National security wrap

The beat

Chinese police try to stop spread of coronavirus information

As Chinese police try to contain the spread of information about the coronavirus now known as COVID-19, they’ve arrested a whistleblower, Fang Bin, who filmed viral videos showing corpses at a crematorium in Wuhan. Using sophisticated media and online control mechanisms, police have detained an unknown number of people accused of spreading ‘illegal and false’ information. The latest arrest comes after days of public outrage over the death of Doctor Li Wenliang, one of the first to warn about the virus.

Thai gunman located by drone

Thai special forces used a drone to find the soldier who carried out the country’s worst mass shooting on Saturday. A drone operator for a local television company helped authorities manoeuvre the small heat-sensing aircraft to locate the gunman, before sharpshooters opened fire. The killing of 29 people revealed serious security issues within the Thai military as the gunman stole weapons from an army base.

High rate of offending among bikie gang members

An Australian Institute of Criminology investigation of 39 outlaw motorcycle gangs revealed that one in four of their members had been arrested recently for offences involving violence and intimidation. Examining the criminal histories of more than 5,000 gang members, the institute concluded that violent and profit-motivated offending and involvement in organised crime were widespread. It said members of three-quarters of the gangs had members involved in organised crime.

CT scan

US announces death of Yemen al-Qaeda leader

The White House last week announced the death of the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Qasim al-Raymi. Raymi had been the leader of AQAP since 2015, when his predecessor, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, was killed in a US drone strike. The US has not confirmed when or where Raymi was killed, only that he died as a result of a an operation in Yemen.

Maldives launches counterterrorism collaboration after extremist stabbing

The European Union, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and local agencies in the Maldives have joined forces to launch a counterterrorism project to help the island nation prevent violent extremism. The project launch comes days after an Australian man and two Chinese nationals were stabbed by suspected sympathisers of Islamic State on the island of Hulhumale.

Bosnia’s unfunded counterterrorism strategy

A new study on Bosnia’s strategy for preventing and combatting terrorism has found it to be ineffective at allocating resources and preventing radicalisation. The 2015 strategy is due to expire this year, but the country’s government has failed to back it with any funding. The project has had to rely on donor resources since its inception. The study calls for a new strategy which tackles online radicalisation, a key omission in the existing policy.


US buys phone databases to locate undocumented immigrants

The US has reportedly bought databases from company Venntel to help track down undocumented immigrants. The data, which has led to several arrests, is drawn from phone applications that require users to grant access to their locations. The move has raised serious concerns about privacy as it allows the government to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling that a warrant must be obtained for protected information, including phone location data.

UK deportation flight proceeds despite court ruling

The UK Home Office has gone ahead with a deportation flight to Jamaica with 17 ‘serious, violent and persistent’ offenders who are foreign nationals on board. About 50 others were given a legal reprieve over concerns they were unable to access legal advice. The deportations have triggered a public backlash, as most of the offenders arrived in the UK as children and have no family members or other connections in Jamaica.

Greece to set up new asylum-seeker camps

Greece will begin setting up new camps for asylum seekers on its Aegean islands after the UNHCR called for emergency measures to address overcrowding, poor sanitation, disease outbreaks and violence in camps that currently hold some 42,000 people in facilities designed for just 6,200. The new camps will accommodate an extra 20,000 asylum seekers and the government plans to send 200 rejected applicants back to Turkey every week.

First responder

New coronavirus officially named

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has announced that the disease caused by the new coronavirus now has a name, COVID-19. Ghebreyesus said the name could not refer to a ‘geographical location, an animal, an individual or group’ to avoid stigmatising anyone. The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses has named the virus itself SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 has killed more than 1,300 people and infected nearly 60,000.

Locust swarms could cause food shortage in Africa

UN officials have urged rapid action to stop a locust infestation threatening food security in the Horn of Africa. Unusual rainfall and cyclones in the Indian Ocean have created favourable conditions for the insects to breed. Somalia has declared a national emergency while Kenya has not seen a swarm as severe in 70 years. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization fund appealed for US$76 million to counter the infestation but has so far received only about $20 million. Authorities say that aerial pesticide spraying is the only effective control for the insects.

Syrians flee Idlib in sub-zero conditions

Harsh winter conditions have worsened the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Syria’s northwest. More than 700,000 residents have fled Idlib in the face of a major military offensive against the rebel stronghold. They are living in tents on the Turkish border amid snowfalls. The UN says it will release US$30 million in funding to improve shelters and provide other critical assistance.