News Roundup and Notes: December 17, 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

An attack by the Pakistani Taliban on the Army Public School and College in the northwestern city of Peshawar killed at least 145 people in total yesterday, including 132 children. The attack is the terrorist group’s single deadliest attack to date. [New York Times’ Declan Walsh]

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has revoked the moratorium on the death penalty for terrorism cases. [Dawn’s Mateen Haider]  Meanwhile, Pakistan’s military launched airstrikes against militants in the Khyber and North Waziristan areas. [BBC]

Widespread condemnation of the attack. President Obama said the U.S. “condemns in the strongest possible terms” what was described as a “horrific attack.”  Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel described the incident as an “act of pure cowardice.” [DOD News]  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on those responsible to be held accountable as “no cause could justify such brutality.” [UN News Centre]  And the Afghan Taliban has condemned the attack, saying the intentional killing of children and innocents is contrary to Islam. [AFP]

Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif said the terrorists used Afghan soil to launch the Peshawar attack, during a meeting with Afghan leadership in Kabul this morning. [Dawn’s Mateen Haider]

The Pakistani Taliban (TTP) justified the attacks as retribution. Sami Yousafzai spoke with a TTP commander who said the parents of the army school are army soldiers and as such are behind the bombings in North and South Waziristan. [The Daily Beast

The media weighs in on the attack. The Express Tribune editorial board expresses concern that the massacre will be “quickly shuffled down the agenda as addressing the root causes of the problem requires some hard questions being asked and answered.”  The New York Times editorial board urges Pakistan’s military and political leaders to “reconsider their conflicted approach to the insurgency” and end the army’s “support for militants in the region.”  The Wall Street Journal editorial board similarly hopes that the attack serves as a “wake-up call” to the military and intelligence forces, noting that eventually “the cobra was bound to lunge at his charmer.”  While the Washington Post editorial board considers the attack “a reflection of the Taliban’s declining fortunes in Pakistan–not its ascendancy.”

It is possible that the attack will push President Obama “to renew the counter-terrorism partnership with Pakistan” that has deteriorated since the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden, suggest Josh Rogin and Eli Lake. [Bloomberg View]

The slaughter of so many children may “reawaken what is assumed to be the silent Pakistani majority” who favor peace, education and tolerance, writes Victor Mallet. [The Financial Times]

“How the Pakistani Taliban became a deadly force.” Carlotta Gall et al offer a Q&A explaining the rise, organization, and reach of the militant group. [New York Times]

The BBC has eyewitness accounts of the attack while The Guardian has a rolling report covering the aftermath.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Two days of fighting in the Syrian province of Idlib for two military bases has left around 180 Syrian soldiers and militants dead. [Reuters]  Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, claimed the two bases and captured what is thought to be a huge arsenal; the group’s victory constitutes a major setback for the Assad regime which had an estimated 1,000 troops stationed at the bases. [McClatchy DC’s Mousab Alhamadee]

Seven people are being held in Morocco and Spain following raids targeting an Islamic State recruitment network focused on women. [BBC]

A site dedicated to Islamic State research has been launched by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

British soldiers “mistreated” nine Iraqi detainees after a battle in 2004, however allegations of murder and torture were “wholly without foundation,” according to the Al-Sweady Inquiry set up in 2009. [BBC]

Iraq has asked for a one-year deferral on a $4.6 billion reparations payment to Kuwait for destroying oil facilities during its occupation in 1990-91, according to a UN official. [Reuters’ Stephanie Nebehay]

AFGHANISTAN

Suspected Taliban militants have carried out suicide attacks and stormed a branch of the Kabul bank in Helmand province today; the ensuing gunfight killed at least 13 individuals, including six attackers. [Al Jazeera]

A U.S. drone strike in eastern Afghanistan killed four members of the Pakistani Taliban and seven other militants yesterday, according to a district official. [Reuters]

A new EU report confirms widespread, systematic electoral fraud during the Afghan presidential runoff in June, suggesting that roughly a quarter of total votes cast came from polling stations with voting irregularities. [New York Times’ Joseph Goldstein]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The U.S. has clarified that it would be willing to support a UN Security Council resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian situation so long as it does not contain any “unilateral measures.” Earlier on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the U.S. had not made any final determinations on the suggested proposals. [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid and Jack Khoury]

