News Roundup and Notes: February 27, 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 U.S.-led coalition carried out five airstrikes on Thursday targeting ISIS in northeastern Syria, where the group has abducted more than 250 Christians, a U.S. military spokesperson said. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum and Matt Bradley]

A profile of Mohammed Emwazi, the Kuwait-born, London man who was until now known as “Jihadi John,” is provided by BBC and the Washington Post’s Souad Mekhennet et al. Emwazi, who was well known to British counterterrorism authorities since 2009-2010, previously claimed that MI5 agents had tried to recruit him.

ISIS militants are shown to be destroying ancient artifacts at a museum in Mosul, Iraq, in a video released by the group yesterday. [New York Times’ Kareem Shaheen]

Cracks are appearing within ISIS, with divisions and confrontation between foreign fighters and local tribesman in a number of Iraqi provinces, reports Dalshad Abdullah for Asharq Al-Awsat.

The UN Security Council was briefed on the humanitarian situation in Syria yesterday by two top UN relief officials, who called for greater global assistance in dealing with the crisis. [UN News Centre]

The arrest of three Brooklyn men on charges of plotting to join or assist the Islamic State demonstrates the “increasing importance of ‘threat intelligence’ harvested from the cyber world,” argues Mitchell D. Silber, former director of intelligence analysis for the NYPD. [Wall Street Journal]

IRAN

Iran and six major powers are approaching agreement after more than a decade of diplomatic efforts, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a Wall Street Journal interview yesterday. Senior U.S. officials said progress was made this week during talks, though concerns remain over gaps, reports Laurence Norman.

Senate leaders from both parties will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his trip to Washington next week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid will meet the Israeli leader after his address to a joint session of Congress where he will discuss the Iranian nuclear threat. [The Hill’s Mark Hensch]

National security adviser Susan E. Rice and U.S. ambassador to the UN Samantha Power will address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee at its conference in Washington next week, as relations between the U.S. and Israel sour over Iran nuclear talks. [New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis]

A nuclear accord which bans enrichment and dismantles Iran’s existing enrichment facilities would be the best outcome, but such an agreement is “not attainable,” writes Robert Einhorn. He cautions that those like “Netanyahu who have opposed any agreement except on terms that cannot be realized should not engage in wishful thinking about the likelihood of such alternative approaches succeeding.” [New York Times]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

The truce in Ukraine’s east appeared to hold as the military withdrew weaponry from the frontlines for a second day, while Ukrainian officials said today that the situation on the ground was “relatively calm” overnight. [Bloomberg News’ Volodymyr Verbyany]

Russian-backed separatists are likely to continue their incursion through Ukraine, DNI James Clapper said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday. Clapper also warned that the Russian cyberthreat “is more severe than we have previously assessed.” [Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta]

A top Chinese diplomat expressed support for Russia yesterday, stating that Western countries should take into account Moscow’s security fears over Ukraine and should “abandon the zero-sum mentality” with Russia. [Reuters]

Britain’s decision to send 75 military trainers to Ukraine, as agreed at the NATO summit last September, is likely to be “too little and too late to have any real influence on the course of the conflict,” according to The Economist.

Ukraine has sent $15 million for Russian gas payment, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said, only days after Moscow said it would cut off supplies for non-payment. [Reuters’ Olesya Astakhova]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Saudi Arabian man Khaled al-Fawwaz has been found guilty by a federal jury of participating in an al-Qaeda conspiracy which resulted in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa. [Wall Street Journal’s Nicole Hong]

Terror suspect Abid Naseer testified in his own defense at his Brooklyn trial this week and came off as “exceptionally well organized and sharp,” but “started to falter” by the end of the second day, reports Stephanie Clifford. [New York Times]

The U.S. is improving in its ability to detect cyberattacks already taking place, although the threat posed by such attacks is multiplying and consequentially, the U.S. will face cumulative costs from a series of low-to-moderate level attacks, said DNI James Clapper during his annual testimony yesterday. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris]

An obscure group calling itself the Popular Resistance Movement claimed responsibility for a wave of explosions close to Cairo early yesterday, raising concerns over the growing threat posed by a range of previously unknown groups. [New York Times’ Merna Thomas and David D. Kirkpatrick]  David Ignatius expresses agreement with Obama’s policy on Egypt, saying that the “risks of letting Egypt slide are simply too great for a responsible administration to ignore.” [Washington Post]

Bombings in two north Nigerian towns left at least 35 people dead yesterday, reports AFP.

The Economist considers the impact of the ECHR ruling on CIA interrogation at a Polish black site, suggesting that despite a likely lack of accountability within the CIA, “European countries, and their security agencies, need to respect the rule of law.”

Families of 9/11 victims who have watched the trials at Guantanamo express mixed feelings of the experience. David Welna speaks to some families, whose combined experience raises questions of “justice, humanity and the ethics of the death penalty.” [NPR]

The Yemeni Houthi leader accused Saudi Arabia of financing armed opponents and attempting to divide the country yesterday, a statement reflective of the “frustration by the rebel movement at its deepening isolation,” write Shuaib Almosawa and Kareem Fahim. [New York Times]

This is the longest time period without a U.S. military death in a combat zone since 9/11; on Thursday it had been 76 days since the last fatality. [Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe]

Efforts to stop homegrown terrorism will not work “without addressing the ease with which would-be terrorists in the United States can obtain firearms and explosives;” Mary Lewis Grow notes that being on the terror watch list in the U.S. is not a prohibited purchaser category. [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