News Roundup and Notes: February 4, 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 Islamic State released a video purporting to show Jordanian pilot Lieutenant Muadh al-Kasasbeh being burned alive yesterday. Christopher Dickey and Shane Harris provide an analysis of the graphic video at The Daily Beast.  Promising an “earth-shaking response,” Jordan swiftly executed two convicted terrorists, including Sajida al-Rishawi, the female Iraqi terrorist that the Islamic State had demanded be released in exchange for Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, who was later beheaded. [ReutersBBC]

The video’s release was met with widespread condemnation. Jordan’s King Abdullah II told U.S. officials yesterday that the “gloves are off” in the fight against terrorism following the murder of the Jordanian pilot. [Al-Monitor’s Julian Pecquet]  President Obama commended the service of Lieutenant al-Kasasbeh and called for a united coalition in the wake of his death to ensure the defeat of the ISIS “scourge.”  Secretary of State John Kerry noted that the murder acts as a reminder “that this foe has no agenda other than to kill and destroy.”  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged governments to strengthen their efforts to combat terrorism and extremism within the bounds of their human rights obligations, and the Security Council emphasized the importance of holding those responsible to account. [UN News Centre]

Lieutenant al-Kasasbeh may have been executed a month ago. Multiple national security officials and terrorism experts concluded that al-Kasasbeh was killed weeks before the footage was aired yesterday. This would not be the first time that the Islamic State has tried to create the illusion that hostages are still alive; Shane Harris provides further details. [The Daily Beast]

The first of Syria’s 12 chemical weapon production facilities has been destroyed, reports the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The U.A.E. disengaged from the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State in December, citing concerns over the safety of its pilots after the Jordanian pilot was captured, according to U.S. officials speaking yesterday. The U.A.E. is demanding the Pentagon improve search-and-rescue efforts, and will not reengage until V-22 Ospreys are used in northern Iraq. [New York Times’ Helene Cooper]

The U.S. hopes to nearly double its assistance to Jordan over the coming two years as the country struggles to cope with domestic issues and overspill from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh signed an agreement yesterday to increase aid from $660 million to $1 billion per year. [AP]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and Coalition military forces carried out five airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 2. Separately, U.S. and partner nations conducted a further nine strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

The approach used by law enforcement to tackle business cartels may offer an alternative model to the current U.S. policy on terrorist kidnappers and ransom payments, David McAdams writes at the New York Times.

The Iraqi Sinjar region “will continue to be the scene of a struggle for political and military domination between rival Kurdish forces,” even if the area is freed from ISIS control. Fehim Tastekin explains the fraught relations and lack of unity within communities fighting the Islamic State in northern Iraq. [Al-Monitor]

Syrian activist Alise Mofrej describes her experience of being detained by the Assad regime and calls on the international community to tackle the “catastrophic brutality in Syria.” [New York Times]

Canadian authorities arrested one man and charged two others with terrorism offences related to militant activity in Iraq and Syria. [Canadian Press]

Two Belgians killed by police last month in the anti-terror raid previously fought with an Islamic State-allied group in Syria, according to a Twitter account linked with the group. [Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Dalton]

The head of the British inquiry into the Iraq War rejected calls to set a timetable for publication and said that the inquiry was “unprecedented in scope,” with no “realistic prospect” of being released before the country’s general election in May. [BBC]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, AND TECHNOLOGY

The administration announced new rules on how intelligence agencies collect and hold data yesterday. Among other “modest” changes, the rules require analysts to immediately delete incidental private data collected on U.S. citizens that “lack foreign intelligence value.” Similar data on foreigners must be deleted after five years. [Newsweek’s Lauren Walker]

The changes “fall short of NSA reformers’ goals,” write Dan Roberts and Dominic Rushe, who outline the “limited list of tweaks” to the surveillance programs. [The Guardian]

The reform’s achievement, according to Gopal Ratnam, is that it “extend[s] to foreigners the same protections available to Americans.” [Foreign Policy’s The Cable]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Ukraine is evacuating civilians from Debaltseve, an important junction town, as fighting worsens in the country’s east. [Bloomberg News]  A shell hit a hospital in the rebel-held city of Donetsk, killing at least four people today. [BBC]

The U.S. must alter its response to Russian aggression, a bipartisan group of senators said in a letter to President Obama, calling for “an immediate infusion of effective defensive military equipment and financial aid.” [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

The conflict “has been turned into a war of attrition” and could continue indefinitely, warns David Satter, who makes the case for “maximum deterrence” on part of the U.S. and West. [Wall Street Journal]

ISRAEL

A former New York State Supreme Court justice has been chosen to lead the inquiry into possible war crimes in Gaza, after the inquiry’s chairman resigned following accusations of bias by Israel. [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce]

Vice President Joe Biden, along with dozens of House Democrats, is unwilling to commit to attending Benjamin Netanyahu’s congressional address next month, report Edward-Isaac Dovere and Jake Sherman. [Politico]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family funded al-Qaeda in the late 1990s, according to the testimony of a former operative of the terrorist group. The Saudi embassy dismissed the allegations, stating that the national 9/11 commission had rejected claims that the country had funded al-Qaeda. [New York Times’ Scott Shane]

Ashton Carter will face his confirmation hearing today. The defense secretary nominee will be a “stickler for the chain of command” if confirmed by the Senate, according to Carter’s prepared opening statement. [Politico’s Jeremy Herb and Philip Ewing]  Dion Nissenbaum writes that Carter will have to confront immediate difficulties in Iraq and Ukraine which will “test his willingness to push more aggressive military strategies” that might be opposed by the president. [Wall Street Journal]

The White House executive action on cybersecurity, facilitating information sharing with the private sector, is likely to be released on Feb. 13. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

Chadian troops have crossed into Nigeria to assist the fight against Boko Haram militants. [BBC]  Meanwhile, reports indicate that Nigerian troops surrounded around 6,000 militants in Borno state last night. [Naij News]

Iraq, Yemen, and Nigeria have in common the “rampant corruption of their ruling elites.” Sarah Chayes explains the correlation between corruption and the high rates of extremism present in these countries. [Reuters]

Armed men in central Libya have stormed the al-Mabrook oilfield, with fighters allied to the two rival governments in control of different parts of the oilfield. [Reuters]

Egypt fired warning shots into Gaza after a bomb detonated on Gaza land near an Egyptian army convoy yesterday. A bomb in Alexandria killed one man earlier in the day, while another exploded in Cairo and two more were discovered at Cairo’s airport. [Reuters]

North Korea accused the U.S. of planning to “bring down” its regime earlier today, threatening to retaliate using all its military power. [Reuters]

If you want to receive your news directly to your inbox, sign up here for the Just Security Early Edition. For the latest information from Just Security, follow us on Twitter (@just_security) and join the conversation on Facebook. To submit news articles and notes for inclusion in our daily post, please email us at news@justsecurity.org. Don’t forget to visit The Pipeline for a preview of upcoming events and blog posts on U.S. national security. 

Filed under:
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