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March 7, 2018 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 153

Russia-Developed Texas-Based Encrypted Communication App Zello: Growing In Popularity Among Jihadis – And Growing In Usage In Terror Attacks; Zello CEO Declines MEMRI Advice, Leaves Jihadi Content On Platform

March 7, 2018 | By Steven Stalinsky
Russia | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 153
Islamic State (ISIS) supporters and other jihadis from around the world are using the Austin, Texas-based communication application Zello for planning and executing terrorist attacks in the U.S., the U.K., European countries, Turkey, and elsewhere around the world. On January 30, 2018, it was reported that the perpetrator of the April 2017 Stockholm truck attack had used Zello to communicate with other jihadis immediately after he drove the vehicle into crowds on a main street, killing five people and injuring 14. In March 2017, a Texas-based ISIS recruiter who moderated a Zello channel, instructed followers to kill infidels, and personally approved terror attacks was indicted by a federal grand jury. The Zello push-to-talk app can be used on smartphones, tablets, and PCs, and is available for Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and Windows PC operating systems, and for two-way radios. Users can create private or public channels that allow them to easily chat with others and listen to conversations. The main Zello app is free; the Zello@Work app is fee-based. The Zello website states that the app's "advanced encryption ensures all communications are secure." It adds: "Services may disclose personally identifiable information when it's required to comply with law enforcement requests or subpoenas when you violate the Terms of Service." On September 11, 2017, it announced that all private voice messages on Zello on the version released after June 6, 2017 are end-to-end encrypted.[1] The company states that its app has been downloaded 65 million times. Zello's Russian Connection The technology that would later become Zello, initially developed in Russia by Alexey Gavrilov under the name Loudtalks, was announced at the September 2007 TechCrunch 40 Mobile and Communications Conference.[2] Zello bought the Loudtalks technology, moved its development team to Texas, and brought Gavrilov on as CTO; under CEO Bill Moore, it was rebranded, other apps were added, and its products were announced in June 2012. Moore is also founder and CEO of the TuneIn radio streaming service; Gavrilov and his team created some popular apps for that service as well.[3] Zello's Popularity Increased In U.S. During And After Hurricanes Irma And Harvey In Late Summer 2017 When Hurricanes Irma and Harvey struck Florida, Puerto Rico, and the southern Atlantic Ocean in August and September 2017, over a million new users downloaded Zello. It became the top free download in both Apple's App Store and the Google Play store, after gaining fame as the top communications tool of the "Cajun Navy" Harvey rescuers in Houston. "Over one million people have joined [Zello] in the last day, with most coming from Puerto Rico and Florida," Gavrilov said, but went on to warn users that the app was not designed for disaster communications and required either WFi or a cellular data link, despite online rumors to the contrary. Jihadis Use Zello To Plan Attacks in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Italy, Sweden, Russia, And Elsewhere Over the past three years, Zello has been at the center of terrorism cases worldwide, as the following example highlights: The Dallas, Texas-based ISIS recruiter Said Azzam Mohamad Rahim, who was moderator of a Zello channel called State of the Islamic Caliphate, told his listeners to kill as many "infidels" as possible with poison, rocks, and trucks, by burning, and by pushing people off buildings.[4] He gave the go-ahead to Salman Abedi, perpetrator of the May 2017 Manchester suicide bombing; in August 2016, Abedi had sought Rahim's approval via Zello, saying: "Sheikh, I live in Manchester, in Great Britain. I live among non-Muslims. I have found work with them. Am I allowed to kill them? Is it permitted to kill them with a bomb?" To which Rahim responded on Zello: "To the boy from Manchester I say, okay, kill them! Show no mercy to civilians."[5]Also receiving instructions from Rahim was Abdulgadir Masharipov, the perpetrator of the New Year's Day 2017 attack at Istanbul's Reina nightclub, in the month preceding the attack.[6] In March 2017, Rahim was indicted by a federal grand jury for making false statements to federal agents about his alleged support of ISIS.[7] According to the indictment, he had posted his support of ISIS on social media, solicited violence, and praised attacks for which ISIS had claimed responsibility – including the Istanbul nightclub attack and the July 2016 Nice, France truck attack.[8] Rakhmat Akilov, who carried out the April 2017 Stockholm truck attack, communicated using Zello following the attack. He wrote on the app: "My trousers are burned. I thought it was going to explode but it didn't... Around ten are dead."[9] Also in April 2017, Italian police arrested a resident of the country who had used Zello to discuss his plans to carry out an attack in Italy. A judge called him "an extremely dangerous subject" who posed a "very high risk of moving on to carrying out series acts of violence." In one Zello message, he had called for "non-believers" to be "roasted on kebab skewers" and fed to dogs.[10] Tajik national and ISIS member Murodbek Kodirov was arrested in August 2017 for posting a voice message on Zello that included "calls for inciting religious hatred." He had been making plans with another individual, "D. Sharipov," to carry out first an ax attack and then a suicide bombing in a crowd.