12 June – Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in their southward offensive, have captured the Iraqi cities of Bayji, which has Iraq’s largest oil refinery, and Tikrit, the provincial capital of Salahaddin. It is reported the militants met with little resistance. Overnight, ISIS units travelling in a convoy of more than 60 vehicles advanced into Bayji, torching several government buildings, court houses, and police headquarters. The fighters surrounded the oil refinery and sent in a delegation to security forces that were holding out in the complex. Reportedly, the 250 security personnel agreed to withdraw from the refinery complex.
Shortly after seizing Bayji, ISIS fighters took control of Tikrit, famously the home town of former dictator Saddam Hussein. According to Samarra Al-Gharbiyah News, the government centre was overrun by ISIS fighters and provincial governor Ahmad Abdallah is reported to have been captured.
Overnight, television footage also showed ISIL fighters patrolling streets in Duluiyah, only 60 miles north of Baghdad. There currently appears to be few Iraqi forces between ISIL and Baghdad. Considering ISIL’s speed of advancement, it is possible that some militants are already in the capital.
On 11 June, an Iraqi interior ministry official announced that the city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, “is outside the control of the state and at the mercy of the militants.” The announcement comes after five days of clashes between ISIL militants and government forces. A brigadier general stated that military units eventually withdrew to the western part of Mosul and began to leave the city, essentially giving control to the militants, who seized the provincial government buildings, banks and airport. The group has raised the black flag of jihad and announced they had ‘come to liberate Mosul and would fight only those who attack them.’ The group also freed as many as 2,500 militant prisoners from three prisons in the region. It is estimated that at least 500,000 residents have fled the city.
The capture of Mosul, according to some analysts, indicates that Iraq has re-entered civil war. ISIL has developed an effective organisation and has essentially fragmented the country.
The advance from Mosul to Tikrit covered nearly 250 miles over a few days. Reports consistent with the Iraqi brigadier general indicate that Iraqi security forces along ISIL’s path either fled after initial skirmishes, or abandoned their posts prior to ISIL’s arrival, leaving behind vehicles, weapons and uniforms. Several army commanders also reportedly fled to Kurdish-controlled areas. The speed and scope of the operation indicates that thousands of ISIS fighters have participated in the recent engagements.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has declared a state of high alert in Iraq and asked parliament to declare a national state of emergency. He has called on “all international organizations to support Iraq and its stance in fighting terrorism.” Maliki calls the collapse of army units a “conspiracy” by Shiite co-religionists; some analysts believe that Maliki bears the brunt of responsibility to the sectarian makeup of the military, and a lack of discipline and solid military doctrine. In a televised address, Maliki said he will form an army of “volunteers” to support the regular government forces in areas seized by ISIS.
ISIL now controls Fallujah and Mosul, which are two major cities in the Sunni region of Iraq, and effectively have control of nearly one third of the country. It has been suggested that Sunni Arab tribal leaders of Nineveh and Anbar Governorates have been cooperating with ISIL, in part because of the discriminatory treatment of Sunni Muslims by the al Malaki government. However ISIL may meet difficulty should they attempt to gain control of Shiite dominated sectors of Iraq. If ISIL attempts to capture government buildings in Baghdad, it is possible that the heaviest of fighting will ensue, with a probability of high casualties.
ISIL, once an affiliate of the al Qaeda network, has a goal of creating an Islamic emirate that unites Iraq and Syria. However in February, al Qaeda “disowned the group” after ISIL’s refusal to stop fighting with AQ affiliated al Nusrah Front in Syria.
23 April, 2014: The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) has announced that a French hostage, Gilberto Leal Rodrigues, has died. In November 2012, Leal Rodrigues was kidnapped by armed men near the western town of Kayes in Mali, as he was driving a camper van from Mauritania.
In a brief telephone interview, a spokesman for MUJAO, Yoro Abdoul Salam, gave no details surrounding the date or circumstances of Gilberto Leal Rodrigues’ death, only saying, he “is dead because France is our enemy”. Sources say that when Salam was pressed for evidence, such as pictures or video footage of the body, he said, “in the name of Allah, he is dead”, before hanging up.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had vocalised concern for the 62-year old victim only days earlier. “We haven’t had any news for a long time. We are in contact with the family but we are extremely worried,” he said.
MUJAO, a Mali-based offshoot of al Qaeda, is one of several hard-line Islamist groups that occupied the vast desert north of Mali along with Taureg separatist rebels in 2012, following a military coup. The Islamists then overtook the Taureg fight and began to advance toward Bamako, instigating a French-led intervention which pushed the militants out of the region. France and other nations have continued anti-insurgency operations. Last week, French forces successfully freed five Malian aid workers who were taken hostage in a February kidnapping claimed by MUJAO, and in the past month French soldiers have killed about 40 Islamist fighters, including some senior commanders in Mali.
France is beginning to wind down the presence of soldiers to approximately 1000 troops; however sources suspect that MUJAO and other militias are regrouping. President François Hollande has that Rodrigues Leal’s death will “not go unpunished”. In a statement, Hollande said, “France will do everything to know the truth about what happened to Gilberto Leal Rodrigues and she will not let it pass unpunished […] There is every reason to believe that our fellow died several weeks [ago] because of the conditions of his detention.”
Spokesman of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Romain Nadal said in a statement, “We condemn in the strongest possible action of this terrorist group way.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.