Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Early Edition: March 28, 2016 by Megan Graham

The Early Edition: March 28, 2016 

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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.
At least 72 people were killed and hundreds injured in an apparent suicide bombing in Lahore, Pakistan on Sunday. The bombing targeted Christians celebrating Easter in a large park in the city. At least 17 children were killed. [Wall Street Journal’s Saeed Shah and Qasim Nauman]
Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the blast. A spokesman for the terror group said the bombing was also meant to show the government “it cannot deter us even in their stronghold, Lahore.” [New York Times’s Salman Massod] Authorities are now searching for fighters associated with Jamaat-e-Ahrar. [The Guardian’s Taha Siddiqui]
Syrian government forces have recaptured Palmyra, driving out Islamic State fighters who had occupied the city for the better part of a year. More of the city’s famous ruins were intact than had been hoped. [New York Times’s Hwaida Saad and Kareem Fahim; Agence France-Presse] Bomb squads are working to remove mines and bombs that were planted by the Islamic State before they fled. [Associated Press’s Albert Aji]
A top Islamic State commander was killed by US commandos in a raid last week, according to US Defense Secretary Ash Carter. The commander, known as Haji Imam, was considered to be the group’s heir apparent. [Washington Post’s Joby Warrick et al.]
An Islamic State suicide bomber killed at least 41 people who had gathered to watch a soccer match in a stadium south of Baghdad on Friday evening. The attack injured an additional 105 people. [Washington Post’s Mustafa Salim and Liz Sly]
The US is expected to increase the number of troops in Iraq fighting the Islamic State during the new few weeks. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and Defense Secretary Ash Carter have recommended the increase to help Iraqi forces as they accelerate their push into Islamic State strongholds. [Wall Street Journal’s Ben Kesling]
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out two strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on March 25. Separately, partner forces conducted 11 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
The death toll from last week’s bombings in Brussels has been updated. Four of the injured have died, bringing the total up to 35. [Associated Press] Two more Americans were confirmed among the dead. [Reuters] One of the Belgians killed was Andre Adam, Belgium’s ambassador to the US during the Clinton administration. [Politico’s Jules Johnston]
Brussels prosecutors have charged three more people with participating in a terrorist group. The charges come after a series of raids following last week’s attacks. [Reuters]
Belgian police used water cannons to disperse a large group of demonstrators on Sunday after they ignored an official call for marches to be postponed. Most of the protesters gathered peacefully to express solidarity with the victims, but according to media reports, police used the water cannon to quell a group of right-wing nationalists who had confronted Muslim women in the crowds and made Nazi salutes. [BBCReuters’s Barbara Lewis]
As Europe investigates Islamic State attacks in Paris and Brussels, it is finding a web of interlocking terror cells across the continent. European authorities are seeking closer US assistance in mapping the extent of the terrorist network. [Wall Street Journal’s David Gauthier-Villars et al.]
A readily available Google search process may have been used to identify a New York dam as a vulnerable system before Iranian hackers allegedly took control of it in 2013. The process, known as “Google dorking,” is neither illegal nor always malicious, but can be used to identify insecure systems. [Wall Street Journal’s Christopher M. Matthews]
Facebook is taking heat again over its “Safety Check” process in the wake of this weekend’s suicide bombing in Lahore, Pakistan. Many users who live thousands of miles from Lahore were asked to confirm their safety. Facebook apologized, saying, “This kind of bug is counter to the product’s intent.” [Reuters’s David Henry]
Suspected US drone strikes in Yemen killed at least 14 men with alleged ties to al-Qaeda this weekend. The air raids took place in Abyan province, with one killing six and the other killing eight, according to local sources. [Reuters]
Tens of thousands gathered in Sanaa to protest on the first anniversary of the US-backed, Saudi-led coalition’s entrance into the country’s civil war. The war has killed thousands and some argue it has strengthened the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in Yemen. [Washington Post’s Ali al-Mujahed and Sudarsan Raghavan]
What does Yemen look like after a year of fighting and airstrikes? Siobhan O’Grady has compiled a series of photos that show what the country looked like at the start of the war and what it looks like now. [Foreign Policy]
The Saudi-led coalition completed a prisoner swap in Yemen, exchanging nine Saudi prisoners for 109 Yemeni nationals. The exchange comes ahead of a planned truce and peace talks aimed at ending the year-long war with Houthi rebels. [Reuters]
North Korea released a propaganda video depicting a nuclear strike on Washington, DC on Saturday. The video also warned “American imperialists” not to provoke the country. [New York Times’s Choe Sang-Hun]
Dozens of Guantánamo detainees are still waiting their first review to see whether they qualify for transfer or release. Carol Rosenberg takes a look at the Periodic Review Board process, its delays, and its future. [Miami Herald]
Japan has switched on a radar station in the East China Sea, establishing a permanent intelligence gathering post close to Taiwan and a group of islands disputed by Japan and China. The new station is at the western extreme of a string of Japanese islands in the East China Sea, about 90 miles south of the disputed islands known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. [Reuters]
A suspected attempted suicide bomber in Cameroon may be one of the schoolgirls abducted from the Chibok community by Boko Haram nearly two years ago. Two girls were arrested in northern Cameroon carrying explosives, and one claimed she was one of the missing Chibok girls. [Reuters]
“Only through the short view of modern history does this type of war look new.” Luke Glowacki discusses the historical roots of violent conflict and posits that this background may explain the rise and tactics of the Islamic State. [Washington Post]
There is no consensus on why someone becomes a terrorist, despite millions of dollars of government-sponsored research on the topic, writes Matt Apuzzo. Some experts have raised concerns that the research on predicting terrorism is now “demand driven” and fails to consider the harms it might cause. [New York Times]
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The Early Edition: March 29, 2016 

