The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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Monday, May 14, 2018

ISIS Claims Deadly Attacks in France and Indonesia

The Islamic State claimed two deadly attacks over the weekend, the first by a knife-wielding assailant in Paris on Saturday night and the second a far deadlier and more complex operation in Surabaya, Indonesia, where a family of six - including small children - attacked three churches, killing at least seven people, in addition to the suicide bombers.

On Saturday, a French national of Chechen origin, shouting “Allahu akbar,” attacked random pedestrians in central Paris, killing one person and injuring four before being shot dead by police. The attacker, Chechen immigrant Khamzat Azimov, recorded a cell-phone video pledging allegiance to ISIS, which the group released the day after his death. He was shot and killed by police less than an hour after he began his rampage.

A French judicial official said the man had previously been flagged as a potential terror risk in one of France’s security databases, where the government keeps the names of thousands of people who have expressed sympathy for radical Islam. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian

In the Indonesia attacks, a family of suicide bombers, including children, killed at least seven people and injured dozens in simultaneous attacks at churches in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, on Sunday. Police said the attackers came from a single family that had spent time in Syria in support of the terrorist group Islamic State, and whose head was the leader of a terrorist cell in Surabaya. All six family members died in the bombings, including the family’s mother and two daughters, ages 9 and 12, who were killed when they detonated one or more bombs at the entrance to a church.

In another attack, he said two sons, ages 16 and 18, drove a motorcycle onto the grounds of a church and detonated a bomb. The biggest explosion was at a third church, where police believe the father detonated a car bomb. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Guardian

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When spies hack journalism: “For decades, leakers of confidential information to the press were a genus that included many species: the government worker infuriated by wrongdoing, the ideologue pushing a particular line, the politico out to savage an opponent,” writes Scott Shane in the New York Times. “But now this disparate cast has been joined by a very different sort of large-scale leaker, more stealthy and better funded: the intelligence services of nation states, which hack into troves of documents and then use a proxy to release them. What Russian intelligence did with shocking success to the Democrats in 2016 shows every promise of becoming a common tool of spycraft around the world.”

The never-ending war on terror: “It may appear as if a global victory over the Islamic State is near, but it is not. What U.S. policymakers never seem to learn is that when it comes to global terrorism, the mission is not yet accomplished,” said Katherine Zimmerman in Foreign Affairs. “The Islamic State or some successor could one day return to Iraq and Syria to restore its physical caliphate. While the United States was fighting the Islamic State, other groups clearly benefited.”

Trump is following, not leading: “The United States has outsourced its foreign policy to regional allies,” said Daniel Levy in Foreign Policy. “In South Korea, it might lead to peace — in Israel, it’s more likely leading to war.”

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JUSTICE DEPT. RELUCTANT TO BRING ISIS FIGHTERS TO U.S. FOR TRIAL
Justice Department leaders are reluctant to recommend U.S.-based criminal trials for two Islamic State militants captured and detained in Syria, reports the Washington Post. Even though federal prosecutors believe they can win in court, it is unclear whether there is sufficient evidence to ­secure convictions and lengthy prison terms.

Senior Trump administration officials are adamant that Britain bears responsibility for prosecuting the men, Alexanda Kotey, 34, and El Shafee Elsheikh, 29, whose British citizenships were revoked over their alleged affiliation with an ISIS cell suspected of murdering Westerners. Further complicating matters, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly would prefer that Kotey and Elsheikh be sent to the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo. Washington Post

Top nuclear expert leaves State Dept.: One of the State Department’s top experts on nuclear proliferation resigned last week after President Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. Richard Johnson, a career civil servant who served as acting assistant coordinator in State’s Office of Iran Nuclear Implementation, had been involved in ultimately failed talks with European allies to salvage the deal. Foreign Policy

Former WH aide planned to spy on co-workers to stop leaks: Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a former National Security Council official now working for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, explored ways to surreptitiously monitor the communications of White House staff for leaks or perceived political disloyalty to President Trump, the Daily Beast reports.

