According to the United States State Department, there was a marked fall in the number of terror attacks that occurred around the world in 2015.
In a newly released report this month, the State Department attributed the 13% decline from 2014 to fewer attacks in Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan, which are three of the five countries that have been the worst affected by terrorism. The other two are Afghanistan and India. Together, more than half of the 11,000 attacks that occurred last year happened within the borders of these five countries.
Data compiled by the University of Maryland indicates that more than 28,300 people died – a 14% decline – and about 35,300 others were wounded in 11,774 terrorist attacks that occurred worldwide last year. State Department Acting Co-ordinator for Counterterrorism Justin Siberell notes that attacks and deaths increased in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, the Philippines, Syria and Turkey. The State Department also reported that figures indicate that the terror threat “continued to evolve rapidly in 2015, becoming increasingly decentralized and diffused,” adding that extremists were exploiting frustration in countries “where avenues for free and peaceful expression of opinion were blocked.” The State Department highlighted that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group is the biggest single threat, adding that the group has attracted affiliates and supporters in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It noted that while IS was losing territory in Iraq and Syria, it was gaining strength in Libya and Egypt. The United Nations has also warned that IS is increasingly focusing on international civilian targets. The UN has reported that over the past six months, IS had carried out attacks in eleven countries. This does not include the militant group’s ongoing activity in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
The State Department report also disclosed that Iran was the biggest state sponsor of terrorism, stating that it supported conflicts in Syria and Iraq and that it was also implicated in violent Shia opposition raids in Bahrain. Bahrain has accused Iran of supplying weapons to Shia militants behind bomb attacks on security forces however Iran has denied this.
The nation of Bahrain has accused neighbouring Qatar of luring Bahraini nationals to take Qatari citizenship. Bahrain called the action harmful to their national security. Bahrain’s Interior Ministry’s Undersecretary for Nationality, Passports and Residence Affairs, Sheikh Rashid bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa, said that “Qatar has targeted specific families and singled out a particular category of people, without any consideration for the provisions of the law on citizenship in Bahrain.” He added that the naturalisation of Bahrainis’ into Qatar could affect Bahrain’s security and vital interests. No information was provided as to who was being targeted by the Qataris, or how many had been granted Qatari citizenship.
The allegation could further deepen the rift among nations in the Gulf Region. Qatar has already been accused by several Arab states of interfering with the internal affairs of other nations. In particular, the accusation is based upon Qatar’s open backing of the Muslim Brotherhood movements throughout the Arab region. In March, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates recalled their ambassadors from Doha.
Bahrain’s sensitivity in the matter could be related to their desire to protect the nation’s demographic balance. The country is led by a Sunni-ruled monarchy; the population has a Shiite majority. Bahrain has experienced ongoing, sometimes violent conflict between the government and the population since 2011. Citizens of Bahrain continue to call for a democracy which is representative of these sectarian divisions. Further, Bahraini Shi’ites have long accused their government of naturalising Sunnis from abroad in an effort to outnumber the Shiite population.
The Qatari government has not commented on the allegations, however one Qatari source claims that the request actually came from Bahraini families with tribal links to Qatar. He added that the requests were still under advisement.
Bahrain, meanwhile, has revoked the citizenship of nine Bahrainis convicted of convicted on charges including participation in an illegal organisation and having ties to Iran. The defendants received prison terms ranging from seven to 22 years. Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, the largest Shiite political party in Bahrain, called the convictions “an unacceptable violation of fundamental human rights,” adding that “the authoritarian and unelected regime in Bahrain is misusing power to retaliate against its dissidents.” In 2012, Bahrain stripped the citizenship of 31 prominent activists and opposition leaders, including two al-Wefaq MPs. This is the first instance of nationality being stripped from ordinary citizens. Some believe that this action is being taken as part of the campaign to reduce the Shiite majority.
22 March- In a rare event, nearly 5,000 supporters of Algerian opposition parties have rallied to call for a boycott of next month’s election, and to protest President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s run for another term after 15 years in power. Bouteflika, 77, suffered a stroke last year; opponents believe that his condition has left him unfit to govern for another term. Finally, protestors called for reforms to the Algerian political system, which they view as corrupt.
Six additional candidates have begun campaigning in the run-up to the presidential elections, however, Bouteflika has the support of the powerful ruling National Liberation Front (FLN), army factions and business elites. It is believed that despite his absence from the public in the past year, Bouteflika is almost assured victory.
