Tag Archives: militancy

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.

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.

Far-right militant threat reflected in September 2018 arrest data; risk to immigrant communities, anti-Brexit figures to increase – UK Analysis

Executive Summary

Statistics demonstrate that the number of attempted militant attacks from far-right groups has significantly risen in recent years.

Since the Brexit vote, far-right militancy has been catalyzed by the polarization of British politics and a concurrent increase in Islamist militancy.

Nationalist rhetoric is expected to continue to manifest in an increased risk of attacks on minorities, as well as those seen as liberal or against Brexit.

Travel to the UK may continue going forward while remaining cognizant of the risks emanating from far-right militancy.

Please be advised

Statistics released by the UK Home Office in September demonstrate the increasing militant risk emanating from within the far-right. Since the assassination of anti-Brexit Labour Member of Parliament (MP) Jo Cox in 2016, the proportion of those arrested for militant-related charges who are considered ‘white’ has risen significantly. According to the Home Office report, white suspects constitute 38% of all those arrested on such charges in 2017, ahead of ethnically South Asian (referred to un the UK as Asian) suspects for the first time since the institution of the 2000 Terrorism Act.

In 2016, the far-right, allegedly neo-Nazi National Action group was officially banned under the Terrorism Act, the first group of its kind to face such action in over 70 years. The group is reported to have continued operations and is believed to have between 60-100 active members nationwide. Members of the group reportedly supported the murder of Jo Cox, sent threatening messages to LGBT and Jewish figures, including MPs, and held small-scale demonstrations in several cities in the UK before the 2016 ban. A member of National Action admitted to having planned to kill Labour MP Rosie Cooper with a machete in the summer of 2017, while in September 2018, three individuals from the Midlands were charged for their membership in National Action.

Notable Incidents

Three people were injured after a deliberate car collision near the al-Majlis al-Hussaini center in Cricklewood, North London during the overnight hours of September 18-19. The collision occurred following verbal altercations between the occupants of the car and a large group of people visiting the center. The assailants were consuming alcohol in the car park of the center and reacted belligerently when requested to stop by visitors.

Security forces arrested two 15-year-olds in Ramsgate, Kent on the south-eastern coast on September 20 in relation to an ongoing investigation into a possible far-right inspired militant attack, although police sources stated there was no imminent threat.

In March 2018, a number of Muslim MPs, businesses, and individuals were sent letters threatening attacks on April 3, deemed ‘Punish a Muslim Day’, however, no attacks were reported to have manifested on the day.

In February 2018 police arrested an alleged white supremacist on suspicion of planning to attack an LGBT+ event with a machete in the northwestern town of Barrow.

Assessments & Forecast

Since Brexit vote, far-right militancy has been catalyzed by the polarization of British politics and concurrent increase in Islamist militancy

The vote on the UK’s future in the EU in 2016 increased political factionalism, decreasing the emphasis on centrist politics which had continued for almost two decades, increasing nationalist sentiments and energizing elements of the far-right. The following years have witnessed persistent anti-migrant and anti-non-white rhetoric within far-right propaganda. This rhetoric has been coupled with an envisioning of opposition to Brexit as tantamount to treachery by such groups, with online abuse and threats against liberal, left-wing, and anti-Brexit figures significantly increased after the vote. The threat from such rhetoric was highlighted by the February 2018 in Barrow.

This rhetoric has supposedly exacerbated sentiments of disenfranchisement and alienation among the Muslim community, increasing the potential pool for recruitment and radicalization by Islamist groups and by individuals accessing online materials. This came alongside a series of militant attacks between March-June 2017, including the suicide bombing in a Manchester arena, a ‘lone-wolf’ vehicular and stabbing attack near Parliament in London, and the coordinated stabbing and vehicular attack that took place near London Bridge.

As demonstrated by the vehicular attack on a mosque in Finsbury Park, London shortly after the London Bridge attacks, the Islamist inspired attacks further heightened anti-Muslim, far-right sentiments and support. Thus, these incidents underscored the cycle of far-right and Islamist related militancy, with both influencing and exacerbating one another.

