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Bolstered international support for LNA Field Marshal Haftar amid ongoing hostilities in Tripoli likely to prolong conflict – Libya Analysis

Executive summary

Over the past three years, the Libyan National Army (LNA) Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar has gained increased domestic and international legitimacy amid his forces’ territorial advances in the Oil Crescent, Benghazi, Derna and the Fezzan Region.

On April 4, Haftar announced the launch of Operation “Flood of Dignity” aimed at taking control of Tripoli and its surrounding areas from the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA)-linked militias.

Despite this development, recent actions by prominent Western leaders, particularly of the US, the UK, and France, have increased the international legitimacy of the LNA vis-a-vis the UN-backed GNA in Libya.

This increased Western support for Haftar may be interpreted as a “green light” for his regional supporters, namely the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, to further extend financial and military assistance to the LNA.

Meanwhile, Turkey and Qatar have, and will continue to bolster their own measures to assist GNA-linked forces in Tripoli in order to further their own interests in the oil-rich country.

Overall, the bolstered international and regional involvement in the Libyan conflict will fuel further hostilities and the prolongation of fighting throughout the country, and specifically around Tripoli, in the coming months.

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

Focal Points in Libya

Current Situation

On April 4, Haftar announced the launch of Operation “Flood of Dignity” aimed at taking control of Tripoli and its surrounding areas from the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA)-linked militias.

On April 10, France blocked an attempt by the European Union (EU) to publish an official statement condemning the LNA offensive on Tripoli.

On April 19, an official statement by the US State Department indicated that on April 15 the US President Donald Trump conversed with LNA Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, recognizing his “significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources”.

On April 23, the UN-backed Government of National Accord’s (GNA) Prime Minister, Fayez al-Serraj, gave interviews for French news agencies, denouncing the French government’s support for Haftar.

On April 25, the LNA arrested two Turkish nationals in Tripoli. Reports quoting the LNA Spokesperson have indicated that they were arrested for alleged involvement in espionage activity. According to reports citing Turkish officials, the two were restaurant workers in Tripoli and were not involved with Turkish security forces.

On April 29, the GNA’s Interior Minister, Fathi Bashagha, visited Turkey to strengthen security and defense cooperation agreements. Bashagha was reportedly accompanied by the Chief of the Western Military Command, Usama al-Juwaili, and another top GNA-linked military official.

On April 29, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, conversed with the GNA Prime Minister, Fayez al-Serraj, and expressed Turkey’s support for the GNA.

On May 18, the GNA-linked “Volcano of Wrath” Operations Room announced that they had received a ship containing military reinforcements. Picture material and additional reports indicate that the ship arrived from Turkey’s Samsun Port and contained multiple Turkish-made armored vehicles as well as other military hardware.

Background

The LNA’s Supreme Commander, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s local and international legitimacy has significantly increased over the past three years. This can largely be attributed to the fact that since 2016, the LNA has made gradual territorial advances in Libya, which has resulted in an expansion of Haftar’s influence over almost two-thirds of the country. In September 2016, the LNA took control of the Oil Crescent from the former GNA-aligned Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG). This was followed by the LNA’s announcement of the conclusion of its three-year long Operation “Dignity” on July 5, 2017, which resulted in the eviction of the Revolutionary Shura Council of Benghazi (RSCB) and the Islamic State (IS) from the city. On June 28, 2018, Haftar announced that its forces had taken full control of the eastern city of Derna from the Derna Protection Force (DPF), formerly known as the Mujahideen Shura Council of Derna (MSCD). Finally, the LNA took full control of southern Libya as part of its Operation “Murzuq Basin” in March 2019.

Although, Haftar received initial support from the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and France, over the years, countries that were initially opposed to the LNA’s Operation “Dignity”, such as the US, the UK, and Italy have shown an increasing interest in negotiating with Haftar. This is underscored by a meeting between the former UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and the British Ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, and Haftar in August 2017. More recently, Italy invited both the UN-backed GNA Prime Minister, Fayez al-Serraj and Haftar to a conference on Libya in Palermo, Italy in November 2018 to discuss a potential date for a nationwide election process in the country.

