Mali’s ex-junta leaders has asked for forgiveness a year-and-a-half after the coup he led destabilized the entire country. Presidential elections in Mali remain to be uncertain while the United Nations Security Council has confirmed that a UN peacekeeping force will be deployed to Mali at the start of July.
Captian Amadou Sanogo, the military chief who led the coup that destabilized Mali last year, indicated during a reconciliation ceremony between rival army factions that he wanted “to ask for forgiveness from Malians as a whole.” The event which was held on Wednesday was aimed to heal the split between the rival army factions. Amongst those who attended the event was Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore, where he announced that all the soldiers who had been arrested after trying to stage a counter-coup in May 2012 have since been released.
In March 2012, Captain Sanogo headed the forces that would eventually overthrow the regime of President Amadou Toumani Toure. Political and economic instability followed while a French intervention was launched in January 2013 in order to combat an advancing Islamist militant threat. International troops quickly moved in to tackle al-Qaeda militants and their allies who took advantage of the chaos and gained control of the country’s vast northern desert region. The coup also created a rift amongst the pro-junta soldiers and those who were loyal to the former president.
Although France has began a gradual troop withdrawal in April this year, and has started to hand over security operations to a regional African force that was set up in order to help the Malian army provide security, Islamist militants have continued to lead guerrilla-style attacks, leading many regional and international states to have doubts about the security level in the country. Furthermore, although Tuareg rebels signed a peace deal, which was intended to help pave the elections on 28 July, with the interim Malian government, doubts about the upcoming elections have also increased, as many believe the country is not yet ready and stable enough in order to hold nationwide elections. Even as political parties rushed to meet the deadline for submitting their candidates, Mali’s electoral body voiced its doubts on Friday over the feasibility of holding the much-anticipated presidential poll in July as planned. President of the National Independent Election Commission Mamadou Diamoutene indicated on Friday that there were a number of challenges that remain to be resolved, stating that “the deadline for candidates to file expires today at midnight. An yet there are many obstacles for us to overcome. I have said it before and I will say it now: it will be very difficult to stick to the date of July 28.” Amongst the challenges is the fact that electoral ID cards only began being distributed on Friday, one month before the scheduled poll. Mali is a nation twice the size of France, and the country’s vast northern regions remains to be cut off from the rest of the country, consequently making it unlikely that the cards will be able to be distributed to all precincts in time. The cards are also missing key information, such as voters‘ polling locations.
What is certain is that a UN peacekeeping force will likely deploy in Mali from 1 July. Earlier this week, the United Nations Security Council agreed that a 12,600 peacekeeping force, known as MINUSMA, should deploy at the beginning of July. The force will incorporate the 6,000 West African soldiers who are already in the country. It will aim to provide security for the election and will likely face security and political obstacles and will be deployed in extreme summer heat. It will also aim to provide security for the presidential elections.
The murder of 11 individuals at the base camp of Nanga Parbat late last week suggests new dangers may be emerging for foreign climbers and tourists in the remote but previously peaceful regions of northern Pakistan. Nanga Parbat is the ninth highest mountain in the world at 8126 metres and a popular destination for Himalayan mountaineers.
On the evening of Saturday, 22nd June, 16 individuals dressed in the uniform of the Gilget Scouts (a police paramilitary unit based in northern Pakistan) arrived at the base camp of Nanga Parbat. After stealing personal belongings and destroying mobile phones, they killed 11 of the people staying at the camp. 10 of these were foreigners – 3 Ukrainians, 2 Slovakians, 2 Chinese, a dual US-Chinese citizen, a Lithuanian, and a Nepalese. Also among the dead was a local guide, reportedly killed because of his Shia religion, while Sunnis at the camp were spared.
While initially the perpetrators of the attack were unknown, it now appears that the Pakistani Taliban (or TTP) were responsible, claiming responsibility in a press release late on Sunday, 23rd June. Despite the common name, the TTP share no direct affiliation (and indeed have an at times problematic relationship with) the Afghan Taliban.
