The Atlas Newsletter - Volume 25

The Atlas Newsletter – World Updates & International News

Monday July 17th 2023

Good morning everyone,

We have a special announcement for you this week, one we are very excited to promote: As of Friday, 7/21, we will be launching our newest newsletter, covering the American election season! Due to the way our system works, all current subscribers to an Atlas newsletter are automatically subscribed to the new releases; if you do not want to be, you can unsubscribe from that newsletter and keep the ones you want. We are very excited to hear your feedback and look forward to developing this further, in an unbiased and unfiltered way.

Now, to the news. In Europe this week, a Muslim man shows the world virtue, Ukraine finds an alleged spy, and Kosovo receives drones. Over in the Middle East, Turkey allows Sweden into NATO, an Iraqi protest fails, and Tunisia agrees to stop immigration. In Africa, the UN takes casualties in Rwanda, Kenyan protests turn violent, and human rights violations are uncovered in Sudan. Then in the Americas, more journalists are killed, Guatemala reintroduces a presidential candidate, and cartel violence plagues Mexico. Then in Asia and Oceania, India goes to space, the Chinese economy rebounds, and the drills are held in response to North Korean missile launches.

It’s just another day at the office. Let's dive in:

- Joshua Paulo, Sebastien Gray, Trent Barr, & the Atlas team

Mastermind Behind 2012 Benghazi Attack Caught in Turkey, May Be Released by Libya

The four American victims of the 2012 Benghazi attacks, partially orchestrated by Balaam, on the CIA compound and consulate.

Sunday, July 16th, 2023: (2 Minute Read) On July 11, Libyan al-Qaeda terrorist Ziad Balaam was briefly detained by authorities in Turkey, where he was originally slated to be deported to Libyan National Army (LNA)-controlled Benghazi to face trial.

It appears, however, that Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibeh has ordered him to be deported to Tripoli, which is under the control of the UN-backed Government of National Unity (GNU), according to journalist Adam Housley and former CIA targeter Sarah Adams. Balaam is said to be in custody of the RADA Special Deterrence Forces, according to Atlas News sources. Currently, the GNU has not signaled any intent to charge Balaam, who is a leader among groups allied to the GNU, raising fears he may be released.

Ziad Balaam, whose full name is Farid Mohammad Muhammed Balaam, has been a career jihadist with decades of affiliation with al-Qaeda. In 2002, Balaam was sentenced to life in Libyan prison for his involvement with the terror organization in Sudan, but was broken out of prison amidst the outbreak of the Libyan Civil War. From there, he joined the al-Qaeda-affiliated Omar Mokhtar Brigade, part of the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council and led by al-Qaeda’s Abdel Moneim al-Madhouni, which fought to resist LNA forces under Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar. Following al-Madhouni’s death, Balaam joined al-Qaeda’s Malik Brigade under Ansar al-Sharia, where he played a key role in the 2012 Benghazi attacks against a United States’ diplomatic compound and CIA annex, which left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service officer Sean Smith, and CIA Global Response Staff Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

It is not immediately understood why Turkey has detained Balaam, who has had unfettered movement between Libya and Turkey for several years. It is also unclear if the United States will seek to intervene in his arrest.

Read more on this Atlas News exclusive here.


July 15th, 2023 - Following Swedish authorities' allowance of a number of protests burning the Quran, a man named Ahmad Alloush received allowance to burn a Torah and a Bible outside of the Israeli embassy in Stockholm, which drew condemnation from Israel. However, when it came time for his demonstration, he instead threw his lighter to the ground. Speaking to the media, he stated that it was never his intention to burn any sort of holy book. One of the primary purposes of his demonstration was to bring attention to the Quran burnings that had been held in Sweden in recent times. He stated that no holy book should be burned and that "if you want to criticize Islam, that is ok, but burning the Quran is not freedom of expression," before switching from Swedish into English to say "It is an action". He further added that "freedom of speech has its limits".

Ahmad Alloush at the site of his demonstration (Photo from Nils Adler/Al Jazeera).

July 14th, 2023 - A Ukrainian court has jailed a man for 10 years after finding him guilty of colluding with Russia to bomb transportation infrastructure in an effort to disrupt foreign arms supplies. While the identity of the man remains unknown, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said he had fought with Russian militant groups in eastern and southern Ukraine before and since Moscow's invasion of the country. After fighting with the militants, the man was tasked by Russian military intelligence with blowing up two infrastructure objects, the SBU said in a statement. Security forces were able to detain the man in February before he could undergo his mission. The SBU did not identify the man’s targets; however, they did say they were in the Rivne region in western Ukraine, where there are several important road and railway links with Poland.

July 16th, 2023 - Kosovo has received a number of Turkish Bayraktar TB2 combat drones as a part of a purchase order from May. Alongside the announcement, Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti stated that "during our two-year administration, we have increased the number of soldiers by over 80% and the military budget by over 100%. Kosovo is now even safer". The purchase and arrival of arms come amid heightened tensions with Serbia.

Middle East

July 10th, 2023 - Turkey has finally relented and will be voting soon to allow Sweden into NATO, announced NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The US has announced that they will be moving ahead with the transfer of Turkey’s long-awaited F-16s, which had been barred due to Turkish opposition to Sweden’s NATO bid. Additionally, Turkish media announced that they have "received full support for the path of European Union membership", announced the same day that Erdogan stated if the EU should "pave the way for Turkey" they would "pave the way for Sweden". Both the US and the EU have stated that these two events were not related to Turkey’s sudden change of mind; however, the timing of the announcements has left many skeptical that they are related. Hungary remains the last barrier to Sweden’s ascension into NATO.

