Category Archives: Yemen

MENA Update

Posted on in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Qatar, Syria, Yemen title_rule


22 March- In a rare event, nearly 5,000 supporters of Algerian opposition parties have rallied to call for a boycott of next month’s election, and to protest President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s run for another term after 15 years in power. Bouteflika, 77, suffered a stroke last year; opponents believe that his condition has left him unfit to govern for another term. Finally, protestors called for reforms to the Algerian political system, which they view as corrupt.

Six additional candidates have begun campaigning in the run-up to the presidential elections, however, Bouteflika has the support of the powerful ruling National Liberation Front (FLN), army factions and business elites. It is believed that despite his absence from the public in the past year, Bouteflika is almost assured victory.

Further assuring victory are the divisions among the nation. Rival Islamist and secular party supporters chanted slogans opposing one another during the rally, a reminder of the splits between the RCD and the MSP Islamist party, who have been adversaries for years.

Since 2001, public protests have been banned in Algeria. The nation was under a state of emergency for nearly 20 years before it was lifted last month. However, the government still bans any event that is “likely to disturb public order and tranquility”. During the Arab Spring of 2011, Algeria remained relatively stable as nations around them experienced tumultuous uprisings, however there is now a growing anger at Bouteflika’s decision to seek a fourth term.  Human Rights Watch has warned that Algerian authorities were deploying large numbers of police and arresting protesters ahead of the elections.


24 March- In the capital, Manama, Bahraini security forces reportedly fired tear gas at funeral goers in a Shia mosque. The attack follows protests that took place near the capital on Friday. During the protest, thousands of mostly Shia Bahrainis, led by Al-Wefaq party, shut down the Budaiya Highway, a main thoroughfare between the surrounding Shia villages and the capital. Protesters clashed with police, who responded with tear gas and petrol bombs.

A statement released by the Bahraini government announced that it will launch an investigation “into what has been circulating in some newspapers and mass media about a Ministry of Interior’s vehicle that fired a tear gas bomb near a religious building.” The statement added that legal measures will be taken against the violators should they are held accountable.

The event marks the latest attempt by the Bahraini regime to crack down on dissent stemming from the 2011 uprising against King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah. The protesters are still calling for an end to sectarian discrimination toward the majority Shia population at the hands of the minority Sunni ruling party. The Shia majority maintains they have been marginalized in employment and housing, and excluded from the Sunni dominated political system.

Opposition leaders have called for lawmaking to be the responsibility of Parliament rather than the monarchy. However a political solution has yet to be reached.


24 March- After two court sessions, Egyptian courts have sentenced 529 supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to death. They defendants were accused of killing a senior police officer and attempting to murder two others, as well as attacking public property, torching the Matay police station, seizing police weapons and disrupting public order. The men are reportedly members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Only 147 defendants were present for the sentencing. The remainder was tried in absentia. Sixteen defendants were acquitted. The final decision has been turned over to the grand Mufti for approval.

It is common for those tried in absentia to receive the harshest sentences, however this is the largest number of people convicted in one trial in Modern Egypt’s history. It is likely that the verdicts, or a large portion of them, will be overturned by appeal. The case was rife with irregularities. Most significantly, defense attorneys for the defendants were not allowed to argue for their clients. The trial judge had refused to allow them into the court room.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other lawyers have called the action a display of the extent of politicization of the court system. Others have cited institutionalized contempt for the Muslim Brotherhood, who since November 2013, have been considered a terrorist group in Egypt.


25 March- Iran’s Interior Ministry has confirmed that one of five border guards abducted by terrorists and transferred to Pakistan last month has been killed. On February 6, five Iranian border guards were abducted by the Jaish-ul-Adl terrorist group in the Jakigour region of the Iranian province, which rests on the border with Pakistan. The men were later transferred to the Pakistani territory.

On Sunday, Jaish-ul-Adl terrorists tweeted that they had killed one of the abductees, Jamshid Danaeifar. Iran has declared that it holds the Pakistani government responsible for the lives of the Iranian hostages.

This is the latest action conducted by Jaish-ul-Adl. On October 25, 2013, the group killed 14 Iranian border guards and wounded six others on the border region in Sistan and Baluchestan Province.

In February 2013, Iran and Pakistan signed a bilateral security agreement requiring both countries to cooperate in combating organized crime, fighting terrorism and countering the activities that pose a threat to the national security of either country. Iran has repeatedly called on Pakistan to comply with the terms of the agreement.


25 March- A series of attacks around the nation have left at least 46 people dead and 32 wounded on Monday and Tuesday. Iraq is experiencing resurgence in sectarian violence and terrorist attacks. According to UN figures, in 2013, 8,868 people have been killed, among them 7,818 civilians.

In Al Hawiya, 155 miles north of Baghdad, three members of the pro-government militia known as the Salvation Council were killed and two others were wounded when armed gunmen attacked one of the group’s checkpoints. North of Tikrit in Al Asryia, three police officers and a civilian were killed in an attack carried out by armed men on a police station. In Al Huyay Zone, also north of Tikrit, an Iraqi government official was murdered by armed men as he was driving a state-owned vehicle, and in a separate attack, a driver with the Civil Defense department in the city of Al Sharkat was killed.

Attacks in Mosul appeared to be the heaviest on Monday. An Iraqi army soldier was killed with silenced weapons on a public street. A car bomb killed one civilian and injured five others, and one police officer died and another was wounded in an attack on their patrol car near the university. Also, in Mosul, the head of planning for the Mosul police, Col. Faisal Ahmed, and another person were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded as they were driving by.

