Tag Archives: assassination

US Air Strike Kills IRGC Commander Qassem Soleimani – Situation Analysis

US Confirms Killing IRGC Commander Qassem Soleimani in Air Strikes Near Iraq’s Baghdad International Airport on January 3

Please be Advised:

The US Department of Defense (DoD) released a statement announcing that the US military, on the orders of the US President, Donald Trump, had taken “decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad” by killing Qassem Soleimani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)- Quds Force (QF) commander during airstrikes near Iraq’s Baghdad International Airport during the early morning hours of January 3.

The statement announces that “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more”. The airstrikes aimed to deter future Iranian attacks against US assets in the region.

Iran’s national news agency have confirmed that the US airstrikes resulted in the death of IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soliemani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU).

Iraq’s national news agency reported that the US airstrikes targeted the convoy of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis traveling near the Baghdad International Airport.

Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei released a eulogy on January 3 for Qassem Soleimani and declared a three-days of mourning in Iran. The statement announces that the killing of Soleimani is a “criminal act” and “will reinforce the motives of the resistance against the US and Israel”.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the US airstrikes “extremely dangerous and a foolish escalation” and held the US responsible for “all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”

Prominent Iraq Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, released a statement during the morning hours of January 3 giving orders for “readiness” to the Shiite militias in Iraq, particularly the Mahdi Army, “to protect Iraq”.

Reports indicate that Iran’s Supreme National Security Council has convened during the morning hours of January 3 to discuss the development.

US Embassy in Baghdad on January 3 issued an advisory urging US citizens to depart Iraq immediately due to “heightened tensions in Iraq and the region”. Consular services in the US Embassy in Baghdad have been suspended until further notice. However, the US Consulate in Erbil remains operational at the time of writing.

Iraqi President has reportedly condemned the US airstrikes and called US action as a “blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty”.

Developments Near the Baghdad International Airport and Green Zone:

Reports indicate that three rockets fired by unidentified perpetrators landed in the Baghdad International Airport cargo area during the overnight hours of January 2-3 that resulted in several civilian casualties and the destruction of two vehicles.

Reports indicate that US military personnel arrested Hadi al-Amiri the head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), as well as Qais Khazali, the founder and leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a Shiite paramilitary group that is a part of the Iran-backed PMU in Baghdad during the morning hours of January 3. Iraq’s national news agency reported that a senior member of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq has denied the arrest of Qais Khazali.

Picture material on social media indicate that Iraqis gathered at Baghdad’s Tahrir Square during the early morning hours of January 3 to celebrate the death of Soleimani.

At the time of writing, operations have resumed at the Baghdad International Airport following a temporary ceasure of operations during the morning of January 3 after the US airstrikes.

Reports indicate that US military personnel have bolstered security protocols in the Green Zone in Baghdad, and the Iraqi security officials have completely locked down the Green Zone following the US airstrikes.

Other Related Developments:

Iran’s state-sponsored news agency reported that the Swiss Ambassador to Iran, who is considered as a “guardian of US interests in Iran” has been summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry on January 3 to strongly protest the killing of Qassem Soleimani.

Reports indicate that Israel has closed access to Hermon ski resort, located in the Golan Heights, near the Israel-Syria border, due to the risk of attack by Iran and its proxies. Additional reports indicate that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are on alert following the US airstrikes.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) official in the Gaza Strip reportedly released a statement calling the development a “great tragedy” and extended PIJ’s support to Iran.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon reportedly released a statement condemning the US airstrikes as a “big crime” and stated that “punishment of Soleimani’s killers is responsibility of all fighters”.

Reports indicate that foreign oil companies have commenced the evacuation of its employees holding a US citizenship via the Basra Airport following the advisory issued by the US Embassy in Baghdad that urges US nationals to depart the country immediately.

Iran has reportedly appointed Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani as the next IRGC Quds force chief on January 3.

UK has reportedly increased security protocols at its military bases across the Middle East following the US airstrikes.

