MENA & Africa Intel Blog: The Max Spotlight
The Max Spotlight blog offers the latest insight and analysis on pressing geo-political issues across the world, straight from Max-Security's intelligence division.
MAX Analysis Iran News: Agreement to seven month extension of talks on Iran’s nuclear program underlines interest in reaching consensus while highlighting existence of ongoing disputes November 27, 2014
- On November 24, the P5+1 and Iran announced a seven-month extension of the interim Joint Plan of Action following an inability to reach a final status agreement by the deadline.
- The extension itself, along with the presence of Iran’s and all P5+1 Foreign Ministers during the conclusion of this last round of talks, underscores the continued interest in reaching a final status agreement, while Tehran’s uranium enrichment capabilities, as well as sanctions relief, likely remain key points of contention in talks.
- An interest in reaching an agreement prior to the allotted seven-month deadline is likely encouraged further by calls for more sanctions against Iran from the US Congress, which will be controlled by the Republicans in January, and concerns that a lack of significant day-to-day economic improvement in the country may result in opposition to talks.
- Western nationals are advised against all nonessential travel to Iran due to persistent negative sentiment toward the United States and other North American and Western European nations.
Iran Nuclear Talks: Current Situation
US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on November 24 the deadline for the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPoA) agreed between Iran and the P5+1, that a further seven month extension of talks had been agreed upon during this round of negotiations in Vienna, Austria. Although a seven month extension would bring the new deadline to June 24, 2015, Iran’s official news agency reported that it will be June 30, while British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond stated that the interim deal will be extended “until June next year”. At the conclusion of this round of talks, the foreign ministers from all P5+1 countries, as well as EU’s Catherine Ashton and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, were in attendance.
- During his statement, Kerry also stated that “in these last days in Vienna”, the P5+1 and Iran “made real and substantial progress” and “new ideas surfaced”. He went on to state that the extension comes with “the very specific goal of finishing the political agreement within four months and with the understanding that we we will go to work immediately, meet again very shortly, and if we can do it sooner we want to do it sooner”. If, at the conclusion of these four months, the negotiating parties “have not agreed on the major elements… and there is no clear path, we can revisit how we then want to choose to proceed”. Unconfirmed reports state that the parties will meet again in December.
- As part of this extension, as it was with the previous extension agreed upon in July, Iran will reportedly be receiving a portion of its frozen funds, paid out in installments and totaling 700 million USD per month.
- This extension follows the issuance of a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on November 7 regarding the status of Iran’s nuclear program and agreements. According to the report, Iran has not enriched uranium higher than five percent “at any of its declared facilities” while “all of its stock” of higher-enriched uranium “has been further processed through downblending or conversion into uranium oxide”. It further stated that “no additional major components have been installed at the IR-40 Reactor” referring to the reactor at the Arak Heavy Water Plant”, and that “Iran has continued to provide the Agency with managed access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities”.
- On November 10, the IAEA issued a correction to the November 7 report, stating that enrichment of up to five percent uranium has increased to 8290.3 kg (the November 7 report placed this figure at 8390.3 kg).
- The report also states that Iran has not provided additional information to allow the IAEA “to clarify the outstanding practical measures, nor has it proposed any new practical measures”, which was requested by the agency on September 4 as well as again on October 8. This is connected to “five practical measures” agreed upon as part of the November 11, 2013 “Framework of Cooperation”, to be implemented by August 25. However, at the time of writing, only three have been implemented, including two of the three after the deadline. This is despite two “technical meetings” between the IAEA and Iran on November 2 and October 7. Reports indicate that resolution of this issue was temporarily postponed ahead of the final round of talks in Vienna.
- The agreed-upon extension, along with reports, including statements from Kerry, that progress was achieved prior to the extension’s announcement, underline the parties’ continued interest in reaching a final status agreement. Such interest was further highlighted by the attendance of the foreign ministers from all involved parties, along with the EU’s Catherine Ashton. This included the last-minute arrival of the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers, reportedly during the evening hours of November 23 and the morning of November 24, respectively. This suggested an effort to make a final push toward an agreement or at least progress on the remaining contentious issues. In this context, while an agreement was unable to be reached by the now-extended November 24 deadline, the four month “deadline within a deadline” also points to an interest in resolving this issue prior to June 2015. This is also underscored by Kerry’s statement that they “will go to work immediately” as well as Zarif’s iteration that they “do not intend to use the whole period”. This all serves to suggest that the unconfirmed reports of talks resuming in December are credible.
