Algeria: Algeria and the US agreed to work together to prevent criminal access to black market nuclear materials, citing fears that supplies from Gaddafi’s stock are within reach of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Officials from both nations discussed security measures including border patrol, strategic trade controls and illicit transfer of conventional weapons, as well as constant monitoring of smuggling threats and trends.
Algerian Colonel Djamel Abdessalem Z’ghida announced that ground border surveillance in the southwest has been strengthened for the fight against trafficking and other criminal networks. Ground forces are supported by daily aerial surveillance.
The agreement between Algeria and the US is an unusual act of cooperation for Algeria, whose government prefers to conduct domestic security affairs unilaterally. US officials hope these efforts increase cooperation on a regional and international scale.
Internal reports by British Petroleum (BP) in 2011 and 2012 warned of risk of attack against gas plants in Africa. The reports anticipated the increasing likelihood of attacks in Africa following the killing of Osama bin Laden.
A May 2011 report, distributed immediately following bin Laden’s death, indicated that renewed terror activity could arise from within Algeria’s Al Qaeda franchise. The BP internal newsletter stated, “[Al Qaeda] affiliates and other groups will seek to fill the leadership and motivational void left by OBL.” However a report from January 2012 made no indication of threats to Algeria, rather focusing on other African and Middle Eastern nations, warning of a new brand of Islamic terrorism and “fostered by weak or nonexistent central governments, easily-crossed borders, ready availability of weapons and explosives, and simmering ethnic, religious and economic fissures.”
The militant group which conducted the terrorist storming of the Ain Amenas gas compound are led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a breakaway commander from AQIM. Both AQIM, and Belmokhtar’s group, called “Those Who Sign With Blood” originated in Algeria.
BP’s latest security assessment focuses on a standoff between Iran and the West, suggesting that Iran could use militia’s controlled by Irack to attack Western interests in Iran.
Bahrain: Rioters have blocked roads and clashed with security forces following the death of a teenage boy during the protests for second anniversary of Bahrain’s uprising. The boy is reported to have died from “close range birdshot”. Hundreds of opposition demonstrators threw petrol bombs at police, who responded with tear gas.
On Saturday, police discovered a bomb on the Bahraini end of the King Fahd causeway, a 25km stretch which links Saudi Arabia to the island country. The route is used by thousands of people each day.
The protests occur in the midst of reconciliation talks between the predominantly Sunni government and Shi’ia opposition parties. The opposition wants to put an end to the Bahraini monarchy’s political domination and full power in parliament. The next round of talks is scheduled for Sunday, yet there is no word from either side whether the discussions will continue in the wake of the protests.
Egypt: On Friday, Egyptian security officials seized two tons of explosives hidden in a truck carrying fruits and vegetables. The explosives were confiscated in the main Suez Canal transport tunnel which connects Sinai to the rest of Egypt. The explosives were packed in 100 plastic bags, and are a type used for demolishing stones in quarries. The driver was been taken in for questioning, and said he was unaware he was transporting explosives. A businessman had asked him to take the goods to Sinai for collection.
Since the 2011, and particularly the Libyan revolution, Egypt’s Interior Ministry has confiscated hundreds of weapons smuggled from Libya, some of which are meant to be delivered to Gaza. Sinai has increasingly become a haven for Islamist militants who have benefitted from lack of security in the area following the Egyptian Revolution.
The explosives designed for demolishing stones may be an indication that Egyptian attempts to block smuggling tunnels in the Sinai are being met with strong resistance. On Wednesday, Egyptian security forces began flooding smuggling tunnels between Sinai and the Gaza Strip, in an effort to shut them down. The network of tunnels provides an estimated 30% of all goods received into the region, circumventing a blockade imposed by Israel since 2007.
Hamas released a statement Saturday condemning the Egyptian government for the actions. Khalil El-Haya, a senior Hamas official, added that people in Gaza consider Egyptian actions equal to a renewal of the Israeli blockade.