Based largely in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) of northwest Pakistan, the TTP targets mainly the organs of the Pakistani state. It has been extremely active in terrorist incidents throughout the country – including being implicated in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Moreover the group has been implicated by US Government officials as being behind the 2010 attempted car bomb in Times Square, New York, and been connected with the 2009 attack on CIA facilities at Camp Chapman in Afghanistan.
The TTP is extremely closely affiliated with Al-Qaeda, with current DCI John Brennan saying in 2010 “They train together, they plan together, they plot together. They are almost indistinguishable.” Nevertheless, for the most part the TTP acts mainly within Pakistan itself, and past attacks on foreigners have been rare. Indeed, despite the terrorism at times endemic to parts of the country, terrorist attacks on foreigners as a whole have remained unusual, with this incident reportedly the worst in over a decade.
However, in this instance foreigners were deliberately targeted. The attack was reportedly in retaliation for the death of Wali-ur Rehman, a senior TTP commander and spokesman killed with six associates by a US drone strike on 29th May. It appears that the TTP has recently established a subsidiary organisation, reportedly named Junood-ul Hifsa, with the goal of targeting foreigners in Pakistan in response to drone strikes. The attack at Nanga Parbat was explicitly connected with this new faction.
Reaching the base camp requires at least an 18 hour trek by foot or mule, suggesting this attack required a level of premeditation and planning as opposed to being an opportunistic or random incident. Despite mass detentions of porters and guides, and the apparent identification of the individuals responsible (local militants reportedly trained in the FATA), the perpetrators of this attack remain at large in the wilderness of northern Pakistan.
The region in which this occurred, Gilget-Baltistan, is a very remote self-governing province under the administrative control of Pakistan since the First Kashmir War in 1947 – 1948. Despite its connections with the on-going Kashmir dispute, and the activities of some militant nationalist groups, Gilget-Baltistan has remained broadly peaceful.
Nanga Parbat is an extremely popular destination for climbers, with upwards of 50 foreign mountaineers either preparing to ascend or on the mountain itself at the time of the attack, who have all now been evacuated. Multiple foreign tour operators have reportedly cancelled expeditions, with some commentators believing this incident could cripple Pakistan’s already weak tourism industry.
If, as claimed, this incident represents the beginning of a new strategy of targeting foreign citizens in Pakistan in response to drone strikes and other military action, it is extremely concerning indeed. With many foreign mountaineers and similar flocking to remote parts of the Himalayas in the summer months, they remain particularly exposed and vulnerable to any militant activity. In light of this incident, the British Foreign and Commonwealth office currently advises against all but essential travel to Gilget-Baltistan.
Mali Rebels Offer Freedom Deal for Algerian Hostages
23 June, 2013- The Mali-based al-Qaeda affiliate, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) has offered to release one individual from a group of Algerian diplomats which were kidnapped last year, in exchange for the release of three “mujahedeen” currently held in Algeria. A statement sent to the Algerian government said, “If Algeria rejects the proposal, the Algerian hostages’ lives will be in danger.” The group did not release the names of the three prisoners they wish to have released, nor where they were being held.
MUJAO abducted a group of seven people, including the Algerian diplomats, on 5 April, 2012 in Gao, northern Mali. The kidnappers initially asked for €15 million to release the group, however, they released three of those hostages months later in July. In September 2013, MUJAO announced that the group had killed one of the hostages, however, this has not verified by the Algerian government.
Bahraini Security Arrests 9 in Prison Break Plan
25 June, 2013- Bahrain announced the arrest of nine Shiites members of the group Jaish al-Imam (Army of the Imam) thought to be linked to Iran, that were planning, among other things, to attack a prison to facilitate a jail break. Arms, ammunition and a plan for attacking the prison were seized. Those arrested were intending to carry out attacks on key installations in the country, the ministry said.
Bahrain is a country with a Shiite Muslim majority population that is ruled by a Sunni Muslim dynasty. Relations between Bahrain and overwhelmingly Shiite Iran have been tense since the authorities in Manama, with the help of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbors, suppressed a pro-democracy movement largely led by Shiites.
