The Soufan Group Morning Brief



The State Department acknowledged on Thursday that it delayed sending a $400 million cash payment to the Iranian government in January for several hours in order to ensure that three American prisoners were released the same day. State Department spokesman John Kirby said that negotiators “deliberately leveraged” the funds to make sure that the plane carrying the three American prisoners, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, had left Tehran. The Obama administration denied the payment was any form of ransom and said it was the first installment of a $1.7 billion reimbursement settlement to Iran for military equipment it purchased prior to the Iranian Revolution -- equipment that the United States never delivered. New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters

The Hill: Republicans slam $400M 'ransom' payment to Iran
The Atlantic: The Changing U.S. Story on Sending $400 Million to Iran
Politico: State Dept. confirms $400 million Iran payment conditioned on hostage release
CNN: State Department: US held up cash until Iran released Americans

Twitter announced on Thursday that it has shut down more than 235,000 accounts that have promoted terrorism over the past six months. The social media company said it was committed “to eliminating the promotion of violence or terrorism on our platform.” The new figures show a rapid increase in account suspensions from the previous seven month total, from June 2015 to February 2016, of 125,000. Washington Post, The Hill

Gitmo: An Indonesian man accused of leading an Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organization appeared for the first time in public since his capture and transfer to Guantanamo in 2003 in front of the Periodic Review Board. Riduan Isamuddin, known by the name “Hambali,” has been accused of leading the Jemaah Islamiyah militant group, which is believed to be responsible for a series of bombings in 2002 on the resort island of Bali. Hambali was captured in Thailand in 2003 and held in secret by the CIA until 2006 when he was transferred to Guantanamo. He has not been charged with a crime during his time at the prison. Miami Herald, Washington Post

Human Rights First: Another High-Value Gitmo Detainee Receives PRB Hearing

Private prisons: The Obama administration announced on Thursday that it will begin to phase out the use of private for-profit prisons to detain federal inmates. The Justice Department cited a recent critical report by the department’s inspector general regarding safety and security problems in private prisons. New York Times

Freedom of Information Act: A new inspector general report finds that the Defense Department needs to improve its policies in responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The report called for changes to the Pentagon’s process of responding to requests but found no evidence of officials unduly influencing responses to FOIA requests. The Hill

Doctors Without Borders said on Thursday that it will evacuate its staff from six hospitals in northern Yemen due to the threat of additional Saudi-led coalition airstrikes. On Monday, 19 people were killed in a strike on Abs Hospital in Hajjah Province. Reuters, New York Times

Syria: On Thursday, Russia proposed a 48-hour ceasefire in Aleppo, Syria, to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid. The proposed truce is contingent on a pause in hostilities from the U.S.-backed opposition and the establishment of separate routes for UN convoys to deliver aid to the rebel-held eastern side of the city and the government-controlled western side. Washington Post

Nigeria: The Nigerian government has allegedly detained hundreds of children, including some younger than six years old, during its fight against Boko Haram, according to Amnesty International. The group said government forces have “arbitrarily rounded up” thousands of people “during mass arrests...often with no evidence against them.” Nearly 150 people have died in just one of the government detention centers, including eleven children. New York Times

Italy: Italy has expelled two imams over the past week in an effort to prevent extremist preachers from radicalizing others. Italy’s Interior Minister announced the expulsion of 35-year-old Tunisian national Khairredine Romdhane Ben Chedli on Thursday for his support for jihad. AP

Russia: On Thursday, ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on a traffic police station outside Moscow. The two attackers, reportedly armed with a firearm and two axes, injured two officers before being shot and killed by police. Reuters
Trump’s plans to defeat ISIS are no more than empty threats, false facts and confusion: “After all his criticism of current U.S. counterterrorism policy, Trump offers a vague rehash of it, plus a desire to be tougher on Muslim immigrants,” writes Benjamin Friedman on Newsweek. “Trump doesn’t say that ISIS has been losing territory, which costs it cachet and recruits. Unsurprisingly, he mentions neither the minuscule odds that an American will be killed by terrorists nor the absence of a major attack organized by ISIS in the United States.”

Southeast Asia could be a haven for displaced Islamic State fighters: “The Islamic State hasn’t had much success in recruiting militants among the vast Muslim populations in Southeast Asia. But what happens when the caliphate’s capitals in Syria and Iraq are destroyed, and hundreds of foreign fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines try to go home?,” writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post. “Experts here in Australia see the counterterrorism challenge as a regional problem, rather than simply an affliction of the Middle East and North Africa. They fear that a potentially dangerous new phase may lie ahead, as the jihadists look for new sanctuaries.”

When Women Fight ISIS: Many of the Kurdish guerrillas who fought to free the Yazidis from ISIS were women, “for a basic principle of the decades-long Kurdish liberation movement is that women cannot wait for others to defend them, but must themselves fight to be free,” writes Meredith Tax in The New York Times. “Female guerrillas are meant to be seen as exemplars who show that female leadership is crucial in every sphere of society.”

NPR: Guantanamo Up Close

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Civil War, Cybersecurity, and Climate Change

Out Now: Karen Greenberg's newest book, Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State, is the definitive account of how America's War on Terror sparked a decade-long assault on the rule of law, weakening our courts and our Constitution in the name of national security.

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