The Early Edition: August 4, 2016

IRAQ and SYRIA

Assad regime forces backed by Russian airstrikes have captured hills and villages on the outskirts of southwestern Aleppo from rebel groups, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Government forces launched a counterattack on rebel-held areas on Wednesday, reports Al Jazeera.

The Russian military says that Syrian rebels have used a toxic agent against civilians in a residential area of eastern Aleppo, killing seven and sickening numerous others. The head of Russia’s Reconciliation Center at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria said yesterday that the Nour el-Deine Zengi militant group – considered by the U.S. as part of the moderate opposition – was responsible for launching the attack. He did not identify the substance in question. [AP]  This comes after reports of a helicopter-delivered chemical attack in the northern Syrian town of Saraqeb on Monday that followed the shootdown of a Russian helicopter nearby.

Reports that German-born rapper turned Islamic State recruiter Deso Dogg was killed in an airstrike near Syria’s Raqqa on October 16 were mistaken, the Pentagon announced yesterday. No further details were provided concerning Deso Dogg – real name Denis Cuspert, Christine Hauser reports for the New York Times.

The Nusra Front will be “no easy target.” The US-Russia plan to coordinate airstrikes against former al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front – now called the Levant Conquest Front – announced July 15, will be challenging, write Sarah Almukhtar and Tim Wallace in the New York Times: differentiating the group from other rebels, with whom it frequently works, will be difficult, added to which the Nusra Front has been highly effective against the Syrian government, which aligns with the main goal of the rebel groups to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out five airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on August 2. Separately, partner forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command

TURKEY

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Turkey later this month, reports Reuters.

The US is likely to “swallow hard, recognize Turkey’s unique geopolitical importance and accept Mr. Erdogan as he is.” This is “messier” and “less noble” than disavowing Turkey’s president now that the sweeping purges and mass arrests following the July 15 failed coup attempt have confirmed “many of the worst fears” about his government. However, it is the option that “best suits American interests,” writes Stephen Kinzer in the New York Times.

There are many factors the U.S. government will have to weigh in deciding whether to accede to Turkey’s demand for cleric Fethullah Gulen’s extradition, including the fact that Turkey is a key NATO ally and that the U.S. has condemned the coup attempt for which Gulen is blamed. “I believe that America is going to refuse losing Turkey as a good partnership in the region,” Turkish lawmaker Kamil Aydin, who participated in talks with the Justice Department in Washington this week, told NPR’s Michele Kelemen.

“Coup mastermind” and conniving leader of a “cult” bent on taking over Turkey? Abigail Hauslohner, Karen DeYoung, and Valerie Strauss report on what is known about Gulen and his Hizmet movement in the Washington Post.

A fresh wave of anti-American sentiment has been sparked by the Turkish government’s choice to accuse the U.S. of complicity in the failed coup rather than undertake a thorough investigation of the facts, writes the New York Times editorial board. Combined with the sweeping crackdowns against enemies “real and imagined,” this poses a serious risk to NATO, US-Turkey relations, and Turkey’s stability in the long-term.

Turkish anti-terror police detained 20 suspected Islamic State-members in the southern city of Adana – close to the Incirlik Air Base and on the border with an Islamic State-controlled part of Syria – early this morning, according to Turkish media. [Reuters]

EUROPE

Terrorism is “one line of enquiry” for UK police following a stabbing attack by a 19-year-old man in London last night, as a result of which one woman was killed and five others were injured. The suspect was arrested, police saying that mental health was a “significant factor” in what had occurred, reports the BBC.  It has emerged that the woman killed was a US citizen. This and other live updates are being provided by the BBC.

The Islamic State has “loads of people living in European countries and waiting for commands to attack the European people.” The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi has spoken to German Harry Sarfo, now in jail, who traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State but was told they no longer wanted Europeans to come to Syria but to stay home and help carry out the group’s plan of global terrorism.  Sarfo also told Callimachi that the Islamic State views the US’s slack gun laws as “dumb” and approached attacks on foreign soil differently in the US than in Europe, where stricter gun laws mean they have to find recruits with access to criminal networks. [Washington Post’s Adam Taylor]

“The time is ripe” to train the German army to assist police in dealing with domestic terror attacks, Chancellor Angela Merkel said while announcing her nine-point counterterrorism plan. The army was put on standby to deploy as it emerged that a shooting was taking place atl a shopping center in Munich on July 22, but stood down when the perpetrator turned out to be a lone teenage rather than a terrorist group. Germany has banned the use of soldiers at home since WWII, to protect democracy. The Wall Street Journal’s Ruth Bender reports.

