Reports this week describe how thousands protest in Iran, updates on the latest from the Iraq-led offensive against Mosul, the kidnapping of two oil workers in Iraq’s oil-hub of Basra and their subsequent rescue and incidents and attacks in Cairo, Algeria, Israel and Saudi Arabia. A foiled Islamic State plot to attack a soccer match in Saudi Arabia may point to an increased threat to civilians from the group.
PGI’s Weekly Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Briefing provides an overview of key developments from across the region in the past seven days. To receive PGI’s daily briefing, containing a comprehensive update of developments in the region, register now for free Risk Portal access or follow us @PGIIntelligence
Defence ministry says troops killed seven militants during October – 2 November
Algeria’s defence ministry said that its forces had killed seven terrorists nationwide in operations during the month of October. Thirty-five individuals supporting terrorist groups were arrested and four others surrendered, according to official figures. Troops also recovered 21 Kalashnikov-style rifles, 31 homemade bombs, nine mines and a large amount of ammunition and other weapons.
Security forces launch operation near Constantine after killing of policeman – 29 October
Local media site TSA Algeria said that security forces carried out a major search operation to locate three gunmen who killed a police officer in Constantine on 28 October. The operation targeted areas northeast of Constantine between the el-Jebel Ouahche and Ziadia areas and local media said that some gunfire was reported. Security forces patrols were increased in other areas of the province. Officials did not immediately confirm the operation or the number of casualties.
Militants kill policeman in Constantine – 28 October
Three gunmen attacked a restaurant in the Ziadia neighbourhood in Constantine, killing a police officer. The Islamic State-linked Amaq Agency said that Islamic State fighters carried out the attack. The Islamic State militant group has a limited presence in Algeria and rarely carries out attacks. On 9 October, it claimed an IED attack on a convoy near Tamalus, Skikda province.
Opposition appeals dissolution order – 31 October
The main Shi’a opposition group, al-Wefaq, appealed against a July court ruling that ordered the party to be dissolved over terrorism-related offences. In September, an appeals court upheld the earlier court ruling that ordered al-Wefaq be disbanded for inciting violence and encouraging unrest. The ruling-Sunni monarchy’s crackdown on the largely Shi’a opposition has been criticised by the UN and Bahrain’s Western allies.
Troops prevent attack on Sinai checkpoint – 1 November
An Army spokesman announced that members of the security forces had prevented an attack on a military checkpoint in the North Sinai by Islamist militants. Soldiers discovered a large car bomb and a suicide vest during a security sweep, both of which were destroyed. The exact location of the planned attack was not named, however troops said separately that they had also destroyed seven roadside IEDs along routes used by security forces in el-Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid.
Authorities arrest five over Ain Shams attack –30 October
The interior ministry said that security forces arrested five Islamist militants in connection with an attack on a police convoy on Gesr al-Suez Street in Cairo’s Ain Shams district, seizing several IEDs. Officials said that those arrested were planning attacks on security forces. The location of the arrests was not immediately confirmed. Security forces said that the attack on 28 October missed its target, killing one civilian and wounding one other.
Militants claim to destroy military vehicle, damage another in North Sinai – 30 October
According to a statement from the Islamic State (IS)-linked Amaq Agency, militants destroyed a military vehicle in the Nakhal area of the North Sinai governorate and damaged another in the Sheikh Zuweid area. The claim was not immediately confirmed by security forces but comes after an IED against a security forces’ patrol in Sheikh Zuweid on 29 October killed two soldiers. The group frequently targets military patrols in Rafah, al-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid but attacks south of these areas are less common.
Thousands protest in Iran near Shiraz – 13 October
Tens of thousands of people gathered in Passargadae, Fars province, to commemorate of Persian King Cyrus the Great outside a tomb. However the gathering escalated into an anti-government protest that saw crowds chant nationalistic slogans and demand greater freedom of expression. Concerned about unrest, security services had already sealed off roads to Pasargade, cut of telecommunications services and deployed large numbers of personnel ahead of the gathering.
