The Early Edition: May 16, 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

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday, for talks aimed at strengthening the fragile cessation of hostilities agreement in Syria. Kerry will this week have broader talks with Russia, Iran, and other nations in Vienna. [Al Jazeera]  Kerry is to meet with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Vienna today, ahead of a meeting of the International Syria Support Group, which the two are co-chairing. [Reuters’ Katya Golubkova]

Turkey and US-led coalition forces targeted Islamic State positions north of Aleppo yesterday, killing 27 militants, according to state-run Anadolu Agency. Turkish artillery and rocket launchers fired across the border into Syria while US-coalition warplanes conducted three separate airstrikes. [Reuters]

ISIS bombers targeted a natural gas plant to the north of Baghdad yesterday, killing at least 12 people, according to officials. It was the fifth consecutive day of attacks in Iraq by the militant group, which have killed more than 120 people. [Wall Street Journal’s Ghassan Adnan and Asa Fitch]

Islamic State militants briefly took over a hospital complex in Deir al-Zour, eastern Syria, on Saturday. Around 35 pro-government and 20 Islamic State fighters were killed and medical staff were taken hostage before government forces retook the hospital. The hostages are currently unaccounted for. [BBC]

Islamic State is “shrinking so they are very much on the defensive,” according to the US special envoy in the war against ISIS. The militant group has failed to gain any significant ground since it seized Ramadi, Iraq last year. Suleiman Al-Khaladi provides the story at Reuters. And reports suggest that ISIS has declared a state of emergency in its de facto capital, Raqqa, the group suspecting that it will soon come under siege. [CNN’s Barbara Starr]

Hezbollah have said that Sunni insurgents killed its top military commander in Syria; Mustafa Badreddine was killed in an explosion at a base near Damascus airport. Hezbollah will increase its “will, determination and resolve” to fight Sunni insurgents inside Syria. [Wall Street Journal’s Nour Malas] Thousands attended the funeral of Badreddine on Friday in Beirut; the day after his death in Syria. [Reuters/AP/The Guardian]

Al-Qaeda is turning its focus to Syria, its top leadership in Pakistan deploying at least a dozen of its most senior veterans there, according to US and European intelligence and counterterrorism officials. Western officials suggest that this move likely “foreshadows an escalation of the group’s bloody rivalry with the Islamic State,” reports Eric Schmitt. [New York Times]

TURKEY

A bomb attack in Istanbul, Turkey has killed four in an underpass in the Maltepe district. No group has been reported as claiming responsibility. [AP]

Turkey’s military has killed 16 PKK fighters in an operation close to the Iranian border, and another six fighters in other locations in southeast Turkey, it said today. [Reuters’ Daren Butler]

PKK-affiliated media has posted a video which appears to show a fighter using a shoulder-fired missile to down a Turkish helicopter. Local observers say this is the first time they have seen the PKK using man-portable air-defense systems — or MANPADS — which they say will pose a major challenge to Turkish air power. [Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham]

Turkey’s military is regaining influence and power after 13 years of marginalization under President Erdogan. Now, as Erdogan moves to sideline his political opponents, the military has taken the chance to temper the president’s attempts to “extend his global influence.” Turkish officials are concerned that generals may attempt to overthrow Erdogan, reports Dion Nissenbaum. [Wall Street Journal]

LIBYA

Foreign ministers are meeting to discuss increasing support for the UN-backed Libyan government in Vienna today, under the joint chairmanship of the US and Italy. European and Middle Eastern foreign ministers will attempt to find ways to strengthen the government’s political authority in the face of deepening rifts between various political factions, oil resources and the threat of Islamic State. [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour]

As more Tunisians join Islamic State in Libya, Libya’s conflict is spilling over into Tunisia, reports Sudarsan Raghavan. Tunisians form the largest group of foreign Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq, but US and Russian airstrikes coupled with travel bans and stricter border controls mean that more and more of them are choosing to join the terrorist organization in Libya instead. [Washington Post]

EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT

An “urgent” inquiry has been called for after a fake bomb “fiasco” resulted in the cancelation of a major UK soccer game in Manchester over the weekend. The game was called off after a fake bomb used for a security exercise was discovered just before the game began. The fake device was accidentally left by a private firm. [BBC; Reuters]

The Mechelen chief of police personally intervened to prevent information being entered onto a terrorism database which could have led to the apprehension of Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdelsam in December, local Belgian newspaper Gazet Van Antwerpen has reported. Yves Bogaerts deemed a tip-off that a relative of Abdeslam — who was hiding him in his apartment at the time — had become radicalized, as being “unreliable.” [Politico’s Zoya Sheftalovich]

