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A curated weekday guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has been targeted in an assassination attempt by drones at his residence. The explosive-laden drone attacked the prime minster’s residence in Baghdad early Sunday, in what Iraqi security officials said was an assassination attempt. Six of al-Kadhimi’s security detail members were injured in the attack, but “al-Kadhimi, who addressed the nation on television shortly after the attack, said he wasn’t hurt. The attack followed threats against al-Kadhimi from an Iran-backed militia leader, though the armed groups denied responsibility and no one immediately claimed the attack,” Ghassan Adnan and Jared Malsin report for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.N. and President Biden have condemned the drone attack on the Iraqi prime minister. Biden pledged the support of his national security team to “investigate the attack and identify those responsible” and said that the perpetrators of the attack must be held accountable. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres called on Iraqis “to reject all violence and any attempts to destabilise Iraq.” Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim report for the Washington Post.
The drone attack could mark a dangerous escalation of political tensions in Iraq. Several political groups have escalated attacks in Iraq after facing setbacks for their political coalition in the Oct. 10 elections in Iraq. The attack has been widely criticized, including from the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, who accused unnamed “foreign think tanks” of “creating and supporting terrorist and occupying forces” in Iraq that had “brought nothing but insecurity, discord and instability.” Anna Foster reports for BBC News.
Al-Kadhimi chaired a security meeting yesterday, following the failed assassination attempt at his residence. The prime minister’s media office released a photo on Twitter that showed him at the head of a table with top security commanders to discuss the events that had unfolded earlier that day. Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
Rebels in Ethiopia are closing in on the country’s capital of Addis Ababa. As of Sunday morning, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was around 200 miles from the capital with anywhere from days to weeks left to fight across hostile terrain to reach Addis Ababa. Scott Neuman and Eyder Peralta report for NPR.
The State Department has ordered all non-emergency employees and families to leave Ethiopia, “due to armed conflict, civil unrest, and possible supply shortages.” In a security alert, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa said that incidents of unrest and ethnic violence were “occurring without warning.” “The situation may escalate further and may cause supply chain shortages, communications blackouts, and travel disruptions,” the advisory said. The embassy stated that “the security environment in Ethiopia is very fluid. We advise U.S. citizens who are in Ethiopia to leave the country as soon as possible.” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has ordered citizens to sign up for military training and has given security forces authority to detain without a warrant anyone they suspect of cooperating with rebel forces, as the TPLF and other rebel groups advance on the capital. Any rebel assault on the capital would likely be met with strong resistance from government troops and residents who remain largely hostile to the TPLF. Yesterday, tens of tens of thousands of people marched in Addis Ababa, in support of Ahmed and accused foreign media and the U.S. of trying to undermine the prime minister and his government. Gabriele Steinhauser and Nicholas Bariyo report for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.N.’s aid chief, Martin Griffiths, and the African Union’s envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, have visited Mekelle, the capital of the northern Tigray region, to appeal for a ceasefire and a safe passage for humanitarian assistance to the millions in need of urgent food aid. It is unclear however if the two men were on the same trip to Mekelle. “Tigray TV reported that the two met ‘the president of Tigray government, Dr Debretsion Gebremichael’ in his office for talks on the ‘crisis in Ethiopia and ways to deliver humanitarian aid and regional issues,’” BBC News reports.
A newly-formed alliance of Ethiopian opposition factions set a goal on Friday of bringing down Ahmed by force or negotiation, to then form a transitional government. The alliance, named the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Force and which includes the TPLF and the Oromo Liberation Army, was announced by faction leaders in Washington on Friday. The alliance on Friday said it was setting up a command to coordinate military and political efforts. “The next step will be to organise ourselves and totally dismantle the existing government, either by force or by negotiation … then insert a transitional government,” said Mahamud Ugas Muhumed, of the Somali State Resistance, one of nine member groups. Humeyra Pamuk and Maggie Fick report for Reuters.
The U.N. Security Council is meeting today to discuss the conflict and humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia. The open session in New York will discuss the humanitarian crisis, where nearly eight million people are facing what the U.N. has described as near-famine conditions. BBC News reports.
The State Department has established a new task force to oversee its “planning, management and logistics related to events in Ethiopia,” a spokesperson has confirmed. The newly established Ethiopia Conflict Task Force “will help coordinate the voluntary departure of nonemergency government personnel and help facilitate commercial flights out of the country for U.S. citizens seeking to leave. One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the step as precautionary and said so far, they hadn’t seen a rush of U.S. citizens seeking to leave immediately,” Robbie Gramer reports for Foreign Policy.
