The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Abu Omar al-Shishani, a top ISIS leader who was believed to be the group’s “minister of war,” was likely killed by a U.S. airstrike in Syria on Tuesday, according to the Pentagon. However, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook added that the U.S. military was still “assessing the results” of the strike which reportedly killed 12 other ISIS fighters. The Georgian national, also known as Omar the Chechen, had been a close advisor to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and was credited with leading Syrian rebels to several victories in key battles earlier in the civil war. The United States had previously offered up to $5 million for information about his location. Washington Post, Reuters, CNN

CNN: ISIS is losing the war
International Business Times: Chechen ISIS Fighter Dead? Abu Omar Al-Shishani, Top Islamic State Commander, May Have Been Killed By US Airstrike
Edward Snowden said he believes that the FBI has the means to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. Speaking over video chat at Common Cause’s Blueprint for Democracy conference on Tuesday, Snowden rejected claims by the FBI that only Apple has the “exclusive technical means” to unlock the phone. He added that “the global technological consensus is against the FBI.” The Intercept, The Hill

Huffington Post: Apple vs. FBI Is Not About Privacy vs. Security -- It's About How to Achieve Both
New England Public Radio: How A Foiled Robbery Sheds Light On Apple’s Clash With The FBI

Gitmo: Indonesian security officials are “discussing all necessary steps” to ensure that the United States does not return a Guantanamo inmate to Indonesia if the Obama administration carries out its promise of closing the prison. Riduan Isamuddin, known by the name “Hambali,” has been accused of leading the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jemaah Islamiyah militant group, which is believed to be responsible for a series of bombings in 2002 on the resort island of Bali. Hambali was captured in Thailand in 2003 and held in secret by the CIA until 2006 when he was transferred to Guantanamo. He has not been charged with a crime during his time at the prison. Associated Press

Salon: What exactly is going on in Guantánamo? An expert explains the “indefinite detention and lawlessness”
Just Security: Closing Guantánamo: Before You Accuse Congress, Take a Look at Your Administration
The Hill: GOP introduces resolution rejecting Obama's Gitmo plan

Terror trial: A prosecutor in the case against Tairod Pugh, a U.S. Air Force veteran accused of leaving the United States to join ISIS, showed gruesome footage from more than 70 jihadist propaganda videos found on the defendant’s laptop and called him a “true believer” during closing statements on Tuesday. Defense attorney Eric Creizman argued to jurors that sympathizing with ISIS is not a crime and that there was no evidence that Pugh had contacted ISIS before leaving the country. Deliberations in the case began Tuesday afternoon and will continue today. Pugh is charged with attempting to provide material support to ISIS and with obstruction of justice. If convicted, he faces up to 35 years in prison. Newsday, Reuters, Wall Street Journal

ISIS in Minnesota: A man accused of tweeting death threats against a federal judge accepted a plea agreement on Tuesday. 20-year-old Khaalid Abdulkadir pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of attempting to intimidate a federal judge and federal law enforcement officers. In the plea deal he received three years probation and GPS monitoring of his activity. Minnesota Star Tribune

NYPD: Relations between the FBI and NYPD have improved under the leadership of Police Commissioner William Bratton and the two organizations now work in tandem to combat terrorism, according to a report in The Washington Post. Bratton has reportedly hired some prominent former FBI employees into the NYPD and established a healthy working relationship with the federal agency. Washington Post

CENTCOM Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin said that the U.S. military has asked for permission to restart a program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels. Speaking in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, the General said he “asked for permission to restart the effort by using a different approach.” The previous $500 million dollar program was halted last October after training only 150 rebels. The Hill

Reuters: Two killed as rockets from Syria hit southern Turkish town: mayor
BBC News: Syria conflict: Is this a new kind of world war?
Washington Post: Report paints grim picture of kids’ lives in Syria

Libya: The Pentagon has presented the White House with a plan for as many as 40 airstrikes against ISIS in Libya. The plan will reportedly involve additional strikes in support of Libyan militias on the ground fighting ISIS. New York Times

Kony sanctions: The U.S. Treasury Department broadened its sanctions against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army on Tuesday in response to the transnational group’s targeting of civilians in the Central African Republic. The new sanctions forbid Americans from engaging in business transactions with the organization and freeze any U.S. assets held by the group. The State Department placed the LRA on its Terrorist Exclusion List in 2001, but the measure only prohibited those associated with the group from entering the United States. New York Times, The Hill, Voice of America

Israel: An American graduate student was stabbed and killed by a Palestinian in an attack near Tel Aviv on Tuesday. The attack, which occurred along a seaside boulevard in Jaffa, came just after American Vice President Joe Biden arrived in the country to meet with Israeli leaders. The victim was 28-year-old Taylor Force from Vanderbilt University. He reportedly served in Iraq and Afghanistan as an Army officer after graduating from West Point. CNN, New York Times

United Kingdom: The director of the UK government’s communications intelligence agency called for greater cooperation between British intelligence and tech companies in dealing with problems caused by encryption. Speaking at an event at MIT in Boston, Robert Hannigan called for a less “highly charged atmosphere” to build a “new relationship between the tech sector, academia, civil society and government agencies.” BBC News, Guardian

Iran: Early Wednesday morning, The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps test-fired two more ballistic missiles that it claimed have the range to reach Israel, in defiance of U.S. criticism over other missile tests on Tuesday. Iranian officials said the missiles were stamped with the words “Israel should be wiped from the pages of history.” The tests came in the face of new U.S. sanctions on the missile program put in place in January. The United States also said it would raise its concerns at the UN Security Council, which has prohibited Iran from developing nuclear-capable missiles. Reuters
Limit the Next President’s Power to Wage Drone Warfare: “In a democracy, the ability to use lethal force must be subject to clear and narrow limits, and the public must be able to evaluate whether those limits are being respected,” write Jameel Jaffer and Brett Kaufman in The New York Times. “At the very least, the president has the responsibility to ensure that drone strikes are subject to meaningful oversight.”

Now Is The Time For U.S. Boots On The Ground In Syria: “Objectively, there is, or should be, a sense of urgency in closing in and killing ISIS on the ground in Syria,” writes Frederic Hof in Newsweek. “Unless the administration’s preference is to assume that ISIS will fail and then, if it succeeds, respond with an all-American ground force, it will be putting the finishing touches on a ground-force coalition of the willing—top-heavy with regional and European forces—to go in and destroy in detail the Syrian branch of this barbaric enterprise.”

Bernie Sanders, foreign policy realist: “Sanders is not a pacifist. He supported U.S. use of force in the Balkans under Bill Clinton, and the original Afghanistan intervention to get Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda after Sept. 11, 2001,” writes Katrina vanden Heuvel in The Washington Post. “But like Obama, he opposed the war in Iraq and was a skeptic about regime change in Libya and Syria.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Foreign Fighters and Those Who Return

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