MS Risk Blog

Security Update for Egypt (1 February 2013)

Posted on in Egypt title_rule

On Friday evening, clashes between Central Security Forces (CSF) and protesters escalated as fireworks and Molotov cocktails were hurled at the Ettehadiya Presidential Palace in Cairo.

Thousands of protesters, carrying flags of up to 18 opposition parties, gathered on Friday to demand the removal of Morsi and his predominantly Islamist government. Demonstrators blockaded part of Merghany Street, not far from the palace. Another group of protesters held a sit-in at the palace.

The conflict began when a group of protesters moved the crowd control barriers near the palace. As security guards attempted to quell the protesters, dozens of Black Bloc protesters arrived, shouting anti-Morsi chants. Protesters threw about two dozen petrol bombs and launched fireworks outside of the palace, chanting, “Leave, Leave.”

Sources say that one Molotov cocktail made it onto presidential grounds, setting Gate 4 of the palace alight. The Interior Ministry sent five CSF armoured vehicles to the scene, and forced protesters away from the presidential palace using water hoses and tear gas. The CSF then torched the protesters’ makeshift tents.

National Salvation Front leader and Constitution Party head Mohamed ElBaradei said that the goals of the revolution should be achieved using the same peaceful methods that brought down former President Hosni Mubarak. Opposition groups which hold these protests are calling for a new Constitution based on national consensus, and an end to Brotherhood domination in the Egyptian government.

Who is the Black Bloc?

The Black Bloc, so named because of their black outfits and black balaclavas, have emerged on the streets and in the social networks sites of Egypt in the past week. The group introduced themselves on Facebook on 21 January and already has over 43,000 followers. They also released a YouTube video on 24 January, which states that their mission is to fight “against the fascist regime and their armed wing.

The group is vehemently against President Morsi, and are willing to use force to defend demonstrators against Islamists and state security forces. On Monday, Black Bloc protesters in Port Said demanded that Morsi lift the state of emergency and release all protesters arrested during demonstrations. They blocked surrounding streets and lit tires on fire, and threatened to burn the security directorate if their demands weren’t met. Black Blocs have also been seen in Cairo and Alexandria, blockading bridges, guarding the entrances to Tahrir Square, and joining in demonstrations.

On Tuesday, Egypt’s public prosecutor, Talaat Abdallah, ordered police and army officers to arrest Black Bloc members, and called on the public to hand over anyone suspected belonging to the group, accusing them of being an “organised group that participates in terrorist acts …. and (commits) crimes that affect national security.”

Security Situation in Mali (31 January 2013)

Posted on in Mali, Region Specific Guidance title_rule

French and military sources have confirmed that the troops have entered the northern town of Kidal, which is the last major town that is yet to be secured from the Islamist militants.  French troops arrived at the airport in Kidal early on Wednesday, just days after capturing two other strategic towns:  Gao and Timbuktu.  Kidal, which lies 1,500km (930 miles northeast of the capital city of Bamako, was until recently, controlled by Ansar Dine.  Although the a heavy sandstorm had halted the operations on Wednesday, conditions are now clearing and the troops may soon be able to continue with their deployment into Kidal.  MS Risk advises those who are still in the country, that the current security and political situation remains to be fluid and therefore can change at any given moment.  There remains a high level of threat from terrorism and attacks can occur at any time.  The death of two Malian soldiers, who were killed when their vehicle hit a landmine south-west of Gao, is a reminder that vigilance is necessary.  French troops have warned that landmines or homemade bombs may be lying around the regions of the recently liberated towns and that they were likely placed their by the fleeing insurgents.

While France is currently entering into the final phase of its military intervention, a great deal of work still remains to be done in order to reconnect the two regions of the country and to stabilize both the political and security conditions throughout it.  While it seems that the quick advance by the French and Malian troops exposed a weakness of the Islamist rebels that were holding the northern region of the country, these rebels still pose a threat, not only to the country, but to the region itself.  The next phase will focus on flushing these rebels out of the vast cross-border desert region, in what French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has indicated will signify a “turning-point” in France’s intervention.

Currently, French troops are continuing to secure Kidal while France is preparing to hand over the towns that it has captured to an African force that has already begun to deploy to Mali.  So far, there are an estimated 2,000 African soldiers, mainly from Chad and Niger, on the ground in Mali.  It will now by the job of the African Union-backed force, the International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), to root out the al-Qaeda-linked insurgents who have fled into the desert and the mountainous regions in the northern part of the country.  This mountainous region, located east of Kidal, covers some 250,000 sq km (96,525 sq miles).

