Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti disclosed last week the the Italian government is ready to “positively evaluate” any request for air base or air space use in the US airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) militants in Libya if that would yield “a more rapid and effective end” to the campaign.
The minister made the comments in response to questions in the Chamber of Deputies about the airstrikes, which were launched on the IS stronghold town of Sirte. Pinotti further disclosed that the US military action, which began last week “will be limited in time and area of operation, doesn’t foresee the use of ground forces and is limited to allowing the Libyan forces to successfully defeat the terrorist forces in the area of Sirte,” adding, “the government is ready to positively evaluate any request for use of bases and air space if that would be functional to a more rapid and effective conclusion to the operation underway.” She noted that so far, the US airstrikes have not involved flights over Italian territory however she added that Premier Matteo Renzi’s government “contends that the success of the fighting aimed at eliminating terroristic centres of ISIS (IS) in Libya is of fundamental importance for the security not just of that country, but also of Europe and Italy.”
On Tuesday 2 August, Italy’s foreign minister disclosed that stabilizing Libya would also help control the migrant crisis. Migrant smugglers have exploited conflict and chaos in Libya to launch boats from its long Mediterranean coast carrying hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers and other refugees from Africa and the Middle East to Italian shores.
Premier Renzi has in the passed repeatedly stressed that Italy would support anti-IS action in Libya only if the UN-brokered unity government requested such raids. Earlier this year, the Italian government disclosed that armed US drones could use the Sigonella base if needed to protect US military forces in anti-IS strikes in Libya however it stressed that it would not allow the Sicilian base to be used for offensive purposes. US President Barack Obama authorized the Pentagon to open a new, more persistent front against IS insurgents in Libya after the internationally backed government asked for help with precision targeting inside Sirte.
US officials indicated in early June that they see no evidence that Nigerian-based militant group Boko Haram has received significant operational support or financing from the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, more than a year after Boko Haram pledged allegiance to it.
The assessment, which is detailed by multiple US officials, suggests that Bok Haram’s loyalty pledge has so far mostly been a branding exercise designed to boost its international jihadi credentials as well as to attract recruits and appeal to the IS leadership for assistance. The US view of Boko Haram as a locally-focused, homegrown insurgency, is likely to keep the group more to the margins of the US fight against IS in Africa. The US military’s attention is largely centred on Libya, which is home to IS’ strongest affiliate outside the Middle East and where the US has carried out air strikes. According to officials, no such direct US intervention is currently being contemplated against Boko Haram. One US official has disclosed that “if there is no meaningful connection between ISIL (IS) and Boko – and we haven’t found one so far – then there are no grounds for US military involvement in West Africa other than assistance and training,” adding, “this is an African fight, and we can assist them, but its their fight.”
In public comments, senior US officials have disclosed that they are closely watching for any increased threat to Americans from Boko Haram and any confirmation of media reports of deepening ties with IS.
According to the United States State Department, there was a marked fall in the number of terror attacks that occurred around the world in 2015.
In a newly released report this month, the State Department attributed the 13% decline from 2014 to fewer attacks in Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan, which are three of the five countries that have been the worst affected by terrorism. The other two are Afghanistan and India. Together, more than half of the 11,000 attacks that occurred last year happened within the borders of these five countries.
Data compiled by the University of Maryland indicates that more than 28,300 people died – a 14% decline – and about 35,300 others were wounded in 11,774 terrorist attacks that occurred worldwide last year. State Department Acting Co-ordinator for Counterterrorism Justin Siberell notes that attacks and deaths increased in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, the Philippines, Syria and Turkey. The State Department also reported that figures indicate that the terror threat “continued to evolve rapidly in 2015, becoming increasingly decentralized and diffused,” adding that extremists were exploiting frustration in countries “where avenues for free and peaceful expression of opinion were blocked.” The State Department highlighted that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group is the biggest single threat, adding that the group has attracted affiliates and supporters in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It noted that while IS was losing territory in Iraq and Syria, it was gaining strength in Libya and Egypt. The United Nations has also warned that IS is increasingly focusing on international civilian targets. The UN has reported that over the past six months, IS had carried out attacks in eleven countries. This does not include the militant group’s ongoing activity in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
The State Department report also disclosed that Iran was the biggest state sponsor of terrorism, stating that it supported conflicts in Syria and Iraq and that it was also implicated in violent Shia opposition raids in Bahrain. Bahrain has accused Iran of supplying weapons to Shia militants behind bomb attacks on security forces however Iran has denied this.
On 13 May, Germany’s lower house of parliament approved a draft law effectively declaring Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia as safe countries. The move was done in a bid to ease deportation of failed asylum seekers from those North African states.
The law passed easily in the Bundestag lower house, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and their left-leaning Social Democrat coalition partners hold a majority. Only three lawmakers abstained from the vote while 424 voted for bill and 143 voted against it. The government commissioner for human rights, Baerbel Kofler, voted against the bill, stating that there were “proven and documented human rights violations” in those three countries. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has defended the law, stating that only 0.7 percent of asylum applicants from the three North African countries were granted refugees status in the first three months of this year.
