The Soufan Group Morning Brief


A Saudi immigrant who attended Al Qaeda’s most notorious training camp was arrested on a charge of lying to the FBI and on two counts of visa fraud in Oklahoma, where he had been living for years with his family, federal law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

The FBI discovered the man, Naif Abdulaziz Alfallaj, only recently, when the authorities matched his 15 fingerprints to those taken from a document captured in Afghanistan, the officials said. The document was a five-page application for the Farooq camp, where four of the Sept. 11 hijackers trained.

He apparently filled out the application in September 2000, when he was a teenager, the officials said, well after Al Qaeda had made its intentions of attacking the United States and its allies known to the world. Anyone who tried to join the camp would have known that Al Qaeda was a terrorist organization, law enforcement officials said. The United States military recovered the document at a Qaeda safe house in Afghanistan in December 2001.

Alfallaj, 34, used a fraudulent visa to take private flying lessons in October 2016 in Oklahoma, according to federal court records. Noncitizens are required to submit fingerprints as part of the licensing process. The Federal Aviation Administration revoked his license last year after the FBI made the discovery.

Alfallaj was arrested Monday and made an initial appearance in federal court in Oklahoma City. New York Times, NBC News
The Pentagon for a second straight day declined to explain why Defense Secretary Jim Mattis fired his Guantánamo war court overseer of 10 months but said there was no investigation related to the abrupt departures, reports the Miami Herald.

Military Commissions Convening Authority Harvey Rishikof and his legal adviser Gary Brown were removed on Monday from their Virginia-based jobs, which have oversight of the war crimes trials of the alleged plotters of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and others. The two men were replaced, in acting capacities, by three veteran Department of Defense lawyers.

The Pentagon “does not discuss personnel actions,” Department of Defense spokesman Tom Crosson said Tuesday. “However, I can confirm that the Department has not initiated nor is it aware of any investigation involving Mr. Rishikof or Mr. Brown.” Miami Herald

Trump asks Pentagon to plan large-scale military parade: President Trump, apparently inspired by the Bastille Day parade he witnessed last summer during a trip to Paris, has ordered the Pentagon to look into staging something similar, with marching troops and military hardware and tanks, for Washington, D.C., the Washington Post reports. The White House later confirmed that plans are underway. Washington Post

Most Republicans believe FBI, DOJ are trying to ‘delegitimize’ Trump: Nearly 3 out of 4 Republicans believe the FBI and Department of Justice are working to “delegitimize” President Trump through the investigations into Russia’s election hacking, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll released Monday. The Hill

NY man gets 18 years for ISIS support: Munther Omar Saleh, a 22-year-old New York City man, was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison on Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to aid Islamic State and assaulting a federal law enforcement officer. Prosecutors said the case involved plotting a never-realized bombing in New York City. Reuters, Associated Press

The U.S. military has expanded its renewed air war in Afghanistan, striking targets in northeastern Afghanistan affiliated with the Taliban and another small militant group that is known for its roots in China, U.S. military officials said Tuesday.

The bombing has been carried out over the past four days in Badakhshan province’s Wurduj district, said Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, a U.S. military spokesman in Kabul. The strikes targeted training camps, “preventing the planning and rehearsal of terrorist acts near the Afghan border with China and Tajikistan,” U.S. military officials said in a news release.

The number of strikes was record-setting, with 24 precision-guided munitions dropped on Taliban fighting positions during 96 hours of air operations - the most guided munitions ever dropped from a B-52. CNN, Washington Post, CBS News

Kim Jong Un is sending his younger sister to South Korea for the Winter Olympics, the first time any member of the Kim dynasty has visited the country.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said in a statement that Kim Yo Jong will be joining North Korea's high-level delegation to the South, headed by Kim Yong Nam, president of North Korea's parliament.

The 30-year-old, who has seen her profile rise steadily since 2014, was last year promoted to North Korea's Politburo. She and Kim Jong Un were born to the same mother, Ko Yong Hui. CNN, New York Times

In a new sign of tensions with the United States, Iran on Tuesday re-imprisoned the oldest American known to be held in that country, despite advice from its own doctors to extend his temporary leave because of potentially fatal heart problems.

The American, Baquer Namazi, 81, a dual citizen and former Unicef diplomat, had been given an emergency reprieve from Evin Prison in Tehran on Jan. 28 because of worsening health.

Namazi and one of his sons, Siamak, also a dual citizen of Iran and the United States, were convicted in October 2016 by an Iranian revolutionary court of collaborating with a hostile power — meaning the United States — after a closed trial. Their convictions and 10-year sentences were upheld last November on appeal. The precise nature of the accusations against them has never been disclosed. New York Times, Wall Street Journal

A Belgian court said Tuesday that the sole surviving suspect in the November 2015 attacks on Paris refused to re-appear for trial. Once Europe’s most-wanted man, Salah Abdeslam appeared Monday in the Brussels court, defying the court and refusing to answer any questions about the March 2016 shootout with police in Brussels that led to his capture.

He informed the court he didn’t wish to return for the next hearing. Abdeslam, who has been imprisoned in France in solitary confinement, said silence would continue to be his defense. Associated Press, Politico
What if the Iran deal was a mistake? “Since 2015, the Middle East’s sectarian conflicts have only become deeper, more violent, and more intractable,” writes Joshua Keating in “From the half-million people killed in Syria to the rise of ISIS to the massive refugee crisis, it’s much harder now to say that Obama made the right decision in prioritizing the Iran deal above all else. The concessions the U.S. had to make in order to get the agreement were judged at the time as necessary to prevent the worst-case scenario—an Iranian nuclear weapon. But what if what’s happened since is the worst-case scenario?”

America’s ISIS jihadists were largely duds: “For all the hype about Americans joining ISIS, the majority never saw combat during the Islamic State’s three-year rule,” said Robin Wright in the New Yorker. “They were largely marginal players in the jihadist caliphate—often working in menial jobs as cooks, mechanics, cleaners, or orderlies. In the end, many became disillusioned and looked for a way out.”

Nunes memo and the law of unintended consequences: “The process that the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee used to draft, facilitate White House approval, and release publicly, will likely cause lasting damage to the credibility to congressional intelligence oversight generally; the intelligence committee specifically; and the intelligence community’s willingness to provide it with information necessary for it to fulfill its proper role,” writes Carrie Cordero in Lawfare.

Trump shouldn’t take Jordan for granted: “What worries Amman is that Trump’s disruptive diplomacy — symbolized by his decision in December to reverse long-standing U.S. policy and move the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — will cause internal political problems for Jordan, with its large Palestinian population,” said David Ignatius in the Washington Post. “When Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas denounces Trump’s peace process, Jordan fears it will have to pick up the pieces.”

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

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