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Militancy along Burkina Faso’s southern borders increases possibility of spread into Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast – West Africa Special Analysis

Executive Summary

With militancy firmly entrenched across northern and eastern Burkina Faso, militants are incentivized to expand their presence to spread the message of jihad, gain new recruits, and over-stretch counterinsurgency efforts.

The rapid proliferation of militancy across Burkina Faso to its southern borders have created fears of spillover, further heightened by a warning by Burkinabe authorities to Ghana, Togo, and Benin. This porous southern border remains vulnerable due to existing criminal and smuggling routes.

Benin and Togo are particularly at risk of militant attacks due to their border with Burkina Faso’s Est Region, where jihadists are entrenched and highly active. The risks are comparatively lower to Ghana and Ivory Coast due to the relative stability of the border regions in Burkina Faso and Mali.

The likely trajectory will be smaller-scale militant attacks targeting border communities and security forces, as well as enforcing jihadist ideology and way of life on the villages. They are also likely to exploit economic, inter-communal, and inter-religious conflicts to create instability and fuel recruitment.

Togo, Benin, and Ghana have already intensified security measures at the border in response to this elevated threat of militant spillover and can be expected to continue maintaining a reinforced presence in the coming months, with the potential for international assistance.

Current Situation

Mali has seen sustained levels of militancy, as approximately 583 suspected militant attacks recorded in all of 2018 and similar patterns expected with about 365 attacks between January to July 2019.

Both Burkina Faso and western Niger have witnessed an uptick in militancy levels during the same period. To illustrate, 321 attacks were reported in Burkina Faso between January to July 2019, as compared to 194 in the entirety of 2018.

Similarly, 56 attacks were reported in Tillaberi, Tahoua, and Niamey regions of western Niger in between January and July 2019, a significant uptick from the 34 attacks recorded in 2018.

Burkina Faso’s Est Region has displayed pervasive entrenchment of militancy since September 2018, with 98 suspected militant incidents over that time period. In fact, 149 suspected militant incidents have been recorded from July 2018 to July 2019 in Burkinabe regions that lie on the southern border, namely Cascades, Centre-Est, Centre-Ouest, Centre-Sud, Sud-Ouest, and Est Regions.

Reports from April indicate that the intelligence forces of Burkina Faso warned Ghana, Togo, and Benin of the threat of militant infiltration after security forces captured a local militant leader in Est Region and found evidence that he was in contact with suspected militants in the three countries.

Suspected Militant Attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger July 2018 - July 2019

Assessments & Forecast

Advantages of militant encroachment coupled with viable avenues of infiltration make the threat of southward expansion credible

The fears of jihadist attacks in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Benin are not new, with Ghana’s immigration services issuing a memo in 2016 about possible encroachment into Ghana and Togo. However, the rapid proliferation of militancy across Burkina Faso over the past year, coupled with a direct Burkinabe warning in April, has put this threat into a new light. With militancy largely entrenched across northern and eastern Burkina Faso, jihadists are able to widen their attention on consolidating power across their current operational theater and to expand their geographical reach. Expanding territory accomplishes the militants’ primary ideology of spreading the message of jihad while also providing them with new recruits, and serves to over-extend security forces and counter-militancy efforts. Another incentive to open a new front of militancy in a previously untouched country is that it could give the militants heightened attention, further putting countries next to jihadist-entrenched regions at risk.

Given the current militant entrenchment across the Sahel, the countries bordering Burkina Faso’s southern boundary are most at risk, whereas it is less the case to the north and west. Although Algeria was once al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) primary base of operations, the center of gravity has since shifted to Mali. This is further evidenced by the lack of notable jihadist activity in Algeria in recent years. Thus, militants and weapons are more likely to move south from Algeria to Mali rather than vice versa. In Mauritania, following a string of high-profile attacks until 2011, the country has largely deterred large-scale jihadist encroachment through firm state control, conventional counter-militancy efforts, and a tacit permissiveness toward soft radical preachings. Moreover, documents from 2010 indicate that AQIM proposed a truce with the Mauritanian government in exchange for millions of dollars, though its implementation was never confirmed. Altogether, these efforts diminish the likelihood of militant activity expanding to the north or west from Mali.

On the other hand, Burkina Faso’s porous southern border and the fact that all of its southern neighbors are coastal countries makes southward expansion an attractive target. Jihadists in West Africa have been confined to land-locked states until now and, as such, they might be incentivized to expand to coastal states for access to strategic infrastructure. The presence of cross-border smuggling and bandit groups further makes the threat of militant infiltration plausible. The expansion of militancy in Burkina Faso suggests a symbiotic relationship between banditry and jihadism with militants providing bandits with advanced weaponry and hard cash in exchange for access to manpower and logistical support. Given that smuggling and bandit networks straddle the border between Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast, it is possible co-opting these routes will provide the militants with an avenue to infiltrate Ghana and Ivory Coast. Similarly, the entrenched criminality in the forests between Burkina Faso, Togo, and Benin is going to be conducive to militancy expansion since the existing smuggling routes will help the militants bypass border patrol. The advantages of militant encroachment in these countries, and the isolated instances of militancy in Benin and Ivory Coast, make the possibility of militant infiltration into these countries a credible threat.

Risk Level of Cross-Border Militancy in West Africa

Threat of militant infiltration higher in Benin, Togo due to shared borders with Burkina Faso’s Est Region

The proximity of Benin and Togo to Burkina Faso’s militant-entrenched Est Region makes the risk of spillover particularly high. The porous border enables the militants to carry out cross-border operations. FORECAST: This suggests that, as the militants attempt to expand southward from Burkina Faso, they are likely to focus their attention on northern Benin and Togo, particularly on the W-Arly-Pendjari ecological complex in Benin that extends into Burkina Faso and Niger and has long been a hub of smuggling and criminal activities. The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara’s (ISGS) abduction of two French tourists from Pendarji National Park in northern Benin on May 3, who were later rescued in northern Burkina Faso by security forces, exemplifies this threat.

Moreover, the risk of infiltration into Benin is somewhat heightened by its current political turmoil. In Burkina Faso, the weakened security apparatus after the fall of former President Blaise Compaore was extremely conducive to the infiltration and proliferation of militancy. The recent political strife in Benin during its legislative elections in April and the overall systematic elimination of opposition parties and leaders since then led to widespread unrest. To an extent, this has compromised the stability of the country and local grievances are heightened. This is liable to disenfranchise citizens from the government in the long-term, making them more susceptible to radicalization. The largely Fulani demographic of northeastern Benin further makes this possibility likely given that the militants are likely to attempt to find common cause and have previously used ethnic identity as a recruitment tactic in Mali and Burkina Faso.

In contrast, the threat to Ghana is comparatively lower than Benin and Togo because it borders regions in Burkina Faso that have not shown pervasive militant entrenchment. However, Centre-Sud Region, which shares a border with Ghana, has recorded two suspected militant attacks in July, bringing the tally of total purported militant attacks in the region to three. These attacks continue to suggest that militants are slowly attempting to expand across all regions of Burkina Faso, including those in the south that are distant from the origins of the threat at the border with Mali, and consequently, Ghana’s borders continue to remain at risk. That said, Ghana’s relative political stability and the history of religious tolerance make militant encroachment in the country more difficult than Togo and Benin.

While the relative stability in southwestern Burkina Faso and southeastern Mali makes the risk of militant spillover into Ivory Coast relatively low, the previous al-Qaeda attacks recorded in the region, as well as the economic importance of both Ghana and Ivory Coast, suggests that it remains a target. In this context, the AQIM attack in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast in 2016 as well the dismantling of a jihadist cell in Mali’s Sikasso Region in December 2018 that allegedly intended to carry out attacks in three West African cities, including Abidjan, indicates that militants have aspirations in Ivory Coast.

High probability of cross-border incursions and small-scale attacks, efforts to impose jihadist ideology

FORECAST: The relative nascency of this threat indicates that while militants might have a presence in these countries, they are unlikely to be entrenched yet. As such, they are unlikely to possess the capability or the logistical network to launch large-scale attacks. Consequently, the precedent set in Burkina Faso indicates a heightened likelihood of smaller-scale attacks against security forces and government infrastructure in border communities to dislodge state presence as militants attempt to entrench themselves in the coming months. That said, while the possibility of large-scale attacks remains relatively lower, it cannot be completely discounted as jihadists might attempt to conduct a high-profile attack to announce their presence.

However, the patterns of the spread of militancy in Burkina Faso suggests that the militants are inclined towards establishing their foothold into an area before undertaking large-scale or attention-grabbing attacks. In fact, militant attacks in Burkina Faso’s Est Region began at least a year before the al-Qaeda front Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam waal Muslimeen (JNIM) claimed their first attack therein. The delay in announcing their presence was in all probability a strategic move to allow the militants ample time to establish themselves before drawing attention to their activities and eliciting a security response. FORECAST: Thus, militant activity for the immediate future is likely to be confined to village incursions and small-scale attacks to entrench jihadism in the border regions.

Reports of suspected militants carrying out cross-border incursions in Togo and Benin and asking locals to stop selling alcohol not only emphasize the credibility of the threat of jihadism in these countries but also provide insight into the likely modus operandi the militants are liable to adopt. FORECAST: As such, in line with their proliferation across central Mali and Burkina Faso, the militants are liable to attempt to enforce their way of life in bordering villages as part of their efforts to integrate themselves into the community. JNIM’s primary modus operandi in their expansion of targeting Western symbols and practices suggests that their efforts will include the burning and targeting of schools and bars. They are liable to start preaching in mosques and enforce a ban on alcohol, prostitution, and any other activity perceived to be Western or non-Islamic. These efforts are aimed at persuading and, if that fails, forcing the locals to adhere to the group’s ideological understanding of Islam. These attempts to impose jihadist ideology are particularly dangerous because once the ideology takes root and the locals are radicalized, even complex security operations are often insufficient to dislodge the threat.

FORECAST: Along with destroying Western symbols, militants are also likely to continue targeting the government and infrastructure as well as village leaders and clerics. Eliminating local leadership, both state and communal, serves to destabilize the area and create a leadership vacuum, which in turn facilitates radicalization and militant recruitment. Similarly, the targeting of the state or security services is motivated both by jihadist anti-government ideology and in a bid to weaken state presence and consequently, fray the connections between the state and the people by slowly disenfranchising them.

Heightened likelihood of militants aggravating existing inter-communal, inter-religious conflicts to fuel recruitment, create instability

One of the primary tools exploited by jihadists worldwide is aggravating inter-community strife and either capitalize on a sense of marginalization, or create a perception of it. In Burkina Faso, exploitation by the local religious leaders who were perceived to be enriching themselves at the expense of locals provided Malam Ibrahim Dicko, the founder of the home-grown jihadist group Ansarul Islam, with the means to radicalize his followers. Militants tend to find common cause with one side of the conflict while actively working against and targeting the other side, destabilizing the area further. The Fulani ethnic group are a case in point. Militants first tapped into their feelings of abandonment and then radicalized them. This created the perception of Fulanis filling militant ranks, which caused them to be targeted by other communities and security forces alike, further heightening their perception of marginalization. This has resulted in a vicious cycle of marginalization, radicalization, and persecution in both Mali and Burkina Faso. The resultant insecurity with ethnic self-defense groups perpetrating large-scale attacks that have extremely high casualty counts and prompt violent reprisals is extremely beneficial to the militants’ agenda because it weakens state security apparatus and undermines local confidence in the government.