Iran-Israel: Brigadier General Hassan Shateri (also known as Hessam Khoshnevis), of Iran’s Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, was killed on Tuesday in Syria, while heading back to Lebanon. Shateri had been engaged in civilian reconstruction in Lebanon for the last seven years, and is the first Iranian general killed in Syria. The Iranian government has accused opponents of Syrian leader Bashar al Assad of the murder. Syrian rebels have accused Iran of sending forces to assist Assad in suppressing the uprising.
An Iranian envoy to Beirut has connected the killing with the Israeli government, stating that the killing had strengthened Iran’s resolve against Israel. Ali Shirazi, a representative of Ayatollah Khomenei to the Guards’ elite Quds force, stated, “Our enemies should also know that we will quickly get revenge for (the death of) Haj Hassan (Shateri) from the Israelis, and the enemies cannot shut off the Iranian people with such stupid acts.”
The Israeli government has not commented on the killing; however Israel has considered military action against Tehran if the Iranian government continues with a nuclear program. Iran claims that the nuclear program is peaceful.
On Friday, the chief UN nuclear inspector announced hopes to reach an agreement with Iran in March which allows them to probe into Iranian nuclear research activities.
Tunisia: Thousands of Tunisians responded to a call by the ruling Islamist Ennahda party and poured into the streets to support the ruling party. Demonstrators denounced Prime Minister Jebaili’s plans for a temporary “technocratic” government and chanted against the secular opposition parties.
The rally was called by Ennahda to denounce Prime Minister Jebali’s suggestion following the assassination of opposition leader Shokri Belaid on 6 February, which resulted in bloody classes between government supporters and opposition. Jebaili has threatedn to resign if he fails to gain support to form a new government.
Religious and political tensions have risen over several months in what was a “proudly secular” Muslim nation. Talks regarding a new administration have been rescheduled for Monday. A previous deadline for a new administration had been cancelled with no new date scheduled as of yet.
“Mission Accomplished” – two words made famous by United States President George W. Bush when he proclaimed on 1 May 2003, after just six weeks of fighting, that the U.S. had successfully completed major combat in Iraq. These two words would over time haunt the Bush administration as “mission accomplished” inevitably transformed into a guerrilla warfare on the streets of Baghdad and throughout the entire country. Nearly a decade later, French President François Hollande used these exact words when on 2 February 2013, he proclaimed that France’s unilateral military intervention was successful and that French troops would begin to withdrawal from Mali in March. While the scale of France’s “Operation Serval” is far smaller in comparison to the operations that took place in Iraq, there may be a number of parallels that can create comparisons amongst these two missions.
As the first suicide bomber struck in the town of Gao, and with the Islamist militants believed to be regrouping in Mali’s northern mountainous regions, restoring complete order in a country which for the past ten months has been chaotic, will prove to be a much tougher and complicated mission. The second phase of France’s campaign, which will primarily focus on restoring territorial integrity throughout Mali, is already proving to be a far more complex challenge than bombing the hideouts of al-Qaeda-linked militants. In order for this stage to be deemed “mission accomplished,” a more intricate process, composed of political, social and economic aspects, is necessary in order to reintegrate the north and the south and to bridge the cultural divides.
Amongst the issues that are necessary to take into account are the minimal credibilities and discipline within the Malian army, which has already proven to be a factor with the surfacing of allegations of human rights abuses. In turn, political institutions throughout the country have atrophied, Tuareg separatism continues to pose a threat, there are continuing tensions between the north and south, which includes allegations of acts against human rights, there is a need to tackle a vast uninhibited area, which like in Afghanistan, could create a safe haven for these militants, and there is the rapidly growing refugee crisis that has not only impacted Mali, but its neighbouring countries as well. Additionally, as France looks towards scaling back its operations within the country, officials in Paris will increasingly look towards the African security forces in order to replace them. However it is highly unlikely that this new contingent will be fully prepared to take over from the French by March of this year. Of the estimated 5,000 troops that are set to arrive in Mali, a contingent of only 2,500 soldiers, composed of troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, is currently on the ground. This contingent is composed of English and French-speaking troops, all of which come from different military cultures and which hold different levels of experience. This has sparked fears that the force may not have the capabilities that are necessary in order to root out the Islamist militants from their hideaways. France has already suggested that a United Nations peacekeeping force be deployed to Mali in April, a sign that the French are well aware of the limitations of the African forces.
