Al-Shabaab insurgents have warned that they will “cut the throat” of members who shift allegiance from al-Qaeda to the so-called Islamic State (IS). The news emerges amidst reports that some factions have already been punished for doing so.
On Monday, in a radio broadcast, top al-Shabaab official Abu Abdalla stated that, “if anyone says he belongs to another Islamic movement, kill him on the spot,” adding, “we will cut the throat of any one…if they undermine unity.” Al-Shabaab, which has been a long-time branch of al-Qaeda in East Africa, is fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu. While the insurgents have lost much ground in recent years, they continue to be a threat in both Somalia and neighboring Kenya, where they have carried out a series of deadly attacks.
Reports of divisions within al-Shabaab come at a time when IS in Iraq and Syria has become what many see as being the jihadist franchise of choice. It has attracted fighters from abroad as well as the allegiance of other militant groups, such as Boko Haram, which operates in northeastern Nigeria. However recently, al-Qaeda expanded its territory in Yemen, which is located just across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia, and has proven that the group continues to have the capabilities to carry out deadly attacks despite, to a certain degree, being overshadowed by IS. Sources have reported that while a handful of al-Shabaab factions have switched allegiance from al-Qaeda to IS, the shift has failed to gain momentum. Furthermore, pro-IS groups have been attacked and their leaders assassinated as al-Shabaab emir and al-Qaeda loyalist Ahmed Diriye seeks to shore up his control. Last month, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud disclosed that “the now-public dispute” within al-Shabaab demonstrated that the group had “lost its way.” On Monday however, top al-Shabaab official Abdalla maintained that the insurgent group remained united, stating, “the world wanted us to be divided…This is a collective decision and anybody who wants to join another Islamic group must leave the country to meet them where they are,” adding, “I swear by the name of God we will not tolerate the acts of saboteurs.”
On Monday, Yemen declared force majeure on the country’s sole liquefied natural gas plant, citing security concerns. In an emailed statement on Monday, Yemen LNG Co. stated, “Due to further degradation of the security situation in the vicinity of Balhaf, Yemen LNG has decided to stop all LNG producing and exporting operations and start evacuation of the site personnel. The plant will remain in a preservation mode.” Tribal fighters seized posts outside the city of Balhaf in south-eastern Yemen near the plant after soldiers fled. Yemen LNG processes and exports gas from the Marib area. The project has three long-term sales contracts with GDF Suez SA, Korea Gas Corp. and Total SA. With a stake of nearly 40 percent, Total is the biggest shareholder in the project. Others include Hunt Oil Co. and SK Innovation Co., the website shows.
Houthi fighters have seized areas near the LNG facility, however they have not attacked the plant itself, according to residents. Yemen’s LNG output comprises nearly 2.2% of the world’s total liquefied natural gas, according to data from the International Group of LNG Importers. The halt of operations is expected to have any immediate, significant impact on the market. More worrying is the transport of oil through Yemen’s strategic location on Bab el-Mandab Strait, which at its narrowest point is 18 miles wide. The strait is a critical chokepoint in international shipping; according to US figures, over 3.4 million barrels of oil per day passed through the waterway in 2013.
As of Monday, Yemen has banned entry into its territorial waters. Commercial and military vessels cannot enter the designated zones without authorization from the Yemeni government. Currently, only emergency goods and medical aid vessels will be allowed entry into Yemen, and must submit to search and approval by the coalition forces.
The decision came after several Iranian attempts were discovered to smuggle aid to Houthi rebels and militias loyal Saleh, according to Yemen’s Defence Minister. The ban is being enforced by the Saudi-led, anti-Houthi coalition, which is blocking access to ports in areas believed to be under Houthi control. BIMCO has advised all vessels to transit the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea at least 12 nautical miles outside Yemeni territorial waters when possible.
Marine insurer Skuld has stated that a significant number of reports have indicated that the Saudi-led forces have begun are enforcing the blockade, with emphasis on ports which may be under the control of the Houthi-led forces in the north and west of Yemen. There is a blockade of vessel traffic from Bab Al Mandab to Yemeni territorial water, with particular focus on vessels that may have recently called at Iranian or Iraqi ports.
An urgent member advisory from Skuld P&I Club yesterday warned: “Members with vessels at Yemen, or proceeding to Yemen need to urgently review the situation in the light of this development.” They have further advised any vessel currently berthed in a Yemeni port to consider raising its ISPS level to 3. Ships still intending to go to Yemen should review their charterparty terms and inform hull, war and P&I insurers.
