Africa/Da’esh – Islamic State forces loyal to Adnan Abu Walid al Sahrawi, the emir of the Islamic State’s Sahara branch, claimed an attack in Burkina Faso yesterday according to Mauritanian news agency Al Akhbar on the 4 Sep 16. The claim, which has not yet been confirmed in a statement from the Islamic State, marks the first time this fledgling branch has claimed an attack in its one year of existence. Al Akhbar, which has previously published statements from Sahrawi and other Saharan-based jihadists, reports that Sahrawi sent a message claiming that an attack on the 2 Sept 16 in Burkina Faso, near the borders with Niger, was the work of his men. The assault, which occurred on a Burkinabe gendarmerie post in Markoye, left a border agent and a civilian dead. If confirmed, this would mark the first operation claimed by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). However, the group has issued threats to North African states in the past. In May, Sahrawi sent an audio statement to Al Jazeera in which he threatened “attacks on the United Nations mission in Western Sahara, Western tourists in Morocco, the headquarters of Moroccan security, and on foreign companies,” according to the report. (See LWJ report, Report: Head of the Islamic State’s Sahara branch threatens Morocco.) Sahrawi was originally the spokesman and a senior leader for the al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) splinter group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). In 2013, MUJAO merged with Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s Al Mulathameen Brigade to form Al Murabitoon. The new combined entity immediately swore allegiance to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri. After the group’s first emirs were killed in counterterrorism raids, Sahrawi became Al Murabitoon’s head. Last May, Sahrawi released an audio statement in which pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. He claimed to do so on behalf of the entire Al Murabitoon group. (See LWJ report, Confusion surrounds West African jihadists’ loyalty to Islamic State.) However, only some of MUJAO’s fighters joined Sahrawi in defecting to the Islamic State. Belmokhtar, an al Qaeda loyalist, quickly released a statement saying that Al Murabitoon remained in al Qaeda’s camp. [See Threat Matrix report, Alleged statement from Mokhtar Belmokhtar denies his group swore allegiance to the Islamic State.] After this occurred, clashes between Sahrawi’s men and fighters loyal to Mokhtar Belmokhtar were widely reported in local media. Additionally, Belmokhtar was elected leader of Murabitoon by its shura council last August and remerged with AQIM in early December. Since the clashes between the two opposing sides of Murabitoon, Sahrawi has been largely quiet since the aforementioned threats to Morocco. Now, Sahrawi has claimed his ISGS has perpetrated its first military operation since being founded. While this does not bode well for the region’s stability, ISGS has experienced difficulty operating in the area. According to US officials contacted by The Long War Journal, Belmokhtar’s men intended to assassinate Sahrawi in the clashes in order to quell the jihadist dissidents. Al Qaeda’s domination of the jihadist landscape in Mali and neighbouring states will also likely prove difficult for the Islamic State to gain any real foothold in the area. While Sahrawi is loyal to al Baghdadi and the Islamic State, neither of the two audio statements sent to Al Akhbar and Al Jazeera have been released by official Islamic State media outlets. The Islamic State has not acknowledged any fighters, let alone a branch, in the Sahel either. This could mean that the Islamic State sees the fledgling group as too weak at this point or that the region is not a viable option for expansion at this point in time. Communication between ISGS and the mother organization in Iraq and Syria could also be an issue.
Egypt – A car bomb exploded in a Cairo suburb after Egypt's deputy prosecutor general drove by late on the 29 Sep 16 injuring a passerby, the interior ministry said. "A bomb in a car parked on the side of the road exploded after deputy prosecutor general Zakareya Abdel Aziz drove past" in an upmarket district of eastern Cairo, it said in a statement. It said Abdel Aziz and his bodyguards were unharmed but "a civilian was wounded".
