Tag Archives: Algeria

MENA Report

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Algeria

Algeria in Limbo as Bouteflika’s Health Remains In Question

On 27 April – Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was rushed to Paris for treatment at Val-de-Grace Hospital for what is described as a “minor” stroke. The Algerian government reports he is doing well and convalescing in Paris, however, the government has also censored Algerian newspapers from reporting on his health.  An Algerian publisher is facing prosecution for “harming state security” after two of his newspapers reported the president was in a coma nearly three weeks after being hospitalised.

Bouteflika is the leader of the National Independence Front (FLN), the party that has ruled over Algeria since it’s independence from France in 1962. Because the FLN is deeply intertwined with Algeria’s military, intelligence, and national corporations, opposition parties are weak by comparison. Algeria is essentially run as a one-party nation, and the absence and unknown condition of Bouteflika has caused a political crisis in a nation which is critical in the security of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

As it becomes increasingly realistic that Bouteflika will not run for a fourth term in the 2014 elections, leading figures are frantically searching for a replacement who will have the same backing by Algerian centres of power, and the Algerian public. The emerging leader would also have to have the faith of the international community that he would still work toward combating militant threats that are entrenched in the region.

In addition, the new leader must be able to respond to an increasing economic and demographic crisis: of Algeria’s population of 38 million, 20% are between ages 16 and 24, and 21% of the younger generation are either unemployed or underemployed. Unattended socio-economic issues could lead to uprisings against the current party. Official Gendarmerie Nationale figures report that over 9000 protests of various kinds have taken place in Algeria since the start of 2013. Last week, 1,600 workers in the oil-extraction zone of Hass R’mel went on a hunger strike, demanding that political and corporate leaders adhere to their promises to increase wages and improve working conditions. Economic predictions indication that oil revenues Algeria’s source of income, are declining, thus increasing the risk of socio-economic unrest.

While the FLN is urging continuing stability, members within the party who have backed Bouteflika are now jostling for position as his replacement. The in-fighting is likely to weaken the party, further creating uncertainty within the nation.  Several youth movements have called for a change in political leadership. As Bouteflika recovers in Paris, many speculate that the vacuum created by his absence puts Algeria at risk for a national uprising which could allow militant groups, already in hiding on the outskirts of the nation, to gain access to the region.

 

Bahrain

US Embassy Warning to Civilians in Bahrain

3 June 2013 – The U.S. Embassy has issued a security warning about possible threats toward Americans in Bahrain.  The message states, “Extremist elements of certain opposition groups have conducted surveillance on U.S. persons and locations where U.S. persons are known to reside and/or spend leisure time, including locations associated with night-life activities. These facilities and locations include, but are not limited to, the U.S. Embassy, the Naval Support Facility, the Bahrain School and American Alley.”

Diplomatic officials said there are no specific threats against U.S. personnel or facilities. There have been no attacks on U.S. citizens in Bahrain to date. However, Bahrain has experienced demonstrations stemming from the Shiite majority demanding a greater political voice in the Sunni-dominated political system. A segment of opposition appears to be growing increasingly radical in recent months.

A separate message from the US navy urged service members and families to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to base security personnel. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet, with nearly 6,500 US personnel in the region.

Bombing suspects arrested, confess

2 June, 2013 – Bahraini police arrested ten suspects in connection to what is being called a “terrorist attack” on 29 May.  A homemade explosive wounded seven policemen in Bani Jamra, six miles west of the nation’s capital.

Police initially responded to a terrorist blast in the region, finding rioters burning tyres in the village. After restoring order, as security patrols proceeded on foot to douse the tyres, the homemade device was detonated by remote.  At least two policemen are in critical condition; one officer has required a leg amputation. Four officers sustained lesser injuries. Though police have been targeted previously, this bombing marked the most police casualties in a single attack.

Bahraini security identified suspects “from a house known to be used by conspirators to hatch terrorist plots”. Police confiscated weapons and equipment in the process of arresting ten suspects. According to the police, four of the suspects have confessed

Bani Jamra is believed to be the base of the Shirazi movement, a group that seeks regime change in Bahrain and is supported by Iran. Locations within the village have been used to store weapons and plan attacks. Weapons and explosive devices have been used against police in this area. Security forces are implementing procedures to ensure the safety of the public in the region.

