Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Benjamin Bissell
Thursday, October 23, 2014, 2:06 PM

In Ottawa yesterday, a gunman “shot and killed a soldier,” Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, before entering Canada’s Parliament building, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper was meeting with MPs. In a firefight that was captured on video and echoed throughout Parliament Hill, police later killed the gunman, 32-year-old Michael Zehaf Bibeau. In addition to shooting the soldier, Bibeau, a recent convert to Islam, provoked widespread panic and a lockdown in the Canadian capital’s governmental heart. Three other people involved in the attack “were treated in the hospital and released by evening.”

In a televised statement after the rampage, Prime Minister Harper described Bibeau as a “terrorist” and promised that Canada would not be “intimidated.” The attack came a day after “another Muslim convert killed a soldier in Quebec,” and almost a month after Canada joined the US-led coalition airstrikes against ISIS. In the New York Times, Shreeya Sinha claims this shooting is just the latest in a “growing list of attacks” in the West linked to “individuals who have professed their affinity for radical Islam or sympathy to militant ideology.” Canadian Muslim groups were quick to “categorically and unequivocally condemn” the attack.

In Jerusalem, a Palestinian resident of the flashpoint Silwan neighborhood plunged his car into a busy light rail station in the city’s center, wounding eight and killing a 3-month-old baby, Chaya Zissel Braun. While attempting to escape on foot, the man, 21-year-old Abdel Rahman al Shaludi, was shot by police, later dying of his wounds. The US, EU and Australia swiftly condemned the attack, especially the death of the infant, a US citizen.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately ordered “an increase in police presence across the city” in response to the attack, which is the latest in a series of escalating internecine incidents. This one threatens to further imperil Israeli-Palestinian governmental ties, which have been mired since peace talks broke down between the sides months ago. Since the attack yesterday, Netanyahu has twice accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of supporting and glorifying terrorism, as well as “embrac[ing]” the “‘organization to which the terrorists belong, Hamas.’” In public statements today, he additionally excoriated the international community for being “‘unwilling to say two words, even one word of criticism of him [Abbas].’” Israeli officials specifically noted the Facebook page of Abbas’ Fatah movement, which posted a picture “celebrating” the actions of “al Shaludi.”

To the south, the Guardian reports that Israeli soldiers were injured “after their vehicle was fired on with an anti-tank missile and small arms from across the Egyptian border.” The perpetrators of the attack, which occurred in Ezuz in the southern Negev desert, remain unclear. However, a spokesman for Egypt’s police force, Maj-Gen Hany Abdellatif, said “there had been a gunfight between smugglers and Egyptian police officers” in the area at around 12:30 PM, an hour and a half before the attack occurred. Egypt has been struggling to tamp down an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula’s unstable north, and with the support of Israel, has increased troop movements there in recent months.

In an interview with the Times of Israel, former US envoy to Israel Daniel Kurtzer claimed that there is a “sense of betrayal” in the relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Furthermore, he argued that their alleged bad blood negatively impacts the countries’ bilateral ties and that the “entire alliance” could encounter serious problems “if Israel gets too cozy with China.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, militants associated with ISIS “recaptured a critical hill” four kilometers from Kobani on Thursday. With the recapture of Tel Shair, ISIS can now “shell Kobani from the south, east and west.” In an effort to “relieve fellow Kurds under attack,” Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers approved a plan on Wednesday to send peshmerga fighters to Kobani. Reuters reports that this decision marks the semi-autonomous province’s “first military foray into Syria’s war.”

US Central Command released a statement saying that US forces on Tuesday continued attacks on ISIS using “fighter and bomber aircraft to conduct six airstrikes.” The release also noted that “US and partner nation military forces conducted twelve airstrikes” Tuesday and Wednesday “using fighter, bomber, attack and remotely piloted aircraft.”

On the subject of “partner nations,” Foreign Policy summarizes which countries have contributed what in the fight against ISIS, noting that while the US State Department “lists more than 60 countries” as coalition members, “the bar for inclusion is apparently fairly low.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights brings us news that coalition airstrikes conducted in Syria have killed 553 people so far: 464 ISIS fighters, 57 other militants and 32 civilians. The BBC has more.

Hat tip to the Situation Report for this: the University of Pennsylvania Press recently published a book by Noriyuki Katagiri entitled, “Adapting to Win: How Insurgents Fight and Defeat Foreign States in War.” In the book, Katagiri notes that “when insurgent groups challenge powerful states, defeat is not always inevitable,” and examines “the circumstances and tactics” that allow non-state actors to succeed “against foreign governments while others fail.”

The Washington Post reports that “the Syrian opposition force to be recruited by the US military and its coalition partners will be trained to defend territory, rather than to seize it back from the Islamic State.” While some senior coalition officials “are concerned that the approach is flawed,” they “are reluctant to push Syrian fighters into full-scale battles with well-armed militants” without the ability to “summon close air support and medical evacuations.” Some also do not believe the new units “will be capable of capturing key towns” from ISIS without “forward-deployed US combat teams,” which President Obama has nixed.

Yesterday, the Pentagon confirmed that ISIS militants “were able to seize one of the 28 bundles of weapons and medical supplies dropped to Kurdish forces on Monday.” The Associated Press has more.

Finally, evidence of a failed kidnapping plot by ISIS-employed Turkish gang members is raising “new questions about the safety of US troops and other American personnel stationed throughout the country.” The Military Times has more on the “attempted abduction,” which ISIS attempted to orchestrate using a promised payout of “$500,000.”

The BBC reports that NATO jets intercepted a Russian spy plane yesterday over the Baltic Sea, ratcheting up already-fraught tensions in the region. In response to the Ilyushin-20’s entrance into Estonian airspace “for about a minute,” Estonia summoned Russia’s ambassador, which claimed that the “plane had been on a training flight and had not violated” the country’s airspace. In the wake of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, “Russia has been accused of several recent border violations in the region,” including a submarine sighting in Swedish waters “in the southern Stockholm archipelago some 48 kilometers from the capital.”

In the wake of Russian moves in eastern Europe, which have triggered unease among Moscow’s Baltic neighbors, the BBC writes that hundreds of soldiers have taken part in a huge NATO exercise in Latvia, “Exercise Silver Arrow.” Additionally, the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg reports on the upcoming Ukrainian elections.

In the Balkan Peninsula, the outgoing Defense Minister of Bulgaria, Velizar Shalamanov, warned that Bulgaria’s over-reliance on Soviet-era equipment is leading it towards a “catastrophe.” Tensions between NATO member Bulgaria and Russia have increased as of late, especially since Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev described Russia as “‘a nationalist and aggressive state’” due to its interference in Ukraine. The traditionally strong relations between the countries also soured when, in response to Shalamanov’s suggestion that Bulgaria might buy F-16s from Italy or Greece or Eurofighters from Portugal, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted that the Bulgarian government had decided to “once again betray Russia...in favor of second-hand eagles.” The BBC has more on the continued sparring between the two neighbors.

In the far northern Laptev Sea, Foxtrot Alpha reports that Russia moved to annex a tiny, yet strategic, Arctic island yesterday. The annexation of Yaya Island, which is only 500 square meters in size and was discovered this year, comes on the back of statements by Russia that it will “reactivate Cold War bases in the region and deploy some 6,000 military personnel along the length of its arctic frontier.” The Arctic Ocean has been the site of rapid increases in commercial and military buildups recently, with multiple states looking to capitalize on its potent energy resources potential and strategic waterways.

At the Brookings Institution, Katharine H.S. Moon, Senior Fellow at the Center for East Asia Policy Studies, wonders whether the release by North Korea of US citizen Jeffrey Fowle augurs a “friendlier diplomacy” from the Hermit Kingdom. But don’t take that to mean all is well. The Independent writes that the reason you haven’t seen six North Korean minister-level officials for weeks is because they have probably been purged. Also from DPRK, Reuters reports that the government of Kim Jong-un has decided to bar foreign tourists until further notice over “Ebola concerns.” Finally, AP features an exclusive photo essay through the isolated country.

