News Roundup and Notes: January 20, 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.

PAKISTAN UNIVERSITY ATTACK

The Pakistani Taliban has carried out an attack on a university in the north-west of Pakistan, leaving at least 19 people dead and 50 injured. Four suspected attackers were killed during a three hour gun battle with authorities. [BBC; AP]

The death toll could rise to as many as 40, according to a security official, as security forces cleared out student accommodation and classrooms. [Reuters]

Live updates as the situation develops are available from the Guardian and the BBC.

IRAQ and SYRIA

The Islamic State has confirmed the death of Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John,” in a “eulogizing profile” in Dabiq, the militant group’s English-language magazine. British national, Emwazi was thought to have been killed by a US-led coalition drone strike in Syria in November. [The Guardian; BBC]

Russia has ramped up airstrikes in Syria ahead of scheduled peace talks. [AP]  Moscow’s air campaign has managed to “push beyond doubt any likelihood that Assad will be removed from power by the nearly five-year-old revolt against his rule.” [Washington Post’s Liz Sly]

Russian airstrikes yesterday targeted Deir al-Zour, the Syrian province where ISIS militants had been accused of massacring more than one hundred people over the weekend. [New York Times’ Anne Bernard]

Nearly 19,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the rise of ISIS at the start of 2014, according to a new UN report released this week detailing the “staggering” civilian toll. The report also estimates that some 3,500 Iraqis are enslaved by the militant group, including many Yazidi women and girls. [Reuters]

Airdrops of humanitarian aid to starving Syrians are considered too risky by US officials; ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot L. Engel cited potential hurdles including “the danger Assad’s forces would pose to American military assets, the potential damage airdropped materials could inflict on those most in need of help and the possibility of aid getting into the hands of terrorists.” [New York Times’ Russell Goldman]

ISIS is cutting by half the monthly salaries of its members in Iraq and Syria, a symptom of the “economic reality of waging war on several fronts.” AFP and Reuters provide the details.

Kurdish attacks on the homes of Arab families in northern Iraq may constitute war crimes, Amnesty International alleges in a new report. The human rights watchdog charges the Kurds with carrying out a “concerted campaign” against Arab communities, reprisals for their perceived support of ISIS. [Reuters]

The global coalition against the Islamic State must work on the “tightening of the noose” around the militant group’s heartlands in Syria, according to UK Defense Minister Michael Fallon. [BBC]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out three strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 18. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 21 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

Sunni lawmakers walked out in protest from the Iraqi parliament yesterday, expressing their anger over what they consider as unchecked sectarian violence in Diyala province following the defeat of ISIS there over a year ago. [Wall Street Journal’s Matt Bradley]

IRAN

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned the country’s government against US “deceptions,” in a letter to the country’s president which cautiously welcomed the implementation of the nuclear deal and the lifting of economic sanctions over the weekend. [New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink]

Iran’s hardliners are pushing to side line the country’s moderate leaders, particularly those who stand to gain from Iran’s thawing relations with the West. [Wall Street Journal’s Aresu Eqbali and Asa Fitch]

The Obama administration has committed to press Iran for information on missing US citizen Robert Levinson. A retired FBI agent, Levinson went missing on an Iranian island in 2007. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

The New York Times editorial board comments on President Obama’s “wise call” on the prisoner swap with Iran, opining that “the negotiations that led to the prisoner exchange were part of a diplomatic process that also produced the landmark agreement” on Iran’s nuclear program.

“Patient diplomacy, backed by escalating economic sanctions, accomplished more than military action ever could have.” David E. Sanger reports on President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s explanation for their success in achieving a nuclear accord with Tehran. [New York Times]

“Saudi Arabia will not allow Iran to undermine our security or the security of our allies. We will push back against attempts to do so.” Saudi Foreign Minister Abel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir considers whether the Islamic Republic can change from a “rogue revolutionary state into a respectable member of the international community,” in an op-ed at the New York Times.

