ISIS's Egypt wing claimed responsibility for attacks (Reuters) on security outposts in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Thursday, killing at least thirty people and injuring dozens of others. Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi cut short his visit to Ethiopia for an African Union summit, returning to Cairo on Friday. The attacks are the first big spate of deadly violence (NYT) since Sinai-based Ansar Beit al-Maqdis militants pledged support to ISIS last November. Violence has increased (Al Jazeera) in the peninsula since the ousting of former President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. Tensions were high amid protests (WaPo) earlier this week as Egypt celebrated the fourth anniversary of the Tahrir Square protests, which led to the removal of then-leader Hosni Mubarak.
"The absence of the state has led to the growth of armed religious groups, thugs, human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling. What made matters worse was the deteriorating situation in Libya. Before long, all the regime’s weapons in Libya were in Sinai, while smugglers were trying to get them into the Gaza Strip through tunnels," writes Sahar Ghoussoub for Al-Monitor.
"If the Egyptian government continues to operate in a brazen manner militarily it will create new local recruits that could sustain the Islamic State in north Sinai. How this all ends is impossible to predict, but as of now, the Islamic State has indeed set itself up on a limited base in the Sinai and has established a growing movement in Libya more than two months following the announcement of its expansion," writes Aaron Y. Zelin for the Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog.
"Ansar Beit al-Maqdis' new ambitions provide yet another sign that Sisi’s campaign of blind and brutal repression has backfired: Over the past few years, the militant group has grown only more appealing to disillusioned young Egyptians. And, in turn, it has expanded its objectives," writes Khalil al-Anani in Foreign Affairs.
CFR's Taliban InfoGuide
The Taliban has outlasted the world's most potent military forces and its two main factions challenge the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Explore the Taliban's story in this new CFR interactive.
China Tightens Internet Restrictions
Officials confirmed the introduction of new updgrades (WSJ) to China’s web filters that further restrict the use of virtual private networks, or VPNs, which are used to circumvent controls on banned websites like Google and Facebook. The measure came the same week that China announced new security inspections for foreign companies and tighter controls (SCMP) over Western textbooks as part of President Xi Jinping’s renewed campaign against ideological deviation.
This blog post by CFR’s Adam Segal looks at China’s recent technology policies.
JAPAN: Core inflation fell (FT) to 0.5 percent in December, the lowest year-on-year rate in eighteen months, as dropping oil prices undermined the central bank’s efforts to boost inflation.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Blast in Pakistan Mosque Kills Dozens
At least thirty-three people were killed and many more were critically wounded after a bomb exploded (Dawn) in a crowded Shi’ite mosque in Pakistan’s southern Shikarpur district during Friday prayers, collapsing the roof. No organization has yet taken responsibility for the attacks, but officials say that the targeting of the Shi’ite minority is a hallmark of Sunni militant groups such as the Taliban.
This CFR InfoGuide examines at the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
AFGHANISTAN: Three U.S. military contractors were killed (TOLO) in a Taliban attack at the Kabul International Airport on Thursday after insurgents infiltrated the airport dressed as Afghan army soldiers.
In this Op-Ed, CFR’s Max Boot argues that despite the U.S. troop withdrawal, Afghanistan is still at war.
MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
ISIS Assaults Kurdish Positions Near Kirkuk
In a series of offensives (Al Jazeera), Islamic State fighters killed a senior Peshmerga commander and five other soldiers in a battle near the Kurdish capital of Kirkuk on Friday. Sources said that ISIS insurgents also infiltrated Kirkuk itself, exploding a car bomb and deploying snipers in a local hotel before being killed by Kurdish forces. Meanwhile, twin bomb blasts in a Baghdad market killed at least eighteen people on Friday morning.
South Africa Paroles Apartheid-Era Death Squad Leader
Justice Minister Michael Masutha announced (News24) that Eugene de Kock, the commander of an apartheid-era police unit responsible for over one hundred cases of murder and torture, would be released on parole after twenty years in prison. Nicknamed "Prime Evil," de Kock confessed to and was granted amnesty for many of his crimes, but was sentenced to two life terms in 1996.
A meeting of EU foreign ministers agreed (EUObserver) on Thursday to extend economic and financial sanctions on Russia for another six months, as well as to add additional names to the blacklist of sanctioned Russian officials by next week. The agreement came after Greece became the only country to publicly reject (Guardian) an earlier draft statement. Any further tightening of sanctions must wait two weeks for the upcoming EU leaders summit.
NETHERLANDS: A UN war crimes tribunal upheld (BBC) the convictions of five former Bosnian Serb army officers on charges of war crimes and genocide related to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which some eight thousand captive Bosnians were executed.
U.S. Senate Approves Keystone Pipeline Bill
In a bipartisan vote on Thursday, the Republican-led senate won passage (NYT) of legislation to force approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would reach over one thousand miles from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama has said that he will veto any such bill, arguing that the authority to approve or deny international projects rests with him alone and that he is waiting on further environmental and legal reviews to make his final decision. Those reviews could come as early as next week.
In this blog post, CFR’s Michael A. Levi explains what low oil prices mean for the Keystone XL pipeline.
MEXICO: An explosion destroyed (LA Times) much of a children's hospital in Mexico City, killing at least two people and critically wounding many others. The unconfirmed cause is suspected to be a gas leak.