The Early Edition: July 28, 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

US-backed Syrian Kurdish and Arab militias have seized over 10,000 documents and 4.5 terabytes of digital data from the Islamic State in the past few weeks while fighting the insurgents in Manbij, close to the Turkish border and a major hub for Islamic State fighters moving in and out of Syria. An initial review offers fresh clues about “foreign fighters, the networks, where they’re from,” Brett McGurk, the US’s special envoy for combating the Islamic State, has said. Eric Schmitt reports for the New York Times.  Operation Inherent Resolve spokesperson Army Col. Chris Garvey said yesterday that the information could also provide insight into the Islamic State’s plots outside of Iraq and Syria, reports Kristina Wong for the Hill.

The Russian and Syrian militaries will begin a “large-scale humanitarian operation” in Aleppo, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said today. Three corridors will be opened for civilians to leave the city, and a fourth will be established for militants in the north of Aleppo, close to the Castello road. [Reuters]

Eight Eastern European countries have approved the sale of €1.2bn of weapons to countries known to ship arms to Syria, a year-long investigation by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project has found. Thousands of weapons including assault rifles, rocket launchers and anti-tank weapons are being sent via a new arms pipeline from the Balkans to the Arabian Peninsula and countries bordering Syria, and the suspicion is that they are ending up in Syria itself. Ivan Angelovski et al report for the Guardian.

The death toll from the Islamic State’s bombing attack in Syria’s predominantly Kurdish Qamishli yesterday continues to rise. As of last night, at least 50 had died, according to Al Jazeera.

Thousands of Afghan men are travelling to Syria to fight alongside the Syrian government and its allies, reports Kareem Fahim for the New York Times. Most of them are Shiite Muslims from the Hazara ethnic minority, and the chief motivation is lack of work at home.

“At some point there is going to be a terrorist diaspora out of Syria like we’ve never seen before.” Speaking at a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University yesterday, FBI Director James Comey warned that eventual victory against the Islamic State in Syria would push the “really dangerous” jihadists out, primarily into Western Europe. [New York Times’ Joseph Goldstein]

Al-Qaeda’s Syria branch the Nusra Front is considering splitting ties with the global terror group, its members have told the AP’s Bassem Mroue. It then intends to merge with other insurgent groups in Syria, a move that could complicate negotiations between the US and Russia on a military partnership in Syria, which involves separating militant fighters from other moderate rebel factions.  Al-Qaeda has issued an audio statement to its Syrian branch today telling it that it could break ties if it needed to, to preserve its unity and continue its battle in Syria, reports Reuters.

Hezbollah should be the US’s target in Syria. Daniel Serwer, a professor and director of the conflict management program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, makes the case for focusing efforts on the group, which is “a major factor in the military balance in Syria” that has allowed Assad to “make progress against his opponents.” [Washington Post]

A series of bomb attacks in and around Baghdad, Iraq, yesterday have left at least 18 dead, officials have said. A provincial council south of Iraq’s capital has approved the demolition of homes of convicted militants and the banishing of their families from the province, the AP’s Sinan Salaheddin reports.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 12 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 26. Separately, partner forces conducted 10 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

TURKEY

A top-level military meeting chaired by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim today is likely to lead to a “major shake-up” within the armed forces, suggests Suzan Fraser in the AP. The Supreme Military Council, which yesterday discharged almost 1,700 officers on suspicion of involvement in the failed coup, is expected to announce more dismissals today.

Two of Turkey’s highest-ranking generals have resigned ahead of the meeting, according to Turkey’s private news agency, Dogan. Lower-ranking officers are expected to be fast-tracked to fill the gaps in the top positions. [AFP]

The Turkish government ordered the closing of over 100 media outlets yesterday, including newspapers, publishing companies and television channels, as the crackdown following the failed military coup this month continues. [New York Times’ Ceylan Yeginsu]

Turkey is intensifying pressure on the US to extradite Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, reports Nahal Toosi for Politico, comparing the demand to that made by the US of Afghanistan that it hand over Osama bin Laden, and the failed putsch to the 9/11 attacks. Despite the invocation, Turkey is unlikely to take direct military action against the US over Gulen, suggests Toosi. However, Turkey can make life difficult for the US is other ways, particularly in relation to the fight against the Islamic State.

The US should not extradite Gulen without “better evidence,” says the Wall Street Journal editorial board. Although the motivation behind President Erdoğan’s request may be clear – he and Gulen are erstwhile political allies who fell out over a personal rivalry – that alone does not establish culpability. As Secretary of State John Kerry has reminded his counterpart, “we have a very strict set of requirements that have to be met for an extradition to take place.” That is particularly true toward a government that seems to have trouble “distinguishing fact from fantasy” and recognizing the rule of law, suggests the board.

FRANCE

The second suspect in the attack on the Église-St-Étienne Tuesday has been identified by French prosecutors. Abdel-Malik Nabil Petitjean, 19, had previously been flagged as a terror threat, according to officials. Authorities had been searching for him after his recent disappearance from his home in southeast France. [Wall Street Journal’s Noemie Bisserbe]  In fact, Petitjean’s photo was distributed to French police services four days prior to the attack, accompanying information stating that the man pictured “could be ready to participate in an attack on national territory,” according to the AP.

