Islamist militant threat to North Africa increases reports PGI
Developments over the past week highlight the extent to which the Islamist militant threat remains elevated across much of North Africa.
In Tunisia, major arms seizures near the Libya border were followed in quick succession by an Islamic State (IS) claimed IED attack in Kasserine and the arrests of IS militants plotting attacks in Tunis. In neighbouring, Libya, where militants benefit from a porous borders and weak institutions, an air strike is suspected to have targeted al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a group responsible for recent attacks across North and West Africa.
Intense fighting between local forces and militants also continued near the jihadist strongholds of Sirte and Benghazi. Finally, in Egypt, the state of emergency covering the restive North Sinai governorate was extended amid reports of heavy clashes and multiple IED attacks on security personnel in the region.
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.
Two militants surrender to authorities in Tamanrasset – 16 November
Defence officials said that two militants surrendered to security forces in Tamanrasset, handing over two machine guns and ammunition. Initial reports did not confirm what prompted the surrender but there have been several instances of suspected terrorists surrendering in southern areas in recent months.
Army seizes weapons cache near Bordj Badji Mokhtar – 11 November
According to a statement from the defence ministry, security forces seized a weapons cache near the southern border by Bordj Badji Mokhtar. The cache contained three machineguns and six other weapons, along with ammunition and mortar rounds. Weapons seizures are common in southern areas of Algeria, where trafficking groups take advantage of the country’s long, porous borders.
Authorities accuse opposition figure of inciting hatred – 13 November
Prosecutors accused a prominent opposition figure, Ibrahim Sharif of the Waad party, of inciting hatred and contempt against the government. Sharif said that a visit by the UK’s Prince Charles could conceal a crackdown on dissent in Bahrain and urged the government to enter a power-sharing agreement with political parties in an interview with the Associated Press. Sharif served a one-year term in 2014-2015 over anti-government incitement.
Army kills 23 militants in North Sinai clashes – 16 November
According to an army statement, security forces killed 23 suspected Islamist militants during fighting in the North Sinai since 13 November. Officials said that soldiers neutralised three IEDs and foiled a vehicle-borne IED attack on a checkpoint, contradicting Islamic State claims to have attacked a checkpoint south of al-Arish and carried out three IED attacks. There have been frequent clashes between militants and security forces since the ouster of Islamist former President Muhammad Morsi in 2013.
Government extends state of emergency in North Sinai – 14 November
The parliament approved a presidential decree extending a state of emergency in the North Sinai for a further three months. The state of emergency in the North Sinai has been repeatedly extended since it was first announced in October 2015 following a major Islamist militant attack which left 33 people dead.
Sinai Province claims three IED attacks, sniper attack in North Sinai – 15 November
Islamic State (IS) affiliate Sinai Province has claimed responsibility for three IED attacks and one sniper attack against military targets near Rafah, in North Sinai’s Sheikh Zuweid area. Other details of the incident remain unreported by local media, though attacks of this nature are common in Sinai, which sees a strong presence of Islamist militants.
Congress renews Tehran sanctions, imposes new sanctions on Damascus – 15 November
The US House of Representatives voted to renew the Iran Sanctions Act, which dates to 1996 and forms the basis for Washington’s energy, financial and defence sanctions against Tehran. The Iran bill will expire at the end of 2016 if not also passed by the Senate, which is debating its own draft of the law, and signed by President Barack Obama. The house also passed a bill to impose sanctions on the Syrian government for war crimes committed during the civil conflict. The vote was a signal to both the outgoing administration of Barack Obama, who has said further sanctions were unnecessary, and President-elect Donald Trump, who had previously said he would cancel the Iran deal.
Pro-government militias enter Tel Afar airport near Mosul – 16 November
According to militia officials, pro-government paramilitary forces entered the Tel Afar airport west of Mosul, clearing Islamic State (IS) positions in the area. The operation was an attempt at cutting IS militants in Mosul off from IS-held territory in western Iraq and Syria. The militias comprise Iran-backed Hashd Shaabi militias and other paramilitaries. Baghdad launched a major operation to recapture Mosul from IS on 17 October.
