The Soufan Group Morning Brief


A 22-year-old Queens man was charged on Tuesday with attempting to provide material support to ISIS, after he flew from New York to Saudi Arabia this spring with the intention, federal prosecutors said, of entering Syria to join the terrorist group.

Parveg Ahmed, 22, was deported from an unspecified country Monday and taken into custody at John F. Kennedy International Airport. According to Brooklyn federal prosecutors, Ahmed traveled to Saudi Arabia in June, supposedly to celebrate Ramadan. He and a co-conspirator were detained overseas and turned over to U.S. authorities.

Though it remains unclear how or why the investigation started, prosecutors said that in October 2014, Ahmed wrote on one of his social media accounts that “jihadis” are “Muslims who fight to establish the Sharia IN THEIR OWN LANDS,” and that Americans “are the real terrorists.” A later search of his laptop, the complaint said, revealed recordings of sermons by Anwar al-Awlaki, and a lecture by Abdullah el-Faisal, a Jamaican-born Islamic radical who was charged in absentia on Friday by the Manhattan district attorney’s office with recruiting would-be terrorists. New York Times, NY Daily News
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced Tuesday that he is freezing the implementation of President Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military, saying that he will first establish a panel of experts to provide advice and recommendations on how to carry out Trump’s directive.

The Pentagon chief said that after the panel makes its recommendations and he consults with the Secretary of Homeland Security, he will provide his advice to Trump. In the meantime, policy regarding transgender service members will remain in place, Mattis said, meaning that those serving can continue to do so. Washington Post, Politico

Brooklyn man pleads guilty to promising to bankroll ISIS recruits: An Uzbeki man living in Brooklyn pleaded guilty to charges Tuesday that he tried helping a friend make his way to Syria to wage jihad. Abror Habibov reportedly agreed to bankroll a ring of ISIS sympathizers and wannabes who planned to travel to the Middle East but never made it out of New York. New York Daily News

Presidential pardons might not end Mueller probe: According to a new MSNBC legal analysis, federal pardons in the Russia probe could open the door to local criminal investigations in several states. While any pardons by Trump could effectively halt the federal case, local prosecutors could then pursue any Americans suspected of aiding Russia’s election meddling. In fact, legal experts say presidential pardons could make that prospect more likely. NBC News

After Pyongyang's highly provocative missile test over close American ally Japan, Trump offered a surprisingly subdued response Tuesday, pulling back from his administration's recent suggestions of a dialogue with the communist country but also avoiding a repeat of his bombastic warnings earlier this month of a potential military confrontation. Instead, Trump’s terse, written statement reiterating that all U.S. options are being considered pointed to an administration cautiously searching for an effective policy, even as the North's test risked endangering Japanese civilians. Associated Press

Meanwhile, the state Korean Central News Agency reported Wednesday morning local time that the North Korean leader had been present for the missile launch and had called it “a meaningful prelude to containing Guam.” According to the agency, Kim said he had gone ahead with the missile launch because the United States proceeded with “the bellicose war exercises” with South Korea, referring to annual joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea that are currently underway. Washington Post

A Taliban suicide bomber struck at a bank not far from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, killing five people Tuesday as government employees lined up to withdraw salaries ahead of Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest celebrations on the Islamic calendar. Washington Post

Nearly 100 days since Islamic State-linked militants occupied the southern Philippine city of Marawi, the Philippine army says it is planning a final assault to end a battle that took Manila and allied countries by surprise. If successful, the operation will allow the tens of thousands of residents who fled to return home. But counterterrorism experts and humanitarian workers say the government faces a mammoth task of rebuilding a devastated city and risks further attacks elsewhere by newly-energized terrorists. Wall Street Journal

Planned Kurdish independence referendum unsettles Iraqis: American and Iraqi officials say they are worried that a referendum on Kurdistan’s independence—planned for next month and certain to pass—will lead to the violent breakup of Iraq just as it is on the verge of expelling ISIS militants. Wall Street Journal

Alarm in Pakistan over Trump’s new Afghanistan policy: A wave of anti-American anger has swept Pakistan this past week, triggered both by President Trump’s threat to punish the country for harboring insurgents and by his invitation to India, Pakistan’s longtime rival, to become more involved in Afghanistan’s future. Washington Post
How the pardon power could end Trump’s presidency: “Issuing pardons to his own friends, associates and relatives could be a perilous path for Trump, creating additional exposure on two levels, criminal and political — both flowing from an important proposition that is often overlooked in the debate over presidential power,” writes Philip Allen Lacovera in the Washington Post. “Our legal system provides mechanisms for probing the intent and motives behind the exercise of power. The president may have the power to grant effective pardons in the Russia investigation, but both Congress and the federal prosecutor are entitled to determine whether the exercise of that power violates constitutional and statutory norms.”

Is Pakistan willing to lose America? “Pakistan’s willingness to lose American patronage is the clearest indicator that its interests in Afghanistan are not a product of ambition, or grandeur, but of deep and existential fears about the damage an unchecked India can do to Pakistan,” writes Mosharraf Zaidi in the New York Times. “Until Americans learn how to have an honest conversation with India about what Pakistan sees as its proxy warfare in Afghanistan and its brutal occupation of Kashmir, no amount of threats to Pakistan will help.”

Contractors, not troops, will save Afghanistan: “This spring, as Afghanistan policy was debated in Washington, the president asked for fresh options to end the war honorably,” writes founder of the company formerly known as Blackwater Erik Prince in the New York Times. “Faced with two choices — pulling out entirely or staying the course — I argued strongly for a new approach, a third path that would put in place a light footprint of American Special Forces, as well as contractors to work with Afghans to focus on the goal that Americans really care about: denying America’s enemies the sanctuary they used to plan the Sept. 11 attacks.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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