The top international stories of 2016

FILE - In this image made from video and posted online by Validated UGC on Thursday, April 28, 2016, a civil defense worker carries a child after airstrikes hit Aleppo, Syria. In 2016, repeated cease-fire negotiations failed to halt relentless warfare among multiple factions. With Russia's help, the government forces of President Bashar Assad finally seized rebel-held portions of the city of Aleppo, at a huge cost in terms of deaths and destruction. (Validated UGC via AP video)

At the beginning of the year, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper gave his assessment of the world. From international terrorism to mass migration, and much more, Clapper stated that "unpredictable instability has become the 'new normal,' and this trend will continue for the foreseeable future."

In 2016 the international landscape was riddled with conflict and complexity, with seismic political shifts and rifts, as well as nations coming together despite adversity.

Berlin terror attack

Numerous terror attacks hit Europe this year, as the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and individuals inspired by those and other terror groups set their sights on soft, civilian targets.

A truck carrying a load of steel beams rammed into a crowded Christmas market in central Berlin on the evening of Dec. 20, killing 12 people and injuring nearly 50. German political leaders refrained from calling the incident an act of terrorism for 24 hours after the attack, thuogh it bore the hallmarks of past attacks inspired by the terrorist group ISIS. Authorities initially captured the wrong suspect in the attack, triggering a manhunt across Europe to track down Anis Amri, a 24-year old Tunisian man.

Amri had been slated for deportation from Germany, but Tunisian authorities would not take him . The suspect had six aliases, three nationalities and links to the same brand of Islamic extremism that has drawn at least 6,000 of his countrymen to jihadi networks. According to CNN, Amri published a video pledging his allegiance to ISIS only a few hours before the deadly attack. On Friday, Amri was killed in a police shoot-out with Italian authorities in Milan.

Russian Ambassador assassinated in Turkey

In the final weeks of 2016, Russia's ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was assassinated as he gave a speech at an embassy-sponsored exhibition in Ankara. A man later identified as Mevlut Mert Altintas, a riot squad police officer fired at least eight shots, shouting, "Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria! As long as our brothers are not safe, you will not enjoy safety," according to footage released on Dutch website.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the killing, both calling it a deliberate "provocation." In a press conference, Erdogan stated, "We know that this is a provocation aimed at destroying the process of normalization in relations between Turkey and Russia." The two countries have been deeply involved in efforts to resolve the Syrian civil war. Relations between Russia and Turkey were strained at the end of 2015, when Turkish fighters shot down a Russian jet that allegedly transited Turkish airspace.

Despite the assassination, Russia, Turkey, and Iran met on December 21 and agreed to broker peace talks between Syrian rebels and Syrian President Bashar Assad's government. The parties met without the United States and reportedly tried to work out an expansion of the ceasefire in the now-government held city of Aleppo.


Hours before a ceasefire went into place in the besieged northern Syrian city of Aleppo, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon told members of the press, "Aleppo is now a synonym for hell." For four years, Aleppo was under siege. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were trapped in the city that has been relentlessly bombarded by the Syrian government and its Russian allies seeking to retake control of the former rebel stronghold.

Even as other parts of the country were spared from daily shelling and aerial attacks under internationally negotiated ceasefires, the Assad government and its allies continually assaulted Aleppo, destroying hospitals, and blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid, claiming that their offensive operations were aimed at terrorist groups.

After months of carnage, the city was retaken by the Assad government in December, and international aid convoys were allowed entry to evacuate the thousands of civilians.

The city which was once Syria's largest, has become an international symbol for the nearly six years of suffering that the people of Syria have endured. It has also become a symbol of ineffective U.S. and international leadership to stop what Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged was "nothing short of a massacre." Critics of President Obama have pointed to the disaster, saying Aleppo will be the administration's legacy.

The conditions on the ground in Syria were the subject of numerous rounds of multinational talks throughout 2016. Attempts to restart a failed ceasefire, brokered by the United States and Russia, dominated the September UN General Assembly meeting.