Further assuring victory are the divisions among the nation. Rival Islamist and secular party supporters chanted slogans opposing one another during the rally, a reminder of the splits between the RCD and the MSP Islamist party, who have been adversaries for years.
Since 2001, public protests have been banned in Algeria. The nation was under a state of emergency for nearly 20 years before it was lifted last month. However, the government still bans any event that is “likely to disturb public order and tranquility”. During the Arab Spring of 2011, Algeria remained relatively stable as nations around them experienced tumultuous uprisings, however there is now a growing anger at Bouteflika’s decision to seek a fourth term. Human Rights Watch has warned that Algerian authorities were deploying large numbers of police and arresting protesters ahead of the elections.
24 March- In the capital, Manama, Bahraini security forces reportedly fired tear gas at funeral goers in a Shia mosque. The attack follows protests that took place near the capital on Friday. During the protest, thousands of mostly Shia Bahrainis, led by Al-Wefaq party, shut down the Budaiya Highway, a main thoroughfare between the surrounding Shia villages and the capital. Protesters clashed with police, who responded with tear gas and petrol bombs.
A statement released by the Bahraini government announced that it will launch an investigation “into what has been circulating in some newspapers and mass media about a Ministry of Interior’s vehicle that fired a tear gas bomb near a religious building.” The statement added that legal measures will be taken against the violators should they are held accountable.
The event marks the latest attempt by the Bahraini regime to crack down on dissent stemming from the 2011 uprising against King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah. The protesters are still calling for an end to sectarian discrimination toward the majority Shia population at the hands of the minority Sunni ruling party. The Shia majority maintains they have been marginalized in employment and housing, and excluded from the Sunni dominated political system.
Opposition leaders have called for lawmaking to be the responsibility of Parliament rather than the monarchy. However a political solution has yet to be reached.
24 March- After two court sessions, Egyptian courts have sentenced 529 supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to death. They defendants were accused of killing a senior police officer and attempting to murder two others, as well as attacking public property, torching the Matay police station, seizing police weapons and disrupting public order. The men are reportedly members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Only 147 defendants were present for the sentencing. The remainder was tried in absentia. Sixteen defendants were acquitted. The final decision has been turned over to the grand Mufti for approval.
It is common for those tried in absentia to receive the harshest sentences, however this is the largest number of people convicted in one trial in Modern Egypt’s history. It is likely that the verdicts, or a large portion of them, will be overturned by appeal. The case was rife with irregularities. Most significantly, defense attorneys for the defendants were not allowed to argue for their clients. The trial judge had refused to allow them into the court room.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other lawyers have called the action a display of the extent of politicization of the court system. Others have cited institutionalized contempt for the Muslim Brotherhood, who since November 2013, have been considered a terrorist group in Egypt.
25 March- Iran’s Interior Ministry has confirmed that one of five border guards abducted by terrorists and transferred to Pakistan last month has been killed. On February 6, five Iranian border guards were abducted by the Jaish-ul-Adl terrorist group in the Jakigour region of the Iranian province, which rests on the border with Pakistan. The men were later transferred to the Pakistani territory.
On Sunday, Jaish-ul-Adl terrorists tweeted that they had killed one of the abductees, Jamshid Danaeifar. Iran has declared that it holds the Pakistani government responsible for the lives of the Iranian hostages.
This is the latest action conducted by Jaish-ul-Adl. On October 25, 2013, the group killed 14 Iranian border guards and wounded six others on the border region in Sistan and Baluchestan Province.
In February 2013, Iran and Pakistan signed a bilateral security agreement requiring both countries to cooperate in combating organized crime, fighting terrorism and countering the activities that pose a threat to the national security of either country. Iran has repeatedly called on Pakistan to comply with the terms of the agreement.
25 March- A series of attacks around the nation have left at least 46 people dead and 32 wounded on Monday and Tuesday. Iraq is experiencing resurgence in sectarian violence and terrorist attacks. According to UN figures, in 2013, 8,868 people have been killed, among them 7,818 civilians.
In Al Hawiya, 155 miles north of Baghdad, three members of the pro-government militia known as the Salvation Council were killed and two others were wounded when armed gunmen attacked one of the group’s checkpoints. North of Tikrit in Al Asryia, three police officers and a civilian were killed in an attack carried out by armed men on a police station. In Al Huyay Zone, also north of Tikrit, an Iraqi government official was murdered by armed men as he was driving a state-owned vehicle, and in a separate attack, a driver with the Civil Defense department in the city of Al Sharkat was killed.
