MS Risk Blog

Security Update for Mali and Niger

Posted on in Africa, Mali, Niger title_rule

In a rare show of unity, Mali’s main political parties have welcomed the interim government’s announcement of the 28 July 2013 presidential elections. Meanwhile in neighbouring Niger, French nuclear group Areva has indicated that operations at its uranium mine will continue as usual despite last week’s terrorist attacks. While France’s top diplomat has urged neighbouring countries to find a solution to deal with the growing terrorist threat that is emerging from southern Libya.

Mali

The country’s interim cabinet official confirmed for the first time the date of the polls, which are seen as essential in restoring democracy after the country suffered a coup last year, which effectively paved the way for Islamist rebels to seize control of the northern region. Amadou Dire, a member of acting President Dioncounda Traore’s Alliance for Democracy in Mali has stated that “we need a short transition, we need an elected president to deal with the challenges and it was a good thing to make public the date of the presidential election.” The National Congress for Democratic Initiative, which was neutral in the coup but which had originally argued for a later vote, has come out in support of the decision to go ahead with the elections in July. A number of officials have indicated that the unity amongst the disparate parties over the date of the elections could be explained by the fact that there is a broad consensus that moving away from the transitional government is an urgent issue. President Traore was appointed interim president of Mali following the coup which occurred on 22 March 2012 and which precipitated the fall of northern Mali to the Tuareg separatists and armed Islamists. However the Tuareg rebels were soon overpowered by the Islamist militants, who imposed an extreme form of Sharia law throughout the region. Fifteen presidential hopefuls have announced their candidacy, including former prime ministers Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Modibo Sidibe. A number of other prominent political officials have also declared their candidacies. Polling booths are planned for the entire country, even the northeastern city of Kidal, which remains to be under the control of armed Tuareg separatists who have refused to consent to the presence of the Malian army and government in the region.

Niger

Meanwhile in neighbouring Niger, French nuclear group Areva has indicated that it will maintain its operations in the country despite last week’s deadly car bomb attack which occurred at its uranium mine. Areva president Luc Oursel confirmed that the company would be staying in Niger. Asked if the attack would lead to a change in Areva’s strategy in Arica, Mr. Oursel stated “no, of course not. We are obviously very sad about the death of one of our employees. We condemn this.” He further stated that “ I was in Niger, I went last week to show our determination to stay. If we leave Niger, we will do exactly what they wanted. We know our responsibility in terms of economic development, in terms of jobs.” Areva, which is the world’s second largest uranium producer, extracts more than a third of its uranium in Niger. It has operated in the country for more than forty years, operating to large mines in the northern regions of the country through two affiliated companies: Cominak and Somair. A car bomb attack that was carried out at Areva’s majority-owned uranium mine in Arlit in northern Niger last Thursday resulted in one person being killed and fourteen others injured. All of them were Nigerian nationals who were working at the facility. A second bombing was carried out that same day at an army base in Agadez, also in northern Niger. That resulted in twenty-four people being killed in addition to the eight attackers who were killed. Two Islamist groups have claimed responsibility for the attacks, calling them retaliations for Niger’s decision to deploy troops to Mali to help the French-led campaign against al-Qaeda-linked insurgents. Since the two suicide bombings, France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius has called on neighbouring countries in the region to work together in order to tackle threats from “terrorist groups.” His announcement comes just days after Niger’s President indicated that the Islamist militants were suspected of coming from southern Libya. According to President Mahamadou Issoufou, the raids in Niger had demonstrated that Libya was a source of regional instability, months after France launched an air-and-ground assault on northern Mali, which Paris warned had developed into a launchpad for attacks by al-Qaeda-linked groups. During a press conference, President Issoufou indicated that “according to the information we have, the attackers came from southern Libya.” He further indicated that “I know the Libyan authorities are trying hard. But Libya continues to be a source of instability.” Although he did not give details on who the gunmen were, Mokhtar Belmokhtar has stated that his brigade had organized the raid with the MUJAO militant group. However Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has since denied these claims. Thousands of gunmen and tons of weapons and ammunition flowed south, mainly to Mali, after the fall of Libya’s former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. A mix of Islamist and separatist rebels then seized control of the northern region of Mali before the French operation launched in January dislodged them from the towns they controlled. According to a number of officials, in recent months southern Libya has become a safe haven for jihadists who have been forced from Mali. In recent weeks, Niger has increasingly warned that Libya was the next potential safe haven for militants. This has prompted France to urge Libya and its neighbors to deal accordingly with the growing threat. According to Laurent Fabius, “it seems we must make a special effort on southern Libya, which is also what Libya wants.” France’s top diplomat further indicated that he had discussed “measures that could be taken by neighbouring countries” in liaison with Libya to deal with possible actions by “terrorist groups.” Mr. Fabius added that “this is also what the Libyan prime minister wants…we will see how we can encourage joint action with the Libyans.”

