Libya/ Benghazi Defence Brigades – Islamist militias on the 3 Mar 16 attacked Libya's main oil-production area in the east, prompting the forces of strongman Khalifa Haftar who control it to retaliate with air strikes, military sources said. The attack was spearheaded by the Benghazi Defence Brigades, a coalition of mostly Islamist militias and armed groups, and was backed by tribal fighters and former petroleum installation guards. They "advanced towards the oil crescent and are 15 kilometres (nine miles) south of the town of Nofliya," said Colonel Moftah al-Megarief, who heads an oil facilities guard controlled by Haftar. Nofiliya is on the edge of the North African country's strategic oil crescent, home to the main export terminals of Al-Sidra, Brega, Ras Lanuf and Zuwaytina which Haftar's forces seized in Sep 16. "We are trying to repel them and the air force has carried out several sorties," Megarief said, declining to elaborate. However, an officer on Haftar's staff said that MiG-23 warplanes and Mi-35 attack helicopters bombarded a convoy of Benghazi Defence Brigades vehicles south of Nofliya. "Several vehicles were destroyed," said the source. Libya's oil-exporting region is bitterly contested between the country's internationally recognised and Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and a rival administration in the east backed by Haftar. In Dec 16 the Benghazi Defence Brigades carried out a similar attack on the oil crescent, but were repelled by Haftar's forces. And in Jan 17 powerful militias from the western city of Misrata had joined another such attack on the oil crescent. Megarief said the 3 Mar 17 assault was launched from Al-Jufra air base in southern Libya.
Libya/Libyan National Army/Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) – An eastern Libyan group says it is carrying out air strikes against rival factions as part of its attempt to push them back from positions around the major oil terminals of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf. The Libyan National Army (LNA) is attempting to regain control of the ports after being forced to withdraw on 3 Mar 17 by an attack by the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB). The BDB is composed partly of fighters who were expelled from Benghazi by the LNA. LNA warplanes targeted on the afternoon of the 5 Mar 17 positions near Es Sider [Al Sidra] and south of the coastal town of Ben Jawad, about 30km to the east, General Ahmed al-Mismari, LNA spokesman said. There were also clashes between the rival groups on the ground, security and oil officials said, though it was not immediately clear whether either side had advanced. The ports are among Libya's largest, though both terminals were badly damaged by previous rounds of fighting and have been operating far below their pre-conflict capacity. The latest fighting, which is linked to a broader, stop-start conflict between political and military factions based in eastern and western Libya, threatens efforts to revive Libya's oil production. National output more than doubled after the LNA took control of the oil ports of Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Zueitina [Zuwaytania] and Brega in Sep 16. All the ports except for Brega had long been blockaded. Production has recently been fluctuating around 700,000 barrels per day (bpd), but remains far below the 1.6 million bpd Libya was pumping before the 2011 uprising that toppled its long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
Libya – Troops commanded by Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar announced the recapture on the 14 Mar 17 of two key oil installations, as fighting raged in Tripoli where a rival government has struggled to assert its authority. Forces loyal to Haftar mounted a day-long assault by land, sea and air to retake the oil export terminals of Ras Lanuf and Al-Sidra, after both sites were seized by a rival, Islamist-led force earlier this month. The head of the oil installation guards, General Meftah al-Megaryef, also said the two terminals had been recaptured. Basset al-Shairi, a commander of the BDB which had seized the two sites on the 3 Mar 17 said Ras Lanuf had fallen, but without specifying the outcome in nearby Al-Sidra.
Mali/Terrorist Group Mergers – Three jihadist groups operating in the Sahel region of Africa have merged to form one single organisation, Mauritania’s private news agency ANI said on the 3 Mar 17 citing a video distributed by the Islamists. Among the groups joining the merger south of the Sahara are Mali’s Al Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine and Al-Murabitoun, led by Algerian extremist Mokhtar Belmokhtar. The new movement will operate under the name the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, and will be led by Ansar Dine’s Iyag Ag Ghaly, ANI said, adding that it had received the video on the 1 Mar 17. The Macina Brigades group, active in central Mali, has also joined the merger. “It is very particular to see them all together,” said Wassim Nasr, France 24’s expert on jihadist movements. ANI distributed a screenshot of the video showing five jihadist leaders seated together, with Iyad Ag Ghaly in the centre. The four others were identified as the “emirs” of the new movement. “What they are doing here is also against the Islamic State in the region, which is gaining in force,” Nasr said. “They are confirming their presence there.” The ability of such key players in local terror groups to meet freely is notable. “It shows that it is impossible to monitor this huge region militarily and even with technical means,” said Nasr. In an audio excerpt Iyad Ag Ghaly can be heard swearing allegiance to slain Jordanian jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – whose Al Qaeda in Iraq group later evolved into the Islamic State group – and Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s current leader. He can also be heard praising Al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan in May 11. It was not clear when the video was recorded, though ANI said it was “recent”. All three groups already had ties to Al Qaeda, and were involved in an onslaught that saw northern Mali fall out of government control for nearly a year from spring 2012. The extremists were later expelled from the region by a French-led international military intervention. Nonetheless large swathes of northern Mali continue to come under attack from jihadist groups. The area is also seen by governments battling the jihadist threat as a launch-pad for attacks against other countries in the region.
Mali – Eleven soldiers have been killed and five wounded in an attack on a military base in Mali as rival armed groups surrounded the city of Timbuktu. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack near the border with Burkina Faso on the 5 Mar 17 but armed groups, including al-Qaeda affiliates, have been increasingly active in recent months, attacking army posts beyond their usual strongholds in the north. "The post was attacked between 0400 hrs and 0500 hrs local in Boulikessi," defence spokesman Abdoulaye Sidibe said adding that reinforcements had been sent to the area. Armed group such as Ansar Dine have increased the frequency of their attacks over the past year. In 2016, the group carried out scores of attacks, including on United Nations peacekeepers, while spreading into the south and other areas previously deemed secure. Al-Qaeda's North African ally, al-Mourabitoun, claimed responsibility for an attack on a military camp in Jan 17 that killed up to 60 people and wounded at least 100. Mali is awash with weapons and home to several rival armed groups. Its northeast has been in a state of emergency, which gives security forces extra powers, since a wave of violence last year. The north of the country fell under the control of Tuareg-led rebels and groups linked to al-Qaeda in 2012, who were largely ousted by a French-led assault in January 2013. The implementation of a peace deal agreed in 2015, though, has been piecemeal and, despite the presence of at least 11,000 UN peacekeepers, armed groups who refused to sign are active across large parts of the country.
Nigeria/Boko Haram – Four female teenage suicide bombers blew themselves up, killing two people and wounding 16 others in a residential area in the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri on the 15 Mar 17. The girls knocked on the door of a house and then detonated their explosive devices, a representative of the state-run emergency service in Borno State said. The focus on individual homes is a new tactic. The attack apparently targeted a local leader. "Community leaders should create awareness among residents not to open their doors for anybody [if] they are not aware of the visit," Borno police commissioner, Damian Chukwu, said. The blasts in the Muna Garage area, on the edge of the city worst hit by Boko Haram's eight-year campaign, occurred at 0015 hrs GMT, National Emergency Management Agency spokesman Abdulkadir Ibrahim said. "Four female teenage suicide bombers and two other men died," he said. Suicide bombings by teenage girls trained by Boko Haram have become a strategy of the armed group in the past couple of years. More than 200 teenage girls have lost their lives in the attacks in northeast Nigeria. The number of attacks or attempted attacks bearing the hallmarks of Boko Haram in crowded areas, such as markets and refugee camps, has escalated since the end of the rainy season in late 2016. Most have either been foiled or the suicide bombers have only managed to blow themselves up.
Somalia/al-Shabaab – A vehicle exploded near a busy hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu on the 13 Mar 17 killing at least six people and wounding four others, police said. The blast happened near the entrance of Weheliye hotel on the busy Maka Almukarramah road, Captain Mohamed Hussein said. The hotel was left intact, but the explosion damaged a nearby house. Hours before, a minibus exploded after police shot at it after it refused to stop as it approached a checkpoint in the capital, police officer Nur Osman said adding that two people were wounded. “A policeman at a check point shot at the speeding mini-bus. It exploded and killed the al Shabaab fighter that drove it," he said. No one has claimed responsibility for today's explosions in Mogadishu. In the past al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab have claimed responsibility for gun, grenade and bomb attacks in Somalia, and tends to focus on Mogadishu and other regions controlled by the federal government.
