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
A truck bomb in Qamashli, northeast Syria, has killed 44 people this morning. The Islamic State has said it was behind the attack. [BBC] The bomber – initially reported as two separate attackers, but it now appears that the initial blast caused a gas tank to explode – hit a security headquarters of the Kurdish administration that controls most of the province in which Qamishli is located, Hasaka, reports Reuters. The death toll is currently at 22, the AP reports.
The UN intends to proceed with the third round of intra-Syrian peace talks toward the end of August, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura told reporters yesterday, expressing the hope that the US and Russia would make “concrete progress” so that the atmosphere would be improved for the next round of talks and on the ground in Syria. [UN News Centre]
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 25. Separately, partner forces conducted 13 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Turkish authorities issued warrants for the detention of 47 former executives or senior journalists of “Zaman” newspaper today for alleged association with cleric Fethullah Gulen, the AP reports.
Turkish national security demands that the US hand over Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said during an interview yesterday, accusing the US of what he called a heartbreaking lack of support for Turkey’s mission to bring the alleged perpetrators of the July 15 coup attempt to justice. [Wall Street Journal’s Margaret Coker]
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu also reiterated Turkey’s call for the US to extradite Gulen, in an article published by Al Jazeera yesterday. The Turkish government has sought the extradition of Gulen for the past two years, without formally requesting it, reports Hürriyet Daily News.
Rumors of US involvement in the coup attempt appear to be circulating in Turkey, Hürriyet Daily News reporting on a speech by Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party leader Devlet Bahçeli yesterday in which he said that, if the rumors that “the CIA and Pentagon are behind” those who instigated the coup are true, this “means that the U.S. and the global centers of power are planning to drag Turkey into civil war.”
Eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum in Greece have had their hearings postponed today so that they can prepare more. The first hearing is now due to take place on August 19, reports Reuters.
Erdoğan is to travel to Russia to meet President Putin on August 9, the first face to face meeting since the July 15 coup attempt, part of mutual efforts to normalize bilateral ties following the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkish forces last November. [Hürriyet Daily News]
The Islamic State: two of its “soldiers” attacked a church in St-Étienne-du-Rouvray, France, yesterday, “in response to the call to target Crusader coalition states.” The two young men – who attacked the Église St-Étienne slit the throat of its priest, the Rev. Jacques Hamel, 85, after he refused to kneel before them, then held several parishioners and a nun hostage before they were shot by a specialized police unit – performed an act of religious war, according to the Islamic State. [New York Times’ Adam Nossiter et al]
One of the attackers has been identified as Adel Kermiche, a 19-year-old who had served 10 months in prison in France for two attempts to travel to Syria to fight for the Islamic State. He had been released in March this year on condition that he wear an electronic monitoring tag. The rules attached to the tag involved it being switched off during the time he attacked the Église St-Étienne, Nomenie Bisserbe et al report for the Wall Street Journal.
French president François Hollande is under increasing pressure to explain why Kermiche was released from prison despite prosecutors’ protestations. The teenager had a long history of “psychological troubles,” according to sections of his legal file published by Le Monde. In attempting to join the Islamic State in Syria he had twice evaded French authorities. He was stopped by German police in March 2015 and sent back to France, before being detained in Turkey a month later during another attempt to leave. Kermiche had threatened to attack a church in the months before he did so, according to one teenager who knew him. Kim Willsher and Elle Hunt discuss Kermiche’s profile in detail in the Guardian.
The second assailant has not been formally identified, but a minor was taken into custody yesterday morning in connection with the incident, reports France 24.
French religious leaders have called for increased security at places of worship following yesterday’s attack. [BBC]
“Amateur assaults in the hinterlands” are the dangerous next phase of the Islamic State’s war on Europe, write Anthony Faiola and Griff White in the Washington Post, a departure from the highly coordinated operations in Paris and Brussels. The “rapid-fire” nature of the attacks is leaving intelligence agencies confounded, with each of the four European attacks claimed by the group in the past two weeks being “terrifyingly different” in terms of both weapons and victims.
We now wait expectantly for revelations that attackers are linked to the Islamic State – but so does the Islamic State, writes Max Bearak in the Washington Post. Most attacks in Europe since the highly-coordinated attack in Paris in November last year have eventually been claimed by the Islamic State, but the attackers themselves did not give the group notice before they acted. By “reading the language in the Islamic State’s claims on attacks, one can see which of them were heavily directed” and “which were simply inspired by the group’s ideology,” suggests Bearak.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
The Philippine’s “pyrrhic victory” in the international tribunal in The Hague: Vijay Joshi of the AP reports that China has come back from the ruling with “such ferocity and manipulative diplomacy” that other Southeast Asian countries with similar disputes are apparently backing down. Each made their position clear during the ASEAN meeting this week, where they were supposed to unanimously call out China for its actions in the South China Sea.
