On Monday 7 September, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that two British Islamic State (IS) fighters were killed by an RAF drone strike in Syria in an “act of self-defense.”
Speaking to MP’s Prime Minister Cameron disclosed that Cardiff-born Reyaad Khan, 21, was targeted in Raqa on 21 August and died alongside Ruhul Amin, another fighter who was from Aberdeen. The British Prime Minister disclosed that Khan had been plotting “barbaric” attacks at UK public events. Despite MP’s previously ruling out UK military action in Syria, Cameron indicated that the strike was lawful and necessary.
On Monday, the Prime Minister reported that Khan was killed in a precision strike by a remotely piloted aircraft, “after meticulous planning,” while he was travelling in a vehicle, adding that the legality of the strike had been approved by the attorney general. In his statement to the Commons, Cameron disclosed “my first duty as Prime Minister is to keep the British people safe… There was a terrorist directing murder on our streets and no other means to stop him. This government does not for one moment take these decisions lightly…But I am not prepared to stand here in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on our streets and have to explain to the House why I did not take the chance to prevent it when I could have done.” Shortly after his comments, acting Labour leader Harriet Harman urged the government to publish the legal advice, stating, “why didn’t the Attorney general authorize this special action rather than merely ‘confirming there was a legal basis for it’?”
While two years ago, MP’s rejected possible UK military action in Syria, in September 2014, they approved British participation in air strikes against IS targets in Iraq only. However, officials indicated at the time that the UK would “act immediately (in Syria) and explain to Parliament afterwards” if there was “a critical British national interest at stake.”
Two Spanish aid workers, who were kidnapped in Kenya nearly two years ago and held in neighbouring Somalia, have been freed according to their employer.
In a statement that was released by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the organization confirmed that the two women are both “safe and healthy and keen to join their loved ones as soon as possible….Once again, MSF strongly condemns this attack on humanitarian workers who were in Dadaab offering life saving medical assistance to thousands of refugees.” MSF indicated that it would give any further details before a press conference which has been scheduled in Madrid on Friday. Montserrat Serra (40) and Blanca Thiebaut (30) were kidnapped on 13 October 2011 by gunmen who opened fire on their vehicle inside the Dadaab refugee camp complex. Their Kenyan driver was shot and wounded. At the time of the kidnapping, Kenyan police had stated that they had been seized by members of Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabaab group, however no group has actually claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Just days later, Kenya deployed its troops into neighbouring Somalia in order to fight al-Shabaab militants.
Dadaab, said to be the world’s largest refugee camp, houses some 500,000 people who have fled years of conflict and drought across the border in Somalia. MSF, which at the time of the kidnapping had 49 foreign and 343 local staff in Dadaab, has since reduced its activity there to a minimum. Both women were working as logisticians for MSF in Dadaab. Ms. Serra, a qualified teacher from Girona, Spain, had been working in Kenya for two months before she was kidnapped. She had previously worked on aid projects in Latin America and Yemen. Ms. Thiebaut, from Madrid, had recently completed a degree at the London School of Economics and is an agricultural engineer by training.
The abduction of the Spaniards followed the kidnapping of a French woman and a British woman from the Kenyan coast near the Somali border. Briton Judith Tebbut, in her late fifties, was seized from a remote Kenyan resort on 11 September 2011, by armed men who killed her husband David. She was released in March 2012 after being held for more than six months. A ransom was reportedly paid by her son. Marie Dedieu, 66 and partially paralyzed, was seized from her beachfront home in the Lamu archipelago on 1 October 2011. She was reported dead later that month, with French officials stating that the death was probably due to her having been deprived of essential medication by her kidnappers. On 25 October 2011, two aid workers with the Danish Refugee Council were seized by armed men in Galkayo in north-central Somalia. They were freed during a raid that was launched by US Commandos in January 2012. Meanwhile in January of this year, al-Shabaab fighters killed a French hostage, an intelligence agent known under the pseudonym Denis Allex who was held since 2009, during a botched rescue attempt by French forces. A colleague of Mr. Allex, who was kidnapped at the same time, managed to escape in August 2009. A Briton and Kenyan, who were employed by an Indian subcontractor of a UN agency and who were kidnapped in southern Somalia in 2008, are feared dead. While an American national kidnapped in January 2012 is still being held.
