The Early Edition: August 5, 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.

EL PASO AND DAYTON KILLINGS

Two separate mass shootings in the U.S. have left at least 29 people dead and 53 injured in less than a day – putting U.S. President Trump in the spotlight. The dual massacres happened in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, just 13 hours apart: on Saturday morning, a gunman identified as Patrick Wood Crusius opened fire in a Walmart store in the heavily Hispanic border city of El Paso, Texas, killing 20 people; yesterday a separate shooter, identified as Connor Betts, attacked a crowd outside a bar in Dayton, Ohio, killing 9 people including the gunman’s sister, AFP reports.

The El Paso shooting is being investigated as domestic terrorism and the Justice Department is “seriously considering” charging the suspect with federal hate crimes and federal gun charges that would carry the death penalty, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas John Bash has stated. “We are treating it as a domestic terrorism case, and we’re gonna do what we do to terrorists in this country, which is deliver swift and certain justice,” Bash said, Robert Moore and Mark Berman report at the Washington Post.

El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said authorities were reviewing an anti-immigrant manifesto posted online just before the El Paso shooting which described the attack as “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas:” “right now we have a manifesto from this individual, that indicates to some degree, it has a nexus to potential hate crime,” Allen stated at a press conference. The F.B.I. said in a statement yesterday the attack “underscores the continued threat posed by domestic violent extremists and perpetrators of hate crimes,” Justin Miller and Kelly Weill report at The Daily Beast.

The mass shootings have prompted debate over whether President Trump’s racially-driven rhetoric was partly to blame for the surging gun violence. Democratic presidential contenders including Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.,) South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D,) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) yesterday tied the shootings to Trump’s language about immigrants and Mexicans in particular, which they claim had incited that violence; Trump linked both attacks to a “mental illness problem,” Caitlin Oprysko reports at POLITICO.

A growing number of Democrats are urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to cancel the chamber’s August recess in order to take up gun control legislation following two mass shootings this weekend. “One awful event after another … Leader McConnell must call the Senate back for an emergency session to put the House-passed universal background checks legislation on the Senate floor for debate and a vote immediately,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement; the Senate is currently in recess until September, Dartunorro Clark reports at NBC.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick MuIvaney yesterday repeatedly defended Trump when asked if the president had downplayed the threat of white nationalism. Speaking on “This Week,” MuIvaney said mass shootings “have been an issue for decades” and he doesn’t “think it’s fair to try and lay this at the feet of the president,” Bianca Quilantan reports at POLITICO.

The Mexican government yesterday called for protections for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans living in the U.S. after the El Paso massacre. “We consider this an act of terrorism against the community of Mexico,” Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard said during a press conference, explaining that designating the incident as an act of terrorism would “permit Mexico access to all the information related to the case,” and “let us evaluate whether there are other individuals involved or potentially involved” that could put Mexicans at risk, Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

“Trump’s willingness to coexist with racists … his belief that attacking nonwhites and immigrants as dangers to the country benefits him politically … and his indifference to amending the nation’s laws on gun ownership make him uniquely incapable or unwilling to do anything about racist acts of violence,” Philip Bump comments at the Washington Post.

Trump is a threat to national security, Jennifer Rubin argues at the Washington Post, commenting that “we are awash in hate crimes and white nationalist-inspired mass murders [and] we have a president whose words inspire and bolster perpetrators of these heinous acts.”

IRAN

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) seized an Iraqi vessel suspected of “smuggling fuel” in the Gulf last Wednesday, Iranian state media reported yesterday, in what would be the third such seizure in a month amid heightened tensions between Tehran and the West. “The I.R.G.C.’s naval forces have seized a foreign oil tanker in the Persian Gulf that was smuggling fuel for some Arab countries … it carried 700,000 litres [185,000 gallons] of fuel … seven sailors onboard of the tanker, who are from different nationalities, were detained,”  I.R.G.C. commander Ramezan Zirahi was quoted as saying, Vivian Yee, Yonette Joseph and Iliana Magra report at the New York Times.

“The boats of the I.R.G.C. navy were patrolling the area to control traffic and detect illicit trade when they seized the tanker,” Zirahi stated in comments carried by Fars, adding that the seizure “was in coordination with Iran’s judicial authorities,” Reuters reports.