Reports quoting the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that the US airstrikes in Iraq are a “reckless move” that will escalate tensions in the region.

Assessments & Forecast:

The development comes amid a marked increase in tensions in Iraq over the past two months following an uptick in attacks against US assets by Iran-backed forces in the country. Most recently, on December 31, hundreds of Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) members and supporters besieged and attempted to breach the US Embassy compound in Baghdad’s Green Zone to condemn US’s December 29 airstrikes that targeted five Kataib Hezbollah assets in Iraq. The continued risk posed to US-linked interests in Iraq is further evidenced by the statement issued by the US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on January 2, that holds Iran and its backed proxies in Iraq responsible for perpetuating the attacks and warned that “attacks against us will be met with responses in the time, manner, and place of our choosing.” Given this context, the recent US airstrikes constitute a decisive action against Iran and its proxies to deter further such attacks against US interests in the region.

Furthermore, the US airstrikes constitutes a highly symbolic and notable development given the high-profile nature of the target, namely, IRGC-QF commander, Qassem Soleimani. This is given that Soleimani is considered to be highly influential within the Iraqi political and security dynamics, and is perceived to be responsible for the destabilizing activities carried out by Iran-linked elements in Iraq. Moreover, on April 18, 2019 the US designated the IRGC, including its extraterritorial wing, the QF as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Therefore, the killing of Soleimani in the US airstrikes is likely aimed to adversely impact the IRGC’s leadership structure and mitigate the threat that the group is perceived to pose to the region’s security and stability. Regardless, the killing of Soleimani is liable to have a significant impact on the morale of the IRGC and Iran-backed fighters operating regionwide.

However, the development is unlikely to significantly alter Iran’s policy within the regional setting, such as its support for proxies like the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Yemeni Houthis, and Shiite militias in Iraq. Rather, as evidenced by the statement released by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, the incident will likely prompt Iran and its proxies to increasingly target the interests of the US and its allies, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia in the region. Furthermore, the statement issued by Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr calls for “readiness” from Shiite militias in Iraq to “protect Iraq” indicating the fact that Iran and its proxies will seek to take revenge against the US, and its allies, over the coming days.

FORECAST: Over the short term, there remains a heightened potential for attacks perpetrated by Iran-backed elements based out of Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and the Gaza Strip. Such attacks may also be directed at critical infrastructures, such as oil facilities, and other strategic infrastructures affiliated with the US or its allies in the region, where relevant. Given precedent, attacks targeting Israel may likely manifest in the form of rocket attacks or localized ground attacks, such as placing of IEDs, from Syria, or less likely from Lebanon. Such instances are likely to be limited in scale, and are unlikely to trigger a large-scale escalation and a broad deterioration of the security situation in Israel in the short term. Cross-border hostilities along the Gaza Strip-Israel border may also increase over the coming days. This is bolstered by the statement released by the PIJ official calling the death of Soleimani in the US airstrikes as a “big crime” and affirming the militant group’s support for Iran.

FORECAST: Given precedent, there also remains a significant potential for Iran-perpetrated security incidents in the strategic waterways of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, especially near the Strait of Hormuz, which indicates a general risk of navigation through these waters over the coming days and weeks. A similar risk exists in the Red Sea, given that the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen have been known to conduct attacks against foreign vessels in this area. Additionally, an uptick in cross-border hostilities into Saudi Arabia perpetrated by the Shiite group may be witnessed over the coming days, despite a significant downtick in such activity over the recent months. This may manifest in the form of missile, rocket or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) launches towards military and civilian assets in Saudi Arabia.

FORECAST: In the longer term, over the coming weeks and months, the development is liable to further heighten tensions between the US and its allies, on the one side, and Iran and its proxies on the other, which will likely result in increasing hostile rhetoric towards the other party and potentially a more significant retaliation by Iran against US interests. Given that Iran-backed proxies, such as Hezbollah, are known to operate in Latin America, as well as other African, Asian and European countries, the risk for attacks by such elements against the interests of the US and its allies in the aforementioned regions cannot be ruled out.

