Europe/Americas update: May 23 2017


Last night’s suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena killed at least 22 people apart from the bomber and injured another 59. Several people remain missing so those figures could still change. It’s the deadliest act of terrorism in the UK since the July 7 attack in 2015. An improvised explosive device filled with nails and other makeshift shrapnel was detonated in a foyer of the arena as people were leaving the Ariana Grande concert that had been held there earlier in the evening.

The attacker–or “loser,” as Donald Trump so eloquently put it–was 22 year old Salman Abedi, a UK native of Libyan descent who appears to have been known in his community, if not to authorities, for having some extremist sympathies. ISIS claimed credit for Abedi’s act, but as usual in these cases there’s no proof Abedi had any prior contact with ISIS and these seems at this point to be a case of the group claiming credit for an attack after the fact. Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Theresa May put Britain on its highest terror alert, which means authorities believe another attack may be imminent, but at this point I haven’t seen anything to indicate that they have specific knowledge of an imminent threat or that Abedi had any accomplices who might be planning their own attacks.

Those are the facts as I know them, but this story is about more than just the facts. It’s about the target–a concert, a soft target, but one specifically where women and young girls would be trying to have fun. It’s about the victims–the dead, the injured, and those who were untouched by the bomb but whose lives will probably never be the same. It’s about ISIS, which had the balls to call those victims “Crusaders”:

The youngest identified victim of the bombing was an eight year old girl. Some “Crusader.”

There’s more. This story is also about the people of Manchester, who took in concertgoers stranded by the violence when nobody would have blamed them for locking their doors and barring their windows. Who packed the center of Manchester today to rally in support of the victims and against the fear Salman Abedi was hoping to instill. It’s about Steve, a homeless Manchester resident who rushed into the chaos that followed the explosion to try to help the victims. It doesn’t have to be about responding to hate with more hate, or violence with more violence, which would be doing ISIS’s job for it.

The Trump administration is taking heat today because it was American officials, rather than British authorities, who apparently leaked Abedi’s name to the media before British police were ready to make that information public. Coming on the heels of the Trump-Lavrov episode, it’s not a great look for Washington.



Donald Trump is spending the next couple of days in Brussels, where he’ll attend a NATO meeting that is basically being orchestrated to flatter and impress him. I wish I was making that up. The schedule includes a fancy dinner, the unveiling of a 9/11 memorial, the induction of new member Montenegro, and discussion of plans for each NATO member to shoulder more of the collective military spending burden. The alliance will probably also announce that it is joining the anti-ISIS coalition, albeit in the vaguest possible terms so as to give Trump a win he can take home to Washington without really promising to take on anything specific.


At its World Health Assembly in Geneva, the WHO has elected its first ever African director, former Ethiopian Health Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Tedros’s candidacy was nearly sunk, in part due to concerns about his time in the Ethiopian government, which is not exactly the most human rights-friendly government on the planet, but he’s an interesting choice to lead an organization that’s still recovering from mishandling the response to the 2013-2016 West African Ebola outbreak.


Viktor Orbán is apparently going to have to learn to live with disappointment. The Hungarian prime minister has been hoping for a meeting with US officials about his ongoing effort to shutter Central European University, perhaps hoping his connections to the Trump White House might helpful to him, but the State Department today put the kibosh on that idea and told him to deal directly with the CEU.


Before heading off to Brussels, Trump stopped in Italy to visit with Italian leaders and Pope Francis. I can’t imagine what he and the Pope are going to talk about, but this is the first of two visits Trump will be making to Italy on this trip–he’ll be in Sicily on Thursday for a G7 summit.



The Senate Intelligence Committee today issued two more subpoenas for documents from former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Flynn has already invoked the fifth amendment to refuse a previous committee subpoena, but it’s debatable whether the fifth amendment can legally apply to a subpoena for documents rather than testimony. These two subpoenas are apparently meant to be narrow enough to get around his attorneys’ objection that the original subpoena was too broad and would have amounted to testimony. If Flynn again refuses to comply, his chances of being held in contempt of Congress would presumably go up, but I remain unconvinced that Congressional Republicans are really prepared to escalate this investigation to that level.

Former CIA Director John Brennan testified before the House Intelligence Committee today, and Lawfare has helpfully summarized his remarks:

  • By the summer of 2016, it “became clear” to Brennan that “Russia was engaged in aggressive and wide-ranging efforts to interfere in one of the key pillars of our democracy.” This was the genesis of the formation of a group of experts from CIA, FBI, and NSA to study the active measure campaign, whose work was used to prepare the intelligence community’s assessment of Russian election interference (a declassified version of which was published in January). Brennan appears to have instigated the group’s formation.
  • Likewise, the CIA seems to have played a key role in turning the FBI onto the possibility of collusion between the Trump team and the Russian government, on the basis of Brennan’s concerns about contacts between individuals linked to the Trump camp and Russians. Brennan stated that the CIA shared all intelligence “involving U.S. persons … including anything involving the individuals involved in the Trump campaign” with the FBI. The Bureau opened an investigation during the summer of 2016, though there was “ongoing sharing of information with the Bureau over the course of the year.”

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