The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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Monday, April 23, 2018

At Least 57 Afghans Killed in Bombing at Voter Registration Center

At least 57 people waiting to obtain national voter ID cards were killed Sunday in a sidewalk suicide bombing in the Afghan capital, the Public Health Ministry said. Another 119 were reported wounded in the blast.

The late-morning attack took place in the Dasht-i-Barchi neighborhood, which is dominated by minority Shiites from the Hazara ethnic group. It was claimed by ISIS, which has previously targeted mosques, shrines, schools and other sites in that area. Its affiliated website said the attack was aimed at “apostate” Shiites.

The bombing, carried out by a pedestrian who detonated explosives amid the waiting crowd, raised new concerns about the potential for violence to undermine Afghanistan’s long-delayed parliamentary elections in October. Officials have said that out of 7,300 registration and polling centers nationwide, only 948 are considered out of government control. Washington Post, New York Times

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What fuels the Saudi rivalry with Iran? “Saudi Arabia’s government officials, and particularly its powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, often talk about pushing back a dangerous Iranian threat,” said Madawi al-Rasheed in the New York Times. “But the truth is, despite this talk, the foreign policy emanating from Riyadh is driven primarily by domestic politics. Prince Mohammed knows that a fearful enemy is a key to his own strength.”

Lost in the Middle East: “The incoherence of Washington's Syria policy is a symptom of its failure to define a new role in the world,” said Stephen Cook in Foreign Policy.

The terrorism label: “A recent op-ed from Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) calls for officially designating Russia a state sponsor of terrorism,” said Paul Pillar in the National Interest. “The senator’s proposal is an example of the too-common practice of affixing labels, especially the terrorist label, to try to implement policies that arise for reasons unrelated to the ostensible subject of the label.”

Haspel’s CIA appointment will delight torturers around the world: “If senators confirm Haspel’s appointment after a hearing on 9 May it would be a major blow to Americans who care about the rule of law and human rights and are concerned about increasing illiberal tendencies in their country,” said Sonya Sceats in the Guardian. “But this is not just a US political issue; there would be international fallout too.”

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MAN SUSPECTED IN WAFFLE HOUSE SHOOTING HAD BEEN ARRESTED NEAR WHITE HOUSE
A gunman who killed four and wounded four others at a Waffle House outside Nashville Sunday morning was arrested last summer after he crossed a security barrier at the White House, according to police. The suspected gunman, Travis Reinking, is a 29-year old from Morton, Illinois, police said in a news conference Sunday afternoon. He opened fire at a Waffle House in Antioch, Tenn., around 3:25 a.m. local time on Sunday, killing three customers and one employee. He was armed with an AR-15 assault style rifle.

In a dramatic tussle, another Waffle House customer, 29-year-old James Shaw Jr., wrestled over the firearm with Reinking. Shaw took the opportunity to grab the gun from him and throw it over the counter when the gunman was reloading. Reinking remains at large as of Monday morning.

Federal and local law enforcement agents said that Reinking was arrested near the White House grounds on July 7, 2017, after entering a restricted area in hopes of getting an appointment with the president. After he refused to leave, he was arrested. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post

CIA: HASPEL ACTED ‘APPROPRIATELY’ IN DESTRUCTION OF TORTURE TAPES
The CIA on Friday declassified a 2011 disciplinary memo that concludes Gina Haspel “acted appropriately” regarding the destruction of videotapes reportedly showing brutal interrogations of detained terrorist suspects — a move aimed at assisting her embattled nomination to lead the spy agency.

The memo, written by then-CIA deputy director Michael Morell, confirms that Haspel drafted a cable directing the destruction of more than 90 interrogation tapes but did so on the orders of her then-supervisor, former CIA clandestine service director Jose Rodriguez. Politico

BOLTON HIRES NEW DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER
National security adviser John Bolton has tapped a senior Commerce Department official as his deputy. The White House announced on Friday that Mira Ricardel, the undersecretary of Commerce for export administration, has been chosen to replace Nadia Schadlow, who resigned earlier this month days after Bolton took office.

Ricardel is a seasoned government official, having worked in the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce under three separate administrations. She also worked at Boeing for nine years. The Hill


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INSPECTORS REACH SITE OF SUSPECTED CHEMICAL WEAPONS ATTACK IN SYRIA
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said its experts had finally been able to visit the Damascus suburb of Douma on Saturday after repeated delays and they collected samples for analysis.

A suspected poison gas attack two weeks ago killed at least 43 people and prompted U.S.-led airstrikes against Syrian military facilities. The OPCW team was forced to sit in Damascus for much of the past week, leading the United States and France to accuse Syria and its Russian allies of attempting to delay the inspection as they sanitized the alleged blast sites. On Sunday, Syrian officials declared again that the alleged chemical attack was a hoax by foreign powers. Washington Post, New York Times, NBC News

TRUMP WILL TELL NORTH KOREA THAT DISMANTLING NUCLEAR ARSENAL MUST PRECEDE SANCTIONS RELIEF
President Trump will reportedly urge North Korea to act quickly to dismantle its nuclear arsenal when he meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and isn’t willing to grant Pyongyang substantial sanctions relief in return for a freeze of its nuclear and missile tests, administration officials say. Wall Street Journal, New York Times
Related:
New York Times: China, Feeling Left Out, Has Plenty to Worry About in North Korea-U.S. Talks

ISIS calls for attacks on Arab nations: In his first statement in 10 months, the Islamic State’s spokesman, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, on Sunday called for violence against neighboring Arab nations, suggesting that the group’s focus was turning closer to home. New York Times


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SAUDIS DISMISS RUMORS OF A COUP
Saudi state media dismissed rumours of political unrest in Riyadh on Sunday after unconfirmed reports of clashes and gunfire near the royal palace circulated on social media.

Saudi security forces shot down a small recreational drone flying in an unauthorized space in the capital Riyadh on Saturday, according to the kingdom’s state news agency. The report said a remote-controlled toy aircraft was flown into a security cordon in the Khuzama neighborhood of the city around 7:50 p.m. The report gave no information about who had been controlling the drone and said police were investigating the incident. Officials confirmed there were no casualties, and King Salman was not at his palace at the time.
The National, New York Times, Bloomberg

MACRON, MERKEL PREPARE TO SELL TRUMP ON IRAN ACCORD
French President Emmanuel Macron’s arrival in the U.S. on Monday kicks off a crucial week for European leaders in an uphill battle to convince President Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. Pressure to win over the U.S. president is growing as a potential make-or-break deadline approaches on May 12, when Trump will decide whether to extend sanctions relief for Iran or risk blowing up the accord.

Macron’s visit Monday and Tuesday - the first formal state visit of the Trump administration - will be quickly followed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s working visit to the White House on Friday.

In the coming days, representatives from France, Germany, and the UK hope to finalize written agreements on inspections, missiles and regional aggression that they and U.S. officials can present to Trump as ways of bolstering the protections of the Iran deal without renegotiating it.
Bloomberg, Reuters, Washington Post

Paris attacker convicted of shoot-out charges: A Belgian court on Monday convicted Salah Abdeslam, the lone survivor of the group accused of the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016, on charges related to a shootout with police as he was captured in Belgium. Washington Post



SOUFAN GROUP

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.
Editor-in-Chief, Karen J. Greenberg, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School
 
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