While successful at a tactical and operational level, the French intervention has in some respects demonstrated to the insurgents that they will never be successful in open combat.  This increases the risks of scattering the insurgents into a sustained guerrilla threat where the previous warnings of kidnapping, nuisance attacks and terrorist incidents will become amplified.  This threat may emanate from Mali but will pose a risk to regional countries.

Security Updates for MENA (29 January 2013)

Posted on in MENA title_rule

ALGERIA: On Sunday, gunmen attacked and blew up a gas pipeline in northern Algeria, killing two guards and wounding seven before being driven off. The extent of damage to the pipeline is still uncertain.

The militants launched a homemade mortar shells at the Ain Chikh site in the Djebahia, 120 kilometres (75 miles) southwest of Algiers. The area is a stronghold of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) but militants rarely carry out attacks in the region.

The pipelines, which are protected by local community guards, carry gas from the Hassi R’Mel field in the Sahara desert to the Mediterranean coast for refining. Algerian army units have searched the area, but there have been no arrests. The incident comes two weeks after Islamist militants attempted to seize control of the Ain Amenas gas complex. The attack left 37 hostages dead. Following the gas complex siege, Algerian military was still searching for attackers who had gone missing during the raid.

Between 2011 and 2012, pipelines in Egypt were blown up more than 15 times by Islamic militants in protest of Egyptian oil being delivered to Israel. Oil and gas reserves are the backbone of Algeria’s economy, supplying large amounts of natural gas to Europe. It is likely that the attack was a display of aggression toward Algeria’s support of French intervention in Mali.


No restrictions in this travel advice

Avoid all but essential travel to part(s) of country

Avoid all but essential travel to whole country

Avoid all travel to part(s) of country

Avoid all travel to whole country

The UK Foreign and Common Wealth office (FCO) has not changed travel advice for Algeria following the pipeline explosion. The FCO advises against all but essential travel to areas within 450km of the Mali and Niger borders and within 100km of the Mauritania border, and all but essential travel to areas within 100km of the Libya and Tunisia borders, south of Tebessa.

LIBYA:  The British embassy in Tripoli has become aware of reports of a potential threat against it. The threats come days after “specific and imminent threats” picked up by MI6, urging British nationals to leave the eastern city of Benghazi due to a “specific and imminent threat” against Westerners, and a day after a similar threat to British nationals in northern Somalia.

An embassy spokesperson said, “We are aware of reports of a potential threat against the British embassy in Tripoli and we are liaising closely with the Libyan government.”

“There is no change to our travel advice, we still recommend against all but essential travel to Tripoli.”

Libyan officials said they were not aware of such reports. Deputy Interior Minister Omar Al- Khadrawi stated, “The British embassy has not informed us of any threats towards it and there has been no coordination between us.”

Last week’s call for many Western and European nationals to leave Benghazi frustrated Libyans, who are eager to increase foreign investment to rebuild infrastructure.


LIBYA- EGYPT: The Libyan government has issued a ban on foreigners crossing the Egyptian-Libyan border at Musaid to enter the country. The ban does not apply to Egyptians. Interior Ministry’s spokesman, Magdi Al-Arafi, said that foreigners would have to enter the country from Egypt by air. The border restrictions are due to constant and highly-organised trafficking of drugs and weapons, as well as humans. Six months ago, border forces went on strike in protest against the intimidation and violence from smugglers.

LIBYA-TUNISIA: The Ras Jadir border was reopened Sunday after the two countries reached an agreement on safety control and trade measures. Ras Jadir is a main border crossing for goods and people, and has been closed several times, impacting the movement of freights in both directions, and affecting  border residents who earn their living from trans-border trade.

VISA REQUIREMENT CHANGES: Today, Libyan authorities have announced that all foreign visitors to the country must have a visa. Previously travellers from countries such as Tunisia, Turkey and Jordan were not required to have it. In addition, companies wishing to employ foreign workers need to satisfy the Libyan Interior Ministry.

Libya has been trying to boost security at its oil fields following the deadly attacks in Algeria and the threats on Westerners in the region.


