Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Tuesday, March 29, 2016, 4:42 PM

Last night, the Justice Department announced that it had withdrawn its legal effort to compel Apple to assist in the San Bernardino investigation. The FBI had found a way to unlock the infamous iPhone without the tech company’s help, ending the legal standoff. However, the New York Times writes that “law enforcement’s ability to now unlock an iPhone through an alternative method raises new uncertainties, including questions about the strength of security in Apple’s devices.” The Wall Street Journal adds that DOJ’s filing to withdraw the case “doesn’t indicate what method the FBI used to access the data on the phone, nor does it say what, if any, evidence related to the attack was found on it. A government official said the method to unlock the phone wasn’t developed by a government agency, but by a private entity.”

Following Sunday’s suicide bombing in Lahore, Pakistan which killed over 70 people and injured hundreds more, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urged better coordination between security agencies to combat terrorism. The attack has triggered the government to enact a “major crackdown” on militants with paramilitary operations. The BBC reports that a number of arrests have already been made and weapons were seized in five different raids by security forces.

Jamaat ul Ahrar claimed responsibility for the brutal attack on Easter Sunday. The Guardian tells us that “the bombing of Lahore’s most popular park is the bloodiest attempt yet by a new Islamic extremist faction to establish itself as the most aggressive and violent of the many such groups active in Pakistan.” The Guardian has more on Jamaat ul Ahrar.

Yet, the suicide attack in Lahore is only one of dozens of attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians in Pakistan over the years. The Pakistani Taliban and its many splinter groups have claimed many of the attacks. You can read more on terror strikes in Pakistan from the New York Times here.

As Pakistan mourns those murdered on Easter, hundreds of Islamic extremist protested in Islamabad earlier today over the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, a police officer who assassinated Pakistani Governor Salman Taseer in 2011. The New York Times shares that the protestors wished to demonstrate a show of defiance amid a government crackdown on militants following Sunday’s attack.

European nations are facing growing calls to dramatically increase intelligence sharing in the wake of the Brussels terrorist attacks that killed at least 35 people and injured 340 more. The Washington Post writes that “with 28 European Union countries jostling to have their way, significant progress may be unlikely—particularly since some nations cannot even reach consensus internally about how to handle the terrorism threat.” Furthermore, the New York Times reports that the signs of the focused terrorist machine responsible for the Brussels and Paris assaults were “readable in Europe as far back as early 2014.” Read more from the Post here.

An individual suspected of being the third attacker caught on surveillance camera the Brussels airport, Faycal Cheffou, was released by Belgian authorities who acknowledged that the evidence against Cheffou was not as strong as they had believed. The New York Times shares that “Mr. Cheffou had been mistakenly identified by a witness as the bomber in a dark hat and white coat in an airport surveillance photo.” Reuters adds that Mr. Cheffou “had a credible alibi and was definitely not the ‘man in the hat’ captured by security cameras at the airport before the blasts.” Additionally, there was no forensic evidence linking Cheffou to the bombings.

Meanwhile, Italian police forces arrested an Algerian man suspected of possessing links to the Paris and Brussels terrorists. The Wall Street Journal reports that Djamal Eddine Ouali was arrested “on suspicion that he is part of a criminal organization based in Brussels that supplied false documents to terrorists involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks.” Belgian police issued a European arrest warrant for Ouali on January 6, after evidence of his involvement was found at a raided apartment.

As the investigation continues, the Guardian tells us that “young men in the Molenbeek district of Brussels were sent messages over the weekend calling on them to ‘make the right choice’ and ‘fight the westerners.’” The messages were sent on Sunday night from a prepaid phone account that could not be traced or replied to and are feared to be from Islamic State recruiters. The Guardian has more.

If you were wondering how the Islamic State’s European cells really operate, Foreign Affairs has you covered. Jyette Klausen and Alexandra Johnson explain why lone wolves are no more. Read the piece here.

The Islamic State claimed credit for a suicide bombing that shook the streets of Baghdad earlier this morning. The blast killed three people and wounded 27 others. Reuters reports that “the blast occurred near a gathering of workers in Tayaran Square, about a kilometer from a sit-in held by supporters of influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr to demand political reforms.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al Assad scored a major victory this week when Syrian government forces reclaimed the ancient city of Palmyra from Islamic State control. The Daily Beast shares that “symbolically, of course, the recapture of Palmyra allows for the regime and Russia to portray themselves as the defenders of civilization over barbarism, as ISIS had destroyed some of the most archeological sites in the area last year.” However, Syrian forces backed by Russia’s air power continue to fight Islamic State militants on the outskirts of the city.

Palmyra’s liberation from Islamic State control relieved many historians and antiquities experts. However, they have also been horrified of the damage sustained at the ancient city. The good news though, is that 80 percent of the Unesco World Heritage site that encompasses the 2,000 year old ruins remained intact. Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s antiquities director, stated that “the militants appeared to have deliberately slowed their assault on the ruins.” Read more from the New York Times.

Meanwhile, Iraqi forces are struggling in the fight to recapture Mosul from Islamic State control. The Daily Beast quotes an Iraqi military sergeant stating that “there has been some delays in what we expected, but it’s mostly because of their heavy use of sniper fire and of IEDS. We have not been really advancing today, but that is not part of our plan as of yet, but in coming hours we are planning to move forward.” Yet, that forward movement turned into some Iraqi forces running away in panic. The Beast has more.