Meanwhile thirty-nine seamen of various nationalities from the Naham 3, a fishing vessel that was captured in March 2012, along with crew members from two other boats, are still being held in Somalia. The fate of a further fifteen crew members, whose vessel, the MV Albedo, sunk early last week, remains unknown.
Last week, on Tuesday, 11th June, a British national was kidnapped in the Indonesian province of Aceh before being released in the early hours of Thursday, 13th June. Malcolm Primrose, 61, is a senior drilling advisor for PT Medco E&P Malaka Oil Company and reportedly has 30 years of experience in Indonesia.
When on his way home after work on Tuesday, his car was stopped by four armed men on the road between the company’s drilling site and his home village. His driver, named only as Dania, was tied up while Primrose was kidnapped. No shots were fired. Following the incident, the local police authorities began a large scale manhunt with military support.
On Wednesday 12th June, the kidnappers contacted authorities demanding a £500,000 ransom from Primrose’s family. Primrose was found unharmed in the early hours of Thursday morning, having been released in a remote palm oil plantation. According to the authorities, no ransom was paid in this instance, reportedly because his family were unable to meet the demand. No individuals have been arrested, and the identity of the kidnappers remains unknown.
Aceh is a region at the northern tip of Sumatra, and Indonesia’s third wealthiest province by natural resources. From 1978 – 2005 a sustained and bloody insurgency took place in the province, led by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Aside from numerous historical and cultural grievances, such as a desire for autonomy and more conservative Islamic governance, one major issue centred on the exploitation of natural resources – mainly oil and gas. GAM’s leaders claimed that profits from natural resources were appropriated by the central Indonesian government and not reinvested fairly in Aceh itself.
Between 1989 – 1990, the Indonesian government launched a campaign to end the insurgency which led to the deaths of over 12’000 people, and was marred by numerous accusations of human rights abuses. A second Indonesian military campaign in 2003 – 2004 resulted in a decisive defeat for GAM.
This, combined with the devastation left by the 2004 tsunami, brought the 30 year conflict to an end. A peace deal in 2005 granted increased autonomy to Aceh in exchange for the separatists laying down arms. In elections since then, Aceh has consistently voted ex-GAM members into power, and enforced sharia law in the province.
While the issues that led to the insurgency have been largely resolved, there remain many individuals formerly active in the insurgent movement and a large volume of firearms in private ownership. There are also lingering economic difficulties in the province, with poverty amongst the highest in Indonesia.
Additionally, the position of some oil and gas operations remains contentious– US Company ExxonMobil was the subject of an attempted legal action in the United States based on accusations it collaborated with the Indonesian military by facilitating human rights abuses to protect its natural gas fields. Throughout Indonesia disputes between local communities, local government and resource companies are relatively commonplace, sometimes causing protests and disorder as a result. There are suggestions that the conservatism of Aceh’s populace may create increased tension with foreign companies.
Nevertheless, despite these lingering issues, last week’s incident is unusual as Aceh remains broadly peaceful with kidnapping of foreigners very rare. A French World Bank consultant was kidnapped in 2008 but released unharmed 24 hours later, while 5 Chinese workers were also kidnapped and released unharmed after 2 days in 2008. There have been no reported incidents since then.
The case took another interesting turn on Sunday, 16th June, when a source in the Indonesian National Police told the Jakarta Globe that Medco E&P had reportedly been the target of several attacks in the past weeks that it did not report to authorities. This included the shooting of company equipment and the attempted bombing of a workers barracks, neither of which caused injuries or significant damage. Nevertheless, and while reports are still vague, it suggests last week’s kidnapping of Primrose may be connected to a specific campaign against Medco instead of the result of a larger trend targeting foreign nationals in the region.
Foreign workers should be aware that the oil and gas industry has a contentious history in Aceh, and that the province as a whole remains impoverished and with a legacy of separatism and insurgency. However, while there is some cause for caution, kidnapping and other violent incidents remain rare, with currently no signs of a larger phenomenon of kidnap for ransom targeting foreigners emerging in Aceh.
The recent suicide attacks on a French-run mine and a military base in northern Niger have demonstrated how the Islamist threat is spreading across the weak nations that are located within the Sahara. What does this mean for France? The country and its troops may be tied down in the region for years to come. In turn, regional rivalries are aggravating the problem for the French government and its Western allies as a lack of greater cooperation amongst the countries located in the Sahara is only aiding the militants in regrouping in quieter parts of the vast desert. One of these quieter territories is the lawless regions of southern Libya, which security officials have indicated is becoming the latest haven for al-Qaeda-linked fighters after French-led forces drove them from their strongholds in northern Mali earlier this year.
