The Soufan Group Morning Brief



Anwar al-Awlaki, the American imam and Al Qaeda propagandist who was killed in a 2011 U.S. drone strike, also helped train terror recruits on how to make bombs and carry out suicide attacks, according to new court filings. The court papers reveal previously unknown details about Awlaki’s role with Al Qaeda. The papers were part of a sentencing memorandum in the case of Minh Quang Pham, one of Awlaki’s former bomb-making students. The 33-year-old Pham, a Vietnamese-British convert to Islam, faces sentencing on May 16 after pleading guilty to providing material support to Al Qaeda. New York Times, Associated Press

The Senate Judiciary Committee began panel debates with cybersecurity, privacy, and national security experts on Tuesday to discuss the potential reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act of 2008. The law, set to expire in 2017, allows the NSA to collect communications data aimed at foreign targets, even if collection programs inadvertently gather Americans’ data as well. The Intercept, USA TODAY

Gitmo: A Kenyan national who has been held at Guantanamo since 2007 appeared before the Periodic Review Board for the first time on Tuesday. 42-year-old Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu, who was allegedly involved in a 2002 terrorist plot in Mombasa, spoke over video conference in front of the Board members located in the U.S. Bajabu has not been charged with a crime. Miami Herald

Also, classified information was accidentally disclosed by the government to defense lawyers, prosecutors, and the military judge in the case of the 9/11 attacks suspects. The defense team of 9/11 suspect Mustafa Al-Hawsawi said that the inadvertent leak led to an extensive “scrub” of computer equipment used by those involved with the military commissions. Politico

Miami Herald: Guantánamo judge invites Pentagon brass to clear up their role in female guard controversy

ISIS in New Jersey: On Tuesday, 24-year-old Alaa Saadeh was sentenced to 15 years in prison for attempting to recruit a “small army” of fighters to join ISIS. Saadeh pleaded guilty in October to conspiring to provide material support to ISIS. Saadeh apologized for his actions and said that “these people [ISIS] are not who they claim they are. They are making it worse for Muslim people.” CBS, NBC, Associated Press

FOIA lawsuit: A conservative watchdog group, the Cause of Action Institute, has filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration alleging that the government is illegally delaying responses to Freedom of Information Act requests. The group claims that the government often forces an unnecessary and lengthy White House review process. Politico

Torture: Foreign countries that agreed to take custody of over 1,000 U.S.-held detainees between 2010 and 2011 provided assurances that they would not be tortured, according to a recently declassified document. Earlier reports have accused some countries of torturing former U.S.-held detainees after they were transferred. Vice News

Benghazi: U.S. prosecutors said on Thursday that they will not seek the death penalty against Ahmed Abu Khattalah, who is accused of of leading the 2012 Benghazi attacks. Khattalah was captured and then brought to the United States in 2014. He is awaiting trial after pleading not guilty to murder charges for the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Wall Street Journal

An ISIS-claimed car bomb killed at least 50 people and wounded more than 60 others on Wednesday in the Shiite Muslim district of Baghdad known as Sadr City. An SUV full of explosives was detonated in a busy market during rush hour. Reuters, New York Times, CBS

Afghanistan: On Tuesday, Taliban fighters killed at least 15 Afghan policemen when they overran two checkpoints in Helmand Province. The Taliban has recently increased pressure against the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. Reuters

Africa: The State Department is warning of an increasing threat of ISIS in Africa. Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield expressed her concern over “the risk that the presence and potential expansion of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on the [African] continent will grow.” She added that the number of people killed by terror attacks in Africa is “as large, if not larger, than the number of people killed by [ISIS]” in the Middle East. CNN, Voice of America

Australia: Australian police arrested five men suspected of planning to sail to Indonesia to join ISIS. Authorities said they believe the men were planning to travel by boat through Indonesia and the Philippines on their way to Syria to fight alongside ISIS. Newsweek

Iran: Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati is suing Iran for his alleged torture while he was imprisoned in Tehran. Hekmati is one of the four Iranian-American prisoners released by Iran in January. He was held for over four years and is seeking damages from the Iranian government for false imprisonment and torture. ABC, Huffington Post
Ben Rhodes and the Tough Sell of Obama's Foreign Policy: “On Monday, the White House walked back deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes’ impolitic, contemptuous quotes in the New York Times Magazine...The furor over the weird Rhodes profile is inside-Beltway-baseball, but his foreign policy ideas are truly important,” writes Michael Grunwald on Politico. “Rhodes has a true mind meld with Obama, which is why he’s so influential in the White House despite his remarkably thin foreign policy credentials.”

Anwar al-Awlaki’s Life After Death: “To impressionable young minds, Awlaki still offers both an elementary introduction to Islam and a rocket ride to the bigotry and mayhem of al Qaeda and the Islamic State, which has used his face and recordings in its propaganda,” writes Scott Shane on Foreign Policy. “And since 2011, courtesy of that CIA missile, he has spoken from beyond the grave with the particular authority of the martyr. This is why investigations of dozens of terrorism cases in the West, including some of the most devastating attacks, continue to point to his influence as a crucial radicalizing factor.”

How Al Qaeda Is Winning In Syria: “Unlike the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which relies on intimidation and shocking levels of violence to rule local populations in areas it holds and to market itself among global jihadis, al-Nusra uses persuasion and gradual change to increase its influence and control, writes Yasir Abbas on War on the Rocks. “Al-Nusra starts with embedding itself in the opposition and then incrementally moving to subsume, purge, or dominate revolutionary forces, both civilian and military.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Convergence of Mental Illness and Terrorism

Join the Center on National Security on Wednesday, June 1 for a discussion with Director Karen J. Greenberg, author of Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State. To RSVP click here

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