Double Suicide Bombing Targets French Interests in Niger

Posted on in Africa, Niger, Terrorism title_rule

Two simultaneous suicide car bombing attacks have been carried out during the early morning hours in Niger.  The attacks, which occurred at around 5:30AM local time and have been claimed by Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), are believed to have been coordinated.  Any individuals or companies that are currently in Niger are strongly advised to monitor the local reports and to remain extremely vigilant.  Companies stationed in the regions where the attacks occurred are strongly advised to re-evaluate their security procedures, especially in quarters where workers are living, as further suicide attacks and kidnappings are likely to occur.

Niger’s Defence Minister has confirmed that at least nineteen individuals, including eighteen soldiers, have been killed with another sixteen injured after a suicide attack was carried out at a military installation in Agadez, Niger.  The attack occurred when a car bomb was detonated outside the military base.  Four attackers died and reports have indicated that a fifth attacker is currently holding four army officers hostages.  On the ground reports have indicated that the army is patrolling in and around the city.

A second incident targeted a uranium mine, which is operated by French Areva.  This attack resulted in fourteen civilians being injured and one killed.  In a statement released this afternoon, Areva confirmed that all those injured in the bombing in Arlit were employees of the mine, further stating that operations at the mine had been “temporarily suspended.”  The attack in Arlit comes three years after a 2010 incident where five Areva employees were kidnapped by militants linked to al-Qaeda’s Africa branch.  In 2010, militants belonging to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) kidnapped seven foreigners, including five French nationals, from a residential compound located near Arlit.  At the time of the incident, the victims were either working for Areva or other contracting companies in the region.  In February 2011, three of the hostages, including one Frenchwoman, were freed.  However AQIM is still holding the other four hostages and has repeatedly threatened to kill them in retaliation for the French-led military intervention in Mali which began in January 2013.

Arlit

Today’s attacks have been claimed by MUJAO, in which a spokesman for the group, Abu Walid Sahraoui, stated that the operations targeted “the enemies of Islam in Niger.”  He added that “we attacked France, and Niger because of its co-operation with France, in the war against Sharia,” indicating that Niger’s participation in the war in Mali was the reason behind the attack. French President Francois Hollande has vowed to protect his nation’s interests and co-operate with Niger in its “fight against terrorism.”

Nigeria Declares State of Emergency

Posted on in Nigeria title_rule

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency in three states after a series of deadly attacks were carried out by Boko Haram militants.  MS Risk advises any individuals or companies in the states of Adamawa, Borno or Yobe to remain vigilant and to monitor any developments and to be alert to any further announcements made by State Government.  We currently advise against all travel to Borno State, Yobe State, Adamawa State as well as Gombe State and Bauchi State.  This is due to the continued threat of violent attacks.  Recent attacks in these regions have focused on public places, including restaurants and bars, and have resulted in large numbers of deaths and injuries.  If you are planning to work in northern Nigeria, even in those regions which are not subject to specific travel advisories, we advise you that you will require a high level of security.  Any employers in the region should be reviewing their security arrangements, especially in light of the recent kidnappings of westerners from protected compounds.

In a state address late on Tuesday, President Jonathan indicated that the military would be taking “all necessary action” to “put an end to the impunity of insurgents and terrorists” in the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.  He further noted that “what we Nigeriaare facing is not just militancy or criminality, but a rebellion and insurgency by terrorist groups which pose a very serious threat to national unity and territorial integrity.”  This is in reference to the recent attacks that have occurred on government buildings as well as the killings of officials and other civilians in which the President has indicated that “these actions amount to a declaration of war.”  The announcement is also the first time that the President has acknowledged that Boko Haram Islamists have “taken over “ parts of Borno state.

The President also ordered that more troops be deployed to states located in the hostile north-eastern region of the country.  Since the state of emergency declaration, Nigeria’s military has announced a massive deployment of troops to the region.  Military sources have also indicated that fighter jets would be deployed, raising the possibility that Nigeria could carry out air strikes within its own territory.  Since the announcement, top US officials have called on Nigeria to protect the rights of its civilians and to avoid any “heavy-handed” response against the rebels.  State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell has stated that “we call on Nigerian officials to ensure that Nigeria’s security forces protect civilians in any security response in a wy that respects human rights and the rule of law.”  He further added that “we have made clear to the Nigerian government that its heavy-handed response to insecurity in northern Nigeria and the failure to address human rights violations will potentially affect our ability to provide security assistance going forward.”