Assessments & Forecast

Egypt, UAE, Jordan, Saudi Arabia to extend further support to LNA amid ongoing clashes with GNA-linked forces in Tripoli

Initially, a significant support, mainly by Egypt and the UAE, had been extended to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the LNA, in light of the latter’s efforts to dislodge Islamist militants and militias from Benghazi. This most significantly came in the form of military hardware and logistical assistance by the two aforementioned countries, and the UAE’s manning of a al-Khadim airbase in 2016, to support the LNA’s military efforts. This extensive support was based since its initial phase upon Haftar’s self-positioning as the figure with the desire and ability to defeat Libya’s belligerent Islamist factions and Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups, which have gained significant foothold in the country amid the civil war. This is due to the fact that both Egypt and the UAE view these groups as a region-wide threat. Thus, the success of Haftar’s Operation “Dignity”, and his more recent success in taking control over the Fezzan Region, while emphasizing his determination to continue fighting such elements, has bolstered his position as a reliable ally for Egypt and the UAE. As for Egypt, another significant interest in strengthening the LNA was its determination to bolster an ally that would be able to secure the vast swaths of the desert-dense border areas between the two countries. These porous border areas serve as a major pipeline for both the smuggling of weapons and the movement of fighters from Libya into Egypt, and subsequently, to militant groups operating inside Egypt.

This emergence of the anti-Muslim Brotherhood alliance, characterizing the LNA’s relations with Egypt and the UAE, was paralelled by the increasing of relations between the Tripoli-based GNA and Turkey and Qatar, who are perceived by the UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to be supporting Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups across Libya, including in Tripoli. This has reportedly involved Turkish shipments of weapons to such elements in western Libya, as was highlighted by the seizure of a Turkish arms-carrying naval vessel, detained in Libya in December 2018. The increase of relations between Turkey and the GNA was likely further prompted by the current ongoing clashes in the designated capital, and was most significantly highlighted by both the April 29 security-related visit by the GNA Interior Minister to Turkey and the phone conversation between GNA Prime Minister, al-Serraj, and President Erdogan, during which the latter emphasised his support for the former. This, in turn, may have been the preceding arrangement for the May 18 reinforcement shipment, reportedly arriving from Turkey, which contained multiple Turkish-made armored vehicles as well as military hardware.

This more overt Turkish involvement has, in turn, drawn further accusation from the LNA of Turkish sponsorship of Islamist factions in and around the capital. In this framework, the LNA’s April 25 detention of two Turkish nationals on espionage charges indicates a further deterioration of relations between the LNA and Turkey. Regardless of whether or not the arrestees were indeed involved in espionage activities, the event is likely perceived by the LNA as an opportunity to further paint Turkey as intervening in Libya’s internal affairs in support of “extreme elements”. This, in turn, is likely perceived by the LNA as an opportunity to prompt its traditional aforementioned backers to supply it with additional assistance and potentially even draw the attention of other international stakeholders towards Turkey’s policies. Such efforts may have been the reason behind what appears to be greater support for Field Marshal Haftar by Saudi Arabia’s King Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), who has expressed the Kingdom’s support for the former and has also reportedly offered to financially support the LNA’s Tripoli campaign during an official meeting between the two on March 27.

FORECAST: Significant support and material assistance will continue to be extended towards the LNA by the UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. This will highly likely manifest in the form of direct aerial support, as well as military and financial aid aimed at bolstering the LNA’s capabilities and enabling it to continue its offensive on the designated capital. In terms of physical military assistance to the LNA, it remains likely that the UAE will assist the LNA with additional employment of attack and reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as it has done in the past, and given that it still possesses an active UAV base in eastern Libya. Such support is likely to be already taking place given multiple reports indicating the discovery of remnants of missiles believed to be a type used by the UAE UAVs, and is in any case not in use by any Libyan faction. However, such assistance is likely to remain relatively limited and covert, as the UAE will likely attempt to refrain from being painted as overtly challenging a UN-backed government.

FORECAST: Given the heightened tensions between the LNA on the one side and Turkey and Qatar on the other side, specifically surrounding the ongoing fighting in Tripoli, we assess that over the coming weeks, Turkish and Qatari nationals or corporations will face a growing threat of being subjected to arbitrary measures in LNA-controlled territories in Libya. This will most likely entail extrajudicial measures, such as arbitrary arrests and military prosecution over alleged charges of espionage and militant activity.

