News Roundup and Notes: January 29, 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

ISIS has set a deadline of sunset today for the release of a convicted terrorist in Jordan, after Jordan agreed to exchange her in return for a Jordanian pilot held hostage by the militants. The fate of a Japanese hostage has been “thrown into confusion” by recent developments, report Justin McCurry and Martin Chulov. [The Guardian]  Japan has said it is placing its trust in Jordan to assist in the release of its citizen, Kenji Goto. [AP]

ISIS has announced an expansion into “Khurasan,” an area encompassing Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of India, naming a breakaway Pakistani Taliban leader as the region’s commander. The expansion comes four months after al-Qaeda announced its South Asian wing. [Hindustan Times’ Rezaul H Laskar]

Islamic State offshoots in countries such as Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, and Libya function autonomously, but are setting up increasingly close ties with the Islamic State leadership in Syria, according to diplomats and security officials. [Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov]

An Islamic State-related terror cell is soliciting for Bitcoins as part of its fundraising efforts, according to research by an Israeli cyber-analyst. The revelation forms part of a wider trend of extremist groups using the “dark web” to avoid detection by authorities, reports Danna Harman. [Haaretz]

Iraqi Sunnis in areas reclaimed by Kurds from the Islamic State are wary, concerned that because they come from the same ethnic group as the militants they will be treated as collaborators. [AP]

A notorious Islamic State militant, who was featured in a video purporting to show a boy execute two prisoners, has been killed in battle, according to a counterterrorism official. [ABC News’ James Gordon Meek and Lee Ferran]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. The U.S. and Coalition military forces conducted 13 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 27. Separately, the U.S. and partner nations carried out a further six strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

GUANTÁNAMO BAY

Cuban President Raul Castro said the U.S. must return the military base at Guantanamo Bay and lift the trade embargo on his country before relations between the two nations can be normalized. [AP’s Javier Cordoba and Michael Weissenstein]

No touching of detainee by female guards. A military judge has been asked to expand his order on the issue beyond legal meetings to cover Iraqi detainee Abd al Hadi al Iraqi’s Red Cross, medical, and recreation visits. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

Canada’s surveillance agency is monitoring millions of Internet users’ downloads from popular websites used to share photographs, videos, and other files, in a bid to detect extremist plots and suspects. The program, codenamed LEVITATION, can monitor downloads in many countries across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and North America, according to documents obtained from Edward Snowden. [CBC News’ Amber Hildebrandt et al; The Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher and Glenn Greenwald]

Senators expressed optimism about the cyber info sharing bill, following a Senate hearing on the issue yesterday. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

ISRAEL and HEZBOLLAH

The Israeli-Lebanese frontier is calm today although Israel remains on high alert following the escalation yesterday between the two sides. [AP]  France 24 provides details of the exchange.

A UN peacekeeper was killed close to the site of Israel-Lebanon crossfire yesterday; UNIFIL has launched an investigation into the death. [UN News Centre]  Two Israeli soldiers were also killed during one of the most violent clashes between Israel and Hezbollah since the war in 2006. [Reuters’ Jeffrey Heller and Sylvia Westall]

Israel says it received a message from Hezbollah today saying that the group was backing away from further violence. [Reuters]

Hezbollah’s response to the recent airstrike in Syria seems “calculated and limited,” according to Amos Harel, who notes that neither side appears interested in all-out war. [Haaretz]  Murtaza Hussain offers a number of factors which may serve to keep both parties from further escalating the situation at The Intercept.

