Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Monday, April 4, 2016, 4:13 PM

Two senior intelligence analysts at U.S. Central Command are claiming that the military forced them out of their jobs for telling the truth about President Obama’s war on the Islamic State. The Daily Beast reports that this is the “first known instance of possible reprisals against CENTCOM personnel after analysts accused their bosses of manipulating intelligence reports about the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS in order to paint a rosier picture of progress in the war.” The two senior intelligence analysts making the claims have been removed from their positions and will no longer be working at CENTCOM. You can read the Beast’s initial reporting from last fall on the issue here.

The United States announced that it had killed the Islamic State militant who was responsible for Marine Staff Sergeant Louis Cardin’s death last month. According to U.S. Army Col. Steven Warren, “the militant, Jasim Khadijah, a former officer not considered a high-value target, was killed by a drone strike overnight in northern Iraq.” He continued, stating that “we have information that he was a rocket expert, he controlled these attacks” referring to the attack on the Marine base where Cardin was killed. The drone strike also killed five other militants along with Khadijah.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State carried out a trove of suicide bombings across Iraq today killing at least 25 people and injuring dozens more. The BBC reports that “as many as 10 suicide bombers carried out the attacks, which reportedly targeted members of the security forces and allied Shia Muslim militias.” Reuters tells us that “a suicide car bomb blew up in the center of Basra, the largest city in Iraq, killing five people, and another targeted a convoy of the Popular Mobilization Force (PMF), a coalition of Shi’ite militias, killing five, in the town of Mashahdeh, north of Baghdad.” Reuters describes the rest of the attacks throughout Iraq here.

Over in Syria, the “cessation of hostilities” is unraveling as fierce clashes between government forces and opposition fighters erupted over the weekend in Aleppo. The Washington Post shares that “at least 25 pro-government and 16 opposition fighters died in clashes south of Aleppo, where the Nusra Front and rebel militias captured a hill overlooking a major highway...the fighting continued throughout the day Saturday close to the village of Tel al Ais, which overlooks the main road connecting Aleppo with the capital, Damascus.”

Yet, despite clashes with opposition forces and other actors, the Syrian army has recaptured the town of al Qaryatain following last week’s recapture of Palmyra. Al Jazeera tells us that the Syrian forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, fought the Islamic State out of the town after gradually surrounding it over the past few days.

A key leader of al Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, was killed in what rebel sources say appeared to be a U.S. drone strike in Idlib on Sunday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed reports on militant sympathizer websites that Abu Firas, “the Syrian,” was killed along with a number of his companions. France 24 writes “while the Observatory said he was killed in a suspected Syrian or Russian air raid on a village northwest of the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria, two rebel sources said the attack appeared to have the hallmarks of a U.S. drone strike.” However, a U.S. security official indicated that the United States was aware of Abu Firas’ death, but did not have any other information to provide.

At least 22 radical Islamists from Europe linked to the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris are suspected to still be at large. The Wall Street Journal reports that interviews and confidential court documents “portray the fugitives as part of an extensive web of young men who developed a deep hatred of the West after embracing radical Islam at underground mosques and clandestine meetings in Molenbeek, a heavily Muslim district in the heart of Brussels.” Additionally, the suspects have become essential to the Islamic State’s plans to strike the West and continue to put European security forces on high alert as they attempt to prevent further Islamic State attacks from occurring in the region.

As European security forces increase measures to prevent more attacks, Belgians are attempting to root out radicalization in Muslim communities before it poses a threat. The Wall Street Journal shares that “the Belgian government is funding programs that feature community outreach and individual counseling in hopes of preventing radicalized men and women from heading to Syria and Iraq to fight with Islamic State.”

Belgian authorities announced that a third suspect has been charged in connection with plotting a “major terrorist attack on France.” According to the Washington Post, “the suspect, identified only as ‘Y.A.’ was taken into custody Friday. Prosecutors said that Y.A. is a Belgian citizen born May 4, 1982, making the suspect 33, but declined to provide further information ‘in the interest of the investigation.’” Y.A.’s arrest comes as part of the same investigation that led to the arrest of Reda Kriket, in Paris. The Post also shares that police discovered assault rifles, handguns, and explosives—including the Islamic State’s chemical of choice, TATP, in Kriket’s apartment.