Expected continuation of nationalist rhetoric to manifest in increased risk of attacks on minorities, as well as those seen as liberal or against Brexit

FORECAST: Given ongoing political tensions surrounding Brexit, as well as the recent arrest of high-profile nationalist figure Tommy Robinson, it is plausible that nationalist and far-right sentiments and support will continue to grow, at least in the medium term. Other factors liable to augment such sentiments include the far-left policies of the opposition Labour Party, perceived snubbing of British interests by the EU in Brexit negotiations, and right-wing rhetoric from foreign sources, such as US President Donald Trump and European leaders, such as Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

It is therefore likely that the recent trend in increased far-right and white supremacist motivated militant-related activity will continue. Radicalized individuals and groups are liable to plan attacks on high-profile figures, organizations, and groups perceived to be pro-immigration, anti-Brexit, or related to an ethnic or religious community. As demonstrated by the planned attack in Barrow, they may also target groups which they perceive to be against traditional values, such as the LGBT+ community.

Based on precedent, these attacks are likely to remain rudimentary, with regards to their modus operandi; stabbing, physical assault, and vehicular rammings are the preferred methods of attack among far-right militants. That said, further intimidation campaigns, such as the ‘Punish a Muslim Day’ for example, may also be launched, in addition to trends like the recent trend of sending harmless white powder to high-profile individuals and community centers. While there have been reports of individuals attempting to access or assemble explosives, given the difficulty of obtaining or manufacturing such devices, they pose a lesser risk than the more low-sophistication methods mentioned above.

Recommendations

Travel to the UK may continue going forward while remaining cognizant of the risks emanating from far-right militancy.

Organizations related to ethnic or religious minority groups or the LGBT+ community are advised to maintain heightened vigilance and take precautionary measures to mitigate such risks.

Alert authorities immediately if suspicious behavior or items are witnessed.

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

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Current Situation

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

Assessments & Forecast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations

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

Recent Hizbul Ahrar militant activity highlights expanding nationwide sphere of operations – Pakistan Alert

Please be advised

On October 3, a police sub-inspector was killed in Ahsanabad area of Karachi by two unidentified assailants riding a motorcycle. The attackers reportedly opened indiscriminate fire, before fleeing the scene. Hizbul Ahrar (HuA), a splinter group from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (TTP-JA), claimed the attack on social media. Authorities have yet to confirm the identity of the assailants, as well as the veracity of the claim.

On September 20, both the HuA and the TTP-Hafiz faction claimed a bomb blast against security forces in Spinwam, in North Waziristan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province. The TTP and HuA both claimed an attack in Mastung on August 19, which was one of their earliest conflicting claims.

On June 2, the HuA claimed an attack against a paramilitary checkpost in Hub, Lasbela District of Balochistan, which lies at the border of Karachi, Sindh Province.

In May, the HuA claimed a suicide attack against a bus in Attock in Punjab Province, following which the Counter Terrorism Department (CDT) arrested five militant operatives on September 17 planning to carry an attack in Rawalpindi.

On January 12, the TTP claimed responsibility for the killing of a policeman in North Nazimabad area of Karachi.

Assessments & Forecast

The latest claim by the HuA is highly notable, given that it is the first such claim by the group in Karachi and in Sindh Province. The group has typically confined its operations to northern and western Pakistan, in provinces such as KP, Balochistan, and the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), in which the outfit has increased its operations in recent weeks. The latest attack in Karachi, combined with the May attack and the arrest of five of its operatives in Punjab Province, is indicative of the group’s attempt to increase its sphere of operations and to push for a presence in major civilian centers such in Karachi and Rawalpindi.

Over the recent weeks, the HuA also appear to be increasingly challenging the factions of its former patron, TTP, by claiming attacks in TTP-held territories and by challenging the group’s claims. This was witnessed in the Spinwam attack on September 20, which occurred close to Data Khel, an area predominantly controlled by TTP factions. While Karachi has frequently witnessed attacks by TTP and its affiliates against law enforcement, the recent HuA attack of October 3 may be another indicator of the growing competition between the groups in a new sphere. It is also likely that HuA’s operations in Sindh and Punjab are aided by the defections of TTP-JA personnel to the new breakaway group.

