Middle East Update

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


Continuous calls for protests rang throughout the week. The protests continued with near daily pro-Shiite protests. The majority are carried out in solidarity with prominent Shiite cleric Isa Qassim, and in remembrance of the anniversary of the 2011 entry of the GCC Peninsula Shield Force. Qassim stood trial this week charged with inciting terrorism and propagating anti-government dogma, verdict has been postponed to May 7.

An early dawn police patrol came under heavy fully automatic gunfire on March 15th near the AMA University in Salmabad. A police vehicle was shot more than 20 times, but there were no injuries. An Egyptian made AK-47 was retrieved from the scene.

On March 16th, German police arrested a Shiite “terror suspect” wanted by Bahrain. The individual’s identity has not been publically confirmed yet. The individual remains in German custody until a German court can decide if the Bahrain extradition request is compatible with German and European Union laws regulating the matter.

The United States added Ahmad Hasan Yusuf and Alsayed Murtadha Majeed Ramadhan Alawi to their list of Specifically Designated Global Terrorists List on March 16th. Both individuals have strong ties to Iranian intelligence organizations, and have operated as part of the Bahraini Shiite militia group al-Ashtar Brigades (AAB).


US President, Donald Trump met with the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, on March 13th. The meeting had the intent to mend the strained diplomatic ties between the two nations. Both parties described the meeting as successful afterwards.

The Saudi Ministry of Health (MoH) has reported nine additional cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus (MERS-CoV) this week.

The Ministry of Interior (MoI) continued its security sweeps and raids across the nation. On March 12th MoI announced that they had shot and killed one individual wanted for alleged ties with militant jihadist movements on March 9th. The man’s name was Mustafa Ali Abdullah al-Madad, who opened fire on the approaching police officers – injuring one. Al-Madad stood accused of having previously killed a police officer in October 2016, and having participated in the kidnapping of Judge Muhammed al-Jirani. The incident took place in an unspecified area of al Qatif, in the Eastern Province.

On March 11th a former al Qatif councilman was shot and injured in an attempted assassination. The MoI have stated that they believe the act to have been carried out by militant jihadists inside the country. The men opened fire against the car of Nabil al-Ibrahim, who was struck twice in the arm but was able to evade the attackers. This marks the third time that Mr. al-Ibrahim has been targeted by Jihadist groups operating inside Saudi Arabia.

The police responded that same day to the attack on al-Ibrahim by conducting a raid on a believed safe house for jihadists in the town of al Awamiyah, outside of al-Qatif. The house is located about 15 kilometers away from the scene of the attack against al-Ibrahim. During the raid a 16-year-old male sustained three gunshot wounds and was transported to the nearby Qatif Central Hospital.
At 19:30, on March 14th, a police officer was shot and killed near the Qatif Central Hospital checkpoint. Security forces responded to the shooting and engaged in a high speed pursuit of the attackers. The pursuit resulted in the attackers’ vehicle, a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, being rendered inoperable, which led the men inside the vehicle to hijack a Ford pickup truck. Inside the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado the police discovered molotov cocktails, and additional ammunition. The Toyota was also deemed to have been stolen, and carried the license plates belonging to a Toyota Fortuner. The Fortuner that the plates belonged to had been previously used by Mustafa Ali Abdullah al-Madad, whose demise is described earlier in this report. The men are presently at large.

Al-Qatif in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia has a long standing problem with Shiite militant jihadist groups operating, and targeting public officials and security officers. In the past, any attacks against safe houses or counter-security operations have been met by an increase of militant attacks in the form of retaliatory shootings against security forces.


The Turkish disagreement with the Netherlands continues, and reinforced security procedures have been deployed around the Dutch missions in Ankara and Istanbul. Roadblocks, and increased security forces have been deployed. Widespread protests have been ongoing in Turkey and the Netherlands since the feud began. The dispute between the Netherlands and Turkey was triggered by Turkish efforts to hold political rallies on Dutch territory. This resulted in the Dutch authorities to place travel Turkish officials seeking to promote the campaign for a ‘yes’ vote in the upcoming Turkish constitutional referendum to Turkish citizens living in the Netherlands. Such foreign campaigning is illegal under Turkish law.

In the past week over 200 people have been arrested in security crackdown operations across Turkey. The Turkish government confirmed that they have apprehended over 150 individuals with suspected Islamic State and Kurdish political ties in the past week. During one raid in Bahcelievler the Security Forces found night vision binoculars, protective Kevlar vests, and gas masks, along with at least 5 firearms. That raid resulted in the arrest of 9 individuals. Another individual detained in a raid on March 12th is described as an Jordanian-German whom the authorities suspect ordered the December 2016, attack in Berlin. The Berlin attack killed 12, and injured 49.

A helicopter collided with the Endem TV tower in Buyukcekmece, in Istanbul, on March 10th. The crash resulted in the death of 5 individuals inside the helicopter. The helicopter was carrying a total of 7 individuals, 4 of which were reportedly of Russian nationality. The cause of the crash has been attributed to low visibility due to adverse weather conditions.