Recommendations:

Travelers are advised to regularly review their emergency and contingency procedures as a basic security precaution, as the current tensions between Iran on one side and the US and its Gulf allies on the other will likely lead to additional hostilities. For on-ground or intelligence assistance contact us at: [email protected] or +44 20-3540-043.

Foreigners, particularly US nationals, conducting travel in Middle East, particularly in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Lebanon are advised to maintain a low profile due to the increased potential for militant attacks while practicing extra vigilance near US and Western diplomatic missions and interests across the region.

Ensure that places of stay are equipped with sufficient perimeter security details, alter travel routes, and avoid disclosing sensitive itinerary information to unknown individuals.

For those conducting essential operations in Baghdad, it is advised to restrict travel to the Green Zone and ensure that contingency and emergency evacuation plans are updated. Contact us for itinerary and contingency support options.

Those managing or operating vessels in the Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, and the Strait of Hormuz are advised to take necessary precautions, including reviewing security protocols and adhering to international instructions, in light of the potential for security incidents in the area.

Assassinations of army chief of staff, Amhara Region president underscore fragility of political transition – Ethiopia Alert

Please be advised

In a press release from the Office of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on June 23, the Ethiopian government confirmed that several high-ranking officials in the Amhara Region government and the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) were killed in a series of attacks during the evening of June 22.

The press release described a “coup attempt” in which the President of Amhara Region, Ambachew Mekonnen, along with his advisor, were shot and killed in Bahir Dar. Amhara’s Attorney General was wounded and remains in treatment. The government attributed this attack to General Asaminew Tsige, the head of Amhara’s Peace and Security Bureau.

Several hours after the events in Bahir Dar, the press release notes that the Chief of Staff of the ENDF, General Seare Mekonnen, was shot and killed at his residence in Addis Ababa alongside retired General Gezai Abera. The government claims the perpetrator of this attack was Seare’s bodyguard.

On June 24, General Asaminew was reportedly killed in a shootout with federal forces in Bahir Dar who had been conducting search operations to locate him.

Following the intial events on June 22, the government instituted a nationwide internet blackout. As of the time of writing on June 25, internet services remain shut down.

Government Confirms Assassinations in Ethiopia on June 22

Assessments & Forecast

The assailants identified by the government appear to fall within a hardline faction of Amhara nationalists. In particular, General Asaminew Tsige was formerly jailed for his involvement in the Ginbot 7 rebel group, though was released and given amnesty under PM Abiy’s reform program in 2018. The assailants’ integration into the military and Amhara Region government would have allowed them to gain sensitive information regarding the targeted officials’ whereabouts and vulnerabilities. That both the Amhara president and ENDF chief of staff were killed in the same night suggests this was a pre-planned and coordinated effort. However, given the total internet blackout and lack of further information emerging from the country, the sole source of the culprits’ identities is the Ethiopian government and this remains uncorroborated. Despite Asaminew’s background, that an Amhara security official in his position is being accused of such attacks speaks to the deep fractures within the federal and regional governments that have emerged under the Abiy administration, particularly as the PM has removed much of the former military leadership and appointed a new generation of security officials.

Although the PM’s office has termed Ambachew Mekonnen’s assassination to be a “coup attempt”, it appears that the attacks against both Ambachew and Seare to be part of a destabilization campaign. This is likely a reaction to continued efforts by the Abiy government to pursue reforms and organize elections in 2020, as well as an expression of the deep ethnonationalist tensions that have only increased in recent months. This has included various outbursts of ethnic violence in and around Amhara Region, often over matters of territory and influence. Abiy, the first Oromo leader of Ethiopia, is viewed by some as favoring his own Oromo ethnic group in political and security matters. Amhara hardliners likely view Abiy and his reformist allies of being unwilling to protect Amhara from encroachment by Oromos to the south as well as by Tigrayans to the north, leaving them to take matters into their own hands. Moreover, undermining the stability of Amhara Region as well as the ENDF serves to increase pressure within the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition as it navigates the political transition in the country and its constituent ethnic-based parties compete for greater influence and power.

