News Roundup and Notes: December 16, 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. 

TALIBAN SCHOOL ATTACK

Pakistani Taliban storm military-run school in Peshawar. Five or six Taliban gunmen stormed the Army Public School this morning, taking hundreds of students and teachers hostage and shooting at random. The death toll has reached 126, 100 of whom are thought to be children, says a provincial official. [Reuters and the AP]  The military says most of the school’s 500 students have now been evacuated but it is not clear how many remain held hostage. Explosions have been heard from inside the school. [BBC]

The Taliban has said the attack is a reprisal for army operations against the militant group in North Waziristan and the Khyber area. Check out Dawn and the BBC for live updates as the situation unfolds. 

SYDNEY SIEGE 

The 16-hour siege of a Sydney café ended with the death of the hostage-taker, identified as Man Haron Monis, and two hostages. [BBC; The Australian

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott questioned why Monis was not on any terror watch lists, despite his extensive criminal record, mental instability, and an “infatuation with extremism.” [Sydney Morning Herald’s Nicole Hasham] ABC News’ Lorna Knowles has further details on Monis, an Iranian cleric with a violent criminal history, who is believed to have acted alone.

The hostage situation highlights the need for increased surveillance, including within Islamist communities, according to Rep. Peter King. [The Hill’s Ben Kamisar]

IRAQ and SYRIA

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. The U.S. and partner nations carried out nine airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria from Dec 13-15. Separately, the U.S. and partner nations conducted a further nine airstrikes in Iraq in the same time frame. [Central Command]  Eric Schmitt provides an insight into how the air campaign is being conducted by the U.S. military and allied forces. [New York Times]

The EU will look to Iran and Russia for further cooperation in ending the conflict in Syria, says new foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, signaling a shift in the bloc’s efforts to bring the war to an end. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman and Naftali Bendavid]

Militants from the Nusra Front have taken control of two strategic army bases in the northern Syrian province of Idlib. Syrian government forces had until now succeeded in repelling several assaults on the bases. [BBC]

The Nusra Front may be in possession of U.S.-supplied anti-tank weapons. New footage circulating online purports to show the al-Qaeda-linked group fielding the weapons which may have been intended for moderate opposition rebel groups. [Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff]

President Obama defended the progress made against Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria, stating that the coalition has undercut the momentum of the Islamic State, while speaking to troops at a military base in New Jersey. [New York Times’ Peter Baker]

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi may be “successfully shifting the tone of politics” in the country, and garnering support of the country’s “disaffected Sunnis,” reports Tim Arango. [New York Times]

The Iraqi government has taken concerted steps to tackle “ghost soldiers” as part of attempts to reduce military corruption and rebuild the U.S.-trained military after its collapse during the Islamic State onslaught earlier this year. [AP]

India has banned the Islamic State, just days after apprehending a man accused of running a popular pro-Islamic  State twitter account. [Reuters’ Aditya Karla]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

IDF forces shot and killed a Palestinian during a clash at a refugee camp in the West Bank; Israeli and Palestinian sources give different accounts of the incident. [Haaretz’s Gili Cohen and Jack Khoury]

The Palestinian Liberation Organization says it will submit a resolution to the UN Security Council on Wednesday demanding “an end of the Israeli occupation of all territories occupied in 1967,” setting a time limit of two years, and calling for the recognition of Palestinian statehood. Nicholas Casey surveys the various political reactions and context to the resolution. [Wall Street Journal]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought assurances that the U.S. would block efforts on Palestinian statehood from Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting in Rome yesterday. In advance of the meeting, Israel notified the U.S. that it expects Washington to use its UN Security Council veto against a resolution enforcing a time frame on ending the occupation. [Reuters’ Lesley Wroughton]

SENATE TORTURE REPORT

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is “wrong” in his assessment of the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program, White House press secretary Josh Earnest stated yesterday. [The Hill’s Justin Sink]

Fifty-one percent of Americans think the CIA methods were justified, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

The “hast[y]” road to the CIA program, with former Air Force explosives expert James Mitchell designing and leading the interrogations, is documented by James Risen and Matt Apuzzo. [New York Times]  Mitchell, who has been identified as one of the “architects” of the CIA interrogation program, admitted to waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, among other terrorism suspects, in an interview with VICE News, writes Jason Leopold.

Brett Stephens explains why he is not sorry the CIA waterboarded, and welcomes the “necessary debate that was nearly closed—and nearly lost,” in an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal. While The Daily Beast’s Mike Barnicle comments on the “twisted logic and debate over what is and what isn’t torture.”

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

President Obama has declared a “turning point” for the American military, stating that the U.S. is moving beyond the time for large deployments of ground troops, as the U.S. and NATO close their operational command in Afghanistan. [AP]

Moscow warned Ukraine of higher tariffs on imports if Kiev moves forward on a trade and political agreement with the EU. [Wall Street Journal’s Nick Shchetko and Laurence Norman]  Meanwhile, President Obama is facing pressure to sign legislation imposing additional sanctions on Russia’s energy, defense, and finance sectors. [Politico’s Doug Palmer]

Nuclear talks between the P5 +1 and Iran are proceeding in a “good atmosphere” despite ongoing gaps on a number of key issues, Iran has said. [Reuters]  Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has pledged to reach a nuclear accord and take on conservative forces inside Iran who would prefer not to see an agreement with the West. [New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink]

The British Embassy in Cairo, Egypt has reopened today following a nine-day closure caused by security concerns. [Reuters]  The New York Times editorial board writes that despite Egypt being an important partner in the Middle East, it “does not serve American interests to funnel aid without question or account, to a government that is ruthless and self-destructive.” 

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in South Sudan following one year of conflict in the young country. [AP]  In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice call for effective negotiations between the rival sides, writing that the responsibility is on the country’s leaders “to halt the bloodshed and bring their country together.”

Yemeni authorities have been accused of responsibility in the death of a prominent separatist from the Southern Movement; Amnesty International has called for a prompt investigation into the incident. [Al Jazeera]

Four men imprisoned over a failed bomb plot on the London transport network have lost an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights, the Court ruling no prejudice had been caused to their right to a fair trial. [BBC]

The UN Security Council will consider the human rights situation in North Korea next week, laying the groundwork for a potential referral to the ICC. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]  Following the decision, North Korea called on the Council to consider the CIA’s interrogation program rather than its human rights record. [AP]

Kenya has revoked the registration of 510 NGOs, including 15 accused of terrorist links, the move forming part of a wider clampdown on militant activity in the country. [BBC] 

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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