Prosecuting IS returnees in Germany requires the law’s longest arm

Interesting account of some of the challenges involved:

Taha A.-J.*, an Iraqi man believed to have belonged to the “Islamic State” (IS), has been standing trial in Frankfurt since late April on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. At the center of his trial is the death of a 5-year-old girl belonging to the Yazidi minority group.

The charges are based on statements by his wife, Jennifer W.*, a staunch IS supporter who lived with him in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. In 2018, she told a police informant that during her first stay in IS territory in 2015 she saw Taha A.-J. punish the girl, purchased as a slave, for wetting the bed. Jennifer W. alleged that he had chained the girl to a window in the scorching sun, where she died an agonizing death.

Jennifer W. has been on trial herself since April 2019, as she did nothing to save the girl. In that case, the girl’s mother — also a slave in the same household — testified that she was forced to watch her daughter die.

Unprecedented case

Taha A.-J. was arrested in Greece in May 2019 under a German arrest warrant and was transferred to Germany in October. His ongoing trial — the first against a former IS militant to deal with the IS genocide of the Yazidi — has attracted international attention.

Genocide is the most serious crime under international criminal law. But according to Alexander Schwarz, a Leipzig-based lawyer who specializes in international law, “the difficulty lies in proving that the individual perpetrators were actually determined to destroy an entire ethnic group.”

Schwarz told DW that Taha A.-J.’s trial is unprecedented. “For the first time, the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office is pursuing a purely international offense,” he said, pointing out that the alleged act was not committed in Germany, that neither perpetrators nor victims are German citizens, and that the accused wasn’t even on German territory at the time of his arrest.

International criminal law is becoming an increasingly important part of the work done by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office. When the trial of the 35-year-old IS returnee Omaima A.* began in Hamburg on May 4, charges against her also included crimes against humanity. Omaima A., the widow of IS jihadi Denis Cuspert, who was killed in Syria in 2018, is also said to have kept a 13-year-old Yazidi girl as a slave.

After Omaima A. returned from the Syrian war zone in 2016, she lived a peaceful life in her hometown of Hamburg for three years. It wasn’t until investigative journalist Jenan Moussa, reporting for Arab television network Al-Aan TV, uncovered the necessary evidence against her that charges could be filed.

With thousands of photos and videos found on the phone Omaima A. used while living in Syria, Moussa was able to retrace her life in IS territory in great detail, eventually producing a documentary about the German IS supporter.

Not just housewives and mothers?

The photos shown in the documentary — introduced as evidence at Omaima A.’s trial — show her alone and with children, posing with an AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons. Moussa’s work also uncovered chat conversations with several men. These documents show that the perception of female IS supporters as passive, easily influenced victims needs to be reconsidered, said Schwarz, the lawyer from Leipzig. “Numerous returnees — female IS fighters — were armed, with automatic weapons, AK-47 rifles or pistols,” he said.

Many women also worked for the so-called morality police, controlling how other women dressed, behaved and lived under IS rule. According to Schwarz, the practice of keeping slaves was “an act that can be attributed to the female fighters, and was even predominantly practiced by them.”

In order to issue an arrest warrant and charges, Germany’s top judges have said that evidence of explicit support for IS, or proof that a person directly fought for the militant group, is necessary. Without this proof, suspects could go unpunished. It’s exactly for this reason that many IS returnees have repeatedly claimed they were only responsible for taking care of the household and the children, and that they had no knowledge of reported atrocities.

Slave ownership has featured in other cases against IS returnees, including that of Sarah O.*. Details of her trial, which has been ongoing since October, have been kept from the public, as she was said to have been a minor when she allegedly committed the crimes she’s been charged with. According to investigators, the now 21-year-old decided to move to IS territory in Syria at the age of 15.

In addition to slave ownership, Sarah O. has also been accused of having lived with her husband and children in apartments assigned to them by IS forces. That may sound harmless. Legally, however, this is considered a form of looting: if IS assigned jihadis to live in an apartment,  that meant the previous residents must have been expelled or killed. This is defined as looting, or pillaging — and is thus a violation of article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Targeting female jihadis

This interpretation of the law was first used in the trial against Sabine S.* in 2019. She was sentenced to five years in prison for war crimes, mainly for taking possession of two apartments. Since last year, Germany’s federal prosecutors have accused IS returnees of eight violations of the Rome Statute, with the looting charge particularly being used to prosecute female jihadis.

Lawyer Serkan Alkan, however, has been critical of the court’s reliance on this charge. Alkan has represented several IS supporters in German courts, and told DW that women had no say under IS rule. “The idea that you could stand there, as a woman, and say, ‘No, I will not take this house because it’s a violation of international criminal law’ — that’s a rather utopian perspective,” he said.

But federal prosecutors have been successful with this approach. Sibel H.*, from Aschaffenburg near Frankfurt, twice made the journey to IS territory, the first time in 2013. She returned to Germany the following year after her husband was killed, only to remarry an IS supporter and head back to the Middle East, where they had two children before she was captured. In spring 2018, she was transferred from a Kurdish prison in northern Iraq to Germany, where she was eventually arrested and charged with the looting offense under international criminal law. On April 29, 2020, she was sentenced to three years in prison in Munich, where she is taking part in a reintegration program.

In the past five years, 122 IS supporters have returned to Germany from Syria or Iraq, according to government figures reported in late 2019. Of those returnees, 53 have been classified as a “potential threat,” and 18 are considered “relevant persons,” that is supporters or even leading figures within IS. Relying on international criminal law, Germany aims to make these people responsible for their actions.

*Editor’s note: DW follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and urges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.

Source: Prosecuting IS returnees in Germany requires the law’s longest arm

Why Is Europe So Islamophobic? The attacks don’t come from nowhere.

Of note, but article is too dismissive of the impact of Islamist-inspired extremism and terrorism on public opinion and political reactions:

We live in a time of Islamophobia.

In February, two violent attacks on Muslims in Europe, one in Hanau in Germany, the other in London, took place within 24 hours of each other. Though the circumstances were different — the attacker in Hanau left a “manifesto” full of far-right conspiracy theories, while the motivations of the London attacker were less certain — the target was the same: Muslims.

The two events add to a growing list of violent attacks on Muslims across Europe. In 2018 alone, France saw an increase of 52 percent of Islamophobic incidents; in Austria there was a rise of approximately 74 percent, with 540 cases. The culmination of a decade of steadily increasing attacks on Muslims, such figures express a widespread antipathy to Islam. Forty-four percent of Germans, for example, see “a fundamental contradiction between Islam and German culture and values.” The figure for the same in Finland is a remarkable 62 percent; in Italy, it’s 53 percent. To be a Muslim in Europe is to be mistrusted, visible and vulnerable.

