TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 30

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. What if football helmet safety ratings are measuring the wrong hits?

By Bryan Gruley in Bloomberg Business

2. If France wants fewer radicalized Muslims, it must clean up its prisons.

By Michael Birnbaum in the Washington Post

3. They 3D-printed a car.

By Umair Irfan in Scientific American

4. The low price of meat doesn’t reflect its true cost.

By the New Scientist

5. Lesser-known cities and young architects are perfect for each other.

By Amanda Kolson Hurley in CityLab

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME europe

European Police Face Being Outgunned by Jihadists With Assault Rifles

Firearms seized from a gang of arms smugglers displayed at Federal Police headquarters in Brussels in 2011.
Firearms seized from a gang of arms smugglers displayed at federal police headquarters in Brussels in 2011 Thierry Roge—Reuters

Police pistols are no match for assault rifles like those carried by the Paris gunmen

When Chérif and Saïd Kouachi attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, killing 12 people, they were armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and could easily outgun the police officers who tried to apprehend them with pistols. Their associate, Amedy Coulibaly, had an even greater collection of military-grade weapons.

The size of the trio’s armory has prompted an urgent inquiry into the scale of gun smuggling in Europe, where weapons are smuggled into the European Union from the countries of former Yugoslavia, Albania and elsewhere and then moved without any further border checks to where they will get the best price. Most of the smuggling is carried out by criminal gangs but many jihadists such as Coulibaly are well connected with criminal networks.

Despite the Paris attacks, it seems the weapons are still flowing freely through Europe. Brian Donald, chief of staff for Europol, which coordinates cross-border actions among police forces in the E.U.’s 28 countries, says there have been two “large seizures” of assault weapons in Europe during the past two weeks, but would not give details about where they were, since the investigations were still ongoing. In all, he says police had seized “several vanloads of 30 or 40 weapons at a time,” during the past few weeks, including “AK-47s, Scorpions, handguns and semiautomatic rifles.”

The Kouachis had rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. On Jan. 8, Coulibaly fatally shot a policewoman with a Scorpion submachine gun in the Paris suburb of Montrouge. The day after that, he used a 7.62-mm Tokarev rifle, a Soviet-designed weapon, to kill five hostages in a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris. His posthumous video also showed him with a Kalashnikov AK-47. Earlier this month, a Belgian newspaper reported that Coulibaly had bought most of the weapons from a Belgian criminal for €5,000 (about $5,647). Coulibaly, a French-born Muslim with Malian parents, made the deal near the Brussels Midi train station, a major railway hub that connects Western Europe’s biggest cities, after taking out a €6,000 loan from the French financial services firm Cofidis using false information about his income, which went unchecked.

But although the police quickly traced the weapons source in the Paris attacks, stopping criminals and other jihadist cells in Europe from acquiring assault weapons for further attacks might not be so easy, according to police officials.

Many of the weapons circulating in Europe hail from southeastern Europe, where big military arsenals were left abandoned during the collapse of Yugoslavia and the Balkan wars of the 1990s. At least a million other weapons are believed to have been looted during an outbreak of anarchy in Albania in 1997. “There are stockpiles in the Balkans of 2 [million] to 3 million [weapons] left over from the 1990s, available for recycling,” says Donald.

French police believe rifles are on sale in French cities for between €1,000 and €1,500. Earlier this month, Philippe Capon, head of the French police union UNSA, told Bloomberg News, “The French black market for weapons has been inundated with eastern European war artillery and arms.” A French police source told TIME that the weapons from the Charlie Hebdo attack came from the Balkans.

That is not the only source of weaponry. Donald says he fears that the continent might be facing a fresh influx of weapons from North Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring revolts. In August, 2011, Libyan rebels looted large quantities of mortars, tank shells and other munitions when Moammar Gaddafi’s regime collapsed. Although most of those weapons are believed to have filtered across North and West Africa, some could also have made their way to Europe.

