In a rare show of unity, Mali’s main political parties have welcomed the interim government’s announcement of the 28 July 2013 presidential elections. Meanwhile in neighbouring Niger, French nuclear group Areva has indicated that operations at its uranium mine will continue as usual despite last week’s terrorist attacks. While France’s top diplomat has urged neighbouring countries to find a solution to deal with the growing terrorist threat that is emerging from southern Libya.
The country’s interim cabinet official confirmed for the first time the date of the polls, which are seen as essential in restoring democracy after the country suffered a coup last year, which effectively paved the way for Islamist rebels to seize control of the northern region. Amadou Dire, a member of acting President Dioncounda Traore’s Alliance for Democracy in Mali has stated that “we need a short transition, we need an elected president to deal with the challenges and it was a good thing to make public the date of the presidential election.” The National Congress for Democratic Initiative, which was neutral in the coup but which had originally argued for a later vote, has come out in support of the decision to go ahead with the elections in July. A number of officials have indicated that the unity amongst the disparate parties over the date of the elections could be explained by the fact that there is a broad consensus that moving away from the transitional government is an urgent issue. President Traore was appointed interim president of Mali following the coup which occurred on 22 March 2012 and which precipitated the fall of northern Mali to the Tuareg separatists and armed Islamists. However the Tuareg rebels were soon overpowered by the Islamist militants, who imposed an extreme form of Sharia law throughout the region. Fifteen presidential hopefuls have announced their candidacy, including former prime ministers Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Modibo Sidibe. A number of other prominent political officials have also declared their candidacies. Polling booths are planned for the entire country, even the northeastern city of Kidal, which remains to be under the control of armed Tuareg separatists who have refused to consent to the presence of the Malian army and government in the region.
Meanwhile in neighbouring Niger, French nuclear group Areva has indicated that it will maintain its operations in the country despite last week’s deadly car bomb attack which occurred at its uranium mine. Areva president Luc Oursel confirmed that the company would be staying in Niger. Asked if the attack would lead to a change in Areva’s strategy in Arica, Mr. Oursel stated “no, of course not. We are obviously very sad about the death of one of our employees. We condemn this.” He further stated that “ I was in Niger, I went last week to show our determination to stay. If we leave Niger, we will do exactly what they wanted. We know our responsibility in terms of economic development, in terms of jobs.” Areva, which is the world’s second largest uranium producer, extracts more than a third of its uranium in Niger. It has operated in the country for more than forty years, operating to large mines in the northern regions of the country through two affiliated companies: Cominak and Somair. A car bomb attack that was carried out at Areva’s majority-owned uranium mine in Arlit in northern Niger last Thursday resulted in one person being killed and fourteen others injured. All of them were Nigerian nationals who were working at the facility. A second bombing was carried out that same day at an army base in Agadez, also in northern Niger. That resulted in twenty-four people being killed in addition to the eight attackers who were killed. Two Islamist groups have claimed responsibility for the attacks, calling them retaliations for Niger’s decision to deploy troops to Mali to help the French-led campaign against al-Qaeda-linked insurgents. Since the two suicide bombings, France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius has called on neighbouring countries in the region to work together in order to tackle threats from “terrorist groups.” His announcement comes just days after Niger’s President indicated that the Islamist militants were suspected of coming from southern Libya. According to President Mahamadou Issoufou, the raids in Niger had demonstrated that Libya was a source of regional instability, months after France launched an air-and-ground assault on northern Mali, which Paris warned had developed into a launchpad for attacks by al-Qaeda-linked groups. During a press conference, President Issoufou indicated that “according to the information we have, the attackers came from southern Libya.” He further indicated that “I know the Libyan authorities are trying hard. But Libya continues to be a source of instability.” Although he did not give details on who the gunmen were, Mokhtar Belmokhtar has stated that his brigade had organized the raid with the MUJAO militant group. However Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has since denied these claims. Thousands of gunmen and tons of weapons and ammunition flowed south, mainly to Mali, after the fall of Libya’s former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. A mix of Islamist and separatist rebels then seized control of the northern region of Mali before the French operation launched in January dislodged them from the towns they controlled. According to a number of officials, in recent months southern Libya has become a safe haven for jihadists who have been forced from Mali. In recent weeks, Niger has increasingly warned that Libya was the next potential safe haven for militants. This has prompted France to urge Libya and its neighbors to deal accordingly with the growing threat. According to Laurent Fabius, “it seems we must make a special effort on southern Libya, which is also what Libya wants.” France’s top diplomat further indicated that he had discussed “measures that could be taken by neighbouring countries” in liaison with Libya to deal with possible actions by “terrorist groups.” Mr. Fabius added that “this is also what the Libyan prime minister wants…we will see how we can encourage joint action with the Libyans.”
Canadian Authorities Thwart Terror plot linked to al Qaeda in Iran
24 April: Canadian authorities foiled a potential threat and took two men into custody for plotting to destroy a Toronto passenger train. Chiheb Esseghaier of Montreal, and Raed Jaser of Toronto were charged with conspiring to interfere with transport facilities on behalf of a terrorist organisation and conspiring to commit murder.
According to officials, the men’s plot allegedly had support from al Qaeda’s network inside Iran, although there appeared to be no sign of state sponsorship. Iran has denied any links with the suspects.
In court in Montréal, Esseghaier, who declined representation by a court appointed lawyer, said “The conclusions were made based on acts and words which are only appearances.” In Toronto, a lawyer for Jaser said he would “defend himself vigorously.” Jaser’s lawyer also questioned the timing of the arrests, which occurred as the Canadian parliament debates an anti-terrorism bill which could reintroduce preventative detention and investigative hearings. Neither suspect entered a plea.