On a much larger scale, there is a need to tackle the fundamental regional issues that remain to be deep-seated. A senior national security official within the Obama Administration has stated that “what we’re seeing across North Africa and parts of the Middle East is an extremist threat that is fueled by the reality of porous borders, ungoverned territory, too readily available weapons, increasing collaboration among some of these groups, and, in many cases, a new government that lacks the capacity and sometimes the will to deal with the problem.” In the case of Mali, all of these points will have to be tackled in order to ensure that such a situation does not occur again.
Over the following weeks and months, French and African Forces will have to deal with what has been called the “vanishing enemy” – the hundreds of Islamist fighters who previously occupied the towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu but which have now either disappeared into the vast desert territory or have blended in with either the general populations or the refugees that have been spilling into the neighboring countries. There have already been a number of reports that have indicated that some fighters have mixed in with the refugees who have been seeking safety in Mauritania. In response to such reports, Algeria has reinforced its border security in an attempt to prevent militants from crossing over. Chadian troops have also begun to withdrawal from Kidal, and have moved towards the mountainous regions which border Algeria, as intelligence reports have indicated that a number of Islamist militants have been regrouping in the region.
While progress is being made to rid the country of such militants, it remains to be unknown just how well these groups have prepared for such a rapid retreat. Specifically, it will be necessary to examine whether or not these groups established other bases and supply lines and whether these locations have been identified and targeted by the forces. Over the coming weeks, it will be necessary to cut off all the supply lines, which will be helped by Algeria’s reinforcement of its border security. However there remains to be thousands of miles of unmarked, un-patrolled frontiers across Mali where terrorist groups can retreat and utilize as a means of reorganizing themselves. Furthermore, while Algeria has the ability to secure its borders, the ability of authorities in Libya and Niger to prevent militants from crossing into their countries is limited at best. A factor which could also prove to be critical as militants may cross the borders for safety amidst France’s air and ground attacks. If their are large groups of Islamist terrorists remaining in the unmonitored regions of northern Mali, the next stage of battle will undoubtedly involve asymmetrical warfare, therefore the use of IED’s, assassinations of military and political officials as well as the use of suicide bombings. Mali’s first suicide bombing may have already provided the French and African troops with a glimpse of the type of warfare that such militant groups are capable of orchestrating.
A second factor will be the gathering of intelligence which may prove to be difficult as northern Mali is an area that is larger than Spain and although a majority of the territory is vast open land, the Adrar de Ifoghas mountains are composed of a network of caves and passes, similar to those found in the Afghan Tora Bora region. Moktar Bemoktar, whose followers carried out the attack on a gas facility in Ain Amenas, Algeria in January of this year, as well as Iyad Ag Ghali, a Tuareg and leader of Ansar Dine, are known to have an intimate knowledge of this region. Over the past several years, Belmoktar has used his knowledge of this region in order to smuggle products and kidnapped civilians across the border. A business which has aided him in funding the purchasing of weapons and the recruitment of his soldiers. It is also currently believed that seven French hostages are being held in the mountainous region by his group and MUJAO. While the French military intervention may have disrupted the traditional routes used by these militant groups, regional analysts believe that they will now focus on their remaining routes within the mountainous regions as a source to continue not only smuggling weapons into Mali, but as a mechanism to regroup and begin staging hit and run attacks in their former strongholds. The US recent agreement with Niger to station surveillance drones may be a sign of the need to monitor the mountainous regions on a more regular basis.
Finally, the grievances amongst the ethnic Tuaregs which led to the division of Mali will have to be addressed and the humanitarian crisis will have to be tackled. Negotiations with the Tuaregs, which will involve a greater measure of autonomy as well as the long-promised economic aid for the region, are essential in restoring stability in the north. Although such negotiations will not occur over night, there appears to be a window of opportunity which may aid in speeding up the process. This opportunity came with the split of Ansar Dine, an Islamist group which was formed in 2011 and which is led by Iyad Ag Ghali. Although his whereabouts are currently unknown, his deputy, Alghabass Ag Intallah, has formed a splinter group known as the Islamist Movement of Azawad, which is prepared for negotiations. In recent days, similar movements have been coming from the MNLA, demonstrating that they too are ready for a negotiations to occur. Before the July 2013 elections, political dialogue amongst the varying groups will have to take place in Mali.