FORECAST: Following this precedent, militants are liable to exploit local grievances, stemming from economic exclusion and poverty, to foster feelings of disenfranchisement and abandonment. To that end, the areas around Benin’s borders with Burkina Faso are mired in steep poverty and lack basic services like electricity. Militants could possibly attempt to recruit them by providing them with basic necessities while fueling anti-government sentiment. Similarly, the protected status of W-Arly-Pendjari ecological complex has incited conflicts over control of land and caused widespread displacement. The militants were quick to seize upon these grievances, which contributed to pervasive militant entrenchment in Burkina Faso’s Est Region. It is likely that, as militants aim to expand into Benin, they will capitalize on these feelings to facilitate infiltration by providing the disenfranchised with an alternative.

FORECAST: Militants are also liable to foster inter-religious strife to their advantage. To illustrate, the recent spate of attacks targeting Christians in Burkina Faso and Niger have already created fear within Ghana’s Christian majority. Ghana has always had peaceful inter-religious relations but the Christians’ concerns that their churches are at risk has the potential to create tensions between the religious communities, which the militants might attempt to exploit. It is possible that this turn in the militants’ strategy to target Christians was motivated in a bid to further cause divisions within communities. Should they continue to target Christians, the resultant threat perception in these countries has the potential to result in actual marginalization of Muslims. Lastly, similar to their encroachment across Burkina Faso and Mali, militants will likely attempt to exacerbate existing inter-communal conflicts between rival ethnic groups.

Location of Attacks targeting Christians and Churches in Burkina Faso & Western niger in 2019

Security operations at the border to be intensified with heightened potential for cross-border cooperation

Following Burkinabe intelligence’s warning, Benin launched “Operation Djidjoho” and deployed 1,000 soldiers along its northeastern borders in April to identify and neutralize infiltrators. Togolese authorities also carried out intensive counter-militancy operations and reportedly apprehended about 20 suspected jihadists, said to be fleeing from Burkina Faso. FORECAST: Despite these intensified security measures at their borders, existing smuggling routes, the dense landscape around some of these borders, and the poor demarcation, will make it difficult to completely deter cross-border militant incursions. Moreover, given that the borders in much of these areas were imposed on top of communities, people have family on both sides and in both countries, and so it would be difficult for security forces to completely close off the border. Regardless of these limitations, the intensified border deployments are expected to continue. Should further instances of militancy be reported in these West African countries, elevating the perception of the threat of militant spillover, security measures are likely to be fortified with additional troop deployment and stricter checkpoints at the border. In the event of confirmed imminence of large-scale militant encroachment in any of these countries, the authorities may close their borders with Burkina Faso.

FORECAST: There is increased potential for international cooperation as they figure out how to adequately combat the jihadist threat. That the threat of militancy comes from Burkina Faso’s borders suggests that the countries will likely collaborate with the Burkinabe authorities to contain the threat. Additionally, as the severity of the threat increases, international actors can be expected to take an interest in the situation, particularly in Ghana and Ivory Coast, and potentially lend their military expertise in the form of on-ground training or logistical and intelligence support. To that end, international forces that maintain a presence in the Sahel, such as the French Barkhane forces, might expand their theater of operations into these countries to deter the jihadist threat. However, until militancy spillover is confirmed, international presence in these countries remains a distant possibility. That said, the recent expansion of French forces into northern Burkina Faso could possibly be a precursor to intensified French operations across Burkina Faso. Should that happen, given the potential threat of spillover, the forces might focus their attention on border-adjacent regions to contain the militancy.

FORECAST: Apart from the government and the security forces, the local population in these countries are also likely to heighten their vigilance. Alarmed by the recent targeting of churches and Christians by militants in Burkina Faso and Niger, the Christian populations in Benin, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast are liable to enact stringent preventive measures. To that point, a major church in Accra, Ghana banned backpacks as part of its new security directives, while churches in Ghana’s Upper East Region bordering Burkina Faso are reportedly evaluating security proposals such as the installation of body scanners at entrances as a safeguard against possible militant attacks.

However, given that this is new ground for both security services and civil society, they are likely to struggle to come up with an adequate response to combat this potential threat. As such, there is potential for these preventative measures to border on overzealousness and instead fuel feelings of marginalization and abandonment. That said, it is possible that the preemptive measures adopted could possibly deter large-scale militant encroachment. Despite overt signs of radicality, the Burkinabe government took no preventive measures against Malam Dicko, the founder of Ansarul Islam, or to stop the cross-border movement from Mali when the jihadist threat was at its peak there. This likely made the spread of militancy much easier because the foundations were already set. However, these countries have taken the threat of militancy seriously. As such, by taking proactive measures to deter the spread of militancy into their own territory, these countries are already in a better position to combat this threat than Burkina Faso was.

Recommendations

We advise against all travel to the border region between Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, given the extreme risks of militancy, ethnic conflict, and violent crime.

Avoid all travel to northern and central Mali, including Timbuktu, Kidal, Gao, Mopti, and northern Segou region, given the threat from militant and rebel groups operating in the area, as well as ongoing ethnic tensions and intercommunal violence.

Avoid all travel to northern and eastern Burkina Faso, particularly Sahel, Est, Centre-Est, Nord, Centre-Nord, and Boucle du Mouhoun regions due to the ongoing threat of militancy and violent crime. Avoid nonessential travel to outlying areas of the southern and western regions due to the increased risk of attacks.

We advise against all travel to Niger’s Tillaberi and Tahoua Regions in the west along the borders of Mali and Burkina Faso, with the exception of Niamey, due to the ongoing risk of militancy.

Avoid nonessential travel to the W National Park area in Benin on the tri-border region with Niger and Burkina Faso due to the presence of criminals and militants.

 

This report was written by Aarushi Tibrewala, MAX Security’s Senior Analyst for West Africa & reviewed by  Rachel Jacob, MAX Security’s Regional Director of Intelligence, Sub-Saharan Africa

Intensification of hostilities, delegitimization efforts between AQAP, Wilayat Yemen – Yemen Analysis

Executive Summary

While the main conflict in Yemen is ongoing between the Houthis and members of the Saudi-led Coalition, Sunni jihadist groups have been able to take advantage of the existing relative vacuum in power to entrench themselves in the southern part of the country.

These groups, namely al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the local Islamic State (IS) affiliate Wilayat Yemen, have developed a growing competition between each other for recruits, areas of control, and influence in Bayda Governorate’s Qifa area, with the frequency and sophistication of attacks conducted by both groups peeking at the end of March.

Both groups, particularly AQAP, seemingly bolstered their online propaganda and recruitment efforts as well as attempts to delegitimize one another in the eyes of locals during this period.

Given AQAP’s overall better ties with the local population, such propaganda efforts will likely prove a more effective tool for the group to further expand their local backing.

We advise to avoid all travel to Yemen due to the limited government and security presence, ongoing clashes and airstrikes as well as the heightened threat of attacks and kidnappings.

Current Situation

As part of a growing competition for recruits, areas of control, and influence between AQAP and the local IS affiliate Wilayat Yemen in Bayda Governorate’s Qifa area, an uptick in hostile attacks and rhetoric has been recorded during and following the end of March. The most notable developments include the following events:

On March 24, Wilayat Yemen claimed four attacks against AQAP positions in Qifa, including a dual suicide bombing on the latter’s headquarters in Dhi Kalib, which killed over ten AQAP members.

According to reports from April 3, a tribally-supported group aligned with AQAP, “Sons of Qifa,” announced a 5 million Rial reward, equal to around 20,000 USD, for the apprehension or death of a local IS leader Khalid al-Marfadi in March, after the latter destroyed a well and agricultural resources.

On April 6, AQAP released a video on militants defecting from Wilayat Yemen to AQAP, explaining how the IS affiliate started the current conflict with the latter, further accusing Wilayat Yemen’s media of being inconsistent and spreading lies, particularly on AQAP’s collaboration with anti-Houthi forces.

On April 7, Wilayat Yemen suggested that AQAP cooperates with anti-Houthi forces by claiming that it repelled a “joint” attack by AQAP and anti-Houthi forces in Qifa’s Awjah and targeted members of both groups on April 26.

On April 17, AQAP called for a prisoner exchange with the IS affiliate in Qifa.

On April 30, AQAP released a statement denying recent IS claims of having successfully targeted AQAP in Qifa, rather claiming that Wilayat Yemen deployed a child suicide bomber and targeted locals in a supermarket.

On May 23 and June 5, AQAP released issues of a video series on Wilayat Yemen’s imprisonment of its own recruits featuring interviews of members imprisoned for months, only to be released if they agreed to conduct suicide operations against AQAP. AQAP also released images of an IS member accused of spying and who was subsequently thrown from a mountaintop, which AQAP claimed to be sourced from IS’ archives.

On June 14, IS released a video of its offensive against AQAP to take the leadership of global jihad.

Sunni Jihadist Groups Competing in Qifa

Background

The civil war in Yemen broke out in March 2015, when Houthis forces, allied with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, took control of the capital city of Sanaa and the southern city of Aden to overthrow President Abdarabbuh Mansur Hadi. This prompted Hadi to flee Aden and seek refuge in Saudi Arabia. Over the course of the month, Houthi forces rapidly took control of areas in several governorates, including Aden, Marib, Bayda, Ibb, and Taiz. This prompted Saudi Arabia to form a coalition comprising of aerial and ground support assets from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain to launch an offensive against Houthi forces in support of the Hadi-led government. While Iran expressed its official opposition to the Saudi-led Coalition’s offensive in Yemen, it did not explicitly commit to any support for the Houthis initially. However, later in the conflict, Tehran has supplied the Shiite Houthis with sophisticated weapons, in the form of ballistic missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), technological expertise and infrastructure as well as supplies and advisors to bolster their capabilities vis-a-vis the Saudi-led Coalition.

Over the course of the conflict, the Saudi-led Coalition was able to reverse the majority of the territorial gains made by the Houthis. This was particularly following December 2017, when the Houthis killed former President Saleh, which prompted several pro-Saleh factions to rescind their support for the Houthis, significantly overstretching the latter’s ranks and resources. The Saudi-led Coalition currently controls most of eastern and southern Yemen, with small AQAP-help pockets of territorial control in Hadramaut, Abyan, and Shabwa governorates. The Houthis are largely in control of western and northwestern Yemen from Saada Governorate to northern Taiz, Dali, and Bayda governorates. Hostilities continue to be recorded between the Saudi-led Coalition forces and the Houthis across Yemen at the time of writing, with the majority of the fighting taking place in Dali, Taiz, Hodeidah, Sanaa, Saada, al-Jawf, Bayda, and Marib governorates. Both AQAP and IS have managed to exploit the security vacuum resulting from this ongoing civil war in Yemen to strengthen their respective positions.

Territorial Control in Yemen

AQAP

AQAP has successfully managed to expand its base of operations in Yemen over recent years and currently enjoys a considerable presence across the seven governorates of Abyan, Bayda, Hadramaut, Ibb, Lahij, Taiz, and Shabwa. AQAP overall follows the strategy of embedding itself within the Yemeni population and consolidating relations with local tribes. This typically manifests by appearing relatively flexible, for instance, by abandoning the idea of enforcing the full application of Sharia law. In 2016, AQAP started to actively participate in the civil war against the Houthis, alongside local Sunni tribes in various locales, including in Ibb, Taiz, and Bayda governorates, while targeting pro-Hadi forces in Abyan and Hadramaut governorates, further forging local opportunistic relations.