Baghdadi rallies fighters amid Mosul offensive – 3 November
In a rare audio message, Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said he was confident that his forces would emerge victorious in the ongoing battle for control of Mosul. Baghdadi called on the estimated 3,000-5,000 fighters under his command in Mosul to fight to the death and warned that invading forces would incur heavy losses. The IS leader, whose whereabouts are unknown, also called for attacks outside of Iraq, including in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The authenticity of the message has not yet been verified independently.
Security forces free oil workers in Basra – 1 November
Two Iraqi oil engineers were freed by security forces hours after they were kidnapped on 31 October near the southern oil hub of Basra. The two Lukoil employees were abducted near an oil field west of Qurna but were freed after security forces sealed off a nearby neighbourhood. Another Iraqi victim found at the same location as the engineers was also freed, but officials said that those responsible for the kidnappings were unknown and remained at large. Security in southern Iraq deteriorated over 2015, though local media reported major security operations during 2016 have led to a marginal improvement in the situation.
PM warns Turkey over troop deployment – 1 November
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned Turkey over its deployment of military forces along the Iraq-Turkey border, which the PM warned could provoke a confrontation. Turkey, which has already deployed forces to northern Iraq despite Baghdad’s objections, has insisted it will play a role in the ongoing offensive to retake Mosul. Abadi said his government did not want conflict, but was prepared to confront Ankara, which has threatened to intervene against Shi’a militias in northern Iraq.
Special forces advance into eastern Mosul – 1 November
According to officials, Iraqi special forces began an operation to retake Mosul’s eastern Gogjali neighbourhood from the Islamic State (IS) militant group. Militants slowed the advance by attacking the troops and armoured vehicles with anti-tank missiles. US-led coalition aircraft targeted Islamic State positions in the neighbourhood with air strikes at around 0830 hrs local time. Government troops, affiliated militias and Kurdish forces have been advancing on the IS-held city for more than two weeks though progress is expected to slow as they enter the city itself.
Gunman wounds three soldiers near Ramallah – 31 October
A Palestinian gunman wounded three Israeli soldiers in an attack on a checkpoint near the Beit El settlement in the vicinity of Ramallah in the West Bank. The assailant, a Palestinian security officer, was shot and killed during the attack. Palestinian media said that the attack may have come after Israeli forces searched his home during a weapons sweep. The shooting came one day after a ramming attack left three border police wounded near Hebron.
Soldiers kill alleged assailant in West Bank car ramming attack – 30 October
Israeli police said that security forces shot dead a Palestinian after he allegedly rammed border police by the Gush Etzion settlement near Beit Ummar in the West Bank, wounding three people. Repeated stabbing and ramming attacks since October 2015 have left tens of Israelis, two Americans and more than 100 suspected assailants dead.
Army shoots Palestinian wielding knife in West Bank — 28 October
The Israeli army said a Palestinian attacked troops with his car and then with a knife near the Jewish settlement of Ofra, northeast of the city of Ramallah, in the West Bank. The man attempted to run over soldiers with his car, prompting them to open fire. He then got out of the vehicle brandishing a knife and troops fired again, seriously wounding him, the army said in a statement. Knife attacks and car-ramming attempts occur frequently in the West Bank, while the Israeli army has faced criticism over the excessive use of force in responding to such attacks.
Troops kill two, seize drugs along Syrian border – 31 October
Border guards shot and killed two people attempting to cross into Jordan from Syria without authorisation. The exact location of the incident along the Syria-Jordan border was not provided, but security forces recovered 71,000 illegal pills and 354 sheets of hashish following the incident.
Police seize 1.7 mn captagon pills – 29 October
Anti-narcotics officers arrested one person and seized 1.7 narcotic captagon pills. The pills were planned to be smuggled to a neighbouring unnamed country. Details of the location of the arrest or identity of the suspect were not provided.