 

Egypt

Egyptian Court Rules Legislature was Illegally Elected

2 June, 2013- Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court has ruled that the nation’s Islamist-dominated legislature and constitutional panel were illegally elected. The ruling says that Shura Council, the legislature’s upper house (and the only active legislature since the dissolution of the lower chamber in June) would not be dissolved until the parliament’s lower chamber is elected later this year or early in 2014. Of the chamber’s 270 members, 180 were elected, and 90 were appointed by Morsi. Five percent of its members are Christians, and four percent are women. The Shura Council was elected by about seven percent of the electorate last year.

It is still unknown whether the ruling will impact the charter which was drafted by the 100-member constitutional panel. The constitution was adopted following a nationwide vote in December with only 35% voter turnout. Critics believe the charter restricts freedoms and gives clerics a say in legislation.

To prevent confusion Morsi’s office issued a statement emphasising that all state institutions must respect the constitution; and that the Shura Council will continue to function as the nation’s legislature.  However, the ruling adds to the political instability that has gripped the country since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Egyptian- Ethiopian Tensions Escalate over Controversial Dam

31 May, 2013 – In a highly contested move, Ethiopia has started to divert a stretch of the Blue Nile—one of the two major tributaries to the Nile River— to make way for a hydroelectric dam. The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is part of £ 8 billion investment project to boost power exports. The dam is being built in the Benishangul-Gumuz region bordering Sudan, and will eventually have a capacity equivalent to six nuclear power plants.

The reserve of the dam requires 74 billion cubic metres of water, which Ethiopia plans to meet in five years. This could cut off over 20% of water to Egypt. Egypt and Sudan object to the dam, saying that it violates a colonial-era agreement, which gives them rights to 90% of the Nile’s water. Ethiopia decided to go ahead with the project just days after a state visit by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a move that has been called “extremely humiliating to Egyptians” by Morsi’s opposition.

In a few days, experts from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will announce the findings of a study into the impact of the Ethiopian dam on the Nile’s flow. Egypt’s growing population is increasingly dependent on the water supply, with the nation’s National Planning Institute estimating that Egypt will require an additional 21 billion cubic metres of water per year by 2050 – above its current annual quota of 55 billion metres – to meet the needs of a projected population of 150 million.

Opposition leaders have suggested that in retaliation, Egypt could close the strategic Suez Canal to ships from nations such as China, which are helping Ethiopia to build the dam. Hamdeen Sabbahi,
co-leader of the National Salvation Front, stated that Egypt is capable of prohibiting ships from transiting the Suez Canal “until they stop harming Egypt’s interests.”

A source within the government stated that if Ethiopia fails to reach an agreement, Egypt could take the matter to International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Egypt Sends More Forces to Control Sinai Peninsula

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi sent dozens of tanks and hundreds of soldiers to Sinai following the kidnap of seven Egyptian security officers. The kidnappings underscored a security vacuum in the peninsula, which borders both Israel and the Gaza Strip. Following the 2011 revolution in Egypt, the region has been rife with criminal and terrorist activity as militants have taken advantage of the absence of security forces. Smuggling, bombing of gas pipelines, and attacks on police stations have become prevalent.

The kidnappers, who have since released the abducted security officers, sought the release of their group members who had been jailed for deadly attacks on a tourist hotel and a police station.

Morsi initially sought accommodation, issuing a statement saying he would be “vigilant in protecting the souls of all, be they the kidnapped or the kidnappers.” However, days later, Morsi had changed his stance, and stated that “all available means” would be used to free the men. Egyptian forces shut down two border crossings and deployed the largest military movement in Sinai since August 2012.

Egyptian human rights organizations warned the government against a “short-sighted security solution” that did not address the grievances of Sinai’s residents.