The investigation began following a tip from a concerned imam in the Toronto Muslim community, who feared that some youths in the city were being corrupted by extremists. The investigation was a collaborative effort between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). RCMP Cheif Superintendent Jennifer Strachan said that the alleged attack was “definitely in the planning stage but not imminent.” A spokesperson for VIA Rail, which operates passenger rail services across Canada, said the public was never in danger.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia believes that the two suspects received “direction and guidance” from al Qaeda elements in Iran. Esseghair’s LinkedIn page briefly displayed an image of an al Qaeda’s flag which has been adopted by several AQ affiliates. The image has since been removed.
At the outset, the link between al Qaeda and Iran seems incompatible. Al Qaeda espouses a radical anti-Shia ideology that starkly contradicts the beliefs of the majority Shia Iran. However, a large number of high-ranking al-Qaeda figures live in Iran, having fled from Afghanistan in 2001 when US forces and the Northern Alliance headed towards Kabul to overthrow the Taliban government. Among those who are said to have fled to Iran are Osama Bin Laden’s son, Saad Bin Laden; and former security chief Saif al-Adel. The Iranian government never publicly acknowledged their presence, but the two were allegedly held under house arrest by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard.
According to US intelligence, Saif al-Adel’s father-in-law, Mustafa Hamid, is the link between al-Qaeda and the Iranian government. In the 1990s, Hamid “reportedly negotiated a secret relationship between Osama Bin Laden and Iran, allowing many al Qaeda members safe transit through Iran to Afghanistan.” The US believes that Hamid negotiated safe relocation to Iran for many high-ranking al-Qaeda members and their families in 2001. The AQ members and their families were restricted and watched by the Revolutionary Guard, but it is believed that some members were able to establish contacts with the al Qaeda network, raising funds and providing assistance unbeknownst to Iranian authorities. In 2009, and again in 2011, the US government added several Iran-based al Qaeda operatives to its list of global terrorists, including Mustafa Hamid, Saif al Adel, and Saad Bin Laden, who was later killed in a drone strike in Pakistan.
In February 2012, the US Treasury Department designated the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) “for its support to terrorist groups.” A press release from Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said the designation was due to MOIS support for groups including al Qaeda, al Qaeda in Iraq, Hizballah and HAMAS, believing Iran to be involved in state-sanctioned terrorism. MOIS has provided terrorist operatives with documents, identification cards, passports and “provided money and weapons to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)…and negotiated prisoner releases of AQI operatives.” In 2012, Canada also severed diplomatic ties with Iran over the nation’s support for terrorist groups, as well as its nuclear programme.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi dismissed claims of the Canadian police linking the plotters to al Qaeda in Iran. “If the news that you are announcing is true, this is the most hilarious thing I’ve heard in my 64 year [sic],” Salehi said, calling al Qaeda in Iran as “a new fake issue and a really ridiculous word.” A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry also commented, “No shred of evidence regarding those who’ve been arrested and stand accused has been provided.”
Bail hearings are yet to be set for the defendants.
Car Bomb Attack on French Embassy in Libya
23 April: A car bomb destroyed nearly half of the French Embassy in Libya, in the first significant attack on a Western target in Tripoli since the ousting of Ghadaffi in 2011. The bombing occurred at around 7 am local time, breaking windows, bursting a main water pipe, and damaging nearly two dozen buildings. Two French guards were injured, one critically, but most employees had not yet arrived.
Though no one has claimed responsibility, there are many speculations. The explosion came a day after the French Parliament voted to extend the deployment of those troops to neighbouring Mali, which has raised the anger of militants who are opposed to the intervention. Some Islamist militants also believe that Western powers are attempting to “seize the revolution” and rebuild Libya as a secular Western democracy.
French President François Hollande said in a statement that the bombing had been “aimed, by way of France, at all the countries of the international community engaged in the struggle against terrorism.” The Libyan government has vowed “to cooperate with all parties to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”
Syria, 24 April: Chechen fighters in northern Syria have released two Orthodox bishops. Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, head of the Aleppo Syriac Orthodox diocese, and Boulos Yaziji, head of the Aleppo Greek Orthodox diocese, were abducted on Monday. Ibrahim is known for mediating the release of kidnap victims, particularly in cases involving the kidnapping of Christians.
The bishops were on a mission to free two priests who had been kidnapped two months ago when they were stopped in their car by an armed group in the village of Kafr Dael, an Aleppo province near the Turkish border. The driver and another person were forced out of the vehicle, where the driver was killed by a gunshot to the head.
Syria’s religious affairs ministry issued a statement on Tuesday saying “there is evidence that those who kidnapped the bishops were Chechen mercenaries working under the leadership of Al-Nusra Front.”
The French “Oeuvre d’Orient” group said that the two victims were already at Saint Elias cathedral in Aleppo.
KUWAIT, 20 April: Two men kidnapped an Asian woman from Sulaibiya, taking her to an open ground and raping her. The suspects threw the victim out of the vehicle and fled. The woman, who was a housemaid, was abducted as she was throwing garbage into a dumpster.
23 April: Bahrain authorities revealed that they prevented possible attacks before the nation’s Formula One race last weekend. The Interior Ministry reported that a weapons cache, including 1,000 homemade firebombs, was found in a warehouse Saturday, a day before the race. Two girls were arrested for plotting to carry out an attack.
Heavy clashes occurred across Bahrain between protesters and security forces in the weeks leading up to the Formula One Grand Prix. Pro-democracy groups demanded the race be cancelled over the Bahrain’s poor human rights record and slow reforms. Bahrain’s crown prince, Prince Salman bin Hamad Isa Al Khalifa urged Bahrainis not to politicize the race.
