News Roundup and Notes: February 18, 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.

ANKARA BOMB ATTACK

A bomb attack in Turkey’s capital has left at least 28 people dead and 61 injured. A vehicle full of explosives detonated by a military convoy of buses filled with soldiers close to the Parliament building yesterday. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack which the country’s president has vowed to retaliate against. [BBC; New York Times’ Ceylan Yeginsu]

Turkey’s prime minister has blamed the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia for the attack, saying it was conducted with logistical support from the PKK. [BBC]  “Blaming the PKK when things go wrong is a natural government reflex,” reports Simon Tisdall, examining the likely suspects in the attack. [The Guardian]

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the attack, calling for the perpetrators to be “swiftly brought to justice.” [UN News Centre]

An explosion targeting a military convoy in the country’s southeast has killed at least six people. Constanze Letsch provides the details at the Guardian.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Turkey launched airstrikes targeting Kurdish militant camps in the north of Iraq overnight, a response to the Ankara car bomb attack which officials have initially pinned on the PKK. [Reuters]  President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his country would continue to shell Kurdish forces across the border in Syria, despite calls from western allies, including the US, to halt it. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum]

Hundreds of armed rebels have crossed the Turkish border and are headed to Azaz in northern Aleppo. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the rebels hope to assist insurgents in the wake of Kurdish gains. [AFP]

“Highly dangerous” radioactive material stolen last year has sparked fears among Iraqi officials that it could be used as a weapon if it falls into the hands of the Islamic State. [Reuters]

A meeting between representatives from Moscow and Washington has been delayed until tomorrow. The delayed meeting, intended to organize the cessation of hostilities, will make it unlikely that an actual ceasefire will come into effect on Friday as originally planned. [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Erin Cunningham]

Russia is believed to have deployed the TU-214R to Syria, an aircraft thought by the US to be one of Moscow’s most advanced for reconnaissance and surveillance. [CNN’s Barbara Starr]

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that the Islamic State’s use of chemical weapons is watched “very closely,” and that it is something which America takes “action” against. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned that intensified fighting in Syria and threats of escalated force risk undermining efforts to restart peace negotiations and finding a political answer to the five-year-old conflict. [AP]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out eight airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 16. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 13 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Apple-FBI encryption battle. The San Bernardino court order is limited to one device, said White House spokesman Josh Earnest yesterday, adding that the ruling does not mean asking Apple for a “back door” to the device. [BBC]

Both sides in the spat are “bracing for the legal fight ultimately to reach the Supreme Court,” reports Devlin Barrett and Daisuke Wakabayashi, and preparing for the case to potentially prompt Congress into action. [Wall Street Journal]

Apple has unlocked encrypted data for law enforcement at least 70 times since 2008, reports Shane Harris, citing a case similar to the San Bernardino order in New York last year. [The Daily Beast]

“Apple leads the charge on security, but who will follow?” asks Jenna McLaughlin, commenting on the response from Silicon Valley to Tim Cook’s statement, which was “less effusive” than many civil liberties activists. [The Intercept]

“In the long run, the tech companies are destined to emerge victorious.” Farhad Manjoo argues for why companies like Apple, Google and Facebook “hold most of the cards in this confrontation.” [New York Times]

“I think Apple should help the FBI get into terrorists’ phones,” opines Nellie Bowles, arguing that “if our lives are lived through our phones now, how can law enforcement do its job if it can’t get into them.” [The Guardian]

Former national security adviser, Tom Donilon has been named by President Obama as the lead on a new federal commission charged with enhancing cybersecurity nationwide. [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian and Cory Bennett]

GUANTANAMO BAY

Yemeni detainee Walid bin Attash’s request to fire the lawyers representing him at the 9/11 pre-trial hearings at Camp Justice, yesterday, was refused by the presiding judge. Bin Attash has decided to boycott proceedings from now on. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

Australia has “violated the rights of David Hicks by keeping him in jail,” the UN has said. Hicks was convicted in the US in 2007 on charges of “providing material support for terrorism,” though it later emerged that he was forced to accept a plea bargain. Having spent several years in Guantánamo Bay he was transferred to an Australian prison to continue his sentence, despite serious concerns about the fairness of US procedures. [UN News Centre]

“Islam is innocent of this group and its actions.” Younis Chekkouri, released from Guantánamo Bay after 13 years and now back in his home county of Morocco, speaks to Samia Errazzouki and Lori Hinnant about his time in detention and his hatred of Islamic State. [AP]

GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz has said he thinks there is a “profound risk” that President Obama will return Guantánamo Bay to Cuba by the end of the year. [Politico’s Eliza Collins]

The “21 century’s boundless war will span generations, at least in courtrooms.” The attorney of a high-profile suspected terrorist has predicted that his substantive civilian appeal will not be heard until 2024, an example of the “sluggish justice” which everyone appears to “take for granted.” [Miami Herald’s Michael Doyle]

SOUTH CHINA SEA

The US intends to have a “very serious conversation” with China concerning its increasing militarization of the South China Sea, Secretary of State John Kerry has said. [Washington Post’s Simon Denyer; BBC]  Beijing has accused the US and its Asian allies of “hyping up” China’s deployment of missile defense systems, claiming there is an “ulterior motive” for the accusations. [The Guardian]

The EU has also warned China that it must bear in mind a ruling expected later this year by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague concerning China’s territorial dispute with the Philippines. China has said that it rejects the authority of that court, despite the fact that it has ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the law on which the case rests. [Reuters’ David Brunnstrom]

Satellite photos obtained by the Washington Post show China’s military construction on several islands in the South China Sea.

RUSSIA

Russia has been “flexing its muscles” near UK airspace. Two Russian bombers were intercepted by British fighter jets as they headed toward, but did not enter, UK airspace. Russian military planes have displayed the same behavior “at least six times” in the last year. [BBC; Reuters]

NATO would do well do “bolster Ukrainian deterrence against further adventurism” by Russia, opine former CIA director David Petraeus and John Herbst, suggesting that NATO’s deployment of troops to other Eastern European countries does not remedy the situation in Ukraine. [Wall Street Journal]

Poland and the US are “close friends and allies with a shared history and values.” Witold Waszczykowski, minister of foreign affairs for Poland, makes the case for the US and NATO to support it in resisting Russian aggression. [New York Times]

YEMEN

Houthi fighters have been blamed for the shooting of a Yemeni journalist in the city of Taiz. [The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade]

The UN has again stressed that there is no military solution to the conflict in Yemen, and has called on warring parties to commit to a permanent ceasefire. [UN News Centre]

FRANCE

French Muslim groups are claiming that the government has “overreached” its powers in sanctioning emergency measures such as warrant-less raids of homes and businesses, which have resulted in hundreds of French Muslims being placed under house arrest even when there is insufficient evidence to charge them. [New York Times’ Alissa J Rubin]

Video footage of a senior Belgian nuclear official has been recovered from one of the suspects in the investigation into the terrorist attacks in Paris in November last year. The images were captured by a camera hidden in bushes opposite the official’s home. [AFP]

LIBYA

The US is standing by as Islamic State expands into Libya, opines the Washington Post editorial board, and risks making the same mistakes it made with Syria and Iraq.  The Obama administration has vetoed a US military plan to conduct airstrikes and deploy troops in Libya’s capital. [The Daily Beast’s Nancy A Youssef]

“We took a shot, but we could never really confirm his demise.” A “legendary” Algerian militant, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, believed to have been killed in an airstrike in Libya last year, may in fact be alive. The case highlights “the sometimes limited intelligence surrounding strikes” that have become a “hallmark” of President Obama’s counterterrorism strategy, says Missy Ryan. [Washington Post]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

“I did not lie.” Director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has again insisted that he was mistaken, rather than untruthful, in his 2013 claim that the NSA does “not wittingly” collect data on millions of US citizens. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

The White House has hit back at Senator Charles Schumer for his criticism of the decision to cut funding to anti-terrorism programs in President Obama’s recent budget request, press secretary Josh Earnest saying that Schumer has lost “credibility” on the issue of national security. [The Hill’s Jordain Fabian]

An Afghan national’s ties to the CIA were the topic of discussion in one classified email chain uncovered on former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s private email server. [Fox News’ Catherine Herridge and Pamela K Browne]

Israel’s top general has advocated that soldiers use only “necessary force” when confronted with attacks from Palestinians. Speaking to Israeli high school students, his comments come as the international community criticizes Israel for using excessive force during the current surge of violence. [AP]

Child soldiers were used by the Taliban in the battle to overtake Kunduz, Afghanistan, last year, according to Human Rights Watch. [New York Times’ David Jolly]

A “constant horror story of allegations” against the UN. The New York Times editorial board say that the UN is failing to protect vulnerable children from sexual abuse by its own peacekeepers.

“No nation should fight global atrocities alone.” Ramesh Thakur discusses the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine fifteen years after the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty presented it. [Washington Post] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE