National security wrap

The beat

Paris police chief removed as ‘yellow vest’ protests continue

Paris police chief Michel Delpuech was removed for failing to respond effectively after another weekend of ‘yellow vest’ protests in France. Significant damage was caused along the Champs-Elysées as shops were looted and burned. Delpuech has been replaced by Didier Lallement, who has dealt with similar protests in Bordeaux. Lallement will have access to new anti-rioting tools such as drones and ultraviolet identification spray, which have been rolled out as a response to the damage.

Police on standby ahead of Brexit

Authorities in the UK are implementing Brexit contingency plans, even as it looks like there may be an extension to the 29 March deadline. Hundreds of Scottish police have been put on standby in case of civil unrest, and London’s Metropolitan Police has restricted leave over this period to prepare for the possibility of widespread protests.

Art thieves duped in Italy

Italian police have fooled thieves by replacing a 17th-century Flemish masterpiece with a copy. Before it was stolen, the local council and police in the town of Castelnuovo Magra swapped Bruegel’s The Crucifixion, which was hanging in a church there, for a copy. The whereabouts of the thieves are still unknown and the real painting, which is worth €3 million, is being kept in a secure location until the investigation is finished.


Afghan border personnel captured by Taliban

Afghan officials have confirmed that 58 border security force personnel who were captured by the Taliban in the northwestern Badghis province have been released. About 100 Afghan personnel in the interior ministry’s border force attempted to flee into neighbouring Turkmenistan on Saturday but were prevented from entering the country. Fighting has intensified recently between Afghan security forces and the Taliban.

US helps fund Syrian rebels’ border force

The US military has committed US$250 million to build up a border security force in part of northern Syria once occupied by the Islamic State terror group but since freed by Kurdish and Arab fighters. The 30,000-strong force will be tasked with protecting the area along the Turkish border and will be drawn from members of the Syrian Democratic Forces. The proposal is likely to be challenged by Bashar al-Asaad’s government, which has promised to take ‘every inch’ of Syria back, and by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has called the largely Kurdish force a ‘terror army’.

Eco-traffickers target Guatemala–Belize border

The porous border between Belize and Guatemala has been plagued by eco-traffickers who are smuggling rosewood and scarlet macaws from the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Criminal organisations are often financed by contacts in Asia who employ farmers to smuggle flora and fauna through Guatemala’s border with Mexico or Belize. The rosewood is often destined for Hong Kong, while scarlet macaws end up with wealthy Mexicans and Guatemalans.

CT scan

UK to issue warnings for far-right terrorism

The UK has decided that assessments made by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (part of MI5) will be used to issue threat warnings for far-right terrorism alongside existing threat levels for Islamist and Northern Ireland–related terrorism. The decision comes after the Christchurch terror attack and a stabbing in the UK on Saturday which is being considered as a far-right terror attack. Home Secretary Sajid Javid said that Muslim communities ‘should seek comfort from knowing we are doing everything to tackle hate and extremism’. Javid also announced a doubling of the security fund for places of worship.

IS calls for retaliation after Christchurch terror attack

Islamic State has called for retaliation for the New Zealand terror attack in a 44-minute video featuring a voice thought to be that of its secretive spokesperson, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir. He says that the scenes from the mosques ‘should incite the supporters of the caliphate to avenge their religion’. He also likens the Christchurch massacre to the attack on Baghouz, the last village under IS control in Syria, and mocks US President Donald Trump’s claim that IS has been defeated. New York Times journalist Rukmini Callimach explains the significance of the recording here. All major jihadist groups have issued statements following the Christchurch attack.

Netherlands shooting may have been terrorist act

Prosecutors investigating a shooting in the Dutch city of Utrecht that killed three people on Monday are considering whether it may have been a terror attack. A letter found in the getaway car reportedly suggests a terrorist motive, though its contents have not been released. The suspect was known to police, but for non-terror-related crimes.

First responder

India sends warships to Mozambique

India has sent three warships to Mozambique after Cyclone Idai devastated the country. The ships will deliver relief material to the port city of Beira, which has been almost destroyed by the category 4 storm. India and Mozambique have close economic and political relations. Both countries are members of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, and India has conducted goodwill visits to Mozambique in the past.

Pacific Partnership 2019 exercise underway

The Indo-Pacific region’s largest annual multilateral disaster response exercise is currently underway in the Philippines. The exercise involves more than 500 military and civilian personnel from 10 countries. Over the next several months, two US Navy ships will be making stops in the Marshall Islands, Philippines, Micronesia, Timor-Leste, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand. The exercise was created in response to the Boxing Day tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people in the region in 2004.

New humanitarian projects in North Korea

The UN sanctions committee on North Korea has approved five additional humanitarian projects which will allow aid and equipment into the country to treat health problems and malnutrition. The United Nations Population Fund and NGOs Triangle Génération Humanitaire, First Steps Health Society and Médecins Sans Frontières have all received approvals to operate in North Korea for six months. These organisations will help with child nutrition, diet diversity, sexual and reproductive health services, and the treatment of tuberculosis.