War against terror group Daesh is expanding into Africa, US official admits

War against terror group Daesh is expanding into Africa, US official admits
Ian J. McCary. (Supplied)
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Updated 06 December 2023
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War against terror group Daesh is expanding into Africa, US official admits

War against terror group Daesh is expanding into Africa, US official admits
  • Ian J. McCary, from the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau, says the battle against terrorism is being affected by other conflicts, including the war in Gaza
  • After initially focusing on Syria and Iraq, the international coalition working to defeat Daesh is adopting a strategy of regionalization to prevent group’s expansion in Africa and Central Asia

CHICAGO: The war against terror group Daesh has expanded into other regions outside of the Middle East, a leading US counterterrorism official said on Tuesday.

Ian J. McCary, who works at the State Department as its Counterterrorism Bureau’s deputy special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, conceded that the fight against Daesh (another name for which is ISIS) is now being affected by other conflicts in the region, including Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

When the international battle against the terror group began in 2014, its efforts mainly focused on Syria and Iraq, where the group’s leaders established a foothold and declared a caliphate. Since then, however, fresh conflicts have reenergized Daesh’s activities in Syria and Iraq, McCary added, but the coalition is now also targeting the group’s affiliates in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia.

The 40 member nations, including several from Africa, that took part in the coalition’s recent annual meeting in Italy discussed this strategy of “regionalization” in response to the spread and expansion of terrorist groups in these parts of the world, he said during a media briefing.

“In terms of regionalization, what we mean by that is obviously when the coalition started, all of the focus was on defeating the so-called territorial caliphate which Daesh had created in northeastern Syria and Iraq, and all of the attention was on that particular theater, and the threat has evolved significantly,” he explained.

“The challenges in northeastern Syria, and particularly and also in Iraq, persist but they are of a very different nature than they were back in 2014 to 2019, roughly. And then we have worked over the past few years to increase the coalition’s focus on sub-Saharan Africa and also Central Asia.

“The challenges on the African continent alone are so dispersed, geographically, that it made sense to break the problem apart and deal with it more piece by piece.”

He acknowledged that despite the strong support provided by coalition partners, including Turkiye, the expansion of Daesh into other regions requires more and better coordination of resources and counterterrorism efforts.

This spread of the group in Africa, Central Asia, and also Afghanistan, is in part the result of the support it receives from Iran, and the coup in Niger in July this year also played a part, McCary acknowledged. Turkiye has played a significant role in efforts to combat the Daesh expansion in sub-Saharan Africa, he added.

“We have been outspoken in (our) rejection of the very unconstructive role, or malignant role, that Iran and its proxies have been playing in northeastern Syria, as well as in other parts of the Middle East,” he said.

“We are also absolutely determined that we will not be deterred in conducting our (anti-Daesh) operations in northeastern Syria. We are applying the resources and implementing the tactics necessary both to defend our forces against any such attacks and continue our campaign against the remnants of Daesh in that region.”

The war in Gaza and conflicts in other regions have resulted in a resurgence of Daesh terrorism in Syria and Iraq, where the group’s activities began.

“We have an extraordinary partnership with Iraqi special forces and we have a lot of confidence in their capabilities to defend Iraqi sovereignty and to defend their people against any threats from remnants of Daesh in Iraq,” McCary said.

“We are also continuing undeterred (in our efforts) to defeat the Daesh elements that remain in northeastern Syria … We do believe Daesh is seeking opportunities to exploit the violence in the conflict between Israel and Hamas for its own purposes. But, again, we are determined that we are going to remain steadfast in our operations to defeat Daesh.”

He stressed that despite the many complex challenges “crowding the global agenda today, there is still a very strong international will not to be distracted in our efforts to defeat (Daesh), and to continue to refine our tactics and deploy whatever tools we need to deploy to ensure Daesh can’t threaten international security in the future.”

McCary took up his current position as deputy special envoy in September 2022. From August 2021 to August 2022 he served as charge d’affaires for the US mission to Afghanistan, also known as the Afghanistan Affairs Unit, based in Doha, Qatar.


UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech

UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech
Updated 01 March 2024
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UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech

UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech
  • PM: ‘In recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality’

