Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Thursday, April 7, 2016, 4:09 PM

Belgian security forces have unveiled new video footage of one of the Brussels airport bombing suspects. Agence France-Presse shares that the newly released video surveillance footage is a fresh appeal for help in finding the suspect. Additionally, AFP tells us that “police have been desperately searching for the man ever since he was filmed next to the two suicide bombers who blew themselves up at Brussels airport.”

Speaking of those suicide bombers, Reuters reports that one of them actually worked for the European Parliament at one point. According to EU spokesman Jaume Duch Guillot, “one of the perpetrators of the Brussels terrorist attacks worked for a period of one month for a cleaning company which was contracted by the European Parliament at the time.” Another EU official identified the employee as Najim Laachraoui, one of the bombers that attacked Brussels airport last month.

Yesterday, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel called for more coordination between authorities across Europe to combat terrorism. The Wall Street Journal tells us that Prime Minister Michel did not offer any new plans for domestic reforms but stressed the need to share more information to try to prevent future attacks. In his address, the Belgian leader stated, “the absolute priority should be to improve the exchange of data, or information, so that we can prevent any further attacks.”

Iraqi forces have stumbled early in their campaign to retake Mosul from the Islamic State. The Wall Street Journal shares that “the rapid start and stop on the road to Mosul—an Islamic State stronghold since 2014—has raised questions among local leaders and military officials about whether the mission began prematurely and can succeed without a major boost from additional troops.” Yet, Al Jazeera reports that the campaign to retake Mosul has been paused “until more forces arrive to hold ground.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. military is planning to expand “fire-bases” in Iraq to aid in the Mosul fight. The Daily Beast writes that “the bases will be there to support local Iraqi forces. But they’ll also put U.S. troops near the front lines of what will likely be the biggest battle of the war with the self-proclaimed Islamic State.”

The Washington Post reports that Islamic State commander Abu Sakkar is believed to be dead. According to a report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Sakkar was gunned down by a rival rebel group on Tuesday in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib. The Post writes that Abu Sakkar gained notoriety by taking a bite out of a heart or lung from a Syrian regime soldier’s corpse. In the video of the gruesome event, Sakkar stated “I swear we will eat from your hearts and livers, you dogs of Bashar.”

“At least 200 people are reported missing after a suspected attack by the so-called Islamic State on a cement factory near Damascus,” according to the BBC. Islamic State operatives reportedly kidnapped the workers from the dormitory where they were staying on the outskirts of the capital. One of the factory’s administrators indicated that no one was able to contact the workers since the assault on Monday.

Some U.S. officials are concerned of an Islamic State attack on American forces in the Sinai Peninsula. Fox News reports that the Islamic State fighters near the Sinai Peninsula may be chasing American troops. Fox News has more here.

The United States has struck Jabhat al Nusra for the second time this week. The Washington Post tells us that “U.S. aircraft destroyed a car carrying ‘core al Qaeda’ members in northwestern Syria, Tuesday night, according to Pentagon officials. It is the second strike against the group’s affiliate in Syria in less than 72 hours.” However, it is unclear if the strike eliminated any al Qaeda leadership figures.

Vice News presents their investigation detailing the United Kingdom’s covert war in Yemen. Vice News examines the “successful cooperation between British and American intelligence agencies” combating al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. You can read the report here.

In other counterterrorism news stemming from the U.K., the British government “has announced plans to create a new range of criminal offenses which will aim to lock down suspected terrorists, including Islamic State sympathizers, if they are released on bail.” The Telegraph tells us that “the move comes after Britain’s most senior counterterrorist police officer described the bail arrangements as ‘weak and toothless’ in the wake of controversy over the new ‘Jihadi John.’” Read more on that story here.

Libya’s new unity government backed by the United Nations “has been thrown into chaos” as the head of its rival authority in Libya refused to cede power. Al Jazeera reports that “contradicting an earlier announcement that his National Salvation Government was ready to step aside, Tripoli’s unrecognized Prime Minister Khalifa Ghweil urged his ministers not to stand down in a statement on Wednesday.” Al Jazeera writes that “the move derails a United Nations push to end the instability that has ripped Libya apart for five years.”

In Bangladesh, another liberal blogger was killed in the latest string of murders targeting secular activists by suspected Islamist militants. Reuters tells us that “postgraduate law student Nazimuddin Samad, 28, was attacked as he was returning from class at his university in the capital, Dhaka, late on Wednesday, police said.” Additionally, Reuters writes that “last year, suspected militants killed five secular writers and a publisher, including a Bangladeshi-American activist. A banned Islamist militant group, Ansarullah Bangla Team, claimed responsibility for some of the attacks.”

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Gulf state ministers today amid regional conflicts which cloud the United States’ relationship between the countries. CNN reports that Secretary Kerry “faces an uphill battle as he tries to shore up support for resolving key conflicts in the region from the six-members Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of critical allies disappointed by what they see as a continued deterioration of their relationship with the U.S. amid Iran’s changing role in the region.”