Iran will take further action to reduce its compliance with the 2015 pact with world powers, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Saturday without giving further details, in comments carried by parliamentary news agency I.C.A.N.A.. “We have said that if [the deal] is not completely implemented by others then we will also implement it in the same incomplete manner … and of course all of our actions have been within the framework of [the deal],” Zarif told reporters; Washington withdrew from the deal last year, Reuters reports.

Zarif today declared that Iran will leave the accord if Tehran’s interests were not protected by other parties to the deal. Speaking at a news conference broadcast live on state T.V., the foreign minister called on Europeans “to accelerate their efforts to shield Iran’s economy from U.S. sanctions,” Reuters reports.

An Iranian fighter jet crashed yesterday in the southern province of Bushehr due to “technical issues,” the semi-official Mehr news agency reported, adding that both crew members onboard the jet – the pilot and co-pilot – were safe, Reuters reports.

Iran’s government has confirmed “turning down” an invitation for talks from the U.S.. “That one government keeps claiming to be ready for negotiations and then to put sanction on [the] foreign minister of that country – well isn’t it ridiculous?” government spokesperson Ali Rabiei stated yesterday, telling reporters: “he was invited by a senator to have a meeting at the White House, then they imposed sanctions on him … Foreign Minister Zarif is responsible for foreign policy and any diplomatic path should passed through him,” Al Jazeera reports. 

A U.S.-led initiative to patrol the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz against perceived Iranian threats will “gain the commitment” of several ally and partner nations in the near future, according to Defense Secretary Mark Esper. “We had various degrees of commitment, so I think we’ll have some announcements coming out soon in the coming days where you’ll see countries begin to sign up,” Esper told reporters Saturday as he traveled to Australia to attend a conference between U.S. and Australian leaders; Esper explained that representatives from over 30 countries met last week at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Florida to discuss “Operation Sentinel” – a coalition of countries intended to protect global oil shipments in the Middle East, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

An analysis of the legality of different potential deployments of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (S.D.F.) to the Strait of Hormuz under the existing legal framework – in light of reports that Japan may be willing to join the planned U.S. coalition of allies to police the waters off Iran and Yemen – is provided by Ruth Effinowicz at Just Security.

The KOREAN PENINSULA 

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un again on Friday oversaw the test-firing of a new multiple rocket launcher system – that has the potential to improve the country’s ability to strike U.S. military bases in South Korea – North Korean state media reported early Saturday. The report by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim showed “great satisfaction” over the tests, adding it confirmed the system’s “altitude control level flight performance, track changing capability, accuracy of hitting a target and warhead explosion power of the guided ordnance rocket;” the test comes a day after North Korea test launched a short-term projectile for the third time in just over a week, Tal Axelrod reports at the Hill.

U.S. President Trump conceded that North Korea’s recent missile tests might have violated U.N. resolutions but insisted he did not consider them a breach of Kim’s commitments to the U.S. president. “Chairman Kim does not want to disappoint me with a violation of trust … he does not want to disappoint his friend, President Trump!” Trump stated Friday in a series of messages sent on Twitter, downplaying the tests and warning that Kim had “far too much to lose” by breaking the agreements with the U.S. president to abstain from weapons tests, AFP reports.

CHINA AND HONG KONG 

Thousands of civil servants joined in the anti-government protests in Hong Kong on Friday for the first time as protesters took to the streets over the weekend for another round of mass demonstrations. Hong Kong riot police fired multiple tear gas rounds and made arrests in a bid to disperse the crowds, Lily Kuo reports at the Guardian.

The Hong Kong government said violence and illegal protests were pushing the city into a “very dangerous situation” after the ninth weekend of sustained protests. “Blatant violation of law, wanton destruction of public peace and violent attacks on the police will harm Hong Kong’s society, economy and our people’s livelihood,” the government said in a statement yesterday night, adding: “such acts have already gone far beyond the limits of peaceful and rational protests for which the government and general public will not condone under any circumstances,” Joshua Berlinger reports at CNN.

Hong Kong’s C.E.O. Carrie Lam today warned of a “crisis” engulfing the region. Speaking at a news conference, Lam stated “as a result of these widespread disruptions and violence, the great majority of Hong Kong people are now in a state of great anxiety,” adding “some of them do not know whether they could still take some forms of public transport while others are right now being blocked on their way to work,” Austin Ramzy and Tiffany May report at the New York Times.

