The Soufan Group Morning Brief


MONDAY, MAY 9, 2016

The Pentagon confirmed it has sent a small Special Operations advisory team to Yemen to assist Saudi-led coalition forces battling Al Qaeda. Two weeks ago, approximately a dozen U.S. commandos were sent to the southern city of Mukalla after Yemeni and Saudi-led coalition troops retook the city’s strategic port, oil terminal, and airport in late April. Pentagon officials said that the U.S. military is also providing medical, intelligence, and maritime operational support to the coalition forces. Washington Post, Reuters, LA Times

The trial of Guled Omar, 21; Abdirahman Daud, 22; and Mohamed Farah, 22; is set to begin today. The three Somali-American men are charged with conspiring to provide material support to ISIS and to commit murder abroad, after they allegedly planned to travel to Syria to join ISIS. Six other Minnesota men have already pleaded guilty to similar charges. MPR News, ABC

Minnesota deradicalization program: U.S. District Judge Michael Davis in Minnesota is attempting to establish a deradicalization program to evaluate a group of young Somali-American men who allegedly made plans to travel abroad to join ISIS. At least five defendants in the Minnesota ISIS cases who have pleaded guilty have agreed to enter the program. Experts say the proposed deradicalization program will be the first of its kind in the United States and that prosecutors from around the country may look to it as a model for future cases. Wall Street Journal

Airline security mishap: American Airlines delayed a flight last week over a passenger’s suspicions that an Italian mathematics professor was a terrorist. Guido Menzio was writing a complex math equation before takeoff when a nearby passenger reported his writing as suspicious. Guido was asked to disembark the plane and was then questioned by security staff before it was determined he was not a “credible threat.” Washington Post, Guardian, Sky News

Twitter Intel: Twitter has cut off U.S. intelligence agencies from access to a service that analyzes all of its tweets from around the world. Dataminr, a private service which sends out real-time information about breaking news, reportedly informed the Intelligence Community about last November’s Paris attacks shortly after they began. Dataminr also claims it notified its clients about the Brussels attacks in March ten minutes ahead of major news media outlets. Twitter said it has a long-standing policy of prohibiting third parties, such as Dataminr, from selling Twitter data to government agencies for surveillance purposes.  Wall Street Journal, The Verge

Government transparency: An Obama administration official in charge of improving Freedom of Information Act operations is reportedly resigning after less than a year on the job. James Holzer, Director of the Office of Government Information Services, serves as an ombudsman between federal agencies and FOIA requesters. The office also reviews ways to improve and streamline FOIA operations and processes. The reason for the change remains unknown, but Holzer will be returning to a previous position he held with Homeland Security as part of the National Archives. Politico

Militants killed eight Egyptian police officers in an attack on a bus near Cairo on Sunday. Egypt’s ISIS affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack which targeted an unmarked police minibus in the southern Cairo suburb of Helwan. New York Times, Washington Post

Afghanistan: Afghan officials executed six Taliban prisoners on Sunday, threatening to derail potential plans for peace talks. Afghan officials said that the six were found guilty of crimes against “civilian national security,” including assassinations of two government officials. President Ashraf Ghani reportedly ordered the executions in response to “repeated demands of the families of victims of terrorist attacks.” Guardian, Washington Post

New York Times: U.S. Role in Afghanistan Turns to Combat Again, With a Tragic Error
Washington Post: Romanian soldiers killed in apparent insider attack in southern Afghanistan
CNN: Death toll rises to 73 in Afghanistan bus, fuel tanker accident

Syria: Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri urged the group’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, to form  its own “emirate” in northern Syria in an effort to challenge ISIS’s strength in the region. Zawahiri has reportedly sent his deputy and operational field commander, Saif al-Adel, into Syria to assist the Nusra Front’s efforts. The Telegraph, Newsweek

Egypt: On Saturday, an Egyptian court issued a preliminary death sentence for six people, including two Al Jazeera journalists, for allegedly leaking government secrets to Qatar. Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is also charged with espionage in the case. The death sentences must be reviewed by Egypt’s Grand Mufti, the country’s top religious authority, before a final verdict is delivered on June 18. Jurist, Wall Street Journal, CNN

Belgium: Najim Laachraoui, one of the suspected suicide bombers in the Brussels attacks, was reportedly radicalized at the age of 17 or 18, according to a ruling by the Brussels Correctional Tribunal. This contradicts earlier claims from the Belgian government that Laachraoui became radicalized only a short time before the attacks on March 22. Brussels Times

Spain: Three Spanish freelance journalists returned home on Sunday after being held captive by ISIS in Syria for nearly 10 months. Antonio Pampliega, Jose Manuel Lopez, and Angel Sastre went missing last July while working on an investigative report in the northern city of Aleppo. The three were released with the help of “allied and friendly countries” including Qatar and Turkey. Associated Press, Reuters
The truth about our continuing combat role: “Why do Obama and his White House continue to peddle the fiction that U.S. forces are not engaged in combat? Perhaps the commander in chief is truly unaware that they are, which would be troubling indeed,” writes Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) in The Washington Post. “More likely is that because he’s told the American people repeatedly that he will end wars and won’t send combat troops to the Middle East, the word contortions coming from the White House are part of a twisted attempt to salvage and protect the president’s legacy.”

Foreign Volunteers or Foreign Fighters? The Emerging Legal Framework Governing Foreign Fighters: “The emerging legal framework governing foreign fighters, whose importance is set to grow, epitomizes assumptions we’ve made about the good, the bad, and the ugly in Syria. While the international community condemns the recruitment of ‘foreign fighters’ by ISIS, it condones the recruitment of ‘foreign volunteers’ by the Kurds,” write Daphne Richemond-Barak and Victoria Barber on Opinio Juris. “The discrepancy between the treatment of the ‘good’ auxiliaries combating ISIS and that of the ‘bad’ ones ISIS recruits sets a dangerous precedent: Why classify the YPG as an acceptable group to join, but ISIS, Hezbollah or al-Nusra as an unacceptable one?”

How We Advocated for the Iran Deal: “The critical point that the deal’s opponents are missing in the current debate is that we believed deeply in the case that we were making: about the effectiveness of the deal, about the value of diplomacy, and about the stakes involved,” writes Ben Rhodes on Medium. “It wasn’t ‘spin,’ it’s what we believed and continue to believe, and the hallmark of the entire campaign was to push out facts. These were complicated issues.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Global Ground Fight Against 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

Center on National Security
Fordham University School of Law
150 W. 62nd St. 7th Floor
New York, NY 10023 US
Copyright © 2016 Center on National Security, All rights reserved.