Wondering how two Brussels neighborhoods became a breeding ground for terror? The Washington Post shares a piece on everything we know about Molenbeek and Schaerbeek, the two districts that have been tied to Islamist extremism after the attacks in Brussels and Paris.

A British national was found guilty of plotting a terrorist attack on U.S. military personnel in the United Kingdom. The BBC reports that Junead Khan, a pharmaceutical company delivery driver, “wanted to emulate the killers of Fusilier Lee Ribgy in Woolwich in 2013. He planned to run over a member of the U.S. military outside RAF Lakenheath or RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk-the two massive bases used by the U.S. Air Force. Having done so, prosecutors said he would have tried to draw in security forces, before detonating a homemade bomb in a pressure cooker.”

At least 30 soldiers and a young boy were killed as heavy fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces erupted on Saturday. The Washington Post tells us that the two countries’ forces clashed over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh and was “the worst outbreak since a full-scale war over the region ended in 1994. Since then, mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh—officially part of Azerbaijan—had been under the control of local ethnic Armenian forces and the Armenian military.” Additionally, each side blamed the other for the escalation.

Following the intense escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the United States and Russia have called for restraint. The Wall Street Journal reports that outbreak of fighting—some the heaviest since the Russian-brokered ceasefire went into effect—quickly raised alarms in Washington and Moscow. In a statement on Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry said “the United States condemns in the strongest terms the large-scale ceasefire violations along the Nagorno-Karabakh Line of Contact, which have resulted in a number of reported casualties, including civilians. We urge the sides to show restraint, avoid further escalation, and strictly adhere to the ceasefire.”

However, even though Azerbaijan announced a unilateral ceasefire on Sunday, the Washington Post indicates that there are reports of sporadic fighting between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces continued. Read more on the continued violence here. Wondering what triggered the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh? Al Jazeera features an inside story video on the conflict here.

President Obama criticized Iranian leaders for undermining the “spirit” of the nuclear deal even if they stick to the “letter” of the pact. The Hill reports that “in comments following the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, Obama denied speculation that the United States would ease rules preventing dollars from being used in financial transactions with Iran, in order to boost the country’s engagement with the rest of the world.” The Hill adds that “instead, Obama claimed that Iran’s troubles even after the lifting of sanctions under the nuclear deal were due to its continued support of Hezbollah, ballistic missile tests, and other aggressive behavior.”

Yousef al Otaiba, of the Wall Street Journal, tells us that we should not be fooled with Iran. Last Saturday marked the one year anniversary of the framework agreement for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and “sadly, behind all the talk of change, the Iran we have long known—hostile, expansionist, violent—is alive and well, and as dangerous as ever.” Read more from the Journal here.

Jumping to Afghanistan, the Associated Press reports that at least six police officers were killed in a Taliban ambush on their convoy in Afghanistan’s northern province of Balkh. The AP also tells us that, earlier today, two people were killed and six others were wounded in a bomb explosion aimed at police forces.

The Washington Post reports that “the European Union began offloading its refugee crisis into its Turkish neighbors Monday, sending back more than 200 migrants in the first stage of a plan to deport thousands that has drawn condemnation from human rights groups.” In a deal struck by the E.U. and Turkey last month, the E.U. will send back all migrants who arrived in Greece by smugglers’ rafts, but in return, the E.U. will accept one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every Syrian who is returned. However, the Post writes that “authorities braced for demonstrations or other forms of resistance from those being sent back only days after crossing the Aegean and arriving on European soil in search of a new life—part of a massive migrant wave that has tested Europe's resources and highlighted the desperation to the east in war zones such as Syria.”

As Donald Trump continues to publicly show his disdain for NATO, Eastern European and Baltic leaders are indicating that American support for the 66-year-old alliance is more vital than ever. Politico shares a piece on how Europe is telling the United States to ignore Trump because they need NATO to combat the threat from Russia. Read more on that here.

The United States launched an airstrike targeting a senior leader of al Shabaab on Thursday in Somalia. The Hill reports that Hassan Ali Dhoore “is a senior member of al Shabaab’s Amniyat wing, which does security and intelligence...He’s planned and overseen attacks for the al Qaeda-linked terrorist group that resulted in the deaths of at least three U.S. citizens.” According to Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook, the U.S. is still assessing the results of the operation, but “removing Dhoore from the battlefield would be a significant blow to al Shabaab’s operational planning and ability to conduct attacks against the government of the Federal Republic of Somalia, its citizens, U.S. partners in the region, and against Americans abroad.”

