Gunmen killed three Sunni clerics near the mostly Shiite city of Basra in southern Iraq, a government spokesman said on the 2 Jan 15, an apparent sectarian attack that drew immediate calls for calm. Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan claimed that the assailants ambushed a car on the 1 Jan 15 carrying the clerics in the mostly Sunni district of Bab al-Zubeir near Basra, shooting dead the three and seriously wounding two other clerics travelling with them. At the time of writing no group had claimed responsibility and no reports of retaliatory attacks by Sunnis. The attack followed a visit to Basra this week by Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his tour of a Sunni area north of Baghdad on New Year’s Eve. Al-Abadi on both visits spoke emphatically about the need for all of Iraq’s religious and ethnic communities to close ranks in the face of the threat posed by ISIS. An association of Sunni clerics also called for calm in a statement issued on the 2 Jan 14 arguing that the attack was carried out to ignite sectarian violence in Basra. Speaking later on state Iraqi television, the association’s head, Khaled al-Mullah, said ISIS and its supporters were the only beneficiaries of the attack.
Lebanon – A double suicide attack on the 11 Jan 15 killed eight people at a cafe in the Lebanese city of Tripoli. It was claimed by the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, members of which live in Roumieh prison, where Islamist militants are held. Security sources said the bombers were both Lebanese, from a Sunni district of Tripoli known for its sympathy for the rebels fighting to topple the Damascus regime. The attack occurred in the Jabal Mohsen neighbourhood mainly inhabited by members of the Alawite sect of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Lebanese security forces stormed a unit of the country’s largest prison on the 12 Jan 15 where Islamist militants are detained, security sources said, as authorities searched for those responsible for a double suicide attack at the weekend. Inmates torched mattresses to protest the move, the sources said, but there were no injuries. The sources said the police were searching for “forbidden items” at Building B in Roumieh prison, where Islamist militants are held. The prisoners are able to communicate outside with mobile phones and security sources have said some are still involved in attacks against the state.
Saudi Arabia – Three Saudi guards including a top commander were killed on the 5 Jan 15 in a rare attack and suicide bombing by "terrorists" on the kingdom's border with Iraq, the interior ministry stated. Four attackers were also killed in the clash, two in suicide blasts. No group claimed responsibility for the clash, but Saudi Arabia is among countries that have joined the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against jihadists from the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq. In an official statement it said that the four were "trying to cross the Saudi border", but it did not clarify in which direction.
Syria – Reports from Syria state that some members of the religious police force set up by the militant group Islamic State (IS) have been kidnapped. Activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said they had been ambushed and abducted by unknown gunmen in the eastern city of Mayadin. The Observatory, which is based in the UK, said it was unclear how many members of the police - known as Hisbah - had been kidnapped. "There is an escalation in the operations against the Hisbah because they are arresting people and insulting their dignity for reasons like smoking," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said. The IS police force has confiscated and burned tobacco products and punished those caught smoking. According to reports, the force's deputy commander in the area had been captured, tortured and beheaded. His severed head was reportedly found with a cigarette in its mouth and close by was a note with a mocking reference to the fact that smoking is a sin in the eyes of the religious police.
Yemen – A suicide bomber driving a minibus killed at least 33 people on the 7 Jan 15 as cadets gathered to enrol at a police academy in the heart of Yemen's capital, Sanaa, authorities stated. There has been a hike in violence in Yemen recently after Shiite rebel militias took control of the capital and other cities. The rebels, known as Houthis, are challenging the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, demanding a greater share of power. The critics of the Shiite rebels view them as a proxy for Shiite Iran, charges the rebels deny. Tribal leaders and Yemeni officials warn the rising power of the Shiite Houthis and the backlash over drone strikes has caused al-Qaeda to surge in strength and find new recruits. The Houthis' push into largely Sunni regions of central Yemen has pitted the rebels against Sunnis, to the benefit of Sunni al-Qaeda.