On 24 August, al Nusra Front, a Syrian-based militant group, stormed the Quneitra crossing on the border between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights. A day later, the insurgents kidnapped 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers. The hostages are currently being held at an undisclosed location the Golan Heights.
Al Nusra has posted a statement online, claiming that the peacekeepers “are in a safe place and in good health, and everything they need in terms of food and medicine is given to them.” The statement was accompanied by a photo, believed to be the captured Fijians in their military uniforms, along with 45 identification cards. The soldiers were part of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), and were stationed in a buffer zone to monitor a 1974 ceasefire agreement between Syria and Israel.
On 2 September, the Fiji government has released he list of demands that have been made for the safe return of the peacekeeper hostages. Fijian Army Chief Mosese Tikoitoga states that the rebels have made four demands:
- The militants want al Nusra front removed from the United Nations list of terrorist organisations
- They seek humanitarian aid for a town outside of Damascus, which is an al Nusra stronghold.
- They demand compensation for three fighters who were recently injured
Unconfirmed reports add that the insurgents have also demanded the release of an al-Qaeda leader, Abu Mussab al-Suri (a.k.a. Mustafa Setmariam Nasar). Al-Suri is an al-Qaeda leader who is currently being held in Syria. He was initially arrested in Pakistan in 2005.
The UN Security Council has condemned the kidnapping and called for the immediate and unconditional release of the hostages. A United Nations negotiations team has landed in the Golan Heights to negotiate with the militants for the return of the hostages, whose location is unknown. Apart from the online statement, the al Nusra kidnappers have provided assurances of the hostages’ safety to the Fiji government, adding that the victims had been taken away from combat areas.
Several nations, including Austria, Japan, and Croatia, have withdrawn peacekeeping forces in light of deteriorating security as the Syrian war rages on, amplified by militant groups combating one another for regional primacy. Tikoitoga believes that rather than pulling out forces, the there should be an increase in forces in Syria, adding, “We will not make any recommendations of pulling out from the UN or any other engagement, because our contribution to UN peacekeeping – if we don’t want to do this, then who else in the world would want to do this?”
Filipino Peacekeepers Escape to Safety
In the Philippines, the government has also decided they will not renew peacekeeping operations in the region following the attack on 75 Filipino peacekeepers over the weekend. On Thursday, the Al Nusra rebels seized the Fijian peacekeepers and surrounded two UN encampments with Filipino troops, demanding they lay down their weapons and surrender. The forces refused, and by Saturday both encampments were engaged in fighting with the rebels. At the Breiqa encampment, over 35 peacekeepers were escorted to safety by Irish and Filipino forces with armoured vehicles.
The remaining 40 Filipino peacekeepers at the Rwihana encampment were surrounded by over 100 militant gunmen attempted to enter the base, where approximately 40 Filipino peacekeepers had been stationed. The gunmen attempted to force entry into the camp by ramming the gates with trucks and firing mortar rounds. The Filipino contingency returned fire in self-defence. Fighting lasted for approximately seven hours, interspersed with Syrian government forces firing upon the militants from a distance, in an effort to distract the militants. Shortly after midnight on Sunday, a ceasefire took hold. The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) states that the remaining 40 peacekeepers fled the encampment in the cover of night and “arrived in a safe location one hour later.” There were no Filipino casualties in the fighting. The evacuation has been dubbed “The Great Escape”.
According to the UN peacekeeping mandate, UN peacekeepers must only use force as a last resort. If peacekeepers are acting in self-defence, they ‘may use force at the tactical level, with the authorization of the Security Council.”
The Philippine military, seeks the investigation of a U.N. peacekeeping commander in the Golan Heights who asked Filipino troops to surrender to the al Nusra rebels. Filipino General Gregorio Pio Catapang defied the commander’s orders, telling the 40 Filipino peacekeepers not to lay down their arms.
The UN commander of the UNDOF, whose name has not been released, was overseeing talks with the militants who had captured the Fijian peacekeepers. Catapang refused to agree to any resolution that would put Filipino troops in grave danger. He added, “I told them not to follow the order because that is a violation of our regulation, that we do not surrender our firearms, and, at the same time, there is no assurance that you will be safe after you give your firearms […] Our stand is, we will not allow our soldiers to become sacrificial pawns in order to save the Fijians. They should look for other ways and means to save the Fijians.”
