News Roundup and Notes: January 30, 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

Japan and Jordan are working together closely to establish the fate of the Japanese journalist and Jordanian pilot held hostage by the Islamic State. Jordan said yesterday that it was still detaining the convicted Iraqi terrorist, as the deadline set for her release by the militant group passed yesterday. [Reuters] Jordan demanded proof that its captured pilot is still alive before it goes ahead with the possible prisoner exchange, following an urgent ministerial meeting yesterday. [The Guardian’s Justin McCurry and Martin Chulov]

Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has warned that the international coalition against the Islamic State is inadequate and predicted that a campaign to retake Mosul in northern Iraq would not happen until at least the fall. [Reuters’ Samia Nakhoul et al]

Dozens of Iraqi Sunnis are said to have been killed by government-allied Shi’ite militiamen this week. A spokesperson for the prime minister said that the claims are being investigated. [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim]

Belgian forces have detained four people following a series of raids across the country today, part of a bid to dismantle a jihadist cell suspected of recruiting fighters for Syria. [Reuters]

Mike Giglio speaks to an ISIS operative in Turkey about the militant group’s efforts to smuggle covert fighters to the West. [Buzzfeed News]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and Coalition military forces carried out six airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 28. Separately, U.S. and partner nations conducted a further 12 strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

AFGHANISTAN

A shooting incident at a military base at Kabul’s international airport killed three American civilian contractors and an Afghan national yesterday. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, stating the gunman had infiltrated the ranks of the Afghan security forces. [Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan and Missy Ryan] 

The “unvarnished truth” about U.S.-funded efforts in Afghanistan must be available to the American public, writes the New York Times editorial board, commenting on the new classification guidelines.

YEMEN

The U.S. is finding it increasingly difficult to obtain intelligence to run its drone program in Yemen, following the Houthi takeover of parts of the country’s security apparatus, say U.S. officials. These intelligence gaps could potentially affect the U.S. fight against AQAP. [Reuters’ Mark Hosenball et al]

Washington is engaging with Houthi rebels on security issues, as well as some political matters, according to State Department spokesman, Edgar Vasquez speaking Wednesday. [New York Times’ Mona El-Naggar]

Disappeared U.S. citizen Sharif Mobley, who has been detained in Yemen since 2010, managed to call home after Houthi rebels took over the prison where he is held; Alice Speri provides details regarding Mobley’s capture and present situation. [VICE News]

EGYPT

A string of attacks by Islamist militants in the northern part of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula have killed at least 26 people, mainly soldiers. Militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which has changed its name since pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, has claimed responsibility for the series of attacks. [BBC]

The Washington Post editorial board criticizes the White House for its complacency on Egypt’s regime led by Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, writing that “by ignoring his brutality and resuming bilateral business as usual, the Obama administration is making a bad bet.”

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

EU foreign ministers agreed to extend existing sanctions against Russia until September, but did not make any decisions on imposing new broader sanctions on Moscow at Thursday’s meeting in Brussels. [BBC]

A new round of negotiations on the Ukraine crisis will take place in Minsk today amid continued fighting in the country’s east; officials said 12 people had been killed in the past 24 hours. [Al Jazeera]  Meanwhile, Washington and Moscow are discussing a potential visit by Secretary of State John Kerry to Russia to discuss the crisis, according to diplomatic sources. [Reuters]

ISRAEL

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reaching out to leading Democrats in an attempt to ease criticism over his scheduled address to Congress on the Iran nuclear negotiations, but has had little success so far, report Carl Hulse and Jeremy W. Peters. [New York Times]

Netanyahu “may find himself abandoned and defenseless in the international arena” if reelected, in light of the Congress speech scandal, writes Barak Ravid. [Haaretz]

GUANTANAMO BAY

One of the five 9/11 defendants may be tried separately so that the military commission proceedings can resume. The issue will be dealt with as first order of business at a Feb. 9 hearing at the Navy base. [AP]

An Iraqi detainee’s request not to be handled by female guards has been framed by the Guantanamo war court prosecutor as part of an al-Qaeda “conspiracy,” who requested that the court find in favor of the government. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

One of the five Taliban insurgents released from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl last year is suspected of attempting to return to militant activity, several officials tell CNN, reports Barbara Starr.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah have eased as Israel said the Lebanon-based group asked for a cease-fire through UN intermediaries. [Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Mitnick et al] Meanwhile, the Israeli drilling operation for Hezbollah tunnels continues despite the reduced tensions. [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]

A bomb blast at a Shi’ite mosque in southern Pakistan has killed at least 33 people today; it is not yet clear who is responsible for the attack. [Dawn]

The White House has taken little action on surveillance reform despite agreeing to many suggested proposals, according to a report from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

The new director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service is the recent head of the Special Activities Division, the agency’s elite paramilitary force. While station chief in Afghanistan, the officer was credited with saving the life of Hamid Karzai, who went on to become president. [AP’s Ken Dilanian]

An underground terror network helps would-be jihadists in Europe; Noemie Bisserbe et al discuss the route taken to Syria and assistance received by Hayat Boumeddiene, the wife of Paris attack gunman Amedy Coulibaly. [Wall Street Journal]

The Senate Banking Committee passed the Iran sanctions bill yesterday that would impose sanctions should a comprehensive agreement on the country’s nuclear program not be reached by the June 30 deadline. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

Chad’s military forces have driven Boko Haram out of a town in northeastern Nigeria, according to a senior official from Niger. [BBC]  The African Union has called for a five-nation regional force of 7,500 troops to battle the “horrendous” rise of Boko Haram, the AU Commission chief said today. [Al Jazeera]

Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch will face a set of challenges “so daunting she could wonder why she wanted the job;” Josh Gerstein breaks down the top 5 challenges she will face in the position, including cybercrime and surveillance v privacy. [Politico]

U.S. lawmakers are questioning whether the reform of the Secret Service should have included the ouster of the agency’s influential second in command, the highest-ranking official to survive the managerial shakeups. [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig]

The UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia will deliver the final verdict on the case of five men convicted in relation to the Srebrenica massacre. [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