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.
EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT
Brussels terror attacks. Evidence has emerged indicating that the same Islamic State terror cell was responsible for Tuesday’s attacks as carried out the Paris attacks in November. [Wall Street Journal’s Gabriele Steinhauser et al; New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin et al] Belgian authorities are searching for a third man caught on CCTV with the two suicide bombers at Brussels airport. [Reuters] And a second attacker is suspected of having taken part in the metro blast, and may be on the run, according to local media sources. [AP]
The Guardian has an interactive explainer detailing the links between the Brussels and Paris attackers.
Turkey claims one of the Brussels bombers was deported from Turkey in 2015, and warned Belgian and Dutch authorities that he was a suspected militant upon deportation to the Netherlands. [Financial Times’ Mehul Srivastava and Peter Spiegel]
Paris attacks suspect, Salah Abdeslam, says that he “didn’t know” about the plans for the Brussels attack. [The Guardian] And Abdeslam will not fight extradition from Belgium to France, his lawyer has said, a shift from his earlier position. [BBC] Abdeslam is due in court on March 31 for a hearing in Brussels to execute a European arrest warrant issued by France. [Reuters]
European security and justice officials are holding an emergency meeting today in Brussels, as world leaders criticize some of Europe’s anti-terrorism measures, reports Helen Davidson. [The Guardian] American officials have expressed their frustration at the Belgian security apparatus. [Reuters]
The quantity of explosives discovered by Belgian authorities during a raid of a dwelling used by Brussels attackers was surprising to officials, reports C. J. Chivers, noting that the explosive, TATP or triacetone triperoxide, is typically seen in small quantities, not in tens of pounds as in this case. [New York Times]
President Obama has rejected calls to change his strategy against ISIS in the wake of the Brussels attacks made by Republicans, saying that while defeating ISIS is his “number one priority,” he will not change course “simply because it’s political season.” [Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin and David Nakamura]
A number of State Department personnel are unaccounted for following the Brussels attacks, according to spokesman Mark Toner. [AP’s Bradley Klapper] And the head of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep Devin Nunes, suggested that the terror attacks appear to have been designed to target Americans, citing his own “vantage point.” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]
The anti-terror crackdown in Brussels following the Paris attacks may have “spurred into action” Tuesday’s attackers, report Michael Birnbaum and Souad Mekhennet, citing comments from a Belgian prosecutor. [Washington Post]
ISIS has trained at least 400 fighters to target Europe, officials have told the AP, report Lori Hinnant and Paisley Dodds.
Europe’s fight against ISIS poses a “quandary” for governments, writes Steven Erlanger, discussing the challenges of fighting the militant group within a country’s own borders, where terrorists hide out in ghettoized parts of cities “that amount to mini failed states.” [New York Times]
Tuesday’s attacks are likely to “revive – but not resolve – a thorny public debate” about the use of costly and intensive security systems at transportation hubs, write Nicola Clark and Ron Nixon. [New York Times]
The New York Times editorial board opines that the EU must tighten security at airports, train stations and urban metro systems; that European states must improve their cooperation on counterterrorism operations; and that attention must be paid to why many young Europeans are vulnerable to ISIS’s spell.
The Economist notes two lessons that must be taken from the Brussels attacks: “One is that … IS remains resourceful enough to mount synchronized bombings in the heart of Europe. The other, which flows from this, is that big cities in Europe and America will have to get used to a long campaign of terror in which all are targets.”
“If there is any hope in the Brussels outrage, it is that there are still humans in the bombers’ ranks who refuse to meet their death,” opines Nicholas Hénin, commenting that “even if indoctrinated” it still takes a human being to detonate an explosive, killing themselves and others. [The Guardian]
IRAQ and SYRIA
Syria peace talks. The EU has attempted to “breathe new life” into the peace talks in Geneva, by sending its foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to speak to negotiators on both sides. Head of the Syrian delegation Bashar Ja’afari said afterwards that he believed she had enabled them to “break the impasse” for the first time. [Reuters]
Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Moscow yesterday to meet with Russia’s President Putin, the first face-to-face meeting between Putin and the US since Russia announced it would be withdrawing its forces from Syria. Kerry’s two-day trip will seek to ascertain President Putin’s position on removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. [Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullinson] The aim of the meeting is to get “down to brass tacks on what political transition looks like,” a senior State Department official said during a special briefing yesterday.
