News Roundup and Notes: October 14, 2014

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

IRAQ and SYRIA

ISIS is in control of 80% of Anbar province, and is only 8 miles away from the Baghdad airport. [CNN’s Barbara Starr]  Meanwhile, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said he is “somewhat” confident that the Iraqi army has the capability to defend Baghdad from ISIS militants. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

ISIS fighters seized a military base near the town of Hit in Iraq’s Anbar province yesterday, moving one step closer to gaining total control of the province. [Bloomberg’s Aziz Alwan]. Iraqi officials said the abandonment of the base by security forces was a strategic retreat. [Wall Street Journal’s Tamer El-Ghobashy]  The intensified fighting around the cities of Hit and Ramadi has forced up to 180,000 people to flee from their homes, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said yesterday. [AP]

Islamic State militants fought their way into central Kobani yesterday in heavy clashes against Kurdish defenders, with ISIS now claiming half of the key border town. [Al Jazeera]  The U.S. and partner nations continued to target ISIS in Syria, carrying out eight strikes over Sunday and Monday, including around Kobani. [Central Command]

Turkish officials refuted U.S. reports yesterday that it would permit the use of its air bases in operations against the Islamic State, but stressed that talks were ongoing to determine Ankara’s role in the U.S.-led coalition. [Hurriyet Daily News]

The Turkish air force has bombed Kurdish fighters in Turkey, the first strikes since the peace process between the sides began two years ago, further complicating the conflict in the Middle East [Reuters’ Daren Butler and Humeyra Pamuk]  Kurdish leaders in Kobani have turned to their Iraqi counterparts for help, owing to inaction from Turkey, which has long viewed the Kurdish fighters as terrorists. [Wall Street Journal’s Ayla Albayrak]

Military aid from Iraqi Kurds cannot reach Kobani as Turkey is refusing to open an aid corridor, according to a Syrian Kurdish official. [Reuters]  Abdulrahman Al-Rashed questions Turkey’s refusal to take a decisive role in the Syria crisis in an op-ed for Asharq Al-Awsat.

President Obama will meet with military leaders from around 20 countries today to discuss a coordinated strategy to counter the Islamic State. [Reuters’ Jeff Mason and Phil Stewart]

Afghanistan has voiced concern that the Islamic State is seeking a foothold in the country, although U.S. and other Western officials remain skeptical of the claims. [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge and Margherita Stancati]

The U.K. government is analyzing the authenticity of a letter purportedly written by British hostage John Cantlie, criticizing the West for failing to negotiate on hostage release. [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Winning]  The sister of Cantlie released a statement yesterday saying the family seeks “direct contact” with the militants. [BBC]  The family of U.S. aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also being held hostage by the Islamic State, released further content from a letter he sent them from captivity. [Wane]

U.K counterterrorism police arrested six individuals today on suspicion of a range of terrorism offences linked to the civil war in Syria. [Reuters]

An Amnesty International report accuses government-backed Shi’a militias in Iraq of abducting and killing scores of Sunni civilians since the beginning of operations against the Islamic State.

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, AND TECHNOLOGY

The NSA has used agents in China, Germany, and South Korea to break into networks and devices with programs that use “physical subversion,” according to documents obtained by The Intercept. Peter Maass and Laura Poitras report that the agency also used “under cover” agents to access sensitive information in the global communications industry, noting that the operatives “may have even dealt with American firms.”

A Russian hacking group has spied on the EU, NATO, the Ukrainian government, and other targets, by exploiting a flaw in Microsoft Windows and other software, according to cyber intelligence firm iSight Partners. The group is believed to have links to the Russian government, as it is carrying out espionage, not cybercrime. [Reuters’ Jim Finkle]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The U.K. parliament passed a non-binding motion in favor of recognizing Palestine as a state, in a majority vote of 274-12 yesterday. The British Prime Minister David Cameron, along with most Conservative MPs, abstained from the vote. [Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer]  The vote is demonstrative of public sentiment in Britain shifting away from Israel, according to Britain’s ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould. [AP]

A Palestinian mosque in the West Bank was set ablaze today in a suspected act of arson, according to Palestinian officials and witnesses. [Reuters]  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned “provocations” at Jerusalem’s holy sites, following an incident in which Israeli police locked Palestinians inside Al Aksa Mosque in order to prevent a riot as Jews visited to celebrate a holy day. [New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

An ambush by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan killed 14 members of the Afghan security forces, according to authorities speaking yesterday. Meanwhile, villagers elsewhere in the country protested a NATO airstrike, alleging that the strike killed civilians even though the alliance claimed to have killed militants. [AP]

Captured terrorists often speak willingly to interrogators, underscoring claims that civilian courts are equipped to handle international terrorism cases, reports Benjamin Weiser. [New York Times]

The U.S. government attempted to prevent the publication of James Risen’s last book, citing national security grounds, and pressured the CEO of CBS to stop it going forward. The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain offers an analysis of Risen’s interview last night on CBS’ “60 minutes.”

Twelve experts, including lawmakers and officials, weigh in on the budgetary questions surrounding President Obama’s “new war on terror” for Politico Magazine.

Yemen’s ambassador to the UN has been appointed by the president as prime minister, with the backing of Islamists and Houthi rebels, raising hopes that the political turmoil will subside. [AP]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said yesterday that “a nuclear settlement is certain,” and that he believed a deal with the West was feasible by a November 24 deadline. [Reuters]

A Russian oil company is looking to challenge Western sanctions in European courts, hiring the law firm that successfully represented an Iranian bank targeted by European sanctions last year. [Wall Street Journal’s Benoît Faucon]

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has criticized Iran, accusing the Shi’ite state of having forces in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, and arguing that Iran is “part of the problem” in trying to tackle the crises in the Middle East. [AP’s Abdullah Al-Shihri]  Iran’s state news agency reported that Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian responded to the comments, stating it is “in contradiction with diplomatic negotiations between the two countries.” [Reuters’ Michelle Moghtader]

Egyptian authorities have cracked down on student activism, arresting at least 91 students since Friday, in an effort to stop a new wave of protests against the military-backed government. [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick]  The Washington Post editorial board cautions that the U.S.’s failure to challenge Egypt’s new authoritarianism means “that the United States will be perceived as an enemy by Egyptians seeking genuine change.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made an appearance on state media today after a month long absence which had fueled speculation about the leader’s health and hold on power. [Wall Street Journal’s Alastair Gale]

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security