News Roundup and Notes: November 19, 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.

PARIS ATTACKS

St-Denis raid. The Paris prosecutor has today confirmed that one of the two people killed in yesterday morning’s massive raid on an apartment in St-Denis was the alleged mastermind behind Friday’s attacks, Belgian national Abdel-Hamid Abu Oud. [BBC]

The second person killed in the raid was a woman thought to be a cousin of Abu Oud who blew herself up with an explosive belt during the raid, BBC reports.

French police went through over 5,000 rounds of ammunition during the raid which lasted several hours yesterday morning. [Wall Street Journal’s Inti Landauro and William Horobin]

Suspected attacker Salah Abdeslam was not among those arrested by French authorities following the raid, Paris prosecutor François Molins confirmed. [New York Times’ Lilia Blaise et al]

The latest evidence in the investigation indicates that the attacks formed part of a wider conspiracy and that those responsible were primarily young Europeans. Julian Borger provides the details at the Guardian.

Six raids have been launched by Belgian authorities in Brussels in connection to suicide bomber Bilal Hadfi. Targets of the raids include Molenbeek suburb. [AP]

Belgium has promised a security crackdown and extra funding for the fight against ISIS today, while rejecting criticisms of the country’s security services following the Paris attacks. [Reuters’ Robert Jan-Bartunek]

For live updates on the situation, check out the Guardian, the BBC and France 24.

Alleged mastermind Abu Oud was an “emir of war” in the eastern Deir Ezzour province of Syria, according to local activists and news reports. [Wall Street Journal’s David Gauthier-Villars et al]

France risks facing chemical or biological warfare in the fight against Islamist militants, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said today, speaking before the lower house of parliament seeking approval to extend the state of emergency. [Reuters]

There is no “specific and credible threat” against New York City, says Mayor Bill de Blasio, despite claims by ISIS that the city is a potential target of an attack like that in Paris. [Reuters]

The Paris attacks demonstrate the ease with which jihadists have traveled to Syria and back to Europe, reports Katrin Bennhold, describing how a number of the attackers managed to return to Europe despite being known security threats. [New York Times]

The UK national counterterrorism security office has published new advice in the wake of the Paris attacks, saying that victims of similar attacks should run or hide behind “substantial brickwork” or “reinforced walls” rather than playing dead. [The Guardian]

The debate around law enforcement’s access to encrypted communication was reopened yesterday, FBI Director James B. Comey saying that law enforcement and intelligence officials face a situation where it is often almost impossible to read a target’s communications. [New York Times’ Nicole Perlroth and David E. Sanger]  Comey did not say whether encryption was used by plotters in the Paris attacks. [Wall Street Journal’s Joe Palazzolo]

ISIS has a 34-page guide teaching its followers how to use encryption and stay hidden on the Internet, reports Cory Bennett. [The Hill]

Telegram Messenger has blocked 78 public channels on its service related to the Islamic State, following revelations that the group was using the communication app’s public channels to send messages. [Wall Street Journal’s Sam Schechner and Margaret Coker]

The New York Times editorial board warns that mass surveillance will not defeat terrorism and cautions against “unquestioning acceptance of ineffective and very likely unconstitutional tactics that reduce civil liberties without making the public safer.”

Analysis of recent terror attacks, including Paris, shows that authorities knew of some or all of the perpetrators before the attacks took place, writes Ryan Gallagher, arguing against government claims that surveillance can act as “some sort of panacea, a silver bullet.” [The Intercept]

“How should we balance civil liberties and national security?” From Hanna Ingber at the New York Times.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board commends France for “leading from the front” against the Islamic State, but cautions that it “can’t lead a decisive military campaign on its own.”

The Economist presents its complete coverage on the Paris terrorist attacks and their consequences.