Regardless of whether Amhara nationalists were in fact the conspirators, these events as a whole are indicative of the fragility of the political transition that Ethiopia has been in the process of undergoing since Abiy took power in April 2018. Despite the positive aspects of the reforms implemented, significant challenges of intercommunal violence, distribution of power between federal and regional governments, and a mounting economic crisis have continually increased the tensions and stakes of the political environment. FORECAST: In this context, the reaction of both federal and regional government authorities, as well as other leading political and military figures, to these events will determine whether the instability grows. It is possible that political leaders as well as armed groups, such as Oromo nationalists or Tigrayan separatists, will seek to exploit the moment for their own political gains. This could escalate tensions and create further violence.

FORECAST: Following the shootout with Asaminew, it is likely that the federal military will conduct operations in Amhara Region over the coming weeks in an attempt to locate and arrest any remaining assailants and their accomplices. This could include larger troop deployments to Bahir Dar and its environs, which could be abruptly disruptive in that area. With that said, whether the security operations will be conducted smoothly will likely depend on the cooperation of federal forces and Amhara regional forces, which operate distinctly from one another. Further security operations are likely in Addis Ababa and are likely to result in heightened security measures in the capital, as well as abrupt movements of security forces throughout the city. At the same time, internet disruptions are likely to continue across the country, even intermittently, as the government seeks to disrupt communications between their possible adversaries as well as control the narrative to the public.

FORECAST: Within the government, there will likely be efforts to expose any elements within regional authorities as well as the federal security services who are opposed to PM Abiy and sympathetic to the June 22 perpetrators. This will likely be accompanied by Abiy appointing further allies to key positions, though his ability to do so will be limited within the regional governments and he will thus seek more diplomatic efforts in hopes of stabilizing the federal system. That said, these moves run the risk of continuing to alienate more nationalists elements within the regional states, who could continue to carry out violence or protests as an expression of that. In this context, it is possible that there will be further attacks against high-profile government or military officials in the coming months. As a whole, due to the difficulty of striking the balance needed to bring about calm, the situation is likely to remain tense and precarious over the coming weeks.

Recommendations

Those operating or residing in Addis Ababa or Amhara Region on June 25 and over the coming days are advised to maintain heightened vigilance and be prepared to comply with additional or sudden security measures and checkpoints.

Allot for continued disruptions to communications given the ongoing internet blackout and the likelihood that this will continue.

For further questions or consultation, please contact us at [email protected] or +44 20 3540 0434.

International consulting firm uses custom intelligence and security support for travelers

Lebanon Unrest following assassination, 2012

Intelligence and security support enables client to continue business following high-profile assassination and unrest  in Lebanon.

In October 2012, a car bomb detonated in Beirut’s Ashrafiyeh District, killing a high-profile security official with ties to Lebanon’s political opposition and Syrian rebels. The assassination sparked mass protests, including violence in central Beirut, terror threats and closures of airport access routes. Max Security’s intelligence department warned ahead of the destabilizing impact of the assassination and alerted clients with assets on ground of possible threats to employee security. An International Consulting firm requested custom intelligence tactical monitoring and security support, for foreign travelers visiting Lebanon, with the goal of safely carrying out the remainder of meetings if possible.

Solution provided

  • Max’s Intel division dedicated an analyst to monitor the client’s specific itinerary in relation to ongoing civil unrest and provided prompt updates on security-related events taking place in the vicinity. Local media, on ground sources and social media were utilized and cross referenced.
  • Max Security’s Operations department provided low profile security & logistical support.
  • Max Intel monitored airport routes and provided updates on closures and alternative routes in case a quick evacuation will be needed.
  • Additional crisis and evacuation support staff was retained on standby.

Result: Business continued, security ensured, financial loss prevented

The client’s employees were able to continue their business trip according to travel recommendations provided in real time by Max Security’s Intelligence department. The client’s security manager was recommended to refrain from employing close protection, evacuation, or other costly emergency procedures while allowing company employees to complete their business goals safely.