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.
Attempted Ballistic Missile attack against Mecca – PGI Weekly Report
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Posted on 28 October by PGI Risk Portal
PGI notes many incidents across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region over the past week. More detail of the US-backed offensive on the ISIS-held city of Mosul. An Iranian Minister signs port agreement with the Dutch. EU Coast Guard training, Operation Sophia, in Libya continues. Fighting also escalated across Yemen after the end of a three-day humanitarian ceasefire on 23 October, with an attempted ballistic missile attack against Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Read on for more detail.
Soldiers arrest two suspected militants in Boumerdes province – 26 October
The ministry of defence said that soldiers arrested two suspected militants during an operation in the village of Sahel Bouberak, Boumerdes province, seizing two firearms, ammunition and other equipment. Initial reports did not confirm to which militant group the suspects allegedly belong. Security forces frequently target militants in northeastern areas of Algeria.
Authorities seize 9,000 tonnes of sugar amid shortage – 24 October
Officials said that they had seized 9,000 tonnes of sugar during raids on factories and warehouses in recent days, blaming suppliers and traders for hoarding the commodity. Officials said that the move was necessary to deal with a sugar shortage. PepsiCo said that it closed its factory on 23 October and Edita Food Industries said that its factory in Beni Suef had been shut for three days. An acute dollar shortage and increasing global prices have led to the failure to import the 1 mn tonnes of sugar needed to meet demand.
Air strikes kill 70 militants in Sinai – 23 October
The Egyptian armed forces said air strikes against Islamist militants in the northern Sinai had killed 70 fighters and injured another 70 others. The strikes targeted supporters of the Islamic State affiliate Sinai Province in the village of Bolus. Several vehicles used by the militants were also destroyed and a plot to attack a communications site in the area was prevented when four bombs were discovered.
Militant group claims assassination of military officer – 23 October
An armed group known as the Liwa al-Thawra, or the Revolution Brigade, claimed responsibility for the assassination of a senior military officer northeast of Cairo on 22 October. The group first emerged in August when it claimed to be behind an ambush of a police checkpoint in Sadat City. Major Adel Ragaai’s unit was charged with destroying cross-border tunnels used by militants between Egypt and Gaza, and his killing marked the first political assassination of a military officer since President Mohamed Morsi was deposed by the military in July 2013.
Minister signs port agreement with Dutch – 25 October
During a trade visit to Tehran, Dutch Minster of Infrastructure and the Environment Schultz van Haegen signed a memorandum of understanding with Iranian Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Ahmad, aimed at the strategic bilateral development of maritime and port activities. The agreement will focus on the use of existing maritime facilities to enable logistical cooperation between the two countries, and includes provisions for encouraging investment, joint training, the formation of a joint committee and the development of logistical procedures.
See PGI’s latest insight on the outlook for foreign investment in Iran and the prospects for President Hassan Rouhani’s 2017 re-election bid.
Shi’a militia plan imminent offensive west of Mosul – 28 October
Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitary groups said that they planned to launch an offensive on Islamic State (IS) positions west of Mosul within hours or a few days. The Shi’a militia forces said that they had completed preparations to attack the IS stronghold of Tal Afar, a mixed Sunni-Shi’a area 55 km west of Mosul. The US has said it will not support Shi’a militia units who participate in the assault on Mosul, given widespread allegations of human rights abuses, and, Turkey, which has refused to withdraw its troops from northern Iraq, has threatened a response in case of an attack on Tal Afar.
Mosul assault kills nearly 800 militants – 24 October
The Iraqi Joint Operation Command said that 772 Islamic State (IS) fighters had been killed since the start of the Mosul offensive on 17 October. Officials also confirmed that 127 car bombs have been destroyed while 397 IEDs have been defused. Iraqi security forces have encountered tough resistance but have managed to seized some 80 villages to the north and east of the city from IS in the first week of the campaign.
Security forces clash with militants near Kirkuk – 23 October
Fighting between Islamic State (IS) militants and security forces continued outside Kirkuk, days after a major assault on the city left almost 100 people, including nearly 50 attackers, dead. Clashes were reported in the village of Wadi Nafti, in the southwest, and the Hai Askari district in the city’s southeast. On 21 October, IS launched a major assault, involving more than 100 militants, that was eventually repelled by security forces.
Militants set sulphur plant alight, injuring hundreds near Mosul – 22 October
Two people died and more than 1,000 others were treated for breathing problems after Islamic State militants set fire to the al-Mishraq sulphur plant near Qayyarah, southeast of Mosul. The fire caused toxic smoke to spread across the area. US officials have warned IS would likely employ chemical weapons in an attempt to defend Mosul from an ongoing offensive launched on 17 October.
Army claims one soldier wounded by gunfire on northern border – 26 October
The Israeli army said that gunfire from Lebanon wounded a soldier, prompting them to return fire in the Ramin Ridge area. The Lebanese army denied that any shots were fired towards Israeli positions, with the Voice of Lebanon radio reporting that the gunshots were mistakenly fired by Israeli soldiers. The head of UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon said that an investigation had been opened and urged both sides to exercise restraint.
Air force strikes Hamas position in Gaza – 24 October
The Israeli military said that the air force hit a Hamas post in Gaza Strip in retaliation for a rocket attack. A rocket from Gaza was fired at Israeli territory, but the projectile fell short and landed in the Hamas-controlled zone. There were no reports of causalities in either the initial rocket attack or the retaliatory strike.
Contractors pressure government over payments – 26 October
The Jordanian Construction Contractors Association (JCCA) published a letter to Prime Minister Hani Mulki calling on him to address unpaid government debts to contractors. The association said the sector faces immense pressure due to the arrears and that some companies had already been forced to lay off workers. The JCCA has called for a protest outside the public works ministry in Amman on 30 October over the issue. The ministry has acknowledged it owes the JCCA around USD 63 mn but claims that the finance ministry is responsible for payment.
Hundreds protest gas deal in Amman – 21 October
For the third consecutive week, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) offices in Amman after Friday prayers to hold a sit-in demonstration. The protest against a natural gas deal with Israel continues to attract support from across the political spectrum. There were no reports of violence, but demonstrators expressed anger at the government over the deal due to opposition to Israeli policies.
Police seize truck, captagon pills in Tripoli – 25 October
The National News Agency reported that police seized a truck containing thousands of captagon pills in Tripoli. The agency said that the pills were due to be shipped to Saudi Arabia. The trafficking of captagon, an amphetamine-like psychostimulant, is widespread in Lebanon and Syria. In December 2015, police seized 12 mn tablets and arrested a cell which exported the pills to Gulf States.
Misrata-led forces advance against IS in Sirte – 27 October
The Libya Observer media agency said that Misrata-led forces captured several areas of the Jiza district of Sirte from the Islamic State (IS) militant group. Medical sources said that two fighters died and eight others were wounded during the fighting, though no figures for the number of militants killed were immediately provided. Following the advance, militia forces began an operation to remove landmines and IEDs which have been used by IS to slowdown the forces.
EU to proceed with coast guard training despite alleged attack on migrant boat – 24 October
The EU announced that it will proceed with planned training for the Libyan coast guard under Operation Sophia, which aims to deal with the high level of migrant smuggling across the Mediterranean Sea, despite the alleged attack by the coast guard on a migrant vessel on 21 October. According to the Sea-Watch NGO, four migrants drowned after their boat was attacked by the Libyan coast guard, though Libyan naval officials said their forces had only boarded the rubber dinghy. The training mission is expected to begin in the coming days.
Oil output rises to 600,000 bpd – 23 October
Prime Minister Fayez Al-Serraj said that Libya’s oil production had risen from 580,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 600,000 bpd. The head of Libya’s UN-backed unity government said that officials were in talks with western authorities to restore a further 380,000 bpd in output from those regions. Persistent instability has disrupted production since 2011, though the reopening of key export terminals since September has led to a steady rise in output.
Rabat to deploy 5,000 police for Marrakesh environment conference – 25 October
Local media said that Morocco would deploy 5,000 police and 800 bodyguards as part of security measures for the COP 22 environment conference in Marrakesh on 7-18 November. Nearly 100 security cameras were also installed in various areas around the conference location in Bab Ighli. Around 120 heads of state are expected to attend the conference, which follows the COP 21 conference that led to the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015.
Activist body calls for demonstrations in Casablanca, Tangier, Agadir and Fez – 21 October
The National Coordination against Pension Reform called for demonstrations in Casablanca, Tangier, Agadir and Fez on 23 October to denounce changes in the retirement scheme. Previous demonstrations, notably in Rabat in July, have drawn thousands of people. Around 12 people were injured in a similar protest in Rabat on 2 October. The demonstrations are likely to gather outside local government offices and may disrupt main roads in the centre of Casablanca, Tangier, Agadir and Fez are closed to traffic.
Police foil drug smuggling attempt in Salalah – 27 October
Coast guard personnel and police conducted a joint operation in Salalah, Dhofar province, which prevented an attempt to smuggle drugs into the country. Three people on board a boat were detained and 2,665 bundles of khat, a plant based stimulant, were seized.
Police arrest two over drugs in Muscat – 23 October
Two men were arrested in possession of drugs in the al Athaiba area of Muscat. The suspects were found with narcotic capsules and 200 rolls of cannabis. The case was referred to prosecutors for further investigation.
Houthis fire ballistic missile toward Mecca – 27 October
Shi’a Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a ballistic missile from Sa’dah province towards the holy Muslim city of Mecca. Houthi-controlled media said a Volcano-1 variant missile had targeted an international airport in Jeddah, although Saudi officials said that they intercepted and destroyed the projectile 65 km from Mecca. The failed attack on Mecca signals the continued escalation of Houthi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and follows another unsuccessful attempt on a military base in Taif, which is near Mecca.
Troops repel Houthi-led attack along Yemen border – 27 October
Saudi border guards backed by artillery claimed to have repelled an attack on by Houthi rebels in al-Khubah, Jazan province. Twenty pro-Houthi fighters were killed in the clashes. Fighting along the Saudi-Yemen border has intensified in recent months, resulting in occasional shelling of Saudi border cities and civilian as well as military casualties.
Gunmen kill two police officers in Dammam – 25 October
Two police officers were shot dead by three unidentified gunmen in the oil hub of Dammam in Eastern Province. The officers came under heavy fire in the al-Dhabab district while on their way home from work in a private vehicle. Security forces in Eastern Province are occasionally targeted by unknown gunmen, and there is suspicion some of the attacks are linked to elevated sectarian tensions in the majority Shi’a region.
Coalition plans offensive in Raqqa – 26 October
The US and UK defence secretaries said that an offensive to force Islamic State militants from their self-declared capital of Raqqa would begin in the “next few weeks”. US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter and his British counterpart, Michael Fallon, did not provide a specific timeline for the operation, but Carter said the assault on Raqqa should commence in conjunction with the ongoing offensive against IS in Iraq’s Mosul, which began on 17 October.
Pro-regime forces advance in Aleppo – 24 October
Syrian government forces launched a new offensive in Aleppo, resulting in the capture of the Bazo hilltop on the southern edge of the city. The assault saw heavy bombardment of opposition controlled-territory in eastern Aleppo, and there were also reports of shelling of government-held districts in the west by rebels. The resurgent ground fighting in Aleppo came as the Islamist rebel coalition Jaish al-Fatah warned it would launch a campaign within hours to break a government siege of the rebel-held east.
Security forces arrest four suspected IS supporters in Kef governorate – 25 October
Local media said that security forces arrested four suspected supporters of the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Tajerouine, Kef governorate. Initial reports did not indicate whether the suspects were planning an attack.
Thousands of lawyers strike over taxes nationwide – 21 October
Thousands of lawyers mounted a 24-hour strike to protest against the imposition of new taxes and tighter fiscal controls against the profession. Hundreds of lawyers staged a protest outside the palace of justice in downtown Tunis as part of the “day of rage” against the measures. International lenders have pressured the government to make cuts and boost government revenue to spur growth and employment levels.
United Arab Emirates
Court jails Sudanese national over terror plot – 24 October
The Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi sentenced a Sudanese man to 10 years in prison for planning a bomb attack intended to kill foreign nationals. The defendant was convicted of supporting the Islamic State and promoting the group’s ideology. Separately, the same court sentenced a Pakistan man to 10 years in prison for financing terrorist groups.
AQAP claims to have carried out 290 attacks over past year – 27 October
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) published a video in which it claimed to have conducted 290 attacks in Yemen between 1 October 2015 and 14 October 2016. The attacks ranged from coordinated suicide vehicle attacks to ambushes and assassinations. AQAP has exploited Yemen’s civil conflict to extend its influence.
Rocket-propelled grenade hits tanker in Bab el-Mandeb Strait – 25 October
According to a report issued by the Dubai-based UK Marine Trade Operations (UKMTO), a tanker reported that it had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, fired from a nearby boat 9 nm southeast of Perim Island in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait at 1300 hrs local time. It was unclear if the tanker sustained any damage in the attack but all crew were reported safe and the vessel was able to continue its transit.There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack although, given recent alleged Houthi attacks on military vessels in the area, their involvement cannot be discounted entirely. Should evidence emerge to establish a Houthi link to the incident, it may be an attempt by rebels to escalate the conflict in response to growing economic pressure stemming from their loss of control over the central bank in September.
Air defences down Houthi missile over Marib – 24 October
Local media reported that a Houthi-launched ballistic missile had been shot down by Saudi-led coalition air defences at dawn. The missile had been fired against Marib province, most of which is held by coalition forces and their local allies, supporters of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s exiled government. Houthi-allied forces have repeatedly launched ballistic missiles against their rivals.
Saudi-led coalition conduct air strikes in Sana’a after ceasefire expires – 23 October
Residents said the Saudi-led coalition resumed air strikes in Sana’a hours after the three-day humanitarian ceasefire expired without renewal. Both the coalition and Houthi forces accused one another of violating the truce after reports of heavy fighting and rocket attacks around the Saudi border and northwest Yemen. The strikes took place hours after UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed arrived in Yemen to discuss a political solution to the conflict with Houthi representatives.