- Amidst reports of progress, upcoming talks are likely to continue to focus largely on Iran’s enrichment capabilities, which has reportedly been one of the main ongoing contentious issues. In this context, we continue to assess that, for the P5+1, enrichment capabilities involves ensuring that Iran’s breakout capability is limited, referring to the amount of time in which Tehran could produce a sufficient amount of “bomb-grade” material. For Iran, this capability needs to be at a level able of maintaining what its perceives as a sufficient civilian nuclear program, with previous reports indicating that Iran has estimated its requirements at 190,000 separative work units (SWU), which refers to a standard measure of enrichment. Reports indicate that discussions have focused on the number of permitted centrifuges, rather than SWUs, with reports from a government-linked Iranian news source previously reporting that Iran was offered as part of an agreement, and rejected, to operate 4,700 first generation (IR-1) centrifuges. Researchers on this issue have reported that the IR-1 reactors have an enrichment capability of between 0.7 and 1.0 SWU per year. With this in mind, it cannot be ruled out than any final agreement will include enrichment capabilities based on SWUs rather than numbers of centrifuges.
- Moreover, Iran’s negotiating team needs to mitigate perceptions of excessive capitulation to the P5+1 demands, given that the civilian nuclear program maintains widespread support and the presence of hardliners, some of which are opposed to the negotiations themselves. This is underlined by reports that approximately 200-300 hardliners protested near Tehran’s Research Reactor on November 23 criticizing the nuclear negotiations. The protest reportedly received official approval and the participants, in addition to chanting “Death to America”, demanded that negotiators refuse to give into excessive Western demands.
- Other disputed topics will be discussed as well, with reports that sanctions relief, and particularly the speed of such relief, has been one such topic. The P5+1, and particularly Western parties, may be aiming for a more gradual removal dependant on Iranian adherence to the final agreement, while Iran is likely looking for the opposite given its interest in improving its still struggling economy. In this context, Tehran is liable to see sanctions on its banking, oil, and gas industries as the most essential for removal. Conversely, sanctions that were implemented by certain parties, including the US, for humanitarian issues or Iran’s support for militant groups, are likely to remain in place even in the event of an agreement.
- Iran’s aforementioned failure to implement two of the five practical measures agreed upon with the IAEA is liable to also remain an overarching issue. While the Framework of Cooperation is a separate agreement signed with the IAEA, much of the information requested in such practical measures have been part of the JPoA, pointing to the connection between the two. Moreover, given that the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program was what triggered the initial sanctions and ultimately talks to begin with, the failure to provide information requested by the IAEA may raise concerns and suspicions among negotiating parties, while likely does not serve to instill confidence. That said, given the postponement of this issue until the November 24 deadline, we assess that meetings between the IAEA and Iran will resume in the coming months with the aim of implementing the final two measures and agreeing to more. Iran’s interest in achieving a final status agreement, underlined in previous assessments and highlighted by the IAEA report that confirms its continued adherence to the JPoA, is liable to serve as encouragement in this regard. Moreover, it is also possible that any such final agreement will include a provision stipulating continued Iranian adherence to the Framework of Cooperation.
- Moreover, we do assess that, while talks have, thus far, steadily continued without significant interruption, there remain events that could serve to directly affect talks. This includes reports that Republicans in the US Congress, who will have a majority in both houses in January 2015, have called for action with regard to Iran come January. A joint statement, for example, was released by three Republican Senators on November 24 stating that they “believe the latest extension of talks should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final deal with Iran and the United States be sent to Congress for approval”. That said, the JPoA states that “the US Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions”, while Iran would certain perceive such action as being in violation. Despite this, we assess that US President Barack Obama’s interest in achieving an agreement, coupled with his previous statement that he would veto any legislation involving new sanctions, reduces the potential for congressional activity to derail talks.
- Finally, the effort to reach an agreement in a shorter time span than the seven months allotted may also be connected to a recognition that, in addition to the previously-discussed alteration in the makeup of US Congress, patience with the ongoing talks, that will hit a year’s mark in January, could diminish. This includes in Iran, with reports that day-to-day economic difficulties have persisted. While the official news agency reported on November 26 that inflation has reduced to 17.8 percent in the month ending November 21, reports suggest that the cost of food has increased in 2014 and unemployment remains relatively high. This includes among the 16-24 age group, with reports that the official unemployment rate is nearly 23 percent among this population and allegations that unofficial rates are higher. In this context, the release of frozen funds and limited sanctions relief, along with policies implemented by Rouhani, have worked to gradually assist in improving the country’s economic situation, particularly macroeconomically and especially when compared to previous months when inflation was as high as 40 percent.
