THE HAGUE, Sept 16, (Agencies): Despite setbacks on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq the Islamic State group retains a “solid base of dedicated supporters” online, Europe’s policing agency warned on Friday. Jihadist groups are also now using smaller internet platforms and forums to spread terror propaganda, Europol added. “The relative decrease of ‘official’ IS propaganda over the last month has allowed more room for pro- IS user generated content,” the agency said in a statement from its Hague-based headquarters. “This indicates that the socalled Islamic State organisation continues to have a solid base of dedicated supporters in the virtual environment of the internet,” it said.
The agency released its findings after a two-day joint operation earlier this week to seek out and flag content posted by jihadist groups on the internet. Europol’s Internet Referral Unit teamed up with counter-terror and online propaganda experts from Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Hungary. “Jihadist organisations and their supporters continue to abuse a variety of platforms for disseminating their propaganda,” Europol said. “However, the disruptive actions undertaken by certain service providers to safeguard their platforms has led jihadist sympathisers to move to ‘smaller’ platforms.”
Some sympathisers have also reverted back to using internet forums, as well as so-called “Darknet libraries” which shares links pointing to jihadist content on the open internet, Europol said. The agency said it has flagged 1,029 pieces of content promoting terror on the internet to service providers with the request to have it removed if it violated their terms and conditions. Some countries like Britain have already announced plans to clamp down on extremist online content, following attacks in London and Manchester earlier this year.
Prime Minister Theresa May also wants internet companies to develop tools to automatically identify and remove harmful material, based on what it contains and who posted it. In addition, May wants companies to block users who post extremist content, and alert authorities when they identify material that could be harmful. IS has suffered a string of defeats on the battlefields of both Iraq and Syria, leaving in tatters the cross-border “caliphate” it declared in 2014. Syria’s Russian-backed army is this week battling to oust IS from the provincial capital Deir Ezzor city, after breaking the jihadist group’s two-year siege of government-held parts of the metropolis. US-backed pro-government forces recaptured the Iraqi city of Tal Afar and the surrounding region from IS on Aug 31.
Man attacks women with hammer: A man attacked two women with a hammer in a town in central France on Friday shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) before fleeing the scene, the local prosector said. Anti-terrorism prosectors are “following the case” but have not taken it on formally, Chalon-sur-Saone’s prosecutor Damien Savarzeix told AFP. A source close to the investigation said earlier that the assailant was thought to have psychological problems. One of the women, hit in the back of the head, needed four stitches, the prosecutor and police said in a joint statement. The two attacks occurred within minutes of each other, the statement said. A police helicopter took part in the manhunt as well as around 50 police officers.
Man attacks soldier in Paris: A knife-wielding man attacked a soldier in Paris on Friday, the latest assault to raise questions over whether France’s antiterror patrols are a target for extremists. The soldier, who was part of an anti-terrorism operation known as Sentinelle, rapidly tackled the man and was uninjured.
The attacker was taken into custody. Investigators have opened an anti-terror probe, government spokesman Christophe Castaner said. The incident came with France still on high alert following a string of terror attacks which began in January 2015 when jihadist gunmen stormed the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, killing 12.
The government launched Operation Sentinelle after that attack, deploying some 7,000 troops across the country to guard high-risk areas such as tourist sites and religious buildings. Since then the troops have been attacked seven times, including last month when a man rammed a car into a group of soldiers in the Paris suburbs, injuring six.
Though much smaller in scale than the 2015 Islamic State attacks in Paris and last year’s truck attack in Nice, the repeated assaults on soldiers have sparked criticism that their patrols have become a target. But defence minister Florence Parly said the fact that the attacker was swiftly brought under control Friday was “proof of the professionalism and efficiency of the Sentinelle soldiers in their mission to protect”. “We do not know the intentions of the attacker,” she told Europe 1 radio. In February, a 29-year-old Egyptian brandishing machetes in each hand attacked four soldiers patrolling near the Louvre museum in Paris, shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest).
In March, a man was shot dead at the capital’s Orly airport after attacking troops. Friday’s attack came a day after Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the Sentinelle operation would “evolve” but ruled out cuts to troop numbers. “We want to redeploy it to do better against the threat we are facing today,” Collomb said, adding there would be changes to the way the force is organised. The military has already shifted towards mobile patrols and away from posting troops outside buildings on permanent watch. Critics argue that the patrols have done little to increase security and that troops are placed at unnecessary risk for an operation largely aimed at reassuring the public. They also point to the strain it puts on an army that has 10,000 troops active abroad, including 4,000 fighting jihadism in west Africa.