There does not appear to be respite to the ongoing violence in Iraq.


25 March- The 2014 Arab League summit will begin today in Bayan Palace in Kuwait, south of Kuwait City. Thirteen heads of Arab states will attend the summit, including Kuwait Amir, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Adly Mansour, and Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al- Thani. Other states have sent high-ranking delegations to the summit. The theme of summit is “Unity for a better Future.”

During the opening ceremony, Kuwaiti Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah urged for closer ties between Arab states: “This summit was held in difficult circumstances regionally and internationally. So it’s very important to stand united and coordinate our policy for the sake of regional prosperity and security,” he said.

At the top of the agenda are the Syrian crisis and Palestinian cause. Attendees of the summit hope to hammer out a solution to end Syria’s civil war. Significantly, Syria’s membership to the Arab League has been suspended since 2011; however Ahmad Al-Jarba, leader of the opposition group Syria National Council, was invited to address the summit. With regard to the Palestinian cause, the Amir said, “it’s been the major challenge in Arab region, we’ll continue to support the Palestinians.”

The summit will also address additional issues, including terrorism, economic cooperation, the Lebanese security situation, and Egypt’s political progress. The summit will conclude on Wednesday with the release of the Kuwait Declaration, relating to political, economic, social, and development issues in the Arab world.


23 March- Lebanese troops were deployed after a number of casualties were reported in a predominantly Sunni Muslim area in Beirut, following clashes among supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The clashes come after over a week of factional violence in the northern Lebanon city of Tripoli. The fighting raged between members of the predominantly Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh, which are anti Assad, and the Jabal Muhsin, which is populated mainly by Alawites, the heterodox sect of President Assad. The battle left 25 dead. Cars and buildings in Beirut were left riddled with bullet holes. The war in Syria has spread into parts of Lebanon and exacerbated tensions between the two districts in the northern port city.


24 March- Al-Sadik al-Sour, head investigator for Libya’s prosecutor general, has announced that the crew of the renegade oil tanker, the Morning Glory, has been released and will be deported

Al- Sour did not give the nationality of the 21 crew members, but did state that they were referred border police Monday to send them out of the country. Three eastern Libya militia members who were aboard the vessel will be detained for 14 days to be interrogated by prosecutors.

Witnesses in the investigation have revealed that that the crew members were working at gunpoint. The ship remains in Tripoli and is due to be unloaded in the port of Zawiya refinery, 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Tripoli. It was originally North Korean-flagged, but North Korean officials say they have cancelled its registration.

The Morning Glory was captured by U.S. Navy SEALs last week in the eastern Mediterranean and handed over to the Libyan navy, which escorted the tanker to Tripoli. The operation brought an end to an attempt by a militia from eastern Libya to sell the crude in defiance of the central government in Tripoli.


25 March- Moroccan Authorities have deported a group of Syrian citizens who had tried to reach the Moroccan territory via Algeria. The 21-person group, appearing to be a large family consisting of men, women, and children, had fled from Algeria to the Moroccan city of Saidia on the Moroccan-Algerian border. They were apprehended and taken to the Saaidia police station, where they remained for 8 days before being transported to Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca.

The group had requested asylum in Morocco and objected to being deported. Moroccan authorities denied their request. The deportation took place today on Monday despite appeals by human rights associations. The Syrians were promised that they would be deported to Lebanon, but they expressed concern that they would be taken to Turkey instead. The family patriarch, Akil Kassim said in an interview that he refused to take the plane to Turkey, defending his right to stay in Morocco.


25 March- Many Arab nations will likely use an Arab summit this week to try to pressure Qatar to stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition movements throughout the region. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who have labeled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, will take the lead in attempting to isolate Qatar by calling for a collective Arab approach to terror. Both nations, as well as Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar.

The Arab leaders also want Qatar to stop supporting Shiite rebels in Yemen, and to ensure that Qatari arms shipments to Syrian rebels do not wind up in the hands of terrorists. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said, “There will be a breakthrough only if that nation changed [sic] the policies that caused the crisis in the first place.”

Qatari leaders insist they will push ahead with their own policies. Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah has said his country will “follow a path of its own” and that the independence of its “foreign policy is simply non-negotiable.” Recently, Qatar has attempted to spearhead efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis and mediated in some of Sudan’s internal conflicts.

The need for a collective Arab approach to terror will figure prominently in an address at the summit’s opening session Tuesday by Egyptian Interim President Adly Mansour, where he restate a six-point plan of action against terror announced this month by Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy. The points, designed to embarrass Qatar, include a ban on providing a safe haven for terrorists or aiding them in any way, assisting investigations into terrorist attacks, and extraditing wanted militants.


25 March- Clashes between Syrian rebels and forces loyal to President Assad have spread to a coastal area near the Turkish border. Opposition fighters are engaged in a campaign to gain access to the sea through the seaside tourist village of Samra, on the Syria-Turkey border. The access would give rebels an outlet to the Mediterranean for the first time since the Syrian conflict began, and would follow the rebel capture of the area’s predominantly Armenian Christian town and border crossing of Kassab on Sunday.

The seizure of the border crossing severed one of the Assad government’s last links to the Turkish border. The move came after Syrian troops captured several towns near the border with Lebanon in an effort to sever rebel supply lines across the porous Lebanese frontier. Since Monday, more than 80 wounded Syrians had been brought across the border into Turkey for treatment and nine of them died.

