News Roundup and Notes: April 20, 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 new video purporting to show the execution of dozens of Ethiopian Christians by militants attached to an Islamic State affiliate in Libya on Sunday. If authenticated, the video would be the first evidence of Islamic State leaders in Iraq and Syria coordinating with affiliated fighters in southern and eastern Libya. [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick]

Fighting between ISIS and Iraqi forces around Ramadi has triggered a humanitarian crisis with some 90,000 civilians displaced over the past few days, the UN said on Sunday. [Wall Street Journal’s Matt Bradley]

Documents uncovered in Syria reveal the structure and organization of the Islamic State. Der Spiegel has gained exclusive access to documents belonging to one of Saddam Hussein’s former intelligence officers who reportedly masterminded the Islamic State’s takeover of northern Syria. The files reveal meticulous planning by Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi – known by the pseudonym Haji Bakr – and the use of techniques including surveillance, espionage, murder and kidnapping.

DNA tests are said to have confirmed the death of Ezzat al-Douri, according to an Iraqi Shi’ite militia group on Sunday. Douri was one of Saddam Hussein’s most trusted allies and was ranked by the U.S. as the sixth most wanted Iraqi after the 2003 invasion. [Reuters]  The BBC profiles Douri, also known as the “King of Clubs.”

Australia and Iran will share intelligence concerning Australians fighting with militant groups in Iraq; the deal is said to help both countries in the fight against the Islamic State, according to Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. [BBC]

A Belgian parliamentary delegation met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on March 24, expressing support for the regime; Jean Aziz writes that trips such as these “convey different political, security, popular and civil messages.” [Al Monitor’s Jean Aziz]

Iraq’s Shi’ite militia groups mobilized to fight the Islamic State in the wake of the collapse of Iraq’s security forces last year, becoming key players in operations against the militant group, but have come under harsh criticism for alleged human rights abuses, reports Ranj Alaaldin. [BBC]

Six youths were arrested on Sunday in Minneapolis and San Diego, accused of having travelled or tried to travel to Syria to fight with militant groups, including the Islamic State. [AP]

“Syria’s four-year-long descent into hell, amply foretold and arguably the most preventable” of recent calamities, has prompted little concrete response from the U.S. and the international community, writes Fred Hiatt, criticizing the Obama administration’s “assertive defense of inaction.” [Washington Post]

YEMEN

The leader of Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, vowed to defy the Saudi-led campaign on Sunday, saying that Saudi efforts to “humiliate” his country were doomed to fail. No indication was given by Houthi as to whether he was open to negotiations or willing to agree to a ceasefire. [New York Times’ Mohammed Ali Kalfood and Kareem Fahim]

Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyad Yassin reiterated his government’s rejection of Iran’s four-point peace plan proposal to the UN, adding that “Iran is involved in the situation which Yemen has reached.” [Al Arabiya News]  Meanwhile, the political party of ex-Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh welcomed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in the country, saying it would “respond positively” to it. [AP]

A “collective forum for dialogue in the Persian Gulf region” must be established, writes Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, calling for “long overdue” engagement to address the causes of turmoil in the region, including Yemen. [New York Times]

A U.S. drone strike killed three suspected al-Qaeda militants on Sunday in eastern Yemen, according to a local tribal chief. [Al Arabiya News]

Oxfam has condemned a Saudi airstrike in Yemen which it claims hit one of its stores of humanitarian supplies in Saada, a northern Houthi stronghold. [Reuters]

The U.S. Navy has positioned seven combat ships in the waters around Yemen, though American troops are not engaging in the Saudi naval blockade, U.S. officials said Friday. [Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe]

The sale of U.S. military hardware is fueling the conflicts of Arab states, resulting in a “boom for American defense contractors” as well as the “prospect of a dangerous new arms race in a region where the map of alliances has been sharply redrawn,” write Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper. [New York Times]

Saudi Arabia is “facing a quagmire” in Yemen, with widespread debate over the war’s justifications amid Pakistan’s rejection of a Saudi request to join the coalition. [Al Monitor]

A group of Yemen academic scholars based in the U.S. and U.K. published an open letter protesting the Saudi-led air campaign against Houthi rebels, denouncing the war as “illegal under international law” and calling for a Security Council resolution “demanding an immediate, unconditional ceasefire.” [Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing this week on verification of an emerging deal with Tehran, following last week’s Senate panel vote on an Iran bill allowing congressional review of a final accord. [Al-Monitor’s Julian Pecquet]  Sen. Ben Cardin argued that the new bill places President Obama “in a stronger position” in the negotiations with Iran, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union.”  Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham said on “Fox News Sunday” that there is no chance Congress will approve the “deteriorating” nuclear deal.

President Obama said that the specifics of how sanctions are lifted will be drafted in a way that allows Tehran “to make a presentation to their body politic that is more acceptable,” while also addressing all of the administration’s concerns. [Politico’s Sarah Wheaton]  The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes that these comments, made on Friday, offer further proof that Obama keeps giving into Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s demands, paving the way to a deal that “confers Western blessing on Iran as a nuclear-threshold state.”

Israeli analysts have expressed shock at President Obama’s “stated openness” on the Iranian demand for the immediate lifting of economic sanctions and his comments on Moscow’s proposed missile sale to Iran, reports the Times of Israel.

Iran’s supreme leader said that the West had “fabricated the nuclear weapon myth,” adding that the U.S. and Israel pose the real threat to the region, in an address to military commanders on Sunday. [Reuters’ Sam Wilkin]  And a senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has ruled out inspections of military sites under any comprehensive nuclear accord. [The Hill]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

An Islamic State-aligned militant group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad on Saturday which killed at least 34 people. The attack by the so-called “Wilayat Khorasan” group marks the first such assault by militants working with or inspired by the Islamic State. [Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan]

A roadside bomb in Rafah killed three Egyptian soldiers near the Gaza border today. Sinai Province, the Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State, has claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. [Reuters]

A bomb attack on a bus carrying UN employees in the north of Somalia has killed at least ten people today. Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack. [AP’s Abdi Guled]

A key U.S. military base in Germany is the “high-tech heart of America’s drone program.” Top secret intelligence documents confirm Ramstein Air Base’s significance to the U.S. drone program and offer a detailed blueprint of the technical design used to conduct lethal strikes. [The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill; Der Spiegel]  A lawsuit launched in Germany is challenging the use of Ramstein for the American drone program, just as new details emerge on a 2012 strike in Yemen that killed two civilians. [The Intercept’s Cora Currier et al]

New Zealand intelligence agents teamed up with NSA agents to plot an eavesdropping operation on Chinese diplomats by breaking into a data link in Auckland. [The Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher and Nicky Hager; New Zealand Herald’s David Fisher]

Another Guantanamo Bay “forever prisoner” has been cleared for release by the Periodic Review Board. Yemeni detainee Mashoor al Sabri’s clearance brings the number of prisoners approved for release to 57 out of 122 captives. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

The story of the only CIA contractor to be convicted in a torture-related case following an interrogation is explored by the New York Times’ “Retro Report.”

Karen Allen analyzes Kenya’s failings which have led to a spike in recruitment by Somali terrorist group, al-Shabaab. [BBC]

A solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine remains elusive, even as the U.S. deployed 300 troops to the country last week as part of a long-planned training mission, writes Tom Kutsch. [Al Jazeera America]

Correction: The April 16 version of the Early Edition mistakenly identified NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engle as Robert Engle. We regret the error.

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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