In response to a “credible threat,” the United States has ordered that all non-essential government personnel leave its consulate in the Pakistani city of Lahore amidst a worldwide alert over al-Qaeda intercepts. A senior State Department official has stated that intelligence indicates that there is currently “credible threat” to the consulate and that all US personnel remaining in Lahore should limit non-essential travel within the country. The move comes as Pakistan’s troubled south-western city of Quetta was hit by a second attack in two days as gunmen shot dead at least nine people outside a mosque on Friday.
Officials in Washington have urged that they have received intelligence of a specific threat to its diplomatic mission in Pakistan’s second-largest city, ordering all non-essential staff to leave. The warning comes just one day after the United States reiterated a travel warning, advising all US citizens to defer non-essential travel to Pakistan. US officials have stated that “we are undertaking the drawdown due to concerns about credible threat information specific to the US Consulate in Lahore,” further noting that “an updated travel warning has also been issued,” adding that “US citizens remaining in Lahore…should limit non-essential travel within the country and be aware of their surroundings whether in their residences or moving about, and make their own contingency emergency plans.” The travel warning also indicates that “the presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups poses a potential danger to US citizens throughout Pakistan.”
It currently remains unclear when the consulate in Lahore will open again. The US embassy and consulates in Karachi and Peshawar were closed Friday for the Eid public holiday however they are expected to open again on Monday. Earlier this week, the US closed nineteen other diplomatic missions throughout the Middle East and Africa in response to what it said was a threat of a terrorist attack. The diplomatic outposts are expected to be closed to the public until Saturday. Non-essential personnel were also evacuated from the US embassy in Yemen after US intelligence officials stated that they had intercepted a recent message from al-Qaeda’s top leader about plans for a major terror attack. None of the consulates in Pakistan, nor the US embassy in Islamabad, were affected by the earlier closures. Consequently it seems that the most recent evacuation in Lahore was undertaken as a precautionary measure and is not related to the closure of the other diplomatic missions.
Meanwhile authorities in Pakistan have placed the capital city on a state of high alert, with extra precautionary measures being placed on key Pakistan government installations. Britain has also placed travel warnings for Pakistan, however these are for specific locations and do not include Lahore or the capital. The UK Foreign Office has stated that it had yet to decide whether staff would be withdrawn from the British Council Office in Lahore however it did note that it was closely monitoring the current situation, stating that “we keep security measures and travel advice under constant review.”
In Quetta, Pakistan on Friday, worshippers were gunned down as they left prayers for Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The month of Ramadan was marred this year by at least eleven attacks which killed some 120 people. The day before, a suicide bomber struck at a police funeral in the city on Thursday, killing thirty eight people in an attack that was claimed by the Taliban.
Interpol has issued a global security alert linked to a suspected al-Qaeda involvement in a string of recent prison outbreaks that have taken place in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan. The alert comes just days after the United States State Department issued a global travel alert and closed a number of Embassies because of fears of an unspecified al-Qaeda attack.
Citing prison breaks in three countries, Interpol has requested that its members examine whether or not al-Qaeda militants were behind the prison breaks. The police agency is also asking that member countries “swiftly process any information linked to these events.” In a statement that was released on Saturday, the French-based agency stated that “with suspected al-Qaeda involvement in several of the breakouts which led to the escape of hundreds of terrorists and other criminals, the Interpol alert requests the organizations 190 member countries‘ assistance in order to determine whether any of these recent events re coordinated or linked.” It also calls for Interpol to be informed “if any escaped terrorist is located or intelligence developed which could help prevent another terrorist attack.” The most recent escape occurred in north-west Pakistan, in which 248 prisoners escaped from a jail. On 30 July, Taliban militants used automatic weapons and bombs in order to break down the walls of the jail in Dera Ismail Khan. At least thirteen people, including six police officers, were killed during the attack. Authorities have since indicated that thirty of those who fled were “hardened militants” who were jailed for their involvement in a number of suicide bombings and other serious attacks. Meanwhile on 22 July, hundreds of inmates escaped from two jails in Iraq: Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad; and Taji, located to the north. Bombs and mortar fire were used to break into those two prisons in which al-Qaeda members were amongst those being housed in the facility.
US Extends Embassy Closure
Meanwhile the United States has announced that it will keep a number of embassies in northern Africa and in the Middle East closed until Saturday, due to a possible militant threat. After an announcement on Friday pertaining to a possible threat, twenty-one US embassies were closed on Sunday. On Monday, the State Department in Washington indicated that the extension of closures were “out of abundance of caution,” and not in reaction to a new threat. With the State Department announcing that the potential for an al-Qaeda-inspired attack being particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa, the global travel alert will be in force until the end of August. Although US diplomatic missions in Algiers, Kabul and Baghdad remained open on Monday, its diplomatic posts in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa and Tripoli will remain closed until Saturday. African missions including Antananarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali, and Port Louis are also on the list of closures. The US embassy in Tel Aviv, along with two consulates in Jerusalem and Haifa, were also closed on Sunday.