On Friday, rebels launched their offensive in the Alawite stronghold of the Latakia province. The rebels in the region are mainly from hard-line Sunni groups, including the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, who view the Alawites as heretics. However in an effort to show no harm to local Christians, an activist posted a video from inside a church in Kassab to show that it was left untouched.

Syria’s conflict has killed more than 140,000 people, displaced at least a quarter of its pre-war population of 23 million and triggered a humanitarian crisis across the region.


24 March- A group of suspected al-Qaeda militants attacked a security checkpoint in southeastern Yemen, killing 22 troops and left only one survivor, who pretended he was dead.

The surprise attack occurred near the town of al-Rayda, in Yemen’s Hadramawt province. The group first sent in a suicide car bomb, then the attackers drove into the checkpoint in vehicles carrying what appeared to be stolen military license plates. The militants gunned down members of the Central Security Forces while asleep in their quarters; anonymous sources said the attackers also set fire to an armored vehicle and another car near the checkpoint. The lone survivor pretended he was dead as he was drenched in blood. The gunmen used heavy machine guns and fled the scene of the attack.

Yemen’s al-Qaida branch, also known as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is considered to be the terror group’s most dangerous offshoot. The group increased its presence in southern Yemen after the country’s 2011 uprising.

Yemen’s newly-appointed Interior Minister, Major General Abdou Hussein el-Terb, suspended three senior security officers pending investigation in the attack, including Brigadier General Fahmi Mahrous, who was in charge of security in Hadramawt; Colonel Abdel-Wahab al-Waili commander of the CSF, and Major Youssef Baras, commander of the attacked checkpoint.

Across Yemen, and especially in the volatile Hadramawt, the government has struggled to eradicate the presence of al-Qaeda from territory they captured during the political turmoil.

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MENA Report

Posted on in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen title_rule


Despite health issues, Bouteflika runs for fourth term

23 February: Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika ended months of speculation with the announcement of his intentions to run for a fourth term in the upcoming elections on 17 April.

Bouteflika, who is 76, has been at the helm in Algeria for 15 years. Last year, he endured a “mini-stroke”, which incapacitated for a large part of the year, causing fears of political upheaval. He has not appeared in public since the stroke, and has not addressed the nation for 18 months. However members of his cabinet have claimed that his health is improving and his mind remains unaffected.

Despite his absence from the public, Bouteflika remains heavily involved in governing the nation. He has replaced several cabinet ministers and regional officials, and removed high-ranking members of the intelligence service. It is believed these changes are an effort. Analysts believe the changes are an effort to consolidate support his re-election.


Report reveals statistics on anti-government incidents

25 February: In a new report, findings show that Bahrain’s police have seized a total of 154,816 weapons from violent anti-government radicals between 2011 and 2013. The number includes 35,914 Molotov cocktails. In addition, Bahrain has seen 11,195 acts of arson, 2,298 incidents of damage to public and private property and the blocking of 14,205 roads in the same period. The report additionally lists 36,774 security violations and 25,725 attacks on police resulting in 2,080 injuries and eight deaths, and damage to over 2,200 police patrol jeeps.

The statistics are part of a report released by Bahraini Human Rights Affairs Minister Dr Salah Ali. The release coincided with the visit by a technical team from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Dr Ali used the opportunity to speak out against “terrorist tactics” employed by government opponents, and called on community leaders to help restore calm: “All political societies and religious leaders should take a strong stance in condemning violent attacks – including those targeting policemen.”

Further, the minister called on opposition groups to issue their demands at a negotiating table, instead of disrupting daily life.


After government walkout, new Prime Minister Appointed

25 February: Ibrahim Melheb has been named Egypt’s new prime minister, after his predecessor, Hazem al-Beblawy, announced the resignation of the interim government that had been in place since the removal of President Mohamed Morsi in July.

Mehleb is an industrialist who headed a state-owned construction company and served in the last cabinet as housing minister. In a news conference, he said the new government would be named within days, with a focus on improving living conditions, defeating terrorism and ensuring a smooth presidential election, which must occur by mid-April, according to the newly approved constitution.

Mehleb is the sixth prime minister in Egypt since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. He enters the post amidst a series of labour strikes, anger over power brownouts and fuel shortages, and violent militant campaign targeting the security services, tourists, and the general population. In addition, he faces the ire of pro-Morsi supporters and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government recently deemed a terrorist organisation. There has also been backlash against what is perceived as an increasingly authoritarian, military-dominated government. While army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has become widely popular, factions within Egypt believe that his potential bid for presidency will not serve in the best interests of the nation.

Hala Shukrallah, the newly appointed head of the liberal political party Constitution (also the first woman and first Christian to lead a political party in Egypt), said she and her party supported the military ouster of Mr. Morsi. However, she added that Egyptians needed to ask questions about the “repercussions of the military’s involvement in the political arena.” On the removal of Morsi, she said, hile Egyptians were grateful, “The military responded to a certain moment […]this doesn’t mean at all that an oath of allegiance is in place.”

It is still unknown why former Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi had chosen to resign. The silence has added to the overwhelming national feeling political decisions are still being brokered out of the public’s sight.


Killings spark protests in Benghazi

26 February: Two policemen were killed in Benghazi, sparking protests by residents who are outraged at the level of lawlessness and bloodshed in the city. Angry demonstrators blocked roads and burned tyres. The killings occurred a day after the UN mission in Libya voiced deep concern for the escalating and daily violence occurring, particularly in the eastern region of the country.