Hong Kong today readies for its first general strike in over 50 years, Sue-Lin Wong, Don Weinland and Joseph Leahy report at the Financial Times.

U.S. President Trump labeled the protests in Hong Kong as “riots” that China “will have to deal with itself,” indicating a hands-off approach to the political crisis, Reuters reports.

Hong Kong police have arrested 420 people and have fired 1,000 rounds of tear gas and about 160 rubber bullets since Jun. 9, they revealed today, Reuters reports.

An explainer to Hong Kong’s ongoing protests – including how they have evolved from opposition to the controversial extradition bill into anger at brutal police tactics and alleged collusion with triad members – is provided by James Palmer at Foreign Policy.

SYRIA

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday warned that Turkey will launch a military operation in Kurdish-held territory in Syria – a move likely to increase tensions between Ankara and the U.S.. “So far, we have been patient … but that patience has its limits,” Erdogan said, explaining that Turkey would enter north east Syria to regain control of areas controlled by Kurdish-dominated militias backed by the U.S.; the Turkish president stated Turkey had informed both the U.S. and Russia of its plans, Laura Pitel and Chloe Cornish report at Financial Times.

A Department of Defense (D.O.D.) delegation has met with Turkish military officials in Ankara today in an effort to establish a safe zone amid a threatened military attack by Turkey in the Kurdish-controlled region of Syria, Karen DeYoung, Souad Mekhennet and Louisa Loveluck report at the Washington Post.

The U.S. State Department yesterday said it welcomed news of a ceasefire in Syria’s northwestern Idlib and called for an end to attacks on civilians. “The United States believes there can be no military solution to the Syrian conflict, and only a political solution can ensure a stable and secure future for all Syrians,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement, AFP reports.

AFGHANISTAN

At least seven policemen were killed yesterday after a policeman opened fire on his colleagues in a so-called “insider attack” in the southern province of Kandahar. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack, the AP reports.

A magnetic explosive device attached to a bus carrying employees of an Afghan television station killed two people and injured another two yesterday in the Afghan capital of Kabul, according to two government officials, Reuters reports.

U.S. President Trump has informed advisers that he wants to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the 2020 election, according to five current and former administration and military officials, Courtney Kube and Carol E. Lee report at NBC.

The eighth round of negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban continued over the weekend in Qatar’s capital of Doha. The talks between the two sides are in an effort to reach a peace agreement to end Afghanistan’s 18-year conflict, Al Jazeera reports. 

PAKISTAN-INDIA RELATIONS

India today announced it was “revoking a constitutional provision granting certain autonomous powers to Indian-controlled Kashmir,” paving the way for new clashes in the contested region. India’s revocation of a special status for the part of Kashmir that it controls was subsequently rejected by Pakistan’s foreign ministry, the AP reports. 

Pakistan accused India on Saturday of using “illegal cluster bombs” that killed two civilians and injured 11 in the Kashmir region claimed by both countries. India denied it had used such weapons, Reuters reports.

India imposed restrictions in the city of Srinagar in Kashmir and cut off mobile and Internet services amid heightened tensions. “As per the order there shall be no movement of public and all educational institutions shall also remain closed [in the district of Srinagar],” Indian authorities said in an order, adding “there will be a complete bar on holding any kind of public meetings or rallies during the period of operation of this order,” Reuters reports.

SUDAN 

Sudan’s pro-democracy movement signed a power-sharing agreement with the ruling military council yesterday, paving the way for a transitional government following the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in April. The constitutional declaration, due to be signed on Aug. 17, will establish a joint military and civilian council to rule for three years until elections can be held; a new Cabinet and legislative body appointed by the activists will also be set up, Tom Wilson reports at the Financial Times.

Deputy Head of the military council Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo told a joint news conference that the deal has ended an era in Sudan’s history “characterized by rivalry and fighting.” “We have entered the negotiations as partners and leave as one team … the national will has triumphed… it is a win-win,” Dagalo added, Samy Magdy reports at the AP.

RUSSIA 

Russian police forcibly detained around 1,000 people – including prominent activist Lyubov Sobol – in Moscow on Saturday following unsanctioned protests for free elections, in a second consecutive weekend of mass detentions, Georgi Kantchev reports at the Wall Street Journal.