AFGHANISTAN

Taliban attacks across Afghanistan killed at least 17 people overnight and this morning, according to officials. The deadliest of the attacks took place in Ghazni province where insurgents attacked a police checkpoint, killing 11 members of a pro-government militia. [AP]

The Afghan parliament has approved the appointment of several key ministerial candidates, easing the way for President Ghani’s plans to overhaul the country’s government. [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati]

Information regarding U.S. efforts to bolster the Afghan army and police forces is now considered classified, despite previously being a subject regularly and openly discussed, reports Matthew Rosenberg. [New York Times]

Militants driven out of Pakistan by a military offensive have moved into Afghanistan, heightening security concerns in the already fragile country. [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati and Habib Khan Totakhil]

The White House is distinguishing between Afghanistan’s Taliban and the Islamic State by describing the former as an “armed insurgency” rather than a terrorist group. [Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau]

NIGERIA

More than 40 people have been killed this week in northeastern Nigeria as Islamic extremists “rampage” through villages, reports the AP. Witnesses report that there has been no presence of troops countering the attacks.

Nigeria’s top military officers were “repeatedly” warned about Boko Haram attacks on Baga and Monguno earlier this month but failed to take action, according to Amnesty International.

Nigeria’s government must tackle “misrule and endemic corruption” in order to have any chance of defeating Boko Haram, writes The Economist.

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

EU foreign ministers are due to meet in Brussels to deliberate imposing further sanctions on Russia, in the wake of the attack on the Ukrainian port of Mariupol last weekend. [BBC]

Ukrainian authorities have imposed new border restrictions to halt movement to and from rebel areas in light of the recent surge in violence in the country’s east. [New York Times’ Rick Lyman and Andrew E. Kramer]

Ukraine’s “crisis” is “a war” in reality, writes The Economist, noting President Obama’s limited options.

Chinese money appears to be fueling Moscow’s “quasi-imperial plans” for the region, explains Gordon G. Chang. [The Daily Beast]

IRAN

Iran’s newly appointed UN ambassador is expected to receive a U.S. visa to take up his post, according to diplomat sources; Iran’s first choice had been rejected by Washington last year over his suspected role in the 1979 hostage crisis. [Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau and Parisa Hafezi]

Rep. Nancy Pelosi has warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his decision to speak before Congress threatens to undermine nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5 +1. [The Hill’s Mike Lillis]  Jeremy W. Peters writes that the GOP’s invitation to Netanyahu had the “unintended effect” of helping Obama rally Democrats as his administration negotiates on a nuclear accord. [New York Times]

The “drumbeat of war does not lead to successful diplomacy,” writes Hamid Babaei of the Iranian mission to the UN, responding to calls that tougher action should be taken against Iran. [Politico Magazine]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Two Yemeni soldiers were killed by suspected al-Qaeda militants while on patrol in the oil-rich Marib province. [Reuters]  Haykal Bafana explores the political chaos in the country, noting that the “Yemen model has been replaced by the Houthi model, with its simple adage: Violence pays.” [New York Times]

The FBI is investigating Twitter bomb threats against U.S. airlines, with at least 20 different passenger planes being targeted since Saturday. [NBC News’ Andrew Blankstein and Tom Winter]

Drones are increasingly being used as a tool by criminals and terrorists, raising concerns among authorities who say the small devices are difficult to detect. [Wall Street Journal’s Jack Nicas]

The White House grounds are sufficiently protected from the threat of a drone attack, a Secret Service spokesperson said on Wednesday, only days after a small recreational drone crashed on the South Lawn. [The Hill’s Justin Sink]

A farewell ceremony for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was held at the Pentagon yesterday. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

The Pentagon is urging NATO and other allies to collaborate on developing more innovative weapons, in an effort to remain ahead of speedy weapons development by countries such as China and Russia. [Reuters’ Andrea Shalal]

Members of the House committee on Benghazi are continuing to clash; Chairman Trey Gowdy’s decision to move ahead with almost two dozen subpoena requests for State Department witnesses has been criticized as an “unnecessary and abusive plan” by the Democrats on the committee. [Politico’s Lauren French]

Congress is “abdicating its role” on national security policymaking; Matt Bennett and Mieke Eoyang explain why at Politico Magazine.

The Sri Lankan government is planning a fresh inquiry into human rights abuses during the last stages of the 26-year civil war, a spokesperson for the new government said yesterday. [Reuters]

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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