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Growing wedge between al-Qaeda affiliates in Maghreb and Sahel to have adverse impact on long-term capabilities – Algeria & Mali Analysis

Executive Summary

The mass surrendering of Mali-based Algerian fighters, as well as militants in southern Algeria, is increasingly driving a wedge between al-Qaeda and the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Algeria and Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam waal Muslimeen (JNIM) in Mali, which may force the groups to shift from regional operations to a more local focus.

So far in 2018, 120 militants have surrendered to Algerian security forces compared to 28 in 2017, and most of them are likely a part of the AQIM contingent in southern Algeria and northern Mali.

Despite this trend, and the reduction in their propaganda, the Mali-based al-Qaeda coalition JNIM, were able to maintain, and in some cases improve, their scope and scale of operations in 2018.

While groups in Mali may seek to use Niger as an substitute option for logistical purposes, should these trends persist and no effective alternatives be utilized, it will inevitably have an adverse effect on AQIM and JNIM’s operational capabilities in the coming months and years.

Current Situation

According to reports from April 2018, “France, Algeria, and Mali are operating a secret agreement, signed in July 2017, to offer Sahel militants immunity in return for them laying down arms…this policy will give them immunity from prosecution.”

So far in 2018, 120 militants have surrendered in Algeria to the People’s National Army (ANP), compared to a total of 28 militants in 2017. Moreover, in 2018, 114 out of the 120 who surrendered did so in Adrar and Tamanrasset provinces, located just north of Algeria’s border with Mali and Niger, while in 2017, 21 out of the 28 militants who surrendered did so in Adrar and Tamanrasset provinces.

Additionally, according to reports from May, Algeria expelled 105 Malians on charges of links to Ansar Dine, a Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam waal Muslimeen (JNIM) constituent group. According to Algerian authorities, it was facing an influx of illegal migrants from Mali and Niger into its southern border provinces.

However, in Mali, JNIM has consistently carried out about 35 attacks per month in 2018 thus far, an increase from 2017, which saw approximately 25 attacks per month following the coalition’s founding in March. The primary exception was in July 2018, when JNIM increased its activity in efforts to undermine the presidential elections. As a whole, the majority of JNIM’s attacks are smaller-scale, though they have conducted at least 36 complex attacks in 2018.

Background

AQIM’s roots can be traced back to the Salafist Group for Preachment and Combatant (GSPC), an offshoot of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which fought in the Algerian civil war of the 1990s. In 2006-7, the GSPC distanced itself from the GIA, largely due to the fact that the GIA had lost much of its local support due to indiscriminate killings, and aligned itself with al-Qaeda.

As al-Qaeda’s strongest affiliate in Africa at the time, AQIM in Algeria supported jihadist efforts in other parts of the Maghreb, including in Mali. However, intensive counter-militancy campaigns by the ANP, which involved the use of airstrikes as well as ground raids, gradually reduced the power and influence of AQIM in Algeria, and drove some if its fighters and assets into northern Mali.

In March 2017 in Mali, AQIM’s Sahara branch, al-Mourabitoun, Ansar Dine, and Macina Liberation Front announced that they would be unifying under a single al-Qaeda coalition, JNIM. Although the individual groups have continued to act within their general spheres of influence in the northern and central regions, JNIM has presented a united front for its strategic and militant operations in Mali.

This completed a shifting of AQIM’s center of gravity from Algeria to Mali, with JNIM now the strongest and most potent al-Qaeda group in the region and Algeria serving mostly an auxiliary effort. However, this move was likely only reluctantly accepted by AQIM in Algeria, whose Emir, Abdelmalek Droukdel (also known as Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud), an important figure within al-Qaeda’s hierarchy, seeks to restore the lost prestige of the organization.

Assessments & Forecast

Militant surrenders in southern Algeria likely to persist given militants’ apparent low morale

The ANP’s counter-militancy campaign has been largely successful in dislodging the threat of militancy in Algeria, as highlighted by the lack of a large-scale militant attack on Algerian soil in at least two years. The success of this campaign can be attributed to its focus on four key variables: the militant group’s ranks, support base, infrastructure, and supply lines. First, by targeting fighters, the ANP has significantly diminished the ranks of AQIM in both northern and southern Algeria. Second, at the same time, the security apparatus has attempted to dismantle the local support base of militants in these regions in order to deprive them of the ability to evade security operations. This is in light of the fact that a local support base, which is sustained due to a high rate of radicalization among youth residing in outlying areas of Algeria, provides militants with a pool of potential recruits as well as logistical support, likely in the form of safehouses, supplies, and information on security forces’ movements. Third, this counter-militancy campaign has resulted in the large-scale dismantling of militant infrastructure, which includes hideouts and weapons caches located in the mountainous parts of northern Algeria. Finally, Algeria has tightened its security along its porous borders with Mali, Niger, Tunisia, and Libya. This includes increased checkpoints as well as patrols along these borders in order to prevent the cross-border smuggling of fighters, weapons, and supplies into the country.

Over recent months, the majority of AQIM’s activity has become restricted to areas along the Tunisian border, such as Tebessa and Khenchela provinces, as this region allows the militant group to coordinate with its affiliate in western Tunisia. Therefore, in response, the Algerian security apparatus increased its intelligence sharing and cooperation with the Tunisian security apparatus in order to combat this threat of cross-border militancy. This strategy has been particularly successful for both sides, as demonstrated by several instances in which the ANP has successfully neutralized militants who escaped the jurisdiction of the Tunisian military by crossing the border into Algeria.