Once Africa’s success story, Mali must now look inwards in an attempt to reunite the north and south, however its future looks uncertain. While at the moment, the military intervention in Mali seems far from being a “mission accomplished,” stability in the country is necessary not only for the region, but for the entire International community. Although Mali is not a regional powerhouse, it is very large, nearly twice the size of France, and has seven neighbours, whose long, poorly guarded borders can inevitably provide militants with the supply and escape routes that are necessary for their survival. In turn, many of these border countries have already bared witness to violence, extremism and instability and they are ill-equipped in order to deal with the fallout if Mali was to collapse. In the past Mauritania has had problems with militants who have been liked to al-Qaeda. Niger, like Mali, has also seen frequent rebellions by ethnic Tuareg separatists. Algeria also has many problems with al-Qaeda. During the 1990’s, an Islamist insurgency claimed at least 100,000 lives. Furthermore, a number of militant cells are known to be active in the eastern mountains and in the desert that borders with Mali. In the past, a number of troop convoys have been ambushed. The recent attacks in Ain Amenas indicates that this militant issue continues to be a problem in Algeria. Within Mali itself, the vast and inhospitable desert has allowed groups with the local knowledge of the region to gain vast quantities of money through trafficking drugs, people, or other contrabands. Therefore as the military campaign moves forward, developing events will continue to be closely monitored by capitals throughout West Africa, Europe and the United States. The collapse of Mali and a possible exportation of the jihadist vision would threaten not only the neighbouring countries but would be a direct security threat to Europe.
On 8 February, the Algerian army arrested two AQIM would-be suicide bombers in Tinzouatine. The individuals, a Malian and an Algerian, carried explosive belts and automatic weapons. They were arrested in the Tamanrasset province near the Mali border.
This arrest follows an attempt in the previous week by an armed terrorist group to break into military barracks in Jebel Boudoukhane, in the southern province of Khenchela. The incident unfolded as terrorists, dressed in military uniforms, set up a false checkpoint near the target, and intercepted trucks that supplied the military barracks with food. The rebels took the driver hostage and drove to the barracks, carrying machine guns and RPGs. One terrorist was killed and several soldiers were injured; the remaining attackers were hunted down by military reinforcements.
Algerian forces are raising their levels of vigilance, as analysts believe that Algerian and Tunisian radical groups are sharing experiences and will increase attempts to conduct both terrorist activities and smuggling of weapons and drugs.
Libya will close its borders with Tunisia and Egypt for five days, as a precaution on the two-year anniversary of the removal of Muammar Gaddafi. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan stated, “As of midnight on February 14th until the 18th, no one will be allowed to cross the Libyan borders between Egypt or Tunis as a security precaution.” The government has ruled out official celebrations for the 15th.
Many Libyans, particularly in the east, are likely to take to the streets to protest the government’s inability to provide reforms, including security measures to disarm militias, or the completion of a new constitution.
Lufthansa and Austrian airlines have suspended services until after 17 February, citing “tensions on the ground”. International organizations, including the UN and Western embassies, will also be on lockdown beginning 14 February. Many foreign nationals have left the country in advance of the anniversary.
Security in Tripoli and Benghazi has been tightened, including an increase in checkpoints. The UK FCO has not changed travel advice, but urges against all travel to the country, particularly in light of anticipated demonstrations between 15 and 17 February.
Tunisia has experienced a deepening political crisis since last week’s killing of Shokri Belaid, a leftist lawyer and outspoken opposition leader. The murder in broad daylight, which has not been seen since Tunisian colonial times, highlighted concerns over a largely unreformed police force and justice system.
Prime Minister Jebali delivered an emergency proposal to completely dissolve government and replace politicians with a non-political caretaker government in order to calm the unrest. The caretaker government would remain in place until elections could be held. The proposal sparked tensions within his own Ennahda party. Jebali has scaled back his proposals, which will be announced this week. If rejected, Jebali intends to resign.