The arms traffickers have flourished in the absence of well-financed antiweapons units in Europe, where law enforcement has for years tended to plow money into stopping drug-dealing and other crimes. “We don’t fully understand the scale of the problem because we have not had specialized units,” says Donald, referring to law-enforcement agencies in different E.U. countries. “It is a question of priorities. Any police officer will tell you it [resources] is a constant struggle.”

The trade in illegal weapons can earn enormous profits for organized criminal gangs — enough to make the risk of capture worthwhile. Donald says recent investigations have found arms traffickers investing about €30,000 in a shipment of Balkan-era weapons, refurbishing them in their garages, then selling them for them for about 10 times the price. “That’s a huge mark-up,” he says.

As Europe struggles to crack down on illegal weapons, some police recruits face a new training exercise: Go buy a Kalashnikov rifle. Donald says that in “a city in Europe,” which he would not name, “very young officers with no training or experience” were recently told to go find an assault weapon on the streets from an illegal arms dealer. “One came back two hours later with an AK-47,” Donald says. “He bought it for €1,000.”

TIME

New Deadline Approaches in ISIS Hostage Crisis

A poster showing ISIS-held Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, seen on a street pole in Amman, Jan. 29, 2015.
A poster showing ISIS-held Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, seen on a street pole in Amman, Jan. 29, 2015. Nasser Nasser—AP

The cases of the Japanese hostage, the Jordanian pilot and the Iraqi prisoner held in Jordan have become intertwined in recent days

(TOKYO) — A sunset deadline was approaching Thursday in the Middle East for Jordan to release an Iraqi prisoner or face the death of a captured Jordanian air force pilot, according to the latest threat purportedly issued by the Islamic State group.

The audio message was read in English by a voice the Japanese government said was likely that of Kenji Goto, a Japanese hostage also held by the militant group, which controls parts of Syria and Iraq.

It was released online after Jordan offered Wednesday to hand over the prisoner, an al-Qaida-linked would-be suicide bomber, in exchange for Jordanian air force pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh.

The Associated Press could not independently verify the contents of the recording, which was distributed on Twitter by Islamic State-affiliated accounts.

The cases of the Japanese hostage, the Jordanian pilot and the Iraqi prisoner held in Jordan have become intertwined in recent days. The prisoner is Sajida al-Rishawi, a woman convicted of involvement in deadly Amman hotel bombings in 2005.

The recording says the pilot will be killed if the prisoner is not presented at the Turkish border in exchange for Goto’s life by sunset. It’s not clear what would happen to Goto if the Iraqi woman is not returned by the deadline.

In Tokyo, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Thursday the government was in close communications with the Jordan government. He said Japan was doing its utmost to free Goto, working with nations in the region, including Turkey, Jordan and Israel.

“As the situation is developing, I shouldn’t comment on details. But, Japan and Jordan are dealing with the matter based on an extremely trusting relationship,” Suga told reporters.

Efforts to free al-Kaseasbeh and Goto gained urgency after a purported online ultimatum claimed Tuesday that the Islamic State group would kill both hostages within 24 hours if Jordan did not free al-Rishawi.

Japan has scrambled to deal with the crisis that began last week with the release of a video by the Islamic State group showing Goto and another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, kneeling in orange jumpsuits between a masked man who threatened to kill them within 72 hours unless Japan paid a $200 million ransom.

That demand has since shifted to one for the release of al-Rishawi. The militants have reportedly killed Yukawa, 42, although that has not been confirmed.

“This heinous terrorist act is totally unforgivable,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in parliament Thursday.

Goto, a freelance journalist, was captured in October in Syria, apparently while trying to rescue Yukawa, who was taken hostage last summer.

In Tokyo, Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, has been desperately pleading for the government to save her son.

“I know Mr. Abe is someone who can handle this matter. I trust Mr. Abe and I can do nothing but rely on him,” she said.

Releasing the would-be hotel bomber linked to al-Qaida would breach Jordan’s usual hard-line approach to the extremists and set a precedent for negotiating with them.