According to a senior adviser to Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore, “the south of Libya is what the north of Mali was like before.” This remark comes just days after Niger announced that last week’s suicide raids, which killed twenty-five people at the army base and desert uranium mine run by France’s Areva, were launched from Libya. Libya however has denied these allegations.
Smugglers have long used Libya’s poorly controlled south – a crossroads of routes to Chad, Algeria and Niger – for trafficking drugs, contraband cigarettes and people to Europe. However the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 resulted in a flood of weapons and ammunition being brought into the Sahara. Tuareg separatists used them in order to seize power in northern Mali, only to be ousted by even better-armed Islamists who set up training camps and imposed a harsh form of Islamic law until French forces arrived. In turn, the Islamists have also exploited Libya’s weakness. It is known that former al-Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar had purchased weapons there after Gaddafi’s fall and his fighters passed through southern Libya to carry out a mass hostage-taking at an Algerian gas plant in January, in which 37 foreigners died.
With no effective national army, Libya relies on local brigades in order to police its southern border region, where at least one hundred people died in ethnic violence last year. Tripoli’s failure to restore security in the region may only encourage Islamist militants to set up permanent camps and weapons stores in the area. Since the attack on Areva, France has urged regional powers to cooperate in order to tackle the threat that is coming from Libya as the country relies on Niger for one fifth of the uranium in order to power its nuclear reactors. Niger’s long border with Mali, tough line on tackling militants and its role as a supplier of uranium to France have long made the country a target. Since the attacks, US troops have begun to train the army while the government in Niamey has stepped up its security in the northern regions of the country, where French Special Forces went in earlier this year in order to protect the mines. Four French mine workers who were taken hostage in Arlit in 2010 are still being held.
While Paris is keen on decreasing its troop numbers in the region, the persistent arguing and mistrust amongst the regional powers continues to be an issues, with President Francois Hollande admitting last week that French forces may be used elsewhere in the Sahel. European governments, alarmed with the developments, also approved a 110-man mission this week that will focus on improving border security by training Libyan police and security forces.
In a region that mainly comprises of vast desert regions, borders often have little meaning, and militants can blend in with nomads. Consequently hunting Islamist militants requires states riven by mutual suspicion to work together. Officials in the United States have indicated that efforts to tackle the spreading influence of al-Qaeda’s ideology throughout the Sahara has been beset by long-standing rivalries, notably between Morocco and Algeria, coupled with a lack of trust and communication amongst the regional capitals.
Algeria, the Sahara’s main military power, has long bristled at the idea of outside intervention in the region, particularly one led by its former colonial ruler, France. Although the Algerian government allowed French warplanes operating in Mali to fly over its territory, Malian officials have indicated that Algeria should be more active, whether by arresting militants or preventing the flow of fuel that allows them to cover vast desert distance. The northern Malian town of Gao lies about 1,500 km (930 miles) from the border of southern Libya.
Mauritania also needs to place more of an effort on this issue. This is mainly due to the country’s strategic location on the western edge of the Sahara coupled with a high number of its citizens who are senior militants and with its experience in tackling Islamist militants at home.
The rapidly changing face of Islamist militancy also creates problems for the local governments. For years, al-Qaeda’s North African wing, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), relied largely on Algerians. However last year, the militant group was composed of gunmen from across northern Africa along with citizens from West Africa – militants who are more experienced and have a greater knowledge of the territory.
In Mali, drone surveillance and on the ground counter-terrorism teams have put a lot of effort in order to suppress the militants. Suicide attacks around the northern towns of Gao and Menaka this month claimed no victims apart from the bombers themselves. According to officials in France, around 600 Islamists have been killed since Operation Serval was launched in January. In turn, about 200 tonnes of ammunition and dozens of vehicles were seized in operations that scoured the desert regions and mountain bases. This disrupted arms and fuel dumps that militants had prepared during their nine-month occupation of northern Mali. According to a French officer in Mali, “they don’t seem to have the ability to coordinate attacks in Mali anymore…we assume that they will try and regroup but it will take time for them and it is risky as they know we are watching.” The French campaign in Mali has been backed by a British spy plane while the US has drones operating from Niger alongside an established monitoring base in Burkina Faso. But while Islamist militants once traveled in large convoys, they have since adapted and are keeping a low provide. A trend which will likely be seen over the next few years, as militants continue to adapt themselves to nor only the territory, but to the techniques that the West uses in order to track them down.