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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.
A number of arrests have been made and weapons seized during raids in the aftermath of Sunday’s bomb attack in Lahore, Pakistan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif calling for better coordination between security agencies in dealing with terrorists. [BBC]
Pakistan is to give paramilitary Rangers the power to conduct raids and interrogate suspects in Punjab province following Sunday’s attack. These “special powers” have been exercised in Karachi for the past few years, leading to accusations of human rights abuses, and their introduction in Punjab is likely to be controversial, report Mehreen Zahra-Malik and Mubasher Bukhari. [Reuters]
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, the terrorist group claiming responsibility for the bombing, has been responsible for a string of attacks since it split off from the Pakistan Taliban two years ago. Sunday’s attack was its “boldest bid” to “establish itself as the most aggressive and violent” terrorist group in Pakistan, reports Jason Burke. [The Guardian]
This latest bombing is just one of numerous attacks by terrorist groups in Pakistan. Patrick Boehler and K K Rebecca Lai provide a timeline of terrorist attacks since December 2014, which have collectively resulted in the deaths of over 500 people. [New York Times]
Over 10,000 Islamic extremists entered Islamabad, Pakistan, on Sunday, in ongoing protest against the hanging of a man who murdered a secular governor, Salman Taseer, in 2011. Demanding the strict enforcement of Sharia law, they moved through the capital destroying buildings and bringing parts of the city to a standstill. [AP]
European intelligence sharing. There are growing calls for European nations to dramatically expand intelligence sharing in the region, amid reports that ISIS fighters have used a number of countries as hideouts while plotting terror attacks. [Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum] 
A man arrested on suspicion of being the “third bomber” in the attack on Brussels Airport has been released; Fayçal Cheffou was freed after Belgian authorities admitted that the evidence against him was not as strong as initially thought. [Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Higgins and Kimiko De Freytas-Tamura; BBC]  There was no forensic evidence to link Fayçal Cheffou to the scene of the bombing at the airport, his lawyer said yesterday. [Reuters]  And authorities have since released new surveillance footage calling for help in identifying “the man in white” at Brussels Airport, following Cheffou’s release. [Washington Post’s Steven Mufson]
An Algerian citizen has been arrested by Italian authorities on suspicion of connections to the Paris and Brussels attacks; Belgium had issued a European arrest warrant for the man on Jan. 6. [Wall Street Journal’s Giovanni Legorano]
Text messages were sent to young men in the Molenbeek district of Brussels over the weekend urging them to “make the right choice” and “fight the westerners;” the messages were sent from a prepaid account which could not be traced. [The Guardian’s Arthur Nelsen]
ISIS sent operatives to target Europe long before the Paris or Brussels attacks, reports Rukmini Callimachi, citing officials who say this strategy is apparent in the group’s actions since 2014. [New York Times]
President Obama met with a team of national security advisers yesterday to discuss American efforts to combat ISIS in the wake of last week’s terror attacks in Brussels. [Reuters]
Apple v. FBI. The Department of Justice says it has unlocked the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters without the help of Apple. The breakthrough means the case against the tech giant can be withdrawn, ending the “increasingly contentious” legal battle over encryption. [New York Times’ Katie Benner and Eric Lichtblau]
No information has been provided about the method used to access the data contained in the phone, nor has it been said whether any evidence was found on it. A US official said the method was devised by a private entity. [Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett and Daisuke Wakabayashi]
Iran has denied any involvement in cyberattacks on the US after seven Iranian hackers with links to Tehran were charged with hacking American banks and a New York dam. [AP]
Russia’s demonstration of its military capacity in Syria has heightened interest from arms buyers, and could lead to new sales up to several billion dollars, according to analysts and media. [The Guardian’s Alec Luhn]
A suicide attacker targeted Tayaran Square, Baghdad this morning killing at least three people and wounding 27, according to police. No organization has claimed responsibility. [Reuters]
China has appointed its first special envoy for the crisis in Syria, as the country tries to gain a more important role in the Middle East. [Reuters]
“The strategy behind the Islamic State’s destruction of ancient sites,” from Sarah Almukhtar, in the wake of Syrian government forces’ victory over ISIS in Palmyra. [New York Times]
The victory in Palmyra is telling of Moscow’s broader strategy against ISIS in Syria, reports Aymenn al-Tamini, noting that Russia diverted firepower from targeting rebels to hit the Islamic State in the city. [The Daily Beast]
Iraq’s Shi’ite militia leaders see opportunities as the country becomes ever more fed-up with the political paralysis in Baghdad. Erika Solomon has the story at the Financial Times.
US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out four strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on March 27. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 10 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
The CIA photographed detainees naked before rendering them to foreign partner countries to be tortured, Spencer Ackerman reports. The practice, which human rights observers are calling “sexual humiliation” and a “potential war crime,” was done in order to document the detainees’ physical condition before transfer to “insulate the CIA from legal or political ramifications stemming from their brutal treatment” at the hands of partner intelligence agencies, according to “knowledgeable sources.” [The Guardian]
The new US-India Defense Technology and Partnership Act “provides a practical roadmap for both sides” in defense cooperation, a necessary response to China’s increasing military assertiveness, and “provides a clear signal” that the US’ history of sanctioning India will not repeat itself, reports Benjamin Schwartz. [Wall Street Journal]
“We do not need the empire to give us anything.” Following President Obama’s trip to Cuba last week, Fidel Castro, former president and brother of Raúl Castro, has published a long letter recounting the history of US aggression against Cuba, and accusing Obama of failing to recognize the accomplishments of Cuba’s Communist revolution. [New York Times’ Azam Ahmed]
An “imminent” attack on Jewish school children in Turkey is being planned by Islamic State,according to information obtained by intelligence officials, reveals Sam Kiley. [Sky News]
Cameroonian authorities are doubtful that an attempted suicide bomber arrested on Friday is one of the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls captured by Boko Haram in 2014. The main reason for doubting her story, officials have said, is inconsistencies over her age. [Reuters]
Two further suspected cases of sexual abuse committed by UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic are being investigated, a spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hasannounced. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]
Murder or heroism? A widely-circulated video of an Israeli soldier shooting and killing a Palestinian man while he lay injured in Hebron has sparked fierce debate in Israel that has divided political and military leaders. [Washington Post’s Ruth Eglash]
A UN commission has decided that Argentina’s waters include the disputed Falkland Islands, the subject of a long-running dispute with Britain, including the Falklands war in 1982 following Argentina’s military seizure of the islands. [AP]
Indonesian sailors have been kidnapped by pirates in waters off the Philippines, Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed today. The militant Islamist group responsible for the kidnapping, Abu Sayyaf, has reportedly called the Indonesian company that owns the tugboat the sailors were crewing to demand a ransom. [New York Times’ Joe Cochrane]
The hijacking and diversion to Cyprus of an EgyptAir flight this morning was not carried out in the name of terrorism as was first thought, it has emerged. Rather, the hijacker, who told pilots he was wearing a suicide belt, wished to talk to his estranged Cypriot wife, who has now been brought to Lanarca airport where the plane has landed to assist with negotiations. [BBC]  Most of the plane’s passengers have been freed, according to EgyptAir. [BBC]  Live updates are available from the Guardian.
The FBI is arranging interviews with some of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s closest aidesin relation to her use of a private email server while in office, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times. [The Hill’s Mark Hensch] The number of FBI agents involved in the investigation is disputed. The report claims 147 agents are involved, reports Jesse Byrnes for The Hill, whereas an official source has informed Politico’s Josh Gerstein that this number is “greatly exaggerated.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said he regrets his use of the word “occupation” to describe Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara, according to his spokesperson. The comment led Morocco to order the UN to withdraw dozens of civilian staffers from the country. [Al Jazeera]
Japan has passed laws permitting Japanese troops to fight on foreign soil for the first time since the Second World War. The controversial new laws represent a reinterpretation of the country’s pacifist constitution, the aim being to allow Japan to exercise collective self-defense in overseas conflicts. China has accused Japan of threatening peace in the region, reports Justin McCurry. [The Guardian]
North Korea fired a short-range missile over the sea yesterday, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency has advised, the latest in a string of launches over the past few weeks. [Reuters]
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The Early Edition: March 30, 2016 

