Iraqi Parliament Resumes
Iraqi parliament has resumed today in Baghdad to vote for a new president. The vote occurs in the midst of more violent actions taken by militant group ISIS. Over the past month, ISIS has gained control of large swaths of Iraq, causing the international community to call upon the Iraqi government to find a solution. However, the divisions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, as well as Kurdish Iraqis, have left parliamentarians struggling to agree on a new president and prime minister.
In the April 2014 parliamentary elections, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s Shiite dominated party won a majority of the seats. Maliki’s measures have been deplored as divisive, creating a sectarian rift that has given rise to violence and thousands of deaths since the start of the year. Despite calls for his removal from office, Maliki has stated that he has no intentions of stepping down. Meanwhile, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, 80, returned to Iraq last week after spending 18 months abroad for medical treatment of a stroke. With the president’s term set to expire, at least 95 candidates have sought the role of his successor. The most prominent among them are former deputy prime minister Barham Saleh, and the Kirkuk provincial governor, Najimaldin Karim.
Parliament resumes after an overnight suicide bombing in central Kazimiyah district of Baghdad killed 31 people and wounded 58 others. Reports indicate that a car packed with explosives drove into a checkpoint near a Shiite shrine as worshippers, observing the last days of Ramadan, awaited their security checks. The bombing was claimed by the militant group ISIS, via an online statement claiming responsibility for the attack “in response to the hostility of the (Shiite-led) government” and “criminal militias, who spare no effort in fighting Islam and Muslims.”
ISIS Targets Christians, Muslims
Last month, militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria conducted a large ground offensive in which they took control of vast swaths of territory in northern Iraq with the aim of creating an Islamic “caliphate”. The group changed their name to “Islamic State” and declared their leader, Abu Akbar al-Baghdadi, as their caliph. ISIS vowed to expand their caliphate’s territory into Baghdad. In recent weeks, it appears they are concentrating their efforts on retaining control of previously captured areas, however it is believe there are elements of ISIS within Baghdad that can cause disruption in the city’s security. While the group has stalled on their ground offensive, they have still conducted a series of atrocities against both Christians and Muslims.
ISIS has targeted Christians in Northern Iraqi cities, particularly in Mosul. Since capturing areas in the north, the group has imposed anti-Christian rule, including ordering Muslim employers to fire Christian workers. On 18 July, ISIS gave Christians in Mosul a 48 hour deadline to comply with their directive: Christians must either convert to Islam, pay tax, leave or be killed. Christians in Mosul, who once numbered over 50,000, fled to a nearby town. The homes of Christian leaders were ransacked and occupied. The bulk of the Christian population fled to nearby Qaraqosh, leaving Mosul empty of Christians for the first time in nearly 1600 years. Qaraqosh, a city approximately 20 miles south of Mosul, is protected by the Peshmerga, well-armed Kurdish fighters from the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan who seek to absorb Qaraqosh and surrounding villages.
Rather than fighting with the Peshmerga, ISIS has responded by blocking pipes that connect the town to the Tigris River, effectively cutting off the city’s water supply. The town has become reliant on rationed water being shipped in from Kurdish controlled areas, and residents pay US $10 every two days to refill their water tanks. NGOs have also erected water depots, but they are insufficient to supply the growing number of evacuees coping with the summer heat. In addition, Qaraqosh suffers hours-long electrical blackouts, and ISIS has placed an embargo against the city, preventing nearby towns from conducting trade with merchants in Qaraqosh. The situation has forced residents to drive to different cities in search of income.
In addition to the forced evacuation of Christians, ISIS has begun destroying Christian and Abrahamic sites. On 9 July, a video attributed to ISIS was posted on YouTube showing an ancient tomb being destroyed by a sledge hammer. Iraqi government officials say it is “almost certainly” the tomb of Biblical prophet Jonah, who is also a prophet in the Islamic faith.
On 20 July, ISIS burned an 1800 year old church to the ground. One day later, monks residing at the Mar Behnam monastery were evacuated by ISIS fighters. The monastery, run by the Syriac Catholic Church, is an important Christian pilgrimage site dating back to the 4th century. The monks asked to save some of the monastery’s relics but were refused. The evacuated monks were picked up by Peshmerga fighters several miles from the monastery.
Christians are not alone in facing discrimination by ISIS. Shi’a Muslims, as well as Yazidis (a sect linked to Zoroastrianism) are killed immediately upon identification. ISIS has also sought to destroy Shi’a holy sites throughout the region. Those who are not discriminated against are subjected to an extremely militant, loosely adapted version of Sharia law. On 19 June, ISIS tweeted images from a trial in which a Muslim woman was accused of adultery and then stoned to death. The photos did not show the woman, however they did show a large gathering in attendance to watch the event.
US Ambassador calls for Air Strikes
On Monday, the Iraqi ambassador to the US called the United States to launch air strikes on territories held by ISIS. At an Atlantic Council event, H.E. Lukman Faily said that in order “to conduct counterterrorism operations in urban areas occupied by ISIL, we need precision US air attacks,” and that “the US should offer air support targeting terrorist camps and supply convoys in remote areas.”
Lukman Faily added that the strikes would protect Iraq from a further terrorist influx, particularly through the Iraq/Syria corridor which has been created by ISIS.
Iraq is awaiting a shipment of US 24 Apache helicopters and 36 F-16 fighter planes that have been delayed through bureaucratic controls associated with foreign military sales. The F-16 shipment is expected to arrive in the autumn, after which time Iraqi pilots will need to be trained to operate the machinery. There is no scheduled date for the Apache helicopters.
Speaking on the delays, Faily said they had an “adverse impact” on Iraq, adding that Washington’s slow pace “also has created questions for us back home” about Washington’s commitment to Iraq.
Meanwhile, Russia has recently shipped Su-25 fighter jets. Lukman Faily also states that Iran has offered assistance which the Iraqi government has reportedly declined. However, unverified reports suggest that members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard are working with Iraqi militiamen to fight ISIL.
On Tuesday, officials in the US announced that they will speed up the supply of military equipment to Iraq in order to help the government their fight militant groups in western Anbar province. The White House also indicated that additional surveillance drones would be delivered within weeks while more Hellfire missiles would be sent in the next few months. The announcement comes just days after the Iraqi government lost control of key city of Fallujah to Islamic militants. Fighting in Anbar has led to some of the heaviest clashes in Iraq in past few years. While reports have indicated that on the ground troops are currently preparing to attack the city of Fallujah, a spokesman for Iraq’s defence ministry indicated on Tuesday that it was not “possible to assault it now” due to fears about civilian casualties.
As the violence has increased, White House spokesman Jay Carney has stated that the US is working closely with officials in Baghdad in order to develop a “holistic strategy” to isolate al-Qaeda affiliated groups. He further indicated that there had already been some success however the situation remains “fluid,” adding that “we’re accelerating our foreign military sales, deliveries, and are looking to provide an additional shipment of Hellfire missiles as early as this spring.” US Secretary of State John Kerry has also indicated that no US forces will return to Iraq. Despite withdrawing from Iraq at the end of 2011, the US remains a key security partner, providing more than US $14 billion (£8 billion) worth of weapons to Baghdad since 2005.
Reports have indicated that much of Fallujah is under control by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIS, with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki urging residents to drive them out. The nearby city of Ramadi is reported to be under the control of powerful Sunni tribes working with local police, opposing pockets of ISIS fighters there. Despite long-standing grievances against the central Shia-led government, the Ramadi tribes have renewed a pact with senior Iraqi army leaders to dislodge any presence of al-Qaeda. Since violence erupted, hundreds of residents in Fallujah have fled shelling and air strikes by government forces. At the same time, the militants have called on Sunni tribes in the area to support them and have urged families who have fled the city to return to their homes.
UNHRC: Polisario camps becoming a recruiting ground for terrorists and traffickers
A report released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has found that refugee camps run by the separatist Polisario Front near Tindouf, Algeria, may have become a recruiting ground for terrorists and traffickers in North Africa.
