The Soufan Group Morning Brief


With a Twitter message just before midnight on Wednesday, President Trump introduced a surprise complication that may come to haunt prosecutors in a trial against the suspect charged with mowing down passers-by in New York’s deadliest terrorist attack since 9/11.

“NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room,” Trump wrote. “He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!”

That message came hours after the president told reporters during a cabinet meeting that the U.S. criminal justice system was “a laughingstock” and “a joke” that is too weak to deter terrorism and too slow to mete out punishment.

Trump added that he would “certainly consider” transferring the NYC suspect to the military prison at Guantanamo to face a harsher trial than going through civilian courts. “We also have to come up with punishment that’s far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now. They’ll go through court for years,” Trump said. “We need quick justice, and we need strong justice, much quicker and much stronger than we have right now.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders followed up Trump’s remarks Wednesday afternoon, saying that the White House “would consider this person to be an enemy combatant.”

Such comments could conceivably be used by defense attorneys to argue that a client cannot get a fair trial — especially when the head of the executive branch that will prosecute a case advocates the ultimate punishment before a judge has heard a shred of evidence at trial. New York Times, Time, Washington Post, NBC News
Washington Post op-ed/Steve Vladeck: Sending the NY Terrorism Suspect to Guantanamo Is a Terrible Idea
In an extraordinary day at the Guantanamo war court on Wednesday, the USS Cole case judge found the Marine general in charge of war court defense teams guilty of contempt for refusing to follow the judge’s orders and sentenced him to 21 days confinement to his quarters and to pay a $1,000 fine.
Air Force Col. Vance Spath also declared “null and void” a decision by Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker, the chief defense counsel for military commissions, and the second highest-ranking lawyer in the Marine Corps, to release three civilian defense attorneys from the capital terror case. The lawyers resigned last month over a covert breach of attorney-client privilege involving something so secretive at the terror prison that the public cannot know.

Wednesday evening, with Baker confined to his quarters in a trailer park behind the courthouse, Judge Spath issued another order, directing the three lawyers — Rick Kammen, Rosa Eliades and Mary Spears — to litigate Friday in the death-penalty case against Abd al Rahim al Nashiri remotely from Washington D.C., by video feed to Guantanamo.

Baker on Wednesday attempted to protest that the war court meant to try alleged foreign terrorists had no jurisdiction over him, a U.S. citizen. Spath refused to let him speak and ordered him to sit down. “There’s things that I want to say, and you are telling me that I cannot say them,” Baker said.

Spath countered that Baker was out of line in invoking a privilege. Privilege, the Air Force judge declared, is a judge’s domain and a judge has the authority to weigh and review privilege. Without that, Spath said, there would be “havoc in every system of justice.” Miami Herald, CNN, Guardian, Daily Beast

Sayfullo Saipov, the 29-year-old Uzbek man charged Wednesday with killing eight people and injuring 12 others by driving a truck down a crowded Manhattan bike path on Tuesday, confessed to investigators that he was inspired by Islamic State videos he watched on his phone.

That detail was part of the charges filed by federal prosecutors on Wednesday accusing the Saipov of carrying out a long-planned plot. Saipov was charged with one count of material support to a terrorist organization and one count of violence and destruction of a motor vehicle. He said almost nothing at his initial court appearance in federal court in Manhattan, which he entered in a wheelchair.

Saipov told the FBI that he began planning his attack a year ago, though he settled on using a truck as a weapon only two months prior. Investigators said that Mr. Saipov told them he wanted to adorn the rented truck he used in the attack with ISIS flags and also intended to continue the carnage by driving across the Brooklyn Bridge. The deadly rampage followed a blueprint provided by Islamic State to carry out such an attack, according to officials.