It is evident that security at US diplomatic facilities remains a concern following last year’s attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the US ambassador, along with three other Americans, were killed. Officials in the United Kingdom also announced over the weekend that its embassy in Yemen would remain closed until the Muslim festival of Eid which will occur on Thursday. The UK Foreign Office is also advising against all travel to Yemen and is strongly urging British nationals in the country to leave. Several other European countries have also temporarily closed their missions in Yemen.
The embassy closures and US global travel alert came after the US reportedly intercepted al-Qaeda messages suggesting that they were between senior figures within the militant group who were plotting an attack against an embassy. While the details of the threat have remained unspecified, it is evident that those members of Congress who have been briefed on the intelligence, seem to agree that it amounts to one of the most serious in recent years, effectively pointing to the possibility of a major attack which may coincide with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which ends this week.
In recent years, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, which is known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has attempted to carry out several high profile attacks, including one on Christmas Day in 2009 in which a man attempted to blow up a trans-Atlantic jet over Detroit, using explosives that were sewn into his underwear. Months earlier, the militant group had also attempted to assassinate the Saudi intelligence chief by using a bomb that was attached to the attacker’s body.
Yemen began the process of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) in March to address the issues that have divided the nation in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The dialogue brings together 565 representatives from various groups across Yemen. Each delegate’s votes and ideas are meant to carry equal weight, regardless of age, gender, background, or social status. By autumn, participants will detail a list of grievances, and suggestions for reform. The group will work together to develop conceptual ideas for a new constitution and system of governance. Of the many nations that have undergone a version of the Arab Spring, Yemen is the only country to enact such a dialogue. However, the NDC has been accused of being Utopian in its endeavours, as Yemen is facing deep issues that stem from decades long grievances. In order for it to be effective, the National Dialogue needs to address several dissimilar issues, and unite them into the definitive goal.
Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, due to a combination of factors including: declining oil resources, crippled economy due to political climate, and the lack of potable water for livestock and agriculture. Yemen’s economy is dependent on foreign aid and remittance from Yemenis who are employed in other parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The majority of the nation survives on under $2 USD per day.
A report released in July by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 5 million Yemenis, over one fifth of the population, are suffering from severe hunger and an additional 5 million don’t have sufficient access to food. More than half of Yemen’s population does not have access to clean water and sanitation, and 6 million lack access to basic health care, including life-saving reproductive health services
According to a prominent Yemeni newspaper, Al-Thawra, nearly 80 percent of conflicts in Yemen’s rural regions are water-related. Water- and land-related disputes result in about 4,000 deaths nationwide each year. An estimated 13.1 million Yemenis do not have access to proper drinking water.
Decaying dams cause the loss of precious water, and wells for groundwater are contaminated by sewage. In 2011, water consumption from the Sana’a Basin was five times more than the natural rate of recharge. It is estimated that in a little more than 10 years, Sana’a will be the world’s first capital to run out of water. Yemeni officials have considered relocating the capital to the coast, or enacting desalination and conservation projects, and siphoning water from other source, but each option either delays the inevitable, or brings its own set of problems.
Further complicating the water crisis is the national addiction to qat (or khat). Qat, a narcotic and a mild stimulant, comes from a flowering plant which is native to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It is a natural appetite suppressant, often chewed in place of meals. Due to its shelf life of only 48 hours, qat was not readily available on the market in Yemen until the 1970s when better roads were created which eased transport of the crop. Today, it features prominently in Yemeni culture. According to the World Health Organization, up to 90 percent of adult men in Yemen chew qat for three to four hours each day.
However, qat cultivation is extremely water-intensive, drawing as much as 40% of the water from the Sana’a Basin. Currently, qat production is also expanding at a rate of 12% per year, displacing vital crops and sending food prices soaring.
Yemen’s economic concerns existed at the outset of unification, as both parts of Yemen had underdeveloped economies. In the north, severe droughts had long-lasting damaging effects on the agricultural sector, particularly coffee crops— the nation’s main import. Shortly after uniting, and due Yemen’s support of Iraq during the Persian Gulf War, nearly a million Yemenis were expelled from Saudi Arabia, cutting remittance that the nation relied heavily on. Both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait also drastically reduced economic aid.
Today, Yemen’s economy remains weak. The nation’s employment rate is roughly 35%, and a population boom with a growing youth sector searching for work continues to have detrimental impact on the economy. GDP has been declining at a rate of 10% per year since 2011. Yemen has also dealt with rapid inflation rates; in 1990, $1 US was equal to 11.70 Yemeni Rial. Today, one dollar equals 214.90 Yemeni Rial.
Yemen is predominantly agrarian, and suffers from dwindling natural resources. The economy depends heavily on the oil reserves in the south, but those reserves are expected to be depleted by 2017. This loss of oil could result in devastating economic collapse.