Aside from this, the ANP has been very successful in dismantling the senior local leadership of AQIM since the beginning of 2018. According to the Algerian Ministry of Defense, the ANP arrested two senior AQIM leaders in Skikda Province in July, and killed eight senior AQIM leaders in counter-militancy operations in Jijel Province in February. These factors have likely had a significant adverse impact on the Sunni jihadist groups’ prestige in Algeria. This, in turn, is liable to have impacted the morale of their fighters in the country, who have may have become disillusioned. Taking all these factors into consideration and combining them with reports of an “amnesty deal” put in place by Algeria, France, and Mali, may give a plausible explanation for the large-scale surrenders of militants to the authorities in Tamanrasset Province since the beginning of January 2018.

The timing of this amnesty agreement, when conjoined with the low morale of ground fighters, would provide for the required incentive needed for militants to voluntarily surrender to authorities. In light of southern Algeria’s porous borders with northern Mali, it is highly possible that militants who have managed to infiltrate from Mali into Algeria are capitalizing on Algerian authorities’ reintegration policies to leave AQIM. While several of these militants have been of Malian nationality, the majority of them are Algerians who were fighting for JNIM in Mali, indicating that the amnesty deal only applies for militants of Algerian nationality. This is further underscored by Algeria’s decision to extradite 105 Malian nationals suspected of belonging to JNIM’s Ansar Dine.
FORECAST: Therefore, this ongoing trend of Mali-based militants attempting to surrender to the ANP in southern Algeria will likely continue over the coming months. The majority of these militants will likely be of Algerian nationality as they attempt to return to the country to seek advantage of the reported “amnesty deal”.

FORECAST: However, AQIM leadership continues to be interested in maintaining an operational base in Algeria, likely due to the country’s historical and symbolic significance to the group. This has been demonstrated by an uptick in militant attacks conducted by the group in Algeria over recent months. As the group’s leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, is likely still alive, he will attempt to keep the group active for as long as possible. Therefore, the coming months may see an increase in militant attacks in Algeria. These will be focused in areas that have been considered relatively secure and witness lower security protocols. However, militant groups in the country likely do not possess the necessary capabilities to mount a large-scale attack at this time and such attacks will likely utilize low sophistication IEDs or ambushes.

JNIM continues to pose a significant threat to Mali’s security, further attacks are expected to occur in coming months

Since its founding, JNIM has exhibited a strong media strategy, frequently publishing claims of responsibility for attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso that detail the incidents and their locations as well as releasing sophisticated video propaganda. However, a downtick in publications since mid-2018 has created the perception that JNIM’s activity itself may have also declined. This perception was heightened as it came alongside reports of the amnesty deal in Algeria, as well as a series of French “decapitation” airstrikes that targeted JNIM leaders and positions in northern Mali’s Timbuktu and Mopti regions. However, despite these factors, as demonstrated, JNIM has remained as active as ever in its main theater of operations in northern and central Mali. In contrast, the group has conducted approximately ten more attacks per month in 2018 than they were able to do in 2017, suggesting that any loss of fighters has not been detrimental to their operations.

The numbers indicate that, since their emergence in March 2017, JNIM has conducted about 600 attacks in Mali, including at least 355 in 2018 alone. The vast majority of these attacks are small-scale, including tactics such as emplacing IEDs, shootings, and simple ambushes. These have enabled the militants to target and undermine security forces across a wide geographical area and reinforce their presence. At the same time, JNIM has also been able to carry out complex and large-scale attacks at least once a month, generally against high-profile targets such as airports or military camps. A multi-pronged attack against a French-UN base at the Timbuktu Airport in April 2018 highlights their offensive capabilities, as it involved at least three suicide vehicle-borne IEDs (SVBIEDs) disguised as UN and Malian army vehicles entering the base and detonating, as well as exchanges of rocket and small-arms fire. This exemplifies their persistent ability to exploit security forces’ vulnerabilities and marshal the necessary manpower and firepower to conduct sophisticated attacks against even fortified targets.

To this point, it appears that the surrender of Algerian militants has had little to no direct impact on JNIM or the overall security landscape in Mali. Although AQIM originated in Algeria, the base of the organization’s power has clearly shifted to Mali. With the exception of Yahya Abu Hammam, the emir of AQIM’s Sahara branch, JNIM’s top leadership is Malian, with the Tuareg Malian Iyad Ag Ghaly at the head of the group. It is possible that the departure of any Algerian jihadists has had little impact due to a successful transfer of knowledge in terms of weapons or capabilities to the Malian organizations over the years. Moreover, as al-Qaeda groups expanded into Mali from Algeria, they entrenched themselves in local communities and built recruitment networks that are based in local ethnic dynamics, with Tuaregs and Fulanis in particular representing a significant constituency for JNIM’s component groups. These populations would then mitigate the loss of any Algerian jihadists.

FORECAST: Given these trends and the difficulty that domestic and international armed forces have had in degrading JNIM, there is little to indicate that the pace and scale of attacks in northern and central Mali will be reduced in the immediate term. The group continues to retain the knowledge, resources, and capabilities to be a significant threat in their area of operations in Mali as well as the tri-border region with Burkina Faso and Niger. Their activity is likely to persist along the same lines, largely as small-scale, low-capability attacks against security forces, while larger, more complex assaults against high-profile targets will occur intermittently.

