The Early Edition: August 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

Syrian rebels began a major offensive on government-held parts of Aleppo yesterday, the first significant attempt to regain ground since government forces and their allies tightened their siege of opposition-held parts of the city last week. [Reuters’ Suleiman al-Khalidi]

Russia’s plan to open four corridors out of Aleppo is resonant of the methods it used to destroy Grozny, the capital of the Chechen Republic, writes Roy Gutman in the Daily Beast. Back in 1999-2000, Russia dropped leaflets offering safe passage out of the city – as has been done in Aleppo – and, after a brief pause, “the real devastation began,” the UN later calling Grozny “the most destroyed city on earth.” Many Syrians feel abandoned by the international community in the face of Russia’s actions.

Civilians and some opposition fighters have begun leaving besieged rebel-held parts of Aleppo via safe corridors opened by the government, according to Syrian state media. Opposition activists deny these reports, accusing the government of falsely suggesting people are leaving the city in large numbers. Bassem Mroue reports for the AP.

A Russian helicopter has been shot down by rebels while returning from delivering aid to Aleppo, Russian media has reported. At least four of the five onboard have been reported as killed. It was unclear which group brought the helicopter down. [BBC]

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for two suicide bomb attacks on oil and gas facilities in the Bai Hassan oil field in northern Iraq yesterday, report Sarah Kent and Ghassan Adnan for the Wall Street Journal. At least five employees were killed in the attack. 

TURKEY

Erdoğan has the power to issue direct orders to the commanders of the army, air force and navy under a new presidential decree, issued yesterday under the three-month state of emergency current in place in Turkey. The decree also announced the discharge of 1,389 military personnel, including Erdoğan’s chief military adviser, who was arrested in the days after the coup was stopped. [AP’s Cinar Kiper and Elena Becatoros]

Turkish special forces apprehended 11 commandos who were involved in an effort to seize President Tayyip Erdoğan during the failed July 15 coup attempt, according to state-run media. The soldiers were part of a group that attacked a hotel where Erdoğan was staying on the night of the coup. Erdoğan was able to flee the hotel before they arrived, having been tipped off, reports Reuters.

The “Gulenist cleanse” has spread to the Turkish Football Federation, members of its affiliated boards resigning for “security checks,” reports Hürriyet Daily News.

Thousands of Erdoğan’s supporters rallied in the German city of Cologne yesterday to denounce the failed coup attempt, the AP reports.  Turkey has condemned a decision by a German court to ban president Erdoğan from addressing the rally via videolink, calling it “unacceptable.” [The Guardian]  This morning, the charge d’affaires at the German Embassy in Ankara was summoned to Turkey’s Foreign Ministry over the videolink ban. [Hürriyet Daily News]

Erdoğan said he will drop all lawsuits against those charged with the “many disrespects and insults” leveled against him on Friday, speaking at an event in Ankara commemorating those who died or were wounded during the July 15 coup attempt. Hundreds of people have been charged with insulting Turkey’s president, including on social media, reports the AP.

His followers may have been involved in the coup, accused coup mastermind cleric Fethullah Gulen has conceded, though he still denies any direct connection. Speaking in an interview with CNN, Gulen called for an international organization to investigate the Turkish government’s accusations against him.

Post-coup, Erdoğan is pushing other countries to crack down on organizations linked to Fethullah Gulen, including the Deva Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, whose global aid organization patrons are linked to Gulen. The Somali government, under pressure from Turkey, a major donor, announced the hospital must close the night after the coup, report Laura Pitel and Jack Farchy for the Financial Times.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban has claimed the bombing of a guesthouse for foreign contractors on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, in the early hours of this morning. After the explosion, which was so large that it woke residents across Kabul and briefly cut off electricity to most of the city, three armed suicide attackers reportedly attempted to enter the hotel, but were engaged by the police and killed. One police officer was also killed, while the hotel’s residents escaped unharmed. [New York Times’ Mujib Mashal; CNN’s Steve Visser and Masoud Popalzai]

The Taliban’s new leader has called on Afghanistan’s government to renounce its ties with foreign allies as the only way to ensure unity in the country, reports Reuters. Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada referred to foreign forces’ “occupation” of Afghanistan in one of his first public statements since becoming leader.

