Welcome to Friday, where the UK-China diplomatic clash escalates, Ethiopian refugee camps have been razed to the ground and French President Macron has no regrets (really?). We also have an exclusive Le Monde reportage on a secret global outfit that's infiltrating the data of jihadists.
• China-UK diplomatic dispute: China has issued sanctions on nine British individuals and four entities after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson voiced support for a British lawmaker who denounced China's "gross human rights violations."
• Norway remains AstraZeneca skeptic, U.S. vaccinations accelerate: Norway's public health institute announced it will continue to suspend the use of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine by up to three weeks. Other European countries have resumed the use of the vaccine after it's safety was confirmed by the chief EU health body. Meanwhile, in his first press conference as president, Joe Biden doubles down on the impressively rapid U.S. vaccine rollout.
• Refugee camps in Ethiopia destroyed: An international aid team gained access to the Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps, home to about 20,000 refugees, in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, only to find them completely destroyed, many burnt to the ground, and all "humanitarian facilities looted and vandalised."
• Projectile attack on oil terminal in Saudi Arabia: A drone attack sparked fire at an oil terminal in southern Saudi Arabia, following a recent increase in attacks by Yemen rebels in the long-simmering war in the region.
• Massive U.S. university sex abuse settlement: The University of Southern California has agreed to pay $1.1 billion to the 710 former students who were patients of the school gynecologist. George Tyndall is still awaiting trial on dozens of charges of sexual abuse.
• Freediver world record swim under ice: French freediver Arthur Guerin-Boeri set a world record for longest distance travelled under a sheet of ice, swimming 120 meters in Finland's Lake Sonnanen.
• Georgia man gets final paycheck in pennies: After leaving his job in November, a Georgia man's boss finally delivered the paycheck, in the form of 90,000 pennies covered in oil on his driveway and an explicit note atop the pile.
"With both feet on the ground," titles Argentine daily Pagina 12 as the country suspends flights from Brazil, Chile and Mexico, to prevent the spread of different strains of coronavirus from entering Argentina.
Exclusive: Inside the secret data cell infiltrating jihadist networks
Over the past several years, the United States and 27 other countries have been quietly collaborating on an enormous, secret data cell aimed at fighting jihadist groups all over the world, report Elise Vincent and Christophe Ayad in an exclusive investigation for Paris-based daily Le Monde.
Hidden from view in the quiet heat of Jordan, a vast data war is being waged. Ground zero is an American military base in the heart of the Hashemite kingdom, where for the past five years, a silent tracking system has been developed based on meticulous archives. The goal of this painstaking project? Identifying and consolidating the traces of every kind of jihadist fighter to pursue them in any way possible — including in the courts.
This extraordinary project was long run by the Pentagon and kept completely under wraps. While it remains a confidential operation to this day, it's been mentioned briefly by official sources across the Atlantic and by a few intelligence unit insiders in European media. Yet the undertaking was never disclosed to the public in detail. Today, Le Monde can reveal the origins and the modus operandi of what is known under the code name "Operation Gallant Phoenix" (OGP).
The information held in the OGP is no ordinary data. It's what specialists call "proof of war." Essentially, this refers to any trace left on the web, social media or the field by jihadist groups, or anything found on their person when they are taken prisoner. Initially focused on al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) soldiers in the Iraqi-Syrian zone, the Gallant Phoenix network now encompasses all of their affiliates, stretching across Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere in Africa, particularly in the Sahel-Saharan strip.
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