ISLAM’S LEADING MUFTIS CONDEMN THE “ISLAMIC STATE”

Andrew McGregor
September 4, 2014

Egypt’s Grand Mufti (chief Islamic jurist), Shaykh Shawqi Ibrahim Abd al-Karim Allam, has opened a new campaign to combat Islamist militancy of the type promoted by the Islamic State through electronic means such as internet sites, videos and Twitter accounts. The campaign, which will involve Islamic scholars from across the world, aims to: “correct the image of Islam that has been tarnished in the West because of these criminal acts, and to exonerate humanity from such crimes that defy natural instincts and spread hate between people” (Middle East News Agency [Cairo], August 31; September 1; AP, August 25). There were 37 million internet users in Egypt as of September 2013 (Ahram Online, September 1).

Grand Mufti EgyptGrand Mufti Shaykh Shawqi Ibrahim Abd al-Karim Allam

Egypt’s Grand Mufti has also been pulled into the controversial death sentences issued against leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their followers in connection with a series of violent incidents that followed last year’s popular rising/military coup that toppled the rule of Muhammad Morsi and the Freedom and Justice Party (the political wing of the Brotherhood). The specific case in which the Grand Mufti was invited to give his opinion involved death sentences handed down to Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Muhammad al-Badi’e and seven other Brotherhood leaders in June (six others were sentenced to death in absentia, but have the right to new trials if they return) in connection with murder charges related to the clashes at the Istiqama mosque in Giza on July 23, 2013 that left nine people dead.

Egyptian legal procedure calls for all death sentences to be confirmed by a non-binding decision of the Grand Mufti, though in practice such decisions are nearly always followed. Unusually, in this case, the Mufti’s original decision to commute the June death sentences to life imprisonment was returned by the court for reconsideration (Ahram Online [Cairo], August 30; al-Jazeera, August 8). Shawqi Allam declined to take the hint and instead reaffirmed his position that the death penalties were inappropriate given that the evidence consisted solely of unsupported testimony from a police operative (Deutsche Welle, August 30). The Grand Mufti’s actions have been interpreted as a rebuke to the judicial process that has delivered hundreds of death sentences to Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters this year following the group’s official designation as a “terrorist” organization. Muhammad al-Badi’e still faces another death sentence in relation to a separate case regarding the Brothers’ alleged armed response to a July 2014 demonstration at their al-Muqattam headquarters in eastern Cairo.

The decisions of Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta (House of Religious Edicts) are typically closely aligned to official government policy, leading many observers to consider it a quasi-governmental agency. Nonetheless, the office and Egypt’s Grand Mufti remain important sources of spiritual direction throughout the Sunni Islamic world, with thousands of fatwa-s being issued every month in response to questions of faith and practice from around the Islamic world. Compared to institutions such as Cairo’s 10th century al-Azhar Islamic University (also brought under government control in 1961), Dar al-Ifta is a comparatively modern institution, having been created at the order of Khedive Abbas al-Hilmi in 1895.

Grand Mufti Saudi ArabiaGrand Mufti Shaykh Abd al-Aziz al-Ashaykh

In Saudi Arabia, Grand Mufti Shaykh Abd al-Aziz al-Ashaykh, chairman of the Council of Senior Ulema and the General Presidency of Scholarly Research and Ifta (the Kingdom’s fatwa-issuing office), used an August 28 radio interview to respond to the arrest of eight men charged with recruiting fighters for the Islamic State by urging young Saudis to resist calls for jihad “under unknown banners and perverted principles” (Nida al-Islam Radio [Mecca], August 28).

The interview followed a statement entitled “Foresight and Remembrance” made several days earlier in which the Saudi Grand Mufti described members of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State as “Kharijites, the first group that deviated from the religion because they accused Muslims of disbelief due to their sins and allowed killing them and taking their money,” a reference to an early and traditionally much despised early Islamic movement whose advocacy of jihad against rulers they deemed insufficiently Islamic (similar to the takfiri pose adopted by the modern Islamist extremists) led to nearly two centuries of conflict in the Islamic world: “Extremist and militant ideas and terrorism which spread decay on earth, destroying human civilization, are not in any way part of Islam, but are rather Islam’s number one enemy, and Muslims are their first victims…” (Saudi Press Agency, August 19).

The Grand Mufti’s comments reflect a growing concern in Saudi Arabia that the Kingdom will inevitably be targeted by the so-called Islamic State, a development that could shatter the partnership between Wahhabi clerics and the al-Sa’ud royal family that dominates the Kingdom both politically and spiritually. Thousands of Saudis are believed to have left to join Islamic State and al-Nusra Front forces in Iraq and Syria in recent months (Reuters, August 25). The Islamic State poses a direct challenge to the religious legitimacy of the al-Sa’ud monarchy and their rule of the holy cities of Mecca and Madinah by presenting the creation of a caliphate as the true fulfillment the Wahhabist “project” while simultaneously undercutting the authority of Wahhabist clerics such as Shaykh Abd al-Aziz, whom the movement views as having been co-opted by their partnership with a “corrupt and un-Islamic” royal family.

This article first appeared in the September 4, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

PREPARING FOR THE NEXT STAGE: ISLAMIC JIHAD’S GAZA WAR

Andrew McGregor
September 4, 2014

Days after the September 24 ceasefire that ended Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, thousands of members of Islamic Jihad who had fought alongside Hamas in the 50 day conflict gathered with their weapons in Gaza City to hear al-Quds Brigade (the armed wing of Islamic Jihad) spokesman Mahmoud al-Majzoub (a.k.a. Abu Hamza) declare: “We have not stopped making weapons, even during the battle, and we will redouble our efforts… to prepare for the next stage, which we hope will be the battle for freedom” (AFP, August 30).

Islamic JihadIslamic Jihad Movement in Palestine

The Iranian-supported Sunni “resistance movement” (full name: Harakat al-Jihad al-Islami fi Filastin – The Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine) was targeted by Israeli bombardment and heavily involved in the urban warfare that claimed the lives of 66 Israeli soldiers. Islamic Jihad reports the loss of 121 members during the fighting but asserts that it managed to fire 3,250 rockets, mortars and missiles into Israel during operations that were often closely coordinated with Hamas (i24news.tv, August 29). In addition, some 900 mortar shells were fired during operations against Israeli armor along the Gaza-Israel border (Press TV [Tehran], August 30). Certain IJ leaders were targeted during the conflict, including Shaban Sulayman al-Dahdouh, who was killed along with 13 others in a July 21 airstrike (Ma’an News Agency, August 5).

Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdullah Shallah maintains that Israel was surprised by the military capabilities of the resistance movement in Gaza (Press TV, August 26). His movement mounted its own limited military operation in March after Israeli forces killed three IJ fighters within Gaza, firing 130 rockets into Israel during “Operation Breaking the Silence” (al-Jazeera, March 12).

While Islamic Jihad was prepared to negotiate a ceasefire in the latest conflict in August, Israeli demands for disarmament were rejected from the first. According to a senior Islamic Jihad leader, Khader Habib, “The issue of arms is connected to the existence of the occupation… This right [to bear arms in self-defense] is guaranteed by the laws of heaven and earth” (Middle East Monitor, August 7).

Al-Quds Brigade spokesman Abu Hamza has emphasized that Islamic Jihad is determined to improve its military capabilities while thanking those nations and groups who supported the Palestinians during the Israeli offensive, singling out Hezbollah, Iran and Sudan in particular (Press TV [Tehran], August 30). Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander General Mohammed Ali Jafari has assured both Hamas and Islamic Jihad of more help “than in the past in all defense and social domains” (AFP, August 30).
With inspiration from the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Palestinian exiles Abd al-Aziz Awda and Taghi Shaqaqi created Islamic Jihad in the same year, initially operating out of Egypt. Shaqaqi was assassinated in Malta by a Mossad team in 1995, while Awda assumed the spiritual leadership of the group. Today, Islamic Jihad operates in both Gaza and the West Bank under the leadership of Dr. Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, an original member and former professor in southern Florida who took control of the movement after Shaqaqi’s death.