Wilayat Yemen

IS established a presence in Yemen in late 2014 and consisted of various branches that operated in different areas in Yemen, including Wilayat Aden-Abyan, Wilayat Bayda, and Wilayat Lahij. In 2019, IS’ central command announced that these local IS affiliates were merged into one IS branch in Yemen, termed Wilayat Yemen. Currently, the Yemeni IS affiliate’s area of operation is almost entirely confined to the Qifa area located in Bayda Governorate. Unlike AQAP, Wilayat Yemen overall experiences difficulties in gaining local support due to various factors. These largely include locals’ perception of IS as being overtly brutal and conducting indiscriminate attacks against civilians, its lack of effort to embed itself within the local population as well as its overall failure to find culturally nuanced ways of appealing to local tribes, such as their application of Sharia law, which may conflict with local cultures and practices. In addition, Wilayat Yemen is faced with difficulties in receiving foreign fighters, which constitute the majority of its militants, given the challenges facing fighters in reaching as well as integrating in Yemen.

AQAP & Wilayat Yemen-Initiated Attacks in Qifa

Assessments & Forecast

Intensification of pace and sophistication of attacks in late March

Despite significant ideological differences, AQAP and IS initially largely operated side by side without major hindrances, rather focusing their efforts against the Shiite Houthi forces in the area. Tensions started to rise in mid-2018 due to altercations regarding local territorial and power rivalries between both groups, specifically when IS accused AQAP of non-compliance while passing through one of their checkpoints in Qifa on July 2018. The IS affiliate subsequently claimed its first attack against AQAP in the Qifa area in October 2018, marking a turning point. Such hostilities significantly increased in scope and sophistication towards the end of March. This is highlighted by the increased frequency of attacks and heightened sophistication of the modus operandi employed by both groups during this period, including IS-claimed suicide bombings and AQAP-claimed territorial gains. Prior to that, the two Sunni jihadist groups generally engaged in assaults of relatively low-scale and sophistication, which inflicted a relatively small number of casualties, such as shootings, artillery shelling, and IED attacks. This sequence of intensified hostilities was likely particularly triggered by the IS-claimed dual suicide bombing on AQAP’s headquarters on March 24, which was the first suicide bombing recorded throughout the rivalry in Qifa and resulted in the killing of ten AQAP members.

The intensified attacks by IS likely served to project bolstered capabilities, particularly as its fighters managed to storm the AQAP headquarters and inflict significant casualties. This signaled IS’ increased dedication to challenge AQAP’s presence in the area. AQAP’s response with a string of intensified operations against Wilayat Yemen over the following days, such as the conduct of multiple attacks at an unprecedented pace as well as the capture of IS positions, likely served to retaliate to the attacks initiated by the latter, particularly the symbolic attack against AQAP’s leadership, and to project zero-tolerance to such assaults. AQAP’s claims of taking over multiple Wilayat Yemen positions further highlight the former’s ability to strike the latter with elevated force and effectiveness as well as to respond swiftly to Wilayat Yemen’s intensified attacks. This, in turn, serves to project that AQAP’s upper hand in the region as well as its ability to dislodge the IS affiliate from Qifa.

While no AQAP attacks against IS were recorded during the month of April and two were witnessed in May, the IS affiliate claimed to have conducted 11 operations against AQAP during these months, including two suicide bombings. The persistence of IS-perpetrated assaults against AQAP underscores IS’ apparent view that prioritizing the targeting of AQAP is vital in order for it to maintain its presence and influence in Qifa, as IS likely perceives AQAP as the main threat to maintaining control over the area. This is particularly the case as Qifa constitutes the sole area in which IS retains a level of influence, as opposed to AQAP’s presence across several governorates in Yemen.

Nonetheless, the stark decrease in AQAP-perpetrated offensive operations against the IS affiliate during April and May, despite the continuation of IS attacks, may indicate that AQAP does not view such hostilities as significantly threatening its influence in the region. In turn, this would indicate that AQAP does not prioritize attacks against the IS affiliate. This is further highlighted by AQAP’s reluctance to target Wilayat Yemen following the latter’s initial attacks conducted in October and November 2018. Many AQAP-initiated operations appear to have been conducted in retaliation to IS-led assaults deemed relatively significant by AQAP. This is highlighted by the rhetoric used by AQAP in claims of responsibility issued for two attacks conducted in June, which stated that they were conducted in retaliation to assaults by the IS affiliate.

FORECAST: Overall, hostilities between both Sunni jihadist groups are likely to persist over the coming weeks and months. In this regard, periodic intensified and increased back-and-forth hostilities are liable to be recorded. Given that Qifa constitutes Wilayat Yemen’s only area of influence, the IS affiliate will likely initiate the majority of such hostilities in Qifa and will continue to prioritize AQAP as its main target. That said, while AQAP has significantly reduced its offensives against Wilayat Yemen since March, large-scale attacks by Wilayat Yemen, especially symbolic ones, will likely trigger retaliatory attacks by AQAP to project its dominance.

Intensification of delegitimization efforts

Over the past months, both Sunni jihadist groups, mainly AQAP, have bolstered their online propaganda and recruitment efforts. Therefore, following the numerous operations against the IS affiliate from December 2018 to March, the subsequent lack of AQAP attacks against Wilayat Yemen in the following months may indicate that the group viewed such operations as ineffective in preventing the latter from continuing its attacks. This may have compelled AQAP to adjust its strategy towards adopting alternative means to undermine Wilayat Yemen in Qifa. This has largely manifested through a stream of propaganda material intending to portray AQAP as retaining a moral high ground to the local population, while simultaneously delegitimizing Wilayat Yemen.

One of the manifestations of these efforts by AQAP came through its attempts to depict Wilayat Yemen as brutal, particularly through the imprisonment and treatment of its own recruits, as underscored by AQAP in multiple propaganda publications. This serves to boost the locals’ perception of Wilayat Yemen as unnecessarily cruel in order to deter potential recruits. This was particularly utilized in the video broadcasted by AQAP on June 5, which it claimed to have retrieved from IS’ archives, depicting an alleged member of Wilayat Yemen who falsely confessed to being a spy and was shown being thrown from a mountaintop.

In turn, Wilayat Yemen has largely focused its efforts to delegitimize AQAP through accusations of the latter’s alleged cooperation with anti-Houthi forces. Such claims likely aim at deterring support for AQAP as they also allow IS to depict AQAP as cooperating with a government viewed negatively by segments within the local population. The accusation further serves to portray AQAP as cooperating with elements perceived as corrupt by the IS affiliate. By doing so, Wilayat Yemen is taking advantage of a number of unconfirmed reports released over the past months that indicated that AQAP and pro-Hadi government forces are cooperating in certain areas of Yemen, such as Taiz. The video issued by AQAP on April 6 denying such cooperation highlights the former’s apprehension of the potential traction that this narrative may have among local supporters. Therefore, AQAP is attempting to debunk such claims in order to mitigate their potential negative impact on the organization, which could lead to a decrease in recruits.

FORECAST: Both Sunni jihadist groups will likely continue to seek to establish and maintain a dominant presence at the cost of one another in Bayda Governorate’s Qifa area over the coming weeks and months. Given IS’ persistent attacks against AQAP, along with its lack of local support, Wilayat Yemen will likely continue to focus its efforts on targeting AQAP through violent assaults. AQAP, on the other hand, will likely continue to counter the IS affiliate through its apparent long-term strategy of isolating Wilayat Yemen in Qifa. In this regard, AQAP will likely focus the majority of its effort on spreading propaganda aimed at further delegitimizing the latter in the perception of the local population, while continuing to rally local support for its own cause. In this context, AQAP will likely continue to depict itself as holding the moral high ground vis-a-vis Wilayat Yemen. AQAP attacks against Wilayat Yemen will therefore likely remain relatively less frequent compared to IS attacks against the former. Therefore, the balance of power currently witnessed in Bayda is likely to remain unchanged or slightly sway in favor of AQAP, as AQAP is pursuing more long-term goals of maintaining their partial local support as opposed to IS’ short-term focus on essentially targeting AQAP.

Recommendations

It is advised at this time to avoid all travel to Sanaa and Aden.

In the event of air strikes, it is advised to take cover in a designated shelter, or if one does not exist, in a room with as few external walls, windows and openings as possible, close all openings, sit on the floor below the window line and near an internal wall.

We advise against all travel to outlying areas and overland travel, due to the limited government and security presence, ongoing clashes and airstrikes, as well as the heightened threat of attacks and kidnappings.

For those operating in or conducting business with oil facilities, it is advised to consult with us for itinerary and contingency support plans.

Foreigners, particularly Westerners, continuing to operate in Yemen are additionally advised to maintain a low profile, exercise heightened vigilance, and avoid locales frequented by foreign, particularly Western nationals. To mitigate the risk of attacks or abductions, ensure that places of stay are equipped with sufficient perimeter security details, alter travel routes, and avoid disclosing sensitive itinerary information to unknown individuals.

Islamic State claims first attack in Cabo Delgado Province on June 4; unlikely to impact local insurgency – Mozambique Analysis

Executive Summary

The Islamic State published a claim of responsibility for an attack in Mocimboa da Praia district, Cabo Delgado Province, likely in an effort to portray their global reach and operational resilience despite losses in the Middle East.

However, an IS connection to the ongoing insurgency in Mozambique is likely to be very limited, if it exists at all, and is not expected to impact the pace or scale of attacks in Cabo Delgado, where the insurgency appears motivated by local grievances rather than IS ideology.

Attacks are expected to continue in Cabo Delgado, particularly affecting Mocimboa da Praia, Macomia, and Palma districts, as insurgents expand their tactics to include not only police and village raids but abductions and roadside ambushes on major highways.

The government is likely to launch further security operations in response to the public coverage of the IS claim, though they will remain hindered by difficult terrain and a general lack of capabilities.

Avoid nonessential travel to Cabo Delgado Province in light of the threat from the ongoing Islamist insurgency.

Please be advised

The Islamic State (IS) claimed that its forces conducted an attack on the Mozambican military in Mocimboa da Praia district of Cabo Delgado Province on June 4, during which “several” soldiers were killed and wounded and they captured weapons during the battle.

Subsequently, IS released two photographs of the items they captured, which include mortar shells, a machine gun, an RPG, several rifles, and ammunition.

The claim of responsibility, as well as the photographs, were released under the administrative division of IS’s “Central Africa Province”.

Sources from June 5 cite the Mozambican police as denying that the incident took place.

 Islamic State’s claim of responsibility for attack in Cabo Delgado on June 4Islamic State’s claim of responsibility for attack in Cabo Delgado on June 4

Assessments & Forecast

IS claim is reflective of IS’s aims to showcase its global resilience, with little to indicate a substantive connection to the local Islamist insurgency

With further details of the purported attack remaining unclear, and no independent corroboration of the events thus far, the IS claim nonetheless is highly notable as it is the first time that IS has announced a presence in Mozambique. This evokes a similar announcement on April 18 when IS released its first claim of an attack in DRC, also under the banner of a new “Central Africa Province”. This was followed by an April 29 video of IS emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in which he reviewed notebooks detailing the names of various IS affiliates, including an array of those located outside of the group’s traditional sphere of influence in Iraq and Syria. In this context, it is likely that given the large-scale loss of territory and influence in the Middle East, IS is attempting to showcase its resilience and global operations by announcing connections to previously unconnected insurgencies in far-flung locations.