Al-Qaeda Names Replacement Leader for North Africa
Al-Qaeda has named a replacement for Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a key commander of its North African branch who was killed in fighting with French-led forces in northern.
Djamel Okacha, also known Yahia Aboul Hammam, is a 34-year-old from Reghaia, Algeria. His new position, which includes responsibility for AQIM operations in southern Algeria and northern Mali, still has to be approved at a meeting of AQIM leaders. Okacha is a close aide of AQIM chief Abdelmalek Droukdel and considered the “real leader” of the group.
His predecessor Abou Zeid, 46, was credited with having significantly expanded the jihadist group’s field of operation to Tunisia and Niger, and for kidnapping activities across the region.
Okacha, despite not having gone to Afghanistan, has had a meteoric rise in the group. Okacha spent around 18 months in prison in Algeria in the 1990s. As a member of extremist organisations the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GPSC), he was active in northern Algeria, and condemned to death by a court in southern Algeria for acts of terrorism.
AQIM Opens Official Twitter Account
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has opened an official Twitter account on 16 March. Their first messages, sent on 28 March, targeted France, specifically threatening to kill French nationals that they have been holding hostage. At least 14 French nationals have been kidnapped between September 2010 and February 2013, and are currently being held hostage by militant groups in North Africa.
Their first tweet reads, “Will the French people succeed in convincing Hollande to save the lives of the hostages? @Andalus_Media.” A tweet the following day stated that AQIM cannot guarantee their safety to infinity.
Twitter accounts for AQIM have existed prior to this one, but the latest account is the first to be recognized by al-Fajr Media Center, al Qaeda’s propaganda group. The account gained over 2,000 followers in its first few days.
Libya: Two men arrested in the kidnap of Humanitarian Activists
On 29 March, Libyan security officials announced the arrest of two men in the kidnapping of five British humanitarian activists in Eastern Libya. At least two of them were women who had been sexually assaulted. Authorities did not release the identities of the suspects, but did state they were Libyan soldiers. Officials also believe they are close to a third arrest.
The activists, all British citizens of Pakistani origin, were travelling with a convoy which had started in London and travelled through several North African countries, attempting to aid to Gaza. The travellers had no visas, according to Western authorities. At the Egyptian border, Egyptian guards refused to let the convoy enter. After five days of being stranded at the Egyptian/Libyan border, the five activists, including a father and two daughters, headed to Benghazi airport to leave Libya. The activists were abducted in a taxi at a checkpoint near Benghazi.
A diplomat stated that the men were beaten up and the women were sexually assaulted. Four captives were free soon after their abduction, however, the fifth, a woman, was found several hours later. Libya’s deputy prime minister, Awad al-Barassi, visited the victims in the hospital, and stated that the father saw his daughters being raped. The activists were given shelter at the Turkish Consulate in Benghazi, and left for Britain on Friday.
A Libyan defense official, Abdul Salam Bargathi, believes the episode was an “individual, isolated attack.”
Sudan: 31 Kidnapped Darfuris Released after a week
On 30 March, Sudanese rebels released 31 Darfur is who were kidnapped on their way to a conference for people displaced by the Sudanese decade-long war.
The joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) was escorting three buses carrying the Darfur is when it was stopped by a “large unidentified armed group in military uniforms and seven jeep-mounted guns.” The armed group took the hostages to an unknown location.
The incident occurred in on the border between Central and South South Darfur State. UNAMID has conflicting reports about whether the displaced people have been released. Government sources have not confirmed any release.
Algerian activists barred from World Social Forum
On 25 March, Algerian barred 96 civil activists from travelling to Tunisia without reason, illegally restricting rights to free movement. The activists intended to attend the World Social Forum, a global gathering of around 50,000 activists on areas such as human rights and the environment.
Activists included members of the Algerian League for Human Rights, the National Autonomous Union of Public Administration Staff (SNAPAP), and other non-governmental organizations. After a three hour delay at the Layoun border crossing, Algerian officials would not let them through, claiming “that they have instructions”, according to Mourad Tchiko, a member of SNAPAP
A similar incident occurred in February; Algerian police arrested and expelled 10 foreign nationals from the Association of Unemployed Workers of the Maghreb in February. The travellers, five Tunisians, three Mauritanians and two Moroccans, were planning to attend the first Maghreb Forum for the Fight against Unemployment and Temporary Work in Algiers. They were held at the local police station for several hours before being taken to the airport to return home.
