Using Salafi ideology as a loophole
According to a 2017 KPMG report “Illicit cigarette trade in the Maghreb region”, illicit cigarette in Maghreb represented over $565 mln in lost tax revenues in 2016. This huge amount of money went directly in the hands of illegal groups, including extremist organizations. “Sometimes terrorist groups are not directly involved in the smuggling activities because it would go against their Salafi ideology which bans illicit activities, so these groups would tax them in return for their protection, protection of their convoys and so on” said Ghanem-Yazbeck. Cigarettes are a profitable product when it comes to smuggling because of the gap between the expensive cost of cigarettes in Europe and the much cheaper price of production, according to Ghanem-Yazbeck. Beside cigarettes, there are many other products subject to smuggling. Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya all subsidize staple products from bread to sugar, oil and construction materials which creates price difference and an incentive to smuggle goods across borders. ISIS generated an estimated $2 bln in revenue in 2015, largely due to smuggling of oil which at one stage generated on average $1.3 mln a day, according to 2016 Global Terrorism Index report published by the Institute for Economics and Peace. “It’s hard to fight this illegal business that provides resources to terrorist groups to finance their activities. Many people in the Middle East are now involved and live out of this business. If we want to stop the smuggling business we need to give alternative jobs to the people and border communities that are involved in these activities” Ghanem-Yazbeck concluded.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)/ Da’esh – A recently emerged video shared on various Islamic State channels appears to show jihadists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) calling on people to join them in the fighting there. The video, which is very low quality and grainy, is undated and cannot be independently verified by FDD’s Long War Journal. (15 Oct 17). In the video, a group calling itself “The City of Monotheism and Monotheists (MTM)” is shown grouped together in a jungle. It is unclear where the group might be based, however, the DRC’s North Kivu province near the Ugandan border has been the flashpoint of Islamist violence for the last 20 years. An Arabic-speaking militant is then shown speaking to the camera where he calls on those “in Dar al Kufr [Abode of Apostasy] to migrate to Dar al Jihad, Dar al Qitl [Abode of Fighting], and Dar al Eman [Abode of Faith].” He continues by saying that “this is Dar al Islam” and that “I swear to God that this is Dar al Islam of the Islamic State in Central Africa.” He ends his speech by again calling on people to migrate to the DRC and join them and that “here we are Emigrants and Helpers fighting in the path of God…I swear to God that here [we] are in the Jihad.” MTM, as shown in the video, appears to be a small unit that contains at least one non-Congolese militant. At least three child fighters are also seen in the video. The group claims to be loyal to the Islamic State and the video has made its rounds in Islamic State-affiliated social media accounts. No official statement has been made by the Islamic State on any bayah statement or otherwise on the Congo. This group is likely minor and does not pose a major Islamic State threat in the Congo. Most of DRC’s Islamist violence is perpetrated by the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). The ADF is purported to have links to al Qaeda’s Shabaab and other African jihadist groups, while its leader allegedly met with Osama bin Laden in Sudan in the early 90s. That said, some have cast doubt on the relationship between ADF and other African jihadists. Claims of cooperation have been made by DRC and Ugandan officials, which is often difficult to independently verify. However, the video’s significance among Islamic State channels and supporters represents a current trend of attempting to show victories or expansion despite major setbacks in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere. It remains to be seen how well this call to join the jihad in the DRC will go over for the apparently nascent Islamic State-loyal group.
Egypt/Harakat Sawa’id Masr (Hasm) – The Egyptian militant group, Hasm, claimed responsibility on the 2 Oct 17 for its attack against Myanmar’s embassy in Cairo a day earlier, noting that it was a response to Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims. “This bombing served as a warning to the embassy of murderers, killers of women and children in the Muslim Rakhine State [in Myanmar], and was in solidarity with the sons of this weakened Muslim population,” the statement said. Myanmar’s military has sent more than 500,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh since August. Rakhine State, in Western Myanmar, has been the site of recent clashes between the military and local forces. Hasm, the acronym for Harakat Sawa’id Masr, is the Arms Movement of Egypt. The group formally announced itself via Facebook in Jul 16 when it claimed responsibility for the murder of Egyptian Police Major Mahmud Abdel Hamid. The group stated: “We vow before God and the Egyptian people not to drop our weapons until our great people are liberated from the oppression of the military machine and its treacherous militias.” The following month, Hasm claimed responsibility after two militants opened fire on former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, but failed to kill him. Other attacks followed, including a bombing attack near a police club, the assassination of a prosecutor, the killing of a policeman, and a botched car bombing of a judge. In Dec 16 the group detonated a bomb near a police checkpoint in Giza, near the pyramids. The attack killed six policemen and injured three others.Attacks claimed by Hasm continued over the summer. The government in Cairo has struggled to contain attacks from this group, as well as attacks from a less prolific group known as Liwa al-Thawra, particularly as it fights another battle against the Islamic State in the Sinai Peninsula. Although the Egyptian government has alleged a connection between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hasm, that connection is still subject to debate. Analysts have yet to make a definitive link, even if it is strongly suspected. Hasm’s attack on a foreign embassy marks a shift in the group’s strategy. It had not carried out strikes against foreign targets in Egypt before.
