The Early Edition: July 15, 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.

NICE

At least 84 people have been killed in Nice, France, after a lorry ploughed into a crowd out celebrating Bastille Day at around 11pm last night. The incident is being investigated as a terror attack, France’s President François Hollande has confirmed. The driver of the lorry, who was eventually shot dead by police, has been identified as a 31-year-old French-Tunisian citizen. These and other live updates are being provided by France 24.

 The driver of the truck also fired on the crowd while driving, according to local paper Nice Matin.

No terrorist group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, though Islamic State supporters have been celebrating it on social media, reports Nikhil Lohade for the Wall Street Journal.  The Islamic State has encouraged its supporters to commit acts of terror with whatever means are available, including vehicles. [MSNBC]

President Hollande is to extend France’s state of emergency, which has been in place since the November attacks in Paris, report Anne-Sylvaine Chassany and Robert Williams for the Financial Times. The lorry attack comes just as the French government was preparing to relax the state of emergency. If it transpires it was a terror attack, it would represent a breakdown of the “vast security dragnet” France erected following November’s Islamic State-sponsored mass killings. [Wall Street Journal’s Sam Schechner and Matthew Dalton]

Police searching the truck afterwards have discovered it was loaded with arms and grenades, according to the president of the region in which Nice is situated, Christian Estrosi. [Wall Street Journal’s Hassan Morajea et al]

President Obama has condemned the attack “in the strongest terms,” speaking last night, adding that the US stands “in solidarity and partnership with France, our oldest ally.” The Hill’s Jordan Fabian reports.  Other world leaders have also expressed dismay, sadness and solidarity with France following the attack, reports the AP.

German police have said they are stepping up border checks on the French frontier following the attack. [AP]

The attack highlights two long-running concerns, says the Economist. First, even lone attackers can inflict great harm, yet are extremely difficult for intelligence services to identify. Second, would-be terrorists can use a wide range of means to kill people, even if they can’t get hold of or afford guns or explosives.

The Islamic State has found ways to “break through a global ring fence” time and time again, defying US efforts to contain it via airstrikes, the destruction of oil facilities, military intervention, satellites, interception and arrests. Last night’s attack on Nice, if indeed it was perpetrated by the Islamic State, highlight the limits of this global hunt for terrorism, writes Damian Paletta for the Wall Street Journal.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian President Vladimir Putin late last night to discuss a US proposal for coordinated US-Russia military campaign on the Islamic State and the Nusra Front in Syria. Speaking before the start of the closed-door talks, both said they were hopeful of reaching an agreement. Kerry is due to resume talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, today. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz; Washington Post’s Carol Morello and Karen DeYoung; New York Times’ Gardiner Harris and Anne Barnard]

One aspect of the US’s proposal is that the US and Russia could work out of a joint facility in Jordan in order to target terrorists in Syria, reports Rebecca Kheel for The HIll.

The US military expects to seek more troops in Iraq, in addition to those announced this week, US Army General Joseph Votel has told Reuters’ Phil Stewart. Votel said the size of any future increase is still being discussed, and he did not offer any indication of when the decision would be made.

The Islamic State’s “minister for war” Omar the Chechen was not killed in a US airstrike in March, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters yesterday. Omar the Chechen – real name Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili – is believed to have attended a July 10 meeting of Islamic State officials near Mosul, Iraq. [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman]

The US was able to convince Turkey to back the “pivotal” Manbij offensive in Syria led by Turkey’s Kurdish adversaries, US officials have just revealed, the US’s efforts – involving a series of political and tactical compromises – culminating in a secret meeting in May. Backing the Kurds in Syria marked a major shift for Turkey, which is fighting them inside its own borders. Syrian Democratic Forces, largely commanded by a Kurdish militia, are currently about a mile from the center of Manbij. The operation began in late May. [Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib and Margaret Coker]

Syrian President Assad denied his forces deliberately targeted US-born journalist Marie Colvin in 2012, speaking to NBC News aired yesterday. He also said that Colvin entered Syria illegally and “worked with terrorists.” Her family has recently filed a lawsuit alleging that Syrian officials launched a rocket attack that was calculated to kill her, reports the AP.

A European Council of Foreign Relations report has warned of “regional contagion” in the Middle East as the delicate balance of power in Syria’s neighbors and the wider region begins to wobble as the Syrian conflict spills over its borders and exacerbate existing domestic tensions in other nations. James Denselow discusses this phenomena for Al Jazeera.

