Tag Archives: militancy

Security situation in J&K to remain volatile for foreseeable future over change in region’s status – India & Pakistan Analysis

Executive Summary

Following the Indian government’s decision to change the status of Jammu & Kashmir, violent protests were recorded in Srinagar and other parts of the region while Pakistan undertook a set of diplomatic measures to protest the developments.

Militant propaganda on the issue will likely see an uptick in the coming days, with an associated risk of sporadic, low-intensity plots. Levels of civil unrest in Kashmir Valley are also expected to rise in tandem.

The situation along the Line of Control and the International Border separating the two countries is likely to remain tense over the coming weeks amid increased ceasefire violations and militant intrusions into Indian territory.

We advise against all travel to Jammu and Kashmir State, with the exception of Jammu and Srinagar cities. Avoid nonessential travel to Jammu and Srinagar at present due to the high tensions over the change in J&K’s status.

Current Situation

On August 5, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government initiated a legislation to change the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), while a Presidential Order was signed that effectively nullified Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution which provided the basis for these status privileges. Communication conduits, including internet access, were restricted over the next few days, resulting in an information blackout in the area.

The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill was passed in both Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament between August 5-6. Pakistan protested the perceived “illegal move” and downgraded diplomatic ties with India on August 7, while suspending all bilateral trade. It further vowed to seek the intervention of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and take the matter to the International Court of Justice. It also expelled the Indian High Commissioner from Islamabad and closed one corridor of its airspace near its eastern border with India.

Key Constitutional & Legilative Issues in J&K Status Change

Bolstered security protocols have been reported since August 5 in J&K, particularly in Srinagar and the Kashmir Valley region. Violent protests over the changed status of the region have been intermittently recorded, most notably in Srinagar’s Soura area on August 9, when tear gas and pellet guns were allegedly used against approximately 10,000 protesters. Similar violent protests were also reported on August 23.

On August 27, Pakistani security forces reportedly targeted Indian positions in J&K’s Poonch sector, representing the most recent set of ceasefire violations which saw an overall uptick since the end of July.

Assessments & Forecast

Political Aspects of Change in Status of J&K

The BJP-led government’s introduction of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill, as well as its cancelation of the applicability of Article 370, is a culmination of longstanding calls for the measure within the party as well as other political groups with similar right-wing nationalist leanings. Its smooth facilitation points to the BJP’s strong floor management in the Upper House of Parliament, where the party is in the minority. The passage of similar legislations prior to the J&K bill, such as the RTI Amendment Bill, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Amendment Bill, served to improve the party’s harmonization with likeminded allies outside of its National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Parties such as the YSR Congress from Andhra Pradesh and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) appear to be increasingly in step with the BJP’s recent moves, thus bolstering the party’s legislative sway.

The palpable but limited response from opposition parties is likely to due to multiple factors. To begin with, there is a seeming lack of unity among vocally anti-BJP opposition parties on the issue, and this has resulted in multiple, contradicting voices. Examples of this include the Aam Aadmi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Telugu Desam Party, which supported the change in J&K’s status, while others such as the Indian National Congress (INC), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and All India Trinamool Congress criticized the move. An effective response has been diminished by post-electoral disarray within some of the major opposition parties, such as the INC. The party has opposed the nature of security measures in the state, with former party president Rahul Gandhi and his colleagues in the opposition being turned back from Srinagar when attempting to visit the state. However, the party’s opposition to the manner in which the status changed occurred, and not against the change itself, will be viewed as politically-motivated and is unlikely to elicit significant support. A similar anti-incumbent stance from the Janata Dal United (JDU) is liable to strain relations between the party and its occasional ally, the BJP, ahead of the 2020 Bihar elections.

FORECAST: Over the coming weeks and months, activist groups and political parties will increasingly seek to challenge the change in the status of J&K through legal means, especially by seeking court orders against bans on their travel to the state. Protests in major cities are liable to continue at their current sporadic levels, largely carried out by left-wing parties such as the Communist Party of India – Marxist Leninist (CPI-ML) as well as Kashmir solidarity campaign lobbies. There continues to be an elevated risk of counter-protests by right-wing nationalist groups and an associated risk of violence. Law enforcement is also liable to be less accommodative of mass protests over the issue, especially if taking place near major government buildings or sensitive installations of this nature. General activism over the issue can be expected to rise closer to the Supreme Court hearing in October on pending petitions regarding Kashmir.

Civil Unrest in J&K

FORECAST: In the immediate term, there is a high threat of civil unrest in the Kashmir Valley, particularly in Srinagar. As restrictions on internet and telecommunications are gradually being rolled back, the capability for mobilization both among separatist parties as well as disaffected locals has increased. As indicated by protests on August 23, security force responses will include stringent dispersals, with a greater likelihood of mass rallies after Friday prayers. At-risk areas in Srinagar include Jamia Masjid and the general Nowhatta area, Rainawari, Bemina, Batamaloo, and particularly Soura, where residents have intermittently mobilized in large numbers in recent weeks.

Jammu also remains a hotspot for inter-religious tensions, as was witnessed earlier this year during riots in February over the suicide vehicle-borne IED attack against a security convoy in Pulwama area of south Kashmir. Areas in the old city such as Gujjar Nagar, Kharika Talav, Jewel Chowk, Bathindi, and Shaheedi Chowk are particularly sensitive, with a propensity for clashes between Hindu and Muslim communities, as well as attacks on Kashmiri-owned businesses. Meanwhile, Ladakh has seen far fewer tensions over the bifurcation, largely due to agreement with the move among its Buddhist-majority demographic. That said, Shiite organizations in Kargil have caused shutdown protests in recent weeks, with the lack of a state legislature in the newly-formed Ladakh to be an added point of contention. While the situation is not as volatile as the unrest in Kashmir Valley, rallies can be expected to continue in Kargil, Drass, and Sankoo, with a risk of forcible police dispersals and clashes.

Potential Hopspots of Unrest in Srinagar

Militancy in Kashmir Valley

Overall, militant activity has been limited in scope since the imposition of high-security measures and restrictions on communications in the state.  FORECAST: However, statements by militant leaders such as Riyaz Naikoo of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) and Masood Azhar of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) presage a growing long-term operational focus on stepping up plots in Kashmir Valley. Such plots will likely be constrained in the immediate term due to the additional troop deployments and generally enhanced security vigilance, but isolated shootings and grenade-lobbing incidents against security forces and government functionaries remain likely over the coming weeks and months.

A more pronounced propaganda push can be expected by the United Jihad Council (UJC), the umbrella group of separatist militant outfits in Kashmir, in order to increase recruitment on the back of widespread local disaffection. This is particularly expected in south Kashmir hotspots such as Pulwama, Anantnag, and Shopian. Transnational jihadist interests such as the al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Ghazwatul Hind (AGH) will also seek to tap into discontent among youth sections at this critical juncture. These groups will likely paint the bifurcation of J&K as a result of the Kashmiri political movement’s failure and will present mobilization on sectarian and Islamist lines as an alternative. Given that the government’s decision has polarized the narrative surrounding Kashmir, this tactic is liable to bear fruit for more radical entities like Islamic State Hind Province (ISHP), with recruitment numbers likely to go up. This is likely given that many see jihadist ideals and the separatist militancy as related constituents of broader resistance movements against Delhi’s perceived encroachment.

