The Early Edition: August 5, 2016

IRAQ and SYRIA

The Islamic State may have captured up to 3,000 civilians fleeing Iraqi villages yesterday, subsequently executing 12 of them, the UNHCR – the UN’s refugee agency – has reported. The villages are in Hawiga District in Kirkuk Governorate. [Reuters]

The UN is deciding whether to oversee Russia’s proposal to create humanitarian corridors for civilians who want to leave Syria’s besieged city, Aleppo, according to confidential documents seen by the Guardian’s Kareem Shaheen. The documents reveal the tension inside the UN between wanting to assist Aleppo’s residents, but not wanting to be seen as Russia’s accomplice.

The UN has urged an immediate pause to fighting in and around Aleppo, the special envoy to Syria saying the UN was ready to dispatch relief to the city once the fighting stops. [AP]

Turkey’s Foreign Minister has called for a fourth round of Syria peace talks in Geneva today. [Reuters]

The Islamic State will “inevitably” be defeated, but dispersed terrorist networks are likely to continue to launch attacks after the group’s footholds in Iraq and Syria are lost, President Obama told reporters following a two-hour briefing with national security advisers yesterday. “ISIL has not had a major successful offensive operation in either Syria or Iraq in a full year,” he pointed out. Greg Jaffe, David Nakamura, and William Branigin report for the Washington Post.

Russia is trying to poach US-trained Syrian rebels, according to the leader of a prominent US-backed faction fighting in Aleppo, the Liwa al-Mu’tasim Brigade. Mustafa Sejry said he had been personally approached by a representative of Moscow 10 days ago and offered “unlimited amounts of weaponry and close air support” to fight both the Islamic State and the rebranded Nusra Front. Sejry “clearly wants to use the offer to leverage more and better support from the Americans if he can,” writes Michael Weiss for The Daily Beast.

Syrian group the General Foundation for Prisoners’ Affairs says it has the bodies of five Russians killed when their helicopter was shot down over Idlib province on Monday, and will only give them up in exchange for certain prisoners currently in Syrian jails. It is not clear whether the group was responsible for downing the helicopter, reports Reuters.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out six airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on August 3. Separately, partner forces conducted ten strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command

TURKEY

Turkey issued an arrest warrant for Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, yesterday, saying that Gulen ordered the July 15 coup attempt that resulted in the deaths of over 250 people, according to Turkish media. The order is a step toward a formal extradition request to the US, reports Ceylan Yeginsu for the New York Times.

Gulen has dismissed the warrant, saying it “changes nothing” in a statement issued yesterday. [CNN’s Ben Westcott]

The US is not convinced by evidence provided by Turkey that Gulen planned the coup, American officials examining it have reportedly said. At the same time, they are troubled by the threatening public statements made by Turkish officials, according to people familiar with the private discussions between US and Turkish officials on the matter, report the Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous.

State Department spokesperson Mark Toner told journalists yesterday that he understood the Department of Justice is “still trying to make a determination” of whether the evidence Turkey has provided so far constitutes a formal extradition request. A second batch of evidence is currently being looked through, Toner said.

Turkey should follow the European Convention of Human Rights to avoid future court cases over post-coup prosecutions and actions taken under the state of emergency, Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland advised during his visit to Ankara this week. Hürriyet Daily News’ Serkan Demirtas reports.

AFGHANISTAN

Seven Pakistanis were taken hostage by the Taliban after the helicopter they were traveling in crash-landed yesterday, according to Afghan officials. [Washington Post’s Pamela Constable]  The abductions took place the Azra district in Logar province, a “lawless” region of Afghanistan over which the government has no control, according to the district’s governor. [AP]  Pakistan’s prime minister has confirmed his government is using “formal and informal channels” to seek the return of the hostages today. [Reuters’ Asad Hashim and Jibran Ahmad]

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack on foreign tourists in Afghanistan’s western Herat province yesterday, including three Americans, who were injured when a rocket struck the trucks they were traveling in. [CNN’s Euan McKirdy and Masoud Popalzai]

The Taliban’s new leader Maulavi Haibutallah Akhundzada is reaching out to key Taliban figures sidelined by his predecessor as the group wages a new offensive in Helmand province, according to sources close to the group. Taliban commanders alienated by the previous leader, Mullah Mansour, were often paid by the Afghan government to fight against the main group, report the Wall Street Journal’s Habib Khan Totakhil and Jessica Donati. Akhundzada, after two months in power, is winning back those elements that previously posed a threat.

