Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Tuesday, December 20, 2016, 1:53 PM

In what German authorities have labeled a likely terrorist attack, a truck plowed through a Berlin Christmas market on Monday, killing 12 people and injuring 52 others. Police have now released the former lead suspect, a Pakistani asylum-seeker detained hours after the incident, after deciding that there was not enough evidence of the man’s involvement in the attack to pursue a case. The Washington Post has more.

Authorities have urged caution as the investigation continues, The New York Times writes, though German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that, “We must assume at the current time that it was a terrorist attack.” She added that it would be “particularly difficult for all of us to bear” if police discover the attacker to have been an asylum seeker. Germany has recently been roiled by political controversy over the flow of migrants and refugees into the country following a string of minor attacks conducted by non-Germans.

President-elect Donald Trump released a statement linking the Berlin attack to ISIS despite the absence of such a conclusion from German authorities, Reuters writes. On Twitter, he declared that the global situation “is only getting worse” and that “the civilized world must change thinking.”

Turkish police identified the assassin of Russian ambassador Andrey Karlov as Mevlut Mert Altintas, an Ankara police officer, and have detained his family and roommate, Reuters reports. Altintas was shot by police shortly after the assassination. Both Turkey and Russia have condemned the attack as an an act of terrorism. Despite Altintas’s shouted declaration suggesting that the shooting was an act of retribution for the Russian attack on Aleppo, Turkish officials have speculated on possible connections between Altintas and Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blamed for the failed July coup attempt.

Russian President Vladimir Putin described the assassination as a “provocation aimed at spoiling the normalization of Russo-Turkish relations and spoiling the Syrian peace process,” calling for “stepping up the fight against terrorism” in response. Scheduled talks between Turkey, Russia, and Iran on the future of Syria are set to continue today despite the attack, the Times reports.

The assassination probably will not lead to a confrontation between Russia and Turkey due to their mutual desire to collaborate in Syria, the Times writes. Meanwhile, the Post examines the difficult diplomatic situation in which Erdogan now finds himself, as he may be forced to tack even closer to the Kremlin in an effort to keep relations comparatively smooth.

Monday also saw a shooting that wounded three people at a Muslim prayer center in Zurich, Switzerland. Police now believe that they have found the body of the gunman and say that the shooting was likely not connected to terrorism.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the shooting in Jordan on Sunday that killed multiple civilians and Jordanian security officers. Authorities have discovered a cache of weapons and explosives in the gunmen’s apartment, suggesting that they had been preparing to carry out more than one attack. The Times has more.

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen will cease using U.K.-made cluster munitions in Yemen, Reuters writes. The announcement that also marks the Kingdom's first acknowledgement that the coalition, whose military efforts have been criticized for targeting of civilian infrastructure resulting in high numbers of civilian casualties, has relied on cluster munitions at all.

China has now returned the U.S. Navy drone seized in international waters in the South China Sea, the Post reports. The Chinese Defense Ministry referred to “friendly negotiations” with its U.S. counterpart, though the Pentagon released a statement in response castigating Beijing for behavior “inconsistent with both international law and standards of professionalism for conduct between navies at sea.”

Momentum continues to build toward a possible congressional investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. election, as The Hill tells us that Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) plans to introduce a bill to create a select Senate committee to investigate the Kremlin’s meddling. Gardner’s bill follows calls by Senators Chuck Schumer (R-NY) and John McCain (R-AZ) for the establishment of such a committee. Politico has more.

Austria’s far-right Freedom Party has signed a five-year “cooperation agreement” with the Kremlin, committing to joint meetings and a “mutually beneficial partnership,” The Wall Street Journal writes. The agreement emphasizes Russia’s continued efforts to cultivate relationships with far-right nationalist movements and weaken democratic governments across Europe and in the United States. Notably, the Times reports that Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache recently met with General Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s national security advisor.

Over the course of his final months in office, President Obama has pushed forward with efforts to speed the transfer of Guantanamo detainees cleared for release before he leaves the White House, the Times reports. 18 or 19 of the 22 detainees approved for transfer are currently set to leave the prison, leaving 41 or 42 detainees remaining at Guantanamo under President Donald Trump.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Quinta Jurecic flagged a statement from Military Commissions Chief Prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins on the conclusion of last week’s pretrial hearings in the USS Cole case.

On that note, David Ryan reported on last Thursday’s hearing at Guantanamo.

Alice C. Hill and Jane Chong argued that the Trump administration should take climate change seriously as a national security threat.

Writing from Jerusalem, Benjamin Wittes and Paul Rosenzweig expressed alarm at the potential for violence that Trump’s new ambassadorial appointment to Israel may bring about.

Ben noted a Guantanamo habeas hearing going on today before the D.C. Circuit in the case of Moath Hamza al Ali.

Andrew McClure reviewed the U.S. response to Russian interference in the presidential election.

Herb Lin examined the ability of cyberattacks to bring about significant second-order destruction.

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