Egypt Reinforces Military Presence in Suez Region ahead of Protests
27 June, 2013- The Egyptian army has reinforced its presence in the Egyptian Suez Canal city of Port Said ahead of national anti-government protests on 30 June. Several armoured vehicles toured the city’s streets before parking in front of the governorate headquarters. The forces were received with cheers by residents. Egypt is bracing for the protests on 30 June, called for by signature drive ‘Tamarod’, which aims at withdrawing confidence from the president and holding early elections.
The campaign’s petition to remove Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from office has gathered 15 million signatures, more than the number of votes amassed by Morsi last year. The petition accuses the president of “failing to implement policies to improve the life of ordinary people,” citing Egypt’s critical economic situation. Some Egyptians are calling for the army to take over power for a temporary period and appoint a new government, in the event that Morsi resigns.
In preparation for June 30 demonstrations, army troops have started to take over the assignment of safeguarding vital facilities, including Martyr Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel and the banks of the Suez Canal.
Meanwhile, early clashes north of Cairo resulted in one person killed and more than 200 injured as opponents of President Morsi pelted his supporters with garbage as they gathered outside a mosque to stage a march in support of the president. This clash is probably an omen of larger clashes likely this weekend.
Bombs Target Protesters, 14 Dead
25 June, 2013- Bombs targeting Shiite protesters and pilgrims killed 14 people in northern town of Tuz Khurmatu, a day after 35 people were killed nationwide, most of them in a wave of car bombings in the capital. The death toll for June is now over 350. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Sunni militants linked to al Qaeda frequently target Shia Muslims.
Two suicide bombers blew themselves up inside a tent filled with Shia Turkmen protesters in the town, killing at least 11 people and wounding 55. The protesters had been rallying over poor security in the town, which is regularly hit with attacks.
Tuz Khurmatu lies in a tract of territory in the north that Kurdistan wants to incorporate into its three-province autonomous region over Baghdad’s objections. The unresolved dispute over the territory, which stretches from Iraq’s eastern border with Iran to its western frontier with Syria, is cited by diplomats as one of the biggest threats to the country’s long-term stability.
Also on 25 June, a “sticky bomb” attached to a minibus went off as Shiite pilgrims were on their way to the central shrine city of Karbala for Shabaniyah commemorations. Three people were killed and 15 wounded when the bomb went off near the town of Iskandiriyah. In east Baghdad, gunmen wounded two guards outside an Assyrian church.
Iraq is struggling with a prolonged political deadlock and violence at its worst levels since 2008. Attacks have increased considerably since the beginning of the year, coinciding with rising discontent among the Sunni Arab minority that erupted into protests in late December.
Libya Deemed Major Transit Hub for Terrorists
An African Union (AU) leader has warned that Libya has become a major transit hub for terrorists. AU representative Fransisco Cetano Jose Madiera stated that he has reports which indicate that Libya has become a major transit hub for the main terrorist groups travelling from one country to another. In addition, Libya is seen as a refuge and point for terrorists to “reorganize”
Following the removal of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya’s weakened security and porous borders make it a prime location for rebel groups to transit through. This was a key concern at the two-day regional security meeting in Oran, Algeria. Libya is a key component to stabilising the Sahel region, however few countries in the region have the means to protect their borders. The EU has offered to work with Libya to tighten border security but the lack of organization in the country makes the endeavor very difficult. The European bloc believes that development of the region could be a solution to fighting the problem of porous borders.
Libya is working in close collaboration with Algeria and Tunisia to secure their borders and to fight against terrorism and organised crime. Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister has said that officials are “in a constant contact with the Libyan government”, including Algerian contributions to the training of the Libyan police and army.
Qatar’s New Emir to Follow in Father’s Footsteps
25 June, 2013- In his first speech as the new emir of Qatar, 33 year-old Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, announced that he plans to follow policies established by his father and the country’s last government. The emir signalled that Qatar would undergo drastic change in domestic or foreign policy despite new leadership. The new emir’s father announced the end of his 18-year rule the day before, an unprecedented move for the country.
During the previous emir’s rule, Qatar spread its wealth through foreign investments, largely financed by its vast natural gas sources, to increase its political and economic influence in the region.
