News Roundup and Notes: December 11, 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

Syrian opposition groups have agreed to create a new committee aimed at unifying the factious opponents of the Assad regime, following talks held in Riyadh. The groups have agreed to enter into peace negotiations with the regime on the condition that the talks result in transitioning Assad out of power. [New York Times’ Ben Hubbard; Wall Street Journal’s Sam Dagher and Ahmed Al Omran]

Russia has said that it is up to Syrians to discuss the fate of President Bashar al-Assad, commenting on the agreement reached in Riyadh. [Reuters]

The Defense Department has proposed a plan to the Obama administration aimed at grappling with the Islamic State as it spreads outside of Syria, involving a number of military bases in Africa, Southwest Asia and the Middle East. [New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt]

Moscow has failed to gain much ground on the battlefield in Syria, increasing hopes that Russian President Vladimir Putin will be more willing to cooperate with diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, writes Michael Crowley. [Politico]  And Putin said today that his country’s armed forces have been ordered to be “extremely tough” in Syria to protect Russian troops fighting the Islamic State. [Reuters]

The Islamic State’s head financial officer has been confirmed as killed by a coalition air strike last month, US officials said yesterday. [France 24]

Iraq’s government should show “no tolerance” of infringements to its sovereignty, the country’s top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said today, speaking on Turkey’s deployment of heavily armed troops to northern Iraq. [Reuters]

ISIS has made up to $1.5 billion from the looting of banks in Syria and Iraq and from black market trading in oil, according to the US. [Al Jazeera]

Finnish authorities have arrested two Iraqi brothers suspected of ISIS membership and of shooting 11 unarmed detainees in Iraq last year, says a Finnish news source. [New York Times’ Dan Bilefsky]

Former Baathists have played a key role in the spread and strength of the Islamic State; Isabel Coles and Ned Parker look inside the group’s surveillance operation to show how. [Reuters]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out three strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Dec. 9. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 20 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The US Visa Waiver Program makes it “too easy” for terrorists to gain entry to America, writes Matt A. Mayer, suggesting how the program could be tightened, at the Wall Street Journal.

“Jihadist culture is exceptionally good at decreasing empathy for outsiders, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.” William McCants explores how terrorists convince themselves take innocent life, at TIME.

“That the Islamic State has made violent use of history shouldn’t come as a surprise.” Aatish Taseer writes on the “return to history” at the New York Times.

SAN BERNARDINO SHOOTING

Islamist militant groups ignored attempts by Tashfeen Malik to make contact in the months prior to the deadly attack that left 14 people dead. Government sources suggest this is likely due to fears of a sting operation by American law enforcement. [The Guardian]

Federal agencies are investigating an expanding group of people in connection with the San Bernardino shooting, with a focus now on Syed Farook’s neighbor, Enrique Marquez, who provided the couple with the weapons for the attack. [Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Adam Goldman]

The FBI is searching a lake in San Bernardino, California, for a computer drive missing from the home of the couple responsible for the fatal shooting attack. [Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett and Damian Paletta]  Tashfeen Malik and her husband Syed Farook are thought to have visited the lake on the day of the attack. [BBC]

There is no evidence yet that the couple used encrypted communications to hide from law enforcement in the run up to last week’s attack, lawmakers have said. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US will reopen peace negotiations with the Taliban, despite the insurgents’ absence. Mujib Mashal and Rod Nordland provide the details. [New York Times]

Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security chief, Rahmatullah Nabil has quit over ties with Pakistan, which he does not think is trustworthy. [Al Jazeera]

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has condemned a Taliban attack at Kandahar airport on Dec. 8, which left at least 23 civilians dead. [UN News Centre]

Army Sgt Bowe Bergdahl said he left his post in Afghanistan to highlight “leadership failure” within his unit, on a podcast launched yesterday. [Reuters’ Jim Forsyth]  And an investigation conducted by the House Armed Services Commission has found that the White House broke a law requiring it to give Congress 30 days’ notice when it swapped Bergdahl for five Taliban commanders. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israel has succeeded in testing an advanced Arrow 3 antiballistic missile system, intercepting a target outside the earth’s atmosphere. [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]

“Insistence on keeping Israel isolated is a relic.” Shmuel Rosner argues for why Israel should engage in the fight against the Islamic State. [New York Times]

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has argued that Palestinian violence should be classified as an expression of radical Islam. [Washington Post’s William Booth]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The terror alert level has been raised in Geneva following reports that “suspicious individuals” potentially linked to the Paris attacks were in the city or surrounding areas. [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce]

A top suspect wanted in connection to the Rwandan genocide has been arrested this week in Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN has said. Ladislas Ntaganzwa is accused of assisting in the organization of a massacre that left more than 20,000 Tutsis killed. [New York Times’ Josh Kron]

A “climate of insecurity” deepened by recent terrorist attacks has created an environment in which a “new breed of right-leaning populists” can thrive, reports David D. Kirkpatrick. [New York Times]

The same percentage of Americans are concerned about terrorism as in the weeks following the 9/11 terror attacks, according to a CBS News/ New York Times poll that found 79% of Americans think a terrorist attack is “very or somewhat likely in the next few months.”

Former Guantánamo Bay detainee, Younous Chekkouri remains in custody in Morocco, potentially facing charges of connections to an al-Qaeda-linked Moroccan terror group. The US government has done little to assist him, reports Cora Currier. [The Intercept]

Military sites in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura were attacked by gunmen today. Many of the attackers were killed or arrested following fierce clashes with security forces. [Reuters]

“To this day it remains one of the most sophisticated and mysterious offensive operations ever launched.” Danny Vinik discusses America’s cyberweapons, which are the “most powerful” on Earth. [Politico]

Analysts are skeptical of claims by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un that his country had developed a hydrogen bomb. [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun]  And the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has called on the UN Security Council to refer North Korea to the ICC. [UN News Centre] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security