The modus operandi used is notable given that HuA methods that primarily use suicide bombings or IED attack. Motorcycle-borne shooter attacks are more characteristic of Karachi-based militants and criminal elements, which may indicate potential cooperation between these elements and the HuA. Should HuA be adding newer modus operandi to their current tactics, there is a threat that such attacks may be replicated by its cells in other parts of the country. Additionally, while the group has previously stated that all attacks will focus on government targets over civilian, the indiscriminate nature of their plot execution increases the risk of collateral damage, as the attacks have taken place in civilian-populated areas. FORECAST: Over the coming months, the authorities are likely to conduct operations in Sindh Province and along the border areas with Balochistan, in attempt to dismantle potential HuA cells and prevent infiltrations from Balochistan and the Afghan border regions into Sindh.

Recommendations

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

Throughout Pakistan, we advise [as part of our security consulting services] minimizing non-essential movement given the daily nationwide threat of militant attacks and violent criminality.

As a general precaution, 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.

Those operating or residing in Sindh Province are advised to maintain vigilance in light of the recent HuA plot and the potential for growing competition between militant groups in Karachi, which may result in an increase in plots over the near term.

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
Click here to see Map Legend 

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.

Islamic State-linked media reports shooting attack in Nizhny Novgorod on May 6; first 2018 Islamist militant attack in World Cup host city – Russia Analysis

Please be advised

On May 6, the Islamic State (IS)-linked media group, al-Amaq, claimed that a shooting attack which took place in Nizhny Novgorod, western Russia, was committed by a ‘soldier’ of the Sunni-jihadist group. According to a statement from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on May 4, an assailant opened fire on police officers during an identity check and barricaded himself inside an apartment in the city. The statement indicated that the perpetrator was later neutralized by security forces.

From 14 June to 15 July 2018, Russia will host the FIFA World Cup in a number of cities, including in Nizhny Novgorod. In the run-up to the tournament, Russian security forces have carried out a large number of raids and arrests, looking to neutralize militant cells made up of both Central Asian migrants, mostly based in major cities, and North Caucasian militants, mostly from the Republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia.

Since the beginning of 2018, at least 38 militant counter militancy raids have been recorded in Russia, the majority focusing on reportedly IS-linked militants. At least five of the raids occurred in or near World Cup cities, including Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, and Rostov-on-Don.

On April 17, three suspected IS-linked militants were arrested near Rostov-on-Don by FSB agents. A number of reports suggested the possibility that the militants were embedded in the city to wait until the start of the World Cup and carry out an attack during the tournament.

Islamic State-linked media reports shooting attack in Nizhny Novgorod on May 6; first 2018 Islamist militant attack in World Cup host city - Russia Analysis | MAX Security
Islamic State-linked media reports shooting attack in Nizhny Novgorod on May 6; first 2018 Islamist militant attack in World Cup host city | MAX Security

Click here to see Map Legend

Assessments

The claim from IS and the reports from the FSB indicate the first case of a successful attack occurring in a World Cup host city in 2018. The most recent Islamist militant attack in one of the host cities was in St. Petersburg in mid-2017. The incident underscores previous assessments that militants, from both Caucasian and Central Asian origins, are looking to focus their operations on the World Cup, so as to maximize exposure during the tournament. In addition, the developments come following the publication IS’ official newsletter, Al-Naba, on May 4 which called on its supporters to conduct attacks across Russia, underscoring the group’s continued interest in projecting its militant capabilities in the country. This assessment gains further credence considering IS’ repeated threats to the World Cup.