“The Algerian authorities are disrupting the legitimate activities of local human rights and civil society activists, as they have so many times before,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “It is high time they end their campaign of harassment and intimidation of reform advocates, and observe their obligations under international law.”
Wife and Children of Gadhafi Missing in Algeria
The wife of late dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and three of his children, have gone missing from their Algerian home, where they have taken refuge since 2011. Safia Gadhafi, the dictator’s second wife, their daughter Aisha, and two of their sons, Hannibal and Muhammad, appear to have fled their home in the coastal community of Staoueli.
Algerian political spokespeople believe it is possible they have joined with former Gadhafi fighters in Mali, however it is also likely that the family has taken offers for asylum from Oman and Venezuela. Aisha and Hannibal Gadhafi are on an Interpol list which calls for their immediate arrest.
Kabylie: Algerian security forces kill Islamists
On 28 March, Algerian special forces killed five Islamists in a raid in Attouche, near the Kabylie city of Tizi Ouzou.
Among those killed were Badache Said, 39, who led the Ibn el-Moqafa militia, and Nouali Hamza. Both were were handed death sentences in absentia last week along with 33 others, including AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel.
All five were implicated in an attack on an Algerian army barracks at Azazga near Tizi Ouzou in April 2011, in which 17 soldiers were killed.
Qatar-Algeria Joint venture for Steel Production
On 27 March, Industries Qatar announced that the governments of Qatar and Algeria have entered into a joint venture to build a steel production plant in Algeria. Industries Qatar has interests in petrochemicals, fertilisers and steel products. The planned steel complex will have a total annual production capacity of 4 million metric tonnes. The steel complex will cost $2bn in its first phase.
The project is anticipated to create over 1,000 direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs. Algeria, represented by Sider and Fonds National D’investissement, will hold 51 percent of the new company, while Qatar Steel International will hold the remaining 49 percent. The facility is expected to take 42 months to construct, and commercial production is expected to start in 2017.
Three Divers Arrested for Attempting to Cut Undersea Internet Cable
On 27 March, Egyptian authorities arrested three divers who were trying to cut through an undersea internet cable in the waters of Alexandria. The damaged cable caused a drop in the speed of online services in Egypt and some other countries.
The divers were arrested while attempting to cut the undersea wires of the main telecommunications company, Telecom Egypt. The damaged cable was the South East Asia Middle East Western Europe 4 (SEA-ME-WE 4), a critical cable under the Mediterranean. Cable operator Seacom said several lines connecting Europe with Africa, the Middle East and Asia were hit, slowing down internet services.
The arrested men are due to be interrogated. Their motive has not been made public.
Egyptian Satirist Arrested, Released on Bail
On 1 April, Bassem Youssef, the Middle East’s most popular TV satirist, was issued with an arrest warrant and questioned by Egypt’s top prosecutor for allegedly insulting Islam and the Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. Youssef, regarded as Egypt’s Jon Stewart, turned himself in following the issue of an arrest warrant by prosecutor general Talaat Abdallah. He was released on bail of 15,000 Egyptian pounds (£1,500) after being questioned for three hours. According to Heba Morayaf, director of Human right watch in Egypt, it heralds the most serious affront to free speech since associates of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood assumed power.
Youssef became an increasingly notable figure following Egypt’s 2011 uprising. His show, “al Bernameg” humorously critiques politics, fundamentalist clerics, and Morsi. With over than 30 million viewers across the Middle East, the show is a beacon for free-speech in the region. Youssef has been sued several times by private individuals, but this is the first time that the prosecutor general followed up one of the complaints with legal action, a signal that President Morsi’s Brotherhood-backed regime is now prepared to take a harsher stance against its critics.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the leader of Egypt’s main opposition coalition, said on Twitter, “Pathetic efforts to smother dissent and intimidate media is a sign of a shaky regime and a bunker mentality”
Youssef, however took a light-hearted approach, arriving at court in a comically large version of a graduation hat worn by Morsi at a ceremony in Pakistan, and tweeting (and later deleting) comments such as, “Police officers and lawyers at the prosecutor-general’s office want to be photographed with me, maybe this is why they ordered my arrest?”
