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
US intel analysts are claiming that they have been forced out of their jobs by Central Command because they expressed skepticism in their reporting of US-backed rebel groups in Syria, report Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef, the “first known instance of possible reprisals” against personnel following accusations that intelligence reports had been manipulated to correspond to the Obama administration’s line on the war against ISIS. [The Daily Beast]
Fierce clashes erupted over the weekend between government and opposition forces outside Aleppo, reports Philip Issa, the opposition fighters including members of the Nusra Front. The fighting undermines the ongoing ceasefire. [Washington Post]
Syrian government forces recaptured the town of al-Qaryatain from ISIS after placing it under siege over recent days, state media reported. The town is 100km west of Palmyra and has been held by the militant group since August. [Al Jazeera]
An American airstrike has killed an ISIS rocket expert, thought to have been involved in an attack that killed a US Marine, the army said yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Ben Kesling]
A key leader of the Nusra Front has been killed in what rebel sources report was a US drone strike in Idlib province, Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that Abu Firas had been killed, though the monitor group said he was killed by a Russian or Syrian government strike. [France 24]
A series of bomb attacks across Iraq involving as many as 10 suicide bombers have killed at least 25 people, local reports say. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks. [BBC]
A US-led coalition airstrike has destroyed the Turkish consulate in Mosul, Iraq, which has been occupied by Islamic State since mid-2014, according to the Turkish foreign ministry. [Reuters]
Two people have been arrested at Gatwick airport in London, UK on suspicion of “Syria-related” terrorism offences. Local police said there was “no risk to any passengers at Gatwick Airport.” [BBC]
“Into the heart of terror: behind ISIS lines.” Jürgen Todenhöfer shares his experience of ISIS-controlled Syria and Iraq at the Guardian.
EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT
At least 22 European radical Islamists thought to be linked to the Brussels and Paris attacks are still at large, reports Matthew Dalton, noting that many suspects are thought to have been involved in previous ISIS plots, according to officials, with many having spent time in Syria. [Wall Street Journal]
A third suspect was charged on Saturday by Belgian federal prosecutors in connection to what officials are calling a major terror plot on France. [Washington Post’s James McAuley]
The first plane took off from Brussels Airport yesterday since the March 22 bombing there. The security at the airport was tight with new check-in procedures for passengers. [France 24]
Belgian authorities are trying to engage with Muslim communities, an attempt to “root out radicalization,” including programs of community outreach and individual counseling. [Wall Street Journal]
“How two Brussels neighborhoods became ‘a breading ground’ for terror,” from Aaron Williams et al, at the Washington Post.
A British national has been found guilty of plotting a terrorist attack on American military personnel in the United Kingdom; the plot was intended as a sign of his allegiance to the Islamic State. BBC reports.
Congress is not responding to recent terror strikes in the US and Europe with the “same urgency” as it did the November Paris attacks, reports Mike Lillis. After Paris, bipartisan leaders “came together within weeks” to enact rules increasing screening for certain visitors to the US. Following more recent terror strikes in Europe, and the San Bernardino massacre at home, no such legislation has been put forward. [The Hill]
The“biggest leak in history.” An unprecedented data leak from Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm, has revealed how the “rich and powerful” use tax havens to hide their wealth. [BBC] Those implicated by the documents, originally leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, include several world leaders. [New York Times’ Michael S Schmidt and Steven Lee Myers]
One of the companies exposed by the leaked documents “provided fuel for the aircraft used by the Syrian government to bomb and kill thousands of its citizens,” reports Uri Blau. [Haaretz]
Documents disclosing “a pattern” of those closest to Russia’s President Putin earning millions through deals that “seemingly could not have been secured without his patronage” are also among those revealed. [The Guardian’s Luke Harding]
This is a developing story. Live updates are available on the Guardian.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
Interest groups are putting pressure on the FBI to reveal how it was able to hack into the Apple iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams]
UK authorities are trying to force a man accused of hacking the US government to provide his encryption keys, reports Ryan Gallagher, a case which may have implications for journalists and activists. [The Intercept]
Britain’s Labour party is demanding that the Government strengthen the privacy safeguards in its investigatory powers bill, the shadow home secretary Andy Burnham outlining seven areas of concern in a letter to the Home Secretary Theresa May. [The Guardian‘s Rowena Mason]
General counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Robert Litt’s recent post on Just Security has been described as a “rare olive branch to privacy advocates,” by Jenna McLaughlin at The Intercept, citing praise for Litt’s “effort to reach out.”
Heavy fighting broke out between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, a separatist region of Azerbaijan, on Saturday, killing at least 30 soldiers and a boy. It was the “worst outbreak” since war in the region ended in 1994. [Washington Post’s Aida Sultanova] The US and Russia have called for an immediate end to the fighting. [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge]
A cease-fire was declared on Saturday, though intermittent fighting has reportedly continued. [Washington Post’s Andrew Roth]
What triggered the “renewed tension” between Armenia and Azerbaijan? Al Jazeera discusses the sudden thawing of the “frozen conflict” over the weekend.
