PGI’s Weekly Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Briefing provides an overview of key developments from across the region in the past seven days.
PGI Risk Portal Weekly MENA Briefing
Posted on 30 September by PGI Risk Portal
PGI’s Weekly Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Briefing provides an overview of key developments from across the region in the past seven days. To receive PGI’s daily briefing, containing a comprehensive update of developments in the region, register now for free Risk Portal access or follow us @PGIIntelligence
Troops kill five militants in Batna – 29 September
Soldiers killed five Islamist militants in Tazoult, Batna province, around 430 km southeast of Algiers. Weapons, explosives, ammunition and food were seized in the sweep, which authorities said was ongoing. Algerian security forces have killed tens of militants, including 50 between January and June, in counter-terrorism operations so far in 2016.
Troops kill two militants in Medea – 26 September
Two militants were killed by security forces in an operation over the night of 25-26 September. Soldiers recovered weapons, ammunition and other equipment from the militants after they were killed. Algerian forces regularly report the death or capture of alleged militants in the north of the country.
Government planning bank privatisation amid cash shortage – 25 September
According to Reuters, a senior financial official said that Algeria would permit six major state-owned banks to list on the local stock exchange to help them obtain financing. The move would reverse a rule requiring Algerian firms to keep majority shareholding in any partnership with foreigners. Algeria, which derives 60 percent of its national budget from oil and gas sales, has suffered from a shortage of cash since a global decline in oil prices in 2014.
Official survives car bomb attack in Cairo – 29 September
The assistant prosecutor general of Egypt, Zakaria Abdel Aziz, survived a car bomb attack on his convoy in Cairo. One passer-by was wounded in the blast, which occurred when a parked car bomb detonated in al-Banafseg district in New Cairo’s First Settlement. No group claimed responsibility for the attack but Islamist militants have staged targeted attacks on Egyptian officials since the 2011 uprising, including a June 2015 car bomb attack that killed the state prosecutor.
Assailants open fire at bank in Cairo – 28 September
The Youm 7 media agency reported that unidentified assailants fired at a policeman and security guard at a bank in the Bulaq Abu al-Ela neighbourhood of Cairo, before fleeing. The attack left two guards injured. Initial reports did not confirm the circumstances of the incident. Authorities said that they were investigating the identities of the gunmen. Various anti-government militant groups occasionally target policemen around the capital.
Security forces arrest Islamists over sabotage plans – 24 September
Egypt’s interior ministry announced that 17 members of the Muslim Brotherhood had been arrested in Qalioubiya governorate while allegedly planning ways to sabotage the country’s economy. The suspects, who were found in possession of cash, a birdshot gun and ammunition, reportedly confessed to planning to worsen a shortage of dollars, and other crimes. The banned Muslim Brotherhood has maintained that it rejects violence despite government claims otherwise.
Local media announce arrest of Kurdish militants in Marivan – 28 September
Tasnim news agency announced the arrest of four members of a Kurdish militant cell over 16-17 September in Marivan, Kuridstan province. Three Kalashnikov-style rifles, 16 magazines and other equipment were seized during the arrests, which were not previously disclosed. Iran has blamed Saudi Arabia for an increase in Kurdish separatist violence along its western border since mid-2016.
Economy minister backs FATF compliance – 27 September
Ali Tayyebnia, Iran’s economy minister, told parliament that the country should comply with Financial Action Task Force (FATF) regulations in order to ease barriers to the banking sector. The minister said that Iran would implement some parts of the action plan recommended by the FATF so that it could be removed from the inter-governmental body’s blacklist. Tayyebnia also said the Iran would not share intelligence, recognise unjust sanctions and would only accept as terrorist groups those entities designated by the UN Security Council. The FATF was set up to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing.
Supreme leader blocks Ahmadinejad presidential run – 26 September
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, told former hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad not to run again in next year’s presidential election. According to state news agency IRNA, Khamenei said Ahmadinejad’s candidacy would deepen the country’s political divisions. Ahmadinejad’s disputed 2009 re-election led to the largest outbreak of unrest in decades.