Across the Continent, Islamophobic organizations and individuals have been able to advance their agenda. Islamophobic street movements and political parties have become more popular. And their ideas have been incorporated into — and in some instances fed by — the machinery of the modern state, which surveils and supervises Muslims, casting them as threats to the life of the nation.

From the street to the state, Islamophobia is baked into European political life.

This has been nearly 20 years in the making. The “war on terror” — which singled out Muslims and Islam as a civilizational threat to “the West” — created the conditions for widespread Islamophobia. Internationally, it caused instability and increased violence, with the rise of the Islamic State in part a consequence. Domestically, in both Europe and the United States, new counterterrorism policies overwhelmingly targeted Muslims.

In Britain, for example, you are 150 times more likely to be stopped and searched under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act — a draconian piece of legislation that allows people to be stopped at ports without “reasonable suspicion” — if you are of Pakistani heritage than if you are white. And then there are policies that in the name of “countering violent extremism” focus on the supposed threats of radicalization and extremism. In place across Europe, including in the European Union, such policies expand policing and counterterrorism to target the expression of political ideologies and religious identities. In practice, Muslims are treated as legitimate objects of suspicion.

In this setting of suspicion, a network of organizations and individuals preaching about the “threat” of Islam has flourished. Known as the “counter-jihad movement,” it exists as a spectrum across Europe and America of “street-fighting forces at one end and cultural conservatives and neoconservative writers at the other,” according to Liz Fekete, the director of the Institute of Race Relations. In Europe, groups like Stop Islamization of Denmark and the English Defense League have been central to fostering violence against Muslims.

In America, the relative absence of grass-roots, street-based groups is more than made up for by the institutional heft of the movement — its five key organizations include Middle East Forum and the Center for Security Policy — and its proximity to power and influence. The movement is funded by what the Center for American Progress calls the “Islamophobia network,” with links to senior figures in the American political establishment. The movement has successfully popularized the association of Muslims with an external “terrorist threat,” of which President Trump’s so-called Muslim ban is a prime expression.

What’s more, far-right parties built around Islamophobia and the politics of counter-jihad have become electorally successful. Vlaams Belang in Belgium, the Sweden Democrats and the Alternative for Germany have in the past few years become major parties with substantial support. And their ideas have bled into the rhetoric and policies of center-right parties across Europe.

Successive center-right political leaders have repeatedly warned against “Islamist terrorism” (Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany) and the incompatibility with European values of “Islamist separatism” (President Emmanuel Macron of France). The banning of forms of Muslim veiling in various public spaces — from the hijab ban in French schools and restrictions for teachers in some parts of Germany to an outright ban of the face-covering niqab in public spaces in Denmark, Belgium and France — shows how anti-Muslim sentiment has moved comprehensively from society’s fringes to the heart of government.

Britain has led the way. In 2011, it expanded the scope of its counterextremism policy, known as Prevent, to include “nonviolent” as well as “violent” manifestations. The change can be traced to the neoconservative elements of the counter-jihad movement: It was successful lobbying by Policy Exchange and the Centre for Social Cohesion (now part of the Henry Jackson Society), both widely regarded as neoconservative think tanks, that secured it. The expansion of the scope of these policies effectively turns schoolteachers, doctors and nurses into police operatives — and any Muslim into a potential security threat.

In Britain, we can see a vicious circle of Islamophobia, replicated in some form across Europe. The state introduces legislation effectively targeting Muslims, which in turn encourages and emboldens the counter-jihad movement — whose policy papers, polemics and protests propel the state to extend legislation, all but criminalizing aspects of Muslims’ identity. The result is to fan Islamophobic sentiment in the public at large.

The way such an atmosphere gives rise to violence is complicated. Anders Breivik, the Norwegian who killed 77 people in 2011, described his massacre as an effort to ward off “Eurabia” — the theory, popularized by Bat Ye’or and fervently taken up by the counter-jihad movement, that Europe will be colonized by the “Arab world.” Likewise, the attacker in Hanau fixated on crime committed by nonwhite immigrants and possessed what the German authorities have called “a deeply racist mind-set.” Both drew from the groundswell of Islamophobic rhetoric that has accompanied policies that single out Muslims for special scrutiny. But both operated alone, and neither maintained links to any organization or party. Their actions were their own.

The line from policy to act, rhetoric to violence, is very hard to draw. And the process by which Islamophobia spreads across European society is complex, multicausal, endlessly ramifying.

But that doesn’t mean it comes from nowhere.

Narzanin Massoumi (@Narzanin) is a lecturer at the University of Exeter in Britain and a co-editor of “What Is Islamophobia? Racism, Social Movements and the State.”

Source: Why Is Europe So Islamophobic?

Collège de Maisonneuve: après les aspirants djihadistes, la bataille «pour mieux vivre ensemble»

Interesting doc on a deradicalisation effort:

Présentée ce dimanche en première mondiale aux Rendez-vous Québec Cinéma, Maisonneuve – À l’école du vivre-ensemble se veut un message d’espoir. Un exemple concret du fait que « le jeu en vaut la chandelle », « qu’il vaut mieux essayer de s’ouvrir aux autres que d’imposer une vision ou de se replier sur soi-même », même si c’est plus compliqué, avance le cinéaste Nicolas Wadimoff, en entrevue avec La Presse.

Petit retour en arrière avant d’aller plus loin.

En 2015, une dizaine d’élèves du cégep ont quitté ou tenté de quitter le Canada pour aller rejoindre le groupe armé État islamique en Syrie. Deux de ces jeunes, Sabrine Djermane et El Medhi Jamali, ont d’ailleurs eu un procès à Montréal, au terme duquel ils ont été acquittés des accusations de terrorisme qui pesaient sur eux.

Dans la tourmente, le collège de Maisonneuve a reçu l’année suivante une subvention de 400 000 $ pour « mettre en place des mesures d’appui à la diversité ethnoculturelle ».

C’est dans ce contexte que Nicolas Wadimoff et la journaliste Emmanuelle Walter y ont effectué leur incursion, sorte de « laboratoire in vivo », pour reprendre les mots du réalisateur. Ils ont passé deux sessions à Maisonneuve, dont ils nous présentent l’univers à travers le regard d’une dizaine de protagonistes.

Nicolas Wadimoff voit en eux des « chevaliers de la cause du vivre-ensemble ». « C’est une démarche citoyenne pour mieux vivre ensemble aujourd’hui et encore mieux demain. »

Est-ce que ça marche ? Oui… et non.

Il ne faut pas être naïf, dit le cinéaste d’origine suisse : « Le chemin est long et ce n’est pas facile tous les jours. Mais il y a des moments qui donnent de l’espoir. »

Parmi ces moments, notons ceux qui mettent en scène Mohamed Mimoun, Momo pour les intimes, un « travailleur de corridor », sorte de travailleur de rue du collège embauché dans la foulée des événements de 2015. Il joue les modérateurs, apaise les esprits et multiplie les conseils, surtout auprès de membres de l’importante communauté arabo-musulmane.