Coalition warships are particularly focusing on vessels that may have called recently at ports in Iran or Iraq. UK P&I Club said that coalition forces had boarded several of its members’ vessels. Shipowners and operators – including Maersk, MSC, CMA CGM and Evergeen are diverting to safer ports in the region. Container ships, bulkers and tankers are all said to be affected.
Last week, BIMCO stated, “If a port is taken/held by the Houthis and a ship is seen to be supplying the rebels, the ship could be at risk from air strikes or indeed naval action from the coalition.” Insurers are said to be refusing to cover vessels berthing in Yemen’s ports. Dryad Maritime has recommended shipowners, operators, and masters give Yemen “as wide a berth as possible”. Skuld told its members to “instruct the master to prioritise the safety of the crew and vessel”.
The escalating tension has increased the likelihood of an incident at sea between Iran and the coalition or international forces. MS Risk advises merchant vessels to be aware and vigilant to this threat – these tensions have led to increased naval boardings and inspections with little or no notice. MS Risk continues to advise vessels to avoid all Yemen ports until further notice. We continue to advise vessel operators to notify their insurers prior to sailing through the Bab el-Mandeb. Any vessels currently in the Gulf of Aden are advised to remain vigilant at all times. Pirate Action Groups (PAG’s) are likely to continue to operate in this region and may easily be mistaken for refugees fleeing the chaos in Yemen.
On April 10, after five days of debate, Pakistan’s lawmakers decided against offering military support to Saudi Arabia’s campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Although Saudi Arabia had previously asked Pakistan to contribute various military assets, including aircraft, troops and ships, to the campaign, a joint session of the Senate and National assembly has instead adopted a resolution favouring neutrality. “The parliament of Pakistan expresses serious concern on the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Yemen and its implications for peace and stability of the region”, the resolution said. “[It} desires that Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict so as to be able to play a proactive diplomatic role to end the crisis.” In trying to understand why Pakistan has voted against helping an old ally, three factors must be considered: military, religious and economic.
First, this resolution is broadly consistent with prevailing military opinion in Pakistan, which considers that its resources, already thinly stretched by on-going counter-insurgency operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, would be unable to sustain a protracted campaign in Yemen. It also reflects an undercurrent of battle fatigue. With the Afghan war drawing to a close, Pakistani politicians are unwilling to commit themselves to another drawn out foreign war, which experts believe might spiral out of control into a proxy war between Tehran and Riyadh. Second, concerns have been raised in Pakistan over the advisability of becoming involved in a conflict between a coalition of Sunni-majority countries and Shia Houthi rebels. In recent years, there have been numerous attacks by Sunni militants against Pakistan’s Shia minority and it is feared that becoming embroiled in this conflict will further inflame the country’s sectarian tensions. The third factor which has caused Islamabad to vote in favour of neutrality is its need to maintain economic ties with Iran. For some time, energy-starved Pakistan has been trying to grow closer to Iran, even building a pipeline to pump much needed Iranian natural gas into the country. Although Tehran has been accused by the Saudi government of backing the Shiite rebels, Islamabad would be unwilling to take any action which might compromise their relationship with the Islamic Republic.
These factors, amongst others, have prevented Nawaz Sharif from being able to answer the Saudi government’s call for help. At first glance, this might seem like an awkward situation for the Pakistani prime minister to find himself in. After all, his administration has benefited enormously from the kingdom’s largesse, including a US$1.5 billion “gift” from the Saudi government that was used to stabilise the rupee against the US dollar. It may, however, have been a calculated move on Sharif’s part to avoid getting caught up in a power struggle by two powerful and important allies. By hand-balling this decision to the Pakistani parliament, Sharif’s government has been able to hide behind a smokescreen generated by democratic process. Rather than becoming involved in a costly and bloody war, Pakistan is now committed to playing a mediating role in the conflict, while promising to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Saudi Arabia in the unlikely event that its territorial integrity be violated or its holy sites in Mecca and Medina come under threat.
Despite Sharif’s canny political manoeuvring, Pakistan’s commitment to neutrality may be tested in the coming days. Senior ministers and public servants from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have voiced their criticism over Pakistan’s decision. “If Pakistan doesn’t take a position, that means they’re just a bystander,” said Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Ammar, senior adviser in Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs, in an interview on Sunday. If pushed, Sharif may be forced to exercise his constitutional authority over the Pakistani military and override the parliament’s decision. He and his government will doubtless hope that the conflict is resolved long before he is required to make such a potentially disastrous decision.