Egypt/North Korea – Egyptian port authorities seized a North Korean ship stuffed with rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) that was part of an illegal weapons smuggling scheme in August 2016, the Washington Post reported on the 2 Oct 17. The incident is the apparent root of tensions between Egypt and the US, allies who have been at odds in recent months for ambiguous reasons. The North Korean ship, Jie Shun, was travelling through the Suez Canal flying Cambodian colours when Egyptian customs officials descended for a raid. The agents, reportedly acting on a secret tip from the United States, found 30,000 RPGs hidden aboard valued at roughly $23 million total. The Jie Shun was en route to an unknown buyer. UN investigators say they suspect the buyer to be Egyptian businessmen who hoped to then sell the RPGs to the Egyptian military. It isn't clear if the North Koreans received payment for the goods or not. The UN investigators added that the incident was the "largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea." As the case was part of an ongoing UN investigation, few details were available about the dramatic series of events before the Post story broke. The incident caused friction between Washington and Cairo, according to the UN, after the Americans accused the Egyptians of secret cooperation with Pyongyang. American officials claimed that the US told Cairo about the incident to force them to take action – otherwise, Egypt would have been able plausibly deny they knew anything about the ship's cargo. The Egyptian embassy in Washington issued a statement addressing the charges of prohibited collusion with the heavily-sanctioned Asian nation. "Egypt will continue to abide by all Security Council resolutions and will always be in conformity with these resolutions as they restrain military purchases from North Korea," the embassy said in their statement. Several countries have been accused of buying conventional weapons from North Korea, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, Syria and Uganda. However, all of those countries are sanctioned by the US, with Eritrea joining the club in September for buying North Korean weapons and not complying with US standards of human trafficking prevention. Egypt, on the other hand, is one of the US' closest allies in the Middle East, although relations have stumbled over allegations of human rights abuses at Cairo's hands. "We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt," said US President Donald Trump in April. Just a few months later, however, almost $300 million in planned US military aid to Egypt was frozen or delayed. The Trump White House at the time claimed that Egypt's poor human rights records in recent years was the reason for the freeze, but now it's been unveiled that the accusations of cooperation with North Korea were the true cause of the schism. "The recent cut in the US military aid to Egypt was a clear message to Cairo: You choose us or North Korea, you cannot have military relations with both of us," Egyptian political analyst Mohammed el-Menshawy said to the Associated Press. "Cairo got the message and it cut ties with North Korea." Before Egypt entered the US bloc in the late 1970s, they had an alliance and military relationship with North Korea via their mutual ally the Soviet Union. DPRK pilots trained the Egyptian Air Force after Cairo's defeat in the 1973 Yom Kippur War against Israel, and the two nations have been known to buy and sell ballistic missiles from one another as recently as the 1990s.
