Authorities in Spain and Russia announced that they had made arrests breaking up terrorist cells with ties to jihadist groups. There is no indication that the cells were connected and the arrests in Spain and Russia seem to have been independent of each other. Over the weekend, Spanish law enforcement officers arrested seven people in Alicante, Valencia, and Ceuta who are believed to have been supplying money, guns, computer equipment, and explosives components to militants in Iraq and Syria. Reporting specified that the supplies were being delivered to Islamist militants disguised as humanitarian aid, but did not identify the specific terrorist organization.
Russia’s FSB security service said today that it had arrested seven Islamic State militants in Yekaterinburg. The militants were reportedly planning attacks in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Sverdlovsk. The arrested individuals included Russian nationals, but Russian authorities claimed that the ringleader of the group was a veteran Islamic State fighter who entered the country from Turkey.
Turkey Threatens to Bomb U.S.-Supported Kurds in Syria
Growing tensions with Turkey over support for Kurdish militias in Syria are hindering the fight against the Islamic State and the chances of reaching a negotiated settlement to end the Syrian civil war, U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal. Turkish officials claim that U.S.-supplied weapons being provided to rebels in Syria are being transferred to PKK fighters in Turkey, and have threatened to bomb U.S. partner forces in Syria. The United States says it has not seen evidence of unauthorized arms transfers among Kurdish groups.
- Two British members of the Islamic State’s execution squad, nicknamed “The Beatles” by former captives, have been identified as Alexe Kotey and Aine Davis; Kotey and Davis joined the Islamic State with Mohammed Emwazi, also known as Jihadi John, who was killed in an airstrike in November.
- World leaders are gathered in Dubai for the World Government Summit; in a video statement, President Barack Obama called on governments to be responsive to their citizens, noting that “when governments do not lift up their citizens, it’s a recipe for instability and strife.”
- Saudi jets reportedly intercepted a ballistic missile launched from Yemen as it traveled toward the region of Asir; the jets also destroyed the missile’s launch site.
- The International Committee of the Red Cross has reopened its office in Gaza after closing on Sunday when protests in solidarity with a hunger striking prisoner held by Israel turned violent and protesters tried to force their way into the Red Cross office.
- Aniseh Makhlouf, the influential wife of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and mother of Bashar al-Assad, died on Saturday in Damascus at the age of 86.
Arguments and Analysis
“Why a Syria Safe Zone Still Won’t Work or Protect Civilians” (Micah Zenko, Politics, Power, and Preventive Action)
“This proposal deserves serious analysis and consideration. However, it is based upon a false claim repeated often by those endorsing interventions into the Syrian civil war: ‘It would restrict the operations of the rampaging Syrian air force—the largest killer of civilians in the conflict.’ This is false, according to data compiled by the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), a nongovernmental organization. The VDC determined that through mid-September 2015, there had been 85,404 civilians killed in the civil war: 28,277 by shootings and mass killings, 27,006 by mortar, artillery, and rocket attacks, and 18,866 by ‘Syrian Government Air Attacks.’ As I wrote in 2013, any military intervention that claims to protect civilians from harm must be based upon how civilians are actually being harmed, not based upon the level of military commitment that can be supported by U.S. domestic politics. Actually protecting civilians from shootings and mortar attacks requires a level of cost, commitment, and risk that is presently unacceptable within the United States. Moreover, even if the United States and some coalition of outside powers decided to protect civilians from the Syrian air force, a no-fly zone exclusively over northern Syria would not achieve this.”
“The Battle of Aleppo Is the Center of the Syrian Chessboard” (Fabrice Balanche, Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
“Moscow’s strategy since September has been shaped by three goals. The first is to protect the coastal Alawite area where Russia has installed its logistics bases. The second is to strengthen Assad, pushing the rebels far from the large cities of Homs, Hama, Latakia, Aleppo, and Damascus. The third is to cut the rebels’ foreign supply lines. The first two objectives have largely been met: there have been no attacks on Latakia or Tartus that could interfere with the Russian bases there, and no large city has fallen to the rebels. To the contrary, the rebels evacuated the Homs neighborhood of al-Waar in December because they were desperate, not seeing any help coming. Now that the Azaz road has been cut, the third goal is halfway reached. Russia and its allies seem to have the means to meet their ambitions, with Assad’s manpower weakness offset by complete air superiority and Shiite militia reinforcements. Yet Turkey and Saudi Arabia may not remain passive in the face of major Russian-Iranian progress in Syria. For example, they could set up a new rebel umbrella group similar to Jaish al-Fatah, and/or send antiaircraft missiles to certain brigades. Another option is to open a new front in northern Lebanon, where local Salafist groups and thousands of desperate Syrian refugees could be engaged in the fight. Such a move would directly threaten Assad’s Alawite heartland in Tartus and Homs, as well as the main road to Damascus. Regime forces would be outflanked, and Hezbollah’s lines of communication, reinforcement, and supply between Lebanon and Syria could be cut off. The question is, do Riyadh and Ankara have the means and willingness to conduct such a bold, dangerous action?”
-J. Dana Stuster
YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images