4 February– Gunmen stormed a remote Libyan oil field, and killing twelve people on Tuesday. The extremists attacked the al-Mabrook oil field, nearly 105 miles south of Sirte. Among those killed were eight Libyans, two Filipino and two Ghanaian nationals. The Philippines Foreign Ministry said three Filipinos were among seven foreign nationals who had reportedly been kidnapped in the assault, however conflicting reports suggest that there have been no abductions.
Abdelhakim Maazab, commander of a security force in charge of protecting the oilfield said that most of the victims were “beheaded or killed by gunfire,” but does not report any kidnappings. A French diplomatic source in Paris and another Libyan official said Islamic State militants were behind the attack. In recent months, ISIS has made gains in Libya and has a stronghold in Derna. The group has reportedly set up training camps in the country’s eastern region, taking advantage of the deteriorating security situation in Libya.
France’s Total has a stake in the site, which is currently off-line, but it is contracted to a Libyan company. The Filipinos worked for an Italian company. Al-Mabrook closed following clashes which shut Es Sider in December. It used to pump 40,000 barrels a day. Total said it had already withdrawn staff from the site in 2013 and had no personnel onshore since July 2014. It was not clear whether Libya’s state-run National Oil Corp had employed expatriate staff at the field. Ali al-Hassi, spokesman for an oil guard force, blamed Islamists for the attack. “The field is outside of our control,” he said. “Islamic State is controlling it.”
The attack on the oil field comes a week after a separate attack targeting the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli. The hotel is frequented by government officials and foreign diplomats. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has held functions in the hotel. Militants claiming links to Islamic State took responsibility for the deadly attack on the luxury hotel. However, officials of the government in Tripoli denied the claim, blaming “Gaddafi loyalists” for the assault.
Libya’s turmoil has deepened as two rival governments controlling different areas, compete for primacy, each with their own armies. Rival armed factions have also been fighting for almost two months for control of Libya’s biggest oil ports, Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, on the Mediterranean coast.
The recognized government of Abdullah al-Thinni and elected parliament has had to work out of an eastern rump state since a faction called Libya Dawn seized Tripoli in August, setting up its own administration and reinstating the old assembly. Libya’s neighbours in the region have held meetings to discuss the spread of militants through their borders. The UN is working diligently to develop a peace agreement between the opposing governments, however progress has stalled as the Tripoli government has been unwilling to hold the meeting in Geneva, insisting it be held inside Libya. Talks are expected to resume in coming days.
3 February- Information leaked from a Turkish National Police intelligence has divulged a threat of potential attacks conducted by ISIS sleeper cells across the country. The police report gives warning of as many as 3,000 operatives living in Turkey who are directly associated with the terrorist group that has taken large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria. The report details a list of cities in Turkey that are vulnerable to attack, including the administrative and cultural capitals, Ankara, and Istanbul.
Turkey shares a 565 mile border with Syria. During the 2011 Syrian uprising, Turkey opened its border to Syrian rebels in an effort to assist in the overthrow of Syrian president Bashar al Assad. As the popular uprising metastasised into a civil war, fighters were able to travel between the nations’ borders. These included members of al-Qaeda affiliated group al Nusra Front, and the group which came to be known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The open border has provided a transit route for ISIS, which has been used to transport fighters, as well as black market oil and numerous weapons.
In the years since the 2011 uprising, extremists have established networks and infrastructure within Turkey that allows them to facilitate illegal activity. The group has reportedly established logistical bases in Turkey, and built a network of cells.
While the Turkish National Police are only now acknowledging this threat, Turkish and America media have been reporting for months about Islamic State recruitment activity in Turkey. In September 2014, the Turkish daily, Hurriyet, identified Islamic State activities in cities such as Istanbul and Kocaeli in the western portion of the country, and Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, and Diyarbakir to the east. Similarly, a New York Times report also detailed ISIS recruitment in Ankara, a report that was echoed in Newsweek which added that other conservative pockets in Turkey, such as the Dilovasi neighbourhood in Ankara are particularly susceptible for recruitment. Turkish daily newspaper Aydinlik noted that ISIS militants were operating in other towns, such as Konya, which is known for its conservative Islamic culture.
