The Ain Amenas Oil Field that was attacked on January 16 has resumed production. The plant, which is jointly owned by British Petroleum (BP), Algeria's state-owned Sonatrach, and Norway's Statoil has also announced that armed guards would called in to protect it and other remote desert facilities. It is unsure whether the companies will recruit local personnel or Western-style contractors.
On February 19 it was reported that seven French tourists, including four children, were abducted near the border with Nigeria. Men on motorcycles, armed with Kalashnikovs, intercepted the family in their car at 0700 GMT and forced them to drive to the nearby Nigerian border. This appears to be the first time that a kidnapping of foreigners was conducted in the northern part of the country. Westerners, particularly French citizens, should be wary of traveling near any border areas with Nigeria. Militant organizations in the area seem to be taking the opportunity to kidnap Western foreigners, and although it is unclear that these groups are tied to al-Qaeda, there is the possibility that kidnapped foreigners could be sold to al-Qaeda.
On February 25, a YouTube video was released by the Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram (BH) which shows two members of the group dressed in military-style uniforms holding weapons over a groups of Westerners.Between the two militants is a black banner with two AK47 rifles facing outwards and what appears to be an open book which is probably meant to represent the Qur'an. Two men and a woman with a head scarf on are sitting down, and also shown are the blocked images of four children. In the video the Westerners spoke briefly in French. Once he had finished, a man spoke in Arabic and explained the group’s demands. The statement read: “We warn the President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, that we are coming and that we will achieve victory no matter how much your siege and hatred reaches. We will win with Gods will and greatness and we will establish the State of Islam in Nigeria if God wills. If you want us to free these French hostages, free all our women who you have imprisoned as soon as possible. We warn the President of Cameroon to free all our brothers in the prisons. Free them as soon as possible. And finally we ask you to implement all these demands. If you leave out one of them, we will slaughter these people who we have taken hostage.”
The video ends with the normal praise to God. One interesting fact regarding this message is where the militants “ask” for the demands to be met. It seems a strange term and manner for demands to be met.
You-tube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4GJ6L1LBk8
(Also see the report on Nigeria)
President Mohammed Morsi moved up the date of Egyptian Parliamentary elections from April 27 to April 22. The change was made due to complaints by Coptic Christians that the original date clashed with Coptic Easter.
A General Election will be held in the country on March 4. Kenyan voters will elect a President, Members of Parliament, Senators, County Governors, Civic Wards, and Women County Representatives. During the build-up to the elections there has been a number of areas of the country where unrest has occurred. Police have found leaflets inciting hatred in Mombasa and Kisumu. It would be advisable to stay away from these areas during this time and for a period after the election, which will probably result in rioting as the losing side disagrees with the outcome of the electoral results. On February 21, in the north of Kenya near the Somali border, seven people were shot dead as they emerged from a mosque. al-Shabab, the Somalia militant group, is reported to be responsible. It had vowed to make reprisals against Kenya when Kenya sent troops into Somalia in October 2011 in support of the United Nations mission in Somalia. Kenya has also sent troops to assist the French in Mali. Attacks from al-Shabab are becoming more frequent in Kenya. The group has carried out assaults in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi in the past, and al-Shabab is a growing problem for Kenya. With the Kenyan elections being held soon, the chance of more attacks from al-Shabab against Kenya to disrupt the election process cannot be discounted.
On February 27, it was reported that a vehicle-born improvised explosive device (VBIED) had exploded at a checkpoint in Kidal, Mali. The checkpoint had been manned by a Tuareg group that was in support of French troops. It was recently reported by 361 Security that actions of this nature would occur more frequently, not directed against French soldiers, but at those who are supporting them. This incident supports 361 Security's analysis. More incidents of this nature will continue. VBIED’s are a cheap way of obtaining good results in attacks. The explosion cost the militants one man, whereas there were seven Tuareg soldiers killed.
