MS Risk Blog

Update on MENA (22 January 2013)

Posted on in MENA title_rule

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

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

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

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

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

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

Egypt Travel Advice:

No restrictions in this travel advice

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

Avoid all but essential travel to whole country

Avoid all travel to part(s) of country

Avoid all travel to whole country

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Libya Travel Advice:

No restrictions in this travel advice

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

Avoid all but essential travel to whole country

Avoid all travel to part(s) of country

Avoid all travel to whole country

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

 

Security Situation in Mali (22 January 2013)

Posted on in Mali, Region Specific Guidance title_rule

Residents who had fled to nearby towns returned to their homes in Douentza on Monday after hearing that the Islamist extremists who had controlled their town had been chased away.

MaliMalian and French forces retook control of Douentza on Monday, ending four months of the town’s rule by armed Islamist extremists. The town is 270 miles north of Mopti, which delineates the line of control held by the Malian military.

When the troops arrived to Douentza, they found that the Islamists had already retreated from the town. Sources have not identified where the Islamists went. After entering the town, French infantry studied the rebel compounds, finding anti-tank mines.

The rebels’ actions display their ability to embed into the population and flee back into the desert. Residents have described how the militants also arrived suddenly. Malian soldiers were helping to spot Islamists, who may have trimmed their beards and swapped their robes for jeans in a bid to mix with the civilian population, France’s army spokesman Thierry Burkhard said.

The rebels have vowed to defend other urban centers and turn Mali into a protracted guerrilla conflict they call “France’s Afghanistan.” The fighters appeared to find little support among the local population, who said the harsh version of Islam they sought to impose had little resemblance to the moderate faith practiced by most people here.

On Monday, U.S. Africa Command says American planes had begun transporting French troops and equipment in support of the country’s mission in Mali. A spokesman for U.S. Africa Command said that the U.S. Air Force C-17 transport began flights sent two flights on Monday from the French base in Istres, France, to Bamako, and a third arrived Tuesday morning. The missions will operate over the next several days.

In addition, armoured columns of Chadian troops in Niger are moving towards the Malian border. The Chadian forces, experienced in desert operations, were seen advancing north from the capital Niamey on the road to Ouallam, some 60 miles from the border, where a company of Niger’s troops are already stationed. Niger’s armed forces, which completed training last month, will advance toward the rebel-held city of Gao in collaboration with the Chadian troops. It is not clear when they would cross the border. Niger has already sent a technical team to Mali, as part of a battalion troops accompanied by six French liaison officers.

French officials say the troops will remain in Mali until they have dislodged the Islamist fighters from the north. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the French military is on a route which hopes to drive militants from the Mali’s northern cities: Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu.

“The Malian army’s advance toward the towns held by their enemies is a military success for the government in Bamako and for the French forces,” Mr. Le Drian said.

Security Update for Algeria (22 January 2013)

Posted on in Algeria, Region Specific Guidance title_rule

Algerian Prime Minister Sellal stated today that the terrorists involved in the attacks at Ain Amenas gas complex ranged in nationality from Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Mali and elsewhere in the region, as well as two from Canada. Sellal also revealed that the militants were helped by a former driver who worked at the plant. This detail validates speculations that people known to the complex were involved in the planning of the attacks.

He also confirmed that 38 workers and 29 terrorists died, while another three were taken into custody. Sellal states that five hostages are unaccounted for; other governments claim there are seventeen still missing.

In defence of the actions taken by the Algerian government, Sellal said, “I swear before God that there are few in this world who could achieve” what the Algerian armed forces undertook. Sellal also indicated that Algeria wanted to send a message to terrorists.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the leader of the militant group, confirmed that the attack had been prepared for a long time, but the French intervention in Mali provided the opportunity to carry out the plan. Belmokhtar also stated that he had hoped to negotiate and had promised the hostages would not be harmed. The Algerian government believed that the demands were “unacceptable”.

Analysts suggest that the diverse composition of the militants, which included three explosives experts, and the nature of the target may signal a shift toward a more sophisticated approach to conducting attacks. Though Belmokhtar and his group failed in Algeria, he has vowed more attacks in the future.

Algeria has not been economically impacted by the events. The Ain Amenas plant, which produces 10% of the nations’ gas, is set to resume operations in a few days. Gas complexes throughout the nation increased output to maintain normal demand. PT Pertamina, Indonesia’s state-owned oil company, will proceed with a bid to buy stakes in three Algerian oil fields from ConocoPhillips.

