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NightWatch 20141021

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NightWatch

For the night of 21 October 2014

North Korea: North Korea released Jeffrey Fowle, one of the three US citizens it detained. Neither North Korea nor the US provided an explanation for the release. A US government aircraft carried Fowle to US territory on the 21st.

Comment: Fowle was detained in June as he was leaving North Korea and was charged with anti-state crimes, specifically he left a Bible in a restroom. North Korea did not put Fowle on trial and he was not convicted of a crime. Those conditions probably facilitated his release. The two US citizens still in custody were convicted of crimes and are serving sentences. Their release will require a pardon by Kim Jong Un.

North Korean media made no mention of the release, such as the usual narcissistic tribute to Kim's magnanimity. The absence of any comment is a reliable indicator that this is not part of a new diplomatic opening to the US. A pardon, on the other hand, would be extolled and would be accompanied by accolades to Kim.

The North never takes an action of this nature without receiving compensation. It also never mentions compensation. Thus, analytical judgments about the implications and ramifications of the release hinge on who paid what and how much to secure Fowle's release. Most likely, someone bought Fowle's freedom and return trip to the US and there are no larger implications. That would be business as usual for the North.

An International Breakout Initiative.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that, "Kim Yong Nam, President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK, left Pyongyang on Tuesday to pay official goodwill visits to some African countries."

Kim Yong Nam is the ceremonial head of state. He will make visits to Ethiopia, Sudan and Congo, two of whom are past arms clients of North Korea.

Last month, Vice Premier Kang Sok-chu, one of the North's top diplomats who speaks fluent English and French, visited Mongolia and Europe. The results of his trip have not been reported in open sources.

Comment: The obvious inferences are that the North is seeking to attract European investors and rebuild third world markets for its exports. In that respect, this initiative is reminiscent of some of the late Chang Song-taek's plans for reviving the North's economy.

The political significance of the trips is that they are reliable indicators that the leadership is stable. The direction of North Korean diplomatic movements is outward when the leadership is stable. Diplomatic visits stop and North Korea summons its top diplomats to Pyongyang when the leadership is unstable.

Syria-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL): Al Jazeera reported a new ISIL effort to take Kobani on Tuesday. The surge began on Monday, when ISIL fighters executed at least 15 coordinated attacks against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

Comment: Some analysts suggested today that ISIL's latest attacks are aimed at cutting Kobani's land link to Turkey, which would be a prudent tactical move. Multiple widespread attacks might have been an attempt to test the span of the US air effort; to see if it could be diverted from Kobani's defense.

The Syrian Kurds reportedly are awaiting the promised arrival of Kurdish reinforcements via Turkey. As yet there is no sign that additional Kurdish fighters are en route Kobani.

Canada: On Tuesday a Canadian soldier died from injuries he received after he and another soldier were run down in a vehicular murder attack in Montreal by a Canadian convert to Islam. The murderer phoned the provincial police that he was acting in the name of Allah.

Comment: One analysis judged that "lone wolf" domestic attacks such as this attest to the weakness of home-grown Islamic terrorists in Canada, or in the US. That judgment seems premature for several reasons. First, the purpose of such attacks is terror, a phenomenon of emergence in living systems. That means the attack was more than just a vehicular homicide. Second, the actual population of such lone wolf jihadists is a partially informed guess at best. Third, running people over with cars is one of the attacks ISIL specifically urged its supporters in the West to execute.

After this attack, terror has moved from risk to threat and it requires Montreal to cope with a series of actual, not just hypothetical, phenomena and psychological conditions that are not associated with even organized crime. Montreal is no doubt ready and able to cope.

End of NightWatch for 21 October.

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