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Syrian Army captures key town from Islamic State (ISIS) in northern countryside of Aleppo province

The Syrian Army unleashed a wide-scale offensive in the northeastern countryside of Aleppo, after succeeding to wrest control over the city of Aleppo last December

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Rebel fighters walk near damaged buildings in al-Rai town, northern Aleppo countryside, Syria, Dec. 30, 2016

Damascus, Feb 26, 2017: The Syrian Army captured a key town in the northern countryside of Aleppo province on Sunday, following battles with the Islamic State.

Capturing the town of Tadef enables the Syrian army to secure transportation routes in eastern Aleppo, and constitute a base for launching attacks and undermining the presence of the IS militants in that part of the province, the Syrian army said in a statement, according to state news agency SANA.

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The town is also located southeast of city al-Bab, which was recently captured by Turkish forces and allied rebel fighters.

The Syrian Army unleashed a wide-scale offensive in the northeastern countryside of Aleppo, after succeeding to wrest control over the city of Aleppo last December.

The offensive enabled the military forces to assume control of territory 600 km east of Aleppo.

Also, the army has laid a siege along the southern rim of al-Bab city, to secure the eastern part of Aleppo city from IS attacks, or the possible advance of the Turkish-backed rebels.

Observers believe that there was a Russian-Turkish understanding for splitting the battles in al-Bab.

For the Turks, capturing al-Bab cuts the way in the face of the growing Kurdish influence in northern Syria, a red line drawn by Turkey.

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For the Syrian army, laying a siege to al-Bab from its southern edge prevents the IS fighters to withdraw toward other stronghold in eastern province of Deir al-Zour, or northern city of al-Raqqa, the de facto capital of the terror-designated group.

The Syrian government has always looked to the Turkish moves in northern Syria as an encroachment upon the sovereignty of the country, claiming that Ankara was capturing areas in northern Syria to build a wall, which could be a prelude to setting Ankara’s long-demanded safe zones in northern Syria, near the Turkish borders. (IANS)

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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)