The Early Edition: March 31, 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

Fayçal Cheffou is still suspected of committing terrorist murder despite having been released by Belgian authorities. Vince Chadwick et al explore the investigation into the suspected Brussels attacker. [Politico]

The chief suspect in a foiled Paris terror plot has been charged with terrorism, the Paris prosecutor said yesterday. The suspected ISIS operative, Reda Kriket, was found to have an assortment of weapons and explosive devices, “some of them primed for use.” [France 24, New York Times’ Aurelien Breeden and Lilia Blaise]

Airports are looking into how technology could improve security systems, in the wake of Brussels. The deadly attacks have also served as a warning that technology is not a silver bullet for security, reports Robert Wall. [Wall Street Journal]

ISIS has called on German Muslims to attack the chancellery and the Cologne-Bonn airport, posting pictures online, reports the SITE intelligence group. [Reuters]

Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam will cooperate with French authorities, his lawyer has said today, confirming his client’s wish to be extradited to France from Belgium. Abdeslam has links to several of those involved in the Brussels attacks. [France 24]

France’s government has not missed the opportunity to “trumpet its frustrations” at European institutional failings to adequately tackle the terrorist threat, in the wake of the Brussels attacks.  Pierre Briançon provides the story at Politico.

France faces a difficult struggle to combat homegrown jihadism, reports Nicholas Vinocur, citing “false starts and ideological discomfort” as undermining the country’s attempts to handle the threat posed by foreign fighters. [Politico]

“Do all roads lead through Italy for ISIS?” Barbie Latza Nadeau considers the increasing number of terrorism arrests and connections with the group’s operatives, a situation which has Italian authorities struggling to connect the dots. [The Daily Beast]

IRAQ and SYRIA

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad described plans to form a transitional government as “illogical and unconstitutional” when he spoke to Russian media yesterday, Hugh Naylor and Michael Birnbaum suggesting that he was “buoyed” by his recent major victory in Palmyra. Assad also expressed support for peace talks next month, but rejected the opposition’s key demands. [Washington Post]

Assad also suggested that it would not be difficult to form a new Syrian government that included opposition figures, his opponents responding immediately that no administration could be legitimate while he remained in office. [Reuters]

The Kremlin has denied a report by the al-Hayat newspaper which claimed that Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have come to an agreement on the future of Syria’s peace process. [Reuters]

Iraqi forces backed by US-led coalition airstrikes advanced on the western town of Hit, near Baghdad, today. Removing Islamic State from Hit would leave the militants with only one stronghold near the capital, Falluja. [Reuters]

At least one Russian Mi-28 attack helicopter assisted Assad’s forces in retaking Palmyra this week, underscoring Russia’s continued support of the Syrian regime, reports David Axe. [The Daily Beast]

It is time for the Obama administration to give “a forthright assessment of the resources that would be required” to oust Islamic State from the two major cities it still controls, Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, says the New York Times editorial board.

There are at least 12 US generals in Iraq despite the fact that there are only 5000 troops stationed there – about enough for one general, reports Nancy A Youssef, who considers the possible reasons for this apparent imbalance. [The Daily Beast]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out four strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on March 30. Separately, partner forces conducted 20 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

NUCLEAR SECURITY SUMMIT

President Obama will convene his fourth Nuclear Security Summit in Washington today, with over 50 countries due to attend. Russia is boycotting the summit, which “could detract from decisions” reached. [Reuters’ Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom]  The White House’s press call preceding the summit was released yesterday.

“Of all the threats to global security and peace, the most dangerous is the proliferation and potential use of nuclear weapons.” Ahead of the summit, Barack Obama sets out what has been achieved so far in terms of ridding nations of uranium and plutonium, and moving toward a world without nuclear weapons. [Washington Post]

The US and the UK are to simulate a cyber attack on a nuclear power plant, a “war-game” designed to test the ability of the nations’ governments and utility companies’ to respond to such an attack. [The Guardian’s Heather Stewart]

The UK is to exchange 700 kilograms of nuclear waste for the “largest ever” movement of highly enriched uranium with the US, UK Prime Minister David Cameron will announce at the summit today. The uranium will be used to produce medical isotopes, used to treat some forms of cancer. A British government source has called the deal a “win-win” situation. [Reuters]

The increase in anti-China sentiment on the US presidential election campaign will “cast a shadow” over Obama’s one-on-one meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping at the summit today, reports Mark Landler. Experts have warned that the Chinese are taking the anti-China rhetoric employed by the presidential candidates, particularly Donald Trump, “more seriously” than in previous elections, and view it as “a gauge of American intentions.” [New York Times]

Turkish President Erdogan “may face some tough questions about the direction he’s taking his country” at a Q&A session planned as part of the summit. His visit to the US, which began yesterday, was preceded by the release of a letter signed by numerous, mainly right-leaning and neoconservative, foreign policy thinkers warning that the situation in Turkey is “deeply troubling.” [Politico’s Nahal Toosi]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Apple v. FBI. The American government has employed the same legal tactic – relying on the All Writs Act – that it used in its dispute with Apple in over 60 other phone-unlocking cases, according to a tally by the American Civil Liberties Union. The number includes iPhones and devices running Google’s Android operating system. [The Guardian’s Danny Yadron]  Apple has faced such requests since at least 2008. [NPR’s Naomi Lachance]

The FBI has agreed to use its new capabilities unlock another iPhone and an iPod in relation to a murder case being investigated by Arkansas police. [BBC]

Apple may never find out how the FBI succeeded in breaking into the iPhone of Syed Farook, despite the US vulnerabilities equities process under which the government is supposed to favor disclosure of security issues so companies can remedy errors. Dustin Volz explains. [Reuters]

US citizens should “absolutely” still have confidence in their personal privacy, despite the government’s success in breaking into the Apple iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday. [Reuters]

“Should hackers help the FBI?” was the question posed on the New York Times’ ‘Room for Debate’ yesterday.