Egypt’s Justice Minister Steps Down
21 April: Egypt’s justice minister, Ahmed Mekki, submitted his resignation on Sunday. The move indicates strong disapproval of President Mohammed Morsi’s handling of a prolonged showdown with the Egypt’s judiciary, which is the sole branch of government not dominated by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood allies. Some judges believe Morsi has taken actions to undermine their authority.
On Saturday, Morsi announced he would reshuffle the cabinet amid calls for Mekki’s dismissal from both supporters and opposition of the Morsi regime. Opposition parties believe that Mekki has sided with Morsi and his policies, and the “reshuffle” would be an opportunity to infuse the judicial branch with supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood party. Morsi’s backers believe that Mekki failed to make expedient reforms to the justice system. All parties were angered following a number of acquittals of members of the Mubarak regime, including officials charged with corruption, and nearly all policemen charged with killing protesters during the 2011 uprising.
In his resignation letter, Mekki states that his resignation came as a response to pressure from the president’s opponents and supporters. He also mentioned protests on Friday by pro-Brotherhood supporters urging a “cleansing” of the judiciary, as well as calls for a new judicial reform law.
Mubarak Still in Prison, Despite Ordered Release
20 April: An Egyptian court has ordered the release of Egypt’s ousted President Hosni Mubarak as he awaits further investigation into charges. However, Mubarak remains imprisoned on two other corruption cases. Mubarak, who has been ailing since shortly following his removal, has been in detention since 2011. He is currently in Tora prison in Cairo.
Days earlier, another court ordered Mubarak released pending his retrial in a case alleging responsibility for the deaths of nearly 900 protesters during the 2011 uprising. An appeals court in January threw out a life sentence against him.
Many Egyptians see the release of Mubarak as evidence that supporters of his regime remain in office, and the aims of the 2011 uprising were not met. Many of those who believe Mubarak’s release is justified are frustrated by changes in government since the Morsi regime has taken control.
Mubarak’s retrial in the case of the deaths which occurred during the revolution is set for 11 May.
Attempts to Kidnap IDF Soldiers on the Rise
According to the Israeli Shin Bet internal security service, 33 kidnapping attempts have been foiled since the beginning of 2013, compared with 24 thwarted attempts during all of 2012.
Senior officers in the IDF Central Command have warned that Hamas has increased efforts to kidnap soldiers and use them as “bargaining chips” in attempts to release Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. The prisoner exchange deal which secured the release of Gilad Shalit in 2011 encouraged Hamas to attempt additional kidnappings. These kidnapping attempts are normally conducted by two or three abductors carrying switchblades or pistols, and most likely using a contact within Israel to enter the country.
Saudi Arabia Deports Men for Being “Too Handsome”
17 April: Three men from the United Arab Emirates have reportedly been deported from Saudi Arabia for being “too handsome.” The men, who were visiting to attend the annual Jenadrivah Heritage and Cultural Festival in Riyadh, were minding their own business when members of Saudi Arabia’s religious police entered the pavilion and forcibly removed them from the festival, deporting them to Abu Dhabi.
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice members feared female visitors could fall for them.
Luxury Rehab Centre opens for al Qaeda
21 April: Saudi Arabia has opened a luxury rehabilitation centre in Riyadh to wean al Qaeda terrorists off religious extremism. The centre, which spans approximately 10 football pitches, provides counselling and religious discussions while also providing spa treatments, an Olympic-size indoor swimming pool, a sauna, gym and a television hall. Twelve buildings will host 19 prisoners, who will have access to special suites to spend time with visiting family members, and will be rewarded for good behaviour with a two-day break with their wives. The new centre is the first to provide a luxury setting as incentive for moderation. Three additional centres are planned in regions around the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia’s al Qaeda prisoners are required to go through rehabilitation centres before they can be released from prison. “In order to fight terrorism, we must give them an intellectual and psychological balance… through dialogue and persuasion,” said Said al-Bishi, director of the rehabilitation centers. To date, 2,336 prisoners have been through these centres, with only 10% of them rejoining the “deviant minority”, as they are referred to. There have been some high-profile returns to the ranks, such as Saeed al-Shehri, who became deputy leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) after his treatment.
Opponents are critical of the religious content of the program which they say draws on an ultra-conservative version of Islam not so different from al-Qaeda’s own. Social scientist Khaled al-Dakheel says, “To treat the problem at its root, one should challenge jihadist thought with an enlightened philosophy, not just with other Salafist ideas that are only slightly less extreme. There must be pluralism and an acknowledgement of the rights of others to be different.”
Tunisia to Begin Crowd-Mapping Crime and Corruption
13 April: Tunisia’s “I-Watch” organisation launched a new online “crowd-map” for reporting cases of corruption. The site, called “Billkamcha” (slang term for someone “caught in the act”) attracted 7,000 supporters within its first 48 hours of going live.
I-Watch President Achraf Aouadi explained, “This interactive website is designed to enable the victims of corruption to immediately report what happened to them whether this corruption is financial, administrative or in the form of favouritism.” Reporters will have the option to remain anonymous while submitting information.
Critical factors which cause corruption to worsen are the acceptance by society of bribery and toleration of it, the failure of regulatory institutions, and the lack of transparency. According to statistics, 90 % of Tunisians consider corruption a crime, yet one out of three individuals has either accepted a bribe or paid it.
I-Watch will work with several lawyers to process incoming reports. The site has six active members in charge of receiving reports, and ten bloggers who will expose cases of corruption received by the site.