While there is no indication as to the origin of the militant at the time of writing, there are three main possibilities, all of which have been previously recorded in Russia. In the event that the attacker was a lone-wolf Central Asian migrant, who was locally radicalized within Russia through online and on ground Islamist networks, the incident highlights that lone-wolves in major cities are heeding to IS’ demands to carry out attacks on World Cup cities, demonstrating the threat in any city with a significant Central Asian diaspora community. In the event that the militant had links to Caucasian militant cells, it highlights attempts by the Caucasian Emirate pro-IS group to embed radicals within major cities, prior to the tournament, who will then carry out attacks. This is likely designed to occur before security in the North Caucasus becomes overwhelming around the time of the World Cup. The third option is that the militant may have had connections with both Central Asian militant networks and Caucasian cells, which would constitute a significant threat as such an assailant would be able to utilize the covert nature of the loosely linked Central Asian networks and the expertise of the well established Caucasian groups.

Going forward, a significant increase in counter-militancy operations in major cities and the North Caucasus will occur in the run-up to the World Cup. Furthermore, the potential for both minor and major attacks in all host cities remains before and during the tournament, likely looking to specifically target stadiums and locales with international attention, so as to maximize exposure.

Recommendations

Travel to Russia may continue while maintaining vigilant given the elevated risk of militancy and crime, particularly in major cities and World Cup host cities. (Click for our special report on threats to the 2018 World Cup).

Remain cognizant of any suspicious individuals or items that look out of place. Immediately alert authorities if identified.

Avoid all nonessential travel to the North Caucasus region, given the high risk of militancy and kidnapping.

Boko Haram’s abduction, subsequent release of 104 schoolgirls in Dapchi likely to increase group’s notoriety, legitimacy among locals – Nigeria Analysis

Executive Summary

Militants attacked a government school in Dapchi village, Burasari Local Government Area (LGA) in Yobe State and abducted 110 students and two other children on February 19.

Following extensive negotiations with the Nigerian government that resulted in the safe return of 104 of the schoolgirls and the other two children after one month in captivity, Boko Haram has been able to once again garner international attention and portray themselves as a viable threat in Nigeria’s northeastern region despite extensive counterinsurgency operations.

In light of the upcoming general elections in 2019, the girls’ safe return has been projected by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration as a triumph, which seems to have paved the way for the government’s appeasement stance toward the insurgency.

However, the incident has highlighted the administration’s propaganda of exaggerated success against the militant group and is poised to create backlash in the form of domestic and international criticism for Buhari’s policies concerning the insurgency.

We continue to advise against all travel to the northeastern Nigerian states of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe, given the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency and extreme insecurity in the region.

Current Situation

Militants attacked a government school in Dapchi village, Burasari Local Government Area (LGA) in Yobe State and abducted 110 students and two other children on February 19.

President Muhammadu Buhari issued a statement on February 24 expressing his concern about the abduction, claiming that the situation was a “national disaster”. On the same day, the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) issued a counterstatement blaming Buhari for issuing exaggerated statistics suggesting that Boko Haram had been completely decimated, a situation that they claim put unsuspecting citizens in danger.

On March 12, Borno State authorities announced the closure of all boarding schools in 25 out of the 27 state’s LGAs due to the threat of Boko Haram militants conducting additional abductions. This came in wake of President Buhari’s decision to engage in negotiations for the release of the schoolgirls.

During the early morning hours of March 21, 106 abductees, including 104 schoolgirls and the two additional children, were dropped off in the middle of Dapchi by their captors, who also warned the locals against sending the girls to Western-style schools. While five of the remaining abductees reportedly died due to exhaustion, one Christian girl remains in the militants’ custody. The Nigerian government characterized the release as “unconditional”, though some sources citing locals indicate that authorities did free several militants who joined the kidnappers, while other sources suggest that the Nigerian government had paid a ransom to secure the girls’ release.

On March 23, while receiving the released girls in Abuja, President Buhari announced that his government was ready to grant amnesty to Boko Haram members who were ready to accept unconditional surrender.

Meanwhile, on April 1, at least 29 people were killed, including six militants, in a multi-pronged Boko Haram attack on Akikaranti, Bille Shuwa, and Bale-Galtimari communes surrounding Borno State capital, Maiduguri, coinciding with the Christian Easter holiday.