There have been some previous indications that there may be IS sympathizers among the insurgents in Mozambique, with a photo circulating in May 2018 among IS supporters that purported to show Mozambican jihadists who would allegedly promise to pledge allegiance to al-Baghdadi. However, this photo did not garner much traction, and even now, there is little to indicate that the IS connection is substantive, if it exists at all, and would likely only involve a small faction of the wider insurgency in Cabo Delgado. Such a connection would likely have been developed through the contact between the Mozambican insurgents and militants operating in DRC, where they were reportedly discovered to have trained in 2018. In that sense, any link to IS would be fairly limited and does not indicate a change in the situation on the ground.

To that point, the insurgency in Cabo Delgado Province has persisted since it initially began in October 2017 with little information regarding the identities or affiliations of its fighters. Local sources usually refer to the group as al-Sunnah or al-Shabaab, and it appears to be comprised of local Muslim youths who were following both local and foreign imams, said to be from Kenya and the Gambia. The group’s attacks do not appear to be ideological and have targeted a wide range of villages and people. Moreover, while multinational oil and gas operations off of the coast of Cabo Delgado have been affected, with multiple fatalities among its personnel, these deaths have been incidental rather than a deliberate effort to target a foreign or Western entity.

Cabo Delgado is broadly conducive for extremism to expand, irrespective of the lack of a well-defined doctrine or ideology. The militants are aided by other factors such as poverty and unemployment, a lack of development or government services. Furthermore, following the 2010 discovery of major oil and natural deposits, the government has been willing to grant concessions to major foreign energy companies to develop the area. This led to the resettlement of thousands of farmers and fishermen, who view themselves as deprived of their land by large corporations backed by the government. Moreover, security forces have cracked down on illegal mining and unregulated sales of rubies and timber, which further exacerbated resentment among locals, who perceive such activities as essential to their survival given the lack of government services. In connection, in March and April 2017, police arrested several religious leaders who were accused of stoking public discontent by urging villagers not to pay taxes, not to seek medical care in public health clinics, and to exclusively send their children to Islamic schools, seemingly in response to the government’s actions, which likely helped create the conditions for the insurgency to grow.

Militant Attacks in Cabo Delgado, October 2017 - May 2019

Insurgency slowly growing in Cabo Delgado as modus operandi begins to shift, while the government struggles to curb the attacks

Although the overall pace of attacks has not been consistent month-to-month, it has nevertheless increased over the past year. The variety of modus operandi has also expanded, particularly in recent months. While the militants have frequently raided remote villages, burning down homes and shops, and killing residents with machetes and occasionally firearms, these incidents have now begun to include abductions. This could indicate an aim to forcibly expand their numbers, or to use local labor to carry supplies or do other tasks while the fighters carry out attacks. Moreover, the insurgents have increasingly targeted vehicles along major roads in the province in ambushes using firearms, likely suggesting a growing confidence among the militants in that they can venture beyond poorly-protected villages into open areas where they could face security forces.

Security forces have been active in Cabo Delgado from the early days of the insurgency, with the government announcing a number of counterinsurgency operations and mass arrests. Hundreds of people remain in custody for alleged links to the group. The government has deployed troops into the region in large numbers particularly due to the oil and gas reserves in the region, which makes Cabo Delgado a critical center for economic growth at a time when the country is mired in deep debt and corruption scandals. However, while security forces have largely been effective in protecting oil infrastructure, there has otherwise been little effect in halting the insurgency. They are likely hindered by the difficult terrain, though this is aggravated by the government’s overall low levels of support in the region and thus poor intelligence collection and surveillance. Furthermore, the area also borders the lightly fenced area with Tanzania, which has allowed militants to periodically escape into Tanzania when security operations intensified, only to return at a later time.

FORECAST: Moving forward, the security forces are likely to launch comprehensive operations in order to portray their recognition of the threat. However, their continued difficulties have been further compounded by the destruction brought by Cyclone Kenneth in April as much of the province’s infrastructure has been damaged or washed away. This has made further areas vulnerable to insurgent attacks, which then also targeted food aid, while hindering security operations. With the coverage of the IS claim likely to be widespread and raise alarm, the government may use the heightened attention on the militancy in Mozambique in hopes of gaining additional funding to combat the jihadist threat. This would be viewed as particularly crucial given the massive funding gaps the authorities already face to address two deadly cyclones that hit the country in the same month.

FORECAST: In terms of the insurgent group’s operations, it is unlikely that the IS claim will have any impact on the group’s operational capabilities or otherwise shift the status quo on the ground. Publishing the claim will likely have achieved a particular goal of IS, such as wide international coverage of the event and IS’s global reach. However, the situation within Cabo Delgado is likely to remain precarious due to the continued insurgency, regardless of IS’s statements. The militant group’s efforts largely affects Mocimboa da Praia, Macomia, and Palma districts, but it is possible that the group will slowly expand beyond these areas in other parts of the province as the government struggles to stop them. Thus, attacks are likely to continue steadily over the coming weeks and months and the security environment in Cabo Delgado is poised to remain unstable for the foreseeable future.

Recommendations

Avoid nonessential travel to Cabo Delgado Province in light of the threat from the ongoing Islamist insurgency.

Foreigners, particularly Westerners, should maintain a low profile, and exercise heightened vigilance in the vicinity of locales frequented by foreign nationals, including foreign commercial interests, due to the increased potential for militant attacks.

Remain cognizant of your surroundings and ensure that places of stay are properly secured, alter travel routes, and avoid disclosing sensitive itinerary information to unknown individuals

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.

Islamic State releases first video of leader al-Baghdadi since June 2014; aimed at boosting morale of fighters, supporters worldwide – Global Analysis

Executive Summary

On April 29, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State (IS), openly appeared in a video for the first time in almost five years.

The main objective of the video is to showcase to IS followers that al-Baghdadi is alive and still in command of the organization, and to rally his followers to increase their rate of activities.

Additional goals of the video include portraying al-Baghdadi as a combat leader and successor of Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as well as to bolster the image of the organization’s global operations.

Lastly, the video includes some insights into IS’s current organizational structure and into its affiliated groups around the world.

Forecast

There is likely to be an increase in the rate, scope, and scale of attacks by IS and by sympathizers of the group over the coming weeks and months, particularly during the upcoming holy month of Ramadan.

During this time frame, IS will put a greater emphasis on conducting high-profile attacks against soft targets, including in regions that so far did not witness an attack by the group.

Over the longer term, IS will invest in building up its local affiliates, particularly in Africa and Central Asia, to compensate for its recent losses in the Middle East and its current inability to fully rehabilitate itself there.

Current Situation

  • On April 29, al-Furqan Media Foundation, the main Islamic State (IS) propaganda branch responsible for the release of messages by the group’s senior leadership, released an 18-minute video of IS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is openly seen for the first time since an IS video on June 2014 showed him giving a sermon at al-Nouri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq.
  • In the video, al-Baghdadi is addressing his followers through a long speech delivered to three companions whose faces have been blurred, and who are likely senior leaders in the organization.

 Al-Baghdadi and the three companions  seen in the video

Assessments & Forecast

Video aims to showcase al-Baghdadi is alive, well, and still heads the group, boost the morale of fighters and supporters

Throughout the first part of the video, al-Baghdadi names “martyrs” who have been killed during the Baghouz campaign in Syria, which concluded in March 2019 as IS lost its last pocket of control over an urban terrain and a population. Thus, the timing of the video is highly symbolic and meant to highlight to IS followers that the “Caliph” and “Amir al-Mu’minin” (“leader of the faithful”) is alive and well and still heads the group, despite its continues strategic losses in recent years. This is especially so as it comes after years of various rumors about al-Baghdadi being killed by different actors, and at times that he has been overthrown from the leadership of the group. It is important to note however, that despite seemingly being healthy, al-Baghdadi appears to be very weary, and the video cuts several times, likely to allow him to rest and to refer back to his notes. There are clear efforts made by IS to prove that the video is contemporary, including by al-Baghdadi referencing current events such as the ongoing political unrest in Algeria, the ongoing revolution in Sudan, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in the Israeli elections.

However, the only time when the video does not show al-Baghdadi is when he speaks about the Sri Lanka Easter attack from April 21, as the video shows footage released by international media showing the aftermath of the attack, as well as by the IS-linked Amaq news agency showing the militants prior to the attack, with an audio recording by al-Baghdadi of different quality than that of the video. Thus, it is possible that the original video was made and edited prior to the Sri Lanka attacks, with IS later adding a reference to it, due to the event’s importance.

Overall, mentioning the loss of Baghouz and the Sri Lanka attack is meant to mobilize IS fighters, as well as the group’s supporters around the globe, to conduct attacks as part of the “Revenge for al-Sham (Syria)” Campaign, an ongoing effort that commenced after IS lost Baghouz, during which the group increased the rate, scope, and quality of their operations worldwide. While it remains unclear if this was intentional or not, the video was also released shortly before the holy month of Ramadan, which begins around May 6, a period of time that traditionally experiences an uptick in jihadist attacks, with the release of the video likely to serve as a further conducive factor for such attacks. Moreover, the references to Algeria and Sudan were emphasized by stating that “unfortunately Muslims did not wise up to the fact that they keep replacing one tyrant by another, and that the only way to deal with these tyrants is through Jihad for Allah”, thus trying to appeal to persistent widespread perceptions of marginalization among Muslims in order to increase the support base for IS.

 

Al-Baghdadi affirms strategic shift of IS from state-like structure to primarily asymmetric warfare

In the video, al-Baghdadi glorified the resistance of the Baghouz defenders and highlighted that “no IS territory was ever lost without a fight”, also mentioning by name the lost of Sirte, IS’s de facto capital in Libya, in December 2016. Later, he praised the recent actions of the fighters in Libya, especially their raid on the town of al-Fuqaha and their conduct of a “war of attrition” in their attacks on enemy infrastructure and supply lines, as well as the attackers of the az-Zulfi police station in Saudi Arabia, hoping for more such attacks.

This provides further support for the longstanding assessment, supported by evidence from conflict zones, that with the demise of the “physical Caliphate” of IS in Syria and Iraq, the group has shifted its strategy toward asymmetric warfare. This means that, at least at the current stage, the group will not be attempting to regain territory and revive its government or country-like structure. Instead, it will be focusing primarily on conducting attacks varying from small-scale hit-and-run to large-scale raids, to maximize enemy casualties on the one hand, and minimize the militants’ exposure and thus potential casualties in their ranks on the other.

 

Al-Baghdadi seeking to portray himself as a combat leader, successor of Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Al-Baghdadi himself makes an effort to bolster the image of the organization now being active as a guerilla group. Namely, al-Baghdadi is seen with an assault rifle and combat gear as if to imply that he is now a combat leader and not just a political and spiritual leader. Notably, the type of rifle, an AKS-74U, is the exact same model traditionally seen with Osama bin Laden, founder of al-Qaeda, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of the group that preceded IS, indicating that al-Baghdadi is also trying to draw a parallel between himself and the two revered jihadist leaders. Another important factor is that the room in which al-Baghdadi is sitting is covered entirely by white sheets. This is based on tradecraft adopted by Osama bin Laden and meant to protect operational security (OPSEC) and prevent giving out any clues that could be used to geolocate the area in which he is staying, thus fortifying that the group is now operating covertly and underground, as opposed to the recent past when it was operating more overtly and as a state-like and military-like entity.