 

Iraq

Wave of Violence Continues in Iraq

2 June, 2013 – Iraq has been hit by a wave of violence that killed over 600 people in May, raising fears of all-out sectarian conflict. On 2 June, an attack in the western Province of Anbar killed seven people as gunmen kidnapped five others .

Armed men killed three Syrian truck drivers, setting their vehicles on fire near the town of Al-Rutba, near the Syrian Border. Near the site, the gunman kidnapped a policeman and a civilian, as further north, gunmen abducted another civilian and two more police officers.

It is unclear whether the abductions were conducted by members of the same group.

 

Jordan

60,000 Syrian Refugees Return Home

30 May, 2013 – Nearly 60,000 Syrian refugees have left the Jordan, and returned home. Some refugees intend to fight President Bashar Assad’s regime, other have left because living conditions in their camp have become too difficult.

Jordan has hosted nearly half a million Syrian refugees, with nearly 150,000 living at the Zaatari camp near Syria’s border. The nation’s resources to cope with the influx have increasingly dwindled. Last week, the US signed a letter of intent, promising Jordan an aid package of $200 million to support Syrian refugees. The U.N. refugee agency is expected to issue a fresh appeal for help in June.

 

Lebanon- Syria

Pro-Syrian Forces Gain Victory in Qasair

3 June, 2013 – Syrian pro-government forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies have gained control of the border town of Qusair. The victory is a severe setback to fighters opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After two weeks of heavy fighting, the town has been reduced to piles of concrete.

Qusair is a strategic town; victory for the Syrian government would strengthen Assad’s control over the province of Homs, which would connect Damascus with the Alawite strongholds on the Mediterranean coast. A victory in Qusair for the rebels protects their supply lines through Lebanon.

Over 500 rebels have been killed, and a 1,000 wounded during the two weeks of combat. Only 400 rebel fighters remained, and were outgunned by Syrian forces and Hezbolla. The remaining survivors retreated, escaping through a corridor the attackers deliberately left open to encourage flight.

On 2 June, clashes erupted between Sunnis and Alawites in Tripoli, wounding at least 14 people. In addition, three rockets from Syria struck north-eastern Lebanon; only a day after 18 rockets and mortar rounds hit the Hezbollah stronghold in Lebanon’s eastern Baalbek region. Last week, the Lebanese parliament delayed general elections scheduled for this month for another 17 months, citing a deteriorating security situation.

The latest confrontations between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Syrian rebels come amidst increasingly incendiary rhetoric between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the region. Hezbollah’s involvement in the battle over Qusair has also raised tensions with Syrian rebels, who have threatened to target Hezbollah’s bases in Lebanon.

A member of a pro-Assad Syrian militia said the military focus may now move to the northern province of Aleppo, which has been largely in rebel hands for the last year.

 

Libya

Libya withholds Saif al Islam Gaddafi from International Criminal Court

Saif al Islam Gaddafi, son of the late leader Moammar Gaddafi, was captured in 2011 and remains in the custody of a local militia. The ICC has indicted him on war crimes charges stemming from the 2011 Libyan uprising. The charges include: indirect co-perpetrator of murder and persecution as crimes against humanity, use of security forces to carry out attacks against civilians, and assuming “essential tasks” against government opposition.

Because Gaddafi is not in official custody, Libya is not prepared to host a trial. Further, members of Libya’s judiciary believe Saif al-Islam should be tried in Libya, to revive faith in the Libyan judiciary.

In Zintan, where Gaddafi is being held, he faces additional charges based on actions in 2012, after the ousting of his father. He is held for complicity in exchanging information, obtaining documents that threaten national security and insulting the national flag.

Judges at The Hague recognise Libya’s efforts to restore the rule of law, however they state that Libya continues to “face substantial difficulties in exercising fully its judicial powers across the entire territory.”

