MS Risk Blog

French Islamist Captured in Mali

Posted on in Mali title_rule

A French Islamic convert, who threatened his home country, has been captured in the northern region of Mali after allegedly fighting on the militants’ side.  This report come just one day after a sixth French soldier was killed in Mali.

The French army has confirmed that its troops have captured Gilles Le Guen, who now goes by the name Abdel Jelil, on Sunday night in a region just north of Timbuktu.  According to France’s Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, Mr. Le Guen, aged 58, is
believed to have been living in Timbuktu and appears to have fought alongside the Islamist militants.  Mr. Le Guen, a former merchant seaman, is originally from the city of Nantes in western France.  He converted to Islam in 1985 and lived in Mauritania and Morocco before settling in Mali with his Moroccan wife and family in 2011.  Some reports have suggested that he joined al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) while other reports have indicated that the group held him prisoner for a few days in November of last year.  A month earlier, he had appeared in an Islamist vide, with his face uncovered and a gun by his side, warning France, the US and the UN against intervening in Mali.  A number of security sources have indicated that the case of Mr. Le Guen is unique as he made no attempt to disguise his identity while he was in Mali.  He is said to have lived mostly off wire transfers from Europe and did odd jobs such as repairing broken water pumps and cars.  According to on the ground sources in Timbuktu, when AQIM occupied the town, Mr. Le Guen was assigned to patrol it.  According to Mr. Le Drian, Mr. Guen was captured by French troops who were on patrol at the time.  The detainee will now be handed over to the Malian authorities and “probably expelled to France.”  Mr. Le Drian further added that so far, no charges had been drawn up however an investigation is currently underway.

Meanwhile French officials have confirmed that a French paratrooper has been killed and that two others have been seriously injured in Mali.  France’s defence ministry has indicated that the special forces soldier died in the far northern region of the country after his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.  Six French soldiers have been killed since France launched an operation in Mali in January in order to drive Islamist rebels from the northern desert region.  The death of this paratrooper comes at a time when France is beginning to withdrawal some of its 4,000 troops.

The French Defence Ministry has indicated that the 32-year-old soldier was killed between Zaouaten and Boughessa, near the border with Algeria.  Two more soldiers were seriously injured in the same attack.  A military spokesman further noted that no militants were found in the area.  In a statement issued by the Presidency, President Francois Hollande extended his condolences to the relatives of the soldier killed, praising what he called the determination and courage of French forces in Mali.

MENA Report

Posted on in Egypt, Libya, MENA, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, Tunisia, Yemen title_rule

Terrorism

Canadian Authorities Thwart Terror plot linked to al Qaeda in Iran

24 April: Canadian authorities foiled a potential threat and took two men into custody for plotting to destroy a Toronto passenger train. Chiheb Esseghaier of Montreal, and Raed Jaser of Toronto were charged with conspiring to interfere with transport facilities on behalf of a terrorist organisation and conspiring to commit murder.

According to officials, the men’s plot allegedly had support from al Qaeda’s network inside Iran, although there appeared to be no sign of state sponsorship. Iran has denied any links with the suspects.

In court in Montréal, Esseghaier, who declined representation by a court appointed lawyer, said “The conclusions were made based on acts and words which are only appearances.”  In Toronto, a lawyer for Jaser said he would “defend himself vigorously.” Jaser’s lawyer also questioned the timing of the arrests, which occurred as the Canadian parliament debates an anti-terrorism bill which could reintroduce preventative detention and investigative hearings. Neither suspect entered a plea.

The investigation began following a tip from a concerned imam in the Toronto Muslim community, who feared that some youths in the city were being corrupted by extremists. The investigation was a collaborative effort between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). RCMP Cheif Superintendent Jennifer Strachan said that the alleged attack was “definitely in the planning stage but not imminent.” A spokesperson for VIA Rail, which operates passenger rail services across Canada, said the public was never in danger.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia believes that the two suspects received “direction and guidance” from al Qaeda elements in Iran. Esseghair’s LinkedIn page briefly displayed an image of an al Qaeda’s flag which has been adopted by several AQ affiliates. The image has since been removed.

At the outset, the link between al Qaeda and Iran seems incompatible. Al Qaeda espouses a radical anti-Shia ideology that starkly contradicts the beliefs of the majority Shia Iran. However, a large number of high-ranking al-Qaeda figures live in Iran, having fled from Afghanistan in 2001 when US forces and the Northern Alliance headed towards Kabul to overthrow the Taliban government. Among those who are said to have fled to Iran are Osama Bin Laden’s son, Saad Bin Laden; and former security chief Saif al-Adel. The Iranian government never publicly acknowledged their presence, but the two were allegedly held under house arrest by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

According to US intelligence, Saif al-Adel’s father-in-law, Mustafa Hamid, is the link between al-Qaeda and the Iranian government. In the 1990s, Hamid “reportedly negotiated a secret relationship between Osama Bin Laden and Iran, allowing many al Qaeda members safe transit through Iran to Afghanistan.” The US believes that Hamid negotiated safe relocation to Iran for many high-ranking al-Qaeda members and their families in 2001. The AQ members and their families were restricted and watched by the Revolutionary Guard, but it is believed that some members were able to establish contacts with the al Qaeda network, raising funds and providing assistance unbeknownst to Iranian authorities. In 2009, and again in 2011, the US government added several Iran-based al Qaeda operatives to its list of global terrorists, including Mustafa Hamid, Saif al Adel, and Saad Bin Laden, who was later killed in a drone strike in Pakistan.

