Middle East Update

Middle East – North Africa News Brief: Regional Low Intensity Conflicts

| [EGYPT]: Low levels of militant violence continue to surge throughout Egypt. Since the Giza shootout on March 2nd there have been a number of shootings between security forces and militia groups. In two of this week’s shooting incidents, security forces were able to uncover a makeshift factory to construct explosive devices, as well as a larger weapons cache. A shooting in el Arish on March 7th resulted in the deaths of several members from a militant group, allegedly affiliated with the Islamic State. On March 8th one Muslim Brotherhood (MB) member was shot and killed by security forces during a raid in Abou Soweir, outside of Ismailia, after he opened fire on the security forces as they were entering the premises. During that raid, a machine gun, and ammunition for it, was uncovered.

On March 7th a civilian identified as Mohammed Az Zain was shot and killed by four masked men in an industrial area of the port city of Damietta. The men escaped the scene using motorcycles. They are believed to belong to local Islamic State-affiliated militant groups.

Continuous protests are expected to occur in the wake of rumors that the government is considering changing the quota for bread that can be sold and bought with government subsidizing. On March 7th protests broke out in Giza and Alexandria as a result of these rumors. The government denied on March 8th that it will commit itself to such reforms, but the rumor persists.

On March 5th a Russian citizen was detained at the Borg el Arab Airport, Alexandria, after a hand grenade was discovered in his carry on bag. The man was traveling to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, and had reportedly made no actual efforts to disguise the grenade. Egyptian authorities have stated that they believe the grenade might have been planted in the man’s luggage by unknown operators.

A shooting outside of a nightclub along the Nile Corniche in Agouza, Giza, occurred on March 5th. There were no casualties or injured parties. Security Forces detained 2 people, aged 19 and 21.

Security Forces exchanged gunfire with drug traffickers along the Suez Road, running from Cairo to Suez, during a car chase on March 6th. Two suspects in a pickup truck were fatally shot. The police uncovered arms, ammunition, and drugs, on the scene.

[SAUDI ARABIA]: March 11th marked the anniversary of the 2011 “Day of Rage” in Saudi Arabia. The so called “Day of Rage” was a pro-democracy protest held in Riyadh on March 11th, 2011, and was primarily organized and attended by Shiite protest groups. Protests were anticipated to emerge throughout the kingdom, and foreigners were warned to avoid large gatherings. Saudi security forces had significantly increased their presence at strategic positions throughout the Kingdom in anticipation of this eventuality.

Public protests were prohibited last week, with the Saudi government warning of fines, loss of nationality and expulsion from the country for anyone who participated in demonstrations. Reports that the Saudi government had encouraged religious leaders to speak out against protests also surfaced.

The resulting protests were small, relatively peaceful marches, primarily in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich eastern provinces, where Shiites had been demonstrating for weeks against discrimination by the country’s Sunni majority. In Riyadh, there was little activity, amidst heavy security.

On March 7, a Saudi Police officer was shot and killed by unknown gunmen outside of a Police Station at Tarout Island, Eastern Province. At 16:30 local time two unidentified men pulled up next to the Police Officer’s vehicle as he was leaving work and shot into the compartment of the vehicle, killing the officer. This is the 2nd shooting so far in 2017 where similar tactics have been deployed. The last one occurred on January 10th. During 2016 at least 15 such incidents occurred.

An Islamic State affiliated fighter was killed, and another arrested, during a police raid on a house the evening of March 7th in the Ar-Rayyan area of Riyadh. Both men were armed, and had been under observation by the Police for an extended period.

A man was arrested on March 6th for having robbed 18 pharmacies at gunpoint throughout Riyadh last week. The man surrendered voluntarily and is being held at the central Police station in Riyadh.

The four Yemeni men that were arrested by Malaysian security forces on February 26th for having planned to assassinate the visiting Saudi King, King Salman, belong to the al Houthi movement, this according to the Malaysian Police Chief. The men are being charged for the planned assassination, but also for having “produced false travel documents” and for having carried khat, a popular stimulant in Yemen.

The Saudi Ministry of Health reported that between February 26th and March 4th five cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus (MERS-CoV) have been uncovered in the kingdom.

[BAHRAIN]: On March 5th the Bahraini authorities announced they had uncovered a large international Shiite militant group with strong ties to Iran. The authorities state that the group consisted of 54 members, and had engaged in domestic terror operations. According to authorities, during a raid against a safe house for the group, 25 out of 54 members were apprehended, and seven guns, four AK-47s, 292 bullets, 19 explosive devices, 11 ammunition cartridge holders, 96 detonators, and one drone were seized. Vehicles and boats were also seized. Interrogations of the members resulted in 21 confessing to involvement in terror operations. Among the operations that the group is said to have carried out is the Jau prison break on January 1st.

Also throughout the week, Shi’a opposition groups have called for additional protests. There have been a number of marches in support of these groups’ statements and intents in recent weeks.

Foreigners in Bahrain are reminded that protests are often given a strong police response by the authorities, especially when they are being held near security installations.

On the 6th and 7th of March the Ministry of Justice filed lawsuits to dissolve the National Democratic Action Society (aka Wa’ad), the official Shiite opposition political party. The Ministry of Justice states in its lawsuit that the Wa’ad party is responsible for “incitement of acts of terrorism and promotion of violent and forceful overthrow of the political regime [in Bahrain]”.

The lawsuit is part of a larger and ongoing series of actions taken by the Bahraini government in recent years. In June 2016, the Ministry of Justice suspended the al-Wefag National Islamic Society, at the time the most prominent political Shiite opposition group, and then forced its dissolution a month later. Leaders of that group are presently standing trials. Isa Qassim and Ali Salman, al-Wefaq’s spiritual leader and secretary general, respectively, are standing trial for inciting terrorism. Ibrahim Sharif, Waad’s former secretary general, was given multiple sentences for having supported terror activities.

[KUWAIT]: Kuwaiti Security forces detained an Egyptian male on March 5th that is suspected of having ties to the Islamic State. The man was attempting to cross the border into Saudi Arabia when he was arrested.

[TURKEY]: On March 6th a 33-year old female Russian national was arrested in Ankara for allegedly having been involved in the 19th December, 2016, assassination of the Russian Ambassador. The woman allegedly had ties to the shooter, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, and authorities have uncovered telephone and WhatsApp exchanges that implicate the woman. She is also suspected of having been involved in organizing prostitution. 

A drive by shooting against a police patrol was attempted in the Yeni Camlica neighborhood of Ankara on March 8th. A man opened fire from a vehicle using a shotgun and a small caliber pistol, and fled the scene before the police could apprehend him.

LIMA CHARLIE News Wire, MENA Desk

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