U.S. and Russian Airstrikes Target Islamic State

U.S. airstrikes killed two members of the Islamic State working on plotting foreign attacks, according to the Pentagon. One of the men, Charaffe al Mouadan, who was killed in Syria on Dec. 24, was an associate of the coordinator of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Russia also announced successful strikes against the Islamic State, saying ...

GettyImages-500168084
GettyImages-500168084

U.S. airstrikes killed two members of the Islamic State working on plotting foreign attacks, according to the Pentagon. One of the men, Charaffe al Mouadan, who was killed in Syria on Dec. 24, was an associate of the coordinator of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Russia also announced successful strikes against the Islamic State, saying that they bombed a meeting of senior leaders near Raqqa after receiving a tip from rebel groups.

Russia’s announcement today comes a day after U.S. officials cited a "marked and troubling" increase in reported civilian casualties in Russian airstrikes in Syria. "We've consistently urged all sides of the conflict to take all feasible precautions to reduce the risk of harming civilians and comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law," a State Department spokesperson said, noting that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has raised the issue with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Assad regime forces pushed into the strategic rebel-held town of Sheikh Maskin in Daraa Province today, backed by heavy bombing by Russian warplanes.  "This is the heaviest Russian bombing on the side of the regime in Deraa and without it the army, which faces manpower shortages, would not have made these gains,” a rebel commander told Reuters.

NSA Monitored Correspondence from Netanyahu’s Office

U.S. airstrikes killed two members of the Islamic State working on plotting foreign attacks, according to the Pentagon. One of the men, Charaffe al Mouadan, who was killed in Syria on Dec. 24, was an associate of the coordinator of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Russia also announced successful strikes against the Islamic State, saying that they bombed a meeting of senior leaders near Raqqa after receiving a tip from rebel groups.

Russia’s announcement today comes a day after U.S. officials cited a “marked and troubling” increase in reported civilian casualties in Russian airstrikes in Syria. “We’ve consistently urged all sides of the conflict to take all feasible precautions to reduce the risk of harming civilians and comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law,” a State Department spokesperson said, noting that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has raised the issue with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Assad regime forces pushed into the strategic rebel-held town of Sheikh Maskin in Daraa Province today, backed by heavy bombing by Russian warplanes.  “This is the heaviest Russian bombing on the side of the regime in Deraa and without it the army, which faces manpower shortages, would not have made these gains,” a rebel commander told Reuters.

NSA Monitored Correspondence from Netanyahu’s Office

The National Security Agency has been secretly monitoring correspondence from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. The espionage revealed private correspondence between U.S. members of Congress and non-governmental organizations and Netanyahu’s office. This latest incident in mutual U.S.-Israeli spying primarily centered on the NSA tracking Israeli strategy with regard to the P5+1 negotiations with Iran that resulted in a nuclear agreement in July.

Headlines

  • Russia will ban Turkish companies from many operations in Russia, including “construction, tourism, the hotel business and services for state and municipal needs,” effective January 1; Russia previously imposed economic sanctions against Turkey in response to Turkish F-16s shooting down a Russian Su-24 in November.

 

  • A deployment of 500 Sunni tribal fighters belonging to Iraqi popular militias are maintaining control of portions of Ramadi retaken from the Islamic State, according to Iraqi military officials who endorsed the move and said the fighters had been trained and armed with U.S. and Iraqi support.

 

  • Turkish police arrested two people who are possibly affiliated with the Islamic State and who are believed to have been planning a terrorist attack in Ankara on New Year’s Eve; officials say the individuals had prefabricated bombs on a vest and in a backpack.

 

  • Gunmen forcibly closed the colleges of administrative sciences, law, and engineering at the University of Aden, Yemen, on Tuesday; the armed Islamists said the action was taken to prevent mixed gender classes, according to students forced from their classrooms.

 

  • Bilal Omar Bakri, the son of radical cleric Omar Bakri, who fled Britain after praising al-Qaeda, was killed in Iraq fighting for the Islamic State, according to a Shia militia; another of Bakri’s sons, Mohammad Omar, was killed in Syria earlier this year.

Arguments and Analysis

Can we prevent terrorism by checking immigrants’ social media accounts? No.” (Zachary C. Steinert-Threlkeld and Jesse Driscoll, Monkey Cage)

“The real behaviors that state agents are interested in predicting are actual propaganda-by-deed terrorist acts. But hate speech is commonplace, and political terrorism is exceedingly rare. Every time a keyword is used that does not lead to terrorist actions, it’s part of a vast amount of noise obscuring a miniscule signal. How agents of state security bureaucracies are supposed to sort the insurrectionist wheat from the noisy chaff is not clear. Our experience with fuzzy-string searches suggests that the first cut of answers will involve profiling. Muslim teens on Facebook “liking” the wrong kind of hip-hop are sure to end up on lists. But the problem of ubiquitous false-positives remains. Thousands of angry people use the Internet to proudly declare their support for domestic terrorism every single day. Since everyone understands that most of it is just cheap talk, it is protected speech.”

 

Middle East still rocking from first world war pacts made 100 years ago” (Ian Black, The Guardian)

“In an idle moment between cocktail parties in the Arab capital where they served, a British and French diplomat were chatting recently about their respective countries’ legacies in the Middle East: why not commemorate them with a new rock band? And they could call it Sykes-Picot and the Balfour Declaration. It was just a joke. These first world war agreements cooked up in London and Paris in the dying days of the Ottoman empire paved the way for new Arab nation states, the creation of Israel and the continuing plight of the Palestinians. And if their memory has faded in the west as their centenaries approach, they are still widely blamed for the problems of the region at an unusually violent and troubled time. ‘This is history that the Arab peoples will never forget because they see it as directly relevant to problems they face today,’ argues Oxford University’s Eugene Rogan, author of several influential works on modern Middle Eastern history.”

-J. Dana Stuster

AMER ALMOHIBANY/AFP/Getty Images

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