One of the slain policemen, who was a retired officer, was killed in the Guwersha district. The other, a serving officer, was killed near his home in the Majuri neighbourhood. A day earlier, another police office had been killed.

In recent months, Benghazi has suffered near daily attacks, mostly targeting security forces. The central government, although weakened, is attempting to reign in former rebel brigades and establish a national military. However, the rebel brigades that fought to overthrow Gadhafi have, for the most part, turned into militias—some sanctioned by the government following the death of Gadhafi, others proceeding without government approval.

The UN Support Mission in Libya has asked Libyan authorities to make every effort to rein in the rampant violence, “UNSMIL expresses its deep concern about the continued violence — including assassinations, bombings, kidnappings and attacks in the east and other Libyan areas,” the mission said in a statement.


Illegal migrants clash with security forces in attempt to enter Spanish territory

24 February: Nearly 300 African migrants stormed a border fence in an attempt to cross into the Spanish territory of Melilla from Morocco. The migrants hurled rocks at security forces as they stormed the six metre barbed wire fence. The subsequent clashes between the migrants and security forces left 27 wounded, among them 13 security troops. While ninety-six migrants were arrested, nearly 100 managed to cross over.

The territory of Melilla is one of only two land borders that the EU shares with Africa. The region is a major crossing point for sub-Saharan Africans seeking work or asylum in Europe. The majority of migrants who make the journey come from Eritrea and Somalia.

This is the second time in February that this type of assault has occurred. On 17 February, nearly 150 African migrants made it into Melilla after a similar attack on the border fence. On 6 February, 14 migrants drowned in Moroccan waters while trying to enter Ceuta, the other EU/Africa land border, by sea. In that event, Spanish authorities confirmed that police fired rubber bullets as the migrants swam into Spanish territory, but denied the shooting contributed to the drowning.


Al-Nusra Front issues ultimatum to ISIL

26 February: The head of al Nusra Front, an al Qaeda subsidiary fighting in Syria, has given an  ultimatum to another extremist group, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Levant (ISIS/ISIL). Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, the chief of al-Nusra Front, has told ISIS to stop turning its guns on its allies, and asked them to come back under al-Qaeda’s central command. ISIS has five days to end infighting and accept arbitration from Sunni clerics or face expulsion from the region. The order comes two days after a suicide bombing allegedly carried out by ISIS killed a mediator representing al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in northern Syria. Al-Qaeda had severed ties with the group last month for their failure to act according to AQ directives. Zawahiri posted a notice online saying ISIS “is not a branch of the al Qaeda group.”

In a message produced by Nusra Front’s media wing, al-Jolani said, “I swear by God, if you again refuse God’s judgment, and do not stop your plague and pushing your ignorant ideology on the Muslim nation then you will be expelled, even from Iraq.”

Both the al-Nusra Front and ISIS are fighting in Syria, however while Al-Nusra and other militant opposition groups seek to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s government, ISIS is seeking the formation of an Islamic emirate. ISIS has been fighting al-Nusra members and civilians who support the opposition. The acrimony began in April 2013, when ISIS Chief, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, announced his group’s expansion into Syria, hoping to absorb al-Nusra Front into his ranks. Tensions between ISIS an AQ escalated when al-Baghdadi refused to heed al-Zawahiri’s directive to disband and leave Syria. The infighting between the groups serves to strengthen the Assad government as the insurgents are distracted, depleting fighters and resources by battling one another.


Return of Tunisian fighters from Syria sparks fear across nation

25 February: The Tunisian Interior Minister has said that nearly 400 Tunisian militants have returned from fighting in war in Syria. Their return has sparked fears that the returnees could fuel violence back home. Tunisia has dealt with sporadic violence linked to Islamic extremism since the 2011 revolution that removed former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. After the ouster of Ben Ali, a number of Tunisians left for Syria to join the ranks of extremist rebels who hope to overthrow the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou said, “We have managed to prevent nearly 8,000 people from going to Syria […] we don’t have exact figures for those who have returned, but they are estimated to number around 400.”

Authorities have been unable to arrest the returnees because of a “legal loophole” that has not been disclosed. However the government has indicated that the returnees are being monitored, and are listed in a database. In 2013, Tunisia’s public prosecutor began an inquiry into networks recruiting Tunisian fighters to head to Syria, including the introduction of airport checks to prevent would-be combatants from departing.

The violence that Tunisia has witnessed since 2011 has predominantly been blamed on Ansar al-Sharia, a hard-line Salafi movement believed to have links with Al-Qaeda. The group is believed responsible for the assassination of two liberal secular politicians last year, which sank Tunisia into political turmoil. Security forces have also battled militants hiding in the remote border regions of western Tunisia, notably in the Chaambi mountains.


UN Security Council threatens sanctions against those disrupting Yemen’s stability

The UN Security Council has proposed a resolution that would authorise sanctions against individuals and organisations threatening peace, security or stability in Yemen. The draft resolution states that those causing disruption would meet with travel bans and asset freezes for a minimum period of one year. The sanctions would target those who attempt “obstructing or undermining the successful completion of the political transition,” or who commit “attacks on essential infrastructure or acts of terrorism” and who violate human rights and international humanitarian law. The draft does not list specific individuals or groups, but intends to establish a committee to make these decisions.The measures could be approved this week.

Yemen has been struggling with its transition to democracy since Arab Spring protests in 2011. A transitional government is trying to promote national reconciliation, including the drafting of a new constitution, and new elections. However, the presence of an Al Qaeda insurgency has undermined efforts towards democracy, and some officials believe that loyalists to former president Saleh have quietly backed the terrorist group.