Somalia/Piracy – An oil tanker has been hijacked by suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia, reports say, the first such hijacking in the region in five years. The ship sent a distress signal on the evening of the 13 Mar 17 saying it was being approached by high-speed boats. The gunmen have told a local official they are fishermen whose equipment was destroyed by illegal fishing vessels. Piracy was rampant off the Somali coast until increased patrols by European naval forces contained the problem. The Sri Lankan-flagged vessel was en route from Djibouti to the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and was then diverted towards the port of Alula in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland. Its tracking system has reportedly been switched off. Ali Shire Mohamud Osman, the district commissioner in the town of Alula, near where the ship has been taken, told the BBC he was trying to find out if the gunmen really were fishermen or were organised pirates. "The men who are holding it claim that they are fishermen who suffered from the illegal fishing in the area. However, if we confirm that they are pirates, I will ask them to leave the area immediately. Otherwise, we will see how we can save the vessel," he said. The European Union Naval Force, which runs anti-piracy operations in the area, said it was too early to confirm pirate involvement. It has sent a plane to the area to investigate. Eight people are believed to have been on board the ship. John Steed of the aid group Oceans Beyond Piracy, speaking to Reuters news agency, said, "The ship reported it was being followed by two skiffs yesterday afternoon. Then it disappeared." Piracy off the coast of Somalia, usually for ransom, has reduced significantly in recent years, in part because of extensive international military patrols as well as support for local fishing communities. The global cost of piracy in 2011 was estimated to be up to $8.3bn (£5.1bn) a year.
Somalia/Piracy – A volatile build-up of weapons and resentment along the northern Somali coast culminated in the hijack of an oil freighter this reporting period the first such seizure by Somali pirates since 2012, experts and locals say. Gunmen hijacked the Aris 13, a small oil tanker, on the 13 Mar 17 and are demanding a ransom to release the ship and its eight Sri Lankan crew, the European Union Naval Force that patrols the waters off Somalia said on on the 15 Mar 17. Now shipping companies are scrambling to find out whether the attack is a one-off, or whether pirates could once again threaten one of the world's most important shipping lanes and cost the industry billions of dollars annually. Somali forces have been sent to try to free the tanker. But locals say the attacks will continue and blame their government in the semi-autonomous Puntland region for granting foreigners permits to fish in Somali waters. "Since the fish are drained by foreigners, my colleagues plan to go into the ocean to hijack other ships. We have no government to speak on our behalf," said fisherman Mohamed Ismail. Although Somalia remains mired in violence and poverty, the Horn of Africa nation has shown some small signs of progress in recent years despite a civil war lasting more than a quarter of a century. A return to piracy could derail those fragile gains. Monday's hijack followed a long hiatus in pirate attacks, with only four unsuccessful attempts in the past three years. The lull encouraged foreign fishing vessels to return to Somali waters, locals told Reuters news agency, fuelling resentment. "If you look at the sea at night, there are so many lights out there [from fishing vessels]. It looks like New York," complained one former Somali official. The final straw, he said, was when seven Thai fishing vessels docked at Bosaso port last month. The ships paid the local government more than $672,000 for fishing licences, a government contract showed. The move infuriated locals who felt they would see neither fish nor the cash. "When I saw those ships come into Bosaso port in broad daylight, I knew there would be an attack," he said. "The fishermen became desperate." Only 14 foreign vessels are licensed to fish, including the seven Thai vessels, the Puntland government said. All others are illegal, said Ali Hirsi Salaad, director of Puntland's Ministry of Fishing. "Fisherman are right to complain," he said. Matt Bryden, the head of Nairobi-based think-tank Sahan Research, said coastal communities were rearming amid widespread anger at the failure to crack down on foreign fishing vessels. He displayed several photographs that he said were of a recent shipment of assault weapons, saying that so many were arriving that in one area the price of a PKM machinegun had fallen from $13,000 in October to about $8,500 last month. "The price is going down because so many are being imported," he said. The same source sent him a photo of the sea's horizon at night, he said. The lights of at least 23 vessels that the man said were fishing boats glowed on the horizon. "Coastal communities are angry at the foreign vessels and at the authorities who they believe have licensed some of them," he said. A Bosaso-based weapons dealer said orders for rocket-propelled grenades, machineguns, and ammunition had increased. Jonah Leff, a weapons tracing expert with Conflict Armament Research, said many pirates had turned to smuggling. They take boatloads of people to Yemen and return with weapons, he said. "There's been an influx of weapons," he said.