The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 16, 2017
TRUMP DEFENDS HIS INITIAL REMARKS ON CHARLOTTESVILLE

President Donald Trump on Tuesday again blamed both sides for deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va. over the weekend, equating white supremacists on one side with the “alt-left” on the other side. “I think there is blame on both sides...What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right,’ do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact they came charging with clubs in hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do,” he said. White supremacists praised Trump’s remarks on Tuesday. “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth,” former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke wrote on Twitter. TIME

Trump defended those that gathered in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. “I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups,” he said. “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch,” Trump said. He also warned that attempts to remove statues of Confederate leaders could lead to efforts to remove monuments honoring former Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. New York Times, CNN

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle criticized Trump remarks. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said there can be “no moral ambiguity” about what happened in Charlottesville. He called white supremacy “repulsive” and “counter to all this country stands for.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Trump’s remarks “clearly show” that he is seeking to divide the country. “When David Duke and white supremacists cheer your remarks, you’re doing it very very wrong,” he said. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe rebuked Trump, saying that the violence in Charlottesville did not occur on both sides but was perpetrated by “neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and white supremacists [that] came to Charlottesville heavily armed, spewing hatred and looking for a fight.” ABC News

Also in his remarks, Trump appeared to distance himself from White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who has come under fire in recent days and is associated with the alt-right movement. “I like him, he’s a good man, he is not a racist, I can tell you that. But we’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon,” Trump said. USA Today
Related:
The Atlantic: After Charlottesville, Business Leaders Are Dumping the Trump Administration
New York Times: Stunned TV Hosts Reacted in Real Time to Trump
New York Times: Historians Question Trump’s Comments on Confederate Monuments
CNN: Donald Trump’s Failure in Charlottesville Wasn’t Political - It Was Moral
ABC News: $3 Million Lawsuit Filed Against Organizers of Charlottesville White Nationalist Rally
Baltimore Sun: Confederate Monuments Taken Down in Baltimore Overnight

STATE DEPARTMENT HIGHLIGHTS ISIS IN ANNUAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson highlighted abuses committed by ISIS on Tuesday as he released a new survey of religious rights and freedoms around the world. “As we make progress in defeating ISIS and denying them their caliphate, their terrorist members have and continue to target multiple religions and ethnic groups for rape, kidnapping, enslavement and even death,” Tillerson said. He called ISIS “clearly responsible for genocide” against Yazidis, Christians, and Shias in the Arab world. “The protection of these groups and others who are targets of violent extremism remains a human rights priority for the Trump administration,” he added.

The State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report listed threats to religious freedom in 199 countries, however it did not mention violence and bigotry against Muslims in the U.S. The report also failed to mention President Trump’s call during the 2016 campaign to ban the entry of all Muslims into the U.S. or his subsequent executive orders barring the entry of refugees or citizens from a number of predominantly Muslim countries. Washington Post, New York Times, Voice of America
Related:
Washington Post: Three Years Ago, ISIS Massacred Yazidis in Iraq. Why?

SAUDI TERRORIST IDS AL-QAEDA COMMANDER
Ahmed al Darbi, an admitted Saudi terrorist, testified at Guantanamo as part of a plea deal on Tuesday that an Iraqi captive awaiting a war-crimes trial served as his Al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. Darbi’s testimony may be used at the trial Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, who is accused of commanding troops who carried out war crimes in Afghanistan after 9/11. Hadi insists his true name is Nashwan al Tamir, and Darbi was called to resolve any question of mistaken identity. “He became older and his beard became all gray. But it is apparent to me he is Abd al Hadi al Iraqi,” Darbi tesitified.

