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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.
NEW ZEALAND MOSQUE ATTACK
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today ordered an inquiry into what government officials could have known in advance about the gunman who carried out Friday’s massacre in Christchurch that left 50 people dead. “The purpose of this inquiry is to look at what all relevant agencies knew or could or should have known about the individual and his activities, including his access to weapons and whether they could have been in a position to prevent the attack,” Arden told reporters at an afternoon news conference in the capital city Wellington, also pledging that “within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism we will have announced [gun] reforms that I believe will have made our community safer,” Damien Cave and Charlotte Graham McLay report at the New York Times.
Arden is allegedly accelerating pressure on Facebook and other social media splatforms after they failed to stop the spread of the attack video. Tech companies have been “scrambling” to restrain the spread of the graphic footage, with Facebook claiming yesterday it removed 1.5 million videos of the attack in the first 24 hours; Ardern said today that the tech companies have “a lot of work” to do to curb the proliferation of content that incites hate and violence, Sherisse Pham, Donie O’Sullivan and Nathaniel Meversohn report at CNN Business.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush commented today that his organization is certain there was only one attacker involved in the shooting. “I want to definitely state that we believe that there was only one attacker responsible for this horrendous event,” Police Commissioner Mike Bush told a media conference, adding “that doesn’t mean there weren’t possibly other people in support, and that continues to form a very, very important part of our investigation,” Reuters reports.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) yesterday criticized President Trump’s rhetoric in the aftermath of the terrorist attack. In an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Kaine lambasted the President for not calling out white nationalists and for “using language that emboldens them;” while Trump expressed regret for the attack Friday in a message on Twitter, he also said that he doesn’t view white nationalism as a problem,” Connor O’Brien reports at POLITICO.
The alleged New Zealand shooter claimed to be a Trump supporter “as a symbol of renewed identity and common purpose,” in an apparent manifesto revealed after the shooting. Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney took to the air yesterday to claim that the president “is not a white supremacist,” Allan Smith reports at NBC.
Trump adviser Kellyane Conway weighed in Friday, claiming that the New Zealand suspect was “wrong” to describe Trump as a symbol of “white identity.” “He’s wrong … the shooter is an evil, hateful person …he’s wrong about that,” Conway told reporters at the White House, Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.
“In our country and around the world … a tide of far-right extremism is on the rise,” Bishop Garrison and Ryan B. Greer comment at Just Security, writing that the Christchurch attack must serve as a wake-up call to those committed to ebbing its flow.
Federal prosecutors and Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) officials are scrutinizing the development of Boeing’s 737 MAX jetliners, according to people familiar with the matter. A grand jury in Washington, D.C. issued a wide-ranging subpoena dated March 11 to at least one person involved in the development of the aircraft – with a prosecutor from the Department of Justice (D.O.J.) criminal division listed as a contact; it is not yet clear whether the D.O.J. probe is related to scrutiny of the Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.) by the D.O.T. inspector general’s office, focusing on a safety system that has been linked to the Oct. 29 Lion Air crash that killed 189 people, Andrew Tangel, Andy Pasztor and Robert Wall report at the Wall Street Journal.
Accident investigators have raised concerns about the role of angle-of-attack sensors on Boeing jets in light of the October crash. The sensor is a device used on virtually every commercial flight and there are concerns it may have sent the wrong signals to new software on the flight designed to automatically dip the plane’s nose to prevent a stall, Todd C. Frankel reports at the Washington Post.
“It was extraordinary for a president to intervene in matters typically left to the F.A.A. or the Department of Transportation,” Michael Laris, Josh Dawsey, Luz Lazo and Ashley Halsey III comment in an analysis of the president’s response to the Boeing fallout at the Washington Post.
The U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process – Nickolay Mladenov – has strongly condemned the response by security forces in the Gaza Strip during the past three days. Palestinians took to the streets on Thursday and Friday after months of fighting between the militant Hamas faction and the Fatah-led Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank; “I strongly condemn the campaign of arrests and violence used by Hamas security forces against protesters, including women and children, in Gaza over the past three days” Mladenov said in a statement issued yesterday, the U.N. News Centre.
The Israel Defense Force (I.D.F.) expanded a wide-ranging search for a Palestinian attacker today, as authorities announced that a second Israeli died of wounds sustained in a West Bank shooting and stabbing attack yesterday. Aron Heller reports at the AP.
The U.S. military is reportedly making plans to keep almost 1,000 troops in Syria, several months after President Trump announced that would pull out all U.S. forces from the country. The specific number of troops that will remain is still being determined, Dion Nissenbaum and Nancy A. Youssef report at the Wall Street Journal.
Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford has refuted the report, describing the claim as “factually incorrect.” “There has been no change to the plan announced in February and we continue to implement the president’s direction to draw down U.S. forces to a residual presence,” Dunford said in a statement yesterday, Barbara Starr, Ryan Browne and Eli Watkins report at CNN.
Thousands of people are believed to be inside the final Islamic State group (I.S.I.S.) enclave at Baghouz, according to U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.,) currently engaged in an effort to flush out I.S.I.S. fighters with air attacks and shelling. The huge numbers of people streaming out of Baghouz have reportedly “flummoxed” the S.D.F., fording the rebel group to slow its offensive, Al Jazeera reports.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 99 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between Feb. 24 and March 9 [Central Command]
The Taliban insurgents have carried out the biggest known capture of Afghan soldiers of the country’s 17-year war, taking 150 prisoners after they pursued units into Turkmenistan, Afghan officials reported yesterday. Al Jazeera reports.
The operation took place in the northwestern Afghan province of Badghis, and brought the number of soldiers captured by insurgents in the contested district of Murghab to 190 — with 16 more soldiers killed — in less than a week. Najim Rahim and Rob Nordland report at the New York Times.
Yemen’s Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels have said they are building their ballistic capabilities and their forces stand ready to strike Riyadh and Abu Dhabi if implementation of a U.N. peace deal in the key port city of Hodeidah is breached. A rebel spokesperson said the group has a “stockpile of missiles” and the capacity to hit Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), the two Gulf states leading the U.S.-backed coalition supporting the Yemeni government-in-exile, Reuters reports.
Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaidó began a tour of his country Saturday aimed at kick-starting a citizens’ movement to remove incumbent President Nicolás Maduro from power. As Guaidó launched his “operation freedom” in the northern city of Valencia, pro-Maduro military staged a series of drills, AFP reports.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that the U.S. is hopeful denuclearization talks with North Korea will continue despite last week’s threats by a senior Pyongyang official to withdraw from negotiations and resume missile testing. Abigail Williams reports at NBC.
The close of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign appears to be winding down for real “after many false alarms,” Darren Samuelsohn writes in an analysis at POLITICO.