The Taliban took control of the important Kanashin district at the end of last week, after heavy fighting, including assaults on a series of police checkpoints on Friday night. The AP’s Mirwais Khan reports.

US military leaders are insisting that the Islamic State in Afghanistan is not strengthening, despite the attack on a peaceful Shiite protest last week that left 80 dead, reports Rebecca Kheel for The Hill. While experts are skeptical that the attack is indicative of the Islamic State’s increasing strength, they are suggesting that it could make it harder for the next president to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan.

YEMEN

Yemen’s exiled government has accepted a UN peace deal that requires Houthi rebels to concede power after over 14 months of war, it announced on Sunday after a meeting in Riyadh chaired by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi at which a draft agreement was approved. The draft agreement paves the way for a comprehensive political dialogue to begin 45 days after the agreement is signed, Al Jazeera reports.

Shell fire from inside Yemen has hit Saudi Arabian border town Samtah, killing four, Saudi civil defense confirmed today. Saudi and Houthi soldiers were killed in fighting on the Saudi-Yemen border on Sunday, as the peace talks continue in Kuwait this week.[Reuters]

EUROPE

The cousin of Normandy church attacker Abdel-Malik Nabil Petitjean has been placed in preventive detention after being put under formal investigation on suspicion of terrorist association with a view to perpetrating a crime, the Paris prosecutor’s office said yesterday, which stated that “Farid K” “knew very well, if not of the exact place or time, of his cousin’s impending plans for violence.” [France 24]

French police are attempting to identify members of a closed channel on the Telegram messaging app, where one of the church attackers outlined his plans beforehand. Investigators are trying to establish how the two killers first came into contact. [The Guardian’s Kim Willsher]

London’s Metropolitan Police force is more committed to using lethal force and more of its officers are carrying arms since the November 13 attacks in Paris, in neighboring France, according to Commander Bernard Hogan-Howe. A quarter more London officers carry guns than last year, and an elite counter-terrorist unit is on 24-hour standby, reports the AP.

The Islamic State has called on its members to carry out jihad in Russia in a nine-minute YouTube video posted on Sunday. [Reuters]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

National security officials at the annual Aspen Security Forum last week spoke of the Islamic State as a “long-term problem to be managed” rather than an enemy that could be defeated, reports Kimberly Dozier for the Daily Beast. The tone of the conference was one of “grim resignation and dark warnings of a long hard fight to come,” with every official predicting a global increase in terror attacks, including in the US.

Guantánamo Bay detainee Ghassan Abdallah al-Sharbi remains a security threat and will not be released, the Periodic Review Board has decided. Saudi al-Sharbi attended flight school in the US and was trained to make explosives by al-Qaeda. [AP and Miami Herald]

US allegations that Russia is behind the hack on Democratic Party emails is a cover-up for the fact that the election campaign has been manipulated, the Kremlin has said today. [Reuters]

China’s increasingly confident military are pressing it to give a stronger and potentially armed response aimed at the US and regional allies to the July 12 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague which found against China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, according to sources close to the military. China’s leadership is resisting this pressure, reports Reuters, wary of provoking a clash with the US.

Gunmen involved in a two-week standoff inside a police compound in Yerevan, Armenia, surrendered on Sunday after security forces ordered armored vehicles to enter the compound. The AP reports that the gunmen are members of a radical opposition group. The standoff prompted protests that led to unrest in Armenia’s capital.

A Palestinian who attempted to stab soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint on Sunday was shot dead by Israeli troops. The military said he was running toward troops with a knife in his hand when he was shot. [AP]

Suspected al-Shabaab members attacked a heavily-fortified police center in Mogadishu, Somalia, Sunday, killing at least five, Abdi Guled reports for the AP. The attack began with twin suicide bombings, after which at least two gunmen fought their way inside.

Malaysia’s new National Security Council Act is being criticized as “draconian” and a threat to democracy, Al Jazeera reports. The law allows the government to declare “security areas,” arrests without warrant, property seizures, and bans on demonstrations.

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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