Reports spanning back to 2009 show Polisario involvement in drugs and arms trafficking throughout the Sahel and Sahara; armed incursions in Mali; mercenary work under Gadhafi in Libya; and kidnappings and collaboration with AQIM. According to reports, the Polisario camps in Algeria have become a recruiting ground for AQIM, a hub for Polisario traffickers, and a threat to the region. Analysts are concerned about an “arc of instability” stretching across Africa, linking militants from AQIM, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, and the Polisario. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently warned, “inaction could be catastrophic.”
Since 1990, international support for the camps has exceeded $1 billion. The UNHRC report recommends that support for the camps be used for durable solutions to resettle refugees, remove security threats, and improve humanitarian conditions.
Leaked report reveals Bahraini bid to replenish tear gas
A leaked report has revealed that in June, Bahrain’s interior ministry tendered bids for the provision of 1.6 million tear gas projectiles, 90,000 tear gas grenades and 145,000 stun grenades. The bid would replace nearly all of Bahrain’s projectiles used since 2011. The document does not reveal how much money Bahrain is prepared to spend on replenishing its supplies.
Bahraini forces have used tear gas extensively since 2011, as the minority Sunni government struggles faces daily low-level confrontations from a predominantly Shia population. Tear gas is among the most commonly-used methods to disperse protesters. In 2012, the US barred exports of tear gas to Bahrain, citing human rights concerns. Activists claim South Korean companies may be preparing to meet Bahrain’s tear gas requirements. The rise in global activism has spurred sales for non-lethal weapons as governments shift spending from counter terrorism to counter-activist policies.
Bombings in Suez, Sinai; police sent to trial
Two people were killed, and five wounded, when militants set off four roadside bombs targeting a security convoy in the Sinai Peninsula on 22 October. The convoy was travelling from Rafah, on the Gaza border, towards El Arish. The militants then exchanged fire with the security forces and fled. No one has yet claimed responsibility. The same day, militant group Ansar Beit Al Maqdis claimed responsibility for a car bombing on 19 October in Ismailiya that wounded six.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s public prosecutor has sent policemen to trial on charges of manslaughter over the deaths of 37 Islamist prisoners that were tear-gassed in a transport truck in August. The trials will be the first of policemen accused of killings in a massive crackdown of pro-Muslim Brotherhood supporters since army’s July 3 removal of president Mohamed Morsi.
Sectarian violence continues
At least 17 people were killed and 20 wounded in bombings and shootings on 22 October, when Iraqi forces clashed with an Al Qaeda militant hideout in the Himreen Mountains. The clashes resulted in the killing of four militants and the capture of seven others, all of whom were wanted for terrorism charges. A helicopter pilot was also wounded by the gunmen during the operation.
Earlier in the day, a suicide bomber blew up an explosive-laden car at the entrance of the home of Waqass Adnan, mayor of the city of Aana, some 250 km west of Baghdad. The blast was followed by a coordinated attack on the guards of the house, in an attempt to break in. In the process, four policemen and the brother of the mayor were killed, and four policemen were wounded. The mayor himself unharmed.
Meanwhile, in separate incidents, another suicide bomber rammed his explosive-packed car into the entrance of Aana police station and blew it up, killing two policemen and wounding three others. Gunmen fired mortars at a police station in Rawa city, west of Baghdad, killing a policeman and wounding seven others; a farmer was killed and his relative wounded when gunmen fired at them near a bridge northeast of Baquba, and a worker in a Sunni mosque was wounded by gunmen who fired at him in front of his house, about 20 km northeast of Baquba.
Sectarian tension between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Diyala province has increased, resulting in violence and reprisal killings. Sunnis and Shiites accuse each other of supporting extremists and militiamen. Across the nation Iraq is witnessing its worst escalation of violence in recent years, causing analysts to fear that the country is returning to the civil conflict that peaked in 2006 and 2007, when monthly death toll sometimes exceeded 3,000.
