The Soufan Group Morning Brief


A new report by Europol released Friday suggests that ISIS militants are shifting focus to softer, more-random targets in Europe, instead of plotting attacks on the police or military, in an effort to intimidate the public. European security officials said the group will likely stage terrorist attacks on the continent in the “near future,” using techniques and tactics honed in Syria and Iraq, such as car bombs and kidnappings. Estimates from some intelligence services indicate several dozen people directed by ISIS may be “present in Europe with a capability to commit terrorist attacks,” according to the report.
The report also warned that ISIS militants are attempting to recruit vulnerable refugees in Europe, hoping to radicalize them in an effort to further polarize EU communities. “We have to be vigilant, since the threat posed by the so-called Islamic State and returning foreign fighters is likely to persist in the coming years,” said Gilles de Kerchove, the EU counterterrorism coordinator, in a news release. Guardian, Wall Street Journal, CNN, CBS News
Reuters: ISIS Tells Supporters to Quit Messaging Apps for Fear of U.S. Bombs
Washington Post: ISIS Has Unleashed More than 600 Car Bombs in Mosul
President-elect Donald Trump announced Thursday at a rally in Ohio that he will nominate retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to be secretary of defense. Mattis, who led a Marine division to Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, retired as chief of U.S. Central Command in 2013; his tour there was cut short by the Obama administration, which believed he was too hawkish on Iran. In making the announcement, Trump said Gen. Mattis is “the closest thing we have to Gen. George Patton.”
Mattis has insisted that Iran is the greatest threat to peace in the Middle East, and has sharply criticized the Obama administration’s initial efforts to combat the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. He has said the U.S.’s “policy of disengagement in the Middle East” had contributed to the rise of extremism in the region.
To take the job, Mattis will need Congress to pass legislation to bypass a federal law stating that defense secretaries must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years. Congress has granted a similar exemption just once, when Gen. George Marshall was appointed to the job in 1950. Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters
Washington Post: Trump May Put 5 Military Officers in Top Posts. That’s Unprecedented.
New York Times: Trump’s Breezy Calls to World Leaders Leave Diplomats Aghast
Ohio State attack: The New York Times reports that Abdul Razak Artan, who injured 11 people at Ohio State this week before being killed by police, was by many accounts a deeply religious young man who took college seriously and seemed to be adapting to life in America, and whose decision to act violently came as a shock to those who knew him. New York Times
Washington Post: Hundreds Demand an Ohio State Official Be Fired After She Called for Compassion for Campus Attacker
Obama’s final counterterrorism speech: President Obama will deliver his final counterterrorism strategy speech next Tuesday during a visit to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, the headquarters for U.S. Special Operations Command. Military Times, The Hill, Wall Street Journal
New counterterrorism program in Los Angeles: A joint FBI-LAPD counterterrorism program, called RENEW for “Recognizing Extremist Network Early Warnings,” could involve asking community members to report people who appear to have “suspicious” thoughts and beliefs. JustSecurity
San Bernardino, one year later: A year after the San Bernardino attack that left 14 people dead, the FBI says it is still trying to determine whether anyone was aware of the plot carried out by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, or if anyone helped them in any way. Los Angeles Times
National security letters: A decade after successfully fighting a National Security Letter in court, the Internet Archive, a nonprofit online library, says it has successfully fended off another NSL, this one from August. After the FBI demanded the name, address, length of service and a list of all accounts used by one of the archive’s supposed subscribers, the archive and the Electronic Frontier Foundation sent the bureau a letter challenging the legality and constitutionality of the NSL and gag order. The Intercept  

The Financial Times reports that Syrian rebels are in secret talks with Russia to end the fighting in Aleppo, according to opposition figures. Turkey has been brokering talks in Ankara with Moscow, according to the report, a development that shows how the U.S. could become sidelined in any possible resolution to the conflict. “The Russians and Turks are talking without the US now. [Washington] is completely shut out of these talks, and doesn’t even know what’s going on in Ankara,” said one opposition figure. Financial Times
BBC News: U.S. Coalition Admits Killing Civilians in Airstrikes in Manbij
Wall Street Journal: ISIS Girds to Defend Remote Syria Outpost

Australia has passed new counterterrorism laws that give authorities the power to continue detaining people who have been convicted of plotting militant attacks even after they have completed their prison sentences, if a judge consider them to be a continuing threat to the community. Another measure, passed last week, allows the police to enforce so-called control orders to monitor children as young as 14 if they are thought to be involved in or planning a terrorist act. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called for terror laws to be strengthened following the Orlando nightclub attack in June and the attack in Nice in July. Wall Street Journal, New York Times
French terrorism sentence: A man in France was sentenced to two years in prison this week for allegedly visiting pro-ISIS websites, even though there is no indication that he planned to stage a terrorist attack. The Verge
Wikileaks: Wikileaks has released more than 2,400 files from a 2014 German parliamentary probe into how Germany’s chief intelligence agency partnered with the NSA for mass surveillance without informing much of the German government. The Hill, Deutsche Welle
ISIS, Afghanistan’s accidental broker? “Afghans have lived through decades of conflict but have largely been spared the kind of sectarian war that ravages other countries in the region, such as Iraq and Pakistan,” writes Sune Engel Rasmussen in the New York Times. “ISIS has seemed intent on changing that since it surfaced in Afghanistan last year, when pockets of fighters in the eastern part of the country started pledging allegiance to the group.”
Trump’s Carrier deal is right out of Putin’s playbook: “It’s good that about 1,000 Carrier Corp. workers will not be losing their jobs,” writes Fred Hiatt in the Washington Post. “But there is a whiff of Putinism in the combination of bribery and menace that may have affected Carrier’s decision — the bribery of tax breaks, the menace of potential lost defense contracts for Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies.”
Trump’s business empire is a security disaster: “There are Trump-branded properties like towers and hotels in some 20 countries,” writes Richard Painter in the New York Times. “That presents a global security risk. A building branded with the name of an American president — any president, but perhaps especially Trump — would be a tempting target for terrorists and other enemies of the U.S. Who is going to protect the buildings?”
Iran’s game in Aleppo: “One of the real victors in a post-Aleppo peace deal would be Iran, which has been supporting the Syrian regime for the past five years and has been recruiting a series of militias from Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other Arab states to fight alongside the Syrian army,” writes Ahmed Rashid in the New York Review of Books. “In doing so, Iran has enforced a sectarian divide, with its Shia forces allying with Syria’s Alawite regime against the rebels, who are predominantly Sunni but also include other groups.”
After a mere 25 years, the triumph of the West is over: “Twenty-five years ago — December 1991 — communism died, the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union disappeared,” writes Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post. “It marked the ultimate triumph of the liberal democratic idea. It promised an era of Western dominance led by a preeminent America, the world’s last remaining superpower. That era is over. The autocracies are back and rising; democracy is on the defensive; the U.S. is in retreat.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: From San Bernardino to Ohio State

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