The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Driver Plows Van into Toronto Pedestrians, Killing 10

A man in his mid-20s plowed a rented van into people walking along a busy Toronto thoroughfare on Monday, killing at least 10 and injuring 15 -- and rattling one of North America’s safest major cities.

Police arrested the driver, Alek Minassian, 25 years old, of Ontario. Authorities said Monday evening that they were still trying to determine his motive and that Minassian is not associated with any organized terrorist group. Police have not ruled out terrorism charges but they said a thorough check through police records did not return any results, meaning Minassian was not previously known to police.

Monday’s attack occurred on one of the city’s first warm spring days, along Toronto’s main artery, Yonge Street, at lunchtime. A white rental Ryder van ran over a pedestrian crossing the street — then mounted a sidewalk and began plowing into objects and people indiscriminately.

“One by one, one by one,” said a witness who identified himself as Ali. “Holy God, I’ve never seen such a sight before. I feel sick.”

After 25 minutes from the first 911 call and a mile down Yonge Street, police stopped the van and ordered Minassian out. “Get down or you’ll be shot,” the officers warned him after he exited the van in a scene captured on video. He initially refused to surrender.

“Shoot me in the head,” Minassian said. He was subdued without any shots being fired.

Ralph Goodale, Canada’s public safety minister, said there was no information warranting a change to the nation's terror threat level — set at “medium” — and that Monday's incident did “not appear to be connected in any way to national security.” Toronto Star, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CNN, NPR
Globe and Mail: Twenty-Five Minutes of Horror on Yonge Street: How the Toronto Van Attack Unfolded


Maybe dismantling the GTMO closure office wasn’t such a good idea: “Malaise seems to permeate the rest of GTMO policy,” writes Benjamin Farley in Just Security. “The detainee population is 41, just as it was on the day President Trump took office. The five men whom the United States already determined could be transferred, subject to appropriate security measures, remain in detention at a cost of more than $10 million per detainee per year. And, although the parole-like Periodic Review Board (PRB) continues to operate, a growing list of overdue determinations suggests dysfunction and a lack of adherence to a controlling Executive Order.”

We’ve worked on stopping terrorism. Trump’s travel ban fuels it. “We are opposed to Trump's travel ban, which heads to the Supreme Court this week for oral arguments,” said James Clapper, Joshua Geltzer, and Matthew Olsen in “It's unnecessary, at odds with the Constitution, and ultimately counterproductive because it makes Americans less safe rather than more.”

How the human rights movement failed: “The human rights movement, like the world it monitors, is in crisis: After decades of gains, nearly every country seems to be backsliding,” writes Samuel Moyn in the New York Times. “But from the biggest watchdogs to monitors at the United Nations, the human rights movement, like the rest of the global elite, seems to be drawing the wrong lessons from its difficulties.”

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Secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo narrowly eked out an endorsement from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday after President Trump intervened at the last minute, all but guaranteeing that he will be confirmed by the full Senate later this week.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who had pledged to oppose him, tweeted moments before the vote that Trump had talked with him and changed his mind. Paul’s key concern had been that Pompeo, currently director of the CIA, would not support Trump’s campaign pledge to pull troops out of Afghanistan. The senator also had called on Pompeo “to support President Trump’s belief that the Iraq war was a mistake.”

“Having received assurances from President Trump and Director Pompeo that he agrees with the President on these important issues, I have decided to support his nomination to be our next secretary of state,” Paul said.

The panel’s vote was largely symbolic, since Pompeo had secured enough votes to be confirmed by the full Senate earlier in the day, when two Democrats facing difficult reelection challenges in 2018 — Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) — announced that they would back his nomination on the floor. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal

Scores of former military officials signed on to an open letter published by an activist group Monday challenging President Donald Trump's nomination of Gina Haspel to lead the CIA -- and called for the declassification of her agency records.

