The Early Edition: May 12, 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

Terror in Baghdad. The death toll from a string of ISIS car bomb attacks in Baghdad yesterday has risen to over 90, Iraqi authorities said. Among the dead were at least 14 women and 10 children.

The militant group said it had targeted Shi’ite fighters in a statement distributed on social media. Iraqi forces and Shi’ite militia groups have had some success pushing back the Islamic State from territory seized in 2014. However attacks in the center of Baghdad have continued. [New York Times’ Falih Hassan and Omar Al-Jawoshy; Wall Street Journal’s Ghassan Adnan and Asa Fitch]

Another attack struck the Iraqi capital today, a twin suicide bombing targeting a police station and killing at least five officers. [AP‘s Sinan Salaheddin]

“ISIS intends to divide and conquer.” Nancy A. Youssef comments on the militant group’s “ratchet[ed] up efforts to provoke ethnic cleansing and weaken the overstretched Iraqi security forces.” [The Daily Beast]

Fighting erupted today in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, as a ceasefire agreement expired in the city itself, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and rebels. [Reuters]

The Nusra Front captured a village from President Assad’s minority Alawite sect in central Syria; the capture of Zaara has lead to concerns over a possible outbreak in sectarian violence, as many families from the village have gone missing. [AP]

What to do with Islamic State prisoners? The prospect of thousands of Islamic State fighters surrendering as the US-coalition moves towards urban strongholds in Iraq and Syria has raised this issue among officials. The Obama administration is keen to avoid large-scale detention operations such as those it used in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, which are now closed, and Guantánamo Bay, which remains open. The issue is further complicated by the fact that Islamic State has recruited from numerous countries, including from Europe, meaning that negotiations with foreign powers with different standards and levels of interest in how their nationals are handled will have to take place. [New York Times’ Charlie Savage et al]

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

“Meet the female Kurdish fighters battling ISIL.” Mauricio Morales meets with and discusses the female YPJ fighters battling the Islamic State from Tishrin Dam, a heavily contested frontline near the Syrian city of Kobani. [Al Jazeera]

The UK Supreme Court has found against more than 600 Iraqi civilians who allege they were unlawfully detained and physically mistreated by British forces. The decision holds that the applications for compensation were out of time, due to an Iraqi law imposing time limits. [The Guardian‘s Owen Bowcott]

EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT

“Luck, police work and disarray inside the terror cell” meant that the Brussels attacks were not as bad as they could have been, according to new details from investigators, Julian E. Barnes and Valentina Pop report. [Wall Street Journal]

Germany is looking into 40 possible cases of suspected Islamist extremists who are believed to have entered the country posing as migrants, the federal criminal office said yesterday. Ruth Bender provides the details at the Wall Street Journal.

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

FBI Director James Comey took issue with Hillary Clinton’s characterization of his agency’s investigation into her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state. Comey described Clinton’s use of the term “security inquiry” as inaccurate, during a roundtable with reporters. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Comey also said that he feels under “pressure” to conclude the email probe quickly, adding that the FBI will choose to do the investigation “well” rather than “promptly.” [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Attorneys for alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed have accused the Pentagon prosecution team and trial judge of involvement in the destruction of evidence and have requested that they step down. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

The US will switch on an $800 million missile shield in Romania today, which Russia claims is a security threat aimed at nullifying its own nuclear arsenal. The shield will form part of the Europe-wide Aegis system, designed to protect NATO from short and medium-range missiles, mainly from the Middle East. [BBC; Reuters’ Robin Emmott]

Islamic State’s online propaganda machine is receiving a huge leg-up from encryption technology, FBI Director James Comey said yesterday. He also said that the number of US citizens traveling to the Middle East to join the terrorist group has dropped in recent months. [Wall Street Journal’s Kate O’Keeffe]

A federal judge has strongly criticized the Pentagon for repressing hundreds of Bush-era photos depicting US military personnel torturing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite an order he issued last year requiring a case-by-case ruling that the release of the photos would endanger US troops. The transparency lawsuit over the photos has lasted for over 12 years. [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman]

“I have read the 28 pages … I strongly believe the American people deserve to know why this issue is so important.” Former senator Bob Graham and co-chair of the Joint Inquiry Into the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001, makes the case for the release of the portion of the report of the congressional inquiry into 9/11 which remains classified. [Washington Post]

The 28-pages are “just the start,” writes Shane Harris. The FBI has a further 800,000 classified documents which could reveal far more about Saudi Arabia’s connections to the 9/11 hijackers than the 28-pages alone. [The Daily Beast]

Tech companies face myriad challenges in preventing terrorists from accessing online platforms, a senior Microsoft executive said yesterday at a UN Security Council special meeting on countering terrorists’ ideology. [Wall Street Journal’s Farnaz Fassihi]

Yemen peace talks continued yesterday, the UN has said, a proposal to release 50 per cent of all prisoners held by either side before Ramadan a sign that progress is being made.

Citing its use as a terrorist hide-out, Kenyan authorities have finally shut down the Dabaab refugee camp, where thousands of Somalis have lived for decades. The government has advised that it will begin to expel refugees “in the shortest time possible,” despite the fact that al-Shabaab continues to control large parts of Somalia. International – and Kenyan – law prohibits the forced return of refugees to any place where they might face persecution or other serious harm. [New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman]

China claims widespread support for its decision to refuse to get involved in a legal case lodged by the Philippines over China’s claims in the South China Sea, a senior diplomat said today. The ruling in the case, in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, is expected in a few weeks. [Reuters’ Ben Blanchard]

Vietnam would welcome an acceleration of the US’ lifting of a lethal arms embargo, a long-running source of friction between the two nations. The comments, by its foreign ministry, come just over a week before President Obama makes a visit to Vietnam. [Reuters]

“The global war on terror sledgehammer strategy has spread jihadi terror” from Afghanistan, worldwide, writes Noam Chomsky, advocating a change in approach, including “an honourable response to the ‘refugee crisis’.” [The Guardian]

“The arrival of a terrorist drone can only be a matter of time.” Most drone strikes in the world’s “most troubled zones” are American, says the Guardian, though its monopoly on this form of warfare has been lost now that six other countries – Israel, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, and the UK – have also utilized them in combat. Now, it is “only a matter of time” before many of the other 86 countries known to have drone capability begin to make use of it, increasing the chances that terrorists will get hold of drones of their own.

If elected, Donald Trump will undo the progress Obama has made with the US’ foreign partners while in office, Vice President Joe Biden warned yesterday. [Politico’s Nick Gass]

The UN Security Council has requested that its main counter-terrorism subsidiary body presents a proposal for a comprehensive international framework on countering terrorist propaganda by April 30 next year, the UN reported yesterday. The Counter-Terrorism Committee is to recommend guidelines and good practices for combating the use by terrorist organizations of narratives to recruit others to commit terrorist acts. 

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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