Hostage Situation in Algeria (21 January 2013)

Posted on in Algeria, Region Specific Guidance title_rule

On Saturday, Algerian Special Forces stormed a natural gas complex in Ain Amenas, in a “final assault” to put an end to the four-day hostage situation. Seven hostages were summarily killed as Algerian troops tried to free them. Over the course of the crisis, 37 foreign hostages from eight countries, and eleven Algerian workers have been killed in the attacks. Seven victims are yet to be identified; five are still missing.

Sources indicate that the militants conducted a highly organized and well planned assault. Algeria - mapMembers of the Al-Qaeda linked group, Katiba Moulathamin, attacked the plant Wednesday morning from the Libyan border, 60 miles from the natural gas plant. The militants attacked two buses taking foreign employees to the airport. As the buses’ military escort fired on the attackers, the rebels turned to the gas complex, which is divided between the workers’ living quarters and the refinery itself, and seized hostages. Algerian officials suggest that the attackers may have had inside help from Algerians employed at the site.

Early Saturday, the Algerian military stationed itself in the residential barracks of the plant, while militants, armed with rocket-launchers and machine guns, were located in the industrial section with an undisclosed number of hostages. Shortly before the military assault, the leader of the hostage-takers, Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri, said the government had to choose between negotiating with the kidnappers and leaving the hostages to die, also stating that the area had been booby-trapped and swore to blow up the complex if the Algerian army used force. The Algerian military is clearing mines planted by the militants.

A video released by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, Katiba Moulathamin’s leader, confirmed his involvement for the first time, stating that the operation was carried out by 40 fighters from six nations, including several Westerners. Algerian officials say Belmokhtar’s group was behind the attack, but he was not present himself. The raid leader, Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri, is thought to be among the 32 dead militants.

Nigeri, a fighter from an Arab tribes in Niger, joined the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) in early 2005. A year later, the GSPC joined up with al-Qaeda to create al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and has since spread across North Africa, the Sahara, and the Sahel region. Recently, AQIM has been bolstered by millions earned from the kidnapping of Westerners and their ability to move across the borders between Libya, Algeria, Mali and Niger.

It is suspected that this attack was a symptom of disputes between Belmokhtar and Abdelmalek Droukdel, man who was chosen to lead the GSPC following the death of former leader Nabil Sahraoui. Belmokhtar believed himself as a major candidate to replace Sahraoui, however the the position went to Droukdel instead. On the outer level, the crisis in Ain Amenas appeared to be a warning to the Algerian government, but within AQIM, the situation could be perceived as a show of strength by Belmokhtar.

Security Situation in Mali (21 January 2013)

Posted on in Mali, Region Specific Guidance title_rule

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed today that Malian and French troops have taken control of two key towns from the Islamist militants:  Diabaly and Douentza.  However French military officials and local residents have both noted that Mali Mapthe town of Diabaly has been riddled with land mines which were placed by militants who were fleeing.  Consequently, although the Diabaly is currently under French control, severe security issues remain and travel to the town is unadvised at this time.  The town of Douentza, which was taken by Islamist militants in September 2012, is a crossroads town on the way to the rebel bastions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.  Therefore while it is currently under French control, this may change at any moment as militants in the north continue to attempt to retake control. Therefore at this time, the situation in both towns remains to be tense while threats of attacks and kidnappings of westerners are highly likely to continue.  MS Risk strongly advises against all travel to the region of Segou.  This is due to terrorist and kidnap threats as well as an increase in troop movement and the possibility of checkpoints and military activity.  Malian security forces are also likely to increase their security safeguards over the coming weeks.  This will include checkpoints and other controls of movement in Bamako and across the country.

Although the security situation in Bamako remains to be relatively stable, the escalation of hostilities in Mopti, Diabaly and Douentza over the past several days has heightened tensions throughout the country.  The country also continues to face challenges, including food shortages, internally displaced persons and the continued presence in northern Mali of factions that are linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  The state of emergency, which was declared on 11 January 2013, remains to be in effect and it enables the government to take extraordinary measures in order to deal with the crisis.  MS Risk advises against all travel to Mali.  For those who remain in the country, it is advised to monitor local media as the situation remains to be fluid.