Situation Report: Three Blasts Rock Saudi Arabia
Death toll in Baghdad bombing continues to rise; Islamic State shows its reach; and a bit more.
Bombings rock Saudi Arabia: With the holy month of Ramadan drawing to a close and just ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, Saudi Arabia was rocked by a series of attacks Monday. One occurred in Medina, close to the Prophet’s Mosque — one of Islam’s holiest sites — killing at least four people and wounding another. The second took place near the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, where a suicide bomber was killed and two police officers were hurt.
Earlier Monday, at least one, and possibly two, explosions were heard in the eastern Saudi city of Qatif. Still no clear take on casualties there, but local reports indicate body parts were visible, thought to belong to the attacker or attackers.
The Islamic State had a good week: The terror group has yet to claim responsibility for the Saudi strikes. But Riyadh has been in its crosshairs for months.
Whatever the case, the caliphate has claimed credit for a series of other attacks around the world this past week. FP’s David Francis: “On Tuesday, suicide bombers killed at least 44 at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Friday, gunmen stormed a restaurant in the city’s diplomatic zone and killed at least 20 people, most of them foreigners from Italy, Japan, India, and the United States; the Islamic State has claimed credit for the assault.”
“The Islamic State [also] claimed responsibility for the early Sunday morning attack in central Baghdad, where a minivan packed with explosives blew up and killed at least 165 people, according to the BBC. On Monday, CNN reported that number had reached 200.”
Sway far beyond the self-declared caliphate: The Pentagon often claims gains against the terror group inside Syria and Iraq. But the list of global incidents by those connected to, or who claim to be inspired by, the group continues to grow. FP’s Francis: “So far, attacks carried out by fighters claiming affiliation with the terror network have taken place in the United States, across Europe, and in Kuwait, Libya, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Tunisia. In many of these cases, however, it’s not clear if there was any direct coordination with the Islamic State; attackers could simply claim inspiration by it.”
Welcome to your post-July 4th Situation Report. Hope you were able to celebrate the original Brexit with friends and family. Your regular presenter, Paul McLeary, is off on a well-deserved holiday. So I’ll be taking charge this week. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or either me or Adam on Twitter @davidcfrancis and @arawnsley.
South China Sea
China is trying to sweet talk the Philippines into ignoring a forthcoming decision by an international tribunal on South China Sea maritime territorial claims. Reuters reports that China is holding out the promise of negotiations with the Philippines, which could include “joint development and cooperation in scientific research” in areas claimed by both countries. The offer is good only if Manila agrees to set aside the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, set to be handed down on July 12. China has been waging a prebuttal campaign against the court’s as-yet unknown decision. The Philippines brought the case before the panel in 2013.
The North Korean threat has literally grown, according to South Korea’s intelligence service. The spy agency now believes that the famously cherubic Kim Jong Un has put on 90 pounds since his ascension to the leadership of the Stalinist dynasty that rules the country. A South Korean legislator shared the intel shop’s conclusions with the country’s National Assembly, adding that the North Korean leader is believed to be binge eating and drinking. All that excess is reportedly causing Kim health problems like insomnia.
The Pentagon-backed anti-Islamic State fighters from the New Syrian Army (NSA) are off to a rough start. The roughly 1,000-strong force of Syrians organized by the United States tried to take back the town of Boukamel in northeast Syria with the help of U.S. airstrikes. The battle, the NSA’s first so far, failed, forcing members to retreat to their headquarters in Tanf after a six-hour fight that cost them four troops. Previous attempts by the Defense Department to cobble together anti-Islamic State forces have met with failure as recruits have either dropped out or surrendered their weapons to al Qaeda-linked forces in Syria.
The massive suicide bomb that killed more than 200 people in Baghdad last week has put new focus on old, fraudulent bomb detectors and the corruption that has placed them on the frontlines of Iraq’s war with the Islamic State. In the wake of the bombing, the Washington Post reports that Iraqis are now directing their outrage at legions of fake bomb detectors, bought by the Iraqi government at exorbitant prices and used by security personnel to screen for explosives at government buildings and sensitive facilities. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has responded to the outpouring of anger by ordering that the detectors be scrapped. The ADE-651 detectors are descended from fake golf ball finders sold by a con-man convicted for fraud in the U.K. in 2010.
Turkey has made another gesture to try to heal its rift with Russia after the November 2015 downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkish forces. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu now says that Turkey is willing to work with Russia to target the Islamic State and issued a vague hint that it could open Incirlik Air Base, which has played host to U.S. F-16 fighter jets, to Russian military aircraft. The statement follows a written apology sent from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Russian President Vladimir Putin for the downing of a Russian Su-24. At the time, Turkey said the Russian jet violated its airspace along the border with Syria.
David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis