Islamic State (IS) militants claimed responsibility for two major bombings that underscored the group’s spread across the region. In Cairo, 25 people were killed in a suicide attack at a Coptic Christian church.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for two bombings states PGI
Islamic State (IS) militants claimed responsibility for two major bombings that underscored the group’s spread across the region. In Cairo, 25 people were killed in a suicide attack at a Coptic Christian church on 11 November and at least 45 Yemeni soldiers were killed in Aden the previous day in a major bombing. Significantly in Syria, pro-regime forces effectively retook the long-contested city of Aleppo.
Both sides agreed to a tenuous deal that would allow rebels and civilians to evacuate the besieged east, most of which now lies in the hands of the government and its allies. As evidenced by fighting elsewhere in Syria, including the now IS-held city of Palmyra, the conflict will continue. In a positive development, a deal to end a two-year blockade of a key oil pipeline in Libya could have a significant impact on the country’s output, though the political and security situation there remains volatile.
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.
US warns of ongoing kidnap threat in south, east – 13 December
In an updated travel warning for Algeria, the US Department of State warned against travel to remote areas of the south, east and parts of the Kabylie region, due to a high threat of terrorism and kidnap. The warning noted that militant groups remained active outside heavily policed cities and that militants had used IED, ambushes and false checkpoints in previous attacks.
Traders to protest in Tizi Ouzou – 13 December
Local media reported that traders, merchants, craftsmen and others would observe a general strike and take part in a protest rally in Tizi Ouzou, east of Algiers. Demonstrators will gather outside a union headquarters representing their industry from 0800 hrs local time until 1300 hrs local time to demand greater political freedoms and to protest government restrictions on their trade.
Authorities destroy militant hideouts in Boumerdes – 10 December
Defence officials said that security forces destroyed three militant hideouts in Boumerdes. Officials did not immediately confirm whether soldiers seized any militant equipment during the operation. The army frequently reports seizures of militant caches and positions in northern areas of Algeria.
Sinai Province accuses Israel of launching air strikes – 15 December
Egyptian Islamic State affiliate Sinai Province accused the Islamic State group of conducting three air strikes against it over the past three days. The strikes allegedly targeted the Sheikh Zuweid area in Egypt’s northern Sinai. Israel refused to respond to the claims, which could not be verified independently. In July, a former Israeli official told Bloomberg news that Israel had conducted drone strikes against Sinai-based militants with Egypt’s cooperation.
Islamic State claims responsibility for Cairo church attack – 13 December
In a statement posted on social media, the Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing which killed at least 25 people at St Peter’s Church near St Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Cairo. The group has targeted security forces in the past, but attacks against the Coptic community in Egypt have been rarer. In February 2015, the group executed 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya. Other groups denied responsibility for the incident and the anti-government Hasm Movement, which claimed a bombing against police on 9 December, condemned the attack.
Hundreds protest in Cairo after cathedral bombing – 11 December
Hundreds of people protested outside St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo after a bomb killed at least 25 people. Protesters denounced authorities’ failure to prevent the attacks and some chanted anti-government slogans. There were no immediate reports of violence during the protest. Though some sectarian attacks and communal violence is common, particularly in Upper Egypt, militant attacks against Christians are rare.
Blast kills 22 inside Coptic cathedral in Cairo – 11 December
According to state-run television an explosion inside St Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Cairo’s Abbassia District killed at least 22 people and injured a further 35, although the precise cause of the blast is unclear. Newly formed Islamist militant group Hasm Movement condemned the attack, which came two days after the group claimed an attack on a security checkpoint in Cairo which killed six security officers on 9 December. The attacks come as security forces battle an ongoing Islamist insurgency in North Sinai.
Bomb kills one, injures three in Kafr el-Sheikh – 9 December
According to local media, an IED exploded as a police vehicle passed on a road in Kafr el-Sheikh, killing a civilian and injuring three policemen. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which came after a bomb killed six members of the security forces in Giza, claimed by the Hasm Movement.
Hasm Movement claims responsibility for Cairo bombing – 9 December
The Hasm Movement said it was behind a bombing that killed six security officers near the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo. The blast struck near a mosque on Pyramids Road, the main avenue leading from the city centre out to the Giza pyramids. The Islamist militant group first emerged in July, when it claimed the assassination of police chief Major Mahmoud Abdel Hamid.
Police seize 800 kg of heroin in Iranshahr – 12 December
Security forces seized around 800 kg of heroin in Iranshahr, Sistan and Baluchestan Province. The drugs were found concealed in a truck and two suspects were arrested in connection with the seizure. Iran is a major transit point and consumption market for narcotics.
