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

Executive summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is advised to defer all travel to Tripoli and Benghazi at this time due to ongoing violence, threats against foreigners, and the risk of a broad deterioration of security conditions. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support plans.

Focal Points in Libya

Current Situation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

Assessments & Forecast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations

It is advised to defer all travel to Tripoli and Benghazi at this time due to ongoing violence, threats against foreigners, and the risk of a broad deterioration of security conditions. We advise at this time that those remaining in Tripoli and Benghazi should initiate contingency and emergency evacuation plans due to deterioration in the security situation. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support plans.

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

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

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

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

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

Those planning to conduct air travel to, from and inside Libya should avoid entering the area between Marsa al-Brega, Sirte and Sebha, as it was declared a no-fly zone by the Libyan National Army (LNA).

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

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

For those operating in or conducting business with oil facilities, it is advised to consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations and ground support options.

Claiming of package bombs by IRA underscores increase in Northern Ireland tensions around Brexit – UK Analysis

Written and edited by Ollie Wiltshire

Executive Summary

On March 5, three suspicious packages were found at three separate locations in London, including City Airport (LCY), Heathrow Airport (LHR), and Waterloo Station, and one at Glasgow University.

A claim was made taking responsibility for five devices (one of which has yet to be uncovered), on behalf of a group referring to themselves as the Irish Republican Army.

Actions from the new IRA  will increase frictions in Northern Ireland and cause further disruptions in Great Britain, with additional incendiary devices and false alarms.

Although the Brexit vote brought about new tensions surrounding Northern Ireland, the security landscape is in such a position that a  resurgence of “the Troubles” seems unlikely.

Take additional security measures with regards to screening mail sent to private and work facilities.

Current Situation

On March 5, three suspicious packages were found at three separate locations in London. At approximately 09:55 (local time), a package was found at The Compass Centre, an office building on the grounds of London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR). The package was opened by the staff within the building, causing the device to ignite and burn part of the package. The building was evacuated and no one injured. Specialist police officers arrived to inspect and safely dispose of the device. Despite the fact that the building was evacuated, the incident did not affect operations at the airport.

Police said that the device would have been capable of lighting an initially small fire. The devices were sent in A4-sized postal bags, which contained yellow padded envelopes.

On the same day, at around 11:40 (local time), a second package with an incendiary device was found in the postal room at London’s Waterloo Station. The package was not opened and specialist officers disposed of the device. The station was not evacuated, but the area around the location where the device was uncovered was cordoned off. Operations were not affected.

Later on March 5, a third similar package was found around 12:10 (local time) at the offices in City Aviation House, in London’s City Airport (LCY). The building was evacuated and no one was injured.

The next day, on March 6, a suspicious package was found at the University of Glasgow. The device was posted to a British Army recruitment office on campus. The package was not opened, however, various buildings at the university were evacuated.

Later in the day, Officers from the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command linked the three devices found in London to the one found at the University of Glasgow, based on subtleties and similarities in markings and the types of device. It was subsequently announced that security forces suspected factions of Northern Irish republicans to be behind the incidents.

On March 11, a claim was made through a media outlet in Northern Ireland, taking responsibility for five devices (one of which has yet to be uncovered), on behalf of a group referring to themselves as the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The claim used a number of codewords recognized by security forces as being traditionally linked to the IRA and dissident republican factions.

On March 14, the trial of a former British soldier began in Northern Ireland. The former-soldier was charged for two murders during the 1972 “Bloody Sunday” protest, in which 13 unarmed Catholic civil rights marchers in Londonderry (locally referred to as Derry) were killed by British paratroopers.

Background

More than 10 militant incidents, including attacks, threats, and arrests, were reported in Northern Ireland since the beginning of 2017. These include an incident on January 19, when a car bomb was detonated outside a courthouse in Londonderry (Derry). Following the incident, two individuals were arrested, thought to be linked to the IRA.