Inter-State Armed Conflict & Ceasefire Violations

FORECAST: Over the coming weeks, localized escalations will continue along the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB), as has been witnessed in recent weeks. From Pakistan, shallow raids into Indian territory by members of Border Action Teams (BATs), comprising special operations forces and mujahideen, are foreseeable. This was witnessed in a foiled attack by a BAT team in Keran sector of India’s Kupwara District in early August. This is likely driven by a strategy of depleting the morale of Indian security forces by targeting isolated posts, despite the broader positional advantage held by Indian forces in areas north of the Pir Panjal Range like Keran, Tithwal, and Tangdhar.

Such efforts may also aid infiltration attempts into Indian territory by groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), especially in areas such as Gurez sector inBandipora, Machil sector in Kupwara, and Uri sector in Baramulla. As of writing, sources indicate that the Pakistan Army has deployed over 100 Special Services Group (SSG) commandos along the LoC. Considering BAT teams are generally led by SSG elements, this speaks to the threat of skirmishes in the forward areas over the coming days.

FORECAST: The current pace of ceasefire violations is also likely to be sustained, particularly in areas south of the Pir Panjal range, including the Krishna Ghati sector in Poonch. This will likely be motivated by a desire to inflict casualties on Indian forces through small-sized tactical escalations, while also providing cover fire for infiltrating sub-groups of militants, although infiltrations south of the Pir Panjal remain a rare occurrence. Similar violations are also likely at locations situated north of the Pir Panjal including Baramulla. Escalations will likely be defined by small-arms and mortar fire, as well as the occasional use of anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and artillery guns. These altercations may spike closer to October 31, when J&K will be officially bifurcated into two distinct territories.

In the context of the reported repopulation of militant launchpads and deployment of SSG commandos, there is also a latent possibility of more assertive actions from the Indian military in the near future, especially in order to check the movement of militants across the LoC and IB. This may take the form of cross-border raids on suspected militant launchpads in known hotspots like Leepa Valley. However, such engagements will be limited in scope and carefully calibrated to avoid a major escalation of armed conflict as was witnessed in late February after the airstrikes in Balakot, Pakistan. Specifically, cross-border actions may include raids on launchpads by Ghatak commandos, or crack teams representing each infantry battalion. This is given that these units have a better sense of the terrain and loopholes in Pakistani defenses due to their extended deployment in their respective operational areas. These elements, alongside special forces teams, are also expected to undertake counter-actions against BAT teams in mined areas along the LoC.

Locations of Reported Border Security Incidents Along LOC

Outlook for Diplomatic Actions & Geopolitical Impact of Move

Pakistan’s response is largely representative of its attempts to control the narrative surrounding J&K while showing solidarity with disaffected sections of Kashmiri society. The cutting of diplomatic ties is particularly significant given that the last expulsion of envoys from either nation was in 2002 after a militant attack on the Indian Parliament by Pakistan-based groups. Islamabad has attempted to keep the Kashmir issue alive in multilateral forums like the UN, including by calling for an emergency UN Security Council meeting on August 16 and by petitioning the UN Human Rights Council on August 27.

This is likely an attempt to turn international opinion against India on matters such as alleged abuses by the security forces in Kashmir. This appears to be informed by concerns that its claim on disputed parts of the territory will be even less credible in the event that Delhi’s control on Kashmir is made permanent and separatist voices are rejected. Despite its attempts to draw multilateral diplomatic intervention in the issue, Pakistan’s campaign is unlikely to develop the requisite support within the international community to force India to roll back its current moves on J&K.

Islamabad likely sees the US as a trusted neutral party, especially following Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the US in July and President Donald Trump’s offer to intercede in the conflict with India. However, Washington will be wary of overextending itself in this currently tense scenario, as it seeks to balance its relations with both countries. This is particularly given the US’ broader geopolitical considerations, including growing economic engagement with India. Meanwhile, Russia’s August 28 declaration affirming Kashmir to be India’s internal matter may be seen as another blow to Pakistan’s prospects.

FORECAST: Failure to achieve concrete results on the international front may spur greater frustration domestically with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, prompting protest campaigns from hardliner religious parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). Opposition groups such as the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) may also stage protests to undermine Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ability to manage the current conflict. Local perceptions that the UN or the US have failed to intervene substantially may also result in a slightly elevated anti-Western sentiment during such protests.

On the other hand, China is likely to continue backing Pakistan’s claim regarding the perceived illegality of the change in the status of J&K, as suggested by its lobbying in diplomatic circles. This is driven by the fact that 6,000 square km of the broader Kashmir region lies in its territory, with pending disputes existing over several other areas in parts like Ladakh. Beijing’s focus on Kashmir was recently illustrated by joint air force exercises with Pakistan at a location 300 km north of Leh in the Ladakh region. That said, the on-ground impact of China’s support for Pakistan on Kashmir will likely be minimal and is unlikely to affect the security situation. While the UK seemed to back China’s request for meetings on the issue, this does not necessarily reflect its definitive stance on Kashmir and may be viewed as an attempt to placate its sizable domestic constituency of individuals of Pakistani descent. This may also have been a bid to bridge prevailing differences between China and the UK on the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.

Recommendations:

Travel to Delhi and other major Indian cities can continue, while travelers are advised to maintain vigilance for security risks associated with frequent, large demonstrations as well as potential militant threats targeting government buildings, security installations, large crowded public places, or religious sites.

We advise against all travel to Jammu and Kashmir, with the exception of Jammu and Srinagar cities. Avoid all travel to border areas along the LoC due to the risk of conflict and armed exchanges.

Avoid nonessential travel to Jammu and Srinagar at present due to the high tensions over the change in J&K’s status. Travel to Ladakh can continue, while maintaining heightened vigilance in Kargil and reconfirming authorities’ updates on travel conditions.

Avoid the vicinity of all protests over the J&K issue in major cities across India due to the latent risk of police action or counter-protests.

 

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

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

IS pledge video consistent with group’s decentralization into newer territories, will spur state crackdown – Azerbaijan Analysis

Executive Summary

A recent propaganda series from Islamic State (IS) included a pledge video from Azerbaijan to the group’s leader on July 2.

While the capabilities of IS-inspired cells in Azerbaijan are limited, there is a potential that this video may sustain increased online messaging among disaffected Sunni youth, with the latent chance of culminating in lone-wolf attacks by sympathizers.

The government will step up its crackdown on potential radicalization, particularly in the country’s north, on unlicensed Islamic schools nationwide, and step up its monitoring of social media.

Travel to Azerbaijan can continue while maintaining vigilance due to the latent risk of crime and militancy. 