One of the two secular parties in the coalition, Congress for the republic (CPR), is also opposed to Jebali’s proposal, fearing it will allow the return of figures from the former regime. Tunisian President Marzouki, who had also threatened to resign, has decided his CPR will remain involved in the transitional, Islamist-led government for an additional week. This announcement is a reversal on his threats to quit if two Islamist ministers were not replaced. CPR Secretary-General Mohamed Abbou stated, “The party has decided to freeze the resignations of its ministers for a week for more discussions on a coalition government.”
On Friday, tens of thousands of Tunisians took to the street for Belaid’s funeral, accusing the ruling Ennahda party of lax security measures in the face of increasing violence. The next day, thousands attended a pro-government rally in support of the current coalition.
UK FCO has issued no travel advice warnings.
In a rare move, hundreds of police officers held a protest on Tuesday, demanding that they not be used as a political tool of oppression by the reigning Muslim Brotherhood Party. Officers in at least 10 Egyptian provinces rallied around security officers, some carrying signs saying “we are innocent of the blood of martyrs.”
This uncommon protest by the police comes on the heels of increased police brutality during the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, which saw “old regime” tactics being used against protesters. On Monday, the second anniversary of the overthrow of Mubarak, police clashed with demonstrators in front of Ettihadiya Palace in Cairo, using water cannons and teargas to repel the protesters. The clashes have been smaller and less violent than in previous weeks.
Many protesters feel that President Muhammed Morsi is reverting to the tactics of force used by the Mubarak regime. Protesters also feel that the ruling party is using religious means to increase their control over the nation.
To underscore this, an Egyptian court banned YouTube in Egypt for one month due to the site’s continued hosting of an Anti-Islamic film which caused deadly protests throughout the Muslim world last September. Because the ban is both delayed and disproportional to the amount of unrest it caused in Egypt, human rights activists perceive it as a religious pretext for imposing restrictions and preventing free expression.
In addition, the nation was stirred last week by religious fatwas issued by hard-line Muslim clerics urging the assassination of opposition members. The ruling party has condemned these actions; Egyptian Interior Minister has issued an order for police to deploy additional security to the homes of opposition members. However, extreme actions such as the decree of a fatwa are unusual in Egypt, and are perceived to be in direct connection with the ruling party. The opposition party has since demanded that Morsi be put on trial over the deaths of 60 anti-government demonstrators in the past weeks; the public prosecutor claims there is no evidence to link Morsi with the deaths.
Many companies use passwords to allow employees access to sensitive material, yet to many cyber security experts, passwords are a relic of the past, stemming from a time when individuals used passwords to access email and the rare e-commerce site. Today, the internet has caused computers to be hyper-connected: many sites require password authentication, and more information belonging to individuals and corporations is stored in “The Cloud”. The constant use of passwords is a double-edged sword. First, it causes individuals make critical mistakes in creating passwords, either through over-simplification or through creating over-complex and forgettable passwords which cost company time in retrieval and/or resetting. Second, many corporations have been lulled into a false sense of security by allowing one-factor access to secure information. To a malicious hacker or a corporate espionage actor, these vulnerabilities make it easy to access critical information.
How Hackers Hack
Hackers access corporate information in a number of ways. The first, and simplest, is guesswork. Individuals who use passwords to access many sites tend to become lazy in creating passwords. In 2012, the number one password used around the world was “password”, followed by “123456”. Hackers can often guess simpler passwords, or use “password dumps”— web pages dedicated to passwords uncovered by other hackers. In addition, automated password cracking programs simplify the process of cracking common passwords, even incorporating common numeric substitutions (i.e. pa55w0rd). In addition, many people tend to reuse passwords for multiple access points, so it is common that a user will create a password in their personal life, and then use it in their corporate environment as well. If a malicious user gains access to an individual’s private password, the likelihood increases that they can use the same password to gain access into a corporate environment.
