On 11 August, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was effectively deposed. Early in the day, the Iraqi National Alliance, a coalition of mostly Shi’a political parties, nominated deputy parliament speaker Dr. Hadier al-Abadi to become the new Prime minister. Shortly after newly elected President Fouad Massoum asked officially gave al-Abdadi his first responsibility as prime minister: to form a new government within the next 30 days. Nouri al-Maliki has declared that he will fight the decision, stating that Abadi’s nomination has no legitimacy. He called the move “dangerous violation” of the constitution, and vowed to “fix this mistake.” Under the Iraqi constitution, the president must appoint the chosen nominee of the largest parliamentary bloc. Al-Abadi comes from the same political party as Maliki. Immediately prior to the decision, Maliki had ordered his elite army units into the streets of Baghdad in a show of force. However, a senior government official said commanders of military forces that Maliki deployed around Baghdad had pledged loyalty to President Fouad Masoum, and agreed to to respect his decision to ask Abadi to form a new government. On 12 August, a statement appeared on Maliki’s official website ordering security forces not intervene in the conflict over who will be the next prime minister. Rather, they should remain focused on defending the country. Maliki has been widely derided for implementing pro-Shi’a sectarian regulations that have widely disenfranchised and alienated Sunni Muslims in Iraq during his eight-year tenure. It is believed that his sectarian policies spurred the actions of ISIS, the terrorist organisation that has taken over vast swaths of Iraqi land and Syria in recent months. Despite Maliki’s claims that the ouster was illegitimate, Iraqi media channels have already widely welcomed al-Abdadi, with some pro-Sunni stations criticising his refusal to step-down for the sake of the nation. Beyond Iraq, the appointment of al-Abadi has been met with welcome by many among the international community. Jordanian media has issued congratulations to the new Prime Minister. EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton called Abadi’s appointment a “positive step”. US Secretary of State John Kerry stated that Washington is prepared to “fully support a new and inclusive Iraqi government”, urging Abadi to quickly form a fully functional cabinet: “We are prepared to consider additional political, economic and security options as Iraq’s government starts to build a new government.” In Iran, a nation that was once considered an ally by al-Maliki, the decision to remove him from office has been regarded as a positive one. Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, has offered his congratulations to al-Abadi and the Iraqi people. Shamkhani is a close ally of Iranian President Rouhani, and a representative of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Iranian recognition of Abadi appears to eliminate Maliki’s main avenue of support of regaining power. Iran perceives ISIS as a threat to their national security. The Iranian government believes that in order to quell the spread of the terror group, Iraq must have a unity government, which Maliki has openly opposed. Abadi, a British-educated electrical engineer in his mid 60s, also served as an intermediary between diplomats and Western journalists in Iraq. He was exiled to England during the reign of Saddam Hussein when the Dawa party which he represented was banned from the country. He is perceived as a considerably more moderate and unifying figure than his predecessor. In order to prove his ability to form a unity government, he must reintroduce Sunni and Kurdish officials into senior positions in the Iraqi government and military. Under Maliki’s regime, all senior positions were held by Shi’a officials. He has little time to not only implement a unity government, but to also raise morale in the nation, as Sunni Muslims and other denominations will want to see immediate change, and the Kurds are pushing ever harder for an autonomous state. As one writer put it, the threat to Iraq is “existential, not political.”
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.
An intercepted conference call between more than 20 al Qaeda senior leadership and representatives prompted the US to close 22 embassies through 10 August, as information drawn from the call hinted that the terrorist organization was in the final stages of preparing for an attack.
A US intelligence official indicated that the conference all included members from Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda affiliates from Uzbekistan, and al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula. The intercept provided insight into how al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, manages the international terrorist organization.
During the call, al-Zawahiri announced that Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda’s affiliate based in Yemen, had been promoted to “Ma’sul al-Amm” (general manager), making Wuhayshi the second highest position in the network, giving him operational control of Qaeda throughout the Muslim world, and effectively moving the centre of gravity for the organisation to the Middle East. Leaders of the call also indicated that a team or teams were already in place an attack. This signal prompted the closure of US embassies throughout the Muslim world. In Yemen, the UK Foreign Office (FCO) has temporarily closed the British embassy and “strongly urges” all British nationals to leave the country.
Meanwhile, Yemeni authorities issued a list of 25 wanted al-Qaida suspects on 5 August. Officials believe the group was planning terrorist attacks in Sana’a and other cities across the country.
Algeria Enters Security Agreements with Tunisia, Libya
Algeria, a country known for being staunchly autonomous in security actions, has made agreements this week to work with other nations in the Maghreb. In the first move, The Algerian government has entered a bilateral agreement with Tunisia to eliminate terrorist threats along their shared border.
The Tunisian army has conducted attacks in the remote Jebel Chaambi area, and Algeria has deployed 10,000 soldiers along the other side of the border to monitor and prevent prevent terrorists from escaping into Algeria during the Tunisian siege.
Joint operations will be launched in phases on the ground and from the air, and the two nations will share intelligence. Intelligence services from both nations are particularly concerned as to whether the al-Qaeda allied group, Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), has moved from Mali to Tunisia.
However, it is likely that the terrorist group has moved to Libya, where they have the best opportunity to procure weapons of various sizes.
To that end, on 6 August, Libya and Algeria have entered an agreement to form a joint commission to fight terrorism and trafficking in the Maghreb. Algerian Prime Minister Abdel Malek Sellal has called on countries in the Maghreb to work together to secure borders from terrorists, and trafficking, including human, drugs and arms trafficking, which he said have reached ”alarming levels”.
On the international relations front, Algeria has also agreed to expand and deepen its relationship with Iran. Newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced, “Iran is completely ready to expand and deepen bilateral relations with Algeria in economic, cultural and political fields and believes that settlement of the regional issues needs the partnership of the countries of the region.”
President Rouhani was inaugurated into office in Iran on 4 August. Algeria will be holding elections next year.
Bahrain’s New “Anti-Protest” Laws Draw Ire from UN
Bahrain enacted stricter penalties for protests on 31 July, which include increasing the detention period for committing or inciting an act of terrorism. Critics suspect that the law, which also includes penalties for sit-ins, rallies, and gatherings, will be used against peaceful protesters.
Anti-government rallies in Bahrain have been planned for 14 August, despite the new legislation. The UN has warned that the new laws could result in “serious consequences” to the impact of human rights.
Political Mediation Talks Stalled
7 August: As delegates from the US, European Union, Qatar and the UAE have come to Egypt in an attempt to negotiate an end to Egypt’s political crisis, interim Egyptian President Adly Monsour has announced that mediation efforts have failed.
While visiting in hopes of mediation, US Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham urged the Egyptian military to release political prisoners in order to start a national dialog —a statement echoed by Qatari delegates— and also told the interim government that they consider the removal of Morsi to be a military coup – a term that the Obama administration had resisted using.
In a news conference last week, Senator Graham said, “The people who are in charge were not elected. The people who were elected are in jail. The status quo is not acceptable.” Calling the removal of Morsi a “coup” triggers a cutoff to the $1.3 billion in US aid that goes to Egypt each year. However, McCain said that “cutting off aid would be the wrong signal at the wrong time.” The Obama administration has not officially commented on the statements, but sources indicate that the US Administration is distancing itself from the senators’ statements. Reports indicate that the two Senators have left Egypt.
The statement caused outrage in the Egyptian media, and drew a strong response from Interim President Adly Monsour, who called it “an unacceptable interference in internal policies”.
Egyptian authorities allowed the delegates to meet with imprisoned Brotherhood leaders, hoping to gain peaceful solution. However, the interim government has now become determined to proceed with its own road map, which includes elections in nine months. On 5 August, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and European Union envoy Bernardino Leon met with Brotherhood deputy leader Khairat El-Shater in the prison where he is held. The delegates urged Shater to recognize that there was no realistic prospect of Morsi being reinstated, and asked for the Brotherhood’s attempts to work toward political compromise. Shater reportedly insisted they should be talking to Morsi, and the only solution was the “reversal of the coup.”
The announcement of failed talks also foreshadows a forced dispersal of pro-Morsi protesters, as sources say the government is also preparing to declare that the Muslim Brotherhood protests against the army’s overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi are non-peaceful. This is a critical signal that the government intends to remove the protesters by force, particularly in the Rabaa and al-Nahda protest camps in Cairo. Last week, security forces promised protesters safe exit if they left the camps, but warned their patience was limited.
Nearly 300 people have been killed in political violence since Morsi’s removal, including 80 killed by Egyptian security forces on 27 July.
Iran Prepared to Resume Nuclear Talks with World Leaders
In his first news conference as President, Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran is ready for “serious” and swift talks regarding the nation’s controversial nuclear program. “We are ready to engage in serious and substantial talks without wasting time,” Rouhani said, and added that Iran’s interactions with the West should be based on “talks, not threats.”
The U.S. and its allies believe Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. The Iranian government insists that the program is meant for peaceful operations, such as power generation and medical isotopes. Rouhani, a former top nuclear negotiator and a moderate cleric, has raised hopes among foreign diplomats. Several rounds of talks during Ahmedinijad’s tenure failed, resulting in heavy sanctions which decimated the nation’s economy as oil exports came to a standstill, and the nation suffered blocks on international banking transactions. Rouhani has made it his priority to work toward the sanctions against Iran lifted, despite the fact that Iranian policy rests primarily with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
On 6 August, European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, called on Rouhani to schedule “meaningful talks” on the nuclear issue as soon as possible, adding that the five permanent UN Security Council nations, as well as Germany, are ready to continue talks to find a resolution as quickly as possible.
Rouhani believes it is possible to strike an agreement that would allow Iran to keep enriching uranium while assuring the West it will not produce nuclear arms. US President Barack Obama and other Western leaders have publicly supported diplomatic measures, though they have stated that military options are not off the table.
Rouhani indicated he would be willing to speak with representatives from Washington or the West, saying he would even go to Washington, as long as the nations “abandon the language of pressure and threat.” Rouhani did add, however, that there is a long way to go before Iran allows the U.S. consulate to resume work in Tehran.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the international community to step up pressure on Tehran, saying that, “The only thing that has worked in the last two decades is pressure. And the only thing that will work now is increased pressure.” Netanyahu believes that despite Rouhani’s moderate speech, the leader backs enriching uranium for nuclear weapons.
Series of Bomb Attacks Kill 41
A series of bomb attacks in and around Baghdad has left 41 dead and over 100 wounded. On 6 August, six car bombs targeted markets and shopping streets in different parts of Baghdad.
The bombings are the latest in a wave of violence which has swept Iraq in the past six months. The attacks predominantly stem from Sunni Islamist militant groups which mostly target Shia Muslim districts. This year, over 4,000 people have been killed in these attacks, with a further 9,865 injuries.
Citizens blame the government and security forces for failing to stem the violence. Just before the attacks began on Tuesday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a statement vowing to continue operations against militants, in a statement issued just before the attacks began. However, many Sunnis accuse Maliki’s Shia-led government of marginalising them, particularly after security forces broke up an anti-government Sunni protest in Hawija in April, killing and wounding dozens of protesters.
Libya Appoints New Defence Minister; Deputy Prime Minister resigns
On 5 August, Libya’s Congress swore in a newly appointed Defence Minister Abdullah al-Thani, despite nearly daily attacks by gunmen on security forces. al-Thani replaces Mohammed Al-Barghathi, who resigned in May following a series of raids by militias on ministries in Tripoli, pressuring lawmakers to pass a contentious bill.
Under former dictator Moamar Gadhafi, Al-Thani was detained several times because of his brother’s criticism of Libya’s intervention in the internal affairs of neighbouring Chad.
