News Roundup and Notes: February 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.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Syria ceasefire agreement. Following talks in Munich, global powers reached agreement early today for a ceasefire in Syria to begin in one week, facilitating the immediate entry of humanitarian aid while still giving time for Russia and the Assad regime to push forward with their offensive, report Anton Troianovski and Jay Solomon. [Wall Street Journal]  Announcing the agreement, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the “real test is whether all the parties honor those commitments.” [New York Times’ David E. Sanger]  The ceasefire appears to be a compromise between the US and Russian positions. [AP]  Full remarks from Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura are available here.

Check out the Guardian for live updates.

A ceasefire for Syria will only succeed if Russia halts its air campaign in support of the Syrian government, warned UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond today. [Reuters]  And the German foreign minister said that it will only be possible to see “whether this was a breakthrough in a few days.” [Reuters]

The UAE will send special forces into Syria, announced US Defense Secretary Ash Carter today, a move intended to assist local Sunni-Arab fighters tasked with reclaiming Raqqa from the Islamic State. [AP]

Defense Secretary Ash Carter has commended members of the global coalition against ISIS for their “stepped up” commitments to the fight, following a meeting yesterday with defense ministers from the coalition. [New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt]

At least three Iraqi Shi’ite militias, formerly allied with the US, are now fighting CIA-backed rebels in Syria’s Aleppo alongside Russian and Iranian forces. [The Daily Beast’s Nancy A. Youssef]  Jay Solomon observes that the alignment of former US allies with Russia has sparked calls from some to work with Moscow. [Wall Street Journal]

Moscow is tightening relations with Baghdad, agreeing to sell civil airliners to Iraq and keep supporting it with military aid for the fight against ISIS. [Reuters]

Syrians are “trapped between airstrikes and locked gates,” reports Liz Sly, commenting on Turkey’s rejection of calls for it to open its borders to thousands of Syrians fleeing the government offensive on Aleppo. [Washington Post]

Former director of the CIA, David Petraeus has expressed skepticism at the likelihood that Syria could be put back together once the civil war comes to an end. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

The Treasury Department has imposed sanctions against three ISIS leaders, said to be crucial to sustaining the group’s oil revenue and its recruitment of foreign fighters. [New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis]

Nearly 500,000 people have now been killed during the civil conflict in Syria, according to a new report from the Syrian Center for Policy Research. [New York Times’ Anne Barnard]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition military forces carried out one airstrike against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 10. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 12 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

New York Police have used Stingray devices more than 1,000 times since 2008, according to new documents seen by the New York Civil Liberties Union. It is the first acknowledgment of the devices’ use by the NYPD. [The Intercept’s Alex Emmons]

If the American government tries to forces US tech companies to end the sale of products or applications with unbreakable encryption, the technology won’t vanish and it would still be available elsewhere, a group of researchers have concluded in a new report. [The Intercept’s Jenna McLaughlin]

A parliamentary joint committee in the UK has published its report criticizing draft legislation designed to overhaul surveillance powers. The draft Investigatory Powers Bill introduces “sweeping changes,” which government officials say are intended to allow investigatory agencies to keep abreast of advances in technology. [Wall Street Journal’s Jenny Gross]

Forced “to navigate between public safety and the free-speech and privacy rights” of its users. Facebook is feeling the pressure from government officials to step up its efforts to police itself and remove and investigate profiles and posts of individuals it suspects are supporting terrorism. [Wall Street Journal’s Natalie Andrews and Deepa Seetharaman]

Meanwhile, former Senator Joseph I Lieberman warns that regulations such as the European Commission’s data-protection initiative, which will regulate the transfer and storage of data both within and outside the EU, risk inhibiting innovation for smaller developers and start-ups, any one of which could be “the next Facebook, Google or Uber.” [Wall Street Journal]

NIGERIA

She “tore off the explosives and fled as soon as she was out of sight of her handlers.” The surviving teenage girl involved in the suicide bombings at a refugee camp in Nigeria this week has told local security forces that, despite her fear of the Boko Haram members who had captured her and made her enter the refugee camp, she made the decision not to detonate her explosive vest through fear of killing her father, whom she knew was staying in the camp. [AP]

The suicide attack has been condemned by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called for an end to all acts of terrorism and sectarian violence in Nigeria. [UN News Centre]

