Algeria: Algeria and the US agreed to work together to prevent criminal access to black market nuclear materials, citing fears that supplies from Gaddafi’s stock are within reach of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Officials from both nations discussed security measures including border patrol, strategic trade controls and illicit transfer of conventional weapons, as well as constant monitoring of smuggling threats and trends.
Algerian Colonel Djamel Abdessalem Z’ghida announced that ground border surveillance in the southwest has been strengthened for the fight against trafficking and other criminal networks. Ground forces are supported by daily aerial surveillance.
The agreement between Algeria and the US is an unusual act of cooperation for Algeria, whose government prefers to conduct domestic security affairs unilaterally. US officials hope these efforts increase cooperation on a regional and international scale.
Internal reports by British Petroleum (BP) in 2011 and 2012 warned of risk of attack against gas plants in Africa. The reports anticipated the increasing likelihood of attacks in Africa following the killing of Osama bin Laden.
A May 2011 report, distributed immediately following bin Laden’s death, indicated that renewed terror activity could arise from within Algeria’s Al Qaeda franchise. The BP internal newsletter stated, “[Al Qaeda] affiliates and other groups will seek to fill the leadership and motivational void left by OBL.” However a report from January 2012 made no indication of threats to Algeria, rather focusing on other African and Middle Eastern nations, warning of a new brand of Islamic terrorism and “fostered by weak or nonexistent central governments, easily-crossed borders, ready availability of weapons and explosives, and simmering ethnic, religious and economic fissures.”
The militant group which conducted the terrorist storming of the Ain Amenas gas compound are led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a breakaway commander from AQIM. Both AQIM, and Belmokhtar’s group, called “Those Who Sign With Blood” originated in Algeria.
BP’s latest security assessment focuses on a standoff between Iran and the West, suggesting that Iran could use militia’s controlled by Irack to attack Western interests in Iran.
Bahrain: Rioters have blocked roads and clashed with security forces following the death of a teenage boy during the protests for second anniversary of Bahrain’s uprising. The boy is reported to have died from “close range birdshot”. Hundreds of opposition demonstrators threw petrol bombs at police, who responded with tear gas.
On Saturday, police discovered a bomb on the Bahraini end of the King Fahd causeway, a 25km stretch which links Saudi Arabia to the island country. The route is used by thousands of people each day.
The protests occur in the midst of reconciliation talks between the predominantly Sunni government and Shi’ia opposition parties. The opposition wants to put an end to the Bahraini monarchy’s political domination and full power in parliament. The next round of talks is scheduled for Sunday, yet there is no word from either side whether the discussions will continue in the wake of the protests.
Egypt: On Friday, Egyptian security officials seized two tons of explosives hidden in a truck carrying fruits and vegetables. The explosives were confiscated in the main Suez Canal transport tunnel which connects Sinai to the rest of Egypt. The explosives were packed in 100 plastic bags, and are a type used for demolishing stones in quarries. The driver was been taken in for questioning, and said he was unaware he was transporting explosives. A businessman had asked him to take the goods to Sinai for collection.
Since the 2011, and particularly the Libyan revolution, Egypt’s Interior Ministry has confiscated hundreds of weapons smuggled from Libya, some of which are meant to be delivered to Gaza. Sinai has increasingly become a haven for Islamist militants who have benefitted from lack of security in the area following the Egyptian Revolution.
The explosives designed for demolishing stones may be an indication that Egyptian attempts to block smuggling tunnels in the Sinai are being met with strong resistance. On Wednesday, Egyptian security forces began flooding smuggling tunnels between Sinai and the Gaza Strip, in an effort to shut them down. The network of tunnels provides an estimated 30% of all goods received into the region, circumventing a blockade imposed by Israel since 2007.
Hamas released a statement Saturday condemning the Egyptian government for the actions. Khalil El-Haya, a senior Hamas official, added that people in Gaza consider Egyptian actions equal to a renewal of the Israeli blockade.
Iran-Israel: Brigadier General Hassan Shateri (also known as Hessam Khoshnevis), of Iran’s Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, was killed on Tuesday in Syria, while heading back to Lebanon. Shateri had been engaged in civilian reconstruction in Lebanon for the last seven years, and is the first Iranian general killed in Syria. The Iranian government has accused opponents of Syrian leader Bashar al Assad of the murder. Syrian rebels have accused Iran of sending forces to assist Assad in suppressing the uprising.
An Iranian envoy to Beirut has connected the killing with the Israeli government, stating that the killing had strengthened Iran’s resolve against Israel. Ali Shirazi, a representative of Ayatollah Khomenei to the Guards’ elite Quds force, stated, “Our enemies should also know that we will quickly get revenge for (the death of) Haj Hassan (Shateri) from the Israelis, and the enemies cannot shut off the Iranian people with such stupid acts.”
The Israeli government has not commented on the killing; however Israel has considered military action against Tehran if the Iranian government continues with a nuclear program. Iran claims that the nuclear program is peaceful.
On Friday, the chief UN nuclear inspector announced hopes to reach an agreement with Iran in March which allows them to probe into Iranian nuclear research activities.
Tunisia: Thousands of Tunisians responded to a call by the ruling Islamist Ennahda party and poured into the streets to support the ruling party. Demonstrators denounced Prime Minister Jebaili’s plans for a temporary “technocratic” government and chanted against the secular opposition parties.