A day earlier, Libya’s Deputy Prime Minister, Awad al-Barassi resigned his post, citing failed government policies and the deterioration of security following a string of assassinations. Al-Barassi accused the prime minister of monopolizing decision-making and hindering government efforts to discharge its “responsibilities for deteriorating security, especially in (the eastern city of) Benghazi.
The Prime Minister’s office accepted the resignation, but has made no further comment.
Moroccan King Revokes Paedophile’s Pardon
King Mohamed VI of Morocco has revoked a pardon granted to a Spanish serial paedophile. The pardon set off a series of angry protests in the kingdom.
On 30 July, the king pardoned 48 Spanish prisoners as part of the nation’s Throne Day celebrations. Among the pardoned was Daniel Galvan Vina, age 60, who was convicted of raping 11 children aged between four and 15. In September 2011, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
While the king often pardons prisoners on special occasions, the decision to release Spaniards was at the request of King Juan Carlos of Spain, who visited Morocco in late-July. The pardons of Spanish prisoners frustrated Moroccans, who feel the king put Spain’s interests about his nation’s needs. However the pardon of Vina sparked particular outrage.
Rallies and sit-ins were planned around the nation as King Mohamed VI withdrew the pardon. Protesters called the pardon “an international shame”. A statement explaining the pardon’s revocation stated that the decision was made due to the “gravity of the crimes committed and out of respect for the victims’ rights.”
An earlier statement from the palace indicated that the king was unaware of the nature of Vina’s crimes, and issued a probe to “determine the responsibilities and the failures that led to this regrettable release.”
Vina has left Morocco, but the Moroccan Justice Minister announced he would work with authorities in Madrid to address “the next step after the pardon’s revocation.”
Omani Maritime on the Rise
An economic update by the Oxford Business Group shows that investments by maritime services firms are helping Oman to improve its credentials as a shipping and trade centre. Oman Oil Marketing Company (OOMCO) has announced plans to develop an oil terminal at the port of Duqm to provide bunkering services to the regional market. Oman hopes to tap into growing maritime trade along its Indian Ocean coast, while simultaneously attracting more customers to the port itself.
CEO of OOMCO, Omar Ahmed Salim Qatan said, “We are in the process of negotiations to acquire a footprint in Duqm by establishing a terminal and bunkering services.” The group hopes to conclude negotiations in 2014, but a timeframe for the planned developments is still in early stages.
Qatar Airways Suspends Operations in Tripoli
Following a series of dangerous incidents, Qatar Airways has suspended operations in Tripoli.
On 4 August, a Qatar Airways flight was prevented from landing at Tripoli International Airport when an armed group forced air traffic control staff to deny the plane permission to land. The flight was diverted to Alexandria, Egypt to refuel before returning to Doha.
A day earlier, a group of gunmen stormed the Qatar Airways office at the Tripoli airport demanding staff to leave. The group wanted to prevent Qatari passenger and cargo aircraft from landing in Libya, and force the closure of the Qatar Airways office in Tripoli. There was no explanation provided. As a result, Qatar Airways has temporarily seized operations in Tripoli
In June, Qatar Airways suspended flights to Benghazi after militiamen forced non-Libyans arriving on a flight from Doha back onto the plane and prevented Libyans from boarding it for the return flight. The militiamen accused Qatar of interfering in Libya’s internal affairs.
The Libyan Interior Ministry condemned the attack and asserted that the armed group does not
Libya. He added that the group is sending the wrong message to the international community and foreign companies, which could have a negative impact on Libya’s struggling economy.
Saudi Arabia- Sudan
Al Bashir Plane denied flyover in Saudi Airspace
On 3 August, a charter aircraft carrying Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir to attend the inauguration ceremony of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, has been denied flyover rights by Saudi Arabian authorities. The plane was forced to return to Khartoum.
The Saudi-registered aircraft with a non-Sudanese crew circled on the periphery of Saudi airspace for an hour, attempting to negotiate clearance. The plane had obtained prior authorisation which was withdrawn when the pilots announced that Al Bashir was on board.