Though he views its establishment as unlikely, Shallah has indicated he would favor the establishment of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict in which Palestinian Muslims and Christians would have equal rights with Israeli Jews. [1] Short of a one-state solution, the IJ secretary-general insists on nothing less than the “total liberation of Palestine.” Shallah acknowledges ideological similarities with Hamas, but emphasizes Islamic Jihad’s separate approach:

We share the same Islamic identity. From a strategic point of view, there is no difference between us and Hamas, only a tactical difference… Don’t ask me what the political solution is to be. We aren’t the guilty party to be asked for a solution because we didn’t create the problem. Our sacred duty is to fight, to resist occupation of our sacred land change the conditions of our people. That is our duty, our sacred duty. Others, like Fatah, have maps and negotiations. We resist. [2]

Despite the close (and almost essential) military cooperation between Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades (the military wing of Hamas) and Islamic Jihad during the conflict with Israel, the two movements have become political rivals to some degree within Gaza. Recent polling has suggested Islamic Jihad has made recent gains in popularity at the expense of Hamas, though the movement still commands just over 13 percent support (Al-Monitor, August 10). Besides its military activities, Islamic Jihad offers social services to Gaza’s hard pressed population, including health services, schools and dispute mediation, the latter often in ways that are more efficient than similar services offered by Hamas.

The movement believes its focus on armed struggle is attracting new supporters, though Islamic Jihad has the luxury of not having to focus on the nearly insurmountable problems of governing a region under blockade that confront Hamas on a daily basis. Islamic Jihad has also distanced itself from Hamas’ association with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a liability in today’s political climate and counter to IJ’s interest in maintaining good relations with the new Egyptian leadership. There are reports of occasional small-scale clashes between Hamas and Islamic Jihad inside Gaza, but Islamic Jihad shows little inclination to pursue or escalate these conflicts, keeping in mind that Hamas has control over the supply of weapons smuggled into Gaza (al-Akhbar [Beirut], April 16).

Notes

1. Scott Atran and Roberty Axelrod: “Interview with Ramadan Shallah, Secretary General, Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” Damascus, Syria, December 15, 2009, Perspectives on Terrorism 4(2), 2010, http://jeannicod.ccsd.cnrs.fr/docs/00/50/53/76/PDF/Ramadan_Shallah.pdf
2. Ibid.

This article first appeared in the September 4, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

EGYPT, THE UAE AND ARAB MILITARY INTERVENTION IN LIBYA

Andrew McGregor
September 4, 2014

A pair of recent airstrikes against Islamist-held targets in the Libyan capital of Tripoli have raised questions about Arab military intervention in Libya after reports emerged claiming the strikes were conducted by United Arab Emirates (UAE) aircraft using Egyptian airbases. The first strike, on August 17, hit up to a dozen sites in Tripoli held by the Misratan militia and their Islamist allies, killing six people and destroying a small arms depot. A second wave of attacks on August 23 struck numerous military targets shortly before dawn in southern Tripoli, but failed to prevent the Islamist-allied Libyan Shield militia (dominated byQatari-backed Misratan fighters and allied to the Muslim Brotherhood and Ansar al-Shari’a) from seizing Tripoli’s airport and most of the capital only hours later (Middle East Monitor, August 27; New York Times, August 25).

UAEUAE Air Force F-16s

Though anti-Islamist commander General Khalifa Haftar attempted to claim responsibility for the attacks, their precision, the distance covered by the aircraft and the night operations all precluded the participation of Haftar’s small air element. The U.S. State Department initially said the airstrikes were conducted by UAE aircraft operating from an Egyptian airbase, but later issued a type of ambiguous retraction that suggested further questions should be addressed to the parties involved (Ayat al-Tawy, August 29; Ahram Online [Cairo], August 29). The participation of Egypt and the UAE was confirmed, however, by Pentagon spokesman Admiral John Kirby (Financial Times, August 21; Reuters, August 26). On August 26, a U.S. official said Washington was aware the UAE and Egypt were preparing an attack on Tripoli, but had warned against carrying out the operation (AP, August 26). When the two Arab militaries took the decision to strike Tripoli, they failed to inform their long-time military patron, possibly marking some dissatisfaction with Washington’s reluctance to take more decisive action in Libya and elsewhere.

An Arab Military Solution?

The apparent failure of General Haftar’s “Operation Dignity” has led his Arab backers in Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia to consider more direct approaches to re-establishing security in Libya, where both of the nation’s major cities (Tripoli and Benghazi) have been effectively seized by Islamist militias, forcing the national government to move to Tobruk, close to the border with Egypt.

Rumors of an Algerian-Egyptian invasion of Libya circulated throughout August, though a prolonged Algerian military intervention would risk inflaming social and economic tensions within Algeria (Middle East Eye, August 21). The lack of military cooperation between Algeria and Egypt would also seem to argue against a joint operation.

Qatar supports the Islamist faction in Libya and hosts leading Islamist politician Ali Muhammad al-Salabi, an associate of former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group commander Abd al-Hakim Belhadj, now a prominent Islamist militia commander in Tripoli. Both the Algerian and Egyptian militaries are involved in ongoing counterterrorism campaigns; the question is whether these nations view Libya as an unwanted second front or as an integral part of a wider international anti-terrorist campaign.

The UAE Adopts a More Muscular Foreign Policy

The UAE’s approach to regional security has been described by UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Anwar Gargash:

Arab affairs should be settled within the framework of the Arab world because the Arab arena then becomes [accessible] to many regional players. I think this is a risk that threatens all Arab countries… There must be strong and effective police and military forces because not every threat faced by countries is international. There are many regional challenges so we should have the potential to face these threats. As [much as] the UAE and other countries need regional allies, we have to start with our own self-power and potential (The National [Abu Dhabi], March 31).

Gargash later said that allegations of UAE interference in Libyan affairs were merely an attempt to divert attention from Libya’s parliamentary elections, in which the Islamists fared poorly: The people have spotted [the Islamists’] failure and recognized their lies. Disregarding the results of the Libyan parliamentary election is nothing but an indication of the isolation of the group which is seeking a way out of their segregation and [to] justify their mismanagement… Since their seven percent does not form a majority, Islamists in Libya resorted to violence and spread chaos across the country” (Khaleej Times [Dubai], August 27).

UAE pilots certainly know the way to Tripoli; during the NATO-led intervention in 2011, the UAE Air Force (UAEAF) deployed six F-16s and six Mirage fighter jets during the anti-Qaddafi campaign (AP, April 27). The UAE has used some of its considerable oil wealth to obtain a modern and well trained air arm to help ensure the security of the Emirates in an increasingly unstable region. Many of the pilots and technicians are Pakistani ex-servicemen serving the UAE on private contracts. With the Mirage jets being phased out in favor of American-built F-16s, many of the pilots are not trained in the United States or by American trainers in the UAE. The UAE is also one of the few nations in the region to have mid-air refueling capabilities for long-distance operations thanks to its recent purchase of three Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transports (MRTT). In recent years, the UAE has been improving its military capabilities to take a greater role in foreign affairs (particularly in the Arab world) and regional counterterrorism efforts under the direction of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayid al-Nahyan.

The Egyptian Perspective

Although a cursory examination of a map of North Africa would seem to indicate Libya and Egypt are close neighbors, in reality, their interaction has been historically limited by distance, topography and culture. A brief 1977 border war that ended in disaster for Mu’ammar Qaddafi’s poorly trained Libyan forces marked the last military encounter of any significance between the two nations.

Egyptian president Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi told a U.S. congressional delegation on August 29 that Egypt respected Libyan internal affairs but noted that democracies cannot be built on ruins: “Despite Egypt being one of the most harmed parties from the deteriorating political and security situation in Libya, it is committed to non-interference in internal Libyan affairs” (Egypt State Information Service, August 29; Ahram Online [Cairo], August 29). While Egypt has been reluctant to admit any involvement in the airstrikes, there are reports that its newly formed Rapid Intervention Force, a group of some 10,000 commandos with airborne capability dedicated to counterterrorism operations, has been involved in intelligence collecting operations in eastern Libya focused on Ansar al-Shari’a activities (AP, August 26; Cairo Post, May 8; al-Bawaba, March 30).

Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry was adamant that Egypt was not involved in “any military activity and does not have any military presence on Libyan territories,” all of which might be technically true if Egypt only provided use of an air base to a UAEAF mission (al-Jazeera, August 26). UAE officials were more reticent, noting at first only that the Emirati authorities had “no reaction” to reports of UAEAF activity in Libya (al-Jazeera, August 26).