[11] Murad Atajev, a Daghestani preacher at a mosque in Berlin attended by Russian-speakers, was arrested in October 2015; he had attempted to recruit ISIS militants, and broadcasts of his sermons were featured on Zello.[12] MEMRI JTTM Research And Analysis Exposes Extent Of Zello's Popularity Among Jihadis A September 7, 2016 MEMRI JTTM report[13] revealed that jihadis, ISIS members, and ISIS supporters from around the globe were using Zello. More recently, on April 28, 2017, a link to the pro-ISIS "Zello Channel" group was circulated on numerous pro-ISIS Telegram channels; the link shows that it has nearly 13,000 subscribers.[14] MEMRI JTTM research over the past two years has discovered a range of ISIS channels in numerous languages on Zello. For example, the Zello "Islamic State channel," which includes "Recruiting new members" in its description, operates in French, Arabic, and Hebrew. It is notable that all the jihadi Zello groups revealed by MEMRI in the report are apparently still active. The accounts are easily identifiable; they have names such as "The Islamic State" and "The State of the Islamic Caliphate." They have avatars of the well-known black jihadi flag, and of jihadi leaders such as Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and Osama bin Laden. They share images of weapons, and threatening messages. All of these are easily recognizable, and Zello should be able to flag them as terrorist content if it wants to. Zello CEO Requests MEMRI Reports On Jihadis On Zello – But Won't Shut Down Their Accounts In March 2015, following reports that Zello was being used by ISIS, Zello CEO Moore said that he had not heard that the app was popular among ISIS fighters, and noted, "It's terrible that Zello is used for evil." The company, he said, is putting "a fair amount of effort... into figuring out ways to minimize the app's use by bad guys... so that only healthy conversations can flourish."[15] The first MEMRI report on jihadi use of Zello, published September 7, 2016, showed that jihadi channels on the platform had thousands of subscribers. Shortly after the report's publication, MEMRI received a request from Moore for a full version of the report and also offered him an opportunity to speak with MEMRI staff about the jihadi content on accounts on the app. Moore ignored this offer, and the content was left on the platform. Later that month, on September 26, MEMRI again contacted Moore to offer assistance, and let him know that the jihadi content was still on Zello. He did not reply, and the content remained. A follow-up MEMRI report, published in April 2017, noted that the content still had not been removed. In August 2017, Moore publicly acknowledged that Zello was being used by malicious actors, noting: "Oh, it's used for bad, yes. Cartels, gangs, ISIS, and others. Like any communications tool, it's used for good and evil both... It's a net positive, but it's not without risk. It doesn't replace law."[16] Shortly thereafter, in September, he underlined that even though Zello was available to ISIS and other bad actors, he preferred to take a "libertarian" view regarding policing his users – though, he said, he understands the "moral quandary" that this presents.[17] On February 1, 2018, MEMRI JTTM staff reexamined the accounts and found that most, if not all, remain active. Zello's Leadership Shows Little Interest In The Fact That The Platform Is Becoming Jihadis' Favorite App – What Can Be Done? Zello's failure to take responsible action to remove jihadi content on its platform is reminiscent of other tech companies' similar lack of action. In 2010, MEMRI met with representatives from YouTube/Google about such content on their platforms. At that time, I was told that they were not interested in removing it – yet now they do what was recommended. Twitter too brushed off early MEMRI warnings about the jihadi content on it. Now, Zello is ignoring its facilitation of jihad worldwide. MEMRI's research over the years on jihadi content on these platforms, and repeated attempts to make sure that YouTube and Twitter remained aware of the extent of the problem, contributed to their eventual efforts to remove it. The same can be done for Zello and might compel them to act more responsibly. The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), a partnership of Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube for collaboration on the issue of terrorist activity online, works to "forge new partnerships" with small tech companies. Joining it would be a good first step for Zello and could steer them to normal industry standards about removing terrorist content.    *Steven Stalinsky is Executive Director of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).   [1] Support.zello.com, accessed February 2, 2018. [2] Techcrunch.com, September 17, 2007. [3] Techcrunch.com, June 20, 2012. [4] Dallasnews.com, October 30, 2017. [5] Theaustralian.com.au, August 14, 2017. [6] Hurriyet.com.tr, April 25, 2017. [7] Newsweek, August 14, 2017. [8] Dallasnews.com, March 23, 2017. [9] Thelocal.se, January 30, 2018. [10] Thelocal.it, April 25, 2017. [11] En.crimerussia.com, October 11, 2017. [12] Rferl.org, October 16, 2015. [13] See MEMRI JTTM report U.S.-Based Walkie-Talkie Encrypted Chat Application Zello Used By ISIS Members And Supporters From Around The World, September 7, 2016. [14] See MEMRI JTTM report U.S.-Based Walkie-Talkie Encrypted Chat Application 'Zello' Continues To Serve As A Meeting Place For Jihadists; Calls For Attack On France Transmitted On App, April 28, 2017. [15] VOAnews.com, March 17, 2015. [16] Buzzfeed.com, August 31, 2017. [17] Inc.com, September 8, 2017.