Boko Haram’s abduction, subsequent release of 104 schoolgirls in Dapchi likely to increase group’s notoriety, legitimacy among locals - Nigeria Analysis | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

Assessments: Following extensive counterinsurgency operations targeting Boko Haram strongholds, group attempts to reassert presence, garner international, domestic attention

Despite subsequent large-scale security operations targeting well-documented militant strongholds such as the Sambisa Forest and Lake Chad shores in Nigeria’s northeastern region, the militants successfully launched the well-planned abduction of the Dapchi girls. Indeed, this incident resembles Boko Haram’s April 2014 attack on a school in Chibok, Borno State, when 276 girls were kidnapped. The Chibok attack resulted in an extensive international outcry,  triggered by a domestic campaign started by the families of the Chibok girls. The #BringBackOurGirls movement put the Boko Haram conflict in the international spotlight, particularly when the former US First Lady Michelle Obama endorsed the campaign. In this context, the Dapchi attack was likely motivated by the prospect of achieving similar notoriety. Additionally, the attack came in response to security forces’ triumphant claims of the near-destruction of the militant group’s presence in the region. Through the Dapchi attack, the militants debunked such claims and reasserted their continued operational capabilities across the country’s northeast.

The Dapchi abductions rendered a successful outcome for the militants. While the federal government characterized the negotiations and the subsequent release of the hostages as completely “unconditional”, it contradicted local reports of the authorities’ release of several militants. Such conflicting reports align with previous allegations against authorities for releasing militants and paying ransom for militants, with the latest incident being the February 10 release of three lecturers from the University of Maiduguri, along with ten police officers abducted by Boko Haram last year. Under these circumstances, the suspected hefty ransom payment will likely be utilized by the militants to enhance and develop their operational capabilities in the region, which may have been hampered, to some extent, by the counterinsurgency operations.

Indeed, the government’s repeated payment of ransoms without any resistance is poised to encourage the militant group to carry out similar large-scale kidnappings. Such a concern was further emphasized by the Borno State authorities’ decision to shut down boarding schools across 25 of the 27 LGAs. Furthermore, the release of militants as part of the ransom payment reintroduces experienced and well-trained fighters to the ranks of the militant group, increasing their operational capabilities. This is further highlighted in the latest Boko Haram multi-pronged attack on April 1 that was reportedly coordinated by Shuaibu Moni, a top Boko Haram commander who was released by the government to facilitate the return of 82 Chibok girls in May 2017. Moni had previously appeared in a Boko Haram video on March 7 taunting the Nigerian security forces and threatening to launch additional attacks.

The theatrical grandeur of the return of the abductees as the militants drove into the center of Dapchi hailed as heroes by the local population for safely bringing back their girls was likely a symbolic attempt by the group to embolden its authority in the region. This sheds light on the militant group’s propaganda aimed towards gaining the locals’ trust and consolidate their influence in their areas of operation. As the militants shook hands with the locals and warned them against the return of the girls to schools for Western education, they compelled the latter to adhere to the militant group’s Islamist ideologies. Through the dramatic aspects of the event, the militants effectively portrayed themselves as legitimate actors in the region, with more control than the federal government in Abuja. Given the communities’ grievances against Abuja, as they continue to feel disregarded and neglected by the government, such an image of Boko Haram is poised to render the locals more susceptible to getting recruited by the militant group. Amidst the ongoing insurgency, these circumstances increase the possibility of better cooperation between the local communities and the militants, with the former providing shelter and engaging in economic transactions with the militants for their own survival.

Assessments: With 2019 elections nearing, Buhari makes strategic shift toward developing appeasement stance to overcome Boko Haram insurgency

Since President Buhari came into office in 2015, negotiations with Boko Haram in their kidnap-for-ransom schemes have become a recurring phenomenon, which includes the 2016 release of 21 Chibok girls and another 82 released in May 2017. Such a stance toward the militant group likely stems from large-scale international and domestic attention that these incidents received. Buhari has attempted to make good on his electoral promise of combating Boko Haram in contrast to the perceived failure of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to effectively defeat the militant group. However, Buhari’s administration has also projected a stronger government resistance to the insurgency, which has led to a distorted perception of success over Boko Haram militancy in Nigeria. Continued militant attacks have highlighted the government’s propaganda in displaying exaggerated data regarding the success of counterinsurgency operations and falsely claiming the defeat of the militant group. This may, to a certain extent, reduce Buhari’s international and domestic credibility.