Islamic State loses control of last operating oil well near Kirkuk – 28 September
The Islamic State (IS) group was ousted from its last operating oil well in Iraq by pro-government forces near Kirkuk. The oil ministry confirmed that IS militants were forced from the Qayyarah oil field in fighting several weeks ago, but that pro-government forces had yet to capture the Najma oil field, near Qayyarah, though its wells were no longer producing. The loss of IS’ last well near Shirqat marks a major blow to the group’s potential revenue streams.
UK confirms Islamic State missile attacks – 24 September
Senior Royal Air Force commander Lieutenant General Mark Carleton-Smith told reporters that Islamic State (IS) militants had fired surface-to-air missiles at US-led coalition warplanes over Iraq. Smith said no UK warplanes had been struck by IS missiles due to tactics and defensive measures employed by pilots. No details of specific incidents or weapons systems used were provided, though IS has benefitted from the capture of sophisticated weapons from its opponents, including the Iraqi and Syrian armed forces.
Car bomb kills 12 in Tikrit – 24 September
Militants killed 12 people when they attacked a police checkpoint north of Tikrit and then detonated a car bomb at the entrance of the city. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which was the first since the city was retaken from Islamic State in April 2015. One of the militants was reportedly shot dead at the checkpoint, where four officers were killed, while the two other militants continued about 7 km to the city limits, where they detonated their explosives, killing eight people and wounding 23.
Protesters demand government resign after killing of writer – 26 September
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the prime minister’s offices in Amman to demand the government resign after the murder of Christian writer Nahed Hattar outside an Amman court the previous day. The demonstrators, which included members of the victim’s tribe and other supporters, blamed the government for failing to protect Hattar despite threats against his life for facing charges over an anti-Islam cartoon.
Officials seize cigarettes in Aqaba – 26 September
Customs agents seized 984 cartons of various brands of cigarettes in Aqaba port in southern Jordan. The cigarettes were seized from a container declared as medical equipment. It was unclear if any arrests were made in connection with the seizure.
Gunman shoots writer outside court – 25 September
A gunman shot dead writer Nahed Hattar outside the palace of justice in Amman where he was due to stand trial on charges of contempt of religion for sharing a caricature on social media deemed insulting to Islam. Police arrested the gunman at the scene. Witnesses said the gunman was wearing a traditional Arab dishashada, worn by ultra conservative Sunni Salafis who adhere to a puritanical version of Islam and shun Western lifestyles.
FPM delays street protests – 28 September
The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) political bloc announced it had postponed planned street protests due to commence on 28 September and 13 October. According to reports, the FPM leadership decided to delay the demonstrations pending the outcome of ongoing talks over the presidency, which has been vacant for two years due to political deadlock among lawmakers. The FPM had threatened to oust the government in the protests, which were called in support of political reforms and power-sharing agreements.
Transport drivers protest nationwide – 28 September
Taxi and bus drivers held protests nationwide in opposition to higher inspection fees and plans to privatise the Mechanical Inspection Authority. Protest and sit-ins took place near inspection centres in Mount Lebanon’s al-Dekwaneh, Hadat, Zahle, Zgharta and al-Ayrounieh. The protesters warned of further action until their demands were met and called for a protest at 1000 hrs local time on 29 September outside the interior ministry.
Haftar refuses to recognise UN-backed government – 28 September
Eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar told The Associated Press that he only recognised the legitimacy of Libya’s eastern parliament. In written responses to questions from the AP, Haftar criticised UN envoy Martin Kobler for interfering in Libya’s affairs and said that the country would be better served by a leader with military experience. Haftar and some of his allies in Libya’s eastern parliament have refused to recognise the UN-backed unity government in Tripoli.
For further analysis of the outlook for political stability in Libya see PGI’s Insight on the topic.