In February 2012, the US Treasury Department designated the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) “for its support to terrorist groups.” A press release from Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said the designation was due to MOIS support for groups including al Qaeda, al Qaeda in Iraq, Hizballah and HAMAS, believing Iran to be involved in state-sanctioned terrorism. MOIS has provided terrorist operatives with documents, identification cards, passports and “provided money and weapons to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)…and negotiated prisoner releases of AQI operatives.” In 2012, Canada also severed diplomatic ties with Iran over the nation’s support for terrorist groups, as well as its nuclear programme.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi dismissed claims of the Canadian police linking the plotters to al Qaeda in Iran. “If the news that you are announcing is true, this is the most hilarious thing I’ve heard in my 64 year [sic],” Salehi said, calling al Qaeda in Iran as “a new fake issue and a really ridiculous word.”  A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry also commented, “No shred of evidence regarding those who’ve been arrested and stand accused has been provided.”

Bail hearings are yet to be set for the defendants.

Car Bomb Attack on French Embassy in Libya

23 April:  A car bomb destroyed nearly half of the French Embassy in Libya, in the first significant attack on a Western target in Tripoli since the ousting of Ghadaffi in 2011. The bombing occurred at around 7 am local time, breaking windows, bursting a main water pipe, and damaging nearly two dozen buildings. Two French guards were injured, one critically, but most employees had not yet arrived.

Though no one has claimed responsibility, there are many speculations. The explosion came a day after the French Parliament voted to extend the deployment of those troops to neighbouring Mali, which has raised the anger of militants who are opposed to the intervention. Some Islamist militants also believe that Western powers are attempting to “seize the revolution” and rebuild Libya as a secular Western democracy.

French President François Hollande said in a statement that the bombing had been “aimed, by way of France, at all the countries of the international community engaged in the struggle against terrorism.” The Libyan government has vowed “to cooperate with all parties to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”

Kidnapping

Syria, 24 April:  Chechen fighters in northern Syria have released two Orthodox bishops. Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, head of the Aleppo Syriac Orthodox diocese, and Boulos Yaziji, head of the Aleppo Greek Orthodox diocese, were abducted on Monday. Ibrahim is known for mediating the release of kidnap victims, particularly in cases involving the kidnapping of Christians.

The bishops were on a mission to free two priests who had been kidnapped two months ago when they were stopped in their car by an armed group in the village of Kafr Dael, an Aleppo province near the Turkish border. The driver and another person were forced out of the vehicle, where the driver was killed by a gunshot to the head.

Syria’s religious affairs ministry issued a statement on Tuesday saying “there is evidence that those who kidnapped the bishops were Chechen mercenaries working under the leadership of Al-Nusra Front.”

The French “Oeuvre d’Orient” group said that the two victims were already at Saint Elias cathedral in Aleppo.

KUWAIT, 20 April: Two men kidnapped an Asian woman from Sulaibiya, taking her to an open ground and raping her. The suspects threw the victim out of the vehicle and fled. The woman, who was a housemaid, was abducted as she was throwing garbage into a dumpster.

Bahrain

23 April: Bahrain authorities revealed that they prevented possible attacks before the nation’s Formula One race last weekend. The Interior Ministry reported that a weapons cache, including 1,000 homemade firebombs, was found in a warehouse Saturday, a day before the race. Two girls were arrested for plotting to carry out an attack.

Heavy clashes occurred across Bahrain between protesters and security forces in the weeks leading up to the Formula One Grand Prix. Pro-democracy groups demanded the race be cancelled over the Bahrain’s poor human rights record and slow reforms. Bahrain’s crown prince, Prince Salman bin Hamad Isa Al Khalifa urged Bahrainis not to politicize the race.

Egypt

Egypt’s Justice Minister Steps Down 

21 April: Egypt’s justice minister, Ahmed Mekki, submitted his resignation on Sunday. The move indicates strong disapproval of President Mohammed Morsi’s handling of a prolonged showdown with the Egypt’s judiciary, which is the sole branch of government not dominated by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood allies. Some judges believe Morsi has taken actions to undermine their authority.

On Saturday, Morsi announced he would reshuffle the cabinet amid calls for Mekki’s dismissal from both supporters and opposition of the Morsi regime. Opposition parties believe that Mekki has sided with Morsi and his policies, and the “reshuffle” would be an opportunity to infuse the judicial branch with supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood party. Morsi’s backers believe that Mekki failed to make expedient reforms to the justice system. All parties were angered following a number of acquittals of members of the Mubarak regime, including officials charged with corruption, and nearly all policemen charged with killing protesters during the 2011 uprising.

In his resignation letter, Mekki states that his resignation came as a response to pressure from the president’s opponents and supporters. He also mentioned protests on Friday by pro-Brotherhood supporters urging a “cleansing” of the judiciary, as well as calls for a new judicial reform law.

Mubarak Still in Prison, Despite Ordered Release

20 April:  An Egyptian court has ordered the release of Egypt’s ousted President Hosni Mubarak as he awaits further investigation into charges. However, Mubarak remains imprisoned on two other corruption cases. Mubarak, who has been ailing since shortly following his removal, has been in detention since 2011. He is currently in Tora prison in Cairo.