Central African Republic (CAR) – Rebels have killed dozens of villagers close to a town in the centre of the Central African Republic (CAR), according to a presidential spokesman on the 18 Sep 16. The incident marks the worst bloodshed in recent months in a country trying to draw a line under years of religious violence and political turmoil. Albert Mokpeme said the killings took place in the village of Ndomete, not far from the town of Kaga-Bandoro located in the centre of the country, about 350 km north of the capital Bangui. He blamed fighters from the former Seleka rebel coalition. "There were 26 victims. The Seleka [rebels] went door to door ... The village chief was among the victims," said Albert Mokpeme said. "It was a massacre." Violence pitting the mainly Muslim Seleka fighters against rival Christian anti-Balaka members started on Friday in Ndomete, before spreading to Kaga-Bandoro. CAR's UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, dispatched troops to the area and separated the two groups. MINUSCA said in a statement that it was reinforcing its positions in and around Kaga-Bandoro and stepping up patrols in an effort to protect civilians and prevent further violence, according to a news agency. The mission declined to give a death toll. CAR, which holds reserves of uranium, gold and diamonds, suffered the biggest crisis in its half-century of independence in early 2013 when Seleka toppled Francois Bozize, the president at the time. Christian fighters responded by attacking Muslims. A fifth of the population fled their homes to escape the violence, leaving the impoverished nation even more divided along ethnic and religious lines. Former prime minister Faustin-Archange Touadera won a presidential election in February that was meant to help the country emerge from its bloody past. However, rebels and fighters still stalk much of the country outside the capital.
Chad/Niger/Boko Haram – A joint military operation between Chad and Niger has killed 123 Boko Haram militants since July and recovered a significant quantity of weapons, Niger’s Defense Ministry said on the 30 Sep 16. Allied Chadian-Nigerien forces launched an offensive against the extremists after a surprise attack in Niger killed 30 of the country’s troops in early Jun 16 its deadliest ever attack there. Defence Ministry spokesman Colonel Moustapha Ledru said 14 of the two nations’ own troops had also died and 39 had been injured in fighting with the Nigerian militant group over the same period. “An important quantity of arms and weapons were recovered,” he added. Ledru said a parallel offensive involving Nigerian forces had recaptured four towns from the extremists. The UN humanitarian coordinator for the region said on Friday that tens of thousands of people are dying of hunger because insecurity has prevented farmers tilling the land and made access for aid agencies almost impossible.
Morocco/Da’esh – Morocco said on the 7 Sep 16 it has broken up a "terrorist cell" linked to the Da’esh terror group that authorities believe was planning attacks in the north of the country. A statement from Rabat's interior ministry said three suspects had been detained by police in the northern cities of Oujda, Casablanca and Fez. The arrests "revealed several dangerous terrorist projects in advanced stages of preparation", the statement said. It added that the cell members were linked to Da’esh supporters "active in Syria and Iraq". The ministry said the three had planned to attack "sensitive and crucial sites" in several cities. "The cell's chief rented a safe house near to the city of Oujda, which was reserved for lodging and the preparation and manufacture of remote-detonated explosives," the statement added. A raid on the property uncovered chemicals that the ministry said could have been used to make bombs. Rabat says more than 150 "terrorist cells" have been busted since 2002, including dozens in the past three years with ties to extremists in Iraq and Syria. A study by the US-based Soufan Group said in Dec 15 that at least 1,200 Moroccans had travelled to fight alongside Da’esh in Iraq and Syria in the previous 18 months. In 2011, a cafe bombing killed 17 people, mostly foreign tourists, in the central city of Marrakesh. It was the deadliest attack in Morocco since the 2003 Casablanca blasts that killed 45 people, including 12 suicide bombers.
Niger/Boko Haram – Thirty-eight Boko Haram extremist fighters have been killed during military search operations carried out by Niger and Chad troops in the Diffa region of southeast Niger this week, an official said on the 17 Sep 16. Two soldiers were lightly wounded in the action and “on the enemy side; 38 terrorists killed,” Niger defence ministry spokesman Moustapha Ledru said on state television. “The joint army operations took place between the 12 Sep 16 and the 14 Sep 16 around the villages of Gueskerou and Toumour in south-eastern Niger” Colonel Ledru said. According to villagers and NGO workers in Gueskerou, 30 kilometres from Diffa, Boko Haram elements attacked the town on the night of the 14 Sep 16 without killing anyone. “The attack nonetheless caused a psychosis in the population” and “the assailants torched houses and stole food and medicines after pillaging shops and a pharmacy,” an NGO official said. In late July this year a multinational force, drawn from Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, was formed to tackle the extremist insurgents and clear them out of towns and villages.