Changing dynamics to disrupt cooperation between AQIM in Algeria, JNIM in Mali, potentially to force shift from regional to local operations, hinder operational capabilities

As noted, the unprecedented uptick in Algerian militants crossing the border from Mali in order to surrender to the ANP appears to confirm the reports of an amnesty deal. Moreover, the effect is almost exclusively restricted to southern Algeria, with only 6 of the 120 militants who surrendered having done so in northern Algeria, indicating that most of the militants who turned themselves in were part of AQIM’s contingents in southern Algeria and northern Mali. While the impetus is clearly the low morale of the fighters, the reason why this is only affecting Algerian fighters in southern Algeria and northern Mali and not the ones in northern Algeria remains unclear. Reasons can range from a rift between the Algerian “foreigners” and the local fighters in Mali over prestige to objectives of the militancy campaign to Algerian fighters simply becoming disillusioned and exhausted after many years of fighting abroad.
FORECAST: While the reasons remain speculative, the ramifications are clear, namely the deteriorating ability of AQIM in Algeria and JNIM in Mali to cooperate, which may in turn lead to an effective split between the groups.

This process is driven by the changing dynamic on the ground rather than a shift in strategy by al-Qaeda. Depleting number of Algerians in Mali means that there are fewer people who can serve as liaisons between AQIM and JNIM, and fewer people who can exploit their naturally better knowledge of Algeria to physically assist in cross-border activities. This is aggravated by the dwindling number of AQIM militants operating in southern Algeria due to the surrenders, which adds a geographical dimension to the distancing of the groups.
FORECAST: This would lead to more difficulties in the physical transfer of weapons, recruits, and supplies, as well as the exchange of knowledge and information.

Some of these losses can be compensated for by al-Qaeda. For example, AQIM in Algeria has increased its interaction and cooperation with its affiliate in Tunisia, Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade (OIB), and a persistent presence of al-Qaeda elements in southern Libya can also serve as a mitigating factor to the reduced interaction between Algeria and Mali. Nonetheless, they cannot fully replace the critical Algeria-Mali link, simply because of the distance, which would overstretch some elements of al-Qaeda’s supply lines from the Mediterranean coast into the Sahel. These can therefore not fully compensate for the wedge being driven between AQIM in Algeria and JNIM in Mali.

FORECAST: Overall, this means that the prospects for cross-border militant activity in cooperation between AQIM and JNIM has likely significantly dwindled and will continue along those lines in the coming months, forcing both groups to assume a much more local approach instead of being a part of a regional effort. Those in Mali may attempt to replace the use of southern Algeria with an alternative, such as using Mauritania and Niger for the movement of weapons, supplies, and manpower. In this regard, northern Niger is a more likely option for logistical purposes, as it would provide Mali-based groups with potential direct routes to Libya, whereas Mauritania would be a more roundabout and difficult approach. However, should the trends in Algeria persist, with no effective alternatives being utilized, it will inevitably have negative implications for both groups’ operational capabilities.

Recommendations

Algeria

Travel to Algiers and Oran may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations.

Avoid nonessential travel to Kabylie, due to the heightened threat of militant attacks and general unrest in the region. Those conducting business essential travel to the region are advised to avoid the mountains between Tizi Ouzou, Bouira and Saharidj due to the heightened militant presence and activities in this area.

We advise against all nonessential travel to Algeria’s outlying areas. For business-essential visits, consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations and ground support options.

In Algiers and other major cities, remain vigilant in the vicinities of public squares, government buildings, and police stations, as these serve as focal points for protests and militant attacks.

Mali

Travel to Bamako may continue time while adhering to stringent security precautions regarding criminal activity and potential militancy.

We advise against all travel to northern and central Mali, as well as its border regions with Niger and Burkina Faso, given the threat from militant and rebel groups operating in the area, as well as ongoing ethnic tensions.

AQIM-OIB claims attack against National Guard patrol in Jendouba Governorate’s Ghardimaou on July 8 – Tunisia Alert

Please be advised

According to the Ministry of Interior (MoI), a group of militants killed six National Guardsmen in an ambush targeting two vehicles patrolling the Tunisian-Algerian border near Ain Soltane village, located in Jendouba Governorate’s Ghardimaou District, during the morning hours of July 8.

The militants reportedly detonated an IED against the patrol, which was then followed by gunfire against the National Guardsmen. The assailants reportedly fled the scene following the attack and are still at large.
The attack was later claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)-affiliated Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade (OIB). According to their statement, nine National Guardsmen, including an officer, were killed in the attack. The militants seized eight rifles, a handgun, and a machine gun before fleeing the scene of the attack.

According to reports, a man was arrested in Kairouan Governorate for expressing support for the AQIM-OIB claimed attack on July 9.

In addition, members of the security services of Beja staged a protest in front of the National Guard’s headquarters demanding that the Minister of Interior (MoI) support new legislation meant to protect servicemen on July 9.

Tunisia Alert (UPDATE): AQIM-OIB claims attack against National Guard patrol in Jendouba Governorate’s Ghardimaou on July 8; avoid all travel to area | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

The attack is highly notable since it is the largest militant attack on Tunisian soil since March 2016, when Islamic State (IS) militants infiltrated Medenine Governorate’s Ben Guerdane from Libya. This incident highlights the increased risk of militancy near Tunisia’s western borders with Algeria, with the latest attack in the area recorded on May 31, when security forces foiled an AQIM-OIB attack in Kasserine Governorate. Although, AQIM-OIB is known to maintain an operational base along the Tunisian-Algerian border, the majority of its attacks over the past year have been mainly focused in the southwest, namely Kasserine Governorate, rather than in Jendouba, which is located in the northwestern part of the country.