Days earlier, another court ordered Mubarak released pending his retrial in a case alleging responsibility for the deaths of nearly 900 protesters during the 2011 uprising. An appeals court in January threw out a life sentence against him.

Many Egyptians see the release of Mubarak as evidence that supporters of his regime remain in office, and the aims of the 2011 uprising were not met. Many of those who believe Mubarak’s release is justified are frustrated by changes in government since the Morsi regime has taken control.

Mubarak’s retrial in the case of the deaths which occurred during the revolution is set for 11 May.

Israel

Attempts to Kidnap IDF Soldiers on the Rise

According to the Israeli Shin Bet internal security service, 33 kidnapping attempts have been foiled since the beginning of 2013, compared with 24 thwarted attempts during all of 2012.

Senior officers in the IDF Central Command have warned that Hamas has increased efforts to kidnap soldiers and use them as “bargaining chips” in attempts to release Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. The prisoner exchange deal which secured the release of Gilad Shalit in 2011 encouraged Hamas to attempt additional kidnappings. These kidnapping attempts are normally conducted by two or three abductors carrying switchblades or pistols, and most likely using a contact within Israel to enter the country.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Deports Men for Being “Too Handsome”

17 April: Three men from the United Arab Emirates have reportedly been deported from Saudi Arabia for being “too handsome.” The men, who were visiting to attend the annual Jenadrivah Heritage and Cultural Festival in Riyadh, were minding their own business when members of Saudi Arabia’s religious police entered the pavilion and forcibly removed them from the festival, deporting them to Abu Dhabi.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice members feared female visitors could fall for them.

Luxury Rehab Centre opens for al Qaeda

21 April: Saudi Arabia has opened a luxury rehabilitation centre in Riyadh to wean al Qaeda terrorists off religious extremism. The centre, which spans approximately 10 football pitches, provides counselling and religious discussions while also providing spa treatments, an Olympic-size indoor swimming pool, a sauna, gym and a television hall. Twelve buildings will host 19 prisoners, who will have access to special suites to spend time with visiting family members, and will be rewarded for good behaviour with a two-day break with their wives. The new centre is the first to provide a luxury setting as incentive for moderation. Three additional centres are planned in regions around the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia’s al Qaeda prisoners are required to go through rehabilitation centres before they can be released from prison. “In order to fight terrorism, we must give them an intellectual and psychological balance… through dialogue and persuasion,” said Said al-Bishi, director of the rehabilitation centers. To date, 2,336 prisoners have been through these centres, with only 10% of them rejoining the “deviant minority”, as they are referred to. There have been some high-profile returns to the ranks, such as Saeed al-Shehri, who became deputy leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) after his treatment.

Opponents are critical of the religious content of the program which they say draws on an ultra-conservative version of Islam not so different from al-Qaeda’s own. Social scientist Khaled al-Dakheel says, “To treat the problem at its root, one should challenge jihadist thought with an enlightened philosophy, not just with other Salafist ideas that are only slightly less extreme. There must be pluralism and an acknowledgement of the rights of others to be different.”

 

Tunisia

Tunisia to Begin Crowd-Mapping Crime and Corruption

13 April: Tunisia’s “I-Watch” organisation launched a new online “crowd-map” for reporting cases of corruption. The site, called “Billkamcha” (slang term for someone “caught in the act”) attracted 7,000 supporters within its first 48 hours of going live.

I-Watch President Achraf Aouadi explained, “This interactive website is designed to enable the victims of corruption to immediately report what happened to them whether this corruption is financial, administrative or in the form of favouritism.” Reporters will have the option to remain anonymous while submitting information.

Critical factors which cause corruption to worsen are the acceptance by society of bribery and toleration of it, the failure of regulatory institutions, and the lack of transparency. According to statistics, 90 % of Tunisians consider corruption a crime, yet one out of three individuals has either accepted a bribe or paid it.

I-Watch will work with several lawyers to process incoming reports. The site has six active members in charge of receiving reports, and ten bloggers who will expose cases of corruption received by the site.

 

Tunisian Salafists storm female student hostel to stop dancing

18 April: Female university students in the Bardo district hostel in Tunis were performing the first of a weekly dance and music show when dozens of hardline Salafists broke into the premises after scaling its walls. The Salafists smashed windows and threw stones and bottles, and fled after almost an hour of disruption. There were no serious injuries. No arrests have yet been made in connection to the occurrence, although witnesses report that the police were “present and did not move”. The Interior Ministry had no comment.

According to hostel administrator Raja Madyouni, the university had now tightened security. Salafists had previously threatened female students because of their Western dress and in some cases smoking and relations with young men, according to Madyouni.

Salafists conducted several similar disturbances to what they deem to be “anti-Islamic activities”, prompting secularists to accuse them of having formed a religious police and threatening the state. The moderate Ennahda party heads the coalition government in Tunis, but Salafists are pressing for Islam to be made the law of the land. Secularists say Ennahda is doing little to safeguard individual and women’s rights.

