Interpol has issued a global security alert linked to a suspected al-Qaeda involvement in a string of recent prison outbreaks that have taken place in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan. The alert comes just days after the United States State Department issued a global travel alert and closed a number of Embassies because of fears of an unspecified al-Qaeda attack.
Citing prison breaks in three countries, Interpol has requested that its members examine whether or not al-Qaeda militants were behind the prison breaks. The police agency is also asking that member countries “swiftly process any information linked to these events.” In a statement that was released on Saturday, the French-based agency stated that “with suspected al-Qaeda involvement in several of the breakouts which led to the escape of hundreds of terrorists and other criminals, the Interpol alert requests the organizations 190 member countries‘ assistance in order to determine whether any of these recent events re coordinated or linked.” It also calls for Interpol to be informed “if any escaped terrorist is located or intelligence developed which could help prevent another terrorist attack.” The most recent escape occurred in north-west Pakistan, in which 248 prisoners escaped from a jail. On 30 July, Taliban militants used automatic weapons and bombs in order to break down the walls of the jail in Dera Ismail Khan. At least thirteen people, including six police officers, were killed during the attack. Authorities have since indicated that thirty of those who fled were “hardened militants” who were jailed for their involvement in a number of suicide bombings and other serious attacks. Meanwhile on 22 July, hundreds of inmates escaped from two jails in Iraq: Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad; and Taji, located to the north. Bombs and mortar fire were used to break into those two prisons in which al-Qaeda members were amongst those being housed in the facility.
US Extends Embassy Closure
Meanwhile the United States has announced that it will keep a number of embassies in northern Africa and in the Middle East closed until Saturday, due to a possible militant threat. After an announcement on Friday pertaining to a possible threat, twenty-one US embassies were closed on Sunday. On Monday, the State Department in Washington indicated that the extension of closures were “out of abundance of caution,” and not in reaction to a new threat. With the State Department announcing that the potential for an al-Qaeda-inspired attack being particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa, the global travel alert will be in force until the end of August. Although US diplomatic missions in Algiers, Kabul and Baghdad remained open on Monday, its diplomatic posts in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa and Tripoli will remain closed until Saturday. African missions including Antananarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali, and Port Louis are also on the list of closures. The US embassy in Tel Aviv, along with two consulates in Jerusalem and Haifa, were also closed on Sunday.
It is evident that security at US diplomatic facilities remains a concern following last year’s attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the US ambassador, along with three other Americans, were killed. Officials in the United Kingdom also announced over the weekend that its embassy in Yemen would remain closed until the Muslim festival of Eid which will occur on Thursday. The UK Foreign Office is also advising against all travel to Yemen and is strongly urging British nationals in the country to leave. Several other European countries have also temporarily closed their missions in Yemen.
The embassy closures and US global travel alert came after the US reportedly intercepted al-Qaeda messages suggesting that they were between senior figures within the militant group who were plotting an attack against an embassy. While the details of the threat have remained unspecified, it is evident that those members of Congress who have been briefed on the intelligence, seem to agree that it amounts to one of the most serious in recent years, effectively pointing to the possibility of a major attack which may coincide with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which ends this week.
In recent years, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, which is known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has attempted to carry out several high profile attacks, including one on Christmas Day in 2009 in which a man attempted to blow up a trans-Atlantic jet over Detroit, using explosives that were sewn into his underwear. Months earlier, the militant group had also attempted to assassinate the Saudi intelligence chief by using a bomb that was attached to the attacker’s body.
Bouteflika to Return to Algeria
9 July, 2013- President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is expected to leave hospital in Paris and return to Algeria soon. The 76 year old was rushed to a hospital in France on April 27 after a stroke. There has been little information released regarding his health, however Algerian state television released images of his meeting with his prime minister and army chief of staff in order to quell rumours about his health.
Bouteflika’s return ends the concern over a “presidential vacuum” in his absence. Opposition parties were preparing for the possibility of early elections; however a high-level source indicated that the elections will be held in the fall of 2014 as initially anticipated.
Algeria Steps up Security for Ramadan and Summer
10 July, 2013- Algeria’s security forces have taken preventive measures in counterterrorism during Ramadan and this summer. Ramadan, a lunar holiday, arrives early this year, coinciding with the summer season which is a high season for terrorist activity. The defence ministry has also drawn up permanent plans to secure the country’s borders.