Tunisian Salafists storm female student hostel to stop dancing
18 April: Female university students in the Bardo district hostel in Tunis were performing the first of a weekly dance and music show when dozens of hardline Salafists broke into the premises after scaling its walls. The Salafists smashed windows and threw stones and bottles, and fled after almost an hour of disruption. There were no serious injuries. No arrests have yet been made in connection to the occurrence, although witnesses report that the police were “present and did not move”. The Interior Ministry had no comment.
According to hostel administrator Raja Madyouni, the university had now tightened security. Salafists had previously threatened female students because of their Western dress and in some cases smoking and relations with young men, according to Madyouni.
Salafists conducted several similar disturbances to what they deem to be “anti-Islamic activities”, prompting secularists to accuse them of having formed a religious police and threatening the state. The moderate Ennahda party heads the coalition government in Tunis, but Salafists are pressing for Islam to be made the law of the land. Secularists say Ennahda is doing little to safeguard individual and women’s rights.
Tunisian Mufti Speaks out against fighting in Syria
20 April: During a press conference, the Mufti (senior cleric) of Tunisia, Othman Battikh, said that a “Muslim mustn’t fight a Muslim” under any pretext. He continued that the youth who went to fight in Syria under the banner of Jihad were “fooled and have been brainwashed.” The Tunisian cleric also commented on young girls going to Syria for “sexual jihad”, calling it a form of prostitution and adultery.
Battikh spoke out as many Tunisian youths are being recruited by terrorist networks to go to Syria and fight against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian government believes the chaos in their nation is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of the militants are foreign nationals.
Yemen to stand against weapons smuggling
23 April: Yemen Foreign Minister Dr Abu Bakr al-Qirby, speaking in Sana’a at a meeting of the UN Security Council Monitoring Group for the arms embargo on Somalia and Eritrea proclaimed that Yemen is ready to act as a partner to stand against weapons smuggling.
During the 2011 uprising in Yemen, extremists groups and weapon smugglers took advantage of the breakdown in security to turn Yemen into a weapons trafficking haven. Over 12 months, intelligence reports showed that both Ansar al-Sharia and al-Shabab in Somalia had exchanged men and weapons, which were smuggled by sea. The government is now seeking partnership with the global community to curb the trend.
Yemeni court sentences 11 al Qaeda militants
23 April: Eleven convicted al Qaeda militants were sentenced to up to 10 years in prison in a court in Sana’a. The militants were charged with forming armed gangs to destabilize the country, and planning attacks on foreign embassies and security forces.
Ahmed al-Hababi, one of the defendants, threatened to kill the judge, shouting, “We will teach you a lesson and we will drag you on the ground.” Two of the convicted raised an al Qaeda flag inside the defendants’ cage.
The sentencing occurred as militants attacked a military camp in Radda, 100 miles south of Sanaa, in a skirmish that resulted in the deaths of three soldiers and eight militants. During Yemen’s 2011 uprising, al Qaeda occupied large areas in the southern region before being driven to mountainous areas by the new government. The group has retaliated with assassinations and bombings at military compounds.
Al-Qaeda Names Replacement Leader for North Africa
Al-Qaeda has named a replacement for Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a key commander of its North African branch who was killed in fighting with French-led forces in northern.
Djamel Okacha, also known Yahia Aboul Hammam, is a 34-year-old from Reghaia, Algeria. His new position, which includes responsibility for AQIM operations in southern Algeria and northern Mali, still has to be approved at a meeting of AQIM leaders. Okacha is a close aide of AQIM chief Abdelmalek Droukdel and considered the “real leader” of the group.
His predecessor Abou Zeid, 46, was credited with having significantly expanded the jihadist group’s field of operation to Tunisia and Niger, and for kidnapping activities across the region.
Okacha, despite not having gone to Afghanistan, has had a meteoric rise in the group. Okacha spent around 18 months in prison in Algeria in the 1990s. As a member of extremist organisations the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GPSC), he was active in northern Algeria, and condemned to death by a court in southern Algeria for acts of terrorism.
AQIM Opens Official Twitter Account
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has opened an official Twitter account on 16 March. Their first messages, sent on 28 March, targeted France, specifically threatening to kill French nationals that they have been holding hostage. At least 14 French nationals have been kidnapped between September 2010 and February 2013, and are currently being held hostage by militant groups in North Africa.
Their first tweet reads, “Will the French people succeed in convincing Hollande to save the lives of the hostages? @Andalus_Media.” A tweet the following day stated that AQIM cannot guarantee their safety to infinity.
Twitter accounts for AQIM have existed prior to this one, but the latest account is the first to be recognized by al-Fajr Media Center, al Qaeda’s propaganda group. The account gained over 2,000 followers in its first few days.
Libya: Two men arrested in the kidnap of Humanitarian Activists
On 29 March, Libyan security officials announced the arrest of two men in the kidnapping of five British humanitarian activists in Eastern Libya. At least two of them were women who had been sexually assaulted. Authorities did not release the identities of the suspects, but did state they were Libyan soldiers. Officials also believe they are close to a third arrest.
The activists, all British citizens of Pakistani origin, were travelling with a convoy which had started in London and travelled through several North African countries, attempting to aid to Gaza. The travellers had no visas, according to Western authorities. At the Egyptian border, Egyptian guards refused to let the convoy enter. After five days of being stranded at the Egyptian/Libyan border, the five activists, including a father and two daughters, headed to Benghazi airport to leave Libya. The activists were abducted in a taxi at a checkpoint near Benghazi.
A diplomat stated that the men were beaten up and the women were sexually assaulted. Four captives were free soon after their abduction, however, the fifth, a woman, was found several hours later. Libya’s deputy prime minister, Awad al-Barassi, visited the victims in the hospital, and stated that the father saw his daughters being raped. The activists were given shelter at the Turkish Consulate in Benghazi, and left for Britain on Friday.