The Philippines failed to secure a joint statement on the ruling from the 10 member countries, though its foreign minister insisted today that this was not a diplomatic win for China, saying the July 12 arbitral award – a matter between China and the Philippines only – was not the object of the meeting. [Reuters’ Lesley Wroughton and Martin Petty]
China has accused the US, Japan and Australia of “fanning the flames” of regional tensions by issuing a trilateral statement urging China not to construct military outposts and reclaim land in the disputed region and offering a strong show of support for other Southeast Asian nations with claims in the South China Sea. The statement was issued late on Monday after foreign ministers from each nation met in Laos. [AP]
China is – as usual – making angry statement but taking little action, observes David Ignatius in the Washington Post. The US is also following a “familiar script” in trying to mollify Chinese leaders before they do something rash, led by national security adviser Susan Rice, who urged China to “manage our significant differences constructively” during her visit to Beijing this week.
US intelligence agencies how have “high confidence” that the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee, federal officials have said, cautioning that they remain uncertain whether the hack was fairly routine cyberespionage or an attempt to manipulate the presidential election. [New York Times’ David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt]
President Obama has said that “anything’s possible” when it comes to the Russian’s hacking the DNC. [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian]
Why would Russia interfere in the US election? Because such interventions can succeed, says Paul Musgrave in the Washington Post. What’s more, the US does it too – and has even honed intervention into “something of an art form.”
WikiLeaks plans to publish “a lot more material” relating to US elections, founder Julian Assange told CNN yesterday. “This is having so much political impact on the United State,” he said about the release of the 20,000 DNC emails last Friday, adding that he would neither confirm nor deny whether Russia was behind the leaks.
A prosecutor in the 9/11 terror trials at Guantánamo Bay requested the judge to put 2,975 death certificates of those killed during the attacks directly into the pretrial record yesterday, saying they should be classified as business records entitled to a hearsay rule exception in order to avoid the usual requirement that witnesses are questioned on each document’s contents. Defense attorneys accused the prosecution of trying to “cut corners, do an end run around the 6th Amendment and Confrontation Clause” of the US Constitution. Carol Rosenberg reports for the Miami Herald.
“Strategic imperative for improved relations” between the US and Pakistan is “clear,” writes Senator John McCain in the Financial Times, following his trip to Pakistan earlier this month to discuss counterterrorism efforts in the region. This is because the US mission in Afghanistan is “immeasurably more difficult without Pakistan’s cooperation in taking on terrorists that operate across the Afghan-Pakistan border at will.”
Romania’s prime minister has today asked ministers to present him with a plan for the formation of a NATO multinational sea and air brigade to be based in Romania, following a meeting of top defense and foreign officials yesterday. President Klaus Iohannis has asked for the plan to be ready by the end of August, to meet a April 2017 deadline, reports the AP.
The Afghan military has begun a major offensive against the Islamic State group in the country’s far eastern region, reports Lynne O’Donnell and Karim Sharifi at the AP. The offensive follows the Islamic State suicide attack that killed at least 80 people in Kabul.
Police in Geneva, Switzerland, have ramped up security checks at Cointrin airport after a top-off from French police about a possible bomb threat, reports Reuters.
The Palestinian man suspected of ambushing a family car in the West Bank earlier this month has been shot dead by Israeli forces early this morning, the AP reports.
The UN has called for a humanitarian truce in Taiz province, Yemen, amid heavy fighting between government forces and Iran-allied Houthi militia in the region. The fighting has complicated the UN-sponsored peace talks, Reuters reports.
Two gunmen who have been holding an Armenian police station have surrendered after an exchange of fire with police, reports the AP. A group of gunmen seized the police station a week prior, demanding freedom for an opposition figure. The gunmen killed one officer in the seizure and held other officers hostage for several days. Following the gun fight, an ambulance crew that entered the police station to help the wounded has been taken hostage by the gunmen, according to Armenian police. [AP]
Morocco has arrested 52 suspected Islamic State-inspired militants and foiled several attacks by seizing bomb-making materials and weapons, it has reported today. [Reuters]
An ex-MP was one of the two suicide bombers who attacked yesterday’s deadly attacks in Mogadishu, Somalia, according to al-Shabaab, which was behind the attack. Salah Nuh Ismail quit the Somali parliament in 2010 after denouncing lawmakers as “infidels,” reports the BBC.
The US will pay “a terrifying price” for leading new sanctions against North Korea, its foreign minister has threatened. The Wall Street Journal reports these comments came at the Asean meeting in which US Secretary of State John Kerry pressed for further sanctions against North Korea following recent missile and nuclear bomb tests.
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