Apart from natural resources and economic weakness, the National Dialogue must also deal with a country divided. At the outset, representatives from South Yemen chose to abstain from attending the dialogue, as it does not address the secessionist movement. A delegate from the NDC was quoted as saying, “There are two Yemens: the Yemen inside the conference and the Yemen outside it.”
North and South Yemen were united in 1990. Following unification, residents in South Yemen felt economically and socially marginalised from the north. In May 1994, the country burst into a crippling civil war which would last for nearly three months, and kill 5,000 people. The North ultimately won the war, however in the aftermath, thousands of southern military and civil employees were forced into early retirement and given pensions below the sustenance level.
Residents of South Yemen continued to feel excluded from Yemeni society and governance. As the years progressed, the South Yemeni’s feeling of resentment and cultural distinction has continued to grow. In 2007, a group called the South Yemen Movement began calling for the re-establishment of an independent southern state. The South Yemen Insurgency embarked on a series of violent attacks aimed at seceding from North Yemen. In 2011, the Arab Spring became an opening for groups in the south to reassert their desire for federalism or separation.
In March, parties who advocated separating from the North announced their boycott of the NDC. Also boycotting are those who support federalism in a united Yemen. On 18 March, the opening day of the conference, a million-man demonstration took place in Aden calling for an honest dialogue. The demonstration’s motto: “The Decision Is Ours.”
TERRORISM, KIDNAPPING AND RADICALISED GROUPS
In 2006, 23 members of al-Qaeda escaped from prison in Sanaa. The group, calling themselves “al-Qaeda in Yemen” became the forerunners of the larger and more infamous terrorist organisation, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, (AQAP). The group surfaced following an announcement that Yemeni and Saudi terrorists were unifying under a common banner, and they intended to create a hug for hub for regional terrorism. AQAP soon became the most aggressive arm of al-Qaeda, and the most widely known terrorist organization in Yemen. The group is based in tribal areas outside of Sanaa, which for the most part remain largely outside the control of the Yemeni Government.
The US has been working with Yemen to fight al-Qaeda. On 28 July, a US drone strike hit two vehicles belonging to al-Qaeda militants. Six people were killed, three of whom were al-Qaeda militants. The strikes stir feelings of resentment in the Yemenis: although the US is conducting drone strikes to eradicate the terrorist group, the number of drone strikes has escalated. In 2011, the US conducted 18 strikes; in 2012 there were 53. While civilians were not targeted in the strikes, residents in the area have been killed, or had their home or land destroyed. The result is resentment toward not only the United States, but the Yemeni government, who citizens feel should prevent the strikes.
Al Qaeda-linked militants, as well as disgruntled tribesmen, have also been responsible for hundreds of kidnappings. In May, three members of the Red Cross were abducted, including a Swiss national. In June, gunmen abducted a Dutch couple, as well as two South Africans in the southern city of Taiz. On 21 July, al-Qaeda militants abducted Iranian diplomat Nour Ahmad Nikbakht in Sana’a. Hostages are sometimes taken as a bartering chip to release friends relatives, or demand improvement of public services. However, in more malicious attacks, the hostages are taken in order to make a political statement (particularly if the hostage is from the West), or demand a ransom.
The Yemeni National Dialogue has been applauded for being the first initiative to address Yemen’s needs with representatives from throughout the Yemeni diaspora. The nation has been applauded for the unique path that it has chosen to address deep-rooted issues in the hopes of developing a new constitution and preparing for elections in 2014.
It is imperative that Yemen, which is dealing with 20 hour blackouts, food and water shortages, economic instability, secessionists and terrorism, identify and address the impact that each issue subsequently has on the next. Political transition will be neither permanent nor widely accepted until the nation grapples with the humanitarian crisis. While the dialogue addresses national concerns, participants should be wary of neglecting the opinions of those who boycotted, particularly in the South lest they risk the ire of terrorist organizations or militant secessionists who anticipate being further marginalised.
However, hopes remain high within Yemen, as political figures and laypersons, for the first time, have equal footing in developing Yemen’s future.
Algeria builds military zone along Tunisian Border
9 June 2013- Algeria has made plans to build 20 military zones along the Algerian-Tunisian border to minimize terrorist infiltration and arms smuggling. The move comes after success following similar efforts along the Libyan and Malian borders. The military zones are off-limits to civilians without a permit. In mid-May, Algerian military leadership began implementations of plans to protect over 80 border crossing points, covering 956 kilometres. Algerian-Tunisian Security agreements include military cooperation and exchanges of information, and well as tracking of suspects and mutually aiding in investigations related to “Jihadist” networks.
Bouteflika Suffered Full Stroke
13 June 2013- A statement released by the Algerian government admits that President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika suffered a full stroke, rather than the “mini-stroke” that was officially reported. Bouteflika suffered the event on 27 April and was immediately flown to France for treatment at Val de Grace Hospital. In early June, he was relocated for recuperation. Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and Army Chief of Staff, General Gaid Salah have visited Bouteflika, and report he is in good condition. The Algerian president gave orders to ensure that markets have adequate food supplies as the month of Ramadan approaches in three weeks time. A portion of the meeting was released on Algerian national television in order to show that Bouteflika is improving, in hopes of quelling growing rumours that the president was in grave condition. Despite the images of Bouteflika’s improving condition, speculation is increasing that he will not run for election in April of 2014.