Please be advised

Islamic State (IS) media released a video as part of its “The Best Outcome is for the Righteous” series on July 2. The video features three individuals believed to be from Azerbaijan pledging allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi while calling on Muslims in the country to stage attacks.

In the video, the main speaker is identified as “Shaykh” Abu Yusuf al-Azeri. The individual provides an exposition of selected passages from the Hadith denouncing polytheism and calling for revenge for the alleged killing of Muslims.

In 2017, Azerbaijani State Security indicated that at least 900 citizens had traveled abroad and joined militant groups in Syria and Iraq. At least 250 have returned since, per independent estimates. State security officials also indicated in 2018 that dozens of Azerbaijanis have joined militant groups in the North Caucasus, while the number of those traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan for the same purpose stands at 300.

Assessments

Video consistent with IS’ decentralization efforts, utilizing local appeal to push global message

The video gains significance when compared to the low frequency of official IS propaganda released involving Azerbaijan as the group’s on-ground presence in the country has been considerably muted. Given that it is the sixth in an ongoing series from the group’s affiliates across the globe, it stands to reason that this release is part of efforts by IS Central to increase propaganda in newer territories. This trend has grown since the release of a video featuring al-Baghdadi for the first time in five years in April. In Asia, the group’s recent declaration of Wilayats, or provinces, in India and Pakistan is consistent with these decentralization efforts. The media release is further notable as it is the only video in the series thus far which is not dedicated to a Wilayat but to a separate country. This may be an indication of IS’ long term ambitions in Azerbaijan and the South Caucasus as it attempts to further its regional presence.

The video appears to be made by local radicalized individuals with links to IS Central, possibly through networks facilitated by Azerbaijani foreign fighters. In terms of content, the speaker does not make explicit references to President Ilham Aliyev or the perceived local suppression of Muslims, but instead touches on more universal Salafist doctrines and provides general exhortations for attacks against unbelievers. Given that this is one of the first major IS videos on Azerbaijan in recent years, it is likely intended to establish the broad outlines of IS’ creed for possible new audiences in Azerbaijan and serve as an entry point for future propaganda engagement. However, a reference to the government’s cooperation with regimes abroad, particularly Iran, reiterates the close adherence to IS’ sectarian ideology with regards to the Shiite majority state as well as “crusader” Western governments. The overlay of stock images of US forces and of President Aliyev in talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the video are intended to underscore this message. It is also notable that the video ends with a bay’ah or pledge in Azeri, as opposed to Arabic. This minimal use of Arabic, apart from subtitles, is also intended to maintain local appeal.

Northern Sunni communities to be target of messaging, may result in increased online activity by disaffected youth

Azerbaijani foreign fighters in Syria have typically come from the country’s conservative Sunni communities in cities such as Sumqayit, Shabran, and Qusar. Police reports have also mentioned Khachmaz, Zaqatala, Qax, Yevlax, Oguz, Quba, and Sheki as notable hotspots for recruitment in the past. Mostly being border areas, radical elements may have crossed over to Russian territories in Dagestan to collaborate with actors who are a part of IS’ Wilayat Kavkaz. That said, the establishment of an active Islamist operational presence locally in Azerbaijan has been limited as a result of close state monitoring and preemptive security operations against suspected cells.

In this context, the recent messaging may presage a revival in messaging and online chatter, particularly among disaffected Sunni youth in the northern districts who may see the video as an encouragement to oppose the Aliyev administration’s crackdown on radical Islamic doctrines. Returning foreign fighters and those who attempted to travel to Syria but failed will likely be key influencers in this trend. This was noted in 2018 when a local named Eldaniz Mammadov was arrested and tried for posting pro-IS propaganda on social media platforms; the suspect is believed to have traveled to Syria at an unspecified previous time.

Past Militancy Recruitment Hotspots in Azerbaijan

State response to focus on potential for radicalization on social media, unauthorized religious schools

It is important to note that at present, identified IS-inspired cells still remain marginal in numbers and have not demonstrated the capability for staging major attacks in the country.  However, the video will raise concerns regarding the risk of lone-wolf attacks by sympathizers. Issues such as the state-controlled introduction of Islam as a subject in schools and universities in April may serve as flashpoints for disaffection as more conservative communities view this as an effort by the government to marginalize doctrines it perceives to be radical while increasing its hold on systems of religious education. As part of its crackdown, the Aliyev administration will likely step up its monitoring of suspected radicalized individuals across the country, making a series of arrests over the coming months.

The focus of the crackdown will include the closures of unauthorized Islamic theological schools and the detentions of Sunni Islamic scholars trained abroad as part of its continued efforts to prevent the influence of perceived external theology in the country. Measures will also include a scale-up of social media monitoring and tighter security along the country’s northern border to prevent the movement of radicalized individuals towards IS-linked interests in the North Caucasus. Tighter scrutiny into the movement of firearms and explosives material, particularly via smuggling networks in the north, is also expected to follow. Areas such as Khachmaz and Qusar Districts will particularly draw the focus on the security apparatus, given the operations of Sunni extremist groups such as the Khachmaz Jamaat.

The government is also liable to step up its coordination with neighboring states on counter-militancy strategies. Typically, the Aliyev administration has used counter-militancy as a means to forge common ground with economic allies, such as Turkey and Russia. The country is also an ally in NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan, providing airspace to cargo transportation for peacekeeping operations. The mention of Iran in the video and IS’ sectarian orientation will raise concerns regarding the possibility for plots targeting the country’s Shiite-majority. Such intentions, while not IS-linked, have been noted among Sunni extremists who have previously sought to target Shiite places of worship, such as the Meshedi Dadash Mosque in Baku. Closer security coordination between Tehran and Baku and a crackdown on smuggling networks along the southern border can also be expected in the foreseeable future.

Recommendations

Travel to Azerbaijan can continue while maintaining vigilance due to the latent risk of crime and militancy.

Avoid posting content that may be perceived as controversial or anti-state when operating or residing in the country due to the risk of prosecution.

Avoid all travel to border areas near the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region due to continued ceasefire violations and the risk of conflict.

Security to continue deteriorating as jihadist groups expand geographically, intensify attacks, increase regional threat – Burkina Faso Special Analysis

Written by Ishita Singh – MAX Security’s Senior Analyst for West & Central Africa

Edited by Rachel Jacob – MAX Security’s Regional Director of Intelligence, Sub-Saharan Africa

Executive Summary

Since September 2018, there has been a dramatic increase in militant attacks in Burkina Faso, now affecting 11 of the 13 regions. The majority of this activity targets security forces, local authorities, and schools.

Militant groups have increasingly targeted the mining sector through theft, extortion, and active control over mines. However, security operations that close mines even temporarily are liable to create resentment and encourage militant recruitment.

Jihadists exploit intercommunal tensions to drive recruitment, especially among the Fulani, instigating retaliatory cycles of violence that can create large death tolls and alienate the population from the government.

As attacks continue to spread throughout the country, there is a growing threat to Burkina Faso’s southern neighbors, which will have to bolster their defensive efforts despite their own political challenges to prevent a spillover of violence.