Forces loyal to Assad backed by Russian airstrikes have entered the city of Palmyra, Syria, which they are fighting to take back from Islamic State. [AP] The capture of the city by Islamic State in May last year sparked soon-realised fears that the militants would destroy the many ancient monuments there. Its re-taking would be a “symbolic victory” for government forces. [The Guardian’s Kareem Shaheen; BBC]
Iraqi military forces backed by US-led coalition aircraft began an operation to retake the city of Mosul from Islamic State on Thursday, a military spokesperson has confirmed. They have already retaken several villages on the outskirts of a town east of Mosul, Makhmour. It is unclear how long the offensive will take. [AP]
Turkey has carried out airstrikes on 11 PKK targets in northern Iraq, its military has advised. The airstrikes took place late last night, and are the third operation of this nature since the suicide attack in Ankara on March 13. [AP]
Russia’s likely use of Israeli surveillance drones to help Russian planes locate and hit ground targets appears to have gone unnoticed, report Dave Axe and Patrick Hilsman, who say that the use of the drones “underscores Israel’s role, however indirect, in enabling Russia’s military intervention in Syria” on behalf of President Assad. [The Daily Beast]
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out eight strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on March 23. Separately, partner forces conducted seventeen strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Russia’s pulling out of Syria means US and NATO forces will face “a Russia more concentrated on Ukraine and its European neighbors,” reports Daniel Katz, who considers that Washington’s response of increased military presence in Europe may not be enough to protect NATO’s “most vulnerable members,” Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. [Wall Street Journal]
The existence of the first US-only military base established in Iraq since forces returned to the county in 2014 was made public following the death of US marine Staff Sgt. Louis F Cardin in a rocket attack there last weekend. Spencer Ackerman, reporting, describes the base as “the latest incremental escalation of a war whose developments do not always correspond to the White House’s depiction” of the situation in Iraq. [The Guardian]
SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
Apple v FBI. Cellebrite, the Israeli cybersecurity firm reportedly behind the FBI’s claim that it has found a third party to hack the iPhone of one of the San Berdardino shooters, has confirmed that it works with the FBI but has refused to provide any further details. [BBC]
The Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth, which made the claim that Cellebrite is helping the FBI yesterday, has been “known to plug Israeli companies.” NPR attempts to sort through the speculation.
A reported “radical policy shift” at the NSA will allow its information to be used in policing efforts in the US. Lawmakers sent a letter to the intelligence agency this week advising it that, if the reports are correct, the changes would be unconstitutional. The NSA has yet to publicly announce the changes. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]
The Justice Department is expected to charge Iranian hackers for the coordinated cyber attacks on US banks and a New York dam in 2012, possibly as soon as today. [Reuters]
A Chinese man has pleaded guilty in California to involvement in a plot to hack systems containing sensitive US military data including data relating to fighter jets, weapons and cargo aircraft. [BBC] The conspiracy originated in China and involved two other persons between October 2008 and March 2014, the Department of Justice confirmed yesterday.
OBAMA IN ARGENTINA
A “turning point in bilateral relations.” President Obama’s meeting with Argentinian President Mauricio Macri yesterday was positive, both leaders agreeing that the visit would enable the two countries to strengthen cooperation in the fight against terrorism and other areas, Mr Macri saying his country would seek to increase its role in international peacekeeping efforts and in settling refugees. [Wall Street Journal’s Carol E Lee and Taos Turner]
President Obama has said he will release secret files disclosing the US’ role in Argentina’s military coup in 1976, which Argentina’s President Marcri described as “the darkest chapter in our history.” [BBC]
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Two Palestinians who stabbed an Israeli soldier in the occupied West Bank town of Hebron today have been shot dead, according to a statement released by the Israeli military. [Reuters]
The “Diplomatic Quartet” is to compile a report to assist Palestine and Israel in creating a political environment that would aid the resumption of peace negotiations, a UN envoy for the Palestine-Israel peace process revealed yesterday. The Diplomatic Quartet comprises the UN, Russia, the US and the EU.
Americans have been killed by prisoners released from Guantánamo Bay, one of the Pentagon’s special envoys for Guantánamo closure told a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing yesterday, though he did not provide any details on the deaths, telling the committee he could only do so in a more classified environment. [Miami Herald’s Richard Lardner]
The special envoys for Guantánamo Bay closure defended the Obama administration’s plan at the hearing. The two envoys insisted that the terrorist attacks in Brussels the day before would not affect Europeans’ “consistent” view that the detention facility should be closed. [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]
North Korea has successfully tested a new solid-fuel rocket engine, according to North Korea’s state news agency, which did not say when the test had taken place. [Wall Street Journal’s Alastair Gale] Meanwhile, North Korea’s “propaganda machine” has been outdoing itself, releasing “ever-more inventive and florid statements” as tensions run high on the Korean Peninsula. [Washington Post’s Anna Fifield]
The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for the appointment of a panel of experts to consider legal avenues to prosecuting North Korean leaders for crimes against humanity yesterday. The resolution was adopted despite criticisms from six countries, including China and Russia. [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce]
Warring factions in Yemen have agreed to a cease-fire beginning April 10 ahead of peace talks beginning April 18, the UN envoy to Yemen announced today. [AP] In a statement the UN has set out the five main areas the talks will focus on.
The international criminal court for the former Yugoslavia will pass judgment on Radovan Karadžić today. A guilty verdict for the man who led a breakaway Bosnian-Serb republic that became notorious for its “ethnic cleansing” is expected, but uncertainty remains as to whether the court will find that his crimes amounted to genocide. The outcome will “profoundly affect how the world responds to today’s mass atrocities and those yet to come,” reports Julian Borger. [The Guardian]
“About those Cuban prisoners.” The fact that Obama does not appear to have taken Cuban President Castro up on his offer to release dissident prisoners if Obama provides him with a list, made during the leaders’ summit in Havana on Tuesday, “won’t go unnoticed by the dissidents or the regime,” suggest the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
A House committee approved a bill yesterday that would require the Department of Homeland Security to collect and use former terrorists’ testimonies in an effort to undermine recruitment efforts. Democrats have objected that the bill unfairly singles out Muslims. [Politico’s Heather Caygle]
Two British university students have been convicted of plotting terrorist attacks in London, involving drive-by killings of police, soldiers and civilians. Counterterrorism officials have called it the most significant jihadi plot targeting Britain in the last ten years. [The Guardian’s Vikram Dodd; Wall Street Journal’s Alexis Flynn]