44 Terror Suspects arrested
13 June 2013- The Bahraini Interior Ministry announced the arrest of forty-four suspects, including two women, for committing terrorist activities in Bahrain. The investigation led to the identification of members and leaders of the terrorist group, the February 14th organization, as well as the “Al Imam Army”, which has trained others in the use of weapons and explosives with the aim of disrupting security and endangering lives.
The arrested individuals are suspected of a list of charges including: conspiring to plant a bomb during the recent Formula One race, blowing up ATMs, conducting arson attacks on car showrooms, and placing explosives around Manama, which have resulted in the deaths of two Asian expats. Three were arrested for using a homemade bomb planted in a car near the Bahrain Financial Harbour.
The February 14 organisation was created following incidents stemming from the uprising in Bahrain in February 2011. The Bahraini Interior Ministry have also named the cell’s masterminds in Bahrain and in London. The masterminds are known to frequently travel between Iran, Iraq and Lebanon to obtain financial and moral support.
Nationwide Protests Scheduled for 30 June; Interior Ministry Closes Routes between Sinai and Mainland
18 June 2013- Egypt’s Interior Minister has announced the closing of tunnels and ferries across the Suez Canal and the halt of any traffic between the Sinai Peninsula and mainland Egypt ahead of the upcoming anti-government protests on 30 June. The move is an effort to prevent the crossing of militants into the mainland of Egypt.
Nationwide protests against president Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are expected across Egypt on 30 June, the anniversary of his first year in power. Opposition groups have joined together to call for his removal.
Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim is specifically concerned with the possible invasion of prisons and subsequent release of prisoners, which has occurred several times during protests since the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Ibrahim is also concerned with securing Itihadiya Palace, where the president resides, and pre-empting clashes between supporters and opposition to President Morsi.
Security forces will also be deployed to the Egyptian Media Production City on the outskirts of Cairo, however national security services will not be provided to offices of any political parties.
Opponents of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood come from both liberal and secular movements, and believe that the 30 June protests are the last opportunity to drive him from power. Public discontent is widespread, ranging from concerns over failed infrastructure, food shortages, high prices and lack of security. One protest campaign has started a petition drive called “Tamarod” (Translation: “Rebels”) which has collected over 15 million signatures calling for Morsi to step down and early elections to be held.
Many of Morsi’s backers are planning counter-protests, calling the planned demonstrations an attempt to overturn democracy. A senior Brotherhood leader has stated that the protests are not actually backed by genuine popular support, and believes that the Tamarod signatures are forged. Some hard-line clerics have also issued fatwas, calling organizers and participants in the protests “kuffar,” or non-believers, who deserve to be killed.
Egyptian police, who have been angry with Morsi’s administration for being treated like a “tool of the political party”, have intoned that they wish to stay out of the conflict. The Egyptian military has not voiced an opinion, but has been visibly at odds with the ruling party.
Morsi names ex-militant as governor of Luxor
17 June 2013- Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has appointed Adel el-Khayat as the new governor of the ancient city of Luxor, raising anger among Egyptian tourism workers and residents. El-Khayat is a member of the political arm of ex-Islamic militant group Gamaa Islamiya. In 1992, the group staged an insurgency against the state, attacking police, tourists, and Coptic Christians. In 1997, Gamaa Islamiya claimed responsibility for what became known as the “Luxor Massacre”, when 58 tourists and four Egyptians were killed at the 3,400 year old Temple of Hatshepsut outside Luxor. In the 2000s, Gamaa Islamiya renounced violence and in 2011, the group turned to politics, aligning themselves closely with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Leaders of the organization have threatened an “Islamic revolution” if liberals try to unseat the Islamist president.
Workers and political opposition to the appointment have planned to seal off the governor’s office to prevent Adel el-Khayat from entering. Tourism workers fear that el-Khayat’s ties to the former militant group and his hard-line Islamist stance will deter tourists, which are the lifeblood of the region.
El-Khayat’s appointment is one of several new appointments for provincial governor positions. On 16 June, Morsi made seventeen appointments, including eight from his party, the Muslim Brotherhood. The appointments mean that the Brotherhood controls 10 of Egypt’s 27 provinces. Nine additional provinces are still run by military and police, stemming from the Mubarak era.
Hassan Rouhani wins Iranian election, replaces Ahmadinejad
14 June 2013- In a relatively calm election process, Hassan Rouhani has won the Iranian elections, and will be replacing outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rouhani was a participant in the Islamic Revolution of the 1970s and was linked to Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic. Rouhani was the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council for 16 years, and the nation’s chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005. Rouhani won just over 50% of the vote, and called his election a “victory of moderation over extremism.” After his victory was announced, Iranians took to the streets in tens of thousands, wearing purple, the colour of Rouhani’s election campaign.
