The United States has closed its embassy in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh and suspended all consular operations and services for two days due to security concerns.
A statement from the embassy said that consular services in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dharan would not be available on Sunday and Monday due to “heightened security concerns.” The embassy told US citizens to “be aware of their surroundings, and take extra precautions when travelling throughout the country.”
The embassy statement coincides with a security message issued on 13 March which warned that “individuals associated with a terrorist organisation could be targeting Western oil workers… for an attack(s) and/or kidnapping(s).” The message did not indicate a specific militant group. The security message called for US citizens to avoid large crowds, identify safe areas before walking in public, carry a phone at all times and to report any concerns to the Embassy. Two days later, the embassy announced that Consular sections’ telephone lines will not be open during the two days. The State Department in Washington said it had no further comment.
Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Middle East risk adviser Cornerstone Global Associates in Dubai, states that consular services are closed in response to specific intelligence information, rather than a general increase of risk. It is likely that the US consulate was reacting to a defined and credible threat.
Earlier last week on 9 March, the US embassy in Riyadh announced that they had become aware of a possible plot to attack employees working with oil giant Chevron in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil supplier. The embassy said they had received information which indicated that, “as of early March, individuals associated with a terrorist organisation are targeting employees of Chevron in Saudi Arabia.” The message was emailed to American citizens over the weekend, and added “There is no further information on the timing, target, location, or method of any planned attacks.”
An email statement from Chevron said they are monitoring the situation, reassuring employees that their security is “paramount.” The oil company did not elaborate on the nature of the threat, stating, “It is not Chevron’s policy to discuss details related to the security of our employees or facilities.”
Saudi Arabia is in the geographic and political centre of international affairs that have that have caused the nation to become acutely vigilant regarding domestic security. In Yemen, the weakness of the government, which has been de-facto overthrown by Shiite Houthi rebels, has caused concerns in the Kingdom that Yemen will now become a proxy war for Iran. Diplomatic concerns have been raised between the US and Saudi Arabia due to talks between the US and Iran over an extension of Iran’s nuclear programme. The kingdom is concerned that the P5+1 nuclear negotiations could lead to greater aggression from Iran. In a meeting earlier in March, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Riyadh to reassure King Salman and foreign minister Saud al-Faisal that a nuclear accord would not cause the US to let down its guard against any Iranian interference in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has been attempting to build a Sunni bloc to contain Iran and its influence abroad. The alliance has so far been met with a setback from Pakistan. Islamabad has opted, at least for now, to avoid becoming entangled in the sectarian cold war between Riyadh and Tehran.
Foreign nationals in Saudi Arabia have been targeted in a series of attacks since the kingdom joined the anti ISIS coalition last year. The last security incident to take place in Saudi Arabia involving US citizens was last October when a US citizen working for an American defence contractor was killed in Riyadh. A month later, a Danish citizen shot and injured.
29 January- Militants have attacked a hotel in the Libyan capital Tripoli, killing at least nine people including five foreigners, officials say. The Corinthia Hotel is often used by foreign diplomats, government officials and foreign companies. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has hosted several workshops at the hotel. Several gunmen stormed the Corinthia Hotel and opened fire in the reception area; a car bomb also exploded nearby. Unconfirmed reports say some of the assailants have blown themselves up. The officials say the dead include one US and one French citizen. The US state department has confirmed the death of a US citizen, US Marine Corp veteran David Berry. The French national is reported to have been working for Libya’s Buraq Air. There are conflicting reports as to the total number of attackers.
A Twitter account linked to ISIS said the group had carried out the attack in revenge for the death of Abu Anas al-Liby, a Libyan fighter who was suspected of involvement in the bombings of two US embassies in East Africa in 1998. As chaos erupts in Libya, officials in Geneva are rushing to put together a peace plan before ISIS can gain a foothold in the country. The attack on the hotel is the latest sign of ISIS flexing its muscles in a country that has become a failed state, and which could reach levels of chaos currently seen in Syria.
Libya has seen continual fighting since the death of Dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Beginning as small, localised skirmishes, the fighting turned into civil war last summer after national elections ushered in a moderate government, the House of Representatives, which heavily defeated Islamist parties and replaced the Islamist leaning General National Convention. Islamists and their allies, particularly tribal militias, reacted to the defeat by declaring parliament void, forming the Libya Dawn militia alliance and seizing Tripoli. The newly elected parliament fled and moved its administrative seat to Tobruk, in eastern Libya. The two sides, based at opposite ends of the country, have been at war ever since, resulting in thousands of deaths, towns wrecked and more than 400,000 of Libya’s six million population displaced.