Nigeria/Boko Haram – Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, already reeling under the combined military pressure of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, and facing a growing wave of desertion from its ranks, is now also being hobbled by in-fighting between rival factions it was reported on the 9 Sep 16. Newsweek reports that the rift began in early August, when the media arm of ISIS, operating out of Syria, announced that Abu Musab al-Barnawi was the group’s new leader. ISIS installed al-Barnawi to replace the previous leader, Abubakar Shekau, but Shekau defied ISIS and announced he was still the leader. The AFP news agency reports that within days of the leadership squabble coming into the open, deadly skirmishes between the followers of each of the leaders erupted, and that they are still going on, limiting Boko Haram’s ability to stage attacks against civilians in north-east Nigeria. Sources within the Nigerian military say that, at least for now, Shekau’s loyalists appear to be losing the fight, with scores of them killed and injured in fighting across three villages in the Monguno area of Borno state. Witnesses told AFP that the attacks were launched by the Barnawi faction, thus supporting analysts’ assessment that the pro-Barnawi faction has seized the initiative. The ISIS leadership in Syria had been increasingly critical of Shekau’s preferred strategy of suicide bombings in crowded areas (see “Boko Haram leader ‘fatally wounded in army air strike’: Nigeria,” HSNW, 23 August 2016) — and witnesses told AFP that the Barnawi fighters told villagers the other faction[Shekau’s] had “derailed from the true jihad” by killing innocent people and looting their property. In comments he made shortly after he was named the new leader, Barnawi pointedly criticized his predecessor for “targeting the ordinary people.” When Barnawi talks of “ordinary people” he means Muslim ordinary people. ISIS’s main criticism of Shekau was that most of the victims of his indiscriminate attacks were fellow Muslims. ISIS also criticized Shekau for using young girls in suicide attacks – and it was his refusal to obey ISIS’s orders to stop using children in such attacks that led to his replacement. In August, Barnawi – believed to be the son of Boko Haram’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, who died in 2009 – gave an interview to ISIS-linked magazine Al-Naba. He said that his intention was to focus the group’s attacks on Nigeria’s Christian population, speaking of “booby-trapping and blowing up every church we are able to reach, and killing all of those who we find from the citizens of the Cross,” according to a translation of the report by the SITE Intelligence group. Local villagers told Bloomberg News that the factional in-fighting had prompted many Boko Haram fighters to abandon the group and turn themselves in to the Nigerian authorities. These fighters brought their families with them to the government-run detention centres, fearing for the safety of their family if they stayed in Boko Haram-controlled areas. “They are under custody of Monguno command, and we believe the dual battle between Barnawi’s and Shekau’s camps may have compelled them to sneak out and surrender,” one villager told Bloomberg News. The campaign against Boko Haram had become more effective since January 2015, when Niger, Chad, and Cameroon joined the battle over the initial objection of then-president Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria. The campaign has become even more cohesive and efficient after Muhammadu Buhari replaced Jonathan as president in May 2015. Heavy rains have slowed the Nigerian military’s advance toward the Sambisa forest, which the Nigerian government describes as Boko Haram’s “final bolthole.” The densely forested area’s dirt roads, especially during the rainy season, make it difficult for tanks, artillery, and armoured vehicles to advance, but airstrikes by the U.S.-trained Chad air force continue to inflict losses on the Islamist group. The Nigerian military says that Boko Haram is running short on supplies and ammunition –but observers say that the shortages are also making life miserable for civilians still living in the area. Military analysts say that its recent setbacks notwithstanding, Boko Haram still pose a serious threat to the region.
