The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Though some observers fear more violence is yet to come, there has been a “huge drop” in the rate of civilian deaths since the start of the U.S-Russian brokered ceasefire in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. In the first five days of the ceasefire 24 civilians have been killed. In February the daily average was reportedly 38 civilians killed per day. However, UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said that “unfortunately, we have to admit...there are still a number of places where fighting has continued.” He added that the situation remains “fragile” and that “success is not guaranteed, but progress has been visible” since the partial truce was put into effect last Saturday. Associated Press, AFP, Deutsche Welle, Huffington Post

BBC News: Syria conflict: Massive power blackout across country
Wall Street Journal: U.N. Says Deal Is Near With Syria on Aid
The judge in the case to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters is focused on the burden the government’s request will place on Apple as well as what is specifically required to unlock the phone, according to a report published by Politico. U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym said in a telephone conference with lawyers on both sides that she was “looking for full briefing...particularly with respect to, among other things...what technically is involved here, obviously going to the burden and some other issues.” Politico

TIME: Sen. Feinstein and Rep. Aguilar: Apple Is Threatening Our National Security
The Intercept: NSA Is Mysteriously Absent From FBI-Apple Fight
The Hill: GOP lawmaker: Ban government from buying Apple products
Wall Street Journal: Chip Hacking Might Help FBI Unlock iPhones
Buzzfeed News: Families Of San Bernardino Attack Victims Side With Government In Apple Encryption Fight

Gitmo: Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce (R-Calif.) introduced a bill on Thursday that would prohibit President Obama from returning the naval station at Guantanamo Bay back to Cuba without Congressional approval. Royce said that the naval base “is a critical national security and foreign policy asset for the United States.” The proposed legislation comes amid Republican fears that the Obama administration will attempt to return the base to Cuba as part of continued reconciliation with the country. The Hill

International Business Times: Will Cuba Take Over Guantanamo Bay? Military Lawmakers Claim Obama Will Give Base To Castro-Led Regime
The Hill: GOP chairman mulls Gitmo, ISIS measures in defense bill

Al Qaeda case in Ohio: A federal judge in Ohio denied a motion of an alleged Al Qaeda supporter to leave jail before his trial. The judge did not believe that Ibrahim Mohammad, one of four men accused of sending money to Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, would be guaranteed to show up for trial if returned home under house arrest. Mohammad was charged last fall with with conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, providing material support and resources to terrorists, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Associated Press, Toledo Blade

Donald Trump stood behind his previous support of torture saying that “we should go tougher than waterboarding,” during the Republican presidential debate Thursday night. Moderators questioned Trump on whether military leaders would follow through with his orders, to which he responded “They’re not gonna refuse me. Believe me...If I say ‘do it,’ they’re going to do it.” New York Times, Politico

TIME: Donald Trump Defends Torture at Republican Debate
Politico: GOP hawks declare war on Trump

French forces killed a Spanish man working as an Al Qaeda commander in northern Mali in a military operation against the group. Abu al-Nur al-Andalusi, a 35-year-old Spanish national from the North African enclave of Melilla, had been leading a brigade of 25 fighters near Timbuktu and had reportedly attempted to recruit other Spaniards to join Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Reuters, Newsweek

Libya: Two Italian citizens held hostage by ISIS in Libya were likely killed during fighting between the militant group and Libyan security forces earlier this week, according to the Italian Foreign Ministry. Italy believes the two victims may have been two of the four employees of an Italian construction company who were kidnapped last July. Reuters, Financial Times, Guardian

Washington Post: What’s the best path to peace in Libya?

Pakistan: A foreign policy adviser to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that the Afghan Taliban leadership is living in Pakistan. Speaking about negotiations with the Taliban, Sartaj Aziz said that Pakistan has “some influence on them because their leadership is in Pakistan and they get some medical facilities, their families are here.” This is the first time a top Pakistani official has made such a statement publically about providing a safe haven for the Afghan Taliban. AFP, BBC News

Somalia: A former Somali journalist was sentenced to death on Thursday for his involvement in the killing of five Somali journalists. A Mogadishu court convicted Hassan Hanafi Haji, a suspected Al-Shabaab member, of assisting the militant group in the killing of fellow journalists between 2007 and 2011. New York Times, BBC News

Spain: On Thursday, Spanish police announced the seizure of about 20,000 military uniforms that were reportedly being shipped to ISIS and Nusra Front fighters in Syria. The Spanish interior ministry said the seizure was linked to an arrest last month of seven suspects accused of providing logistical support to the militant groups. New York Times, Guardian, CNN

Canada: The Quebec government granted $500,000 to an anti-radicalization center in Montreal on Thursday. The grant is in addition to $2 million already pledged to The Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence by Quebec and the City of Montreal. The center, which opened last November, has received 647 calls, nine of which were referred to police and 147 of which required “direct intervention.” CBC, CTV News

CBC: Warrant issued for Ismael Habib under suspicion of terrorism
Why The War In Syria Is Only The Beginning: “While it is an exaggeration to claim that the U.S. and Russia are negotiating a new ‘Sykes-Picot agreement’... a new balance of power is clearly in the making in the Middle East. Syria is likely to remain partly under Russian influence, with the U.S. maintaining a strong presence in Iraq,” writes Emmanuel Karagiannis on Newsweek. “The new dynamics of the Middle East have created the preconditions for the righting of an historic injustice against the Kurds—the world’s largest stateless people.”

Trump wants to make America more like Denmark: “Actually, the package Trump offers -- ‘save Social Security without cuts,’ a vaguely pro-single-payer position on health care, plus temporarily banning Muslims and walling off Mexico -- bears an eerie resemblance to the Danish government’s current policy mix,” writes Charles Lane in The Washington Post. “His astonishing success selling it to the Republican base may portend ideological convergence between the U.S. right and Europe’s.”

Manufacturing Consent in Iran: “The issue of actual democratic elections, without the disqualification of candidates, is not even part of the discussion. There are no parties that do not swear allegiance to Khamenei as the supreme leader, let alone advocate serious institutional reform,” writes Hamid Yazdan Panah on RealClearWorld. “The discussion leaves no room for the idea that institutions such as the Assembly of Experts are simply incompatible with notions of modern democracy or pluralism.”

Spycast: Author Debriefing: United States of Jihad. An Interview with Peter Bergen

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Kill or Capture and the Islamic State

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