Avoid nonessential travel to outlying areas of Burkina Faso given the ongoing threat of militancy and violent crime, while avoiding all travel to Sahel, Est, Nord, and Boucle du Mouhoun regions due to the risk of attacks.

Key Points & Forecast

Where previously there were about seven attacks per month in Burkina Faso, between September 2018 and February 2019, militants conducted an average of 34 attacks per month. Most were in Sahel, Est, Nord, and Boucle du Mouhoun regions, but these trends continue to spread toward the west and south, particularly in Centre-Nord, Hauts Bassins, and Cascades regions.

The vast majority of jihadist activity targets security forces, local government authorities, and Western-style schools. This will remain the broad focus of militant groups as they solidify their areas of control in the north and continue to expand their geographical presence.

Jihadist groups increasingly target the mining sector, with theft and extortion expected to remain significant especially in Sahel and Est regions given how profitable these attacks can be. At the same time, military escorts for mining companies have also given militants new opportunities to attack security forces and thus increases risks to civilian travelers.

Foreign nationals have come under attack repeatedly over the past six months, with at least five incidents since September 2018 in which foreigners were abducted or killed. This threat will remain high in all remote areas of Burkina Faso, particularly in the northern and eastern regions, and along the borders of Mali and Niger.

The dual role of “Koglweogo” self-defense militias, with some factions supporting the government while others cooperate with militants, creates another layer of insecurity in outlying regions and will continue to exacerbate the situation.

Security forces have been shown to use violence against civilians both to deter them from collaborating with jihadist groups as well as punish them for doing so. Their heavy-handed measures will alienate the local population and hamper security efforts, as well as further drive jihadist recruitment.

Militancy is expected to continue spreading throughout the rural areas of the country as jihadists grow entrenched in the north and east and mobilize toward the west and south. Moreover, there remains the possibility of a high-profile attack in Ouagadougou, as has been seen periodically.

The spread of militancy has already reached Burkina Faso’s southern borders and has the potential to affect its neighbors Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, and Benin, and these countries may not be able to bolster their security sufficiently to prevent the spillover of violence.

Current Situation

In December 2018, the government of Burkina Faso declared a state of emergency in 14 provinces across seven regions, including the Hauts-Bassins, Boucle du Mouhoun, Cascades, Centre-Est, Est, Nord, and Sahel regions.

Over the past year, from February 2018 to February 2019, approximately 270 militant attacks were reported across Burkina Faso.

Between February and August 2018, militants conducted around seven attacks per month. Between September 2018 and February 2019, militants conducted an average of 35 attacks per month.

The Governor of Est Region ordered the temporary closure of mining sites in all provinces on March 20 and called upon stakeholders to clear all mining sites. An official communique stated that this was “in the pursuit of the securitization of the administrative district.”

Militant Groups in Burkina Faso

Ansarul Islam – The first jihadist group to be established in Burkina Faso, it was founded in November 2016 by the now-deceased Ibrahim Malam Dicko. Ansarul Islam remains largely based in the Djibo, Soum Province area, though the group has conducted attacks throughout Sahel and Nord Regions and remains highly active in these areas. Dicko was an ethnic Fulani but Ansarul Islam is not a solely ethnicity-based group, with Dicko using Islam to challenge local dynamics and hierarchies to bring different ethnicities and classes together. Ansarul Islam engages not only in militant attacks against the state and ideological targets but also common banditry. At the same time, it also functions as a self-defense group in certain areas to protect its supporters from banditry and intercommunal violence perpetrated by others.

Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam waal Muslimeen (JNIM) – The al-Qaeda coalition formed in Mali in March 2017 including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) Sahara branch, Ansar Dine, al-Mourabitoun, and Macina Liberation Front under the leadership of Iyad Ag Ghaly. JNIM serves as a united front for its strategic and militant operations based in Mali, where it controls territory and conducts hundreds of attacks each year in the northern and central regions. Additionally, the group has carried out large-scale attacks in the capital cities of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Ivory Coast. Over the past year, JNIM has increasingly expanded its area of operations into Burkina Faso, at least into Sahel, Est, Centre-Est, Centre-Nord, Nord, and Boucle du Mouhoun regions.

Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) – Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui pledged allegiance to the Islamic State on behalf of al-Mourabitoun in May 2015, though was subsequently ousted by rival leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar. Al-Sahraoui and ISGS later claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in Burkina Faso and Niger and was acknowledged by the Islamic State central organization in October 2016. ISGS has since expanded its area of operations, focusing on the border of Mali and Niger, particularly in the Ansongo Menaka Partial Wildlife Reserve, as well as along the Niger-Burkina Faso border. However, the group has retained a much smaller profile in terms of propaganda. Their most notable attack was the October 2017 ambush of a US special operations team near Tongo Tongo, Niger.

Assessments & Forecasts

Growth of militancy a result of weakened security apparatus, as similar patterns of jihadist activity spread from northern, eastern regions into central, western regions

Over the past six months, Burkina Faso has seen a dramatic shift in its security as the intensity as well as geographical scale of militant attacks has rapidly expanded. Where there was once several attacks per month, largely concentrated in Sahel and Nord regions, this has grown to an average of 34 security incidents per month being reported in at least 11 of the 13 regions. This threat was long present due to Burkina Faso’s proximity to Mali, in the midst of a civil war and prolonged jihadist insurgency. Former Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore was believed to have forged deals with Malian armed groups to prevent their entering Burkina Faso, though this would have ended with his ouster in 2014. Compaore’s resignation after a popular uprising was followed by a failed coup by the Presidential Security Regiment (RPS) in 2015. This period of political instability, as well as the disbanding of the RPS with other reforms, weakened the security apparatus to the point where criminality and militancy could grow.

Ansarul Islam emerged as Burkina Faso’s first jihadist group when it conducted its earliest known attack against a military outpost in Sahel Region in December 2016. The insurgency continued to grow over the following year, mostly concentrated in Soum and Oudalan provinces. This came alongside a relationship with the Mali-based Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam waal Muslimeen (JNIM) al-Qaeda coalition, with the two groups likely working in tandem for some attacks both in Burkina Faso as well as in Mali. It is probable that this cooperation led to the evolution of Ansarul Islam’s tactics from small arms to the use of IEDs, which began in late 2017 and continued since. With these connections, Burkina Faso’s Sahel and Nord regions could function as an area for Malian jihadists to escape the pressure of local and international military operations inside of Mali while continuing to launch attacks targeting Mali. At the same time, the persistent but less frequent attacks on Burkinabe security forces in late 2017 and early 2018 helped to destabilize the border region, expanding the militants’ influence and allowing greater cross-border movement for jihadists that would come to facilitate JNIM’s movement southward into Burkina Faso by late 2018.