Missiles from Syria Target Eastern Lebanon City
On 21 October, four rockets launched from Syria hit Hermel. The source was unable to confirm casualties. Hermel and other border areas of Lebanon have suffered frequent attacks since Syria’s uprising escalated into a civil war, sometimes impacting neighbouring Lebanon.
The eastern Lebanese city is a Hezbollah stronghold. Hezbollah, which supports the Syrian government led by Bashar al Assad, has been openly involved in Syria’s war, sending fighters to support the loyalist army on the battlefield.
Lebanon had been dominated politically and militarily by Syria for 30 years, until 2005. The country is heavily divided on pro and anti Assad lines. As a result, the war in Syria has served to escalate Lebanon’s sectarian and political divisions.
Disabled veterans break into Libyan parliament building
On October 22, several disabled former rebels from the Libyan War broke into the parliament building and vandalised parts of the building. The event occurred on the day before the second anniversary of the rebel victory over Gadhafi forces, days after the dictator was killed in Sirte.
The protesters came from the town of Ajdabiya, between Tripoli and eastern Libya. The city was a major battleground in the 2011 war.
An MP stated, “They got into the Congress chamber and smashed some fittings.” The chamber was empty at the time but the act was decried as a “new assault on a state institution.” The vandalism is the latest in a series of security breaches at the General National Congress building.
In an effort to increase security and gain acceptance from rebel groups, the government has given some militia units varying degrees of official recognition. However, their control over the units is minimal. Analysts are concerned about the interim government’s ability to assert its control over militias and security throughout the country. Former rebels units, some sympathetic to Al-Qaeda, have refused to surrender their arms.
Saudi Arabia announces “major shift” in relationship with United States
On 22 October, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that the kingdom will make a “major shift” in its relations with the United States.
The prince criticised actions and inactions taken by the United States, including failing to act effectively on the Syria crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; growing closer to the government in Tehran; and failing to back Saudi support for the Bahraini government when it crushed an anti-government revolt during the 2011 uprising. As a result, Prince Bandar has stated that he plans to limit interaction with the US, reportedly adding that there would be no further coordination with the United States over the fighting in Syria.
The report is consistent with Saudi Arabia’s reasons for refusal of a seat on the UN Security Council as a rotating member. Though they have not openly broken ties with the US, Saudi leaders have been quietly critical of several recent US actions in the Middle East.
Prince Bandar’s announcement marks a serious setback to the relationship between the two nations; it spotlights that Saudi and US interests are not aligned on several top issues driving instability in the Middle East. In particular, the Saudi’s point to the US shift toward a containment strategy regarding Iran’s nuclear program, and the US goal of driving Assad out while leaving a Baathist government in Damascus. The Saudi’s have vocally stated that both Assad and his government should be replaced. The US treats Syrian issues as separate from Iranian nuclear issues. The Saudis perceive them as inseparable. The differences in these world views are deep, and unlikely to be overcome easily. The change in stance could result in a strong shift in relations between the Middle East and the West.
Snipers targeting heavily pregnant women
Snipers are playing a “targeting game,” and heavily pregnant women are on the target list. David Nott, a British surgeon who volunteers with charity Syria Relief, says that up to 90% of the surgeries he performs daily are for sniper wounds. In the case of pregnant women, “Most of the children removed were seven, eight, nine month’s gestation, which meant it was fairly obvious to anybody that these women were pregnant.” He added that young children are also being targeted, and on some days, the wounds were “suspiciously similar”, with several victims coming in with shots to the same part of the body on the same day. The similarities suggest a game between the snipers.
Knott says he was told by other local doctors that snipers may receive little presents for people they’d shot during the day.
Mourning period announced for downed officers; Transition negotiations continue
In a televised speech on 23 October, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki announced three days of national mourning for eight officers killed by suspected militants in the central Sidi Bouzidi province. The announcement was made on the second anniversary of the country’s first free elections. Members of the National Guard were securing a building in the village of Sidi Ali Bououn after receiving a tip-off that a suspicious group was hiding there. A gun battle ensued, killing both security forces and militants.
