The Early Edition: March 21, 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.

PARIS ATTACKS

Salah Abdeslam, the last surviving suspect in the November Paris attacks, was captured in Brussels on Friday. His arrest presents an important opportunity to address unanswered questions surrounding the planning of the terror attacks, report Rukmini Callimachi et al. [New York Times]  The arrest took place in an apartment building in the Molenbeek quarter. [Washington Post’s James McAuley et al]  President Obama has pledged to continue American assistance to the French and Belgian authorities. [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian]

Details are already starting to emerge. Abdeslam has told investigators that he “backed out” of detonating his suicide vest at France’s soccer stadium, Stade de France, where three of his alleged accomplices blew themselves up, killing themselves and one other person. [New York Times’ Aurelien Breeden and Alissa J Rubin]

Abdeslam has also said that he planned to “restart something” in Brussels, according to Belgium’s foreign minister. [New York Times’ Aurelien Breeden; Wall Street Journal’s Julian E Barnes and Valentina Pop]

A man who was captured alongside Abdeslam on Friday has been identified as Najim Laachraoui, who traveled to Syria in 2013. He is suspected of being an accomplice of Abdeslam. [New York Times’ Lilia Blaise]

The four-month hunt for Abdeslam has “generated intense criticism of Belgian authorities,” reports the New York Times editorial board, which provides a chronology of the terror suspect’s “time on the run.”

“We got him.” Mary Dejevsky similarly cautions that the success of Abdeslam’s capture should not be allowed to “obscure the shortcomings in Europe-wide detection and law enforcement” that the Paris attacks and subsequent investigations has exposed. [The Guardian]

TURKEY

Islamic State was responsible for a suicide bombing in Istanbul on Saturday, the Turkish interior minister said yesterday. [New York Times’ Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu]

Two Americans were among those killed in the attack, in a major shopping area. Three others have been confirmed dead, and at least 36 wounded. [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor and Ruth Eglash]  John Kirby, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Public Affairs, said that the US strongly condemns the attacks and will stay in touch with Turkish investigators.

A bomb attack on a military vehicle in Nusaybin, close to Turkey’s border with Syria, has killed three Turkish soldiers today. The town is the site of “repeated clashed” between the Turkish military and the PKK. [Reuters]

Fears are growing that “Turkish forces are struggling with a terrorist challenge that poses a greater danger than the sum of its parts,” writes Mehul Srivastava, as it faces deadly attacks from “a broad range of violent extremists.” [Financial Times]

The EU and Turkey reached an agreement on how to deal with Europe’s migrant crisis on Friday. The deal will see virtually all migrants who attempt to enter Europe via the Aegean Sea, including Syrians fleeing war, being returned to Turkey. [Washington Post’s Anthony Faiola and Griff White]  It is understood that anyone seeking international protection will have an individual interview in Greece, and a right of appeal before being sent back to Turkey, according to a statement released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

OBAMA IN CUBA

President Obama arrived in Cuba yesterday, the first incumbent American president to visit the nearly nine decades. Damien Cave and Julie Hirschfeld Davis survey the situation in the country as relations between the two nations continue to normalize. [New York Times]

The president expressed a desire to meet and hear “directly from the Cuban people,” in a Twitter message posted as the presidential plane was landing in Havana. [Wall Street Journal’s Carol E. Lee]

There are mixed feelings among locals near the Guantánamo Bay naval base about its future as President Obama begins his historic visit. Jonathan Watts reports for the Guardian.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Syria peace talks. Syria’s opposition is becoming impatient with what it sees as insufficient progress in peace negotiations ongoing in Geneva. The opposition delegation will assess at the end of this week whether to continue the talks. [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour]  As the talks finished their first week on Friday, UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said that the “proximity system” to the negotiations was assisting them to move forward. [UN News Centre]

A US Marine was killed in an Islamic State rocket attack in northern Iraq on Saturday, the Pentagon said; Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin was killed when ISIS attacked the compound he was stationed at, some 70 miles from Mosul. His is the second combat casualty in the fight against the militant group. [Wall Street Journal’s Ben Kesling and Felicia Schwartz; Washington Post’s Liz Sly and Mustafa Salim]