It would also be a coup for the Islamic State group, which has already overrun large parts of neighboring Syria and Iraq. Jordan is part of a U.S.-led military alliance that has carried out airstrikes against the extremist group in Syria and Iraq in recent months.

The Islamic State group has not publicly demanded prisoner releases before and Jordan’s main ally, the United States, opposes negotiations with extremists.

Jordanian King Abdullah II faces growing domestic pressure to bring the pilot home. The pilot’s father said he met on Wednesday with Jordan’s king, who he said assured him that “everything will be fine.”

The pilot’s capture has hardened popular opposition among Jordanians to the air strikes, analysts said

“Public opinion in Jordan is putting huge pressure on the government to negotiate with the Islamic State group,” said Marwan Shehadeh, a scholar with ties to ultra-conservative Islamic groups in Jordan. “If the government doesn’t make a serious effort to release him, the morale of the entire military will deteriorate and the public will lose trust in the political regime.”

Jordan reportedly is holding indirect talks with the militants through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq to secure the release of the hostages. In his brief statement, al-Momani only said Jordan is willing to swap al-Rishawi for the pilot. He did not say if such an exchange is being arranged.

The 26-year-old pilot, al-Kaseasbeh, was seized after his Jordanian F-16 crashed in December near the Islamic State group’s de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria. He is the first foreign military pilot the militants have captured since the coalition began its airstrikes in August.

Previous captives may have been freed in exchange for ransom, although the governments involved have refused to confirm any payments were made.

The Islamic State group broke with al-Qaida’s central leadership in 2013 and has clashed with its Syrian branch, but it reveres the global terror network’s former Iraqi affiliate, which battled U.S. forces and claimed the 2005 Amman attack.

___

Laub reported from Amman, Jordan. Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, and Kaori Hitomi, Mari Yamaguchi, Emily Wang and Koji Ueda in Tokyo contributed to this report.

TIME Terrorism

ISIS Releases New Audio Message by Japanese Hostage

Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, Sajida al-Rishawi
An undated photograph of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh, left, and a still image from video, right, of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman sentenced to death in Jordan for her involvement in a 2005 terrorist attack on a hotel that killed 60 people AP

The deadline has been extended

(BEIRUT) — ISIS released a message late Wednesday purportedly by Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, extending the deadline for Jordan’s release of an Iraqi would-be hotel bomber linked to al-Qaida.

The audio was released as Jordan had offered a precedent-setting prisoner swap to ISIS in a desperate attempt to save a Jordanian air force pilot the militants purportedly threatened to kill, along with Goto.

The audio recording, in English, says the Jordanians must present Sajida al-Rishawi at the Turkish border by sunset Thursday, or Jordanian pilot Mu’as al-Kasaseabeh will be killed.

The Associated Press could not independently verify the contents of the recording which was distributed on Twitter by IS-affiliated accounts.

On Wednesday, the pilot’s father met with Jordan’s king who he said assured him that “everything will be fine.”

King Abdullah II faces growing domestic pressure to bring the pilot home. However, meeting ISIS’s demand for the release of a would-be hotel bomber linked to al-Qaida would run counter to the kingdom’s hardline approach to the extremists.

Efforts to release al-Kaseasbeh and Goto gained urgency with the release late Tuesday of a purported online ultimatum claiming ISIS would kill both hostages within 24 hours if the al-Qaida-linked prisoner was not freed.

The scope of a possible swap and of ISIS’s demands also remained unclear.

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said Jordan is ready to trade the prisoner, an Iraqi woman convicted of involvement in deadly Amman hotel bombings in 2005, for the pilot. Al-Momani made no mention of Goto.

Any exchange would set a precedent for negotiating with ISIS militants, who in the past have not publicly demanded prisoner releases. Jordan’s main ally, the United States, opposes negotiations with extremists.

The release of al-Rishawi, the al-Qaida-linked prisoner, would also be a propaganda coup for the militants who have already overrun large parts of neighboring Syria and Iraq. Jordan is part of a U.S.-led military alliance that has carried out airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq in recent months.

