Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Sebastian Brady
Tuesday, January 13, 2015, 1:15 PM

While French police continue to search for accomplices in the Charlie Hebdo shooting, the Guardian describes the details emerging about the gunmen and their associates. The plot has thickened, especially in its meaning for the future of counterterrorism. Video has surfaced of Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who attacked the Kosher grocery, declaring his allegiance to the Islamic State, while Cherif and Said Kouachi, the two men who attacked Charlie Hebdo, reportedly claimed to be agents of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As frequent readers will know, that’s an odd mix, considering al Qaeda and the Islamic State do not share leadership structures and have been in open conflict recently.

The New York Times may have the answer, with Jim Yardley explaining how jihadism was born in a Paris park and then later fueled in a prison just south of Paris. Both Coulibaly and Cherif Kouachi were jailed at the same time and together fell under the influence of Djamel Beghal, a charismatic radical jihadist who had been imprisoned after plotting to blow up the American embassy in Paris.

The tangled web of connections and allegiances left behind by these gunmen, a piece at War on the Rocks argues, points to the convergence of various terrorist groups into a “broad based jihad via a loose social movement” wherein attacks come in three phases: “directed,” “networked,” and “inspired.” In the New York Review of Books, Ahmed Rashid argues that it is time to wake up to the new al Qaeda---one that is much more dangerous to the West than the Islamic State.

Foreign Policy has more on the investigation, including video of Coulibaly’s partner arriving in Turkey with another French citizen, Mehdi Sabry Belhoucine. The two have since entered Syria and members of ISIS are now claiming they are in Islamic State territory. Back in France, authorities are concerned that as many as six members of the terror cell responsible for the attacks could still be on the loose.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a new anti-terror law aimed at preventing domestic terror attacks. The law would allow British intelligence agencies to crack encrypted communications, the Guardian tells us, and has already drawn criticism from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. The AP shares an analysis of responses to the extremist threat by the governments of Australia, Europe, Canada and the US. The Times details the long-term struggles of the West in keeping its citizens from joining conflicts in Muslim countries.

Across the pond, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) has predicted more Paris-type attacks in the future, according to Defense News. USA Today reports that the Department of Homeland Security has increased security at federal buildings and airports, though DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson described the measures as merely “precautionary.”

In response to negative coverage of President Barack Obama’s notable absence from Sunday’s 2 million person march in Paris, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest admitted that the administration should have sent a higher-ranking official, McClatchy notes. The Times weighs the possible effect of the Paris attacks on the trial of Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The BBC covers one of the most deadly attacks by the militant group Boko Haram yet, noting that local officials claim as many as 2,000, a number supported by Amnesty International, people were massacred in the town of Baga last week. However, the Nigerian government estimates the insurgent group’s siege killed just 150 people. International aid groups have frequently accused the Nigerian government of downplaying casualty figures, but the defense ministry said that the higher estimates were simply “speculation and conjecture.”

United States Central Command, the US military outfit tasked with executing the war against the Islamic State, admitted yesterday that its Twitter and YouTube accounts had been briefly compromised in what it called an act of “cybervandalism."  But it maintained that no operational networks were breached. Hackers briefly posted images and tweets showing support for ISIS, but the Daily Beast muses that although the hackers claimed membership in the Islamic State, their online activity suggests otherwise.

An unidentified suicide bomber blew up his vehicle north of Baghdad yesterday, the Associated Press reports. The attacks killed 12 Shiite militiamen and Iraqi soldiers, and set off clashes between ISIS militants and Iraqi security forces. Across the Libyan province of Tripoli, the New York Times shares, militants claiming to be aligned with ISIS took 21 Egyptian Christians hostage. The move now extends ISIS’s activity into all three Libyan provinces.

ISIS appears to be making inroads in Afghanistan as well. The AP reveals the first confirmation by Afghan officials that ISIS is now operating in southern Afghanistan, and the BBC tells us that the group’s activities include recruitment and, at times, battling the Taliban. Mullah Abdul Rauf, a former senior Taliban commander who spent six years in Guantanamo Bay prison, is said to lead the operations in the area for ISIS. Taliban commanders have issued warnings that people should stay away from him. But Afghan government officials also claim that the group has little chance of gaining real traction within the Afghan population.