Rouhani’s election brings a shift in Iran’s power structure, as he ushers in a mix of both conservative and moderate beliefs. As the former chief nuclear negotiator, Rouhani is supportive of Iran’s nuclear agenda, pledging in the run-up to elections to try to ease international sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear programme. His dealings with the West are expected to be significantly different from those of Ahmadinejad, whose brand of ultimatums and threats increased tensions with the West, resulting in heavy sanctions and economic strain for Iran. Rouhani is expected to take a more pragmatic tact in dealing with both foreign and domestic powers.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintains that Iran’s nuclear program should be stopped “by any means.” He added, “The international community should not fall into wishful thinking and be tempted to ease pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear programme.” Israeli President Shimon Peres is more hopeful, believing that Rouhani will not go toward extreme policies.
Although Israel will still consider military action if Iran continues its nuclear program, Western powers have indicated that they are willing to engage with Rouhani, providing he lives up to his obligations under the UN security council resolutions.
Rouhani has already begun discussions on his cabinet with Ali Larijani, speaker for Iran’s parliament. The Iranian Parliament must approve his selections when he takes office in August.
Suicide Bombers Target Mosque; 24 dead, 52 wounded
17 June, 2013- Two suicide bombers blew themselves up inside and near a Shiite mosque in Baghdad, killing 24 people and wounding 52. The bombing is the latest in a string of escalating sectarian violence over recent months. Since April 2013, nearly 2,000 have been killed, including over 220 in June.
The first bomb was detonated at a security checkpoint near a mosque in Baghdad’s Qahira district, a predominantly middle class, Shiite-majority neighbourhood. It is believed the first bombing was an attempt to distract the authorities as a second bomber went into the mosque and blew himself up while worshippers were performing midday prayers.
While no party has claimed responsibility yet, al Qaeda’s Iraqi division has conducted suicide bombings and attacks against Shiite citizens frequently.
On 16 June, 51 people were killed in coordinated bombings. On Monday, fifteen people were killed in bomb attacks, including deaths caused by a suicide bomber who set off his explosives among a group of policemen in Fallujah.
Bombings kill 13 ahead of vote
19 June, 2013– A provincial party leader and four of his relatives were killed in a suicide bombing attack in northern Iraq. Yunus al-Ramah, the leader of the United Iraq party, was hosting an event at his home in Al-Hadhr when a suicide bomber targeted people gathering in his garden. The attack happened just days before local elections are to be held on Thursday in Sunni-majority Nineveh and Anbar provinces, where polls had been delayed since 20 April due to security concerns. Ramah was not running in the upcoming election, although several members of his party are.
Later in the evening, back-to-back roadside bombs killed eight youths and wounded 25 near a football pitch in Muqdadiyah.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack; however Sunni militants linked to Al-Qaeda previously attempted to intimidate candidates in order to derail elections in majority Sunni provinces. Analysts believe that Shiite-led authorities are not exerting enough effort to address the underlying causes of the demonstrations. This lack of action has given militant groups opportunities to carry out terrorist tactics.
Libyan Judge Assassinated; Clashes in Benghazi
17 June, 2013- Unidentified militants have assassinated Judge Mohammed Naguib in a drive-by shooting in front of a courthouse. Naguib was a senior Libyan judge in the eastern city of Derna, which is a known stronghold of Islamic militants, including Ansar al-Shariah, the group suspected of involvement in the September 11 attacks on the US mission in Benghazi.
In Benghazi, Libya’s General National Congress has postponed the vote on a new president following another round of clashes in Benghazi, which erupted in the early hours of 15 June near the city centre. Libyan Special Forces battled gunmen, resulting in six soldiers dead and several injured. An explosion also occurred at the headquarters of the National Oil Corporation. Authorities are working to identify perpetrators of the pre-dawn assault, through license plates and photographs. One group has been identified; investigations are on-going.
Some Libyan activists believe that the national congress lost credibility by adopting the political isolation law at gunpoint and that the government was now losing its credibility as well, as “the state has failed Benghazi.” Locals say the city has become a place to settle accounts, and call on the government to come and conduct affairs in the city. One witness stated, “If Benghazi does not settle down, then Libya will not settle down. The state must meet its responsibilities.”
US- Taliban Talks Cancelled in Doha
20 June, 13- Talks scheduled for Thursday between US officials and Afghan Taliban representatives in Doha have been cancelled due to the Afghan government’s anger at the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar.
The opening of the Taliban office was intended to be a step toward paving the way for peace talks, however, protesters in Kabul argued that the office would develop into a Taliban government-in-exile. US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has been in talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who accused the Obama administration of duplicity. Karzai was particularly infuriated by Taliban officials displaying white Taliban Flag and referring to the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, and suspended talks on a long-term security deal to keep US troops in Afghanistan after NATO leaves in 2014. The US has asked the Qatari government to remove the sign outside the new office in Doha that claims to represent the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”.