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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.
Apple v. FBI. After learning that the US government has succeeded in breaking into the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters without Apple’s assistance, the tech giant is now faced with the challenge of discovering how this was achieved, and of remedying the vulnerability. Katie Benner et al report. [New York Times]
The abrupt end to the legal dispute between the Justice Department and Apple could intensify the overall debate on data privacy, report Daisuke Wakabayashi and Devlin Barrett, commenting on the undefined threat now facing iPhone security, which risks providing criminals with the same access if Apple is not informed of the method used by the authorities to get into the phone. [Wall Street Journal]
Israeli firm Cellbrite assisted the FBI to hack the iPhone, reports NBC News, citing an official source.
“Whichever way you look, this feud is far from a road to freedom in the digital environment.” Julia Powles and Enrique Chaparro explicate some of the “uncomfortable truths” arising from the Apple v. FBI debate, noting that “technology fragility and corporate power remain unaddressed.” [The Guardian]
A legal dispute between Apple and the Justice Department is ongoing in Brooklyn; the government will disclose over the next two weeks whether it wishes to pursue its attempt to compel the tech company to assist in accessing an iPhone in a Brooklyn drug case. [Reuters’ Dan Levine]
President Obama has expanded on an earlier statement regarding the growing number of cyberattacks on the US, which pose an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States.” The notice extends the national emergency declared on April 1, 2015 beyond April 1, 2016. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]
The head of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has resigned. David Medine’s decision to step down from the independent body tasked with evaluating the risk posed to Americans’ constitutional rights by federal counterterrorism programs was unexpected. [The Intercept’s Jenna McLaughlin]  Medine’s term was due to end in 2018. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]
France’s President Hollande has discarded plans to change the French constitution to allow those convicted of terrorism to be stripped of their French nationality. The proposal to do so was made following the November Paris attacks, and met with fierce opposition. [BBC]
A second assailant is suspected of taking part in the attack on the Brussels metro last week, Belgian and American officials saying that the search for a second attacker continues. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes and Valentina Pop]
The FBI informed Dutch authorities that the el-Bakraoui brothers were wanted by Belgian authoritiesless than a week before the two blew themselves up in the Brussels attacks, the Dutch interior minister has said. One of the brothers, Ibrahim, was deported from Turkey to the Netherlands in July 2015; it is unclear why he was not deported to Belgium. [The Guardian’s Jennifer Rankin]
The Brussels attackers searched for information about the home and office of Belgium’s prime minister, according to reports, details having been found on a computer left in a trash bin following the attacks. [BBC]
Have “blunders hampered” the investigation into the Brussels attacks? The BBC explores the errors admitted by Belgian authorities “before, during and since” the attacks.
A joint military and police operation has so far resulted in the arrests of over 200 suspected militantsin Punjab province, Pakistan, following the bomb attack in Lahore on Sunday. [Washington Post’s Annie Gowen and Shaiq Hussain]
“Let Nawaz Sharif know that this war has now reached the doorstep of his home.” Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, the militant group claiming responsibility for the massacre in Lahore this week, have issued a threat to Pakistan’s prime minister via Twitter.  The group also released a picture of the man they say carried out the attack, identifying him as Salahuddin Khurasani. [Wall Street Journal’s Saeed Shah]
President Obama is facing pressure to push harder for an agreement to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by Syrian opposition leaders who fear that, if a political transition isn’t reached soon, the US will become distracted by its presidential elections. There is also the fear that Assad’s recent victory in taking back the emblematic city of Palmyra will strengthen his position and undermine the Obama administration’s arguments against him. [Politico’s Nahal Toosi]
President Assad also asserted that his renewed success against Islamic State will “hinder a settlement” because those states who wish to see him removed from power are “betting on our defeat on the battlefield in order to enforce their terms.” He was speaking to Russia’s RIA news agency, in an interview published yesterday. [Reuters’ Vladimir Soldatkin and Dominic Evans]
Islamic State has left dozens of landmines around the ancient ruins of Palmyra as booby-traps for Syrian forces as they move into the city following its recapture last weekend, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported yesterday. Russia is sending 100 mine clearance engineers and bomb-sniffing dogs to help to clear the city. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone and Hwaida Saad]
Russia has shipped more to Syria than it has brought back in the two weeks since President Putin announced he would partially withdraw from Syria, reports Maria Tsvetkova, observing the recent movements of Russian ships while acknowledging that this provides only a “partial snapshot.” [Reuters]
US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out four strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq on March 29. [Central Command]
Hamas are digging tunnels 19 months after the last war between Israel and Gaza, a fact confirmed by both the Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, and Israel’s military, a senior official stating that Hamas’ digging has been seen from observation posts and that they “aren’t trying to hide it,” report Harriet Sherwood and Hazem Balousha. The official confirmed that they are not aware of any tunnels having crossed the border so far. [The Guardian]