The bill, which has been criticized by human rights groups as well as the opposition Greens and hard left Die Linke, still needs to be receive final approval from parliament’s upper house. If passed, the law will effectively allow German authorities to speed up the processing of asylum applicants from those countries and deport them if they are rejected.
In January, the German government tightened asylum rules in a bid to stem an influx of migrants, which last year saw more than one million people entering the country. Most of those who entered Germany in 2015 were asylum seekers fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.
The first of May 2016 marks five years of the death of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, however the network that he founded is far from dead despite suffering a series of setbacks.
While al-Qaeda has been replaced as the preeminent global jihadist power by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, which has held on to territory in Syria and Iraq and has a foothold in Libya, experts maintain that al-Qaeda nonetheless remains a potent force and dangerous threat. Attacks, such as the January 2015 attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, France, and a string of shootings in West Africa over the last several months have shown that al-Qaeda continues to maintain the capabilities to carry out large-scale attacks. Furthermore, in Syria and Yemen, al-Qaeda militants have taken advantage of the continued chaos to take control of significant territory, in some instances presenting themselves as an alternative to the brutality of IS rule.
When United States Special Forces killed bin Laden in Pakistan on 2 May 2011, the militant group that he had founded in the late 1980s had been baldy damaged as many of its militants and leaders had either been killed or captured during the US’ “War on Terror.” Dissention grew within the jihadist ranks as al-Qaeda’s new chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, struggled to replace bin Laden. One of the militant group’s branches, originally al-Qaeda in Iraq, would later break away to form the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). After successfully capturing parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014, the group declared an Islamic “caliphate” in areas under its control, and would later call itself the Islamic State. Since then, IS has eclipsed its former partner, and many other global militant groups. It has drawn thousands of jihadists, both local and foreigners, to its cause and has claimed responsibility for attacks in Brussels, Paris, Tunisia, Turkey, Lebanon, Yemen, Saudi Arabi and on a Russian airliner over Egypt – All of which have left hundreds dead. It continues to threaten European states with attacks such as those that were carried out in Paris and in Brussels. IS’ self-declared “emir” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has also won pledges of allegiance from extremist groups across the Middle East and in Africa. Powerful IS affiliates operating in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and in Libya have carried out a string of deadly attacks, with growing international concerns that the jihadist group is spreading from the Middle East into Africa and beyond. Experts have noted that IS has been especially effective at using new technology to surpass al-Qaeda, which has been less tech-savvy. According to Jean-Pierre Filiu, a Paris-based expert on Islam and jihadist groups, “al-Qaeda propaganda has become invisible on social networks thanks to the media war machine that Daesh (IS) has managed to successfully create,” adding, “al-Qaeda has lost everywhere to Daesh, except in the Sahel” desert region of northern Africa.
Other experts however, such as William McCants of the Brookings Institution in Washington, note that while al-Qaeda has lost some ground to IS, the organization has recovered, noting that “al-Qaeda has a strong showing in Syria and in Yemen.” In Syria, the group’s local affiliate, Al-Nusra Front, is one of the strongest forces that is fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The group also holds large parts of the northern province of Idlib. Meanwhile in Yemen, the local branch, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has seized significant territory in the south and southeastern regions of the country as the Yemen government struggles against Iran-backed Shi’ite insurgents who have taken control of the capital city Sanaa and other areas of the country. AQAP did however suffer a significant setback in late April 2016 when Yemeni troops recaptured the key port city of Mukalla, which it had occupied for more than a year. McCants notes that despite this loss, AQAP remains the key jihadist force in Yemen as it has thousands of members compared with only several hundred who are affiliated with IS. AQAP, which is considered by Washington to be al-Qaeda’ most well-established and dangerous branch, has also claimed responsibility for one of the group’s most important attacks abroad in recent years. In January 2015, gunmen stormed the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. That assault, which was claimed by AQAP, killed 12 people.
Since November 2015, Al-Qaeda’s branch in the Sahel region, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has carried out a string of deadly assaults on hotels and restaurants in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, which have left dozens dead, including many foreigners. In March, New York-based intelligence consultancy The Soufan Group disclosed that the attacks in West Africa “have reasserted the regional presence of AQIM and shown its expanding reach…AQIM has used the attacks to challenge the influence of the Islamic State, to demonstrate and build its local support and to show that it is united after earlier damaging divisions.”
The International Crisis Group notes that while IS has reshaped the jihadist landscape, al-Qaeda “has evolved,” noting that its branches in North Africa, Somalia, Syria and Yemen “remain potent, some stronger than ever.” The United States also continues to see al-Qaeda as a major threat, as has been exemplified in Yemen, where the US is pursuing a vigorous drone war against the group. The strikes have killed many senior operatives, including al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Nasir al-Quhayshi in June 2015. In March, a US strike on an AQAP training camp in Yemen killed at least 71 recruits. In Somalia, the US has also carried out a string of drone strikes against al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate that is trying to topple the western-backed government in the capital Mogadishu.