 

Turkey

Turkish Activists Issue Demands

5 June, 2013 – As the nation enters nears its first full week of unrest; Turkish activists have presented a list of demands which could anti-government protests in Turkey.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, met with leaders of the protest group as Prime Minister Edrogan left Turkey for a diplomatic visit to Northern Africa. Arinc apologises to protesters for what he called a “wrong and unjust” crackdown on a sit-in to prevent authorities from ripping up trees in Istanbul’s landmark Taksim Square. The heavy handed response to the peaceful protest sparked a nationwide response against what demonstrators see as Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

The activist leaders, known as the “Taksim Solidarity Platform”, consist of academics, architects, and environmentalists who are opposed to the redevelopment of Taksim Square, the only green space remaining in Istanbul’s commercial district. The group denounced Erdogan’s “vexing” style and called for the halt of Taksim Square redevelopment plans. The group also called for a ban on the use of tear gas by police, the immediate release of detained protesters, and eliminating restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. Finally, the group demanded that all officials responsible for the violent crackdowns be removed from office.

Turkey’s cities have been clouded in tear gas, and hundreds of people have been injured in five days of demonstrations. Over 3,300 people have been detained during the demonstrations, though most have been released.

 

Yemen

Yemen Launches Offensive Against al-Qaeda

6 June, 2013 – Over ten thousand Yemeni troops, backed by tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets, launched an offensive in the southern Yemen province of Hadramawt to drive al-Qaeda militants from the area. At least seven suspected militant have been killed and many injured. The Yemeni military also destroyed weapon caches and took equipment, explosives and motorcycles. Civilians in the region have been instructed to stay indoors. One military commander was killed and five others were wounded.

The operation is the result of efforts by Yemen’s new government to force remaining al-Qaeda militants out of their strongholds. US analysts call the al-Qaeda branch in Yemen one of the world’s most active terror networks.

Former rebels are engaging in Yemen’s six-month National Dialogue, an attempt to  bring all of Yemen’s rival groups, political parties, religious and tribal leaders together for discussion of a new political system as the country prepares to draft a new constitution.

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Malian Soldiers Clash with Tuareg Fighters Near Kidal

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A spokesman for Mali’s army has indicated that the country’s soldiers have clashed with secular separatist Tuareg fighters in a town south of the rebel-held regional capital of Kidal, a city which has been under the control of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) since February of this year when Islamist militants fled.  This is the first time that the Malian army has fought against the Tuareg separatists since France launched its intervention in January of this year.  A number of on the ground sources have indicated that the Malian army is eager to ensure that Kidal, which is located in the far north of Mali near the border with Algeria, is under the government’s full control before the presidential elections take place on 28 July.  However the Tuareg separatists have indicated that they will not allow Malian authorities into Kidal ahead of the polls.

MaliAccording to reports, Malian troops attacked militant positions in the town of Anefis, which is located 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Kidal.  The attack was part of an operation to retake the city from the ethnic Tuareg MNLA.  According to Malian army spokesman Souleymane Maiga, “our troops have engaged armed bandits in the Anefis area who have suffered heavy losses of men and vehicles.”  The clashes have been confirmed by the MNLA, with vice-president Mahamadou Djeri Maiga stating that “the Malian army has attacked our positions this morning in Anefis.  It decided to resolve the situation through war and the Malian government will bear the consequences.”  He further indicated that “we never wanted to resolve the situation by war, but as this is so, we will defend ourselves until the end.”  The vice-president of the MNLA is currently in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso where he is in talks with Malian officials over the staging of Mali’s upcoming elections. However this recent unrest has cast a shadow over the these talks.

Although France has begun to withdraw some of its 4,000 troops from Mali, after driving Islamist groups from the main towns and cities of the north, attacks and uprisings continue to occur throughout the country, resulting in officials debating wether or not the country is prepared for an early withdrawal.  In turn, this incident has further indicated that animosity between the varying ethnic groups in Mali still exists and may slow down the country’s unification process.

Last week, there were protests in the northern city of Gao, in which France was accused of favoring the minority ethnic Tuareg group by allowing the continued occupation of Kidal.  In turn, the latest incident comes just one day after a suicide bomber blew himself up on Tuesday at the house of an MNLA leader in Kidal who is suspected by the Malian army of being an informant for the French military.  According to a military source, “the suicide bomber was waiting for someone in the (MNLA) colonel’s house when he was caught by some youths and set off his bomb.  He is dead and there is one person wounded.”

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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