 

Tunisian Mufti Speaks out against fighting in Syria

20 April: During a press conference, the Mufti (senior cleric) of Tunisia, Othman Battikh, said that a “Muslim mustn’t fight a Muslim” under any pretext. He continued that the youth who went to fight in Syria under the banner of Jihad were “fooled and have been brainwashed.” The Tunisian cleric also commented on young girls going to Syria for “sexual jihad”, calling it a form of prostitution and adultery.

Battikh spoke out as many Tunisian youths are being recruited by terrorist networks to go to Syria and fight against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.  The Syrian government believes the chaos in their nation is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of the militants are foreign nationals.

 

Yemen

Yemen to stand against weapons smuggling

23 April: Yemen Foreign Minister Dr Abu Bakr al-Qirby, speaking in Sana’a at a meeting  of the UN Security Council Monitoring Group for the arms embargo on Somalia and Eritrea proclaimed that Yemen is ready to act as a partner to stand against weapons smuggling.

During the 2011 uprising in Yemen, extremists groups and weapon smugglers took advantage of the breakdown in security to turn Yemen into a weapons trafficking haven. Over 12 months, intelligence reports showed that both Ansar al-Sharia and al-Shabab in Somalia had exchanged men and weapons, which were smuggled by sea. The government is now seeking partnership with the global community to curb the trend.

Yemeni court sentences 11 al Qaeda militants

23 April: Eleven convicted al Qaeda militants were sentenced to up to 10 years in prison in a court in Sana’a. The militants were charged with forming armed gangs to destabilize the country, and planning attacks on foreign embassies and security forces.

Ahmed al-Hababi, one of the defendants, threatened to kill the judge, shouting, “We will teach you a lesson and we will drag you on the ground.” Two of the convicted raised an al Qaeda flag inside the defendants’ cage.

The sentencing occurred as militants attacked a military camp in Radda, 100 miles south of Sanaa, in a skirmish that resulted in the deaths of three soldiers and eight militants. During Yemen’s 2011 uprising, al Qaeda occupied large areas in the southern region before being driven to mountainous areas by the new government. The group has retaliated with assassinations and bombings at military compounds.

French Family Released After Two Months in Captivity

Posted on in Cameroon title_rule

Cameroon’s Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary has confirmed that seven members of a French family who were kidnapped by gunmen in northern Cameroon back in February of this year have been freed and are in good condition.  France has also confirmed there release however President Francois Hollande denied that a ransom payment was made to free the family who is currently in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde.  Despite this release, seven other French hostages are being held throughout Africa.

French FamilyA statement released by Cameroon’s Presidency indicates that the family had been handed over to Cameroonian authorities late on Thursday however the circumstances of that hand over remain to be unclear.  Since then, they have arrived at the French embassy in the capital, under heavy security escort  Both the French and Nigerian governments were thanked in the statement however no further information on their release was provided.

Meanwhile the French president’s office has confirmed that Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has already left the country, heading for Cameroon where he will greet the family.  Mr. Fabius has indicated that the French hostages were freed overnight “in an area between Nigeria and Cameroon,” and that they would be flown back to France on Saturday.   President Hollande also indicated that secret talks had been taking place over the past few weeks in order to help secure their release, noting that “France has not changed its position, which is not to pay ransoms.”

The family, who live in Yaounde, had been returning from a holiday in Waza National Park in the northern region of Cameroon Nigeria:Cameroonwhen they were kidnapped by gunmen on motorbikes on 19 February 2013.  Mr. Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, along with his wife Albane, and four children, aged between five and twelve, had been joined on their vacation by his brother Cyril.  A video that was released about one week after their capture, depicted the militants demanding the release of prisoners being held in Cameroon and in Nigeria.  A video released later also criticized President Hollande for deploying troops to Mali in January 2013.  Since their release, Mr. Moulin Fournier has indicated that ‘we are all very tired but normal life will now resume.”  He further noted that “the conditions in which we were held were very difficult, it was extremely hot.  But we did not have any serious problems.  We are alive and we are infinitely happy to be free.  It has been very long and difficult, it was hard psychologically and we had some very low moments.  But we stuck together and that was crucial.  As a family, we kept each other’s spirits up.”

With the release of this French family on Friday, at least seven French citizens are still being held hostage in Africa.  The abductions have all been claimed by Islamist groups, in which at least six have been claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  An eighth hostage was reported to have been executed in March 2013 in Mali by AQIM however his death has yet to be confirmed.

Niger

On 16 September 2010, kidnappers abducted five French nationals along with a Togolese and a Madagascan national who were mostly working for French public nuclear giant Areva and its subcontractor Satom in the uranium mining region of the country.  AQIM claimed responsibility of the kidnappings on 21 September.  A female French hostage, Francoise Larribe, was freed along with the Togolese and Madagascan nationals in February 2011.  The four other French hostages, Theirry Dol, Daniel Larribe, Pierre Legrand, and Marc Feret, are still being held, with French authorities stating that they are still alive.

Mali 

On the night of 24 November 2011, Frenchmen Serge Lazarevic and Philippe Verdon were kidnapped from their hotel in Hombori in northeastern Mali.  According to their families, they were in Mali on a business trip.  On 9 December, AQIM claimed responsibility for the kidnappings and released photographs of the two men.  On 10 August 2012, a video distributed by Mauritanian website Sahara Medias depicted Mr. Verdon speaking of the “difficult living conditions” and health problems.  On 19 March 2013, AQIM announces that it has killed Mr. Verdon, citing that he was a spy for France.  Although officials in Paris have yet to confirm the report, on 28 March, French President Hollande stated that the signs are that Mr. Verdon is dead.

