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
The next round of Syria peace negotiations is being pushed back two days to next Wednesday, the UN said yesterday, amid renewed violence between the Syrian government and rebel forces. Meeting with Arab allies in Bahrain yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the discussions are “the key test of the seriousness of the Assad regime, of Russia and Iran, to support what we have put into words.” [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz]
Syria’s President Assad is showing no willingness to compromise as the resumption of the peace talks approaches, reports Samia Nakhoul. [Reuters]
Syrian rebels have re-taken the “strategically important” town of al-Rai from Islamic State, part of the advance on Aleppo. [BBC]
Russia has replaced fighter jets with gunships since it announced its withdrawal from Syria on March 15, reports Justin Bronk, and while the ceasefire between Assad forces and rebel forces around Aleppo largely holds out, the focus has shifted to the “actual stated aim of Russia’s original intervention,” Islamic State. [Al Jazeera]
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out eight airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on April 7. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 19 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT
A man held in connection with the Paris attacks since November is to be released on Friday, Belgium’s federal prosecutor has confirmed. [Reuters]
Belgian prosecutors have released new footage of the “man in the hat,” suspected of leaving an explosive at Brussels Airport on March 22, in a fresh appeal to the public for its help in finding him. [AFP; Reuters]
Danish police arrested four suspected Islamic State recruits near Copenhagen yesterday; authorities arrested a further two individuals in connection to ammunition and weapons discovered in a related search. [Reuters]
German police have detained two men suspected of preparing a “serious act of violence” in Munich and nearby Fuerstenfeldbrueck yesterday. [AP]
Salah Abdeslam, the key suspect in the November Paris attacks, is to be extradited to France from Belgium in “a few weeks” after a delay to allow Belgian investigators to carry out further questioning. [Reuters]
The UK is to establish a “counterterrorism hub” in mainland Europe, following similar hubs in the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, a UK Foreign Office spokesperson has confirmed. [Wall Street Journal’s Jenny Gross] UK Foreign Secretary confirmed this during a speech delivered at the London Lord Mayor’s Easter Banquet yesterday.
“How is it that people who were born here in Brussels, in Paris, can call heroes the people who commit violence and terror?” Government official Yves Goldstein blames the failure of the Belgian government to challenge the growth of ethnic ghettos for the nation’s radicalized youth. [New York Times’ Steven Erlanger]
The radicalization of Najim Laachraoui was “invisible,” writes Alissa J. Rubin, exploring how the Belgian student became an Islamic State bomb maker. [New York Times]
US airstrikes have killed at least 17 civilians in the Afghan province of Paktika, according to local officials. The official US and Afghan government claims differ, saying that only militants were killed in the strikes. [New York Times’ Farooq Jan Mangal and Mujib Mashal]
The NATO training mission is running out of time to prepare Afghan troops to fight the Taliban insurgency alone and there is “still so much work to do,” according to Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Chung who is leading a team of US trainers in Helmand province. Corruption and sporadic leave have damaged efficiency and undermined morale among the Afghan troops. [Reuters’ James MacKenzie]
The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has similar reservations in relation to US efforts to rebuild Afghanistan. After 15 years and billions of US dollars the reconstruction is in “a perilous state.” [CNN’s Nicole Gaouette]
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
The method of unlocking iPhones used by the FBI will not work on newer models, FBI Director James Comey said at an encryption and surveillance conference on Wednesday. Models from the iPhone 5s onward are immune, which means that the FBI will still “likely have to lean on Apple to help them access the devices involved in other cases,” suggest Narottam Medhora and Dustin Voltz. [Reuters]
The White House has denied reports that it will not support a bill that would require companies to allow law enforcement agencies access to encrypted data. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams] The Hill has obtained a copy of a Discussion Draft of the bill.
Armenian separatists have rejected Azerbaijan’s offer to cease fighting, says Azerbaijan. [Al Jazeera]
“A new all-out Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the stuff of nightmares.” Thomas De Waal anticipates the damage that would be done by the “sophisticated weaponry” both sides now have, the possibility of Russia and Turkey being “sucked into a proxy war,” and the wider destabilizing impact on other nearby countries. [New York Times]
Secretary of State John Kerry in Bahrain. In Bahrain to meet with the Gulf Cooperation Council, Kerry called on Iran to “join in efforts” with its neighbors in the Middle East to establish peace in the region. He also confirmed that the Council were beginning to assess whether a NATO-Gulf Cooperation Council partnership would bolster regional security. [Washington Post’s Carol Morello]
Kerry also tried to reassure his hosts that Iran was not “as dangerous as ever” despite the nuclear agreement, arguing that when the deal was concluded, “the crisis was the potential of a nuclear weapon.” Although Iran’s missile launches, arms shipments to Yemen and involvement in Syria have since “accelerated,” without nuclear fuel the nation is now less of a threat than it was. [New York Times’ David E Sanger]
The Senate passed several measures strengthening airport security yesterday, its first legislative response to the terrorist attacks in Brussels last month. The measures are expected to pass next week. [New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer] Meanwhile, the US is under pressure from the EU to add more of its members to the list of countries whose citizens can travel to the US without a visa, threatening to impose visa requirements on US citizens seeking to enter the EU if it does not do so. [New York Times’ James Kanter]
Islamic State have claimed responsibility for a string of bombings in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula yesterday, that left two dead and at least 15 injured. [The Daily Beast]
The number of Islamic State fighters in Libya has doubled over the past 12-18 months, the outgoing commander of AFRICOM said yesterday. He said that there are between 4000-6000 militants there now, mainly situated in Sirte. [NBC News’ Courtney Kube]
The Obama administration and the chief of US Pacific Command have denied a media report that the White House issued a “gag order” preventing officials from discussing the South China Sea during the Nuclear Security Summit last week. [Washington Posts’ Dan Lamothe]
Few top officials face criminal prosecution for breaching rules or laws on handling classified information, despite the “long history of top officials getting scrutiny over classified information.” NPR provides the story.
Boko Haram is turning its female captives into terrorists; Dionne Searcey discusses one of the “most baffling” of the terror group’s horrors at the New York Times.
North Korea “attempted” to launch a ballistic missile from a submarine on Wednesday, sailing toward the East Sea but turning back without firing, according to NK News, a website that monitors North Korea. [Al Jazeera]