Les interventions de Momo auprès d’Idir Mazouzi, élève inscrit en comptabilité qui tente en vain de se faire élire à l’association étudiante (SOGEECOM), sont particulièrement révélatrices d’un clivage encore manifeste.

Ce clivage est ici illustré par les interactions entre deux groupes. D’un côté, des membres de l’association étudiante, blancs, ouvertement de gauche, militants antiracistes et impliqués dans la vie du cégep. De l’autre, des élèves arabes qui se sentent mis de côté et qui déplorent, parfois maladroitement, le manque de représentativité de leur association étudiante.

À la recherche de solutions

Malgré les efforts de réconciliation incontestables, le fossé persiste. Le jeune Idir, par exemple, ne comprend pas pourquoi les membres de l’assemblée lors de laquelle il présente sa candidature aiment mieux laisser un poste vacant que de l’élire trésorier, alors qu’il est pourtant inscrit en comptabilité. Les rires de quelques jeunes dans l’assistance quand sa défaite est annoncée font mal.

C’est Momo qui lui soulignera que les reproches formulés à l’endroit de l’exécutif étudiant pendant son discours devant les électeurs ont peut-être été à l’origine de sa défaite. Le travailleur de corridor fait une observation semblable à un autre jeune, Adam Belghadid, lui aussi frustré des positions de l’association. « N’oublie pas, on est dans une société comme le Québec où la confrontation n’est pas quelque chose qui fait partie de la culture. Ça, c’est très méditerranéen. »

Lorsqu’une élève, Rayene Bouzitoun, adopte la stratégie opposée et s’assoit avec la SOGEECOM pour trouver des solutions visant à une meilleure représentativité culturelle, on est surpris de la réponse. « Je suis d’accord que c’est peut-être un problème, la représentativité, mais je ne suis pas d’accord qu’il y a des choses à faire en tant [qu’association]. C’est un syndicat d’application volontaire. Essayer de force d’intégrer des gens de minorités, ça ne serait pas trop une solution. Quand des gens voudront s’impliquer, ils s’impliqueront. »

Malgré ces écueils, la volonté de favoriser l’harmonie est visible. On la sent dans le discours des membres de la direction, mais aussi dans les paroles et les gestes du corps professoral et des élèves. Il y a cette prof de sociologie qui amène ses élèves en technique policière à la mosquée. Il y a ce futur policier qui participe bravement à une discussion sur le profilage racial avec un groupe composé uniquement de membres de minorités. Il y a cet animateur socioculturel qui apprend à jouer d’un instrument de musique pour gagner la confiance des membres d’une minorité.

« Il faut travailler fort. Il faut que tout le monde accepte de sortir de sa zone de confort », conclut le réalisateur. Son film montre que beaucoup l’ont fait au collège de Maisonneuve.

Taking Away Citizenship as a Counterterrorism Tool Is Fraught with Challenges

Phil Gurski, from the security perspective:

Citizenship is an important part of the modern world. Most of us are a citizen of at least one country. Having citizenship confers special privileges: the right to vote, the right to receive certain social assistance, the right to work, and a feeling of belonging. It should not be dismissed or used frivolously.

A lot of countries also grant citizenship to those who emigrate from their homelands to a new one (sometimes called ‘naturalized’). This process often takes some time – years in most cases – and is accompanied by all sorts of checks and reviews. After all, no state wants to bring in people with shady backgrounds who are capable of causing mayhem once they become ‘one of us.’

In my experience in Canada, the citizenship pathway is as good as it can be. The necessary agencies, including intelligence and law enforcement, are part of the decision-making process, ensuring to the greatest degree possible that we prevent ‘undesirables’ from making their new home in our nation. Is the system perfect? No, but it is very robust.

Under what conditions, then, should citizenship be revoked? We should assume here that the only type that can be removed is that which has been granted by the state: ordinarily those born in a country automatically receive it at birth (children of foreign diplomats may be an exception), and it far from clear whether there is anything that could – or should – lead a state to rescind birth citizenship (NB Canada is currently dealing with the phenomenon of ‘birth tourism’ whereby pregnant women, often from Asia, travel to give birth in Canadian hospitals. Where all this goes is under debate now.)

Modern terrorism has thrown a wrench into all this. In hundreds of countries citizens have radicalized to violence in accordance with an ideology, left the confines of their homeland, joined a group abroad and become part of it, committed atrocities in the group’s name on occasion and eventually seek to come home. Not surprisingly, few states want these individuals back as they could very well organize or commit acts of terrorism in their backyards. What can we do to prevent their return?

Under these circumstances, is citizenship revocation OK? Normally, no. Our governments take away what they have granted only if it can be demonstrated the process in place at the time of application was fraudulent. In other words, if so-and-so lied on a form and tried to hide certain facts from those investigating the claim, that application can be subsequently voided. This should not be controversial as all the relevant facts were not made available when needed and as a result the individual does not deserve to become one of us.

What, then, do we do in cases of terrorists, some of whom were born in our countries, some of whom got citizenship after having moved, but became terrorists later (sometime much, much later)? After all, the vast majority of terrorists are made not born. Can we take away their birthright/gift?

In the former case, no. Few if any countries have tried to do this and where they have they have tied themselves in legal knots. The UK has taken away the citizenship of ISIS member Shamima Begum despite the inconvenient fact that she was born in England. The government has tried to argue that she is ‘entitled’ to Bangladeshi citizenship as her ancestry lies in that country; hence, she has not been rendered stateless. Bangladesh sees the matter quite differently.

Then we have the case of Iyman Faris, an al-Qaeda terrorist who was found guilty and sentenced in 2003 for his role in a plot to cut the cables on the Brooklyn Bridge. A federal judge in Columbus, Ohio, stripped him of his naturalized U.S. citizenship after ruling that he had lied on immigration papers before becoming a citizen in 1999 (he entered the U.S. using the passport and visa of someone he’d met in Bosnia). The official also ruled that Faris’ terrorist affiliations demonstrated a lack of commitment to the U.S. Constitution.

Two years earlier another judge had rejected a similar request by the government, saying at the time there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Mr. Faris’ misrepresentations influenced the decision to grant him citizenship.

Where does this leave us? In a legal quandary, that’s where. The UK handling of Ms. Begum beggars disbelief as she is the citizen of one and only one country. The U.S. strategy in the case of Faris suggests that anyone who does anything illegal at any point in their life is at risk of having their citizenship clawed back. Neither case is ideal.

