Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena
Monday, December 7, 2015, 4:28 PM

In a rare address from the Oval Office yesterday evening, President Barack Obama discussed the administration’s response to the rising threat of domestic terrorism in the United States following last Wednesday’s shooting in San Bernardino. Referring to the attack as an “act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people,” the President urged Americans not to view the fight against terrorism as a war between America and Islam.

Although some now suggest that terrorism has largely shifted to attacks committed by “homegrown, self-radicalized individuals,” the New York Times writes that the President “called for tougher screening of travelers who come to the United States without visas and asked Congress to ban gun sales to people on the government’s no-fly list, and for limits on assault weapons.” The President also asked “high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice.”

In his address, the President also defended his strategy in the fight against the Islamic State. He reaffirmed that the administration would not send ground forces to wage a “long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria.” Instead, he pointed to the growing coalition forces carrying out airstrikes on ISIS targets, the increased efforts to train and equip local fighters fighting against the group, initiatives to cut off supply lines and impede recruitment, and the international push for a political solution to the Syrian conflict as the necessary elements of the U.S. strategy against the group. The Atlantic has more on the President Obama's strategy against ISIS.

Investigators of the San Bernardino shootings will not be able to access NSA collected data on phone records of the married couple behind the attacks as the data collected under the NSA 215 program is “now off-limits to agents running the FBI terrorism investigation even with a warrant.” The Associated Press reports that “authorities were able to obtain roughly two years' worth of calling records directly from the phone companies of the married couple” under the new USA Freedom Act after the NSA’s collection of bulk metadata under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act came to an end on November 29.

Referring to ISIS as “the most effective recruiter in the world,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for technology companies to engage in efforts to prevent militants from attracting followers, during in her remarks at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum. The New York Times writes that this is the second time that Clinton has “thrown herself into the brewing battle between Silicon Valley and the government over what steps should be taken to block the use of Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and a range of encrypted apps that are adopted by terrorist groups.”

NATO allies have ruled out the possibility of sending ground troops to fight against the Islamic State. NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg has stressed "the need to bolster local forces in the conflict." Members of the alliance, including Germany and the United Kingdom have recently stepped up their efforts in the fight against ISIS, as Germany has pledged military support while the U.K. has begun airstrikes against the group in Syria.

As officials continue to investigate the Paris attacks, Foreign Policy tells us that one of the suspects behind the Paris attacks attempted to recruit accomplices at a Hungarian train station where refugees sought entry to Germany or Austria. Hungarian chief of staff Janos Lazar confirmed that the suspect had been at the Budapest train station and that he had gathered “a team from immigrants who had refused to register with Hungarian authorities … [and then] left the country together with them.” A Belgian prosecutor announced that the suspect "traveled in September by car to Hungary, where he picked up two men now believed to have links to the carnage of Nov. 13,” the Times writes. The discovery of the Hungarian connection has widened the scope of investigation and has augmented concern that jihadis could be among asylum-seeking populations attempting to enter Europe. The ongoing manhunt has expanded to search for “two further people who were using fake Belgian identification documents with the names Samir Bouzid and Soufiane Kayal,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Syrian President Bashar al Assad spoke out against Britain’s decision to strike Islamic State targets in Syria, saying that the British initiative would fail. Assad also rebuked British Prime Minister David Cameron’s assertion that there were 70,000 moderate opposition fighters in Syria who would enable a political solution to the civil war and who retake territory from jihadist forces.

Syria accused U.S.-led coalition strikes of hitting Syrian forces and leaving three soldiers dead on Sunday after four coalition planes allegedly struck army camp in the province of Deir Ezzor. The Syrian foreign ministry called upon the U.N. Security Council to take steps to avoid a repeat of the “flagrant aggression.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the Syrian military’s account, stating that four soldiers had been killed and 13 wounded. If true, this would be the first time that coalition strikes have killed Syrian government forces. A coalition spokesman denied striking any targets in the province.

Reuters reports that U.S.-led coalition-supported groups are fighting among each other in northern Syria, “highlighting the difficulties of mobilizing forces on the ground against Islamic State.”

Saudi Arabia will host a meeting with Syrian opposition groups in efforts to decide which groups should be part of international discussions aimed at finding a political solution to the conflict. Reuters writes that "the Saudi conference marks an attempt to bring together disparate groups whose disunity has long been an obstacle to reaching a peaceful solution to the nearly five-year conflict." Foreign Policy asks if the al Qaeda-linked rebel group Ahrar al-Sham will be allowed to join international discussions. Considered “the most capable of anti-Assad fighting forces not formally designated as terrorist organizations,” the group has “joined forces with the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army, al-Nusra Front, and other anti-Assad elements, and is funded by Turkey and Qatar.” FP suggests that the group has launched a “PR campaign to cast themselves as moderate militants” on the eve of the discussions.

The Wall Street Journal tells us that ISIS forces have laced the area around Ramadi with “sophisticated booby traps” consisting of improvised explosive devices in order to repel Iraqi efforts to retake the city. As Islamic State militants continue to use intricate explosives around their claimed territories, Iraqi forces face a shortage of explosive specialists. Due to the dangerous nature of the work, explosives experts suffer both higher rates casualties and desertions.

The New York Times reports that Turkey "sent more troops, along with armored vehicles and tanks, to northern Iraq” near the city of Mosul in efforts to bolster “a longstanding mission to train Kurdish and Sunni Arab forces in the fight against the Islamic State.” The move sparked “an uproar in Baghdad, where officials called the move a violation of Iraqi sovereignty." Turkish troops coordinated with the autonomous Kurdish government in the region but did not alert the central Iraqi government, prompting Iraq's foreign ministry to call the "Turkish troop movements a hostile act" and to demand the immediate withdrawal of Turkish troops from the country.

