MS Risk Blog

Security Situation in Mali (7 February 2013)

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Over the past forty-eight hours, Chadian soldiers have continued to secure the town of Kidal in Mali while France has urged the United Nations to send peacekeepers into Mali as French troops prepare to withdrawal from the mission by March 2013.  The security situation throughout the country remains to be volatile as counter attacks by Islamist rebels have indicated that while all of the cities in the northern region have been retaken, the rebels continue to have the capabilities of regrouping and staging hit and run attacks.  It is highly likely that such attacks and clashes will continue to occur during the transitional period as the rebels will attempt to use this moment to regain their access.

On Tuesday, an estimated 1,800 Chadian troops entered the northern town of Kidal in  order to continue securing the last major Islamist rebel stronghold.  Meanwhile reports have indicated that there are rising tensions in Mali as the French-led forces have been attacked by Islamist rebels in retaken territories, raising fears that a prolonged insurgency may occur.  French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed on Tuesday that rebels had hit back at troops with rocket fire in Gao, which is the largest northern city.

Meanwhile after announcing plans to start withdrawing its 4,000 troops from Mali in March, France has called on the United Nations to begin deploying its peacekeeping force in order to take over the mission.  Speaking to the media in Paris, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius indicated that a peacekeeping force could be in place by April and that it would incorporate troops being deployed under the banner of the West African intervention force.   France wants the UN force to help stabilize Mali and to seek an end to the long-standing conflict between the ethnic Tuaregs and Arabs and the rest of the population.

So far, France has sustained one fatality, a helicopter pilot who was killed at the beginning of the mission.  The Malian army has indicated that eleven of its troops have been killed while another sixty have been wounded.  France’s Defence Minister has indicated that the monthlong French offensive has killed hundreds of Islamist fighters in Mali.

Security Situation in Mali (4 February 2013)

Posted on in Mali, Region Specific Guidance title_rule

Tessalit, Mali Over the past 24 hours, French fighter jets have continued to bombard supply bases located in northern Mali in order to flush out any Islamist rebels who are hiding out in the region.  The additional bombings also comes at a time when Paris is placing added pressure on African troops to deploy as quickly as possible in order to take over the offensive.  While all of the previously militant-controlled towns have been recaptured by French and Malian troops, MS Risk continues to advise vigilance throughout the country.  Food and supplies in some parts of the north are beginning dwindle as many of the Arab and Tuareg traders have fled the region as a result of rising fears of reprisal attacks.

Mali - MountainsAmidst increasing fears that the rebels could re-group in the mountainous region, dozens of French fighter jets carried out massive air strikes on rebel logistics and training centers around Kidal over the weekend.  The fighter jets focused on Tessalit, which is located about 200km (125 miles) north of Kidal, and which is the gateway to the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains.  The bombings also focused on the mountainous region, which is located in the north-eastern area of the country, as it is believed that the terrain could provide the perfect hiding place for the militants.  Speaking to the media in Paris, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius indicated that the militants “have taken refuge in the north and the northeast but they can only stay there long-term if they have ways to replenish their supplies.  So the army, in a very efficient manner, is stopping them from doing so.”  Since the French military intervention began in Mali several weeks ago, extremist fighters have been fleeing to the Adrar des Ifoghas massif in the Kidal region, near the Algerian border.  Although they have been driven out from their strongholds by French and Malian soldiers, the operation has been complicated as it is currently believed that the militants may be holding seven French hostages in the mountainous region.

While Chadian and French forces continue to secure Kidal, the last militant stronghold in the north, France’s Foreign Minister has indicated that his country is keen to wrap up its leading role in the offensive, noting that French troops could rapidly withdraw from Timbuktu within weeks.  France is now eager to pass the role over to some 8,000 African troops pledged for the UN-backed AFISMA force.  However French President Francois Hollande stipulated during his visit to Mali over the weekend, that his country would not abandon Mali.

