The Soufan Group Morning Brief

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In an apparent effort to moderate the increasingly harsh national rhetoric against Muslims, President Obama made his first visit as President to a mosque on Wednesday. In a speech at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, President Obama quoted verses from the Quran and urged Americans not to become “bystanders to bigotry.” His remarks come at a time when Americans have reacted with fear and anger towards Muslims following the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. The President’s visit parallels his 2009 visit to Egypt at the beginning of his first term in office when he spoke at Cairo University calling for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.” Although never mentioning him by name, Obama’s message serves to counter Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s suggestion for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. Obama may have been reluctant to visit a mosque until the final months of his presidency because his aides feared it would feed partisan pronouncements that he was a Muslim, rather than a Christian. According to a poll last September, 43 percent of Republicans and 29 percent of Americans believe he is a Muslim. New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Associated Press

Guardian: Barack Obama Uses Mosque Visit to Call for Rounded Muslim Characters on TV
TIME: Muslims Dismiss Obama’s Mosque Visit as #TooLateObama
The Atlantic: Obama to Muslim Americans: ‘You’re Right Where You Belong’
Quartz: Obama, In His First Official Visit to an American Mosque, Calls Republicans’ Anti-Muslim Rhetoric “Inexcusable”
Vox: President Obama Visited a Mosque. You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next.
On Wednesday, John Booker pleaded guilty to attempting to detonate what he believed to be a 1,000 ammonium nitrate bomb in front of a Fort Riley Army Base in Manhattan, Kansas. 21-year-old Booker plotted the attack with the help of two undercover FBI informants in 2014. Before carrying out the fake plot, Booker made a video claiming he would “bring the Islamic State straight to your doorstep.” He had also previously recorded himself pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Booker’s defense attorney claims that he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Booker pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and one count of attempting to destroy government property with an explosive device. A plea deal with prosecutors recommends Booker be put behind bars for 30 years. New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters, CNN, CBS News

ISIS in America: Federal authorities have accused 82 individuals, primarily U.S. citizens or permanent residents, of attempting to aid the Islamic State, according to legal documents and news sources that were analyzed by the New York Times and the Center on National Security at the Fordham Law. All of those charged in the United States were ‘lone wolves’ with no direct ties to ISIS abroad, a stark contrast to recent terror plots in Europe, some of which, including the Paris attacks, were linked to the Islamic State’s leadership in Iraq or Syria. About 75 percent of those arrested in the United States were under 30 years old and the vast majority were male. “ISIS, in addition to being a force in the Middle East, is essentially a global gang preying upon alienated youth and providing an identity for self-selecting men and women who are isolated, angry and, at the same time, in search of a mission in life,” said Karen J. Greenberg, the Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law. New York Times

San Bernardino: Despite receiving praise for their swift response to the December terrorist shootings in San Bernardino, local police are pointing to internal difficulties, including aging or broken equipment, lack of supplies and medical training, and a dearth of personnel. San Bernardino has some of the highest crime rates in California, according to FBI data. The city filed for bankruptcy in 2012, feeling the effects of the 2008 recession with one of the highest home-foreclosure rates in the country. About 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and many officers feel they are facing a losing battle against gang violence and drug crime. There may be signs of improvement, however, as the police chief has put forward an initiative to revitalize the force with new equipment, updated training, and new funding in a five-year, $50.6 million proposal, pending approval from a bankruptcy judge. New York Times, Los Angeles Times

The Hill: Police Chiefs Push for CT
Bloomberg View: The War in San Bernardino

Oregon: A federal grand jury indicted 16 supporters of the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife in eastern Oregon on Wednesday. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland did not disclose the charges against the protesters and it was unclear as to whether the four hold outs remaining at the refuge were included in the indictment. Last week, authorities arrested 11 people on a separate criminal complaint, including Ammon Bundy, the leader of the armed militia. They were charged with conspiracy to impede federal officers. Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart cited the ongoing standoff as an obstacle to the release of nine of the jailed protesters. Two have been released, agreeing to wear tracking devices until trial. ABC News, Reuters, Huffington Post

