The Early Edition: March 25, 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.

EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT

Two Americans were among those killed in the attacks in Brussels earlier this week, according to a senior US official. Secretary Kerry confirmed that Americans were among the dead, but did not provide a specific number. [Associated Press’s Matthew Lee] Kerry made his comments shortly after arriving in Brussels for a series of counterterrorism talks. During his trip, he will meet with the President of the European Commission, the Belgian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and Belgium’s King Philippe. [Associated Press’s Lorne Cook]

Police in Brussels arrested seven people suspected of having ties to the terror cell that perpetrated Tuesday’s attacks. Both the Interior Minister and the Justice Minister have offered to resign after the country’s failure to prevent the attacks, but their resignations have not been accepted. [The Guardian’s Jon Henley; New York Times’s Alissa J. Rubin and Rick Gladstone]

A French national was arrested yesterday near Paris on suspicion of plotting a terror attack in France. Last July, he was convicted in absentia in Belgium along with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader of the November attacks in Paris. [Agence France-Presse; The Guardian’s Kim Willsher] French police indicated that the plot was in the “advanced stages.” [Politico’s Jules Johnston]

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden has said the European Union “in some ways gets in the way” of security services. He went on to say that the EU is “not a natural contributor to national security” as part of a discussion of whether the UK would be safer in or out of the Union. [BBC]

Media coverage of terror attacks in western Europe and North America far outstrips attacks elsewhere, despite social media helping draw attention to terrorism in other parts of the world. Mike Wendling considers why this might be the case. [BBC]

A British has been charged with inciting racial hatred after sending a Tweet about challenging a Muslim woman to explain the Brussels attacks. [Wall Street Journal’s Alexis Flynn]

IRAQ and SYRIA

The Syrian peace talks have been adjourned after 10 days of negotiations. The UN mediator said he was encouraged that there had been “no drama, no walkouts,” but others are concerned that there has also been no visible sign of progress on a lasting settlement. [Associated Press’s Jamey Keaten] Opposition groups have warned that there is no hope of progress unless Vladimir Putin exerts his influence on Bashar al-Assad to convince Assad to step down. [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour and Shaun Walker]

The US and Russia have agreed to aim for a draft version of a new Syrian constitution by August according to Secretary of State Kerry. He also indicated they had agreed to press the Syrian government and rebels to speed up talks on a political transition in the country. [BBC]

Syrian government forces backed by intensive Russian airstrikes have slowly pushed into parts of Palmyra. The government has been trying to retake Palmyra from the Islamic State for a number of weeks. [Reuters; New York Times’s Anne Barnard]

The Islamic State’s forces on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria are rapidly diminishing. In addition to recent losses in Palmyra and northern Iraq, the Islamic State has not embarked on a successful offensive in nearly nine months. [Washington Post’s Liz Sly]

There are two North Korean units fighting in Syria in support of the Assad regime according to members of the opposition delegation at the Syrian peace talks this week. Adam Taylor discusses why that might be less far-fetched than it sounds. [Washington Post]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out eight strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on March 24. Separately, partner forces conducted 26 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

CYBERSECURITY and TECHNOLOGY

The US indicted seven Iranian hackers allegedly working with Iran’s government and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard for breaking into the computer systems of dozens of US banks, causing millions of dollars in damages, and for trying to shut down a New York dam. The indictment is the first time individuals tied to another country have been accused by the US of trying to disrupt critical infrastructure. [Reuters’s Dustin Volz; Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima and Matt Zapotosky]

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has sent a letter the Justice Department urging it to release a contentious secret legal memo that is believed to be connected to cybersecurity law. Wyden has pressed DOJ to release the ruling since 2010, saying that an Office of Legal Counsel opinion on commercial service agreements is “inconsistent with the public’s understanding of the law.” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

The Chinese hacker who conspired to infiltrate computer networks of US defense contractors “deserves respect whether guilty or innocent” according to one of China’s state-run newspapers. The Global Times editorial also said the man may have been framed by the US to divert attention from the US’s own spying efforts. [The Guardian’s Stuart Leavenworth]

AFGHANISTAN

The prospects for successful peace talks with the Taliban are dwindling amid recent battlefield successes by insurgents, an embattled government in Kabul, and growing suspicions of Pakistan’s motives in facilitating the negotiations, writes Kathy Gannon. [Associated Press]

Clashes between supporters of two rival warlords in northern Afghanistan killed one person and wounded five. One leader is an ethnic Uzbek, while the other is an ethnic Tajik, but both command private militias that operate independent of the Afghan army. Similar demonstrations and tensions have been reported in cities across the north, drawing attention to ethnic rivalries in the region. [Associated Press]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was convicted of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity yesterday. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in ethnic cleansing operations, the siege of Sarajevo, and the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. [BBC; New York Times’s Marlise Simons]

The New York Times Editorial Board offered a critique of the presidential candidates’ counterterrorism plans in response to the attacks in Brussels. They commended Hillary Clinton’s plan “to work with allies to defeat terrorist groups” and her cautioning “against responses driven by panic,” and rebuked the Republican candidates for their “fearmongering and bravado.”

Outreach and informant efforts in Muslim communities in the US. The chief of police in Dearborn, Michigan runs an outreach-and-informant program that is considered a model by many US law enforcement and counterterrorism authorities, but it’s just one piece of a widespread national effort to build networks within Muslim communities. Michael Hirsh profiles the efforts in Dearborn and looks at the broader context in which they are taking place. [Politico]

The US imposed new sanctions against Iranian defense firms and units the Revolutionary Guard for allegedly supporting Iran’s recent ballistic-missile launches. The Treasury Department also blacklisted firms in the UK and United Arab Emirates for allegedly serving as business fronts for Mahan Air, which was previously sanctioned for facilitating the movement of arms for the Revolutionary Guard. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon]

Russia will deploy a range of coastal missile systems on the Kuril Islands, which are claimed by Japan, as part of its military build-up in the region. [Agence France-Presse]

A man claiming to be a naturalized American citizen has confessed to spying on North Korea on behalf of South Korea. The man has been imprisoned since October. [New York Times’s Choe Sang-Hun]

Malaysian antiterrorism agents arrested 15 people believed to be tied to cells working with Islamic State. Among those detained are four women, a policeman, and an imam. [Wall Street Journal’s Yantoultra Ngui]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani begins a landmark visit to Pakistan today. It is his first trip to the country since becoming president, and it comes at a time when Saudi Arabia is courting Islamabad to increase participation in a new Saudi-led military alliance. [Associated Press’s Kathy Gannon]

Boko Haram has moved into Chad after being driven out of most of its bases in northern Nigeria. Thomas Fessy reports on the toll the group is taking in the country. [BBC] 

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About the Author(s)

Megan Graham

Former Assistant Managing Editor and Security, Privacy, and Technology Fellow at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@meganmcgraham).