News Roundup and Notes: January 9, 2015

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.

PARIS ATTACK

A large-scale operation to detain the two suspects in the Charlie Hebdo attack is underway, the French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve confirmed today. Police have now closed in on the suspects who are thought to have taken a hostage in a shop 50km from Paris. This is a developing situation; check out France 24 and The Guardian for live updates.

AFP reports that there is a connection between the Charlie Hebdo attack and the killing of a policewoman yesterday, citing police sources.

One of the suspects received al-Qaeda training from the group’s affiliate in Yemen in 2011 before returning to France, a senior U.S. official said yesterday. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt et al]  Signs of an al-Qaeda stamp on the attack raise the critical question of “whether they were merely inspired by the group – or if al-Qaeda commanders directed the attack,” note Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef. [The Daily Beast]

A number of European states heightened security measures yesterday in the aftermath of Wednesday’s shooting in Paris; Cassell Bryan-Low et al provide details. [Wall Street Journal]

Attorney General Eric Holder will attend a terrorism summit this weekend convened by France in the aftermath of Wednesday’s attack. [The Hill’s David McCabe]

“Europe faces an evolving, ever-more complex terror threat no longer dominated by a few big players,” and the security threat is “now an Internet-driven, generalized rage against Western society that can burst into the open at any time,” suggests the AP.

The Economist comments on the difficulties facing France, including “heightened security worries,” but also how to reconcile the country’s secular traditions with the “peaceful demands of Muslim French citizens.”

IRAQ and SYRIA

The Nusra Front and other Sunni militants captured two Shi’ite villages in the north of Syria overnight but were subsequently repelled. [Reuters]

Militants from the Islamic State have attacked Iraqi security forces in the central city of Samarra, killing two people and injuring almost 30 others. [BBC]  Throughout Thursday, at least 23 people were killed by suicide attacks in Iraq. [AP]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. The U.S. and partner nations conducted six airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 7. Separately, the U.S. and partner nations carried out a further seven strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

The training given by U.S. to Iraqi troops is “a little different this time.” Loveday Morris explains that with the Iraqis dependent on their own logistics, there is a shortage of weapons and ammunition, and the U.S. training is focused on the will to fight. [Washington Post]

CUBA

Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson will lead the U.S. delegation to Cuba later this month, with talks to focus on migration and reestablishing diplomatic ties between the two countries. [AP]

Cuba released more than two dozen prisoners yesterday, some of whom are believed to be among the 53 dissidents agreed to be freed as part of normalizing relations with the United States. [New York Times’ Randal C. Archibold]

The Washington Post editorial board “favor[s] a conditions-based engagement strategy” with Cuba, and is critical of the administration’s efforts thus far on the release of Cuba’s political prisoners.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Al-Qaeda militants in Syria are “planning mass casualty attacks against the West,” the head of Britain’s MI5 Security Service warned yesterday. [Reuters’ Guy Faulconbridge]

The administration’s strategy for dealing with homegrown terrorists is under attack, with critics suggesting the plan has “been halfheartedly implemented, produced bureaucratic turf fights, lacks funding and does little to make Americans safer,” reports Michael Crowley. [Politico]

The ICC may be close to opening an initial investigation into last summer’s Gaza war, Al Jazeera has learned. The news follows the Palestinian ambassador’s announcement yesterday that the Court can begin examining war crimes allegations immediately, based on Palestine’s formal acceptance of the Court’s jurisdiction starting June 13, 2014.

A more forceful response to countries that carry out cyberattacks is required, NSA Director Michael Rogers argued yesterday, stating that hackers believe there is “little price to pay” for stealing data. [Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta]

The Pentagon will request a 20 percent reduction in war funding for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, the smallest number to be requested for the Overseas Contingency Operations since the 9/11 attacks, according to officials and congressional aides. [Bloomberg News’ Tony Capaccio]

The Pentagon announced a broad rearrangement of American installations and forces in Europe, expected to save the government more than $500 million annually “while maintaining capability and commitments” across the continent. [DoD News]  The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock has more details.

The Nigerian town of Baga faced a fresh Boko Haram assault this week, after the militants overran an important military base in the area over the weekend. Almost the entire town has been torched, and the gunmen have turned to neighboring areas, officials tell the BBC.

Egypt is preparing to eradicate the border town of Rafah in an effort to complete a security zone along the Gaza strip, following militant attacks on Egyptian security in the region. [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim]

The Pentagon sought to counter criticisms of its $400 billion stealth jet, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which it said were based on “sourceless/baseless” reporting. [The Daily Beast’s Dave Majumdar].

Abu Hamza al-Masri is due to be sentenced by a U.S. district court today; the radical British imam was convicted last year of terrorism charges, including attempting to establish an al-Qaeda training camp in Oregon. [Reuters’ Joseph Ax]

The continued detention of Guantanamo’s 35 “forever prisoners” remains a key obstacle to President Obama’s aim of closing the prison, writes Jenifer Fenton. [Al Jazeera America]

North Korea appears to have made substantial progress toward developing a missile-launching submarine, reports Rick Gladstone. [New York Times]

Isma’il Kushkush reports on the Sudan peace talks, exploring why negotiations collapsed in December and the chances of the peace process regaining momentum later this month. [New York Times]

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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