The Hill: Oregon Dem Wants to Reimburse Law Enforcement for Armed Standoff Costs
Associated Press: Security Beefed Up at National Wildlife Refuges in Three States
The UN has temporarily suspended the struggling peace talks in Geneva between members of the Syrian opposition and the Assad government. On Wednesday, UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura insisted that the suspension does not imply “the end or the failure of the talks.” The decision comes in part due to the escalating military action taken against opposition positions near Aleppo in recent days. With the help of Russian air strikes, government forces have advanced upon opposition-controlled territory, threatening to cut key supply routes. De Mistura also urged the UN and international community to implement humanitarian measures to deliver aid to besieged areas in Syria. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Guardian, Reuters

New York Times: Drone Captures View of a Devastated Syrian City
Washington Post: After Four Months, Russia’s Campaign in Syria Is Proving Successful for Moscow
Reuters: Envoy Suspended Syria Talks Over Russian Escalation: UN Official
The Hill: United States Blames Russia as Syria Talks Suspended
NPR: Thousands of Foreign Fighters Still Join ISIS Despite Visible Defeats

Somalia: U.S. government sources suspect that al-Shabaab was behind Tuesday’s explosion aboard a Somali commercial airplane. On Wednesday, investigators determined that the blast was caused by a bomb, which punched a three-foot hole in plane’s fuselage 15 minutes after takeoff. The aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing and one man was killed after being sucked out of the hole caused by the explosion. Two other people suffered minor injuries. Investigators, helped by American military advisors and African Union peacekeepers, intend to continue their investigation to determine the nature of the explosion. New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters

Yemen: An airstrike on Wednesday by the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen targeted a cement facility near Sana’a and killed fifteen people, including civilians and workers. This comes shortly after Saudi Arabia said it would establish a high-level committee to investigate and improve its military targeting in the ongoing civil war in Yemen with the help of American and British experts. Since March of last year, the Saudi-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes in support of the exiled Yemeni government. The Houthi rebel movement controls a large portion of the country, including the capital, Sana’a. New York Times

Reuters: Suicide Attack in Yemen’s Aden Wounds Security Chief
France: Despite widespread protests calling for its repeal, the French government confirmed Wednesday a three-month extension to the nationwide state of emergency put in place immediately following the Paris attacks last November, which left 130 dead. The state of emergency gives French authorities the power to conduct police raids and place people under house arrest without court authorization. Since the attacks, French law enforcement has conducted 3,289 raids and placed 303 people under house arrest. New York Times

Wall Street Journal: EU Privacy Regulators Delay Possible Crackdown on Data Transfers to United States

Assange: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said that he will allow British authorities to arrest him on Friday if a UN investigation does not rule that he has been illegally detained. Since June 2012, Assange has been confined to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after Swedish authorities attempted to extradite him in relation to two sexual assault allegations. Assange argues that he is being “arbitrarily detained,” as he faces the threat of arrest if he leaves the embassy. If allowed to leave, Assange intends to move to Ecuador, which has granted him asylum. BBC News, Guardian, CNN

Newsweek: UN to Decide If WikiLeaks Founder Assange Is Detained Unlawfully

ISIS Was Born In an American Detention Facility (And It Wasn’t Gitmo): “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the key architect behind ISIS, was an American prisoner at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq in 2004,” writes Andrew Keane Woods in Lawfare. “When he was detained, he did not appear to be involved in the insurgency; ten months later when he was released, he had the connections and influence that would enable him to launch ISIS.”

To End Syria’s War, Help Assad’s Officers Defect: “Over the course of the revolution, about 3,000 Syrian officers have jumped ship, according to a report by the Free Syrian Army,” writes Mohammed Alaa Ghanem in the New York Times. “But not enough have left, largely because this enormous decline in quality of life discourages additional desertions, in particular from high-level generals who could help force a political solution. Money and legal assistance from the United States could change that.”

America’s Awkward Iran Dance: “After nearly four decades of tension, America’s dependence on Iran is actually increasing,” writes Aaron David Miller in CNN. “Washington, having gone all-in on the nuclear deal, needs Iran to uphold its commitments, something critical to the Obama Administration’s legacy… All this suggests that Iran’s hard-line leadership never really saw the nuclear agreement as a threat to the regime’s authoritarian and ideological character, but rather as a way to consolidate its power.”
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For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Libya and the Perils of Intervention.


The Center on National Security at Fordham Law will host “United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists” on February 12, 2016. To RSVP, click here.