Attacks in Mosul appeared to be the heaviest on Monday. An Iraqi army soldier was killed with silenced weapons on a public street. A car bomb killed one civilian and injured five others, and one police officer died and another was wounded in an attack on their patrol car near the university. Also, in Mosul, the head of planning for the Mosul police, Col. Faisal Ahmed, and another person were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded as they were driving by.
There does not appear to be respite to the ongoing violence in Iraq.
25 March- The 2014 Arab League summit will begin today in Bayan Palace in Kuwait, south of Kuwait City. Thirteen heads of Arab states will attend the summit, including Kuwait Amir, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Adly Mansour, and Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al- Thani. Other states have sent high-ranking delegations to the summit. The theme of summit is “Unity for a better Future.”
During the opening ceremony, Kuwaiti Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah urged for closer ties between Arab states: “This summit was held in difficult circumstances regionally and internationally. So it’s very important to stand united and coordinate our policy for the sake of regional prosperity and security,” he said.
At the top of the agenda are the Syrian crisis and Palestinian cause. Attendees of the summit hope to hammer out a solution to end Syria’s civil war. Significantly, Syria’s membership to the Arab League has been suspended since 2011; however Ahmad Al-Jarba, leader of the opposition group Syria National Council, was invited to address the summit. With regard to the Palestinian cause, the Amir said, “it’s been the major challenge in Arab region, we’ll continue to support the Palestinians.”
The summit will also address additional issues, including terrorism, economic cooperation, the Lebanese security situation, and Egypt’s political progress. The summit will conclude on Wednesday with the release of the Kuwait Declaration, relating to political, economic, social, and development issues in the Arab world.
23 March- Lebanese troops were deployed after a number of casualties were reported in a predominantly Sunni Muslim area in Beirut, following clashes among supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The clashes come after over a week of factional violence in the northern Lebanon city of Tripoli. The fighting raged between members of the predominantly Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh, which are anti Assad, and the Jabal Muhsin, which is populated mainly by Alawites, the heterodox sect of President Assad. The battle left 25 dead. Cars and buildings in Beirut were left riddled with bullet holes. The war in Syria has spread into parts of Lebanon and exacerbated tensions between the two districts in the northern port city.
24 March- Al-Sadik al-Sour, head investigator for Libya’s prosecutor general, has announced that the crew of the renegade oil tanker, the Morning Glory, has been released and will be deported
Al- Sour did not give the nationality of the 21 crew members, but did state that they were referred border police Monday to send them out of the country. Three eastern Libya militia members who were aboard the vessel will be detained for 14 days to be interrogated by prosecutors.
Witnesses in the investigation have revealed that that the crew members were working at gunpoint. The ship remains in Tripoli and is due to be unloaded in the port of Zawiya refinery, 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Tripoli. It was originally North Korean-flagged, but North Korean officials say they have cancelled its registration.
The Morning Glory was captured by U.S. Navy SEALs last week in the eastern Mediterranean and handed over to the Libyan navy, which escorted the tanker to Tripoli. The operation brought an end to an attempt by a militia from eastern Libya to sell the crude in defiance of the central government in Tripoli.
25 March- Moroccan Authorities have deported a group of Syrian citizens who had tried to reach the Moroccan territory via Algeria. The 21-person group, appearing to be a large family consisting of men, women, and children, had fled from Algeria to the Moroccan city of Saidia on the Moroccan-Algerian border. They were apprehended and taken to the Saaidia police station, where they remained for 8 days before being transported to Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca.
The group had requested asylum in Morocco and objected to being deported. Moroccan authorities denied their request. The deportation took place today on Monday despite appeals by human rights associations. The Syrians were promised that they would be deported to Lebanon, but they expressed concern that they would be taken to Turkey instead. The family patriarch, Akil Kassim said in an interview that he refused to take the plane to Turkey, defending his right to stay in Morocco.
25 March- Many Arab nations will likely use an Arab summit this week to try to pressure Qatar to stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition movements throughout the region. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who have labeled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, will take the lead in attempting to isolate Qatar by calling for a collective Arab approach to terror. Both nations, as well as Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar.
The Arab leaders also want Qatar to stop supporting Shiite rebels in Yemen, and to ensure that Qatari arms shipments to Syrian rebels do not wind up in the hands of terrorists. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said, “There will be a breakthrough only if that nation changed [sic] the policies that caused the crisis in the first place.”
Qatari leaders insist they will push ahead with their own policies. Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah has said his country will “follow a path of its own” and that the independence of its “foreign policy is simply non-negotiable.” Recently, Qatar has attempted to spearhead efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis and mediated in some of Sudan’s internal conflicts.
