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It's Kevin here, stepping in for Alex Kliment with your Tuesday Signal. Today, we try to make sense of Sunday's deadly terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka, examine the latest US sanctions on Iranian oil, and ignore some techno-utopians bobbing off the coast of Thailand. Plus, your usual dose of hard numbers.

Alex will be back tomorrow with your Wednesday edition. You can send us your fan/hate mail or share Signal with a friend. Thanks for reading.

–Kevin Allison (@kevinallison)
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It's Kevin here, stepping in for Alex Kliment with your Tuesday Signal. Today, we try to make sense of Sunday's deadly terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka, examine the latest US sanctions on Iranian oil, and ignore some techno-utopians bobbing off the coast of Thailand. Plus, your usual dose of hard numbers.

Alex will be back tomorrow with your Wednesday edition. You can send us your fan/hate mail or share Signal with a friend. Thanks for reading.

–Kevin Allison (@kevinallison)
 

On Sunday, suicide bombers struck churches and hotels across Sri Lanka. The carefully coordinated attack on eight targets in three cities killed 290 people as of Monday. It's the deadliest terror attack in South Asia in decades, and the death toll could continue to climb in coming days.


Here's what we know so far:

  • This was a well-organized attacked aimed specifically at Christians and foreigners: The bombings took place in three different cities and were timed to coincide with Easter, in places where both church-goers and tourists were bound to gather. Even during the country's multi-decade civil war, which left tens of thousands dead before it ended in 2009, no one intentionally targeted tourists or the country's 1.5 million-strong Christian population on this scale.
  • The government has blamed domestic Muslim extremists but thinks they had overseas help: Officials blamed a little-known group, National Thowheed Jama'ath (NTJ), whose previous activities were limited to vandalizing Buddhist temples (Buddhists make up about 70 percent of Sri Lanka's population of 22 million.) NTJ has yet to claim responsibility for Sunday's carnage. Given the coordination involved, speculation is swirling that the perpetrators received assistance from a foreign terror group.
  • This was an intelligence failure: The country's security service received a warning at least 10 days before the bombings, but the information was either ignored or didn't make it to the right people. A bad relationship between Sri Lanka's president and prime minister may be partly to blame, according to the country's health minister.
  • The government is worried that ethnic and religious violence could spread: It quickly blacked out social media sites including Facebook and WhatsApp to halt the spread of incendiary news and rumors. The government has also imposed a curfew to keep people off the streets at night.

There are still more questions than answers. The government's failure to stop the bombings is likely to dominate the news in coming days, but the attacks also highlight some broader political trends:

Terrorism after the Islamic State: The perpetrators' foreign connections are still under investigation, but ISIS is the prime suspect. We've written before about the worry that thousands of hardened ISIS fighters fleeing a collapsing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria might plot attacks elsewhere and promote their ideology via cyberspace. A proven ISIS connection would be grim confirmation that those fears were justified.

Identity politics in Asia: Religious fault-lines are opening across South and Southeast Asia. The ethnic cleansing committed by Myanmar's Buddhist generals against the country's Muslim Rohingya minority, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's resurgent Hindu nationalism, and governments in Bangladesh and Indonesia partnering with conservative Muslim groups to maintain their grip on power are all part of a regional lurch away from secularism.

Want more? 3 things to know about Sri Lanka


 

 
 
 

Sunday's coordinated terror attacks in Sri Lanka was one of the deadliest in South and Southeast Asia in decades. Terrorism has been on the rise across the region over the past decade – where there were 4,450 terror attacks in 2017, up from just over one thousand a decade prior. Here's a look at the worst attacks.


 

 
 
 

The Trump administration is again tightening the screws on Iran, announcing yesterday that the US will sanction countries that continue to import oil from the Islamic Republic. Exemptions granted to eight countries last May – including China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey – are now set to expire next month.

This decision is part of President Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign against the regime in Tehran. It comes almost a year after he decided to ditch the Obama-era nuclear accord and reimpose financial curbs in place before the deal.


The situation for Iran could quickly go from bad to worse. Its economy was already expected to shrink by 6 percent this year, with prices rising by 37 percent. Iranian oil exports have more than halved since the US decided to withdraw from the nuclear agreement, but that fall has been cushioned somewhat by higher global oil prices.

Another steep drop in exports could send its economy into a true tailspin. The countries granted exemptions must now find new suppliers or risk facing US sanctions themselves.