Though the office in Doha is meant only as a base for talks rather than a political platform, Karzai felt the Tuesday press conference was a violation of that agreement. Further, the Afghan government prefers the US to refrain from broad negotiations with the Taliban. Although Washington agrees that the process must be Afghan-led the delegates want to discuss issues including renouncing violence, links with al-Qaida and women’s rights in the country.
On Wednesday, the US suspended plans to attend the talks. Meanwhile, the Taliban also claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on the Bagram air base that killed four Americans on the same day that the tentative deal about talks was announced.
Yemen market suicide bomber kills two
A suicide bomber has struck a market in the north Yemen town of Saada, about 80 miles north of Sanaa. The bomber detonated a bomb-laden motorbike in the town, killing himself and at least two civilians, and injuring eight.
Saada is a mainly Shia city in the north of majority Sunni Yemen. The town has been controlled by the Houthi Shia rebels for years. Fighting between the rebels and government forces had killed thousands of people over the course of a decade, until a truce was agreed upon in 2010. The rebels are involved in a national dialogue, however tensions have recently escalated as the Sunni-dominated government makes claims that the Houthi are backed by mainly Shia Iran. The rebels, who are also in conflict with AQAP, feel they are politically and socially marginalised.
Algeria in Limbo as Bouteflika’s Health Remains In Question
On 27 April – Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was rushed to Paris for treatment at Val-de-Grace Hospital for what is described as a “minor” stroke. The Algerian government reports he is doing well and convalescing in Paris, however, the government has also censored Algerian newspapers from reporting on his health. An Algerian publisher is facing prosecution for “harming state security” after two of his newspapers reported the president was in a coma nearly three weeks after being hospitalised.
Bouteflika is the leader of the National Independence Front (FLN), the party that has ruled over Algeria since it’s independence from France in 1962. Because the FLN is deeply intertwined with Algeria’s military, intelligence, and national corporations, opposition parties are weak by comparison. Algeria is essentially run as a one-party nation, and the absence and unknown condition of Bouteflika has caused a political crisis in a nation which is critical in the security of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
As it becomes increasingly realistic that Bouteflika will not run for a fourth term in the 2014 elections, leading figures are frantically searching for a replacement who will have the same backing by Algerian centres of power, and the Algerian public. The emerging leader would also have to have the faith of the international community that he would still work toward combating militant threats that are entrenched in the region.
In addition, the new leader must be able to respond to an increasing economic and demographic crisis: of Algeria’s population of 38 million, 20% are between ages 16 and 24, and 21% of the younger generation are either unemployed or underemployed. Unattended socio-economic issues could lead to uprisings against the current party. Official Gendarmerie Nationale figures report that over 9000 protests of various kinds have taken place in Algeria since the start of 2013. Last week, 1,600 workers in the oil-extraction zone of Hass R’mel went on a hunger strike, demanding that political and corporate leaders adhere to their promises to increase wages and improve working conditions. Economic predictions indication that oil revenues Algeria’s source of income, are declining, thus increasing the risk of socio-economic unrest.
While the FLN is urging continuing stability, members within the party who have backed Bouteflika are now jostling for position as his replacement. The in-fighting is likely to weaken the party, further creating uncertainty within the nation. Several youth movements have called for a change in political leadership. As Bouteflika recovers in Paris, many speculate that the vacuum created by his absence puts Algeria at risk for a national uprising which could allow militant groups, already in hiding on the outskirts of the nation, to gain access to the region.
US Embassy Warning to Civilians in Bahrain
3 June 2013 – The U.S. Embassy has issued a security warning about possible threats toward Americans in Bahrain. The message states, “Extremist elements of certain opposition groups have conducted surveillance on U.S. persons and locations where U.S. persons are known to reside and/or spend leisure time, including locations associated with night-life activities. These facilities and locations include, but are not limited to, the U.S. Embassy, the Naval Support Facility, the Bahrain School and American Alley.”
Diplomatic officials said there are no specific threats against U.S. personnel or facilities. There have been no attacks on U.S. citizens in Bahrain to date. However, Bahrain has experienced demonstrations stemming from the Shiite majority demanding a greater political voice in the Sunni-dominated political system. A segment of opposition appears to be growing increasingly radical in recent months.
A separate message from the US navy urged service members and families to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to base security personnel. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet, with nearly 6,500 US personnel in the region.
Bombing suspects arrested, confess
2 June, 2013 – Bahraini police arrested ten suspects in connection to what is being called a “terrorist attack” on 29 May. A homemade explosive wounded seven policemen in Bani Jamra, six miles west of the nation’s capital.
Police initially responded to a terrorist blast in the region, finding rioters burning tyres in the village. After restoring order, as security patrols proceeded on foot to douse the tyres, the homemade device was detonated by remote. At least two policemen are in critical condition; one officer has required a leg amputation. Four officers sustained lesser injuries. Though police have been targeted previously, this bombing marked the most police casualties in a single attack.
