UNHRC: Polisario camps becoming a recruiting ground for terrorists and traffickers
A report released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has found that refugee camps run by the separatist Polisario Front near Tindouf, Algeria, may have become a recruiting ground for terrorists and traffickers in North Africa.
Reports spanning back to 2009 show Polisario involvement in drugs and arms trafficking throughout the Sahel and Sahara; armed incursions in Mali; mercenary work under Gadhafi in Libya; and kidnappings and collaboration with AQIM. According to reports, the Polisario camps in Algeria have become a recruiting ground for AQIM, a hub for Polisario traffickers, and a threat to the region. Analysts are concerned about an “arc of instability” stretching across Africa, linking militants from AQIM, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, and the Polisario. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently warned, “inaction could be catastrophic.”
Since 1990, international support for the camps has exceeded $1 billion. The UNHRC report recommends that support for the camps be used for durable solutions to resettle refugees, remove security threats, and improve humanitarian conditions.
Leaked report reveals Bahraini bid to replenish tear gas
A leaked report has revealed that in June, Bahrain’s interior ministry tendered bids for the provision of 1.6 million tear gas projectiles, 90,000 tear gas grenades and 145,000 stun grenades. The bid would replace nearly all of Bahrain’s projectiles used since 2011. The document does not reveal how much money Bahrain is prepared to spend on replenishing its supplies.
Bahraini forces have used tear gas extensively since 2011, as the minority Sunni government struggles faces daily low-level confrontations from a predominantly Shia population. Tear gas is among the most commonly-used methods to disperse protesters. In 2012, the US barred exports of tear gas to Bahrain, citing human rights concerns. Activists claim South Korean companies may be preparing to meet Bahrain’s tear gas requirements. The rise in global activism has spurred sales for non-lethal weapons as governments shift spending from counter terrorism to counter-activist policies.
Bombings in Suez, Sinai; police sent to trial
Two people were killed, and five wounded, when militants set off four roadside bombs targeting a security convoy in the Sinai Peninsula on 22 October. The convoy was travelling from Rafah, on the Gaza border, towards El Arish. The militants then exchanged fire with the security forces and fled. No one has yet claimed responsibility. The same day, militant group Ansar Beit Al Maqdis claimed responsibility for a car bombing on 19 October in Ismailiya that wounded six.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s public prosecutor has sent policemen to trial on charges of manslaughter over the deaths of 37 Islamist prisoners that were tear-gassed in a transport truck in August. The trials will be the first of policemen accused of killings in a massive crackdown of pro-Muslim Brotherhood supporters since army’s July 3 removal of president Mohamed Morsi.
Sectarian violence continues
At least 17 people were killed and 20 wounded in bombings and shootings on 22 October, when Iraqi forces clashed with an Al Qaeda militant hideout in the Himreen Mountains. The clashes resulted in the killing of four militants and the capture of seven others, all of whom were wanted for terrorism charges. A helicopter pilot was also wounded by the gunmen during the operation.
Earlier in the day, a suicide bomber blew up an explosive-laden car at the entrance of the home of Waqass Adnan, mayor of the city of Aana, some 250 km west of Baghdad. The blast was followed by a coordinated attack on the guards of the house, in an attempt to break in. In the process, four policemen and the brother of the mayor were killed, and four policemen were wounded. The mayor himself unharmed.
Meanwhile, in separate incidents, another suicide bomber rammed his explosive-packed car into the entrance of Aana police station and blew it up, killing two policemen and wounding three others. Gunmen fired mortars at a police station in Rawa city, west of Baghdad, killing a policeman and wounding seven others; a farmer was killed and his relative wounded when gunmen fired at them near a bridge northeast of Baquba, and a worker in a Sunni mosque was wounded by gunmen who fired at him in front of his house, about 20 km northeast of Baquba.