On 23 January, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah passed away at the age of 90. His crown was immediately passed to his younger half-brother King Salman. He takes the royal reins at a time when Yemen is experiencing government upheaval, tensions with Iran are extremely high, the threat of ISIS is increasing and some OPEC allies are calling for a shift in policy. Here are some facts about the new leader.
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, born 31 December 1935. He was named successor to the throne in 2012. Salman had been chairing cabinet meetings for months as King Abdullah grew more ill, and began representing the kingdom as he travelled for state visits in place of Abdullah. In 2011, he was appointed Saudi’s Minister of Defence. He favours a positive relationship with the West and is responsible for the nation’s joining of the US-led coalition to strike ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Prior to this role, Salman was the governor of Riyadh province for nearly 50 years, working to attract tourism, capital projects and foreign investment. Under his tenure, the province grew from 200,000 to seven million inhabitants. His tenure was noted for good governance and lack of corruption. Salman holds stake in one of the country’s largest media groups, and reportedly maintains relationships with a number of prominent journalists in the country. Saudi Arabia scores 84 (100 being the worst) on a press freedom index.
Salman is known to have provided an estimated $25million a month to the Afghan mujahedeen during the peak of the anti-Soviet conflict, before American financial assistance arrived. He is also known to have helped raise money for Bosnian Muslim in the war with Serbia.
One of his first messages to the 28 million citizens of Saudi Arabia is that he will continue the policies of his older brother. However some believe that Salman is less likely to be focused on social reform. An intercepted 2007 ambassador cable published by Wikileaks states, “[Salman] pointed out that democracy should not be imposed. He said that the KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] is composed of tribes and regions and if democracy were imposed, each tribe and region would have its political party.”
At the age of 79, he is suffering health issues. It is known that the monarch has suffered a stroke which left limited movement in his left arm. There have been persistent speculation that Salman suffers from dementia and the Economist reports he’s believed to be suffering from Alzheimer’s. Saudi media, with its close ties to the monarchy, does not publish information about the ailments of leaders, but these have been strongly denied by the palace. The number of meetings on the King’s official schedule suggests these prognoses may be overstated. However some argue that his ambition to maintain stability for his country could be superseding his health concerns. His successor, who was appointed in 2013, is his half-brother, 69 year old Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, who was partially educated at the Royal Air Force College.
Salman’s most critical issue now is addressing the turmoil in Yemen, which borders the kingdom in the south. In addition to the threat of penetration by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Yemen’s Houthi movement has taken de facto control of the nation after the president and cabinet stepped down last week. The group signed an agreement on 27 January to form a coalition government, however the Shiite rebel fighters are heated rivals to Saudi Arabia’s Sunni government. Salman may seek to engage more proactively in Yemen in order to contain Iranian influence while encouraging an inclusive government.
In Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has pushed for better ties between the two countries. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has visited the kingdom for Abdullah’s funeral and the formal paying of respects. However, Tehran may view the new monarch as unwilling to engage in détente, particularly in light of the kingdom’s perception of Iranian support of the Houthis (which Tehran has denied) and their support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom the Saudis are opposed to. Bernard Haykel, professor of near east studies at Princeton, has said, “Salman is quite hawkish on Iran. He’s personally quite hawkish. The Iranians would have to do a lot for him to change his policy.”
According to a new report into international terrorism released this week, the number of deaths caused by terrorism increased by 61% between 2012 and 2013.
The 2014 Global Terrorism Index has revealed that in 2013, there were nearly 10,000 terrorist attacks globally, which represents a 44% increase from the previous year. Over the past year, 17958 people died from terrorist attacks, with the largest increase in deaths primarily due to the on-going civil war in Syria, which began in 2011. Of this number, 14,7222, or 80% of the total of deaths, occurred in just five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria. India, Somalia, the Philippines, Yemen and Thailand were the next five, accounting for between 1% and 2.3% of global deaths due to terrorism.
According to the report, which is produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), 66% of all deaths from terrorist attacks in 2012 were due to four main terrorist groups: Islamic State, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Boko Haram. Iraq was the country that was most affected by terrorism in 2013, with more than 6,000 people dying. The report notes that “not only is the intensity of terrorism increasing, its breadth is increasing as well.”
The report, which also investigates terrorism between 2000 and 2013, indicated that while Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries only experienced 5% of all deaths from terrorism since 2000, the report did note that these countries suffered some of the deadliest attacks that have been carried out over the past thirteen years. This includes the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States; the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, Spain; the 2005 London bombings and the 2012 bombing and shooting attack that occurred in Norway. In 2013, Turkey and Mexico were the OECD countries that had the highest number of deaths from terrorism, 57 and 40 respectively.