Suicide bombing kills at least seven near Karbala – 14 November
The interior ministry said that security forces engaged six suicide bombers in the town of Ain al-Tamr near Karbala, killing five. The remaining bomber detonated his device killing at least seven people, including three soldiers, and injuring 12 others. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Suicide and car bombings, which have declined in recent months amid repeated offensives against the Islamic State militant group, occur less frequently south of Baghdad than in other parts of Iraq.
Government forces seize two districts of Mosul – 12 November
According to military officials, security forces took control of the al-Arbajiya and al-Qadisiya al-Thaniya districts of eastern Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) militant group, destroying at least 10 suicide car bombs. Iraqi pro-government forces have advanced into IS-controlled areas of the city with the support of US and Iraqi air strikes in recent days.
Confrontation near Hebron leaves one injured – 15 November
Israeli and Palestinian residents of the Yatir settlement clashed after reports of a stabbing attack by a Palestinian against Israeli nationals. One Israeli was injured in the confrontation. Local media provided limited information regarding the veracity of the stabbing report.
IED explodes in West Bank Forces – 14 November
According to Israeli military officials, an IED exploded near a patrol near the town of al-Khader in the West Bank at around 0830 hrs local time, causing no injuries. Security forces began an operation to locate the perpetrator of the attack. IED attacks against Israeli patrols in the West Bank are rare. However, since October 2015, hundreds of people, mostly alleged perpetrators, have died in stabbing and car-ramming attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Gun battle in Arqa leaves one dead, three injured – 16 November
A gun battle related to a dispute between hunters in the northern Arqa area left one person dead and three injured near Akkar town, according to local media. Heavy gunfire was reported on the road between Berqayil to Halba after the initial gun battle, prompting security forces to arrive at the scene to conduct investigations. Few other details were provided by local authorities.
Protesters block roads in Beirut suburb, torch cars – 14 November
Protesters blocked several roads near Beirut and torched cars during a demonstration over the arrest of a prominent mobile phone salesman on charges of smuggling phones into the country. The protest was organised by relatives of the salesman, Kamel Ahmaz, who has been the subject of US sanctions since 2014 over procuring military equipment for Hezbollah. The protesters blocked the old airport road and the Baalbek highway near Douris town, as well as key roads to al-Labweh. The blockade was cleared by security forces.
Fighting leaves 12 dead in Benghazi – 16 November
Libyan National Army (LNA) officials said that 12 LNA fighters died during fighting with Islamist militants in western Benghazi. The LNA, led by renegade General Khalifa Haftar, has been fighting Ansar al-Sharia and Benghazi Shoura Council militants in the Ghanfouda and Gwersha areas for several months.
Police arrest three over killing of foreign national in Benghazi – 16 November
Prosecutors in Benghazi said that police arrested three people over the killing of a Pakistani national in the Gaminis area during a suspected robbery attempt. There has been an increase in violent crime and kidnappings across Libya due to a weakened security environment since 2011.
Air strike kills seven, including al-Qaeda commander, in south – 15 November
An air strike killed at least seven suspected Islamist militants near the southwestern city of Sabha, according to officials quoted by Reuters. The early morning strike targeted three houses in Gardah, Wadi al-Shatii region. It was unclear who carried out the strike as forces on both sides of the east-west government divide have used warplanes in recent years. One of the victims is believed to be Abdulrahman Belhaj Hesnawi, a senior al-Qaeda commander.
IS clams attack on vehicle near Sirte – 13 November
According to a statement posted on social media by Amaq Agency, which is linked to the Islamic State (IS) group, militants destroyed a vehicle belonging to the Misrata-led Bunyan Marsous forces near the Sirte power plant west of the city, killing and wounding its occupants. The claim was not confirmed by militia officials. Bunyan Marsous forces have trapped IS fighters in the Jiza area of Sirte after months of heavy fighting for control of the city.
Air defences intercept missile in Najran – 15 November
According to the Saudi-led coalition, air defences intercepted a ballistic missile fired towards the Najran region by Yemen-based Houthi rebels. Following the attack, coalition forces targeted the source of the rocket fire but gave no estimate of casualties. There have been repeated attacks by Houthi forces against Saudi Arabia since the start of coalition air strikes against the group in March 2015. The incident comes after Houthi rebels fired a missile towards Mecca in October.
YPG to withdraw from Manbij, join offensive on Raqqa – 16 November
Russia’s Ministry of Defence states that the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, is ready to strike targets on the outskirts of Aleppo. The carrier, stationed in eastern Mediterranean, is accompanied by a nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser and two destroyers. The Russian Ministry of Defence claimed that the targets will not include residential areas.
Erdogan claims rebels close to retaking al-Bab from Islamic State – 16 November
Turkey-backed rebels are about 2 km from the northern city of al-Bab and are close to retaking it from Islamic State (IS), according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Free Syrian Army rebel group has taken nearby Qabasin and has begun an assault on al-Bab, which is the last urban stronghold of IS north of Aleppo. Kurdish rebels have also been vying to retake al-Bab, though Turkey is determined to prevent it from falling to the Syrian People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia amid fears it will boost Kurdish separatist sentiment in Turkey.
Russian air force launches offensive on Idlib, Homs, east Aleppo – 15 November
The US-backed coalition of Kurdish and Arab forces is set to being a siege of Raqqa, the “capital” of Islamic State (IS) in Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces said they will be aided by US air strikes and have warned civilians to leave areas with a high IS presence ahead of bombing campaigns. The assault comes as Iraqi government forces make ground in the siege of Mosul, IS’s main stronghold in Iraq.
Police arrest four suspected Islamists planning attacks in Tunis – 16 November
According to the interior ministry, police arrested four suspected supporters of the Islamic State militant group planning attacks against politicians and journalists at a commercial centre and National Guard post in Tunis. The suspects were arrested in the capital’s Ben Arous suburb. Tunisia has been on a state of emergency for around a year following a series of Islamic State-claimed attacks on tourists and security forces in 2015.
IS claims responsibility for IED attack in Kasserine – 14 November
Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the detonation of two IEDs targeting government soldiers at Jebel Mghila, Kasserine. The attack is believed to have injured 12 soldiers. Kasserine sees frequent clashes between Islamist militants and soldiers, though IS claims of responsibility are not common.
Authorities uncover fourth weapons cache near Libya border – 13 November
Security forces discovered a stockpile of weapons in Ben Guerdane, in the governorate of Medenine near the Libyan border. It was the fourth cache discovered in the area since 12 November. Details of the contents of the latest stockpile were not provided, however the other caches included Kalashnikov rifles, rockets and landmines. Security forces have arrested four people in connection with the seizures, which come amid heightened concerns over security on the border with Libya following an Islamic State-claimed attack in March.
United Arab Emirates
Court jails two for membership of Islamist group – 14 November
The State Security Circuit of the Supreme Federal Court jailed one man for ten years and another for seven years for membership of the al-Islah Islamist organisation, linked to the banned Muslim Brotherhood. The prosecution said that one of the men had planned to overthrow the government. The government occasionally carries out crackdowns on Islamists, particularly following the 2011 Arab Uprisings.
Government forces re-take districts in Taiz from Houthis – 15 November
Forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government based in Aden re-took districts near the southern city of Taiz from Houthi rebels, according to a senior commander quoted by Gulf News. Colonel Mansour al-Hassani said his forces killed at least 20 Houthi rebels during the early hours of the offensive on Saleh district, while three government soldiers were reportedly killed. Efforts are also being made to cut off the Houthi supply lines from Sana’a through al-Houban district. The offensive aims to push the Houthis out of the country’s third largest city, amid repeated breakdowns in ceasefire attempts between the two sides.
Hundreds protest worsening conditions in Sana’a, Aden – 13 November
Hundreds of people protested over deteriorating conditions in Houthi-controlled Sana’a, and the southern city of Aden, where Yemen’s recognised government in exile is based. Demonstrators were critical of authorities in both cities due to unpaid salaries and shortages of both fuel and power. In Sana’a, pro-Houthi security forces maintained a heavier than usual presence and used force to break up the protest.
WHO says death toll from conflict exceeds 7,000 – 7 November
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that the 20-month conflict between Iran-backed Shi’a Houthi rebels allied with forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and southern forces under internationally recognised President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi supported by a Saudi-led international coalition has left more than 7,000 people dead and more than 36,800 injured as of 25 October. International organisations have warned of deteriorating infrastructure, spreading disease and increasing malnutrition rates in the country.