LONDON: Following weeks of simmering tension in the UK over the Gaza conflict, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Friday said that the “time has come” to battle extremist forces as he warned “democracy itself is a target.”
In an unusual address from outside his Downing Street home, Sunak said that “in recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality.”
Regular marches protesting Israel’s military response to Hamas’ October 7th attacks have seen dozens arrested for anti-Semitic chanting and banners, inviting support for a proscribed organization and assaulting emergency workers.
Right wing conter-protesters were also arrested when they descended on London for Remembrance Day events in November.
“Islamist extremists and far-right groups are spreading a poison. That poison is extremism,” said Sunak.
Matters came to a head last week when the Speaker of the House of Commons said he bucked procedure during a debate due to concerns about the safety of MPs.
Sunak said that the protests, a regular occurence on Saturdays in the capital, “had descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence.”
“Now our democracy itself is a target. Council meetings and local events have been stormed.
“MPs do not feel safe in their home. Long-standing parliamentary conventions have been upended because of safety concerns,” he added.
The prime minister said that “police have a tough job in policing the protests” but that “we must draw a line.”
“I say this to the police, we will back up when you take action,” he added.
Sunak’s speech came as left-wing firebrand George Galloway was elected to the UK parliament after tapping into anger over the Israel-Hamas war in a chaotic by-election marred by allegations of anti-Semitism.
Sunak said it was “beyond alarming” that voters had elected a candidate “who dismisses the horror of what happened on October 7th, and who glorifies Hezbollah.”
The government will soon unveil a “new, robust framework” to tackle extremism, which will include backing for the counter-radicalization Prevent program and a demand for universities to stop extremist activity on campus, he explained.
“It is not enough to live side-by-side, we must live together, united by shared values and a shared commitment to this country,” said Sunak.
“The time has now come for us all to stand together to combat the forces of division,” he added.


Military court in Somalia sentences 6 Moroccan men to death for membership in Daesh

Military court in Somalia sentences 6 Moroccan men to death for membership in Daesh
Updated 01 March 2024
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Military court in Somalia sentences 6 Moroccan men to death for membership in Daesh

Military court in Somalia sentences 6 Moroccan men to death for membership in Daesh
  • The individuals entered Somalia to cause harm to Muslims and Somalis and incite unrest in the country
  • It was not immediately clear if any of the men had access to legal representation or where they were being held Friday

MOGADISHU: A military court in Somalia’s northeastern semiautonomous state of Puntland sentenced to death six Moroccans believed to be foreign fighters for the Daesh group in Somalia.
The individuals entered Somalia to cause harm to Muslims and Somalis and incite unrest in the country, the presiding judge in the Puntland region, Col. Ali Ibrahim Osman, said late Thursday.
The six men, identified as Mohamed Hassan, Ahmed Najwi, Khalid Latha, Mohamed Binu Mohamed Ahmed, Ridwan Abdulkadir Osmany, and Ahmed Hussein Ibrahim, can appeal and if they are unsuccessful they will be shot to death by firing squad.
Additionally, an Ethiopian and a Somali were each sentenced to 10 years in prison, while another Somali defendant was acquitted due to lack of evidence.
It was not immediately clear if any of the men had access to legal representation or where they were being held Friday. The eight men claimed they were misled into joining the group and expressed a desire to be repatriated, Osman said.
According to Osman, the six Moroccans were accused of receiving training with Daesh at its base in the Cal-Miskaat Mountains in northeastern Somalia, which serve as a stronghold for the group.
The Moroccans were apprehended in the mountain range, located to the east of Bosaso, which is the commercial hub of the Puntland region.
The Somali branch of Daesh was established in 2015 by a group of defectors from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabab group, which is the most prominent militant group in Somalia.
The group is notorious for extorting locals and primarily carries out small-scale, sporadic attacks. This marks the first time that authorities in the semi-autonomous Puntland region have charged or sentenced foreigners for joining Daesh.


Armenia, Azerbaijan to continue peace talks after Berlin meet

Armenia, Azerbaijan to continue peace talks after Berlin meet
Updated 01 March 2024
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Armenia, Azerbaijan to continue peace talks after Berlin meet

Armenia, Azerbaijan to continue peace talks after Berlin meet
BERLIN: Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to continue peace talks after a new push in Berlin this week to resolve their decades-long conflict, the German foreign ministry said on Friday.
Armenia’s Ararat Mirzoyan and Azerbaijan’s Jeyhun Bayramov held two days of talks in Berlin hosted by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who hailed their “courageous steps” toward a peace agreement.
A German foreign ministry spokeswoman on Friday said the two countries had “a great interest in continuing to clarify outstanding issues together and to meet again for this purpose.”
The foreign ministries of Armenia and Azerbaijan had also said in a statement on Thursday that they wished to “continue negotiations on the open issues.”
The German spokeswoman hailed the agreement to pursue talks as “a very good sign” and said the two parties wanted to work “step by step” toward a peace agreement.
Armenia and Azerbaijan fought two wars, in the 1990s and in 2020, before Azerbaijani forces last September retook control of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in a lightning offensive that ended three decades of Armenian separatist rule over the enclave.
Tensions have remained high since the Azerbaijani operation that triggered the exodus to Armenia of most of the enclave’s entire ethnic-Armenian population of more than 100,000 people.
The dialogue in Berlin built on a surprise direct meeting between the two nations’ leaders on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference last month.
Under German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s mediation, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev agreed in Munich to push on with peace negotiations.

