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Middle East – North Africa News Brief

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Narrowed Middle East and Northern Africa News Composition Briefing, Regional Low Intensity Conflicts, February 26th to March 14th – Current as of March 15, 2018. This week’s report covers Turkey, Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Turkey

Overall Security and Stability Situation in Turkey: Turkey continues to combat a growing domestic insurgency. The primary enemy appears to be Salafist Jihadist movements, and to a lesser extent also nationalistic Kurdish organizations. As Turkey has taken an active military role in the war against the Islamic State throughout the Levant, and due to its geographical location as a gateway between the Near East and the West, it has long been a primary target for Islamist extremist groups.

Turkish President Erdogan has aggressively carried out a nationalistic political dogma, and with the Turkish military offensive against the Kurdish enclaves along the Syrian border region, primarily the Afrin area of Syria, the domestic security situation has further deteriorated. The military incursion into Syria has also further strained Turkish relations with its allies in the West and the Arab world at large.

The 2016 coup d’etat attempt against the government further showed that Turkey is a nation that is fraying. President Erdogan has been able to carry out this aggressive approach largely due to his support within the non secular communities of Turkey. These communities tend to favor a strongman approach to matters, and do not want progressive changes in society. With the growing polarity between secular and nonsecular communities in Turkey, Erdogan’s role is fairly secured.

In recent years, Turkey has seen large increases in drug-related crimes, organized crime, theft and homicides. Since the 1990s, overall crime in Turkey has been rising. As of 2014, Turkey has seen a 400% rise in drug-related crimes, theft and homicide. In 1994, the number of arrested prisoners was recorded as 38,931; 20 years later, as of the beginning of October 2014, the number of prisoners has reached 152,335. According to the data provided by the Ministry of Justice, the crime rate is growing with each passing day.

Security and Stability Ranking: 75/100

February 28th, 2018 – Istanbul, Turkey: Security forces carried out a series of night raids against believed safe houses used by the Islamic State (IS) militia group. The locations struck were all outlining neighborhoods of Istanbul. The raids were carried out against locations in Basaksehir, Beyoglu, Esenyurt, Atasehir, and Faith. A total of 29 individuals were arrested, 15 of the arrested were indicted in proceedings the next morning. All individuals arrested have been described as being foreign nationals.

The raids are part of ongoing nationwide operations targeting members from organizations that the Turkish state has deemed dangerous. This includes certain Sunni, Kurdish, and Marxist organizations.

February 28th, 2018 – Ankara, Turkey: An annual report of the Turkish Interior Ministry, originally released in late February, raised fresh questions about a controversy ongoing since the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. According to the report, 2,198,774 individuals lost their vehicle registrations, gun licenses, driver’s licenses and professional IDs last year, while 106,740 guns were recorded as either lost or stolen. News of the huge number of missing weapons comes amid concerns over the reported proliferation of unlicensed guns, including through online sales, and has reignited debate on weapons that were reported missing from military and police armories in the wake of the coup attempt.

March 3rd, 2018 – Istanbul, Turkey: Security forces carried out a series of evening raids against believed safe houses used by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The locations struck were all outlining neighborhoods of Istanbul. The raids were carried out against locations in the districts of Faith, Sultangazi, Uskudar and Esenyurt. A total of three (3) individuals were arrested, and are believed to have been preparing to carry out attacks against police stations and security checkpoints throughout Istanbul. Five (5) additional individuals are still being sought.

March 4th, 2018 – Ankara, Turkey: Riot police was used to break up a Woman’s Rights March in Ankara on March 4th. The police utilized tear gas, and arrested 15 protestors. The rally, supported by a number of rights NGOs in Turkey, was also attended by the Kurdish-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Pervin Buldan, HDP group deputy chair Filiz Kerestecioğlu, HDP deputy Hüda Kaya and Labor Party co-chair Selma Gürkan.

March 5th, 2018 – Ankara, Turkey: Four (4) individuals were arrested by security forces for their alleged involvement in IS affiliated preparations to attack the United States (US) embassy in Ankara. Two (2) of the individuals have been identified as Iraqi nationals, named Sohaib Qusay Taga and Fernas Huseyin. These two (2) were detained while crossing a checkpoint on the Samsun-Ankara road. Two (2) other individuals were arrested in the house that Huseyin and Taga had been staying the night before. It is not clear as to how progressed the plans were to attack the US Embassy in Ankara at the time of the arrest. On March 7th, 2018, a further 13 individuals were arrested in Adana, Turkey, for allegedly having taken part in the planning and preparations for an attack on the US Embassy.