The Pentagon is preparing to review the U.S.’s policy for using nuclear weapons. President Biden has stated that he plans to limit the role of nuclear weapons and is facing new resistance from Pentagon officials as they prepare to review the policy. One option under consideration is a “no first use” policy, another is a “sole purpose” policy, either of which would be a major departure from the status quo. The National Security Council will meet later this month to discuss the issue. Motivating the discussion, in part, is news of Chinese and Russian nuclear expansion. Bryan Bender, Alexander Ward and Paul McLeary for POLITICO.
The Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 American and Canadian missionaries, including five children, has shown the U.S. proof that at least some of those kidnapped are still alive, a senior Biden administration official has said. The official declined to provide any further information. Matt Spetalnick and Trevor Hunnicutt report for Reuters.
Bill Richardson, a veteran U.S. diplomat, has visited Myanmar to meet with the leaders of February’s military coup. Richardson had support from the U.S. State Department for the visit, and he said the discussions with the generals and the junta’s leader were productive. Rights activists criticized the visit saying that it legitimized the rulers. Richardson retorted that his purpose was to help the people of Myanmar. The country’s top military commander released a former employee of Richardson’s nonprofit group during the visit. Richard C. Paddock for the New York Times.
Paul Whelan, a jailed former U.S. Marine convicted by Russia of spying, will continue to fight for his transfer to the U.S. from Russia despite losing a court appeal today, Interfax news agency has quoted his lawyer as saying. “Whelan had challenged the refusal of a regional court to hear his case for being sent home, but an appeals court in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, around 400 km (250 miles) east of Moscow, deemed the original ruling lawful. Ahead of the hearing, one of Whelan’s lawyers, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said that negotiations between Washington and Moscow on his release were no longer taking place, but that his team would continue to seek deportation through other channels,” Maria Kiselyova and Alexander Marrow report for Reuters.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced new leadership of the State Department task force addressing “Havana syndrome” cases. In his speech, Blinken promised to “get to the bottom” of the mysterious incidents impacting hundreds of staff with debilitating health symptoms. “We will get to the bottom of this and meanwhile, we’ll do everything we can to care for our people,” Blinken said. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
Hackers have breached nine global organizations in the defense, energy, health care, technology and education sectors, according to findings from security firm Palo Alto Networks, with at least one of the targeted organizations being in the U.S. “With the help of the National Security Agency, cybersecurity researchers are exposing an ongoing effort by these unidentified hackers to steal key data from U.S. defense contractors and other sensitive targets…In this case, the hackers have stolen passwords from some targeted organizations with a goal of maintaining long-term access to those networks, Ryan Olson, a senior Palo Alto Networks executive, told CNN….Olson said that the nine confirmed victims are the ‘tip of the spear’ of the apparent spying campaign, and that he expects more victims to emerge. It’s unclear who is responsible for the activity, but Palo Alto Networks said some of the attackers’ tactics and tools overlap with those used by a suspected Chinese hacking group,” Sean Lyngaas reports for CNN.
According to the report from Palo Alto Networks, the hackers targeted at least 370 organizations running potentially vulnerable Zoho servers in the U.S. alone, successfully compromising at least one, as part of a wider global campaign. Palo Alto Networks did not name any of the targeted organizations, however there was a potential focus on servers used by companies working with the Department of Defense according to the report. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
Democratic lawmakers are calling on President Biden’s administration to take further steps against Israeli spyware company NSO Group, and other companies involved in cyber espionage efforts, after the administration blacklisted the companies. The House Democrats put out a joint statement on Friday applauding the blacklisting of NSO Group as a “victory for human rights,” as well as calling for further sanctions to be imposed to limit the company’s activity. “While the entity listing limits exports by US companies in support of NSO Group, it would not limit involvement of American investment funds that have been complicit in the company’s abusive business model…We renew our calls for the administration to work with allies to establish multilateral agreements that would limit the ability of investors in democratic countries to subsidize companies selling hack-for-hire weapons on the open market,” the lawmakers said. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has sought to distance the Israeli government from NSO Group, saying that the blacklisted Israeli company “has nothing to do with the policies of the Israeli government.” “I don’t think there is another country in the world which has such strict rules according to cyber warfare and that is imposing those rules more than Israel and we will continue to do so,” Lapid added at a press conference. Reuters reports
The U.S. Supreme Court is to hear arguments today in a case involving an FBI undercover operation at a mosque in California. Muslims from the area “are suing the FBI over a nearly year-long surveillance program that, at least publicly, yielded no results and proved a huge embarrassment to the bureau,” Nina Totenberg reports for NPR.