The fighting has exposed the “unresolved disputes and chronic internal instability” that still affect parts of Europe, while EU leaders’ attentions are fixed on external threats such as Syria’s civil war and Islamist terrorism, reports Simon Tisdall. [The Guardian]
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Israel expanded the Palestinian fishing zone of the coast of Gaza on Sunday, a move that was welcomed by Palestinian officials, though there are concerns over whether there will be proper protection for Palestinian fishermen from Israeli naval forces, which reportedly occasionally open fire on fishing vessels, even within the permitted fishing area. [New York Times’ Majd al Waheidi and Isabel Kerschner]
Israeli public opinion is “solidly behind” the soldier who shot and killed an injured Palestinian attacker in West Bank last week, an event that was captured on video. Lisa Goldman explains why there is such a “sharp contrast between popular opinion in Israel and abroad.” [The Daily Beast]
Israeli security forces demolished the homes of three Palestinians today who attacked Israeli officers in Jerusalem in February. Israel considers home demolitions to be an effective deterrent of further attacks, reports the AP.
The labeling of Palestinian attackers as “terrorists” is proof that the term means nothing beyond “violence by Muslims against the West and its allies,” used for the purpose of de-legitimizing the violence of one side in relation to the other, argues Glenn Greenwald. [The Intercept]
Iran has followed the letter but not the spirit of the nuclear deal, President Obama commented on Friday, after the Nuclear Security Summit, focusing on the fact that this is sending negative signals to the business world. The president also denied that America is going to ease rules preventing US dollars from being used in financial transactions with Iran. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]
“Behind all the talk of change, the Iran we have long known – hostile, expansionist, violent – is alive and well, and dangerous as ever.” Saturday marked the one year anniversary of the nuclear deal with Iran. Youssef Al Otaiba explains why it has failed to make “the world safer” in the long run as President Obama said it would. [Wall Street Journal]
Two weeks of pre-trial hearings at Guantánamo Bay scheduled to begin tomorrow were abruptly canceled on an order issued by the judge, Army Col. James L Pohl which has not been published on the military commissions website, as is the normal practice. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]
Obama’s fourth Nuclear Security Summit failed to address 97-98% of the world’s supply of uranium, according to critics. The summit focused on the 2-3 percent that is largely in the possession of academics for research purposes. The rest is held in military stockpiles, military material falling outside the scope of international security agreements, reports Alex Emmons. [The Intercept]
Western intervention in Libya is a more immediate prospect now that Libya’s unity government has been installed, causing division among Libya’s many armed factions and among neighboring North African nations. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan and Sudarsan Raghavan]
A US airstrike in Somalia targeted senior al-Shabaab leader Hassan Ali Dhoore last Thursday, the Pentagon announced on Friday. The results of the airstrike are still being assessed. [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]
The leader of Ansaru, an al-Qaeda splinter group, has been arrested in Nigeria, local authorities have confirmed. [BBC] Despite this, al-Qaeda are still “very dangerous” in African countries such as Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, reports Philip Obaji Jr, and there is “growing reason to believe” that Ansaru took part in recent attacks in those countries and “are serving as the shock troops for an offensive against foreigners in Africa.” [The Daily Beast]
Europe needs NATO, suggests Jackson Diehl, including the “dozen Eurasian nations that Trump has probably never considered,” such as Georgia, which is trying to liberate itself fully from Russia. [Washington Post] Heads of other European nations have asserted the need to maintain the NATO alliance against Russia, in the interests of the US as well as Europe. [Politico’s Joseph J Schatz and Benjamin Oreskes]
Police in Bangladesh have uncovered grenades and firearms in a home occupied by banned Islamist group Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh, today, having been alerted to the premises after a bomb was accidentally detonated there, killing two suspected militants. [AP]
Preparations for the next round of UN-led peace talks in Yemen are underway, according to a UN envoy, speaking on Friday. The intention is to reach an agreement that will both end the war and allow “the resumption of inclusive political dialogue.”
The EU has begun deporting migrants and refugees from Greece to Turkey as per the agreement finalized last week, which human rights observers have labeled “fundamentally flawed” and indicative of “an abandonment of European responsibility” to help those escaping conflict and violence. [Washington Post’s Griff Witte]
Militaries from the countries that provide the most soldiers and police officers to the UN are “among those most susceptible to corruption,” according to a study released yesterday by Transparency International, using factors such as poor anti-corruption practices and inadequate training in its assessment. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]
“First graders in Sur don’t dream of becoming doctors or engineers; they want to become guerrilla fighters.” Young Kurds who see Turks as “the gendarme, the police, the prosecutor, the judge, as those that beat them up and oppress them” are idolizing groups such as the PKK, reports Constanze Letsch. [The Guardian]