“Gross violations of human rights.” US lawmakers have urged Secretary of State John Kerry to investigate reports of extrajudicial killings by Israeli and Egyptian security forces in a letter dated February 17. Among the senators is Patrick Leahy, whose name is on a law that conditions US military aid on whether a country’s security forces are committing abuses. [Politico’s Nahal Toosi]
A military court in Israel has extended the detention of an Israeli soldier caught on camera shooting a Palestinian man as he lay injured in occupied West Bank for a further two days while investigations continue. The presiding judge held that the evidence gathered so far is inconclusive, though there is “reasonable suspicion” that an illegal shooting took place. The identity of the soldier is subject to a gagging order. [Haaretz’ Gili Cohen]
“I can tell my people with confidence that we are working hard to restore peace.” Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, president of Yemen, sets out his plans for rebuilding the country now that a ceasefire is anticipated to begin on April 10 in the lead-up to peace talks. [New York Times]
A Canadian law professor has filed a lawsuit seeking to halt a $15 billion sale of light-armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia, reports Murtaza Hussain, citing it as “part of a growing international movement to stop arms sales to the Saudi government over its alleged war crimes in Yemen.” [The Intercept]
The Pentagon has made plans to station NATO troops, tanks and armored vehicles full-time along NATO’s eastern borders in an effort to deter Russian aggression. The plan is an escalation of last year’s proposal, and would be the first deployment of this kind since the Cold War ended. [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold and Julian E Barnes]
Hundreds of US citizens have been ordered to leave Turkey amid increasing security concerns, the Pentagon said on Tuesday. Family members of military and diplomatic personnel are expected to leave the country over the coming days. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum]
The European Court of Human Rights is due to rule today on the case of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was fatally shot by British police on July 22, 2005 when he was mistaken for a suicide bomber in the aftermath of the 7/7 London bombings and the subsequent attempted attacks of July 21. [The Guardian’s Alan Travis]
The US and its allies called for a UN Security Council meeting to respond to Iran’s ballistic missile tests, a report obtained by the Associated Press has disclosed. Action is unlikely as Russia is likely to exercise its veto power. [AP]
“Those who say the future is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors,” according to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has spoken in support of the Revolutionary Guards, who are responsible for Iran’s recent missile tests. [Reuters]
There is a “risk of overuse” of US foreign sanctions which may lead to a weakening of both sanctions and the US economy, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned last week. David Ignatius recounts the strengths and weaknesses of these “cheaper and more effective” alternatives to military intervention. [Washington Post]
Stockpiles of nuclear bomb-grade fuel around the world remain vulnerable to theft by terroristsdespite progress made by President Obama over the past six years. World leaders are due to meet at the Nuclear Security Summit this week. [New York Times’ David E Sanger and William J Broad]
The office of the president of the UN General Assembly has been found to be lacking in “transparency and accountability,” strapped for cash and a risk to the UN’s reputation, in a report released by a UN task force yesterday. The report, which is not legally binding, also made a number of recommendations including the introduction of a code of conduct. The investigation was ordered following the arrest of former president John Ashe on allegations of accepting bribes from a Chinese billionaire. [Wall Street Journal’s Farnaz Fassihi]
Judicial Watch is entitled to further details of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, a federal judge has ruled. The judge held that the conservative group, one of several pursuing litigation involving Clinton’s use of email while in office, may pursue legal discovery in its claims that the State Department did not respond properly to a FOIA request filed in 2014 for records relating to the attacks on US facilities in Benghazi in 2012. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]  In his order, Judge Royce Lamberth stated that there was “evidence of government wrong-doing and bad faith” and described Clinton’s email arrangement as “extraordinary.” [Reuters]
Donald Trump’s foreign policy. “Donald Trump might use nuclear weapons to go after Islamic State terrorists. Or maybe not.” The New York Times editorial board argues that Trump’s assertion that he wouldn’t rule out the use of nuclear weapons to combat Islamic State last week, even though he subsequently took a more measured stance, “could make it easier for other nuclear-armed states to think about that possibility.”
Trump has also recently referred to NATO as “obsolete,” prompting the Wall Street Journal editorial board to defend the organization’s contributions in Aghanistan and elsewhere.  The Pentagon has also felt compelled to release a statement defending the transatlantic alliance. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]
Gunfire and explosions were heard over Tripoli, Libya, this morning according to reporters in the area. The cause of the firing is not yet clear. [Reuters]
A Mississippi woman has pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State, it was announced yesterday. She and her fiancé were arrested at an airport in Mississippi while attempting to fly to join the militant group in Syria. [CNN’s Joshua Berlinger and Catherine E Shoichet]
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Who lives, dies in attacks can give clues about terror cells