The Military Times reports that next week, the US Army Stryker brigade will begin exercises in Japan as part of bilateral training operations. “About 1,300 Japanese troops from the 11th Infantry Regiment, 7th Armor Division, Northern Army, will join 850 US soldiers” in the operation, which will also feature “AH-64 Apaches, UH-60 Black Hawks and three HH-60 Pave Hawks.”

Reuters writes that Chinese defense minister Chang Wanquan “told the visiting head of the Iranian navy on Thursday” that his country wants to have “closer military ties with Iran.”

According to the New York Times, the Taliban are once again rising in Afghanistan’s north. The militant group’s gains in Kunduz province come “just two months” before the end of the 13-year US-led “international combat mission.”

In Pakistan, the Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are suspected of killing at least eight men and wounding two others in a gun attack on a bus in southwestern Pakistan. “The victims were ethnic Hazara, a Persian-speaking Shiite Muslim minority group that has been repeatedly targeted by Sunni extremists in recent years.” The New York Times has more.

The Guardian reports that the rise of ISIS is weakening the Pakistani Taliban, primarily because it is splitting its leadership’s allegiances.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, the BBC writes that supporters of leading anti-government cleric Tahirul Qadri “are ending a two-month sit-in in Islamabad after failing to force PM Nawaz Sharif to resign.” Qadri claimed that his party would be exporting the protest “to other cities instead.”

The BBC also reports that in Nigeria, militant Islamic group Boko Haram abducted dozens more girls. The women were taken from “two villages in Nigeria’s north-eastern Adamawa state” and join the “more than 200 girls” captured by the group in April.

Yesterday, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit heard another round of arguments in the long-running case of Ali Hamza Ahmad al Bahlul v. United States, wherein the court cast doubt on the legality of the US’s efforts to prosecute terrorism suspects by military commissions for offenses that are not recognized as international war crimes. The Wall Street Journal has more on the case, while Wells Bennett offers his impressions for Lawfare, suggesting that Ex Parte Quirin may play a strong role in the court’s final decision.

Another 9/11 suspect, according to Vice News, is now invoking this summer’s Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby to challenge a new policy at Guantanamo that allows female guards to escort detainees to meetings. He suggests that as a devout Muslim, the policy violates his religious rights.

Yesterday, a jury in Federal District Court convicted four former Blackwater security guards for their roles in the deaths of 17 people in a deadly 2007 shooting in Baghdad’s Nisour Square. One defendant, who fired the first shots, was convicted of murder; three others were convicted of voluntary manslaughter and using a machine gun to carry out a violent crime. According to the New York Times, a fifth man had previously pleaded guilty. The machine-gun charges carry a mandatory minimum sentencing of 30 years in prison.

Courthouse News brings us an update on the ongoing U.S. Embassy bombing trial of Khalid al Fawwaz, in which a federal judge has allowed a three-month delay for defense lawyers to gather more evidence that they hope will exonerate al Fawwaz. Under the new timeline, the trial will begin on January 12, 2015.

Top Talker: “why he was engaged in commodities trades, including trades in one market that experts describe as being run by an opaque ‘cartel’ that can befuddle even experienced professionals, remains unclear.” This comes from Shane Harris’s Foreign Policy story on the unusual investment portfolio that former NSA chief General Keith Alexander maintained while head of the United State’s biggest intelligence-gathering network.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the FBI is revamping its whistleblower rules in ways that aim to make it easier, and potentially financially lucrative, to bring forward suspected cases of misconduct. The new reforms will expand the list of officials eligible to receive complaints, while also providing compensation if allegations are accurate.

Finally, a new study from Chapman University on just about everything that terrifies Americans found that more Americans fear spying by corporations than surveillance by the government.

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.