Increased political support for LNA by major Western stakeholders bolster LNA’s legitimacy, incentivise regional backers to extend further support to LNA

Most of the Western governments involved in Libya, such as the UK, Italy, France, and the US, initially primarily backed the UN-led initiative to reinvigorate a viable political process for Libya’s unification under one functioning government. This initiative partially came in the form of the establishment of the GNA in December 2015, which has since been the officially recognized government in Libya by the UN. That being said, the aforementioned ability of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar to take control of the Oil Crescent has consolidated his international standing among these countries. This was most significantly highlighted by the actions of Italy, a prominent supporter of the GNA, which has, after Haftar’s aforementioned successes, dedicated significant effort to convince him to participate in the political effort to unite the country under the Italian-initiated Palermo Conference in November 2018. Despite Italy’s backing of the GNA, Italian symbolic acceptance of Field Marshal Haftar was more recently highlighted even amid the ongoing offensive on the capital, when Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on May 7 that he is seeking to meet Field Marshal Haftar in the near future. In a similar vein, a process of gradual political acceptance towards the Field Marshal was also recorded in the UK. This mainly materialized after Haftar’s territorial gains in the Oil Crescent and Benghazi, resulting in a more accepting discourse by the UK Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, in an official meeting between the two in August 2017.

France, contrary to the aforementioned European powers, extended its support in terms of military advisory assistance to Field Marshal Haftar during his initial Operation “Dignity”, aimed at dislodging Islamist militants from Benghazi. A more robust support by France followed Haftar’s takeover of the Oil Crescent, when President Emmanuel Macron invited the Field Marshal to the Paris Conference in 2017. That being said, despite having given such support to the Field Marshal, the French government has never explicitly acted in defense of the LNA and against the UN-backed international effort to establish unified political establishments in the country. Thus, the April 10 measure by the French government, namely the blocking of an official EU condemnation, is highly notable as it constitutes France’s first overt political support for the LNA at the expense of the UN and EU efforts to condemn and exert political pressure upon Field Marshal Haftar. This, in turn, has prompted significant protests in GNA-controlled territories, such as the April 19 “yellow vests” demonstrations in Tripoli and Misrata, with protesters dispensing anti-Macron discourse to denounce the French government’s backing of Haftar. In addition, the development has prompted GNA Prime Minister, al-Serraj, to give interviews to two primary French news agencies, where he publicly denounced the French government’s support for the “Dictator” Hafter. Lastly, this has also prompted political action by the GNA, with most significantly the Interior Ministry’s decision on April 18 to suspend bilateral cooperation with France, and the GNA Ministry of Economy and Industry’s decision to suspend operation licences of 40 companies, including a major French oil and gas company, on May 8.

The April 19 incident involving the US President highlights another culmination of international support by Western leaders for Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the LNA, despite the official UN support for the Tripoli-based GNA. Furthermore, on April 4, a press statement by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, expressed the US’ opposition to Haftar’s move towards Tripoli, urging a cessation of the offensive. The aforementioned phone call, however, took place approximately two weeks after the LNA has commenced its offensive, which could be interpreted as a shift in the US administration’s approach to Libya and its greater acceptance of Haftar, at least by the president himself. This apparent change in the US president’s approach and the robust support extended to the Field Marshal by France, could be interpreted as predicated upon a few factors.

First, the extensive territorial gains made by Haftar in the Fezzan Region have highly likely bolstered his standing vis-a-vis the GNA, regardless of whether or not the current assault on Tripoli will succeed. The Fezzan Region has been regarded as one of the major regional focal points for contraband, illegal immigration, and militancy-related activities for international stakeholders, such as the EU, and some of Libya’s neighboring Arab countries, primarily Egypt. This is due to the fact that since Muammar Ghaddhafi’s fall in 2011, the Fezzan Region has hosted the major transit routes through which immigrants from West Africa have been travelling, via Libya’s border-crossings with Niger and Chad, towards Europe. This, in turn, has also attracted criminal, militia, and militant networks wishing to capitalize upon the ungoverned territories of the Fezzan to further strengthen their operations, while local authorities were either absent or incapacitated to act upon these threats. For this reason, the LNA has dedicated extensive discursive and physical effort towards emphasizing its determination to mitigate threats emanating from the country’s border areas. Through this, Haftar is able to capitalize upon European interests related to counter-militancy and counter-immigration efforts to gain the aforementioned political support, primarily from France.

In addition, the Fezzan campaign has resulted in Haftar’s possession of the al-Feel and Sharara oil fields, which account for approximately a quarter of the country’s oil production potential. As was recorded after his takeover of the Oil Crescent, this development increased Haftar’s international standing as an arbiter in the competition between foreign companies over stakes in Libya’s oil industry. Such competition has reportedly taken place between major Italian and French companies seeking opportunities in the country’s oil market and wishing to see the stabilization of the region. Furthermore, Haftar’s control over the majority of Libya’s oil fields, with Libya potentially being one of the top world producers of oil, stations Haftar as a potential influencer in global oil prices. This, in turn, can make Haftar a lucrative partner for major international powers seeking to influence trends in global oil prices for their interests. In the case of the US, the stabilization of Libya’s oil industry in the hands of a potential ally could serve important American national security interests that are currently being pursued, such as stabilizing a low oil price amid the ongoing sanctions against Iran.