Al Bashir has been indicted by the ICC on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and is subject to international arrest warrants. While Saudi Arabia is not part of the ICC statute, the nation has voiced concerns about Sudan’s close ties with Iran. Sudan allowed Iranian warships to dock in Port Sudan twice last year, drawing concern from the Gulf States as well as the US. The Saudi pro-government newspaper, Al Riyadh, criticised the Khartoum government over the incident, saying there is no “logical justification” for a relationship between the two countries.
In Iran, foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi called the barring of Al Bashir in their airspace “very unfortunate” and added that “Tehran is investigating”.
Syrian Rebels Capture Aleppo Airbase
Rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have captured Menagh airport, a key airbase in Aleppo province, near the Turkish border. The rebels have been attempting to capture the airbase, which lies on a major supply route from Turkey, since last year. The airbase was the final piece to consolidate opposition control in the area, but rebel forces are still under daily attack from long-range artillery and air strikes.
Rebel forces have also taken over several villages in the majority Alawite province of Latakia, which is near to Bashar al Assad’s hometown of Qardaha. Rebels have been engaged in fights in Latakia since 4 August.
Meanwhile, pro-government recently recaptured the Khalidiyeh neighbourhood in Homs from rebels. However, in Aleppo, sources report army shelling of a market on Monday, resulting in the deaths of eight civilians, including three children.
Over 100,000 people have been killed in Syrian civil war, with a further 1.7 million Syrians forced to seek shelter in neighbouring countries.
Protesters Demand Government Resignation
Tens of thousands of protesters have swarmed Tunis to mark the six-month anniversary of the assassination of prominent secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid, and to demand the resignation of the Ennahda government.
Public outrage escalated following the assassination of a second prominent opposition leader two weeks earlier. Mohamed Brahmi was a member of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), a group charged with working on the development of a new Tunisian constitution. Brahmi, a member of the opposition party, was shot on 25 July, nearly six months after Chokri Belaid was killed. It was later discovered that the two victims were killed by the same gun, suggesting that one group was responsible for both murders.
Following the assassinations, nearly 70 members of the ANC withdrew in protest, staging sit-in outside its headquarters in Tunis. On 7 August, the Ennahda Party accepted the suspension of the works of the NCA. The work was frozen until the dialogue between political parties resume. The protesters called for the complete dissolution of the assembly and the resignation of the government.
Following completion of the constitution, elections were to be held in December, however, it is likely they will be delayed, as the NCA is eight months behind its deadline.
The turmoil in Tunisia is at its highest levels since he ouster of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.
Yemeni authorities foil al Qaeda Plot
On 7 August, Yemeni security officials announced they had halted a plot by al Qaeda to seize an important port and kidnap or kill foreigners working there. According to Yemeni officials, al Qaeda had planned to take control of the Mina al-Dhaba oil terminal, in the Mukallah region on the Arabian Sea in Yemen’s south-eastern region. The officials continue that al Qaeda operatives intended to conduct the attacks while wearing fraudulent Yemeni military uniforms. It is unclear how the Yemeni government halted the plan.
Yemen has been in a state of high alert following an intercepted call in which al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri announced the promotion of Yemen-based Nasser al-Wuhayshi to the No. 2 position of the organisation. The US and Britain withdrew embassy staff from Yemen and encouraged all foreign nationals to leave the country. The US has conducted a series of drone strikes in the last two weeks. On 6 August, a stroke killed four people, and on 7 August, a targeted drone killed seven members of a Bedouin tribe in southeast Yemen.
The al Qaeda group in Yemen, al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) makes frequent threats. In the midst of economic woes and political tensions, Yemen remains under international pressure to show that it is working to counter the terrorist threat.
Algeria builds military zone along Tunisian Border
9 June 2013- Algeria has made plans to build 20 military zones along the Algerian-Tunisian border to minimize terrorist infiltration and arms smuggling. The move comes after success following similar efforts along the Libyan and Malian borders. The military zones are off-limits to civilians without a permit. In mid-May, Algerian military leadership began implementations of plans to protect over 80 border crossing points, covering 956 kilometres. Algerian-Tunisian Security agreements include military cooperation and exchanges of information, and well as tracking of suspects and mutually aiding in investigations related to “Jihadist” networks.