- That said, the aim of such sanctions relief and release of frozen assets was likely intended to allow some improvement to Iran’s economy, but not so much that motivation to reach a final status agreement would be removed. Thus, while some of the population may perceive the improvement witnessed as indicators that a final status agreement would spur further developments, the absence of significant day-to-day improvement may also trigger reduced support for talks. Potential opposition to Rouhani’s policies from this sector, in conjunction with the aforementioned existing discontent among more conservative, anti-Western, and hardline members of society, could increase pressure on negotiators. At this point however, and amidst persistent anti-Western rhetoric, the country’s Supreme Leader continues to demonstrate support for Rouhani, while the interest in removing sanctions may serve to overcome any emerging or growing opposition.
- Western nationals are advised against all nonessential travel to Iran due to persistent negative sentiment toward the United States and other North American and Western European nations. For non-Western nationals, travel to Tehran, Esfahan, and other major cities in Iran may continue while adhering to basic security precautions regarding civil unrest and adherence to cultural norms.
- We advise against all nonessential travel to outlying border areas with Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Iraq, and Armenia due to ongoing militant activity.
- Those traveling to Iran should anticipate prolonged questioning by customs officials. Refrain from traveling with sophisticated cameras or other features affiliated with journalists. Cooperate with all security officials and respond to questioning in a respectable and calm manner.
- Refrain from discussing the current political situation, Iran’s nuclear program, or tensions with the United States and Israel with local residents as a basic precaution. Be advised that authorities may monitor communications from hotels and other facilities frequented by foreigners, while internet access may be limited.
In the event that embassy services are required, it is advised to check the operational status of pertinent embassies and consulates. Consular services for US citizens are provided through the auspices of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, while those for British citizens are provided through any EU embassy.
MAX Analysis Morocco: Threat of regional militancy and local jihadist presence in Syria, Iraq likely to require bolstered security measures August 24, 2014
- The July 9 decree included an order to regional governors to heighten security measures within their jurisdictions, an expanded security presence at vital installations throughout the country, and the launching of a public relations campaign to warn Moroccans against the potential security threat. Also on July 9, Morocco heightened its security protocols at its international airports following a recommendation from the American government.
- Additionally, on July 18, an “orange alert” was declared for all American-owned restaurants operating in Morocco in anticipation of a possible militant attack. On July 21, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) updated its travel advice for Morocco, warning of an “increased threat of terrorism.” The FCO cited Moroccan authorities’ warnings of an increased threat connected to Moroccan national militants operating in Syria and Iraq.
MAX Analysis CAR & Uganda: UPDF involvement in CAR due to security, economic, geostrategic considerations; may hinder peace process, credibility of MISCA August 18, 2014
Uganda is a prominent contributor to peacekeeping missions in Africa, with UPDF contingents stationed in South Sudan, DRC, and Somalia. UPDF troops were deployed to the CAR in 2012 in order to hunt down LRA leader, Joseph Kony, in cooperation with US Special Forces. However, in March 2013, the Ugandan military was compelled to exit the country by Seleka rebels following the overthrow of former CAR President Francois Bozize, who had given the UPDF a relatively free hand to conduct counter-LRA operations in vast swaths of territory in the eastern CAR. In December 2013, the UPDF was re-deployed to CAR as a peacekeeping contingent, as part of the MISCA mandate.
MAX Analysis Mali: Government, Tuareg relations deteriorate ahead of July 16 meeting; revamped French mission likely to improve security in long term July 15, 2014
A meeting between Tuareg separatists and the Bamako government is scheduled to take place on July 16 in Algiers. This will be the first meeting between the Tuareg rebels and the Bamako government since violent protests in May during the visit of Prime Minister Moussa Mara to Kidal, which was followed by the Malian army’s attack of rebel positions, in which 50 government troops were killed.
- Despite the planned holding of an international dialogue in Algiers on July 16, there has been a clear deterioration in the security situation in the north of the country and militants have reportedly deployed to key locations, stockpiling weapons and food in an apparent preparation for a return to conflict.
- Clashes were reported in Anefife, near Kidal on July 11 in which at least 35 combatants were killed. Anefife was previously under the control of the Tuareg rebel National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). An MNLA statement claimed that the group attacked a coalition of pro-Bamako militias including the Arab Movement for Azawad (MAA), elements of the Malian Army, and militants of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA). Military sources have denied these claims, attributing the violence to in-fighting amongst separatists, and claiming that the majority of those killed were members of the MNLA and the MAA.
MAX Analysis Somalia: Factionalism within al-Shabaab unlikely to result in dissolution, as uptick in attacks underscores group’s sustained capabilities July 14, 2014
- On June 29, al-Shabaab issued a threat to escalate their operations throughout Mogadishu during Ramadan. Subsequently, an estimated 42 assassinations of individuals associated with the government have been recorded in the capital city.