Meanwhile Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou has confirmed that French special forces are protecting one of the country’s largest uranium mines.  Officials in France have also confirmed that a dozen special forces reservists are currently strengthening security at the site.  The special forces will be protecting Areva, a French company, which plays a major role within Niger’s mining industry.  Areva is also the world’s fifth-largest producer of uranium.  The added protection to the site comes as a result of increasing threats to Western, and French interests throughout Africa, coupled with the recent hostage situation in Algeria.  The added security is also in light of the fact that three years ago, Islamist militants kidnapped five French workers at the mine in Arlit, Niger.  Four of them are still being held, along with three other hostages.  They are believed to be somewhere in the northern region of Mali, not far from where French troops are battling al-Qaeda-linked rebels.

Security Update for Egypt (1 February 2013)

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On Friday evening, clashes between Central Security Forces (CSF) and protesters escalated as fireworks and Molotov cocktails were hurled at the Ettehadiya Presidential Palace in Cairo.

Thousands of protesters, carrying flags of up to 18 opposition parties, gathered on Friday to demand the removal of Morsi and his predominantly Islamist government. Demonstrators blockaded part of Merghany Street, not far from the palace. Another group of protesters held a sit-in at the palace.

The conflict began when a group of protesters moved the crowd control barriers near the palace. As security guards attempted to quell the protesters, dozens of Black Bloc protesters arrived, shouting anti-Morsi chants. Protesters threw about two dozen petrol bombs and launched fireworks outside of the palace, chanting, “Leave, Leave.”

Sources say that one Molotov cocktail made it onto presidential grounds, setting Gate 4 of the palace alight. The Interior Ministry sent five CSF armoured vehicles to the scene, and forced protesters away from the presidential palace using water hoses and tear gas. The CSF then torched the protesters’ makeshift tents.

National Salvation Front leader and Constitution Party head Mohamed ElBaradei said that the goals of the revolution should be achieved using the same peaceful methods that brought down former President Hosni Mubarak. Opposition groups which hold these protests are calling for a new Constitution based on national consensus, and an end to Brotherhood domination in the Egyptian government.

Who is the Black Bloc?

Black BlocThe Black Bloc, so named because of their black outfits and black balaclavas, have emerged on the streets and in the social networks sites of Egypt in the past week. The group introduced themselves on Facebook on 21 January and already has over 43,000 followers. They also released a YouTube video on 24 January, which states that their mission is to fight “against the fascist regime and their armed wing.

The group is vehemently against President Morsi, and are willing to use force to defend demonstrators against Islamists and state security forces. On Monday, Black Bloc protesters in Port Said demanded that Morsi lift the state of emergency and release all protesters arrested during demonstrations. They blocked surrounding streets and lit tires on fire, and threatened to burn the security directorate if their demands weren’t met. Black Blocs have also been seen in Cairo and Alexandria, blockading bridges, guarding the entrances to Tahrir Square, and joining in demonstrations.

On Tuesday, Egypt’s public prosecutor, Talaat Abdallah, ordered police and army officers to arrest Black Bloc members, and called on the public to hand over anyone suspected belonging to the group, accusing them of being an “organised group that participates in terrorist acts …. and (commits) crimes that affect national security.”

Security Situation in Mali (31 January 2013)

Posted on in Mali, Region Specific Guidance title_rule

French and military sources have confirmed that the troops have entered the northern town of Kidal, which is the last major town that is yet to be secured from the Islamist militants.  French troops arrived at the airport in Kidal early on Wednesday, just days after capturing two other strategic towns:  Gao and Timbuktu.  Kidal, which lies 1,500km (930 miles northeast of the capital city of Bamako, was until recently, controlled by Ansar Dine.  Although the a heavy sandstorm had halted the operations on Wednesday, conditions are now clearing and the troops may soon be able to continue with their deployment into Kidal.  MS Risk advises those who are still in the country, that the current security and political situation remains to be fluid and therefore can change at any given moment.  There remains a high level of threat from terrorism and attacks can occur at any time.  The death of two Malian soldiers, who were killed when their vehicle hit a landmine south-west of Gao, is a reminder that vigilance is necessary.  French troops have warned that landmines or homemade bombs may be lying around the regions of the recently liberated towns and that they were likely placed their by the fleeing insurgents.

While France is currently entering into the final phase of its military intervention, a great deal of work still remains to be done in order to reconnect the two regions of the country and to stabilize both the political and security conditions throughout it.  While it seems that the quick advance by the French and Malian troops exposed a weakness of the Islamist rebels that were holding the northern region of the country, these rebels still pose a threat, not only to the country, but to the region itself.  The next phase will focus on flushing these rebels out of the vast cross-border desert region, in what French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has indicated will signify a “turning-point” in France’s intervention.