Hackers also gain access to passwords through “phishing” by which they create websites or emails which look almost identical to existing companies, such as banks or email sites, and ask users to submit login information. Regardless of how complex a password is, the strength of that password is useless when it is freely given through these methods. If a hacker has access to a personal site, they may “lurk”, that is, look at the emails people receive to identify their banks and banking habits, place of business, social connections, and even “electronic mannerisms” such as how a person “speaks” online. By watching email transactions, a hacker can easily emulate the person to gain access into other parts of their life, such as sending messages to an accountant or a client, asking them to redirect funds or use the “new” email address, so as to go unnoticed.
In addition, hackers can gain passwords using malware: undetected viruses which are stored on one computer and send data to another, such as monitoring key strokes or activating a web camera. A report from 2011 indicated that malware was responsible for almost 70% of data breaches. Malware is particularly vicious because it targets large groups or corporations, gaining access to entire systems rather than single individuals.
Finally, an emerging trend that hackers can take advantage of is called “socialing”. Because most individuals use one or two email accounts to access banking, ecommerce, social networks and other sites, gaining access to one can easily allow a hacker to gain access to the other. For example, if a hacker has an e-mail username and password, they may attempt to use it on an e-commerce site, such as Amazon, which stores credit card information. If the password doesn’t work, they can click “Forgot Password?” and answer a few personal questions, often which are accessible through a Google Search or looking through the hacked email account. The password gets sent, and the hacker deletes the email and immediately logs onto the e-commerce site and changes the email address to direct it to him. Now, the hacker has access to banking information and home address. The hacker then uses this information to gain access to other data, including tax and benefits numbers, and can infringe upon a person’s work and private life.
Increasing corporate password security
Because passwords are still the most common and critical entry point into most businesses, steps should be taken to increase security wherever possible.
Strong Passwords: First, and most critical, encourage staff to come up with strong passwords, with a minimum of eight characters, and check them through a password strength estimator, which measures the accessibility of the password, and can be found using a simple Google search. Using the tool, one can see that a password such as “12345678” has a strength of 4%.
To generate a strong password, it is beneficial to think of a favourite saying or line from a book, and use the letters from each word, then to replace certain letters with capital letters or numbers. For example: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”
First becomes: iwtbotiwtwot (3% strength)
Then becomes: Iwtb0t1wtw0t (93% strength)
Another option is to create random phrases with mixed characters where possible, such as “nine-happy_dolphins_ate?” (85% strength).
Most importantly, discourage use of passwords which individuals use in other parts of their lives, and discourage password re-use as passwords expire. Many companies are opting for longer periods between password expiration to prevent people from changing only one portion of their password (For example, from “password1” to “password2”). Stronger passwords and longer user periods can minimize the risk of password apathy.
Malware and Phishing Awareness: Again, a password is meaningless when it is given freely. Corporations are increasingly educating employees on how to identify and authenticate legitimate e-mails and websites, encouraging staff to contact the company in question if the information looks suspicious. Organizations should invest in anti-virus programs which update regularly as new viruses are introduced into the cyber-world, and check digital certificates (the fingerprints of an incoming piece of data) to see if they are associated with existing malware.
Multi-factor IDs: Earlier this week, social media site Twitter announced a new two-factor identification system following a system-wide hack which compromised the information of over 250,000 users. Increasingly, corporations use multi-factor identification to allow employees access to protected information. Users supply their chosen password, and then either receive a SMS message to their phone which provides the secondary password, or enter a password from a physical token (some of which also require a code for authentication—creating a three factor ID). The multi-factor method adds an additional layer of security, and alerts true owners of attempts to intrude upon an account.
Biometrics: Biometrics, such as fingerprint, or voice scans, seem like the best possible protection for corporate integrity. However the technique has not yet been perfected, and is considerably pricey. If biometrics are used as a one-factor system, they are easily replicated: fingerprints can be lifted, or a voices can be recorded, particularly if one is speaking into such a system in a public location, such as a library or coffee-shop. In the future, biometrics may become one component of a multi-factor verification system, but at present, they are not feasible to many organizations.
White-Hat Hackers: In cyber-slang, a white-hat hacker is one of the “good guys”. Often, companies will hire white-hat hackers to expose weaknesses in cyber security systems, and suggest or provide remedies before those weaknesses are exploited by black-hat hackers, who use the weaknesses for malicious purpose.