The National Gendarmerie Command and Directorate General of National Security (DGSN) revealed a plan aimed at securing mosques, public spaces, beaches, and entertainment venues in 14 coastal provinces. Security measures include increasing surveillance operations, intensifying patrols, including foot and mobile patrols, particularly on roads with heavy traffic during the summer. Over 150,000 policemen, including 50,000 in the 14 coastal provinces, have been mobilised to secure holiday-makers, and 70 new neighbourhood security centres have been created near the beaches.
Security operations have already resulted in the deaths of 10 members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. On 5 July, the military conducted a three day sweep in the mountainous area of Bouira, an AQIM stronghold. Seven terrorists were killed by military helicopters. Two days earlier in Bordj Bou Arreridj, three terrorists were killed during a three-hour gun battle. The military seized weapons, hand grenades and some important documents.
Bahrain Police Tighten Security Measures after Violence
7 July, 2013- Bahraini police have come out in full force following outbursts of violence. On Saturday, the explosion of a homemade device killed one policeman and wounded five. The next day, thugs threw Molotov cocktails at a police vehicle, injuring three officers and destroying their vehicle. The same day, a gang hurled Molotov cocktails at a minibus during a clash with officers.
Police have set up several checkpoints at key entrances to Sitra, checking identities before allowing drivers to pass. Officers have also checked homes, searching for evidence. Since 2011, clashes have escalated in the nation as Shiite demonstrators continue protests against the Sunni dominated government.
Bahraini Forces Raid Homes as Protesters Demand Democratically Elected Government
8 July, 2013- Bahraini forces have attacked dozens of homes over the past three days in a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. The regime’s main opposition, al-Wefaq, reports that troops used poisonous gases in at least 34 areas to disperse anti-government protesters.
Thousands of Bahraini protesters demonstrated against the Al Khalifa regime outside Manama, demanding the release of political prisoners. The protest was called by the main opposition, Al-Wefaq party, and other political groups.
Al-Wefaq’s Secretary General, Ali Salman, says that the protests come after the arrest of over 640 individuals on various charges over the last three months. At least 13 people have been imprisoned for protests against the regime, with sentences ranging from 15 years to life. On Friday, a court in Bahrain sentenced 29 people to one month in prison for trying to enter the area formerly known as Pearl Square (now demolished), which was centre of the Bahrain’s anti-government protests.
A report published by the Bahrain Liberties and Human Rights Department in Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society found a number of human rights violations by the regime in June 2013, including 183 arrests (including 4 women and 9 children), more than 68 injuries due to use of excessive force, and 29 cases of brutal or inhumane torture. In addition, the group reported the raiding of over 263 homes, often occurring after midnight or at dawn, with forces vandalising or stealing the households’ belongings, as well as verbal abuse.
Protesters chanted anti-regime slogans while carrying Bahraini flags, anti-regime banners and placards. They say they will continue to demonstrate until their demand for the establishment of a democratically-elected government is met.
Interim President Appoints Prime Minister and Vice President, Reveals Timetable for Elections
8 July, 2013- Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, has released the timetable for new elections. Since the removal of Muslim Brotherhood backed President Mohamed Morsi, heavy clashes have occurred between pro- and anti- Morsi protesters, culminating in a deadly clash with the military on Monday, killing 55 people and injuring hundreds. The timetable was released quickly in an effort to quell instability in the nation.
The first action will be the formation of a panel to amend the constitution, which was suspended last week following the removal of former president Mohamed Morsi. The new panel will be formed within 15 days. All changes will be put to a referendum to occur within four months.
Following the referendum, parliamentary elections will be held. These are estimated to occur in early 2014. Once the newly elected parliament convenes, presidential elections will be held. The Brotherhood rejected the plan, with a senior figure calling it a “decree issued after midnight by a person appointed by the putchists, usurping the legislative power from a council elected by the people, and bringing the country back to stage zero”.
On Tuesday, Mansour appointed Hazem Beblawi as his prime minister and directed him to form a new government. Beblawi served as finance minister in 2011, following the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak. His sometime alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood has earned him the backing of the Salafist Nour Party, a key improvement after the party’s announcement that they would not participate in the incoming government following the bloodshed on Monday.
Mohamed El Baradei, leader of the National Salvation Front, was initially tapped as prime minister but was met with animosity from anti-Morsi Protesters. He has now been appointed the role of Vice President and the responsibility for foreign affairs.