FORECAST: Given the aforementioned developments involving the US and France, it is likely that despite the overall condemnation of the LNA by major international institutions such as the UN, these countries will continue to extend their support to the LNA. Though such support is overall likely to remain symbolic, it may be interpreted by the actors more vigorously and physically supporting the LNA, such as the UAE and Egypt, as a “green light” to employ greater measures to facilitate the LNA’s takeover of the designated capital. Meanwhile, given the heightened tensions between the GNA and the French government, and given the increased anti-French sentiment expressed in Libya’s GNA-strongholds, such as Tripoli and Misrata, over the coming months French nationals and corporations will face a growing threat from local citizens and potentially armed militias which operate in western Libya and are opposing current French policies towards Libya.

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.

Travel to Misrata and Tobruk should be for essential purposes only, while adhering to all security precautions regarding civil unrest and militancy. We advise against all travel to outlying areas of the country, due to the threat of militancy, kidnapping, and general lawlessness in such areas.

French nationals operating or residing in Libya are advised to keep a low profile and to overall refrain from externalizing their nationality in western Libya’s major GNA strongholds, such as Tripoli and Misrata, due to increased public expression of anti-French sentiment in these locales.

Turkish and Qatari nationals operating or residing in Libya are advised to keep a low profile and to overall refrain from externalizing their nationality in LNA-controlled territories. This is due to a growing risk of arbitrary measures and detentions by the LNA, following the aforementioned countries’ support for GNA-linked forces.

Avoid entering Libyan territorial waters in the area between Benghazi and al-Tamimi without prior authorization, as a no-sail zone is currently in effect in this area and several naval vessels had been intercepted or attacked due to not following proper procedures.

In addition, avoid entering Libyan territorial waters off the coast of Tripoli due to the heavy deployment of LNA naval vessels in the area. If travel is unavoidable, seek prior permission from the relevant authorities in order to mitigate the risk of interception on account of misidentification.

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).

Those planning to conduct air travel to and from Tripoli’s Mitiga International Airport are advised to follow all relevant security protocols due to the increased threat to aviation in the capital as a result of the ongoing hostilities.

We further advise against all travel to Libya’s border areas at this time due to persistent violence and lawlessness in these regions.

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.

Lone-wolf attacks underscore threat from radicals in Europe, despite dwindling connections with militant groups – France Analysis

Executive Summary

The uptick in stabbing and vehicular attacks in France bears a strong resemblance to previous Islamic State (IS)-inspired and linked attacks.

This wave follows the August 22 call to action from IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who asked supporters to “strike the West” and emphasized vehicular attacks in particular.

IS appears to have been particularly successful in radicalizing young Muslim immigrants in France.

Authorities are likely downplaying the militancy links in order to offset the increasing media attention surrounding such attacks.

Travel to France may continue while remaining cognizant of the increased threat of militant attacks. 

Current Situation

On September 14, a car-ramming attempt was recorded along Rue Racine in Nimes, southern France, during the early morning hours. The assailant reportedly intended to drive his car into pedestrians before being stopped by security barriers at around 01:30 (local time). The suspect was consequently subdued by locals in the area and later arrested by police. Reports quoting local eyewitnesses during the incident stated that the suspect shouted “Allahu Akbar”.

On September 10, an individual was detained for reportedly forcibly driving through multiple barriers and entering the runway of Lyon-Saint-Exupery Airport (LYS) in Lyon. The suspect was subsequently arrested following an extensive police pursuit. The incident caused significant delays and cancellations to flights. Following the arrest, a member of Lyon Prosecutor’s office reportedly stated that the assailant had alluded to a militant motive, claiming he was instructed to carry out the incident by Allah. However, this was later retracted.

The incident followed a September 9 stabbing attack in the 19th Arrondissement of Paris, when an assailant reportedly stabbed and injured at least seven people, including two British tourists, on Quai de Loire Street and Rue Henri Nogueres during the late night hours. The suspect was reportedly an Afghan national.

Authorities appeared reluctant to label all three attacks as being militant-related, calling the Nimes attack a “deliberate homicide”, and saying that the assailant who carried out the September 9 Paris stabbing attack did not appear to have militant motives. All three incidents were carried out by individuals of Muslim backgrounds and all three methods align with modus operandi that has been explicitly and repeatedly called for by the Islamic State jihadist group.

