MENA News Brief: Regional Low Intensity Conflicts, April 1st to April 8th – Current as of April 9, 2018. This week’s report covers Somalia, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen.
-April 8th; Mogadishu, Somalia
Somali authorities have seized a reported $12 million in cash from a plane that landed at 1330 local time at the Mogadishu International Airport. The Boeing 737/700 originated from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and was registered as Royal Jet ROJ04/A6-DAS. $9.5 million of the funds was transferred to the federal bank. The money is largely believed to be part of an undisclosed Saudi and UAE force multiplying operation in Somalia.
-April 1st; Bulamarer, Somalia
Al Shabaab, the regional al Qaeda affiliated jihadist movement, carried out a two-prong Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) attack against a Somali National Security Forces (SNSF)-African Union(AU) position in Bulamarer, south-west of Mogadishu. The VBIED attack was subsequently followed up by a fire exchange between militia and military forces. The Somali government is yet to release any casualty figures from the incident, but reports indicate that uptowards 20 militia members died in the attack.
-April 1st; El-Burr, north-central Somalia
A US military UAV struck an al-Shabaab position killing five individuals. The town of El-Burr has been under al Shabaab control since April 2017, when Ethiopian peacekeeping forces, operating as part of the AU, withdrew from the area of Galmudug.
Security forces have continued their nationwide crackdown on safe houses and individuals believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State. Several raids were carried out this past week, resulting in at least 38 individuals believed to have Islamic State affiliations having been detained, the majority of which have been described as foreigners.
Security forces also continued their long-standing nationwide crackdown on safe houses and on individuals believed to be affiliated with the Kurdish political and/or militant opposition. Several raids were carried out this past week, resulting in at least 14 arrests. Along with these arrests, security forces have also been increasing their operational tempo against members from political groups of socialist/communist leanings, which are often affiliated to some degree with Kurdish nationalist movements. The Turkish state has elected to label such groups as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) as having terrorist affiliations.
The Turkish military offensive operation “Olive Branch”, which began on January 19th, continues with varying degrees of support by Turkish civilians. The operation seeks to eradicate Kurdish controlled enclaves in Syria, and Iraq that might endanger Turkish security and stability. As of yet, ground operations have been limited to the Afrin Canton, part of the Afrin Region, in Syria, while Turkish Air Force air-to-ground strikes have been carried out across Syria, and northern Iraq.
Turkey has made good use of its affiliated and state-supported militia groups, primarily the current incarnation of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The operation has so far mainly targeted the Kurdish-led Democratic Union Party in Syria (PYD), its armed wing People’s Protection Units (YPG), and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) positions surrounding the Syrian city of Afrin. Officially the Turkish operation also aims at attacking the remaining fortifications and remains of the Islamic State in the region, and Turkey has carried out a modicum of air-to-ground operations to that effect.
-April 2nd; Cankaya District, Ankara, Turkey
The Anatolian Youth Association (AGD), a Turkish left-wing nationalist organization, organized a protest outside of the Israeli Embassy in the Cankaya district. The protest is part of a wide spanning initiative to express support for the Palestinian cause, particularly in light of recent turbulence in Gaza. The reported number of participants have been estimated at between 100 and 120.
-April 3rd, Ankara, Turkey
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed during a meeting to begin a $20 billion project to build Turkey’s first nuclear power plant. The nuclear power plant will be part of the existing Akkuyu power plant, located in the southern province of Mersin. The plant will be built by Russian state nuclear energy agency Rosatom and will be made up of four units each with a capacity of 1,200 megawatts(MW), totaling 4,800 MW, and be ready by the year 2023.
“When all four units go online, the plant will meet 10 percent of Turkey’s energy needs,” Erdogan said. The plant is part of the Presidents “2023 vision,” seeking to revive the Turkish economy and make the country a near-independent resource provider by 2023. The two Presidents made a joint public announcement of the initiation of the project during a press conference after the meeting.
Rosatom is set to have a majority stake in the power plant, and is presently looking for a local Turkish partner to take a 49% ownership stake in the project. Sources familiar with the matter indicate that despite the project now being a priority for the two governments, it will likely still miss its targeted 2023 start-up date. The contract to build the nuclear power plant was originally awarded to Russia in 2010, but was delayed due to financial and political difficulties.
-April 4th; Buca District, Izmir, Turkey
The Turkish Communist Youth Movement, the youth party of the Turkish Communist Party, organized a protest against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The reported number of participants have been estimated at between 50 and 60.
