The Early Edition: April 5, 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.

“PANAMA PAPERS”

Panama-based legal firm Mossack Fonseca worked with “33 individuals or companies who have been placed under sanctions by the US Treasury,” yesterday’s mass document leak reveal. Companies based in Iran and North Korea, including one with links to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, are among them. [BBC]

The law firm also serviced companies belonging to a “top financier” in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Mossack Fonseca is described in US diplomatic cables as Syria’s “poster boy for corruption.” [The Guardian’s Juliette Garside and David Pegg]

The Kremlin has denied the involvement of President Putin’s associates in secret offshore transactions, revealed yesterday. [Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum]

Other world leaders implicated by the leaks include China’s President Xi Jinping and British Prime Minister David Cameron. [BBC; BBC]

“I want to makes these crimes public.” Bastian Obermayer, the German investigative reporter to whom the anonymous hacker responsible first exposed the leak, reveals details of their encrypted conversations. [The Daily Beast’s Nico Hines]  Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald, drawing parallels with the reporting of former NSA employee Edward Snowden’s leaked documents, considers that the real scandal is the disclosure of “what has been legalized.” [The Intercept]

Mossack Fonseca’s response to the leak has been published by the Guardian.

The Department of Justice are currently “reviewing” the Panama Papers. [The Hill’s Naomi Jagoda]

IRAQ and SYRIA

The Syrian ceasefire has come under increased strain over recent days, with rebel groups that are signed onto the ceasefire joining the Nusra Front in a new offensive near Aleppo. [Wall Street Journal’s Sam Dagher]  A war plane was shot down by Islamist rebels near to Aleppo today, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said. [Reuters]

UN Special Envoy to Syria  flew to Moscow to discuss the next round of peace talks with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this morning. [Reuters]

Iraqi security forces have killed 150 Islamic State fighters close to the city of Fallujah, the army confirmed yesterday, as the terrorist group carried out a series of suicide bomb attacks in other parts of the country. [Wall Street Journal’s Ben Kesling]

Islamic State used mustard gas in an attack on Syrian troops at a military airport in the Deir al-Zor province, Syrian media said late yesterday. [Reuters]

A Singaporean arms smuggler has been deported to the US to face charges of illegally exporting US technology that was allegedly sent on to Shi’ite militias in Iraq via Iran. [BBC]

Despite the prevailing Pentagon view that Islamic State in Syria is weakening, there is debate among defense officials about just how weak the group has become, reports Nancy A Youssef. [The Daily Beast]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 14 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on April 4. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 10 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

AFGHANISTAN

A motorbike-riding suicide bomber has attacked a bazaar in Parwan province this morning, killing at least 6 people. [AP]

An Afghan spy agency is recruiting villagers to form a militia group to fight Islamic State in Kot, eastern Afghanistan, the beginning of a program the government intends to roll out across the country. Although it was established in August last year, the program has been closely guarded and has only just been reported. [Wall Street Journal’s Jessica Donati and Habib Khan Totakhil]

The leader of Afghanistan’s Hezb-i-Islami Party has dropped his condition for ending a 40-year war with Kabul that foreign troops leave Afghanistan, according to a party official. The Hezb-i-Islami Party is designated a “global terrorist” group by the US and is blacklisted by the UN. Its leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, lives in hiding. [AP]

EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT

Experts from the FBI , the State Department and the Department of Homeland of Security met with Belgian counterparts a month before the Brussels attacks, aiming to “correct gaps in Belgium’s widely criticized ability to track terrorist plots,” US officials have confirmed. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt]

French emergency services have carried out terrorist attack simulation exercises ahead of the 2016 European Championships, a major European soccer championship due to start in two months’ time. [France 24]

IRAN

US naval ships in the Arabian Sea have intercepted an arms shipment from Iran that the US military has said was probably heading for Houthi rebels in Yemen. The boat and its crew were released once the weapons were confiscated. [Reuters]

Russia will begin a delivery of S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran in the next few days, a senior Russian diplomat told Interfax today. [Reuters]

ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN CLASHES

Clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh intensified yesterday, Turkey supporting Azerbaijan’s attempts to regain control of the region. [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge]