The day after the attack, the Egyptian and Libyan Foreign Ministers announced a bilateral initiative to restore security in Libya without military intervention by non-Arab (i.e. Western) nations. The plan calls for the disarmament of Libya’s militias with the aid of regional and international partners, but depends largely on commitments from international arms suppliers to halt sales to the militias after disarmament. Though well-intended, neither the Egyptian nor Libyan armed forces have the ability or will to further this initiative (Ahram Online [Cairo], August 25).

Egypt’s Concerns

The political chaos in neighboring Libya is the source of a number of security concerns being examined by Cairo. These include:

• Contacts and arms trading between Libyan Islamists and Salafi-Jihadist groups operating in the Sinai
• Harassment and assaults on Egyptian nationals working in Libya could lead to the return of hundreds of thousands of workers who would become reliant on a state already experiencing its own economic and unemployment crises for their welfare. Other economic impacts have been slight so far, as there is little trade between Libya and Egypt and only a small degree of Egyptian investment in Libya
• The absence of state control over Libyan borders, sea-ports and airports raises a host of security concerns
• New armed Islamist groups operating in the greater Cairo region and the Nile Valley (possibly including returnees from the fighting in Syria and Iraq) may seek arms supplies from Libya transported over the largely defenseless southern region of the border between Libya and Egypt. Gunmen and smugglers operate openly in the region and in July attacked an Egyptian base for counter-smuggling operations in the western desert oasis of Farafra (Wadi al-Jadid Governorate), killing 22 soldiers. Securing this region with some type of permanent military presence would require an expensive and logistically difficult deployment of officers and troops, most of whom (despite Arab stereotypes) have little to no experience of the desert and share a great aversion to serving in the Libyan desert in any prolonged capacity.
• Libya could provide a rallying point for Egyptian jihadists, likely in the newly-declared “Islamic Emirate of Benghazi” (see Terrorism Monitor, August 7). Though the anti-Sisi “Free Egyptian Army” with supposed Qatari-Turkish-Iranian backing appears to have a greater presence in the virtual world than the battlefield, a small number of Egyptian extremists have taken refuge in Libya and could attempt to form new armed opposition groups there (al-Ahram Weekly [Cairo], April 24; al-Akhbar [Beirut], April 10). Working in favor of the Egyptian government is the relative difficulty of mounting operations of any size in Egypt from Libyan bases.

Egyptian Options

Among the options available to Egypt to impose a political/security solution in Libya are the following:

• An air campaign of limited or sporadic intensity targeting Islamist bases in Libya
• Securing the length of its 700 mile border with Libya (a near physical and financial impossibility aggravated by the lack of credible partners on the Libyan side)
• A limited incursion into Libya establishing a secured buffer zone in the northern reaches of the Libyan-Egyptian border (a move of dubious international legality that would invite Islamist attacks, inflame relations with some Arab nations and drain Egyptian resources better used in the Sinai)
• A broad multi-year military occupation (with or without allied Arab contingents) designed to disarm militias and support a new government that is likely to be viewed in many quarters as an Egyptian proxy (diplomatically provocative, militarily risky and financially draining)
• Covert military/logistical/intelligence support for new anti-Islamist factions (created with the help of Egyptian military intelligence) or existing militias. This has been the Egyptian strategy so far, but its support for the “National Libyan Army” forces of Khalifa Haftar and their allies has failed to yield results so far. Cairo may look elsewhere in Libya for someone with greater credibility in Libya to lead anti-Islamist forces – Haftar’s long American exile and CIA associations have worked against him in Libya.
• Training and arming Libyan nationals to form a new national Libyan army with some limited political direction from Cairo. According to Libyan Army chief-of-staff Major-General Abdul Razzaq Al-Nazhuri, Egypt has offered military training for Libya’s new army, an important consideration given that both NATO and the United States have backed off from earlier pledges to provide training due to the continuing unrest in Libya (Stars and Stripes, August 28).
• Continuing its policy of cultivating tribal elites in the border region for intelligence gathering and counter-terrorist operations. These elements will not work for free, however; they are seeking development projects and legal concessions in return for their cooperation. The tribes that straddle the modern border now control much of the smuggling of arms and other contraband from Libya to Egypt.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood responded to the airstrikes by issuing a statement warning of the “disastrous consequences” of an intervention in Libya and calling for the expulsion of Khalifa Haftar from his Egyptian residence:

Forcing the Egyptian army into this war to achieve foreign powers’ goals and agendas represents the biggest threat to Egypt’s national security, and tarnishes the reputation of the Egyptian army, making it look like a group of mercenaries. It also weakens its capabilities when it comes to face real enemies, which brings to mind painful memories of the intervention of the Egyptian army in the war in Yemen, which later led to a disastrous defeat in 1967 in the war against the Zionist entity [i.e. Israel] (Ikhwanweb, [Cairo], August 24).

Libya’s branch of the Brotherhood, which fared badly in the elections last June, is now setting up a rival regime in Tripoli to that of the elected parliament.

Conclusion

The lack of consensus in the Arab world regarding the direction of Libya’s future precludes military intervention by an allied force under the direction of the Arab League. Any Arab attempt to impose order in Libya with a military presence on the ground would rely overwhelmingly on forces from Egypt, the Arab world’s largest military power and Libya’s neighbor. However, there are long memories in Egypt of the nation’s last major foreign adventure, the disastrous 1962-1967 Egyptian military intervention in Yemen, which disrupted the Arab nationalist movement, diminished Egyptian influence and weakened its military in the lead-up to the 1967 war with Israel. [1]

The turmoil in Libya strengthens al-Sisi’s posture as the Egyptian and even regional defender of Arabs from religious-political extremism, giving him the freedom to impose stricter security regimes designed to eliminate the Islamist opposition. The question now is whether Qatar will step up its military support of Libya’s Islamists to counter the UAE and Egypt’s support of anti-Islamist factions. The August airstrikes on Tripoli suggest that this distant arena is gradually becoming a battleground in the struggle between pro-Islamist states such as Qatar and Turkey and their more conservative opponents – the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Note

1. See Andrew McGregor, A Military History of Modern Egypt: From the Ottoman Conquest to the Ramadan War, Praeger Security International, Westport CT, 2006, Chapter 19.

LIBYA’S ANSAR AL-SHARI’A DECLARES THE ISLAMIC EMIRATE OF BENGHAZI

Andrew McGregor
August 7, 2014

Only weeks after Sunni jihadists in Iraq declared the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate covering parts of Syria and Iraq, Libya’s Ansar al-Shari’a movement has declared an Islamic Emirate in eastern Libya after driving government forces and their allies from the city of Benghazi. The defeat of the strongest pro-government forces in eastern Libya has provided the Islamists with an impressive victory, but Ansar al-Shari’a and its allies are still struggling to obtain the support of Benghazi’s urban population and the powerful tribes dwelling in its hinterland.

The Libyan Emirate in the Modern Era

As the provinces that eventually formed modern Libya began to fall to British and French military forces following a string of defeats suffered by Italy, the colonial power in Libya, there were several abortive attempts to create a modern Emirate in eastern Libya. In anticipation of post-war independence in return for supporting the Allied cause, the Libyans agreed to the formation of a joint Tripolitanian-Cyrenaican Emirate with Sayyid Idris al-Sanusi as leader in 1940 (the third province, Fezzan, remained under French military administration from 1943 to 1951). This plan, however, began to disintegrate after liberation from Italian occupation in 1943 as the two Libyan provinces jostled for control of the new state. Sayyid Idris foresaw the emergence of Britain as the main power-broker in a post-colonial Libya (unlike the Tripolitanian leaders, who had incorrectly foreseen an Axis victory) and raised five battalions of the “Libyan Arab Force” to assist Allied operations in the North African desert campaign. A 1945 U.S. plan for a Cyrenaican emirate under British and Egyptian supervision failed to gain support, but in 1949 Britain decided unilaterally to create a Cyrenaican emirate under the leadership of Sayyid Idris, with foreign affairs, defense issues and military bases all remaining under British control. By the time independence arrived in 1951, plans for an emirate had been abandoned in favor of a federal constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament. [1]

Ansar al-Shari’a in Libya

The Islamist militia, established in post-revolutionary Libya in 2012, has a power-base in the eastern cities of Derna and Benghazi. It was in the latter city that the movement was deeply implicated in the September 11, 2012 attack on the American consulate. Ten days later, the group was driven from Benghazi by mass protests, but by March 2013 it was back in Benghazi, this time with a greater emphasis on providing social services to city residents.