The draft resolution would authorise an asset freeze and travel ban under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which can be enforced militarily, against those “engaging in or providing support for acts that threaten the peace, security or stability of Yemen.”


Prison Assault in Yemen, 21 AQAP Operatives released

Posted on in Yemen title_rule

13 February: Twenty-nine prisoners escaped from prison following an assault on a central prison complex in Sana’a, Yemen. Of those who escaped, 21 were known members of terror network, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), including explosive experts convicts suspected in the assassination attempt on Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

According to an anonymous Yemeni security official, “The group detonated the car bomb at the western wall of the prison, creating an approximately five-meter (16-foot) hole in the wall. They shot and killed the guards in this area, including using RPGs.” Immediately following, two groups of fighters exited cars and broke off into two units; a third group of fighters was stationed on nearby rooftops. As one unit fought with security guards outside the prison; the rooftop opened fire on the guards. The second unit then battled guards inside the prison. Seven soldiers were killed and four were injured. It is unknown whether members of the assault teams were injured.

Yemen has mobilized its security apparatus in efforts to recapture the prisoners. State media has published images of the criminals and called on citizens to contact officials if they see anything.

The assault is the latest in a series of security installation attacks occurring over several months. In mid-January, 10 soldiers were killed in coordinated attacks on three military outposts in the town of Rada’a in Baydah province. In December, a suicide team of AQAP fighters penetrated security at the Ministry of Defence in Sana’a, attempting to target US-led Ops Rooms for the drone program in Yemen. The assault killed 52 people. High-profile assaults were also conducted in September and October of 2013.

While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, the nature of the break is consistent with AQAP. The strategy of combining suicide bombers and assault teams has been used by the group in the past. It is a common tactic among al-Qaeda linked allies, including portions of the Taliban and Boko-Haram. Further, AQAP emir and general manager, Nasir al Wuhaysi, released a statement in August 2013, in which he praises militants currently in prison, and vows that efforts will be made to release them.

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MENA Security Update

Posted on in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Yemen title_rule


Retired General calls on Bouteflika to Step Down

12 February: Retired senior Algerian General Hocine Benhadid has called on President Abdulaziz Bouteflika to step down “with dignity” rather than running for a fourth term in the upcoming Algerian elections in April. In Benhadid’s interview, he claims to speak on behalf of others in the armed forces. He says the country’s stability cannot be guaranteed by someone who was “sick” and the “hostage of his entourage.” Bouteflika has been in power since 1999. In April 2013, he suffered a mini-stroke, and was flown to Paris for treatment, remaining there for three months. Bouteflika has not yet said if he is healthy enough to run for re-election.

Benhadid has also singled out for criticism Bouteflika’s brother Said, the “main actor” in the presidential clan, as well as Army Chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, saying “The chief of staff has no credibility, and no one is fond of him.”

Benhadid’s statements show an increasing power struggle between Bouteflika supporters and the army, which is likely to play out in the elections.



Morsi: Protests are useless; Sisi could face a coup

12 February: In comments to his lawyer, former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has called the weekly protests supporting him ‘useless’. The snippet was the third released from a 40 minute recording of a Morsi speaking to his lawyers during a court appearance in February. The matter of protests arises when Morsi asks his lawyer of news from the outside world. His lawyer, Selim el Awa, says that there are daily street protests by supporters, which routinely end in clashes. El Awa adds, “People must sit down, talk and reach a solution,” he says. “Without reaching a solution, Dr Mohamed, there’s no point,” to which Morsi agrees, adding the protests are “useless for both sides”.

On the streets of Egypt, attrition in protests has taken place as demonstrators consider the utility of regular protests, particularly as they invariably end in clashes with security forces. Although not intended for publicity, the comments from Morsi mark the first time it has been questioned from an authority figure from within the Muslim Brotherhood.

Constant clashes and increasing violence has left thousands dead, and spurred bombings and unprecedented violence by radical militant groups, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula and in Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood has since been designated as a terrorist organisation by Egyptian authorities. Last week, interim president Adly Mansour, told a state newspaper last week that there was no prospect of political reconciliation between the Brotherhood and Egypt’s military leaders.

Morsi also asked why Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the military leader responsible for removing him from office, has been promoted to the rank of field marshal. He asks, “Is it so there will be no one more senior than [Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el Sisi] when he becomes president?”

It is expected that al-Sisi will soon announce his bid for presidency in the upcoming election, and further expected that he would win by a large margin. In the recordings, Morsi shows surprise that that anyone would want to take the reins of such a troubled country, and warns that “whoever leads a coup must face a coup.”



Iran Tests New Missiles

11 February: The Iranian Defence Ministry has announced the successful test-firing of new missiles, including one designed to destroy “all types of enemy military equipment.” The new missiles include a laser-guided surface-to-surface and air-to-surface missile. Iran has also developed a long-range ballistic missile that can carry multiple warheads and can evade enemies’ anti-missile defence systems, with the “the capability of destroying massive targets and destroying multiple targets.”

Pentagon spokesman Admiral John Kirby has called the missile program “a dangerous threat to region.” A UN Security Council Resolution has prohibited Iran from activities related to developing ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

The tests come as reports are released that Iranian warships are en route toward U.S. maritime borders. The move is supposedly a response to the increase of United States naval presence in the Persian Gulf, however US military officials say there is no “operational information to support the claim.”



