News Roundup, Week of 13 November, 2020

Against the backdrop of escalating violence in Afghanistan due to the failed peace talks in Qatar between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Democrat Joe Biden has won the 2020 United States (US) election to become the 46th US President after an intense week of vote tallying as the country grapples with an ever-rising Covid-19 death toll. President Donald Trump has refused to concede and is seeking to challenge the results. Undaunted, President-elect Biden is pushing forward with transition despite the incumbent President Trump blocking government officials from cooperating with Biden’s team and preventing him from accessing State Department resources and communiqués with foreign governments. Earlier this week, a defiant Biden unveiled his Covid-19 response task force that promises to harness the power of science to battle the pandemic. On the global stage, the Biden administration can be expected to reestablish US credibility and rebuild trust with allied countries. Afghan officials are hopeful that Biden would review the Afghan peace process and adopt a tougher stance on the militant group to “encourage” them to negotiate fairly and reduce their violence.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Meanwhile, earlier this week, Indonesia’s counterterrorism unit Densus 88 arrested seven terror suspects at separate locations in a series of raids. Five of them are members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) cell, while the remaining two are suspected members of the Daesh-linked Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD). Among those who were arrested was Ahmad Zaini (alias Ahyar/Epson), a suspected leader of JI. While these arrests suggest that JI and JAD members have been active in pursuing funds and arming themselves, however Indonesian government’s strict Covid-19 lockdown has also posed some restrictions on their day jobs and activities. A recent research by Indonesian NGO, PAKAR, these lockdowns have caused IS supporters and sympathisers to suffer from a severe loss of income. In turn, this has resulted in declining revenues for Jamaah Ansharud Daulah, Jamaah Ansharul Khilafah, and other pro-Daesh cells in Indonesia. This lack of funds have impacted these organisations’ capabilities. Previously, many experts predicted that pro-Daesh groups would attempt to exploit Covid-19 to regroup and plot attacks against their enemies, but as the year goes by, it appears that Daesh adherents are also people who are beleaguered by the challenges of the “new normal” imposed by the pandemic.

SOUTH ASIA

Two prominent Afghanistan journalists were killed within one week apart from each other. Former TV presenter Yama Siawash and two others were killed when a bomb attached to his car exploded near his home in Kabul earlier this week. Days later, radio journalist Elyas Dayee was killed in a targeted bomb blast in Helmand. No one has claimed responsibility for both attacks, though it is suspected that the Taliban-linked Haqqani Network was responsible for Siawash’s death. Meanwhile, four people were killed and 40 others were injured when a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) targeting a police headquarters in Maiwand district, south of Kandahar province exploded. Separately, Mohammad Hanif, a key member of the Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) was killed in a security operation organised by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security in the Bakwa district of Farah province located in the western part of the country. Hanif, who was originally from Karachi, Pakistan, was a bomb-maker for the group. Initially, Hanif was a Taliban member who trained Taliban fighters in building bombs and IEDs before switching membership and joined Al-Qaeda in 2010. Hanif was also the vice Emir and a close aide to Asim Omar who led AQIS before he was killed in 2019 during a joint operation by the US and Afghanistan. Hanif’s death occurred just two weeks after another high-ranking AQ member, Abu Muhsin al-Masri, was killed by security operatives. While his passing would suggest that AQ is experiencing a strategic loss that may impact their leadership, nevertheless AQ as a group can be expected to remain resilient.

MIDDLE EAST

A group of militants attacked an Iraqi lookout point maintained by the Hashd al-Shaabi in Al-Radwaniyah, southwest of Baghdad earlier this week. The attackers used grenades and automatic weapons, which left eleven people dead and eight wounded during the clash. This incident was reportedly the deadliest attack on Iraqi security forces in months. Since Daesh’s defeat by the end of 2017, the US-led military coalition has reduced their presence in the country. Nevertheless, the group still poses a significant threat in the area. Daesh sleeper cells have been waging guerilla-style attacks on local military and security forces. Meanwhile, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, three people were wounded when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded during a World War I remembrance ceremony at the city’s non-Muslim cemetery. The French consulate had organised the commemoration event, which was attended by staffers from foreign diplomatic missions, including Greece, Italy, the United Kingdom and the US. The attack occurred at a time when tension between France and a number of Islamic countries is at an all-time high, stemming from French President Emmanuel Macron’s defiant defense of Charlie Hebdo’s republication of Prophet Muhammad’s SAW’s offensive caricatures. Daesh has claimed responsibility for both of these attacks. Given that the verdict from the Charlie Hebdo 2015 trial will be reached sometime this month, there are some concerns that more violence can be anticipated in the horizon from both Islamist and the Far Right supporters who are looking to exploit the current political friction.

AFRICA

Oil and gas rich-Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique witnessed a particularly gruesome week when the Daesh-linked Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamaah (ASWJ) attacked Nanjaba Village and Muatide Village. The militants burned down homes and abducted women and children. The insurgents also herded more than 50 people to a football pitch in Muatide Village before beheading and dismembering them. Authorities only learned about the massacre accounts of individuals who discovered the scattered remains. In 2019, Daesh declared that ASWJ was part of its branch of the Central Africa Province (ISCAP), which also includes the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) jihadists. ASWJ has been responsible for most of the increasing aggression and instability in Mozambique, and has been escalating violence the area in recent months.

News Roundup, Week of 5 November, 2020

EUROPE

This week had a particularly violent start, with what appeared to be a coordinated terrorist attack in Vienna, Austria as the city was about to enter COVID-19 lockdown on Monday, 2 November, 2020 . Early reports suggested that the shooting occurred in six different locations across the city centre. The shooting began at 2000 hrs local time close to the Seitenstettengasse Temple, which is the city’s main synagogue. Four people were killed and 23 others were wounded during the attack. The gunman was shot dead by police. Since then, the authorities have determined that the gunman was acting alone. He was later identified as 20-year-old Kujtim Fejzulai, who had both Austrian and Macedonian citizenship. He was previously convicted and jailed for attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIS. He was released early on parole last December.

SOUTH ASIA

Earlier on the same day, Kabul University was stormed by gunmen. At least 22 were killed and 22 others were injured during the siege which lasted for several hours. Most of those killed were students of the university. The attack started when government officials were arriving for the opening of an Iranian book fair organised on campus, which was attended by several dignitaries at the time of the shooting. The Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) has since claimed the attack which rocked the Afghanistan capital.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

On 3rd November, the Philippine military successfully intercepted the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the midst of their plannings to carry out kidnapping activities in mainland Mindanao. Seven suspected members of ASG were killed following the encounter at sea. Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan, one of ASG’s top leaders and the designated Daesh emir in Mindanao, was one of the confirmed deaths during the clash. Three other deaths were identified as Mannul Sawadjaan, Mujapar Sawadjaan, and Madsmar Sawadjaan. Mannul and Mujapar were cousins of ASG bomb expert Mundi Sawadjaan, who is believed to have masterminded last August’s twin-suicide bombing in Jolo, while Madsmar was Mundi’s brother. The Jolo attack saw 14 dead and 75 wounded.