Marzouki said the militants were retaliating for attacks on 17 October, when nine suspected militants were killed. Authorities say the militants had carried out an attack on police patrols.
The interior ministry believes that the militants belong to the Salafist Ansar al-Sharia group, who were linked to the murders of prominent left-wing figure Chokri Belaid in February and opposition politician Mohammed Brahmi in July.
Their deaths triggered mass protests against the government, and crippled progress between the ruling party and its opposition. While Ennahda condemned the killings, the opposition accused the leading party of failing to rein in radical Islamists.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Ali Larayedh addressed the nation to confirm that the government would resign after talks with the opposition on appointing a caretaker administration were complete. Larayedh stated that Ennahda, the current ruling party in Tunisia, is committed to the “principle of relinquishing power in line with the different phases envisaged in the roadmap”.
Larayedh’s speech came following anti-government protests in Tunis, who demanded that the Islamist-led ruling coalition government leave immediately. Ennahda has been accused of stalling talks in order to maintain power in the government. Both Ennahda and the opposition have set a three weeks deadline to appoint the interim cabinet, and a one month deadline to adopt a new constitution, electoral laws and set an election date.
Arab League to Pass Resolution on Syrian Chemical Weapons
Arab League ministers will meet in Cairo next week (September 2-3), and are expected to pass a resolution which blames Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the wide-scale chemical weapons attack near Damascus last week. A representative of the League said, “The Arab foreign ministers will affirm the full responsibility of the Syrian regime for the chemical weapons’ attack that took place in Eastern Ghouta.” The representative also indicated that the League will ask for those responsible for the attack to be taken to the International Criminal Court. The Arab League is expected to call for the UN to adopt tougher sanctions on Syria, and to urge Russia and China not to block resolutions which propose action against Assad.
Permanent representatives within the Arab League have already placed responsibility for the attack on the Assad regime. The announcements provided regional political cover in the event of a U.S.-led military strike on Syria.
Supporters of the resolution are expected to include Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which both back anti-Assad rebels in Syria’s civil war. Iraq, Lebanon, and Algeria are likely to oppose or abstain from any vote which condemns Syria. Syria has been suspended from the Arab League since November 2011.
Three Algerian troops killed in bombing
Three members of the Algerian army were killed and four injured following a bomb explosion in the Beni Milleuk Mountains in Tipaza Province. This marks the second attack in six weeks; in mid-July, four soldiers were killed after two bombs detonated in western Tipaza.
The Algerian military has been searching the region connecting Ain Defla and Tipaza provinces after receiving reports of terrorist activities in the area. Sources indicated that a terrorist group had planted a mine on a road that the army vehicles were using.
Egyptian Authorities Detain Families of Muslim Brotherhood Leaders
Within 24 hours, Egyptian authorities detained over 60 people who were associated with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), including relatives of the group’s leaders. Police have arrested the son of MB deputy Khairat el-Shater. The elder el-Shater was arrested on charges related to the killings of protesters outside the group’s headquarters in June. According to officials, el-Shater’s son, Saad, was reportedly arrested for threatening to release documents allegedly showing ties between his father and U.S. President Barack Obama. In addition, the brother-in-law of fugitive Brotherhood figurehead Mohammed el-Beltagy also was arrested. He was charged with violent protests aimed at toppling the interim government.
The crackdown on the Brotherhood intensified following the clearing of pro-Morsi protesters at Raba’a mosque in Cairo. In the ensuing unrest, over 1,000 people, including more than 100 officers were killed within a few days. As protesters turned violent, they were in turn met by neighbourhood watch groups. Authorities and local media have called the actions of the Brotherhood and their supporters “acts of terrorism.” Many among the arrested have been charged with inciting violence. While many of the MBs senior and mid-level leaders have been arrested, still others remain in hiding while encouraging protestors to ignore the protests and continue to rally against the removal of former president Morsi.
Many Egyptians suspect that the Muslim Brotherhood and its political allies could be barred from politics, forced underground once again as under the Mubarak regime. However, Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has said dissolving the group is not a solution, and urged against making dramatic decisions during turbulent times. Beblawi instead opts to monitor political parties rather than forcing them to operate covertly.