While Qatar supported the Arab Spring and has maintained an alliance with the United States, critics worry that the nation’s open support of the Syrian opposition could mean financial support of al Qaeda-linked groups. Further, some Westerners fear Qatar’s friendly terms with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The new emir reaffirmed his country’s wish to remain on peaceful diplomatic terms with all governments. “We respect all the influential and active political trends in the region, but we are not affiliated with one trend against the other. We are Muslims and Arabs who respect diversity of sects and respect all religions in our countries and outside of them.”
During his speech, Sheikh Tamim refrained from mentioning the Syrian war, instead expressing his support for the Palestinians’ struggle against Israel. The sheikh also unveiled his cabinet reshuffle; outgoing Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani is to be replaced by Sheik Abdullah bin Naser Al Thani and Khalid al-Atiyah, respectively. Qatar has been dominated by the Al Thani family for nearly 150 years.
Qatar holds the world’s third largest gas reserves and produces around 77 million tons of liquefied natural gas annually, making it the largest supplier on the planet. According to the International Monetary Fund, Qatar has the highest per capita income in the world.
Saudi Arabia Changes Start of Weekend
Saudi Arabia will change the start of its two-day weekend from Thursday to Friday, in order to bring it into line with other countries in the region and coordinate business and banking days. The royal decree takes effect this week.
Last month Oman switched to a Friday-Saturday weekend, making Saudi Arabia the only country left among the six-member Gulf Co-operation Council to persist with the old format. The change means that Saudi businesses will now have four working days overlapping with Western and regional businesses rather than three. Friday remains a holiday in Muslim countries because it is a holy day set aside for communal prayer.
Spain uncovers al Qaeda network for Syrian Militants
21 June 2013- Spanish authorities arrested eight suspected members of an al Qaeda network who are allegedly involved in training, funding, and facilitating travel for Islamic radical fighters to Syria. The network is based in the Spanish territory of Ceuta and in the city of Fnideq in neighboring Morocco. The names and nationalities of those arrested have not been disclosed, but they are all Spanish citizens. The network has apparently funneled “dozens” of fighters to Syria, where some have taken part in suicide attacks and others have joined training camps. The network recruited fighters from various parts of Spain as well as Morocco and Ceuta.
According to Spain’s Foreign Ministry, investigations are underway for other groups which are still preparing to travel to Syria. Although separate investigations of al Qaeda networks were begun in 2009 and 2011 by the National Guard and the Civil Police, the two agencies began collaborating this year. Spain is one of many European countries from which an estimated 700 fighters have traveled to join the rebels in the Syrian conflict.
Al Qaeda has been active in Spain since the 1990s, when the Spanish cell was headed by a Syrian named Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, a.k.a. Abu Dahdah. Yarkas was later found to have had foreknowledge of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, although the full extent of his involvement was never determined. He was arrested in late 2001 and sentenced to 27 years in prison for conspiracy in the 9/11 attacks, but his sentence was later reduced to 12 years for lack of proof on the conspiracy charge. He was released on 23 May. The US has been seeking to monitor Yarkas for some time. Although Yarkas has not been added to the US or UN lists of global terrorists, a 2003 UN designation of an Indonesian al Qaeda-linked terrorist notes that Yarkas was instrumental in establishing al Qaeda training camps in Indonesia for European recruits.
Al Qaeda has been linked to Spain’s worst terrorist attack, the Madrid train bombings of March 2004, which killed 191 people. The cell phones used to detonate the bombs were provided by Jamal Zougam, yet another member of Yarkas’ al Qaeda cell, and Zougam’s accomplices included members of a known al Qaeda affiliate, the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group.
- 19 June 2013 – Five pirates armed with machine guns boarded a general cargo ship at anchor between 0145 – 0245 LT while in position 09:14N – 013:57.3W, around 25 nautical miles south-west of Conakry, Guinea. Pirates threatened the crew, stole the ship’s cash and crew’s personal belongings and then escaped. All crew members on the vessel are safe.