The bottom line is that Ms. Begum, and perhaps Mr. Faris, were radicalized where they lived and worked. They are a product of a part of our society – not a proud part, but a part nonetheless. Recalling citizenship merely displaces the problem: it does not solve it.

Source: https://www.hstoday.us/subject-matter-areas/counterterrorism/perspective-taking-away-citizenship-as-a-counterterrorism-tool-is-fraught-with-challenges/

The women of Islamic State are not demons and must be brought home

Not as clear cut as that and a bit naive given reports from some refugee camps (At a sprawling tent camp in Syria, ISIS women impose a brutal rule):

When three 15-year-old English girls from London’s Bethnal Green ran away to join Islamic State, it was front-page news. The British tabloid press had a field day, as did the more moderate papers. “It became a kind of national trauma I think because it was so shocking. They were good students and they were popular,” says Azadeh Moaveni, author of a new book about the women of IS.

Called Guest House for Young Widows, the book is a ripping yarn and has been named one of The New York Times’ top 100 books of 2019. It provides a fascinating insight into the complex realities at play for those drawn to the fight.

Bewildered by the contempt for the Bethnal Green girls – referred to as whores for the Caliphate and concubines for IS – she was inspired to cover the story when one columnist argued British police should stop looking for the girls. “Because these weren’t our girls.”

In her quest to find them, the London-based journalist headed to southern Turkey, where she met three Syrian women. “They were incredible to me, because I thought they were the last kind of women that could be drawn into this. I thought wow, these are ordinary young women who live approximate lives to me … they’re not unknowables.”

Moaveni interviewed many women about their experiences. Some wanted to support fellow Muslims; others dreamt of travel, freedom and adventure. Many living in the region had little choice but to join, to guarantee their safety, protect their families or ensure an income. Many were actively lured.

Men in IS (referred to as ISIS in the book) were promoted and paid to recruit women; Moaveni argues the organisation’s gender strategy was crucial to its success. “It recruited young women and it used those recruitment circles to get more and more young women who weren’t married and could come over and marry the fighters, and slightly older women, saying ‘Come and you can have a role in the Caliphate, whatever you’re good at, come and do it’.

“It tapped in to all of this female energy that was not being addressed. All of these female anxieties country to country,” she says. In Saudi Arabia and Iraq, women are not allowed any involvement in politics.

When their husbands were killed, the women were forced to marry another fighter, housed in the guesthouse of the book’s title until ‘‘matched’’.

In the west, Moaveni says, we tend to view everything through the lens of terrorism, which  “obscures what we’re really dealing with”. “It’s great to tackle English language as a pathway to assimilation, really good to look at institutional racism as it targets Muslims, but [looking] through an extremist lens is not helpful.”

The Syrian revolution and the invasion of Iraq, which gave rise to IS, reflect a broken architecture in the Middle East that will lead to generation after generation of chaos that groups like IS can exploit. She argues western countries are invested in long-term political instability in the Middle East. “They’re unstable, no one gets the upper hand, every 10 years the state implodes, you have to send all of your contractors and aid workers in to help rebuild.

Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni.
Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni.

“Exclusion from politics, country to country … was a big part of the draw for IS. All these terrible states that are dictatorial and terrible and they don’t govern well and whole swathes of people are excluded from politics and it impacts women in particular because if you’re a woman you really suffer doubly under a bad government because it’s a bad government and it’s patriarchal.

“This broken political map, at the level of the citizen – especially the woman citizen – is suffocating people.”

Many countries are trying to work out how to deal with the men and women – and their children – coming back from this kind of conflict. The challenges of rehabilitation are stark but there is a strong security argument for countries bringing back their own, she says. “At least you can watch them and have them under strict surveillance and you don’t have 1000 floating westerners moving between this unstable crescent … waiting to join the next generation of IS or whatever emerges.”

Many politicians around the world are against repatriation. “Who wants to be the government who brought back the jihadi people from Syria?”

For her, it’s the only course of action. “People need to know that these people who went have gone through some sort of justice process … Some sort of prosecution and public accounting of what happened would then make their return feel more acceptable.”

Moaveni says many of the IS marriages became protection marriages. “In the middle of a war zone you could get out of a guest house that was really horrible, you had someone who could protect you. The women started to see that, too. That’s something that we don’t recognise about IS – you couldn’t get out of IS.”

Source: The women of Islamic State are not demons and must be brought home

Facebook auto-generating pages for Islamic State, al-Qaida

Sigh….

In the face of criticism that Facebook is not doing enough to combat extremist messaging, the company likes to say that its automated systems remove the vast majority of prohibited content glorifying the Islamic State group and al-Qaida before it’s reported.

But a whistleblower’s complaint shows that Facebook itself has inadvertently provided the two extremist groups with a networking and recruitment tool by producing dozens of pages in their names.

The social networking company appears to have made little progress on the issue in the four months since The Associated Press detailed how pages that Facebook auto-generates for businesses are aiding Middle East extremists and white supremacists in the United States.

On Wednesday, U.S. senators on the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will be questioning representatives from social media companies, including Monika Bickert, who heads Facebooks efforts to stem extremist messaging.

The new details come from an update of a complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission that the National Whistleblower Center plans to file this week. The filing obtained by the AP identifies almost 200 auto-generated pages — some for businesses, others for schools or other categories — that directly reference the Islamic State group and dozens more representing al-Qaida and other known groups. One page listed as a “political ideology” is titled “I love Islamic state.” It features an IS logo inside the outlines of Facebook’s famous thumbs-up icon.

In response to a request for comment, a Facebook spokesperson told the AP: “Our priority is detecting and removing content posted by people that violates our policy against dangerous individuals and organizations to stay ahead of bad actors. Auto-generated pages are not like normal Facebook pages as people can’t comment or post on them and we remove any that violate our policies. While we cannot catch every one, we remain vigilant in this effort.”

Facebook has a number of functions that auto-generate pages from content posted by users. The updated complaint scrutinizes one function that is meant to help business networking. It scrapes employment information from users’ pages to create pages for businesses. In this case, it may be helping the extremist groups because it allows users to like the pages, potentially providing a list of sympathizers for recruiters.

The new filing also found that users’ pages promoting extremist groups remain easy to find with simple searches using their names. They uncovered one page for “Mohammed Atta” with an iconic photo of one of the al-Qaida adherents, who was a hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks. The page lists the user’s work as “Al Qaidah” and education as “University Master Bin Laden” and “School Terrorist Afghanistan.”

Facebook has been working to limit the spread of extremist material on its service, so far with mixed success. In March, it expanded its definition of prohibited content to include U.S. white nationalist and white separatist material as well as that from international extremist groups. It says it has banned 200 white supremacist organizations and 26 million pieces of content related to global extremist groups like IS and al-Qaida.