300,000 Displaced from Violence in Anbar Province

The UN has announced that as many as 300,000 people have been displaced by fighting between Sunni militants and security forces in the Anbar province of Iraq. The number marks the highest displacement in the region since the sectarian clashes between 2006 and 2008.

In December, groups of militants led by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL) took over large parts of Fallujah and Ramadi, leaving Iraqi troops and pro-government supporters struggling to regain control. The roads leading into and out of these cities are also part of the battleground, as the army tries to secure supply routes and cut off militant groups. Security forces have slowly regained areas of Ramadi, but they have not yet launched an offensive to recapture Fallujah for fear of a repeat of the battles similar to those against US troops in 2004. On Saturday, Anbar Governor Ahmed al-Dulaimi gave the militants a week to surrender, but emphasised that officials would not negotiate with ISIS.



New App Lets Citizens Tweet After Bombings

12 February: An innovator in Lebanon has developed a new smartphone app: with one tap, citizens can automatically tweet, “I am still alive! #Lebanon #Latestbombing.” The app’s creator intended to showcase the deteriorating security in Lebanon with an “ironic solution” (the website says, “Every time there is an explosion, we have to spend a lot of time contacting our loved ones…Not anymore!”) However, the irony was lost as over 4,000 users have downloaded the tool since its launch in January. Further, citizens from other war-torn areas have contacted the creator to request their own localised versions.



Libyans Terrified as Government Unable to Stop Killings

12 February: Killings have been on the rise in Libya due to a combination of “score-settling”, extremist shootings, and rival killings by military wings, and gangs killing for profit.

Since the weekend, several killings have been reported. On 10 February, former policemen Montasser Anwar Bennaser was the latest in a string of targeted assassinations. A bomb under his car was detonated shortly after he dropped off his son at school in Derna. A day earlier, Saiqa Special Forces member Alaa Mohammad Ali’s corpse was found tied to a rock at Karsa beach. On Saturday, Former Libyan Attorney-General and Supreme Court Chancellor Abdul Aziz al-Hassadi was shot dead in the Derna city centre. On Friday, an imam, Cheikh Atef Madouli, was killed after prayers at al-Ansari mosque, in Benghazi’s Hadaiq district. There have also been a series of abductions that remain unresolved.

Libyan citizens extremely concerned, wondering how abductions and killings seem to occur with no witnesses, particularly when they occur in crowded areas and during daylight hours.



Sudanese, Egyptian Authorities Involved in Torture of Eritrean Refugees

12 February: A report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that in the past 10 years, authorities in Sudan colluded with human traffickers in the kidnap and torture of hundreds of Eritrean refugees.

The report includes testimony from dozens of refugees who said that Sudanese and Egyptian security officers often facilitated their abuse rather than arresting the traffickers.

Earlier reports have shown that Eritrean refugees are regularly brutalised, having faced atrocities such as mutilation, burning, beatings and sexual assault. The threat and conduct of torture is devised to extort large ransoms from the victims’ families. The victims have described the pattern of being intercepted inside the eastern Sudanese border by police. The police arbitrarily detain them, and then hand them to traffickers. Many of those abducted report being abused for weeks or months in Kassala, or transferred to Arish, in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where they receive much the same treatment.

The author of the HRW report, Gerry Simpson, says that police and soldiers in Sudan and Egypt who help traffickers kidnap and torture refugees have nothing to fear. He adds that some police in eastern Sudan are so emboldened that they hand refugees over to traffickers in police stations.

Trafficking and abuse is inadequately investigated or prosecuted in both nations, which constitutes a breach of obligations under national and international anti-trafficking laws, international human rights law and national criminal law. Simpson adds, “The time has long passed for Egypt and Sudan to stop burying their heads in the sand and take meaningful action to end these appalling abuses.”

Up until December 2013, Egypt had prosecuted just one person with trafficking offences, while Sudan had launched 14 prosecutions of traffickers and four of police officers in connection with trafficking and torture.



ISIL Withdraws from Deir al-Zor Province

10 February: al Qaeda’s affiliate, al-Nusra front has been battling for days against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) for control of towns and oilfields Deir al-Zor province. There have been a series of car bombs and attacks in the region. However, the ISIL fighters have chosen to withdraw from the area.  A statement on Twitter said that ISIL had withdrawn to prevent further bloodshed. They have moved to the Hassaka and Raqqa provinces, the latter of which is a stronghold of ISIL.

Last month, several rebel groups joined forces and launched a campaign to push ISIL forces out of opposition-held regions in northern and eastern Syria. The anti ISIL groups include secular and religious members, who normally have territorial and ideological diputes. However ISIL, a group that has attracted non-Syrians to the region, has alienated the civilian populations in areas it controls by imposing harsh rulings (including beheadings) against what it perceives as dissent

Pro-opposition group, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the Deir al-Zor province was now in the hands of al-Nusra and 10 other rebel groups. ISIL had asked for mediation which was rejected by Nusra.

ISIL’s goal is to set up an Islamic emirate in territories within Iraq and Syria. Their goals clash with other Syrian rebel forces, who aim to overthrow Assad and then determine a ruling system for Syria.



Yemen Divided into Six States

10 February: Final approval has been given for Yemen to become a federation of six regions as part of its political transition. The new federal structure, the result of the national dialogue, will be put into a constitution will be put to a referendum. The division into states is aimed at eliminating acrimonious and sometimes violent divides between North and South Yemenis. Delegates at the National Dialogue Conference also agreed to reverse the overt political and economic marginalisation against southern Yemenis that had been entrenched since the two regions were unified in 1994.

