The Early Edition: March 19, 2019

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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 has pledge never to say the name of the Christchurch mosque gunman. Friday’s attacks at two mosques in the city of Christchurch left 50 people dead and dozens wounded; self-described white supremacist and Australian national Brenton Tarrant has been charged with murder, the BBC reports.

He sought many things from his act of terror … but one was notoriety … that is why you will never hear me mention his name,” Ardern said yesterday during an emotional address at the New Zealand parliament. The AP reports.

Spokesperson of Islamic State group – Abu Hassan al-Muhajir – yesterday broke nearly six months of silence to call for retaliation over the attacks, as well as to mock the U.S.’ assertion of having defeated the militant group. “The scenes of the massacres in the two mosques should wake up those who were fooled, and should incite the supporters of the caliphate to avenge their religion,” al-Muhajir said in the course of a 44-minute audio recording, Rukimini Callimachi reports at the New York Times.

Dutch police have arrested a man they call the main suspect in a shooting that left three people dead and five others wounded on a tram in the city of Utrecht yesterday. The largely Turkish demographic of the targeted neighborhood provoked speculation that the shooting may have been somehow tied to the angry denunciations of the Christchurch killings by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan – however, reports have also emerged suggesting that the shooting might have its roots in a family dispute, Bill Chappel reports at NPR.

The failure of social media organizations to prevent the spread of graphic footage from Friday’s attack “has highlighted Silicon Valley’s struggles to police platforms that are massively lucrative yet also persistently vulnerable to outside manipulation despite years of promises to do better.” Craig Timberg, Drew Harwell, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Tony Romm explain at the Washington Post.

“The president has often seemed eager to highlight attacks and hate crimes perpetrated by Muslims but has frequently been slower and less forceful when Muslims are the victims,” the president’s critics are cited as saying – with Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey providing an analysis of Trump’s reaction to the Christchurch massacre at the Washington Post.

“A true leader would not only disavow the extremists … he would embrace all whom they target and rally the world against them,” Michael D’Antonio argues in a rebuke of Trump’s response to Christchurch at CNN.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Last weekend saw a flurry of Twitter activity from President Trump, with the president sending over 50 messages from Friday morning to Sunday evening covering a host of topics including “Saturday Night Live,” the intelligence of late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) and Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Jeanine Pirro. It remains unclear what provoked the burst of activity, with even Trump’s advisers “searching for the normal cues that set him off,” Annie Karni, Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman write in an analysis at the New York Times.

An account of how the president became “deeply entwined” with Deutsche Bank – whose officials have “quietly argued to regulators, lawmakers and journalists that Mr. Trump was not a priority for the bank or its senior leaders,” is provided by David Enrich at the New York Times.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND TRUMPWORLD INVESTIGATIONS

Chair of the House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has said that he is “encouraged” by the response he has received on the deadline of his panel’s Trump documents request, which forms part of its oversight investigation into President Trump’s administration, campaign and companies. “I am encouraged by the responses we have received since sending these initial letters two weeks ago,” Nadler said in a statement yesterday – marking the deadline for the requested documents to be turned over, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

The search warrant that launched an April 2018 F.B.I. raid on the home and offices of the president’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen will today be made public. Judge William Pauley III yesterday ordered that prosecutors make redacted copies of the search warrant and the F.B.I.’s search warrant affidavit available by today, although personal identifying details including email addresses, phone numbers, Cohen’s apartment number and safety deposit box number will be redacted, Tom Winter and Adiel Kaplan report at NBC.

White House attorneys expect to have an opportunity to review the version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that Attorney General William Barr submits to Congress ahead of disclosure to lawmakers and the public, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. The lawyers reportedly want to give the White House the opportunity to claim executive privilege over information drawn from documents and interviews with White House officials, Pamela Brown, Jeremy Diamond, Kevin Liptak and Sarah Westwood report at CNN.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Zainab Ahmad “has concluded her detail” under Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign, “but will continue to represent the office on specific pending matters that were assigned to her during her detail,” according to spokesperson Peter Carr. Ahmad, an expert in international criminal and terrorism cases who handled the Michael Flynn plea, is the third senior member of Mueller’s team whose departures have been confirmed in recent weeks, Darren Samuelsohn reports at POLITICO.

“Unfortunately [Trump] only made it to the third grade … he can’t even talk … he has no education,” Ukrainian mogul Dmytro Firtash claims in a wide-ranging interview with Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast. Firtash, Woodruff writes, has “been a constant presence in the background of the story of Russian influence in the American elections – but now, he says American influence on Ukraine is the real story.”

“At least two … other reports … are likely to be far more revealing and more significant than the so-called “Mueller Report,” Founding Editor Marty Lederman explains in an analysis at Just Security.

SYRIA

U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) yesterday moved into the Islamic State group’s (I.S.I.S.) last redoubt in the Syrian village of Baghouz. “Several positions captured and an ammunition storage has been blown up,” S.D.F. spokesperson Mustafa Bali claimed in a message sent on Twitter late Sunday, adding “S.D.F. is now holding positions inside the camp in #Baghouz,” Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

Iran and Syria yesterday demanded the U.S. withdraw its troops from Syria, with the Damascus government threatening to defeat the S.D.F. allies by force if they did not submit to the return of state authority. The Iranian and Syrian military chiefs made the comments after a meeting in Damascus that also included their Iraqi counterpart, who gave a “political boost” to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Tehran by announcing the Syrian border would soon be reopened, Reuters reports.

An account of how the appeal of I.S.I.S. ideology is outlasting the group’s territorial defeat in Syria is provided by Isabel Coles at the Wall Street Journal.

“Syria’s civil war is now three civil wars.” Jonathan Spyer provides an analysis of the changing face of the conflict at Foreign Policy.

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]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Yemen is continuing to experience a “steady stream” of violence, with one person killed every eight hours – despite the accords reached between the Yemeni government-in-exile and the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Sweden just over three months ago. Peter Beaumont reports at the Guardian.

U.N. Human Rights Council-appointed investigators yesterday urged Israel to revise its military rules of engagement, in advance of the one-year anniversary marking the start of mass demonstrations at the country’s border fence with Gaza. Speaking in Geneva, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests – Santiago Canton – stated that currently, “under the rules, [Palestinians] could be shot in the leg at any moment,” adding that “while in theory, this key inciter status was to be conferred only when the crowd was posing an imminent threat to life, in reality … that was rarely the case.” The U.N. News Centre reports.

North Korea should take “actual action” towards denuclearization, in order to break the deadlock in talks with Washington, a top security adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in has commented, suggesting that Seoul’s patience with Pyongyang may be wearing thin. AFP reports.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has launched a broadside criticizing the Trump administration’s “ridiculous” ban on transgender military service members over the weekend, vowing to repeal the ban if elected president. “When I am president of the U.S., right away I will end this ridiculous, insulting, un-American ban on transgender Americans serving in the military,” Booker said in Davenport, Iowa, in response to a question from a transgender audience member about steps he would take to safeguard L.G.B.T.Q. rights as president, Zack Budryck reports at the Hill. 

About the Author(s)

Robbie Stern

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Senior Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow him on Twitter (@robbieguystern).