Al-Baghdadi (left) Osama bin Laden (center) and al-Zarqawi (right) with the same firearm and a sheet covering their surroundings

Al-Baghdadi highlights role in countries other than Iraq and Syria to project image of global success and encourage bolstering activity there

Most of the regions referred to by name by al-Baghdadi in the video, aside for Baghouz, are areas outside of the “core territory” of IS in Syria and Iraq. This includes the aforementioned references to Sri Lanka, Libya, and Saudi Arabia, but also congratulating the “brothers from Burkina Faso and Mali for joining the Caliphate”, as well as welcoming the groups in Khorasan (Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran) who joined the “Mujahideen”. This is meant to project a sense that, despite the loss of its core territory, IS is continuing to grow and is successful in other regions around the world.

This point is also highlighted by the fact that the only seemingly living person al-Baghdadi names throughout the video is Adnan Abu al-Walid al-Sahraoui, leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), which has merged with the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) in recent months. In addition to the gesture showing great respect to al-Sahraoui and bolstering the image of Africa and its importance to IS, there are two other important factors. First, that al-Baghdadi is trying to dispel the persistent rumors that al-Sahraoui has been killed by stating “we ask Allah that he may protect…our brother Aba al-Walid al-Sahraoui”, implying that he is still aliveSecond, that it comes amid other persistent rumors that the leader of ISWAP, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, has been relieved from leadership of the group. Taken together with ISGS merging with and possibly coming under ISWAP, this may serve as an indication that al-Sahraoui is now the leader of ISWAP, though this still remains unclear.

Since al-Baghdadi realizes that it will be difficult to rebuild his forces in Syria and Iraq in the coming months and possibly years, he wants to bolster IS’s strength in other parts of the world, something that has been evident for months as the group has been calling on its supporters to make “Hijra” (religious immigration) to countries other than Iraq and Syria. To serve this purpose, al-Baghdadi has to emphasize the importance of these other countries in order to attract more supporters to go there, as they are often perceived as less desirable destinations for jihad.

 Video hints at current organizational structure to underscore global outreach

The video concludes by al-Baghdadi reviewing 12 notebooks with the names of IS affiliates. These are, by order, Wilayat Iraq, Wilayat al-Sham (Syria), Wilayat Khorasan (Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran), Wilayat West Africa, Wilayat Sinai, Wilayat Libya, Wilayat Somalia, Wilayat Yemen, Wilayat Central Africa, Wilayat Caucasus, Tunisia, and Wilayat Turkey.

In IS’s terminology, “Wilaya” is a reference to a region in which a direct local affiliate purportedly has any of the following or a combination of them: territorial control, control over a population and at least a basic governmental structure. In this context, the fact that Tunisia did not have the Wilayat prefix (as has been the norm in IS claims thus far) is further indication that IS does not presume to have any of the above in the country, and that in their view Tunisia is currently strictly an area of attacks. Additionally, this is the first time an official reference was ever made to a “Wilayat Turkey”, whereas in IS attacks in the country, the last officially claimed one being the attack against a nightclub in Istanbul on New Years 2017, it was referred to only as “Turkey”. Despite the lack of overt IS offensive activity in Turkey, there is widespread logistical activity by the group in the country, with this gesture by al-Baghdadi denoting the strategic significance the country maintains in the group’s structure.

al-Baghdadi reviewing a notebook titled “Wilayat Turkey”

There are two other notebooks left at the feet of the companions, however their titles are not visible. At least three known IS affiliates: East Asia, Algeria, and (mainland) Egypt were missing from al-Baghdadi’s review. It is possible that any of the two, with East Asia being the highest likelihood given its overall success, are the two notebooks left by the companions, and that at least one of the two others are officially considered disbanded by the central leadership, most likely Algeria given its inactivity in recent years. That being said, it cannot be ruled out that the two other notebooks are of different regions that IS is trying to maintain a secret and therefore are not exposed.

Overall, the point of this staged scene is twofold. First, to underscore IS’s global operations and presence, and second, to project an image that the group still maintains a centralized command structure in which sub-organizations conduct operations in their regions but all report back and fall under the direct command of al-Baghdadi.

47 killed, 181 wounded in hostilities in Tripoli on April 7-9; LNA advances likely to become protracted – Libya Situation Update

Executive Summary

The latest hostilities in Tripoli come within the context of the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) Operation “Flood of Dignity”, aimed at eliminating local militias operating within the capital, and the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) counter-offensive, Operation “Volcano of Wrath”, aimed at preventing the LNA from taking control of the city and its surrounding areas.

Although, the LNA managed to swiftly take control of several areas west and south of Tripoli within the first three days of the launch of Operation “Flood of Dignity”, the unification of militias within Tripoli under the umbrella of the Tripoli Protection Force (TPF) will present the LNA with challenges in making further territorial advances within the capital.

The April 8-9 Islamic State (IS)-perpetrated attack in al-Fuqaha bolsters our previous assessment regarding the potential increase in threat of militancy in the country over the coming weeks and months, as militant group’s attempt to take advantage of the LNA and GNA-linked forces’ preoccupation in hostilities in northwestern Libya to ramp up their operations within the country, without the threat of being detected by security forces.

Overall, the security situation in Libya is likely to significantly deteriorate over the coming weeks and months. As the LNA’s Operation “Flood of Dignity” becomes protracted, as a result of strong defensive measures adopted by GNA-linked forces, it will be compelled to divert further troops from other parts of Libya towards Tripoli. This will allow IS to regroup in eastern and southern parts of Libya and increase the frequency of its operations over the coming weeks.

Current Situation

Across the country, the following incidents have been reported:

 

Fezzan Region

Date District/City Brief Description
March 28 Ghadduwah Islamic State (IS) claims killing of two Libyan “agents” and kidnapping of others in an attack.
April 2 Sebha Reports indicate that “heavy machine gunfire” was heard in downtown Sebha.
April 8 Murzuq Government of National Accord (GNA)-linked forces reportedly seize control of the Murzuq checkpoint from Libyan National Army (LNA) forces.

 

Misrata Environs

Date District/City Brief Description
April 1 Bani Walid A GNA team representing Libya’s Airports Authority inspected the Bani Walid Airport to reportedly prepare it to receive civil flights.

 

Jufra District

Date District/City Brief Description
April 8-9 al-Fuqaha IS militants reportedly entered the town of al-Fuqaha during the overnight hours of April 8-9 in 13-15 vehicles and cut off all communications to it. The militants also executed the head of the local council and of the municipal guard as well as burned down houses.
April 9 Sukhna GNA aircraft from Misrata reportedly conduct airstrikes against LNA positions in Sukhna. The LNA accused the GNA aircraft of targeting a civilian farm.

 

Sirte Basin

Date District/City Brief Description
April 1 Sirte Reports indicate that Sirte’s Gaddhafi tribe is demanding the departure of the Sirte Protection Force  following the reported killing of a member of the tribe by the latter.
April 1 Gate 50, east of Sirte GNA-linked forces reportedly reached “Gate 50” from Sultan, establishing a checkpoint in the area.

 

Tobruk Environs

Date District/City Brief Description
April 8 Susah, Tobruk The LNA reportedly discovered and dismantled IEDs in a vehicle in Tobruk. In Susah’s Sunday market, LNA forces dismantled an adhesive bomb on a car.

 

Tripoli Environs

Map # Date District/City Brief Description
March 30 Western Region LNA Field Marshal Khalifa Hafar appoints Abdulsalam al-Hassi as commander of the LNA’s Western Region Operations Room.
March 31 Tripoli The LNA confirms its readiness to enter Tripoli to eliminate militias and other armed groups.
April 1 Tripoli The Tripoli Protection Force (TPF) issues a statement confirming its participation in a meeting regarding the unification of armed forces in the region.
April 3 Tripoli The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) releases a communique denouncing the latest advancements by the LNA in areas south of Tripoli, stating that the government has ordered the general mobilization of all military, security, and police forces to prepare for a response to any attack on the capital.
1 April 4 Gharyan LNA Spokesperson Colonel Ahmed Mismari confirms the peaceful entrance of the LNA into Gharyan. LNA Commander of Western Region Operation Room, Abdulsalam al-Hassi announced that the LNA is in control of Gharyan.
April 4 Tripoli Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, denounced the current instability in a visit to Tripoli.
April 4 Tripoli Haftar announces the beginning of Operation “Flood of Dignity” to “liberate” Tripoli from the control of armed militias.
2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 April 4 Sabratha, Surman, al-Aziziya, As Sabiriya, Zawiya, al-Zahra area LNA captures the towns of Surman, al-Aziziya, As Sabria, Zawiya, and the al-Zahra area from GNA-linked militias.
8 April 4 Wadi al-Hira The LNA announces that its forces clashed with forces led by the GNA-appointed commander of the Western Military Region, Usama al-Juweili, in Wadi al-Hira.
9 April 4 Tripoli International Airport LNA declares control over non-operational Tripoli International Airport.
10 April 4 Janzour neighborhood, Tripoli LNA forces take control of western Tripoli’s Janzour neighborhood.
11 April 4-5 Sidi Bilal Naval Base The LNA landed several of its naval vessels at the Sidi Bilal Naval Base, located just west of Tripoli’s Janzour neighborhood, during the overnight hours of April 4-5.
April 4-5 Tripoli The Tripoli Protection Force (TPF) announces the launch of the second phase of Operation “Wadi al-Dom” against LNA forces during the overnight hours of April 4-5.
12 April 4-5 Gate 27, western entrance to Tripoli The TPF launched a counter-offensive against the LNA and was able to take back control of Gate 27, located at the western entrance to Tripoli. Gate 27 had been temporarily captured by LNA forces during the night hours of April 4.
13, 14, 15 April 5 Qasr Bin Ghashir, Wadi al-Rabee and Souq al-Khamis; Tripoli LNA seizes control of territory in Tripoli’s Qasr Bin Ghashir, Wadi al-Rabee, and Souq al-Khamis districts.
April 6 Western Libya Libyan Air Force (LAF) declares western Libya a “no–fly zone” and indicates that any military aircraft including those “conducting aerial photography” but “excluding commercial flights” identified in the area will be considered as a “hostile target”. The LNA added that the aircraft’s point of departure will also be deemed a legitimate target.
16, 17, 18 April 6 Sadiya, Ain Zara, Khallet al-Furjan; Tripoli LNA makes multiple territorial gains in Tripoli’s Sadiya, Ain Zara, and Khallet al-Furjan districts.
April 6 Wadi al-Rabee, Souq al-Khamis; Tripoli GNA conducts airstrikes against LNA positions in Tripoli’s Wadi al-Rabee and Souq al-Khamis districts.
April 6 al-Aziziyah, Gharyan GNA conducts airstrikes against LNA positions in al-Aziziyah and Gharyan.
April 7 Tripoli GNA announces launch of anti-LNA Operation “Volcano of Wrath”.  
April 7 Tripoli US Africa Command (AFRICOM) issues statement announcing the temporary relocation of a contingent of US troops supporting US AFRICOM due to the “security conditions on the ground”.
19 April 8 Mitiga International Airport LAF conducts airstrikes targeting the Mitiga International Airport.
April 8 Tripoli International Airport GNA-linked militias reportedly take back control of the Tripoli International Airport from the LNA.
20 April 8 Yarmouk Refugee Camp 29 LNA soldiers surrender to GNA-linked forces in the Yarmouk Refugee Camp.
April 8 Tripoli Italy begins to evacuate its troops from Tripoli.
April 8-9 Tripoli UN Special Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) evacuates its staff from Tripoli.
April 8 Tripoli GNA announces the closure of the air space over Tripoli. Misrata forces reportedly deploy air defense systems in the capital.
21 April 9 Salah al-Din District GNA-linked forces take control of several areas in Salah al-Din District after the withdrawal of LNA forces.
April 9 Warshefana District LAF conducts airstrikes against GNA positions.
April 9 Tripoli International Airport LAF conducts airstrikes against the GNA-held Tripoli International Airport.
April 9 Ash Shwayrif LAF conducts airstrikes against fuel trucks in Ash Shwayrif. The trucks were reportedly en route to the LNA-held Gharyan.

