During a seven-month campaign to seize control of Sirte, the only Islamic State (IS) stronghold in Libya, IS has lost senior figures in what is now an unsuccessful battle to defend its coastal stronghold. However there have been growing signs that the militant group has already moved on to try to fight back through sleeper cells and desert brigades.
For months now, Libyan officials have been warning that hundreds of IS militants may have escaped before the battle for Sirte was launched in May or during its early stages. This has prompted concerns of a counter-attack or insurgency campaign that could allow the militants to show that they are still in business despite losing control of Sirte, which comes as the group is also under intense military pressure in its core territory of Iraq and Syria.
According to some experts, some cells have already been active and it is now thought that the militant group is behind at least two dozen attacks or attempted attacks that have occurred to the south and west of Sirte since August.
Before the launch in May of the operation to gain back Sirte, IS was thought to have several thousand fighters stationed in Sirte. It should be noted that estimates of the exact number have varied widely. According to residents of Sirte and security officials in Misrata, the city that led the campaign to retake the militant group’s stronghold, both leadership and rank and file had a heavy presence of foreigners, adding that the group drew on recruits from northern and sub-Saharan Africa. It is believed that much of that force has been killed in the past seven months as IS was also targeted by nearly 500 US air strikes since 1 August. Local officials have reported that amongst those killed were a number of high-level Libyan figures, including preacher and commander Hassan al-Karami and senior official Abu Walid al-Ferjani. According to messages of mourning that were posted on social media accounts close the militant group, a number of foreign commanders were also killed, however it currently remains unclear how far up the hierarchy they were or how important to the group’s future operations. While Misrata officials have refused to disclose on reports of IS militants being killed after capture, fighters and commanders have indicated that they took few, if any, prisoners. Ibrahim Baitulmal, head of Misrata’s military council, has disclosed that an estimated 1,700 jihadist’s bodies had been recovered during the campaign, noting however that the number killed is much higher as militants retrieved some of their own dead. He noted that those killed in the final days of the battle for Sirte included Abu Habib Jazrawi, a Saudi who is thought to have taken the name Abdul Qadr al-Najdi before being named as IS’ leader in Libya in March. While IS has not announced his death, regional media reported that Najdi was replaced in September by a Tunisian, Jalaludin Al-Tunsi, who was possibly appointed to carry on the fight outside Sirte.
What is clear is that IS has made no secret of its plans to continue the fight. In August, the new leader of IS’ Libyan branch, Abu Musab al-Farouq, disclosed that high-level figures who had escaped from Sirte were helping it regroup not far away. Months later in late October, the head of the west Libyan branch, Abu Hudhayfah al-Muhajir, acknowledged that the group had been suffering, stating however that it would continue its campaign for “conquest and empowerment” and that it was still attracting a steady flow of foreign fighters.
A United States hate-attack monitoring group has disclosed that it has documented 437 cases of intimidation and abuse towards minorities since the general election, which was held on 8 November.
The Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) has disclosed that it news tracking method had found “on an anecdotal level (the increase in hate attacks) has been obvious,” adding that many of the attacks were linked to supporters of President-elect Donald Trump. The news comes after the FBI reported a 67% rise in anti-Muslim bigotry last year.
The SPLC has also been critical of President-elect Trump’s decision to appoint a right-wing media executive to the role of chief White House strategist. The group has accused Stephen Bannon of being “the main driver behind Breitbart (News) becoming a white ethno-nationalist propaganda mill.”
Senior SPLC fellow Mark Potok has disclosed that the monitoring group has created an online form for victims where they can report hate attacks, adding that it was also monitoring social media and news reports of hate incidents. Across the country, a number of hotlines have also been formed. The Massachusetts Attorney General has set up a hotline for citizens “to report bias-motivated threats, harassment and violence.” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has also established a state-wide hotline due to an “uptick in recent reports of discrimination, bias-motivated threats, harassment and violence.” In a statement, the governor indicated that “any acts of discrimination or intimidation will be met with the full force of the law.”