A riot broke out in Aqaba, a resort town located by the Red Sea, near the Israeli border, on March 14th. The situation was ignited due to the death of a wanted man during a shootout with Jordanian Security Forces earlier that day. The man was wanted on drug charges. A second suspect was able to evade capture during the commotion. The ensuing riots saw the arrest of six individuals. The six stand charged with inciting disturbance, property damage, shooting firearms, and assault of passerbys.

The United States has charged the Jordanian Ahlam Al-Tamimi for her involvement in a 2001 suicide attack on an Jerusalem Sbarro pizza outlet. The attack resulted in the deaths of 15 individuals, including 2 American citizens. Ms. Al-Tamimi is described as having participated in the design of the explosive used, a parcel bomb packed with nails. The attack was carried out on behalf of the Hamas movement.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also added Al-Tamimi to its list of most wanted terrorists. Al-Tamimi was arrested by the Israeli authorities for the attack in 2001, and plead guilty for her involvement in 2003. She was sentenced to 16 life terms by an Israeli court, but was released in October 2011 as part of a controversial prisoner swap agreement between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities. In the agreement, several hundred Palestinians were released from prison in exchange for one captured Israeli soldier. After her release, Al-Tamimi returned to Jordan. A Jordanian court has ruled that Al-Tamimi can not be extradited to the US due to Jordanian laws that forbid the extradition of Jordanian citizens. 


Iran has in the past week been test firing long-range naval missiles. The missile design is referred to as the Hormuz-2 missile, and has an alleged range of 250 kilometers, or 155 miles.

Iran has blocked the use of the smartphone navigation application Waze. The application is owned by Google, but was originally designed by a team of Israeli software developers. Iran has referred to the application as a “Zionist” application.


Egypt’s Ministry of Petroleum (MoP) stated on March 15th that they have reached an agreement with the Saudi oil company Aramco to resume oil shipments to Egypt. This after the contract dictating that Saudi Arabia would supply oil to Egypt for a 5 year period at a set price was “indefinitely suspended” by the Saudi government.

The Egyptian Ministry of Interior (MoI) confirmed on March 11th that it was a low yield and fairly low technology Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that exploded at the Ibn Sender Square in Northeast Cairo on March 9th. The explosion did not result in any injuries or fatalities. The MoI statement went on to state that the security investigation into the explosion resulted in the detention of an unnamed civilian employee working for a company that has its headquarters by the square. The man was the same man who had reported having found the bomb, and had carried out the attack with financial motives as primary motivation.

Liwa al-Thawra issued a statement on March 11th stating that 4 of its members had been killed in clashes with Egyptian military earlier that week. The Egyptian government has declined to comment.

Russia has reached an agreement with Egypt to deploy Russian military forces in Egypt, towards the Libyan border. The agreement was first reported by the Reuters wire service on March 13th, stating that a 22-member Russian Special Forces unit had already deployed into Egypt. The Russian unit will be operating out of the Sidi Barrani military compound, located about 100 kilometers from the Egyptian-Libyan border. While Russia has not made any official statements to this effect, it is widely believed that the Russian forces will in part be operating to support the Russian backed Libyan National Army General Khalifa Haftar, as well as expand the Russian influence in Egypt and the MENA region.

A homemade hand grenade was discovered under a bridge in eastern Alexandria on March 17th. Responding police were able to disable it on the scene. This marks the 8th time in 2017 that explosives have been found in Alexandria.


A Yemeni coast guard vessel struck a naval mine outside of Mocha, Yemen, on the evening of March 10th. Two people were reportedly killed, and eight others wounded. The al Houthi movement accuses the Saudi Royal Navy for having deployed the mine, but the Saudi Royal Navy claims that it was the al Houthi movement. Earlier this year a US Navy Intelligence report warned that al Houthis had been found to have deployed underwater mines to disrupt naval operations outside the Yemeni coastline.

Saudi Army was able to intercept a ballistic missile fired by the al Houthis on March 17th. The missile was intercepted over the Jazan Province of Saudi Arabia. The design of the missile is believed to be of the so called SCUD missile design, a Soviet design that is popular in the Middle East. Al Houthi media outlets claim that the missile was not intercepted and shot down, but successfully reached its intended target – an Saudi Aramco oil facility in the Jazan province. The Saudis have in recent years been using the American missile interception system known as the Patriot system with great success.

On March 18th the al Houthi fired another ballistic missile, of the so called Burkan-2 design, against targets inside Saudi Arabia. Al Houthi media outlets claim that the missile was able to successfully hit the King Salman Air Base inside central Riyadh. There appears to be no confirmation available on this at the present time, and the claim appears dubious. An al Houthi ballistic missile was intercepted by the Saudi Patriot missile system installation in the Asir province during the night on March 18th however.

An attack helicopter killed 42 Somali refugees on March 17th outside the Yemeni coastline of Hudaydah. The boat was approximately 50 kilometers offshore when the helicopter engaged the boat. As of yet the US and Saudi Arabia have both refuted accusations that it was one of their gunships that engaged the refugee boat. The helicopter is being described by some as an Apache gunship platform helicopter, which is in use by most of the anti-al Houthi coalition members operating inside Yemen at the present.


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