While Ansarul Islam’s earliest attacks solely targeted security forces, this evolved into attacks against government officials, village leaders, religious clerics, and teachers who all represented the Burkinabe state and opposed jihadist ideology. Militants subsequently burned down schools for teaching French or Western-style education and forcibly gathered residents to preach more radical forms of Islam. In some areas, militants have also banned alcohol, prostitution, and smoking. In that sense, Ansarul Islam was able to establish a sufficient level of control over its area of operations to impose its ideology. Moreover, this pattern of influence and violence came to become a model for subsequent efforts in other parts of Burkina Faso, first in Est Region and beyond.

In Est Region, reports of jihadist cells and camps being dismantled in March and April 2018 were early indicators of an expansion of militant activity. Attacks against security forces in Est began in July 2018, which then led to the targeting of local government officials and schools, with at least ten arson incidents against schools being reported and most schools closing down. The number of attacks in Est and as a whole dramatically increased in September 2018, likely due to a concentrated effort by militants when it became clear that Burkinabe security forces were more vulnerable than they first appeared. This can also be seen as militants began this pattern anew in Boucle du Mouhoun Region only one month later, when the number of incidents jumped from five incidents along the border between January and September 2018 to 14 attacks between October and December 2018. In that sense, this strategy has been highly effective in destabilizing fairly large areas of rural Burkina Faso and imposing jihadist ideology.

FORECAST: Using the precedent set first in Sahel and Nord, and then in Est and Boucle du Mouhoun, these patterns are expected to continue farther to the south and west. This has already begun in Centre-Nord, with early attacks against security forces in January, with the number of attacks increase to 12 reported in February and March, including those targeting village leaders and schools. Centre-Nord is thus expected to see an intensified level of jihadist activity in the coming months. At the same time, the early warning signs are likewise being seen in Hauts-Bassins and Cascades regions, which lie on Burkina Faso’s southernmost borders with Mali and Ivory Coast, and further attacks are expected in those regions as well.

Mining industry assets targeted as sources of revenue as jihadists grow further entrenched in local economies

Over the past six months, militant activity has increasingly targeted the mining sector. This is especially important in the north and east where economic activity is mostly tied to mining or pastoralism. With mines in these areas being highly productive, militant groups have not only attacked assets for direct theft but also use violence to extort “protection” payments from facilities. Moreover, there are increasing indications that jihadists have taken control of mining sites. When several miners died in a landslide in Kompienga Province, Est Region in October 2018, the government was unable to access the affected area because the mine was under militant control. With mines creating employment and revenue, militant control over sites also provides them with the opportunity to establish themselves as the local authority, further embedding themselves into local communities and economies.
FORECAST: It is likely that direct control over mines will remain fairly limited given that it would require more resources from the militants and is more likely to attract larger security responses. However, with overall activity targeting mines being highly lucrative for militants, extortion and theft is expected to continue, especially in the Sahel and Est regions.

To some extent, this can also be viewed as an attack on the government, given that about 75 percent of Burkina Faso’s export revenue comes solely from gold mining. The theft of revenue, as well as the effect of the violence on mining companies’ decisions to invest in the country, could be substantially detrimental to the economy. Because of this, the government began providing military escorts for mining convoys. However, this also gave the militants new opportunities to attack security forces, with a number of convoys being targeted with IEDs and ambushes. Although mining employees have reportedly not been harmed in these incidents, this underscores the way in which the militants’ interest in attacking security forces can cause collateral damage to civilians.

Foreign nationals have been specifically targeted in the context of attacks on mining facilities over the past six months. In September 2018, two foreign nationals were abducted after leaving a Ghanaian-owned gold mine in Soum Province, suspected to have been taken into Mali. Separately, in January, a foreign national with a Canadian-owned gold mining company was abducted and killed while visiting a mining site in Yagha Province. It is likely that both abductions were intended for ransom purposes with the latter incident being botched in some way. This is suggestive of the militants’ understanding that foreign-owned mining facilities are likely to have foreign nationals traveling to and from the site who can be kidnapped.
FORECAST: Although both incidents took place in the Sahel Region, which remains the most volatile and least secure region of the country, this is reflective of an increasingly widespread instability that can affect travelers in many remote areas.

Foreign nationals increasingly targeted for ransoms, jihadist violence in remote regions

Beyond the association with the mining industry, foreign nationals have come under attack repeatedly in rural areas of Burkina Faso over the past six months. This has included a Canadian and Italian disappearing in Hauts Bassins Region in December 2018, a Czech national killed in Centre-Est Region’s Koulpelogo Province on January 23, and a Spanish priest being killed by JNIM in Centre-Est’s Boulgou Province on February 15. Moreover, an Italian priest was abducted by ISGS in Niger’s Tillaberi Region only 15 km from the border in September 2018, after which he was taken back into Burkina Faso’s Est Region. Given the lack of uniformity, this has also made it clear that foreign nationals may be targeted with violence for their identity without the involvement of kidnapping. As abductions also serve a financial purpose, this is illustrative of the way in which militants use criminality to support their operations.
FORECAST: It is increasingly clear that militants deliberately target foreign nationals when they become aware of their presence for the purposes of ransoms as well as international attention and propaganda, and these attacks are expected to continue in rural areas in the foreseeable future.

Local self-defense militias complicate security dynamics, while jihadists exploit intercommunal tensions for recruitment, regional goals

Another symptom of the poor presence of the state in many rural areas has been the development of “Koglweogo” self-defense militias, which operate as localized security organizations across the country. At times, they are supported by local authorities, either openly or tacitly, though there are areas in which they operate fully independently from the government. The latter dynamic could be seen during the February 15 JNIM attack on a customs post in Boulgou Province during which Koglweogo militia arrived but were asked to leave by militants and evidently did so because the target of the attack was security personnel and not civilians. That the militants did not engage with the Koglweogo and let them go safely illustrates the clarity of the jihadists’ objectives in attacking security forces, but also suggests that self-defense militias in parts of the country are willing to cooperate with or allow militant operations so long as it targets the government rather than civilians.

As Koglweogo militias operate independently of one another rather than as a unified network, there are other instances of the self-defense groups confronting militants. On January 1, militants assassinated the village chief of Yirgou in Centre-Nord Region’s Sanmatenga Province, a common type of attack against local authorities. In retaliation, the local Koglweogo militia killed at least 47 ethnic Fulanis in Yirgou and its environs. In that sense, the dual role played by self-defense militias adds another layer of instability as additional active armed groups in outlying regions of the country, and ones that not only retaliate against jihadists but can perpetrate abuses against civilians that further drive jihadist recruitment.

That the Koglweogo militia retaliated against the ethnic Fulani population, in that case, is illustrative of another social and ethnic dynamic in the region, one that mirrors the situation in the neighboring Mali’s Mopti Region. Fulani pastoralist communities often conflict with farming communities, with Fulanis viewing themselves as marginalized by the government while other ethnic groups perceive Fulanis to be in collaboration with jihadists as both JNIM and Ansarul Islam have heavily Fulani factions. This intercommunal violence has made Fulanis further susceptible to recruitment by militant groups. In this context, jihadist groups have deliberately instigated attacks against other communities in anticipation of retaliatory attacks against Fulanis, which would then drive Fulanis closer to the militants. As seen by the incident in Yirgou, this can create high death tolls even within a single day.