AFGHANISTAN

The Obama administration has given the Defense Department the legal go-ahead to target ISIS in Afghanistan, according to senior administration officials, the first authorization for military action against the militants outside Syria and Iraq. [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold]

“Commander Price told confidants that his superior had said to him shortly before the team deployed to Afghanistan to bring everyone home.” Nicholas Kulish and Christopher Drew discuss the despair and death of Navy SEAL Command Job W. Price. [New York Times]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israel’s defense minister said that if he had to choose between Iran and ISIS, he would “choose ISIS,” in a “bold statement” made before the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. [Washington Post’s Adam Taylor]

Israel’s leadership lashed out at US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro for his observation that the law in the occupied West Bank is applied differently to Palestinians and Israelis. [Washington Post’s William Booth]

The most recent wave of Palestinian violence is “bubbling like lava, with little organization or strategy from a weak Palestinian leadership and spilling around Israeli political and security officials’ attempts to curtail it,” writes Steven Erlanger. [New York Times]

UNITED KINGDOM

Civilian volunteers in the UK with accountancy or IT skills will work with the police to fight cybercrime, Home Secretary Theresa May has announced.  Civilians in the UK are already able to exercise the full range of police powers if they volunteer as “special constables.”  The move has been criticised by Unison, a trade union which represents police staff, as a cheap way of plugging a gap in recruitment. [BBC]

A 10-year-old Muslim boy has been interviewed by British police after making a spelling error in class.  He mistakenly wrote that he lived in a “terrorist house” rather than a “terraced house.”  Teachers were obliged to report “extremist behavior” to police under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015. [BBC’s Radila Bano]

The Wall Street Journal editorial board opines that British Prime Minister David Cameron is right to demand that immigrants learn English and adopt liberal values, commenting that the only concern is that “assimilation is coming too late.”

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The search for twelve missing Marines off the coast of Hawaii has been canceled after five days. The helicopters were on a training mission when they went missing.  The “difficult decision” was made by Captain James Jenkins, chief of staff and acting commander of the Coast Guard District 14, on Tuesday. [New York Times’ Christine Hauser and Ashley Shouthall]

Authorities in Burkina Faso are searching for the three remaining gunmen following the attack in Ouagadougou on Monday.  Three other gunmen were killed at the scene. [Wall Street Journal’s Drew Hinshaw]

Several dozen emails off former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s private server were highly classified, fresh scrutiny has revealed.  A review is now underway by the FBI. [Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau]

The US is losing leverage with its traditional allies in the Middle East.  As the nuclear deal with Iran is implemented, its historic relationships with allies such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel are breaking down, making those countries increasingly unpredictable.  [Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov]

A Yemeni detainee has been cleared for release from Guantánamo Bay. Zahir Hamdoun has been held for more than 13 years, without charge. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

Libya’s UN-backed presidential council has nominated a 32-member central government, raising hopes that the peace process will move forward. However, there have been signs that the nominated cabinet will not easily be approved.  Some proposed ministers have claimed that they were nominated without their knowledge. [Wall Street Journal’s Hassan Morajea and Tamer El-Ghobashy]   

 US counterterrorism drones are crashing in record numbers, reports Craig Whitlock. The US Air Force is struggling to provide drone coverage across countries such as Syria, Yemen, Libya and Mali. [Washington Post]

Turkey’s successes over the past decade will not be undermined by terrorism.  Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sets out Turkey’s increasing economic success, its integration with the EU, and its unprecedented response to the refugee crisis. [Wall Street Journal]

European national intelligence agencies are sharing information on terrorists in the wake of the attacks in Paris in November 2015.  While previously reluctant to cooperate, EU countries are making an effort to share information under the supervision of Europol, the European law enforcement agency based in The Hague. [Politico’s Giulia Paravicini]

Relatives of those killed by Islamist militants are left asking “why them?” Andrew Jacobs reports on the lives of victims of the attacks in Ouagadougou, Jakarta and Istanbul last week. [New York Times]

Meanwhile, French politicians demand answers on possible failures of government forces leading up to last year’s attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Paris kosher supermarket. [Politico‘s Pierre Briançon]

Columbia’s government and FARC rebels have made a joint request to the UN to monitor a peace agreement.  FARC has negotiated with the government on three occasions in the past, but each attempt has ended in failure.  The peace process is expected to take 12 months. [Al Jazeera]

Former Navy Seal, Matthew Bissonnette, who shot Osama bin Laden, is subject to a federal criminal investigation into whether he abused his position for personal profit while on active duty.  Bissonnette wrote a best-selling book about the raid which resulted in bin Laden’s death. [The Intercept’s Matthew Cole]

Over 92,00 people crossed from the Horn of Africa to Yemen last year, despite warnings of the dangers in that country, according to the United Nations refugee agency. [New York Times]

A Kent State Professor is under FBI investigation for alleged ties to ISIS. Julio Pino has been investigated for the past year by an unnamed FBI special agent. [Detroit Free Press‘s Paul Egan and Kathleen Gray]

  

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security