The need for a collective Arab approach to terror will figure prominently in an address at the summit’s opening session Tuesday by Egyptian Interim President Adly Mansour, where he restate a six-point plan of action against terror announced this month by Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy. The points, designed to embarrass Qatar, include a ban on providing a safe haven for terrorists or aiding them in any way, assisting investigations into terrorist attacks, and extraditing wanted militants.
25 March- Clashes between Syrian rebels and forces loyal to President Assad have spread to a coastal area near the Turkish border. Opposition fighters are engaged in a campaign to gain access to the sea through the seaside tourist village of Samra, on the Syria-Turkey border. The access would give rebels an outlet to the Mediterranean for the first time since the Syrian conflict began, and would follow the rebel capture of the area’s predominantly Armenian Christian town and border crossing of Kassab on Sunday.
The seizure of the border crossing severed one of the Assad government’s last links to the Turkish border. The move came after Syrian troops captured several towns near the border with Lebanon in an effort to sever rebel supply lines across the porous Lebanese frontier. Since Monday, more than 80 wounded Syrians had been brought across the border into Turkey for treatment and nine of them died.
On Friday, rebels launched their offensive in the Alawite stronghold of the Latakia province. The rebels in the region are mainly from hard-line Sunni groups, including the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, who view the Alawites as heretics. However in an effort to show no harm to local Christians, an activist posted a video from inside a church in Kassab to show that it was left untouched.
Syria’s conflict has killed more than 140,000 people, displaced at least a quarter of its pre-war population of 23 million and triggered a humanitarian crisis across the region.
24 March- A group of suspected al-Qaeda militants attacked a security checkpoint in southeastern Yemen, killing 22 troops and left only one survivor, who pretended he was dead.
The surprise attack occurred near the town of al-Rayda, in Yemen’s Hadramawt province. The group first sent in a suicide car bomb, then the attackers drove into the checkpoint in vehicles carrying what appeared to be stolen military license plates. The militants gunned down members of the Central Security Forces while asleep in their quarters; anonymous sources said the attackers also set fire to an armored vehicle and another car near the checkpoint. The lone survivor pretended he was dead as he was drenched in blood. The gunmen used heavy machine guns and fled the scene of the attack.
Yemen’s al-Qaida branch, also known as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is considered to be the terror group’s most dangerous offshoot. The group increased its presence in southern Yemen after the country’s 2011 uprising.
Yemen’s newly-appointed Interior Minister, Major General Abdou Hussein el-Terb, suspended three senior security officers pending investigation in the attack, including Brigadier General Fahmi Mahrous, who was in charge of security in Hadramawt; Colonel Abdel-Wahab al-Waili commander of the CSF, and Major Youssef Baras, commander of the attacked checkpoint.
Across Yemen, and especially in the volatile Hadramawt, the government has struggled to eradicate the presence of al-Qaeda from territory they captured during the political turmoil.
Algerian National Police deployed in Territorial Clashes
(29 January) Algerian authorities have arrested 60 people after a month of territorial clashes between Arabs and Berbers in Ghardaia. Ghardaia is oasis town on the edge of the Sahara desert, and has seen repeated clashes which have left two people dead, dozens injured and many shops burned. Last week, Algerian national police were sent to the town to restore calm. Berbers, who were the original inhabitants of North Africa, have accused local police of encouraging the Arabs. Three officers have been suspended after a video surfaced showing their alleged involvement. Thus far, 20 people have been charged with arson, theft and assault; 10 others are under house arrest and another 30 are in custody awaiting questioning.
Algeria to Regulate Mosques
(28 January) The Algerian government is calling on imams to become fully engaged in the fight against extremism. Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdellah Ghlamallah said, “Mosques also have a part to play in preserving society and protecting it against division and hatred.” The government has trained 800 imams were trained between 2010 and 2012, and recruited 1,500 imam-lecturers and 240 principal imams.
The Algerian government wants to take back control of mosques used by extremist groups to spread messages of hatred and violence. Earlier this month, the government published a decree to regulate the 20,000 mosques in the nation. This law, the first of its kind, aims to enable mosques to conduct their role independently of political or other influences. The law explains that religious institutions must “help strengthen religious and national unity, protect society from fanatical, extremist and excessive ideas, foster and consolidate the values of tolerance and solidarity in society, combat violence and hatred, and counter anything that could harm the country.” The law also strictly forbids use of mosques for illicit, personal or collective goals, or for purely material ends, and prohibits use of mosques to harm people or groups. The law also covers the role of mosques in cultural, educational and social spheres, and subjects monetary collections to administrative authorisation. The decree has been positively received by the public.