Egypt/ Egypt militant group Hasm adopts terror tactics (09 Oct 17) – Egypt announced the death of three members of militant Islamist group Hasm following a shoot-out in a southern Cairo cemetery in early Oct 17. However, few security analysts said the operation was cause for celebration, given the shadowy Islamist group’s ability to resume its attacks. “Despite active work on the part of security agencies, this group has managed to persevere,” said Nabil Naeem, a former militant leader who subsequently renounced violence. “Hasm organises itself in clusters, which is why security agencies find it difficult to get hold of its members.” The 2 Oct 17 operation against Hasm was soon after the militant group, which is believed to be tied to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, claimed responsibility for an explosion at Myanmar’s embassy in Cairo, saying it was in retaliation for that country’s crackdown on Rohingya Muslims. “This bombing serves as a warning to the embassy of murderers, killers of women and children in the Muslim Rakhine State and in solidarity with the sons of this weakened Muslim population,” a Hasm statement said. Hasm had focused on domestic targets, specifically attacks on Egyptian security officers and public figures deemed to have collaborated in what Hasm and the Muslim Brotherhood portray as a coup against former President Muhammad Morsi. However, security analysts worry that Hasm could be updating its modus operandi. The group posted photographs showing that it had studied the area around the embassy before the bombing, implying it could have carried out a more powerful attack. It also released a map of other diplomatic facilities near the Myanmar embassy, including the embassies of China, India, Greece and the Vatican, perhaps indicating it could attack other foreign diplomatic targets in the future. “[We have used] utmost caution to ensure that there were no civilian casualties or innocent people [hurt] during the operation or else you would have seen a burning hell you could not have stopped,” the Hasm statement said. In a yearly review of its activities published in late September, Hasm claimed to have killed 27 policemen and wounded 56 others from July 2016-July 2017. While Egyptian security forces have sought to target and eliminate the shadowy militant group, their priority remains the Islamic State (ISIS), a strategy Hasm has exploited. “These conditions make it easy for Hasm to operate, even without being at the centre of security agencies’ attention at a time these agencies have other more dangerous groups to fight or threats to address,” said Saad al-Zunt, head of the Political and Strategic Studies Centre, an Egyptian think-tank. “Hasm recruits people with no criminal or terrorist records. This helps to keep them off the radar of security agencies both before and after carrying out their operations.” In addition to targeting soldiers and police officers, Hasm has also gone after senior public figures. In Aug 16, former Mufti Ali Gomaa, a staunch backer of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, narrowly escaped a Hasm assassination attempt when two men on a motorcycle fired at him as he entered a mosque. One month later, Egyptian Assistant Prosecutor- General Zakaria Abdel Aziz was unharmed in an attack in which a car bomb exploded as his motorcade passed. Cairo was thought to have struck a major blow against Hasm following the arrest of Magdi Shalash, a senior Hasm member, in Sep 16. Shalash reportedly provided Egyptians security with intelligence about the group’s operations, leading to several arrests. In Oct 16, Egyptian security officers claimed another blow against the group when senior Muslim Brotherhood figure Mohamed Kamal, believed to be Hasm’s main financier, was killed. Hasm appears to have weathered the storm, however, demonstrating an ability to endure and adapt while the sources of Hasm’s funding puzzle security forces. Khaled Okasha, a retired brigadier-general and Egyptian security expert, said Hasm planned and carried out attacks from furnished flats they rented only hours earlier. “They succeeded in deceiving policemen on many occasions,” Okasha said, “but this should not in any way make us lose confidence in the police. Hasm will die like all other militant groups. Terrorists can never defeat a state.”
Ahmed Meghid is an Egyptian reporter based in Cairo.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.
Egypt – Gunmen attacked a checkpoint in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula where authorities are fighting an insurgency, leaving six Egyptian soldiers dead, a military statement said on the 14 Oct 17. "Armed terrorists attacked one of the security checkpoints in Arish city, using hand bombs and firearms," the statement said. Security searched the area and chased the gunmen, the army added. Two of the gunmen were killed and one was injured during the exchange of fire that lasted about half an hour, security sources said. Four army personnel were also injured, they added.
Kenya – Six people, including five students, were killed in an attack by suspected South Sudanese raiders on a boarding school in Lokichogio, in Kenya’s far north, early on the 14 Oct 17 authorities said. “Six people were killed in the attack, including students, and we have others injured,” said Seif Matata, Turkana county’s commissioner. Matata said the incident occurred at around 3am while students at Lokichogio Mixed Secondary School were asleep in their dormitories. Members of the Toposa tribal militia from South Sudan, 200 kilometres (124 miles) to the north, are believed to be responsible for the attack with Matata alleging that a suspended student participated in the raid. Kenya Red Cross said it had evacuated some of the injured by plane to the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret for emergency treatment. Turkana, an arid region bordering South Sudan, is awash with small arms and violent clashes between competing communities over resources and territory are common.