For its part, Turkey maintained that the troop influx is calculated to protect its advisors in the region from Islamic State forces. The Turkish Foreign Minister said that the Iraqi prime minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu “had repeatedly requested more active Turkish support against Islamic State, and said he believed other countries had played a role in Iraq's [negative] reaction.” He also stated that Turkish forces were in Iraq to train and equip forces fighting the Islamic State and that Turkish presence in the country was no secret.

Meanwhile, Turkey recently summoned the Russian ambassador over the “provocative” passage of a Russian warship through Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait on Sunday morning. Adding to tensions which have only grown since Turkey shot down a Russian warplane, a Russian soldier on the ship’s deck was seen holding a shoulder-to-air rocket launcher.

A man stabbed and wounded three people in a London subway station. London's Metropolitan Police declared that they were treating the attacks as a terrorist incident as the man reportedly shouted "This is for Syria!"

Secretary of State John Kerry warned of the dangers posed by the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, urging Israel to not allow or support the PA’s collapse. Speaking at the Brookings Institution’s annual Saban Forum in what the Washington Post calls “a strongly worded speech,” Kerry asked “whether Israelis were ‘ready to accept the heightened risk [of] chaos, lawlessness and desperation’ that would result” and added that “continuing settlement growth raises honest questions about Israel’s long-term intentions.”

Responding to the Secretary’s suggestion that “the nation threatens to implode if a two-state solution is not reached with Palestinian,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that “Israel will not be a binational state.” Following Kerry’s remarks, a 21-year-old Palestinian man crashed his car into two people, before stabbing a responding officer. This is the latest incident in a series of violent attacks that have escalated since September.

Egypt forces announced that they have destroyed some 20 tunnels found along the Gaza border. Israel has maintained tight control over its border with the territory since Hamas took over the region in 2007.

The Associated Press writes that “Yemen's warring parties have agreed to hold peace talks in Switzerland next week.” Previous U.N. negotiations have failed. The Yemeni government demands that the Houthi rebels lay down their arms and withdraw from territory, while Houthi rebels call for broader discussions on Yemen’s future. The warring parties are also expected to commit to a humanitarian ceasefire in advance of the planned discussions. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that, as Saudi forces seek to repel Houthi rebels attempting to capture Saudi territory, fighting at the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen left 20 Houthi soldiers dead.

In a blow to government forces, a suicide-bomb blast killed the governor of Yemeni port city Aden. Eight of the governor’s guards were also killed in the bombing. An Islamic State branch claimed responsibility for the attack, which only highlights the instability in the country.

The Associated Press writes that "lawmakers from Libya's rival parliaments have reached a power-sharing agreement in Tunisia, shunning a U.N.-brokered deal in order to avoid the ‘foreign intervention’ tainting it."

The Washington Post examines why the Islamic State is struggling to take root in Pakistan.

As of the end of November, Germany registered a total of 965,000 asylum seekers and migrants, a figure well above the predicted 800,000. Support for refugees and asylum seekers has diminished in other European countries over rising concern that they could pose a security threat.

South Korea is looking to design stealth drones in order to target North Korea’s rocket launchers and other such weapons.

A triple suicide bombing in Chad left 27 dead on Saturday. While no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, Boko Haram has been active in the region and officials have blamed the group.

In the latest news from the 9/11 trials, the Miami Herald tells us that “Guantánamo war court on Friday ended any lingering uncertainty over whether a military judge is willing to put all five alleged 9/11 plotters on trial together,” following Army Col. James L. Pohl's decision to cancel his 2014 decision to grant Rmzi bin al Shibh a separate trial.

Parting Shot: An Australian anti-ISIS vigilante had literally the worst vacation ever after he was arrested by German authorities on charges of terrorism. Before travelling to Germany, Australian citizen Ashley Dyball had fought alongside Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State in Syria. Appealing for support on Facebook, he posted “If anyone has a good german [sic] lawyer help a brother out been charged as a terrorist.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Bobby reflected on President Obama's Sunday address.

Susan analyzed “how federal and state laws treat various perpetrators of ideologically-motivated violence” and asked whether there is a disconnect between popular and legal definitions of terrorism.

Carrie Cordero looked at Friday's developments in the San Bernardino attacks.

Cody linked to a U.K. House of Commons Library briefing paper on the "legal basis for UK military action in Syria."

Cody linked to the recently published report from Lorenzo Vidino and Seamus Hughes of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University entitled ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa.

Cody posted this week’s Lawfare Podcast which features Brookings’ Natan Sachs in a discussion of anti-solutionism as strategy in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Lawrence Rubin asked why Israel outlawed the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement.

Ben applied for Estonian e-residency in order to check out Estonian cyber security.

Paul Rosenzweig considered efforts to kill the Visa Waiver Program from Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and argued that the Senator is not a libertarian but "a nativist and an isolationist."

Greg Nojeim responded to the framework proposed by Jennifer Daskal and Andrew Woods, discussing the U.S. probable cause requirement for cross-border requests for content.

Matthew Dahl asked if agreements on commercial cyber espionage could lay the groundwork for an emerging cybersecurity norm.

Ingrid Wuerth considered the Supreme Court's unanimous decision in in Sachs v. OBB Personenverkehr.

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