Furthermore, all of these attacks have been of a lower sophistication, mainly involving the use of landmines or shootings. However, the latest attack utilized a relatively more sophisticated modus operandi. The multi-pronged nature of attack highlights the militant group’s resilience to security forces’ ongoing operations in western Tunisia, as well as their fighters’ abilities to regroup in the aftermath of such operations. It is also indicative of their ability to plan and execute coordinated attacks in order to achieve maximum casualties.

The timing of the attack is further significant. It was likely conducted in response to several developments that undermine the group’s interests in the area. These developments include the recent heightened security protocols put in place by Tunisian security forces along the border area in coordination with their Algerian counterparts.

This has led to a decline in the militant group’s abilities to operate along the border area, as witnessed in February, when Tunisian security forces neutralized a leader of AQIM-OIB in Kasserine Governorate based on intelligence from the Algerian intelligence apparatus. The militant had reportedly been sent from Algeria to reorganize the Tunisian affiliate.

Security protocols along the western border have also hindered smuggling operations, which provide militant groups with supplies and revenue, and cement their codependence with local smugglers, as the latter also depends on these operations as a source of income. Mitigating these operations not only damages the militant group’s supply lines, but also erodes their influence over the local population, as its members inevitably seek other sources of income.

Therefore, the attack likely seeks to compel security forces to divert resources away from Kasserine Governorate, which is AQIM-OIB’s primary area of operations in the country, towards Jendouba Governorate. This will overstretch the resources at the disposal of the Tunisian security apparatus, thus allowing militants to operate more freely in the area.

The latest attack follows the June 3 IS-claimed attack against a gas pipeline near Kasserine Governorate’s Sbeitla. In light of the ongoing competition between IS and AQIM over weapons, supplies, and personnel in western Tunisia, it is highly likely that the latest attack was meant to be symbolic in nature. This would project AQIM-OIB as the more prominent Sunni jihadist group in the country, allowing it to attract supporters and recruits at the expense of IS.

FORECAST: In response, the Tunisian Armed Forces (TAF) will launch intensified counter-militancy operations in western Tunisia, including in Jendouba, Kef, and Kasserine governorates. These will likely include increased security patrols as well as artillery shelling against potential militant hideouts in the mountainous regions. Security protocols will also be elevated along the Algerian border in order to prevent militants from crossing into Algeria and evading arrests.

However, this increase in security presence may provide militants with additional targets, leading to further clashes between security personnel and militants. Moreover, the increase in AQIM-OIB activity may prompt IS to heighten operations in the country in the near term. Overall, given the continued entrenchment of militants in western Tunisia’s mountainous areas due to their demonstrated ability to adapt and evolve, further similar sporadic attacks are likely to take place in the coming weeks and months.

Recommendations

Travel to Tunis may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Those operating or residing in Tunisia are advised that we maintain operational capabilities in the country.

Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support options.

Those operating or residing in Jendouba District on July 8 should avoid all travel to the Ghardimaou District in light of the anticipated counter-militancy operations following the attack, as well as the likelihood for further clashes in the area over the coming days.

Avoid all travel to the Kasserine, Kef, and Jendouba Governorates, in addition to all border areas, due to jihadist activity and military closures. Furthermore, avoid all travel to within 50 km from the border with Libya, due to the increased threat of attacks originating from Libya targeting Tunisian interests.

 

Resurgence of Saraya Defend Benghazi (SDB) likely linked to Libyan National Army’s (LNA) recent preoccupation in Derna – Libya Analysis

Executive Summary

The June 14 attack against the Oil Crescent is highly notable as the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) control over this area has remained largely unchallenged since March 2017.

The LNA’s preoccupation in hostilities in other parts of the country over the past year, combined with widespread cross-border smuggling of weapons and fighters across Libya’s southern borders likely allowed SDB fighters to regroup in southern Libya.

The timing of the latest attack is significant as it attempted to capitalize upon the LNA’s preoccupation in ongoing operations in Derna, aimed at dislodging the al-Qaeda-linked Derna Protection Force (DPF) from the city.

Ibrahim al-Jathran’s mentioning of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) as the country’s only “legitimate” government in his statement is likely deliberate and part of an effort by al-Jathran to gain legitimacy for the attack.

Although the LNA was able to successfully repel the attack, it will likely divert further troops to the area over the coming hours and days to fortify all the installations in the Oil Crescent.

Those conducting business at the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals are advised to compensate for anticipated delays in operations on June 15 and over the coming days due to the closure of the facilities.

Resurgence of Saraya Defend Benghazi (SDB) likely linked to Libyan National Army’s (LNA) recent preoccupation in Derna - Libya Analysis | MAX SecurityMAX Security

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Current Situation

During the morning hours of June 14, an armed group led by Ibrahim al-Jathran, a former commander of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA)-linked Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG), attacked the Sidra and Ras Lanuf oil fields in the Oil Crescent.

According to a video released by al-Jathran, the attack was supported by the Magharba tribe and the Tebu militia. According to the Libyan National Army (LNA), the al-Qaeda-linked Saraya Defend Benghazi (SDB) was behind the attack. The LNA confirmed that the group of SDB fighters were led by al-Jathran. Further unconfirmed reports also indicate the involvement of armed groups from Chad.

Al-Jathran claimed that the attack was aimed at freeing the region from the ‘‘terrorist and extremist’’ LNA forces in an effort to end the ‘‘injustice’’ in the oil crescent. He further stated that the GNA has sole legitimacy in the country.

The GNA released a statement saying that it had not authorized any military action in the OIl Crescent and condemned the attack as a “terrorist operation”.

The LNA has diverted troops and aircraft to the area to repel the attack. Furthermore, the Libyan Air Force (LAF) has launched multiple airstrikes against the armed group over the past 24 hours. The LNA claims that the oil ports are under the control of its forces and that the attack was successfully repelled. At least four LNA soldiers have been killed as a result of the clashes.

However, unconfirmed reports indicate that the clashes are still ongoing and that the armed group has taken control of the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals.

The National Oil Corporation (NOC) has declared “force majeure” at both oil fields and evacuated all workers out of the area.

Assessments & Forecast

This development is highly notable as the LNA’s control over the Oil Crescent has remained largely unchallenged since March 2017, when LNA forces launched a counter-offensive against the SDB and the PFG, who had temporarily taken control of the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals. The LNA initially took control of the Oil Crescent from the PFG in an attack against the group in December 2016, after the SDB officially handed over control of the oil terminals to the GNA-linked forces. Meanwhile, although the SDB indicated its willingness to disband in June 2017 after its substantial losses against the LNA in the Jufra District, the large-scale nature of this attack indicates that the militant group has successfully managed to regroup and regain at least part of its capabilities over the past year.

This bolsters our previous assessment that SDB fighters will likely disperse to more remote areas in the latter half of 2017 to regroup. Several factors likely facilitated the resurgence of the SDB at this time. Firstly, the LNA’s preoccupation in hostilities in other parts of the country, such as in the Warshefana District, Benghazi, Sebha, Derna, and the Sirte Basin, over the past year likely allowed SDB fighters to regroup in southern Libya, which remains largely controlled by tribal militias and is out of the jurisdiction of both the LNA and the GNA, without being detected by security forces. Secondly, widespread cross-border smuggling of weapons and fighters across LIbya’s southern borders with Sudan and Chad, likely allowed the militant group to reinforce its offensive capabilities. Thirdly, reports regarding LNA Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s ill health in April may have bolstered the morale of SDB fighters, enabling the group to further ramp up its operations. All of these factors combined allowed the militant group to launch its first attack in over a year on May 31 against the LAF-controlled Tamanhint Airbase, and temporarily take control of the facility.

The timing of the latest attack is significant as it comes amid the LNA’s ongoing operations in Derna, aimed at dislodging the al-Qaeda-linked Derna Protection Force (DPF) from the city. Therefore, the armed group was likely attempting to capitalize upon the fact that LNA forces currently remain overstretched across eastern Libya, which increases the possibility of success of an attack against the Oil Crescent at this time. This attack serves the aims of both former PFG members as well as the SDB. If successful, the attack would provide both groups with vast resources. They would be able to sell the oil from the production facilities on the black market and fund their operations in Libya. That said, even if the attack was not successful, it would elevate al-Jathran’s status in the country and bring the commander back to light after a two year hiatus. With regards to the SDB, such an attack would deprive the LNA of vital revenue from oil exports. It would also compel the LNA to divert troops and resources away from their ongoing operations in Derna, thus, providing at least partial relief to the al-Qaeda-linked DPF in the city.

Furthermore, al-Jathran’s statement is notable as it specifically mentions the UN-backed GNA, calling it the country’s “legitimate” government. This was likely deliberate and part of an effort by al-Jathran to gain legitimacy for the attack. This underscores a larger trend in Libya, wherein various armed actors in the country utilize the lack of a sovereign political authority for their own gains. This lack of a unified government has created ambiguity in territorial jurisdiction, allowing various armed groups to proliferate and operate along the fringes. This not only highlights Libya’s volatile political environment but also the threat posed by it to vital infrastructure located in the country.

However, the fact that the LNA was able to recapture the oil terminals within the span of a day highlights its relative capabilities to defend the oil infrastructure from such armed assaults. FORECAST: Although the LNA was able to successfully repel the attack, it will likely divert further troops to the area over the coming hours and days to fortify all the installations in the Oil Crescent. Furthermore, LNA forces will launch security raids in areas surrounding the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals to hinder the ability of SDB fighters to receive reinforcements from other parts of Libya and mount another similar attack. The LAF will also increase aerial reconnaissance over the Sirte Basin and launch airstrikes against suspected armed convoys belonging to militant groups. It is also possible that foreign aircraft, such as those of the US, will launch airstrikes against militants in the Sirte Basin over the coming days in an effort to secure their interests in the country. This is light of the fact that the UN-backed GNA has denounced the latest attack as a militant operation and this will increase the US’s concerns regarding the growing threat of militancy in Libya. Aerial operations by LNA-allies, such as UAE and Egypt, may also be witnessed over eastern Libya over the coming days. That said, the LNA’s increased preoccupation in the Oil Crescent may slow down its ground offensive against the DPF in Derna in the short-term.

Recommendations

It is advised to defer all travel to Tripoli and Benghazi at this time due to ongoing violence, threats against foreigners, and the risk of a broad deterioration of security conditions. We advise at this time that those remaining in Tripoli and Benghazi should initiate contingency and emergency evacuation plans due to deterioration in the security situation. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support plans.

Those planning to conduct air travel to, from and inside Libya should avoid entering the area between Marsa al-Brega, Sirte and Sebha, as it was declared a no-fly zone by the Libyan National Army (LNA).

For those operating in or conducting business with oil facilities, it is advised to consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations and ground support options.