In the midst of the chaos, ISIS has taken advantage and formed units across all three of Libya’s provinces. They have declared the eastern coastal town of Derna an Islamic caliphate, with parades of fighters waving black flags and ritual beheadings. ISIS claimed responsibility for the murder of 14 soldiers killed as they slept near the south-western town of Sebha, and earlier this month for the execution of two kidnapped Tunisian journalists, which is as yet unconfirmed. Earlier this month ISIS units attacked the living quarters of Egyptian guest workers in Sirte, separating Christians from Muslims and then taking the Christians away. ISIS later posted pictures of the kidnapped men on social media.
There are fears that the foothold in ISIS presence a threat to Europe, particularly in light of Libya’s proximity. At the Geneva talks, UN special envoy Bernardino Leon is warning that the window to agree a peace deal is closing. “Libya’s running out of time. How much time will Libya have, it’s difficult to say but the general impression is that the country is very close to total chaos.”
The UN is struggling to develop a deal, in large part because only one of the warring parties has turned up for the peace talks. Libya Dawn is refusing to take part. The group pulled out of the discussions after forces loyal to the Tobruk-based government seized the Benghazi branch of the central bank last week. Tobruk in turn said that, as the internationally recognised government, it is entitled to control its own central bank, further poisoning relations between the two sides. Because the Tobruk-based government is internationally recognised, it ostensibly controls oil revenues, and is reluctant to agree to a ceasefire while its expanding army is making gains on the battlefield.
In Benghazi, army units have bottled up Ansar al Sharia, a militant group, in the port area. Meanwhile the air force, loyal to Tobruk, last month repulsed a Libya Dawn offensive aimed at capturing Es Sider, the largest oil port.
Libya is quickly running out of money. The central bank, a neutral institution, pays soldiers on both sides of the conflict, and its reserves are running low, unable to be replenished as oil production has slowed considerably due to the fighting. The population is almost wholly dependent on cash from foreign reserves, and these are starting to run dry.
In the absence of a peace agreement and with depletion of resources, ISIS may become the beneficiary of the anarchy in the failed state, unless at least temporary terms between the two governments can be reached in haste.
On 14 January, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo’s which killed 12 last week. In a speech by AQAP senior official Nasser bin Ali al Ansi entitled “Vengeance for the Messenger of Allah,” Al Ansi says, “We in the Organization of Qa’idatul Jihad in the Arabian Peninsula claim responsibility for this operation as a vengeance for the Messenger of Allah.”
Al Ansi and AQAP take responsibility for selecting the target, planning and financing the operation. He adds that the operation was under the “order of our general emir, the generous Sheikh Ayman bin Muhammad al Zawahiri.” and the “will” of Sheikh Osama bin Laden.
AQAP had threatened Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier in the past. The editor was named specifically in a poster enclosed in a 2013 issue of Inspire magazine. The poster listed names of individuals wanted, “Dead or Alive For Crimes Against Islam.” Charbonnier, was killed in the attack.
While taking responsibility for attacks on the magazine conducted by brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, al Ansi denies any connections to the killings conducted by Ahmed Coulibaly, who conducted an attack at a kosher grocery store in Paris, killing four, including a French police officer. Al Ansi calls it “tawfeeq” (good fortune) that the operation coincided with the attack conducted by Coulibaly.
Al Ansi’s description of the Kouachi brothers is consistent with other evidence. Cherif Kouachi gave an interview to a French tv station while hiding in a printing factory after the Paris attack. He stated, “I was sent, me, Cherif Kouachi, by al Qaeda in Yemen. I went there and Sheikh Anwar al Awlaki financed my trip.”
It is believed that the brothers may have travelled to Yemen and met directly with Awlaki. Some reports have indicated that Cherif, the younger of the brothers, was the aggressor in the attacks. It has also been suggested that the brothers received training and financing from AQAP.
Separately, in an interview with a French television station, Ahmed Coulibaly said he was a member of ISIS. A video posted online after Coulibaly’s death shows him pledging allegiance to the terrorist group and its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Coulibaly claimed no ties to al Qaeda, which has an intense rivalry with ISIS
8 January – French anti-terrorism police have moved in on an area northeast of Paris after two men wanted for an attack on a satirical newspaper were spotted at a gasoline station in the region. The men, identified as brothers as Cherif and Said Kouachi, aged 32 and 34, were already under watch by security services. The men are are believed responsible for killing 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo weekly, the worst attack in France for decades. Fears have arisen that they could strike again. Two police sources have said that the men were seen armed and driving a Renault Clio at a petrol station in Villers-Cotterets, 40 miles outside of Paris.
On Wednesday, two gunmen with Kalashnikovs exited a black car and forced an employee of the magazine to let them into the building in central Paris. Once inside, witnesses say that the assailants deliberately targeted journalists, killing the publication’s editor, Stephane Charbonnier, as well as killing or wounding a number of cartoonists. One report indicates that the killers asked for people by name. Two policemen were also killed in the attack. The attackers then entered a black getaway car and fled the scene before moving to a stolen car.