- Reports from June 8 indicate that Mohamed Saed Atom, a known warlord and principal supplier for al-Shabaab in Puntland, defected from the group and surrendered in Mogadishu to the Somali FG, which has welcomed his renunciation of violence. Atom stated that his decamping was prompted by the group’s leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane’s, excessive use of violence towards civilians and the manipulation of the Quran’s law to justify the group’s strategy.
Max Security Analysis Iran: June 20 IAEA report, indications of progress on contentious issues highlights adherence to agreements, effort to reach deadline June 29, 2014
On June 20, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report comprised of 14 points delineating Iranian adherence to the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPoA) signed between Iran and the P5+1 on November 24, 2013 and implemented on January 20. Key points include the following:
- The IAEA states that Iran has not enriched uranium above five percent at its declared facilities.
- Iran has completed the requisite dilution of half (104.56 of 209.1 kg) of its higher-level (20 percent) enriched uranium to five percent. It has also converted 100 kg into uranium oxide, leaving approximately 4.54 kg to be converted by the JPoA’s July 20 deadline.
- There have been no “further advances” to Iran’s activities at the Fuel Enrichment Plant, the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant, or the Arak Heavy Water Plant.
- Iran has also begun the commissioning of the “Enriched UO2 Powder Plant (EUPP)”, which will be utilized for converting uranium newly enriched to five percent during the six month interim period to oxide.
- In addition, according to reports from June 27, the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Iran concluded that Iran was the source of a weapons shipment destined for Sudan and seized by Israel’s navy in the Red Sea in March in a Panamanian-flagged ship called the Klos C. The shipment reportedly included M302 rockets and fuses, 120 mm mortar shells, and 7.62 caliber ammunition. Reports indicate that the panel concluded that the shipment is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1747.
Max Security Analysis Nigeria: Boko Haram continues high-casualty raids in rural northeast while increasing car bombing attacks in major cities nationwide June 27, 2014
Reports indicate a bomb exploded at the Emab Plaza shopping center on the Aminu Kano Crescent in the Wuse 2 area of Abuja at 16:00 (local time) on June 25. At this time 21 deaths and 17 injuries have been confirmed by police.
- Reports indicate that over 100 people were killed in attacks on two villages in the Sanga Local Government Area (LGA) of Kaduna State in the overnight hours of June 23-24. Gunmen simultaneously entered the Kabami and Ankpong villages at approximately 22:00 (local time) and began shooting automatic weapons indiscriminately at villagers and destroying property. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the attackers were wearing police uniforms.
- A large explosion was heard in Kano University’s School of Hygiene, located in Kano city’s Sabon Gari district, during the afternoon hours of June 23. Sources indicate that at least eight students were killed and a further twelve injured as a result of the explosion, which was reportedly caused by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). On May 18, a VBIED exploded in the Sabon Gari district, killing five civilians according to official reports. However, these reports are contradicted by witness statements claiming that as many as 25 people were killed.
- Unconfirmed reports indicate that between 60 and 91 women and children were abducted and 30 men were killed, in Borno State during June 19-22 raids, which were allegedly perpetrated by Boko Haram fighters.
- Reports indicate that during the evening of June 16, a taxi laden with explosives was detonated at the entrance of a World cup viewing center in Damaturu, the capital of the northeastern state of Yobe, resulting in the death of at least 21 civilians and over 27 others injured, according to hospital sources. The explosion took place at 20:15 (local time) at the Crossfire venue, in the Nayi-Nawa area of Damaturu.
- On June 1, suspected Boko Haram militants attacked a well-attended football viewing venue in the northeastern village of Mubi, Adamawa State killing at least 40 people through the use of explosives.
- At least 130 people were killed in the vicinity of the Jos Market and Jos University Teaching Hospital in the Plateau State capital on May 20, when two explosions occurred within 30 minutes of each other.
- On April 14 a bomb at a bus station in the Nyanya Area of Abuja resulted in over 80 deaths. On May 1, a further bomb at the same location caused an additional 17 deaths. Responsibility for these two attacks was claimed by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.
Max Security Analysis Kenya: President Kenyatta’s government under increased pressure over rising threat of militancy amidst growing ethno-political animosity. June 22, 2014
- The Somali militant group al-Shabaab’s spokesman, Sheikh Abdulaziz Abu Musab, reportedly claimed responsibility for the Mpeketoni attacks through the group’s Somali radio channel, Andalus FM. The man alleging to be Abdulaziz Abu Musab stated that the “Mujahideen who carried out the Mpeketoni attack are all safe,” and that they killed 70 “enemies” while denying previous rumors of abductions.