Pro-Haftar forces prepare for attack on oil ports – 3 November
Militia loyal to eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar reinforced their positions at oil terminals and fields in the Sirte Crescent in preparation for a possible attack by forces loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). According to the Libya Herald, pro-Haftar units were strengthening their presence at Ras Lanuf, Sidra, Zueitina oil and elsewhere as the GNA mobilised armed groups for a military campaign. No timeline or details of a possible GNA-backed operation were described.
Gunmen kidnap mayor of Traghen – 2 November
Unidentified armed men abducted the mayor of Traghen, which lies some 125 km south of Sebha. The motive in the attack was unclear, but there was speculation in press reports that it was financial. Crime in Libya has increased greatly during 2016, with the Libya Herald reporting that at least 128 people have been abducted in Sebha so far, mostly for ransom.
Military commander warns of IS checkpoints south of Sirte – 30 October
The Libya Observer local news website said that a local military commander for the Abu Grein-Allud area warned that Islamic State (IS) militants were setting up fake checkpoints south of Sirte. The commander said that militants who had fled an offensive against the IS-held town of Sirte established a checkpoint on the al-Baghla crossroads between Abu Grein and al-Jufra on 29 October. The group has largely lost control of Sirte to the Misratan-led Bunyan Marsous militia forces.
Suspected car bomb kills four in Benghazi – 29 October
The local Al-Wasat news agency said that a suspected car bomb in the Kish Square in Benghazi killed four people and wounded 24 others. Among those killed was the chief of the Libyan Anti-Corruption Organisation. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Ongoing fighting between forces affiliated with renegade General Khalifa Haftar and Islamist militants has occasionally killed civilians, usually in mortar attacks.
Thousands protest nationwide following death of street vendor – 30 October
Thousands of people protested in al-Hoceima, Rabat and Marrakech against police abuse after the death of a street fish vendor on 29 October. The protests coincided with the funeral of the vendor, who, according to local reports, was killed by a waste compactor in al-Hoceima on 28 October after climbing in to retrieve his fish, confiscated by police. The interior minister said that those responsible for the death of the vendor would be held accountable. Local media said that the demonstration in al-Hoceima included Berber rights activists and many protesters waved Berber flags. The Berber Rif region has seen underinvestment in recent years and perceived marginalisation has historically contributed to unrest.
Security services foil plot to attack football match – 31 October
Saudi authorities said that they had arrested eight members of two Islamic State-linked terrorist cells and disrupted a plot to attack a football stadium during an 11 October football match in Jeddah. One group had planned to target Jeddah’s al-Jawhara stadium with a car bomb, while the other cell had planned to attack members of the security forces. The interior ministry said eight suspects had been arrested and that the militants had been based in Shaqra, northwest of Riyadh.
Gunmen kill security officer in Qatif – 30 October
A Saudi security officer was killed and another was wounded in a drive-by shooting in the Eastern Province city of Qatif, state-owned Al Arabiya television reported. The shooting occurred while the men were reportedly on patrol. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. Eastern Province is home to much of Saudi Arabia’s oil production as well as to many Shi’as Muslims, a minority in the Sunni-majority kingdom. Shi’as have attacked security forces in Eastern Province in the past.
Russia declares final 10-hour Aleppo ceasefire – 4 November
Russia and allied Syrian forces began a 10-hour humanitarian ceasefire in Aleppo from 0900 hrs local time. Moscow said that this would be the final opportunity for rebels to leave eastern parts of the city safely. The truce came during an ongoing rebel offensive to break a government siege of Aleppo’s opposition-held eastern districts. Rebels and civilians have failed to evacuate the city during previous ceasefires.