Political Developments

Date Brief Description
March 30 Libya held municipal elections in nine municipalities, which had a turnout of 40 percent of registered voters.
March 31 GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj called on Arab countries to agree on Libyan crisis during 30th Arab summit in Tunis.
March 31 A bilateral cooperation agreement was signed between the Atomic Energy Cooperation and The Libyan Center for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences.
April 2 Reports indicated that trade between Libya and Algeria has faced hurdles over the past days in light of the continued closure of the border between the two countries.

Assessments & Forecast

The latest developments in Tripoli come within the context of the LNA’s Operation “Flood of Dignity”, which is aimed at eliminating local militias operating within the capital, and the GNA’s counter-offensive, named Operation “Volcano of Wrath”, which is aimed at preventing the LNA from taking control of the city and its surrounding areas. The fact that the LNA managed to swiftly take control of several areas located west and south of the capital within a short span of time can be attributed to two main factors. First, the LNA had the advantage of surprise during the initial days of Operation “Flood of Dignity”. This allowed LNA forces to advance swiftly and take control of areas, such as Gharyan, Aziziyah, Surman, and Zawiya, without much resistance. This is particularly as this lack of time prevented the local militias who were in control of these towns to form any significant alliances to present a unified defense. Second, the local militias that were in control of the aforementioned towns are largely self-trained and lack the necessary resources required to withstand an offensive by the relatively better equipped and trained LNA troops. The LNA’s recent territorial gains against local militias in southern Libya likely prompted militias in northwestern Libya to concede territory to advancing LNA forces, in an effort to preserve the lives of their fighters and their respective cities’ infrastructure.

FORECAST: That said, while the LNA managed to make significant territorial gains within the first three days of the launch of Operation “Flood of Dignity” is not indicative of a similar positive momentum for LNA forces in the future. Areas within Tripoli are controlled by militias, such as the al-Radaa Deterrence Forces, the Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigade, and the Abu Salim Unit, which are unified under the umbrella organization of the Tripoli Protection Force (TPF). This will allow the TPF to present a stronger defense to advancing LNA forces, as already underlined by the fact that GNA-linked forces managed to reverse almost all the gains made by the LNA in the Qasr Bin Ghashir, Ain Zara, Salah al-Din, and Wadi al-Rabee districts on April 8-9. Moreover, recent reinforcements diverted by Misrata forces from Misrata towards Tripoli will allow the GNA to bolster its defenses within downtown Tripoli, further slowing down the LNA’s advances into the capital. Although, the LNA is likely to employ the use of heavy weaponry, such as tanks, mortar shelling, and airstrikes as cover for its ground troops, its forces are likely to refrain from making indiscriminate use of such a strategy as it will inevitably result in civilian collateral damage. A high civilian casualty count has the potential to significantly diminish Haftar’s increased international and national legitimacy.

The IS-perpetrated attack in al-Fuqaha bolsters our previous assessment that Sunni jihadist militant groups operating in Libya will likely attempt to take advantage of the LNA and the GNA-linked forces’ preoccupation in fighting each other in northwestern Libya to conduct attacks and potentially attempt to take control of territory in other parts of the country. IS has conducted several attacks in the al-Fuqaha area in the past, with the most notable one occurring during the overnight hours of October 28-29, 2018. The Sunni jihadist militant group’s known operational presence in the areas surrounding al-Fuqaha likely allowed it to quickly mobilize its fighters in the aftermath of the outbreak of hostilities near Tripoli and launch the latest attack. This is supported by the relatively low-scale of the attack, which indicates that it was likely planned and executed within a short span of time. FORECAST: The LNA will likely divert at least some troops and resources towards al-Fuqaha over the coming days in order to secure the town. These troops will likely be diverted from fronts other than Tripoli, in an effort to prevent the down-scaling of Operation “Flood of Dignity”. However, such a scenario is liable to leave other parts of eastern and southern Libya vulnerable to IS operations. Overall, the Sunni jihadist militant group will attempt to increase the frequency, symbolism, and scale of its attacks in Libya over the coming days and weeks.

Recommendations

It is advised to defer all travel to Tripoli and Benghazi at this time due to a recent uptick in 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.

For those remaining in Tripoli, we advise to avoid nonessential travel to the outskirts of the city, particularly the Janzour and Tajoura neighborhoods, as well as to the Mitiga and Tripoli International Airports, given that these are the focal points of ground clashes and airstrikes in the city.

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.

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.

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).

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

Prospects for Stability & Development in Libya – Libya Special Intelligence Report

This report was written by: Akshita Aggarwal – MAX Security’s Associate Director of Intelligence, Middle East & North Africa

And reviewed by: Tzahi Shraga – MAX Security’s Chief Intelligence Officer, ret. LTC from the Israeli intelligence community

Oded Berkowitz – MAX Security’s Deputy Chief Intelligence Officer

Executive Summary

Control over territory in Libya remains contested between the House of Representatives (HoR), the Government of National Accord (GNA), and tribal militias. As neither of these entities are willing to compromise upon their interests, the current political landscape in Libya will remain unstable.

Multiple militias with rival territorial, economic, political, and ideological interests operate in the country. As there is often no clear demarcation between their respective areas of influence, sporadic armed clashes between these groups will continue over the coming months.

Militant groups continue to take advantage of the lack of a unified security apparatus to operate across Libya. Although these groups currently do not have the ability to regain territorial control in the country, the sophistication and scale of their attacks will increase over the coming months.

The Libyan economy is largely dependent upon the oil industry. The ongoing political and security instability will continue to deprive the government of the ability to invest in development and infrastructure, as well as protect oil facilities from potential militant attacks.

Overall, the security environment in Libya remains extremely volatile and is set to further deteriorate in the foreseeable future.

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Background

Multiple political and armed actors are currently operating across Libya. In many cases, there is no clear territorial demarcation between their respective spheres of influence, and therefore, at times these tend to overlap. The fringes of these territories also provide a conducive environment for the proliferation of militant groups, such as the Islamic State (IS), as well as local and foreign criminal militias. Moreover, internal divisions exist even within seemingly cohesive political factions and armed units, due to differing interests and ideologies, which contribute to the already volatile security environment in the country.

The overarching geographical areas of control are as follows:

Western Libya: Largely under the control of militias aligned with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). However, the majority of these militias have rival economic and territorial interests, which often lead to hostilities between them.

Eastern Libya: Largely controlled by the House of Representatives (HoR) and its allied Libyan National Army (LNA).

Southern Libya: Largely ungoverned territory, with rival tribal militias in control of isolated towns and production facilities. Although the LNA managed to recently extend its influence over parts of southern Libya, tribal militias in control of the town hold shifting allegiances.

Main Actors & Interests

The Government of National Accord (GNA): The GNA is based out of the Tripoli Naval Base and is a product of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), signed in Skhirat, Morocco in December 2015. The LPA allows for the transition of the House of Representatives (HoR) and the General National Congress (GNC) into the GNA’s legislative body and advisory State Council, respectively. However, this transition was to be ratified by a special majority vote of the HoR within a period of one year, which was renewable only once. The HoR is yet to convene the needed quorum for this vote. On December 17, 2017, the Libyan National Army (LNA) Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar declared that “All bodies resulting from this agreement [LPA] automatically lose their legitimacy, which has been contested from the first day they took office.” Regardless, the GNA continues to be considered the “internationally recognized” government and enjoys the support of the UN. Its sphere of influence extends through western Libya, particularly in greater Tripoli and Misrata.

House of Representatives (HoR): The previously “internationally recognized” government, the HoR’s parliament is based in Tobruk and the executive branch in al-Bayda. Its sphere of influence is generally in eastern Libya, with some pockets of support in the west, particularly southwest of Tripoli. The HoR is currently supported politically, militarily, and economically by several countries, most prominent of whom are France, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt. While these countries generally recognize and support the LPA, they capitalize on the fact that the HoR has not ratified the agreement as a pretext to consider it as non-valid at this time, in order to continue supporting the HoR and not the GNA.

Other groups: Both the ungoverned and the governed areas of Libya are dominated by politics based on tribal, clan, and ethnic backgrounds, as well as place of residence and origin. It is not uncommon for cities that both support the same political body to be at odds due to historical or other rivalries among their residents. Similarly, militias from the same city who support the same political organ may have a strife over tribal or other rivalries.

Armed Groups

The GNA is currently almost completely reliant on local armed militias to exert influence over its territories. The most prominent GNA-linked militia are the Misrata forces, based out of the northwestern town of Misrata. Misrata forces also maintain their own air force, which was initially formed in 2015 as the Libya Dawn Air Force (LDAF), and later in 2016, aligned itself with the GNA. Misrata has very few operational pilots and aircraft, which were most recently operationally used in 2016 in hostilities against the LNA and the Islamic State (IS). Several other militias, like the al-Radaa Special Deterrence Forces, the Abu Salim Battalion, and the Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigade, are formally under the command of the GNA’s Ministry of Defense (MoD), and hold territorial control over different parts of Tripoli.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) and its allied militias are led by Supreme Commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The LNA is allied with the HoR, based out of Tobruk. It has a clearer command and control structure, with several commanders in charge of different battalions and areas of LNA-controlled territories. Although the majority of LNA forces are anti-Islamist, certain factions within the forces hold a Salafist ideology. Presently, the LNA’s main area of operations is in and around the Oil Crescent, Jufra District, Fezzan Region, Kufra District, Benghazi, Derna, and Tobruk. It also has some influence in areas southwest of Tripoli through their association with Zintan-based militias. The LNA also maintains an air force, the Libyan Air Force (LAF). LAF aircraft are used primarily to conduct aerial reconnaissance and airstrikes against militant and militia convoys in the Sirte Basin and Fezzan Region.

Tribal militias, mostly consisting of either Tebu or Tuareg ethnic tribes, control most of southern Libya, including Sebha. These tribes are at times supported by fellow tribesman from neighboring countries, such as Chad and Sudan. They hold shifting allegiances towards the various players in the country.

Islamist militant groups, such as the Islamic State (IS) as well as the al-Qaeda-linked Revolutionary Shura Council of Benghazi (RSCB), Derna Protection of Force (DPF), and Saraya Defend Benghazi (SDB), continue to operate across Libya. The IS and the SDB are currently the most prominent of these groups.