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June 6, 2020 Special Announcements No. 923

Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM) Weekend Summary: Week of May 30-June 6, 2020

June 6, 2020
Special Announcements No. 923
The following are some of this week's reports from the MEMRI Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM) Project, which translates and analyzes content from sources monitored around the clock, among them the most important jihadi websites and blogs. (To view these reports in full, you must be a paying member of the JTTM; for membership information, send an email to jttmsubs@memri.org with "Membership" in the subject line.) Note to media and government: For a full copy of these reports, send an email with the title of the report in the subject line to media@memri.org. Please include your name, title, and organization in your email.   EXCLUSIVE: Turkish Government Charity Organization Operates In Regions Of Syria Controlled By Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here. On May 30, 2020, an event honoring fighters wounded in battles against the Syrian regime and its allies was held in the city of Idlib, Syria, which is controlled by Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS).   EXCLUSIVE: Online Jihadis Continue To Relish Protests And Riots In The U.S. Jihadis reacted online with schadenfreude and glee to the protests and mayhem in U.S. cities. Many supporters of the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda celebrated the events, focusing on the spectacles of buildings and property aflame and sharing videos of looting, clashes between law enforcement and protesters, and other forms of violence. Some emphasized that the events are divine retribution against the U.S. for its alleged crimes in various Middle Eastern countries and especially for its bombing of ISIS strongholds.   EXCLUSIVE: Afghan Taliban's Negotiator With U.S., Addresses Suicide Bombers At Passing-Out Parade In Afghanistan The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – the Afghan Taliban organization which signed a peace agreement with the U.S. in Doha on February 29, 2020 – has released a video in which Taliban leaders address squads of suicide bombers at a passing-out parade held at an Afghanistan Military Camp.   EXCLUSIVE: On Telegram, Pro-ISIS Channels Celebrate U.S. Riots As Divine Retribution For Treatment Of Muslims, Pray For Escalation On Telegram, pro-Islamic State (ISIS) channels have been expressing their joy at the outbreak of violent protests in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police, viewing the riots as divine retribution for U.S. treatment of Muslims.   EXCLUSIVE: ISIS Editorial: 'Unbeliever Countries' May Face Same Chaos, Unrest Happening In America; Protests During COVID-19 Pandemic Are 'Another Victory' To Help ISIS Fighters To Achieve Goals Of Jihad The Islamic State's (ISIS) weekly newspaper, released on the group's channels on the Riot and Telegram platforms, included an editorial warning "unbeliever countries" that they will face the same chaos and unrest that is happening in the United States.   EXCLUSIVE: In Audio Message, ISIS Spokesman Calls Coronavirus Allah's Punishment Upon 'Crusaders,' Decries U.S.-Taliban Deal, Urges Fighters To Intensify Attacks On 'Apostates And Their Crusader Masters' The Islamic State (ISIS) released a new audio speech by the group's official spokesman Abu Hamzah Al-Qurashi, distributed online on various platforms. In the 40-minute speech, Al-Qurashi deemed the coronavirus pandemic to be God's "punishment" upon the "Crusaders" for killing ISIS fighters.   EXCLUSIVE: In Editorial, ISIS Acknowledges Its Inability To Retake Lost Territories, Urges Fighters To Intensify Guerilla-Style Raids To Exhaust Enemies An Islamic State (ISIS) weekly included an editorial acknowledging the group's inability to recapture the territories it had lost and urging the group's branches everywhere to ramp up guerilla-style raids in order to exhaust the enemies and into submission.   EXCLUSIVE: ISIS Supporter On Rocket.Chat Calls For Killing Muslim American Man, Claims He Is Serving The FBI An active Rocket.Chat user and Islamic State (ISIS) supporter published a post calling for the killing of a former jihadi who is now combating violent extremism, claiming he is serving the FBI.   ISIS Media Outlet Announces Shift To Canadian Hoop Messenger App After Wave Of Account Deletions On Telegram A distribution arm of the Islamic State's media apparatus, announced that due to a "failed Crusader campaign" against the media group's channels on Telegram, it will be limiting its dissemination activity to Hoop Messenger, while the group "prepares and organizes its re-entrance to Telegram, stronger than before."   Afghan Taliban Send Technical Team To Kabul To Discuss Prisoner Release The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban organization) said that a technical team had been sent to Kabul to discuss the release of Taliban prisoners. The Afghan government, in a reciprocal gesture on Eid Al-Fitr, announced its decision to release Taliban prisoners after the Islamic Emirate declared a three-day ceasefire on Eid, starting May 24.   Afghan Taliban Reject UN Report On Al-Qaeda Presence In Afghanistan In a statement, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Afghan Taliban organization) slammed a United Nations report that revealed that there are thousands of foreign terrorists, including Al-Qaeda and ISIS members, that are in Afghanistan and have a relationship with the Taliban. A top Taliban commander vowed to hold talks with the Afghan government while also waging jihad.   Al-Qaeda In The Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) Releases Photos Showing Group's Fighters Celebrating Eid With Locals, Including Children Al-Qaeda In The Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released photos documenting its fighters' Eid celebrations, including performing Eid prayers, chanting nasheeds, meeting and greeting locals, including children, and handing out sweets.   Al-Qaeda Affiliates In Syria Release Video Documenting Raid On Syrian Army Post An Al-Qaeda-affiliated group released a video documenting a raid on a Syrian army post with footage filmed by drones and head-mounted cameras showing the execution of several soldiers as well as the weapons, ammunition, and at least one tank that had been seized.

