The Early Edition: September 19, 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

Syria’s fragile ceasefire threatened to unravel Sunday with the first aerial attacks on rebel-held parts of Aleppo and a nearby village amid rising tensions between the US and Russia as a result of an airstrike by the US-led coalition Saturday that killed dozens of Syrian soldiers, Bassem Mroue reports at the AP.

The US-coalition strike on Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zour province was “halted immediately” when Russia informed US forces that the personnel and vehicles targeted were part of the Syrian military, not the Islamic State, as was believed, US Central Command said Saturday. Russia and Syria say the strike left 62 Syrian soldiers dead and over 100 injured, Karen DeYoung and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report at the Washington Post.

The pilots who carried out the strikes were acting “on the boundary between criminal negligence and connivance with Islamic State terrorist,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Sunday. [Washington Post’s Liz Sly, Karen DeYoung and Louisa Loveluck]

Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russia of “grandstanding” following the statement, and said that if Russia is serious about the ceasefire it should stop its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from continuing with the “indiscriminate” bombing of his people. [NBC News’ Tom Stelloh]

Two aid convoys meant for Aleppo are still in Turkey, a lack of security guarantees from all sides preventing the UN trucks from entering Syria for the whole of the US-Russia brokered ceasefire, which officially ended midnight last night. [Reuters]

Australia expressed regret for any loss of life to Syrian troops in the airstrike, which involved Australian planes. [AP]

The accidental  bombing exposed the White House’s struggle to put together a coherent strategy in the multi-sided Syrian war, in which it has conflicting aims, from defeating the Islamic State to removing President Assad from office, David E. Sanger, Mark Mazzetti and Ben Hubbard suggest at the New York Times.

Turkey-backed rebels are pushing toward the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab as part of an effort to extend their zone of control in northern Syria, Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdoğan said today. [Reuters]

Putin has proved that limited use of force could change the political outcome in Syria, a concept Obama rejected, Jackson Diehl writes at the Washington Post, the difference being that the result has been a victory for Russia, Iran and the Assad regime at the expense of the US and its allies.

The first Iraqis returned to Fallujah over the weekend almost three months after it was liberated from the Islamic State by Iraq’s army, Tamer El-Ghobashy and Ali A. Nabhan report at the Wall Street Journal.

USA ATTACKS

Three violent incidents took place in the US within a 12 hour period Saturday, injuring almost 40 people and raising concern about terror attacks by small groups, lone wolves or mentally ill individuals, Pervaiz Shallwani Damian Paletta and Devlin Barrett report at the Wall Street Journal.

The New York Police Department announced this morning that it’s looking for Ahmad Khan Rahami in connection with Saturday’s bombing near the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, according to the Washington Post. Investigators took five people for questioning Sunday night in relation to the bomb that injured 29 people and another bomb that failed to detonate, report Marc Santora, William K. Rashbaum, Al Baker and Adam Goldman at the New York Times. The bombs were made with pressure cookers, flip phones and Christmas lights and filled with shrapnel. 

 The FBI maintained that the explosion was “intentional, violent and criminal” but not terrorist, in statements that somewhat contrasted those made by the governors of New York and New Jersey who labeled the bombing terrorism. [POLITICO’s Addy Baird]

What we know and what we don’t know about the Manhattan blast. Eli Rosenberg and Christopher Mele explain the picture so far at the New York Times.

A backpack exploded early this morning as a police robot examined it near a New Jersey transit station. It was the second bomb in New Jersey since Saturday morning. [NBC News’ Miguel Almaguer, Alex Johnson, Tom Winter and Jonathan Dienst] No one was injured in the blast. [Reuters’ Alex Dobuzinskis]

Possible links between the New Jersey and the New York explosions were being examined by investigators yesterday, report Daniel Trotta and Dustin Volz at Reuters. No international militant group has yet claimed responsibility for the New Jersey or the New York bombings.

Media associated with the Islamic State claimed a man who stabbed and wounded eight people in a Minnesota shopping mall Saturday was a “soldier of the Islamic State,” reports Rebecca Savransky at the Hill.

The FBI is investigating the attack, stopped when an off-duty police officer shot the perpetrator, as a “potential act of terrorism.” [New York Times’ Mitch Smith] The officer, Jason Falconer, was hailed as “clearly a hero” after confronting the stabber, who has not been identified, Jared Goyette and Alan Yuhas report at the Guardian.