An analysis of things to consider in light of the U.S.’ withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) Treaty is provided by James J. Cameron at the Washington Post.

Moscow is “buzzing about a surge of political activism” and Russian President Vladimir Putin might be losing his touch, Stephen Sestanovich argues at the New York Times, commenting on the demonstrations of recent weeks.

VENEZUELA 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has dismissed U.S. President Trump’s warning last Thursday about a possible blockade of the South American country, asserting that its seas would remain “free and independent.” “All of Venezuela, in a civic-military union, repudiates and rejects the statements of Donald Trump about a supposed quarantine, of a supposed blockade,” Maduro said in a state television broadcast last Friday, adding “a blockade, why would he announce that? it is clearly illegal,” Reuters reports.

Maduro’s government continues to hold talks in Barbados with the opposition in an effort to find a solution to the Latin American country’s political crisis, the Foreign Ministry of mediator Norway said on Friday, Reuters reports.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

U.S. President Trump withdrew his nomination Friday for Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to be director of national intelligence (D.N.I.), replacing Daniel Coats. “Our great Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe is being treated very unfairly by the LameStream Media … John has … decided to stay in Congress where he has done such an outstanding job representing the people of Texas, and our Country,” Trump stated in a string of messages sent on Twitter, adding “I will be announcing my nomination for D.N.I. shortly,” Martin Matishak and Quint Forgey report at POLITICO.

The State Department’s director of policy planning and adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – Kiron Skinner – has reportedly been “forced out” of her job, according to administration officials, David E. Sanger, Maggie Haberman and Edward Wong report at the New York Times.

An analysis of the Trump administration’s breaks with democratic tradition occurring in July – including Hatch Act violations and immigration policies that undermine due process and international law – is provided by Charles Dunst at Just Security.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

Former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign cost approximately $32 million, according to a government report released Friday, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that “no one is above the law” and that Trump “will be held accountable,” hours after a majority of her House Democrats indicated support for opening an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Pelosi made reference to the 10 examples of the president possibly having obstructed justice, as set out in Mueller’s report, and stated Trump’s “more recent attempts to prevent us from finding the facts” represented “further evidence” of obstruction, Adam Edelman reports at NBC.

U.S. MILITARY 

The U.S. is looking to deploy new ground-launched intermediate-range missiles in Asia, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday, a day after Washington officially withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) Treaty with Russia. “Yes I would like to,” Esper said in response to questions over whether the U.S. was considering placing new medium-range conventional weapons in Asia now that Washington is no longer bound by the treaty, adding “we would like to deploy a capability sooner rather than later,” Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

The pilot killed last Wednesday in the crash of his fighter jet in Death Valley National Park in California was identified by the U.S. Navy as Lieutenant Charles Walker, who had served in the armed forces for the last 10 years, Reuters reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Turkey has slated the U.S. over its exclusion from the U.S. F-35 stealth fighter programme – insisting it had been booted out “without justification.” “We are not a customer of the F-35 programme, we are its owners … while there’s no apparent justified reason or legal grounds, we are trying to be pushed out … this is not an acceptable situation,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy stated at a televised news conference in Ankara, Al Jazeera reports.

At least seven extremists and one soldier were killed after security forces pursued al-Qaeda militants in the southern Abyan province Saturday, according to Yemeni officials and tribal leaders. The fighting came after al-Qaeda militants targeted a military camp in the same province early Friday, killing at least 20 troops, the AP reports.

Trump officials were divided over the asylum deal with Guatemala right up until it was signed off by Guatemalan interior minister Enrique Degenhart. Under the agreement, thousands of Central American migrants must first seek asylum in Guatemala before coming to the U.S., Michael D. Shear and Zolan Kanno-Youngs report at the New York Times.

Social media giant Facebook is facing fresh questions over its handling of the Cambridge Analytica matter regarding illegal storing of user data in December of 2015 – even after a record settlement was reached, concluding a year-long investigation by regulators into the issue, Harper Neidig reports at the Hill.

Law firm Tycko & Zavareei L.L.P. filed a class-action lawsuit last Thursday against Capital One and GitHub over the recent data breach that resulted in the data of over 100 million Capital One customers and credit card applicants being exposed. Maggie Miller reports at the Hill. 

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About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

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