On Wednesday night, the youngest shooter, an 18-year-old man, turned himself into police near the Belgian border. A legal source said he was the brother-in-law of one of the main suspects. A total of seven people had been arrested since the attack, mostly acquaintances of the two main suspects. One source said one of the brothers had been identified by his identity card, left in the getaway car.
Security services have feared that nationals drawn into militant groups fighting in Syria and Iraq could return to their home countries to launch attacks; however there is no concrete evidence that the two suspects actually fought abroad. Terrorist organisations have repeatedly threatened France with attacks over its military strikes on Islamist strongholds in the Middle East and Africa. Extremist ire was directed at Charlie Hebdo, which has published numerous cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad. Militants online repeatedly warned that the magazine would pay for its mockery. No group has officially claimed credit for today’s attack, although witnesses report that the attackers claimed they were members of al Qaeda. Corinne Rey, the cartoonist who was forced to let the attackers into the building, said that “[t]hey spoke French perfectly; they said they were al Qaeda.” Cédric Le Béchec, another witness, stated that one of the attackers said “Tell the media that this is al Qaeda in the Yemen [AQAP.]”
The professionalism of the attack does suggest that the shooters may have received weapons instructions at a training facility, or are ex-military. The use of heavily armed gunmen to attack well-defended targets is commonly used by militant groups including al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban. It is also a tactic used by militant fighters in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Nigeria. Some analysts also suggest that the fighters may have also been self-radicalised over the internet. The most recent issue of AQAP’s Inspire magazine, which discussed how to conduct lone gunmen attacks, included a “Wanted” poster entitled, “Dead or Alive For Crimes Against Islam.” The poster is intended to encourage followers to kill people who have supposedly offended Islam. Among the list is Charlie Hebdo editor-in-chief Charbonnier, who was killed during the attack. Charbonnier had been living under police protection because of previous threats against his life. In October 2012, al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn mentioned Charlie Hebdo in an audio message: “And here is France mocking again our Prophet, Allah’s peace and prayer be upon him, and our Shariah and the recent progress that Muslims achieved in the Arab revolutions […] So, where are the lions of Islam to retaliate for their Prophet, Allah’s peace and prayer be upon, against France and its immoral newspaper [sic] Charlie Hebdo. We ask Allah to reward in the best way those who burned its headquarters and hacked its website, for you cooled off the chests of Muslims. Is there more?” Currently, no concrete links to terrorist organisations have been made.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands have taken part in vigils across the nation to defend freedom of speech, many wearing badges declaring “Je Suis Charlie” (I Am Charlie) in support of the newspaper and the principle of freedom of speech. France’s Muslim Council issued a call for “all Imams in all of France’s mosques to condemn violence and terrorism wherever it comes from in the strongest possible way.” The Muslim community also fears retaliatory strikes; police sources have reported that the window of a kebab shop next to a mosque in the town of Villefrance-sur-Saone was blown out by an overnight explosion. No one was wounded. Three blank grenades were thrown at a mosque shortly after midnight in the city of Le Mans, and a bullet hole was also found in a window of the mosque. In the Port-la-Nouvelle district near Narbonne in southern France, several shots were fired in the direction of a Muslim prayer hall shortly after evening prayers. The hall was empty, the local prosecutor said.
Earlier today, a police woman was killed in a shootout in Paris, however it is unknown whether the killing is linked to yesterdays shooting spree. The policewoman and a colleague were reportedly attending a traffic accident. Witnesses reported that the shooter fled in a Renault Clio; police observed the assailant wore a bullet-proof vest and had a handgun and assault rifle. However one officer said the shooter did not resemble the Charlie Hebdo shooters.
6 January – A top figure from within ISIS police forces has been has been found decapitated in Syria. The man was an Egyptian national, believed to be the deputy “emir” of the al-Hesbah force in a Syrian province. His body was found near a power plant in Deir-al-Zor province, where heavy fighting has taken place in the last month. Reports indicated that his body showed signs of torture; the head was allegedly found with a cigarette left in its mouth, while the sentence “O Sheikh this is munkar (hateful and evil thing)” was written on his body. It is believed that ISIS has banned residents in areas under its control from drinking or smoking. Shop owners found guilty of selling cigarettes in some of its strongholds have been publicly flogged. It is unknown whether the man was killed by ISIS, local residents, or foreign fighters.
The alleged beheading comes after ISIS released gruesome photos purporting to show the brutal execution of Iraqi police and men it accused of informing on the group. A video entitled ‘Day of Retribution’ showed eight captives wearing microphones before being shot dead by 12 militants. The officers were accused of spying on ISIS on behalf of the Iraqi military, and identifying targets for US led coalition strikes on ISIS targets. In the video the men are seen in kneeling on the ground wearing orange uniforms, similar to those worn by prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
The officers are shown blindfolded and handcuffed as ISIS fighters march them along the edge of a river. The men were forced to kneel on the shore underneath a bridge and executed with a bullet to the back of the head.