US strikes kill six militants in Sirte – 26 September
According the Libyan Express news outlet, US air strikes killed six Islamic State (IS) fighters and destroyed two booby-trapped vehicles in downtown Sirte. The strikes were in support of pro-government forces targeting the last IS strongholds in the coastal city. Militants have been forced into a roughly 2 km sq area inside the District 3, Jizah and 600 Buildings areas.
Update: Ottawa confirms abduction of Canadian national near Ghat – 25 September
The Canadian government has confirmed that one of its citizens was taken hostage in Libya near Ghat airport on 19 September. Ottowa said it would not comment or release further information which may compromise ongoing efforts to secure the hostage’s release. The Canadian national was abducted along with two Italians. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the kidnap.
Two suspects attempt to board vessel in Casablanca – 23 September
The crew of a Bahamas-flagged bulk carrier berthed at the Port of Casablanca said that two suspicious individuals attempted to board the carrier four times but were repeatedly stopped by the crew. There was no immediate indication that any items were taken.
Rabat applies to re-join AU – 23 September
According the African Union (AU), Morocco applied to re-join the body in a letter sent on 22 September. It comes amid official attempts to resolve a dispute over the disputed Western Sahara region, claimed by Rabat. Morocco left the AU’s predecessor 32 years ago after it recognised a territory claimed by pro-independence fighters from the Polisario Front in the Western Sahara.
US warns against travel to southeast, west – 29 September
The U.S. Department of State warned its citizens against travel to southeastern or western Tunisia due to the threat of terrorism. The warning noted the March 2016 attack on Ben Guerdane and 2015 attacks on tourists in Sousse and Tunis. Islamist militant groups remained active in the west of the country, including in Jebel Chaambi, Sammama, and Selloum, and US nationals were advised to avoid Jendouba, Kef, and Kasserine, along the Algerian border. Americans were also advised against travel to Gafsa and Sidi Bouzid in central Tunisia, as well as Ben Guerdane and Medenine near the Libyan border, due to the unpredictable security situation.
URT plans 4 October general strike in Tataouine – 19 September
The Regional Union of Labour (URT) announced plans for a general strike in Tataouine governorate on 4 October. Officials said the strike was organised after the dismissal of several workers of the Bouchamaoui Company. There is a precedent for general strikes to cause severe disruption in Tunisia, which faces persistently high levels of unrest linked to both political and economic grievances.
Government extends state of emergency for one month – 19 September
President Beji Caid Essebsi announced that the current state of emergency would be extended for one month until 9 October. The decree allows for the imposition of a ban on strikes and meetings that may provoke disorder. The measure is the third time the state of emergency has been extended since coming into force in November 2015, when an Islamic State-claimed attack killed 12 presidential guards in Tunis.
Customs agents seize 29 kg of cannabis – 25 September
The Customs Authority announced officers had seized 29 kg of cannabis from passengers at Doha’s Hamad International Airport. The seizures occurred over the past month and resulted in the arrest of at least four passengers.
Foreign workers block road in Eastern Province – 27 September
Tens of foreign workers employed by Saudi conglomerate Saad Group blocked a road that links the town of al-Hasa to Dammam. The workers blocked the road in Eastern Province in demand of their wages, which they said had not been paid in more than seven months. An economic crisis in Saudi Arabia has led to more frequent protests by workers over unpaid wages.
For analysis of the outlook for the economy and unrest in Saudi Arabia see PGI’s Insight from 18 August.
Government cuts pay, benefits for civil servants – 26 September
The Saudi cabinet announced cuts to pay and benefits for public workers effective 1 October. The measures cut salaries for ministers by 20 percent and reduce financial benefits, including overtime bonuses, as part of its ongoing response to a serious economic crisis resulting from sustained lower oil prices since 2014. The cabinet decree marked the first pay cut for government employees, who make up around two-thirds of all Saudis in the work force.