Background

On August 22, the (IS) al-Furqan media released an audio recording of the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who called upon the group’s supporters to “strike the West” through stabbings, bombings, and vehicular rammings, particularly emphasizing the last method. Al-Baghdadi then stated that “one such attack equals one thousand attacks in the Middle East and North Africa”.

On August 23, an assailant killed one and injured two in a knife attack in Trappes, Yveline, located 26 km from central Paris. The attacker reportedly shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ and threatened police officers who arrived at the scene, and was later neutralized. Shortly after, IS-linked media reported that the assailant was a soldier of the Caliphate and conducted the attack in response to the group’s calls to “target the coalition countries”, referring to the US-led coalition of states that orchestrated a number of airstrikes against IS strongholds in 2014. Following the 2014 offensive, an IS spokesman had specifically singled out France as a target for future attacks.

Assessments & Forecast

Series of attacks likely lone-wolf incidents inspired by Islamic State methods and ideology, even if not ordered by IS in Middle East

Despite authorities’ reluctance to label the above-mentioned incidents as being IS-inspired militant attacks, various factors indicate that they may, in fact, have some connection to the group’s ideology and professed methods. In particular, the assailants resorted to stabbing and vehicular attacks in locations with a considerable civilian presence, which, in recent times, have been IS-linked lone-wolf actors’ chosen modus operandi. The assailants also chose to indiscriminately target these civilians and intended to cause widespread harm.

The known profiles of the attackers, who belong to immigrant communities who widely follow Islam, and the chanting of ‘Allahu Akbar’ during the attacks in at least two confirmed cases, is consistent with the details from similar previous IS-linked attacks. This lends credence to the possibility that the attackers’ actions were informed by a religious and ideological motive, in addition, it is equally likely that psychological instability also played a part in their motivations.

The link to IS is also strengthened by Baghdadi’s specific emphasis on the effectiveness of vehicular attacks in the August 22 call to action, which in turn was likely precipitated by the April 2018 airstrikes carried out by France and other countries in Syria, in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the state. In this case, the call was rather a wider propaganda piece, which was answered, and there is no evidence to suggest that any of the attackers had specific contact with IS in the Middle East or had been in touch with handlers.

Attacks likely catalyzed by individual feelings of disenfranchisement within community, which benefit IS’ recruitment

Due to the targeted locations being distant from one another, and absence of uncovered network between the suspects, it is likely that the attacks were not related, despite being conducted in quick succession. However, the attacks point to the potential success of IS propaganda and recruiting in France. The group has emerged as a viable outlet for Muslims who feel alienated from the wider community, exploiting feelings of disenfranchisement by offering them an alternative, in terms of belonging to the larger radical Islamist community.

Particularly, feelings of alienation among Muslim immigrants have likely been heightened by government policies such as the 2010 ban on religious face veils and head coverings, seen as being exclusionary, which have consistently prompted a backlash from both minority communities and their supporters, as well as anti-immigrant groups. Domestic factors such as a high unemployment rate and job discrimination against Muslims, religion-based tensions, as well as the general political culture of government criticism, also continue to contribute to making the immigrant population more susceptible to radicalization.

As has been seen in the past, IS also provides a useful narrative to psychologically-disturbed individuals, who then carry out copycat lone-wolf attacks using IS modus operandi, seeking to capitalize on media attention surrounding the IS ideology.

Authorities seeking to minimize impact of attacks through reluctance to make militant connection to avoid further media attention for such groups

Further, it is notable that authorities have not indicated that any of the September attacks were militant-related, despite suggestions, as evidenced above, that the assailants were at least influenced by IS, if not directly linked. This reflects a reluctance to label such lone-wolf attacks as Islamist militancy, possibly to discourage the media narrative against, and resultant disaffection within, Muslim immigrant communities in the country.

This unwillingness to attribute the incidents to militancy could also be a result of a conscious government decision to reduce the inadvertent aiding and abetting of IS’ operations, as the group has been known to use such official statements after attacks to legitimize itself as a threat to the West. Additionally, the government could be seeking to avoid heightened criticism of its security policy, especially amid the current administration’s declining public approval ratings.

FORECAST: IS’ online presence and recruitment methods, in addition to the persistent domestic factors alienating the Muslim community in France, the global trend of young men using mass violence as an outlet for psychological frustration, and IS has tapping into this trend to further its agenda, makes it likely that further such attacks will occur in France over the coming weeks and months. Given the apparent shift in executive security policy towards mitigating the media clout of militant attacks in general, it is likely that authorities will continue miIslamist islamist motives in such attacks.