Political Stability

The efforts of the Head of the UN Special Mission to Libya (UNSMIL), Ghassan Salame, over the past year have at least partly prompted the HoR and the GNA to work towards unification of all institutions in the country and end the ongoing political stalemate. The HoR approved the referendum law on September 14, which allows for a referendum on Libya’s draft constitution. Subsequently, in November, the HoR successfully voted on a constitutional amendment, which legally validates the referendum law. It also divides the country into three constituencies – Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan. According to the amendment, the approval of the draft constitution would require an absolute majority vote in each region as well as a two-thirds majority vote nationwide. At the same time, the HoR approved the restructuring of the Presidential Council (PC), whose membership will now reduce from nine to three. It will now be consist of a President and two deputies, and a separate Prime Minister as the Head of the government.

Assessments & Forecast: Recent measures aimed at unifying political institutions unlikely to lead to nationwide elections

While on paper, the aforementioned developments portray that the GNA and the HoR have made substantial progress towards a nationwide election process and the unification of political institutions in the country, these measures have substantially tilted the scales in favor of the latter. Members of the GNA had previously opposed the amendment of Article 6 of the LPA, which divides Libya into three distinct constituencies as well as the restructuring of the PC. If the constitutional referendum does not pass, the current law assigns Cyrenaica with a veto power, which would essentially allow the HoR to activate an article of the referendum law that would pass on the responsibility of drafting the new constitution to the HoR, thus allowing the eastern-based government to alter Article 8 of the LPA.

Article 8 of the LPA has been a highly controversial point between the GNA and the HoR. This article excludes anyone with dual citizenship from holding either a political or military post in the country. LNA Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar holds both US and Libyan citizenship, and therefore, this will exclude him from Libya’s future political landscape. The HoR’s insistence on amending this article stems from the fact that it currently extends territorial influence over eastern Libya due to its alliance with the LNA. Moreover, the LNA is in control of much of Libya’s oil infrastructure, which has gained Haftar increasingly international legitimacy over the past year, as underlined by his inclusion in both the Paris Conference in May and the Palermo Conference in November.
FORECAST: These conditions provide the HoR with an upper hand in negotiations, and therefore, it is unlikely to concede to the GNA on any key issues pertaining to the country’s future. Such a scenario will provide France with significant influence over Libyan politics vis-a-vis its regional rival, Italy. Therefore, both countries will attempt to intervene in Libya in order to ensure a more favorable outcome for themselves. This, in conjunction with the lack of electoral infrastructure, will further delay the slated March 2019 nationwide election process. If and when elections do take place, the turnouts will be very low due to the inability of either the GNA or the HoR to provide the required security to secure electoral booths from the threat of militancy. Moreover, as Libya is based on tribal culture, with a council of elders responsible for governing each town, any federally constituted government will face resistance on the local level.

Threat of Militancy

Islamic State (IS): Although IS does not control any territory in Libya as of December 2016, it has managed to rebuild some of its capabilities in the country over the past year. Initially, the majority of IS attacks were directed against LNA checkpoints in the Sirte Basin and Jufra District, which mainly utilized vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs). Gradually, IS shifted towards conducting more sophisticated multi-pronged attacks against government infrastructure in western Libya. For example, IS claimed multi-pronged attacks against the Misrata Courts Complex on October 4, 2017, against the Tripoli Electoral Commission on May 2, 2018, and the National Oil Corporation (NOC) Headquarters in Tripoli on September 10, 2018. And finally, IS militants launched two large-scale attacks against the towns of al-Fuqaha, Jufra District, and Tazirbu, Kufra District, on October 28 and November 23, respectively.

Saraya Defend Benghazi (SDB): In June 2017, the SDB indicated its willingness to disband after Misrata forces refused to provide them refuge in the city of Misrata, following the former’s loss all its territories in the Jufra District to the LNA. While reports did indicate that SDB fighters were still operating in parts of western and southern Libya, the group remained dormant for approximately a year. However, in June 2018, SDB fighters, led by the former Petroleum Facilities’ Guard (PFG) commander Ibrahim al-Jathran, launched a large-scale attack against the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals, located in the Oil Crescent. However, following the LNA’s recapturing of the Oil Crescent, the group has again gone dormant and not launched any significant attacks in Libya.

Assessments & Forecast: Although militant groups unlikely to regain territorial control in Libya, the sophistication of their attacks is likely to increase

Several factors have allowed militant groups to regain part of their ranks and capabilities in Libya over the past year. First, militants either planning to go fight for IS in Syria or Iraq, or fleeing the group’s territorial losses in these countries, view Libya as an alternative arena for their activity, and therefore have bolstered the ranks of the Sunni jihadist militant group in the country. Second, the LNA’s preoccupation in hostilities in other parts of the country, such as in Benghazi, Sebha, Derna, and the Sirte Basin, over the past year likely allowed militants to regroup in southern Libya, which remains largely controlled by tribal militias, without being detected by security forces. Third, widespread cross-border smuggling of weapons and fighters across Libya’s southern borders with Sudan and Chad, likely allowed both IS and the SDB to reinforce their offensive capabilities.

While both groups continue to remain interested in destabilizing the security environment in the country, neither of the groups currently maintain the ability to regain a territorial foothold in Libya. However, they do have the capability to launch attacks against more high-value targets, such as government offices, oil, and other infrastructure, in Libya. The lack of sufficient security protocols around these facilities allows the groups’ fighters to circumvent existing measures to gain access to their interiors. Such attacks allow militant groups to not only project their heightened capabilities to attract support and recruits, but also deprive the authorities of the necessary revenues to invest in their counter-militancy campaign. Aside from this, IS’s particularly increased focus on attacking towns in southern Libya are part of an attempt by the group intimidate locals and gain ransom from kidnappings at the same time. Overall, all these efforts are directed towards further destabilizing the security environment in the country, with the ultimate aim of expanding influence and re-establishing a territorial foothold.
FORECAST: Despite efforts by both the LNA and GNA-linked militias to dislodge militancy from the country, both IS and the SDB will continue to utilize the vast desert terrain of southern Libya as well as the fringes between GNA and LNA-held territories to regroup and rebuild their capabilities. They will the use these bases as launchpads for further attacks against government and security installations. The sophistication of these attacks may gradually increase as the militant groups attempt to launch more symbolic operations. The lack of a unified security apparatus, combined with insufficient military equipment and training, will overstretch the LNA and local militias, which will continue to hinder their ability to effectively combat this threat of rising militancy in Libya.

Economic Stability

The Libyan economy is largely dependent upon the export of oil. Oil production facilities are operated by foreign companies, with permission from the National Oil Corporation (NOC), based in Tripoli. The oil revenues then accrue to the Central Bank of Libya (CBL), based in Tripoli, which then distributes the revenue to the GNA, the HoR, the LNA, and GNA-aligned militias.

Assessments & Forecast: Political divisions, security volatility, global oil prices unlikely to significantly increase government revenues

Tensions have persisted between the GNA and the HoR regarding control have over Libya’s monetary policy and revenues, which prompted both parties to form parallel central banks based in Tripoli and al-Bayda in 2014. After retaking control of the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals from the SDB in June 2018, Haftar decided to hand over control of revenue from these oil terminals to the eastern-based NOC. However, in 2017, when PFG commander Ibrahim al-Jadhran temporarily took control of the Oil Crescent and attempted to directly sell the oil from these facilities on the international market, European countries imposed an embargo on this oil. They further stated that only oil bought from the Tripoli-based NOC would be considered as legal. Therefore, Haftar’s decision was likely prompted by an attempt to not undermine the Tripoli-based NOC, whose head Mustafa Sanalla, is popular both among the GNA and the HoR, but rather to force the GNA to replace the CBL head, Sadiq al-Kabir, whom the LNA considers as corrupt and illegitimate. This is supported by the fact that Haftar eventually agreed to hand over control of revenue from the oil terminals back to the Tripoli-based NOC on July 10. The underlines the divisions instability arising from the bipolarity between the country’s economic institutions.The widespread threat of militancy, as well as militia activity, poses a further threat to oil infrastructure in the country. The majority of these facilities are secured by local militias who have their own interests in mind.

Therefore, they often utilize these facilities as bargaining chips in their negotiations with the GNA. For example, in recent weeks, a movement under the name “Anger of Fezzan” threatened the Sharara Oil Field if their demands for development in southern Libya were not met. Moreover, the militiamen who are in charge of securing oil fields are neither well-equipped nor well-trained, and therefore are usually incapable of protecting these facilities from a well-executed attack. Oil pipelines in the country tend to run across territories held by different militias with rival interests which pose a further threat to business continuity. This, combined with the instability of global oil prices, makes Libya’s economy highly unpredictable and unstable for the foreseeable future.
FORECAST: As the aforementioned political and security issues will persist for the foreseeable future, Libya’s economy is unlikely to witness any form of stability. This will adversely impact the GNA’s already declining popularity in the country. July witnessed widespread anti-GNA protests in Tripoli and its surroundings over the UN-backed government’s inability to provide locals with water and electricity. These eventually provided local militias with conditions conducive to launch an assault against each other in order to advance their personal territorial interests, thereby sparking large-scale inter-militia hostilities in the designated capital. Therefore, an unstable economy will lead to civil unrest in the future, which, in turn, will increase the threat posed by militant groups and armed militias.

Infrastructure & Development

Political, security, and economic stability have a direct impact on the prospects for infrastructure and development.

Assessments & Forecast: Economic, political, security instability to prevent the government from investing in development, infrastructure

The lack of sufficient revenue has denied the GNA and the LNA with the ability to invest in development and infrastructure. Airports in Libya are generally controlled by local militia groups, who are under-trained and under-equipped to employ proper security protocols for air travel. This includes the lack of a secure perimeter around airports, which allows militias and militant groups to use weapons of relatively lower sophistication to target these facilities. This is highlighted by the frequent mortar shelling of the Mitiga International Airport as a result of inter-militia hostilities in Tripoli. The GNA has also been unable to reopen the Tripoli International Airport as militias frequently attempt to take control of the facility from their rivals. Aside from attacks, service disruptions at airports remain frequent due to staff strikes, particularly over unpaid salaries. This is due to the lack of sufficient funds under the control of the GNA, as it depends largely on the country’s oil reserves.

Commercial ports are also susceptible to attacks, as underscored by the temporary shut down of the Tripoli Seaport on October 17, 2017, due to clashes between GNA-linked militias near the facility. The majority of the country’s seaports are located in northwestern Libya. The Libyan Coastguard has frequently intercepted foreign vessels off the coast of northwest Libya on suspicions of illegal smuggling activity, as local militias in the area have been known to disguise as GNA officials to sell oil and fund their operations. With regards to seaports in eastern Libya, the LNA has been unable to fully operationalize the Benghazi and Derna ports following their capture from militants in June 2017 and May 2018, respectively. Moreover, the LNA Navy has designated Libyan territorial waters off the coast of Benghazi as a “no-sail” zone (until al-Tamimi, 280 km east of Benghazi), and therefore entering it requires prior authorization. This is particularly important as vessels that do not obtain such authorization and escort from the LNA Navy are automatically suspected of carrying support for militants, and may be intercepted or even targeted by airstrikes.
FORECAST: The lack of revenues will prevent the GNA and the LNA from substantially raising security protocols at infrastructural facilities in Libya. This will make such facilities an easy target for attacks by militant groups as well as militias. Militias operating in Tripoli and its environs will continue to attempt to seize control of vital airports and seaports in order to increase their negotiating power vis-a-vis their rivals. This will have an adverse impact upon operations at these facilities, even when militias try not to directly target them.

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.