Libya/Da’esh – At least five dead in suicide attack in Libya's Misrata, and more than 20 wounded at a court complex in the Libyan city it was reported on the 4 Oct 17. Libyan media sources reported that ISIS militants conducted a double suicide bombing in Misrata. ISIS has claimed the attack in the Libyan city of Misrata, the militant group's news agency Amaq said. It said fighters loyal to the group had attacked a court building in the city where shooting and an explosion were reported. The sources said a suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest inside the building, which is in the centre of Misrata, a coastal city about 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of Tripoli. The damage caused by a suicide attack was carried out by two terrorists, reported Libya Al Aan. Security source Ali al-Ghubaini, said two terrorists blew themselves up following a clash with members of the security in the city.Al-Ghubaini added on his facebook page, that the two explosions resulted in minor injuries among police officers, and the clashes are still ongoing. A witness said he believed the attackers had used rocket propelled grenades, and that their identity was not clear. Local media reported earlier gunfire and an explosion. According to local media reports, the bombings and clashes have killed five people, including court employees and injured dozens of others, as these clashes continue in the courtyard surrounding the court complex. The pictures, which were circulating on social media showed the effects of the bombings on the courthouse and the vehicles parked in its vicinity.
Libya – A security force loyal to Libya's internationally recognised government announced on the 6 Oct 17 that it has driven a rival militia out of the city of Sabratha, after three weeks of deadly fighting. The clashes between a security force loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and the militia of the head of a former people smuggling network, Ahmad Dabbashi, have killed 39 people and wounded 300 since the 17 Sep 17. Sabratha has been "liberated and... the destructive militias have been defeated", the leader of the pro-GNA force, General Omar Abdeljalil, said in a video posted on Facebook. The GNA, which had originally set up the security force to fight the Islamic State group during its brief occupation of central Sabratha in Feb 16, welcomed the announcement. It expressed "great satisfaction with the positive developments at Sabratha", in a statement posted on Facebook. Both the GNA and the security force urged the people of Sabratha to refrain from carrying out revenge attacks. "Those who have complaints must resort to justice and refrain from harming the lives and property of the defeated," said General Abdeljalil. The violence began with an exchange of gunfire at a checkpoint manned by the security force in which a militiaman was killed. Libya has plunged into insecurity and political chaos since the ouster and killing of its long-time leader Moamer Kadhafi in a NATO-backed 2011 revolution. People smugglers have fed on the turmoil, turning violence-wracked Libya into a key gateway for illegal migration to Europe. Sabratha, 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of Tripoli where the GNA is based, is Libya's main departure point for migrants trying to reach Europe. Dabbashi is reportedly among several people smugglers who have decided to halt their lucrative business and cooperate with authorities.
Morocco/Da’esh – Moroccan police on the 14 Oct 17 arrested 11 members of an “extremely dangerous terrorist” cell linked to the Islamic State group and seized chemical products used to make bombs, the interior ministry said. The suspects were active in the neighbouring northern cities of Fez and Meknes, in commercial capital Casablanca, as well as in the central town of Khouribga, a statement said. The ministry said the “extremely dangerous terrorist” cell had planned to carry out attacks in “sensitive areas… in coordination with an affiliate” of the militant Islamic State group. Moroccan media broadcast live video footage showing heavily armed and masked members of an elite police unit surrounding a building in Fez. The ministry said the unit searched an apartment and arrested the “suspected mastermind of the cell and one of his accomplices”. Police also seized firearms, knives, gas canisters as well as “products used to make homemade bombs” and a car carrying “suspicious material” that was near the building, the ministry added. Morocco has been spared deadly terrorist attacks since a 2011 bombing in Marrakesh’s famed Jamaa El Fna Square that killed 17 people, mainly European tourists. But in recent months, authorities have regularly announced the dismantling of IS cells and arrests of suspected militant recruiters.
