The Early Edition: July 1, 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

Washington is considering helping Russia improve its targeting of terrorist groups in Syria in exchange for Moscow stopping its bombing of civilians and opposition fighters, and using its influence over Syrian President Assad to compel him to do the same. The offer – referred to as “enhanced information sharing” – has been submitted to Moscow, but officials have warned that it is unlikely to prompt a response for days or even weeks. [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung; Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous and Gordon Lubold]

“Many US officials” doubt that Russia will be willing to pressure ally Assad to stop bombing, report Reuters’ Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed. The plan would also require opposition forces to separate themselves from al-Nusra fighters and move into identifiable areas, making them vulnerable to Russian and Assad regime attacks. That is “not going to happen,” according to Chris Harmer, an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War.

Turkey and Russia must work together for a political solution to the Syria crisis, Turkey’s Foreign Minister is reported as saying following a meeting with his Russian counterpart today. [Reuters’ Alexander Winning and Dmitry Solovyov]

“Tipped-off and more numerous” Islamic State fighters in Syria’s al-Bukamal saw the US-trained New Syrian Army coming and were able not only to repel them but also kill several rebels and steal their materiel on Wednesday, reports Michael Weiss for The Daily Beast, describing the factors which led to the defeat of 200 of the New Syrian Army’s 300 fighters in their attempt to retake a key gateway city on the Syria-Iraq border.

A “much-needed morale boost” – but at too high a cost? The Iraqi army’s recapture of Fallujah this week will bolster it ahead of the tougher battles to come, including Mosul. But the way the Iraqi government handles the humanitarian fallout will be crucial to winning the support of Sunni civilians, avoiding stoking sectarian tensions, and ensuring that this is the last fight over Fallujah – and its record is poor, says the Financial Times.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on June 29. Separately, partner forces conducted 19 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

ISTANBUL AIRPORT BOMBING

The three suicide bombers who attacked Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport were from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, officials confirmed yesterday. If reports are accurate, this will be the first time that Russian-speaking members of the Islamic State – who have played an important role on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria – have taken part in a large-scale operation against a Western target. [New York Times’ Ceylan Yeginsu and Rukmini Callimachi] 

Eleven “foreign militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” were detained early this morning by Istanbul counterterrorism police during an operation against an Islamic State cell in Başakşehir district which is believed to be linked to the Istanbul airport attackers. [Hürriyet Daily News]

The “mastermind” of the February 17 suicide bombing in Ankara has been killed during the investigation into the Atatürk Airport attack, according to a Turkish official. Mehmet Sirin Kaya, a member of an offshoot of the PKK, was reportedly killed by security forces in the town of Lice in the largely Kurdish province of Diyarbakir. [AP’s Dominique Soguel and Suzan Fraser]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israeli forces have surrounded the Palestinian village of Bani Naim in the West Bank following the murder of an Israeli girl as she slept yesterday, allegedly by 17-year-old Muhammad Nasser Tarayra, who lived in Bani Naim. Tarayra was killed shortly after stabbing 13-year-old Halla Yafa Ariel in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba. Authorities have also reportedly arrested Tarayra’s father, threatened to revoke his family’s permits to work in Israel, and begun discussing whether to demolish his former home, says Al Jazeera.

Israel’s policy of expanding settlements in the West Bank is among the factors that “severely undermine hopes for peace,” the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process said yesterday, summarizing the first-ever report released by the diplomatic Quartet – the UN, Russia, the US and the EU – which also cited continuing violence, terrorism and incitement, and the Palestinian Authority’s lack of control of Gaza as damaging to future peace. The report is due to be issued today, reports Somini Sengupta for the New York Times.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The FBI’s “classified rules” make it easy for it to obtain journalist’s phone records, requiring only the approval of two internal officials – far less oversight than with formal judicial procedures. The rules date from 2013, and govern the FBI’s use of National Security Letters, the Intercept’s Cora Currier reveals.