Bahraini security identified suspects “from a house known to be used by conspirators to hatch terrorist plots”. Police confiscated weapons and equipment in the process of arresting ten suspects. According to the police, four of the suspects have confessed
Bani Jamra is believed to be the base of the Shirazi movement, a group that seeks regime change in Bahrain and is supported by Iran. Locations within the village have been used to store weapons and plan attacks. Weapons and explosive devices have been used against police in this area. Security forces are implementing procedures to ensure the safety of the public in the region.
Egyptian Court Rules Legislature was Illegally Elected
2 June, 2013- Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court has ruled that the nation’s Islamist-dominated legislature and constitutional panel were illegally elected. The ruling says that Shura Council, the legislature’s upper house (and the only active legislature since the dissolution of the lower chamber in June) would not be dissolved until the parliament’s lower chamber is elected later this year or early in 2014. Of the chamber’s 270 members, 180 were elected, and 90 were appointed by Morsi. Five percent of its members are Christians, and four percent are women. The Shura Council was elected by about seven percent of the electorate last year.
It is still unknown whether the ruling will impact the charter which was drafted by the 100-member constitutional panel. The constitution was adopted following a nationwide vote in December with only 35% voter turnout. Critics believe the charter restricts freedoms and gives clerics a say in legislation.
To prevent confusion Morsi’s office issued a statement emphasising that all state institutions must respect the constitution; and that the Shura Council will continue to function as the nation’s legislature. However, the ruling adds to the political instability that has gripped the country since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Egyptian- Ethiopian Tensions Escalate over Controversial Dam
31 May, 2013 – In a highly contested move, Ethiopia has started to divert a stretch of the Blue Nile—one of the two major tributaries to the Nile River— to make way for a hydroelectric dam. The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is part of £ 8 billion investment project to boost power exports. The dam is being built in the Benishangul-Gumuz region bordering Sudan, and will eventually have a capacity equivalent to six nuclear power plants.
The reserve of the dam requires 74 billion cubic metres of water, which Ethiopia plans to meet in five years. This could cut off over 20% of water to Egypt. Egypt and Sudan object to the dam, saying that it violates a colonial-era agreement, which gives them rights to 90% of the Nile’s water. Ethiopia decided to go ahead with the project just days after a state visit by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a move that has been called “extremely humiliating to Egyptians” by Morsi’s opposition.
In a few days, experts from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will announce the findings of a study into the impact of the Ethiopian dam on the Nile’s flow. Egypt’s growing population is increasingly dependent on the water supply, with the nation’s National Planning Institute estimating that Egypt will require an additional 21 billion cubic metres of water per year by 2050 – above its current annual quota of 55 billion metres – to meet the needs of a projected population of 150 million.
Opposition leaders have suggested that in retaliation, Egypt could close the strategic Suez Canal to ships from nations such as China, which are helping Ethiopia to build the dam. Hamdeen Sabbahi,
co-leader of the National Salvation Front, stated that Egypt is capable of prohibiting ships from transiting the Suez Canal “until they stop harming Egypt’s interests.”
A source within the government stated that if Ethiopia fails to reach an agreement, Egypt could take the matter to International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Egypt Sends More Forces to Control Sinai Peninsula
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi sent dozens of tanks and hundreds of soldiers to Sinai following the kidnap of seven Egyptian security officers. The kidnappings underscored a security vacuum in the peninsula, which borders both Israel and the Gaza Strip. Following the 2011 revolution in Egypt, the region has been rife with criminal and terrorist activity as militants have taken advantage of the absence of security forces. Smuggling, bombing of gas pipelines, and attacks on police stations have become prevalent.
The kidnappers, who have since released the abducted security officers, sought the release of their group members who had been jailed for deadly attacks on a tourist hotel and a police station.
Morsi initially sought accommodation, issuing a statement saying he would be “vigilant in protecting the souls of all, be they the kidnapped or the kidnappers.” However, days later, Morsi had changed his stance, and stated that “all available means” would be used to free the men. Egyptian forces shut down two border crossings and deployed the largest military movement in Sinai since August 2012.
Egyptian human rights organizations warned the government against a “short-sighted security solution” that did not address the grievances of Sinai’s residents.
Wave of Violence Continues in Iraq
2 June, 2013 – Iraq has been hit by a wave of violence that killed over 600 people in May, raising fears of all-out sectarian conflict. On 2 June, an attack in the western Province of Anbar killed seven people as gunmen kidnapped five others .
Armed men killed three Syrian truck drivers, setting their vehicles on fire near the town of Al-Rutba, near the Syrian Border. Near the site, the gunman kidnapped a policeman and a civilian, as further north, gunmen abducted another civilian and two more police officers.
It is unclear whether the abductions were conducted by members of the same group.
60,000 Syrian Refugees Return Home
30 May, 2013 – Nearly 60,000 Syrian refugees have left the Jordan, and returned home. Some refugees intend to fight President Bashar Assad’s regime, other have left because living conditions in their camp have become too difficult.