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June 5, 2020 Special Announcements No. 922

The MEMRI Weekly: May 29-June 5, 2020

June 5, 2020
Special Announcements No. 922
The following are links to reports from MEMRI's Special Dispatch Series and Inquiry and Analysis Series, as well as to transcripts from the MEMRI TV Project, released during the past week. *MEMRI REPORTS Special Dispatch No. 8782 – UAE Daily Reports On Iran's Military Headquarters In Damascus, Including A Control Room Monitoring Iran's Drones, Among Them Drones Watching U.S. Base, June 5, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8778 – Turkish Government Charity Organization Operates In Regions Of Syria Controlled By Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham, June 5, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8781 – Iraqi PMU Chairman Instructs Factions To Convert Into Regular Army Units, Cut Ties With Iran In Line With Prime Minister Al-Khadhimi's Plan, June 4, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8780 – Kuwaiti Academic: The State Should Outlaw Polygamy, June 4, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8779 – Pro-Iran Lebanese Political Analyst Anis Al-Naqqash: Iran Can Help Venezuela; Missiles From Caracas Can Hit U.S. Cities And Oil Rigs; Israel Will Be Destroyed, Perhaps In Less Than 5 Years, June 4, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8777 – Palestinian Journalist: Arab Society Too Is Steeped In Racism, Especially Against Blacks, June 3, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8776 – Iranian Researcher Dr. Sam Mehdi Torabi: Iran Would Be Willing To Help The Americans In Their Revolution; The American Oligarchs Must Be Annihilated, June 2, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8775 – Atlanta Islamic Scholar Soleiman Hamed On George Floyd Protests: Burning Down Businesses Hurts the Oppressors' Pockets, Destruction And Violence Are Part Of A Quranic Model Applied By Muslims In Revolutions, Taking Over The World, June 2, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8774 – Russian Reactions To The Riots: Government Gloats, Commentators Assess Political Fallout On US Presidential Elections, June 2, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8773 – Palestinian Authority, Fatah Continue To Glorify Terrorists Who Carried Out Attacks Against Civilians, June 1, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8772 – IRGC Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani In Letter Sent Prior To His Death To Hamas Military Wing Commander Muhammad Deif: Despite The Pressures And Siege, Iran Will Never Abandon Palestine, June 1, 2020   *MEMRI TV MONITOR PROJECT MEMRI TV Clip No. 8047 – Former Lebanese Minister Sejaan Azzi: We Have Fought Israel Enough; Why Should We Fight While Others Are Negotiating?, LBC/LDC TV (Lebanon) MEMRI TV Clip No. 8046 – Senior Iranian Human Rights Official Ali Bagheri: While Iran Has Great Achievements In Science, Nuclear And Missile Technology, Saudi Arabia Wins Camel Races, Channel 5 (Iran) MEMRI TV Clip No. 8045 – Syracuse, NY Imam Khadar Bin Muhammad: Protests Do Not Help And We Cannot Win An Armed Resistance, So We Should Move Back To Africa And Hurt The U.S. Economically, The Internet MEMRI TV Clip No. 8044 – Pro-Iran Lebanese Political Analyst Anis Al-Naqqash: Iran Can Help Venezuela; Missiles From Caracas Can Hit U.S. Cities And Oil Rigs; Israel Will Be Destroyed, Perhaps In Less Than 5 Years, NBN TV (Lebanon) MEMRI TV Clip No. 8043 – American Islamic Scholar Najeeb 'Al-Anjelesi': Muslims Should Not Participate In Riots Following The Death Of George Floyd; It Is Forbidden