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The bomb maker, the transporter, the landlord and the cipher. The four men slipped away after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, and all but one helped in Brussels.

The Latest: Russia says it will help demine Syria's Palmyra

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has told the head of UNESCO that Russia will make strong efforts to help remove mines from Palmyra.

4 Ways to Start an Intelligence Career 

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While intelligence careers remain pretty exclusive, there are a growing number of ways to enter the field. An expert provides his tips.
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Page 2

US Capitol On Lockdown After Multiple Shots Fired

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By Glynn Cosker
Managing Editor, In Homeland Security
3.00 p.m. EST
U.S. Capitol Police are informing all staff in the Capitol complex to seek shelter and stay in place after reports of shots fired within the Capitol Visitors Center. The White House was also placed into lockdown after a separate incident when a person attempted to jump the fence around the executive mansion.

US to beef up military presence in Eastern Europe

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Military: U.S. officials say the Pentagon will be deploying an armored brigade combat team to Eastern Europe next February.

US Diplomacy Feeds Putin’s Sense of Self-Righteousness

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President Vladimir Putin may have every reason to be satisfied with the visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to Moscow last Thursday (March 24). Their meeting lasted no less than four hours, and prior to it, Kerry had a long and remarkably cheerful face-to-face conversation with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. According to observant journalists, the Kerry-Lavrov meeting produced a cozy atmosphere for the later talks in the Kremlin (Kommersant, March 24). Lavrov was positively jubilant about the fiasco of Western efforts to keep Russia in international isolation (Moskovsky Komsomolets, March 25). Indeed, just hours before Kerry’s arrival, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier held talks with Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev; and on Friday, March 25, it was the turn of Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni to come to Moscow (Kommersant, March 25). The question remains, however, whether this friendly engagement and proto-cooperation encourages Putin to stay on his best behavior—or whether the Russian leader simply concludes that the West will come begging for his help and self-restraint no matter what?
Syria took up a major part of the agenda in last week’s discussions. And Putin had every reason to believe that his “surprise” partial withdrawal of Russian forces from the country (see EDM, March 15,1722) buoyed the effect of the initial surprise intervention, so that his Western counterparts were at loss about what Russia might do next. The problem is that Putin himself said little about next steps—though clearly, he wishes to remain a key player in the Syria talks, while being less exposed to risk. However, Russia’s remaining forces in Syria are now more vulnerable, and news about casualties exacerbates the souring public mood (, March 25). Putin has had to demonstrate that Russia remains a major force in the international struggle against the Islamic State: the offensive by Bashar al-Assad’s forces toward the symbolically important city of Palmyra is supposed to deliver the proof positive (, March 26). The problem is that the preservation of the al-Assad regime is a non-starter at the peace talks in Geneva, and the Western diplomatic visitors to the Kremlin had no appetite for it either (, March 25).
The context of the talks in Moscow was seriously altered by the Islamic State’s terrorist attacks in Brussels (March 22), seemingly strengthening Putin’s hand in his talks with Western officials (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 25). Kerry conceded, making a rather ambiguous point that “it is fair to say that we reached a better understanding of the decisions that President Putin has made of late,” which caught the attention of the Russian media (Kommersant, March 25). The curtailing of the bombing campaign against the moderate Syrian opposition was perhaps indeed a smart tactical decision given the desolation of Aleppo, but Russia’s ability to contribute to the international struggle against terrorism is far from clear (, March 25). Russian politicians are eager to blame the West’s culture of tolerance for the escalation of terrorist attacks in Europe, but in Russia itself the threat of terrorism remains acute without any such culture; and Putin’s helplessness in controlling the violent behavior of Chechnya’s despotic master Ramzan Kadyrov reveals the dark side of the “pacification” of the North Caucasus (Moscow Echo, March 25).
Another major issue on the agenda, which Kerry declared was discussed “constructively” without offering evidence of anything concrete having been achieved, was the Ukraine crisis (Novaya Gazeta, March 26). A serious sticking point was the fate of Nadezhda Savchenko, a defiant Ukrainian soldier and politician, who was sentenced by a Russian court to 22 years in prison, without a shred of evidence demonstrating her alleged crime (, March 23;, March 23). Putin would probably have been glad to bargain with the United States on the price for releasing this hostage, but he is likely worried about the impression of yielding to external pressure (, March 25). Kerry was unable to secure any promise from the Kremlin in this regard, nor could he advance beyond the usual reiteration of the importance of the Minsk ceasefire agreements. The latter are assessed by all parties to the conflict as non-implementable and are routinely violated by the spasms of heavy fighting in war-ravaged Donbas (, March 25). Russia shows no willingness to compromise on its control over the occupied territories in eastern Ukraine, despite the “black hole” in its budget, which, according to one astute commentator, was no problem when the oil price was $100 per barrel, but has now become a “luxury we [Russia] can ill afford” (Moscow Echo, March 25).
The Russian economy continues on a trajectory of slow decline, but it is accompanied by a sharp contraction of real incomes, particularly painful for the lower-middle classes (Vedomosti, March 23). This accumulation of discontent makes every revelation of rampant corruption in the bureaucratic elite a politically sensitive matter. Thus, the publication by Transparency International of an article revealing a luxury apartment in Moscow owned by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin inspired a massive hacker attack against the anti-corruption organization’s website (, March 25). Putin prefers to distance himself from these disagreeable problems, and he focused on the broad geopolitical picture at a recent meeting with business leaders. But he upset them by blatantly dismissing the importance of the economy (Moscow Echo, March 25). He knows that only support for his foreign policy keeps his approval ratings close to 70 percent, compared with about 85 percent a year ago (, March 21).
Putin’s smug bearing at his meeting with Kerry is certain to add a few extra points to this approval because the Russian president can honestly confirm that he has not had to compromise his assertive stance one bit to revive Moscow’s dialogue with Washington (Ezhednevny Zhurnal, March 25). He plays on the US’s unwillingness to become entangled in the Middle Eastern mess and on President Barack Obama’s irritation about “free riders” in Europe—and sees no change in this attitude. Putin also plays on the divisions in Europe caused by fiscal austerity and the refugee problem—and expects these divisions to only grow deeper. He is a faithful believer in the weakness of the “decadent West”; and every attempt at engaging him in a constructive conversation feeds his feeling that the end of the Western world is nigh. This self-delusion is in fact quite dangerous because it diminishes his fear of repercussions to his actions, so Putin’s next proactive move might be even more reckless.
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· · · ·

