News Roundup and Notes: January 13, 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.

IRAQ and SYRIA

The Twitter and Youtube accounts of U.S. Central Command were hacked on Monday by cyber vandals claiming to be supporters of the Islamic State. @CENTCOM tweeted out messages sympathetic to the Islamic State and threatened attacks on U.S. military personnel. [Central Command; The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman]  Defense officials are skeptical that the attack was in fact conducted by ISIS, and the “Cyber Caliphate may be more of a ruse than a group of hardline Islamic extremists,” report Jacob Siegel and Nancy A. Youssef. [The Daily Beast]

A suicide attack in a town north of Baghdad killed 12 Shi’ite militiamen and Iraqi soldiers yesterday, sparking a battle between government forces and militants of the Islamic State. [AP]

Libyan militants claiming to be part of the Islamic State said they were holding 21 Egyptian Christians captive, raising concerns about the terrorist group’s broadening influence beyond Iraq and Syria. [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. The U.S. and Coalition forces carried out 11 strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria yesterday. Separately, the U.S. and Coalition military conducted a further 16 airstrikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

A group of senators has written to the Iraqi prime minister calling on him to ensure the supply of aid to the country’s Kurdish minority in the north of Iraq, currently embattled against the Islamic State. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

PARIS ATTACKS

French authorities are hunting for possible accomplices of the gunmen responsible for terrorist attacks in Paris last week. The search takes place as footage is released of Hayat Boumeddiene, the partner of Amedy Coulibaly, at immigration in Istanbul airport on Jan. 2. [The Guardian’s Alexandra Topping and Julian Borger]

French prosecutors are looking into whether the gunman in Friday’s attack, Amedy Coulibaly, was originally intending to attack a Jewish school before allegedly shooting a policewoman in the Parisian suburbs. [Wall Street Journal’s Noemie Bisserbe and Inti Landauro]

“Were the shooters part of a global terrorist conspiracy?” Jeremy Scahill considers the evidence and notes that “it is unlikely that AQAP and ISIS at a high level agreed to cooperate on such a mission.” [The Intercept]

The Department of Homeland Security has heightened security measures, including more random searches of airline passengers and security at federal buildings, in the wake of the Paris attacks. [Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Grossman]

The White House conceded it should have “sent someone with a higher profile” to the weekend unity rally in Paris. [The Hill’s Justin Sink]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

President Obama previewed a set of privacy and data security policies yesterday, following a year of several high profile cyberattacks and hacks. Katy Bachman reports that the president’s legislative proposals are “a long shot in Congress” while his “voluntary industry initiatives lack enforcement teeth.” [Politico]

The administration plans to offer liability protection to companies in exchange for sharing cyber threat data, as part of its broader efforts to prevent cyberattacks. [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima and Katie Zezima]

U.K. intelligence agencies should have the authority to break into encrypted communications of suspected terrorists to prevent any Charlie Hebdo-style attacks in Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron has said. The proposed legislation has been met with criticism by Coalition partner Nick Clegg, who warned against serious encroachments on the freedom of British citizens. [The Guardian’s Nicholas Watt et al]  The Guardian editorial board suggests that “snooping on everybody shreds the implicit consent on which all effective government activity … must rest.”

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani unveiled his unity cabinet, subject to parliamentary approval, yesterday. The Afghanistan Analysts Network offers an overview of the “reasonably new set of faces” and the “lack of the sort of ‘commander heavy-weight types’” from previous administrations.

Former President Hamid Karzai talks to the Wall Street Journal, detailing his view of the complicated U.S.-Afghan ties and the possibility of breakthrough on the Taliban peace process.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

President Obama “reiterated” the U.S. position that the Palestinian Authority “does not yet constitute a state,” and that Palestinian accession to the ICC is not a “constructive way forward,” during a phone call yesterday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The New York trial has begun in a $1 billion lawsuit brought by victims of terrorist attacks in Israel against the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, 11 years after the lawsuit was filed. [AP’s Larry Neumeister]

GUANTÁNAMO BAY

The moral, legal, strategic, and financial reasons to close the Guantánamo prison are detailed by Retired Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert, the first commander of the detention facility. [Politico Magazine]

Eight of the first 20 Guantánamo detainees remain captive, five of whom have been approved for transfer. Carol Rosenberg takes a look at what the whittling down of the detainee population says about the prison, now in its 14th year of operation. [Miami Herald]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Reporter James Risen will not be called to testify at the leak trial of former CIA official Jeffrey Sterling, bringing an end to the legal battle over whether Risen could be compelled to identify his confidential sources. [New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo]

Defense Secretary nominee Ash Carter has chosen a small team to help prepare for the confirmation process. Gordon Lubold offers details about Carter’s transition team. [Defense One]

Pakistan must fight all terror groups that pose a threat to the country, its neighbors, and the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry urged yesterday during a visit to Islamabad. [Reuters’ Arshad Mohammed]

Sustained efforts from Western states to stem the flow of citizens travelling to conflict zones to join jihadist causes have done “relatively little to reduce the threat.” Eric Schmitt and Michael S. Schmidt consider the increasing numbers and indications that “the signature tactics of terrorist groups are shifting in a menacing way.” [New York Times]  The New York Times “Room for Debate” considers how governments should deal with returning jihadists.

The government response to recent extremist activity, including in Australia, Europe, Canada, and the U.S., is summarized by the AP.

WikiLeaks is more “important than ever,” even if not perfect, particularly in this age of mass surveillance, explains Antony Loewenstein. [The Guardian]

A summit on the conflict in Ukraine will not be held on Thursday. A joint statement from Germany, Russia, Ukraine, and France cited the failure to effectively implement the four-month old truce. [Reuters]

Nigeria estimated the deaths in last week’s Baga assault by Boko Haram militants at no more than 150, despite the previous estimate of 2,000 deaths from local officials and others. The government has however been criticized for downplaying casualty figures in the past. [BBC]

Libya could become “the Middle East’s second war zone,” which, much like Syria, is likely to strengthen jihadists and “destabiliz[e] neighboring countries,” warns the Washington Post editorial board.

The only remaining conviction against Hosni Mubarak has been overturned by a court in Egypt. A retrial has been ordered in the embezzlement case against the former president, paving the way for his potential release. [Reuters]

The friend of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects will plead guilty to charges of deleting computer files and lying to the FBI. [AP’s Denise Lavoie]

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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