On February 17, it was reported that seven foreign workers had been kidnapped in northern Nigeria. Kidnapping is not a new tactic for militants in Nigeria. Historically, the kidnappings have occurred in the south of the country by the group called the
"Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta" (MEND). MEND militants have traditionally kidnapped oil workers working on oil and gas rigs in the south. Their grievance was concerned with the Nigerian federal government making billions of dollars from its natural resources, while the people who live on the land get nothing from this revenue. The group who claimed responsibility for the recent kidnapping in northern Nigeria are reported to be from a new organization known as "Ansaru". Ansaru is an Islamist militant organization operating in the north-east of Nigeria. The organization recently rose to prominence in January 2012, and then six months later released a video claiming it will attack Westerners in defense of Muslims worldwide. The full name of the organization is “Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Bidalis Sudan" (Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa). The group is suspected of splitting from Boko Harem (BH) due to its opposition of non-descriminating attacks by BH where Muslims are also killed. Below is a list of recent terrorist activity by the group:
- On the February 17, seven foreigners were kidnapped in the north of Nigeria.
- On January 19, Nigerian soldiers in the process of deploying to Mali were ambushed in convoy, and two were killed. On January 20, Ansaru claimed responsibility for the attack.
- In early January 2012, the government of the United Kingdom blamed Ansaru for the kidnapping of two people, one British and one Italian. Unfortunately, the two were killed in a failed rescue attempt in March 2012.
- In December 2012, a French national was kidnapped and the Ansauru are thought to be responsible. At the time of this writing there was no other news on this hostage.
On February 21, open source reports indicate that three members of an Iranian-backed terrorist cell had been arrested in Lagos, Nigeria. Nigerian authorities said that members of the cell had received training in Iran on weapons and explosives. The cell was thought to be planning attacks against a number of targets in Nigeria, including "the Lagos offices of the U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID], the Haifa-based ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Ltd. and the Jewish Cultural Centre." Other targets are reported to include: USAID, U.S. Peace Corps, U.S. aid agencies, Zim International Shipping Company, A.A. Consulting, Jewish Cultural Center, Chabad at Ikoyi.
Reports also indicate that the cell members were carrying out reconnaissance on hotels that housed American and Israelis. In another report it was stated that part of the militants' attack plan was to target Nigerians that they believed could "unsettle" the West if attacked. These targets included the former military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida, and the former Sultan of Sokoto Ibrahim Dasuki. It is difficult to assess that this cell and other reports involving terrorist cells with links to Iran in other countries are being put in place should America or Israel attack Iran’s nuclear program. If these cells are in fact connected to Iran, they could be part of Iran’s ongoing clandestine war with America and Israel. It appears that Iran and its proxy organization Hezbollah are increasingly involving themselves on the world stage by seeking to launch operations against Israeli citizens and embassy staff outside of Israel.
A new militant group known as “Muslim Renewal” is evolving In Tanzania. It is believed to be an Islamist organization with affiliations to al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, and is targeting local Christian Bishops and priests. After the murder of a priest in Zanzibar, the organization issued the following threat: “We thank our young men, trained in Somalia, for killing an infidel. Many more will die. We will burn homes and churches. We have not finished: at Easter, be prepared for disaster.” As Christians celebrate Easter next month, the possibility of attacks on the clergy, churches, and it parishioners cannot be discounted. There is a lack of information on this group at present, but what is known is that over recent years Muslim mobs are burning down churches in Tanzania. Violence in the country appears to be escalating, with churches being razed to the ground and priests being attacked.
The Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali resigned on February 19, after failing to create a new government. New elections are expected to be held in the near future, but in the interim period militants could see this as an opportunity to take advantage of the security vacuum. The possibility of demonstrations and clashes between factions may also occur. Tunisians voted in the first free elections of the Arab Spring in October 2011.
Paul Ashley is the Senior Counter-Terrorist Analyst at 361 Security