Boko Haram, now called the Islamic State in West Africa, has reaffirmed its loyalty to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in a new video. The Long War Journal provides a summary of the video here.

The United States is planning its third freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea. Reuters reports that “the U.S. Navy plans to conduct another passage near disputed islands in the South China Sea in early April, the third in a series of challenges that have drawn sharp rebukes from China.” Reuters also writes that the United States has conducted these “freedom of navigation” exercises in recent months, “sailing near disputed islands to underscore its right to navigate the seas. U.S. Navy officials have said they plan to conduct more and increasingly complex exercises in the future.”

A huge leak of confidential documents has revealed how the world’s rich and powerful use tax havens to hide their wealth. The BBC tells us that the leaked documents stem from the largely secretive Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonesca, and reportedly show how the firm “has helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions, and avoid tax.” The New York Times adds that the law firm “helped some of the world’s wealthiest people—including politicians, athletes, and business moguls—establish offshore bank accounts.” Among the many politicians and public officials were those of whom have extensive ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

TIME features a piece outlining all you need to know about the leaked documents here. But, you can keep up with the ongoing story of the Panama Papers via the Guardian here.

The FBI has told other law enforcement agencies in the United States that it will help them unlock iPhones belonging to suspected criminals, in keeping with long-standing policies. The Guardian reports that “in a memo sent to law enforcement agencies, published by BuzzFeed, the FBI said that following the successful unlocking of the San Bernardino shooters’ iPhone 5c without Apple’s help, it will consider any tool that will aid its ‘partners.’”

Meanwhile, as the FBI is advertising its new ability to unlock iPhones, some interest groups are pressuring the Bureau to reveal how it was able to unlock the San Bernardino phone. The Hill shares that “technologists and digital rights activists warn that whatever security hole the agency was able to exploit to gain access to the device has been left wide open for online criminals to find—leaving everyday users of Apple products vulnerable to identity theft and other crime.” The Hill has more on this story here.

According to the Miami Herald, Judge James Pohl, an Army colonel, abruptly canceled two weeks of pretrial hearings at Guantanamo that were scheduled to begin tomorrow following a secret notice from a Justice Department attorney. The Herald reports that the cancellation from Judge Pohl came as “attorneys, court staff, reporters, and legal observers were gathering in Washington, DC for a charter flight to the remote base for the April 5-15 hearings.” Chicago defense attorney Cheryl Bormann, representing alleged 9/11 plot deputy Walid bin Attash, even thought it was an April Fool’s joke.

In other GTMO news, two Libyan Guantanamo inmates were transferred to Senegal, marking the first time that Senegal has resettled GTMO prisoners. The New York Times tells us that “the men had been imprisoned without trial from about 14 years, and their transfers reduced the detainee population at the prison to 89.” The Times also adds that “one of the men, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr, who is 43 or 44, was captured by Pakistani security forces in March 2002 during a raid on a guesthouse in Faisalabad and was suspected of having links to al Qaeda. The other, Salem Abdul Salem Ghereby, 55, was captured by Pakistani forces in December 2001 with a group of men who were suspected of having fled to the mountains after the battle of Tora Bora.”

Keeping up with Judge Merrick Garland’s lengthy confirmation process to be the next Supreme Court Justice? The National Journal has a piece featuring Judge Garland’s terrorism rulings here.

Parting Shot: Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese apocalyptic cult responsible for the 1995 Sarin Gas Attacks on the Tokyo subway system, held a conference in Montenegro last week. The Daily Beast reports that “last week, 58 people believed to be affiliated with the creepy cult were caught at a seedy hotel in Danilovgrad, Montenegro, where they were holding a conference, according to Montenegro press reports. What the heck could they have been having a conference about? Read more from the Beast here.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Alex shared The Week That Was, rounding up all of Lawfare’s material from last week.

Cody released the latest Lawfare Podcast, featuring the last Hoover Book Soiree with Adam Segal discussing his new book, The Hacked World Order.

In Sunday’s Foreign Policy Essay, Daniel Byman compared Europe’s terrorist threat to America’s.

Ben featured the Heritage Foundation’s recent event titled “The Role of Intelligence.”

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.