Encryption was “far less of a problem” for law enforcement agencies in 2015 than it was the year before, the annual Wiretap Report from the Administrative Office of US Courts has revealed, belying the Obama administration’s claims that encryption is increasingly impeding the investigation of crimes. Despite a 21 per cent increase in wiretaps authorized by state courts between 2014-2015, the report shows, the number of cases in which encryption featured decreased from 22 to seven per cent. [The Intercept’s Alex Emmons]

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

Attorney General Loretta Lynch will accept whatever recommendation the FBI and prosecutors make regarding charges against Hillary Clinton, she is expected to announce today. [New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo]

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server simply “did not register,” Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy said during his deposition with lawyers from conservative watchdog Judicial Watch this week. He said that he did not find anything unusual about Clinton’s use of a private email address, ending “clintonemail.com” rather than “state.gov,” because previous secretaries of state had “not used email addresses at all.” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Judicial Watch has filed a complaint with the Justice Department’s Inspector General over Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s meeting with Bill Clinton, and has requested that it launch and investigation into the meeting. The conservative group asserts the meeting “creates the appearance of a violation of law, ethical standards and good judgment” in light of the department’s ongoing investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state. [The Hill’s Jessie Hellman]

Monday night’s private, unplanned meeting between Lynch and Clinton continues to stir “rampant speculation” as to what exactly was discussed between them. Both deny that the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server came up, but even Democrats have criticized them for inviting suggestions that Lynch is not acting impartially. [The Hill’s Jesse Byrnes]

The State Department is seeking a 27-month extension of the deadline for completing processing a request for emails of four former aides to Hillary Clinton, citing its own errors in handling the request in a notice to US District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras on Wednesday. The current July 21 deadline relates to a lawsuit filed by conservative group Citizens United, reports Josh Gerstein for Politico.

YEMEN

Saudi Arabia said it was “alarmed and outraged” by the joint call from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for it to be suspended from the UN Human Rights Council over its killing of civilians in Yemen, yesterday. [Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau]

The conflict in the southwestern Yemen city of Taiz “rages on,” despite a UN-backed cease-fire, civilians “trapped by all the sides” in a war that the rest of the world is largely ignoring, reports Sudarsan Raghavan for the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The House will move next week on an anti-terror package containing a provision to prevent suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms, Republican leadership looking to pre-empt another floor protest by Democrats following last week’s 26-hour sit-in over gun policy reform organized by Georgia Rep. John Lewis. [NBC News’ Luke Russert and Alex Moe]

The FBI considered creating an “alert system” that would tip it off when multiple gun purchases were made seven years ago, but abandoned it over potential legal concerns, according to several officials, report Devlin Barrett and Dan Frosch for the Wall Street Journal.

The first pretrail hearing in 18 months in the stalled USS Cole bomber case has been scheduled to take place at Guantánamo Bay on September 7-9. The issues to be dealt with are yet to be identified. The case had ground to a halt pending the resolution of a “key obstacle.” The US Court of Military Commission Review dispensed with the roadblock on June 9 and reinstated charges against al Rahim al Nashiri, a Saudi accused of orchestrating al-Qaeda’s 2002 bombing of a French oil tanker which killed a Bulgarian crew member. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

Canada is to serve as one of four lead nations for a NATO deterrent force in Eastern Europe, Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan confirmed yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E Barnes]  Canada will also deploy 1,000 soldiers to Latvia, to one of NATO’s four battalions assembling in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. [AFP]

US Navy sailors who ran into Iranian waters this January disclosed sensitive information to their Iranian captors, according to a US Navy report on Thursday. Crew members reportedly gave away details of the capabilities of their vessels. Two are facing administrative action, the report recommending action against six others. [Reuters’ Yeganeh Torbati and Idrees Ali]

President Obama signed a FOIA reform bill intended to improve the governments “sluggish” responses to requests, yesterday. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]

The death toll following a Taliban attack on a convoy of police cadet buses near Kabul, Afghanistan, yesterday, has risen to at least 33. This is the second large-scale attack by the Taliban in Kabul is less than two weeks, following the June 20 suicide bombing close to a minibus taking Nepalese and Indian security guards to work at the Canadian Embassy, report Kareem Fahim and Mohamad Fahim Abed for the New York Times.

Three Pakistanis were arrested in Spain today on charges of promoting Islamist militancy via social media, Spain’s interior ministry has reported. [Reuters’ Paul Day]

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the shooting of a Coptic Christian minister on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula yesterday, reports Nour Roussef in the New York Times.

A woman and three children have been killed in a roadside bombing close to Bahrain’s capital Manama, a so far un-claimed incident authorities are calling a “terrorist” attack, reports Al Jazeera.

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan yesterday, urging them to maintain the ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and work toward the peace process they committed to at a May 16 meeting in Vienna and a June 20 meeting in St Petersburg. [Reuters’ Eric Beech]

Step up sanctions against North Korea, the US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told a forum on the implementation of sanctions under a Security Council resolution yesterday. The latest resolution’s sanctions are “broader and more detailed” than previous sanctions, yet North Korea continues to ignore them, launching a new mid-range missile last week. [AP’s Dave Bryan] 

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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