Those conducting business at the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals are advised to compensate for anticipated delays in operations on June 15 and over the coming days due to the closure of the facilities.

How Egypt’s new militant group will impact the threat landscape – Egypt Analysis

Current Situation

On November 3, a previously unknown militant group, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, claimed responsibility for an October 20 attack in western Egypt’s Bahariya Oasis, in which reports state at least 55 security forces personnel were killed during a raid operation targeting a militant base.

In its claim of responsibility, the group introduces itself to the Egyptian public, denouncing Egyptian leadership for its treatment of the populace. The group states that the October 20 attack, which it describes in specific detail, marks the commencement of its “jihad” against government and military authorities in Egypt and proclaims itself to be a group that has exercised a “divine patience.”

The organization memorializes one of its leaders, Emad al-Din Ahmed, a former military officer who became a jihadist, who was killed during a counter-militancy operation on October 31, which included ground raids and airstrikes in a mountainous area near al-Wahat Road, west of Fayoum. Ahmed is reported to have been a deputy of Hesham al-Ashmawy, an al-Qaeda member reportedly operating in the eastern Libya city of Derna, who along with Ahmed had been forced from the Egyptian military’s ranks for professing alleged extremist Islamic beliefs.

The group stated that it freed security forces’ personnel who were kidnapped during the Bahariya Oasis attack, after lecturing them on the principles of Islam, and explaining that Egypt’s leadership is an enemy of the faith. Previous reports had stated that a police officer who had been kidnapped during the October 20 incident was freed during the October 31 operation.

The group appeals to the Egyptian public, asking the country’s citizens to provide Jamaat Ansar al-Islam with various types of support, urging them to join the group’s ranks, as well as sponsor the group financially.

How Egypt's new militant group will impact the threat landscape - Egypt Analysis | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

While Jamaat Ansar al-Islam is a previously unknown group, the claim of responsibility for the attack is likely credible. Although the Islamic State (IS) maintains a significant presence in the Western Desert where the attack occurred, the organization did not claim the attack, even mentioning it in its monthly literature without taking credit for it. Jamaat Ansar al-Islam is widely reported as linked to al-Qaeda, and several indications support such an affiliation. Following the Bahariya Oasis incident, numerous al-Qaeda online profiles on jihadist channels publicized and praised the attack, while Ahmed’s reported association with the al-Qaeda-loyal Ashmawy would lend credence to the al-Qaeda affiliation. The claim of responsibility’s graphics and wording also resemble those of other al-Qaeda affiliates. Jamaat Ansar al-Islam’s announcement corresponds to al-Qaeda’s overall strategy of encouraging its affiliates to pursue local-specific goals, in this case to damage Egyptian leadership for its alleged mistreatment of Egypt’s population, as well as its perceived status as an enemy of Islam. IS, in contrast, targets these same interests, but rather for the purpose of destabilizing the state in order to advance the spread of an Islamic caliphate.

The emergence of an al-Qaeda affiliate in Egypt is highly notable in its own right, as the Sunni jihadist group has not maintained an active presence in the country in recent years. This group’s self-introduction comes amidst IS’s sustained territorial losses yielded in Syria and Iraq, where it only maintains control of a few swaths of land. Jamaat Ansar al-Islam likely chose to reveal its existence at this particular time to present itself an attractive alternative for IS fighters fleeing Syria and Iraq, as IS is increasingly seen as on the decline. The significant length of time that passed before Jamaat Ansar al-Islam claimed responsibility for the attack and unveiled itself as a group is likely due to communications difficulties with al-Qaeda’s central organization, particularly given the group’s presence in Egypt’s remote Western Desert, and that it is a new organization likely in the initial stages of establishing these contacts and communications capabilities. However, this could have been intentional, as the group may have waited to announce its existence to maintain a low profile and avoid drawing authorities’ attention and thus allow its militants to regroup.

As seen in the group’s eulogizing of one of its commanders who had been an officer in the Egyptian military, Ahmed most likely maintained connections with members of the military sympathetic to Islamist militancy, who given the success of the October 20 attack, likely informed the militants that the raid was to take place in advance. This would bolster our previous assessment that the militants likely had prior intelligence of the security operation’s launching from informants within the security forces. Furthermore, while the size of the group’s personnel has not been established as of yet, it displayed high capabilities during the Bahariya Oasis attack, which were likely enhanced by former military officers such as Ahmed. This was witnessed in the group’s strategically entrenched positions during the ambush, which included directing RPG and heavy gunfire from higher ground at both the front and rear of the security convoy, which significantly immobilized its personnel, as well as in the detonation of IEDs that followed. This complex multi-pronged attack, including the use of explosives, displayed high sophistication in both method and technical expertise, and the group’s remaining members likely retain these capabilities and knowledge.

Given Jamaat Ansar al-Islam’s likely affiliation with al-Qaeda, as well as its operations in Egypt’s Western Desert, the group most likely maintains ties with the Mujahideen Shura Council of Derna (MSCD), which is based across the border in Derna. The MSCD militia coalition’s largest faction, the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, is aligned with al-Qaeda. Jamaat al-Islam is likely to cooperate with the MSCD towards damaging shared enemies including Egyptian leadership, as well as Cairo’s Libyan ally, the Libyan National Army (LNA), whose dominion extends over much of eastern Libya. Such cooperation will likely include the exchange of weaponry and supplies across the border, as well as personnel on some occasions.