The conflict will continue into 2017 with Assad receiving military support from Russia and Iran. Regional players including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, and other Gulf States have a vested interest in the outcome of the conflict. The United States is also carrying out regular airstrikes in Syria against ISIS strongholds, while training rebel fighters.


The worldwide refugee crisis has continued throughout the year after the number of displaced persons reached an all-time peak of more than 65 million in 2015. Overwhelming the largest migration flows are coming from three war-torn countries, Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia. While displaced persons from northern Africa and the Middle East have largely resettled in the region, in Jordan, Turkey, and Pakistan, others have sought asylum in Europe, making an often deadly trek across the Mediterranean Sea.

Even as countries contribute a record amount of aid to support refugees, and the total numbers of refugees seeking asylum in Europe decreased, efforts to resettle displaced persons has created new pressures. In Europe and in the United States, right wing political movements have equated refugee resettlement with the rise in terrorist attacks in western countries. The scare has triggered an anti-immigration political wave in Europe in with the rise of right-wing parties in the United Kingdom, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and elsewhere. In the United States, incoming President Donald Trump has joined with other Republican lawmakers in demanding a pause in accepting refugees from countries with persistent terrorism problems.

Brussels bombings

On March 22, Europe's capital, Brussels was rocked by bombings at the city's international airport and the Maelbeek metro station. The blasts killed 32 people from around the world and injured dozens more. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks carried out by three suicide bombers.

The city was put on lock-down in the hours after the attacks, as European officials sought out additional individuals tied to the attack, part of a jihadist network believed to be connected to the terror attack in Paris last year that left 130 people dead. Ten people in total were arrested in connection to the incident.

Nice Bastille Day attack

On July 14, crowds of of people gathered on the famed Promenade des Anglais in Nice the celebrate the French national holiday, Bastille Day. A truck driven by a 31-year-old Tunians man, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, plowed into a large crowd watching a fireworks display. A total of 86 people were killed by the 19-ton truck.

French investigators discovered that the Bouhlel had been radicalized "rapidly." Authorities were not able to determine any direct prior links to terrorism, but he was apparently inspired by the Islamic State terror group. Following the attack, ISIS claimed responsibility, declaring Bouhlel was one of their soldiers.

ISIS has been calling on adherents to carry out attacks in the west, or wherever they are using means, like cars, trucks, and knives, that are generally easy to acquire. A magazine connected to ISIS and aimed at English-speakers published an extensive list of terror tactics and ideal targets and encouraged the use of "the motor vehicle" to inflict large numbers of casualties.

Military operations to oust ISIS from Mosul

The Iraqi Security Forces, Kurdish Peshmerga, and largely Shia Popular Mobilization Units began military operations to oust the Islamic State from their biggest stronghold in Iraq, the city of Mosul, with military support from the United States. Following months of preparation, and carefully cutting off ISIS supply routes into the city, on October 17, Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that the battle for Mosul had begun.

ISIS captured Mosul in a surprise attack in 2014, and held on to the city for more than 2 years, fortifying its positions and setting traps for the forces that are now still engaged in harsh street to street urban combat. The U.S. anti-ISIS coalition continues to launch airstrikes against ISIS targets, and recently hit a hospital in Mosul, thought to have been used by the militants to launch heavy fire on Iraqi forces. At the outset of the military operation to liberate Mosul from ISIS control, more than 100,000 people have been displaced, fleeing the city, that was once Iraq's second largest.

By late December, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter visited the approximately 5,000 U.S. troops on the ground in northern Iraq. Hopeful the liberation can be done as soon as possible, Carter acknowledged "it's going to be a tough fight."

As operations in Mosul were underway, Operation Euphrates Anger began in November to defeat ISIS in their Syrian stronghold, Raqqa. The U.S.-backed offensive is being led by the predominantly Kurdish Syria Democratic Forces.

Mexican drug kingpin 'El Chapo' captured and escaped

The head of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel, Joaqui?n Archivaldo Guzma?n Loera, or "El Chapo," the world's most powerful drug trafficker, was recaptured for the third time by Mexican marines in January, and escaped, once again, from a Mexican prison in November.