Catapang seeks an investigation in order for the UNDOF commander to explain his request for surrender, while simultaneously allowing the Philippine military to explain why the peacekeepers were told to defy orders. The Philippines have announced that they will not deploy a new contingent when their stint expires in October. Their decision to withdraw has further weakened UN peacekeeping operations in a region where rising militant attacks have caused several nations to remove troops.
9 July – Roadside bomb kills 1, injures 4
An Egyptian soldier was killed after a roadside bomb targeted armoured vehicle in El-Arish, in the Sinai Peninsula. The attack also wounded four soldiers.
Egypt experienced a short period of peace immediately following Egyptian President al-Sisi’s election; however, bombings and protests have resumed. On the one year anniversary of the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July, the nation experienced a series of bombings in Kerdasa, Abbaseya, and Imbaba. Security forces and government buildings have been regularly targeted, but several incidents have killed and wounded civilian bystanders.
In Alexandria, police forces arrested four suspects on 7 June in connection with bomb blasts in a train station in Alexandria earlier in the week. The explosion took place between two of the cars of a train heading to Sidi Gaber neighbourhood, injuring seven. The suspects were reportedly “young members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were trained by high profile leaders to attack police facilities and public transportations”, according to Egypt’s Interior Ministry. In a statement released on Friday, the ministry accused the Muslim Brotherhood of attempting to create “a state of chaos”.
10 July – Islamic State seizes nuclear materials
Iraq’s envoy, in a letter to the UN, has warned that the militant group ISIS has seized nuclear materials in the Iraqi city of Mosul. The group obtained approximately 40 kilograms of uranium compounds, used for scientific research at a university. The UN atomic agency (IAEA) has said the low-grade material is not a significant security risk. US officials echoed these remarks, stating that the uranium was not believed to be enriched, and unlikely to be useful for weapons development.
The letter sent to the UN by Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim called for international assistance to “stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad”. Al-Alhakim added, “Terrorist groups have seized control of nuclear material at the sites that came out of the control of the state […] These nuclear materials, despite the limited amounts mentioned, can enable terrorist groups, with the availability of the required expertise, to use it separately or in combination with other materials in its terrorist acts.” Despite the uranium’s lack of utility, an IAEA spokesperson said “any loss of regulatory control over nuclear and other radioactive materials is a cause for concern”.
A day before the letter was received, Iraqi officials confirmed that ISIS had militants captured the Muthanna complex, an abandoned chemical weapons factory northwest of Baghdad. The complex houses remnants of rockets containing nerve agents, including sarin gas. ISIS is now in control of an area between Iraq and Syria that is approximately the size of Belgium.
8 July – Israel, Palestine attacks continue
An Israeli military spokesman has said that since Monday, Israeli air forces attacked 750 targets and dropped 800 tons of bombs. Palestinian militants fired 230 rockets from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. On 9 July, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that Israel has expanded Operation Protective Edge in response to the continuing rocket attacks, he has also called on reservists suggested that a ground phase could occur. Fighting has escalated after three Israeli teens that went missing were found dead. The Israeli government accused Hamas, which has denied responsibility. Retaliatory attacks on Palestinians have left 75 dead, including 15 children.
7 July – ISIS Leader suggests Jordan is next target
ISIS leader and self proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has suggested that Jordan will be the next target for ISIS, and refugees who have fled there could be first in the line of fire. The Jordanian military has been on the offensive for several weeks as ISIS gained traction in Iraq, but it is now believed that Syrian civilians at the Azraq camp near the Iraqi border are in the danger zone.
Oraib al-Rantawi, a Jordanian political analyst, called the threat by ISIS “real and imminent”, adding, “We cannot afford the luxury of just waiting and monitoring. The danger is strategic – and getting closer.”
The US Department of Defence has awarded a contract to Raytheon and Lockheed Martin to supply twenty Javelin Block 1 tactical missiles to Jordan’s military, to be completed by 30 September.
