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FP’s Situation Report: ‘Charlie Hebdo’ investigation focuses on al Qaeda and the Islamic State; A new threat to France emerges from North Africa; U.S. military social media accounts are breached by alleged Islamic State hackers; and much more.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat The Charlie Hebdo investigation focuses on the attackers’ possible connections to al Qaeda and the Islamic State. French authorities are looking into a video of Amedy Coulibaly, the 32-year-old man who killed four people at a kosher grocery store in Paris Friday, in which he pledges allegiance to the ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

The Charlie Hebdo investigation focuses on the attackers’ possible connections to al Qaeda and the Islamic State. French authorities are looking into a video of Amedy Coulibaly, the 32-year-old man who killed four people at a kosher grocery store in Paris Friday, in which he pledges allegiance to the Islamic State. The Hebdo shooters said they acted on behalf of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Collusion between the two groups would represent a dangerous new front in the war against extremism.

FP’s Elias Groll: “Coulibaly’s professed allegiance toward the Islamic State raises questions about whether the Hebdo shooters, Cherif and Said Kouachi, were being honest when they said that they were sent on their mission by al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.… But al Qaeda and the Islamic State are rivals in the world of Islamist terrorism and have publicly split with one another. As evidence of the deep division between them, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra Front, has at times fought against the Islamic State, though the two have reportedly grown closer since the start of the American air war there. If they cooperated on the Paris attack, it would be the first time the two groups have carried out an operation abroad together.” More here.

A new threat to France emerges from North Africa. As French authorities probe the attackers’ ties to al Qaeda and the Islamic State, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the terror group’s offshoot in North Africa and a long-time adversary of France, issued a statement vowing more violence. The warning comes as Charlie Hebdo published a new issue depicting what appears to be a frowning Prophet Mohammed with a teardrop coming from his eye. The issue might be a victory for France’s free press but it could be provoking new attacks.

CNN’s Holly Yan: “’France pays the cost of its violence on Muslim countries and the violation of their sanctity,’ [al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] said in its statement. ‘As long as its soldiers occupy countries such as Mali and Central Africa and bombard our people in Syria and Iraq, and as long as its lame media continues to undermine our Prophet (Mohammed), France will expose itself to the worst and more.’” More here.

More on France below.

U.S. cyber vulnerabilities are exposed as military social media accounts are breached by hackers claiming to be working for the Islamic State. Around 12:30 p.m. yesterday afternoon, tweets threatening American soldiers began appearing on the official Twitter account of U.S. Central Command. Around the same time, pro-Islamic State videos began to appear on Centcom’s YouTube channel. Military documents containing the private information of U.S. soldiers were posted online. Officials quickly realized the accounts were hacked by trolls claiming allegiance to the Islamic State. While much of the material released by the hackers was publicly available, the breach exposed embarrassingly large holes in U.S. cyber defenses.

FP’s Justine Drennan with more details on the material posted: “The videos featured slow-motion explosions, jihadi slogans, a clip of U.S. President Barack Obama speaking with distorted sound, and images of masked fighters. At the end of one, fiery letters reading ‘Flames of War’ appeared in the style of a movie trailer above the words ‘fighting has just begun,’ followed by ‘Coming soon, God willing’ in Arabic, with an English translation.” More here.

More on the Islamic State below.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of the Situation Report.

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Who’s Where When Today

10:00 a.m. House Foreign Affairs Committee holds a hearing on North Korea. 11:00 a.m. President Obama meets congressional leaders at the White House. 2:00 p.m. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey will dedicate a room in honor of Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Brent Scowcroft at the National Defense University. 3:10 p.m. Obama delivers remarks at the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center in Arlington, Virginia. 7:30 p.m. French Ambassador Gerard Araud speaks to the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C.

Secretary of State John Kerry is in Pakistan.

What’s Moving Markets

The New York Times’ Clifford Krauss on yet another record-setting day for low oil prices: “The day’s plunge began after Goldman Sachs released a bearish oil report Sunday night predicting that the American price benchmark, which dropped to about $46 a barrel on Monday, would fall to $41 in three months and $39 in six months — before recovering to $65 by the end of the year.” More here.

CNBC’s Bob Pisani explains why low oil and gas prices puts pressure on the entire stock market: “Even though the energy sector is only roughly 8 percent of the market capitalization of the S&P 500, the decline in earnings in that sector has been so dramatic that it is affecting earnings estimate for the entire S&P 500.” More here.


FP’s David Francis on the White House’s attempt at damage control: “Barack Obama’s administration has come under withering criticism for failing to send a top U.S. official to Paris for a high-profile solidarity rally held after last week’s bloody terrorist attacks there. On Monday, Jan. 12, the White House admitted it made a mistake and scrambled to send Secretary of State John Kerry to France to help smooth over any bad feelings.” More here.

The Guardian’s Alexandra Topping and Julian Borger on the hunt for accomplices: “Police in France are searching for possible accomplices of the gunmen who carried out last week’s terrorist attacks, as video footage was released of the partner of one of the attackers arriving in Turkey with another man. The video shows Hayat Boumeddiene, now France’s most wanted woman, at immigration at Istanbul airport on 2 January, six days before her partner, Amédy Coulibaly, killed a policewoman in Paris.” More here.

The Wall Street Journal’s Ruth Bender and Nicholas Casey report on growing fears within France’s Jewish community: “Some of the hundreds of people gathered Monday at the kosher grocery store in eastern Paris where four Jews died Friday in a bloody siege were asking if France is still a safe place to live and raise their families.” More here.

Islamic State

FP’s David Kenner on a suicide bombing in Lebanon: “While the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra militant group claimed responsibility for the attack, Lebanese Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk said that initial information suggested that it was the work of the Islamic State. Whatever the case, the attack marked the worst violence in Lebanon since the army clashed with Islamist militants in Tripoli in October and renewed fears that the Syrian conflict was spilling over into the country.” More here.

The Associated Press’s Lynne O’Donnell on Islamic State activity in Afghanistan: “Afghan officials confirmed for the first time Monday that the extremist Islamic State group is active in the south, recruiting fighters, flying black flags and, according to some sources, even battling Taliban militants.” More here.

The New York Times’ Eric Schmitt and Michael S. Schmidt on efforts to stop the flow of fighters to the Middle East: “For more than a decade, Western governments have struggled to stem the flow of their citizens traveling to fight in war zones in Muslim countries, increasing surveillance of those who have expressed an interest in joining extremists, creating computer programs to track suspicious travel patterns and taking other measures.” More here.

Reuters on a new round of air strikes: “The United States and its allies targeted Islamic State forces in 27 air strikes in Iraq and Syria in a 24-hour period, the Combined Joint Task Force said on Monday.” More here.


FP’s Reid Standish on potential unrest on Russia’s doorstep: “Since the first week of January, labor migration into Russia — mostly from Central Asia and the Caucasus — has dropped 70 percent compared to the same period last year, according to data released by Russia’s official Federal Migration Service. That could be a boon for Russia’s vocal, xenophobic, and occasionally violent nationalist movement, which wants many of those immigrants to go home.” More here.  

The Wall Street Journal’s Andrea Thomas on dimming hopes in Berlin: “Hopes for a Ukraine peace summit this week faded after top diplomats from France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine late Monday failed to reach agreement on how to resolve the conflict amid heightened fighting there.” More here.


FP’s Siobhán O’Grady on Afghanistan’s phantom police force: “[T]he latest audit from the American watchdog for Afghan reconstruction found that lack of oversight may have allowed ANP personnel to inflate staff numbers and pocket a large chunk of that budget for themselves.” More here

The New York Times’ Joseph Goldstein reports on the new Afghan parliament after a three-month standoff: “Choosing a cabinet proved surprisingly difficult for President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who holds the loosely defined post of government chief executive.” More here.


The Hill’s David McCabe on the continuation of nuclear talks: “Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with his Iranian counterpart on Wednesday to jump-start the next round of nuclear talks between the two countries.” More here.  

The Los Angeles Times’ Paul Richter and Rahim Mostaghim: “With negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program about to resume, the Obama administration urged Congress on Monday to delay imposing any new economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.” More here.


Bloomberg’s Nicole Gaouette on economic cooperation between the U.S. and India: “Secretary of State John Kerry called for the U.S. and India to expand economic ties rapidly as U.S. officials said they hope to reach agreements by the time President Barack Obama visits later this month.” More here.


The New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon on a commitment from Washington: “The United States plans to provide $250 million in emergency aid to help resettle and sustain civilians displaced by the Pakistani military’s campaign against militant groups.” More here.

North Korea

The New York Times’ Choe Sang-hun on South Korean President Park Geun-hye extending an offer for dialogue with North Korea: “The South Korean president’s appeal followed a New Year’s Day speech by Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, in which he said he was ready to meet Ms. Park — but only if the mood was right.” More here.


Defense One’s Molly O’Toole on efforts to ban torture permanently: “Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is introducing a bill this week to make the ban on torture permanent, saying there is nothing to stop a future U.S. president from authorizing the same controversial techniques her report outlined.” More here.


USA Today’s David Jackson, Gregory Korte, and Elizabeth Weise on Obama’s calls for new legislation: “The president asked Congress to pass a law requiring companies to inform customers within 30 days if their data have been hacked. Obama called for a law that would prohibit companies from selling student data to third parties or otherwise using information about students for profit.” More here.


FP’s Siobhán O’Grady on Nigeria’s denial of the Baga massacre: “On Monday, a spokesman for the Nigerian defense ministry said the death toll from the Baga massacre had been ‘exaggerated’ and said the government’s own count put the tally at 150.” More here.


Reuters’s Matt Spetalnick, David Adams, and Lesley Wroughton on Cuba freeing all 53 political prisoners as agreed with the United States: “The release of the remaining prisoners sets a positive tone for historic talks next week aimed at normalizing relations after decades of hostility, the officials said.” More here.

Revolving Door

Defense One’s Gordon Lubold with an inside look at Ash Carter’s transition team: “Ash Carter, nominated to replace Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, has picked a small team of experienced hands with whom he has worked closely in the past to form a transition team to help him prepare for a confirmation process expected to be contentious but ultimately successful.” More here.

Bloomberg’s Eli Lake and Josh Rogin on the lawmaker who will oversee American spies: “Representative Devin Nunes may not be well known outside of his California congressional district or the Washington beltway, but he is about to become one of the most important figures in the U.S. national security state.” More here.

The Hill’s Megan R. Wilson: “Recently retired Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) will become a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.” More here.  

And finally, the Washington Post’s Michael Cavna on Charlie Hebdo’s first cover since the attack: “Pictured is a Muslim man, a possible caricature of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, shedding a tear and holding a sign that — invoking the global rallying cry — reads: ‘Je suis Charlie’ (beneath the words ‘Tout est pardonne,’ or all is forgiven).” More here.



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