SAUDI ARABIA and YEMEN

Saudi Arabia accused Iran of supplying weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen, urging the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Tehran for violating an arms embargo, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

The head of Yemen’s central bank was sacked yesterday and the bank relocated to the southern city of Aden by Yemen’s exiled president, a move that will increase pressure on the Houthis who control the capital Sanaa but also bring further hardship to the civilians living there. [AP]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

President Obama will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday at the UN General Assembly in New York city, report Mark Landler and Peter Baker at the New York Times. Relations between the two leaders are strained over the Iran nuclear deal and Obama’s pursuit of peace in the Middle East. Obama and Netanyahu are likely to discuss both of these issues, reports POLITICO.

Senior Hamas leader Fathi Hammad is pleased to be branded a “global terrorist” by the US, he said following the State Department’s decision last Friday. [Washington Post’s Hazem Balousha and William Booth]

A Palestinian stabbed and injured an Israeli army officer near a West Bank settlement Sunday, the military said, the incident following a surge in Palestinian attacks over the weekend after weeks of relative calm. [AP]

IRAN

The US made at least two separate wire transfer payments to Iran in the last 14 months, the Treasury Department confirmed Saturday, contradicting President Obama’s previous statements that such payments were impossible. [POLITICO’s Louis Nelson]

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir accused Iran of being the leading state-sponsor of terrorism, in an op-ed the Wall Street Journal. This “fact” renders Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s recent pronouncements about fighting extremism “ironic at best and little more than insincere propaganda.”

INDIA and PAKISTAN

Militants attacked an Indian base near the Pakistani border, killing at least 17 soldiers, Sunday, the Indian army said. Initial reports suggested Pakistan-based Islamist group Jaish-e-Mohammad carried out the attack, reports Niharika Mandhana at the Wall Street Journal.

India labeled Pakistan a “terrorist state” following the attack, one of the deadliest against Kashmir security forces in history, directly accusing Pakistan of involvement in the attack, Michael Safi reports at the Guardian.

GUANTANAMO BAY

A Saudi royal was part of an effort to recruit US-educated accused al-Qaeda bomber Ghassan Abdallah, the accused said during a hearing at Guantánamo Bay, according to a newly-released transcript. [AP’s Ben Fox]

A Uruguayan judge rejected a call to forcibly hospitalize hunger striking former Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab Friday, saying medical officials determined he is not an imminent risk of death. [AP’s Leonardo Haberkorn]

THE UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY

World leaders arriving at the UN headquarters in New York today for the annual General Assembly are hoping to address a bevy of issues including North Korea’s recent nuclear test, a US air raid that allegedly killed 62 Syrian army soldiers Saturday, and who will take over from current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the end of the year. Al Jazeera’s James Reinl reports.

President Obama attends his last UN General Assembly with the world looking a lot different from the one he envisaged taking shape under his leadership eight years ago, Carol E. Lee reflects at the Wall Street Journal.

What exactly is the UN, what does it do, and how does it work? Somini Sengupta explains the UN and its problems at the New York Times.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The Obama administration is reluctant to blame Russia for the hack of the DNC despite mounting pressure from lawmakers, reports Katie Bo Williams at the Hill.

The hackers who broke into the DNC and the World Anti-Doping Agency’s administration system are executing a Kremlin-backed campaign of cyber-espionage and sabotage aimed  at Western democratic institutions and Russia’s political opponents, Cybersecurity experts and intelligence officials told NBC News’ Richard Engel and Aggelos Petropoulos. The same hackers are are implicated in the leaks of email of former secretary of state Colin Powell and the health documents of Olympians.

“No pardon for Edward Snowden,” the Washington Post editorial board argued yesterday, demanding that Snowden stand trial for espionage. This makes it the first paper to call for a prosecution of its own source, points out The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald.

Over 150 articles from 23 news organizations worldwide have included documents provided by Snowden so far. Jenna McLaughlin and Tayla Cooper at The Intercept provide a retrospective on the surveillance programs he helped expose.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

NATO’s new deterrent force for the Baltic region is to be in place by May 2017, the head of NATO’s military committee said yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes]

Up to eight Afghan policemen were killed in US-backed airstrikes outside the embattled provincial capital of Uruzgan province, Afghan officials said today. [Reuters’ Mohammed Stanekzai]

Libyan forces loyal to military leader Khalifa Haftar have reestablished control over two oil ports after armed group the Petroleum Facilities Guard launched an attack on Sunday, briefly seizing one of the terminals, reports Al Jazeera.

A Somali military general and five of his bodyguards were killed by a car bomb in Mogadishu Sunday, a Somali police officer has said. [AP’s Abdi Guled]

British police arrested a man on suspicion of possessing terrorist-related material on his arrival at London’s Heathrow Airport Saturday. [AP]

The Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf armed group released three Indonesian hostages in the southern Philippines a day after releasing Norwegian captive Kjartan Sekkingstad, Al Jazeera reports. 

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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