The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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FRIDAY, APRIL 8, 2016
ISIS ABDUCTS HUNDREDS OF FACTORY WORKERS NEAR DAMASCUS

ISIS militants abducted around 300 cement factory workers and contractors in northeast Damascus on Thursday, according to Syrian state TV. The mass abduction reportedly occurred at al-Badia Cement Company in Dumeir, an area where ISIS militants launched a surprise attack on Syrian forces earlier this week. Meanwhile, UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said that a new round of peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition is expected to start next week, around April 13. CBS News, CNN, Guardian, New York Times

Related:
The Atlantic: The Abduction of Syrian Workers by ISIS
NPR: ISIS Reportedly Carries Out Mass Kidnapping Of Factory Workers In Syria
Huffington Post: ISIS Kidnaps 300 Cement Workers In Syria, State TV Says
The Independent: Syria civil war: Fears for 300 civilians kidnapped by Isis after failed attack on power plant

FBI SAYS IT CAN ONLY UNLOCK LIMITED NUMBER OF IPHONES
FBI Director James Comey said that the technology the government purchased from an unidentified private third party to unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters only works on a “narrow slice” of iPhones, specifically the 5C model, and will not work on newer models of the phone. Speaking to a group at Kenyon College, Comey said that the FBI is still considering whether to share the method used to unlock the phone with Apple. ABC News, Wall Street Journal, Guardian

Gitmo: Facing close re-election races, incumbent Republican Senators are using the issue of closing Guantanamo and the potential transfer of detainees to American soil to raise public fears in their election campaigns. Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Rob Portman of Ohio have all opposed the Obama administration’s plan to close the prison and have featured their dissent in their election campaigns. The strategy is similar to one used by former Senator Scott Brown, who took a hard-line stance on terrorism in his victory over Democratic candidate Martha Coakley in 2010 to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat. New York Times

NSA: On Thursday, 33 civil liberties and government transparency groups signed a letter opposing the NSA’s plan to begin sharing American citizens’ communications and internet activity it collects with other U.S. intelligence without first applying privacy protections. The letter argued that the policy changes “could allow agencies like the FBI to circumvent constitutional protections and will pose new threats to the privacy and civil liberties of ordinary Americans.” The Hill, Christian Science Monitor

ISIS defector: 26-year-old Mohamad Jamal Khweis, the American citizen who defected from ISIS last month when he surrendered to Kurdish forces in Iraq, presents a challenging test case for the U.S. government. The Justice Department faces a difficult choice. It can choose to prosecute Khweis for terrorism or it can try to strike a deal with him and use his experience as to show how dissatisfying life is under ISIS in order to deter future recruits. McClatchyDC

Drones: President Obama said on Thursday that he hopes to leave behind a formal process for conducting and disclosing information about drone strikes. Speaking at the University of Chicago, Obama acknowledged that “there wasn’t enough of an overarching structure” regarding drone strike operations early in his presidency. He added that he plans to put an “internal structure in place” regarding drone strikes before he leaves office. Bloomberg, The Hill

Related:
Vice News: Exclusive: How the UK Secretly Helped Direct Lethal US Drone Strikes in Yemen


NUMBER OF ISIS FIGHTERS IN LIBYA DOUBLED LAST YEAR
ISIS has doubled its presence in Libya in the past year, according to the top U.S. military commander of operations in the region. AFRICOM commander Gen. David Rodriguez said that the number of ISIS fighters doubled to between 4,000 and 6,000 in the last 12 to 18 months. General Rodriguez added that he hopes Libyan militia groups will unite to push ISIS out of the country. Associated Press, Washington Post, The Hill

Related:
The Telegraph: How Libyan militias run arms sale bazaars on Facebook
Quartz: In Libya, you can buy an anti-aircraft gun on Facebook

Yemen: Human Rights Watch reported on Thursday that the United States supplied the munitions used in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike that killed at least 97 civilians on March 15. Investigators from the advocacy group found remnants of a GBU-31 satellite-guided bomb, a 2,000 pound U.S.-made weapon, at the bomb site. Vice News, Huffington Post

Related:
Washington Post: Kerry tells Iran to join efforts for peace in Yemen and Syria