Russia’s Asymmetric Military Power in Recapturing Palmyra

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On March 27, following months of preparation and Russian-led coalition military action, Damascus finally announced the recapture of Palmyra by government forces. President Vladimir Putin congratulated his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad as Russian media noted a sea change in Western media coverage of the conflict. Of course, the strategic and symbolic significance of the regime’s most impressive success to date against the Islamic State (IS) was made possible by the close-air-support (CAS) operations and airstrikes of the Russian military, as well as Russian-supplied weapons, hardware and training to the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). How Moscow has engineered this advance, trained and equipped the SAA units, and provided continued airpower input into the assault on Palmyra is instructive in terms of Russia’s experimental use of asymmetric military power to further its strategic and operational aims (Vesti, March 28; Interfax, TASS, March 27).
Russian military specialists noted that the terms of the “cessation of hostilities” in Syria allowed the Aerospace Forces (Vozdushno Kosmicheskikh Sil—VKS) to pursue sorties against the IS and other groups. The withdrawal of fixed-wing assets from the airbase at Latakia was never calculated to mark Russian forces abandoning Syria per se (see EDM, March 17); the base levels seemed geared to return to around levels witnessed in October 2015. The Moscow-based military expert Aleksei Ramm suggested that the target figure for VKS aircraft at Latakia might be a reduction to 30–35, with continued triple-layer air defense, including the high-profile advanced S-400 system. Ramm also highlighted the role of attack helicopters in flying missions from Latakia against targets; since early 2016, the General Staff had pondered deploying new Ka-52 and Mi-28N attack helicopters to strengthen the squadron already operating there. The more recent decision to deploy these assets and test them in combat was driven by the need for all-weather and 24-hour capability provided by these helicopters (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, March 23).
Putin, in the aftermath of implementing the cessation of hostilities with the support of the United States and following his well-publicized “withdrawal” from Latakia, said that the conditions had been created by the VKS to rid Palmyra—a “pearl of world civilization”—from the Islamic State. The Russian president told military personnel returning from Syria: “I am sure that soon we will see major new successes in the fight against terrorism, [by] the patriotic forces.” Consistent with this message, the top brass soon echoed the presidential assessment of the imminent fall of Palmyra. Lieutenant-General Sergei Rudskoy, the chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff, confirmed that 20–25 daily VKS sorties were aiding this mission. Dmitry Peskov, the presidential press secretary, asserted that the SAA was capable of “independently” continuing ground offensives (Vzglyad, March 20).
On March 18 the Russian Ministry of Defense admitted that operations were in progress in support of the SAA. With warnings from Moscow that the bulk of the fixed-wing assets being withdrawn from Syria could return within a few hours, it appeared that contingency plans were in place should the operation in Palmyra fail (, March 19; Vzglyad, March 18). Indeed, the SAA advance received not only air support from the Syrian Air Force and the VKS, but also assistance from friendly militias and foreign special forces. This included Syrian “National Self-Defense Forces” and “Desert Falcons”; foreign forces were provided by Hezbollah as well as Iraqi Shiite militias and Iranian special forces (, March 21).
Russia’s defense ministry expressed satisfaction with the overall results of the VKS air campaign, maintaining that the ongoing operation to support the SAA was consistent with the provisional ceasefire deal (BMF, March 18). Yet, as the fall of Palmyra neared, the VKS also increased to 40 per day its sorties and CAS for the SAA and friendly coalition militias. Syrian media reported that the large-scale advance had involved air cover by the VKS and “massed artillery strikes,” with attacks to the west and southeast of Palmyra. By March 26, as the operation intensified, Syrian special forces “Tigers” and allied units advanced in the northwest countryside of Palmyra, preparing to enter the IS stronghold (Rusvesna, March 19).
Lieutenant-General (retired) Yury Netkachev, the former commander of Russia’s 14th Army, highlighted a number of aspects of the Russian participation in recapturing Palmyra. In his view, this was about more than the Russian use of airpower, it also reflected military assets transferred to the regime successfully using Smerch multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) and attacking targets with the heavy flamethrower system TOS-1A, using thermobaric munitions—particularly effective against heavily fortified defenses. Netkachev added that Russian systems and hardware, including T-90 tanks and MRLSs had helped the SAA, but the fundamental issue was the involvement of Russian military advisers to train Syrian forces in their use (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, March 25).
In terms of the use of VKS airpower, after the March 14 “withdrawal,” the combat exploitation of the Ka-52 and Mi28N certainly helped. These assets added to the capability to strike in desert conditions, with reported gaps in the SAA and coalition advances offset by afternoon attacks from VKS helicopters and strike aircraft, as well as night-time air operations. However, Netkachev noted that night sorties against enemy infrastructure had been exploited by Russian forces in Chechnya, raising questions as to what precisely was “new” in these Russian operations above Syria (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, March 25). In recent months, a number of MSTA-B howitzers were also delivered to strengthen Syrian artillery strike options. This fits a broader picture of Russian military advisors aiding Syrian counterparts on the ground in order to effectively train these personnel in using the systems.
In addition to conducting a successful “train-and-equip” program to bolster the combat capabilities of the SAA, the Russian military used the operations in Syria to test a broad range of advanced systems and assets. It tested unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), communications and intelligence resources, and a cluster of fixed-wing and helicopter platforms, in addition to electronic warfare (EW) systems. The former commander of the Ground Forces, Army-General (retired) Vladimir Boldyrev, explained that the Russian Armed Forces received “invaluable experience in the transportation of troops, creation of groups abroad, joint actions of different arms and services,” while “pilots had to learn a completely new theater of war” (Kommersant, March 21). But it was the relatively small, low-risk use of conventional military power to facilitate local forces that marks a successful adoption of asymmetry as a tool of Russian state power.
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· · · ·

