News Roundup and Notes: January 12, 2016

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.

ISTANBUL EXPLOSION

An explosion rocked the historic Sultanahmet tourist district of Istanbul, Turkey today, killing at least 10 people and injuring 15 others, the governor’s office said. [AP]  Most of those killed in the blast were foreigners, the country’s deputy prime minister said. [Reuters]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has blamed a Syrian suicide bomber for the attack, during a live TV address. [The Guardian’s Matthew Weaver]

IRAQ and SYRIA

ISIS fighters attacked a Baghdad shopping mall yesterday, killing at least 17 people and “turning the neighborhood into an urban war zone,” reports Tim Arango. [New York Times]

A suicide bomb attack near the eastern Iraqi city of Baquba today seriously wounded a senior Iraqi police officer and killed two of his guards, police said. [Reuters]

A humanitarian aid convoy has reached the besieged Syrian town of Madaya, the UN and partner organizations bringing emergency health and food supplies to the town where there have been reports of deaths by starvation due to the government siege. [UN News Centre]  A representative from the International Committee of the Red Cross said he hoped distribution would begin today. [Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim]

Some 400 people need to be urgently evacuated from Madaya to receive emergency medical treatment, says UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien. [BBC]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out 14 strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 10. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 11 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

Russian airstrikes in Syria are assisting US-backed Kurdish and Arab forces, report Nancy A. Youssef and Shane Harris, despite Moscow’s purported support for the opposite side of the Syrian conflict. [The Daily Beast]

GUANTÁNAMO BAY

A Saudi detainee has been sent home; Mohammed Shimrani is the fourth captive to be transferred in six days, part of Pentagon efforts to release 17 prisoners this month. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

GOP Sens Kelly Ayotte and Lindsey Graham have called on the Senate Armed Services Committee to hold a hearing on the Obama administration’s handling of transfers from the detention facility. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

Former Guantánamo Bay detainees have demanded that President Obama close the facility; Shaker Aamer and four other British citizens or residents protested outside the US embassy in London yesterday. [Washington Post’s Griff Witte]

Human rights experts from the UN and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have called on the United States to close the detention facility and to bring to an end the impunity for abuses in the so-called “global war on terror.” [UN News Centre]

“Who’s still held at Guantánamo,” from Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald.

IRAN

Tehran removed the core of its plutonium reactor at Arak yesterday, filling it with concrete; the move should open the way for economic and financial sanctions to be lifted before long. [Washington Post’s Carol Morello]

Iran has not yet decommissioned the heavy water reactor at Arak, its nuclear body said, saying that it is ongoing and is expected to be done in the coming days. [Reuters]

The New York Times editorial board discusses Iran’s “other scary weapons program,” commenting that while Tehran should receive sanctions relief as promised under the nuclear accord, it should have separate sanctions imposed in response to two recent ballistic missile tests.

NORTH KOREA NUCLEAR TEST

The Senate is expected to pass new sanctions legislation targeting North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s claim to have tested a hydrogen bomb earlier this month, lawmakers say. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio missed a Florida fundraiser in order to attend a classified hearing late yesterday on North Korea’s nuclear test claim. [The Hill’s Ben Kamisar]

As North Korea has been “thinking big” on its weapons development, the Energy Department and the Pentagon have been working on a line of weapons based on the “build-it smaller approach.” William J. Broad and David E. Sanger provide the details at the New York Times.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Three US citizens and a Belgian national are pursuing a civil suit against the Israeli government in a US federal court, seeking compensation for injuries sustained during a deadly 2010 confrontation between IDF forces and activists trying to breach the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, reports Spencer S. Hsu. [Washington Post]

Israel is struggling to tackle a new brand of terrorism from young Jewish settlers in the West Bank who are responsible for a wave of violence targeting Palestinians, reports Isabel Kershner. [New York Times]

AFGHANISTAN

Senior Pakistani, Afghan, Chinese and American diplomats convened in Islamabad yesterday, tasked with laying the groundwork for a new round of peace negotiations with the Taliban. [New York Times’ Salman Masood]  Pakistan said that incentives rather than threats would succeed in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. [Wall Street Journal’s Saeed Shah]

The Afghan Taliban has freed a Canadian man, held by the group since 2010. The Canadian government has expressed its thanks to Qatar for its assistance in negotiating the captive’s release. [Al Jazeera]

PARIS ATTACKS

The chief suspect of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud had previously traveled undetected to the UK, despite being listed in an international arrest warrant for his role in a foiled terror plot in Belgium early last year, EU law enforcement said yesterday. [New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin and Stephen Castle]

Images of fugitive Salah Abdeslam have emerged, shown in CCTV footage at a French petrol station a day after the attacks. [BBC]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

At least four UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic have been accused of paying young girls as little as 50 cents for sex, the latest scandal in what Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called a “cancer in our system.” [Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff]

“Very serious” concern has been expressed by the commander of US Air Force operations in Europe and Africa, over buildups of complex Russian missile defenses which pose a growing threat to NATO military access to air space in eastern Europe. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]

The House has passed legislation containing sweeping reforms to the FOIA program, the bill would limit exemptions under the FOIA that currently allow federal agencies to withhold information. [The Hill’s Megan R. Wilson and Cristina Marcos]

US District Judge James Boasberg has dismissed a pair of lawsuits intended to force the government to act more aggressively to recover emails from former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s private email server. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]

Conflict is keeping close to 24 million children out of school across 22 countries, according to a report released by UNICEF yesterday.

The New York Times editorial board comments on Rwanda’s “entrenched president,” observing that President Paul Kagame “seems intent on staying in power indefinitely.”

“Is realism really, really what America wants as the cornerstone of its foreign policy?” asks Roger Cohen, opining that “realists tend to dismiss human suffering; it’s just the way of the world.” [New York Times] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security