DISSIDENT GENERAL CLAIMS YEMEN PRESIDENT MANIPULATES AL-QAEDA PRESENCE TO ENSURE HIS PERSONAL RULE

Andrew McGregor

June 17, 2011

In a recent interview with a pan-Arab daily, Yemen’s Major General Ali Muhsin Saleh al-Ahmar claimed that President Ali Abdullah Saleh (now receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia after being seriously wounded in an assassination attempt) has manipulated the al-Qaeda insurgency in Yemen to win international support for his increasingly beleaguered regime (al-Hayat, June 11).

News of Ali Muhsin’s defection to the Yemeni opposition on March 21 took many by surprise, not least President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the General’s half-brother. Before his defection to the opposition, General Ali Muhsin was commander of the Northwestern Military Region and commander of the First Armored Division. Widely viewed as one of the most important figures in Yemen’s military and known for his contacts with the Islamist Islah (Reform) Party and the Muslim Brotherhood, the defection of this consummate regime insider was viewed with both hope and suspicion by various opposition members.
According to Ali Muhsin:

The fact is that the al-Qaeda organization served the objectives and aims of Ali Saleh… al-Qaeda took advantage of the state’s weakness and its reluctance to act against them and curb their activities since Ali Saleh wanted to use al-Qaeda as a scarecrow for the outside parties. Everybody will realize after Salah’s departure that the legend of al-Qaeda in Yemen was exaggerated. When Yemen moves to a modern civil state – when the law prevails and justice and equal citizenship are ensured, when the judiciary becomes clean and the national economy becomes firm, developed and successful – al-Qaeda will have no presence in Yemen… The terrorist groups he uses to scare Yemen and the outside world with are supervised by the sons of his brother and the commander of his personal guards, Tariq Muhammad Saleh, and the Deputy of the National Security Apparatus, Ammar Muhammad Saleh.

The general went on to claim al-Qaeda elements were allowed to enter the southern town of Zanjibar without resistance on May 27 to seize weapons belonging to the police and army garrison. Nine dissident generals, including Ali Muhsin, released “Statement Number One,” in which the generals accused the President of “surrendering Abyan [Governorate] to an armed terrorist group” and called on the rest of the army to join “the peaceful popular revolution” (iloubnan.info – May 29, 2011; AFP, May 29).

. Ali Muhsin has survived a number of assassination attempts and some local observers have suggested a struggle for the succession has been ongoing for some time between the general and the president and his son Ahmad Ali, head of the Republican Guard (Yemen Tribune, October 9, 2009). According to a Wikileaks cable from the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, President Saleh tried to have the general killed by asking Saudi Arabia to bomb a compound in northern Yemen that was actually being used by the general as a field headquarters. The Saudis sensed something was wrong with the request and failed to carry out the raid (al-Jazeera, June 5).

There are suspicions that the General’s defection was only part of a strategy to create a favorable post-Saleh environment for Ali Muhsin, possibly as the new head of the military council (al-Jazeera, June 11). Ali Muhsin himself says that, at age 70, he has no personal ambition to rule Yemen. The general says President Saleh “still heaps unjust accusations against us for no reason other than that we in the armed forces announced rejection of any orders to attack the people, because we told him ‘the people demand that you leave so depart safe and sound for there is no need to spill blood and mire Yemen into anarchy and civil war.’”

Ali Muhsin has deployed his forces to defend the compound of Vice-President Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi, a southerner from Abyan province who was appointed in 1994 as a symbol of north-south unity. There were reports last week that elements of the 1st Armored Division repelled two attacks against the vice-president’s house by tribesmen on June 6 (al-Sahwah [Sana’a], June 7). The vice-president is nominally in charge with President Saleh out of the country, but it is Saleh’s son Ahmad Ali who has moved into the presidential palace and is viewed to have control of the government. Troops under Ali Muhsin’s command are also reported to be preparing defensive positions in Sana’a in preparation for an expected confrontation with forces still loyal to the Saleh regime (Naba News, June 7). While his troops prepare for action, Ali Muhsin was reported to have met with the U.S. and EU ambassadors in Sana’a (Ilaf.com, June 9).

This article first appeared in the June 17, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

ALGERIA SEEKS NEW RUSSIAN ATTACK HELICOPTERS FOR ITS CAMPAIGN AGAINST AL-QAEDA IN THE ISLAMIC MAGHREB

Andrew McGregor

June 17, 2011

To deal with a number of new and longstanding security threats, Algeria is seeking the purchase of an unspecified number of new Russian-made Mi-28NE “Night Hunter” attack helicopters. [1] The Mi-28NE is the export version of the Mi-28N, an all-weather, day and night operable two-seat attack helicopter roughly comparable to the American-made AH-64 “Apache” attack helicopter. Besides  a continuing insurgency led by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Algeria’s northeastern Kabylia mountain range, Algeria is making major efforts to secure its vast desert interior, where trans-national smugglers and AQIM gangs have made huge profits by taking advantage of the relative lack of security in the region. As well as continuing tensions with its western neighbor Morocco over the status of the Western Sahara and the presence of anti-Moroccan Polisario guerrillas in camps in southern Algeria, Algiers must now also contend with a possible spillover of the Libyan conflict into the Sahara/Sahel region.

The Mi-28NE

According to a director of Russia’s Rostvertol, a state-owned manufacturer of attack helicopters, a commercial proposal has been delivered to Algeria and the company hopes a contract will soon be signed to allow delivery of the new helicopters in the period 2012-2017 (Interfax/AVN, June 6; RIA Novosti, June 6). Algeria currently operates 36 export versions of the Mi-24 attack helicopter, an older and now largely outdated variant. The helicopters are routinely used for fire support in combined ground-air operations by Algeria’s Armée Nationale Populaire (ANP) and the Gendarmerie Nationale against AQIM guerrillas (see Terrorism Monitor, April 23, 2010).

The Mi-28N is primarily designed to hunt and destroy armored vehicles, but is suitable for a range of other activities, ranging from reconnaissance to engaging ground troops or even low-speed air targets.

The helicopter purchase is part of a trend in Algerian arms purchases that began in May 2010, when Algiers announced it would make drastic cuts in its arms purchases from the United States in favor of buying similar equipment from Russia. Algiers cited long delays in delivery times, pressure on U.S. arms sales to Arab nations from Israel and dramatic differences in the cost of similar arms systems between the two suppliers (El Khabar [Algiers], May 24, 2010; RIA Novosti, May 24, 2010).

So far, Venezuela, which is still awaiting delivery, is the only other foreign buyer of the Mi28-NE, though India has indicated interest in a possible purchase. Turkey had intended to buy 32 used Mi-28 helicopters from Russia in 2008-2009 as a stop-gap measure until deliveries of 52 Agusta Westland A-129 Mangusta (“Mongoose”) attack helicopters could begin (Vatan, December 22, 2008; RIA Novosti, December 22, 2008).  The proposed purchase of Russian helicopters came after Washington refused to permit the sale of used American attack helicopters from U.S. Marine inventories after disputes over technology transfers prevented U.S. companies from bidding on the main Turkish order that was eventually filled by Italy’s Agusta-Westland. In time, Washington reversed itself, allowing the sale of AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters from the U.S. Marines to Turkey in late 2009, leading Ankara to cancel further talks with Russia regarding the Mi-28 purchase (Sunday Zaman, October 25, 2009).

Work on the Mi-28 began in the 1980s, but was reduced to a low priority after the Soviet Air Force chose to go with the Kamov Ka-50 “Black Shark” as its new attack helicopter. Work resumed in earnest in the mid-1990s with the debut of the Mi-28N night-capable helicopter, though development was again delayed until 2003-2004, when the Russian Air Force announced the Mi-28N would be Russia’s standard attack helicopter of the future.

Though it is a dedicated attack helicopter without a secondary transport role, the Mi-28N has a small cabin capable of carrying three additional individuals. In Russia this is used mainly for rescuing downed helicopter crews, but it is possible Algeria could use this capability to deploy small numbers of Special Forces operatives.

The Mi-28N has considerable firepower, including:

  • 16 Ataka-V anti-tank guided missiles in combination with either ten unguided S-13 rockets or 40 S-8 rockets (shorter range but greater numbers). The Ataka is available in high-explosive or thermobaric variants for different missions.
  • Eight Igla-V or Vympel R-73 air-to-air missiles with infrared homing warheads.
  • Two KMGU-2 mine dispensers.
  • A 30mm Shipunov turret-mounted cannon equipped with 250 rounds.

The aircraft’s normal range is 270 miles with a cruising speed of 168 m.p.h. and a maximum speed of 199 m.p.h. Optional fuel tanks can be mounted under the stub wings, allowing for extra range in the open spaces of the Algerian interior. The helicopter is also equipped with passive protection systems to aid the survival of downed helicopter crews.

Note

1. The NATO reporting name is “Havoc.”

This article first appeared in the June 17, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

EX-MILITANTS USE OIL AS A POLITICAL WEAPON IN THE NIGER DELTA

Andrew McGregor

July 10, 2014

Former Niger Delta militants have threatened to cut off Nigerian oil production in the event beleaguered Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan is prevented from seeking re-election in 2015. Jonathan has been under intense criticism from northern politicians who cite incompetence in dealing with Boko Haram and other issues in their demands that the president decline to run for a second term. The declaration came out of a meeting in Akwa Ibom State of some 600 former militants who had accepted amnesty under the federal government’s Leadership, Peace and Cultural Development Initiative (LPCDI) in 2009 as part of a national effort to bring an end to militant activities in the Niger Delta region that were preventing full exploitation of the region’s abundant energy reserves.

Vandalized Pipeline in the Niger Delta

The leader of the ex-militants, Reuben Wilson, described a wide campaign in Muslim north Nigeria to discredit and distract the president, who is of southern and Christian origin:

You will agree with me that the Niger Delta people are sustaining the economy at great inconveniences and pains to its people and the environment. It is the only time that the region has had the privilege of producing a president for the country. It is unthinkable that the North will be plotting against our son, intimidating him with bomb blasts here and there and causing the untimely death of scores of innocent Nigerians, all because they want to take back power. We have always seen the need for us to live together as one indivisible country and this is what Mr. President believes in. However, with the way things are going, we have been pushed to the wall and we cannot but react. Accordingly, the former freedom fighters have agreed that all the routes through which the north has been benefiting from crude oil finds coming from the Niger Delta will be cut off, if they insist on forcing Mr. President out of office. (This Day [Lagos], July 1).

The declaration was reinforced by a pledge from the Niger Delta Youth Movement (NDYM) to organize a “million-man march” of Niger Delta youth in Abuja to condemn the “distraction” of President Jonathan from his development program by the terrorist activities of Boko Haram. NDYM leader Felix Ogbona insisted the movement would stop oil flows from the Delta if Jonathan is prevented from running for president in 2015 (Daily Independent [Lagos], June 29). According to the former militants, it was Jonathan (as vice-president) who visited the militants in the creeks of the Delta and convinced them to sign on to the amnesty in exchange for promises of development (Information Nigeria, May 2, 2013). The ex-militants see Jonathan’s efforts to develop the Delta being diverted by Boko Haram activities in the north and are certain such efforts will be dropped if a new president is elected from the northern Muslim communities in 2015.

Elsewhere, former Niger Delta militants belonging to the Ijaw people of the Delta demanded Jonathan (an Ijaw) declare his intent to run in 2015, saying in a statement:  We, therefore, call on you to contest the seat of the President. And if for any reason you fail to contest come 2015, you should not come back home but remain in Abuja forever” (Vanguard [Lagos], June 29).

Mansion Belonging to a Former Militant Leader in Yenagoa  (BBC)

While attacks in the Niger Delta and elsewhere continue to be claimed by “MEND spokesmen,” those militant leaders who accepted amnesty insist MEND ceased to exist in 2009: “Nobody should hide under the guise of a so-called MEND to sabotage the nation’s economy… We restate that the amnesty program of the Federal Government is working and those of us that are beneficiaries are happy that we were given the privilege to come out of the creeks to contribute to the peace and development of the country” (Vanguard [Lagos], October 24, 2013).

The amnesty has been granted to roughly 30,000 people since it began, promising each of them at least $410 per month to keep the peace in a program that costs upwards of $500 million per year (BBC, May 2). While lower-level militants have been offered job-training as they collect often-sporadic payments, there is abundant evidence that some former militant leaders have used access to major oil industry-related contracts to build enormous personal wealth that is typically flaunted through the construction of rambling mansions (Leadership [Abuja], June 30). The militant leaders who once targeted the Delta’s pipelines for oil theft or destruction now seek lucrative government contracts to provide security for these same pipelines (Information Nigeria, May 2, 2013).

Residents of the Niger Delta have complained for years that they see little benefit from the massive revenues generated by oil production in their region while enduring industrial pollution, poor infrastructure and a shortage of employment opportunities.

This article first appeared in the July 10, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

EGYPT’S DOMESTIC SECURITY THREAT: AJNAD MISR AND THE “RETRIBUTION FOR LIFE” CAMPAIGN

Andrew McGregor 

July 10, 2014

A Cairo-based extremist group using the name Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt) has intensified its bombing campaign in the Egyptian capital with a surprising attack on the Ittihadiya Palace in Heliopolis, the home of Egyptian president Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi. The bombing was part of the movement’s “Retribution for Life” campaign, apparently mounted in support of pro-Muhammad Mursi/Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations in the capital met with ruthless responses by Egyptian security forces that have left hundreds dead. Ajnad Misr refers to Egypt’s police as “criminals” who carry out “massacres” and has made them the main target of their bombing campaign so far (Ahram Online [Cairo], April 3).