Federal court orders info on who is spying on Guantanamo defense attorneys: In a sweeping order, a federal court has instructed the Justice Department to submit top-secret information about suspected eavesdropping on attorney-client meetings at Guantánamo in an appeal in the now stalled USS Cole death-penalty case. It is not immediately clear what the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit can do with the information. It is also not immediately clear what would happen if the U.S. government refused to furnish the information, invoking national security privilege. The next stop could be the U.S. Supreme Court. Miami Herald


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SHIITE CLERIC MOQTADA AL-SADR TAKES SURPRISE LEAD IN IRAQI ELECTIONS
An electoral ticket backed by the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr emerged as the early front-runner in Iraq’s elections, according to preliminary results released late Sunday, dealing a significant blow to the reelection campaign of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

If the results hold - more than half the votes have so far been counted - Sadr, a strident critic of the United States who commands a militia that fought American troops during the occupation of Iraq, could be in a position to determine Iraq’s next leader. Sadr did not run in the election but holds sway over the electoral ticket, which has defied predictions by amassing the largest number of votes across 10 of country’s 18 provinces.

Sadr’s coalition, called Sairoon, won by a large margin in the capital, Baghdad, which accounts for the largest number of seats in Iraq’s 329-seat parliament. A ticket led by the commander of a Shiite militia close to Iran came in second.

Abadi’s coalition, which had been forecast to win and was Washington’s choice, came in fifth in the capital and was running third overall, according to the preliminary results. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, NPR, Reuters  

PAKISTAN BLOCKS U.S. DIPLOMAT FROM LEAVING THE COUNTRY
Authorities in Pakistan barred an American diplomat involved in a fatal traffic accident from leaving the country on Saturday and briefly detained him for questioning.

A United States military aircraft flown in to bring home Col. Joseph Emanuel Hall, a U.S. military attaché, had to leave without him, the intelligence official said. Pakistan’s Interior Ministry said he is on a “blacklist” and is not allowed to leave because of the criminal case pending against him.

Colonel Hall is accused of involvement in a road accident in which his car ran a red light and killed a motorcyclist named Ateeq Baig in the capital, Islamabad, on April 7. Pakistan officials have demanded the United States waive his diplomatic immunity so that he can face a criminal trial, but American officials have refused. New York Times, Washington Post

U.S. OFFICIALS OFFER NORTH KOREA AID, SECURITY ASSURANCES IF NUCLEAR PROGRAM IS DISMANTLED
The U.S. is prepared to quickly lift sanctions on North Korea and promise its leader, Kim Jong Un, that it would not seek to oust him from power, senior officials said Sunday, sketching out the terms of a possible deal if Kim agrees to give up his nuclear weapons.

“We will have to provide security assurances” to Kim as part of a nuclear deal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Our hope is that Kim wants a strategic change, and President Trump is prepared to help.”

On Friday, Pompeo told a State Department news conference that “If North Korea takes bold action to quickly denuclearize, the United States is prepared to work with North Korea to achieve prosperity on the par with our South Korean friends.”

“We’re prepared to open trade and investment as soon as we can,” John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” Before that can occur, he added, “We want to see the denuclearization process so completely underway that it’s irreversible.” Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal

Al Qaeda chief calls for jihad on eve of U.S. embassy in Jerusalem opening: Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, on Sunday said America’s decision to shift its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem was evidence that negotiations and “appeasement” have failed Palestinians as he urged Muslims to carry out jihad against the United States. Telegraph


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IN ABOUT-FACE, TRUMP PROMISES TO SAVE JOBS AT CHINA’S ZTE
President Trump surprised much of Washington this weekend when he tweeted that he was working with Chinese President Xi Jinping to keep ZTE Corp. in business, throwing an extraordinary lifeline to the Chinese telecommunication giant, which employs 75,000 people and has been laid low by U.S. moves to cut off its suppliers. “Too many jobs in China lost,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!”

The prospective shutdown of ZTE has been seen as major leverage in continuing trade discussions between China and the United States over Chinese trade practices.

Last month the Commerce Department banned shipments of American technology to ZTE for seven years, saying that the company broke sanctions on doing business with Iran and North Korea and then lied about carrying out the punishment.

Both ZTE and its domestic rival Huawei have been the subject of repeated security warnings by the American intelligence establishment. The two telecommunications equipment makers have a close relationship with China’s government, and a 2012 report from Congress cautioned that allowing the companies to build out American cellular networks would be a threat to national security. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, 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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