- 13 June 2012 – Offshore supply vessel underway was reported attacked and boarded by pirates at 0320 LT in position 04:20.65N – 008:02.13E, approximately 7 nautical miles south-southwest from the OFON oil field at 30 nautical miles off the coast of Nigeria. It is understood that 2 speed boats with 2 outboards engines each carrying 14 gunmen, none of which were masked, launched the attack. The pirates were armed with AK-47’s. After stealing personal items and belongings, reportedly, 4 expat crew members were taken hostage, understood to be Polish (Chief Engineer) and 3 Indians (Captain, Chief Officer and Bosun).
- 3 June 2013 (Late Report) – While at anchor, an unknown number of robbers attempted to board a Singapore-flagged chemical tanker, Rhino, while in position 06:16.50N – 003:20.7E, Lagos anchorage, Nigeria. The robbers boarded through the hawse pipe via chain locker and exchanged gunfire with the Nigerian naval personnel on board. The general alarm was activated and all the crew members on board the tanker were mustered in the citadel. The robbers’ boat eventually left after 20 minutes. None of the crew members were injured. There were six bullet hull marks on the forward hull plate however nothing was stolen.
- 18 June 2013 – A French sailor who was kidnapped from a tanker in Togo, when attackers sought to use him as a shield, has been freed in the oil-producing region of Nigeria. Benjamin Elman indicated to media that he was taken as a shield when naval patrol sought to free the French-flagged vessel on Thursday. During a brief press conference, he indicated that “the navy officers negotiated the release of other crew members but…the pirates held me to ensure that they escape.” He then indicated that he was taken to a village and fed bread and water. Adding that the kidnappers were not violent. According to military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu, soldiers “invaded the kidnapers’ camp and rescued him last night.. No one was arrested as the criminals had abandoned the camp on learning of the soldiers’ approach.” He further noted that the military had acted on intelligence and that they had the cooperation of youths in the Amatu 1 community which is located in Bayelsa state in the Niger Delta region. France-based Sea Tanker Shipping is the operator of the vessel, however the company has not made any comments pertaining to the release of the sailor. On Monday, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that a French-flagged tanker had been released after it was hijacked four days earlier in the region. Although IMB did not release the name of the tanker, it appears to be the same incident. The owners lost contact with their vessel on Thursday while it was in the Gulf of Guinea, just off the coast of Togo, leading the IMB to issue a warning to other ships transiting the region. It is currently unclear if a ransom was paid for the release of the French sailor.
There was a low level of activity throughout the month of May, with only 8 reported incidents compared with 18 in April. This also represents a four year low for occurrences in May throughout the region. However, it is worth noting that monthly trends can and do fluctuate drastically, and that the general trend, particularly in SE Asia, is of increasing numbers of incidents following low levels several years ago.
The most notable incident was certainly the hijacking of a Chinese fishing vessel by North Korean naval forces. A large ransom was demanded by the North Koreans, but it is reported none was paid in this instance and the vessel was safely released.
Continued frequency of attacks on tugs and barges in Indonesian waters likely indicates these vessels are particularly vulnerable, and may need to consider heightened security accordingly.
Incident Occurrences by Country
May 23rd, Bangladesh – GOLDEN ADVENTURE boarded at Chittagong Anchorage, attempted robbery
May 24th, Indonesia – ANNA BARBARA boarded at Cigading Anchorage, successful armed robbery
May 20th, Indonesia – KOH-I-NOOR boarded at Belawan port, attempted armed robbery
May 15th, Malaysia – CREST 289 robbed 30nm northwest of Pulau Tioman
May 12th, Indonesia – CREST 2825, 3nm northwest Pulau Batam, robbed while being towed
May 12th, Indonesia – SAM HAWK boarded at Taboneo Anchorage, robbed
May 7th, Indonesia – fishing vessel PKFB 1532 attacked and hijacked in the Straits of Malacca. Vessel subsequently recovered by Indonesian Marine Police on 25th May.
May 5th, China – fishing vessel, the LIAONING GENERIC 2500, hijacked by suspected North Korean naval forces. Crew and vessel released on May 21st.