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Indian Firms part of supply chain to ISIS: EU study

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ISIS
An Islamic State flag hangs amid electric wires over a street in Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, near the port-city of Sidon, southern Lebanon January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho

Highlights of this EU-mandated study:

  1. As many as 20 countries are involved in supply chain of components that are used by ISIS as weapons. 
  2.  A total of 13 Turkish firms were found to be involved in the supply chain, the most in any one country. That was followed by India with seven.

By Dasha Afanasieva

ANKARA (Reuters) – Companies from 20 countries are involved in the supply chain of components that end up in Islamic State explosives, a study found on Thursday, suggesting governments and firms need to do more to track the flow of cables, chemicals and other equipment.

The European Union-mandated study showed that 51 companies from countries including Turkey, Brazil, and the United States produced, sold or received the more than 700 components used by Islamic State to build improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

IEDs are now being produced on a “quasi-industrial scale” by the militant group, which uses both industrial components that are regulated and widely available equipment such as fertilizer chemicals and mobile phones, according to Conflict Armament Research (CAR), which undertook the 20-month study.

Islamic State controls large swathes of Iraq and Syria. NATO member Turkey shares borders with both countries and has stepped up security to prevent the flow of weapons and insurgents to the hardline Sunni group.

A total of 13 Turkish firms were found to be involved in the supply chain, the most in any one country. That was followed by India with seven.

“These findings support growing international awareness that IS forces in Iraq and Syria are very much self-sustaining — acquiring weapons and strategic goods, such as IED components, locally and with ease,” said James Bevan, CAR’s executive director.

The sale of these cheap and readily available parts, some of which are not subject to government export licenses, is far less scrutinized and regulated than the transfer of weapons.

The study found that Islamic State is able to acquire some components in as a little as a month after their lawful supply to firms in the region, suggestion a lack of oversight in the supply chain.

“Companies having effective accounting systems to establish where the goods went after them would act as a deterrent,” Bevan said.

‘REFUSED TO COOPERATE’

Bevan said the Turkish government refused to cooperate with CAR’s investigation so the group was not able to determine the efficacy of Ankara’s regulations regarding the tracking of components.

Turkish government officials did not reply to requests for comment.

CAR gained access to the components through partners including the Washington-backed Kurdish YPG in Syria, the Iraqi Federal Police, the Kurdistan Region Security Council and forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The components were recovered during major battles around the Iraqi towns of al Rabia, Kirkuk, Mosul, and Tikrit and the Syrian town of Kobani.

The report’s authors said they attempted to contact the companies linked to the components, adding the firms did not respond or were not able to account for where the goods went after they left their custody.

Seven Indian companies manufactured most of the detonators, detonating cord, and safety fuses documented by CAR. Those were all legally exported under government-issued licenses from India to entities in Lebanon and Turkey, CAR found.

Companies from Brazil, Romania, Russia, the Netherlands, China, Switzerland, Austria and Czech Republic were also involved, the report found.

(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun; Editing by David Dolan)

Next Story

Facebook Asked to Take Down Auto-Generated Al-Qaida Pages

Facebook 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

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facebook, Al-qaida, terror, islamic state, pages
Monika Bickert, head of global policy management at Facebook, joined at right by Nick Pickles, public policy director for Twitter, testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Sept. 18, 2019. VOA

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.

facebook, Al-qaida, terror, islamic state, pages
Facebook auto-generating Al-Qaida, terror group, pages. Pixabay

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.

facebook, Al-qaida, terror, islamic state, pages
An Islamic State flag is captured in this photo illustration. VOA

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.

ALSO READ: U.S. Media Industry Going Through A Bad Phase

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.” (VOA)