- Witness statements indicate that the Mpeketoni assaults were conducted by predominantly Somali speaking assailants allegedly carrying al-Shabaab flags. The attackers specifically targeted non-Muslim males, mainly of the Kikuyu tribe, as well as people watching the World Cup. The Kenyan government has subsequently urged citizens to watch the competition at home instead of in “crowded and unprotected open places.”
- However, President Kenyatta refuted al-Shabaab’s claim of responsibility, and instead implicitly accused opposition leader Raila Odinga and his CORD faction of the attacks, which were allegedly aimed at sparking instability and ethnic tensions. In response, Odinga rejected these allegations, stating that the Mpeketoni attacks are a result of the Jubilee government’s inability to curb growing militancy.
- On June 19, a pro al-Shabaab social media account that Kenyan police allege claimed responsibility for the attacks was closed down. The account’s owner, Ishmael Omondi, who is a Kenyan national, was arrested in Nairobi, and subsequently released following questioning.
- The attacks have had deep political ramifications, and the opposition CORD’s rally slated for June 21 in Nakuru County, as part of Odinga’s campaign for national dialogue, was reportedly cancelled following the discovery of hate leaflets. The leaflets urged Odinga’s local Luo tribe to vacate the Rift Valley region or face consequences. Subsequently, the government has banned all political or tribal rallies in the town of Naivasha, Nakuru County, out of fear of ethnically motivated violence.
- George Aladwa, the former Nairobi Mayor and Nairobi County Chairman for Raila Odinga’s party Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) was reportedly arrested on June 21, allegedly after calling for the swearing in of Odinga as President on July 7 (Saba Saba Day), if the government refuses national dialogue.
- Additionally, nine Senators and MPs affiliated with CORD were summoned on June 20 by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) over allegations of hate speech.
Max Security Analysis South Sudan: Formation of transition government to face impediments from inflexibility on key issues; limited hostilities likely to continue. June 12, 2014
During talks facilitated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Addis Ababa on May 9, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar agreed to a ceasefire to the internal conflict between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Machar-led Sudan People’s Liberation Army – in Opposition (SPLA-IO) that commenced in mid-December 2013. Kiir and Machar met in Addis Ababa again on June 11, agreeing to complete the dialogue process regarding the formation of a transitional government within 60 days. The two leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to previously signed agreements.
Ivory Coast & Liberia: Security concerns increasing as rising instability along shared border region emphasized by UNMIL troop deployment [May 26, 2014]
- Reports additionally indicate that armed individuals, believed to have carried out similar attacks in the past, remain present in the border region’s forested areas within the Ivory Coast, occasionally harassing and physically attacking local farmers.
- On March 18, soldiers belonging to the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) officially left Liberia’s Gbarpolu County and redeployed to Grand Gedeh, along the border with the Ivory Coast, in an effort to support the present Liberian/UNMIL security force in the wake of increasing violence in the area.
- On February 22, an estimated twenty armed assailants, suspected by the Ivorian government to be Liberian bandits, attacked residents in the village of Fetai and Grabo, located in the Ivory Coast. Clashes with security forces ensued, resulting in the death of four Ivorian soldiers and one assailant.
- Despite Ivorian claims that the attackers were Liberian militiamen in the February 22 incident,Liberian Defense Minister Brownie Samukai disputed the reports and challenged the Ivorian government to produce evidence that the attacks were carried out by assailants originating in Liberia. Only recently has the Ivorian government retracted its claims, announcing that the assailants were not Liberian.
- Meanwhile, on February 24, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf accused Ivorian forces of exploiting border attacks in order to enter Liberia to arrest and forcibly repatriate Ivorian refugees. This, according to Sirleaf, is likely the reason for the attacks which she has deemed to have been carried out by Ivorian refugees within Liberia.
Guinea: Heightened political tensions between opposition, Conde government expected to persist; potential for renewal of protests
- A letter sent by opposition leaders to Prime Minister Mohamed Said Fofana, requesting dialogue sessions about respecting an agreement signed on July 3, 2013, which led to the September legislative elections and outlined the rules that would dictate the behavior of both sides, was dismissed on May 2, seventeen days after having been sent. The opposition added that the dialogue would address several issues that have led to a virtual halting of activity at the National Assembly. Fofana stated that the opposition should ensure its goals are met through the National Assembly, thus rejecting the request for dialogue.
- Opposition leaders are slated to hold a meeting in the coming days in an effort to determine what options they have left to ensure that these issues be addressed, stating that a resumption of protests is being considered. That said, the leaders added that this option would be the last resort, as it carries the risk of violence.