Although the state of emergency was declared in the states of Yobe and Adamawa, it is widely believed that the military offensive will focus directly on the state of Borno, which shares borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger.  It is in this state that Boko Haram, which states that it is fighting in order to create an Islamic state in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north, has used the capital, Maiduguri, as its home base.  However it is known that Boko Haram fighters have relocated to the remote border regions following a number of crackdowns that have occurred in the city.  Furthermore, the regions‘ porous borders have enabled criminal groups and weapons to freely move between the countries further exasperated due to the Nigerian’s military limited presence in these areas.

MENA Report (10 May 2013)

Posted on in MENA title_rule

Terrorism

Yemen: Pipeline Bombing

30 April: A main pipeline linking oil fields in Yemen’s eastern Marib province to an export terminal on the Red Sea has been attacked by an armed group, almost halting the flow of oil. The day before, the same group attacked Marib’s power lines, leaving the province in “total darkness”.

The pipeline in question runs 200 miles from Safer oil fields to the export terminal in the western Hudaydah province. It is frequently under attack in the Wadi Abida area; the last such incident occurred on 8 April. Electricity Minister Saleh Sumai has accused tribesmen loyal to the former president of carrying out the attacks.

Yemen produces about 300,000 barrels of oil a day, mostly for export. Production lost due to pipeline attacks has cost the government more than $1 billion in 2012 and more than $4 billion in revenue since February 2011.

Kidnapping

Yemen: International Red Cross Workers Kidnapped

8 May:  Two Indian employees of the international Red Cross were kidnapped and released by armed members of the Mariakisha tribe in southern Yemen. The gunmen intercepted the workers in Jaar and led them to a mountainous region. Negotiations lasted more than three hours; the victims are now in Aden.

On Monday, gunmen from the same tribe kidnapped two Egyptian technicians working at a cement factory in Abyan. The tribesmen seek the release of a tribe member jailed seven years ago on murder charges.

Syria: Rebels Kidnap UN Peacekeepers in Golan

8 May: Syrian members of the rebel Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade are holding four Filipino UN peacekeepers at the ceasefire line between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The group claims that the peacekeepers were in danger after clashes in the area, and took them for safe keeping.

The peacekeepers were detained as they patrolled Position 86, on the Syria and Israeli-occupied border of the Golan Heights, an area near where 21 Filipino observers were held for 3 days by the same group in March. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the detention and called for the peacekeepers’ immediate release.

While initial reports described the action as hostage-taking, the rebel unit denied it.”The brigade does not want this issue blown out of proportion like the last incident,” said a rebel from the group.

“They are safe and sound and will be handed over as soon as possible. But as happened last time, they were in an area where very heavy clashes took place in the Ghadeer al-Bustan area.” In March, a rebel leader said their “guests” would be returned after government forces retreated from the area.

 

Algeria

Bouteflika Recovering from Stroke

7 May: The Algerian government has announced that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is improving from a transient ischemia (mini-stroke), but still needs rest. The president suffered the stroke on 27 April and was flown to the French military hospital of Val de Grace.

Following the announcement of his illness, there were few updates about the president’s health. This latest statement gave no indication of how long Bouteflika would need to rest. Though he had been known to be sick for some time, he was popularly believed to be gearing up to run in next year’s presidential elections.

Algeria and Egypt Strengthen Bilateral Counterterrorism Cooperation

7 May: Algeria and Egypt have established a bilateral contact group to strengthen bilateral security cooperation.

The agreement came at the conclusion of two days of talks on in Algiers between Egyptian Ambassador Hussein Abdul Karim, and Mohamed Kamal Razak Bara, counsellor to the Algerian President. The talks incorporated discussions about the recent situation in the region and the Sahel. The two nations agreed to hold regular meetings for bilateral communication group, with dates to be determined through diplomatic channels.

 

Egypt

Morsi Reshuffles Egyptian Cabinet

7 May:  Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi swore in nine new ministers in the second cabinet reshuffle since August, in a hope to boost Egypt’s economic portfolio. Morsi believes the changes will aid in completing the development of the public performance in Egypt, and urged citizens to give the new government an opportunity to work on meeting their demands.

