News Roundup and Notes: December 28, 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

Iraqi forces recaptured the main government compound in Ramadi over the weekend, a symbolic win in a key city that has been under Islamic State control for seven months. [Washington Post’s Mustafa Salim and Loveday Morris] The Iraqi military has since declared that the city has been fully “liberated” from Islamic State control. [BBC]

The Islamic State released a new audio recording purportedly from its reclusive leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, on Saturday. In the recording, he imported Muslims to fight on behalf of the Islamic State, while acknowledging the group is facing increasing pressure. [New York Times’ Falih Hassan and Kareem Fahim]

A top Syrian rebel commander was killed in an airstrike on Saturday. Zahran Alloush led the Army of Islam, one of the most powerful groups battling Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, and his death has complicated peace talks scheduled for next month. [Associated Press’ Zeina Karam] In the wake of the strike, Syrian government forces also killed at least 17 other members of rebel forces in ground fighting in the outskirts of Damascus. [Associated Press’ Bassem Mroue]

Peace talks between the Syrian government and rebel groups will start on January 25, according to the UN’s Special Envoy for Syria. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta and Anne Barnard]

Two explosions rocked the central Syrian city of Homs after hundreds of fighters and their families were evacuated to Lebanon and Turkey. More than 19 people were killed and nearly 100 wounded. [Associated Press’ Hassan Ammar and Bassem Mroue]

The number of young French men and women moving to Syria to start families is on the rise, they are raising children in Islamic State-held territory to bolster its ranks. [Wall Street Journal’s Noemie Bisserbe and Stacy Meichtry]

Russia has claimed it has hit no civilian targets since it started airstrikes in Syria three months ago after Amnesty International said Russia’s bombings had killed many civilians and might amount to a war crime. [Reuters]

The US military is working on a “new narrative” for the war against the Islamic State, in part to push back on the growing perception that President Obama does not have a strategy. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

The Islamic State appears to have sanctioned the harvesting of human organs from a living non-Muslim captive to save a Muslim’s life. The ruling was written by the group’s Islamic scholars and raises concerns that the group may be trafficking in body parts. [Reuters’ Warren Strobel et al.]

American airstrikes continue. The US hit Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria with 17 airstrikes on Christmas Day. [Associated Press] The US has carried out dozens of other strikes over the last week. [Central Command]

A Syrian activist who produced documentaries hostile to the Islamic State was killed in Turkey on Sunday. A group he worked with has claimed the killing was an assassination. [Agence France-Presse]

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb at Kabul’s international airport. At least one civilian has died and 13 have been wounded in the attack, which targeted a convoy of foreign forces. [Associated Press]

The Taliban has focused much of its attention on Helmand province this year. The reason is partly because Helmand is an opium production center and partly because the Taliban views it as a stepping stone to other regions. [Guardian’s Borhan Osman]

US, NATO, and Afghan forces are also increasingly focused on Helmand’s security. In private, top Afghan and American officials have starting voicing concerns that Afghan forces are not well enough equipped or trained to keep the Taliban at bay. [Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan] The potential embarrassment of losing another urban center to the insurgents has brought Afghan and NATO troops back to the region. [New York Times’ Mujib Mashal and Taimoor Shah]

The Afghan justice system still fails to protect many women, despite billions of dollars spent implementing rule-of-law programs in the country. Alissa J. Rubin examines the aftermath of mob violence that killed a woman falsely accused of burning a Quran in March. [New York Times]

CYBERSECURITY, SURVEILLANCE, and TECHNOLOGY

China has passed a broad new antiterrorism law related to technology. The law requires telecommunications providers and Internet companies to help authorities decrypt data and to assist with counterterrorism efforts. However, the legislation left out language requiring local data storage and pre-approval of encryption technology used in the country. [Wall Street Journal’s Eva Dou and Jeremy Page]

North Korea’s state-developed computer operating system is as tightly controlled as its political one. Two German researchers who looked into the code found it is unique in many ways, showing a high degree of concern about outside surveillance while making it easy to snoop on users. [Reuters’ Jeremy Wagstaff and James Pearson]

ISRAEL

Young Palestinians are increasingly using kitchen knives to attack Israelis in what Israeli leaders are calling “a new kind of terrorism.” [Washington Post’s William Booth and Ruth Eglash]

The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group said retaliations were inevitable for Israel’s attack that killed prominent militant Samir Qantar in Syria last week. [Reuters’ Laila Bassam]

COUNTERTERRORISM INVESTIGATIONS

Belgian authorities arrested a ninth suspect linked to the terrorist attacks in Paris on Thursday. The suspect is a Belgian man who they said had been in contact with the cousin of the suspected ringleader. [Washington Post’s Daniela Deane] Authorities are also questioning school officials as part of an investigation into whether one of the Paris attackers displayed signs of radicalization that were missed. [Agence France-Presse]

An Arizona man has been charged for allegedly planning to use pipe bombs to target last season’s Super Bowl. Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem also stands accused of arming and training the men who tried to attack a Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest in Garland, Texas earlier this year. [CNN’s Ray Sanchez]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Special operations forces have become President Obama’s “boots on the ground” around the world, and their continued deployment as the force of choice to handle crises has stymied the administration’s goal of withdrawing from several countries. [New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt]

The US Air Force will begin allowing enlisted personnel to pilot drones, rather than relying exclusively on officers. Enlisted servicemembers could pilot certain drones, including the RQ-4 Global Hawk, some time next year. [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold]

A “friendly” intelligence service has warned European capitals of the possibility of a terrorist attack before New Year’s, according to Austrian law enforcement officials. Police across the continent have increased security measures in response to the information. [Reuters]

Al-Qaeda has stepped up attacks on Westerners in recent months, and has expanded control over territory in countries like Syria and Libya. The increased activity may signal that al-Qaeda’s rivalry with the Islamic State is intensifying. [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor]

The Iran nuclear deal is approaching “Implementation Day,” but opponents on all sides are just warming up. Some in Congress are criticizing President Obama’s response to recent ballistic missile tests, while Iranian officials are saying recent changes to US visa laws will harm Iran’s economy, writes Nahal Toosi. [Politico]

Russia is rearming for a new era. The country has bolstered its military and asserted itself on the world stage with a forcefulness not seen since the Cold War, write Catrin Einhorn et al. [New York Times]

Boko Haram killed 14 in an attack on Christmas day in the northeastern Nigeria village of Kimba. [Agence France-Presse] The terrorist group also killed at least 15 on Monday using rocket-propelled grenades and suicide bombers in Maiduguri, the Nigerian city where the organization was born. [Associated Press’ Ismail Alfa and Michelle Faul]

A Kurdish militant group claimed responsibility for a blast at Istanbul’s second-largest airport that killed an airplane cleaner. The Kurdistan Freedom Hawks’ claims raise concerns about a Kurdish insurgency that has largely been isolated to southeastern Turkey. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum] 

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About the Author(s)

Megan Graham

Former Assistant Managing Editor and Security, Privacy, and Technology Fellow at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@meganmcgraham).

John Reed

Managing Editor of Just Security (2014-18). Follow him on Twitter (@ReedJustSec).