Cornell, Columbia, and Brown Universities have said that they received bomb threats yesterday that prompted evacuations of some facilities, however, there were no reports of explosion or damage as of yesterday afternoon and no credible threats were found. “Sunday’s threats follow similar incidents at other universities in recent days. On Friday, local authorities investigated a bomb threat at Yale University. On Saturday, two Ohio schools — Miami University and Ohio University — said they had investigated campus bomb threats as well. The authorities did not deem any of the threats credible,” Corinne Ramey reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The White House has said that payments to families who were separated at the border under former President Trump’s administration would be determined by the Department of Justice (DOJ). In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Senior White House adviser Cedric Richmond announced that the DOJ would make the decisions about payments. The DOJ would also determine the appropriate dollar amount, Richmond said. This announcement follows President Biden’s more recent comments over whether immigrants who lost children at the border should be compensated. Connor O’Brien for POLITICO.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega quashed dissent to ensure a victory in the country’s election on Sunday. President Ortega detained challengers, shut down campaign events, and closed voting stations. This will be Ortega’s fourth consecutive term in office and suggests that the country is entering a new era of repression. Yubelka Medoza and Natalie Kitroeff report for The New York Times.
With about half of the ballots counted, Ortega has secured around 75% of the vote, in an election in which Ortega’s victory was never in question following the detentions of seven presidential hopefuls. “The clampdown has shocked Latin America for its speed and ruthlessness. Most of the detained candidates and many other Ortega critics have been charged under a controversial treason law. Addressing the nation after voting, Mr Ortega again likened the round-up of his opponents to the trials in the United States of those who stormed the Capitol on 6 January,” Will Grant reports for BBC News.
President Biden has issued a statement criticizing Nicaragua’s “sham elections.” In the statement, released yesterday, Biden accused Ortega’s government of conducting “a pantomime election that was neither free nor fair, and most certainly not democratic.” “Biden said the imprisonment of nearly 40 opposition figures and preventing other parties from competing in the election ‘rigged the outcome well before election day.’ He also noted that independent media has been shuttered, journalists jailed, and civil society groups bullied,” Monique Beals reports for The Hill.
Iran is claiming to have nearly doubled its stockpile of enriched uranium in less than a month ahead of the resumption of talks to restart the 2015 nuclear deal. “We have more than 210 kilograms [about 463 pounds] of uranium enriched to 20%, and we’ve produced 25 kilos [about 55 pounds] at 60%, a level that no country apart from those with nuclear arms are able to produce,” said an Atomic Energy Organization of Iran spokesperson. “While that isn’t technically weapons-grade (90% or above), having a stockpile of 60% enriched [uranium] reduces the time Iran would need to make a bomb,” CBS News reports.
Iran has said that the U.S. should provide guarantees that it will not abandon the 2015 nuclear deal again if the negotiations result in an agreement. Indirect talks between Iran and the United States are set to resume on Nov. 29 in Vienna. Reuters reports.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh has also said that Washington must lift all U.S. sanctions imposed on Tehran in a verifiable process and “recognize its fault in ditching the [2015 nuclear deal].” Reuters reports.
Iran’s military has begun its annual war games in a coastal area of the Gulf of Oman, state TV has reported, less than a month before the upcoming nuclear talks in Vienna. “The report said navy and air force units as well as ground forces were participating in a more than 1 million square-kilometer (386,100 square-mile) area east of the strategic Strait of Hormuz,” AP reports.
Iran’s judicial authorities have banned an Iranian daily newspaper for publishing a front-page graphic that appeared to show Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s hand drawing the poverty line in Iran, amid widespread anger over the nation’s cratering economy. “The semiofficial Mehr news agency said Iran’s media supervisory body shut down the daily newspaper Kelid after it published a front-page article titled ‘Millions of Iranians Living under Poverty Line’ on Saturday. Under the headline, the graphic shows a person’s left hand holding a pen and drawing a red line across the page as silhouettes of people underneath are reaching up to the line,” AP reports.
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
Israeli officials have said that the U.S. should open its consulate for Palestinians in the West Bank instead of in Jerusalem. “If they (the United States) want to open a consulate in Ramallah, we have no problem with that,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Saturday, speaking of the city located in the West Bank. “My position, and it was presented to the Americans … is that there is no place for a U.S. consulate which serves the Palestinians in Jerusalem. We are voicing our opinion consistently, quietly, without drama,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told reporters. Dan Williams reports for Reuters.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry has criticizes Israel for rejecting the promised reopening of the U.S. consulate for Palestine in Jerusalem. The ministry said that “it views the reopening of the consulate as part of the international community’s commitments to ending Israel’s decades-long occupation of territories the Palestinians seek for their future state.” “East Jerusalem is an inseparable part of the occupied Palestinian territory and is the capital of the state of Palestine. Israel, as the occupying power, does not have the right to veto the U.S. administration’s decision,” the statement said. Tia Goldenberg reports for AP.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
A Russian Diplomat found dead one the sidewalk outside Russia’s embassy in Berlin last month is believed by German authorities to have been a secret agent for the Russian intelligence agency FSB. Der Spiegel issued an investigative report into the death on Friday. The Russian embassy did not agree to an autopsy and because of diplomatic immunity, the public prosecutor could not investigate. The FSB was previously linked to the murder of a Georgian exile in Berlin in 2019. Russian and German officials acknowledged the diplomat’s death but did not provide any more information on Der Spiegel’s investigation. Tara John, Nadine Schmidt, and Zahra Ullah report for CNN.