The most “vexing” aspect of Boko Haram’s terrorizing of Nigeria is its use of women and girls as suicide bombers, opines Dionne Searcey. Opinions are mixed: some say the women and girls have been brainwashed or are unaware that they are carrying bombs, while others say at least some of them support the group’s aims. [New York Times]  Former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Sanders, answers questions about Boko Haram’s tactics. [Al Jazeera]

SAUDI ARABIA

A mass-shooting inside an education administration building in Saudi Arabia has resulted in the deaths of six employees. Although there have been several mass-shootings by affiliates of the Islamic State recently, authorities do not appear to consider this attack to be an act of terrorism, reports Ben Hubbard. [New York Times]

Saudi Arabia has warned the UN and international humanitarian groups to take their staff out of parts of Yemen controlled by Houthi rebels. The UN has acknowledged the warning but has said that aid agencies will remain where they are needed. [Al Jazeera]

GUANTANAMO BAY

“I do not want to leave. I want to go back to my cell.” Yemeni Guantánamo Bay captive Mohammed Bwazir has made the decision to stay at the detention center rather than be flown to the country, not publicly identified, that has offered him sanctuary but where he has no family or acquaintances. He was taken as far as the steps of the plane that was due to transport him, but refused to board it. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

After nearly five months, ex-Guantánamo Bay detainee, Younis Shokuri has been released from prison in Morocco. He still faces charges in relation to alleged involvement with a Moroccan Islamist group prior to his initial capture fifteen years ago, charges he has always denied. [New York Times’ Charlie Savage and Aida Alami]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Pakistani authorities have arrested nearly 100 al-Qaeda and Lasjkar-e-Jhangvi militants, including three commanders, in the city of Karachi. The army also claims to have foiled a plot to break out US journalist Daniel Pearl’s killer from prison. [Reuters]

A UN peacekeeper base has been attacked by suspected Islamist militants today in the northern town of Kidal, Mali. Several people have been killed and others wounded. [Reuters]

Despite rulings from the country’s highest courts, three non-Afghan prisoners remain incarcerated in a prison at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, “one of the world’s toughest prisons.” They are the last of the non-Afghans picked up by US and Afghan forces after the fall of the Taliban government in 2001. The prison was finally handed over to Afghan control by the US military a year ago. [Washington Post’s Tim Craig]

NATO has sent ships to the Aegean Sea to join efforts to address the tide of migrants into Europe and disrupt people-smuggling from Turkey into Greece. Following overnight talks in Brussels yesterday, NATO defense ministers have agreed that they will focus on “monitoring, conducting surveillance and gathering intelligence.” [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E Barnes et al; Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Griff Witte]      

“Terror groups remain focused on targeting aviation.” Homeland Security Secretary Jan Johnson has said that passengers and staff at airports with flights that go direct to the US are being made subject to increased screening, and that feds are now able to prevent planes from landing in the US if they come from airports that fail to meet new standards. The increased security measures have been implemented following the attempted bomb attack on a plane in Somalia last week. [Fox News]

 “Inhuman, animal-like, unacceptable violence.” Italy’s interior minister has expressed outrage at the torture and murder of student Giulio Regeni in Cairo, and the claim by Egypt’s interior minister on Monday that “such crimes have never been attributed to the Egyptian security apparatus,” observes the New York Times editorial board.

South Korea and the US will begin talks next week, focusing on installing a missile defense, or THAAD unit in South Korea. [Reuters’ Jack Kim and Ju-Min Park]

The State Department will release 550 emails from Hillary Clinton’s private server this weekend. The rest of Clinton’s emails will not be made public until the end of the month. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]  Meanwhile, a new report has stated that some 30 emails that were classified at the highest levels were among those on Hillary Clinton’s private server. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

A year after the launch of pilot programs to counter extremism in the US at a White House “Countering Violent Extremism” summit, the government has not explained what these programs, considered an “administration priority” in the 2017 fiscal budget, actually entail. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act, demanding the release of information. [The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain]

The president of South Sudan has reappointed his political rival as first vice president, a move commentators consider to be a “major step” toward ending the civil war there. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone; BBC]

The UN has appointed a Senegalese General, Balla Keïta, as Force Commander of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). [UN News Centre] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security