A new French counter-extremism initiative could result in “ISIS incubators.” Dana Kennedy discusses the proposed “deradicalization centers” – intended to be an “odd mix of halfway house, prison and sleepover camp” – and which have been compared to Guantánamo by one French Muslim leader. [The Daily Beast]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israel is not interested in France’s plans to host a multi-national Israeli-Palestinian peace conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Sunday. France is planning to bring together around 30 ministers from throughout Europe and the Middle East, as well as Russia, China, and India, at a meeting later this month, which it hopes will lay the ground for the peace conference later this year. Neither Israel nor Palestine will attend the meeting. [Washington Post’s William Booth]

An Israeli man has been lightly wounded in a stabbing attack by a Palestinian in Jerusalem, who was subsequently chased down by Israeli police and apprehended without being shot. [AP]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Guantánamo Bay detainees could plead guilty in civilian courts via video link under a provision currently being considered by the Senate, included in the annual National Defense Authorization Act by the Senate Armed Services Committee. The provision would also authorize detainees who plead guilty to serve their sentences in other countries. [New York Times’s Charlie Savage]

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement, the secret plan between a French and a British diplomat to partition the then-collapsing Ottoman Empire which led to the creation of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. The anniversary has prompted debate about what to do with the “mess” and “bloody chaos” that characterizes the modern Middle East once Islamic State has been defeated, writes Jackson Diehl, who sets out the various points-of-view. [Washington Post]

The US and Japan will conduct their first joint military training on or around June 28. The focus will be on detecting signs of missile launches from North Korea, according to a Seoul defense official. [AP’s Hyung-Jin Kim]

Russia will “neutralize” the threats against it, President Putin said on Friday following the launch of an Aegis Ashore site in Poland, the next step in a US Europe-wide ballistic missile defense system. [Politico’s Jules Johnston]

Yemeni peace talks are seeing progress, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said on Saturday. Delegates reportedly discussed security arrangements and the political process needed to get to an agreement. And a suicide bomber in the southern Yemeni city of Mukalla killed 25 police recruits at a security headquarters today. [Reuters’ Mohammed Mukhashaf and Noah Browning]

The Afghan government is close to reaching a peace deal with Hezb-i-Islami, a mainly dormant militant group which is nevertheless listed as “global terrorists” by the US. Some hope the deal will serve as a “blueprint” for ending the 14-year war with the Taliban. It would entail Hezb-i-Islami ending its own war against the government, respecting the Afghan constitution and stopping all contact with other insurgents. In return, it would receive amnesty and its prisoners would be released. [Washington Post’s Antonio Olivo and Sayed Sahaluddin]

Al-Qaeda affiliates are moving towards Senegal, a peaceful West African democracy, a sign that the militant group is rapidly expanding across the continent, reports Kevin Sieff. [Washington Post]

Five Australians accused of attempting to join Islamic State by boat appeared in court today. One of the group is a preacher who was deported from the Philippines in 2014 on suspicion of having links with terrorists. [AP]

After 15 years of fighting terrorists, the US army has lost its ability to engage in more conventional warfare, reports Helene Cooper. [New York Times]

“It is essential for the Obama administration to declassify and release the 28 pages,” argues Mohamad Bazzi, even if the data they contain is “raw and unvetted”: the narrow wording of 9/11 commission report’s conclusion that there was “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” the 9/11 attacks leaves open the possibility that lower-level Saudi officials were involved, and Americans deserve to know if this is the case. [The Guardian]  There has been a “notable ‘uptick’” in the number of members of Congress requesting to read the 28-pages since the new session of Congress began in 2015, reports Julian Hattem. [The Hill]

It is too soon to lift the arms ban on Vietnam, says the New York Times editorial board, though it concedes that Vietnam is central to President Obama’s strategy of focusing on Asia economically, militarily and politically with a view to countering an increasingly powerful China.

The US is due to sell up to 12 attack aircraft to Nigeria, two years after it intervened in an attempted sale of US-made attack helicopters to Nigeria by Israel. The current plan, which requires congressional approval, is already attracting criticism from human rights organizations, who say that Nigeria’s president has not done enough to fight abuses and corruption in his country. [New York Times’ Helene Cooper and Dionne Searcey]

Donald Trump says he might not have a “very good relationship” with UK Prime Minister David Cameron following Cameron’s remark that his plan to ban Muslims in the US was “stupid.” [The Guardian’s Jessica Elgot]  Speaking on Britain’s ITV channel program, “Good Morning Britain,” Trump also said that Muslims were “not playing ball” by “not turning in” people they suspected of extremism. [BBC] 

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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