Bahrain – The Bahrain Grand Prix attracted unrest, with a car bomb exploding in the capital of Manama days before the race began. The individual who was responsible for the explosion belonged to the youth group the “February Movement.” He stated that the explosion was to disrupt Manama’s financial activity in opposition to holding the Formula One race. There have been a number of reports regarding unrest in Bahrain in the past. While the world’s attention was on Bahrain as this prestigious event was occurring, it is obvious that an opportunity was presented for people with grievances against the Bahraini government to attempt to attack the Grand Prix.
Global Security reported on the April 21 that the Saudi Arabian military had sent tanks and weapons for its troops in Bahrain for use during the Grand Prix. The information allegedly came from the activists opposed to the race, and there has been no other coverage seen in open sources on this matter thus far. The last report of Saudi forces in Bahrain was in February 2011, when mass unrest against Bahrain’s al-Khalifa monarchy was occurring.
Iraq – The reporting period has seen a heavy death toll in the country, bringing with it grave doubts regarding the security of Iraq. Numerous terrorist attacks have occurred around the country, and a Sunni cleric in the western Sunni-majority Anbar province gave Iraqi security forces twenty-four hours to leave Anbar after tens of thousands of Sunni protesters poured onto the streets of the province’s cities of Ramadi and Falluja. Sunni Iraqis are protesting against what they see as the segregation of their sect by the Shiite-run Iraqi government. A Sunni protest camp west of Baghdad was the site of the killing of five Iraqi soldiers, and the al-Maliki government has sworn not to stay silent over the incident.
Although the sectarian-motivated violence is not as high as it was in 2006-2007, the inability of the al-Maliki government to take control of the situation and work out an agreement with the Sunni protestors is leading to fears of renewed, widespread sectarian warfare in the country. The al-Maliki government fears that elements of al-Qaeda in Iraq are infiltrating peaceful demonstrations, turning them into riots in order to destabilise the country, leading to bloodshed that in turn will attract foreign fighters Salafist fighters.
Militant Iraqi Sunnis see this as a time to challenge the al-Maliki government. Nouri al-Maliki appears to be a weak leader, and may lose significant political capital if the riots continue to lead to violence. Coupled with the numerous terrorist attacks against Shiite targets occurring in the country, the al-Maliki government will have to be strong and show good leadership, not only to stop the country from sliding into further chaos, but also to reunite the various troubled sectarian groups that reside in Iraq.
Iran – A report by Terrorism Watch claims that the Iranian Qods Force offered the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is currently going through a peace process with the Turkish government, heavy weaponry and logistical support to continue its struggle against Turkey. The report also claims that the Iranians are conducting “secret diplomacy” to discourage the PKK from withdrawing from operations in Turkey. An official from the PKK declined the offer. Again, there is no doubt that the government in Tehran will claim the allegation as false. The PKK has in the past created numerous problems for the Turkish government, and Iran could benefit from a Turkish government distracted by a renewed Kurdish conflict. If true, this report of an Iranian offer to the PKK shows that the Iranians will support or attempt to support militant organizations in the region, even if it does not share the same religious beliefs as the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Syria – President Bashar al-Assad recently announced on April 23 that the Syrian government was going to free 7,000 prisoners. It is doubtful, however, that any of those released will have been convicted of, “…crimes of treason, espionage and terrorism,” which are those who have revolted against the Syrian government. As 361 Security has reported recently, men over the age of 40 have been forced to fight due to lack of popular support by younger Syrians to join the army. The prisoners who are released may find themselves in uniform shortly after being released, and fighting on behalf of the al-Assad government. It is doubtful that this amnesty will not come without strings attached.
The United States has agreed that some type of chemical weapon was used in Syria. Similar to the British, however, the US government does not know which type of chemical weapon, or who used it. Both the UK and the US governments have declared that this will be a game changer if proven that the al-Assad government used chemical weapons. It is still unclear at the present time as to how the two governments would respond to systematic use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Currently, both governments are supporting the anti-Assad opposition, but with non-lethal aid. Western governments fear that lethal aid given to Syrian rebels will eventually reach militant Salafist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra. If the two governments decided to impose a No-Fly Zone in Syria, it will be interesting to see how the Russian and Chinese governments will react, as both countries have great sums of money invested in Syria.
United Arab Emirates – On April 18, media reports indicate that seven members of an alleged al-Qaeda linked terrorist cell had been arrested. The men possessed “Arab nationalities,” from unspecified Arab countries. According to UAE state media, they were planning to attack various targets in the country. UAE media also reported that they “affected the security” of the country, and were planning on recruiting others for wider attacks around the region. They gave no other information. In another media report, it was stated that the seven men were to seeking recruit people to promote the work of al-Qaeda, and were also providing the organization with funds and logistical support to “…facilitate the extension of their activities.”
It is probable that the men were attempting establish an al-Qaeda “franchise” in the UAE. Once they had established a foothold in the country, they would then be assisted by global al-Qaeda by conducting terrorist acts against the UAE government. They would also have sought to launch attacks in the other oil-producing countries within the Gulf region.
Paul Ashley is the Senior Counter-Terrorist Analyst at 361 Security