Bouteflika Suffered Full Stroke
13 June 2013- A statement released by the Algerian government admits that President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika suffered a full stroke, rather than the “mini-stroke” that was officially reported. Bouteflika suffered the event on 27 April and was immediately flown to France for treatment at Val de Grace Hospital. In early June, he was relocated for recuperation. Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and Army Chief of Staff, General Gaid Salah have visited Bouteflika, and report he is in good condition. The Algerian president gave orders to ensure that markets have adequate food supplies as the month of Ramadan approaches in three weeks time. A portion of the meeting was released on Algerian national television in order to show that Bouteflika is improving, in hopes of quelling growing rumours that the president was in grave condition. Despite the images of Bouteflika’s improving condition, speculation is increasing that he will not run for election in April of 2014.
44 Terror Suspects arrested
13 June 2013- The Bahraini Interior Ministry announced the arrest of forty-four suspects, including two women, for committing terrorist activities in Bahrain. The investigation led to the identification of members and leaders of the terrorist group, the February 14th organization, as well as the “Al Imam Army”, which has trained others in the use of weapons and explosives with the aim of disrupting security and endangering lives.
The arrested individuals are suspected of a list of charges including: conspiring to plant a bomb during the recent Formula One race, blowing up ATMs, conducting arson attacks on car showrooms, and placing explosives around Manama, which have resulted in the deaths of two Asian expats. Three were arrested for using a homemade bomb planted in a car near the Bahrain Financial Harbour.
The February 14 organisation was created following incidents stemming from the uprising in Bahrain in February 2011. The Bahraini Interior Ministry have also named the cell’s masterminds in Bahrain and in London. The masterminds are known to frequently travel between Iran, Iraq and Lebanon to obtain financial and moral support.
Nationwide Protests Scheduled for 30 June; Interior Ministry Closes Routes between Sinai and Mainland
18 June 2013- Egypt’s Interior Minister has announced the closing of tunnels and ferries across the Suez Canal and the halt of any traffic between the Sinai Peninsula and mainland Egypt ahead of the upcoming anti-government protests on 30 June. The move is an effort to prevent the crossing of militants into the mainland of Egypt.
Nationwide protests against president Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are expected across Egypt on 30 June, the anniversary of his first year in power. Opposition groups have joined together to call for his removal.
Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim is specifically concerned with the possible invasion of prisons and subsequent release of prisoners, which has occurred several times during protests since the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Ibrahim is also concerned with securing Itihadiya Palace, where the president resides, and pre-empting clashes between supporters and opposition to President Morsi.
Security forces will also be deployed to the Egyptian Media Production City on the outskirts of Cairo, however national security services will not be provided to offices of any political parties.
Opponents of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood come from both liberal and secular movements, and believe that the 30 June protests are the last opportunity to drive him from power. Public discontent is widespread, ranging from concerns over failed infrastructure, food shortages, high prices and lack of security. One protest campaign has started a petition drive called “Tamarod” (Translation: “Rebels”) which has collected over 15 million signatures calling for Morsi to step down and early elections to be held.
Many of Morsi’s backers are planning counter-protests, calling the planned demonstrations an attempt to overturn democracy. A senior Brotherhood leader has stated that the protests are not actually backed by genuine popular support, and believes that the Tamarod signatures are forged. Some hard-line clerics have also issued fatwas, calling organizers and participants in the protests “kuffar,” or non-believers, who deserve to be killed.
Egyptian police, who have been angry with Morsi’s administration for being treated like a “tool of the political party”, have intoned that they wish to stay out of the conflict. The Egyptian military has not voiced an opinion, but has been visibly at odds with the ruling party.