The two suspected perpetrators feature in a video released by the Islamic State’s Amaq news agency. The video, in which the two reportedly pledge allegiance to the Islamic State, was sent by them to the jihadists before Adel Kermiche and Abdel- Malik Petitjean carried out the attack, reports Kim Willsher in the Guardian.

Some media outlets in France have opted to stop publishing the names and images of Islamic State-linked attackers to avoid inadvertently glorifying them, reports the AP. The decision is part of a wider debate in France over how the media might be contributing to the terrorist threat.

GERMANY

The 18-year-old who shot nine people and himself in Munich last Friday is believed to have been a right-wing extremist who hated Arabs and Turks, reports Rick Noack for the Washington Post, although he is not thought to have been associated with any right-wing groups. The attacker was initially mistaken for an Islamist extremist.

Ansbach bomb attacker Mohammed Daleel was chatting online with an as-yet unidentified person immediately before he blew himself up outside a wine bar on Sunday, having been denied entry to a music concert. The person he spoke to is believed to have had “a significant influence on this attack,” Germany’s Interior Minister said yesterday. [AP’s Kirsten Grieshaber and Bassem Mroue]

A mosque believed to be a “hot spot” for Islamic extremism has been raided by authorities in northern Germany, as well as the apartments of eight leading members of the “German-speaking Islam Circle Hidesheim” organization in the same area, which the state’s interior ministry is intending to ban. [AP]

Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing pressure to abandon her incremental approach to preventing Islamist terror attacks from far-right parties and some mainstream conservatives. France’s President Hollande is facing a similar situation. Demands include putting electronic monitoring bracelets on those deemed at risk of radicalization, or even placing them in detention centers. Stacy Meichtry and Anton Toianovski report for the Wall Street Journal.

GUANTANAMO BAY

Former Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab has showed up in Venezuela after disappearing from Uruguay, where he had been transferred following his release in 2014, last month. Taos Turner reports for the Wall Street Journal that Dhiab turned up at Uruguay’s consulate in Caracas, Venezuela, on Tuesday, asking for help to travel to Turkey to be reunited with his family.

Former CIA prisoner Abu Zubayda’s request for immunity in testifying in 9/11 pretrial proceedings about claims of intentional disruption at Guantánamo Bay’s Camp 7 has been denied by Convening Authority Paul Oostburg-Sanz, who decided that Zubayda’s testimony would be essentially redundant given what alleged 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al Shibh has already said in relation to his complaint that deliberate noises and vibrations have been harassing him for years at Camp 7. Trial Judge Army Col. James L. Pohl has the power to overrule the decision, reports Carol Rosenberg for the Miami Herald.

Saudi Guantánamo Bay captive Mohammad al Qahtani has had his request for release declined by the Periodic Review Board, denying a request by his lawyers that he be returned to Saudi Arabia to receive treatment for severe mental illness. [AP and Miami Herald]

D.N.C. HACK

Democratic Lawmakers urged President Obama to release any information about Russia’s alleged involvement in the hack yesterday, Sen/ Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) writing in a letter to the White House that they believe “a heightened measure of transparency” is warranted given the serious nature of the breach. The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams reports.

Among the hacked DNC emails released by WikiLeaks are a number of voicemail message recordings, Harper Neidig reports for the Hill. Some of the messages are from voters upset that the DNC was giving too much support for Bernie Sanders.

Meanwhile, the story has gained “surprisingly little traction” in Russia, reports Alexey Eremenko for NBC News.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s comments during a news conference yesterday, referring to messages deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private email server, are  “another bizarre moment in the mystery of whether Vladimir V. Putin’s government has been seeking to influence the United States’ presidential race,” write Ashley Parker and David E. Sanger in the New York Times.

“Let’s be clear about what this means,” says the Washington Post editorial board: “the Republican candidate for president has invited a hostile foreign power to conduct an unlawful cyberattack against his opponent.”

Trump may have committed a felony, suggest Nancy A. Youssef et al in the Daily Beast: inciting criminal activity. Alternatively, he could be charged as a conspirator under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. However, this is unlikely, since the FBI and the Department of Justice are unlikely to want to dive into a “political nightmare.”

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) has been intervening to limit the FBI’s ability to act on incidental sensitive information it collected while monitoring phone calls, previously undisclosed documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center have revealed. Jenna McLaughlin reports for the Intercept.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A 24-year-old Bangladeshi American student was among the nine suspected militants killed by Dhaka police in a raid this week following the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery on July 1, which killed 22 people, police said today. Shazad Rouf had been missing for six months, a police spokesperson has told Reuters, and had been wanted by police on suspicion of plotting a subversive act.

China will hold naval exercises with Russia in the South China Sea in September, reports Reuters.  China’s defence minister stated these exercises are “routine” and “not directed against third parties.”

Washington has “crossed the red line” and effectively declared war on North Korea by placing leader Kim Jong-un on its sanctioned list, North Korea’s top diplomat told the AP’s Eric Talmadge today. He added that a showdown could be precipitated when the US and South Korea hold their annual war games next month.

The UN has accused Boko Haram of “almost unimaginable” violence and brutality in Nigeria, and has estimated that over nine million people in the region require humanitarian assistance. [BBC]  Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs told the Security Council that the crisis must be addressed holistically and beyond “an exclusively security lense.”

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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

George Kadifa

Intern with JUSTICE