It also expanded its definition of terrorism to include not just acts of violence attended to achieve a political or ideological aim, but also attempts at violence, especially when aimed at civilians with the intent to coerce and intimidate. It’s unclear, though, how well enforcement works if the company is still having trouble ridding its platform of well-known extremist organizations’ supporters.

But as the report shows, plenty of material gets through the cracks — and gets auto-generated.

The AP story in May highlighted the auto-generation problem, but the new content identified in the report suggests that Facebook has not solved it.

The report also says that researchers found that many of the pages referenced in the AP report were removed more than six weeks later on June 25, the day before Bickert was questioned for another congressional hearing.

The issue was flagged in the initial SEC complaint filed by the center’s executive director, John Kostyack, that alleges the social media company has exaggerated its success combatting extremist messaging.

“Facebook would like us to believe that its magical algorithms are somehow scrubbing its website of extremist content,” Kostyack said. “Yet those very same algorithms are auto-generating pages with titles like ‘I Love Islamic State,’ which are ideal for terrorists to use for networking and recruiting.”

Source: Facebook auto-generating pages for Islamic State, al-Qaida

‘Naïve and dangerous’: Conservatives blast Liberal policy after U.K. strips ‘Jihadi Jack’s’ citizenship

Of the many articles on Jack Letts, I picked this one, given the Conservative’s implementation revocation provisions is C-24. During parliamentary hearings on C-24 (and the subsequent repeal under the Liberals in C-6), the risk of “beggar the neighbour” approaches between countries was raised by Audrey Macklin among others.

So no surprise that it has happened, and from an overall security perspective, offloading a suspected terrorist to another government, does not increase security. That Britain did so, when Letts only has a formal connection to Canada, having been raised and grown-up in the UK, only makes it worse.

Conservative leader Scheer did not include citizenship issues when he unveiled his immigration policy a few months ago:

The Conservatives on Sunday renewed their condemnation of the Liberal government’s position on citizenship rights for terrorists, following news that U.K. officials had stripped former ISIL member Jack Letts — known as “Jihadi Jack” — of his British citizenship.

Conservative public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus did not commit to overturning a policy introduced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015 that would prevent Canada from making a similar move, but said the Liberal government must fight to keep Letts out of the country. 

“The idea that anyone who signed up to fight with ISIS can be reformed is naïve and dangerous to the safety of Canadians,” Paul-Hus said in a statement on Sunday. Justin Trudeau must assure Canadians today that he isn’t trying to bring Jihadi Jack back to Canada.”

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on Sunday confirmed reports that the United Kingdom had revoked Letts’ citizenship, saying in a written statement that Canada was “disappointed” by the move, and accusing Britain of trying to “off-load their responsibilities.”

The move means that if Letts is deported, he would become the sole responsibility of Canada.

The issue might have set off a behind-the-scenes diplomatic row between the two countries, according to media reports and private emails from Canadian consular officials unearthed by the National Post. It could also refuel debate over whether Ottawa should be allowed to revoke dual citizens of their status as Canadians if convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage.

Letts, who was dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by British media, is being held by Kurdish forces in northern Syria. The longtime U.K. resident, now 24 years old, converted to Islam at a young age and eventually left the country to join the extremist organization, eventually settling in the ISIL stronghold of Raqqa. He was arrested and imprisoned in 2017.

His entire family are dual British-Canadian citizens, including his father, John Letts, who was born in Ontario, and his U.K.-born mother, Sally Lane.

In June, Letts’ parents were found guilty of funding terrorism after they wired their son money in a bid to help him escape an ISIL-controlled region of Syria.

The court heard that a member of Letts’ mosque in the U.K. had warned the parents that their son might have been radicalized, and that they should take away his passport as a way to protect him. But Letts and Lane reportedly ignored the advice and bought him a plane ticket to Jordan in 2014 for a “grand Middle East adventure,” according to one recollection of events.

According to media reports, Letts became known to authorities after a spate of violent Facebook posts, in which he said he would “happily kill each and every one” of the members of a British military regiment of which a former schoolmate was a member.

There is no clear evidence whether Letts personally carried out any violent acts during his time with ISIL.

Citing private emails from Global Affairs Canada, the National Post reported last October that Canadian consular officials had been in contact with Letts’ parents for months. The officials went as far as to discuss possible escape routes for Letts out of Syria, and assured his parents they were “working diligently on your son’s file,” according to the emails.

But their tone shifted abruptly in early 2018, the emails show, leading the family to believe that British officials had struck down those efforts behind closed doors.

The diplomatic spat could refuel a long-standing debate in Canada. Because international law prevents governments from making anyone “stateless,” only people with two passports can have their citizenship stripped.

In 2014, former prime minister Stephen Harper amended the Citizenship Act to allow Canada to strip the status of any dual citizen who is found guilty of terrorism, among other things. The Liberal government under Trudeau reversed that decision in a bill that passed through the Senate in 2017.

Some experts say efforts by Britain are counterproductive and run afoul of human rights laws.

“I think there’s a real question here as to whether Britain is violating international law by doing this, and whether Canada could seek to hold the U.K to account,” said Audrey Macklin, a human rights law professor at the University of Toronto.

Macklin said moves to render people stateless can in turn stymie efforts to snuff out terrorist organizations.

“If you are serious about global co-operation in combatting terrorism, you would realize that citizenship stripping is inimical to that,” she said. 

Trudeau is due to meet the new British prime minister, Boris Johnson, at a Group of Seven meeting in France that starts on Aug. 24.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab met Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland in Toronto earlier this month. The two ministers discussed Letts during the visit, yesterday’s statement from Goodale’s office said.

“While we are disappointed in their decision, we do not conduct tit-for-tat diplomacy. Canada and the U.K. continue to work closely together on a number of issues, including the situation in Hong Kong,” the statement added.

Source: ‘Naïve and dangerous’: Conservatives blast Liberal policy after U.K. strips ‘Jihadi Jack’s’ citizenship

Sensible commentary by Doug Saunders:

The Easter Sunday atrocities in Sri Lanka have not only brought horror to the island’s tiny, impoverished Christian community and threatened an end to the country’s decade of unsteady peace. They’ve also struck fear in the governments and security agencies of many countries, including Canada, which have been struggling to deal with a steady trickle of their citizens seeking to return home from Syria and Iraq.

We don’t know whether reports are true that two or more of the Sri Lankan terrorists had gone to Syria to fight with the terrorist army that calls itself Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh), and returned after that organization’s self-proclaimed caliphate was crushed and defeated last year. It is clear, however, that the attacks are linked to a desire among some of that organization’s former fighters to bring revenge to their own countries.

There are currently several hundred European, U.S. and Canadian alleged IS fighters being held in northern Syria by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (the number of Canadians may be as low as 10). Whether they should be returned to their home countries is the subject of an intense international debate.

