Bahrain – On July 17, a small explosive vehicle device was detonated in a car park in Riffa, a Sunni suburb south of the capital of Manama. The device was detonated remotely and was thought to be crude in its design. Sunni mosques were targeted during sectarian unrest in the 1990s, but have not been attacked recently. A little-known group named after a close companion of Imam Ali, a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed who is particularly revered by the Shia, and linked to exiled opposition figures claimed responsibility for the attack. There were three arrests made after the attack with the average age being older than those who are involved in the February 14 (F14) coalition. It is believed that some of those who are involved in the F14 have connections to Iraqi Shia militias and the Lebanese Hezbollah. This may have been a blatant attack on Sunnis due to the incident being carried out during the Holy Month of Ramadan. With other sectarian attacks being conducted in Iraq, there is a possibility that this was an attempt to stir up sectarian unrest.
Iraq – On July 22, two prisons near Baghdad were attacked by al-Qaeda militants. After prolonged fighting at the Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons, it was reported that approximately 500 inmates had escaped. The prison attacks consisted of suicide car bomb attacks followed up by smalls arm fire from the militants. Most of the inmates that were freed were senior al-Qaeda members who were sentenced to death. In the north of the country, Iraqi security forces were attacked, resulting in a number of deaths.
The release of such high profile al-Qaeda prisoners could benefit the militant organization. There is propaganda value that can be derived from the release of the prisoners, which can be spun to state that Iraqi security forces are vulnerable, and can be attacked with impunity. The inmates that were freed are experienced fighters that will most likely be of great use to the al-Qaeda organization in Iraq and possibly Syria. The complex planning and execution of the prison assaults indicates that it took a long time to plan and will most likely foretell increased al-Qaeda and militant Salafist attacks in Iraq.
Syria – On July 25, there were reports that a vehicle bomb had exploded in a suburb of Damascus. The area, Jaramana, which is a strong supporter of the al-Assad government, has been targeted by a series of explosions in the past. There have also been reports that the opposition forces to Bashar al-Assad and his army are currently suffering large losses, and the fighting appears to be in the government’s favor. These types of attacks against civilian areas will give the al-Assad government and its supporters (Russia, China and Iran) the excuse that the Syrian conflict is being fought against terrorists.
On July 31, the Syrian government agreed to allow a United Nations inspection team into the country to investigate three sites where chemical weapons are reported to have been used. These suspected areas are believed to be the Aleppo suburb of Khan al-Assal, and the other sites are believed to be near Homs and Damascus. In the 361 Security Terrorist and Security Report dated June 15, it was stated that Iraqi authorities had uncovered a suspected al-Qaeda chemical weapons manufacturing facility in Iraq, with they believe was intended to smuggle chemical agents to Europe and the United States.
Paul Ashley is the Senior Counter-Terrorist Analyst