Characterizing Obama as the president who has failed in his efforts to extricate the US military from the Middle East is misleading and treats all military activity as alike, suggests Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post. Although Obama has now been at war longer than George W. Bush, or any other president, Obama’s policy of “intervention-lite,” forced on him by the rise of the Islamic State and political chaos in the Middle East, involves small numbers of Special Operations forces and trainers, air power and drones aiming to defeat terrorist groups, deny them territory and cooperate with local allies – whereas, under Bush, around 180,000 American troops were engaged in active military combat, with the goal of establishing political order in these countries.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 12 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 13. Separately, partner forces conducted 15 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

SOUTH CHINA SEA

Top Navy Admiral John Richardson is to visit Beijing to meet with his Chinese counterpart and other defense officials on Sunday. They are expected to discuss the South China Sea, as well as ongoing Rim of the Pacific – or RIMPAC – military drills, and ways to promote interactions between the US and Chinese militaries. [AP]

Japanese President Shinzo Abe said that a summit of Asian and European leaders must discuss the South China Sea among other issues today. The summit – known as ASEM – is underway in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar, reports Sue-Lin Wong for Reuters.

Filipino’s joy following the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration has been dampened by their government’s cautious approach in its response to China, which has said it intends to ignore the ruling, reports Floyd Whaley for the New York Times.  Manila’s strongest comment yet was provided by the Philippine’s top lawyer, Solicitor General Jose Calida, who said the ruling was a “crowning glory” that renews faith in international law. [Reuters’ Neil Jerome Morales and Sue-Lin Wong]

China intends to launch a series of offshore nuclear power platforms in order to promote development in the South China Sea, according to its state media. The Official China Securities Journal said that up to 20 offshore nuclear platforms could be built in the region, an attempt to “speed up the commercial development” of the region. [Reuters’ Kathy Chen et al]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The 28-pages of a congressional enquiry into the 9/11 terror attacks still classified could be made public as soon as today, reports Katie Bo Williams for The Hill. The documents are believed by some to contain details implicating the government of Saudi Arabia in the attacks.

A Russian ex-Guantánamo Bay detainee released in 2004 has been designated a global terrorist by the US, prompting renewed calls from Congress for the transfers of the remaining captives to be frozen. Dirat Vakhitov was recommended for release into a Russian prison six months after his arrival at the detention center, on June 13, 2002. He was resportedly one of 30 suspects detained in Istanbul on suspicion of involvement in the attack at the Atatürk Airport on June 28. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

A federal appeals court ruled that the government cannot force Microsoft to turn over emails or other personal data stored on computers overseas yesterday, a major legal win for the tech giant. The case comes against a backdrop of tensions between Europe and the US over US government access to data stored on the computers of social media and other internet companies. Devlin Barrett and Jay Greene report for the Wall Street Journal.

French authorities have identified the “real” leader of the November Paris attacks, according to the report of a closed-door parliamentary enquiry into France’s anti-terrorism activities. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, previously considered to have been the main perpetrator, is now thought to have played a lesser role. Speaking about the report, France’s head of external security did not disclose who authorities now think was heading the attacks. [France 24]

The House passed two bills blocking Iran’s access to the dollar and imposing sanctions for its ballistic missiles program on Tuesday, the anniversary of the nuclear deal. The legislation comes a day after the House approved a measure preventing the federal government from purchasing heavy water – used in some nuclear reactors – from Iran. [The Hill’s Cristina Marcos]

The US must do something to stop South Sudan’s intense fighting, says the Washington Post editorial board. The world’s youngest country is violently falling apart as fighting erupted last weekend in the capital, Juba. The US has been evacuating all non-essential staff from South Sudan and has deployed 47 troops to protect the US Embassy. No other country has played a bigger role in the creation of South Sudan than the US: “now is the time for Mr Obama to speak up for the people of South Sudan,” the board urges.

The battle for Libya’s Sirte has intensified, tanks surrounding the last remaining stronghold of the Islamic State in Libya. [Al Jazeera]

Yemen’s Houthi rebels have left for Kuwait to resume UN-mediated talks, while the Saudi-backed government threatens to boycott them. Previous talks failed, while a cease fire that went into effect in April has been breached multiple times by both sides, reports Al Jazeera.

A UN report accuses both sides of the Ukraine conflict of indiscriminately shelling civilian areas and carrying out summary executions of both combatants and civilians. The report says that most of the incidents took place between late 2014 and early 2015. [Al Jazeera]

Hafiz Saeed walks free in his native Pakistan despite the fact that the US has put a $10 million bounty on his head and labeled him a terrorist, reports Kathy Gannon for the AP. He has been identified as a founding member of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, and spends his time denouncing Washington and New Dehli – where he is also a wanted man – in public speeches.

NATO remains “essentially intact” despite all the unsettling news coming out of Europe, though it will need “regular tending and adjustment” as it remains under strain, observes the New York Times editorial board. Major challenges include the wave of migrants, the rise of right-wing political parties, and terrorist attack in Europe. And then there is Russia.

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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