No restrictions in this travel advice Avoid all but essential travel to part(s) of country Avoid all but essential travel to whole country Avoid all travel to part(s) of country Avoid all travel to whole country

There is no change to UK FCO travel advice. The FCO advises against all but essential travel to Tripoli, Zuwara, Az Zawiya, al Khums, Zlitan and Misrata, and the coastal towns from Ras Lanuf to the Egyptian Border, with the exception of Benghazi. The FCO also advises against all travel to all other areas of Libya, including Benghazi.

EGYPT: Head of Suez Canal Authority, Vice Admiral Mohab Mamish, said that the navigation movement in the Suez Canal is normal and is fully secured, and Canal leadership is determined to keep the Canal fully protected. The Canal waterway is secured by the naval force, the second and third field armies, border guard and the Ministry of Interior. Security measures have been tightened due to tensions in Suez and Port Said.

Protests in Egypt came to a head as the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution coincided with death sentences handed down to 21 football fans involved in deadly riots in Port Said in 2012. President Muhammed Morsi declared emergency law in Suez, Port Said, and Ismalia, but residents ignored the night time curfew and took to the streets, saying they no longer recognize Morsi’s authority. In other Cairo and Alexandria, protesters marched in opposition to Morsi’s authority. In Cairo, protestors captured and set an armoured police vehicle ablaze in Tahrir Square.

Egypt’s Defence Minister, General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, warned that the current crisis could lead to a collapse of the state and threaten future generations. Al-Sisi fears that the economic, political and social challenges facing Egypt represented “a real threat to the security of Egypt and the cohesiveness of the Egyptian state”.

On Monday, The Egyptian cabinet ratified law which allows the president, at-will, to “empower the armed forces to make civilian arrests in safeguarding state institutions and restoring security.” The law would apply until after the next legislative elections. The move will likely anger protesters further as Morsi’s actions are increasingly reminiscent of the Mubarak regime.



No restrictions in this travel advice Avoid all but essential travel to part(s) of country Avoid all but essential travel to whole country Avoid all travel to part(s) of country Avoid all travel to whole country

The FCO advises against all travel to North Sinai, and all but essential travel to South Sinai, with the exception of the Red Sea Resorts in Sharm el Sheikh, Taba, Nuweiba and Dahab, and road travel and transfers between the resorts and the airports of Taba and Sharm el Sheikh. The FCO warns that demonstrations happen regularly across Egypt, often on Fridays. Some have been violent and resulted in deaths, and police may use tear gas for crowd control. In addition, disturbances in Cairo, Port Said, Suez, Ismalia and Alexandria have been violent. A state of emergency is in force in Port Said, Suez and Ismalia; the curfew is from 21:00 to 06:00, and is expected to remain in place until 26 February 2013.

IRAN: Iranian authorities have arrested fourteen journalists in the past two days, citing links to “anti-revolutionary” media. The coordinated crackdown comes ahead of the June presidential elections. Iran’s clerical leadership is making strides to avoid a repeat of the protests which occurred in 2009.

Journalists working for reformist newspapers Arman, Bahar, Etemaad, Shargh, and the Aseman weekly – and Iran’s ILNA labour news agency – were arrested on Sunday for cooperating with Persian-language “foreign media”. Last week, Iran’s judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei warned, “Based on information I have from reliable sources, unfortunately a number of journalists, as well as writing for the nation’s newspapers, work hand-in-hand with Westerners and anti-revolutionaries.”Iran is one of the world’s worst jailers of members of the press, along with Turkey and China, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. A CPJ tally in December 2012 said there were 45 journalists behind bars in Iran.

Meanwhile, On Thursday, Iranian Ambassador Hassan Danaie-Far insisted that Tehran retained the right to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which a third of the world’s traded oil passes, in response to any aggression, military or otherwise, by the United States. The statement came in response to continued pressure by the US over Iran’s nuclear program.

Danaie-Far stated, “The only remaining card on the table is war. Is it to their benefit? Is it to the benefit of the world? Is it to the benefit of the region?”

Washington has warned Tehran that any attempt to close the strait would be viewed as a “red line” and grounds for United States military action.


No restrictions in this travel advice Avoid all but essential travel to part(s) of country Avoid all but essential travel to whole country Avoid all travel to part(s) of country Avoid all travel to whole country

The UK FCO has retained the same advice since November 2012 against all travel to Iran. British nationals have been arbitrarily detained in Iran in 2010 and 2011. The FCO believes that the risk of this occurring again following the imposition of further EU sanctions on Iran, is significant.