To Redress Oppression With Oppression, The Internet MEMRI TV Clip No. 8042 – Iranian Video Titled 'COVID-1948' Compares Israel To Coronavirus: Like Coronavirus, Israel Should Be Fought By Boosting Our Abilities; We Must Rid The World Of This Virus Forever, Channel 2 (Iran) MEMRI TV Clip No. 8041 – Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat: Our Only Option Is To Reject The Deal Of The Century; Jared Kushner Is Ignorant And Arrogant, Russia Today TV (Russia) MEMRI TV Clip No. 8040 – Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Khadhimi Promises To Protect Iraq's Sovereignty; All Weapons Are A Matter For The State, Not For Individuals Or Groups, Al-Iraqiya TV (Iraq) MEMRI TV Clip No. 8039 – Lebanese Journalist Dr. Hassan Hamade: The Rockefellers, Rothschilds, Morgans Are The 'Brood Of Vipers' Behind The Conflict In America, ISIS, Coronavirus; They Are The Global Government, OTV (Lebanon) MEMRI TV Clip No. 8038 – Chinese Journalist Li Gang On Arabic-Language Chinese TV: Trump Is Falsely Accusing China Regarding COVID-19 In Order To Make Excuses For His Incompetence; There Will Be A Post-Corona U.S.-China Conflict; China Will Be A Leader In The New World Order, CGTN Arabic TV (China) MEMRI TV Clip No. 8037 – Iranian Analyst Mohammad Marandi: Blacks In The U.S. Are Deprived - They Live In Slums And Have The Literacy Skills Of Iranian Third-Graders; All They Have Left Is Sports, Channel 2 (Iran) MEMRI TV Clip No. 8036 – Atlanta Islamic Scholar Soleiman Hamed On George Floyd Protests: Destruction And Violence Are Part Of A Quranic Model Applied By Muslims In Revolutions, Taking Over The World, The Internet MEMRI TV Clip No. 8035 – Iranian Researcher Dr. Sam Mehdi Torabi: Iran Would Be Willing To Help The Americans In Their Revolution; The American Oligarchs Must Be Annihilated, Channel 2 (Iran) MEMRI TV Clip No. 8034 – Atlanta Islamic Scholar Soleiman Hamed On George Floyd Protests: Riots Have A Place In Bringing Down Oppressive Systems; Burning Down Businesses Hurts The Oppressors' Pockets, The Internet MEMRI TV Clip No. 8033 – Iranian Academic Dr. Sam Mehdi Torabi On U.S. Riots: Americans Are Too Incompetent To Carry Out A Real Revolution - The Elites Are Brainwashed, The Regular People Are Ignorant, IRIB Ofogh TV (Iran) MEMRI TV Clip No. 8032 – Lebanese International Affairs Expert Abdo Laqis: Race Riots Indicate America Is Heading Towards Blood-Soaked Civil War, Disintegration, Murr TV (Lebanon) MEMRI TV Clip No. 8031 – Qatari Sociologist Abd Al-Aziz Al-Khazraj Al-Ansari Discusses Riots In America: The U.S. Will Crumble From Within, 'That Pig Trump' Is A Racist, The Internet

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Mullah Abdullah Baradar Akhund, Afghan Taliban's Negotiator With U.S., Addresses Suicide Bombers At Passing-Out Parade In Afghanistan

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June 5, 2020


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The Cyber & Jihad Lab monitors, tracks, translates, researches, and analyzes cyber jihad originating from the Middle East, Iran, South Asia, and North and West Africa. It innovates and experiments with possible solutions for stopping cyber jihad, advancing legislation and initiatives federally – including with Capitol Hill and attorneys-general – and on the state level, to draft and enforce measures that will serve as precedents for further action. It works with leaders in business, law enforcement, academia, and families of terror victims to craft and support efforts and solutions to combat cyber jihad, and recruits, and works with technology industry leaders to craft and support efforts and solutions.