US allies, like Japan, South Korea, and Japan, which buy almost half of Iran's oil exports will certainly cut back in the coming months. The big question is whether China, the destination for about one-third of Iran's barrels, will follow suit. As Beijing nears a grand bargain with the US on trade, it may not want to risk throwing a wrench into negotiations when it could simply pursue new energy sources instead.

The global backdrop: President Trump, fearing a spike in oil prices just like the one we saw following yesterday's announcement, avoided this step for many months. For now, Trump is banking on the cooperation of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States to pump more oil and keep prices down, and we're likely to see diplomatic fireworks if they don't comply.

Upshot: The US decision to exit the nuclear deal was a symbolic act with limited immediate consequences. Now comes the real pain. These new restrictions will test the resilience of Iran's government and its people.

 

 
 
 

Is the impeachment of President Trump more likely following the Mueller Report? It's Politics in 60 Seconds with Ben White.


 

 
 
 

What We're Watching: Sudan's Generals and Northern Ireland

Sudan's Continuing Strife – The protesters weren't satisfied when Sudan's military ousted Omar Bashir after 30 years in power. Or when Bashir found himself behind bars. Nor did they return home when the generals promised a "military council" that would forge a path to civilian rule within two years. The protesters want a civilian government led by the political opposition, and they want it right now. The military has been reluctant to clear the streets, but something's got to give. This story is no longer about the fate of Bashir but the (immediate) future of Sudan.

Northern Ireland – When a masked gunman, still at large, shot and killed journalist Lyra McKee in Northern Ireland last week, it was a reminder of how fragile the peace that has prevailed there since the Good Friday agreement 21 years ago really is. It also gives grim weight to one of the most difficult Brexit questions: If a hard border must be restored between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in order to separate the EU from the UK, might we see a return to the violence of decades past? At a time when a new generation too young to remember the Troubles or the peace agreement that ended them is becoming more active in the life of Northern Ireland, the answers to more immediate questions will offer some clues: Will the community help police find the gunman? And how will the public respond when an arrest is made?

What We're Ignoring: Yellow Vests Complaining About Notre Dame and Libertarians in Hot Water

The latest yellow vest protests – A fresh round of gilets jaunes demonstrations in Paris over the weekend featured signs like "Millions for Notre Dame, what about for us, the poor?" and "Everything for Notre Dame, nothing for Les Misérables." Members of the crowd were voicing frustration that fundraising efforts to restore Paris's partially destroyed Notre-Dame cathedral have raised over $1 billion, while their concerns have yet to be fully addressed. We're ignoring these new complaints, because French President Emmanuel Macron has already announced 10 billion euros of budget giveaways to assuage the yellow vests, and because we suspect the broader French public doesn't see support for a cultural treasure and support for the downtrodden as a zero-sum game.

Seasteaders abandoning ship – An American Bitcoin enthusiast and his girlfriend have scarpered from their home on a floating platform off the coast of Thailand after the country accused the pair of violating Thailand's national sovereignty – a crime that can lead to the death penalty. Michigan native Chad Elwartowski and his Thai companion had appeared in a video touting the virtues of "seasteading" – a movement championed by Silicon Valley types who dream of setting up sovereign floating communities where people can live free from government interference. The Thai navy ignored Elwartowski's protests that his home was located in international waters and dismantled the custom-built rig. We are ignoring seasteading, because this story shows how utopian fantasies are no match for an actual navy.


 

 
 
 

74 million: As of last weekend, a UN funding drive to help Mozambique recover from Cyclone Idai, which struck in March, had raised $74 million. That's well below an initial $282 million target and less than one-tenth of the estimated $773 million of direct economic losses caused by the storm, which hit the country's food supply hard.

17: More than half of India's 1.3 billion people depend on farming for their livelihood, even though the sector only makes up about 17 percent of the country's economic output. That makes farmers an unusually powerful constituency in India's ongoing national election.

64: Sixty-four percent of Americans believe that Jews face at least some discrimination in the US today, up 20 percentage points since 2016, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll.

3,200: China plans to build 3,200 kilometers of high-speed rail lines this year. While that is down from the average of 3,600 kilometers of new track it's built each year for the past five years, it's still nearly the equivalent of Spain's entire high-speed rail network.


 

 
 
 


This edition of Signal was written by Kevin Allison (@KevinAllison), Willis Sparks, and Gabe Lipton (@ gflipton). Spiritual counsel from Alex Kliment (@saosasha) and Adam Pourahmadi (@ANPour).

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