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JNIM to Release New Video Calling on Fulani to Wage Jihad

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On 7 November 2018, reports emerged that JNIM announced the forthcoming official release of its new video entitled “Go forth whether light or heavy,” featuring the first audiovisual speech as part of JNIM by Katiba Macina founder Amadou Kouffa. The video reportedly calls on the Fulani in West Africa and in Cameroon to wage “jihad.”

This new video demonstrates how terrorist groups operating in the Sahel region have increasingly sought to integrate themselves within the local communities, particularly the Fulani ethnic group, which is one of the largest in West Africa and which is spread across the Sahel region.  The Fulani have traditionally been cattle herders and have been engaged in a struggle with farmers across the Sahel region as pasture-land and resources in the region have diminished.  They are increasingly being pushed deeper into poverty and feelings of political exclusion may result in a rebellion that could destabilize the West African region. There are growing concerns across the region that jihadist groups like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and others, such as JNIM, could use ties into the Fulani community in a bid to exploit their anger and expand their areas of operations in the Sahel region. This has been seen in the past, with AQIM tapping into Tuareg networks to advance its objectives in West Africa.

This video also shows how terrorist groups are aware of regional issues, both on the local and national scale, and how they may attempt to exploit these situations in a bid to further push their ideologies and expand their areas of operation.  In particular, the mention of Cameroon is of concern.  While the African country has been affected by terrorism, particularly in its Far North region, where Nigerian-based terror group Boko Haram has carried out numerous deadly attacks and kidnappings, Cameroon has been spared from the destabilizing situation that is affecting Mali and regional countries, in particular Burkina Faso and Niger.  Nationally however Cameroon is in turmoil as separatists in the North West and South West regions, which are the English-speaking areas of Cameroon, have destabilized the region in their bid to create a breakaway republic, which they have named The Federal Republic of Ambazonia.  The current crisis affecting these two regions erupted in October 2016 in Bamenda, the capital of the North West region, with a strike by English-speaking lawyers demanding respect of the Common Law and the translation into English of the Code of the Organization for the Harmonization Business Law in Africa and other laws.  Weeks later, teachers joined the move as they organized a rally against the lack of English-speaking teachers and the non-respect of the “Anglo-Saxon” education system in the English-speaking regions.  Many locals joined the cause, driven by numerous demands ranging from a lack of decentralization of power as well as a lack of investment in infrastructure in the region.  The strikes that began in the North West region would later spread into the South West region and police clampdowns have only further fueled tensions. Clashes between the insurgents and security forces have killed scores of people and have displaced tens of thousands more since the conflict intensified late last year.  Insurgents have abducted and killed soldiers, policemen and local politicians in hit-and-run guerrilla raids, while Cameroonian forces have been accused of burning down villages and opening fire on fleeing residents, accusations which the army has denied.  The conflict gained world-wide attention with the killing of an American missionary in late October and the unrest now threatens the stability of one of Africa’s larger economies.  Tensions are likely to remain heightened in the wake of incumbent Paul Biya winning another term in office in the 7 October 2018 presidential election.

JNIM was formed on 2 March 2017, with the merger of three regional jihadist groups:  the Saharan branch of AQIM merged with Ansar al-Dine and al-Mourabitoun to form Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam was Muslimeen (JNIM).  JNIM’s call for Fulani to wage “jihad” in Cameroon in particular can be seen as an attempt to benefit from the instability in the North West and South West regions.  The militant group will likely attempt to infiltrate some of the local populations, further fuel discord between the separatists and the Cameroonian government, and eventually openly call for attacks against the central government in the capital Yaoundé.  JNIM and other regional terror groups may also use the situation in this region of Cameroon to recruit new forces while at the same time spreading their influence and areas of operation.  Gaining a foothold into Cameroon will likely result in the further destabilization of the Central African region, which is currently affected by a number of conflicts, including ongoing crises in the Central African Republic and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, both of which have forced thousands of people to flee the region.  JNIM’s call for “jihad” in the West African region and in Cameroon therefore poses a serious threat not only in West Africa, but to the stability of the greater African continent, especially Central Africa.

Chinese Maritime Presence

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Beijing’s maritime presence means not only its Navy, which experienced an astonishing development in the last two decades. China has built a large coast guard, a merchant fleet and it has one of the biggest shipbuilding industry as well. Its finishing fleet and the building of ships capable of moving under arctic conditions also should not be forgotten. Consider the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation’s (CNNC) tender published in June 2018 to build nuclear-powered icebreakers.