Speaking of Iran, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced legislation that would block Iran’s access to the U.S. financial system in light of reports that the Obama administration could lift some restrictions. The Hill shares that “the legislation would prohibit Iran from getting indirect access to U.S. currency, including blocking ‘offshore United States dollar clearing system for transactions’ tied to Tehran or an Iranian national.” Rubio and Kirk’s proposal also would include sanctions on any offshore bank that helps Iran obtain access to U.S. currency.

Over in China, Chinese officials are requesting that countries participating in 2016’s G20 summit provide a list of possible terror groups and terrorists who may be plotting an attack on the meeting. Reuters reports that Hou Le, one of China’s senior counterterrorism officials, stated “we’re facing a grim task in fighting terrorism, and we hope participating countries will work together with Chinese policy to ensure the safety of such large-scale meetings.” Reuters also tells us that “China’s new counterterrorism law, adopted this year, has caused particular unease in western countries, which the Western capitals as it codifies sweeping powers for the government to combat perceived threats.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. military’s top commander in the Pacific wants to confront China. The Navy Times reports that “Admiral Harry Harris is proposing a muscular U.S. response to China’s island-building that may include launching aircraft and conducting military operations within 12 miles of these man-made islands, as part of an effort to stop what he called the ‘Great Wall of Sand.’” However, this proposal has met some resistance from the White House.

FBI Director James Comey indicated yesterday during a speech at Kenyon College that the government had purchased a tool that allowed investigators to access the San Bernardino iPhone. Fox News tells us that Comey stated that “the people that we bought this tool from—I know a fair amount about them and have a high degree of confidence that they are very good at protecting it, and their motivations align with ours.” Previously, the Justice Department had only said that a third party had “demonstrated” an alternative method of decrypting the phone. Lawfare’s own Ben Wittes was at the event and said that Director Comey’s speech was one of the best engagements on encryption he’s seen.

The White House has declined to support the Burr-Feinstein encryption bill that would pave the way for judges to require tech companies to comply with the government to access encrypted data. Reuters writes that “the decision all but assures that the years-long political impasse over encryption will continue” and that the White House remains “deeply divided on the issue.”

CNN has the latest on a new Department of Homeland Security intelligence assessment detailing what exactly hackers are doing when they find their way into the U.S. power grid. According to CNN, “some of the attacks described in the reports are potentially serious” and, although rare, “highly sophisticated foreign government hackers have gotten inside the energy grid.” You can read the official report for yourself here.

Yet, the New York Times reports some bad news from DHS. According to the Times, “at a time of increasing threats of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, the Department of Homeland Security is having trouble recruiting much-needed computer experts because it cannot match the pay of private sector and does not have the same allure as intelligence agencies.”

What is that up in the sky? A bird? Superman? Nope, it’s a surveillance plane courtesy of DHS and the FBI. BuzzFeed tells us that “the planes are fitted with high-resolution video cameras, often working with ‘augmented reality’ software that can superimpose onto the video images everything from street and business names to the owners of individual homes. At least a few planes have carried devices that can track the cellphones of people below. Most of the aircraft are small, flying a mile or so above the ground, and many use exhaust mufflers to mute their engines—making them hard to detect by the people they’re spying on.” BuzzFeed has more here.

Yesterday, during his visit to Washington, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg detailed a new plan that would create a rapid deployment training force to help local forces aligned with the military alliance. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Secretary-General of the alliance stressed that NATO “must conduct needed training more swiftly and effectively.” In his speech at the Atlantic Council, Stoltenberg stated “Training matters. In the fight against terrorism, building local capacity is one of the best weapons we have, and the earlier we can do it, the better. A few months can mean the difference between a fragile state and a failed state.”

Keeping up with the controversy and scandal of the Panama Papers? If not, the Guardian has you covered. Check out what has been revealed so far from the 11.5 million leaked files.

Many lawmakers in Congress, most notably Republican leaders, continue to block the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba because they do not want terrorists held on United States soil. But, did you know that we already do that? The New York Times provides us with a map detailing where terrorists are held on U.S. soil throughout the country. Look to see if you have a terrorist in your backyard here.

Parting Shot: Need to buy an antiaircraft weapon? How about heavy machine guns and grenades? Just log onto Facebook. The New York Times tells us that the social networking site has been “hosting sprawling online arms bazaars, offering weapons ranging from handguns and grenades to heavy machine guns and guided missiles.” These Facebook posts signify efforts to sell these weapons to terrorists, which violates Facebook’s ban on private arms sales.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ben shared a video of FBI Director James Comey’s keynote address at Kenyon College.

Jack Goldsmith commented on President Obama’s embrace of President Bush’s preemption doctrine.

Cody flagged Senators Kelly Ayotte and Mark Kirk’s new bill to halt GTMO transfers.

Stewart Baker released the latest edition of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, featuring an interview with Perianne Boring.

Shane Reeves and David Wallace examined whether U.S. service members could disobey an order to waterboard terrorists.

Ashley Deeks responded to State Department Legal Adviser Brian Egan’s speech at the annual meeting of the American Society of International Law.

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