The US will deploy more troops to Iraq, it was announced yesterday; it is unclear how many Marines will be deployed however the move is hoped to bolster security at a coalition base close to the front lines with ISIS. [Al Jazeera]

The majority of Russian strike aircraft have left Syria, according to a Centcom assessment, a spokesman said on Friday. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]  Meanwhile, Russian warplanes continue to conduct airstrikes in Syria, military officials said, despite the announcement of a partial military drawdown early last week. [Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces conducted 16 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq on March 20. [Central Command]

The Obama administration wants to see ISIS defeated before the end of the president’s term, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Friday, adding that he is confident that this could be achieved. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

“The alarming truth is that … powerful states have resisted the use of this terminology, refusing to acknowledge genocide as genocide.” Member of the UK House of Lords, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, argues that it is “indefensible” for Britain not to describe Islamic State atrocities as genocide. [The Guardian]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

“Apple vs. the FBI: how the case could play out?” Katie Benner and Matt Apuzzo at the New York Times debate the ongoing encryption dispute and what to expect from the hearing on Tuesday.

Researchers at John Hopkins University have found a bug in Apple’s encryption, which would enable an adept hacker to decrypt photos and videos sent as secure instant messages. Ellen Nakashima reports. [Washington Post]

CHINA and AUSTRALIA

A “scruffy little port” in Darwin, Australia, is “a strategic gateway to the South China Sea,” reports Jane Perlez. Australia’s Northern Territory government began leasing the port to China last October, a decision which launched it into a “geopolitical tussle” over concerns that China’s “port access could facilitate intelligence collection on US and Australian military forces stationed nearby.” [New York Times]

Australia is planning “an extensive arms buildup” in response to growing fears over China. The planned increase in defense spending “could influence the balance of power in the Pacific region,” according to experts. [Washington Post’s A Odysseus Patrick]

NORTH KOREA

North Korea fired five short-range missiles into the sea today, according to South Korea’s military. [Reuters]  The tests come shortly after the UN Security Council met on Friday to urgently consult on the “serious situation” arising from that day’s missile launches, the 15-member Council pledging to closely monitor North Korea and “act as appropriate.” [UN News Centre]

Some politicians in South Korea are calling for the nation to develop its own nuclear weapons program, reports Anna Fifield. [Washington Post]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Almost 4000 individuals were referred to the UK government’s counter-terrorism scheme last year, according to official figures. That is around 11 people per day and represents a huge rise compared to last year. The increase could be attributed to increased vigilance on the part of public bodies, suggests Josh Halliday. [The Guardian]

Recent attacks by Islamic State on Libya’s oil facilities mark a “new phase” in the two-year conflict, according to Western intelligence officials, who say the aim of the attacks is to undermine the prospect of a functioning unity government. [Financial Times’ Sam Jones and Heba Smith]

“In my role as a civilian contractor for the Department of Defense, I spent the first three months of 2004 torturing Iraqi prisoners,” writes Eric Fair, who has been speaking publicly about his time as an interrogator for a number of years. [New York Times]

Figures on casualties resulting from the conflict in Yemen show that Saudi-led coalition airstrikes are responsible for “twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra-ad Al Hussein has said. He accused the coalition of failing to distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilian ones.

“Thanks to colossal mismanagement, the United Nations is failing.” Anthony Banbury, UN assistant secretary general for field support until this month, sets out what he sees as the problems with the UN and the consequences for those the organization is supposed to help. [New York Times]

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is “doing damage to my country, Morocco,” writes Ahmed Charai, who is deeply critical of Mr Ban’s tenure, an “era of incompetence and malfeasance.” [Wall Street Journal]

President Obama should “do more to protect Americans before he leaves office.” The “long reach of Islamic State from California to Brussels to Istanbul” over just four days should be a warning to those who do not think the US should intervene in the Middle East, opines the Wall Street Journal editorial board. 

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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