Bahraini court shuts down Shi’ite clerical group
(29 January) A Bahraini court has ordered the dissolution of a group of Shiite Muslim clerics, declaring the group illegal. The decision comes after the revival of stalled reconciliation talks between the Sunni ruling family and Shiite opposition, and could harm reconciliation efforts to end political unrest that has occurred since 2011.
The court’s decision says that the Islamic Scholars’ Council, which has close ties to Shiite opposition group al-Wefaq, was not officially registered in Bahrain. Further, the group is believed to have adopted “a dangerous political and sectarian role.” Information Minister Sameera Rajab said, “The group that makes up the council includes political clerics who use the religious pulpit for political and sectarian incitement.” Rajab believes that the ruling should not stop dialogue with the opposition; however, members of the opposition have said that the ruling would have a negative effect on any attempts to move forward with the reconciliation process.
IED detonated in front of Security Forces Barracks
(31 January) Two improvised explosive devices were detonated in front of a Giza Central Security Forces barracks on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road, injuring a police officer. The explosions severely damaged a central security vehicle parked in front of the camp. A wave of attacks by Islamic militants has swept across Egypt in the weeks since the mid-January constitutional referendum. Last Friday, four bombs exploded in different areas of Cairo, killing 6.
Twenty Journalists face charges in Egypt
(29 January) Twenty journalists are facing charges in Egypt. Sixteen of the journalists are Egyptians accused of belonging to a terrorist group, harming national unity and social peace, and using terrorism as a means to their goals. Four are foreigners accused of assisting the organisation by providing them with information, equipment, and money, and broadcasting false information and rumours to convince the international community that Egypt was undergoing a civil war. The defendants include two Britons, a Dutch national and an Australian. No names are mentioned, but warrants state that four foreigners were correspondents for al-Jazeera news network.
Eight of the defendants are in detention; 12 are on the run with arrest warrants issued against them. International news organisations have issued a joint call for the immediate release of all journalists held in Egypt.
Armed men storm government building in Iraq
(30 January) Eight armed men assaulted an office of Iraq’s transportation ministry in northeast Baghdad, killing at least 20 people and briefly taking a number of civil servants hostage. Four of the eight men are believed to have been killed in clashes with security forces. Security forces sealed off the surrounding area, which houses other government offices including the headquarters of the transport ministry and a human rights ministry building. No group has claimed yet responsibility, but fighters affiliated with the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have mounted similar armed attacks on Iraqi government buildings.
On Thursday, bombings took place near a market and a restaurant in the Shia-majority neighbourhoods of Kasra and Talbiyah killed six people. On Wednesday, several car bombs detonated in predominantly Shia cities of Baghdad Jadidah, Shuala and Talbiyah, leaving nine people dead. Attacks on Wednesday also hit the outskirts of the capital, as well as the northern cities of Mosul and Tuz Khurmatu, killing seven others.
The death toll from Iraqi violence in January has gone past 900. With upcoming elections in three months, security forces have been grappling with intensifying violence and an extended standoff with anti-government fighters in western Anbar province. The fighters hold all of Fallujah, right next to Baghdad. ISIL has been involved in the fighting. The standoff has forced more than 140,000 people to flee their homes, the worst displacement in Iraq since the 2006-2008 sectarian conflict.
Man admits transporting bombs
(31 January) Omar Ibrahim Al Atrash, who was arrested last week, has confessed to transporting suicide bombers and car bombs between Syria and Lebanon, including to Beirut. Atrash has admitted ties to three wanted individuals, as well as to AQ-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades, ISIL and Al Nusra Front. Atrash has “admitted to transporting car bombs to Beirut” after receiving them from a Syrian, and “transporting suicide bombers of different Arab nationalities into Syria and handing them over to the Nusra Front.” The army said two of the car bombs transported by Atrash had blown up, but it did not specify where.
Many bomb attacks have targeted strongholds of Hezbollah, which has drawn the ire of Sunni extremist groups in part because of its role fighting alongside the regime in Syria. Though Hezbollah is thought to be the target of the attacks, those killed in the bombings have largely been civilians.
Clashes erupt after kidnapping official’s son in Benghazi
(31 January) Clashes erupted Benghazi after the son of a commander in the army’s Special Forces was kidnapped. The clashes left at least one soldier dead and wounded two other army personnel.