New tensions began to arise in Benghazi in June, when General Haftar’s forces began launching attacks on armed Islamist militias in Benghazi and Derna and preliminary results of the parliamentary election revealed a massive rejection of Islamist candidates (all seats were contested on an individual rather than party basis). Afraid of being shut out of the political process, the Islamist militias in Benghazi (including Ansar al-Shari’a, the Libya Shield Brigade no. 1, the 17 February Brigade and the Rafallah Sahati Brigade) united under an umbrella structure known as the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries (Daily Star [Beirut], August 1). Many of these groups are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood stronghold in Misrata. The restructuring at first helped limit Haftar’s successes in the region before allowing the united Islamists to push back against Haftar’s outnumbered “National Army” and its allies.

In June, Ansar al-Shari’a leader Muhammad al-Zawahi reasserted his movement’s opposition to both the government and democracy in general, while warning the United States to forget about military intervention in Libya in view of America’s “despicable defeats in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia,” promising it would “face worse from Libya” (BBC, June 13).

Wanis Bu KhamadaColonel Wanis Bu Khamada

Expelling al-Sa’iqah

On July 29, Ansar al-Shari’a and its allies in the Shura Council mounted a bold attack on the Benghazi base of the pro-government al-Sa’iqah (Thunderbolt) Special Forces, an elite unit led by Colonel Wanis Bu Khamada that is allied to Libyan Major-General Khalifah Haftar, but not under his direct command. Haftar’s ongoing Operation al-Karamah (Dignity) is an attempt to eliminate Islamist militias in Libya and restore order in the lawless cities. The Islamist attack succeeded in taking the main camp of al-Sa’iqah, located in the Bu-Atni district of Benghazi.

With the capture of most of the city (excluding a part of the airport still controlled by Haftar’s forces), Ansar al-Shari’a leader Muhammad al-Zahawi declared on July 30 that “Benghazi has now become an Islamic Emirate” (Radio Tawhid, July 30; al-Jazeera, July 31). Haftar insisted that his forces had only conducted a “tactical withdrawal” from parts of Benghazi and that the Islamist claimi to control the city was “a lie”: “There is a difference between control and looting and thefts. After the Special Forces withdrew from the Special Forces’ camp, [the Islamists] tried to steal what they could steal” (al-Arabiya, July 30; July 31). Since mid-July, the Shura Council has taken five military bases in the Benghazi region, including the main Special Forces camp in Benghazi, overcoming strikes from Libyan jet-fighters and helicopters in their advance (al-Jazeera, July 31). Benghazi’s main police station was also abandoned after being shelled by Shura Council forces.

Ansar al-Shari'a FightersAnsar al-Shari’a Fighters Pose After Taking the Libyan Special Forces Base

Losses were heavy, with at least 78 soldiers killed in the assault on the base. Large quantities of arms, rockets, ammunition and even armored vehicles were seized from the stockpiles of the Special Forces, AFP/al-Akhbar [Beirut], July 30; Daily Star [Beirut], August 1). A video released soon after the battle showed Ansar al-Shari’a commander Muhammad al-Zawahi touring the battered Special Forces camp with Libyan Shield Brigade commander Wissam Bin Hamid, who declared: “We will not stop until we establish the rule of God.” [2] Bin Hamid no doubt took satisfaction in having expelled al-Sa’iqah, having been driven from his own headquarters in June 2013 by Special Forces units.

A Libyan National Army spokesman, Colonel Muhammad Hijazi, denied rumors of differences between Colonel Bu Khamada and General Haftar, adding that the withdrawal of al-Sa’iqah from its Benghazi base was “a military strategy. We are fighting against international intelligence organs like the Qatari and Turkish intelligence services” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 1).

Following the Islamist victory, Muhammad Sawwan, the leader of Libya’s Hizb al-Adala wa’l-Bina (Justice and Construction Party, the political arm of Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood), condemned Haftar’s Operation Dignity as armed interference with the political process and insists the poor showing by Islamists in parliamentary election results has nothing to do with the violence in Benghazi and Tripoli: “The parliamentary elections were held on the basis of the individual system. Therefore, talking about progress of one current and the defeat of the other is baseless” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 1).

A Libyan National Army spokesman, Colonel Muhammad Hijazi, denied rumors of differences between Colonel Bu Khamada and General Haftar, adding that the withdrawal of al-Sa’iqah from its Benghazi base was “a military strategy. We are fighting against international intelligence organs like the Qatari and Turkish intelligence services” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 1). There is a general belief in the forces allied to Haftar that the Islamists are materially and politically supported by Qatar and Turkey. However, despite the defeat, Colonel Bu Khamada insisted that his forces “still have the capacity to repel any attack on state institutions” (Al-Ahrar TV, August 2).

The Fallout

The Shura Council’s offensive forced the cancellation of a meeting of the new parliament to be held in Benghazi on August 4, forcing it to meet in Tobruk instead (BBC, July 30; AP, August 6). The new parliament immediately issued an order for an unconditional ceasefire in Benghazi and Tripoli (where similar clashes are underway) and promised, without the force to carry it out, that action would be taken against any group that failed to observe the ceasefire (Libya Herald, August 7).

While Haftar’s ground troops failed to reoccupy military facilities that had been abandoned after looting by the Islamists, his air assets launched air strikes against the compound of a Chinese construction company in Ajdabiya that had been taken over by Ansar al-Shari’a forces (Libya Herald, August 1). Haftar’s National Army has offered to protect further civilian demonstrations in Benghazi, though it is not clear how this would be possible without a presence in Benghazi (Libya Herald, August 1).

While there is some consensus that foreign jihadists are arriving in Libya in substantial numbers, exact figures are impossible to obtain. According to General Haftar, the Islamists “are aided by renegade groups like them from all around the world. Unfortunately, in the absence of a government or police, those groups use this opportunity to come from Algeria, Mali, Niger, and even elsewhere. They even come from overseas. Many of them came from Afghanistan and many other areas” (al-Arabiya, July 30).

For now, the oil-fields of eastern Libya remain in production, but as part of a much diminished national rate of 500,000 barrels per day (b.p.d.), as opposed to a normal 1.4 million b.p.d. (Reuters, July 29). Oil accounts for some 95% of state revenues in Libya.

Conclusion

Ansar al-Shari’a’s declaration of an Emirate was met with popular anger rather than acclaim, with large crowds of angry civilians taking to the streets of Benghazi. The protesters ignored a pair of warning volleys from Ansar militiamen and forced the gunmen from the Jala’a hospital it occupied in Benghazi, tearing down the black-and-white rayat al-uqab banner also used by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda and replacing it with a Libyan flag (Libya Herald, July 30). There were also reports that the demonstrators torched the home of Ansar al-Shari’a leader Muhammad al-Zahawi (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 31). The failure of forces belonging to Haftar’s Operation Dignity to capitalize on this unexpected civilian triumph allowed the Islamists to re-assert themselves in an even stronger position in Benghazi by July 31.

Haftar’s National Army, still without official recognition from the government, has managed to gain the allegiance of a number of pro-government armed groups (some of which are probably reconsidering their position at this point), but has failed to get the all-important support of Libya’s tribes, which continue to withhold their commitment to one side or the other of the ongoing conflict. For now, both Ansar al-Shari’a and Haftar’s National Army claim to be receiving new weapons, promising another round of the urban warfare that is beginning to inflict severe damage on some neighborhoods of Benghazi (Libya Herald, July 29). Unless and until General Haftar and/or the new Libyan government can bring both trained troops and the nation’s influential tribes on board with the anti-Islamist program, Libya will remain a gathering point for international jihadis and Libyan fighters returning from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, something the defeated forces allied to the national government may find themselves powerless to prevent.