The US Embassy in Ankara closed down on March 4th citing security concerns. The US Embassy reopened on March 7th.

March 5th, 2018 – Ankara, Turkey: 12 individuals were arrested by security forces during a series of raids throughout the day. All 12 are described as belonging to an IS-cell, and being of foreign nationality. It is not clear if the terror cell is connected to another terror cell that was hit also on March 5th, that cell was allegedly planning to attack the US Embassy in Ankara.

March 7th, 2018 – Istanbul, Turkey: Security forces raided a series of believed PKK safe houses. The raids resulted in the arrests of 6 individuals. According to a statement by the security forces, the safe houses were located in the districts of Uskudar, Esenyurt, Saltangazi and Fatih.

March 9th, 2018 – Istanbul, Turkey: Security forces carried out a series of large scale raids on 15 addresses in 12 districts of Istanbul. The raids resulted in the arrests of 21 individuals with alleged IS-affiliations.

March 9th, 2018 – Konya, Turkey: Turkish prosecutors have issued the arrest warrants for 243 people for their affiliation with the cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen is accused by the Turkish government for having partaken in the attempted 2016 July coup. 92 of the arrest warrants were for teachers. Gulan is currently in political exile in the US.

March 12th, 2018 – Istanbul, Turkey: An estimated 250 taxi drivers demonstrated in front of the Palace of Justice in Istanbul. The demonstration was in support of proposed regulation that will make the ride-sharing service Uber illegal in Turkey.

March 14th, 2018 – Istanbul, Turkey: Security forces raided 12 believed PKK safe houses across six (6) districts. The raids resulted in the arrests of five (5) individuals. At least two (2) of the individuals arrested have alleged ties to an Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) attack on the Istanbul district of Bahcelievler on September 13th, 2017.

Kingdom of Bahrain 

Overall Security and Stability Situation in Bahrain: The ongoing small scale Shi’a insurgency, coupled with Shi’a demonstrations, will continue for the foreseeable time. The militant activities have so far not actively targeted western individuals or western corporations directly, but it stands to reason that such an act could be forthcoming. In the meantime, the Iran-supported militia groups are mainly targeting security forces and oil installations.

Violence in relation to anti-government demonstrations is not entirely uncommon, and does not appear to target Westerners. It is however advisable to avoid any political gatherings. Demonstrations have occasionally unraveled quickly, and deteriorated, with protestors going from relative peacefulness to rapidly throwing stones to Molotov cocktails or using burning debris to block roads. Being found by local security forces to be in attendance of political gatherings, in particular anti-government ones, could jeopardize an individual’s visa or work status.

The Bahrain government is widely seen as stable, but repressive. Since the 2011 Arab Spring unrest, political freedom in the country is relatively minute. The country operates primarily within the Saudi-US sphere of influence, and is well aligned with Western stability interests in the region.

Security and Stability Ranking: 90/100

Egypt

Suggested reading: John Sjoholm’s new article about the coming Egyptian presidential election and its outcome: “Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s President for life?”

Image Lima Charlie News Headline Egypt presidential election MAR 17 2018

February 27th, 2018 – al Arish, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt: Egyptian military units conducted a series of raids against Salafist Jihadist militia groups in al Arish. In total the military hit and destroyed 20 ground targets. A combination of air capabilities, ground forces, and artillery were used to hit and destroy all positions. One ground assault operation was carried out in a central location of the city of Al Arish, where the military found a an armed opposing force of ten (10). In the ensuing fire exchange the military disabled seven (7) of the opposing elements. At least two (2) Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED) were also destroyed.

March 1st, 2018 – Suez City, Egypt: Police attempted to arrest two (2) individuals. The arrest attempt resulted in a shoot out between the parties, which left the both individuals dead. The two (2) individuals are believed to have had affiliations with an militant breakaway faction of the Muslim Brotherhood.