The rally was called by Ennahda to denounce Prime Minister Jebali’s suggestion following the assassination of opposition leader Shokri Belaid on 6 February, which resulted in bloody classes between government supporters and opposition. Jebaili has threatedn to resign if he fails to gain support to form a new government.
Religious and political tensions have risen over several months in what was a “proudly secular” Muslim nation. Talks regarding a new administration have been rescheduled for Monday. A previous deadline for a new administration had been cancelled with no new date scheduled as of yet.
On 8 February, the Algerian army arrested two AQIM would-be suicide bombers in Tinzouatine. The individuals, a Malian and an Algerian, carried explosive belts and automatic weapons. They were arrested in the Tamanrasset province near the Mali border.
This arrest follows an attempt in the previous week by an armed terrorist group to break into military barracks in Jebel Boudoukhane, in the southern province of Khenchela. The incident unfolded as terrorists, dressed in military uniforms, set up a false checkpoint near the target, and intercepted trucks that supplied the military barracks with food. The rebels took the driver hostage and drove to the barracks, carrying machine guns and RPGs. One terrorist was killed and several soldiers were injured; the remaining attackers were hunted down by military reinforcements.
Algerian forces are raising their levels of vigilance, as analysts believe that Algerian and Tunisian radical groups are sharing experiences and will increase attempts to conduct both terrorist activities and smuggling of weapons and drugs.
Libya will close its borders with Tunisia and Egypt for five days, as a precaution on the two-year anniversary of the removal of Muammar Gaddafi. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan stated, “As of midnight on February 14th until the 18th, no one will be allowed to cross the Libyan borders between Egypt or Tunis as a security precaution.” The government has ruled out official celebrations for the 15th.
Many Libyans, particularly in the east, are likely to take to the streets to protest the government’s inability to provide reforms, including security measures to disarm militias, or the completion of a new constitution.
Lufthansa and Austrian airlines have suspended services until after 17 February, citing “tensions on the ground”. International organizations, including the UN and Western embassies, will also be on lockdown beginning 14 February. Many foreign nationals have left the country in advance of the anniversary.
Security in Tripoli and Benghazi has been tightened, including an increase in checkpoints. The UK FCO has not changed travel advice, but urges against all travel to the country, particularly in light of anticipated demonstrations between 15 and 17 February.
Tunisia has experienced a deepening political crisis since last week’s killing of Shokri Belaid, a leftist lawyer and outspoken opposition leader. The murder in broad daylight, which has not been seen since Tunisian colonial times, highlighted concerns over a largely unreformed police force and justice system.
Prime Minister Jebali delivered an emergency proposal to completely dissolve government and replace politicians with a non-political caretaker government in order to calm the unrest. The caretaker government would remain in place until elections could be held. The proposal sparked tensions within his own Ennahda party. Jebali has scaled back his proposals, which will be announced this week. If rejected, Jebali intends to resign.
One of the two secular parties in the coalition, Congress for the republic (CPR), is also opposed to Jebali’s proposal, fearing it will allow the return of figures from the former regime. Tunisian President Marzouki, who had also threatened to resign, has decided his CPR will remain involved in the transitional, Islamist-led government for an additional week. This announcement is a reversal on his threats to quit if two Islamist ministers were not replaced. CPR Secretary-General Mohamed Abbou stated, “The party has decided to freeze the resignations of its ministers for a week for more discussions on a coalition government.”
On Friday, tens of thousands of Tunisians took to the street for Belaid’s funeral, accusing the ruling Ennahda party of lax security measures in the face of increasing violence. The next day, thousands attended a pro-government rally in support of the current coalition.
UK FCO has issued no travel advice warnings.
In a rare move, hundreds of police officers held a protest on Tuesday, demanding that they not be used as a political tool of oppression by the reigning Muslim Brotherhood Party. Officers in at least 10 Egyptian provinces rallied around security officers, some carrying signs saying “we are innocent of the blood of martyrs.”
This uncommon protest by the police comes on the heels of increased police brutality during the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, which saw “old regime” tactics being used against protesters. On Monday, the second anniversary of the overthrow of Mubarak, police clashed with demonstrators in front of Ettihadiya Palace in Cairo, using water cannons and teargas to repel the protesters. The clashes have been smaller and less violent than in previous weeks.
Many protesters feel that President Muhammed Morsi is reverting to the tactics of force used by the Mubarak regime. Protesters also feel that the ruling party is using religious means to increase their control over the nation.
To underscore this, an Egyptian court banned YouTube in Egypt for one month due to the site’s continued hosting of an Anti-Islamic film which caused deadly protests throughout the Muslim world last September. Because the ban is both delayed and disproportional to the amount of unrest it caused in Egypt, human rights activists perceive it as a religious pretext for imposing restrictions and preventing free expression.
In addition, the nation was stirred last week by religious fatwas issued by hard-line Muslim clerics urging the assassination of opposition members. The ruling party has condemned these actions; Egyptian Interior Minister has issued an order for police to deploy additional security to the homes of opposition members. However, extreme actions such as the decree of a fatwa are unusual in Egypt, and are perceived to be in direct connection with the ruling party. The opposition party has since demanded that Morsi be put on trial over the deaths of 60 anti-government demonstrators in the past weeks; the public prosecutor claims there is no evidence to link Morsi with the deaths.