The Early Edition: March 17, 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’s UN envoy has ruled out direct talks with the opposition at peace negotiations in Geneva, Ambassador Bashar Jaafari accusing the chief negotiator of being a terrorist. [Wall Street Journal’s Asa Fitch and Nour Malas]  His statement lessens hopes of greater compromise following Russia’s decision to begin withdrawal from Syria. [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor]

The majority of Moscow’s Syrian contingent will withdraw “in two or three days,” local media reported. [Al Jazeera]

Russia now has “less misunderstandings” with the US, the deputy head of the Russian Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee told CNN.

The Economist gives its view on Russia’s withdrawal from Syria, considering a number of things which can be “construed from Mr Putin’s demarche, including the fact that the withdrawal is not complete and a reescalation of hostilities could be quickly arranged.

Syrian Kurds are preparing a plan to declare a federal region across much of northern Syria, representatives said yesterday. If they go ahead with the plan, “they will be dipping a toe into the roiling waters of debate” over two proposals to redraw Middle Eastern borders, with far-reaching implications for Syria and its neighbors, writes Anne Barnard. [New York Times]

American officials are keen to question an alleged US ISIS fighter who surrendered to Kurdish forces in Iraq on Monday. A former US National Counterterrorism Center official suggested he “would be an intelligence gold mine.” [NBC News’ Josh Meyer]

The Islamic State’s “thickest, strongest, stronghold in Iraq” has been identified by US intelligence as a corridor between Mosul and Tal Afar, Barbara Starr reports. [CNN]

Secretary of State John Kerry will miss the deadline set by Congress to decide whether or not to classify atrocities committed by the Islamic State as genocide. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

A video emerged today purporting to show missing Japanese journalist, Jumpei Yasuda, reportedly held by the Nusra Front in Syria. [Reuters]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out two strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on March 15. Separately, partner forces conducted a further nine strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

Most Islamic State recruits come from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco and other Arab countries, the cache of Islamic State documents recently passed to German and UK journalists reveals. Less than 2 per cent listed in the cache are Syrian, reports Khaled Diab. [Al Jazeera]

Iraqi forces captured nearly 150 ISIS fighters last week as they attempted to blend in with 35,000 civilians along the Euphrates River Valley. [DoD News]

Israel is more concerned with Iran than Islamic State, marking it out from Syria’s other neighbours. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t interested in the eventual outcome of the five-year war there, writes Yaroslav Trofimov, quoting the director-general of Israel’s foreign ministry as saying “it is critical from the Israeli standpoint that Syria does not emerge as an Iranian satellite incorporated fully into the Iranian strategic system.” [Wall Street Journal]

ANKARA BOMB ATTACK

The Kurdish Freedom Hawks (TAK), an offshoot of the PKK, has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing in Ankara, Turkey, on Sunday in a statement released online. The militant group said that the attack was revenge for security operations in the largely Kurdish southeast, underway since July. [Reuters; BBC]

The danger posed by Islamic State in Ankara “has metastasized into a two-front war against the extremist group and Kurdish separatists,” writes Dion Nissenbaum, who says that numerous bomb attacks over the past few months are testament to the government’s failure to protect the country from “the fall out of the Syrian war next door.” [Wall Street Journal]

Germany has closed its embassy in Ankara, Turkey, after receiving “very concrete indications that terrorist attacks were being prepared” against it. It has also closed its consulate in Istanbul, and German schools in both cities. [Reuters; AP]

BELGIAN COUNTERTERRORISM RAIDS

The suspect killed in a counterterrorism raid in Brussels yesterday is believed to have had “potential links to radical Islam,” though it is unclear whether he had any connection to the November 13 attacks in Paris. [New York Times’ Aurelien Breeden]

Raids against suspected Islamist militants will “almost certainly continue” in Brussels, Belgian’s prime minister said yesterday. [Washington Post’s James McAuley]

FRANCE

French police arrested four people on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities in Paris yesterday. One of the detainees is a man believed to have links to Islamic State members in Syria.  None of the suspects have been charged as yet. [Wall Street Journal’s Sam Schechner and Inti Landauro]