Meanwhile, interim president Adly Mansour issued a decree changing the nation’s military oath, removing a line that makes soldiers pledge allegiance to the presidency. Soldiers are now only required to pledge loyalty to their leadership and the country.
The security clampdown appears to have weakened the Brotherhood-led protests, which have been much smaller across the country this past week. There are planned protests Friday and calls for civil disobedience.
Coordinated bombings kill 65
A wave of bombings in the predominantly Shiite Muslim areas in and around Baghdad has killed at least 65 people and wounded many more. The blasts came in quick succession and targeted residents who were out shopping or on their way to work.
Unknown attackers deployed explosives-laden cars, suicide bombers and other bombs. They assailants struck parking lots, outdoor markets, and restaurants. In Kazimiyah, two bombs detonated in a parking lot, followed by a suicide car bomber who struck onlookers who had gathered at the scene. Ten people were killed and 27 wounded in that attack.
Car bombs went off in outdoor markets across the region. In Sadr City a car bomb was detonated, killing 5 and wounding 20. In Shula, a car bomb killed three and wounded nine; in Jisr Diyala a bomb killed eight and wounded 22; and one in New Baghdad area, killing three and wounding 12. Blasts in Bayaa, Jamila, Hurriyah and Saydiyah, resulted in 12 deaths. In Mahmoudiyah a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a restaurant, killing four and wounding 13. Finally, in Madain, a roadside bomb struck a passing military patrol, killing four soldiers and wounding six others.
In addition, seven Shiite family members killed when gunmen raided their home and shot them as they slept. Three children, ages eight to twelve, were killed along with their parents and two uncles in that attack.
It is suspected that the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda is responsible. Over 500 people have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of August.
Gadhafi Son and Chief Spy Charged
Moammar Gadhafi’s, son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, and former Gadhafi-regime Intelligence Chief Abdullah al-Senoussi have been charged with murder in relation to the country’s 2011 civil war. The trial will start on September 19 and will also include 28 former regime members who will face charges ranging from murder, forming armed groups in violation of the law, inciting rape and kidnappings.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) charged Seif al-Islam Gadhafi with murder and persecution of civilians. If convicted in that court, Seif al-Islam could face life imprisonment. This summer, ICC judges had ruled that Libya cannot give Seif al-Islam a fair trial. However he remains held in captivity by a militia group that has refused to turn him over to the Hague. Seif al-Islam was as he attempted to flee to Niger.
In Libya, he will be tried on charges of harming state security, attempting to escape prison and insulting Libya’s new flag. Seif al-Islam wants to be tried for alleged war crimes in the Netherlands, as the ICC does not issue a death sentence. He claims that a Libyan trial would be tantamount to murder. The remaining Gadhafi family, including his mother, sister, two brothers and others, were granted asylum in Oman in 2012.
AQ Offshoot Threatens Revenge Over Chemical Weapons Attack
An al-Qaeda affiliate, The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has announced plans to coordinate with other Syrian rebel groups to take revenge for the chemical weapons attack last week outside of Damascus.
The ISIL released a statement on Twitter that was signed by seven other militant groups. The signatories all have operations in Eastern Ghouta, where the attacks occurred. The statement indicates that the organizations have agreed to conduct joint operations after a meeting called for by the ISIL “for all the jihadi factions in Eastern Ghouta.”
The operation, dubbed “Volcano of Revenge,” will target “the main joints of the regime in imprisoned Damascus, including security branches, support and supply points, training centres, and infrastructure.”
The groups that signed the statement include:
- Ahrar al Sham Islamic Movement (Independent group)
- Ahrar Dimashq Battalion, or Muhajireen Army (AQ linked)
- Abu Dhar al Ghafari Brigade, (ISIL unit)
- Al Habib Al Mustafa Brigades (FSA unit)
- Al Furqan Brigade (FSA unit)
- Umm al Qura Battalion (presumed independent)
- Deraa al-‘Asima Brigade (Lebanon Capital Shield Brigade)
The statement was released as US officials deliberate plans to conduct strikes against the Syrian government, ironically putting them on the same side as the ISIL.
