News Roundup and Notes: January 19, 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.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Three Americans were kidnapped in Iraq this weekend. It appears they were taken from the apartment of their translator, who was also abducted. Iraqi security forces have been deployed across the area in Baghdad to search for them, closing streets and conducting house-to-house searches. [New York Times‘ Tim Arango; The Guardian]

Recent attacks against civilians in Iraq’s Diyala province by the Islamic State and rival Shiite militias have raised fears about the potential for deadly sectarian violence, even in areas where the extremist militants have been officially declared eradicated. [Washington Post‘s Erin Cunningham]

Members of the Islamic State killed dozens of people execution-style in government-held areas of Dayr al-Zawr in Syria on Saturday. Reports say at least 135 people were killed, at least 80 of them soldiers and pro-government militiamen. [Washington Post‘s Mariam Karouny]

Syrians who have recently escaped the Islamic State’s rule say public disillusionment is growing as the group has failed to live up to its promises to install an “Islamic” rule of justice, equality, and good governance. There is growing frustration with double standards in Islamic State-held areas that allow jihadi fighters to enjoy special perks and favor in the courts and to ignore the rulings of their own clerics. [Associated Press‘ Hamza Hendawi]

At least 18,800 people were killed in Iraq between January 2014 and the end of October 2015 according to a new UN report that says violence suffered by civilians in Iraq “remains staggering.” Roughly 3.2 million people were also internally displaced during that same period. [BBC]

A former Dutch soldier has been indicted for murder after joining Kurdish forces in Syria to fight ISIS. The man traveled to Syria without instructions from the Dutch military to do so and is facing charges in a civilian criminal court. [Foreign Policy‘s Siobhán O’Grady]

IRAN

Five American prisoners being held in Iran were released over the weekend as part of a prisoner swap. The US released seven people and scrapped warrants for 14 others, all of whom were convicted or accused of violating US sanctions against Iran. Among those released by Iran was Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief. [Reuters‘ Lesley Wroughton and Parisa Hafezi; Washington Post‘s Andrew Roth and William Branigin; New York Times‘ Thomas Erdbrink and Rick Gladstone]

Such prisoner swaps often pit compassion against geopolitical costs, writes Peter Baker. [New York Times]

The US imposed new sanctions on the Iranian ballistic missile program just days after lifting many other sanctions against the country. Iran has denounced the move as lacking legal foundations. [BBC]

The US military has released its first official account of Iran’s seizure and subsequent release of 10 US sailors in the Persian Gulf. The report calls for more investigation into why the sailors deviated from their planned route to enter Iranian territorial waters and what happened during their detention. The only items found missing from the two recovered boats were SIM cards for two satellite phones. [Associated Press‘ Robert Burns]

European businesses are beginning to invest in Iran after the lifting of nuclear sanctions, but American companies are still barred by other sanctions imposed on the country. [Washington Post‘s Michael Birnbaum] A delegation from the European Commission is planning to visit Tehran this spring in a bid to bolster ties with Iran. [Wall Street Journal‘s Laurence Norman]

Saudi officials are quietly concerned that sanctions relief in Iran may boost what they see as its subversive activities in the Middle East. While saying little publicly, officials worry that the end of sanctions will strengthen Iran’s diverse economy and increase competition for regional influence. [Reuters‘ Angus McDowall]

BURKINA FASO ATTACKS

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb killed 28 people and 56 injured others in an attack on a hotel popular with foreigners in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital. At one point during the 12-hour siege, the militants held 176 people hostage in the hotel. [BBC; New York Times]

The country is observing three days of national morning after the tragedy. Security has also been stepped up around the capital and at the country’s borders. [Associated Press]

The attack may be part of a backlash against France’s “Operation Barkhane” to combat jihadist groups in the Sahel region of Africa and is raising questions about the expansion of Islamic extremism in the area, reports Kevin Sieff. [Washington Post]

YEMEN

At least 25 people were killed in a Saudi-led coalition air strike on a police headquarters building in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital. Some victims are still trapped in the rubble of the building. Most of those killed reportedly were policemen or Houthi rebels. [BBC]

A Yemeni journalist was killed just outside of Sanaa and a prominent judge in the port-city of Aden was also shot this weekend. [Associated Press‘s Ahmed Al-Haj]

SURVEILLANCE and PRIVACY

“Across our history and to this day, people of color have been the disproportionate victims of unjust surveillance.” Georgetown University Law Professor Alvaro Bedoya looks at the history of pervasive surveillance against minority communities, and highlights lessons that we should learn for current debates on the topic. [Slate]

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Hungary’s anti-terrorism legislation infringes on citizen’s privacy rights last week. The court found that Hungary’s law subjected nearly everyone in the country to blanket surveillance and that it lacked adequate safeguards to prevent abuse. [Ars Technica‘s Glyn Moody]

UNITED KINGDOM

The UK Court of Appeal has held that a key provision in the Terrorism Act 2000 is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. A senior British judge wrote that parts of the law that allow travelers to be questioned for terrorism ties, but do not allow them to remain silent or receive legal advice, are flawed and may hamper individuals’ freedom of expression rights. [The Guardian‘s Owen Bowcott]

The trial of four men who were allegedly preparing to carry out an Islamic State-inspired gun attack in London opened on Monday. [Wall Street Journal‘s Alexis Flynn]

British Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to deport spouses who fail to learn English within two-and-a-half years of entering the country as part of government efforts to tackle radicalization. Cameron said that those who speak poor English are “more susceptible to the extremist message.” [Washington Post‘s Karia Adam]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israel seems to be stepping up the demolition of the homes of Palestinian assailants in an attempt to deter future attacks. It has started fast-tracking the demolitions, destroying three Palestinian homes in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank in the last two weeks and planning or serving demolition orders for many more. [Washington Post‘s Ruth Eglash]

European foreign ministers slammed Israeli settlement policies in a statement on Monday. They also warned of “further action” if Israel takes additional steps that the ministers see as undermining a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. [Wall Street Journal‘s Laurence Norman]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A Taliban suicide bomber in Pakistan riding a motorcycle struck a crowded police checkpoint outside Peshawar on Tuesday, killing at least 11 people. [Associated Press‘ Riaz Khan]

Indonesian officials are requesting greater powers to detain militants and to impose longer jail terms after last week’s terrorist attacks in Jakarta. [Wall Street Journal‘s Ben Otto] This comes as staff shortages and corruption in Indonesia’s prison system are being blamed for allowing the facilities to become extremist breeding grounds. [Reuters‘ Randy Fabi and Kanupriya Kapoor]

Moroccan police have arrested a Belgian man of Moroccan descent, accusing him of being linked to the Islamic State and having a “direct relationship” to the Paris attackers. [Associated Press‘ Samia Errazzouki]

The US is attempting to enlist Libyan help to counter the Islamic State there, but instability in the country is allowing the group to make a number of in-roads. [New York Times‘ Suliman Ali Zway et al; Wall Street Journal‘s Editorial Board]

US, Afghan, Pakistani, and Chinese officials are attempting to clear the way for negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The group met as part of a second round of talks in Kabul and issued a joint statement calling on the Taliban to enter peace talks as quickly as possible. [Wall Street Journal‘s Habib Khan Totakhil and Margherita Stancati]

The UN whistleblower who exposed the sexual abuse of children by peacekeepers in Central African Republic has been completely exonerated after an internal investigation. Anders Kompass had been suspended and faced dismissal after passing confidential documents detailing the abuse of children by French troops to the authorities in Paris after the UN’s failure to stop the exploitation. [The Guardian‘s Sandra Laville] 

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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).