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