Update on Egypt (29 January 2013)

Posted on in Egypt title_rule

SUEZ REGION:  Egyptian President Muhamed Morsi has declared a 30-day emergency curfew in the cities of Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez, following riots that left dozens dead and hundreds injured.  Protesters poured into the streets to reject both Morsi and his state of emergency.

Violence erupted in Port Said on Saturday following a partial verdict in a trial accusing 73 people of murder and related charges stemming from a 2012 football massacre between Al Ahly and Al Masry football fans. The mêlée resulted in the deaths of more than 70 Al Ahly fans and left over a thousand wounded. The court issued a death sentence for 21defendants. Verdicts on the remaining defendants, including nine accused police officers, have been postponed to 9 March.

Al Ahly fans in Cairo celebrated the decision, but in Port Said, the defendants’ enraged families attempted to storm the prison facility where defendants are held. As tension escalated, the nature of the unrest shifted to dissatisfaction with Egypt’s current leadership. Since Thursday, over 50 people have been killed in demonstrations around the country. Further protests have been called for the week ahead.

In Ismaila, police fired teargas at protesters attacking a police station with petrol bombs and stones. In Suez, the governorate building and four police stations were attacked by angry mobs in protests on the second anniversary of the January 25 Revolution. Nineteen prisoners fled Suez police stations; 18 weapons were stolen. Security forces closed roads in and out of Port Said; army units have taken control of the main Suez Canal administration building, provincial government buildings, power and water facilities, and banks and courts in Port Said.


On Sunday, the Greek embassy in Cairo reported that a Greek ship had been attacked by a group of armed protestors. The embassy stated that “no losses were reported and the ship proceeded with its navigation route shortly afterward.” The Greek embassy also concluded that Egyptian officials fully cooperated with their counterparts, taking all necessary measures to protect the vessel.

The head of the Third Field Army reported that the Suez Canal’s navigational office is fully functional and that it is monitoring international maritime traffic.

NILE VALLEY: Fighting between anti-government protesters and security forces in Cairo continue in clashes over what demonstrators call a power grab by Islamists, two years after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. More than 50 people have been killed in the unrest.

In Alexandria, several thousand protesters blocked one side of the corniche road in the Sidi Gaber district in Alexandria to commemorate the second anniversary of the “Friday of Anger”, January 28 2011. Protesters also cut off roads near to Al-Raml train station, in downtown Alexandria, as well as the Azaretah district.

Tensions escalated following the passage of a new and controversial Egyptian constitution, and Morsi’s ill-fated attempt to give himself sweeping powers until its ratification. In addition, fears regarding media persecution have risen. While international media outlets have not been affected by the protests, under the new constitution, the jailing of journalists is not explicitly banned, and newspapers can be shut down or confiscated following a legal ruling. The wording is vague and easily manipulated.

Finally, Morsi’s declaration of emergency law is reminiscent of the Mubarak regime, which kept Egypt under emergency law during his entire 30 year rule. His police used the provisions to muzzle dissent and round up opponents, including members of the Brotherhood and Morsi himself. These laws raise fears of abuse and fuel deep-rooted anger.

The protests expose a deep rift in Egyptian politics. Morsi’s opponents accuse him of failing to deliver on economic promises or living up to pledges to represent all Egyptians. Backers say the opposition desires to topple Egypt’s first freely elected leader by undemocratic means.

In a televised address, Morsi warned that he would not hesitate to take action to stem the violence, and invited the nation’s political forces for talks to resolve the nation’s crisis.

Police have closed all the main roads and highways near Tahrir Square. Vehicles are not allowed to stop or wait near the square. The U.S. and British Embassies have closed offices and suspended public services.


Despite the protests and a sluggish economy, Arab banks see the crises in Egypt as an opportunity to invest in Egypt’s largest financial institutions. NBD, the UAE’s biggest bank, will buy France’s BNP Paribas operations in Egypt, the bank confirmed. The deal is scheduled to be finalized by the end of the first quarter in 2013.

Expert Ahmed Adam states, “Even with all the troubles clouding the current financial environment, Egypt is a significant economy in the Middle East, with huge potential.” Egypt’s banking sector came second among the highest profitable sectors on the Egypt stock market last year, and still appears to be a promising market.