JNIM’s use of ethnic violence as part of its strategy for recruitment and mobilization has been highlighted in its propaganda as well. In November 2018, JNIM released a video featuring Macina Brigade leader Amadou Kouffa, who was preaching in Pulaar, the language of the Fulani people. This was meant to appeal to the broad Fulani audience across the region, which he made clear by calling upon Fulanis to mobilize for the jihadist cause, not only in Mali but also in Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Guinea, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon. To this point, JNIM has sought to capitalize on their successes in recruiting Fulanis amid these intercommunal conflicts. This not only aims to mobilize Fulanis for jihadist effots but speaks to JNIM’s wider regional goals in terms of expanding its influence throughout West Africa.

Increased security response, escalating reports of human rights abuses risks alienating local population from government, while role of international forces likely to grow

As attacks have multiplied across the country, security forces have consequently launched a number of campaigns targeting militants in Sahel, Est, Centre-Est, Nord, and Boucle du Mouhoun regions, with at least 17 operations reported since September 2018. While these may have been effective to some degree, the intensified response has also exposed Burkinabe security forces’ indiscipline and overall lack of capabilities. This was exemplified by the military’s claim to have killed 146 militants in a security operation in Loroum Province, Nord Region and Kossi Province, Boucle du Mouhoun Region on February 4. Human rights organizations later documented evidence that the victims were largely civilians who had been killed while asleep, with no indication that they were linked to militants. This aligns with repeated reports of security forces carrying out extrajudicial killings and arbitrarily detaining locals.

The claim to have killed such a large number of militants was likely meant simply for government propaganda to portray the military as successful. However, reports have shown security forces to use violence against civilians for the purpose of deterring them from collaborating with militants as well as to punish them for supporting any militant groups. Such behavior has the dual effect of alienating local populations, which then hampers security forces’ efforts to collect intelligence or otherwise utilize the cooperation of local residents, as well as further driving jihadist recruitment. This additionally overlaps with existing ethnic dynamics, with security operations in heavily Fulani areas particularly causing resentment and motivating local collaboration with jihadist groups, which portray themselves as defenders of the Fulani. FORECAST: In the absence of accountability for security forces, as well as the continued proliferation of militant attacks like to create similar security responses, this cycle is expected to continue, with further abuses against civilians pushing further cooperation between locals and militants.

Other government efforts also risk alienating the population in separate ways. In recognition of the role that mining facilities can play for jihadists, new measures were launched to conduct security operations in and around these sites. The Governor of Est Region’s March 20 announcement that all mining sites in the entire region would be shut down, followed by the High Commissioner of Yagha Province in Sahel Region announcing the same on March 22, suggests a deliberate effort to clear these crucial economic sites of militants.
FORECAST: However, the full closure of these mines will likely impact the local economy, as they provide a significant amount of employment for thousands of local residents. Removing their source of employment is liable to create resentment toward the government as well as increase the susceptibility of locals to joining jihadist groups over discontent as well as a financial incentive.

In addition, there has been increased French involvement in Burkina Faso in recent months. France has periodically supported Burkinabe security forces in recent years, with the bulk of Operation “Barkhane” focused on combating militancy and crime in Mali but operating throughout the region, including in Niger and Chad. This growing French involvement has largely taken the form of air operations, with French aircraft supporting Burkinabe forces in Est Region in October 2018 and in Sahel Region in January, though there have also been sporadic reports of French ground forces in Burkina Faso close to the border of Mali.
FORECAST: French air support is likely to increase in the coming months, particularly in light of Burkina Faso’s air force having few aircraft and generally inexperienced pilots and crew. More broadly, as militancy continues to spread throughout much of Burkina Faso, including incidents along the borders of Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, and Benin, France will likely be additionally motivated to assist in a large-scale effort to prevent the destabilization of the wider region.

Militants to reinforce gains, continue expanding in central, western provinces, while pursuing wider regional vision

As has been seen with JNIM’s activity in Mali, it is likely that militant groups will seek to cement their gains in Burkina Faso while also keeping an eye toward steady expansion. FORECAST: This will mean that the bulk of JNIM and Ansarul Islam’s attacks will remain in Sahel, Nord, and Est regions to solidify their grip on those regions, with individuals or facilities linked to security forces and the government being the primary target. At the same time, the pace of attacks in other areas will likely be continuous if somewhat less frequent, with Boucle du Mouhoun, Centre-Nord, and Centre-Est the most prominent areas of targeted expansion over the coming weeks and months, with Hauts Bassins and Cascades likely to be a longer-term goal. This large geographical focus is somewhat ambitious but is likely to be effective given that Burkinabe security forces lack a comprehensive strategy or the capabilities necessary to secure much of these regions. Even if international forces increase their intervention, it is likely that Burkina Faso will increasingly see a scenario similar to Mali’s, in which some regions of the country are within jihadist areas of control while the government is only able to secure a wider zone in the vicinity of Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso.

FORECAST: This will necessarily increase the threat against Ouagadougou as well. The capital city has periodically been the target of large-scale militant attacks, with JNIM and its constituent groups conducting attacks against government targets, hotels, and restaurants in Ouagadougou in March 2018, August 2017, and January 2016. Moreover, there have been other intermittent reports of security forces foiling attacks in Ouagadougou, such as in December 2018 and May 2018, suggesting that this aim remains a priority for militants in the region even as the insurgency intensifies in the rural areas of Burkina Faso. There is continued evidence of some militant presence operating in Ouagadougou and an attack against a Western or high-profile target remains possible, even as Burkinabe and French intelligence mobilize particularly to prevent it.

As militant groups strengthen their grip on the outlying regions of Burkina Faso, this will also increasingly affect the security posture of the countries on its borders. In addition to heavy activity by JNIM and ISGS along the border with Niger, JNIM attacks have already been reported along the borders of Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, and Benin. Further movement into those countries would adhere to the wider vision of jihadist groups that seek to spread their influence throughout the region. FORECAST: Given the speed with which militancy has spread to the southern border, these neighboring countries are expected to bolster their security presence to the degree that they are able. While all four countries are generally stronger than Burkina Faso at this point, political instability or unrest in countries such as Togo and Ivory Coast may affect their ability to deploy enough forces to secure their northern borders. Accordingly, this heightens the potential for militancy to spill over into these countries, which would likely be in the form of small-scale attacks against security forces relatively close to Burkina Faso. With that said, this is likely to be a much more limited threat and part of a longer-term effort with the focus on Burkina Faso as conditions continue to deteriorate across the country.

Recommendations

Travel to Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso may continue while adhering to stringent security precautions regarding crime and potential militancy.

Avoid nonessential travel to outlying areas of Burkina Faso given the ongoing threat of militancy and violent crime, while avoiding all travel to Sahel, Est, Nord, and Boucle du Mouhoun regions due to the risk of attacks.