In January, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu acknowledged that there are approximately 700 Turkish nationals fighting for ISIS. Financial inducements may play a role; a New York Times report suggests that ISIS offers $150 a day to Turkish recruits who agree to fight.
Further weakening Turkish security is the idea that Turkey may be home to ISIS sympathisers. Ali Ediboglu, a Turkish opposition deputy, claims that “at least 1,000 Turkish nationals are helping […] foreign fighters sneak into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS.” Videos have emerged of gatherings in Istanbul which proclaim support for fighters in Syria, including ISIS. In October 2014, police arrested three students who clashed with protestors at an anti-ISIS rally. Further, a group of 20 people referring to themselves as “Musluman Gencier” (Muslim Youth) interrupted an anti-ISIS demonstration at Istanbul University wearing black masks and wielding bats. The group has reportedly attacked the campus on more than one occasion.
In the midst of the civil war, Turkey has become home to at least 1.5 million Syrian refugees. There is reason to fear that among those numbers are some that could be susceptible to radicalisation. Intelligence reports have suggested that the ISIS may be targeting young men and boys in refugee camps for recruitment.
The impact of ISIS has already been felt in Turkey. On January 6, a suicide bomber attacked a police station in Istanbul’s historic district of Sultanahmet. The bomber is believed to have had ties to the Islamic State. Continued attacks could cause irreparable damage to Turkey’s vital tourism sector and create alarm throughout the nation. However, ISIS may not benefit from targeting Turkey. The group has become reliant on the relatively open border and illicit oil sales in the nation. South-eastern Turkey has a “rather permissive environment” where “authorities don’t seem terribly alarmed over the presence of extremists”. Further, despite the nation’s proximity to the fighting, the Turkish government has not played an active role in the US-led coalition to eradicate ISIS. Turkey has refused to allow its military bases to be used for coalition operations. However the number of ISIS sympathisers and operatives within Turkish borders puts the country at risk. If Ankara decides to take a harsher stance against ISIS, it is likely that the terrorist group could activate cells within the nation. Turkey will need to tread carefully to take a concerted stance against ISIS while ensuring its national security.
On 14 January, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo’s which killed 12 last week. In a speech by AQAP senior official Nasser bin Ali al Ansi entitled “Vengeance for the Messenger of Allah,” Al Ansi says, “We in the Organization of Qa’idatul Jihad in the Arabian Peninsula claim responsibility for this operation as a vengeance for the Messenger of Allah.”
Al Ansi and AQAP take responsibility for selecting the target, planning and financing the operation. He adds that the operation was under the “order of our general emir, the generous Sheikh Ayman bin Muhammad al Zawahiri.” and the “will” of Sheikh Osama bin Laden.
AQAP had threatened Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier in the past. The editor was named specifically in a poster enclosed in a 2013 issue of Inspire magazine. The poster listed names of individuals wanted, “Dead or Alive For Crimes Against Islam.” Charbonnier, was killed in the attack.
While taking responsibility for attacks on the magazine conducted by brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, al Ansi denies any connections to the killings conducted by Ahmed Coulibaly, who conducted an attack at a kosher grocery store in Paris, killing four, including a French police officer. Al Ansi calls it “tawfeeq” (good fortune) that the operation coincided with the attack conducted by Coulibaly.
Al Ansi’s description of the Kouachi brothers is consistent with other evidence. Cherif Kouachi gave an interview to a French tv station while hiding in a printing factory after the Paris attack. He stated, “I was sent, me, Cherif Kouachi, by al Qaeda in Yemen. I went there and Sheikh Anwar al Awlaki financed my trip.”
It is believed that the brothers may have travelled to Yemen and met directly with Awlaki. Some reports have indicated that Cherif, the younger of the brothers, was the aggressor in the attacks. It has also been suggested that the brothers received training and financing from AQAP.
Separately, in an interview with a French television station, Ahmed Coulibaly said he was a member of ISIS. A video posted online after Coulibaly’s death shows him pledging allegiance to the terrorist group and its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Coulibaly claimed no ties to al Qaeda, which has an intense rivalry with ISIS