Egyptian tourism is also on the rise, up 17% from 2012, but not yet at pre- revolution levels. Investor confidence is poised on next month’s parliamentary elections and a possible loan from the IMF. The ongoing power struggle is likely to keep tourists and investors on standby until the political and security risks are resolved.                                    


Despite the protests in parts of Egypt, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has updated, but not changed travel advice. The FCO warns that demonstrations happen regularly across Egypt, often on Fridays. Some have been violent and resulted in deaths, and police may use tear gas for crowd control. In addition, disturbances in Cairo, Port Said, Suez, Ismalia and Alexandria have been violent. A state of emergency is in force in Port Said, Suez and Ismalia; the curfew is from 21:00 to 06:00, and is expected to remain in place until 26 February 2013.

Security Situation in Mali (28 January 2013)

Posted on in Mali, Region Specific Guidance title_rule

Over the past 48 hours, French-led troops in Mali have managed to take over the key town of Gao and the airport of Timbuktu from Islamist rebels.  By Monday afternoon, French and Malian military sources confirmed that the troops had entered the historic city of Timbuktu, encountering minimal resistance from the militants.  However it must be noted that while the towns of Gao and Timbuktu are currently under the control of French troops, travel to these areas continues to be unadvisable as the security situation may change at any moment.  There continues to be a high level of terrorism and threat of kidnapping.  As such, MS Risk advises against all travel to the region.

The advance into Timbuktu, which lies 1,000 km (600 miles) north of the capital city of Bamako, comes just one day after French and Malian soldiers seized control of another Islamist stronghold, the eastern town of Gao.  French and Malian troops, along with soldiers from Chad and Niger, regained control of Gao on Saturday.

By Sunday, French paratroopers had swooped in to attempt to block the fleeing militants while on the ground troops, coming in from the south, seized the ancient city’s airport, which up until now had been one of the strongholds of the militant groups who have controlled the northern region of the country for the past ten months.  Colonel Thierry Burkhard, a French army spokesman, confirmed that in less than 48 hours, the troops, backed by helicopters, had seized control of the Niger Loop, which is the area located alongside the curve of the Niger River that flows between Gao and Timbuktu.  On the ground sources have also confirmed that the ground force units and paratroopers were dispatched to surround the city of Timbuktu in an attempt to cautiously enter the city.

On Monday afternoon, the French military confirmed that the troops had moved into Timbuktu after blocking all the roads surrounding the city.  It was also confirmed that “substantial airpower” had been used in order to support the 1,000 French and 200 Malian forces in their offensive against the rebels in Timbuktu.  A Malian army colonel has indicated that “the Malian army and the French army are in complete control of the city of Timbuktu.”   However reports have already emerged that while the town remains to be under the control of the allies, a severe amount of damage was caused to some of the historic sites located throughout this ancient town.  Mali’s culture ministry has confirmed that prior to escaping the town, the militants burnt the Ahmed Baba Centre for Documentation and Research, which housed between 60,000 and 100,000 manuscripts from Greece and the ancient Muslim world.  Reports have also indicated that Islamists have been fleeing from Timbuktu towards the city of Kidal, which is located more than 500km (300 miles) to the northeast.

Gao is the largest of the six towns which have been seized by French and Malian troops since France launched its military intervention on 11 January.  The largest town yet to be recaptured is Kidal, which is located close to the Algerian border.  It was also the first town that was seized by an alliance of Tuareg rebels and Islamist extremists last year.

It is currently believed that once Timbuktu is secured, French-led troops will focus on retaking Kidal.  Preparations for this final takeover have already been launched as Malian officials have confirmed that Kidal, which is the home of the head of Ansar Dine, was bombed overnight by French forces.  Once Kidal is taken, the first phase of the French operation will be over, while the second phase, which will strictly focus on tracking down the militants in their desert hideouts, will commence.  This phase, however, will likely prove to be a more complex task then the first as, according to French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, the militants have adopted a “strategy of evasion and some of them could return in the north.”

On Sunday, France also confirmed that it has now deployed 2,900 troops to Mali, with another 1,000 troops supporting the operation elsewhere, and that there currently are 2,700 African soldiers on the ground in Mali and in Niger.  However French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has appealed for more aid for the ongoing efforts in Mali.