Participation in the alliance is unpopular in Jordan, and the capture of the pilot has only exacerbated such sentiments, analysts said.

“Public opinion in Jordan is putting huge pressure on the government to negotiate with the Islamic State group,” said Marwan Shehadeh, a scholar with ties to ultra-conservative Islamic groups in Jordan. “If the government doesn’t make a serious effort to release him, the morale of the entire military will deteriorate and the public will lose trust in the political regime.”

The pilot’s family, meanwhile, is increasingly vocal in its criticism of the government.

Several dozen protesters gathered Wednesday outside King Abdullah’s palace in Amman, urging the government to do more to win the release of the pilot.

“Listen, Abdullah, the son of Jordan (the pilot) must be returned home,” the protesters chanted.

The pilot’s father, Safi al-Kasaesbeh, was part of the group and was allowed into the palace, along with his wife, to meet Abdullah.

“The king told me that Muath is like my son and God willing everything will be fine,” al-Kasaesbeh said afterward.

Earlier, he criticized the government’s handling of the crisis.

“I contacted the Turkish authorities after I found that the Jordanian government is not serious in the negotiations,” he told The Associated Press. “The government needs to work seriously, the way one would do to free a son, like the Japanese government does.”

Jordan reportedly is holding indirect talks with the militants through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq to secure the release of the hostages.

In his brief statement, al-Momani only said Jordan is willing to swap al-Rishawi for the pilot, but not if such an exchange is being arranged. Al-Rishawi was sentenced to death for her involvement in the al-Qaida attack on hotels in Amman that killed 60 people.

In Tokyo, Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, appealed publicly to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “Please save Kenji’s life,” Ishido said, begging Abe to work with the Jordanian government until the very end to try to save Goto.

“Kenji has only a little time left,” she said in a plea read to reporters. Ishido said both Abe and Japan’s main government spokesman had declined to meet with her.

Abe on Thursday did not make any direct reference to the latest video but reiterated his condemnation of the ISIS hostage-taking.

“The heinous terrorist act is totally unforgivable,” he said in Parliament in response to a ruling party lawmaker’s question.

Later, a few dozen people gathered outside the prime minister’s official residence, holding banners expressing hopes for Goto’s release. “I have been trying to keep my hopes up and believe that Mr. Goto will return. I have this faith within me,” said Seigo Maeda, 46, a friend of Goto.

The militants reportedly have killed a Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, and the crisis has stunned Japan.

Muath al-Kaseasbeh, 26, was seized after his Jordanian F-16 crashed in December near ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria. He is the first foreign military pilot the militants have captured since the coalition began its airstrikes in August.

This is the first time the group has publicly demanded the release of prisoners in exchange for hostages. Previous captives may have been freed in exchange for ransom, although the governments involved have refused to confirm any payments were made.

Goto, a freelance journalist, was captured in October in Syria, apparently while trying to rescue Yukawa, 42, who was taken hostage last summer.

ISIS broke with al-Qaida’s central leadership in 2013 and has clashed with its Syrian branch, but it reveres the global terror network’s former Iraqi affiliate, which battled U.S. forces and claimed the 2005 Amman attack.

TIME Transportation

Fake Twitter Bomb Threats to Airlines On the Rise

An American Airlines plane is seen at the Miami International Airport in Miami in 2013.
Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Tweeted threats have disrupted at least sixteen flights in the past five days

Airline bomb threats on Twitter have disrupted at least sixteen flights in the past five days, prompting new concerns about aviation security — and the way pranksters can cause serious trouble with social media.

Most recently, an American Airlines flight landed in Chicago safely Tuesday after a tweet claiming to be from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) claimed there was a bomb on board, USA Today reports.

That same day, another (now suspended) Twitter account called @RansomTheThug also claimed there was a bomb aboard a United Airlines flight that had already been canceled days earlier due to blizzard concerns. “In terms of the quantity of threats we’re seeing now, you just haven’t seen it,” Glen Winn, former head of security at United Airlines and Northwest Airlines, said.

