On Fox & Friends First, the Center’s Incoming President Fred Fleitz discussed topics including ISIS and the possibility of William Barr being nominated for Attorney General.
The Dutch police have arrested seven people suspected of planning a major terror attack. The raid, carried out on Thursday in the small town of Arnhem, resulted in the arrest of seven men ranging from 21 to 34 years old. Officials say that the men planned to attack an unspecified large event using explosives and assault rifles with the aim of causing massive casualties. Three of the seven men have previous terrorism convictions, all from foreign travel to fight for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). These arrests conclude a seven-month investigation that began when Dutch intelligence received information that a 34 year old man of Iraqi descent, reportedly the ringleader, would be targeting “a large event in the Netherlands where there would be a lot of victims.” The Dutch police acted once they determined that the group’s plan was in an advanced stage. According to Minister for Justice and Security Ferd Grapperhaus: “They weren’t so far that it was a danger to society, in the sense that it was nearly too late. But they were quite far in their preparations.”
The Netherlands have had a different experience with terrorism compared to their European counterparts. Close neighbors such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have suffered numerous high-casualty, high-profile attacks since 2010 such as the Bataclan, Nice and Berlin lorry, and Westminster attacks. In contrast, the last recorded attack in the Netherlands was the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by a member of the Hofstad Network, a terror organization composed mainly of radical, young Muslim immigrants. Attacks on Dutch soil are rare but citizens who have left the country to fight in the Middle East are not. According to the Counter-Extremism Project, at least 280 Dutch nationals have traveled to either Syria or Iraq as foreign fighters.
Homegrown radicalization is the largest terror threat issue facing the Netherlands. Since 2010, there has been a significant growth in domestic radicalism as a result of widespread preaching by adherents of the doctrine of Salafism: the return to a “pure”, theocratical Islamic society characterized by an extreme intolerance of dissent where the worship of Allah is prioritized over all else. Recruiting has been described by GISS (Dutch intelligence) as decentralized, flexible and mobile, making it hard to combat. As in other European states, the use of social media by Jihadis has amplified their reach tremendously.
The Dutch government has responded by targeting extremist recruiters and monitoring anyone returning from the Middle East. The overall Dutch strategy to combat terrorism has been to try to prevent radicalization using methods such as rehabilitating individuals they deem to be at a high risk of radicalization and monitoring school computer networks for keywords associated with radicalization. Legislation increasing outreach to Muslim immigrant communities and revoking citizenship for foreign fighters has also been enacted by the Dutch Parliament.
A double suicide bombing late in the Afghani capital of Kabul has left over 20 dead and 70 injured. The Wednesday explosions tore through a wrestling hall in the Shiite majority Dascht-e-Barchi neighborhood, home to the Hazra minority group. The first bomb was detonated by a suicide bomber inside the complex and the second bomb, hidden inside a car, targeted survivors, journalists, and first responders an hour later. Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K), the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) branch operating in Afghanistan, has claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq News Network.
This latest attack might have been motivated by the recent drone strike of leader Abu Sayeed Orakzai. The US has been particularly successful in targeting the leadership of ISIS-K in the last few years, having killed previous leaders Abu Sayed and Hafiz Sayed Khan. However, these strikes have not curtailed ISIS-K’s ability to strike at the Afghani government. In June, the group claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt on Vice President Rashid Dostum at the Kabul International Airport. ISIS-K is also engaged in conflict with the Taliban. The ceasefire the Taliban signed with the government in June has not delivered on its expectations to bring short-term stability to Afghanistan, and any rancor between the two terror groups could have deadly consequences for civilians.
ISIL first gained international notoriety for its sleek and highly stylized propaganda videos depicting execution and torture. Shiite’s are viewed by ISIS as apostates, and brutality against them has become a trademark of ISIS’s conduct. This is not the first the Shia majority district that has been targeted. In August, a suicide attack on an education center resulted in the death or injury of 107 students. The fall of Mosul in 2014 resulted in the capture, massacre, and ransom of Shiites and another minorities such as Turkmans, Yazidis, Christians, and Shabaks. In 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry labeled ISIS’ actions as genocidal.
Today, ISIS’s current situation in their original base of operations is dire. Relentless attacks by the US and other regional forces have massively reduced its command and control capabilities in this area. It lost its last city after a failed final stand in the Iraqi city of Raqqa in October of 2017. Because of this, other regional ISIS affiliates, such as ISIS-K, have grown and substantially increased their activity.
The group will continue to remain a security threat in the region and, as Wednesday’s bombings demonstrate, it is still capable of small scale attacks and serious violence.