Implications of Azerbaijan Moving Closer to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

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On March 14, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadiarov signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) granting it the status of a dialogue partner in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The SCO’s Secretary General Rashid Alimov told journalists, “Azerbaijan’s SCO dialogue partner status will allow it, by participating in the SCO’s structures, to quickly join the organization’s multifaceted and diverse activities” (TASS, March 14). Meanwhile, Mammadiarov indicated that Azerbaijan has priorities above and beyond SCO dialogue status, telling journalists after signing the MoU, “So, as you know, Azerbaijan has considerably higher ambitions than just the status of dialogue… I think that today’s document, signed here, gives us the opportunity to start a dialogue with a very important, very interesting organization” (Vzgliad, March 14).
The primary goals of the SCO are combating the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and extremism. For Baku, SCO membership will provide a new forum for discussing its most intractable foreign policy issue, its relations with Armenia, which, in the government’s eyes, embody all of the “three evils.”
The SCO was established in 2001, and consists of six member states—China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan—with India and Pakistan additionally expected to accede later this year. There are now 18 countries involved in the SCO as members, observer states or dialogue partners (, accessed March 23). In its 15-year existence, the SCO has tripled in size, begun to hold joint military exercises and promoted increased trade among its members. Azerbaijan applied for SCO observer status in 2012.
The SCO created the affiliation of observer status in 2004, which allowed qualifying states and international organizations to attend open meetings, to participate (pending approval) in SCO discussions without the right to vote, and to have access to SCO documents and decisions. Four years later the SCO established dialogue partner status, which gave qualifying states the right to participate in meetings of SCO heads of ministries of member states, meetings of working groups and scientific and expert forums, as well as conferences and workshops (, March 2011). Dialogue status will, thus, allow Azerbaijan to actively participate in SCO meetings rather than merely observe.
What SCO observers and dialogue partners share, however, is that neither can prepare, vote upon or sign SCO decisions (, June 2015). Accordingly, Azerbaijan will need full SCO membership if it wishes to introduce governmental policy initiatives for the organization’s consideration.
One major impetus for Azerbaijan moving closer toward the SCO has been the lack of progress by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group on resolving the Karabakh conflict. But Baku has also been experiencing rising dissatisfaction with European and Euro-Atlantic institutions for their perceived bias toward Armenia and their criticism over the human rights situation inside Azerbaijan. Mubariz Ahmedoglu, the head of the Center for Political Innovation and Technology (TSPIT), praised the news of Azerbaijan’s closer relations with the SCO as an “interesting and profitable step for Azerbaijan,” seeing increased links with the SCO as a counterweight to “biased” European institutions, remarking, “On the basis of its national interests, Azerbaijan has always tried, as much as possible, to cooperate with a number of international institutions. For a long time, the West pursued unreasonable policies against Azerbaijan. […] Seeing the attitude of the Western partners, Azerbaijan’s government has long sought additional defensive organizations. In my opinion, the SCO is a worthy alternative to many European institutions. From its inception, the SCO has proved one of the most influential organizations promoting regional peace, security and stability” (Ekho, March 19). Azerbaijani economist Oktaio Akhverdiev has also approved Baku deepening its relationship with the SCO, listing the multilateral grouping among the 25 most important major international organizations Azerbaijan is affiliated with (Ekho, April 21, 2015).
The most vital SCO principles for Azerbaijan—which has suffered from over two decades of occupation of its western territories by Armenia—include respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, counter-terrorism measures, and opposition to extremism and separatism. In the June 2015 Ufa Declaration, the SCO reiterated its allegiance to all accepted norms and principles of international law, the United Nations Charter, mutual inviolability of borders, territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs, as well as the non-use of force or threat of force. The ability to attract the attention of another authoritative international organization, like the SCO, to the problem of the Karabakh conflict is, therefore, a good opportunity for Baku to urge Yerevan to act responsibly (Trend, March 14).
As such, Baku can be fully expected to raise the Karabakh issue at the upcoming Tashkent summit (June 23–24), which would be the first time Caucasian issues received such a high priority by the SCO. Yet, Azerbaijan will not have things all its own way, as SCO dialogue partner Armenia will undoubtedly defend its own agenda regarding Karabakh. What is most notable about Azerbaijan’s pursuit of closer links to the SCO is that it has effectively discounted the OSCE Minsk Group’s efforts, which included US and European participation, in favor of a Eurasian-based organization that effectively precludes them.
If the SCO were to actually involve itself in restarting the Karabakh peace talks, Azerbaijan will have acquired a forum led by two powerful international members—China and Russia. Azerbaijan’s concerns are unlikely to entirely dominate the SCO’s agenda in the short term, however, as against the larger backdrop of counterterrorism, Afghanistan’s stability remains a major concern for SCO members. Of all the countries bordering Afghanistan, only Turkmenistan is not an SCO member or observer state, while Afghanistan is an SCO observer itself. Thus, should Afghanistan’s security fall apart following the end of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission, the SCO would be on the front lines of the disaster. Whereas, the Azerbaijani-Armenian dispute, at present, remains effectively “frozen”—continual violent incidents and violations along the line of contact notwithstanding (, March 26).
Baku’s push for more direct involvement by the SCO is a message to both the West and the East. While Western fiscal assistance developed Azerbaijan’s economic infrastructure, the West’s plodding diplomatic efforts have not resolved the conflict with Armenia. Perhaps new SCO initiatives, spearheaded by Eurasia’s two most powerful entities, Russia and particularly China, will be more successful. And by gradually incorporating Azerbaijan, the SCO is also seemingly sending a message to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO): namely, that two can play the alliance expansion game, and that both Moscow and Beijing are quite capable of looking after their Heartland’s defense.
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· · · ·

