MENA UpdateJuly 3, 2013 in Africa, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Syria
Mali Rebels Offer Freedom Deal for Algerian Hostages
23 June, 2013- The Mali-based al-Qaeda affiliate, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) has offered to release one individual from a group of Algerian diplomats which were kidnapped last year, in exchange for the release of three “mujahedeen” currently held in Algeria. A statement sent to the Algerian government said, “If Algeria rejects the proposal, the Algerian hostages’ lives will be in danger.” The group did not release the names of the three prisoners they wish to have released, nor where they were being held.
MUJAO abducted a group of seven people, including the Algerian diplomats, on 5 April, 2012 in Gao, northern Mali. The kidnappers initially asked for €15 million to release the group, however, they released three of those hostages months later in July. In September 2013, MUJAO announced that the group had killed one of the hostages, however, this has not verified by the Algerian government.
Bahraini Security Arrests 9 in Prison Break Plan
25 June, 2013- Bahrain announced the arrest of nine Shiites members of the group Jaish al-Imam (Army of the Imam) thought to be linked to Iran, that were planning, among other things, to attack a prison to facilitate a jail break. Arms, ammunition and a plan for attacking the prison were seized. Those arrested were intending to carry out attacks on key installations in the country, the ministry said.
Bahrain is a country with a Shiite Muslim majority population that is ruled by a Sunni Muslim dynasty. Relations between Bahrain and overwhelmingly Shiite Iran have been tense since the authorities in Manama, with the help of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbors, suppressed a pro-democracy movement largely led by Shiites.
Egypt Reinforces Military Presence in Suez Region ahead of Protests
27 June, 2013- The Egyptian army has reinforced its presence in the Egyptian Suez Canal city of Port Said ahead of national anti-government protests on 30 June. Several armoured vehicles toured the city’s streets before parking in front of the governorate headquarters. The forces were received with cheers by residents. Egypt is bracing for the protests on 30 June, called for by signature drive ‘Tamarod’, which aims at withdrawing confidence from the president and holding early elections.
The campaign’s petition to remove Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from office has gathered 15 million signatures, more than the number of votes amassed by Morsi last year. The petition accuses the president of “failing to implement policies to improve the life of ordinary people,” citing Egypt’s critical economic situation. Some Egyptians are calling for the army to take over power for a temporary period and appoint a new government, in the event that Morsi resigns.
In preparation for June 30 demonstrations, army troops have started to take over the assignment of safeguarding vital facilities, including Martyr Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel and the banks of the Suez Canal.
Meanwhile, early clashes north of Cairo resulted in one person killed and more than 200 injured as opponents of President Morsi pelted his supporters with garbage as they gathered outside a mosque to stage a march in support of the president. This clash is probably an omen of larger clashes likely this weekend.
Bombs Target Protesters, 14 Dead
25 June, 2013- Bombs targeting Shiite protesters and pilgrims killed 14 people in northern town of Tuz Khurmatu, a day after 35 people were killed nationwide, most of them in a wave of car bombings in the capital. The death toll for June is now over 350. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Sunni militants linked to al Qaeda frequently target Shia Muslims.
Two suicide bombers blew themselves up inside a tent filled with Shia Turkmen protesters in the town, killing at least 11 people and wounding 55. The protesters had been rallying over poor security in the town, which is regularly hit with attacks.
Tuz Khurmatu lies in a tract of territory in the north that Kurdistan wants to incorporate into its three-province autonomous region over Baghdad’s objections. The unresolved dispute over the territory, which stretches from Iraq’s eastern border with Iran to its western frontier with Syria, is cited by diplomats as one of the biggest threats to the country’s long-term stability.
Also on 25 June, a “sticky bomb” attached to a minibus went off as Shiite pilgrims were on their way to the central shrine city of Karbala for Shabaniyah commemorations. Three people were killed and 15 wounded when the bomb went off near the town of Iskandiriyah. In east Baghdad, gunmen wounded two guards outside an Assyrian church.
Iraq is struggling with a prolonged political deadlock and violence at its worst levels since 2008. Attacks have increased considerably since the beginning of the year, coinciding with rising discontent among the Sunni Arab minority that erupted into protests in late December.
Libya Deemed Major Transit Hub for Terrorists
An African Union (AU) leader has warned that Libya has become a major transit hub for terrorists. AU representative Fransisco Cetano Jose Madiera stated that he has reports which indicate that Libya has become a major transit hub for the main terrorist groups travelling from one country to another. In addition, Libya is seen as a refuge and point for terrorists to “reorganize”.