Sectarian tension between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Diyala province has increased, resulting in violence and reprisal killings. Sunnis and Shiites accuse each other of supporting extremists and militiamen. Across the nation Iraq is witnessing its worst escalation of violence in recent years, causing analysts to fear that the country is returning to the civil conflict that peaked in 2006 and 2007, when monthly death toll sometimes exceeded 3,000.
Missiles from Syria Target Eastern Lebanon City
On 21 October, four rockets launched from Syria hit Hermel. The source was unable to confirm casualties. Hermel and other border areas of Lebanon have suffered frequent attacks since Syria’s uprising escalated into a civil war, sometimes impacting neighbouring Lebanon.
The eastern Lebanese city is a Hezbollah stronghold. Hezbollah, which supports the Syrian government led by Bashar al Assad, has been openly involved in Syria’s war, sending fighters to support the loyalist army on the battlefield.
Lebanon had been dominated politically and militarily by Syria for 30 years, until 2005. The country is heavily divided on pro and anti Assad lines. As a result, the war in Syria has served to escalate Lebanon’s sectarian and political divisions.
Disabled veterans break into Libyan parliament building
On October 22, several disabled former rebels from the Libyan War broke into the parliament building and vandalised parts of the building. The event occurred on the day before the second anniversary of the rebel victory over Gadhafi forces, days after the dictator was killed in Sirte.
The protesters came from the town of Ajdabiya, between Tripoli and eastern Libya. The city was a major battleground in the 2011 war.
An MP stated, “They got into the Congress chamber and smashed some fittings.” The chamber was empty at the time but the act was decried as a “new assault on a state institution.” The vandalism is the latest in a series of security breaches at the General National Congress building.
In an effort to increase security and gain acceptance from rebel groups, the government has given some militia units varying degrees of official recognition. However, their control over the units is minimal. Analysts are concerned about the interim government’s ability to assert its control over militias and security throughout the country. Former rebels units, some sympathetic to Al-Qaeda, have refused to surrender their arms.
Saudi Arabia announces “major shift” in relationship with United States
On 22 October, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that the kingdom will make a “major shift” in its relations with the United States.
The prince criticised actions and inactions taken by the United States, including failing to act effectively on the Syria crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; growing closer to the government in Tehran; and failing to back Saudi support for the Bahraini government when it crushed an anti-government revolt during the 2011 uprising. As a result, Prince Bandar has stated that he plans to limit interaction with the US, reportedly adding that there would be no further coordination with the United States over the fighting in Syria.
The report is consistent with Saudi Arabia’s reasons for refusal of a seat on the UN Security Council as a rotating member. Though they have not openly broken ties with the US, Saudi leaders have been quietly critical of several recent US actions in the Middle East.
Prince Bandar’s announcement marks a serious setback to the relationship between the two nations; it spotlights that Saudi and US interests are not aligned on several top issues driving instability in the Middle East. In particular, the Saudi’s point to the US shift toward a containment strategy regarding Iran’s nuclear program, and the US goal of driving Assad out while leaving a Baathist government in Damascus. The Saudi’s have vocally stated that both Assad and his government should be replaced. The US treats Syrian issues as separate from Iranian nuclear issues. The Saudis perceive them as inseparable. The differences in these world views are deep, and unlikely to be overcome easily. The change in stance could result in a strong shift in relations between the Middle East and the West.
Snipers targeting heavily pregnant women
Snipers are playing a “targeting game,” and heavily pregnant women are on the target list. David Nott, a British surgeon who volunteers with charity Syria Relief, says that up to 90% of the surgeries he performs daily are for sniper wounds. In the case of pregnant women, “Most of the children removed were seven, eight, nine month’s gestation, which meant it was fairly obvious to anybody that these women were pregnant.” He added that young children are also being targeted, and on some days, the wounds were “suspiciously similar”, with several victims coming in with shots to the same part of the body on the same day. The similarities suggest a game between the snipers.