Gulf States Provide Billions in Aid to Support Egypt
10 July, 2013- Gulf States have provided over $12 billion USD in aid, a great show of support for the Egyptian army’s move to push the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Despite concerns from Western nations such as the US and UK, the Gulf states have eagerly offered support. The United Arab Emirates offered a grant of $1 billion and a loan of $2 billion, while Saudi Arabia offered $3 billion in cash and loans, and an additional $2 billion worth of much-needed fuel. Both nations had promised aid following the removal of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but withheld it while Morsi was in office. Morsi received backing predominantly from Qatar, which is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. On Thursday morning, Kuwait announced they would send $4 billion in support; $2 billion central bank deposit, a $1 billion grant and $1 billion in oil products.
The monetary aid provides Egypt with urgently needed funds to distribute the subsidized fuel and food for its 84 million people. Egypt’s economy has been in steady decline since 2011, as the Arab Spring drove away tourists and investors. The aid also gives the new leaders time to negotiate with the International Monetary fund for a long awaited $4.8 billion rescue loan.
Iraqi Shiite PM Seeks Alliance with Sunni Muslims
8 July, 2013- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is making efforts to build alliances with moderate Iraqi Sunni groups, believing cross-sectarian cooperation will aid in closing the increasingly violent religious schism.
Shia and Sunni sectarian violence has escalated significantly as a result of the Syrian civil war. Iraq’s Shiite majority lives in the east, closer to Iran, which has supplied weapons and fighters to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Iraqi Sunnis live mainly in the west and north near Syria, where Sunni rebels have received support from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Iraqi militant groups are fighint on both sides of the issue. The Shiite-led Iraqi government has avoided taking sides; concerned with minimizing domestic unrest, particularly after suffering its three deadliest months in five years, and fearing a repeat of sectarian civil war of 2006 and 2007.
Until recently, al-Malaki has taken a hardline approach as the “Shiite defender.” However, as election season nears and the prime minister seeks to regain office, he has taken a more unified stance. al-Malaki’s party has lost support in his Shiite base, however he has approximately 33 percent of the Sunni community’s support. It is possible that al-Maliki could potentially partner with moderate Sunnis to form a governing coalition. To this end, the Iraqi government passed a law in June which transferred significant powers from the central government to the provinces; and al-Maliki approved a bill allowing many former members of Saddam Hussein’s (predominantly Sunni) Baath party to hold government positions.
Although the alliance depends on several factors outside of politics, al-Malaki hopes that the outreach will stem the tide of internal sectarian clashes.
Jordan receives Abu Qatada after Deportation from UK
7 July 2013– Jordan has received convicted Islamist Abu Qatada, whose real name is Mahmoud Mohammad Othman, after he was deported by Britain to face trial in the Kingdom. Qatada will be interrogated and retried in on terror charges stemming from 1999 and 2000.
The transfer follows the ratification of a treaty between Britain and Jordan aimed at easing human rights concerns that had blocked previous attempts to deport the Jordanian preacher. Although Britain had tried to deport Abu Qatada since 2001, courts have blocked extradition, fearing that evidence obtained under torture could be used against him.
In 1999, the Jordanian government sentenced Abu Qatada was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment with hard labour for conspiracy to carry out terror attacks targeting the Modern American School, and a major hotel, with bombings which caused minor property damage but no casualties. In 2000, he was sentenced to a further 25 years for involvement in a plot to bomb tourists attending Millennium celebrations in Jordan.
In Britain, Abu Qatada is accused of links with Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States over the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and with shoe bomber Richard Reid. He was detained in 2002 under anti-terrorism laws, which at the time allowed suspected terrorists to be jailed without charge. When the law was overturned in 2005, he was released but kept under close surveillance and detained in various ways. He most recently was being held at London’s Belmarsh prison after breaching a bail condition in March which restricted the use of mobile phones and communication devices.
Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs, Mohammad al-Momani, says that Abu Qatada will receive a fair trial in accordance with the Jordanian law and in line with international agreements and human rights accords.
Kuwait Bans Expats from Driving and Hospitals
9 July, 2013- The Kuwaiti government has restricted expats from using public hospitals and driving. In early June, the Kuwaiti government barred foreigners from attending a major public hospital in the morning, freeing it for locals who have complained about overcrowding. The move is part of a six month trial to ease congestion for Kuwaiti patients. If it is successful, the plan will be rolled out nationally, allowing foreigners to receive morning treatment only in cases of emergency.
