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How increased cartel violence and extortion operations are threatening the security of global companies – Mexico Analysis

Executive Summary

A number of multi-national companies have ceased operations in various parts of Mexico due to threats or attacks from drug cartels and cartel-linked criminal organizations.

As the cartels continue to gain strength amid an ongoing security crisis in the country, they are targeting larger, foreign companies for extortion.

The presence of cartels in any given area brings with it an increased level of violent crime, which threatens private operations, regardless of whether the cartel is targeting a particular firm.

Avoid nonessential travel to states with an extreme or high risk of cartel and gang-related violence

MAX Security

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Current Situation

On May 27, 2018, a Canadian mining company reportedly made the decision to halt operations at one of its largest mines near Madera Municipality in the northern state of Chihuahua, following threats to a number of its workers. Members of drug cartels had set up checkpoints at entry points to the mine, harassing and assaulting workers entering the site, forcing some to be evacuated from the area. The discovery of a decapitated body near the open-pit mine was reportedly the final catalyst for the company to reconsider continuing operations. Reports indicate that the powerful Juarez and Sinaloa cartels have been fighting for control of the region around the mine since early 2018.

Similarly, one of Mexico’s largest bottling plants in Altamirano City, Guerrero State was completely closed down on May 25, after gunmen opened fire on workers attempting to reopen the plant, which had been temporarily shut since January due to threats of extortion. The company reportedly accused the local government of not doing enough to secure worker safety, an accusation echoed by the head of the national employers’ confederation, Confederacion Patronal de la Republica Mexicana (COPARMEX), on May 29, 2018. COPARMEX has frequently highlighted the increasing rate of extortion across Mexico, with the number of reported cases in the capital growing by roughly a third between April 2016 and April 2018. COMPARMEX officials have suggested that at least three percent of corporate spending goes on security alone in order to combat the threat of extortion stemming from the increasingly powerful drug cartels.

On May 3, a multi-national dairy company was reportedly forced to temporarily close one of its distribution centers in Mante City, in the border state of Tamaulipas, after a cargo truck was burnt down while carrying products in the direction of Veracruz. Reports indicate that in the first quarter of 2018 over 800 attacks and robberies targeting cargo-trains and trucks were carried out in Mexico, an almost 500 percent increase on the previous quarter. In 2017, there were over 200 train robberies respectively in both of the centrally located states of Puebla and Veracruz.

Another sector significantly affected by the increasing cartel violence is construction, with a thirty percent increase in the theft and robbery of machinery and equipment from sites nationwide in 2017. The Jalisco State head of the Camara Mexicana de la Industria de la Construccion (CMIC), Mexico’s public body for the construction industry, said that while such thefts traditionally targeted rural and peripheral sites, increasingly robberies targeted urban centers, including the capital, Mexico City.

Background

The various cartels have been involved in an intense and expanding conflict between one another over the past two years, a symptom of the recapture of Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, head of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, in 2016, which left a power vacuum and an opening for a number of different groups to increase their regional standing. Cartel-related violence has especially increased along states on key drug-transit routes including in Chihuahua, Jalisco, Michoacan, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz. Some of these states border the USA, the primary destination for much of the drug trade in Mexico. States such as Jalisco, Quintana Roo, and Veracruz are not only important land-transport routes for drugs destined for the USA, but ports in these states also act as hubs for maritime transportation of drugs to North America and Western Europe.

Over 25,000 murders were reported in Mexico during 2017, a 23 percent increase on 2016, with 2018 set to exceed 30,000. In Mexico City, the homicide rate for the first quarter of 2018 was 14 percent higher than in the previous quarter.

Cartel Risk by State, Mexico

Assessments

Threats to private companies increase due to regional power of cartels when compared to police, local security forces

As demonstrated by the abovementioned examples, the cartels have expanded beyond traditional primary sources of income, drug trafficking, in order to diversify revenue sources. It is this diversification that has led to the increased threat to foreign companies operating in Mexico. Extortion and robbery present an opportunity for the well-organized, well-funded cartels to earn money that is less likely to aggravate tensions with other cartels. In this sense, the obstacles to success are only federal security forces and private security, which have faced numerous accusations of corruption and ineffectiveness. Moreover, local law enforcement or local private security contractors are typically less well armed than rival cartels and have a reputation for being highly susceptible to bribery.

