The Overflow for July 22nd

International News

Absolutely Amateur

Brazil arrested 10 people on Thursday suspected of belonging to a poorly organised group supporting Islamic State, and discussing acts of terrorism during next month's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The group, described as "absolutely amateur" by the Justice Minister, were all Brazilian citizens and in contact via internet messaging, though they did not know each other personally, the minister said.

The arrests came a week after a truck massacre in France and amid growing fears of a possible attack on Olympic targets once the first Games to be held in South America kick off on August 5th.

Though Brazil has no history of conflict with known militant groups, Moraes said the Games had made the Latin American country a more likely target, particularly because of participation by countries fighting Islamic State.

"Today was the first operation against a supposed terrorist cell in Brazil," he said. "Brazil was not part of the coalition against IS, but because of the upcoming Olympics and because it will receive many foreigners, Brazil becomes part of the target."

Brazil has planned an extensive security detail during the Olympics. It will deploy about 85,000 soldiers, police and other security personnel, more than twice as many in place for the London Olympics in 2012. Brazil is also coordinating closely with partner countries and will operate a joint security centre where representatives from more than 100 countries are expected to help share intelligence and monitor the event.

The minister said the individuals detained on Thursday were being monitored because they had accessed Web sites linked to IS. The group did not have direct contact with IS, though some members had made "pro forma" declarations of allegiance to the militant Islamist group via social media, the minister said. He did not elaborate.


$3.5 Billion

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said yesterday that judgement should be withheld until all the facts are known after the US government filed lawsuits seeking to seize $1 billion in assets bought with money stolen from a state fund he oversaw.

The US Justice Department lawsuits filed in a federal court on Wednesday did not name Najib, instead referring to "Malaysian Official 1." Some of the allegations against this official were the same as those in a Malaysian investigation into a $681 million transfer to the premier's personal bank account. The lawsuits said $681 million from a 2013 bond sale by sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) was transferred to the account of "Malaysian Official 1".

A source familiar with the investigation confirmed that "Malaysian Official 1" was Najib.

The civil lawsuits said that a total of $3.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB, a fund Najib established in 2009 and whose advisory board he chaired. No criminal charges have been filed.

Swiss authorities said on Thursday that, acting on a US request, they had seized three valuable paintings, by Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet, connected to the 1MDB inquiry. A Swiss Federal Office of Justice spokeswoman said, "The operation is not over yet so we will not comment at the moment on the location of the paintings."

US prosecutors are seeking to seize $1 billion that they say was diverted from 1MDB into luxury real estate in New York, Beverly Hills and London; valuable paintings; and a private jet.

They also are trying to seize proceeds from the 2013 film "The Wolf of Wall Street". Riza Aziz, Najib's stepson and founder of Red Granite Pictures, which produced the movie, was named in the lawsuit. Red Granite said on Wednesday that none of the funding it received to make the Oscar-nominated film, which took $400 million at the box office worldwide, was illegitimate and nothing the company or Riza did was wrong.


The Retreat of Islamic State

The US-backed force driving Islamic State out of Manbij said on Thursday it was giving the group 48 hours to pull out of the surrounded northern Syrian city. A statement from the Manbij Military Council said the Islamic State militants would be allowed to leave the city with light weapons, without a fight.

It said their departure must take place within 48 hours and "this initiative is the only and the final one for the besieged Daesh elements to leave the city." The council is allied to the US-backed Kurdish and Arab alliance known as the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), which has been fighting Islamic State in northern Syria with the support of air strikes.

The SDF fighters, who quickly took control of the territory surrounding Manbij last month, have in recent weeks taken western parts of the city in slower advances. 

Activists say dozens of civilians have been killed this week in air strikes in the city and to the north, and the opposition Syrian National Coalition called for a suspension of the air strikes while the incidents are investigated.

UK News

The Security Council

United Nations officials have questioned if Britain is worthy of being a veto-power on the Security Council after the country withdrew police officers from a peacekeeping mission in South Sudan during recent violence without consulting the world body, according to an internal memo.

Germany and Sweden also withdrew police without consultation and the United Nations has barred all three countries from replacing the officers once the situation improves, said the internal memo by the UN peacekeeping department.

"The departure of the police officers has affected the operational capability of the mission at headquarters level and has dealt a serious blow to the morale of its peacekeepers," said the memo, which is an account of what happened and used by officials to inform UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Heavy fighting involving tanks and helicopters raged in South Sudan's capital Juba for several days earlier this month between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing Vice President Riek Machar, and at least 272 people were killed.

Britain withdrew two police officers, Germany seven police and Sweden three police, according to the memo. It also said the United States was reportedly planning to withdraw nine police.

Britain is a permanent veto-wielding power - alongside the United States, France, China and Russia - on the Security Council, which is charged with maintaining international peace and security and mandates peacekeeping missions. Sweden was recently elected a member of the 15-member council for 2017-18.

Without naming Britain and Sweden, the memo said that for the states who are also on Security Council, their withdrawal of police from South Sudan "can be considered a lack of respect to their engagement on peace and security."

In reference to Britain, the memo said: "This also raises the question of their merits to hold a permanent seat at the Security Council and mandating others on how to handle peace and security issues when they themselves are quick to abandon their post in challenging situations."

A spokesman for the British UN mission said Britain temporarily removed its two unarmed police officers on July 13th "for the officers' safety" and had told the UN police adviser in advance. The spokesperson did not respond to the remarks in the memo about Britain's permanent Security Council seat.


the brexit challenges

Many British voters were fooled into voting to quit the European Union without realising there was no credible plan for an exit, so MPs must decide how and whether to leave, said the investment manager behind a Brexit legal challenge.

Gina Miller, a co-founder of London fund manager SCM Private, is the main claimant in a growing queue of litigants hoping to force Prime Minister Theresa May to let parliament decide when, how and whether to leave the EU, rather than taking such decisions herself following last month's referendum. In her first interview since taking her case to London's High Court, Miller said she wanted Britain to remain in the EU and the best decision would be to renegotiate membership and reform the EU.

"I believe that people have been fooled," Miller, 51, told reporters. "They have not realised that the referendum was not legally binding and secondly there is no Brexit plan. That's what my action is about, we need to have a better-informed debate on what this momentous decision means."

The legal action is the first concrete sign since the June 23rd referendum that implementation of the Brexit vote could be held up or at least amended. But the action faces one big problem. It is attempting to get British lawmakers to do something most do not want to do: vote against the views of many of their own constituents.

The Brexit result, which historians say compares to the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union in its significance, unleashed political and financial turmoil and raised questions about the future of Britain and post-World War Two European integration.

At least seven lawsuits have been brought to force the government to accept that parliament should decide whether Britain should trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the formal exit process, rather than the prime minister.


Long Read

George Shiras took some amazing photographs throughout his career, and one set has a particular beauty to them. Among the first pictures to capture wild animals in the dead of night, Nautilus has resurrected this set for our viewing pleasure.

You dig deeper and it gets more and more complicated and you get confused and its tricky, its hard right. Its hard. But its beautiful.
— Prof. Brian Cox