Saipov later told investigators “he felt good about what he had done” and asked to display an ISIS flag in his hospital room, according to the federal complaint. He said he was motivated to commit the attack after watching a video in which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the group widely known as ISIS, questioned what Muslims in the U.S. were doing in response to the killing of Muslims in Iraq. The charges indicated Saipov chose Halloween to carry out the attack because more people would be on the streets. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, NBC News

The FBI said briefly Wednesday night that agents were looking for another man, identified as 32-year-old Mukhammadzoir Kadirov, or Muhammad Kadirov, in connection with the investigation. But they gave no indication why they were doing so or if he was suspected of having a role, and just minutes later, they said they were no longer seeking him. Washington Post
New York Times: Finding a Rootless Life in U.S., Saipov Turned to Radicalism
Foreign Policy: For Uzbeks, Radicalization Often Begins Abroad
New York Times: When Its Attacker Is In Handcuffs, ISIS Stays Mum
Washington Post: Before the NY Attack: Practicing Turns in a Truck and Watching ISIS Videos

Nominee for CIA watchdog accused of lying to Congress: Two former CIA employees say the Trump administration’s nominee to be CIA inspector general misled Congress last month when he testified he was unaware of pending complaints they had filed against him for violating whistleblower protections. ProPublica

Russians targeted Facebook users by politics, religion, race: Russian operatives targeted users on Facebook by race, religion and interests such as gun ownership, the Confederate flag and Ivanka Trump’s jewelry line, according to advertising data released by lawmakers Wednesday as part of congressional investigations into Russian manipulation on social media around the U.S. election. Wall Street Journal

The CIA released more than 470,000 files seized at Osama bin Ladens Abbottabad compound after the May 2011 raid that killed him. Hailed by researchers and international relations experts as a valuable gesture of transparency, the stash offers a window into the former Al-Qaeda leaders approach and plans, and insight into the terrorist groups global organizational structure, global network, and allies.

The CIA provided FDD’s Long War Journal with an advance copy of many of the files. Preliminary observations from their examination of the files:
--The world can see Hamza bin Laden’s face, as a young man, for the first time.
--One of the newly-available files is a handwritten, 228-page journal kept by Osama bin Laden himself. The notebook contains the al Qaeda master’s private reflections on the world and al Qaeda’s place in it.
--The files provide new details concerning al Qaeda’s relationship with Iran.
One never-before-seen 19-page document contains a senior jihadist’s assessment of the group’s relationship with Iran. Two U.S. intelligence officials characterized the document to NBC News as “evidence of Iran's support of al Qaeda’s war with the United States.” NBC News, Wired
Why does Uzbekistan export so many terrorists? “The authoritarian environments of the post-Soviet states— Uzbekistan in particular—have proven that cracking down on religious practice and ideology are ineffective,” writes Julia Ioffe in The Atlantic. “The measures not only fail to stop extremism, they seem to be its chief incubators. And with no caliphate to travel to, the extremism born in places like Uzbekistan will find other places to spread.”

Trump and terror: “From the day Donald Trump set his eyes on the presidency, I wondered how he would conduct himself from the Oval Office after a terrorist attack. Now I’ve got my answer,” writes Jack Shafer in Politico. “Just as he did during the campaign, he’s holding other politicians responsible for the attack.”

ISIS’s foreign fighters are coming home: “For Western officials, Islamic State returnees pose an enormous challenge with no easy solution,” writes Richard Barrett in Foreign Policy. “A tempting response, and certainly the easiest, would be to throw all returnees into prison, or even do what can be done to stop them coming home at all. But this will only postpone or divert the problem, rather than offer a solution.”

I want ‘Allahu akbar’ back: “I’m 37 years old. In all those years, I, like an overwhelming majority of Muslims, have never uttered ‘Allahu akbar’ before or after committing a violent act,” said Wajahat Ali in the New York Times. “Unfortunately, terrorists like ISIS and Al Qaeda and their sympathizers, who represent a tiny fraction of Muslims, have. In the public imagination, this has given the phrase meaning that’s impossible to square with what it represents in my daily life.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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