The Taliban have appointed 44 members to key local government roles in Afghanistan, including provincial governors and police chiefs, as the Taliban struggle to quell security threats and achieve economic stability in Afghanistan. The appointments are the largest round of leadership selections since the Taliban formed a Cabinet in September. Reuters reports.
A knife attack on Saturday on a high-speed train in Germany has left three people severely wounded. A 27-year-old Syrian man was arrested in Seubersdorf, where the train stopped after the attack, Bavarian state police have said. German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said the motive behind the “terrible” attack was “still unclear.” AP reports.
Teachers in Sudan were sprayed with tear gas and arrested following two days of protests against the military coup. The teachers’ union said security forces used tear gas against teachers outside of the education ministry, and there were reports that some were taken into custody and transported to the military headquarters. The Guardian reports.
North Korea conducted artillery exercises on Saturday to strengthen its defense capabilities, state media reported. “As soon as the firing orders were given by the commanders of the combined units, gun barrels to annihilate the enemy competitively shelled the target to accurately hit it,” the Korean Central News Agency reported. Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
Police in India are looking for “fake news” spreaders after anti-Muslim attacks. The police are seeking information on 100 social media accounts suspected of sharing misleading images, rumors, and fake videos. The officials have demanded Facebook, Twitter and Youtube remove the posts, which concerned last month’s attacks on mosques in Tripura. As of Sunday, most posts were removed from those platforms. The Guardian reports.
A meeting of hundreds of members of China’s political elite, which is expected to further consolidate the power of Chinese President Xi Jinping, has commenced in Beijing. “The closed-door, four-day meeting of the ruling Chinese Communist party’s central committee, known as the sixth plenum, is expected to produce a resolution on the history of the party, which analysts say will shape domestic politics and society for decades to come… The resolution will determine how Chinese history is taught and depicted, and dictate the context in which Xi’s authority and his policies are viewed as successes,” Vincent Ni and Helen Davidson report for the Guardian.
After a week of climate talks at the COP26 summit, negotiators are seeking ways to pressure countries to review emissions more frequently to avoid the most destructive effects of global warming. “Negotiators from key governments, including the U.S. and the European Union, are no longer banking on a few big developing countries to come up with deeper cuts during the summit itself, according to officials. Instead, they plan to spend the rest of the conference negotiating how to push governments to make new, more ambitious pledges in the near future,” Matthew Dalton reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Many countries’ climate pledges are based on flawed data, an investigation by the Washington Post has found. The examination of 196 country reports to the U.N. on greenhouse gas emissions has revealed “a giant gap between what nations declare their emissions to be versus the greenhouse gases they are sending into the atmosphere. The gap ranges from at least 8.5 billion to as high as 13.3 billion tons per year of underreported emissions — big enough to move the needle on how much the Earth will warm,” Chris Mooney, Juliet Eilperin, Desmond Butler, John Muyskens, Anu Narayanswamy and Naema Ahmed report for the Washington Post.
There are more delegates at COP26 associated with the fossil fuel industry than from any single country, analysis by campaigners led by Global Witness has shown. The campaigners assessed the participant list published by the U.N. at the start of this meeting and found that 503 people, out of 40,000 attendees, with links to fossil fuel interests had been accredited for the climate summit. Brazil has the biggest official team of negotiators according to U.N. data, with 479 delegates. The delegates linked to the fossil fuel industry are said to lobby for oil and gas industries, and campaigners say they should be banned. Matt McGrath reports for BBC News.
Governments, corporations and business executives are calling for a world-wide market to trade carbon credits so that farmers can be paid to help protect forests on their lands rather than cut them down to make way for more crops and cattle. The framework for a global market is one of the goals at the COP26 summit and negotiators are apparently making progress with such a deal after Brazil, long a holdout, signaled it is willing to make concessions. Paulo Trevisani and Juan Forero report for the Wall Street Journal.
The coronavirus has infected over 46.48 million people and has now killed over 754,400 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 249.96 million confirmed coronavirus cases and close to 5.05 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
A federal court in Louisiana has blocked President Biden administration’s order that companies with more than 100 employees mandate vaccination or implement weekly testing. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murpthy said Sunday that the Biden administration was prepared to defend the regulation. Dr. Murthy maintained that the requirements were “appropriate and necessary” and pointed to historical precedent of vaccine mandates. Sabrina Imbler for the New York Times.
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.