But as was the case with the 14-year-old Dutch girl who threatened American Airlines as a joke last year, not every tweet is serious. “In the history of aviation sabotage, I don’t believe there’s ever been a threat called in where there’s actually been a bomb,” Douglas Laird, a former security director at Northwest Airlines, said.

Still, all threats are taken seriously and evaluated by airline security according to confidential criteria. Airlines are also required to report threats to Transportation Security Administration.

[USA Today]

TIME Terrorism

Failed Iraqi Bomber Named in Islamic State Hostage Crisis

Sajida al-Rishawi
In this Nov. 13, 2005 file photo, Iraqi Sajida al-Rishawi, confesses on Jordanian stat- run TV about her failed bid to set off an explosives belt inside one of the three Amman hotels targeted by al-Qaeda. Jordanian TV/AP

The woman the Islamic State wants in exchange for Japanese hostage Kenji Goto is Iraqi citizen Sajida al-Rishawi

(BEIRUT) — In the moments after her husband blew himself up in the ballroom of a Jordanian hotel as part of an al-Qaida plot, Sajida al-Rishawi fled the scene of chaos wearing her own explosive belt.

The 2005 assault on three hotels in Amman, the worst terror attack in Jordan’s history, killed 60 people. Al-Rishawi, an Iraqi, was sentenced to death. But now, almost a decade later, she has emerged as a potential bargaining chip in negotiations over Japanese hostages held by the Islamic State group, a breakaway group from al-Qaida in Iraq that orchestrated the Jordan attack.

The Islamic State group last week threatened to kill Kenji Goto, a 47-year-old journalist, and Haruna Yukawa, a 42-year-old adventurer fascinated by war, unless it received a $200 million ransom.

On Saturday, a day after a 72-hour deadline for the ransom passed, an online message purportedly issued on behalf of the Islamic State group claimed Yukawa had been beheaded and demanded the release of al-Rishawi, 44.

“They no longer want money,” the message said. “So you don’t need to worry about funding terrorists. They are just demanding the release of their imprisoned sister Sajida al-Rishawi.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told national broadcaster NHK on Sunday that the online message likely was authentic, though he said the government still was reviewing it. U.S. President Barack Obama later called Abe to offer his condolences over what he called the “brutal murder” of Yukawa.

The Associated Press could not verify the contents of the online message, which varied greatly from previous videos released by the Islamic State group.

But securing the release of al-Rishawi would be a major propaganda coup for the Islamic State, following months of battlefield setbacks — most recently in the northern Syrian town of Kobani where Kurdish fighters on Monday managed to drive out the extremists after months-long fighting and hundreds of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

It would also allow the group to reaffirm its links to al-Qaida in Iraq, which battled U.S. troops and claimed the Jordan attack. The Islamic State group had a brutal falling out with al-Qaida’s central leadership, but still reveres the global terror network’s onetime Iraqi affiliate and its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by a U.S. airstrike in 2006.

On Nov. 9, 2005, al-Rishawi and her newlywed husband, Ali al-Shamari, entered the ground-floor ballroom of the Raddison SAS hotel in Amman, which was hosting hundreds gathered for a wedding reception. Al-Shamari set off his explosive belt among crowd. Al-Rishawi fled.

Al-Zarqawi later claimed the attack and mentioned a woman being involved, leading Jordanian officials to arrest her. Several days later, al-Rishawi appeared on Jordanian state television, opening a body-length overcoat to reveal two crude explosive belts.

“My husband detonated (his bomb) and I tried to explode (mine) but it wouldn’t,” al-Rishawi said during the three-minute television segment. “People fled running and I left running with them.”

Later at the trial, al-Rishawi pleaded not guilty and said through her lawyer that she never tried to detonate her bomb and was forced to take part in the attack. But an explosives expert testified that the trigger mechanism on al-Rishawi’s belt had jammed.

Al-Rishawi was sentenced to death by hanging and an appeals court later ratified her sentence, describing her as “guilty beyond doubt of possessing explosives and having had the intention and the will to carry out terrorist attacks whose outcome is destruction and death.”

