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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend. Here’s today’s news
The Taliban has announced a three-day ceasefire for the Eid-al-Fitr holiday to start Wednesday or Thursday. Reuters reporting.
Meanwhile, a bus in southern Zabul province struck a roadside bomb killing 11 people Sunday night, the interior ministry said. There has been no claim of responsibility. Al Jazeera reporting.
At least 85 people have been killed and about 150 wounded in a bomb attack at an Afghan school in Kabul on Saturday, with majority of casualties being school girls, Danish Hedayat, head of media for the second vice president of Afghanistan, told CNN Monday. Initially, a suicide bomber blew up a car full of explosives at the school gates; as school children ran out in panic, two more bombs went off, killing even more. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, including the Taliban. Jennifer Deaton reports for CNN/Reuters.
The attack took place in one of Kabul’s Hazara neighborhoods, a minority group that have long been the target of militant attacks and persecuted by the Taliban. “Now, on the edge of what many fear will become a return of Taliban rule in many areas with the planned American troop withdrawal, and a new civil war some see as inevitable, the Hazara are increasingly determined to take their security into their own hands,” reports Adam Nossiter for the New York Times.
“After the terrible attacks of recent days, it is all the more important for the E.U. to make very clear that Afghanistan and the Afghan government can continue to count on Europe’s support,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Brussels, adding, “We will continue to make available sufficient funding for civilian reconstruction, and we will do everything we can so that the ongoing peace negotiations reach a conclusion.” AP reporting.
Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar met with prosecutors from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to discuss the ICC’s war crimes investigation in Afghanistan, reveals a joint statement. “We have made encouraging progress in charting the way forward to ensure that no crime goes unpunished,” read by the joint statement. Reuters reporting.
Hundreds were injured in clashes over the weekend between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in Jerusalem’s Old City as tensions intensified over the planned evictions of several Palestinian families from a nearby Arab neighborhood. BBC News reporting.
Over 300 Palestinian protesters were injured during clashes with Israeli police on Monday outside al-Maqsa mosque in Jerusalem, ahead of a planned Jewish nationalist march, as Israel marked the anniversary of its capture of parts of the city in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. AP reporting.
Israel’s supreme court has delayed its decision on whether Palestinians can be evicted by force from an East Jerusalem neighborhood. Felicia Schwartz and Dov Lieber report for the Wall Street Journal.
Latest updates on the clashes are provided by Al Jazeera.
Iraq’s Ain al-Asad air base in western Iraq which hosts U.S. and other international forces was the target of an attack by an “unmanned aerial surveillance system” early Saturday, though no injuries or deaths were reported,U.S. Army Colonel Wayne Marotto, spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition, said on Twitter. Reuters reporting.
Protests erupted in Karbala on Sunday, with protesters setting fire to trailers belonging to Iran’s consulate, amid widespread anger over the killing of Ehab Wazni, a prominent activist in the Iraqi city. “His death sparked daylong protests in Karbala that saw demonstrators block roads and bridges with burning tires. Then Sunday night, dozens of protesters gathered outside the Iranian consulate, burning tires in front of the building and setting fire to several trailers parked outside, according to police officials and videos posted online,” APreporting.
“Iran strongly condemns attacks on its diplomatic sites in Iraq,” said Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh Monday. AP reporting.
A joint U.S. Navy and Coast Guard team last week seized thousands of illicit weapons, including sniper rifles, assault weapons and other guns, after stopping a ship in the North Arabian Sea, a Navy press release confirmed, stating: “The cache of weapons included dozens of advanced Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles, thousands of Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, and hundreds of PKM machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Other weapon components included advanced optical sights.” Brad Lendon reports for CNN.
Some believe the delivery was bound for Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels. “An independent researcher [Tim Michetti] briefed on the weapons recovered told the AP in a statement that the package resembled other firearms recovered in previous seizures of vessels from Iran bound for Yemen,” reports John Bowden for The Hill.
A French court is set to decide a landmark case brought by a Vietnamese woman against international makers, including U.S. multinational Dow, of Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War. Rick Noack reports for the Washington Post.
President Biden will join a virtual summit Monday of eastern European NATO states held in the Romania’s capital Bucharest, according to the offices of the Romanian and Polish presidents, with a focus on security in the Black Sea region and Ukraine. Reuters reporting.
PIPELINE RANSOMWARE ATTACK
Colonial Pipeline, one the U.S.’ largest pipelines, was the target of a cybersecurity attack involving ransomware Friday, with its energy infrastructure forced to shut in an attempt to contain the breach, a press release said. Cybersecurity firm FireEye Mandiant has been asked by Colonial to investigate the “nature and scope” of the breach, and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is “engaged with the company and our interagency partners regarding the situation,” Eric Goldstein, the executive assistant director of CISA’s cybersecurity division, said in a statement Saturday. Veronica Stracqualursi, Geneva Sands and Arlette Saenz report for CNN.
A relatively new criminal group originating from Russia, “DarkSide,” may be responsible for the ransomware attack, according to a former senior cyber official and two industry sources. “DarkSide typically targets non-Russian speaking countries, the source said. The attack has led the White House to form an interagency working group over the weekend to prepare for various scenarios, including whether additional steps need to be taken to mitigate any potential impact on fuel supply, a White House official said Sunday,” Geneva Sands and Arlette Saenz report for CNN.
DarkSide “is new but experienced,” writes Raphael Satter for Reuters, offering an insight into the group’s previous activities.
Biden weights an executive order aimed at strengthening cybersecurity. The order would: create digital safety standards for federal agencies and contractors that develop software for the federal government, including multifactor authentication; require federal agencies to take a “zero trust” approach to software vendors, allowing them access to federal systems only when necessary; require contractors to certify that they have complied with steps to ensure that software has not been infected by malware and does not contain vulnerabilities; and establish a small “cybersecurity incident review board” to investigate major accidents at air or sea. David E. Sanger, Nicole Perlroth and Julian E. Barnes report for the New York Times.
The Biden administration issues an emergency declaration Sunday, relaxing regulations that set working-time limits for drivers carrying gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other refined petroleum products in 17 states and the District of Columbia, in an effort to avoid expected fuel shortages following the cyberattack. AP reporting.
OTHER U.S. DEVELOPMENTS
The Department of Homeland Security has launched a strategy to gather and analyze intelligence about security threats from public social media posts, department officials say, with the aim to establish a warning system that detects posts that raise concern and appear to indicate an attack, like those missed or ignored by law enforcement and intelligence officials in the lead up to the Jan. 6 attack. “The focus is not on the identity of the posters but rather on gleaning insights about potential security threats based on emerging narratives and grievances. So far, DHS is using human beings, not computer algorithms, to make sense of the data, the officials said,” Ken Dilanian reports for NBC News.
Democratic governors and other state and local officials are asking the courts to impose sanctions on lawyers, and even their clients, who attempted to legally challenge the 2020 president election, with some filing complaints with legal disciplinary bodies. Motions for sanctions target supporters of former President Trump’s campaign, as well as the campaign itself. Brent Kendall and Alexa Corse reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Former Trump-era Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite spent about $2.4 million on air travel during his eight-month tenure, traveling to 22 destinations during the Covid-19 pandemic, more than any other senior Pentagon official. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
President Biden plans to tap Thea Lee to head the Labor Department’s international affairs division, according to people familiar with the matter. Bob Davis reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The novel coronavirus has infected over 32.7 million and now killed over 581,700 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 158.36 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.29 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
A map and analysis of the vaccine roll out across the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.
A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.
Latest updates on the pandemic at the Guardian.