A Libyan defense official, Abdul Salam Bargathi, believes the episode was an “individual, isolated attack.”
Sudan: 31 Kidnapped Darfuris Released after a week
On 30 March, Sudanese rebels released 31 Darfur is who were kidnapped on their way to a conference for people displaced by the Sudanese decade-long war.
The joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) was escorting three buses carrying the Darfur is when it was stopped by a “large unidentified armed group in military uniforms and seven jeep-mounted guns.” The armed group took the hostages to an unknown location.
The incident occurred in on the border between Central and South South Darfur State. UNAMID has conflicting reports about whether the displaced people have been released. Government sources have not confirmed any release.
Algerian activists barred from World Social Forum
On 25 March, Algerian barred 96 civil activists from travelling to Tunisia without reason, illegally restricting rights to free movement. The activists intended to attend the World Social Forum, a global gathering of around 50,000 activists on areas such as human rights and the environment.
Activists included members of the Algerian League for Human Rights, the National Autonomous Union of Public Administration Staff (SNAPAP), and other non-governmental organizations. After a three hour delay at the Layoun border crossing, Algerian officials would not let them through, claiming “that they have instructions”, according to Mourad Tchiko, a member of SNAPAP
A similar incident occurred in February; Algerian police arrested and expelled 10 foreign nationals from the Association of Unemployed Workers of the Maghreb in February. The travellers, five Tunisians, three Mauritanians and two Moroccans, were planning to attend the first Maghreb Forum for the Fight against Unemployment and Temporary Work in Algiers. They were held at the local police station for several hours before being taken to the airport to return home.
“The Algerian authorities are disrupting the legitimate activities of local human rights and civil society activists, as they have so many times before,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “It is high time they end their campaign of harassment and intimidation of reform advocates, and observe their obligations under international law.”
Wife and Children of Gadhafi Missing in Algeria
The wife of late dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and three of his children, have gone missing from their Algerian home, where they have taken refuge since 2011. Safia Gadhafi, the dictator’s second wife, their daughter Aisha, and two of their sons, Hannibal and Muhammad, appear to have fled their home in the coastal community of Staoueli.
Algerian political spokespeople believe it is possible they have joined with former Gadhafi fighters in Mali, however it is also likely that the family has taken offers for asylum from Oman and Venezuela. Aisha and Hannibal Gadhafi are on an Interpol list which calls for their immediate arrest.
Kabylie: Algerian security forces kill Islamists
On 28 March, Algerian special forces killed five Islamists in a raid in Attouche, near the Kabylie city of Tizi Ouzou.
Among those killed were Badache Said, 39, who led the Ibn el-Moqafa militia, and Nouali Hamza. Both were were handed death sentences in absentia last week along with 33 others, including AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel.
All five were implicated in an attack on an Algerian army barracks at Azazga near Tizi Ouzou in April 2011, in which 17 soldiers were killed.
Qatar-Algeria Joint venture for Steel Production
On 27 March, Industries Qatar announced that the governments of Qatar and Algeria have entered into a joint venture to build a steel production plant in Algeria. Industries Qatar has interests in petrochemicals, fertilisers and steel products. The planned steel complex will have a total annual production capacity of 4 million metric tonnes. The steel complex will cost $2bn in its first phase.
The project is anticipated to create over 1,000 direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs. Algeria, represented by Sider and Fonds National D’investissement, will hold 51 percent of the new company, while Qatar Steel International will hold the remaining 49 percent. The facility is expected to take 42 months to construct, and commercial production is expected to start in 2017.
Three Divers Arrested for Attempting to Cut Undersea Internet Cable
On 27 March, Egyptian authorities arrested three divers who were trying to cut through an undersea internet cable in the waters of Alexandria. The damaged cable caused a drop in the speed of online services in Egypt and some other countries.
The divers were arrested while attempting to cut the undersea wires of the main telecommunications company, Telecom Egypt. The damaged cable was the South East Asia Middle East Western Europe 4 (SEA-ME-WE 4), a critical cable under the Mediterranean. Cable operator Seacom said several lines connecting Europe with Africa, the Middle East and Asia were hit, slowing down internet services.
The arrested men are due to be interrogated. Their motive has not been made public.
Egyptian Satirist Arrested, Released on Bail
On 1 April, Bassem Youssef, the Middle East’s most popular TV satirist, was issued with an arrest warrant and questioned by Egypt’s top prosecutor for allegedly insulting Islam and the Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. Youssef, regarded as Egypt’s Jon Stewart, turned himself in following the issue of an arrest warrant by prosecutor general Talaat Abdallah. He was released on bail of 15,000 Egyptian pounds (£1,500) after being questioned for three hours. According to Heba Morayaf, director of Human right watch in Egypt, it heralds the most serious affront to free speech since associates of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood assumed power.
Youssef became an increasingly notable figure following Egypt’s 2011 uprising. His show, “al Bernameg” humorously critiques politics, fundamentalist clerics, and Morsi. With over than 30 million viewers across the Middle East, the show is a beacon for free-speech in the region. Youssef has been sued several times by private individuals, but this is the first time that the prosecutor general followed up one of the complaints with legal action, a signal that President Morsi’s Brotherhood-backed regime is now prepared to take a harsher stance against its critics.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the leader of Egypt’s main opposition coalition, said on Twitter, “Pathetic efforts to smother dissent and intimidate media is a sign of a shaky regime and a bunker mentality”
Youssef, however took a light-hearted approach, arriving at court in a comically large version of a graduation hat worn by Morsi at a ceremony in Pakistan, and tweeting (and later deleting) comments such as, “Police officers and lawyers at the prosecutor-general’s office want to be photographed with me, maybe this is why they ordered my arrest?”