Russian Military Orders 10,000 Medals for Troops in Syria

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Russia’s defence ministry on Monday opened bidding on a contract to deliver over 10,000 medals to soldiers involved in Moscow’s operation in Syria, suggesting the scope of its involvement there.
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The Next President Must Start National Security Planning Now, a Top Expert Warns

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The next commander in chief won’t have time to slowly ease into the foreign policy turmoil facing America right now, one prominent defense expert is warning.

Dozens of ISIS fighters, senior operatives deserting in Mosul

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March 30, 2016, 7:31 PM (IDT)
The allied bombing of ISIS in the Iraqi city of Mosul is starting to have an effect as dozens of fighters, including senior operatives of the terrorist organization, have deserted and been seen fleeing the city. ISIS has tightened its control of all of the routes leading out of the northern city in an attempt to capture the deserters and prevent others from fleeing.  

Russian nuclear-capable Iskander missiles deployed in Syria

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March 30, 2016, 2:55 PM (IDT)
Russia has deployed its most advanced tactical missile system, the Iskander-M, in Syria in the last few days, debkafile reports exclusively. Capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, this missile has never been made available to any foreign army for operational use. The Russian missiles (NATO codenamed SS-26) have a range of 500km - up to the outskirts of Ankara and across the Mediterranean up to Cyprus

No official meeting between Obama, Erdogan in Washington this week

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March 30, 2016, 3:22 PM (IDT)
Following reports that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was "humilated" by US President Obama's refusal to hold an official meeting with him during this week's Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday that he expects Obama "will have an opportunity at some point to have at least an informal discussion" with Erdogan during the event. Earnest said no official meeting was scheduled due to the large number of visiting heads of state. Erdogan is already scheduled to meet with Vice President Joe Biden during the summit, which will be attended by more than 50 world leaders.
The topic of nuclear security has gained renewed urgency after it was discovered that the terrorists who carried out the attacks on Brussels last week spied on a senior Belgian nuclear researcher.

Former Spy Chief On Britain's 'Libya Mistake'

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A former Israeli spy chief tells Sky News the actions of the UK and France in 2011 are to blame for the country's current turmoil.

Apple seeks answers to how FBI managed to hack iPhone

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Tech company remains in dark on how FBI hacked iPhone without help

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Trump: Punish women for illegal abortions

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump calls for "some form of punishment" for women who have abortions, if it becomes illegal.

За сколько Россия восстановит Пальмиру? 

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From: SvobodaRadio
Duration: 54:00

Генеральный секретарь ООН Пан Ги Мун призвал все страны мира принять участие в решении проблемы массового исхода мигрантов .
Выступая в Женеве, на международной конференции по проблемам беженцев, глава ООН подчеркнул необходимость помочь к 2018 году расселить около полумиллиона жителей Сирии, спасающихся от войны.
Женевский форум проводится под эгидой Ведомства ООН по делам беженцев
На предыдущей конференции по этим вопросам, состоявшейся в феврале в Лондоне, мировые державы обещали выделить 11 миллиардов долларов на урегулирование миграционного кризиса.
В результате 5-летнего вооруженного конфликта в Сирии погибли не менее четверти миллиона человек, почти 5 миллионов стали беженцами.
Каковы итоги военно-политического вмешательства России во внутри-сирийский конфликт, где взять средства на помощь беженцам и восстановление Пальмиры и других исторических памятников – обсуждают сирийский активист Махмуд Хамза, политолог Александр Шумилин, эксперт Яков Кедми (Израиль).
Ведущий – Владимир Кара-Мурза-старший.

International Edition 1305 EDT - March 30, 2016 

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A first in trying to stop the spread of nuclear capability to terrorists. Steps to prevent getting the Zika virus. Ariana Grande has a new song, “Dangerous Woman”.

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RAW: Russian sappers depart for Palmyra demining mission

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From: RussiaToday
Duration: 01:16

Russian bomb disposal experts prepared to fly from Chkalovsky Airport, Moscow Region, to Syria to take part in in the mine clearance of Palmyra, Wednesday.
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RT (Russia Today) is a global news network broadcasting from Moscow and Washington studios. RT is the first news channel to break the 1 billion YouTube views benchmark.


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From: CNN
Duration: 00:53

Eric Holder marks last day as Attorney General as his replacement prepares to be sworn in on Monday. To License This Clip, Click Here:


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From: CNN
Duration: 06:06

CNN"s Fareed Zakaria interviews President Obama. To License This Clip, Click Here:
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From: CNN
Duration: 03:46


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From: CNN
Duration: 02:15

CNN"s Gary Tuchman explores the massive scope of Trump"s proposed border fence. To License This Clip, Click Here:

Headlines - 3:49 PM 3/30/2016

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The Strategic Importance of Palmyra 

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The capture of Palmyra pushed the IS further east and threatened the group’s reach into Iraq, but it's not the group's death knell that many hoped for.

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