Hadi was brought to court in a wheelchair after being diagnosed with a herniated disc in his lower back. A judge will decide which part, if any, of Darbi’s testimony will be shown to Hadi’s jury at trial, although a date has not yet been set. Darbi is due to be sentenced next month, and under an Obama administration era deal, he may be sent back to Saudi Arabia to serve out the remainder of a sentence of up to 15 years. Darbi pleaded guilty to terror charges in 2014 in exchange for repatriation after becoming a government witness. Miami Herald

American pleads guilty to accepting ISIS money to fund terrorism: A Maryland man accused of accepting nearly $9,000 from foreign entities to finance a terrorist attack in the U.S. has pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to ISIS. According to federal court records, Mohamed Yousef Elshinawy, who was living in Maryland when he was arrested in late 2015, pledged allegiance to ISIS and received cash from foreign companies run by people looking to develop weaponized drones. Elshinawy’s case is the first and only publicly known case in which ISIS money flowed into the U.S. for a potential terror attack in America. The case was critical in uncovering a global financial network centered on a British technology company used by ISIS to clandestinely move money around the world. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal

Illinois Senate passes measure calling for neo-Nazis to be classified as terror groups: In the aftermath of violence in Charlottesville over the weekend, the Illinois Senate approved a resolution calling for police to categorize neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organizations. The resolution asks police to “recognize these white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organizations, and to pursue the criminal elements of these domestic terrorist organizations in the same manner and with the same fervor used to protect the United States from other manifestations of terrorism.” The Hill


CHINA AND RUSSIA URGE U.S., NORTH KOREA TO ‘HIT THE BREAKS’ ON THREATS
China has urged the U.S. and North Korea to “hit the brakes” on escalated rhetoric and work toward a peaceful resolution of the tense standoff resulting from Pyongyang’s recent missile tests and threats aimed at Guam. In a sign of growing concern on the part of Pyongyang’s only major ally, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that the two countries should work together to contain tensions. “The most important task at hand is for the U.S. and North Korea to ‘hit the brakes’ on their mutual needling of each other with words and actions,” he said. Associated Press

Lavrov said any military resolution of the North Korean issue “is completely unacceptable” and called for a peaceful resolution through political and diplomatic methods. He also warned that tensions could further increase with joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises set to start on August 21. The annual Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercise is scheduled to last ten days and will include about 25,000 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of South Koreans. The exercise focuses on defending South Korea against an attack from the north. Army Col. Chad G. Carroll, a military spokesman in South Korea, said the U.S. has no plans to change the size or format of this year’s exercise. Washington Post
Related:
CNN: Do U.S.-South Korean War Games Risk Escalating North Korea Crisis?

Suspected Boko Haram bombers kill 20 in northeast Nigeria: In an attack bearing the hallmark of Boko Haram, suicide bombers attacked a camp for internally displaced people and a nearby market in a northeastern Nigeria village Tuesday, killing at least 20 people. “The suicide bombers came, three in number. One went into the camp and detonated and almost immediately everywhere turned into disarray, and in the confusion, the two other suicide bombers detonated in the market,” village chief Lawan Kalli said. Associated Press, Al Jazeera

Former senior al Shabaab leader says militants should leave group: The former deputy leader of al Shabaab called on Tuesday for the group’s members to quit their affiliation with the terror organization, following his defection to the government side in Mogadishu. “I urge the militants to leave al Shabaab,” Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansur said. “I left al Shabaab because of misunderstanding, and I disagreed with their creed which does not serve Islamic religion, people and the country.” Robow fell out with al Shabaab in 2013 and kept a low profile in the until defecting last week. Reuters

U.S. official says North Korea not reliant on imported missile engines: A U.S. intelligence shot down claims that North Korea may have used illicit trade networks to purchase powerful rocket engines produced by a Ukrainian factory that were instrumental to the Soviet missile program. “We have intelligence to suggest that North Korea is not reliant on imports of engines - instead, we judge they have the ability to produce the engines themselves,” the official said in response to a report from the New York Times linking North Korea’s successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile to black market rocket engines from Ukraine. CNN

Iran building long-range rocket factory in Syria, Israel says: An Israeli television report said on Tuesday that Iran is building a facility in northwest Syria to manufacture long-range rockets. The Channel 2 television news report showed images it said were taken by an Israeli satellite of a site in northwest Syria near the Mediterranean coastal town of Baniyas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned last week that Iran was strengthening its foothold in Syria as ISIS fighters were being displaced and said Israel was watching developments and would act against any threat. Reuters