Recommendations

Travel to France may continue while remaining cognizant of the increased threat of militant attacks.

AQIM publishes statement late night on May 8 threatening ‘French, Western companies in area from Libya to Mauritania’ – Africa & MENA Alert

Executive Summary

During the overnight hours of May 8-9, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) issued a threat against Western, and particularly French, companies that operate in the area “from Libya to Mauritania”.

While the threat is not new but rather a reiteration of an existing and proven one, its release in the lead-up to the holy month of Ramadan is indication of a heightened risk of al-Qaeda attacks against Western companies and interests in North Africa and the Sahel region over the coming weeks.

Please be advised

During the overnight hours of May 8-9, the al-Andalus Foundation, the media wing of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), published a “Statement for French and Western Companies”.

In the statement, AQIM threatens to attack Western, and particularly French, companies that operate in the area “from Libya to Mauritania”.

The publication further states that “85 percent of the wealth in this region is controlled by the French, while the rest is in the hands of traitors” and that the “French occupation prevents the prosperity of the region and has corrupted society”.

The statement concluded by warning Muslims to stay away from Western companies’ sites for fear of being hurt by collateral damage in an attack.

AQIM publishes statement late night on May 8 threatening ‘French, Western companies in area from Libya to Mauritania’ - Africa & MENA Alert | MAX SecurityAQIM publishes statement late night on May 8 threatening ‘French, Western companies in area from Libya to Mauritania’ - Africa & MENA Alert | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

AQIM’s statement does not denote a new threat to Western operations and presence in Africa, but is rather a reiteration of its main strategy: driving Western influence away from what AQIM perceive as their areas of influence, with the intention of consolidating its control and later expanding it while facing diminished resistance. AQIM and organizations that are directly affiliated with it, such as Jamaat Nusratal-Islam Wal Muslimeen (JNIM), have conducted several high profile attacks as part of this strategy. These most notably include the March 2 attack against the French Embassy in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; the October 25, 2017 attack against a French firm in Soumpi, Mali; and the March 18, 2016 attack against the Krechba gas facility in Algeria that was jointly operated by an Algerian government-owned company, and Norwegian- and British-based companies.

This strategy is also the main reason for AQIM’s threat particularly addressing French companies, as the French-led “Operation Barkhane” in the Sahel in support of the G5 countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger) is currently the main threat to AQIM and its direct affiliates’ operations. This threat was recently exemplified by French operations on February 14 in Mali that resulted in the deaths of six JNIM leaders, including that of Hasan al-Ansari, co-founder of JNIM, later confirmed by the group itself. However, as noted in AQIM’s latest statement, the threat extends to all Western companies, all perceived as “crusaders” in AQIM’s narrative, which it would attack given the opportunity, as underscored by the March 2016 Krechba attack that targeted Algerian, Norwegian, and British firms. That most of the attacks thus far have been directed against French interests is largely due to the outsized French presence among potential targets in the region and France’s lead role in regional counter-militancy operations.

The references made to the negative impact of the French presence on the region’s economy and society underscores an inherent part of al-Qaeda’s strategy as a whole, and that of AQIM in particular. AQIM, unlike certain other jihadist groups such as the Islamic State (IS), is willing to be more flexible in the implementation of its religious ideology in order to not only gain the support of, but also embed themselves in the local population. Thus, by appealing to material interests such as the state of the economy and society, AQIM is seeking to create an image of “us against them”, rallying as much of the local population as possible in opposition to foreign influence. While this may boost recruitment for the group, this is not the main goal in this case, as al-Qaeda favors quality over quantity with its fighters. The goal is rather to enhance the group’s freedom of operation within the population, which it will utilize to launch attacks and, later, to go into hiding as well as to facilitate logistical support.

FORECAST: Currently, AQIM and its direct affiliates maintain a presence, either of offensive operations or for logistical support, in parts of Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, putting these countries at a high risk, which also corresponds with the message threatening Western companies “from Libya to Mauritania”. Given the current strategy and deployment of the group, as well as precedent, we assess that of these countries Algeria, Mali, and Burkina Faso are at the highest risk. Nonetheless, this foothold could, depending on developments and the dynamics of the situation in the region, be exploited to launch attacks into neighboring countries if needed.

FORECAST: It is important to note that while AQIM’s threat is not new, but rather a reiteration of an existing and proven threat, it does come ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, currently slated to start on May 15. This period of the year historically is when jihadist groups attempt to increase their rate of operations and conduct more high profile and notable attacks, so as to capitalize on the symbolism of the holiday. Accordingly, it is possible that the timing of AQIM’s latest message was similarly motivated, thus highlighting the elevated potential for al-Qaeda attacks against Western interests in North Africa and the Sahel region over the coming weeks.

Recommendations

Western companies operating in the North Africa and Sahel regions are advised to evaluate security procedures pertaining to attacks against installations, and emphasize guideline to their staff.

Examine behavioral patterns of local employees on site to mitigate potential risks arising from influence by Jihadist propaganda.

Monitor MAX Intelligence’s reports, as well as local publications to remain abreast of the dynamics of the threat posed by Jihadist groups in your areas of operations. Potential indications of a change in the level of threat include the rate, scope and rhetoric of Jihadist publications and their attacks, changes in modus operandi, scale and sophistication of attacks, and changes to areas of operations and influence of different groups.

US, UK, France missile strikes against Syrian government likely attempt to deter Damascus from further use of chemical weapons – Syria Analysis

Executive Summary

During the early morning hours of April 14, the US, UK, and France fired more than 100 cruise missiles against Syrian government facilities in Homs Province and near Damascus.

The strikes are likely an effort by the West to deter the Syrian government from further use of chemical weapons, as well as to send a message to Iran and Russia, amidst their perceived expansion across the Middle East.

The attacks are unlikely to significantly impact the Syrian conflict on-the-ground in the long-term, given pro-government forces’ overall superiority over rebel forces.

While tensions will increase between the parties, an escalation of hostilities between Russia and the West remains unlikely at this time.

Iranian-backed groups may target US interests and allies across the region over the coming days.

We advise against all travel to Damascus and Aleppo, given the general threat of indiscriminate aerial bombardment and artillery shelling from government forces as well as attacks by various militant groups. Attacks by rebel forces may include the use of rocket propelled grenades, suicide bombings, and mortar attacks.

Current Situation

During the early morning hours of April 14, the US, France, and the UK conducted multiple strikes against Syrian military facilities across Syria, with approximately 120 cruise missiles fired at these targets.

The strikes, which were carried out from naval vessels in response to the suspected chemical attack by the Syrian government against the town of Douma on April 7, targeted government military facilities in Homs Province and the Damascus area. Near Damascus, US Tomahawk missiles hit Kiswah Military Base, Mezzeh Airbase, Dumayr Airbase, as well as a scientific research facility in Barzeh District. In Homs Province, the attacks, which involved the UK’s Shadow Storm cruise missiles, targeted a scientific research facility in Qusayr District. At the time of writing, while French forces also carried out missile attacks, their exact targets and scale are yet to be known.

According to pro-government forces, the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) air defense systems intercepted the “majority of the US fired missiles at the Damascus’ area”.

While at the time of writing the exact number of casualties is unconfirmed, according to pro-government media outlets, three civilians were wounded as a result of the attack.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated,“Right now, this is a one-time shot”. UK Prime Minister Theresa May stressed that there was “no practicable alternative to the use of force”. However, May also stated that the strikes were not about “regime change”.

The Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson condemned the missile attacks. The spokesperson further stressed that there were no Russian casualties as a result of the strikes.

Assessments & Forecast

Assessments: Strikes likely symbolic and meant to deter Syrian government from further use of chemical weapons, send message to Moscow, Tehran 

The strike highlights our previous assessments that the Western response to the chemical weapons attack will be localized and target facilities linked to the use of chemical weapon, although they were larger than last year’s US response to the Khan Shaykhun incident. The use of cruise missiles, which allow attacking targets from a standoff distance, was likely meant to avoid any potential risks associated with operating in or near Syrian government airspace.Because the strikes hit research centers and storage facilities, the West’s response will likely impede the short-term capabilities of the Syrian government to use chemical weapons. However, in the medium-term, particularly in light of recent reports that the Syrian government transferred some of their weapons and forces away from multiple bases, these capabilities were likely not be significantly damaged and it is therefore possible that further attacks using chemical agents may be witnessed across Syria over the coming weeks and months.

In spite of the still relatively limited scope of the strike, the West’s operations in Syria are likely symbolic and meant to deter the Syrian government from using such weapons, especially because of the large number of targeted bases and installations. The strikes also aim to prevent the “normalization” of the usage of chemical agents across the globe, as these type of weapons had been used persistently throughout the Syrian conflict. Despite the low likelihood that many missiles were actually intercepted, if at all, these claims by the Syrian government, as well as the lack of significant casualties among pro-government forces, will likely be capitalized on to bolster its image among its troops and supporters across the country. Coupled with the aforementioned assessments regarding the potential for further chemical attacks by the SAA, the strikes’ deterrence impact will also be limited.

