The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, June 19, 2017
MONDAY, JUNE 19, 2017

A driver rammed a van into a crowd of Muslim worshippers leaving prayers at a north London mosque early Monday, in what British police called a terrorist attack. Extra police would be deployed around London, especially to protect Muslims, police said, further stretching security forces in a country rattled by a series of attacks since March. One man was found dead at the scene, although officials said it was too early to say if he had died as a result of the attack, in which 10 people were injured.
A 48-year-old white man suspected of being the driver was held down by members of the public at the scene and was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, the Metropolitan Police said in a statement. Witnesses described a scene of mayhem, saying the driver appeared to deliberately steer a white van into the crowd after Ramadan prayers in the Finsbury Park neighborhood not long after midnight. The man jumped out of the van and fled, but bystanders chased him. A witness said the driver had shouted “I want to kill all Muslims” before onlookers pinned him to the ground. BBC News, Guardian, New York Times, Wall Street Journal
On Sunday, Google, YouTube’s parent company, announced a set of policies aimed at curbing extremist videos on the platform. For videos that are clearly in violation of its community guidelines, such as those promoting terrorism, Google said it would continue to quickly identify and remove them. But in a policy change, other offensive videos that do not meet the standard for removal — for example, videos promoting the subjugation of religions or races without inciting violence — will now come with a warning and cannot be monetized with advertising, or be recommended, endorsed or commented on by users. “That means these videos will have less engagement and be harder to find,” Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel and senior vice president, wrote in a company blog post. New York Times, Bloomberg
The move comes several days after Facebook unveiled an effort to use artificial intelligence to find and remove terrorist propaganda from the social network. Governments have been increasing pressure on major tech firms to do more to remove propaganda and offensive content.
Wired: Facebook’s Counterterrorism Playbook Comes into Focus
Guardian: Facebook Exposed Identities of Moderators to Suspected Terrorists
Police found remains Sunday thought to be those of a missing Virginia teenage girl who they say was assaulted and disappeared overnight after leaving a mosque in the Sterling area. A 22-year-old man has been charged with murder in connection with the case, and police say they are investigating the murder as a possible hate crime. According to accounts from police and a mosque official, a group of four or five teens were walking back from breakfast at IHOP early Sunday when they were confronted by a motorist. All but one of the teens ran to the mosque. The mother of 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen of Reston said detectives told her that Nabra had been struck with a metal bat. Washington Post
NYPD criticizes surveillance bill: The NYPD’s counterterror chief on Sunday trashed a city council bill that would force the department to reveal surveillance methods and other key secrets it employs to track and foil terror plots. “It would be a law that would endanger people because it would help criminals and terrorists,” said John Miller, referring to the council’s proposed Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act. “It would endanger police officers because it would allow criminals to learn way too much, way too easily.” The bill would require the NYPD to issue reports on what kinds of spy equipment police use — such as license-plate readers and cellphone trackers — as well how the department stores and protects private information that is collected. New York Post
‘National security’ tariffs imperil trade policy: President Trump plans to curb imports of steel as early as this week because of “national security” concerns. But in dusting off little-used presidential powers rooted in a claim rarely invoked in world commerce, he could potentially destabilize the global postwar trading regime. Wall Street Journal

An American warplane shot down a Syrian government jet near Raqqa on Sunday, the Pentagon said, marking the first time in Syria’s civil war that a U.S. pilot has struck a regime plane. The Pentagon said the downing of the aircraft came hours after Syrian loyalist forces attacked U.S.-backed fighters, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the village of Ja’Din, southwest of Raqqa. The downed plane signals an increased willingness by the Trump administration to directly challenge President Bashar al-Assad and his allies. The incident is the fourth time within a month that the U.S. military has attacked pro-Syrian government forces. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times
Foreign Policy: White House Officials Push for Widening War in Syria Over Pentagon Objections
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said Sunday it launched missiles into eastern Syria targeting Islamic State militants in response to an attack on Iran’s parliament and a shrine in Tehran, warning that it would retaliate in like manner on anyone else carrying out attacks in Iran. The paramilitary force said it launched surface-to-surface medium range missiles into Syria’s Deir el-Zour province, an extremely rare direct attack from the Islamic Republic amid its support for embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Associated Press
Four gunmen stormed a camping resort outside Mali’s capital on Sunday, killing two people before escaping in a shootout with soldiers from an antiterrorism unit, a security ministry official said. The resort, known as Le Campement Kangaba, is about seven miles from the capital, Bamako, and is a popular weekend getaway for local residents and tourists to camp, swim and eat. Officials said the situation at the resort had been contained but that the gunmen were still at large. New York Times, Wall Street Journal
President Trump last week gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to determine troop levels and immediately send several thousand additional troops to Afghanistan. But former commanders and military scholars said that in sending troops before having a strategy, Trump has put the cart before the horse, eroded the tradition of civilian control over the military, and abdicated the president’s duty to announce and defend troop deployments. New York Times
CBS News: Taliban Storms Afghan Police Compound

Japan’s ‘defective’ terror law: Thousands protested in Tokyo on Thursday as lawmakers used a rare bypass mechanism to force an anti-terror bill through parliament. The new law lists hundreds of actions considered criminal, such as plotting and conspiracy. But some of the actions on the list don’t seem related to terrorism, including certain kinds of public protest. Guardian, Foreign Policy
Mexican spyware targets opposition: Mexico’s most prominent human rights lawyers, journalists and anti-corruption activists have been targeted by advanced spyware sold to the Mexican government on the condition that it be used only to investigate criminals and terrorists. New York Times
Is it terrorism or mass murder? It depends on your biases. “Legally and morally, we see intent as the best way to distinguish terrorism from mass murder,” writes Tung Yin in the Washington Post. “Mass killings look the most like terrorism when their perpetrators seem the most alien from the Judeo-Christian, white majority. That’s no way to judge a crime. We need a new way to classify these attacks.”
In Afghanistan, it’s too late: “Afghanistan now faces a far deeper crisis than many seem to understand,” writes Ahmed Rashid in the New York Review of Books. “No matter how many troops Mattis decides to send this summer, it will not rectify the political crisis in Kabul. In the absence of clear engagement with the Afghan government, or demands that Ghani create a more inclusive coalition government and yield some of his powers, more US troops will only make things worse.”
Trump is setting up his generals to be fall guys for Afghanistan: “We cannot say for certain why the president has chosen to distance himself from this war that he inherited,” writes Andrew Bacevich in the Los Angeles Times. “But one possibility is this: Having learned through painful experience to recognize a losing proposition, he has no intention of being left holding the bag for this one.”
Fighting while funding extremists: “Even sophisticated observers admit to confusion and consternation about the Middle East, where rivalries and jealousies among nations have reached new levels of complication,” writes the New York Times in an editorial. “Saudi Arabia and some of its neighbors decide to punish Qatar and some of its citizens, ostensibly for fostering and financing Islamist terrorism. But Saudi Arabia itself has been accused of underwriting extremists.”
The U.S. is squatting in paradise: “The $4,085 check is delivered each year in April, addressed to the Treasurer General of the Republic of Cuba,” writes Ernesto Londono in the New York Times. “That position ceased to exist decades ago. The Cuban government last cashed it in 1959. Yet by submitting that paltry payment year after year, knowing it won’t be accepted, the United States continues to feel entitled to its oldest overseas naval base, a 45-square-mile sliver of prime coastline in southeast Cuba that is unlike any other military installation in the world.”

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