Knott says he was told by other local doctors that snipers may receive little presents for people they’d shot during the day.
Mourning period announced for downed officers; Transition negotiations continue
In a televised speech on 23 October, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki announced three days of national mourning for eight officers killed by suspected militants in the central Sidi Bouzidi province. The announcement was made on the second anniversary of the country’s first free elections. Members of the National Guard were securing a building in the village of Sidi Ali Bououn after receiving a tip-off that a suspicious group was hiding there. A gun battle ensued, killing both security forces and militants.
Marzouki said the militants were retaliating for attacks on 17 October, when nine suspected militants were killed. Authorities say the militants had carried out an attack on police patrols.
The interior ministry believes that the militants belong to the Salafist Ansar al-Sharia group, who were linked to the murders of prominent left-wing figure Chokri Belaid in February and opposition politician Mohammed Brahmi in July.
Their deaths triggered mass protests against the government, and crippled progress between the ruling party and its opposition. While Ennahda condemned the killings, the opposition accused the leading party of failing to rein in radical Islamists.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Ali Larayedh addressed the nation to confirm that the government would resign after talks with the opposition on appointing a caretaker administration were complete. Larayedh stated that Ennahda, the current ruling party in Tunisia, is committed to the “principle of relinquishing power in line with the different phases envisaged in the roadmap”.
Larayedh’s speech came following anti-government protests in Tunis, who demanded that the Islamist-led ruling coalition government leave immediately. Ennahda has been accused of stalling talks in order to maintain power in the government. Both Ennahda and the opposition have set a three weeks deadline to appoint the interim cabinet, and a one month deadline to adopt a new constitution, electoral laws and set an election date.
One month after Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants stormed Kenya’s Westgate shopping centre, killing sixty-seven people during a four-day siege, the threat from the militant group, and local sympathizers, remains high as officials in Somalia and in the African Union (AU) look towards increasing troop numbers in a bid to completely destroy a group which has transformed itself into a regional threat.
Posters reading “if you haven’t learnt the lesson Westgate, more is coming,” which were posted up last week during rallies held in the southern Somali port of Barawe, an al-Shabaab stronghold, confirm what is already going on throughout the country. Over the past number of months, al-Shabaab has significantly increased its attacks, both within Somalia and near the border regions with Kenya and Ethiopia, both countries which have deployed troops to Somalia in order to combat the militant group. While these attacks will not stop any time soon, recent remarks made by commanders within the group have indicated that al-Shabaab may increasingly place pressure on those states that have deployed troops in Somalia in a bid to force their withdrawal.
While over the past two years, AMISOM forces throughout Somalia have dislodged al-Shabaab from a number of its strongholds, including from the capital city of Mogadishu and the surrounding regions, as well as from the southern port city of Kismayo, the militant group has continued to carry out assassinations of politicians and journalists along with a number of suicide bombings that have targeted troops and security officials. While most of the groups‘ previous attacks have typically been small in scale, al-Shabaab has carried out large scale attacks in Somalia and in the region, such as the June 2013 attack on a UN compound in Mogadishu or the 2010 bombings in Kampala which killed seventy-six people. However this more recent attack on the Nairobi mall has demonstrated a significant and worrying step up in al-Shabaab’s operations, with the group now seemingly increasingly concentrating on attacks that require longer periods of planning and surveillance. Uganda’s announcement last week that it had increased its security level in the capital city of Kampala, after officials from the US Embassy indicated that they had credible information of a possible terror attack linked to al-Shabaab, also signified that the terrorist group may now increasingly focus on targeting regional interests, especially in those countries which have deployed troops to battle the militant group in Somalia. This recent move may also signify that al-Shabaab is turning its focus from Somalia’s internal politics to a more global agenda, similar to al-Qaeda, which the group is aligned with.