Last week, Morsi promised to take necessary measures against opposition figures that incited what he called violence and rioting, but also has spread his targets to vocal members of the media. Youssef’s arrest comes just a day after nine opposition activists and four lawyers were arrested in Alexandria, and a week after legal proceedings against five activists for inciting violence against the Muslim Brotherhood.
The prosecutor-general, who is considered politicized in his support for Brotherhood, was appointed after Morsi circumvented constitutional protocol to promote him in November. Last week, a judge this week ruled that Abdallah’s appointment was illegal – but he has refused to step aside.
Parliamentary Elections Possible for October
On March 27, President Morsi said that Egypt’s parliamentary elections are likely to be held in October. While in Doha, Qatar, for the Arab League Summit, Morsi met with overseas Egyptians and revealed that the first session of the People’s Assembly (the lower house of the parliament) would be held before the end of 2013.
Morsi also stated that he expected that the Shura Council (upper house of the parliament) to complete drafts of parliamentary election law within two weeks, to deliver to the Supreme Constitutional Court for approval. On Tuesday, the Shura Council approved a new draft for regulation of parliamentary elections “in principle.”
On March 6, the Supreme Administrative Court suspended a presidential decree of holding parliamentary elections on April 22, citing fourteen claims against the constitutionality of the newly- drafted election law to Supreme Constitutional Court. The Court will review the appeal against the suspension of parliamentary elections on April 7.
Egyptian Government Plans to Ration Subsidized Bread
The Egyptian government has announced plans to start rationing subsidized bread. The plan has outraged bakers and millions of families with few other food options than state-subsidized pita.
The announcement comes in the wake of cuts of State payments to private bakers, which are intended to keep the price of bread low. Egypt has subsided bread since the 1950s. The current administration has said the country’s weak economy has made the subsidies too expensive to keep up.
Hundreds of bakers travelled to Cairo in protest. Without the subsidies, they will be unable to stay in business. Subsidized bakers are required by law to sell a large portion of their production at low prices set by the state.
In an effort to appease the bakers and limit demand for cheap bread, the government has limited purchase of the commodity to three loaves per customer. Rationing has stirred up anger among low-income Egyptians who rely on the cheap bread as critical part of their diet. A similar attempt at rationing in 1977 resulted in riots throughout Egypt. Threats of a similar event caused the government to postpone implementing rationing last week.
Post-Revolution Egypt sees Spike in Tomb Raiding
Since the 2011 revolution, Egypt has seen a spike in illegal digging near tombs in hopes of accessing rare archaeological treasures. Recently, large holes have been appearing in the ground at the Great Pyramids of Giza, and In Dahshur, near the Bent Pyramid.
Gunmen have also attacked storehouses at Saqqara and Abusir, which held yet-unregistered antiquities recovered from excavations. It is unknown how much has been stolen.
In Luxor, police have discovered vast tunnel networks, starting within a compound close to the ancient sites or even inside a home.
Libyan Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Feared Abducted
Officials in Libya have report that the Libyan prime minister’s chief of staff has disappeared and may have been abducted during a series of confrontations between the government and militiamen in Tripoli.
The prime minister’s office lost contact with Mohamed Ali Ghatous on Sunday. Ghatous’ car was found on the side of a road in the outskirts of Tripoli. Security forces are searching for him; officials say he may have been abducted.
Since the civil war, Libya has been working to rebuild a unified security force, however the government depends on militias to fill the security vacuum. Recently, militias, some who act with impunity, have taken offense at statements by ministers suggesting they needed to be brought under control.
Earlier in March, Prime Minister Ali Zidan was besieged in his office by militiamen who demanded his removal over remarks in which he threatened to summon outside help to confront the armed groups. On the same day that Ghatous disappeared, dozens of militiamen conducted a day-long siege, surrounding the Justice Ministry and calling for minister Salah al-Marghani’s resignation. Al-Marghani said on Libyan TV that some of the militias were illegitimate and were operating illegal prisons, and he demanded that the militias relinquish control to the Justice Ministry.
Zidan and al-Marghani held a joint news conference on Sunday, emphasizing that militias would be held accountable for any attacks.
Gunmen attack Libyan Airbase
On 30 March, more than 150 gunmen attacked an air base in Libya’s southern desert about 30 miles north of Sabha. The attackers were heavily armed and clashed with government forces, killing a colonel and a soldier, and wounding two troops.
The assailants were identified as Libyan, but an investigation is underway to determine who they were.
Extremists bomb 500-year-old Sufi shrine in Tripoli
A Libyan security official says that suspected Islamic extremists have bombed an ancient Sufi shrine in Tripoli. The attackers planted explosives inside the Sidi Mohammed al-Andalousi, and detonated them from a distance early on March 28.
Hard-line Salafis, an offshoot of Islam, oppose the veneration of saints, believing it to undermine the Islamic belief in monotheism. Salafis in Mali, Somalia and Tunisia have targeted the tombs of saints. The country’s grand cleric has since issued a religious edict against such assaults.
Egyptian Government extradites Gadhafi- era Libyan Officials
In Egypt’s first high-profile extradition in years, Egyptian authorities extradited two Libyan officials from the regime of deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi back to Libya on 26 March. The 71-year-old former ambassador to Cairo, Ali Maria, and 44-year-old Mohammed Ibrahim Gadhafi, were handcuffed after resisting the extradition.