Morsi names ex-militant as governor of Luxor
17 June 2013- Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has appointed Adel el-Khayat as the new governor of the ancient city of Luxor, raising anger among Egyptian tourism workers and residents. El-Khayat is a member of the political arm of ex-Islamic militant group Gamaa Islamiya. In 1992, the group staged an insurgency against the state, attacking police, tourists, and Coptic Christians. In 1997, Gamaa Islamiya claimed responsibility for what became known as the “Luxor Massacre”, when 58 tourists and four Egyptians were killed at the 3,400 year old Temple of Hatshepsut outside Luxor. In the 2000s, Gamaa Islamiya renounced violence and in 2011, the group turned to politics, aligning themselves closely with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Leaders of the organization have threatened an “Islamic revolution” if liberals try to unseat the Islamist president.
Workers and political opposition to the appointment have planned to seal off the governor’s office to prevent Adel el-Khayat from entering. Tourism workers fear that el-Khayat’s ties to the former militant group and his hard-line Islamist stance will deter tourists, which are the lifeblood of the region.
El-Khayat’s appointment is one of several new appointments for provincial governor positions. On 16 June, Morsi made seventeen appointments, including eight from his party, the Muslim Brotherhood. The appointments mean that the Brotherhood controls 10 of Egypt’s 27 provinces. Nine additional provinces are still run by military and police, stemming from the Mubarak era.
Hassan Rouhani wins Iranian election, replaces Ahmadinejad
14 June 2013- In a relatively calm election process, Hassan Rouhani has won the Iranian elections, and will be replacing outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rouhani was a participant in the Islamic Revolution of the 1970s and was linked to Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic. Rouhani was the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council for 16 years, and the nation’s chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005. Rouhani won just over 50% of the vote, and called his election a “victory of moderation over extremism.” After his victory was announced, Iranians took to the streets in tens of thousands, wearing purple, the colour of Rouhani’s election campaign.
Rouhani’s election brings a shift in Iran’s power structure, as he ushers in a mix of both conservative and moderate beliefs. As the former chief nuclear negotiator, Rouhani is supportive of Iran’s nuclear agenda, pledging in the run-up to elections to try to ease international sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear programme. His dealings with the West are expected to be significantly different from those of Ahmadinejad, whose brand of ultimatums and threats increased tensions with the West, resulting in heavy sanctions and economic strain for Iran. Rouhani is expected to take a more pragmatic tact in dealing with both foreign and domestic powers.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintains that Iran’s nuclear program should be stopped “by any means.” He added, “The international community should not fall into wishful thinking and be tempted to ease pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear programme.” Israeli President Shimon Peres is more hopeful, believing that Rouhani will not go toward extreme policies.
Although Israel will still consider military action if Iran continues its nuclear program, Western powers have indicated that they are willing to engage with Rouhani, providing he lives up to his obligations under the UN security council resolutions.
Rouhani has already begun discussions on his cabinet with Ali Larijani, speaker for Iran’s parliament. The Iranian Parliament must approve his selections when he takes office in August.
Suicide Bombers Target Mosque; 24 dead, 52 wounded
17 June, 2013- Two suicide bombers blew themselves up inside and near a Shiite mosque in Baghdad, killing 24 people and wounding 52. The bombing is the latest in a string of escalating sectarian violence over recent months. Since April 2013, nearly 2,000 have been killed, including over 220 in June.
The first bomb was detonated at a security checkpoint near a mosque in Baghdad’s Qahira district, a predominantly middle class, Shiite-majority neighbourhood. It is believed the first bombing was an attempt to distract the authorities as a second bomber went into the mosque and blew himself up while worshippers were performing midday prayers.
While no party has claimed responsibility yet, al Qaeda’s Iraqi division has conducted suicide bombings and attacks against Shiite citizens frequently.
On 16 June, 51 people were killed in coordinated bombings. On Monday, fifteen people were killed in bomb attacks, including deaths caused by a suicide bomber who set off his explosives among a group of policemen in Fallujah.