The battle to defeat al-Shabaab will now likely have to concentrate not only within Somalia, but also throughout the wider region, including in the countries that have deployed their armies in Somalia, such as Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. While the AU force in Somalia has requested that its size be increased by a quarter, which will amount to 23,000 troops, preventing al-Shabaab from attaining territorial gains within Somalia will not eliminate the group entirely. A UN report recently indicated that “al-Shabaab continues to pose a regional and international threat through its affiliates,” noting that as AU troops have seized more territory throughout Somalia, there has been an “increasing exodus” of foreign fighters, some of whom left “with the intention of supporting jihad in the region.” Last week’s announcement that a Norwegian citizen of Somali origin, 23-year-old Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, was suspected of being one of the attackers in the Westgate incident confirmed what United Nations experts have already noted. That dozens, if not hundreds, of young men from countries across the Horn of Africa travel to Somalia in order to train with al-Shabaab militants. In turn, it remains unknown whether the Westgate attackers were sent specifically from Somalia, or whether they were a “homegrown” team recruited within Kenya. Consequently increasingly focusing on fighters coming from Western or Arab nations, along with local sympathizers and groups aligned with al-Shabaab across eastern Africa, will be a necessary step in fighting the militant group.
Libyan Man Accused of Links to al-Qaeda Appears in Public for First Time Since Being Captured Ten Days AgoOctober 18, 2013 in Uncategorized
Ten days after being seized during a US raid in Tripoli, Abu Anas al-Libi, the alleged architect of al-Qaeda’s bombing of two US embassies in 1998, plead not guilty in a New York courtroom. If convicted, he faces a sentence of up to life in prison.
Appearing in public for the first time since being captured by US forces in Libya earlier this month, Abu Anas al-Libi, whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, appeared in a federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday. After spending a week aboard a US Navy ship in the Mediterranean, Mr. Al-Libi, 49, appeared exhausted and frail. Speaking Arabic through a translator, he asked to be addressed by his real name and confirmed that he understood that he had been accused of planning the August 1998 attacks. After denying a series of terrorism charges, that date back twenty years, Mr. Al-Libi entered a not guilty plea through his lawyer. Presiding Judge Lewis Kaplan has adjourned the hearing until 22 October, noting that the suspect must be kept in detention as a flight risk.
In the weeks since the 5 October mission, which simultaneously saw US Commandos attempt to track down a top al-Shabaab commander in Somalia, anger has been rising in Libya over the raid, with many viewing it as a breach of Libyan sovereignty. Although US Secretary of State John Kerry has defended the capture of Mr. Al-Libi, calling him a “legal and appropriate target,” the Libyan government has demanded a full explanation of the raid from the officials in the US. This resulted in Libya’s justice minister summoning the US ambassador to the country for questioning last week. In turn, Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has also voiced his concerns, noting that his country was “keen on prosecuting any Libyan citizen inside Libya.” Shortly after being captured, Mr. Al-Libi was taken to a US navy vessel in the Mediterranean. According to reports, Mr. Al-Libi was interrogated by intelligence officials on board the USS San Antonio for a period of a week after his capture. Court details have also indicated that Mr. Al-Libi was not formally arrested until a week after being seized. This has prompted critics in the US to accuse President Barack Obama of continuing controversial detention policies that had been introduced by former President George W. Bush.
Mr. Al-Libi was wanted in connection to the 7 August 1998 bombing of a US embassy in Nairobi and of America’s diplomatic mission in Dar es Salaam. The attacks were carried out when trucks laden with explosives detonated almost simultaneously. More than 200 people died in the Kenyan capital, with at least 11 dead in Dar es Salaam. Thousands others were injured in the bombings. The majority of the victims were civilians.