Last week, Gadhafi aide and cousin Ahmed Qaddaf al-Dam, a former high-ranking intelligence official, surrendered to police in Cairo after hours-long siege at his home. He remains in detention in Egypt.
Libya has demanded that Egypt extradition of officials from the former regime over various charges, including corruption and involvement in the country’s civil war. On 28 March, a Libyan intelligence delegation provided Egyptian officials a list of 88 names for extradition. A previous list included 40 names.
Saudi Arabia considers banning Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber
Saudi Arabia considering a potential block of messaging and real-time chat services. “Some telecom applications over the Internet protocol currently do not meet the regulatory conditions” in the kingdom, said the Communications and Information Technology. These apps— which include Skype, Viber, and Whatsapp— allow voice, video and text communication over the internet, but do not allow exchanges to be monitored by government agencies.
Industry sources said that authorities asked telecom operators to furnish a means of control that would allow censorship in the absolute monarchy. The providers have been given a week to comply. One source claims that telecom operators were behind the move, asking the commission to impose censorship because of the “damage” caused by free applications.
Recent political protests, which are illegal in Saudi Arabia, have been partially organized via WhatsApp. When the same issue arose with BlackBerry in 2010, it resulted in temporary suspension of Blackberry Messenger services, until an eventual deal between RIM and the Saudi government removed the suspension. The details of the agreement are not public
If similar deals are struck with these currently private apps, it is anticipated that individuals who people wish to maintain private communications will move on to other tools.
Tunisia Salafists threaten Ennahda
On March 27, the leader of Tunisia’s Salafist jihadist movement threatened to topple the prime minister. It is the first direct threat to Tunisia’s Islamist-led government, Ennahda.
Saif Allah bin Hussein (aka Abou Iyadh), leader of Ansar al-Sharia, addressed a message to Ennahda published on Ansar al-Sharia’s Facebook page. “Hold back your sick person from us or else we’ll wage a war against him until we topple him and throw him into the dustbin of history.” It continued, “We won’t talk much, you’ll see and not just hear the response… if you don’t hold him back.” Abou Iyadh is wanted in connection with the deadly attack on the US embassy in Tunis last September.
The threat came a day after Prime Minister Ali Larayedh blamed Abou Iyadh for the spread of arms and increase of violence in Tunisia. In the past months, Tunisian security forces have found several weapons caches, detained many Salafist jihadists, and clashed with militants on the Algeria border.
Tensions between Ennahda and Ansar al-Sharia have been escalating since December, when embassy attack suspects Bechir Golli and Mohammed Bakhti died in Mornaguia prison after a 50-day hunger strike. Salafist jihadists blamed the government for their deaths.
“Our relations with Ennahda [have] been severed in full because that party is not Islamist as they so claim,” said Ansar al-Sharia spokesperson, Mohamed Anis Chaieb. “This is because they embrace the civil state concept, and there is nothing in their programmes indicating that they are adopting the Islamic rule model.”
al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri attacked Ennahda for failing to use Islamic Sharia as a main source of legislation. Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi responded strongly, calling al-Zawahri, a catastrophe for Islam and Muslims.
Tunisian citizens are concerned that the conflict between the Salafists and Ennahda will threaten the country’s political and social stability. There is fear that the increasing enmity on both sides will have serious repercussions in the country.
One Malian solider has died while two others have been left injured in the first suicide bombing to target the city of Timbuktu on the eve of the one year anniversary of a coup that paved the way for the Islamist takeover of Mali and the eventual collapse of one of West Africa’s most stable democracies.
The bombing occurred near the airport in Timbuktu when an attacker set off an explosive belt inside a car that had been stopped at a checkpoint. According to a military source, “the jihadist who set off his belt was killed instantly and one of the soldiers injured in the explosion died in hospital.” Malian army spokesman Captain Samba Coulibaly stated that the suicide bombing took place at a road block that is manned by Malian soldiers, just before a French checkpoint. French military officials also confirmed that at least ten Islamist fighters were killed in clashes that occurred after the bombing while sources in the city have reported that sustained gunfire continued until 3AM (local time) on Thursday morning. French army spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard stated that French and Malian forces had repelled an attempt by militants to infiltrate Timbuktu’s airport on Thursday morning. He further indicated that there were no French casualties.
Timbuktu was liberated by French and Malian troops in late January 2013 after the city and its resident endured a nine-month rule by al-Qaeda-linked Islamists who had imposed a harsh form of Sharia law on the population. Since then, the town has seen relative clam, unlike the northern city of Gao which has been hit by a number of suicide bombings and guerrilla attacks since the Islamist rebels were driven out.
This most recent suicide bombing has further cast a doubt over France’s claims that the Islamist resistance in Mali is close to being crushed. The bombing also comes just one day after French President Francois Hollande stated that the military operation in Mali was in its last phase and that the country was just “days away” from regaining its territorial integrity. Although thousands of Malians have remained skeptical about French assurances that the northern region of the country was increasingly becoming safer, yesterday’s suicide bombing has proven that while French and Chadian troops are continuing their efforts on capturing Islamist rebels in the Ifoghas mountains, groups of Islamist rebels remain throughout the country and therefore are a continued threat to the country’s security and stability. The suicide bombing in Timbuktu also raises questions about France’s possible troop withdrawal which is set to take place at the end of April and whether or not African forces will be ready to cope with a threat that is increasingly turning towards hit and run attacks as a mechanism of maintaining its presence within Mali and as a way of destabilizing the security of the country.