Monitor Abnormalities: The best protection is vigilance, specifically, identifying access attempts that are outside of normal business processes. For example, Internet Service Providers identify the location from which a user attempts to access a secure sight. Be wary if a user, known to be in London, is logging in from Boston or Singapore. In addition, if a user is given a company phone or computer, identify whether that user is attempting to log in from a non-registered device.
As hackers become increasingly efficient, individuals and corporations struggle to find the balance between convenience and privacy. While multi-factor systems are on the rise, it is important to avoid making them cumbersome or inaccessible. Cyber experts are constantly working to deliver a system that covers the new areas of cyberspace that corporations venture into. Cyber-awareness and education ensures that your company is abreast of the latest technology in online security.
In line with MS Risk’s recent advisories indicating that the security situation throughout Mali remains uncertain, a suicide bomber blew himself up on Friday in the northern town of Gao, sparking the first such incident to occur since France launched its military intervention in January of this year. This attack signifies that the Islamist rebels have resorted to guerrilla warfare as a means of demonstrating that despite being ousted from their stronghold in northern Mali, they are still able to carry out hit and run attacks. MS Risk therefore advises that it is highly likely that such guerrilla attacks may continue in the coming months, especially in those towns and cities that were recently recaptured by French-led forces. This recent incident also proves that the war is far from being won. The current security situation may result in an increased military presence and checkpoints in towns throughout the country. Meanwhile in Bamako, fighting has erupted between Malian government soldiers and paratroopers who are stationed in the capital city. MS Risk advises any expats in the Bamako to get to safety immediately. It is highly recommended that you stay off the streets and keep away from any military bases as further fighting amongst the military divisions may occur. Military base, especially those occupied by French troops, may also be targeted by rebel Islamist groups. It is also recommended to be wary if driving over any of the three bridges across the Niger river which cuts the city in two.
Fridays’ suicide attack occurred when the attacker, who was on a motorbike at the time, approached a checkpoint located on the outskirts of Gao at about 6:30GMT. The bomber, who is believed to be a young Tuareg, then detonated an explosive belt. Reports have also indicated that he was carrying a larger bomb which failed to detonate. The attack left one soldier injured. Gao is one of the most populous cities in northern Mali and it is one of the towns that was recaptured by French-led troops.
This incident is the first known suicide attack to have occurred in Mali since France sent 4,000 troops into the northern region of the country on 11 January in order to oust the militants. Although there are checkpoints, which are run by troops from France, Mali and Niger, throughout the country, there is currently an increased military presence in Gao as there are rising fears that mines may have been strategically placed throughout the city as a means of carrying out further attacks. The suicide attack comes just one day after one of the Islamist groups, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), stated that they had “created a new combat zone” by organizing suicide bombings, attacking military convoys and placing landmines.
Over the past week, French-led forces have increasingly come under attack in the reclaimed territories. A landmine blast which occurred on Wednesday between the northern towns of Douentza and Gao, killed four civilians who were returning from a market. A similar incident in the same area, which occurred on January 31, resulted in the death of two Malian soldiers. All of this is occurring at a time when French-led forces have been split into two units, with some remaining in the recaptured towns in order to enforce security, while others, along with 1,000 Chadian soldiers, moving into the mountains near the Algerian border where a large number of Islamist rebels are believed to have fled after French forces began bombarding their strongholds. On Thursday, French and Chadian troops arrived in Aguelhok, which is located 160 km (100 miles) north of Kidal. By Friday, the French-led forces moved into Tessalit, which is the gateway into the country’s northern mountainous region. Over the past few days, air strikes have targeted both towns, aimed at removing Islamist bases. The air strikes are also in preparation for ground forces which are set to enter the mountainous regions in order to drive the remaining Islamist groups out of the country.
Meanwhile in Bamako, reports have surfaced that Malian government soldiers have fought mutinous paratroops in the capital city. Fighting erupted as soldiers attacked a camp of elite paratroopers who are loyal to ex-President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was ousted in the March 2012 coup. It is believed that the incident broke out after the paratroopers refused to be absorbed into the other units in order to go to the northern frontline. The violence comes on the same day that the first EU military trainers were expected to arrive in Bamako in order to begin further training of the Malian army.