On Wednesday, August 15th, Omar Abdulsatter Ameen was arrested in Sacramento, California for his alleged roll in the murder of a police officer in Iraq on behalf of ISIS in 2014. Ameen also has two other warrants out for his arrest in Iraq for violating counterterrorism laws in 2010 and 2017, and his extradition is pending on his upcoming extradition hearing.
A US judge issued a warrant for Omar’s arrest after receiving a request for extradition from the Iraqi government after an Iraqi investigation discovered Omar was responsible for the aforementioned murder. Omar was already being investigated by the FBI for filing fraudulent travel or immigration documents. A court document shows the FBI corroborating evidence found in the Iraqi investigation. Numerous people they had interviewed had not only claimed that he was an active member of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and later ISIS in his home town of Rawah since 2004, but that he was also close to a leading figure in AQI, his cousin Ghassan Amin.
Ameen was allowed entry into the United States after being admitted as a refugee. After Claiming that he and his family were victims of persecution from terrorists and lying about his ties to terror groups, he was granted refugee status and was in the process of attaining a green card.
To prevent more cases like Omar Ameen, congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act which included the much need Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 . Signed by President Obama, this law forces the Department of Homeland Security to conduct additional security screenings for travelers and immigrants coming from countries where terrorism and anti-terror security is an issue. It also allows for the president to issue the temporary suspension of visas from countries that the DHS has listed as “countries of concern”. Sudan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria were the first countries placed on the list in January 2016. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson later added Somalia, Libya, and Yemen to this list a month later.
It is important that the United States continues to aid those harmed by terrorists in countries like Iraq. Millions of people from various minority groups across the Middle East have had their lives destroyed in targeted efforts by Islamist forces. The United States will continue to fight those who commit these vile acts and prevent those who share in these atrocities from entering the country.
On July 29th, four cyclists in Tajikistan, including two Americans, died when a car hit them. All five passengers in the car then proceeded to get out and attack the cyclists with knives and a gun; ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack the next day in a tweet, their first in Tajikistan. Tajik authorities, however, allege that the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) is responsible for the attack. Senior members of the IRPT denied responsibility claiming that the government was using the incident for political purposes. Four of the five alleged terrorists have been killed, and one is in custody.
Before being banned in 2015, the IRPT was the second largest political party in Tajikistan. Since then, the government has passed numerous laws targeting the IRPT, going so far as to imprison people for merely speaking about the group. The government of Tajikistan further claims that the IRPT are terrorists that have sent people to support terror groups in Syria and that they are currently working to carry out an Iranian-backed coup attempt in near future.
While terror attacks in Tajikistan are rare, Islamist movements in the region are not uncommon. The government claims thousands of its nationals have joined organizations like al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and regional cells of ISIS within or near Tajikistan. A video released by ISIS two days after the aforementioned violence purportedly shows the five men that carried out the assault pledging allegiance to the head of international terror organization. One of the men in the video reportedly resembles a photo of one of the alleged terrorists the Tajik government has released to the public. It is believed that around 1,300 nationals of Tajikistan left Tajikistan to join ISIS in Syria from the onset of the civil war through 2016.
In any case, it is unlikely that a group like ISIS would be officially blamed after further investigations are conducted. The Tajik government has been trying to increase tourism to Tajikistan, and this year has officially been declared the year for “New opportunities for Investment and Tourism” by the Tajik government. A terror attack from the most notorious terrorist organization in the world would be counterproductive to this initiative, while the opportunity to attack the most popular opposition organization within the country is clearly beneficial.
Americans traveling to Tajikistan have been warned by the U.S. Department of State to be careful when traveling to or within the country. The President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, has ordered that security measures be strengthened across the country. The United States will monitor the flow of foreign fighters returning back home to Tajikistan in order to track the potential growth of ISIS cells within the country.
On Thursday, July 19th, it was reported that fighters from Boko Haram killed six traders in an ambush in northeast Nigeria. The six traders were killed around 6:00pm in the village of Mussini, located 10 miles from Gamboru, Nigeria. The trader convoys are escorted by military assets, but they are frequently targets of attacks given they carry supplies, along with local markets which are soft targets for suicide bombers. This convoy was forced to stop after the gunman opened fire. Boko Haram fighters looted supplies and torched the vehicles before fleeing.