To meet the ever-increasing demand of the Chinese economy, the country created the Road and Belt initiative, to try securing its land-based supplies. These infrastructural projects may conflict with the interests of Russia or Central Asian countries, therefore China cannot rely solely on land-based trade routes, it has to have maritime routes as well, which needs to be protected.

The Navy has multiple roles, such as to assert and enforce China’s territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, to gain maritime control over the South China Sea, to deny any military activity within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the Nine-Dash Line or the chain of islands also called the Chinese pearls, despite lacking any internationally recognised right to do so, and to protect Chinese commercial sea lines and communication. Especially in case of the Malacca Strait and the Persian Gulf. The Navy also helps to demonstrate China’s status as a leading regional power and an equal global power to the US.

In a little more than two decades, from a largely coastal force, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) became a modern force of multiple classes of ships, not based on obsolete Soviet technology. The Navy has destroyers, corvettes, frigates and all of these classes are in serial production. According to the US Office of Naval Intelligence, Beijing was focusing on the quality improvement of its Navy, not the quantity. With the established shipbuilding industry, the focus is now on to build those ships required to achieve aims of the PLAN.

These objectives are impressive, the Chinese Navy has some strategic weaknesses. It has only two aircraft carriers at the moment, with the third is under construction, therefore the Navy does not have comprehensive fleet air-defence system, It can operate effectively within the range of land-based air support. The other weakness is, that it is focusing on anti-surface warfare and its anti-submarine forces are poor. Its commercial fleet is vulnerable to submarine attacks. One should not forget about the human factor of the Navy. No one really knows the true capabilities of the Navy commanders or the quality of the training of the crew.

Although Chinese leaders expressed it several times that their military development is peaceful, it leads to an arms race in the region. Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and India are just a few of those countries concerned about the continuously growing Chinese naval presence.

Chinese geopolitical intentions and objectives are not always clear. It may want to rival the US in the region and be the dominant sea power; it may use its economic power to change the global political and economic order to its favour or it may try to create a regional trade block stretching from Japan to the Persian Gulf. Whichever is the true aim of China, it sees its maritime power as an essential tool to achieve regional or global power.

Corruption Still a Major Problem in Romania

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Corruption is still a serious problem within Romania and clashes between the ruling Romanian party and the government agency tasked with fighting corruption have only escalated in the last few months following the firing the of The National Anticorruption Directorate’s chief anticorruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi on 9 July 2018.  Prosecutors, under Kovesi, secured a series of convictions in recent years against lawmakers, ministers and mayors, exposing conflicts of interest, abuse of power, fraud and awarding of state contracts in exchange for bribes.Justice Minister Tudorel Toader first called for Kovesi’s dismissal in February, saying she had exceeded her authority and damaged Romania’s image abroad. While a series of sustained protests followed her firing a significant protest occurred in the beginning of August that has only escalated tension within the country and wider region.

It was first reported that on 9 August that Romanians who lived and worked abroad begun arriving back in Bucharest to participate in an anti-government protest where they are demanding that the left-wing government resign, call an early election, and to protest the government’s move to implement new laws that critics say will weaken the nation’s fight against corruption. An estimated 3 million Romanians living abroad say they left because of corruption, low wages and lack of opportunities within the country. On 10 August there were small anti-government protests in several cities, and a handful of protesters had arrived in the large square outside the government offices in Bucharest where the demonstration will be staged. Amid fears of violence at the protest, riot police called for a peaceful demonstration. It was estimated that tens of thousands of protesters rallied against the ruling Social Democrat and in the capital Bucharest riot police fired tear gas into the crowd and hundreds of protesters needed medical attention. As the protests continued throughout the night, riot police used a water cannon and increasingly sprayed tear gas into the crowd. Video footage posted on social media show police beating non- violent protesters holding their hands up. Centrist Romanian President Klaus Iohannis condemned the police’s disproportionate use of force.On 11 August it was reported that more than 450 people had been injured in the protests. Eyewitness reports suggest that what had been a peaceful protest against government corruption degenerated when a hard core of trouble-makers attacked the police. Riot police responded with baton charges. The authorities’ actions appeared to lack discrimination, with apparently peaceful demonstrators being sprayed with water cannon and teargas.

By 14 August more than a hundred Romanians and rights groups had filed criminal complaints against riot police over their violent response to the anti-corruption protest in the capital Bucharest.  Video recordings emerged show police beating journalists and non-violent protesters who were holding their hands up. Prosecutors said they were investigating the riot police, Interior Minister Carmen Dan and Speranta Cliseru, the Bucharest prefect who authorized the use of force, on suspicion of abusive behaviour, abuse of office and negligence. On 15 August the general prosecutor of Romania, Augustin Lazar, has said that all investigations into the violent clashes from the protest of the Diaspora will be impartial. Already, there were some 192 protesters that filed complaints against the Romanian Gendarmerie.