Last week, Morsi promised to take necessary measures against opposition figures that incited what he called violence and rioting, but also has spread his targets to vocal members of the media. Youssef’s arrest comes just a day after nine opposition activists and four lawyers were arrested in Alexandria, and a week after legal proceedings against five activists for inciting violence against the Muslim Brotherhood.
The prosecutor-general, who is considered politicized in his support for Brotherhood, was appointed after Morsi circumvented constitutional protocol to promote him in November. Last week, a judge this week ruled that Abdallah’s appointment was illegal – but he has refused to step aside.
Parliamentary Elections Possible for October
On March 27, President Morsi said that Egypt’s parliamentary elections are likely to be held in October. While in Doha, Qatar, for the Arab League Summit, Morsi met with overseas Egyptians and revealed that the first session of the People’s Assembly (the lower house of the parliament) would be held before the end of 2013.
Morsi also stated that he expected that the Shura Council (upper house of the parliament) to complete drafts of parliamentary election law within two weeks, to deliver to the Supreme Constitutional Court for approval. On Tuesday, the Shura Council approved a new draft for regulation of parliamentary elections “in principle.”
On March 6, the Supreme Administrative Court suspended a presidential decree of holding parliamentary elections on April 22, citing fourteen claims against the constitutionality of the newly- drafted election law to Supreme Constitutional Court. The Court will review the appeal against the suspension of parliamentary elections on April 7.
Egyptian Government Plans to Ration Subsidized Bread
The Egyptian government has announced plans to start rationing subsidized bread. The plan has outraged bakers and millions of families with few other food options than state-subsidized pita.
The announcement comes in the wake of cuts of State payments to private bakers, which are intended to keep the price of bread low. Egypt has subsided bread since the 1950s. The current administration has said the country’s weak economy has made the subsidies too expensive to keep up.
Hundreds of bakers travelled to Cairo in protest. Without the subsidies, they will be unable to stay in business. Subsidized bakers are required by law to sell a large portion of their production at low prices set by the state.
In an effort to appease the bakers and limit demand for cheap bread, the government has limited purchase of the commodity to three loaves per customer. Rationing has stirred up anger among low-income Egyptians who rely on the cheap bread as critical part of their diet. A similar attempt at rationing in 1977 resulted in riots throughout Egypt. Threats of a similar event caused the government to postpone implementing rationing last week.
Post-Revolution Egypt sees Spike in Tomb Raiding
Since the 2011 revolution, Egypt has seen a spike in illegal digging near tombs in hopes of accessing rare archaeological treasures. Recently, large holes have been appearing in the ground at the Great Pyramids of Giza, and In Dahshur, near the Bent Pyramid.
Gunmen have also attacked storehouses at Saqqara and Abusir, which held yet-unregistered antiquities recovered from excavations. It is unknown how much has been stolen.
In Luxor, police have discovered vast tunnel networks, starting within a compound close to the ancient sites or even inside a home.
Libyan Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Feared Abducted
Officials in Libya have report that the Libyan prime minister’s chief of staff has disappeared and may have been abducted during a series of confrontations between the government and militiamen in Tripoli.
The prime minister’s office lost contact with Mohamed Ali Ghatous on Sunday. Ghatous’ car was found on the side of a road in the outskirts of Tripoli. Security forces are searching for him; officials say he may have been abducted.
Since the civil war, Libya has been working to rebuild a unified security force, however the government depends on militias to fill the security vacuum. Recently, militias, some who act with impunity, have taken offense at statements by ministers suggesting they needed to be brought under control.
Earlier in March, Prime Minister Ali Zidan was besieged in his office by militiamen who demanded his removal over remarks in which he threatened to summon outside help to confront the armed groups. On the same day that Ghatous disappeared, dozens of militiamen conducted a day-long siege, surrounding the Justice Ministry and calling for minister Salah al-Marghani’s resignation. Al-Marghani said on Libyan TV that some of the militias were illegitimate and were operating illegal prisons, and he demanded that the militias relinquish control to the Justice Ministry.
Zidan and al-Marghani held a joint news conference on Sunday, emphasizing that militias would be held accountable for any attacks.
Gunmen attack Libyan Airbase
On 30 March, more than 150 gunmen attacked an air base in Libya’s southern desert about 30 miles north of Sabha. The attackers were heavily armed and clashed with government forces, killing a colonel and a soldier, and wounding two troops.