On Tuesday, July 17th, twenty-seven individuals were killed, and several others injured, after an ambush on Borno Highway. The attack took place between the villages of Logumani and Musune about 18 miles from the town of Ngala, Nigeria. Several vehicles were burned, including pickup trucks and commercial vehicles. Many individuals are still missing after the ambush took place, and at this time neither the military nor the police have issued any statements regarding the attack. This follows a reported attack the previous day that around 20 Nigerian soldiers went missing after a battle with Boko Haram militants in the northeastern part of Nigeria.
In June, Boko Haram carried out a string of suicide attacks in three Nigerian villages under the control of the local government: Kalwa, Misala, and Gwollam. During the attack Boko Haram terrorists set houses ablaze and killed 43 people either by shooting them or stabbing them to death. Weeks before this attack a nearby village was attacked when gunmen from Boko Haram shot and killed 48 people.
Boko Haram, founded in northeast Nigeria in 2002, is a violent terrorist organization that frequently targets and kills innocent civilians. Since 2013 they have been listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States Department of State. Boko Haram is a Salafist-jihadi group with known links to the Islamic State. Boko Haram is wide spread across northern Nigeria and along the border regions of Chad and Cameroon, with their stronghold in the Bama area of Borno state where more than 30,000 people have been killed since 2009.
The violence from Boko Haram does not appear to be letting up anytime soon, they are a continual security threat not just to the people of Nigeria but also North Africa region.
On Tuesday, July 17th, suspected Islamic State (ISIS) militants attacked and killed Taliban fighters that were attending a funeral in northern Afghanistan. The death toll in this latest clash between the two violent rival groups was 15 individuals to date. There was neither an immediate claim of responsibility by the Islamic State for the attacks nor comment from the Taliban regarding the terror incident.
Last month the Taliban launched attacks against ISIS fighters in the regions of Kunar and Laghman, clearing out bases that ISIS fighters had been occupying. The incidents within these regions came in the wake of an attack by the ISIS branch, Islamic State of Khorasan. At least 25 people were killed in that attack during the Eid ceasefire at the end of June.
The Islamic State of Khorasan arrived in Afghanistan in early 2015 when some existing militants swore allegiance to ISIS. ISIS has used districts within the provincial region of Nangarhar as its main base of operations. Recent attacks carried out by ISIS include bombings in Jalalabad, and a blast at a security checkpoint in the Jalula area of Diyala that killed at least 10 people. ISIS has increased its footprint within the country of Afghanistan even though the groups’ caliphate in Syria and Iraq has largely been destroyed. The Islamic State of Khorasan is now one of the main focal points of the US counterterrorism operation within Afghanistan.
The two Islamic extremist groups have been fighting on and off over the last few years in Afghanistan, battling over territory and recruits there. The Taliban rejects the caliphate that ISIS is attempting to establish within Afghanistan. This was in response to ISIS proclaiming their leader to be the “caliph” or head of the state. Taliban officials in both Afghanistan and Pakistan said that mirrored Afghan Taliban officials, that Baghdadi is not Khalifa due to the fact that he does not have command over the entirety of the Muslim world.
Despite the fact that the Taliban are an Islamist terror organization, they draw their legitimacy not from the Islamic creed but from ethnic populations and a nationalistic base within the country of Afghanistan. The Taliban want to establish an Afghan state under the rule of Islamic law. ISIS, however, wants to establish an Caliphate encompassing the greater Middle East and ultimately the entirety Islamic world.
The U.S. Military supports the Afghan forces in fighting both ISIS and the Taliban. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States supports potential peace talks with the Taliban. The talks would be Afghan led with the United States serving in an advisory capacity, and they would ultimately seek to achieve the goal of ending the conflict in Afghanistan.
After the brutal onslaught last week on Haroon Bilour, violence continues to threaten Pakistan’s elections with the occurrence of two more attacks. This brings the total number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan to five in this month alone. On July 3rd, 10 people were injured when a grenade was thrown into a crowd outside of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) new office. Four days later Shireen Malik, a Pakistani politician, was targeted with a bomb mounted on a motorcycle in an attack that injured him and six other people.
More recently, on July 13th, a suicide bomber attacked an election rally of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), killing 149 people and wounding another 189. It was the third deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s history. The blast, the responsibility for which was claimed by ISIS, killed BAP candidate Siraj Raisani who was running for a seat in Pakistan’s provincial assembly.
Lastly, in the early morning hours of July 16th, former ANP senator Dawood Achakzai was injured in a gun attack while he was sleeping in a guest house. The motivation behind the attack is still under investigation and no group has yet claimed responsibility.