Azerbaijan has threatened a “major attack” on Stepanakert, the capital of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, if Armenian separatists do “not stop shelling our settlements.” [BBC]

Russia’s President Putin appears “on both sides” of this “bloody new war,” reports Anna Nemtsova, which is “more geographically dangerous” this time than fighting between the two sides over 20 years ago because it also pits “Turkey against Russia, and Russia against itself.” [The Daily Beast]

NORTH KOREA

US research institute 38 North has identified “suspicious activity” at North Korea’s main nuclear site via satellite images. Plumes of exhaust fumes could be an indication of some significant activity, according to the institute’s report. It was unable to conclude whether plutonium is being produced. [Reuters; CNN’s Euan McKirdy]

China has imposed restrictions on imports to and from North Korea connected to the country’s missile or nuclear programs. [AP]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Two Libyan Guantánamo Bay detainees have been transferred to Senegal, according to a statement released by Senegal’s Foreign Ministry, leaving the number of prisoners remaining at the camp at 89. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg; New York Times’ Charlie Savage]

A meeting between Egyptian and Italian authorities in Rome during which Egypt was due to hand over evidence relating to the torture and murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni has been postponed, fueling a growing lack of faith in Italy over Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s handling of the investigation. [The Guardian’s Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Ruth Michaelson]

Saudi Arabia’s strengthening ties with Russia “surely speak of the waning regional influence of the US,” reports David Gardner, who discusses the foreign and defense policy of Saudi’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including the seemingly counter-intuitive easing of strained relations with Moscow. [Financial Times]

The Senate Intelligence Committee is due to circulate a draft of its encryption bill this week, intended as a response to the increased use of encrypted devices by criminals. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto is due to hear whether the ICC has thrown out for lack of evidence a case against him for crimes against humanity allegedly perpetrated during violence following the 2007 elections which resulted in the deaths of around 1200 people. [BBC]

Indonesia blew up 23 foreign fishing boats in the South China Sea on Tuesday, as tensions in the area continue to rise. Ten Malaysian and 13 Vietnamese boats caught fishing illegally were sunk, Indonesia’s maritime and fisheries minister confirmed, adding that the same punishment would be meted out if a US fishing boat tried to fish illegally in Indonesian waters. [Wall Street Journal’s Trefor Moss]

Israel has demolished more Palestinian homes in the past 24 hours in the occupied West Bank as “collective punishment” for attacks on Israeli soldiers. [Al Jazeera]

The first prosecutions of UN peacekeepers for sex crimes have begun in Ndolo, a military prison north of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa. Three Congolese men from the UN’s MINUSCA peacekeeping mission face various charges. All three have pleaded not guilty. [Al Jazeera]  Additionally, 11 Tanzanian peacekeepers are facing paternity claims from their alleged victims, the UN said yesterday. [The Guardian]

“You have to be prepared to walk.” GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump attempted to show he’s fit to become commander in chief yesterday at a rally in Wisconsin ahead of the state’s primary vote by revealing a foreign policy which focuses on making Europe and countries like Japan and South Korea pay more for US military protection. [CNN’s Stephen Collinson]  Meanwhile, President Obama reassured NATO that it is still considered “a lynchpin, a cornerstone” yesterday following Trump’s earlier assertions that the organisation was “obsolete.” [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian]

“America’s credibility as a reliable guardian against chaos has been broken.” European politicians have “profound doubts” about a US “with both a president who broke his word and failed to attack Syria for its use of poison gas” and “a leading candidate for the White House whose campaign resounds with brutality, bigotry and ignorance of the world,” writes John Vinocur. [Wall Street Journal]

“Inside the CIA’s secret drone war.” An Al Jazeera documentary explores “what drones mean for the people who fly them and for the people who live under their constant threat.”

The CIA has backtracked on a policy decision to destroy the emails of all but 22 top-ranking officials when they leave office. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Ivory Coast politician Guillaume Soro amassed “hundreds of tons of weapons” during the 2011 civil war, UN investigators have discovered. Mr Soro, who denies that he has the weapons, will assume the presidency if current President Ouattara dies or becomes incapacitated. [Reuters] 

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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