“These boys were our bright and educated youth.” The Hazaras’ nonviolent “Enlightenment” reform movement, once seen as a model for Afghanistan’s emerging democracy, has been upended by the July 23 suicide bombings targeting the Shiite minority’s peaceful protest, which killed 80 of its young people, reports Pamela Constable for the Washington Post. Although the incident has not immediately sparked a sectarian rift, the fear is that it may do so in the future.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israel is accusing the Gaza head of US-based humanitarian aid organization World Vision of diverting up to $7 million a year – some 60 per cent of the organization’s budget – to fund Hamas’ terror activities, a theft has kept up for ten years, claimed Israel’s domestic security agency the Shin Bet yesterday. Mohammed el-Halabi is apparently an active figure in Hamas’ military wing. He was indicted by Israeli authorities yesterday. [Washington Post’s Ruth Eglash and Hazem Balousha]

Australia will suspend funding for World Vision operations in the Palestinian Territories following the allegations, it said today. [Reuters]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Former Guantánamo Bay “forever prisoner” Hayl Aziz al Maythali has been approved for release, the Periodic Review Board has decided. The Yemeni was once considered to have plotted post-9/11 attacks in Pakistan, reports Carol Rosenberg for the Miami Herald.

The US has refused to pay $300 million in military reimbursements to Pakistan because it is not taking enough action against US-designated terror group the Haqqani network, the Pentagon has said, referring to the Coalition Support Fund which the US provides to countries to offset costs encountered in supporting counterterrorism operations. [CNN’s Jamie Crawford]

Secretary of State John Kerry will give Argentina declassified documents related to the US’s role in the South American country’s 1976-83 military dictatorship, part of warming relations between the US and Argentina. President Obama promised to find and hand over the US government records last year. [Reuters]

The FBI came close to discovering the 2015 plot to attack participants in a draw Muhammad contest in Garland, Texas, unsealed court document have revealed. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams]  Before the attack was carried out, perpetrator Elton Simpson received a text from an FBI agent urging him to “tear up Texas,” Katie Avadski reports for the Daily Beast.

Two purported leaders of Boko Haram are apparently locked in a power struggle. The Islamic State announced a new leader – Abu Musab al-Barnawi – was in place Tuesday, followed by the release of an audio message from existing/previous leader Abubakar Shekau Thursday denying al-Barnawi’s claim. Some analysts say Shekau has been rejected by the Islamic State because of Boko Haram’s attacks on Muslims, reports the Guardian’s Ruth MacLean. Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State last year, breaking from al-Qaeda.

The head of Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate has been killed in raids on the city of al-Arish, close to the border with the Gaza strip, Egypt’s military has said. [Wall Street Journal’s Dahlia Kholaif]

Two men are in custody and have been arrested in connection with the July 1 terrorist attack on a bakery in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the deputy inspector general of the Dhaka police confirmed yesterday. Tahmid Khan is a student at the University of Toronto, and Hasnat Karim is a British man who has been working in Bangladesh. Their families and other hostages had said the two men were also hostages in the attack. Both were taken into custody after the attack, but authorities refused to answer questions about them until now. [New York Times’ Maher Sattar and Nida Najar]

Indonesian authorities have arrested six today suspected of planning a terrorist attack on Singapore, a police spokesperson has said. The group are considered to have links to the Islamic State. Singapore has stepped up security in response. [Reuters’ Fergus Jensen]

There is no evidence that terrorism was the motive behind a knife attack in London yesterday which left an American woman dead, UK police have said. The suspects remained in custody yesterday on suspicion of murder, the Wall Street Journal’s Alexis Flynn.

A law allowing prisoners convicted under terrorism laws to be kept in prison after they have served their sentences has been agreed to by Australian state governments today. [AP]

The Wall Street Journal editorial board is slamming President Obama for cementing his “Prague agenda” for a nuclear free world before he leaves office. Obama’s weakening of the US’s nuclear arsenal has given enemies a greater incentive to grow their own arsenals, says the board. Thus ensuring “his legacy for arms-control illusions that are producing a new era of nuclear proliferation.”

The US and Russia are expected to lock horns over who should be the new UN Secretary-General during the second Security Council “straw poll” today, report Benjamin Oreskes and Nahal Toosi for Politico. Washington is believed to want Argentina’s foreign minister to take up to post, while Russia is hoping for a Bulgarian diplomat with family ties to the Soviet Union. Last month’s straw poll seemed to show that Russia and the US had each maneuvered to nix the other’s preferred candidate.

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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