Hate Crimes Also Reported North of the Border
Meanwhile across the border in Canada, hate crimes have also been reported however it currently remains unclear if they have anything to do with the US election.
The Toronto Police hate crimes unit has disclosed that it is investigating after signs urging people to join the “alt-right” were posted around town. The posters began “Hey, white person” and directed people to join white nationalist groups. Meanwhile in Ottawa, the capital city, police are investigating after a swastika was spray painted on the door of a local Jewish community centre.
The United Nations Security Council has imposed new sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear programme, with the latest sanctions targeting the secretive nation’s valuable coal exports to China.
Under the new sanctions, which follow North Korea’s fifth and largest nuclear test in September, coal exports will be decreased by about 60% under a strict new sales cap. Coal is North Korea’s to export earner and diplomats have disclosed that the export cap of 7.5 million metric tonnes would cost it US $700 million in lost earnings compared with 2015 sales. Exports of copper, nickel, silver, zinc and the sale of statues will also be banned. The resolution also blacklists eleven more people and ten entities, who are said to be connected to North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme, imposing a travel ban and asset freeze.
China, believed to be the only state that purchases North Korean coal, agreed to the sanctions after months of negotiations with the United States and the Council unanimously approved the sanctions resolution. While China is the reclusive country’s primary ally, and has traditionally protected it diplomatically over fears of what may occur if the government were to collapse, it has however grown increasingly impatient with its actions.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has disclosed that the latest sanctions sent an “unequivocal message that the DPRK must cease all the provocative actions and comply fully with its international obligations,” adding, “sanctions are only as effective as their implementation.” Meanwhile US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power has admitted that “no resolution in New York will likely tomorrow persuade Pyongyang to cease its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons,” adding however that “unprecedented costs” were being placed on North Korea for defying the international community.
North Korea has been under UN sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and missile programme.
The European Union (EU) has unveiled its biggest defense funding and research plan in more than a decade in a bid to reverse billions in cuts and in turn to send a message to US President-elect Donald Trump that it wants to pay for its own security.
The main proposal is an investment fund for defense that would allow EU governments that pay in to also borrow from it. In a move to revitalize defense cooperation, the European Commission has proposed a 5 billion euro (US $5.3 billion) fund in order to let governments club together to purchase new helicopters and planes to lower costs. EU officials have disclosed that another plan is to let the EU’s common budget and its development bank invest in military research. This move would open the door to new drones, cyber warfare systems and other hi-tech gear. Some EU officials have conceded that bigger EU countries, like Germany which has one of the world’s largest defense industries, stand to gain most from the Commission’s proposals with smaller nations being at a greater risk of losing business.
European Commission Vice President Jyri Katainen has disclosed “this is not about an EU army, this is not about spending on the military instead of social security…We face multiplying threats and we must act,” stressing that all assets developed would belong to national governments.
Currently no details on how the bloc plans to persuade member states to move away from the current system, where many pursue their own defense projects favouring local manufactures and duplicating efforts, have been released. Accoridng to European Commission data, the bloc has nineteen types of armoured infantry fighting vehicle, compared with one in the United States. Wasted funds amount to 25 billion euros a year.
The United States embassy in Burundi has warned US citizens in the country of potential attacks from “regional terror groups” targeting Western interests.
Over the weekend (3 – 4 December), the US embassy in the capital Bujumbura warned American citizens of “heightened security concerns that regional terror groups remain actively interested in attacking US and other Western and local interests in Burundi.” In an emergency message that was published on its website, the diplomatic mission disclosed that it had received “specific information leading to concern about potential activity in early December,” including, but not limited to, the Kajaga neighborhood, which is located on the outskirts of Bujumbura. The statement went on to say “the embassy has now placed the neighborhood and associated restaurants and beach clubs off limits to embassy personnel until further notice.” US citizens who do visit these areas are advised to avoid large public gatherings, especially those with no visible security presence, review or enhance personal security plans and be prepared to enact those plans.