Some have suggested stripping them of their citizenship – which was a legal option, rarely if ever applied, under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government – thus making them the responsibility of some other country. Others wonder why we should be responsible for investigating and trying Canadians who allegedly have committed grave crimes abroad; in other circumstances, they’d be tried and sentenced in the place where their crimes took place.

But they are, ultimately, our problem. They aren’t foreign – almost all the Canadians accused are Canadian citizens born here to Canadian families, and their radicalization took place here, in the dark corners of Canadian society. To attempt to dump them on another country, or on a poor and struggling Kurdish-led Syrian democracy movement that has already been betrayed by Canada and its allies, would be both immoral and dangerous.

There are good reasons why nobody is eager to see them returned. The probability of any returned foreign fighter committing violence is low – a 2015 study found that only 0.2 per cent of returned fighters, or one in 500, had been charged with terrorism offences. The return of IS fighters has not produced the wave of attacks that many had anticipated. But the few who do maintain their violent commitments are noted, in the words of a study published last year by the United Nations Security Council, for their “increased lethality, both as attackers and as attack planners,” making them responsible for “some of the most lethal terrorist attacks.”

But the flaw in the citizenship-stripping approach becomes apparent when you take a close look at those who have dual citizenship, and would therefore be eligible.

Typical of them is Syrian detainee Jack Letts, who holds both Canadian and British citizenship. Neither Canada nor Britain wants him back. Political leaders in both countries have suggested revoking his citizenship – and thus dumping his case, and the considerable security and justice costs associated with his case, on the other country.

As a result, he waits in Syria. If he is guilty of atrocities or war crimes – and simply being a member of IS could qualify as one – neither country is willing to expend the investigative and judicial resources to prove it and bring him to justice. If he is innocent, as he claims, neither country is willing to try to clear him.

The Kurds have made it clear that they do not want hundreds of people such as him on their hands. Ilham Ahmed, a leader of the Kurdish-led SDF, says it is straining their resources just to hold people such as him. “We have provided the support we can by arresting them and detaining them in prisons, but who is going to take them to court?” she told the Financial Times. “Who is going to [be] carrying out the prosecution?”

Another horrific news story this month illustrated the risk of not taking these people back. Germany is currently trying a 27-year-old woman from Lower Saxony known as Jennifer W. for allegations that she, as an IS “morality policewoman” in Syria, tortured a 5-year-old Yazidi slave girl to death. Prosecutors consider themselves lucky to have found a phone containing what they say are incriminating messages.

If kept in Syria or foisted on another country, she would never have been charged. Trials such as hers are expensive, difficult and risky, but the expense is necessary, and the risk would be greater if these people were left at large. Some of them may be the world’s worst people, but they are our people. If they are truly to be brought to justice, or at least kept under watch so they pose less danger, it is far more likely to happen here.

Source: Canadian extremists returning from Syria are a big problem – but they’re our problem

White Terrorism Shows ‘Stunning’ Parallels to Islamic State’s Rise

Of note:

Many scholars of terrorism see worrying similarities between the rise of the Islamic State and that of white nationalist terrorism, seen most recently in the carnage in El Paso, Tex.

“The parallels are stunning,” said Will McCants, a prominent expert in the field.

And they are growing more notable with each new attack.

Experts say that the similarities are far from a coincidence. White nationalist terrorism is following a progression eerily similar to that of jihadism under the leadership of the Islamic State, in ways that do much to explain why the attacks have suddenly grown so frequent and deadly.

In both, there is the apocalyptic ideology that predicts — and promises to hasten — a civilizational conflict that will consume the world. There is theatrical, indiscriminate violence that will supposedly bring about this final battle, but often does little more than grant the killer a brief flash of empowerment and win attention for the cause.

There are self-starter recruits who, gathering in social media’s dark corners, drive their own radicalization. And for these recruits, the official ideology may serve simply as an outlet for existing tendencies toward hatred and violence.

Differences between white nationalists and the Islamic State remain vast. While Islamic State leaders leveraged their followers’ zeal into a short-lived government, the new white nationalism has no formal leadership at all.

“I think a lot of people working on online extremism saw this coming,” said J.M. Berger, author of the book “Extremism,” and a fellow with VOX-Pol, a group that studies online extremism, referring to the similarities between white nationalism and the Islamic State.

In retrospect, it is not hard to see why.

The world-shaking infamy of the Islamic State has made it a natural model even — perhaps especially — for extremists who see Muslims as enemies.

A set of global changes, particularly the rise of social media, has made it easy for any decentralized terrorist cause to drift toward ever-grander, and evermore nonsensical, violence.

“Structurally, it didn’t matter whether those extremists were jihadists or white nationalists,” Mr. Berger said.

White nationalism in all forms has been on the rise for some years. Its violent fringe was all but certain to rise as well.

The feedback loop of radicalization and violence, once triggered, can take on a terrible momentum all its own, with each attack boosting the online radicalization and doomsday ideology that, in turn, drive more attacks.

The lessons are concerning. It is nearly impossible to eradicate a movement animated by ideas and decentralized social networks. Nor is it easy to prevent attacks when the perpetrators’ ideology makes nearly any target as good as the next, and requires little more training or guidance than opening a web forum.

And global changes that played a role in allowing the rise of the Islamic State are only accelerating, Mr. Berger warned — changes like the proliferation of social networks.

“When you open up a vast new arena for communication, it’s a vector for contagion,” he said.

The nihilism that increasingly defines global terrorism first emerged in the sectarian caldron of American-occupied Iraq.

A washed-up criminal from Jordan, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, exploited the chaos brought by the American-led invasion to slaughter occupiers and Iraqi Muslims alike, circulating videos of his deeds.

Al Qaeda, for all its religious claims, had, like most terrorist groups, killed civilians in pursuit of worldly goals like an American withdrawal from the Middle East.

But Mr. Zarqawi seemed driven by sadism, a thirst for fame and an apocalyptic ideology that he is thought to have only vaguely grasped.

Al Qaeda objected, fearing he would alienate the Muslim world and distract from jihadism’s more concrete goals.

Mr. Zarqawi instead proved so popular among jihadist recruits that Al Qaeda let him fight under its name. After his death, his group re-emerged as the Islamic State.

His group’s unlikely rise hinted at a new approach to terrorism — and sheds light on why white nationalist terrorism is converging on similar beliefs and practices.

Most terrorists are not born wishing to kill. They have to be groomed. Where past terrorist groups had appealed to the political aspirations and hatreds of its recruits, Mr. Zarqawi’s found ways to activate a desire for bloodshed itself.

The American-led invasion of Iraq had seemed, for many Middle Easterners, to turn the world upside down. Mr. Zarqawi and later the Islamic State, instead of promising to turn it right side up, offered an explanation: The world was rushing toward an end-of-days battle between Muslims and infidels.