For the past decade, Mr. al-Libi has been on the FBI’s most wanted list, with a US $5 million (£3.1 million) bounty on his head. He was formally charged with conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim Americans, to damage and destroy US buildings and property, and to attack US national defence facilities. The charges against him also include discussing a possible al-Qaeda attack against the US embassy in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in retaliation for the American military intervention in Somalia. In a 157-page indictment, prosecutors allege that from 1993, he carried out surveillance on the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, where he took photographs that were later inspected by Osama bin Laden. The former computer programmer is also alleged to have “reviewed files” concerning possible attacks on Western interests in East Africa.
The second US command raid on 5 October was carried out in southern Somalia however that mission failed to capture its target – Abdukadir Mohamed Abudkadir, a Kenyan al-Shabaab commander who is also known as Ikrima. That raid came in the wake of the attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi, which left at least 67 people dead, and which was claimed by al-Shabaab militants.
Officials in France, the United States and the United Kingdom, along with the United Nations Secretary-General, have condemned the abduction of Libya’s Prime Minister. Shortly after his release, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan accused a “political party” of organizing his brief abduction, which was carried out by armed gunmen during the early morning hours on Thursday. The latest incident to stun Libya has further reflected the weakness of the country’s government.
During the early morning hours on Thursday, Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted from a luxury hotel, the Corinthia, in downtown Tripoli and held for several hours by armed militiamen. Photographs depicted Mr. Zeidan being surrounded by more than 100 armed men and being led away. There were no reports of violence during his capture. Sources have indicated that the Prime Minister was abducted with two of his guards, who were beaten and later released. Shortly after his abduction, an employee of the hotel where Mr. Zeidan was living in indicated that a “large number of armed men” had entered the building. Although a statement later released by the Libyan government indicated that Mr. Zeidan had been taken “to an unknown destination for unknown reasons by a group” of men believed to be former rebels, eye witness accounts reported that the Prime Minister was held at a police station south of the capital and that his captors had decided to release him after armed residents surrounded the building and demanded that he be released.
Shortly after his release later on Thursday, Mr. Zeidan met with his minister and members of the General National Congress (GNC), which is Libya’s highest political authority. The Prime Minister appeared to be in good health as he arrived at government headquarters later on Thursday. He was seen waving to waiting well-wishers as he climbed out of an armored car. Reports have indicated that the Prime Minister has accused a “political party” of organizing his brief abduction. In comments that were later broadcast by state television as he left a cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister indicated that “it’s a political party which wants to overthrow the government by any means,” adding that “in the coming days, I will give more information on who this political party is that organized by kidnapping.” While the Prime Minister has praised the armed groups that came to rescue him, he has called for calm, stating that “…this problem will be resolved with reason and wisdom” and without any “escalation.” His comments reflect a need for ease as tensions have been rising in Libya ever since US commandos carried out a secretive military operation over the past weekend.
While the motive of the abduction remains unclear, some officials have indicated that it appeared to be in retaliation for the US special forces raid that seized a Libyan al-Qaeda suspect off the streets of Tripoli. Some militias throughout the country have been angered by last Saturday’s US commando raid to capture Anas al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda suspect, who has since been taken away to a warship in the mediterranean where US officials are questioning him about his supposed links to al-Qaeda. In turn, the abduction of Mr. Zeidan has aptly demonstrated the weakness of Libya’s government, which has had difficulties inserting its control amongst a number of powerful militias. Militants were angered by the US capture of the suspected militant and have accused the government of either colluding in, or allowing the raid to occur. Furthermore, confusion pertaining to the Prime Minister’s kidnapping was increased after varying reports indicated that he had been arrested. In the absence of an affective police force or military in Libya, many of the militias in the country are under the pay of either the defence or interior ministries however their allegiance and who really controls them is in doubt.