If passed in referendum, the six regions would be: in the south, Aden and Hadramawt; in the north  Saba, Janad, Azal and Tahama. Sanaa, the capital, would become “a federal city not subject to any regional authority” and the constitution would “guarantee its neutrality.” Aden, a major port city, would be given special status, including “independent legislative and executive powers”.

Many politicians from Southern Yemen have rejected the six-state idea. Some call it a “coup against what had been agreed at the dialogue.” They had urged for a two-state federation, feeling that the North has greater footing because they hold four of the six states. However, the south has access to a larger share of country’s oil resources

MENA Report

Posted on in Africa, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen title_rule


Algerian National Police deployed in Territorial Clashes

(29 January) Algerian authorities have arrested 60 people after a month of territorial clashes between Arabs and Berbers in Ghardaia. Ghardaia is oasis town on the edge of the Sahara desert, and has seen repeated clashes which have left two people dead, dozens injured and many shops burned. Last week, Algerian national police were sent to the town to restore calm. Berbers, who were the original inhabitants of North Africa, have accused local police of encouraging the Arabs. Three officers have been suspended after a video surfaced showing their alleged involvement. Thus far, 20 people have been charged with arson, theft and assault; 10 others are under house arrest and another 30 are in custody awaiting questioning.

Algeria to Regulate Mosques

(28 January) The Algerian government is calling on imams to become fully engaged in the fight against extremism. Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdellah Ghlamallah said, “Mosques also have a part to play in preserving society and protecting it against division and hatred.” The government has trained 800 imams were trained between 2010 and 2012, and recruited 1,500 imam-lecturers and 240 principal imams.

The Algerian government wants to take back control of mosques used by extremist groups to spread messages of hatred and violence. Earlier this month, the government published a decree to regulate the 20,000 mosques in the nation. This law, the first of its kind, aims to enable mosques to conduct their role independently of political or other influences. The law explains that religious institutions must “help strengthen religious and national unity, protect society from fanatical, extremist and excessive ideas, foster and consolidate the values of tolerance and solidarity in society, combat violence and hatred, and counter anything that could harm the country.” The law also strictly forbids use of mosques for illicit, personal or collective goals, or for purely material ends, and prohibits use of mosques to harm people or groups. The law also covers the role of mosques in cultural, educational and social spheres, and subjects monetary collections to administrative authorisation. The decree has been positively received by the public.


Bahraini court shuts down Shi’ite clerical group

(29 January) A Bahraini court has ordered the dissolution of a group of Shiite Muslim clerics, declaring the group illegal. The decision comes after the revival of stalled reconciliation talks between the Sunni ruling family and Shiite opposition, and could harm reconciliation efforts to end political unrest that has occurred since 2011.

The court’s decision says that the Islamic Scholars’ Council, which has close ties to Shiite opposition group al-Wefaq, was not officially registered in Bahrain. Further, the group is believed to have adopted “a dangerous political and sectarian role.” Information Minister Sameera Rajab said, “The group that makes up the council includes political clerics who use the religious pulpit for political and sectarian incitement.” Rajab believes that the ruling should not stop dialogue with the opposition; however, members of the opposition have said that the ruling would have a negative effect on any attempts to move forward with the reconciliation process.


IED detonated in front of Security Forces Barracks

(31 January) Two improvised explosive devices were detonated in front of a Giza Central Security Forces barracks on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road, injuring a police officer. The explosions severely damaged a central security vehicle parked in front of the camp. A wave of attacks by Islamic militants has swept across Egypt in the weeks since the mid-January constitutional referendum. Last Friday, four bombs exploded in different areas of Cairo, killing 6.

Twenty Journalists face charges in Egypt

(29 January) Twenty journalists are facing charges in Egypt. Sixteen of the journalists are Egyptians accused of belonging to a terrorist group, harming national unity and social peace, and using terrorism as a means to their goals. Four are foreigners accused of assisting the organisation by providing them with information, equipment, and money, and broadcasting false information and rumours to convince the international community that Egypt was undergoing a civil war. The defendants include two Britons, a Dutch national and an Australian. No names are mentioned, but warrants state that four foreigners were correspondents for al-Jazeera news network.

Eight of the defendants are in detention; 12 are on the run with arrest warrants issued against them. International news organisations have issued a joint call for the immediate release of all journalists held in Egypt.


Armed men storm government building in Iraq

(30 January) Eight armed men assaulted an office of Iraq’s transportation ministry in northeast Baghdad, killing at least 20 people and briefly taking a number of civil servants hostage. Four of the eight men are believed to have been killed in clashes with security forces. Security forces sealed off the surrounding area, which houses other government offices including the headquarters of the transport ministry and a human rights ministry building. No group has claimed yet responsibility, but fighters affiliated with the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have mounted similar armed attacks on Iraqi government buildings.

On Thursday, bombings took place near a market and a restaurant in the Shia-majority neighbourhoods of Kasra and Talbiyah killed six people. On Wednesday, several car bombs detonated in predominantly Shia cities of Baghdad Jadidah, Shuala and Talbiyah, leaving nine people dead. Attacks on Wednesday also hit the outskirts of the capital, as well as the northern cities of Mosul and Tuz Khurmatu, killing seven others.

The death toll from Iraqi violence in January has gone past 900. With upcoming elections in three months, security forces have been grappling with intensifying violence and an extended standoff with anti-government fighters in western Anbar province. The fighters hold all of Fallujah, right next to Baghdad. ISIL has been involved in the fighting.  The standoff has forced more than 140,000 people to flee their homes, the worst displacement in Iraq since the 2006-2008 sectarian conflict.