Iraq: As many as one third of Iraqis believe that the United States “supports terrorism in general or [ISIS] specifically,” according to a recent State Department report. Based on data from October to November of last year, forty percent of Iraqis also believe the United States is “working to destabilize Iraq and control its natural resources.” ABC News, Huffington Post

Related:
Reuters: Rights group, tribes urge Iraqi forces to save 'starving' Fallujah

Nigeria: Boko Haram consistently deploys female suicide bombers in terror attacks as part of an insurgency against the Nigerian government. Boko Haram has used at least 105 women and girls in suicide attacks since June of 2014. The militant group has taken hundreds of young women and girls captive, reportedly training them in how to carry out suicide attacks. New York Times


Belgium: The radicalization of Brussels suicide bomber Najim Laachraoui remained largely invisible to the Belgian security apparatus in the lead up to the attacks. Laachraoui did not have a criminal history, attended a Catholic school, and studied electrical engineering, learning skills he would later use to build the bombs he used in the Brussels attacks. However, investigators are concerned that Laachraoui was not the only ISIS bomb maker in Europe and that he learned how to build bombs from someone more experienced. New York Times

Related:
The Intercept: A Better Way to Keep Kids From Joining ISIS: Talk to Them
New York Times: Blaming Policy, Not Islam, for Belgium’s Radicalized Youth
Wall Street Journal: Belgian Authorities Release New Images of Attack Suspect Still at Large

European Union: The EU executive, the European Commission, is reportedly considering whether to require U.S. and Canadian citizens to apply for visas before traveling to EU member states, raising tensions before upcoming trade talks between Washington and Brussels. If the change was made, 26 EU member states would require U.S. and Canadian citizens to apply for visas before traveling to their countries. The UK and Ireland would be the only EU countries exempt from the potential change. Reuters

Counterterrorism: European countries have not been taking full advantage of terrorist screening data and tools provided by the United States, according to a top U.S. counterintelligence official. Terrorist Screening Center Director Christopher Piehota said that he is concerned that European countries “don't use these tools to help screen for their own aviation security, maritime security, border screening, visas, things like that for travel.” CNN
TOP OP-EDS
Not Secure Enough: The Threat of Terrorists Acquiring Nuclear Materials is Still Serious: “The Brussels attacks represent...a potential near miss with an even weightier and more transcendent threat, namely the vulnerability of nuclear power plants and other facilities,” write Gary Ackerman and James Halverson on War on the Rocks. “Although Belgian nuclear security officials clearly have reason to worry, the problem is not limited to a single country. For one, there are numerous facilities housing dangerous radiological and nuclear materials around the world that are far less secure than Belgium’s facilities.”

U.S. Scrambles to Repair Damaged Saudi Ties: “With Saudi Arabia, differences over the way forward in Syria have become even starker and the personal relationships seem cooler than ever,” writes Josh Rogin on Bloomberg View. “Obama’s most recent comments struck a particular nerve because they seemed to show waning U.S. support for the Saudi effort to curb Iran’s regional influence, which the kingdom regards as its number one threat.”

Yemen’s Looming Migrant Crisis: “With the world’s attention on the million-plus migrants and refugees streaming across the Mediterranean from Syria to the European Union, the deadly route running through Djibouti can seem almost a sideshow,” writes Mohammed Abdiker in The Wall Street Journal. “It will soon take center stage. Many of these migrants—already about 10,000 have been counted since January, compared to about 80,000 for all of 2014—are part of a growing population of vulnerable men, women and children who have disappeared upon leaving Djibouti.”
EDITOR'S PICK

WEEKLY PODCAST
NPR: The Warning Signs Of Radicalization: A Parent's Guide and When It Comes To Radicalization In Belgium, Turks and Moroccans Are Different

SOUFAN GROUP
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Al-Qaeda’s Legacy Leaders Under Fire

ANNOUNCEMENTS
The Center on National Security at Fordham Law will host a full-day conference “Hindsight: Reflections on 15 years of The War On Terror” on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. To RSVP, click here.

Fordham Law School will host the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals for an Outreach Argument and Q&A: “United States v. Staff Sergeant Charles D. Buford Jr.” on Friday, April 15, 2016. To RSVP, click here.

Call for Papers: Revisiting the Role of International Law in National Security. For more information, click here.




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