The Soufan Group Morning Brief




Sabrina de Sousa, a former CIA officer involved in the extraordinary rendition of terrorism suspects during the George W. Bush administration, is likely to avoid jail time after Italy’s president commuted part of her sentence. President Sergio Mattarella said late yesterday that he was reducing her sentence from four to three years, which under Italian law can be served outside of prison, under house arrest or by community service. The last-minute reprieve came as Sousa, a dual U.S.-Portuguese citizen, was at the Lisbon airport on her way to Italy.


Sousa was one of more than two dozen Americans convicted in absentia by Italian courts for the abduction of an Egyptian imam, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, on a Milan street in 2003. Nasr says he was interrogated and tortured in Egypt before being released. Analysts note that his case helped fuel the debate over extraordinary rendition.

Some human rights advocates criticized the Italian government’s decision. “It is very worrying, and sends a clear message that you can engage in what amount to be crimes under international law — torture and enforced disappearance — and get away with it,” said Julia Hall of Amnesty International. (WSJ, NYT, Reuters, Guardian)



During his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Trump defended the U.S. counterterrorism raid in Yemen several weeks ago during which a Navy SEAL was killed. "Ryan [Owens] was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies," the president said. His remarks were part of a dramatic and emotional salute to Carryn Owens, the fallen commando’s widow.


Earlier in the day, Trump seemed to distance himself from the controversial raid, saying in a Fox interview that “this was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was, you know, just [the generals] wanted to do. They came to see me.” He went on to say that "my generals are the most respected that we've had in many decades I believe. And they lost Ryan." (AP, CNN, Reuters, NYT)


Hate Crimes: More than a hundred Jewish community centers and schools have reported threats since the beginning of the year. This trend along with the recent vandalism at Jewish cemeteries have stoked fears that anti-Semitism is rising in the early days of the Trump administration. The president kicked off his address to Congress with a condemnation of the threats targeting Jewish communities as well as the recent murder of two Indian men in Kansas. The FBI is now investigating the shootings as a hate crime. (NYT, WaPo)


Travel ban: The president is expected to issue a revised executive order on immigration that sources say will not affect existing visa holders and will remove a previous provision giving preference to refugees who are members of religious minorities. The order will also reportedly remove Iraq from the list of countries whose citizens are temporarily banned from travel to the United States. (Reuters, WSJ, CNN)


DNI: President Trump's pick to be the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, pledged to U.S. senators to support their investigation of any Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Coats also fielded questions about his record on the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, saying he would follow the law. In 2015, he was one of a few lawmakers who opposed legislation that made the use of such techniques illegal. (Reuters)

Trump dossier: Christopher Steele, the former British spy who penned a controversial dossier alleging ties between Donald Trump and Russia, reportedly reached an agreement with the FBI a few weeks before the election for the bureau to pay him to continue his work. Ultimately, the FBI did not pay Steele. (WaPo)



Iraqi intelligence officers are reportedly finding a number of ISIS fighters attempting to blend in with the thousands of civilians fleeing the escalating violence in western Mosul. Up to 400,000 people may have to leave their homes amid the new U.S.-backed offensive launched this month. (Reuters, WSJ)


Syria: Russia vetoed a measure backed by the United States and its allies to punish Syria for using chemical weapons. It was the Kremlin’s seventh Security Council veto in support of President Bashar al-Assad during the nearly six-year Syrian conflict. (NYT)

Afghanistan: Security officials said terrorist attacks in at least two areas of Kabul killed at least three people and wounded dozens more. The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility. (Reuters)

Germany: Authorities in Berlin banned a domestic Muslim group, Fussilet 33, accused of supporting terrorism. Analysts say the move is another signal that Germany is increasing efforts to combat Islamist extremists in the wake of the deadly Christmas-market attack. (WSJ)

UK: A judge overseeing a coroner’s inquest into the deaths of 30 British tourists in a terrorist attack in Tunisia in 2015 faulted local security in the North African country. "The response by the police was at best shambolic, at worst cowardly," he said. Tunisian authorities are reportedly planning to try at least six officers for failing to help victims in the attack. (AP)


Muslim Brotherhood: Terrorists? “What’s striking is how little this debate has changed since 2001, specifically when it comes to the Egyptian mother organization. One side sees the Brotherhood as a complex international conspiracy that is slowly infiltrating America. The other side sees a moderate Islamic group that has embraced democracy and renounced violence. Neither of these views reflects the truth,” write Mokhtar Awad and Samuel Tadros in the Wall Street Journal.


Failing Quebec’s Muslims: “The trivialization of anti-Muslim crime and the outright demonization of Muslims, so common on Quebec City’s airwaves, contribute to a poisonous political climate for Muslims across the province,” writes Martin Patriquin in the New York Times.

Good Foreign Policy Is Invisible: “Although Trump’s initial storm of activity seems to have calmed in recent days, there is no evidence that he has turned to the kind of quiet, routine actions that make U.S. foreign policy run smoothly. Such efforts are not dramatic, but they are essential, and their absence could severely undermine U.S. interests,” write James Goldgeier and Elizabeth Saunders in Foreign Affairs.


For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: What President Trump's Speech Did Not Address 

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