Notes

1. Alison Pargeter, Libya: The Rise and Fall of Qaddafi, Yale University Press, 2012, Chapter 1; John Oakes, Libya: The History of a Pariah State, History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2011, Chapter 6.
2. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHUDbffJloo

This article first appeared in the August 7, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

MALI’S PEACE TALKS: DOOMED TO FAILURE?

Andrew McGregor
August 7, 2014

Mali’s disaffected minority northerners are now at least equal in military power to the state. Outside of a few tribal units drawn from loyalist Tuareg and Arabs, Mali’s military (drawn largely from the nation’s southern population) finds itself severely outclassed when fighting in the unfamiliar terrain of northern Mali. Every Tuareg rebellion has seen a marked improvement in arms and tactics over the last and it was ironically only al-Qaeda’s intervention that prevented the utter defeat of the state military by encouraging foreign intervention. If this pattern continues, Bamako clearly cannot expect to survive another rebellion and continue to retain sovereignty over the north. This creates a certain urgency for the success of upcoming peace negotiations to be held in Algiers beginning August 17, a situation the armed opposition will attempt to use to its advantage.

MNLAImproved military training does not appear to provide an answer to this dilemma – indeed, it was American-trained troops that led the military coup in 2012 that overthrew Mali’s democratically elected government and then refused to fight in the north. Mali’s military remains badly divided and in dire need of reform before it can do more than pretend to be a stabilizing force in the north. Without an effective military presence, a Bamako-appointed civil administration will be reduced to giving suggestions rather than implementing policy. For now, however, the Tuareg and Arabs of the north do not trust the army, while the army does not trust its own tribal Tuareg and Arab militias. Until this situation changes, meaningful disarmament will be impossible and development initiatives unable to proceed regardless of what agreements might be made in Algiers.

The MNLA’s claim to represent northern Mali’s Arab, Songhai and Peul/Fulani communities is open to challenge. While individuals from these groups may belong to the MNLA, most members of these groups view Tuareg intentions with suspicion. Even though the Arab MAA sits side-by-side with the MNLA at the Algiers talks, recent clashes between the two groups in northern Mali suggest this unified front may not last long (Reuters, July 14; July 24). The Tuareg themselves are badly divided by class, clan and tribe, something reflected even within the senior ranks of the MNLA, with some leaders prepared to accept some form of autonomy, while others demand nothing less than complete independence (Inter-Press Service/Global Information Network, July 23; Xinhua, July 17).

MNLA 1France has complicated negotiations through its new redeployment of French military forces in Africa under the rubric Operation Barkhane, which establishes a series of French bases in sensitive areas of their former colonies in the Sahel (see Terrorism Monitor Brief, July 24). In Kidal, anger is growing in some quarters against the prolonged and now apparently permanent French military presence, while in the south, France is popularly perceived as a destabilizing element suspected of secretly backing Tuareg independence movements. The question is whether Bamako will now deal sincerely with the armed opposition in negotiations if it senses it now has French muscle behind it in the form of a permanent French counter-insurgency force. President Keita came to power on a platform of dealing firmly with the north but must obviously shift from the status quo without alienating his southern supporters.

While the inclusion of the three Islamist groups (Ansar al-Din, AQIM and MUJWA) in the talks could not be expected, they have increased their activity in northern Mali as talks get underway in order to remind all parties of their continued presence in the region. Again, this inhibits the creation and implementation of development projects, particularly if foreign nationals continue to be a target of the Islamists.

Bamako has laid out “red lines” it insists it will not cross with relation to Mali’s territorial integrity and republican system of government, but will have difficulty taking a firm stance given its weakened state and the defeat of its forces in Kidal in May (Echourouk al-Youmi [Algiers], July 19; All Africa, July 16). While it may be possible to persuade the opposition to settle for a robust form of autonomy, Bamako must be prepared to retain authority for little more than defense issues and foreign affairs. The northern opposition must, in turn, keep in mind that greater local authority will mean little without a budget. Mali is one of the poorest states on earth, and the more autonomy the north gains, the less likely it will be for Bamako to devote limited resources to its success. If development promises continue to be ignored as soon as the ink dries on yet another Malian peace agreement, then we are likely in for another round of phony disarmament campaigns, failed military integration and local discontent leading to rebellion.

This article first appeared in the August 7, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

THE HEZBOLLAH WILD CARD IN THE CONFLICT IN GAZA

Andrew McGregor
August 7, 2014

The ongoing Israeli military operations in Gaza have benefitted from the knowledge that Israel’s northern border with Lebanon is not being threatened by the Shi’a Hezbollah movement of Lebanon, the senior partner in the anti-Israel “Resistance” movement. With Hezbollah occupied with its own military operations in Syria and Lebanon’s Beka’a Valley (and possibly now in Iraq), the frontier has remained largely quiet throughout Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza, with the Lebanese Army and UN peacekeepers working to prevent rockets from being fired into Israel from southern Lebanon. In late July, Hamas’ political bureau deputy chief, Dr. Musa Abu Marzuk, appealed to Hezbollah to intervene in the Gaza conflict: “We hope the Lebanese front will open and together we will fight against this formation [Israel]… There’s no arguing that Lebanese resistance could mean a lot” (RIA Novosti, July 30).

Musa Abu MurzuqDr. Musa Abu Murzuq

Hezbollah was once able to present itself as the defender of Lebanon and the champion of the anti-Israeli Resistance, but circumstances prevent Hezbollah leader Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah and the rest of the Hezbollah leadership from resuming these roles. Lebanon is now experiencing severe economic problems while hosting over a million refugees from the Syrian conflict. Hezbollah fighters are deeply engaged in the Syrian conflict as well as assuming an important role in preventing Sunni jihadists from Syria from operating in the hills surrounding the Beka’a Valley in north-eastern Lebanon (al-Arabiya, July 26; for Hezbollah attempts to reposition itself as an anti-terrorism force, see Terrorism Monitor, April 18). Other factors working against Hezbollah support for Hamas include local suspicion and resentment arising from Hezbollah’s Syrian intervention and the current strained relations between the two groups. There are also perceptions within Lebanon that Hezbollah has a controlling influence over the Lebanese military and security forces. These forces are currently overstretched and awaiting the supply of $1 billion worth of new French weapons in a deal financed by the Saudis (Daily Star [Beirut], August 5).
Nasrallah’s first public remarks on the current Gaza conflict were not made until July 25, when the Hezbollah leader warned Israel against going to the level of “suicide and collapse” by continuing its campaign in Gaza, while assuring “our brothers in Gaza” that “we will do everything we can to support you” (AP, July 25). Nasrallah elaborated on his remarks in an interview a few days later:

We in Hezbollah will be unstinting in all forms of support, assistance and aid that we are able to provide. We feel we are true partners with this resistance, a partnership of jihad, brotherhood, hope, pain, sacrifice and fate, because their victory is our victory, and their defeat is our defeat… As far as the situation on the battlefield goes, we are winning. Yes, the correlation of forces is beyond comparison, but we have men who are capable of stopping and vanquishing the aggressor (RIA Novosti, July 30).

Nasrallah had earlier made calls to both Hamas chief Khalid Mesha’al and Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdullah Shalah to express his support for their struggle against Israel (Daily Star [Beirut], July 22). Despite an increasing political distance between the Sunni Hamas movement and the Shi’a Hezbollah movement due to growing sectarian tensions throughout the Middle East (particularly in Sria) and Hamas’ ties to the now-deposed Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, there are claims that the military arms of the two movements continue to cooperate (Al-Monitor, July 24).

Islamic State Fighters in ArsalIslamic State Fighters in Arsal

The northeastern Lebanese border town of Arsal has been the scene of bitter fighting in recent days as Lebanese troops of the mechanized 5th and 6th Brigades and the light 8th Brigade move into the region to combat an estimated 4,000 Sunni gunmen of the Nusra Front, most of whom arrived from Syria (al-Manar [Beirut], August 4). Also operating in the Qalamoun region are Islamic State forces under the command of local amir Abu Hassan al-Filastini (al-Akhbar [Beirut], August4). Hezbollah is working alongside Lebanese Army troops around Arsal while also working with the Syrian Army to destroy Islamist forces (particularly the Nusra Front) operating in Syria’s Qalamoun region. Hezbollah is reported to be aided in the region by a group of advisors from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard who arrived there in mid-July (Daily Star [Beirut], July 22).