FORECAST: The group’s claim of responsibility will likely prompt a competition amongst militant groups operating in Egypt for manpower, prestige, and legitimacy. In response to Jamaat Ansar al-Islam’s announcement, IS and disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups are now likely further motivated to conduct attacks in order to continue to convince Egyptians to join and support them rather than defect to this new organization, raising the potential for attacks in mainland Egypt at this this time. In terms of recruitment and manpower, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam’s call for jihadist-style militancy against Egyptian authorities would appeal to those in line with IS’s doctrine, while the specific local aims of the group to attack Egypt’s leadership for its alleged maltreatment of Egyptians would attract those of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology, including more radical elements part of groups such as the Hasam Movement and Liwaa al-Thawra. Al-Qaeda has also attempted in the past to establish such relationships with disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militants. Furthermore, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam likely utilized a recent downtick in activity by both IS and disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood groups in mainland Egypt in recent weeks to portray itself as strong relative to these other organizations in an attempt to gain support.

FORECAST: In response, Egyptian authorities will prosecute further security raids and direct Egyptian Air Force (EAF) airstrikes targeting the group in Egypt’s Western Desert, aimed in part at preventing Jamaat Ansar al-Islam from strengthening itself through any cooperation with the MSCD and smugglers across the border in Libya. Towards this end, Cairo will likely heighten coordination with the LNA, and in some instances, as seen on May 26 and on a few occasions afterwards, will likely order EAF airstrikes against the MSCD in Derna. Furthermore, Egyptian authorities will seek to identify and arrest militant informers likely maintained by the new group within the military and security services. However, given the challenges inherent in policing the extensive Western Desert and its expansive international borders, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam will likely continue to operate there and will attempt to perpetrate further attacks. Furthermore, it remains possible that the group maintains personnel in other areas of Egypt, including in more heavily-populated areas in its interior cities, which would also be targeted by security forces.

Recommendations

Travel to Cairo and Alexandria may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations.

Avoid all travel to the North Sinai Governorate and border areas with Libya, Sudan, and Israel due to the persistent risk for militant attacks, kidnappings, and general lawlessness.

In Cairo, maintain heightened vigilance and continue to allot extra time for travel due to possible delays emanating from increased security deployments, checkpoints, and closures throughout the capital.

As a general security precaution, remain vigilant in areas surrounding and avoid the immediate vicinity of government installations, police stations, and religious centers, particularly churches, as these locations remain under elevated threat of militant attacks. When traveling in central squares, or in areas with persistent police deployments, avoid the immediate vicinity of security forces, particularly fixed traffic booths, as such personnel and facilities have increasingly come under attack by militant elements.

 

 

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MAX Analysis Somalia: Factionalism within al-Shabaab unlikely to result in dissolution, as uptick in attacks underscores group’s sustained capabilities July 14, 2014

Current Situation

With the commencement of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on June 29,  a string of daily attacks attributed to the Islamist militant group, al-Shabaab, has been recorded throughout Mogadishu. Most notably, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the July 8 attack against Mogadishu’s Presidential Palace, commonly known as Villa Somalia, as militants managed to infiltrate the complex. Meanwhile, mounting reports have been released during the month of June indicating defections of al-Shabaab members, along with unconfirmed reports that a faction within the group is cooperating with Western and Somali Federal Government (FG) intelligence bodies.

  • 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.

Continue reading MAX Analysis Somalia: Factionalism within al-Shabaab unlikely to result in dissolution, as uptick in attacks underscores group’s sustained capabilities July 14, 2014

Political Analysis: Bouteflika clan attempts to cement rule in Algeria

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.

bouteflika
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika

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.

Continue reading Political Analysis: Bouteflika clan attempts to cement rule in Algeria

Strategic Analysis: Lebanese-Israeli border tensions marked by erosion of UN resolution 1701

Lebanon
Hezbollah has claimed responsibility for a recent bombing attack near the Israeli border.

On the seven-year anniversary of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah claimed responsibility for an August 7 explosion in the Israeli-Lebanese border area, near the town of Labboune. That day, at least one explosive device injured four Israeli soldiers, who were accused by Lebanese parties and UNIFIL of crossing into Lebanese territory during a patrol in an un-demarcated area of the border.

Lebanese media outlets and politicians asserted that the IDF crossed both the technical fence and the international border, which do not coincide in some areas. Initial reports indicated that the troops were hit by a landmine which may have been a remnant from previous conflicts. The IDF has since declined to comment on the details of the incident, including whether or not troops entered Lebanese territory or whether the attack was intentional. Nasrallah claimed that Hezbollah had prior knowledge of an upcoming Israeli incursion, leading their operatives to plant explosive devices. He ended with what would some consider an ominous warning: “This operation will not be the last; we will not be lenient with those who violate our land. Whenever we feel that the Israelis have entered Lebanese soil, we will act.” The truth about what actually happened on August 7 may forever be disputed, but it remains clear that Hezbollah still seeks to avoid a conflict with Israel — despite Nasrallah’s seemingly confident claim of responsibility. Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Lebanese-Israeli border tensions marked by erosion of UN resolution 1701

Intelligence Analysis: Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders pushed toward moderation

Ten years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq’s inter-sectarian political experiment is in jeopardy. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite State of Law coalition remains in control, yet his government has come under excruciating pressure. In recent months, a wave of anti-government Sunni Arab protests, Cabinet boycotts by Shiite Sadrists, Sunnis and Kurds, coupled with rising sectarian violence and the steady withdrawal of Sunniministers, have threatened the longevity of Iraq’s political experiment. But despite rising sectarianism, perceived marginalization of Sunnis and jihadist violence, there are indications that Iraq’s Sunni tribal leaders are hesitant to abandon the political process and thrust Iraq into another war.