Following the removal of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya’s weakened security and porous borders make it a prime location for rebel groups to transit through. This was a key concern at the two-day regional security meeting in Oran, Algeria. Libya is a key component to stabilising the Sahel region, however few countries in the region have the means to protect their borders. The EU has offered to work with Libya to tighten border security but the lack of organization in the country makes the endeavour very difficult. The European bloc believes that development of the region could be a solution to fighting the problem of porous borders.
Libya is working in close collaboration with Algeria and Tunisia to secure their borders and to fight against terrorism and organised crime. Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister has said that officials are “in a constant contact with the Libyan government”, including Algerian contributions to the training of the Libyan police and army.
Qatar’s New Emir to Follow in Father’s Footsteps
25 June, 2013- In his first speech as the new emir of Qatar, 33 year-old Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, announced that he plans to follow policies established by his father and the country’s last government. The emir signalled that Qatar would undergo drastic change in domestic or foreign policy despite new leadership. The new emir’s father announced the end of his 18-year rule the day before, an unprecedented move for the country.
During the previous emir’s rule, Qatar spread its wealth through foreign investments, largely financed by its vast natural gas sources, to increase its political and economic influence in the region.
While Qatar supported the Arab Spring and has maintained an alliance with the United States, critics worry that the nation’s open support of the Syrian opposition could mean financial support of al Qaeda-linked groups. Further, some Westerners fear Qatar’s friendly terms with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The new emir reaffirmed his country’s wish to remain on peaceful diplomatic terms with all governments. “We respect all the influential and active political trends in the region, but we are not affiliated with one trend against the other. We are Muslims and Arabs who respect diversity of sects and respect all religions in our countries and outside of them.”
During his speech, Sheikh Tamim refrained from mentioning the Syrian war, instead expressing his support for the Palestinians’ struggle against Israel. The sheikh also unveiled his cabinet reshuffle; outgoing Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani is to be replaced by Sheik Abdullah bin Naser Al Thani and Khalid al-Atiyah, respectively. Qatar has been dominated by the Al Thani family for nearly 150 years.
Qatar holds the world’s third largest gas reserves and produces around 77 million tons of liquefied natural gas annually, making it the largest supplier on the planet. According to the International Monetary Fund, Qatar has the highest per capita income in the world.
Saudi Arabia Changes Start of Weekend
Saudi Arabia will change the start of its two-day weekend from Thursday to Friday, in order to bring it into line with other countries in the region and coordinate business and banking days. The royal decree takes effect this week.
Last month Oman switched to a Friday-Saturday weekend, making Saudi Arabia the only country left among the six-member Gulf Co-operation Council to persist with the old format. The change means that Saudi businesses will now have four working days overlapping with Western and regional businesses rather than three. Friday remains a holiday in Muslim countries because it is a holy day set aside for communal prayer.
Spain uncovers al Qaeda network for Syrian Militants
21 June 2013- Spanish authorities arrested eight suspected members of an al Qaeda network who are allegedly involved in training, funding, and facilitating travel for Islamic radical fighters to Syria. The network is based in the Spanish territory of Ceuta and in the city of Fnideq in neighboring Morocco. The names and nationalities of those arrested have not been disclosed, but they are all Spanish citizens. The network has apparently funneled “dozens” of fighters to Syria, where some have taken part in suicide attacks and others have joined training camps. The network recruited fighters from various parts of Spain as well as Morocco and Ceuta.
According to Spain’s Foreign Ministry, investigations are underway for other groups which are still preparing to travel to Syria. Although separate investigations of al Qaeda networks were begun in 2009 and 2011 by the National Guard and the Civil Police, the two agencies began collaborating this year. Spain is one of many European countries from which an estimated 700 fighters have traveled to join the rebels in the Syrian conflict.
Al Qaeda has been active in Spain since the 1990s, when the Spanish cell was headed by a Syrian named Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, a.k.a. Abu Dahdah. Yarkas was later found to have had foreknowledge of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, although the full extent of his involvement was never determined. He was arrested in late 2001 and sentenced to 27 years in prison for conspiracy in the 9/11 attacks, but his sentence was later reduced to 12 years for lack of proof on the conspiracy charge. He was released on 23 May. The US has been seeking to monitor Yarkas for some time. Although Yarkas has not been added to the US or UN lists of global terrorists, a 2003 UN designation of an Indonesian al Qaeda-linked terrorist notes that Yarkas was instrumental in establishing al Qaeda training camps in Indonesia for European recruits.
Al Qaeda has been linked to Spain’s worst terrorist attack, the Madrid train bombings of March 2004, which killed 191 people. The cell phones used to detonate the bombs were provided by Jamal Zougam, yet another member of Yarkas’ al Qaeda cell, and Zougam’s accomplices included members of a known al Qaeda affiliate, the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group.