Several ministers which bave been appointed are members of Morsi’s political party, the Muslim Brotherhood. Finance Minister Fayyad Abdel-Monem Hassanin, an economics professor Al-Azhar University, and Minister of International Cooperation and Planning Amr Darrag, are both members of Morsi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood. Darrag is a senior member of Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Both ministers will be critical in handling negotiations with the IMF for a crucial $4.8-billion rescue loan.

Essam al-Erian, deputy chief of the FJP, stated that the aim of the reshuffle is to “confront the economic crisis and to conclude the agreement with the IMF with a new vision, and to confront the energy crises.”

National Salvation Front (NSF), opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, sees the reshuffle as a further step toward Islamist domination of the government. One member of the NSF stated,  “They control the government more and more and the MB process is going on, and this means they intend to commit electoral fraud in the coming parliamentary elections. We reject domination of the MB and their control over the society, as this cabinet reshuffle puts everything in the hands of the MB’s guidance office.”

Amr Moussa, a leading member of the NSF, believes new cabinet reshuffle is a new step toward “comprehensive MB domination” in Egypt, rather than a step toward national consensus.

 

Egypt claims successes closing down Gaza smuggling tunnels

6 May: The head of engineering for the Egyptian Armed Forces, Major General Tahir Abdullah, announced that Egyptian security forces had successfully demolished 154 of 276 tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. Around 137 tunnels were destroyed twice. A recent Reuters report states there are around 1,000 tunnels between Gaza and Egypt; other reports claim the number is higher, still others say it is much lower.

In the last few days, authorities have also announced the seizure of a lifeboat and 10 vehicles which were being smuggled from Egypt to Gaza, and a cache of drugs and weapons near the Salloum land port in western Egypt.

Libya

Gunmen Surround Libyan Ministry, Present List of Demands

7 May:  Armed men in vehicles with machineguns and anti-aircraft guns have surrounded the foreign and justice ministries for over a week, demanding the Libyan government’s resignation. On 5 March, under pressure from gunmen, the General National Congress pushed through a controversial law to exclude members of Gadaffi’s former regime from holding public posts, even if they switched to support the rebels during the course of the 2011 civil war.

A leader of the militias stated, “We are determined to continue our movement until the departure of (Prime Minister) Ali Zeidan.” The militias had promised to lift their siege if the law was passed. Zeidan’s government has recently launched a campaign to remove the militias from Tripoli.

Libya’s defence minister, Mohammed Al-Barghathi had resigned, and then rescinded his resignation  on Tuesday in protest over the continuous show of force by the militias, calling it an “assault on democracy and elected authorities.”

On 9 May, the militia added several additional demands, including Zeidan’s resignation, the freezing of a recently released state budget and the right to form a committee to take charge of the Foreign Ministry.

 

Morocco

Morocco captures two terrorist cells

6 May: Morocco’s interior ministry said it had arrested two “terrorist” cells in the northern Nador region. The cells were in contact with Islamist extremists in Mali. The ministry did not revial how many suspects were arrested, but did say that members of the group are being questioned. The cells are accused of committing robberies to finance their cause.The capture comes nearly six months after Moroccan authorities broke up a recruitment cell for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb December 2012.

 

Palestine

China to Host Bilateral talks with Palestine, Israel

6 May: China is hosting both Palestinian and Israeli leaders to display the nation’s desire for a larger role in the Middle East. Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Beijing as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Shanghai ahead of his trip to Beijing on Wednesday, a day after Abbas’ departure.

China’s Foreign Ministry is willing to help set up a meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu if the two men wanted. While China has traditionally kept a low profile in Middle East diplomacy, recently the Chinese government has become more involved as it sees new markets, resources and diplomatic influence.

In a meeting with Xi at the Great Hall of the People, Abbas reviewed the history of Chinese-Palestinian relations and said the two sides shared the “same views on many world problems.” China recognized Palestine state in 1988, four years before establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.

Netanyahu is the first Israeli leader to visit China since 2007, and is expected to use the visit to sign numerous trade deals.

A the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said China would like to see a solution to the decades old conflict that allowed for Israeli security and a Palestinian state based on the handover of occupied territory to the Palestinian Authority.

 

Saudi Arabia (KSA)

Saudi Arabia Releases 166 Former AQ militants from Rehab

7 May:   Saudi Arabia has released 166 former al Qaeda members after undergoing long-term state-sponsored counselling programme, called “Munasaha” to reintegrate them into normal society. Sixty two members of the “deviant group” as they are known, were released in Jeddah after completing the counselling programme at the Prince Mohammed Bin Naif Centre for Counselling and Care. An additional 104 former militants were also released in Riyadh.