Units dedicated to combating Islamic radicalization are being piloted in French prisons for “dangerous but salvageable” detainees. Inmates will undergo a program involving training in Salafism and visits by historians to deconstruct ideas about medieval caliphates. [The Guardian’s Christopher de Bellaigue]

LIBYA

There is evidence that two Serbian diplomats were killed in a US airstrike on an Islamic State training camp in Libya last month. The Pentagon undertook the airstrike on the understanding that no civilians were at the camp. [The Intercept’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous]

“The battle for the future of Libya should be decided by the people of Libya.” Christopher Preble argues against further US intervention in Libya. [Politico]

PAKISTAN

Outlawed group Lashkar-i-Islam has claimed responsibility for the bomb attack on a bus carrying government employees in Peshawar, Pakistan, yesterday. The claim has yet to be independently confirmed. Police investigations have disclosed that the perpetrator planted the bomb, which had a timer, before disembarking the bus. [New York Times’ Ismail Khan]

Osama bin Laden’s documents reveal al-Qaeda’s “patient approach” to attrition against the West. The documents, recovered in 2011 during the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and made public earlier this month, show that the US has failed to appreciate the group’s long-term strategy, often mistaking periods of quiet for inactivity, suggests Daveed Gartenstein-Ross. [The Daily Beast]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Apple v. FBI. Apple has never worked with any government agency from any country to undermine the security of its own products or services, according to Apple software chief Craig Federighi, his comments forming part of a sworn declaration filed in the ongoing encryption battle between the tech giant and the FBI. [Motherboard’s Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai]

Digital rights group, Fight for the Future, will protest the March 22 court hearing in the dispute between Apple and the FBI over the locked iPhone. Cory Bennett reports. [The Hill]

The UK’s Ministry of Defence will conduct a military exercise using drone aircraft and underwater systems this fall, a large-scale event which will form part of the regular UK-led NATO Joint Warriors exercise. [The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill]

NORTH KOREA

The US has imposed new sanctions on North Korea aimed explicitly at the Pyongyang government, its ruling party and the nation’s economy. The sanctions were imposed via an executive order yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon; The Hill’s Harper Neidig]

“Diplomatic leverage.” The American student convicted in North Korea of subversion yesterday is caught up in the “escalating diplomatic face-off between Washington and Pyongyang,” writes Alastair Gale. [Wall Street Journal]  Otto F Warmbier is one of around a dozen Americans arrested in North Korea in recent years. Rick Gladstone provides a summary of their cases. [New York Times]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

No criminal charges are to be brought against US military personnel involved in a raid on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan in October last year, which resulted in the deaths of 42 people, US defense officials informed reporters yesterday. [The Daily Beast]

President Obama is to visit Saudi Arabia next month in an effort to repair relations with Gulf Arab leaders over last year’s nuclear deal with Iran. The president will also visit the UK and Germany to “shore up ties” with two of the US’s longstanding allies amid the threat of global terrorism. [Wall Street Journal’s Carol E Lee and Margherita Stancati; The Hill’s Jordan Fabian]

Russia’s blocking of sanctions against Iran for its latest ballistic missile launches teaches us that the Obama administration depends on the support of Russia and China to enforce the UN resolution, says the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

The NSA refused early requests from Hillary Clinton’s top aides to provide the former secretary of state with a “secure ‘BlackBerry-like” device to use while in office, new emails released yesterday reveal. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Donald Trump becoming president has been rated as a top 10 risk facing the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The research finds that Trump poses more of a risk to global security than the UK leaving the EU or fighting breaking out in the South China Sea. [BBC]

An Ohio man has pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to Islamic State and to counts of possessing firearms while a felon. Amir Said Rahman Al-Ghazi will be sentenced on June 23. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Morocco has reacted angrily to UN Security-General Ban Ki-moon’s reference to its “occupation” of Western Sahara, Morocco’s foreign minister informing Mr Ban that his country is planning to cut “a large part” of its civilian support for the UN Mission in Western Sahara and considering withdrawing troops from peacekeeping operations altogether. Morocco has been involved in a dispute over its sovereignty of Western Sahara since the 1970s. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone] 

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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