Avoid all travel to areas along the border with Mali and Niger given the threat of cross-border militancy and violent crime, including abductions.

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.

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.

Car Ramming Attack on Parliament Illustrates the Continuing Impact of Declining Islamic State’s Ideology on Disenchanted Migrants – London Alert

Please be advised

At 07:37 (local time) on August 14, an individual drove a vehicle at speed towards a security barrier outside Parliament, Westminster, London. Three people were lightly injured and security forces immediately arrested the individual without further violence. The area was closed to the public for several hours while security forces determined that the vehicle posed no further risk and no weapons were inside.

The Met Police stated later on August 14 that the incident was being considered a militant attack and that the suspect was refusing to cooperate with investigations.

Reports from the morning of August 15 state that the individual is 29-years-old, originally from Sudan, living in Birmingham. Footage from the area reportedly shows the vehicle used in the attack circling Parliament several times before the incident took place.

Security forces reportedly carried out raids on residences in the central UK cities of Birmingham and Nottingham as part of the investigation into a supposed militant attack in London on August 14.

Location of militant incident in London on August 14

Click here to see Map Legend 

Assessments

The suspect’s lack of resistance to being arrested and absence of weapons inside the car differentiate the incident from recent Islamist militant attacks. Therefore, while he may have been inspired by previous vehicular attacks, it remains unlikely that he had direct links with an Islamist group, such as Islamic State (IS). As with previous similar incidents, it is possible that the attacker was suffering from a psychological disorder, which played a role in motivating the attack.

With that, the raids in Birmingham and Nottingham may have been precautionary and do not necessarily indicate the assailants links to an established or well-coordinated militant cell. However, there is a possibility that the individual was part of a small locally radicalized cell of untrained individuals who subscribe to the ideology of IS.

Given the details released about the suspect, the incident reiterates the risk of incitement to commit attacks among migrant populations who perceive themselves to be disenfranchised. This risk is amplified among young males, who are generally far more susceptible to feelings of frustration over such sentiments and are also more likely to become self-radicalized. Furthermore, the incident underscores that, even with the decline of the Islamic State, the aftereffects of their ideology and modus operandi on the collective consciousness of the West, particularly among disenchanted migrants, continues to inspire attacks.

The incident also reflects the popularity of the vehicular method for those intending to carry out indiscriminate attacks, regardless of ideology. The popularity of the method stems from the ease with which attacks can be carried out and the difficulty for security forces to be warned before the incident

Despite the unlikelihood of the suspect being directly linked to an organized group, militant organizations, like IS, may attempt to claim responsibility or connection to the incident in order to increase perceptions of their threat in the UK and Europe in general.

Recommendations

Travel to London may continue while maintaining vigilance for possible militant related activity.

Alert authorities immediately to any suspicious behavior or items.

IS claims killing of Western nationals in July 29 armed attack in Khatlon Province; likely involvement of sympathizers – Tajikistan Alert

Please be advised

The Islamic State (IS) claimed a car ramming and stabbing attack that resulted in the deaths of four Western tourists in Danghara District, approximately 90 km south of Dushanbe. Meanwhile, Islamic State (IS)-linked Amaq News Agency reported on July 30, that “soldiers of the caliphate” conducted the attack in response to calls to target citizens of coalition countries.

IS claims killing of Western nationals in July 29 armed attack in Khatlon Province; likely involvement of sympathizers - Tajikistan Alert | MAX Security


IS claims killing of Western nationals in July 29 armed attack in Khatlon Province; likely involvement of sympathizers - Tajikistan Alert | MAX Security
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Assessments

While over 1,000 Tajik citizens are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join IS, the July 31 claim appears to be the first such acknowledgment by the group of an attack within Tajik boundaries and is therefore notable. The extent to which the operation was guided by the IS leadership in Syria and Iraq remains unclear at this juncture.

At present, it appears more likely that the attack was conducted by radicalized individuals that were inspired by IS rather than trained operatives of the group itself. This is indicated by the reference to targeting Coalition citizens in the Amaq report issued on July 30, which derives from a landmark statement by IS spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani in 2014, that called for sympathizers to perpetrate low-intensity attacks against individuals in nations comprising the military coalition against the IS.

The IS-linked media’s reference to “soldiers of the caliphate” further suggests that the perpetrators were likely self-radicalized, considering the use of such phrasing in previous attacks by individuals influenced by IS ideologies but possessing no evident links to IS functionaries. This is also consistent with the lack of sophistication of the attack, as well as the reported numbers of extremist sympathizers in the country leading from long-standing anti-Islamist government policies.

Recommendations

Travel to Tajikistan may continue at this time while adhering to standard security protocols given the latent threat of militancy, crime, and unrest.

Those operating or residing in Dushanbe are advised to maintain heightened vigilance due to the risk of crime and militancy while avoiding unsecured travel to the country’s rural districts such as Danghara.

We advise against nonessential travel to outlying areas in Tajikistan near the country’s borders with Afghanistan, given the threat of militant activity and criminality, including drug smuggling.reat of radicalization in Central Asia, read our in-depth report.

Asia Bibi-related protests underscore TLP’s growing political influence; blasphemy case to increase radicalization – Pakistan Analysis

Current Situation

On October 31, the Supreme Court (SC) overruled a 2010 verdict assigning the death sentence to Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of committing blasphemy in 2009. The bench comprising three judges cited a lack of evidence to uphold the death sentence and called for her release.

Following the verdict, Islamist parties led by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) organized mass protests against the verdict in major cities, including Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi. Until November 2, city centers were severely paralyzed by blockades on arterial roads, commercial activities were suspended, and multiple incidents of vandalism, such as the burning of tires or vehicles, were recorded.

Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan made a public address defending the court’s verdict on October 31. He also warned that the government would take strong measures in the case of road blockades or acts of vandalism by Islamists while condemning the verbal attacks against the military and judiciary by protest leaders.

During the evening hours (local time) on November 2, the TLP agreed to end its street campaign following a five-point agreement between the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government and the organization’s representatives. In return, the government agreed to include Asia Bibi on the Exit Control List (ECL) to prevent her from leaving the country, as well as to not object to a review petition against the acquittal. The government also agreed to release all individuals arrested in relation to the three-day-long protests.

On November 4, the Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Khan Afridi announced the Federal government’s decision to launch legal proceedings against protestors that engaged in acts of vandalism, as well as those that posted provocative content on social media. Legal proceedings against the TLP leader and founder Khadim Hussain Rizvi, senior leader Afzal Qadri, and workers were registered, while Hussain Rizvi’s social media account was suspended for an indeterminate period of time.

On November 1, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (TTP-JA) militant group released an audiotape featuring its leader Omar Khalid Khorasani, condemning the overturning of the death penalty and calling on Pakistanis to rise against the “un-Islamic state”. On the same day, the Hizbul Ahrar (HuA) group, an offshoot of the TTP-JA, claimed that it will continue to target those that strengthen Pakistani judicial institutions. On November 3, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) released a statement condemning the SC’s decision, while the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) released a poster threatening Asia Bibi and Kurt Westergaard, a Dutch cartoonist known for his controversial drawing of Prophet Muhammad.