Her sentence can be overturned by Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

Dana Jalal, an Iraqi journalist who follows jihadi groups, said the Islamic State group could be demanding al-Rishawi’s release because she is a woman and comes from a powerful Iraqi tribe that claims many senior Islamic State group members.

“Sajida was close to al-Zarqawi and this gives her special status with Daesh,” Jalal said, using an alternate Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

TIME

Why Japan Lacks Sympathy for the Hostages Held by ISIS

People in Tokyo watch news on the Japanese ISIS hostages, Jan. 23, 2015.
People in Tokyo watch news on the Japanese ISIS hostages, Jan. 23, 2015. Nicolas Datiche—Sipa

While the clock ticks down for two Japanese hostages held by ISIS, their countrymen think they've brought the problem on themselves

Japanese government officials continued to press for the release of two Japanese citizens being held by Islamist militants in Syria late Friday, even as a presumed deadline for paying the $200 million ransom expired.

The hostage drama has dominated the news cycle since ISIS released a video showing two Japanese men being threatened by a masked militant with a knife. But in very Japanese fashion, much of the anger has focused on the hostages themselves, who are seen by many as having acted recklessly. “The public thinks these guys put themselves in harm’s way, and that it is their problem — not the government’s or the taxpayers problem,” says Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Tokyo campus.

Haruna Yukawa, 42, a failed businessman who hoped to re-invent himself as a private military contractor, was kidnapped in August after entering ISIS-controlled territory. Kenji Goto, 47, an experienced freelance journalist, was captured in October after entering Syria in what he told friends was a quest to free Yukawa, whom he had met there earlier.

MORE Mother of Japanese Journalist Held Captive by ISIS Pleads for His Release

In the video released Tuesday, the militant accuses Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of taking sides in the Mideast conflict by pledging $200 million in aid to countries fighting against ISIS, which controls vast territory in both Syria and Iraq. The militant said the hostages would be killed if an equal amount was not paid within 72 hours – a deadline that Japanese officials presume expired Friday afternoon.

Abe has stressed that the aid money—which he pledged during a six-day trip to the Middle East that was interrupted by the hostage crisis—is for humanitarian purposes only and said his government is doing all that it can to secure the hostage’s release. But he has vowed not to “give in” to terrorists, and most analysts believe he will not authorize payment of the ransom—either openly or otherwise.

Comments on Japanese-language social media have been largely unsympathetic toward the two hostages—particularly Yukawa, who told associates that he once tried to commit suicide by cutting off his genitals and later changed his given name to Haruna, typically used for women. Goto is given credit for at least attempting to help someone in need.

MORE Japanese War Reporter Was Abducted by ISIS After Trying to Save His Friend

“They needed to know the possible results before going to that region, especially now. They’re responsible,” said a Twitter post that was re-tweeted more than 1,000 times.

“Neither Mr. Goto nor Mr. Yukawa went to Syria upon request from the Japanese government,” says another. “Maybe I’m heartless, but we cannot give in to the Islamic State group’s terrorist acts.

Japan withdrew all its diplomats from Syria in March 2012 as the civil war escalated, and warned all Japanese citizens against traveling there. The lack of an embassy hasn’t helped Tokyo as it tries to sort through the myriad government, rebel and ISIS forces fighting in the region. The advisory was in effect when Yukawa and Goto entered the country last year.

This is not the first time that Japanese hostages in the Middle East have drawn condemnation from their countrymen, rather than sympathy. Three aid workers and peace activists were pilloried in the press and nascent social media after they were kidnapped in Iraq in 2004. The government refused demands that they withdraw Japanese peacekeepers from southern Iraq and the hostages were released unharmed a week later. Nonetheless, the criticism in Japan was so severe that the former hostages were forced to go into voluntary seclusion.

“The public thought that because those citizens were working independently, and making independent comments critical (of the Iraq War), they were disloyal troublemakers putting Japan into world news for all the wrong reasons,” says Marie Thorsten, professor of international politics and media studies at Doshisha University in Kyoto.