Niger/Nigeria/United States – Five Nigerien and three US Special Forces were killed and others wounded in an ambush on a joint patrol in southwest Niger. The attack, which occurred on the night of the 4 Oct 17, marks the first US combat casualties in Niger, where Washington provides training and security assistance in the fight against armed groups in the Sahel region. "We can confirm reports that a joint U.S. and Nigerien patrol came under hostile fire in southwest Niger," a spokesperson of the US Africa Command told Radio France International (RFI) by telephone. According to RFI, the ambush took place after fighters from Mali attacked the village of Tongo Tongo in Tillaberi. A counter-operation was launched, but the US and Niger soldiers fell into a trap, according to the radio report. Namatta Abubacar, an official for the region of Tillaberi, told Niger TV that five Nigerian soldiers were among the dead. Arfter the incident no group had yet claimed responsibility for the attack but the area is largely controlled by fighters, including members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. African security forces backed by Western troops have been stepping up efforts to counter the armed groups, which are part of a growing regional rebellion in the Sahel region. Presidents of the Sahel countries, including Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad, are working on final modalities to set up a G5 Sahel force to help fight the numerous groups that are active in the region. In mid-Sep 17 the government of President Mahamadou Issoufou extended Niger's state of emergency in force since Mar 17 due to a threat coming from Mali. Analysts said the deadly incident will not change Washington's involvement in the fight against armed groups in the Sahel. "For several years the US has been expanding its footprint in that area. They are there to train the indigenous forces and not to carryout raids. And I don’t see that changing because of this incident," Martin Reardon, a former FBI officer and senior vice president of Soufan group - a security intelligence organisation said. "This ambush will not have blowback in the Congress. Politically this incident will not become a hot potato in Washington or Niger," Reardon said. In mid-Jun 17, Niger mounted a new military operation in the Tillaberi region to take on the armed groups.
Puntland/al-Shabaab – Islamist al Shabaab militants attacked a checkpoint in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region, killing at least seven people in the early hours of the 9 Oct 17 police said. The fighters then ambushed officers rushing in to help colleagues on the outskirts of the city of Bosaso, an officer at the scene said. Al Shabaab said it took the checkpoint then left, though the police said they fought off the assault. Attacks are relatively rare in Puntland, which has its own government and security forces patrolling its territory on the north-eastern tip of the Horn of Africa, jutting out into the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. “At about 0100 hrs local many well-armed al Shabaab fighters attacked us from all directions in an attempt to capture the checkpoint,” police captain Abdifatah Mohamed said. Three police and four civilians died and at least 13 others were wounded in the clashes, he said over the phone from the checkpoint. Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military operation spokesman, said its fighters killed seven soldiers and wounded 11 others. “We captured the Bosaso checkpoint and left this morning. We also ambushed police reinforcements,” he said. Puntland is also home to a splinter group of al Shabaab that has sworn allegiance to Islamic State. Security sources say a small contingent of foreign fighters is based there.
Somalia/al-Shabaab – A massive bomb attack in a busy area of the Somali capital Mogadishu has killed at least 85 people, officials say (Later the death toll was to reach over 250 people with the possibility of it rising further as some succumb to their injuries). Dozens more were wounded when a lorry packed with explosives detonated near the entrance of a hotel. Police say two people were killed in a second bomb attack in the Madina district of the city. It is not clear who staged the attacks. Mogadishu is a regular target for the al-Qaeda linked al-Shabaab group, which is battling the government. President Mohamed Abdullahi "Farmajo" Mohamed has declared three days of mourning for the victims of the blast. Local media reported families were gathering in the area on the morning of the 15 Oct 17 looking for missing loved ones amidst the ruins of one of the largest bombs ever to strike the city. After the first blast, police captain Mohamed Hussein said: "It was a truck bomb. There are casualties but we do not know the exact amount as the scene is still burning." Witnesses said they believed dozens of people were dead. A Somali reporter at the scene said the Safari Hotel had collapsed, with people thought to be trapped under the rubble.
Uganda – Grenade attacks have taken place at the homes of two Ugandan opposition MPs, including singer-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi it was reported on the 3 Oct 17. Mr Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, said he was targeted for opposing the ruling party's plan to scrap the presidential age limit. Mr Kyagulanyi and MP Allan Ssewanyana said their homes shook and windows were shattered by the explosions. A government spokesman denied the government was behind the blasts. "Flash grenades at opposition MPs' homes could be own scare tactics to frame government," Ofwono Opondo was quoted by the state-allied New Vision newspaper. "There is no record or history of this NRM government killing political opposition," he added. Mr Kyagulanyi said he had received death threats on a daily basis because of his opposition to the removal of the presidential age limit. He would not be intimidated by the "cowardly" attacks, he said. "Thankfully no-one is hurt. But what kind of country are we now living in?" he added in a Facebook post. Last week, an explosive device was thrown into the property of another opposition MP, Moses Kasibante. The MPs have been at the forefront of a fierce campaign against a motion currently before parliament that seeks to scrap the presidential age limit of 75 - a move that could allow President Yoweri Museveni to stand for re-election in 2021. Chaotic scenes broke out in parliament last week as MPs openly brawled during a debate over the motion. His critics accuse him of presiding over an authoritarian regime, but his supporters say he has guaranteed stability in the East African state.