El Chapo had evaded multiple raids by Mexican authorities, including a close call after meeting with American actor Sean Penn for an interview published in Rolling Stone magazine. But by January, he was taken into custody and housed in a maximum security prison outside Mexico City.

The drug kingpin's Sinaloa cartel is responsible for an estimated 25 percent of the drugs entering the U.S. from Mexico and hundreds of drug-related murders. U.S. authorities fought desperately to get Guzma?n extradited to the United States, but within weeks of an October decision by a Mexican federal judge in favor of extraditing El Chapo to the United States, he had once again escaped. Guzma?n faces numerous drug and conspiracy charges in multiple U.S. states.


When British Prime Minister David Cameron was reelected in 2015, he promised the people of the United Kingdom that in 2016 they could cast their vote and decide whether Britain would stay a member of the European Union, or leave. In a stunning vote on June 23, the leave camp won, 52 to 48 percent, starting the long and complicated process of Brexit. The City of London, the mainstream British and European media, and establishment politicians had all anticipated Britain would stay in the EU, and were delivered a shocking defeat.

In the days and weeks that followed, Cameron announced his resignation. Theresa May took his place. The British pound hit a 30-year low, and the future outlook of the British economy looks dim.

The leave campaign was led by the once fringe right-wing politician, Nigel Farage, who helped motivate voters on the grounds of new immigration fears as Europe came increasingly under attack from terrorists entering the bloc as migrants and asylum-seekers. Additionally, many in the country objected to the supra-national structure in Brussels that created laws and regulations above the control of the national government. Britain has always kept itself somewhat apart from the EU, never adopting the Euro as its currency, and maintaining control over tits borders by opting out of the Schengen Zone, a Europe-wide area of open borders for people, goods, and services.

As 2016 winds down, the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, has yet to trigger the official mechanism (Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty) that will start the unraveling of the treaties, laws, regulations, and benefits of Britain's EU membership. At that time, Europe and the UK will have approximately 2 years to negotiate the exact terms of Brexit.

The U.S. Election

Speaking of shocking votes...not only in America, but all over the world nations's leaders and their people were closely watching the shocking outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The seemingly never-ending campaigns finally came to an end in the early hours of November 9, and despite the polls and political pundits predicting a Democratic win, Donald Trump shored up the electoral college vote and defeated Hillary Clinton.

With the results of the election in, foreign leaders were sending their messages over the airwaves, congratulating the president-elect on his victory and express their hopes for working with the new administration in the future. As Trump prepares to take office on January 20, many in the international arena have little understanding of the billionaire real-estate mogul and soon-to-be U.S. president's foreign policy agenda.

So far, Trump has continued to make friendly overtures to Russia, which some NATO allies have taken to be a worrying sign. Trump talked a tough game on China, accusing Beijing of trade abuses and has nominated a China critic to be his trade advisor, but a friend of Premier Xi Jinping as ambassador. Trump has called to end the Iran nuclear deal, defended Israeli settlements voted on at the UN, and has consistently called for the construction of a border wall with America's closest southern neighbor.

In the biggest foreign policy decision yet, Trump nominated former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to head the Department of State, a man who, like Trump, has business dealings around the world, but no prior government experience.


The road to the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was bumpy, as Brazil struggled through its own government instability and the Zika virus, but the games excited and delighted national audiences around the world watching their best athletes compete for the gold.

By the end of the 17 days, the United States had won 46 gold medals, a great performance by team U.S.A. Great Britain won 27 gold medals, China won 26, Russia won 19 and Germany took home 17.

U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps also made Olympic history. At 31 years-old, Phelps will retire after winning 23 Olympic gold medals, and the most Olympic medals earned by a single person in the recorded history of the games.

Despite the immense challenges faced by individual countries and the world as a whole, the summer games provided a much-needed respite where nations came together to watch their athletes put their hearts and souls into a peaceful competition.

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