“A conversation on privacy.” The Intercept hosts footage of a discussion on privacy rights between Edward Snowden, Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald at the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Alex Emmons reporting.

LIBYA

Prime Minister Fayez Serraj and six other members of Libya’s UN-backed unity government defied an air blockade to travel to Tripoli, Libya’s capital, yesterday. Serraj’s Government of National Accord is one of three governments vying for control of the country, but is the only one that has the support of Western powers. [New York Times’ Declan Walsh; The Guardian’s Chris Stephen]

Unwelcome interlopers. The head of the Tripoli authorities, Khalifa Ghweil, told Serraj’s envoy “to surrender and be safe in our custody or to return to where they came from” in a televised address. Soon after the politicians’ arrival, a local television channel supportive of authorities in Tripoli was stormed by gunmen and forced off-air. It has not been established to whom the gunmen are affiliated. [BBC]

The situation in Libya undermines Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s “supreme credential,” her “foreign policy mastery” while serving as secretary of state, according to George F Will. [Washington Post]

Libya’s “chaos” is threatening neighboring Tunisia’s “fragile democracy,” reports Leila Fadel. At the same time, many of the Islamic State fighters currently in Libya have come over from Tunisia. Tunisian security forces were able to prevent the Islamist group from seizing the border town of Ben Guerdane on March 7, which would have enabled Islamic State to move freely between the two countries. [NPR]

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

FBI Director James Comey is likely to interview Hillary Clinton over the next few days or weeks, as part of the investigation into her use of private emails while serving as secretary of state. [The Daily Beast]

“Heads, Clinton’s indicted; tails, they’re corrupt.” Ruth Marcus worries about the consequences if Hillary Clinton is not charged with a crime as a result of the FBI investigation, a decision which a large “school of people” would never accept as the result of “independent, sober-minded prosecutors looking at the facts and the law and reaching a contrary conclusion.” [Washington Post]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Up to a dozen more Guantánamo Bay prisoners are to be transferred, the Defense Department told Congress late last night. The detainees will be transferred to at least two countries, which have not been identified. [New York Times’ Nicholas Fandos; BBC]  One of those due to be transferred is a Yemeni detainee who has been on hunger strike since 2007, Tariq Ba Odah. Repatriations from the detention center to Yemen are banned, meaning that another country will have to be found to take him. [Washington Post’s Adam Goldman]

Out of fear that they are financing terror or money laundering, US banks have closed thousands of accounts belonging to individuals and firms they consider “suspicious, high-risk or difficult to monitor.” This “evicts from the financial system the innocent as well as those the US government would most like to watch,” report Rob Barry and Rachel Louise Ensign. [Wall Street Journal]

There are more foreign intelligence operatives in the US now than ever before, former head of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers stated during his speech at the Heritage Foundation yesterday. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Contenders for the post of UN secretary-general are to take part in a public debate next month before representatives from the 193 member nations, followed by unprecedented public debates in New York and London. Previous secretary-generals have been chosen in private by the dominant powers on the Security Council. [The Guardian’s Julian Borger]

The “public and political storm” whipped up by the shooting of an injured Palestinian man by an Israeli soldier in occupied West Bank, caught on video and widely distributed, poses “a rare challenge” to the Israeli military’s high command. The army’s predicament was underlined by Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot in a letter sent to commanders and soldiers yesterday. [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]  The incident has attracted the outrage of the UN, which has referred to it as an “apparent extrajudicial execution.” [Al Jazeera]

A suicide bombing in a cafe in the town of Galkayo, Somalia, has killed at least nine people today. Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack. [AP]

Boko Haram fighters have killed six soldiers from Niger in the town of Diffa, on the border with Nigeria. [BBC]

The UN has widened its investigation of reports of sexual abuse in Central African Republic amid further allegations. [Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau]

US troops are “afraid to fight” because of “rules and regulations” like the Geneva Conventions, Donald Trump remarked at an afternoon town hall yesterday. “We can’t waterboard, but they can chop off heads,” he observed, stating that “I think we’ve got to make some changes, some adjustments.” [Politico’s Ben Schreckinger]  Trump received the endorsement of the National Border Patrol Council in a statement released yesterday, referring to the presidential candidate as the only one “who actually threatens the established powers that have betrayed this country.” [NPR]

Serbian ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj is “a free man” following the ICTY’s verdict today that he is not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Balkan wars in the 1990s. [BBC]

Mosque leaders in Scotland have been linked to a “proscribed organization,” Sipah-e-Sahaba, formed in Pakistan in the 1980s with links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda and banned by the UK Home Office in 2001. [BBC]

Is China enforcing sanctions against North Korea? asks Matt Rivers, reporting on the caravans of trucks that pass from China to North Korea everyday filled with goods that “represent North Korea’s economic lifeline.” [CNN]

“Pretty accurate.” Ishaan Tharoor examines an article recently distributed by al-Qaeda in Yemen discussing the US presidential election. [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