Gunmen attack security post in Eastern Province – 25 September
Unidentified gunmen attacked a security post at the entrance to Awamiyah, Qatif. The attack, which took place at 2230 hrs local time, injured one civilian. Authorities said that they were investigating the incident as a terrorist attack but it was unclear who was responsible. Security forces have come under regular attack by gunmen in restive Eastern Province, where perceived marginalisation of the Shi’a community has fuelled repeated bouts of unrest and violence.
Clashes, air strikes continue in Hama countryside – 29 September
Fighting between opposition rebels and government forces continued in the Hama countryside, with ground clashes reported around al-Zaghba and Karage. Air strikes by pro-regime warplanes occurred in Maan, Talisa, Latamina and Kafar Zita, resulting the death of at least one civilian. Violence in Syria has shown no signs of abating since the collapse of a US-Russia brokered truce on 19 September.
Warplanes launch intense attack on Aleppo – 28 September
Intense air strikes by pro-regime forces continued in Aleppo, with reports that two hospitals in the rebel-held east, M2 and M10, were struck early on 28 September. The intense bombardment came hours after government forces launched a major ground assault, backed by artillery and warplanes, which saw them seize the central Farafra district. Heavy fighting also broke out in the Bab al-Antakya area. The intensity of fighting in Aleppo has escalated in recent days, and pro-regime forces have made significant gains despite heavy resistance.
Opposition says political solution no longer viable – 28 September
The opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) said in a statement that a political solution to the conflict was no longer a viable option. The SNC said that the armed opposition would consider all possible options to defend the country from Russian aggression. The statement came amid an intensification of attacks on rebel-held parts of Aleppo by pro-regime air and ground forces.
Activists report high number of casualties in Aleppo – 25 September
According to the Aleppo Media Centre (AMC), an opposition activist group, air strikes by pro-regime forces on Aleppo killed at least 85 people and wounded more than 300 others. The high number of casualties, which could not be independently verified, was evidence of the intensification of attacks by pro-regime forces on rebel-held parts of Aleppo, including al-Kallasa, Bustan al-Basha and Ard al Hamra. The AMC said that 244 civilians had died over the past three days amid an upsurge in attacks by warplanes and ground forces that had led to the collapse of local infrastructure.
United Arab Emirates
Drone disrupts flights at Dubai airport – 28 September
The presence of an unauthorized drone led to the closure of Dubai airport between 0808 hrs and 0835 hrs local time. It was the second such incident at the airport, the world’s busiest for international flights, in four months.
Southern Movement leader calls for independence – 28 September
Abdul Rahman al Wali, a leader in the separatist Southern Movement, called for independence for southern Yemen. Pro-secession militias in the south have allied with President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to resist Houthi rebels, but Wali denounced the government for exploiting the south and said the current conditions were right for independence. The statement came days after pro-secession militias reportedly disrupted celebrations of the 26 September revolution in Aden.
Pro-government forces launch new offensive in north – 28 September
Loyalist forces announced that they had commenced a new military offensive to liberate northern areas of Yemen from the control of pro-Houthi forces. The assault will target remaining Houthi-held territory in Marib, al Jawf, Shabwa, Sa’adah, and Amran governorates in preparation for an eventual push on the capital, Sana’a. The new offensive comes amid ongoing fighting across northern Yemen, including in Ghayl, al Jawf, where 20 Houthi rebels were reportedly killed in clashes over the past two days.
Foreign minister plans complaint to UN over Iranian weapons transfers – 24 September
Yemen’s Foreign Minister Abdel-Malek al-Mekhlafi said he plans to complain to the UN Security Council over Iran’s weapons transfers to Houthi rebels that are fighting the internationally recognised government. Al-Mekhlafi also said he hopes a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire could take effect from “early next week”. Yemen and Saudi Arabia have long accused Iran of arming the Shi’a Houthi rebels. Tehran denies the allegations, but claims the Houthis are the legitimate government in Yemen.
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