-April 4th; Turkey
Security forces went to a heightened state of alert in light of April 4th being the birthday of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK’s founder. Mass arrests were carried out against PKK safe houses, with at least 12 individuals having been detained. During the raid of at least one house, in Izmir, the police reported to have found drugs, firearms and explosives.
-April 4th; Ankara, Turkey
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that the Turkish military “won’t stop” fighting against Kurdish groups in northern Syria. The statement was made during a joint press conference, after a summit with President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, where the three leaders discussed the future of Syria, and their part in it. “I say here once again that we will not stop until we have made safe all areas controlled by the (YPG), starting with Manbij,” Erdogan said. The Turkish president also promised a “rapid end” to the conflict.
A total of 4,000 policemen were deployed from all over Turkey to Ankara to be part of the security arrangements in preparation of the leadership summit. Main routes through the city were closed off for traffic during most of the day. President Putin arrived one day before the summit, and held private talks with President Erodgan.
-April 6th; Istanbul, Turkey
Turkish security forces carried out wide sweeping raids against at least 16 addresses throughout Istanbul during the early hours of April 6th. A total of 33 individuals were detained, all of foreign nationality. At least one of the locations raided was being used as a print shop for Islamic State supportive media.
-April 7th; Ankara, Turkey
A small protest in the Sihhiye Abdi Ipekci Park was held against Israeli security operations in the Gaza Strip, which has resulted in mass casualties. The protest was organized by University activists organizers. The reported number of participants have been estimated at between 45 to 55.
Egyptian security forces continued their nationwide operations against safe houses and individuals believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State. At least 9 individuals believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State were killed by government forces in the past week, with a further 3 having been detained. The Egyptian armed forces counter-Islamic State operations have primarily been focused in the Libyan border region and the Northern Sinai Peninsula, and had varying degrees of success.
Security forces continued their operations against the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and associated organizations, throughout the country. In the past week several raids have been conducted against believed safe houses and individuals with alleged MB affiliations. According to reports, the raids have resulted in at least 6 individuals arrested.
Security operations continued along the Egyptian-Libyan border area with the Egyptian Air Force striking Salafist-Jihadist groups convoys crossing from Libya to Egypt. The border land, on the Libyan side, has become a haven for emerging new militia groups, including the al Qaeda-linked group Ansar al-Islam.
Violence against Egyptian Coptic Christians has seen yet another nationwide surge in recent months. While the government has attempted to curtail the violence, and has had fair success in preventing large scale attacks, attacks against Christians in their homes and on the streets continue to be on the rise. In light of this, the Easter holidays, and the recent Egyptian election, security forces have been on high alert against terror attacks throughout the country. Churches and government installations have received additional security personnel stationed to them, and the presence of military Quick Response Forces (QRF) have been increased at the major hubs.
Egyptian Security Forces acted on a tip from civilians on April 1st, “Palm Sunday”, and were able to prevent a suicide bomber from entering the central coptic church in Nagaa Hammadi, in the Qena Province of southern Egypt. The would-be bomber was found to be wearing a suicide vest containing ball bearings and miscellaneous other metal items.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi predictably won the March, 2018 presidential election by a wide margin. While initial numbers indicated that the President had allowed himself a 10% margin of opposing voters, final numbers released on April 1st show that 97% of voters voted in favor of the President. Just short of 60 million individuals were registered to vote, and nearly 25 million, or 41 percent, reportedly did cast ballots. This stands in contrast to the 2014 election, which saw the election of al-Sisi to office, where 47% of the people voted. The international community has, by large, called both elections as sham elections.
-April 4th; Cairo, Egypt
Egyptian security forces raided the office of the Egyptian news organization Masr al-Arabia, and arrested its editor-in-chief. al-Arabia had been cited by the Supreme Council for Media Regulations two days earlier to pay fines of 50,000 Egyptian Pounds for having re-published a New York Times article detailing irregularities in the recent Egyptian presidential election. Adel Sabry, the website’s editor-in-chief, was arrested and is being held at Dokki police station in greater Cairo, according to Mohamed Mounir, Masr al-Arabia’s managing editor.
-April 5th; Ismailia City, Ismailia Governorate, north-eastern Egypt
Security forces carried out a raid against a Hasm safe house in the northern part of Ismailia city. During the raid the entry team encountered armed resistance, and a short fire exchange occurred. No casualties were reported. Police arrested at least three individuals at the safe house that they describe as “dangerous elements”, and uncovered a small cache of small arms, and drugs. At least one of the individuals, named as “Ibrahim Salam”, arrested are described as an employee at the el Hassana Police Department in North Sinai.