Even so, the Long War Journal brings us a breakdown of a new seventeen-minute video in which a series of former Pakistani Taliban commanders swear allegiance to the Islamic State. The video was released by “Khorasan Media” group and  introduces Hafez Saeed Khan as the emir of the “Khorasan Shura.”

Also on Monday, the Afghanistan Analysts Network presented a full review of the new Afghan cabinet now awaiting approval by parliament. The proposed 25-member cabinet lacks heavyweights and is fairly inexperienced, and does not include any previous ministers or currently serving members of parliament.

It seems like we’re saying this almost every day now: Oil prices have hit a new six-year low, with Brent and West Texas Intermediate crude closing at $46 per barrel. The Times carries the story, which could be very bad news for the Islamic State. Writing for West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, Geoff D. Porter explains how the Islamic State, which “unwittingly became a hydrocarbon state” may be the biggest loser as oil prices plummet, suffering from the “same economic volatility that plagues other rentier states” but without the benefit of a long built cash reserve.

The Washington Post covers the various cybersecurity measures that President Obama will propose today, which, among many other measures, will include protection for companies that share cyber threat information with the government. Over at Politico, Katy Bachman argues that even though voluntary industry initiatives will be ineffective at meeting the challenge, new legislative proposals have little chance of passage in Congress.

A White House press release showed that President Obama expressed the administration’s opposition to Palestine’s membership in the International Criminal Court in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday. Specifically, President Obama maintained that Palestine does not yet constitute a state, and thus cannot accede to the Rome Treaty.

Chinese security forces shot and killed 6 men on Monday after they attacked police officers near the city of Kashgar in the country’s restive Xinjiang region, reports the Times. According to a government website, the police opened fire on one man wielding an axe while the group attempted to set off explosives. The Times notes that in recent months, more than 100 people have been killed in exchanges between Chinese security forces and ethnic Uighurs.

Rebuffing North Korea’s offer to halt its nuclear tests if the US halted joint military exercises with South Korea, the US Navy began an anti-submarine warfare drill with the South Korean navy, Stars and Stripes reports.

The US announced yesterday that Cuba has freed all 53 prisoners tapped for release as part of the agreement to renew relations with the US. Reuters identifies this as a major step in the normalization of relations between the two countries.

Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert (Ret.) called this week for the closure of Guantanamo, noting that what was meant to be a short-term holding facility has become a fiscal, legal, strategic, and moral liability.

The White House has signalled that it will veto any Department of Homeland Security funding bill that includes provisions to block President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, Reuters informs us.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) plans to introduce legislation that would make the interrogation techniques included in the US Army Field Manual, which is now used by the CIA, the only approved interrogation techniques for all government agencies. According to DefenseOne, the US would also be required to notify the Red Cross of new detainees and provide access to them as soon as possible. In addition, the CIA would only be allowed to hold detainees for transitory purposes.

The Military Times reports that on Monday the US House of Representatives passed the veteran suicide prevention bill, again.

After 11 years, jury selection is set to begin in a $1 billion lawsuit filed against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization by victims of terror attacks in Israel. The case will be heard in a Manhattan federal court. The AP has more.

Parting shot: The Swiss manual on guerrilla warfare that advises hiding in atomic ruins and other ways to resist a Soviet invasion.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

In our ongoing conversation on the proper role of of law enforcement and traditional war tactics in counterterrorism, David Kris shared his still remarkably timely 2011 article on the topic.

John Bellinger jumped in the conversation as well, posting some excerpts from his 2006 speech at the London School of Economics---which touched on similar themes.

Jane Chong explained that those who would identify Charlie Hebdo’s provocative cartoons as the proximate cause of the Paris attacks misunderstand the nature of terrorism.

Ben Wittes responded to French President Francois Hollande’s declaration of war against radical Islam by asking if this means France will stop paying ransom for hostages.