While cartels have targeted local businesses for extortion for many years, the recent trend in targeting large and multinational enterprises demonstrates their augmented strength and confidence within the new and chaotic security climate in Mexico. The largest cartels have built significant armed capabilities, as well as considerable wealth, making them less concerned about repercussions from security forces or the government. In many rural areas of Mexico, particularly in the aforementioned states which lie on drug-transport routes, the question of the most powerful armed organizations in the region has become obfuscated, with some cartels boasting far stronger capabilities than local law enforcement. Additionally, at times, the power of the cartels within the local government gives them increasing freedom to act entirely of their own volition, using bribery and threats to entrench themselves in the legal and political institutions.

Given this increased power, as well as a growing willingness to seek financial recourse from sources other than drug trafficking, the number of cases of large-scale corporate extortion in Mexico is likely to continue to grow, especially given the government’s seeming inability to fully secure even major cities against cartel violence. Foreign companies and foreign workers are just as likely to be targeted as locals, and many times may be particularly singled out due to a perception of the companies as more willing to pay out in an attempt to protect their assets and employees.

Regional cartel presence exacerbates general crime threat to private companies, even if specific firms are not being singled out

In addition to the threats from organized cartels in the region, there is also the security risk which arises when a cartel becomes involved in a particular area; specifically, that the general level of law and order decreases. Cartels often rely on young local residents to carry out a number of tasks in their operations, who can quickly become institutionalized and look to start their own smaller criminal enterprises. With this is in mind, the threat does not only arise from targeting by the cartel itself but also targeting by smaller groups who have arrived in the region due to the presence and opportunities offered by the cartels. While these groups pose less of a threat and often easier to secure against, in the event that they seek help from higher, more well-connected members of their cartel, the possibility for extreme violence increases. These smaller groups are more likely to carry out less-sophisticated and petty criminal operations, including armed robbery, automobile theft, and assault, as supposed to larger cartels who can run major extortion rackets. Nonetheless, they remain extremely dangerous and a major threat to corporate security for any company continuing to operate in the region. The threat is particularly acute with regards to individual employees rather than company sites or assets, given the ease with which individuals can be attacked.

Furthermore, the often heavy-handed nature of the federal security forces’ response to cartel violence can alienate much of the rural population and local security forces, discouraging them from aiding efforts to protect foreign entities and leaving them more susceptible to corruption. This disenfranchisement, particularly among young males, in addition to general poverty in many rural areas, means that criminal groups can easily align significant portions of local populations to their goals. Formally safe and reliable areas of operation can quickly become hotbeds of cartel-linked activity if they become part of a drug-route or the location of a conflict.

Recommendations

Avoid nonessential travel to states with an extreme or high risk of cartel and gang-related violence.

Those with continuing essential operations in such states are advised to maintain an adequate private executive security contingent in order to secure any facilities or transport plans. Minimize employee exposure to areas with a known cartel presence.

In the event that a facility or operation begins to be targeted by cartel members, it is advised to evacuate all personnel immediately from the site, while avoiding any interaction with the criminal groups where possible.

Remain cognizant of local media updates regarding areas with a significant cartel presence, given the dynamic nature of the violence.

Do not travel alone and be sure not to follow travel routines; use varying routes.

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.

Summer Travel Destinations Risks & Threats

Strategic Analysis: Potential for Hamas-Israel conflict increases with mounting pressure from Egypt

On October 21, Hamas officially claimed responsibility for building a 1.7km tunnel which was uncovered in Israeli territory on October 7. The tunnel extended from the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis to the vicinity of the Israeli community of Ein Hashloshah, and was meant to transfer Hamas militants into Israeli territory for the purpose of staging a mass-casualty attack or kidnapping.  The claiming of the tunnel by Hamas comes during a period of mounting economic pressure against its Gaza-based government as a result of the closure of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, and the destruction of over 90 percent of the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza by the Egyptian military.

Hamas militia on patrol in Gaza City
Hamas militia on patrol in Gaza City

In September 2013, IDF Southern Command chief Sami Turgeman revealed that Israel had sent a delegation to Cairo in an effort to convince the Egyptian military to ease pressure on the Gaza Strip. Turgeman cited Israeli concerns that Hamas’ increasing isolation could lead to a collapse of a ceasefire with the IDF which has been in place since the conclusion of Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.  The IDF is reportedly concerned that such isolation would weaken the ability of Hamas’ security forces to prevent rocket fire by fringe extremist groups, or that Hamas’ own military wing would resort to an escalation with Israel in an act of desperation.

Following the uncovering of the tunnel on October 7, the IDF abruptly halted recently-resumed shipments of concrete to the Gaza Strip, while Palestinian residents claimed to have received SMS messages from the IDF accusing Hamas of ignoring the dire economic conditions in favor of building combat infrastructure. In addition, an increase in IDF activity has been noted in the Gaza Strip border area, including limited penetrations and the uncovering of improvised explosive devices meant to target border patrols.

Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Potential for Hamas-Israel conflict increases with mounting pressure from Egypt

Political Analysis: Bouteflika clan attempts to cement rule in Algeria

There are those who argue that Egypt’s infamous dictator Hosni Mubarak sealed his own fate long before the first activists pitched their tents in Tahrir Square in January 2011. They say the countdown really began in 2010, when Mubarak’s eldest son Gamal pitched a bold economic reform package to weather Egypt through the global economic recession.

bouteflika
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika

At the time, Gamal was known to be next in line to succeed his father. The plan would have essentially taken the regime’s massive economic holdings out of the hands of the military-backed older generation and put it into the hands of Gamal’s loyal young business class within the ruling NDP party. After the Arab Spring engulfed the country, the Egyptian military unsurprisingly had little motivation to save the embattled Mubarak family, instead organizing his dismissal and eventually enabling the trial of Hosni and his two sons on corruption charges. 

Numerous comparisons between Egypt and Algeria have since been made in the global pundit-sphere. Most have focused on their respective battles with political Islam, but few have given credit to Algeria’s aging President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for recognizing Mubarak’s mistakes and keeping his regime afloat amid the storm of regional political upheaval.

Continue reading Political Analysis: Bouteflika clan attempts to cement rule in Algeria

Strategic Analysis: Lebanese-Israeli border tensions marked by erosion of UN resolution 1701

Lebanon
Hezbollah has claimed responsibility for a recent bombing attack near the Israeli border.

On the seven-year anniversary of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah claimed responsibility for an August 7 explosion in the Israeli-Lebanese border area, near the town of Labboune. That day, at least one explosive device injured four Israeli soldiers, who were accused by Lebanese parties and UNIFIL of crossing into Lebanese territory during a patrol in an un-demarcated area of the border.

Lebanese media outlets and politicians asserted that the IDF crossed both the technical fence and the international border, which do not coincide in some areas. Initial reports indicated that the troops were hit by a landmine which may have been a remnant from previous conflicts. The IDF has since declined to comment on the details of the incident, including whether or not troops entered Lebanese territory or whether the attack was intentional. Nasrallah claimed that Hezbollah had prior knowledge of an upcoming Israeli incursion, leading their operatives to plant explosive devices. He ended with what would some consider an ominous warning: “This operation will not be the last; we will not be lenient with those who violate our land. Whenever we feel that the Israelis have entered Lebanese soil, we will act.” The truth about what actually happened on August 7 may forever be disputed, but it remains clear that Hezbollah still seeks to avoid a conflict with Israel — despite Nasrallah’s seemingly confident claim of responsibility. Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Lebanese-Israeli border tensions marked by erosion of UN resolution 1701

Intelligence Analysis: The Kurd’s shifting role in the Syrian conflict

“Deal with your friends as if they will become your enemies tomorrow, and deal with your enemies as if they will become your friends tomorrow.” It’s a proverb passed along through Kurdish generations — and a telling pretext to the Kurdish strategy in today’s conflict in Syria. In recent weeks, this once dormant player has awoken from its slumber, and may just provide Syria’s desperate rebels with a much needed boost to break their deadlock with the Assad regime.

Reports indicate that YPG militiamen and Syrian rebels have agreed to share control of the strategic Sheikh Maqsood District of northern Aleppo, cutting off regime supply routes to a hospital, prison, and other key positions. Rebel fighters entered the district largely unopposed on March 31. On April 6, the Syrian military bombarded Kurdish neighborhoods in northern Aleppo, killing 15 people in a likely response to this new arrangement. The following day, Kurdish militiamen attacked a Syrian military checkpoint in the city, killing five troops.

PYD supporters at a funeral for a deceased member.
PYD supporters at a funeral for a deceased member

Further east, Syrian military units attacked a checkpoint manned by Kurdish militiamen in the northeastern city of Qamishli on April 4. Hours later, militiamen from the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) attacked two Syrian military positions on the outskirts of Qamishli. The attacks resulted in a number of deaths on both sides and marked the first such incident to occur in the predominantly Kurdish Hasakah Province since the Syrian military withdrew from the region’s urban centers in the summer of 2012.

Continue reading Intelligence Analysis: The Kurd’s shifting role in the Syrian conflict

Intelligence Analysis: Mounting tensions with Tunisia’s Jihadists

The month of March 2013 has witnessed an increase in tensions between local Tunisian Salafist networks, the newly formed government of P.M. Laarayedh, and the country’s secular/liberal societal factions.

