The Early Edition: April 11, 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.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Syria peace talks. Few have hopes of any meaningful progress as the UN-brokered Syria peace negotiations, held in Geneva, get set to resume on Wednesday. The future of President Bashar al-Assad has been described as “the mother of all issues” by UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura. Ian Black provides the details at the Guardian.

The Assad regime is pushing for a political solution to the conflict, which includes retaining the president in power. The plan, which is in defiance of the Russian-backed agenda for the country, will begin with Syrian parliamentary elections on Wednesday after which the Syrian delegation will travel to Geneva. Sam Dagher reports. [Wall Street Journal]

Assad regime forces, backed by Moscow, are planning an offensive to retake Aleppo from opposition rebels, the Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi said yesterday. The use of Russian firepower in the operation may tarnish the future of peace negotiations with the opposition. [Wall Street Journal’s Thomas Grove and Raja Abdulrahim]

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has not requested more American ground troops ahead of the offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State, said Secretary of State John Kerry during an unannounced visit to Baghdad on Friday. [The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel]

Islamic State has retaken the Syrian town of al-Rai, a stronghold on the Turkish border, today. The town had been captured by Syrian rebels backed by US and Turkish air power just a few days ago. [Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham; Reuters]

A bomb attack killed four people and injured 18 others yesterday at a youth soccer game in a town just outside Baghdad, Iraq. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. [Wall Street Journal’s Ben Kesling]

ISIS released most of the 300 cement workers it abducted near Damascus, following questioning to determine who were Muslims. Four members of the minority Druze sect were killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and an ISIS-linked news agency. [AP’s Bassem Mroue]

EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT

Brussels attack suspect captured. Belgian authorities captured Mohamed Abrini on Friday, the man who the federal prosecutor has confirmed was the “man in the hat” caught on CCTV alongside two suicide bombers at Brussels Airport. Abrini has confessed to his presence at the crime scene and is also alleged to have played a major role in the Paris attacks. [Washington Post’s James McAuley]

Abrini and his accomplices were plotting further attacks in France, but when they realized the speed of the investigation they “urgently took the decision” to attack Brussels, the federal prosecutor said yesterday. [France 24; Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]

The revelation that the attackers planned to hit Paris again has sparked fears that ISIS networks could strike anywhere at any time. Alissa J. Rubin and Eric Schmitt provide the details. [New York Times]

“Mr Zerkani has perverted an entire generation of youngsters, particularly in the Molenbeek neighborhood.” Andrew Higgins and Kimiko De Freytas-Tamura discuss the “diligent” work of Khalid Zerkani, a Brussels man last year imprisoned for encouraging young Muslims to turn to radical Islam. [Wall Street Journal]

AFGHANISTAN

A bomb attack on a bus in Kabul, Afghanistan has killed at least one person this morning. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. [AP]

Afghan army troops are reportedly defecting to the Taliban as Helmand province moves “closer than ever” to being overtaken by the Islamist insurgents. The Taliban has taken full control of at least five districts in the province, while the Afghans have failed to make any recent gains, according to a local police official. [CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh]

Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Saturday, meeting with President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.. Kerry urged cooperation between the two leaders. [Washington Post’s Carol Morello]

Relatives of the 17 people who died in US drone strikes in southeastern Afghanistan last week are calling for an investigation, alleging that the airstrikes were aimed at civilians, not soldiers. [Al Jazeera]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

A US Navy officer has been accused of providing classified information to China and faces charges of espionage, attempted espionage and prostitution, according to US officials. The officer is assigned to the Patrol and Reconnaissance Group headquarters, which oversees maritime patrol aircraft. [Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe]

Critics have reacted angrily to a draft bill that would specifically require companies to decrypt customers’ communications, drafted by the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee and circulated late last Thursday. [The Intercept’s Jenna McLaughlin]

