SitRep: An Egyptian Hijacking and New Details About the Islamic State in Europe
More ISIS plots in Europe; a confused hijacking in Egypt; North Korean drones buzz the border; and lots more
New names, unfolding plots. We have a new name for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Islamic State terrorist and mastermind of the attacks in Paris last November which killed 130 people: “Dad.” That’s was Abaaoud’s code name among the ISIS recruits he trained in Syria as the ringleader of a unit tasked with carrying out a series of small attacks in Europe -- specifically France -- in order to confuse and stretch security services there.
New names, unfolding plots. We have a new name for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Islamic State terrorist and mastermind of the attacks in Paris last November which killed 130 people: “Dad.” That’s was Abaaoud’s code name among the ISIS recruits he trained in Syria as the ringleader of a unit tasked with carrying out a series of small attacks in Europe — specifically France — in order to confuse and stretch security services there.
“Officials now say the signs of this focused terrorist machine were readable in Europe as far back as early 2014,” a team of New York Times reporters writes. “Yet local authorities repeatedly discounted each successive plot, describing them as isolated or random acts, the connection to the Islamic State either overlooked or played down.”
Security squabbles. While investigators uncover more and more pieces of the terrorist networks operating throughout Europe, serious issues remain for the continent’s dozens of security agencies. More here: “with 28 European Union countries jostling to have their way, significant progress may be unlikely — particularly since some nations cannot even reach consensus internally about how to handle the terrorism threat.”
Hijacking by any other name…Details continue to confound concerning the hijacked EgyptAir jet that was diverted to Cyprus on Tuesday. Reports of possible suicide belts, ex-wives, and university professors continue to contradict themselves, but one thing is certain: the incident marks the second major security incident for a commercial airliner taking off from an Egyptian airport in recent months. In October, a Russian passenger plane crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 passengers on board. The Islamic State has claimed it smuggled explosives aboard the Russian jet inside a soft drink can, and Egyptian authorities have questioned an EgyptAir mechanic whose cousin joined Islamic State in Syria is suspected of planting the bomb.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades has said Tuesday’s hijacking was “not something that has to do with terrorism” and the man “seems (to be) in love.” The hijacker has apparently given negotiators the name of a woman who lives in Cyprus and asked to give her an envelope, so there’s that.
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An anonymous “senior general officer” in the Israeli Air Force tells Defense News that Vladimir Putin hasn’t really left Syria, he’s just changed his footprint there. While Russia pulled out a number of jets from its air base in Latakia, “now there’s more emphasis on air support by attack helicopters,” according to the source. Israeli intelligence estimates say that the advanced S-400 air defense missiles that Russia deployed to Syria are there to stay for the indefinite future. Echoing recent statements by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the source says Iran has pulled out a large number of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps troops from Syria, replacing them with smaller numbers of troops from Iran.
The interrogation of six members of the Islamic State arrested in Turkey reveals the terrorist group has plans to attack a synagogue, Jewish community center and school, Sky News reports. The threat remains even after the men were arrested in Gaziantep, Turkey as an intelligence source describes the plans as “an active plot.” The threat follows recent bombings by the Islamic State in Turkey, including an attack in Istanbul which killed four Israeli citizens.
Russian state media claims that NATO jets tailed a plane carrying Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and its Su-27 escort as it flew across the Baltic Sea on a trip to Kaliningrad. Shoigu visited the Russian exclave to observe construction work at the Chkalovsk Military Airfield.
Russia has ordered over 10,000 medals to high five its troops for their service in Syria. Defense News spotted a $32,000 contract ordering up 10,300 of the awards on a Russian government website. The award is addressed “To the participant of the military operation in Syria,” and the Russian government has been handing them out since November 2015, primarily to pilots so far. The move follows the issuance of another recent award issued “For the Return of Crimea,” honoring the service of Russian troops in the invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
CIA Director John Brennan visited Moscow in early March, according to Russian media. Brennan reportedly met with members of Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service or FSB, among others. The purpose of the visit was apparently to discuss the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom the U.S. has variously suggested should leave power, and reinforce American hopes for a transition of power in Syria. Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov told Russian media that Brennan’s visit did not influence Russia’s recent decision to withdraw some of its forces from Syria.
The American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been long — Afghanistan having the dubious distinction of being the longest in American history — and aren’t nearly over yet. But for some Americans who have gone to fight, or to help try and build some form of durable political process in those two war-torn countries, the fight may finally be over. The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe delivers a typically smart and sympathetic portrait of one American civilian, Matt Sherman, who left the States in 2003 to work as an advisor to U.S. military officials in both countries, and has just now come home.
Who’s where when
10:00 a.m. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford sits down for a conversation with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Dr. Kathleen Hicks Tuesday morning about today’s global security challenges. Livestream here.
The New York Times reports that Saudi Arabia and the Houthi movement in Yemen conducted a prisoner swap on Monday in what appears to be a confidence-building measure buttressing recent negotiations to end the year-long conflict. The Saudis traded 109 Yemenis in exchange for nine Saudis, saying little about who the prisoners were or where the swap took place. The two sides have been engaged in talks to end the war with a planned ceasefire to take place on April 10 followed by further negotiations to take place in Kuwait beginning on April 18.
North Korea has been stepping up drone operations along the western edge of South Korea’s border with the North. A South Korean military source tells the Korea Herald that the North Koreans are flying seven or eight missions per day by the demilitarized zone, not crossing border but flying close to it. The South Korean military isn’t quite sure what the motivation behind the increased operational tempo is, but worry they could be used as a provocation or to divert attention from North Korean activity elsewhere along the border.
The U.S. Marine Corp is gearing up to accept women in ground combat roles but so far no women appear to have shown much interest. NPR reports that of the 200 women who went through combat training a year ago to gauge the impact on female Marines, none have so far elected to sign up for ground combat jobs. Some believe that the Corps will have more luck convincing civilian women just starting out in the service to try combat roles than those who are already midway through their careers in other military occupational specialties.
A female Marine staff sergeant will try out for the MARSOC assessment and selection course, the grueling trial used to select the Corps’s special operations troops. The unnamed Marine would be the first woman to try out for the course, and is also the first woman to apply for a commando job since the U.S. Special Operations Command announced that women could try out. MARSOC is keeping much about the application under wraps.
The Congressional Research Service has updated its lengthy, continuing series on the People’s Liberation Army, “The Chinese Military: Overview and Issues for Congress.” As ever, the good people at the Federation of American Scientists have snagged a copy and are hosting it on their site.
The State Department would like you to know that the collective leadership of planet earth is having a mild anxiety attack over the Republican primary. The Hill reports that State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters that “virtually every foreign leader” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with “expresses a fair bit of angst” about the U.S. presidential race. Good to know.
With Adam Rawnsley
Photo credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
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