7 July – 28 arrested in Lebanon for suicide bomb plot
Twenty-eight people, reportedly members of the militant group ISIS, have been charged with buying equipment to carry out suicide bomb attacks in Beirut. Seven of the group are in custody. The names and nationalities of those charged have not been released.
Lebanon has been in the crossfire of sectarian violence do to conflicts in Syria and the ISIS insurgencies in Iraq and Syria. The nation has suffered a series of attacks in recent weeks. On 20 June, Lebanon’s General Security service narrowly escaped a suicide bombing near the Syrian border. On 23 June, a suicide bomber blew up his car near an army checkpoint in Beirut, killing himself and a security officer. Two days later, a Saudi suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the Saudi embassy, wounding three security officers.
Lebanese authorities have carried out a series of security raids in the capital and other parts of the country in recent weeks. In mid June, security forces detained 17 people at a Beirut hotel on suspicion of planning attacks; the French foreign ministry confirmed that at least one of the men detained was a French National. All were released the following day.
15 June – Hiftar facing dwindling support
Libya’s rogue general, Khalifa Hifter, is losing support for his revolt against militants in Eastern Libya. Many Libyans initially supported Hifter’s plan to drive extremists out of Benghazi, particularly as the weakened government had failed to take significant action in the region. However, Hifter troops have been unable to gain the advantage against the rebels, and many believe his actions are laying the ground for his political aspirations.
In Benghazi, the militant group Ansar al-Sharia is responsible for a great deal of violence in the region. Hifter initially set out to target this group, but his mission expanded to include other Islamists in the region. Hifter’s expanded mission and subsequent standoff has resulted in damage to homes, farms, and livestock. One tribe in Benghazi has demanded that Hifter’s troops leave the area or it would join the fight against him, officials and residents there said.
Hifter also oversaw the storming of the GNC building in Tripoli in May, convincing some that the 71 year old general has political goals. He called for an emergency government to replace the GNC and guide the country toward new elections. Since then, Hifter has made blanket indictments of Libya’s nonmilitant Islamists as well as the insurgents. Many believe he is styling himself after Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, led a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt over the past year. During a recent news conference, Hifter called the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood an “epidemic” that “the Libyan soil will not absorb.” Many Islamist supporters who disagree with militant actions now feel targeted.
One member of Libya’s General National Congress said, “Hifter inserted himself into a scenario where he is the cavalier on a white horse who came to save the day.” He added, however, “Hifter’s military power is actually quite limited. He hasn’t been able to control the situation.”
An anonymous former member of a brigade in Benghazi said, “Both sides — Ansar al-Sharia and Hifter — are illegal bodies working outside the state. So it’s a dilemma for everybody, and we don’t like either of them. We are worried about where this violence will take us.”
10 July – ISIS to Qatar: “Cancel the World Cup or we’ll bomb it”
In a message posted on an ISIS media forum, the group has warned FIFA, the governing body of world football, that they will bomb the World Cup if it is held in Qatar in 2022. The group said they would target the event with long-range Scud missiles. The full message reads:
“Dear Joseph, [Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, President of FIFA]
We had sent a message to you back in 2010, when you decided or were bribed by the former Amir of Qatar to have the 2022 world cup in Qatar. Now, after the establishment of the Caliphate state, we declare that there will be no world cup in Qatar since Qatar will be part of the Caliphate under the rule of the Caliph Ibrahim Bin Awad Alqarshi (Al Baghdady’s full name) who doesn’t allow corruption and diversion from Islam in the land of the Muslims. This is why we suggest that you will decide upon a replacement country instead of Qatar. The Islamic state has long-rang scud missiles that can easily reach Qatar, as the Americans already know.
Photos released earlier this month show ISIS militants parading a Scud ballistic missile through the streets of Raqqa in Syria. It is likely the insurgents captured the missile from a Syrian military base in 2013. However experts do not believe the missile is operable. One astute blogger wrote, “The only danger that Islamic State scud is to anyone at the moment is if they accidentally run over a pedestrian showing it off”.
8 July – Saudi Arabia faces security crisis on two borders
Three mortar bombs landed inside Saudi Arabia, near a block of flats outside the northern town of Arar, near the Iraqi border. There were no casualties reported, however the mortars stoked fears in citizens who are facing ISIS on their Iraqi border. Last week, King Abdullah announced an increase in security after Islamic State declared a caliphate and made advances in Iraq. The kingdom is deploying 30,000 troops to its borders. Saudi authorities fear that the militant group could radicalise their citizens.