In that world, Mr. McCants wrote in 2015, “the apocalyptic recruiting pitch makes more sense.”

This gave the group justification for attacks that otherwise made little strategic sense, like killing dozens of fellow Muslims out shopping, which it said would help usher in the apocalypse foretold in ancient prophecy.

Because the attacks were easier to carry out, almost anyone could execute their own and feel like a true soldier in the glorious cause.

Jihadism retained its core political agenda. But the things that made the Islamic State’s form of terrorism so infectious also made it less strategically rational.

With an ideology that said anyone could kill for the movement and that killing was its own reward, much of the violence took on a momentum of its own.

That, some scholars say, is what appears to be happening now with the extreme wings of the white nationalist movement rising globally.

Seeing a Global Race War

The ideological tracts, recruiting pitches and radicalization tales of the Islamic State during its rise echo, almost word-for-word, those of the white nationalist terrorists of today.

For the latter, the world is said to be careening toward a global race war between whites and nonwhites.

“The Camp of the Saints,” a bizarre 1973 French novel that has since become an unofficial book of prophecy for many white nationalists, describes a concerted effort by nonwhite foreigners to overwhelm and subjugate Europeans, who fight back in a genocidal race war.

So-called manifestoes left by the terrorist attackers at Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso, Tex., have warned of this coming war too. They also say their attacks were intended to provoke more racial violence, hastening the fight’s arrival.

Radicalization requires little more than a community with like-minded beliefs, said Maura Conway, a terrorism scholar at Dublin City University. While white backlash to social and demographic change is nothing new, social media has allowed whites receptive to the most extreme version to find one another.

Mr. Berger, in his research, found that these deadly messages, which have had mixed success in traditional propaganda channels in all but the most dire historical moments, can spread like wildfire on social media.

He termed the message one of “temporal acceleration” — the promise that an adherent could speed up time toward some inevitable endpoint by committing violence. And the “apocalyptic narratives,” he found, exploit social media’s tendency to amplify whatever content is most extreme.

As with the Islamic State’s calls for mass murder, this worldview has resonated among young men, mostly loners, who might have previously expressed little ideological fervor or experienced much hardship. It offered them a way to belong and a cause to participate in.

And, much like the Islamic State had found, social media gave white extremists a venue on which to post videos of their exploits, where they would go viral, setting off the cycle again.

In 2015, Mr. Berger wrote that the Islamic State had been “the first group to employ these amplifying tactics on social media.” But, he added, “it will not be the last.”

What should be done with foreigners who joined Islamic State?

Swiss perspectives:

Switzerland is one the many countries facing difficult choices in dealing with their citizens linked to the Islamic State. These are some of the options on the table, and the challenges involved.

US-backed Kurdish-led forces are currently holding tens of thousands of people linked to Islamic State in northern Syria after capturing the last IS stronghold in March. Rights groups are concerned about due process and prison conditions for IS detainees both in Syria and in neighbouring Iraq.

The detainees are mostly Syrians and Iraqis but also include some 2,000 foreigners from more than 70 countries, as well as women and children being held in a separate camp that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet described as “deeply sub-standard”. There are currently a dozen adults with links to Switzerland in northern Syria, and the United Nations this week called for fair trials for Islamic State captives and for countries to take responsibility for their nationals.

“Accountability, with fair trials, protects societies from future radicalisation and violence,” Bachelet saidexternal link on Monday. “Betrayals of justice, following flawed trials – which may include unlawful and inhumane detention, and capital punishment – can only serve the narrative of grievance and revenge.”

In northeast Syria, Swiss public television (RTS) interviewed a Swiss jihadist who has been detained by the Kurds since January 2018.

 How can justice be served?

One possibility is to have IS members tried by the local justice system set up by the Kurdish self-administration in northeast Syria, says Marco Sassoli external link, director of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

Another possibility is that the foreign fighters are sent back to their home countries.

The third possibility is to establish a kind of international tribunal, Sassoli told swissinfo.ch.

They could also be transferred to Iraq and judged there, which has already happened in some cases.

The Geneva Academy recently co-organised a conference on the issue with the NGO Fight for Humanity, which produced a report and recommendationsexternal link. But none of the options are simple.

Could foreign fighters be repatriated?

With the notable exception of countries such as the US and Russia, most Western governments – and their electorates – are not keen on the idea of repatriating these “combatants”. Some countries, including Britain, have stripped former IS members of their nationality.

Switzerland has said it will not actively repatriate its nationals, and Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter has said she would prefer to see them tried where they are in Syria or Iraq, for security reasons.

Sassoli thinks the security fear is irrational.

“They are more dangerous in Syria than in a Swiss prison,” he says, because in Switzerland it is harder to escape and the political situation is stable, whereas the Kurdish area is a potential target for Syria and Turkey. He thinks repatriating nationals could be a good option if Western countries want to do “something special for their nationals”, but this option would have the disadvantage of being much further from the witnesses and the evidence.

“Active repatriation may only be examined for minors,” Swiss Foreign Ministry Spokesman Pierre-Alain Eltschinger told swissinfo.ch. “In this regard, the best interest of the child is decisive.”

The Swiss government has rejected calls to actively repatriate Islamic militants with Swiss nationality from Syria or Iraq.

What about an international tribunal?

The Swiss government has raised the possibility of helping to set up an international tribunal and says it supports creating such a court. It participated in a preliminary meeting on this in Stockholm earlier this month with eleven European Union countries, but Eltschinger said that “no decisions were taken”.

“Such a court would have to provide for the guarantees inherent to the rule of law, be appropriately organised, impartial and enjoy broad international support among Switzerland’s partners,” the foreign ministry spokesman said via e-mail.

He also cited disadvantages to support for such a court, including its complexity and the fact that such an operation is very expensive. In addition, he said, evidence may be difficult to access because it depends on cooperation with multiple states.

“Depending on the court’s location, there is a risk of a lack of independence and political influence,” Eltschinger said.

Could it be a UN tribunal? And where would the court be based?

Sassoli says a UN court is not going to happen, and a tribunal in a European country is also unlikely because of security concerns. He thinks another possibility for a treaty-based international or mixed tribunal would be in Iraq, because Iraq would agree to it, unlike Syria.

A Syria-based court “would be quite revolutionary,” says Sassoli, “because it would mean establishing a tribunal on the territory of a state which does not consent”.

Iraq is already holding trials of IS members, including some foreign ones. But there are concerns, particularly regarding the death penalty which exists in Iraq (and not on Kurdish territory). For example, 11 French nationalsexternal link have been sentenced to death in Iraq for belonging to IS. But it is likely that Iraq would agree to a mixed tribunal according to international standards and no death penalty in exchange for significant Western help with expertise and infrastructure.

What crimes would the suspects be tried for?