Tensions between the Republic of Ireland, the UK, Republican factions within Northern Ireland, and their Unionist counterparts have significantly increased in recent years following the referendum on the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. Particularly, the matter of the “Irish backstop” has caused a number of issues. The backstop was planned as an EU plan to guarantee that there would never be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, however, pro-Brexit Members of Parliament see it as leaving the UK in a potentially indefinite customs union with the EU. More broadly the issue of the position of Northern Ireland following Brexit has been highly contentious with the majority of Catholic Republicans voting to remain in the EU and majority of Protestant Unionists voting to leave.

Assessments & Forecast

Assessments: New IRA to increase friction in Northern Ireland, cause further disruptions in Great Britain

Despite the fact that the packages sent at the beginning of March appear to have come as part of a coordinated plan to disrupt and cause harm at major targets within the UK, they do not necessarily indicate that the group behind them has particularly sophisticated capabilities. The devices themselves do not seem to have been well made or successful, as evidenced by only one partially detonating. With this, it is likely that the group behind the attacks do not pose a significant threat to the safety of security of businesses and citizens in Great Britain. Furthermore, there is no indication that the group who sent the packages are of any considerable size or have a robust organizational structure as a militant faction, let alone have the capabilities of the former IRA. That said, the incident is highly noteworthy for two main reasons.

First, it is both indicative of rising tensions in Northern Ireland and has the potential to further increase fears of an IRA resurgence in the country. Fears among Protestant communities will likely increase, potentially causing sectarian gangs to attempt to arm themselves and carry out rival attacks. The majority of such attacks are liable to take place in major cities such as Belfast and Londonderry (Derry). FORECAST: In the immediate term, such violence is likely to come in the form of stabbings, small shooting attacks (targeting buildings more than people), and small IED attacks. The death toll is initially not expected to be high. That said, all of the above will catalyze tensions and build on a cycle of violence which could escalate.

Second, the disruptions which were witnessed in Great Britain may encourage other dissident Irish groups, or other unrelated militant groups, to look to carry out similar attacks with the intention of shutting down major airports or transportation hubs.
FORECAST: With that in mind, additional IED attempts, package bombs, or bomb threats are liable to continue in 2019, increasing tensions and fears within Great Britain.

 

Assessment: Although Brexit vote brought about new tensions, security landscape unlikely to see resurgence of “Troubles”

The increase in incidents since the Brexit referendum on June 23, 2016, has clearly shown that the underlying religious and political currents that led to the decades of fighting up until the 1990s have not completely dissipated. On the contrary, to some extent, they have the potential to reemerge, potentially bringing about the worst violence in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998, which brought about peace in the region. In addition, the issues, such as the trial of the British soldier over the “Bloody Sunday” incident, have the potential to add to the existing frictions.

FORECAST: However, it is important to note that the security and political landscape in the UK has significantly changed since 1998 and has done so in such a way that a return to a similar situation as “the Troubles” is highly unlikely. For one thing, within Northern Ireland, there has been almost a whole generation who have come of age since the end of the violence, many of whom will have far less intense memories and feelings of aggression over Northern Ireland’s history. In addition, IRA supporters in the Republic of Ireland, as well as in the USA, are far less likely to take an active role in aiding the organization in attacking the UK, as occurred during “the Troubles”. Thus, the IRA is likely to be far less well-armed, far less socially accepted, and far more underground. Finally, since the end of the “the Troubles”, the UK took drastic steps to upgrade its security and anti-terrorism infrastructure, mostly due to the then-new threat of Islamist militancy. This means that the new IRA would be not only building itself to fight against decades of institutional memory on Northern Irish militancy but also many years of continuous training and expertise obtained while the UK defended itself against jihad.

Recommendations

  1. Travel and operations in the UK can continue while remaining aware of underlying threats and disruptions caused by militancy.
  2. Take additional security measures with regards to screening mail sent to private and work facilities. When screening posts for suspicious items, look out for the following: Oil stains on the envelope, too many stamps, unknown/unfamiliar sender, recipient not expecting the letter, typos/spelling mistakes, non-standard envelope, envelope within an envelope, no postal authority stamp.
  3. Immediately alert authorities of any suspicious behavior or items.

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.

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

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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.

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

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Current Situation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assessments & Forecast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations

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

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

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

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

The Islamic State in London: An evolution in lone-wolf terror and what you can do to be prepared