Jordan has hosted nearly half a million Syrian refugees, with nearly 150,000 living at the Zaatari camp near Syria’s border. The nation’s resources to cope with the influx have increasingly dwindled. Last week, the US signed a letter of intent, promising Jordan an aid package of $200 million to support Syrian refugees. The U.N. refugee agency is expected to issue a fresh appeal for help in June.
Pro-Syrian Forces Gain Victory in Qasair
3 June, 2013 – Syrian pro-government forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies have gained control of the border town of Qusair. The victory is a severe setback to fighters opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After two weeks of heavy fighting, the town has been reduced to piles of concrete.
Qusair is a strategic town; victory for the Syrian government would strengthen Assad’s control over the province of Homs, which would connect Damascus with the Alawite strongholds on the Mediterranean coast. A victory in Qusair for the rebels protects their supply lines through Lebanon.
Over 500 rebels have been killed, and a 1,000 wounded during the two weeks of combat. Only 400 rebel fighters remained, and were outgunned by Syrian forces and Hezbolla. The remaining survivors retreated, escaping through a corridor the attackers deliberately left open to encourage flight.
On 2 June, clashes erupted between Sunnis and Alawites in Tripoli, wounding at least 14 people. In addition, three rockets from Syria struck north-eastern Lebanon; only a day after 18 rockets and mortar rounds hit the Hezbollah stronghold in Lebanon’s eastern Baalbek region. Last week, the Lebanese parliament delayed general elections scheduled for this month for another 17 months, citing a deteriorating security situation.
The latest confrontations between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Syrian rebels come amidst increasingly incendiary rhetoric between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the region. Hezbollah’s involvement in the battle over Qusair has also raised tensions with Syrian rebels, who have threatened to target Hezbollah’s bases in Lebanon.
A member of a pro-Assad Syrian militia said the military focus may now move to the northern province of Aleppo, which has been largely in rebel hands for the last year.
Libya withholds Saif al Islam Gaddafi from International Criminal Court
Saif al Islam Gaddafi, son of the late leader Moammar Gaddafi, was captured in 2011 and remains in the custody of a local militia. The ICC has indicted him on war crimes charges stemming from the 2011 Libyan uprising. The charges include: indirect co-perpetrator of murder and persecution as crimes against humanity, use of security forces to carry out attacks against civilians, and assuming “essential tasks” against government opposition.
Because Gaddafi is not in official custody, Libya is not prepared to host a trial. Further, members of Libya’s judiciary believe Saif al-Islam should be tried in Libya, to revive faith in the Libyan judiciary.
In Zintan, where Gaddafi is being held, he faces additional charges based on actions in 2012, after the ousting of his father. He is held for complicity in exchanging information, obtaining documents that threaten national security and insulting the national flag.
Judges at The Hague recognise Libya’s efforts to restore the rule of law, however they state that Libya continues to “face substantial difficulties in exercising fully its judicial powers across the entire territory.”
Turkish Activists Issue Demands
5 June, 2013 – As the nation enters nears its first full week of unrest; Turkish activists have presented a list of demands which could anti-government protests in Turkey.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, met with leaders of the protest group as Prime Minister Edrogan left Turkey for a diplomatic visit to Northern Africa. Arinc apologises to protesters for what he called a “wrong and unjust” crackdown on a sit-in to prevent authorities from ripping up trees in Istanbul’s landmark Taksim Square. The heavy handed response to the peaceful protest sparked a nationwide response against what demonstrators see as Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
The activist leaders, known as the “Taksim Solidarity Platform”, consist of academics, architects, and environmentalists who are opposed to the redevelopment of Taksim Square, the only green space remaining in Istanbul’s commercial district. The group denounced Erdogan’s “vexing” style and called for the halt of Taksim Square redevelopment plans. The group also called for a ban on the use of tear gas by police, the immediate release of detained protesters, and eliminating restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. Finally, the group demanded that all officials responsible for the violent crackdowns be removed from office.
Turkey’s cities have been clouded in tear gas, and hundreds of people have been injured in five days of demonstrations. Over 3,300 people have been detained during the demonstrations, though most have been released.
Yemen Launches Offensive Against al-Qaeda
6 June, 2013 – Over ten thousand Yemeni troops, backed by tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets, launched an offensive in the southern Yemen province of Hadramawt to drive al-Qaeda militants from the area. At least seven suspected militant have been killed and many injured. The Yemeni military also destroyed weapon caches and took equipment, explosives and motorcycles. Civilians in the region have been instructed to stay indoors. One military commander was killed and five others were wounded.
The operation is the result of efforts by Yemen’s new government to force remaining al-Qaeda militants out of their strongholds. US analysts call the al-Qaeda branch in Yemen one of the world’s most active terror networks.
Former rebels are engaging in Yemen’s six-month National Dialogue, an attempt to bring all of Yemen’s rival groups, political parties, religious and tribal leaders together for discussion of a new political system as the country prepares to draft a new constitution.