The March 29 Baghdad car bomb attacks targeting Shiite mosques underscore persistent efforts by Sunni jihadists to force this war. By increasing violence and radical sectarianism, Sunni jihadists are aiming to weaken the central Shiite-led government, force a Shiite-militia response, and Sunnis to take up arms against the state at a time of instability across the region. Despite counterinsurgency efforts by the Iraqi security forces and military, they remain largely unable to deter or prevent militant attacks, such as the coordinated mass assaults witnessed in the capital on March 13. Jihadists can largely strike at will.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

In addition to rising violence, persistent Sunni protests over a variety of issues continue to exacerbate sectarian tensions. Their demands vary from further rights, an end to the country’s terrorism and de-Baathification laws, to autonomy. Above all, protesters demand an end to the perceived marginalization of the Sunni community. It is hard, however, to see how such a perception will dissipate given mounting sectarian violence across the region.

Additionally, recent al-Maliki measures against Sunni ministers, on top of postponing local elections in Sunni-majority provinces and the continued targeting of local candidates, have only compounded Sunni restiveness. According to reports, at least 11 candidates for upcoming elections have been assassinated. Political candidates remain a high-level target for Sunni jihadists aiming to settle scores, deter cooperation with the government and weaken the traditional leadership of Iraq’sSunni community.

If such a strategy increasingly materializes, Iraq’s Sunni political leaders could be pressed to fall in line and replace the ballot box with an AK-47 to advance communal interests.
Continue reading Intelligence Analysis: Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders pushed toward moderation

Intelligence Analysis: The Kurd’s shifting role in the Syrian conflict

“Deal with your friends as if they will become your enemies tomorrow, and deal with your enemies as if they will become your friends tomorrow.” It’s a proverb passed along through Kurdish generations — and a telling pretext to the Kurdish strategy in today’s conflict in Syria. In recent weeks, this once dormant player has awoken from its slumber, and may just provide Syria’s desperate rebels with a much needed boost to break their deadlock with the Assad regime.

Reports indicate that YPG militiamen and Syrian rebels have agreed to share control of the strategic Sheikh Maqsood District of northern Aleppo, cutting off regime supply routes to a hospital, prison, and other key positions. Rebel fighters entered the district largely unopposed on March 31. On April 6, the Syrian military bombarded Kurdish neighborhoods in northern Aleppo, killing 15 people in a likely response to this new arrangement. The following day, Kurdish militiamen attacked a Syrian military checkpoint in the city, killing five troops.

PYD supporters at a funeral for a deceased member.
PYD supporters at a funeral for a deceased member

Further east, Syrian military units attacked a checkpoint manned by Kurdish militiamen in the northeastern city of Qamishli on April 4. Hours later, militiamen from the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) attacked two Syrian military positions on the outskirts of Qamishli. The attacks resulted in a number of deaths on both sides and marked the first such incident to occur in the predominantly Kurdish Hasakah Province since the Syrian military withdrew from the region’s urban centers in the summer of 2012.

Continue reading Intelligence Analysis: The Kurd’s shifting role in the Syrian conflict

Intelligence Analysis: Mounting tensions with Tunisia’s Jihadists

The month of March 2013 has witnessed an increase in tensions between local Tunisian Salafist networks, the newly formed government of P.M. Laarayedh, and the country’s secular/liberal societal factions.

On March 26, Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) issued a warning on social media towards P.M. Laarayedh, after he condemned Tunisia’s Salafist minority as responsible for recent violence in an interview with French media that same day. The post featured a threat to topple the government from Abu Iyad al-Tunisi, a prominent jihadist founder of AST suspected of orchestrating the September 11, 2012 riots at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. Following those riots, Abu Iyad was targeted for arrest at the al-Fatah Mosque in Tunis, but escaped after his supporters confronted security forces.

Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia has recently threatened the government.
Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia has recently threatened the government.

Iyad’s warning came days after al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), issued a new message calling on jihadists across the region to to join its ranks and take up arms against French assets as well as Western-sympathetic local governments in the Arab World. The message included a specific call towards Ansar al-Sharia members in Tunisia, which was reportedly received positively by the group.

On March 27, the Tunisian government announced that it would take measures to curb the flow of Tunisian jihadists to the conflict in Syria, citing concerns over their return to the country to engage in militant activity. Reports indicate that thousands of Tunisians are currently participating in both the Syrian and Malian conflict. In Syria, Tunisian nationals are estimated to comprise 30-40 percent of all foreign fighters. The majority of Tunisian jihadists fighting in Syria hail from outlying communities in the west and south of the country, primarily the town of Ben Guerdane, located near the Libyan border. Multiple Tunisian nationals also participated in a deadly raid against Algeria’s In Amenas gas facility in January 2013.

Following the 2010-11 Tunisian revolution, Salafist-jihadist elements have increased their activity substantially. Following the ousting of the Ben Ali regime, previously strict anti-Islamist policing policies were forgone, while the ensuing security vacuum enabled the establishment of training camps and weapons smuggling networks in outlying areas. Training camps near the Libyan and Algerian borders are currently meant to facilitate the indoctrination and transfer of Tunisian nationals to conflicts elsewhere in the region, including in Syria, Mali, and Algeria.

Continue reading Intelligence Analysis: Mounting tensions with Tunisia’s Jihadists