The Early Edition: June 29, 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.

ISTANBUL AIRPORT BOMBING

A triple suicide bomb attack at Atatürk Airport in Turkey’s capital Istanbul late last night has killed at least 41 people and wounded 239 others. The three bombers opened fire with automatic rifles on passengers in the arrivals section of the airport’s international terminal before detonating their explosives. [Hürriyet Daily News]

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has said that the Islamic State is behind the attack. [Wall Street Journal]  Turkish security forces have recently carried out a number of arrests and raids on the terrorist group in Turkey and at Turkey’s borders, which some analysts suggest may have prompted it to retaliate. [The Guardian’s Constanze Letsch]

Although no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, it bares the “hallmarks of ISIS,” agrees Clive Irving in The Daily Beast. Even so, the “sophistication” displayed in carrying out the bombing has “surprised” experts. There were “three phases:” an attack in a car park next to the international arrivals terminal, drawing security guards away from the terminal; a second attack in the arrivals terminal itself, resulting in heavy casualties and breaching the doors and security cordon, which allowed a third attacker to enter the building – phase three. It appears from security camera footage that the third attacker was tackled by a security guard, who died while trying to prevent him from detonating his suicide belt.

Another suspect is the PKK, the militant group seeking independence for Kurds in Turkey. However, it is not known for indiscriminate attacks on civilians, writes Roy Gutman for The Daily Beast.

The White House has condemned the attack in the “strongest possible terms” in a statement released yesterday.

This is part of a string of attacks popular tourist areas in Turkey this year, Jennifer Amur and Julie Vitkovskaya point out in the Washington Post, carried out either by the Islamic State or radical factions of the Kurdish separatist movement. The US State Department issued a travel warning immediately after the attack.

The attack is also one of numerous recent attacks on airports around the world. The AP provides a list of some of those attacks since 2011.

This story is still unfolding. Live updates are being provided by the Guardian and the BBC

IRAQ and SYRIA

An operation by Syrian rebels to recapture the eastern Syrian town of Al-Bukamal, close to the Iraqi border, began yesterday, increasing the pressure on the Islamic State, which is also facing a US-backed offensive in northern Syria aimed at pushing it back from the Turkish border. The rebels entered Al-Bukamal at dawn this morning, backed by Western special forces and US-led air strikes, report Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Tom Perry for Reuters.

Two dozen Syrian civilian groups and humanitarian aid organizations have threatened to pull out of the Geneva peace talks unless the international community takes serious steps to enforce a cessation of hostilities and protect civilians in Syria, 250,000 of whom have been killed in the conflict, which is in its sixth year. [AP’s Edith M Lederer]

Europe must do more to help end the crisis in Syria, regardless of its own current Brexit-triggered political turmoil – that was the message relayed to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini by Syrians fighting to overthrow President Assad this week. Basma Kodmani of the Higher Negotiations Committee underscored the link between Europe’s “lack of serious management of the Syrian crisis” and the “refugee and security issues” the bloc has been experiencing. [The Guardian’s Ian Black]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 12 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on June 27. Separately, partner forces conducted 11 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

BENGHAZI REPORT

The long-awaited final report of the Republican-led House select committee on Benghazi was released yesterday. The report “found fault with virtually every element of the executive-branch response to the attacks,” reports Karen DeYoung, but “provided no new evidence of specific wrong-doing by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” [Washington Post]

The US government is characterized as “slow and disorganized” in responding the attacks in the report, which largely just confirmed the chain of events as they are currently understood: “a group of anti-American Libyan militants stormed US installations in a carefully planned assault, killing four Americans, including Christopher Stevens, the ambassador to Libya.” [Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau]

The seven “must-read” passages from the Benghazi Report: Nick Gass and Rachael Bade provide highlights from the 800-page report, from the video conference that was convened while the attack was actually underway, to the pro-Gaddafi forces that came to the aid of the Americans trapped in the facility. [Politico]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A proposal in its 2017 defense policy bill that the Pentagon creates six cross-functional teams focused on the highest-priority defense missions by the Senate Armed Services Committee was given a “boost” yesterday when retired Army Gen. Stan McChrystal testified in support of the reforms. The Pentagon, whose teams are currently organized by function, opposes the reforms. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

US, Japanese and South Korean forces completed their first trilateral missile-defense drill off Hawaii yesterday, which the Wall Street Journal editorial board is citing as an exercise that will “deepen” cooperation between the three nations – “vital” for defending the US and its allies against North Korea, and for “putting China and Russia on notice” that the US will not be “muscled out” of Asia.

The EU will extend economic sanctions against Russia, German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed last night, citing Russia’s failure to observe the agreed cease-fire in Ukraine. The announcement follows last week’s agreement in principle by EU ambassadors to extend the sanctions by six months, to the end of January 2017, report Laurence Norman and Zeke Turner in the Wall Street Journal.

A Saudi-led coalition airstrike targeting Shiite rebels in Yemen’s southwestern province of Taiz killed 25 people early on Tuesday, according to security officials, including 10 civilians. [AP’s Ahmen Al-Haj]

Jordan is widening its “crackdown” on domestic suspected Islamic State members, with hundreds sentenced to prison, awaiting trial, or being held for questioning. The nation has also tightened up its anti-terror laws, so that even liking or sharing the Islamic State’s propaganda on social media can earn someone a jail sentence, reports Karin Laub for the AP.

Four policemen were shot and killed by gunmen in southwestern Pakistan late last night. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, a police spokesperson stating that they are investigating who is behind these latest “acts of terrorism.” The gunmen escaped following the attack. [AP]

Malaysian police are investigating whether a grenade attack on a bar in Puchong, just outside the capital Kuala Lumpur, was carried out by Islamic State following the posting of a claim of responsibility by the group on Facebook today. Police had previously ruled out terrorism as the motive for the attack on Tuesday, which wounded seven people, reports Rozanna Latiff for Reuters.

Following a scandal over improper collusion with the NSA, Germany has approved measures to limit the activities of its foreign intelligence agency, the BND. Oversight of the service directly from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office will also be supplemented by an external watchdog panel of jurists. [AFP]

The UN has elected five new members to the Security Council: Sweden, Bolivia, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan were elected as two-year members, and the Netherlands and Italy agreed to split the fifth spot between them. [AP’s Edith M Lederer]

Closing the “terror gap” is “terribly misguided,” says Ramzi Kassem, professor of law at CUNY School of Law and founding director of the CLEAR project, which helps innocent people get removed from the governments’ No-Fly and Selectee Lists. The suggestion that such terrorism watch lists prevent people on those lists from buying weapons, overstates the reliability and fairness of the lists, and also “scapegoats an already unpopular minority group and misses the true nature of the gun problem in the United States.” [Washington Post]

The “fundamental reassessments” in the EU and the US forced by Brexit should also be undertaken by the US and its allies in NATO, considers Katrina vanden Heuvel in the Washington Post. In particular, they should focus on “the dangerous crescent toward a new Cold War with Russia that has received shamefully little attention.”

Autocratic governments and regimes are abusing Interpol – the International Criminal Police Organization – to harass their critics and export repression. The agency is able to issue a “red notice,” effectively an international arrest warrant, and does so at the behest of “any government – no meaningful rules of procedure observed, no questions asked,” against “virtually any person,” says Herta Däubler-Gmelin in the Wall Street Journal. 

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About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE