MS Risk Blog

Update on MENA (22 January 2013)

Posted on in MENA title_rule

Egypt – On Sunday, Egyptian authorities seized one ton of explosives that were in route to the Sinai Peninsula. The driver of the truck has been detained, along with the 50 crates of explosives. Egyptian officials are concerned that militants from Algeria and Libya are now operating in the Sinai Peninsula.

In recent weeks, Egyptian authorities have seized a number of weapons, including short range rockets, anti-craft and anti-take missiles believed to be destined for the Gaza Strip.

Sinai PeninsulaOn 10 January, Egyptian security forces arrested four people in the Matrouh province bordering Libya for attempting to smuggle arms to the Sinai Peninsula. Security forces found in the vehicles 2,084 rounds for anti-aircraft guns, 15 rocket-propelled grenades, 12 RPG launchers, and 12 TNT charges.

The smuggling of weapons has been prevalent since the 2011 Libyan Revolution. Officials estimated that during the revolution, approximately 20,000 missiles went missing from Libya’s weapons cache, while at the same time an influx of missiles appeared on the Sinai black market.

Lawlessness in the Sinai resulting from the 2011 Egyptian Revolution generated a sharp increase in radical activities and militant groups seeking covert training grounds. Since June 2011, radicalized foreigners have been known to be present in the region; however, in recent weeks officials have increasingly noted the existence of foreigners among the jihadist groups, estimating several hundred, many of whom are from Yemen and Somalia, operating in the Sinai.

Egyptian authorities issued a security alert for the Sinai as intelligence services received information about potential attacks by extremist groups in the Sinai. Egyptian authorities are worried that Islamist militants in the Sinai may soon resume attacks in response to statements by the Egyptian army proclaiming that it will not stop its operations or negotiate with militants.

Egypt Travel Advice:

No restrictions in this travel advice

Avoid all but essential travel to part(s) of country

Avoid all but essential travel to whole country

Avoid all travel to part(s) of country

Avoid all travel to whole country

 

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to the Governorate of North Sinai due to the significant increase in criminal activity. The FCO also advises against all but essential travel to the Governorate of South Sinai, with the exception of Red Sea Resorts including those in the entire region of Sharm el Sheikh, Taba, Nuweiba and Dahab; road travel between these resorts; and transfers between the resorts and the airports of Taba and Sharm el Sheikh. Although security is tight throughout the country, especially in resort areas, there is a high threat from terrorism, and there remains a high risk of attacks which could be indiscriminate, including in public places frequented by foreigners. Following French military intervention in Mali, there is a possibility of retaliatory attacks targeting Western interests in the region. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has declared that he is against French military intervention in Mali, saying it could create further unrest in the region. Speaking at an Arab economic summit Riyadh, Morsi said he had hoped for a more “peaceful and developmental” approach to the crisis in Mali.

“We do not accept at all the military intervention in Mali because it will fuel conflict in the region,” Morsi said.

Morsi’s comments may increase tension between Egypt and France ahead of his visit to Paris on 1 February. Other members of the international community have distanced themselves from the Morsi’s position, offering their support to France.

Morsi’s statement came as Malian and French troops appeared to have recaptured the central towns Diabaly and Douentza from Islamist militants, halting their advance towards the south.

Libya – Weapons looted from Libya were among the arms that militants used to attack Ain Amenas gas facility in Algeria, according to Algerian officials and weapons experts. Assault rifles and hand-held rocket launchers used in the assault came from stockpiles that were looted by Libyan militias and arms traffickers in the chaos following Gadhafi’s overthrow in 2011.

Post-revolution Libya is struggling to transform itself into a faltering democracy, yet it has been deemed an “ammunition supermarket” for al Qaeda-linked militants in the North African deserts linking Libya, Chad, Niger, Algeria and Mali.

Algerian officials have vocalized concern about hundreds of miles of largely unguarded border with Libya. These borders have been frought with arms traffickers and criminal smugglers since the fall of Gadhafi. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan declared the border a closed military zone in December 2012, and this month he met with his Algerian counterpart to work in an effort to increase border surveillance.

A US official sees the weapons transactions as a force multiplier that empowered rebels in Mali and “tipped the balance”. In November 2011, members of AQIM told African journalists that weapons from Libya would give them an advantage in their insurgencies.

Further complicating matters, security concerns are shifting to Libya following the hostage crisis at Ain Amenas gas plant in Algeria, as porous borders and unreliable armed forces leave the oil and gas industry vulnerable. Analysts suggest that while the Algerian government will be able to step-up security and contain threats to their oil and gas complexes, similar attacks are likely in other countries which support French actions in Mali. The most vulnerable of these is Libya, which is just beginning to reach pre-revolution oil output of 1.6 million barrels per day. Libya is still in the process of reassembling security forces.

Libya Travel Advice:

No restrictions in this travel advice

Avoid all but essential travel to part(s) of country

Avoid all but essential travel to whole country

Avoid all travel to part(s) of country

Avoid all travel to whole country

The UK FCO advises against all but essential travel to Tripoli, Zuwara, Az Zawiya, al Khums, Zlitan and Misrata, and the coastal towns from Ras Lanuf to the Egyptian Border, with the exception of Benghazi. The FCO also advises against all travel to all other areas of Libya, including Benghazi. There is a high threat of terrorism, including indiscriminate attacks in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. There is also a threat of retaliatory attacks following French intervention in Mali, as well as a threat of kidnapping. Avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings of people, and be weary that violent clashes between armed groups are possible across the country, particularly at night.

 

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