Turkish President Erdogan speaks in Vilnius (Photo from REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo).

July 14th, 2023 - Iranian-Backed militia groups in Iraq headed a protest outside the American embassy in Baghdad, numbering several hundred. Across militia channels in the days leading up to the protest, militias called for a large protest in which they would storm the US embassy, presumably forcing its evacuation. Their plans did not work, however, as only small clashes took place and the embassy was not stormed before the protest eventually dissipated.

July 16th, 2023 - The EU and Tunisia have finalized their deal on combating migration to Europe from Tunisia. The deal also boosts economic ties between the two. Tunisia is one of many send-off points for migrants attempting to reach Europe, with boats leaving from Tunisia’s shores often. The deal comes amid a significant increase in migrants crossing from Tunisia in recent months, which Tunisian President Kais Saied blamed on "criminal networks".


July 10th, 2023 - A UN Peacekeeper from Rwanda was killed in the CAR after a United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) patrol came under fire by an unknown group. The MINUSCA forces were able to kill three of their attackers and capture one. While the group that carried out the attack is unknown, the UN has asked the CAR to "spare no effort to identify those responsible", also adding that an attack on a "blue helmet" is a potential war crime and liable to both national and international prosecution.

Two Rwandan UN Peacekeepers in the CAR (Photo from UN_CAR on twitter).

July 12th, 2023 - Protests began in Kenya after President William Ruto announced a tax hike on gasoline, something that has been deeply unpopular throughout the nation. Protests involving tens of thousands of people escalated severely, resulting in the deaths of three schoolchildren from tear gas. Police responded with tear gas after protestors began throwing stones at them. The tear gas was reportedly either thrown near or actually into Kihumbuini Primary School in Nairobi, Kenya. Three of the children reportedly died from suffocation due to the tear gas, while an additional 30 had to be medically evacuated.

July 14th, 2023 - A mass grave was discovered in Sudan’s West Darfur state, containing the bodies of at least 87 people. The bodies are believed to be those of Masalit, an ethnic group that has historically been targeted by the RSF. Seven children are among those discovered. The RSF has denied responsibility for the grave, blaming it on a "tribal conflict", and stated they were willing to comply with an investigation.

The Americas

July 15th, 2023 - A Mexican journalist was shot and killed in Acapulco, a city situated in the southwestern state of Guerrero, on Saturday. Nelson Matus was the director of a local news site known as Lo Real de Guerrero, which often covered the increasing violence in the state. Matus was reportedly shot dead at 15:00 local time while getting into his car in a thrift store’s parking lot within the neighborhood of Emiliano Zapata in northern Acapulco. He had previously survived two assassination attempts in 2017 and 2019. Matus’ death comes only a week after another journalist by the name of Luis Martin Sanchez, who was found dead after being declared missing the previous day.

Mexican marines across the border from Brownsville, Texas, on March 22, 2017. (Photo- AP/Rodrigo Abd)

July 13th, 2023 - A Guatemalan presidential candidate will be allowed to return to the race after a ban on his party was lifted by the Constitutional Court on Thursday following international outrage and claims the country’s democracy was in danger. Bernardo Arevalo, an anti-graft candidate running for Semilla, was taken off the ballot on Wednesday after Semilla was accused of having more than 5,000 illegally affiliated members, including 12 deceased people. Arevalo, who has made it clear his top priority is to stamp out corruption within the country, had a surge of popularity during the first round of elections in June, making a surprise qualification for a runoff election with former First Lady Sandra Torres in August.

July 11th, 2023 - Four security officials and two civilians were killed and at least a dozen more were injured following an explosives attack in Mexico that was carried out on Tuesday night. Authorities received a call informing them of the whereabouts of human remains; however, when they arrived, a bomb was detonated, causing the casualties. Authorities have accused local crime groups of being behind the bombing in the municipality of Tlajomulco, to the south of the state capital, Guadalajara. State governor Enrique Alfaro described the attack as "an unprecedented act that shows what these organized crime groups are capable of" on Twitter.

Asia and Oceania

July 14th, 2023 - The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) marked the flawless launch of the Chandrayaan 3 spacecraft into orbit around the Earth using the powerful LVM3 rocket. The launch took place at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh. At exactly 14:35:17 hours local time, the LVM3 rocket, carrying a total payload of 3,895 kg (8,587.01 lbs), successfully lifted off. The rocket followed a trajectory that closely aligned with the preset plan of the Chandrayaan-3 launch, demonstrating its efficiency and effectiveness.

(Photo - AP)

July 16th, 2023 - Official data released on Monday revealed that China's economy experienced a 6.3 percent growth in the April-June period compared to the same period the previous year. This growth was notably faster than the previous quarter, primarily due to a low base caused by a two-month COVID lockdown in Shanghai during the corresponding period last year. The acceleration in growth can be attributed to the country's decision in January to ease the stringent "zero-COVID" measures that had imposed movement restrictions on individuals and disrupted supply chains.

July 16th, 2023 - A collaborative naval missile defense exercise took place involving the United States, South Korea, and Japan with the aim of addressing the increasing missile threats emanating from North Korea. This exercise occurred shortly after North Korea's launch of its Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), citing the launch as a "strong practical warning" to its adversaries. The trilateral drill occurred in international waters between South Korea and Japan.

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