Militiamen kill three militants near Haditha dam – 14 December
Paramilitary forces killed three Islamic State (IS) militants and arrested two others, preventing an attack on the Haditha dam in the west of Anbar province. The militants had reportedly planned to target the dam or security personnel with Katyusha missiles. IS forces retain strongholds in western Iraq, most notably Annah and Rawa, from which they have continued to launch attacks.
Advance against Islamic State in Mosul continues – 13 December
Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service unit seized the Mosul districts of al-Falah Oula and al-Falah Thaniya in the east of the city while Shi’a paramilitary units recaptured seven villages near Tal Afar, some 70 km west of Mosul, following intense clashes. The Shi’a paramilitary forces, currently some 60 km from the border with Syria, plan to clear a large area along the border of militants to prevent them from launching counter-attacks.
Suicide attacks kill two in Fallujah – 12 December
Officials said that two suicide car bombings at security checkpoints in Fallujah killed one police officer and a civilian and wounded seven other people. The Islamic State (IS) militant group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on social media. The attacks bring to 18 the number of people killed by IS attacks in Fallujah since the start of November.
PM says Ankara to withdraw troops from Bashiqa – 10 December
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that Turkey had agreed to withdraw its troops from the Bashiqa military camp in northern Iraq once Mosul was retaken. The deployment of Turkish forces to northern Iraq in December 2015 resulted in a major diplomatic crisis between Ankara and Baghdad, which has repeatedly called for their withdrawal. Turkey has said the deployment was necessary to defend against Islamic State.
Hundreds protest settler eviction plan outside PM’s residence –14 December
Hundreds of right wing protesters gathered outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem to protest a planned eviction of Israeli settlers from the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona. Following a High Court ruling, the settlement, built on private Palestinian land, must be evacuated by 25 December. There were no reports of clashes, but the further unrest over the issue is likely, especially if the government forcibly removes settlers.
Stabbing attack wounds two police officers in Jerusalem – 14 December
Two police officers were lightly wounded in a stabbing attack in the Old City of Jerusalem. The assailant, a 21-year-old Palestinian from the village of Bayt Surik, was shot and killed at the scene of the attack, which took place near the Austrian Hospice in the Muslim Quarter. The incident was the latest in a series of stabbing, car-rammings and shootings since October 2015.
Failed rocket attack triggers alert in Negev – 12 December
A projectile launched from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula triggered sirens in several southern communities in the neighbouring Negev, including Nitzana and Ezuz. However, the projectile landed in the Sinai Peninsula and failed to reach Israeli territory. There were no reports of casualties or damage and no group claimed responsbility for the failed attack. Rockets attacks from Egypt against Israeli territory are rare, but in July 2015 Egyptian Islamic State offshoot Sinai Province successfully launched two rockets against Israel.
Authorities announce arrests in Hamas kidnap plot – 9 December
Israeli security services announced six Hamas militants had been arrested in a failed plot to take hostages to bargain for the release of Palestinian prisoners. The suspects, who also reportedly planned gun attacks, were from the Hebron area in the West Bank, though authorities did not disclose when or where the arrests were made. Weapons and ammunition were also recovered in the operation.
Hundreds protest outside Russian embassy in capital
Around 2,000 Kuwaitis rallied outside the Russian embassy in Kuwait City to protest Moscow’s involvement in attacks on the Syrian city of Aleppo. Activists called on the Kuwaiti government to expel Russian diplomats and break ties with Moscow. The demonstration passed peacefully despite a heavy police presence.
Haftar calls on troops to prepare to retake Tripoli – 14 December
According to the Libya Herald, eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar, who is allied with Libya’s Tobruk-based authorities, called on forces loyal to him to be ready to retake Tripoli. Haftar has previously issued threats against forces in Tripoli, which is held by allies of the UN-backed unity government, and there are reports he is in contact with some forces in the capital, where rival armed groups have clashed in recent weeks.
Officials reach deal to end pipeline blockade – 14 December
Protesters in western Libya agreed end a two-year blockade of the Rayaina oil pipeline in western Libya, allowing for a resumption of production at the Sharara and El Feel oil fields. An offshoot of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) has blockaded one pipeline since November 2014 and another since April 2015, and the deal could add around 365,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) to Libya’s current output of around 600,000 bpd. Operations could also resume at refineries in western Libya.
Hundreds protest against pension reform in Rabat – 14 December
Hundreds of people demonstrated in a protest, organised by the National Coordination against the Pension Reform (CNARR), in Rabat to denounce pension reforms. Protesters started at Bab el-Had and walked to parliament buildings along Mohammed V Avenue. Demonstrators complained that the middle class would bear the cost of the move and called for the government to repeal the reform. Government pension reforms have triggered repeated protests since they were initiated in July.
Thousands protest fish vendor’s death in al-Hoceima – 10 December
Local media reported thousands of people gathered in al-Hoceima in northern Morocco to protest the death of fish seller Mouhcine Fikri, who was crushed in a dumpster on 28 October while attempting to retrieve merchandise disposed of by police. There were reports that local businesses and port workers went on strike in support of the demonstration, which began at Mohammed VI square.
Customs agents seize drugs at Duba – 14 December
Saudi customs personnel seized 872,784 narcotic capatagon pills hidden inside a truck at Duba Port on the northern Red Sea coast. The truck was on board a ferry entering the port, though its origin was not confirmed in press reports. In September, security forces at Duba seized more than 1 mn narcotic pills concealed in multiple shipments.
Judge goes missing in Eastern Province – 14 December
Saudi media reported that the security services were investigating the disappearance of a judge from his home in Tarut Island, Qatif, Eastern Province. Initial evidence indicated the judge had been kidnapped, according to the report, although this was not confirmed by official sources. The judge had reportedly been targeted previously by unknown groups, including in October 2012 when someone attempted to break into his home in al-Rabiaah district.
Turkish strikes kill 20 militants in north – 15 December
The Turkish military announced its warplanes had killed 20 Islamic State (IS) fighters and destroyed seven buildings over the past 24 hours. The operations took place in northern Syria, where Turkish military personnel and Turkish-backed rebels are currently battling IS for control of al-Bab, Aleppo province. On 24 August, Turkey launched an incursion into northern Syrian to clear the area of both IS and Kurdish fighters.
Aleppo evacuation commences amid gunfire – 15 December
After reportedly being blocked by pro-regime ground forces, the evacuation of rebel-held areas of Aleppo was back on track despite reports of clashes over the night of 14-15 December. Rebel officials said that the first ambulances to leave eastern Aleppo had been fired on by pro-Assad forces, leaving three people wounded. A ceasefire in the region came into effect at 0230 hrs local time and Russian forces are supposed to lead rebels out of Aleppo towards Idlib in the northwest.
Islamic State captures anti-air weapons in Palmyra – 14 December
US-led coalition forces expressed concern that Islamic State militants had likely seized military equipment and weapons, possibly including unspecified air defence equipment, in the capture of Palmrya, Homs province, days earlier. Coalition officials said that they had confidence US-led forces could respond to the threat, but that if Syrian and Russian forces failed to move quickly to retake the city, US-led warplanes would launch strikes against militants in the area.
Islamic State retakes most areas of Palmyra – 11 December
According to international observers and officials, the Islamic State (IS) militant group retook most areas of the city of Palmyra during an advance with artillery and suicide attacks. The advance came hours after Russian air strikes appeared to drive back the group. The governor of Homs province said that Syrian government forces were preparing to retake the city.
Washington to deploy 200 more troops to bolster fight against IS – 10 December
US Defence Secretary Ash Carter announced the deployment of a further 200 US troops to assist Kurdish and Arab militias battling Islamic State (IS) in Syria. The troops will add to the 300 US forces already in Syria with a mandate to recruit, organize, train and advise local Syrian forces to combat IS, and will include special operations forces. Carter said the additional troops would help in the expected upcoming push to retake Raqqa from IS.
Sec Landmine wounds two soldiers in Kasserine – 14 December
Two soldiers were wounded when they triggered a landmine planted on a mountain in Kasserine, near the Algerian border. Islamist militants are active in the region and the soldiers were involved in a search operation when the blast occurred.
Petrofac halts production over protests – 14 December
Renewed protests at UK-based Petrofac’s facility on the southern Kerkennah islands forced the company to halt gas production. The protests, which began 14 days earlier, come three months after the company restarted its operations following nine months of persistent and occasionally violent unrest that had disrupted its operations. Tunisian media reported that as a result of the latest protests by locals seeking jobs, Petrofac would permanently leave the country, a threat it has issued before.
Drone strike kills four east of Sana’a – 13 December
A suspected US drone strike killed four alleged members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) east of Sana’a. The strike targeted a vehicle travelling on a main road between Marib and al-Jawf. The US has launched regular air strikes on suspected AQAP members in recent months despite disruption to its counter-terrorism campaign from the instability and conflict in Yemen.
Security forces defuse car bomb in Aden – 12 December
Police safely defused a car bomb parked in a residential part of the Mu’alla area of Aden. The incident came two days after a local Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack that killed 50 pro-government soldiers and wounded 70 others.
IS Suicide bomb kills 45 soldiers in Aden – 10 December
Islamic State (IS) claimed a suicide bomb which killed some 45 soldiers and injured 50 more at the Sawlaban military base in Aden, with some estimates putting the death toll at 50. Crowds of troops were gathered to collect their salaries when the bomb detonated. Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have repeatedly targeted security personnel in Aden with bomb and gun attacks since 2015 amid the ongoing civil war, which has allowed the groups to gain a foothold in Yemen.