Indonesian police uncover plot to bomb presidential palace: Indonesian police on Tuesday arrested five suspected Islamist militants and seized chemicals near the capital of Jakarta that they said were being used to make bombs for attacks on the presidential palace at the end of August. Two of the five suspects had been deported from Hong Kong for allegedly spreading radical ideology. The group had studied bomb-making techniques through a website run by an Indonesian believed to be fighting with ISIS in Syria, police said. The use of chemicals as a terror agent would mark an escalation in the capacity of militants in Indonesia, who have been unable to build sophisticated explosive devices in recent years. Police said the type of device planned was more complex than the pressure-cooker bombs typically used. Reuters, Wall Street Journal

Iranian court freezes assets of more than 150 BBC staff: More than 150 Iranian current and former BBC staff and contributors have been barred from major financial transactions in Iran. The order was issued in July by a prosecutor’s office based in Evin Prison in Tehran and ratified by Iran's deputy prosecutor-general in August before being announced to all registration offices in the country. Director of the BBC World Service Francesca Unsworth called on the Iranian authorities to reverse the measure. “We deplore what appears to be a targeted attack on BBC Persian staff, former staff, and some contributors,” she said. Unsworth said the order prevents staff from selling or buying property, cars, and other goods. She called on Iranian authorities to “reverse this order urgently and allow BBC staff and former staff to enjoy the same financial rights as their fellow citizens.” BBC, Reuters, The Guardian

Nikki Haley says Iran cannot use nuclear deal to hold world hostage: U.S. Ambassador  to the UN Nikki Haley said Tuesday that Iran should not be allowed “to use the nuclear deal to hold the world hostage.” Her comments came after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement with the U.S. and five other world powers could fall apart. Rouhani said Tehran could quickly ramp up and advance its nuclear program if the U.S. continues “threats and sanctions” against Iran. Haley warned that “the nuclear deal must not become ‘too big to fail,’” adding that “Iran, under no circumstances, can ever be allowed to have nuclear weapons.” Associated Press, Reuters
TOP OP-EDS
Why Confederate monuments must fall: “The Charlottesville march, with its hundreds of neo-Nazis and white nationalists coming out to defend the memory of General Lee, puts the lie to the notion that, as the apologists say, these monuments are about ‘heritage, not hate,’” Karen L. Cox writes in the New York Times. “What the events of this past weekend have made clear is that for several generations, the Lee monument and others like it have assisted the cause of white supremacy and the deadly violence that has accompanied it. This is why communities across the region have a moral obligation to take up the cause of removing them.”

Can anyone stop Iran from taking over Iraq? “Outside countries have consistently failed to positively influence Iraqi politics. If these parties really want to prevent Iranian influence, they should provide assistance to security units, like the Counter Terrorism Service, which has been by far the most effective force against the Islamic State,” Zaid al-Ali writes in the New York Times. “The continued success of professional security services, rather than Iran-backed paramilitary groups, will allow for Iraq to guarantee its own security.”

The domestic terrorism danger: Focus on unauthorized private military groups: “The language of Virginia’s Constitution is clear. While ‘a well regulated militia’ is valued, including what state law calls the ‘unorganized militia,’ the Constitution stresses that, ‘in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.’” Philip Zelikow writes in Lawfare. “Well, when truckloads of organized groups of heavily armed men drive into my town—or your town—it is time to uphold the civil power. Virginia, like most states, has the legal power to stop them. And the precedents are on the books.”

The big problem with the North Koreans isn’t that we can’t trust them. It’s that they can’t trust us: “From Kim’s perspective, the fact that the United States would ideally like to see him and his gang of thieves and murderers gone makes the United States the revisionist power,” James D. Fearon writes in the Washington Post. “So this is not a situation where two states each mistakenly worry that the other is hostile. Rather, it’s what international relations scholars might call a classic problem of anarchy...Here, the United States can’t credibly commit not to take actions to help depose Kim in certain circumstances. Kim thinks, with some reason, that being able to strike the U.S. mainland would lower this risk. This in turn leads U.S. leaders to think about a preventive war.”
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