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)
The Shi’a al Houthi militia in Yemen continue to send ballistic missiles aimed at population centers in Saudi Arabia. The majority of incoming missiles are reportedly shot down by the Saudi surface-to-air system (SAM), operated by the Royal Saudi Air Defense forces, which consists primarily of a series of US provided MIM-104 Patriot systems. The al Houthi tend to utilize variations of Soviet-era designed ballistic missile systems. One such example is the Qaher-1 missile, which is an improved variation of the Soviet SA-2 short to medium range ballistic missile design. No civilian casualties were reported this week in relations to al Houthi shelling.
Cross-border activities between Saudi and Yemeni militia groups continue to be an ongoing concern. The so called “no mans land” that makes up the border between the two countries is riddled with landmines from past conflicts, which often cause collateral for patrolling border units. The positions of the landmines are largely unknown even by the organizations that placed them, as the movement of the sand often displaces the mines. Al Houthi forces often use the area to launch rocket attacks against Saudi targets.
The Saudi Ministry of Health (MoH) has stated that it had detected 2 new cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) between March 25th and March 31st.
-April 3rd; Riyadh, KSA
King Salman reiterated the statement that his son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, made on April 2nd during a visit to the United States. The King, like his heir, stated that KSA recognizes the right of “the Jewish people to have a nation-state of their own next to a Palestinian state,” but that peace must come between Palestine and Israel soon. The King also stated that KSA shares common interests with Israel for the stability of the region.
-April 6th; al-Awamiyah, al-Qatif, Eastern Province, KSA
An attack on a mechanized security forces security patrol resulted in the death of one officer and two others being injured. The attack originated from a nearby farm, and was perpetrated using mortars. Unconfirmed social media reports indicate that responding security forces attacked retreating militants, arresting and killing a handful of them. A mortar tube was found on the scene, and is believed to have originated as having been built at one of the black market shops in the area.
-April 8th; Khalid Bin Al Waleed Street, Al-Raed, Riyadh, KSA
Three armed individuals robbed a Al Rajhi Bank money transfer vehicle. The driver of the transfer vehicle was killed and the two guards inside the vehicle injured during the robbery. The take from the robbery has been stated to be at least 3 million Riyadh ($800,000 USD). This is not the first time a money transfer vehicle has been hit in that area. At least two other similar armed robberies have been carried out in the past two years, all utilizing the same tactics, and level of violence against the personnel of the vehicles.
Shia government opposition groups continue to call for nationwide protests, but have so far failed to reach a critical mass with the majority of resulting public gatherings containing less than fifteen people. Security forces made minor arrests relating to Shia opposition groups. The government is however reporting that a noteworthy increase of Shi’a militia and government opposition violence occurred throughout 2017. This trend is expected to continue throughout 2018.
Various Shi’a affiliated militia movements continue to claim to have carried out various attacks against Bahraini security forces and installations. Few of these attacks ever receive an official confirmation from the Bahrain government. This week a handful of alleged attacks were claimed to have been carried out by a wide array of groups, including the Iran/Hezbollah affiliated Popular Resistance Brigades (Saraya al-Muqawama al-Shabiya) group.
Bahrain is quickly finding itself on the forefront of the increasingly active low intensity conflict between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Iran. Several incidents, particularly a recent surge in Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks, in the past few months have been attributed to Shi’a militia organizations that allegedly have direct or indirect ties to Iran.
-April 7th; Manama, Bahrain
Shiite opposition groups carried out a series of small scale protests against the running of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, as they perceive it as further legitimizing a regime that “oppresses the Shi’a belief.” The Bahrain Grand Prix occurred during April 6th-8th, at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC)
Amidst the multi-year civil war, and long running international counter-insurgency campaign, rages a proxy war between regional super powers: Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In the most recent bout, Saudi Arabia released a briefing last week which details Iran’s covert support of Yemen’s al Houthi militia movement. The briefing made a significant splash as it detailed not just that Iran had provided small arms, RPGs, Anti-Tank weapons, and Short-Range Ballistic Missiles, but more seriously had installed at least one Sayyad-2 model C Medium-Range Surface to Air (SAM) system at a key al Houthi controlled position. The Sayyad-2 is one of Iran’s most recent SAM configuration, has an estimated range of 80-150 kilometers, and can operate on altitudes up to 30,000 meters while carrying a high-explosive payload. This would be the first time that the Sayyad SAM system have been deployed outside of immediately Iranian controlled areas, and Saudi Arabia believes that it threatens its operational capabilities in the region.
LIMA CHARLIE, MENA Desk
Lima Charlie provides global news, insight & analysis by military veterans and service members Worldwide.
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