The Soufan Group Morning Brief

MONDAY, APRIL 10, 2017

Trump administration officials have increased their criticism of Moscow ahead of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Russia this week, and have called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop providing support to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Tillerson himself suggested that Russia’s actions made it complicit in the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians last week, which drew a U.S. missile strike in retaliation. “I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad, because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility,” Tillerson said on ABC’s “This Week.”

National security adviser H.R. McMaster said that Russia should be pressed to answer what it knew ahead of the chemical attack. “I think what we should do is ask Russia, how could it be, if you have advisers at that airfield, that you didn’t know that the Syrian air force was preparing and executing a mass murder attack with chemical weapons?” McMaster said on Fox News.

Tillerson will travel to Moscow Tuesday to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. Wall Street Journal, CNN, Washington Post, New York Times
Time: McMaster: U.S. Wants to Eliminate ‘Murderous Regime’ in Syria
CNN: Coalition and Syrian Opposition Forces Repel ISIS Attack
Associated Press: Russian and Iran Confirm Commitment to Syrian Regime
The House Judiciary Committee asked the Trump administration on Friday to disclose an estimate of the number of Americans whose digital communications are incidentally collected under foreign surveillance programs. Such an estimate is “crucial as we contemplate reauthorization” of parts of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that are due to expire at the end of the year, the panel’s chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and John Conyers, its top Democrat, wrote to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. Reuters

FBI reviews handling of terrorism tips: The Associated Press reports that the FBI has been reviewing the handling of thousands of terrorism-related tips and leads from the past three years to make sure they were properly investigated and no obvious red flags were missed. The review comes in response to attacks by people who were once on the FBI’s radar but who have gone on to be accused of deadly attacks, including the Orlando nightclub massacre and an attack at a Florida airport. Associated Press

New boss at Guantanamo: Rear Adm. Edward Cashman took over as Guantanamo’s prison camp leader on Friday -- the first commander of the Trump era. Trump has previously signaled that he would like to increase Guantanamo’s detainee population. Miami Herald

Immigration office nomination: President Donald Trump intends to nominate Lee Francis Cissna to head the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Cissna is currently director of immigration policy in the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Policy. Wall Street Journal

9/11 case: Army Col. James Pohl dismissed two relatively minor non-capital charges against the five Guantanamo prisoners accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks. Pohl accepted a defense argument that the five-year statute of limitations had run out on two charges: attacking civilian objects and destruction of property. Miami Herald

ISIS militants claimed responsibility Sunday for two bombings that killed 44 people at Coptic churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday. It was the single deadliest single day for Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority in decades. A bomb planted under a pew at the Mar Girgis church in the Nile Delta town of Tanta struck worshippers just after 10 AM and killed at least two dozen people, injuring scores more. Hours later, a suicide bomber detonated his vest outside St. Marks Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria as Christians gathered to hear a sermon from Pope Tawadros II. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared a state of emergency across the country for three months. Washington Post, New York Times, Time
The Atlantic: Why ISIS Declared War on Egypt’s Christians

The Uzbek man who has been arrested in connection with the truck rampage in central Stockholm last week was an asylum seeker whose 2014 application for permanent residency was rejected and who was given four weeks to leave the country in December, according to reports. Rakhmat Akilov, 39, was known to intelligence services and had shown “sympathy for extremist organizations,” police said. Authorities tried to find him in February of this year to deport him, but he had gone underground. He is suspected of driving a stolen beer truck down a crowded street in central Stockholm on Friday, killing four and injuring 15 others. Reuters, CNN, New York Times, NBC News
Associated Press: Suspect’s Status as Failed Asylum-Seeker Saddens Stockholm
Wall Street Journal: Stockholm Attack Puts Focus on Terrorists from Central Asia

Hard-line Iranian cleric Ebrahim Raisi announced he would run in the country’s presidential election next month, challenging incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, who has tried to engineer an economic turnaround and has sought closer ties with the West. Raisi is seen as a close ally of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and is chief custodian of the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza in the city of Mashhad. Rouhani has seen his support flag since Iran’s landmark nuclear deal in 2015. Many Iranians say they haven’t felt any benefits from the lifting of international sanctions. Wall Street Journal

Norway threat level: Norway has raised the national threat level after a homemade bomb was found in central Oslo early Sunday. The device was detonated by police, who have arrested a 17-year-old Russian citizen. BBC News, Reuters
Trump’s confusing strike on Syria: “If President Trump broadens his aims against Assad, to establish civilian safe havens, for example, or to ground Syria’s Air Force, or to bomb Assad to the negotiating table, he will enter the very morass that Candidate Trump warned against,” writes Steve Coll in the New Yorker. “He would have to manage risks—military confrontation with Russia, an intensified refugee crisis, a loss of momentum against ISIS—that Obama studied at great length and concluded to be unmanageable, at least at a cost consistent with American interests.”

What could go wrong for the U.S. in Syria? War with Russia. “When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson travels to Moscow this week, topic No. 1 will be Syria — and the stakes could not be higher,” writes Colin Kahl in the Washington Post. “If the Trump administration and the Kremlin are not able to come to a meeting of the minds on Syria, it could set the two nuclear powers on a dangerous collision course.”

Iran’s next Supreme Leader: “Those hoping for a kinder, gentler Iran when Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dies are likely to be disappointed,” write Sanam Vakil and Hossein Rassam in Foreign Affairs. “Since he took power in 1989, Khamenei has steadily built an intricate security, intelligence, and economic superstructure composed of underlings who are fiercely loyal to him and his definition of the Islamic Republic, a network that can be called Iran’s ‘deep state.’ When Khamenei dies, the deep state will ensure that whoever replaces him shares its hard-line views and is committed to protecting its interests.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Continued Targeting of Egypt's Coptic Christians

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