March 4th, 2018 – Rawd al Farj, Cairo suburbs, Egypt: A large scale evening pro-government demonstration was carried out in Rawd al Farj. Local media reports that the demonstration gathered a critical mass of anywhere in the hundreds and the thousands, depending on the media outlets. The demonstrations are part of the reelection campaign for the incumbent president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

March 5th, 2018 – Unspecified location inside the southern Sinai Peninsula, Egypt: Egypt has committed more than 1,000 square kilometres (386 square miles) of land in the southern Sinai Peninsula to a planned mega-city and business zone unveiled by Saudi Arabia last October. The project is called NEOM, and is planned to consist of a 26,500 square km zone. The total investment necessary to carry the project through is estimated at $500 billion. As of now, a $10 billion joint fund have been established. The NEOM area will consist of a large tourist area, totaling 50 resorts and four (4) small cities, in addition to financial and logistic centers. The Egyptian government has said it would break ground in 2019 and complete its first phase by late 2022. The Saudi government has already queried several local construction companies to prepare for the construction of five (5) palaces. Among the external investment groups that are considering investing into the NEOM project is Japan’s Softbank (9984.T). However, as of yet the only investors are the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

March 7th, 2018 – Border area towards Israel and Palestine, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt: Israeli officials have complained that the Egyptian military’s use of cell phone jamming technology near the border area is disrupting phones in Israel and the Gaza strip. The Egyptian military uses the cell phone jamming technology as part of their battle against insurgency groups that operate throughout the peninsula. Such jamming technologies are often used to partly disrupt militant communications networks, but also to jam cell phone activated/controlled Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). As the Egyptian military has increased its operational tempo in the peninsula, it has also increased its use of jamming technologies. Before February, cell phone jamming was reportedly not a problem but it has since become one. Israeli cell phone providers, such as Partner, have received several hundred complaints about reception problems, despite that the providers 4G networks are functioning. Members from the Egyptian and Israeli authorities will be meeting in the coming weeks to discuss how to best approach the problem.

March 11th, 2018 – Unspecified location on the western border with Libya, Egypt: Egyptian Air Force engaged and destroyed five (5) vehicles that were attempting to cross the border illegally. A Ministry of Defense (MoD) statement states that the vehicles were carrying Salafist militants that were attempting to enter Egypt from Libya.

March 3rd, 2018 – Bahrain: Security forces carried out a series of raids against believed Iran-affiliated agents, which resulted in the arrest of 116 suspects. According to government reports, the 116 suspects were planning to attack “vital oil installations” and had amassed a stock of firearms and explosives in preparation of this. Explosives were seized during the raids, and included large quantities of C4. 48 of the individuals are described as having received training by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Iran, Iraq, or Lebanon. The government also alleges that some of the training was carried out by the Shia militias Asaib Ahl al-Haq in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Information of the raids were released through the government affiliated Bahrain News Agency (BNA) on the same day.

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)

February 26th to March 14th, 2018 – Riyadh, KSA: The Ministry of Health (MoH) has reported a total of eleven (11) new cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) between February 26th and March 14th. The majority of these new cases were found in the greater Riyadh area.

March 1st, 2018 – Washington D.C., Washington, US: A bipartisan trio of U.S. senators have introduced a joint resolution aimed at ending U.S. military support for the the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s civil war. The trio consists of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn). The resolution intends to invoke the War Powers Act, which can be used to overrule the president and to withdraw troops from the conflict.

March 12th, 2018 – Washington D.C., Washington, US: Saudi Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman arrived to Washington to gather political support for his power block, further international legitimacy and to attempt to secure investment opportunities on behalf of Saudi Arabia. Before arriving to Washington Prince Salman had visited London and Cairo.

March 14th, 2018 – Riyadh, KSA: KSA will be issuing its first official tourist visa beginning on April 1st. The visa is set to allow non-Muslim tourists to visit historic sites such as Jeddah and the ancient city of Mada’in Saleh. The hope is that a Saudi tourist sector will revive the nation’s fledgling economy. Female tourists below the age of 25 will need a companion in order to receive a visa. Non-Muslim travelers will not be allowed to visit the holy sites of Mecca and Medina.

March 15th, 2018 – Washington D.C., Washington, US: In an interview with the US broadcasting network CBS, Crown Prince Salman explicitly stated that the KSA will develop nuclear weapons of their own if Iran continues to develop such weapons. The Prince’s statement comes amid the announcement that the KSA will be continuing to lower its dependence on oil, by using more nuclear energy. The US, South Korea, Russia, France and China are bidding on a multi-billion dollar tender to build the country’s first two nuclear reactors. KSA has refused to sign any agreement that will limit its right to enriching uranium for military purposes.

LIMA CHARLIE, MENA Desk

Lima Charlie provides global news, insight & analysis by military veterans and service members Worldwide.

For up-to-date MENA news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieMENA and John Sjoholm @JohnSjoholmLC

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