Manila cafe sheds light on Palestinian heritage in wake of destruction

Manila cafe sheds light on Palestinian heritage in wake of destruction
Updated 01 March 2024
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Manila cafe sheds light on Palestinian heritage in wake of destruction

Manila cafe sheds light on Palestinian heritage in wake of destruction
  • Cafe Habib is run by Palestinian national Mahmoud Habib and his Filipino-Iraqi wife Nadia
  • Their menu is based on recipes from Habib’s mother in Gaza

Manila: Mahmoud and Nadia Habib opened their cafe in early 2023 to bring a piece of Palestine to the Philippines. Little did they know that the place would soon turn into a center of Gaza heritage and a hub of solidarity in Manila.

Located on Mabini Street, Cafe Habib is light, warm and informal with its white tables, grey sofas and ochre walls showing maps, photos and symbols of Palestinian heritage.

From the beginning, the husband — who is a native of Gaza — and the Filipino-Iraqi wife wanted their restaurant’s ambiance to make Filipinos feel as if they had stepped into a place in Palestine.

“We came up with the concept to create a special place where when customers come in, they will not think they are in the Philippines anymore. We wanted to spotlight Arab culture,” Mahmoud told Arab News.

For Nadia, it is also an attempt to “bring a piece of Palestine to the Philippines” to share its rich heritage, traditions, and flavors.

“The Palestinian-themed cafe became our platform to introduce the Filipino people to the beauty and depth of Palestinian culture. We believed that by immersing them in a unique and authentic experience, we could foster understanding and appreciation,” she said.

Their menu features authentic dishes such as falafel, shawarma, and the iconic Palestinian knafeh — crispy filo dough with cheese soaked in syrup and topped with pistachios — all based on recipes that have been in the Habib family for generations.

“These recipes all come from my mother,” Mahmoud said, adding that Nadia also learned to make them during their trips to his home in Gaza.

The last time they visited was in September, just two weeks before Israel launched its latest deadly onslaught that has since killed at least 30,000 people, wounded tens of thousands more, and displaced about 1.5 million.

They saw the destruction and hid from daily bombardment, only managing to return to Manila when Philippine authorities evacuated some of the Filipino-Palestinians from the besieged enclave in November.

Nadia was born and raised in the Philippines, while Mahmoud has been living in the country since 2013, when he arrived to study architecture at the National University.

Upon their return to Manila, they have been trying to reunite with Mahmoud’s family, but until now, it has been to no avail.

“I tried to bring them, but it is very hard,” he said.

It is their cafe, a reminder of Palestine, that keeps the couple strong and gives them space to spread awareness among Filipinos on what is happening in Gaza.

“Speaking up about Palestine is a crucial aspect of our mission, as it lies at the core of why we established this cafe. If customers initiate a conversation about … Palestine, we wholeheartedly engage in the discussion,” Nadia said.

They also helped facilitate the efforts of Filipino peace activists who organized a Gaza solidarity march in November.

“They gave me more power. This shows that our voice goes out to the world, and everyone really has a huge heart,” Mahmoud said.

“I am proud of (this cafe). I am really happy because I’m showing people what Palestine is, who the Palestinian people are.”


Ex-government adviser urges UK PM to apologize to London mayor over Islamophobia

Ex-government adviser urges UK PM to apologize to London mayor over Islamophobia
Updated 01 March 2024
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Ex-government adviser urges UK PM to apologize to London mayor over Islamophobia

Ex-government adviser urges UK PM to apologize to London mayor over Islamophobia
  • Faith expert Colin Bloom calls remarks against Sadiq Khan by MP Lee Anderson ‘offensive’ and ‘disgusting’
  • Rishi Sunak is ‘not showing the leadership the country needs’

LONDON: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been urged by a former government advisor to apologize to London Mayor Sadiq Khan over comments made by a suspended Conservative MP.

Colin Bloom, who advised the governing Conservatives on faith matters, told the BBC that Lee Anderson’s remarks were “offensive” and “disgusting,” adding that Sunak is “not showing the leadership the country needs.”

Anderson was suspended last week for refusing to apologize after he said in a TV interview that Khan had “given away” London to Islamists who had “got control” of the mayor.

While admitting his words were “a little bit clumsy,” Anderson said he has received “lots of support privately in WhatsApp groups and messages” from Conservative colleagues. He denies that he or his words were racist or Islamophobic.

Bloom, a former executive director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship and director of Christians in Politics, was made a government advisor by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2019.

Bloom told the BBC’s “Newsnight” program that the “vast majority” of British Muslims are “kind, decent, generous, peaceful people,” and that Anderson’s rhetoric and the muted government response to it are putting people at risk.

Bloom said Sunak needs to apologize to Khan and it is “clearly wrong” for Anderson to have equated the Muslim mayor with being a religious extremist.

Khan has publicly called on Sunak to denounce Anderson’s words as Islamophobic, but while admitting they were “wrong,” the prime minister has so far failed to do so.

A government spokesperson told “Newsnight” that Sunak is “clear there must be zero tolerance for any form of extremism, racism or hatred” in British politics.