Nigeria/Boko Haram – Two suspected Boko Haram attacks in northeast Nigeria have left up to 14 people dead and three soldiers wounded, the army and local residents said on the 19 Sep 16. On the afternoon of the 19 Sep 16 six people were killed in an ambush of a commercial convoy escorted by the military in the Sanda district of Borno state. “Suspected elements of the remnants of Boko Haram terrorists who were foraging for food, ambushed troops... escorting commercial vehicles from Damboa to Maiduguri,” said army spokesman Sani Usman. “Unfortunately, five civilians lost their lives at the incident and another died on the way to the hospital,” he said. “Three soldiers also sustained injuries.” Another attack took place on the 18 Sep 16 when eight people were killed outside a church by suspected Boko Haram gunmen on bicycles shortly after morning service in Kwamjilari village, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) east of the town of Chibok, in Borno state. “Some of the worshippers remained around the church and the gunmen opened fire and eight men died,” said Luka Damina, from nearby Kautikeri village, where locals fled. The attackers set fire to homes and fields of maize that were almost ready for harvest, according to a local chief in Kautikeri, who also said eight people were killed. The army spokesman, however, disputed the facts saying only two people were killed “by Boko Haram suspects looking for food.” The chief said soldiers were later deployed to Kwamjilari from Chibok. A similar attack in the area last month left 10 people dead and saw 13 others kidnapped, while homes were looted and set on fire. Both raids bear the hallmarks of Boko Haram Islamists.
Somalia/al-Shabaab – Efforts to weaken the al Qaeda-linked terrorist group al Shabaab in Somalia have had some success over the past five years, but the U.S. campaign there is now in jeopardy, according to a new RAND Corporation study and reported on the 15 Sep 16. Al Shabaab may resurge if urgent steps are not taken to address the political, economic and governance challenges at the heart of the conflict, researchers say. RAND notes that the report finds that a key to degrading al Shabaab was a tailored engagement strategy that involved deploying a small number of U.S. special operations forces to conduct targeted strikes, provide intelligence and build the capacity of local partner forces to conduct ground operations. “This strategy used a limited U.S. military footprint, which minimized the risk of U.S. casualties, financial costs and likelihood of triggering nationalist or religious blowback,” said Seth Jones, the study’s lead author and director of the International Security and Defence Policy Centre at RAND, a non-profit research organization. “It involved working with and supporting the Somali National Army, the African Union Mission in Somalia and clan forces, which were in the lead.” The researchers also pointed out several other factors that weakened al Shabaab, such as internal friction among al Shabaab’s senior cadre of leaders, battlefield losses, personality clashes, clan dynamics and ideological disputes. “Still, progress in Somalia is reversible in the absence of continued and consistent pressure and political, economic and social reforms,” said Andrew Liepman, an author of the report and a senior policy analyst at RAND. “Al Shabaab has not given up its ambition to control greater Somalia and it retains the ability to retake territory, particularly if the United States and its allies fail to effectively deal with ongoing challenges,” The authors contend that while there has been a significant focus on how and why the United States and other Western governments have failed to degrade terrorists and insurgents from key battlefronts such as Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been far less attention on successful efforts to degrade groups. In Somalia, there has been limited progress. The challenge will be preventing a reversal, researchers say. Al Shabaab remains a capable and ruthless terrorist group, according to the RAND report. Its intelligence and security branch, Amniyat, remains aggressive in planning future attacks. Al Shabaab continues to kill civilians across East Africa and undermine the viability of Somalia. It has attacked neighbours, killing hundreds of Kenyans and Ethiopians, and targeted other African nations that have contributed troops to the fight against the group. RAND says that as the al Shabaab case highlights, insurgent groups often increase terrorist attacks as they lose territory. They may resort to terrorism to coerce the withdrawal of foreign forces by punishing their civilians, bait foreign governments into overreacting or simply to enact revenge. The lesson for other cases, such as the Islamic State, is straightforward. Western populations should be prepared for an upsurge in violence as groups lose territory, researchers say. To stabilize the situation in Somalia, the RAND report recommends establishing a U.S. senior diplomatic presence in Somalia to better deal with the country’s political challenges and increasing aid to build the institutional capacity of Somali security forces. In addition, the United States should ensure long-term political, economic and military support to the African Union Mission in Somalia, and retain the legal authority to deploy U.S. special operations forces and to strike targets in Somalia.