Armed French police have begun patrolling cross-Channel ferries starting Monday in the hope of preventing terrorist attacks, reports the BBC.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Many of the remaining gaps in negotiations over a new U.S. multibillion-dollar military aid package to Israel have been closed following three days of closed-door discussion in Washington between acting head of Israel’s national security council Jacob Nagel and US national security adviser Susan Rice, a senior U.S. official said yesterday. [Reuters’ Matt Spetalnick]

Israel’s approval of a new law allowing children as young as 12 to be imprisoned for “terrorist offenses” expected to apply mainly to Palestinian children in occupied East Jerusalem has been condemned by human rights groups. [Al Jazeera] The attacks by Palestinians against Israelis in recent months “demands a more aggressive approach, including toward minors,” the Israeli government said in a statement released yesterday.

The West Bank homes of two Palestinians behind an attack on a restaurant in Tel Aviv in June were demolished by the Israeli military today, reports the AP.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

For the first time a US law enforcement officer has been charged with attempting to support a terrorist organization. Police officer for the Washington area Metro system Nicholas Young was arrested last week following seven-years of observation by FBI agents, during which time they allege he threatened FBI agents, gave advice to suspected terrorists, and considered joining the Islamic State. [Washington Post’s Rachel Weiner]  Young is not alleged to have planned any act of violence. Rather, he is accused of sending $245 worth of gift cards to a government informant who pretended to be living in Islamic State territory, one of several informants in contact with Young since 2010, whom he had previously attempted to dissuade from joining the Islamic State. [The Intercept]

An 18-year-old arrested on terrorism charges on July 1 in Arizona has “the mental capacity of a child,” reports Murtaza Hussain for The Intercept. Again, Mahin Khan had been in contact with FBI agents for years, who were aware of the fact that he suffers from serious mental and emotional illnesses. Khan faces charges including conspiracy to commit terrorism.

The convictions of two alleged terrorists were stayed last week by a Canadian judge ruling they had been “skillfully manipulated” by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police last week. This is the first time a counterterrorism sting has been thrown out of court in Canada, reports Trevor Aaronson for The Intercept. The US courts have so-far rejected entrapment defenses.

A $400 million cash payment to Iran following the release of five American detainees was not a ransom, the Obama administration said yesterday. The five were released on January 16, in exchange for seven Iranians held in the US for sanctions violations, the deal coinciding with the lifting of international sanctions against Tehran. The US said at the time that the subsequent payment was in settlement of a longstanding claim at the Iran-US claims tribunal in The Hague over Iranian funds frozen since 1981. [Reuters’ Lesley Wroughton]

The denial was in response to a report by the Washington Post, published yesterday, which linked the release of the prisoners with the payment, following the publishing of which State Department spokesperson John Kirby Tweeted that the accusation was “completely false.”

“When is payment for hostages not a ransom?” asked the Wall Street Journal editorial board later yesterday evening. Answer: “when the Obama administration says so.” One reason the administration seeks to deny the cash was a ransom, the board claims, is that it had already paid a high price by freeing the seven Iranians, a move which then failed to satisfy Iran. It also points out that Iran has since taken three more Americans hostage and insisted that the U.S. owes it $2 billion in assets frozen in 2009 to pay to victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism.

At least six tourists including three Americans were wounded in an attack by gunmen in Afghanistan’s western Herat province today, according to government officials. [Reuters]

B-1 Lancer bombers are being sent to Guam by the U.S. Air Force to bolster the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific this week, it has said. Bombers from the 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron have undertaken over 630 missions in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Guam is U.S.-controlled island territory in the western Pacific. CNN’s Brad Lendon reports.

The UN Security Council failed to agree on a statement in support of its special envoy to Yemen, who is attempting to get Houthi rebels to back a peace deal, yesterday. Edith M. Lederer reports for the AP.

China has blamed the US for working with “separatists” in Hong Kong and Taiwan to undermine China and cause chaos in a video released by the Chinese Supreme People’s Procuratorate. [CNN’s James Griffiths and Vivian Kam]

South Korea may move the site of the US THAAD anti-missile defense unit in the southeastern county of Seongju over health and environmental concerns among locals, reports Reuters.

The US has designated Pakistan’s militant group Jamaat-ur-Ahrar a terrorist group, reports Reuters. The group has staged multiple attacks on civilians, religious minorities and soldiers in Pakistan, and claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday bombing in a public park that left 70 people dead in Lahore.

Nigeria’s Boko Haram terrorists have a new leader, according to the Islamic State, which published an interview with Abu Musab al-Barnawi in its al-Nabaa newspaper yesterday. Al-Barnawi threatened to bomb churches and kill Christians, and claimed there is a Western plot to Christianize Nigeria. [AP’s Michelle Faul]  The report did not mention what had happened to previous leader Abudakar Shekau, but AFP has reported that he has released an audio message in which he says he is “still around,” via a post to its Twitter account.

Nine citizens of Trinidad and Tobago are due to be deported from Turkey having been apprehended while attempting to enter Syria or Iraq to join the Islamic State, the government of Trinidad and Tobego has reportedly confirmed, according to the AP.

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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