Globally, the development comes amidst an uptick in tensions between the West and Russia over Moscow’s perceived aggressive policies across the globe. These include Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, alleged interference in elections in Western countries, as well as most recently, the suspected attempted assassination of a Russian national in the UK. The West likely used these attacks to deter Moscow from engaging in further actions perceived as hostile towards the West and its allies. In the Middle East, the strikes occurred amidst growing concerns among Western allies, chiefly Israel and Saudi Arabia, regarding Iran’s growing regional influence, including in Syria. The Western strike against Tehran’s important ally, is likely an attempt to intimidate Iran and send a message that its actions are not unnoticed.

Assessments: Strikes unlikely to impact on-ground situation in medium-to long-term; retaliation by Iranian-backed elements against US interests, allies possible across region 

FORECAST: In the short-term, the US-led operations may slightly impact the situation on-the-ground in the vicinity of the targeted facilities. In addition to hindering their operational capabilities, the strikes also led pro-government forces to reportedly transfer some of their weapons and vehicles away from bases. This now forces them to redeploy and reorganize. During this period of time, rebel forces may exploit the possible disarray from the strike and launch assaults on government-held territories and capture some areas from the Syrian government. This is especially likely on fronts near targeted facilities, such as the rebel enclave in the Dumayr area, northern Daraa Province, and northern Homs Province. Nonetheless, in the medium- to long-term, given the strikes’ limited scale and overall superiority of pro-government forces vis-a-vis rebel forces, the developments are unlikely to significantly impact the situation on-ground, with the SAA and its allies likely reversing any possible short-term gains by rebel forces.

The attack by the US, France, and the UK does not represent a shift in the West’s policy regarding the Syrian conflict. This is highlighted by the statements of these countries’ officials that the strikes are a singular, isolated response. However, should the use of chemical weapons persist, additional missile strikes, as well as air raids to a lesser degree, may reoccur over the coming months, targeting the Syrian government’s military facilities.

The operations are liable to increase the already heightened tensions between Moscow and the West. However, particularly given the lack of reports about Russian casualties as a result of the missile attacks, an escalation of hostilities between Russia and the US, UK, and France remains highly unlikely at this time. Instead, Moscow’s response will focus on diplomatic measures against these three countries, such as sanctions. This assessment is highlighted by the April 13 bill by Russia’s Duma to implement sanctions on US alcohol, tobacco, and agro-products. Additionally, cyber attacks by Russian hackers against government institutions in the UK, US, and France may also be witnessed over the coming days.

The events are unlikely to have a significant impact on regional dynamics as a whole. However, it remains possible that a localized retaliation by pro-government forces and Iranian-backed militias will take place against US troops and their backed forces in Syria, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeastern Syria and factions within the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in southern Homs Province. Should this occur, it will likely include mortar fire and IED detonations. Attacks against US interests may also occur in Iraq, where such actions have occurred in the past. Iranian-backed elements throughout the region may also seek to target countries that are considered Western allies. This mainly includes Saudi Arabia, as the Shiite Houthis may be directed by Tehran to intensify their ballistic missile attacks deep in Saudi territory. Additionally, albeit to a much lesser degree, it cannot be ruled out that Iranian-backed groups, such as Hezbollah and some Palestinian factions, will target Israel, including in the form of IED and anti-tank guided missile attacks against Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops along the border with Syria.

Recommendations

We advise against all travel to Damascus and Aleppo, given the general threat of indiscriminate aerial bombardment and artillery shelling from government forces as well as attacks by various militant groups. Attacks by rebel forces may include the use of rocket propelled grenades, suicide bombings, and mortar attacks.

Those remaining in Damascus should ensure that contingency and emergency evacuation plans are updated due to the potential for further deterioration in the security situation. Avoid all travel to outlying areas of the city given the persistent threat of militancy.

Avoid all travel to outlying areas and cities including Daraa, Homs, Hama, and Idlib due to persistent fighting and heightened risk of kidnapping targeting foreigners, particularly in combat zones and rebel held areas.

Those seeking to enter Syria are advised to confirm the status of their crossing points and final destinations, remaining aware of recent kidnapping incidents and the nature of military forces deployed in those areas.

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

MAX Analysis - Mali
MAX Analysis – Mali

Current Situation
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.

Continue reading 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