The Soufan Group Morning Brief


The Ohio State student who wounded 11 people in a knife attack earlier this week may have been inspired by Anwar al-Awlaki or by ISIS, FBI investigators said on Wednesday. The student, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, who was shot and killed by a police officer during the attack on Monday, allegedly called al-Awlaki a “hero” in a Facebook message that U.S. investigators believe he posted under a slightly different name. The post went up the morning of the attack, officials said.
ISIS claimed responsibility for Artan’s attack in an online post on Tuesday, calling the 18-year-old a “soldier.” FBI Special Agent in Charge Angela Byers told reporters on Wednesday it was “too soon to draw any type of conclusions [about] whether or not this was terrorism” and that ISIS’s claim of responsibility is not proof the militant group played any role in the attack.
Artan was a Somali refugee and legal permanent U.S. resident who came to the U.S. with his family in 2014. On Wednesday, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that the Ohio State attack was “terrible” and that Artan “should not have been in our country.” New York Times, Newsweek
Feinstein presses Obama to release ‘torture report’: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is making a last-ditch attempt to get President Obama to declassify a nearly-7,000-page Senate report about the use of harsh interrogation techniques by the CIA under President George W. Bush. Politico
Trump transition: Only one member of President-elect Donald Trump's transition team is dealing with the CIA and the 16 other offices and agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community. Geoffrey Kahn, a former House intelligence committee staffer, is the only person named so far to Trump's intelligence community “landing team.” Reuters

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump spoke on the phone Wednesday. The Pakistani prime minister’s office put out a statement afterward directly quoting Trump -- a violation of diplomatic protocol -- in which he allegedly praised Sharif in glowing terms. The statement quoted Trump as telling Sharif “you are a terrific guy. You are doing amazing work which is visible in every way. I am looking forward to see you soon. As I am talking to you, Prime Minister, I feel I am talking to a person I have known for long. Your country is amazing with tremendous opportunities. Pakistanis are one of the most intelligent people. I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems.” Trump also reportedly said he would “love” to visit Pakistan, a country that has not been on the itinerary of a U.S. president since 2006. CNN, Guardian, Washington Post
Time: Trump’s Phone Conversation with the Leader of Pakistan Was Reckless and Bizarre
Washington Post: Pakistan’s Political Drama Moves from Streets to Courtroom
Syrian rebels vow to fight: Syrian rebels on Wednesday vowed to fight on in eastern Aleppo in the face of sudden regime advances that have cut the area held by the opposition by a third and brought insurgents in the city to the brink of defeat. Reuters
Afghan Taliban offer security: The Taliban in Afghanistan have offered to protect major government projects, such as the mining of a big copper deposit and an international natural gas pipeline project, reportedly because they want to assist in the development and prosperity of the war-torn country. Al Jazeera

German authorities have arrested a suspected Islamist mole working within the country’s domestic intelligence service. The 51-year-old German citizen of Spanish descent is a recent convert to Islam and was detained two weeks ago on suspicion of preparing an attack on the agency’s headquarters in Cologne. Officials say the man was active on extremist websites. Using a pseudonym, he allegedly gave away information on the times and details of raids against extremists. Officials also ran a check on the online alias he assumed in extremist chat rooms. The married father of four had used it before — as recently as 2011 — as his stage name for acting in gay pornographic films. The suspect began working at the agency in April and had not raised any red flags during his vetting. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Deutsche Welle
Ordinary Saudis are volunteering to spend hours online to infiltrate networks of young Islamic radicals and stop groups like ISIS from recruiting them, reports the Wall Street Journal. One volunteer initiative, called Sakinah, is made up of dozens of members, including psychologists, information technology experts, and, crucially, Islamic scholars. Would-be militants “can’t play around with us” when it comes to religious interpretations, says Abdulrazaq al Morjan, a digital forensics expert. “We know how to bring al Qaeda and Daesh in our dialogue, how to put them to shame, how to challenge them,” he said. Wall Street Journal
Wall Street Journal: Al Qaeda Alumnus Promotes Saudi Rehab
German militant investigated: German prosecutors have launched a murder and war crimes investigation of an ISIS fighter who claimed in interviews that he had refused to engage in violence in Syria but was caught on video taking part in a public execution. Harry Sarfo, 28, a German citizen whose sanitized accounts of his experiences in Syria appeared on front pages of major newspapers and television broadcasts, is now suspected of playing a direct role in the killing of seven hostages in the ancient city of Palmyra last year. Washington Post
ISIS ties in Bangladesh: New documents related to the massacre at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka this summer show that ISIS has built deeper connections with Bangladeshi militants than was previously known. Reuters
Data leak on Europol terrorism investigations: Information on numerous international investigations into terrorism groups compiled by Europol was reportedly accidentally left online, unguarded by any password, after an employee took dossiers home against agency protocol. Reuters
A world for trouble for Donald Trump: “There is still little sign that Trump, who has declined daily briefings by the intelligence agencies, understands [global] threats and how to deal with them,” writes the New York Times in an editorial. “The world has long relied on the United States to be the steady hand. The challenges will be more complex than Trump ever imagined. There is little reason to believe that he will provide strong leadership on these fronts, but every reason to hope that he does.”
The counterterrorism challenges facing the next administration: “The Trump administration will be confronted with arguably the most parlous international security environment since the period immediately following the September 11, 2001, attacks,” writes Bruce Hoffman in the CTC Sentinel, “with serious threats emanating from not one but two terrorist movements and a counterterrorism strategy and approach that has failed.”
Trump’s take on winning: “Trump’s unhappy verdict about our military and our generals -- that the senior U.S. military leadership doesn’t know how to win -- applies in spades to the two principal conflicts of the post-9/11 era: the Afghanistan War, now in its 16th year, and the Iraq War, launched in 2003 and (after a brief hiatus) once more grinding on,” writes Tom Bacevich in “Yet the verdict applies equally to lesser theaters of conflict, largely overlooked by the American public, that in recent years have engaged the attention of U.S. forces, a list that would include conflicts in Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: OPEC Finalizes a Cut in Oil Production

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