Another issue is what kind of statute an international tribunal would have. For Switzerland and other European countries, simply belonging to IS is a crime, but Sassoli says that for credibility an international court should try suspects for war crimes. And in terms of international standards, it should also try everyone involved in the conflict on an equal basis, i.e. not just foreign fighters and not just IS.

“Everyone – the Syrians, the Iraqis, the foreigners – has the same right to judicial guarantees and if they committed war crimes they must be prosecuted.”

Who has a right to try IS suspects?

The Kurdish authorities are appealing for international support to conduct trials under their own justice system and have repeatedly stressed that they lack the resources to secure and care for such a high number of dangerous detainees. Kurdish representative Khaled Issa, who participated in the Geneva conference, told Swiss news agency Keystone-SDA that the Kurds’ self-administration had a right to try IS suspects because “they were arrested on our territory, they committed their crimes on our territory and the victims are our families and infrastructure”.

But helping the Kurdish authorities to improve their justice system and prisons would constitute a kind of recognition for them, which is delicate.

“From the point of view of Syria, but especially of Turkey, these are terrorists and rebels,” says Sassoli. “Establishing a criminal tribunal is not like establishing a health clinic. In the public’s perception, this is something done by states.”

Source: What should be done with foreigners who joined Islamic State?

5 Takeaways About The Trump Administration’s Response To Far-Right Extremism

Of note:

Lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee questioned senior FBI and Homeland Security officials this week about their response to white supremacist violence.

This was the latest in a series of hearings, led by Democrats, to gauge the Trump administration’s commitment to fighting a threat that federal agencies deem the most lethal and active form of domestic extremism.

There were no bombshell revelations, but lawmakers did get a few details on some key questions.

Here are five takeaways:

There is no national policy to combat the far-right threat

Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Maryland Democrat who led the hearing, started by asking what he called the fundamental question: “Do we have an overall strategic plan to counter and prevent the threat of white supremacist violence? I fear the answer is no.”

Raskin was right. After more than two hours of questioning, it was clear that, unlike the government’s quick and sweeping response to Islamist militant groups, there’s no comparable national strategy to fight white supremacist and other far-right movements.

Elizabeth Neumann, a senior threat prevention official at Homeland Security, told lawmakers that federal authorities were still adapting to the evolution of both far-right and Islamist extremists: They now self-radicalize online, with little or no direction from organized groups like al-Qaida, which had a clear hierarchy and staged attacks that took months or years to plan.

“Our post-9/11 prevention capabilities, as robust as they are, were not designed to deal with this type of threat,” Neumann said.

She said Homeland Security was developing “a prevention framework” to be implemented in coming years, but she offered no details. Raskin, the lawmaker, said it was “very late in the game” to still be in the development stage of a national strategy, given the deadly far-right attacks in Charleston, S.C., Pittsburgh, Charlottesville, Va. and elsewhere.

Neumann said the delay is partly because “things haven’t been institutionalized” through legislation, an executive order or a national security presidential memorandum focused on domestic terrorism. She noted that the Obama administration also lacked those tools.

“We know we’re not doing enough,” Neumann said.

Federal agents do take this seriously – even if the White House doesn’t

President Donald Trump consistently downplays the threat of white nationalist extremism, which he’s dismissed as “a small group of people.”

Michael McGarrity, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, bristled when lawmakers suggested that, given the apparent disinterest from the top, federal authorities might not be taking the far-right threat seriously enough. McGarrity bluntly stated, more than once, that racially motivated violent extremists are the deadliest and most active of domestic terrorists.

“We’re not playing with the numbers here,” McGarrity said. “We arrest more domestic terrorism subjects [before they stage an] attack in the United States than we do international terrorism.”

He said the FBI is using many of the same tactics historically used to thwart international groups like the Islamic State: working sources, staging undercover operations and asking courts to authorize wiretaps. McGarrity added that the FBI considers racially motivated extremists a transnational threat, and that the agency shares intelligence with counterterrorism partners overseas.

Homeland Security won’t say much about its prevention effort

In 2015, Homeland Security opened a small office devoted to an approach known as “CVE,” countering violent extremism. The idea is to use community partnerships and other tools to interrupt the radicalization process before it turns to violence. Critics call it ineffective, and say it leads to the stigmatization and surveillance of ordinary Muslims.

Under the Trump administration, the CVE-focused office lost about 90 percent of its old budget and about half its staff, and it’s been renamed twice to signal a shift away from community partnership work. (Some Muslim activists joke that scrapping CVE was the only Trump administration move they supported.)

But it might be premature to declare the government’s CVE program dead. Neumann said CVE-style prevention work will be part of a broad counterterrorism strategy that Homeland Security plans to have ready by this fall. But she gave few details about the program or what’s going on with the restructured office that’s supposed to handle it.

“There’s still more questions than answers at this point,” Raskin complained. “What are the office’s precise functions? Who’s in charge? How many personnel will be assigned to prevent white supremacy violence?”

Debate is heating up over a domestic terrorism law

If a U.S.-based suspect is accused of involvement with an international terrorist organization such as ISIS or al-Qaida, prosecutors have an array of charges to consider that aren’t available for most cases involving white supremacist suspects.

Without a domestic terrorism statute, said McGarrity of the FBI, authorities are restricted as to how much they can police speech and conduct that’s offensive, but protected under the First Amendment.

“The FBI does not investigate rallies or protests unless there’s a credible belief that violent criminal activity may be occurring,” he said.

In some quarters of Congress, support is building for a domestic terrorism statute, ostensibly to correct the double standard in extremist prosecutions. But several rights groups already have rejected the idea, arguing that enforcing existing laws is better than giving even more power to federal authorities.

This debate is one to watch in coming months.

It’s official: Black Identity Extremism is no longer a thing

In the early months of the Trump administration, a leaked FBI report warned about a new kind of homegrown threat: black identity extremists.

The warning reportedly came after six unrelated attacks on police around the country; the FBI portrayed the threat as “an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement” by people with “perceptions of police brutality against African Americans.”

The claim was widely endorsed by conservative news media outlets but viewed with equally widespread skepticism as a move reminiscent of the FBI’s demonization of black activists in the civil rights era.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat from Massachusetts, asked McGarrity if there’s a single killing the FBI could link to Black Lives Matter or similar activist groups. McGarrity’s reply: “To my knowledge, right now, no.”

Pressley continued her attack on “this absurd designation” until McGarrity divulged that the category had been retired at the FBI.

“The designation no longer exists?” Pressley asked, sounding skeptical.

“It hasn’t existed since I’ve been here for 17 months,” McGarrity answered.

To recap: The FBI created a new category of threat and two years later quietly abandoned it without explanation.

Source: 5 Takeaways About The Trump Administration’s Response To Far-Right Extremism