On 20 November 2012, Gilberto Rodriguez Leal, a sixty-one-year-old Portuguese-born French citizen was abducted by at least six armed men in Diema, in western Mali, as he was travelling by car from Mauritania.  On the 22 November, al-Qaeda-linked Islamist rebel group the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.  On 26 January 2013, MUJAO indicated that they were ready to negotiate Mr. Leal’s.

Nigeria

On 19 December 2012, French engineer Francis Colomp is kidnapped by around thirty armed men who attacked the residence of the company where he was working in the state of Katsina which is located in the northern regions of Nigeria, near the border with Niger.  During the attack, the hostage-takers killed two bodyguards and a neighbour.  The act has since been claimed by Nigerian Ansaru, which has links to Nigeria’s Boko Haram.  They have since indicated that the kidnapping was in reaction to France’s preparations for a military intervention in Mali.

Security Update – Egypt

Posted on in Egypt title_rule

The Muslim Brotherhood has called for a “million man” demonstration on Friday to oppose a court ruling which calls for the release of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from court custody. The demonstrators will also lobby for a “purge” of the Egyptian judiciary.

In light of these plans, the US embassy in Cairo issued a security message late Thursday evening to warn citizens of demonstrations scheduled over the weekend. “Areas that may be affected by demonstrations on Friday afternoon include Tahrir Square, the Court of Cassation, Cairo University in Giza, Moqattam, Sidi Gaber, and the Manshia Courts complex in Alexandria.”

Another protest is scheduled on Saturday by activists in front of the Qatari embassy in Cairo to protest against “Qatar’s support for the Morsi government.”

The demonstrations are not anticipated to target foreign embassies or interests. Violence is not anticipated, however it is difficult to prediction reactions should opposing groups come into contact with one another.

The statement continues, “Though we are unaware of any further protest activity or security concerns, it is possible that additional demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience may develop elsewhere in Egypt.”

MENA Update

Posted on in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, MENA, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Terrorism, Tunisia title_rule

Terrorism

Al Qaeda Rebranding

The emir of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (a.k.a Abu Dua), announced a new brand for AQI’s: the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.” The new name replaces all previous brands used by al Qaeda’s affiliates in Iraq and Syria, including the Al Nusrah Front. The new name was announced in an audio message released online on April 8.

Al Baghdadi also confirmed that the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s chief fighting force inside Syria, has always been a creation of his terrorist organization, but was not announced for security reasons. The Front’s leader was deputized, and sent, along with other members “from Iraq to the Levant so as to meet our cells in the Levant.”

“We laid for them plans, and drew up for them the policy of work, and gave them what financial support we could every month, and supplied them with men who had known the battlefields of jihad, from the emigrants and the natives,” al Baghdadi continues.

Al Qaeda uses multiple brands to mask its operations. The name often reflects how the organization views allied organizations and prospects in a specific geographic venue.

Kidnapping

Egypt:  On 11 April, armed Bedouin tribesmen released a Hungarian peacekeeper in Egypt’s Sinai after briefly detaining him on Thursday. The captive soldier was released after intervention from tribal leaders.

The Bedouin were pushing for the release of a jailed relative, and did not realise they had captured a member of the Multinational Force of Observers (MFO) stationed in the peninsula.

The soldier was on leave and travelling to Cairo when forced to stop at a makeshift checkpoint the kidnappers had set up.

South Sudan: On April 9, authorities in Unity State confirmed the release of eight women who were abducted from Payinjiar County on 1 April by a group of 350 civilian cattle raiders allegedly from neighbouring Lakes state. The women were searching for food near a river when they were taken, and had been tortured and interrogated during their detention.

The raiders also stole nearly 800 cattle. Payinjiar county officials believe that the cattle rustlers come from Maper County. The 741 cows taken were later recovered in a battle on the same day. Three of the cattle rustlers were killed.

Although cattle raids are commonplace in the region, this event marks  the first time that raids have been combined with abductions of people.

Payinjiar County Commissioner Biel called on the commissioners of counties across the border in Lake State to stop the cycle of cattle raiding by convincing them that they are all South Sudanese citizens.

Syria:  The release of Lebanese man who was kidnapped in the border with Syria was freed on 13 April.  His release prompted the release of 11 other people who were abducted in a string of retaliatory kidnaps.

Hussein Kamel Jaafar, a Shiite from an area near the northern Lebanese town of Arsal, was kidnapped last month and taken into Syria. In response, members of his family took captive several local Sunnis. Those families in turn carried out retaliatory kidnappings.

A security force said that a delegation of Arsal residents paid a $150,000 ransom and returned from Syria at dawn with the former captive, Hussein Kamel Jaafar.

Jaafar said, “I was kidnapped by bandits and thieves, not the Free Syrian Army,” adding that his captors “beat me and tortured me.”

Arsal is a majority Sunni Muslim town whose inhabitants generally support the revolt in Syria. Nearby Hermel and Baalbek are largely Shiite strongholds of Hezbollah, which backs the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria:  On 13 April, four Italian journalists who had been kidnapped and held in Syria for nine days were released, according to Italy’s interim Foreign Minister, Mario Monti. The journalists were in Syria to film a documentary about a rebel faction close to al Qaeda. The group had been reportedly been held by an armed Islamist group; none were wounded and all are in good health.