On 17 August, Prime Minister Viorica Dancila defended the use of force by police to break up anti-government protests in Bucharest.  The Romanian media reported that Dancila sent a letter to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker claiming that centre-right President Klaus Iohannis and other politicians had attempted to “violently remove a legitimate government.” She asserted that the authorities acted legally in their efforts to defend government offices from protesters who tried to break through police lines. Romania’s interior minister Carmen Dan, on 19 August, reported that the ministry had identified up to 1,000 people who committed acts of violence during the protest. Citing a 90-page ministry report, Dan said police were being investigated on suspicion of committing five cases of abuse against non- violent protesters. She claimed media had broadcast misleading images intended to harm the left-wing government. Liviu Dragnea, the chairman of Romania’s ruling party, on 21 August, called the recent anti- corruption protest that left 450 people injured an attempted coup d’etat. “I saw an attempted coup to overthrow the government,” Dragnea said to media.  The Social Democratic Party leader also accused multinational companies of financing anti-graft protests that erupted in 2017 over fears the Social Democrats were backtracking on anti-graft efforts. Romanian prime minister Viorica Dancila, on 24 August, said that she has witnessed an assault on some state institutions after the protest. She accused those who failed to come to power after the elections of trying to take over power by “undemocratic means,” She also told her cabinet members that they don’t have the right to concede to this pressure and to further divide the society.

On 20 August Romanian authorities reported that they are probing the death of a man who sustained injuries during the anti-government protest. Police said the 62-year-old man died in a hospital in southern Romania where he was being treated for internal bleeding. Hospital director Valentina Roibu called for the probe to avoid suspicions surrounding the cause of death. The man was hospitalized after suffering bleeding and vomiting. The Department for Emergency Situations later said the man had pre-existing conditions, including high blood pressure. A statement said he sought medical help for a nosebleed during the riot, but had refused to be hospitalized.

On 6 September Romania’s justice minister nominated a little-known regional official, Adina Florea, to take over the post of national anti-corruption prosecutor. In a document outlining her views around how the anti-corruption office operates, Florea, a prosecutor in the port town of Constanta, wrote the institution has operated at times in a “dysfunctional” way and accused some prosecutors of illegal activities in pursuing cases. To become official, Florea’s appointment will have to be approved by Iohannis, a centrist politician often at odds with the ruling leftists over corruption policy.

It has been announced that on 10 September The Declic and Rezist Zurich civic groups had bought advertising space at the Geneva Airport in Switzerland to run video recordings of the violent protests in Bucharest. The video also contained a message for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, asking her to take a position against abuses in Romania. Bachelet has an office in Geneva.

Romania, which joined the European Union in 2007, has long struggled with deep-rooted corruption,  however under Kovesi,the country had taken steps to rein in high-level graft, winning popular support and praise from Brussels. Under Kovesi the agency had successfully prosecuted thousands of government officials, lawmakers and business leaders.  On 17 August The co-leaders of the European parliament’s Green group  called on the European commission to launch its rule-of-law mechanism, which is being deployed against Poland and debated for Hungary. The Greens, who sit with separatist parties to boost their numbers, are only the fifth-largest group in the European parliament, limiting their influence. However the party’s call for a European parliament debate on Romania is likely to win support from some liberal and centre-right MEPs. Romania is likely to face growing scrutiny as it prepares to take up the EU’s rotating presidency for the first time.

Turkey’s Economic Crisis and its Dispute with the US

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It all begun last month when tensions between the US and Turkey due to a disagreement over the fate of North Carolina Pastor Andrew Brunson. Turkey imprisoned Brunson in October 2016, claiming he had ties to a group that Erdogan blames for the failed coup earlier that year. When Turkey failed to release Brunson in July, the Trump administration sanctioned two top officials in the Turkish government. The dispute between the two NATO allies continued with both sides threatening each other with imposing sanctions on one another. Turkey vowed it would not succumb to threats. This indeed led to further escalations earlier last week as the US doubled its tariffs on metal imports from Turkey. This worsened the economic crisis for Turkey’s currency, the lira, which has lost about a third of its value against the dollar since January. Nonetheless, the court refused to release Mr Brunson, and the government in Ankara increased tariffs on imports from the US of cars, alcoholic drinks and leaf tobacco. While this managed to recover the value of the lira slightly, a fresh tweet from President Trump fuelled the dispute as he accused Turkey of had “taking advantage of the United States for many years” and that he was “cutting back on Turkey”. Last Thursday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “We have more that we are planning to do if they don’t release him [Mr Brunson] quickly.”