- Aboubacar Sylla, spokesperson of the opposition, announced that political attempts would first be made in an effort to ensure that the government follows through on the July 2013 agreement. This includes proposing the adoption of a law at the National Assembly deeming all parties responsible to fulfill previous legal agreement. Sylla added that the main issues discussed in the letter are the overdue local elections that were originally slated to be held in the first few months of 2014. The ruling government has refuted this demand, saying that the holding of local elections is not part of the July 2013 agreement.
- Additionally, the opposition criticized the lack of progress in the forming of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), with operators not having received the material needed to begin creating the voters’ lists. An additional issue broached by the opposition includes the alleged lack of legal action against perpetrators of violence targeting opposition supporters and officials.
- Diallo further accused the leader of the presidential majority, Amadou Damaro Camara, of making decisions in lieu of ministers and the president of the National Assembly. According to the opposition, this puts the National Assembly’s neutrality in question, which counters part of the July 2013 agreement that called for all government bodies to remain neutral and be equally accessible to all parties.
- Moreover, opposition spokesperson Sylla announced that the international community would be asked to intervene and send mediators, while other government institutions would be used to increase pressure on the ruling party.
Syria: Opening of expatriate voting on May 28, June 3 presidential elections underline increasing stability in regime-held areas of Syria
- At the time of writing on May 28, heavy traffic has been reported in Beirut, Lebanon, resulting from the significant influx of Syrians to the city to vote in the polls. Congestion has particularly been reported in the cities southern suburbs. Lebanon presently hosts
over 1 million Syrian refugees.
- In Jordan, a heavy security presence has been reported in the vicinity of the Syrian Embassy. On May 26, Amman declared Syrian’s Ambassador to Jordan persona non grata, ordering his departure from the country within 24 hours. In response the Jordanian Charge d’Affaires was expelled from Damascus. However, Jordan has indicated that Syria will be permitted to appoint a new ambassador, and that elections would not be disrupted. Syria’s ambassador was expelled after “repeated insults to Jordan and its leadership, institutions and citizens”. Jordan presently hosts over 600,000 Syrian refugees.
- The UAE, as well as France, Germany, and Belgium have barred the elections from taking place. Over 30,000 Syrians living in the UAE registered to vote. Semi-official media sources in Syria have indicated that at least 200,000 Syrians abroad are slated to vote at 39 different embassies.
Kenya: Uptick in militant attacks underlines security forces’ inability to effectively combat militancy, fresh radicalization of Muslim youth [May 13, 2014]
A wave of bombings has taken place in Nairobi and Mombasa since the beginning of May, leaving seven people dead. The attacks are the manifestation of the growing threat of militancy in the country and underline the backlash from failed counter-militancy operations in Kenya as well as the ongoing successful military campaign of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) against al-Shabaab. Moreover, security officials warned on May 13 of fake messages circulating through text messages and social media regarding false alarms for militant attacks, which is indicative of a growing public obsession with and fear of the threat of militancy.
- On May 3, coordinated attacks occurred in Mombasa, the country’s most important port city and a locale popular among foreign tourists. The first bomb attack targeted the Reef Hotel in the Nyali area of Mombasa, leaving only property damage. The second attack was conducted by unknown militant who threw a grenade at a gathering of people at a local bus station, leaving four people dead. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.
- During the evening hours of May 4, twin bomb attacks on public transportation buses in northeast Nairobi killed three people and injured at least 86. Both buses were scheduled to travel outside of the capital along the Thika Superhighway and were reportedly blown up by the use of remotely detonated explosive devices.
- On May 2, security forces engaged an estimated 30 militants, killing two, as the insurgents, armed with firearms and explosives, attempted to launch an attack on the Mandera power station in northeast Kenya . The incident occurred a day after a similar reported attack against a power station in nearby Wajir County.
- Garissa County police forces and Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) thwarted a possible attack during the afternoon hours of May 5, after detonating a grenade noticed by bystanders at the Boystown Primary School playground.
- In the aftermath of the recent attacks, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta declared that the ongoing security crackdown in the country carried out by security forces against al-Shabaab affiliated militants will be intensified in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Nigeria: Boko Haram continues effective insurgency in Borno State despite international intervention, emergence of local vigilantes [May 18, 2014]
“Bring Back Our Girls” protests have drawn international attention to the abduction of school girls from Chibok Government Girls’ Secondary School in Borno State by the Boko Haram Islamist militant group. The governments of the U.S., the U.K., France, China, and Israel have sent military and counterinsurgency teams to aid Nigeria in its fight against Boko Haram. Despite the recent counter offensives launched in cooperation with international forces and the surfacing of local vigilante groups, the Islamic militant group continues to operate successfully in the outlying areas of Borno State by rapidly adapting its tactics. The group has effectively targeted outlying villages and gained control of crucial access points throughout the State.