For those remaining in Tripoli, we advise avoiding nonessential travel to the outskirts of the city, particularly the Janzour and Tajoura neighborhoods, as well as to the Mitiga and Tripoli International Airports, given that these are focal points of ground clashes in the city.

Avoid all nighttime travel, including to and from the airport, due to the elevated risk for militant attacks, clashes, and acts of unrest during this time.

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.

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.

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).
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.

Avoid the immediate vicinity of government buildings, police stations, media outlet offices, and political party and militia headquarters, given that these locales have been targeted by militia groups in the past and recently by militants, and thus remain at increased risk for violence and unrest.

Westerners, particularly US citizens, operating in Libya are advised to maintain a low profile and exercise heightened vigilance in light of prevailing anti-Western sentiment and increasing attacks against foreigners.

Nationwide, take precautions to mitigate the risk of being targeted for kidnapping. Refrain from travelling in luxury vehicles and maintain a generally low profile. Routinely alter travel routes and refrain from divulging sensitive itinerary information to strangers.

 

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IS attack against Tazirbu police station on November 23 indicative of increase in militant group’s ranks, capabilities in Libya – Libya Analysis

Executive Summary

The modus operandi of the November 23 attack against the Tazirbu police station is very similar to the October 28-29 Islamic State (IS)-claimed attack against a police station in al-Fuqaha, Jufra District. The scale of these attacks, combined with the short time span within which they occurred make them highly noteworthy.

This shift in IS strategy from localized small-scale attacks across Libyan territory towards more focused large-scale attacks against towns in southern Libya, which witness lower security presence, indicates that the militant group has to some degree managed to reinforce its ranks as well as rebuild its capabilities over the past year.

Similar to the al-Fuqaha attack, IS militants kidnapped ten people, including government officials and security personnel from Tazirbu. IS’ increased focus on kidnappings can be attributed to its interest in using the abductees as bargaining chips for ransom. This would allow the group to replenish its revenues, purchase supplies and weaponry, and ramp up its operations in Libya.

We advised against all travel to the southern outlying areas of Libya at this time due to the general lack of governance and security protocols in this region, which makes it conducive for militant activity and attractive targets for attacks.

Current Situation

According to reports, suspected IS militants aboard ten armed vehicles launched an attack targeting a police station in Tazirbu, located in the Kufra District, during the night hours of November 23.
At least nine civilians and policemen were killed, and 15 were wounded as a result of the attack.
Reports further indicate that the militants kidnapped at least ten people, including the Mayor of Tazirbu and a member of the municipal council, and fled the scene.
The Libyan National Army (LNA) has diverted forces from other parts of Kufra District towards the town of Tazirbu to secure it.

Assessments & Forecast

The modus operandi, target, and location of the attack suggest that it was carried out by IS militants. The Sunni jihadist militant group recently conducted a very similar attack against the al-Fuqaha police station, located in the Jufra District, during the overnight hours of October 28-29. The scale of these two attacks, along with the short time span within which they occured make them highly noteworthy. In the time period between IS’ complete loss of territories in Libya in December 2016 and October 2018, the majority of the militant group’s attacks had been relatively small-scale as well as spread out over a long period of time and territory. The majority of these attacks utilized suicide vehicle-borne IEDs (SVBIEDs) against security checkpoints or small-scale raids against police stations. For instance, the July 24 raid against the al-Uqaylah police station killed two LNA soldiers and wounded three others, while the June 2 raid against the al-Qunan police station killed one civilian and wounded five others.

Over the past year, IS was likely operating in groups of 10-12 fighters in the country. This allowed its militants to avoid attracting security forces’ attention and move relatively undetected across a larger swathe of territory. The lack of sufficient personnel and weaponry may have compelled IS to operate in this manner, which, in turn, had an impact upon their ability to launch larger-scale attacks. The recent attacks in al-Fuqaha and Tazirbu may indicate that IS has managed to bolster its ranks, partly through militants fleeing the group’s territorial losses in Syria and Iraq and partly through new recruits who now consider Libya as a more attractive arena. This has allowed IS to concentrate its forces towards launching larger-scale attacks against entire towns, rather than just security checkpoints or isolated government infrastructure, for example, in Tripoli in May and September as well as in Misrata in October 2017.

While, on the one hand, this indicates that IS has managed to rebuild its capabilities in Libya to some degree since its loss of territories to Misrata forces in December 2016, the location of the recent attacks suggest that these capabilities are still limited. Although al-Fuqaha and Tazirbu are both located within LNA-held territories, the towns witness relatively lower security presence as compared to areas located further north in the Sirte Basin and the Oil Crescent. The security forces of southern towns are largely comprised of local militias, who maintain small armed fighting units that are neither well-equipped nor well-trained. Therefore, it is possible that IS decided to focus its efforts in southern Libya, as this would increase the militant group’s chances of success.

As witnessed in the attack on the al-Fuqaha police station, the focus on conducting kidnapping of government officials and security forces stands out in the recent incident. Unconfirmed reports from November 10 indicated that IS is seeking to negotiate the release of four out of the ten hostages abducted in the attack on al-Fuqaha. If confirmed, this would suggest that through such kidnappings-for-ransom, the Sunni jihadist militant group is aiming to replenish its revenues, which, in turn, would allow it to purchase supplies and weaponry to ramp up its operations in Libya. This would also explain the recent kidnapping of the Mayor of Tazirbu, who by the prerogative of his position within society would demand a higher ransom. Aside from the ransom, such an abduction allows IS to project the Libyan authorities as incapable of securing its own civilians, thereby allowing the group to showcase its relatively higher capabilities.
FORECAST: IS will claim responsibility for the attack over the coming hours, as its scale will allow the militant group to significantly raise its profile in Libya. Meanwhile, the LNA will divert forces towards Tazirbu in order to secure the town over the coming hours and days. It will increase security protocols in Kufra District, which may include increased security checkpoints along main roads. The LNA may also tighten security along Libya’s southern borders with Sudan and Chad, as the porosity of these borders allows militant organizations to engage in the cross-border movement of fighters, supplies, and weaponry. While this may facilitate LNA forces in gathering vital intelligence and intercepting IS convoys, it will also provide the militant group with additional targets for attacks. On a more strategic level, the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) may utilize this attack to highlight the LNA’s inability to secure its held territories and attempt to leverage this in its political negotiations with the latter.

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.

For those remaining in Tripoli, we advise to avoid nonessential travel to the outskirts of the city, particularly the Janzour and Tajoura neighborhoods, as well as to the Mitiga and Tripoli International Airports, given that these are focal points of ground clashes in the city.

Avoid the immediate vicinity of government buildings, police stations, media outlet offices, and political party and militia headquarters, given that these locales have been targeted by militia groups in the past and recently by militants, and thus remain at increased risk for violence and unrest.

We advised against all travel to the southern outlying areas of Libya at this time due to the general lack of governance and security protocols in this region, which makes it conducive for militant activity and attractive targets for attacks.

Westerners, particularly US citizens, operating in Libya are advised to maintain a low profile and exercise heightened vigilance in light of prevailing anti-Western sentiment and increasing attacks against foreigners.

Nationwide, take precautions to mitigate the risk of being targeted for kidnapping. Refrain from traveling in luxury vehicles and maintain a generally low profile. Routinely alter travel routes and refrain from divulging sensitive itinerary information to strangers.

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.

Barcelona stabbing, one year after La Rambla attack, underscores continuing link between psychological instability and militant style attacks – Spain Analysis

Current Situation

On August 20, around 05:00 (local time), an individual armed with a knife reportedly attempted to enter a police station in Cornella de Llobregat, Barcelona and attack personnel, while shouting “Allahu Akbar”, before being shot dead. Reports indicate that the attacker was of Algerian origin and had lived in the area for several years.

The incident is reportedly being treated as a militant attack by authorities. However, police have claimed that they have no reason to believe that there are any direct links to major militant networks or that the assailant was connected to the cell that carried out the Barcelona attacks one year earlier. In addition, the testimony of his ex-wife indicated that the attacker had recently come out as homosexual, and was reportedly experiencing serious psychological instability and was suicidal due to confusion over how this could fit in with his Muslim faith. Some sources within the investigation have claimed that they do not believe the attack to be linked to jihad.

On August 16, a pro-Islamic State (IS) group published a poster on social media calling for attacks targeting police in Spain in both English and Spanish.

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Background

The August 20 attack is the latest in a series of violent or militant-related incidents involving North Africans or individuals of North African origins in south and south-west Europe over the past year.

In addition, on July 22, a 29-year old Canadian national of Pakistani origin, Faisal Hussain, killed two and injured three in a shooting in Greektown, Toronto. Hussain was allegedly also known to have had a history of psychological instability and had reportedly expressed concerns about his employment and financial situation to a friend prior to the incident. On July 25, the Islamic State (IS)-linked media outlet, al Amaq, reported that the attack was carried out by a soldier of the Caliphate in response to their call to target citizens of coalition nations.

Assessments

Attack on police station underscores growing trend of violence copying Islamic State methods among psychologically unstable Muslim males

Despite claims that the attacker had a number of problems in his personal life, the possibility of links to wider militant trends cannot be ruled out. On the contrary, the fact that the attacker shouted “Allahu Akbar” and carried out the attack on the specific target that pro-IS groups had called for four days prior indicates that, even though he was likely not linked to any established militant cell, broader ideas of jihad informed part of his motivation. That is to say, while he may not have been looking to aid the goals of the Islamic State or avenge the deaths of Muslims, it is likely that, within his psychological instability, when thoughts of suicide arose, the concept of carrying out a jihadist attack was seen as a viable method. Possibly copying previous ‘suicide by cop’ attacks, in which the perpetrator intends to be killed by security forces. This assessment is further bolstered by the reports that his confusion over homosexuality was, in part, caused by an uncertainty about how it fit in with Islam.

With this in mind, the incident comes amid a continuing trend of psychologically unstable individuals, most of whom are migrants who adhere to the Muslim faith, carrying out attacks that mimic IS-inspired lone wolf incidents. Such attacks tend to be conducted by young males with mental health issues, who are, in part, influenced by the concept of jihadist militancy as a form of anti-establishment violence that has entered the West’s collective consciousness. Psychologically unstable individuals, and immigrants who perceive themselves to be disenfranchised and socially isolated from their community, whether it’s the Muslim or wider community, are copying IS-methods of attacks. In this sense, the media coverage of the various IS shootings and the general global trend of young men using mass violence as an outlet for frustration and disenfranchisement have merged.

Regardless of the psychological issues of the attacker, the fact that the incident came following the call from pro-IS groups means that online jihadist communities, and even Islamic State-linked media organizations, are likely to attribute the event to part of their ideology and larger plan. This is especially the case given the timing of the incident around the anniversary of the August 2017 attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils. In turn, this will perpetuate the aforementioned trend merging psychological instability and attacks that appear to be militant in nature.

Finally, the August 20 attack in Barcelona constitutes the latest in an ongoing trend of incidents related to violent attacks linked to Islamism from within the local North African community in north-eastern Spain and southern France. IS and IS-linked operatives have put a particular emphasis on recruiting in the region, due to the fertile ground for radicalization born from the feelings of disenfranchisement in both the established North African community and among North African migrants. These sentiments, which come partly due to perceptions of otherness within Spanish society and partly due to pressures put on from the local community, have the potential to lead young men towards violence, sometimes personally and sometimes linked to a militant organization.

Recommendations

Travel to Spain can continue while maintaining vigilance, due to the elevated threat of militancy.