Kuwait is also ending subsidies to foreigners for public services such as electricity and water, calling them “a burden on the state”.
Earlier this year the Kuwaiti government said it relied too heavily on expats and wants to reduce their numbers, as expats outnumber Kuwaitis 2 to 1. Over the next decade, the nation plans to cut its 1.8 million expats by 100,000.
Kuwaiti authorities have also tightened restrictions on foreign drivers by withdrawing licences from students and housewives. Under current laws, most foreigners can only drive on public roads if they hold a university degree, earn 400 dinars (£910) a month and have lived in the country for at least two years. Students and housewives with children exempted from the conditions, as were judges and doctors. Kuwait’s traffic department is reviewing exemptions, and licences for students when they graduate and housewives who get a job.
In addition, over a thousand expats have been deported within the past two months for minor traffic offences. The anti-foreigner stance has caused Kuwait to drop down the World Economic Forum’s rankings for friendliness to tourists and visitors, falling to 137th place out of 140 countries.
313 Brigade Claims Responsibility for Car Bomb in Hezbollah Stronghold
10 July, 2013- A powerful car bomb exploded in a southern suburb in Beirut, wounding at least 53 people. The blast occurred in the heart of a highly secured Hezbollah territory, and was one of the biggest in the capital’s southern suburbs since the end of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war in 1990. The bombing raises fears that the Syrian war is spilling into the region and causing increases in sectarian violence, as is occurring in Iraq. On Wednesday, a group called the 313 Brigade took responsibility for the attack, blaming Hezbollah and parts of the Lebanese government for intervening in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the Syrian government. In late June, the claimed responsibility for an attack on a Hezbollah convoy in eastern Lebanon. The 313 Brigade has released a statement warning that Hezbollah must withdraw from Syria or it would experience further attacks in Lebanon.
The car bomb occurred in a commercial and residential neighbourhood in Beir el-Abed, as many Lebanese Shiites began observing Ramadan. The blast went off in a parking lot near the Islamic Coop, a supermarket usually packed with shoppers. Beir el-Abed is only few hundred metres from what is known as Hezbollah’s “security square,” where many of the party’s officials live and have offices.
Many believe that Hezbollah is facing retaliation for its role in fighting alongside Assad’s troops. Hezbollah fighters aided Assad’s troops in gaining a critical victory in the strategic town of Qusair, near the Lebanese border, where rebels held sway for more than a year. They are currently aiding the Syrian military in Homs. Syrian rebels and militant Islamist groups have threatened to target Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon in retaliation.
Immediately following the explosion, about 100 outraged Hezbollah supporters stormed through the area, carrying posters of Nasrallah and chanting sectarian slogans. Hezbollah operatives wearing red caps and holding radios kept watch as Interior Minister Marwan Charbel came to inspect the scene of the blast. They fired into the air to disperse protesters who were pelting him with stones, trapping him for 45 minutes in a building before he was escorted through a backdoor. Charbel is seen by some Shiites as sympathetic to Sunni cleric Ahmad al-Assir, who has agitated against Hezbollah for months and is now on the run.
The European Union condemned the Beirut bombing, calling it an “appalling act of violence (that) underlines the need for all Lebanese to maintain their national unity.”
Libyan Protesters Demand Disbanding of Militias
8 July, 2013- Hundreds of Libyan protesters called for the disbanding of militias that have plagued Tripoli since the end of the 2011 war. The Libyan government is currently attempting to regain control of the interior ministry after it was besieged by an armed group that entered the building on Tuesday and ordered staff to leave.
Armed groups have grown in power and ambition since the removal of Muammar Gaddafi’s, and the weak government has struggled to impose its authority over them. A ministerial committee has been in talks to regain control of the interior ministry from a militia, and government officials are drawing up plans to disband them, but have not released details.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said the Libyan government would raise salaries as a way to lure former rebel fighters into the state forces. Nearly 19,500 men would be sent for police and military training in the United States, France, Britain and Italy.
Istiqlal Party quits Islamist Led Government, Joins Opposition
9 July, 2013- A spokesman for the Istiqlal party, a secular centre-right party and the second largest in Moroccan parliament, has announced that its six Cabinet members have tendered their resignations, and the party announced it is formally joining the opposition.