The Minister’s statement did not reveal details about the captors who had taken the reporters, or information regarding their release. Italian state news agency ANSA reported the reporters are now in Turkey, and will return to Italy on Saturday evening.

Monti thanked those involved in securing the reporters’ release “which was particularly complicated because of the dangerous context”, adding that he had personally followed the situation since the reporters were taken hostage. He thanked the media for respecting a blackout requested by RAI state television, who employs one of the four journalists.

The Foreign Ministry has not released the names of the journalists, however they have been widely reported to include be RAI journalist Amedeo Ricucci, freelancers Elio Colavolpe and Andrea Vignali, and Italian-Syrian reporter Susan Dabbous.

Algeria – Riots in Southern Algeria

On 10 April, at least 40 people, including 22 riot police, were injured in clashes in the city of Ouargla in southern Algeria. Police fired rubber bullets into the crowd, which hurled stones, set fire to car tires, and blocked roads.

The chairman of the National Committee for the Unemployed Taher Belabbas said, “The cause behind the protests in the city of Ouargla is the false promises made by the government about housing the poor, employing the unemployed, and solving the problems around development in the Southern region in general”.

A spokesman for the Islamic Renaissance Movement said this occurrence is “similar to what happens before every political event, authorities seek to offer ‘social bribes’ to people, to license their political projects”.

The riots indicate a growing rift between Northern and Southern Algeria, the latter complaining of years of political neglect.

Bahrain – Petrol Bombs Hurled at Bahraini Ministry

On 11 April, four suspects were arrested after throwing homemade Molotov cocktails at the foreign ministry in an escalation of anti-government protests. There were no injuries or serious damage from the firebomb. The attack was a rare attempt to strike government offices during the 2-year-old uprising, led by majority Shiites who are seeking a greater political voice in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

In the past, police stations, security vehicles and personnel have been targeted, but government or royal compounds have been largely untouched. The ministry offered few details of the arrests. Online activists, however, said police stormed areas of the capital, Manama, at dawn.

Egypt – Morsi Meets with SCAF

On 11 April, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi met with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces for an hour and a half. The army commanders expressed frustration that political forces are attempting to distort the image of the Armed Forces, specifically offended by findings that it used torture and murder during the 2011 revolution.

Morsi reportedly denounced the findings, saying they are an attempt to drive a wedge between the army and the presidency. A fact-finding committee found the allegations against SCAF were substantiated. The report was submitted to the Morsi, but was leaked to the media on 10 April. SCAF leadership used the leaked report as leverage to force Morsi to side with the military leaders and promote certain among them beyond good practice.  Morsi promoted the heads of Egypt’s Air Force, Air Defence Forces and Navy to the rank of Lieutenant-general during the meeting.

Qatar to give $3 billion to Egypt

On 10 April, Qatar’s Prime Minister announced that the nation will give Egypt an additional $3 billion to bolster Egypt’s ailing economy and help rebuild key industries. The funds are in addition to Qatar’s promises to invest up to $18 billion in Egypt over the next five years.

Analysts suspect that Egypt is becoming a dependency of Qatar, as imports continue to decline and the nation’s currency reserves are reportedly able to cover no more than three months.

Coptic Pope Condemns Morsi

Coptic Pope Tawadros II has strongly condemned Mohamed Morsi for failing to deal properly with sectarian violence in early April that resulted in the death of six Christians and the country’s largest cathedral besieged by police and armed civilians.

Thousands of Christians had gathered at Egypt’s largest cathedral, St Mark’s, on 7 April to mourn the death of four Copts who were killed in earlier sectarian clashes north of Cairo. Attendees said they were attacked as they tried to leave the cathedral. They were forced them back inside in a siege that lasted into the night. Police fired teargas over the cathedral walls and looked on as civilians armed with birdshot, knives and Molotov cocktails scaled nearby buildings, attacking those inside the church grounds. Two Christians were killed and at least 80 injured.

On 9 April, Pope Tawadros II called a live current events news show to criticise Morsi for what he sees as negligence. The previous day, Morsi had claimed that any attack on the cathedral was an attack on him personally, and even telephoned Pope Tawadros, promising to do everything he could to protect it. However, after Morsi’s call, police continued to fire teargas into the cathedral.

Analysts believe the Pope’s tactics show a change in the Coptic Church, saying it was “interesting that he called in to a television show. He hasn’t used a sermon. He is trying to reach as large an audience as possible.” Tawadros may have been angered by a statement by a Morsi aide that laid the blame for Sunday’s cathedral siege at the feet of Copts.

For over a millennium, Egypt’s Christians lived peacefully among Egypt’s Muslim population. Sectarian tensions have risen over the past four decades, heightening by the elevation of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt’s new constitution inadequately protects the rights of Christians and other minorities.

On Sunday, a crowd of Muslims gathered outside the cathedral in support of Christians, and chanted anti-Brotherhood slogans. “Christians and Muslims are from one hand,” they sang. Muslims and Christians marched together to the cathedral on Thursday in solidarity with those who died.