The prisoners are required to participate in follow-up programmes for emotional rehabilitation and reintegration. They will be monitored by both government agencies and members of the counselling committees of the centre. The centres will also assist the former militants in getting their original jobs back, or securing new jobs.

Sudan

Sudanese traders killed by gunmen 

3 May: Eleven Sudanese traders were killed by unknown gunmen as they crossed into South Sudanese territory. A South Sudan military spokesman said attackers ambushed three trucks at a trading center near the border town of Renk. The bodies were later discovered by another group of traveling traders; and the South Sudanese military dispatched a contingent of soldiers to seek the attackers. When they caught up to the “gangsters” gunfire was exchanged as they fled to Sudanese territory.

The incident occurs nearly two weeks after an agreement between South Sudan and Sudan to open 10 border crossings to increase the movement of goods and people between the two nations.

The attacks are being blamed on militiamen who do not want peace to prevail between the two nations. However despite sporadic instances of violence, the two countries have worked toward building mutually beneficial relations. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir recently visited South Sudan, stating that he wants to normalize relations with the south.

 

Tunisia

Tunisian Troops clash with Militants

1 May: Tunisian troops have clashed with around 50 armed Salafi militants in the Mount Chaambi border region, and now have the area surrounded. Last week, Tunisian forces began to hunt for two groups, one hiding in the mountainous region, and another in the Kef region on the Algerian border. Authorities were originally looking for 11 terrorists linked to al Qaeda, but have learned that the group had recruited youths from Kasserine and Mali.

The defence ministry said that the situation near the Algerian border was “under control”, and they were working with Algerian intelligence to gain information. However, in the Mount Chaambi area, the militants have laid homemade land mines throughout the region, which have wounded around 15 soldiers and members of the national guard. The troop have since found grenades, military and homemade bombs, documents on how to make homemade bombs, coded documents, maps and mobile phones being used to make calls abroad. The operations are being carried out primarily by the Tunisian army, who have the only units capable of detecting land mines. The national guard are playing a secondary role.

Bassem Haj Yahia, a guard who lost a leg after a land mine explosion, said the army was facing an organised and well-armed adversary. “It’s like they are installed in a small village where they have their hideouts, a training site and some equipment.”

The currently ruling Ennahda party has recognised the terrorist threat facing Tunisia, verbalising warnings that groups linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) were penetrating its borders. To date, 37 people have been caught and jailed, according to the interior ministry.

 

United Arab Emirates

Three Emiratis arrested in Tanzanian church bombing

8 May: Three UAE citizens have been arrested in Tanzania in connection with the bombing of a church in Arusha. The Vatican’s ambassador to Tanzania, Archbishop Francisco Montecillo Padilla, was attending the official church opening when the explosion occurred. He escaped unharmed, though the attack killed two people and wounded six.

One Saudi and three Emeratis were arrested on Tuesday. Investigators are working to determine the type of device used in the attack on the church. UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed condemned the attack.

Saudi ambassador Hani Abdallah Mo’mena said he was on his way to Arusha, believing  that the group was there as tourists and the issues is “mere suspicion”.

Japan and UAE sign nuclear cooperation agreement, agree on oil concessions

3 May: Japan and the United Arab Emirates signed a nuclear cooperation agreement during a visit to the UAE by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The agreement, which called for peaceful use of nuclear energy, was signed in Dubai, and the UAE also agreed to extend an oil concession agreement with Japan’s Abu Dhabi Oil Co. adding a new zone.

In mid July, the UAE will begin building two of four nuclear power plants, which will being produce electricity by 2017. Each plant will have a capacity of 1,400 megawatts. The project is expected to be completed and fully operational by 2020. The UAE hopes that nuclear energy will provide up to a quarter of the nation’s electricity needs.

Approximately one third of UAE crude oil and petrol derivatives go to Japan. The UAE exports 800,000 barrels of oil to Japan daily, and 5.5 million tonnes of natural gas.

Abe said that “stability and prosperity of the Middle East is directly connected to the prosperity of international society and Japan.”

 

Yemen

AQAP Members Assassinate Director of Military Intelligence

27 April: Two masked gunmen, members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), killed the director of military intelligence in the Hadramout province. The shooters were riding a motorcycle and fired at Colonel Ahmed Abdul-Razzak outside of his home in Mukalla.