The stakes could be high for Abe, who just won a commanding victory in a snap election held in December. A staunch conservative and nationalist, Abe promised to focus on Japan’s flagging economy, but increasingly has pressed for bigger defense spending, the easing of long-standing restraints on Japan’s military and the promotion of a policy of “proactive contributions to peace” overseas.

“This is the first time the public has seen Abe’s “proactive pacifism” at work and this is deeply unsettling,” says Kingston. “Until now, Islamic extremism was something that happened to other countries. People may get cold feet about Japan assuming a higher profile on global stage.”

Read next: ISIS Say Countdown for Japan’s Hostages Has Begun

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Yemen

U.S. Downsizes Yemen Embassy Staff as Crisis Builds

Houthi fighters ride a truck near the presidential palace in Sanaa, Jan. 22. 2015.
Houthi fighters ride a truck near the presidential palace in Sanaa, Jan. 22. 2015. Khaled Abdullah—Reuters

U.S. officials say that the embassy won’t be closing

The U.S. has decided to reduce its embassy staff in Yemen following the collapse of the nation’s government at the hands of rebel Houthi fighters.

“The safety and security of U.S. personnel is our top priority in Yemen,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement. “We are evaluating the security situation on the ground on an ongoing basis. We call on all parties to abide by their public commitments to ensure the security of the diplomatic community, including our personnel.”

The move comes four months after U.S. President Barack Obama lauded Yemen as a model for “successful” counterterrorism partnerships.

The reduction of embassy staff, mainly in response to the security situation, comes at a time when Washington is trying to secure partnerships in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria while trying to limit Iran’s influence in the region, according to Reuters.

The situation is alarming neighboring Saudi Arabia, which sees Tehran’s military and financial support for the Shi‘ite Houthis as a sign of their growing regional clout.

Former Yemeni President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who resigned Thursday along with a slew of government officials, was seen as a key ally in the war against jihadist groups like al-Qaeda. However, the Houthis, who now control the capital, are said to loathe al-Qaeda as much as they do the U.S., reports Reuters.

Hadi’s resignation will “absolutely” limit drone strikes and counterterrorism operations in the immediate future, a former U.S. official told the news agency.

TIME Foreign Policy

Why Saudi Arabia’s Neighbor Is the Real Concern for the U.S.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah receives U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the king's Riyadh Palace on April 6, 2011 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah receives U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the king's Riyadh Palace on April 6, 2011 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

A smooth succession is all but guaranteed in the Kingdom — but that won't help imperiled U.S. allies in Yemen

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died Thursday of natural causes at age 90, leaving in place what appears to be a well-laid succession plan that U.S. analysts hope will assure continued stable relations between Washington and the oil-rich country that dominates most of the peninsula.

Unfortunately, in neighboring Yemen, the government of U.S. ally President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi also died Thursday, leaving nothing but the prospect of a failed state and increased sway for Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a powerful and dangerous branch of al Qaeda.

On balance, the bad news outweighs the good.

Abdullah’s successor, Crown Prince Salman, is an established figure in U.S.-Saudi affairs, with a history of collaboration on national security matters dating to his fundraising for the Afghan Mujahedeen during their war against the Soviets in the 1980s, says Bruce Reidel of the Brookings Institution. One of Salman’s sons, Reidel reports, “led the first RSAF mission against Islamic State targets in Syria last year.”

But while oil futures soared on the news of Abdullah’s death as traders worried about potential instability in Saudi Arabia, former U.S. officials viewed the collapse of central governing authority in Yemen as the real cause for concern. “Rule number one of contemporary national security policy is allow the emergence of no new failed states,” says former State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Amb. Daniel Benjamin.

The power vacuum is most worrying because it imperils U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism operations against one of the few al Qaeda off shoots that retains the U.S. as its primary target. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has a talented bomb-maker in its upper ranks, a Saudi fugitive named Ibrahim al Asiri. U.S. officials believe al Asiri is behind several near-miss attempts to bring down Western airliners, at least one of which was foiled by a Saudi double agent who had penetrated the group.