Mr Brunson has denied charges of espionage, but faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty. The US insists the pastor, a long-time Turkish resident, is “a victim of unfair and unjust detention”. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Washington of showing an “evangelist, Zionist mentality”. The standoff appears to be one of the most serious crises between Turkey and the United States in modern history, along with the rows over the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. While the diplomatic crisis deepens, the lira is still going into meltdown and continues to fall again this week. This turmoil has prompted widespread selling in other emerging markets, sparking fears of a global crisis. Nevertheless, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed his country will not be brought to heel amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis with the United States. Without naming the US directly, the Turkish leader on Monday said that there was no difference between attacks on the country’s economy and attacks on “our call to prayer and our flag”. In his speech, Erdogan denounced Washington for declaring “economic war on the entire world” and holding countries “for ransom through sanction threats”. However, he urged Turks to shore up the currency by not trading in dollars and euros. The central bank also said it would provide all the liquidity Turkish banks needed, as it seeks to keep money flowing in the financial system.

Yesterday morning, the US Washington rejected an attempt by President Erdogan to solve the worsening crisis in Turkey’s relations with the United States by linking the fate of an American pastor to a Turkish bank accused of sanctions-busting. More specifically, Ankara offered to release Andrew Brunson, an evangelical preacher who was detained by the Turkish authorities and accused of links to the 2016 coup attempt, in return for relief for Halkbank, a majority state-owned bank, according to reports from Washington. The bank is facing billions of dollars in US fines over accusations that it masterminded the purchase of gold to pay for oil imports from Iran into Turkey. However, the US officials have rejected a deal, saying that Mr Brunson must be released before other issues can be discussed.

As the diplomatic deterioration continues, and the economic crisis deepens, speculation is rife that Germany could be ready to offer Turkey financial aid when President Recep Erdogan visits the country next month, but analysts say it’s unlikely that Ankara would ask for help. Moscow is also expected to stand by Turkey if the crisis continues. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, visited Ankara on Tuesday, branding the US sanctions an illegitimate policy. Reports amid all speculations, state as the financial situation due to the sanctions has left citizens with little or no option than to advance towards the cryptocurrency to survive.

Whilst the entire world watches the two NATO allies continuously failing to end this dispute, an announcement by Russia could spark greater renewed tensions and even sanctions as analysts fear. Yesterday, Russia’s state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, says it will begin delivering its advanced S-400 antiaircraft missile systems to Turkey in 2019. Washington has voiced concern over NATO-member Turkey’s purchase of Russian-made S-400 missiles, arguing that its deployment could risk the security of several U.S-made weapons that Ankara uses. U.S. lawmakers have been working to block the delivery in response to the American pastor’s arrest and Turkey’s pledge to buy Russian S-400 missile systems.

Islamic State on its West Africa Province

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Videos featuring the Islamic State’s ‘West Africa Province’ (ISWAP) are released infrequently making each one a notable occurrence. What was particularly noteworthy about the video released on 11 July 2018, titled “Tribulations and Blessings”, was the fact it represented the first official confirmation by the group of armed conflict with the break-away faction Jamaa’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad (JASDJ) led by former leader Abubakar Shekau. Of additional interest was the fact that the video also featured the first evidence of the group using an up-armoured suicide car bomb (SVBIED). Nevertheless, despite being interesting revelations the release of this video was quickly overshadowed by news of a series of deadly attacks by jihadist insurgents targeting military convoys and bases in Nigeria’s Borno and Yobe states.

Perhaps the video was overlooked because neither revelation adds materially to what is known about the group. The rivalry between ISWAP and JASDJ has been well documented since their split in August 2016 after the Islamic State moved to remove Abubakar Shekau as leader for his use of violence, including suicide-bombings and kidnapping, against Muslim civilians. After Shekau refused to accept this decision reports soon began to emerge of clashes between the factions. While hundreds of fighters are believed to have been killed during this in-fighting the situation did not erupt into open warfare as both forces concentrated on consolidating their forces in differgent regions of Nigeria. For ISWAP this was around Lake Chad and the region along the Nigeria-Niger border while for JASDJ this was the centred on the Sambisa forest from which then extended its influence across the central and southern regions of Borno State as well as across the border into Cameroon. Likewise, the up-armoured SVBIED demonstrates either the transfer of technical expertise from Syria and Iraq – which would not be a surprise – or else it indicates an ability to adopt and adapt tactics that are well documented in Islamic State propaganda.

