The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2016
ISIS LEADER BREAKS SILENCE TO RALLY FIGHTERS IN IRAQ

After nearly a year of silence, the self-declared caliph of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, issued a call Wednesday for his followers to defend the group’s increasingly besieged strongholds. In the 30-minute audio recording, titled “This is what God and His Messenger promised us,” Baghdadi calls on ISIS fighters to remain steadfast, reassuring them that stronger enemies don’t equal better enemies and telling them not to flee the battlefield. He also warns Iraq’s Sunnis not to trust the Iraqi government, telling them, “Your politicians have betrayed you in the worst treason in history.”
 
The last time Baghdadi addressed his followers was in a recording released last December 26. Although he did not refer to Mosul by name in this latest recording, Baghdadi mentioned the fighting in Nineveh Province, the region that includes the city. Guardian, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Vox, CNN
 
Related:
New York Times: Mosul Neighbors Enjoy a Day Without ISIS, but the Path to Peace Will Be Long
Los Angeles Times: What the Top U.S. Commander in the Middle East Says About Fighting Islamic State

 
INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT MAY OPEN WAR CRIMES INVESTIGATION IN AFGHANISTAN
The prosecutor’s office of the ICC is poised to open a full investigation into possible war crimes in Afghanistan, including some by U.S. personnel. The move would mark the first time that a formal ICC investigation has scrutinized U.S. actions and sets up a possible collision with Washington. Foreign Policy
Related:
Lawfare: A former U.S. envoy’s thoughts on ICC Scrutiny of the United States
 
IN MINNESOTA, TERROR DEFENDANTS ASK FOR LENIENCY
A Minnesota man who pleaded guilty last year to federal charges that he conspired to join ISIS overseas wrote to his sentencing judge this week and described himself as a victim of ISIS’s “intense mental warfare.” “I’m not a terrorist,” Hanad Musse wrote. Musse was one of nine men from the Twin Cities who pleaded guilty to or was convicted of terrorism charges related to ISIS recruitment over the past year. Musse and five other defendants who pleaded guilty face maximum sentences of 15 years in prison. Three others convicted in June by a federal jury of charges including conspiracy to murder outside the U.S. face possible maximum life sentences. One of those men, Abdirahman Daud, also filed a motion Wednesday asking the sentencing judge to depart from sentencing guidelines that allow for enhanced penalties that accompany terrorism convictions. All nine men are set to be sentenced Nov. 14-16. Minneapolis Star-Tribune
 
Guantanamo: A report by the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), an independent, non-profit research group based in Afghanistan, has accused the U.S. of gross incompetence over eight Afghans long detained at Guantanamo. The organization examined the cases of eight of the longest-serving Afghan detainees, all either still in Guantanamo or recently moved to the United Arab Emirates. It said the U.S. military had been unable to substantiate accusations against any of them. Reuters, Guardian
 

OBAMA CRITICIZES FBI’S HANDLING OF CLINTON EMAIL PROBE
President Obama weighed in on the FBI’s much-criticized handling of the Clinton email probe on Wednesday, implicitly faulting FBI Director James Comey’s decision to notify Congress last week by saying the government doesn’t normally use “innuendo” or “incomplete information” when conducting investigations. Obama didn’t mention Comey by name, but did appear to suggest that the FBI had violated investigative guidelines by alerting Congress last week. Wall Street Journal, New York Times
 
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that “senior FBI officials were informed about the discovery of new emails potentially relevant to the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server at least two weeks before Comey notified Congress,” citing federal officials familiar with the investigation. According to the report, Comey had been told about the emails sometime before he was formally “briefed” on Oct. 27, and had ordered FBI investigators to find everything they could about the emails belonging to Clinton aide Huma Abedin without reading them. Washington Post
 
Secret recordings of a suspect talking about the Clinton Foundation reportedly fueled an internal battle between FBI agents who wanted to pursue the case and corruption prosecutors who viewed the statements as worthless hearsay, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Starting in February and continuing today, investigators from the FBI and public-corruption prosecutors became increasingly frustrated with each other,” according to the report. Wall Street Journal
 

U.S. STRIKE KILLS SENIOR AL QAEDA LEADER IN SYRIA
A U.S. strike last month in Syria killed a senior al Qaeda leader who once had ties to Osama bin Laden, the Pentagon said Wednesday. The drone strike against Haydar Kirkan happened Oct. 17 near Idlib province in western Syria. Kirkan was described as a longtime facilitator and courier who was al Qaeda’s senior external terror attack planner in Syria, Turkey, and Europe. The Hill
 
Afghanistan: Two U.S. service members were killed Thursday and two others wounded after they came under fire while on a mission with the Afghan military to clear a Taliban position in northern Kunduz province. USA Today
 

Australia: Australian counterterrorism police arrested a man Thursday alleged to have fought in Syria for a militant group. Mehmet Biber, aged 24, was detained during a series of morning raids in Sydney aimed at disrupting terror activities. He was later charged with foreign-incursion offenses, police said, along with an unidentified 17-year-old male. Wall Street Journal
 
TOP OP-EDS
We can’t trust Trump with today’s NSA: “If he becomes president, Donald Trump will have a frightening and expansive new tool to persecute his domestic opponents: the National Security Agency,” writes John Napier Tye in Slate.com. “Maybe a senator’s ‘private’ bedroom pics will be mysteriously leaked. Or Breitbart will start blogging the details of a journalist’s 3 a.m. Uber rides. Or maybe Trump will find creative uses for five years of email correspondence between a civil rights lawyer and her clients. This might sound like a nightmare that could only happen in China or Russia, but there are simply not enough safeguards in place to protect Americans from our own National Security Agency.”
 
Why an African mass withdrawal from the ICC is possible: “In what seems to be a continental domino effect, three African states have publicly declared their intended withdrawal from the International Criminal Court over the past month,” write Luckystar Miyandazi, Philomena Apiko, and Faten Aggad-Clerx in Newsweek. “The court has repeatedly been criticized by African states as an inefficient, neo-colonial institution of the Western powers to try African countries. This argument is supported by the fact that nine of the ten situations under investigation, with three others under preliminary investigations, involve African countries.”
 
Is the CIA ready for the age of cyberwar? “Citing an array of new cyber, conventional, and terrorist threats, [CIA Director John] Brennan announced the most sweeping reforms of the CIA in its 69-year history 18 months ago,” writes David Rohde in Reuters.com. “James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, praised Brennan and his efforts to retool the CIA for a new era in an interview. So did Lisa Monaco, Brennan’s successor as the President Obama’s Homeland Security and Counterterrorism adviser. But some current and former officials question Brennan’s strategy, arguing his reforms are too digitally focused and will create a more cautious, top-heavy spy agency. At a time when the agency needs to refocus its efforts on human espionage, they say, the concentration of power in the new mission centers weakens the ability of the Directorate of Operations to produce a new generation of elite American spies.”
EDITOR'S PICK
Washington Post: What a Syrian PR Trip Says about Bashar al-Assad’s Thinking

SOUFAN GROUP
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Al Qaeda’s Growing Influence in Aleppo




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