Since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the Sinai Peninsula has become a hotbed of radicalized activity. Many indigenous Bedouin, who have long been disenchanted by the Egyptian government, have turned to smuggling as a lucrative financial endeavor. The system of tunnels, created to transport illicit goods, have also served as for radicalized individuals and groups to enter the region. The desert terrain, largely uninhabited, provides hidden shelter among road-less paths and desert caves. This combination results in a prime opportunity for mujahedeen to build bases from which to carry out organized crimes and terrorist activities throughout the Maghreb and into the Sahel regions.
Impact of Bedouin Disenfranchisement
Since ancient times, the Egyptian Sinai has been home to several nomadic Bedouin tribes. During the Six-Day war in 1967, Israel took control of the Sinai Peninsula, providing job opportunities for Bedouin, particularly in the tourist industry. The Bedouin had become accustomed to a cash economy and material wealth during Israeli occupation. Following the end of the occupation in 1982, the Cairo-based government perceived the Bedouin as collaborators with the Israel to destabilize Egypt. Consequently, the Bedouin have been perceived as second-class citizens, facing human rights hardships and severe economic blows.
Twenty percent of Bedouin in the Sinai are denied Egyptian citizenship. They cannot join the police or military, or study in police or military universities. Bedouin tribesmen cannot hold government positions or form political parties, nor can they own land, for fear they would re-sell it to Israelis. Employment opportunities in the Sinai are preferentially given to non-Bedouin Egyptians, and corporate developments have created boundaries that impact the nomadic tribes’ ability to travel throughout their historic territories. Finally, Bedouin tribesmen are often blamed for violence in the region, held without cause or evidence by Egyptian Police. These factors generate great animosity against the Egyptian government; outcries have been met with meager financial assistance and empty promises.
In order to retain wealth and material goods, members of some tribes have turned smuggling as a lucrative opportunity to generate income. Since the 1990s, smuggling rings have expanded to include items of higher value, including drugs, weapons, cars, and people (kidnap for ransom). Concurrently, Bedouin traffickers have enlarged their networks, with weaponry becoming the new expression of wealth.
Smuggling in the Sinai
It is important to note that not all members of tribes have resorted to smuggling, rather, certain members of specific tribes. The dominant tribes involved in smuggling on the Sinai Peninsula are the Sawarka, Tihaya, and Tarabin tribes, which have traditional boundaries bordering Israel and/or the Gaza Strip. Connections also exist between Bedouin Rashaida of Eritrea and Sudan, who predominantly engage in human trafficking, and the Tuareg tribes of Libya, who transfer weaponry throughout the Maghreb. Bedouin tribes do not have a sense of national loyalty—only to tribe— nor do they ascribe to an ideology that prevents them from dealing with particular groups, even if they are deemed dangerous or radical, as long as they can afford the price. Daniel Kurtzer, former US Ambassador to Egypt and Israel wrote, “…terrorists, both from Gaza and reportedly al-Qaeda, have used the territory to smuggle arms and plan operations.”
Heading west, tribes transfer goods and materials through the Maghreb and Sahel Regions, taking advantage of porous borders and lax security. From the south, tribes use a system that goes from Kassala, Sudan to the Egyptian border, then north into Sinai. Toward the east, Bedouin smugglers use an intricate system of tunnels to deliver materials through Gaza and beyond. At Sinai’s eastern border, commonly used routes are the Heth and Philadelphi routes, which go between Gaza from Sinai. Tunnel systems that are known by Egyptian and Israeli law enforcement have been bombed or flooded. However, to keep their trading systems open, tribesmen will pay up to $100,000 for the creation of new tunnels.
In addition to smuggling, some tribesmen charge for extensive knowledge of safe and desolated areas within the Peninsula, where smugglers or radicals entering the region can hide while fleeing from law enforcement.
Hideout for Radicalized Groups
Increased lawlessness in the Sinai results directly from the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. Bedouins were among the first to ignore national curfews, and rising vehemently against Egyptian police. In February 2011, the police left the Sinai Peninsula, and returned in August 2011 with limited presence. In that time, Al Qaeda inspired militants penetrated the region, and continue to increase presence. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the militant faction of Hamas, as well as Al Qaeda inspired networks, are known to be operating quasi-military training camps in the Sinai. Due to this threat, the Egyptian Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) received permission to send 3,500 military troops into the demilitarized zone, yet the small number of troops is unable to secure the vast, unfamiliar region.
Increased Radical Activity
This week, Egypt’s interior ministry told police in the Sinai Peninsula to raise a state of emergency, after obtaining intelligence that jihadist fighters might attack their forces. Last August, fifteen Egyptian policemen were killed in an assault on a police station bordering Egypt and Israel. The militants seized two military vehicles and attempted to storm the border.
In early January, Egyptian authorities issued a security alert for the Sinai as intelligence services received information about potential attacks by extremist groups in the Sinai. On 15 February, the authorities announced the seizure of two tons of explosives headed to the Sinai from Cairo, followed by the discovery of a weapons cache in Al-Arish two days later. The seized weapons include 21 anti-aircraft shells, six anti-tank mines and an anti-aircraft gun. The same day, one ton of explosives was found in a car headed from Cairo toward the Sinai. On 27 February, Egyptian security forces confiscated 60 antitank missiles south of Cairo that were being transported in two pickup trucks from Libya. And on 5 March, a cache of weaponry, including antitank mines, was seized in el Arish
Egyptian President Mohamed Mosri has pledged to get a grip on security in Egypt but as he struggles to assert control over an entrenched security establishment, this appears to be another empty promise. Morsi administration and Egyptian security forces are hindered by several factors, including poor resources and coordination, and conflicting views on counter-smuggling and counterterrorism strategies. A failure to cultivate Bedouin allegiance and intelligence will also decrease Egyptian security forces ability to identify lairs of suspected jihadists.