Morocco – Moroccan authorities arrested on the 5 Nov 17 a 36-year-old man for attempting to prematurely set fire to a restaurant in the northern city of Larache. The security services apprehended the suspect who is a street vendor immediately after he smashed the glass front of Al Khozama restaurant in Mohammed V Boulevard and attempted to premeditatedly blow it up with a large gas cylinder, which caused him injuries. The examination of his cart revealed the presence of two other gas cylinders, one large and one small, knives and several bottles filled with gasoline. “He tried to use the gas cylinder to blow up the restaurant, but luckily the lighter didn’t work,” reported media website Larache24. The police arrested the suspect immediately after he broke the Al Khouzama’s restaurant facade glass, which caused him injuries, reported the official news agency MAP. The investigation is under the supervision of the prosecution and that the individual is currently treated in a hospital to “check his mental condition” while remaining at the disposal of the investigation.
Morocco/Spy satellite to boost Morocco’s security capability (07 Nov 17) – Morocco’s expected launch of a reconnaissance satellite may be worrying some of its neighbours but one expert said it was part of Rabat’s defence strategy to boost its surveillance capability against smuggling, illegal immigration and to tighten control of its borders. “I see this as a defensive move by Morocco to strengthen its security by increasing its capacity to obtain intelligence about what is going on across its borders,” said James Farwell, an expert in communication strategy and cyber-warfare and a non-resident senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “The idea that Morocco and Spain are somehow going to wind up in an armed conflict is extremely unlikely. Tensions rather rise on illegal immigration and smuggling,” Farwell said. “Morocco has had a long concern about two main things: One is smuggling and the other one is the constant threat posed by terrorist groups like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State (ISIS).” Morocco planned to launch its first French-built spy satellite from Kourou in French Guiana. A second satellite is to be launched in 2018. The French daily newspaper La Tribune reported that France sold Morocco the two satellites for nearly $600 million in a deal signed in Apr 13 during former French President François Hollande’s visit to Morocco. The North African kingdom will become the third country in Africa, after Egypt and South Africa, to have its own spy satellite. The two satellites can take up to 500 very high definition photographs a day and send them to a station near Rabat-Sale airport every six hours. Morocco was a victim of terror attacks in Casablanca in 2003 and Marrakech in 2011 that killed a total of 50 people and injured dozens. Moroccan authorities have said they have dismantled 53 terrorist cells linked with ISIS since 2014. Spain and Algeria expressed concerns that the satellites would give Morocco a military edge over them. “Morocco is a friendly country, with which we maintain a very intense and fruitful cooperation, essential to stop clandestine immigration or prevent terrorist attacks but it is not pleasant that nobody, not even the friendliest, goes around snooping around the kitchen,” a Spanish military strategist told El Pais newspaper. Algerian media reported that Morocco would be able to obtain information on military installations and troop movements of Algeria and the Polisario Front, an independence movement in Western Sahara backed by Algeria. Rabat and Algiers have been at loggerheads for decades over Western Sahara, a territory disputed between Morocco and the Polisario Front. They have had frequent diplomatic rows and their land border has been closed since 1994. “Morocco has differences with Algeria, which is supporting the Polisario Front,” Farwell said. “Morocco’s move is a defensive measure to deal with Western Sahara and Algeria but not an offensive measure.”
Saad Guerraoui is a regular contributor to The Arab Weekly on Maghreb issues.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.
Nigeria/The Niger Delta Avengers – A Nigerian militant group whose attacks on energy facilities in the Niger Delta last year helped push Africa's biggest economy into recession said on the 3 Nov 17 it had ended its ceasefire. The Niger Delta Avengers announced a halt to hostilities in August 2016, although they carried out attacks in Oct and Nov 2016. "Niger Delta Avenger's ceasefire on Operation Red Economy is officially over," the group said on its website (http://www.nigerdeltaavengers.org/). "Our next line of operation will not be like the 2016 campaign which we operated successfully without any casualties; this outing will be brutish, brutal and bloody," it said in a section of its statement addressed to oil companies. The move threatens Nigeria's fragile economic growth and poses a further security challenge for President Muhammadu Buhari, in addition to the jihadist Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast and rising secessionist sentiments in the southeast. The government has been in talks for more than a year to address grievances over poverty and oil pollution but local groups have complained that no progress has been made, despite Buhari receiving a list of demands at a meeting last November. Buhari's office did not immediately comment. The 2016 attacks cut oil production from a peak of 2.2 million barrels per day (mbpd) to near 1 mbpd, the lowest level in Africa's top oil producer for at least 30 years. The attacks, combined with low oil prices, caused the OPEC member's first recession in 25 years. Crude sales make up two-thirds of government revenue and most of its foreign exchange. Nigeria came out of recession in the second quarter of this year, mostly due to the rise in oil production after attacks stopped and as prices strengthened. The Niger Delta Avengers, who say they want a greater share of Nigeria's energy wealth to go to the impoverished swampland region, said they decided to end the ceasefire because they had "lost faith" in local leaders. "We can assure you that every oil installation in our region will feel the warmth of the wrath of the Niger Delta Avengers," it said. There have been no substantial attacks in the region since Jan 17. Eric Omare, president of the Ijaw Youth Council, which represents the largest ethnic group in the Niger Delta, said the government had paid only "lip service" to communities' concerns. "The truth is that the federal government has not demonstrated any seriousness towards addressing the issues that led to the Niger Delta agitation," Omare said, while adding that his group sought a "peaceful dialogue." Nigeria's economy grew 0.55 percent year-on-year in the second quarter, largely on higher oil receipts. The World Bank cut its 2017 growth forecast in October to 1 percent from 1.2 percent as the oil production increase was lower than expected and non-oil sector growth was subdued.
Somalia – The US conducted a pair of drone strikes against Islamic State fighters in Somalia on the 3 Nov 17 the first time America has hit the jihadists in the Horn of Africa nation, officials said. The strikes occurred in north-eastern Somalia and killed "several terrorists," the US military's Africa Command said in a statement. According to Voice of America, which cited the chairman of the town of Qandala in the semiautonomous region of Puntland, six missiles hit an IS base in Buqa village, 60 kilometers (35 miles) away. "Local residents and pastoralists were shocked and fled from the area," Jama Mohamed Qurshe told VOA. AFRICOM spokesman Lieutenant Commander Anthony Falvo said no civilians were in the vicinity of the strikes. "They struck their intended targets," he said noting these were the first anti-IS air strikes in Somalia. The first strike occurred around midnight Somalia time (0300 hrs GMT) with the second strike coming at about 1100 hrs local (1400 hrs GMT). In recent months, the US has repeatedly hit Somali jihadists from the Shabaab rebel group that is aligned with Al-Qaeda, but this development marks a significant step in the ever-evolving war against IS. "US forces will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats," AFRICOM said. IS claimed its first suicide attack in Somalia in May 17 killing at least five people as it stepped up activities in a region dominated by the Shabaab. The militants are led by former Shabaab cleric Abdiqadir Mumin, who switched allegiance from Al-Qaeda to IS in Oct 15 and was named a "global terrorist" by the US State Department in Aug 17. Mumin was born in Puntland and lived in Sweden before moving to the UK in the 2000s, where he was granted British citizenship.