Meanwhile, complaints about the care-taker government abound. Members of the Pakistani Senate accuse National Security Committee (NSC) authorities of ignoring security concerns regarding the safety of politicians and citizens during Monday’s senate session, noting that Pakistan’s National Security Committee has failed to discuss security concerns leading up to the election in recent meetings. Furthermore Interior minister did not appear at the senate session to discuss what the care-taker government was doing to fight the violence surrounding the lead-up to the election.
While two of these attacks are still under investigation, it is clear that each of these attacks targeted political candidates or former senior politicians. Reports out of Pakistan also make clear the overall objective of these attacks: to destabilize and ultimately destroy the Pakistani government.
Two of the destructive and active terrorist organizations within Pakistan are the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and ISIS. TTP and ISIS are competitors as can be observed in their slight ideological disagreements, and their fight over recruits and territory. However, they do share a common desire to see the Pakistani government collapse and be replaced with their own form of governance. While it may not be possible for the Pakistani Taliban or ISIS to take control of the government, they could wear down the country to a point where citizens are apathetic to democratic resolutions. Pakistan does have political parties that advocate extremist positions and even violence, like the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party (TLP). If the Pakistani people become desperate enough for a resolution then they may eventually gravitate towards groups like the TLP in an effort to resolve their issues.
It is not in the interests of the United States to have Pakistan collapse into the hands of terrorists. The United States will monitor the situation to ensure this election does not fail and lead to a government collapse of the government. If stability in Pakistan is to be achieved by the care-taker government, efforts to bolster security and eliminate threats to Pakistan’s democratic government should be made in earnest.
The U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with air support from the U.S.-led coalition captured the al-Omar oil field from the Islamic State. The oil field, located in the Deir Ezzor province near the east bank of the Euphrates River, was captured on October 22nd.
The recapture of the al-Omar oil field is a tremendous victory for the SDF because it is the largest oil field in Syria. The U.S. backed coalition is now racing with Russian backed Syrian government troops to seize the remaining parts of Deir Ezzor from the Islamic State.
The al-Omar oil field in 2011 had the capacity to produce 75,000 barrels per day. Before the Syrian Civil War erupted in 2011, the oil sector was the main resource for the economy, with the country producing about 380,000 barrels per day. By mostly exporting to Europe, brought in more than $3 billion dollars in revenue.
Oil fields have proven to be strategically important for the financial backing of the Islamic State. At its peak in 2014, the group controlled as many as 11 oil fields in Iraq and Syria. From the al-Omar field, it is estimated that the Islamic State made $5 million per month off oil sales through smuggling networks that led through the northern region of Iraq to the Turkish border, as well as south of Syria into Jordan. They used the black market to sell these resources. However, to halt the oil production in 2015, the SDF acting with the U.S. led coalition increased airstrikes which destroyed parts of the al-Omar oil field and put a dent in the Islamic States production capabilities.
The oil revenue has fallen dramatically with the terror group’s loss of territory since 2015. In 2015 during their second quarter IS made $81 million, in 2017’s second quarter the group only made $16 million. This correlates to their massive amounts of territory lost such as Tel Afar, Mosul, Raqqa, amongst other important towns and cities.
Although there has been a decrease in IS profit U.S. official Amos Hochstein from the State Department stated that the Assad regime has also purchased energy resources through the terrorist group. The purchased energy has been used to power the Syrian capital Damascus as well as other parts of the country. The Syrian state-own energy company and oil ministry denied the allegations.
The Syrian government has retaken nearly all of the provincial capital of Deir Ezzor as well as surrounding towns such as Mayadeen. The SDF have focused their operations on the al-Omar oil field, natural gas fields and rural areas on the eastern side of the Euphrates river within the province.
The SDF’s overall objective is to maintain territory in the north-eastern region of Syria, which is predominately a Kurdish population together with a sizeable group of other minority groups. By holding the country’s largest oil reserves gives the SDF more legitimacy and bolsters their effort at establishing autonomy. However, absent outside assistance, it is unlikely that the SDF will hold the al-Omar oil field as the Assad regime has vowed to bring back all areas of Syria under government control, and the Assad regime will likewise need control of the largest oil producing field.
As the SDF continues to recapture territories from the Islamic State, it is important that they want to maintain control of the oil and other natural resources, to quickly end insurgency with the Islamic State and drive the terror group from Syria completely. However, it is unlikely that they will able to hold large swatches of the oil-rich regions for long, as the Syrian government will act quickly and through military action to regain its most prosperous resource. After Deir Ezzor is completely liberated from the Islamic State, the only remaining areas within Syria that would be left are within the eastern areas of the Euphrates river bordering Iraq, as well as two areas in the south-west of the country bordering Israel.