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ISIS Media Outlet Announces Shift To Canadian Hoop Messenger App After Wave Of Account Deletions On Telegram

June 5, 2020

On June 2, 2020, a distribution arm of the Islamic State's media apparatus, announced on Riot and Telegram that due to a "failed Crusader campaign" against the media group's channels on Telegram, it will be limiting its dissemination activity to Hoop Messenger, while the group "prepares and organizes its re-entrance to Telegram, stronger than before." The group also shared links to its official accounts on Hoop.

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Online Jihadis Continue To Relish Protests And Riots In The U.S.

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June 5, 2020


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The Cyber & Jihad Lab

The Cyber & Jihad Lab monitors, tracks, translates, researches, and analyzes cyber jihad originating from the Middle East, Iran, South Asia, and North and West Africa. It innovates and experiments with possible solutions for stopping cyber jihad, advancing legislation and initiatives federally – including with Capitol Hill and attorneys-general – and on the state level, to draft and enforce measures that will serve as precedents for further action. It works with leaders in business, law enforcement, academia, and families of terror victims to craft and support efforts and solutions to combat cyber jihad, and recruits, and works with technology industry leaders to craft and support efforts and solutions.

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June 5, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8782

UAE Daily Reports On Iran's Military Headquarters In Damascus, Including A Control Room Monitoring Iran's Drones, Among Them Drones Watching U.S. Base