The unknown kidnappers demanded that Libya’s special forces’ commander, Brigadier-General Wanis Bu Khamada, pull his forces from the city, especially the districts of al-Hawari and Gwarsha, in exchange of releasing his abducted son. While several military facilities are located in the listed districts, they are controlled by militias of former rebels
The heaviest clashes were reportedly seen at a base operated by the Brigade of the February 17 Martyrs, a group of former Islamist rebels; however the group denied kidnapping the general’s son on its Facebook page.
Ali Bu Khamada was taken outside Benghazi University, where he is a student. He tried resisting his kidnappers and appeared to have been injured by a gunshot. Last week, Special Forces announced the arrest of four suspects in possession of a hit list of officers that were to be targeted, or were already killed. A military source said the abduction was carried out to pressure the Special Forces to release prisoners held by the army.
Libya minister survives assassination attempt
(29 January) Libya’s acting interior minister, Al-Sidik Abdul-Karim, has escaped an assassination attempt in Tripoli. Karim was on his way to a meeting when his car came under fire from unknown gunmen. After the attack, Al-Sidik Abdul-Karim said in a statement: “Libya’s men will not be intimidated by bullets, bombs or rockets.” Earlier in January, deputy industry minister Hassan al-Droui was shot dead; the first killing of a member of the interim government. No group has claimed responsibility.
The transitional government has been struggling to assert itself over up to 1,700 different armed militias, each with their own goals. Local officials in various regions of Libya have also been killed. Most cases remain unsolved and only few arrests have so far been made. Last week, the political instability in Libya worsened when the Justice and Construction Party, the second largest party in the interim administration, said it was quitting the government. The group made the announcement after it failed to win sufficient support for a motion to censure Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. The move could deepen the deadlock in the interim parliament, and increase political infighting.
Syrian peace talks draw to a close
(31 January) The Syrian government and opposition traded insults after a week-long peace conference in Geneva. The conference ended with no firm agreement. Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the opposition were immature, while the opposition’s Louay Safi said the regime had no desire to stop the bloodshed.
More talks are scheduled for 10 February. The opposition has agreed to take part, but Mr Muallem refused to commit, stating, “We represent the concerns and interests of our people. If we find that [another meeting] is their demand, then we will come back.” Opposition representative Safi said the opposition would not sit in talks “endlessly”, and urged the government to “talk seriously about transferring power”.
The two sides discussed humanitarian issues and possible ways to end the violence and made some agreements on access for humanitarian aid in some parts of the country. Both sides agreed to use a 2012 document known as the Geneva Communiqué, which includes proposals for a transitional government and democratic elections, as a basis for discussions. The opposition has insisted on addressing the transitional government issue, but the government has been stressing that the first step is to discuss “terrorism”. Diplomats have said that a top priority is to keep the talks process going, in the hope that hard-line positions can be modified over time.
Tunisia Signs New Constitution, Appoints Government
(January 30) Tunisia has a new constitution has been signed, and control of the government has passed from former Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh to Mehdi Jomaa. Citizens are hopeful for major change in the country. The country’s president is Moncef Marzouki, told reporters that the newly-signed constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women, requires that the government protect the environment and work to stop corruption, and puts power into two men’s hands. Power over the country is split between Marzouki and Jomaa. Marzouki will have important roles in defensc and foreign affairs; Jomaa will have the dominant role in the government.The caretaker government will run the country until elections, which will be held on an unspecified date this year.
Activists and media have criticized the new constitution, noting that it doesn’t do enough to reflect what the citizens want and that the committee drafting the document did not have the power to change constitutional sections on the right to strike and freedom of expression. There is also concern that the document doesn’t do enough to protect men from violence. The document does not ban the death penalty, but makes accusing people of being nonbelievers an illegal act. Attacks on religion are also restricted. The creation of this document presumably brings the Arab Spring to a close in Tunisia.
Suspected militants kill 15 soldiers in Yemen
(31 January) Fifteen soldiers were killed and four wounded by suspected al Qaeda militants in an attack on an army checkpoint in south-eastern Yemen on Friday. The soldiers were ambushed as they were having lunch in a desert area near the city of Shibam, in the eastern province of Hadramout. The gunmen were likely to be al Qaeda militants. Hadramout, a center of Yemen’s modest oil production, has been hit by sporadic fighting between government forces and a big tribal confederation, after a senior tribesman was killed in a shootout at an army checkpoint in December.
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.