Currently, French troops are continuing to secure Kidal while France is preparing to hand over the towns that it has captured to an African force that has already begun to deploy to Mali.  So far, there are an estimated 2,000 African soldiers, mainly from Chad and Niger, on the ground in Mali.  It will now by the job of the African Union-backed force, the International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), to root out the al-Qaeda-linked insurgents who have fled into the desert and the mountainous regions in the northern part of the country.  This mountainous region, located east of Kidal, covers some 250,000 sq km (96,525 sq miles).

While successful at a tactical and operational level, the French intervention has in some respects demonstrated to the insurgents that they will never be successful in open combat.  This increases the risks of scattering the insurgents into a sustained guerrilla threat where the previous warnings of kidnapping, nuisance attacks and terrorist incidents will become amplified.  This threat may emanate from Mali but will pose a risk to regional countries.

Mali - Current

Security Updates for MENA (29 January 2013)

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ALGERIA: On Sunday, gunmen attacked and blew up a gas pipeline in northern Algeria, killing two guards and wounding seven before being driven off. The extent of damage to the pipeline is still uncertain.

AlgeriaThe militants launched a homemade mortar shells at the Ain Chikh site in the Djebahia, 120 kilometres (75 miles) southwest of Algiers. The area is a stronghold of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) but militants rarely carry out attacks in the region.

The pipelines, which are protected by local community guards, carry gas from the Hassi R’Mel field in the Sahara desert to the Mediterranean coast for refining. Algerian army units have searched the area, but there have been no arrests. The incident comes two weeks after Islamist militants attempted to seize control of the Ain Amenas gas complex. The attack left 37 hostages dead. Following the gas complex siege, Algerian military was still searching for attackers who had gone missing during the raid.

Between 2011 and 2012, pipelines in Egypt were blown up more than 15 times by Islamic militants in protest of Egyptian oil being delivered to Israel. Oil and gas reserves are the backbone of Algeria’s economy, supplying large amounts of natural gas to Europe. It is likely that the attack was a display of aggression toward Algeria’s support of French intervention in Mali.

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 Common Wealth office (FCO) has not changed travel advice for Algeria following the pipeline explosion. The FCO advises against all but essential travel to areas within 450km of the Mali and Niger borders and within 100km of the Mauritania border, and all but essential travel to areas within 100km of the Libya and Tunisia borders, south of Tebessa.

LIBYA:  The British embassy in Tripoli has become aware of reports of a potential Libyathreat against it. The threats come days after “specific and imminent threats” picked up by MI6, urging British nationals to leave the eastern city of Benghazi due to a “specific and imminent threat” against Westerners, and a day after a similar threat to British nationals in northern Somalia.

An embassy spokesperson said, “We are aware of reports of a potential threat against the British embassy in Tripoli and we are liaising closely with the Libyan government.”

“There is no change to our travel advice, we still recommend against all but essential travel to Tripoli.”

Libyan officials said they were not aware of such reports. Deputy Interior Minister Omar Al- Khadrawi stated, “The British embassy has not informed us of any threats towards it and there has been no coordination between us.”

Last week’s call for many Western and European nationals to leave Benghazi frustrated Libyans, who are eager to increase foreign investment to rebuild infrastructure.

LIBYAN BORDER SECURITY:

LIBYA- EGYPT: The Libyan government has issued a ban on foreigners crossing the Egyptian-Libyan border at Musaid to enter the country. The ban does not apply to Egyptians. Interior Ministry’s spokesman, Magdi Al-Arafi, said that foreigners would have to enter the country from Egypt by air. The border restrictions are due to constant and highly-organised trafficking of drugs and weapons, as well as humans. Six months ago, border forces went on strike in protest against the intimidation and violence from smugglers.

LIBYA-TUNISIA: The Ras Jadir border was reopened Sunday after the two countries reached an agreement on safety control and trade measures. Ras Jadir is a main border crossing for goods and people, and has been closed several times, impacting the movement of freights in both directions, and affecting  border residents who earn their living from trans-border trade.