In the south, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is based in Yemen, has long had the goal of bringing down the House of Saud and establishing a cross-border caliphate in Islam’s holy city of Mecca. Over the weekend, six Saudi members of al Qaeda launched an attack on al-Sharurah, near the border with Yemen. Two of the militants grabbed 10 hostages and shut themselves into a government building where they blew themselves up on Saturday. Five attackers were killed and one was captured in clashes with security forces. Four border guards and one hostage were also killed.
8 July – Popular Radical Australian Cleric joins Islamic State
Musa Cerantonio, a radical Muslim cleric who renounced his Australian citizenship last year, has travelled to Syria to support the newly established Islamic State, making him the third cleric from Australia to travel to Syria to support the jihadist cause. Cerantonio left Australia in 2013 and was believed to be hiding in the Philippines, possibly taking shelter with one of several al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups in the area. The cleric openly supported ISIS prior to their declaration of a caliphate, and subsequently travelled to Syria to fulfil the request made by the Islamic State on 1 July for Muslims, especially those with needed skills, to join the caliphate.
Cerantonio, a popular figure in radicalised circles, relies on effective social media to spread his message. He has re-tweeted ISIS statements as well as his own support for the group while calling for the death of Western leaders. A 2014 by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation concluded that one in four foreign fighters followed Cerantonio’s Twitter account and that his Facebook page was the third-most ‘liked’ page among radicalised militants.
Meanwhile, a UN report released on Tuesday suggests that the Middle East could become embroiled in wider sectarian warfare. The report states, “Growing numbers of radical fighters are targeting not only Sunni (Muslim) communities under their control but also minority communities including the Shi’ites, Alawites, Christians, Armenians, Druze and Kurds.” The report adds, “ISIL has shown itself willing to fan the flames of sectarianism, both in Iraq and in Syria. Any strengthening of their position gives rise to great concern.”
9 July – Tunisia raises terror alert level
Tunisia has raised its security alert level in cities and at sensitive sites, especially during iftar, the breaking of fast at sunset during Ramadan. The move came following a landmine blast that killed four soldiers July 2nd on Jebel Ouergha, El Kef province. A mine blast in the same area wounded six troops a day earlier.
During the funeral of the four slain soldiers, Defence Minister Ghazi Jeribi vowed that security forces would track down and besiege the terrorists to prevent new attacks on civilian and military targets. He stated that the war on terror “is of concern to all Tunisian people and requires that all be mobilised to protect our homeland.”
Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa echoed these sentiments: “We are no longer waiting for terrorism to come to us, but have gone to its hotbeds in order to confront it and eliminate them.”
Security forces have begun to storm terrorist hideouts in the mountains along the Algerian border, between Jendouba and El Kef provinces. Tunisian forces have been fighting al-Qaeda affiliated militants barricaded in the mountains for over a year.
8 July – Thousands of families flee fighting in Amran
As many as ten thousand families have fled the Yemeni city of Amran, 30 miles north of the capital Sanaa. The families evacuated to escape a battle between Shi’a rebels and the military. Clashes broke out last week between Yemeni troops and the Houthis, a rebel group which seeks greater autonomy for northern Yemen. The attack ended a ceasefire that had been set in place on 23 June. Local officials claim that over 200 people had been killed and 100 wounded on Tuesday as rebel groups captured the area. The officials also reported dozens of bodies were lying in the streets.
The Houthis, a Shi’a group, have said their fight was against members of the Sunni Islamist Islah political party. The Houthis claim to have no intention of attacking Sanaa, but Amran has long been a stronghold of the the Bani al-Ahmar tribe, whose members hold prominent positions of the party.
The Houthis have accused the Yemeni government of breaking the ceasefire and blame army units loyal to Islah for advancing in the Jawf province. The government responded that the advance was prompted by the failure of Houthis to vacate positions as they had promised.
The Yemeni Red Crescent has issued a call for help. It is believed that nearly 5,000 families remain trapped inside the city.