Bombings kill 13 ahead of vote
19 June, 2013– A provincial party leader and four of his relatives were killed in a suicide bombing attack in northern Iraq. Yunus al-Ramah, the leader of the United Iraq party, was hosting an event at his home in Al-Hadhr when a suicide bomber targeted people gathering in his garden. The attack happened just days before local elections are to be held on Thursday in Sunni-majority Nineveh and Anbar provinces, where polls had been delayed since 20 April due to security concerns. Ramah was not running in the upcoming election, although several members of his party are.
Later in the evening, back-to-back roadside bombs killed eight youths and wounded 25 near a football pitch in Muqdadiyah.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack; however Sunni militants linked to Al-Qaeda previously attempted to intimidate candidates in order to derail elections in majority Sunni provinces. Analysts believe that Shiite-led authorities are not exerting enough effort to address the underlying causes of the demonstrations. This lack of action has given militant groups opportunities to carry out terrorist tactics.
Libyan Judge Assassinated; Clashes in Benghazi
17 June, 2013- Unidentified militants have assassinated Judge Mohammed Naguib in a drive-by shooting in front of a courthouse. Naguib was a senior Libyan judge in the eastern city of Derna, which is a known stronghold of Islamic militants, including Ansar al-Shariah, the group suspected of involvement in the September 11 attacks on the US mission in Benghazi.
In Benghazi, Libya’s General National Congress has postponed the vote on a new president following another round of clashes in Benghazi, which erupted in the early hours of 15 June near the city centre. Libyan Special Forces battled gunmen, resulting in six soldiers dead and several injured. An explosion also occurred at the headquarters of the National Oil Corporation. Authorities are working to identify perpetrators of the pre-dawn assault, through license plates and photographs. One group has been identified; investigations are on-going.
Some Libyan activists believe that the national congress lost credibility by adopting the political isolation law at gunpoint and that the government was now losing its credibility as well, as “the state has failed Benghazi.” Locals say the city has become a place to settle accounts, and call on the government to come and conduct affairs in the city. One witness stated, “If Benghazi does not settle down, then Libya will not settle down. The state must meet its responsibilities.”
US- Taliban Talks Cancelled in Doha
20 June, 13- Talks scheduled for Thursday between US officials and Afghan Taliban representatives in Doha have been cancelled due to the Afghan government’s anger at the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar.
The opening of the Taliban office was intended to be a step toward paving the way for peace talks, however, protesters in Kabul argued that the office would develop into a Taliban government-in-exile. US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has been in talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who accused the Obama administration of duplicity. Karzai was particularly infuriated by Taliban officials displaying white Taliban Flag and referring to the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, and suspended talks on a long-term security deal to keep US troops in Afghanistan after NATO leaves in 2014. The US has asked the Qatari government to remove the sign outside the new office in Doha that claims to represent the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”.
Though the office in Doha is meant only as a base for talks rather than a political platform, Karzai felt the Tuesday press conference was a violation of that agreement. Further, the Afghan government prefers the US to refrain from broad negotiations with the Taliban. Although Washington agrees that the process must be Afghan-led the delegates want to discuss issues including renouncing violence, links with al-Qaida and women’s rights in the country.
On Wednesday, the US suspended plans to attend the talks. Meanwhile, the Taliban also claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on the Bagram air base that killed four Americans on the same day that the tentative deal about talks was announced.
Yemen market suicide bomber kills two
A suicide bomber has struck a market in the north Yemen town of Saada, about 80 miles north of Sanaa. The bomber detonated a bomb-laden motorbike in the town, killing himself and at least two civilians, and injuring eight.
Saada is a mainly Shia city in the north of majority Sunni Yemen. The town has been controlled by the Houthi Shia rebels for years. Fighting between the rebels and government forces had killed thousands of people over the course of a decade, until a truce was agreed upon in 2010. The rebels are involved in a national dialogue, however tensions have recently escalated as the Sunni-dominated government makes claims that the Houthi are backed by mainly Shia Iran. The rebels, who are also in conflict with AQAP, feel they are politically and socially marginalised.
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.