— Read more in Seth G. Jones et al., Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency in Somalia: Assessing the Campaign Against Al Shabaab (RAND Corporation, 2016)
Somalia/al-Shabaab – A Somali general and several bodyguards were killed after their military convoy was hit by a suicide car-bomb blast that was claimed by the hard-line Al-Shabaab group on the 18 Sep 16. General Mohamed Roble Jimale, also known as "Goobaanle", and several Somali soldiers died in the attack in Somalia's capital police colonel Abdikadir Farah told a news agency. "There was a heavy blast caused by a car loaded with explosives alongside the industrial road, several members of the military were killed in the incident including a senior commander," security official Abdiaziz Mohamed to AFP news agency. The general was the commander of the army's Third Brigade. He had fought al-Shabaab since 2007, leading troops who battled the fighters in several neighbourhoods of the capital until they were forced out in 2011. The attack took place after the convoy had left a military hospital and was heading towards the defence ministry. The attack was claimed by al-Shabaab in a statement released by its Andalus radio station. It said "a mujahid [fighter] was martyred as his suicide car bomb killed General Goobaanle", using the general's nickname. Al-Shabaab attacks in Somalia
Somalia – At least three people had been killed and four others injured after a suspected suicide car bomb rammed into a restaurant in the Somali capital Mogadishu, a police officer and local official have said. The Blue Sky restaurant, which was attacked on the 1 Oct 16 is located near the presidential palace and a centre for national security and intelligence. Abdifatah Omar, a spokesman for Mogadishu's local government said at the scene that three people had been confirmed dead so far and four others were injured. Residents said the restaurant was frequented by members of the national security forces. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.
Sudan/Darfur – Sudan's government has been accused of killing scores of civilians this year in at least 30 suspected chemical weapons attacks in a remote area of the country's Darfur region. In a report released on the 29 Sep 16 Amnesty International estimated that up to 250 people, including many children, may have died as a result of exposure to the chemical weapons agents in the Jebel Marra area since Jan 16. The UK-based rights group, which said that its investigation was based on satellite imagery and more than 200 interviews, alleged that the most recent attack occurred on the 9 Sep 16. "There have been relentless attacks, there have been crimes against humanity, and now this level of viciousness with the use of suspected chemical weapons," Tirana Hassan, Amnesty's director of Crisis Research said. "The use of chemical weapons is a war crime. The evidence we have gathered is credible and portrays a regime that is intent on directing attacks against the civilian population in Darfur without any fear of international retribution," said Hassan. Amnesty said it had presented its findings to two independent chemical weapons experts. "Both concluded that the evidence strongly suggested exposure to vesicants, or blister agents, such as the chemical warfare agents sulfur mustard, Lewisite or nitrogen mustard," the watchdog said in a statement. But Sudanese officials strongly denied that the Sudanese government forces had ever used chemical warfare. "We don’t use chemical weapons against our citizens," Ibrahim Ghandour, Sudan's foreign minister said. "We haven’t used it; if that has ever happened, it is very easy to tell." Sudanese UN Ambassador Omer Dahab Fadl Mohamed said in a statement that the Amnesty report was "utterly unfounded" and that Sudan does not possess any type of chemical weapons. "The allegations of use of chemical weapons by Sudanese Armed Forces is baseless and fabricated. The ultimate objective of such wild accusation, is to steer confusion in the on-going processes aimed at deepening peace and stability and enhancing economic development and social cohesion in Sudan," he said. Sudan joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1999 under which members agree to never use toxic arms. A joint African Union and United Nations force, known as UNAMID, has been stationed in Darfur since 2007. Security remains fragile in Darfur, where mainly non-Arab tribes have been fighting the Arab-led government in Khartoum, and the government is struggling to control rural areas. Darfur has been racked by conflict since 2003 when ethnic groups rebelled against the government. According to the UN, at least 300,000 people have been killed since the fighting began, while 4.4 million people need aid and more than 2.5 million have been displaced. The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in 2009 and 2010 on charges of war crimes and genocide in his drive to crush the Darfur revolt. (To read the full report follow: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/09/sudan-credible-evidence-chemical-weapons-darfur-revealed/)
Tunisia – Tunisia announced on the 17 Sep 16 that a state of emergency in force since a deadly attack on the presidential guard in Nov 15 will be extended by one month. A statement said that after consulting the premier and head of the national assembly, President Beji Caid Essebsi decided that the measure would be extended from the 19 Sep 16 for a further month.