Approximately 60 military and security officials have been killed in Yemen over the last two years. Yemeni officials place the blame on the Yemen based AQAP, mostly in the southern region of the nation. AQAP is considered the most strategic threat to the Yemeni government and its neighboring oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who came to power in February 2012, is charged with restoring security in the nation, and protecting oil shipping routes in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

Southern Leaders Quit National Dialogue meeting

4 May: Two leaders of Yemen’s Southern Movement have quite national dialog as talks failed to reach a solution to the secessionist issue. Ahmed bin Farid al-Suraimah and Ali Ba-Odah left the talks due to the belief that their aims toward secession had been marginalized, and the dialog will not meet the needs of southern Yemenis. Other leaders from the south have refused to join the talks until the Sanaa government withdraws its troops from the south.

The talks, which began on 18 March, are scheduled to run for six months. The dialog is intended to mend the split between the northern and southern regions, and draft a new constitution in time for general elections in February 2014. The secession issue dates back to the start of the Yemeni civil war in 1994, when southerners complained of being politically and economically marginalised and discriminated against.

 

Illegal Weapons Seizure

5 May: Yemen’s Defence Ministry announced a seizure of a boat carrying 20,000 guns in the southwestern Taiz province on Yemen’s Red Sea coast. The boat was seized after soldiers in Bab el-Mandeb strait clashed with the armed crew members on the boat, and managed to capture the boat’s captain after a gunfight. Some of the crew members fled.

In the last six months, Yemeni forces have seized four boats loaded with arms. The weapons are suspected to have originated from Turkey. In December, a shipment came through Aden Port carrying guns hidden in biscuit containers. The guns were made using false brand names, which has slowed down investigations. The Yemeni government has not stated who is responsible for smuggling arms into the country.

Three Military Pilots Killed in AQ Ambush

8 May: Militants, suspected to be members of AQAP, killed three Yemeni air force pilots as they travelled to Al Anad air base in the Lahj province. Two militants on a motorcycle opened fire with a machine gun as the car containing the pilots slowed for a road bump. The three pilots all held the rank of colonel in the airforce. Two were trainers.

According to officials, the gunmen fled the scene, and believe that the attackers had been monitoring the pilots’ route and schedule to plan their ambush.

Mali Jihadist Threat Spreading in the Region

Posted on in Mali, Tunisia title_rule

Tunisia’s Interior Minister Lotti Ben Jeddou has indicated that jihadists who are being pursued by the army on Tunisia’s border with Algeria, are veterans of the on-going war that is taking place in Mali.  This effectively demonstrates the heightened risk that militants may have likely crossed the borders into neighboring countries to seek shelter from bomb raids that were occurring in March and in April and to regroup and launch attacks in those countries that are participating in the war.

During an open session in the national assembly, the Interior Minister indicated that “they came from Mali,” further citing that “I would have liked this to be a closed session to be able to say more.”  He the Minister was unable to provide further information, due to the ongoing operations in the region, he admitted that the militants have links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb however he did not indicate whether the fighters from Mali had joined jihadist groups in Tunisia before or after France’s military intervention.  This has raised concerns about the security threat posed by Tunisia’s increasingly assertive Muslim extremists and increased fears of possible revenge attacks by al-Qaeda’s north Africa affiliates.

Although few details were provided, it is known that Tunisia’s army intensified its search for the two fugitive Islamist groups a week ago when bombs planted by the militants began causing injuries to the armed forces that were searching the area.  So far, sixteen soldiers and national guards have been wounded, some are in serious condition.  It is believed that the groups may be hiding in the remote border region.  They are being blamed for an attack that was carried out on a border post last December 2012.  That attack resulted in the death of one police officer.  According to the Interior Minister, the two groups consist of around thirty people.  One of the groups is located around Mount Chaambi and consists of up to twenty fighters in which half of them are Tunisian and half are Algerian.  This group has been pursued since the deadly attack on the border post in December.  The second smaller group is believed to be based in the Kef region, which is located 100 kilometers (60 miles) further north, but also on the Algerian border.  In the past three days, two alleged accomplices of the jihadists have been arrested, bringing the number of suspects detained in the region since December to thirty-seven.  Algeria has also boosted surveillance on its side of the border in order to prevent the group from crossing into Algeria.

Since the January 2011 revolution, which effectively ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has seen a proliferation of radical Islamist groups that were suppressed under the former dictator.  Since then, these groups have been blamed for a wave of violence, notably an attack on the US embassy last September and the assassination of a a leftist opposition leader in February.