NORTH KOREA

North Korea announced that it has built an engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the US, a threat that was made over a week ago but was only recently verified by analysts. [Washington Post’s Anna Fifield]

A senior North Korean military official defected to the South last year, it was announced today. No further details were provided, except that the officer had worked for North Korea’s main spy agency. [Wall Street Journal’s Alastair Gail]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

President Obama is the only president since 1967 to have never allowed the passage of a UN Security Council resolution critical of Israel. Despite protection of Israel playing a central role in US policy “for the last at least 10 presidents,” Obama is the only one to have rigidly adhered to this, points out Lara Friedman, debunking the accusations of “unprecedented betrayal” being levied at the president now he is considering laying down an outline two-state Israel-Palestine agreement in a Security Council resolution. [New York Times]

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin is a “calm voice of reason” in the decades-old Israel-Palestine conflict. Ruth Eglash discusses why this is valuable, despite Rivlin’s relative lack of political power. [Washington Post]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Secretary of State John Kerry became the highest-ranking US administration official to visit Hiroshima today, attending a ceremony memorializing the US atomic bombing of 6 August 1945. [New York Times’ Jonathan Soble]  Kerry also met with foreign ministers from the G-7 industrialized countries, which called for increased efforts to achieve global nuclear disarmament. [AP’s Mari Yamaguchi]

A UN-brokered ceasefire came into effect in Yemen yesterday, ahead of peace talks between Saudi-backed Yemeni government forces and Houthi militia due to take place in Kuwait on April 18. [Al Jazeera; CNN’s Hakim al-Masmari and Bijan Hosseini]  Both sides have expressed their commitment to the ceasefire. [BBC]   However, fighting has reportedly continued in the city of Taiz today, and there have been occasional exchanges of gunfire in other parts of the country. [AP]

“Shared Responsibility Committees.” An FBI plan to recruit social service workers, teachers, mental health professionals, religious leaders, and other community leaders across the US to help to identify “radicalized” individuals is being heavily criticized by civil rights activists. [The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain and Jenna McLaughlin]

Russia has started delivering S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran under a contract that has been opposed by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. [BBC]

Documents known as the “28 pages” which may prove Saudi Arabian support for the 9/11 hijackers might be declassified, having been cut from a report on the attacks 13 years ago by the Bush administration. [The Daily Beast’s Eleanor Clift; The Hill’s Jessie Hellmann]

CIA director John Brennan would “not agree to having any CIA officer carrying out waterboarding again,” he said in an interview with NBC News, even if ordered to do so by a future president. [Politico’s Kristen East]

A suicide attack was prevented at a police station in southern Russia today, one bomber being killed and the other blowing himself up, according to a statement released by the Interior Ministry. [New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar]

Al-Shabaab is “resurgent” in Somalia, President Hassan Sheik Mohamud said in an interview last week, acknowledging that his government is not capable of providing the necessary security to regions of the country that have been liberated in the five years since a UN-backed force began pushing the al-Qaeda-linked rebels from their strongholds. [Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff]

A gun-battle between Philippine government forces and militant group Abu Sayyaf in Manila yesterday has left at least 18 soldiers and a number of militants dead, according to military officials. [New York Times’ Floyd Whaley]

“There’s a carelessness, in terms of managing emails, that she has owned, and she recognizes.” President Obama responded to questions on former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to store classified emails on Fox News Sunday, much to the disapproval of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which says that the president – as a lawyer aware that “intent is often crucial to determining criminal liability” – has provided Clinton with a defense in the middle of an ongoing FBI investigation.

Obama also reiterated that his failure to prepare for the aftermath of the fall of Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi was the “worst mistake of his presidency during the interview. He said he still considered, however, that ousting the leader was the “right thing to do.” [BBC]

The “race to run the United Nations” will be different this time, with the mostly Eastern-European candidates vying for the job in public. The New York Times editorial board discusses the candidates, the internal problems, and international challenges the next UN Secretary-General will have to address. 

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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