The anti-jihadist operations are intended in part to pre-empt a planned Islamist offensive (Laylat al-Qadr – “Night of Power) against Lebanese border villages intended to abduct hundreds of Lebanese citizens to give the jihadists a bargaining chip in obtaining the release of dozens of their comrades from Lebanon’s Roumieh Prison. Other residents of the region were to be slaughtered in order to provoke a sectarian conflict within Lebanon (Daily Star [Beirut], July 22; July 26; July 27). The planned operation came after an earlier scheme to enable a jailbreak by blasting the Roumieh Prison gates open with a car-bomb was foiled by Lebanese intelligence (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 5). Lebanon’s Sunni Prime Minister, Tammam Salam, has ruled out any kind of political deal with the Sunni gunmen on the frontier (Reuters, August 4).

Fighting in the area began following the arrest of Imad Juma’a (a.k.a. Abu Ahmad Juma’a), leader of the Sunni militant Fajr al-Islam Brigade (allied to the Islamist Nusra Front). Juma’a recently declared his allegiance to the Iraqi-Syrian Islamic State and its leader, the self-declared “Caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (al-Akhbar [Beirut], August 4).

Hezbollah has cut the jihadists’ supply lines in the region between Qalamoun and Arsal while the Syrian Air Force conducts air-strikes against concentrations of gunmen in the mountains in anticipation of a major joint Hezbollah-Syrian Army-Lebanese Army operation to flush out the gunmen and eliminate their presence in the border region. While likely to be militarily effective, the prospect of Hezbollah operating closely with the officially secular Lebanese Army has alarmed many Sunni leaders within Lebanon. In addition, Arsal is predominantly Sunni and generally in sympathy with the Syrian jihadists, leading to the possibility of a joint operation as described sparking a sectarian confrontation within Lebanon (Daily Star [Beirut], July 31).

With most of its best fighting cohorts operating in Syria or northern Lebanon, Hezbollah is reluctant to renew hostilities with Israel at this time. A war on two fronts would not be sustainable, and Hezbollah is well aware that the Israeli Defense Forces have been using their repeated ground offensives into Gaza to develop the new methods and tactics necessary to avoid a repetition of their failure to overcome Hezbollah forces in 2006.

This article first appeared in the August 7, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

PROPHET UNDER ARMS: A PROFILE OF THE NIGER DELTA’S ‘EX-GENERAL’ REUBEN WILSON

Andrew McGregor

July 31, 2014

Reuben Wilson, a former commander in the loosely organized and allegedly disbanded Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), is threatening to block oil production in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria if the current president, Goodluck Jonathan, is prevented from running for a second term in February 2015 (see Terrorism Monitor, July 10). MEND was an umbrella organization for various Niger Delta militant groups fighting the Nigerian central government and targeting the region’s oil industry before the movement’s leaders accepted an amnesty in 2009. Despite this, disparate groups of militants in the Delta region continue to operate under the MEND banner, allegedly in response to continued environmental degradation and inequitable distribution of oil revenue.

NEOFEAD3/DESKTOP/PHOTO/ATEKE3Reuben Wilson

Wilson, like other ex-militant leaders, has tied his fortunes to those of Jonathan, who as vice president under the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, negotiated the amnesty and compensation payments that brought the former MEND leaders out of the creeks in 2009. Since then Nigeria has resumed something close to normal oil production in the region. Nigeria is plagued by its inability to secure the vast network of pipelines in the Delta. Last year alone, $11 billion were lost due to damaged pipelines and oil theft, which presidential spokesman Reuben Abati described as “an aspect of global terrorism” (Middle East News Agency, March 24).

Pastor Reuben Wilson (also known as “Ex-General” Reuben Wilson) was born in Koluama, a coastal community in the oil-rich Bayelsa State. A number of coastal communities in the Southern Ijaw region of Bayelsa State were recently wiped out by an ocean surge that locals and government officials blamed on Chevron’s offshore exploration activities (Nigerian Times, July 8). Koluama was among the worst affected, losing an important fishery terminal in the surge. The community was wiped out by a similar surge in 1953 that local leaders blamed on the exploration activities of Shell D’Arcy, the predecessor of Shell Nigeria (Vanguard [Lagos], June 20). While remarking on the latest surge, Wilson recalled the earlier destruction of Koluama as one of the reasons he took to the creeks:

I am from Koluama in Southern Ijaw. We don’t have money. We don’t have roads. From Yenagoa to my place is three hours with speed boat and when you go there, you see flames [gas flares] everywhere. That is a place that was once flooded and the people wiped out. As I talk to you now, water has gone back there and the people’s existence is being threatened. This was part of why we had to take up arms to attract government attention (The Nigerian Voice, January 29, 2012).

Wilson is a self-described “prophet” of the so-called “White Garment Church,” part of the Aladura (“praying people” in Yoruba) spiritualist movement in Nigeria. After coming in from the creeks of the Delta in 2009, Wilson founded a peace advocacy group known as the Leadership, Peace and Cultural Development Initiative (LPCDI), which soon included most of the militant leaders who had accepted the federal government’s amnesty.

Rebel Life in the Creeks

In 2006, Wilson took to the creeks of the Delta to join an insurgency targeting both the federal government and oil industry operations in the region. Wilson displays little nostalgia for his time there, describing it as a time of great hardship:

When we were in the creeks, we would not go out to the town. We would only leave our camp to the nearby riverine communities and then back to the camp. The only thing we were enjoying in the creeks was fish. Anytime we needed fish, we had enough… Then, we were in bondage, fighting with mosquitoes every day. To drink water, we would dig holes for water to come out. If you saw our skin then, you would pity us… We were there for like three years and could not see our wives (Nigerian Voice, January 29, 2012).

Wilson provides a somewhat glowing review of his leadership during his time in the creeks, saying the chiefs and elders “cherished me. I was not greedy; I shared whatever I have with them… My mode of operations attracted a very large followership” (The Tide [Port Harcourt], October 31, 2009). When asked to explain how a man of the cloth could take up armed rebellion against the state, Wilson replied: “I am a prophet in the church and for a prophet’s anger to rise to the point of carrying arms, then it is really serious and intolerable. When I saw the condition of my community and nobody was ready to do something, I carried arms” (The Tide [Port Harcourt], April 22). According to Wilson, his group always prayed before operations and never actually killed anyone: “If anything like that happened, it must have been by mistake. We never intended to kill anybody” (The Tide [Port Harcourt], October 31, 2009).

Niger DeltaHowever, there were lucrative aspects to Wilson’s time in the creeks with MEND and financial potential in the amnesty, as he recounted to a journalist in 2013:

When I was in the creek… We see money easily. We would call an oil company and say: ‘If you don’t give us this, we will blow up this facility,’ and they would send money to the camp. Anything we said we need, they would send to us… By the grace of God, the oil company will give me a major contract to supply chemicals and equipment so in two or three years when you come back maybe you will see me in a big mansion (BBC, May 1).

Wilson soon discovered, however, that a reconciled militant no longer enjoyed the easy extortion of oil companies practiced in the creeks, naming Chevron in particular as a reluctant target: “When you approach them for anything, they will say ‘we are dealing with government and we have paid money to them. It’s government that will take care of your problems’” (The Tide [Port Harcourt], October 31, 2013).

A Reconciled Militant

Shortly after accepting the amnesty, Wilson began to complain that the payments from the federal government were “not enough to take care of myself and family. I need a steady job; even being a contractor will not be bad. I should be given [a] surveillance job. This is important so that some of the boys could be engaged in safeguarding the oil installations in my area” (The Tide [Port Harcourt], October 31, 2009).

Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, has become known for the enormous mansions built by reconciled former militant leaders who have benefited from access to government and oil industry contracts as well as from their customary deductions from amnesty-related payments to former members of these former leaders’ groups. The lives of these past MEND leaders contrasts sharply with those led by their former comrades in the creeks, who continue to face challenges such as oil industry-related pollution, the lack of infrastructure, an absence of educational opportunities and widespread unemployment.

In recent years, Wilson has dedicated himself to visiting militant commanders still fighting the Nigerian government, such as General Lato, General Mammy Water and Commander Koko, to convince them to abandon their armed struggle, though the expiration of the federal government’s amnesty program complicates these efforts (Nigerian Voice, January 29, 2012).

In June, the Wilson-led LPCDI warned it was prepared to take action against contractors that had failed to carry out projects commissioned by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), a growing complaint in the region. Wilson emphasized the LPCDI had other means than violence to force the contractors to act:

The same way we were able to fight the federal government and forced them to remember the Niger Delta, that same way, we will go after fraudulent NDDC contractors and force them to execute every job faithfully. We will not use guns, because we have surrendered them. But we will devise our own way of peacefully compelling all NDDC contractors to do what is right (Leadership [Abuja], June 30).

Ongoing Trouble in the Creeks

Despite Wilson’s claim he has put violence behind him, there are signs that former members of his group are still armed and pursuing their own agendas in Bayelsa State. In May 2013, five former members of Wilson’s militia, including his younger brother Benaibi Wilson, were killed in a shootout with a rival group in the Southern Ijaw region of Bayelsa State (AFP, May 5, 2013). Wilson denied that “his boys” had returned fire during the attack, believed to be connected to young ex-militants who have seen little or none of the amnesty allowance they were promised in 2009 (Reuters, May 5).

Other militants still active in the Delta creeks have a different perspective on the amnesty program. On October 22, 2013, a group claiming to be MEND attacked the Warri Refinery and Petrochemical Company, setting it ablaze. In a statement of responsibility, the group warned that peace would be elusive in the region so long as the president placed his faith in an “unsustainable and fraudulent” amnesty program (RealNewsMagazine.net [Lagos], November 11, 2013). While authorities claimed the fire was an accident, Wilson castigated those who claimed responsibility, insisting that MEND could not be responsible as it had ceased to exist when the amnesty was accepted in 2009 (RealNewsMagazine.net [Lagos], November 11, 2013).

In April 2013, a number of ex-militants killed 12 policemen in an ambush claimed a group claiming to be MEND in the creeks of Bayelsa State but believed to actually be part of a dispute generated by alleged illegal deductions from monthly amnesty payments made by the militants’ leader, Comrade Kile Selky Torughedi (a.k.a. “Young Shall Grow”) (Reuters, May 5, 2013). The policemen were on their way to provide security at the funeral of Torughedi’s mother at the time they were attacked (Sahara Reporters, April 7, 2013). Wilson rejected the MEND claim and suggested that such violence could be avoided if the ex-militant leaders maintained better communications with their followers rather than abandoning them in the creeks:

When we accepted amnesty, the federal government made lots of promises to the [militant] leaders. Because of the failures on the part of the federal government, the leaders were deducting the allowances of the boys. But if the Federal Government reached out and treat the leaders with respect and fulfill the promises, I don’t think any leader will make such illegal deductions (Guardian [Lagos], April 8, 2013).

In April 2013, Lawrence Pepple, head of the Amnesty Committee’s Reintegration Department, told a group of ex-militants (including Reuben Wilson) that the murder of the 12 police officers was tied to the work of “anti-Jonathan forces” in Bayelsa State. If approached by such forces, Pepple urged the ex-militants “please take their money and do not execute the destruction they want you to do,” while noting ominously that the U.S. Congress must be told that “if they support these anti-Jonathan forces, we cannot guarantee internal security in the Niger Delta” (Sahara Reporters, April 22, 2013).

In February 2013, six foreign sailors (Ukrainian, Indian and Russian) were abducted from the offshore supply tug Armada Tuah 101 by Bayelsa-based gunmen. A ransom of $1.3 million was demanded, but the men were released nine days later without any ransom being paid (Reuters, February 27, 2013; Interfax, February 26, 2013; Maritime Bulletin, February 18, 2013). Wilson claimed he and other former militant leaders went back to the creeks to negotiate the release of the hostages and suggested that there was no justification for such kidnappings since the federal government was implementing the amnesty program:

We took the pains to go into the creeks that we left some years back to look for and rescue all the abducted foreign workers because for us, it was shameful and degrading that some disgruntled elements are still thinking of kidnapping people in times like this when the amnesty program has been on course… Our message to those elements is that they must stop the rubbish. There is nothing to gain in engaging in this kind of venture (Eagle Online [Lagos], March 1, 2013).

Conclusion

Wilson has been especially vocal on what he sees as a widespread campaign combining political activity and Boko Haram terrorism to discredit President Jonathan, who, like Wilson, is an Ijaw from Bayelsa (see Terrorism Monitor, July 10). Wilson believes that Jonathan will win the presidential election easily, even taking a large number of votes in the Muslim north, which is generally perceived as hostile to the southern-born president:

Forget what the elite are doing. The masses who will go to vote know the truth. I can assure you that many people will be so disappointed because the common man on the street knows the truth and when the time comes, he will gladly give his vote to President Jonathan. I, Ex-General Reuben Wilson, a former Niger Delta freedom fighter, am telling you that Jonathan will return to office in 2015 and he will do so in style (Daily News Watch [Lagos], May 1).

According to Wilson, the president’s northern opponents seek to prevent his re-election so they can “take charge and continue to enslave us as was the case for decades. We will not fold our arms and watch a section of the country which believes that it is their birthright to rule Nigeria to chase Mr. President out of office” (Punch [Lagos], September 6, 2013).

This article first appeared in the July 31, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

OPERATION BARKHANE: FRANCE’S NEW MILITARY APPROACH TO COUNTER-TERRORISM IN AFRICA

Andrew McGregor
July 24, 2014

With several military operations underway in the former colonies of French West Africa, Paris has decided to reorganize its deployments with an eye to providing a more mobile and coordinated military response to threats from terrorists, insurgents or other forces intent on disturbing the security of France’s African backyard.

France will redeploy most of its forces in Africa as part of the new Operation Barkhane (the name refers to a sickle-shaped sand dune). Following diplomatic agreements with Chad, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania (the “Sahel G-5”), over 3,000 French troops will be involved in securing the Sahel-Sahara region in cooperative operations involving G-5 troops. Other assets to be deployed in the operation include 20 helicopters, 200 armored vehicles, 200 trucks, six fighter-jets, ten transport aircraft and three drones (Le Figaro [Paris], July 13).

Operation BarkhanePresident Hollande made a tour of Côte d’Ivoire, Niger and Chad between July 17 to 19 to discuss the new security arrangements with political leaders, but also to promote French trade in the face of growing Chinese competition (Economist, July 19). In Niger, Hollande was met by a group protesting French uranium mining operations in that country (AFP, July 18). In a speech given in Abidjan, French president François Hollande declared that the reorganization of French military assets in Africa would enable “quick and effective responses to crisis… Rather than having heavy and unwieldy crisis bases, we prefer to have facilities that can be used for fast and effective interventions” (Nouvel Observateur [Paris], July 19).

The official launch of Operation Barkhane will come in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena on August 1. The operation will be commanded by the highly-experienced Major General Jean-Pierre Palasset, who commanded the 27e Brigade d’Infanterie de Montagne (27th Mountain Infantry Battalion, 2003-2005) before leading Operation Licorne in Côte d’Ivoire (2010-2011) and serving as commander of the Brigade La Fayette, a joint unit comprising most of the French forces serving in Afghanistan (2011-2012).

The initiation of Operation Barkhane brings an end to four existing French operations in Africa; Licorne (Côte d’Ivoire, 2002-2014), Épervier (Chad, 1986-2014), Sabre (Burkina Faso, 2012-2014) and Serval (Mali, 2013-2014). Licorne is coming to an end (though 450 French troops will remain in Abidjan as part of a logistical base for French operations) while the other operations will be folded into Operation Barkhane. Operation Sangaris (Central African Republic, 2013 – present) is classified as a humanitarian rather than counter-terrorism mission and the deployment of some 2,000 French troops will continue until the arrival of a UN force in September (Bloomberg, July 21). Some 1200 French soldiers will remain in northern Mali (Guardian [Lagos], July 15). Existing French military deployments in Djibouti, Dakar (Senegal) and Libreville (Gabon) are expected to be scaled back significantly, a process already underway in Dakar (Jeune Afrique, July 19).