The assailants were identified as Libyan, but an investigation is underway to determine who they were.
Extremists bomb 500-year-old Sufi shrine in Tripoli
A Libyan security official says that suspected Islamic extremists have bombed an ancient Sufi shrine in Tripoli. The attackers planted explosives inside the Sidi Mohammed al-Andalousi, and detonated them from a distance early on March 28.
Hard-line Salafis, an offshoot of Islam, oppose the veneration of saints, believing it to undermine the Islamic belief in monotheism. Salafis in Mali, Somalia and Tunisia have targeted the tombs of saints. The country’s grand cleric has since issued a religious edict against such assaults.
Egyptian Government extradites Gadhafi- era Libyan Officials
In Egypt’s first high-profile extradition in years, Egyptian authorities extradited two Libyan officials from the regime of deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi back to Libya on 26 March. The 71-year-old former ambassador to Cairo, Ali Maria, and 44-year-old Mohammed Ibrahim Gadhafi, were handcuffed after resisting the extradition.
Last week, Gadhafi aide and cousin Ahmed Qaddaf al-Dam, a former high-ranking intelligence official, surrendered to police in Cairo after hours-long siege at his home. He remains in detention in Egypt.
Libya has demanded that Egypt extradition of officials from the former regime over various charges, including corruption and involvement in the country’s civil war. On 28 March, a Libyan intelligence delegation provided Egyptian officials a list of 88 names for extradition. A previous list included 40 names.
Saudi Arabia considers banning Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber
Saudi Arabia considering a potential block of messaging and real-time chat services. “Some telecom applications over the Internet protocol currently do not meet the regulatory conditions” in the kingdom, said the Communications and Information Technology. These apps— which include Skype, Viber, and Whatsapp— allow voice, video and text communication over the internet, but do not allow exchanges to be monitored by government agencies.
Industry sources said that authorities asked telecom operators to furnish a means of control that would allow censorship in the absolute monarchy. The providers have been given a week to comply. One source claims that telecom operators were behind the move, asking the commission to impose censorship because of the “damage” caused by free applications.
Recent political protests, which are illegal in Saudi Arabia, have been partially organized via WhatsApp. When the same issue arose with BlackBerry in 2010, it resulted in temporary suspension of Blackberry Messenger services, until an eventual deal between RIM and the Saudi government removed the suspension. The details of the agreement are not public
If similar deals are struck with these currently private apps, it is anticipated that individuals who people wish to maintain private communications will move on to other tools.
Tunisia Salafists threaten Ennahda
On March 27, the leader of Tunisia’s Salafist jihadist movement threatened to topple the prime minister. It is the first direct threat to Tunisia’s Islamist-led government, Ennahda.
Saif Allah bin Hussein (aka Abou Iyadh), leader of Ansar al-Sharia, addressed a message to Ennahda published on Ansar al-Sharia’s Facebook page. “Hold back your sick person from us or else we’ll wage a war against him until we topple him and throw him into the dustbin of history.” It continued, “We won’t talk much, you’ll see and not just hear the response… if you don’t hold him back.” Abou Iyadh is wanted in connection with the deadly attack on the US embassy in Tunis last September.
The threat came a day after Prime Minister Ali Larayedh blamed Abou Iyadh for the spread of arms and increase of violence in Tunisia. In the past months, Tunisian security forces have found several weapons caches, detained many Salafist jihadists, and clashed with militants on the Algeria border.
Tensions between Ennahda and Ansar al-Sharia have been escalating since December, when embassy attack suspects Bechir Golli and Mohammed Bakhti died in Mornaguia prison after a 50-day hunger strike. Salafist jihadists blamed the government for their deaths.
“Our relations with Ennahda [have] been severed in full because that party is not Islamist as they so claim,” said Ansar al-Sharia spokesperson, Mohamed Anis Chaieb. “This is because they embrace the civil state concept, and there is nothing in their programmes indicating that they are adopting the Islamic rule model.”
al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri attacked Ennahda for failing to use Islamic Sharia as a main source of legislation. Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi responded strongly, calling al-Zawahri, a catastrophe for Islam and Muslims.
Tunisian citizens are concerned that the conflict between the Salafists and Ennahda will threaten the country’s political and social stability. There is fear that the increasing enmity on both sides will have serious repercussions in the country.