The Houthis are only a threat to the U.S. insofar as they appear to have effected the ouster of the U.S.-backed Hadi and left a collapsed state in his wake. “We were banking on a guy who was very pro-American, but had far less support in his country than we thought,” says Whitley Bruner, a former CIA Baghdad station chief who previously served in Yemen and has worked as a security consultant there in recent years.

The Saudis dislike both the Houthis and AQAP, which dispatched al Asiri’s brother in a suicide attack that nearly killed the Saudi Interior Minister in 2009. But the kingdom has little chance of putting its neighbor back together again: with Yemen’s history of sectarian, tribal and ideological violence, “it’s going to get worse,” says Bruner. AFP reported late Thursday that “four provinces of Yemen’s formerly independent south, including its main city Aden, say they will defy all military orders from Sanaa” now that the capital has fallen to the Houthis.

TIME State of the Union 2015

Barack Obama Warns Against Terrorist Fear Factor in State of the Union

Obama says he wants Americans to fight terrorists but not fear them

President Obama had a mixed message for Congress on terrorism in his State of the Union address Tuesday: don’t fear terrorists, but do authorize me to use military force against them.

Obama’s not the only one advancing that national security paradox. Leaders around the world face the same problem. Terrorists are scary—that’s their point. So how do you get support to fight them without freaking people out and handing them a win?

“We lead best,” Obama said in his speech, “When we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents.” And he implicitly attacked his predecessor, George W. Bush, for failing at the task. “Will we approach the world fearful and reactive, dragged into costly conflicts that strain our military and set back our standing?” Obama asked.

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But Bush has been back in Texas for six years and Gallup reports that 40% of Americans are very or somewhat worried that they or someone in their family will become a victim of terrorism—a slightly higher percentage than when Obama became President in 2009. That’s particularly remarkable when you consider that an American is more likely to be struck by lightening than get hit by a terrorist.

Obama and Bush may not be entirely to blame. The public’s fear of terrorists and its expectations that government will aggressively defend against them are not necessarily the fault of political leaders, says Daniel Byman, co-author of a recent Brookings Institution analysis of the threat posed by foreign fighters returning to the West, “Be Afraid. Be a Little Afraid.”

“It’s very difficult for people to think rationally about low probability events that are high publicity,” Byman says. Furthermore, Byman says, “There are certain things we expect our government to do and one of them is to keep us safe, especially from foreign terrorists—it’s a core government function.”

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Which doesn’t make it any less costly to over-react to terrorist threats. Western fear is very specifically what the terrorists are after, as a recruiting tool, as a means of inspiring the troops they have, and as a way of getting opponents to make costly mistakes, Byman says. Some U.S. intelligence officials look at the long-term strategic challenges posed by China, Russia and European economic weakness and think ISIS and the chaos Middle East amounts at best to a diversion and at worst to a trap.

Obama suggested Tuesday that he wants to avoid such a trap. “Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.” Yet his administration has sought broad powers from Congress to go after ISIS, including the authority to put troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, where the group is principally operating, and to pursue it in other countries as well.

Republicans have the terrorist threat on their mind, too, of course. In her response from the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing room, Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst said, “This is where we’ll debate strategies to confront terrorism and the threats posed by Al Qaeda, ISIL, and those radicalized by them,” Ernst said. “We know threats like these can’t just be wished away. We’ve been reminded of terrorism’s reach both at home and abroad; most recently in France and Nigeria, but also in places like Canada and Australia. Our hearts go out to all the innocent victims of terrorism and their loved ones. We can only imagine the depth of their grief.”

In the end, one of the most effective tools against terrorists is domestic resilience, especially an acceptance that some level of violence from terrorists, while extremely undesirable, is probably inevitable. “You have to accept that this is a part of modern life,” says Byman. “We need to resource security services, but you don’t want to make it the focus of foreign policy.”

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