 

Egyptian Legislature Approves Election Law

On 11 April, Egypt’s legislature approved a revised version of the law organizing the country’s parliamentary elections, which were scheduled to start in April. The elections were delayed because earlier versions of the law were declared invalid. The Shura council asked had asked for amendments to the earlier draft, and approved the changes on Thursday. The text has been sent to the Supreme Constitutional Court for review, which could take up to 45 days to rule on the new law. President Mohammed Morsi has said he expects the elections to be held in October.

Egypt’s opposition said it was not consulted on its drafting and had said before it would boycott the vote. The opposition has expressed concerns over gerrymandering by the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups.  In televised sessions, members of the Shura council voted over the redrawing of districts, one of the changes the Supreme Court had asked for.

 Libya – Libya and Egypt Sign Military Cooperation Agreement

On 11 April, Libya and Egypt signed an agreement for military cooperation, focusing on training, illegal immigration, illegal fishing operations and drug trafficking.

The agreement was made as the Chief of Staff of Egypt’s Armed Forces Sedki Sobhi and a delegation visited Libya. Libyan Ministry of Defence, Al-Bargati said that the visit “is the beginning of cooperation between the two countries to protect the region and achieve the revolution’s objectives of stability and development.”

UN Panel Report: Libyan Weapons Spreading at Alarming Rate

On 9 April, a UN Panel report indicated that Libyan weapons are spreading at to new territory in West Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean at “an alarming rate,” fuelling conflicts and increasing the arsenals of armed groups and terrorists.

The panel said cases of illicit transfers from Libya are under investigation, involving more than 12 countries and including heavy and light weapons such as portable air defence systems, explosives, mines, and small arms and ammunition. Since the 2011 Civil war, Libya has become a black market for those wishing to purchase weapons throughout the region.

The increased access to Libyan weapons has empowered “non-state actors” who are engaged in conflicts against national authorities. The panel expressed concern that extremist armed groups are strengthening their position.

In Libya, trade flourishes from weakened political and security infrastructure, an absence of control over stockpiles, and delays in disarmament and weapons collections. These encourage illegal trade and, “have generated considerable money-making opportunities for traffickers,” the panel said.

Sudan – Sudan and South Sudan Seek to Normalise Relations

On 12 April, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir made his first visit to South Sudan since July 2011 when the south seceded and became an independent state. The aim of the visit is to start cooperation and normalisation between the two countries.

South Sudan’s Salva Kiir agreed with continue a dialogue address outstanding conflicts between the nations, who agreed in March to resume cross-border oil flows, and work toward reducing tensions since the secession. They nations have yet to agree on who owns certain regions, including the Abyei province, along their disputed 2,000km border.

South Sudan shut down its entire oil output of 350,000 barrels a day in January 2012 during a dispute over pipeline fees. The move devastated economies in both nations. South Sudan re-launched oil production in early April. The first oil cargo expected to reach Sudan’s Red Sea export terminal by the end of May.

In addition, each nation has agreed to grant each others’ citizens residency, increase border trade and encourage close cooperation between their central banks.

Syria – Suicide bomber kills 14 in Damascus

A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed vehicle in central Damascus, killing 16 people and wounding over 140. The attack is the third in the Damascus in 18 days. The dead were mostly civilians, and four from regular forces.

No group has claimed credit for the bombing, but it was likely executed by the the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, which has claimed credit for 57 of the 70 suicide attacks that have been reported in Syria since December 2011.

Tunisia – Islamists Storm Tunisian School after Superintendent Bars Entry to Veiled Student

On 10 April, radical Muslims entered a school in Manzel Bouzelfa, 28 miles east of Tunis, and assaulted the superintendent after he barred entry to a teenage girl who was wearing a face veil. A witness says Salafists stormed the compound, smashing cars on the way in, and “tried to kill the director for refusing the entry of a schoolgirl dressed in niqab into the classroom.”

School superintendent Abdelwahed Sentati suffered several broken bones after being beaten with stones and sticks. Teachers claim that dozens of radicals remained on the premises, chanting anti-secular slogans. There have been no arrests yet in the incident. Classes at the school and others in the area have been suspended in protest at the assault, and the teachers union was considering a strike.

Tunisia is experiencing an increasing power struggle between moderate secularists, which have long dominated the country, and radical Islamists, whose influence is increasing. In 2012, the Education Ministry decided to preserve a classroom ban on women wearing the full face veil of strict Muslims. Hundreds of Islamists demanded segregated classes and the right for women to wear full-face veils.

Hardline Salafists want their form of Islam to be the law of the land, raising secularist fears women’s rights and democracy. Last year, Salafists prevented concerts and plays from being staged in across Tunisia, declaring that they violated Islamic principles.

“Topless Jihad” sparks controversy

In late March, a  Tunisian woman who goes by the name of Amina Tyler angered Islamist groups by posting topless photos of herself online with the words “My body belongs to me” and “F(expletive deleted) your morals” written across her bare chest, as homage to the women’s power group, Femen.

Tyler disappeared from public view shortly after the photos gained widespread attention, and fears of reprisal sparked rallies around the globe in solidarity. On 6 April, Tyler reappeared on a special reports show, “Effet Papillon”, fearing for her and her family’s safety in Tunisia. Tyler had received several death threats by telephone and on her Facebook account – statements like, “You will die” and “We will throw acid at your face.”