Bashar al Ja’afari, the head of the Syrian delegation in Geneva for the Syrian peace talks, announced that Syria is now willing to cooperate with the United States in an international coalition against terrorism. But there is a catch: the United States must coordinate with Damascus much like Russia did when it entered the conflict.

Over in Turkey, Turkish intelligence officials have uncovered an “imminent” attack by the Islamic State targeting Jewish school children. Sky News reports that the Islamic State has “advanced plans to murder Jewish children in Turkey, targeting kindergartens, schools, and youth centers.” Turkish police have taken extraordinary security measures above the heightened alert level.

In another front against militants, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkish security forces have killed or captured more than 5,300 Kurdish rebels since hostilities resumed last July. President Erdogan also revealed that 355 security force members have been killed in the conflict with the Kurds.

A video allegedly showing an Israeli soldier killing an already wounded Palestinian attacker sparked an uproar in Israel over the weekend. The Associated Press writes that “as the Israeli military pressed on with an investigation, nationalistic politicians accused the army of abandoning the soldier, while political doves bemoaned the erosion of the nation’s morals. Palestinians, meanwhile, said the shooting proved their claims that Israel is guilty of using excessive force and carrying out extrajudicial killings.” Read more here.

Iran has denied any involvement in cyberattacks against the United States. Last week, the Department of Justice charged seven hackers associated with the Iranian government with multiple banks as well as a dam. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari stated last weekend that “Iran has never had on its agenda any dangerous measures in cyberspace and does not support such moves.”

China has accused Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whom China called a “warlord,” of threatening peace in the region. The Guardian shares that China’s accusation comes after the enactment of controversial laws allowing Japanese troops to fight on foreign soil for the first time since the end of World War II.

Meanwhile, tensions continue to rise in the region. The Associated Press reports that President Obama will meet with leaders from Japan and South Korea to discuss the threat posed by North Korea. Additionally, President Obama will also meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping separately.

In other news, North Korea fired a missile again. Reuters tells us that the Hermit Kingdom test-fired a short-range missile on its east coast earlier today. The test-firing is the latest move by North Korea following intense tensions in recent weeks.

Over in Africa, Cameroon is expressing doubt that a suspected female suicide bomber arrested last week is one of the missing 219 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. Reuters reports that Cameroon officials delayed the questioning of the suspect due to injuries. The arrest raised hope that the young girl would be able to assist the Nigerian government in investigations dealing with Boko Haram.

Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro criticized President Obama’s recent visit to his country, stating that “we do not need the empire to give us anything.” The New York Times writes that President Obama’s visit was meant to “be a capstone to efforts to bury hostilities between the two countries, and to encourage the reform of Cuba’s flagging economy and political system.”

CIA Director John Brennan traveled to Russia earlier this month to hold talks concerning the fate of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Director Brennan also met with Russia’s Federal Security Service. More on the trip here.

Speaking of the CIA, the Guardian reports that the intelligence agency took naked photos of people it had sent to its foreign partners for torture. The Guardian writes that “the naked imagery of CIA captives raises new questions about the seeming willingness of the U.S. to use what one medical and human rights expert called ‘sexual humiliation’ in its post-9/11 captivity of terrorism suspects. Some human rights campaigners described the act of naked photography on unwilling detainees as a potential war crime.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office released a scorching review of General Michael Hayden’s new book, Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror, flagging “numerous examples of what it characterizes as misrepresentations or plain falsehoods related to the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.” Politico has more on the Senator’s review here. You can read the full report from Senator Feinstein’s office here.

EgyptAir Flight MS181 was hijacked earlier this morning by a man who turned out to have a “personal problem” with a woman. The hijacker, who claimed to have an explosive belt, took dozens of hostages aboard the plane and ordered the pilots to divert to either Turkey or Cyprus. No injuries were reported and the hijacker was arrested. NBC News has more.

Capitol Hill had its own security scare yesterday when gunman entered the Capitol Visitors Center pulling his weapon out shortly after entering metal detectors. The gunman has been identified as Larry Dawson of Tennessee. Dawson was shot by a Capitol Police Officer during the incident. Yet, this was not Dawson’s first time causing trouble at the Capitol. The Daily Beast has more. Additionally, the Washington Post provides a piece about how yesterday’s shooting occurred in a facility designed to stop shootings. Read that piece here.

Parting Shot: While some Americans are increasingly fearful of a Donald Trump presidency in 2017, other countries’ leaders are closely following America’s race for president as well. And they are very, very concerned. According to the Department of State, “virtually every foreign leader [Secretary Kerry] meets with expresses concerns about the campaign rhetoric here in the United States, and expresses a fair bit of angst about where things are going.” The Hill has more on how Mr. Trump is frightening foreign leaders.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Paul Rosenzweig told us to run, not walk, to the nearest movie theatre to see Eye in the Sky.

Jack Goldsmith and Ben Wittes provided a friendly reminder for yesterday’s Hoover Book Soiree featuring Adam Segal.

Douglas Cantwell examined the ETF and the legality of U.S. intervention in Syria under international law.

Steve Slick reviewed Michael Hayden’s book, Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror.

Ben announced some exciting changes to Lawfare’s masthead.

Elizabeth McElvein analyzed what the Syrian refugee crisis means for the 2016 election.

Paul shared a video of his discussion on the broader implications of the Apple vs. FBI dispute at George Washington University.

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