Assessments & Forecast

Emergence of TLP as major opposition figure likely linked to setbacks faced by mainstream political opponents

While various religious and conservative parties organized nationwide protests against the court’s ruling, the three-day street agitation underlined the TLP’s growing position as a major opposition figure to the incumbent government. Well-established religious parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) also organized similar demonstrations. However, TLP-led protests attracted considerably higher turnouts and occupied the most prominent locations within urban centers, often becoming a rallying point for smaller Islamist groups. The media attention that those demonstrations received, as well as the government’s decision to sign an agreement solely with TLP representatives, further underscores the prominent position enjoyed by the Islamist party during the demonstrations.

Recent legal proceedings against high-profile political figures, such as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Shahbaz Sharif and the former PM and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, appear to have aided the TLP’s growing political clout. The erosion of public confidence in these individuals over allegations of graft likely created more space for relatively newer opposition parties to enhance their platforms, within which the TLP seems to be championing the populist cause of blasphemy. This assertion is backed by an opinion poll conducted during the general elections held on July 25, which revealed that 46 percent of the sample of TLP voters interviewed had voted for the PML-N in the 2013 general elections.

The seeming increase in the TLP’s political capital can also be tied to the perceived victories the platform has achieved in recent months. Most notably, in November 2017, a three-week long protest campaign at Islamabad’s Faizabad interchange against the alleged softening of blasphemy laws ended with the resignation of the then PML-N Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid. Since August 2018, under the PTI’s tenure, the TLP also succeeded in securing the removal of the PM-appointed Ahmadi economist Atif R Mian from the Federal government’s Economic Advisory Council. Additionally, the cancellation of a cartoon contest about Prophet Muhammed in the Netherlands was also likely seen as a TLP victory by local actors, given the group’s vocal opposition to the contest and its rallies in relation to the matter.

The party’s focus on religion and the branding of its platform as a defense of Pakistan’s identity likely resonates with those concerned about the perceived growth of Western influence and the associated dilution of Islamic values. Given that the PTI previously joined the criticism by Islamist parties against the alleged endorsement of Western values by the then ruling PML-N, PM Imran Khan’s perceived failure to uphold Islamic tenets is liable to further bolster the ranks of the TLP.
FORECAST: Over the coming months, the TLP will likely continue to galvanize support in urban centers by organizing disruptive demonstrations regarding matters of religion. However, party leaders are liable to refrain from making harsh statements against the military establishment, in order to avoid a tough response by the security apparatus.

Authorities’ restraint against TLP highlight PTI’s strategy to mitigate political losses

Asia Bibi-related protests represented the first major challenge to the PTI since it came to power in July. Given PM Imran Khan’s defense of blasphemy laws during his election campaign, the PTI likely opted for a cautious strategy to end the protests, in order to avoid alienating its own supporters. The agreement between authorities and the TLP leadership, while expressing support for the verdict, seems to be aimed at maintaining support within both the PTI’s conservative and liberal electorate.

The November 2 agreement was widely perceived as a capitulation to Islamists’ pressure by the PTI. Such criticism derives from the perceived contradiction between the PTI’s statements in support of the verdict, and the acceptance of key demands put forth by protestors. The agreement to launch legal proceedings to add Asia Bibi’s name on the ECL also contradicted with a PTI statement posted on social media on November 1, denying such intentions.

Despite the criticism, the PTI will likely claim to be successful in removing protestors from the streets in the span of three days. In contrast to the November 2017 protests during which the then ruling PML-N called on the military to dislodge TLP workers, the PTI government secured a retreat without an overt military involvement. It will likely focus on the limited use of force to dispel the gatherings to drive home its point.
FORECAST: The government’s balancing act on the issue is likely to engender sustained criticism from mainstream political parties. This will also encourage the TLP to continue pursuing intimidation tactics in order to advance its political agenda.

Asia Bibi case expected to increase radicalization, boost militant recruitment in near term

The charges levied against TLP leaders, and the suspension of the social media account of Khadim Hussain Rizvi allegedly following governmental pressure on the social network, are likely to be perceived by members of the organization as a breach of the agreement signed on November 2. Such legal crackdowns, if sustained, bear the risk to further radicalize the organization’s supporters, as they may increasingly perceive the PTI-led government as deceptive. In return, an increase in anti-state sentiment is liable to elevate the risk of lone-wolf attacks carried out by more hardline TLP members.

This is anticipated given the continued sensitivities surrounding blasphemy-related matters. A TLP member was allegedly involved in the attempted assassination of the then Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal in May over his remarks regarding blasphemy laws. This further highlights the potential for acts of violence against political, security and judicial institutions in the near term. The TLP’s rhetoric during the protests, especially its calls to target members of the judiciary and to revolt against the military’s highest officials, heightens this risk. The statements against the SC verdict by militant groups are likely aimed at projecting relevance amid the current national discourse on the perceived erosion of Islamic values.

FORECAST: The Asia Bibi case is likely to increase sectarian tensions over the coming months. Groups such as the TTP-JA or ISKP, known for their sectarian rhetoric, are liable to carry out attacks against religious minorities such as Christians and Ahmadis, who are often targeted over accusations of blasphemy. There also remains an elevated threat of militant attacks against political and judicial figures over the coming months, by both lone-wolf actors or militant groups. In addition, given the perception that Western countries exerted influence over the judiciary proceedings in favor of Asia Bibi, anti-Western sentiments are likely to increase. Particularly, the potential granting of political asylum to Asia Bibi by a Western country is likely to be met with strong opposition and protests by local residents. Anti-Western sentiment is expected to be directed at the US, Canada, or the UK, as these countries were mentioned in the video recorded by Asia Bibi’s husband seeking political asylum. Negative sentiments towards the Netherlands are also likely to be elevated, given the previous controversy surrounding the Dutch cartoon contest, and reports that Asia Bibi’s lawyer will seek asylum in the country.

Recommendations

We advise against all non-essential travel to Pakistan given the heightened threat of militant attacks, criminality, kidnappings and sectarian tensions throughout the country.

As a general precaution in travel security, maintain heightened vigilance in the vicinity of security detachments, government buildings, public areas, diplomatic installations, news stations, military bases, restaurants, high-value soft targets like schools, shopping centers, and religious centers including mosques as they remain potential targets for militant attacks.

Given the sensitivity of blasphemy-related matters, avoid overt or critical statements of government, religious, or judicial institutions both in public spaces and online, including social media.

Avoid demonstrations or political gatherings, especially in relation to the Asia Bibi verdict, given the potential for unrest or escalations into violence.

Over the coming months, we advise maintaining vigilance in the vicinity of Christian places of worship or Christian-related gatherings given the potential for retaliatory attacks against minority communities in light of the SC acquittal.

Foreign nationals are advised to maintain a low profile and exercise heightened vigilance over the near term anti-Western sentiments associated with the case.