“Given the serious allegations made against Ms. Haspel, we urge you to insist on full declassification, with appropriate redactions to protect sensitive national security information, of all information regarding her role in the rendition, detention, and interrogation program,” the letter reads.

Signatories to the letter include former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh H. Shelton, retired Marine Corps Gen. John “Jack” Dailey and retired Air Force Gen. Walter Kross. CNN, Bloomberg, The Week

Guilty plea set in planned attack on San Francisco pier: A man who allegedly planned a Christmas Day bombing and shooting attack at San Francisco’s Pier 39 is set to plead guilty in a federal case. Court records show Everitt Aaron Jameson will enter a plea June 4 in federal court in Fresno; earlier reports suggest he believed he was working in support of ISIS. Further details weren’t immediately available. Associated Press

Senate will postpone confirmation hearing for VA nominee: Senate lawmakers have postponed this week’s confirmation hearing for Ronny L. Jackson, President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, after top Republicans and Democrats raised concerns about his qualifications and oversight of the White House medical staff, the White House was told Monday. Washington Post

Dozens of national-security experts oppose Trump’s travel ban: Ahead of the Supreme Court hearing arguments on Trump’s travel ban on Wednesday, more than 55 former officials from Republican and Democratic administrations -- including CIA directors, national intelligence and counter-terrorism chiefs, top diplomats, secretaries of state, and some two dozen top-ranked retired admirals and generals -- have lent their names to three friend-of-the-court briefs, all strongly condemning the ban. NPR

Pence names Keith Kellogg as top national security adviser: Vice President Mike Pence has chosen retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, a top official with the National Security Council, to serve as his national security adviser. The previous pick, Jon Lerner, withdrew from consideration following objections from President Trump. Bloomberg, Associated Press


A decision this month by Senegal to deport two former detainees to their chaotic birth country of Libya has raised the prospect that the resettlement system is starting to collapse under President Trump. After a traumatic journey, the Libyans apparently fell into the hands of a hard-line militia leader who has been accused of prisoner abuse — and then they vanished.

The case sets a worrisome precedent, current and former officials said. The danger, they say, is that other countries may follow Senegal in forcibly moving more of the nearly 150 Obama-era resettled former detainees home to unstable places where they risk being killed — or could end up becoming threats themselves. New York Times

ISIS commander said to be killed in Indonesia: Indonesia is investigating reports from ISIS supporters that the most senior Southeast Asian commander of the militant group was killed by U.S. air strikes in eastern Syria last week. Reuters

Taliban attacks on police: A new wave of Taliban attacks across Afghanistan killed at least 11 Afghan soldiers and policemen on Tuesday, including at least five soldiers who were killed when their checkpoint was attacked in western Farah province. Associated Press

Rival groups in Somalia army clash: Rival forces in the Somali army shot at each other in the capital Mogadishu on Monday, with one group trying to storm a former United Arab Emirates-run training center. Reuters

Facebook said on Monday that it removed or put a warning label on 1.9 million pieces of extremist content related to ISIS or al Qaeda in the first three months of the year, or about double the amount from the previous quarter.

The world’s largest social media network, also published its internal definition of “terrorism” for the first time, as part of an effort to be more open about internal company operations. The definition: “Any nongovernmental organization that engages in premeditated acts of violence against persons or property to intimidate a civilian population, government or international organization in order to achieve a political, religious or ideological aim.”

“We’re under no illusion that the job is done or that the progress we have made is enough," Facebook wrote in a blog post. “Terrorist groups are always trying to circumvent our systems, so we must constantly improve.”
CNET, Financial Times, Reuters

Egypt’s campaign against ISIS: Human Rights Watch this week said that an Egyptian military campaign launched in February against an active Islamic State affiliate is choking off food, medicines and other vital supplies to an estimated 420,000 residents of four northern cities in need of assistance. Washington Post


For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.
Editor-in-Chief, Karen J. Greenberg, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

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