Man admits transporting bombs

(31 January) Omar Ibrahim Al Atrash, who was arrested last week, has confessed to transporting suicide bombers and car bombs between Syria and Lebanon, including to Beirut. Atrash has admitted ties to three wanted individuals, as well as to AQ-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades, ISIL and Al Nusra Front. Atrash has “admitted to transporting car bombs to Beirut” after receiving them from a Syrian, and “transporting suicide bombers of different Arab nationalities into Syria and handing them over to the Nusra Front.” The army said two of the car bombs transported by Atrash had blown up, but it did not specify where.

Many bomb attacks have targeted strongholds of Hezbollah, which has drawn the ire of Sunni extremist groups in part because of its role fighting alongside the regime in Syria. Though Hezbollah is thought to be the target of the attacks, those killed in the bombings have largely been civilians.


Clashes erupt after kidnapping official’s son in Benghazi

(31 January) Clashes erupted Benghazi after the son of a commander in the army’s Special Forces was kidnapped. The clashes left at least one soldier dead and wounded two other army personnel.

The unknown kidnappers demanded that Libya’s special forces’ commander, Brigadier-General Wanis Bu Khamada, pull his forces from the city, especially the districts of al-Hawari and Gwarsha, in exchange of releasing his abducted son. While several military facilities are located in the listed districts, they are controlled by militias of former rebels

The heaviest clashes were reportedly seen at a base operated by the Brigade of the February 17 Martyrs, a group of former Islamist rebels; however the group denied kidnapping the general’s son on its Facebook page.

Ali Bu Khamada was taken outside Benghazi University, where he is a student. He tried resisting his kidnappers and appeared to have been injured by a gunshot. Last week, Special Forces announced the arrest of four suspects in possession of a hit list of officers that were to be targeted, or were already killed. A military source said the abduction was carried out to pressure the Special Forces to release prisoners held by the army.

Libya minister survives assassination attempt

(29 January) Libya’s acting interior minister, Al-Sidik Abdul-Karim, has escaped an assassination attempt in Tripoli. Karim was on his way to a meeting when his car came under fire from unknown gunmen. After the attack, Al-Sidik Abdul-Karim said in a statement: “Libya’s men will not be intimidated by bullets, bombs or rockets.” Earlier in January, deputy industry minister Hassan al-Droui was shot dead; the first killing of a member of the interim government. No group has claimed responsibility.

The transitional government has been struggling to assert itself over up to 1,700 different armed militias, each with their own goals. Local officials in various regions of Libya have also been killed. Most cases remain unsolved and only few arrests have so far been made. Last week, the political instability in Libya worsened when the Justice and Construction Party, the second largest party in the interim administration, said it was quitting the government. The group made the announcement after it failed to win sufficient support for a motion to censure Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. The move could deepen the deadlock in the interim parliament, and increase political infighting.


Syrian peace talks draw to a close

(31 January) The Syrian government and opposition traded insults after a week-long peace conference in Geneva. The conference ended with no firm agreement. Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the opposition were immature, while the opposition’s Louay Safi said the regime had no desire to stop the bloodshed.

More talks are scheduled for 10 February. The opposition has agreed to take part, but Mr Muallem refused to commit, stating, “We represent the concerns and interests of our people. If we find that [another meeting] is their demand, then we will come back.” Opposition representative Safi said the opposition would not sit in talks “endlessly”, and urged the government to “talk seriously about transferring power”.

The two sides discussed humanitarian issues and possible ways to end the violence and made some agreements on access for humanitarian aid in some parts of the country. Both sides agreed to use a 2012 document known as the Geneva Communiqué, which includes proposals for a transitional government and democratic elections, as a basis for discussions. The opposition has insisted on addressing the transitional government issue, but the government has been stressing that the first step is to discuss “terrorism”. Diplomats have said that a top priority is to keep the talks process going, in the hope that hard-line positions can be modified over time.


Tunisia Signs New Constitution, Appoints Government

(January 30) Tunisia has a new constitution has been signed, and control of the government has passed from former Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh to Mehdi Jomaa. Citizens are hopeful for major change in the country. The country’s president is Moncef Marzouki, told reporters that the newly-signed constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women, requires that the government protect the environment and work to stop corruption, and puts power into two men’s hands. Power over the country is split between Marzouki and Jomaa.  Marzouki will have important roles in defensc and foreign affairs; Jomaa will have the dominant role in the government.The caretaker government will run the country until elections, which will be held on an unspecified date this year.

Activists and media have criticized the new constitution, noting that it doesn’t do enough to reflect what the citizens want and that the committee drafting the document did not have the power to change constitutional sections on the right to strike and freedom of expression. There is also concern that the document doesn’t do enough to protect men from violence. The document does not ban the death penalty, but makes accusing people of being nonbelievers an illegal act. Attacks on religion are also restricted. The creation of this document presumably brings the Arab Spring to a close in Tunisia.


Suspected militants kill 15 soldiers in Yemen

(31 January) Fifteen soldiers were killed and four wounded by suspected al Qaeda militants in an attack on an army checkpoint in south-eastern Yemen on Friday. The soldiers were ambushed as they were having lunch in a desert area near the city of Shibam, in the eastern province of Hadramout. The gunmen were likely to be al Qaeda militants. Hadramout, a center of Yemen’s modest oil production, has been hit by sporadic fighting between government forces and a big tribal confederation, after a senior tribesman was killed in a shootout at an army checkpoint in December.

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