The resignations come during domestic disputes over subsidy cuts, and as the dominant Islamist party in Morocco, the PJD, watches as Egyptian ally Mohamed Morsi is deposed. The PJD were supporters of the Muslim brotherhood, while Morocco’s king expressed support for Morsi’s replacement.
An Istiqlal leader Hamid Chabat has said that he hopes for the end of Moroccan Prime Minister Benkirane, similar to what happened to Morsi. Prime Minister Benkirane must now either dissolve the government and call early elections, or try to form new alliances to fill the empty seats.
The government crisis is compounded by a struggling economy. Morocco is facing a large deficit and a slowdown in growth after public spending to defuse popular discontent during the 2011 Arab Spring protests. The current government is struggling to rein in spending and reform a costly system of subsidies and state pensions. In May, Istiqlal threatened to quit over the Islamists’ plans to cut subsidies, however those cuts were a demand of the International Monetary Fund, which extended Morocco a $6.2 billion precautionary line of credit with the condition that it would undertake these reforms. The cutting of subsidies is likely to elevate social tensions in a nation where demonstrations over the high cost of living are common.
Angry Taliban Abandon Doha Office
9 July, 2013- Following the removal of the Taliban flag, and the plaque of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from their ‘political office’ in Doha, Taliban negotiators have stopped visiting the office. Their absence dashes hopes for an early resumption of the peace process.
Following the inauguration of the office, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration raised objections, calling the office an attempt to install a parallel government. In response, Qatari officials removed the Taliban’s white flag and plaque inscribed with ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ – a name the Taliban used for their regime before it was toppled by the United States in 2001.
Two spokesmen for the Taliban switched off their mobile phones and stopped replying to emails. Qatari officials that were present at the inauguration have gone silent on the controversy.
Karzai, angered at the prospect of being sidelined in any Taliban-US agreement, refused to send members of his High Peace Council to Doha.
A senior member of the High Peace Council said that the Taliban must hold exploratory talks with the US regarding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, or to remove the names of their leaders from the UN sanction lists. In turn the US also hopes to discuss release of their prisoners held with the Taliban.
Sudan – South Sudan
20,000 People Neglected in Border Region
8 July, 2013- Over 20,000 people are almost cut off from aid in South Sudan’s Bahr el Ghazal state, after fleeing violence in the disputed border region with Sudan. There is a severe shortage of food and drinking water, and the people in the camps are living in substandard conditions.
The refugees are receiving minimal humanitarian assistance because of the remoteness of the region confusion over whether to call them internally displaced people (IDPs), refugees or returnees. The displaced people have almost doubled the region’s population and are mainly living in 11 makeshift camps scattered across isolated parts of Northern Bahr el Ghazal. Because they have no specific settlements assigned to them, many people have had to move several times.
“When we first arrived in February, many people were actually living in the bush. Thousands of displaced people have arrived in this region but there has been very little action taken to serve their needs,” says Lummis.
Doctors without Borders has set up mobile clinics and is training teams of community-based healthcare workers to help combat diarrhoea, malaria and malnutrition, the three leading causes of death among the population. The group is also running a basic healthcare clinic near the town of Pamat focused on children under five and pregnant women.
In Sudan on 5 July, a UN peacekeeping leader urged parties in Darfur to cease hostilities amid renewed tribal clashes which have caused over 300,000 since the beginning of this year.
Rebel Blockade Causes Food Shortages in Aleppo
9 July, 2013- As Syrian rebels intensify a blockade of government-held areas in Aleppo, residents face severe food shortages. The tactic is aimed at weakening supply routes of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, but activists believe that indiscriminately punishes over 2 million people residents who live in the part of the city still held by the army.
Last year, rebels launched an offensive and seized nearly half of the city. For months, they have been working to block roads into the government controlled western part of the city. Food scarcity became a serious problem this week as fighters blocked a highway once left open to civilians. A rebel fighter called the problem an unfortunate side effect of rebel clashes with the army. Activists say food is now cheaper in rebel areas, as food prices have increased to over ten times their original level and basics such as bread and flour have become harder to find. A main road that is still passable is near Bustan al-Qasr, but has become so dangerous that it is referred to as “The Crossing of Death.”
Since 2011, over 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict. Sectarian violence is also increasing, as opposition, led by a Sunni majority, combats the country’s minorities, particularly Assad’s Alawite sect. Many members of minority groups live in the districts now being blockaded by rebels.