On May 7, Boko Haram militants attacked Gamborou Ngala town, located on the border between Cameroon and Nigeria, in the Ngala Local Government Area (LGA) of Borno State, reportedly killing 300 locals. Meanwhile, a further attack was recorded on the same day in Askira LGA where an additional 125 civilians were killed.
- Citizens of Rann town in the Kala-Balge Local government Area (LGA) in Borno State repelled a Boko Haram attack on May 13, reportedly killing 200 militants.
- On May 17, Boko Haram militants killed at least 29 civilians in a market located in Ngurosoye Village, Bama Local Government Area (LGA), 56 kilometers from Maiduguri, in the northeastern Borno State. In addition, 40 civilians were killed a result of a further attack in the village of Dalwa-Masuba in the Damboa Local Government Area (LGA) of Borno State on the same day.
- According to Amnesty International, Boko Haram attacks were responsible for over 1,200 deaths in 2013. An Amnesty report issued on March 30 of this year reports that at least 1,500 have been killed in Boko Haram-related violence in the first three months of 2014 alone.
Tunisia: Unprecedented ground operation to eradicate militant strongholds in Chaambi Mountains likely to increase jihadist efforts to stage attacks
On April 21, the Tunisian Defense Ministry announced that security forces in the Chaambi Mountains were “gaining ground” against jihadists located in the region, as the military started joint operations involving both ground forces, fighter jets, and helicopters, as well as artillery and mortar shelling. According to the statement, the goal of the operations is to seize control over the entire area that fell under militant control in 2012. Such militant groups include the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, as well as Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), with AST considered the most active of the three in the country.
On April 11, the Tunisian President extended the closed military zone in Chaambi to neighboring mountains of Sammama, Salloum, and Meghila while on April 16 ground reinforcements were reportedly sent to the region. On April 21 Prime Minister Mehdi Ben Jemaa pledged to eliminate jihadist groups threatening the country while stating that security forces were “moving to the highest point of the mountains”. On May 6 during a visit in the region, President Moncef Marzouki offered amnesty for jihadists “without blood on their hands”.
On April 18 following clashes with militants and security forces in the region, an officer was killed during the explosion of a mine as he and three other soldiers were patrolling the area in a military vehicle. The Tunisian air force then carried several airstrikes on suspected militants positions in the region, while clashes were reported outside the closed military zone, near the industrial area in Kasserine on April 23.
The operation follows intermittent artillery strikes on the area on April 9-11, March 25, February 4-6 and December 31-January 1. However, following deadly clashes between Tunisian ground forces and militants in August 2013, ground operations were halted.
According to an April 28 official government statement, Tunisian anti-terrorist brigades arrested nine suspected jihadists following a security raid in Douar Hicher in the La Manouba District and in the Ettadhamen District near Tunis. According to a communique published by the Interior Ministry, the suspected jihadists were reportedly planning attacks and are linked to other wanted militants remaining at large.
Since the beginning of January, there has been a notable increase in the frequency of Boko Haram activities in Borno State, one of the three northeastern states of Nigeria currently under the state of emergency, along with Yobe and Adamawa. These increased attacks have sparked an exodus of thousands of locals from the area to Cameroon and Niger. Meanwhile, President Jonathan announced the appointment of an entirely new military defense staff in mid-January and the creation, under U.S. guidance, of new special forces units for the north.
In mid-January, the creation of an Army Special Operations Command (NASOC) was announced. This special operations unit will reportedly be partially trained and equipped by the United States and is expected to have deployments in the north in addition to other at-risk areas in the country.
The high frequency of Boko Haram’s attacks in Borno throughout January indicates the group’s significant capabilities in spite of increased counterinsurgency operations in the state since May 2013. Despite the successful raid against a Boko Haram base in Damboa, this incident marks the only reported preemptive strike against the group by security forces in recent weeks. The attacks in January have been indicative of two categories of attacks: high profile operations against strategic targets in Maiduguri and attacks against isolated villages in the northeastern, border regions of Borno. Read more »
They say old habits die hard. For Iran’s elite Quds Force, the secretive external branch of the Revolutionary Guard, the habits of subversion and mafia-style revenge against the Islamic Republic’s adversaries may never die at all. The actions of these self-described promoters of the Islamic Revolution may just determine whether the smiles, handshakes, and twitter posts of President Rouhani signal an end to Iran’s destabilizing meddling in the Middle East — or are a mere diversion from the unrelenting sectarian aims of the regime’s true power brokers.