VISA REQUIREMENT CHANGES: Today, Libyan authorities have announced that all foreign visitors to the country must have a visa. Previously travellers from countries such as Tunisia, Turkey and Jordan were not required to have it. In addition, companies wishing to employ foreign workers need to satisfy the Libyan Interior Ministry.

Libya has been trying to boost security at its oil fields following the deadly attacks in Algeria and the threats on Westerners in the region.

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

There is no change to UK FCO travel advice. The 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.

EGYPT: Head of Suez Canal Authority, Vice Admiral Mohab Mamish, said that the navigation movement in the Suez Canal is normal and is fully secured, and Canal Egyptleadership is determined to keep the Canal fully protected. The Canal waterway is secured by the naval force, the second and third field armies, border guard and the Ministry of Interior. Security measures have been tightened due to tensions in Suez and Port Said.

Protests in Egypt came to a head as the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution coincided with death sentences handed down to 21 football fans involved in deadly riots in Port Said in 2012. President Muhammed Morsi declared emergency law in Suez, Port Said, and Ismalia, but residents ignored the night time curfew and took to the streets, saying they no longer recognize Morsi’s authority. In other Cairo and Alexandria, protesters marched in opposition to Morsi’s authority. In Cairo, protestors captured and set an armoured police vehicle ablaze in Tahrir Square.

Egypt’s Defence Minister, General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, warned that the current crisis could lead to a collapse of the state and threaten future generations. Al-Sisi fears that the economic, political and social challenges facing Egypt represented “a real threat to the security of Egypt and the cohesiveness of the Egyptian state”.

On Monday, The Egyptian cabinet ratified law which allows the president, at-will, to “empower the armed forces to make civilian arrests in safeguarding state institutions and restoring security.” The law would apply until after the next legislative elections. The move will likely anger protesters further as Morsi’s actions are increasingly reminiscent of the Mubarak regime.

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 FCO advises against all travel to North Sinai, and all but essential travel to South Sinai, with the exception of the Red Sea Resorts in Sharm el Sheikh, Taba, Nuweiba and Dahab, and road travel and transfers between the resorts and the airports of Taba and Sharm el Sheikh. The FCO warns that demonstrations happen regularly across Egypt, often on Fridays. Some have been violent and resulted in deaths, and police may use tear gas for crowd control. In addition, disturbances in Cairo, Port Said, Suez, Ismalia and Alexandria have been violent. A state of emergency is in force in Port Said, Suez and Ismalia; the curfew is from 21:00 to 06:00, and is expected to remain in place until 26 February 2013.

IRAN: Iranian authorities have arrested fourteen journalists in the past two days, citing links to “anti-revolutionary” media. The coordinated crackdown comes ahead of the June presidential elections. Iran’s clerical leadership is making strides to avoid a repeat of the protests which occurred in 2009.

Journalists working for reformist newspapers Arman, Bahar, Etemaad, Shargh, and the Aseman weekly – and Iran’s ILNA labour news agency – were arrested on Sunday for cooperating with Persian-language “foreign media”. Last week, Iran’s judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei warned, “Based on information I have from reliable sources, unfortunately a number of journalists, as well as writing for the nation’s newspapers, work hand-in-hand with Westerners and anti-revolutionaries.”Iran is one of the world’s worst jailers of members of the press, along with Turkey and China, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. A CPJ tally in December 2012 said there were 45 journalists behind bars in Iran.

Meanwhile, On Thursday, Iranian Ambassador Hassan Danaie-Far insisted that Tehran retained the right to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which a third of the world’s traded oil passes, in response to any aggression, military or otherwise, by the United States. The statement came in response to continued pressure by the US over Iran’s nuclear program.

Danaie-Far stated, “The only remaining card on the table is war. Is it to their benefit? Is it to the benefit of the world? Is it to the benefit of the region?”

Washington has warned Tehran that any attempt to close the strait would be viewed as a “red line” and grounds for United States military action.

IRAN 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 has retained the same advice since November 2012 against all travel to Iran. British nationals have been arbitrarily detained in Iran in 2010 and 2011. The FCO believes that the risk of this occurring again following the imposition of further EU sanctions on Iran, is significant.