Worldcrunch Today: Checking China, Blow To ISIS In Africa, Prison Romance Ban
👋 ¡Buenos días!*
Welcome to Thursday, where the U.S., UK and Australia form a new pact to check China, a top ISIS leader in Africa is killed and a heroic Dutch goat doesn't chicken out. Meanwhile, French business daily Les Echos shows us how the future of NFTs is also in the (trading) cards.
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• UK, U.S. and Australia form security pact to counter China: The Aukus pact will allow Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines for the first time using American technology. The defense partnership, which also covers AI and other cyber capabilities, is being viewed by China as aligning with a "Cold War mentality." But the pact is also in response to the Asian superpower's rapid armament and rising tensions in disputed areas like the South China Sea.
• Islamic State leader killed in Sahara: Adnan Abou Walid al Sahraoui, the leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), was killed by French forces. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted, "This is another major success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel."
• COVID update: New Moderna vaccine trial suggests its protection declines over time, leading the U.S. pharmaceutical company to advocate booster doses. In France, 3,000 health workers are suspended without pay for failing to get vaccinated.
• Indonesian president charged with neglecting air pollution: A district court ruled that President Joko Widodo and other top officials have failed to improve conditions in Jakarta, which has been ranked the city with the worst air-pollution. Monitoring stations will be implemented to measure emissions by coal-fired power plants and traffic.
• Denmark to ban romantic relationships for prisoners serving life sentences: The Danish government introduced the bill after it was revealed a 17-year-old entered a relationship with Peter Madsen, an entrepreneur who killed journalist Kim Wall in 2017. The goal is to discourage criminal "groupies" by limiting prisoners' contact to those who already knew them for the first 10 years of incarceration.
• Inspiration4 successfully launched: Four amateur astronauts are currently trying to become the first orbital spaceflight with only private citizens aboard. Netflix live streamed the launch, which is also a fundraiser for a children's research hospital; items brought on board (from a ukulele to original artwork to mission jackets) will be auctioned for charity.• I goat your back:CCTV footage from a farm in Gelderland, in the Netherlands, captures the moment a goat rescues a chicken from a hawk attack.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
Slovak daily Dennik reports on Pope Francis wrapping up his four-day trip in Hungary and Slovakia, where he urged the predominantly Catholic countries to be more open, and warned against exploiting religion for politics.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
Pokémon, Magic as NFTs: How tech fuels trading cards market
The heroic fantasy universes of the 1990s have become a new focus of investment. One card in the mega-popular Magic series recently sold for more than $500,000, and with the introduction of blockchain technology, the market looks to expand even more, reports Paul Molga in French daily Les Echos.
🃏 Playing cards illustrated by the greatest science fiction and "heroic fantasy" artists of the moment, the blockchain to make them unique digital works, and a series of novels to accompany the story… Welcome to the fairytale universe of Cross the Ages. Conceived by the young Marseille-based startupper Sami Chlagou, who is already behind a video game distribution and production company, this project aims to turn a generation's passion for trading cards and role-playing games into a business as disruptive and speculative as the cryptocurrency market.
📈 The eBay platform, where much of the trading card business is done, has seen a 142% growth in transactions in 2020 with 4 million more cards sold. Pokémon topped the list with a record 574% increase in trading in one year, followed by basketball and baseball sports cards. Magic: The Gathering is in fourth place. "New collectors are entering the card space as another investment avenue to diversify their investment portfolio. We expect this trajectory to follow suit in 2021," says Nicole Colombo, general manager of collectibles and trading cards at eBay.
🔗 With the blockchain, this industry could take on another new speculative momentum. The technology now makes it possible to attribute an unfalsifiable serial number, called a non-fungible token (NFT), to a digital object. Even virtually, a work can thus be authenticated as unique, like a certificate guaranteeing the signature of a great master, with the value exploding. French startup Sorare is one of the first to enter this segment by allowing soccer fans to buy and sell NFT digital cards of their favorite players, and compete in a global championship.➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
The United States, Australia and the UK announced they were forming a security pact in the Indo-Pacific to help Australia acquire U.S. nuclear-powered submarines, scrapping the country's $40 billion deal with France. The angry French government accused the U.S. of stabbing it in the back and said it was "a break in trust."
💥 IN OTHER NEWS
France's killing of top ISIS leader in Africa shows shift in war on terror
The hastened withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan has effectively handed the country back to the Islamic regime of the Taliban. But elsewhere, the West's two-decades war on Islamic terrorism carries on.
One key place to watch is Africa's troubled northwestern Sahel region, where France announced overnight that it had killed the region's top ISIS leader, Adnan Abou Walid al-Sahraoui. He is just the latest in a series of high-ranking officials who have been taken out or captured by French forces in recent months, reports Jeune Afrique magazine.
France had announced in June that it was ending its longstanding Operation Barkhane, which has been criticized for not curbing extremists groups despite the significant military investment.
The French military is shifting to a smaller, more agile presence focused on anti-terrorism operations like those carried out in the months since.
Still, as Le Monde reports, the choices across the world's military map are interconnected. Macron doesn't want the end of Operation Barkhane to be considered a withdrawal from the region, and compared to Washington's pullout from Afghanistan. "We need to keep a robust operation in the region," one presidential advisor said.
Indeed, international coordination is also happening between the extremists. As Yvan Guichaoua, a researcher at the School of International Studies at the University of Kent in Brussels, told Le Monde earlier this month: "They [Taliban and Sahelian fighters] share on-the-ground insurgency know-how, which is a byproduct of the al-Qaeda matrix. They also have the same ultimate goal: the application of Sharia law."
Al-Sahraoui represented these intersecting interests. He was a former member of the Polisario Front — the liberation movement of the Sahrawi people laying claim to sovereignty of the Western Sahara — and later part of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. He created ISIS-GS in 2015 and was labeled a "priority enemy" by France for being in charge of the majority of attacks in the "three borders" region, which covers Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
This impoverished area is regularly subjected to attacks by ISIS-GS as well as the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda. These violent actions have targeted both civilians and military forces, including the October 2017 Tongo Tongo ambush, in which five Nigerian and four American soldiers were killed while returning to base. In 2020, al-Sahraoui personally ordered the assignation of six French aid workers and their Nigerien guide and driver.
Since 2013, France has combated anti-insurgent movements in the region through Operation Serval and its successor Operation Barkhane (named after the crescent-shaped dune in the Sahara desert). Operation Barkhane has faced criticism both in the Sahel and in France, particularly as a form of so-called "Françafrique", with France continuing an exploitative presence in its former African colonies.
"How much is a little girl worth?"
— Along with fellow U.S. gymnasts, Olympic champion Simone Biles delivered emotional testimony during a Senate hearing on the FBI's corruption investigation into former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who molested hundreds of girls. Biles also blamed USA Gymnastics (USAG) and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) for failing to do their jobs in protecting the 150+ survivors of Nassar's abuse.
✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger