PGI Risk Portal Weekly MENA Briefing – 14 October 2016
Posted on 14 October 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 two militants in Skikda – 13 October
Algerian troops killed two Islamist militants in an ambush in Oued Zehour, Skikda region, around 470 km east of Algiers. Weapons and ammunition were recovered from the suspects. According to security sources, one of the militants killed was Abu Doujana, a leader of the Islamic State affiliate Jund al-Khilafa. Algeria has intensified its operations against Islamist militants in 2016, resulting in the deaths of more than 100 suspected jihadists since the start of the year.
IED explodes on road in Skikda province – 11 October
Local media said that an IED, constructed from a gas canister, exploded on the National Road 85 between Constantine and Collo in Skikda province. There were no immediate reports of injuries or significant damage. The incident comes days after the Islamic State militant group claimed an IED attack in the same governorate near Tamalus on 9 October.
IS claims IED attack against army convoy in Skikda province – 9 October
According to a statement posted by the Islamic State-linked Amaq Agency, Islamic State (IS) militants carried out an IED attack against an army convoy near Tamalus, Skikda province. There was no immediate confirmation of casualties. Attacks by Islamic State militants have been rare in Algeria, where its presence is limited.
Local media reports increase in abductions in North Sinai – 11 October
The Daily News Egypt cited a local journalist who reported that abductions of civilians in the North Sinai governorate have increased, but gave no figures supporting the statement. A local journalist attributed the increase to a campaign by militants to investigate those suspected of informing on them for security forces and an absence of a security presence in al-Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid. Sinai-based militants abduct and occasionally execute suspected collaborators.
New group claim’s killing of policeman in north – 8 October
A new Egyptian militant group, the Hasam Movement, claimed responsibility for killing Gamal al-Deeb, a policeman working with the Homeland Security agency, who was shot eight times outside his home in the northern Beheira province shortly after 0000 hrs local time. Hasam accused Deeb of killing, kidnapping, and torturing innocents, including children. The group has claimed five other attacks since July, including the attempted assassination of a senior prosecutor via car bomb and the failed shooting of Egypt’s former top cleric, Reuters reported.
US embassy asks citizens to avoid crowded areas in Cairo until 9 October – 7 October
The US embassy issued a travel warning US citizens to avoid large gatherings and public spaces such as concert halls, movie theatres, museums, shopping malls, and sports venues in Cairo through 9 October, due to potential security concerns. It did not provide additional details. Egyptian authorities denounced the warning, stating that they had not been informed of the reasons behind it or the specifics of the security concerns. Cairo also claimed that such “unjustified” statements “may have negative consequences, especially damaging the economy.”
Security services report arrest of terror suspects in Fars – 13 October
The intelligence ministry announced the arrest of several foreign nationals linked to an alleged terrorist plot. Officials said that at least 100 kg of explosives were discovered in the southern province of Fars and that a terrorist attack intended to disrupt Shi’a religious commemorations of Ashura had been prevented. Authorities provided no further details of the suspects, who werel later described as supporters of the Islamic State militant group, or their intended target.
Troops clash with Kurdish rebels in Kordestan – 11 October
Security forces clashed with Kurdish militants along the Iraqi border according to Iranian press. The fighting occurred in the Golchidar area of Kordestan province’s Marivan county, and reportedly involved fighters from the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK). Iranian security forces claimed to have inflicted casualties on the militants and forced them to flee the area.
Paris confirms Islamic State drone attack on Kurdish, French troops – 12 October
France confirmed that on 2 October, two Kurdish Peshmerga troops were killed and two French soldiers were wounded in an Islamic State (IS) drone attack. The incident occurred near the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk. There were conflicting reports related to some aspects of the incident, but Jabbar al-Yawar, Iraqi Kurdistan’s defence chief, said that the drone exploded when Peshmerga fighters went to pick it up after it crashed. The use of a drone-borne explosive device marked a new development in the conflict with IS.
Sadr calls for 18 October protest against Maliki – 12 October
Moqtada al-Sadr, an influential Shi’a cleric, called on his supporters to demonstrate against corruption and the return to power of his rival, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Iraq’s Supreme Court recently ruled against a decision by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to remove Maliki from his post as one of three ceremonial vice-presidents two years ago, paving the way for his comeback. Sadr called on his followers to gather in front of the headquarters of the Federal Supreme Court in Baghdad on 18 October to protest the decision.
Suicide bomber targets Shi’a pilgrims – 9 October
At least six people were killed and 20 others were wounded in a suicide bomb attack against Shi’a pilgrims in Baghdad. The blast targeted a Shi’a procession in the New Baghdad area in the east of the capital. Two other bomb attacks in southern Baghdad killed five people and wounded 15 others. Sunni militants regularly target pilgrims during observances of the Shi’a commemoration of Ashura.
Auth Security forces report arrest of Hamas bomber planning bus attack – 11 October
The Shin Bet security agency has revealed that a suspect security forces arrested in September from the Shuafat refugee camp on the outskirts of Jerusalem was a Hamas bomber who was planning a number of attacks on the capital, including a suicide bombing on a bus in the Pisgat Ze’ev neighbourhood. The suspect had initially planned a shooting attack at the Hizme checkpoint, the bombing of a shop he formerly worked at in Jerusalem, as well as other bomb attacks on the Central Bus Station, though he was deterred by the heavy security presence at these locations. After being arrested with explosive materials, he turned in two of his family members who were assisting him. Shin Bet has said the case highlights the persistent threat of terrorist attacks by Hamas.
Shooting attack injures seven in Jerusalem – 9 October
At least seven people were injured when an unidentified assailant opened fire on Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, Israeli police said. The attacker was reportedly shot dead by the police. The area has been cordoned off and the light rail service near Ammunition Hill has been halted. The attack comes days before the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur on 11-12 October, when there is precedent for violent attacks.
Students protest gas deal in Amman – 11 October
The Student Coalition for the Cancellation of the Gas Deal protested against a USD 10 bn gas deal with Israel on the University of Jordan campus in Amman. The group has organised repeated protests since negotiations on the deal began in 2014. There has been an uptick in demonstrations against the deal since it was signed on 26 September.
Authorities arrest Egyptian for plotting terrorist attack – 8 October
State-run Kuwait News Agency reported that authorities had arrested an Egyptian man with suspected links to Islamic State (IS) on charges of planning to carry out a terrorist attack. No further details were released. The arrest comes ahead of the Shi’a holy day of Ashura on 10 October, when there is a high risk of militant attacks. An IS attack on a Shi’a mosque in Kuwait City killed 27 people in 2015.
Gunmen wound soldier in Tripoli – 10 October
The state-run National News Agency said that unidentified gunmen wounded a soldier in Tripoli. The motive of the attack and identity of the assailants was not immediately clear. Militants occasionally clash with security forces in Lebanon, though minor clashes with Hezbollah forces and Palestinian armed factions can also occur.
Security forces clash with locals over road closure in Sidon – 9 October
The Voice of Lebanon radio service said that security forces clashed with a group of men, purportedly members of the Shi’a group Hezbollah, over the closure of a key road by a mosque during a ceremony for the Ashura Shi’a festival in Sidon. The cause of the incident was not immediately clear. Security forces are on alert for Ashura commemorations as events are often targeted by militant groups.
Militants demand USD 4.4 mn for release of foreign hostages – 11 October
Militants have demanded USD 4.4 mn and the release of two prisoners held in Algeria in return for the release of three foreign nationals abducted in Libya on 20 September. The militants threatened to deliver the hostages to Islamic State or al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) if the ransom is not paid. The identity of the kidnappers was not immediately clear, though an Algerian security source told the Middle East Eye media outlet that the group comprises Libyans and Algerians under Abdellah Belakahal who may be linked to AQIM. The unidentified militants abducted two Italians and a Canadian working as engineers for the Italian company Costruzioni Internazionali Contratti near Ghat airport.
Senior Islamic State member dies during clashes in Sirte – 11 October
According to the Al-Wasat local newspaper, clashes between Islamic State (IS) militants and militias comprised mostly of fighters from Misrata in the Jiza area of Sirte left senior IS member Abu Nuqtah dead along with three other people. Militia officials said that tens of IS members were killed during shelling and US air strikes the day before. On 8 October, the militias said that they had separated the remaining IS forces between the neighbourhood 600 and Jiza areas during an advance.
Gunmen attack Civil Registry Authority in Tripoli – 10 October
According to local media, unidentified gunmen shot and wounded the acting head of the Tripoli-based Civil Registry Authority (CRA) and a colleague in an attack on the authority headquarters in the al-Drebi area of Tripoli. The acting head later died of his wounds. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which officials claimed was an attempt to gain access to the CRA database. The CRA was forced to suspend operations in large areas of Libya in September after the abduction of two workers in the Suq Al-Juma area of Tripoli on an undisclosed date.
Armed forces arrest suspected kidnap gang in Tripoli – 7 October
Local media said that the Rada Special Deterrence Force armed group arrested 12 members of a suspected kidnapping gang on the Girgarish road in Tripoli. The armed group said that the gang carried out abductions in the al-Andolous, al-Siyahia, Siraj and Ghoat al-Shaal areas of Tripoli. Instances of both kidnap-for-ransom and political abductions have proliferated in Libya in recent years amid a weakened security environment.
Police, protesters clash in Agadir – 12 October
Security forces clashed with protesters in Sidi Bibi in the southern region of Agadir. Around 500 people took part in the protest against plans to demolish homes built without permits. Several people were injured in the violent confrontations with police, and the unrest also saw people damage shops, banks and vehicles. The demonstrators also reportedly blocked off the main road through Sidi Bibi and surrounded the police station.
Police arrest two militant supporters in Tan Tan, Guelmim – 9 October
According to the Telquel local news website, authorities arrested two people in Tan Tan and Guelmim over their alleged support for a militant group. The two women were linked to a cell of Islamic State supporters, comprising 10 women, which was dismantled on 3 October. The interior ministry said that one of those arrested was suspected of producing explosives.
Coast guard seize khat in Dhofar – 2 October
A team from the Dhofar coast guard seized two boats carrying 1,350 packets of khat near the Mirbat region. Two Omani nationals and four other suspects of various Arab nationalities were detained in connection with the incident.
Houthis fire ballistic missile at Taif – 9 October
Saudi Arabia said that its armed forces intercepted two Houthi-launched ballistic missiles. One missile was fired toward Marib province in Yemen, most of which is held by Saudi-backed forces. The other was fired against the Saudi city of Taif, and despite claims it was intercepted, Saudi state media showed a brief clip that appeared to show a projectile landing in Taif followed by an explosion. The military said that the missiles caused no damage. Taif lies 520 km from the Yemeni border, and the incident is significant given past attacks by the Houthis have targeted locations closer to the border. The city also home to the King Fahd military base, which houses US military advisors.
Border guards seize 2 mn narcotic pills in Tabuk – 7 October
Saudi security forces seized 2.3 mn amphetamine tablets and nine kg of hashish off the coast of Duba in Tabuk province. According to press reports, border guards followed a boat with three Egyptian nationals on board as it entered Saudi waters and delivered the drugs to a Saudi national on a beach. The smugglers were subsequently arrested and the narcotics were seized.
Rescue workers claim air strikes kill 145 people in Aleppo – 13 October
The Civil Defence rescue service said the resumption of intense air strikes against rebel-held eastern Aleppo had killed 145 people over 11-12 October, though the figure could not be verified independently. The strikes intensified after a lull that the Syrian government said was intended to allow civilians to flee. Syria and Russia have come under intense international criticism over the attacks on civilians in opposition-controlled territory of the contested city.
US, Russia renew ceasefire efforts – 12 October
According to press reports, officials from the US and Russia will lead renewed efforts to bring about a ceasefire in Syria following a failed one-week truce in September. Officials from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, key supporters of the opposition, will also join the talks due over 15-16 September in London and Lusanne. Some reports suggested Iran, one of the few backers of the Syrian government, would attend, though this was not confirmed. Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Syria has badly damaged relations with the West.
Jund al-Aqsa pledges loyalty to Fatah al-Sham amid inter-rebel fighting – 8 October
Salafi rebel group Jund al-Aqsa announced it had sworn allegiance to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, which claimed to have severed ties with al-Qaeda in July 2015. Jund al-Aqsa made the pledge amid clashes between the group and other opposition fighters in the Hama countryside and in rural Idlib, north of Hama’s provincial boundary. In a statement the previous day, some 13 Syrian rebel groups belonging to the Free Syrian Army declared war on Jund al-Aqsa over its attacks on Ahrar al-Sham rebels.
Security forces arrest smugglers, seize trucks in border zone – 12 October
Tunisian security forces arrested 25 smugglers and seized 12 trucks and two cars carrying 98,000 litres of smuggled petrol along the Libyan border. The defence ministry said the activity occurred in the buffer zone along the border but did not provide a specific location.
Security forces clash with protesters in Gafsa – 10 October
According to local media, security forces fired tear gas at demonstrators outside the district court in Gafsa amid a protest against the arrest of a family member. There were no immediate reports of injuries during the demonstration and initial reports did not confirm the cause of the original arrest.
US air strikes destroy Houthi radar sites on coast – 13 October
The US military conducted Tomahawk cruise missile strikes against three Houthi-controlled radar sites in coastal Yemen at around 0400 hrs local time. The strikes destroyed installations near Ras Isa, north of Mokha and near Khoka. The attacks were in retaliation for a failed a Houthi missile attack on the USS Mason the previous day, an incident preceded by an attack on the same American warship on 9 October. The US strikes highlight the potential for a widening of the conflict amid recent Houthi attacks on vessels off Yemen.
Pro-Hadi forces, Houthis clash in Sa’dah province – 12 October
Forces loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s exiled government launched an offensive against Houthi rebels in the northern province of Sa’dah. Heavy fighting was reported over control of the al-Buqa border crossing with Saudi Arabia, but there were conflicting reports as to the outcome, with both sides claiming victory. The assault marked the first serious attempt by loyalist forces to capture territory in the traditional Houthi stronghold of Sa’dah.
Air strikes kill 140 mourners in Sana’a – 8 October
Nearly 140 people are thought to have been killed and over 500 injured following two air strikes on a community hall in Yemen’s capital Sana’a. The Houthi-run administration alleged that the Saudi-led coalition had carried out the air strike, although Saudi officials rejected the claim. The people had gathered at the hall for a wake held for the father of the administration’s interior minister, Jalal al-Roweishan, who died on 7 October. The incident prompted sharp criticism from the US, which said it was reviewing its support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.