Meanwhile international officials have condemned the kidnapping of Libya’s Prime Minster. The United States has denounced the kidnapping, with US Secretary of State John Kerry calling the act “thuggery.” The Secretary of State also noted that “today’s events only underscore the need to work with Prime Minister Zeidan and with all of Libya’s friends and allies to help bolster its capacity with greater speed and greater success,” adding that there could be “no place for this kind of violence in the new Libya.” A statement released by the UN on behalf of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged all Libyans to respect the rule of law, noting that “the secretary-general calls on all Libyan parties and the Libyan people to form consensus around national priorities and work towards building a strong, stable country, respectful of the rule of law and the protection of human rights.” officials in France and the UK also pledged swift support for Mr. Zeidan. French President Francois Hollande stated that he stood ready to strengthen ties with Libya in order to tackle the militants. Meanwhile a spokesman for David Cameron indicated that the UK’s prime Minister had spoken to a “calm and measured” Ali Zeidan after his release and had promised to help build a “stable, free, peaceful and prosperous” Libya.
Reports have indicated that Islamist militants blew up a bridge on Tuesday, leaving two civilians wounded, just one day after they shelled the northern town of Gao. The sharp rise in attacks over the past few days largely stems from the Tuareg separatists’ decision to withdraw from the peace process.
According to Ibrahim Cisse, a local councillor for the Gao region, “early this Tuesday, Islamists dynamited one of two small bridges…near Bentia, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the border with Niger, leaving two civilians wounded. The local councillor further added that the assailants, who were “wearing turbans,” had arrived by motorbike at the bridge that crosses the Niger River at Bentia and proceeded to destroy it. According to a police source in Gao, “in this place, there are two small bridges. The aim of the Islamists was to blow up both bridges, but fortunately, only the old one was badly damaged,” adding that “the new bridge, which is the most frequently used, sustained only very light damage.” On the ground sources have reported that Malian soldiers were sent to the area, along with French troops who were deployed in the northern desert region, in order “to avoid other acts of sabotage” by armed extremists.
The two bridges in Bentia were attacked just one day after armed militant fired shells on the northern Malian city of Gao, the first attack on the insurgents’ former stronghold in months. Suspected Islamist militants targeted the city with artillery fire on Monday, wounding one Malian soldier. Although the attack was similar to the guerrilla-warfare that was used by the insurgents in the months following the January offensive, until Monday’s violence, the area had not seen an attack since May. The attack was confirmed by residents and Idrissa Cisse, a municipal official in Gao, who stated that “this morning from around 06:30 (0630 GMT) a series of four explosions hit the town. One Malian soldier was wounded and a house was damaged.” By mid-morning, French helicopters were patrolling the skies, with local residents stating that calm had been restored in the city. A spokesman for an al-Qaeda splinter group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), indicated that the group had claimed responsibility for the attack on Gao, warning that further such operations would be carried out.
The attacks on Bentia and Gao also come a week after a suicide bomb attack in Timbuktu killed two civilians and four bombers, and left seven Malian soldiers wounded. According to eye witness accounts, the suicide bombers detonated their vehicle near the Malian army camp in Timbuktu, killing both the themselves and two civilians. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which was founded in Algeria and which operates across the Sahel region south of the Sahara. The suicide car bomb attack was the first to occur since Mali’s presidential election. The attack also came a few days after Tuareg separatists pulled out of a ceasefire agreement and peace process with the new Malian government.
In the wake of rising tensions in the north of Mali, Mali’s Defence Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga has stated that he wants to “reassure the population that in coordination with our partners in Serval (the French military operation) and MINUSMA (the UN’s African military force in Mali), our deployment has been strengthened.” He also urged the population “to remain calm and above all to share information with personnel of the armed forces and security forces in order to help them track down the enemy in all its forms.” The recent rise in tensions also force Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to cut his visit to France short where he was holding talks with his French counterpart on the current security status of his country. During a meeting that was held last week, the Presidents of France and Mali warned that a “terrorist” resurgence in the Sahel region might be possible after new fighting between the insurgents and military had occurred in recent days. In a joint statement released by Hollande’s office shortly after the talks, the two leaders stated that “the Franco-African intervention put an end to the terrorist threat, but it could try to rebuild…we must remain vigilant.”