With Nigeria’s presidential elections slated to take place in 2019, such an approach by Buhari for the safe release of abductees is poised to become his legacy. To further add to his administration’s successes against the insurgency, following the Dapchi events, Buhari appears to have embarked towards an appeasement stance with the latest amnesty deal. It is likely that through these propositions Buhari seeks to strategically portray to the international community his efforts for a peaceful resolution in parallel to the continuation of counterinsurgency operations. Under these circumstances, it is likely that Buhari will attempt to negotiate with the militant group to reduce attacks in exchange for reduced military actions in the northeastern region.

However, the administration’s conciliatory attitude towards the militants may be perceived by some as weak, with negative implications particularly by security forces, which may have a  detrimental impact on the fighting morale of the soldiers who are endangering their lives in battle. FORECAST: As such, any attempts by Buhari to negotiate with the militants to reduce attacks in light of the upcoming elections, as well as the latest amnesty deal, may add to Nigeria’s security agencies’ frustration concerning the ongoing nine-year long insurgency and weaken their determination to actively combat it. Additionally, Buhari’s administration is poised to receive substantial criticism from opposition political parties for their weakened stance towards the insurgency and their propaganda of exaggerating military successes, as evidenced by the opposition People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) statement denouncing the Dapchi deal.

FORECAST: Buhari’s latest amnesty deal offered to Boko Haram is quite similar to an opportunity offered by former President Jonathan in 2013, which Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau outright declined. As such, it seems unlikely that Boko Haram will accept the latest deal, particularly given that the government does not seem to have any substantial negotiating leverage. Furthermore, the latest April 1 multi-pronged Boko Haram attack continues to highlight that the group remains capable of executing sophisticated large scale attacks in their traditional sphere of influence. Given the group’s resilience in remaining a viable threat in Nigeria’s northeastern region despite the large-scale counter-militancy measures, a persistence of the conciliatory approach by the government is liable to be detrimental to their interests.

Recommendations

Travel to Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt may continue while maintaining heightened vigilance and following heightened security protocols regarding criminal and militant activity.

We continue to advise against all travel to the northeastern Nigerian states of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe, given the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency and extreme insecurity in the region.

We advise to avoid all travel to areas of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad within the Lake Chad Region given the high risk of militancy.

New military campaign in North Sinai likely linked to upcoming March 2018 presidential elections – Egypt Analysis

Current Situation

On February 9, the Egyptian Armed Forces (EAAF) Spokesperson announced the commencement of a large-scale “comprehensive” military operation to “eliminate all terrorist elements” across the country, called “Operation Sinai 2018”, with special emphasis placed on the Sinai Peninsula, Nile Delta, and Western Desert. The Spokesperson also announced an increase of the country’s alert level due to the operations.

As part of the of the campaign, the Egyptian Air Force (EAF) intensified the frequency of its airstrikes targeting militant hideouts throughout North Sinai Governorate, especially in the Rafah-al-Arish-Sheikh Zuweid triangle and Central Sinai District. The Egyptian Navy increased its activity along Sinai’s coastal region, while heightened security protocols were recorded at ports and border crossings. Security forces also increased presence in the vicinity of vital infrastructure and installations. Reports from February 9 indicate that civilian Suez Canal crossings from mainland Egypt to the Sinai, including by vessel and through tunnels, have been closed to civilian traffic due to the military campaign.

On March 8, the EAAF Spokesperson stated that Operation Sinai 2018 had yielded the deaths of 105 Islamic State (IS)-affiliated Wilayat Sinai fighters and the arrests of hundreds of the group’s militants, and that 16 soldiers had also been killed since the beginning of the campaign. The Spokesperson also announced that the EAAF destroyed 1,907 hideouts and weapon storehouses.

Assessments & Forecast

The Egyptian government has achieved partial success in containing militancy threats over the past year, with a reduction in the overall number of attacks. However, the persistence, albeit reduced frequency, of attacks in North Sinai Governorate and mainland Egypt likely motivated this recent operation, demonstrating efforts to mitigate threats from multiple groups, particularly the IS-affiliate Wilayat Sinai. The large-scale attack at a mosque in North Sinai’s Bir al-Abd on November 24, 2017, which killed over 300 people, also likely triggered the operation, and it took a period of months to prepare and mobilize for the current operation.

However, considering the timing of its commencement and execution, the primary motivation for the military campaign is likely political and connected to the upcoming March 2018 presidential elections, in which President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is the leading candidate. President al-Sisi likely initiated the operations in order to boost his status among the Egyptian populace and project an image of power, stability, and intensified efforts to tackle the threat of militancy. Al-Sisi also likely timed the operation to deflect domestic and international criticism away from the election’s perceived lack of legitimacy and toward the issue of counter-terrorism, following the withdrawal or arrest of most of his electoral opponents over the past several weeks. To a lesser but still significant degree, the operation was also likely launched to draw attention away from Egypt’s poor economic conditions and towards a different public issue, namely militancy, and measures taken by authorities to tackle it.

The operations also follow international media reports about Israeli airstrikes against Wilayat Sinai in North Sinai in recent years. The Egyptian government likely intends to use the operations to demonstrate their sovereignty over North Sinai Governorate and their ability to mitigate militant threats with their own forces. This is particularly likely in light of the heightened criticism regarding al-Sisi’s close cooperation with Israeli authorities vis-a-vis the threat of militancy stemming from Wilayat Sinai elements.

Strategically, the nationwide campaign aims largely at isolating Wilayat Sinai militants in North Sinai Governorate. The reported closure of Suez Canal crossings to the movement of civilians, as well as the intensified activity by the Egyptian Navy along the Sinai coastal region, are meant to prevent reinforcements and smugglers from aiding Wilayat Sinai militants, thus putting further pressure on the Sunni jihadist militant group in North Sinai Governorate. The heightened security measures in the vicinity of vital infrastructure and installations likely were put in place to prevent reprisal attacks by militants, which in turn, would embarrass the Egyptian authorities.

FORECAST: The EAAF will likely continue implementing a strategy aimed at further isolating Wilayat Sinai militants in their aforementioned strongholds of Central Sinai Distinct and the Rafah-al-Arish-Sheikh Zuweid triangle. By carrying out simultaneous assaults on these two areas, the EAAF likely seeks to fix militants in their positions, preventing them from reinforcing the two respective areas or conducting attacks to the rear of security forces. The intensified aerial bombardments are meant to hamper militant movements, which in turn, may impede their ability to regroup or conduct attacks in order to force the deployment of Egyptian troops away from the frontlines. Furthermore, tighter inspection is liable to be enforced between Egypt and Gaza at the Rafah border crossings.

Israel permitted Egypt to deploy a large amount of forces into Sinai, as according to the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, Israeli permission is required for such a move. This highlights the increased coordination between the two countries, as they both perceived Wilayat Sinai as a strategic threat. In order to complicate and discourage the security coordination between the two countries, Wilayat Sinai may target southern Israel with rocket fire over the coming days and weeks. While in the short-term, the number of Wilayat Sinai attacks may decrease, given precedent of previous operations by the EAAF in North Sinai Governorate, over the coming months the Sunni jihadist militant group will likely renew its elevated activity in the region. The group will likely lower its profile in order to facilitate this, which would enable it to regroup and carry out multiple attacks against Egyptian security forces.

Recommendations

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

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

We further advise to avoid nonessential travel to the Southern Sinai Peninsula, while maintaining heightened vigilance in the Suez Canal Zone, the Upper Nile area, and the Nile Delta region due to an increased risk of unrest and the heightened risk of militant attacks. Before traveling to Sharm al-Sheikh, confirm that flight operations are continuing and have not been impacted by recent militant threats.

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