Yemen police foil potential terrorist attack
Police in Yemen have stopped an attempt to smuggle explosive materials through Sana’a airport, confiscating a package of explosives disguised as juice and soft drink. More details on the date of confiscation or the sender’s identity were not available.
Khalid Al Shaif, deputy director of the airport, has told reporters that airport police have previously aborted many bids to smuggle weapons, chemicals, and explosive materials, using tactics which include honey bottles or dismantling weapons and wrapping them with tin.
Interpol has issued a global security alert linked to a suspected al-Qaeda involvement in a string of recent prison outbreaks that have taken place in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan. The alert comes just days after the United States State Department issued a global travel alert and closed a number of Embassies because of fears of an unspecified al-Qaeda attack.
Citing prison breaks in three countries, Interpol has requested that its members examine whether or not al-Qaeda militants were behind the prison breaks. The police agency is also asking that member countries “swiftly process any information linked to these events.” In a statement that was released on Saturday, the French-based agency stated that “with suspected al-Qaeda involvement in several of the breakouts which led to the escape of hundreds of terrorists and other criminals, the Interpol alert requests the organizations 190 member countries‘ assistance in order to determine whether any of these recent events re coordinated or linked.” It also calls for Interpol to be informed “if any escaped terrorist is located or intelligence developed which could help prevent another terrorist attack.” The most recent escape occurred in north-west Pakistan, in which 248 prisoners escaped from a jail. On 30 July, Taliban militants used automatic weapons and bombs in order to break down the walls of the jail in Dera Ismail Khan. At least thirteen people, including six police officers, were killed during the attack. Authorities have since indicated that thirty of those who fled were “hardened militants” who were jailed for their involvement in a number of suicide bombings and other serious attacks. Meanwhile on 22 July, hundreds of inmates escaped from two jails in Iraq: Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad; and Taji, located to the north. Bombs and mortar fire were used to break into those two prisons in which al-Qaeda members were amongst those being housed in the facility.
US Extends Embassy Closure
Meanwhile the United States has announced that it will keep a number of embassies in northern Africa and in the Middle East closed until Saturday, due to a possible militant threat. After an announcement on Friday pertaining to a possible threat, twenty-one US embassies were closed on Sunday. On Monday, the State Department in Washington indicated that the extension of closures were “out of abundance of caution,” and not in reaction to a new threat. With the State Department announcing that the potential for an al-Qaeda-inspired attack being particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa, the global travel alert will be in force until the end of August. Although US diplomatic missions in Algiers, Kabul and Baghdad remained open on Monday, its diplomatic posts in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa and Tripoli will remain closed until Saturday. African missions including Antananarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali, and Port Louis are also on the list of closures. The US embassy in Tel Aviv, along with two consulates in Jerusalem and Haifa, were also closed on Sunday.
It is evident that security at US diplomatic facilities remains a concern following last year’s attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the US ambassador, along with three other Americans, were killed. Officials in the United Kingdom also announced over the weekend that its embassy in Yemen would remain closed until the Muslim festival of Eid which will occur on Thursday. The UK Foreign Office is also advising against all travel to Yemen and is strongly urging British nationals in the country to leave. Several other European countries have also temporarily closed their missions in Yemen.
The embassy closures and US global travel alert came after the US reportedly intercepted al-Qaeda messages suggesting that they were between senior figures within the militant group who were plotting an attack against an embassy. While the details of the threat have remained unspecified, it is evident that those members of Congress who have been briefed on the intelligence, seem to agree that it amounts to one of the most serious in recent years, effectively pointing to the possibility of a major attack which may coincide with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which ends this week.
In recent years, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, which is known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has attempted to carry out several high profile attacks, including one on Christmas Day in 2009 in which a man attempted to blow up a trans-Atlantic jet over Detroit, using explosives that were sewn into his underwear. Months earlier, the militant group had also attempted to assassinate the Saudi intelligence chief by using a bomb that was attached to the attacker’s body.