With the eyes of the world still sharply focused on Iran’s behavior following the clinching of an interim nuclear agreement with the P5+1, the restraint of the Quds Force is already being tested.
A New Turning Point?
On November 19, just as Tehran’s negotiating team arrived in Geneva to hammer out the last details of that agreement, the Iranian embassy in southern Beirut was hit by a devastating double suicide bombing attack. Twenty-three people were killed, including Iran’s cultural attaché and several other nationals whose identities and affiliations have not been disclosed.
On the surface, the attack could be construed as part of an ongoing campaign by Syrian rebel sympathizers to target pro-Assad regime elements in Lebanon, preceded by two other indiscriminant bombings in Hezbollah-dominated suburbs of the city in recent months.
But both Hezbollah and Iranian officials red-flagged this attack for its notable sophistication, indicating the hand of a far more capable foreign power. According to their claims, the attackers knew the location of the ambassador’s office and his itinerary that day, with the second bomber using sophisticated explosives meant to detonate upwards rather than horizontally in order to collapse the building. Read more »
On September 21, al-Shabaab, the Somali-based al-Qaeda affiliate, gained international attention yet again, with the daring and devastating attack on the Westgate Mall in an upscale area of Nairobi. The targets of the attack—western visitors and affluent Kenyans— were ideal for the group’s intention of sending a bold message. This attack was not the group’s first major terror operation, nor was it the first time al-Shabaab orchestrated an attack far from its home base in southern Somalia. However, this al-Shabaab assault raised the stakes, highlighting the group’s advanced operational capabilities and expanding vision of militancy across the region.
While the Nairobi attack gained world attention, another al-Shabaab operation at the beginning of July slipped by relatively unnoticed. The July 1 attack on Kangabayi Prison, in the remote city of Beni in North Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) freed 244 inmates. The prisoners were largely affiliated with al-Shabaab’s local partner, the Ugandan militant Islamist group, the Allied Democratic Front (ADF), who helped the Somali group to conduct the Kampala World Cup bombings in 2010, resulting in over 70 deaths. Local security forces claim that the ADF orchestrated the bold prison break with the help of al-Shabaab. Read more »
On October 21, Hamas officially claimed responsibility for building a 1.7km tunnel which was uncovered in Israeli territory on October 7. The tunnel extended from the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis to the vicinity of the Israeli community of Ein Hashloshah, and was meant to transfer Hamas militants into Israeli territory for the purpose of staging a mass-casualty attack or kidnapping. The claiming of the tunnel by Hamas comes during a period of mounting economic pressure against its Gaza-based government as a result of the closure of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, and the destruction of over 90 percent of the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza by the Egyptian military.
In September 2013, IDF Southern Command chief Sami Turgeman revealed that Israel had sent a delegation to Cairo in an effort to convince the Egyptian military to ease pressure on the Gaza Strip. Turgeman cited Israeli concerns that Hamas’ increasing isolation could lead to a collapse of a ceasefire with the IDF which has been in place since the conclusion of Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012. The IDF is reportedly concerned that such isolation would weaken the ability of Hamas’ security forces to prevent rocket fire by fringe extremist groups, or that Hamas’ own military wing would resort to an escalation with Israel in an act of desperation.
Following the uncovering of the tunnel on October 7, the IDF abruptly halted recently-resumed shipments of concrete to the Gaza Strip, while Palestinian residents claimed to have received SMS messages from the IDF accusing Hamas of ignoring the dire economic conditions in favor of building combat infrastructure. In addition, an increase in IDF activity has been noted in the Gaza Strip border area, including limited penetrations and the uncovering of improvised explosive devices meant to target border patrols.
There are those who argue that Egypt’s infamous dictator Hosni Mubarak sealed his own fate long before the first activists pitched their tents in Tahrir Square in January 2011. They say the countdown really began in 2010, when Mubarak’s eldest son Gamal pitched a bold economic reform package to weather Egypt through the global economic recession.
At the time, Gamal was known to be next in line to succeed his father. The plan would have essentially taken the regime’s massive economic holdings out of the hands of the military-backed older generation and put it into the hands of Gamal’s loyal young business class within the ruling NDP party. After the Arab Spring engulfed the country, the Egyptian military unsurprisingly had little motivation to save the embattled Mubarak family, instead organizing his dismissal and eventually enabling the trial of Hosni and his two sons on corruption charges.
Numerous comparisons between Egypt and Algeria have since been made in the global pundit-sphere. Most have focused on their respective battles with political Islam, but few have given credit to Algeria’s aging President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for recognizing Mubarak’s mistakes and keeping his regime afloat amid the storm of regional political upheaval.