Rebels, regime forces clash in Aleppo – 3 November
Heavy fighting was reported between pro- and anti-regime forces in contested Aleppo city and the surrounding countryside. Clashes and shelling occurred near the Project 1070 Apartments in the southwest and in the al-Hamdania and al-Zahra districts. Russia had announced plans for a 10-hour truce from 0900 hrs local time on 4 October.
Monitor says rebel rockets killed 38 civilians in Aleppo – 30 October
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that opposition rocket fire had killed 38 civilians in the western districts of Aleppo over two days. Another 250 civilians have been wounded in heavy bombardment by anti-government factions since the morning of 28 October, the group said. The violence is part of a major assault by rebels and allied extremists to break a three-month government siege of Aleppo’s eastern half, according to the AFP. Heavy fighting continued overnight and on the morning of 30 October, with clashes killing 30 government and allied fighters and 50 Syrian opposition militants, the Observatory said.
Army seizes rockets in Ben Guerdane – 29 October
Local media said that security forces seized 14 rockets during operations in the Alqrjani area of Ben Guerdane, Medenine governorate. Ennahar Online said that operations were ongoing to locate other hidden weapons. The town was attacked by tens of Islamic State militants and supporters in March, prompting an increase in security operations on the border with Libya.
Drone halts traffic at Dubai, Sharjah airports – 30 October
Air space around the Dubai International airport was closed from 1925-2049 hrs local time “due to unauthorised drone activity resulting in flight diversions”, operators Dubai Airports said. The General Civil Aviation Authority said the airport at Sharjah, about 15 km away, was closed for a similar period of time as a precaution because of the same drone. This is the third instance of an airport shutdown due to unauthorised drone activity. UAE authorities have said they to tighten the rules on the purchase and use of drones and the penalties for violating them.
Teekay says LNG attackers had explosives – 3 November
According to vessel owner Teekay, the unknown assailants who attacked a liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker on 25 October off Yemen also had a large amount of explosives on their skiff. According to a report from Reuters, the company said it had investigated the incident and determined that the skiff involved in the attack had both small arms and a sufficient amount of explosives to cause significant damage to the vessel. The skiff reportedly exploded 20 m from the LNG tanker, ending the assault. There is a precedent for both pirate and terrorist attacks on vessels off Yemen, but the intent and identity of the assailants remains unknown. The incident comes amid concern of the safety ships in the region due to recent attacks on vessels.
Militants bomb oil pipeline in Shabwa – 1 November
Unidentified militants bombed an oil pipeline east of Ataq city in Shabwa province. The pipeline was used to ship oil from the region to the Red Sea for export. On 24 September, an unknown group sabotaged a gas pipeline used to supply fuel for electricity in Shabwa. Armed groups in Yemen have staged repeated attacks on energy infrastructure previously.
Coalition air strikes reportedly kill 45 in Hodeidah – 29 October
Arab coalition warplanes struck a prison in the Yemeni city of Hodeidah, killing 45 people including inmates, a local official, relatives, and medical sources in the rebel-controlled Red Sea port told Reuters. The prison in the city’s al-Zaydiyah district was holding 84 prisoners when it was struck three times late on 29 October, while at least 17 civilians were killed in the southwestern province of Taiz by a coalition air strike that struck a house, according to Reuters. The coalition has not commented on the attack. The Saudi-led coalition has been fighting Houthi rebels since March 2015 to try to restore to office internationally recognised President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was sidelined from power by the Iranian-allied Houthis in late 2014.
Car bomb explodes near central bank in Aden – 29 October
A car bomb exploded in the southern city of Aden at a checkpoint steps away from Yemen’s central bank, which has been relocated recently from the rebel-held capital of Sana’a, witnesses told the Associated Press. The bomb reportedly injured three soldiers in the busy commercial district of Crater. Aden is the temporary capital of the internationally recognised government, which was forced out of Sana’a by the rebels in 2014. A Saudi-led military coalition has since intervened and continues to battle the Houthi rebels alongside forces loyal to internationally recognized President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.