The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, April 21, 2017
FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2017

The gunman who killed a police officer on the Champs-Élysées and wounded three others on Thursday was questioned by police as recently as February on suspicion he was a threat to public security. He was released then for lack of evidence. The attacker, identified by officials as French national Karim Cheurfi, was also convicted of shooting at a police officer in 2001. He was released on parole in 2015.

The attack on Thursday began at 8:50 p.m. local time in Paris, when a car pulled alongside a police patrol and the gunman jumped out wielding an automatic rifle. Police returned fire, killing the gunman. The attack set off a panic on the central thoroughfare, which is lined with high-end shops and restaurants. ISIS has claimed responsibility.  

France is heading to the polls on Sunday for a fiercely contested presidential election, in which the threat of terrorism looms large, and this attack - and Cheurfi’s ability to evade a recent security probe - sent immediate ripples across the political landscape. Earlier this week, French authorities detained two men in Marseille on suspicion of plotting an imminent terror attack. Prosecutors said the two men pledged allegiance to ISIS in a video. Wall Street Journal, New York Times
New York Times: Trump Says Attack Will Have ‘Big Effect’ on French Election
More than 400 people who have been convicted in the U.S. on international-terrorism charges have been released since the Sept. 11 attacks. The Intercept does an in-depth dive on where many of them have ended up after their release. According to the report, “the release of people convicted on terrorism-related charges with little if any monitoring by law enforcement might suggest U.S. government officials believe they can be fully rehabilitated following minor prison terms. A more likely explanation is that many of these so-called terrorists weren’t particularly dangerous in the first place.” The Intercept

An Egyptian American charity worker who was imprisoned in Cairo for three years and became the global face of Egypt’s brutal crackdown on civil society returned home to the United States late Thursday after the Trump administration quietly negotiated her release. President Trump and his aides worked for several weeks with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi to secure the freedom of Aya Hijazi, 30, a U.S. citizen, as well as her husband, Mohamed Hassanein, who is Egyptian, and four other humanitarian workers. Trump dispatched a U.S. government aircraft to Cairo to bring Hijazi and her family to Washington. Washington Post

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, has launched an investigation into whether the FBI knew about a planned attack by ISIS-inspired terrorists at an anti-Muslim cartoon show in the Dallas area and did nothing to stop it -- and also misled the lawmaker about circumstances of the 2015 attack. Johnson said he learned from recent media reports that the FBI was tailing Elton Simpson, 31, and Nadir Soofi, 34, and an agent was just steps away when the pair jumped from their car and began shooting at police. “It is concerning that when I wrote to the FBI and Department of Justice, they never told me about the fact that they had some FBI asset, whether it was an agent or informant, tailing Soofi and Simpson,” Johnson told Fox News.

FBI and media leaks: The FBI is overhauling its media policy, restricting contacts between the news media and its employees amid controversy over alleged leaks, reports CNN.

Five Eyes meeting: Top U.S. intelligence officials, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo and FBI Director James Comey, are reportedly heading to New Zealand this weekend for a secret gathering of the Five Eyes spying alliance. About 15 agencies that carry out intelligence for Five Eyes - the spying partnership of the United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand - are said to be attending the conference. New Zealand Herald, Washington Examiner

CIA liaison fired at the White House: The Guardian reports that marine was abruptly let go in March from his position informing relevant White House officials about covert operations following a clash with NSC official Ezra Cohen-Watnick. Guardian

National security investigation into steel imports: The Trump administration has directed the Commerce Department to expedite an investigation into whether the way other countries sell steel to the U.S. compromises U.S. national security. Los Angeles Times

Terror sentencing: A lawyer for a Long Island man convicted of terrorism charges argued in federal court Thursday that his client is a reason al Qaeda is now weakened, thanks to his client’s cooperation with the government. Without Byrant Neal Vinas’s cooperation, the terror network could still be a “highly functioning machine, capable of doing the kinds of things it did more than a decade ago in the United States,” the lawyer argued. New York Daily News

Citizenship revoked: A Silicon Valley man who ran an Al Qaeda communications hub from his apartment has had his U.S. citizenship revoked by a federal judge. Khaled Abu Dahab, 57, an Egyptian-born naturalized U.S. citizen, is serving 15 years in an Egyptian prison for terrorism-related offenses. Los Angeles Times

In what reports are calling something “like a plot from a James Bond movie,” German police have arrested a man on suspicion he attacked the bus of German soccer team Borussia Dortmund last week as part of a scheme to profit from a slump in the club’s share price. The 28-year-old Russian-German suspect, identified only as Sergei W., allegedly purchased 15,000 put options over the internet on the day of the attack for shares in Borussia Dortmund, which is publicly traded. These would have entitled him to sell shares later at a predetermined price, and to profit substantially should there have been a fall in their value.

The attack was initially thought to be the work of Islamist extremists after three letters claiming responsibility were found in the hedges by the roadside where the bombs had been planted, although doubts were immediately raised about their authenticity by experts on terrorism and Islam. Bloomberg, BBC News, New York Times

A report commissioned by the German government has concluded that climate change will likely fuel acts of terrorism and strengthen recruiting efforts by terrorist groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram. Terrorist groups will exploit the natural disasters and water and food shortages expected to result from climate change and allow them to recruit more easily, operate more freely and control civilian populations, argues the report by Berlin think tank Adelphi. Guardian, New York Post

Iran: Iranian officials have disqualified former hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from running in Iran’s presidential elections next month. Guardian

A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin reportedly developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system, U.S. officials tell Reuters. They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies. The institute is run by retired senior Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by Putin’s office. Reuters
Moscow Times: Where Old Spooks Are Sent to Retire
Fearmongering at Homeland Security: “Of course it is necessary to take seriously threats from extremist groups and criminals, and take measures against them,” writes the New York Times in an editorial. “But they do not justify DHS Secretary John Kelly’s incendiary message to his work force. The tone he sets can only encourage abusive behavior among his officers further down the chain of command against immigrants, and also lead to the curtailment of Americans’ civil liberties and privacy.”

The world must secure Pakistan’s nuclear weapons: “Pakistan is not just one of nine countries with nuclear weapons, it is also a hotbed of global jihadism, where the military and the intelligence services use terrorist networks to advance their regional goals,” writes Rahmatullah Nabil in the New York Times. “And even as Pakistani officials proclaim that their nuclear assets are secure, evidence, including internal Pakistani documents, suggests that they know better.”

Trump’s foreign policy strategy: “Especially with this presidency, one needs to focus on White House actions rather than words to gain a clearer understanding of where security and foreign policy is headed,” writes James Jay Carafano in the National Interest. “Do that, and one sees emerging a foreign and defense policy more conventional and more consistent than what we got from Bush or Obama. Still, a deeper dive is necessary to get at the root of Trump’s take on the world and how it fits with recent actions like the tomahawk strikes in Syria and the armada steaming toward North Korea.”

From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State
with Ali Soufan and Lawrence Wright
Tuesday, May 2
Fordham Law School
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Terrorism and the French Election

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