Tyler explains that after the photos appeared, her family drove her home, where her cousin “destroyed her telephone SIM card” and “beat her”. The family then relocated to a town three hours from Tunis where she was forced to stay at her home.

On 4 April, Femen activists conducted a “topless jihad” in front of Tunisian embassies, mosques and Islamic associations across Europe to show their support for Tunisian activist Amina. Tyler said she did not regret baring her breasts, but she did condemn the burning of an Islamic flag by three feminists in front of Paris’s Great Mosque on Thursday. “Everyone is going to think that I encouraged it. That is unacceptable.”

The flag burning incident sparked further controversy, as it made stereotypical links to Islam and religious prejudices. One citizen said, “I personally consider going naked or wearing the niqab part of personal freedom and anyone has the right to wear what he or she wants, but the infringement and provocation of the feelings of others is vile.”

Tunisian women are some of the most free in the Arab world but have limited inheritance rights, which women’s groups say have been further abused by the ruling Islamist party Ennahda.

 

Tunisian Government Releases Controversial Imam

On 5 April, the Tunisian government released a controversial Salafist accused of forging passports for jihadists seeking to wage war in Syria.

Imed Ben Saleh, (a.k.a Abou Abdullah Ettounsi), appeared in court on Friday morning, to answer questions about why he was deported from Egypt the previous day. Ettounsi was apprehended at an Egyptian airport, accompanied by a Libyan known for committing passport fraud. The Egyptian judiciary did not prove the involvement of Abou Abdullah Ettounsi in this case, but he was returned to Tunisia and informed that he was not welcome in Egypt.

“This man should not be freed until proven innocent from shipping jihadists and committing passport fraud,” Mouna Rabhi said. “After he was released, the judiciary opened for him the doors in Tunisia so he could send the rest of our young people to Syria to die.”

The case comes as the Tunisian government increases measures to stop the recruitment of young people for jihad in Syria.

 

Tunisian Girls Provide Sex to Syrian Extremists

On 7 April, a report indicated that at least 13 Tunisian girls have reportedly travelled Northern Syria to offer themselves as sex workers to opposition fighters. The announcement follows extremist “fatwas” that have circulated the internet, which calls on women to perform jihad through sex.

Last week, a Tunisian minister for religious affairs appealed to girls not to be influenced by extreme Islamic preachers outside of Tunisia who made a number of “sexual fatwas”.

A video widely circulated on the internet in Tunisia shows the parents of a veiled girl called Rahmah, 17, who disappeared one morning, her parents later learning that she went to Syria to carry out sexual jihad. Rahmah has returned to her family, who said that their daughter is not a religious fanatic “but was influenced by her fellow students who are known for their affiliation with the jihadist Salafist.” Stories like this are increasingly common in Tunisia. Parents are concerned about the influence charismatic Islamic leaders in other Arab countries can wield over their children.

The initial fatwa was attributed to sheikh Mohamed al-Arifi; however, sources close to the sheikh denied that he had issued the fatwa. Al-Hadi Yahmad, a researcher on the affairs of Islamic groups, said, “The issue of sexual jihad was initially attributed to a Saudi sheikh who denied it, and this fatwa is abnormal and not endorsed by religious scholars.”

Reports in Tunisia stress though that the fatwa had gained attention on pro-Syrian regime websites, with the intention of tarnishing the image of the Islamic fighters. This propaganda would support Assad’s assertion that fundamentalists, supported by Salafist groups, are amongst the Syrian rebels.

Tunisia recovers $29 Million “Stolen” by Ben Ali

Tunisia has received $29 million (£19 million) “looted assets” held by former President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. The United Nations’ Stolen Asset Recovery team, who are responsible for to recovering money from leaders overthrown in the Arab spring, presented a check to President Moncef Marzouki.

The money had been held in a Lebanese bank account in the name of Laila Trabelsi, the wife of Ben Ali. Both Trabelsi and Ben Ali are believed to have fled to Saudi Arabia after the Tunisian uprising.

Tunisia’s government faces pressure to recover the remaining money to ease stressful economic times, but there are political and legal difficulties in accessing accounts where the money is thought to be held.

Yemen – Military Restructuring in Yemen

On 10 April, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi issued decrees to restructure the country’s military.

President Hadi removed the former President Saleh’s son, Brigadier General Ahmed, from his post as commander of the elite Republican Guard, appointing him ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. In addition, two of Saleh’s nephews who had served in the Presidential Guard and the intelligence service have been appointed as military attaches in Germany and Ethiopia. A commander from an armoured division that split from the army in 2011 was made a presidential advisor.

Human rights observers are concerned that while the restructure is a positive step, placing Saleh’s allies in diplomatic posts could render the men immune from prosecution.

The restructure is a critical step in a US-backed transfer of power, which is intended to ease deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power and transition to his deputy, Hadi.

Saudi Arabia Builds Fence on Yemen Border

In an effort to tighten security, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) building a fence along its southern border with Yemen, spanning from the Red Sea coast to the border with Oman. Saudia Arabia began constructing in 2003 but halted a year later after protests from the Yemeni government. As turmoil has increased in Yemen, KSA has decided to proceed with its construction.

The fence, which will span 1,800 km and stand three metres high, will consist of a network of sandbags and pipelines, fitted with electronic detection systems. The first section of the fence has already been built along the coast in order to halt the flow of illegal immigrants, but the border remains a dangerous zone.