June 5, 2020
Iran, Syria, United Arab Emirates | Special Dispatch No. 8782
A report in the English-language UAE daily The National provides information about the Glass House, a building near the Damascus international airport that serves as the command and control headquarters of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in Syria. This is the hub from which the IRGC's Quds Force has orchestrated Iran's military efforts in the country. According to the report, the building houses the commands of the various pro-Iranian militias in Syria (Iranian, Afghan, Iraqi, Lebanese, Palestinian and Pakistani), and is the venue for meetings between their top brass. It also contains a well-equipped hospital which treats militiamen wounded in action, extensive intelligence departments, and a control room monitoring live feed from Iran's fleet of drones in Syria, including drones deployed above a U.S. airbase in the northeast of the country.   The report notes that, in November 2019, an Israeli airstrike damaged the top two floors of the Glass House, but did not destroy the building completely. Israel's restraint, it speculates, may stem from understandings it has with Syria and Hizbullah, as part of which it refrains from causing extensive casualties in Syria. The report adds, however, that Iran nevertheless seems to be downsizing its activity in the Glass House, in favor of alternative centers in the Palmyra and Aleppo areas. The following are excerpts from the report:[1] "Thousands of cars pass a towering glass building along Damascus' airport road every day with little idea of its crucial role in the country's brutal nine-year civil war. Just a few hundred meters from the country’s main passenger terminal – one of the few routes to the outside world for those in isolated Syria able to afford it – the building’s imposing glass facade casts a shadow across the traffic on the highway. Inside is one of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s most critical nodes in Syria - an intelligence headquarters vital to Iran’s efforts in the war-torn country. To the rank and file militiamen, commanders, and IRGC officials that frequently pass through, it’s known as Beit Al Zajaja, or The Glass House in English. "For militia commanders stationed out in the dust lands of Deir Ezzor, or on the frontlines of Idlib, being summoned to The Glass House is the equivalent of being called to The White House. Extensive interviews reveal, for the first time, the site's role as a central node in the IRGC Quds Force's Syria campaign. "Though it has fluctuated, Iran's proxy network inside Syria is believed to number in the tens of thousands of fighters, with dozens of groups pledging varying degrees of loyalty to Tehran. Its fighters have played an increasingly prominent role in the country, and with that, the importance of The Glass House has increased. "On one floor is an Intensive Care Unit. Whilst public hospitals a few miles away struggle to keep the power on all day, the IRGC high command in Syria are given some of the best treatments the region can offer. Foreign militia fighters injured in combat are often bought here before being repatriated to Tehran. More recently, staff have been preoccupied with cases of Covid-19. "Another source mentions a control room with banks of screens, all broadcasting live satellite feeds from Iranian drones in the skies above Syria. On some, the source said, aerial shots of a US base in the country's north-east flicker, others show the now-stagnant battlefronts of Idlib, where IRGC-units have waged a critical fight against Turkish-backed rebels. "Set across the other floors are departments dedicated to everything from interpretation to report writing. Another floor hosts a department they call the "women's sections". "In extensive conversations with three sources who have regularly attended meetings in the Glass House in recent years, The National learned it was to here that leaders of Quds Force-aligned militias were called in the early days of January for urgent meetings, as Qassem Suleimani's body lay smouldering in the crater of a US missile strike. A source within the Fatimiyoun brigades, an IRGC-militia comprised of Afghan fighters currently deployed across Syria, confirmed they had met with former IRGC Quds-Force chief Suleimani at the site last year. While Suleimani was renowned for his frequent visits to battlefronts and forward operating bases, the sources confirmed to The National that at least until as recently as early May, the Glass House was the command and control HQ for Iranian proxy efforts in Syria. "Two sources attested to a high-level meeting at The Glass House in the final week of April [between] Sayeed Hussain Murtazavi, the commander of Liwa Fatimiyoun in Syria and Iran, and another commander known only as Qasimi, who heads the militia's operations in Syria. In another recent meeting, ammunition transfers were discussed with a Lebanese commander known as Zulfiqar, the name of the double-headed sword wielded by the Prophet Mohammed’s cousin Imam Ali and a common nom-de-guerre for Hezbollah fighters. Such discussions would be commonplace at The Glass House, the sources said. ‘This location houses all the senior command from all units – Iranians, Afghans, Syrians, Lebanese,’ said one source. A separate source corroborated the collection of factions operating from the building, adding Iraqi, Palestinian and Pakistani groups to the list. "Security around the site is predictably tight. One Fatimiyoun fighter who has attended several meetings described being search four times on their way in - guns and cell phones are strictly prohibited. 'The Glass Building is one of the most important places in Syria and Damascus,' they told The National through an encrypted messaging application. "Israeli airstrikes in recent years have picked off dozens of IRGC targets across the country. Everything from weapons dumps to command bunkers in the Golan Heights and east out to Deir Ezzor. Then, Israeli airstrikes damaged the top two floors of the facility last November, prompting claims that the building was abandoned. Satellite imagery analysis released by the Israeli company ImageSat claimed the strikes had taken out the Glass Building's 'intelligence facilities'. Yet two sources told The National, that the building was soon back up and running as normal. They confirmed the facility had hosted the IRGC's top commanders in the weeks and months that followed. In 2018, suspected IRGC sites located barely 500 meters away from The Glass House were among those hit in a wave of Israeli strikes on targets across Syria. Again, initial reports suggested the headquarters, although undamaged, had been abandoned, but The National can confirm it remained in use. "It is unclear why Israeli forces haven't conducted further strikes on the compound since November. Speaking last Tuesday evening, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah appeared to suggest a set of rules of engagement had come into being between Israel and the IRGC-backed Hezbollah. ‘Wherever they're striking in Syria, they seem to be holding back from killing fighters, because they're worried about our response, lest they cross a line that we or Assad regime can't accept,’ he said. An IDF spokesperson had not responded to requests for comment by the time of publication. For now, the Glass House remains unshattered. "Though the command centre continues to function, more recently hosting lower-level meetings, sources attest to the Quds Force increasingly using other sites for fear that Israeli jets may return to finish the job. The National has learned of two newer sites now favoured by the IRGC in Syria, one in an abandoned hotel near the ancient city of Palmyra, the other at the Al Bahuth research centre near Aleppo."     [1] The National (UAE), June 3, 2020.

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June 5, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8778

Turkish Government Charity Organization Operates In Regions Of Syria Controlled By Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham

June 5, 2020
Syria, Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 8778
The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here. On May 30, 2020, an event honoring fighters wounded in battles against the Syrian regime and its allies was held in the city of Idlib, Syria, which is controlled by Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS). The event, titled "My Steadfastness Has No Limits" and featuring the distribution of monetary grants to disabled fighters, was organized by the Turkish government-affiliated Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı (TDV) charity organization. It was extensively covered by the pro-rebel media, including the HTS news agency.[1] Photos from the event published by the HTS news agency Ebaa. On its website, TDV bills itself as having been "founded to support the activities of the [Turkish] Ministry of Religious Affairs, to help religious services reach more people, and for the raising of a generation employed in religious service," and states that it operates in 149 countries.[2] The organization's logo TDV operates in northern Syria, both in regions where Turkey implemented its Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations that are now essentially under Turkish control, and in HTS-controlled areas. For example, on September 25, 2019, it was reported that the organization had, in conjunction with the Pakistan-based Bayt Al-Salam charity organization, erected 100 homes in Idlib province for families of orphans, the disabled, and slain fighters.[3] As in the instance of the activity for the disabled fighters, it appears that TDV's activity in HTS-controlled areas is carried out with the approval of HTS, or at least with its knowledge of it. While previously there was a dispute between TDV and HTS over the administration of two refugee camps in HTS-controlled territory in Idlib, it was resolved that TDV would bring about the HTS-controlled Syrian Salvation Government's (SSG) approval of the appointments for the administration of both camps.[4] Thus, the TDV joins the ranks of Turkish charity organizations cooperating with HTS.[5]   [1] Telegram, May 31, 2020. [2] Tdv.org/tr-TR/kurumsal, accessed June 1, 2020. [3] Enabbaladi.net, September 25, 2019. [4] Arabstoday.net, November 22, 2018.

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May 26, 2020
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Former Lebanese Minister Sejaan Azzi: We Have Fought Israel Enough; Why Should We Fight While Others Are Negotiating?

#8047 | 01:32
Source: LBC/LDC TV (Lebanon)

In an interview aired on LBC TV (Lebanon) on May 26, 2020, former Lebanese Minister Sejaan Azzi said that Lebanon does not want war with Israel or anyone else. He said that Lebanon must complete negotiations with Israel in order to achieve secure borders and to make sure the Lebanese army is the only military force in the country. Azzi also said that he is against anyone who wants to wage war with Israel, and that Lebanon has paid a steep price while having helped the Palestinians since 1948. He added that Lebanon cannot withstand another war against Israel, and he asked why it should fight against Israel while the other Arab countries and even the Palestinians are making peace and negotiating with Israel.

Sejaan Azzi: "I believe that Lebanon has done its share in the Arab-Israeli conflict and in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Today, we do not want war with Israel or with anyone else. We want the Lebanese state to complete the negotiations, in order to secure the borders, and so that there will be no force on the ground except for the Lebanese army. If anyone wants to wage war against Israel - I'm against him, not because I support Israel, but because I... Enough! Since 1948 and to this day, we have paid a steep price. We have liberated our land, we have helped the Palestinians, we suffered wars because of the militarized Palestinian presence [in Lebanon]... Today, we cannot cope with a plan to liberate [the entire territory of] Israel. This plan should be the burden of all the Arab countries together, with the Palestinian people at the forefront. At a time when the Palestinians are making peace with Israel, are present in Israel, and are negotiating with Israel - even [the Palestinians] in Gaza - and at a time when the Arab countries have called it quits regarding wars, and engaged in peace plans, why am I [supposed to fight]?"

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May 22, 2020
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Senior Iranian Human Rights Official Ali Bagheri: While Iran Has Great Achievements In Science, Nuclear And Missile Technology, Saudi Arabia Wins Camel Races

#8046 | 01:44
Source: Channel 5 (Iran)

Ali Bagheri, the Secretary of the Iranian Judiciary's Human Rights Council, said in a May 22, 2020 interview on Channel 5 (Iran) that he once invited a visiting Arab official to see Iran’s technological progress at a laser exhibition and that the Arab official had become very serious and responded: "The Arab countries have also progressed... Saudi Arabia won first place in a camel racing tournament." Mocking the Arab official, Bagheri said that Iran's progress in nuclear sciences and in fields such as nuclear technology, missiles, and conventional weapons are of a global scale. In addition, he mocked the U.S. prison system.

Ali Bagheri: "I remember when a senior Arab official came to Iran. We told him that since he was already in Iran for two days, he should visit the laser exhibition and see Iran's progress. This Arab official suddenly became very serious and said: 'Don't think that you are the only ones who have progressed. The Arab countries have also progressed.' Everybody was shocked that he assumed this disposition. He said: 'Just last month, Saudi Arabia won first place in a camel racing tournament in the UAE.' Mr. Ranjabaran, I'm saying that we have advanced on a global scale. Our progress in the fields of nanotechnology, missiles, and conventional weapons, and in many aspects of nuclear [science] - this progress is on the cutting edge of science, technology, and global industry.

[...]

"Compare the prisons in Iran to those in America. Many American prisons are private, and are controlled by the private sector. The owners of these prisons bribe the police and the justice system so they arrest young criminals."

Host: "Wow..."

Bagheri: "They cut deals with the judges to give them relatively heavy sentences. Why do they do this? To turn them into labor force, so the [owners] can profit more."

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