But to allow this video to be shelved alongside all the other propaganda churned out by the Islamic State’s media department is to miss its actual message and purpose. That is, to lay out a justification for the beginning of open warfare, a type of jus ad bellum, against Abubakar Shekau and his faction should there be no reconciliation between them. This is evident in the general order and content of each major ‘theme’ addressed in the video namely: governance, military operations, remaining and expanding; and martyrdom.

The first major theme of the video is governance. This is depicted through scenes of crops, market activity, the catching and smoking of fish as well as the testimonies of a farmer and herdsman regarding life under the rule of ISWAP . Each of these represent the primary economic activities engaged in by communities in areas under the influence or control of the group. This demonstrates ISWAP efforts to develop an effective system of administration in areas under its influence and control. It also underscores the ongoing attempts to differentiate itself from its JASDJ rival, which maintains a reputation for extreme violence in its search for food and other supplies.

The second major theme concerns military operations and can be seen in footage of attacks targeting forces belonging to the Nigerian military and the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). The use of an up-armoured jeep as an SVBIED is indicative of the group learning from and adopting tactics employed in Syria and Iraq. However, it is the use of suicide-bombers against military targets that serves as a contrast to JASDJ, which uses them to target civilians; often Muslims themselves. This serves to emphasize the point that ISWAP is targeting the ‘correct’ enemy and in doing so has enjoyed success on the battlefield.

The third theme regards ‘remaining and expanding’ (baqiya wa-tatamaddad). This is seen in the decision to emphasize attacks on the Nigerian military encampment in Buni Yadi (Yobe State) and Faruk – located south of Goniri and east of Buni Yadi in Yobe State. This demonstrates the continued expansion by ISWAP into the region south of the cities of Damaturu and Maiduguri. As recently as April, the presence of ISWAP in this area was believed to be weak or else absent. In contrast, the strength of JASDJ in adjoining region which lies south of Maiduguri and runs eastwards from Chibok towards Buni Yadi was assessed as moderate to strong. This will lead to a further reduction in the geographical separation between the operational areas of both factions and is likely to result in an increase in violence between them.

But it is in the fourth and final theme, martyrdom, that the Islamic State offers the clearest indication that it has run out of patience with Abubakar Shekau, and may be prepared to declare open war on him and his faction. This can be found in the eulogy for the ISWAP commander Abu Fatima al-Lagosi, who was reportedly killed in a battle with JASDJ . As part of a description of the exploits of this jihadi the narrator, speaking in Hausa, states: ‘He made the khawaarij of Shekau and the apostates of Africa drink from a bitter cup’. This comparison between JASDJ and the historic Kharijite movement may have some legitimacy due to the extreme position both have adopted on the matter of ‘excommunication’ (takfir) as it applies to fellow Muslims. However, by making this association the Islamic State is not only attempting to undermine the religious legitimacy of Abubakar Shekau and his supporters, but also establish a legitimate basis for attacking them should they not ‘repent’ and seek a reconciliation (tawba).

Observers of the jihadist insurgency in Nigeria may disagree on the meaning behind this video, and it is possible some will view it as a typical example of the propaganda churned out by the Islamic State’s media team. However, this video was released only weeks after the publication online of the book “Taking Out the Tumor of Shekau’s Khawarij Through Pledging Alliance to the People of Benevolence”. This book (which has fortunately received been translated for those interested) was allegedly written by the sons of Muhammed Yusuf, the founder of the Boko Haram movement, and presents a version of the two factions shared history and seeks to undermine reputation of Shekau leader as well as the religious legitimacy of his ideology, strategy and tactics.

Taken together it would appear that the Islamic State has finally grown tired of the game Abubakar Shekau has attempted to play by not revoking his oath of allegiance but still defying the orders of its central leadership.  This raises a number of important questions: In an open conflict would ISWAP or JASDJ be more likely to prevail? What impact could an increase in inter-jihadi violence have on other conflicts eg herdsmen v farmers? Could an expanded conflict force one or both factions to try and expand into new regions? Are the Nigerian and other regional military forces capable of successfully exploiting any opportunities presented by inter-jihadi conflict?  Could an expanded conflict actually encourage or force a reconciliation between the factions?  … These are questions that will not only present a challenge for both local and foreign policy-makers as well as military planners but also intergovernmental organizations, government aid agencies, multi-national companies and non-government organizations that are active in Nigeria, neighbouring countries and the wider region. It will remain important for each of these actors to continue to monitor the state of the ‘Boko Haram’ insurgency, as the campaigns of both factions continue to be populalry refered to as, in order to ensure their activities, operations and interests are not threatened or negatively impacted.