The U.S. is attempting to keep relations measured between Israelis and Palestinians amid European efforts to table Security Council resolutions on the issue, with Kerry describing the status quo as “unsustainable for both parties and for the region.” [New York Times’ Steven Erlanger]

An EU court ruled that Hamas should be removed from the EU terrorist list. However, member states could uphold their freeze on Hamas’ assets for three months to allow for appeal or further review. [Reuters’ Philip Blenkinsop]

“This Israeli election matters” writes Thomas L. Friedman, explaining why. [New York Times]

SENATE TORTURE REPORT

Romania will clarify allegations that it hosted CIA black sites, following last week’s release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s conclusions on the agency’s former interrogation and detention program. [AFP]

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the condemnation of torture to be reflected in “both policy and law,” including enacting new legislation if required to prevent future instances of torture. [Politico’s Maggie Haberman]

The CIA interrogations “followed the law,” according to former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who notes that those critical of the program “seem oddly uninterested in the laws they themselves helped to write,” in an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal.

Did President George W. Bush know about specific interrogation techniques? NPR’s Eyder Peralta takes a closer look at when and what the former president knew about the CIA interrogation program.

The Senate report “opens the door to future presidential waterboarders” by focusing narrowly on the CIA, argues Frederick Schwarz, Jr. [Politico Magazine]

The CIA’s brutal interrogation of detainees is the “tip of the torture iceberg,” and the debate sparked by the Senate report should not ignore the “much larger” problem of American torture, writes Peter Maass. [The Intercept]

The “most productive thing” that can follow from the revelations of the CIA program is a “stronger, clearer national understanding of what torture is — and that its practice is off-limits,” writes the Washington Post editorial board.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The terrorism insurance bill “effectively died” yesterday after senators failed to reach agreement on a vote before Congress concludes its business for the year, reports David Lawder and Emily Stephonson for Reuters.

Antony Blinken has been confirmed as the State Department’s No. 2 diplomat, as Democrats made efforts to approve some of President Obama’s nominations before the GOP take control of Congress next year. [Reuters]

President Obama has been briefed on possible terrorist threats over the holiday season, in advance of his two-week vacation to Hawaii. [The Hill’s Justin Sink]

The is no information that six former Guantanamo detainees, transferred to Uruguay, “were involved in conducting or facilitating terrorist activities against the United States or its partners or its allies,” said Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, citing a State Department document dated Dec. 2. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

Hillary Clinton may be called as a witness before a House Oversight Committee hearing next Congress when it looks at the issue of embassy security, said incoming Chairman Jason Chaffetz. [The Hill’s Molly K. Hooper]

An urgent review into the Sydney siege has been announced; the review will include an examination of hostage-taker Man Haron Monis’ records and his access to firearms. [ABC News’ Jane Norman]  Australia’s new counterterrorism measures are unlikely to be effective against “lone-wolf” extremists such as Monis, reports Rob Taylor. [Wall Street Journal]

President Obama will sign a bipartisan bill that imposes additional sanctions on Russia, despite “some concerns” that the legislation could send “a confusing message” to European allies, press secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday. The measure also provides $350 million in military aid to Ukraine. [New York Times’ Peter Baker]  The EU will expand its prohibition on investment in Crimea, the tightened sanctions targeting Russian Black Sea oil and gas exploration. [Reuters’s Robin Emmott and Adrian Croft]  Michael Crowley explores whether the sanctions against Russia thus far have helped sink the Russian economy. [Politico]

Veteran diplomat Robin Raphel is at the center of an FBI-led espionage investigation concerning Pakistan; Richard Leiby profiles the retired envoy. [Washington Post]

A twin car bomb attack in central Yemen killed at least 26 people, including 16 primary school children, on Tuesday. [AP]

Threats of terrorism against movie theatres screening Sony’s “The Interview,” a comedy about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, are posing a difficulty for the FBI, theatres, and the film studio. [New York Times’ Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes]

An Egyptian administrative court overturned a special committee’s decision to seize assets belonging to leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, saying that a criminal court is the appropriate body to make such an order. [Reuters 

Violent attacks against journalists have become more “barbaric” in 2014, with 66 reporters killed and kidnappings sharply increasing, according to Reporters Without Borders. [Al Jazeera]

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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