On March 26, Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) issued a warning on social media towards P.M. Laarayedh, after he condemned Tunisia’s Salafist minority as responsible for recent violence in an interview with French media that same day. The post featured a threat to topple the government from Abu Iyad al-Tunisi, a prominent jihadist founder of AST suspected of orchestrating the September 11, 2012 riots at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. Following those riots, Abu Iyad was targeted for arrest at the al-Fatah Mosque in Tunis, but escaped after his supporters confronted security forces.

Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia has recently threatened the government.
Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia has recently threatened the government.

Iyad’s warning came days after al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), issued a new message calling on jihadists across the region to to join its ranks and take up arms against French assets as well as Western-sympathetic local governments in the Arab World. The message included a specific call towards Ansar al-Sharia members in Tunisia, which was reportedly received positively by the group.

On March 27, the Tunisian government announced that it would take measures to curb the flow of Tunisian jihadists to the conflict in Syria, citing concerns over their return to the country to engage in militant activity. Reports indicate that thousands of Tunisians are currently participating in both the Syrian and Malian conflict. In Syria, Tunisian nationals are estimated to comprise 30-40 percent of all foreign fighters. The majority of Tunisian jihadists fighting in Syria hail from outlying communities in the west and south of the country, primarily the town of Ben Guerdane, located near the Libyan border. Multiple Tunisian nationals also participated in a deadly raid against Algeria’s In Amenas gas facility in January 2013.

Following the 2010-11 Tunisian revolution, Salafist-jihadist elements have increased their activity substantially. Following the ousting of the Ben Ali regime, previously strict anti-Islamist policing policies were forgone, while the ensuing security vacuum enabled the establishment of training camps and weapons smuggling networks in outlying areas. Training camps near the Libyan and Algerian borders are currently meant to facilitate the indoctrination and transfer of Tunisian nationals to conflicts elsewhere in the region, including in Syria, Mali, and Algeria.

Continue reading Intelligence Analysis: Mounting tensions with Tunisia’s Jihadists

Strategic Analysis: Egypt’s uphill battle for economic recovery

“The purpose is to reassure them that what we agreed on last time is still there, and nothing has changed,” so declared an Egyptian government spokesman after announcing that an IMF delegation would return to Cairo to revive talks on a crucial 4.8 billion USD loan agreement aimed at salvaging Egypt’s economy. Change, however, would be the subtlest word to describe the botched facelift the country underwent since the IMF’s last visit on November 20. After weathering a month of bitter civil unrest, President Morsi successfully strong-armed an Islamist-backed constitution into law on December 25. In doing so, he left gaping wounds across Egyptian society and exposed his own politically perilous path to restoring the economy.

The IMF headquarters in Washington DC.
The IMF headquarters in Washington DC.
On December 9, while Islamists and liberals were engaged in pitched battles over the draft constitution outside of the Presidential palace, Mr. Morsi was confronted by his own political backers in the Muslim Brotherhood over a new economic program aimed at appeasing IMF loan conditions. As part of the plan, sales taxes on commodities ranging from steel to soft drinks would be raised, while subsidies on fuel and electricity would be reduced. In less than 12 hours after the list of tax increases was published on Morsi’s Facebook page, the government retracted the proposal and asked the IMF to postpone the loan agreement.

Strategic Analysis: Terrorism and Poverty in Sahelian Africa

A recent UN report warning of a severe food shortage across the Sahel, combined with the rise of Islamic militancy in northern Mali, poses a direct threat to regional stability in West Africa. According to a report released on August 16, by the United Nations office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “refugees and internally displaced persons in Mali and neighboring countries are in urgent need of food, shelter and water.”  The report warns that the food insecurity situation is deteriorating as a severe drought, spanning from Senegal to Chad, plagues the Sahel, leaving bones scattered in its path. The proliferation of armed groups and political instability is a direct result of this humanitarian crisis, and the ripple effects will be felt everywhere.

Ansar al-Dine militants patrol in northen Mali.

In March, a coup d’etat in the capital Bamako left a security vacuum in the north and allowed al-Qaeda linked militant groups to exploit the situation and take control of northern Mali, an area the size of France.  A reported 435,000 inhabitants fled to Mauritania, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Niger and to southern Mali as Islamic fundamentalists Ansar Dine, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa imposed strict Sharia, or Islamic law, in the cities of Gao, Kidal and historic Timbuktu.

Under their rule, which effectively goes unrivaled, music, soccer, smoking cigarettes and playing video games are all banned activities.  Harsh sentences have been carried out against an unmarried couple, who were stoned to death, and a thief, who had his hand hacked off, all in the name of Islamic justice.

Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Terrorism and Poverty in Sahelian Africa