Why is the public compelled to describe terrorist plotters as “masterminds,” asks Jack Shafer, exploring why we don’t call people like Abu Oud “something more mundane, like an organizer or a commander.” [Politico Magazine]

IRAQ and SYRIA 

The US and its European and Arab allies are trying to convince Russia to pull back from its alliance with Iran, and to move away from its commitment to the Assad regime in the hopes of bolstering an international coalition against ISIS. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon]

President Obama said that it may take a number of months for Russia, Iran and Syria’s ruling elite to accept that the Syrian conflict will not end until Bashar al-Assad is removed from power. [Reuters] 

France’s plan to create a comprehensive coalition against ISIS may be “easier said than done.” Steven Erlanger and Peter Baker explain why at the New York Times.

Talks between government forces and rebels near Damascus have failed to produce a ceasefire agreement, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]

British government ministers have started making the case for the extension of airstrikes into Syria, before Prime Minister David Cameron’s formal proposals are published. [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out 13 strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Nov. 17. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 16 airstrikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The Islamic State built a warren of tunnels and underground bomb shelters in the Iraqi city of Sinjar, recently recaptured by Kurdish forces. Ben Kisling provides the details. [Wall Street Journal]

The Islamic State is losing an increasing amount of territory in Syria and Iraq; Loveday Morris explores whether this will mean an increase in terror attacks overseas. [Washington Post]

Hackers with Anonymous are targeting the Islamic State, announcing yesterday that the hacking collective had disrupted the Twitter accounts of over 4,000 ISIS members. [Wall Street Journal’s Danny Yadron]

The Economist observes that despite the show of unity with Paris, fighting in Syria “will only stop when the various countries backing one side or other are satisfied that their interests are protected.” 

“Given the expanded threat, it is time to engage diplomatic mechanisms that legally and politically bind the international community in a common cause,” opines the New York Times editorial board, considering how to tackle the Islamic State.

“No report or event can stand in hindsight as the single missed key to the now terrifyingly complex puzzle of the Islamic State,” writes Ian Fisher, exploring the rise of the militant group. [New York Times]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS 

ISIS has claimed that an improvised bomb using a can of Schweppes soft drink was used to down the Russian Metrojet plane that crashed over Sinai on Oct. 31. Explosives experts have said that it was feasible that a device such as that shown in the Islamic State’s official magazine could have been used. [Reuters]  Russian media has indicated that the bomb on the flight was likely carried on board by a staff member at Sharm el-Sheikh airport and set off with a timer. [The Guardian’s Alec Luhn and Gwyn Topham] 

The Obama administration is delaying the publication of its plans for closing Guantánamo Bay detention facility, a Pentagon official citing financial concerns and saying the decision to delay was made before Friday’s attacks. [Politico’s Bryan Bender and Nahal Toosi]  And three states have indicated that they may bring a lawsuit against the White House over plans to relocate detainees within the US. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem] 

Tehran has begun rolling back some nuclear technology, with the potential to be repurposed to make nuclear weapons, in accordance with the nuclear accord agreed in July, a report from the IAEA says. [AP]

Boko Haram is responsible for more deaths last year than any other terrorist group, including the Islamic State. The group killed 6,664 people in 2014, according to a recent report. [New York Times’ Dionne Searcey and Marc Santora]

The Economist opines that the political turmoil in Libya has allowed ISIS to consolidate its position in that country, posing further challenges for the international community in defeating the militant group.

The EU is set to renew sanctions against Russia, imposed in response to Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman and Laura Mills]

At least 5,700 people have been killed during Yemen’s civil conflict since March 26, according to the UN. [AP]  And three Americans have been evacuated from Yemen into Oman, according to Oman’s state news agency. The three had been detained by Houthi rebels and held on suspicion of spying. [Reuters]

An Israeli officer has been sentenced to community service for beating up a Palestinian-American teenager, in an attack filmed last summer. [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner] 

The US and Malaysia have agreed to increase their cooperation in the fight against terrorism, signing a deal yesterday. [AP] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security