8 RPIMaSoldiers of the 8th Regiment of Marine Infantry Paratroopers (8e RPIMa), deployed in Gabon and Côte d’Ivoire

The force in Chad has been boosted from 950 to 1250 men. Chad will play an important role in Operation Barkhane – N’Djamena’s Kossei airbase will provide the overall command center, with two smaller bases in northern Chad at Faya Largeau and Abéché, both close to the Libyan border. Zouar, a town in the Tubu-dominate Tibesti Masif of northern Chad, has also been mentioned as a possibility (Jeune Afrique, July 19). Kossei will provide a home for three Rafale fighter-jets, Puma helicopters and a variety of transport and fuelling aircraft. Chadian troops fought side-by-side with French forces in northern Mali in 2013 and are regarded as the most effective combat partners for France in North Africa despite a recent mixed performance in the CAR. Four Chadian troops under UN command died in a June 11 suicide bombing in the northern Mali town of Aguelhok (AFP, June 11). Chadian opposition and human rights groups are dismayed by the new agreement, which appears to legitimize and even guarantee the continued rule of President Idriss Déby, who has held power since 1990 (RFI, July 19).

Intelligence operations will be headquartered in Niamey, the capital of Niger and home to French unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations in West Africa. There are currently about 300 French troops stationed in Niger, most of them involved in protecting, maintaining and operating two unarmed General Atomic MQ-9 Reaper drones and an older Israeli-built Harfang drone (Bloomberg, July 21). The French-operated Harfang drones are being gradually phased out in favor of the MQ-9s, though the Harfangs saw extensive service during French operations in northern Mali in 2013. Three Mirage 2000 fighter-jets will be transferred from N’Djamena to Niamey. A French Navy Dassault Atlantique 2 surveillance aircraft has been withdrawn from Niamey with the conclusion of Operation Serval.

Small groups of French Special Forces will continue to be based in Ougadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, and at Atar, a small settlement in northwestern Mauritania. Other small bases are planned for Tessalit in Mali, which controls the road running between the rebellious Kidal region and southern Algeria, and in Madama in Niger, a strategic post near the Malian border that was the site of a French colonial fort. There are reports that French troops have already occupied the nearby Salvador Pass, an important smuggling route between Niger and Libya that appears to have acted as a main transit route for terrorists passing through the region (Libération [Paris], July 16).

French forces in the Sahel-Sahara region will continue to be targeted by Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s Murabitun group, which claimed responsibility for the death of one Legionnaire and the wounding of six others in a suicide bomb attack in northern Mali on July 15 (al-Akhbar [Nouackchott], July 16; RFI, July 17). Much of the ground element for Operation Barkhane is likely to be drawn from the French Légion étrangère and the Troupes de marine, the successor to the French Colonial Infantry.

The implementation of Operation Barkhane, an apparently permanent defense agreement with five former French colonies, raises a number of important questions, not least of which is what attitude will be adopted by Algeria, the most powerful nation in the Sahara-Sahel region but one that views all French military activities there with great suspicion based on Algeria’s 132-year experience of French occupation. There is also a question of whether the new defense agreements will permit French forces in hot pursuit of terrorists to cross national borders of G-5 nations without obtaining permission first. The permanent deployments also seem to present a challenge to local democracy and sovereignty while preserving French commercial and political interests in the region. For France, Operation Barkhane will enhance French ability to fend off Chinese commercial and trade challenges and allow France to secure its energy supplies while disrupting terrorist networks and containing the threat from southern Libya.

This article first appeared in the July 24, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

HOUTHIS BATTLE ARMY AND TRIBAL MILITIAS FOR CONTROL OF YEMEN’S AMRAN GOVERNORATE

Andrew McGregor
July 24, 2014

At the conclusion of a three-day battle, experienced Houthist fighters stormed the ancient Yemeni walled city of Amran on July 8, killing some 200 people in the process and displacing at least 35,000 before beginning a manhunt for remaining security officials (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 10). Amran is the capital of the Amran governorate and the home of ex-president Saleh and the powerful al-Ahmar clan. With the Houthists now established only 50 kilometers away from the capital, Yemen’s cabinet met to condemn the offensive and issue a statement that said: “We hold the Houthis legally and morally responsible for what is happening in Amran and the implications of this on the security and stability of the homeland” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 10). At the same time, the Yemeni Air Force was striking targets within Amran, including the captured headquarters of the 310th Armored Brigade (Yemen Times, July 10). Soviet and Saudi-trained Brigadier General Hamid al-Qushaibi, an ally of the Islamist Islah (Reform) Party and commander of the 310th Brigade, was killed soon afterwards in ambiguous circumstances, with the Houthis claiming he was found dead and the Islah Party insisting he was executed by Houthist insurgents (Yemen Times, July 15).

al-QushaibiBrigadier Hamid al-Qushaibi

The Houthis are a religious-political movement in northern Yemen that has fought a series of wars with the central government. The Houthis are Zaydi Shiites, but so are most of their opponents in the Hashid tribal confederation, which includes the powerful al-Ahmar clan. Even religious differences between the Zaydis and the Shafi’i Sunni population of Yemen (a slight majority since unification with the largely Sunni south) are minimal, though the small but growing Salafist community in Yemen takes a sterner view of Zaydi Shi’ism.
Fighting between the Houthis and al-Ahmar tribesmen in Amran governorate began last October. Clashes between the Houthis and Yemen’s 310th Armored Brigade began in March after troops denied armed Houthists entry to Amran City (Yemen Times, July 10). By June the Houthists were battling the 310th Armored Brigade and tribal militias over the approaches to Amran city.

After driving the 310th Brigade from Amran, the Houthists began artillery exchanges with units of the 6th Military Command based in the mountains outside Amran City. The 6th Military Command withdrew on July 13 to allow the replacement of both it and the 310th Brigade in Amran with troops belonging to the 9th Brigade, a unit based in Houthist-controlled Sa’ada that is viewed as less inimical to the Houthist movement than the withdrawn units (Yemen Times, July 15).

Amran CityAmran City, Yemen

Although the 310th Brigade made an effort to hold the city, there were concerns over the ease with which the local Special Security Forces camp was overrun, with accusations from observers of a “hand-over” and an “act of treason” (Yemen Times, July 10). Shortly after the Houthist occupation of Amran, new clashes broke out between Houthist fighters and tribal militias affiliated with the Islah Party in neighboring al-Jawf governorate. The UN Security Council addressed the situation on July 11, demanding that the Houthis withdraw from Amran while promising sanctions against those parties determined to be inhibiting a political solution in Yemen (al-Jazeera, July 12). The Houthists have begun to use the Islah Party’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood to characterize Party members as “terrorists,” as they are now described in Egypt (Yemen Post, July 16). The Saudi government has also recently backed off from its traditional support of the Islah Party due to the Party’s connections with the Brotherhood.

An agreement was reached to allow Houthist forces in Amran city to be replaced by forces under the command of the Defense Ministry; however, even after the withdrawal agreement, a large-scale al-Houthi presence continued in Amran city and nearby areas (Yemen Times, July 15). [1]

The failure of Major General Ali Mohsin’s loyalists to hold Amran enabled President Abdu Rabbu Mansur Hadi to make further changes in the military command, removing Mohsin loyalists General Muhammad al-Magdashi (commander of the 6th Military Command) and General Muhammad al-Sawmali (commander of the Hadramawt-based 1st Military Command) (Yemen Times, July 15). Since becoming president, Hadi has struggled to bring the factionalized armed forces under presidential control, using purges of the senior officer corps to address continuing competition for influence from the former president, General Mohsin and the Islah Party, all of which remain significant forces within Yemen’s military.

A series of presidential decrees have already removed Hadi’s biggest challengers for control of the military, sending Ahmad al-Ahmar, ex-president Saleh’s son and commander of the Republican Guard, to the United Arab Emirates to serve as Yemen’s ambassador. General Mohsin was relieved of his command of the First Armored Division and made special military advisor to the president. Shortages of pay have aggravated the situation in the military, provoking a series of small mutinies in the army and the security forces. The fact that the central government has no other means than negotiation to persuade the troops to return to their duties only encourages further such events.

Note
1. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Yemen: Amran conflict situation report no.6, July 16, 2014, http://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/yemen-amran-conflict-situation-report-no-6-16-july-2014

This article was originally published in the July 24, 2014 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.